He was not long absent, and said, when he rejoined me,--
"A Hanoverian lady, a widow and the mother of five daughters, came to England two months ago with her whole family. She lives close by, and is occupied in soliciting compensation from the Government for any injury that was done her by the passage of the Duke of Cumberland's army. The mother herself is sick and and never leaves her bed; she sends her two eldest daughters to petition the Government, and they are the two young ladies you have just seen. They have not met with any success. The eldest daughter is twenty- two, and the youngest fourteen; they are all pretty and can speak English, French, and German equally well, and are always glad to see visitors. I had been to visit them myself, but as I gave them nothing I do not care to go there alone a second time. If you like, however, I can introduce you."
"You irritate my curiosity. Come along, but if the one that pleases me is not complaisant she shall have nothing."
"They will not even allow one to take them by the hand."
"They are Charpillons, I suppose."
"It looks like it. But you won't see any men there:"
We were shewn into a large room where I noticed three pretty girls and an evil-looking man. I began with the usual compliments, to which the girls replied politely, but with an air of great sadness.
Goudar spoke to the man, and then came to me shrugging his shoulders, and saying,--
"We have come at a sad time. That man is a bailiff who has come to take the mother to prison if she can't pay her landlord the twenty guineas' rent she owes him, and they haven't got a farthing. When the mother has been sent to prison the landlord will no doubt turn the girls out of doors."
"They can live with their mother for nothing."
"Not at all. If they have got the money they can have their meals in prison, but no one is allowed to live in a prison except the prisoners."
I asked one of them where her sisters were.
"They have gone out, to look for money, for the landlord won't accept any surety, and we have nothing to sell."
"All this is very sad; what does your mother say?"
"She only weeps, and yet, though she is ill and cannot leave her bed, they are going to take her to prison. By way of consolation the landlord says he will have her carried."
"It is very hard. But your looks please me, mademoiselle, and if you will be kind I may be able to extricate you from the difficulty."
"I do not know what you mean by 'kind.'"
"Your mother will understand; go and ask her."
"Sir, you do not know us; we are honest girls, and ladies of position besides."
With these words the young woman turned her back on me, and began to weep again. The two others, who were quite as pretty, stood straight up and said not a word. Goudar whispered to me in Italian that unless we did something for them we should cut but a sorry figure there; and I was cruel enough to go away without saying a word.
As we were leaving the house we met the two eldest sisters, who came home looking very sad. I was struck by their beauty, and extremely surprised to hear myself greeted by one of them, who said,--
"It is M. the Chevalier de Seingalt."
"Himself, mademoiselle, and sorely grieved at your misfortune."
"Be kind enough to come in again for a moment."
"I am sorry to say that I have an important engagement."
"I will not keep you for longer than a quarter of an hour."
I could not refuse so small a favour, and she employed the time in telling me how unfortunate they had been in Hanover, how they had come to London to obtain compensation, of their failure, their debts, the cruelty of the landlord, their mother's illness, the prison that awaited her, the likelihood of their being cast into the street, and the cruelty of all their acquaintances.
"We have nothing to sell, and all our resources consist of two shillings, which we shall have to spend on bread, on which we live."
"Who are your friends? How can they abandon you at such a time?"
She mentioned several names--among others, Lord Baltimore, Marquis Carracioli, the Neapolitan ambassador, and Lord Pembroke.