‘I wish we were all in heaven,’ growled Uncle Max,—but his tone was a little husky,—’for this world is a most uncomfortable place for good people, or people with a craze. I think Charlie is well out of it.’
‘Under which category do you mean to place me?’ I asked, trying to laugh.
’My dear, there is a craze in most women. They have such an obstinate faith in their own good intentions. If they find half a dozen fools to believe in them, they will start a crusade to found a new Utopia. Women are the most meddlesome things in creation: they never let well alone. Their pretty little fingers are in every human pie. That is why we get so much unwholesome crust and so little meat, and, of course, our digestion is ruined.’
‘Uncle Max—’ But he would not be serious any longer.
’Ursula, I utterly refuse to inhale any more of this mist. I think a comfortable arm-chair by the fire would be far more conducive to comfort. You have given me plenty of food for thought, and I mean to sleep on it. Now, not another word. I am going to ring the bell.’ And Uncle Max was as good as his word.
BEHIND THE BARS
It was quite true, as I had told Uncle Max, that the scheme had been no new one; it was no sudden emanation from a girl’s brain, morbid with discontent and fruitless longings; it had grown with my youth and had become part of my environment. As a child the thought had come to me as I followed my father into one cottage after another in his house-to-house visitation. He had been a conscientious, hard-working clergyman; in fact, his work killed him, for he overtasked a constitution that was not naturally strong. I accompanied my mother, too, in her errands of mercy, and saw a great deal of the misery engendered by drink, ignorance, and want of forethought. In the case of the sick poor, the gross mismanagement and want of cleanly and thrifty habits led to an amount of discomfort and suffering that even now makes me shudder. The parish was overgrown and insufficiently worked; the greater part of the population belonged to the working-classes; dissenting chapels and gin-palaces flourished. Often did my childish heart ache at the surroundings of some squalid home, where the parents toiled all day for worse than naught, just to satisfy their unhealthy cravings, while the children grew up riotous, half starved, and full of inherited vices. There was a little child I saw once, a cripple, dying slowly of some sad spinal disease, lying in a dark corner, on what seemed to me a heap of rags. Oh, God, I can see that child’s face now! I remember when we heard of its death my mother burst into tears. They were tears of joy, she told me afterwards, that another suffering child’s life was ended; ’and there are hundreds and hundreds of these little creatures, Ursula,’ she said, ’growing up in sin and misery; and the world goes on, and people eat and drink and are merry, for it is none of their business, and yet it is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish.’