Dusty Diamonds Cut and Polished, by R.M. Ballantyne.
First published 1884
As so often with Ballantyne there are two concurrent stories in this book. In one of these we meet two little stray and homeless boys in the vicinity of Whitechapel in the East-End of London. These two are rescued from the streets, trained up and sent to Canada to live as part of a farmer's family there.
The other story concerns the mother of one of the boys, with too many children, a drink-habit, and a wife-beating and criminal husband: plainly there's not much going for her, but her eldest daughter manages to bring life together for the family. The bad father, on his release from jail, deserts his wife, which is no bad thing; the wife takes the Blue Ribbon and gives up drinking; a couple of well-to-do gentlemen take an interest in the family; and finally they all emigrate to Canada and live happily ever after.
Of course, it is a little more complicated than that, with a burglary thrown in as well as a smattering of do-good-ers and do-bad-ers. But for those with an interest in the street-life of the nineteenth century this will be a very interesting book for you.
A Note about the Author.
Robert Michael Ballantyne was born in 1825 and died in 1894. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, and in 1841 he became a clerk with the Hudson Bay Company, working at the Red River Settlement in Northern Canada until 1847, arriving back in Edinburgh in 1848. The letters he had written home were very amusing in their description of backwoods life, and his family publishing connections suggested that he should construct a book based on these letters. Three of his most enduring books were written over the next decade, "The Young Fur Traders", "Ungava", "The Hudson Bay Company", and were based on his experiences with the H.B.C. In this period he also wrote "The Coral island" and "Martin Rattler", both of these taking place in places never visited by Ballantyne. Having been chided for small mistakes he made in these books, he resolved always to visit the places he wrote about. With these books he became known as a great master of literature intended for teenagers. He researched the Cornish Mines, the London Fire Brigade, the Postal Service, the Railways, the laying down of submarine telegraph cables, the construction of light-houses, the light-ship service, the life-boat service, South Africa, Norway, the North Sea fishing fleet, ballooning, deep-sea diving, Algiers, and many more, experiencing the lives of the men and women in these settings by living with them for weeks and months at a time, and he lived as they lived.
He was a very true-to-life author, depicting the often squalid scenes he encountered with great care and attention to detail. His young readers looked forward eagerly to his next books, and through the 1860s and 1870s there was a flow of books from his pen, sometimes four in a year, all very good reading. The rate of production diminished in the last ten or fifteen years of his life, but the quality never failed.
He published over ninety books under his own name, and a few books for very young children under the pseudonym "Comus".
For today's taste his books are perhaps a little too religious, and what we would nowadays call "pi". In part that was the way people wrote in those days, but more important was the fact that in his days at the Red River Settlement, in the wilds of Canada, he had been a little dissolute, and he did not want his young readers to be unmindful of how they ought to behave, as he felt he had been.
Some of his books were quite short, little over 100 pages. These books formed a series intended for the children of poorer parents, having less pocket-money. These books are particularly well-written and researched, because he wanted that readership to get the very best possible for their money. They were published as six series, three books in each series.
Re-created as an e-Text by Nick Hodson, September 2003.
DUSTY DIAMONDS CUT AND POLISHED, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
AN ACCIDENT AND SOME OF ITS CURIOUS RESULTS.
Every one has heard of those ponies—those shaggy, chubby, innocent-looking little creatures—for which the world is indebted, we suppose, to Shetland.
Well, once on a time, one of the most innocent-looking, chubbiest, and shaggiest of Shetland ponies—a dark brown one—stood at the door of a mansion in the west-end of London.
It was attached to a wickerwork vehicle which resembled a large clothes-basket on small wheels. We do not mean, of course, that the pony was affectionately attached to it. No; the attachment was involuntary and unavoidable, by reason of a brand-new yellow leather harness with brass buckles. It objected to the attachment, obviously, for it sidled this way, and straddled that way, and whisked its enormous little tail, and tossed its rotund little head, and stamped its ridiculously small feet; and champed its miniature bit, as if it had been a war-horse of the largest size, fit to carry a Wallace, a Bruce, or a Richard of the Lion-heart, into the midst of raging battle.
And no wonder; for many months had not elapsed since that brown creature had kicked up its little heels, and twirled its tail, and shaken its shaggy mane in all the wild exuberance of early youth and unfettered freedom on the heather hills of its native island.
In the four-wheeled basket sat a little girl whom it is useless to describe as beautiful. She was far beyond that! Her delicate colour, her little straight nose, her sparkling teeth, her rosebud of a mouth, her enormous blue eyes, and floods of yellow hair—pooh! these are not worth mentioning in the same sentence with her expression. It was that which carried all before it, and swept up the adoration of man-and-woman-kind as with the besom of fascination.
She was the only child of Sir Richard Brandon. Sir Richard was a knight and a widower. He was knighted, not because of personal merit, but because he had been mayor of some place, sometime or other, when some one connected with royalty had something important to do with it! Little Diana was all that this knight and widower had on earth to care for, except, of course, his horses and dogs, and guns, and club, and food. He was very particular as to his food. Not that he was an epicure, or a gourmand, or luxurious, or a hard drinker, or anything of that sort—by no means. He could rough it, (so he said), as well as any man, and put up with whatever chanced to be going, but, when there was no occasion for roughing it, he did like to see things well cooked and nicely served; and wine, you know, was not worth drinking—positively nauseous—if it was not of the best.
Sir Richard was a poor man—a very poor man. He had only five thousand a year—a mere pittance; and he managed this sum in such a peculiar way that he never had anything wherewith to help a struggling friend, or to give to the poor, or to assist the various religious and charitable institutions by which he was surrounded; while at certain intervals in the year he experienced exasperating difficulty in meeting the demands of those torments to society, the tradespeople—people who ought to be ashamed of themselves for not being willing to supply the nobility and gentry with food and clothing gratuitously! Moreover, Sir Richard never by any chance laid anything by.
Standing by the pony's head, and making tender efforts to restrain his waywardness, stood a boy—a street boy—a city Arab. To a Londoner any description of this boy would be superfluous, but it may be well to state, for the benefit of the world at large, that the class to which he belonged embodies within its pale the quintessence of rollicking mischief, and the sublimate of consummate insolence.
This remarkable boy was afflicted with a species of dance—not that of Saint Vitus, but a sort of double-shuffle, with a stamp of the right foot at the end—in which he was prone to indulge, consciously and unconsciously, at all times, and the tendency to which he sometimes found it difficult to resist. He was beginning to hum the sharply-defined air to which he was in the habit of performing this dance, when little Diana said, in a silvery voice quite in keeping with her beauty—
"Let go his head, boy; I'm quite sure that he cannot bear restraint."
It may be remarked here that little Di was probably a good judge on that point, being herself nearly incapable of bearing restraint.
"I'd better not, miss," replied the boy with profound respect in tone and manner, for he had yet to be paid for the job; "he seems raither frisky, an' might take a fancy to bolt, you know."
"Let his head go, I say!" returned Miss Diana with a flashing of the blue eyes, and a pursing of the rosebud mouth that proved her to be one of Adam's race after all.
"Vell, now, don't you think," rejoined the boy, in an expostulating tone, "that it would be as veil to vait for the guv'nor before givin' 'im 'is 'ead?"
"Do as I bid you, sir!" said Di, drawing herself up like an empress.
Still the street boy held the pony's head, and it is probable that he would have come off the victor in this controversy, had not Diana's dignified action given to the reins which she held a jerk. The brown pony, deeming this full permission to go on, went off with a bound that overturned the boy, and caused the fore-wheel to strike him on the leg as it passed.
Springing up with the intention of giving chase to the runaway, the little fellow again fell, with a sharp cry of pain, for his leg was broken.
At the same moment Sir Richard Brandon issued from the door of his mansion leisurely, and with an air of calm serenity, pulling on his gloves. It was one of the knight's maxims that, under all circumstances, a gentleman should maintain an appearance of imperturbable serenity. When, however, he suddenly beheld the street boy falling, and his daughter standing up in her wickerwork chariot, holding on to the brown pony like an Amazon warrior of ancient times, his maxim somehow evaporated. His serenity vanished. So did his hat as he bounded from beneath it, and left it far behind in his mad and hopeless career after the runaway.
A policeman, coming up just as Sir Richard disappeared, went to the assistance of the street boy.
"Not much hurt, youngster," he said kindly, as he observed that the boy was very pale, and seemed to be struggling hard to repress his feelings.
"Vell, p'raps I is an' p'raps I ain't, Bobby," replied the boy with an unsuccessful attempt at a smile, for he felt safe to chaff or insult his foe in the circumstances, "but vether hurt or not it vont much matter to you, vill it?"
He fainted as he spoke, and the look of half-humorous impudence, as well as that of pain, gave place to an expression of infantine repose.
The policeman was so struck by the unusual sight of a street boy looking innocent and unconscious, that he stooped and raised him quite tenderly in his arms.
"You'd better carry him in here," said Sir Richard Brandon's butler, who had come out. "I saw it 'appen, and suspect he must be a good deal damaged."
Sir Richard's footman backing the invitation, the boy was carried into the house accordingly, laid on the housemaid's bed, and attended to by the cook, while the policeman went out to look after the runaways.
"Oh! what ever shall we do?" exclaimed the cook, as the boy showed symptoms of returning consciousness.
"Send for the doctor," suggested the housemaid.
