George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made





If an angel had told me I was deceived, I should not have believed him then in my blind fury; and it was not until, having dashed his head against the ground again and again, and felt my enemys hold relax, that I leaped up, kicked him savagely, and then ran back.

Just as I expected, Mary was at home, looking hot and flushed, but she jumped up with a smile, and hurried to me, saying

I was down at Mrs Treveres, dear; but I heard your boat had come, and

She stopped short, half frightened by my wild looks and disordered clothes, and half by the savage curse I gnashed out at her as I seized her arms; while, as the (two pages missing here.)

Chapter Seventeen.
The Empty House

Some pages are missing here place, what electro or veneer is to the precious metal or solid wood. There were plate-glass windows, but the frames had warped; handsome balustrades to green shrunken stairs; the floor-boards had shrunk one from another and curled up; the ceilings had cracked; and where the rain had found its way in, through defective spouts at the side, or bad slating and plumbing of the roof, the walls told tales, in the unpleasant-smelling efflorescence of microscopic fungi, that, in place of good honest sand-mixed mortar, the house had been built, by a scamping contractor, with rubbish ground up with a dash of lime stuff, that is good for two or three years, and then crumbles away.

From room to room of the desolate place we went, to find every window closely shut. There was the pleasant prospect, beyond the tiny square of grass-grown earth called a garden, of the blank end wall of the row of houses in the next street. Over the wall, next door, an attempt had been made to brighten the prospect; but the plants looked melancholy, and a Virginia creeper that ought to have been displaying its gorgeous autumnal tints was evidently suffering from a severe bilious attack, due to low spirits, bad drainage, and a clay soil. The very sparrows on the ledges were moulting, and appeared depressed; and on going higher up, there was a blank hideous cistern in one of the attics, that looked so much like a sarcophagus on a humid principle, and suggested such horrors of some day finding a suicidal servant-maid within, that any lingering ideas of recommending the house vanished like dirty snow-crystals before a pelting rain.

Its a very convenient house, said the old gentleman.

And will let some day at a far higher rent, piped the old lady.

Youd better come down to the breakfast-room now, said the old gentleman.

And see the kitchen too, echoed the old lady.

So I went down to find, as I expected, the breakfast-room showing a cloudy mountainous line of damp on the paper for about two feet above the wainscot; and here again the window was closely shut, and the strange mephitic odour of damp and exhausted air stronger than ever.

This apartment was the one utilised by the old couple for bed and sitting-room combined, and their spare furniture was spread neatly over it, according to the homely old rule of making the most of things.

I finished my inspection, with the old folks most eager in their praise of all, and when I pointed to the damp the old gentleman exclaimed

Oh! youll find that in all the houses about here.

It rises up the wall, you see.

Yes, from bad building, I answered.

But its much worse at the house opposite, said the old lady.

Where the tenant died? I said.

Yes, she answered innocently enough.

Why, you seem anxious to let the house, I said smiling.

Well, yes, said the old gentleman, combing his few hairs with one end of his spectacles. You see, the agents like us to let the houses; and if were in one very long

He dont like it, said the old lady.

Then you often have to change?

It all depends; sometimes weve been in houses where theyve been let in a week.

Not in new neighbourhoods, said the old lady; peoples shy of coming to the very new places. You see theyre only just run up, and the roads aint made.

Ah! said the old gentleman, sometimes the roads aint made till the houses are all let.

And people often wont take the houses till the roads are made, said the old lady.

So sometimes were a year or two in a place. People are so particular about damp, you see, said the old gentleman.

And many of the houses are damp? I asked inquiringly.

Well, maam, what can you expect, he replied confidentially, seeing how things goes? Heres, say, a field here to-day, and the surveyor marks it out into roads. Then one speculative builder runs up a lot of carcases on it, and fails. Then another buys the carcases, and finishes em in a showy, flashy way; and then they put them at very low rents, to tempt people to take em.

And raises the rents as soon as one or two tenants have been in them, said the old lady.

It tempts people like, continued the old gentleman; they see nice showy-looking houses in an open place, and they think theyre healthy.

And theyre not? I said.

The old man shrugged his shoulders.

Healthy? No! cried the old lady. How can they be healthy, with the mortar and bricks all wet, and the rain perhaps been streaming into them for months before they were finished? Why, if you go and look in some of those big half-finished houses, just two streets off, you see the water lying in the kitchens and breakfast-rooms a foot deep. Thats how he got his rheumatics. Here she nodded at her husband.

