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Zillah, or The Old Man's Tale.

(continued from issue #5)

Chapter 4.

"Mrs. Levisson had insisted on the dismissal of old Grace, and the rude insolent manner of the servant who had succeeded her, painfully reminded Zillah of the affectionate respect Grace had always shown her. Every hour, indeed, made her feel more keenly the different position she held in her own dear home. Except in her father's presence, Mrs. Levisson treated her with the utmost coldness and severity, she found fault with every thing she did, and seemed to take pleasure in the petty tyranny she was continually exercising over her; she made her perform the most menial offices, and if Zillah mildly ventured to remonstrate, she punished her for indolence and pride. The flowers Zillah loved so dearly, were given away, because they engrossed too much of her time; her books were locked up for the same reason; Mrs. Levisson even cut off her beautiful hair, which hung in dark silken ringlets round her fair throat, for fear she should spend a moment more than necessary in arranging it; in short, she begrudged every minute that the child devoted to herself. And Sarah, too, from whose friendship Zillah had expected so much, put on a proud contemptuous manner with her, as if she thought her too childish for her companionship. Thus finding herself the object of unmerited harshness and neglect, the poor child would privately shed torrents of tears, but never allowed any mark of discontent to escape her in the presence of her father; and she would have borne any thing sooner than let him even guess the constant vexation she was subjected to, by the unamiable tempers of her step-mother and her daughter. She observed, with the quick eye of affection, that her father appeared less cheerful than formerly; his face looked so pale, and his form so attenuated. She yearned to lavish her caresses and attentions on his as heretofore; but Mrs. Levisson was ever at hand with some whispered sneer to check her, or some task to impose which required her absence from the room.

"At this time her life was one series of sorrows and annoyances. It is true, a casual observer would not have discovered any cause to pity Zillah; she had a respectable if not a luxurious home, was in the enjoyment of parental protection; she was in good health, neatly dressed, and looked cheerful; but how uncertain is the judgment we can form of the happiness of others.

"Zillah, who certainly possessed many advantages, and who had been visited by no heavy calamity, was, nevertheless, exposed to many trials, which constantly called forth all her principles of humility and forbearance. And it is a far greater effort of self-control to keep an hourly watch over our words and actions, for the sake of others, than to muster up all our stock of magnanimity and self-denial to meet the exigency of some few great occasions.

"Matters remained in this state for some time, when one day that Zillah had been even more than usually harassed, she was agreeably surprised at perceiving an alteration in Sarah's manner; she paid her many little kind attentions, and Zillah was too grateful for any kindness to analyze the motives which actuated them.

"'I have been thinking,' said Sarah, 'that you and I have never been half as friendly together as we ought to be; I don't know where the fault has been, but it shall not be mine any longer, and to show you, dear Zillah, that I am in earnest, I am going to tell you an important secret, and you must not breathe a word of it to our parents.'

"'Then I would rather not hear it,' replied Zillah, 'for I cannot promise to keep any thing from my dear father.'

"Sarah's lip curled with contempt, but hastily disguising her impatience, she threw her arms round Zillah. 'I know,' said she, 'you should conceal nothing from your father that concerns yourself, but is there any harm in receiving the confidence of a friend? And if you do receive it, surely you don't think you should betray it? Something makes me very unhappy, and it would be a relief to have your sympathy. Besides, you are sensible, and I want your advice, and, Zillah—and—your assistance.'

"She paused, Zillah hesitated; Sarah saw her advantage, and quickly added, 'Now I see you mean to be kind; you will keep my secret, oh, say you will'—and she burst into tears.

"Zillah, entirely overcome by the sight of her distress, promised to hear what she had to tell, and give her all the assistance she could.

"'Look here,' said Sarah, hastily unlocking a drawer, and showing a large collection of pieces of various description, such as short lengths of ribbon, bits of lace, and remnants of silk, 'what I have to tell is about these nasty tiresome things. One of our girls gave them to me; but Mrs. Smith fancies she has lost something of value, and this afternoon by chance I overheard her say, she intended visiting the homes of all her work-people, the first thing to-morrow morning, to search for the missing article; and as they would be taken unawares, she made no doubt she should discover the thief. Now, if she were to find these things here, perhaps she might suspect I took them'—here she stopped and pressed Zillah's hand in hers—'You alone can help me out of this scrape.'

