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ON a rather wintry October afternoon I was passing through a
one-side street, that ran parallel with the river for its whole length. The
roadway was, of course, considerably higher than the shore, and its river-wall
side was guarded by a line of stout wooden railings. It was low tide at the time
I was passing, and happening to glance over the railings, I saw on the shore
below a boy of about thirteen, who was popularly known as "Wheeler"
Dawson, a name bestowed upon him in consideration of his marked ability in the
cart-wheel-turning line of street tumbling, a line to which he specially devoted
himself during the "outing" season. As a main road much frequented by
pleasure-vans was within easy reach of his home, a ready stage was thus afforded
him for the display of his accomplishment. Out of the excursion season he formed
one of a band of riverside mudlarks of evil repute; but the spot at which I now
found him was fully a mile from the regular "lurk" of the band. Now,
mudlarks are nothing if not gregarious, and if from their having worked it out
or its being made too "hot" for them, they do abandon a lurk, they [-333-]
migrate in a body, and to haunts selected for their suitability to the
Ishmaelitish habits of the class - haunts around which there are hiding-places,
inaccessible to any who are to be deterred by fears of wetting or spoiling their
clothing; from which there are several outlets, and in the immediate
neighbourhood of which barges anchor or discharge their cargoes, or shipbuilding
or breaking- up yards or wharfs are situated. The latter feature being
all-important, as affording opportunities for "picking up" rust or
waste-rust meaning old, or for the matter of that new, metal; while waste is, in
mudlark phraseology, a generic term for anything else that may be come at, not
too hot, too heavy, or too well watched to be "sneaked."
The spot where I now found Wheeler Dawson had none of these attractions; it had not even a muddy bottom, a thing indispensable to the constitution of a mudlark's lurk, seeing that they are often paddling about barefooted for hours at a stretch. Knowing all this, I was surprised to find Wheeler there at all, and I was still more struck by his manner. In a general way he was notably quick and active in his movements, having nothing of the slouch about him, carrying his head erect, and looking sharply around, not in the furtive manner of many boys of his stamp, but with a bold and open glance. Now, however, he was slowly crawling along, with his looks fixed on the ground and with his feet was shuffling about the stones, which lay pretty thick on this bit of shore. That he was there with some purpose I felt con-[-334-]vinced, and I was uncharitable enough to suspect that the purpose was probably not a good one. "I'll try to find out what he is after," I said to myself; "for even if I don't succeed in that, it may be well to let him see that he is observed."
After watching him for about a minute's space, I called out,-
"Hulloa, Wheeler, what brings you on the loose up here?"
He looked up with a rather startled air, but instantly recovering himself answered composedly and briefly,-
"Oh no, not nothing, Wheeler," I said, smiling, and with a shake of the head.
"Well, nuffen as ain't square," he said.
Knowing by experience that the best way to "draw" one of Wheeler's stamp, was to fall into his own style of talk in carrying on a conversation with him, I answered,-
"Well, I'm not saying it's either square or cross, but you know you wouldn't be all this distance away from your lurk and your pals unless you had some little game of your own on hand. What is it now," I continued, as he again turned his eye to the ground; "have you lost something?"
"No, I haven't lost nuffen," he answered, oracularly, and evidently pleased with the idea of mystifying me; "but all the same, I'm looking for somethink."
"And you are not particular to a trifle as to what it may be, eh?"
[-335-] "Oh yes I is though, werry pertic'lar," answered Wheeler emphatically.
"Oh, and what might the 'somethink pertic'lar' be?" I asked, beginning to suspect that I had placed myself in the ridiculous position of getting the worst of a chaffing match with the sharp-witted mudlark.
"A pertic'lar kind o' stone," was the boy's answer, given readily enough.
"Oh!" I said, rather hesitatingly; for I was still "all abroad," "a pertic'lar kind of stone, eh ?"
"Yes, a pertic'lar kind of stone-for Tough-un."
He added the last words in the tone of one who would say, "and now you know all about it!" But he had given me credit for a knowledge which I did not possess. I was still in the dark, and so asked,-
Whereupon Wheeler, laughing aloud, answered, "Why, Tough-un ain't a what, he's a him. I should a thought you'd a know'd Tough-un; he goes in for teaching young uns to read, and for a-persuading of people to be teetotallers, and go-to-meetingers, and sich like; a sort of a Scripter reader, sort of a cove on his own hook, as yer may say!"
"Does he live in this neighbourhood?" I asked; for I felt that if he did, and was really the sort of character Wheeler described, I ought to know him.
"Yes, him and his mother lives in G---- Street: but they ain't been there long; they've com'd from the country somewheres."
[-336-] "Ah, I thought he couldn't have been hereabout long, or I should have known him," I said, in a more self-satisfied tone than I had hitherto felt justified in adopting.
