George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made





The figures seem startling nay, they are staggering to the belief; but doubtless the statistician had good grounds for declaring that more fall by accidents in the streets of London than suffer upon the whole of the railways in our kingdom. Truly, there is good cause for the boards of much abused directors to smile and rub their hands upon hearing such a statement, for it must be gratifying to their sense of self esteem. But leaving out those who suffer in private, what incredible scenes are witnessed by those who make a tour of a hospital! In addition to the street accidents, what else have we to show of the ills to which mortal flesh is heir? Burnings and scaldings, domestic and from manufactories; falls, including sprains, bruises, dislocations, and simple and compound fractures; cuts, so fearful that one turns away shuddering, and wondering that life has not escaped through the awful gash; limbs crushed, torn or shattered by machinery; wounds from blows, enough to fill any hospital with horrors, without stopping to consider that cruel, insidious enemy disease, mining and burrowing its way through the human system, and battling step by step with the science brought to bear upon it. And in what forms does it present itself? Many common enough, and whose names are sad household words among us, while others are of so complicated a nature that one turns away from the pale, suffering, distorted face with a shudder.

Saddening, most saddening is that aspect of a hospital ward, and the most moving sight is that anxious face of the trembling, suffering patient, before in his extreme horror Nature is merciful to him and draws the veil of insensibility before his starting eyes. What is it to be? seems written upon every line of his haggard countenance. Life, to complete some darling scheme life, to which we all so tenaciously cling; or the cold silent grave? Who will tell him, nurse or doctor? And even then does he not look them through and through doubtingly? If they whisper to him of life, he dares hardly believe it, fancying that tis but to rouse his flagging energies; while if they refuse to answer his anxiously reiterated questions does he not feel that they give him up, and set it down to ignorance for he will not die.

I walk between the rows of beds, some empty, some occupied; and then how the frailty of our hold upon life is forced upon me how insecure seems the tenure! And then more and more how it comes home to the feelings what a trivial matter is our own poor life to the great world at large; how little we should be missed, and how little the busy frequenters of our street think of the sufferers within these bleak, blank walls.

My companion stops with me at last by the bed where lies my friend of the crape butterfly, and as he lies there, very pale but evidently clean and comfortable, his face lights up with pleasure, and he holds out his hand in welcome to me as I take the chair by his side.

What? he said, you never came o purpose to see me, maam?

I assure him that I have, and the poor fellow is so taken aback by this simple little act of kindness that all he can say is, Im blessed! and that he keeps on repeating.

By degrees, though, we are in full conversation, and I have told him about seeing his wife and given her message of love, and then he has told me with the greatest exactness all about the way in which that nearside horse let out at him with his off hoof, and caught him in the leg.

There are no bones broken, but it has been very painful, and how that he should have been at Saint Georges or Charing Cross Hospital only a doctor who lived at Richmond and often rode up and down on his omnibus wanted him to come into his hospital, University College.

And precious kind hes been to me, that he has. Why, if Id been his own brother he couldnt have done for me better.

And so he chatted on about himself, his wife and children, and lastly, as he found a willing listener, about horses, the one that kicked him, and horses in general.

I dont think as the poor creetur did it out of spite again me maam, he said, for Im always pretty gentle with horses, for I likes em. He let out at me because, perhaps, a fly touched him or out of fidgetiness or something; but anyhow I got it.

Youd hardly think it, lying wrapped up warm here, but being weak I spose has brought out my rheumatics horrid.

Wonderful trying thing to a mans constitution is bus driving; particular when them cold winds and biting rains are on. Thens the time one suffers from the rheumatics. Dont know what they are, I spose? Good job for you, maam. Take my advice, and keep them at a distance, for theyre a sort of poor relation as will stick to you; and so sure as you fancy youve got rid of them, back they comes first rainy day as there is. Rainy day, you knows, just the time as poor relations comes down on you; though, praps, you aint got any poor relations. Some people aint leastwise, none as they knows. Well, first rainy day youre a bit out o sorts they comes back again, the rheumatics does, and you know it, and no mistake.

