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371 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 2010
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
The honeycomb of narrow, uneven passages, bordered by the most decrepit and crowded tenements in the city, was flowing with raw sewage and rubbish of every description, including occasional corpses. The stench was overpowering and both men had vomited more than once.
They passed tall houses-“rookeries”-mostly of wood, which slumped upon their own foundations as if tired of standing; houses whose gaping windows were devoid of glass and patched, instead, with paper or cloth or broken pieces of wood; windows from which slops and cracked chamber pots were emptied; from which defeated eyes gazed blankly.
Time and again the two men were approached by girls barely out of childhood, who materialised out of the fog with matted hair and bare feet, smeared with excrement up to their knees, covered only by a rough coat or a thin, torn dress or a man's shirt which hung loosely over their bones; who offered themselves for a few coppers; who lowered the price when refused; who begged and wheedled and finally cursed viciously when the men pushed past.
Time and again they were approached by boys and men in every variety of torn and filthy apparel, who demanded and bullied and threatened and finally, when the pistols appeared, spat and swore and sidled away.
“Message from the stinking prime minister's office,” it cackled. “You are requested to attend that prattle-brain Lord Palmerston at 10 Downing Street at nine o'clock in the morning. Please confirm, arse-face. Message ends.