"Or perhaps you don't know him by that name," suggested Wheeler; "it's his mother that calls him Tough-un. We calls him Humpy among ourselves, cos, yer see, he's had his back broke, and we seed that before we know'd his name, which his proper name is K----, Jim K----."
"And what stone is it that you are getting for him?" was my next question.
"Well, a sort as he pointed out to me, and as there ain't much on about here. You see he makes 'em 'ere little car'board houses as the man and woman goes in and out of to tell the weather, and castles, or any other of yer fancy sort of buildin's as he gets orders for or sees in picters; and ain't he clever at it, that's all, they just look like real."
"Oh, I see," I said, "and he uses the stone for facing his work."
"You've got it this time," answered Wheeler in a half-patronising tone.
"And how did he come to set you to find the stone for him?" I asked.
"I set myself," was the answer; "he ain't wery good on his legs, and so, one day, when he told me what he was up to along shore, I says as how I would do it for him if he liked. He says, 'Well, if it wouldn't be keeping me from doing something better,' and I says, [-337-] 'More like keeping me from summat wus;' so it was agreed, and then, says he, 'I'll teach you to read if you like to come to my night-school.' So I goes stone-hunting for him, and he teaches me for nothink."
"Oh, he keeps a night-school, does he?" was my comment.
"Yes," answered Wheeler, "and teaches the 'cordion and does a bit o' canary-breeding, and with them 'ere, and his car'-board business, he knocks out a tidyish livin'. He's a clever un, both with his head and his hands, though he is a cripple."
I had heard enough to make me desirous of cultivating the acquaintance of Tough-un, and so asked,-
"What number in G---- Street does he live at ?"
"I don't know the number," answered Wheeler; "but you'll easily find it, cos it's wrote on papers in the winder about the night-school and the 'cordion teachin' and the birds."
By these signs I did find the dwelling of Tough-un and his mother. I must have passed the house many a time previously without noticing the inscriptions in the window; but there was considerable excuse for this apparent want of observation, inasmuch as paper-patched windows were rather the rule than the exception in G---- Street, and Tough-un's modest announcement being merely written - and that not in a very large or bold hand-on copy-book paper, had probably seemed to me to be a number of the patches characteristic of the locality, more especially as they were not hung in, but [-338-] pasted on, the window. Now, however, when expressly looking for them, I soon made them out. The centre paper of the three announced "A Night-School Three-pence a Week." The one on the left intimated that the German or English Concertina was taught at threepence per lesson, and the third that canaries were bought, sold, or exchanged.
Having read the bills, which were very fairly written, I knocked at the door, which was opened to me by a grey-haired, careworn, but tidily dressed woman of about fifty years of age, whom I at once guessed to be Tough-un's mother. Having introduced myself, I went on to explain that I had heard that her son had started a school for the boys of the neighbourhood, and that having a deep interest in the boys, and especially in the matter of their education, I had thought he would not mind me taking the liberty of dropping in to have a talk with him on the subject.
"Which, thanking you kindly, sir, he won't think it no liberty at all!" she exclaimed, as she ushered me in; "he'll only be too glad to see you - for you see, sir, he's mostly very lonely like," she went on, lowering her voice, and pointing over her shoulder to the room behind the one in which we were standing, "he's sadly afflicted, and don't care about going out of doors, even if he had the strength, which, poor boy, he ain't, as far as walking is concerned."
"Yes, I have heard he is afflicted," I said, following her example in speaking low.
She simply bowed her head by way of reply, and then [-339-] led the way into the adjoining apartment, where I found the son busily engaged in the construction of a cardboard castle. His back was towards the door, and as I entered the room I could see that he was indeed sadly deformed. On hearing us he rose to his feet, and then I could perceive that, as his mother had hinted, he was weak on his legs. His face, however, was singularly beautiful; a face that, once seen, was not likely to be forgotten, and which certainly did not look the five-and-twenty years which I afterwards knew was really his age at this period. It was the sort of face to live in one's memory, and come back in dreams. It was not a handsome face, using the word in its more masculine application, nor, on the other hand, was it a girlishly pretty face. It was strikingly pale, but at the same time the complexion was beautifully soft and clear; the features, though thin and worn, were perfectly regular and clearly cut, and a pervading expression of melancholy was chastened by the softening light of a pair of large blue eyes, and the effect of fair golden hair, worn long, and curling naturally. Altogether it was a face that, as I gazed on it, seemed to me to speak of suffering patiently borne, and a life that was not long for this world.
Wheeler had probably spoken of me to him. At any rate, he seemed in no way surprised to see me, and, greeting me by name, motioned me to take a seat. The mother, judging, I suppose, from this, that he was quite at ease, left us without having said a word by way of introduction, and I had therefore to repeat to him what I had said to her as to the object of my visit.
