CHAPTER XIV PEOPLE WHO HAVE "COME DOWN"
London's abyss contains a very mixed population. Naturally the "born poor" predominate, of whom the larger portion are helpless and hopeless, for environment and temperament are against them.
Amongst these, but not of these, exists a strange medley of people who have "come down" in life. Drunkenness, fast living, gambling, and general rascality have hurried many educated men into the abyss; and such fellows descend to depths of wickedness and uncleanliness that the gross and ignorant poor cannot emulate, for nothing I have met in life is quite so disgusting and appalling as the demoralized educated men living in Inferno.
Misfortune, sorrow, ill-health, loss of friends, position or money, and ill-advised speculations, are often prime causes of "descent," producing pitiful lives and strange characters; while otherssometimes women, sometimes menhave been cursed by very small annuities, not sufficient for living purposes, but quite sufficient to prevent them attempting any honest labour. Often these[Pg 244] are ashamed to work, but by no means ashamed to beg. Clinging to the rags of their gentility, they exhibit open contempt for the ignorant poor, who treat them with awesome respect, because "they have come down in life."
The postman brings them numerous lettersreplies to their systematic begging appealsand not before a detective calls to make inquiries do the poor question the bona fides of, or lose their respect for, "the poor lady upstairs."
Backboneless men and women in a moral sense are numerous in the abyss, with no vices, but with virtues of a negative character. Possessing no grit, no adaptability, no idea of making a fight for life, they appear to think that because their parents were well-to-do, and they themselves had "received" an education, it is somebody's business to keep them. They are as sanguine as Mr. Micawber, always expecting something to "turn up," but never proceeding to turn up anything on their own account.
Waiting, hoping, starving, they go down to premature deathif, indeed, the workhouse infirmary does not swallow them alive.
But what courage and endurance, what industry and self-respect others exhibit, deprived by death or misfortune of the very means of existence, brought face to face with absolute poverty! Men and women, precipitated into the abyss through no fault of their own, shine resplendent in the dark regions they have been forced to inhabit. Not soured by misfortune, not despondent because of disappointment, hand in hand and heart to heart, I have seen elderly[Pg 245] couples living in one-roomed homes, joining bravely in the great struggle for existence.
Others are made bitter by their misfortune, and nurse a sense of their grievances; they "keep themselves to themselves," and generally put on airs and graces in any dealings they may have with their neighbours. They quickly resent any approach to friendship; any kindness done to them is received with freezing politeness, and any attempt to search out the truth with regard to their antecedents is the signal for storm. Personally, I have suffered much at the hands of scornful ladies "who have come down." Sometimes I am afraid that my patience and my temper have been exhausted when dealing with them, for such ladies require careful handling.
Experience is, however, a great teacher, and I learned at least to hear myself with becoming humility when such ladies condescended to receive at my hands any help that I might be able to give.
"Do you know, sir, that you are speaking to an officer's daughter? How dare you ask me for references! My word is surely good enough for a Police-Court Missionary. You are a fitting representative of your office. Please leave my room."
I looked at her. She was over sixty, and there was the unmistakable air about her that told of better days. She was starving in a little room situated in a little courtnot St. James's. She owed a month's rent to people who were poor and ill, and who had two epileptics in the family; and now their worries were increased by the loss of rent, and the knowledge that they had a starving[Pg 246] "lady" upstairs. She had brought down to the abyss to keep her company a grandchild, a pretty boy of seven. I sat still, and she continued: "I know I am poor, but still I have some self-respect, and I will not be insulted. References, indeed!" "Well, madam," I at length ventured to say, "you sought my help; I did not seek you." "Yes; and I made a great mistake. Sir, are you going?" "No, madam, I am not going at present, for I am going to pay the rent you owe the poor, suffering people below. Shame on you! Have you no thought for them? How are they to pay their rent if yours remains unpaid? Please don't put on any airs, and don't insult me, or I will have you and the child taken to the workhouse. Find me your rent-book."
She sat down and cried. I called the child to me, and from my bag produced some cake, fruit, and sweets, filling the child's pinafore. He instantly began to eat, and running to the irate lady, said: "Look, grandma, what the gentleman has given me! Have somedo have some, grandma."
