Thereupon Miss Clare began. I do not pretend to give her very words, but I must tell her story as if she were telling it herself. I shall be as true as I can to the facts, and hope to catch something of the tone of the narrator as I go on.
"My mother died when I was very young, and I was left alone with my father, for I was his only child. He was a studious and thoughtful man. It may be the partiality of a daughter, I know, but I am not necessarily wrong in believing that diffidence in his own powers alone prevented him from distinguishing himself. As it was, he supported himself and me by literary work of, I presume, a secondary order. He would spend all his mornings for many weeks in the library of the British Museum,--reading and making notes; after which he would sit writing at home for as long or longer. I should have found it very dull during the former of these times, had he not early discovered that I had some capacity for music, and provided for me what I now know to have been the best instruction to be had. His feeling alone had guided him right, for he was without musical knowledge. I believe he could not have found me a better teacher in all Europe. Her character was lovely, and her music the natural outcome of its harmony. But I must not forget it is about myself I have to tell you. I went to her, then, almost every day for a time--but how long that was, I can only guess. It must have been several years, I think, else I could not have attained what proficiency I had when my sorrow came upon me.
"What my father wrote I cannot tell. How gladly would I now read the shortest sentence I knew to be his! He never told me for what journals he wrote, or even for what publishers. I fancy it was work in which his brain was more interested than his heart, and which he was always hoping to exchange for something more to his mind. After his death I could discover scarcely a scrap of his writings, and not a hint to guide me to what he had written.
"I believe we went on living from hand to mouth, my father never getting so far ahead of the wolf as to be able to pause and choose his way. But I was very happy, and would have been no whit less happy if he had explained our circumstances, for that would have conveyed to me no hint of danger. Neither has any of the suffering I have had--at least any keen enough to be worth dwelling upon--sprung from personal privation, although I am not unacquainted with hunger and cold.
"My happiest time was when my father asked me to play to him while he wrote, and I sat down to my old cabinet Broadwood,--the one you see there is as like it as I could find,--and played any thing and every thing I liked,--for somehow I never forgot what I had once learned,--while my father sat, as he said, like a mere extension of the instrument, operated upon, rather than listening, as he wrote. What I then thought, I cannot tell. I don't believe I thought at all. I only musicated, as a little pupil of mine once said to me, when, having found her sitting with her hands on her lap before the piano, I asked her what she was doing: 'I am only musicating,' she answered. But the enjoyment was none the less that there was no conscious thought in it.
"Other branches he taught me himself, and I believe I got on very fairly for my age. We lived then in the neighborhood of the Museum, where I was well known to all the people of the place, for I used often to go there, and would linger about looking at things, sometimes for hours before my father came to me but he always came at the very minute he had said, and always found me at the appointed spot. I gained a great deal by thus haunting the Museum--a great deal more than I supposed at the time. One gain was, that I knew perfectly where in the place any given sort of thing was to be found, if it were there at all: I had unconsciously learned something of classification.
"One afternoon I was waiting as usual, but my father did not come at the time appointed. I waited on and on till it grew dark, and the hour for closing arrived, by which time I was in great uneasiness; but I was forced to go home without him. I must hasten over this part of my history, for even yet I can scarcely bear to speak of it. I found that while I was waiting, he had been seized with some kind of fit in the reading-room, and had been carried home, and that I was alone in the world. The landlady, for we only rented rooms in the house, was very kind to me, at least until she found that my father had left no money. He had then been only reading for a long time; and, when I looked back, I could see that he must have been short of money for some weeks at least. A few bills coming in, all our little effects--for the furniture was our own--were sold, without bringing sufficient to pay them. The things went for less than half their value, in consequence, I believe, of that well-known conspiracy of the brokers which they call knocking out. I was especially miserable at losing my father's books, which, although in ignorance, I greatly valued,--more miserable even, I honestly think, than at seeing my loved piano carried off.
