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DUKE SOAP-SUDS THE SECOND.
MY duties taking me a good deal into the streets, and duty
and inclination alike disposing me to notice such of the "characters"
of my district as were to be seen about the streets, it naturally came about
that I had some general knowledge of such "characters" even when I did
not happen to have a personal acquaintance with them. One of the best known of
these personages, and one of the most amusing, though by no means most
commendable, was an old fellow popularly known as the Duke of Soap-suds. I say
an old fellow, though it was in constitution rather than in years that he was
old. He was an army pensioner, had been a good deal on foreign stations, and
seen some active service. This, in some degree, but drink in a far greater
degree, had aged him beyond his years, for though barely fifty, he looked fully
seventy. When sober, he was a quiet, inoffensive fellow, but when he was
drunk-which was very often, notably about pension day - he was given to assume a
pompous, dictatorial, quarrelsome manner, and to challenge all and sundry to
fight, telling the challenged that they would be like rabbits in his hands, that
he would walk round them [-452-] like a cooper
round a cask, would knock pieces off them and the like. He would hold forth to
the effect that he had done the State much service, and rail at the national
ingratitude which could insult such service by pensioning it with a paltry
sixpence a day. He would fight his battles o'er again, and recite a number of
apocryphal stories of his own prowess, the favourite one of these being an
account of how he had saved the life of his colonel during the Indian mutiny. He
had - according to the story - seen a sepoy taking deliberate aim at the
colonel, had thereupon instantly levelled his own rifle at the sepoy, and called
out to the noble colonel, "Stand back, my lord; I have him covered."
The words were uttered in such a tone of command, that the officer,
instinctively obeying them, stepped aside just as the sepoy's ball whizzed by!
"and then," the Duke of Soapsuds would conclude, "I blazed away
at the black scoundrel, and tumbled him over like a crow."
The frequency and gusto with which he told this story led to his sometimes being called "Stand-back-my-lord," but the Duke of Soap-suds was, as I have said, the nickname by which he was most generally known, the title being considered by the rough wags of the neighbourhood as a happy hit at the circumstance that the grand air which he assumed when in his cups was coupled with the fact that his occupation - so far as he had any occupation at all - was to assist his wife in her business as a washerwoman. Like all who abandon themselves to the demon of strong drink, the Duke [-453-] deteriorated morally and physically. When I first knew him, soon after his retirement from the army, he had stilt the old soldierly bearing. He carried his head erect, trod the earth firmly, and looked the whole world in the face; and, though he was even then a drunkard, he was not as yet lost to all sense of self-respect. But in a few years the bad drink did its bad office. Under its malign influence he grew to be a shambling, slovenly, shrinking old man; grew, too, to be a sponger; fell into the way of asking people he knew to "stand treat," or lend him "the price of a pint," and of hanging about public-house bars, with a view to coming in for "pot luck "with other drinkers who had money. He came to be an object of contempt and pity, a public scoff and mock, to be made sport of by children in the streets, by brutalised men and women in public-houses. A favourite haunt with him was a corner public-house that I had to pass every day, and it was seldom that a week went by without my seeing him. At length, however, there came a time when some two or three months elapsed without my seeing or hearing anything of him, and, out of a passing curiosity, I inquired what had become of him.
"What's become of the Duke?" echoed the man to whom I put the question, elevating his eyebrows. "Why, he's gone under the sod, poor old duffer!"
"Oh, I was not aware he was dead," I said. " In fact, I had never even heard of his being ill."
"Well, he was hardly, as you may say, ill," answered the man. "It was the drink as settled him. They was [-454-] old acquaintances, but it got him down and worried him at last, and finished him off sharp. He'd hooked himself on to some sailors as were on the spree. They was a going in for rum, and a having it in by the bottle, and watchin' his chance, he managed to put himself outside such a cargo of it as, seasoned as he was, proved too much. It brought on D. T., and he died in a couple of days. Of course," concluded my informant, "it worn't a nice sort of end for any feller to come to, but his going off the hooks was about the best thing as could have happened for his family, for he was both a burden on them and a disgrace to them."
"I could easily believe that," I said, and went on my way, thinking no more about the subject.