[-340-] "Well, my school is a very small affair as yet," he said, smiling and shaking his head; "I'm afraid that if you saw it you would hardly think it worth talking about. However, it's but young, and I'm in hopes that I shall be able to make it better as time goes on; at any rate I mean to try hard to do so, and more for the boys' sake than my own, though I say it that perhaps shouldn't. I say three-pence a week on the paper in the window, and if the boys bring it I take it, and gladly, for every penny is a consideration to us ; but still, if it isn't brought, I don't press for it, and should never dream of sending a boy away for not bringing it; and that being so, I can assure you, sir, it is much more a case of me keeping the school, than the school keeping me."
"I know more than enough of the neighbourhood to quite understand that," I said; "and your endeavour to spread education among these boys is therefore all the more creditable to you."
"Well, as to that I'll say nothing," he answered; "education is a great thing, and we should all do what we can to give it to any who are without. Mine has been a very plain education, but it has been a greater blessing and joy to me than tongue can tell. Of course, it doesn't require learning to seek our dear Saviour, or to be happy in his love. I am afraid but too many educated people never seek Him, while numbers of very ignorant people have sought and found Him; but, at the same time, I always think what a grand thing it is to have the Word of God open to you. Many and many a sad hour has [-341-] my Bible sweetened for me; and the education that did open the Bible was given to me through the kindness of one who I know would look upon my helping others as the best gratitude I could show."
"Was the idea of starting the school just a general one, or did some special occurrence suggest it to you?" was my next question.
"Well, I suppose it was more a general than a special idea," he answered, speaking in a slow, reflective tone. "You see, sir, I came from a quiet little country town, where if there are any such wild and neglected children as these London street Arabs, as they call them, they are kept pretty well out of sight. I was astonished at what I saw in this street, and couldn't help speaking to some of the parents about letting their children grow up in the heathenish way they were doing. They were more civil than I had expected to find them, and some of them said they would like well enough to have their children educated, only they couldn't afford to dress them well enough to send them to school, or must have them at home to help to earn a crust. Education is very cheap nowadays,' I said to one, a costermonger, who took his two boys out with him during the day. 'Very cheap,' said he, 'and a very good thing, - a thing as, I dessay, 'll return no end of profit on the stock-money; and it ain't the stock-money, the threepence a week wages that keeps me from getting them educated; it's because my business would stand still without em, and if that stood still we must all starve; and when it comes to a [-342-] question between bread and eddication, bread is bound to have it, good a thing as eddication may be. Yer see the stomach would pinch every day, and two or three times a day, while the returns on eddication, however certain in the long-run, are the long run off.' I thought that was very fair reasoning, he went on, resuming his ordinary voice and manner, for he had been imitating those of the "coster;" "but still I saw an opening in it on my side. 'What you say is right enough, as far as it goes,' I said, but still your children could be educated.' 'As how?' he asked. 'Well, in this way,' I answered. 'You don't want them at night, and if you'll send them to me for two or three hours each evening, I'll teach them.' He seemed delighted with the idea. 'Well, I ain't the man to say no to a good offer, and a fairer than yours there couldn't be. There's my hand on it. I'll send 'em to you every night, pay the threepence regularly; and if you learn 'em to read and write, I'll try my best to put 'em in some way to turn it to account.' He was as good as his word; and so my night-school commenced. For quite a couple of months those two were my only pupils; but when they began to get on a bit, their father persuaded some other parents to send their children, and I got two or three other boys to come, till now I have eight who come regularly, and about half-a-dozen who come off and on, and, though none of them are anything like so good as my first in the matter of payment, I won't complain on that score; and I only hope, as I said just now, that I shall be able to make a better school of it, [-343-]and if you can help me to any scholars, I'll feel obliged to you."
I replied that I would endeavour to do so, and then asked,-
"Do you get many music pupils?"
"No, not many," he answered; "still I pick up a few pence at it now and again; and it's no trouble to me, but rather a pleasure. I'm very fond of music; and I generally find that the boys or young fellows that want to learn it are a good-natured sort that you can get along with pleasantly. It's much the same with my birds, too," he went on; "I do make a little profit out of them occasionally, though not enough to pay me for my trouble, if I only kept them in the way of trade. But I don't keep them in that way, I keep them because I love them, and they love me; don't you, Sweets?" As he spoke he glanced up at a large ornamental cage, in which there were about a dozen canaries, who now made themselves heard in quite a chorus-like reply to his greeting "I dare say," he resumed, lowering his eyes again, "people reading my little window-bills would think I was quite a jack-of-all-trades, and making a good thing of it; but the fact is, you see, sir, I can't well have companions or amusements abroad, so I try to make them at home. My birds and my accordion are as friends to me, and I keep my night-school, such as it is, because I like the work; this, I may say, is my only real work in the way of earning a livelihood."
