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Title: Our House - And London out of Our Windows
Author: Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, 1855-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our House - And London out of Our Windows" ***

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[Illustration: "LINES OF BLACK BARGES" (WATERLOO BRIDGE)]



                         Our House
               And London out of Our Windows

                BY Elizabeth Robins Pennell


    _With Illustrations by
    Joseph Pennell_

    [Illustration: WATERLOO BRIDGE]

    Boston and New York
    Houghton Mifflin Company
    The Riverside Press Cambridge
    1912

    COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL

    COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY JOSEPH PENNELL

    ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    _Published October 1912_



[Illustration: THE BIG, LOW, HEAVY ENGLISH CLOUDS"]

    _To
    Augustine_



[Illustration: DOWN TO ST. PAUL'S]



[Illustration: "THERE IS MOVEMENT AND LIFE" (THE UNDERGROUND
STATION AND CHARING-CROSS BRIDGE)]



Contents


          INTRODUCTION                                xi

       I. 'ENRIETTER                                   1

      II. TRIMMER                                     33

     III. LOUISE                                      79

      IV. OUR CHARWOMEN                              119

       V. CLÉMENTINE                                 153

      VI. THE OLD HOUSEKEEPER                        201

     VII. THE NEW HOUSEKEEPER                        227

    VIII. OUR BEGGARS                                251

      IX. THE TENANTS                                289

       X. THE QUARTER                                339



[Illustration: "AT NIGHT MYRIADS OF LIGHTS COME OUT"]



List of Illustrations



  "LINES OF BLACK BARGES" (WATERLOO BRIDGE)             _BASTARD TITLE_

  DOWN TO ST. PAUL'S                                     _FRONTISPIECE_

  WATERLOO BRIDGE                                          _TITLE-PAGE_

  "THE BIG, LOW, HEAVY ENGLISH CLOUDS"                     _DEDICATION_

  "THERE IS MOVEMENT AND LIFE" (THE UNDERGROUND
  STATION AND CHARING-CROSS BRIDGE)                          _CONTENTS_

  "AT NIGHT MYRIADS OF LIGHTS COME OUT"         _LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS_

  "IN WINTER THE GREAT WHITE FLIGHTS OF GULLS"                        1

  "AND THE WONDER GROWS WITH THE NIGHT"                              33

  "TUMBLED, WEATHER-WORN, RED-TILED ROOFS"                           79

  "UP TO WESTMINSTER"                                               119

  "WHEN THERE IS A SUN ON A WINTER MORNING"                         153

  "A WILDERNESS OF CHIMNEY-POTS"                                    201

  THE SPIRE OF ST. MARTIN-IN-THE-FIELDS                             227

  CLEOPATRA'S NEEDLE FROM OUR WINDOWS                               251

  THE LION BREWERY                                                  289

  OPPOSITE TO SURREY                                                339



Introduction


Our finding Our House was the merest chance. J. and I had been hunting
for it during weeks and months, from Chelsea to Blackfriars, when one
day, on the way to take a train on the Underground, we saw the notice
"To Let" in windows just where they ought to have been,--high above the
Embankment and the River,--and we knew at a glance that we should be
glad to spend the rest of our lives looking out of them. But something
depended on the house we looked out from, and, while our train went
without us, we hurried to discover it. We were in luck. It was all that
we could have asked: as simple in architecture, its bricks as
time-stained, as the courts of the Temple or Gray's Inn. The front door
opened into a hall twisted with age, the roof supported by carved
corbels, the upper part of another door at its far end filled with
bull's-eye glass, while three flights of time-worn, white stone stairs
led to the windows with, behind them, a flat called Chambers, as if we
were really in the Temple, and decorated by Adam, as if to bring Our
House into harmony with the younger houses around it. For Our House it
became on that very day, now years ago. Our House it has been ever
since, and I hope we are only at the beginning of our adventures in it.
Of some of the adventures that have already fallen to our share within
Our House, I now venture to make the record, for no better reason
perhaps than because at the time I found them both engrossing and
amusing. The adventures out of Our Windows--adventures of cloud and
smoke and sunshine and fog--J. has been from the beginning, and is
still, recording, because certainly he finds them the most wonderful of
all. If my text shows the price we pay for the beauty, the reproductions
of his paintings, all made from Our Windows, show how well that beauty
is worth the price.



'Enrietter

[Illustration: "IN WINTER THE GREAT WHITE FLIGHTS OF GULLS"]



Our House

And London out of Our Windows



I

'ENRIETTER


Since my experience with 'Enrietter, the pages of Zola and the De
Goncourts have seemed a much more comfortable place for "human
documents" and "realism" than the family circle. Her adventures in our
London chambers make a thrilling story, but I could have dispensed with
the privilege of enjoying the thrill. When your own house becomes the
scene of the story you cannot help taking a part in it yourself, and the
story of 'Enrietter was not precisely one in which I should have wanted
to figure had it been a question of choice.

It all came of believing that I could live as I pleased in England, and
not pay the penalty. An Englishman's house is his castle only when it
is run on the approved lines, and the foreigner in the country need not
hope for the freedom denied to the native. I had set out to engage the
wrong sort of servant in the wrong sort of way, and the result
was--'Enrietter. I had never engaged any sort of servant anywhere
before, I did not much like the prospect at the start, and my first
attempts in Registry Offices, those bulwarks of British conservatism,
made me like it still less. That was why, when the landlady of the
little Craven Street hotel, where we waited while the British Workman
took his ease in our chambers, offered me 'Enrietter, I was prepared to
accept her on the spot, had not the landlady, in self-defence,
stipulated for the customary formalities of an interview and references.

The interview, in the dingy back parlour of the hotel, was not half so
unpleasant an ordeal as I had expected. Naturally, I do not insist upon
good looks in a servant, but I like her none the less for having them,
and a costume in the fashion of Whitechapel could not disguise the fact
that 'Enrietter was an uncommonly good-looking young woman; not in the
buxom, red-cheeked way that my old reading of Miss Mitford made me
believe as inseparable from an English maid as a pigtail from a
Chinaman, nor yet in the anæmic way I have since learned for myself to
be characteristic of the type. She was pale, but her pallor was of the
kind more often found south of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Her eyes were
large and blue, and she had a pretty trick of dropping them under her
long lashes; her hair was black and crisp; her smile was a
recommendation. And, apparently, she had all the practical virtues that
could make up for her abominable cockney accent and for the name of
'Enrietter, by which she introduced herself. She did not mind at all
coming to me as "general," though she had answered the landlady's
advertisement for parlour maid. She was not eager to make any bargain as
to what her work was, and was not, to be. Indeed, her whole attitude
would have been nothing short of a scandal to the right sort of servant.
And she was willing with a servility that would have offended my
American notions had it been a shade less useful.

As for her references, it was in keeping with everything else that she
should have made the getting them so easy. She sent me no farther than
to another little private hotel in another little street leading from
the Strand to the river, within ten minutes' walk. It was kept by two
elderly maiden ladies who received me with the usual incivility of the
British hotel-keeper, until they discovered that I had come not for
lodging and food, which they would have looked upon as an insult, but
merely for a servant's character. They unbent still further at
'Enrietter's name, and were roused to an actual show of interest. They
praised her cooking, her coffee, her quickness, her talent for hard
work. But--and then they hesitated and I was lost, for nothing
embarrasses me more than the Englishwoman's embarrassed silence. They
did manage to blurt out that 'Enrietter was not tidy, which I regretted.
I am not tidy myself, neither is J., and I have always thought it
important that at least one person in a household should have some sense
of order. But then they also told me that 'Enrietter had frequently been
called upon to cook eighteen or twenty breakfasts of a morning, and
lunches and dinners in proportion, and it struck me there might not have
been much time left for her to be tidy in. After this, there was a fresh
access of embarrassment so prolonged that I could not in decency sit it
out, though I would have liked to make sure that it was due to their own
difficulty with speech, and not to unspeakable depravity in 'Enrietter.
However, it saves trouble to believe the best, when to believe the worst
is to add to one's anxieties, and as soon as I got home I wrote and
engaged 'Enrietter and cheerfully left the rest to Fate.

There was nothing to regret for a fortnight. Fate seemed on my side, and
during two blissful weeks 'Enrietter proved herself a paragon among
"generals." She was prettier in her little white cap than in her big
feathered hat, and her smile was never soured by the friction of daily
life. Her powers as a cook had not been over-estimated; the excellence
of her coffee had been undervalued; for her quickness and readiness to
work, the elderly maiden ladies had found too feeble a word. There
wasn't anything troublesome she wouldn't and didn't do, even to
providing me with ideas when I hadn't any and the butcher's, or
green-grocer's, boy waited. And it was the more to her credit because
our chambers were in a chaotic condition that would have frightened away
a whole staff of the right sort of servants. We had just moved in, and
the place was but half furnished. The British Workman still lingered, as
I began to believe he always would,--there were times, indeed, when I
was half persuaded we had taken our chambers solely to provide him a
shelter in the daytime. My kitchen utensils were of the fewest. My china
was still in the factory in France where they made it, and I was eating
off borrowed plates and drinking out of borrowed cups. I had as yet next
to no house-linen to speak of. But 'Enrietter did not mind. She worked
marvels with what pots and pans there were, she was tidy enough not to
mislay the borrowed plates and cups, she knew just where to take
tablecloths and napkins and have them washed in a hurry when friends
were misguided enough to accept my invitation to a makeshift meal. If
they were still more misguided and took me by surprise, she would run
out for extra cutlets, or a salad, or fruit, and be back again serving
an excellent little lunch or dinner before I knew she had gone. This was
the greater comfort because I had just then no time to make things
better. I was deep, beyond my habit, in journalism. A sister I had not
seen for ten years and a brother-in-law recovering from nervous
prostration were in town. Poor man! What he saw in our chambers was
enough to send him home with his nerves seven times worse than when he
came. J., fortunately for him, was in the South of France, drawing
cathedrals. That was my one gleam of comfort. He at least was spared the
tragedy of our first domestic venture.

Upon the pleasure of that fortnight there fell only a single shadow, but
it ought to have proved a warning, if, at the moment, I had not been
foolish enough to find it amusing. I had gone out one morning directly
after breakfast, and when I came home, long after lunch-time, the
British Workman, to my surprise, was kicking his heels at my front
door, though his rule was to get comfortably on the other side of it
once his business at the public house round the corner was settled. He
was more surprised than I, and also rather hurt. He had been ringing for
the last ten minutes, he said reproachfully, and nobody would let him
in. After I had rung in my turn for ten minutes and nobody had let me
in, I was not hurt, but alarmed.

It was then that, for the first and last time in my knowledge of him,
the British Workman had an inspiration: Why shouldn't he climb the
ladder behind our outer front door,--we can "sport our oak" if we
like,--get through the trap-door at the top to the leads, and so enter
our little upper story, which looks for all the world like a ship's
cabin drifted by mistake on to a London roof.

I was to remember afterwards, as they say in novels, how, as I watched
him climb, it struck me that the burglar or the house-breaker had the
way made straight for him if our chambers ever seemed worth burgling or
breaking into. The British Workman's step is neither soft nor swift,
but he carried through his plan and opened the door for me without any
one being aroused by his irregular proceedings, which added considerably
to my alarm. But the flat is small, and my suspense was short.
'Enrietter was in her bedroom, on her bed, sleeping like a child. I
called her: she never stirred. I shook her: I might as well have tried
to wake the Seven Sleepers, the Sleeping Beauty, Barbarossa in the
Kyfhaüser, and all the sleepers who have slept through centuries of myth
and legend rolled into one. I had never seen anything like it. I had
never heard of anything like it except the trance which leads to
canonization, or the catalepsy that baffles science. To have a
cataleptic "general" to set off against the rapping nurse-maid of an
acquaintance, who wanted me to take her in and watch her in the cause of
Psychology, would be a triumph no doubt, but for all domestic purposes
it was likely to prove a more disturbing drawback than untidiness.

However, 'Enrietter, when she appeared at the end of an hour, did not
call her midday sleep by any name so fine. She had been scrubbing very
hard--she suddenly had a faintness--she felt dazed, and, indeed, she
looked it still--the heat, she thought, she hardly knew--she threw
herself on her bed--she fell asleep. What could be simpler? And her
smile had never been prettier, her blue eyes never cast down more
demurely. I spoke of this little incident later to a friend, and was
rash enough to talk some nonsense about catalepsy. One should never go
to one's friends for sympathy. "More likely drink," was the only answer.

Of course it was drink, and I ought to have known it without waiting for
'Enrietter herself to destroy my illusions, which she did at the end of
the first fortnight. The revelation came with her "Sunday out." To
simplify matters, I had made it mine too. 'Enrietter, according to my
domestic regulations, was to be back by ten o'clock, but to myself
greater latitude was allowed, and I did not return until after eleven. I
was annoyed to see the kitchen door wide open and the kitchen gas
flaring,--the worst of chambers is, you can't help seeing everything,
whether you want to or not. 'Enrietter had been told not to wait up for
me, and excess of devotion can be as trying as excess of neglect. If
only that had been my most serious reason for annoyance! For when I went
into the kitchen I found 'Enrietter sitting by the table, her arms
crossed on it, her head resting on her arms, fast asleep; and what makes
you laugh at noon may by midnight become a bore. I couldn't wake her. I
couldn't move her. Again, she slept like a log. In the end I lost my
temper, which was the best thing I could have done, for I shook her with
such violence that, at last, she stirred in her sleep. I shook harder.
She lifted her head. She smiled.

"Thash a'right, mum," she said, and down went her head again.

Furious, I shook her up on to her unsteady feet. "Go to bed," I said
with a dignity altogether lost upon her. "Go at once, and in the dark.
In your disgusting condition you are not fit to be trusted with a
candle."

'Enrietter smiled. "Thash a'right, mum," she murmured reassuringly as
she reeled up the stairs before me.

I must say for her that drink made her neither disagreeable nor
difficult. She carried it off light-heartedly and with the most perfect
politeness.

I had her in for a talk the next morning. I admit now that this was
another folly. I ought to have sent her off bag and baggage then and
there. But it was my first experience of the kind; I didn't see what was
to become of me if she did go; and, as I am glad to remember, I had the
heart to be sorry for her. She was so young, so pretty, so capable. The
indiscretion of her Sunday out meant for me, at the worst, temporary
discomfort; for her, it might be the beginning of a life's tragedy. Her
explanation was ready,--she was as quick at explaining as at everything
else. I needn't tell her what I thought of her, it seemed; it was
nothing to what she thought of herself. There was no excuse. She was as
disgusted as I could be. It was all her sister's fault. Her sister would
make her drink a drop of brandy just before she left her home at
Richmond. It was very wrong of her sister, who knew she wasn't used to
brandy and couldn't stand it.

The story would not have taken in a child, but as it suited me to give
her another trial, it was easier to make-believe to believe. Before the
interview was over I ventured a little good advice. I had seen too often
the draggled, filthy, sexless creatures drink makes of women in London,
and 'Enrietter was worth a better end. She listened with admirable
patience for one who was already, as I was only too quickly to learn, so
far on the way to the London gutter that there was no hope of holding
her back, as much as an inch, by words or kindness.

The next Sunday 'Enrietter stayed in and went to bed sober. It was the
day after--a memorable Monday--that put an end to all compromise and
make-believe. I had promised to go down to Cambridge, to a lunch at one
of the colleges. At the English Universities time enters so little into
the scheme of existence that one loses all count of it, and I was pretty
sure I should be late in getting home. I said, however, that I should be
back early in the afternoon, and I took every latch-key with me,--as if
the want of a latch-key could make a prison for so accomplished a young
woman as 'Enrietter! The day was delightful, the weather as beautiful as
it can be in an English June, and the lunch gay. And afterwards there
was the stroll along the "Backs," and, in the golden hour before sunset,
afternoon tea in the garden, and I need not say that I missed my train.
It was close upon ten o'clock when I turned the key in my front door.
The flat was in darkness, except for the light that always shines into
our front windows at night from the lamps on the Embankment and Charing
Cross Bridge. There was no sign of 'Enrietter, and no sound of her until
I had pulled my bell three or four times, and shouted for her in the
manner I was taught as a child to consider the worst sort of form, not
to say vulgar. But it had its effect. A faint voice answered from the
ship's cabin upstairs, "Coming, mum."

"Light the gas and the lamp," I said when I heard her in the hall.

The situation called for all the light I could get. From the methodical
way she set about lighting the hall gas I knew that, at least, she
could not be reeling. Then she came in and lit the lamp, and I saw her.

It was a thousand times worse than reeling, and my breath was taken away
with the horror of it. For there she stood, in a flashy pink
dressing-gown that was a disgrace in itself, her face ghastly as death,
and all across her forehead, low down over one of the blue eyes, a
great, wide, red gash.

Before I had time to pull myself together 'Enrietter had told her
story,--so poor a story it showed how desperate now was her case. She
had been quiet all morning--no one had come--she had got through the
extra work I left with her. About three the milkman rang. A high wind
was blowing. The door, when she opened it, banged in her face and cut
her head open. And it had bled! She had only just succeeded in stopping
it. One part of her story, anyway, was true beyond dispute. That
terrible, gaping wound spoke for itself.

I did not know what to do. I was new in the neighbourhood, and my
acquaintance with doctors anywhere is slight. But I could not turn her
into the street, I could not even leave her under my own roof all
night, like that. Something had to be done, and I ran downstairs to
consult the old Housekeeper, who, after her half century in the Quarter,
might be expected to know how to meet any emergency.

More horrors awaited me in her room,--like Macbeth, I was supping full
with horrors,--for she had another story to tell, and, as I listened,
the ghastly face upstairs, with the gaping red wound, became a mere item
in an orgy more appropriate to the annals of the Rougon-Macquarts than,
I devoutly trust, to ours. I cannot tell the story as the Housekeeper
told it. She had a trick of going into hysterics at moments of
excitement, and as in all the years she had been in charge she had never
seen such goings on, it followed that in all those years, she had never
been so hysterical. She gasped and sobbed out her tale of horrors, and,
all the while, her daughter, who was in _the_ profession, sat apart,
and, in the exasperating fashion of the chorus of a Greek play, kept up
a running commentary emphasizing the points too emphatic to need
emphasis.

To tell the story in my own way: I was hardly out of the house when
'Enrietter had a visit from a "gentleman,"--that was the Housekeeper's
description of him, and, as things go in England, he was a gentleman,
which makes my story the more sordid. How 'Enrietter had sent him word
the coast was clear I do not pretend to say, though I believe the London
milkman has a reputation as the Cupid's Postman of the kitchen, and I
recalled afterwards two or three notes 'Enrietter had received from her
sister by district messenger,--the same sister, no doubt, who gave her
the drop of brandy. Towards noon 'Enrietter and her gentleman were seen
to come downstairs and go out together. Where they went, what they did
during the three hours of their absence, no one knew,--no one will ever
know. Sometimes, in looking back, the greatest horrors to me are the
unknown chapters in the story of that day's doings. They were seen to
return, about three, in a hansom. The gentleman got out, unsteadily.
'Enrietter followed and collapsed in a little heap on the pavement. He
lifted her, and staggered with her in by the door and up the three long
flights of stairs to our chambers.

And then--I confess, at this point even now my anger gets the better of
me. Every key for my front door was in my pocket,--women were still
allowed pockets in those days. There was no possible way in which they
could have got in again, had not that gentleman climbed the ladder up
which I had watched the British Workman not so many days before, and,
technically, broken into my place, and then come down the little
stairway and let 'Enrietter in. A burglar would have seemed clean and
honest compared to the gentleman housebreaking on such an errand. My
front door was heard to bang upon them both, and I wish to Heaven it had
been the last sound heard from our chambers that day. For a time all was
still. Then, of a sudden, piercing screams rang through the house and
out through the open windows into the scandalized Quarter. There was a
noise of heavy things falling or thrown violently down, curses filled
the air; as the Housekeeper told it to me, it was like something out of
Morrison's "Mean Streets" or the "Police-Court Gazette," and the
dreadful part of it was that, no doubt, I was being held responsible for
it! At last, loud above everything else, came blood-curdling cries of
"Murder! Murder! Help! Murder!" There was not a window of the many
over-looking my back rooms that was not filled with terrified
neighbours. The lady in the chambers on the floor below mine set up a
cry of her own for the police. The clerks from the Church League and
from the Architect's office were gathered on the stairs. A nice
reputation I must be getting in the house before my first month in it
was up!

The Housekeeper, with a new attack of hysterics, protested that she had
not dared to interfere, though she had a key, nor could she give it to a
policeman without my authority--she knew her duty. The Greek Chorus
repeated, without hysterics but with careful elocution, that the
Housekeeper could not go in nor fetch the police without my
authority--she knew her duty. And so, the deeds that were done within my
four walls on that beautiful June afternoon must remain a mystery. The
only record is the mark 'Enrietter will carry on her forehead with her
to the grave.

The noise gradually ceased. The neighbours, one by one, left the
windows, the lady below disappeared into her flat. The clerks went back
to work. And the Housekeeper crept into her rooms for the cup of tea
that saves every situation for the Englishwoman. She had not finished
when there came a knock at the door. She opened it, and there stood a
gentleman--_the_ gentleman--anyone could see he was a gentleman by his
hat--and he told her his story: the third version of the affair. He was
a medical student, he said. He happened to be passing along the Strand
when, just in front of Charing Cross, a cab knocked over a young lady.
She was badly hurt, but, as a medical student, he knew what to do. He
put her into another cab and brought her home; he saw to her injuries;
but now he could stay no longer. She seemed to be quite alone up there.
Her condition was serious; she should not be left alone. And he lifted
his hat and was gone. But the Housekeeper daren't intrude, even then;
she knew her place and her duty. She knew her place and her duty, the
Greek Chorus echoed, and the end of her story brought me to just where I
was at the beginning. Upon one point the gentleman was right, and that
was the condition of the "young lady" as long as that great wide gash
still gaped open. The Housekeeper, practical for all her hysterics,
sobbed out "The Hospital." "The Hospital!" echoed the Greek Chorus, and
I mounted the three flights of stairs for 'Enrietter.

I tied up her head. I made her exchange the shameless pink dressing-gown
for her usual clothes. I helped her on with her hat, though I thought
she would faint before she was dressed. I led her down the three flights
of stairs into the street, across the Strand, to the hospital. By this
time it was well past eleven.

So far I hadn't had a chance to think of appearances. But one glance
from the night-surgeon at the hospital, and it was hard to think of
anything else. He did not say a word more than the case demanded, but
his behaviour to me was abominable all the same. And I cannot blame him.
There was I, decently dressed I hope, for I had put on my very best for
Cambridge, in charge of a young woman dressed anyhow and with a broken
head. It was getting on toward midnight. The Strand was a stone's throw
away. Still, in his place, I hope I should have been less brutal.

As for 'Enrietter, she had plenty of pluck, if she had no morals. She
bore the grisly business of having her head sewn up with the nerve of a
martyr. She never flinched, she never moaned; she was heroic. When it
was over, the night-surgeon told her--he never addressed himself to me
if he could help it--that it was a nasty cut and must be seen to again
the next day. The right eye had escaped by miracle, it might yet be
affected. What was most important at this stage was perfect quiet,
perfect repose. It was essential that she should sleep,--she must take
something to make her sleep. When I asked him meekly to give me an
opiate for her, he answered curtly that that was not his affair. There
was a chemist close by, I could get opium pills there, and he turned on
his heel.

I took 'Enrietter home. I saw her up the three long flights of stairs
to our chambers, the one little stairway to her bedroom, and into her
bed. I walked down the little stairway and the three long flights. I
went out into the night. I hurried to the chemist's. It was past
midnight, an hour when decent women are not expected to wander alone in
the Strand, and now I was conscious that things might look queer to
others. I skulked in the darkest shadows like a criminal. I bought the
pills. I came home. For the fourth time I toiled up the three long
flights of stairs and the one little stairway. I gave 'Enrietter her
pills. I put out her light. I shut her in her room.

And then? Why, then, I hadn't taken an opium pill. I wasn't sleepy. I
didn't want to sleep. I wanted to find out. I did what I have always
thought no self-respecting person would do. But to be mixed up in
'Enrietter's affairs was not calculated to strengthen one's
self-respect. And without a scruple I went into the kitchen and opened
every drawer, cupboard, and box, and read every letter, every scrap of
paper, I could lay my hands on. There wasn't much all told, but it was
enough. For I found out that the medical student, the gentleman, was a
clerk in the Bank of England,--I should like him to read this and to
know that I know his name and have his reputation in my hands. I found
out that 'Enrietter was his "old woman," and a great many other things
she ought not to have been. I found out that I had not dined once with
my friends that he had not spent the evening with her. I found out that
he had kept count of my every engagement with greater care than I had
myself. I found out that he had spent so many hours in my kitchen that
the question was what time he had left for the Bank of England. And I
found such an assortment of flasks and bottles that I could only marvel
how 'Enrietter had managed to be sober for one minute during the three
weeks of her stay with me.

I sent for a charwoman the next morning. She was of the type now rapidly
dying out in London, and more respectable, if possible, than the
Housekeeper. Her manner went far to restore my self-respect, and this
was the only service I could ask of her, her time being occupied
chiefly in waiting upon 'Enrietter. In fairness, I ought to add that
'Enrietter was game to the last. She got up and downstairs somehow, she
cooked the lunch, she would have waited on the table, bandaged head and
all, had I let her. But the less I saw of her, the greater her chance
for the repose prescribed by the night-surgeon. Besides, she and her
bandaged head were due at the hospital. This time she went in charge of
the charwoman, whose neat shabby shawl and bonnet, as symbols of
respectability, were more than sufficient to keep all the night or day
surgeons of London in their place. They returned with the cheerful
intelligence that matters were much worse than was at first thought,
that 'Enrietter's eye was in serious danger, and absolute quiet in a
darkened room was essential, that lotions must be applied and medicines
administered at regular intervals,--in a word, that our chambers, as
long as she remained in them, must be turned into a nursing home, with
myself as chief nurse, which was certainly not what I had engaged her
for.

I went upstairs, when she was in bed again, and told her so. She must
send for some one, I did not care whom, to come and take her off my
hands at once. My temper was at boiling-point, but not for the world
would I have shown it or done anything to destroy 'Enrietter's repose
and so make matters worse, and not be able to get rid of her at all. As
usual, her resources did not fail her; she was really wonderful all
through. There was an old friend of her father's, she said, who was in
the Bank of England--I knew that friend; he could admit her into a
hospital of which he was a patron--Heaven help that hospital! But I held
my peace. I even wrote her letter and sent it to the post by the
charwoman. 'Enrietter's morals were beyond me, but my own comfort was
not.

I do not know whether the most astonishing thing in all the astonishing
episode was not the reappearance of the old friend of her father's in
his other rôle of medical student. I suppose he did not realize how
grave 'Enrietter's condition was. I am sure he did not expect anything
less than that I should open the door for him. But this was what
happened. His visit was late, the charwoman had gone for the night, and
I was left to do all 'Enrietter's work myself. He did not need to tell
me who he was,--his face did that for him,--but he stammered out the
wretched fable of the medical student, the young lady, and the cab. She
was quite alone when he left her, he added, and he was worried, and,
being in the neighbourhood, he called in passing to enquire if the young
lady were better, and if there were now some one to take care of her.
His self-confidence came back as he talked.

"Your story is extremely interesting," I told him, "and I am especially
glad to hear it, because my cook"--with a vindictive emphasis on the
cook--"has told me quite a different one as to how she came by her
broken head. Now--"

He was gone. He threw all pretence to the winds and ran downstairs as if
the police were at his heels, as I wished they were. I could not run
after him without making a second scandal in the house; and if I had
caught him, if I had given him in custody for trespass, as I was told
afterwards I might have done, how would I have liked figuring in the
Police Courts?

Curiously, he did have influence with the hospital, which shall be
nameless. He did get a bed there for 'Enrietter the next morning. It may
be that he had learned by experience the convenience to himself of
having a hospital, as it were, in his pocket. But the arrangements were
by letter; he did not risk a second meeting, and I asked 'Enrietter no
questions. For my own satisfaction, I went with her to the hospital: a
long, melancholy drive in a four-wheeler, 'Enrietter with ghastly face,
more dead than alive. I delivered her into the hands of the nurses. I
left her there, a bandaged wreck of the pretty 'Enrietter who had been
such an ornament to our chambers. And that was the last I saw of her,
though not the last I heard.

A day or two later her sister came to pack up her belongings,--a young
woman with a vacant smile, a roving eye, and a baby in her arms. I had
only to look at her to know that she wasn't the sort of sister to force
anything on anybody, much less on 'Enrietter. And yet I went to the
trouble of reading her a little lecture. 'Enrietter's morals were beyond
me, but I am not entirely without a conscience. The sister kept on
simpering vacantly, while her eyes roved from print to print on the
walls of the dining-room where the lecture was delivered, and the baby
stared at me with portentous solemnity.

Then, about three weeks after the sister's visit, I heard from
'Enrietter herself. She wrote with her accustomed politeness. She begged
my pardon for troubling me. She had left the hospital. She was at home
in Richmond, and she had just unpacked the trunk the sister had packed
for her. Only one thing was missing. She would be deeply obliged if I
would look in the left-hand drawer of the kitchen dresser and send her
the package of cigarettes I would find there. And she was mine, "Very
respectfully."

This is the story of 'Enrietter's adventures in our chambers, and I
think whoever reads it will not wonder that I fought shy afterwards of
the English servant who was not well on the wrong side of forty and
whose thirst could not be quenched with tea. The real wonder is that I
had the courage to risk another maid of any kind. Women have been
reproached with their love of gossiping about servants since time
immemorial, and I do not know for how long before that. But when I
remember 'Enrietter, I do not understand how we have the heart ever to
gossip about anything else. What became of her, who can say? Sometimes,
when I think of her pretty face and all that was good in her, I can only
hope that the next orgy led to still worse things than a broken head,
and that Death saved her from the London streets.



_Trimmer_

[Illustration: "AND THE WONDER GROWS WITH THE NIGHT"]



II

TRIMMER


Until I began my search for an elderly woman who never drank anything
stronger than tea, I had supposed it was the old who could find nobody
to give them work. But my trouble was to find somebody old enough to
give mine to. The "superior domestics" at the Registry Offices were much
too well trained to confess even to middle age, and probably I should be
looking for my elderly woman to this day, had not chance led Trimmer one
afternoon to an office which I had left without hope in the morning. As
her years could supply no possible demand save mine, she was sent at
once to our chambers.

To tell the truth, as soon as I saw her, I began to doubt my own wisdom.
I had never imagined anybody quite so respectable. In her neat but rusty
black dress and cape, her hair parted and brought carefully down over
her ears, her bonnet tied under her chin, her reticule hanging on her
arm, she was the incarnation of British respectability; "the very type,"
the "old Master Rembrandt van Rijn, with three Baedeker stars," I could
almost hear Mr. Henry James describing her; and all she wanted was to
belong "beautifully" to me. But then she looked as old as she looked
respectable,--so much older than I meant her to look,--old to the point
of fragility. She admitted to fifty-five, and when mentally I added four
or five years more, I am sure I was not over generous. Her face was
filled with wrinkles, her skin was curiously delicate, and she had the
pallor that comes from a steady diet of tea and bread and sometimes
butter. The hands through the large, carefully mended black gloves
showed twisted and stiff, and it was not easy to fancy them making our
beds and our fires, cooking our dinners, dusting our rooms, opening our
front door. We needed some one to take care of us, and it was plain that
she was far more in need of some one to take care of her,--all the
plainer because of her anxiety to prove her capacity for work. There
was nothing she could not do, nothing she would not do if I were but to
name it. "I can cut about, mum, you'll see. Oh, I'm bonny!" And the
longer she talked, the better I knew that during weeks, and perhaps
months, she had been hunting for a place, which at the best is wearier
work than hunting for a servant, and at the worst leads straight to the
workhouse, the one resource left for the honest poor who cannot get a
chance to earn their living, and who, by the irony of things, dread it
worse than death.

With my first doubt I ought to have sent her away. But I kept putting
off the uncomfortable duty by asking her questions, only to find that
she was irreproachable on the subject of alcohol, that she preferred
"beer-money" to beer, that there was no excuse not to take her except
her age, and this, in the face of her eagerness to remain, I had not the
pluck to make. My hesitation cost me the proverbial price. Before the
interview was over I had engaged her on the condition that her
references were good, as of course they were, though she sent me for
them to the most unexpected place in the world, a corset and petticoat
shop not far from Leicester Square. Through the quarter to which all
that is disreputable in Europe drifts, where any sort of virtue is
exposed to damage beyond repair, she had carried her respectability and
emerged more respectable than ever.

She came to us with so little delay that I knew better than ever how
urgent was her case. Except for the providentially short interval with
'Enrietter, this was my first experience of the British servant, and it
was enough to make me tremble. It was impossible to conceive of anything
more British. Her print dress, changed for a black one in the afternoon,
her white apron and white cap, became in my eyes symbolic. I seemed, in
her, to face the entire caste of British servants who are so determined
never to be slaves that they would rather fight for their freedom to be
as slavish as they always have been. She knew her place, and what is
more, she knew ours, and meant to keep us in it, no matter whether we
liked or did not like to be kept there. I was the Mistress and J. was
the Master, and if, with our American notions, we forgot it, she never
did, but on our slightest forgetfulness brought us up with a round turn.
So correct, indeed, was her conduct, and so respectable and venerable
was her appearance, that she produced the effect in our chambers of an
old family retainer. Friends would have had us train her to address me
as "Miss Elizabeth," or J. as "Master J.," and pass her off for the
faithful old nurse who is now so seldom met out of fiction.

For all her deference, however, she clung obstinately to her prejudices.
We might be as American in our ways as we pleased, she would not let us
off one little British bit in hers. She never presumed unbidden upon an
observation and if I forced one from her she invariably begged my pardon
for the liberty. She thanked us for everything, for what we wanted as
gratefully as for what we did not want. She saw that we had hot water
for our hands at the appointed hours. She compelled us to eat Yorkshire
pudding with our sirloin of beef, and bread-sauce with our fowl,--in
this connection how can I bring myself to say chicken? She could never
quite forgive us for our indifference to "sweets"; and for the daily
bread-and-butter puddings and tarts we would not have, she made up by an
orgy of tipsy cakes and creams when anybody came to dine. How she was
reconciled to our persistent refusal of afternoon tea, I always
wondered; though I sometimes thought that, by the stately function she
made of it in the kitchen, she hoped to atone for this worst of our
American heresies.

Whatever she might be as a type, there was no denying that as a servant
she had all the qualities. She was an excellent cook, despite her
flamboyant and florid taste in sweets; she was sober, she was obliging,
she had by no means exaggerated her talent for "cutting about," and I
never ceased to be astonished at the amount she accomplished. The fire
was always burning when we got down in the morning, breakfast always
ready. Beds were made, lunch served, the front door opened, dinner
punctual. I do not know how she did it all, and I now remember with
thankfulness our scruples when we saw her doing it, and the early date
at which we supplied her with an assistant in the shape of a snuffy,
frowzy old charwoman. The revelation of how much too much remained for
her even then came only when we lost her, and I was obliged to look
below the surface. While she was with us, the necessity of looking below
never occurred to me; and as our chambers had been done up from top to
bottom just before she moved into them, they stood her method on the
surface admirably.

This method perhaps struck me as the more complete because it left her
the leisure for a frantic attempt to anticipate our every wish. She
tried to help us with a perseverance that was exasperating, and as her
training had taught her the supremacy of the master in the house, it was
upon J. that her efforts were chiefly spent. I could see him writhe
under her devotion, until there were times when I dreaded to think what
might come of it, all the more because my sympathies were so entirely
with him. If he opened his door, she rushed to ask what he wanted. A spy
could not have spied more diligently; and as in our small chambers the
kitchen door was almost opposite his, he never went or came that she did
not know it. He might be as short with her as he could, and in British
fashion order her never to come into the studio, but it was no use; she
could not keep out of it. Each new visitor, or letter, or message, was
an excuse for her to flounder in among the portfolios on the floor and
the bottles of acid in the corner, at the risk of his temper and her
life. On the whole, he bore it with admirable patience. But there was
one awful morning when he hurried into my room, slammed the door after
him, and in a whisper said,--he who would not hurt a fly,--"If you don't
keep that woman out of my room, I'll wring her neck for her!"

I might have spared myself any anxiety. Had J. offered to her face to
wring her neck, she would have smiled and said, "That's all right, sir!
Thank you, sir!" For, with Trimmer, to be "bonny" meant to be cheerful
under any and all conditions. So long as her cherished traditions were
not imperilled, she had a smile for every emergency. It was
characteristic of her to allow me to christen her anew the first day she
was with us, and not once to protest. We could not bring ourselves to
call her Lily, her Christian name, so inappropriate was it to her
venerable appearance. Her surname was even more impossible, for
she was the widow of a Mr. Trim. She herself--helpful from the
beginning--suggested "cook." But she was a number of things besides, and
though I did not mind my friends knowing that she was as many persons in
one as the cook of the Nancy Bell, it would have been superfluous to
remind them of it on every occasion. When, at my wits' end, I added a
few letters and turned the impossible Trim into Trimmer, she could not
have been more pleased had I made her a present, and from that moment
she answered to the new name as if born to it.

The same philosophy carried her through every trial and tribulation. It
was sure to be all right if, before my eyes and driving me to tears, she
broke the plates I could not replace without a journey to Central
France, or if in the morning the kitchen was a wreck after the night
Jimmy, our unspeakable black cat, had been making of it. Fortunately he
went out as a rule for his sprees, realizing that our establishment
could not stand the wear and tear. When he chanced to stay at home, I
have come down to the kitchen in the morning to find the clock ticking
upside down on the floor, oranges and apples rolling about, spoons and
forks under the table, cups and saucers in pieces, and Jimmy on the
table washing his face. But Trimmer would meet me with a radiant smile
and would put things to rights, while Jimmy purred at her heels, as if
both were rather proud of the exploit, certain that no other cat in the
world could, "all by his lone" and in one night, work such ruin.