"When the sale was over, and every thing removed, I sat down on the floor, amidst the dust and bits of paper and straw and cord, without a single idea in my head as to what was to become of me, or what I was to do next. I didn't cry,--that I am sure of; but I doubt if in all London there was a more wretched child than myself just then. The twilight was darkening down,--the twilight of a November afternoon. Of course there was no fire in the grate, and I had eaten nothing that day; for although the landlady had offered me some dinner, and I had tried to please her by taking some, I found I could not swallow, and had to leave it. While I sat thus on the floor, I heard her come into the room, and some one with her; but I did not look round, and they, not seeing me, and thinking, I suppose, that I was in one of the other rooms, went on talking about me. All I afterwards remembered of their conversation was some severe reflections on my father, and the announcement of the decree that I must go to the workhouse. Though I knew nothing definite as to the import of this doom, it filled me with horror. The moment they left me alone, to look for me, as I supposed, I got up, and, walking as softly as I could, glided down the stairs, and, unbonneted and unwrapped, ran from the house, half-blind with terror.
"I had not gone farther, I fancy, than a few yards, when I ran up against some one, who laid hold of me, and asked me gruffly what I meant by it. I knew the voice: it was that of an old Irishwoman who did all the little charing we wanted,--for I kept the rooms tidy, and the landlady cooked for us. As soon as she saw who it was, her tone changed; and then first I broke out in sobs, and told her I was running away because they were going to send me to the workhouse. She burst into a torrent of Irish indignation, and assured me that such should never be my fate while she lived. I must go back to the house with her, she said, and get my things; and then I should go home with her, until something better should turn up. I told her I would go with her anywhere, except into that house again; and she did not insist, but afterwards went by herself and got my little wardrobe. In the mean time she led me away to a large house in a square, of which she took the key from her pocket to open the door. It looked to me such a huge place!--the largest house I had ever been in; but it was rather desolate, for, except in one little room below, where she had scarcely more than a bed and a chair, a slip of carpet and a frying-pan, there was not an article of furniture in the whole place. She had been put there when the last tenant left, to take care of the place, until another tenant should appear to turn her out. She had her houseroom and a trifle a week besides for her services, beyond which she depended entirely on what she could make by charing. When she had no house to live in on the same terms, she took a room somewhere.
"Here I lived for several months, and was able to be of use; for as Mrs. Conan was bound to be there at certain times to show any one over the house who brought an order from the agent, and this necessarily took up a good part of her working time; and as, moreover, I could open the door and walk about the place as well as another, she willingly left me in charge as often as she had a job elsewhere.
"On such occasions, however, I found it very dreary indeed, for few people called, and she would not unfrequently be absent the whole day. If I had had my piano, I should have cared little; but I had not a single book, except one--and what do you think that was? An odd volume of the Newgate Calendar. I need hardly say that it had not the effect on me which it is said to have on some of its students: it moved me, indeed, to the profoundest sympathy, not with the crimes of the malefactors, only with the malefactors themselves, and their mental condition after the deed was actually done. But it was with the fascination of a hopeless horror, making me feel almost as if I had committed every crime as I perused its tale, that I regarded them. They were to me like living crimes. It was not until long afterwards that I was able to understand that a man's actions are not the man, but may be separated from him; that his character even is not the man, but may be changed while he yet holds the same individuality,--is the man who was blind though he now sees; whence it comes, that, the deeds continuing his, all stain of them may yet be washed out of him. I did not, I say, understand all this until afterwards; but I believe, odd as it may seem, that volume of the Newgate Calendar threw down the first deposit of soil, from which afterwards sprung what grew to be almost a passion in me, for getting the people about me clean,--a passion which might have done as much harm as good, if its companion, patience, had not been sent me to guide and restrain it. In a word, I came at length to understand, in some measure, the last prayer of our Lord for those that crucified him, and the ground on which he begged from his Father their forgiveness,--that they knew not what they did. If the Newgate Calendar was indeed the beginning of this course of education, I need not regret having lost my piano, and having that volume for a while as my only aid to reflection.
"My father had never talked much to me about religion; but when he did, it was with such evident awe in his spirit, and reverence in his demeanor, as had more effect on me, I am certain, from the very paucity of the words in which his meaning found utterance. Another thing which had still more influence upon me was, that, waking one night after I had been asleep for some time, I saw him on his knees by my bedside. I did not move or speak, for fear of disturbing him; and, indeed, such an awe came over me, that it would have required a considerable effort of the will for any bodily movement whatever. When he lifted his head, I caught a glimpse of a pale, tearful face; and it is no wonder that the virtue of the sight should never have passed away.