"No," said the butler, "send for a cab, and 'ave the boy sent home. I fear that master will blame me for givin' way to my feelin's, and won't thank me for bringin' 'im in here. You know he is rather averse to the lower orders. Besides, the poor boy will be better attended to at 'ome, no doubt. I dare say you'd like to go 'ome, wouldn't you?" he said, observing that the boy was looking at him with a rather curious expression.
"I dessay I should, if I could," he answered, with a mingled glance of mischief and pain, "but if you'll undertake to carry me, old cock, I'll be 'appy to go."
"I'll send you in a cab, my poor boy," returned the butler, "and git a cabman as I'm acquainted with to take care of you."
"All right! go a'ead, ye cripples," returned the boy, as the cook approached him with a cup of warm soup.
"Oh! ain't it prime!" he said, opening his eyes very wide indeed, and smacking his lips. "I think I'll go in for a smashed pin every day o' my life for a drop o' that stuff. Surely it must be wot they drinks in 'eaven! Have 'ee got much more o' the same on 'and?"
"Never mind, but you drink away while you've got the chance," replied the amiable cook; "there's the cab coming, so you've no time to lose."
"Vell, I am sorry I ain't able to 'old more, an' my pockets wont 'old it neither, bein' the wuss for wear. Thankee, missus."
He managed, by a strong effort, to dispose of a little more soup before the cab drew up.
"Where do you live?" asked the butler, as he placed the boy carefully in the bottom of the cab with his unkempt head resting on a hassock, which he gave him to understand was a parting gift from the housemaid.
"Vere do I live?" he repeated. "Vy, mostly in the streets; my last 'ome was a sugar barrel, the one before was a donkey-cart, but I do sometimes condescend to wisit my parents in their mansion 'ouse in Vitechapel."
"And what is your name? Sir Richard may wish to inquire for you— perhaps."
"May he? Oh! I'm sorry I ain't got my card to leave, but you just tell him, John—is it, or Thomas?—Ah! Thomas. I knowed it couldn't 'elp to be one or t'other;—you just tell your master that my name is Robert, better known as Bobby, Frog. But I've lots of aliases, if that name don't please 'im. Good-bye, Thomas. Farewell, and if for ever, then— you know the rest o' the quotation, if your eddication's not bin neglected, w'ich is probable it was. Oh! by the way. This 'assik is the gift of the 'ouse-maid? You observe the answer, cabby, in case you and I may differ about it 'ereafter."
"Yes," said the amused butler, "a gift from Jessie."
"Ah!—jus' so. An' she's tender-'earted an' on'y fifteen. Wots 'er tother name? Summers, eh? Vell, it's prettier than Vinters. Tell 'er I'll not forget 'er. Now, cabman—'ome!"
A few minutes more, and Bobby Frog was on his way to the mansion in Whitechapel, highly delighted with his recent feast, but suffering extremely from his broken limb.
Meanwhile, the brown pony—having passed a bold costermonger, who stood shouting defiance at it, and waving both arms till it was close on him, when he stepped quickly out of its way—eluded a dray-man, and entered on a fine sweep of street, where there seemed to be no obstruction worth mentioning. By that time it had left the agonised father far behind.
The day was fine; the air bracing. The utmost strength of poor little Diana, and she applied it well, made no impression whatever on the pony's tough mouth. Influences of every kind were favourable. On the illogical principle, probably, that being "in for a penny" justified being "in for a pound," the pony laid himself out for a glorious run. He warmed to his work, caused the dust to fly, and the clothes-basket to advance with irregular bounds and swayings as he scampered along, driving many little dogs wild with delight, and two or three cats mad with fear. Gradually he drew towards the more populous streets, and here, of course, the efforts on the part of the public to arrest him became more frequent, also more decided, though not more successful. At last an inanimate object effected what man and boy had failed to accomplish.
In a wild effort to elude a demonstrative cabman near the corner of one of the main thoroughfares, the brown pony brought the wheels of the vehicle into collision with a lamp-post. That lamp-post went down before the shock like a tall head of grain before the sickle. The front wheels doubled up into a sudden embrace, broke loose, and went across the road, one into a greengrocer's shop, the other into a chemist's window. Thus diversely end many careers that begin on a footing of equality! The hind-wheels went careering along the road like a new species of bicycle, until brought up by a donkey-cart, while the basket chariot rolled itself violently round the lamp-post, like a shattered remnant, as if resolved, before perishing, to strangle the author of all the mischief. As to the pony, it stopped, and seemed surprised at first by the unexpected finale, but the look quickly changed—or appeared to change—to one of calm contentment as it surveyed the ruin.
But what of the fair little charioteer? Truly, in regard to her, a miracle, or something little short of one, had occurred. The doctrine that extremes meet contains much truth in it—truth which is illustrated and exemplified more frequently, we think, than is generally supposed. A tremendous accident is often much less damaging to the person who experiences it than a slight one. In little Diana's case, the extremes had met, and the result was absolute safety. She was shot out of her basket carriage after the manner of a sky-rocket, but the impulse was so effective that, instead of causing her to fall on her head and break her pretty little neck, it made her perform a complete somersault, and alight upon her feet. Moreover, the spot on which she alighted was opportune, as well as admirably suited to the circumstances.
At the moment, ignorant of what was about to happen, police-constable Number 666—we are not quite sure of what division—in all the plenitude of power, and blue, and six-feet-two, approached the end of a street entering at right angles to the one down which our little heroine had flown. He was a superb specimen of humanity, this constable, with a chest and shoulders like Hercules, and the figure of Apollo. He turned the corner just as the child had completed her somersault, and received her two little feet fairly in the centre of his broad breast, driving him flat on his back more effectively than could have been done by the best prize-fighter in England!
Number 666 proved a most effectual buffer, for Di, after planting her blow on his chest, sat plump down on his stomach, off which she sprang in an agony of consternation, exclaiming—
"Oh! I have killed him! I've killed him!" and burst into tears.
"No, my little lady," said Number 666, as he rose with one or two coughs and replaced his helmet, "you've not quite done for me, though you've come nearer the mark than any man has ever yet accomplished. Come, now, what can I do for you? You're not hurt, I hope?"
This sally was received with a laugh, almost amounting to a cheer, by the half-horrified crowd which had quickly assembled to witness, as it expected, a fatal accident.
"Hurt? oh! no, I'm not hurt," exclaimed Di, while tears still converted her eyes into blue lakelets as she looked anxiously up in the face of Number 666; "but I'm quite sure you must be hurt—awfully. I'm so sorry! Indeed I am, for I didn't mean to knock you down."
This also was received by the crowd with a hearty laugh, while Number 666 sought to comfort the child by earnestly assuring her that he was not hurt in the least—only a little stunned at first, but that was quite gone.
"Wot does she mean by knockin' of 'im down?" asked a small butcher's boy, who had come on the scene just too late, of a small baker's boy who had, happily, been there from the beginning.
"She means wot she says," replied the small baker's boy with the dignified reticence of superior knowledge, "she knocked the constable down."
"Wot! a leetle gurl knock a six-foot bobby down?—walk-er!"
"Very good; you've no call to b'lieve it unless you like," replied the baker's boy, with a look of pity at the unbelieving butcher, "but she did it, though—an' that's six month with 'ard labour, if it ain't five year."
At this point the crowd opened up to let a maniac enter. He was breathless, hatless, moist, and frantic.
"My child! my darling! my dear Di!" he gasped.
"Papa!" responded Diana, with a little scream, and, leaping into his arms, grasped him in a genuine hug.
"Oh! I say," whispered the small butcher, "it's a melly-drammy—all for nuffin!"
"My!" responded the small baker, with a solemn look, "won't the Lord left-tenant be down on 'em for play-actin' without a licence, just!"
"Is the pony killed?" inquired Sir Richard, recovering himself.
"Not in the least, sir. 'Ere 'e is, sir; all alive an' kickin'," answered the small butcher, delighted to have the chance of making himself offensively useful, "but the hinsurance offices wouldn't 'ave the clo'se-baskit at no price. Shall I order up the remains of your carriage, sir?"
"Oh! I'm so glad he's not dead," said Diana, looking hastily up, "but this policeman was nearly killed, and I did it! He saved my life, papa."
A chorus of voices here explained to Sir Richard how Number 666 had come up in the nick of time to receive the flying child upon his bosom.
"I am deeply grateful to you," said the knight, turning to the constable, and extending his hand, which the latter shook modestly while disclaiming any merit for having merely performed his duty—he might say, involuntarily.
"Will you come to my house?" said Sir Richard. "Here is my card. I should like to see you again, and pray, see that some one looks after my pony and—"
"And the remains," suggested the small butcher, seeing that Sir Richard hesitated.
"Be so good as to call a cab," said Sir Richard in a general way to any one who chose to obey.
"Here you are, sir!" cried a peculiarly sharp cabby, who, correctly judging from the state of affairs that his services would be required, had drawn near to bide his time.
Sir Richard and his little daughter got in and were driven home, leaving Number 666 to look after the pony and the remains.
Thus curiously were introduced to each other some of the characters in our tale.
THE IRRESISTIBLE POWER OF LOVE.
Need we remark that there was a great deal of embracing on the part of Di and her nurse when the former returned home? The child was an affectionate creature as well as passionate. The nurse, Mrs Screwbury, was also affectionate without being passionate. Poor Diana had never known a mother's love or care; but good, steady, stout Mrs Screwbury did what in her lay to fill the place of mother.
