Lambeth Women Speak (originally Streets and Lanes of the City) by Nellie Benson, 1890
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18-A HARD CONFLICT
The scene of this story lies in a street, one side of which
is a high railroad, with arches underneath, stuffed and bursting with vans and
barrels and long timbers that shake and rattle as the train goes overhead. On
the other side stands high narrow houses with flights of steps arching over
the areas below. The roadway, not being much of a thoroughfare, is strewn with
scraps of paper, old tins, and stray fragments that should be in the rubbish
heap. And about them play children of all ages, for the most part dirty and
neglected; and in a summer afternoon there will be a mother or two sitting on
the steps for coolness. Mothers, not of the red-armed, loud-voiced kind, but
more or less patient slatternly drudges.
Inside No. 30 lived the little household of the Thomases. Such
a scene as might happen any afternoon one called upon them did not look like
a background to a tragedy, or indeed to anything very exciting.
Mrs. Thomas was always glad to have a call. She loved talking;
and as one stood at the open door one would see her pale plump face slowly mounting
up the stairs that led down to the kitchen, and she would come along the passage
with slow steps, and welcome one with a beaming smile, and a look of real friendliness
out of her fine liquid brown eyes, and take one into the front room which was
both parlour and bedroom.
Generally Alice, her eldest daughter, a girl of nineteen, would
come up also, and the two would talk at length. Alice was always a girl whose
look raised one's compassion; she was so pale with the deadly whiteness of ill-health,
and under her dark eyes were dark lines. She was generally dressed in a slatternly
way, looking, what indeed she was, a household drudge. There was a look of candour
in her face which was attractive. She almost always brought up with her Mrs.
Thomas's youngest child, a taking little girl of three years old, with beady
bright eyes, and curly hair, and very precocious. Alice was devoted to the child.
She had had the charge of her from her birth.
More than once while one was talking to them there came a tap at the door, and a man aged about thirty-eight with a clever, capable face, looked in; and on seeing company greeted one very politely with a quiet, well-bred manner and departed again. That was Jackson, one of the upstairs lodgers.
Mrs. Thomas would converse on every subject. She would talk of
her boys with intense affection. There was Bob, who was sixteen, and Jim, a
boy of thirteen, and a little girl, Milly, who lived with her aunt in the country.
And of all, especially of her boys, Mrs. Thomas spoke with lingering fondness,
and sometimes of her husband. Sometimes she would talk about her lodgers. Besides
Jackson, who lived upstairs with his old mother and his little girl, there were
two young men lodgers who boarded with the Thomases. Mrs. Thomas spoke of them
with solicitude, and would give the family history of each. She would say how
anxious she was to do her best for them like a mother; not ostentatiously, but
with genuine anxiety.
Often she would talk about her own health, and no wonder, for
she suffered from an internal affection which necessitated a yearly operation
of the a most painful and dangerous kind. She never grumbled about this, but
spoke of her sufferings with a plucky resignation.
And in all her talk she interwove religious phrases, which she
would say with her eyes shining with half-shed tears. "Please God, it'll
all go well," she said. "There's wonderfull kindness shown me in the
hospital; and what it's God's will for us to bear, we must bear."
So far one saw and no further. But a very different and a strange history lay below.
To begin with, a most fervent even a passionate attachment, totally
uncountenanced by her mother, existed between Alice and Jackson, who was almost
twice her age. The account of it is best told later in Alice's own words. But
a few words must be said as to Jackson's history.
He was, as a rule, what he looked, quiet, and steady and respectable.
A very intelligent man, interested in history and politics; a scaffold builder
by trade. He had been brought up without any religious influences, and believed
in nothing but his own moral code. Here he and Alice disagreed; she was a girl
with a very earnest though simple Christian faith. They often talked on the
But at times he would break out and have a bout of drinking, and
he was an inveterate gambler; for the rest, an upright man.
