Live and Let Live/Chapter XVIII

a new friend

lucy ran her eye over all the Hydes in the directory, and selecting fortunately the right one, she went to Hudson Square, and was admitted to one of the fine houses that overlook St. John's Park. She asked to speak with Mrs. Hyde, and was shown into a large room on the second floor. Mrs. Hyde looked up as she entered, and Lucy at once recognised the intelligent and benevolent countenance impressed on her memory. The recognition was not mutual, for the lady, merely saying, "Sit down, my child, I am busy just now," proceeded to look over an account-book, while a girl of fourteen stood by anxiously awaiting the result. Three of Mrs. Hyde's daughters sat by the window, one reading aloud a book of travels, one drawing, and another painting, and near them a seamstress plying her needle, and listening and enjoying with the rest. Two little girls of four and six were sitting beside their mother, hemming ruffles. "We must do them very neatly, Grace," said the youngest, "for mamma says Mrs. Lux will look at them with her spectacles; and besides, mamma says it is a shame to do work badly for a poor woman." Two boys were at a table with maps and slates, and there seemed to be in this hive but one unproductive labourer, a busy little urchin, who, among other miscellaneous mischief, let fall a glass, which luckily not breaking, the little Pharisee exclaimed, "Was not that careful?" This excited a general laugh, and even our poor stranger's face relaxed into a smile, which the little girls, glancing their eyes towards her, caught, and one said in a low voice, but loud enough for Lucy to hear, "Don't she look sweet when she smiles?" and the other replied, "Yes; but I wonder what she has been crying so for?" and Lucy was relieved when Mrs. Hyde said, returning the account-book to the girl in waiting, "All is right, Harriet—girls, give Harriet joy!"

"No, give Mrs. Hyde thanks," said Harriet; "I never could have got on if you had not kept my courage up, Mrs. Hyde."

"Ah, we can only help those who help themselves, Harriet. What do you wish my child?" to Lucy.

"To speak alone with you, ma'am," replied Lucy, in a tremulous voice, for the dread of asking trust and employment from a stranger to whom she must confess she was in disgrace, turned off as a liar and thief, took possession of her. Mrs. Hyde led the way to another apartment; when there, Lucy's brow contracted and her lips quivered. There is something irresistibly touching in the distress of the young. We expect storms in winter, but we shrink from the cloud that lowers over the promise of early summer. "What is the matter, my child?" asked Mrs. Hyde, so kindly that tears came to Lucy's relief, and she was imboldened to say, "You do not remember me, ma'am?"

"No, I do not."

"I never saw you but once, Mrs. Hyde, and that was a great while ago, when I lived at Mrs. Ardley's," Lucy paused, but Mrs. Hyde shook her head, and Lucy proceeded to refer to the conversation that she had then heard, to the circumstances Mrs. Hyde had recounted, and occasionally to the very words she had uttered, and finally reminding her of her own exclamation, "how much like mother she does talk!" she succeeded in recalling the image of the little girl, whose identity, though grown a head taller, she perceived. The most accomplished flatterer could not have devised a more ingenious mode of approach than Lucy, in her simplicity, had adopted. "I thought then, ma'am," she resumed, "that if ever I should have to apply to a stranger for advice and help, I should wish it were you."

"But why is it necessary for you to come to a stranger? You should have made friends before this time of life."

"I have friends, ma'am—real friends, that I could go to in any trouble," replied Lucy, her face brightening with a just pride, "but they are all a great way off—all, but one."

"Why not go to that one?"

"I did not feel as if that would be best, ma'am," she replied, casting down her eyes, and blushing so deeply that Mrs. Hyde, pitying her embarrassment, told her to proceed with her story. Lucy briefly sketched what the reader already knows: her mother's troubles, her different service-places, and finished by relating, fairly, every particular of the unfortunate affair at Mrs. Hartell's. Mrs. Hyde listened as a good judge listens to the testimony in the case of a prisoner arraigned before him, anxious to get the truth, and leaning to a merciful interpretation where it could not be fully developed. "But why, my child," she asked, "if you were conscious of innocence, did you object to having your trunk opened?"

After a little faltering, Lucy replied that "there was a picture on the top of her trunk she did not wish seen."

"A picture!—of what? or whom?"

"Of that one friend, ma'am, I said I had in the city."

