George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made

No, my driver did not seem at all the man given to tears, but in consequence of the cutting wind blowing right into our faces, there was a slight humidity in his eyes, and he sniffed twice very loudly, and then put his whip in the hand that held the reins, took off his hat, and fished out a red cotton handkerchief, with which he blew his nose loudly.

Strange bad colds we ketches up on the box here sometimes, he said apologetically. Its enough to kill anybody the hours are so long; but then, its no use to grumble not a bit. If you dont like it you can go, and theres hundreds of men who can handle the ribbons ready to pop into your seat. Its a precious sight easier to get out of collar than it is to get in again, I can tell you; so I dont grumble, but keep on.

Look healthy? well, praps I do; but all this red colour in ones face aint fresh air and weather. Ones drops have something to do with it, for some chaps may stand it, I dare say, but I cant, and I find a drop of beer with some gin in it warms you better than most things. I like temperance as well as any man, but I really cant do without a drop in the bitter weather, and those who can must be made of different stuff to me.

Now, take one of our London winter days which you like a regular keen frost, or a yaller fog, or a soaking rain, or one of those cold, mizzly, clinging, go-through-your-very-marrow sort of days. Get your breakfast in a hurry, and be off to the yard and get on the box. Alls ready for us, for we dont clean horses or busses; theres men on purpose to do that. Well, Im well wrapped up, and I get on my box at eight oclock in the morning, and begin my City journey. There we are all times; we mustnt go no faster, nor we mustnt go no slower; times time, and we have to keep it if we can, but sometimes we cant, and do what we will, were late with extra passengers, or a block, or something wrong with a horse, or one thing or another; and then, if it happens to be near dinner time, we have to start back as usual, and often and often, I havent got off the box, but swallowed a mouthful of something where I sat, and been off again.

Drive, drive, and pull up, all the afternoon, with about five or six minutes for my tea, and then up and at it again, hour after hour, till the last journeys done, and then Ive got off the box hardly able to stand, Ive been so cramped; while scarcely ever before eleven, and generally twelve, Ive got home, worn out, to my bit of supper. Fifteen or sixteen hours, Sunday and weekday, is too much of a good thing, aint it? And on such days as Ive been talking about, when you cant feel your feet, and your hands wont hardly hold rein or whip, and the cold goes through and through you, dont you think as one wants something to comfort one a bit? because if you dont, I should like them as grumbles to try it on for a month and see.

Coats, of course, keeps out a deal, but the coat aint been made that will keep out all the cold and wet.

Oilskins and macintoshes always acts on me rheumatically, and gives me pains all over in the jynts; so I puts on as many reglar coats and weskits as I can get on one above another, and wraps up my legs. But in all that long time, its no use, the cold creeps in somewhere like the thin edge of a wedge, and lets in ever so much more, and though we mostly gets a shilling or so a day more than the conductors, I dont know but what Id rather have their life, on account of the jumping up and down.

I get very tired of it by the time night comes; but a good sleep and the little bit of home comfort one gets seems to put one right before morning, though, Im blest if I think a sea captain could know much less of his children than we bus drivers do of ours. But there, it cant last for ever, and I spose some day I shall be lifted off my box as Sam was. Couldnt get down, poor chap, for he stuck to it right to the very last, though his missis wanted him to lay up long before.

Just for a few days, Sam, she says, but he shook his head, poor chap, thinking of pay night, and not wanting to go on his club; and so she used to wait at a corner for him, and bring him drops of warm broth and cups of tea, and little things she thought hed fancy, for the poor fellow was like a horse off his feed; but it was all of no use.

I used to drive mostly the bus that went afore his and used to see her, pale-faced and anxious, waiting at the corner till he came, which was only ten minutes after mine this being a busy time, you know; and Sam and I having been friends, I used to nod to her, for its no use to come the reglar sloot with the whip you know. But, as I said afore, it was all no use; and Sam got worse and worse reglar touched, poor chap and one night, as he was coming back off his last journey, pulls up sudden like aside the road gives the office with his whip to the conductor, and then drops the reins. Held out to the very last he had, like a Briton, and then as I said they had to lift him down, when the conductor sent him home in a cab, collected the fares, then got up and drove the rest of the journey himself.