His only child, Molly, was thirteen, a bright, affectionate child,
very fond of Alice. There was a dark story connected with her birth. Her mother
had never been Jackson's wife. He had meant to marry her, but soon after Molly
was born he learnt that she was a thoroughly bad woman. There was a fierce quarrel;
and he took Molly away; and told her mother's relations that their lives should
not be safe if they ever let her know her child's whereabouts. And with the
help of his old mother he brought her up as well as he could according to his
lights. The mother was not a desirable old woman; tidy and respectable in her
way, but with a slanderous tongue and a vile temper.
But the attachment between himself and Alice was of a rare kind. On his side chivalrous, unselfish and devoted, and she was wrapt up in him. Why she did not marry him will shortly appear.
Mrs. Thomas opposed their attachment; and so far not unreasonably.
But her whole relation to Alice was a complicated and painful question.
For indeed Alice's life in that household was a life of utter
slavery and misery, only lightened by Jackson's affection and the baby's presence,
and made possible by the wonderful endurance that a sense of duty gave the girl.
Thomas himself was the only one of whose treatment she had not
to complain. He was a short, silent man, with a face overgrown with hair; a
steady man and a teetotaller; but he never was unkind to Alice, and when appealed
to would even take her side. For the rest he left all the ruling of the house
to his wife.
And her ruling meant chaos. She never kept any hand over her expenditures
to begin with; and the consequence was lavishness one week and pawning and difficulty
the next. Plenty of money came into the house, but Mrs. Thomas was always in
debt. She would give the boys and the lodgers fruit tarts or puddings for dinner
every weekday, and then not know how to meet the rent. She would pawn all she
could lay her hands on, even to her husband's watch, without his knowledge.
And she was an inveterate liar.
Thomas had arranged to give Alice 1s. 6d. weekly, but the money
hardly ever reached the poor ill-clad girl.
She kept her boys in no sort of control, though she was generally fond of them. Bob was a brutal, ill-conditioned fellow, who would bully
Alice even to striking her; but his mother never interfered, except
by feeble remonstrances. And Jim, a better-natured boy, learnt to imitate him.
Both, especially Jim, were devoted to their mother. Jim lay awake crying when
she was in hospital; and let her pawn any of his most cherished possessions
without a word.
And the lodgers were allowed to do as they liked. One was a rough
fellow and treated Alice much as her brothers did, and would swear at her if
his dinner was not ready, or his washing not properly done. The other was a
young man of very bad character, though he left Alice alone. Mrs. Thomas knew
this, and yet did not turn him out, partly, I really think, because she had
known his mother; and when she went into the hospital for six or seven weeks
together she thought nothing of leaving Alice alone in charge of the household.
She no more tried to control her lodgers than her sons; they paid her well as
a rule, but she treated them lavishly well, whether they were in arrears with
their payments or not; and she would even, if they were short, buy them clothes
out of her own money, money which ought by right to have come to Alice. Yet
she was, by no means, a conscious hypocrite. The religious and motherly emotions
that she said she felt, she did really feel as far as one could see. Both led
her to many sacrifices of ease and comfort.
She herself treated the girl rather with a good-natured neglect
than with any unkindness. She would talk to her and confide in her; was even
in a way proud of her, but she never cared for nor protected her. It was three
years after this that Alice discovered the fact which she thought was the secret
of the behaviour of the whole household to her.
Alice from the earliest years had resented her whole treatment
at home. She was a girl with healthy desires after a well-regulated and well-disciplined
life; she always had the highest character from the places where she was at
service for a few months at times when her mother's health was better. Her mother's
shiftiness, and untruthfulness, and tendency to debt, and general laxity annoyed
her beyond measure. She saw a household into which plenty of money came weekly,
only just managing to drag along. She saw the boys running wild, the lodgers
uncontrolled, the baby spoilt, lavish waste and want of discipline everywhere;
and this, added to her sense of the neglect and injustice she herself suffered
under, drove her at times almost wild. Her own health was very indifferent,
and she suffered from an irritating deafness; owing, as most of her troubles
were owing, to her mother's neglect of her in childhood, as Alice knew. Yet
her intense sense of duty to her mother kept her at home. She was a compassionate
girl, and she knew that if she were away her mother would be doing all sorts
of work too great for her strength, and might even kill herself. And so, though
now and then she would make a passionate protest to her mother against her whole
treatment, yet she stayed at home and bore it all. At such protests Mrs. Thomas
would weep floods of tears, and call Alice very unkind and undutiful, and then
after they were dried would reflect that Alice must be humoured because she
wasn't very well, and had a queer temper. Then she would go out and buy Alice
a new pair of shoes, and jam tart to make her a supper.
