« 이전계속 »
Again I was in the Slough of Despond : the thirty-seven old workhouse inmates had all been so sure that they each had a home to go to, if only they had pensions ; and by this time I knew that out of the eighteen whose own people I had visited, fifteen were mistaken, their own people would not-most of them indeed could not-take them in. It seemed almost useless to continue the search, and perhaps I should not have continued it, had I not had proof, in the course of the next few days, that things were not quite so bad as they seemed. For I found two homes, and one of them a very good home, although in most unpromising surroundings. It was over some stables, in a mews, and the way to it was up what was little better than a ladder. Once there, however, the place was most comfortable, and clean as a newmade pin. The kitchen was one that any old woman might have been glad to live in, so cheery was it; and its mistress was as cheery as itself. When I told her why I had come, her whole face beamed. * Take mother in ? I should think I would, indeed! I would never have let her go, but my man was out of work, and—why, you know what it is when one's man is out of work. If she had stayed, she would have had to starve. I should have liked to have her back as soon as we were here, but he was all for
ting a bit. He's one of the cautious sort; he's made like that. He won't say a word against her coming, though, when she's five shillings a week. Yes, you can tell her I shall be only too glad to have her—but I'll go and tell her myself.'
My next visit was to a woman of the 'shabby genteel' class. Her mother had, I knew, seen better days, and seen better days' was written plainly both on the daughter's face and her husband's. Although they were living in respectable rooms, they looked as if they had not for years had quite enough to eat, and had never, in the whole course of their lives, seen a really good fire. They both seemed hopelessly depressed, depressed as they only can be whose whole life is a long struggle to make one penny do a threepenny piece's work. “Yes,' they said, “ the old lady might certainly come if she chose, and they would try to make her comfortable. They would be well pleased to have her, indeed, and her five shillings would be a great help.”
I thought of that man's exclamation, ‘Wot's foive shillin', I'd loike to know !' Evidently to the shabby genteel five shillings is something well worth having, whatever it may be to loafers.
Thence I went to a better class artisan's house, where both the husband and wife were at home. The woman-it was she who in this case was the relative—said at once that she would like to have her mother to live with her, and could find room for her quite easily. She glanced at the man nervously, however, as she spoke; with good reason, too, for he promptly declared that he would have no old women in his house. Who would look after him, he would like to know, if she took to looking after her mother? In the house of another artisan, though one of a much poorer class, the daughter-in-law of the old woman for whom I was seeking a home assured me that her husband would, she knew, be very glad to have his mother to live with them, when she had five shillings a week; and that she herself would be very glad, too.
It don't seem natural like, for her to be up there all by herself, and us so comfortable here. We weren't married, you see, when he let her go. He's always paid for her, of course, but that ain't the same thing. She ought to be here, by her own son's fireside; that I've always said. He, her only son, too! It ain't as if we had a houseful of bairns. We've only one little girl, and she ain't so strong as we'd like her to be.'
Four other daughters-in-law whom I visited seemed to take a fundamentally different view of what men owe to their parents ; for each one of them in turn straightway began to make excuses when asked to take in her husband's father.
'No, that wouldn't do at all,' the first of the four declared, ' for my mother lives with us, and the two old people would quarrel.
“No, indeed, I should hate to have an old man pottering round all day, upsetting everything,' the second informed me quite cheerfully. 'I like to have my house to myself, and my husband too.'
We couldn't afford it,' said the third. “An old man costs a lot more than five shillings a week ; and then there's all the worry and bother.'
'I couldn't take anybody in, no, not if he was an angel, and rich, too !' the fourth assured me. As it is, I can't get across the kitchen floor without tumbling over somebody.'
Meanwhile I had written to the son of one old woman, and the daughter of another, as they lived too far away for me to go to see them. Neither the son nor yet the daughter could, however, provide a home.
'I have ten children to support, and I have been very hard hit,' the son wrote,' or I should not let her stop there, but for the
time being she is safer where she is. She is sure of being kept warm and clean, and of her food.'
As for the daughter, this is the reply she sent :
'Just a line in answer to your kind letter, which I was very glad to receive, but very sorry to say I shall not be able to find a home for Mother, as I am in very poor circumstances myself, having a large family myself. I should have to go to a lot of expense myself to get things for Mother, which I cannot afford.'