Terrible bad Sam was, poor chap, and first one and then another of us went to sit up with him, for he was delirious best part of the time. My turn came twice over, and I went after Id had a bit of supper tripe and onions, and a drop o dogs nose we had that night, and out and out it was, too, for my missus said that them as sat up with sick people ought allus to have something supporting which I say, you know, just to show that we didnt have tripe and onions every night; for, you know, the wages wouldnt run to it.

So I gets there and finds all made comfortable and him bedded down for the night for his missus was as good a sort as ever a driver married: snug bit of fire; kettle singing on the hob; easy chair aside the fire, Sams medicine on a little table, ready to give him when he woke up; one of his rugs to wrap round me when I got shivery towards morning; and my medicine on the chimney-piece drop of gin, tumbler, teaspoon, and sugar, with half a lemon on a plate.

Ill come down about five, and make you a cup of tea, says Sams wife.

No you wont, I says gruffly. Ill call you about seven, I says, for I must be off then; so youd better get a good-nights rest.

She didnt say much, for, poor thing! shed got into a way then of breaking down and crying at the least word; but she went and straightened Sams bed a bit, just as youve seen a woman do when the bed dont want touching; then she leaned over and kissed him, and went off upstairs with the children.

Plain furnished place theirs was; but, bless you, it was like a little palace, for Sams wife had a knack of making things show off to the best advantage, and that, too, without being one of them horrible cleaning women, who seems to think as furniture and carpets was made a purpose to be rubbed up and shook, while floors wasnt for nothing else but scrubbing.

Sam seemed fast asleep, and after giving a look at him I made myself as comfortable as I could in the easy chair, with the rug, in front of the fire, and sat there thinking about the onions I had for supper. Not as I wanted to, you know, but onions is things as will make you think about em afterwards, and that aint the worst of it, for they takes precious good care that every one else shall know youve had em. About half-past two I had a weak mixing of gin and water, and all that time poor Sam hadnt stirred; but just as Id finished my glass, which was about three, for I took time over it and smoked a pipe, sending all the smoke up the chimney just as Id done I heard Sam stir and say something; but he was quiet again directly, and my orders were to wait till he asked for his medicine. So all I had to do was to sit still and wait.

It was hard work keeping awake between four and five, but I managed it; for I took off my boots, and walked up and down the room softly, trying to count up how many streets I passed on the near side from Piccadilly to the Mansion House and how many coming back again; and though I tried at it for an hour, I never got it right, for the streets seemed to dodge from one side to the other, and bothered me; but I kept awake, and sat down at five oclock, feeling rather shivery, to another taste of gin and water, and all that time poor Sam never moved only breathed softly when I went to listen.

Seven oclock came at last by Sams watch, standing in the little sand-castle on the chimney-piece; and then I called his wife gently, and in a few minutes more she was down, and wanted to get me some breakfast; but I said No! for I knew it would be ready at home; and I was just going when I heard her give a shriek by the bedside, and down she went upon the floor fainted dead away.

He never give more than a sigh, mum, or I must have heerd him; for my eyes never closed that night, and though praps last time I looked I ought to have seen it, yet, not thinking of anything, my sight being not so keen as that of his own wife, who, poor woman! I lifted into a chair, and called for help.

Thats what the bits of crape are for, mum, its a way we have with us. What complaint? Well, I only have my ideas, and thinks that if you run a hoss too hard hes soon wore out, and I fancy as men can be run too hard as well. It seems to me as Natur never meant men to keep on day after day all them hours at a stretch; and though it aint like hard labour, yet youre at it all the time; and, besides, what were Sundays made for if not for a rest? Seems to me, mum, that if a day of rest hadnt been wanted, Sunday would have been left out altogether, and we should have gone right on from Saturday to Monday at once.

Praps taint for me to complain; but I have my own ideas about poor Sam.

Chapter Thirteen.
Having Patience

Much living in London and the constant unvarying round of life does tell upon the constitution as in the case of the poor driver, and I was feeling heavy and sad beyond my wont in a way that excited the notice of my friends. The Hendricks were the first to speak about it, and with affectionate solicitude Mr Hendrick begged that I would listen to his advice.

