Mother Nancy and Long-Haired Bess
|"So ye have lured the pretty dove into the cage, at last—" said the old lady, with a pleasant smile, as she
poised a nice morsel of buttered toast between her fingers— "This tea is most too weak—a little more out of the
caddy, Bessie, dear. Lord! who'd a-thought you'd a-caught the baby-face so easy! Does the kettle boil, my
dear? I put it on the fire before you left, and you've been away near an hour, so it ought to be hissing hot by this
time. Caught her at last! Hah-hah—hey? Bessie? You're a reg'lar keen one, I must say!"
And with these mild words the old lady arranged the tea things on the small table, covered with a neat white
cloth, and pouring out a cup of 'Gunpowder,' chuckled pleasantly to herself, as though she and the buttered toast
had a quiet little joke together.
"Spankin' cold night, I tell ye, Mother Nancy—" exclaimed the young lady in black, as she flung herself in a
chair, and tossed her bonnet on the old sofa—"Precious time I've had with that little chit of a thing! Up one
street and down another, I've been racing for this blessed hour! And the regular white and black 'uns I've been
forced to tell! Oh crickey—don't mention 'em, I beg—"
"Sit down, Bess—sit down, Bessie, that's a dove—" said the delighted old lady, crunching the toast between
her toothless gums—"and tell us all about it from the first! These things are quite refreshin' to us old stagers."
"What a perfect old d——l—" muttered Bessie, as she drew her seat near the supper table—"These oysters
are quite delightful—stewed to a turn, I do declare—" she continued, aloud—"Got a little drop o' the 'lively'—
"Yes, dovey—here's the key of the closet. Get the bottle, my dear. A leetle—jist a leetle—don't go ugly with
While the tall and queenly Bessie is engaged in securing a drop of the 'lively,' we will take a passing glance at
Mother Perkins, the respectable Lady Abbess of Monk-hall.
As she sate in that formal arm-chair, straight and erect, her portly form clad in sombre black, with a plain white
collar around her neck and a bunch of keys at her girdle, Mother Nancy looked, for all the world, like a quiet
old body, whose only delight was to scatter blessings around her, give large alms to the poor, and bestow
unlimited amounts of tracts among the vicious. A good, dear, old body, was Mother Nancy, although her face
was not decidedly prepossessing. A low forehead, surmounted by a perfect tower-of-Babel of a cap, a little
sharp fed, all full of nooks and corners, and nose looking out from two cheeks disposed in immense collops of
yellowish flesh, two small grey eyes encircled by a wilderness of wrinkles, a deep indentation where a mouth
should have been, and a sharp chin, ornamented with a slight 'imperial' of stiff grey beard; such were the details
of a countenance, on which seventy years had showered their sins, and cares, and crimes, without making the
dear old lady, for a moment, pause in her career.
And such a career! God of Heaven! did womanhood, which in its dawn, or bloom, or full maturity, is so
beautiful, which even in its decline is lovely, which in trembling old age is venerable, did womanhood ever sink
so low as this? How many of the graves in an hundred churchyards, graves of the fair and beautiful, had been
dug by the gouty hands of the vile old hag, who sate chuckling in her quiet arm-chair? How many of the
betrayed maidens, found rotting on the river's waves, dangling from the garret rafter, starving in the streets, or
resting, vile and loathsome, in the Greenhouse;* how many of these will, at the last day when the accounts of this
lovely earth will be closed forever, rise up and curse the old hag with their ruin, with their shame, with their
The details of the old lady's room by no means indicated her disposition, or the course of her life. It was a fine
old room with walls neatly papered, all full of nooks and corners, and warmed by a cheerful wood fire blazing
on the spacious hearth. One whole side of the room seemed to have been attacked with some strange eruptive
disease, and broken out into an erysipelas of cupboards and closets. An old desk that might have told a world
of wonders of Noah's Ark from its own personal experience, could it have spoken, stood in one corner, and a
large side-board, on whose top a fat fellow of a decanter seemed drilling some raw recruits of bottles and
glasses into military order, occupied one entire side of the room, or cell, of the Lady Abbess.
There are few persons in the world who have not a favourite of some kind, either a baby, or a parrot, or a
canary, or a cat, or, in desperate cases, a pig. Mother Nancy had her favourite as well as less reputable people.