In the course of my search there were several days when I did not find a single home; there was one day, however, my red-letter day, when I found no fewer than three homes. Two of these were in one house, and were for a very respectable old married couple. Their son, who had a little shop, told me that he had long been hoping to be able to take them both out of the workhouse; and that he had a few weeks before offered to take his mother out, but that she would not leave his father. As soon as they had pensions, they should certainly both of them come to live with him; on that
1 he was quite determined. For the workhouse was not at all the place for them, he said. They ought never to have gone there, and they never would have gone, had he not been ill just when evil days had overtaken them. The third home I found that day was in a cellar ;
it was half a cellar, in fact, one into which neither sunshine nor fresh air ever entered. Its owner was a thin white-faced middle-aged woman, who, judging by her appearance, had never known anything but hard work and trouble. Never did I see anyone who looked so tired, so completely worn-out. None the less, her eyes brightened at once when I told her I knew her mother, and she flushed with evident pleasure when I explained why I had come to see her.
' It would be real nice to have mother here,' she exclaimed. I've so often wished she could come, for things wouldn't be half so bad as they are if we were together; and I'm sure I could make her comfortable. You think she'd cost me more than five shillings a week? Well, if she does, I must work a bit harder, that's all.' She tried to smile as she spoke, but she failed ; and the old weary look came into her face again ; for she was a seamstress and knew well what working a bit harder meant. Still, even then, she was as bent as ever on having her mother with her, and the last words she said to me were ‘You've made me real glad, for I was just beginning to be afraid that I should never be able to have her.'
This was the last visit I paid ; for although I had still the names
and addresses of five relatives on my list, not one of the five could be traced ; either they had never lived at the address given, or they had lived there and gone away. I was at the end of my search, and I had found only nine homes. And those poor old folk had been so sure that I should find thirty-seven! Out of all that huge company in the workhouse, 528 old men and women, there were only thirty-seven who had believed that they had homes with their own people to which they could go, if they had old age pensions, and only nine who really had homes. Out of 528 only nine-one old man and eight old women-had anywhere where they could betake themselves, had any relative able and willing to give them shelter. None the less, as the law stands, the whole 528, excepting such as are very disreputable, will be able to claim pensions next January, and wander forth uncared for where they will. And they are all very old and most of them feeble, much too feeble to live alone and tend themselves; and they will have only five shillings a week each wherewith to pay for their food, clothes, fires, lights and lodging—this means they will be half-starved.
Before January comes, the law may be altered, of course, although there is not much chance that it will be; as all parties alike are now practically pledged to allow paupers to become old-age pensioners when they are seventy. It behoves us, therefore, surely to see that refuges of some sort are provided for old age pensioners who are alone in the world and feeble; as otherwise many poor old folk will bring not only great misery on themselves but great expense and inconvenience on the community. These refuges must be quite apart from the workhouse, or no respectable old age pensioner will resort there. They must be much humbler, more homelike places than workhouses, and much less costly. Above all, they must be places where decent old men and women can betake themselves without any feeling of shame; places therefore where the vicious and degraded are not allowed to enter.
A SYMPTOM OF YOUNG EGYPT.
* KARÅKTER . . . Karakter .. Karakter !' The barbarous word kept recurring in the speech of the white-bearded fellah, as he sat with hands reverently folded in his hanging sleeves and eyes downcast
, on the outmost edge of the chair proposed to him by the English official to whom he came as a suppliant.
* Karakter! ... I want the boy to learn karàkter, that by its virtue he may become a power in the land. In the English schools they tell me that karakter is placed first among the subjects which the pupils study. I came to hear of it by chance—0, happy chance !—when the champions of Tanta came to play our boys at football
. They of Tanta called upon the Sayyid el Bedawi to give them victory, and we invoked our lord Ibrahîm el-Dessûqi. But the Sayyid Ahmed was the stronger, or else our saint was asleep, for they won. Efendim, I was watching the battle, all eyes for my son's prowess, when, marvelling at the energy of the combatants, I cried : “ Wallahi, excellent! They surpass their instructors. Our sons outstrip the English, our good lords ! ” But one at my side said : “No, for they still lack karakter; and without it there is no superiority.” At once I asked him what karakter was ; and he told me that the English, alone of all mankind, possess the secret of it; but it can be acquired in their schools for money. Efendim, we have money nowadays. Formerly one dared not hint at the possession, least of all in the hearing of a ruler like your Excellency; but to-day all that is changed—the praise to Allah, and our English lords! And because I love our English lords, and admire their qualities, I would have my son instructed in Karàkter, by the knowledge of which they are above all else distinguished. Efendim, do but name to me the best school in your country for that science, and my son goes there to-morrow.'
The old man bowed his head and waited patiently for an answer ; while his son, the same who was to learn karakter, stood, silent and apparently indifferent, beside his chair. The boy, about fourteen years of age, wore a European suit of the cheapest sort, pale yellow, patterned with a large black check-which might