THE GARRET AND THE GARDEN, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
THE GARRET AND THE GARDEN OR LOW LIFE HIGH UP.
In the midst of the great wilderness—we might almost say the wilds—of that comparatively unknown region which lies on the Surrey side of the Thames, just above London Bridge, there sauntered one fine day a big bronzed seaman of middle age. He turned into an alley, down which, nautically speaking, he rolled into a shabby little court. There he stood still for a few seconds and looked around him as if in quest of something.
It was a miserable poverty-stricken court, with nothing to commend it to the visitor save a certain air of partial-cleanliness and semi-respectability, which did not form a feature of the courts in its neighbourhood.
"I say, Capting," remarked a juvenile voice close at hand, "you've bin an sailed into the wrong port."
The sailor glanced in all directions, but was unable to see the owner of the voice until a slight cough—if not a suppressed laugh—caused him to look up, when he perceived the sharp, knowing, and dirty face of a small boy, who calmly contemplated him from a window not more than a foot above his head. Fun, mischief, intelligence, precocity sat enthroned on the countenance of that small boy, and suffering wrinkled his young brow.
"How d'ee know I'm in the wrong port—monkey?" demanded the sailor.
"'Cause there ain't no grog-shop in it—gorilla!" retorted the boy.
There is a mysterious but well-known power of attraction between kindred spirits which induces them to unite, like globules of quicksilver, at the first moment of contact. Brief as was this interchange of politenesses, it sufficed to knit together the souls of the seaman and the small boy. A mutual smile, nod, and wink sealed, as it were, the sudden friendship.
"Come now, younker," said the sailor, thrusting his hands into his coat-pockets, and leaning a little forward with legs well apart, as if in readiness to counteract the rolling of the court in a heavy sea, "there's no occasion for you an' me to go beatin' about—off an' on. Let's come to close quarters at once. I haven't putt in here to look for no grog-shop—"
"W'ich I didn't say you 'ad," interrupted the boy.
"No more you did, youngster. Well, what I dropped in here for was to look arter an old woman."
"If you'd said a young 'un, now, I might 'ave b'lieved you," returned the pert urchin.
"You may believe me, then, for I wants a young 'un too."
"Well, old salt," rejoined the boy, resting his ragged arms on the window-sill, and looking down on the weather-beaten man with an expression of patronising interest, "you've come to the right shop, anyhow, for that keemodity. In Lun'on we've got old women by the thousand, an' young uns by the million, to say nuffin o' middle-aged uns an' chicks. Have 'ee got a partikler pattern in yer eye, now, or d'ee on'y want samples?"
"What's your name, lad?" asked the sailor.
"That depends, old man. If a beak axes me, I've got a wariety o' names, an' gives 'im the first as comes to 'and. W'en a gen'leman axes me, I'm more partikler—I makes a s'lection."
"Bein' neither a beak nor a gentleman, lad, what would you say your name was to me?"
"Tommy Splint," replied the boy promptly. "Splint, 'cause w'en I was picked up, a small babby, at the work'us door, my left leg was broke, an' they 'ad to putt it up in splints; Tommy, 'cause they said I was like a he-cat; w'ich was a lie!"
"Is your father alive, Tommy?"
"'Ow should I know? I've got no father nor mother—never had none as I knows on; an' what's more, I don't want any. I'm a horphing, I am, an' I prefers it. Fathers an' mothers is often wery aggrawatin'; they're uncommon hard to manage w'en they're bad, an' a cause o' much wexation an' worry to child'n w'en they're good; so, on the whole, I think we're better without 'em. Chimleypot Liz is parent enough for me."
"And who may chimney-pot Liz be?" asked the sailor with sudden interest.
"H'm!" returned the boy with equally sudden caution and hesitancy. "I didn't say chimney-pot but chimley-pot Liz. W'at is she? W'y, she's the ugliest old ooman in this great meetropilis, an' she's got the jolliest old 'art in Lun'on. Her skin is wrinkled equal to the ry-nossris at the Zoo—I seed that beast once at a Sunday-school treat— an' her nose has been tryin' for some years past to kiss her chin, w'ich it would 'ave managed long ago, too, but for a tooth she's got in the upper jaw. She's on'y got one; but, my, that is a fang! so loose that you'd expect it to be blowed out every time she coughs. It's a reg'lar grinder an' cutter an' stabber all in one; an' the way it works— sometimes in the mouth, sometimes outside the lip, now an' then straight out like a ship's bowsprit—is most amazin'; an' she drives it about like a nigger slave. Gives it no rest. I do declare I wouldn't be that there fang for ten thousand a year. She's got two black eyes, too, has old Liz, clear an' bright as beads—fit to bore holes through you w'en she ain't pleased; and er nose is ooked—. But, I say, before I tell you more about 'er, I wants to know wot you've got to do with 'er? An' w'at's your name? I've gave you mine. Fair exchange, you know."
"True, Tommy, that's only right an' fair. But I ain't used to lookin' up when discoorsin'. Couldn't you come down here an' lay alongside?"
"No, old salt, I couldn't; but you may come up here if you like. You'll be the better of a rise in the world, won't you? The gangway lays just round the corner; but mind your sky-scraper for the port's low. There's a seat in the winder here. Go ahead; starboard your helm, straight up, then 'ard-a-port, steady, mind your jib-boom, splice the main-brace, heave the main-deck overboard, and cast anchor 'longside o' me!"
Following these brief directions as far as was practicable, the sailor soon found himself on the landing of the stair, where Tommy was seated on a rickety packing-case awaiting him.
"Now, lad," said the man, seating himself beside his new friend, "from what you tells me, I think that chimney-pot—"
"Chimley," remarked the boy, correcting.
"Well, then, chimley-pot Liz, from your account of her, must be the very woman I wants. I've sought for her far an' wide, alow and aloft, an' bin directed here an' there an' everywhere, except the right where, 'till now. But I'll explain." The man paused a moment as if to consider, and it became evident to the boy that his friend was labouring under some degree of excitement, which he erroneously put down to drink.
"My name," continued the sailor, "is Sam Blake—second mate o' the Seacow, not long in from China. I didn't ship as mate. Bein' a shipwrecked seaman, you see—"
"Shipwrecked!" exclaimed the boy, with much interest expressed in his sharp countenance.
"Ay, lad, shipwrecked; an' not the first time neither, but I was keen to get home, havin' bin kep' a prisoner for an awful long spell by pirates—"
"Pints!" interrupted the boy again, as he gazed in admiration at his stalwart friend; "but," he added, "I don't believe you. It's all barn. There ain't no pints now; an' you think you've got hold of a green un."
"Tommy!" said the sailor in a remonstrative tone, "did I ever deceive you?"
"Never," replied the boy fervently; "leastwise not since we 'come acquaint 'arf an hour back."
"Look here," said Sam Blake, baring his brawny left arm to the elbow and displaying sundry deep scars which once must have been painful wounds. "An' look at this," he added, opening his shirt-front and exposing a mighty chest that was seamed with similar scars in all directions. "That's what the pirates did to me an' my mates—torturin' of us afore killin' us."
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed the urchin, in a tone in which sympathy was mingled with admiration; "tell us all about it, Sam."
"Not now, my lad; business first—pleasure arterwards."
