Round the Court I.

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"ROUND THE COURT."

BY A RENT COLLECTOR.


                                                                                                (Drawn by C. J. Staniland)

"The mother sat binding boots."



CHAPTER I.
INTRODUCTORY.


INTRODUCTIONS are awkward things, unless one is used to society.  In a first chapter one must make a few, but here they shall be as few and as informal as possible.  For instance, I need not introduce myself.  If I did, it would be necessary to give an account of the why, when, and how I became a rent-collector.  What does it matter whether I am a retired tradesman, getting in the revenues of my "little property," or a philanthropist, with a hobby for supplanting middlemen?  One of the foremost men of letters in London is the proprietor of what was once the most squalid court in a most squalid quarter of the great city.  He pays himself a fair interest for his money, about five per cent. I believe—nothing like the interest such property is made to pay—and the surplus he spends in improvements, for he has not lowered the rents.  The rooms inside and the walls outside have been painted, cleansed, whitewashed; the water-taps and cisterns mended; and in such places they are usually in such bad repair that a constant supply of water is impossible.  Last of all, a nest of old stables and cellars, which stood in the middle of the court, leaving only a narrow passage between them and the houses, and absolutely stifling the inhabitants, has been cleared away, and light and air let in; and, better still, the space has been walled, as a playground for the little girls, to save them, in some small measure, from the terrible contaminations of the neighbourhood.  Mr. Ruskin does not collect the rents himself, but his agent is a young lady, whose active and wise benevolence finds employment in the task for some hours every week.

    But to return from this little digression.  I need not name the locality in which the scene of my labours stands, or very recently stood.  It is not a hundred miles from St. Paul's; but you would never find it out by any description, because there are hundreds exactly like it.  Besides, there is nothing worth seeking there; nothing old, nothing new, and certainly nothing beautiful.  As for the court, there are thousands just the same.  You pass under, and over, and through the middle of them on the lines that, like the spokes of a huge wheel, radiate from the centre of London to its wide rim of suburbs; and as for the residents, I may say that, as a rule, they consider themselves respectable people.  I am not sure that Jones the publican would allow it, for they wear their best clothes always, for want of any better, and would not be allowed to sit down in the bar-parlour; nor Timbs the grocer, for they don't go to church as often as they might or ought, and would certainly not be offered a seat in his pew if they did.  But they are not criminals, and they are not paupers.  They have a wholesome horror of the workhouse and the prison, and of the former even more than the latter.  They may not, at first sight, appear so interesting as convicts and casuals; but then people know all about convicts and casuals, and they know little or nothing about honest working people.  They would not make so many mistakes about them if they did know them: put their wages all together in a lump, and forget how many mouths they have to feed and backs to clothe and heads to hold a roof over: speak about what they should save, and forget what they must spend.  They might complain, if they had a voice, with the North Country smith, who said, "A' body speaks o' my drinkin', but naebody speaks o' my drouth;" not that I uphold their thriftless ways and drinking customs, they are the ruin in of them; but it is only fair to show how hard their battle is to keep sober, and before the world. They have to struggle, not with poverty only, but with sickness, and weakness, and weariness, and "bad times," and "knocking about;" and, at the root of all, with ignorance and want of guidance.  If Christ wept over Jerusalem, how think you would he feel about London?  If he had compassion on the thousands hungering for a few hours on the green hills of Galilee, what about the tens of thousands who are always hungered in the great city, and who are in very truth as sheep having no shepherd?

    In the true sense of the word "respectable," many of the poorest of the poor are respectable in the highest degree; worthy of respect for greater virtues and higher qualities than it has entered into the heart of Jones and Timbs to conceive—I mean my particular Jones and Timbs; for, if I meant Jones and Timbs to represent publicans and grocers in general, I should be falling into the fault I reprobate—that of dealing with men in classes according to outward distinctions.  There are varieties of men who may be classed together, but they are found in all ranks and conditions.  Circumstances may bring forth certain faults in certain conditions, but then it may also produce an abundant crop of the opposite virtues; land, of course, if a class is very large, you may gather your varieties out of it alone, only you have no right to speak as if such specimens of humanity existed in no other class.  The varieties I encountered were nearly as numerous as the individuals, but then the area was very small.  This was, however, compensated by the fluctuations among the residents.

    The court stood at the back of a leading thoroughfare—a long, ugly street, with rather high houses, and shops on the ground floors.  Every third shop sold something eatable, and nearly every sixth appeared to be a drinking-shop.  Behind the thoroughfare there were acres of crowded dwellings, studded thickly with workshops and small factories.  In front of it, shutting it in, was a pawnbroker's on the one side and a tobacconist's on the other.  The houses within had no outlook except into the court itself.  They were built back to back, a perfect contrivance for the exclusion of air and the manufacture of fever.  At the foot rose a high dead wall, and in one corner was the general dustbin, redolent in summer of fearful odours.