Sir Richard filled the place of father pretty much as a lamp-post might have done had it owned a child. He illuminated her to some extent— explained things in general, stiffly, and shed a feeble ray around himself; but his light did not extend far. He was proud of her, however, and very fond of her—when good. When not good, he was—or rather had been—in the habit of dismissing her to the nursery.
Nevertheless, the child exercised very considerable and ever-increasing influence over her father; for, although stiff, the knight was by no means destitute of natural affection, and sometimes observed, with moist eyes, strong traces of resemblance to his lost wife in the beautiful child. Indeed, as years advanced, he became a more and more obedient father, and was obviously on the high road to abject slavery.
"Papa," said Di, while they were at luncheon that day, not long after the accident, "I am so sorry for that poor policeman. It seems such a dreadful thing to have actually jumped upon him! and oh! you should have heard his poor head hit the pavement, and seen his pretty helmet go spinning along like a boy's top, ever so far. I wonder it didn't kill him. I'm so sorry."
Di emphasised her sorrow by laughing, for she had a keen sense of the ludicrous, and the memory of the spinning helmet was strong upon her just then.
"It must indeed have been an unpleasant blow," replied Sir Richard, gravely, "but then, dear, you couldn't help it, you know—and I dare say he is none the worse for it now. Men like him are not easily injured. I fear we cannot say as much for the boy who was holding the pony."
"Oh! I quite forgot about him," exclaimed Di; "the naughty boy! he wouldn't let go the pony's reins when I bid him, but I saw he tumbled down when we set off."
"Yes, he has been somewhat severely punished, I fear, for his disobedience. His leg had been broken. Is it not so, Balls?"
"Yes, sir," replied the butler, "'e 'as 'ad 'is—"
Balls got no farther, for Diana, who had been struck dumb for the moment by the news, recovered herself.
"His leg broken!" she exclaimed with a look of consternation; "Oh! the poor, poor boy!—the dear boy! and it was me did that too, as well as knocking down the poor policeman!"
There is no saying to what lengths the remorseful child would have gone in the way of self-condemnation if her father had not turned her thoughts from herself by asking what had been done for the boy.
"We sent 'im 'ome, sir, in a cab."
"I'm afraid that was a little too prompt," returned the knight thoughtfully. "A broken leg requires careful treatment, I suppose. You should have had him into the house, and sent for a doctor."
Balls coughed. He was slightly chagrined to find that the violation of his own humane feelings had been needless, and that his attempt to do as he thought his master would have wished was in vain.
"I thought, Sir Richard, that you didn't like the lower orders to go about the 'ouse more—"
Again little Di interrupted the butler by asking excitedly where the boy's home was.
"In the neighbour'ood of W'itechapel, Miss Di."
"Then, papa, we will go straight off to see him," said the child, in the tone of one whose mind is fully made up. "You and I shall go together— won't we? good papa!"
"That will do, Balls, you may go. No, my dear Di, I think we had better not. I will write to one of the city missionaries whom I know, and ask him to—"
"No, but, papa—dear papa, we must go. The city missionary could never say how very, very sorry I am that he should have broken his leg while helping me. And then I should so like to sit by him and tell him stories, and give him his soup and gruel, and read to him. Poor, poor boy, we must go, papa, won't you?"
"Not to-day, dear. It is impossible to go to-day. There, now, don't begin to cry. Perhaps—perhaps to-morrow—but think, my love; you have no idea how dirty—how very nasty—the places are in which our lower orders live."
"Oh! yes I have," said Di eagerly. "Haven't I seen our nursery on cleaning days?"
A faint flicker of a smile passed over the knight's countenance.
"True, darling, but the places are far, far dirtier than that. Then the smells. Oh! they are very dreadful—"
"What—worse than we have when there's cabbage for dinner?"
"Yes, much worse than that."
"I don't care, papa. We must go to see the boy—the poor, poor boy, in spite of dirt and smells. And then, you know—let me up on your knee and I'll tell you all about it. There! Well, then, you know, I'd tidy the room up, and even wash it a little. Oh, you can't think how nicely I washed up my doll's room—her corner, you know,—that day when I spilt all her soup in trying to feed her, and then, while trying to wipe it up, I accidentally burst her, and all her inside came out—the sawdust, I mean. It was the worst mess I ever made, but I cleaned it up as well as Jessie herself could have done—so nurse said."
"But the messes down in Whitechapel are much worse than you have described, dear," expostulated the parent, who felt that his powers of resistance were going.
"So much the better, papa," replied Di, kissing her sire's lethargic visage. "I should like so much to try if I could clean up something worse than my doll's room. And you've promised, you know."
"No—only said 'perhaps,'" returned Sir Richard quickly.
"Well, that's the same thing; and now that it's all nicely settled, I'll go and see nurse. Good-bye, papa."
"Good-bye, dear," returned the knight, resigning himself to his fate and the newspaper.
POVERTY MANAGES TO BOARD OUT HER INFANT FOR NOTHING.
On the night of the day about which we have been writing, a woman, dressed in "unwomanly rags" crept out of the shadow of the houses near London Bridge. She was a thin, middle-aged woman, with a countenance from which sorrow, suffering, and sin had not been able to obliterate entirely the traces of beauty. She carried a bundle in her arms which was easily recognisable as a baby, from the careful and affectionate manner in which the woman's thin, out-spread fingers grasped it.
Hurrying on to the bridge till she reached the middle of one of the arches, she paused and looked over. The Thames was black and gurgling, for it was intensely dark, and the tide half ebb at the time. The turbid waters chafed noisily on the stone piers as if the sins and sorrows of the great city had been somehow communicated to them.
But the distance from the parapet to the surface of the stream was great. It seemed awful in the woman's eyes. She shuddered and drew back.
"Oh! for courage—only for one minute!" she murmured, clasping the bundle closer to her breast.
The action drew off a corner of the scanty rag which she called a shawl, and revealed a small and round, yet exceedingly thin face, the black eyes of which seemed to gaze in solemn wonder at the scene of darkness visible which was revealed. The woman stood between two lamps in the darkest place she could find, but enough of light reached her to glitter in the baby's solemn eyes as they met her gaze, and it made a pitiful attempt to smile as it recognised its mother.
"God help me! I can't," muttered the woman with a shiver, as if an ice-block had touched her heart.
She drew the rag hastily over the baby's head again, pressed it closer to her breast, retraced her steps, and dived into the shadows from which she had emerged.
This was one of the "lower orders" to whom Sir Richard Brandon had such an objection, whom he found it, he said, so difficult to deal with, (no wonder, for he never tried to deal with them at all, in any sense worthy of the name), and whom it was, he said, useless to assist, because all he could do in such a vast accumulation of poverty would be a mere drop in the bucket. Hence Sir Richard thought it best to keep the drop in his pocket where it could be felt and do good—at least to himself, rather than dissipate it in an almost empty bucket. The bucket, however, was not quite empty—thanks to a few thousands of people who differed from the knight upon that point.
The thin woman hastened through the streets as regardless of passers-by as they were of her, until she reached the neighbourhood of Commercial Street, Spitalfields.
Here she paused and looked anxiously round her. She had left the main thoroughfare, and the spot on which she stood was dimly lighted. Whatever she looked or waited for, did not, however, soon appear, for she stood under a lamp-post, muttering to herself, "I must git rid of it. Better to do so than see it starved to death before my eyes."
Presently a foot-fall was heard, and a man drew near. The woman gazed intently into his face. It was not a pleasant face. There was a scowl on it. She drew back and let him pass. Then several women passed, but she took no notice of them. Then another man appeared. His face seemed a jolly one. The woman stepped forward at once and confronted him.
"Please, sir," she began, but the man was too sharp for her.
"Come now—you've brought out that baby on purpose to humbug people with it. Don't fancy you'll throw dust in my eyes. I'm too old a cock for that. Don't you know that you're breaking the law by begging?"
"I'm not begging," retorted the woman, almost fiercely.
"Oh! indeed. Why do you stop me, then?"
"I merely wished to ask if your name is Thompson."
"Ah hem!" ejaculated the man with a broad grin, "well no, madam, my name is not Thompson."
"Well, then," rejoined the woman, still indignantly, "you may move on."
She had used an expression all too familiar to herself, and the man, obeying the order with a bow and a mocking laugh, disappeared like those who had gone before him.
For some time no one else appeared save a policeman. When he approached, the woman went past him down the street, as if bent on some business, but when he was out of sight she returned to the old spot, which was near the entrance to an alley.
At last the woman's patience was rewarded by the sight of a burly little elderly man, whose face of benignity was unmistakably genuine. Remembering the previous man's reference to the baby, she covered it up carefully, and held it more like a bundle.
Stepping up to the newcomer at once, she put the same question as to name, and also asked if he lived in Russell Square.
"No, my good woman," replied the burly little man, with a look of mingled surprise and pity, "my name is not Thompson. It is Twitter— Samuel Twitter, of Twitter, Slime and—, but," he added, checking himself, under a sudden and rare impulse of prudence, "why do you ask my name and address?"