"I prefers pleasure first an' business arter, Sam. 'Owever, 'ave it yer own way."
"Well, you see," continued the sailor, turning down his, "w'en I went to sea that time, I left a wife an' a babby behind me; but soon arter I got out to China I got a letter tellin' me that my Susan was dead, and that the babby had bin took charge of by a old nurse in the family where Susan had been a housemaid. You may be sure my heart was well-nigh broke by the news, but I comforted myself wi' the thought o' gittin' home again an' takin' care o' the dear babby—a gal, it was, called Susan arter its mother. It was at that time I was took by the pirates in the Malay Seas—now fifteen long years gone by."
"W'at! an' you ain't bin 'ome or seed yer babby for fifteen years?" exclaimed Tommy Splint.
"Not for fifteen long year," replied his friend. "You see, Tommy, the pirates made a slave o' me, an' took me up country into the interior of one o' their biggest islands, where I hadn't a chance of escapin'. But I did manage to escape at last, through God's blessin', an' got to Hong-Kong in a small coaster; found a ship—the Seacow-about startin' for England short-handed, an' got a berth on board of her. On the voyage the second mate was washed overboard in a gale, so, as I was a handy chap, the cap'en he promoted me, an' now I'm huntin' about for my dear little one all over London. But it's a big place is London."
"Yes; an' I suspect that you'll find your little un raither a big un too by this time."
"No doubt," returned the seaman with an absent air; then, looking with sudden earnestness into his little companion's face, he added, "Well, Tommy Splint, as I said just now, I've cruised about far an' near after this old woman as took charge o' my babby without overhaulin' of her, for she seems to have changed her quarters pretty often; but I keep up my hopes, for I do feel as if I'd run her down at last—her name was Lizbeth Morley—"
"Oho!" exclaimed Tommy Splint with a look of sharp intelligence; "so you think that chimleypot Liz may be your Lizbeth and our Susy your babby!"
"I'm more than half inclined to think that, my boy," returned the sailor, growing more excited.
"Is the old woman's name Morley?"
"Dun know. Never heard nobody call her nothin' but Liz."
"And how about Susan?"
"That's the babby?" said the boy with a grin.
"Yes—yes," said Sam anxiously.
"Well, that babby's about five fut four now, without 'er boots. You see 'uman creeturs are apt to grow considerable in fifteen years—ain't they?"
"But is her name Blake?" demanded the seaman. "Not as I knows of. Susy's wot we all calls 'er—so chimley-pot Liz calls 'er, an' so she calls 'erself, an' there ain't another Susy like her for five miles round. But come up, Sam, an' I'll introduce ee—they're both over'ead."
So saying the lively urchin grasped his new friend by the hand and led him by a rickety staircase to the "rookeries" above.
FLOWERS IN THE DESERT.
Beauty and ugliness form a contrast which is presented to us every day of our lives, though, perhaps, we may not be much impressed by the fact. And this contrast is presented in ever-varying aspects.
We do not, however, draw the reader's attention to one of the striking aspects of the contrast—such as is presented by the hippopotamus and the gazelle, or the pug with the "bashed" nose and the Italian greyhound. It is to one of the more delicate phases that we would point—to that phase of the contrast wherein the fight between the two qualities is seen progressing towards victory, and ugliness is not only overborne but overwhelmed by beauty.
For this purpose we convey the reader to a scene of beauty that might compare favourably with any of the most romantic spots on this fair earth—on the Riviera, or among the Brazilian wilds, or, for that matter, in fairyland itself.
It is a garden—a remarkably small garden to be sure, but one that is arranged with a degree of taste and a display of fancy that betokens the gardener a genius. Among roses and mignonette, heliotrope, clematis and wallflower, chrysanthemums, verbenas and sweet-peas are intertwined, on rustic trellis-work, the rich green leaves of the ivy and the graceful Virginia creeper in such a manner that the surroundings of the miniature garden are completely hidden from view, and nothing but the bright blue sky is visible, save where one little opening in the foliage reveals the prospect of a grand glittering river, where leviathans of the deep and small fry of the shallows, of every shape and size, disport themselves in the blaze of a summer sun.
Beauty meets the eye wherever turned, but, let the head of the observer be extended ever so little beyond the charmed circle of that garden, and nearly all around is ugliness supreme! For this is a garden on the roof of an old house; the grand river is the Thames, alive with the shipping of its world-wide commerce, and all around lies that interminable forest of rookery chimneys, where wild ungainly forms tell of the insane and vain efforts of man to cope with smoke; where wild beasts—in the form of cats—hold their nightly revels, imitating the yells of agonised infants, filling the dreams of sleepers with ideas of internal thunder or combustion, and driving the sleepless mad!
Susy—our Susy—is the cause of this miracle of beauty in the midst of misery; this glowing gem in a setting of ugliness. It is her modest little head that has bent over the boxes of earth, which constitute her landed property; her pretty little fingers which have trained the stems and watered the roots and cherished the flowers until the barren house-top has been made to blossom like the rose. And love, as usual, has done it all—love to that very ugly old woman, chimney-pot Liz, who sits on the rustic chair in the midst of the garden enjoying it all.
For Liz has been a mother to that motherless bairn from her earliest years. She has guarded, fed, and clothed her from infancy; taught her from God's Book the old, old story of redeeming love, and led her to the feet of Jesus. It would be strange indeed if Susy did not love the ugly old woman, until at last she came to regard the wrinkles as veritable lines of beauty; the nut-cracker nose and chin as emblems of persistent goodness; the solitary wobbling tooth as a sign of unconquerable courage; and the dark eyes—well, it required no effort of imagination to change the character of the old woman's eyes, for they had always been good, kindly, expressive eyes, and were at that date as bright and lively as when she was sweet sixteen.
But chimney-pot Liz was poor—desperately poor, else she had not been there, for if heaven was around and within her, assuredly something very like pandemonium was underneath her, and it not unfrequently appeared as if the evil spirits below were surging to and fro in a fierce endeavour to burst up the whole place, and hurl the old woman with her garden into the river.
Evil spirits indeed formed the dread foundation of the old woman's abode; for, although her own court was to some extent free from the curse, this particular pile of building, of which the garden formed the apex, had a grog-shop, opening on another court, for its foundation-stone. From that sink of iniquity, literal and unmitigated— though not unadulterated—spirits of evil rose like horrid fumes from the pit, and maddened the human spirits overhead. These, descending to the foundation-den, soaked themselves in the material spirit and carried it up, until the whole tenement seemed to reek and reel under its malign influence.
But, strange to say, the riot did not rise as high as the garden on the roof—only the echoes reached that little paradise.
Now it is a curious almost unaccountable fact, which no one would ever guess, that a teapot was the cause of this—at least a secondary cause— for a teapot was the chief instrument in checking, if not turning, the tide of evil. Yes, chimney-pot Liz held her castle in the very midst of the enemy, almost single-handed, with no visible weapon of offence or defence but a teapot! We say visible, because Liz did indeed possess other and very powerful weapons which were not quite so obvious—such as, the Word of God in her memory, the love of God in her heart, and the Spirit of God in her soul.
To the outside world, however, the teapot was her weapon and shield.
We have read of such a weapon before, somewhere in the glorious annals of city missions, but just now we are concerned only with the teapot of our own Liz of chimney-pot notoriety.
