Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Episodes in an Obscure Life, by Richard Rowe, 1871 - XXIII - Mr. Jones's Customer

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XXIII.

MR JONES'S CUSTOMER.

THROUGH my acquaintance with Mr Jones, I became acquainted with a far more agreeable person to spend an hour with than Mr Perkins. I was in the bird-seller's 'Russian Herby' one evening, chatting with the old man, whilst Fred gravely got up his next day's lessons in a chair over which I had often seen him clambering in the days of poor Black Pete, when the bell hung on the shop-door tinkled, and a slim, sensible-looking man came in and knocked with his knuckles on the counter. The bell and the knocking so excited the noisy portion of Mr Jones's stock that I could not hear a word of the conversation which followed between him and his customer.
    'That's a very decent feller,' said Mr Jones, when he came back, 'and used to make a very decent living. He's like most folks now, though, poor chap  - 'ard put to it orfen, and then he's a score and more of mouths to fill, whether he's got anything for his own or not.'
    [-263-] 'You don't mean to say that the poor man has such a family as that!'
    'Yes, I do, sir,' answered Mr Jones, laughing, 'and as well-behaved a family as you'd wish to see. It's a 'Appy Family - beasts and birds, you know, sir - and a good thing he used to make of it. I've heard him say that when he first started, he could clear his 2 or 3 a week easy, and now sometimes he don't take as much in a day as it costs him to feed his things. The chap that started them 'Appy Families, Crook says, minted money by his at first, but he was poor enough before he died. Partly the novelty was wore oft; and then he'd been copied by so many.'
    'But isn't it the same all round? Go where you will, you find that poor people haven't the pennies to spare they used to have.'
    'That's the story everybody I come acrost tells me; though, mind you, sir, I don't believe all I hear about the lots they used to git. I've noticed that when things is taper with a chap, he gits a queer kind of pleasure out of tryin' to make folks believe that he was uncommon well off ever so long ago - or if he worn't somebody as belonged to him was.'
    'Are you talking of your friend now?'
    'No, he's a very worthy feller - a real good feller, I believe - and I think you'd, too, sir, if you knew him, though he ain't much of a church-goer. There's a verse he's very fond of quotin' out of a poetry-book he's got 'old of:-
        [-264-] "He prayeth best who loveth best
        All things, both great and small;
    For the dear God that loveth us,
        He made and loveth all."
He don't quote the lines about himself, but they fit him to a T. He's as fond of his things as if they was his own flesh and blood - a deal fonder than some folks is of their flesh and blood.'
    'But is it only birds and beasts that he cares for?'
    'No, man, woman, nor child he won't see put upon, if he can help it, quiet-spoken though he be. He's a nateral leanin' to make friends with them of all sorts as wants a friend, and most folk's leanin', I'm afraid, is jest the other way. Friends is like flies for the most part - they go buzzin' in swarms wherever there's most to be got.'
    Seeing that I dissented from his sweeping assertion, he went on-
    'You needn't shake your 'ead at me, sir. Don't the Bible say, "men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself?" I should like you to know Crook, sir.'
    'Does he come here often?'
    'Every now and then he wants something in my way - seed, or a fresh bird, or so on - and so I git a chat with him. He's git some notions that you might think queer - about beasts and birds going to heaven, and such - and sometimes I'm half inclined to think he's right, though I do git up a kind of mild argeyment with him. "Crook," says I one day, "can you show me a verse in the Bible that says they'll go to heaven?" "Mr Jones," [-265-]  says he, "can you show me a verse that says they won't?" "By-the-by, says I, "there is something about beasts in the Revelations." But Crook is a bit of a scholar, and a thorough honest feller. He wasn't going to take advantage of me. He told me that "beasts' wasn't the proper word to be used there. I should like you to know Crook, sir - he's very pleasant company.'
    'Did he ever tell you how he trained his animals?'
