Our shop was well appointed with all that glare and glitter with which we decorate the “house of call” of disease and death. Being situated in such a thoroughfare, passengers would stop to look in, and ragged-vested, and in other garments still more ragged, little boys would stand to stare at the variety of colours, and the ’pottecary gentleman, your humble servant, who presided over so many labelled-in-gold phalanxes which decorated the sides of the shop.
Among those who always stopped and gazed as she passed by, which was generally three or four times a day, was a well-dressed female, apparently about forty years of age, straight as an arrow, with an elasticity of step, and a decision in her manner of walking, which was almost masculine, although her form, notwithstanding that it was tall and thin, was extremely feminine and graceful. Sometimes she would fix her eyes upon me, and there was a wildness in her looks, which certainly gave a painful impression, and at the same time so fascinated me, that when I met her gaze, the paper which contained the powder remained unfolded, and the arm which was pouring out the liquid suspended.
She was often remarked by Timothy, as well as me; and we further observed, that her step was not equal throughout the day. In her latter peregrinations, towards the evening, her gait was more vigorous, but unequal, at the same time that her gaze was more stedfast. She usually passed the shop for the last time each day, about five o’clock in the afternoon.
One evening, after we had watched her past, as we supposed, to return no more till the ensuing morning, for this peeping in, on her part, had become an expected occurrence, and afforded much amusement to Timothy, who designated her as the “mad woman,” to our great surprise, and to the alarm of Timothy, who sprang over the counter, and took a position by my side, she walked into the shop. Her eye appeared wild, as usual, but I could not make out that it was insanity. I recovered my self-possession, and desired Timothy to hand the lady a chair, begging to know in what way I could be useful. Timothy walked round by the end of the counter, pushed a chair near to her, and then made a hasty retreat to his former position. She declined the chair with a motion of her hand, in which there was much dignity, as well as grace, and placing upon the counter her hands, which were small and beautifully white, she bent forwards towards me, and said, in a sweet, low voice, which actually startled me by its depth of melody, “I am very ill.”
My astonishment increased. Why, I know not, because the exceptions are certainly as many as the general rule, we always form an estimate of the voice before we hear it, from the outward appearance of the speaker; and when I looked up in her face, which was now exposed to the glare of the argand lamp, and witnessed the cadaverous, pale, chalky expression on it, and the crow’s feet near the eyes, and wrinkles on her forehead, I should have sooner expected to have heard a burst of heavenly symphony from a thunder-cloud, than such music as issued from her parted lips.