"This" was indicated by a sweep of the hand over [-344-] the work-bench, which was plentifully bestrewn with cutting-tools, gluepots, sheets of cardboard, cardboard cuttings, and such cardboard articles as Wheeler had spoken of to me, in various stages of progress.
"And I suppose there is not a fortune to be made out of that," I remarked, by way of continuing the conversation.
"Well, no, not a fortune," he said, shaking his head; "hardly a bare living for most of the few who still work at it, I'm afraid; but - speaking it thankfully, and not as blowing my own trumpet - I'm better than the general run at it; and, through the kindness of friends, and one customer recommending another, I've got a good private connection. I've made scores of models of gentlemen's seats, at good prices. I've done a many old churches, too, and I should think that, at one time or other, I've done most of the old castles in England. This that I am working on now is C---- Castle; it is for the keeper of a fancy repository there, who at different times has sold me three others, beside getting me orders for other things. You see, sir, I can draw pretty well, and though I say it, I have a natural taste for modelling, and a good notion of picking out telling bits here and there, and piecing them together in the make-up of fancy articles; and then I was taught the work by a man who I have often thought would have been a great artist, if he hadn't been a great drunkard. He had begun in the cardboard line, but when I knew him he was modeller to a wax-work exhibittion, and was considered about the best in the profession. [-345-] He made the fortune of the establishment, and might have made his own, if it had not been for the drink; but though an enemy to himself, he was a kind friend to me, and put the means of living into my hands. He could give good advice, though he couldn't take it. 'When I was in the cardboard line, Jim, my boy,' he would say, 'a weather tell-tale, as they were called, was the regular thing in the way of chimney-piece ornament among working-class folks, then a decent crust could be made out of a single pattern weather-house. I've sold my fifty a week for months together, but times have altered since then. The tell-tale part of the affair was never up to much, and taste has gone up as to ornament. You may make a few varied and improved weather-houses as stock work or for practice, but to knock out a living nowadays you must fly higher - must aim at being an artist; and that you can be even in cardboard if you give your mind, as well as your hands, to it,' I did give my mind to it," he went on; "I never shrink from any reasonable amount of labour or trouble to perfect the smallest detail; at times when walking has been a sore trouble to me, I have walked miles to get the exact shade of lacing stone for a particular model, when I could without trouble have got a stone that most people would have made do, and that very few would have known was not the correct shade."
"How do you stone-face your models ?" I asked, interrupting him for the first time since he had begun to dilate on what I found he considered his art.
"Burn it," he answered, "then crush it into powder, [-346-] and then, with the help of liquid glue, lay it on and press it with flatteners. That's an idea of my own," he continued, pointing to some prettily-designed little weather- houses; "that lining out of the gables looks just like shell-work, doesn't it?"
I assented by a nod, whereupon, with a pleased look on his face, he exclaimed-
"But it isn't, though! Don't appear quite so light if you look at it close, but not at all a bad imitation at a little distance, and doesn't bring up the price anything like what shell would. It's done with kidney beans, picked to be as near a size as possible, thoroughly dried, skinned, and split, and glued flat-face on."
Our further conversation on this occasion related chiefly to this subject of the work, and more especially of those improvements, in design or execution, which were "his own ideas." He spoke with a degree of pride and enthusiasm that many might have considered out of place, but it was evident that he did really regard his business as an art; building his cardboard castles, as most of us build our castles in the air, con amore. Nor was he without justification in taking the higher view of the character of his humble wares, for later in the acquaintance of which this interview was the commencement, I saw specimens of his work that undoubtedly displayed the taste and fancy, as well as the manipulation, of an artist.
I parted from him with the desire to know his history. to which the remarks of Wheeler had given rise, rather [-347-] augmented than satisfied. He appeared to have an idea that I had some general acquaintance with the story of his life, and under that impression had, in the course of the conversation, incidentally made remarks, from which I gathered that his deformed and weakly appearance was the result of an accident; that before meeting with that accident he had been engaged in some widely different kind of business from that by which he now made a living; and had travelled about the country a good deal. That he was a person of fair education was evident, and it was equally evident that he was a sincere and practical Christian. Such a character in such a neighbourhood was something like the fly in the amber. The wonder was how he got there. ]hat there was a life-story involved in the explanation, I felt convinced; and that story I now felt strongly desirous of learning, not from any mere idle curiosity, but from the assurance that I experienced that it would be interesting and instructive - a story that would point a moral. That it might also be a painful one for him to tell, seemed probable, and therefore I could not, for obvious reasons, ask him - at a first interview, at any rate - to tell it. Happening to meet Wheeler a few days later, I thought I would see if he knew anything more than he had already told me; but, on questioning him, he replied that he "know'd nuffink else, on'y as pore Tough-un was a real good sort."
