Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - In the Slums, by the Rev. D. Rice-Jones, 1884 - Chapter 32 - The Halfpenny Boat - The Morning Star

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IN what are called "the good old times," though not so long ago,
In a kitchen in an alley in St. Giles's by Soho,
There lived an Irish widow, of manners pure though wild,
Left desolate and friendless with her only child.

The kitchen was a cellar, a cellar dark and damp,
Fit nursery of fever, of rheumatism and cramp;
You would not let a dog of yours inhabit such a den,
If you could help it, I feel sure, much less your fellow-men.

But this Irish widow was very poor, of earthly friends had none
And if you had been as poor as she, you'd have done what she had done
She lived in this dark cellar, in this alley full of woe,
For the simple reason that she had nowhere else where she could go.

The father had not long been dead, the baby still was young;
And the mother to support it her nerves had bravely strung;
But she could not go out charing and nurse her baby too,
And of other work this widow poor could nothing find to do.

The baby from its birth was but a weakly little thing,
And the mother often wept o'er it while trying to it to sing;
[-208-]  Oh ! what a sight it was to see that mother merry making,
To please her child, while all the time her mother's heart was breaking!

The winter snows were on the ground on that unhappy night
When baby's father died, and baby itself first saw the light:
Twas only a farthing rushlight, fit emblem of the gloom
That reigned in that dark cellar, and made it hike a tomb.

But spite of all, the widow's grief was not unmiixed with joy,
When they showed her this first pledge of love, her new-born baby boy;
For in his tiny features she fancied she could trace
The likeness of that much loved, but alas! now lifeless face.

The baby was scarce eight days old when on its mother's breast
It followed its dead father to his place of long, long rest;
Ah me! it was a moving sight to see that mother pale
Behind the coffin, and to hear the baby's plaintive wail.

But sadder still it was to see them enter once again,
Now fatherless and widowed, that dark and dismal den
They called their home, for now its wretched dank and squalid gloom
Resembled more than ever the cold shelter of the tomb.

But the mother's heart was brave, and she struggled bravely on,
Though she grieved and mourned most bitterly the loss of him now gone;
She struggled bravely on to support her darling child
She mourned not for herself, but was happy if it smiled.

At first she got a neighbour to mind her infant son,
From early morn until at night her hard day's work was done;
But at last the child fell sick, and then her tender mother's heart
Could no longer find the courage from her darling child to part.

[-209-] The parish doctor was called in ; he said, "The child must die
If in this noxious atmosphere it's suffered more to lie."
The mother asked,- "What shall I do? where shall I take it- where?"
The doctor only answered,- "It must have change of air"

"It must have change of air sir? oh can't you plainly see
How poor I am? how can you talk of change of air to me?"
"It must have change of air," was the doctor's sole reply
"It must have change of air, I say, or it will surely die."

And then the doctor left her in sorrow and despair,
Wildly saying to herself, "Either death or change of air!
Either death or change of air, change of air - ah let me see!"
She turned her pocket inside out, and found - a halfpenny!

She held the coin up in her hand-'twas all her earthly store,
Nor could she hope, whate'er she did, to make it any more
But still she took her baby up in a sort of wild despair,
And cried,- "Come on, mavourneen then it shall have change of air!"

Now in those "good old times," though the poor were left to fight
Their battles without help or aid or comfort, as they might,
The spirit of British commerce, e'en as now, ran very high,
And they floated steamers on the Thames at "fares one halfpenny!"

 The mother now remembered this, for once in happier days
She had taken a trip with Patrick, on the Thames, "to taste the braze;"
So she hastened with her baby down to where the barges float,
And asked the tollman for a ticket for the halfpenny boat.

Poor soul! I own she had strange notions of a change of air;
But then she did her very best. and added to it a prayer
[-210-] To the Father of both rich and poor, to Jesus, meek and mild,
That He would bless the change of air, and save her only child.

And her prayer was heard and answered, for on that self-same day,
And on that boat, a holy woman came and took away
To a home in which were tended, with the tenderest Christian care,
Both child and mother, and where both had real change of air.

God help the poor and bless them; and you who are not poor,
Oh I do not send them harshly or lightly from your door;
Remember that beneath those rags there may be hearts as brave
And good as yours, and do your best those precious souls to save.



WHILE the Good Shepherd kindly watch was keeping,
And warning all the flock of Satan's snares,
While on His lips the words were, "Watch, lest sleeping,
The tempter come upon you unawares,"
Ah me, ungrateful from His fold's warm light,
I wandered forth into the gloom of night.

Methought I saw a light without the fold;
I knew not then twas but a gleam from hell:
And the first step being taken made me bold.
To follow up that witching wicked spell.
The Shepherd would sore grieve when I was gone,
But still the power of Satan lured me on.

I heard the Shepherd's warning voice ; it said,
"Come back, come back, tis not My light you see,
Come back, come back !" But still I onward sped,
Nor thought of all that He had done for me.
I knew He loved me, but my hardened heart
Let me without one pang of pain depart.

I heard the echoes of that warning cry
Ring out around me in the sinful wild;
I heard Him say, "Come back, why wilt thou die?
Come back and be forgiven, poor erring child!"
But then I heard the siren voice of sin
Say, "Come with us, He will not take thee in."

[-212-] How long I followed that dread phantom light,
Through what foul nameless places me it led,
Twere hard to tell nought but the blackest night,
Or live sepulture with the ghastly dead,
Could image those dark scenes through which I passed,
When I the Shepherd's yoke had from me cast.

At last I lay all helpless, torn, and wan,
Down at the bottom of a deep abyss
The siren charms, the phantom light had gone;
I only heard the demons mock and hiss.
Black darkness hemmed me in, all hope had fled
Though conscious still, I lay as one long dead.

And then I heard a voice above the strife
The fiends were making round my wretched bed-
"I am the Resurrection and the Life
He that believes shall live, though he were dead."
I prayed ; then through the gloom I saw afar
A light that proved to be the Morning Star.

O Star of Hope! O Star of Love divine!
Leave us no more to sorrow in the night;
Shine on this land until Thy power benign
Be felt by all - Let there again be light
Where now thick darkness reigns, and sin; and may
Our night of sorrow end in endless day!