Under happier circumstances I should have been, at my then early age, quite wild with pleasurable excitement on entering London for the first time. But black Care sat by me, with her pale hand in mine: a voice of fear and warning, whose words I could not catch, was always in my ear. We drove through London, amid the glare of lamps, toward the West-end, and for a little while the sense of novelty and curiosity overcame my despondency, and I peeped eagerly from the window; while Madame, who was in high good-humour, spite of the fatigues of our long railway flight, screeched scraps of topographic information in my ear; for London was a picture-book in which she was well read.
’That is Euston Square, my dear—Russell Square. Here is Oxford Street—Haymarket. See, there is the Opera House—Hair Majesty’s Theatre. See all the carriages waiting;’ and so on, till we reached at length a little narrow street, which she told me was off Piccadilly, where we drew up before a private house, as it seemed to me—a family hotel—and I was glad to be at rest for the night.
Fatigued with the peculiar fatigue of railway travelling, dusty, a little chilly, with eyes aching and wearied, I ascended the stairs silently, our garrulous and bustling landlady leading the way, and telling her oft-told story of the house, its noble owner in old time, and how those fine drawing-rooms were taken every year during the Session by the Bishop of Rochet-on-Copeley, and at last into our double-bedded room.
I would fain have been alone, but I was too tired and dejected to care very much for anything.
At tea, Madame expanded in spirit, like a giant refreshed, and chattered and sang; and at last, seeing that I was nodding, advised my going to bed, while she ran across the street to see ’her dear old friend, Mademoiselle St. Eloi, who was sure to be up, and would be offended if she failed to make her ever so short a call.’
I cared little what she said, and was glad to be rid of her even for a short time, and was soon fast asleep.
I saw her, I know not how much later, poking about the room, like a figure in a dream, and taking off her things.
She had her breakfast in bed next morning, and I was, to my comfort, left to take mine in solitary possession of our sitting-room; where I began to wonder how little annoyance I had as yet suffered from her company, and began to speculate upon the chances of my making the journey with tolerable comfort.
Our hostess gave me five minutes of her valuable time. Her talk ran chiefly upon nuns and convents, and her old acquaintance with Madame; and it seemed to me that she had at one time driven a kind of trade, no doubt profitable enough, in escorting young ladies to establishments on the Continent; and although I did not then quite understand the tone in which she spoke to me, I often thought afterwards that Madame had represented me as a young person destined for the holy vocation of the veil.