The Umbrella Girl
‘A Young girl, the only daughter of a poor widow, removed from the country to Philadelphia to earn her living by covering umbrellas. She was very handsome; with glossy black hair, large beaming eyes, and ‘lips like wet coral.’ She was just at that susceptible age when youth is ripening into womanhood, when the soul begins to be pervaded by ‘that restless principle, which impels poor humans to seek perfection in union.’
‘At a hotel near the store for which she worked, an English traveller, called Lord Henry Stuart, had taken lodgings. He was a strikingly handsome man, and of princely carriage. As this distinguished stranger passed to and from his hotel, he encountered the umbrella girl, and was attracted by her uncommon beauty. He easily traced her to the store, where he soon after went to purchase an umbrella. This was followed up by presents of flowers, chats by the way-side, and invitations to walk or ride; all of which were gratefully accepted by the unsuspecting rustic; for she was as ignorant of the dangers of a city as were the squirrels of her native fields. He was merely playing a game for temporary excitement. She, with a head full of romance, and a heart melting under the influence of love, was unconsciously endangering the happiness of her whole life.
‘Lord Henry invited her to visit the public gardens on the Fourth of July. In the simplicity of her heart, she believed all his flattering professions, and considered herself his bride elect; she therefore accepted the invitation with innocent frankness. But she had no dress fit to appear in on such a public occasion, with a gentleman of high rank, whom she verily supposed to be her destined husband. While these thoughts revolved in her mind, her eye was unfortunately attracted by a beautiful piece of silk, belonging to her employer. Could she not take it, without being seen, and pay for it secretly when she had earned money enough? The temptation conquered her in a moment of weakness. She concealed the silk, and conveyed it to her lodgings. It was the first thing she had ever stolen, and her remorse was painful. She would have carried it back, but she dreaded discovery. She was not sure that her repentance would be met in a spirit of forgiveness.
‘On the eventful Fourth of July, she came out in her new dress. Lord Henry complimented her upon her elegant appearance, but she was not happy. On their way to the gardens, he talked to her in a manner which she did not comprehend. Perceiving this, he spoke more explicitly. The guileless young creature stopped, looked in his face with mournful reproach, and burst into tears. The nobleman took her hand kindly, and said: ‘My dear, are you an innocent girl?’
”I am, I am,’ she replied, with convulsive sobs. ‘Oh! what have I ever done, or said, that you should ask me such a question?’
‘The evident sincerity of her words stirred the deep fountains of his better nature. ‘If you are innocent,’ said he, ‘God forbid that I should make you otherwise. But you accepted my invitations and presents so readily, that I supposed you understood me.
‘What could I understand,’ said she, ‘ except that you intended to make me your wife?’
‘Though reared amid the proudest distinctions of rank, he felt no inclination to smile. He blushed and was silent. The heartless conventionalities of the world stood rebuked in the presence of affectionate simplicity. He conveyed her to her humble home, and bade her farewell, with a thankful consciousness that he had done no irretrievable injury to her future prospects. The remembrance of her would soon be to him as the recollection of last year’s butterflies.
With her, the wound was deep. In the solitude of her chamber she wept in bitterness of heart over her ruined air-castles. And that dress, which she had stolen to make an appearance befitting his bride! Oh I what if she should be discovered? And would not the heart of her poor widowed mother break, if she should ever know that her child was a thief?
‘Alas! her wretched forebodings proved too true. The silk was traced to her; she was arrested on her way to the store and dragged to prison. There she refused all nourishment, and wept incessantly. On the fourth day, the keeper called upon Isaac T. Hopper, and informed him that there was a young girl in prison, who appeared to be utterly friendless, and determined to die by starvation. The kind-hearted Friend immediately went to her assistance. He found her lying on the floor of her cell, with her face buried in her hands, sobbing as if her heart would break. He tried to comfort her, but could obtain no answer.
‘Leave us alone,’ said he to the keeper. ‘Perhaps she will speak to me, if there is no one to hear.’ When they were alone together, he put back the hair from her temples, laid his hand kindly on her beautiful head, and said in soothing tones: ‘My child, consider me as thy father. Tell me all thou hast done. If thou hast taken this silk, let me know all about it. I will do for thee as I would for my own daughter; and I doubt not that I can help thee out of this difficulty.’
‘After a long time spent in affectionate entreaty, she leaned her young head on his friendly shoulder, and sobbed out: ‘Oh! I wish I was dead. What will my poor mother say when she knows of my disgrace?’
”Perhaps we can manage that she never shall know it,’ replied he. Alluring her by this hope, he gradually obtained from her the whole story of her acquaintance with the nobleman. He bade her be comforted, and take nourishment; for he would see that the silk was paid for, and the prosecution withdrawn.