"But don't you know why they call him Tough-un?" I persisted, [-348-] "Well, as I told you afore," was the answer, "it's his mother as calls him that; but I'm blow'd if I know why. It's not cos he is a Tough-un, that's werry certain, pore chap; and it's not cos he ain't a Tough-un; not in a make-game way, you know, cos she loves the werry ground he walks on."
I saw the force of Wheeler's reasoning on this point, and was of course only the more desirous of learning Tough-un's story; and a few weeks later it so fell out that I did hear it from the lips of the mother. I had called to see her son, but on asking for him, she informed me that he had been taken for a drive into the country by Mr. P., a gentleman, she added, who had been like a second father to him, and to be near whom was the chief reason of their having come to live where they were, he having recently come to reside in the metropolis in order to manage some house property in which he had invested.
"I am glad to hear that your son has such a friend," I said.
"Ah! sir," she replied, "God has been very good to us; He sent us that friend at a time when such a friend was sorely needed. A kinder-hearted gentleman there couldn't be, and a gentleman he is every inch of him (and there's a good many inches too, she added parenthetically, and smiling at her own conceit), though he wasn't born one, and was only a showman most of his life, and is that unedicated as I suppose he can't write his name. But it's the heart that makes the gentleman, [-349-] I say, and his is one of the hearts that feels for another. Many's the kind deed he has done, and the Lord has rewarded him for it. As my poor Tough-un often says when we speak of him, the bread that he has cast upon the waters has come back to him after many days; for he's rich in money, and the blessings of many a poor widow and orphan is upon his head."
Not knowing the man of whom she spoke, I could say nothing in reply, and was thinking of taking my leave, when she abruptly asked-
"What do you think of my son, sir?"
"I think he's very good and patient under his affliction, and - "
"Oh yes, sir," she interrupted, "I'll answer for his being a good son and a good man, but I was thinking of his health."
"I am afraid, Mrs. K., he is far from strong," I answered, speaking in as soothing a tone as I could, for I saw that she awaited my reply with a painfully anxious look.
"I'm afraid so too, sir," she, said sorrowfully. "I often try to persuade myself that it is only my fancy, but I can't do it for long at a time. I can't deceive my own eyes; I can't help seeing that he is wasting away. He has been slowly, ever since he met with his accident, but he seems to fail faster of late, and I fear that the end is not far off. I do believe he is fit to go, and I know he doesn't fear it; and seeing that it is so, there are many who might say that it would be a happy release for him, [-350-] but I should feel it none the less bitterly. He's all the world to me; I love him more than I am able to say, more, far more, I think, than I should have done if he had never met with his accident."
"I have no doubt his comparative helplessness has doubly endeared him to you," I said. And then, after a brief pause, I asked, framing the question as gently as I could, the nature of the accident that had crippled him.
"I thought you knew, sir," she said, in a tone of surprise; "but I'm glad you asked me rather than him. It was a performing accident, . . . but I'd better tell you the story from beginning to end, if you don't mind listening, as it may save any little awkwardness arising, if you should be coming to see him again, as I hope you will do, sir, and as often as you can. You must know then, sir," she went on, without waiting for any further remark from me, and getting a rather bulky packet of papers out of an old chest while she spoke - "you must know, sir, that we were in the circus line-as performers, you understand, not proprietors. There you are, see," she continued, unrolling the papers - which proved to be a number of highly-coloured bills of performance - and pointing to a line on them, which announced that among the "Star Artistes" who would appear would be "the talented K----- Family." "Few would think it of me now, I daresay," she resumed, putting away the papers, "but for years I was a circus rider. My husband was a performer on the bars, and our son - Tough-un, as everybody in the establishment called him, because he [-351-] was such a tough, fearless little fellow-was brought up to the flying bars - they hadn't got to calling them Trapazes in our time - almost from the time he could toddle. He was performing in public at nine years of age, and before he was twelve he was 'Bill'd' in every town he went to as 'The Juvenile Flying Phenomenon,' and was one of the leading attractions of the establishment. His father had died three years before, and I had given up riding, so that I was dependent upon what was paid to me as his salary, and - may I be forgiven for my selfish cruelty - though I often feared that something would happen to him, I never thought of withdrawing him from it. Not that he complained, he was as strong as a little lion and as brave. Everybody connected with the circus was fond of him, and said that he would be sure to make one of the great men of the profession; everybody that came to the performances praised him, and as far as that goes he liked the life; but then you see, sir, he was only a child, and I was a woman, and his mother.