Dont bother the lady about that, Mary, said the old man, mildly.

Youve lived in some of these very new damp places, then?

Well, said the old gentleman smiling, beggars mustnt be choosers, you see. We have to take the house the agent has on hand.

You take charge of a house, then, on condition of living rent-free?

Yes, maam, thats it, said the old lady smiling.

And how long have you lived in this way?

Oh! close upon fifteen years, maam, replied the old gentleman; but things are not so good as they were. More than once Ive nearly had to take a place much building as there is going on.

Yes, and pay rent, said the old lady.

You see its the police, the old gentleman went on.

The police?

Yes, the police, said the old lady. The boys do so much mischief.

Boys, you see, from the thick parts of London, said the old gentleman explaining. Rough lads on Sundays. They get amongst the empty and unfinished houses, troops of them, to play pitch-and-toss, and they throw stones and break windows and slates.

And knock down the plaster and bricks, added the old lady.

Ah! they most levelled one wall close by, said the old gentleman.

Theyre so fond of making seesaws of the wood, too, said the old lady.

And splashing about in the pools of water, said the old gentleman.

And the agents, on account of this, have took to having the police, said the old lady.

To keep the boys away? I asked.

Yes; you see, its the married police and their wives take charge of the houses, and when the boys know that theres policemen about, why, of course they stay away.

But it makes it very bad for such as we, said the old lady.

Fifteen years is a long time to live rent-free, I said smiling.

Yes, maam, it is, and you see we have a deal to do for it. We have lots of people come to look at the houses before ones let.

Specially women, chimed in the old gentleman. Theres some come regular, and do it, I spose, because they likes it. They look at all the houses in the neighbourhood, same as some other ladies always go to sales. They never buy anything; and they never mean to take a house; but they come and look at em, all the same.

But we always know them, said the old lady.

Yes, theyre easy enough to tell, chuckled the old man. And then, seeing me look inquiringly at him, he went on, They finds fault with everything, maam. The halls too narrow, or else too broad, and the staircase isnt the right shape. Then they want folding doors to the dining-room; or they dont want folding doors. Sometimes six bed-rooms is too many; some times eight aint enough. And they always finds fault with the kitchen.

And they always want a fresh paper in the dining-room, said the old lady chiming in; and the drawing-room papers too light; and we dont mind them a bit.

No, chuckled the old gentleman; were used to them. We know, bless you!

And I suppose you felt that I did not want a house, eh?

No, that we didnt, said the old lady; you see, you came with an order from the agent; while people as dont want houses never takes the trouble to get that, but drops in promiskus where they see the bills up.

One gets to understand people in fifteen years, said the old gentleman, in a quiet subdued way; and we dont mind. We say all we can for a house, as in dooty bound, for the agent; but it goes against one, same time.

You could not conscientiously recommend this house, then, for a family? I asked.

The old gentleman tightened his lips, and looked at his wife; and the old lady tightened hers, and looked at her husband; but neither spoke.

I see, I said; then, turning the conversation, you have been at this for years?

Fifteen maam, said the old lady. You see, when our poor

Dont trouble the lady about that, said the old man, with appeal in his voice; but the old lady liked to talk, and went on

When our poor Mary died aged nineteen, maam, and as beautiful a girl as ever you saw, and used to help us in the business, keeping the books and writing letters all seemed to go wrong, and at last we sold out for the best we could make of it, and that just paid our debts

All but Tompkins bill, said the old man correcting.

Yes, all but Tompkins bill, said the old lady; but that we paid afterwards. We should have had to go to the parish, only an aunt of mine died and left us a bit of property that brings us in ten shillings a week; which is enough for us so long as we dont pay rent and taxes.

Thats how we came to be here, said the old gentleman, smiling sadly at his wife, and weve seen some strange changes since; living in houses where people died of fevers; in old houses; in new houses that ought to be knocked down by Act of Parliament, theyre so bad; in houses where the peoples been extravagant, and gone to ruin. But there, it does for us while were here.

He looked at his wife on this, and the old lady placed her thin veiny hand on his arm, telling, by that one action, of trust, love, and faith in her old companion over a very stony path; and I left them together trying very hard to close the front door, the old mans last words being

It sticks so, on account of the wood warping, and that great crack the said crack being one from the first to the second-floor.

