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day services a room in the neighbourhood,
used as a dancing-room during the week.
Here he had gathered together a little flock
of human strays, to whom he tried to do
good on week days also, so far as his
scanty leisure and small means would per-
mit. What I heard of his unassuming
teaching and beneficence interested me
greatly. I determined to attend one of
his services as soon as I could find an
opportunity. It is not often that an East-
End curate finds himself without ' duty '
on a Sunday, but one Sunday morning I
was in that condition, and started for l Bat-
tersby Hall.' Its only frontage to the
street was a cramped entrance-passage,
which I should have passed without no-
ticing it, had not a board-bill, inviting all
to enter, l free seats and no collection,'
leaned against the door-post, and one or
two depressed women been dropping into



140 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the passage. I followed the depressed
women into an oblong room, with fixed
forms running along its sides, and a few
movable forms placed across it at the top ;
behind them, on a little platform, stood a
deal table and a stool. A few women
who looked as if all energy had been worn
out of them, and one or two feeble old
men, were dotted about the forms. I
seated myself in a corner near the door,
where I could see without being seen, and
watched the rest of the congregation come
in. They were much of the same class
about fifty in all ; amongst them the old
hare-skin gatherer and poor Tommy. A
mild little man in a brown coat and
checked neckerchief took his place behind
the table, gave out a hymn, and started
the tune. Very thin and quavering was
the congregational singing that followed,
but all the singers seemed to find a com-
fort in it. As long as the singing lasted



1 MARCH HARE: 141

March Hare was as still as a mouse, but
during the rest of the service until the
singing began again he wandered about
the room on tiptoe, smiling vacantly at
everything and everybody. After a prayer
which called forth many a half-smothered
amen, the little man in the brown coat
read a chapter from the New Testament,
and then he took a text, and talked kindly
about it to his people there was no at-
tempt at set sermonizing. Perhaps there
was nothing that would have struck critical
sermon-hearers in what he said, except an
occasional slip in grammar or pronuncia-
tion, but his hearers drank in his words.
They had reached another oasis in their
life's desert. They had come from miser-
able homes, in which there was no privacy
or quiet, to rest from work for a while in a
tranquil room (in which poor Tommy's
movements were not more disturbing than
a butterfly's Sittings) and hear a good



142 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

man, in whom, with much reason, they
had full confidence, tell them, in his simple
quiet way, of the everlasting rest which
remaineth for the people of God. They
looked sorry when he had finished, but
they sang the final hymn more heartily
than the first, and gave lustier amens to
the last prayer. ' The peace of God which
passeth all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds in the knowledge and love of
God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord :
and the blessing of God Almighty, the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be
amongst you and remain with you always,'
said the unassuming preacher ; and after a
minute's silent lingering on their knees,
his congregation rose, exchanged quiet
greetings with him, and then slowly crept
back to their dreary homes made far less
dreary because they carried back to them,
out of that peculiar little conventicle, some
portion of that priceless peace. Poor Tom,



' MARCH HARE: 143

no longer on his good behaviour, capered
and chuckled merrily in the open air, but
he, too, looked more easy in his mind be-
cause he had been to hear the brown-coated
little evangelist of Battersby Hall.



144



VII.

ALONE IN LONDON.

A MAN may live for years in London,
and not know the name of his next-door
neighbour. Lives may be revolutionized
by joy or sorrow within a few feet of him,
and he may have no suspicion of the fact,
unless he happens to see a train of wedding
or funeral carriages in the street. His wife
knows a little more than he knows of his
neighbour's concerns, his servants know a
little more than his wife does ; but all the
knowledge, put together, is very slight and
very vague, unless a bridegroom, an under



ALONE IN LONDON. [ 145

taker, a baby, or a bailiff, enters the neigh-
bour's house. Even doctors' visits when
the doctor is a strange doctor are not
always noticed; and a man may be dis-
tressed to learn that he was entertaining
noisy companions at a time when, only
separated from him by a brick and a half,
his neighbour or his neighbour's wife was
enduring the physical torture, or shudder-
ing under the moral solemnity, of the last
moments of their life on earth.