"With the sort of foreboding I so often had that some ill would happen to him, I know it was selfish and wicked of me to live on money earned at such hazard; but I was punished for it, sir, I was punished. He was just thirteen when the dreadful night arrived, a night I shall never forget as long as I live. He had gone on to do his turn in the best of spirits, leaving me in the dressing-room. I heard the rounds of applause as he made his different hits, and then when it was within a minute of the finish of his performance, I suddenly heard a heavy [-352-] thud, and the screaming of the women, and I knew what had happened. It was no want of skill or nerve upon his part; but a ring which one of the ropes was fastened to had come out, and he had been thrown full force across a great iron bar that railed off the orchestra of the house. There he lay, poor little fellow, all in a heap, crushed and broken, and with a face like death - just as I had seen him many and many a time in my dreams, ay, and in my waking thoughts too, though I had always tried to drive such thoughts away, instead of taking warning by them. But it all came home to me then. I was like a mad woman. I tried to rush to him, but the men of the establishment held me back. The grooms picked him up, with the tears running down their cheeks as they did it, for he was the favourite of them all; but even then, poor little fellow, he tried to bow to the audience as they carried him out. They brought him into the dressing-room to me, and then, but not till then, his brave young heart gave way. They raised him up to me, and putting his arms round my neck and letting his head fall on my shoulders, he sobbed out, not how he suffered or anything of that kind, but-
"'Oh, mother, I'm afraid I shall never be able to perform again, and what will become of you?'"
She stopped, her voice choked with sobs, and I felt it no imputation upon my manhood that I felt the water rising in my own eyes. For a minute or two there was silence, and then, having sufficiently recovered herself to command her voice, she exclaimed -
[-353-] "Ah, sir! I dare say it is done thoughtlessly ; but it is a cruel thing of the public to encourage and crave for some of the exhibitions they patronise. It may be amusement to them, but it is death to the performers - death to them even if the death does not come in any such way as my boy's accident did. My husband was as healthy and strong a man naturally as you could have picked out in a day's march, but he died of decline at five-and-thirty, and I don't suppose any one ever saw a grey-headed acrobat of any note. The human frame was never made to endure the twistings and strainings that they have to go through; their work kills them, and it isn't a necessary work like some killing trades. However, to come back to my poor boy, as soon as a doctor saw him he said he was crippled for life, and ordered him to be taken to the hospital. There he lay for about three months, and then he came out as you see him now. I had saved a little out of his earnings, and the manager of the circus had given me a few pounds when he was leaving. The life I had led had left me unfit for earning anything like a comfortable living for two in any other way. I tried my hand at needlework, but that is poorly paid at the best, and I was a poor hand at it, and to make short of this part of the story, in a little more than a year we were at the end of our resources. Starvation was staring us in the face, and we were without a friend in the world. I had tried hard to keep Tough-un - as I still called him, and in fact do call him - from knowing the worst, but at last, when we had got almost to our [-354-] last penny and our last loaf, I thought that I must tell him, and I knew how that would cut him up and make him feel his helplessness. What with the thought of this, and the misery I was in, my head was almost turned, and I went out to try, as you may say, to walk myself into something like calmness. I walked up one street and down another, hardly knowing or caring where I was going, until I was stopped by a little crowd round a bill-poster putting up a placard. When he had done it I heard two or three say - for I couldn't read at that time, though Tough-un has taught me since - that it was about P----'s wax-work exhibition. At the moment the words just went in at one ear and out of the other, but presently I found the name running in my mind, and I said to myself I surely know something about that name, and at length I remembered that it was the name of a man who used to be known among the travelling show profession as Parson P----, because he was religious, and wouldn't let his vans travel on Sundays. I remembered at the same time that I had always heard him spoken of as being very kind-hearted; and though, as I had never known him, I had but little hope of anything coming of it, I made up my mind to appeal to him. The show was not to be in the town till the next day, and for that much longer I managed to keep my trouble to myself, and from my already sufficiently afflicted boy. I couldn't sleep that night, but I did better; for the first time in my life I earnestly and humbly prayed - prayed in words that seemed to be given to. me, that the Lord [-355-] would look down upon us and pity us in our affliction. And my prayer was answered.
"I found Mr. P---- next day, and told him my story. He had known my boy, it seemed, in a general way, and had heard of the accident to him, and almost before I had done speaking he had put his hat on and was on the way to our lodgings. Though Tough-un didn't know how bad things were with us, he of course knew they were in a bad way, and were likely to get worse; and so, poor fellow, he was very low-spirited. Seeing this, Mr. P.-----, in the first place, cheered him up a bit, and then, when he was going away, he beckoned me aside, and slipping a sovereign into my hand, whispered, 'That's to go on with till we see what can be done.' Two days later he called again, and having wished us good morning in a hearty sort of way, began conversation by asking Tough-un how he would like to join his concern. He would like it well enough, Tough-un made answer, but what could he do? 'Well, my old lady and me have been talking it over,' said Mr. P---- in his cheery way, 'and what we thought was that we could make room for your mother as a check-taker, while you might be with the modeller and make yourself useful in any little way that you liked, and that your strength would allow of.'