That was oil on the fire.
"I knew you were no gentleman; now I know that you are a coward. You know that I cannot take them away from the child." I said: "I should be ashamed of you if you had, and I should have left your room and never re-entered it. See how the child is enjoying those grapes! Do have some with him. Let us be friends. Bring your grandma some grapes." And as the child came to her, I saw the light of love in her old eyesthat wonderful love of a grandmother. The child's enjoyment of the food conquered her: the child[Pg 247] "beguiled her, and she did eat"; but she considered I had taken a mean advantage, and she never thoroughly forgave menever, though we became cool friends.
I found the utmost difficulty in obtaining her confidence, although I visited her many times, and removed her most pressing wants.
She was always on heights to which I could not hope to attain, and she treated me with becoming, but freezing, dignity. I wanted to be of assistance to her, but she made my work difficult and my task thankless. When I called upon her one day to pay a week's rent, etc., she said in a lofty way: "Small assistance is of little use to me, but I can't expect anything better from one in your position." I put up with the snub, and humbly told her that it would be possible for me to do more if she would condescend to give me the names and addresses of her friends.
This bare suggestion was enough. She rose majestically, opened the room door, and in a dramatic manner said, "Go!" I sat still, and examined some needlework she was doing for a factory. Beautiful work it wasall done by hand. I knew that she would not earn more than one penny per hour, for her eyes were getting dim, and the room was not well lighted. So I talked about her work and her pay. Many times since that day have I been glad that I stayed on after that unceremonious "Go," for I learned a lesson worth the knowing, for as I sat the postman's tap-tap was heard, and the epileptic girl from below brought up a letter. "Excuse me, sir, while I read this," she said. I, of course, bowed [Pg 248]acquiescence, and watched her while she read. I saw her tremulous fingers and quivering face. Presently she sat down; the letter and a ten-pound note dropped on the floor. For a moment she sat quite silent, then the tears burst forth. She rose, picked up the letter and note, and her eyes flashed as she cried: "Read that! read that! and then dare to ask me for a reference." She threw the letter at me. It was from an old servant of hers, who was a cook for a regimental officers' mess, getting forty pounds a year. This is the letter:
"Dear Mrs. ,
"Yesterday I received my quarter's salary, and I am sending it to you, hoping that you will kindly receive it as a small acknowledgment of your many kindnesses to me.
"When I think of the happy days I spent in your service, of your goodness to everyone in trouble, and of the beautiful home you have lost, I cannot rest night or day. I wish I could send you a hundred times as much, that I might really help you and the dear little boy."
The letter was better than any testimonial; it was too much for me. "Madam," I said, "I am very sorry that I hurt your feelings by questioning you. That letter makes me ashamed. It more than answers any questions I put to you. Will you kindly lend me the letter, that I may show it to my friend?"
She looked triumphant, and said that I might have the letter for a short time. I sent the letter[Pg 249] to ladies and gentlemen who had not "come down." Some old friends were found who cheerfully subscribed a sufficient sum to furnish a commodious boarding-house in a fashionable watering-place, so she again had a beautiful home of her own. But she was very "touchy," and I had no pleasant task in making arrangements. She never gave me the least credit, and it always appeared that she was conferring favours by allowing me the privilege of consulting her.
However, the boarding-house was ready at last. She entered possession, and with some help prepared to receive visitors. My wife, myself, and some friends were her first "paying guests," paying, of course, the usual charges. We spent a miserable three weeks. We were not of the class she wanted and had been used to; she kept us in our places. I had to speak to her, and treat her as a distinguished, but quite unknown, lady. We were all glad when our time for leaving came; neither have we paid her another visit.
She was a remarkable woman, indomitable, industrious, and clever: cooking, or managing a house, needlework, dressmaking, or anything pertaining to woman's life, she was equal to; but her superiority was too much for us all. We could not live up to itthe strain was too great.
She, however, did us a great honour the day previous to our leaving. As a special favour, she invited us to take tea with her in the "boudoir." The remembrance of that occasion remains with me through the years. She prepared not only a nice little tea, with cream, knick-knacks, etc., but the room was tastefully decorated, and she was[Pg 250] suitably arrayed. Her old silks and laces had been renovated, her old jewellery polished and attended to; and at a definite time, after a formal invitation, we were ushered into the "boudoir." She rose and gracefully bowed as we were announced, and directed us to our seats. We had a stiff time of it. No doubt it was good discipline for us all, for we realized more fully than ever the inferiority of our birth, breeding, and manners.