Seated, as we have said, in a rustic chair, gazing through the foliage at the busy Thames, and plying her knitting needles briskly, while the sun seemed to lick up and clear away the fogs and smoke of the great city, chimney-pot Liz enjoyed her thoughts until a loud clatter announced that Susy had knocked over the watering-pot.
"Oh! granny" (thus she styled her), "I'm so sorry! So stupid of me! Luckily there's no water in it."
"Never mind, dear," said the old woman in a soft voice, and with a smile which for a moment exposed the waste of gums in which the solitary fang stood, "I've got no nerves—never had any, and hope I never may have. By the way, that reminds me—Is the tea done, Susy?"
"Yes, not a particle left," replied the girl, rising from her floral labours and thereby showing that her graceful figure matched well with her pretty young face. It was a fair face, with golden hair divided in the middle and laid smooth over her white brow, not sticking confusedly out from it like the tangled scrub on a neglected common, or the frontal locks of a Highland bull.
"That's bad, Susy," remarked old Liz, pushing the fang about with her tongue for a few seconds. "You see, I had made up my mind to go down to-night and have a chat with Mrs Rampy, and I wouldn't like to visit her without my teapot. The dear old woman is so fond of a cup of tea, and she don't often get it good, poor thing. No, I shouldn't like to go without my teapot, it would disappoint her, you know—though I've no doubt she would be glad to see me even empty-handed."
"I should just think she would!" said Susy with a laugh, as she stooped to arrange some of the fastenings of her garden, "I should just think she would. Indeed, I doubt if that dear old woman would be alive now but for you, granny."
The girl emphasised the "dear" laughingly, for Mrs Rampy was one of those middle-aged females of the destitute class whose hearts have been so steeled against their kind by suffering and drink as to render them callous to most influences. The proverbial "soft spot" in Mrs Rampy's heart was not reached until an assault had been made on it by chimney-pot Liz with her teapot. Even then it seemed as if the softness of the spot were only of the gutta-percha type.
"Perhaps not, perhaps not my dear," returned old Liz, with that pleased little smile with which she was wont to recognise a philanthropic success a smile which always had the effect of subduing the tooth, and rendering the plain face almost beautiful.
Although bordering on the lowest state of destitution—and that is a remarkably low state in London!—old Liz had an air of refinement about her tones, words, and manner which was very different from that of the poor people around her. This was not altogether, though partly, due to her Christianity. The fact is, the old woman had "seen better days." For fifty years she had been nurse in an amiable and wealthy family, the numerous children of which seemed to have been born to bloom for a few years in the rugged garden of this world, and then be transplanted to the better land. Only the youngest son survived. He entered the army and went to India—that deadly maelstrom which has swallowed up so much of British youth and blood and beauty! When the old couple became bankrupt and died, the old nurse found herself alone and almost destitute in the world.
It is not our purpose to detail here the sad steps by which she descended to the very bottom of the social ladder, taking along with her Susan, her adopted daughter and the child of a deceased fellow-servant. We merely tell thus much to account for her position and her partial refinement—both of which conditions she shared with Susan.
"Now then," said the latter, "I must go, granny. Stickle and Screw are not the men to overlook faults. If I'm a single minute late I shall have to pay for it."
"And quite right, Susy, quite right. Why should Stickle and Screw lose a minute of their people's work? Their people would be angry enough if they were to be paid a penny short of their wages! Besides, the firm employs over two hundred hands, and if every one of these was to be late a minute there would be two hundred minutes gone—nigh four hours, isn't it? You should be able to count that right off, Susy, havin' been so long at the Board-school."
"I don't dispute it, granny," said the girl with a light laugh, as she stood in front of a triangular bit of looking-glass tying on her poor but neatly made hat. "And I am usually three or four minutes before my time, but Stickle and Screw are hard on us in other ways, so different from Samson and Son, where Lily Hewat goes. Now, I'm off. I'll be sure to be back by half-past nine or soon after."
As the girl spoke, footsteps were heard ascending the creaky wooden stair. Another moment and Tommy Splint entering with a theatrical air, announced—
He was closely followed by Sam Blake, who no sooner beheld Susy than he seemed to become paralysed, for he stood gazing at her as if in eager but helpless amazement.
Susy was a good deal surprised at this, but feeling that if she were to wait for the clearing up of the mystery she would infallibly be late in reaching the shop of the exacting Stickle and Screw, she swept lightly past the seaman with a short laugh, and ran down-stairs.
Without a word of explanation Sam sprang after her, but, although smart enough on the shrouds and ladders of shipboard, he failed to accommodate himself to the stairs of rookeries, and went down, as he afterwards expressed it, "by the run," coming to an anchor at the bottom in a sitting posture. Of course the lithe and active Susy escaped him, and also escaped being too late by only half a minute.
"Never mind, she'll be back again between nine and ten o'clock, unless they keep her late," said old Liz, after Sam had explained who he was, and found that Susy was indeed his daughter, and chimney-pot Liz the nurse who had tended his wife to her dying day, and afterwards adopted his child.
"I never was took aback so in all my life," said the seaman, sitting down beside the old woman, and drawing a sigh so long that it might have been likened to a moderate breeze. "She's the born image o' what her dear mother was when I first met her. My Susy! Well, it's not every poor seaman as comes off a long voyage an' finds that he's fallen heir to a property like that!"
"You may well be proud of her," said old Liz, "and you'll be prouder yet when you come to know her."
"I know it, and I'm proud to shake your hand, mother, an' thankee kindly for takin' such care o' my helpless lassie. You say she'll be home about ten?"
"Yes, if she's not kep' late. She always comes home about that time. Meanwhile you'll have something to eat. Tommy, boy, fetch out the loaf and the cheese and the teapot. You know where to find 'em. Tommy's an orphan, Cap'n Blake, that I've lately taken in hand. He's a good boy is Tommy, but rather wild."
"Wot can you expect of a horphing?" said the boy with a grin, for he had overheard the latter remark, though it was intended only for the visitor's ear. "But I say, granny, there ain't no cheese here, 'cept a bit o' rind that even a mouse would scorn to look at."
"Never mind, bring out the loaf, Tommy."
"An' there ain't no use," continued the boy, "o' bringin' out the teapot, 'cause there ain't a grain o' tea nowheres."
"Oh! I forgot," returned old Liz, slightly confused; "I've just run out o' tea, Cap'n Blake, an' I haven't a copper at present to buy any, but—"
"Never mind that old girl; and I ain't quite captain yet, though trendin' in that direction. You come out along wi' me, Tommy. I'll soon putt these matters to rights."
Old Liz could not have remonstrated even if she had wished to do so, for her impulsive visitor was gone in a moment followed by his extremely willing little friend. They returned in quarter of an hour.
"There you are," said the seaman, taking the articles one by one from a basket carried by Tommy; "a big loaf, pound o' butter, ditto tea, three pound o' sugar, six eggs, hunk o' cheese, paper o' salt—forgot the pepper; never mind."
"You've bin an' forgot the sassengers too—but here they are," said Tommy, plucking the delectable viands from the bottom of the basket with a look of glee, and laying them on the table.
Chimney-pot Liz did not look surprised; she only smiled and nodded her head approvingly, for she felt that Sam Blake understood the right thing to do and did it.