Some years had passed, and I had forgotten that there had ever been such a personage as the Duke of Soapsuds, when, by the merest accident, that strange title was again brought under my notice. I had been through a fire-wood yard in which a number of children were employed, and having finished my business - which had relation to the children - I was standing in the gateway talking to the manager, when there turned into the yard a young fellow driving a donkey and cart. The man and his "turn-out" were alike rather noticeable. He looked about two or three and twenty, had a pheasant, open countenance, and though evidently a sharp-witted, self-assured customer, who "knew his away about," was as evidently frank, kindly, and good-humoured. He was well dressed in what might be called a half "coster" [-455-] style - that is to say, he wore a hairy cap, sleeved waistcoat, and tight-fitting cord trousers; but he did not "sport" aggrawater curls, or have a "loud"-patterned handkerchief twisted round his neck, and his thick-soled lace-ups, instead of being greased or simply neglected, were brilliantly polished; while about his personal appearance, and clothes generally, there was a thorough cleanliness that is by no means a frequent characteristic of even that portion of the "coster" class who go in for what they call "ikeness," others smartness. The donkey, a fast-trotter of more than average size, carried its head well up, and showed every sign of being well treated and well cared for; the harness was polished, and the shapely, well-built light cart was neatly painted.
"Now, that's what I call a model turn-out," said the manager in an undertone, as the driver pulled up and got out of the cart.
I muttered an assent: and then, as the man came up to where we stood, the manager laughingly saluted him with,
"Well, Duke; come for chump?"* [* Hardwood, and ends of logs and beams not suitable for "bundle wood," are cut into short lengths, and sold as "chump wood," or, as dealers abbreviate it, chomp. Among the poor, and especially by women who "take in" washing, chump wood is used as a substitute for coal, their experience being that it is a less expensive fuel.]
"Yes; I want a load or two," was the answer.
"All right; we've plenty on hand," said the manager.
[-456-] Then laughingly turning to me, he added, with an air of mock ceremony,-
"Allow me to introduce you to his grace the Duke of Soap-suds."
"That's a very old joke of his, sir," said the young fellow, with perfect good humour; "but you see, it pleases him; and, as I always tell him, jokes go free till Christmas, and then they begin again."
As he spoke he led his trap away, and as soon as he was beyond earshot, I exclaimed in a half-musing, half questioning tone,- "The Duke of Soap-suds! The name sounds familiar to me, though not in connection with that young fellow." Then, remembrance serving me, I went on, "Ah yes, I have it; - the Duke of Soap-suds that I knew was an old pensioner."
"Oh yes," said the manager smiling, "you're thinking of the old man 'Stand-back-my-lord,' eh?"
"That was the man," I replied.
"Ah, that was the first Duke, the drunken Duke, as I call him by way of distinction; this is his son - Duke Soap-suds the Second; but I'm glad to say, for I like the youngster, it's not a case of like father, like son. The son is as good and worthy a young fellow as the father was a bad and worthless one. He's an uncommonly clever, pushing young chap, too. There's more in him than meets the eye. He don't make much show, but I'll be bound to say that even now he could buy up some that make more. He's what I call a born trader, and [-457-] though he only drives a donkey cart at present, I shouldn't be surprised if he lived to keep his carriage; and whatever success in life he has had or may have will be well deserved, if it is only for the way in which he has behaved to his poor old mother and a sickly sister."
From what the manager said of him, and more especially from the manner in which he said it, I felt a desire to become acquainted with this young Duke, and made a remark to that effect.
"Well, he's some of the sort that's worth knowing," observed the manager by way of reply; "he has got something in him. He's not an educated man, still he's anything but a dunce, and is well worth talking to. He's a bit of a philosopher in his way; and though he is perhaps just a shade too bounceable, you can forgive a little bounce in a young fellow that shows he isn't all bounce, but has really good stuff in him, and has done things that he may fairly be proud off."
I loitered about the gate till Duke was coining out with his cart laden, and then, by way of opening a conversation, observed,-
"You haven't been long getting your cart filled."
"No longer than I could help, sir, you may depend," he answered. "I loaded with a will myself, and so I could stand to 'bustle' the others, and I did. None of your 'Spell O' every two or three minutes for me, I'm one of the go-ahead sort you must be nowadays, if you don't want to be left behind; so it's gee up, Johnny, and away we go!"
[-458-] He sprang into his cart as he spoke, and seeing there would be no chance to "lead up" to my point, I came to it at once.
"You are a go-ahead fellow, and no mistake, I said," detaining him by laying my hand gently upon the reins, "and from what I see of you, and what the manager here has been saying about you, I think you are just the sort of fellow I would like to be better acquainted with, so I'll take the liberty of looking you up some day soon, if you don't object."