After all, it was a good deal Trimmer's fault if we got into the habit
of shifting disagreeable domestic details on to her shoulders, she had
such a way of offering them for the purpose. It was she who, when
Jimmy's orgies had at last undermined his health and the "vet"
prescribed a dose of chloroform as the one remedy, went to see it
administered, coming back to tell us of the "beautiful corpse" he had
made. It was she who took our complaints to the Housekeeper downstairs,
and met those the other tenants brought against us. It was she who
bullied stupid tradesmen and stirred up idle workmen. It was she, in a
word, who served as domestic scapegoat. And she never remonstrated. I am
convinced that if I had said, "Trimmer, there's a lion roaring at the
door," she would have answered, "That's all right, mum! thank you, mum!"
and rushed to say that we were not at home to him. As it happens, I know
how she would have faced a burglar, for late one evening when I was
alone in our chambers, I heard some one softly trying to turn the knob
of the door of the box-room. What I did was to shut and bolt the door at
the foot of our little narrow stairway, thankful that there was a door
there that could be bolted. What Trimmer did, when she came home ten
minutes later and I told her, "There's a burglar in the box-room," was
to say, "Oh, is there, mum? thank you, mum. That's all right. I'll just
run up and see"; and she lit her candle and walked right up to the
box-room and unlocked and opened the door. Out flew William Penn,
furious with us because he had let himself be shut in where nobody had
seen him go, and where he had no business to have gone. He was only the
cat, I admit. But he might have been the burglar for all Trimmer knew,
and--what then?

As I look back and think of these things, I am afraid we imposed upon
her. At the time, we had twinges of conscience, especially when we
caught her "cutting about" with more than her usual zeal. She was not
designed by nature to "cut about" at all. To grow old with her meant "to
lose the glory of the form." She was short, she had an immense breadth
of hip, and she waddled rather than walked. When, in her haste, her cap
would get tilted to one side, and she would give a smudge to her nose or
her cheek, she was really a grotesque little figure, and the twinges
became acute. To see her "cutting about" so unbecomingly for us at an
age when she should have been allowed, unburdened, to crawl towards
death, was to shift the heaviest responsibility to our shoulders and to
make us the one barrier between her and the workhouse. We could not
watch the tragedy of old age in our own household without playing a more
important part in it than we liked.

Her cheerfulness was the greater marvel when I learned how little reason
life had given her for it. In her rare outbursts of confidence, with
excuses for the liberty, she told me that she was London born and bred,
that she had gone into service young, and that she had married before
she was twenty. I fancy she must have been pretty as a girl. I know she
was "bonny," and "a fine one" for work, and I am not surprised that Trim
wanted to marry her. He was a skilled plasterer by trade, got good
wages, and was seldom out of a job. They had a little house in some
far-away mean street, and though the children who would have been
welcome never came, there was little else to complain of.

Trim was good to her, that is, unless he was in liquor, which I gathered
he mostly was. He was fond of his glass, sociable-like, and with his
week's wages in his pocket, could not keep away from his pals in the
public. Trimmer's objection to beer was accounted for when I discovered
that Trim's fondness for it often kept the little house without bread
and filled it with curses. There were never blows. Trim was good, she
reminded me, and the liquor never made him wicked,--only made him leave
his wife to starve, and then curse her for starving. She was tearful
with gratitude when she remembered his goodness in not beating her; but
when her story reached the day of his tumbling off a high ladder--the
beer was in his legs--and being brought back to her dead, it seemed to
me a matter of rejoicing. Not to her, however, for she had to give up
the little house and go into service again, and she missed Trim and his
curses. She did not complain. She always found good places, and she
adopted a little boy, a sweet little fellow, like a son to her, whom she
sent to school and started in life, and had never seen since. But young
men will be young men, and she loved him. She was very happy at the
corset and petticoat shop, where she lived while he was with her. After
business hours she was free, for apparently the responsibility of being
alone in a big house all night was as simple for her as braving a
burglar in our chambers. The young ladies were pleasant, she was well
paid. Then her older brother's wife died and left him with six children.
What could she do but go and look after them when he asked her?

He was well-to-do, and his house and firing and lighting were given him
in addition to high wages. He did not pay her anything, of course,--she
was his sister. But it was a comfortable home, the children were fond of
her,--and also of her cakes and puddings,--and she looked forward to
spending the rest of her days there. But at the end of two years he
married again, and when the new wife came, the old sister went. This was
how it came about that, without a penny in her pocket, and with nothing
save her old twisted hands to keep her out of the workhouse, she was
adrift again at an age which made her undesirable to everybody except
foolish people like ourselves, fresh from the horrors of our experience
with 'Enrietter. It never occurred to Trimmer that there was anything to
complain of. For her, all had always been for the best in the best of
all possible worlds. That she had now chanced upon chambers and two
people and one dissipated cat to take care of, and more to do than ought
to have been asked of her, was but another stroke of her invariable good
luck.

She had an amazing faculty of turning all her little molehills into
mountains of pleasure. I have never known anything like the joy she got
from her family, though I never could quite make out why. She was
inordinately proud of the brother who had been so ready to get rid of
her; the sister-in-law who had replaced her was a paragon of virtue; the
nieces were so many infant phenomena, and one Sunday when, with the
South London world of fashion, they were walking in the Embankment
Gardens, she presumed so far as to bring them up to our chambers to show
them off to me, and the affectionate glances she cast upon their
expansive lace collars explained that she still had her uses in the
family. There was also a cousin whom, to Trimmer's embarrassment, I
often found in our kitchen; but much worse than frequent visits could
be forgiven her, since it was she who, after Jimmy's inglorious end,
brought us William Penn, a pussy then small enough to go into her
coat-pocket, but already gay enough to dance his way straight into our
hearts.

Trimmer's pride reached high-water mark when it came to a younger
brother who travelled in "notions" for a city firm. His proprietor was
the personage the rich Jew always is in the city of London, and was made
Alderman and Lord Mayor, and knighted and baroneted, during the years
Trimmer spent with us. She took enormous satisfaction in the splendour
of this success, counting it another piece of her good luck to be
connected, however remotely, with anybody so distinguished. She had
almost an air of proprietorship on the 9th of November, when from our
windows she watched his Show passing along the Embankment; she could not
have been happier if she herself had been seated in the gorgeous
Cinderella coach, with the coachman in wig and cocked hat, and the
powdered footmen perched up behind; and when J. went to the Lord
Mayor's dinner that same evening at the Guildhall, it became for her
quite a family affair. I often fancied that she thought it reflected
glory on us all to have the sister of a man who travelled in "notions"
for a knight and a Lord Mayor, living in our chambers; though she would
never have taken the liberty of showing it.

Trimmer's joy was only less in our friends than in her family, which was
for long a puzzle to me. They added considerably to her already heavy
task, and in her place, I should have hated them for it. It might amuse
us to have them drop in to lunch or to dinner at any time, and to gather
them together once a week, on Thursday evening. But it could hardly
amuse Trimmer, to whose share fell the problem of how to make a meal
prepared for two go round among four or six, or how to get to the front
door and dispose of hats and wraps in chambers so small that the weekly
gathering filled even our little hall to overflowing. There was always
some one to help her on Thursdays, and she had not much to do in the way
of catering. "Plain living and high talking" was the principle upon
which our evenings were run, and whoever wanted more than a sandwich or
so could go elsewhere. But whatever had to be done, Trimmer insisted on
doing, and, moreover, on doing it until the last pipe was out and the
last word spoken; and as everybody almost was an artist or a writer, and
as there is no subject so inexhaustible as "shop," I do not like to
remember how late that often was. It made no difference. She refused to
go to bed, and in her white cap and apron, with her air of old retainer
or family nurse, she would waddle about through clouds of tobacco-smoke,
offering a box of cigarettes here, a plate of sandwiches there, radiant,
benevolent, more often than not in the way, toward the end looking as if
she would drop, but apparently enjoying herself more than anybody, until
it seemed as if the unkindness would be not to let her stay up in it.

More puzzling to me than her interest in all our friends was her choice
of a few for her special favour. I could not see the reason for her
choice, unless I had suspected her of a sudden passion for literature
and art. Certainly her chief attentions were lavished on the most
distinguished among our friends, who were the very people most apt to
put her devotion to the test. She adored Whistler, though when he was in
London he had a way not only of dropping in to dinner, but sometimes of
dropping in so late that it had to be cooked all over again. She was so
far from minding that, at the familiar sound of his knock and ring, her
face was wreathed in smiles, she seemed to look upon the extra work as a
privilege, and I have known her, without a word, trot off to the
butcher's or the green-grocer's, or even to the tobacconist's in the
Strand for the little Algerian cigarettes he loved. She went so far as
to abandon certain of her prejudices for his benefit, and I realized
what a conquest he had made when she resigned herself to cooking a fowl
in a casserole and serving it without bread-sauce. She discovered the
daintiness of his appetite, and it was delightful to see her hovering
over him at table and pointing out the choice bits in every dish she
passed. She was forever finding an excuse to come into any room where
he might be. Altogether, it was as complete a case of fascination as if
she had known him to be the great master he was; and she was his slave
long before he gave her the ten shillings, which was valued
sentimentally as I really believe a tip never was before or since by a
British servant.

Henley was hardly second in her esteem, and this was the more
inexplicable because he provided her with so many more chances to prove
it. Whistler then lived in Paris, and appeared only now and then. Henley
lived in London half the week, and rarely missed a Thursday. For it was
on that evening that the "National Observer," which he was editing, went
to press, and the printers in Covent Garden were conveniently near to
our chambers. His work done, the paper put to bed, about ten or eleven
he and the train of young men then in attendance upon him would come
round; and to them, in the comfortable consciousness that the rest of
the week was their own, time was of no consideration. Henley exulted in
talk: if he had the right audience he would talk all night; and the
right audience was willing to listen so long as he talked in our
chambers. But Trimmer, in the kitchen, or handing round sandwiches,
could not listen, and yet she lingered as long as anybody. It might be
almost dawn before he got up to go, but she was there to fetch him his
crutch and his big black hat, and to shut the door after him. Whatever
the indiscretion of the hour one Thursday, she welcomed him as cordially
the next, or any day in between when inclination led him to toil up the
three long flights of stairs to our dinner-table.

Phil May was no less in her good graces, and his hours, if anything,
were worse than Henley's, since the length of his stay did not depend on
his talk. I never knew a man of less conversation. "Have a drink," was
its extent with many who thought themselves in his intimacy. This was a
remark which he could scarcely offer to Trimmer at the front door, where
Whistler and Henley never failed to exchange with her a friendly
greeting. But all the same, she seemed to feel the charm which his
admirers liked to attribute to him, and to find his smile, when he
balanced himself on the back of a chair, more than a substitute for
conversation, however animated. The flaw in my enjoyment of his company
on our Thursdays was the certainty of the length of time he would be
pleased to bestow it upon us. Trimmer must have shared this certainty,
but to her it never mattered. She never failed to return his smile,
though when he got down to go, she might be nodding, and barely able to
drag one tired old foot after the other.

She made as much of "Bob" Stevenson, whose hours were worse than
anybody's. We would perhaps run across him at a press view of pictures
in the morning and bring him back to lunch, he protesting that he must
leave immediately after to get home to Kew and write his article before
six o'clock. And then he would begin to talk, weaving a romance of any
subject that came up,--the subject was nothing, it was always what he
made of it,--and he would go on talking until Trimmer, overjoyed at the
chance, came in with afternoon tea; and he would go on talking until
she announced dinner; and he would go on talking until all hours the
next morning, long after his last train and any possibility of his
article getting into yesterday afternoon's "Pall Mall." But early as he
might appear, late as he might stay, he was never too early or too late
for Trimmer.

These were her favourites, though she was ready to "mother" Beardsley,
who, she seemed to think, had just escaped from the schoolroom and ought
to be sent back to it; though she had a protecting eye also for George
Steevens, just up from Oxford, evidently mistaking the silence which was
then his habit for shyness; though, indeed, she overflowed with kindness
for everybody who came. It was astonishing how, at her age, she managed
to adapt herself to people and ways so unlike any she could ever have
known, without relaxing in the least from her own code of conduct.

Only twice can I remember seeing her really ruffled. Once was when Felix
Buhot, who, during a long winter he spent in London, was often with us
on Thursdays, went into the kitchen to teach her to make coffee. The
inference that she could not make it hurt her feelings; but her real
distress was to have him in the kitchen, which "ladies and gentlemen"
should not enter. Between her desire to get him back to the dining-room
and her fear lest he should discover it, she was terribly embarrassed.
It was funny to watch them: Buhot, unconscious of wrong and of English,
intent upon measuring the coffee and pouring out the boiling water;
Trimmer fluttering about him with flushed and anxious face, talking very
loud and with great deliberation, in the not uncommon conviction that
the foreigner's ignorance of English is only a form of deafness.

On the other occasion she lost her temper, the only time in my
experience. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Whistler, appearing while she
was out and staying on to supper, got Constant, his man, to add an onion
soup and an omelet to the cold meats she had prepared, for he would
never reconcile himself to the English supper. She was furious when she
got back and found that her pots and pans had been meddled with, and her
larder raided. She looked upon it as a reproach; as if she couldn't
serve Mr. Whistler as well as any foreign servant,--she had no use for
foreign servants anyhow,--she would not have them making their foreign
messes in any kitchen of hers! It took days and careful diplomacy to
convince her that she had not been insulted.

I was the more impressed by this outbreak of temper because, as a rule,
she gave no sign of seeing, or hearing, or understanding anything that
went on in our chambers. She treated me as I believe royalty should be
treated, leaving it to me to open the talk, or to originate a topic. I
remember once, when we were involved in a rumpus which had been
discussed over our dinner-table for months beforehand, and which at the
time filled the newspapers and was such public property that everybody
in the Quarter--the milkman, the florist at the Temple of Pomona in the
Strand, the Housekeeper downstairs, the postman--congratulated us on our
victory, Trimmer alone held her peace. I could not believe that she
really did not know, and at last I asked her:--

"I suppose you have heard, Trimmer, what has been going on these days?"

"What, mum?" was her answer.

Then, exasperated, I explained.

"Why yes, mum," she said. "I beg your pardon, mum, I really couldn't
'elp it. I 'ave been reading the pipers, and the 'ousekeeper she was
a-talking to me about it before you come in, and the postman too, and I
was sayin' as 'ow glad I was. I 'ope you and the Master won't think it a
liberty, mum. Thank you, mum!"

I remember another time, when some of our friends took to running away
with other friends' wives, and things became so complicated for
everybody that our Thursday evenings were brought to a sudden end,
Trimmer kept the same stolid countenance throughout, until, partly to
prevent awkwardness, partly out of curiosity, I asked her if she had
seen the papers.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, mum," she hesitated, "thank you, mum, I'm sure.
I know it's a liberty, but you know, mum, they've all been 'ere so often
I couldn't help noticing there was somethink. And I'm very sorry, mum,
if you'll excuse the liberty, they all was such lidies and gentlemen,
mum."

And so, I should never have known there was another reason, besides the
natural kindness of her heart, for her interest in our friends and her
acceptance of their ways, if, before this, I had not happened to say to
her one Friday morning,--

"You seem, Trimmer, to have a very great admiration for Mr. Phil May."

"I 'ope you and Master won't think it a liberty, mum," she answered, in
an agony of embarrassment, "but I do like to see 'im, and they allus so
like to 'ear about 'im at 'ome. They're allus asking me when I 'ave last
seen 'im or Mr. Whistler."

Then it came out. Chance had bestowed upon her father and one of the
great American magazines the same name, with the result that the
magazine was looked upon by her brothers and herself as belonging
somehow to the family. The well-to-do brother subscribed to it, the
other came to his house to see each new number. Through the
illustrations and articles they had become as familiar with artists and
authors as most people in England are with the "winners," and their
education had reached at least the point of discovery that news does not
begin and end in sport. Judging from Trimmer, I doubt if at first their
patronage of art and literature went much further, but this was far
enough for them to know, and to feel flattered by the knowledge, that
she was living among people who figured in the columns of art and
literary gossip as prominently as "all the winners" in the columns of
the Sporting Prophets, though they would have been still more flattered
had her lot been cast among the Prophets. In a few cases, their interest
soon became more personal.

It was their habit--why, I do not suppose they could have said
themselves--to read any letter Whistler might write to the papers at a
moment when he was given to writing, though what they made of the letter
when read was more than Trimmer was able to explain; they also looked
out for Phil May's drawings in "Punch"; they passed our articles round
the family circle,--a compliment hardly more astonishing to Trimmer
than to us. As time went on they began to follow the career of several
of our other friends to whom Trimmer introduced them; and it was a
gratification to them all, as well as a triumph for her, when on Sunday
afternoon she could say, "Mr. Crockett or Mr. 'Arold Frederic was at
Master's last Thursday." Thus, through us, she became for the first time
a person of importance in her brother's house, and I suspect also quite
an authority in Brixton on all questions of art and literature. Indeed,
she may, for all I know, have started another Carnegie Library in South
London.

It is a comfort now to think that her stay with us was pleasant to her;
wages alone could not have paid our debt for the trouble she spared us
during her five years in our chambers. I have an idea that, in every
way, it was the most prosperous period of her life. When she came, she
was not only without a penny in her pocket, but she owed pounds for her
outfit of aprons and caps and dresses. Before she left, she was saving
money. She opened a book at the Post Office Savings Bank; she
subscribed to one of those societies which would assure her a
respectable funeral, for she had the ambition of all the self-respecting
poor to be put away decent, after having, by honest work, kept off the
parish to the end. Her future provided for, she could make the most of
whatever pleasures the present might throw in her way,--the pantomime at
Christmas, a good seat for the Queen's Jubilee procession; above all,
the two weeks' summer holiday. No journey was ever so full of adventure
as hers to Margate, or Yarmouth, or Hastings, from the first preparation
to the moment of return, when she would appear laden with presents of
Yarmouth bloaters or Margate shrimps, to be divided between the old
charwoman and ourselves.

If she had no desire to leave us, we had none to have her go; and as the
years passed, we did not see why she should. She was old, but she bore
her age with vigour. She was hardly ever ill, and never with anything
worse than a cold or an indigestion, though she had an inconvenient
talent for accidents. The way she managed to cut her fingers was little
short of genius. One or two were always wrapped in rags. But no matter
how deep the gash, she was as cheerful as if it were an accomplishment.
With the blood pouring from the wound, she would beam upon me: "You 'ave
no idea, mum, what wonderful flesh I 'as fur 'ealin'." Her success in
falling down our little narrow stairway was scarcely less remarkable.
But the worst tumble of all was the one which J. had so long expected.
He had just moved his portfolios to an unaccustomed place one morning,
when a letter, or a message, or something, sent her stumbling into the
studio with her usual impetuosity, and over she tripped. It was so bad
that we had to have the doctor, her arm was so seriously strained that
he made her carry it in a sling for weeks. We were alarmed, but not
Trimmer.

"You know, mum, it _is_ lucky; it might 'ave been the right harm, and
that would 'ave been bad!"

She really thought it another piece of her extraordinary good luck.

Poor Trimmer! It needed so little to make her happy, and within five
years of her coming to us that little was taken from her. All she asked
of life was work, and a worse infirmity than age put a stop to her
working for us, or for anybody else, ever again. At the beginning of her
trouble, she would not admit to us, nor I fancy to herself, that
anything was wrong, and she was "bonny," though she went "cutting about"
at a snail's pace and her cheerful old face grew haggard. Presently,
there were days when she could not keep up the pretence, and then she
said her head ached and she begged my pardon for the liberty. I
consulted a doctor. He thought it might be neuralgia and dosed her for
it; she thought it her teeth, and had almost all the few still left to
her pulled out. And the pain was worse than ever. Then, as we were on
the point of leaving town for some weeks, we handed over our chambers to
the frowzy old charwoman, and sent Trimmer down to the sea at Hastings.
She was waiting to receive us when we returned, but she gave us only the
ghost of her old smile in greeting, and her face was more haggard and
drawn than ever. For a day she tottered about from one room to another,
cooking, dusting, making beds, and looking all the while as if she were
on the rack. She was a melancholy wreck of the old cheerful, bustling,
exasperating Trimmer; and it was more than we could stand. I told her
so. She forgot to beg my pardon for the liberty in her hurry to assure
me that nothing was wrong, that she could work, that she wanted to work,
that she was not happy when she did not work.

"Oh, I'm bonny, mum, I'm bonny!" she kept saying over and over again.

Her despair at the thought of stopping work was more cruel to see than
her physical torture, and I knew, without her telling me, that her fear
of the pain she might have still to suffer was nothing compared to her
fear of the workhouse she had toiled all her life to keep out of. She
had just seven pounds and fifteen shillings for her fortune; her family,
being working people, would have no use for her once she was of no use
to them; our chambers were her home only so long as she could do in them
what she had agreed to do; there was no Workmen's Compensation Act in
those days, no old-age pensions, even if she had been old enough to get
one. What was left for a poor woman, full of years and pain, save the
one refuge which, all her life, she had been taught to look upon as
scarcely less shameful than the prison or the scaffold?

Well, Trimmer had done her best for us; now we did our best for her,
and, as it turned out, the best that could be done. Through a friend, we
got her into St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Her case was hopeless from the
first. A malignant growth so close to the brain that at her age an
operation was too serious a risk, and without it she might linger in
agony for months,--this was what life had been holding in store for
Trimmer during those long years of incessant toil, and self-sacrifice,
and obstinate belief that a drunken husband, a selfish brother, an empty
purse, were all for the best in our best of all possible worlds.

She did not know how ill she was, and her first weeks at the hospital
were happy. The violence of the pain was relieved, the poor tired old
body was the better for the rest and the cool and the quiet; she who had
spent her strength waiting on others enjoyed the novel experience of
being waited on herself. There were the visits of her family on visiting
days, and mine in between, to look forward to; some of our friends, who
had grown as fond of her as we, sent her fruit and flowers, and she
liked the consequence all this gave her in the ward. Then, the hospital
gossip was a distraction, perhaps because in talking about the
sufferings of others she could forget her own. My objection was that she
would spare me not a single detail. But in some curious way I could not
fathom, it seemed a help to Trimmer, and I had not the heart to cut her
stories short.

After a month or so, the reaction came. Her head was no better, and what
was the hospital good for if they couldn't cure her? She grew
suspicious, hinting dark things to me about the doctors. They were
keeping her there to try experiments on her, and she was a respectable
woman, and always had been, and she did not like to be stared at in her
bed by a lot of young fellows. The nurses were as bad. But once out of
their clutches she would be "bonny" again, she knew. Probably the
doctors and nurses knew too, for the same suspicion is more often than
not their reward; and indeed it was so unlike Trimmer that she must have
picked it up in the ward. Anyway, in their kindness they had kept her
far longer than is usual in such cases, and when they saw her grow
restless and unhappy, it seemed best to let her go. At the end of four
months, and to her infinite joy, Trimmer, five years older than when she
came to us, in the advanced stage of an incurable disease, with a
capital of seven pounds and fifteen shillings, was free to begin life
again.

I pass quickly over the next weeks,--I wish I could have passed over
them as quickly at the time. My visits were now to a drab quarter on the
outskirts of Camden Town, where Trimmer had set up as a capitalist. She
boarded with her cousin, many shillings of her little store going to pay
the weekly bill; she found a wonderful doctor who promised to cure her
in no time, and into his pockets the rest of her savings flowed. There
was no persuading her that he could not succeed where the doctors at the
hospital had failed, and so long as she went to him, to help her would
only have meant more shillings for an unscrupulous quack who traded on
the ignorance and credulity of the poor. Week by week I saw her grow
feebler, week by week I knew her little capital was dribbling fast away.
She seemed haunted by the dread that her place would be taken in our
chambers, and that, once cured, she would have to hunt for another. That
she was "bonny" was the beginning and end of all she had to say. One
morning, to prove it, she managed to drag herself down to see us,
arriving with just strength enough to stagger into my room, her arms
outstretched to feel her way, for the disease, by this time, was
affecting both eyes and brain. Nothing would satisfy her until she had
gone into the studio, stumbling about among the portfolios, I on one
side, on the other J., with no desire to wring her neck for it was grim
tragedy we were guiding between us,--tragedy in rusty black with a
reticule hanging from one arm,--five years nearer the end than when
first the curtain rose upon it in our chambers. We bundled her off as
fast as we could, in a cab, with the cousin who had brought her. She
stopped in the doorway.

"Oh, I'm bonny, mum. I can cut about, you'll see!" And she would have
fallen, had not the cousin caught and steadied her.

After that, she had not the strength to drag herself anywhere, not even
to see the quack. A week later she took to her bed, almost blind, her
poor old wits scattered beyond recovery. I was glad of that: it spared
her the weary waiting and watching for death while the shadow of the
grim building she feared still more drew ever nearer. I hesitated to go
and see her, for my mere presence stirred her into consciousness, and
reminded her of her need to work and her danger if she could not. Then
there was a day when she did not seem to know I was there, and she paid
no attention to me, never spoke until just as I was going, when of a
sudden she sat bolt upright:--

"Oh, I'm bonny, mum, I'm bonny. You'll see!" she wailed, and sank back
on her pillows.

These were Trimmer's last words to me, and I left her at death's door,
still crying for work, as if in the next world, as in this, it was her
only salvation. Very soon, the cousin came to tell me that the little
capital had dribbled entirely away, and that she could not keep Trimmer
without being paid for it. Could I blame her? She had her own fight
against the shadow hanging all too close now over Trimmer. Her 'usband
worked 'ard, she said, and they could just live respectable, and
Trimmer's brothers, they was for sending Trimmer to the workus. They
might have sent her, and I doubt if she would have been the wiser. But
could we see her go? For our own comfort, for our own peace of mind, we
interfered and arranged that Trimmer should board with her cousin until
a bed was found in another hospital. It was found, mercifully, almost at
once, but, before I had time to go there, the Great Release had come for
her; and we heard with thankfulness that the old head was free from
suffering, that the twisted hands were still, that fear of the workhouse
could trouble her no more. Life's one gift to Trimmer had been toil,
pain her one reward, and it was good to know that she was at rest.

The cousin brought us the news. But I had a visit the same day from the
sister-in-law, the paragon of virtue, a thin, sharp-faced woman of
middle age. I said what I could in sympathy, telling her how much we
missed Trimmer, how well we should always remember her. But this was not
what she had come to hear. She let me get through. She drew the sigh
appropriate for the occasion. Then she settled down to business. When
did I propose to pay back the money Trimmer had spent on the doctor in
Camden Town? I didn't propose to at all, I told her: he was a miserable
quack and I had done my best to keep Trimmer from going to him; besides,
fortunately for her, she was beyond the reach of money that was not
owing to her. The sister-in-law was indignant. The family always
understood I had promised, a promise was a promise, and now they
depended on me for the funeral. I reminded her of the society to which
Trimmer had subscribed solely to meet that expense. But she quickly let
me know that the funeral the society proposed to provide fell far short
of the family's standard. To them it appeared scarcely better than a
pauper's. The coffin would be plain, there would be no oak and brass
handles,--worse, there would be no plumes for the horses and the hearse.
To send their sister to her grave without plumes would disgrace them
before their neighbours. Nor would there be a penny over for the family
mourning,--could I allow them, the chief mourners, to mourn without
crape?

I remembered their willingness to let Trimmer die as a pauper in the
workhouse. After all, she would have the funeral she had provided for.
She would lie no easier in her grave for oak and brass handles, for
plumes and crape. Her family had made use of her all her life; I did not
see why I should help them to make use of her after her death, that
their grief might be trumpeted in Brixton and Camden Town. I brought the
interview to an end. But sometimes I wonder if Trimmer would not have
liked it better if I had helped them, if plumes had waved from the heads
of the horses that drew her to her grave, if her family had followed
swathed in crape. She would have looked upon it as another piece of her
extraordinary good luck if, by dying, she had been of service to
anybody.

I do not know where they buried her. Probably nobody save ourselves
to-day has as much as a thought for her. But, if self-sacrifice counts
for anything, if martyrdom is a passport to heaven, then Trimmer should
take her place up there by the side of St. Francis of Assisi, and Joan
of Arc, and St. Vincent de Paul, and all those other blessed men and
women whose lives were given for others, and who thought it was
"bonny."



_Louise_

[Illustration: "TUMBLED, WEATHER-WORN, RED-TILED ROOFS"]



III

LOUISE


For the third time since we had taken our chambers, I was servantless,
and I could not summon up courage to face for the third time the scorn
which the simple request for a "general" meets in the English Registry
Office. That was what sent me to try my luck at a French _Bureau_ in
Soho, where, I was given to understand, it was possible to inquire for,
and actually obtain, a good _bonne à tout faire_ and escape without
insult.

Louise was announced one dull November morning, a few days later. I
found her waiting for me in our little hall,--a woman of about forty,
short, plump, with black eyes, blacker hair, and an enchanting smile.
But the powder on her face and the sham diamonds in her ears seemed to
hang out danger signals, and my first impulse was to show her the door.
It was something familiar in the face under the powder, above all in
the voice when she spoke, that made me hesitate.

"Provençale?" I asked.

"Yes, from Marseilles," she answered, and I showed her instead into my
room.

I had often been "down there" where the sun shines and skies are blue,
and her Provençal accent came like a breath from the south through the
gloom of the London fog, bringing it all back to me,--the blinding white
roads, the gray hills sweet with thyme and lavender, the towns with
their "antiquities," the little shining white villages,--M. Bernard's at
Martigues, and his dining-room, and the Marseillais who crowded it on a
Sunday morning, and the gaiety and the laughter, and Désiré in his white
apron, and the great bowls of _bouillabaisse_....

It was she who recalled me to the business of the moment. Her name was
Louise Sorel, she said; she could clean, wash, play the lady's maid,
sew, market, cook--but cook! _Té--au mouins_, she would show _Madame_;
and, as she said it, she smiled. I have never seen such perfect teeth in
woman or child; you knew at a glance that she must have been a radiant
beauty in her youth. A Provençal accent, an enchanting smile, and the
remains of beauty, however, are not precisely what you engage a servant
for; and, with a sudden access of common sense, I asked for references.
Surely, _Madame_ would not ask the impossible, she said reproachfully.
She had but arrived in London, she had never gone as _bonne_ anywhere;
how, then, could she give references? She needed the work and was
willing to do it: was not that sufficient? I got out of it meanly by
telling her I would think it over. At that she smiled again,--really,
her smile on a November day almost warranted the risk. I meant to take
her; she knew; _Madame_ was kind.

I did think it over,--while I interviewed slovenly English "generals"
and stray Italian children, dropped upon me from Heaven knows where,
while I darned the family stockings, while I ate the charwoman's chops.
I thought it over indeed, far more than I wanted to, until, in despair,
I returned to the Soho _Bureau_ to complain that I was still without a
servant of any kind. The first person I saw was Louise, disconsolate, on
a chair in the corner. She sprang up when she recognized me. Had she not
said _Madame_ was kind? she cried. _Madame_ had come for her. I had done
nothing of the sort. But there she was, this charming creature from the
South; at home was the charwoman, dingy and dreary as the November
skies. To look back now is to wonder why I did not jump at the chance of
having her. As it was, I did take her,--no references, powder, sham
diamonds, and all. But I compromised. It was to be for a week. After
that, we should see. An hour later she was in my kitchen.

A wonderful week followed. From the start we could not resist her charm,
though to be on such terms with one's servant as to know that she has
charm, is no doubt the worst possible kind of bad form. Even William
Penn, the fastidious, was her slave at first sight,--and it would have
been rank ingratitude if he had not been, for, from the ordinary London
tabby average people saw in him, he was at once transformed into the
most superb, the most magnificent of cats! And we were all superb, we
were all magnificent, down to the snuffy, tattered old Irish charwoman
who came to make us untidy three times a week, and whom we had not the
heart to turn out, because we knew that if we did, there could be no one
else foolish enough to take her in again.

And Louise, though her southern imagination did such great things for
us, had not overrated herself. She might be always laughing at
everything, as they always do laugh "down there,"--at the English she
couldn't understand, at _Mizé Boum_, the nearest she came to the
charwoman's name, at the fog she must have hated, at the dirt left for
her to clean. But she worked harder than any servant I have ever had,
and to better purpose. She adored the cleanliness and the order, it
seemed, and was appalled at the dirt and slovenliness of the English, as
every Frenchwoman is when she comes to the land that has not ceased to
brag of its cleanliness since its own astonished discovery of the
morning tub. Before Louise, the London blacks disappeared as if by
magic. Our wardrobes were overhauled and set to rights. The linen was
mended and put in place. And she could cook! Such _risotto_!--she had
been in Italy--Such _macaroni_! Such _bouillabaisse_! Throughout that
wonderful week, our chambers smelt as strong of _ail_ as a Provençal
kitchen.

In the face of all this, I do not see how I brought myself to find any
fault. To do myself justice, I never did when it was a question of the
usual domestic conventions. Louise was better than all the
conventions--all the prim English maids in prim white caps--in the
world. Just to hear her talk, just to have her call that disreputable
old _Mizé Boum ma belle_, just to have her announce as _La Dame de la
bouillabaisse_ a friend of ours who had been to Provence and had come to
feast on her masterpiece and praised her for it,--just each and every
one of her charming southern ways made up for the worst domestic crime
she could have committed, I admit to a spasm of dismay when, for the
first meal she served, she appeared in her petticoat, a dish-cloth for
apron, and her sleeves rolled up above her elbows. But I forgot it with
her delightful laugh at herself when I explained that, absurdly it might
be, we preferred a skirt, an apron, and sleeves fastened at the wrists.
It seemed she adored the economy too, and she had wished to protect her
dress and even her apron.

These things would horrify the model housewife; but then, I am not a
model housewife, and they amused me, especially as she was so quick to
meet me, not only half, but the whole way. When, however, she took to
running out at intervals on mysterious errands, I felt that I must
object. Her first excuse was _les affaires_; her next, a friend; and,
when neither of these would serve, she owned up to a husband who,
apparently, spent his time waiting for her at the street corner; he was
so lonely, _le pauvre_! I suggested that he should come and see her in
the kitchen. She laughed outright. Why, he was of a shyness _Madame_
could not figure to herself. He never would dare to mount the stairs and
ring the front door-bell.

In the course of this wonderful week, there was sent to me, from the
Soho _Bureau_, a Swiss girl with as many references as a Colonial Dame
has grandfathers. Even so, and despite the inconvenient husband, I might
not have dismissed Louise,--it was so pleasant to live in an atmosphere
of superlatives and _ail_. It was she who settled the matter with some
vague story of a partnership in a restaurant and work waiting for her
there. Perhaps we should have parted with an affectation of indifference
had not J. unexpectedly interfered. Husbands have a trick of pretending
superiority to details of housekeeping until you have had all the
bother, and then upsetting everything by their interference. She had
given us the sort of time we hadn't had since the old days in Provence,
he argued; her smile alone was worth double the money agreed upon;
therefore, double the money was the least I could in decency offer her.
His logic was irreproachable, but housekeeping on such principles would
end in domestic bankruptcy. However, Louise got the money, and my reward
was her face when she thanked me--she made giving sheer
self-indulgence--and the _risotto_ which, in the shock of gratitude,
she insisted upon coming the next day to cook for us.

But, in the end, J.'s indiscretion cost me dear. As Louise was
determined to magnify all our geese, not merely into swans, but into the
most superb, the most magnificent swans, the few extra shillings had
multiplied so miraculously by the time their fame reached the
_Quartier_, that _Madame_ of the _Bureau_ saw in me a special Providence
appointed to relieve her financial difficulties, and hurried to claim an
immediate loan. Then, her claim being disregarded, she wrote to call my
attention to the passing of the days and the miserable pettiness of the
sum demanded, and to assure me of her consideration the most perfect.
She got to be an intolerable nuisance before I heard the last of her.

We had not realized the delight of having Louise to take care of us,
until she was replaced by the Swiss girl, who was industrious, sober,
well-trained, with all the stolidity and surliness of her people, and as
colourless as a self-respecting servant ought to be. I was immensely
relieved when, after a fortnight, she found the work too much for her.
It was just as she was on the point of going that Louise reappeared, her
face still white with powder, the sham diamonds still glittering in her
ears, but somehow changed, I could not quite make out how. She had come,
she explained to present me with a ring of pearls and opals and of
surpassing beauty, at the moment pawned for a mere trifle,--here was the
ticket; I had but to pay, add a smaller trifle for interest and
commission, and it was mine. As I never have worn rings I did not care
to begin the habit by gambling in pawn tickets, much though I should
have liked to oblige Louise. Her emotion when I refused seemed so out of
proportion, and yet was so unmistakably genuine, that it bewildered me.

But she pulled herself together almost at once and began to talk of the
restaurant which, I learned, was marching in a simply marvellous manner.
It was only when, in answer to her question, I told her that the
_Demoiselle Suisse_ was marching not at all and was about to leave me,
that the truth came out. There was no restaurant, there never had
been,--except in the country of Tartarin's lions; it was her invention
to spare me any self-reproach I might have felt for turning her adrift
at the end of her week's engagement. She had found no work since. She
and her husband had pawned everything. _Tiens_, and she emptied before
me a pocketful of pawn tickets. They were without a sou. They had had
nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. That was the change. I began to
understand. She was starving, literally starving, in the cold and gloom
and damp of the London winter, she who was used to the warmth and
sunshine, to the clear blue skies of Provence. If the aliens who drift
to England, as to the Promised Land, could but know what awaited them!