    This was how it looked on the day of my first visit.  It was a Monday morning in spring.  There was a forlorn brightening up of things to greet the spring sunshine.  Some of the inhabitants had whitewashed the step or two by which each house was entered, some had even gone so far as to whiten their window-sills.  Narrow, and sometimes raggèd, bits of muslin screening the lower panes of the windows had been washed, and the windows themselves cleaned to brightness.  Others had suffered the grime of winter to remain untouched, forming, as far as the windows were concerned, a sufficient screen of itself.  The children were playing in the court, or sitting on the steps.  They swarmed—mere infants for the most part.  It was early in the day, and all the bigger and more discord-loving of the youthful population were absent.  The men and boys were at work; the women and the little ones "at home."  I stood a few minutes looking at the tiny creatures tottering round in a ring, and seeming, for the most part, feeble and sickly, and nearly all fearfully wonderfully dirty.  One little fellow attracted my attention particularly.  He was not playing, but sitting on a step on which there fell a few flakes of sunshine.  He had one arm wound affectionately round a pot of primroses, in which the flowers were fading fast; but the leaves still showed their vivid and tender green; brighter they seemed there than on the bare brown bank, or among the last year's leaves, where they love to grow.  What a queer old face the child had! quite white to the lips; with soiled fair hair, and very wide nostrils, and a large and heavy, but expressive mouth.  Indeed, when he smiled he seemed all mouth and eyes.  His eyes were pale in colour, only you could not tell what colour; but they lighted up his face with a look of superhuman intelligence.  When you looked closer, you saw that they had long golden lashes, and that above them lay two pale yellow streaks of eyebrow that added to the weird expression of the face.  He held his pot, and smiled up to some one at one of the back windows of the big house in front.  I followed his eyes, and saw a young woman shaking a heap of long black ringlets, and sparkling with brassy-looking brooches and chains.  Afterwards I learned the history of little Joe and his pot.  It had been given to him by Rebecca, the tobacconist's daughter, for whose smile he was waiting there, and who, with her curls and brooches, was to Joe grand as any princess of the East.  She had an impulsive kindness of nature, and she saw little Joe look wistfully at her one day as she brought home a bunch of spring flowers.  The little fellow was looking out at the great world from the entrance of the court.  A week after she had seen him pick them tenderly out of the general receptacle of filth and rubbish, wash them in an old jelly-can, and try to set them up again.  So the next time she bought some from a basket in the street, she came into the court and presented him with a white narcissus, which he looked at with his mouth wide open in admiring awe, and held as if he had been holding a taper at an altar.  At last she gave him her pot of primroses before they quite faded.  To this born worshipper of beauty, cast into a lot where ugliness predominated, it was as if she had given a kingdom.  He carried it about in his arms.  The leaves delighted him long after the flowers were gone, and the flowers might have come again to delight him another spring if he had been there to watch them.  As it was, that pot gave him all the proud feelings of a landed proprietor; and, to make the most of it, he set four peas in the corners, only he would take them up to see what progress they were making, so that they did not come to much.

    I was not admitted to many interiors on my first visit.  Most of the doors were half-way opened to learn my business, and left in that condition, till the housewives (some of whom I was to know well enough hereafter) went to fetch the weekly sum, from two to four shillings.  They were then closed on me again as speedily as possible.  But at the top of one stair the door opened before I had time to tap, and a little girl came out, carrying a baby in her arms, from one of which hung a pretty large basket.  The girl could not have been more than seven, and my first impulse was to snatch the infant from certain destruction, as its bearer staggered beneath the burden toward the steep and narrow stairs.  But she did not seem disposed to allow of such an unwarrantable interference, for gathering her strength, she shouldered the baby into a higher and more unsafe position, and getting past me, began to descend, favouring me with a stare out of her dark, bewildered-looking eyes.  I saw her safe into the court, baby, basket, and all, and then proceeded to business.  The house of six apartments was divided among as many tenants save one; the ground floor being occupied by one tenant, who required two rooms for a family of no fewer than eleven souls.  There I had met with the kind of reception recorded above.

    With a glance at the roll I carried, I knocked at the first door on the next floor, and was at once admitted, and offered a chair by the little old lady who opened the door.  The room was very small, and so was everything in it, including its occupant.  Her waist was of such slender proportions, that I marvelled how the internal machinery found room to play in such narrow space.  There was a small bed in a corner, a small table near the window, and a number of small articles on a shelf, including a tiny teapot.  Everything about the little lady was neat and clean, as she was herself.  She was very communicative, told me that she had been a nursery governess "in the best of families," and, after I had examined the perfection of the stitching she was doing—for her eyes were as good, she informed me, as when she was seventeen—she wrapped up her two shillings in a bit of paper, presented them to me, and allowed me to depart.  Bright little woman!  She was as dependent on those clear eyes of hers for picking up her little living, as the sparrow on the housetop is on his; and she was nearly as unanxious, and cheerful, and spry.