    'I've often talked to him about his secret, but he al'ays says that it's only patience and not being harsh to 'em. He ain't a joking man in a general way, but says he one day - he's a bachelor like myself -  I believe, Mr Jones, you might tame the worst wife that ever was, if you'd only be patient with her and kind to her - lettin' her know at the same time that you was her master. I'm not so sure that Crook could manage a scolding wife - he'd be too soft-hearted for her, I fancy, but I don't doubt that that's his system with his Happy Family. It's a mystery to me, though, how he can manage such things so much better than me, that have lived all my life amongst 'em - though I'm fond of 'em, too. If he gits his living by 'em, so do I; and I've been at it almost since I can remember: now he didn't take to his present business till he was quite a man - I don't suppose he's been in the country a dozen times in his life; and the chap that started the 'Appy Families was a towney, too, he says - some kind of a weaver out Brummagem or Manchester way.'
    'I should certainly like to see Mr Crook.'
    'If you'd like to see him, sir, I'm sure he'd like to see [-266-] you, sir - 'specially if you told him that I'd ast you to have the kindness to call. You'd git on well together. I won't offer to go with you, because I think you'd git on better by yourselves. He ain't like old Snap, sir - it would ha' been a sin to take you there, without lettin' you have some one with ye that wasn't too polite to growl back again at the old bear.'
    'Is he in my parish?'
    'Yes, Thompson Street, leading out of James Street, is where he lives - first house on the right as you go in, and the first door on the right as you go into the house. You'd better call latish, sir.'
    I followed Mr Jones's advice when I paid my visit to Thompson Street, but found that Mr Crook was out. 'Wantin' to see Mr Crook, sir?' inquired the woman of the house, coming out of a back room, when I had knocked a second time at Mr Crook's door. 'He ain't come in yet, but I expect him in every minute. I've got his kittle bilin' for him. Will you come and set down in my place till he comes?- if you'll excuse the muddle I'm in, sir.'
    Whilst I was sitting with his landlady, I heard more good opinions of Mr Crook. He was 'sich reg'lar pay,' and so 'quiet-behaved,' and so kind to everybody. 'I biles his kittle reg'lar for him,' said the woman. 'It saves him a bit o' coals, and then he can git his tea as soon as he likes, and he must want it, poor feller. I'm bound to do all I can for him as 'il do anythin' he can for me. Anythin' he can do, he will do, for anybody, if it comes to that.'
   [-267-] As it was clearly impossible to hear much about the lodger without hearing a great deal more about the landlady, I allowed her to speak on without interruption.
    'I ain't zackly 'appy with my 'usband. Take him through and through, from year's end to year's end, and there's undreds of women wuss off than me, but still he's fond of drink, I can't deny, and when he's in his tantrums he thinks nothin' o' smashin' the furnitur', and wallopin' me with the back of a chair, or anythin' else that comes 'andy. He's a wery 'igh-sperrited man. He'd be wery sorry if he 'urt me, for he's wery fond of me in his 'eart, is Stubbs; but I should horfen be murdered if it wasn't for Mr Crook. Hout he'll come, and he'll quiet Stubbs down, though my 'usband could eat him, 'ead and all, like a shrimp, if he chose. And when there's rows in the house amongst the other lodgers, they'll mind Mr Crook, somehow, ten times more than they will Stubbs, or me either, though I'm screechin' my heyes out to git 'em to 'old their n'ise. It's queer, - and him that's sich a mite of a man, and don't speak much louder than a mouse. But he's a deal o' sperrit, in a quiet way, has Mr Crook, though you mightn't think it to look at him. Up he'll walk to big blackguards - I'm not speakin' o' Stubbs - at his wust nobody can say as Stubbs is a blackguard - but reg'lar bullyin' blackguards. Up Mr Crook 'ill walk to 'em as cool as a cowcumber, though I don't s'p'ose he ever give a man a black heye in all his born days, or 'ud know how if he'd got the chance. And then he's sich a kind chap. I'd a poor boy - he's gone now, thank God - that was a great burden to us. He'd #urt his back, and couldn't do [-268-]  nothin' when he come out of the hospital; he was a great trial to us  -he was that peevish - let alone his not bein' able to do nothin' for hisself. But Mr Crook would come in of a night and a Sunday, and set with poor Tom, talkin' an' readin' by the hour together - and he'd bring him horanges. I do believe poor Tom loved Mr Crook better than his own father, or me either. A mother's 'eart, sir, can't 'elp feelin' soft to them as as been kind to her dead children, though p'r'aps she 'adn't much reason to be proud on 'em when they was alive. There he is, sir - I'll take him in his kittle, and tell him you're 'ere.'