"On Sundays we went to church in the morning, and in the afternoon, in fine weather, went out for a walk; or, if it were raining or cold, I played to him till he fell asleep on the sofa. Then in the evening, after tea, we had more music, some poetry, which we read alternately, and a chapter of the New Testament, which he always read to me. I mention this, to show you that I did not come all unprepared to the study of the Newgate Calendar. Still, I cannot think, that, under any circumstances, it could have done an innocent child harm. Even familiarity with vice is not necessarily pollution. There cannot be many women of my age as familiar with it in every shape as I am; and I do not find that I grow to regard it with one atom less of absolute abhorrence, although I neither shudder at the mention of it, nor turn with disgust from the person in whom it dwells. But the consolations of religion were not yet consciously mine. I had not yet begun to think of God in any relation to myself.
"The house was in an old square, built, I believe, in the reign of Queen Anne, which, although many of the houses were occupied by well-to-do people, had fallen far from its first high estate. No one would believe, to look at it from the outside, what a great place it was. The whole of the space behind it, corresponding to the small gardens of the other houses, was occupied by a large music-room, under which was a low-pitched room of equal extent, while all under that were cellars, connected with the sunk story in front by a long vaulted passage, corresponding to a wooden gallery above, which formed a communication between the drawing-room floor and the music-room. Most girls of my age, knowing these vast empty spaces about them, would have been terrified at being left alone there, even in mid-day. But I was, I suppose, too miserable to be frightened. Even the horrible facts of the Newgate Calendar did not thus affect me, not even when Mrs. Conan was later than usual, and the night came down, and I had to sit, perhaps for hours, in the dark,--for she would not allow me to have a candle for fear of fire. But you will not wonder that I used to cry a good deal, although I did my best to hide the traces of it, because I knew it would annoy my kind old friend. She showed me a great deal of rough tenderness, which would not have been rough had not the natural grace of her Irish nature been injured by the contact of many years with the dull coarseness of the uneducated Saxon. You may be sure I learned to love her dearly. She shared every thing with me in the way of eating, and would have shared also the tumbler of gin and water with which she generally ended the day, but something, I don't know what, I believe a simple physical dislike, made me refuse that altogether.
"One evening I have particular cause to remember, both for itself, and because of something that followed many years after. I was in the drawing-room on the first floor, a double room with folding doors and a small cabinet behind communicating with a back stair; for the stairs were double all through the house, adding much to the eeriness of the place as I look back upon it in my memory. I fear, in describing the place so minutely, I may have been rousing false expectations of an adventure; but I have a reason for being rather minute, though it will not appear until afterwards. I had been looking out of the window all the afternoon upon the silent square, for, as it was no thoroughfare, it was only enlivened by the passing and returning now and then of a tradesman's cart; and, as it was winter, there were no children playing in the garden. It was a rainy afternoon. A gray cloud of fog and soot hung from the whole sky. About a score of yellow leaves yet quivered on the trees, and the statue of Queen Anne stood bleak and disconsolate among the bare branches. I am afraid I am getting long-winded, but somehow that afternoon seems burned into me in enamel. I gazed drearily without interest. I brooded over the past; I never, at this time, so far as I remember, dreamed of looking forward. I had no hope. It never occurred to me that things might grow better. I was dull and wretched. I may just say here in passing, that I think this experience is in a great measure what has enabled me to understand the peculiar misery of the poor in our large towns,--they have no hope, no impulse to look forward, nothing to expect; they live but in the present, and the dreariness of that soon shapes the whole atmosphere of their spirits to its own likeness. Perhaps the first thing one who would help them has to do is to aid the birth of some small vital hope in them; that is better than a thousand gifts, especially those of the ordinary kind, which mostly do harm, tending to keep them what they are,--a prey to present and importunate wants.