Poor woman! She never forgave us for knowing that she had been in the "abyss," neither did she ever forgive me for helping her out. Our acquaintance ended with that five o'clock tea in her "boudoir." She has not written to me, neither have I inquired after her. Freely will I forgive her all the snubs and insults she flung at me if she will "keep her distance." She was a terror. One in a lifetime is quite sufficient for me.
Still, she was a good woman, and I can only suppose that privations and disappointments had on the one side embittered her, and on the other had developed a natural feeling until it became a craze, and the idea of being a "lady" dominated her existence.
Some men, too, that have come down are by no means pleasant companionsoften the reverse. Several clergymen that I saw much of were too terrible for words, so I pass them; but of one I must tell, for when I called on him in the early afternoon, he was lying on a miserable bed, unwashed, wearing a cassock. Penny packets of[Pg 251] cigarettesfive for a pennywere strongly in evidence. There being no chairs in the room, I sat down upon an inverted packing-case.
He rose from his bed, lit another cigarette, and asked me what I wanted. I had previously spoken to his wife, and had made up my mind that she was demented. I had seen a big-headed girl of seventeen, with a vacant face and thick, slobbering lips, nursing and laughing over a little doll. I had also spoken to a cunning-looking boy of fourteen. I had now to speak to a demoralized clergyman.
I felt that a horsewhip was needed more than the monetary help that I was commissioned to offer from friends, on certain conditions being complied with.
He was a choice specimen of manhood: his reading seemed confined to penny illustrated papers of a dubious kind, embellished with questionable pictures. He no sooner learned that friends had empowered me to act for them than his estimate of himself went up considerably. His market value went up also.
Thirty shillings per week was not enough; he was not to be bought at the price. He must also have his wardrobe replenished. The Bishop must find him a curacy. No, he would not leave London. Preaching to intelligent people was his vocation. He was a Welshman, but London was good enough for him. I sat on the box and listened; the vacant-faced girl with her doll sat on another box in front of me; the clergyman in his cassock, cigarette in his fingers while he talked, and in his lips when he was silent, sat[Pg 252] on the edge of the bed; and his demented wife stood by.
Such was my introduction to the fellow, of whom I saw much during the next three years; but every time I met him I became the more enamoured of the horsewhip treatment.
For three years he received more than generous help from friends of the Church, who were anxious for his good, and more than anxious that no scandal should come upon the Church they loved. It was all in vain, and the last sight I had of him was in Tottenham, where I studiously avoided him; but, nevertheless, I had opportunities of watching him. He stood outside a public-house. He wore an old clerical coat, green and greasy; his clerical collar was crumpled and dirty; his boots were old and broken, and his trousers were frayed and torn. He had a rough stick in his hand and an old cloth cap on his head. The cunning-looking boy has been in the hands of the police for snatching a lady's purse, and the imbecile girl, now a woman, continues to nurse her doll somewhere in London's abyss; for the demented mother loves her afflicted child, and only death will part them.
Artists are numerous among those who have "come down." I never meet a poor fellow in London's streets carrying a picture wrapped in canvas without experiencing feelings of deepest pity. One look at such a man tells me whether his picture has been done to order, or whether he is seeking, rather than hoping to find, a customer. The former goes briskly enough to his destination,[Pg 253] and though he will receive but little payment from the picture-dealer, he sorely needs that little, and hastens to get it.
But the other poor fellow has no objective: he walks slowly and aimlessly about; there is a wistful, shamefaced air about him. When he arrives at a picture-dealer's, he enters with reluctance and timidity. Sometimes broken-down men will hawk their pictures from door to door, and will sell decent pictures, upon which they have spent much time and labour, for a few shillings. Occasionally an alert policeman watches them, and ultimately arrests them for hawking goods and not being in possession of the necessary licence.
