"Ah, Monsieur, do not hurt me, for I am helpless. Take my little purse; take all I have, but spare my life."
Through the night's black curtain the gold stars peep,
When the tired world should be hush'd in sleep
Yet some are weary, and some are wan,
And some are fearful to look upon!
You may see—if you will—in every park
Shame-stamp'd, cowering forms in the dark—
Cowering low from the wind and the rain,
Cowering conscious of sin's deep stain.
Many are youthful, and some are fair,
(O heaven, how thine image is fallen there!)
Childhood's fresh mark on some is set,
Not quite beaten out of their features yet!
Have ye eyes, my brothers, and see not this!
Do ye hug to your souls your own sense of bliss?
Have ye ears, and hear not this wail of woe?
Have ye hearts, and ye let this black curse grow?
The wreck'd ship strains on the breakers toss'd;
The die is thrown, and the cast is lost.
God help the fallen! No mercy here
For the one false step that brings many a tear.
The scales are unequal, and one sinks fast;
But the balance is sure to come right at last.
The Great Judge shall measure the measure then,
That proud man withholds from fellow-men!
MY MYSTERIOUS MADEMOISELLE.
At Lyons I engaged a coupé, laid in a substantial lunch, got out my novels and cigars, and prepared to make myself as comfortable as circumstances permitted; for we should not reach Nice till morning, and a night journey was my especial detestation. Nothing would have induced me to undertake it in midwinter, but a pathetic letter from my sister, imploring me to come to her as she was failing fast, and had a precious gift to bestow upon me before she died. This sister had mortally offended our father by marrying a Frenchman. The old man never forgave her, never would see her, and cut her off with a shilling in his will. I bad been forbidden to have any communication with her on pain of disinheritance, and had obeyed, for I shared my father's prejudice, and made no attempt to befriend my sister, even when I learned that she was a widow, although my father's death freed me from my promise. For more than fifteen years we had been utterly estranged; but when her pleading letter came to me, my heart softened, and I longed to see her. My conscience reproached me, and, leaving my cozy bachelor establishment in London, I hurried away, hoping to repair the neglect of years by tardy tenderness and care.
My thoughts worried me that night, and the fear of being too late haunted me distressfully. I could neither read, sleep, nor smoke, and soon heartily wished I had taken a seat in a double carriage, where society of some sort would have made the long hours more endurable. As we stopped at a way-station, I was roused from a remorseful reverie by the guard, who put in his head to inquire, with an insinuating shrug and smile:
"Will monsieur permit a lady to enter? The train is very full, and no place remains for her in the first-class. It will be a great kindness if monsieur will take pity on the charming little mademoiselle."
He dropped his voice in uttering the last words, and gave a nod, which plainly expressed his opinion that monsieur would not regret the courtesy. Glad to be relieved from the solitude that oppressed me, I consented at once, and waited with some curiosity to see what sort of companion I was to have for the next few hours.
The first glance satisfied me; but, like a true Englishman, I made no demonstration of interest beyond a bow and a brief reply to the apologies and thanks uttered in a fresh young voice as the new-comer took her seat. A slender girl of sixteen or so, simply dressed in black, with a little hat tied down over golden curls, and a rosy face, lit up by lustrous hazel eyes, at once arch, modest and wistful. A cloak and a plump traveling bag were all her luggage, and quickly arranging them, she drew out a book, sank back in her corner, and appeared to read, as if anxious to render me forgetful of her presence as soon as possible.
I liked that, and resolved to convince her at the first opportunity that I was no English bear, but a gentleman who could be very agreeable when he chose.
The opportunity did not arrive as soon as I hoped, and I began to grow impatient to hear the fresh young voice again. I made a few attempts at conversation, but the little girl seemed timid, for she answered in the briefest words, and fell to reading again, forcing me to content myself with admiring the long curled lashes, the rosy mouth, and the golden hair of this demure demoiselle.
She was evidently afraid of the big, black-bearded gentleman, and would not be drawn out, so I solaced myself by watching her in the windows opposite, which reflected every movement like a mirror.
Presently the book slipped from her hand, the bright eyes grew heavy, the pretty head began to nod, and sleep grew more and more irresistible. Half closing my eyes, I feigned slumber,