A huge bull dog, with sore eyes and a ragged tail—that seemed to have been purchased at a second-had store
during the hard times lay nestling at the old lady's feet, looking very much like the candidate whom all the old and
surly dogs would choose for Alderman, in case the canine race had the privilege of electing an officer of that
honorable class, among themselves. This dog, so old bachelor-like and aldermanic in appearance, the old lady
was wont to call by the name of 'Dolph,' being the short for 'Dolphin,' of which remarkable fish the animal
was supposed to be a decided copy.
"Here's the lively, Mother Nancy—" observed Miss Bessie, as she resumed her seat at the supper table—"It's
the real hot stuff and no mistake. The oysters, if you please— a little o' that pepper. Any mustard there? Now
then, Mother, let's be comfortable—"
"But—" observed the old lady pouring a glass of the 'Lively' from a decanter labelled Brandy—"But Bessie my
love, I'm a-waitin to hear all about this little dove whom you trapped to night—"
It may be as well to remark that Bessie, was a tall queenly girl of some twenty five, with a form that had once
been beautiful beyond description, and even now in its ruins, was lovely to look upon, while her faded face,
marked by a high brow and raven-black hair, was still enlivened by the glance of two large dark eyes, that were
susceptable of any expression, love or hate, revenge or jealousy; anything but fear. Her complexion was a very
faint brown with a deep rose-tint on each cheek. She was still beautiful, although a long career of dissipation had
given a faded look to the outlines of her face, indenting a slight wrinkle between her arching brows, and slightly
discoloring the flesh beneath each eye.
"This here 'Lively' is first rate, after the tramp I've had—" said Bessie as her eyes grew brighter with the 'lively'
effects of the bottle—"You know Mother Nancy it's three weeks since Gus mentioned the thing to
"What thing, my dear?"
"Why that he'd like to have a little dove for himself—something above the common run. Something from the
aristocracy of the Quaker City—you know?"
"Yes my dear. Here Dolph—here Dolph-ee—here's a nice bit for Dolph—"
"Gus agreed to give me something handsome if I could manage it for him, so I undertook the thing. The bread if
you please, Mother. You know I'm rather expert in such matters?"
"There ain't you beat my dear. Be quiet Dolph—that's a nice Dolph-ee—"
"For a week all my efforts were in vain. I could'nt discover anything that was likely to suit the taste of Gus—At
last he put me on the right track himself—"
"He did, did he? Ah deary me, but Gus is a regular lark. You can't perduce his ekle—"
"One day strolling up Third Street, Gus was attracted by the sight of a pretty girl, sitting at the window of a
wealthy merchant, who has just retired from business. You've heard of old Arlington? Try the 'Lively,' Mother.
Gus made some enquiries; found that the young lady had just returned, from the Moravian boarding school at
Bethlehem. She was innocent, inexperienced, and all that. Suited Lorrimer's taste. He swore he'd have her."
"So you undertook to catch her, did ye? Butter my dear?"
"That did I. The way I managed it was a caution. Dressing myself in solemn black, I strolled along Third street,
one mild winter evening, some two weeks since. Mary—that's her name—was standing at the front door, gazing
carelessly down the street. I tripped up the steps and asked in my most winning tone—"
"You can act the lady when you like, Bess. That's a fact—"
"Whether Mr. Elmwood lived there? Of course she answered 'No.' But in making an apology for my intrusion, I
managed to state that Mr. Elmwood was my uncle, that I had just come to the city on a visit, and had left my
aunt's in Spruce street, but a few moments ago, thinking to pay a nice little call on my dear old relative—"
"Just like you Bessie! So you scraped acquaintance with her?"