The woman gave an almost hysterical laugh at having been so successful in her somewhat clumsy scheme, and, without uttering another word, darted down the alley. She passed rapidly round by a back way to another point of the same street she had left—well ahead of the spot where she had stood so long and so patiently that night. Here she suddenly uncovered the baby's face and kissed it passionately for a few moments. Then, wrapping it in the ragged shawl, with its little head out, she laid it on the middle of the footpath full in the light of a lamp, and retired to await the result.
When the woman rushed away, as above related, Mr Samuel Twitter stood for some minutes rooted to the spot, lost in amazement. He was found in that condition by the returning policeman.
"Constable," said he, cocking his hat to one side the better to scratch his bald head, "there are strange people in this region."
"Indeed there are, sir."
"Yes, but I mean very strange people."
"Well, sir, if you insist on it, I won't deny that some of them are very strange."
"Yes, well—good-night, constable," said Mr Twitter, moving slowly forward in a mystified state of mind, while the guardian of the night continued his rounds, thinking to himself that he had just parted from one of the very strangest of the people.
Suddenly Samuel Twitter came to a full stop, for there lay the small baby gazing at him with its solemn eyes, apparently quite indifferent to the hardness and coldness of its bed of stone.
"Abandoned!" gasped the burly little man.
Whether Mr Twitter referred to the infant's moral character, or to its being shamefully forsaken, we cannot now prove, but he instantly caught the bundle in his arms and gazed at it. Possibly his gaze may have been too intense, for the mild little creature opened a small mouth that bore no proportion whatever to the eyes, and attempted to cry, but the attempt was a failure. It had not strength to cry.
The burly little man's soul was touched to the centre by the sight. He kissed the baby's forehead, pressed it to his ample breast, and hurried away. If he had taken time to think he might have gone to a police-office, or a night refuge, or some such haven of rest for the weary, but when Twitter's feelings were touched he became a man of impulse. He did not take time to think—except to the extent that, on reaching the main thoroughfare, he hailed a cab and was driven home.
The poor mother had followed him with the intention of seeing him home. Of course the cab put an end to that. She felt comparatively easy, however, knowing, as she did, that her child was in the keeping of "Twitter, Slime and —-." That was quite enough to enable her to trace Mr Twitter out. Comforting herself as well as she could with this reflection, she sat down in a dark corner on a cold door-step, and, covering her face with both hands, wept as though her heart would break.
Gradually her sobs subsided, and, rising, she hurried away, shivering with cold, for her thin cotton dress was a poor protection against the night chills, and her ragged shawl was—gone with the baby.
In a few minutes she reached a part of the Whitechapel district where some of the deepest poverty and wretchedness in London is to be found. Turning into a labyrinth of small streets and alleys, she paused in the neighbourhood of the court in which was her home—if such it could be called.
"Is it worth while going back to him?" she muttered. "He nearly killed baby, and it wouldn't take much to make him kill me. And oh! he was so different—once!"
While she stood irresolute, the man of whom she spoke chanced to turn the corner, and ran against her, somewhat roughly.
"Hallo! is that you?" he demanded, in tones that told too clearly where he had been spending the night.
"Yes, Ned, it's me. I was just thinking about going home."
"Home, indeed—'stime to b'goin' home. Where'v you bin? The babby 'll 'v bin squallin' pretty stiff by this time."
"No fear of baby now," returned the wife almost defiantly; "it's gone."
"Gone!" almost shouted the husband. "You haven't murdered it, have you?"
"No, but I've put it in safe keeping, where you can't get at it, and, now I know that, I don't care what you do to me."
"Ha! we'll see about that. Come along."
He seized the woman by the arm and hurried her towards their dwelling.
It was little better than a cellar, the door being reached by a descent of five or six much-worn steps. To the surprise of the couple the door, which was usually shut at that hour, stood partly open, and a bright light shone within.
"Wastin' coal and candle," growled the man with an angry oath, as he approached.
"Hetty didn't use to be so extravagant," remarked the woman, in some surprise.
As she spoke the door was flung wide open, and an overgrown but very handsome girl peered out.
"Oh! father, I thought it was your voice," she said. "Mother, is that you? Come in, quick. Here's Bobby brought home in a cab with a broken leg."
On hearing this the man's voice softened, and, entering the room, he went up to a heap of straw in one corner whereon our little friend Bobby Frog—the street-Arab—lay.
"Hallo! Bobby, wot's wrong with 'ee? You ain't used to come to grief," said the father, laying his hand on the boy's shoulder, and giving him a rough shake.
Things oftentimes "are not what they seem." The shake was the man's mode of expressing sympathy, for he was fond of his son, regarding him, with some reason, as a most hopeful pupil in the ways of wickedness.
"It's o' no use, father," said the boy, drawing his breath quickly and knitting his brows, "you can't stir me up with a long pole now. I'm past that."
"What! have 'ee bin runned over?"
"No—on'y run down, or knocked down."
"Who did it? On'y give me his name an' address, an' as sure as my name's Ned I'll—"
He finished the sentence with a sufficiently expressive scowl and clenching of a huge fist, which had many a time done great execution in the prize ring.
"It wasn't a he, father, it was a she."
"Well, no matter, if I on'y had my fingers on her windpipe I'd squeeze it summat."
"If you did I'd bang your nose! She didn't go for to do it a-purpose, you old grampus," retorted Bobby, intending the remark to be taken as a gentle yet affectionate reproof. "A doctor's bin an' set my leg," continued the boy, "an' made it as stiff as a poker wi' what 'e calls splints. He says I won't be able to go about for ever so many weeks."
"An' who's to feed you, I wonder, doorin' them weeks? An' who sent for the doctor? Was it him as supplied the fire an' candle to-night?"
"No, father, it was me," answered Hetty, who was engaged in stirring something in a small saucepan, the loose handle of which was attached to its battered body by only one rivet; the other rivet had given way on an occasion when Ned Frog sent it flying through the doorway after his retreating wife. "You see I was paid my wages to-night, so I could afford it, as well as to buy some coal and a candle, for the doctor said Bobby must be kept warm."
"Afford it!" exclaimed Ned, in rising wrath, "how can 'ee say you can afford it w'en I 'aven't had enough grog to half screw me, an' not a brown left. Did the doctor ask a fee?"
"No, father, I offered him one, but he wouldn't take it."
"Ah—very good on 'im! I wonder them fellows has the cheek to ask fees for on'y givin' advice. W'y, I'd give advice myself all day long at a penny an hour, an' think myself well off too if I got that—better off than them as got the advice anyhow. What are you sittin' starin' at an' sulkin' there for?"
This last remark was addressed gruffly to Mrs Frog, who, during the previous conversation, had seated herself on a low three-legged stool, and, clasping her hands over her knees, gazed at the dirty blank walls in blanker despair.
The poor woman realised the situation better than her drunken husband did. As a bird-fancier he contributed little, almost nothing, to the general fund on which this family subsisted. He was a huge, powerful fellow, and had various methods of obtaining money—some obvious and others mysterious—but nearly all his earnings went to the gin-palace, for Ned was a man of might, and could stand an enormous quantity of drink. Hetty, who worked, perhaps we should say slaved, for a firm which paid her one shilling a week, could not manage to find food for them all. Mrs Frog herself with her infant to care for, had found it hard work at any time to earn a few pence, and now Bobby's active little limbs were reduced to inaction, converting him into a consumer instead of a producer. In short, the glaring fact that the family expenses would be increased while the family income was diminished, stared Mrs Frog as blankly in the face as she stared at the dirty blank wall.
And her case was worse, even, than people in better circumstances might imagine, for the family lived so literally from hand to mouth that there was no time even to think when a difficulty arose or disaster befell. They rented their room from a man who styled it a furnished apartment, in virtue of a rickety table, a broken chair, a worn-out sheet or two, a dilapidated counterpane, four ragged blankets, and the infirm saucepan before mentioned, besides a few articles of cracked or broken crockery. For this accommodation the landlord charged ninepence per day, which sum had to be paid every night before the family was allowed to retire to rest! In the event of failure to pay they would have been turned out into the street at once, and the door padlocked. Thus the necessity for a constant, though small, supply of cash became urgent, and the consequent instability of "home" very depressing.
To preserve his goods from the pawnbroker, and prevent a moonlight flitting, this landlord had printed on his sheets the words "stolen from —-" and on the blankets and counterpane were stamped the words "stop thief!"
Mrs Frog made no reply to her husband's gruff question, which induced the man to seize an empty bottle, as being the best way of rousing her attention.
"Come, you let mother alone, dad," suggested Bobby, "she ain't a-aggrawatin' of you just now."
"Why, mother," exclaimed Hetty, who was so busy with Bobby's supper, and, withal, so accustomed to the woman's looks of hopeless misery that she had failed to observe anything unusual until her attention was thus called to her, "what ever have you done with the baby?"
"Ah—you may well ask that," growled Ned.
Even the boy seemed to forget his pain for a moment as he now observed, anxiously, that his mother had not the usual bundle on her breast.
"The baby's gone!" she said, bitterly, still keeping her eyes on the blank wall.
"Gone!—how?—lost? killed? speak, mother," burst from Hetty and the boy.
"No, only gone to where it will be better cared for than here."
"Come, explain, old woman," said Ned, again laying his hand on the bottle.
As Hetty went and took her hand gently, Mrs Frog condescended to explain, but absolutely refused to tell to whose care the baby had been consigned.
