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.Hester helped her to one of the rooms with two beds, while Bessie went off to heat a warming pan.Half an hour later Molly was lying on her back, blankets up to her chin, eyes still wide with surprise and the sheer unfamiliarity of it.“We gotter get more money!” Bessie said to Hester when they were back in the kitchen.She poked tentatively at the stove, wondering how long it would burn without adding more coke to it.It was a fine balance between using the minimum it would take to keep burning, and so little it actually went out.“I know,” Hester admitted.“Margaret’s trying, and I’ve got a list of names to go on with, but people are uncomfortable about giving because of the women’s occupation.They feel better about sending their offerings to Africa, or somewhere like that.”Bessie made a snarl in her throat that was eloquent of contempt.“So they think them Africans is better than we are?” she demanded.“Or they’re colder, or ’ungrier, or sicker mebbe?”“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with that,” Hester replied, warming her hands above the cast-iron surface of the stove.“O’ course it in’t!” Bessie snapped, filling the kettle up again from the ewer of water in the far corner near the stone sink, and putting it back on the hob.“It’s ter do wi’ conscience, that’s wot it’s ter do wi’! It in’t our fault if Africans starve or die; it’s too far away fer us ter feel bad about it.But if our own is freezin’ an’ starvin’, then that’s summink ter feel bad abaht, aw-right.’Cos mebbe we should ’a see’d they wasn’t like that in the first place.”Hester did not answer.“Or mebbe it’s ’cos they in’t no better than they should be,” Bessie went on, drying her hands on her apron.“They sell theirselves on the street, which is sin, in’t it? An’ we might get our skirts dirty if we ’ave anythin’ ter do wi’ the likes o’ them! Never mind our ’usbands go ter them poor sods fer a bit o’ wotever we don’t wanter do—’cos we got an ’eadache, or it in’t decent, or we don’t want no more kids!” She slammed the grate door shut on the stove.“It in’t nice ter know about things like that, so we pretend as we don’t! So o’ course we don’t want ’em fed or nursed; we’d rather play at it as if they in’t real.Gawd ’elp us, it in’t our daughter, or sister, or even our man!”“That’s probably more like it,” Hester agreed, hoping the kettle would boil soon.A hot cup of tea would warm her through before she went around collecting the linen to wash, and turned her thoughts to what they could fall back on if Margaret failed.She didn’t want an idle mind, or it would be too quickly filled with thoughts of how Monk was progressing on the docks in the blustering rain, searching for evidence he might not even recognize if it was there in his hands.“ ’Course it is,” Bessie retorted.“Stick yer ’ead in the coal cellar, an’ then tell the world there in’t nobody there, ’cos you can’t see a bleedin’ thing! Gor, I dunno! Are they stupid, or just frit out o’ their brains?”Hester did not reply.She was upstairs changing beds, ready to wash the linen, when Bessie came tramping up about two hours later.“I’m here!” Hester replied, coming to the door.“Got another sick one, poor cow,” Bessie said cheerfully.“Looks like death on a bad day, she do.Shoot ’er’d be the kindest thing.” She caught a stray length of hair and tucked it behind her ear.“Mind, I’ve felt like that at times.It don’t last forever, jus’ seems like it.But she got a feller with ’er wot’s askin’ real nice, all proper dressed an’ all.An’ ’e says ’e’ll pay us wot it costs ter look arter ’er, an’ more besides.” She waited expectedly for Hester’s approval.Hester felt a stab of pity for the woman, but she could not help the flood of relief that washed over her that someone was here this minute with money, not the promise but the actuality.“Good!” she said enthusiastically.“Let’s go and see him.Whoever he is, he’s come to the right place!” And she followed on Bessie’s heels as they went downstairs and back to the front room.The man was standing looking towards them.He was a good height, not unusually broad, but strong and supple.His light brown hair was thick with a slight wave to it, but cut shorter than most, and sprung up from his brow.His skin was weather-burned, his eyes blue and narrowed as if against light that was harsh.“Mrs.Monk?” He stepped forward.“My name is Clement Louvain.I’ve heard that you do a great work here for women of the streets taken ill.Am I told rightly?”Louvain! She was uncertain whether to show that she knew his name or not.“You are told rightly,” she replied, intensely curious to know why he was there with a woman who was obviously extremely ill.Even at the slightest glance that Hester had been able to afford her, she looked fearful.She was all but fainting where she sat on the couch, and she had not even raised her head to look at either Hester or Bessie.“We help all those we can, particularly if they have not the money to pay a doctor,” she told Louvain.“Money is not the problem,” he countered.“I shall be happy to pay whatever charges you consider reasonable, as I told your woman.Plus a contribution so you can care for others.I imagine such a thing would be welcome? Folks can be hard to persuade when they can excuse themselves by a nice moral judgment.” There was a bitter humor in his eyes, and he appeared to know that Hester understood his meaning precisely.He was speaking to her as an equal, at least on the subject of irony.“It would be welcome,” she agreed, warming to the intelligence in him, and the dry wit.“Without money we can help no one.”He nodded [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]