It seemed a very long walk home to Alice Hatfield, after that Sunday
evening lecture. She felt almost as though she could never reach her
lodging. It was such weary work to keep putting one tired foot before
the other. And somehow she was so much more easily tired now than she
used to be in her Derbyshire home, where she had been used to breast
the steepest hills without even a quickened breath. She wished she had
not gone; she had derived no pleasure from the evening, and had only
gained a sharper heartache from the sight of a certain face, which had
been, and was still for that matter, the dearest face in the world to
her. She felt re-awakened too in her a liking for a different life
among different surroundings; the life she had given up of her own free
will three months ago. She had been much alone in that other life, it
is true, and her thoughts had not made solitude sweet; but she had seen
_him_ sometimes, and now she was quite alone–always–save for the
few slight acquaintances she had made in the house where she lived.
In that other life, which now looked brighter than it had ever done
when it was hers, she had been racked and tortured by her conscience,
which had at last forced her to try and silence it by renouncing what
she had sacrificed everything to gain, and by voluntarily adopting
this strange, hard way of living. But now that that gloomy monitor was
on her side, it failed to give that comfort and support which one is
taught to expect from it.
‘Be virtuous and you will be happy,’ say the copy-books. A somewhat
higher authority (Professor Huxley) thinks otherwise. ‘Virtue is
undoubtedly beneficent,’ he says, ‘but the man is to be envied to
whom her ways seem in any wise playful; and though she may not talk
much about suffering and self-denial, her silence on that topic may
be accounted for on the principle _ça va sans dire_. She is an awful
goddess, whose ministers are the furies, and whose highest reward is
Alice Hatfield hadn’t read Huxley, but if she had she would have agreed
with him in this; and now it seemed as though the furies were driving
her along the streets towards that miserable home of hers, where, so
far, no dove of peace had folded its wings.
It is given to all of us, at one time or another, to repent–more or
less–of the evil; but many of us also know what it is to look back,
with something like remorse, on what we believe to have been the good.
And good and evil, get so mixed up sometimes, when we have often heard
the world’s ‘right’ skilfully controverted and made to seem wrong, by
the tongue whose eloquence once made wrong seem to us right.
Alice had to collect all her energies to enable her to climb the steep
dark stairs which led to her room, and when she had gained it at last,
and had lighted her little benzoline lamp, she sank down on her chair
bedstead, exhausted and breathless. What a hateful room it was; how
cold, and cheerless, and wretched. The few poor articles of furniture
did not relieve its bareness in the least. There was no fire, of
course, and her little lamp quite failed to light up the dark corners.
There must be something wrong with that lamp–it was going out
surely–the room was growing so dark; or was it her eyes from which the
power of seeing was going? The room seemed to swim before her sight,
and a feeling of deadly faintness came over her, a horrible sensation
of going through the floor. She staggered to her feet and drank some
water, which gave her strength to go unsteadily down to the floor
below, and to knock at the landlady’s door.
‘Oh, I am so ill–so ill! I think I’m dying,’ she said, holding out
both hands as the woman appeared; ‘help me.’
Then she knew no more. Her troubles, her tiredness, her regrets, her
very self, all were swallowed up in the horror of great darkness that
overwhelmed her.
‘Here’s a nice set out,’ grumbled Mrs Fludger, as her lodger fell at
her feet; ‘as if one hadn’t enough troubles o’ one’s own–what with
Jenny being out o’ work, and the master on the booze since Friday.
‘Here I am.’
Miss Jenny Fludger, a muscular young woman, with her hair in a long
beaded net, responded to the call, and lent her help in carrying
Alice back to her room. Then the unsympathetic hands of the two women
undressed the girl and laid her in her bed. Then they looked meaningly
at each other.
‘If she don’t soon come round I’ll send Joe for the doctor,’ said the
mother. ‘You never knows what may happen.’
Then Mrs Fludger dashed cold water in the patient’s face, slapped
her hands with a vigour that would have brought tears to her eyes
had she been conscious, and made a horrible smell with the benzoline
lamp and a pigeon’s feather hastily begged from a lodger who had
leanings ornithological. Alice showing no signs of being affected
by the application of these generally efficacious remedies, Mrs
Fludger decided that this was a case of ‘going off’ quite beyond her
experience, and feeling the responsibility too much to be borne alone,
she despatched her third son in quest of a doctor, regardless of Miss
Jenny’s opinion that the lodger was ‘shamming.’ Joe Fludger was not
particularly pleased at being sent. He was busy just then shaking up a
mangy kitten and a recently-acquired guinea-pig in a box, with a view
of getting them to fight, which they showed no signs of doing, and
he did not care to relinquish this enthralling pastime until he had
compassed his end. He put his two ‘pets’ into one pocket, hoping that
that position would urge them to fulfil their destiny and have it out,
and as he met several friends, and felt it incumbent on him to exhibit
his treasures to each of them, it was some time before he carried out
his instructions, and brought medical science, as represented by Dr
Moore, to 15 Spray’s Buildings. But even when the doctor did at last
stand by her bedside, Alice was still insensible.
He raised her eyelids, felt her pulse, asked one or two brief
questions, and then stood holding her hand till she sighed, and moved
‘She’s coming round,’ he said. ‘Not married, I see,’ he added, glancing
at the hand he held, on which shone no golden circle, not even the
brass substitute which takes its place occasionally, when times are
very hard.
‘Not as I ever heard of,’ said Miss Jenny with a toss of the net, which
drew down upon her a glance of disapproval from the old doctor, and a
sharp recommendation from her mother to go downstairs. ‘Give the girl
air; there’s too many of us here a’ready.’
Miss Fludger withdrew with a gesture expressive of a sovereign contempt
for faints in general, and this collapse in particular.