Of course I took her back. She might have added rouge to the powder, she
might have glittered all over with diamonds, sham or real, and I would
not have minded. J. welcomed her with joy. William Penn hung rapturously
at her heels. We had a _risotto_, golden as the sun of the _Midi_,
fragrant as its kitchens, for our dinner.

There was no question of a week now, no question of time at all. It did
not seem as if we ever could manage again, as if we ever could have
managed, without Louise. And she, on her side, took possession of our
chambers, and, for a ridiculously small sum a week, worked her miracles
for us. We positively shone with cleanliness; London grime no longer
lurked, the skeleton in our cupboards. We never ate dinners and
breakfasts more to our liking, never had I been so free from
housekeeping, never had my weekly bills been so small. Eventually, she
charged herself with the marketing, though she could not, and never
could, learn to speak a word of English; but not even the London
tradesman was proof against her smile. She kept the weekly accounts,
though she could neither read nor write: in her intelligence, an
eloquent witness to the folly of general education. She was, in a word,
the most capable and intelligent woman I have ever met, so that it was
the more astounding that she should also be the most charming.

Most astounding of all was the way, entirely, typically Provençale as
she was, she could adapt herself to London and its life and people.
Though she wore in the street an ordinary felt hat, and in the house the
English apron, you could see that her hair was made for the pretty
Provençal ribbon, and her broad shoulders for the Provençal fichu. _Té_,
_vé_, and _au mouins_ were as constantly in her mouth as in Tartarin's.
Provençal proverbs forever hovered on her lips. She sang Provençal songs
at her work. She had ready a Provençal story for every occasion. Her
very adjectives were Mistral's, her very exaggerations Daudet's. And yet
she did everything as if she had been a "general" in London chambers all
her life. Nothing came amiss to her. After her first startling
appearance as waitress, it was no time before she was serving at table
as if she had been born to it, and with such a grace of her own that
every dish she offered seemed a personal tribute. People who had never
seen her before would smile back involuntarily as they helped
themselves. It was the same no matter what she did. She was always gay,
however heavy her task. To her even London, with its fogs, was a
_galéjado_, as they say "down there." And she was so appreciative. We
would make excuses to give her things for the pleasure of watching the
warm glow spread over her face and the light leap to her eyes. We would
send her to the theatre for the delight of having her come back and tell
us about it. All the world, on and off the stage, was exalted and
transfigured as she saw it.

But frank as she was in her admiration of all the world, she remained
curiously reticent about herself. "My poor grandmother used to say, you
must turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking," she
said to me once; and I used to fancy she gave hers a few extra twists
when it came to talking of her own affairs. Some few facts I gathered:
that she had been at one time an _ouvreuse_ in a Marseilles theatre; at
another, a tailoress,--how accomplished, the smart appearance of her
husband in J.'s old coats and trousers was to show us; and that, always,
off and on, she had made a business of buying at the periodical sales of
the _Mont de Piété_ and selling at private sales of her own. I gathered
also that they all knew her in Marseilles; it was Louise here, Louise
there, as she passed through the market, and everybody must have a word
and a laugh with her. No wonder! You couldn't have a word and a laugh
once with Louise and not long to repeat the experience. But to her life
when the hours of work were over, she offered next to no clue.

Only one or two figures flitted, pale shadows, through her rare
reminiscences. One was the old grandmother, whose sayings were full of
wisdom, but who seemed to have done little for her save give her,
fortunately, no schooling at all, and a religious education that bore
the most surprising fruit. Louise had made her first communion, she had
walked in procession on feast days. _J'adorais ça_, she would tell me,
as she recalled her long white veil and the taper in her hand. But she
adored every bit as much going to the Salvation Army meetings,--the
lassies would invite her in, and lend her a hymn-book, and she would
sing as hard as ever she could, was her account. Her ideas on the
subject of the Scriptures and the relations of the Holy Family left me
gasping. But her creed had the merit of simplicity. The _Boun Diou_ was
intelligent, she maintained; _il aime les gens honnêtes_. He would not
ask her to hurry off to church and leave all in disorder at home, and
waste her time. If she needed to pray, she knelt down where and as she
was, and the _Boun Diou_ was as well pleased. He was a man like us,
wasn't He? Well then, He understood.

There was also a sister. She occupied a modest apartment in Marseilles
when she first dawned upon our horizon, but so rapidly did it expand
into a palatial house in town and a palatial villa by the sea, both with
cellars of rare and exquisite vintages and stables full of horses and
carriages, that we looked confidently to the fast-approaching day when
we should find her installed in the Elysée at Paris. Only in one respect
did she never vary by a hair's breadth: this was her hatred of Louise's
husband.

Here, at all events, was a member of the family about whom we learned
more than we cared to know. For if he did not show himself at first,
that did not mean his willingness to let us ignore him. He persisted in
wanting Louise to meet him at the corner, sometimes just when I most
wanted her in the kitchen. He would have her come back to him at night;
and to see her, after her day's hard work, start out in the black sodden
streets, seldom earlier than ten, often as late as midnight; to realize
that she must start back long before the sun would have thought of
coming up, if the sun ever did come up on a London winter morning, made
us wretchedly uncomfortable. The husband, however, was not to be moved
by any messages I might send him. He was too shy to grant the interview
I asked. But he gave me to understand through her that he wouldn't do
without her, he would rather starve, he couldn't get along without her.
We did not blame him: we couldn't, either. That was why, after several
weeks of discomfort to all concerned, it occurred to us that we might
invite him to make our home his; and we were charmed by his
condescension when, at last conquering his shyness, he accepted our
invitation. The threatened deadlock was thus settled, and M. Auguste,
as he introduced himself, came to us as a guest for as long as he chose
to stay. There were friends--there always are--to warn us that what we
were doing was sheer madness. What did we know about him, anyway?
Precious little, it was a fact: that he was the husband of Louise,
neither more nor less. We did not even know that, it was hinted. But if
Louise had not asked for our marriage certificate, could we insist upon
her producing hers?

It may have been mad, but it worked excellently. M. Auguste as a guest
was the pattern of discretion. I had never had so much as a glimpse of
him until he came to visit us. Then I found him a good-looking man,
evidently a few years younger than Louise, well-built, rather taller
than the average Frenchman. Beyond this, it was weeks before I knew
anything of him except the astonishing adroitness with which he kept out
of our way. He quickly learned our hours and arranged his accordingly.
After we had begun work in the morning, he would saunter down to the
kitchen and have his coffee, the one person of leisure in the
establishment. After that, and again in the afternoon, he would stroll
out to attend to what I take were the not too arduous duties of a
horse-dealer with neither horses nor capital,--for as a horse-dealer he
described himself when he had got so far as to describe himself at all.
At noon and at dinner-time, he would return from Tattersall's, or
wherever his not too exhausting business had called him, with a small
paper parcel supposed to contain his breakfast or his dinner, our
agreement being that he was to supply his own food. The evenings he
spent with Louise. I could discover no vice in him except the, to us,
disturbing excess of his devotion to her. You read of this sort of
devotion in French novels and do not believe in it. But M. Auguste, in
his exacting dependence on Louise, left the French novel far behind. As
for Louise, though she was no longer young and beauty fades early in the
South, I have never met, in or out of books, a woman who made me
understand so well the reason of the selfishness some men call love.

M. Auguste's manners to us were irreproachable. We could only admire
the consideration he showed in so persistently effacing himself. J.
never would have seen him, if on feast days--Christmas, New Year's, the
14th of July--M. Auguste had not, with great ceremony, entered the
dining-room at the hour of morning coffee to shake hands and wish J. the
compliments of the season. With me his relations grew less formal, for
he was not slow to discover that we had one pleasant weakness in common.
Though the modest proportions of that brown-paper parcel might not
suggest it, M. Auguste knew and liked what was good to eat; so did I.
Almost before I realized it, he had fallen into the habit of preparing
some special dish for me, or of making my coffee, when I chanced to be
alone for lunch or for dinner. I can still see the gleam in his eyes as
he brought me in my cup, and assured me that he, not Louise, was the
artist, and that it was something of extra--but of extra!--as it always
was. Nor was it long before he was installed _chef_ in our kitchen on
the occasion of any little breakfast or dinner we might be giving. The
first time I caught him in shirt-sleeves, with Louise's apron flapping
about his legs and the bib drawn over his waistcoat, he was inclined to
be apologetic. But he soon gave up apology. It was evident there were
few things he enjoyed more than cooking a good dinner,--unless it was
eating it,--and his apron was put on early in the day. In the end, I
never asked any one to breakfast or dinner without consulting him, and
his _menus_ strengthened the friendliness of our relations.

After a while he ran my errands and helped Louise to market. I found
that he spoke and wrote very good English, and was a man of some
education. I have preserved his daily accounts, written in an unusually
neat handwriting, always beginning "Mussy: 1 penny"; and this reminds me
that not least in his favour was his success in ingratiating himself
with William Penn,--or "Mussy" in Louise's one heroic attempt to cope
with the English. M. Auguste, moreover, was quiet and reserved to a
degree that would not have discredited the traditional Englishman. Only
now and then did the _Midi_ show itself in him: in the gleam of his eye
over his gastronomic masterpieces; in his pose as horse-dealer and the
scale on which the business he never did was schemed,--_Mademoiselle_,
the French dressmaker from Versailles, who counted in tens and thought
herself rich, was dazzled by the way M. Auguste reckoned by thousands;
and once, luckily only once, in a frenzied outbreak of passion.

He was called to Paris, I never understood why. When the day came, he
was seized with such despair as I had never seen before, as I trust I
may never have to see again. He could not leave Louise, he would not.
No! No! No! He raved, he swore, he wept. I was terrified, but Louise,
when I called her aside to consult her, shrugged her shoulders. "We play
the comedy in the kitchen," she laughed, but I noticed that her laughter
was low. I fancy when you played the comedy with M. Auguste, tragedy was
only just round the corner. With the help of _Mademoiselle_ she got him
to the station; he had wanted to throw himself from the train as it
started, was her report. And in three days, not a penny the richer for
the journey, he had returned to his life of ease in our chambers.

Thus we came to know M. Auguste's virtues and something of his temper,
but never M. Auguste himself. The months passed, and we were still
conscious of mystery. I did not inspire him with the healthy fear he
entertained for J., but I cannot say he ever took me into his
confidence. What he was when not in our chambers; what he had been
before he moved into them; what turn of fate had stranded him,
penniless, in London with Louise, to make us the richer for his coming;
why he, a man of education, was married to a woman of none; why he was
M. Auguste while Louise was Louise Sorel--I knew as little the day he
left us as the day he arrived. J. instinctively distrusted him,
convinced that he had committed some monstrous crime and was in hiding.
This was also the opinion of the French Quarter, as I learned
afterwards. It seems the _Quartier_ held its breath when it heard he was
our guest, and waited for the worst, only uncertain what form that worst
would take,--whether we should be assassinated in our beds, or a
bonfire made of our chambers. M. Auguste, however, spared us and
disappointed the _Quartier_. His crime, to the end, remained as baffling
as the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, or the secret of Kaspar
Hauser.

That he was honest, I would wager my own reputation for honesty, even if
it was curious the way his fingers gradually covered themselves with
rings, a watch-chain dangled from his waistcoat pocket, a pin was stuck
jauntily in his necktie. Her last purchases at the _Mont de Piété_,
pawned during those first weeks of starving in London and gradually
redeemed, was Louise's explanation; and why should we have suspected M.
Auguste of coming by them unlawfully when he never attempted to rob us,
though we gave him every opportunity? He knew where I kept my money and
my keys. He was alone with Louise in our chambers, not only many a day
and evening, but once for a long summer.

We had to cycle down into Italy and William Penn could not be left to
care for himself, nor could we board him out without risking the
individuality of a cat who had never seen the world except from the top
of a four-story house. Louise and M. Auguste, therefore, were retained
to look after him, which, I should add, they did in a manner as
satisfactory to William as to ourselves. Every week I received a report
of his health and appetite from M. Auguste, in whom I discovered a new
and delightful talent as correspondent. "_Depuis votre départ_," said
the first, "_cette pauvre bête a miaulé après vous tous les jours, et il
est constamment à la porte pour voir si vous ne venez pas. Il ne
commence vraiment à en prendre son parti que depuis hier. Mais tous ces
soucis de chat_ [for that charming phrase what would one not have
forgiven M. Auguste?], _mais tous ces soucis de chat ne l'empêchent pas
de bien boire son lait le matin et manger sa viande deux fois par
jour._" Nor was it all colour of rose to be in charge of William.
"_Figurez-vous_," the next report ran, "_que Mussy a dévoré et abîmé
complêtement une paire de bas tout neufs que Louise s'est achetée hier.
C'est un vrai petit diable, mais il est si gentil qu'on ne peut vraiment
pas le gronder pour cela._" It was consoling to hear eventually that
William had returned to normal pursuits. "_Mussy est bien sage, il a
attrapé une souris hier dans la cuisine--je crois bien que Madame ne
trouvera jamais un aussi gentil Mussy._" And so the journal of William's
movements was continued throughout our absence. When, leaving J. in
Italy, I returned to London,--met at midnight at the station by M.
Auguste with flattering enthusiasm,--Mussy's condition and behaviour
corroborated the weekly bulletins. And not only this. Our chambers were
as clean as the proverbial new pin: everything was in its place; not so
much as a scrap of paper was missing. The only thing that had
disappeared was the sprinkling of gray in Louise's hair, and for this M.
Auguste volubly prepared me during our walk from the station; she had
dyed it with almost unforeseen success, he told me, so triumphantly that
I put down the bottle of dye to his extravagance.

If I know M. Auguste was not a thief, I do not think he was a murderer.
How could I see blood on the hands of the man who presided so joyously
over my pots and pans? If he were a forger, my trust in him never led
to abuse of my cheque book; if a deserter, how came he to be possessed
of his _livret militaire_ duly signed, as my own eyes are the witness?
how could he venture back to France, as I know he did for I received
from him letters with the Paris postmark? An anarchist, J. was inclined
to believe. But I could not imagine him dabbling in bombs and fuses. To
be a horse-dealer, without horses or money, was much more in his line.

Only of one thing were we sure: however hideous or horrible the evil, M.
Auguste had worked "down there," under the hot sun of Provence, Louise
had no part in it. She knew--it was the reason of her curious
reticences, of her sacrifice of herself to him. That he loved her was
inevitable. Who could help loving her? She was so intelligent, so
graceful, so gay. But that she should love M. Auguste would have been
incomprehensible, were it not in the nature of woman to love the man who
is most selfish in his dependence upon her. She did all the work, and he
had all the pleasure of it. He was always decently dressed, there was
always money in his pocket, though she, who earned it, never had a penny
to spend on herself. No matter how busy and hurried she might be, she
had always the leisure to talk to him, to amuse him when he came in,
always the courage to laugh, like the little Fleurance in the story.
What would you? She was made like that. She had always laughed, when she
was sad as when she was gay. And while she was making life delightful
for him, she was doing for us what three Englishwomen combined could not
have done so well, and with a charm that all the Englishwomen in the
world could not have mustered among them.

She had been with us about a year when I began to notice that, at
moments, her face was clouded and her smile less ready. At first, I put
it down to her endless comedy with M. Auguste. But, after a bit, it
looked as if the trouble were more serious even than his histrionics. It
was nothing, she laughed when I spoke to her; it would pass. And she
went on amusing and providing for M. Auguste and working for us. But by
the time the dark days of November set in, we were more worried about
her than ever. The crisis came with Christmas.

On Christmas Day, friends were to dine with us, and we invited
_Mademoiselle_, the French dressmaker, to eat her Christmas dinner with
Louise and M. Auguste. We were very staid in the dining-room,--it turned
out rather a dull affair. But in the kitchen it was an uproarious feast.
Though she lived some distance away, though on Christmas night London
omnibuses are few and far between, _Mademoiselle_ could hardly be
persuaded to go home, so much was she enjoying herself. Louise was all
laughter. "You have been amused?" I asked, when _Mademoiselle_, finally
and reluctantly, had been bundled off by J. in a hansom.

"_Mais oui, mais oui_," M. Auguste cried, pleasure in his voice. "_Cette
pauvre Mademoiselle!_ Her life, it is so sad, she is so alone. It is
good for her to be amused. We have told her many stories,--_et des
histoires un tout petit peu salées, n'est-ce pas? pour égayer cette
pauvre Mademoiselle?_"

It was the day after the feast that Louise had to give in. She confessed
she had been in torture while she served our dinner and _Mademoiselle_
was there. She could hardly eat or drink. But why make it sad for all
the world because she was in pain? and she had laughed, she had laughed!

We scolded her first. Then we sent her to a good doctor. It was worse
than we feared. The trouble was grave, there must be an operation
without delay. The big tears rolled down her cheeks as she said it. She
looked old and broken. Why, she moaned, should this sorrow come to her?
She had never done any harm to any one: why should she have to suffer?
Why, indeed? Her mistake had been to do too little harm, too much good,
to others, to think too little of herself. Now, she had to pay for it as
one almost always does pay for one's good deeds. She worried far less
over the pain she must bear than over the inconvenience to M. Auguste
when she could no longer earn money for him.

We wanted her to go into one of the London hospitals. We offered to take
a room for her where she could stay after the operation until she got
back her strength. But we must not think her ungrateful, the mere idea
of a hospital made her desperate. And what would she do in a room _avec
un homme comme ça_. Besides, there was the sister in Marseilles, and, in
the hour of her distress, her sister's horses and carriages multiplied
like the miraculous loaves and fishes, the vintages in the cellar
doubled in age and strength. And she was going to die; it was queer, but
one knew those things; and she longed to die _là-bas_, where there was a
sun and the sky was blue, where she was at home. We knew she had not a
penny for the journey. M. Auguste had seen to that. Naturally, J. gave
her the money. He would not have had a moment's comfort if he had
not,--the drain upon your own emotions is part of the penalty you pay
for having a human being and not a machine to work for you,--and he
added a little more to keep her from want on her arrival in Marseilles,
in case the sister had vanished or the sister's fortunes had dwindled to
their original proportions. He exacted but one condition: M. Auguste
was not to know there was more than enough for the journey.

Louise's last days with us were passed in tears,--poor Louise! who until
now had laughed at fate. It was at this juncture that M. Auguste came
out strong. I could not have believed he had it in him. He no longer
spent his time dodging J. and dealing in visionary horses. He took
Louise's place boldly. He made the beds, cooked all our meals, waited on
us, dusted, opened the door, while Louise sat, melancholy and forlorn,
in front of the kitchen fire. On the last day of all--she was not to
start until the afternoon Continental train--she drew me mysteriously
into the dining-room, she shut the door with every precaution, she
showed me where she had sewed the extra sovereigns in her stays. M.
Auguste should never know. "_Je pars pour mon long voyage_," she
repeated. "_J'ai mes pressentiments._" And she was going to ask them to
let her wear a black skirt I had given her, and an old coat of J.'s she
had turned into a bodice, when the time came to lay her in her coffin.
Thus something of ours would go with her on the long journey. How could
she forget us? How could we forget her? she might better have asked. I
made a thousand excuses to leave her; Louise playing "the comedy" had
never been so tragic as Louise in tears. But she would have me back
again, and again, and again, to tell me how happy she had been with us.

"Why, I was at home," she said, her surprise not yet outworn. "_J'étais
chez moi, et j'étais si tranquille._ I went. I came. _Monsieur_ entered.
He called me. '_Louise._'--'_Oui, Monsieur._'--'_Voulez-vous faire ceci
ou cela?_'--'_Mais oui, Monsieur, de suite._' And I would do it and
_Monsieur_ would say, '_Merci, Louise_,' and he would go. And me, I
would run quick to the kitchen or upstairs to finish my work. _J'étais
si tranquille!_"

The simplicity of the memories she treasured made her story of them
pitiful as I listened. How little peace had fallen to her lot, that she
should prize the quiet and homeliness of her duties in our chambers!

At last it was time to go. She kissed me on both cheeks. She gave J. one
look, then she flung herself into his arms and kissed him too on both
cheeks. She almost strangled William Penn. She sobbed so, she couldn't
speak. She clutched and kissed us again. She ran out of the door and we
heard her sobbing down the three flights of stairs into the street. J.
hurried into his workroom. I went back to my desk. I don't think we
could have spoken either.

Two days afterwards, a letter from M. Auguste came to our chambers, so
empty and forlorn without Louise. They were in Paris. They had had a
dreadful crossing,--he hardly thought Louise would arrive at Boulogne
alive. She was better, but must rest a day or two before starting for
the _Midi_. She begged us to see that Mussy ate his meals _bien
régulièrement_, and that he "made the dead" from time to time, as she
had taught him; and, would we write? The address was Mr. Auguste,
Horse-Dealer, Hotel du Cheval Blanc, Rue Chat-qui-pèche-â-la-ligne,
Paris.

Horse-dealer! Louise might be at death's door, but M. Auguste had his
position to maintain. Then, after ten long days, came a post-card, also
from Paris: Louise was in Marseilles, he was on the point of going, once
there he would write. Then--nothing. Had he gone? Could he go?

If I were writing a romance it would, with dramatic fitness, end here.
But if I keep to facts, I must add that, in about eight months, Louise
and M. Auguste reappeared; that both were in the best of health and
spirits, M. Auguste a mass of jewelry; that all the sunshine of Provence
seemed let loose in the warmth of their greeting; that horse-dealing for
the moment prospered too splendidly for Louise to want to return to
us,--or was this a new invention, I have always wondered, because she
found in her place another Frenchwoman who wept at the prospect of being
dismissed to make room for her?

Well, anyway, for a while, things, according to Louise, continued to
prosper. She would pay me friendly visits and ask for sewing,--her
afternoons were so long,--and tell me of M. Auguste's success, and of
Provence, though there were the old reticences. By degrees, a shadow
fell over the gaiety. I fancied that "the comedy" was being played
faster than ever in the Soho lodgings. And, of a sudden, the fabric of
prosperity collapsed like a house of cards. She was ill again, and again
an operation was necessary. There was not a penny in her pockets nor in
M. Auguste's. What happened? Louise had only to smile, and we were her
slaves. But this time, for us at least, the end had really come. We
heard nothing more from either of them. No letters reached us from
Paris, no post-cards. Did she use the money to go back to Marseilles?
Did she ever leave London? Did M. Auguste's fate overtake him when they
crossed the Channel? Were the Soho lodgings the scene of some tremendous
_crime passionel_? For weeks I searched the police reports in my morning
paper. But neither then nor to this day have I had a trace of the woman
who, for over a year, gave to life in our chambers the comfort and the
charm of her presence. She vanished.

I am certain, though, that wherever she may be, she is mothering M.
Auguste, squandering upon him all the wealth of her industry, her
gaiety, her unselfishness. She couldn't help herself, she was made that
way. And the worst, the real tragedy of it, is that she would rather
endure every possible wrong with M. Auguste than, without him, enjoy all
the rights women not made that way would give her if they could. She has
convinced me of the truth I already more than suspected: it is upon the
M. Augustes of this world that the Woman Question will eventually be
wrecked.



_Our Charwomen_

[Illustration: "UP TO WESTMINSTER"]



IV

OUR CHARWOMAN


I took over the charwoman with our chambers, and a great piece of luck I
thought it; for charwomen never advertise, and are unheard of in
Registry Offices. It was certain I could not get into the chambers
without one, and at that early stage of my housekeeping in London I
should not have known where in the world to look for her.

Mrs. Maxfielde was the highly respectable name of the woman who had
"done" for the previous tenant, and had she heard of Mr. Shandy's theory
of names she could not have been more successful in adapting her person
and her manner to her own. She was well over sixty, and thin and gaunt
as if she had never had enough to eat; but age and hunger had not
lessened her hold upon the decencies of life. Worthiness oozed from her.
Victorian was stamped all over her,--it was in her black shawl and
bonnet, in the meekness of her pose, in the little curtsy she bobbed
when she spoke. I remember Harold Frederic seeing her once and, with the
intuition of the novelist, placing her: "Who is your old Queen
Victoria?" he asked. Her presence lost nothing when she took off her
shawl and bonnet. In the house and at work she wore a black dress and a
white apron, surprisingly clean considering the dirt she exposed it to,
and her grey hair was drawn tight back and rolled into a little hard
knob, the scant supply and "the parting all too wide" painfully exposed
to view. I longed for something to cover the old grey head that looked
so grandmotherly and out of keeping as it bent over scrubbing-brushes
and dustpans and the kitchen range, but it would have been against all
the conventions for a charwoman to appear in a servant's cap. There is a
rigid line in these English matters, and to attempt to step across is to
face the contempt of those who draw it. The British charwoman must go
capless, such is the unwritten law; also, she must remain "Miss" or
"Mrs.," though the Empire would totter were the British servant called
by anything but her name; and while the servant would "forget her place"
were she to know how to do any work outside her own, the charwoman is
expected to meet every emergency, and this was in days when housekeeping
for me was little more than a long succession of emergencies.

Mrs. Maxfielde was equal to all. She saw me triumphantly through one
domestic crisis after another. She was the most accomplished of her
accomplished class, and the most willing. She was never discouraged by
the magnitude of the tasks I set her, nor did she ever take advantage of
my dependence upon her. On the contrary, she let me take advantage of
her willingness. She cleaned up after the British Workman had been in
possession for a couple of months, and one of the few things the British
Workman can do successfully is to leave dirt to be cleaned up. She
helped me move in and settle down. She supported me through my trying
episode with 'Enrietter. And after 'Enrietter's disappearance she saved
me from domestic chaos, though the work and the hours involved would
have daunted a woman half her age and outraged every trade-union in the
country. She arrived at seven in the morning, and I quickly handed over
to her the key of the front door, that I might indulge in the extra hour
of sleep of which she was so much more in need; she stayed until eight
in the evening, or, at my request, until nine or later; and in between
she "did" for me in the fullest sense of that expressive word. There
were times when it meant "doing" also for my friends whom I was
inconsiderate enough to invite to come and see me in my domestic
upheaval, putting their friendship to the test still further by inducing
them to share the luncheons and dinners of Mrs. Maxfielde's cooking.
Many as were her good points, I cannot in conscience say that cooking
was among them. Hers might have been the vegetables of which Heine wrote
that they were brought to the table just as God made them, hers the
gravies against which he prayed Heaven to keep every Christian. But I
thought it much to be thankful for that she could cook at all when, to
judge from the amount she ate, she could have had so little practice in
cooking for herself. She did not need to go through any "fast cure,"
having done nothing but fast all her life. She had got out of the way of
eating and into the way of starving; the choicest dish would not have
tempted her. The one thing she showed the least appetite for was her
"'arf pint" at noon, and that she would not do without though she had to
fetch it from the "public" round the corner. I cannot say with greater
truth that Mrs. Maxfielde's talent lay in waiting, but she never allowed
anything or anybody to hurry her, and she was noiseless in her
movements, both excellent things in a waitress. I cannot even say that
in her own line of scrubbing she was above suspicion, but she handled
her brushes and brooms and dusters with a calm and dignity which, in my
troubles, I found very soothing. Her repose may have been less a virtue
than the result of want of proper food, but in any case it was a great
help in the midst of the confusion she was called to struggle with.
There was only one drawback. It had a way of deserting her just when I
was most in need of it.

We are all human, and Mrs. Maxfielde was not without her weakness: she
was afflicted with nerves. In looking back I can see how in character
her sensibility was. It belonged to the old shawl and the demure bonnet,
to the meekness of pose, to the bobbing of curtsies,--it was Victorian.
But at the time I was more struck by its inconvenience. A late milkman
or a faithless butcher would bring her to the verge of collapse. She
would jump at the over-boiling of the kettle. Her hand went to her heart
on the slightest provocation, and stayed there with a persistency that
made me suspect her of seeking her dissipation in disaster. On the
morning after our fire, though she had been at home in her own bed
through all the danger of it, she was in such a flutter that I should
have had to revive her with salts had not a dozen firemen, policemen,
and salvage men been waiting for her to refresh them with tea. It was
only when one of the firemen took the kettle from her helpless hand,
saying he was a family man himself, and when I stood sternly over her
that, like an elderly Charlotte, she fell to cutting bread and butter,
and regained the calm and dignity becoming to her. But I never saw her
so agitated as the day she met a rat in the cellar. I had supposed it
was only in comic papers and old-fashioned novels that a rat or a mouse
could drive a sensible woman into hysterics. But Mrs. Maxfielde showed
me my mistake. From that innocent encounter in the cellar she bounded up
the four flights of stairs, burst into my room, and, breathless, livid,
both hands on her heart, sank into a chair: a liberty which at any other
time she would have regarded as a breach of all the proprieties. "Oh,
mum!" she gasped, "in the cellar!--a rat!" And she was not herself again
until the next morning.

After her day's work and her excitement in the course of it, it seemed
as if Mrs. Maxfielde could have neither time nor energy for a life of
her own outside our chambers. But she had, and a very full life it was,
and with the details as she confided them to me, I got to know a great
deal about "how the poor live," which I should have preferred to learn
from a novel or a Blue Book. She had a husband, much older, who had
been paralyzed for years. Before she came to me in the morning she had
to get him up for the day, give him his breakfast, and leave everything
in order for him, and as she lived half an hour's walk from our chambers
and never failed to reach them by seven, there was no need to ask how
early she had to get herself up. For a few pence a friendly neighbour
looked in and attended to him during the day. After Mrs. Maxfielde left
me, at eight or nine or ten in the evening, and after her half hour's
walk back, she had to prepare his supper and put him to bed; and again I
did not have to ask how late she put her own weary self there too. Old
age was once said to begin at forty-six; we are more strenuous now; but
according to the kindest computations, it had well overtaken her. And
yet she was working harder than she probably ever had in her youth, with
less rest and with the pleasing certainty that she would go on working
day in and day out and never succeed in securing the mere necessities of
life. She might have all the virtues, sobriety, industry, economy,--and
she had,--and the best she could hope was just to keep soul and body
together for her husband and herself, and a little corner they could
call their own. She did not tell me how the husband earned a living
before paralysis kept him from earning anything at all, but he too must
have been worthy of his name, for now he was helpless, the parish
allowed him "outdoor relief" to the extent of three shillings and
sixpence, or about eighty cents a week; it was before old-age pensions
had been invented by a vote-touting Government. This munificent sum,
paid for a room somewhere in a "Building," one of those gloomy barracks
with the outside iron stairway in common, where clothes are forever
drying in the thick, soot-laden London air, and children are forever
howling and shrieking. For everything else Mrs. Maxfielde had to
provide. If she worked every day except Sunday, her earnings amounted to
fifteen shillings, or a little less than four dollars, a week. But there
were weeks when she could obtain only one day's work, weeks when she
could obtain none, and she and her husband had still to live, had still
to eat something, well as they had trained themselves, as so many must,
in the habit of not eating enough. Here was an economic problem
calculated to bewilder more youthful and brilliant brains than hers. But
she never complained, she never grumbled, she never got discouraged. She
might fly before a rat, but in the face of the hopeless horrors of life
she retained her beautiful placidity, though I, when I realized the full
weight of the burden she had to bear, began to wonder less how, than
why, the poor live.

Mrs. Maxfielde came in the early spring. By the time winter, with its
fogs, set in, age had so far overtaken her that she could not manage to
attend to her husband and his wants and then drag her old body to our
chambers by seven o'clock in the morning. It was she who gave notice; I
never should have had the courage. We parted friends, and she was so
amiable as not to deprive me of her problems with her services. When she
could not work for me, she visited me, making it her rule to call on
Monday afternoon; a rule she observed with such regularity that I
fancied Monday must be her day for collecting the husband's income from
the parish and her own from private sources. She rarely allowed a week
to pass without presenting herself, always appearing in the same
Victorian costume and carrying off the interview with the same Victorian
manner. She never stooped to beg, but her hand was ready for the coin
which I slipped into it with the embarrassment of the giver, but which
she received with enviable calmness and a little curtsy. The hour of her
visit was so timed that, when her talk with me was over, she could
adjourn to the kitchen for dinner and, under Augustine's rule, a glass
of wine, which, though beer would have been more to her taste, she drank
as a concession to the poor foreigner who did not know any better.

Before a second winter had passed, Mrs. Maxfielde was forced to admit
that she was too old for anybody to want her, or to accept a post if
anybody did. But, all the same, the paralytic clung to his shadow of
life with the obstinate tenacity of the human derelict, and she clung to
her idea of home, and they starved on in the room the parish paid for
until it was a positive relief to me when, after more years of
starvation than I cared to count, she came to announce his death. It was
no relief to her. She was full of grief, and permitted nothing to
distract her from the luxury she made of it. The coin which passed from
my hand to hers on the occasion of this visit, doubled in token of
condolence, was invested in an elaborate crape bonnet, and she left it
to me to worry about her future. I might have afforded to accept her
trust with a greater show of enthusiasm, for, at once and with
unlooked-for intelligence, the parish decided to allow her the same
weekly sum her husband had received, and Mrs. Maxfielde, endowed with
this large and princely income, became a parent so worthy of filial
devotion that a daughter I had never heard of materialized, and
expressed a desire to share her home with her mother.

The daughter was married, her husband was an unskilled labourer, and
they had a large and increasing family. It is likely that Mrs. Maxfielde
paid in more than money for the shelter, and that her own
flesh-and-blood was less chary than strangers would have been in
employing her services, and less mindful of the now more than seventy
years she had toiled to live. Perhaps her visits at this period were a
little more frequent, perhaps her dinners were eaten and her wine drunk
with a little more eagerness. But she refrained from any pose, she
indulged in no heroics, she entertained me with no whinings, no railings
against the ingratitude sharper than a serpent's tooth. However she got
her ease, it was not in weeping, and what she had to bear from her
daughter she bore in silence. Her Victorian sense of propriety would
have been offended by a display of feeling. She became so pitiful a
figure that I shrank from her visits. But she was content, she found no
fault with life, and wealth being a matter of comparison, I am sure she
was, in her turn, moved to pity for the more unfortunate who had not
kept themselves out of the workhouse. Had she had her way, she would
have been willing to slave indefinitely for her daughter and her
daughter's children. But Death was wiser and brought her the rest she
deserved so well and so little craved.

A couple of years or so after the loss of her husband, and after she had
failed to appear, much to my surprise, on three or four Mondays in
succession, a letter came from her daughter to tell me that never again
would Monday bring Mrs. Maxfielde to my chambers. There had been no
special illness. She had just worn out, that was all. Her time had come
after long and cruel days of toil and her passing was unnoted, for hers
was a place easily filled,--that was the grisly thing about it. J. and I
sent a wreath of flowers for the funeral, knowing that she would have
welcomed it as propriety's crown of propriety, and it was my last
communication with the Maxfielde family. I had never met the daughter,
and I was the more reluctant to go abroad in search of objects of
charity because they had such an inconsiderate way of seeking me out in
my own kitchen. I was already "suited" with another old woman in Mrs.
Maxfielde's place. I was already visited by one or two others. In fact,
I was so surrounded by old women that Augustine, when she first came to
the rescue, used to laugh with the insolence of youth at _les vieilles
femmes de Madame_.

My new old woman was Mrs. Burden. Had I hunted all London over, I could
not have found a more complete contrast to Mrs. Maxfielde. She was
Irish, with no respect for Victorian proprieties, but as disreputable
looking an old charwoman as you would care to see; large and floppy in
figure, elephantine in movement, her face rough and dug deep by the
trenches of more than fifty winters, her hair frowzy, her dress ragged,
with the bodice always open at the neck and the sleeves always rolled up
above the elbows, her apron an old calico rag, and her person and her
clothes profusely sprinkled with snuff. In the street she wrapped
herself in a horrible grey blanket-shawl, and on top of her disorderly
old head set a little battered bonnet with two wisps of strings dangling
about. When I knew her better I discovered that she owned a black shawl
with fringe, and a bonnet that could tie under the chin, and in these
made a very fine appearance. But they were reserved for such ceremonial
occasions as Mass on Sunday or the funeral of a friend, and at other
times she kept to the costume that so shamefully maligned her. For, if
she looked like one of the terrible harpies who hang about the public
house in every London slum, she was really the most sober creature in
the world and never touched a drop, Mr. Burden, who drank himself into
an early grave, having drunk enough for two.

I cannot remember now where Mrs. Burden came from, or why, when I had
seen her once, I ever consented to see her again. But she quickly grew
into a fixture in our chambers, and it was some eight or nine years
before I was rid of her. In the beginning she was engaged for three
mornings, later on for every morning, in the week. Her hours were from
seven to twelve, during which time my chief object was to keep her
safely shut up in the kitchen, for no degree of pretending on my part
could make me believe in her as an ornament or a credit to our house. It
mortified me to have her show her snuffy old face at the front door, and
I should never have dared to send her on the many messages she ran for
me had she not been known to everybody in the Quarter; but once Mrs.
Burden was known it was all right, for she was as good as she was sober.
Hers, however, was the goodness of the man in the Italian proverb who
was so good that he was good for nothing. She was willing to do
anything, but there was nothing she could do well, and most things she
could not do at all. She made no pretence to cook, and if she had I
could not have eaten anything of her cooking, for I knew snuff must
flavour everything she touched. To have seen her big person and frowzy
head in the dining-room would have been fatal to appetite had I ever had
the folly, under any circumstances, to ask her to wait. Nor did she
excel in scrubbing and dusting. She was successful chiefly in leaving
things dirtier than she found them, and Augustine, whose ideal is high
in these matters, insisted that Mrs. Burden spent the morning making the
dirt she had to spend the afternoon cleaning up. There were times when
they almost came to blows, for the temper of both was hot, and more than
once I heard Mrs. Burden threaten to call in the police. But the old
woman had her uses. She was honesty itself, and could be trusted with no
matter what,--from the key of our chambers, when they were left empty,
to the care of William Penn, when no other companion could be secured
for him; she could be relied upon to pay bills, post letters, fetch
parcels; and she was as punctual as Big Ben at Westminster. I do not
think she missed a day in all the years she was with me. I became
accustomed, too, to seeing her about, and there was the dread--or
conviction would be nearer the truth--that if I let her go nobody else
in their senses would take her in.

