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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Pitt picked the way along the narrow passage


'What

part of the city is this?' she asked.

'Not a bad part at all. In fact, we are near a very fashionable quarter. This particular street is a business thoroughfare, as you see.'

Betty was silent, and they went on a while; then turned sharp out of this thoroughfare into a narrow alley. It was hot and close and dank enough here to make Miss Frere shrink, though she would not betray it. But dead cats and decaying cabbage leaves, in a not very clean alley, where the sun rarely shines, and briefly then, with the thermometer well up, on a summer day, altogether make an atmosphere not suited to delicate senses. Pitt picked the way along the narrow passage, which at the end opened into a little court. This was somewhat cleaner than the alley; also it lay so that the sun sometimes visited it, though here too his visits could be but brief, for on the opposite side the court was shut in and overshadowed by the tall backs of great houses. They seemed, to Betty's fancy, to cast as much moral as physical shadow over the place. The houses in this court were small and dingy. If one looked straight up, there was a space of grey cloud visible; some days it would no doubt be a space of blue sky. No other thing even dimly suggesting refreshment or purity was within the range of vision. Pitt slowly paced along the row of houses.

'Who lives here?' Betty asked, partly to relieve the oppression that

was creeping upon her.

'No householders, that I know of. People who live in one room, or perhaps in two rooms; therefore in every house there are a number of families. This is Martin's court. And _here_,'--he stopped before one of the doors,--'in this house, in a room on the third floor--let me suppose a case'--

'Third floor? why, there are only two stories.'

'In the garret, then,--there lives an old woman, over seventy years old, all alone. She has been ill for a long time, and suffers a great deal of pain.'

'Who takes care of her?' Betty asked, wondering at the same time why Pitt told her all this.

'She has no means to pay anybody to take care of her.'

'But how does she _live?_--if she cannot do anything for herself.'

'She can do nothing at all for herself. She has been dependent on the kindness of her neighbours. They are poor, too, and have their hands full; still, from time to time one and another would look in upon her, light a fire for her, and give her something to eat; that is, when they did not forget it.'

'And what if they did forget it?'

'Then she must wait till somebody remembered; wait perhaps days, to get her bed made; lie alone in her pain all day, except for those rare visits; and even have to hire a boy with a penny to bring her a pitcher of water; lie alone all night and wait in the morning till somebody could give her her breakfast.'

'Why do you tell me all this, Mr. Pitt?' said Betty, facing round on him.


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