"Not at all, sir," he answered promptly; "quite the other way about; you do me proud. Will you name a time when you can come?"
I did so, asking if that time would suit him. He reflected for a moment, and then, taking a little book and pencil from his pocket, and beginning to write as he spoke, answered,-
"Yes, that'll do for me; it's one of my in-door days, and here is where I hang out." Tearing a leaf out of the book, he handed it to me, and, with a cheery good day, drove off.
The address which the Duke of Soap-suds had given to me was, as I subsequently came to know, one of the most curious and interesting spots in all the district. The aristocratic part of the district, the part wherein resided professional men, persons "living on their means," and families the heads whereof were "something in the city;" this part of the district, into which I had rarely occasion to go, was a regular villa-land. It [-459-] consisted for the most part of a main road lined throughout its length by villas, some of them in rows, others semi or wholly detached. Most of them were grandly named, and built in a very pretentious, if not very substantial, manner; while a few among them were really fine houses with extensive and nicely laid-out grounds. It was not at all the kind of locality in which you would expect to find poverty making a lodgment, but poverty makes strange neighbourings as well as strange bed- fellows, and in this otherwise wholly "genteel" quarter it had marked one spot for its own. This was a "one-side" street of slop-built, four-roomed cottages, running at right angles to the main road. It consisted of twenty-one houses, and was lettered F-----l Street, but as a sort of burlesque upon the street and house nomenclature of the neighbourhood, it had been popularly nicknamed Drying-ground Villas, the parallel being completed by bestowing on some of the dwellings such titles as Bluebag Villa, Clothes-line Cottage, and Mangle House. The street was unpaved, undrained, and without lamps; while numbers of noisy, untidy children were to be seen playing about it, or from it were making incursions into Villa-land proper. On all these grounds the neighbourhood generally voted it a nuisance, and as such had made sundry attempts to suppress it by inciting local boards to enter actions at law against the owner in respect to alleged contraventions of the laws and regulations of the said boards. But the proprietor, who bore the reputation of being a "rasper" to his tenants, had [-460-] proved himself so far a tartar to the boards that they had neither been able to suppress him, nor compel him to improve his property to any considerable extent. Looking at Drying-ground Villas, and considering their situation, one might well ask himself what could have brought them there. You looked around in vain for any sign of factories, brick-fields, or market gardens, or anything else of that kind which might have accounted for a row of workmen's cottages in such a neighbourhood. No sound of workshop bells reaches the ear there, no grimy workmen are to be seen streaming in and out the street at breakfast and dinner time. On three days of the week - Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays - you might have speculated as to the "Why" of its being there with but very little probability of hitting upon the correct "Wherefore." But on the other three days the key to the riddle would have been visible to any one accustomed to read such signs. In front of the houses, on the other side of what was by courtesy called the road, was a good-sized piece of vacant ground, which, as it showed some patches of green, Londoners might have dignified by the name of a field. On the middle days of the week this space was to be seen crossed and recrossed with lines of clothes hanging out to dry. The quantity and quality of the clothes alike showed that they could not be the mere family washing of the inhabitants of the cottages, and this combined with a certain steamy look about the houses, and the appearance - not to be mistaken when you are once acquainted with it - of the [-461-] bared arms of the women passing to and fro between the vacant ground and the dwellings, unmistakably indicated that Drying-ground Villas were the homes of a colony of washerwomen. Such was really the case, and here in the end house of the row, known as "Mangle House," resided Duke Soap-suds the Second with his mother and sister.
I made my call on a Friday afternoon, and found Duke in his shirt-sleeves turning a mangle, while his mother and sister sat folding the clothes at a table under which crouched a fine black retriever. The dog was the first to salute me, which he did in a manner about the friendliness of which I was for the moment doubtful. Seeing this, his master laughingly said,-
"Oh, you needn't be afraid of Turk, sir, he barks at every stranger at first sight; but he'd only bite a 'liner.'* [*The technical name for the class of thieves who more especially devote themselves to stealing clothes that are hanging out to dry] He's got a rare nose for that sort of vermin. I keep him on purpose for them, and for the benefit of the Row - pro bono publico, as the sayin' is. You see the short days are often wet ones too, so you must make the most of the fine ones among them, by getting as much drying out of 'em as you can. Consequently, clothes have sometimes to be left out till dusk, and at one time the liners used to take advantage of that. They couldn't do a clean sweep; but they used to manage to sneak a thing here and a thing there, and of course the poor [-462-] women who had them to wash had to be at the loss of them, or, at any rate, partly at the loss; and if you only knew how most of the washerwomen here are placed, and what a hard pull they have to make a live of it, even when things go straight, you'd know what a heart-breaker it must be to have to pay for things that have been stolen, not to speak of people not always quite believing what you say as to how the things came to be missin'. A liner as goes about stealing from poor washerwomen is no better than the sort as go about stripping children. Neither of 'em can have any hearts in 'em; but they have got backs, and if I had the sentencing of them the backs should suffer. However," he went on, "I haven't got the sentencing of them, so that's neither here or there. I did what I could for this drying-ground; I set up Turk here as watchman. Only one liner tried his game on after that, and he'll carry the marks of Turk's teeth to the grave with him. Now things can be left out when it's dusk, or, for the matter of that, when it is dark. The liner as comes to this drying-ground while Turk is on the loose, will deserve all he gets, take it either way, whether it's clothes or teeth."