Mrs. Burden did not improve with time. She never condescended to borrow
qualities that did not belong to her. She grew more unwieldy and larger
and floppier, a misfortune she attributed to some mysterious malady
which she never named, but gloated over with the pride the poor have in
their diseases. And she grew dirtier and more disorderly, continuing to
scorn my objection to her opening the front door with the shoe she was
blacking still on her hand, or to her bringing me a letter wrapped in
an apron grimier than her grimy fingers. Nothing would induce her not to
call me "Missis," which displeased me more, if for other reasons, than
the "Master" she as invariably bestowed upon J. She bobbed no curtsies.
When, on Saturdays, coins passed from my hand to hers, she spat on them
before she put them in her pocket, to what purpose I have not to this
day divined. Her best friend could not have accused her of any charm of
manner, but, being Irish, she escaped the vulgarity bred in the London
slums. In fact, I often fancied I caught gleams of what has been called
the Celtic Temperament shining through her. She had the warmth of
devotion, the exaggeration of loyalty, the power of idealizing, peculiar
to her race. She was almost lyrical in her praise of J., who stood
highest in her esteem, and "Master good! Master good!" was her constant
refrain when she conversed with Augustine in the language fitted for
children and rich in gesture, which was her well-meant substitute for
French. She saw him glorified, as the poets of her country see their
heroes, and in her eyes he loomed a splendid Rothschild. "Master, plenty
money, plenty money!" she would assure Augustine, and, holding up her
apron by the two corners, and well out from her so as to represent a
capacious bag, add, "apron full, full, full!"

She had also the Celtic lavishness of hospitality. I remember Whistler's
delight one morning when, after an absence from London, he received at
our front door a welcome from Mrs. Burden, whom he had never seen before
and now saw at her grimiest: "Shure, Mr. Whistler, sir, an it's quite a
stranger ye are. It's glad I am to see ye back, sir, and looking so
well!" Her hospitality was extended to her own friends when she had the
chance. She who drank nothing could not allow Mr. Pooley, the sweep, who
was her neighbour and cleaned our chimneys, to leave our chambers after
his professional services without a drop of whiskey to hearten him on
his sooty way. And, though you would still less have suspected it,
romance had kept its bloom fresh in her heart. The summer the Duke of
York was married I could not understand her interest in the wedding, as
until then she had not specially concerned herself with the affairs of
royalty. But on the wedding-day this interest reached a point when she
had to share it with somebody. "Shure, Missis, and I knows how it is
meself. Wasn't I after marrying Burden's brother and he older than
Burden, and didn't he go and die, God bless him! and leave me to Burden.
And shure thin it's me that knows how the poor Princess May, Lord love
her! is feeling this blessed day!"

Not only the memory, but her pride in it, had survived the years which
never brought romance to her again. The one decent thing Burden did was
to die and rid the world of him before Mrs. Burden had presented him and
society with more than one child, a boy. He was a good son, she said,
which meant that he spent his boyhood picking up odd jobs and, with
them, odd pence to help his mother along, so that at the age when he
should have been able to do something, he knew how to do nothing, and
had not even the physical strength to fit him for the more profitable
kinds of unskilled labour. He thought himself lucky when, in his
twentieth year, he fell into a place as "washer-up" in a cheap
restaurant which paid eighteen shillings a week; and he was so dazzled
by his wealth that he promptly married. His wife's story is short: she
drank. Mercifully, like Burden, she did the one thing she could do with
all her might and drank herself to death with commendable swiftness,
leaving no children to carry on the family tradition. Mrs. Burden was
once more alone with her son. Between them they earned twenty-eight
shillings a week and felt themselves millionaires. Augustine, for some
reason, went at this period once or twice to her room, over the dingy
shop of a cheap undertaker, and reported it fairly clean and provided
with so much comfort as is represented by blankets on the bed and a
kettle on the hob. But after a bit the son died, the cause, as far as I
could make out, a drunken father and years of semi-starvation; and Mrs.
Burden had to face, as cheerfully as she could, an old age to be lived
out in loneliness and in the vain endeavour to make both ends meet on
eight shillings a week, or less if she lost her job with me.

She did lose it, poor soul. But what could I do? She really got to be
intolerably dirty. Not that I blamed her. I probably should have been
much dirtier under the same circumstances. But a time came when it
seemed as if we must give up either Mrs. Burden or our chambers, and to
give our chambers up when we had not the least desire to, would have
been a desperate remedy. She had one other piece of regular work; when I
spoke to her about going, she assured me that her neighbours had been
waiting for years to get her to do their washing, and she would be glad
to oblige them; and, on my pressing invitation, she promised to run in
and see me often. At this new stage in our relations she showed a rare
delicacy of feeling. Mrs. Maxfielde, no longer in my service, was eager
to pay me visits, and her hand, if not held out to beg, was open to
receive. Mrs. Burden did not keep her promise to come, she gave me no
opportunity to know whether her hand was open in need or shut on plenty.
She was of the kind that would rather starve than publish their
destitution. I might have preserved an easy conscience in her regard but
for Mr. Pooley, the sweep. The first time he returned in his
professional capacity after her departure and found himself deprived of
the usual refreshment, he was indignant, and, in consequence, he was
very gruff and short with me when I inquired after Mrs. Burden. She
hadn't any work, not she, and he supposed, he did, that she might starve
for all some people cared.

I could scarcely ignore so broad a hint, and I had her round that same
morning, for her slum was close by. I learned from her that Mr. Pooley,
if gruff, was truthful. She had no work, had not had any for weeks. She
was in arrears to her landlord, her shawl with the fringe and her
blankets were in pawn, she hadn't a farthing in her pocket. J., to whom
I refer all such matters, and who was in her debt for the splendour of
wealth with which she had endowed him, said "it was all nonsense,"--by
"it" I suppose he meant this sorry scheme of things,--and he would not
let her go without the money to pay her landlord, not only for arrears,
but in advance, and also to redeem her possessions. I do not think she
was the less grateful if, instead of bobbing humbly, she spat upon the
coins before her first "Shure and may God bless ye, Master." Nor was J.
comfortable until provisions had followed her in such quantities that he
would not have to be bothered by the thought of her starving to death,
at any rate for some days. Even after that, she scrupulously kept away.
Not Christmas, that in London brings everybody with or without excuse
begging at one's door, could induce her to present herself. It was we
who had to send for her, and, in a land where begging comes so easily,
we respected her for her independence.

I doubt if she ever got more work to do. She never received outdoor
relief, according to her because of some misunderstanding between the
parish church and hers, for, being Irish, she was a devout Roman
Catholic. I do not know how she lived, though perhaps they could have
told me in her slum, nobody, they say, being as good to the poor as the
poor themselves. But it was part of her delicacy to take herself off
our hands and conscience within less than a year of her leaving us, and
to die in her room peacefully of pneumonia, when she might have made us
uncomfortable by dying of starvation, or lingering on in the workhouse.
Mr. Pooley, the sweep, brought this news too. She was buried decent, he
volunteered; she had taken care of that, though as poor as you want to
see. A good old woman, he added, and it was all the obituary she had. He
was right. She was of the best, but then she was only one "of the
millions of bubbles" poured into existence to-day to vanish out of it
to-morrow, of whom the world is too busy to keep count.

After Mrs. Burden, I went to the _Quartier_--the French Quarter in
Soho--for a charwoman. Had I been tempted, as I never was, to believe in
the _entente cordiale_, of which England was just then beginning to make
great capital, affairs in my own kitchen would have convinced me of the
folly of it. Things there had come to a pass when any pretence of
cordiality, except the cordial dislike which France and England have
always cherished for each other and always will, had been given up, and
if I hoped to escape threats of police and perpetual squabbles on the
subject of cleanliness, there was nothing for it but to adopt a
single-race policy. When it came to deciding which that race should be,
I did not hesitate, having found out for myself that the French are as
clean as the English believe themselves to be. The _Quartier_ could not
be more French if it were in the heart of France. There is nothing
French that is not to be had in it, from snails and _boudin_ to the
_Petit Journal_ and the latest thing in _apéritifs_. The one language
heard is French, when it is not Italian, and the people met there have
an animation that is not a characteristic of Kensington or Bayswater.
The only trouble is that if the snails are of the freshest and the
_apéritifs_ bear the best mark, the quality of the people imported into
the _Quartier_ is more doubtful. Many have left their country for their
country's good. When I made my mission known, caution was recommended to
me by _Madame_ who presides _chez le patissier_, and _Monsieur le Gros_,
as he is familiarly known, who provides me with groceries, and M.
Edmond from whom I buy my vegetables and salads at the _Quatre Saisons_.
England, in the mistaken name of liberty, then opened her door to the
riff-raff of all nations, and French prisons were the emptier for the
indiscriminate hospitality of Soho, or so I was assured by the decent
French who feel the dishonour the _Quartier_ is to France.

Caution served me well in the first instance, for I began my experience
in French charwomen with Marie, a little Bretonne, young, cheerful, and
if, like a true Bretonne, not over clean by nature, so willing to be
bullied into it that she got to scrub floors and polish brasses as if
she liked it. She never sulked, never minded a scolding from Augustine
who scolds us all when we need it, did not care how long she stayed over
time, had a laugh that put one in good humour to hear it, and such a
healthy appetite that she doubled my weekly bill at the baker's. Even
Augustine found no fault. But one fault there was. She was married. In
the course of time a small son arrived who made her laugh more gaily
than ever, though he added a third to the family of a not too brilliant
young man with an income of a pound a week, and I was again without a
charwoman.

Marie helped me to forget caution, and I put down the stories heard in
the _Quartier_ to libel. But I had my awakening. She was succeeded by
another Bretonne, a wild, frightened-looking creature, who, on her
second day with me, when I went into the kitchen to speak to her, sat
down abruptly in the fireplace, the fire by good luck still unlit, and I
did not have to ask an explanation, for it was given me by the empty
bottle on the dresser. Her dull, sottish face haunted me for days
afterwards, and I was oppressed, as I am sure she never was, by the
thought of the blundering fate that had driven her from the windswept
shores of her own Brittany to the foul slums of London.

But I could not take over the mysteries and miseries of Soho with its
charwomen; it was about as much as I could do to keep up with the
procession that followed her. There was no variety of _femme de ménage_
in the _Quartier_ that I did not sample, nor one who was not the heroine
of a tragedy or romance, too often not in retrospection or
anticipation, but at its most psychological moment. I remember another
Marie, good-looking, but undeniably elderly, whose thoughts were never
with the floor she was scrubbing or the range she was black-leading,
because they were absorbed in the impecunious youth, half her age, with
whom she had fallen in love in the fashion of to-day, and for whom she
had given up a life of comparative ease with her husband, a well-paid
_chef_. I remember a Marthe, old and withered, whose tales of want were
so heartrending that Augustine lavished upon her all the old clothes of
the establishment and all the "cold pieces" in the kitchen, but who, we
learned afterwards, had a neat little bank-account at the _Crédit
Lyonnais_ and a stocking stuffed to overflowing in the bare garret where
she shivered and starved. I remember a trim Julie, whose debts left
behind in France kept her nose to the grindstone, but who found it some
compensation to work for J.: she felt a peculiar sympathy for all
artists, she said, for the good reason, which seemed to us a trifle
remote, that her husband's mother had been foster-mother to _le grand
maître, M. Detaille_. And there was a Blanche, abandoned by her husband,
and left with three small children to feed, clothe, and bring up
somehow. And there were I have forgotten how many more, each with a
story tragic or pitiful, until it came to Clémentine, and her story was
so sordid that when I parted with her I shook the dust of Soho from off
my feet, and imported from the Pas-de-Calais a little girl whose
adventures I hoped were still in the future which, if I could manage it,
would be postponed indefinitely. It may be true that every woman has one
good novel in her life, but I did not see why I should keep on engaging
charwomen to prove it.



_Clémentine_

[Illustration: "WHEN THERE IS A SUN ON A WINTER MORNING"]



V

CLÉMENTINE


She drifted in from the _Quartier_, but the slovenliness and shabby
finery of her dress made it hard to believe she was French. It was
harder to believe she was grown up when she began to talk, for her voice
was that of a child, a high shrill treble, with a babyish lisp, losing
itself in giggles. And she was so short, so small, that she might easily
have passed herself off as a little girl, but for the marks experience
had left upon her face. I suppose she was not much under thirty when she
first came to me.

How cruel this experience had been she took immediate care to explain.
With her first few words she confided to me that she was hungry, and, in
my embarrassment on hearing it, I engaged her before it occurred to me
to ask for references. Hunger does not exactly qualify a woman, however
willing, for the rough work that must be done in a house, and that it
is so surprising anybody ever should be willing to do. I engaged her to
scrub the floors, black the shoes, clean the fireplaces, polish the
brasses,--to pass every morning, except Sunday, from seven to two, in
fighting the London dirt for me, and struggling through all those
disagreeable and tiresome tasks that not any amount of money would
induce me to struggle through for myself.

As her duties were of a kind usually kept in the domestic background,
and as she brought to them an energy her hunger had not prepared me for,
an occasional _bon jour_ when we met might have been the extent of my
personal relations with her, had it not been for my foolish anxiety as
to the state of her appetite. I had kept house long enough to understand
the mistake of meddling with the affairs of my servants, but Clémentine,
with her absurd little voice and giggle, seemed much less a servant than
a child making believe to be one. Besides, I found that, though I can
hear of unknown thousands starving in London without feeling called upon
to interfere, it is another matter to come face to face with a hungry
individual under my own roof.

Augustine, who was then, as she is now, the prop and mainstay of our
life, reassured me; Clémentine, it seemed, from the moment of her
arrival, had been eating as voraciously as if she were bent not only on
satisfying the present, but on making up for the past and providing
against the future. She could not pass the interval between eight
o'clock coffee and the noonday lunch without _un petit goûter_ to
sustain her. At all hours she kept munching bits of crust, and after the
heartiest meal she would fall, famished, upon our plates as they came
from the dining-room, devouring any odd scraps left on them, feasting on
cheese-rinds and apple-parings, or, though I regret to have to record
it, licking up the gravy and grease, if there was nothing better.
Indeed, her condition was one of such chronic hunger that Augustine grew
alarmed and thought a doctor should be consulted. I put it down to the
long succession of her lean years, and before the facts convinced me
that Clémentine was "all stomach and no soul," her appetite was a great
deal on my mind, and made me far more preoccupied with her than was
wise.

My inquiries into the state of Clémentine's appetite were the reason for
many conversations. I have no doubt that at first I encouraged her
confidence, so unfailing was my delight in the lisping prattle,
interrupted by giggles, with which they were made. Even J., who as a
rule is glad to leave all domestic matters to me, would stop and speak
to her for the sake of hearing her talk. And she was a child in so many
other ways. She had the vanity as well as the voice of a little girl.
She was pretty after a fashion, but it always amazed me that anybody who
was so hungry could be so vain. When I am hungry I am too demoralized to
care how I look. But Clémentine's respect for her appearance was, if
anything, stronger than her craving for food. She would have gone
without a meal rather than have appeared out of the fashion set by her
London slum. Her hair might be half combed,--that was a question of
personal taste,--but she could not show herself abroad unless it was
brought down over her forehead in the low wave required by the mode of
the moment, and hidden at the back under a flat, overgrown jockey-cap
fastened on with long pins. Her skirt might be--or rather was--frayed at
the bottom, and her jacket worn to shreds, but she could never neglect
to tie round her neck a bit of white tulle or ribbon, however soiled or
faded. Nor could she be persuaded to run the shortest errand before this
tulle or ribbon, taken off for work, had been tied on again, the low
wave of hair patted well in place, and the jockey-cap stuck at the
correct angle.

It was useless to try and hurry her. She did not care how urgent the
errand was to us, her concern was entirely for what people in the street
might think of her if any one detail of her toilet was neglected.
Augustine, who for herself was disdainful of the opinion of _ces sales
Anglais_ and ran her errands _en cheveux_ as if she were still in
France, would scold and thunder and represent to Clémentine that people
in the street had something better to do than to think of her at all.
When Augustine scolds, I am always, to be honest, a little afraid. But
Clémentine would listen giggling, and refuse to budge an inch until the
last touch had been given to her hair and to her dress. After working
time she could not start for home until she had spent half an hour and
more before the glass in the kitchen arranging her rags. In her own
country her vanity would have been satisfied only by the extreme
neatness and simplicity of her dress. In England she had borrowed the
untidiness and tawdriness that degrade the English poor. But if the
educated French, who ought to know that they are the most civilized
people in the world, grow more English than the English when they become
Anglicized at all, I could scarcely blame Clémentine for her weakness.

To one form of her untidiness, however, I objected though, had I known
what was to come of my objection, I would have borne with worse in
silence. She never wore an apron, and, in her stained and tattered
dress, her appearance was disreputable even for a charwoman. She might
be as slovenly as she chose in the street, that was her affair; but it
was mine once she carried her slovenliness inside my four walls,
especially as in chambers servants at work are more apt to be stumbled
across than in a house, and as it was her duty at times to open the
front door. I spoke to her on the subject, suggesting the value of
aprons, if only as defences. The words were scarcely out of my mouth
than I would have given worlds to take them back again. For when
Clémentine began to talk the difficulty was to stop her, and long before
she finished explaining why she wore no aprons, I had learned a great
deal more about her than I bargained for: among other things, that her
previous places had been chiefly _chez les femmes_; that she wanted to
give up working for them; that, after leaving her last place, she could
get nothing to do in any _maison bourgeoise_; that she had no money and
was very hungry,--what Clémentine's hunger meant she did not have to
tell me; that her little Ernest was also hungry, and also _la vieille
grandmère_; that her little Ernest was her son,--"_Oui, Madame, je
serais franche, j'ai un fils mais pas un mari_"; that _la vieille
grandmère_ was an old woman she had taken in, partly to look after him,
partly out of sheer shiftlessness; that they could not starve; and
that--well--all her aprons were _au clou_.

This sudden introduction of her little Ernest was a trifle
disconcerting, but it was none of my business how many people depended
on Clémentine, nor how many of her belongings were in pawn. I had vowed
never again to give sympathy, much less help, to anybody who worked for
me, since I knew to my cost the domestic disaster to which benevolence
of this sort may lead. I gave her advice instead. I recommended greater
thrift, and insisted that she must save from her wages enough to get her
aprons out of pawn immediately, though I left it to a more accomplished
political economist than I to show how, with three to provide for, she
could save out of what barely provided for one. However, she agreed. She
said, "_Oui, Madame, Madame a raison_"; and for the next week or two I
did my best to shut my eyes to the fact that she still went apronless.

At this juncture, her little Ernest fell ill; now that I had heard of
him, he took good care that I should not forget him. For three days
there was no sign of Clémentine; I had no word from her. At the end of
the first day, I imagined a horrid tragedy of starvation; by the second,
I was reproaching myself as an accessory; by the evening of the third, I
could stand it no longer, and Augustine was despatched to find out what
was wrong. The child's illness was not very serious, but, incidentally,
Augustine found out a good deal besides. Clémentine's room, in an
unlovely Workmen's Building, was unexpectedly clean, but to keep it
clean was the easier because it was so bare. Her bed, which she shared
with her little Ernest, was a mattress on the floor in one corner, with
not a sheet or a blanket to cover it; _la vieille grandmère_ slept in a
nest of newspapers in another corner, with a roll of rags for a pillow.
Bedsteads, sheets, covers, had gone the way of the aprons,--they, too,
were _au clou_. The thrift I had advised scarcely met so acute a case of
poverty. I was not at all anxious to burden myself with Clémentine's
destitution in addition to her hunger, and to get it out of my mind, I
tried, with my usual generosity, to hand over the difficulty to J. I
cannot say that he accepted it as unconditionally as I could have
wished, for if he was positive that something must be done at once, he
had as little doubt that it was for me to discover the way of doing it.

What I did was simple, though I dare say contrary to every scientific
principle of charity. I told her to bring me her pawn-tickets and I
would go over them with her. She brought them, a pocketful, the next
day, throwing them down on the table before me and sorting them as if
for a game of cards, with many giggles, and occasional cries of
"_Tiens!_ this is my old blue apron"; or, "_Mon Dieu!_ this is my nice
warm grey blanket." Her delight could not have been greater had it been
the apron or the blanket itself. All told, her debts amounted to no very
ruinous sum, and I arranged to pay them off and give her a fresh start
if, on her side, she was prepared to work harder and practise stricter
economy. I pointed out that as I did not need her in the afternoon, she
had a half day to dispose of, and that she should hunt for something to
fill it. She promised everything I asked, and more, and I hoped that
this was the last of my sharing her burdens.

It might have been, but for her little Ernest. I do believe that child
was born for no other end than my special annoyance. His illness was
only the beginning. When he was well, she brought him to see me one
afternoon, nominally that he might thank me, but really, I fear, in hope
of an extra sixpence or shilling. He was five years old and fairly large
and well developed for his age, but there could never have been, there
never could be, a less attractive child. His face had none of the
prettiness of his mother's, though all the shrewdness: in knowledge of
the gutter he looked fifty. Then and afterwards, ashamed as I was of it,
I instinctively shrank from him. Anywhere, except in the comic ballad, a
"horribly fast little cad" of a baby is as tragic a figure as I care to
encounter, and to me the little Ernest was all the more so because of
the repugnance with which he inspired me. Clémentine made a great
pretence of adoring him. She carried a sadly battered photograph of him
in her pocket, and would pull it out at intervals when anybody was
looking, and kiss it rapturously. Otherwise her admiration took the form
of submitting to his tyranny. She could do far less with him than he
with her, and _la vieille grandmère_ was as wax in his rough little
hands. His mornings, while his mother was at work, were spent in the
grimy London courts and streets, where children swarm like vermin and
babies grow old in vice. In the afternoon, after she left our chambers,
he dragged her through the _Quartier_, from shop to shop, she with her
giggling "_Bon jour, M. Edmond_" or "_Comment ça va, Madame
Pierre_"--for though we live in London we are not of it, but of
France,--he with his hand held out for the cakes and oranges and pennies
he knew would drop into it: a pair of the most accomplished beggars in
London.

As time went on, and Clémentine did not find the extra work for her
afternoons that she had promised to find, I realized that she would keep
on wasting her free half day, and that he would go from bad to worse if
he were not got away from her and out of the streets. I should have
known better than to occupy myself with him, but his old shrewd face
haunted me until I remonstrated with Clémentine, and represented to her
the future she was preparing for him. If she could not take care of him,
she should send him to school where there were responsible people who
could. I suggested a charitable institution of some kind in France where
he would be brought up among her people. But this she fought against
with a determination I could not understand, until it came out that she
had profited by the English law which forces a father to contribute to
his illegitimate child's support, and from Ernest's she received weekly
three shillings and sixpence. She much preferred to risk her little
Ernest's morals than an income that came of itself, and she feared she
could no longer claim it if he were beyond the reach of the English
courts. She was as doubtful of the result if he were got into a charity
school in England, for if he cost her nothing the father might not be
compelled to pay. She could be obstinate on occasions, and I was in
despair. But by some fortunate chance, a convent at Hampstead was heard
of where the weekly charge would just be covered by the father's
allowance, and as Clémentine could find no argument against it, she had
to give in.

I breathed freely again, but I was not to be let off so easily. It was
simpler to get mixed up in Clémentine's affairs than to escape from
them. At the convent, the nuns had learned wisdom, and they demanded to
be paid weekly in advance. I must have waited until Judgment Day if I
had depended upon Clémentine to be in advance with anything, and in
self-defence I offered to pay the first month. But this settled, at once
there was another obstacle to dispose of. A trousseau was required with
the little Ernest, and he had no clothes except those on his back. I
provided the trousseau. Then the little Ernest rebelled and refused to
hear of school unless he was supplied with a top, a mechanical boat, a
balloon, and I scarcely remember what besides. I supplied them.
Clémentine, on her side, began to look harassed and careworn, and I
never ventured to ask what conditions he exacted of her, but it was a
relief to everybody when, after much shopping and innumerable coaxings
and bribes and scenes, at last she got her little Ernest off her hands.

But if he was off hers, she was more than ever on mine. He gave her a
perpetual subject of conversation. There were days when I seemed to hear
her prattling in the kitchen from the moment she came until the moment
she left, and to a good deal of her prattle I had to listen. She made it
her duty to report his progress to me, and the trouble was that she
could never get through without confiding far more about her own, in the
past as in the present. She might begin innocently with the fit of his
new clothes, but as likely as not she would end with revelations of
unspeakable horror. At least I could not find fault with Clémentine's
confidences for their mildness or monotony. In her high, shrill, lisping
treble, as if she were reciting a lesson, and with the air of a naughty
girl trying to keep back her giggles, she would tell me the most
appalling details of her life.

I had not dreamed that out of Zola or Defoe a woman could go through
such adventures, or that, if she could, it would be possible for her to
emerge a harmless charwoman doing the commonplace work of a household
which I flatter myself is respectable, for a few shillings a week. Of
poverty, of evil, of shame, of disgrace, there was nothing she had not
known; and yet as I saw her busy and happy over her scrubbing and
washing and polishing in our chambers, I could have believed she had
never done anything less guileless in all her thirty years. She had a
curiously impersonal way of relating these adventures, as if they were
no concern of hers whatever. The most dramatic situations seemed to have
touched her as little as the every-day events in her sordid struggle for
bread, though she was not without some pride in the variety of her
experience. When Augustine warned her that her idleness was preparing
for her a bed on the Embankment and daily food in a soup-kitchen, "_Eh
bien?_ why not?" she giggled; "I have been on the streets, I have been
in prison, I have been in the workhouse, I have seen everything--_j'ai
tout vu, moi!_ Why not that too?"

With her, there was no shrinking from the workhouse, as with the
respectable poor, "_Ce n'est pas fait pour les chiens_," she reasoned,
and looked upon it as an asylum held in reserve.

Her boast that she had seen everything was no exaggeration, her
everything meaning the hideous side of life which those who see only the
other try so hard to shut their eyes to. "What would you have?" she
asked me more than once, "I was a bastard and a foundling"; as if with
such a beginning, it would have been an inconsistency on her part to
turn out any better than she was. That she had started life as a little
lost package of humanity, left at the door of a house for _les enfants
trouvés_ not far from Boulogne, never caused her shame and regret. From
a visit paid by her mother to the Institution during her infancy, there
could remain no doubt of her illegitimacy, but it was a source of
pleasure to her, and also of much agreeable speculation.

"How can I be sure," she said to me, "that, though my mother was a cook,
my father might not have been a _préfet_, or even a prince?"

For practical purposes she knew no parents save the peasants who brought
her up. The State in France, thrifty as the people, makes the children
abandoned to it a source of profit to the hard-working poor. Clémentine
was put out to nurse. The one spark of genuine affection she ever showed
was for the woman to whose care she fell, and of whom she always spoke
as _ma mère_, with a tenderness very different from her giggling
adoration of the little Ernest. Incessant labour was the rule in _ma
mère's_ house, and food was not too abundant, but of what there was
Clémentine had her share, though I fancy the scarcity then was the
origin of the terrible hunger that consumed her throughout her life.
About this hunger her story revolved, so that, while she talked of the
past, I could seldom get far away from it. She recalled little else of
the places the Institution found for her as servant. The State in France
is as wise as it is thrifty, and does not demoralize its foundlings by
free gifts, but, when the time comes, makes them work, appropriating
their wages until it has been paid back the money they have cost it.

Clémentine went into service young. She also went into it hungry, and
life became a never-ending struggle for food. In one place she was
reduced to such straits that she devoured a dish of poisoned meat
prepared for the stray cats of the neighbourhood, and, though it brought
her almost to death's door, she could still recall it as a feast. In
another, a small country grocery store, she would steal down in the
night, trembling with fear, to hunt for bits of candy and crackers, and,
safe in bed again, would have to fight for them with the rats that
shared her garret. And her tale of this period grew more miserable and
squalid with every new stage, until she reached the dreadful climax
when, still a child herself, she brought a little girl into the world to
share her hunger. She had the courage to laugh when she told me of her
wandering, half-starved, back to _la bonne mère_, who took her in when
her time came, and kept the baby. She could laugh, too, when she
recalled the wrath of _M. le Directeur_ at the Institution, who sent for
her, and scolded her, giving her a few sharp raps with his cane.

If to Clémentine her tragedy was a laughing matter, it was not for me to
weep over it. But I was glad when she got through with this period and
came to the next, which had in it more of pure comedy than enlivened
most of her confidences. For once she was of age, and her debt to the
Institution settled in full, she was free not only to work for herself,
but to claim a percentage of the money she had been making during the
long years of apprenticeship; and this percentage amounting to five
hundred francs, and Clémentine never having seen so much money before,
her imagination was stirred by the vastness of her wealth, and she
insisted on being paid in five-franc pieces. She had to get a basket to
hold them all, and with it on her arm she started off in search of
adventure. This, I think, was the supreme moment in her life.

Her adventures began in the third-class carriage of a train for
Boulogne, which might seem a mild beginning to most people, but was full
of excitement for Clémentine. She dipped her hands into the silver, and
jingled it, and displayed it to everybody, with the vanity of a child
showing off its new frock. The only wonder was that any of the
five-franc pieces were still in the basket when she got to Boulogne.
There they drew to her a group of young men and women who were bound for
England to make their fortunes, and who persuaded her to join them. Her
head was not completely turned by her wealth, for she crossed with them
on the _bâteau aux lapins_, which she explained as the cheapest boat
upon which anything but beasts and vegetables could find passage. At
Folkestone, where they landed, she had no difficulty in getting a place
as scullery maid. But washing up was as dull in England as in France, a
poor resource for anybody with a basketful of five-franc pieces. One of
the young men who had crossed with her agreed that it was a waste of
time to work when there was money to spend, and they decided for a life
of leisure together. The question of marriage apparently did not enter
into the arrangement. They were content to remain _des unis_, in M.
Rod's phrase, and their union was celebrated by a few weeks of riotous
living. The chicken their own Henry IV wished for all his subjects
filled the daily pot, beer flowed like water, they could have paid for
cake had bread failed; for the first time in her life Clémentine forgot
what it was to be hungry.

It was delightful while it lasted, and I do not believe that she ever
regretted having had her fling when the chance came. But the basket grew
lighter and lighter, and all too soon barely enough five-franc pieces
were left in it to carry them up to London. There, naturally, they found
their way to the _Quartier_. The man picked up an odd job or two,
Clémentine scrubbed, washed, waited, did any and everything by which a
few pence could be earned. The pot was now empty, beer ceased to flow,
bread sometimes was beyond their means, and she was hungrier than ever.
In the course of the year her little Ernest was added to the family, and
there was no _bonne mère_ in London to relieve her of the new burden.
For a while Clémentine could not work; when she could, there was no work
to be had. Nor could the man get any more jobs, though I fancy his hunt
for them was not too strenuous. Life became a stern, bread-hunting sort
of business, and I think at moments Clémentine almost wished herself
back in the garret with the rats, or in the garden where dishes of
poisoned meat were sometimes to be stolen. The landlord threatened,
starvation stared them in the face. Hunger is ever the incentive to
enterprise, and Ernest's father turned Clémentine on the streets.

I must do her the justice to say that, of all her adventures, this was
the one least to her liking. That she had fallen so low did not shock
her; she looked upon it as part of the inevitable scheme of things: but
left to herself, she would have preferred another mode of earning her
living. After I had been told of this period of horrors, I could never
hear Clémentine's high, shrill treble and giggle without a shudder, for
they were then part of her stock-in-trade, and she went on the streets
in short skirts with her hair down her back. For months she wallowed in
the gutter, at the mercy of the lowest and the most degraded, insulted,
robbed, despised, and if she attempted to rebel, bullied back to her
shameful trade by a man who had no thought save for the few pitiful
pence she could bring to him out of it. The only part of the affair that
pleased her was the ending--in prison after a disgraceful street brawl.
She was really at heart an adventuress, and the opportunity to see for
the first time the inside of the _panier à salade_, as she called the
prison van, was welcomed by her in the light of a new and exciting
adventure. Then, in prison itself, the dress with the arrows could be
adjusted becomingly, warders and fellow prisoners could be made to laugh
by her antics, and if she could have wished for more to eat, it was a
great thing not to have to find the means to pay for what she got.

She was hardly out of prison when Ernest's father chanced upon a woman
who could provide for him more liberally, and Clémentine was again a
free agent. The streets knew her no more, though for an interval the
workhouse did. This was the crisis when, with the shrewdness acquired in
the London slums, she learned something of the English law to her own
advantage, and through the courts compelled the father to contribute to
the support of his son. The weekly three shillings and sixpence paid for
a room. For food she had to work. With prison behind her, she was afraid
to ask for a place in respectable houses, and I should not care to
record the sinks of iniquity and squalid dens where her shrill treble
and little girl's giggle were heard. Ernest was dumped down of a morning
upon any friendly neighbour who would keep an eye on him, until, somehow
or other, _la vieille grandmère_ appeared upon the scene and Clémentine
once more had two to feed and the daily problem of her own hunger to
face.

Her responsibilities never drove her to work harder than was absolutely
necessary. "We must all toil or steal," Carlyle says. But Clémentine
knew better. She could have suggested a third alternative, for she had
reduced begging to a fine art. Her scent was as keen for charitable
associations as a pig's for truffles, and she could tell to a minute the
appointed time of their alms-giving, and to a penny the value of their
alms. She would, no matter when, drop regular work at the risk of losing
it, to rush off after a possible charity. There was a _Société_--I never
knew it by any other name--that, while she was with me, drew her from my
kitchen floor or my luncheon dishes as surely as Thursday came round,
and the clock struck one. Why it existed she never made quite clear to
me,--I doubt if she had an idea why, herself. It was enough for her that
the poor French in London were under its special charge, and that, when
luck was with her, she might come away with a loaf of bread, or an order
for coals, or, if she played the beggar well, as much as a shilling.

She kept up a brisk correspondence with "_Madame la Baronne de
Rothschild_," whose sole mission in life she apparently believed was to
see her out of her difficulties. _La Baronne_, on one occasion, gave her
a sovereign, Heaven knows why, unless as a desperate measure to close
the correspondence; but a good part of it went in postage for letters
representing why the bestowal of sovereigns upon Clémentine should
become habitual. Stray agents, presumably from _la Baronne_, would pay
me mysterious visits, to ask if Clémentine were a deserving object of
benevolence, and I was exposed to repeated cross-examination in her
regard. She made a point of learning the hours when the _chefs_ left the
kitchens of the big hotels and restaurants near the _Quartier_, and
also of finding out who among them might be looked to for a few odd
pence for the sake of Ernest's father, at one time a washer of dishes,
or who, after a _coup de vin_ or an _absinthe_, grew generous with their
money. She had gauged the depth of every tender heart in the _Quartier_
and the possibility of scraps and broken meats at every shop and
eating-place. And no one understood better how to beg, how to turn on
the limelight and bring out in melodramatic relief the enormity of her
need and destitution. The lisping treble, the giggle, the tattered
clothes, _la vieille grandmère_, the desertion of the little Ernest's
father, the little Ernest himself, were so many valuable assets. Indeed,
she appreciated the value of the little Ernest so well that once she
would have had me multiply him by twelve when she asked me to vouch for
her poverty before some new society disposed to be friendly. If luck
went against her, and nothing came of her begging, she was not
discouraged. Begging was a game of chance with her,--her Monte Carlo or
Little Horses,--and she never murmured over her failures, but with her
faculty for making the best of all things, she got amusement out of
them as well as out of her successes.

In the face of these facts, I cannot deny that Clémentine's "character"
was not exactly the sort most people expect when they engage a servant.
But I would not turn adrift a mangy dog or a lost cat whom I had once
taken in. And she did her work very well, with a thoroughness the
English charwoman would have despised, never minding what that work was,
so long as she had plenty to eat and could prepare by an elaborate
toilet for every errand she ran. Her morals could do us small harm, and
for a while I was foolish enough to hope ours might do her some good. I
realize now that nothing could have improved Clémentine; she was not
made that way; but at the time she was too wholly unlike any woman I had
ever come in contact with, for me to see that the difference lay in her
having no morals to help. She was not immoral, but unmoral. Right and
wrong were without meaning for her. Her standards, if she could be said
to have any, were comfort and discomfort. Virtue and vice were the same
to her, so long as she was not unpleasantly interfered with. This was
the explanation of her past, as of her frankness in disclosing it, and
she was too much occupied in avoiding present pain to bother about the
future by cultivating economy, or ambition, or prudence. An animal would
take more thought for the morrow than Clémentine. Of all the people I
have ever come across, she had the most reason to be weary-laden, but
instead of "tears in her eyes," there was always a giggle on her lips.
"_La colère, c'est la folie_," she assured me, and it was a folly she
avoided with marked success. Perhaps she was wise, undoubtedly she was
the happier for it.

Unfortunately for me, I had not her callousness or philosophy,--I am not
yet quite sure which it was,--and if she would not think for herself, I
was the more disturbed by the necessity of thinking for her. It was an
absurd position. There I was, positively growing grey in my endeavours
to drag her up out of the abyss of poverty into which she had sunk, and
there she was, cheerful and happy, if she could only continue to enjoy
_la bonne cuisine de Madame_. I never knew her to make the slightest
attempt to profit by what I, or anyone else, would do for her. I
remember, when _Madame la Baronne_ sent her the sovereign, she stayed at
home a week, and then wrote to me as her excuse, "_J'ai été rentière
toute la semaine. Maintenant je n'ai plus un penny, il faut m'occuper du
travail._" I had not taken her things out of pawn before they were
pawned again, and the cast-off clothes she begged from me followed as
promptly. Her little Ernest, after all my trouble, stayed at the convent
six weeks,--the month I paid for and two weeks that Clémentine somehow
wheedled out of the sisters,--and then he was back as of old, picking up
his education in the London streets. I presented her once with a good
bed I had no more use for, and, to make space for it, she went into debt
and moved from her one room near Tottenham Court Road to two rooms and a
higher rent near the Lower Marsh, and was robbed on the way by the man
she hired to move her. When she broke anything, and she frequently did,
she was never perturbed: "_Madame est forte pour payer_," or "_l'argent
est fait pour rouler_," was her usual answer to my reproaches. To try
to show her the road to economy was to plunge her into fresh
extravagance.