But her further history is best told in Alice's own words. One
day she wore a look of utter broken wretchedness, and a question soon brought
out her woes, though as a rule she was a quiet, controlled talker, nor easy
to draw out.
"Yes; I'm feeling miserable. I wish I could die. I don't
know what to do. Mother's gone into the hospital again, and I've got to look
after em all. And she's been going on at me for keeping company with Bill. She
can't understand how I can care about him. Care about him, I should think I
did; he's the only one as cares about me. Why he's protected me when one of
our lodgers ud have insulted me, and mother, she never lifted a finger to protect
me. She was in the next room and she could hear me call out, but she never come;
she don't care. But he come and told him if he ever laid a finger on me again,
what he'd do. And when I haven't been able to go out through not having a shoe
to my foot, he's helped me with his own money. I know it's not nice in a usual
way for a girl to take things from her young man like that. But I don't mind
taking it from Bill; it's different somehow. I don't mean to marry him. I told
mother so. He's asked and begged of me to do it times and times. But I told
him I wouldn't ever marry a man as gambles. He drinks too, but he's been a teetotaller
for months. If you want me,' I said to him, you'll have to give
up gambling. Will you give it up, or will you give me up?' Then he says, You're
my life, Alice,' he says, and gambling's my life, and I can't give up
neither one nor the other.' But I told him I never would marry him till he'd
give it up; and I won't. But I won't give up keeping company with him for all
that, because I do love him, and I never shall care for anyone else, and he's
the only one as cares for me.
"A bad temper? Yes, he has a bad temper, I know that. It's
a very fierce temper. But he's never been out of temper with me, and never would
be, I know. Why, I'm not afraid to say anything to him, when they're all frightened
to go to speak to him. He's never been angry with me, and never would. And I
tell him my mind too. He'll take it from me. He did wrong once, he's told me
about it. He was taken in; but he's repented it. But him and his mother had
an awful quarrel the other day about me. She don't like to think he'll ever
marry me, because then she's afraid she'd have to go into the Infirmary; so
she can't bear me, and she tells him all sorts of lies about me. But I don't
mind that, for he don't believe her; but since they've quarrelled"
She stopped. Her chest was heaving and the tears began to come.
"She's gone and talked to all the neighbours about me; and
called me names I won't say again, and they believe her, cause she's his mother;
and there's many a one won't speak to me now; and how they look at me."
The angry sobs were choking her so that she could hardly speak, and then she
"There ain't a word of truth in it. He's never done wrong
by me, and never would. He respects me too much for that." She choked down
her sobs and went on:
"I don't go out walking with him now, but of course he lodges
here. Father wouldn't turn him out; and if he did they'd say that was why. And
let that alone, the life I lead here ain't fit for a dog. They swear at me,
the lodgers do, and it isn't any wonder when Bob behaves to me as he do. Why,
today he threw his boot at me; there's the bruise still. Bill wasn't there when
he did it, or he wouldn't have dared. Bill's been on him more than once for
the way he treated me. I was glad he wasn't there, for they'd have fought. Speak
to father about it? I did. When we was all at dinner a week ago; I says, Father,
if you want me to stay at home, you'll make them, as you see by you now, behave
better to me, or I'll go.' Then he spoke to them, but it doesn't do any good.
I wish I was dead and out of it."
Her face was all working with passion and misery, and the tears
were streaming down, and her hands tightly clasped. At this moment the door
rattled, and opened a crack, and there toddled in on unsteady feet the little
sister of two, who was her special charge. The change on the girl's face was
never to be forgotten; with her tears wet she answered the child's smile, and
held out her arms to it.