"It began to grow dark; and, tired of standing, I sat down upon the floor, for there was nothing to sit upon besides. There I still sat, long after it was quite dark. All at once a surge of self-pity arose in my heart. I burst out wailing and sobbing, and cried aloud, 'God has forgotten me altogether!' The fact was, I had had no dinner that day, for Mrs. Conan had expected to return long before; and the piece of bread she had given me, which was all that was in the house, I had eaten many hours ago. But I was not thinking of my dinner, though the want of it may have had to do with this burst of misery. What I was really thinking of was,--that I could do nothing for anybody. My little ambition had always been to be useful. I knew I was of some use to my father; for I kept the rooms tidy for him, and dusted his pet books--oh, so carefully! for they were like household gods to me. I had also played to him, and I knew he enjoyed that: he said so, many times. And I had begun, though not long before he left me, to think how I should be able to help him better by and by. For I saw that he worked very hard,--so hard that it made him silent; and I knew that my music-mistress made her livelihood, partly at least, by giving lessons; and I thought that I might, by and by, be able to give lessons too, and then papa would not require to work so hard, for I too should bring home money to pay for what we wanted. But now I was of use to nobody, I said, and not likely to become of any. I could not even help poor Mrs. Conan, except by doing what a child might do just as well as I, for I did not earn a penny of our living; I only gave the poor old thing time to work harder, that I might eat up her earnings! What added to the misery was, that I had always thought of myself as a lady; for was not papa a gentleman, let him be ever so poor? Shillings and sovereigns in his pocket could not determine whether a man was a gentleman or not! And if he was a gentleman, his daughter must be a lady. But how could I be a lady if I was content to be a burden to a poor charwoman, instead of earning my own living, and something besides with which to help her? For I had the notion--how it came I cannot tell, though I know well enough whence it came--that position depended on how much a person was able to help other people; and here I was, useless, worse than useless to anybody! Why did not God remember me, if it was only for my father's sake? He was worth something, if I was not! And I would be worth something, if only I had a chance!--'I am of no use,' I cried, 'and God has forgotten me altogether!' And I went on weeping and moaning in my great misery, until I fell fast asleep on the floor.
"I have no theory about dreams and visions; and I don't know what you, Mr. Walton, may think as to whether these ended with the first ages of the church; but surely if one falls fast asleep without an idea in one's head, and a whole dismal world of misery in one's heart, and wakes up quiet and refreshed, without the misery, and with an idea, there can be no great fanaticism in thinking that the change may have come from somewhere near where the miracles lie,--in fact, that God may have had something--might I not say every thing?--to do with it. For my part, if I were to learn that he had no hand in this experience of mine, I couldn't help losing all interest in it, and wishing that I had died of the misery which it dispelled. Certainly, if it had a physical source, it wasn't that I was more comfortable, for I was hungrier than ever, and, you may well fancy, cold enough, having slept on the bare floor without any thing to cover me on Christmas Eve--for Christmas Eve it was. No doubt my sleep had done me good, but I suspect the sleep came to quiet my mind for the reception of the new idea.
"The way Mrs. Conan kept Christmas Day, as she told me in the morning, was, to comfort her old bones in bed until the afternoon, and then to have a good tea with a chop; after which she said she would have me read the Newgate Calendar to her. So, as soon as I had washed up the few breakfast things, I asked, if, while she lay in bed, I might not go out for a little while to look for work. She laughed at the notion of my being able to do any thing, but did not object to my trying. So I dressed myself as neatly as I could, and set out.
"There were two narrow streets full of small shops, in which those of furniture-brokers predominated, leading from the two lower corners of the square down into Oxford Street; and in a shop in one of these, I was not sure which, I had seen an old piano standing, and a girl of about my own age watching. I found the shop at last, although it was shut up; for I knew the name, and knocked at the door. It was opened by a stout matron, with a not unfriendly expression, who asked me what I wanted. I told her I wanted work. She seemed amused at the idea,--for I was very small for my age then as well as now,--but, apparently willing to have a chat with me, asked what I could do. I told her I could teach her daughter music. She asked me what made me come to her, and I told her. Then she asked me how much I should charge. I told her that some ladies had a guinea a lesson; at which she laughed so heartily, that I had to wait until the first transports of her amusement were over before I could finish by saying, that for my part I should be glad to give an hour's lesson for threepence, only, if she pleased, I should prefer it in silver. But how was she to know, she asked, that I could teach her properly. I told her I would let her hear me play; whereupon she led me into the shop, through a back room in which her husband sat smoking a long pipe, with a tankard at his elbow. Having taken down a shutter, she managed with some difficulty to clear me a passage through a crowd of furniture to the instrument, and with a struggle I squeezed through and reached it; but at the first chord I struck, I gave a cry of dismay. In some alarm she asked what was the matter, calling me child very kindly. I told her it was so dreadfully out of tune I couldn't play upon it at all; but, if she would get it tuned, I should not be long in showing her that I could do what I professed. She told me she could not afford to have it tuned; and if I could not teach Bertha on it as it was, she couldn't help it. This, however, I assured her, was utterly impossible; upon which, with some show of offence, she reached over a chest of drawers, and shut down the cover. I believe she doubted whether I could play at all, and had not been merely amusing myself at her expense. Nothing was left but to thank her, bid her good-morning, and walk out of the house, dreadfully disappointed.