A boy of fourteen who was hawking his father's pictures was arrested and charged. The police had discovered that he did not hold a pedlar's licence. The pictures were quite works of art, done on pieces of cardboard about twelve inches square, some being original sketches; others were copies of famous pictures. They were done in black-and-white, and competent judges declared that the work was exceedingly well done. The boy said his father was ill in bed, and had sent him out to sell the pictures; his mother was dead, and his father and himself lived together in Hackney.
I went with the boy to their one room, and there, in a miserable street and in a still more miserable room, lay the artist in bed. There was nothing of any value in the room, excepting some pictures, and as I entered I found him sitting up in bed at work upon another. They had no money[Pg 254] at all, and that morning the boy had been sent out to try and sell the pictures and bring back food and coals. The lad's mother had died some years before, and the father and son were living together.
The father had learned no other business, and at one time there was some demand for his work, so he married. One can easily picture the life they ledthe gradual shadows, the disappointments that came upon the wife, the hopeless struggle with poverty, the early death, and the misery of the husband when the partner of his poverty was taken away. Now, partly paralyzed in his legs, some days able to rise and dress himself and pay an occasional call on the "trade," and to return home more hopeless, he was glad to sell a picture for five shillings, unframed, that had cost him much effort and time.
I bought one of his pictures at a fair price, and saw that he had both food and coals, for it was winter-time. I called on him frequently, and did what I could to cheer him, and other friends bought his pictures. But he gradually grew worse in health, until the gates of one of our great infirmaries closed upon him, and the world saw him no more, and it was left to me to make some suitable provision for the boy.
One Christmas Eve some years ago there was a cry of "Police! police!" In a little upper room in North London an elderly man had been found in a pool of blood; his throat had been cut, and as a razor lay beside him, it was evident the injury was self-inflicted. It was a frightful gash,[Pg 255] but he was carried to a neighbouring hospital, where all the resources of skill and science were at hand. In three months' time he was able to stand in the dock, and evidence was given against him. He was sixty-three years of age, had on a very old frock-coat that had been originally blue, and an ancient fez that bore traces of silver braid. When the evidence had been taken, and the magistrate was about to commit him for trial, a singular-looking man stepped up, and said he was the prisoner's brother, and that he would take care of him if his Worship would discharge him. He said a friend had given his brother some drink, and it was when under the influence of the drink that the prisoner had tried to cut his own throat; that he himself was a teetotallerand he pointed triumphantly to a piece of blue ribbon on his very shabby coatand that he would take care that his brother had no more drink.
The magistrate very kindly accepted him as surety, and asked me to visit them, which I accordingly did, and found myself in very strange company. Three brothers were living together: sixty-five, sixty-three, and sixty were their ages. The one who had been charged was the middle brother, and was an artist; the other two were quaint individuals: they had been brought up in luxury, and now, being reduced to poverty, had not the slightest idea of how to earn a shilling.
The blue-ribbon brother was the youngest member of the family, and though he drank cold water, he appeared to have a strong aversion to its external use. He was of a religious turn of[Pg 256] mind, and had he exercised himself one-half as much about work as he did about religious subjects, the catastrophe that had happened might have been avoided.
The elder brother was in weak health, and walked with some difficulty. The artist was certainly by far the best man of the three; still, they all had an air of faded gentility. Briefly, they were the sons of a well-known artist, who, many years ago, was a frequent exhibitor in the Royal Academy, and whose frescoes adorn one of the royal palaces.
After his death the three brothers and a sister lived together. Each was left an income of about twenty-five pounds per annum, and the sister managed their affairs. As long as she lived and the artist brother could sell pictures, all went fairly well; but when she died the brothers were left to struggle for themselves. Gradually their home went downdirt and discomfort ensued, fewer pictures were sold, and then one Christmas the artist fell into my care. What a room it was, and how hopeless it all seemed! I found the artist himself had exhibited in the Royal Academy, and that he was undoubtedly a talented man. I found him as simple as a child, and his two brothers as innocent as babes.
I sold some of his pictures, and obtained orders for others; but I discovered that, instead of the younger brother looking after the artist, the artist had to look after the younger brother, and I also found, to my cost, that, instead of having one unfortunate man to look after, I had three of them[Pg 257] on my hands. The elder brother sat reading goody books hour after hour; the younger one went to his prayer-meetings, but never brought a shilling home; while the artist stuck to his work, when he had any to do, splendidly.
