Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Life in the London Streets, by Richard Rowe, 1881 - Chapter 6 - The Flower Girl

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VI.

THE FLOWER GIRL.

    "I DUNNO who my father was: mother's dead. I live at aunt's,-that's Missis Slinn's, mother's sister. O' course aunt can't keep me: she's got a lot o' kids of her own, an' sometimes they can't git anythink to eat, though she works 'ard. Now an' agin she'll give me a bit o' bread, an' she'll ollus let me sleep at her place, if I git back in time. If I don't, sometimes I goes to a lodgin' 'ouse, an' sometimes I sleeps in the streets, if the weather aint too cold. That's nicer than aunt's when the weather's 'ot. The 'eat makes the little uns fractious, an' they wakes up and kicks an' squeals.
    "No, we don't say no prayers, - what's the good? Yes, I've seed women at the lodgin' 'ouses, kneelin' down by the side o' their beds, mornin' and evenink both, but not orfen, - where's the good on it? When I goes to bed I wants to go to sleep, and when I gits up I wants to go to work. No, I hain't no call to complain o' aunt. What call's she got to do more for me than she do? There's many as wouldn't do as much. I've got to 'arn my livin', like other gals.
    "What can it matter to you where we live? [-119-] You ain't a-goin' there, are ye? Sometimes one place an' sometimes another: we're summut like the sparrers. It don't take aunt long to pack up 'er sticks. I don't mind tellin' you where 'tis she's staying now, if you've got anythink to give 'er. Yes, work o' course, or money either if ye're inclined to, - she won't make no objections. Charin' she'll do, or any rough work she can put her hand to. She ain't afraid o' work, like some folk: mother worn't neither, I've heared her say. I can't abide them lay-a-bed sleepy heads, though of a winter's mornin' sometimes I wouldn't mind layin' in bed a bit longer instid o' turnin' out into the cold. I don't care so much, though, if I can git a cup o' cawfee. That warms ye up famous, 'specially if ye can run to bread-an'-butter.
    "Lor bless ye, I can't rec'lect much about mother: she died when I was quite a little un. Tiepiz she died on. I can't say whether she was fond o' me or not, - how'm I to know? Anyhow, if she was, it don't seem to ha' done me much good. I can't see as it would ha' made any diff'rence whether she'd lived or not. If she 'ad, I should ha' 'ad to 'arn, my livin' as I'm a-arnin' on it now.
    Well, may'ap, she might ha' guv me a bit more to eat than aunt does, an' ha' 'elped me with my clo'es. But who's to tell? Some treat their own children a deal wuss than aunt [-120-] treats me. I've known mothers and fathers, too, as wouldn't let their kids keep what they made, - took it all from them, if they was flats enough to give it up, an' welted 'em if they 'adn't brought home as much as it was 'spected they ought to ha' done, an' never give 'em grub enough neither.
    "Now I'm a deal better off than that. Aunt lets me keep all I gits, an' don't charge me nuffink for my bed neither. To be sure it don't cost her much, for there's three or four on us in it.
    "No, I don't 'elp aunt wi' the young uns. I gits up too early and comes 'ome too late for that. Sometimes one of the eldest gals hasn't got anythink to do, and then she's kep' at 'ome to look arter the children.
    "How old's the eldest, - what o' them as is gittin' biggish, do you mean? Well, I'm sure I'm more than a year older than Jemimer, though Jemimer won't have it, an' aunt says I shall be thirteen next birthday. No, I never gits no birthday presents, never gits anythink guv me 'cept now and then, but it ain't orfen, a copper in the street.
    "When the big gals has got work as well as aunt, she locks the little uns up in the room, an' they've to look arter theirselves. Sometimes they sets theirselves alight but not orfen, for it aint much of a fire aunt leaves in. They can't tumble out o' the winder where we're [-121-] lodgin' now for the winder won't open, an' if they was to break the glass - some on it is broke a'ready - the panes is too small far them to squeege through.
