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- The Man of Feeling - 10/20 -
dear; and I have sometimes a little millinery work, in which, when you are inclined to it, you may assist us. By the way, here are a pair of ruffles we have just finished for that gentleman you saw here at tea; a distant relation of mine, and a worthy man he is. 'Twas pity you refused the offer of an apartment at his country house; my niece, you know, was to have accompanied you, and you might have fancied yourself at home; a most sweet place it is, and but a short mile beyond Hampstead. Who knows, Miss Emily, what effect such a visit might have had! If I had half your beauty I should not waste it pining after e'er a worthless fellow of them all.'
"I felt my heart swell at her words; I would have been angry if I could, but I was in that stupid state which is not easily awakened to anger: when I would have chid her the reproof stuck in my throat; I could only weep!
"Her want of respect increased, as I had not spirit to assert it. My work was now rather imposed than offered, and I became a drudge for the bread I eat: but my dependence and servility grew in proportion, and I was now in a situation which could not make any extraordinary exertions to disengage itself from either--I found myself with child.
"At last the wretch, who had thus trained me to destruction, hinted the purpose for which those means had been used. I discovered her to be an artful procuress for the pleasures of those who are men of decency to the world in the midst of debauchery.
"I roused every spark of courage within me at the horrid proposal. She treated my passion at first somewhat mildly, but when I continued to exert it she resented it with insult, and told me plainly that if I did not soon comply with her desires I should pay her every farthing I owed, or rot in a jail for life. I trembled at the thought; still, however, I resisted her importunities, and she put her threats in execution. I was conveyed to prison, weak from my condition, weaker from that struggle of grief and misery which for some time I had suffered. A miscarriage was the consequence.
"Amidst all the horrors of such a state, surrounded with wretches totally callous, lost alike to humanity and to shame, think, Mr. Harley, think what I endured; nor wonder that I at last yielded to the solicitations of that miscreant I had seen at her house, and sunk to the prostitution which he tempted. But that was happiness compared to what I have suffered since. He soon abandoned me to the common use of the town, and I was cast among those miserable beings in whose society I have since remained.
"Oh! did the daughters of virtue know our sufferings; did they see our hearts torn with anguish amidst the affectation of gaiety which our faces are obliged to assume! our bodies tortured by disease, our minds with that consciousness which they cannot lose! Did they know, did they think of this, Mr. Harley! Their censures are just, but their pity perhaps might spare the wretches whom their justice should condemn.
"Last night, but for an exertion of benevolence which the infection of our infamy prevents even in the humane, had I been thrust out from this miserable place which misfortune has yet left me; exposed to the brutal insults of drunkenness, or dragged by that justice which I could not bribe, to the punishment which may correct, but, alas! can never amend the abandoned objects of its terrors. From that, Mr. Harley, your goodness has relieved me."
He beckoned with his hand: he would have stopped the mention of his favours; but he could not speak, had it been to beg a diadem.
She saw his tears; her fortitude began to fail at the sight, when the voice of some stranger on the stairs awakened her attention. She listened for a moment, then starting up, exclaimed, "Merciful God! my father's voice!"
She had scarce uttered the word, when the door burst open, and a man entered in the garb of an officer. When he discovered his daughter and Harley, he started back a few paces; his look assumed a furious wildness! he laid his hand on his sword. The two objects of his wrath did not utter a syllable.
"Villain," he cried, "thou seest a father who had once a daughter's honour to preserve; blasted as it now is, behold him ready to avenge its loss!"
Harley had by this time some power of utterance. "Sir," said he, "if you will be a moment calm--"
"Infamous coward!" interrupted the other, "dost thou preach calmness to wrongs like mine!"
He drew his sword.
"Sir," said Harley, "let me tell you"--the blood ran quicker to his cheek, his pulse beat one, no more, and regained the temperament of humanity--"you are deceived, sir," said he, "you are much deceived; but I forgive suspicions which your misfortunes have justified: I would not wrong you, upon my soul I would not, for the dearest gratification of a thousand worlds; my heart bleeds for you!"