"And who is he?—and how long have you known him?"

"Ever since mother was in the deepest of her troubles; he was the first person that was kind to us, and he has been kind ever since."

"But you do not tell me who this friend is."

"Oh, Charles Lovett, ma'am."

"Ah, I understand now; the son of those friends you are so fond of?" After a little more questioning, cross-examination, and deliberation, Mrs. Hyde asked Lucy if she had any letters from her mother or from Mrs. Lovett; and finding she had, she said, if Lucy would let her see them, and if they corroborated her statements, she would take her, for the present, into her family. "I will not," she said, "send to inquire your character at the places where you lived so long ago. Suspicion might be excited by your not having referred me to the last place you was at."

"That was just what I thought, ma'am; but I did not suppose that anybody but mother and Mrs. Lovett would have thought so for me." Lucy was yet to know in Mrs. Hyde a Christian woman, one to whom the wants of her fellow-creatures were claims, and who judged and felt in their affairs as if they were her own. To her might justly be applied Wordsworth's beautiful description of the man of Christian sympathy.

                   "By nature turned
And constant disposition of his thoughts
To sympathy with man, he was alive
To all that was enjoyed where'er he went,
And all that was endured."

Mrs. Hyde saw in Lucy a young creature who, if her story were true, and truth was stamped on her countenance, was in most forlorn circumstances. The simplicity of her manner and the directness and consistency of her statements were in her favour, and it seemed scarcely possible she could be guilty of the complicated iniquity in which a supposition of the falsehood of her story involved her. At any rate, it was in conformity with Mrs. Hyde's principles and experience to "hope all things of the young;" and, true to her theory, she sent to Mrs. Hartell's for Lucy's trunk. When that came she examined Mrs. Lovett's and Mrs. Lee's letters sufficiently to corroborate Lucy's statement, and then she permitted her to enter upon the duties of her new situation. A previous duty, however, she performed. "I cannot," she said to Mrs. Hyde, "rest easy a minute without writing to Mr. Hartell about the danger poor little Eugene is in. If you only knew what a sweet little fellow he is, Mrs. Hyde!"

"No child, Lucy, should be left in the hands of such a person as you describe that nurse. Write yourself to Mr. Hartell at Richmond. Tell your own story. I will add a postscript. Perhaps he may yet ferret out the truth for you."

"Perhaps so, Mrs. Hyde; but it's little Eugene that I am anxious about. My conscience is clear, and that is comfort enough for me."

"The girl has the true secret of comfort," thought Mrs. Hyde. "As this is a broken day, Lucy," she said, "and I want you to get all troubles off your mind, let us send for that 'one friend' of yours, and acquaint him with your change of place." Lucy, at first, feared he would be instigated by the injustice she had suffered to some rash act; but the desire to communicate her good and evil fortune controlled her; and, with many thanks, she assented to Mrs. Hyde's proposal. Charles instantly answered to the summons, and in an hour's time had heard the whole story from Lucy's lips; and, with the impetuous resentment natural to his age, had vowed that "he would go instantly to Mrs. Hartell's—that he would shoot Adéle if she did not tell the whole truth—yes, he would blow her up sky-high." Lucy, after a while, convinced him that though this mode of proceeding might punish Adéle, it would not establish her innocence, nor extricate her from the labyrinth in which Adéle's arts had involved her. He still insisted that he could not go quietly back to his work while she was lying under such an imputation. "Why, Lucy," he said, "I positively had rather walk the fiery furnace with Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednego."

"Oh, don't talk so—please, Charles."

"It is foolish and wrong, I know, when you are really the one in the furnace; but then it does not even scorch you, for your conscience is like the angel that walked with those men, while mine, Lucy, will torment me if I go quietly about my business just as if nothing had happened. Am I not, Lucy, the only protector you have in the city, besides being your—your—your—only friend, Lucy?"

"No, Charles, not my only one. It would be wrong to say so, when I have found such a friend as Mrs. Hyde. Leave all to her—please, Charles."

Charles at first flatly refused, urging that Mrs. Hyde did not know Lucy enough to judge in the matter; but at last, subdued by Lucy's gentle entreaties, he yielded, though declaring "it was deused hard;" and, in compliance with Mrs. Hyde's advice, he promised to remain passive till Mr. Hartell's return.