    "Flowers I works mostly when they're in. Yes, flowers is nice to look at an' to smell, but that's for them as buys, not them as sells, to I think about. I'd work anythink as I could git money to buy grub an' shoes an' clo'es, an' 'ud leave me stock-money to go on with.
    "Sometimes I haven't got a shoe to my foot. I don't care much in summer, but it's orful cold in winter, - my toes gits swollen up like taturs wi' the chilblains. Any old think I'll buy second-hand to kiver me, but there's precious little warmth in some on 'em. It's grub, I thinks, as keeps you warmest, if you can git enough on it, - that, an' a drop o' hot cawfee or summut like that, now an' agin, to drink.
    "Yes, I should like to larn cookin', if I was to be paid for 't, an' was to have good things to cook as I might take my share on,- but what's the good o' talkin' like that to a gal like me? I could bile a kittle if I'd got a bellers, or toast a red herrin' - that's about all the cookin' I could do. Orfen I on'y gits dry bread to eat.
    "Sometimes I works water crease; that's shivery work in the cold weather, an' sometimes or'nges, or inguns, or nuts. Sometimes [-122-] it's pipe-lights an' sich like, but it's mostly flowers I sells when they're in.
    "Common Garding I goes to. O' course I buys what's in, an' then splits up the bunches. Oh yes, I know the names o' flowers well enough, sich as I sells. There's roses, an' lilies o' the walley, an wi'lets, an' wall-flowers, an' primroses, ,an' snowdrops, an' mignonette, an' cloves, an camillers, when I can run to 'em, an' sich like; an' then there's green lavender, an' dry lavender, too. I s'pose that's some kind of a flower, though't is dry. I wish t' others would sell as well when they was withered. I've lost pretty nigh all my profit sometimes through their witherin', for all the waterin' I'd give 'em. Poor flowers, indeed! It was me as was poor: flowers ain't got empty stomachs to fill. It's nonsense talkin' like that. No, I don't know that I like one flower better than another,- o' course I do, though; I like them best as I can make most out on, an' that's as may happen. It's a penny I mostly sells at, 'cept the camillers.
    "Oh, I don't stick to one place in tickler. Sometimes I stands by the Bank, an' sometimes I go about the City. 'Taint orfen the pollis interferes wi' me. They will sometimes, if they're shirty, becos there's a jam, an' the carmen an' that 'ont mind 'em. The pollis gets wery shirty if they ain't minded; but if you calls 'em 'Sir,' an' move on when you're told, they ain't so bad, though it's cruel, it is, the [-123-] way they hunts about poor folks as on'y wants to am a honest livin'. Why, vonce I see two bobbies take a man's barrer to the green-yard jest becos he did'nt move fast enough to please 'em, an' growled a bit: they'd been a black-guardin' of 'im. I call it stealin', I do, takin' poor folk's livin' out o' their mouths that fashion. Who's to know the slops didn't nobble the or'nges theirselves? It was or'nges the man had. At the bottom o' Wych Street, it was.
    "Yes, sometimes I works the Strand, but I goes anywhere where I can sell best. If folks 'ont buy in one place I tries another. Where busses stops is orfen a good pitch, like as they do at the corner o' Tot'nam Court Road, 'cept that the chaps with papers sometimes shoves ye away. Yes, omnibus men sometimes buys. Some on 'em is wery smart, and likes to have a rose or a bunch o' wi'lets in their button-'oles Oh, all sort o' folk buy o' me, when they does buy, 'cept 'tis poor folks' children. If they've got a penny o' course they'll spend it on grub or sweeties, instid o' flowers,- they'd be flats if they didn't. Little swell gals is fonder o' flowers than the boys. One day, when I was standin' by St. Martin's Church, a gen'leman as was goin' by wi' his little gals come back an' bought hevery bunch I'd got, cos' the littlest had axed him for one.
    "I go a goodish way sometimes, - yes, where there's flowers in the front gardings. There's pleny o' houses that ain't got none, s' [-124-] far s I've seen, an' there ain't so many flowers where there is any that the folks they belongs to is in a 'urry to pick 'em; 'sides, there's the people in the streets to sell to.