    My second knock was answered by a voice from within.  While I hesitated, "Come in" was reiterated, but not impatiently.  I opened the door, and entering at once recognised the mother of the little woman with the baby and the basket.  She had the same pale skin and great dark eves, but her face was very thin and worn.  At her feet sat a quiet, motionless child, a boy about four years old, staring with the eyes again.  The room was almost empty.  The mother sat binding boots, and she had kept her seat, that she might not hinder her work.  A shoemaker's stool and implements stood in the window, indicating the father's craft, who was, doubtless, at that moment celebrating St. Monday, in one of the neighbouring public-houses.  As soon as I told her my errand, she rose and gave me the money without a word, and I gave her good morrow, and left her.  I had not closed the door, when I heard the click of her needle on the stiff seam.

    Going up another stair, I was again admitted, though the decent old couple who lived there were evidently sitting down, at nearly noon, to their first meal.  The bit of fire in the grate had just cooked two herrings; and two cups of tea, without milk, stood on the table with a little dark sugar basin, and a half-quartern loaf.  A bench, in which a vice was fixed, stood in the window here, and a heap of shavings were swept into a corner.  But I could not linger, though, as I received the rent, I looked in their faces, and would gladly have returned it; only I had been warned, that any proceeding of that kind, would turn all my tenants into beggars, and worse.  One day, I would have been glad if I had given that, and all the payments that followed, back into those wrinkled and trembling hands.  In the summer, the old couple were able to live; the husband making strong, white wooden toys; the carts, and wheelbarrows, and spades, which children prize so much at the sea-side, or in the garden, and which, in summer, are in great demand.  I dare say they are made by hundreds in some factory, but he had his customers, and his work was strong and good; and the old woman was kept trudging, with half-a-dozen articles at a time, to the shops he worked for all the summer through.  But the winters were bad.  At first, for his better customers, he was employed in making up a few things for stock, and little parlour toys made a brisk sale at Christmas-time, and gave them a dinner on Christmas Day; but in the early months of the year, there was pinching poverty to be suffered.  Next year, at that time, there was a sudden death in the little room: the old man found dead in his bed, and his old wife wringing her hands, with the tears frozen in her eyes.  Then there was an inquest, and the jury found their verdict of disease, "accelerated by want of the necessaries of life."  They had been living, for weeks, on weak tea and dry bread; and when the old woman was asked why they did not go into the workhouse, rather than suffer such privation, she answered, "Me and my man have lived together for fifty years, and we weren't going to be separated at last, till Him that joined us together, put us asunder."


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CHAPTER II.

JOE RUDKIN


JOE RUDKIN was the tenant of ground floor No. 1, the father of "little Joe," and of eight other youngsters, each of whom ranged half a hand higher than the last, with the regularity of a pan-pipe.  "Little Joe" had long been a friend of mine before I came to know his father, and this facilitated our future acquaintance.  One day I found the latter at home, sitting by the fire, and showing symptoms of fever, which a few more days would either cure or develop into typhus, as the case might be.  He had been away from work for an entire week, for the first time in his life.  Joe's rent had hitherto been paid with the utmost punctuality, but this week it was not forthcoming.  He explained that though he had been twenty years—nearly the whole of his working life—in the service of his present employers, yet they would not break through their long-established rule of never paying wages to an absent workman, be the cause of his absence what it might.  The rule was hard enough in such cases as Joe's, but many illnesses were brought on the men by their own intemperance, and it had a tendency to check these, and to prevent "malingering," and also to drive the men to become members of benefit societies.  Unhappily, Joe was not a member of any society, and was living "so near the wind," as he phrased it, that in the event of sickness the family must live on credit, pawn their goods, or starve—or, probably, adopt a combination of all three expedients.  Now Joe was neither drunken nor improvident, but as honest, and hard-working, and self-denying a man as ever lived.  He was a small, dark, active little fellow, of cheerful temperament, easily and much depressed by calamity, but speedily rebounding from it with the first gleam of fresh hope that reached him.  In telling his story he would say, at various points in his career, "The luck was against me there, you see;" but "the luck" had little to do with it.  He had been too heavily weighted in the race of life, and there was something wonderful in the pluck with which he kept on running for the prize of independence, which seemed only to recede as he ran.

    Joe Rudkin was a thorough Londoner.  He had never been out of London in his life, further than down the river to Greenwich, where he treated his sweetheart to tea and shrimps, and up to Richmond once, on the great occasion of his marriage.  He had been decently brought up--the only son of a widow—but had had to earn "an honest penny" when a very little fellow indeed; and though he could read, it was with some difficulty; and as for writing, he could just manage to sign his name.  His first permanent situation was in the employment of the house he still served.  He was sent out with the delivery car to mind the horses, and give out the lighter parcels; and he sat whistling under the awning, in the full enjoyment of his position and duties, till he was promoted to the warehouse, with an increase of wages.

