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ONLY HALF A WOMAN.
He wondered why the sunshine never peered into the great streets through which he had roamed so much of late. Why was it that no erratic gleam, strayed from the flood of golden glory which deluged fields and bosquets outside London, could ever touch gently and kindly on the black and grimy walls of Eastcheap or the Minories? Whenever, during a whole month of this spring-time, so rich and rejoicing in the country, he came home to his little room in the oddly-shaped and somber "Crescent," he found himself under a dark pall, in which the sky in these eastern London sections was always draped. The dwellers in the nooks and alleys which had stood firm against the unrelenting march of business had pressing need of sun and warmth and shelter, such as the Neapolitan beggar could have night and day; such as even the farmers in the fields around the city rejoiced in at that very moment. But here, naught save the blackness of the Inferno, and the dreary panorama of long streets lined with mean-looking shops and ginpalaces, in front of whose gilded windows hovered crowds of wretches, half-starved, half-drunk, whose notion of gaiety was a shrill laugh at some coarse joke, and whose amusement was a brutal scuffle, terminating in a fight, and the interference of a stout policeman.
He entered the Crescent, and mounted the steep stairs to his room; but his pipe, his books, even the canvas on which he had painted a woman's headthe head of a beautiful young Irishwoman, her hair falling in drunken disorder over her queenly shouldersfailed to interest him, and he went out again almost immediately, his elastic footsteps ringing on the dull pavement in sharp contrast with the shuffling tread of the pallid and over-worked wretches who passed him, looking enviously at his clean, shapely garments and manly carriage. He passed on, through a narrow lane, flanked on either side with low and tawdry inns, frequented by Norwegian and Danish sailors, until he came to an arch under which a heavily-laden team was rolling. As he followed the team under the shadcast down from the frowning archway, a clear, melodious voice said softly:
"Oh, Mister George! can't you please wait a minute, and pass the time o' day? It's only me, and it's dull and lonesome 'ere, I can tell you."
The voice died away into a minor of appeal, and the young man stopped suddenly, and bent down gently in the uncertain light to give his hand to a figure which sat crouching in a recess of the wall.
"Still here, Clara?" he said, "and were you not afraid that yonder restless teamster would crush you under his splay feet? He walked as recklessly as if he were overloaded with beer."
"Very like he was, Mister George," answered the voice; "it's often enough he is so at this hour. I'll lay a penny he beats his wife; and I know he never speaks a kind word to me. He's a nice one, he is."
The voice came from a woman who sat in a little box on wooden wheels; and who had placed before her a soiled and faded placard, on which was written, in uneven, old-fashioned script, these words: "PITY THE POOR, AND HEAVEN WILL PITY YOU."
The woman was young, and her face was superb. Her rich hair trailed upon the box in which the shapeless fragments of her lower limbs reposed. She did not seem unhappy; her eyes shone with a moistened spiritual fervor; her lips were firm and handsome; her brow was white
and bore no marks of the world's contagion. The young man held her hand for a moment gently, then let it fall, and handed her a shilling and a rosebud.
"There, Člara," he said, "the one will buy you some new ribbons for your hair, and the other will leave a hint of the green fields by your crippled father's bedside."
The woman looked at him curiously; then a great wave of color rushed into her face, and she said softly:
"Me with ribbons in my 'air, Mister George? Why, Lord love you, be you a dreamin'?"
"Wide awake, on the contrary, Clara, and quite positive that you would look much better with two bonny ribbons twined in your tresses."
Mister George," she said suddenly, you ought n't to speak to me like that. Can't you find other lasses to listen to such fine speeches ?"
The young man paused, half frightened. Had he wounded the feelings of the waif? There was a new tone in her voice, which really alarmed him.
"Why, Clara, child," he said, "I only meant it as a kindness. Have I offended you?"
"No, Mister George, but I-really, you must n't make sport of me. I am too ready to make myself think strange things. Do you know I says to myself this mornin', when I sees another tall, gallant youth go past, that's like Mister George'-andand that frightened me--because I—I don't like to think so much on one person. It makes me uncomfortable-like, sitting all alone 'ere, and-no-I'd rather not take the shilling; but I will 'ave the rose, and I'll wear it, too!"
She said these last words passionately, defiantly, and clutched the rose with loving fierceness.
George turned away, amazed, but not amused. He was silent, and when he turned once more to meet Clara's gaze, there were tears in his eyes.
