‘Yes, indeed.’ And I shuddered as I recalled many a sad scene in my father’s home.
’I have sent in a woman once or twice to clean up the place; and Mrs. Drabble has made excellent beef-tea, but the last lot turned sour from being left in the hot kitchen one night, and the cat upset the basin of calf’s-foot jelly,—at least the children said so. I go there myself, because Tudor says the air of the place turns him sick: he looked as white as a ghost after his last visit, and declared he was poisoned with foul air.’
’I daresay he was right, Max; poor people have such an objection to open their windows.’
’I believe you there. I have talked myself nearly hoarse on that subject. Hamilton and I propose giving lectures in the schoolroom on domestic hygiene. There is a fearful want of sanitary knowledge in women belonging to the lower class; want of cleanliness, want of ventilation, want of whitewashing, are triple evils that lead to the most lamentable results. We cannot get people to understand the common laws of life; the air of their rooms may be musty, stagnant, and corrupt, and yet they are astonished if their children have an attack of scarlet fever or diphtheria.’
I commended the notion of the lectures warmly, and asked with whom the idea had originated.
’Oh, Hamilton, of course: he is the moving spirit of everything. We have planned the whole thing out. There is to be a lecture every Friday evening; the first is to be on household hygiene, the sanitary condition of houses, ventilation, cleanliness, etc. In the second lecture Hamilton will speak of the laws of health, self-management, personal cleanliness, to be followed by a few simple lectures on nursing, sick-cookery, and the treatment of infantile diseases. We want all the mothers to attend. Do you think it a good idea, Ursula?’
‘It is an excellent one,’ I returned reluctantly, for I grudged the praise to Mr. Hamilton. He could benefit his fellow-creatures, and give time and strength and energy to the poor sick people, and yet sneer at me civilly when I wanted to do the same, just because I was a woman. Perhaps Max was disappointed with my want of enthusiasm, for he ceased talking of the lectures, and said he had some more letters to write before dinner, and during the rest of the evening, though we discussed a hundred different topics, Mr. Hamilton’s name was not again mentioned.
Uncle Max walked with me to the gate of the White Cottage, and bade me a cheerful good-night.
‘I like to feel you are near me, Ursula,’ he said, quite affectionately; ’an old bachelor like myself gets into a groove, and the society of a vigorous young woman, brimful of philanthropy and crotchets, will rub me up and do me good; one goes to sleep sometimes,’ he finished, rather mournfully, and then he walked away in the darkness, and I stood for a minute to watch him.