A Golden Argosy (A Novelette)by Fred M White
Eleven o'clock! Before the vibration of the nearest chimes had died away, the rain—which had long been threatening over London—poured down for some five minutes in a fierce gust, and then, as if exhausted by its efforts, subsided into a steady drizzle. The waves of light, cast on the glistening pavement from the gas lamps flickering in the wind, shone on… See more details below
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Eleven o'clock! Before the vibration of the nearest chimes had died away, the rain—which had long been threatening over London—poured down for some five minutes in a fierce gust, and then, as if exhausted by its efforts, subsided into a steady drizzle. The waves of light, cast on the glistening pavement from the gas lamps flickering in the wind, shone on the stones; but the unstable shadows were cast back by the stronger, refulgence of the electric light at Covent Garden. Back into the gathered mist of Long Acre the pallid gleam receded; while, on the opposite side, the darkness of Russell Street seemed darker still. By Tavistock Street was a gin-shop, whose gilded front, points of flame, and dazzling glass seemed to smile a smile of crafty welcome to the wayfarer. A few yards away from the knot of loafers clustering with hungry eyes round the door, stood a woman. There were others of her sex close by, but not like her, and though her dress was poor and dilapidated to the last degree, the others saw instinctively she was not as they. She was young, presumably not more than five-and-twenty years, and on her face she bore the shadow of great care. Gazing, half sullenly, half wistfully, into the temptingly arrayed window, her profile strongly marked by the great blaze of light farther up the street, the proud carriage of the head formed a painful contrast to her scanty garb and sorrow-stricken face. She was a handsome, poorly dressed woman, with a haughty bearing, a look of ever-present care, and she had twopence in her pocket.
If you will consider what it is to have such a meagre sum standing between you and starvation, you may realise the position of this woman. To be alone, unfriended, penniless, in a city of four million souls, is indeed a low depth of human misery. Perhaps she thought so, for her mind was quickly formed. Pushing back the door with steady hand, she entered the noisy bar. She had half expected to be an object of interest, perhaps suspicion; but, alas, too many of us in this world carry our life's history written in our faces, to cause any feelings of surprise. The barman served her with the cordial she ordered, and with a business-like 'chink,' swept away her last two coppers. Even had he known they were her last, the man would have evinced no undue emotion. He was not gifted with much imagination, and besides, it was a common thing there to receive the last pittance that bridges over the gulf between a human being and starvation. There she sat, resting her tired limbs, deriving a fictitious strength from the cordial, dimly conscious that the struggle against fate was past, and nothing remained for it but—a speedy exit from further trouble—one plunge from the bridges! Slowly and meditatively she sipped at her tumbler, wondering—strange thought—why those old-fashioned glasses had never been broken. Slowly, but surely, the liquid decreased, till only a few drops remained. The time had come, then! She finished it, drew her scanty shawl closer about her shoulders, and went out again into the London night.
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