John Somerville occupied a suite of apartments in a handsome lodging house in Walnut Street. A man wanting yet several years of forty, he looked many years older than that age. Late hours and dissipated habits, though kept within respectable limits, left their traces on his face. At twenty-one he inherited a considerable fortune, which, combined with some professional income—for he was a lawyer, and not without ability—was quite sufficient to support him handsomely, and leave a considerable surplus every year. But latterly he had contracted a passion for gaming, and, shrewd though he might be naturally, he could hardly be expected to prove a match for the wily habitues of the gaming table, who had marked him for their prey.
The evening before his introduction to the reader he had passed till a late hour at a fashionable gaming house, where he had lost heavily.
His reflections on waking were not the most pleasant. For the first time within fifteen years he realized the folly and imprudence of the course he had pursued. The evening previous he had lost a thousand dollars, for which he had given his IOU. Where to raise the money he did not know. After making his toilet, he rang the bell and ordered breakfast.
For this he had but scanty appetite. He drank a cup of coffee and ate part of a roll. Scarcely had he finished, and directed the removal of the dishes, than the servant entered to announce a visitor.
“Is it a gentleman?” he inquired, hastily, fearing that it might be a creditor. He occasionally had such visitors.
“A child? But what could a child want of me?”
“No, sir. It isn’t a child,” said the servant, in reply.
“Then if it’s neither a gentleman, lady nor child,” said Somerville, “will you have the goodness to inform me what sort of a being it is?”
“It’s a woman, sir,” answered the servant, his gravity unmoved.
“Why didn’t you say so when I asked you?”
“Because you asked me if it was a lady, and this isn’t—leastways she don’t look like one.”
“You can send her up, whoever she is,” said Somerville.
A moment afterward Peg entered his presence.
John Somerville looked at her without much interest, supposing that she might be a seamstress, or laundress, or some applicant for charity. So many years had passed since he had met with this woman that she had passed out of his remembrance.
“Do you wish to see me about anything?” he asked. “You must be quick, for I am just going out.”
“You don’t seem to recognize me, Mr. Somerville.”
“I can’t say I do,” he replied, carelessly. “Perhaps you used to wash for me once.”
“I am not in the habit of acting as laundress,” said the woman, proudly.
“In that case,” said Somerville, languidly, “you will have to tell me who you are, for it is quite out of my power to remember all the people I meet.”