The New Magdalen HTML version
27. Magdalen's Apprenticeship
"MR. JULIAN GRAY has asked me to tell him, and to tell you, Mr. Holmcroft, how my
troubles began. They began before my recollection. They began with my birth.
"My mother (as I have heard her say) ruined her prospects, when she was quite a young
girl, by a marriage with one of her father's servants--the groom who rode out with her.
She suffered, poor creature, the usual penalty of such conduct as hers. After a short time
she and her husband were separated--on the condition of her sacrificing to the man whom
she had married the whole of the little fortune that she possessed in her right.
"Gaining her freedom, my mother had to gain her daily bread next. Her family refused to
take her back. She attached herself to a company of strolling players.
"She was earning a bare living in this way, when my father accidentally met with her. He
was a man of high rank, proud of his position, and well known in the society of that time
for his many accomplishments and his refined tastes. My mother's beauty fascinated him.
He took her from the strolling players, and surrounded her with every luxury that a
woman could desire in a house of her own.
"I don't know how long they lived together. I only know that my father, at the time of my
first recollections, had abandoned her. She had excited his suspicions of her fidelity--
suspicions which cruelly wronged her, as she declared to her dying day. I believed her,
because she was my mother. But I cannot expect others to do as I did--I can only repeat
what she said. My father left her absolutely penniless. He never saw her again; and he
refused to go to her when she sent to him in her last moments on earth.
"She was back again among the strolling players when I first remember her. It was not an
unhappy time for me. I was the favorite pet and plaything of the poor actors. They taught
me to sing and to dance at an age when other children are just beginning to learn to read.
At five years old I was in what is called 'the profession,' and had made my poor little
reputation in booths at country fairs. As early as that, Mr. Holmcroft, I had begun to live
under an assumed name--the prettiest name they could invent for me 'to look well in the
bills.' It was sometimes a hard struggle for us, in bad seasons, to keep body and soul
together. Learning to sing and dance in public often meant learning to bear hunger and
cold in private, when I was apprenticed to the stage. And yet I have lived to look back on
my days with the strolling players as the happiest days of my life!
"I was ten years old when the first serious misfortune that I can remember fell upon me.
My mother died, worn out in the prime of her life. And not long afterward the strolling
company, brought to the end of its resources by a succession of bad seasons, was broken