I should not know even this much, but for its being inscribed on a grim stone very difficult to read, let into the front of the centre house of Titbull's Alms-Houses, and which stone is ornamented a-top with a piece of sculptured drapery resembling the effigy of Titbull's bath-towel.
Titbull's Alms-Houses are in the east of London, in a great highway, in a poor, busy, and thronged neighbourhood. Old iron and fried fish, cough drops and artificial flowers, boiled pigs'-feet and household furniture that looks as if it were polished up with lip-salve, umbrellas full of vocal literature and saucers full of shell-fish in a green juice which I hope is natural to them when their health is good, garnish the paved sideways as you go to Titbull's. I take the ground to have risen in those parts since Titbull's time, and you drop into his domain by three stone steps. So did I first drop into it, very nearly striking my brows against Titbull's pump, which stands with its back to the thoroughfare just inside the gate, and has a conceited air of reviewing Titbull's pensioners.
'And a worse one,' said a virulent old man with a pitcher, 'there isn't nowhere. A harder one to work, nor a grudginer one to yield, there isn't nowhere!' This old man wore a long coat, such as we see Hogarth's Chairmen represented with, and it was of that peculiar green-pea hue without the green, which seems to come of poverty. It had also that peculiar smell of cupboard which seems to come of poverty.
'The pump is rusty, perhaps,' said I.
'Not IT,' said the old man, regarding it with undiluted virulence in his watery eye. 'It never were fit to be termed a pump. That's what's the matter with IT.'
'Whose fault is that?' said I.
The old man, who had a working mouth which seemed to be trying to masticate his anger and to find that it was too hard and there was too much of it, replied, 'Them gentlemen.'
'Maybe you're one of 'em?' said the old man, suspiciously.
'I wouldn't trust 'em myself,' said the virulent old man.
'If you mean the gentlemen who administer this place, no, I am not one of them; nor have I ever so much as heard of them.'
'I wish _I_ never heard of them,' gasped the old man: 'at my time of life--with the rheumatics--drawing water-from that thing!' Not to be deluded into calling it a Pump, the old man gave it another virulent look, took up his pitcher, and carried it into a corner dwelling-house, shutting the door after him.
Looking around and seeing that each little house was a house of two little rooms; and seeing that the little oblong court-yard in front was like a graveyard for the inhabitants, saving that no word was engraven on its flat dry stones; and seeing that the currents of life and noise ran to and fro outside, having no more to do with the place than if it were a sort of low-water mark on a lively beach; I say, seeing this and nothing else, I was going out at the gate when one of the doors opened.
'Was you looking for anything, sir?' asked a tidy, well-favoured woman.
Really, no; I couldn't say I was.
'Not wanting any one, sir?'
'No--at least I--pray what is the name of the elderly gentleman who lives in the corner there?'
The tidy woman stepped out to be sure of the door I indicated, and she and the pump and I stood all three in a row with our backs to the thoroughfare.
'Oh! HIS name is Mr. Battens,' said the tidy woman, dropping her voice.
'I have just been talking with him.'
'Indeed?' said the tidy woman. 'Ho! I wonder Mr. Battens talked!'
'Is he usually so silent?'
'Well, Mr. Battens is the oldest here--that is to say, the oldest of the old gentlemen--in point of residence.'
She had a way of passing her hands over and under one another as she spoke, that was not only tidy but propitiatory; so I asked her if I might look at her little sitting-room? She willingly replied Yes, and we went into it together: she leaving the door open, with an eye as I understood to the s