Page:Homes of the London Poor.djvu/36

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34
HOMES OF THE LONDON POOR.

horrify him. In many of the houses the dustbins were utterly unapproachable, and cabbage-leaves, stale fish, and every sort of dirt were lying in the passages and on the stairs; in some the back kitchen had been used as a dustbin, but had not been emptied for years, and the dust filtered through into the front kitchens, which were the sole living and sleeping rooms of some families; in some, the kitchen stairs were many inches thick with dirt, which was so hardened that a shovel had to be used to get it off; in some there was hardly any water to be had; the wood was eaten away, and broken away; windows were smashed; and the rain was coming through the roofs. At night it was still worse; and during the first winter I had to collect the rents chiefly then, as the inhabitants, being principally costermongers, were out nearly all day, and they were afraid to entrust their rent to their neighbors. It was then that I saw the houses in their most dreadful aspect. I well remember wet, foggy, Monday nights, when I turned down the dingy court, past the brilliantly-lighted public-house at the corner, past the old furniture outside the shops, and dived into the dark, yawning, passage ways. The front doors stood open day and night, and as I felt my way down the kitchen stairs, broken, and rounded by the hardened mud upon them, the foul smells which the heavy, foggy air would not allow to rise, met me as I descended, and the plaster rattled down with a hollow sound as I groped along. It was truly appalling to think that there were human beings who lived habitually in such an atmosphere, with such surroundings. Sometimes I had to open the kitchen door myself, after knocking several times in vain, when a woman, quite drunk, would be lying on the floor on some black mass which served as a bed; sometimes, in answer to my knocks, a half-drunken man would swear, and thrust the rent-money out to me through a chink of the door, placing his foot against it, so as to prevent it from opening wide enough to admit me. Always it would be shut again without a light being offered to