    When the widow died, Joe, being friendless and disconsolate, and already keeping company with his Sarah Jane, was hurried into matrimony, not only by the discomforts of his own lot, but by the well-founded complaints which his sweetheart—a much-enduring maid-of-all-work—poured into his ear, every second Sunday, of the hardships of hers.  Joe was nineteen and Sarah Jane was twenty-one when they tied themselves together, for better for worse.  At first, and for some time, it was decidedly the better for both.  They took a little room, into which Joe put his mother's bit of "furnishing," and they began life on eighteen shillings a week.  Neither had, as yet, found it possible to save.  Joe, had begun, but the expenses of his mother's illness and death had swept the little hoard away, and left some debt besides.  Every week added to the comfort of the young couple.  They sold the rickety old bed, and bought a new one, and added a good chest of drawers, and a clock to ensure punctuality, in meals and morning risings.  They laid in a decent stock of under-garments, Sarah making them, to the best of her ability, and improving so much in the process, that she took in some of the same sort to make for the shop where she bought the stuff, and thus added a shilling or two a week to their income.  Joe carried his dinner in his pocket, so she had the whole day to herself.  His dinner consisted of bread and bacon, or bread and cheese, washed down with a drop of beer.  At that time there was no need for him to stint himself of these luxuries, and there was a nice little supper of "somethink 'ot" waiting for him when he got home.  But before a year was over, Sarah presented him with a daughter, who was followed, at regular intervals of little more than a year, by four of the same sex, and four of the other.

    Joe had set out in life with two great incentives to, and promoters of, well-doing—ambition and hope.  He had one great ambition—it was to drive his own cab; and he was not without hope of being able to achieve it.  Having confided this to Sarah, she threw herself heartily into the scheme, and, by their joint exertions, in three years they had saved enough for the purpose—a little over thirty pounds: a small sum, and a long time in gathering; measured by the patience and labour and self-denial which gathered it, a very precious and mighty one.

    The cab proved a ruinous speculation.  The season turned out badly, and Joe, being a novice, did not make the most of it.  He often stood half the day idle, and his weekly earnings, after feeding and housing his horse, were often not much in excess of his former ones.  But the horse was the crowning disaster.  He was blind of an eye to begin with, and showed, from the first, ominous signs of general debility.  In fact, the very first morning when his master went to harness him for the work of the day, he found that neither coaxing nor coercion would induce him to rise.  Poor Joe ran for the ostler in whose stable he had secured lodgings for the horse, and called upon him, with many lamentations, to inspect the prostrate animal.

    "Bless you," said the man, after raising the brute's head and looking him over, "'taint anything unusual.  The 'oss is wore out a bit, and can't git up without help."  With which consolatory statement, he went off for an assistant and a rope, and by means of the latter "hauled up" the poor beast and, as he phrased it, "set him a-goin' agin."

    This process had to be repeated every morning, and no doubt disheartened Joe for the day.  But one frosty forenoon, the horse stumbled in the Strand, and came down never to rise again, even with the aid of a rope.  There was the usual crowd, the usual good-natured help given on all hands, but no help availed.


"For the good steed, his labours o'er,
 Stretched his stiff limbs to rise no more."


    His owner returned home that afternoon, cables and comfortless, with the price of the dead horse and damaged vehicle in his pocket.  Happily for Joe, his place in the warehouse had been ill-supplied, and his old employers cheerfully took him back again.

    The failure of a great effort takes the bloom from life, and for some years Joe got along in a less hopeful spirit.  But he was too sturdy to give in.  The family and its consumption was increasing, and its provider saw that the means ought also to be on the increase, otherwise, it would soon be "hard times" with Sarah, and him, and the little ones.  He looked about now for something extra to do.  True his work was hard enough.  He had to be out of doors by half-past six in the morning, summer and winter, and was not home again till half-past seven, packing and sorting all day long.  But Sarah would still help, and did, though she had six mere infants to look after, and make, and mend, and wash for.  At last they embarked in the brewing of ginger-beer, for the little shops and stalls in the neighbourhood.  Sometimes, for half the night, Joe and his wife brewed and bottled in the little scullery, attached to the parlour and kitchen they had overflowed into.  To increase the profit, he hired a hand-cart, and went out on Sundays, adding nuts and oranges to his stock-in-trade.  But this was a part of the business he did not like, and soon gave up, even though it was the most profitable.  Truth must be told in any story that is worth telling, and so I am bound to say that it was not Joe's conscience that rebelled against the Sunday traffic, but his heart.  His conscience was very unenlightened, poor fellow; but his heart was single, and, unconsciously, it sided with the Divine ordinance of a day of rest.  For the first time in his life, he discovered that his lot was hard, and began to envy his neighbours.  He envied them going out to walk with their children.  He envied them going to church.  What a nice, comfortable thing it was, to go neatly dressed and sit down in church, instead of standing at the corner there.  How he wished he could take his little ones along like that, with clean faces, and prayer-books in their hands.  Then he thought of Sarah and her never-ending toils, and longed to be giving her a rest, by taking the little ones out of her way, and helping her in the house, as usual.  These thoughts depressed him more than any previous experience had been able to do.  Then it troubled him sadly to be told to "move on" by the representative of the law.  So he gave up the cart, and carried on only the wholesale part of the business.  There were losses in the trade; the beer would sometimes spoil; and, in sudden hot weather, an ominous popping of corks would cause Sarah to rush to the scene of action, to find the liquid pouring from sundry prostrate bottles; the profits, too, were small, and it required large sales to make them amount to anything considerable; but, for all that, the business helped greatly, and enabled them to get a new supply of decent garments, and to live a little better than they could otherwise have done.  It might have helped them to save in the end; but the sloppy work began to tell on Sarah's health, and, at last, this also had to be given up.