Chapter Eighteen.
My Friend in Hospital

I was more successful during the next few days, and had a list of four houses for Mr Ross to see, one of which he selected for his brother.

For my part I was very busy, having many people to see, and being on one occasion in Hammersmith, where the omnibus driver had told me he lived, I made a point of finding his house in a very humble street, and after rather a distant reception from his wife, the poor creature opened her heart to me, and told me that she was in trouble: her husband had had an accident, been kicked by one of his horses, and was in the hospital very ill.

I said what I could by way of comforting the poor thing, and on leaving said that I would go and see him, when the womans face flushed with joy.

You will, maam, she cried.

To be sure I will, I said quietly, and I left her seeming the happier for my few words of sympathy and hope.

The next day I was on my way up Gower Street, the long dull, and dreary, where the cabs roll echoing along, and in the silent night the echoes sound like the rumbling in some huge water-pipe. Up Gower Street, where the dismal grinding of the organ sharpens every nerve, and sends the horrors throbbing through every vein and artery music no longer, but a loud, long wail, sobbing in the windows, and beating for entrance at the doors; up Gower Street, where the dwellers grow hardened to sad sights where they know the brougham of the great physician or surgeon the cab conveying the out-patient, or that which bears the in-patient to his couch of suffering; where the face of the pale student who has not yet ceased to shudder at the sufferings of his fellow-man is as familiar as that of the reckless or studious one to whom a groan or heart-wrung agonised cry is part of the profession; where weeping relations poor, common people, who have left their dear ones in the great hall, or perhaps been to spend an hour by their bedsides are but everyday sights such as may be seen near each great hospital.

Up Gower Street theres a crowd, which in London is but another word for a magnet which draws to itself the sharp needles of the streets; ay, the blunt and broken ones, too everything steely clings to it, while the softer material falls away.

Only a woman crying! Not much that. We may see that every day in our streets, and in most cases turn shuddering away, thinking of the dear ones at home wife and daughters sisters or betrothed, and saying to ourselves, Can this be a woman! But here we can stand with pitying feelings welling up from our hearts. Only a woman crying! but with such tears gushing from her eyes as Rachel shed when mourning for her children, and refusing to be comforted because they were not. A poor, untutored, unlettered woman, who has not learned the art of controlling her feelings. She has just come out of the great, gaunt, cheerless building; staggered along for some distance, blinded with tears; and at last, oblivious of all but her own bitterness, sunk down upon a doorstep sobbing wildly, for she has been to see the stalwart son who was to have been the prop and stay of her old age, and they have shown her a gaunt, pale, wild-eyed figure that knew her not; and she has come away brokenhearted, and, unlike Joseph of old, too forgetful of self to seek a place where she might weep.

Rocking herself to and fro, and moaning bitterly, till a friendly arm is offered, and she is led away, the crowd parting to let her pass, with many a rough, sympathising word uttered; and then with her burden of sorrow she slowly totters along the gloomy street, followed by a straggling crew of children, ragged boys, girls top-heavy with babies tied up in shawls, and wonderful above all other things for their vitality. To see them day by day, and the risks they run, the only wonder is that their babyhood does not form their shroud, and cover them effectually from further advance towards adolescence.

And now a cab drawn at a foots pace towards the great door of the hospital to so many the jaws of death. A little crowd here even, to see the patient carried in by the two stout porters. A little crowd here, when it might be a case of fever or something else infectious, contagious. But no; this is no fever case, but one for our skilled surgeons; for the poor lad is bleeding, bound up, and fainting. Injured by machinery. His finger was caught by the cogs of a machine the hand, the arm drawn in, and crushed right up to above the elbow, so that, what with loss of blood and the shock to the system, it will be a clever surgeon that can save his life.

But he will have the best of skill here, and every appliance that surgery can devise to allay his sufferings everything but the tender hands of those he loves; while it will take all his hopefulness to fight against the sorrowful thoughts of his maimed and helpless future. He, a poor wounded one of the great army fighting for life battling day by day with poverty, from childhood to old age; and he early stricken down in the contest.

