Project Canterbury

The Streets and Lanes of the City

By Mary Eleanor Benson

With a brief memoir by her father [E. W. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury].

London: Privately printed, 1891.

Transcribed by S. R. Holman, Center for Poverty Studies, 2006

Chapter 6. Girls' Friendships

It is surprising to see both the real warmth and the staunch endurance of some girls' friendships, and on the other hand the extraordinary and causeless speed with which others can be established and abolished. The former friendships consist rather in deeds than words.

For example, two girls were great friends. The mother of one died; the other girl being hard at work all day at a dressmaker's, went to help her friend for two hours every evening to get the mourning ready, and on the day of the funeral she lost her day's work to go and help her; she stayed at home while the others went to the cemetery, and got the tea ready for them at their return; and for months afterwards she spent many evening hours in helping with the sewing for the children, and in other ways.

But it is not easy either to know or to relate to such self-denials. They are among the purest deeds ever done. And some girls are women for their power of close affection and self-abnegation. But the lighter friendships, such as that of which the tale follows, are more easy to chronicle.

Miss Sperling, the girl mentioned in the chapter on Keeping Company, who kept company in such a very satisfactory way, struck up a great friendship with a good, sensitive, and attractive girl of about her own age, named Lucy Podmore. For a while all went very smoothly. Milly was delicate and prone to fits of depression, and Lucy did a friend's part in trying to comfort her. "Milly wasn't so well last night, for she seemed rather low spirited, and I tried all I could to make her laugh so as to cheer her up, but I could not make any impression on her," was a very typical remark for Lucy to make. Lucy by the way was a girl of much humour, and was gifted socially.

But the insecurity of the friendship lay in the fact that they were both very sensitive, not to say morbid, and a slight occurrence was enough to rouse a great deal of feeling on either side.

Soon there came a small indication of the approaching storm. They both attended a girls' club once a week, and one day Milly wrote to me:

"I do think Lucy might have Come and told me you would be there, but I only see her once a week now, and that is when; I go to Class. then sometimes she goes away without speaking to me. Lucy has chosen other Friends now, I do feel hirt to think Lucy could not come and tell me because I always used to let her know."

Now, as it happened, Lucy's mother was away at the time, and Lucy was consequently very busy at home in the little shop they kept. In answer to a remonstrance based on this fact, Milly wrote again:

"I was so pleased to recieve your letter But I was rather hurt when I read it, I dare say it was most likely my fault, because I ought to have thought Of Lucy's home duties first But I've been rather worried Lately We are so buisy at Business Working rather late."
It was a cold repentance. Shortly after another letter came from Milly:

"I have not been to the Club for some time now I do not feel any pleasure in going Lucy has not Spoken to me for a very long time now. The last time was when I spoke to her on My Birthday and then she would not have spoken had I not Spoke to her I don't think I shall ever forget the 8th of Nov When she sat next but one to me with her friends on either side of me and when she came and spoke to them on Either Side of me and passed me I felt Very much Cut up about it and I have never been since. She has passed me a good many times but never spoke."

Almost at the same time arrived a letter from Lucy in which she said:

"I'm very sorry to tell you that Milly isn't friends with me and if I speak to her she treats me in the coldest manner possible and told Emily I only went with her when I couldn't get any one else but I am sure I don't if I go up and speak to her she won't come with me but I dare say it will come all right in the end at least I hope so but still it does see hard to be sitting oppersite each other in the same class of a sunday and to be bad friends but perhaps she will see through it all very soon."

It was impossible to reconcile the statements one was met with on either side, if one was lured into treating the circumstantial side of the matter, with such answers as "Oh no, she must be mistaking. It warn't the Friday, but the Tuesday before, as I didn't see her and she thought I did."

General exhortation and banter produced no effect. Lucy was in general a healthy-minded girl, but Milly, on the contrary, especially at this time, had an overwrought sensibility which her family rather inclined to think the type of a highly elevated affectionate mind, and talked about and fostered. For example, her mother once wrote:

"Poor Milly sends her Best love Oh dear Miss if you could have turned back on Wensday you would have seen something that would have made you feel sadly you have crept into her heart so deep directly you went from the door she put both hands over her face and cried so bitterly until she fainted and when I pressed her to tell me what she was crying so for she said she loved you so she felt she should liked to have put her arms round your neck and kissed you but you were so far above her she had to stifle her feelings she was just the same every time your name was mentioned while you were away."

I was only going away for a month, and Milly and I had kissed more than once before this, though not on this occasion.

But it seemed impossible with regard to Lucy to touch Milly's sensibility, she remained adamant.

Not long after, the Bible-class to which both belonged went for the "day in the country," ending up games and walks with a short service, at which there was an address that happened to touch very slightly on the subject of friendship.