    Having retired from business a second time, Joe made no further effort for another year or two.  His wages had now increased to twenty-one shillings, the highest they were likely to reach.  When the ninth baby was born, Joe's misfortunes began to culminate, though his wages reached their culminating shilling, opportunely, at the same time.  Just let any one work out the problem of keeping eleven souls in London on twenty-one shillings a week.  Take four shillings for rent, and one shilling and sixpence for fire, light, and such indispensable articles as soap, &c., and fifteen and sixpence remains—that is, one shilling and fivepence to feed and clothe each.  Give each a pound of bread a day, and the father two—bread being their staple food —and the sum that remains is five shillings.  A shilling's worth of potatoes be used weekly; another shilling will go for tea, sugar, and coffee for the father and mother, and very poor stuff it will be; sixpence for milk for the infants, sixpence for the dripping for the bread and potatoes of the elder children; two shillings for bacon and cheese for the father, and a little meat, now and then, for the nursing mother.  There is not one shilling left, and all have to be clad, and one or two kept at school; and there is nothing but dripping for the children's bread, and they cannot live in health without something more and something else.  The addition of a pennyworth of sprats for dinner makes the little ones jump for joy.  Of course the infants do not use a pound of bread, but the growing boys and girls make up for this.  "They do eat a deal, them chicks," says Joe, "and they don't never seem to 'eve enough."  What they might, could, or would have eaten, remains altogether unknown.

    None of the children had, as yet, gone to work.  They were small for their years, and the eldest was absolutely necessary at home.  Since the arrival of No. 9, the mother was weaker than she had ever been before, but it was more than ever needful to make another effort.  This time it was in the eating-house line.  Sarah bought fish and fried them, and Joe served them out to customers when he came home at night.  The gain was not great, for it was not possible for hungry human nature to resist having a share of the savoury viands; but the family—at least, its older members—supped better, and that was something.  Growling ambitions, they added tripe and onions, and, at length, a ham.  They all sold, and the latter "cut up very well."  Another, and larger, was bought, and boiled, and put in the window, and a few slices were gone, when, early in the darkening evenings, as the mother was abroad making purchases, a great fellow came in, and carried off the ham, before the very eyes of the helpless brood, whose bewilderment prevented their dismay from bursting forth, till the thief was out of reach with his prize.  The cruel theft gave the poor woman "such a turn," as she called it, that she became really ill, and Joe lost heart, and moved out of the house, which, fronting a little street, cost five shillings, into the two rooms in the court.  He pinched himself of food, poor fellow; if he had twopence given him for a pint of beer, he contented himself with half a pint, and carried the penny home to the children.  He washed down his dinner with a discoloured liquid, which had the name of coffee, and which he warmed over the warehouse stove.  The consequence of insufficient food began to tell upon him, and also the bad air of the crowded room in which he slept.  All through the winter he was catching cold, which ended in the illness aforesaid.

    Sickness had come, and things were looking very black indeed, as Joe sat shivering and burning over the fire, in the deepest despondency.  But just when they were at the blackest, came that ray of hope which was more to him than all the medicine in the world.  For some time he had been trying to put out his little boy—his second child—and had failed.  He had sent him to the warehouse to tell of his illness, and report from day to day; and on Saturday afternoon, when Joe had actually "had a good cry," and Sarah had cried for company, though she did her best to keep him up, the little fellow ran in, flushed and excited, with good news to tell, and ten shillings in his hand.  The money was a present from the clerks in the warehouse, with whom Joe was a great favourite, for his alacrity and cheerfulness.  The good news was, that the foreman had asked the boy if he would not like to be a man, and work, and on his answering, "Yes, sir, I'd be ever so glad!" had told him to come in on Monday at half-a-crown a week.  Then arose a contention in the house, for little Sarah held it hardly fair that her junior should go to work first, so the mother gave her leave to look out, having another coming up to fill her place; and forthwith she became head-nurse in the family of a neighbouring pork-butcher, with a shilling a week and her food.