    When Mrs Stubbs came back, Mr Crook came with her. I gave him Mr Jones's viva voce introduction, and was instantly asked, with a good-humoured smile, to step into his room. A good part of it was filled up by the Happy Family cage that had been wheeled into it. The kettle stood upon the hob.
    'Perhaps you'll excuse me, sir,' said Mr Crook, 'if I make up a bit of a a fire before I begin to talk, to keep the kettle on the boil, and then, perhaps, you'll do me the honour to take a cup of tea with me. I let my fire go out when I leave in the morning.'
    When the chips had been blown into a blaze, and the coals had caught, he put the kettle on them, and it soon began to bubble, hiss, puff and fume as merrily as when Mrs Stubbs had taken it off her fire. In the mean time he had brought out a little black teapot, and a couple of blue and white cups and saucers, &c. When he had made tea, and put the pot on the hob to 'draw,' he said, 'And now, sir, if you'll excuse me, I'll look after my young  [-269-] people. They want their suppers, and to go to bye-bye.'
    The feathered and furred inmates of the cage were crowded about its door, jabbering, squeaking, grunting, croaking, and chirping very impatiently. As soon as Mr Crook approached them, however, they fell back, and then, when he had opened the door, hopped, and dropped, and flopped, and futtered, and floundered out in single file. As soon as they were out they instantly made their way to the perches, and holes, and hutches which they had chosen for themselves, or their master had supplied them with, about his room. It wasn't exactly pleasant to feel two or three rats slipping between one's legs to a snug hollow by the fire-place. The cat marched up to the fender, stretched herself, gaped, mewed, as much as to say, 'I'm ready for my milk,' and then lay down in the firelight to wait for it. Some of the birds perched on the rail of their master's bed. The monkey shambled to the foot of the bed, threw back the clothes, jumped up, and tucked himself in, instantly untucking himself to put out his paw and jabber for his nightly rations. It was some time before all the animals had been served with their supper. When they had got it, the menagerie atmosphere - smells of mice and stale cabbage-leaves being the dominant tones of its malodour - was somewhat overpowering.
    When Mr Crook came back to give me the cup of tea to which he had hospitably invited me, I did not feel much inclined for any refreshment except fresh air. 'Shall I open the window again, sir?' Mr Crook said anxiously, when he noticed my white face. I always leave it a bit  [-270-] open when I go out, to keep the room as sweet as I can, but I forgot you weren't used to animals. Would you like to have a smoke, sir? If you haven't a cigar with you, I can get you a clean pipe in a minute. It won't hurt the youngsters - they like it. I smoke myself, and so does Mr Jones when he comes here, though he is used to animals, but his is a great deal airier place than mine. Do have a pipe, sir - I can assure you it won't annoy the youngsters. If I weren't to watch him, my monkey there would often be having a smoke. I've caught him taking a pipe, and downright he seemed to enjoy it. Have a smoke, sir, and the sickness will be gone in a second.'  Not being a smoker, I was not so sure of that. I took a cup of tea instead, and when the window had been opened, gradually accustomed myself to my surroundings.
