Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/37
"Her daily intercourse with the girls taught her to know intimately the life of the poor. Most of the children came from very poor homes, and had, though so young, experienced great hardships. There was Louisa, an emotional, affectionate girl who had lost both parents, and helped to support herself and the aunt with whom she lived. She had worked at artificial flower-making, and told us how, when trade was busy, she had been kept late into the night, and had had to run frightened through the streets in the small hours of the morning, and tap at the window to wake her aunt. There was poor Denis whose face and neck were terribly disfigured with burns; but who had such a sweet pathetic voice that, when she sang, one forgot her ugliness. There was Clara, a tall, over-grown girl from a dirty home, who was half-starved and cruelly treated. She wore a low dress and short sleeves, and one could see her bones almost coming through her skin. On one occasion when her work was too slovenly to be passed, she burst into tears, and said that her mother would beat her if she did not take back the money expected of her. There was little Elizabeth, a stunted child of about nine, with so fierce a look that Octavia, in loving raillery, called her her little wild beast. She had never come with us on the Saturday-afternoon walks to Hampstead, but used to look wistfully after us. Once we pressed her very much to come, and then she exclaimed 'I cannot, I have to nurse the baby.'
"Another child was R. who was lost sight of, and later on was found in a dark cellar into which one descended by a ladder, where she sat all day to sell pennyworths of coal. She was half-starved and unkindly treated, but she seemed to take that as a matter of course; what she did resent was that her cat was starved. Later on Octavia sent her to an Industrial School; and after some years she emigrated, and wrote to tell of her happy married life.
"Harriet and her sister were of a higher class, and had a clean, respectable home. They were earnest Methodists. We lost sight of Harriet for forty years, and then found her very happily married. She had remembered Octavia with the deepest affection, and had preserved all her letters."The girls were in the habit of bringing their dinners to eat