‘If you went,’ he continued, huskily, ’I should be afraid myself. I haven’t told you. I didn’t behave as I’d ought have done to the poor mother, Clara; I got into drinkin’ too much; yes, I did. I’ve broke myself off that; but if you was to leave me—I’ve had hard things to go through. Do you know the Burial Club broke up just before she died? I couldn’t get not a ha’penny! A lot o’ the money was stolen. You may think how I felt, Clara, with her lyin’ there, and I hadn’t got as much as would pay for a coffin. It was Sidney Kirkwood found the money—he did! There was never man had as good a friend as he’s been to me; I shall never have a chance of payin’ what I owe him. Things is better with me now, but I’d rather beg my bread in the streets than you should go away. Don’t be afraid, my dearest. I promise you nobody shan’t come near. You won’t mind Mrs. Eagles; she’s very good to the children. But I must keep you near to me, my poor girl!’
Perhaps sit was that word of pity—though the man’s shaken voice was throughout deeply moving. For the first time since the exultant hope of her life was blasted, Clara shed tears.
With the first breath of winter there passes a voice half-menacing, half-mournful, through all the barren ways and phantom-haunted refuges of the nether world. Too quickly has vanished the brief season when the sky is clement, when a little food suffices, and the chances of earning that little are more numerous than at other times; this wind that gives utterance to its familiar warning is the vaunt-courier of cold and hunger and solicitude that knows not sleep. Will the winter be a hard one? It is the question that concerns this world before all others, that occupies alike the patient workfolk who have yet their home unbroken, the strugglers foredoomed to loss of such scant needments as the summer gifted them withal, the hopeless and the self-abandoned and the lurking creatures of prey. To all of them the first chill breath from a lowering sky has its voice of admonition; they set their faces; they sigh, or whisper a prayer, or fling out a curse, each according to his nature.
And as though the strife here were not already hard enough, behold from many corners of the land come needy emigrants, prospectless among their own people, fearing the dark season which has so often meant for them the end of wages and of food, tempted hither by thought that in the shadow of palaces work and charity are both more plentiful. Vagabonds, too, no longer able to lie about the country roads, creep back to their remembered lairs and join the combat for crusts flung forth by casual hands. Day after day the stress becomes more grim. One would think that hosts of the weaker combatants might surely find it seasonable to let themselves be trodden out of existence, and so make room for those of more useful sinew; somehow