Page 14, 23rd February 1935

23rd February 1935
Page 14
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People: DOREEN SMITH
Locations: Dresden

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WE

TRAVEL AL

Solitaries in a Crowd

By

DOREEN SMITH

rEs, and some of us do it volun tarily. It is true. that modern economic conditions have driven iusands of young men and women into the commercial world. of Lon], there to fight their own battles Li make what they can of their es, and that some of them are only I unfitted for such a eareer. This as not, however, apply to all.

litude of Spirit

...et us turn to the pleasanter side the problem. Granted that it is t always goad for man to live me, it has le he admitted by all ,elligent thinkers that many charters are, ill fact, better alone, velop in a.finer way alone, and tkc an astonishingly good thing

t of their lives—alone. And by at word I do not mean a specious td tiresome form of semi-monastic elusion. A life can he full to the im with social intercourse, and t keep untouched the one thing tcessary for full mental and spirial development: solitude of spirit.

pone life this, if, full of care. c have no time to stand Lind stare. . ."

sings the poet Davies, and futile, deed, is the life which is too Intsy er to be quiet, and which fears litude as a child fears the dark.

his Freedom

11he modern men and women are free; those of my own generation ao were at school throughout the tr and grew to maturity during ruse hectic, nervy years, when selfntrol WAS at a premium and the irld obsessed bya mistaken conhien that licence spelt liberty, ffer under certain disadvantages.

We were flung out into a tottering civilieation with no restraints save those offered us by religion, and (in my own case) la wise and always understanding parents. Many of my own contemporaries had neither of these props, and the result is obvious to the least discerning eye. Thousands of young men and women who to-day are near the thirty mark in age, possess nothing with which to steer their bark but their own wits and instincts.

And how disarmingly attractive are these neo-pagans of the "brave new world " I My own life has within the past year brought me into contact with people who, possessing no tangible " religion," put me by their example utterly to shame. I, as a Catholic, stand aside and wonder just where I can begin to learn the lessons of genuine practical Christianity taught me by these friends of mine, who never let me down, never judge me hardly, and are always at my side when I need a helping hand.

In a shabby street, not a hundred miles front Piccadilly. I inhabit. a tiny apartment, dignified by the name of "flat,". and situated on the " first-floor back " of a small, downat-heel house which drastically needs several coats of paint and u new carpet on the stairs.

Co-Transients

I am one of seven occupants—men and women who, like myself, earn their livings by one or other of the devious methods open to mankind in these days of so-called "progress." In the room adjoining mine is a girl of perhaps nineteen or twenty, who by her nightly (lancing in a WestEnd cabaret supports herself and keeps her invalid mother in a sanatorium. (Invidentally, I discovered the other day that she is a Catholic and a daily communicant, which, considering the fact that site is never it,. led before 3 a.m., is worth noting.) Immediately over my head lives one of those queer characters beloved of all writers of novels about Bloomsbury; in fact Bloomsbury is obviously his spiritual home; he is jabout fifty years old, with grey, unI kernpt hair and round shoulders. Fie seldom goes out, though one may pass hire sometimes on the stairs, when he will wish one a quiet " good-day." His occupation is, apparently, what the caretaker describes as "littry," for his room is lined with books from floor to ceiling, and he spends most of the day sitting huddled over an imniense writing table. What he writes, and why, remains to the inhabitants of the house a sealed mystery. Even the aforesaid caretaker, who would win first prize anywhere for extract ing information from an oyster, is able to tell us nothing more than we know already.

Good Samaritans

Upstairs, .:gain, are two girls— mannequins in a big store—whose faces may be embellished with cosmetics, who may drop cigarette ends on the stairs and have distressingly blonde hair, but who nevertheless did not hesitate to call on me solicitously to lend me aspirin and offer me every conceivable remedy, from lemons to camphorated oil, when I succumbed to one of my paralysing colds. I called on them one Sunday evening, ostensibly to return the aspirin, but in reality out of sheer journalistic curiosity, and found them both sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa and knitting jumpers, while one of them read aloud (imagine it!) "The Mill on the Floss."

In the course of the ensuing conversation I gathered that the two inmates had been school friends, had entered the dress business together, and worked their way up side by side. one was tall, with an exquisitely proportioned figure, cornflower-blue eyes, and the expression

of a meditative angel. The other tiny, with a slim, oval face, and hair which Nature had obviously intended to be dark, but which she had mistakenly forced into the fashionable " platinum" shade, reminded me of a Dresden doll.

For the Reaping

Their talk was intelligent, very amusing, and often a little " broad," with the healthy coarseness of a Fah staffian node of life. To these girls

the ultimate. infidelity was treachery.; to let a friend down, to break one's given word—these were the unforgivable sins. The Christian code of morals they would regard from a non-committal point of view, as something to be obeyed with a certain caution. It would " all depend."

