« AnteriorContinuar »
within the catalogue of my wants, and while endeavoring in my own mind to square the quality of the linen with my slender resources—a habit I sometimes indulge in— a pale, thin, but elegantly-modelled hand, was passed across the counter, depositing a small parcel in front of the dapper shopkeeper. There was something about the hand that induced me to turn toward the owner of it. I could not resist the impression that the face was one I had seen and known intimately—but where or when, it was impossible for me at the time to remember. Her eye was full and clear, but circled with a halo of sickly blue, in striking contrast with the thinness and whiteness of the skin, which, together with the worn and wearied frame, betokened the effects of too constant application upon one who was apparently yet in the prime of life. So forcibly was I struck by the appearance of the form before me, that she no doubt set me down for a very impertinent young gentleman: for I had suspended my purchases, and stood for a full minute staring at her like a fool, when, or I should rather say before the expiration of the minute, she removed her position, and drew her plain hood further over her face. I might have been mistaken, but I fancied that a considerable degree of embarrassment was apparent in her manner, and that a shade of color passed over her wan cheek. Recalled thus to my recollection, I turned again to my employment; but the little episode had so confused my mind, that I was scarcely conscious whether I was examining shirts or shingles.
“‘Well! Mrs. Jordan,’ interrogated the shopkeeper, ‘what have you brought to-day ?” “‘Jordan ' I repeated mentally—‘Clara Jordan, the wife of my early friend Charles Jordan ' Impossible !— and yet I can not be mistaken.” “‘I have brought the two shirts you gave me last week,” answered the young woman, meekly. “The tone of voice confirmed me in the belief that she was indeed my early and cherished companion. It was more plaintive and humble than formerly, but there was the same silvery intonation, and it awakened the same emotions as of old. It struck a link in the chain of memory, and, with the speed of electricity, shop, linen, and all, were wheeled into oblivion, and I was borne back to the parlor-window, looking out through the fragrant jessamine, where I had poured out in vain all the fondness of a devoted heart. Many years of anxious toil, through a series of hopes deferred, promises delayed, and anticipations blighted, had nearly obliterated these scenes from my memory. How strange it is that so slight a thing as a note in music, the odor of a flower, or a tone of voice, will thus startle the shadows of the past, and cause them to pass before the mind arrayed in more than the vivid colors of reality “I could not be mistaken. The person before me was no stranger: of that I was certain ; but as the recognition was not mutual, I could not summon audacity enough to address her. My mind, thus diverted from its occupation, was soon recalled from its wanderings by the conversation between the shopkeeper and his dependant, for in that relation they appeared to stand to each other. “‘These shirts were to have been brought in last week,” he began, somewhat tartly. “‘I know it,” was the submissive reply; “but it was really out of my power to perform my promise. My little girl—little Helen—has been ill, very ill. I am sorry, sir, if I have disappointed you,” continued the patient mother, with rising emotion; ‘my child required much of my attention, both night and day, and it was quite impossible for me to perform my task as I promised.’ “‘I can’t help your excuses,’ rejoined the shopkeeper with brutish pomposity. “I make it a rule whenever work is delayed beyond the time specified, to make a reduction of ten per cent. from the price agreed upon.’ “‘Very good, sir,’ answered the woman ; ‘I must, of course, comply with your rules. That would leave due upon the last bill three shillings, which, in addition to the ten shillings before due, would make thirteen.’ “‘Right !” added the employer. “Call on Saturday night, and your money will be ready. Here are two more shirts, which must be done by that time; and if you disappoint me again, look for no more work from this quarters' “She lingered, with evident hesitation and depression in her manner. At length she ventured to say, ‘I am sorry to be compelled to trespass upon your custom, but
in truth, sir, I am much in want of this small amount, and
would consider it a great kindness if you would let me y
have it to-day; I am “‘How many of the shirts shall I put up for you, sir?' interrupted the obsequious shopkeeper, addressing himself to me, without paying the slightest attention to his dependant. “‘I have not yet made my selections,' I replied, pained beyond measure at the disappointment of the suffering mother. “I will look further,” I continued, with some emphasis, “while you arrange your business with the lady.” “Thus admonished, he could not well avoid turning his attention to the young woman. “You know my custom, Mrs. Jordan, he said: ‘I never pay money except on a Saturday night: besides, business has been dull this week, and I have none for you.’ “I could not, for my life, help turning to observe the effect of this denial upon the applicant, and her eyes were full of tears. I had my hand in my pocket, unconsciously fingering a silver coin, and would have given two more for the privilege of placing it in her possession without wounding her sensibility. She turned in silence to leave the shop, when the stony-hearted dealer called to her that she had not taken the new parcel. A lucky thought ! “Permit me,' I said, taking the bundle from the counter and approaching her. I had a twofold object in view : first, to
scan her face more narrowly, without the show of impertinence; and, secondly, to slip the dollar into the folds of her bundle. The latter object was happily accomplished, but the former was frustrated by her averted look and sudden departure. This incident changed the purpose for which I had entered the shop ; and instead of purchasing a complete stock, as I had designed to do, Iselected only some trifling articles, enough to compensate the dealer for the trouble I had occasioned him in the display of his goods. I inquired, ‘Who is the young lady who has just left us?” “‘Lady sir?” he ejaculated, with a stare of inquiry. “‘Yes, sir! the young woman who went out just now,' I replied, altering my phraseology to square with the comprehension of this retailer of tapes and linens, who did not understand my application of the term lady to a poor sempstress. “‘Oh! ah!” he exclaimed, “the young woman—not so very young neither, seeing she has got two children, and a widow besides—is Mrs. Jordan. She is a very nice woman, so far as I know anything about her, and she lives—let me see—” Here he referred to his memorandum. ‘Ah! here it is : Mrs. Clara Jordan, number —, avenue.” “I made a note of the address, and left, with a deter