I got em through getting wet, and being obliged to sit on the box all day. A raw nip of brandy would have kept em off praps, but raw nips of brandy tell upon a man, and I promised Sairey I wouldnt have so many, for shes werry particular about my personal appearance, and she said as the brandy got in the end of my nose and stopped there; so I sat it out that day without a raw nip, though I was having nips enough anyhow.

That night I could hardly get off my box; next day I was a bit better, but next night I had to be helped down; and though I fought it out, day after day, knowing as giving up meant stopping the bread and cheese, it got to be so that there was no bearing it, and I couldnt sit, nor stand, nor sleep without having some drops out of a bottle of stuff as the old woman bought at the chemists. Why, it was like toothache beginning in your hip and running right down in your boot, only twice as bad.

Have the doctor, says the missus, after Id been at home two days.

I wont, I says; whats the good of doctors?

Whats the good of lying there suffering? she says.

I didnt know, so I didnt tell her; and at last, after Id been twisting about early one morning like a skinned eel, she sent for the doctor, and he came.

Curious thing, pain, aint it? I often think, that it would do some of these fellers as ill-use horses good if they had a sharp twist or two of right down real, genuine agony. I aint going to say that I never hits a horse, because I do, you know, when hes a bit lazy or troublesome; but I never lay the whip on him unless its necessary, and Ill do as much with my horses with kindness, as you will with kicks, and blows, and swearing.

Well, I beg your pardon, you know, when I say you will by swearing, and kicks, and blows, I do not mean you yourself, you know, but people in general as handles the ribbins.

Of course the best way to a horses affections is feeding him, but its wonderful what sense there is in the poor dumb beasts; and talking about pain puts me in mind of one oss as I used to drive. He was a chestnut oss, he was, as pretty a creature as ever you saw. Been a carriage oss, but the hair was taken off one of his shoulders, and through that blemish he came in our service. Never touched him with the whip, I didnt, not to hit him; give him a gentle stroke down to take off the flies, or to lay his hair straight, I would, and hed never flinch nor move, he knew my ways so well, and when I spoke hed turn his head round and look at me, if his head was free enough, with them two great sensible eyes of his, so that we was quite friends.

Ive done what I never told anyone before Ive given the stableman who had him in charge more than one shilling so as no other driver should get my chestnut, as I got to call him; and off and on I drove him three years, till one morning Wispey Joe, as he had him in charge, says to me, he says: Chestnuts rough. Got the staggers, I think.

I went into the stable in a hurry, for I was a bit late, and there, sure enough, was the poor oss with his legs stretched out like those of a stool, and his head down; but as soon as he heard my voice he whinnied, and roused up, making his halter rattle through the ring as he turned round to me, and I went up and patted him, and found that he hadnt touched his corn, while he was all of a sweat.

Come, old feller, I says; and I stirred his food up a bit, and, as if understanding me, he put his nose in the manger, but he only blew the meat about good bruised oats and chopped meat it was, too and then he looks up at me again, as much as to say, Its no good I cant feed.

So I took a handful of stuff out and held it to him, stroking his forelock with tother hand, and he made a try at it, and then gave a regular sigh, and hung down his poor old head.

Well, I was obliged to go, for time was up; so I gave him a pat or two, and Wispey Joe a pint of beer to take care of him, and then, werry heavy-hearted and sad, I went on to the box, thinking a good deal about that there horse, for we seemed to have got to be such friends. Tst, Id say, and them willing old shoulders of his would shoot into the collar till I checked him. He was willing, and always seemed to be trying to show me how he could pull.

It was quarter-past eleven that night when I turned into the yard and got off the box. Hows the chestnut? I says to Joe. Good as gone, he says. The vets with him now, and one of the foremen.

I goes into the stable, along past the heels of a dozen horses, to where there was a lanthorn burning, and as I got up I saw my poor chestnut rear, strike his head against the roof, and then fall down on his side, kicking and moaning as if in pain, and lifting his pore head up and letting it fall again upon the heap of straw they had put in his stall. Poor old fellow! theyd put plenty of straw in to keep him from hurting himself as he lay there on his side throwing out his heels, and beating against the wooden side of the place with his hoofs. It was a pitiful sight, and I soon learnt that the veterinary surgeon had done all he could, but had very little hopes of him. He said it was some kind of inflammation with a long name; but I was taking more notice of my poor horse than of what he said.