Nor did I advance matters by talking to her seriously. I recall one
special effort to impress upon her the great misery she was preparing
for herself by her shiftlessness. I had given her a pair of shoes,
though I had vowed a hundred times to give her nothing more, and I used
the occasion for a lecture. She seemed eager to interrupt once or twice,
and I flattered myself my words were having their effect. And now what
had she to say? I asked when my eloquence was exhausted. She giggled:
"Would _Madame_ look at her feet in _Madame's_ shoes? _Jamais je ne me
suis vue si bien chaussée_," and she was going straight to the
_Quartier_ "_pour éblouir le monde_," she said. When Augustine took her
in hand, though Augustine's eloquence had a vigour mine could not boast
of, the result was, if anything, more discouraging. Clémentine, made
bold by custom, would turn a hand-spring or dance a jig, or go through
the other accomplishments she had picked up in the slums.

If I could discover any weak spot by which I could reach her, I used to
think something might be gained, and I lost much time in studying how to
work upon her emotions. But her emotions were as far to seek as her
morals. Even family ties, usually so strong in France, had no hold upon
her. If she adored her little Ernest, it was because he brought her in
three shillings and sixpence a week. There was no adoration for her
little girl who occasionally wrote from the Pas-de-Calais and asked her
for money. I saw one of the child's letters in which she implored
Clémentine to pay for a white veil and white shoes; she was going to
make her first communion, and the good adopted mother could pay for no
more than the gown. The First Communion is the greatest event in the
French child's life; there could be no deeper disgrace than not to be
dressed for it, and the appeal must have moved every mother who read it,
except Clémentine. To her it was comic, and she disposed of it with
giggles: "_C'est drôle quand même, d'avoir une fille de cet âge_," and
funnier that she could be expected to pay for anything for anybody.

But if her family awoke in her no sentiment, her "home" did, though it
was of the kind that Lamb would have classed with the "no homes." The
tenacity with which she clung to it was her nearest approach to strong
feeling. I suppose it was because she had so long climbed the stairs of
others that she took such complete satisfaction in the two shabby little
rooms to which she gave the name. I had a glimpse of them, never to be
forgotten, once when she failed to come for two days, and I went to look
her up. The street reeked with the smell of fried fish and onions; it
was filled with barrows of kippers and haddocks and whelks; it was lined
with old-clothes shops; it was crowded with frowzy women and horribly
dirty children. And the halls and stairs of the tenement where she lived
were black with London smoke and greasy with London dirt. I did not feel
clean afterwards until I had had a bath, and it was never again as easy
to reconcile myself to Clémentine's daily reappearance in our midst. But
to her the rooms were home, and for that reason she would have stayed on
in a grimier and more malodorous neighbourhood, if such a thing could
be, in preference to living in the cleanest and freshest London
workhouse at the rate-payers' expense. Her objection to going into
service except as a charwoman was that she would have to stay the night.
"_Je ne serais pas chez moi_"; and much as she prized her comfort, it
was not worth the sacrifice. On the contrary, she was prepared to
sacrifice her comfort, dear as it was to her, that she might retain her
home. She actually went to the length of taking in as companion an
Italian workman she met by accident, not because he offered to marry
her, which he did not, but because, according to his representations, he
was making twenty-five shillings a week and would help to pay the rent.
"_Je serais chez moi_," was now her argument, and for food she could
continue to work or beg. He would be a convenience, _voilà tout_. The
Italian stayed a week. He lounged in bed all morning while she was at
work, he smoked all afternoon. At the end of the week Clémentine sent
him flying. "_Je suis bête et je mourrais bête_," was her explanation to
me; but she was not _bête_ to the point of adding an idle fourth to her
burden, and, as a result, being turned out of the home she had taken him
in to preserve.

Clémentine had been with us more than two years when the incident of the
Italian occurred, and by this time I had become so accustomed to her and
to her adventures that I was not as shocked as perhaps I should have
been. It was not a way out of difficulties I could approve, but
Clémentine was not to be judged by my standards, and I saw no reason to
express my disapproval by getting rid of her just when she most needed
to stay. In her continually increasing need to stay, I endured so much
besides that, at the end of her third year in our chambers, I was
convinced that she would go on doing my rough work as long as I had
rough work to be done. More than once I came to the end of my patience
and dismissed her. But it was no use. In the course of a couple of
weeks, or at the most three, she was back scrubbing my floors and
polishing my brasses.

The first time she lost her place with me, I sympathized to such an
extent that I was at some pains to arrange a scheme to send her to
France. But Clémentine, clinging to the pleasures of life in the Lower
Marsh, agreed to everything I proposed, and was careful to put every
hindrance in the way of carrying out my plans. Twice I went to the
length of engaging another woman, but either the other woman did not
suit or else she did not stay, and I had to ask Clémentine to return. On
her side, she made various efforts to leave me, bored, I fancy, by the
monotony of regular work, but they were as unsuccessful as mine to turn
her off. After one disappearance of three weeks, she owned up frankly to
having been again _chez les femmes_ whose pay was better; after a
second, she said she had been ill in the workhouse which I doubted;
after all, she was as frank in admitting that nowhere else did she enjoy
_la bonne cuisine de Madame_, and that this was the attraction to which
I was indebted for her fidelity.

It may have been kindness, it may have been weakness, it may have been
simply necessity, that made me so lenient on these occasions; I do not
attempt to decide. But I cannot blame Clémentine for thinking it was
because she was indispensable. I noticed that gradually in small ways
she began to take advantage of our good-nature. For one thing there was
now no limit to her conversation. I did not spend my time in the kitchen
and could turn a deaf ear to it, but I sometimes wondered if Augustine
would not be the next to disappear. She would also often relieve the
tedium of her several tasks by turning the handsprings in which she was
so accomplished, or dancing the jig popular in the Lower Marsh, or by
other performances equally reprehensible in the kitchen of _une maison
bourgeoise_, as she was pleased to describe our chambers. She never lost
a chance of rushing to the door if tradespeople rang, or talking with
the British Workmen we were obliged, for our sins, to employ. Their
bewilderment, stolid Britons as they were, would have been funny, had
not her manner of exciting it been so discreditable. She was even
caught--I was spared the knowledge until much later--turning her
handsprings for a select company of plasterers and painters. Then I
could see that she accepted anything we might bestow upon her as her
due, and was becoming critical of the value and quality of the gift. I
can never forget on one occasion when J. was going away, and he gave her
a few shillings, the expression with which she looked first at the money
and then at him as though insulted by the paltriness of the amount. More
unbearable was the unfair use she made of her little Ernest.

_La vieille grandmère_, who had wandered by chance into her life,
wandered out of it as casually, or so Clémentine said as an argument to
induce me to receive that odious little boy into my kitchen during her
hours of work; she had nobody to take care of him, she could not leave
him alone. Here, happily for myself, I had the strength to draw the
line. But when this argument failed, she found another far more
harrowing. She took the opportunity of my stumbling across her in our
little hall one day at noon to tell me that, as I would not let her
bring him with her, she left him every day, carefully locked up out of
harm's way, alone in her rooms. A child of seven, as he was then, locked
up to get into any mischief he could invent, and, moreover, a child with
a talent for mischief! that was too much, and I sent her flying home
without giving her time to eat her lunch or linger before the glass, and
I was haunted for the rest of the day with the thought of all the
terrible things that might have happened to him. Naturally nothing did
happen, nothing ever does happen to children like the little Ernest, and
Clémentine, dismayed by the loss of her lunch and the interference with
her toilet, never ventured upon this argument a second time. But she
found another almost as bad, for she informed me that, thanks to my
interference, she was compelled to leave him again to run the streets as
he would, and she hinted only too plainly that for whatever evil might
befall him, I was responsible. Our relations were at this pleasant
stage, and her little Ernest was fast developing into a monstrous
Frankenstein wholly of my own raising, when one day she arrived with a
new air of importance and announced her approaching marriage.

I was enchanted. I had not permitted myself to feel the full weight of
the burden Clémentine was heaping upon my shoulders until now it seemed
on the point of slipping from them, and never were congratulations more
sincere than mine. As she spared me none of her confidence, every detail
of her courtship and her prospects was soon at my disposal. In the
course of her regular round of the kitchen doors of the _Quartier_ she
had picked up an Englishman who washed dishes in a restaurant. He was
not much over twenty, he earned no less than eighteen shillings a week,
and he had asked her to marry him. She accepted him, as she had accepted
the Italian, because he would pay the rent; the only difference was that
her new admirer proposed the form of companionship which is not lightly
broken. "_Cette fois je crois que cela sera vrai--que l'affaire ne
tombera pas dans l'eau_," she said, remembering the deep waters which,
in her recent affair, had gone over her head. "_Mon petit Anglais_"--her
name for him--figured in her account as a model of propriety. He had a
strict regard for morals. He objected to her working _chez les femmes_,
and expressed his desire that she should remain in our service, despite
the loss to their income. He condoned her previous indiscretions, and
was prepared to play a father's part to her little Ernest.

Altogether the situation was fast growing idyllic, and with Clémentine
in her new rôle of _fiancée_, we thought that peace for us all was in
sight. She set about her preparations at once, and did not hesitate to
let me know that an agreeable wedding present would be house linen,
however old and ragged, and a new hat for the wedding. I had looked for
some preliminary begging as a matter of course, and I was already going
through my linen closet to see what I could spare, when I caught
Clémentine collecting wedding presents from me for which I had not been
asked.

Until then I believed that, whatever crimes and vices might be laid at
her door, dishonesty was not to be counted among them. I even boasted of
her honesty as an excuse for my keeping her, nuisance as she was. I
think I should have doubted her guilt if the report of it only had
reached me. But I could not doubt the testimony of my own eyes when
there was discovered, carefully packed in the capacious bag she always
carried, one of my best napkins, a brand-new tea-cloth, and a few
kitchen knives and forks that could not have strayed there of
themselves. I could see in the articles selected her tender concern for
the comfort of her _petit Anglais_ and her practical wish to prepare her
establishment for his coming, and probably it showed her consideration
for me that she had been content with such simple preparations. But the
value of the things themselves and her object in appropriating them had
nothing to do with the main fact that, after all we had done and
endured, she was stealing from us. "We should wipe two words from our
vocabulary: gratitude and charity," Stevenson once wrote. Clémentine
wiped out the one so successfully that she left me with no use for the
other. I told her she must go, and this time I was in good earnest.

To Clémentine, however, nothing could have seemed less possible. She
could not understand that a petty theft would make her less
indispensable, or that I would strain at a gnat after swallowing so many
camels. Within a week she was knocking at our door and expressing her
willingness to resume her place in our chambers. She was not discouraged
by the refusal to admit her, but a few days later, this time by letter,
she again assured me that she waited to be recalled, and she referred to
the desire of her _petit Anglais_ in the matter. She affected penitence,
admitting that she had committed _une "Bêtisse"_--the spelling is
hers--and adding: "_avoir âgit ainsi avec des maîtres aussi bons, ce
n'est pas pardonable. Je vous assure que si un jour je devien riche, ou
peut être plus pauvre, que dans ma richesse, comme dans ma plus grande
misère, je ne pourrais jamais oublier les bons maîtres Monsieur et
Madame, car jamais dans ma vie d'orpheline, je n'aie jamais rencontré
d'aussi bons maîtres._" She also reminded me that she lived in the hope
that _Madame_ would not forget the promised present of linen and a hat.
I made no answer. Another letter followed, penitence now exchanged for
reproaches. She expostulated with me for taking the bread out of the
mouth of her _petit innocent_--Ernest--the little innocent whom the
slums had nothing more to teach. This second letter met the same fate
as the first, but her resources were not exhausted. In a third she tried
the dignity of sorrow: "_Ma faute m'a rendu l'âme si triste_" and, as
this had no effect, she used in a fourth the one genuine argument of
them all, her hunger: "_Enfin il faut que je tâche d'oublier, mais en
attendant je m'en mordrais peut être les poings plus d'une fois._" I was
unmoved. I had spent too much emotion already upon Clémentine; also a
neat little French girl had replaced her.

She gave up when she found me proof against an argument that had
hitherto always disarmed me. This was the last time she put herself at
my service; though once afterwards she gave me the pleasure of hearing
from her. Not many weeks had passed when I received a pictorial
post-card that almost reconciled me to a fashion I deplore. The picture
that adorned it was a photograph of an ordinary three-storey London
house, the windows draped with lace curtains of a quality and design not
common in the Lower Marsh. But the extraordinary thing about it was that
in the open doorway--apronless, her arms akimbo, the wave of hair low
on her forehead--stood Clémentine, giggling in triumph. A few words
accompanied this astonishing vision. "_Je n'oublierais jamais la bonne
maison de Madame_" and the kind message was signed "Mrs. Johnson."
Whether the eighteen shillings of her _petit Anglais_ ran to so imposing
a home, or to what she owed the post-card prominence usually reserved
for the monuments of London, she did not condescend to explain. Probably
she only wanted to show that, though she had achieved this distinction,
she could be magnanimous enough to forget the past and think of us
kindly.

That was the last I ever heard from Clémentine, the last I hope I ever
shall hear. The pictorial post-card told me the one thing I cared to
know. She did not leave me for a bed on the Embankment by night and a
round of the soup-kitchens by day. If ever she does see life in this way
and so completes her experience, the responsibility will not be mine for
having driven her to it.



_The Old Housekeeper_

[Illustration: "A WILDERNESS OF CHIMNEY-POTS"]



VI

THE OLD HOUSEKEEPER


No housekeeper could have been more in place than the little old
white-haired woman who answered our ring the day we came to engage our
windows, and, incidentally, the chambers behind them. She was venerable
in appearance and scrupulously neat in her dress, and her manner had
just the right touch of dignity and deference, until we explained our
errand. Then she flew into a rage and told us in a tone that challenged
us to dispute it, "You know, no coal is to be carried upstairs after ten
o'clock in the morning."

Coal was as yet so remote that we would have agreed to anything in our
impatience to look out of the windows, and, reassured by us, she became
the obsequious housekeeper again, getting the keys, toiling with us up
the three flights of stairs, unlocking the double door,--for, as I have
said, there is an "oak" to "sport,"--ushering us into the chambers with
the Adam mantelpieces and decorations and the windows that brought us
there, dropping the correct "Sir" and "Madam" into her talk, accepting
without a tremor the shilling we were ashamed to offer, and realizing so
entirely our idea of what a housekeeper in London chambers ought to be,
that her outbreak over the coal we had not ordered, and might never
order, was the more perplexing.

I understood it before we were settled in our chambers, for they were
not really ours until after a long delay over the legal formalities with
which the English love to entangle their simplest transactions at
somebody else's expense, and a longer one in proving our personal and
financial qualifications, the landlord being disturbed by a suspicion
that, like the Housekeeper's daughter, we were in _the_ profession and
spent most of our time "resting," a suspicion confirmed by the escape of
the last tenant, also in _the_ profession, with a year's rent still to
pay. And then came much the longest delay of all over the British
Workman, who, once he got in, threatened never to get out. In the mean
while we saw the Housekeeper almost every day.

We did not have to see her often to discover that she was born a
housekeeper, that she had but one thought in life, and that this was the
house under her charge. I am sure she believed that she came into the
world to take care of it, unless indeed it was built to be taken care of
by her. She belonged to a generation in England who had not yet been
taught the folly of interest in their work, and she was old-fashioned
enough to feel the importance of the post she filled. She would have
lost her self-respect had she failed in the slightest detail of her duty
to the house. From the first, the spotless marvel she made of it divided
our admiration with our windows. The hall and front steps were
immaculate, the white stone stairs shone, there was not a speck of dust
anywhere, and I appreciated the work this meant in an old London
building, where the dirt not only filters through doors and windows, but
oozes out of the walls and comes up through the floors. She did not
pretend to hide her despair when our painters and paperers tramped and
blundered in and out; she fretted herself ill when our furniture was
brought up the three flights of her shining stairs. Painters and
paperers and the bringing up of furniture were rare incidents in the
life of a tenant and had to be endured. But coal, with its trail of
dust, was an endless necessity, and at least could be regulated. This
was why, after her daily cleaning was done, she refused to let it pass.

Once we were established, we saw her less often. Her daily masterpiece
was finished in the morning before we were up, and at all times she
effaced herself with the respect she owed to tenants of a house in which
she was the servant. If we did meet her she acknowledged our greeting
with ostentatious humility, for she clung with as little shame to
servility as to cleanliness; servility was also a part of the business
of a housekeeper, just as elegance was the mark of _the_ profession
which her daughter graced, and the shame would have been not to be as
servile as the position demanded.

This daughter was in every way an elegant person, dressing with a
fidelity to fashion which I could not hope to emulate, and with the
help of a fashionable dressmaker whom I could not afford to pay. She was
"resting" from the time we came into the house until her mother left it,
but if in _the_ profession it is a misfortune to be out of work, it is a
crime to look it, and her appearance and manner gave no hint of
unemployment. In an emergency she would bring us up a message or a
letter, but her civility had none of her mother's obsequiousness; it was
a condescension, and she made us feel the honor she conferred upon the
house by living in it. She was engaged to be married to a stage manager
who for the moment seemed to be without a stage to manage, for he spent
his evenings with her in the Housekeeper's little sitting-room, where
photographs of actors and actresses, each with its sprawling autograph,
covered the walls, crowded the mantelpiece, and littered the table. I
think the Housekeeper could have asked for nothing better than that they
should both continue to "rest," not so much because it gave her the
pleasure of their society as because it was a protection to the house to
have a man about after dark until the street door was closed at eleven.
Had it come to a question between the house and her daughter, the
daughter would not have had a chance.

The Housekeeper, for all her deference to the tenants, was a despot, and
none of us dared to rebel against her rule and disturb the order she
maintained. To anybody coming in from the not too respectable little
street the respectability of the house was overwhelming, and I often
noticed that strangers, on entering, lowered their voices and stepped
more softly. The hush of repose hung heavy on the public hall and
stairs, whatever might be going on behind the two doors that faced each
other on every landing. We all emulated her in the quiet and decorum of
our movements. We allowed ourselves so seldom to be seen that after
three months I still knew little of the others except their names on
their doors, the professions of those who had offices and hung up their
signs, and the frequency with which the Church League on the First Floor
drank afternoon tea. On certain days, when I went out towards five
o'clock, I had to push my way through a procession of bishops in aprons
and gaiters, deans and ordinary parsons who were legion, dowagers and
duchesses who were as sands on the stairs. I may be wrong, but I fancy
that the Housekeeper would have found a way to rout this weekly invasion
if, in the aprons and gaiters, she had not seen symbols of the
respectability which was her pride.

What I did not find out about the tenants for myself, there was no
learning from her. She disdained the gossip which was the breath of life
to the other housekeepers in the street, where, in the early mornings
when the fronts were being done, or in the cool of summer evenings when
the day's work was over, I would see them chattering at their doors. She
never joined in the talk, holding herself aloof, as if her house were on
a loftier plane than theirs, and as if the number of her years in it
raised her to a higher caste. Exactly how many these years had been she
never presumed to say, but she looked as ancient as the house, and had
she told me she remembered Bacon and Pepys, who were tenants each in
his own day, or Peter the Great, who lived across the street, I should
have believed her. She did not, however, claim to go further back than
Etty, the Royal Academician, who spent over a quarter of a century in
our chambers, and one of whose sitters she once brought up to see us,--a
melancholy old man who could only shake his head, first over the changes
in the house since Etty painted those wonderful Victorian nudes, so
demure that "Bob" Stevenson insisted that Etty's maiden aunts must have
sat for them, and then over the changes in the River, which also, it
seemed, had seen better days. Really, he was so dismal a survivor of an
older generation that we were glad she brought no more of his
contemporaries to see us.

For so despotic a character, the Housekeeper had a surprisingly feminine
capacity for hysterics, of which she made the most the night of the
fire. I admit it was an agitating event for us all. The Fire of London
was not so epoch-making. Afterwards the tenants used to speak of the
days "Before the Fire," as we still talk at home of the days "Before
the War." It happened in July, the third month of our tenancy. J. was
away, and, owing to domestic complications, I was alone in our chambers
at night. I do not recall the period with pride, for it proved me more
of a coward than I cared to acknowledge. If I came home late, it was a
struggle to make up my mind to open my front door and face the Unknown
on the other side. Once or twice there was a second struggle at the
dining-room door, the simple search for biscuits exaggerating itself
into a perilous adventure. As I was not yet accustomed to the noises in
our chambers, fear followed me to my bedroom, and when the trains on the
near railroad bridge awoke me, I lay trembling, certain they were
burglars or ghosts, forgetting that visitors of that kind are usually
shyer in announcing themselves. Then I began to be ashamed, and there
was a night when, though the noises sounded strangely like voices
immediately outside my window, I managed to turn over and try to sleep
again. This time the danger was real, and, the next thing I knew,
somebody was ringing the front door-bell and knocking without stopping,
and before I had time to be afraid I was out of bed and at the door. It
was the young man from across the hall, who had come to give me the
cheerful intelligence that his chambers were on fire, and to advise me
to dress as fast as I knew how and get downstairs before the firemen and
the hose arrived, or I might not get down at all.

I flung myself into my clothes, although, as I am pleased to recall, I
had the sense to select my most useful gown, in case but one was left me
in the morning, and the curiosity to step for a second on to the leads
where the flames were leaping from the young man's windows. As it was
too late to help himself, he was waiting, with his servant, to help me.
A pile of J.'s drawings lay on a chair in the hall,--I thrust them the
young man's outstretched arms. For some incomprehensible reason J.'s
huge _schube_ was on another chair,--I threw it into the arms of the
young man's servant, who staggered under its unexpected weight. I rushed
to my desk to secure the money I was unwilling to leave behind, when a
bull's-eye lantern flashed upon me and a policeman ordered me out.
Firemen--for London firemen eventually arrive if the fire burns long
enough--were dragging up a hose as I flew downstairs, and the policeman
had scarcely pushed me into the Housekeeper's room, the young man had
just deposited the drawings at my feet, and the servant the _schube_,
when the stairs became a raging torrent.

I had not thought of the Housekeeper till then; after that there was no
thinking of anything else. My dread of never again seeing our chambers
was nothing to her sense of the outrage to her house. Niobe weeping for
her children was not so tragic a spectacle as she lamenting the ruin of
plaster and paint that did not belong to her. She was half-dressed,
propped up against cushions on a couch, sniffing the salts and sipping
the water administered by her daughter, who had taken the time to dress
carefully and elegantly for the scene. "Oh, what shall I do! Oh, what
shall I do!" the Housekeeper wailed as she saw me, wringing her hands
with an abandonment that would have made her daughter's fortune on the
stage.

Her sitting-room had been appropriated as a refuge for the tenants, and
this sudden reunion was my introduction to them. As the room was small,
my first impression was of a crowd, though in actual numbers we were not
many. The young man whose distinction was that the fire originated in
his chambers, and myself, represented the Third Floor Front and Back.
The Architect and his clerks of the Second Floor Front were at home in
their beds, unconscious of the deluge pouring into their office; the
Second Floor Back had gone away on a holiday. The Church League of the
First Floor Front, haunted by bishops and deans, duchesses and dowagers,
was of course closed, and we were deprived of whatever spiritual
consolation their presence might have provided. But the First Floor Back
filled the little room with her loud voice and portly presence. She had
attired herself for the occasion in a black skirt and a red jacket,
that, for all her efforts, would not meet over the vast expanse of grey
Jaeger vest beneath, and her thin wisps of grey hair were drawn up
under a green felt hat of the pattern I wore for bicycling. I looked at
it regretfully: a hat of any kind would have completed my costume. I
complimented her on her fore-thought; but "What could I do?" she said,
"they flurried me so I couldn't find my false front anywhere, and I had
to cover my head with something." It was extraordinary how a common
danger broke down the barrier of reserve we had hitherto so carefully
cultivated. She had her own salts which she shared with us all, when she
did not need them for the Housekeeper, whom she kept calling "Poor
dear!" and who, after every "Poor dear!" went off into a new attack of
hysterics.

The Ground Floor Front, a thin, spry old gentleman, hovered about us,
bobbing in and out like the little man in the weather-house. He was in
the insurance business, I was immediately informed, and it seemed a
comfort to us all to know it, though I cannot for the life of me imagine
why it should have been to me, not one stick or stitch up there in our
chambers being insured. The Ground Floor Back was at his club, and his
wife and two children had not been disturbed, as in their chambers the
risk was not immediate, and, anyway, they could easily walk out should
it become so. He had been promptly sent for, and when a message came
back that he was playing whist and would hurry to the rescue of his
family as soon as his rubber was finished, the indignation in the
Housekeeper's room was intense. "Brute!" the Housekeeper said, and after
that, through the rest of the night, she would ask every few minutes if
he had returned, and the answer in the negative was fresh fuel to her
wrath.

She was, if anything, more severe with the young man whose chambers were
blazing, and who confessed he had gone out toward midnight leaving a
burning candle in one of his rooms. He treated the fire as a jest, which
she could not forgive; and when at dawn, he decided that all his
possessions, including account-books committed to his care, were in
ashes, and that it was useless to wait, and he wished us good-morning
and good-by, she hinted darkly that fires might be one way of disposing
of records it was convenient to be rid of.

Indignation served better than salts to rouse the Housekeeper from her
hysterics, and I was glad of the distraction it gave her for another
reason: without it, she could not long have remained unconscious of an
evil that I look back to as the deadliest of all during that night's
vigil. For, gradually through her room, by this time close to
suffocation, there crept the most terrible smell. It took hold of me,
choked me, sickened me. The Housekeeper's daughter and the First Floor
Back blanched under it, the Housekeeper turned from white to green. I
have often marvelled since that they never referred to it, but I know
why I did not. For it was I who sent that smell downstairs when I threw
the Russian _schube_ into the arms of the Third Floor Front's servant.
Odours, they say, are the best jogs to memory, and the smell of the
_schube_ is for me so inextricably associated with the fire, that I can
never think of one without remembering the other.

The _schube_ was the chief treasure among the fantastic costumes it is
J.'s joy to collect on his travels. His Hungarian sheepskins, French
hooded capes, Swiss blouses, Spanish berêts, Scotch tam-o'-shanters,
Dalmatian caps, Roumanian embroidered shirts, and the rest, I can
dispose of by packing them out of sight and dosing them with camphor.
But no trunk was big enough to hold the Russian _schube_, and its
abominable smell, even when reinforced by tons of camphor and pepper,
could not frighten away the moths. It was picturesque, so much I admit
in its favor, and Whistler's lithograph of J. draped in it is a princely
reward for my trouble. But that trouble lasted for eighteen years,
during which time J. wore the _schube_ just twice,--once to pose for the
lithograph and once on a winter night in London, when its weight was a
far more serious discomfort than the cold. Occasionally he exhibited it
to select audiences. At all other times it hung in a colossal linen bag
made especially to hold it. The eighteenth summer, when the bag was
opened for the periodical airing and brushing, no _schube_ was there;
not a shred of fur remained, the cloth was riddled with holes; it had
fallen before its hereditary foe and the moths had devoured it. For this
had I toiled over it; for this had I rescued it on the night of the fire
as if it were my crowning jewel; for this had I braved the displeasure
of the Housekeeper, from which indeed I escaped only because, at the
critical moment, the policeman who had ordered me downstairs appeared to
say that the lady from the Third Floor Back could go up again if she
chose.

The stairs were a waterfall under which I ascended. The two doors of our
chambers were wide open, with huge gaps where panels had been, the young
man's servant having carefully shut them after me in our flight,
thinking, I suppose, that the firemen would stand upon ceremony and ask
for the key before venturing in. A river was drying up in our hall, and
the strip of matting down the centre was sodden. Empty soda-water
bottles rolled on the floor, though it speaks well for London firemen
that nothing stronger was touched. Candles were stuck upside down in our
hanging Dutch lamp and all available candlesticks, curtains and blinds
were pulled about, chairs were upset, the marks of muddy feet were
everywhere. I ought to have been grateful, and I was, that the damage
was so small, all the more when I went again on to the leads and saw the
blackened heap to which the night had reduced the young man's chambers.
But the place was inexpressibly cheerless and dilapidated in the dawning
light.

It was too late to go to bed, too early to go to work. I was hungry, and
the baker had not come, nor the charwoman. I was faint, the smell of the
_schube_ was strong in my nostrils, though the _schube_ itself was now
safely locked up in a remote cupboard. I wandered disconsolately from
room to room, when, of a sudden, there appeared at my still open front
door a gorgeous vision,--a large and stately lady, fresh and neat,
arrayed in flowing red draperies, with a white lace fichu thrown over a
mass of luxuriant golden hair. I stared, speechless with amazement. It
was not until she spoke that I recognized the First Floor Back, who had
had time to lay her hands not only on a false front, but on a whole wig,
and who had had the enterprise to make tea which she invited me to
drink with her in Pepys's chambers.

The Housekeeper and the Housekeeper's daughter were already in her
dining-room, the Housekeeper huddled up in a big armchair, pillows at
her back, a stool at her feet. Like her house she was a wreck, and her
demoralization was sad to see. All her life, until a few short hours
ago, she had been the model of neatness; now she did not care how she
looked; her white hair was untidy, her dress half-buttoned, her apron
forgotten; and she, who had hitherto discouraged familiarity in the
tenants, joined us as a friend. She was too exhausted for hysterics, but
she moaned over her tea and abandoned herself to her grief. She could
not rally, and, what is more, she did not want to. She had no life apart
from her house, and in its ruin she saw her own. Her immaculate hall was
defaced and stained, a blackened groove was worn in her shining stairs,
the water pouring through the chambers in the front, down to her own
little apartment, had turned them all into a damp and depressing mess.
Her moans were the ceaseless accompaniment to our talk of the night's
disaster. Always she had waited for the fire, she said, she had dreaded
it, and at last it had come, and there was no sorrow like unto hers.

After the first excitement, after the house had resumed, as well as it
could, its usual habits, the Housekeeper remained absorbed in her grief.
Hitherto her particular habit was to work, and she had been able,
unaided, to keep the house up to her immaculate standard of perfection.
But now to restore it to order was the affair of builders, of plasterers
and painters and paperers. There was nothing for her to do save to sit
with hands folded and watch the sacrilege. Her occupation was gone, and
all was wrong with her world.

I was busy during the days immediately "after the fire." I had to insure
our belongings, which, of course, being insured, have never run such a
risk again. I had to prepare and pack for a journey to France, now many
days overdue, and, what with one thing or another, I neglected the
Housekeeper. When at last I was ready to shut up our chambers and start
and I called at her rooms, it seemed to me she had visibly shrunk and
wilted, though she had preserved enough of the proper spirit to pocket
the substantial tip I handed over to her with my keys. She was no less
equal to accepting a second when, after a couple of months I returned
and could not resist this expression of my sympathy on finding the hall
still stained and defaced, the stairs still with their blackened groove,
the workmen still going and coming, and her despair at the spectacle
blacker than ever.

The next day she came up to our chambers. She wore her best black gown
and no apron, and from these signs I concluded it was a visit of state.
I was right: it was to announce her departure. The house, partially
rebuilt and very much patched up, would never be the same. She was too
old for hope, and without the courage to pick up the broken bits of her
masterpiece and put them together again. She was more ill at ease as
visitor than as housekeeper. The conversation languished, although I
fancied she had something particular to say, slight as was her success
in saying it. We had both been silent for an awkward minute when she
blurted out abruptly that she had never neglected her duty, no matter
what it might or might not have pleased the tenants to give her. I
applauded the sentiment as admirable, and I said good-by; and never once
then, and not until several days after she left us, did it dawn upon me
that she was waiting to accept graciously the fee it was her right in
leaving to expect from me. The fact of my having only just tipped her
liberally had nothing to do with it. A housekeeper's departure was an
occasion for money to pass from the tenant's hand into hers, and she had
too much respect for her duty as housekeeper not to afford me the
opportunity of doing mine as tenant. It was absurd, but I was humiliated
in my own eyes when I thought of the figure I must cut in hers, and I
could only hope she would make allowance for me as an ignorant American.

How deep I sunk in her esteem, there was no means of knowing. I do not
think she could endure to come to her house as a stranger, for she
never returned. Neither did any news of her reach us. I cannot believe
she enjoyed the inactive existence with her daughter to which she had
retired, and I should be astonished if she bore it long. In losing her
house she had lost her interest in life. Her work in the world was
done.



_The New Housekeeper_

[Illustration: THE SPIRE OF ST. MARTIN-IN-THE-FIELDS]



VII

THE NEW HOUSEKEEPER


It had taken years for the Old Housekeeper to mature, and I knew that in
the best sense of the word she could never be replaced. But the
knowledge did not prepare me for the New Housekeeper.

Mrs. Haines was a younger and apparently stronger woman, but she was so
casual in her dress, and so eager to emulate the lilies of the field, as
to convince me that it was not in her, under any conditions, to mature
into a housekeeper at all. It expressed much, I thought, that while the
Old Housekeeper had always been "the Housekeeper," we never knew Mrs.
Haines by any name but her own. The fact that she had a husband was her
recommendation to the landlord, who had been alarmed by the fire and the
hysterics into which it threw the Old Housekeeper, and now insisted upon
a man in the family as an indispensable qualification for the post. The
advantage might have been more obvious had Mr. Haines not spent most of
his time in dodging the tenants and helping them to forget his presence
in the house. He was not an ill-looking nor ill-mannered man, and
shyness was the only explanation that occurred to me for his
perseverance in avoiding us. Work could not force him from his
retirement. Mrs. Haines said that he was a carpenter by trade, but the
only ability I ever knew him to display was in evading whatever job I
was hopeful enough to offer him. Besides, though it might be hard to say
what I think a carpenter ought to look like, I was certain he did not
look like one, and others shared my doubts.

The rumour spread through our street--where everybody rejoices in the
knowledge of everything about everybody else who lives in it--that he
had once been in the Civil Service, but had married beneath him and come
down in the world. How the rumour originated I never asked, or never was
told if I did ask; but it was so evident that he shrank from the
practice of the carpenter's trade that once we sent him with a letter
to the Publisher--who shares our love of the neighbourhood to the point,
not only of publishing from it, but of living in it--asking if some sort
of place could not be found for him in the office. It was found, I am
afraid to his disappointment, for he never made any effort to fill it,
and was more diligent than ever in keeping out of our way. If he saw us
coming, on the rare occasions when he stood at the front door, or the
rarer when he cleaned the gas-bracket above it, he would run if there
was time, or, if there was not, turn his head and stare fixedly in the
other direction that he might escape speaking to us. As the months went
on, he was never caught cleaning anything or doing anything in the shape
of work, except sometimes, furtively, as if afraid of being detected in
the act, shutting the front door when the clocks of the neighbourhood
struck eleven. He was far less of a safeguard to us than I often fancied
he thought we were to him.

Mrs. Haines was sufficiently unlike him to account for one part of the
rumour. She was coarse in appearance and disagreeable in manner, always
on the defensive, always on the verge of flying into a temper. She had
no objection to showing herself; on the contrary, she was perpetually
about, hunting for faults to find; but she did object to showing herself
with a broom or a duster, a pail or a scrubbing-brush in her hands. I
shuddered sometimes at the thought of the shock to the Old Housekeeper
if she were to see her hall and stairs. We could bring up coal now at
any hour or all day long. And yet Mrs. Haines tyrannized over us in her
own fashion, and her tyranny was the more unbearable because it had no
end except to spare herself trouble. Her one thought was to do nothing
and get paid for it. She resented extra exertion without extra
compensation. We never had been so bullied about coal under the old
régime as we were under hers about a drain-pipe with a trick of
overflowing. It might have drowned us in our chambers and she would not
have stirred to save us; but its outlet was in a little paved court back
of her kitchen, which it was one of her duties to keep in order, and she
considered every overflow a rank injustice. She held the tenants in
turn responsible, and would descend upon us like a Fury upbraiding us
for our carelessness. It would never have surprised me had she ordered
us down to clean up the court for her.

I must in fairness add that when extra exertion meant extra money she
did not shirk it. Nor was she without accomplishments. She was an
excellent needlewoman: she altered and renovated more than one gown for
me, she made me chair-covers, she mended my carpets. During the first
years she was in the house she never refused any needlework, and often
she asked me for more. She would come up and wait for me at table on the
shortest notice. In an emergency she would even cook me a dinner which,
in its colourless English way, was admirable. There is no denying that
she could be useful, but her usefulness had a special tariff.

It was also in her favour that she was a lover of cats, and their regard
for her was as good as a certificate. I came to be on the best of terms
with hers, Bogie by name, a tall ungainly tabby, very much the worse for
wear. He spent a large part of his time on the street, and often, as I
came or went, he would be returning home and would ask me, in a way not
to be resisted, to ring her door-bell for him. Sometimes I waited to
exchange a few remarks with him, for, though his voice was husky and not
one of his attractions, he had always plenty to say. On these occasions
I was a witness of his pleasure in seeing his mistress again, though his
absence might have been short, and of her enthusiasm in receiving him.
Unquestionably they understood each other, and cats are animals of
discrimination.