One day I took counsel with the three of them, and we formed a committee of ways and means. To the elder one I said: "What are you going to do to bring a little grist to this mill?" In a sweetly simple manner, and rubbing his hands, he said: "Oh, I read while Charles paints." To the younger one I said: "What are you going to do to help the finances?" "Oh," he said, "I'll write some texts of Scripture on cardboard, and you can sell them for me." It was a quaint sight to see this band of brothers go marketing, to buy their bits of meat, vegetables, etc. I have watched them, too, at their culinary preparations, and noticed that the artist himself washed the plates and dishes, and handled and cooked the food.
Their rooms are now larger, and in much better order. The paintings left by their father are more visible, for the dust and dirt have been removed. They are still living together, and the artist, without any blue ribbon on his coat, is still working away, when he can secure orders. They are quaint specimens of humanity, but I think much of them, for they are kind-hearted and gentle to each other; there are no heart-burnings and bickerings; poverty has not soured their dispositions, and if times are sometimes hard, they make the best of things, and hope that God will give them better days.
None the less, my artist friend has to bear the[Pg 258] brunt of it, and when he sells a picture he is more than willing to share his means with his helpless brothers.
One picture I have of his conveys a striking lesson. It is founded upon the old story of the Prodigal Son. A tall, gaunt, weary man, with his sandals worn out, his staff by his side, and his gourd empty, sits upon a piece of rock upon the hill-side looking down into the valley, where he sees his father's house. He is debating within himself whether or not he shall attempt to travel that last mile and reach his old home. The old home looks inviting and the gardens pleasant, and he feels impelled to go thither. Beside him is a huge cactus, and in a tree at the back of him are two vultures waiting to pick his bones.
The failure of a popular financial scheme is often accompanied by disastrous consequences to refined and elderly people.
I have met many who, being ruined by the collapse of such investments, were compelled to resort to that forlorn hope of distressed middle-aged womensome branch of sewing-machine work done at home.
The struggles they make in order to secure the pretence of an existence are often heroic, and their endeavours to maintain an appearance of respectability and comfort are great, almost passing belief.
In the great world of London life and suffering no figures stand out quite so vividly as they do, for no other class of individuals exhibit quite the same qualities of endurance and pathetic heroism.
On arriving home one Saturday I found two[Pg 259] women, a mother and her daughter, awaiting me, evidently in great distress. I had known them for some years, and their struggles and difficulties were familiar to me. The husband of the elder woman lay in their little home paralyzed and ill. For years the girl and her mother had supported him and maintained themselves by making children's costumes.
He had been an accountant for many years with an old-established firm, and had saved money, which he invested in the Liberator. Just when the smash came their troubles were intensified by the death of his old employer, and the consequent loss of his employment. A paralytic stroke came upon him, and though he recovered somewhat, he became utterly unfit for any kind of work. They received a little assistance from the Liberator Relief Fund, and while this lasted mother and daughter gave three months' service each, and were taught the children's costume trade. A catastrophe had now overtaken them, hence their visit to me. They had worked incessantly all the week in the hope of finishing some work and getting it to the factory before twelve on Saturday. Friday night found them behindhand. At two o'clock on Saturday morning mother and daughter lay down on their beds without removing their clothes. At five they rose again, and sat down to their machines.
The hours passed, their task made progress, and at 11.30 they finished; but the factory was far awaynearly an hour's ride on the tram-car. Still, the younger one hurried with her bundle, only to find on arriving that the factory was[Pg 260] closed, and that no work would be taken in till Tuesday morning. There was the rent to pay, the poor stock of provisions to be obtained, some little comfort to be got for the father, who had watched their brave but tragic struggle, and no money, after all.
My wife set food before them, and they made a pitiful pretence of eating. Their hearts were too full, though undoubtedly their stomachs were empty.
When I put a sovereign into the tremulous hand of the elder woman, they both broke down, and went away weeping.
A few weeks later the father died, and mother and daughter were left to comfort and care for each other.
