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Chapter 15

  • "I wish, mother, you was going to the hospital with me; it would save a lot o_xpense and you'd be better cared for."
  • "I'd like to be with you, dearie, but I can't leave my 'ome, all these youn_hildren about and no one to give an order. I must stop where I am. But I'v_een intending to tell you—it is time that you was thinking about yer letter."
  • "What letter, mother?"
  • "They don't take you without a letter from one of the subscribers. If I was you, now that the weather is fine and you have strength for the walk, I'd go up to Queen Charlotte's. It is up the Edgware Road way, I think.
  • What do you think about to-morrow?"
  • "To-morrow's Sunday."
  • "That makes no matter, them horspitals is open."
  • "I'll go to-morrow when we have washed up."
  • On Friday Esther had had to give her father more money for drink. She gave hi_wo shillings, and that made a sovereign that he had had from her. On Saturda_ight he had been brought home helplessly drunk long after midnight, and nex_orning one of the girls had to fetch him a drop of something to pull hi_ogether. He had lain in bed until dinner-time, swearing he would brain anyon_ho made the least noise. Even the Sunday dinner, a nice beef-steak pudding, hardly tempted him, and he left the table saying that if he could find To_arter they would take a penny boat and go for a blow on the river. The whol_amily waited for his departure. But he lingered, talked inconsequently, an_everal times Mrs. Saunders and the children gave up hope. Esther sat withou_ word. He called her a sulky brute, and, snatching up his hat, left th_ouse. The moment he was gone the children began to chatter like birds. Esthe_ut on her hat and jacket.
  • "I'm going, mother."
  • "Well, take care of yourself. Good luck to you."
  • Esther smiled sadly. But the beautiful weather melted on her lips, her lung_welled with the warm air, and she noticed the sparrow that flew across th_ab rank, and saw the black dot pass down a mews and disappear under th_aves. It was a warm day in the middle of April, a mist of green had begun i_he branches of the elms of the Green Park; and in Park Lane, in all th_alconies and gardens, wherever nature could find roothold, a spray of gentl_reen met the eye. There was music, too, in the air, the sound of fifes an_rums, and all along the roadway as far as she could see the rapid movement o_ssembling crowds. A procession with banners was turning the corner of th_dgware Road, and the policeman had stopped the traffic to allow it to pass.
  • The principal banner blew out blue and gold in the wind, and the men that bor_he poles walked with strained backs under the weight; the music changed, opinions about the objects of the demonstration were exchanged, and it wa_ome time before Esther could gain the policeman's attention. At last th_onductor rang his bell, the omnibus started, and gathering courage she aske_he way. It seemed to her that every one was noticing her, and fearing to b_verheard she spoke so low that the policeman understood her to say Charlott_treet. At that moment an omnibus drew up close beside them.
  • "Charlotte Street, Charlotte Street," said the policeman, "there's Charlott_treet, Bloomsbury." Before Esther could answer he had turned to th_onductor. "You don't know any Charlotte Street about here, do you?"
  • "No, I don't. But can't yer see that it ain't no Charlotte Street she wants, but Queen Charlotte's Hospital? And ye'd better lose no time in directin_er."
  • A roar of coarse laughter greeted this pleasantry, and burning with shame sh_urried down the Edgware Road. But she had not gone far before she had to as_gain, and she scanned the passers-by seeking some respectable woman, or i_efault an innocent child.
  • She came at last to an ugly desert place. There was the hospital, square, forbidding; and opposite a tall, lean building with long grey columns. Esthe_ang, and the great door, some fifteen feet high, was opened by a small boy.
  • "I want to see the secretary."
  • "Will you come this way?"
  • She was shown into a waiting-room, and while waiting she looked at th_eligious prints on the walls. A lad of fifteen or sixteen came in. He said—
  • "You want to see the secretary?"
  • "Yes."
  • "But I'm afraid you can't see him; he's out."
  • "I have come a long way; is there no one else I can see?"
  • "Yes, you can see me—I'm his clerk. Have you come to be confined?"
  • Esther answered that she had.
  • "But," said the boy, "you are not in labour; we never take anyone in before."
  • "I do not expect to be confined for another month. I came to mak_rrangements."
  • "You've got a letter?"
  • "No."
  • "Then you must get a letter from one of the subscribers."
  • "But I do not know any."
  • "You can have a book of their names and addresses."
  • "But I know no one."
  • "You needn't know them. You can go and call. Take those that liv_earest—that's the way it is done."
  • "Then will you give me the book?"
  • "I'll go and get one."
  • The boy returned a moment after with a small book, for which he demanded _hilling. Since she had come to London her hand had never been out of he_ocket. She had her money with her; she did not dare leave it at home o_ccount of her father. The clerk looked out the addresses for her and sh_ried to remember them—two were in Cumberland Place, another was in Bryanston_quare. In Cumberland Place she was received by an elderly lady who said sh_id not wish to judge anyone, but it was her invariable practice to giv_etters only to married women. There was a delicate smell of perfume in th_oom; the lady stirred the fire and lay back in her armchair. Once or twic_sther tried to withdraw, but the lady, although unswervingly faithful to he_rinciples, seemed not indifferent to Esther's story, and asked her man_uestions.
  • "I don't see what interest all that can be to you, as you ain't going to giv_e a letter," Esther answered.
  • The next house she called at the lady was not at home, but she was expecte_ack presently, and the maid servant asked her to take a seat in the hall. Bu_hen Esther refused information about her troubles she was called a stuck-u_hing who deserved all she got, and was told there was no use her waiting. A_he next place she was received by a footman who insisted on her communicatin_er business to him. Then he said he would see if his master was in. He wasn'_n; he must have just gone out. The best time to find him was before half-pas_en in the morning.
  • "He'll be sure to do all he can for you—he always do for the good-lookin_nes. How did it all happen?"
  • "What business is that of yours? I don't ask your business."
  • "Well, you needn't turn that rusty."
  • At that moment the master entered. He asked Esther to come into his study. H_as a tall, youngish-looking man of three or four-and-thirty, with bright eye_nd hair, and there was in his voice and manner a kindness that impresse_sther. She wished, however, that she had seen his mother instead of him, fo_he was more than ever ashamed of her condition. He seemed genuinely sorry fo_er, and regretted that he had given all his tickets away. Then a though_truck him, and he wrote a letter to one of his friends, a banker in Lincoln'_nn Fields. This gentleman, he said, was a large subscriber to the hospital, and would certainly give her the letter she required. He hoped that Esthe_ould get through her trouble all right.
  • The visit brought a little comfort into the girl's heart; and thinking of hi_ind eyes she walked slowly, inquiring out her way until she got back to th_arble Arch, and stood looking down the long Bayswater Road. The lamps wer_eginning in the light, and the tall houses towered above the sunset. Esthe_atched the spectral city, and some sensation of the poetry of the hour mus_ave stolen into her heart, for she turned into the Park, choosing to wal_here. Upon its dim green grey the scattered crowds were like strips of blac_ape. Here and there by the railings the tape had been wound up in a blac_all, and the peg was some democratic orator, promising poor human natur_nconditional deliverance from evil. Further on were heard sounds from _armonium, and hymns were being sung, and in each doubting face there wa_omething of the perplexing, haunting look which the city wore.
  • A chill wind was blowing. Winter had returned with the night, but the instinc_f spring continued in the branches. The deep, sweet scent of the hyacint_loated along the railings, and the lovers that sat with their arms about eac_ther on every seat were of Esther's own class. She would have liked to hav_alled them round her and told them her miserable story, so that they migh_rofit by her experience.