"Well—it ain't a bad riddance, after all," said the man, as he rose, and, staggering into a corner where another bundle of straw was spread on the floor, flung himself down. Appropriately drawing two of the "stop thief" blankets over him, he went to sleep.
Then Mrs Frog, feeling comparatively sure of quiet for the remainder of the night, drew her stool close to the side of her son, and held such intercourse with him as she seldom had the chance of holding while Bobby was in a state of full health and bodily vigour. Hetty, meanwhile, ministered to them both, for she was one of those dusty diamonds of what may be styled the East-end diggings of London—not so rare, perhaps, as many people may suppose—whose lustre is dimmed and intrinsic value somewhat concealed by the neglect and the moral as well as physical filth by which they are surrounded.
"Of course you've paid the ninepence, Hetty?"
"You might 'ave guessed that," said Bobby, "for, if she 'adn't we shouldn't 'ave bin here."
"That and the firing and candle, with what the doctor ordered, has used up all I had earned, even though I did some extra work and was paid for it," said Hetty with a sigh. "But I don't grudge it, Bobby—I'm only sorry because there's nothing more coming to me till next week."
"Meanwhile there is nothing for this week," said Mrs Frog with a return of the despair, as she looked at her prostrate son, "for all I can manage to earn will barely make up the rent—if it does even that— and father, you know, drinks nearly all he makes. God help us!"
"God will help us," said Hetty, sitting down on the floor and gently stroking the back of her mother's hand, "for He sent the trouble, and will hear us when we cry to Him."
"Pray to Him, then, Hetty, for it's no use askin' me to join you. I can't pray. An' don't let your father hear, else he'll be wild."
The poor girl bent her head on her knees as she sat, and prayed silently. Her mother and brother, neither of whom had any faith in prayer, remained silent, while her father, breathing stertorously in the corner, slept the sleep of the drunkard.
SAMUEL TWITTER ASTONISHES MRS. TWITTER AND HER FRIENDS.
In a former chapter we described, to some extent, the person and belongings of a very poor man with five thousand a year. Let us now make the acquaintance of a very rich one with an income of five hundred.
He has already introduced himself to the reader under the name of Samuel Twitter.
On the night of which we write Mrs Twitter happened to have a "few friends" to tea. And let no one suppose that Mrs Twitter's few friends were to be put off with afternoon tea—that miserable invention of modern times—nor with a sham meal of sweet warm water and thin bread and butter. By no means. We have said that Samuel Twitter was rich, and Mrs Twitter, conscious of her husband's riches, as well as grateful for them, went in for the substantial and luxurious to an amazing extent.
Unlimited pork sausages and inexhaustible buttered toast, balanced with muffins or crumpets, was her idea of "tea." The liquid was a secondary point—in one sense—but it was always strong. It was the only strong liquid in fact allowed in the house, for Mr Twitter, Mrs Twitter, and all the little Twitters were members of the Blue Ribbon Army; more or less enthusiastic according to their light and capacity.
The young Twitters descended in a graduated scale from Sammy, the eldest, (about sixteen), down through Molly, and Willie, and Fred, and Lucy, to Alice the so-called "baby"—though she was at that time a remarkably robust baby of four years.
Mrs Twitter's few friends were aware of her tendencies, and appreciated her hospitality, insomuch that the "few" bade fair to develop by degrees into many.
Well, Mrs Twitter had her few friends to tea, and conviviality was at its height. The subject of conversation was poverty. Mrs Loper, a weak-minded but amiable lady, asserted that a large family with 500 pounds a year was a poor family. Mrs Loper did not know that Mrs Twitter's income was five hundred, but she suspected it. Mrs Twitter herself carefully avoided giving the slightest hint on the subject.
"Of course," continued Mrs Loper, "I don't mean to say that people with five hundred are very poor, you know; indeed it all depends on the family. With six children like you, now, to feed and clothe and educate, and with everything so dear as it is now, I should say that five hundred was poverty."
"Well, I don't quite agree with you, Mrs Loper, on that point. To my mind it does not so much depend on the family, as on the notions, and the capacity to manage, in the head of the family. I remember one family just now, whose head was cut off suddenly, I may say in the prime of life. A hundred and fifty a year or thereabouts was the income the widow had to count on, and she was left with five little ones to rear. She trained them well, gave them good educations, made most of their garments with her own hands when they were little, and sent one of her boys to college, yet was noted for the amount of time she spent in visiting the poor, the sick, and the afflicted, for whom she had always a little to spare out of her limited income. Now, if wealth is to be measured by results, I think we may say that that poor lady was rich. She was deeply mourned by a large circle of poor people when she was taken home to the better land. Her small means, having been judiciously invested by a brother, increased a little towards the close of life, but she never was what the world esteems rich."
Mrs Twitter looked at a very tall man with a dark unhandsome countenance, as if to invite his opinion.
"I quite agree with you," he said, helping himself to a crumpet, "there are some people with small incomes who seem to be always in funds, just as there are other people with large incomes who are always hard-up. The former are really rich, the latter really poor."
Having delivered himself of these sentiments somewhat sententiously, Mr Crackaby,—that was his name,—proceeded to consume the crumpet.
There was a general tendency on the part of the other guests to agree with their hostess, but one black sheep in the flock objected. He quite agreed, of course, with the general principle that liberality with small means was beautiful to behold as well as desirable to possess—the liberality, not the small means—and that, on the other hand, riches with a narrow niggardly spirit was abominable, but then—and the black sheep came, usually, to the strongest part of his argument when he said "but then"—it was an uncommonly difficult thing, when everything was up to famine prices, and gold was depreciated in value owing to the gold-fields, and silver was nowhere, and coppers were changed into bronze,—exceedingly difficult to practise liberality and at the same time to make the two ends meet.
As no one clearly saw the exact bearing of the black sheep's argument, they all replied with that half idiotic simper with which Ignorance seeks to conceal herself, and which Politeness substitutes for the more emphatic "pooh," or the inelegant "bosh." Then, applying themselves with renewed zest to the muffins, they put about ship, nautically speaking, and went off on a new tack.
"Mr Twitter is rather late to-night, I think?" said Mr Crackaby, consulting his watch, which was antique and turnipy in character.
"He is, indeed," replied the hostess, "business must have detained him, for he is the very soul of punctuality. That is one of his many good qualities, and it is such a comfort, for I can always depend on him to the minute,—breakfast, dinner, tea; he never keeps us waiting, as too many men do, except, of course, when he is unavoidably detained by business."
"Ah, yes, business has much to answer for," remarked Mrs Loper, in a tone which suggested that she held business to be an incorrigibly bad fellow; "whatever mischief happens with one's husband it's sure to be business that did it."
"Pardon me, madam," objected the black sheep, whose name, by the way, was Stickler, "business does bring about much of the disaster that often appertains to wedded life, but mischief is sometimes done by other means, such, for instance, as accidents, robberies, murders—"
"Oh! Mr Stickler," suddenly interrupted a stout, smiling lady, named Larrabel, who usually did the audience part of Mrs Twitter's little tea parties, "how can you suggest such ideas, especially when Mr Twitter is unusually late?"
Mr Stickler protested that he had no intention of alarming the company by disagreeable suggestions, that he had spoken of accident, robbery, and murder in the abstract.
"There, you've said it all over again," interrupted Mrs Larrabel, with an unwonted frown.
"But then," continued Stickler, regardless of the interruption, "a broken leg, or a rifled pocket and stunned person, or a cut windpipe, may be applicable to the argument in hand without being applied to Mr Twitter."
"Surely," said Mrs Loper, who deemed the reply unanswerable.
In this edifying strain the conversation flowed on until the evening grew late and the party began to grow alarmed.
"I do hope nothing has happened to him," said Mrs Loper, with a solemnised face.
"I think not. I have seen him come home much later than this—though not often," said the hostess, the only one of the party who seemed quite at ease, and who led the conversation back again into shallower channels.
As the night advanced, however, the alarm became deeper, and it was even suggested by Mrs Loper that Crackaby should proceed to Twitter's office—a distance of three miles—to inquire whether and when he had left; while the smiling Mrs Larrabel proposed to send information to the headquarters of the police in Scotland Yard, because the police knew everything, and could find out anything.
"You have no idea, my dear," she said, "how clever they are at Scotland Yard. Would you believe it, I left my umbrellar the other day in a cab, and I didn't know the number of the cab, for numbers won't remain in my head, nor the look of the cabman, for I never look at cabmen, they are so rude sometimes. I didn't even remember the place where I got into the cab, for I can't remember places when I've to go to so many, so I gave up my umbrellar for lost and was going away, when a policeman stepped up to me and asked in a very civil tone if I had lost anything. He was so polite and pleasant that I told him of my loss, though I knew it would do me no good, as he had not seen the cab or the cabman.
"'I think, madam,' he said, 'that if you go down to Scotland Yard to-morrow morning, you may probably find it there.'
"'Young man,' said I, 'do you take me for a fool!'
"'No, madam, I don't,' he replied.
"'Or do you take my umbrellar for a fool,' said I, 'that it should walk down to Scotland Yard of its own accord and wait there till I called for it?'
"'Certainly not, madam,' he answered with such a pleasant smile that I half forgave him.
"'Nevertheless if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of Scotland Yard to-morrow,' he added, 'it might be as well to call in and inquire.'