Youd best not go near him, he said, the poor thing is dangerous. But before hed finished speaking I was down on my knees in the straw with that faithful old head on my arm; and as I spoke, the poor thing turned up its muzzle and whinnied at me so pitifully, and let it fall again, that to have saved my life, maam, I couldnt have helped it, but leaned down over him, and the natral softness of the man came dripping from my eyes, hot and fast, as it seemed to me that I was going to lose my poor old chestnut.

Of course it was very weak and childish, but then we are all weak and childish sometime or another; and you know it was almost in the dark, while I had my back to the two men looking on, besides being ever so far inside the stall. So for about a minute I went on like that, and then I said a few words to the poor thing again; and as often as I did so he tried to raise his head and whinny, and let it fall again.

I never saw so pitiful a sight before; and I couldnt have believed in a dumb beast being so human in its actions; for there were the poor strained dim eyes lifted up to mine in that quiet sensible way in which a horse can look, and then hed whinny again, when hed seem to have a fit of agony come on, and kick at the side of the stall, but not near me, for I was behind his head. Then several times the poor thing staggered up to his feet, and reared again and again, striking his head against the roof; and at such times I had to get out of his way, or he might have fallen on me; but the greater part of the time he was lying on his side upon the straw, with his old head on my arm. Perhaps its foolish of me perhaps it aint but I fancy he was easier with his head there, and when the fits of pain came on and he kicked, he did it more quietly. However, I know one thing, and that is, that whenever I spoke to him, right up to the last, he tried to answer me after his fashion, and turned his muzzle towards me.

I forgot all about being tired that night, and as it was necessary that someone should sit up, why, I let Wispey go and lie down in the loft while I stopped with the chestnut. It was a strange night, that was, to pass there in that stable by the light of a lanthorn; and its wonderful how being here in this hospital has put me in mind of it over and over again. Now and then a horse would be fidgeting his halter in the rings; but mostly all was quiet but my poor horse moaning gently, and it soon came home to me that he was getting weaker and weaker. He seldom got up now, and when he kicked out it was feebly, while more than once he turned his head round as if to see whether I was there.

I dont want to pass such another night, maam; it was too much like being with a fellow-creature; and Im afraid I shouldnt have felt it any more deeply if it had been with a relation. I know it sounds stupid and unnatural, but poor men havent many friends, and that chestnut horse was one of mine.

It was just getting towards daylight when the poor thing, as had been very quiet for some time, began to get restless, and throw out its legs again as it laid on its side, just as if it was galloping, and then it lay still again and only moaned. I spoke to him and he lifted his head just a little way, but it fell back, and after a few minutes, during which I felt as I had never felt before as it, even with this poor beast, there was something awful about to take place I spoke to him again, just as I had been used to do, while one hand was under his head, me kneeling behind him in the straw, and the other hand resting on his nose I spoke to him again, and I could feel him try to lift his head, but he didnt. Then the light shining on his great staring eyes, I either saw, or fancied I did, the tears rolling out of them but Im not sure, for I could not see clear just then; while, after a few minutes silence, I half started to my feet, frightened like, for the chestnut gave a wild hollow cry, that you could have heard all through the mews, and then there was a shivering run through him, and it was all over. Not as I knew it though, till Wispey Joe spoke to me, for the horses cry had woke him up.

He was a good horse, and I hope hes gone where theres pleasant green pastures and clear flowing rivers, such as I used to hear about when I had a chance of going to a place of worship. Perhaps its wrong to think such things as that theres a place after this life for poor dumb beasts; but many of em almost seems to need something to look forward to, for they gets a sorry time of it here, what with blows, and kicks, and bad living; and I dont care, but a man whod be wilfully a brute to a dumb animal wouldnt be worry partickler about being a brute to his brother man. I offended one of our drivers one day, after hed been a thrashing a horse, by asking some one which was the brute the horse or the man.

And thats all about that poor old chestnut, and I daresay youll laugh at me for being so soft about him, but we all have strange feelings at times, and I hope as everyone as puts on a bit of crape for one as is gone to his long home, feels his loss as truly as I did that of my poor old oss.

Here have I been fidgetted to death about you, the missus says. Come, sit down, and have a bit of breakfast. Cant eat? Nonsense! What?

