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"PAVED WITH GOLD."
THE ROMANCE PRECEDING THE REALITY.
A KENSINGTON bus first pulled up, then a Hansom, then a parcels
delivery cart, then a Chaplin and Home's van, then a "Royal Blue,"
an "Atlas," and two perambulators.
Her Majesty's police-van was the only vehicle that drove by, and the gentleman in uniform who daily takes the air in the open cupboard at the end, continued to read his penny "Morning Star" undisturbed by the stoppage and the crowd.
The black windowless omnibus divided for a few seconds the attention of the throng in the road and on the pavement.
The Kensington driver asked the police coachman "What's yer fare all the way, my proosshun blue ?"
The Atlas cad shouted out to the police conductor, "Won't any of your inside gents be so good as to ride outside to obleege a lady ?"
Not only was the roadway blocked, but the pavement was covered by a mob, huddled together as closely as rats in a corner. It was a bitter, frosty winter's day, with an easterly wind blowing, that, as you faced it, filled the eyes with water, and made them smart like hartshorn; but, despite the cold, the black circle of the crowd seemed every moment to acquire an additional circumference of curious passengers. Where the people came from was a marvel. They seemed to leak in from all sides. Yet hardly any out of the scores that had collected together knew why they were stopping, or could even get a peep at the principal object of attraction.
"What's up, Jim?" said one of the bus drivers to his conductor, as the latter was returning to his bracket after diving into the mob. "Is it cream o' the walley or fits as has overcome the lady?"
It was the dusk of the evening, and though the streets were thinned of their work-a-day traffic, the policeman had no sooner said to a woman seated on the door-step, "Now then, this won't do; you [-2-] must move on, you know," than instantly every person who was passing the spot was brought to a dead halt. There were City gentlemen going home to dinner, and nurses wheeling the children home to tea; clerks and linendrapers' assistants going back to business; bricklayers with empty hods, ticket porters with their hands in their pockets, men about town, street boys, private soldiers, bill-stickers, return postmen, "roughs" and costers, and, indeed, the same incongruous mass that is always to be found in a London crowd; for, as each person came drifting up the street, he seemed to be turned suddenly round by his curiosity, like a cork in a pent stream, so that ere long the mob appeared to consist of the same curious collection of odds and ends - human chips, straws, and rags as it were - as is seen jumbled together in front of a miller's dam.
The most important business gave way to the excitement. There was a confectioner's man with an ice pudding in the green box on his bead, and that pudding, so slowly thawing into liquor in the heated atmosphere of the mob, had been ordered for a neighbouring dinner party, , which had already eaten its way down to the game. There was an electric telegraph boy with his despatch-box at his side, containing a most important commercial message, which had just arrived by the sub-marine telegraph. There was a doctor's boy, with his little double-flapped market-basket, and he in a peevish voice was calling on the crowd to take care and "not go smashing his aperients. There was a milliner's lad, too, with his oil-silk covered basket, in which was carefully packed an elaborate head-dress for a lady, who, attired for the theatre, was anxiously watching for the arrival of the messenger, and yet there he was, jammed in the crowd, calling out every minute, "Where are you a shoving to, stoopid," and "Now then, keep back, there, can't you, or you'll be a squashing this here turband and feathers." And there was a host of other people besides upon equally pressing errands. But every kind of business and work appeared to have come to a stand-still until each looker-on had been able to satisfy himself as to the cause why he, among a hundred others, was loitering there.
A milkman who was near the centre of the crowd remarked to an elderly dame, as the policeman shook the wretched creature on the door-step, "She don't seem like an impostor, do she?"
"Well, there's no telling, I'm sure," replied the lady; "but, if you ask me my private opinion, I should say she's been foolish enough to allow herself to be overtook by liquor."
"Come, you mustn't be sitting here in the cold, do you hear. Where do you live?" cried the officer, as he took the woman roughly by the arm.
She looked up with a vacant, sleepy expression, and muttered, "Nowhere."
A carpenter, with a nut-basket of tools over his shoulder, here stepped forward, and asked, in a kindly tone, "Ain't you got no lodgings, my good woman?"
"I was turned out of them two days ago," was the almost inaudible reply, for she spoke in so low a tone that her interrogator had to put his ear down to her bonnet to catch her words.
[-3-] "But haven't you got any friends who'll take you in ?" continued the workman.
"No, no; 1'm a stranger here." And her chin and under lip began to work with the rising sobs.
A man in the mob said coarsely to his companion, "Oh, come on, Bill, it's only a dodge." And the doctor's boy, seeing somebody quitting the crowd, suddenly thought of the powder he had in his basket for the baby in convulsions, and darted off at full speed.
"Well, you know," said the policeman, "if you persist in stopping here, I must take you to the station."
"Oh, thank you-anywhere," was the woman's reply.
The policeman stood still, uncertain how to act, and the crowd began to discuss among themselves the merits of the case; some declared that she was " fairly starved down," others, "that she was only trying to excite compassion so as to get some drink out of it." A few of the more sensible, however, said she was ill, and that she ought to be taken to the doctor's directly.
"If that young woman," exclaimed one, "were well fed and decently dressed, she'd be as tidy a looking girl as you could meet with in these parts."
"You should take her to the workhouse," observed the carpenter; upon which a man, with a pair of boot-fronts under his arm, burst out vehemently, saying, "It's the right of every true-born Briton to have food and shelter give 'em, and I mean to say as it's a cussed shame that any poor creeture should be left to starve like a dog in the streets, as this here party is."
Then there was ·a cry among the mob of "Ah! so it is, indeed," as if the thought had only just struck them all.
"I tell you they won't take her in at the Union," expostulated the policeman, in answer to a hundred and one directions, "and I can't charge her at the station. Here, come along with me, young woman; the only place for you is the 'sylum for the houseless in Playhouse-yard."
As she did not attempt to move, but was settling down as if going to sleep again, the officer took hold of her arm to help her to rise; but the miserable woman was so weak and faint with the cold and starvation, that she was unable to stand, and staggered back on to the step.
"Shame! shame!" cried the mob, growing indignant with the thought that she was to be dragged as a criminal through the streets. "Why don't you go and fetch a doctor, Bobby," shouted a coster; "you see the poor thing can't step it."
One of the neighbours, who, with her shawl turned over her head, had been standing on the next door-step, patiently watching the whole of the proceedings, now made her appearance with a cup of steaming tea in her hand.
"Here, my dear," she said, as she stooped down and held a saucerful to the lips of the poor soul, "drink this; it'll do you more good than listening to a pack of men's talk."
The wretched, fainting creature sipped at the hot drink, and, though she seemed to swallow with difficulty at first, she said, in a short [-4-] time, "Oh, thank you! thank you! that warms me a bit." And then, after a few more sips, she passed her hand over her forehead like one waking up from stupor, and, as she pushed the hair back, murmured, "I've had enough, I'm obliged to you; I can go now."
The policeman led her off, grasping her firmly under the arm, and half pushing her along, as though he were taking a "drunk and disorderly" to the station-house. The woman staggered in her gait, and seemed so helpless, that many among the crowd, gazing after her, were still divided in their opinion as to whether she was in liquor or in want. A host of little boys and straggling men and women followed in her wake along the pavement, like the sympathising crowd at the tail of an Irish funeral.
"Ah! she's seen better days, she has, said the kind-hearted dame who had brought out the tea, and who, with the cup still in her hand, was looking after her. "Her talk warn't like that of a common person; and them hands of hem ain't done much work, for she hadn't so snuck as got any needle-marks on her forefinger."
A crowd of female neighbours began to collect round the last speaker, and one observed, " I really think, do you know, Mrs. Perks, she had nothing on but that black stuff petticoat, and that she'd made away with the very gownd off her back. Why, it's enough to freeze all her blood to ice in such weather as this here."
A thin woman, with a dry cough, observed, with a contemptuous toss of her cap, "Well, all I've got to say is this one remark: if she's so very genteel as you ladies would wish to implicate, why don't she go to her friends? Surely they might help her at least to emigrand. But this I will say, if a piece of goods like her is to meet with rewards for miscondick - for every mother of a family among you must have noticed the situation she was in, and not so much as a wedding- ring to be seen on her finger-why, where'd be the use of females remaining virtuous and being circumspicious in their behaviour, like ourselves?"
"Shame on yer, Mrs. Sparrer!" ejaculated the dame with the teacup; "I hope it may never be your lot to be so sittewated yourself, and have a person to sit in judgment, jury and witnesses, on you, as you've been a doing to her, poor soul."
It was, however, too cold to continue the discussion; so Mrs. Sparrow and the neighbours retired to their respective homes to talk the matter over with their husbands and fellow-lodgers.
It was a bitter winter's day we have said.
The snow had fallen thickly during the night, whilst all London was asleep, and the early waker in the suburbs, as he lay in his bed wondering what made the road so still and the morning light so bright, heard the song of the market carter, that without the rumble of a wheel he had traced creeping from the distance, cease suddenly, and followed by a cry of "Here, police! come along, look sharp!" Then, as his curiosity sent him shivering to the window, he saw in the dawn the black, steaming horse stretched at full length upon the white roadway, kicking up the powdery snow like foam, with the carter leaning on its neck, and the piles of green cabbages in the cart all dabbed with flocks of snow.
On the other hand, the heavier sleeper in the town was roused out of his last nap by the sound of shovels scraping harshly on the pavement, as if a hundred knife-grinders were at work in the street; and others, who dozed still later, had their dreams abruptly cut in two by some dozen cadgers from the nearest low lodging-house, who, with a frost-tipped bit of green stuff raised on a pole, were all shouting together, at the top of their voices, "Poor froze-out gard'ners poor froze-out gard'ner!"