"Unwilling to go home at once, I wandered about the neighborhood, through street after street, until I found myself in another square, with a number of business-signs in it,--one of them that of a piano-forte firm, at sight of which, a thought came into my head. The next morning I went in, and requested to see the master. The man to whom I spoke stared, no doubt; but he went, and returning after a little while, during which my heart beat very fast, invited me to walk into the counting-house. Mr. Perkins was amused with the story of my attempt to procure teaching, and its frustration. If I had asked him for money, to which I do not believe hunger itself could have driven me, he would probably have got rid of me quickly enough,--and small blame to him, as Mrs. Conan would have said; but to my request that he would spare a man to tune Mrs. Lampeter's piano, he replied at once that he would, provided I could satisfy him as to my efficiency. Thereupon he asked me a few questions about music, of which some I could answer and some I could not. Next he took me into the shop, set me a stool in front of a grand piano, and told me to play. I could not help trembling a good deal, but I tried my best. In a few moments, however, the tears were dropping on the keys; and, when he asked me what was the matter, I told him it was months since I had touched a piano. The answer did not, however, satisfy him; he asked very kindly how that was, and I had to tell him my whole story. Then he not only promised to have the piano tuned for me at once, but told me that I might go and practise there as often as I pleased, so long as I was a good girl, and did not take up with bad company. Imagine my delight! Then he sent for a tuner, and I suppose told him a little about me, for the man spoke very kindly to me as we went to the broker's.
"Mr. Perkins has been a good friend to me ever since.
"For six months I continued to give Bertha Lampeter lessons. They were broken off only when she went to a dressmaker to learn her business. But her mother had by that time introduced me to several families of her acquaintance, amongst whom I found five or six pupils on the same terms. By this teaching, if I earned little, I learned much; and every day almost I practised at the music-shop.
"When the house was let, Mrs. Conan took a room in the neighborhood, that I might keep up my connection, she said. Then first I was introduced to scenes and experiences with which I am now familiar. Mrs. Percivale might well recoil if I were to tell her half the wretchedness, wickedness, and vulgarity I have seen, and often had to encounter. For two years or so we changed about, at one time in an empty house, at another in a hired room, sometimes better, sometimes worse off, as regarded our neighbors, until, Mrs. Conan having come to the conclusion that it would be better for her to confine herself to charing, we at last settled down here, where I have now lived for many years.
"You may be inclined to ask why I had not kept up my acquaintance with my music-mistress. I believe the shock of losing my father, and the misery that followed, made me feel as if my former world had vanished; at all events, I never thought of going to her until Mr. Perkins one day, after listening to something I was playing, asked me who had taught me; and this brought her back to my mind so vividly that I resolved to go and see her. She welcomed me with more than kindness,--with tenderness,--and told me I had caused her much uneasiness by not letting her know what had become of me. She looked quite aghast when she learned in what sort of place and with whom I lived; but I told her Mrs. Conan had saved me from the workhouse, and was as much of a mother to me as it was possible for her to be, that we loved each other, and that it would be very wrong of me to leave her now, especially that she was not so well as she had been; and I believe she then saw the thing as I saw it. She made me play to her, was pleased,--indeed surprised, until I told her how I had been supporting myself,--and insisted on my resuming my studies with her, which I was only too glad to do. I now, of course, got on much faster; and she expressed satisfaction with my progress, but continued manifestly uneasy at the kind of thing I had to encounter, and become of necessity more and more familiar with.
"When Mrs. Conan fell ill, I had indeed hard work of it. Unlike most of her class, she had laid by a trifle of money; but as soon as she ceased to add to it, it began to dwindle, and was very soon gone. Do what I could for a while, if it had not been for the kindness of the neighbors, I should sometimes have been in want of bread; and when I hear hard things said of the poor, I often think that surely improvidence is not so bad as selfishness. But, of course, there are all sorts amongst them, just as there are all sorts in every class. When I went out to teach, now one, now another of the women in the house would take charge of my friend; and when I came home, except her guardian happened to have got tipsy, I never found she had been neglected. Miss Harper said I must raise my terms; but I told her that would be the loss of my pupils. Then she said she must see what could be done for me, only no one she knew was likely to employ a child like me, if I were able to teach ever so well. One morning, however, within a week, a note came from Lady Bernard, asking me to go and see her.