    All the creatures had so thoroughly enjoyed their supper that I expressed my astonishment at creatures so sharp - set abstaining from the chances the cage afforded them of preying on their natural food. Mr Crook was a bit of a fanatic, in a harmless way. 'I'm not sure,' said he, 'that animals are animals' natural food - that is, when they are brought back to an upright state of nature. Teach them to love one another, and they won't eat one another; though I'll own that if I put a thing they haven't been taught to love into the cage, they'll be down upon him fast enough.'
    'Isn't that natural instinct asserting itself?'
    'In my belief, it's rather half-mastered depravity cropping up again. I don't give my youngsters what you call their natural food. My principle is this - not to eat or  [-271-] drink anything that costs any animal its life, or pain, and I bring up my youngsters in the same way of thinking. We're almost vegetarians. Of, course we drink milk, and eat cheese and butter, but then it's no pain to a cow to be milked, but a relief instead. What does the great poet, Wordsworth, tell us? " Never to mix our pleasure or our pride with suffering of the meanest thing that breathes." '
    'But he says, too, Mr Crook,-
            "And tis my faith that every flower
                Enjoys the air it breathes."
So why do you boil cauliflowers, instead of letting them go on enjoying the air they breathe?'
    'I don't like to argue with a clergyman, sir, but it seems to me that that is quite different. A vegetable's breath isn't like an animal's. That was a poetical fancy of Wordsworth's, I'm inclined to think. We read in the Bible that we may eat freely of every tree and green herb.'
    'But we read in the Bible also, "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you." '
    'Yes, sir; but go on with the verse, if I may make so bold.'
    '"- even as the green herb have I given you all things.! What do you say to that, Mr Crook?'
    'I hope you won't think me forward, sir. It seems impudent in a man like me to dispute about the meaning of the Bible with a clergyman that has spent I don't know how many years in studying it in the original tongues at college.' [No satire was intended, but, remembering the profundity of my Biblical research at Cambridge,  [-272-] could not help feeling severely lashed, 'for self and university.'] I don't like to seem forward, but I don't take that text as you do, sir. The meaning I should give to it is this,- You don't take any animal life away when you eat a vegetable, and so long as you remember that, you may eat what animals will give you. I'm doubtful about eggs. The chances of life are out of them long before they get to the shop, but still if they'd been properly hatched they'd have been chickens. So I don't eat them myself. I'll confess, though, I've given chopped-up hard-boiled egg to my birds, and they relished it, but that's not their sin, but mine for giving it to them. I wasn't always a vegetarian, and I feel frightened when I think of the animals I have helped to eat. If God, as the Bible goes on to say, will require the blood of our lives at the hand of every beast, of course he will require the blood of the life of every beast at our hand. We're on an equality so far, it seems to me.'
    A craze of this kind was too amiable to wrangle over. 'Well, well, Mr Crook,' I said, 'I will leave you to think as you like about Noah's time; but farther on in the Bible, you know, there are orders about the slaughtering of birds and beasts, and farther back, you know, Abel brought the flrstlings of his flock for an offering, and they were accepted when Cain's fruit of the ground found no favour.'
    'I can't believe, sir, that Abel killed his lambs. Mightn't he have set them apart, called them God's lambs, and made special pets of them, till God took them back to himself?'
     [-273-] 'Ah, Mr Jones told me that you believed beasts had a hereafter.'
    'I do, sir, and a happy hereafter; because I believe in God. He wouldn't have created things to suffer for no fault of their own, and then not make it up to them ten times over somewhere. I needn't tell you, sir, that God means good. And would that be good?'
    By this time, to use a slang phrase, I had taken Mr Crook's measure, and felt no inclination to controvert anything he might say; merely wishing to get him to manifest his idiosyncracy as openly as possible.
    'Well, but, Mr Crook,' I asked, 'what about the beasts and birds that were ordered to be slain?'
