speak, of the place.
In the refinement of life and manners these lower classes differed little from their ancestors, the East-enders of Queen Victoria’s time; but they had developed a distinct dialect of their own. In these under ways they lived and died, rarely ascending to the surface except when work took them there. Since for most of them this was the sort of life to which they had been born, they found no great misery in such circumstances; but for people like Denton and Elizabeth, such a plunge would have seemed more terrible than death.
“And yet what else is there?” asked Elizabeth.
Denton professed not to know. Apart from his own feeling of delicacy, he was not sure how Elizabeth would like the idea of borrowing on the strength of her expectations.
The passage from London to Paris even, said Elizabeth, was beyond their means; and in Paris, as in any other city in the world, life would be just as costly and impossible as in London.
Well might Denton cry aloud: “If only we had lived in those days, dearest! If only we had lived in the past!” For to their eyes even nineteenth-century Whitechapel was seen through a mist of romance.
“Is there nothing?” cried Elizabeth, suddenly weeping. “Must we really wait for those three long years? Fancy three years—six-and-thirty months!” The human capacity for patience had not grown with the ages.
Then suddenly Denton was moved to speak of something that had already flickered across his mind. He had hit upon it at last. It seemed to him so wild a suggestion that he made it only half seriously. But to put a thing into words has ever a way of making it seem more real and possible than it seemed before. And so it was with him.
“Suppose,” he said, “we went into the country?”
She looked at him to see if he was serious in proposing such an adventure.
“Yes—beyond there. Beyond the hills.”
“How could we live?” she said. “Where could we live?”
“It is not impossible,” he said. “People used to live in the country.”
“But then there were houses.”
“There are the ruins of villages and towns now. On the clay lands they are gone, of course. But they are still left on the grazing land, because it does not pay the Food Company to remove them. I know that—for certain. Besides, one sees them from the flying machines, you know. Well, we might shelter in some one of these, and repair it with our hands. Do you know, the thing is not so wild as it seems. Some of the men who go out every day to look after the crops and herds might be paid to bring us food… .”
She stood in front of him. “How strange it would be if one really could… .”