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   Chapter 3 FRIENDS IN DISTRESS

Winsome Winnie and other New Nonsense Novels By Stephen Leacock Characters: 6268

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Winnifred was now in the humblest lodgings in the humblest part of London. A simple bedroom and sitting-room sufficed for her wants. Here she sat on her trunk, bravely planning for the future.

"Miss Clair," said the Landlady, knocking at the door, "do try to eat something. You must keep up your health. See, I've brought you a kippered herring."

Winnifred ate the herring, her heart filled with gratitude. With renewed strength she sallied forth on the street to resume her vain search for employment. For two weeks now Winnifred Clair had sought employment even of the humblest character. At various dress-making establishments she had offered, to no purpose, the services of her needle. They had looked at it and refused it.

In vain she had offered to various editors and publishers the use of her pen. They had examined it coldly and refused it.

She had tried fruitlessly to obtain a position of trust. The various banks and trust companies to which she had applied declined her services. In vain she had advertised in the newspapers offering to take sole charge of a little girl. No one would give her one.

Her slender stock of money which she had in her purse on leaving Mr. Bonehead's office was almost consumed.

Each night the unhappy girl returned to her lodging exhausted with disappointment and fatigue.

Yet even in her adversity she was not altogether friendless.

Each evening, on her return home, a soft tap was heard at the door.

"Miss Clair," said the voice of the Landlady, "I have brought you a fried egg. Eat it. You must keep up your strength."

Then one morning a terrible temptation had risen before her.

"Miss Clair," said the manager of an agency to which she had applied, "I am glad to be able at last to make you a definite offer of employment. Are you prepared to go upon the stage?"

The stage!

A flush of shame and indignation swept over the girl. Had it come to this? Little versed in the world as Winnifred was, she knew but too well the horror, the iniquity, the depth of degradation implied in the word.

"Yes," continued the agent, "I have a letter here asking me to recommend a young lady of suitable refinement to play the part of Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Will you accept?"

"Sir," said Winnifred proudly, "answer me first this question fairly. If I go upon the stage, can I, as Eliza, remain as innocent, as simple as I am now?"

"You can not," said the manager.

"Then, sir," said Winnifred, rising from her chair, "let me say this. Your offer is doubtless intended to be kind. Coming from the class you do, and inspired by the ideas you are, you no doubt mean well. But let a poor girl, friendless and alone, tell you that rather than accept such a degradation she will die."

"Very good," said the manager.

"I go forth," cried Winnifred, "to perish."

"All right," said the manager.

The door closed behind her. Winnifred Clair, once more upon the street, sank down upon the steps of the building in a swoon.

But at this very juncture Providence, which always watches over the innocent and defenceless, was keeping its eye direct upon

Winnifred.

At that very moment when our heroine sank fainting upon the doorstep, a handsome equipage, drawn by two superb black steeds, happened to pass along the street.

Its appearance and character proclaimed it at once to be one of those vehicles in which only the superior classes of the exclusive aristocracy are privileged to ride. Its sides were emblazoned with escutcheons, insignia and other paraphernalia. The large gilt coronet that appeared up its panelling, surmounted by a bunch of huckleberries, quartered in a field of potatoes, indicated that its possessor was, at least, of the rank of marquis. A coachman and two grooms rode in front, while two footmen, seated in the boot, or box at the rear, contrived, by the immobility of their attitude and the melancholy of their faces, to inspire the scene with an exclusive and aristocratic grandeur.

The occupants of the equipage-for we refuse to count the menials as being such-were two in number, a lady and gentleman, both of advanced years. Their snow-white hair and benign countenances indicated that they belonged to that rare class of beings to whom rank and wealth are but an incentive to nobler things. A gentle philanthropy played all over their faces, and their eyes sought eagerly in the passing scene of the humble street for new objects of benefaction.

Those acquainted with the countenances of the aristocracy would have recognized at once in the occupants of the equipage the Marquis of Muddlenut and his spouse, the Marchioness.

It was the eye of the Marchioness which first detected the form of Winnifred Clair upon the doorstep.

"Hold! pause! stop!" she cried, in lively agitation.

The horses were at once pulled in, the brakes applied to the wheels, and with the aid of a powerful lever, operated by three of the menials, the carriage was brought to a standstill.

"See! Look!" cried the Marchioness. "She has fainted. Quick, William, your flask. Let us hasten to her aid."

In another moment the noble lady was bending over the prostrate form of Winnifred Clair, and pouring brandy between her lips.

Winnifred opened her eyes. "Where am I?" she asked feebly.

"She speaks!" cried the Marchioness. "Give her another flaskful."

After the second flask the girl sat up.

"Tell me," she cried, clasping her hands, "what has happened? Where am I?"

"With friends!" answered the Marchioness. "But do not essay to speak. Drink this. You must husband your strength. Meantime, let us drive you to your home."

Winnifred was lifted tenderly by the men-servants into the aristocratic equipage. The brake was unset, the lever reversed, and the carriage thrown again into motion.

On the way Winnifred, at the solicitation of the Marchioness, related her story.

"My poor child!" exclaimed the lady, "how you must have suffered. Thank Heaven it is over now. To-morrow we shall call for you and bring you away with us to Muddlenut Chase."

Alas, could she but have known it, before the morrow should dawn, worse dangers still were in store for our heroine. But what these dangers were, we must reserve for another chapter.

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