Years have passed, and they still live and work together. Rising early and retiring late, they manage to "live." But the mother is getting feeble; her eyesight and powers for work are decaying. Never murmuring or repining, the daughter bears the brunt of the battle. She works, whilst her mother goes to and from the factory. And nowin June, 1908another catastrophe has befallen them; for the feeble old woman has slipped and fallen from the tram-car, and lies at home with a broken arm and other injuries; but the daughter works for both.
Sometimes my experiences of women who have "come down" have been far more unpleasant, as the following instance may serve to show:
I received a letter from a titled lady asking me to inquire into the case of two sisters who had[Pg 261] repeatedly appealed to her for help, and to whose appeal she had several times responded. This lady recognized the futility of sending a few pounds at intervals to two elderly women, of whom she knew nothing excepting that their father had once built a house for her. She knew, too, that their father had been in a large way of business, employing five hundred men at one time. Her ladyship also forwarded to me a letter she had received from the sisters, and asked me to find out what could be done for them, promising that if I could suggest anything reasonable, she would send me the necessary funds. Their letter was of the usual begging-letter style, telling of their own wrongs and poverty, and pleading for help on account of their dear lamented father.
Though their "dear lamented father" had been dead for twenty-nine years, I called at the address given, and found it to be an old-clothes shop in a very poor district. In the midst of old clothes and dirt I found the landlady. No, she said, the sisters did not live there. Sometimes they did a bit of needlework for her, and she allowed them to use her address for postal purposes. "They had a letter this morning?" I said. "Yes, there was one." "How many more?" "One only this morning." "Do they often have letters?" "Sometimes." "How many do they receive a week?" "What is that to you?" "Well, I come on behalf of a friend who wishes to help them. The letter they received this morning was from her, and there was money in it. How much did they give you this morning?" "Two shillings." "They work for you:[Pg 262] why should they give you money?" "I have been good to them and lent them money; they owe me a good deal; but they have expectations." "Did you know they had 'come down' in life?" "Oh yes, I knew." "Now, tell me, where do they live?" "They are on the move." "What do you mean by that?" "On the movelooking for a place." "Where did they sleep last night?" "Somewhere close by." "Now, tell me truly as you would a friend, what do you think about them?" "I think they are a pair of unfortunate ladies. They have been robbed." "Would you help them if you could?" "Certainly I would." "Shall you see them to-day?" "Oh yes; they are sure to come in." So I gave her my address, and told her to ask the sisters to call on me. Woe to me! I did foolishly, and had to suffer for it. In the evening when I arrived home, one of the sisters was waiting for me. She had been waiting some time, to the consternation of my wife and the maid. The front door had no sooner been opened to her imperative tap, than she marched in without any ceremony, smelling, I was told, of the public-house and dirt. My wife said: "She is in the drawing-room. I could not ask her in here: we were just having tea." I found her without any difficulty. The evidence of my nose was enough. I opened wide the window, and then looked at her, or it, or something! I was just getting my breath, when, "Oh, you have heard from Lady , and she is wanting to help me." I said: "Yes, and you have heard from Lady . She sent you some money, and I see you have been spending it." "What do you[Pg 263] mean, sir? I will let you know that I am a lady." I groaned and said: "You are letting me know it; I fully realize it." "Look here, sir; attend to me. I am going to keep a butter and cheese shop. I want twenty pounds to set me up. You must write to her ladyship for it." "Very good, then." "Now I want to tell you about our troubles;" and she did. It took me two good hours to get her safely outside the front door, after which I gave positive orders to the whole household that in future all business with this "lady" must be transacted on the doorstep, with a half-closed door.
She was a Welshwoman, and possessed a double amount of that nation's eloquence. Those two hours I shall never forget. It took all the diplomacy at my command to get her out; but she promised to come again and bring her sister. I was terribly alarmed at the prospect, but did not tell her not to come, for my courage failed me. However, she had given me her address, which, unfortunately, was close by; so, finally, I told her that, after hearing from Lady , I would call upon her and give her whatever help was sent. She called every day for a week, and every time she came my wife hid herself, and the servant was mindful of my instructions about the door. Nevertheless, our house was attracting some attention, for our respectable neighbours were alive to the situation. I often wished she had made a mistake, like poor old Cakebread did, and had gone to the wrong house; but I did not get even that scrap of comfort. At length I sent a note to her, telling her that I was going to call[Pg 264] on her at ten o'clock next morning. This I accordingly did, and found that the sisters had obtained a room in the house of a poor but very decent woman who had four young children. The landlady let me in, and called to the sisters that a gentleman had come to see them. "Tell him we are not quite ready to receive visitors," I heard a familiar voice reply.