"Come to Alice, then, will you? Got your dolly, have you? Come then." And she took her on her knee, and went on talking to her with the utter self-forgetfulness of real affection, smiling to her and laughing at her. But presently the child slipped off her knee again, and departed after new excitement. Alice's face went back again to its old look of misery.
"I wish I was out of it, I do," she said. "No;
I can't leave home while mother's in the hospital, even if I could take baby;
she'd worry after them and hurt herself; and when she's out again, she can't
do all the work, and there isn't anyone to do it but me. I should think that
it was my fault if she was to overdo herself. But she don't care, they none
of them do, how I get on, so long as I'm useful to them. The evenings is the
worst; mother goes out every evening to the Salvation Army, and leaves me with
em. I found out why they all treat me like this" (her voice sank low).
"I'm in no kin to Bob, nor Jim, nor baby. I'm not Mr. Thomas's daughter.
I found it out this way. I was looking at the dates when we was all born in
mother's Bible, and I noticed when I was born; it was before ever she see Mr.
Thomas; while she was a girl at home. Ain't it dreadful to know that of your
own mother? But it's true. I ask her if it wasn't; and she tried to make out
as the date was wrong, and as she'd told me the date of her marrying wrong.
But I'd seen that in her marriage lines; they're in that drawer there. I told
her she was saying what wasn't true, and she looked at me as angry as if she'd
have hit me, but she didn't say no more. Bob knows it too; I suppose he found
out from mother that I knew it, for last time we quarrelled, that was the word
he threw at me. Look at me, what I am."
She was trembling, and her cheeks were blazing. "I told Bill,"
she said. "I couldn't keep it from him. He went so white, but all he said
was, It ain't your fault, Alice; that don't make no difference between
me and you, not if all the world knows it. It's her as they ought to cry shame
on, not you.' He wants me all the more to marry him and get away; I could live
near then and come in and help mother. But I say No, not while you're a gambler.
He's brought himself close to ruin many a time, and it wouldn't be right. I
can't give it up,' he says. I've tried and I can't. I won't deceive you.'
Oh, dear, I don't know whatever to do. I wish I was dead."
She laid her head on the table, and cried pitifully. She was a
girl of very few tears, often almost stolid in her look.
There was not long to pass before her mother came home. A long talk to her, with careful guarding of the girl's confidence produced the result, that she said she couldn't give Jackson notice to leave; he owed her money, and besides she felt that she knew what Alice and he were after when they were under her own eye, and that, though the girl meant well, she wouldn't be sure what might happen if he lodged out of the house. But Alice should go, she should go to her aunt's in Sussex, as her servant, and somehow or other they would manage to have a woman in, and she would get along. A woman whom she knew and trusted had lately come to lodge near. She'd do anything, she didn't care what, so long as it was for the girl's good.
It was all settled, when Mrs. Thomas became ill again; not so
ill as to go into the hospital, but Alice felt rightly that she could not "leave
her like that."
When she got a little better, Alice's aunt could not receive her;
she had got another servant. But the life had been intolerable, and Alice kept
to the plan of leaving home and going into service; and she wrote, "I must
go to service. I should be so glad to get away from home, it is so hard to bear
with all. I cannot remain here much longer. And it is the same old cry with
mother. I think if she had a bank it would be the same."
But again Mrs. Thomas grew worse, and Alice stayed. She did not
see much of Jackson during these days; he boarded as well as lodged with them
now for his mother had gone to live with another sonMolly was in servicebut
he only came to take his meals, and otherwise kept away from her. There had
been no quarrel, but he told her he thought it better just at present; she was
to tell him if there was anything he could do for her. And she acquiesced.
