Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 28 - The Adopted Child

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THERE is never much sunshine in the court, even on the brightest day, and the people who live there don't see much of the moon or stars. Neither do they get an extravagant supply of fresh air. In choosing their dwellings, oxygen and ozone are things which are not taken into account. The cats'- meat man carries on business in the centre of the court, and generally has a fine display of liver and lights outside his door. One of his near neighbours is a dealer in rags and bones; and on the opposite side a chimney-sweep may often be seen of an afternoon taking his ease and smoking his pipe in front of the house where he lives, his hands and face and clothes still bearing the marks of his morning s work. It is not a place through which a nervous person from the country would choose to make a short cut; and if the court were put up for sale, the boldest auctioneer would hardly have the effrontery to describe it as "salubrious."
    Still it is not altogether the den of iniquity for [-181-] which its outer aspect would lead many people to take it. On the contrary, it shelters within its gloomy precincts many worthy and even respectable individuals; and deeds of Christian charity are sometimes done there by the poor themselves to one another, which the rich and noble of the earth need not be ashamed to copy.
    In one of the houses lived a family named Gay. It consisted of husband, wife, and seven children, mostly of a tender age, and too young to earn anything towards their own support. The father of the family was only a labouring man, and as he was sometimes out of work, it is almost needless to state that they were very poor, and found it a hard matter to make both ends meet, or even to get bread enough. Still, as John Gay was a sober industrious man- always willing to work when he could get it - and his wife a careful tidy woman, they were seldom or never reduced to absolute want.
    Mrs. Gay was an active bustling little woman, blessed with such a cheerful disposition that, as she used to say, she never went to meet trouble half way, but whenever it came, instead of sitting down to murmur and pine over it, she at once exerted herself to the utmost to get herself and her family out of it. She was also always willing and ready to help a friend or neighbour out of any trouble, when it was in her power to do so, and she sometimes did so to [-182-] her own great inconvenience, as will be seen by what I am about to relate. As for her husband, he was not a particularly bright or cheerful man, but under his somewhat dull exterior he also had a kindly heart, and had great confidence in his wife's judgment. He believed her to be, as indeed she was, a true and good woman, and he thought that whatever she did must be right. So she had only to propose a thing in order to gain her husband's consent; and it is but just to add that she seldom or never proposed anything which was not in itself good.
    In the next room to the Gays lived a poor widow with an only child, a little girl, about six or seven years of age. This widow, Mrs. Moore by name, suddenly died. And at the death of the mother, the little orphan girl was kindly taken into their room by the Gays, with the intention of keeping her only until after the funeral, when, according to the arrangement of the poor-law guardians, she was to be placed in the union workhouse. When the time arrived, however, for her to be taken to the workhouse, poor little Lucy pleaded so earnestly not to be sent to that place, of which her mother had had such a dread, that Mrs. Gay had not the heart to let her go, and told her that she might remain with her and her children a little longer.
    The children, instead of being jealous, and looking upon Lucy as an interloper, became her warm advo-[-183-]cates, and begged her mother to let her stay with them "for ever. "Do let her stay, mother," said one of them. "How would you like us to be sent to the workhouse if you died, and nobody to pity us?"
    Mrs. Gay's heart was already touched by Lucy's friendless condition, and by her innocent appeals not to be sent to the workhouse; but the question just put to her by one of her own children, and the awful picture thus suggested to her mind of the possibility of her own children being left orphans, made her decide very quickly as to what course she would take.
    As soon as the children had all gone to bed that night, she consulted her husband, repeated to him what Lucy and their own children had said to her, and asked what he thought they ought to do with respect to the poor little orphan.
    "Well," replied Gay, "I for one should he sorry lo see anybody - much less a poor little girl like that - sent from our place to the work'us. I think it 'ud stick to us as a sort o' disgrace. Anyways it 'ud be a most unfeelin' thing to do, and I think, mother, the only thing we can do, is to keep the poor little thing, now we've got her."
    "What! and adopt her as our own child, do you mean?"
    "Yes, 'dopt her as our own child, of course, if we [-184-] keep her at all - we couldn't make any difference twixt her and the other children, so let's 'dopt her as cur own child. We've got seven a'ready, mother, and one more or less in such a family as ourn won't make much difference either way."
    This was exactly what Mrs. Gay had thought of proposing, only she managed her husband so well that she generally got him to save her the trouble of proposing anything. And thus it came to pass that poor little Lucy Moore was saved from the workhouse, and was there and then adopted into the family of the Gays, her very name being by mutual agreement changed from Lucy Moore into Lucy Gay. Of course, the Gays could not afford it, and, judged by the principles of political economy, no doubt it was a very foolish thing for them to add to their already heavy burden by taking charge of a child who did not belong to them. But John Gay and his wife were regular attendants at a Bible-class, and were accustomed to go for their political economy to the New Testament; and they both firmly believed that if they only acted according to the principles laid down there, they could not go wrong. They understood Christian charity to mean something more than merely giving away what they did not want themselves and would not miss, and something more than merely doing a kindly service to others when perfectly convenient to themselves to do it. They [-185-]  believed that in befriending this poor motherless child they were only doing a simple duty-that is, doing as they would be done by, and that in giving of the little which they possessed, they were "laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come." And they had an unwavering faith in such passages of Scripture as - "He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord; and look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again." And although they had a rough and ready way of arriving at their conclusions, it was remarkable how well those conclusions tallied with the principles of the Christian religion as defined in the New Testament, though they did not always tally with the maxims of political economists.
    And it was wonderful how literally, in their case, the promise was fulfilled, that "he that hath pity upon the poor," only "lendeth to the Lord," and shall sooner or later be repaid with interest. For with eight children the Gays were not a bit poorer than they had been before with only seven. On the contrary, they were in some respects rather better off; for although they had one more mouth to feed, they were able to buy more food than before. Soon after little Lucy's adoption into the family, John Gay was lucky enough to meet with regular employment, by which he earned higher wages than formerly, and about the same time Mrs. Gay was [-186-] presented with a sewing machine, which enabled her to increase her own earnings.
    Then, again, soon after that, their eldest boy passed the fifth standard at school, and got a situation which brought into the family fund several more shillings a week. And both John Gay and his wife believed in their hearts, and confessed to one another their belief, that all this good luck had been brought to them by the orphan child whom they had saved from the workhouse.