Soon the celebrated teapot was going the round, full swing, while the air was redolent of fried sausage and cheese mingled with the perfume of roses and mignonette, for this meal, you must know, was eaten in the garden in the afternoon sunshine, while the cooking—done in the attic which opened on the garden—was accomplished by Sam assisted by Tommy.
"Well, you air a trump," said the latter to the former as he sat down, greasy and glowing, beside the seaman at the small table where old Liz presided like a humble duchess.
We need hardly say that the conversation was animated, and that it bore largely on the life-history of the absent Susy.
"You're quite sure that she'll be here by ten?" asked the excited father for the fiftieth time that afternoon.
"Yes, I'm sure of it—unless she's kep' late," answered Liz.
But Susy did not return at the usual hour, so her impatient father was forced to conclude that she had been "kep' late"—too late. In his anxiety he resolved to sally forth under the guidance of Tommy Splint to inquire for the missing Susy at the well-known establishment of Stickle and Screw.
Let us anticipate him in that quest. At the usual hour that night the employes of Stickle and Screw left work and took their several ways home ward. Susy had the company of her friend Lily Hewat as far as Chancery Lane. Beyond that point she had to go alone. Being summer-time, the days were long, and Susy was one of those strong-hearted and strong-nerved creatures who have a tendency to fear nothing.
She had just passed over London Bridge and turned into a labyrinth of small streets on the Surrey side of the river, when a drunken man met her in a darkish and deserted alley through which she had to pass. The man seized her by the arm. Susy tried to free herself. In the struggle that ensued she fell with a loud shriek, and struck her head on the kerb-stone so violently that she was rendered insensible. Seeing this, the man proceeded to take from her the poor trinkets she had about her, and would have succeeded in robbing her but for the sudden appearance on the scene of a lowland Scot clad in a homespun suit of shepherd's plaid—a strapping ruddy youth of powerful frame, fresh from the braes of Yarrow.
A VISITOR FROM THE NORTH.
How that Lowland Scot came to the rescue just in the nick of time is soon told.
"Mither," said he one evening, striding into his father's dwelling—a simple cottage on a moor—and sitting down in front of a bright old woman in a black dress, whose head was adorned with that frilled and baggy affair which is called in Scotland a mutch, "I'm gawin' to Lun'on."
"Hoots! havers, David."
"It's no' havers, mither. Times are guid. We've saved a pickle siller. Faither can spare me for a wee while—sae I'm aff to Lun'on the morn's mornin'."
"An' what for?" demanded Mrs Laidlaw, letting her hands and the sock on which they were engaged drop on her lap, as she looked inquiringly into the grave countenance of her handsome son.
"To seek a wife, maybe," replied the youth, relaxing into that very slight smile with which grave and stern-featured men sometimes betray the presence of latent fun.
Mrs Laidlaw resumed her sock and needle with no further remark than "Hoots! ye're haverin'," for she knew that her son was only jesting in regard to the wife. Indeed nothing was further from that son's intention or thoughts at the time than marriage, so, allowing the ripple to pass from his naturally grave and earnest countenance, he continued—
"Ye see, mither, I'm twunty-three noo, an' I wad like to see something o' the warld afore I grow aulder an' settle doon to my wark. As I said, faither can spare me a while, so I'll jist tak' my fit in my haund an' awa' to see the Great Bawbylon."
"Ye speak o' gaun to see the warld, laddie, as if 'ee was a gentleman."
"Div 'ee think, mother, that the warld was made only for gentlemen to travel in?" demanded the youth, with the gentlest touch of scorn in his tone.
To this question the good woman made no reply; indeed her stalwart son evidently expected none, for he rose a few minutes later and proceeded to pack up his slender wardrobe in a shoulder-bag of huge size, which, however, was well suited to his own proportions.
Next day David Laidlaw took the road which so many men have taken before him—for good or ill. But, unlike most of his predecessors, he was borne towards it on the wings of steam, and found himself in Great Babylon early the following morning, with his mother's last caution ringing strangely in his ears.
"David," she had said, "I ken ye was only jokin', but dinna ye be ower sure o' yersel'. Although thae English lassies are a kine o' waux dolls, they have a sort o' way wi' them that might be dangerous to lads like you."
"H'm!" David had replied, in that short tone of self-sufficiency which conveys so much more than the syllable would seem to warrant.
The Scottish youth had neither kith nor kin in London, but he had one friend, an old school companion, who, several years before, had gone to seek his fortune in the great city, and whose address he knew. To this address he betook himself on the morning of his arrival, but found that his friend had changed his abode. The whole of that day did David spend in going about. He was sent from one place to another, in quest of his friend, and made diligent use of his long legs, but without success. Towards evening he was directed to a street on the Surrey side of the Thames, and it was while on his way thither that he chanced to enter the alley where poor Susan was assaulted.
Like most Scotsmen of his class and size David Laidlaw was somewhat leisurely and slow in his movements when not called to vigorous exertion, but when he heard the girl's shriek, and, a moment later, saw her fall, he sprang to her side with one lithe bound, like that of a Bengal tiger, and aimed a blow at her assailant, which, had it taken effect, would have interrupted for some time—if not terminated for ever—that rascal's career. But the thief, though drunk, was young, strong, and active. It is also probable that he was a professional pugilist for, instead of attempting to spring back from the blow—which he had not time to do—he merely put his head to one side and let it pass. At the same instant David received a stinging whack on the right eye, which although it failed to arrest his rush, filled his vision with starry coruscations.
The thief fell back and the Scot tripped over him. Before he could recover himself the thief was up like an acrobat and gone. At the same moment two policemen, rushing on the scene in answer to the girl's shriek, seized David by the collar and held him fast.
There was Highland as well as Lowland blood in the veins of young Laidlaw. This sanguinary mixture is generally believed to possess effervescing properties when stirred. It probably does. For one moment the strength of Goliath of Gath seemed to tingle in David's frame, and the vision of two policemen's heads battered together swam before his eyes—but he thought better of it and restrained himself!
"Tak' yer hands aff me, freens," he said, suddenly unclosing his fists and relaxing his brows. "Ye'd better see after the puir lassie. An' dinna fear for me. I'm no gawn to rin awa'!"
Perceiving the evident truth of this latter remark, the constables turned their attention to the girl, who was by that time beginning to recover.
"Where am I?" asked Susy, gazing into the face of her rescuer with a dazed look.
"Yer a' right, puir bairn. See, tak' ha'd o' my airm," said the Scot.
"That's the way, now, take hold of mine," said one of the constables in a kindly tone; "come along—you'll be all right in a minute. The station is close at hand."
Thus supported the girl was led to the nearest police station, where David Laidlaw gave a minute account of what had occurred to the rather suspicious inspector on duty. While he was talking, Susan, who had been provided with a seat and a glass of water, gazed at him with profound interest. She had by that time recovered sufficiently to give her account of the affair, and, as there was no reason for further investigation of the matter, she was asked if her home was far off, and a constable was ordered to see her safely there.
"Ye needna fash," said David carelessly, "I'm gawn that way mysel', an' if the puir lassie has nae objection I'll be glad to—"
The abrupt stoppage in the youth's speech was caused by his turning to Susy and looking full and attentively in her face, which, now that the colour was restored and the dishevelled hair rearranged, had a very peculiar effect on him. His mother's idea of a "waux doll" instantly recurred to his mind, but the interest and intelligence in Susy's pretty face was very far indeed removed from the vacant imbecility which usually characterises that fancy article of juvenile luxury.