Then one morning arrived this note from Mrs. Thomas:
"Do not take the take slightest notice to Alice that you
know anything about this but last Saturday evening her young man came home the
worse for drink I thought if we could get him upstairs he would go to bed and
that would end it I done it for the best and went upstairs and he stood with
his back to the door and he vowed we would not let him out the result was he
knocked both of us down gave me and her too a black eye and I got another blow
how that was I do not know but I do so want you to ask Alice how she got a black
eye as she said if you asked she should tell you she had a fall he was locked
up and she is going to get him a room and in about a month's time he is I am
sorry to say going to marry her, can it be stoped. And she threatens me if I
dare to summons him she will go and live with him at once she says he is more
to her than I am do come in as soon as you can I do not know wether she will
let me speak to you alone but we must get to talking about something else and
she may not see you it all depends I could not keep it from you, if it could
only be stoped What do you think about it I am sorry to have such news to tell
you but such is the case."
When I went I found Mrs. Thomas sitting in the kitchen without
Alice, opposite to a very flashy looking young woman, a niece of Mrs. Thomas,
a barmaid of bad character, given to drink. She was out of employ and hard up;
and Mrs. Thomas, with her slack kindheartedness, had told her she might stay
with her till she was settled, and flattered and spoilt her.
Mrs. Thomas smiled, and turned her black and swollen eye to me.
"I'm only just up," she said; "but you needn't
mind what you say. Jane knows all about it; don't you, Jane?" And then
followed a recapitulation of her letter, ending up with the fact that Alice
had taken his things to him in the lock-up, and to get admittance had said he
was her husband.
"And what do you think can be done? To let the girl marry
him is to let her come to want and misery, I know. But Alice is so obstinate.
She's a good girl; there's nothing wrong between them, I'm sure of that. I've
pleaded with her as loving as I could, and begged of her to break it off. But
she won't. I don't know what the fall he give me mayn't have done for me. But
we mustn't think of that, must we? That's all in better hands than ours. But
if the girl ud only break it off. You'd like to see Alice. Well, if she'll come.
You call her, will you dear."
But sharp calls produced no effect. Jane bounced upstairs, and came down declaring that Alice said she wouldn't come. Her mother went for her and came back without her. But as I was going, leaving a message to ask her to come and see me, Mrs. Thomas having said goodbye to me at the bottom of the stairs, I heard a whispered call and Alice appeared on the stairs above and came down to me. She looked haggard and white, and wild.
"I wasn't going to come to you down there with mother and
Jane," she said. "But I want to tell you about it and ask you. Mother's
told you, I know. Don't you believe all she says. If we talk here very quiet
they won't hear us. Mother's gone back into the kitchen and shut the door."
And then, standing in the narrow passage, she told me the story
in an agitated whisper.
"I heard he was coming down the street drunk," she said.
"He hadn't touched it for six months. But when he's drunk, he's like mad.
He'd get angry and knock you down in a minute; but he'd never touch me; I knew
I could get him home quiet if they didn't interfere. So I run up the street
and met him. He was with one or two of his mates and they was persuading him
to go home; but he wouldn't listen. But when I come up to him and arsk him he
turned to come, and I got him along with me quiet enough till when I got him
close home, I saw mother and Bob standing at the door, so I run on a minute
and begged them to go into the parlour and not let him see them. He and Bob
can't get on together and he'd remember that in drink. But they wouldn't go
in. However he passed them quiet enough; but when we got into the passage Bob
says, He's a fine chap to keep company with Alice, ain't he?' and Bill
turned round at that, and made at him. Bob ran downstairs, and I held Bill and
begged him to come upstairs along of me. But mother would come too. Well, we'd
just got him into the room and on the bed, and was going to leave him when Bob
shouted at him from downstairs. Bill sprung up, and said he'd go and fight him,
and me and mother held him and begged him not to go. And then he struck us;
both me and mother. He didn't know what he was doing; and mother tumbled down.