"I went, and found--a mother. You do not know her, I think? But you must one day. Good people like you must come together. I will not attempt to describe her. She awed me at first, and I could hardly speak to her,--I was not much more than thirteen then; but with the awe came a certain confidence which was far better than ease. The immediate result was, that she engaged me to go and play for an hour, five days a week, at a certain hospital for sick children in the neighborhood, which she partly supported. For she had a strong belief that there was in music a great healing power. Her theory was, that all healing energy operates first on the mind, and from it passes to the body, and that medicines render aid only by removing certain physical obstacles to the healing force. She believes that when music operating on the mind has procured the peace of harmony, the peace in its turn operates outward, reducing the vital powers also into the harmonious action of health. How much there may be in it, I cannot tell; but I do think that good has been and is the result of my playing to those children; for I go still, though not quite so often, and it is music to me to watch my music thrown back in light from some of those sweet, pale, suffering faces. She was too wise to pay me much for it at first. She inquired, before making me the offer, how much I was already earning, asked me upon how much I could support Mrs. Conan and myself comfortably, and then made the sum of my weekly earnings up to that amount. At the same time, however, she sent many things to warm and feed the old woman, so that my mind was set at ease about her. She got a good deal better for a while, but continued to suffer so much from rheumatism, that she was quite unfit to go out charing any more; and I would not hear of her again exposing herself to the damps and draughts of empty houses, so long as I was able to provide for her,--of which ability you may be sure I was not a little proud at first.
"I have been talking for a long time, and yet may seem to have said nothing to account for your finding me where she left me; but I will try to come to the point as quickly as possible.
"Before she was entirely laid up, we had removed to this place,--a rough shelter, but far less so than some of the houses in which we had been. I remember one in which I used to dart up and down like a hunted hare at one time; at another to steal along from stair to stair like a well-meaning ghost afraid of frightening people; my mode of procedure depending in part on the time of day, and which of the inhabitants I had reason to dread meeting. It was a good while before the inmates of this house and I began to know each other. The landlord had turned out the former tenant of this garret after she had been long enough in the house for all the rest to know her; and, notwithstanding she had been no great favorite, they all took her part against the landlord; and fancying, perhaps because we kept more to ourselves, that we were his protégées, and that he had turned out Muggy Moll, as they called her, to make room for us, regarded us from the first with disapprobation. The little girls would make grimaces at me, and the bigger girls would pull my hair, slap my face, and even occasionally push me down stairs, while the boys made themselves far more terrible in my eyes. But some remark happening to be dropped one day, which led the landlord to disclaim all previous knowledge of us, things began to grow better. And this is not by any means one of the worst parts of London. I could take Mr. Walton to houses in the East End, where the manners are indescribable. We are all earning our bread here. Some have an occasional attack of drunkenness, and idle about; but they are sick of it again after a while. I remember asking a woman once if her husband would be present at a little entertainment to which Lady Bernard had invited them: she answered that he would be there if he was drunk, but if he was sober he couldn't spare the time.
"Very soon they began to ask me after Mrs. Conan; and one day I invited one of them, who seemed a decent though not very tidy woman, to walk up and see her; for I was anxious she should have a visitor now and then when I was out, as she complained a good deal of the loneliness. The woman consented, and ever after was very kind to her. But my main stay and comfort was an old woman who then occupied the room opposite to this. She was such a good creature! Nearly blind, she yet kept her room the very pink of neatness. I never saw a speck of dust on that chest of drawers, which was hers then, and which she valued far more than many a rich man values the house of his ancestors,--not only because it had been her mother's, but because it bore testimony to the respectability of her family. Her floor and her little muslin window-curtain, her bed and every thing about her, were as clean as lady could desire. She objected to move into a better room below, which the landlord kindly offered her,--for she was a favorite from having been his tenant a long time and never having given him any trouble in collecting her rent,--on the ground that there were two windows in it, and therefore too much light for her bits of furniture. They would, she said, look nothing in that room. She was very pleased when I asked her to pay a visit to Mrs. Conan; and as she belonged to a far higher intellectual grade than my protectress, and as she had a strong practical sense of religion, chiefly manifested in a willing acceptance of the decrees of Providence, I think she did us both good. I wish I could draw you a picture of her coming in at that door, with her all but sightless eyes, the broad borders of her white cap waving, and her hands stretched out before her; for she was more apprehensive than if she had been quite blind, because she could see things without knowing what, or even in what position they were. The most remarkable thing to me was the calmness with which she looked forward to her approaching death, although without the expectation which so many good people seem to have in connection with their departure. I talked to her about it more than once,--not with any presumption of teaching her, for I felt she was far before me, but just to find out how she felt and what she believed. Her answer amounted to this, that she had never known beforehand what lay round the next corner, or what was going to happen to her, for if Providence had meant her to know, it could not be by going to fortune-tellers, as some of the neighbors did; but that she always found things turn out right and good for her, and she did not doubt she would find it so when she came to the last turn.