I could not help thinking what wonderful material was here, waiting for the Church to reap; what pitiful wastage was going on before our eyes; inherent decency, unselfishness, generosity, antl.a marvellous courage which faces the exigencies of modern life with laughter and a joke; what might the Church not make of such people! Yet they remain in their thousands outside Peter's wide, homely net, children without a Mother, nothing to help them but their own intelligence and the lies foisted upon them by an unscrupulous press. It all seems rather a pity.

Still, we are not going to get depressed over something which has

its very encouraging side. Mount vet another flight of stairs with me. '‘'"es, the carpet is distressingly thin up here, but we are approaching the chea.pe-st. part of the house, where no important eye ever penetrates. Here are two large, hideous apartmente, and one glance at them tells us that they are inhabited by young men, probably products of a public school and

university. Quite right. Number one .(we will call him Peter, since that name will do as well as any other) is a. pitifully round peg in a

square hole. He can draw and design with a talent. which approaches perilously near genius, he. dances beautifully, he reverences and appreciates all that is fine in art, music and literature—and yet he works from nine till six each day in an auctioneer's office. Here\ is a hint of tragedy, so before we begin to get depressed again let us pass on to room number two. Paul (we will ,'al l him that) is a large, joyous hoeth. with a manner that would die 4.11 CalviniaL Idelivery of a ton of coal. He is publicity agent to a film company, and loves his work with a passion which IS only possible when one is very young and life Ptill a colossal joke. He and Peter are great friends, sharing clothes, money and interests as only the male sea can, and on becoming acquainted with roe they both decided, aparently, to adopt me forthwith.

Two Young Men

This brings me to the mainspring of this article. Here are two men— modern, amusing, intelligent, perpet. ually "hard-up," and in both cases without parents or background of any kind. They might if they chose become as rotten or as cynical or as materially-minded as modern civ

ilisation could make them. Yet I have discovered in them two very unselfish and courteous gentlemen, who are at my service literally at any moment that I care to ask a favour of them; who will perform gladly any tiresome errand for me; who will cheer me with an absurd story when I am depressed, who will let me alone when I want to be alone (and how rare is that gift), and who, with a delicacy found all ton seldom nowadays, make nue feel that I have, on the spot, two friends on whom I can rely unfailingly.

Peter, whose acquaintance I made first, sat in ray room one night until 4 a. m. discussing—religion. His mother was a Catholic—I suppressed a sigh at yet another piece of waste material—and he was brought up by a devoted, dearly-loved and " HighChurch" aunt, his mother having died at his birth. He has dabbled in many forms of religion, including spiritism, which fortunately made him so ill that he abandoned It. He is of the imaginative, sensitive type which searches unceasingly for truth and beauty, and like St Augustine, will be satisfied with nothing but the highest. So far, he has not found his heart's desire, but I believe that one day he will wend his way home. He loves God, and his selfless attitude to life puts me utterly to shame.

Paul, on encountering for the first time the blue lamp which burns in front of a little Madonna in my room, enquired brightly "Are you a Catholic?" and when I gingerly admitted as much, proceeded to pay me and my faith the highest compliment I have. ever heard: " Funny how nearly all the jolly people I meet are Catholics." Whilst reeling under this remark, I retained sufficient sanity not to make the obvious retort and saa. that he had been extremely fortunate in the Catholics he had met. Instead, I suggested timidly that if he found them like that, surely there must be something to be said for the religion they repre;

seated. " Oh, I couldn't dabble in anything of that sort," came the answer quickly. " You'll never get me inside a church. No use for them at

Perennial Vagabonds

I did not press the point, for so much harm is done by tactless propaganda. But I have my eye on Paul (which sounds faintly reminiscent of a pantomime song popular in ray extreme youth), and believe that he, too, will eventually discover the one thing in this world that does not give way when you lean on it.

So life goes on in the shabby little honae; we work and read and play and rush in and out and tinker with our radio sets and make the night hideous with our gramophones, and sonie tiresomely high-minded people will say, " What a pity they don't marry or something, and settle down." Well, that opens up end. less material for endless discussions; but I hope I have proved my point. Sonic of us are not meant for the secure, stable things of this life. Perhaps we had disreputable ancestors; I am quite sure I had, At all events, I believe most firmly that God intends certain people to be perennial vagabonds, and to be none the less happy for that; to belong, like the ioyous St Francis, to no particular person or place, but to plant our hearts wherever our circumstances may take us.

We travel alone—tied, it is true, to each other by bonds of genuine friendship—but with no roots that cannot be pulled up at very short notice. I am glad I belong to this happy company, for I have learned many priceless lessons during my sojourn in this drab little street situated—where did I say it was? Ah, yes, not a hundred miles from Piccadilly.

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