On coming out of chapel Milly fell into what she called "a fit" in the adjoining room. A fit like Milly's is not a difficult thing to have. It consists in shutting the eyes and becoming limp from head to foot, in closing the teeth tightly, especially if water is offered. Milly was prone to this in moments of emotion, or when a good many of her friends were near. And the best plan was to leave her with two of the least sympathetic, who fanned her with a hat until she returned to consciousness with faint groans, when she took an arm of each and walked about rather disheveled and misty-like, and rather damp in the face, owing to the water that had been unable to gain an entrance into her mouth. There was no conscious simulation about it; but the poor child had nerves, and hysteria was always hovering about her.

On this occasion a message arrived that "Please, Milly wished you to know, Miss, that she had her fit because of what the clergyman said about friends, and she thought of her and Lucy."

Such a message, one well knew, would get round to Lucy, and I found Lucy in a distant shrubbery, her face swollen with crying for the same cause. It was almost impossible to get at the latest cause of the quarrel, it was so mixed up with Tuesdays and Fridays, and the last Club-night, no, the last night but one, and the Sunday before the one which you was away on. The affair could only healthily be treated en gros, and I took Lucy indoors, and sent a message to Milly to come and speak to me.

When Milly entered and saw Lucy she gave a gasp, began to cry very loud indeed, and set Lucy off again; and there they stood at three paces distance, presenting only a heaving shoulder to each other.

Then ensued a lengthy and laborious process, consisting of various remonstrances of appeals, varying from grounds of common sense to those of Christianity, of ridicule and command. All were met at first with gurgling sobs and faces more averted.

But finally conviction began to steal into each breast, a happy sight! They turned and embraced, and went away weeping arm in arm.

Anxiety as to the permanence of the result was stilled by a letter from Milly next day:

"I am so thankful to that clergyman for that beautiful Sermon he preached. It has done me a Lot of good. Lucy and I are close friends again. I do wish I had made friends with Lucy without stopping to think wether I should or not but I had to fight against two spirits within But I beat them and now we are fast friends. I am so pleased I kissed you before we came away I shall always think of it with affection."

The friendship lasted about a year, and then gradually died a decent death, hastened by the fact that Milly then began to keep company and Lucy felt de trop.

Accordingly she took up with another friend, Emily, who afterwards, poor girl, underwent such trouble about her young man. Emily at this time was very happily circumstanced at home and had plenty of spirits and of affection.

But after a few months a third personage in the shape of a girl older and wiser than the two others, by name Edith, appeared on the scene. Lucy had troubles at home, and I think it was partly the feeling herself in real need not only of friendly intercourse but of friendly guidance that made her take up with Edith, who was also friendly with Emily. There was also still another dramatis persona, by name Molly.

The following letter arrived from Emily: "Me and Edith is not friends, it is the same with Lucy and Molly. I think the way Lucy served Molly I think it was very narsty. Edith and Lucy got so thick together that no one else was wanted, and I am not the only one that they have served like that, and if I am not wanted I would rather be told and done with it, not to be made a makecheif of I never make a makechief of any one and I don't see why they should of me I think I must now brink my letter to a close."

Emily continued in this unforgiving frame of mind for some weeks to Lucy's distress. Then troubles began to come at home, and she grew sadder and older. One day she wrote: "Dear Miss on Sunday at class when you spoke about girls going out side by side and passing each other and setting in class together and [not] speaking. I thought of me and Lucy and Edith, to think what friends me and Lucy and Edith once were and now not speak you know when I am sitting at work I often think how silly I am to take notice of such little things, but I caunt help it but latly I seem as though I want to be by myself it seems as though I want to be by myself it seems as though when the girls speak to me it seems as I cannot answer them."

Then they were reconciled; but somehow not with much warmth, and soon drifted apart again; poor Emily's troubles made her too heavy-hearted to be a pleasant companion; she was embittered by the atmosphere at home and was often sour and unreasonable.

Then Lucy's father died, and there came the most penitent letter from Emily: "I now write these few lines to you asking you weather you think Lucy would mind me going round to her as I now at a time like this there is always little things to do that I might be able too I should of ask you this afternoon only after hearing of what had happened I felt as though I could not axe you I have felt very miserable ever since I have heard it to know that I am not friends with Lucy I should of spoke before only one thing and another I could not speak but I do hope that Lucy will forgive me for the way I have served her I was saying only last Thursday I would go round and see her father but now I shall feell it more for not being friends with Lucy and going round their I should always feell as bad as a stranger ef you think Lucy would not mind me going I should like to go and see her father but I should not like to go ef Lucy would not like me to. I hope you won't mind me writing as I feell as though I caunt bar myself."

She went and the breach was healed; but Emily never became Lucy's best friend as she once had been. Edith had taken that place and was worthy of it.

Now and then friendships are ridiculously hot and short. One of Emily's friendships had been of this nature.

"I go round to see Jane every night and she tells me about her going to get married. I do think she look so young to get married; but it is as her mother said, it is a good thing for her in one [way]."

Two months afterwards Jane was married. Emily was chief bridesmaid.

Three weeks after that Jane wrote to me: "Give my Best Love to Emily and give Her my address, as I should Lick to see her and lickwise yourself."

A chief bridesmaid not even to know the address of the newly married bride!

Such are the friendships of the week and the day; warm enough while they last, but cooled by every breath of circumstance.

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