To country-people, such a state of
things appears horrible. They know what
their neighbours have for dinner every
day, and when the next tooth of every
neighbour's child is due ; and they think,
therefore, that Londoners must be, not
merely fish-blooded, contemptibly cold-
hearted, but execrably cruel, to trouble
themselves so little as they do about the
course of their next-door and over-the-way
neighbours' lives. AVe may, with justice,

VOL. II. 10



146 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

retort that, though, we do not lavish sym-
pathy a gift, by-the-by, which, proffered
as it generally is, wounds at least as often
as it heals although we do not lavish
sympathy upon our neighbours in time of
suffering, we do not day by day, and even
night by night, subject them to persistent,
pruriently inquisitive espionage of the paltry
and yet persecuting kind which obtains in
the country that in no part of the in-
habited globe can a man enjoy more un-
disturbed freedom of thought and rational
action than he can in London.

Still there is something sound at the
bottom of the country-people's feeling.
From a Christian point of view, at any
rate, it does seem sad that three millions
and more of people should be crowded
together in this vast, strange jumble of
lives which we call ' London ' with so little
feeling of brotherhood between them. If
country-people do pry disagreeably into



ALONE IN LONDON. 147

their neighbours' daily life, per contra, they
are proudly fond of trumpeting the exploits
of any one they can anyhow call ' our dis-
tinguished fellow-townsman ; ' but what
man living within a radius of half-a-dozen
miles from Charing Cross, feels his heart
warming towards another man, however
distinguished or undistinguished, on the
ground that he is a fellow-Londoner ?

1 Alone in London,' in a modified sense,
is a phrase that would describe tens of thou-
sands. The married men amongst them
might, or might not, be mourned by their
families, if they did not come home, or were
brought home dead, at night : under similar
circumstances, laundresses and landladies,
and their slaveys, might pump up a tear
for the bachelors, and then begin at once
to provide for the next tenant of the cham-
bers or lodgings. A man, of course, would
be missed for a day or two, if he did not
return to his desk in an office or a bank, or



148 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

his work at a shop, a factory, a wharf, or a
warehouse. In exceptional cases, a kind-
hearted employer would take a real interest
in the death or sickness of his employe*, and
do what he could to mitigate the conse-
quences to the dead or sick man's belong-
ings ; but in the majority of instances, I
fear, the interest would be like that of the
attorney who had heard that his clerk was
drowned, and who, thereupon, exclaimed,
c Confound the fellow ! He had the key of
my office in his pocket.' Londoners have
the character of being conceited, but in no
place in the world of course I am speak-
ing of the masses of its inhabitants is the
individuality of a man of less consequence
than in London. He is only one of a vast
crowd, all hungry for employment; and
when his place becomes vacant, it is filled
up with a facility that scarcely seems likely
to foster conceit.

But there are people in London far



ALONE IN LONDON. 149

lonelier than those I have referred to
paupers without even the cold comfort of
having fellow-paupers to talk with men
and women who are almost literally alone
in London.' Magna civitas, magna solitudo
they drink the bitterest dregs of the
meaning of that sententiously epigram-
matic definition.

I was passing one day a public -house,
in what was then my parish. Greatly to
my astonishment, in the crowd that was
pouring out of it, I saw several small shop-
keepers whom I knew, and most of whom
I had thought very unlikely partem solido de-
mere de die for tippling purposes. I expressed
my astonishment to one of them. He very
indignantly answered : l We're a jury, sir.
I'm the foreman, and that gentleman, with
the broad-brimmed hat and the silk um-
brella, is the coroner. It's an inquest, sir.
Catch me neglectin' my business at this
time o' day, if I could help it, but a poor



150 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

young fool has been and gone and cut his
throat, and we're goin' to view the body.'

I accompanied the jury to the house of
death. By the time we got there the at-
tendant mob had so increased that it was
as much as two policemen, stationed on
either side of the door like mutes, could do
to keep the ragged throng from surging up
into the room of death. The lodgers in
the house, of course, availed themselves of
their privilege to crowd up. The landlady
was loud in her professions of regret for
the fate of the l pore young man.' She
seemed to think that the coroner had come
to take her into custody for allowing any one
to commit suicide beneath her roof; and in
her anxiety to propitiate him, dusted the
rail of the banisters as she went up the
stairs before him. The chattering crowd
stopped talking when the woman opened
the door of the garret in which the corpse
lay. There was scarcely any furniture in



ALONE IN LONDON. 151

the room, except the bedless truckle bed-
stead on which the corpse lay, beneath a
mouse-coloured rug, with a clotted gash
across the throat. The cold white face
looked strangely calm to have that broad
mark of desperation straggling blue and
brown-red beneath it. A blood-rusted
razor, clutched in the rigid right hand,
lay upon the rug, which was stained with
blood. The threadbare, greasy black frock-
coat of the deceased was also spotted with
blood, and there was more dry blood on
the bare breast. The poor creature had
owned no shirt or waistcoat. Scarecrow
coat and trowsers, one brace, a battered,
napless hat, a pair of burst, almost soleless
boots, and the bone-handled old razor that
had put an end to his life, were the only
discoverable articles of which he had pos-
session when he made up his mind to kill
himself.