"Fresh from boarding school, as ignorant of the world as the babe unborn, the girl was interested in me, I
suppose, and swallowed the white 'uns I told her, without a single suspicion. The next day about noon, I met her
as she was hurrying to see an old aunt, who lived two or three Squares below her father's house. She was all in
a glow, for she had been hurrying along rather fast, anxious to reach her aunt's house, as soon as possible. I
spoke to her proposed a walk she assented with a smile of pleasure. I told her a long story of my sorrows; how
I had been engaged to be married, how my lover had died of consumption but a month ago; that he was such a
nice young man, with curly hair, and hazel eyes, and that I was in black for his death. I put peach fur over her
eyes, by whole hand's full I tell you. The girl was interested, and like all young girls, she was delighted to be
come the confidante of an amiable young lady, who had a little love-romance of real life, to disclose. Oysters,
"The long and short of it was, that you wormed yourself into her confidence? That it my dear? Keep still Dolph
or Dolph's mommy would drop little bit of hot tea on Dolph's head—"
"We walked out together for three days, just toward dark in the evening. You can fancy Mother, how wound
myself into the heart of this young girl. Closer and closer every day I tightened the cords that bound us, and on
the third evening I believe she would have died for me—"
"Well, well child, when did Gusty first speak to her? A little more of the "Gunpowder" my dear—"
"One evening I persuaded her to take a stroll along Chesnut Street with me. Gus was at our heels you may be
sure. He passed on a little-a-head determining to speak to her, at all hazards. She saved him the trouble. Lord
love you Mother Nancy, she spoke to him first—"
"Be still Dolph—be still Dolph-ee! Now Bessie that's a leetle too strong! Not the tea, but the story. She so
innocent and baby-like speak first to a strange man? Ask me to believe in tea made out of turnip tops will
"She mistook him for a Mr. Belmont whom she had seen at Bethlehem. He did not undeceive her, until she was
completely in his power. He walked by her side that evening up and down Chesnut Street, for nearly an hour. I
saw at once, that her girlish fancy was caught by his smooth tongue, and handsome form. The next night he met
us again, and the next, and the next—Lord pity her—the poor child was now entirely at his
"Ha—ha—Gusty is sich a devil. Put the kettle on the fire my dear. Let's try a little of the 'Lively.' And how did
she—this baby-faced doll—keep these walks secret from the eyes of her folks? Eh? Bessie?"
"Easy as that—" replied Bessie gracefully snapping her fingers—"Every time she went out, she told father and
mother that she went to see her old Aunt. I hinted at first, that our friendship would be more romantic, if
concealed from all intrusive eyes. The girl took the hint. Lorrimer with his smooth tongue, told her a long story
about his eccentric uncle who had sworn he should not marry, for years to come; and therefore he was obliged
to keep his attentions to her, hidden from both of their families. Gusty was dependent on this old uncle—you
know? Once married, the old uncle would relent as he beheld the beauty and innocence of the young—wife! So
Gusty made her believe. You can imagine the whole trap. We had her in our power. Last night she consented to
leave her home for Lorrimer's family mansion. He was to marry her, the approval of his uncle—that imaginary
old Gentleman was to be obtained, and on Christmas Eve, Mr. and—ha, ha, ha—Mistress Lorrimer, were to
rush into old Middleton's house, fall on their knees, invoke the old man's blessing; be forgiven and be happy!
Hand us the toast, Mother Nancy—"
"And to night the girl did leave the old folk's house? Entered the door of Monk-hall, thinking it was Lorrimer's
family Mansion, and to-morrow morning at three o' clock will be married—eh? Bess?"
"Married, pshaw! Over the left. Lorrimer said he would get that fellow Petriken to personate the Parson—
Mutchins the gambler, acts the old uncle; you, Mother Nancy must, dress up for the kind and amiable
grandma—suit you to a T? Lorrimer pays high for his rooms you know?"
" 'Spose it must be done. It's now after ten o' clock. You left the baby-face sleeping, eh? At half-past two you'll
have to rouse her, to dress. Be quiet Dolph or I'll scald its head—that's a dear. Now Bessie tell me the truth, did
you never regret that you had undertaken the job? The girl you say is so innocent?"
"Regret?" cried Bess with a flashing eye—"Why should I regret? Have I not as good a right to the comforts of a
home, to the smile of a father, the love of a mother, as she? Have I not been robbed of all these? Of all that is
most sacred to woman? Is this innocent Mary, a whit better than I was when the devil in human shape first
dragged me from my home? I feel happy—aye happy—when I can drag another woman, into the same foul pit,
where I am doomed to lie and rot—"
"Yet this thing was so innocent—" cried the good old lady patting Dolph on the head—"I confess I laugh at all
qualms—all petty scruples, but you were so different when first I knew you—you Emily, you—"
"Emily—" shrieked the other as she sprung suddenly to her feet—"You hag of the devil—call me by that name
again, and as God will judge at the last day, I'll throttle you!" She shook her clenched hand across the table, and
her eyes were bloodshot with sudden rage—" 'Emily!' " Your mother called you by that name when a little
child—" She cried with a burst of feeling, most fearful to behold in one so fallen—"Your father blessed you by
that name, the night before you fled from his roof!