"Dear Miss Clara," he said, "I know it is very lonely here for you, and before I go away I must find you some more suitable place to sit-if you will persist in refusing the aid already offered both your father and yourself,-or even to let me see your father."
"Do you hear that, dear rose," said Clara, speaking in a dreamy voice to the flower, which blushed even in the darkness; "do you hear? He wants me to
leave the old arch, where I have spent so many blessed hours. Oh, never! never! never! Come again to-morrow, Mister George, and tell me more of that story which you began the other day. But if it annoys you-don't mind my begging—it's only me."
George promised that he would come, and hastened away.
Papa Zadwinski kept a foreign lodging. house in the Minories. It was not very far from the grim, ancient Tower of London, and one reached it by circuitous alleys and through almost impassable nooks. Away back, in a semi-circle of houses, which, sixty years ago, were inhabited by well-todo merchants, but were now given up to the butcher, the baker and the chandler, stood a quiet mansion, with a huge black knocker, ornamented with a grinning dragon's head, upon its door. Underneath the knocker was a little aperture marked "Letters," and, just below this, a modest plate, with the inscription "F. Zadwinski." The most scrupulous cleanliness about the steps and at the area-railings marked the house as different from those surrounding it; it had a mysterious foreign air, which was heightened, as George approached it, two hours after leaving the half-woman clutching painfully at the rose he had given her, by the apparition in the doorway of a group of long black-frocked priests, who had halted for the night at Zadwinski's caravansary, ere pursuing their journey to a Catholic mission among the North American Indians. George bestowed only a glance upon them, and as he strode past them and up the stair-case, gently jostled a tall, thin old man, clad in a faded but superbly fitting. long coat, and a pair of bright blue trowsers. The figure was leaning against the balustrade, gazing up the stairway, and apparently listening.
George turned hastily. "Why, Papa Zadwinski," he said, "are you already at home? You haven't taken your usual walk to-day, then?"
Papa Zadwinski turned, and caught George by both hands, "I am so glad you haf come. He is so mooch vorse! And I do not think-you will not see him alive mooch longer. Will you not see him?"
As the old man spoke these words rapidly-with a long, droll sibilation between each of the disjointed sentences, he led
George up the stairs into a little diningroom, and closed the door.
"I don't know! I moost not feel! cannot help!" he went on, wringing his hands in a quaint, impressive manner which at once made George sympathetically anguish-stricken. "Now he dies, and what can we do? It is so long, and I cannot bear to haf him go avay now!" with a furious sibilation, as if he were hissing defiance at the combined terrors of death and fate. "Will you not come and see him before ?"
"Zadwinski," said George, "are you crazy? Who is dying?-what is the matter? Do stop hissing; hold your breath, and tell me what it really is which grieves you."
The old man recoiled towards an arm chair, and put up his long, white fingers deprecatingly before him. "Look me a minute in the face, George," he said, "and tell me what you can see there. Isn't it? Vell, I told you so!"
George looked wonderingly at Papa Zadwinski, but saw nothing save the pale, firm face, with the one or two unmistakable lines in it proclaiming it to all men as that of a Pole;-naught save the kindly eyes, and the square, high forehead, from which the iron-gray hair was combed rigidly back.
"Well," he finally said, "my dear host, I positively do not understand you."
"Lord love us! He does not understand us! Has not Clara at last told you all about her father? Erminia, my wife! Erminia! (Lengthy sibilation.) Coom in. Mister George does not understand us."
Erminia appeared at the dining-room door, and stepped hastily forward towards her husband. George was surprised to see that she had been weeping. She was a buxom German woman from Hamburg, and her rosy complexion was metamorphosed into a vermilion by the excess of her emotions. "Vat is it now?" she said, dejectedly. "He doesn't understand us? Vell, I should dink not."
"In the name of reason, good people, what do you mean? Have I offended you?" gasped George.
"Look in my face," said Papa Zadwinski, “and tell me what you see there! Is it not? Ah! (A hiss of triumph.) Do you not see sorrow? Yes, and sorrow for whom? For my poor old crippled lodger oop stairs? Yes. And why? Because he will die! Yes; he will die! And
why will he die? Can you imagine? No. I will tell you. Well, he has been very ill for a long time, has he not? Good. And he has been so low that Doctor Ukolowic gave him twice up. Is it not? Yes. And he must not be disturbed, did not the doctor say this morning when he went away? Ah well, to think that you now should be the very one to haf done it all! Ah well-ah well!"