While he had been speaking he had drawn the dog to his side, and I had advanced into the room - the back one on the ground-floor - in which the mangling was going on. Having concluded his harangue in praise of Turk, the Duke, waving his hand towards the table, said, by way of introduction, -
"My mother and sister; I told them you were coming."
[-463-] They rose as he spoke, and I noticed that the mother - an old lady with "too-soon silvered head" and much careworn countenance, but still showing the remains of good looks and a strong constitution - had considerable difficulty in getting upon her feet, a circumstance which her son explained by uttering the one word "rheumatics."
"Ah! a sad complaint," I said, addressing myself to the mother. "Do you suffer much from it?"
"Not now, I don't," she answered, "thanks to Bill here as has saved me from having to stand to the tub for years past now; but I used to have it dreadful bad, and it didn't leave me till it pretty nigh crippled me. I can't stand for many minutes at a stretch; and what would have become of me if it hadn't been for Bill, I don't know. Ah, sir, he's a son in a thousand, though I say it as shouldn't."
"And of course you shouldn't," interrupted the son, laughing, but still blushing a little. "You ought to know I can blow my trumpet myself when there's anything to blow it about, which looking after a dear, kind old mother like you ain't such a thing. Well, there now," he went on, as she was about to speak, "supposing you and Nell go and brew the tea," and as he spoke he put his arm around her and assisted her into the adjoining room.
"It's the old story, you see, sir," he said, as he came back to me when he had closed the door between the two rooms, "every mother thinks her son one of the best as ever lived."
[-464-] "Well, I really think there has been good ground for it in your case," I answered.
"Well, no particular grounds, let's hope," he said, quite unaffectedly. " I often turns those sort of things over in my mind, and what I've come to think is, that human nature-taking it through and through, for of course you come across some real bad eggs - is a lot better than it gets credit for being, and that most people have got more good in 'em than they're aware on. It don't happen to get drawn oat of 'em, and so they don't see that it's in 'em, and think it something a bit extra where they do see it drawed out. Now take this of me, keeping my mother and sister - I needn't make any bones about speaking of it, as it's come up anyway. I know how people that know us sometimes talk about it; they say how good it is of me to burden myself with them, what a model son I am, and all the rest of it, as if they thought it was something wonderful that I should do it, though the real wonder would be if I didn't do it, or any son didn't do it as was called upon. That's the point; it's all a question of being put to the 'put to.' As it happened I was put to it; but if I hadn't a been, I had it in me all the same to do as I have done; and so I'll be bound to say it is with most other people. Whatever such talk as I speak of may be to me, it ain't no compliment to human natur', and what's more, it don't show much knowingness as to what human natur' really is. Why, bless you, I've know fellows as have done as much for drunken old mothers as hardly ever done a mother's [-465-] part by 'em, let alone such a mother as mine, who - though it's a big thing to say, and though, as she would say, I say it as shouldn't, has been as good a mother as ever breathed. She was mother and father too to us children, and - if you can understand it - had, as you may say, to be mother as well as wife to our father, who was the worst child of the lot, and the most expensive and heart-breaking."
I could understand it, and as the most delicate manner of intimating that such was the case, I observed with just the least shade of significance in my tone-
"I knew your father."
In his turn Bill understood.