"'Thank you,' said I, with a stiff bow as I left him. On the way home, however, I thought there might be something in it, so I did go down to Scotland Yard next day, where I was received with as much civility as if I had been a lady of quality, and was taken to a room as full of umbrellas as an egg's full of meat—almost.
"'You'd know the umbrellar if you saw it, madam,' said the polite constable who escorted me.
"'Know it, sir!' said I, 'yes, I should think I would. Seven and sixpence it cost me—new, and I've only had it a week—brown silk with a plain handle—why, there it is!' And there it was sure enough, and he gave it to me at once, only requiring me to write my name in a book, which I did with great difficulty because of my gloves, and being so nervous. Now, how did the young policeman that spoke to me the day before know that my umbrellar would go there, and how did it get there? They say the days of miracles are over, but I don't think so, for that was a miracle if ever there was one."
"The days of miracles are indeed over, ma'am," said the black sheep, "but then that is no reason why things which are in themselves commonplace should not appear miraculous to the uninstructed mind. When I inform you that our laws compel cabmen under heavy penalties to convey left umbrellas and parcels to the police-office, the miracle may not seem quite so surprising."
Most people dislike to have their miracles unmasked. Mrs Larrabel turned from the black sheep to her hostess without replying, and repeated her suggestion about making inquiries at Scotland Yard—thus delicately showing that although, possibly, convinced, she was by no means converted.
They were interrupted at this point by a hurried knock at the street door.
"There he is at last," exclaimed every one.
"It is his knock, certainly," said Mrs Twitter, with a perplexed look, "but rather peculiar—not so firm as usual—there it is again! Impatient! I never knew my Sam impatient before in all our wedded life. You'd better open the door, dear," she said, turning to the eldest Twitter, he being the only one of the six who was privileged to sit up late, "Mary seems to have fallen asleep."
Before the eldest Twitter could obey, the maligned Mary was heard to open the door and utter an exclamation of surprise, and her master's step was heard to ascend the stair rather unsteadily.
The guests looked at each other anxiously. It might be that to some minds—certainly to that of the black sheep—visions of violated blue-ribbonism occurred. As certainly these visions did not occur to Mrs Twitter. She would sooner have doubted her clergyman than her husband. Trustfulness formed a prominent part of her character, and her confidence in her Sam was unbounded.
Even when her husband came against the drawing-room door with an awkward bang—the passage being dark—opened it with a fling, and stood before the guests with a flushed countenance, blazing eyes, a peculiar deprecatory smile, and a dirty ragged bundle in his arms, she did not doubt him.
"Forgive me, my dear," he said, gazing at his wife in a manner that might well have justified the black sheep's thought, "screwed," "I—I— business kept me in the office very late, and then—" He cast an imbecile glance at the bundle.
"What ever have you got there, Sam?" asked his wondering wife.
"Goodness me! it moves!" exclaimed Mrs Loper.
"Live poultry!" thought the black sheep, and visions of police cells and penal servitude floated before his depraved mental vision.
"Yes, Mrs Loper, it moves. It is alive—though not very much alive, I fear. My dear, I've found—found a baby—picked it up in the street. Not a soul there but me. Would have perished or been trodden on if I had not taken it up. See here!"
He untied the dirty bundle as he spoke, and uncovered the round little pinched face with the great solemn eyes, which gazed, still wonderingly, at the assembled company.
It is due to the assembled company to add that it returned the gaze with compound interest.
TREATS STILL FURTHER OF RICHES, POVERTY, BABIES, AND POLICE.
When Mr and Mrs Twitter had dismissed the few friends that night, they sat down at their own fireside, with no one near them but the little foundling, which lay in the youngest Twitter's disused cradle, gazing at them with its usual solemnity, for it did not seem to require sleep. They opened up their minds to each other thus:—
"Now, Samuel," said Mrs Twitter, "the question is, what are you going to do with it?"
"Well, Mariar," returned her spouse, with an assumption of profound gravity, "I suppose we must send it to the workhouse."
"You know quite well, Sam, that you don't mean that," said Mrs Twitter, "the dear little forsaken mite! Just look at its solemn eyes. It has been clearly cast upon us, Sam, and it seems to me that we are bound to look after it."
"What! with six of our own, Mariar?"
"Yes, Sam. Isn't there a song which says something about luck in odd numbers?"
"And with only 500 pounds a year?" objected Mr Twitter.
"Only five hundred. How can you speak so? We are rich with five hundred. Can we not educate our little ones?"
"Yes, my dear."
"And entertain our friends?"
"Yes, my love,—with crumpets and tea."
"Don't forget muffins and bloater paste, and German sausage and occasional legs of mutton, you ungrateful man!"
"I don't forget 'em, Mariar. My recollection of 'em is powerful; I may even say vivid."
"Well," continued the lady, "haven't you been able to lend small sums on several occasions to friends—"
"Yes, my dear,—and they are still loans," murmured the husband.
"And don't we give a little—I sometimes think too little—regularly to the poor, and to the church, and haven't we got a nest-egg laid by in the Post-office savings-bank?"
"All true, Mariar, and all your doing. But for your thrifty ways, and economical tendencies, and rare financial abilities, I should have been bankrupt long ere now."
Mr Twitter was nothing more than just in this statement of his wife's character. She was one of those happily constituted women who make the best and the most of everything, and who, while by no means turning her eyes away from the dark sides of things, nevertheless gave people the impression that she saw only their bright sides. Her economy would have degenerated into nearness if it had not been commensurate with her liberality, for while, on the one hand, she was ever anxious, almost eager, to give to the needy and suffering every penny that she could spare, she was, on the other hand, strictly economical in trifles. Indeed Mrs Twitter's vocabulary did not contain the word trifle. One of her favourite texts of Scripture, which was always in her mind, and which she had illuminated in gold and hung on her bedroom walls with many other words of God, was, "Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost." Acting on this principle with all her heart, she gathered up the fragments of time, so that she had always a good deal of that commodity to spare, and was never in a hurry. She gathered up bits of twine and made neat little rings of them, which she deposited in a basket—a pretty large basket—which in time became such a repository of wealth in that respect that the six Twitters never failed to find the exact size and quality of cordage wanted by them—and, indeed, even after the eldest, Sammy, came to the years of discretion, if he had suddenly required a cable suited to restrain a first-rate iron-clad, his mind would, in the first blush of the thing, have reverted to mother's basket! If friends wrote short notes to Mrs Twitter—which they often did, for the sympathetic find plenty of correspondents—the blank leaves were always torn off and consigned to a scrap-paper box, and the pile grew big enough at last to have set up a small stationer in business. And so with everything that came under her influence at home or abroad. She emphatically did what she could to prevent waste, and became a living fulfilment of the well-known proverb, for as she wasted not she wanted not.
But to return from this digression—
"Well, then," said Mrs Twitter, "don't go and find fault, Samuel," (she used the name in full when anxious to be impressive), "with what Providence has given us, by putting the word 'only' to it, for we are rich with five hundred a year."
Mr Twitter freely admitted that he was wrong, and said he would be more careful in future of the use to which he put the word "only."
"But," said he, "we haven't a hole or corner in the house to put the poor thing in. To be sure, there's the coal-cellar and the scuttle might be rigged up as a cradle, but—"
He paused, and looked at his wife. The deceiver did not mean all this to be taken as a real objection. He was himself anxious to retain the infant, and only made this show of opposition to enlist Maria more certainly on his side.
"Not a corner!" she exclaimed, "why, is there not the whole parlour? Do you suppose that a baby requires a four-post bed, and a wash-hand-stand, and a five-foot mirror? Couldn't we lift the poor darling in and out in half a minute? Besides, there is our own room. I feel as if there was an uncomfortable want of some sort ever since our baby was transplanted to the nursery. So we will establish the old bassinet and put the mite there."
"And what shall we call it, Maria?"
"Call it—why, call it—call it—Mite—no name could be more appropriate."
"But, my love, Mite, if a name at all, is a man's—that is, it sounds like a masculine name."
"Call it Mita, then."
And so it was named, and thus that poor little waif came to be adopted by that "rich" family.
It seems to be our mission, at this time, to introduce our readers to various homes—the homes of England, so to speak! But let not our readers become impatient, while we lead the way to one more home, and open the door with our secret latch-key.
This home is in some respects peculiar. It is not a poor one, for it is comfortable and clean. Neither is it a rich one, for there are few ornaments, and no luxuries about it. Over the fire stoops a comely young woman, as well as one can judge, at least, from the rather faint light that enters through a small window facing a brick wall. The wall is only five feet from the window, and some previous occupant of the rooms had painted on it a rough landscape, with three very green trees and a very blue lake, and a swan in the middle thereof, sitting on an inverted swan which was meant to be his reflection, but somehow seemed rather more real than himself. The picture is better, perhaps, than the bricks were, yet it is not enlivening. The only other objects in the room worth mentioning are, a particularly small book-shelf in a corner; a cuckoo-clock on the mantel-shelf, an engraved portrait of Queen Victoria on the wall opposite in a gilt frame, and a portrait of Sir Robert Peel in a frame of rosewood beside it.
On a little table in the centre of the room are the remains of a repast. Under the table is a very small child, probably four years of age. Near the window is another small, but older child—a boy of about six or seven. He is engaged in fitting on his little head a great black cloth helmet with a bronze badge, and a peak behind as well as before.
Having nearly extinguished himself with the helmet, the small boy seizes a very large truncheon, and makes a desperate effort to flourish it.