Truly there is hardly a more startling sight than to wake up and find the town, which yesterday was black with its winter's coat of soot and dirt, suddenly changed to a city of almost silver beauty, seeming as if it were some monster capital at the Polar regions, glittering with its glacial architecture, and bristling with its monuments, pinnacles, and towers, like so many palaces and temples hewn out of ice.
Every house-top seems to be newly thatched with the virgin flocks, and every cornice striped as if with a trimming of the fairest down. All the verandahs are white as a tent-top, and the railings look as if made out of pith rather than ironwork; every window-sill, and, indeed, the least ledge on which the foamy powder can lie, is thick and bulging with its layer of alabaster-like particles. On each doorstep is spread the whitest possible mat, and each street-lamp is crowned with a nightcap of the purest fleece, whilst the huge coloured lamps over the chemists' seem gaudier than ever, and their blue and red bulls'-eyes look like huge gems set massively amid lumps of frosted silver.
The various signs over the tradesmen's shops are nearly blotted out by the drift that has clung to them. The monster golden boot above the shoemaker's is silvered over on the side next the wind; the "little dustpans" are filled with a pile of white fluff; the golden fleece, hanging over the hosiers' shops, seems to have changed [-6-] its metallic coat for one of the purest wool ; the three balls at the pawnbroker's appear to have been converted into a triad of gelder-roses; and the great carved lions and unicorns between the first- floor windows of the royal tradesmen, have huge dabs of snow resting on their necks, like thick, white, matted manes.
The surface of the earth itself is white as a wedding-cake. In the roadway, in the early morning, you can count the traffic by the ruts the wheels have made, for every one leaves behind it a glistening trail as if some monster snail had crawled along the way. What a change, too, has token place in the tumult of the busiest thoroughfares! The streets that formerly deafened you with their noise are now hushed as night, and everything that moves past is silent as an apparition. Even the big clots of snow that keep on falling from the copings and the lamps and trees, startle you, from the utter absence of all sound, as they strike the earth. The wheels of the heaviest carts seem to be muffled, and roll on as if they were passing over the softest moss. The horses go along with their hoofs spluttering where the trodden ground has been caked into slipperiness, and the drivers walk at their head, with their hand upon the rein, while the nervous, timid brutes steam with the unusual labour, and their breath gushes down from their nostrils in absolute rays of mist.
It is at this period, too, that the ice-cart makes its appearance in the streets. The costermonger who can no longer drive his trade at the green-markets, now looks to the ponds for a living, and comes to town with a load of transparent splintery fragments, that seem like jagged pieces of broken plate-glass windows. The omnibuses have an extra horse put on when they reach the metropolitan hills, for the snow in the roads has long before mid-day been rolled into ice, and the highways are like a long, broad slide. To accommodate the outsides, hay has been wound round the stepping-irons, and the gents on the "knife-board," along the roof of the first busses, appear with thick railway-rugs tucked round their knees, whilst, at the different halting-places, the conductor jumps down and stamps on the pavement, as lie does a double-shuffle to warm himself, flinging his arms across his chest, and striking the breast of Isis top-coat with the same energy as if he were beating a carpet.
Snow or sunshine, London work must be done; but now the mechanics and clerks that you meet in the streets go along with their heads down and their hands in their pockets, at a half-trotting pace. Their necks are bound round with thick wisps of comforters, and the tips of their noses, that overhang the worsted network, are red, as if tinselled, and all sniff and cough, as they carefully dodge by the round iron plates over the coal-holes of the metropolis. The pavement in front of the bakers' shops is the only place from which the snow has entirely disappeared, and where the pedestrian can tread with safety. The whole town seems to swarm with boy and men sweepers, who go about from house to house, knocking at the doors, and offering to clear the pavement before the dwelling, according to Act of Parliament, for twopence. Everybody you meet has the breast of his great-coat and hat-rim dredged with white; and the police-[-7-]man's shiny cape is, with its fur of snow, more like a nobleman's ermine tippet than the ordinary hard-weather costume of the force.
How bright the air, too, seems with the light reflected from the snow. You can see to the end of the longest streets like on an early summer morning. There is a white, cold look about the scene; and everything seems so black from the contrast of the intense glare of the ground, that even at noonday you might fancy that a silver harvest moon was shining in the skies, and that the snow itself, lying on one side of each object, was but the reflexion of the pale brilliance of the white beams falling on them.
The sky looks almost like a dome of slate, and the parks and squares like large new plaster models of countries without a single path or bed to be traced, except where the few passengers have worn a narrow dirty streak across them. The trees, too, are all ashy grey, and the objects in the distance seem to be twice as near as usual, while the dark specks of the people moving over the great snowy waste appear like blots on a sheet of paper.
The statues throughout the metropolis have lost all artistic modelling in their form, and strike one as being as rudely fashioned as if they were so many figures moulded by schoolboys out of snow.
·Some, however, are merely speckled with the flakes, and have their Grecian draperies splashed over with white, like a plasterer's clothes. Sir Robert Peel, gazing down Cheapside, looks as if some miller had rubbed violently up against him. Old Major Cartwright, seated in his arm-chair in Burton-crescent, has at least a couple of pounds of snow resting on the top of his skull and dabbed over his face, and giving him the appearance of having been newly lathered previous to having his head and cheeks shaved. The periwig of George III., at Charing-cross, has turned white in a night, like the hair of Marie Antoinette. The mounted effigy of F. M. the Duke of Wellington, at Hyde Park-corner, continues, despite a spadeful of snow at the nape of his neck, to point with his baton-which is now white as a wax- candle-majestically in the direction of the White Horse Cellar, his patient steed having its hind-quarters covered with so heavy a deposit that his Grace seems to be sitting, like a life-guardsman, on a mat of bleached sheepskin.
Now the water-supply of the metropolis begins to be almost as scarce as in Paris; while the water-pipes of the more prudent of the householders are seen bandaged round with straw, like the wheel- spokes of a new carriage. The turn-cocks, with their shiny leathern epaulets, go along with their immense keys, like those of some monster beer-barrel, and erect tall wooden plugs for the temporary supply of the neighbours, who flock there with pails and pitchers, and wait in a crowd to take their turn at the tap, while the waste water gutters and hardens over the snow like so much grease.
But if there be a scarcity of water, the public-houses, at least, have determined to make up for it, for in the windows are printed placards announcing that "HOT ELDER WINE" and "HOT SPICED ALE" may be had within. Taking advantage, too, of the "inclemency" of the weather, all kinds of warm comestibles suddenly appear on the [-8-] street-stalls. The fish kettles, full of "hot eels" and "pea-soup," have a cloud of steam issuing from them, and the baked potato-cans are spirting out jets of a high-pressure vapour, like the escape-pipe to some miniature steam-factory. As you walk along the street, too, the nostrils are regaled by pleasant odours of baked apples and roasted chesnuts from the neighbouring stalls, at which sit old women in coachmen's many-caped coats, with their feet in an apple-basket, and a rushlight shade, full of red-hot charcoal, at their side-the fire shining in bright orange spots through the holes.
The pert London sparrows seem almost to have disappeared with the frost, and the few that remain have a wretched half-torpid look, and have gone all fluffy and turned to a mere brown ball of feathers. In the suburbs, the robins are seen for the first time leaving little trident impressions of their feet on the garden snow, and their scarlet bosoms looking red as Christmas berries against the white earth. Then as the dusk of evening sets in, and you see in the squares and crescents the crimson flickering of the flames from the cosy sea-coal fire in the parlours, lighting up the windows like flashes of sheet- lightning, the cold, cheerless aspect of the streets without sets you thinking of the exquisite comfort of our English homes.
But if grateful thoughts of comfort are suggested by the contrast of the snow, the same cause leads the more imaginative to think of the sharp, biting misery gnawing into the very bones of the luckless portion of London society. To those who can put on warm flannel, and encase their bodies in a thick great-coat, a sharp frost means only "healthy, bracing weather," and to such people the long evenings are welcome, from a sense of the happy family circle gathered round the bright cherry-coloured fire. To the well-born young silver-spoonbills of the West-end, Christmas is a season of mirth and holiday games, of feasting, pantomimes, and parties. By the elder gentlefolks it is regarded as a time of good cheer, with its cattle-shows and "guinea-hampers," and presents of fat turkeys from the country; for such as these, the butchers' shops are piled with prize-meat, coated with thick fat, and decorated with huge cockades-for such as these, the grocers' windows are dressed out with dried fruits and spices, and studded with lumps of candied peel; and Covent-garden is littered with holly, laurel, and mistletoe, and fragrant with the odours of bright-coloured fruits.
But how, think you, must the cold be welcomed by those whose means of living cease directly the earth becomes like cast-iron with the frost. How merry must Christmas appear to those whose tattered clothes afford no more protection than broken windows against the bleak, stinging breeze. How pleasant and cosy must the long evenings be to such as have to spend them crouching under the dry arches; and how delicious the sight of the teeming markets to poor wretches who, to stay their hunger, must devour the refuse orange-peel lying about the stones there.
Some readers, maybe, will fancy that such winter's misery is far from being common among our people; but they should remember that in the lottery of life the prizes, as in other lotteries, are but the exception, and that the greater proportion of the chances are dead
[-full page illustration- 'The Asylum for the Houseless']
[-9-] against those entering the lists, so that where one adventurer gets a
lucky cast, thousands are doomed to end the game as badly as they
began it. Readers should bear in mind, too, that with the luckless,
the winter is especially the season when the wants are not only
greater, but employment is scarcer, and, therefore, life harder than
Not to speak of the really destitute and the outcast, the well-to-do in London are surrounded by thousands whose labour lasts only the the summer-such as brickmakers, market-gardeners, harvest-men, and the like; besides multitudes of others, such as navigators and ground-labourers, who can ply their trade only so long as the earth can be made to yield to the spade and the pick; and others again, as the dock labourers and long-shore men, who depend upon the very winds for the food and fuel of themselves and families.
