London was rousing everywhere into
morning activity, as I passed through the streets.
The shutters were being removed from the windows of
public-houses: the drink-vampyres that suck the
life of London, were opening their eyes betimes to
look abroad for the new day’s prey! Small
tobacco and provision-shops in poor neighbourhoods;
dirty little eating-houses, exhaling greasy-smelling
steam, and displaying a leaf of yesterday’s
paper, stained and fly-blown, hanging in the windows were
already plying, or making ready to ply, their daily
trade. Here, a labouring man, late for his work,
hurried by; there, a hale old gentleman started for
his early walk before breakfast. Now a market-cart,
already unloaded, passed me on its way back to the
country; now, a cab, laden with luggage and carrying
pale, sleepy-looking people, rattled by, bound for
the morning train or the morning steamboat. I
saw the mighty vitality of the great city renewing
itself in every direction; and I felt an unwonted
interest in the sight. It was as if all things,
on all sides, were reflecting before me the aspect
of my own heart.
But the quiet and torpor of the night
still hung over Hollyoake Square. That dreary
neighbourhood seemed to vindicate its dreariness by
being the last to awaken even to a semblance of activity
and life. Nothing was stirring as yet at North
Villa. I walked on, beyond the last houses, into
the sooty London fields; and tried to think of the
course I ought to pursue in order to see Margaret,
and speak to her, before I turned homeward again.
After the lapse of more than half an hour, I returned
to the square, without plan or project; but resolved,
nevertheless, to carry my point.
The garden-gate of North Villa was
now open. One of the female servants of the house
was standing at it, to breathe the fresh air, and look
about her, before the duties of the day began.
I advanced; determined, if money and persuasion could
do it, to secure her services.
She was young (that was one chance
in my favour!) plump, florid, and evidently
not by any means careless about her personal appearance
(that gave me another!) As she saw me approaching
her, she smiled; and passed her apron hurriedly over
her face carefully polishing it for my
inspection, much as a broker polishes a piece of furniture
when you stop to look at it.
“Are you in Mr. Sherwin’s
service?” I asked, as I got to the
“As plain cook, Sir,”
answered the girl, administering to her face a final
and furious rub of the apron.
“Should you be very much surprised
if I asked you to do me a great favour?”
“Well really, Sir you’re
quite a stranger to me I’m sure
I don’t know!” She stopped, and transferred
the apron-rubbing to her arms.
“I hope we shall not be strangers
long. Suppose I begin our acquaintance, by telling
you that you would look prettier in brighter cap-ribbons,
and asking you to buy some, just to see whether I am
“It’s very kind of you
to say so, Sir; and thank you. But cap and ribbons
are the last things I can buy while I’m in this
place. Master’s master and missus too,
here; and drives us half wild with the fuss he makes
about our caps and ribbons. He’s such an
austerious man, that he will have our caps as he likes
’em. It’s bad enough when a missus
meddles with a poor servant’s ribbons; but to
have master come down into the kitchen, and Well,
it’s no use telling you of it, Sir and and
thank you, Sir, for what you’ve given me, all
“I hope this is not the last
time I shall make you a present. And now I must
come to the favour I want to ask of you: can you
keep a secret?”
“That I can, Sir! I’ve
kep’ a many secrets since I’ve been out
“Well: I want you to find
me an opportunity of speaking to your young lady ”
“To Miss Margaret, Sir?”
“Yes. I want an opportunity
of seeing Miss Margaret, and speaking to her in private and
not a word must be said to her about it, beforehand.”
“Oh Lord, Sir! I couldn’t dare to
“Come! come! Can’t
you guess why I want to see your young lady, and what
I want to say to her?”
The girl smiled, and shook her head
archly. “Perhaps you’re in love with
Miss Margaret, Sir! But I couldn’t
do it! I couldn’t dare to do it!”
“Very well; but you can tell
me at least, whether Miss Margaret ever goes out to
take a walk?”
“Oh, yes, Sir; mostly every day.”
“Do you ever go out with her? just
to take care of her when no one else can be spared?”
“Don’t ask me please,
Sir, don’t!” She crumpled her apron between
her fingers, with a very piteous and perplexed air.
“I don’t know you; and Miss Margaret don’t
know you, I’m sure I couldn’t,
Sir, I really couldn’t!”
“Take a good look at me!
Do you think I am likely to do you or your young lady
any harm? Am I too dangerous a man to be trusted?
Would you believe me on my promise?”
“Yes, Sir, I’m sure I
would! being so kind and so civil to me,
too!” (a fresh arrangement of the cap followed
“Then suppose I promised, in
the first place, not to tell Miss Margaret that I
had spoken to you about her at all. And suppose
I promised, in the second place, that, if you told
me when you and Miss Margaret go out together, I would
only speak to her while she was in your sight, and
would leave her the moment you wished me to go away.