She extended her affection to cats that did not belong to her, and ours
came in for many of her attentions. Our Jimmy, who had the freedom of
the streets, often paid her a visit on his way out or in, as I knew he
would not have done if she had not made the time pass agreeably; for if
he, like all cats, disliked to be bored, he knew better than most how to
avoid the possibility. One of his favourite haunts was the near Strand,
probably because he was sure to meet his friends there. It was a joy to
him, if we had been out late in the evening, to run across us as we
returned. With a fervent "mow" of greeting, he was at our side; and
then, his tail high in the air, and singing a song of rapture, he would
come with us to our front door, linger until he had seen us open it,
when, his mind at rest for our safety, he would hurry back to his
revels. We considered this a privilege, and our respect for Mrs. Haines
was increased when he let her share it, even in the daytime. He was
known to join her in the Strand, not far from Charing Cross, walk with
her to Wellington Street, cross over, wait politely while she bought
tickets at the Lyceum for one of the tenants, cross again, and walk back
with her. He was also known to sit down in the middle of the Strand, and
divert the traffic better than a "Bobby," until Mrs. Haines, when
everybody else had failed, enticed him away. He deserved the tribute of
her tears, and she shed many, when the Vet kindly released him from the
physical ruin to which exposure and a life of dissipation had reduced
him.

William Penn showed her the same friendliness, but from him it was not
so marked, for he was a cat of democratic tastes and, next to his
family, preferred the people who worked for them. He had not as much
opportunity for his civilities as Jimmy, never being allowed to leave
our chambers. But when Mrs. Haines was busy in our kitchen, he occupied
more than a fair portion of her time, for which she made no reduction in
the bill. William's charms were so apt to distract me from my work that
I could say nothing, and her last kindness of all when he died--in his
case of too luxuriant living and too little exercise, the Vet
said--would make me forgive her much worse. According to my friend, Miss
Repplier, a cat "considers dying a strictly private affair." But William
Penn's death-bed was a public affair, at least for Augustine and myself,
who sat up with him through the night of his agony. We were both
exhausted by morning, unfit to cope with the problem of his funeral.
Chambers are without any convenient corner to serve as cemetery, and I
could not trust the most important member of the family to the dust-man
for burial. I do not know what I should have done but for Mrs. Haines.
It was she who arranged, by a bribe I would willingly have doubled,
that during the dinner-hour, when the head-gardener was out of the way,
William should be laid to rest in the garden below our windows. She was
the only mourner with Augustine and myself,--J. was abroad,--when, from
above, we watched the assistant gardener lower him into his little grave
under the tree where the wood-pigeons have their nest.

If I try now to make the best of what was good in Mrs. Haines, at the
time she did not give me much chance. Grumbling was such a habit with
her that, even had the Socialists' Millennium come, she would have kept
on, if only because it removed all other reason for her grumbles. Her
prejudice against work of any kind did not lessen her displeasure with
everybody who did not provide her with work of some kind to do. She
treated me as if I imposed on her when I asked her to sew or to mend or
to cook, and she abused the other tenants because they did not ask her.
This indeed was her principal grievance. She could not see why they were
in the house if it were not to increase her income, and she hated the
landlord for having led her to believe they would. She paid me
innumerable visits, the object of which never varied. It was to borrow,
which she did without shame or apology. She never hesitated in her
demands, she never cringed. She ran short because the other tenants were
not doing the fair and square thing by her, and she did not see why she
should not draw upon me for help. One inexhaustible debt was the monthly
bill for her furniture, bought on the instalment system and forfeited if
any one instalment were not met. I do not remember how many pounds I
advanced, but enough to suggest that she had furnished her rooms, of
which she never gave me as much as a glimpse, in a style far beyond her
means. I could afford to be amiable, for I knew I could make her pay me
back in work, though my continual loans did so little to improve her
financial affairs that after a while my patience gave out, and I refused
to advance another penny.

It was not until the illness of her husband, after they had been in the
house for some two years, that I realized the true condition of things
behind the door they kept so carefully closed. The illness was sudden,
so far as I knew. I had not seen Mr. Haines for long, but I was
accustomed to not seeing him, and curiously, when Mrs. Haines's need was
greatest, she showed some reluctance in asking to be helped out of it.
Her husband was dying before she appealed to anybody, and then it was
not to me, but to Mrs. Burden, my old charwoman, who was so poor that I
had always fancied that to be poorer still meant to live in the streets
or on the rates. But Mrs. Haines was so much worse off, that Mrs.
Burden, in telling me about it, thanked Our Lady that she had never
fallen so low. It was cold winter and there was no fire, no coal, no
wood, behind the closed door. The furniture for which I had advanced so
many pounds consisted, I now found out, of two or three rickety chairs
and a square of tattered carpet in the front room, a few pots and pans
in the kitchen. In the dark bedroom between, the dying man lay on a hard
board stretched on the top of a packing-box, shivering under his
threadbare overcoat, so pitiful in his misery and suffering that Mrs.
Burden was moved to compassion and hurried home to fetch him the
blankets from her own bed and buy him a pennyworth of milk on the way.

When the tenants knew how it was with Mrs. Haines and her husband, as
now they could not help knowing, they remembered only that he was ill,
and they sent for the doctor and paid for medicine, and did what they
could to lighten the gloom of the two or three days left to him. And
they arranged for a decent burial, feeling, I think, that a man who had
been in the Civil Service should not lie in a pauper's grave. For a week
or so we wondered again who he was, why he kept so persistently out of
sight; after that we thought as little of him as when he had skulked, a
shadow, between his rooms and the street door on the stroke of eleven.

Hitherto everybody had been patient with Mrs. Haines, for the London
housekeeper, though she has not got the tenants as completely in her
power as the Paris _concierge_, can, if she wants, make things very
disagreeable for them. Now that she was alone in the world, everybody
was kind to her. The landlord overlooked his announced decision "to
sack the pair," and retained her as housekeeper, though in losing her
husband she had lost her principal recommendation. The tenants raised a
fund to enable her to buy the mourning which is often a consolation in
widowhood. Work was offered to her in chambers which she had never
entered before, and I added to the tasks in ours. The housekeepers in
the street with families to support must have envied her. She had her
rooms rent free, wages from the landlord, plenty of extra work, and
though this might not seem affluence to people who do not measure their
income by pence or scramble for the odd shilling, it was wealth in
housekeeping circles.

Mrs. Haines, however, did not see her position in that light. She had
complained when work was not offered to her, she complained more
bitterly when it was. Perhaps her husband had had some restraining
influence upon her. I cannot say; but certainly once he was gone, she
gave up all pretence of controlling her temper. She would sweep like a
hurricane through the house, raging and raving, on the slightest
provocation. She led us a worse life than ever over the drain-pipe. She
left the house more and more to take care of itself, dust lying thick
wherever dust could lie, the stairs turned to a dingy grey, the walls
blackened with London smoke and grime. Once in a while she hired a
forlorn, ragged old woman to wash the stairs and brush the front-door
mat, for in London, more than anywhere else, "poverty is a comparative
thing," and every degree has one below to "soothe" it. No matter how
hard up Mrs. Haines was, she managed to scrape together a few pennies to
pay to have the work done for her rather than do it herself. The greater
part of her leisure she spent out of the house, and when I passed her
door I would see pinned up on it a bit of paper stating in neat, even
elegant, writing, "Apply on the First Floor for the Housekeeper," or
"Gone out. Back in ten minutes"; and hours, sometimes days, later the
same notice would still be there. She became as neglectful of herself as
of the house: her one dress grew shabbier and shabbier, her apron was
discarded, no detail of her toilet was attended to except the frizzing
of her coarse black hair. All this came about not at once, but step by
step, and things were very bad before J. and I admitted, even to each
other, that she was a disgrace to the house. We would admit it to nobody
else, and to my surprise the other tenants were as forbearing. I suppose
it was because they understood, as well as we did, that at a word to the
landlord she would be adrift in London, where for one vacant post of
housekeeper there are a hundred applications. To banish her from our own
chambers, however, was not to drive her to the workhouse, and I called
for her services less and less often.

There was another reason for my not employing her to which I have not so
far referred, the reason really of her slovenliness and bad temper and
gradual deterioration. I shut my eyes as long as I could. But I was
prepared for the whispers that began to be heard, not only in our house,
but up and down our street. What started them I do not know, but the
morning and evening gatherings of the housekeepers at their doors were
not held for nothing, and presently it got about that Mrs. Haines had
been seen stealing in and out of a public-house, and that this
public-house was just beyond the border-line of the Quarter, which
looked as if she were endeavouring to escape the vigilant eyes of our
gossips. Then, as invariably happens, the whispers grew louder, the
evidence against her circumstantial, and everybody was saying quite
openly where her money disappeared and why she became shabbier, her
rooms barer, and the house more disreputable. It leaked out that her
husband also had been seen flitting from public-house to public-house;
and, the game of concealment by this time being up, it was bluntly said
that drink had killed him, as it would Mrs. Haines if she went on as she
was going.

I had kept my suspicions to myself, but she had never come to our
chambers at the hour of lunch or dinner that there was not an unusual
drain upon our modest wine-cellar. I could not fancy that it was merely
a coincidence, that friends dining with us were invariably thirstier
when she waited or cooked; but her appearance had been the invariable
signal for the disappearance of our wine at a rate that made my
employment of her a costly luxury. I never saw her when I could declare
she had been drinking, but drink she did, and there was no use my
beating about the bush and calling it by another name. It would have
been less hopeless had she occasionally betrayed herself, had her speech
thickened and her walk become unsteady. But hers was the deadliest form
of the evil, because it gave no sign. There was nothing to check it
except every now and then a mysterious attack of illness,--which she
said defied the doctor though it defied nobody in the house,--or the
want of money; but a housekeeper must be far gone if she cannot pick up
a shilling here and a half-crown there. I was the last of the old
tenants to employ her, but after I abandoned her she still had another
chance with a newcomer who took the chambers below ours, and, finding
them too small to keep more than one servant, engaged her for a liberal
amount of work. She bought aprons and a new black blouse and skirt, and
she was so spruce and neat in them that I was encouraged to hope. But
before the end of the first week, she was met on the stairs coming down
from his room to hers with a bottle under her apron; at the end of the
second she was dismissed.

I hardly dare think how she lived after this. With every Christmas there
was a short period of prosperity, though it dwindled as the tenants
began to realize where their money went. For a time J. and I got her to
keep our bicycles, other people in the house followed suit, and during
several months she was paid rent for as many as six, keeping them in the
empty sitting-room from which even the rickety chairs had disappeared,
and where the floor now was thick with grease and stained with oil. If
we had trunks to store or boxes to unpack, she would let us the same
room for as long as we wanted, and so she managed, one way or the other,
by hook or by crook. But it was a makeshift existence, all the more so
when her habits began to tell on her physically. She was ill half the
time, and by the end of her fourth year in the house, I do not believe
she could have sewed or waited or cooked, had she had the chance. She
had no friends, no companions, save her cat. They were a grim pair, she
with hungry, shifty eyes glowing like fires in the pallor of her face,
he more gaunt and ungainly than ever: for a witch and her familiar they
would have been burnt not so many hundred years ago.

Then we heard that she was taking in lodgers, that women with the look
of hunted creatures stole into her rooms at strange hours of the night.
Some said they were waifs and strays from the "Halls," others that they
were wanderers from the Strand; all agreed that, whoever they were, they
must be as desperately poor as she, to seek shelter where the only bed
was the floor. Much had been passed over, but I knew that such lodgers
were more than landlord and tenants could endure, and I had not to be a
prophet to foresee that the end was approaching.

It came more speedily than I thought, though the manner of it was not
left to landlord and tenants. Christmas, her fifth in the house, had
filled her purse again. Tenants were less liberal, it is true, but she
must have had at least five or six pounds, to which a turkey and plum
pudding had been added by our neighbour across the hall, who was of a
generous turn. She had therefore the essentials of what passes for a
merry Christmas, but how much merriment there was in hers I had no way
of telling. On holidays in London I keep indoors if I can, not caring to
face the sadness of the streets or the dreariness of house-parties, and
I did not go downstairs on Christmas Day, nor on Boxing Day which is the
day after. Mrs. Haines, if she came up, did not present herself at our
chambers. I trust she was gay because, as it turned out, it was her last
chance for gaiety at this or any other season. In the middle of the
night following Boxing Day she was seized with one of her mysterious
attacks. A lodger was with her, but, from fright, or stupidity, or
perhaps worse, called no one till dawn, when she rang up the housekeeper
next door and vanished. The housekeeper next door went at once for the
doctor who attends to us all in the Quarter. It was too late. Mrs.
Haines was dead when he reached the house.

Death was merciful, freeing her from the evil fate that threatened, for
she was at the end of everything. She went out of the world as naked as
she came into it. Her rooms were empty, there was not so much as a crust
of bread in her kitchen, in her purse were two farthings. Her only
clothes were those she had just taken off and the few rags wrapped about
her for the night. Destitution could not be more complete, and the
horror was to find it, not round the corner, not at the door, but in the
very house, and, worse, to know that it deserved no pity. As she had
sown, so had she reaped, and the grave was the kindliest shelter for the
harvest.

The day after, her sister appeared, from where, summoned by whom, I do
not know. She was a decent, serious woman, who attended to everything,
and when the funeral was over, called on all the tenants. She wanted,
she told me, to thank us for all our kindness to her sister, whom
kindness had so little helped. She volunteered no explanation, she only
sighed her regrets. She could not understand, she said.

Nor could I. No doubt, daily in the slums, many women die as destitute.
But they never had their chance. Mrs. Haines had hers, and a fair one
as these things go. Her tragedy has shaken my confidence in the
reformers to-day who would work the miracle, and, with equal chances for
all men, transform this sad world of ours into Utopia.



_Our Beggars_

[Illustration: CLEOPATRA'S NEEDLE FROM OUR WINDOWS]



VIII

OUR BEGGARS


I know our Beggars by their ring. When the front door-bell is pulled
with insolent violence, "That," I say to myself, "is a Beggar," and I am
usually right.

Ours are not the Beggars of whose decay Elia complained; though he could
not have believed that the art of begging was in any more danger of
being lost than the art of lying. His sort have still their place at the
crowded crossing, at the corners of streets and turnings of alleys--they
are always with us. I rarely go out that I do not meet the cripple who
swings himself along on his crutches through the throngs at Charing
Cross, or the blind man who taps his way down the Strand, or the
paralytic in her little cart close to St. Martin's, and I too should
complain were they to disappear. These are Beggars I do not mind. They
have their picturesque uses. They carry on an old tradition. They are
licensed to molest me, and their demands, with their thanks when I give
and their curses when I do not, are the methods of a venerable and
honoured calling. Besides, I can escape them if I choose. I can cross
the street at the approach of the cripple, I can dodge the blind man, I
can look away as I pass the paralytic, and so avoid the irritation of
giving when I do not want to or the discomfort of hearing their opinion
of me when I refuse. But to our Beggars I do object, and from them there
is no escape. They belong to a new species, and have abandoned the
earlier methods as crude and primitive. They make a profession neither
of disease nor of deformity, but of having come down in the world. They
scorn to stoop to "rags and the wallet," which they have exchanged for a
top hat and frock coat. They take out no license, for they never beg in
the streets; instead, they assault us at our door, where they do not ask
for alms but claim the gift, they call a loan, as their right. They are
bullies, brigands, who would thrust the virtue of charity upon us, and
if, as the philosopher thinks, it is a test of manners to receive, they
come out of it with dignity, for their fiction of a loan saves them, and
us, from the professional profuseness of the Beggar's thanks.

It was only when I moved into chambers in the Quarter that they began to
come to see me. Hitherto, my life in London had been spent in lodgings,
where, if I was never free from Beggars in the form of those intimate
friends who are always short of ten pounds to pay their rent or ten
shillings to buy a hat, it was the landlady's affair when the Beggars
who were strangers called.

Chambers, however, gave me a front door at which they could ring and an
address in the Directory in which they could find out where the door
was; and had my object been to make a study of them and their manners, I
could not have hit upon a better place to collect my material.

Not that Beggars are encouraged in the Quarter, where more than one
society devoted to their scientific suppression has, or has had, an
office, and where the lady opposite does not wait for science, but sends
them flying the minute she catches them in our streets. The man who
loafs in front of our club, and who opens cab-doors for members, and as
many more as he can capture, might be mistaken for a Beggar by anybody
who did not know the Quarter, but we who do know it understand that he
is loafing by special appointment. The small boy who has lately taken to
selling his single box of matches on our Terrace does so officially, as
the brass label on his arm explains. And nothing could be more
exceptional than the cheerful person who the other day reeled after the
Publisher and myself into one of our houses where there is an
elevator--for to elevators we have come in the Quarter--the thin end of
the modern wedge that threatens its destruction--and addressed the
Publisher so affectionately as "Colonel" that we both retreated into the
elevator and pressed the button for the top floor.

But the Beggars we keep off our streets, we cannot keep from our front
doors. J. and I had hardly settled in chambers before we were besieged.
People were immediately in need of our help who up till then had managed
without it, and to our annoyance they have been in need of it ever
since. They present themselves in so many different guises, by so many
different methods, that it is impossible to be on our guard against them
all. Some sneak in with the post, and our correspondence has doubled in
bulk. Dukes, Earls, Marquises, Baronets, favour us with lithographed
letters, signing their names at the bottom, writing ours at the top, and
demanding our contribution to charities they approve, as the price of so
amazing a condescension. Ladies of rank cannot give their benevolent
balls and banquets unless we buy tickets, nor can they conceive of our
dismissing their personal appeal. Clergymen start missions that we may
finance them, bazaars are opened that we may fill the stalls with the
free offering of the work by which we make our living, and albums are
raffled that we may grace them with our autographs. We might think that
the post was invented for the benefit of people whose idea of charity is
to do the begging and get us to do the giving. Many of our Beggars like
better to beg in person: sometimes as nurses with tickets to sell for a
concert, or as Little Sisters of the Poor--whom I welcome, having
preserved a sentiment for any variety of cap and veil since my own
convent days; sometimes as people with things to sell at the biggest
price, that we would not want at the lowest, or with patent inventions
that we would not take as a gift, and who are indignant if we decline to
be taxed for the privilege of not buying or subscribing. But the most
numerous of our Beggars, the most persistent, the most liberal in their
expectations, are the men, and more occasionally the women, who, having
come down in the world, look to us to set them up again, and would be
the first to resent it if our generosity ran to any such extravagant
lengths.

Their patronage of the Quarter is doubtless due, partly to its being
close to the Strand, which is an excellent centre for their line of
business; partly to a convenient custom with us of leaving all street
doors hospitably open and inscribing the names of tenants in big gilt
letters on the wall just inside; partly to the fact that we are not five
minutes from a Free Library, where they can agreeably fill their hours
of leisure by the study of "Who's Who," "The Year's Art," and other
books in which publishers obligingly supply the information about us
which to them is as valuable an asset as a crutch to the cripple or a
staff to the blind. Provided by the Directory with our address, they may
already know where to look us up and how to establish an acquaintance by
asking for us by name at our door; but it is this cramming in the facts
of our life that enables them to talk to us familiarly about our work
until acquaintance has ripened into intimacy and the business of begging
is put on a personal and friendly footing. Great as is the good which
Mr. Carnegie must have hoped to accomplish by his Free Libraries, even
he could have had no idea of the boon they might prove to Beggars and
the healthy stimulus to the art of begging which they develop.

In the beginning our Beggars had no great fault to find with us. Their
frock coats and top hats, signs of real British respectability, carried
them past the British porter and the British servant. When they crossed
our threshold, some remnant of the barbarous instinct of hospitality
compelled us to receive them with civility, if not with cordiality. We
never went so far as, with the Spaniard, to offer them our house and all
that is in it, another instinct warning us how little they would mind
taking us at our word; nor did hospitality push us to the extreme of
being hoodwinked by their tales. But in those days we seldom let them go
without something, which was always more than they deserved since they
deserved nothing. If there is such a thing as a Beggar's Bædeker, I am
sure our chambers were specially recommended in earlier editions. In
justice, I must confess that they gave us entertainment for our money,
and that the very tricks of the trade were amusing--that is, while the
novelty lasted. We liked the splendid assurance of their manner; the
pretended carelessness with which a foot was quickly thrust through the
opening of the door so they could be shut out only by force; the
important air with which they asked for a few minutes' talk; the
insinuating smile with which they presumed that we remembered them;
their cool assumption that their burden was ours, and that the kindness
was all on their side for permitting us the privilege of bearing it. And
we liked no less their infinite trouble in inventing romances about
themselves that Munchausen could not have beaten, their dramatic use of
foggy nights and wild storms, their ingenuity in discovering a bond
between us, and their plausibility in proving why it obliged us to meet
their temporary difficulties which were never of course of their own
making. Nor could we but admire their superiority to mere charity, their
belief in the equal division of wealth, their indifference as to who did
the work to create the wealth so long as they did not do it themselves,
and their trust in the obligation imposed by a craft in common. Had they
bestowed half the pains in practising this craft that they squandered in
wheedling a few shillings from us on the strength of it, they must long
since have been acknowledged its masters.

The first of our Beggars, whom I probably remember the better because he
was the first, flattered me by introducing himself as a fellow author
at a time when I had published but one book and had won by it neither
fame nor fortune. What he had published himself he did not think it
worth while to mention, but the powers of imagination he revealed in his
talk should have secured his reputation in print. I have rarely listened
to anybody so fluent, I could not have got a word in had I wanted to. It
never seemed to occur to him that I might not be as bent upon listening
to his story as he upon telling it. He made it quite a personal matter
between us. I would understand, he said, and the inference was that
nobody else could, the bitterness of his awakening when the talented
woman whom he had revered as the kindliest of her sex betrayed herself
to him as the most cruel. For long, in her Florentine villa, he had been
Secretary to Ouida, whom he found so charming and considerate that he
could only marvel at all the gossip about her whims and fancies. Then,
one morning, he was writing a letter at her dictation and by oversight
he spelt disappointment with one p, a trifling error which, as I knew,
any gentleman or scholar was liable to. She flew into a rage, she
turned him out of the villa without hearing a word, she pursued him into
the garden, she set her dogs--colossal staghounds--on him, he had to run
for his life, had even to vault over the garden gate, I could picture to
myself with what disastrous consequences to his coat and trousers. And
she was so vindictive that she would neither send him his clothes nor
pay him a penny she owed him. He had too fine a sense of gallantry to go
to law with a lady, he dared not remain in Florence where the report was
that he went in danger of his life. There was nothing to do but to
return to England, and--well--here he was, with a new outfit to buy
before he could accept the admirable position offered to him, for he had
not to assure me that a man of his competency was everywhere in demand;
it was very awkward, and--in short--he looked to me as a fellow author
to tide him over the awkwardness. I can laugh now at my absurd
embarrassment when finally he came to a full stop. I did not have to
wait for his exposure in the next number of "The Author" to realize that
he was "an unscrupulous impostor." But I was too shy to call him one to
his face, and I actually murmured polite concern and "advanced" I have
forgotten what, to be rid of him.

Out of compliment to J., our Beggars pose as artists no less frequently
than as authors. If the artist himself, when accident or bad luck has
got him into a tight place, likes best to come to his fellow artist to
get him out of it, he is the first to pay his debts and the first debt
he pays is to the artist who saw him through. But this has nothing to do
with our Beggars who have chosen art as an unemployment and with whom
accident or bad luck is deliberately chronic. They look upon art as a
gilt-edged investment that should bring them in a dividend, however
remote their connection with it. According to them, an artist entitles
all his family, even to the second and third generation, to a share in
J.'s modest income, though J. himself is not at all of their manner of
thinking. Grandsons of famous wood-engravers, nephews of editors of
illustrated papers, cousins of publishers of popular magazines, fathers
of painters, brothers, sons, and uncles of every sort of artist, even
sisters, daughters, and aunts who take advantage of their talent for
pathos and "crocodile wisdom of shedding tears when they should
devour,"--all have sought to impress upon him that the sole reason for
their existence is to live at his expense. He may suggest meekly that he
subscribes to benevolent institutions and societies founded for the
relief of artists and artists' families in just their difficulties. They
are glib in excuses for making their application to him instead, and
they evidently think he ought to be grateful to them for putting him in
the way of enjoying the blessing promised to those who give.

The most ambitious reckon their needs on a princely scale, as if
determined to beg, when they have to, with all their might. One artist,
distinguished in his youth, writes to J., from the Café Royal where, in
his old age, he makes a habit of dining and finding himself towards
midnight ridiculously without a penny in his pocket, an emergency in
which a five-pound note by return of messenger will oblige. Another,
whose business hours are as late, comes in person for a "fiver," his
last train to his suburban home being on the point of starting and he as
ridiculously penniless, except for a cheque for a hundred pounds just
received from a publisher, which he cannot change at that time of night.
The more humble have so much less lavish a standard that half a crown
will meet their liabilities, or else a sum left to the generosity of the
giver. A youth, frequent in his visits, never aspires above the fare of
a hansom waiting below, while a painter of mature years appears only on
occasions of public rejoicing or mourning when there is no telling to
what extent emotion may loosen the purse strings. Some bring their
pictures as security, or the pictures of famous ancestors who have
become bewilderingly prolific since their death; some plead for their
work to be taken out of pawn; some want to pose in a few days, and these
J. recommends to the Keeper of the Royal Academy; and some are so subtle
in their argument that we fail to follow it. We are still wondering what
could have been the motive of the excited little man who burst in upon
J. a few days ago with a breathless inquiry as to how much he charged
for painting polo ponies for officers, and who bolted as precipitately
when J. said that he knew nothing about polo, and had never painted a
pony in his life. But for sheer irrelevance none has surpassed the
American whom, in J.'s absence, I was called upon to interview, and who
assured me that, having begun life as an artist and later turned model,
he had tramped all the way from New Orleans to New York and then worked
his way over on a cattleship to London with no other object in view than
to sit to J. If I regret that my countrymen in England borrow the trick
of begging from the native, it is some satisfaction to have them excel
in it. When I represented to the model from New Orleans that J., as far
as I could see, would have no use for him, he was quite ready to take a
shilling in place of the sitting, and when I would not give him a
shilling, he declared himself repaid by his pleasant chat with a
compatriot. He must have thought better of it afterwards and decided
that something more substantial was owing to him, for three weeks later
his visit was followed by a letter:--

     MADAM,--I know how sorry you will be to hear that since my little
     talk with you I have been dangerously sick in a hospital. The
     doctors have now discharged me, but they say I must do no work of
     any kind for ten days, though an artist is waiting for me to sit to
     him for an important picture. They advise me to strengthen myself
     with nourishing food in the meanwhile. Will you therefore please
     send me

     3 dozen new-laid eggs
     1 lb. of fresh butter
     1 lb. of coffee
     1 lb. of tea
     2 lbs. of sugar
     1 dozen of oranges.

     Thanking you in advance,
     I am, Madam,
     Gratefully yours.

There are periods when I am convinced that not art, not literature, but
journalism is the most impecunious of the professions, and that all
Fleet Street, to which the Quarter is fairly convenient, must be out of
work. It is astonishing how often it depends upon our financial backing
to get into work again, though dependence could not be more misplaced,
for a certain little transaction with a guileless youth whose future
hung on a journey to Russia has given us all the experience of the kind,
or a great deal more than we want. As astonishing is the number of
journalists who cherish as their happiest recollections the years they
were with us on the staff of London, New York, or Philadelphia papers
for which we never wrote a line. One even grew sentimental over the
"good old days" on the Philadelphia "Public Ledger" with J.'s father
who, to our knowledge, passed his life without as much as seeing the
inside of a newspaper office. But the journalist persisted until J.
vowed that he never had a father, that he never was in Philadelphia,
that he never heard of the "Ledger": then the poor man fled.
Astonishing, too, is the count they keep of the seasons. Disaster is
most apt to overtake them at those holiday times when Dickens has taught
that hearts are tender and purses overflow. For them Christmas spells
catastrophe, and it has ceased to be a surprise to hear their ring on
Christmas Eve. As a rule, a shilling will avert the catastrophe and
enable them to exchange the cold streets for a warm fireside, hunger for
feasting, though I recall a reporter for whom it could not be done under
a ticket to Paris. The Paris edition of the "New York Herald" had
engaged him on condition that he was in the office not later than
Christmas morning. He was ready to start, but--there was the ticket,
and, for no particular reason except that it was Christmas Eve, J. was
to have the pleasure of paying for it.

"Why not apply to the 'New York Herald' office here?" J. asked.

The reporter beamed: "My dear sir, the very thing, the very thing. Why
didn't I think of it before? I will go at once. Thank you, sir, thank
you!"

He was back in an hour, radiant, the ticket in his hand, but held tight,
so that just one end showed, as if he was afraid of losing it. "You see,
sir, it was the right tip, but I must have some coffee at Dieppe, and I
haven't one penny over. I can manage with a shilling, sir, and if you
would be so kind a couple more for a cab in Paris."

He did not know his man. J. would go, or rather he has gone, without
breakfast or dinner and any distance on foot when work was at stake. But
the reporter was so startled by the suggestion of such hardships for
himself that he dropped the ticket on the floor, and before he could
snatch it up again J. had seen that it was good not for Paris, but for a
'bus in the Strand.

I wish I had been half as stern with the assistant editor from
Philadelphia. I knew him for what he was the minute he came into the
room. He was decently, even jauntily dressed, but there hung about him
the smell of stale cigars and whiskey, which always hangs about those of
our Beggars who do not fill our chambers with the sicklier smell of
drugs. Nor did I think much of his story. He related it at length with
elegance of manner and speech, but it was a poor one, inviting doubt.
The card he played was the one he sent in with a well-known Philadelphia
name on it, and he strengthened the effect by his talk of the artist
with whom he once shared rooms at Eleventh and Spruce streets. That
"fetched me." For Eleventh and Spruce streets must ever mean for me the
red brick house with the white marble steps and green shutters, the
pleasant garden opposite full of trees green and shady on hot summer
days, the leisurely horse-cars jingling slowly by,--the house that is so
big in all the memories of my childhood and youth. If I can help it,
nobody shall ever know what his having lived in its neighbourhood cost
me. I was foolish, no doubt, but I gave with my eyes open: sentiment
sometimes is not too dearly bought at the price of a little folly.

Were Covent Garden not within such easy reach of the Quarter I could
scarcely account for the trust which the needy musician places in us.
Certainly it is because of no effort or encouragement on our side. We
have small connection with the musical world, and whether because of the
size of the singers or the commercial atmosphere at Baireuth, J. since
we heard "Parsifal" there will not be induced to go to the opera
anywhere, or to venture upon a concert. Under the circumstances, the
most imaginative musician could not make believe in a professional bond
between us, though there is nothing to shake his faith in the kinship of
all the arts and, therefore, in our readiness to support the stray tenor
or violinist who cannot support himself. But imagination, anyway, is not
his strong point. He seldom displays the richness of fancy of our other
Beggars, and I can recall only one, a pianist who had grasped the
possibilities of "Who's Who." His use of it, however, went far to atone
for the neglect of the rest. With its aid he had discovered not only
that we were Philadelphians, but that Mr. David Bispham was also, and he
had to let off his enthusiasm over Philadelphia and "dear old Dave
Bispham" before he got down to business. There his originality
gave out. His was the same old story of a run of misfortunes and
disappointments--"it could never have happened if dear old Dave Bispham
had been in town"--and the climax was the dying wife for whom our
sympathy has been asked too often for a particle to be left. The only
difference was that she took rather longer in dying than usual, and the
pianist returned to report her removal from the shelter of a friend's
house to the hospital, from the hospital to lodgings, and from the
lodgings he threatened us with the spectacle of her drawing her last
breath in the gutter if we did not, then and there, pay his landlady and
his doctor and his friend to whom he was deeply in debt. We were spared
her death, probably because by that time the pianist saw the wisdom of
carrying the story of her sufferings to more responsive ears, though it
is not likely that he met with much success anywhere. He was too well
dressed for the part. With his brand-new frock coat and immaculate silk
hat, with his gold-mounted cane and Suède gloves, he was better equipped
for the _jeune premier_ warbling of love, than for the grief-stricken
husband watching in penniless desolation by the bedside of a dying wife.

The Quarter is also within an easy stroll for actors who, when their
hard times come, show an unwarranted confidence in us, though J., if
anything, disdains the theatre more than the opera. They take advantage
of their training and bring the artist's zeal to the rôle of Beggars,
but I have known them to be shocked back suddenly into their natural
selves by J.'s blunt refusal to hear them out. One, giving the
aristocratic name of Mr. Vivian Stewart and further describing himself
on his card as "Lead Character late of the Lyceum," was so dismayed when
J. cut his lines short with a shilling that he lost his cue entirely and
whined, "Don't you think, sir, you could make it eighteenpence?" The
most accomplished in the rôle was a young actor from York. He had the
intelligence to suspect that _the_ profession does not monopolize the
interest of all the world and to pretend that it did not monopolize his
own. He therefore appeared in the double part of cyclist and actor. He
reminded J. of a cycling dinner at York several winters before at which
both were present. J. remembered the dinner, but not the cyclist, who
was not a bit put out but declaimed upon "the freemasonry of the wheel,"
and anticipated J.'s joy as fellow sportsman in hearing of the new
engagement just offered to him. It would be the making of him and his
reputation, but--no bad luck has ever yet robbed our Beggars of that
useful preposition--_but_, it depended upon his leaving London within
an hour, and the usual events over which our Beggars never have control,
found him with ten shillings less than his railway fare. A loan at this
critical point would save his career, and to-morrow the money would be
returned. His visit dates back to the early period, when our hospitality
had not out-grown the barbarous stage, and his career was saved,
temporarily. After six months' silence, the actor reappeared. With his
first word of greeting he took a half sovereign from his waistcoat
pocket and regretted his delay in paying it back. _But_, in the mean
while, much had happened. He had lost his promising engagement; he had
found a wife and was on the point of losing her, for she was another of
the many wives at death's door; he had found a more promising engagement
and was on the point of losing that too, for if he did not settle his
landlady's bill before the afternoon had passed she would seize his
possessions, stage properties and all, and again events beyond his
control had emptied his pockets. He would return the ten shillings,
_but_ we must now lend him a sovereign. And he was not merely surprised
but deeply hurt because we would not, and he stayed to argue it out that
if his wife died, and his landlady kept his possessions, and the
engagement was broken, and his career was at an end, the guilt would be
ours,--it was in our power to make him or to mar him. He was really
rather good at denunciation. On this occasion it was wasted. He did not
get the sovereign, but then neither did we get the half sovereign which
went back into his waistcoat pocket at the end of his visit and
disappeared with him, this time apparently forever.

We are scarcely in as great favour as we were with our Beggars. Their
courage now is apt to ooze from them at our door, which is no longer
held by a British servant, but by Augustine, whom tradition has not
taught to respect the top hat and frock coat, and before whom even the
prosperous quail. She recognizes the Beggar at a glance, for that glance
goes at once to his shoes, she having found out, unaided by Thackeray,
that poverty, beginning to take possession of a man, attacks his
extremities first. She has never been mistaken except when, in the dusk
of a winter evening, she shut one of our old friends out on the stairs
because she had looked at his hat instead of his shoes and mistrusted
the angle at which it was pulled down over his eyes. This blunder, for
an interval, weakened her reliance upon her own judgment, but she has
gradually recovered her confidence, and only the Beggars whose courage
is screwed to the sticking-point, and who sharpen their wits, succeed in
the skirmish to get past her. When they do get past it is not of much
use. The entertainment they gave us is of a kind that palls with
repetition. An inclination to listen to their stories, to save their
careers, to set them up on their feet, could survive their persecutions
in none but the epicure in charity, which we are not. The obligation of
politeness to Beggars under my roof weighs more lightly on my shoulders
with their every visit, while J., as the result of long experience and
to save bother, has reduced his treatment of them to a system and gives
a shilling indiscriminately to each and all who call to beg--when he
happens to have one himself. In vain I assure him that if his system has
the merit of simplicity, it is shocking bad political economy, and that
every shilling given is a shilling thrown away. In vain I remind him
that Augustine, shadowing our Beggars from our chambers, saw the man who
came to us solely because of the "good old days" in Philadelphia stop
and beg at every other door in the house; that she detected one of the
numerous heart-broken husbands hurrying back to his dying wife by way of
the first pub round the corner; that she caught the innocent defendant
in a lawsuit, whose solicitor was waiting downstairs, pounced upon by
two women instead and well scolded for the poor bargain he had made. In
vain I point out that a shilling to one is an invitation to every Beggar
on our beat, for by some wireless telegraphy of their own our Beggars
always manage to spread the news when shillings are in season at our
chambers. But J. is not to be moved. He has an argument as simple as his
system with which to answer mine. If, he says, the Beggar is a humbug, a
shilling can do no great harm; if the Beggar is genuine, it may pay for
a night's bed or for the day's bread; and he does not care if it is
right or wrong according to political economy, for he knows for himself
that the Beggar's story is sometimes true. The visits of Beggars who
once came to us as friends are vivid in his memory.

They are, I admit, visits not soon forgotten. The chance Beggar in the
street is impersonal in his appeal, and yet he makes us uncomfortable by
his mere presence, symbol as he is of the huge and pitiless waste of
life. Our laugh for the bare-faced impostor at our door has a sigh in
it, for proficiency in his trade is gained only through suffering and
degradation. But the laugh is lost in the sigh, the discomfort becomes
acute when the man who begs a few pence is one at whose table we once
sat, whom we once knew in positions of authority. He cannot be reduced
to a symbol nor disposed of by generalizations. Giving is always an
embarrassing business, but under these conditions it fills us with
shame, nor can we help it though oftener than not we see that the shame
is all ours. I am miserable during my interviews with the journalist
whom we met when he was at the top of the ladder of success, and who
slipped to the bottom after his promotion to an important editorship and
his carelessness in allowing himself to be found, on the first night of
his installation, asleep with his head and an empty bottle in the
wastepaper basket; but he seems to be quite enjoying himself, which
makes it the more tragic, as, with hand upraised, he assures me solemnly
that J. is a gentleman, this proud distinction accorded by him in return
for the practical working of J.'s system in his behalf. It is a trial to
receive the popular author who won his popularity by persevering in the
"'abits of a clerk," so he says, when he left the high office stool for
the comfortable chair in his own study, and whose face explains too well
what he has made of it; but it is evidently a pleasure to him, and
therefore the more pitiful to me, when he interrupts my mornings to
expose the critics and their iniquity in compelling him to come to me
for the bread they take out of his mouth. Worst of all were the visits
of the business man,--I am glad I can speak of them in the
past,--though he himself never seemed conscious of the ghastly figure he
made, for when his visible business vanished he had still his wonderful
schemes.