Close to the comely woman stands a very tall, very handsome, and very powerful man, who is putting in the uppermost buttons of a police-constable's uniform.
Behold, reader, the tableau vivant to which we would call your attention!
"Where d'you go on duty to-day, Giles," asked the comely young woman, raising her face to that of her husband.
"Oxford Circus," replied the policeman. "It is the first time I've been put on fixed-point duty. That's the reason I'm able to breakfast with you and the children, Molly, instead of being off at half-past five in the morning as usual. I shall be on for a month."
"I'm glad of it, Giles, for it gives the children a chance of seeing something of you. I wish you'd let me look at that cut on your shoulder. Do!"
"No, no, Molly," returned the man, as he pushed his wife playfully away from him. "Hands off! You know the punishment for assaulting the police is heavy! Now then, Monty," (to the boy), "give up my helmet and truncheon. I must be off."
"Not yet, daddy," cried Monty, "I's a pleeceman of the A Division, Number 2, 'ats me, an' I'm goin' to catch a t'ief. I 'mell 'im."
"You smell him, do you? Where is he, d'you think?"
"Oh! I know," replied the small policeman—here he came close up to his father, and, getting on tiptoe, said in a very audible whisper, "he's under de table, but don' tell 'im I know. His name's Joe!"
"All right, I'll keep quiet, Monty, but look alive and nab him quick, for I must be off."
Thus urged the small policeman went on tiptoe to the table, made a sudden dive under it, and collared his little brother.
The arrest, however, being far more prompt than had been expected, the "t'ief" refused to be captured. A struggle ensued, in the course of which the helmet rolled off, a corner of the tablecloth was pulled down, and the earthenware teapot fell with a crash to the floor.
"It's my duty, I fear," said Giles, "to take you both into custody and lock you up in a cell for breaking the teapot as well as the peace, but I'll be merciful and let you off this time, Monty, if you lend your mother a hand to pick up the pieces."
Monty agreed to accept this compromise. The helmet and truncheon were put to their proper uses, and the merciful police-constable went out "on duty."
WEALTH PAYS A VISIT TO POVERTY.
It was an interesting sight to watch police-constable Number 666 as he went through the performance of his arduous duties that day at the Regent Circus in Oxford Street.
To those who are unacquainted with London, it may be necessary to remark that this circus is one of those great centres of traffic where two main arteries cross and tend to cause so much obstruction, that complete stoppages would become frequent were it not for the admirable management of the several members of the police force who are stationed there to keep order. The "Oxford Circus," as it is sometimes called, is by no means the largest or most crowded of such crossings, nevertheless the tide of traffic is sufficiently strong and continuous there to require several police-constables on constant duty. When men are detailed for such "Fixed-Point" duty they go on it for a month at a time, and have different hours from the other men, namely, from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon.
We have said it was interesting to watch our big hero, Number 666, in the performance of his arduous duties. He occupied the crossing on the city side of the circus.
It was a magnificent afternoon, and all the metropolitan butterflies were out. Busses flowed on in a continuous stream, looking like big bullies who incline to use their weight and strength to crush through all obstruction. The drivers of these were for the most part wise men, and restrained themselves and their steeds. In one or two instances, where the drivers were unwise, a glance from the bright eye of Giles Scott was quite sufficient to keep all right.
And Giles could only afford to bestow a fragmentary glance at any time on the refractory, for, almost at one and the same moment he had to check the impetuous, hold up a warning hand to the unruly, rescue a runaway child from innumerable horse-legs, pilot a stout but timid lady from what we may call refuge-island, in the middle of the roadway, to the pavement, answer an imbecile's question as to the whereabouts of the Tower or Saint Paul's, order a loitering cabby to move on, and look out for his own toes, as well as give moderate attention to the carriage-poles which perpetually threatened the small of his own back.
We should imagine that the premium of insurance on the life of Number 666 was fabulous in amount, but cannot tell.
Besides his great height, Giles possessed a drooping moustache, which added much to his dignified appearance. He was also imperturbably grave, except when offering aid to a lady or a little child, on which occasions the faintest symptoms of a smile floated for a moment on his visage like an April sunbeam. At all other times his expression was that of incorruptible justice and awful immobility. No amount of chaff, no quantity of abuse, no kind of flattery, no sort of threat could move him any more than the seething billows of the Mediterranean can move Gibraltar. Costermongers growled at him hopelessly. Irate cabmen saw that their wisdom lay in submission. Criminals felt that once in his grasp their case was hopeless, just as, conversely, old ladies felt that once under his protection they were in absolute security. Even street-boys felt that references to "bobbies," "coppers," and "slops;" questions as to how 'is 'ead felt up there; who rolled 'im hout so long; whether his mother knew 'e was hout; whether 'e'd sell 'em a bit of 'is legs; with advice to come down off the ladder, or to go 'ome to bed— that all these were utterly thrown away and lost upon Giles Scott.
The garb of the London policeman is not, as every one knows, founded on the principles of aesthetics. Neither has it been devised on utilitarian principles. Indeed we doubt whether the originator of it, (and we are happy to profess ignorance of his name), proceeded on any principle whatever, except the gratification of a wild and degraded fancy. The colour, of course, is not objectionable, and the helmet might be worse, but the tunic is such that the idea of grace or elegance may not consist with it.
We mention these facts because Giles Scott was so well-made that he forced his tunic to look well, and thus added one more to the already numerous "exceptions" which are said to "prove the rule."
"Allow me, madam," said Giles, offering his right-hand to an elderly female, who, having screwed up her courage to make a rush, got into sudden danger and became mentally hysterical in the midst of a conglomerate of hoofs, poles, horse-heads, and wheels.
The female allowed him, and the result was sudden safety, a gasp of relief, and departure of hysteria.
"Not yet, please," said Giles, holding up a warning right-hand to the crowd on refuge-island, while with his left waving gently to and fro he gave permission to the mighty stream to flow. "Now," he added, holding up the left-hand suddenly. The stream was stopped as abruptly as were the waters of Jordan in days of old, and the storm-staid crew on refuge-island made a rush for the mainland. It was a trifling matter to most of them that rush, but of serious moment to the few whose limbs had lost their elasticity, or whose minds could not shake off the memory of the fact that between 200 and 300 lives are lost in London streets by accidents every year, and that between 3000 and 4000 are more or less severely injured annually.
Before the human stream had got quite across, an impatient hansom made a push. The eagle eye of Number 666 had observed the intention, and in a moment his gigantic figure stood calmly in front of the horse, whose head was raised high above his helmet as the driver tightened the reins violently.
Just then a small slipshod girl made an anxious dash from refuge-island, lost courage, and turned to run back, changed her mind, got bewildered, stopped suddenly and yelled.
Giles caught her by the arm, bore her to the pavement, and turned, just in time to see the hansom dash on in the hope of being overlooked. Vain hope! Number 666 saw the number of the hansom, booked it in his memory while he assisted in raising up an old gentleman who had been overturned, though not injured, in endeavouring to avoid it.
During the lull—for there are lulls in the rush of London traffic, as in the storms of nature,—Giles transferred the number of that hansom to his note-book, thereby laying up a little treat for its driver in the shape of a little trial the next day terminating, probably, with a fine.
Towards five in the afternoon the strain of all this began to tell even on the powerful frame of Giles Scott, but no symptom did he show of fatigue, and so much reserve force did he possess that it is probable he would have exhibited as calm and unwearied a front if he had remained on duty for eighteen hours instead of eight.
About that hour, also, there came an unusual glut to the traffic, in the form of a troop of the horse-guards. These magnificent creatures, resplendent in glittering steel, white plumes, and black boots, were passing westward. Giles stood in front of the arrested stream. A number of people stood, as it were, under his shadow. Refuge-island was overflowing. Comments, chiefly eulogistic, were being freely made and some impatience was being manifested by drivers, when a little shriek was heard, and a child's voice exclaimed:—
"Oh! papa, papa—there's my policeman—the one I so nearly killed. He's not dead after all!"
Giles forgot his dignity for one moment, and, looking round, met the eager gaze of little Di Brandon.
Another moment and duty required his undivided attention, so that he lost sight of her, but Di took good care not to lose sight of him.
"We will wait here, darling," said her father, referring to refuge-island on which he stood, "and when he is disengaged we can speak to him."
"Oh! I'm so glad he's not dead," said little Di, "and p'raps he'll be able to show us the way to my boy's home."
Di had a method of adopting, in a motherly way, all who, in the remotest manner, came into her life. Thus she not only spoke of our butcher and our baker, which was natural, but referred to "my policeman" and "my boy" ever since the day of the accident.
When Giles had set his portion of the traffic in harmonious motion he returned to his island, and was not sorry to receive the dignified greeting of Sir Richard Brandon, while he was delighted as well as amused by the enthusiastic grasp with which Di seized his huge hand in both of her little ones, and the earnest manner in which she inquired after his health, and if she had hurt him much.
"Did they put you to bed and give you hot gruel?" she asked, with touching pathos.
"No, miss, they didn't think I was hurt quite enough to require it," answered Giles, his drooping moustache curling slightly as he spoke.
"I had hoped to see you at my house," said Sir Richard, "you did not call."
"Thank you, sir, I did not think the little service I rendered your daughter worth making so much of. I called, however, the same evening, to inquire for her, but did not wish to intrude on you."