    Joe went to the warehouse on Monday.  "I can sit over the stove in peace there," he said; "and there's no gettin' any peace where there's so many of 'em."  But he soon got well, and went off to his work with a lighter heart, and a heavier packet of bread and meat in his pocket, than he had had for many a day.  His hope was, henceforth, in his children, and, alas! they too may fail him.  They are setting out in life with a worse chance than his own, and the selfishness around them on every side may corrupt their hearts.  What Joe's home needs is the influence of an outlook on a higher life to sanctify, and so preserve and exalt, its virtues and affections; and there is standing at the poor man's hearth, among those of whom are the "kingdom of heaven," one who shall one day break from them into a higher region, and carry their affections with him beyond the earth.  Little Joe stood, with his strangely tender ways, full of the grace of a beautiful and loving spirit, fondling his mother's rough and toil-worn hand.


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CHAPTER III.

A BAD BEGINNING.


"THAT'S a bad beginning," I answered, unadvisedly, to the torrent of complaint which ground floor No. 2 poured out against her eldest son, who had married within the week, and had not said anything about it till it was an accomplished fact.

    The mother thought herself ill-used, and with justice.  "He took care to be no good to us," she had said; "after all we had done for him.  The first week he gets journeyman's wages he sets off and marries; and he'll never look near us again, like enough, or give us a penny to keep us from starving."

    "That's a bad beginning," I had ventured to say.

    "Well, as for that," replied the mother, evidently resenting the remark, and showing an inclination to turn her wrath into a fresh channel, "his father did the same before him."

    "Oh! that makes a difference," I answered, meekly.

    "To be sure it does," assented the mother; "but as for her"—thus designating her daughter-in-law—"the good-for-nothing baggage, I'll give her a bit of my mind, if ever I set eyes on her."

    "Have you never seen the young woman then?" I asked.

    "No, not I indeed.  He met her at one of the singing saloons.  His sister saw them there; but she wouldn't take no notice of the likes of her."

    "Do your daughters go to the singing saloons too?" I inquired, rather gravely, for she answered with a toss of the head.

    "My Lizzie has a young man who comes to the house, respectable, and he often treats her to a little hoot, besides standing something when they come home.  He's the right sort, he is."

    "A bad beginning indeed," I thought to myself, as I turned away.  That newly-married boy and girl will spend all their earnings in what they call pleasure—in eating, and drinking, and "hooting," making no provision for the time of need.  Then will come babies and other burdens, poverty and peevishness, selfish indulgence and selfish neglect, and a loveless and unlovely home, which will be deserted as soon as its brood can fly.

    The bait of sensual pleasure is the cruellest temptation to the children of toil.  As for the singing saloons, and similar places of amusement, they are not the innocent recreations some people with a spurious liberality would make believe.  It is a cruel kindness which pleads for their use, on the ground that the lives of working men and women are hard, and need the relief of a little pleasurable excitement.  The lives of working men and women are hard, and snatching at such relief only makes them harder.  Their true happiness is not to be reached without enduring the hardness first.  If they take their pleasure first, they have forestalled their happiness, and the result is bitter suffering.

    A terrible reproach stands written against the working classes by one who knew them well, and laboured among them as a minister of Christ.  "I know, who have seen them in their best and worst conditions," wrote Edward Irving, "and am bold to declare that in general parents make gain of their children, and children seek to be rid of their parents."  And the reproach is echoed by many, who say, "The want of family affection and helpfulness is very rare among people who are better off.  Look how the members of a middle-class family hang together; how the young men will put off marriage for years, to save their sisters from the hardship of going out into the world; how the father will toil, till his very brain gives way, to bring up his children; how the whole family will pinch and strive together, to give superior advantages to one more promising than the rest."  What is it that makes the difference?  Their reward in a worldly sense is higher; but it is not that.  It is because, in the old never-ending warfare between the flesh and the spirit, the "better off" have a vantage ground; the poor are in the front of the fight.  Their self-denial must be closer and more constant, their endurance more patient, and their conflict more severe.  What is simple comfort to the former, is indulgence to the latter: and what in the former would be only a slight indulgence, becomes in the latter a repulsive selfishness.

    And in the assent of the foolish mother to the random words which turned away her wrath, there was another and deeper meaning than she knew.  The rule of selfishness once set up in a family is difficult to overthrow.  If one is selfish by nature, the others become selfish in self-defence; and so it goes on, till some noble spirit breaks the bondage, and stays the plague by pure self-sacrifice.