"We both answered that we would only be too glad, and it was there and then settled that it should be so. From that day we have never known want, or wanted a friend. It was the beginning of a new life for us, and though most would have looked upon it as a come-down [-356-] in the world, we have reason for to ever bless the day. It was the means of bringing us to know about, and to have thoughts and hopes of, the other and better world. In leading to this, it may be said that Tough-un's was a fortunate misfortune; as he says himself he only takes it as a proof that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.
"Mrs. P---- was as kind as her husband; and poor S----, their modeller, though his own enemy, was a good friend to my boy. He took to him almost as if he had been his own son, and taught him to read and do the card-work. We stayed with the concern till Mr. P----- retired from business, and very happy years those were. It was during this time that we were first brought to know the Lord. Many and many a pleasant little Bible reading we had in the living-van after the exhibition was closed, or when we were on the road. 'I would like for us to have a chapter or two of the Book, Tough, if it won't be tiring you, my boy!' Mr. P---- would say. No, that would never tire him while he had a voice at all, he would answer, taking out his Bible and asking what he should read. Mr. P---- would name the Sermon on the Mount, or 'The Lord is my Shepherd,' or some other of his favourite parts; and Tough-un would turn to it and read it, we all listening, and when he was done perhaps saying a word or two. Then we would say the Lord's Prayer together, and before we went to bed sing, 'Teach me to live,' or some other hymn: it was to play to the hymns that my boy first learned the concertina. Some of the other show people [-357-] used to try to make game of us for this, but I think I know which slept the soundest and felt the happiest."
"And, you see," I put in, "that Mr. P---- was not the less successful in business because he wouldn't, like the others, travel on Sunday."
"No, that he wasn't," she said emphatically; "he retired a rich man, and as I told you, it was to be near him that we came to this part."
Such was the story of the clever, kindly, God-fearing cripple; and, as told by the poor mother with the homely eloquence that comes of earnest feeling, it seemed to be sufficiently pathetic and instructive to be well worth retelling. As the event proved, it was a story to which the finale was soon to be added - a life-story of a life that was nigh to its close. It was a month after this before I saw him again, and then he was looking much worse in health. It was in the evening and he was busily engaged with his night-class, but it was easy to see that he was working in the spirit of one who, conceiving himself to be engaged in a good work, was resolved to die in harness. This night-school of his - if such it could be called - was a curious sight. There were ten boys there at the time of my visit, and to be a little above them he had to be seated on his work-table, for he had never grown since the time of his accident, and the boyish stature to which he had then attained had been considerably shortened by the breaking of his back. He could not come off his table to his pupils, and so each of the three among them who could read came to his side [-358-] in turns to receive their lessons. With the others who had got through the alphabet and were learning to spell he adopted a novel plan, which, as he subsequently informed me, was like various points in his cardboard work, "an idea of his own." He had picked up an old sign-hoard cheap, had had it planed and painted black, and being skilful in lettering in chalk, taught spelling in this wise. Taking up his chalks, he began to form letters in the sign-board style, and while doing it carried on a sort of interjectional lecture.
"You know," he began, suiting his style of discourse to his audience, "a fellow has no chance of getting on nowadays if he can't read and write a bit. If you don't learn to spell your way through a name such as I am writing now, you will never win your way through the world. We'll suppose now that by way of a start one of you was trying for an errand-boy's place. You hear that a boy is wanted, you go and ask if you will do, the master looks you over, asks you a question or two, and then says, 'Yes, I think you'll suit; at any rate, I'll give you a trial; when can you start?' If you are a pushing fellow you answer, 'Now, if you like, sir.'' That's right,' he says; 'here you are, then, take this parcel to Brown's, in the High Street.' 'Where about is it?' you ask. 'On the right-hand side,' he says, a little way up; you'll easily find it - the name is over the door.' 'But I can't read,' says you. 'Can't read!' he says, taking the parcel from you: 'can't read ! ah, well, you won't do for me; a boy that can't read would be no use here.'
[-359-] While delivering this apropos address, he had lettered out the name of Brown; and when, after going over it a good number of times, he had perfected them in spelling it, he rubbed it out and wrote in another. In this way he carried on the spelling lesson for three-quarters of an hour; and then, calling up the readers again, he heard the lesson that he had in the meanwhile given them to con over. This finished the school-work proper, and the lesson-books were put away; but there was more to be done. Tough-un now assumed the part of an entertainer. He was reading the "Pilgrim's Progress" to them, devoting about a quarter of an hour to it each night. He took up the story at the point at which the reading of the previous evening had finished, the boys listening to the glorious allegory with rapt attention. At the conclusion of the reading he spoke a few words of explanation; then, putting aside the book, he took up the accordion, and, running his fingers over the keys, asked,-
"What shall it be to-night, boys?"
"I'm a Pilgrim," answered one of them readily; and the others echoing his cry, Tough-un at once commenced to play the tune, the boys uniting in singing the hymn.