The sceptical upon such matters, and more especially those who believe that destitution is always the result of idleness, should visit the Asylum for the Houseless Poor; an asylum which is opened only, be it said, when the thermometer reaches freezing-point, and which offers nothing but dry bread and warm shelter to such as avail themselves of its charity.
To this place swarm, as the bitter winter's night comes on, some half-thousand penniless and homeless wanderers. The poverty-stricken from every quarter of the globe are found within its wards; from the haggard American seaman to the lank Polish refugee, the pale German "out-wanderer," the tearful black sea- cook, the shivering Lascar crossing-sweeper, the helpless Chinese beggar, and the half-torpid Italian organ-boy. It is a ragged congress of nations, a convocation of squalor and misery, of destitution, degradation, and suffering, from all the corners of the earth. Almost every trade and calling are there too: agricultural, railway, and dock labourers, thrown out of work~ by the frost; unemployed artisans, chiefly belonging to the out-door trades, such as carpenters and painters; sailors without their registry tickets, who have either been cast away, or cheated of their all by the "crimps ;" broken-down tradesmen, clerks, shopmen, and errand- boys, who either through illness or guilt have been deprived of their situations; and, above all, Irish immigrants, who have been starved out of their own kind. Moreover, there are poor needlewomen, driven for "back rent" from their lodgings; servants out of place; charwomen; real frozen-out garden-women; street-sellers, who have eaten up their stock money; tramps; beggar-women; and old habitual vagrants. Nearly every shade and grade of misery, misfortune., vice, and even guilt, are to be found in the place ; for characters are not demanded previous to admission, and want alone is the sole qualification required of the applicants. The asylum for the house- less, is at once the beggar's hotel, the tramp's town-house, the outcast's haven of refuge-the last dwelling, indeed, on the road to ruin.
The geography of the asylum for the houseless is somewhat difficult to make out to those whose knowledge of London extends no [-10-] farther eastwards than the Royal Italian Opera House, or even Exeter Hall.
There are some streets that even the most experienced cabmen have to descend from their box half a dozen times, in order to ferret out the road to; and Playhouse-yard-the locality of the refuge-is one of these.
The way lies up a long, narrow street, rendered still narrower by a double flank of stalls trestled along the kerb. At the corner of every turning hereabouts is a gin-palace, with a monster lamp suspended over the entrance, and a long, shell-fish stall in front of the door, set out with a trefoil arrangement of pen'orths of oysters, as big as muffins. Outside the bakers' shop-windows are stuck large bills, always announcing the grateful intelligence that bread is "DOWN AGAIN TO EVEN MONEY ;" and at the tea-dealers' there are comic placards, designed and coloured by ticket-writers, setting forth either the advantages of joining their "pudding club," or the dangerous strength of their "gunpowder tea." Pawnbrokers, too, abound in the neighbourhood; and at their door hang blankets and patchwork counterpanes, suspended from one corner, as in auction-rooms, while the watches, ranged in the windows, are as big and thick as the bull's. eye to a dark lantern. Nor is there any lack of coal and potato sheds; and at these the current price of fuel is always quoted in chalk on a board at so much "per cwt." Here, too, on every Sunday in the summer season, the light spring-van, which at other times is used for enabling the neighbours to indulge in that exciting lunatic sport known as "shooting the moon," puts on curtains, and starts with a party of pleasure and a beer barrel for Hampton Court.
The yard christened Playhouse is a lane that it is ridiculous to dream of entering in a cab. Accordingly, two or three street-stalls have to be disarranged, in order to allow your vehicle standing-room, and never was such commotion among the coster trucks and apple. stalls as when your Hansom endeavours to draw up to the kerb. As you turn the corner, you enter even a poorer district than before. Here pawnbrokers will not flourish, and "dolly-shops" are found to prevail instead, where even the pledges which have been refused by the "cruel uncle" are not rejected by those ebony "babes in the wood that" swing over the door as signs of the Black Doll. The baker's shop, the grocer's, and the coal warehouse have severally disappeared, and been rolled into one omnium-gatherum store in "the general line."
The old Fortune Theatre stood in this same Playhouse-yard some two centuries and .a half ago, and never was more pathetic drama performed there, under the auspices of the blind goddess, than that which is nightly represented at the asylum for the houseless; for, rightly viewed, the scenes and changes enacted there are but a portion of the treat play of fortune, and the ragged crowd within the walls but the wretched mummers to whom Fate has east the sorriest parts.
It is impossible to mistake the asylum if you go there at dark, just as the lamp in the wire cage over the entrance-door is being lighted; for this is the hour for opening, and. ranged along the kerb is a kind [-11-] of ragged regiment, drawn up four deep, and stretching far up and down the narrow lane, until the crowd is like a hedge to the roadway.
Nowhere in the world can a similar sight be witnessed.
It is a terrible thing to look down upon that squalid crowd from one of the upper windows. There they stand shivering in the snow, with their thin cobwebby garments hanging in tatters about them. Many are without shirts; with their bare skin showing through the rents and gaps, like the hide of a dog with the mange. Some have their greasy garments tied round their wrists and ankles with string, to prevent the piercing wind from blowing up them. A few are without shoes, and these keep one foot only to the ground, while the bare flesh that has had to tramp through the snow is blue and livid-looking, as half-cooked meat.
You can pick out the different foreigners and countrymen in that wretched throng by the different colours of their costume. There you see the black sailor in his faded red woollen shirt; the Lascar in his dirty-white calico tunic; the Frenchman in his short blue smock; the countryman in his clay-stained frock, with the bosom worked all over like a dirty sampler; and the Irish market-woman with her faded straw bonnet, flattened by the heavy loads she has borne on her head.
The mob is of all ages, and women and girls as well as men and boys are huddled there close together. There are old-looking lads, shrinking within their clothes with the cold, and blowing their nails to warm their finger-tips; and mothers with their bosoms bare, despite the keenness of the weather, and the beggar babes sucking vainly at them. Each man has his hands in his pockets, and every now and then he shudders rather than shivers, as if positively palsied by the frost, whilst the women have the ends of their thin shawls and gauzy mantles rolled round their bare arms, like the cloths about a brigand's legs.
It is a sullenly silent crowd, without any of the riot and rude frolic which generally ensues upon any gathering in the London streets; for the only sounds beard are the squealing of the beggar infants, or the wrangling of the vagrant boys for' the front ranks, together with a continued Succession of hoarse coughs, that seem to answer each other like the bleating of a flock of sheep.
Poor souls! they are waiting in the numbing cold for those barn- like doors to open, and as the time draws near, those in the front are seen unfolding the bit of old rag or dirty paper in which they have secured the ticket that entitles them to some one or two nights' further shelter.
It was to this refuge that the policeman referred when he said to the woman whom be found half frozen on the door-step, "The asylum for the houseless is the only place for you." It was to this refuge that the officer and the faint and weary creature were on their way - so faint and weary, indeed, that Heaven only knows what wretched fate would. befal her if the bare hospitality of the place should be denied to her.
[-12-] CHAPTER III.
SOME gentlemen had called at the asylum that day to see the place,
and the class of persons usually admitted there. The superintendent
was busy, before the opening of the doors, explaining to them, in the
office at the side of the passage, the rules and customs of the institution.
The bare whitewashed entrance was so like that to the stage of some minor theatre, and the little office, with its wicket window giving into the passage, reminded one so forcibly of the room occupied by the stage-door keeper, that you might almost have fancied it had formed part of the old Fortune Playhouse.
In a corner of the office itself stood several square bread baskets, as big as sea chests, piled with little blocks of cut-up loaves, resembling both in size and colour so many fire-bricks.
"We give each person, on coming in at night," said the superintendent to the visitors, "half a pound of the best bread, and a like quantity on going out in the morning; and children, even if they be at the breast, have the same, which goes to swell the mother's allowance. That gentleman," continued the officer, pointing to the clerk who was standing at the high desk beside the wicket window, "enters in this ledger" (it was as thick as a banker's) "the name, age, trade or profession-for we've all classes here, I can assure you - and place of birth of the applicants, as well as where they slept the previous night."
The strangers glanced their eyes down the several columns of this striking catalogue of destitution. The entries under the first three divisions showed, as we have said, that the asylum was the refuge for the outcasts of all ages, callings, and countries, but the last division was that which told the saddest tale of all; for as the eye ranged down the column indicating where each applicant had passed the previous night, it was startled to find how often the clerk had had to write down, "in the streets;" so that "ditto," "ditto" continually repeated under the same head sounded as an ideal chorus of terrible want in the mind's ear.
"We are now going to begin, gentlemen," said the superintendent, as the office clock pointed to the hour of five. "Open the doors and admit new cases." Then, turning to the visitors, he added, "We take all the new cases here; but those who have been in before and had tickets given to them, show them at another office farther on."
A negro head, with a face as black as a printer's dabber, and eyes as white as hard-boiled eggs, suddenly appeared at the little wicket.
"What's your name?" asked the clerk, in a rapid business tone.
"Tippo Saib," was the answer.
[-13-] "How old?"
"Thirteen, master," said the lad, in the same imploring tone as if he were confessing to some fault.
"Where were you born?"
"Borned at sea, if please, master."
"Ah, then, you've no settlement," observed the clerk, writing on.
"Well, and where did you sleep last night-eh, boy ?"
"I had a pen'orth of coffee and slept there, master."
Here the superintendent came forward, and, anxious to show off the advantages of the institution, in which he took no little honest pride, asked, "And where would you have slept to-night if you hadn't come here--eh? In the streets, I suppose? Ah, of course you would," he added, as the boy dolefully nodded assent. "Had anything to eat to-day, now?"