"Well," he said, "he was my father, and he's gone now, so that it is not for me to say a hard or disrespectful word of his memory, nor do I wish to do so; but if you knew him, and knew his failing, you can easily guess what a handful and heart-break he was to a decent, hardworking wife, who loved him, and who all his drinking, and the shame that come of it, couldn't drive to drink, as such drinking upon the part of husbands but too often does. Many and many's the good cry she had over his ways, and many and many's the meal we all went short of through those ways. But there was one good as came out of all the evil - as I said, he didn't drive my mother to drink, and it set me as dead against it as poison. I've never tasted intoxicating drink in my life, and, please God, I never shall. 'You see what drink does,' my mother would say, pointing to him with [-466-] the tears in her eyes; let that be a warning to you, my boy. Never let any one lead you into drinking. Take "Touch not, taste not," for your motto; it's the only way to be safe. Your father was a sober man once; he began with sipping, and "just a glass," and the like, and you see what it has brought him to;' and I did see, and it worn't a pretty picture. Father too, though he was all precept and no example-'ceptin' by the rule o' contrary - would talk to me in much the same way - when he was sober, which weren't often. 'Billy, my son,' he'd say to me, when you come to be a man, steer clear of drink; it's the rock as I've wrecked myself on, and as thousands of lives are wrecked on. Mark it dangerous in your chart, and give it a wide berth. Better blow yer brains out at once than sodden them away as I've done;' which was all very fine, only when he'd done saying it, he'd go out and sodden his brains more. But at any rate, between what I heard and what I saw when I was a child, I come to think of drink as a sort of devil; which, in fact, you may say it is."
Bill had seated himself on a corner of the table, while I had taken the chair at the other end of it vacated by his sister. What he had been saying had evidently stirred a train of recollection in his mind, and at this point he paused, and with a rather abstracted look on his face, sat swinging his leg and drumming on the table with his fingers. After waiting a little while, and seeing he still remained silent, by way of starting conversation I again asked,-
[-467-] "How old were you when your father died?"
"I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed, rousing himself. "When he died? Let me see; oh, I was rising seventeen then, and things were well on the mend with us. It was when I was between eleven and twelve that the tug of war came, as the sayin' is. At one time father, he did help mother a bit, brought the washing home for her, and took it back, and put her lines up and took 'em down, and looked after her copper fire, and things of that sort; and at that time he used to be satisfied to spend only his pension. But as drink got more and more the upper hand of him, he gradually left off doing anything, and, beside spending the pension, took to screwing sixpences and shillings out of mother, and, for the matter of that, taking 'em out of the house without asking whenever he saw a chance. The consequence was, that the rest of us had often to go on short commons. That worn't pleasant, of course; but it's one of the sort of things as you get used to, and none of us minded it very much. But at last mother was took with the rheumatics, and laid on her back, and that put us fairly in queer street. It had been a from-hand-to-mouth job with us when she could work, and now as she couldn't, it looked as if it was going to be a settler with us. Up to that time we had always paid our rent, but now it went behind, and the landlord, who was a sharp customer, and was down upon father, was going to take our traps, but mother begged hard of him to wait till pension day, and he agreed. Well, pension morning came - I can remember it as well [-468-] as if it was yesterday - and mother getting her arms round father's neck, and looking up in his face as loving as could be, said- "'You won't fail me this time, will you? You know how much depends on the money. You would be a good fellow if it wasn't for the cursed drink; but, after all, I don't think it can have so mastered you that you will see your wife and children turned into the streets for sake of it - there, you will bring me the money, won't you, dear?' and she finished by drawing his head down to her and kissing him. He said he would, and swore it, and there is no doubt he meant it at the time; but it turned out the old, old story. Hour after hour went by without his turning up, till at last, late at night, a couple of fellows brought him home dead drunk, and without a penny in his pocket. My mother had cried when the like had happened before; but she was past crying then. I shall never forget the look that came over her face - it was a look that sobered him, though the sobering came too late, for the money was gone. What I had seen and gone through before had made me pretty knowing and old-fashioned, and now the sight of her despair, and the knowing of what a pinch things had come to with us, made a man of me, as you may say. My sister was four years older than me, but she was very delicate ; my father was what he was, and my mother was laid up, so it comes home to me that I ought to be doing something, and that it was a case of now or never. So, while this feeling was on me, I goes up to the bedside, and I says, 'Never [-469-] mind, mother ; don't be down-hearted, we'll pull through sonmehow yet. You're getting better, and I'm big enough to be doing something now; I'll get work, and what I earn can go to pay the back rent I'll speak to the landlord when he comes.' It did cheer her up a bit, though she only shook her head. But I meant what I said. The landlord came on the Monday, and finding that there was no money, guessed fast enough what had happened. He was sorry enough for mother and us, he said, still he didn't see why he should go without his rent to enable other parties to drink the money, and he would distrain on the goods. I didn't say anything before mother, but I followed him out, and I blurts out,-
"'Look here, sir; it ain't mother's fault that the rent ain't paid. Don't turn her out or take our things. She'll soon be able to work again, and you know she'll pay you when she is, and if you'll only give us a little more time I'll promise you to pay the back rent."