Such was Tough-un's night-school - or, as I used myself to style them, his evenings at home. He struggled on bravely in the work up to the time when the neighbouring day-schools broke up for their Christmas holidays, but was then at last compelled to give in. During [-360-] the remainder of the winter he was for the most part confined to his bed, and lost strength daily. In the spring, however, he rallied again; but the midsummer heats appeared to be too much for him, and he once more began to decline. At the worst stages of his illness, the boys who had been his pupils were constant in their inquiries about him, and Wheeler, in particular, distinguished himself in this respect. He not only called each day to ask how he was, but from time to time he brought some little gift-a bun or a ripe apple. They were very small matters in themselves, and not very suitable, perhaps, for an invalid; but, like the widow's mite, they were his all, and were brought in a spirit of truest affection.
With Wheeler, also, there originated in this connection an idea that led to an incident that became memorable in the annals of the neighbourhood. Wheeler, with his parents, formed part of a "gang" in the neighbourhood, which was engaged each season for the hop-picking. The annual "turn at the hopping" was to them what the annual holiday at the sea-side and in the country is to better-off Londoners. They always came back looking much better than when they went, and with an increase of health and vitality that stood them in good stead in getting through the hard times of winter. When, therefore, towards the end of the summer, Tough-un was failing in health again, it occurred to Wheeler that what did him and others so much good might do the same good for his friend and mentor, Tough-un. He suggested, with all the warmth of affection. that the latter should [-361-] join the hopping party, not as a working member, but as a looker-on, and for the sake of health. The notion pleased Tough-un, and, after consultation with Mr. P----, it was arranged that he should go, as the change might possibly be beneficial to him, while if it was not, or he did not like it, he could at once return. The hoppers always started early in the morning, and the scene at their departure was generally in the nature of a saturnalia. A great corner public-house opened its doors hours before the usual time of opening, for their especial service; and drinking, shouting, and rioting were the order of the morning, as they went on their way. Tough-un was aware of this; and as soon as he had made up his mind to join the party, he set to work to try to prevent the recurrence of this scene; and he was so far successful that, when the time of departure came, the great bulk of the party marched away in an orderly procession, singing a popular hymn to the lead of his concertina. Such a scene had never been witnessed in the neighbourhood before. "The year when Tough-un went with the hoppers," became a sort of landmark in local chronology; and although in later years the hoppers fell back on their old evil system, they seldom refer to "Tough-un's year" without a kindly sigh to his memory.
For a day or two the air of the hop district seemed to revive him, but at the end of a week he was too ill to stay on, and his mother went and brought him back, brought him back to die. His friends could see and he could feel that the end was indeed nigh. To say that he [-362-] received the knowledge calmly would give but a faint idea of his state of mind. For him the prospect of death seemed to bring with it a feeling of joy. He was not in pain; he was simply fading away, and if any spoke to him condolingly, he smilingly answered them by quoting the lines of some favourite hymn, or some of the scriptural promises, or passages of heavenly assurance. For instance, when I called to see him his mother was weeping over him. Gently stroking her hair, he said in a low, soothing tone,-
"It is hard for you to part with me, I know; but don't grieve overmuch, mother; and don't think for a moment that I am unhappy or afraid. You know I am only going home-home to our great Father's house, in which there are many mansions; where there will be one for you at the end of your journey, if you continue to walk in the straight path. We'll meet again there, I'm only going first.
'Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o'er me,
Where the dark clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free;
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.'"
In this happy frame of mind, feeling safe in his Saviour's love, he lingered on for three weeks. Before that time the hoppers had returned, and on the day he got home, Wheeler came, and with tears in his eyes [-363-] begged so hard to see him that the mother, though painfully anxious to keep her dying son undisturbed, admitted the boy to his bedside. The sight of the death-stricken face of his friend was too much for Wheeler, who, despite the promise he had given to the mother to control his feelings, fell on his knees by the bed and sobbed as though his heart would break. Though his voice was all but gone, the dying Tough-un even then managed to play the part of consoler. He spoke of the happiness that filled his soul, of his fearing no evil in passing through the valley of the shadow of death, and of his confidence in his Saviour's love and care. When, under his gentle influence, the boy had become calmer, he urged upon him in a manner suitable to his understanding to seek for salvation in the days of his youth, and asked him to promise that he would. Wheeler gave the promise, and he kept it. From that day he was an altered boy; he kept work when it was got for him, was regular in his attendance at night-school and Sunday-school, and, though sorely chaffed arid taunted by his former evil companions, resolutely held aloof from them.
By many who knew him has the memory of Tough-un been kept green; and in the case of the once reckless and seemingly lost Wheeler, at least, has the good which he did lived after him, and not been buried with his bones, which a few days after his last interview with the boy were laid in their long resting-place, amid the tears of more than one sincere mourner.