Bill rushed out and downstairs after Bob, out into the street, and there they
set to and fought. I ran in and did all I could to part em, but Bill had knocked
him down, and the police came up and took Bill in custody and took him off to
the lock-up. He hadn't got his things nor nothing, and I went and fetched them
for him, and me and a young woman took em to him; it was midnight pretty near
when we got home. And then mother and Bob set on me, and they said how did I
feel now my young man had nearly killed him, and mother said if she and the
baby died when her time come, it was to my door they must lay it. Then I frightened
em, I went nearly wild. I was walking up and down the room all night; and my
head was a-burning; I couldn't lie down nor sleep. And I told father next morning
if any of em summonsed Bill for it I'd never come home no more. So when the
case come up he was dismissed. And good for them he was too, for five or six
of his mates was round the Court, and said they'd do for father or Bob if he
got sentenced. I got him a room before he come out and put it tidy for him for
he can't come back here of course. He don't remember a thing about it, and when
he heard what he done he didn't know what to do with himself. He sent father
a pound, all the money he had, and said he no more knew what he was doing than
if he hadn't done it. And I've promised to marry him. He's going to put the
banns up next Sunday. I can't stay here now. They go on at me every day, saying
it'll be to my door if mother and the baby dies. And he can't do without me."
She was in no state that day to hear argument of any kind. "He's
given up gambling," she said. "He told me so two months ago, and never
took to it again. And he's promised to sign again and keep it. Look here,'
I said to him, you've given me one blow. Through drink it was and you
didn't mean it, but if you was ever to give me another I think it would kill
me.' And I believe he will keep to it if I'm with him."
But a longer talk when she was quieter produced some effect. He
was in a state of real penitence, anxious only to marry her at once because
her life at home was so intolerable, but ready to wait if she wished it. At
the moment he was rather at a loss to keep himself, and she had not even decent
It was arranged therefore that she should go to service to have
time to think over the whole matter quietly. She had been going every morning
to his room to clean it and keep it tidy. She blushed when it was suggested
to her that she should not have done this, and she said that he had told her
that if she came she must come when he was out at work, but that he would rather
for her sake that she did not come.
The very situation was secured for her when her mother was taken
ill unexpectedly. After three or four weeks the baby was born, alive and healthy,
and then came a long time for Alice of waiting on her mother. Jackson had got
a job for awhile away in the country.
Then like a thunderbolt came a letter from Mrs. Thomas to say that Alice had gone straight away to Jackson. Their banns had been put up once only; when, so said Mrs. Thomas, Alice had gone for two nights to nurse a sick friend; they had sent round for her the third night and found that she had gone to him. This account of it, as it turned out was false; though the fact was true. Mrs. Thomas wrote with many religious hopes that God would bring her out of it somehow.
The task of finding Alice was not difficult. They were living
in a room in a respectable quiet little street. Alice herself opened the door;
for a moment she tried to brazen it out; but her eyes wandered everywhere. She
was looking ill and wretched, evidently thoroughly out of health. Then she gave
"I don't know what mother's told you about it," she
said, "but this was how it was. Things was getting worse and worse at home,
and one night they behaved to me so bad that I couldn't bear it no more. And
the lodger upstairs she said to me, I wouldn't stand it; I'd go to him
if I was you,' and I went out into the street. I didn't know what to do; I was
near mad, and I went to him. He was so surprised to see me, and he begged of
me not to come. Couldn't I go to you, he said, or to Mrs. Jones (another friend
who knew her story); but you know she was dying then, and you was away, and
he said, I suppose you know my girl how they'll all think of you?' and
I said I did know they'd say it now whatever I did, but I trusted him; I knew
he'd marry me and treat me right, and I couldn't go back for one night home
and there was nowhere to go. So then he gave in. We meant to be married when
the banns was run out, but he fell out o'work, and had to pawn his clothes,
and we hadn't the money for that nor for the fees. And then he fell ill, he's
ill now upstairs; and I'm ill too, I'm very bad, I can hardly stand. And he
says it's a curse upon us for doing what we did; and I know it is too. And he's
so wretched all along of me and what he's brought me to. It wasn't him though,
it was me; he begged me not to come. Oh, I never, never thought I could have
come to this."
She was shaking as she spoke from head to foot. Next day Jackson
was so ill that he was taken in at the hospital. Going to see her and arrange
for her going to some nice lodging where she could be looked after till he came
out again, I found her out and Mrs. Thomas sitting in the room nursing the baby.
