AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SUPERTRAMP.
CHAPTER XXX1V. A HOUSE TO LET
APPARENTLY the ill luck which had pursued me so close in the past, would not let me escape without another scratch. In my pleasant walks in my native town, my eye happened to fall on a beautiful house, untenanted in a neighbourhood so quiet that every other house seemed to be the same. The very name, Woodland Road, was an address for a poet. It was a four storied villa, standing on the top of a hilly road, from where one could see on a clear mistless day the meeting of the Severn and the Bristol Channel; and, looking in another direction, could see the whole town without hearing one of its many voices. Unfortunately, I coveted this house as a tenant, thinking to get more pleasure in one glance from its top window on a bright summer's morning than from the perusal of many books. Even now, in Winter, it presented a warm, comfortable appearance, with its evergreens and its ivied walls. A tall, spreading rose bush stood facing its lowest window, and I imagined the bashful red roses looking in at me, as though I would not come out of doors to please them. There were primrose leaves green on the rockery, and one yellow flower still good, withered and bent, in this last week of November. There was also an apple tree and a pear tree, so that the front of the house was both a park and an orchard. Blackbirds, robins, and thrushes visited the grounds daily, and I believe that this house was their nearest approach to town. It only wanted a few touches of Spring, and here were shady nooks, and leafy boughs for birds to sing unseeing and unseen. Thinking that this beautiful place would not remain untenanted for long, I at once made application, being recommended by my old master of the days of my apprenticeship. Had I known that the house was always empty and untenanted, and that people came and went at short notice, I should certainly not have been in such a hurry to take possession, in spite of its natural beauties. It was neither haunted by ghosts nor animal noises, but by the landlady, who lived in the next house. This lady I did not see, nor have I seen her up to the present time, one of my family having taken the place in my name. Probably if I had transacted business personally, and had had an opportunity of seeing this landlady's face, I had not coveted the house, and, according to a right judgment of human nature, would have saved myself the money and disappointment that was to follow. However, the house became mine, and I received the key which was to let me possess this house and its interesting grounds.
I idled a week about town descanting with great pleasure on the beauties of my future home; but I was somewhat taken by surprise at the unfavourable reception with which my news was received. 'Who is the landlady?' asked one. 'Mrs. S.,' I answered; 'she lives next door.' 'It is very unfortunate,' said this person, 'that the landlady lives next door.' 'Everyone can please themselves,' said another, 'but as for myself, I would never dream of living next door to my landlady.' 'What!' cried another, 'the landlady lives next door? What a great pity to be sure.' Although the last named depreciator was the respectable wife of a retired tradesman, and had given her own landlady satisfaction for a number of years; in spite of this, I was highly amused at these remarks, taking the uncharitable view that these people were really not so respectable as they seemed, and would not be allowed to live under the watchful eyes of a particular person. My landlady, I thought, be she ever so watchful, dare not interfere without some cause; and, as the house must needs be kept very quiet for my own purpose of study, noises that are not allowed to reach me in the same house, surely will not be able to reach the house next door.
The eventful day arrived, and I gathered together my small family, one from her limited possession of two small rooms, being very pleased to have me with her, which could not otherwise have been. At last we were in full possession, and at once proceeded to arrange furniture, and to make the house comfortable. On the second day I began to work in earnest, having been unsettled and indisposed for several weeks. When I came downstairs to dinner, on this second day, I was informed that the landlady had already been there to say that she objected to us keeping animals. On being told there was not the least intention of doing the same, she said that she certainly thought such was our intention, seeing that we were in possession of wood, and that she strongly objected to any other than that which could be kept indoors. The wood, which had caused all this suspicion, was simply a clothes prop and three shelves which had not yet been removed from where they were first placed. I laughed heartily at this unwarranted interference, but the feminine portion of the family strongly resented it.
