For a time a few shillings might have been his each week for the fetching; but he did not fetch them. An allowance, sufficient to lodge and feed him, and insufficient to do either fully, was sent to him by his father at a reading-room called, it is thought, the " Clarendon," in the Strand. The more he needed it the greater worry would it seem to collect it. Fear lest it were not there; fear lest he should be refused it because of his rags, and, finally, an illusory certainty- the certainty of dejection-that it had been discontinued, prevented him, until at last, through his default, it did really cease.
He had the words of the Proverb by heart-" Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food convenient for me "-but he would rather say his prayer in the street than ask for his allowance in the " Clarendon." He was willing to starve both ways : he wrote out for his comfort: " Even in the night-time of the soul wisdom remains."
In addition to the allowance there were relatives and friends to whom Francis might have gone, if assistance in his need had been part of his scheme. Besides those with whom he stayed during his examinations in London, there was a Catholic relative who had an establishment for stationery off the Strand (he was not asked for so much as a pencil), and who died in Church Passage, Chancery Lane, about 1891; his paternal grandmother, then an old lady, lived in City Road, and Edward Healy Thompson had resided in Hinde Street, Manchester Square, and made many town friends.
The time came when he had no lodging ; when the nights were an agony of prevented sleep, and the days long blanks of half-warmth and half-ease. After seven nights and days of this kind he is deep immersed in insensibility. Pain, its own narcotic, throbs to painlessness. Touch and sight and hearing are brokenly and dimly experienced, save when some unknown touch switches on the lights of full consciousness. Sensation is still painful, but disjointedly, impotently. When a cart jolts by the noise of its wheels comes to him long after-or before-he troubles to move out of reach of the shafts-the yell of the driver seems to have no part in the incident. He knows not if it came from that or from another quarter. He sees things pass as silently as the figures on a cinematograph screen ; one set of nerves, out of time and on another plane, respond to things heard. The boys now running at one end of the alley, in front of him, are behind him the next, and their cries seem to come from any quarter and at random. Is it that they move too quickly for him or that he unknowingly is wheeling about in his walk, or that London herself spins round him ? For hours he has stood in one place, or paced one patch of pavement, as if his feet were trapped in the lines between the stones. He remembers that, as a child, he had made rules, treading only on the spaces, or only on the line of the pattern; now they make much stricter bounds. He is tied to the few slabs of stone that fill the space beneath his archway. It seems dreadfully perilous to move beyond them, and he sways within their territory as if they edged a precipice. And then, he knows not how or why, his weakness has passed, and he is drifting along the streets, not wearily, but with dreadful ease, with no hope of having sufficient resolution to halt. Time matters as little to him as the names of the streets, and the very faces of the clocks present, to his thinking, not pictures of time and motion, but stationary, dead countenances. Noting that the hands of one have moved, he wonders at it only because its view of the passage of time is so laughably at variance with his own. Had it marked a minute since he had last looked, or a whole day, he would not have been surprised, but the foolish half-hour it told of is absurd. His time leaped or paused, while the clock went with lying regularity. The street-names, too, deceived him; they were unfamiliar in most familiar places ; or they showed well-known names on impossible corners. He seemed to be spinning, like a falling leaf, and tossed by unseen winds of direction. Oxford Street was short and narrow; Wardour Street big enough to hold the tribes of Israel, and the houses of it as high, he guessed, though he dared not lift his head to see, as the divided waves of the Red Sea. Out of confusion came a voice, " Is your soul saved ? " It broke in upon his half-consciousness as the school gong wakes the boy. The mantle of protecting delirium fell away; the voice broke in upon his privacy, threatening his reserves, seeking the confidences of the confessional. " What right have you to ask me that question ? " he replied.
To one who had spent a fortnight of nights on the streets, Mr. McMaster and family, standing forth against the comfortable background of shop, workrooms, and parlour, should have loomed large. But what the rescued man thought worth telling of the incident of rescue was that in Wardour Street some one approached and asked him, in the resented voice of the intruder, if his soul were saved, and that he, clothed in the regimentals of the ragged, and with as much military sternness of voice and gesture as might be, made answer. Nothing seemed so important to him as the rebuff he imagined he had administered to a stranger threatening his privacy. He also recounted that the other then said : " If you won't let me save your soul, let me save your body," and a compact was made on terms agreeable to his dignity. But it is probable that it was entered upon with greater zest by Mr. McMaster the enthusiast, churchwarden, and bootmaker, than by the indifferent poet, to whom it seemed to matter little whether he were rescued or not rescued. Francis was as little eager for this help as he was, two years later, for my father's.
Francis recounted little more than the reproof and the fact that his new master was kind to him. But did he forget, do you think, the least detail of the shop in Panton Street,1 or his companions there ? Did he forget Mr. McMaster the elder, or Mr. McMaster the brother, or the nieces, or the assistants, or Lucy ? It is because he could not forget that one must accept his account of the first encounter. The rescuer remembers it as happening in the Strand, but Thompson, who says Wardour Street, seems the surer witness.