Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Stories and Tales >> The Prima Donna: A Passage from City Life >> Page 173

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Page 173

Short Stories | U of South Carolina P | 1974
Transcription THE PRIMA DONNA173
moderate accordingly, when compared with the stunning sounds with
which they momently assailed me in Broadway. But, as if to qualify
this advantage, there was just opposite, one of those annoyances
which are to be found in the suburbs of every large city, in the
shape of a cluster of low, crowded and filthy looking rookeries,—a
nest of wooden structures, dingy, dark, narrow, and tumbling to
decay, which still, however, gave shelter to a crowd of inmates.
Every tenement of this nest, was filled from basement to attic; the
people were of the very poorest, and some of them, evidently, of the
most dissolute, character. Rags and dirt were the conspicuous badges
at every window, and no prospect could be more melancholy than
that of the poor, puny, little children, who were despatched from
rise of morn to set of sun, to glean, as beggars, from better furnished
portions of the city, their daily supplies of pennies and "cold victuals."
I am not, however, one of those persons who sicken at the thousand
aspects of human misery. Some experience of the world and its
vicissitudes, acquired at a period when other men are usually about
to begin their lessons, had fortified my senses, and prepared me to
look with fortitude, if not indifference, upon those evils of life which
are unhappily inevitable. I did not forego the prospect from the
window, because it showed me suffering as well as sunshine; and, if
I could not, in any great degree, alleviate the one, I saw not, in
consequence, any good reason why I should reject or forego the other.
My morning and afternoon contemplations included the `rookeries.'
I saw the outgoings and incomings of their motley population, and
acquired, after a moderate period, a certain degree of interest, in
some few of the several inhabitants. There was one old woman, a
sturdy Meg Merrilies sort of body, who carried out, empty, a sack
some five feet in length, which I am sure she always brought home
full. What she brought, and what use she made of the commodity,
I never troubled myself to inquire or even to conjecture. The simple
appearance of the old dame at her departure and return, was enough
for my curiosity. In going forth, her tongue sounded an alarum to
the whole neighbourhood, which sufficiently apprised it of that
important event. Very different was the manner of her return. She
entered without beat of drum. Her tongue was most singularly
silent, and the fierce, consequential air with which she sallied forth,
was exchanged for that of the most quiet, meek and cautious of all