The third day I continued my work, the others again working on the comfort of this large house; one being outside trimming the evergreens, and taking a general pride in our half orchard and half park. Ditto the third day, and so on day after day, until the rent became due. This was the first time for me to take a personal hand in my affairs, and, when the agent called, I thought it more business like to put in an appearance, for the first rent day, at least, seeing that the house was in my name, after which others might attend to it. I paid the rent, 9s. 6d.-the house, as I have said, was a fine large villa, and was really worth fifteen or sixteen shillings a week; and this small amount demanded for it, was a mystery at which any sensible person would have sniffed. This agent then gave me a book, with the rent entered to my account. After this he handed me a letter, which, said he, was sent from the office. Not dreaming of its contents, I there and then opened this letter, and to my astonishment saw that it was a notice to quit within one week of that date, at the orders of Messrs. H. and B., her solicitors. This notice was a severe blow, for, up till then, the place had been unsettled, and we had only been enjoying the expectation of future comfort. 'Who, or what does this lady object to?' I asked the agent, with some bitterness. 'I need absolute quiet for my work, and the amount I have done in the past week proves that I have had it. What then has disturbed my landlady, that has not interfered with my work. To make a person suffer the expense, and worse, the worry of moving twice in a few days, should not be done without due consideration, and some definite reason.' But the agent knew or pretended to know nothing of the affair, and he left me at the door, feeling more shame and mortification that I have ever felt before. There was nothing else to do but to pack up again as soon as possible and to seek fresh quarters, which, after great difficulty, were found.
To think that I have lived thirty five years, and not to have known the folly and ill policy of living next door to one's landlady! But this particular landlady is eccentric, can afford to be independent, and I verily believe she would not sell a house for even twice its worth if she thought the would-be purchaser to be a man incapable of taking charge of property. Her house is more often unoccupied than let, as I have since been told, for the most respectable people cannot live near her. Apparently this is the case, for the house was still empty several weeks after I had quit, in spite of its unreasonably low rent and the beauty of its surroundings.
A robin came to the back door every morning and was fed. Perhaps this time wasted on the robin might have been better employed in winning the good graces of the landlady.
What a pity such an eccentric person should have such power to receive people as tenants for a few days, and then to dismiss them without warning or giving any definite reason. And what a harvest her idiosyncrasies must be to her solicitors. They even followed me up and demanded another week's rent, after the expense of moving to the top of a high bill and down again, which, up to the present, I have not paid. A lawyer would certainly be a lucky man to be allowed control over the interests of half a dozen such clients, and he could dress his wife and daughters in silk, and thoroughly educate his sons on his makings. I have been told that she is a deeply religious woman. Therefore, although she said in her own heart- 'on no account can these people live in a villa of mine,' she must have prayed that room would be reserved for us in the many mansions above.
This chapter should justify itself for the sake of the worldly wisdom contained in the simple words-'Never live in a house next door to your landlady or landlord'; which deserves to become a proverb. Many people might not consider this warning necessary, but the hint may be useful to poor travellers like myself who, sick of wandering, would settle down to the peace and quiet of after days.
Such has been my life, roiling unseen and un noted, like a dark planet among the bright, and at last emitting a few rays of its own to show its whereabouts, which were kindly received by many and objected to by a few, among the latter being my late landlady.
Perhaps I am deceived as to the worth or worthlessness of certain people, but I have given my experience of them without exaggeration, describing as near as memory makes it possible, things exactly as they occurred. I have made no effort to conceal my gratitude for those who have befriended me, and I have made every effort to conceal bitterness against enemies. If I have not succeeded in the latter it is with regret, but if I have failed in the former, for that I am more truly and deeply sorry. If I have appeared ignorant of certain matters I claim exception from sin through a lack of prejudice which is, after all, the only ignorance that can be honestly named with sin.
These have been my experiences; and if I have not omitted to mention trouble of my own making, for which no one but myself was to blame, why should I omit the mention of others, whom I blame for hours more bitter? People are not to be blamed for their doubts, but that they make no effort to arrive at the truth. However much people of a higher standing may doubt the veracity of certain matters, I have the one consolation to know that many a poor man, who is without talent or means to make his experiences public, knows what I have written to be the truth. It is but a poor consolation, for such an one is the sufferer, and not the supporter, and he is powerless in the hands of a stronger body.