‘He went immediately to her employer, and told him the story. ‘This is her first offence,’ said he. ‘The girl is young, and she is the only child of a poor widow. Give her a chance to retrieve this one false step, and she may be restored to society, a useful and honored woman. I will see that thou art paid for the silk.’ The man readily agreed to withdraw the prosecution, and said he would have dealt otherwise by the girl, it he had known all the circumstances. ‘Thou shouldst have inquired into the merits of the case,’ replied Friend Hopper. ‘By this kind of thoughtlessness many a young creature is driven into the downward path, who might easily have been saved.’
‘The kind-hearted man next proceeded to the hotel, and with Quaker simplicity of speech, inquired for Henry Stuart. The servant said his lordship had not yet risen. ‘Tell him my business is of importance,’ said Friend Hopper. The servant soon returned and conducted him to the chamber. The nobleman appeared surprised that a stranger, in the plain Quaker costume, should thus intrude upon his luxurious privacy. When he heard his errand, he blushed deeply, and frankly admitted the truth of the girl’s statement. His benevolent visitor took the opportunity to ‘bear a testimony’ against the selfishness and sin of profligacy. He did it in such a kind and fatherly manner, that the young man’s heart was touched. He excused himself, by saying that he would not have tampered with the girl, if he had known her to be virtuous. ‘I have done many wrong things,’ said he, ‘but, thank God, no betrayal of confiding innocence weighs on my conscience. I have always esteemed it the basest act of which man is capable.’ The imprisonment of the poor girl, and the forlorn situation in which she had been found, distressed him greatly. When Friend Hopper represented that the silk had been stolen for his sake, that the girl had thereby lost profitable employment, and was obliged to return to her distant home, to avoid the danger of exposure, he took out a fifty-dollar note, and offered it to pay her expenses.
‘Nay,’ said Isaac. ‘Thou art a very rich man, I presume. I see in thy hand a large roll of such notes. She is the daughter of a poor widow, and thou hast been the means of doing her great injury. Give me another.’
‘Lord Henry handed him another fifty-dollar note, and smiled as he said: ‘You understand your business well. But you have acted nobly, and I reverence you for it. If you ever visit England, come to see me. I will give you a cordial welcome, and treat you like a nobleman.’
‘Farewell, friend,’ replied the Quaker. ‘Though much to blame in this affair, thou too hast behaved nobly. Mayst thou be blessed in domestic life, and trifle no more with the feelings of poor girls; not even with those whom others have betrayed and deserted.’
‘When the girl was arrested, she had sufficient presence of mind to assume a false name, and by that means her true name had been kept out of the newspapers. ‘I did this,’ said she, ‘ for my poor mother’s sake.’ With the money given by Lord Stuart, the silk was paid for, and she was sent home to her mother well provided with clothing. Her name and place of residence forever remained a secret in the breast of her benefactor.
‘Years after these events transpired, a lady called at Friend Hopper’s house, and asked to see him. When he entered the room, he found a handsomely-dressed young matron, with a blooming boy of five or six years old. She rose quickly to meet him, and her voice choked as she said: ‘Friend Hopper, do you know me?’ He replied that he did not. She fixed her tearful eyes earnestly upon him, and said: ‘You once helped me when in great distress.’ But the good missionary of humanity had helped too many in distress, to be able to recollect her without more precise information. With a tremulous voice she bade her son go into the next room for a few minutes; then dropping on her knees, she hid her face in his lap, and sobbed out: ‘I am the girl who stole the silk. Oh! Where should I now be, if it had not been for you!’
‘When her emotion was somewhat calmed, she told him that she had married a respectable man, a senator of his native State. Being on a visit in Friend Hopper’s vicinity, she had again and again passed his dwelling, looking wistfully at the windows to catch a sight of him; but when she attempted to enter, her courage failed.
‘But I must return home to-morrow,’ said she, ‘and I could not go away without once more seeing and thanking him who saved me from ruin.’ She recalled her little boy, and said to him: ‘Look at that gentleman, and remember him well; for he was the best friend your mother ever had.’ With an earnest invitation to visit her happy home, and a fervent ‘God bless you!’ she bade her benefactor farewell.’
Isaac T. Hopper, L. Maria Child, 1853
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:
Isaac Hopper [1771-1852] was a Quaker, philanthropist, abolitionist, and worker for prison reform. His 1853 biography, which has a link above, is full of amusing and affecting incidents and anecdotes of his cleverness in outwitting slavecatchers and corrupt officials.
Other versions of this story add the information that Lord Henry Stuart’s “visit to this country is doubtless well remembered by many, for it made a great sensation at the time. He was a peer of the realm, descended from the royal line, and was, moreover, a strikingly handsome man, of right princely carriage. He was subsequently a member of the British Parliament and is now dead.”
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You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
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