And now another carriage stops the way; and the porters are not wanted, for the occupant steps out, evidently with his wife, upon whose arm he leans slightly as they go up the steps. To a casual observer there does not seem much the matter, for he smiles as he speaks cheerily to his companion; but somehow his lip seems to be quivering, and he stops at the last step to give one look round, and not at the dull brick and mortary street, but upwards at the bright sky flecked with fleecy clouds, and there is an agony of longing in that look, which tells of the panting of the soul for health, and of a shadow hovering above him which seems to hide the future from his hopeful gaze. As he still looks up, loth to enter, his glance seems to have within it something of that we see upon the emigrants face when on shipboard with the anchor a-peak, and the sails shaking out it seems to say Farewell.

But he has returned to the present, and with his lips quivering, he enters the great portal, and the door swings to behind him; while who can say how he will quit the place alive and hopeful, past the great danger, and with some wondrous operation performed by skilful hands; or merely the lifeless clay, with the spirit returned to its Maker?

An out-door patient creeping up by the aid of a stick one who cannot summon the fortitude to quit his home, though he would be better in the hospital better in body perhaps, but worse in spirit; for he would be homesick, and suffering in mind for the homely comforts and the familiar, ministering hands.

And now another pallid, quivering object, leaning upon the arm of friend or relative. He can hardly walk, and must be suffering from some severe internal disease; but he has been by three times, and though his hand grasps the order for admission, he dares not enter, but muttering Not yet, not yet, draws his companion away, and totters on until he is fain to rest upon a step. But who can wonder that he should flinch and shrink back when the dread moment arrives? How many who enter the hospital feel that for them there is written above the portal, Who enter here leave hope behind? The great gloomy building has by them been considered as a forlorn hope to try when every other means has failed; and with shattered nerves, and mind and body worn by disease, they may well shudder and turn from the building, when the robust in health could hardly enter such an abode of pain and sorrow without a clutching at the heart. And then, too, who is he that seeks a home within the English Maison Dieu but the poor man, perhaps the bread winner of a large family? and he enters, perhaps, with the knowledge that while he is battling with disease those at home are fighting against the wolf poverty, who has lain down at their door.

But the poor fellow has nerved himself at last, and slowly crawls up the steps, takes one glance round as his fellow-sufferer did some quarter of an hour ago, and the portal has closed upon him.

Next comes the rattling of wheels, and a cab turns the corner at as near an approach to a gallop as the shambling horse can manage. Emergency here; and as the cab dashes up, a man springs off the box, and runs up the steps; and then come the porters with their chair to lift out of the vehicle, a groaning mass of charred humanity, wrapped in a blanket, and whose cries on being touched thrill through ones very marrow, till the door swings to once more.

Again a cab driven up, with this time a policeman on the box, to jump down and fetch out those iron-nerved men whose aid is so frequently sought.

No brand from the burning this time; but another one fallen in the fight with poverty another wounded no! hush! they say he is slain, and hesitate before lifting the nerveless, flaccid, collapsing form into the chair.

But he is carried in, and I follow to know the truth and learn it in a few minutes; for the poor fellow, a painter, has fallen from an upper window, with a fearful crash, upon the cruel spikes of the area railings, from which, the newspapers tell us next day, with hideous perspicuity, he was lifted with great difficulty the spikes having entered his body.

Guys, Saint Thomass, Saint Bartholomews, Saint Georges, Middlesex, Kings College, University, round all of their doors such dread horrors still abound, and to an extent that almost staggers belief. Sorrow, pain, poverty, despair, all seem to join hands and revel around the suffering wretches; but even to these dismal shadows these clouds of life there are silver linings. Hope is there; faith is there; mercy is there; and pity mourns over the suffering poor. It is the collecting together of scenes of misery the gazing upon so many sufferers at once; and for the moment we forget that suffering is inevitable that more or less mental or bodily, it must fall to each ones share; and as we turn shuddering away, we forget that these great institutions are an honour to our country, and glance but at one side of the question. We forget the quiet, gentlemanly men of iron nerve and determination the heroes who might wear the palms borne by our warriors the men who engage face to face with disease, and pluck full many a victim from the grim dragons jaws. We think not of these calm unassuming men walking quietly into houses plague-stricken, and shunned by all but the mercenary nurse; we forget that such a thing is unknown as a doctor shrinking from facing the worst fever, and leaving the sufferer unaided. Well, there are honours more to be desired than empty titles; and in the love, respect and reverence of their fellow men our doctors must revel, for ours is a strange country. We are not given to showy uniforms, and crosses and ribbons. Perhaps it is as well; for the uniforms and decorations tarnish and fade, while the name once honoured grows brighter with the lapse of years.





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