"By degrees I knew everybody in the house, and of course I was ready to do what I could to help any of them. I had much to lift me into a higher region of mental comfort than was open to them; for I had music, and Lady Bernard lent me books.
"Of course also I kept my rooms as clean and tidy as I could; and indeed, if I had been more carelessly inclined in that way, the sight of the blind woman's would have been a constant reminder to me. By degrees also I was able to get a few more articles of furniture for it, and a bit of carpet to put down before the fire. I whitewashed the walls myself, and after a while began to whitewash the walls of the landing as well, and all down the stair, which was not of much use to the eye, for there is no light. Before long some of the other tenants began to whitewash their rooms also, and contrive to keep things a little tidier. Others declared they had no opinion of such uppish notions; they weren't for the likes of them. These were generally such as would rejoice in wearing finery picked up at the rag-shop; but even some of them began by degrees to cultivate a small measure of order. Soon this one and that began to apply to me for help in various difficulties that arose. But they didn't begin to call me grannie for a long time after this. They used then to call the blind woman grannie, and the name got associated with the top of the house; and I came to be associated with it because I also lived there and we were friends. After her death, it was used from habit, at first with a feeling of mistake, seeing its immediate owner was gone; but by degrees it settled down upon me, and I came to be called grannie by everybody in the house. Even Mrs. Conan would not unfrequently address me, and speak of me too, as grannie, at first with a laugh, but soon as a matter of course.
"I got by and by a few pupils amongst tradespeople of a class rather superior to that in which I had begun to teach, and from whom I could ask and obtain double my former fee; so that things grew, with fluctuations, gradually better. Lady Bernard continued a true friend to me--but she never was other than that to any. Some of her friends ventured on the experiment whether I could teach their children; and it is no wonder if they were satisfied, seeing I had myself such a teacher.
"Having come once or twice to see Mrs. Conan, she discovered that we were gaining a little influence over the people in the house; and it occurred to her, as she told me afterwards, that the virtue of music might be tried there with a moral end in view. Hence it came that I was beyond measure astonished and delighted one evening by the arrival of a piano,--not that one, for it got more worn than I liked, and I was able afterwards to exchange it for a better. I found it an invaluable aid in the endeavor to work out my glowing desire of getting the people about me into a better condition. First I asked some of the children to come and listen while I played. Everybody knows how fond the least educated children are of music; and I feel assured of its elevating power. Whatever the street-organs may be to poets and mathematicians, they are certainly a godsend to the children of our courts and alleys. The music takes possession of them at once, and sets them moving to it with rhythmical grace. I should have been very sorry to make it a condition with those I invited, that they should sit still: to take from them their personal share in it would have been to destroy half the charm of the thing. A far higher development is needful before music can be enjoyed in silence and motionlessness. The only condition I made was, that they should come with clean hands and faces, and with tidy hair. Considerable indignation was at first manifested on the part of those parents whose children I refused to admit because they had neglected the condition. This necessity, however, did not often occur; and the anger passed away, while the condition gathered weight. After a while, guided by what some of the children let fall; I began to invite the mothers to join them; and at length it came to be understood that, every Saturday evening, whoever chose to make herself tidy would be welcome, to an hour or two of my music. Some of the husbands next began to come, but there were never so many of them present. I may just add, that although the manners of some of my audience would be very shocking to cultivated people, and I understand perfectly how they must be so, I am very rarely annoyed on such occasions.