"I had two buscuits give me by the lady at the baker's, master."
"Then I dare say you can enjoy half a pound of good bread? Ah, I thought so. Here you are! Now, what's the cause of your coming here? You came home in a ship, I suppose, and had your pay - hadn't you ?"
The boy, who had his lips immediately buried in the hunk of bread, ceased biting for a while, and answered, as if his mouth was full of sawdust, "Yes, master; I had two pund ten when I was paid off, three weeks ago, besides a chest full of clothes, which is at Mr. Finn's, where I lodged."
"Ah," said the superintendent, turning to the visitors, "the old thing, gentlemen, 'crimps' again! We get hundreds that way. I suppose you owed a week's board, and he took your clothes, and left you nothing but what you stand upright in? Ah! I knew it! There, you can, go." And the sun-charred lad, who had nothing but a blue woollen shirt to keep him from the frosty air, slunk shivering off, with his head half buried between his shoulders, as if he were trying to huddle his limbs together for warmth's sake.
"That man at the window, now, is an habitual vagrant," said the superintendent, half aside, to the strangers, as another head appeared at the wicket "He comes to us regularly every year; he winters in town as punctually as if he was a nobleman. So here you are again- eh ?" he added, turning to the unshorn, black-chinned vagabond, who kept working his body about inside his clothes as if he was all alive.
"Yes, sir, I'm come again," answered the man, grinning, as he touched his brimless wide-awake. "You knows my name and age, and where I come from pretty well by this time."
The fellow was a perfect picture of what in Henry the Eighth's time was styled a "valiant beggar." He stood nearly six feet high, and was a big-boned, "ugly customer" of a man. His clothes of fustian and corduroy were black and shiny with filth, as if they were smeared with pitch rather than dirt, and the sleeves of his jacket were, for warmth's sake, tied tightly round his wrists with pieces of twine. He had evidently no shirt on, for his jacket was tied high up to the throat, and through the rents his bare and grimy skin was visible.
"Let me see," said the clerk, "I think you were a carpet-weaver last year ?"
[-14-] The fellow observed "that would do as well as anything else."
"And where did you sleep last night ?" inquired the clerk.
"At Bethnal-green Union, please, sir."
"And where the night before ?" broke in the superintendent.
"Well, I was at Whitechapel Union, then, sir."
"And what Union the night before that?"
"I think it were St. George's in the East. Oh, no, sir, it were Stepney, so it were."
The superintendent gave a look at the gentlemen, as much as to say, "You see he has made the round of the workhouses ;" and then added to the vagrant, "I suppose you don't like breaking those four bushels of stones the workhouse people give you of a morning?"
The fellow answered with a leer, and another wriggle in his clothes, "It ain't exactly the kind of physic as suits my complaint, guv'nor."
When the vagrant had gone, the superintendent said: "We are obliged to let in such cases as those, for, if we were to shut our doors because some impose upon us, we should be punishing the honest poor more than the dishonest."
After a time - long before a fresh page of the ledger had been filled - the examinations of the applicants wore into monotony. They all told the same unvarying tale, and that was - "destitution."
"Now, if you please, gentlemen, we'll go up-stairs and have a look at the wards," the superintendent continued; and so saying, he led the way along the passage towards the lobby. "This," he said, "is where the men wash, before going to their beds."
It was a square cockpit-like place, with a broad, wooden staircase in one corner, and on the opposite side was a large trough with a pump at one end. Here some of the ragged outcasts were cleansing themselves from their sleeping-out dirt, and indulging in their first wash for many a day; whilst others, who, by soap and hard scrubbing, had restored something like whiteness to their countenances, had mounted the platform where hung the long jack-towels, and were busy drying their skin. In this lobby, too, stood a crowd of applicants, who had already slept in the asylum on previous nights, and who were waiting round another wicket window to have their tickets checked.
"What have you been doing since you slept here last, my man?"the superintendent said to a pale artisan, dressed in canvas spotted with dabs of oil colour, that told he was a house-painter.
"I ain't been here for a fortnight, sir," answered the mechanic; "a friend of mine as is going to open a eel-pie shop give me a job."
Upon this the superintendent observed to the visitors: "You perceive they don't come here unless they are positively driven to it, and when they can afford a night's lodging elsewhere they are glad to get it."
The next step was to inspect the wards; and, accordingly, the visitors were conducted into what is termed the "lower," or men's ward.
The sight was utterly unlike all preconceived notions of a dormitory. There was not a bedstead to be seen, nor even so much as a sheet or [-15-] blanket visible. The ward itself was a long, bare, whitewashed apartment, with square post-like pillars supporting the flat-beamed roof, and reminding the visitor of a large unoccupied store-room such as are occasionally seen in the neighbourhood of Thames-street and the Docks. Along the floor were ranged what appeared at first sight to be endless rows of empty orange chests, packed closely side by side, so that the boards were divided off into some two hundred shallow tanpit-like compartments; and these, the visitors soon learnt, were the berths, or, to speak technically, the "bunks" of the institution. In each of them lay a black mattress, made of some shiny waterproof material, like tarpauling stuffed with straw. At the head of every bunk, hanging against the wall, was a leather, a big "basil" covering, that looked more like a wine-cooper's apron than a counterpane. These are used as coverlids because they are not only strong and durable, but they do not retain vermin.
In the centre of this ward was a large double-faced grate, with a bright piled-up coke fire, that glowed like a furnace both behind and before. The space around was railed off, the railings serving in rainy weather as a clothes-horse upon which to dry the wet rags of garments of the inmates whilst sleeping. Around the fierce stove was gathered a group of the houseless wanderers, the red rays tinting the crowd of haggard faces with a bright lurid light that coloured the skin as red as wine; and one and all stretched forth their hands, as if to let the delicious heat soak into their half-numbed limbs. They seemed positively greedy of the warmth, drawing up their sleeves and trousers so that their naked legs and arms might present a larger surface to the fire than even the wide and frequent holes in their rags permitted. They appeared all as if longing to stretch themselves like cats at full length before the stove Not a laugh nor sound was heard, but the men stood still, munching their bread, their teeth champing like horses in a manger. One poor wretch bad been allowed to sit on a form inside the railings, for he had the ague, and there he crouched, with his legs near as a roasting joint to the burning coals, as if he were trying to thaw his very marrow.
Then how fearful it was to hear the coughing, as it seemed to pass round the room from one to another, now sharp and hoarse as a bark, then deep and hollow as a lowing, or-with the old-feeble and trembling as a bleat.
There were boys often, like dwarfs of twenty; and old men, with the bent kangaroo-like bands and drivelling mouth, so indicative of idiocy. Every one seemed to have been made apathetic by long misery; even strong, stalwart fellows sat in. lumpish silence, staring vacantly at the floor (for your true vagrant's mind is a dull blank); whilst others,. who -were footsore and worn out with their day's tramp, were busy unlacing their stiff, cast iron-like boots.
"What makes you shiver so, my man?" asked the superintendent of a vagrant-looking old creature, whose whole body seemed to shake like a jelly, and whose band, as he tried to cut his bread with his clasp-knife, trembled as if be were erasing a blot rather than carving his food.
[-16-] "We-e-ell it's the co-o-old I've got in me, master, and I ca-a-an't get it out of my bo-o-ones, do what I will. I've got a drea-a-adful bad leg, too-o-o. I'm going on for sixty-five year-r-r, and I can't get my pa-a-arish to take me no-ho-o-ow." And then, as if he were as proud of his sores as a warrior of his scars, he, with his bread still in his hand, raised his trouser and exhibited an ulcerous leg that sickened you to look at.
As the superintendent and the visitors walked round the ward on their way back, they found many of the inmates already stretched in their bunks, with the leather rolled round them, till they looked more like huge brown paper parcels than sleeping human beings.
"The other wards, gentlemen," said the official to the strangers as they passed along, "you'll find just the same in appearance and principle as this. We have two of them above - 'the 'chapel ward' and the 'upper ward,' as we call them - only the chapel ward is for the better sort of men, and the upper one for women. All these gangways between the bunks, where we are now walking," he continued, "will be sure to be filled up on such a bitter night as this before twelve o'clock, so that the floor will be entirely covered with some hundreds of poor destitute creatures, who must, perhaps, have perished with cold if it hadn't been for our institution.
"That man sitting up in his bunk," went on the officer, "is a cripple, and he's always one of the first to turn in, exactly in that place, because he gets out of the way there, and nobody has to step over him."
Presently they passed one of the thermometers affixed to a wooden pillar. The officer looked at it for a moment, and then shouted across the room to one of his assistants, "Come, I say, make up the fires! this won't do! we're only at 45 instead of 60, and there's too much coughing by far."
At this point a messenger from the outer office approached the official, and said, partly aside to him, "There's a policeman, sir, at the gate, has brought a woman along, whom he says he found half frozen on a door-step. She seems a better kind of person."
"Very well," answered the head officer; "take her name down, as usual, and let her go up-stairs to the chapel ward, and I'll see her directly."
"The policeman says, sir, he thinks she wants food," continued the messenger.
"Indeed," replied the officer; "then you had better tell the matron to give her a basin of gruel directly, and not wait for the doctor's seeing her."
"Now there's an instance of the good we effect, gentlemen," he added, turning to the visitors. "What would a poor creature like that have done if it hadn't been for some such charity as this?"
The chapel ward is the place whither all fresh applicants are sent to be examined by the doctor, previous to admission for the night. This ward was the same long, bare, and binned-off apartment as the lower one, but, Owing to the pile of forms used for divine service on the Sunday, and which are stacked up out of the way, one on each [-17-] other, on the week days, as well as the academy-like tall desk near the stove in the centre of the room, it had much the look of an empty day-School. The only evidence, however, of the ecclesiastical character of the place was a clumsy brown pulpit, as rude as if it had been made by a packing-case maker.