She talked as a tender mother who had done her very best for the girl might
talk, in grief and yet in hope. She shuffled much about the actual circumstances
of her leaving home, which afterwards I found from other sources to be exactly
as Alice had represented them; and indeed Alice was always strictly truthful.
In the middle Alice herself came in. She would not tell before her mother, who
after a bit left us, and then she consented drearily enough to leave the room
and go elsewhere. Go home she would not; she grew fierce at the thought of it;
and then she sat looking into the fire and saying with passive wretchedness,
"I can't eat if I had itI can't do nothing. I'll go where you like. He's in great pain today. That's his bird; I must take it with me wherever I go."
But when the day for her going came, she suddenly turned obstinate.
She was sitting in the miserable smoky little room, white and wretched and in
pain; but for a while she held out that she would not go. She would wait there;
she would die there; she didn't care if she did; she wouldn't go. But finally
persuasion overcame her and she went to the lodgings and the care provided for
her, and in a day or two kindness and careful tending had made her like herself
He meanwhile was in the hospital in great pain of body and much
worse pain of mind. He spoke of her with twitching lips and wet eyes though
he was a stolid and reserved man. "I can't sleep at night, I can't rest
for thinking of her. But when she came to me, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't
turn the girl out into the street at that hour of the night. I couldn't leave
her. You was away and I didn't know where to take her. I meant well by her;
I'd have been married in ten days. But for me to have brought her to that."
He turned his face away and could say no more.
Then followed a happier though an anxious time for both of them.
The girl's religious convictions had deepened much during her trouble; and she
made one or two stipulations to him during this time.
"Look here, Bill," she said, half jocosely. "You've
got to go to church when we're married; if you don't, I won't marry you. I mean
"You needn't talk like that," he said. "I've been thinking of that too. I've been thinking of lots of things while I've been lying here."
Then came a most annoying contretemps about their banns. She and
he had made a mistake about their being run out; and the consequence was that
when he was to come out of hospital, there was still a fortnight to wait before
they could be married. She had given a solemn promise that she would not go
to see him in the room which would presently be their home during this fortnight.
But she heard that he was ill there, tried to find me and get absolved from
her promise; found I was out, went back and sat up with him all night. He was
better next morning, and she was very sorry. But it seemed best, for her own
health also to send her away into the country, to return only on her wedding
There she was in very good hands; gained health, and learned many
small housekeeping economies. And on the morning named she returned. And there
in the great empty church, with only the two necessary witnesses, they were
married. She would not tell her mother anything of it till it was over. She
said she had been talking of her, and making mischief, and opposing it in every
way. Next day she took her marriage lines home and let them see them.
That very evening she made another attempt to bring religion home
to him. It had grown a very great reality to her. So as they sat together happy
at last that evening by the fire she got out her hymn book, and in a voice which
I know to be none of the sweetest, and with an absence of tune due to her deafness,
she sang hymn after hymn.
"He sat still," she said with glee. "He wouldn't
have stood it six months ago. But he went on smoking and didn't say nothing
They are very happy together now. Alice has taken it as her function to do all she can to help other girls in difficult circumstances. Molly is not in a very nice place; and Alice frets and fusses after her like a mother, anxious over every sign that she thinks unsatisfactory. The other day she heard that a girl she knew was keeping company with one of the worst of her mother's former lodgers. She told the girl his true character and to no effect. But she learnt that on the next Sunday she was to start off with him on an expedition. So she herself got up early and went and waited at the street corner where they must pass, met them, and managed to part them and bring the girl back with her.
And the promise for the future is good. She is full of the repentance that finds its outcome in deeds not in words. Her troubles have bound her in closer fellowship to the tempted and the tried; and her compassionate heart has every stimulus and a sufficient scope in the city whose streets are full of those who are what she but for God's mercy might have been.
[note on the final page:]
These papers are just as she left them. She had abandoned the
idea of publishing them, even without her name, for fear
lest they should meet the eye of any of the persons concerned. However unlikely this seemed, the mere possibility of thus
giving pain, or making anyone feel as if a confidence had been broken made her so resolve. We know that this feeling of hers will be as sacred to the few friends who now will see them as it is to us.