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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

'the parish authorities are but men


me that by and by. Come a little farther. Here, in this next house but one, there is a man sick with rheumatism--in a fever; when I first saw him he was lying there shivering and in great pain, with no fire; and his daughter, a girl of perhaps a dozen years old, was trying to light a fire with a few splinters of sticks that she had picked up. That was last winter, in cold weather. They were poverty-stricken, since the man had been some time out of work.'

'Well?' said Betty. 'I must not repeat my question, but what is all this to me? I have no power to help them. Do you know these people yourself?'

'Yes, I know them. In the last house of the row there is another old woman I want to tell you of; and then we will go. She is not ill, nor disabled; she is only very old and quite alone. She is not unhappy either, for she is a true old Christian. But think of this: in the room which she occupies, which is half underground, there is just one hour in the day when a sunbeam can find entrance. For that hour she watches; and when the sky is not clouded, and it comes, she takes her Bible and holds it in the sunshine to read for that blessed hour. It is all she has in the twenty-four. The rest of the time she must only think of what she has read; the place is too dark for any more.'

'Do let us go!' said Betty; and she turned, and almost fled back to the alley, and through the alley back

to the street. There they walked more moderately a space of some rods before she found breath and words. She faced round on her conductor again.

'Why do you take me to such a place, and tell me such things?'

'Will you let that question still rest a little while?' Almost as he spoke Pitt called another cab, and Betty and he were presently speeding on again, whither she knew not. It was a good time to talk, and she repeated her question.

'Instead of answering you, I would like to put a question on my side,' he returned. 'What do you think is duty, on the part of a servant of Christ, towards such cases?'

'Pray tell me, is there not some system of poor relief in this place?'

'Yes, there is the parish help. And sorrowful help it is! The parishes are often very large, the sufferers very many, the cases of fraud and trickery almost--perhaps quite--as numerous as those at least which come to the notice of the parish authorities. The parish authorities are but average men; is it wonderful if they are hard administrators? I can tell you, justice is bitterly hard, as she walks the streets here; and mercy's hand has grown rough with friction!'

Betty looked at the speaker, whose brow was knit and his eye darkened and flashing; she half laughed.

'You are eloquent,' she said. 'You ought to be representing the case on the floor of the House of Commons.'

'Well,' he said, coming down to an easier tone, 'the parish authorities are but men, as I said, and they grow suspicious, naturally; and in any case the relief they give is utterly insufficient. A shilling a week, or two shillings a week,--what would they do for the people I have been telling you of? And it is hard dealing with the parish authorities. I know it, for here and there at least I have followed Job's example; "the cause I knew not, I searched out." One must do that, or one runs the risk of being taken in, and throwing money away upon rogues which ought to go to help honest people.'

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