Father Zadwinski placed his elbows on his knees, and rocked impatiently to and fro in his arm-chair, all the time watching George closely from under his huge gray eyebrows.
George turned away. "When you have finished your mummeries," he said, “I suppose you will tell me what you mean?"
The old man sat down. Well," he said, "I will. Would you play with a lily found in a pool in the street over there? Mooch like amusement, is n't it? Would you hunt for sunbeams in Whitechapel? Would you think to find poetry in a scavenger's heap? Mooch like you, isn't it? I cannot understand it!"
"Well, well. Erminia, he will never, never understand us. Listen, and still look me in the face. Our poor Clara's father is dying, and it is your fault! Our poor lodger-we love him so mooch; and it is your fault!"
George listened breathlessly.
"He was so low for this long time, and you, cruel (a sweeping, annihilating sibilation) man, you have destroyed him. You have told Clara some terrible things, which have made her crazy; she has been to him, crying, with her poor heart breaking; and now he is dying; for the shock of grief ather grief has made him too ill; he cannot last mooch longer. Why do you not fly to his room?" cried the old man, stamping his foot furiously; "will you let him breathe his last before you repair your folly?"
Papa Zadwinski was speaking much. better English than usual, and his manner was quite eloquent. George stood quietly before him, like one suddenly awakened from a dream. Finally he said: "Clara's father? Clara angry? Terrible things? Every one, all insane?"
Without another word Papa Zadwinski seized George by the hand, and hastened out of the dining-room, up three long flights of stairs, through a dark passage, into a small, meanly-furnished room. A cry of mingled
terror and sorrow was heard as they So the days glided into weeks and years; entered.
Then George understood it all.
CLARA's father lay dying in the bed in which he had lain for seventeen years without being able to raise his hand. The cruel railway train which had crippled him and his little daughter one winter morning, as they were trundling up to London from a country town, almost penniless, and anxious to find work, had left him a burden on the world; and he and the motherless girl drifted into a hospital. There, one day, Papa Zadwinski found them, and, moved at their forlorn condition, took them home, and gave the desolate pair his topmost room in the old house in the Crescent. Clara's father turned his face to the wall, and dumbly waited for the last of the long and weary years which was to be his release from pain; and child Clara, who had lost her lower limbs, was packed into a little wooden cart, and was tenderly cared for by Papa Zadwinski and his wife. But as she grew towards womanhood, the old man, overwhelmed by reverses, grew poorer and poorer, until Clara daily felt that she was a burden upon him; and for the last few years she had insisted upon sitting under the old arch every afternoon, and trying to sell to the passers-by some trivial toilet articles, fashioned by her own facile fingers.
Clara had been taught good things in the household of the wise and loving Zadwinski, and her mind had been nourished by excellent books. She kept the familiar, homely parlance of those about her, but her soul was tuned to nobler melodies than any ever heard by her humbler associates. Every evening, when she had finished her vigil at the arch, Zadwinski's great awkward girl-servant, Martha, drew her home in her little box, and Zadwinski and the servant carried box and all up stairs in their arms. Then Martha would aid Clara to nurse the dear, old, crippled father, whose fixed stare of painful, yet patient waiting was so touching; and afterwards Clara, released from her box, would repose on a low couch, near the dormer-window, and read and re-read the romances and philosophical works which Papa Zadwinski had purchased when, fresh from Foland, a romantic young refugee, he had cherished ideas of revolutionizing England.
the seasons came and vanished, and Clara began to feel lonely, and to have a wonderful hunger constantly gnawing at her heart.
This was before George came. But when he came, by chance, to the arch one day, ah, then! life had new meaning for Clara; the sky was higher up-there seemed even a little cheer in the grimy ways about the Crescent; there was perfume in every breeze, music everywhere. She, the cripple, the fragile, the dependent worshiped, fiercely adored him, the strong, the noble of carriage, the selfreliant. When he met her for the first time, under the arch, and talked with her so kindly and earnestly; when he even sat down by her side, and told her how beautiful her face was, and that she had the graces and manners of a lady, she looked straight into his eyes, and, all unused to the world's ways, showed her love-her new-born, wild, passionate love in her very look. But he did not see it. He was an artist, and saw only the beautiful woman who was poor, and crippled, and forlorn. Yet he went daily to the arch to visit her. One day she asked him where he lodged. "In the Crescent, with a Pole named Zadwinski," he answered.