"I must now glance at another point in my history, one on which I cannot dwell. Never since my father's death had I attended public worship. Nothing had drawn me thither; and I hardly know what induced me one evening to step into a chapel of which I knew nothing. There was not even Sunday to account for it. I believe, however, it had to do with this, that all day I had been feeling tired. I think people are often ready to suppose that their bodily condition is the cause of their spiritual discomfort, when it may be only the occasion upon which some inward lack reveals itself. That the spiritual nature should be incapable of meeting and sustaining the body in its troubles is of itself sufficient to show that it is not in a satisfactory condition. For a long time the struggle for mere existence had almost absorbed my energies; but things had been easier for some time, and a re-action had at length come. It was not that I could lay any thing definite to my own charge; I only felt empty all through; I felt that something was not right with me, that something was required of me which I was not rendering. I could not, however, have told you what it was. Possibly the feeling had been for some time growing; but that day, so far as I can tell, I was first aware of it; and I presume it was the dim cause of my turning at the sound of a few singing voices, and entering that chapel. I found about a dozen people present. Something in the air of the place, meagre and waste as it looked, yet induced me to remain. An address followed from a pale-faced, weak-looking man of middle age, who had no gift of person, voice, or utterance, to recommend what he said. But there dwelt a more powerful enforcement in him than any of those,--that of earnestness. I went again, and again; and slowly, I cannot well explain how, the sense of life and its majesty grew upon me. Mr. Walton will, I trust, understand me when I say, that to one hungering for bread, it is of little consequence in what sort of platter it is handed him. This was a dissenting chapel,--of what order, it was long before I knew,--and my predilection was for the Church-services, those to which my father had accustomed me; but any comparison of the two to the prejudice of either, I should still--although a communicant of the Church of England--regard with absolute indifference.
"It will be sufficient for my present purpose to allude to the one practical thought which was the main fruit I gathered from this good man,--the fruit by which I know that he was good.
[Footnote: Something like this is the interpretation of the word: "By their fruits ye shall know them" given by Mr. Maurice,--an interpretation which opens much.--G.M.D.]
It was this,--that if all the labor of God, as my teacher said, was to bring sons into glory, lifting them out of the abyss of evil bondage up to the rock of his pure freedom, the only worthy end of life must be to work in the same direction,--to be a fellow-worker with God. Might I not, then, do something such, in my small way, and lose no jot of my labor? I thought. The urging, the hope, grew in me. But I was not left to feel blindly after some new and unknown method of labor. My teacher taught me that the way for me to help others was not to tell them their duty, but myself to learn of Him who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. As I learned of him, I should be able to help them. I have never had any theory but just to be their friend,--to do for them the best I can. When I feel I may, I tell them what has done me good, but I never urge any belief of mine upon their acceptance.
"It will now seem no more wonderful to you than to me, that I should remain where I am. I simply have no choice. I was sixteen when Mrs. Conan died. Then my friends, amongst whom Lady Bernard and Miss Harper have ever been first, expected me to remove to lodgings in another neighborhood. Indeed, Lady Bernard came to see me, and said she knew precisely the place for me. When I told her I should remain where I was, she was silent, and soon left me?--I thought offended. I wrote to her at once, explaining why I chose my part here; saying that I would not hastily alter any thing that had been appointed me; that I loved the people; that they called me grannie; that they came to me with their troubles; that there were few changes in the house now; that the sick looked to me for help, and the children for teaching; that they seemed to be steadily rising in the moral scale; that I knew some of them were trying hard to be good; and I put it to her whether, if I were to leave them, in order merely, as servants say, to better myself, I should not be forsaking my post, almost my family; for I knew it would not be to better either myself or my friends: if I was at all necessary to them, I knew they were yet more necessary to me.
"I have a burning desire to help in the making of the world clean,--if it be only by sweeping one little room in it. I want to lead some poor stray sheep home--not home to the church, Mr. Walton--I would not be supposed to curry favor with you. I never think of what they call the church. I only care to lead them home to the bosom of God, where alone man is true man.
"I could talk to you till night about what Lady Bernard has been to me since, and what she has done for me and my grandchildren; but I have said enough to explain how it is that I am in such a questionable position. I fear I have been guilty of much egotism, and have shown my personal feelings with too little reserve. But I cast myself on your mercy."
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