There he lay, looking, as I have said



152 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

most strangely calm. His was no l lovely
appearance of death ' there was no posi-
tive peace in it ; but there was a negative
tranquillity in the impassive features, which
was almost more blood-curdling than a
frozen look of horror would have been.
We held our breath as we stood crowded
in that gloomy garret. Winter sunshine
fell on its grime-clouded window, and made
a faint little patch of chequered, dingy
light upon the rotten, dusty floor ; but the
icy face of the corpse was the only thing
that lighted the dark bedstead. It was a
fearfully wasted face, a deplorably care-
furrowed face ; but now that the cares that
had furrowed it were past, a long-obliterated
look of refinement seemed to have come to
the surface again; and a juryman muttered,
1 Poor beggar, he couldn't have been
thirty.' No one could speak with certainty
as to his age, however no one knew any-
thing about any part of his life except the



ALONE IN LONDON. 153

last dreary week of it. There he lay, slain
by his own hand a fellow-creature who
could no longer endure the life he led
amongst his fellows in the richest city in
the world, and so had committed suicide
just in time to avoid dying of starvation :
that was all we knew, or could guess about
him. But it was a terrible * all ' for one to
think of, standing face to face with that
quiet, inexpressibly lonely -looking corpse.
Every now and then we read of such cases
in the newspapers, and as we cursorily read,
we say, with a half-conventional sorrow,
' How very sad how wickedly foolish to
destroy the life that Grod has given them,
instead of bearing their trials like men, and
waiting for better times ! ' But I can assure
my reader that one does not feel inclined
for moralizing of this kind in such a pre-
sence as I have just described. Rightly or
wrongly, it is not the dead man one is dis-
posed to blame. The anguished spirit that,



154 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

so short a time before, tenanted the calm
corpse which looks so awfully isolated, has
gone home and ta'en its wages but what
those wages are, the watcher shrinks from
speculating. He thinks rather of the vast
pity of Him who has proclaimed Himself
a Father to the forsaken. He trembles
when he thinks that he, however unwit-
tingly, may have been one of the careless
causes that have brought about so ter-
rible a result.

The landlady's evidence at the inquest
ran as follows : ' I don't know the name
of the pore young man, sir, nor who he
was, nor where he came from. He come

to me the last Monday as ever was, and

i

axed me if I could let him have a place to
sleep in. He'd a shirt on then, pore young
man, and, though I see he were hard up,
there was somethin' in his way o' talk that
made me think he'd seen better days.
"Well," says I, "maybe I can, but you



ALONE IN LONDON. 155

must pay me in adwance, and p'r'aps that'll
be hill-conwenient." Well, sir, that pore
young man he took out 2^d., and he said,
says he, " That's all I've got." Well, sir,
I pitied the pore young man he was so
nice spoken, so I took his coppers, and I
said he might have the garret where you've
seen him a-layin' a dead corpse, and I'd
trust to him to pay me more when he'd got
it. u You won't have to wait long," says
he wild-like, I remembers now ; but then
I thought he was in speedy expectations o'
gittin' work. Well, sir, I took him up to
the room where you've seen him a-layin',
and says I for I couldn't help liking that
pore young man li I'm sorry things ain't
more comforbler ; but when you git your
work, I'll see if I can't find you a few more
things." " Oh," says he, wery weary-like,
I remembers now, " I only want to git a
rest, and I can sleep here as well as on a
bed o' down." Them was his wery ex-



