Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Stories and Tales >> The Prima Donna: A Passage from City Life >> Page 179

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Page 179

Short Stories | U of South Carolina P | 1974
Transcription THE PRIMA DONNA179
There was surely something very impertinent in the demand. I
had, by the common law, quite as much right to be where he found
me as any body, so long as my presence did not conflict with the
similar rights of any other citizen. The querist was a man, slight
of frame, apparently decrepid in his limbs, and evidently an Italian.
I could see by the lamplight, in the full glare of which he stood, that
he was violently agitated. His thin, dark features were almost con-
vulsed—his lips quivered, and his eyes emitted a fiery gleam, in
which I fancied that I beheld the expression of a very malignant
and personal hostility. This was all matter of very curious surprise
to me, and it was only, I suppose, because of my exceeding surprise,
that I did not, at the first moment, resent the impertinence of his
demand. It may be that I felt also, that, however justly, according
to law, I might maintain my position where I was, in spite of him
or any body else, yet that, in my heart, and some of its desires, I
was, in truth, a trespasser upon his rights. I certainly longed to get
into his household if it were his, and to gaze my fill, at the sweet
prisoner-bird thereof. That she was a caged songstress, I could not
allow myself to doubt. I had caught, during the day, more than
one glimpse of her sweet, sad countenance; and I fancied, more than
once, that I read in her eyes as they encountered mine, the yearning
to be free. Perhaps, in this reading of her eyes, my boyish vanity
led me to fancy that I saw a great deal more. Perhaps but there
will always be time enough for the confessional. Enough to say that
my conscience somewhat interfered in the desire which I certainly
should have felt under other circumstances, of knocking my imperti-
nent querist into the gutter, in answer to his demand.
As the matter was, I hesitated—actually stammered, and failed
to reply in a satisfactory manner either to him or to myself, until
provoked to a right feeling of resolution by the repetition, in broken
English, of his inquiry
"What you do here? What you want?" The style of the question
was unbearable the manner in which his face was thrust forward
into mine, was not to be endured, and I boldly blurted out the truth,
or that which was truth, per se, with a look and accent of defiance.