You know how bad I was, he said, and what the country did for me. Go and spend a month or two by the seaside.

And what is to become of my London friends and my poor? I said.

What is to become of your London friends and your poor, he said quickly, if you droop from over work, take to your bed, and die. Come, take my advice. Why, Hetty, he said, how would it be if she went and stayed with the Rosss in Cornwall?

Cornwall? I exclaimed, so far away?

So far away, he said laughing, why no part of Englands far away now. You can start from Paddington at mid-day and be there the same night. Besides, John Ross is a medical man and a sensible fellow. He is a dear friend of mine, and Ill be bound to say he and his wife and the Cornish air will send you back better than ever.

Are are they very grand people, I faltered.

Grand? no. Theyve a nice place and garden and are doing well, but theyve known what it was to struggle, and are simplicity itself. I know them as well almost as I know myself. We went down and stayed with them when we were married and very welcome the sum we paid for board and lodging was to them then. They kept nothing from us and I remember well the poor fellows struggles and despair.

Dont take on about it darling dont, pray, little Mrs Ross would whisper. Have patience and all will be well, and shed leave her untouched breakfast and kneel at her husbands feet so that she could lay her hands upon his breast and let her blue eyes look up appealingly in his.

How can I be patient? he exclaimed angrily, and frowning as he spoke. But his anger was not such but that he could caressingly rest one hand upon the soft wavy hair, and draw the loving head closer to his bosom. But there; go and sit down: its eleven now, and we shall never have done breakfast. Give me another cup of tea.

But you have not drunk that, dear, said Mrs Ross gently, as she returned to her seat at the breakfast-table.

Havent I? said her husband absently. Oh! no, of course not. But, there; I dont want any breakfast, this constant anxiety frets away appetite.

But you will have something for that case last night, love? You were there from twelve till five.

Mr Ross smiled, as he replied, Yes, I shall have something thanks, and blessings, and that sort of payment. The people were too poor to go to old Tomkins too proud to go to the union so they came to me, and of course I went. That was right, was it not?

Of course, love, replied Mrs Ross. How could you stay away, when you had it in your power to do good to a fellow-creature? But will the man live, do you think?

Mr Ross shook his head. Im afraid not. He may linger on for months; but the foundation has been sapped by excess.

God help his poor family, murmured Mrs Ross, and then she rose and crossed the room to where her husband was irritably walking up and down before the window. The breakfast, with its thin tea and rank butter, lay untasted still, and a child-like little servant-girl appearing at the door, Mrs Ross gave her a nod, and the untouched meal was removed.

Once more alone, that anxious wife softly stole one little hand beneath her husbands arm, and creeping closer and closer, walked with him up and down the worn drugget, till he stopped short as if gazing from the window, but really looking inward at his own position, his wife refraining from speaking a word, as she anxiously watched the working of his countenance.

For the Ross folks, as people in Elmouth called them were in sad straits. Some two years before, with a little money in hand, John Ross had come to settle with his young wife in the pleasant seaside town, having made his calculations that he would get no practice as the new doctor for the first year at least none to signify but that he could furnish his house quietly, and live decently for that first year; while what little he did earn would go to his remaining stock of cash, and add to what he gained during the second year, which he hoped would be something, if not considerable, at least enough to enable them to what he called rub along.

But John Ross did not know the ignorance and prejudices of small country towns, and he soon found that he was looked down upon with contempt by the old practitioner; not known by those who considered themselves the gentry of the place; and viewed generally with suspicion by the poorer and middle classes. He might have possessed the skill of the Royal College of Surgeons condensed into one man, but the people of Elmouth would still have shaken their heads at him. And knowing all this, Tomkins, the old surgeon, used to chuckle and rub his hands, killing some, curing others, and year by year growing richer, telling himself that the new man would soon grow tired and go, for after all said and done, it was a great piece of impudence to come and set up in Elmouth without his leave. Why, did not Cheeseman, his assistant, set up in opposition after a quarrel, and go to the dogs in three months? At least that was what old Tomkins said, for Cheesemans going to the dogs was really going back to London to his friends, till he could obtain another situation as assistant.

