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MY FIRST LOVE.
BY WASHINGTON IRVING.
I do not know how it is, but I cannot be idle long without getting into love. I had not been a very long time at Oxford, before I became deeply enamoured of a shopkeeper's daughter in the High - Street, who, in fact, was the admiration of many of the students. I wrote several sonnets in praise of her, and spent half of my pocket - money at the shop, in buying articles which I did not want, that I might have an opportunity of speaking to her. Her father, a severelooking old gentleman, with bright silver buckles, and a crisp-curled wig, kept a strict guard on her, as the fathers generally do upon their daughters in Oxford, and well they may. I tried to get into his good graces, and to be sociable with him, but all in vain. I said several good things in his shop, but he never laughed; he had no relish for wit and humour. He was one of those dry old gentleman who keep youngsters at bay. He had already brought up two or three daughters, and was experienced in the ways of students.
He was as knowing and wary as a gray old badger that has often been hunted. To see him on Sunday, so stiff and starched in his demeanour, so precise in his dress, with his daughter under his arm, was enough to deter all graceless youngsters from approaching.
I managed, however, in spite of his vigilance, to have several conversations with the daughter, as I cheapened articles in the shop. I made terrible long bargains, and examined the articles over and over before I purchased. In the mean time, I would convey a sonnet or an acrostic under cover of a piece of cambric, or slipped into a pair of stockings; I would whisper soft nonsense into her ear as I haggled about the price; and would squeeze her hand tenderly as I received my halfpence of change in a bit of whity- brown paper. Let this serve as a hint to all haberdashers who have pretty danghters for shop-girls, and young students for customers. I do not know whether my words and looks were very eloquent, but my poetry was irresistible; for, to tell the truth, the girl had some literary taste, and was seldom without a book from the circulating library.
By the divine power of poetry, therefore, which is so potent with the lovely sex, did I subdue the heart of this fair little haberdasher. We carried on a sentimental correspondence for a time across the counter, and I supplied her with rhyme by the stocking-full. At length I prevailed on her to grant an assignation. But how was this to be effected ? Her father kept her always under his eye; she never walked out alone; and the house was locked up the moment that the shop was shut. All these difficulties served but to give zest to the adventure. I promised that the assignation should be in her own chamber, into which I would climb at night. The plan was irresistible A cruel father, a secret lover, and a clandestine meeting! All the little girl's studies from the circulating library seemed to be realized.
But what had I in view in making this assignation ? Indeed, I know not. I had no evil intentions, nor can I say that I had any good ones. I liked the girl, and wanted to have an opportunity of seeing more of her;
and the assignation was made, as I have done many things else, heedlessly and without forethought. I asked myself a few questions of the kind, after all my arrangements were made, but the answers were very unsatisfactory. „Am I to ruin this poor thoughtless girl ?" said I to myself. „No!" was the prompt and indignant answer. „Am I to run away with her?“
„With her, and to what purpose ?“ „Well, then, am I to marry her?“ „Poh! a man of my expectations marry a shopkeeper's daughter!“ „What then am I to do with her ?“ „Hum why
let me get into the chamber first, and then consider" the self examination ended.
Well, sir, „come what come might,“ I stole under cover of the darkness to the dwelling of my
Dulcinea. All was quiet. At the concerted signal her window was gently opened. It was just above the projecting bow - window of her father's shop, which assisted me in mounting. The house was low, and I was enabled to scale the fortress with tolerable ease. I clambered with a beating heart; I reached the casement; I hoisted my body half into the chamber; and was welcomed, not by the embraces of my expecting fair one, but by the grasp of the crabbed - looking old father in the crisp-curled wig.
I extricated myself from his clutches, and endeavoured to make my retreat; but I was confounded by his cries of thieves! and robbers! I was bothered, too, by his Sunday cane, which was amazingly busy about my head as I descended, and against which my hat was but a poor protection. Never before had I an idea of the activity of an old man's arm, and the hardness of the knob of an ivory - headed cane. In my hurry and confusion I missed my footing, and fell sprawling on the pavement. I was immediately surrounded by myrmidons, who, I doubt not, were on the watch for me. Indced, I was in no situation to escape, for I had sprained my ankle in the fall, and could not stand. I was seized as a housebreaker; and to exonerate myself of a greater crime, I had to accuse myself of a less. I made known who I was, and why I came there. Alas! the varlets knew it already, and were only amusing themselves at my expence. My perfidious muse had been playing me one of her slippery tricks. The old curmudgeon of a father had found my sonnets and acrostics hid away in holes and corners of his shop: he had no taste for poetry like his daughter, and had instituted a rigorous though silent obscrvation. He had moused upon our letters, detected our plans, and prepared every thing for my reception. Thus was I ever doomed to be led into scrapes by the muse.
Let no man henceforth carry on a secret amour in poetry!
The old man’s ire was in some measure appeased by the pommeling of my head and the anguish of my sprain; so he did not put me to death on the spot. He was even humane enough to furnish a shutter, on which I was carried back to college like a wounded warrior. The porter was roused to admit me. The college gate was thrown open for my entry. The affair was blazed about the next morning, and became the joke of the college from the buttery to the hall.
I had leisure to repent during several weeks' confinement by my sprain, which I passed in translating Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy. I received a most tender and ill-spelled letter from my mistress, who had been sent to a relation in Coventry. She protested her innocence of my misfortunes, and vowed to be true to me „till deth.“ I took no notice of the letter, for I was cured, for the present, both of love and poetry. Women, however, are more constant in their attachments than men, whatever philosophers may say to the contrary. I am assured that she actually remained faithful to her vow for several months; but she had to deal with a cruel father, whose heart was as hard as the knob of his cane. He was not to be touched by tears or poetry, but absolutely compelled her to marry a reputable young tradesman, who made her a happy woman in spite of herself, and of all the rules of romance; and what is more, the mother of several children. They are at this very day a thriving couple, and keep a snug corner shop, just opposite the figure of Peeping Tom, at Coventry.