    'It's a mystery to me, sir,' he answered, 'that God should give in to the hardness of men's hearts. But we've Christ's word for it that He did - any way, that He let Moses say so in his name. It's a mystery, sir - that's my answer to your question. But what a deal of kindness to animals there is in the Bible - about the sparrows not falling to the ground, and God feeding the young ravens when they cry, and looking after your enemy's ox, and not muzzling your own when he treadeth out the corn! Don't you think there was a Happy Family in the Garden of Eden, sir? Adam didn't stick the young lambs when they ran up to rub their little noses against his legs, and skin them, and give them to Eve to roast. And if the devil did get inside the serpent and leave his venom in him, it won't be always so. Some snakes have worked the poison off already; and don't we read that 'the sucking-child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall  [-274-] put his hand on the cockatrice' den?" And what does the Prophet Isaiah say just before ?- "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like an ox." What's that, sir, but a Happy Family ? - as things were before sin came into the world, and as they'll be again when it's washed out of it? Learned folks say that the lion could not eat straw, but there, you see, he will. They'd say that mice is my cat's natural food, but she lets them run all over her, and nibble for fun at her tail, without ever thinking of hurting them.'
    'And you think, Mr Crook, that animals might be educated into millennial peace?'
    'I really think they might, sir, if men would take the pains, and set them a better example. So far as eating one another goes, look at mine, sir. I've a hawk, and an owl, and a crow, and a monkey, and a cat, and I used to have a dog, and a coatimundi, and I've a jackdaw, and a jay, and a starling, and a couple of pigeons, and a bantam cock and hen, and a magpie, and rats, and rabbits, and ferrets, and mice, and three guinea-pigs, and sparrows, and a hedgehog; and they'd starve before one of them would make a meal of another.'
    'Have you ever tried them?'
    'Well, no, of course, I wouldn't be so cruel. But I've let them go long enough without food, to be sure I'm only saying what's correct. Why, just look behind you,  [-275-] sir - the rats and the ferrets have gone to sleep together cuddled up in a heap, and my cat here suckled some of those rats. You'll read of cats doing that, too, in natural-history books. So you see sometimes, without being trained, they can get the better of what you call their natural instinct. I mentioned that to Mr Jones once, but he said it was only because the cat wanted to relieve herself or because she was fattening up the young rats as a fanner fats bullocks; but that seems a low view to take- and I fancy it's only Mr Jones's joke, for he's very fond of animals, and has tamed that rat of his in a surprising manner considering that he never gave any particular thought to the subject.'
    'It seems to be your belief that animals are very much like men.'
    'Yes, I believe they might all be brought to a proper way of thinking and feeling if they'd proper pains taken with them. I'd a deal of trouble with the hawk I've got at present, but now he'll let the sparrows take the food right out of his beak, and never say a word.'
    'You haven't cured your young friends of stealing, then?'
    'Well, sir, you know men have very different opinions on the subject of property. There's a Frenchman, I've read in the papers, thinks it's robbery; and that may be the sparrows' opinion, when they see the hawk eating something they'd like to have. It's the hawk, you see, sir, they may think the thief. But now you mention it, I'll own that it doesn't seem pretty of the sparrows to take the hawk's food away just because they know he  [-276-] won't hurt them. My system falls short a long way of what I want it to do; but that's my fault and not the animals'. If the teacher was a bit nearer perfection himself, why, then, perhaps, he'd have a better right to grumble that his scholars weren't. My crow, I'm sorry to say, is very spiteful still, and very deceitful. He'll give his neighbour a nasty dig, and then look away as innocent and as sleepy as an old Quaker gentleman twiddling his thumbs. The magpie, too, is very fond of scaring anything that will let itself be bullied; and the monkey is an awful tease. He'll shake the owl off its perch when its dozing, and pinch the cat, and take a mouse up by the tail, and swing it round and round like a sling. And yet there's a deal of goodness in Jacko. He'll drive the magpie off when it's bullying, and if he takes a fancy to a little thing, he'll toss it and hug it and feed it like a mother.'