How hot Clara's poor face was then! "We do not live far away," she said, rehearsing to him the old story of her crippled father, but carefully avoiding any mention of the fact that she and hers were sheltered under the same roof with the beloved George. Next day she exacted a promise from Zadwinski and all the others in the house that they would never tell "Mister George' that she and 'er father lived there," because then he would be only too certain to come and assist them; and, "if it came to that, she should die of shame." So they carefully concealed from George the fact that Clara and her father lodged with Zadwinski; and Martha brought home the little woman every evening by a circuitous route, and smuggled her in at a back door, lest Mister George should see her. Every day before she went out, she sent Martha spying to see if George was anywhere in the vicinity; and when sure that he would not detect her, she was drawn, through a labyrinth of streets, to her place under the arch.
How terrible the hunger at her heart sometimes was! How she longed to find in George that other self whom she had been waiting for; the full complement of
her being the blossom of her existence How she stretched out her hands in the silent night, as if to grasp him; how the current of her thought rushed deliriously, day by day, to him; how chastely and sacredly she kept him in her heart, as the being she reverenced and loved, and dared not aspire to equal! Even the pain of love was delicious to her; and she did not pause to think how some day she might find herself stretching out vain hands after a lost love, which could never return near to her again. She did not pause to think! Who ever does?
When George had come, one day, and told her that he was going away to Paris, in a few days, to marry a rich and beautiful young American girl who was waiting for him there; when he told her that, if he married that woman, he should be poor no longer, and might pursue his career of artist as he pleased; when he told her that this marriage would bring him wealth from his purse-proud parents, who had refused to aid him when he entered an artist's studio, but would give him a fortune if he married an heiress with another fortune; when he told her all this, and asked her to congratulate him, she was calm and silent. After he had gone, she remembered that she was only a beggar, a cripple, a dreadful cripple!
Then, when he came again, and gave her the rose and the ribbon for her hair, ah, Heaven! how she clutched the rose after he had gone; how she burst into agony of weeping, and would not be comforted when Martha came to bring her home; how she leaned her white forehead against her crippled father's couch when she was at home, and sobbed until the violence of her grief startled the paralyzed figure into momentary action! Then the figure relapsed under a shock given its consciousness by the belief that some dread evil had befallen Clara. Zadwinski was summoned; Clara was half crazed; a physician was sent for; the crippled father was dying; the crippled daughter sat moaning and crying in her little box; and now George had come, and discovered Clara in her sorrow and her poverty.
As he entered the door she cried aloud, and hid her face in her hands, and Martha could not prevail upon her to look up.
tha said, "as no one would 'a believed." George stole gently to him, and knelt beside the bed. The cripple tried to move, but could not. A peaceful smile was at his lips. He died. George bowed his head and dared not tell Clara.
But nature told her. She suddenly lifted up her head. "Why are you all so quiet?" she shrieked; "it is because he is dead! I can see by your faces that I am right." She struggled to rise, but fell back in her box exhausted; and while the old Pole gently closed the dead man's eyes, George knelt at Clara's side and implored her to be patient, calm, and to listen to him. She leaned her head upon his shoulder, and her tears flowed freely. George placed his hands caressingly upon her hair. Her heart leaped madly; then the hope died away as suddenly as it had come. No; he was only pitying her. No; she was a poor orphaned cripple. No; no one loved her. She was unused to the world's ways; her impulse overcame her; she clasped George very tightly in her arms; held him defiantly a moment, daring the whole world to take him from her, and wept out her bitter grief upon his friendly bosom, which seemed the only resting place or home in the universe for her.
TEN days after Clara's father was buried George sat alone in his studio at Papa Zadwinski's. Unearthly blackness obscured the Crescent and all its surroundings. Even the poor light which George had thus far found sufficient at dawn to paint by had not visited his studio window for days. Great fog-palls overhung the grimy, crowded ways leading to the riverside, and the masts of the hundreds of vessels ranged along the Thames looked, dimly seen through the mist, like spears of giants advancing under cover of battle smoke. George held a letter in his hand, and was musing over it. These were its contents "DEAR GEORGE;
"I am very sorry that I am compelled once more to ask you whether or not you intend to comply with the wishes of your family, and their efforts for your An immediate answer is
future welfare. commanded by
แ Your father,
"II Avenue Friedland, "Paris, June 10."