The landlady asked me to step into her room. I did so, and she carefully closed the door, and then burst out: "What can I do with them? How can I get rid of them? We shall be ill." "Have they paid you any rent?" "No; I won't take any. They gave me a shilling deposit before they moved in." "Give it to them back, and tell them to go." "They won't take it, and they won't go." "Tell your husband to put them out." "He won't touch them, and he blames me for taking them in." "Why did you take them in?" "We are poor; I am going to have another. I thought they were ladies who had 'come down.' They gave me a letter from a lady to read. Whatever shall we do?" "When did they come in?" "Just a week ago. They were drunk the first night. One had a black eye!"
In due time they were ready to receive visitors, and I went to their room. I knew what to expect, but it was too much for me. Phew! They were there, black eye and all. Half undressed, quite unwashed, a nice pair of harridans; no furniture saving an old rusty bedstead, on which were some rags. The thought of the poor woman below and her young children gave me courage.[Pg 265] "I see how it is, you old sinners. Shame on you for forcing yourselves into this poor woman's house! You are not fit to live anywhere but in a pigsty. If you don't get out I will have the pair of you carted to the workhouse. I will see that you get no more from Lady . If you don't get out pretty quick, I will myself put you out." One of them came forward in a threatening attitude, saying: "I will let you know that my father was your superior." I told them that I was glad I never knew their father if he at all resembled them.
I called the landlady, and told her to fetch a policeman, as they were trespassers, and had no right in her room. But the landlady said, if that was the case, her husband would put them out in the afternoon; it being Saturday, he would be home early. Then the torrent of abuse began. They rose to the occasion, and gave vent to their feelings, I am sorry to say, in vulgar English. Had it been Welsh, it would not have mattered, but slum English expressed with Welsh fervour was too much for me. I left. I was, however, to have a still more striking proof of the power that Welsh "ladies" have to express themselves in very vulgar English, for the same evening, after having refreshed themselves, they forced an entrance when my front door responded to their knock and ring. Fortunately my wife was away. I was called to interview the two "ladies" and the black eye. They were insidethere could be no mistake about that; the door was closed, too. As soon as they saw me there was a soprano and contralto duet. "What did you write to Lady[Pg 266] for? Do you say we are dirty? Who told you we got drunk? Why did you come so early? Ragged, are we? Help to have us put out, would you? You are a nice Christian!" I brushed past them and opened the front door. "Fetch a policeman, will you? We'll have the law for you, you scoundrel! robber! thief!" I seized the one with the decorated eye, and out she went. In a twinkling the other sister was after her, and before they realized it, the front door was closed and bolted. Then the storm began, and for thirty-five minutes they kept it up. Every choice expression known to the blackguards of London tripped lightly but emphatically from their tongues; sometimes in unison, sometimes in horrible discord, sometimes singly, and sometimes together they kept it up. They ran through the whole gamut of discordant notesfortissimo generally, piano only when breath failed. When quite exhausted, one took charge of the knocker, the other of the bell, and instrumental music followed the vocal. A good many of my respectable neighbours came to the concert, but blushingly retired; they could not stand it. I knew very well that they could not keep up the pace long; but it was the longest thirty-five minutes I ever endured. When quite worn out and too hoarse to vocalize, they retired, and our street resumed its normal respectability. But to the valour of Wales they added the perseverance of women. After again refreshing themselves, they returned to the poor woman they had "taken in," and gave her a concert, much to her terror. Her husband called the police, but[Pg 267] this only roused them. Ultimately they were taken into custody for being drunk and disorderly, and, sad to relate, the following Monday they were fined by the magistrate.
I heard more bad language in that thirty-five minutes than I ever listened to in a month, even in a police-court. I must have received considerable mental and moral damage, and I really think that I ought to receive some compensation from Lady .
But, at all events, I hope that I have completed my experience of people who have "come down."