    Seeing me smiling, he observed, 'You may well laugh, sir, and think me weak-minded, but there's another thing I'll tell you about Jacko. I've read that man is the only creature on earth that has got reason and a notion of God. I'm by no means sure of that - I fancy it's a bit of our conceit. If we are the only creatures on earth that have got them, a very poor use a good many of us make of them, at any rate.'
    'Do you believe that animals have reasoning faculties, then?'
    'I can't believe that they haven't. I've seen my things think a matter out as sensibly as any man could do. I dare say you know the story of the dog that lost his  [-277-] master, and scented him to a place where three roads met; up two of them he ran snuffing, but when he came back, he galloped along the third without putting his nose to the ground. Wasn't that reason, sir ?-and I've seen my youngsters do things every bit as sensible as that.'
    'And I suppose you believe, too, that animals know that God made them.'
    'He's made a lot more of them than He has of us, and so I can't see why we should fancy that we are the only ones that He has let know who made them. They've as much right to call themselves His creatures as we have, and what right have we to say that He hasn't let them know it? When I wake up in the summer mornings, and hear my sparrows chirping in their cage, and the sparrows chirping up above on the roof it seems to me as if they were singing their morning hymn - having family prayers in their little way. And they twitter in the same way, only quieter, just before they go to sleep. Hear a lark, too, sing in the morning!  - the man on the first-floor up above has got one that he hangs outside his window when the weather's fine - isn't that a morning  hymn? Could the singers in surplices at the Temple Church beat that, sweet as it is to hear them?'
    'I have not the least doubt, Mr Crook, that it is a morning hymn, and I am inclined to think with you that the lark must be in some way conscious that it is so - but you were going to tell me something about Jacko.'
    'Well, sir, it was this. Whenever Jacko happens to wake up when I'm going to bed, and sees me saying my  [-278-] prayers, out he jumps, and kneels down by me, and puts his paws together like a child, and moves his lips like mine. At first I thought it was only funny imitation, but he tires of most of his tricks in that way after a bit, and he keeps on at this. You may smile, sir - I expected you would-but it's my belief that Jacko has got it into his head that, since he can do so many things that men do, he would like to worship God in their way instead of the way he's been accustomed to. I can't say what that was, but I know that Jacko, when he's at prayers- comical though he is at most times,  - looks serious enough to shame a good many church-goers. If he doesn't mean what he's doing, he shams to far better than a good many men and women do. I was saying so to Mr Jones one day.'
    'And what did Mr Jones say?
    "Don't get into that way of talking, Crook. I've given it up, and I don't want you to fall into it. There's no comfort to be got out of it. But then Mr Jones, sensible as he is, isn't always consistent. Directly afterwards he burst out laughing. "You've hit it, Crook," he said. "Most people, I believe, do get up and down at church exactly like your monkey; only they can't sham as well, or they won't take the trouble to." But that, I need not tell you, sir, wasn't my point of view. I don't think that Jacko does sham. He only thinks that he has found out a better mode.'
    If Mr Crook had had any money to leave, any one to whom he had willed it would, no doubt, have felt very anxious, had the legatee heard him propounding such  [-279-] opinions. For my own part, in spite of his craze, I felt a hearty respect for him.
    'If all people thought like you, Mr Crook,' I said to him, when I was bidding him good-bye, 'there would be no need of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; but are you quite sure that your animals would not be happier out of your cage than they are in it?'
    'I've thought that matter over seriously, sir, and I don't think they would. It isn't that I get my living by them. It isn't much of a living nowadays, and there are other things that I could do that would bring me in, at any rate, as much as I get by my cage. But I don't think they would be better off, if I was to let them go. They'd be quite unfit for the ways of the world from which I've partly weaned them. They'd starve or get killed. Some of them, perhaps, would backslide into their old ways, and that would be worse almost. No, sir, I'll keep my youngsters as long as I've food to give them. I feel like a preacher, too, when I wheel my Family out. There's two texts to that sermon - "One God and Father of us all," and "God is Love." '