Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/177

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

GREEN PASTURES AND PICCADILLY.

171

fixes, so to speak, the equation of the mind of man in the orbit appointed for the consummation of his destiny.




From The Examiner.

GREEN PASTURES AND PICCADILLY.

BY WILLIAM BLACK.

AUTHOR OF "THE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON," "THE PRINCESS OF THULE," ETC.

CHAPTER XI.

DE PROFUNDIS.

A more ruffianly-looking vagabond than the honorable member for Ballinascroon could not have been found within the area of London on that warm June evening. And yet he seemed fairly pleased with himself as he boldly took his way across the Green Park. He balanced his basket jauntily over the dirty seal-skin cap. He whistled as he went.

It was his third excursion of the sort; and he was getting to be quite familiar with his rôle. In fact, he was not thinking at all at this moment of tramps' patter, or Covent Garden, or anything connected with the lodging-house in which he had already spent two nights. He whistled to give himself courage in another direction. Surely it was not for him, as a man of the world, occupied with the serious duties of life, and, above all, hard-headed and practical, to be perturbed by the sentimental phantasy of a girl. Was it not for her interest, as well as his own, that he should firmly hold out? A frank exposition of their relations now would prevent mistakes in the future—would, indeed, be the truest kindness to her. And as he could not undertake to play a Cupid's part, to become a philanderer, to place a mysterious value on moods and feelings which did not correspond with the actual facts of life, was it not wiser that he should plainly declare as much?

And yet this scoundrelly-looking hawker derived but little consolation from his gay whistling. He could not but think of Lady Sylvia as she wrote the letter now in his pocket; and in his inmost consciousness he knew what that tender-hearted girl must have suffered in penning the cold, proud lines. She had none of his pressing work in which to escape from the harassing pain of such a discussion. He guessed that weary days and sleepless nights were the result of such letters as that he now carried with him. But then, she was in the wrong. Discipline was wholesome. So he continued his contented trudge, and his whistling.

He crossed St. James's Park, passed through Queen Anne's Gate, and finally plunged into a labyrinth of narrow and squalid streets and lanes with which he seemed sufficiently familiar. It was not a pleasant quarter on this warm night; the air was close and foul; many of the inhabitants of the houses—loosely-dressed women for the most part, who had retreating foreheads, heavy jowls, and a loud laugh that seemed scarcely human—had come out to sit on the doorstep or the pavement. There were not many men about. A few hulking youths—bullet-headed, round-shouldered, in-kneed—lounged about the doors of the public-houses, addressing each other in the most hideous language a à propos of nothing.

The proprietor of the common lodging-house stood at the entry in his shirt-sleeves. He took no notice of Balfour except that, on his approach, he went along the passage and unlocked a door, admitted him, and shut the door again: this door could not be re-opened on the other side, so that there was no chance of a defaulter sneaking off in the night without paying his fourpence. Balfour went up-stairs. The doors of the various rooms and the rickety little windows were all wide open. The beds—of coarse materials, certainly, but clean—were all formally made. There was not a human being in the place.

He had a room to himself—about eight feet square, with two beds in it. He placed his basket on the bed; and then went down-stairs again, and out into the back-yard. The only occupant of the yard was a grizzled and feeble old man, who was at this moment performing his ablutions in the lavatory, which consisted of three pails of dirty water, standing on a bench in an open shed. The man dried his face, turned, and looked at Balfour with a pair of keen and ferrety eyes, said nothing, and walked off into »the kitchen. Balfour was left in sole occupation of the yard, with its surroundings of tumble-down outhouses and dilapidated brick walls; he lit a pipe, and sate down on a bench.

It was not a good time of the year for these researches, the precise object of which he had formerly explained to Lady Sylvia. The summer weather draws tramps, hawkers, and other branches of our nomadic population, into the country, where they can cadge a bit for food, and where, instead of having to pay for a bed