"'I cannot see how,' answered Zillah, 'it seems to me there is but one way of acting—to say at once who gave them to you, Mrs. Smith cannot be angry with you.'

"'O, that won't do at all,' said Sarah, impetuously, 'and suppose they were not all given me?'

"Zillah's countenance fell, she was shocked at the guilt these words implied.

"'Ah! I see how it is, you care not what becomes of me; you will stand coolly by and see me turned out of my situation, in disgrace, sooner than stretch out your hand to help me.'

"'Sarah, dear Sarah, I cannot bear your reproaches. What would you have me do?'

"'When you go marketing to-morrow, dispose of these things at a shop I will tell you of, it is not much our of your way; your steadiness is so well known, you will not be questioned if you are longer out than usual. You see there is nothing very dreadful to do, and I should go myself, only I want Mrs. Smith to know I have not left the house since I came in this evening.'

"Zillah could not close her eyes all that night, and towards morning had just sunk into an uneasy slumber, when Sarah roused her to prepare for her expedition. She eagerly told her how much each article ought to fetch, and the business-like manner in which she expressed herself, made even the simple-minded Zillah suspect this was not the first time she had been engaged in a similar transaction. When Sarah had made up a bundle of all the pieces, she took cautiously out of another drawer, a small paper parcel, and drew forth about twenty yards of wide Valenciennes lace of exquisite texture. 'This,' said she, 'will fetch thirty shillings at least, perhaps more; ten shillings a yard were little for such lace.'

"Zillah, who stood by trembling and reluctant, entreated Sarah to give the lace to Mrs. Smith, and said, 'It was impossible the girl who gave it her could have come honestly by it.'

"'That you have no right to question, and I tell you, if you will not take this, you may as well stay at home.'

"'Dear Sarah, be advised, show it to Mrs. Smith; it may be the article she has lost.'

"Sarah turned deathly pale. 'Don't be so foolish,' said she, at length, in a choked voice, 'will you get rid of it or not—for, hear the truth, Zillah, I did take it, thinking it would never be missed from among so many pieces. And now, what am I to do? Confess myself a thief? Sooner would I die a thousand times; think of the anger and disgrace it would draw on me—oh! Do pity me.'

"Horror-struck at what she heard, for to a pure mind, the discovery of guilt in another is dreadful, Zillah entreated Sarah to confess her fault; and, with all the simple eloquence virtue lends in a good cause, urged, that to avow a fault is the first step to repentance, and tried to dissuade her from adding another error to that already committed; but finding all her arguments were offered in vain, and that Sarah gave herself up to the most bitter despair, she said firmly, 'I will not sell what has been stolen, but I will take these parcels with me, and stay out till Mrs. Smith has had time to leave our house, this will give us time to think of some method of restoring them without bringing you into trouble. I shall perhaps be scolded by your mother for loitering; but I will bear that cheerfully for your sake, if you will promise me never to act so wickedly again.'

"'I do promise, never, never again to betray the trust reposed in me; but now, do go, dear girl, pray do, for I am in dread lest Mrs. Smith should make this her first visit.'

"Zillah had not been long gone when, as Sarah expected, Mrs. Smith arrived, and made known the purpose of her visit. Sarah pretended great indignation while listening to Mrs. Smith's account of having missed, from time to time, various trifling articles which she had not considered worth making a disturbance about; but having lost a valuable piece of lace, which a lady had sent to trim some caps, and which could only have been taken willfully from the box, she thought it was high time to set about discovering the thief. She said she did not entertain the slightest doubt of Sarah's honesty, still she must act impartially, and deal with her as with the rest of her work-people, and therefore hoped Sarah would not object showing her the contents of her drawers.

"It is needless to say that the search proved perfectly satisfactory to Sarah; and her mistress said many kind things to apologize for the course she had been forced to adopt, and left the house quite convinced that Sarah Sloman was not the guilty person.

Chapter 5.