"Of course if the girl wishes you to see her home," said the inspector, "I have no objection, but I'll send a constable to help you to take care of her."
"Help me to tak' care o' her!" exclaimed David, whose pride was sorely hurt by the distrust implied in these words; "man, I could putt her in my pooch an' you alang wi' her."
Of this remark Mr Inspector, who had resumed his pen, took no notice whatever, but went on writing while one of the constables prepared to obey his superior's orders. In his indignation the young Scot resolved to fling out of the office and leave the police to do as they pleased in the matter, but, glancing at Susy as he turned round, he again met the gaze of her soft blue eyes.
"C'way, lassie, I wull gang wi' ye," he said, advancing quickly and offering his arm.
Being weak from the effects of her fall, Susy accepted the offer willingly, and was supported on the other side by a policeman.
In a short time the trio ascended the rookery stair and presented themselves to the party in the garret-garden just as Sam Blake and Tommy Splint were about to leave it.
It is impossible to describe adequately the scene that ensued—the anxiety of the poor seaman to be recognised by his long lost "babby," the curious but not unnatural hesitancy of that "babby" to admit that he was her father, though earnestly assured of the fact by chimney-pot Liz; the surprise of David Laidlaw, and even of the policeman, at being suddenly called to witness so interesting a domestic scene, and the gleeful ecstasy of Tommy Splint over the whole affair—flavoured as it was with the smell and memory of recent "sassengers."
When the constable at last bid them good-night and descended the stair, the young Scot turned to go, feeling, with intuitive delicacy, that he was in the way, but once again he met the soft blue eyes of Susy, and hesitated.
"Hallo, young man!" cried Sam Blake, on observing his intention, "you ain't agoin' to leave us—arter saving my gal's life, p'raps—anywise her property. No, no; you'll stop here all night an'—"
He paused: "Well, I do declare I forgot I wasn't aboard my own ship, but—" again he paused and looked at old Liz.
"I've no room for any of you in the garret," said that uncompromising woman, "there ain't more than one compartment in it, and that's not too big for me an' Susy; but you're welcome, both of you, to sleep in the garden if you choose. Tommy sleeps there, under a big box, and a clever sea-farin' man like you could—"
"All right, old lady," cried the seaman heartily. "I'll stop, an' thankee; we'll soon rig up a couple o' bunks. So you will stop too, young man—by the way, you—you didn't give us your name yet."
"My name is David Laidlaw; but I won't stop, thankee," replied the Scot with unexpected decision of manner. "Ye see, I've been lookin' a' this day for an auld freen' an' I must find him afore the morn's mornin', if I should seek him a' nicht. But, but—maybe I'll come an' speer for 'ee in a day or twa—if I may."
"If you mean that you will come and call, Mr Laidlaw," said old Liz, "we will be delighted to see you at any time. Don't forget the address."
"Nae fear—I'll putt it i' my note-buik," said David, drawing a substantial volume from his breast pocket and entering the address—'Mrs Morley, Cherub Court'—therein.
Having shaken hands all round he descended the stair with a firm tread and compressed lips until he came out on the main thoroughfare, when he muttered to himself sternly:
"Waux dolls, indeed! there's nane o' thae dolls'll git the better o' me. H'm! a bonny wee face, nae doot but what div I care for bonny faces if the hairt's no' richt?"
"But suppose that the heart is right?"
Who could have whispered that question? David Laidlaw could not stop to inquire, but began to hum—
"Oh, this is no my ain lassie, Kind though the lassie be,—"
In a subdued tone, as he sauntered along the crowded street, which by that time was blazing with gas-light in the shop-windows and oil-lamps on the hucksters' barrows.
The song, however, died on his lips, and he moved slowly along, stopping now and then to observe the busy and to him novel scene, till he reached a comparatively quiet turning, which was dimly lighted by only one lamp. Here he felt a slight twitch at the bag which contained his little all. Like lightning he turned and seized by the wrist a man who had already opened the bag and laid hold of some of its contents. Grasping the poor wretch by the neck with his other hand he held him in a grip of iron.
The man who had been thus captured by David was one of those wretched forlorn creatures who seem to reach a lower depth of wretchedness and degradation in London than in any other city in the world. Although young and strongly made he was pale, gaunt and haggard, with a look about the eyes and mouth which denoted the habitual drunkard. The meanness of his attire is indescribable.
He trembled—whether from the effects of dissipation or fear we cannot say—as his captor led him under the lamp, with a grip on the collar that almost choked him, but when the light fell full on his haggard face a feeling of intense pity induced the Scot to relax his hold.
"Oh, ye puir meeserable crater!" he said, but stopped abruptly, for the man made a sudden and desperate effort to escape. He might as well have struggled in the grasp of a gorilla!
"Na, na, my man, ye'll no twust yersel' oot o' my grup sae easy! keep quiet noo, an' I'll no hurt 'ee. What gars ye gang aboot tryin' to steal like that?"
"Steal!" explained the man fiercely, "what else can I do? I must live! I've just come out of prison, and am flung on the world to be kicked about like a dog and starve. Let me go, or I'll kill you!"
"Na, 'ee'll no kill me. I'm no sae easy killed as 'ee think," returned David, again tightening the grasp of his right hand while he thrust his left into his trousers-pocket.
At that moment the bull's-eye light of an advancing constable became visible, and the defiant air of the thief gave place to a look of anxious fear. It was evident that the dread of another period of prison life was strong upon the trembling wretch. Drawing out a handful of coppers, David thrust them quickly into the man's hand, and said—
"Hae, tak' them, an' aff ye go! an' ask the Lord to help 'ee to dae better."
The strong hand relaxed, another moment and the man, slipping round the corner like an unwholesome spirit, was gone.
"Can ye direck me, polisman," said the Scot to the constable, as he was about to pass, "t' Toor Street?"
"Never heard of it," said the constable brusquely, but civilly enough.
"That's queer noo. I was telt it was hereaboots—Toor Street."
"Oh, perhaps you mean Tower Street" said the constable, with a patronising smile.
"Perhaps I div," returned the Scot, with that touch of cynicism which is occasionally seen in his race. "Can 'ee direck me tilt?"
"Yes, but it is on the other side of the river."
"Na—it's on this side o' the river," said David quietly yet confidently.
The conversation was here cut short by the bursting on their ears of a sudden noise at some distance. The policeman turned quickly away, and when David advanced into the main street he observed that there was some excitement among its numerous and riotous occupants. The noise continued to increase, and it became evident that the cause of it was rapidly approaching, for the sound changed from a distant rumble into a steady roar, in the midst of which stentorian shouts were heard. Gradually the roar culminated, for in another moment there swept round the end of the street a pair of apparently runaway horses, with two powerful lamps gleaming, or rather glaring, above them. On each side of the driver of the galloping steeds stood a man, shouting like a maniac of the boatswain type. All three were brass-helmeted, like antique charioteers. Other helmets gleamed behind them. Little save the helmets and the glowing lamps could be seen through the dark and smoky atmosphere as the steam fire-engine went thundering by.
