“I used to be a-toffed up like that onct,” I heard an old woman who was selling matches say as a lady in an ermine coat stepped out of a theatre into an automobile and was wrapped round in a tiger-skin rug.
Sometimes it happened that, returning to the East End after the motor ’buses had ceased to ply, I had to slip through the silent Leicester Square and the empty Strand to the Underground Railway on the Embankment.
Then I would see the wretched men and women who were huddled together in the darkness on the steps to the river (whose ever-flowing waters must have witnessed so many generations of human wreckage), and, glancing up at the big hotels and palatial mansions full of ladies newly returned from theatres and restaurants in their satin slippers and silk stockings, I would wonder how they could lie in their white beds at night in rooms whose windows looked down on such scenes.
But the sight that stirred me most (though it did not awaken my charity, which shows what a lean-souled thing I was myself) was that of the “public women,” the street-walkers, as I used to call them, whom I saw in Piccadilly with their fine clothes and painted faces, sauntering in front of the clubs or tripping along with a light step and trying to attract the attention of the men.
I found no pathos in the position of such women. On the contrary, I had an unspeakable horror and hatred and loathing of them, feeling that no temptation, no poverty, no pressure that could ever be brought to bear upon a woman in life or in death excused her for committing so great a wrong on the sanctity of her sex as to give up her womanhood at any call but that of love.
“Nothing could make me do it,” I used to think, “nothing in this world.”
But O God! how little I knew then what is in a woman’s heart to do when she has a child to live for, and is helpless and alone!
I cannot expect anybody to forgive me for what I did (or attempted to do), and now that the time has come to tell of it my hand trembles, and body and soul seem to be quivering like a flame.
May God (who has brought everything to such a glorious end) have mercy on me and forgive me, and help me to be true!
The worst consequence of my West End journeys was that my nightly visits to Ilford were fewer than before, and that the constant narrowing of the margin between my income and my expenses made it impossible for me to go there during the day.
As a result my baby received less and less attention, and I could not be blind to the fact that she was growing paler and thinner.
At length she developed a cough which troubled me a great deal. Mrs. Oliver made light of it, saying a few pennyworths of paregoric would drive it away, so I hurried off to a chemist, who recommended a soothing syrup of his own, saying it was safer and more effectual for a child.