"In the mean time, with a heavy heart, Zillah proceeded on her way; her purchases finished, and fearful of returning home too soon, she wandered on, fancying that every person she passed regarded her with suspicious looks. At length, worn out with fatigue and anxiety, she sat down on the steps of a house to rest. Thinking over all that had occurred within the last twenty-four  hours, she felt dissatisfied with herself for the part she had taken, and kept planning different ways, in which the articles might be returned to their rightful owner without implicating Sarah. Her reverie was suddenly interrupted by a shrill female voice from the area, desiring her to move off or she would give her in charge of the police. In alarm, Zillah started up, and in her haste to obey, slipped back, and falling against the stones, cut her face, which bled profusely. In a moment a crowd collected; the same shrill speaker, whose heart was fortunately softer than her voice, now appeared at the street door, and desired that the child should be brought into the hall. Zillah was quite senseless. Her neat well-made clothes showed she was respectable, and they examined the contents of her pocket in order to discover, if possible, her name and abode; but they found nothing except a bundle of ribbons and silks, and a small paper parcel wrapped up separately. It was opened—

"'Good gracious!' exclaimed the owner of the wiry voice, 'if here isn't the h'identical piece of Walenseen as Mrs. Smith was telling Missis, one of her girls must have stolen. Well! If this isn't odd.'

"Zillah was just coming to, and opening her eyes, she faintly murmured, 'Where am I?'

"'I say, where did you get this lace? You must have been laying hands on what don't belong to you, and this h'accident is a judgment on you. Don't you stir, and I shall go and ask my Missis what's to be done with you.' So saying, she left poor Zillah to meditate on the unpleasant turn her affairs had taken: faint, tired, and hungry, for she had not had any breakfast, she could only give herself up for lost, and sat trembling at the idea of what might come next.

"The lady of the house presently made her appearance, and questioned her closely how she came to have the lace. Fearful of involving Sarah, her answers were so contradictory and confused, that the lady felt no doubt she was in fact the culprit her milliner had alluded to the day previous, when she called to offer a piece of lace of another pattern in place of that which had been stolen. She therefore thought the best thing she could do was to send for her milliner, and detain Zillah till she came.

"When Mrs. Smith saw that the lace had been found in the possession of Zillah Levisson, it suddenly occurred to her, that on the very day the lace had been missed, Zillah had brought some message to Sarah, and had remained some minutes alone in the workroom. Thus it seemed to her clear enough that she must have been the thief.

"And what were her feelings, poor child? Accused of a crime at which her heart revolted, unable to prove her innocence without betraying Sarah.

"'I am not guilty,' said she, looking imploringly about her, 'indeed I am not.'

"'How did you come by these things, then,' inquired Mrs. Smith.

"A glow of crimson rushed over Zillah's face, neck, and brow, but she spoke not.

"'Why don't you answer?' sternly demanded the milliner.

"Here the lady whispered to Zillah, that if she would confess the truth, and never do so again, she would intercede for her, and nothing more should be said about the matter. But Zillah indignantly refused to admit that she was guilty of a crime she would have shrunk from committing; and feeling confident that when Sarah saw how matters stood, she would explain all, earnestly begged Mrs. Smith would take her home, and, after some little hesitation, her request was acceded to.

"When they came there Sarah had been some time gone to work. Mrs. Levisson was prepared to greet Zillah with a sharp rebuke, and her father was getting very uneasy at her prolonged absence. A few words sufficed to make them aware of what had happened.

"'There must be some mistake,' exclaimed Mr. Levisson.

"'Oh! I am innocent. I never wronged any one. Father, dear father, you will not believe I did what they accuse me of?'

"'No, indeed; you my child, who have never told me an untruth in all your life. I believe my pious Zillah guilty of stealing! Not for a moment could I think of it!'

"'Bless you, dear father; I can bear any thing now.'

"'Send for Sarah,' said Mr. Levisson, 'she may be able to throw some light on this strange business.'

"She was accordingly brought; but what was Zillah's consternation on perceiving that Sarah pretended entire ignorance of the whole affair. Completely overpowered by such treacherous behaviour, and a sense of her own equivocal position, Zillah tried to reach the spot where her father stood; but her powers failed her, and she sunk fainting to the ground.

"In consideration of her evident sufferings, Mrs. Smith said she would prosecute the affair no further, but leave her to the correction of her parents, and the remorse of her own conscience."

(To be continued.)