Here, on forms, sat the fresh cases of that evening, the males on one side of the room and the females on the other, whilst the doctor stood at- the desk with his minute-book open before him. "Now then, the male cases," he said; and the men advanced in single file. His assistant at his side cried, "Come along, show the back of your hands and open your fingers well ;" and immediately afterwards he held a lighted candle close to the skin of each, as they stretched out their arms for examination.
"Now then, the women, come along !" called out the assistant.. And instantly the long line of wretched outcasts rose as suddenly as if a hymn had been given out.
At the end of the form the woman who had been brought there by the policeman had been sitting - as far apart from the others as the limits of the bench would admit of. When the signal was given for them to come forward, she rose a minute or two after the rest, for she had been roused from brooding over her misery only by the noise of her neighbours' feet. And when she stood up she hung her head so that none could see her face.
"What are the usual complaints of the people seeking shelter here?" asked one of the visitors of the doctor, who answered, as he continued, half-methodically, his examinations.
"The most frequent are cases of exhaustion from exposure to cold and, privation, as well as ordinary colds and sore-throat, complicated with affection of the chest, and so on. There, you see, is our medical report for the last year, and that contains all I could tell you on the matter."
The list of diseases was a fearful exposition of bodily ailment engendered by want-a catalogue that even those who are too ready to believe that the majority seeking charity are tricksters and cheats, must have acknowledged as a solemn voucher of the privations endured by the poor destitute and houseless wretches asking shelter at the asylum. For, as the eye ran down the list of bodily afflictions endured by the class, it read at a glance, even though informed by the smallest medical knowledge, a tale of long agony, which is far beyond fiction to rival. The many cases of "catarrh" and "influenza," the "rheumatism," "bronchitis," "ague," "asthma," "lumbago," "inflammation of the lungs," "diseased joints," "spitting of blood," "cramps and pains in the bowels," all spoke their terrible testimony of many nights' exposure to the wet and cold. Whereas the instances of abscesses, "ulcers," "diarrhoea," "low nervous fever," "atrophy," and "excessive debility from starvation" told in a manner that precluded all doubt of the want of proper sustenance and extreme privation of those, the very poorest of all the poor. It showed, too, that even the Vagrant life of the tramp was sufficiently punished, so that the sternest "economist" might have learnt some little charity towards those who had done such bitter penance for their faults.
[-18-] By this time it had reached the turn of the last of the new corners to approach the desk. She held out her hands methodically as the others had done. The quick eye of the doctor noticed how thin and spare they were, for the whole mechanism of the fingers seemed to be visible under the transparent skin, He took her by the wrist, and as he kept his fingers on her pulse, looked first at her face, then glanced at her figure, and said, "My good woman, this is no place for you - are you married?"
He had asked the question rather abruptly - in the ordinary way of business - and he was somewhat surprised to see the colour mount to the poor thing's cheeks with shame at the question. She, however, replied plaintively, as she sighed and shook her head, "I wish I was not."
"I didn't mean to wound your feelings," continued the doctor, in a kindly tone, "but I saw no wedding-ring on your finger."
She shrugged her shoulders, and replied, "I was forced to part with that long ago."
The doctor called the superintendent, and drew him aside to talk with him in private. After a time the official returned to the woman, and said, "My good soul, it's against the rules of this institution to receive anybody in your condition. I'll tell you what we must do with you. We shall give you a. shilling, as we do others like you, so that you may obtain a night's lodging somewhere, and then you will have a settlement and a claim on the parish where you slept."
The woman grew blanched as she heard the words, and she staggered back in utter despair. Poor thing! she had already applied at one Union, and they had told her that she must go back to where she bad been born, for her settlement was there; and she had heard that at the asylum for the houseless cases were received which the workhouse refused, and now she learnt that the last refuge was denied her, and she felt that nothing was left her but to die in the streets.
"If your case was very urgent we should send you to the hospital," added the official, soothingly; "but as it is, you had better rest here awhile and have another ration of bread and some more warm gruel, and then you'll be able to find a lodging for yourself."
The wretched creature thought what was to become of her when that little shilling was gone, and she hid her face in her hands as she sobbed convulsively.
The strangers, who had been watching the woman for some little time, now stepped forward, and inquired the cause of her grief.
"Have you no friends or relatives living?" asked one of them. But the woman made no answer, and looked proudly at the speaker, as if questioning his right to pry into her misery. Then she buried her face in her hands once more.
"We would serve you if possible, my good woman," continued the stranger; "so pray tell me, since you are married, where is your husband?"
She answered bitterly, as if stung by the remembrance of the ill-treatment she had suffered, "He has deserted me after robbing me of all I had. And then, as if fancying she had committed herself; she added, "Ask me no more-ask me no more, I beg of you !"
[-19-] The superintendent here interposed, saying, "We had a case much like this last year, - a very nice girl, who had run away and got married against her family's consent, but we wrote to her friends and got them to take her back again."
The woman shook her head as she heard this, and smiled at the wrong guess they had made as to the cause of her misery.
"But you've quarrelled with them at home, I know," said the official. "Come, now, give me your parents' address, and let me write them a nice, dutiful, and penitent letter for you."
"And. let them know that their daughter is in rags, and begging for a night's shelter at the asylum for the houseless!" And her lips worked convulsively in scorn at the proposal.
"Are your friends in a position to assist you if they chose?" asked one of the strangers.
The woman grew impatient at the continued questionings, and looking at her. interrogator said, reproachfully, "Oh! can't you understand that when decent persons are driven here they wish to keep their misery as secret as they can. If I had wanted to publish mine, I could have gone round the town, from door to door, with a petition filled with the whole particulars."
The gentleman was taken aback by the answer. He stammered out some excuses, such as, "Really, you mistake me. Indeed, I arm the last man to -"
Here the doctor and the superintendent drew near, and the latter observed, "She stated at the door that she has passed three entire nights in the streets - that she belongs to no trade or occupation - that she's twenty-three years old, and. that her name is Katherine Merton."
"I gave my mother's name," she cried, looking up as she heard the last words.
The officials and visitors retired a short distance from her, and consulted together.
"From her manner and expression," said one, "it is plain she is respectably connected."
"You can tell that from her features and face," observed another.
"She is evidently in a state of great exhaustion from want, and in a highly nervous condition," remarked the doctor. "Indeed, I would advise that no more questions be asked her."
The superintendent exclaimed, "We have many such cases here in the course of the season - people in the last stage of destitution, whose friends are not only well-to-do, but occupy high. positions in the country."
It was at last agreed, at the doctor's suggestion, that the poor woman should be placed under the care of the house-matron, who should make her a cup of tea, whilst the. doctor prepared for her a stimulating draught to recruit her sinking powers.
In a few hours afterwards the noise and chattering of the boys below, and the gossip of the women above, as well as the squealing of the beggar-children in the nursery, had. all ceased. The more tidy of the women, who had remained darning their gowns after they had [-20-] taken them off for the night, had put their work away, and stowed their letters and other humble treasures in the locker under the wooden pillow at the head of their "bunks." The men had quitted the warm fire and crept one after another to their berths, where, rolled round in their leathers, they were sleeping as sound as squirrels in the winter. The buckets of chloride of lime had already been placed at intervals in the gangways to fumigate the wards; the fires had been banked up for the night, and the gas-lights had been lowered, so that in the half light, as you moved about the silent, solemn place, and saw the rows of tightly-bound figures, brown and stiff as mummies, it seemed like wandering amidst some large catacomb. The stillness was broken only by the snoring of the sounder sleepers and the coughing of the more restless.
It was a marvellously pathetic scene to contemplate. Here was a herd of the most wretched and friendless people in the world, lying down close to the earth as sheep; here were some two centuries of outcasts, whose days are an unvarying round of suffering, enjoying the only moments when they are free from pain and care - life being to them but one long, painful operation, as it were, and sleep the chloroform which, for the time being, renders them insensible.
The sight set the mind speculating on the beggars' and the outcasts' dreams. The ship's company, starving at the North Pole, dreamt, every man of them, each night, of feasting; and was this miserable frozen-out crew now regaling themselves with visions of imaginary banquets? - were they smacking their mental lips over ethereal beef and pudding? Was that poor wretch, whose rheumatic limbs rack him each step he takes - was he tripping over green fields with an elastic and joyous bound, that in his waking moments he can never know again? Did that man's restlessness and heavy moaning come from nightmare terrors of policemen and treadwheels? - and which among those runaway boys was fancying that he was back home again, with his mother and sisters weeping on his neck?
The next moment the thoughts shifted, and the heart was overcome with a sense of the heap of. social refuse - the mere human street-sweepings - this great living mixen, that was destined, as soon as the spring returned, to be strewn far and near over the land, and serve as manure to the future crime crops of the country.
Then came the self-congratulations and the self-questionings; and as a man, sound in health and limb, walking through an hospital, thanks God that he has been spared the bodily ailments, the mere sight of which sickens him, so in this refuge for the starving and the homeless, the first instinct of the well-to-do visitor is to breathe a thanksgiving, like the pharisee in the parable, that "he is not as one of these." But the vain conceit has scarcely risen to the tongue before the better-nature whispers in the mind's ear, "By what special virtue of your own are you different from them? How comes it that you are well clothed and well fed, whilst so many go naked and hungry?" And if you, in your arrogance, ignoring all the accidents that have helped to build up your worldly prosperity, assert that you have been the "architect of your own fortune," who, let us ask, gave you the genius or energy for the work? Then get down from [-21-] your moral stilts, and confess it honestly to yourself that you are what you are by that inscrutable grace which decreed your birthplace to be a mansion rather than a "padding-ken," or which granted you brains and strength, instead of sending you into the world a cripple or an idiot.