" 'Emily!' Aye, he, the foul betrayer, whispered that name with a smile as he entered the Chamber, from which
he never came forth again—You remember it old hell-cat, do ye?—"
"Not so loud, Good G——d, not so loud—" cried the astonished Mother Nancy—"Abuse me Bessie dear—
but not so loud; down Dolph don't mind the girl, she's mad—not so loud, I say—"
"I can see him now!" cried the fallen girl, as with her tall form raised to its full height, she fixed her flashing eye
on vacancy—"He enters the room—that room with the—the trap-door you know? 'Good night, Emily,' he said,
and smiled—'Emily,' and—my father had cursed him! I laid me down and rested by another man's side. He
thought I slept. Slept! ha, ha! When, with my entire soul, I listened to the footsteps in the next room—ha, ha—
when I heard the creaking sound of the falling trap, when I drank in the cry of agony, when I heard that name
'Emily, oh Emily,' come shrieking up the pit of death! My father had cursed him, and he died! 'Emily'—oh my
God—" and she wrung her hands in very agony—"Roll back the years of my life, blot out the foul record of my
sins, let me, oh God—you are all powerful and can do it—let me be a child again, a little child, and though I
crawl through life in the rags of a beggar, I will never cease to bless—oh God—to bless your name—"
She fell heavily to her seat, and, covering her face with her hands, wept the scalding tears of guilt and shame.
" 'Gal's been a-takin opium—" said the old lady, calmly—"And the fit's come on her. 'Sarves her right. 'Told her
never to mix her brandy with opium—"
"Did I regret having undertaken the ruin of the girl—" said Bess, in a whisper, that made even the old lady start
with surprise—"Regret? I tell ye, old hell-dame as you are, that my very heart strings seemed breaking within me
to-night, as I led her from her home—"
"What the d——l did you do it for, then? Here's a nice Dolph—eat a piece o' buttered toast—that's a good
"When the seducer first assailed me—" continued Bess, in an absent tone—"He assailed a woman, with a mind
stored with knowledge of the world's ways, a soul full as crafty as his own, a wit sharp and keen as ever
dropped poison or sweetness from a woman's tongue! But this girl, so child-like, so unsuspecting, so innocent!
my God! how it wrung my heart, when I first discovered that she loved Lorrimer, loved him without one shade
of gross feeling, loved him without a doubt, warmly, devotedly, with all the trustfulness of an angel-soul, fresh
from the hands of God! Never bird fell more helplessly into the yawning jaws of the snake, that had charmed it
to ruin, than poor Mary fell into the accursed wiles of Lorrimer! And yet I, I aided him—"
"So you did. The more shame for you to harm sich a dove. Go up stairs, my dear, and let her loose. We'll
consent, won't we? Ha-ha! Why Bess, I thought you had more sense than to go on this way. What will become
"I suppose that I will die in the same ditch where the souls of so many of my vile sisterhood have crept forth
from their leprous bodies? Eh, Mother Nance? Die in a ditch? 'Emily' die in a ditch? And then in the next
world—ha, ha, ha—I see a big lake of fire, on which souls are dancing like moths in a candle—ha, ha, ha!"
"Reely, gal, you must leave off that opium. Gus promised you some five or six hundred if you caught this gal,
and you can t go back now—"
"Yes, yes, I know it! I know it! Forward's the word if the next step plunges me in hell—"
And the girl buried her face in her hands, and was silent again. Let not the reader wonder at the mass of
contradictions, heaped together in the character of this miserable wreck of a woman. One moment conversing in
the slang of a brothel, like a thing lapped from her birth in pollution; the next, whispering forth her ravings in
language indicative of the educated woman of her purer days; one instant glorying in her shame, the next
recoiling in horror as she viewed the dark path which she had trodden, the darker path which she was yet to
tread—these paradoxes are things of every day occurrence, only to be explained, when the mass of good and
evil, found in every human heart, is divided into distinct parts, no more to mingle in one, no more to occasion an
eternal contest in the self-warring heart of man.
"Well, well, Bessie—go to bed and sleep a little—that's a dear—" said the old lady, with a pleasing smile—
"Opium isn't good for you, and you know it. A leetle nap 'ill do you good. Sleep a bit, and then you'll be right
fresh for the wedding. Three o' clock you know—Come along, Dolph, mommy must go 'tend to some little
things about the house—Come along, Dolph-ee—Sleep a leetle, Bessie, that's a dear!"
|Next Week !
A chapter in which every woman may find
some leaves of her own heart, read with
the eyes of a high and holy love