"'You!' he says; 'how will you pay it?'
"'Well, Ill get work at something or other,' I said, 'and my wages will go to pay it.'
"'Well,' he says, 'I like my rent, but I like your spirit too. You shall have the chance.'
"Of course I thanked him, and the very next day started off to look for work. I'd been to a score of places only to get 'No' for an answer, and I had got to be regular down on my luck, and shamefaced over asking, when I come to a builder's yard. I waited outside a bit, thinking whether or not I would go in, and had almost [-470-] made up my mind that it would be no use, when one of the workmen happening to come to the gate, I asked him if the master was there. 'Yes,' he said, and pointed to a little office, and, feeling that if I didn't go in I would look foolish, I dashed into the office like a bull at a gate, and without looking who was there, sang out-
"'Do you want a boy, sir?'
"I stood there with my eyes on the ground, and my face all a-tingling, expecting to hear the old answer, but instead of that I heard a laugh, and looking up, who should I see but our landlord. I had never known to that minute he was a master builder.
"'Well, young Soap-suds,' he said, keeping on laughing, but in a good-humoured sort of a way; 'so you're going in for being as good as your word.'
"'I meant to be as good as it, if I could,' I said, and then I told him how badly I had got on.
"'I'm sorry for that,' he said, 'especially as I don't want a boy myself. You see, I only take apprentices, and I either have money with them, or they work so long for nothing. However, you mustn't give up, but try some other places, and then, if you don't get anything, you can give me another call, and I'll see if I can help you.'
"Well, I went about trying for the next two days, but with no better luck, and then I went back to the landlord again.
"'So you haven't succeeded?' he said, as soon as he set eyes on me.
[-471-] "'No,' I said; 'but it wasn't for want of trying,' and then I was that down-hearted I burst out crying.
"'Oh, you mustn't break down,' he said, a patting me on the head, 'something will turn up;' and then, after stopping for a while, thinking like, he asks, 'Do you think you could clean knives and boots?' I was sure I could, I answered him.
"'Very well, then,' says he; 'there's about an hour or a hour and a half's work of that sort at my house every morning, and, if you like, I'll have it turned over to you, and give you eighteenpence a week and your breakfast for doing it. What do you say? Will you take the job?'
"'Yes, and glad of the chance,' I says. And then says he, 'That's yer sort - I think you'll do - that's the way to get on; anything for a start, and take a little thing when you can't get a bigger. Now, get yourself something to eat, and come to my house in the morning;' a nd with that he slips a shilling into my hand, gives me a chuck under the chin, and starts me off.
I have given the latter part of Bill's narrative uninterruptedly, my part in the conversation having been merely interjectional, consisting of such phrases as " I see," " Of course," "Yes, and "Ah;" but at this point he came to a dead stop, evidently expecting me to make some more than interjectional remark anent the kindness of the landlord to him, a subject upon which, as the glow that overspread his countenance when he spoke of it sufficiently testified, he felt strongly. Accordingly I made an observation to the effect that the conduct of the landlord in [-472-] the matter had been most kind and considerate, and must have been very encouraging.