It is hard for smug-faced respectability to acknowledge these dirt-caked, erring wretches as brothers, and yet, if from those to whom little is given little is expected, surely, after the atonement of their long suffering, they will make as good angels as the best of us.
That night the superintendent, whilst going round the wards for
the last time, said to the matron: "By-the-by! about that young
woman whom the policeman brought here; how was she when she
left? Better - eh?"
"Oh, yes, she was much better - getting on very nicely, I may say," was the answer. "She had a comfortable hot cup of tea and a good warm beside the fire in my room - for I took her there, poor thing, she seemed so decent like. I gave her the shilling to get her bed with; but she's as helpless as a child, and knows nothing about London ways."
"Did she tell you anything more about who she was?" asked the superintendent.
"Yes, poor simple thing, she did," answered the dame; "when she got well warm, she had a good cry at being in such a place; and as I told her not to take on so, and that this world was only one of trial, she began to talk away as if her heart was full to bursting, and she was glad to find some one that she could tell her troubles to."
"Well, and are her parents well off?" asked the male official.
"Oh dear, yes," replied the dame; "from all I could make out they seem to be very rich and very proud - a good deal liked that black-haired girl's case that was here last winter - you know, the one that had gone off with the play-actor fellow. But she didn't seem to like to speak much about her home; and do what I would I couldn't get the address out of her. All the time she was talking about her father's pride, I was saying to myself, You don't know it, poor thing, but you're every bit as proud yourself - a chip of the old block, as the saying goes - for she kept on protesting she'd rather die of starvation in the streets than ever go home again."
"It's very shocking to think of the pride of some people," observed the superintendent.
"Ah!" sighed the dame, "we can none of us see the beam in our own eye." Then she went on, "I only got her story from her by bits, and all of a jumble like; but what I gather is this: She was married when she was very young to an Indian officer, and when he died she came home a young widow thing, and had a good pension - enough, indeed, to keep her quite independent-like of her friends, though she went back to live among 'em."
"Well, what has she done with it?" asked the superintendent.
"Wait a bit !" expostulated the dame; "you see this is how it came about, as far as I can guess. After she had been home some little while, she got to find the time hang heavy with her, and so [-22-] began to take lessons in French of one of those refugee fellows who had come and settled in her neighbourhood; and then she got listening to the Frenchman's palavering when she ought to have been minding her learning, and the end of it was, there was a secret marriage between 'em, quite unbeknown to her friends."
"Ah, I see!" I cried the superintendent. "He was beneath her station., and she was afraid to let her family know the imprudent match she had made."
"No, no! you're too quick by half," said the matron. "That was only a small part of the reason, let me tell you, for her saying nothing about the wedding. You see the pension she was entitled to as an officer's widow would have ceased directly it became known that she had married again; so, naturally wishing to preserve her independence - for she knew her husband was too poor to maintain them both - she would not let even her most intimate bosom friend know of the marriage, lest it should creep out, and her pay be stopped at the India House."
"And I suppose somebody found it out and went and informed the authorities?" speculated the superintendent.
"No; nothing of the kind," expostulated the dame. "Now you really must allow me to tell the story my own way. Well," continued the lady, sucking her mouth dry as if making ready for a long oration, and crossing her forefingers, "things went on as I have told you without any one so much as dreaming of what had took place, until the poor dear found she was likely to become a mother, and at last it got to be beyond the power of cloaks and shawls to hide her condition. Then there was a tremendous to do !"
"Dear me! dear me! I see it all !" cried the superintendent. "They turned her into the streets and shut their doors against her. Wasn't that it - eh?"
"Do have a little patience-pray !" interrupted the dame, annoyed at having the story "taken out of her mouth." "You shall know all in good time. Her father seems to have been as hasty as he was proud, and took up rash notions without inquiring whether they were true or not. Seeing her in the situation she was, and of course knowing nothing of the marriage, he began abusing her, and then and there called her a shameless hussy, and threatened to turn his back upon her."
"But what a silly girl !" exclaimed the officer. "Why didn't she show the certificate of her marriage, and set it all straight at once?"
"How you talk! Didn't I tell you she was afraid of losing her pension if her marriage got abroad? Besides, she was as proud every bit as her father was, answered the dame; "and, what is more, she seems to have been quite as hasty, too for when he called her harsh names, her spirit was up. So, as she knew she had been properly married at the altar, and had a feeling that she was independent of her family so long as her pension wasn't stopped, she packed up her things, and off she went, and lived with her husband, leaving her relations to think just what they chose."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the superintendent, "what mad things a person's silly spirit will lead one to do! And she might have cleared [-23-] it all up by one little word. And just see what it has come to, now. Of course the French fellow ill-treated her after all? for such matches seldom turn out well."
"Ah! poor dear, she's been punished enough for her headstrong doings," sighed the pitying matron. "What strange romances do turn up in this place to be sure! Well, as I was saying, she lived with her husband away from home, putting up with the jibes and taunts of the world for the sake of the man and the money that was to keep them from starvation; for when I tell you she had been his only scholar, you may fancy his teaching business didn't bring in much to the home."
"I should think not !" exclaimed the officer. "Why, we've had plenty of foreigners here who would have been glad to give lessons in their language for a meal."
"Well, it soon came out, poor thing! what the Frenchman had married her for," mournfully added the matron. "Of course Mr. Mounseer had heard my lady had got a pension to her back, before ever he thought of making love to her; and though, before the marriage, she had explained to him that she would lose every ha'penny she had if it ever came out that she was no longer a widow, yet they hadn't been man and wife a week, before she got to see plainly enough that the fellow didn't believe a word of what she had said to him, and fancied she had made up the story just to keep the money in her own hands."
"Well, well! there's never a sin committed but the punishment is sure to follow," ejaculated the officer; "and here it comes, I can see."
"Even before she left her father's house," continued the matron, "this man kept on worrying her to let him go down and draw some of the money; and he told her right out that he knew that as her husband he was entitled to whatever property she possessed. However, so long as she was at her father's he was a bit afraid to appear in his true character, and he was kept quiet by a sovereign now and then; but no sooner had the noise took place and she gone to live with him entirely, than he threw off the double-faced mask of caring for anything but her money, and plainly said to her, in French, 'I ain't going to be bamboozled, my lady!' So what do you think? why he takes all the money there is in the house at the time, and comes up to London, and walks straight to the India House, and there, showing the marriage lines as proof of his being her husband, demands that the pension should be paid only to him in future.
"The mean hound!" the superintendent could not refrain from exclaiming. "But the fellow bit his fingers nicely, of course; for such a step naturally put a stop to all money from that quarter.
"Think, though, of what a blow it must have been to her, poor thing !" said the matron. "I'm sure I thought her heart would have broke before me, as she told me how she had given up father, home, and friends, for that man's sake, and how for him, too, she had put up with taunts and suspicions that are the hardest of all for a woman to bear; and then for him to go away from her and leave her directly he found that his selfish blunderings had made a beggar of her! I dare-[-24-]say, too, he was a good bit ashamed of himself, and didn't like to face her after what he had done.
"Ah! not only that," interrupted the officer, "but it is clear enough he married her only for her money, so as soon as he found that there was none, why, of course my gentleman went off."
"If you had only heard her tell it all to me, it would have made your eyes smart to see how she took on about the vagabond," said the kind-hearted matron. "The silly thing must have loved him, of course, or she wouldn't have made the sacrifices she had done on his account. Well, when she found he didn't return home, she began to think all sorts of things, and to get half crazy with his neglect of her, especially in the situation she was. Still she wouldn't allow herself to think bad of him, though she could hardly keep down the suspicions that came up in her mind. Well, she waited and waited, watching day and night for him to come back, and writing to him all manner of imploring things to get him home again, until at last she was fairly worn out; and, as it was just upon the time for her to draw her pension, she borrowed a few shillings, and came to London herself."
"And found out how she had been used by the fellow," guessed the superintendent.
"Yes, indeed !" continued the dame, tossing her head. "She hunted for him everywhere she could think of; she went to all the places she had heard him talk about, but he was nowhere to be found. Then, when quarter-day arrived, she set off to the India House to receive her pension! and then, poor soul! what a thunderclap the clerks had got to hurl at her. They taxed her with being married, and said they were surprised at her boldness in coming there when she knew that her pension was forfeited.
"Bless me, it must have been a blow to her to lose both money and husband the same afternoon, as it were," soliloquised the superintendent. "But at least it had the effect of opening her eyes to the true character of the man."
"When a woman takes to a man, it's wonderful how slow she is to think badly of him," moralised the matron. "This poor thing stayed in town, still hoping to meet with him somewhere, for she couldn't bring her mind to believe he had abandoned her. She lived on her things, one going after another, as we well know is the case with half the poor creatures who comes to us here, until at last all was gone, and she was turned out of her lodgings for rent."
"Oh! I've no patience with such folly," the officer exclaimed; " why didn't she write home?"
The matron impatiently answered, "How can you say that, when you know we have had scores and scores here, who would sooner suffer all the agony of the sharpest hunger and cold, rather than humble themselves by confessing the degradation their folly and self-will had brought them to? It's the fear of being taunted that does it."
"And their own stupid, worldly pride, too," added the officer.
"But if you come to think of it," remonstrated the dame, "it must be a dreadful struggle for those who have been well to do, to [-25-] bring themselves to write home to their friends and confess they are starving in the streets. To have to put our address to a letter is a terrible trial to stiff-necked people, even though they be in rags. Do all I could - though I'm sure I talked, and begged till my tongue was sore - I could not get that young woman to promise me she'd was write as much as a dozen words to her friends. 'No, that she wouldn't' she said, not even if it cost her her life!' I never set eyes on such stubbornness of spirit in all my born days."