    "Sometimes of a Sunday I do tidyish. "Tween the corner o' the 'ampstead Road an' Park Square I orfen work. There's a good lot o' men goes along there, when it's fine, an' they buys pretty free,- them as is dressed smart: how can I tell what they are? P'r'aps they're shopmen wantin' to be took for swells, but them as is dressed smart is the ones as buys. Them as has workyday clo'es on doesn't.
    "Church! How could I go to church if I wanted to? Why, Sunday's my best day, when it don't rain. 'Sides they wouldn't let me come hinside a church in sich clo'es as I've got, an' if they would what 'ud be the good on it? They wouldn't let ye sell nuffink hinside a church I expec'. Oh, as to restin', if I'm tired o' standin' or walkin', I can squat down on a step, an' lose no time nayther, an' that's better than settin' still in a church doin' nuffink. Yes, I've eared chaps as they call preachers, shoutin' away in the streets, but I could never make 'ead or tail o' what they said. I expec' it's stuff as don't consarn me. No, aunt don't never go to church. She's got summut else to do, an so's most as is as poor as us. No, aunt don't drink, 'cept now an' ag'in a 'alf-a-pint o' beer when she can git it, an' [-125-] that ain't orfen; she's a honest hard-workin' woman as nobody can say a word ag'inst, that's what aunt is. No, I don't know as she never taught me anythink. Oh, anybody as isn't a flat can pick up marketin' for theirselves, - sich things as I sells. What you buys for a penny you must sell for tuppence, if ye can, - more if ye can; anyhow you must make a 'aypenny out on it.
    "Yes, I've slep' in the parks afore now, Regency and St. Jeems's both. They may talk about closin' 'em, but it's heasy enough to git in. I likes the Regency best, it's heasier to git a place all to yerself there. Aunt says she'll welt me if I ever go wi' bad girls, an' most o' them as sleeps in the parks is that. O' course, if aunt welted me I could cut, but I should git no good out o' that. If I'm stumped now, aunt'll lend me a brown or two when she's got 'em, but I don't know hanybody else as would, - leastways, without my payin' 'em a lot for 't. When I'm run out, an' aunt hain't got any money, ole Jummock 'ill lend me a sixpence, - vonce he lent me a bob, - but then he charges sich a lot, becos he says he hain't got no security. I ain't got nuffink to leave at the dolly-shop. Look at my shoes, ho' course they ain't a pair. They was makin' a road by the new Hislington Workus hup at 'Olloway, an' I picked 'em up out o' the rubbish as was shot.
    [-126-] "No, I 'opes when I grows up I shall be able to git 'old 'o summut as'll bring me in. more than sellin' flowers, though there's women as do stick at it, hold as well as young. Well, if I was to git married I should 'ave to do somethink for my livin'. Poor men ain't like swells; they can't afford to let their wives set at 'ome with their 'ands in their aprons. 'Sides, I shouldn't care to be a slug like that, and I'd rather be out in the streets sellin' than slavin' away indoors as some poor women does, an' yet p'r'aps doesn't make as much a day as me when luck's good.
    "There ain't much, though, to be got out o' flowers my way. Oh, yes, p'r'aps the profit's pretty good, but then it comes to so little. What I should like if I'd got a man, 'ud be for us to 'ave a pony-cart an' go about sellin' roots an' flowers in pots. We might do well, both on us workin' em, one a-one side the street, an' t'other t'other; 'All a-blowin', all a-growin',' you know. An' then there's changin' em for old clo'es an' boots an' sich. Swoppin's better than sellin', I've heared, when you know the right way to go about it. Dessay I could soon larn, but it 'ud be a bother at fust. When you pays down money for a think you knows you mustn't sell it wi'out gittin' a good bit more for 't; but in swoppin' plants I should be took in at fust, if my 'usband womn't fly. I shouldn't understand the wally o' clo'es, ye see, so them [-127-] as swopped 'em wi' me an' them I sold 'em to would both do me at fust goin' off.
    "No, I can't read an' I can't write, but I can 'arn my own livin', an' that's what some as can read an' write, an' s a good bit older than me, can't do.

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