Charles Dickens

ocial proprieties. The door opening at once into the room without any intervening entry, even scandal must have been silenced by the precaution.

It was a gloomy little chamber, but clean, and with a mug of wallflower in the window. On the chimney-piece were two peacock's feathers, a carved ship, a few shells, and a black profile with one eyelash; whether this portrait purported to be male or female passed my comprehension, until my hostess informed me that it was her only son, and 'quite a speaking one.'

'He is alive, I hope?'

'No, sir,' said the widow, 'he were cast away in China.' This was said with a modest sense of its reflecting a certain geographical distinction on his mother.

'If the old gentlemen here are not given to talking,' said I, 'I hope the old ladies are?--not that you are one.'

She shook her head. 'You see they get so cross.'

'How is that?'

'Well, whether the gentlemen really do deprive us of any little matters which ought to be ours by rights, I cannot say for certain; but the opinion of the old ones is they do. And Mr. Battens he do even go so far as to doubt whether credit is due to the Founder. For Mr. Battens he do say, anyhow he got his name up by it and he done it cheap.'

'I am afraid the pump has soured Mr. Battens.'

'It may be so,' returned the tidy widow, 'but the handle does go very hard. Still, what I say to myself is, the gentlemen MAY not pocket the difference between a good pump and a bad one, and I would wish to think well of them. And the dwellings,' said my hostess, glancing round her room; 'perhaps they were convenient dwellings in the Founder's time, considered AS his time, and therefore he should not be blamed. But Mrs. Saggers is very hard upon them.'

'Mrs. Saggers is the oldest here?'

'The oldest but one. Mrs. Quinch being the oldest, and have totally lost her head.'

'And you?'

'I am the youngest in residence, and consequently am not looked up to. But when Mrs. Quinch makes a happy release, there will be one below me. Nor is it to be expected that Mrs. Saggers will prove herself immortal.'

'True. Nor Mr. Battens.'

'Regarding the old gentlemen,' said my widow slightingly, 'they count among themselves. They do not count among us. Mr. Battens is that exceptional that he have written to the gentlemen many times and have worked the case against them. Therefore he have took a higher ground. But we do not, as a rule, greatly reckon the old gentlemen.'

Pursuing the subject, I found it to be traditionally settled among the poor ladies that the poor gentlemen, whatever their ages, were all very old indeed, and in a state of dotage. I also discovered that the juniors and newcomers preserved, for a time, a waning disposition to believe in Titbull and his trustees, but that as they gained social standing they lost this faith, and disparaged Titbull and all his works.

Improving my acquaintance subsequently with this respected lady, whose name was Mrs. Mitts, and occasionally dropping in upon her with a little offering of sound Family Hyson in my pocket, I gradually became familiar with the inner politics and ways of Titbull's Alms-Houses. But I never could find out who the trustees were, or where they were: it being one of the fixed ideas of the place that those authorities must be vaguely and mysteriously mentioned as 'the gentlemen' only. The secretary of 'the gentlemen' was once pointed out to me, evidently engaged in championing the obnoxious pump against the attacks of the discontented Mr. Battens; but I am not in a condition to report further of him than that he had the sprightly bearing of a lawyer's clerk. I had it from Mrs. Mitts's lips in a very confidential moment, that Mr. Battens was once 'had up before the gentlemen' to stand or fall by his accusations, and that an old shoe was thrown after him on his departure from the building on this dread errand;- -not ineffectually, for, the interview resulting in a plumber, was considered to have encircled the temples of Mr.