"It would have been no intrusion, friend," returned Sir Richard, with grand condescension. "One who has saved my child's life has a claim upon my consideration."
"A dook 'e must be," said a small street boy in a loud stage whisper to a dray-man—for small street-boys are sown broadcast in London, and turn up at all places on every occasion, "or p'raps," he added on reflection, "'e's on'y a markiss."
"Now then," said Giles to the dray-man with a motion of the hand that caused him to move on, while he cast a look on the boy which induced him to move off.
"By the way, constable," said Sir Richard, "I am on my way to visit a poor boy whose leg was broken on the day my pony ran away. He was holding the pony at the time. He lives in Whitechapel somewhere. I have the address here in my note-book."
"Excuse me, sir, one moment," said Number 666, going towards a crowd which had gathered round a fallen horse. "I happen to be going to that district myself," he continued on returning, "what is the boy's name?"
"Robert—perhaps I should rather say Bobby Frog," answered Sir Richard.
"The name is familiar," returned the policeman, "but in London there are so many—what's his address, sir,—Roy's Court, near Commercial Street? Oh! I know it well—one of the worst parts of London. I know the boy too. He is somewhat noted in that neighbourhood for giving the police trouble. Not a bad-hearted fellow, I believe, but full of mischief, and has been brought up among thieves from his birth. His father is, or was, a bird-fancier and seller of penny articles on the streets, besides being a professional pugilist. You will be the better for protection there, sir. I would advise you not to go alone. If you can wait for five or ten minutes," added Giles, "I shall be off duty and will be happy to accompany you."
Sir Richard agreed to wait. Within the time mentioned Giles was relieved, and, entering a cab with his friends, drove towards Whitechapel. They had to pass near our policeman's lodgings on the way.
"Would you object, sir, stopping at my house for five minutes?" he asked.
"Certainly not," returned the knight, "I am in no hurry."
Number 666 stopped the cab, leaped out and disappeared through a narrow passage. In less than five minutes a very tall gentlemanly man issued from the same passage and approached them. Little Di opened her blue eyes to their very uttermost. It was her policeman in plain clothes!
She did not like the change at all at first, but before the end of the drive got used to him in his new aspect—all the more readily that he seemed to have cast off much of his stiffness and reserve with his blue skin.
Near the metropolitan railway station in Whitechapel the cab was dismissed, and Giles led the father and child along the crowded thoroughfare until they reached Commercial Street, along which they proceeded a short distance.
"We are now near some of the worst parts of London, sir," said Giles, "where great numbers of the criminal and most abandoned characters dwell."
"Indeed," said Sir Richard, who did not seem to be much gratified by the information.
As for Di, she was nearly crying. The news that her boy was a thief and was born in the midst of such naughty people had fallen with chilling influence on her heart, for she had never thought of anything but the story-book "poor but honest parents!"
"What large building is that?" inquired the knight, who began to wish that he had not given way to his daughter's importunities, "the one opposite, I mean, with placards under the windows."
"That is the well-known Home of Industry, instituted and managed by Miss Macpherson and a staff of volunteer workers. They do a deal of good, sir, in this neighbourhood."
"Ah! indeed," said Sir Richard, who had never before heard of the Home of Industry. "And, pray, what particular industry does this Miss Mac— what did you call her?"
"Macpherson. The lady, you know, who sends out so many rescued waifs and strays to Canada, and spends all her time in caring for the poorest of the poor in the East-End and in preaching the gospel to them. You've often seen accounts of her work, no doubt, in the Christian?"
"Well—n-no. I read the Times, but, now you mention it, I have some faint remembrance of seeing reference to such matters. Very self-denying, no doubt, and praiseworthy, though I must say that I doubt the use of preaching the gospel to such persons. From what I have seen of these lowest people I should think they were too deeply sunk in depravity to be capable of appreciating the lofty and sublime sentiments of Christianity."
Number 666 felt a touch of surprise at these words, though he was too well-bred a policeman to express his feelings by word or look. In fact, although not pre-eminently noted for piety, he had been led by training, and afterwards by personal experience, to view this matter from a very different standpoint from that of Sir Richard. He made no reply, however, but, turning round the corner of the Home of Industry, entered a narrow street which bore palpable evidence of being the abode of deepest poverty. From the faces and garments of the inhabitants it was also evidently associated with the deepest depravity.
As little Di saw some of the residents sitting on their doorsteps with scratched faces, swelled lips and cheeks, and dishevelled hair, and beheld the children in half-naked condition rolling in the kennel and extremely filthy, she clung closer to her father's side and began to suspect there were some phases of life she had never seen—had not even dreamt of!
What the knight's thoughts were we cannot tell, for he said nothing, but disgust was more prominent than pity on his fine countenance. Those who sat on the doorsteps, or lolled with a dissipated air against the door-posts, seemed to appreciate him at his proper value, for they scowled at him as he passed. They recognised Number 666, however, (perhaps by his bearing), and gave him only a passing glance of indifference.
"You said it would be dangerous for me to come here by myself," said Sir Richard, turning to Giles, as he entered another and even worse street. "Are they then so violent?"
"Many of them are among the worst criminals in London, sir. Here is the court of which you are in search: Roy's Court."
As he spoke, Ned Frog staggered out of his own doorway, clenched his fists, and looked with a vindictive scowl at the strangers. A second glance induced him to unclench his fists and reel round the corner on his way to a neighbouring grog-shop. Whatever other shops may decay in that region, the grog-shops, like noxious weeds, always flourish.
The court was apparently much deserted at that hour, for the men had not yet returned from their work—whatever that might be—and most of the women were within doors.
"This is the house," continued Giles, descending the few steps, and tapping at the door; "I have been here before. They know me."
The door was opened by Hetty, and for the first time since entering those regions of poverty and crime, little Di felt a slight rise in her spirits, for through Hetty's face shone the bright spirit within; albeit the shining was through some dirt and dishevelment, good principle not being able altogether to overcome the depressing influences of extreme poverty and suffering.
"Is your mother at home, Hetty!"
"Oh! yes, sir. Mother, here's Mr Scott. Come in, sir. We are so glad to see you, and—"
She stopped, and gazed inquiringly at the visitors who followed.
"I've brought some friends of Bobby to inquire for him. Sir Richard Brandon—Mrs Frog."
Number 666 stood aside, and, with something like a smile on his face, ceremoniously presented Wealth to Poverty.
Wealth made a slightly confused bow to Poverty, and Poverty, looking askance at Wealth, dropt a mild courtesy.
"Vell now, I'm a Dutchman if it ain't the hangel!" exclaimed a voice in the corner of the small room, before either Wealth or Poverty could utter a word.
"Oh! it's my boy," exclaimed Di with delight, forgetting or ignoring the poverty, dirt, and extremely bad air, as she ran forward and took hold of Bobby's hand.
It was a pre-eminently dirty hand, and formed a remarkable contrast to the little hands that grasped it!
The small street boy was, for the first time in his life, bereft of speech! When that faculty returned, he remarked in language which was obscure to Di:—
"Vell, if this ain't a go!"
"What is a go?" asked Di with innocent surprise. Instead of answering, Bobby Frog burst into a fit of laughter, but stopped rather suddenly with an expression of pain.
"Oh! 'old on! I say. This won't do. Doctor 'e said I musn't larf, 'cause it shakes the leg too much. But, you know, wot's a cove to do ven a hangel comes to him and axes sitch rum questions?"
Again he laughed, and again stopped short in pain.
"I'm so sorry! Does it feel very painful? You can't think how constantly I've been thinking of you since the accident; for it was all my fault. If I hadn't jumped up in such a passion, the pony wouldn't have run away, and you wouldn't have been hurt. I'm so very, very sorry, and I got dear papa to bring me here to tell you so, and to see if we could do anything to make you well."
Again Bobby was rendered speechless, but his mind was active.
"Wot! I ain't dreamin', am I? 'As a hangel really come to my bedside all the vay from the Vest-end, an' brought 'er dear pa'—vich means the guv'nor, I fancy—all for to tell me—a kid whose life is spent in 'movin' on'—that she's wery, wery, sorry I've got my leg broke, an' that she's bin an' done it, an' she would like to know if she can do hanythink as'll make me vell! But it ain't true. It's a big lie! I'm dreamin', that's all. I've been took to hospital, an' got d'lirious— that's wot it is. I'll try to sleep!"
With this end in view he shut his eyes, and remained quite still for a few seconds, and when Di looked at his pinched and pale face in this placid condition, the tears would overflow their natural boundary, and sobs would rise up in her pretty throat, but she choked them back for fear of disturbing her boy.
Presently the boy opened his eyes.
"Wot, are you there yet?" he asked.
"Oh yes. Did you think I was going away?" she replied, with a look of innocent surprise. "I won't leave you now. I'll stay here and nurse you, if papa will let me. I have slept once on a shake-down, when I was forced by a storm to stay all night at a juv'nile party. So if you've a corner here, it will do nicely—"
"My dear child," interrupted her amazed father, "you are talking nonsense. And—do keep a little further from the bed. There may be— you know—infection—"
"Oh! you needn't fear infection here, sir," said Mrs Frog, somewhat sharply. "We are poor enough, God knows, though I have seen better times, but we keep ourselves pretty clean, though we can't afford to spend much on soap when food is so dear, and money so scarce—so very scarce!"