"Which it was!" exclaimed Bill, emphatically, "more encouraging than I know how to say. There's nothing like kindness to give heart, either to man or boy, and especially to boys. Looking for work when it's scarce is a heart-sickening job; and even a kind 'No' is worth something to you then, for little as it seems, you don't always get it. However, to go on with my own yarn, I was at his house betimes the next morning, and he came out in the scullery himself to start me. 'There's what you've got to do,' he said, pointing to the knives and boots; 'I've seen that there's proper tools for you to do it with, and the quicker you get through it, the sooner you will get away, and the more time you'll have to look for something better; and if you hear of anything that you think I can help you to let me know; I never mind helping people who do what they can to help themselves.' Alter this I saw no more of him for a fortnight, and then he called me into the house, and says he, laughing like, 'Look here, young Duke, do you think that to earn three or four shillings a week for about a hour or so's work a day you could manage to turn out at five, or perhaps a little earlier, in the morning?' and I answered, 'Of course I could; why not? Plenty of boys that worked in factories got up pretty nigh that early, and why shouldn't I?' 'Just so; that's the way to say it,' he says, giving me a clap on the back; #and now I'll tell you what the work is: there's a number of my workmen that I'm con-[-473-]stantly having to haul over the coals for losing morning quarters, and the regular excuse with most of them is, that they have no one to call them, and oversleep themselves. Well, yesterday I asked them if they would like to have some one to call them, as I thought I could find them a caller. They said they would, and as there is a round dozen of them living pretty well in a cluster, you might manage them. You'll get threepence a week from each man, and as I shall benefit by their keeping better time, I'll give you another shilling a week, so if that suits you jump into my trap, and I'll take you down to see the men.' So away we drove to the shop, and when I'd settled with the hands, and got their addresses, he called me into the office, and says he, in a joking way, 'Now, my sweet William, I'll put you up to a wrinkle over this business. Calling was one of several irons that I had in the fire when I was only a little older than you, for I was as poor as you once, and had to work my way up, as I hope you will do. You know calling men isn't a common thing in London, and when it is done it is generally by means of a thundering ran-tan at the knocker that sets all the dogs in the neighbourhood barking, and wakes half the street. But in Lancashire, where I had my practice, calling is a regular custom, and the way it's worked there is this. You get a long light rod - an old fishing-rod for choice - and just tap the bedroom windows with that. It wakes the people in the room without disturbing others, and, what's of most consequence to you if you mean to make a bit of a business of the calling, it doesn't [-474-] give a call to those who don't pay you, as a row with a knocker will do when workmen live near each other. Now there is a tip that's honestly worth a sovereign, and I give it to you free, gratis, for nothing.'"
"Well it seems a very practical 'tip,'" I said, filling up a rather lengthy pause, "did you act on it?"
"Yes, I got a rod and commenced calling the next Monday morning, and the week after that I dropped into another knife and boot job, and with that, and my getting more calling to do as time went on, I was earning from ten to twelve shillings a week by the time I was thirteen."
"That was very good," I said.
"It was," he assented; "but you see circumstances alter cases, and good as it was it wasn't good enough for our circumstances. While mother could work - for father didn't count, except as a burden - it was all very well; but the rheumatics tackled her again each winter, and with her laid up and only my money coming in, it was a cold look-out. At those times I was always saying I must alter this; but how to do it - that was the rub. I used to think and think about it till my head ached without hitting upon anything: but at last, as often happens, the right thing was put into my head by accident, and when I wasn't thinking at all. You know I had no regular job in the afternoon, but I used to do a bit of odd-jobbing in the way of fetching and carrying for people about; and among other things, I used to carry clothes for some of the women in the Row. Well, one day a woman, when giving me a basket of clothes to take to the mangle for [-475-] her, began to do a grumble about the mangle being so far off and the people that had it being saucy and disobliging through having so much to do, and what a good thing it would be if there was a mangle in the neighbourhood. That give me the idea all in a moment. As soon as I was out of her sight I dropped the basket, and giving myself a slap on the thigh, I says out loud-
"'A mangle is the thing for your money, Bill, my boy! That'll take mother from the tub; the work of the Row will be a little trade in itself to start with, and then I can do a turn round the backs of the villas, and see which of them has their washing done at home, and beat up their custom.' I said nothing to nobody at the time, for it was in the winter when mother was ill, and things at low-water mark with us. But when spring came round and mother could get about, I began to save all I could, and by hard pinching I managed to get the mangle by the next winter was setting in. It turned out a good thing; so much so, in fact, that though mother was laid up again, we managed very comfortably, for you see I could turn the mangle; it filled up my afternoons nicely, and a good old bread-winner it has been to us."
"And then the donkey and cart would do their share of bread-winning too," I said.
"They do now," he answered; "but they came later. This being a rather out-of-the-way place, the women were sometimes put to shifts over getting their wood and coke, and the like, and so it struck me that I might do a bit in that line both here and in other places; and so I went [-476-] in for saving up again, till I had enough to buy King Dick - as I calls my donkey - and the trap. That turned out a good 'spec' too. I have a very tidy trade in the coke and chump, and though I don't set up as a parcels delivery, I do a fairish bit of carrying in the way of servants' boxes, and moving goods for those as ain't got many to move, and little jobs of that sort."
"Well, you are certainly an industrious fellow," I said; "what with your chump and coke trade, your carrying, mangling, and calling, your hands must be pretty full."
