This little maid had just entered her eleventh year; but her important station at the theatre, as it seemed to her, with the benefits which she felt to accrue from her pious application of her small earnings, had given an air of womanhood her steps and to her behaviour. You would have taken her to have been at least five years older. Till latterly she had merely been employed in choruses, or where children were wanted to fill up the scene. But the manager, observing a diligence and adroitness in her above her age, had for some few months past intrusted to her the performance of whole parts. You may guess the self-consequence of the promoted Barbara.
* * * * *
The parents of Barbara had been in reputable circumstances. The father had practised, I believe, as an apothecary in the town. But his practice, from causes for which he was himself to blame, or perhaps from that pure infelicity which accompanies some people in their walk through life, and which it is impossible to lay at the door of imprudence, was now reduced to nothing. They were, in fact, in the very teeth of starvation, when the manager, who knew and respected them in better days, took the little Barbara into his company.
At the period I commenced with, her slender earnings were the sole support of the family, including two younger sisters. I must throw a veil over some mortifying circumstances. Enough to say, that her Saturday’s pittance was the only chance of a Sunday’s meal of meat.
This was the little starved, meritorious maid, stood before old Ravenscroft, the treasurer, for her Saturday’s payment. Ravenscroft was a man, I have heard many old theatrical people besides herself say, of all men least calculated for a treasurer. He had no head for accounts, paid away at random, kept scarce any books, and summing up at the week’s end, if he found himself a pound or so deficient, blest himself that it was no more.
Now Barbara’s weekly stipend was a bare half-guinea. By mistake he popped into her hand a whole one.
Barbara tripped away.
She was entirely unconscious at first of the mistake:
Ravenscroft would never have discovered it.
But when she had got down to the first of those uncouth landing-places she became sensible of an unusual weight of metal pressing her little hand.
Now, mark the dilemma.
She was by nature a good child. From her parents and those about her she had imbibed no contrary influence. But then they had taught her nothing. Poor men’s smoky cabins are not always porticoes of moral philosophy. This little maid had no instinct to evil, but then she might be said to have no fixed principle. She had heard honesty commended, but never dreamed of its application to herself. She thought of it as something which concerned grown-up people, men and women. She had never known temptation, or thought of preparing resistance against it.