Don’t you think you could venture to help me,
if I promised all that?”
“Well, Sir, that would make
a difference, to be sure. But then, it’s
master I’m so afraid of couldn’t
you speak to master first, Sir?”
“Suppose you were in Miss Margaret’s
place, would you like to be made love to, by your
father’s authority, without your own wishes being
consulted first? would you like an offer of marriage,
delivered like a message, by means of your father?
Come, tell me honestly, would you?”
She laughed, and shook her head very
expressively. I knew the strength of my last
argument, and repeated it: “Suppose you
were in Miss Margaret’s place?”
“Hush! don’t speak so
loud,” resumed the girl in a confidential whisper.
“I’m sure you’re a gentleman.
I should like to help you if I could only
dare to do it, I should indeed!”
“That’s a good girl,”
I said. “Now tell me, when does Miss Margaret
go out to-day; and who goes with her?”
“Dear! dear! it’s
very wrong to say it; but I must. She’ll
go out with me to market, this morning, at eleven
o’clock. She’s done it for the last
week. Master don’t like it; but Missus begged
and prayed she might; for Missus says she won’t
be fit to be married, if she knows nothing about housekeeping,
and prices, and what’s good meat, and what isn’t,
and all that, you know.”
“Thank you a thousand times!
you have given me all the help I want. I’ll
be here before eleven, waiting for you to come out.”
“Oh, please don’t, Sir I
wish I hadn’t told you I oughtn’t,
indeed I oughtn’t!”
“No fear you shall
not lose by what you have told me I promise
all I said I would promise good bye.
And mind, not a word to Miss Margaret till I see her!”
As I hurried away, I heard the girl
run a few paces after me then stop then
return, and close the garden gate, softly. She
had evidently put herself once more in Miss Margaret’s
place; and had given up all idea of further resistance
as she did so.
How should I occupy the hours until
eleven o’clock? Deceit whispered: Go
home; avoid even the chance of exciting suspicion,
by breakfasting with your family as usual. And
as deceit counselled, so I acted.
I never remember Clara more kind,
more ready with all those trifling little cares and
attentions which have so exquisite a grace, when offered
by a woman to a man, and especially by a sister to
a brother, as when she and I and my father assembled
together at the breakfast-table. I now recollect
with shame how little I thought about her, or spoke
to her on that morning; with how little hesitation
or self-reproach I excused myself from accepting an
engagement which she wished to make with me for that
day. My father was absorbed in some matter of
business; to him she could not speak.
It was to me that she addressed all her wonted questions
and remarks of the morning. I hardly listened
to them; I answered them carelessly and briefly.
The moment breakfast was over, without a word of explanation
I hastily left the house again.
As I descended the steps, I glanced
by accident at the dining-room window. Clara
was looking after me from it. There was the same
anxious expression on her face which it had worn when
she left me the evening before. She smiled as
our eyes met a sad, faint smile that made
her look unlike herself. But it produced no impression
on me then: I had no attention for anything but
my approaching interview with Margaret. My life
throbbed and burned within me, in that direction:
it was all coldness, torpor, insensibility, in every
I reached Hollyoake Square nearly
an hour before the appointed time. In the suspense
and impatience of that long interval, it was impossible
to be a moment in repose. I walked incessantly
up and down the square, and round and round the neighbourhood,
hearing each quarter chimed from a church clock near,
and mechanically quickening my pace the nearer the
time came for the hour to strike. At last, I heard
the first peal of the eventful eleven. Before
the clock was silent, I had taken up my position within
view of the gate of North Villa.
Five minutes passed ten and
no one appeared. In my impatience, I could almost
have rung the bell and entered the house, no matter
who might be there, or what might be the result.
The first quarter struck; and at that very moment
I heard the door open, and saw Margaret, and the servant
with whom I had spoken, descending the steps.
They passed out slowly through the
garden gate, and walked down the square, away from
where I was standing. The servant noticed me by
one significant look, as they went on. Her young
mistress did not appear to see me. At first,
my agitation was so violent that I was perfectly incapable
of following them a single step. In a few moments
I recovered myself; and hastened to overtake them,
before they arrived at a more frequented part of the
As I approached her side, Margaret
turned suddenly and looked at me, with an expression
of anger and astonishment in her eyes. The next
instant, her lovely face became tinged all over with
a deep, burning blush; her head drooped a little;
she hesitated for a moment; and then abruptly quickened
her pace. Did she remember me? The mere chance
that she did, gave me confidence: I
No! I cannot write
down the words that I said to her. Recollecting
the end to which our fatal interview led, I recoil
at the very thought of exposing to others, or of preserving
in any permanent form, the words in which I first
confessed my love. It may be pride miserable,
useless pride which animates me with this
feeling: but I cannot overcome it. Remembering
what I do, I am ashamed to write, ashamed to recall,
what I said at my first interview with Margaret Sherwin.