Now, if there was one thing more than another that David Laidlaw desired to see, it was a London fire. Often had he read about these fires, for he was a great reader of books, as well as newspapers, and deeply had his enthusiasm been stirred (though not expressed) by accounts of thrilling escapes and heroic deeds among the firemen. His eyes therefore flashed back the flame of the lamps as the engine went past him like a red thunderbolt, and he started off in pursuit of it.
But, as many people know, and all may believe, running in a crowded London street is difficult—even to an expert London thief. Our Scot found that out after a sixty-yards' run; then he had the wisdom to stop, just as a little boy leaped out of his way exclaiming—
"'Ullo, Goliah! mind w'ere you're a-goin' to. I wonder yer mother let you hout all alone!"
"Whar's the fire, laddie?" demanded David, with some impatience.
"'Ow should I know, Scotty! I ain't a pleeceman, ham I? that I should be expected to know heverythink!"
As the engine had by that time vanished, no one could tell where the fire was, and as the street had reverted to its normal condition of noise and bustle, David Laidlaw gave up the search for it. He also gave up as hopeless further search for his friend that night, and resolved to avail himself of one of those numerous establishments in the windows of which it was announced that "good beds" were to be had within.
Entering one, the landlord of which had a round jovial countenance, he ordered tea, toast, and sausages, with pen, ink, and paper. Having heartily consumed the former, he devoted himself to the latter and proceeded to write a letter. Here is the epistle:—
"BAWBYLON, I dinna ken where.
"5th July 18—.
"DEAR MITHER—Here I am, in Lun'on, an' wow! but it is an awfu' place! 'Ee'll no believe me, but I've been lost twa or three times a'ready, an' I've had a kine o' fecht an' a rescue, an' been taen to the polis office, an' made some freens, an' catched a thief (an' latten 'im aff wi' a caution an' a wheen bawbees), an' seen a fire-engine that lookit as if it was gawn full gallop to destruction. Ay, wumin, an' I've fawn in a'ready wi' a waux doll! But dinna ye fear, mither, I'm ower teugh to be gotten the better o' by the likes o' them. An' noo I'm gawn to my bed, sae as to be ready for mair adventurs the mornin'. Ye'll admit that I've done gey 'n' weel for the first day. At this rate I'll be able to write a story-buik when I git hame. Respecks to faither. Yer affectionate son, DAVID.
"P.S.—The lan'lord's just been in, an' I've had a lang crack wi' him aboot the puir folk an' the thieves o' this Great Bawbylon. Wow, but I am wae for them. Seems to me they have na got a chance i' the battle o' life. He says he'll tak' me to see ane o' their low lodgin'-hooses the morn. Guid-nicht."
We turn now to a very different scene—to a West End drawing-room, in which is to be found every appliance, in the way of comfort and luxurious ease, that ingenuity can devise or labour produce. An exceedingly dignified, large, self-possessed yet respectful footman, with magnificent calves in white stockings, has placed a silver tray, with three tiny cups and a tiny teapot thereon, near to the hand of a beautiful middle-aged lady—the mistress of the mansion. She is reading a letter with evident interest. A girl of seventeen, whose style of beauty tells of the closest relationship, sits beside her, eagerly awaiting the news which is evidently contained in the letter.
"Oh, I am so glad, Rosa! they have found traces of her at last."
"Of who, mother—old nurse?" asked Rosa.
"Yes, your father's old nurse; indeed I may say mine also, for when I was a little girl I used to pay long visits to your grandfather's house. And it seems that she is in great poverty—almost destitute. Dear, dear old nurse! you won't be long in poverty if I can help it!"
As she spoke, a handsome man of middle age and erect carriage entered the room. There was an expression of care and anxiety on his countenance, which, however, partly disappeared when the lady turned towards him with a triumphant look and held up the letter.
"Didn't I tell you, Jack, that your lawyer would find our old nurse if any one could? He writes me that she has been heard of, living in some very poor district on the south side of the Thames, and hopes to be able to send me her exact address very soon. I felt quite sure that Mr Lockhart would find her, he is such an obliging and amiable man, as well as clever. I declare that I can't bear to look at all the useless luxury in which we live when I think of the good and true creatures like old nurse who are perishing in absolute destitution."
"But being disgusted with our luxury and giving it all up would not mend matters, little wife," returned Jack with a faint smile. "Rich people are not called upon to give up their riches, but to use them—to spend well within their means, so as to have plenty to spare in the way of helping those who are willing to help themselves, and sustaining those who cannot help themselves. The law of supply and demand has many phases, and the profits resulting therefrom are overruled by a Higher Power than the laws of Political Economy. There are righteous rich as well as poor; there are wicked poor as well as rich. What you and I have got to do in this perplexing world is to cut our particular coat according to our cloth."
"Just so," said the lady with energy. "Your last remark is to the point, whatever may be the worth of your previous statements, and I intend to cut off the whole of my superfluous skirts in order to clothe old nurse and such as she with them."
Rosa laughingly approved of this decision, for she was like-minded with her mother, but her father did not respond. The look of care had returned to his brow, and there was cause for it for Colonel Brentwood had just learned from his solicitor that he was a ruined man.
"It is hard to have to bring you such news, darling," he said, taking his wife's hand, "especially when you were so happily engaged in devising liberal things for the poor, but God knows what is best for us. He gave us this fortune, when He inclined uncle Richard to leave it to us, and now He has seen fit to take it away."
"But how—what do you mean by taking it away?" asked poor Mrs Brentwood, perceiving that her husband really had some bad news to tell.
"Listen; I will explain. When uncle Richard Weston died, unexpectedly, leaving to us his estate, we regarded it you know, as a gift from God, and came to England resolving to spend our wealth in His service. Well, yesterday Mr Lockhart informed me that another will has been found, of later date than that which made me uncle Richard's heir, in which the whole estate is left to a distant connection of whose very existence I had become oblivious."
"Well, Jack," returned the lady, with a valiant effort to appear reconciled, "but that is not ruin, you know. Your pay still remains to us."
"I—I fear not. That is to say, believing the estate to be mine, I have come under obligations which must be met and, besides, I have spent considerable sums which must be refunded—all of which, if I understand the law of the land rightly, means ruin."
For some moments Mrs Brentwood sat in silent meditation. "Well," she said at length, with the air of one who has made up her mind, "I don't understand much about the law of the land. All I know is that my purse is full of gold just now, so I will snap my fingers at the law of the land and go right off to visit and succour our dear old Liz."
A NIGHT OF ADVENTURES.
According to arrangement, David Laidlaw was taken the following evening by his landlord, Mr Spivin, to see one of the low lodging-houses of London.
Our adventurous Scot had often read and heard that some of the low quarters of London were dangerous for respectable men to enter without the escort of the police, but his natural courage and his thorough confidence in the strength of his bulky frame inclined him to smile at the idea of danger. Nevertheless, by the advice of his new friend the landlord, he left his watch and money, with the exception of a few coppers, behind him—carefully stowed under the pillow of his bed in his shoulder-bag. For further security the door of his room was locked and the key lung on a nail in an out-of-the-way corner, known only, as Mr Spivin pointed out, to "their two selves."
"But hoo dis it happen, Mr Speevin," asked David, as they walked along the streets together, "that ye can gang safely amang the thieves withoot a polisman t' proteck ye?"