His daughter was now prostrate at his feet.
"Strike," said she, "strike here a wretch, whose misery cannot end but with that death she deserves."
Her hair had fallen on her shoulders! her look had the horrid calmness of out-breathed despair! Her father would have spoken; his lip quivered, his cheek grew pale, his eyes lost the lightning of their fury! there was a reproach in them, but with a mingling of pity. He turned them up to heaven, then on his daughter. He laid his left hand on his heart, the sword dropped from his right, he burst into tears.
CHAPTER XXIX--THE DISTRESSES OF A FATHER
Harley kneeled also at the side of the unfortunate daughter.
"Allow me, sir," said he, "to entreat your pardon for one whose offences have been already so signally punished. I know, I feel, that those tears, wrung from the heart of a father, are more dreadful to her than all the punishments your sword could have inflicted: accept the contrition of a child whom heaven has restored to you."
"Is she not lost," answered he, "irrecoverably lost? Damnation! a common prostitute to the meanest ruffian!"
"Calmly, my dear sir," said Harley, "did you know by what complicated misfortunes she had fallen to that miserable state in which you now behold her, I should have no need of words to excite your compassion. Think, sir, of what once she was. Would you abandon her to the insults of an unfeeling world, deny her opportunity of penitence, and cut off the little comfort that still remains for your afflictions and her own!"
"Speak," said he, addressing himself to his daughter; "speak; I will hear thee."
The desperation that supported her was lost; she fell to the ground, and bathed his feet with her tears.
Harley undertook her cause: he related the treacheries to which she had fallen a sacrifice, and again solicited the forgiveness of her father. He looked on her for some time in silence; the pride of a soldier's honour checked for a while the yearnings of his heart; but nature at last prevailed, he fell on her neck and mingled his tears with hers.
Harley, who discovered from the dress of the stranger that he was just arrived from a journey, begged that they would both remove to his lodgings, till he could procure others for them. Atkins looked at him with some marks of surprise. His daughter now first recovered the power of speech.
"Wretch as I am," said she, "yet there is some gratitude due to the preserver of your child. See him now before you. To him I owe my life, or at least the comfort of imploring your forgiveness before I die."
"Pardon me, young gentleman," said Atkins, "I fear my passion wronged you."
"Never, never, sir," said Harley "if it had, your reconciliation to your daughter were an atonement a thousand fold." He then repeated his request that he might be allowed to conduct them to his lodgings, to which Mr. Atkins at last consented. He took his daughter's arm.
"Come, my Emily," said he, "we can never, never recover that happiness we have lost! but time may teach us to remember our misfortunes with patience."
When they arrived at the house where Harley lodged, he was informed that the first floor was then vacant, and that the gentleman and his daughter might be accommodated there. While he was upon his enquiry, Miss Atkins informed her father more particularly what she owed to his benevolence. When he turned into the room where they were Atkins ran and embraced him;--begged him again to forgive the offence he had given him, and made the warmest protestations of gratitude for his favours. We would attempt to describe the joy which Harley felt on this occasion, did it not occur to us that one half of the world could not understand it though we did, and the other half will, by this time, have understood it without any description at all.
Miss Atkins now retired to her chamber, to take some rest from the violence of the emotions she had suffered. When she was gone, her father, addressing himself to Harley, said, "You have a right, sir, to be informed of the present situation of one who owes so much to your compassion for his misfortunes. My daughter I find has informed you what that was at the fatal juncture when they began. Her distresses you have heard, you have pitied as they deserved; with mine, perhaps, I cannot so easily make you acquainted. You have a feeling heart, Mr. Harley; I bless it that it has saved my child; but you never were a father, a father torn by that most dreadful of calamities, the dishonour of a child he doated on! You have been already informed of some of the circumstances of her elopement: I was then from home, called by the death of a relation, who, though he would never advance me a shilling on the utmost
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