"Well, they are, and that's how I like it to be; 'keep moving' is my motto, and, thank goodness, I haven't got a lazy bone in my body. But I ought to tell you I don't do the calling now; I've gave that up three years ago; sold the goodwill of it; but I have another 'up in the morning early' business in place of it."
"And what might that be?" I asked.
"A coffee-stall," was the answer.
"And what led you to take to that?"
"Well, it pays better than the 'calling;' but that wasn't my only reason, though there's a good many people as, I dare say, wouldn't believe me if I told them what was the other reason."
"I don't think you need be afraid of telling me on that score," I said, smiling.
"I'm not," he said; "and that's why I am going to tell you. Of course, when I started to work I had to leave day-school; but, thanks to my mother at first, and to God's goodness, in giving me an understanding mind [-477-] and believing heart afterwards, I kept up my Sunday-school and my Bible-class, and learned to lead a better life than I should have done if I had been without religion, as I am sorry to think so many of the poor are. Well, partly from this, and partly from what I had seen at home, I became a staunch teetotaler. I joined a temperance society, and, though speaking ain't much in my line, I felt so strong agen drinking that I did take to speaking about that; but, at the same time, I used to think couldn't I do more than merely speak agen it? and so it came about that I bethought me of the coffee-stall. On my way home from calling my men, I used to pass the gates of two large ship-building yards that lay close together, and close to them, as you may easily guess, for it is pretty near always so, was a large public-house. Well, this house was open every morning at five o'clock, and used to be filled with workmen drinking rum and coffee, and very often rum, or some other spirits, without the coffee. The men would tell you, that they only went in for a 'warmer,' but very often they took more than one, and sometimes they lingered so long over them as to get late for their work and lose the morning quarter, or, perhaps, this starting them 'on the spree' the whole day. When they were working overtime, there would be another rush into the 'public' for warmers when they left off, and this used to lead to more 'spreeing' than even the morning 'warmers.'
"Well, of course, on cold winter mornings and nights there is a good deal to be said for a warmer; but when [-478-] I used to see the men crowding round the bar, I used to think what a pity it was they couldn't have warmers that weren't also 'mak-yer-drunks.' That coffee without the rum would be a lot better for them and their families too, would save their pockets, and brains, and health, was often a thought with me; and from thinking of that to thinking of setting tip a coffee-stall was a very easy thing for a chap like me, as was on my own hook and didn't care what I turned my hand to, so long as it was honest. There was a bit of vacant ground near the public-house, and facing the road just between the two workshops. I saw the owner of it, and arranged for a standing there; carpentered up a put-together stall myself, bought the rest of the necessary tackle, gave up my job as caller, and started the hot-coffee business."
"Did it turn out well?" I asked.
"Very well for me," he answered, "and I believe I may fairly say that it was a good thing for some of the men. It was often the means of saving them from going into the public-house, and of sending them home to their families with more of their week's wages in their pocket than would have been the case if they had gone into the public instead of coming to my stall."
"I had no doubt of that," I said, and then added, "With all your businesses doing so well, you must be making a good thing of it."
"I am," he answered, "and I am not one of those who deny my mercies; I'm too thankful for them to do that. I'm making a good living, and more - I am saving money. [-479-] I've got shares in a building society and money in the bank, and after a bit I shall make mother safe by a little pension, and then launch out in the coal and greengrocery on a biggish scale; so don't be surprised," he concluded, smiling as he spoke, "if some of these odd days you hear that the Duke of Soap-suds has been round leaving his card, and soliciting the honour of your custom."
Such was the story of the younger Duke as told by himself, and having finished it, he suggested that we should join his mother and sister at tea, which we accordingly did: but the tea-table talk being merely of a general character, need not be recorded here. In telling his story he had certainly not been bashful, but neither had he been unduly boastful; and indeed I knew afterwards, that notwithstanding his free-and-easy manner, he had shown considerable real delicacy. From other sources I subsequently learned that in his own way, and according to his means, he was a sort of Lord Bountiful among the poor inhabitants of Drying-ground Villas, and that as an advocate of teetotalism he was ever ready to afford substantial aid, as well as advice to any who showed that they were really desirous of turning from their wickedness in the matter of drunkenness.
All who had known the old Duke of Soap-suds had despised him; all who knew the young Duke respected him. The stories of both - of the old man's degradation, and the young man's struggles and rise - might easily be rnoralised upon; but, I think, that having told them, I may safely leave them to point their own morals.