"Oh, as to that," replied the jolly landlord, "I'm connected with a religious society which sends agents down among them poor houtcasts to convert 'em. They hall knows me, bless you. But I ain't a-goin' with you myself. You see, I'm a very busy man, and engagements which I 'ad forgotten prevents me, but I've made an arrangement with one o' the converted thieves to take you to a few of the worst places in London. Of course he can pass you hevery where as one of his friends."
To this David made no reply, save with a slight "Humph!" as he looked earnestly at his companion. But Mr Spivin wore an expression of seraphic candour.
"Here he is," added the landlord, as they turned a corner and drew near to a man in mean attire, who seemed to be waiting for some one. "He's rather disreputable to look at, only just been converted, an' not 'avin' 'ad the chance yet to better himself.—But—hallo!—you seem to know him."
The last exclamation and remark were called forth by the look of surprise on Laidlaw's face, and the air almost of alarm on that of the mean-looking man—alarm which was by no means unnatural, seeing that he was none other than the fellow who had attempted to rob our Scotsman the previous night.
David, however, was quick to recover himself. "Know him!" he cried, with a hearty laugh, "ay, I ken him weel. I lent him a helpin' haund last nicht, no' far frae here."
"Surely he was not beggin'?" exclaimed Mr Spivin in tones of virtuous reproof, "for a noo convert to go a-beggin', you know, would be houtrageous!"
"Na, na," answered David, with a quiet and somewhat cynical smile, "he wasna beggin', puir lad, but I took peety on 'im, an' gee'd 'im some bawbees. So this is yer new convert, is he? an' he's to be my guide? He'll do. He'll do. Sae I'll bid ye guid-nicht, Mr Speevin."
As the Scot held out his hand in a very decided manner the landlord was obliged to depart without further enlightenment, after cautioning the "converted" thief to take good care of his friend.
When he was gone the Scotsman and the ex-convict stood looking silently at each other, the first with an earnest yet half-sarcastic smile, the other with a mingled expression of reckless amusement, in which, however, there was a trace of anxiety.
"Weel noo," said the former, "aren't ye an oot-an'-oot blagyird?"
"If you mean by that an out-and-out blackguard," answered the thief, "you're not far wrong."
"Ye're honest the noo, ony way," remarked the Scot, with a nod. "Noo, my man, look ye here. Ye are nae mair convertit than yer freen' Speevin is, though I took him for a rale honest man at first. But bein' a blagyird, as ye admit, I'm wullin' t' hire ye in that capacity for the nicht. Noo, what I want is t' see low life in Lun'on, an' if ye'll tak' me to what they may ca' the warst haunts o' vice, I'll mak' it worth yer while—an' I've got mair siller than ye think for, maybe."
A stern frown settled on the thief's face as David spoke.
"I suppose," he said, "that you want me to show you the misery and destitootion among the poor of London, that you may return to your 'ome in the North and boast that you 'ave 'done the slums!'"
"Na—na, ye're quite mista'en, man," returned David quickly; "but I want t' see for mysel' what I've heard sae muckle aboot—to see if it's a' true, for I'm wae—I'm" (correcting himself) "sorry—for the puir craturs, an' wud fain help some o' them if I could. Noo, freen'," he continued, laying his huge hand gently on the man's shoulder, "if ye want to earn something, an'll tak' me t' where I want t' gang—guid. If no'—I'll bid ye guid-nicht."
"Do you know," said the man, with a furtive glance at David's kindly face, "the risk you run from the men who live in such places if you go alone and unprotected?"
"I ken the risk they run if they daur t' meddle wi' me! Besides, I'll be naether alane nor unproteckit if I've you wi' me, for I can trust ye!"
A peculiar smile played for a moment on the haggard features of the thief.
"Scotchman," he said, "whatever your name may be, I—"
"My name is David Laidlaw, an' I've nae cause t' be ashamed o't."
"Well, Mr Laidlaw," returned the thief, in vastly improved language and tone, "I'm indebted to you for a good supper and a warm bed last night. Besides, yours is the first friendly touch or kind voice that has greeted me since I was discharged, and you've said you can trust me! So I'll do my best for you even though you should not give me a penny. But remember, you will go among a rough lot whom I have but little power to control."
"Hoots! c'way, man, an' dinna waste time haverin'."
Saying this, he grasped his guide by the arm in a friendly way and walked off, much to the surprise of a policeman with an aquiline nose, who turned his bull's-eye full on them as they passed, and then went on his way, shaking his head sagaciously.
As the ill-assorted pair advanced, the streets they traversed seemed to grow narrower and dirtier. The inhabitants partook of the character of their surroundings, and it struck our Scotsman that, as ordinary shops became fewer and meaner, grog-shops became more numerous and self-assertive. From out of these dens of debauchery there issued loud cries and curses and ribald songs, and occasionally one or two of the wretched revellers, male or female, were thrust out, that they might finish off a quarrel with a fight in the street, or because they insisted on having more drink without having the means to pay for it.
At one particular point a woman "in unwomanly rags" was seen leaning up against a lamp-post with an idiotical expression on her bloated face, making an impassioned speech to some imaginary person at her elbow. The speech came to an abrupt end when, losing her balance, she fell to the ground, and lay there in drunken contentment.
At the same moment the attention of our explorer was drawn to a riot close at hand, occasioned by two men engaged in a fierce encounter. They were loudly cheered and backed by their friends, until all were scattered by two powerful constables, who swooped suddenly on the scene and captured one of the combatants, while the other almost overturned David as he ran against him in passing, and escaped.
"Come down here," said the thief, turning sharp to the left and passing under a low archway.
It led to a narrow alley, which seemed to terminate in total darkness. Even Laidlaw's stout heart beat somewhat faster as he entered it, but he did not hesitate.
At the end of the passage a dim light appeared. It was thrown by a very dirty lamp, and disclosed a small court of unutterable meanness and inconceivable smells. One or two men had brushed past them, and David observed that his guide accosted these in a language, or slang, which he did not understand.
"I've got a friend in here," said his guide, opening a door and disclosing an extremely dirty room of about ten feet square. A woman with her back towards the door was busy at a wash-tub. Ragged clothes were drying on a clothes-line. A shattered bed, on which lay a bundle of straw and a torn blanket, stood in one corner; a rickety table in another. Water and soapsuds blotched the broken floor, amongst which played two little boys, absolutely naked.
"That's a woman that tries to keep respectable," whispered the thief, with something like a bitter laugh. "Hallo, Molly! here's a gen'lem'n as wants to bid 'ee good-night."
Molly raised herself, cleared the soapsuds from her thin arms, and turned a haggard but not dissipated face towards her visitor, who was almost choked, not only by the smell of the place, but by an uncontrollable gush of pity.
"My puir wumin!" he exclaimed, hastily thrusting his ever-ready hand into his pocket, "I didna mean t' come in on 'ee unawears. Hae, ye'll no' objec' to a wheen bawbees?"
He put all the coppers he possessed into the woman's hand and hurried out of the room.
"Weel, weel," muttered David, as they continued their walk through the miserable region, "I've gane an' gie'd her a' the siller I had i' my pouch. Pair thing! She'll need it, but I've naething left for onybody else!"