He was a man of wonderful schemes, but originally they led to results as
wonderful. When we first knew him he ruled in an office in Bond Street,
he had partners, he had clerks, he had a porter in livery at the door.
He embarked upon daring adventures and brought them off. He gave
interesting commissions, and he paid for them too, as we learned to our
profit. He had large ideas and a wide horizon; he shrank from the cheap
and popular, from what the people like. He was not above taking the
advice of others upon subjects of which he was broad-minded enough to
understand and to acknowledge his own ignorance, for he spared himself
no pains in his determination to secure the best. And he was full of go;
that was why we liked him. I look back to evenings when he came to
dinner to talk over some new scheme, and when he would sit on and talk
on after his last train--his home was in the suburbs--had long gone and,
as he told us afterwards, he would have to wait in one of the little
restaurants near Fleet Street that are open all night for journalists
until it was time to catch the earliest newspaper train. He would drop
in at any odd hour to discuss his latest enterprise. We were always
seeing him, and we were always delighted to see him, enthusiasm not
being so common a virtue in the Briton that we can afford not to make
the most of it when it happens. We found him, as a consequence, a
stimulating companion. I cannot say exactly when the change came; why it
came remains a mystery to us to this day. Probably it began long before
we realized it. The first symptoms were a trick of borrowing: at the
outset such trivial things as a daily paper to which he should have
subscribed, or books which he should have bought for himself. Then it
was a half crown here and a half crown there, because he had not time to
go back to the office before rushing to the station, or because he had
not a cab fare with him, or because of half a dozen other accidents as
plausible. We might not have given a second thought to all this but for
the rapidity with which the half crowns developed into five shillings,
and the five into ten, and the ten into a sovereign on evenings when the
cab, for which we had to take his word, had been waiting during the
hours of his stay. We could not help our suspicions, the more so because
that indefinable but rank odour of drugs, by which our Beggars too
frequently announce themselves, grew stronger as the amount of which he
was in need increased. And very soon he was confiding to us the details
of a quarrel which deprived him of his partners and their capital. Then
the Bond Street office was given up and his business was done in some
vague rooms, the whereabouts of which he never disclosed; only too soon
it seemed to be done entirely in the street. We would meet him at night
slinking along the Strand, one of the miserable shadows of humanity whom
the darkness lures out of the nameless holes and corners where they hide
during the day. At last came a period when he kept away from our
chambers altogether, sending his wife to us instead. Her visits were
after dark, usually towards midnight. She called for all sorts of
things,--a week's rent, medicine from the druggist in the Strand,
Sunday's dinner, her 'bus fare home, once I remember for an umbrella.
She was never without an excuse for the emergency that forced her to
disturb us, and she was no less fine than he in keeping up the fiction
that it was an emergency, and that business prospered though removed
from Bond Street into the Unknown. I think it was after this loan of an
umbrella that he again came himself, nominally to return it and
incidentally to borrow something else. I had not seen him for several
months. It might have been years judging from his appearance, and I
wished, as I still wish, I had not seen him then. In the Bond Street
days he had the air of a man who lived well, and he was correct in
dress, "well groomed" as they say. And now? His face was as colourless
and emaciated as the faces from which I shrink in the "hunger line" on
the Embankment; he wore a brown tweed suit, torn and mended and torn
again, with a horrible patch of another colour on one knee that drew my
eyes irresistibly to it; his straw hat was as burned and battered as
days of tramping in the sun and nights of sleeping in the rain could
make it. He was the least embarrassed of the two. In fact, he was not
embarrassed at all, but sat in the chair where so often he had faced me
in irreproachable frock coat and spotless trousers, and explained as in
the old days his wonderful schemes, expressing again the hope that we
would second him and, with him, again achieve success. He might have
been a prince promising his patronage. And all the while I did not know
which way to look, so terrible was his face pinched and drawn with
hunger, so eloquent that staring patch on his knee. That was several
years ago, and it was the last visit either he or his wife ever made us.
I cannot imagine that anything was left to them except greater misery,
deeper degradation, and--the merciful end, which I hope came swiftly.

It is when I remember the business man and our other friends,
fortunately few, who have followed in the same path that I am unable to
deny the force of the argument by which J. defends his system. It may be
that all our Beggars began life with schemes as wonderful and ideas as
large, that their stories are as true, that the line between Tragedy and
Farce was never so fine drawn as when, stepping across it, they plunged
into the profession of having come down in the world.



_The Tenants_

[Illustration: THE LION BREWERY]



IX

THE TENANTS


It is impossible to live in chambers without knowing something of the
other tenants in the house. I know much even of several who were
centuries or generations before my time, and I could not help it if I
wanted to, for the London County Council has lately set up a plaque to
their memory on our front wall. Not that I want to help it. I take as
much pride in my direct descent from Pepys and Etty as others may in an
ancestor on the Mayflower or with the Conqueror, while if it had not
been for J. and his interest in the matter we might not yet boast the
plaque that gives us distinction in our shabby old street, though, to do
us full justice, its list of names should be lengthened by at least one,
perhaps the most distinguished.

I have never understood why Bacon was left out. Only the pedant would
disown so desirable a tenant for the poor reason that the house has
been rebuilt since his day. As it is, Pepys heads the list, and we do
not pretend to claim that the house is exactly as it was when he lived
in it. He never saw our Adam ceilings and fireplaces, we never saw his
row of gables along the River front except in Canaletto's drawing of the
old Watergate which our windows still overlook. However, except for the
loss of the gables, the outside has changed little, and if the inside
has been remodelled beyond recognition, we make all we can of the
Sixteenth-Century drain-pipe discovered when the London County Council,
in the early throes of reform, ordered our plumbing to be overhauled.
Their certified plumber made so much of it, feeling obliged to celebrate
his discovery with beer and in his hurry forgetting to blow out the bit
of candle he left amid the laths and plaster, that if J. had not arrived
just in time there would be no house now for the plaque to decorate.
Pepys, I regret to say, waited to move in until after the Diary ended,
so that we do not figure in its pages. Nor, during his tenancy, does he
figure anywhere except in the parish accounts, which is more to his
credit than our entertainment.

Etty was considerate and left a record of his "peace and happiness" in
our chambers, but I have no proof that he appreciated their beauty. If
he liked to walk on our leads in the evening and watch the sun set
behind Westminster, he turned his back on the River at the loveliest
hour of all. It was his habit as Academician to work like a student at
night in the Royal Academy Schools, then in Trafalgar Square,--an
admirable habit, but one that took him away just when he should have
stayed. For when evening transformed the Thames and its banks into
Whistler's "Fairyland" he, like Paul Revere, hung out a lantern from his
studio window as a signal for the porter, with a big stick, to come and
fetch him and protect him from the robbers of the Quarter, which had not
then the best of reputations. Three generations of artists climbed our
stairs to drink tea and eat muffins with Etty, but they showed the same
ignorance of the Thames, all except Turner, who thought there was no
finer scenery on any river in Italy, and who wanted to capture our
windows from Etty and make them his own, but who, possibly because he
could not get them, never painted the Thames as it was and is. One other
painter did actually capture the windows on the first floor, and, in the
chambers that are now the Professor's, Stanfield manufactured his
marines, and there too, they say, Humphry Davy made his safety lamp.

We do not depend solely upon the past for our famous tenants. Some of
the names which in my time have been gorgeously gilded inside our
vestibule, later generations may find in the list we make a parade of on
our outer wall. For a while, in the chambers just below ours, we had the
pleasure of knowing that Mr. Edmund Gosse was carrying on for us the
traditions of Bacon and Pepys. Then we have had a Novelist or two, whose
greatness I shrink from putting to the test by reading their novels, and
also one or more Actors, but fame fades from the mummer on the wrong
side of the footlights. We still have the Architect who, if the tenants
were taken at his valuation, would, I fancy, head our new list.

He is not only an architect but, like Etty,--like J. for that
matter,--an Academician. He carries off the dignity with great
stateliness, conscious of the vast gulf fixed between him and tenants
with no initials after their name. Moreover, he belongs to that
extraordinary generation of now elderly Academicians who were apparently
chosen for their good looks, as Frederick's soldiers were for their
size. The stoop that has come to his shoulder with years but adds to the
impressiveness of his carriage. His air of superiority is a continual
reminder of his condescension in having his office under our modest
roof. His "Aoh, good-mornin'," as he passes, is a kindness, a few words
from him a favour rarely granted, and there is no insolent familiar in
the house who would dare approach him. Royalty, Archbishops, University
dignitaries are his clients, and it would seem presumption for the mere
untitled to approach him with a commission. His office is run on
dignified lines in keeping with the exalted sphere in which he
practises. A parson of the Church of England is his chief assistant. A
notice on his front door warns the unwary that "No Commercial
Travellers need Apply," and implies that others had better not.

William Penn is probably the only creature in the house who ever had the
courage to enter the Academic precincts unbidden. William was a cat of
infinite humour, and one of his favourite jests was to dash out of our
chambers and down the stairs whenever he had a chance; not because he
wanted to escape,--he did not, for he loved his family as he
should,--but because he knew that one or all of us would dash after him.
If he was not caught in time he added to the jest by pushing through the
Academician's open door and hiding somewhere under the Academic nose,
and I am certain that nobody had a keener sense of the audacity of it
than William himself. More than once a young assistant, trying to
repress a grin and to look as serious as if he were handing us a design
for a Deanery, restored William to his family; and once, on a famous
occasion when, already late, we were starting for the Law Courts and the
Witness-box, the Architect relaxed so far as to pull William out from
among the Academic drawing-boards and to smile as he presented him to
J. who was following in pursuit. Even Jove sometimes unbends, but when
Jove is a near neighbour it is wiser not to presume upon his unbending,
and we have never given the Architect reason to regret his moment of
weakness.

Whatever the Architect thinks of himself, the other tenants think more
of Mr. Square, whose front door faces ours on the Third Floor. Mr.
Square is under no necessity of assuming an air of superiority, so
patent to everybody in the house is his right to it. If anything, he
shrinks from asserting himself. He had been in his chambers a year,
coming a few months "after the fire," before I knew him by sight, though
by reputation he is known to everybody from one end of the country to
the other. Not only is there excitement in our house when the police
officer appears on our staircase with a warrant for his arrest for
murder, but the United Kingdom thrills and waits with us for the
afternoon's Police Report. In the neighbourhood I am treated with almost
as much respect as when I played a leading part in the Law Courts
myself. The milkman and the postman stop me in the street, the little
fruiterer round the corner and the young ladies at the Temple of Pomona
in the Strand detain me in giving me my change as if I were an accessory
to the crime. What if the murder is only technical, Mr. Square's arrest
a matter of form, his discharge immediate? The glory is in his position
which makes the technical murder an achievement to be envied by every
true-born Briton. For he is Referee at the Imperial Boxing Club, and
therefore the most important person in the Empire, except, perhaps, the
winning jockey at the Derby or the Captain of the winning Football Team.
The Prime Minister, Royalty itself, would not shed a brighter lustre on
our ancient house, and there could be no event of greater interest than
the fatal "accident" in the ring for which Mr. Square has been so many
times held technically responsible.

In his private capacity Mr. Square strikes me as in no way remarkable.
He is a medium-sized man with sandy hair and moustache, as like as two
peas to the other men of medium height with sandy hair and moustache
who are met by the thousand in the Strand. He shares his chambers with
Mr. Savage, who is something in the Bankruptcy Court. Both are retiring
and modest, they never obtrude themselves, and either their domestic
life is quiet beyond reproach, or else the old builders had the secret
of soundless walls, for no sound from their chambers disturbs us. With
them we have not so much as the undesirable intimacy that comes from
mutual complaint, and such is their amiability that William, in his most
outrageous intrusions, never roused from them a remonstrance.

I am forced to admit that William was at times ill-advised in the hours
and places he chose for his adventures. He often beguiled me at midnight
upon the leads that he might enjoy my vain endeavours to entice him home
with the furry monkey tied to the end of a string, which during the day
never failed to bring him captive to my feet. By his mysterious
disappearances he often drove J., whose heart is tender and who adored
him, out of his bed at unseemly hours and down into the street where, in
pyjamas and slippers, and the door banged to behind him, he became an
object of suspicion. On one of these occasions, a policeman
materializing suddenly from nowhere and turning a bull's-eye on him,--

"Have you seen a cat about?" J. asked.

"Seen a cat? Oi've seen millions on 'em," said the policeman. "Wot sort
o' cat?" he added.

"A common tabby cat," said J.

"Look 'ere," said the policeman, "where do you live any'ow?"

"Here," said J., who had retained his presence of mind with his
latch-key.

"Aoh, Oi begs your parding, sir," said the policeman. "Oi didn't see
you, sir, in the dim light, sir, but you know, sir, there's billions o'
tabby cats about 'ere of a night, sir. But if Oi find yours, sir, Oi'll
fetch 'im 'ome to you, sir. S'noight, sir. Thank e' sir."

When the kitchen door was opened the next morning, William was
discovered innocently curled up in his blanket. And yet, when he again
disappeared at bedtime a week or two later, J. was again up before
daybreak, sure that he was on the doorstep breaking his heart because
he could not get in. This time I followed into our little hall, and
Augustine after me. She was not then as used to our ways as she is now,
and I still remember her sleepy bewilderment when she looked at J., who
had varied his costume for the search by putting on knickerbockers and
long stockings, and her appeal to me: "_Mais pourquoi en bicyclette?_"
Why indeed? But there was no time for explanation. We were interrupted
by an angry but welcome wail from behind the opposite door, and we
understood that William was holding us responsible for having got
himself locked up in Mr. Square's chambers. We had to wake up Mr.
Square's old servant before he could be released, but it was not until
the next morning that the full extent of his iniquity was revealed. A
brand-new, pale-pink silk quilt on Mr. Square's bed having appealed to
him as more luxurious than his own blanket, he had profited by Mr.
Square's absence to spend half the night on it, leaving behind him a
faint impression of his dear grimy little body. Even then, Mr. Square
remained as magnanimously silent as if he shared our love for William
and pride in his performances.

All we know of Mr. Square and Mr. Savage, in addition to their fame and
modesty, we have learned from their old man, Tom. He is a sailor by
profession, and for long steward on Mr. Savage's yacht. He clings to his
uniform in town, and when we see him pottering about in his blue reefer
and brass buttons, Mr. Savage's little top floor that adjoins ours and
opens out on the leads we share between us looks more than ever like a
ship's quarter-deck. He is sociable by nature, and overflows with
kindliness for everybody. He is always smiling, whatever he may be doing
or wherever I may meet him, and he has a child's fondness for sweet
things. He is never without a lemon-drop in his mouth, and he keeps his
pockets full of candy. As often as the opportunity presents itself, he
presses handfuls upon Augustine, whom he and his wife ceremoniously call
"Madam," and to whom he confides the secrets of the household.

It is through him, by way of Augustine, that we follow the movements of
the yacht, and know what "his gentlemen" have for dinner and how many
people come to see them. At times I have feared that his confidences to
Augustine and the tenderness of his attentions were too marked, and that
his old wife, who is less liberal with her smiles, disapproved. Over the
_grille_ that separates our leads from his, he gossips by the hour with
Augustine, when she lets him, and once or twice, meeting her in the
street, he has gallantly invited her into a near public to "'ave a
drink," an invitation which she, with French scorn for the British
substitute of the café, would disdain to accept. To other tributes of
his affection, however, she does not object. On summer evenings he
sometimes lays a plate of salad or stewed fruit at our door, rings,
runs, and then from out a porthole of a window by his front door,
watches the effect when she finds it, and is horribly embarrassed if I
find it by mistake. In winter his offering takes the shape of a British
mince-pie or a slice of plum pudding, and, on a foggy morning when she
comes home from market, he will bring her a glass of port from Mr.
Square's cellar. He is always ready to lend her a little oil, or milk,
or sugar, in an emergency. Often he is useful in a more urgent crisis.
In a sudden thunder-storm he will leap over the _grille_, shut our door
on the leads, and make everything ship-shape almost before I know it is
raining. He has even broken in for me when I have come home late without
a key, and by my knocking and ringing have roused up everybody in the
whole house except Augustine. Mrs. Tom, much as she may disapprove, is
as kindly in her own fashion; she is quite learned in medicine, and
knows an old-fashioned remedy for every ailment. She has seen Augustine
triumphantly through an accident, she has cured Marcel, Augustine's
husband, of a quinsy, and she rather likes to be called upon for advice.
She is full of little amiabilities. She never gets a supply of eggs
fresh from the country at a reasonable price without giving me a chance
to secure a dozen or so, and when her son, a fisherman, comes up to
London, she always reserves a portion of his present of fish for me. I
could not ask for kindlier neighbours, and they are the only friends I
have made in the house.

I was very near having friendship thrust upon me, however, by the First
Floor Back, Mrs. Eliza Short. She is an elderly lady of generous
proportions and flamboyant tastes, "gowned" elaborately by Jay and as
elaborately "wigged" by Truefitt. The latest fashions and golden hair
cannot conceal the ravages of time, and, as a result of her labours, she
looks tragically like the unwilling wreck of a Lydia Thompson Blonde. I
may be wrong; she may never have trod the boards, and yet I know of
nothing save the theatre that could account for her appearance. The most
assiduous of her visitors, as I meet them on the stairs, is an old
gentleman as carefully made up in his way, an amazing little dandy, whom
I fancy as somebody in the front row applauding rapturously when Mrs.
Eliza Short, in tights and golden locks, came pirouetting down the
stage. I should have been inclined to weave a pretty romance about them
as the modern edition of Philemon and Baucis if, knowing Mrs. Short, it
did not become impossible to associate romance of any kind with her.

Our acquaintance was begun by my drinking tea in her chambers the
morning "after the fire," of which she profited unfairly by putting me
on her visiting-list. She was not at all of Montaigne's opinion that
"incuriosity" is a soft and sound pillow to rest a well-composed head
upon. On the contrary, it was evident that for hers to rest in comfort
she must first see every room in our chambers and examine into all my
domestic arrangements. I have never been exposed to such a battery of
questions. I must say for her that she was more than ready to pay me in
kind. Between her questions she gave me a vast amount of information for
which I had no possible use. She told me the exact amount of her income
and the manner of its investment. She explained her objection to
servants and her preference for having "somebody in" to do the rough
work. She confided to me that she dealt at the Stores where she could
always get a cold chicken and a bit of ham at a pinch, and the "pinch"
at once presented itself to my mind as an occasion when the old dandy
was to be her guest. She edified me by her habit of going to bed with
the lambs, and getting up with the larks to do her own dusting. The one
ray of hope she allowed me was the fact that her winters were spent at
Monte Carlo. She could not pass me on the stairs, or in the hall, or on
the street, where much of her time was lost, without buttonholing me to
ask on what amount of rent I was rated, or how much milk I took in of a
morning, or if the butcher sent me tough meat, or other things that were
as little her business. I positively dreaded to go out or to come home,
and the situation was already strained when Jimmy rushed to the rescue.
Elia regretted the agreeable intimacies broken off by the dogs whom he
loved less than their owners, but I found it useful to have a cat Mrs.
Short could not endure, to break off my intimacy with her, and he did it
so effectually that I could never believe it was not done on purpose.
One day, when she had been out since ten o'clock in the morning, she
returned to find Jimmy locked up in her chambers alone with her bird.
That the bird was still hopping about its cage was to me the most
mysterious feature in the whole affair, for Jimmy was a splendid
sportsman. After his prowls in the garden he only too often left behind
him a trail of feathers and blood-stains all the way up the three
flights of our stairs. But if the bird had not escaped, Mrs. Short could
hardly have been more furious. She demanded Jimmy's life, and when it
was refused, insisted on his banishment. She threatened him with poison
and me with exposure to the Landlord. For days the Housekeeper was sent
flying backwards and forwards between Mrs. Short's chambers and ours,
bearing threats and defiances. Jimmy, who knew as well as I did what was
going on, rejoiced, and from then until his untimely death never ran
downstairs or up--and he was always running down or up--without stopping
in front of her door, giving one unearthly howl, and then flying; and
never by chance did he pay the same little attention to any one of the
other tenants.

Mrs. Short does not allow me to forget her. As her voice is deep and
harsh and thunders through the house when she buttonholes somebody else,
or says good-bye to a friend at her door, I hear her far more
frequently than I care to; as she has a passion for strong scent, I
often smell her when I do not see her at all; and as in the Quarter we
all patronize the same tradesmen, I am apt to run into her not only on
our stairs, but in the dairy, or the Temple of Pomona, or further afield
at the Post Office. Then, however, we both stare stonily into vacancy,
failing to see each other, and during the sixteen years since that first
burst of confidence, we have exchanged not a word, not as much as a
glance: an admirable arrangement which I owe wholly to Jimmy.

With her neighbours on the other side of the hall, Mrs. Short has
nothing in common except permanency as tenant. Her name and the sign of
the Church League faced each other on the First Floor when we came to
our chambers; they face each other still. Her golden wig is not oftener
seen on our stairs than the gaiters and aprons of the Bishops who rely
upon the League for a periodical cup of tea; her voice is not oftener
heard than the discreet whispers of the ladies who attend the Bishops in
adoring crowds. But Jimmy's intervention was not required to maintain
the impersonality of my relations with the League. It has never shown an
interest in my affairs nor a desire to confide its own to me. Save for
one encounter we have kept between us the distance which it should be
the object of all tenants to cultivate, and I might never have looked
upon it as more than a name had I not witnessed its power to attract
some of the clergy and to enrage others. Nothing has happened in our
house to astound me more than the angry passions it kindled in two of
our friends who are clergymen. One vows that he will never come to see
us again so long as to reach our chambers he must pass the League's
door; the second reproaches us for having invited him, his mere presence
in the same house being sufficient to ruin his clerical reputation. As
the League is diligently working for the Church of which both my friends
are distinguished lights, I feel that in these matters there are fine
shades beyond my unorthodox intelligence. It is also astounding that the
League should inflame laymen of no religious tendencies whatever to
more violent antagonism. Friends altogether without the pale have taken
offence at what they call the League's arrogance in hanging up its signs
not only at its front door, but downstairs in the vestibule, and again
on the railings without, and they destroyed promptly the poster it once
ventured to put upon the stairs, assuring us that theirs was righteous
wrath, and then, in the manner of friends, leaving us to face the
consequences.

For myself I bear no ill-will to the League. I may object to the success
with which it fills our stairs on the days of its meetings and
tea-parties, but I cannot turn this into a pretext for quarrelling,
while I can only admire the spirit of progress that has made it the
first in the house to do its spring-cleaning by a vacuum cleaner and to
set up a private letter-box. I can only congratulate it on the
prosperity that has caused the overflow of its offices into the next
house, and so led indirectly to the one personal encounter I have
referred to. A few of the rooms were to let, and J.'s proposal to set up
his printing-press in one of them involved us in a correspondence with
the Secretary. Then I called, as by letter we were unable to agree upon
details. The League, with a display of hospitality that should put the
Architect to shame, bids everybody enter without knocking. But when I
accepted this Christian invitation, I was confronted by a tall,
solemn-faced young man, who informed me that the Secretary was "engaged
in prayer," and I got no further than the inner hall. As I failed to
catch the Secretary in his less professional moments, and as his
devotions did not soften his heart to the extent of meeting us halfway,
we quickly resumed the usual impersonality of our relations.

I cannot imagine our house without the Church League and Mrs. Eliza
Short, the Architect and Mr. Square. Were their names to vanish from the
doors where I have seen them for the last sixteen years, it would give
me the same sense of insecurity as if I suddenly looked out of my window
to a Thames run dry, or to a domeless city in the distance. With this
older group of tenants, who show their respect for a house of venerable
age and traditions by staying in it, I think we are to be included and
also the Solicitor of the Ground Floor Front. He has been with us a
short time, it is true, but he succeeded our old Insurance Agent whom
nothing save death could have removed, and for years before he lived no
further away than Peter the Great's house across the street, where he
would be still, had it not been torn down over his head to make way for
the gaudy, new, grey stone building which foretells the beginning of the
end of our ancient street. The Solicitor cloisters himself in his
chambers more successfully even than the Architect or the Church League,
and I have never yet laid eyes on him or detected a client at his door.

I wish the same could be said of our other newcomers who, with rare
exceptions, exhibit a restlessness singularly unbecoming in a house that
has stood for centuries. In the Ground Floor Back change for long was
continued. It was the home of a Theatrical Agent and his family, and
babyish prattle filled our once silent halls; it was the office of a
Music Hall Syndicate, and strange noises from stranger instruments came
floating out and up our stairs, and blonde young ladies in towering
hats blocked the door. Then a Newspaper Correspondent drifted in and
drifted out again; and next a publisher piled his books in the windows,
and made it look so like the shop which is against the rules of the
house that his disappearance seemed his just reward.

After this a Steamship Company took possession, bringing suggestions of
sunshine and spice with the exotic names of its vessels and the far-away
Southern ports for which they sailed,--bringing, too, the spirit of
youth, for it employed many young men and women whom I would meet in
couples whispering on the stairs or going home at dusk hand in hand.
Tender little idyls sprang up in our sober midst. But the staff of young
lovers hit upon the roof as trysting-place at the luncheon hour, running
races and playing tag up there, and almost tumbling through our
skylight. Cupid, sporting overhead with wings exchanged for hob-nailed
boots, was unendurable, and I had to call in the Landlord's Agent. He is
the unfortunate go-between in all the tenants' differences and
difficulties: a kind, weary, sympathetic man, designed by Nature for
amiable, good-natured communication with his fellow men, and decreed by
Fate and his calling to communicate with them constantly in their most
disagreeable moods and phases. Half my fury evaporated at sight of his
troubled face, and I might have endured the races and games of tag could
I have foreseen that, almost as soon as he put a stop to them, the
Steamship Company would take its departure.

The Professor who then came in is so exemplary a tenant that I hope
there will be no more changes in the Ground Floor Back. He is a tall,
ruddy, well-built man of the type supposed to be essentially British by
those who have never seen the other type far more general in the
provincial town or, nearer still, in the East of London. He is of
middle-age and should therefore have out-grown the idyllic stage, and
his position as Professor at the University is a guarantee of sobriety
and decorum. I do not know what he professes, but I can answer for his
conscientiousness in professing it by the regularity with which, from
our windows, I see him of a morning crossing the garden below on his
way to his classes. His household is a model of British propriety. He is
cared for by a motherly housekeeper, an eminently correct man-servant,
and a large hound of dignified demeanour and a sense of duty that leads
him to suspect an enemy in everybody who passes his master's door. His
violence in protesting against unobjectionable tenants like ourselves
reconciles me to dispensing with a dog, especially as it ends with his
bark. It was in his master's chambers that our only burglar was
discovered,--a forlorn makeshift of a burglar who got away with nothing,
and was in such an agony of fright when, in the small hours of the
morning, he was pulled out from under the dining-room table, that the
Professor let him go as he might have set free a fly found straying in
his jam-pot.

The Professor, as is to be expected of anybody so unmistakably British,
cultivates a love for sport. I suspect him of making his amusements his
chief business in life, as it is said a man should and as the Briton
certainly does. He hunts in the season, and, as he motors down to the
meet, he is apt to put on his red coat and white breeches before he
starts, and they give the last touch of respectability to our
respectable house. He is an ardent automobilist, and his big motor at
our door suggests wealth as well as respectability. This would have
brought us into close acquaintance had he had his way. Sport is supposed
to make brothers of all men who believe in it, but from this category I
must except J. at those anxious moments which sport does not spare its
followers. He was preparing to start somewhere on his fiery motor
bicycle, and the Professor, who had never seen one before, wanted to
know all about it. J., deeper than he cared to be in carburettors and
other mysterious matters, was not disposed to be instructive, and I
think the Professor was ashamed of having been beaten in the game of
reserve by an American, for he has made no further advances. His most
ambitious achievement is ballooning, to which he owes a fame in the
Quarter only less than Mr. Square's. We all watch eagerly, with a
feeling of proprietorship, for the balloons on the afternoons when
balloon races and trials start from the Crystal Palace or Ranelagh. I
have caught our little fruiterer in the act of pointing out the
Professor's windows to chance customers; and on those days I am absorbed
in the sporting columns of the afternoon paper, which, at other times, I
pass over unread. He has now but to fly to complete his triumph and the
pride of our house in him.

Restlessness also prevails in the Second Floor Back, and as we are
immediately above, we suffer the more. Hardly a tenant has remained
there over a year, or a couple of years at most, and all in succession
have developed a talent for interfering with our comfort. First, an
Honourable occupied the chambers. His title was an unfailing
satisfaction to Mrs. Haines, the Housekeeper, who dwelt upon it
unctuously every time she mentioned him. I am not learned in Debrett and
Burke and may not have appreciated its value, but he might have been
Honourable ten times over and it would not have reconciled me to him as
neighbour. He was quite sure, if I was not, that he was a great deal
better than anybody else, and he had the Briton's independent way of
asserting it. He slammed behind him every door he opened, and when the
stairs were barricaded by himself, his friends, or his parcels, and we
wanted to pass, he failed to see us as completely as if we had been Mr.
Wells's Invisible Man. He went to the City in the morning and was away
all day, even an Honourable being sometimes compelled to pretend to
work. But this was no relief. During his absence his servants availed
themselves of the opportunity to assert their independence, which they
did with much vigour. When they were not slamming doors they were
singing hymns, until Mrs. Eliza Short from her chambers below and we
from ours above, in accord the first and only time for years, joined in
protest, and drove Mrs. Haines to the unpleasant task of remonstrating
with an Honourable.

The Honourable who had come down from the aristocracy was followed by a
_Maître d'Hôtel_ who was rapidly rising in rank, and was therefore under
as urgent necessity to impress us with his importance. Adolf was an
Anglicized German, with moustaches like the Kaiser's, and the swagger
of a drum-major. He treated our house as if it was the dining-room under
his command, locking and unlocking the street door, turning on and out
the lights on the stairs at any hour that suited him, however
inconvenient to the rest of us. He littered up the hall with his
children and his children's perambulators and hobby-horses, just where
we all had to stumble over them to get in or out. Nobody's taxi tooted
so loud as his, not even the Honourable's door had shut with such a
bang. Augustine's husband being also something in the same profession,
they both despised the Adolfs for putting on airs though no better than
themselves, while the Adolfs despised them for not having attained the
same splendid heights, and the shaking of my rugs out of the back
windows was seized upon as the excuse for open warfare. Augustine said
it was there they should be shaken according to the law in Paris, which
she thought good enough for London. Mrs. Adolf protested that the
shaking sent all the dust into her rooms. Augustine, whose English is
small and what there is of it not beyond reproach, called Mrs. Adolf
"silly fou," which must have been annoying, or harangued her in French
when Mrs. Adolf, who could not understand, suspected an offence in every
word.

Mrs. Adolf wrote to the Agent, to the Landlord, to me; she declared she
would summons me to the County Court. Between letters she watched at her
window for the rugs, and there both her servant and her charwoman made
faces at Augustine, who has a nice sense of justice and a temper that
does not permit her, with Elizabeth Bennet's father, to be satisfied by
laughing in her turn at those who have made sport of her. I trembled for
the consequences. But at the critical moment, Adolf was promoted to the
more splendid height of Manager and a larger salary; the taxi was
replaced by a motor-car of his own; Mrs. Adolf arrayed herself in muslin
and lace for the washtub, in nothing less elegant than velvet for the
street, and they left our old-fashioned chambers for the marble halls
and gilded gorgeousness of the modern mansion.

Of the several tenants after the Adolfs, I seem to remember little save
the complaints we interchanged. I tried my best to do as I would be done
by and to keep out of their way, but accident was always throwing us
together to our mutual indignation. There was the Bachelor whose
atrocious cook filled our chambers with the rank odours of smoked
herring and burnt meat, and whose deserted ladylove filled the stairs
with lamentations. There was the young Married Couple into whose bathtub
ours overflowed. There was the Accidental Actress whose loud voice and
heavy boots were the terror not only of our house, but of the street,
whose telephone rang from morning till night, whose dog howled all
evening when he was left alone as he usually was, and whose rehearsals
in her rooms interrupted the work in ours with ear-piercing yells of
"Murder" and "Villain."

I cannot recall them all, so rapidly did they come and go. We began to
fear that the life of the tenant was, as Tristram Shandy described the
life of man, a shifting from sorrow to sorrow. We lived in an atmosphere
of fault-finding, though when there was serious cause for complaint,
not a murmur could be wrung from the tenant below or, for that matter,
from a tenant in the house. All, like true Britons, refused to admit the
possibility of interests in common, and would not stir a hand, however
pressing the danger, so long as they were not disturbed. If our chambers
reeked with smoke and the smell of burning wood, they accepted the
information with calm indifference because theirs did not. Nor did it
serve as a useful precedent if, as it happened, smoke and smell were
traced again to a fire, smouldering as it had been for nobody knew how
long, in the cellar of the adjoining house, separated from ours only by
the "party wall" belonging to both: that ingenious contrivance of the
builder for creating ill-will between next-door neighbours. They
declined to feel the bannisters loose under their grasp, or to see the
wide gap opened in the same party wall after the fall of the roof of
Charing Cross Station had shaken the Quarter to its foundations and made
us believe for a moment that London was emulating Messina or San
Francisco. And I must add, so characteristic was it, that the Agent
dismissed our fears as idle, and that the Surveyor, sent at our request
by the County Council, laughed us to scorn. But we laughed best, for we
laughed last. A second Surveyor ordered the wall to be pulled down as
unsafe and rebuilt, and the Agent in the end found it prudent to support
the bannisters with iron braces.

When, after these trials and tribulations, Mr. Allan took the Second
Floor Back we thought the Millennium had come. He was a quiet man,
employed in the morning, so we were told, in writing a life of Chopin,
and in the evening, as we heard for ourselves, in playing Chopin
divinely. The piano is an instrument calculated to convert an otherwise
harmless neighbour into a nuisance, but of him it made a delight. He was
waited upon by a man as quiet, whose consideration for the tenants went
to the length of felt slippers in the house, who never slammed doors nor
sang, who never even whistled at his work. An eternity of peace seemed
to open out before us, but, as they say in novels, it was not to be. Our
confidence in Mr. Allan was first shaken by what I still think an
unjustified exhibition of nerves. One night, or rather one early
morning, a ring at our door-bell startled us at an hour when, in my
experience, it means either a fire or an American cablegram. It was
therefore the more exasperating, on opening the door, to be faced by an
irate little man in pyjamas and smoking jacket who wanted to know when
we proposed to go to bed. Only after J.'s answer "when we are ready,"
did we know it was Mr. Allan by his explanation that his bed was under
the room where we were walking about, that the floor was thin, and that
he could not sleep. J. would not enter into an argument. He said the
hour was not the most appropriate for a criticism of the construction of
the house which, besides, was at all hours the Landlord's and not his
affair, and Mr. Allan had the grace to carry his complaint no further.
It may have occurred to him on reflection that it was not our fault if
he had chosen a room to sleep in just below the room we used to sit and
see our friends in.

Had I borne malice, I should not have had to wait long for my revenge,
nor to plan it myself. Not many days later, Mr. Allan's servant,
watering the flowers on the open balcony at Mr. Allan's window, watered
by mistake the new Paris bonnet of the lady of the Ground Floor Back who
was coming home at that very minute. Under the circumstances few women
would not have lost their temper, but few would have been so prompt in
action. She walked straight upstairs to Mr. Allan's chambers, the wreck
in her hand. The servant opened to her knock, but she insisted upon
seeing the master.

"I have come, Allan, to tell you what I think of the conduct of your
servant," she said, when the master appeared. "Yes, I call you Allan,
for I mean to talk to you as man to man," which she proceeded to do.

I did not hear the talk, but it was almost a week before I heard the
piano again. Poor Mr. Allan! And this proved a trifle to the worse
humiliation he was soon to endure.

As I sat with a book by my lamp one evening before dinner, shrieks from
his chambers and a crash of crockery sent me rushing to the door and out
upon the landing, with Augustine at my heels. Old Tom and his wife
arrived there simultaneously, and, looking cautiously over the
bannisters, I saw an anxious crowd looking up as cautiously from the
hall on the Ground Floor. The shrieks developed into curses intermingled
with more riotous crashing of china. The Housekeeper, urged by the crowd
below, crept all unwilling to Mr. Allan's door and knocked. The door was
flung open, and, before she ventured to "beg pardon but the noise
disturbed the other tenants," Mr. Allan's hitherto well-behaved servant
greeted her with a volley of blood-curdling epithets and the smash of
every pane of glass in the upper panel of the door, and down she fled
again. He bolted out after her, but looking up and catching a glimpse of
Tom, peacefully sucking a lemon-drop, he became so personal that Tom and
his wife retreated hastily, and for the first time the smile faded from
the old man's face. In a moment's lull I heard Mr. Allan's voice, low
and entreating, then more curses, more crashes. I should not have
thought there was so much glass and crockery to be broken in the whole
house.