156 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

pressions. Well, sir, he stayed in his room
all Monday. Tuesday mornin' he went out,
and when he come back, though he'd got
his coat buttoned up, I could see that he'd
got rid of his shirt. That didn't make me
feel comforble about my rent, though no-
body can't say I didn't pity that pore
young man. Wednesday and Thursday
he was out all day, and I began to hope
that he'd got work ; but when he come
back of the Thursday, he looked that
dragged and famished, I could see he
hadn't, and so I made up my mind to speak
to him about lookin' for other lodgin's
yesterday mornin'. You may think, sir,
what a turn I got when I went into his
room, and see him a-layin' on the bed with
his throat cut, and the wery razor he'd
done it with in his own hand, and my bed-
clothes spi'lt with the blood he'd splashed
about. I calls up the other lodgers, and



ALONE IN LONDON. 157

they all see him, too, jest as he's a-layin'
now, 'cept that the blood hadn't clotted ;
and Mrs Jack (she's got my parlour) ran
for the pollis, and Jack run for the doctor.
And that's all I know about that pore young
man. If you was to ax me questions for a
week, sir, I couldn't tell you no more, and
I wouldn't tell you no less, and that I'll
take my 'davy of, sir.'

The lodgers, and the policeman, and
the surgeon who had been called in, gave
their evidence next ; but it was merely a
corroboration of the landlady's. No one
knew anything of the history of the poor
self-destroyer, except its calamitous climax.
The coroner summed up, suggesting the
usual charitable verdict charitable, but
with some amount of fear of personal re-
sponsibility lurking in it. l People must be
insane, or they wouldn't rush out of a world
in which we get on decently well, and



158 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

which we help to manage,' is the average
juryman's argument. One juryman, how-
ever, was obstinate. 1 1 don't think the
young fellow was silly,' he said. l It's plain
that, somehow, he couldn't get a living,
and so he thought, instead of starving, he'd
save himself trouble by killing himself.
It goes against my conscience to find him
insane. From his p'int o' view his conduct
seems sensible like.' Such reasoning, of
course, was overruled in time, and the usual
verdict was returned. It fell to my lot to
bury that unfortunate young man saved
by that verdict from the ignominy brutal
ignominy, I think then often heaped upon
the corpse of a wilful self-destroyer. Sel-
dom have I performed a service sadder to
myself, or been better able to understand
the superstitious feeling absurd but ami-
able which prompts prayers for the
dead.

1 God pity him,' I found myself saying,



ALONE IN LONDON. 159

as I turned away from the pauper-grave in
which lay the nameless corpse, not more
alone in London than when it took its last
lodging there alive.



i6o



VIII.

MR JONES'S FRIEND.

IN spite of the dislike which Mr Jones
had professed for ' big lads ' he did not with-
draw his favour from Fred when the boy
ceased to be a curly-headed little pet. He
put him to school, and openly intimated
his intention of making him his heir. The
boy would have liked to be brought up to
the bird-business; but against this Mr
Jones set bis face. The old man had got
it into his head that the dead young mother
would have liked something better for her
son, and so declared that Master Fred
should have a ' purfession.'



MR JONES'S FRIEND. 161

1 Not but what I think folks are fools,'
said Mr Jones, ' when they've got nothing
else to give 'em, to make genteel beggars
of their sons, by bringin' 'em up to a pur-
fession, instead o' givin' 'em a good trade
they could make a comfortable livin' at.
But when I've paid for his schooling, there'll
be a tidyish bit left for Fred so he's dif-
ferent ; and, besides, he's an uncommon
smart young chap. His schoolmaster says
so, and I can see it myself. He'll make
somethin' out, I think, if he turns doctor or
lawyer, or a architec' or a engineer, or
anythin' o' that sort. Anyhow, I've got a
notion that it'll please his poor young
mother, and so that's how I mean it to be,



sir.'



After the change iu the bird-seller's
character which followed poor Pete's death,
the old man ceased from his constant open
railings at women ; but a grudge against
the sex and other repressed churlishness



11



1 62 EPISODES /A AN OBSCURE LIFE

still lingered in his heart. The theatre,
in my opinion, is the only exhibitor of
genuine sudden transformation-scenes. At
any rate, although Mr Jones's disposition
had wonderfully mellowed, it was apt to
become clouded by the crust it had thrown
off, if he were not, so to speak, very care-
fully decanted.

Fred's dead mother was still the only
woman, outside the Bible, of whom Mr
Jones spoke in terms of praise ; and no
woman had been allowed to take the place
Black Pete had held so long. The old
man continued to employ a male factotum,
I should rather say that he had a numerous
series of such servitors. Notwithstanding
the softening of his heart to his fellow-
creatures in general, he did not get on
nearly so well with the concrete white
humanity that could answer him back, as
he had got on with the dumb black, to



MR JONES'S FRIEND. 163

liis slightest look was lovingly-
accepted law.