The poor old chestnuts dead, I says; and she never pressed me no more.

But, lor maam, only to think of it. I began telling you about my rheumatics coming on again here, and went right off about the old chestnut horse.

Poor horse! I said, and rose to go.

Must you go so soon, maam, he said; well, yes, I suppose so, but time does seem so long here listening to other fellows who are ill and groaning, and your coming did cheer me up so it made my tongue run like anything. Good bye, maam, good bye.

And now, once more out in dreary Gower Street, and even as I went along some one was being taken towards the hospital in a cab, but I had not the heart then to look within.

Chapter Nineteen.
My Old Bookseller

It was some six months after, that, finding myself in the neighbourhood, I made a point of going down the North London road so as to call on the old couple, who had had charge of the house.

But the substantial and eligible residence had been let, while half a dozen rain soaked carcases had been plastered up; and seeing a board with an attractive notice I concluded that they would be there and I was right: they were in charge of a wretchedly damp place.

They smiled a welcome to me as they answered the door together, and, learning that I was not house-seeking but a visitor, I was soon sitting chatting to them, and found that they were only too willing to communicate their affairs to me, though the old lady was suffering from a touch of pleurisy, and she was very quiet.

That visit was one of several, and during one of them the old man told me how he had been a bookseller, but had failed. Then he had gone into the second-hand book trade, and done pretty well for a time, but at last he had failed over that.

He used to give too good prices for the old books, said the old lady, smiling.

Well, yes, I was a bit too easy, he said. It was very pleasant though, and I liked it, and some of the happiest days of my life were spent in my dusty shop.

Yes, said the old lady with a sigh, we were happy enough there, but you used to give too much for the old books.

Ah! perhaps so, said the old man, but look at the advantages we enjoyed of a constantly changing, ebbing and flowing library, filled with works of all dates, from the shabby, fingered copy of a year old, right back to black-letter times, and even beautifully clear illuminated manuscript works, perfect marvels of neatness and labour.

Then, too, we had a wonderful chance of studying human nature not only from the buying side like your new booksellers, but from the selling side; and let me tell you that the purchasers of our books were not your light, flippant people who buy a volume for its gilt back and showy binding, but those who want books for their contents. Why its a study alone to sit watching the books outside, so as to be on the alert for those bibliomaniacs who take copies off the outer stall and forget to replace them. Its a perfect study, I assure you, to see people stop and take up first one and then another volume, till they happen on something which takes their interest, and then to see the play of their countenances, as forgetful of the lapse of time, they read on and on till the book is either laid down with a sigh, or purchased more often the former than the latter.

But it is from the selling side that we see most, or else I have always paid more heed to this class; and a strange one it is too, for we buy of some curious customers at times. Now by chance one buys a whole library belonging to some one deceased now a lot of a broker who has purchased the whole effects of some one in trouble, or about to move a great distance; but more often we get our stock in trade from people who bring little lots of half-a-dozen or a dozen books at a time, and are glad enough to take anything for them. For they know well enough that old books possess a very different value to the same works at the publishers. Of course there are some which are always valuable; but the generality of your light frothy works come down so that I could get any number of three-volume, guinea-and-a-half sets of novels at from ninepence to eighteenpence the set.

Most of your selling customers are reckless, and dab down a score of old books with a Whatll you give me for these? But sometimes we had people come who had seen better days; and then it becomes painful, and I hated to offer them the current value of the works they had brought themselves to part with most unwillingly. They were generally books they had bought in happier days, or had presented to them; and perhaps after making some calculation at home as to the amount they can raise upon these works, the look of stony despair that came over their faces was something pitiful; for, you see, trade is trade, and when things have a current value in the market, however well one may feel disposed towards those in trouble, one is obliged to be hard-hearted, and to think of the business part alone.

But I couldnt always do it; there are times when things go home to your feelings, and a case occurred to me once when I was sorely put out. You see, one day I was sitting in my old shabby dusty coat amongst my books, taking a peep here, and a dip there, just as it was my custom to do, when a tall, pale girl, dressed in shabby black, entered the shop with a large moreen bag containing four great quarto volumes. These she placed upon the counter, with the request that I would give her as much for them as they were worth.





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