But things had gone very crookedly with the Ross people, and in spite of every exertion, John Ross found himself at the end of two years and some months penniless, and without a chance of bettering his position. It seemed as if the people would have none of him, and again and again he was for trying some other place. But after a long discussion his wife and he always bore in mind the old proverb of a rolling stone gathering no moss, and knowing that it would be like going through their troubles again, without money, they concluded that it would be better to fight on hopefully, keeping their poverty hidden as much as possible, and waiting patiently for better days.

But though it was easy enough to talk of keeping their poverty hidden, that is no slight matter in a country town; and if John Ross and his wife could have known all, they would have found that the Elmouth people generally knew the extent of their wardrobes; how much to a shilling they owed baker and butcher; how that their landlord fully expected they would give him notice from quarter to quarter, and had promised the first offer of the house to some one else. In short, their affairs were made out to be so bad, that people used to shake their heads, and wonder how folks could be so proud, and keep up appearances as them Rosss did, when they were almost starving, Lord bless you!

John Ross would never take any notice of the small tattling of the people, or he might have resented the fact that Tomkins had spoken very disparagingly of his ability. But he was too wise a man. He hoped that times would mend, and gave every spare minute to the study of his profession, working late into every night, and merely taking such exercise as was absolutely necessary for his health.

But it must not be imagined that no practice fell to his share, for the poor flocked to him in spite of the ill success that attended his efforts in the first year of his coming. In fact, Tomkins made great capital out of the death of a fever patient whom Mr Ross was called in to attend, when the young surgeon had told his wife that he was convinced that no human power could have saved the stricken one. However, people would talk and shake their heads, and say what a pity it was such an inexperienced person had been called in, et cetera; and it was not until the young surgeon had performed several clever cures in advice gratis cases that the poorer people favoured him with their patronage, giving him much trouble, few thanks, and seldom any pay.

Look at that, said John Ross one day, as two nurses passed the window in charge of a perambulator fitted with an awning, and containing a fine-looking boy of some twelve months old look at that, he said bitterly. Why, I should think what is spent upon that child in nurses and dress would be a comfortable income for us. It is enough to make any man envious to see how unequally money is distributed. There are those people, the Westerns, rolling in wealth, and without labour to gain it, while the more I fight and struggle, the worse off I am. What do they know of trouble? Hetty, my girl, he cried passionately, I wish I had never married you, to drag you down to this poverty!

Hush! oh, hush, darling! sobbed Mrs Ross, the tears streaming down her cheeks. Have we not been happy through it all, and have I ever seemed to mind? Be patient, and times will brighten; but please please dont speak

Mrs Ross could say no more, for her sobs choked her utterance. Her husbands words had seemed to cut her to the heart, for of late he had grown more bitter and less hopeful. Instead of flying to his books for comfort, and studying hard, he had grown moody and peevish in spite of her loving attentions; and many a night while he slept had her pillow been wet with tears as she vainly tried to pierce the cloud of gloom that seemed to close them in on every side.

His wifes tears were not without effect, and the next moment John Ross was kissing them away, vowing that he would be hopeful and contented, fighting out the battle till the very last; for, as he said, the tide must turn some time.

What a bear I am, darling, he cried, to mope and growl as I do, envying, hating, and maliciously regarding my neighbours because they make money and I dont. There, never mind! Ill make old Tomkins want me for partner yet, and there! if you havent sent out the breakfast things again, and Im as hungry as a hunter.

It was of no use, John Ross would not own to its being pretence. He insisted upon the breakfast things being brought back, and ate bread-and-butter, and drank weak tea, insisting at the same time upon his wife partaking of the piece of toast he made for her himself.

An hour after he was making notes, and eagerly studying up a case reported in the medical journals, now shaking his head and calling his wifes attention to what he considered fallacies, or great blunders, and pointing out what would have been his course under the circumstances not dwelling upon it with any show of assumption, but proving all he said step by step from the experience of those learned in the great science of medicine.

And in spite of her aching heart, and their poverty, Mrs Rosss eye lighted up, and her nostrils dilated with pride as, letting her needlework fall in her lap, she gazed upon the high, slightly bald forehead, and deep thoughtful eye of her husband, as wrapped in the case before him, his whole being seemed to dilate, and he in fancy performed some great cure.

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