1 1 can't tell you how I miss poor Pete/
the old man often said to me. ' Fred's a
good boy ; but, of course, when he's got a
'olidav, its nateral that he should care

/ *

more for his mates' company than he do for
mine. If it wasn't for my birds and things,
I might almost as well be alone in the
world.'

I reminded him of that best of all com
pany which we have only to remember to
obtain.

1 Yes, sir, that's true, and, when I do
think of it, I git more comfort from it than
I deserve, for not thinkin' of it orfner. But
then you see, sir, you can't help wantin'
somebody of your own sort to care a bit
about you. 'Taint many I want; and jest
becos I've had so few as I could call friends
anyways, it do seem hard that now there's



1 64 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

none that cares a fig about me. If I was
to be lyin' dead in my bed to-morrer
mornin' at breakfast time, who'd miss me,
'cept my tame rat, 'cos he couldn't git his
toast? an' the birds and things, when
'twas their turn to git their feed ? '

' Don't you think I should miss you ? '
' Well, maybe, yon might happen to
think of me some day, and git a bit of a
turn when you called and found the old
chap was gone ; but I ain't fool enough to
think you'd cry your eyes out after me.'
' And there's Fred, too, isn't there ? '
' Yes, I don't say that Fred ain't a good
boy. He's a very good boy, and nobody
can't say to the opposite. I'll do my best
to bring him up as his mother would ha'
liked, and he shall have my money when I
die. I'm findin' no fault with him I've
got no fault to find. Didn't I say that it
was on'y nateral that a young lad shouldn't
care to stick at 'ome with a sulky old feller



MR JONES'S FRIEND. 165

like me ? But that don't make it none the
less lonely.'

I was grieved to find my friend relaps-
ing, in any degree, into his old morbid
state of mind. His second state, so far as
his own feeling of it was concerned, was
likely to be worse than the first. Then, at
any rate, he had a shell of misanthropy to
protect him from prods and pinches ; but
now he had cast that shell. What I feared
was that he would soon form another. I
called more frequently than my wont to do
my little best to retard that formation.
One summer evening when I called, I was
greatly relieved, since I was greeted with
a hearty laugh.

' Well, sir,' said Mr Jones, ' you think
me a old growler ; but I've come across an
old feller that beats me 'oiler would ha'
beat me in my growlin'est days. It's
queer what a likin' I've taken to that old
chap, though we're mostly at it, 'ammer



1 66 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE\

and tongs, all the time we're together.
He's a cute old boy in his talk ; but there
ain't a thing that's right, 'cept his way o'
thinkin' o' things, accordin' to him, and his
way o' thinkin' is that every tiling you see or
hear of is bad, and a-gettiri' worse, and I
can't stand that, though you know, sir, I
don't approve o' argeyment.'

Mr Jones was putting up his shutters,
rather earlier than usual. As soon as he
had finished, he went on, ' I was goin'
round to see old Snap. Perkins is his right
name, but Snap's a name he's got, I s'pose,
becos he's al'ays a-snappin'. He goes on
against parsons, and women, too, a deal
worse than ever I did ; but it might do
both on ye good to come acrost one
another.'

When Mr Jones had informed poor
Pete's latest successor that he was going
out, and had put on his hat, I accompanied
him to Mr Perkins's. On the way I was



MR JONES'S FRIEND'. 167

informed that Mr Perkins was a dealer in
waste,' i. e. all kinds of printed and MS.
paper destined to wrap up cheese, butter,
candles, bacon, &c. &c.

He lived on the ground-floor of a shabby
little house in a shabby little street, using
the ' parlour' for his bed and living-room,
and a back room which opened into it by
one door for his warehouse. The passage-
door of this back-room was screwed up. No
answer being given to his knock at the par-
lour-door, Mr Jones opened it and walked
in, motioning to me to follow him. The
back-room door was open, and through the
door-way we saw a hump-backed old man
in dusty shirt-sleeves, with a pipe in his
mouth, fumbling about in a mist of tobacco-
smoke and a chaos of obsolete stationery.
Some of the piles of papers reached to the
ceiling. A deep drift of all kinds lay upon
the floor ; it crackled like frozen snow as
the old man moved about in his slippers.



- 1 68 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.


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