Presently a policeman appeared, and then a second. The door was open,
but the servant was busy finishing up the crockery. Mr. Allan spoke to
them, and then, like a flash, the servant was there too.

"I dare you to let them come in!" he yelled, so loud he could be heard
from the top to the bottom of the house. "I dare you to let them come
in! I dare you to give me in charge! I dare you! I dare you!"

And Mr. Allan did not dare, that was the astonishing part of it. And he
never lost his temper. He argued with the policemen, he plead with the
servant, while one group on our landing and another on the Ground Floor
waited anxiously. The policemen did not desert us but stood guard on the
Second Floor, which was a reassurance, until gradually the yells were
lowered, the crashes came at longer intervals, and at last, I suppose in
sheer exhaustion, the servant relapsed into his usual calm, Mr. Allan
"sported his oak," and I learned how truly an Englishman's home is his
castle.

The Housekeeper spent the evening on the stairs gossiping at every
door. There was not much to learn from her. A mystery was hinted--many
mysteries were hinted. The truth I do not know to this moment. I only
know that before the seven days of our wonder were over, the Agent, more
careworn than ever if that were possible, made a round of visits in the
house, giving to each tenant an ample and abject apology written by Mr.
Allan. At the end of the quarter, the Second Floor Back was again to
let.

We should have parted with Mr. Allan less light-heartedly could we have
anticipated what was in store for us. He was no sooner gone than the
Suffragettes came in.

I have no quarrel on political grounds with the Suffragettes.
Theoretically, I believe that women of property and position should have
their vote and that men without should not, but I think it a lesser evil
for women to be denied the vote than for the suffrage to become as
universal for women as for men, and to grant it on any other conditions
would be an indignity. I state the fact to explain that I am without
prejudice. I do not argue, for, to tell the truth, shocking as it may
be, I am not keen one way or the other. Life for me has grown crowded
enough without politics, and years have lessened the ardour for abstract
justice that was mine when, in my youth, I wrote the "Life of Mary
Wollstonecraft," and militant Suffragettes as yet were not. Ours are of
the most militant variety, and it is not their fault if the world by
this time does not know what this means. Even so, on general principles,
I should have no grievance against them. Every woman is free to make
herself ridiculous, and it is none of my business if my neighbours
choose to make a public spectacle of themselves by struggling in the
arms of policemen, or going into hysterics at meetings where nobody
wants them; if they like to emulate bad boys by throwing stones and
breaking windows, or if it amuses them to slap and whip unfortunate
statesmen who, physically, could easily convince them of their
inferiority. But when they make themselves a nuisance to me personally I
draw the line. And they are a nuisance to me.

They have brought pandemonium into the Quarter where once all was
pleasantness and peace. Of old, if the postman, the milkman, a messenger
boy, and one or two stray dogs and children lingered in our street, we
thought it a crowd; since the coming of the Suffragettes, I have seen
the same street packed solid with a horde of the most degenerate
creatures in London summoned by them "to rush the House of Commons."
They have ground their hurdy-gurdies at our door, Heaven knows to what
end; vans covered with their posters have obstructed our crossing;
motor-cars adorned with their flags have missed fire and exploded in our
street; and they have had themselves photographed as sandwiches on our
Terrace. Our house is in a turmoil from morning till night with women
charging in like a mob, or stealing out like conspirators. Their badges,
their sandwich boards, their banners lie about in our hall, so much in
everybody's way that I sympathized with the infuriated tenant whom I
caught one night kicking the whole collection into the cellar. They talk
so hard on the stairs that often they pass their own door and come on to
ours, bringing Augustine from her work and disturbing me at mine, for
she can never open to them without poking her head into my room to tell
me, "_Encore une sale Suffragette!_" In their chambers they never stop
chattering, and their high shrill treble penetrates through the floor
and reaches us up above. The climax came with their invasion of our
roof.

This roof, built "after the fire," is a modern invention, designed for
the torture of whoever lives underneath. It is flat, with a beautiful
view to be had among the chimney-pots and telephone wires; it is so thin
that a pigeon could not waddle across without being heard by us; and as
it is covered with gravel, every sound is accompanied by a scrunching
warranted to set the strongest nerves in a quiver. We had already been
obliged to represent to the Agent that it was not intended for the
Housekeeper's afternoon parties or young people's games of tag, that
there were other, more suitable places where postmen could take a rest,
or our actress recite her lines, or lovers do their courting amid the
smuts. Our patience, indeed, had been so tried in one way or another
that at the first sound from above, at any hour of the day or night, J.
was giving chase to the trespassers, and they were retreating before the
eloquence of his attack. It was in a corner of this roof, just above the
studio and in among wood-enclosed cisterns, that the Suffragettes
elected to send off fire-balloons, which, in some way best known to
themselves, were to impress mankind with the necessity of giving them
the vote. The first balloon floated above the chimney-tops, a sheet of
flame, and was dropping, happily into the Thames, when J., straight from
his printing-press, in blouse, sleeves rolled up, arms and hands black
with ink, a cap set sideways, was on the roof, and the Secretary of the
Militants and a young man in the brown suit and red tie that denote the
Socialist, in their hands matches and spirits of wine, were flying
downstairs. I was puzzled to account for their meekness unless it was
that never before had they seen anybody so inky, never before listened
to language so picturesque and American. J., without giving them time to
take breath, called in the Landlord's Agent, supported by the
Landlord's Solicitor, and they were convinced of the policy of
promising not to do it again. And of course they did.

A week later the Prime Minister was unveiling a statue, or performing
some equally innocent function in the garden below our windows, when the
Suffragettes, from the roofs of near woodsheds, demanded him through a
megaphone to give Votes to Women. We followed the movement with such
small zest that when we were first aware something out of the common was
going on in the Quarter, the two heroines were already in the arms of
policemen, where of late so much of the Englishwoman's time has been
spent, and heads were at every window up and down our street,
housekeepers at every door, butchers' and bakers' boys grouped on the
sidewalk, one or two tradesmen's carts drawn up in the gutter,
battalions of police round the corner. The women no doubt to-day boast
of the performance as a bold strike for freedom, and recall with pride
the sensation it created.

At this point I lost sight of the conflict on the roof below, for, from
the roof above, a balloon shot upwards, so high that only the angels
could have read the message it bore. The familiar scrunching, though
strangely muffled, was heard, and J., again in blouse and ink, was up
and away on a little campaign of his own. This time he found six women,
each with a pair of shoes at her side and her feet drawn up under her,
squatting in a ring behind the cisterns, bending over a can of spirits
of wine, and whispering and giggling like school-girls.

"It won't go off," they giggled, and the next minute all chance of its
ever going off was gone, for J. had seized the balloon and torn it to
tatters.

"You have destroyed our property," shrieked a venerable little old lady,
thin and withered, with many wrinkles and straggling grey hair.

He told her that was what he had intended to do.

"But it cost ten shillings," she squeaked in a tremor of rage, and with
an attempt at dignity, but it is as hard to be dignified, as Corporal
Trim found it to be respectful, when one is sitting squat upon the
ground.

A younger woman, golden-haired, in big hat and feathers, whom the
others called Duchess, demanded "Who are you anyhow?" And when I
consider his costume and his inkiness I wonder he had not been asked it
long before.

"You can go downstairs and find out," he said, "but down you go!"

There was a moment's visible embarrassment, and they drew their stocking
feet closer up under them. J., in whom they had left some few shreds of
the politeness which he, as a true American, believes is woman's due,
considerately looked the other way. As soon as they were able to rise up
in their shoes, they altogether lost their heads. The Housekeeper and
the Agent, summoned in the mean time, were waiting as they began to
crawl down the straight precipitous ladder from the roof. In an agony of
apprehension, the women clutched their skirts tight about them,
protesting and scolding the while. The little old lady tried to escape
into our chambers, one or two stood at the top of the stairs, cutting
off all approach, the others would not budge from our narrow landing. A
telegraph boy and a man with a parcel endeavoured to get past them and
up to us, but they would not give way an inch. Finally in despair, J.
gently collected them and pushed them down the stairs towards their own
door.

"We will have you arrested for assault!" the little old lady shrieked.

"We charge you with assault and battery," the golden-haired lady
re-echoed from below.

And we heard no more, for at last, with a sigh of relief, J. could get
to our door and shut out the still ascending uproar.

But that was not the end of it. If you can believe it, they were on the
roof again within an hour, getting themselves and their megaphone
photographed, for the fight for freedom would not be half so sweet
without the publicity of portraits in the press. And we were besieged
with letters. One Suffragette wrote that an apology was due,--yes, J.
replied, due to him. A second lectured him on the offence given to her
"dear friend, the Duchess," for to become a Suffragette is not to cease
to be a snob, and warned him that the Duchess--who was the golden-haired
lady and may have had the bluest blood of England in her veins, but who
looked more like one of the Gaiety girls, from whom the stock of the
British nobility has been so largely replenished--and the Duke intended
to consult their Solicitor if regret were not expressed. And the
Landlord's Agent called, and the Landlord's Solicitor followed, and a
Police Inspector was sent from Scotland Yard for facts,--and he
reprimanded J. for one mistake, for not having locked the door on the
inside when they were out,--and the insurance people wanted to know
about the fire-balloons, and everybody with any possible excuse came
down upon us, except the police officer with the warrant to arrest J.
for assault and battery.

It is all over now. If the Suffragettes still hatch their plots under
our roof, they are denied the use of it for carrying them out. They
leave us in peace for the moment, the quiet which is the charm of an old
house like ours has returned to it, and outwardly the tenants cultivate
the repose and dignity incumbent upon them as the descendants of Bacon
and Pepys and the inheritors of a great past.



_The Quarter_

[Illustration: OPPOSITE TO SURREY]



X

THE QUARTER


My windows command the Quarter, and what they do not overlook, Augustine
does.

Some people might think there could not be much to overlook, for the
Quarter is as quiet and secluded as the Inns of Court. J. is forever
boasting that if he is in London he is not of it, and that he lives the
simple life, with Charing Cross just round the corner. The "full tide of
existence" sweeps by, seldom overflowing into the Quarter, which is one
of the most difficult places in all the town to find for those who do
not know the way. Only two streets lead directly into it from anywhere,
and they lead directly nowhere out of it again; nor do the crowds in the
near Strand as much as see the dirty courts and dark alleys which are my
short cuts, much less the underground passages which serve the same
purpose,--the mysterious labyrinth of carpenters-shops and warehouses
and vast wine-cellars, grim and fantastic and unbelievable as Ali Baba
and the whole Arabian Nights, burrowed under the Quarter and approached
by tunnels, so picturesque that Géricault made a lithograph of one when
he was in London, so murderous that to this day they are infested with
police who turn a flashing bull's-eye upon you as you pass. Altogether,
the Quarter is a "shy place" full of traps for the unwary. I have had
friends, coming to see me for the first time, lose themselves in our
underground maze; I have known the crowd, pouring from the Strand on
Lord Mayor's Day, get hopelessly entangled in our network; as a rule,
nobody penetrates into it except on business or by chance.

But for all that, there is a good deal to see, and the Quarter, quiet
though it may be, is never dull as I watch it from my high windows. To
the front I look out on the Thames: down to St. Paul's, up to
Westminster, opposite to Surrey, and, on a clear day as far as the
hills. Trains rumble across the bridges, trams screech and clang along
the Embankment, tugs, pulling their line of black barges, whistle and
snort on the river. The tide brings with it the smell of the sea and, in
winter, the great white flights of gulls. At night myriads of lights
come out, and always, at all hours and all seasons, there is movement
and life,--always I seem to feel the pulse of London even as I have its
roar in my ears.

To the east I look down to streets of houses black with London grime,
still stately in their old-fashioned shabbiness, as old as the
Eighteenth Century, which I have read somewhere means the beginning of
the world for an American like myself.

To the west I tower over a wilderness of chimney-pots, for our house is
built on the edge of a hill, not very high though the London horse
mistakes it for an Alpine pass, but high enough to lift our walls, on
this side sheer and cliff-like, above an amazing collection of tumbled,
weather-worn, red-tiled roofs, and crooked gables sticking out at
unexpected angles, that date back I am not to be bullied by facts into
saying how far, and that stretch away, range upon range, to loftier
houses beyond, they in their turn over-shadowed by the hotels and clubs
on the horizon, and in among them, an open space with the spire of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields springing up out of it, dark by day, a white shadow
by night,--our ghost, we call it.

And most wonderful of all is the expanse of sky above and around us,
instead of the tiny strip framed in by the narrow street which is the
usual share of the Londoner. We could see the sun rise every morning
behind St. Paul's, if we were up in time, and of course if there was a
sun every morning in London to rise. Over the river, when fog and mist
do not envelop it as in a shroud, the clouds--the big, low, heavy
English clouds--float and drift and scurry and whirl and pile themselves
into mountains with a splendour that might have inspired Ruskin to I do
not know how many more chapters in "Modern Painters" had he lived in the
Quarter. Behind our collection of tumbled roofs and gables awry, the
sun--always provided there is a sun--sets with a dramatic gorgeousness
that, if it were only in any remote part of the world, the Londoner
would spare himself no time nor trouble to see, but that, because it is
in London, remains a spectacle for us to enjoy by ourselves. And the
wonder grows with the night,--the river, with its vague distances and
romantic glooms and starlike lights, losing itself in mystery, and
mystery lurking in the little old streets with their dark spectral mass
of houses, broken by one or two spaces of flat white wall, and always in
the distance the clubs and hotels, now castles and cathedrals, and the
white tapering ghost pointing heavenward. With so stupendous a spectacle
arranged for my benefit, is it any marvel that much of my time is spent
at my windows? And how can I help it if, when I am there, I see many
things besides the beauty that lured us to the Quarter and keeps us in
it?

Hundreds of windows look over into mine: some so far off that they are
mere glittering spots on a rampart of high walls in the day-light, mere
dots of light at dusk; some as carefully curtained as if the "Drawn
Blinds" or "Green Shutters" of romance had not stranger things to hide
from the curious. But others are too near and too unveiled for what
goes on behind them to escape the most discreet. In what does go on
there is infinite variety, for the Quarter, like the Inns of Court, is
let out in offices and chambers, and the house that shelters but one
tenant is the exception, if indeed it exists.

All these windows and the people I see through them have become as much
a part of my view as the trains and the trams, the taxis and the tugs. I
should think the last days of the Quarter were at hand if, the first
thing in the morning, I did not find the printer hard at work at his
window under one of the little gables below; or if, the last thing at
night, I missed from the attic next door to him the lamp of the artist,
who never gets up until everybody else is going to bed; or if, at any
hour I looked over, people were not playing cards in the first-floor
windows of the house painted white, or frowzy women were not leaning out
of the little garret windows above, or the type-writer was not clicking
hard in the window with the white muslin curtains and the pot of
flowers, or the manicurist not receiving her clients behind the window
with the staring, new yellow blinds. I should regret even the fiery,
hot-tempered, little woman who jumps up out of the attic window
immediately below us, like a Jack-in-the-box, and shakes her fist at us
every time Augustine shakes those unfortunate rugs which are perpetually
getting us into trouble with our neighbours. I should think the picture
incomplete if, of an evening, the diners out were to disappear from
behind the windows of the big hotel, though nothing makes me more
uncomfortably conscious of the "strangely mingled monster" that London
is, than the contrast between them lingering over the day's fourth
banquet, and the long black "hunger line" forming of a winter morning
just beside Cleopatra's Needle and waiting in dreary patience for the
daily dole of bread and soup.

I cannot imagine the Quarter without actors and actresses in possession
of dozens of its windows, the attraction to them less the associations
with Garrick than the convenient proximity to the principal theatres; or
without the Societies, Institutes, Leagues, Bureaus, Companies,
Associations, and I know not what else, that undertake the charge of
everything under the sun, from ancient buildings to women's freedom; or
without the clubs, where long-haired men and Liberty-gowned women meet
to drink tea and dabble in anarchy; where more serious citizens propose
to refashion the world and mankind, and, incidentally, British politics;
where, in a word, philanthropists of every pattern fill the very air of
the Quarter with reform, until my escape from degenerating into a
reformer despite myself seems a daily miracle, and the sham Bohemianism
of the one club willing to let the rest of the world take care of itself
becomes almost a virtue.

It is probably the seclusion, the cloistral repose, of the Quarter that
attracts the student and the scholar. Up at my windows, the busy bee
would be given points in the art of improving each shining hour. In
every direction I turn I am so edified by the example of hard work that
I long for the luxury of being shocked by idleness.

Behind the window I look down into at right angles from the studio, the
Scientist in white apron, surrounded by bottles and retorts and
microscopes, industriously examines germs from morning till midnight,
oblivious to everything outside, which for too long meant, among other
things, showers of soft white ashes and evil greasy smoke and noxious
odours sent by the germs up through his chimneys into our studio; nor
could the polite representations of our Agent that he was a public
nuisance rouse him from his indifference, since he knew that the smoke
was not black enough to make him one technically. It was only when J.
protested, with an American energy effective in England, that the germs
ceased to trouble us and I could bear unmoved the sight of the
white-aproned Scientist behind his window.

In the new house with the flat roof the Inventor has his office, and I
am sure it is the great man himself I so often see walking gravely up
and down among the chimney-pots, evolving and planning new wireless
wonders; and I am as sure that the solemn St. Bernard who walks there
too is his, and, in some way it is not for me to explain, part of the
mysterious machinery connecting the Quarter with the rest of the world.

Plainly visible in more rooms than one, bending over high drawing-tables
not only through the day but on into the night, are many Architects,
with whom the Quarter has ever been in favour since the masters who
designed it years ago made their headquarters in our street, until
yesterday, when the young man who is building the Town Hall for the
County Council moved into it, though, had the County Council had its
way, there would be no Quarter now for an Architect to have his office
in. Architectural distinction, or picturesqueness, awakes in the London
official such a desire to be rid of it that, but for the turning of the
worm who pays the rates, our old streets and Adam houses would have been
pulled down to make place for the brand-new municipal building which, as
it is, has been banished out of harm's way to the other side of the
river.

Busier still than the Architects are the old men who live in the two
ancient houses opposite mine, where the yellow brick just shows here
and there through the centuries' grime, and where windows as
grimy--though a clause in the leases of the Quarter demands that windows
should be washed at least once a month--open upon little ironwork
balconies and are draped with draggled lace-curtains, originally white
but now black. I have no idea who the old men are, or what is the task
that absorbs them. They look as ancient as the houses and so alike that
I could not believe there were three of them if, every time I go to my
dining-room window, I did not see them all three in their chambers, two
on the third floor, to the left and right of me, one on the floor below
about halfway between,--making, J. says, an amusing kind of pattern.
Each lives alone, each has a little table drawn up to his window, and
there they sit all day long, one on an easy leather chair, one on a
stiff cane-bottomed chair, one on a hard wooden stool,--that is the only
difference. There they are perpetually sorting and sifting papers from
which nothing tears them away; there they have their midday chop and
tankard of bitter served to them as they work, and there they snatch a
few hasty minutes afterwards to read the day's news. They never go out
unless it is furtively, after dark, and I have never failed to find them
at their post except occasionally on Sunday morning, when the chairs by
the tables are filled by their clothes instead of themselves, because, I
fancy, the London housekeeper, who leaves her bed reluctantly every day
in the week but who on that morning is not to be routed out of it at
all, refuses to wake them or to bring them their breakfast. They may be
solicitors, but I do not think so; they may be literary men, but I do
not think that either; and, really, I should just as lief not be told
who and what they are, so much more in keeping is mystery with the grimy
old houses where their old days are spent in endless toiling over
endless tasks.

If the three old men are not authors, plenty of my other neighbours are,
as they should be out of compliment to Bacon and Pepys, to Garrick and
Topham Beauclerk, to Dr. Johnson and Boswell, to Rousseau and David
Copperfield, and to any number besides who, in their different days,
belonged to or haunted the Quarter and made it a world of memories for
all who came after. I have authors on every side of me: not Chattertons
undiscovered in their garrets, but celebrities wallowing in success,
some of whom might be the better for neglect. Many a young enthusiast
comes begging for the privilege of gazing from my windows into theirs. I
have been assured that the walls of the Quarter will not hold the
memorial tablets which we of the present generation are preparing for
their decoration. The "best sellers" are issued, and the Repertory
Theatre nourished, from our midst.

The clean-shaven man of legal aspect who arrives at his office over the
way as regularly as the clock strikes ten, who leaves it as regularly at
one for his lunch, and as regularly in the late afternoon closes up for
the day, is the Novelist whose novels are on every bookstall and whose
greatness is measured by the thousands and hundreds of thousands into
which they run. He does not do us the honour of living in the Quarter,
but comes to it simply in office hours, and is as scrupulously punctual
as if his business were with briefs rather than with dainty trifles
lighter than the lightest froth. No clerk could be more exact in his
habits. Anthony Trollope was not more methodical. This admirable
precision might cost him the illusions of his admirers, but to me it is
invaluable. For when the wind is in the wrong direction and I cannot
hear Big Ben, or the fog falls and I cannot see St. Martin's spire, I
have only to watch for him to know the hour, and in a household where no
two clocks or watches agree as to time, the convenience is not to be
exaggerated.

My neighbour from the house on the river-front, next to Peter the
Great's, who often drops in for a talk and whom Augustine announces as
_le Monsieur du Quartier_, is the American Dramatist, author of the play
that was the most popular of the season last year in New York. I should
explain, perhaps, that Augustine has her own names for my friends, and
that usually her announcements require interpretation. For instance, few
people would recognize my distinguished countryman, the Painter, in _le
Monsieur de la Dame qui ne monte jamais les escaliers_, or the
delightful Lady Novelist in _la Demoiselle aux chats_, or--it is wiser
not to say whom in _le Monsieur qui se gobe_. But I have come to
understand even her fine shades, and when she announces _les Gens du
Quartier_, then I know it is not the American Dramatist, but the British
Publicist and his wife who live in Garrick's house, and who add to their
distinction by dining in the room where Garrick died.

The red curtains a little further down the street belong to the
enterprising Pole, who, from his chambers in the Quarter, edits the
Polish Punch, a feat which I cannot help thinking, though I have never
seen the paper, must be the most comic thing about it. In the house on
one side, the author who is England's most distinguished Man of Letters
to-day, and who has become great as a novelist, began life as an
architect. From the house on the other side, the Poet-Patriot-Novelist
of the Empire fired, or tried to fire, the Little Englanders with his
own blustering, knock-you-down Imperialism, and bullied and flattered
them, amused and abused them, called them names they would not have
forgiven from any other man living and could not easily swallow from
him, and was all the while himself so simple and unassuming that next to
nobody knew he was in the Quarter until he left it. The British
Dramatist close by, who conquers the heart of the sentimental British
public by sentiment, is just as unassuming. He is rarely without a play
on the London stage, rarely without several on tour. He could probably
buy out everybody in the Quarter, except perhaps the Socialist, and he
can lose a little matter of sixteen thousand pounds or so and never miss
it. But so seldom is he seen that you might think he was afraid to show
himself. "You'd never know 'e was in the 'ouse, 'e's that quiet like.
Why, 'e never gives no trouble to nobody," the Housekeeper has confided
to me. He shrinks from putting his name on his front door, though by
this time he must be used to its staring at him in huge letters from
posters and playbills all over the world. Perhaps it is to give himself
courage that he keeps a dog who is as forward as his master is retiring,
and who is my terror. I am on speaking terms with most of the dogs of
the Quarter, but with the Dramatist's I have never ventured to exchange
a greeting. I happened to mention my instinctive distrust, one day, to a
friend who has made the dog's personal acquaintance.

"He eats kids!" was my friend's comment. Then he added: "You have seen
dozens of children go up to the Dramatist's room, haven't you?"

"Yes," I answered, for it was a fact.

"Well, and have you ever seen one come down again?" And if you will
believe it, I never have.

A door or so from the Dramatist, but on the opposite side of the street,
the Socialist's windows face mine. I cannot, with any respect for truth,
call him unassuming; modesty is not his vice. It is not his ambition to
hide his light under a bushel,--or rather a hogshead; on the contrary,
as he would be the first to admit, it could not flare on too many
housetops to please him. When I first met him, years before we again met
in the Quarter, the world had not heard of him, but he was quite frank
in his determination that it should, though to make it hear, he would
have to play a continuous solo on his own cornet, until he impressed
somebody else with the necessity of blowing it for him. Besides, he has
probably never found other people as entertaining as himself, which is
an excellent reason why he should not keep himself out of his talk and
his writing,--and he is talking and writing all the time. His is a
familiar voice among the Fabians, on public platforms, and at private
meetings, and for a very little while it was listened to by bewildered
Borough Councillors. He has as many plays to his credit as the British
Dramatist, as many books as the Novelist, and I recall no other writer
who can equal him in the number and length of his letters to the press.
As he courts, rather than evades, notice, I doubt if he would be
embarrassed to learn how repeatedly I see him doing his hair and beard
in the morning and putting out his lights at night, or how entirely I am
in his confidence as to the frequency of his luncheon parties and the
number of his guests. Were I not the soul of discretion I could publish
his daily _menu_ to the world, for his kitchen opens itself so
aggressively to my view that I see into it as often as into my own.

For that matter, I have under my inspection half the kitchens in the
Quarter, and the things I witness in them might surprise or horrify more
than one woman who imagines herself mistress in her own house. I have
assisted at the reception of guests she never invited; I understand, if
she does not, why her gas and electric-light bills reach such fabulous
figures; I could tell her what happens when her motor-car disappears
round the corner,--for, seedy and down-at-heel as the Quarter may
appear, the private motor is by no means the exception among the
natives. Only the other day, when the literary family, who are as
unsuspicious as they are fond of speed, started in their motor for the
week-end, they could have got no further than the suburbs before the
cloth was laid in their dining-room, their best china, silver, and glass
brought out, flowers, bottles, and siphons in place, and their cook at
the head of their table "entertaining her friends to luncheon." The
party were lingering over the fruit when suddenly a motor-horn was heard
in the street. There was a look of horror on all their faces, one short
second of hesitation, and then a wild leap from the table, and, in a
flash, flowers, bottles, and siphons, china, glass, and silver were
spirited away, the cloth whisked off, chairs set against the wall. As
the dining-room door closed on the flying skirt of the last guest, the
cook looked out of the window, the horn sounded again, and the motor was
round the corner in the next street, for it was somebody else's, and the
literary family did not return until Monday.

The Socialist, who deals in paradox and the inconsequent, also has his
own car. Now that Socialism is knocking at our doors, the car tooting at
his, come to fetch him from his town house to his country house or off
to the uttermost ends of the earth, toots reassurance into our hearts.
Under such conditions we should not mind being Socialists ourselves.
However, he does make one protest against Individualism in which I
should not care to join him, for he goes shares in his personality and
has perpetrated a double in the Quarter,--a long lean man, with grizzled
red hair and beard, who is clothed in brown Jaegers, whose face has the
pallor of the vegetarian, and who warns us of the manner of equality we
may expect under the Socialist's régime. I dread to think of the
complications there might be were the double not so considerate as to
carry a black bag and wear knee-breeches. A glance at hands and legs
enables us to distinguish one from the other and to spare both the
inconvenience of a mistaken identity. The double, like the old men
opposite, remains one of the mysteries of the Quarter. Nobody can
explain his presence in our midst, nobody has ever spoken to him, nobody
can say where he comes from with his black bag in the morning, where he
goes with it in the evening, or even where he stops in the Quarter. I
doubt if the Socialist has yet, like the lovers in Rossetti's picture,
met himself, for surely no amount of Socialism could bear the shock of
the revelation that must come with the meeting.

If many books are written in the Quarter, more are published from it,
and the number increases at a rate that is fast turning it into a new
Paternoster Row. I am surrounded by publishers: publishers who are
unknown outside our precincts, and publishers who are unknown in them
save for the names on their signs; publishers who issue limited editions
for the few, and publishers who apparently publish for nobody but
themselves; and, just where I can keep an eye on his front door, _the_
Publisher, my friend, who makes the Quarter a centre of travel and a
household word wherever books are read, and uses his house as a
training-school for young genius. More than one lion now roaring in
London served an apprenticeship there; even Mr. Chatteron passed through
it; and I am always encountering minor poets or budding philosophers
going in or coming out, ostensibly on the Publisher's affairs, but
really busy carrying on the Quarter's traditions and preparing more
memorial tablets for its overladen walls. The Publisher and his wife
live a few doors away, where they are generously accumulating fresh
associations and memories for our successors in the Quarter. To keep
open house for the literary men and women of the time is a fashion among
publishers that did not go out with the Dillys and the Dodsleys, and an
occasional Boswell would find a note-book handy behind the windows that
open upon the river from the Publisher's chambers.

Associations are being accumulated also by the New York Publisher, who,
accompanied by his son, the Young Publisher, and by his birds, arrives
every year with the first breath of spring. It is chiefly to artists
that his house is open, though he gives the literary hallmark to the
legacy of memories he will leave to the Quarter. I cannot understand why
the artist, to whom our streets and our houses make a more eloquent
appeal than to the author, has seldom been attracted to them since the
days when Barry designed his decorations in the "grand manner" for our
oldest Society's lecture-hall, and Angelica Kauffmann painted the
ceiling in Peter the Great's house, or since the later days when Etty
and Stanfield lived in our house. Now and then I come across somebody
sketching our old Watergate or our shabby little shops and corners, but
only the youth in the attic below has followed the example given by J.,
whose studio continues the exception in the Quarter: the show-place it
ought to be for the beauty of river and sky framed in by the windows.

But to make up for this neglect, as long a succession of artists as used
to climb to Etty's chambers visit the New York Publisher in the quiet
rooms with the prints on the walls and the windows that, for greater
quiet, look away from our quiet streets and out upon our quieter backs
and gables. Much good talk is heard there, and many good stories, and by
no means the least good from the New York Publisher himself. It is
strange that, loving quiet as he does, he should, after the British
Dramatist, have contributed more to my disquiet than anybody in the
Quarter: a confession for which I know he will think I merit his scorn.
But the birds it is his fancy to travel with are monsters compared to
the sparrows and pigeons who build their nests in the peaceful trees of
the Quarter, and I am never at ease in their company. I still tremble
when I recall the cold critical eye and threatening beak of his
favourite magpie, nor can I think calmly of his raven whom, in an access
of mistaken hospitality, I once invited to call with him upon William
Penn. William had never seen a live bird so near him in his all too
short life, and what with his surprise and curiosity, his terror and
sporting instincts, he was so wrought up and his nerves in such a state
that, although the raven was shut up safe in a cage, I was half afraid
he would not survive the visit. I have heard the New York Publisher say
of William, in his less nervous and more normal moments, that he was not
a cat but a demon; the raven, in my opinion, was not exactly an angel.
But thanks to the quality of our friendship, it also survived the visit
and, in spite of monstrous birds, strengthens with the years.

It is not solely from my windows that I have got to know the Quarter.
Into my Camelot I can not only look, but come down, without webs flying
out and mirrors cracking, and better still, I might never stir beyond
its limits, and my daily life and domestic arrangements would suffer no
inconvenience. The Quarter is as "self-contained" as the flats
advertised by our zealous Agent who manages it. Every necessity and
many luxuries into the bargain are to be had within its boundaries. It
may resemble the Inns of Court in other ways, but it does not, as they
do, encourage snobbishness by placing a taboo upon the tradesman. We
have our own dairy, our own green-grocer, our own butcher, though out of
sympathy with Augustine I do my marketing in Soho. At one corner our
tobacconist keeps his shop, at another our tailor. If my drains go wrong
I call in the local plumber; when I want a shelf put up or something
mended I send for the local carpenter; I could summon the local builder
were I inclined to make a present of alterations or additions to the
local landlord. I but step across the street if I am in need of a
Commissioner of Oaths. I go no further to get my type-writing done. Were
my daily paper to fail me, the local gossip of the Quarter would allow
me no excuse to complain of dearth of news; the benevolent would exult
in the opportunity provided for benevolence by our slums where the
flower-girls live; the energetic could walk off their energy in our
garden where the County Council's band plays on summer evenings. There
is a public for our loungers, and for our friends a hotel,--the house
below the hill with the dingy yellow walls that are so shiny-white as I
see them by night, kept from time immemorial by Miss Brown, where the
lodger still lights himself to bed by a candle and still eats his meals
in a Coffee Room, and where Labour Members of Parliament, and South
Kensington officials, and people never to be suspected of having
discovered the Quarter, are the most frequent guests.

The Quarter has also its own population, so distinct from other
Londoners that I am struck by the difference no further away than the
other side of the Strand. Our housekeepers are a species apart, so are
our milkmen behind their little carts. Our types are a local growth.
Nowhere else in London could I meet anybody in the slightest like the
pink-eyed, white-haired, dried-up little old man, with a jug in his
hand, whom I see daily on his way to or from our public-house; or like
the middle-aged dandy who stares me out of countenance as he saunters
homeward in the afternoon, a lily or chrysanthemum, according to the
season, in one hand and a brown paper bag of buns in the other; or like
the splendid old man of military bearing, with well-waxed moustache and
well-pointed beard, whose Panama hat in summer and fur-lined cloak in
winter have become as much fixtures in the Quarter as our Adam houses or
our view of the river, and who spends his days patrolling the Terrace in
front of our frivolous club or going into it with members he happens to
overtake at the front door,--where his nights are spent no native of the
Quarter can say. Nor is any other crowd like our crowd that collects
every Sunday evening as St. Martin's bells begin to ring for evening
service, that grows larger and larger until streets usually empty are
packed solid, and that melts away again before ten. It is made up mostly
of youths to whom the cap is as indispensable a symbol of class as the
silk hat further west, and young girls who run to elaborate hair and
feathers. They have their conventions, which are strictly observed. One
is to walk with arms linked; a second, to fill the roadway as well as
the pavement, to the despair of taxicabs and cycles endeavouring to
toot and ring a passage through; a third, to follow the streets that
bound the Quarter on three sides and never to trespass into others. How
the custom originated, I leave it to the historian to decide. It may go
back to the Britons who painted themselves blue, it may be no older than
the Romans. All I know with certainty is that the Sunday evening walk is
a ceremony of no less obligation for the Quarter than the Sunday morning
parade in the Row is for Mayfair.

We are of accord in the Quarter on the subject of its charm and the
advantage of preserving it,--though on all others we may and do disagree
absolutely and continually fight. I have heard even our postman brag of
the beauty of its architecture and the fame of the architects who built
it more than a century and a half ago, and I do not believe as a rule
that London postmen could say who built the houses where they deliver
their letters, or that it would occur to them to pose as judges of
architecture. Because we love the Quarter we watch over it with
unceasing vigilance. We are always on the look-out for nuisances and
alert to suppress them. In fact, if not in name, we constitute a sort of
League for the Prevention of Dirt and Disorder in the Quarter. There is
a distinct understanding that, in an emergency, we may rely upon one
another for mutual support, which is the easier as we all have the same
Landlord and can make the same Agent's life a martyrdom until the evil
is remedied. The one thing we guard most zealously is the quiet, the
calm, conducive to work. We wage war to the death against street noises
of every kind. No "German Band" would invade our silent precincts. The
hurdy-gurdy is anathema,--I have always thought the Suffragettes'
attempt to play it through our streets their bravest deed. If we endure
the bell of the muffin man on Sunday and the song of the man who wants
us to buy his blooming lavender, it is because both have the sanction of
age. We make no other concession, and our severity extends to the native
no less than to the alien. When, in the strip of green and gravel below
my windows, the members of our frivolous Club took to shooting
themselves with blank cartridges in the intervals of fencing, though the
noise was on the miniature scale of their pistols, we overwhelmed the
unfortunate Agent with letters until a stop was put to it. When our
Territorials, in their first ardour, chose our catacombs for their
evening bugle-practice, we rose as one against them. Beggars, unless
they ring boldly at our front doors and pretend to be something else,
must give up hope when they enter the Quarter. For if the philosopher
thinks angels and men are in no danger from charity, we do not, and
least of all the lady opposite, to whom alms-giving in our street is as
intolerable as donkeys on the green were to Betsy Trotwood. One of my
friends has never dared to come to see me, except by stealth, since the
day she pounced upon him to ask him what he meant by such an exhibition
of immorality, when all he had done was to drop a penny into the hand of
a small boy at his cab-door, and all he had meant was a kindly fellow
feeling, having once been a small boy himself.

We defend the beauty of the Quarter with equal zeal. We do what we can
to preserve the superannuated look which to us is a large part of its
charm, and we cry out against every new house that threatens discord in
our ancient harmony. Excitement never raged so high among us as when the
opposite river banks were desecrated by the advertiser, and from shores
hitherto but a shadow in the shadowy night, there flamed forth a horrid
tout for Tea. We had endured much from a sign of Whiskey further down
the river,--Whiskey and Tea are Britain's bulwarks,--but this was worse,
for it flared and glared right into our faces, and the vile letters
which were red and green one second and yellow the next ran in a long
line from top to bottom of the high shot-tower. In this crude light, our
breweries ceased to be palaces in the night, our _campanili_ again
became chimneys. Gone was our Fairyland, gone our River of Dreams. The
falling twilight gave a hideous jog to our memory, and would not let us
forget that we lived in a nation of shopkeepers. The Socialist, part of
whose stock-in-trade is perversity, liked it, or said he did,--and I
really believe he did,--but the other tenants were outraged, and an
indignation meeting was called. Four attended, together with the
Solicitor and the Agent of the estate, and the Publisher, who took the
chair. It was of no use. We learned that our joy in the miracle of night
might be destroyed forever, but if we could prove no physical harm,
legal redress would be denied to us, and our defiance of the Vandal must
be in vain. And so there the disgraceful advertisement remains, flaring
and glaring defiance at us across the river. When the Socialist gets
tired of it, he goes off to his country place in his forty-horse-power
motor-car, but we, in our weariness, can escape only to bed.


    The Riverside Press
    CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
    U. S. A.





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