I can give no good reason for the sensations which
now influence me; I cannot analyse them; and I would
not if I could.
Let it be enough to say that I risked
everything, and spoke to her. My words, confused
as they were, came hotly, eagerly, and eloquently from
my heart. In the space of a few minutes, I confessed
to her all, and more than all, that I have here painfully
related in many pages. I made use of my name
and my rank in life even now, my cheeks
burn while I think of it to dazzle her
girl’s pride, to make her listen to me for the
sake of my station, if she would not for the sake of
my suit, however honourably urged. Never before
had I committed the meanness of trusting to my social
advantages, what I feared to trust to myself.
It is true that love soars higher than the other passions;
but it can stoop lower as well.
Her answers to all that I urged were
confused, commonplace, and chilling enough. I
had surprised her frightened her it
was impossible she could listen to such addresses
from a total stranger it was very wrong
of me to speak, and of her to stop and hear me I
should remember what became me as a gentleman, and
should not make such advances to her again I
knew nothing of her it was impossible I
could really care about her in so short a time she
must beg that I would allow her to proceed unhindered.
Thus she spoke; sometimes standing
still, sometimes moving hurriedly a few steps forward.
She might have expressed herself severely, even angrily;
but nothing she could have said would have counteracted
the fascination that her presence exercised over me.
I saw her face, lovelier than ever in its confusion,
in its rapid changes of expression; I saw her eloquent
eyes once or twice raised to mine, then instantly
withdrawn again and so long as I could look
at her, I cared not what I listened to. She was
only speaking what she had been educated to speak;
it was not in her words that I sought the clue to her
thoughts and sensations; but in the tone of her voice,
in the language of her eyes, in the whole expression
of her face. All these contained indications
which reassured me. I tried everything that respect,
that the persuasion of love could urge, to win her
consent to our meeting again; but she only answered
with repetitions of what she had said before, walking
onward rapidly while she spoke. The servant, who
had hitherto lingered a few paces behind, now advanced
to her young mistress’s side, with a significant
look, as if to remind me of my promise. Saying
a few parting words, I let them proceed: at this
first interview, to have delayed them longer would
have been risking too much.
As they walked away, the servant turned
round, nodding her head and smiling, as if to assure
me that I had lost nothing by the forbearance which
I had exercised. Margaret neither lingered nor
looked back. This last proof of modesty and reserve,
so far from discouraging, attracted me to her more
powerfully than ever. After a first interview,
it was the most becoming virtue she could have shown.
All my love for her before, seemed as nothing compared
with my love for her now that she had left me, and
left me without a parting look.
What course should I next pursue?
Could I expect that Margaret, after what she had said,
would go out again at the same hour on the morrow?
No: she would not so soon abandon the modesty
and restraint that she had shown at our first interview.
How communicate with her? how manage most skilfully
to make good the first favourable impression which
vanity whispered I had already produced? I determined
to write to her.
How different was the writing of that
letter, to the writing of those once-treasured pages
of my romance, which I had now abandoned for ever!
How slowly I worked; how cautiously and diffidently
I built up sentence after sentence, and doubtingly
set a stop here, and laboriously rounded off a paragraph
there, when I toiled in the service of ambition!
Now, when I had given myself up to the service of
love, how rapidly the pen ran over the paper; how
much more freely and smoothly the desires of the heart
flowed into words, than the thoughts of the mind!
Composition was an instinct now, an art no longer.
I could write eloquently, and yet write without pausing
for an expression or blotting a word It
was the slow progress up the hill, in the service
of ambition; it was the swift (too swift) career down
it, in the service of love!
There is no need to describe the contents
of my letter to Margaret; they comprised a mere recapitulation
of what I had already said to her. I insisted
often and strongly on the honourable purpose of my
suit; and ended by entreating her to write an answer,
and consent to allow me another interview.
The letter was delivered by the servant.
Another present, a little more timely persuasion,
and above all, the regard I had shown to my promise,
won the girl with all her heart to my interests.
She was ready to help me in every way, as long as
her interference could be kept a secret from her master.
I waited a day for the reply to my
letter; but none came. The servant could give
me no explanation of this silence. Her young mistress
had not said one word to her about me, since the morning
when we had met. Still not discouraged, I wrote
again. The letter contained some lover’s
threats this time, as well as lover’s entreaties;
and it produced its effect an answer came.
It was very short rather
hurriedly and tremblingly written and simply
said that the difference between my rank and hers made
it her duty to request of me, that neither by word
nor by letter should I ever address her again.
“Difference in rank,” that
was the only objection then! “Her duty” it
was not from inclination that she refused me!
So young a creature; and yet so noble in self-sacrifice,
so firm in her integrity! I resolved to disobey
her injunction, and see her again. My rank!