"Well, such people must pay the penalty of their own obstinacy," exclaimed the superintendent. "But did she say anything about calling again in the morning? for those gentlemen that were here today seemed to take great interest in her case, and wished to know what could be done for her."
"Indeed I couldn't get her to make any regular promise," was the answer; "for though she didn't say she wouldn't come, still I'm sure she is too much afraid of our finding out who she is ever to show her face inside this asylum again.
WHAT a silent, dismal, deserted place is the City of London on a
It reminds one of Defoe's description of the metropolis during the plague, when every shop and house was closed and barred, and the citizens had fled to the suburbs.
On no other ·day are you made so conscious that nobody lives there, for whilst in the other parts of the capital you catch, as you walk the streets after church, the savoury fumes of the Sunday's baked meats that men in clean shirt-sleeves are carrying steaming through the thoroughfares, here no "bakings are carefully attended to;" and indeed, there is hardly a baker's shop to be seen, unless it be such as drive a light-luncheon trade in buns, and biscuits, and coffee, and which, though on week days they swarm with clerks thick as flies about a tart-tray, are now closed up as tight as strong rooms.
You can tell now how few of the large blocks of houses are used as dwelling-places by the citizens, for there is scarcely a wreath of smoke issuing from the crowded stacks of chimneys, and the air is clear and unfogged with the sooty fumes, so that you are startled to be able to see from one end of Cheapside to the other, and wonder - struck to find that the roadway - which the day before was so blocked up with cabs, omnibuses, and vans, that you could almost have run along their roofs like a line of housetops - is now nearly as open to the view as a railway cutting. The pavements, too, that were yesterday black with their jostling, hurrying crowds, are now scarcely speckled by the few stragglers that saunter along them, whilst the one omnibus [-26-] that creeps lazily on its journey has hardly a passenger in it, and has the whole street to itself as clear as a race-course.
At the Old Bailey, where, on other days, the carts of the suburban carriers stand opposite the inn-yard, drawn up like a row of bathing-machines, the cocks and hens are out in the roadway scratching up the litter as in a farmyard; and farther down, in front of the Criminal Court, where, at other times, the entrance-door and the neighbouring public-houses are thronged with troops of witnesses and suspicious- looking prisoners' friends waiting the results of the trials within, now the pigeons walk unscared along the causeway, peeking the dust as they strut along; neither is there any longer here a smell of hot boiled beef, nor a cloud of steam issuing through the area-rails of the adjoining eating-house, for the shutters are up there, and the linen- jacketed man that; in a state of perpetual perspiration, carves the ruddy rounds - big as butchers' blocks - behind the window, is now away airing himself; maybe, in the river's breeze upon the halfpenny boat.
Where are the colonies of clerks that yesterday you noted filling the dining-rooms in Bucklersbury, or feasting on their "half steak" at Joe's, Ned's, Sam's, or any other of the familiar tribe of Christian- named chophouse-keepers? - where the army of porters and warehousemen that worked at each block of buildings round about St. Paul's, peopling every floor as thickly as sailors do the decks of a merchantman? - where the colony of bankers, merchants, factors, and brokers that gobbled their soup at Birch's, or took their sandwiches and sherry at the South American, or teased their stomachs with the cream-tufted tarts at Purcell's?- The Bay-tree, too is closed, and not a City man stands eating his shilling snack "hot with vegetables" at the counter; the Lombard-street taverns, morever, with their portions of pink pickled salmon spotting their pewter bars, have put up the chain and locked their doors whilst the proprietors have driven out in their light "shay" traps to drink tea at Hampstead, Kew, or Harrow.
As you walk along the deserted streets, and glance up at each floor, you never see a human head at the windows; nothing, indeed, but piles of goods, as if the shops had started to the upper stories as in a pantomime trick. The iron venetian-blind-like shutters are down before every shop-window, ribbed as the sail of a Chinese junk, while before them slants the daylight reflector, casting its patch of brilliance vainly on the dosed shop fronts.
It is almost impossible to recognise Thames-street again, for the wharves along the river-side have the gates all closed, except where the little wicket is left ajar; and down the yards of some of these you can see the huge empty waggons, with their thick shafts turned back and pointing high in the air. Here, too, the cranes, that on a week-day project like iron gibbets from every floor, are turned on one side, in the same manner as the crutch for the bottle-jack is bent back to the chimney-piece when the roasting has ceased. The carts no longer block the road, nor are there huge bales dangling, like monster money-spiders from a thread, and swinging in the air. At the Coal Exchange, the only thing [-27-] stirring is the weathercock, and the office desks, seen through the windows of the floors above, look as deserted as those in a schoolroom during the holidays. On the other side of the way, Billingsgate is lonely and empty, and has a dreary, cloister-like stillness about it; and where but lately ·the air rang with a positive Babel of voices, you can now hear a whistle echo against the metallic roofing of the broad, expansive shed. The benches and stalls are packed on top of one another, hike old discarded tables in a lumber room; and as you look down into the basement through the square opening in the paving, that seems like the hatchway to a ship, you see the huge empty shell fish tubs, giving the place the look of a large laundry out of work, rather than being the periwinkle and whelk portion of' the market.
Now step down to the floating-pier and see what a change the day of rest has made in the traffic of the river, as well as the shore. So doubly silent is "the silent highway," that the birds chirping among the Old Exchange statues at Nicholson's wharf sound as noisy as the aviary at the Pantheon. There is not the flutter of a paddle-wheel, nor the roar of the escape-pipe to a newly-arrived steamer to be heard; but -the rushing of the tide chafing against the bridge piers gurgles in the ears, broken only by the barking of the curs - noisy as alarums - that are left alone on board the lighters to guard such as are moored close to the shore.
There is "no admission for visitors" at the docks on Sunday, and the big gates are closed, so that the little side door alone is left ajar for the ingress and egress of seamen, whilst the alphabetic warehouses seem still, moody, and closely barred as hulks; and in the unfrequented roadway outside the walls, a gang of young thieves from the purlieus of Rosemary-lane are playing "chuck ha'penny" without the chance of a passing waggon to interrupt their game.
Even money, too, seems idle on the day of rest. The Bank of England, squat as a cash-box, looks positively as if it were "to let," and you expect to see bills posted up at the various corners announcing the forthcoming sale of "the valuable effects." The coffers of the world now seem to be closed as a worked-out mine, and you wonder whether the great draining engine of five per cent. has ceased working or not. Who passes his Sunday within this citadel of wealth? If you were to pull the bell, would anybody answer it? Who ever saw the Bank of England servant taking in the milk? or a butcher's cart or baker's truck waiting at the area gate, even on a week day? Is the man who guards the building on the Sunday twin-brother to the keeper of Eddystone Lighthouse? and is he too left there for four weeks at a time to wander alone about the desolate place?
Where have the silver-haired, prim-looking bankers of the deserted Lombard-street flown to? and where are the Exchange men that but yesterday crowded the quadrangle? Look through the iron gates and you will see the poor statue of Queen Victoria as lonely as a scarecrow in a corn-field, and the whole place as desolate as ruins after a fire.
Then London Bridge, the main duct of all the metropolitan traffic, where policemen, like dyke inspectors in Holland, are stationed to see that the great commercial tides setting in from Middlesex and [-28-] Surrey flow on quietly without breaking down the restrictions of the City; this immense thoroughfare is now so clear of vehicles that fathers walk with their children in the roadway; and on the other side of the water, so completely has the business of the week ceased, that a street-seller has erected her stall on the entrance-steps of "HIBERNIA CHAMBERS," and the piled-up oranges, ranged in little pyramids, like golden cannon-balls; rest against the closed massive doors; for the hop-merchants that rent the offices of the palatial building have forgotten all about their "pockets" for a time, and left the chances of "cent, per cent." to the fruit-woman.
As you enter the narrow passages of Leadenhall-market, you startle maybe some bone-grubber, carrying a rush hand-basket, and who seems to have been taking advantage of the solitude of the Sabbath to purloin a slice of meat from the two or three carcases that are left hanging in the open space. Here, too, the long rows of unoccupied butchers' hooks seem like the hat-pegs at a bankrupt railway hotel, and the narrow arcades of shops, with their shutters up, have the appearance of some deserted Indian bazaar. Not a footfall is heard upon the pavement, and the piano at the licensed game-dealer's, jingling forth the 100th Psalm, fills the place, like an empty room, with its sounds.
Indeed, go where you will - to Whitechapel shambles, or the Temple - walk down Cannon-street, Barbican, or Bishopsgate - or visit the busiest of the public offices, such as the Post-office or the India House - all is as quiet and deserted as if it were some two or three hours after midnight, rather than only an hour or two after noon; so that you might fancy you were wandering through the sleeping city of the fairy tale, and that all the bankers, merchants, and brokers, as well as their attendant army of clerks, shopmen, and porters, were slumbering in their chambers, as if spell-bound with the magic trance.
But if the streets appear thus desolate to those who welcome the
Sabbath as a day of rest and home retirement - how fearfully lonely
and sad must the City seem to the poor creatures who, without a
shelter to hide in, are forced to wander out the day, waiting impatiently for the night to come and screen their
wretchedness with its
darkness. On this day, when even the humble manage to put on
clean linen, and unshorn beards have entirely disappeared, how
shame-stricken and heart-broken do those wretched beings seem who
have to shuffle along the pavements in their every-day rags, wearing
the one dust-coloured suit of tatters that even on the week day made
the passers-by shrink from them with the fear of contact.
There was one miserable soul who crept along the forsaken pathways, seeking only those streets where the warehouses lay the thickest, and glancing down each turning before she entered it, to make certain that she would meet with none better clad than herself. Occasionally she rested for awhile in the corners of gateways or crouched on steps with her head on her knees, remaining motionless as if in. a deep slumber.
