London was rousing everywhere into morning activity, as I passed through the
streets. The shutters were being removed from the windows of public-houses:
the drink-vampyres that suck the life of London, were opening their eyes betimes
to look abroad for the new day's prey! Small tobacco and provision-shops in poor
neighbourhoods; dirty little eating-houses, exhaling greasy-smelling steam, and
displaying a leaf of yesterday's paper, stained and fly-blown, hanging in the
windows--were already plying, or making ready to ply, their daily trade. Here, a
labouring man, late for his work, hurried by; there, a hale old gentleman started
for his early walk before breakfast. Now a market-cart, already unloaded, passed
me on its way back to the country; now, a cab, laden with luggage and carrying
pale, sleepy-looking people, rattled by, bound for the morning train or the
morning steamboat. I saw the mighty vitality of the great city renewing itself in
every direction; and I felt an unwonted interest in the sight. It was as if all things,
on all sides, were reflecting before me the aspect of my own heart.
But the quiet and torpor of the night still hung over Hollyoake Square. That dreary
neighbourhood seemed to vindicate its dreariness by being the last to awaken
even to a semblance of activity and life. Nothing was stirring as yet at North Villa.
I walked on, beyond the last houses, into the sooty London fields; and tried to
think of the course I ought to pursue in order to see Margaret, and speak to her,
before I turned homeward again. After the lapse of more than half an hour, I
returned to the square, without plan or project; but resolved, nevertheless, to
carry my point.
The garden-gate of North Villa was now open. One of the female servants of the
house was standing at it, to breathe the fresh air, and look about her, before the
duties of the day began. I advanced; determined, if money and persuasion could
do it, to secure her services.
She was young (that was one chance in my favour!)--plump, florid, and evidently
not by any means careless about her personal appearance (that gave me
another!) As she saw me approaching her, she smiled; and passed her apron
hurriedly over her face--carefully polishing it for my inspection, much as a broker
polishes a piece of furniture when you stop to look at it.
"Are you in Mr. Sherwin's service?"--I asked, as I got to the garden gate.
"As plain cook, Sir," answered the girl, administering to her face a final and
furious rub of the apron.
"Should you be very much surprised if I asked you to do me a great favour?'
"Well--really, Sir--you're quite a stranger to me--I'm sure I don't know!" She
stopped, and transferred the apron-rubbing to her arms.
"I hope we shall not be strangers long. Suppose I begin our acquaintance, by
telling you that you would look prettier in brighter cap-ribbons, and asking you to
buy some, just to see whether I am not right?"
"It's very kind of you to say so, Sir; and thank you. But cap and ribbons are the
last things I can buy while I'm in this place. Master's master and missus too,