    Bad beginnings often go back for generations.  In the present instance, the father had eaten sour grapes, and his children's teeth were set on edge.  He was by trade a carver and gilder, and, though he was not and never had been vicious, he was vain and self-indulgent.  He had the misfortune to take it into his head that he was born not to frame other people's pictures, but to paint pictures for other people to frame.  It seemed to him easier to paint pictures than to frame them, and more gentlemanlike too; and he prided himself on looking like a gentleman.  Had he not seen the great Sir J. G — dash in a beautiful blue coat, buttons and all, or fold on fold of gorgeous drapery, covering half the canvas, while he waited in his studio?  So he came to London, the goal of genius, leaving a mother and sister in his native town.  He never wrote to them, for they needed help, and he had nothing to spare from the demands of his genius and taste, which he thought he ought to foster at all hazards.  Then he married a showy vulgar girl, and taking up his trade at home, gave art a trial at the same time.  He painted wonderful landscapes, in which a poisonous green predominated, and where impossible shadows rested upon solid water, in which there was always a remarkable red-roofed house, and a compartment of clouds that resembled boiled dumplings as much as anything else.  Strange to say, they sold in some numbers.  He framed them showily, and they made a rather grand ornament for ambitious housewives.  He painted his wife's portrait, and then persuaded a fair neighbour to sit for hers.  But when it was finished, the lady indignantly denied the likeness, and refused payment of the stipulated fee, and so the picture remained in the hands of the painter, and was hung up opposite his wife's, and held to be a masterpiece of art.  There it sat, a dismal ashy hue overspreading the deathlike face and hands; and under the chin a horrible dark patch, which, with the stare in the eyes, pointed to strangulation as the cause of the decease.  I am not sure that it did not appear at the South London Working Men's Exhibition—one of those pictures concerning which Mr. Layard spoke so frankly, telling their painters that they must go to school to learn the very first elements of form and colour.  At length the would-be artist had to turn to his trade for the support of his growing family; and though not a good workman, he managed to get along with the help of his wife, who was both strong and hardworking.  The eldest boy was apprenticed to a printer, and was a clever lad enough.  The girls were set to work by their mother, as soon as they could hold their needles; and the youngest boy was packed off to any shiftless, unskilled task which would bring in the most money.

    When the family came to live in the court, its principal dependence was on the children's earnings.  The father's trade—a wretchedly fluctuating one, as all trades of mere luxury are—was bad.  He was failing in health, for it is also unwholesome, owing more to the filthy condition of the workshops than to anything else, and consequently he was oftener out of work than in it.  Neither wife—nor with one exception—children scrupled to show the poor half-broken-down fellow how small account they made of him.  Mary, his first and favourite child, a plain, silent, and rather harsh-looking young woman, looked upon her father with unwavering faith and admiration, as the first of men, and loved and served him heartily.  She and her second sister, Lizzie, worked at a sort of sewing-factory, earning each about seven shillings a week, and sometimes more for overtime.  The youngest worked at home with her mother; but they could not earn much more than seven shillings between them.  Father and mother and grown-up daughters all slept in one room, in beds laid out on the floor at night, while the two lads slept in a bed in the kitchen.  The oldest, still an apprentice, earned from ten to fifteen shillings a week, and the youngest generally got five or six.

    Sophia, the youngest girl, who was about sixteen, was sickly and peevish.  She seldom went beyond the entrance of the court, and would hang about, idle and untidy, while her mother went home with their work, and got a fresh supply.  Very often, when Mary got home in the evening, she found Sophy standing there, and the work which she ought to have finished, still undone; and when Mary remonstrated, the mother would say, "Well, I'm sure, it's very hard in a strong one like you to grudge the poor thing a bit o' rest.  It don't agree with her, the sitting don't.  She was always delicate.  Before she was done nursing, I had to tempt her to eat with a bit o' bacon, or red herring, I had."  Then Mary would look at the white, fretful face, and she would take up the neglected work, and her fingers would fly as fast as her mother's tongue, and that was hard to follow.

    Lizzie was of another spirit, and would not "be put upon," as she called it.  By refusing to give any help at home, except for a consideration, she had more to spend upon herself than the others.  She would claim every farthing owing to her for work done at home, and deduct it from the stipulated weekly sum which she paid to her parents.  All the out-door workers adopted this plan, and spent what remained of their earnings in their own fashion.  It was not more than the girls needed for clothing, but it sometimes left a dangerous surplus in the pockets of the eldest son.  Lizzie would work hard, that she might dress gaily; but when there was any deficiency in the general fund, neither she nor her brother would supply it; and the one would not because the other would not, till even Mary resented having to make it up, simply because she had denied herself.  She could deny herself, but she did not like to indulge others.  Thus strife and selfishness increased among them every day.  The skirmishes usually ended in Mary's defeat; for Lizzie was bold, and, moreover, she was beautiful, and the silly mother was pleased to see her flaunting in finery, and would say, "It's quite natural she should like to be fine.  You never cared for dress, Mary; and it's all very well for a plain one like you.  Lizzie's my very pictur' when I was her age, and I was fond of a bit o' dress, too."

    After the brother's marriage, the struggle grew harder still, for his forced contribution had been larger than that yielded by any of the others, and had been a benefit, in his despite.  Sophy seemed to grow idler and Lizzie gayer than ever, and but for Mary, the giddy girl would have made a bad beginning indeed—a beginning to which there is but one most miserable ending.

    "Are you going out again to-night, Lizzie?" she said, meeting her sister in full array one evening.

    "Yes, I'm going out; and what's that to you?" said the wayward girl.

    "And when do you mean to come in?"

    "When I'm ready," she returned, pertly.

    "I tell you, there'll no good come of your goin's on," said her sister, sharply, mid laying hold of her arm.