What was my rank? Something to cast at Margaret’s
feet, for Margaret to trample on!
Once more I sought the aid of my faithful
ally, the servant. After delays which half maddened
me with impatience, insignificant though they were,
she contrived to fulfil my wishes. One afternoon,
while Mr. Sherwin was away at business, and while
his wife had gone out, I succeeded in gaining admission
to the garden at the back of the house, where Margaret
was then occupied in watering some flowers.
She started as she saw me, and attempted
to return to the house. I took her hand to detain
her. She withdrew it, but neither abruptly nor
angrily. I seized the opportunity, while she hesitated
whether to persist or not in retiring; and repeated
what I had already said to her at our first interview
(what is the language of love but a language of repetitions?).
She answered, as she had answered me in her letter:
the difference in our rank made it her duty to discourage
“But if this difference did
not exist,” I said: “if we were both
living in the same rank, Margaret ”
She looked up quickly; then moved
away a step or two, as I addressed her by her Christian
“Are you offended with me for
calling you Margaret so soon? I do not think
of you as Miss Sherwin, but as Margaret are
you offended with me for speaking as I think?”
No: she ought not to be offended
with me, or with anybody, for doing that.
“Suppose this difference in
rank, which you so cruelly insist on, did not exist,
would you tell me not to hope, not to speak then, as
coldly as you tell me now?”
I must not ask her that it
was no use the difference in rank did
“Perhaps I have met you too
late? perhaps you are already ”
“No! oh, no!” she
stopped abruptly, as the words passed her lips.
The same lovely blush which I had before seen spreading
over her face, rose on it now. She evidently
felt that she had unguardedly said too much:
that she had given me an answer in a case where, according
to every established love-law of the female code,
I had no right to expect one. Her next words
accused me but in very low and broken tones of
having committed an intrusion which she should hardly
have expected from a gentleman in my position.
“I will regain your better opinion,”
I said, eagerly catching at the most favourable interpretation
of her last words, “by seeing you for the next
time, and for all times after, with your father’s
full permission. I will write to-day, and ask
for a private interview with him. I will tell
him all I have told you: I will tell him that
you take a rank in beauty and goodness, which is the
highest rank in the land a far higher rank
than mine the only rank I desire.”
(A smile, which she vainly strove to repress, stole
charmingly to her lips.) “Yes, I will do this;
I will never leave him till his answer is favourable and
then what would be yours? One word, Margaret;
one word before I go ”
I attempted to take her hand a second
time; but she broke from me, and hurried into the
What more could I desire? What
more could the modesty and timidity of a young girl
concede to me?
The moment I reached home, I wrote
to Mr. Sherwin. The letter was superscribed “Private;”
and simply requested an interview with him on a subject
of importance, at any hour he might mention. Unwilling
to trust what I had written to the post, I sent my
note by a messenger not one of our own
servants, caution forbade that and instructed
the man to wait for an answer: if Mr. Sherwin
was out, to wait till he came home.
After a long delay long
to me; for my impatience would fain have turned
hours into minutes I received a reply.
It was written on gilt-edged letter-paper, in a handwriting
vulgarised by innumerable flourishes. Mr. Sherwin
presented his respectful compliments, and would be
happy to have the honour of seeing me at North Villa,
if quite convenient, at five o’clock to-morrow
I folded up the letter carefully:
it was almost as precious as a letter from Margaret
herself. That night I passed sleeplessly, revolving
in my mind every possible course that I could take
at the interview of the morrow. It would be a
difficult and a delicate business. I knew nothing
of Mr. Sherwin’s character; yet I must trust
him with a secret which I dared not trust to my own
father. Any proposals for paying addresses to
his daughter, coming from one in my position, might
appear open to suspicion. What could I say about
marriage? A public, acknowledged marriage was
impossible: a private marriage might be a bold,
if not fatal proposal. I could come to no other
conclusion, reflect as anxiously as I might, than
that it was best for me to speak candidly at all hazards.
I could be candid enough when it suited my purpose!
It was not till the next day, when
the time approached for my interview with Mr. Sherwin,
that I thoroughly roused myself to face the plain
necessities of my position. Determined to try
what impression appearances could make on him, I took
unusual pains with my dress; and more, I applied to
a friend whom I could rely on as likely to ask no
questions I write this in shame and sorrow:
I tell truth here, where it is hard penance to tell
it I applied, I say, to a friend for the
loan of one of his carriages to take me to North Villa;
fearing the risk of borrowing my father’s carriage,
or my sister’s knowing the common
weakness of rank-worship and wealth-worship in men
of Mr. Sherwin’s order, and meanly determining
to profit by it to the utmost. My friend’s
carriage was willingly lent me. By my directions,
it took me up at the appointed hour, at a shop where
I was a regular customer.