After paying for her night's lodging she had eked out what was left of the shilling she had received at the asylum for the houseless, [-29-] eating only when her hunger grew painful, and allowing herself scarcely more than the rations dealt out to a shipwrecked crew. She felt hourly that her strength was failing her, and that both reason and body were giving way with her pangs.
In the early morning-for the night had been passed dozing in a coffee-shop - she had crawled about the West-end; but as the day advanced, and the cleanly-dressed people began to stir abroad, she had gradually crept away before them, and so reached the lonely City. Whilst the crowds were flocking to church she hid herself down mews, and when the bells had ceased ringing she slunk forth again, and stole cautiously into one of those odd, out-of-the-way City churches, with a burial-ground like a back garden up a court, and whose congregation is always about as numerous as the audience to a scientific lecture at a mechanics' institution. Here she slided to the least conspicuous of the free seats and tried to pray, but the place was warm to drowsiness, and tired and faint as she was, the hum of the organ lulled her to sleep.
It had thawed during the day, but as the night came on, the sky grew clear and starry and the air keen and frosty, so that in a few hours the pavements were a sheet of glass, and the lumps of mud as hard and sharp as the slag of a foundry. The street slush had, during her Sunday's pilgrimage, oozed through the gaps and holes in her burst boots and as the cold of the night returned, her wet stockings froze to her chilled feet and wounded them at each step she took.
Now she had not even a penny left to pay for the cup of coffee that would have entitled her to a short slumber at the night houses with her head upon the table. She counted each hour through the night, as does a sick person restless with a fever - and heard the hundred steeples of the City chiming the time, in the darkness and chill of the early morning, until she thought the sunlight would never come again.
As the air seemed to grow colder than ever at the fag-end of the night, and the streets had long been rid of the few remaining brawlers, leaving her the only wanderer through them, she grew more wretched and desperate than ever. Driven by the policemen from door-step to door-step, and finding that she was not allowed to sit, much less sleep, in the thoroughfares, she began to think it better to end such a life as hers, and sauntered on, shuddering, towards the river. But when there, the water was like a sheet of steel, and looked so witheringly cold as her mantle flew open in the nipping breeze, that her timid resolves took flight, and she felt she lacked the courage, even though heart-broken and half-frozen as she was, for such a death as that.
So on she wandered again, half sleeping as she walked, and trying to find some hidden corner where, unseen by the policeman, she might doze against the wall, until at length the reviving bustle of the market carts roused her from her stupor, and she was filled with hopes, almost as faint and comfortless as the cold morning light, that some lucky accident might happen to her in the coming day.
How that day was lived through it is difficult to tell. The poor soul had already been thirty odd hours adrift in the streets without [-30-] food or sleep, or even rest. Still, while the daylight lasted, and London was alive with the rattle of its traffic, she staggered along, borne faintly up by the continual excitement of the passing throngs, and feeling still a half presentiment that she would meet with her husband somewhere among the crowd.
But when she saw another night beginning to dusk the air, and the lines of street-lamps starting, one after another, into strings of light, she felt no longer faint and torpid, but grew positively furious with the frenzy of the thought of passing another such a time in the streets. Moreover, the sky was overcast, and the half-melted snowflakes fell now in a shower of sleet, that, as it beat against the face, stung the skin with the sharp splinters of ice mixed with the rain.
Then, more terrible than all; she began to feel that another life besides her own was at stake, and to be roused with all, the madness of maternal instinct lest any danger should. befall her child.
Whither could she crawl to bide her head at such an hour? What place would open its doors to receive her? She has been turned from the workhouse, and dismissed with a shilling from the last haven of all - the asylum for the houseless.
It was no time for seeking shelter as a charity: she must have it, even though it be adjudged to her as a punishment. It had been refused her as an. act of mercy to herself; it should now be forced upon her as an. act of justice to others.
The first thought was to do as she had read, of women doing when rendered.as desperate as herself; and, stung by the anguish of. the moment, she seized a stone from the newly-macadamised road, and was about to fling it at the first street lamp. But then came the thought that perhaps the authorities might take pity on her for so trifling an offence; so, turning' round, she flung the stone with all her remaining strength at the first brilliantly-lighted window that caught her sight, and shattered a huge sheet of plate glass - as big as a masquerade posting-bill - that adorned the showy front of a neighbouring shawl and mantle warehouse.
At the sound of the crash and rattle of' the glassy fragments, a crowd of shopmen rushed into the street; and on the woman confessing herself the offender, it was but the work of a moment to hand her oven to the police, whilst the enraged proprietor vowed "that if it cost him a hundred. pounds,. she should have three months of it."
And the tradesman was true to his word.
"WHAT, Simcox, my boy, who'd have thought of seeing you ?"
"Bless my heart! why it's Mr. Nathan, as I live !"
These gentlemen met outside Tothill-fields Prison. Mr. Simcox, of the firm of Simcox, Son, and Nicholls, had his hand on the prison knocker, ready to lift the two hundred-weight of metal, when the approaching figure of Mr. Nathan, of Lyon's Inn, startled him from his purpose.
[-full page illustration- 'The Smash' ]
[-31-] "This is the very last place where I should have thought of
meeting you!" exclaimed that ornament to his profession, Simcox.
"And I certainly never expected to see you here," returned the buckish Israelite.
"If it a'n't impertinent, may I ask what brings you to these parts?"
"Well, do you know; I was just going to put the same question to you?"
"Oh, I've come about a poor woman who has got into trouble."
"Ha, ha! and my case is with a female too."
"The girl I've come about is here in the name of Katherine- Katherine - let me see - what's her other name?"
"It isn't Merton, is it? For that's the one I want."
"Dear me! this is strange. That's the very party I'm after, sure enough."
"How remarkably odd! If it's a fair question, who are you concerned for ?"
"Oh, certainly-without prejudice, you know! I come here on the part of the husband."
"The husband! He's a Frenchman, isn't he? Used to teach languages, I think? Well, I'm instructed by the family - very old clients of mine, and' highly respectable people."
"And what do they want to do with the girl?"
"I really don't think I should like to go so far as to answer that question."
"I don't see that it can prejudice your case at all, for I am quite decided as to the course I shall pursue."
"I tell you what," proposed Simcox, "you tell me and I'll tell you - that's fair."
"Without prejudice, of course?"
"Certainly! Well; I have come here to. pay the fine, and release her."
"You surely must be joking - that's just my errand."
"Bless my heart, you don't say so! And what do you propose to do with her when you get her out ?"
"Well, as we are to be frank, the husband wishes to have her sent over to France to him. He has taken a. singing coffee-house-a café shontong, as they call it-and- "
"Ah, I see; and he thinks, as Katherine is a pretty girl, she'd look sitting behind those portions of lump sugar, and taking the money for him."
"And what does the father mean to do with her, eh?"
"Why, I am to send her down to an aunt of hers in the country, and. I believe she is to be despatched to Australia."
"You speak as if you were sure to have her. You forget the husband. has a prior claim."
"We deny the marriage!"
"And we are in a position to prove it. I have a copy of the certificate among the papers that my client has sent me."
"Nonsense! that fellow was villain enough to forge any document."
"I tell you it was a bond fide marriage."
[-32-] "I intend to claim the woman on behalf of the husband.
"And I shall go in with you and serve the prison authorities with notice, that if they deliver her up to you, they'll do so at their peril."
"Well, well, we needn't quarrel about it here." And so saying, Mr. Nathan gave a heavy knock at the door.
In a moment the ponderous gateway was open, and the two solicitors were ushered into the clerk's office at the side.
Both, in their impatience, began shouting at the same time, "I've called to pay the fine-"
"One at a time, gentlemen," interfered the steady-going clerk.
"In the case of Katherine Merton," said Mr. Simcox. "I give you notice that you do not hand over the body to Mr. Nathan here -"
"And I have come to give you similar notice not to part with her to this gentleman; I claim her on behalf of the husband."
"And I deny that there is any husband at all, and come here on the part of the father."
"Come gentlemen, you needn't quarrel about it," said the clerk, solemnly, "neither husband nor father can claim her now."
"She hasn't been released ?" asked the lawyers in one breath.
The clerk answered, gravely, "She was buried this morning."
"Good Heavens !" cried Mr. Simcox, starting back.
"Dear me! what an awful thing!" said Nathan, turning pale. "We have no power now, Simcox, so we had better go and have a glass of sherry together, for the shock has made me feel quite faint."
They were about to quit the office, when the clerk called after them: "By-the-by, gentlemen, there's a baby - a little boy - that Katherine Merton has left behind her. What are we to do with him!"
"Boy!" they both exclaimed, as they stared at one another. Then Simcox said: "Oh, he belongs to the husband, clearly!"
"Husband !" exclaimed Nathan. "Why, you denied the marriage just now. He'd better be sent home to his mother's family. Couldn't be in better hands, I'm sure."
"Well, gentlemen," said the clerk, "settle it amicably between you; which shall we hand the infant over to?"
"Oh, I've no instructions on the matter."
"And I'm sure I've none."
"I am certain my clients are of too high standing in the world to countenance any child of sin born under such disgraceful circumstances !" exclaimed the moral Simcox.
"And I expect my client," tittered the wily Nathan, "will be only too glad to get rid of the burden."
"But will you leave the addresses of your clients, gentlemen," asked the clerk, "so that we may communicate with them?"
Both the lawyers seemed to consider such a proceeding perfectly unnecessary, and precipitately left the prison.
Now what fate, reader, think you, would be likely to await a being born under such circumstances, and in such a place? To what end is such a beginning likely to lead? Is such a one likely to find the streets of London "paved with gold?"
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]