    "I have as good a right to dress and dance as the best in the land," said the girl, with a defiant laugh; adding, "it would be hard to have no pleasure in life, like Sophy, who won't work for it; and, as for you, Polly, you seem to take pleasure in work itself."

    "Lizzie, I would never grudge you to dress and dance, as, maybe, you were meant to do, if there was nothing wanted from you, and you could come to no harm, but—"

    "Let me go, Polly," cried the girl, escaping, and flinging a half-repentant look behind her; "I'll be home soon!" and she hurried into the street.

    Mary's views of life were stern and uncompromising in the extreme.  "I don't know the meaning of it," she would say; "I don't see the use of it.  It's work, work, work, every day, and all day long, and for nothing that I can make out, except to keep on working.  But since I must work, I'll keep at it till I drop.  Some aren't able for that—the worse for them."  And to the suggestion, that the use of labour and suffering was often visible in suffering making men and women stronger and holier, she would answer, with a strange vehemence, "I tell you it does no such thing.  It drives them to sin; and then they suffer for that again, and it makes them worse and worse."

    About her sister's companions, Mary had misgivings; and on the night of the little encounter related, by some instinct of affection, they became so strong that she could not rest at home.  She rose and went to the house of one of them who lived in the neighbourhood.  It was already late, and while she was there the girl came in.  Mary asked if her sister had gone home, and the girl answered, No: she had left her at supper.  And she named a distant quarter of the town, where she and her companions were.  Still urged by her nameless impulse, Mary set out at once in the direction indicated, she came in front of the flaring "Hall," where they had spent the first part of the evening.  She stood there, uncertain whether to enter, when, in the vivid light flung on the pavement, she caught a glimpse of Lizzie.  The girl came up and leaned against the lamp-post, with a sob, which immediately arrested one or two of the passers-by.  A little crowd would soon have gathered, but Mary was at her side in a moment.  It was some time before she saw that her sister was in a state of partial intoxication.  Her tawdry dress was disarranged, her face red and tearstained, and her dark eyes wild and unmeaning.

    "Come home, Lizzie," said Mary, quietly, and the girl took her arm, and went with her out of the light without a word.  She could not help a stifled groan, as she felt the girl's unsteady gait; and then Lizzie broke forth in sobs, and told her story.  It was only the first step of a bad beginning.  She had adjourned with the rest to a supper-house, where she was treated to some hot, sweet mixture, which went to her head.  Becoming aware of this and happily losing her temper at the same time, she had quarrelled with the rest, and run out into the street, where she had lost herself, and had just found her way back to the blazing "Hall," where Mary found her.

    The only words the latter uttered on the way were: "You're a disgrace to be seen with!" and the wild girl would have darted away again, and tried to lose herself in those terrible streets, but for the strong grip on her arm, which was never relaxed till she was safe at home.

    This incident somewhat sobered Lizzie, especially as Mary covered her retreat with a stern kindness, so that the late hour and the bad headache, and the tears, were all set down to Lizzie's quarrel with "her young man."

    The winding-up of this family history was very rapid.  The mother died somewhat suddenly, and, foolish as she was, it was she who had held the home together.  Mary tried to take her place, but her rule was not so lax as the mother's had been, and the younger brother rebelled, and went to live with his sister-in-law, whose gay time was coming to an end.  Within a few months Lizzie married; and the fretful Sophy, who had taken a turn in favour of tidiness, under her sister's rule, followed her example.  Mary took a situation, and bribed Lizzie with more than half her wages, to take the more and more useless father into her house.  Like the old king of the poet, he tried them all by turns; but there was no room for him in their mean and miserable dwellings, and their equally mean and miserable spirits did not scruple to make him feel that he was one too many there.

    To him whose only birthright is toil, home, when it is a happy one, is the centre of all his happiness, the source of all his enjoyments.  For it he lives and labours.  It sends him to his toil with a strong heart and a vigorous arm, and opens smiling to receive him to his rest.  Nothing can compensate to the working man for the want of affection there.  Poverty is ever ready to come in at any breach made in its defences; and destitute of true attachment, it is destitute indeed.  Sickness and trial may overtake him, and he may not be able to guard against the entrance of poverty; but affection can take from these half their bitterness; and in the midst of privation, a heroism has been practised, which, even if it were not too sacred, it would be impossible to disclose.  It could not be written how greatly men may act concerning things so small.  But in the atmosphere of selfishness attachment perishes; the flower of affection will not grow in the midst of all that is unlovely and unlovable—in the midst of sordid habits and jarring tempers.  Therefore, it is well to bring to bear on the households of the poor all that can refine the manners and soften the heart.  But there is only one influence which takes from poverty all its sordidness, which yields a refinement higher than wealth or education can bestow.  That influence is the religion of Christ—of him who was the child, the companion, the friend of the poor.  By its aid, the poor man can make his home so happy that his children shall not wish, and so holy that they shall not dare, to cast it from their hearts.


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