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‘How does this poor thing get her living?’ asked the doctor; ‘she looks
as if she got it honestly.’ He, being an observant man, glanced as he
spoke at the roughened forefinger of her left hand, and then round the
bare, dreary attic.
‘Lord! doctor, how should I know? Do you think I puts all my lodgers
through their cataclysm before I takes ’em in?’ said Mrs Fludger,
with some general recollection of the days when she went to Sunday
school. Mrs Fludger did not always manage to hit on the right word to
express the meaning she intended to convey, but she always found a word
something like the right one, and a word which really had a place in
the English dictionary; she had a rare dexterity in the finding of such
words, and a fine confidence in the use of them, which made them answer
her purpose admirably.
‘You’re better now, aren’t you?’ said the doctor, as Alice opened her
eyes. ‘Here’s a shilling, ma’am: can you send for some brandy?’
Mrs Fludger would go herself. Such an admirable opportunity for having
‘two penn’orth’ at the ‘Hope’ was not to be let slip.
‘Don’t be frightened,’ he said, as the landlady left the room. ‘It’s
only the doctor. You’ve been overdoing it–working too hard, and eating
too little.’
‘But I never felt like that before,’ said Alice slowly and faintly. ‘I
thought I was going to die.’
‘Haven’t you anyone belonging to you? You ought to be with friends just
‘No. I’m quite alone, quite alone. Why just now?’
‘My dear child, don’t you know why?’
She did not answer, but looked at him with large, frightened,
questioning eyes; and before Mrs Fludger returned with a shrunken
shilling’s-worth in a ginger-beer bottle, Alice had learned that that
which she had feared, till a sort of hope had grown out of the very
intensity of her fear–that which had seemed almost too terrible
to be possible–was to be. She now had that certainty which is a
spring of secret happiness to so many women, to some only a fresh
care and anxiety, and to some, alas! the sign and token of social
banishment–the warrant of disgrace and despair.
Doctor Moore spoke kindly, and with no note of censure in his voice.
He had a naturally tender heart, and long years of practice in a
poor neighbourhood had developed his sympathies, instead of blunting
them, as, unfortunately, happens in too many cases. He was an old man
now, and this was an old story to him; but his eyes were still sharp
enough to see that the girl before him did not belong to that class of
patients to whom such an announcement would have meant little more than
a temporary inconvenience and a trifling subsequent expense. He thought
to himself that he would look in in the morning and see the girl again.
There had been a look in her eyes as she listened to him that made him
feel that she wanted looking after.
‘Give her some hot brandy-and-water, and let her go to sleep–that’s
the best thing for her,’ he said to Mrs Fludger as he came away. The
landlady accompanied him downstairs in a halo of apology for having
‘such like’ in her house, and when she had lighted him out she climbed
once more, protesting, to the attic, and having administered the brandy
as prescribed, came away, after bidding the girl ‘good-night’ not
But, all the same, she made up her mind that Alice must go. If the
girl had come there as ‘Mrs’ Anybody–and worn a ring, no questions
would have been asked by Mrs Fludger. There would then have been the
alternative of supposing that the Mr in the case was in the seafaring
way, or was enjoying a holiday upon the breezy slopes of Dartmoor. But
as she had chosen to neglect the payment of that slight tribute to the
proprieties which even this neighbourhood demanded, there was no help
for it–she must go. Besides, there might be difficulties about rent,
and even a want of money for the necessaries of life–and Mrs Fludger
was afraid to trust her tender heart. Even forty years of being pinched
and ‘druv’ had not quite dried up the milk of human kindness in her
bosom, and she felt that she would rather not have a lodger who would
excite her sympathy and possibly make demands upon her pocket. This
habit of ‘not trusting our tender hearts’ is not confined to the class
to which Mrs Fludger belonged. Others who have larger means of meeting
probable drafts on their ‘tenderness’ have also a way of pushing misery
out of sight, or handing it over to the emollient remedies of a Royal
Commission, which, of course, goes thoroughly into the matter. Does it?
The Royal Commissioners do not find their shoulders any easier under
the burden we have shifted on to them than we found ours, and not being
able to shift the weight again, they skilfully dissolve it, and give it
us back in the solution of a wordy report. And for Mrs Fludger, who had
to look sharp after every halfpenny, and who knew no higher morality
than that taught in the precept, ‘Take care of number one,’ which to
her meant the number nine, of whom Miss Jenny was the eldest, there was
more excuse than there is for the theoretical philanthropists who wear
purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day.
But the landlady was not required to make the announcement which she
had proposed to herself, for when she went up to Alice’s room the next
morning, to say that she wished to have a few words with her (and when
people say that, you may be sure the words are not going to be pleasant
ones), she found the girl already dressed–with her little belongings
arranged as for an immediate departure. So she changed her mind, and
instead of that speech about the few words, she said simply,–
‘Good morning. You’re better, I see.’
‘Yes, thanks,’ said Alice, hurriedly; ‘and I think I would like to
leave this morning–and here is a week’s money from last Saturday.’
Mrs Fludger rubbed her hands together in a little embarrassment.
‘I don’t say but you’re in the right to go, and I hope you’ll get on
all right, and not let your trouble play upon your mind too much; but
as for the money, never mind. It’s only a couple of days, and I don’t
grudge that. An’ if you’ll take my advice you’ll go home to your own
folk, if you’ve got any. God-a’mighty knows it’s hard lions with most
of us.’
Which Alice, listening sadly, interpreted to mean ‘hard lines.’
And so it happened that her worldly goods were taken away on a
hand-barrow, she herself walking beside it–whither Mrs Fludger was
careful not to inquire; and Dr Moore, coming at noon, received the
comforting intelligence that the girl had gone home to her people; for
Mrs Fludger, like so many others, thought that her advice once given
could not fail to be taken.