"It's just as well, for there's nothing left now for any one to steal," said his companion.
"Whar are 'ee gaun noo?" asked Laidlaw.
The question put was not answered, for his guide, bidding him wait a minute, turned into a doorway and engaged in a low-toned conversation with a man. Returning to his friend with an air of indecision about him, the thief was on the point of speaking when a small party of men and women—evidently of the better classes—came round the corner and approached.
"Oho!" exclaimed the thief, drawing his companion into the shade of the opposite doorway, "we're in luck. You see, this is what they call a low lodging-house, and the door-keeper thought that, respectable as you are in dress and looks, it might not be wise to take you in. But we'll go in now at the tail o' this lot, and nobody will take notice of you. Only follow close to me."
Two of the "lot" who approached appeared to be respectably-dressed young men, carrying something like a large box between them. There were five altogether in the party, two of whom seemed to be plainly-dressed ladies.
They entered the house at once with a quiet "good-night" to the door-keeper, and were followed by the thief and David. Entering a very large irregularly-formed room, they proceeded to the upper end, where a huge coal fire blazed. The room was crowded with men and boys of varied appearance and character. From every rank in society they had gravitated—but all were stamped with the same brand—destitution! They were not, however, destitute of lungs, as the babel of sounds proved— nor of tobacco, as the clouds of smoke demonstrated.
Little notice was taken of the visitors. They were well known in that haunt of crime and woe. Angels of mercy they were, who, after the labours of each day, gave their spare time to the work of preaching salvation in Jesus to lost souls. To the surprise of Laidlaw, the box before referred to became a harmonium when opened up, and soon the harmony of praise to God ascended from the reeking den. Then followed prayer—brief and to the point—after which an earnest appeal was made to the sorrowing, the suffering, and the criminal to come and find deliverance and rest in the Saviour.
We may not dwell on this. Some listened carelessly, some earnestly, others not at all.
"Come now," whispered the thief to his friend, towards the close, "they'll have spotted you, and will want to have a talk. We've no time for that. Follow me."
David, who had been deeply interested, also wanted to have a talk with these servants of the King of kings, but his guide being already halfway down the room he was constrained to follow. Another moment and they were in the street.
ENEMIES TURNED TO FRIENDS.
"You want to see as much as you can, I suppose?" remarked the thief as he hastened along. "Come, I'll take you to our den."
It seemed as if the man were leading his companion into deeper and deeper depths, for the dark passage into which they finally turned, and along which they groped their way, seemed to be the very vestibule of Pandemonium; cries as of fierce and evil spirits being heard at the farther end of it.
"Now," said the thief, stopping, "whatever you do here, don't show fight. This is a thieves' den."
The passage at its farther end became absolutely dark, so that the thief had to lead our hero by the hand. Turning abruptly to the right, they came upon a door through which there issued sounds of terrible revelry. A knock produced no effect. A second and louder knock resulted in dead silence. Then a female voice was heard inside. To it our thief replied in the language of the slums. Immediately the door was opened just enough to let the two men glide in; then it was shut with a bang and bolted.
"Hallo, Trumps, who 'ave you got here?" "W'ere did you pick 'im up?" "Is he a noo member?" shouted several voices, amid general laughter.
The speakers were among a company of men and women whose general appearance and reckless expressions of countenance seemed to indicate that they were past redemption. The den in which they sat drinking, smoking, and gambling consisted of a dirty room fitted with narrow tables, out of which opened an inner apartment. The door of this had been removed—probably for firewood in a time of scarcity. Both rooms were lighted with dim oil-lamps. Some of the company were beggars and tramps of the lowest type, but most were evidently of the vicious and criminal order. There was a tendency to unpleasant curiosity in regard to the stranger, but the thief, whom we may now call Trumps, put an end to this with a few slang words, and led his friend to a seat in the inner room, whence he could observe nearly the whole party and all that went on.
Some of the more intoxicated among them objected to be snubbed by Trumps, and were beginning to scowl at the visitor, no doubt with sinister intentions, when the outer door was again opened, and a young thief, obviously familiar with the place, entered, closely followed by a respectable-looking man in a surtout and a light topcoat. It required no second look to tell that the new-comer was a city missionary. Like our Scot, he had gained admission to the place through the influence of a friendly thief.
"Hullo, more visitors!" growled a big savage-looking man with an apron, who proved to be the landlord of the den.
Advancing quickly to this man, the missionary said, in a quiet gentle tone—
"You supply coffee, I see. May I have a cup?"
"No you mayn't, you spy! I know you, you canting wretch!"
He locked the door as he spoke, and then, striding forward in a towering rage, threatened vengeance on the intruder. The company, expecting a scene, rose en masse to their feet, while those in the inner room crowded to the front. Laidlaw, who was for the moment forgotten in this new excitement, followed them. He was well enough informed in reference to the work of the London City Missionaries to understand at a glance that one of those fearless men had managed to worm his way into the thieves' den, and was perhaps in danger of his life. That the man realised his danger was apparent from the fact that he stood erect and closed his eyes for a moment—evidently in silent prayer for help in the hour of need. The act probably saved him, for the ferocious landlord, although ready enough to crush defiance with a savage blow, did not quite see his way to dash his great fist into a mild, manly face with shut eyes! It was such an unusual way of receiving his onset that he hesitated and lowered his fist. Suddenly the missionary drew out a pocket-Bible, and, pointing upwards with it, said, in loud solemn tones, "A great white throne will be set up among the stars above us. The Saviour who died for sinners will sit upon it, and the dead that are in their graves shall hear His voice and live. We shall be there!"
At this the people were silenced, apparently under a spell—some gazing upwards as if to see the throne; others staring into the missionary's face in wonder.
"And I and you and you," he continued, pointing to one and another, "shall be there: 'We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.' I am not an enemy, or a spy, but a servant of the Lord Jesus, who will be your judge at the last day. He is now the Saviour of the ruined and lost, and in His name I offer you mercy through the blood He shed for you upon the Cross. In His blessed Book it is written, 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall be saved.' I hope to come again before long to see you, friends. Now, landlord, open that door and let me out."
The landlord, who seemed to be thoroughly taken aback, unlocked the door with a trembling hand, and the missionary passed out. But that was not the end of this remarkable visit. It was only the beginning of a grand work for Christ which afterwards took place in and around that thieves' den. On this, however, we may not do more than touch here. Smitten in conscience, that landlord hurried out after the missionary and actually begged of him to repeat his visit. Then he returned to the den and found his people recovering somewhat from their surprise.
But, touched though the landlord was, he had by no means changed his character.
"Now, then," he demanded, going up to David Laidlaw, "are you a missionary too?"
"Na, freen', I am not; but I 'maist wush that I was, for it's a graund wark t' carry help t' the destitute."
"Well, guv'nor," cried one fellow with a crushed nose and a huge black eye, "if that's wot you're a-'ankerin' arter you can go a-'ead 'ere an' 'elp us to yer 'eart's content, for we're all destitoot in this 'ere den. So, come along, table down all the cash you've got about you."
"I'll dae that wi' pleasure," said David, rising promptly, and turning all his pockets inside out. "Ye shall hae every bodle I possess."
A general laugh greeted this proceeding, and one young thief shouted, "Well done, checkers," (referring to his garments); "but 'ow comes it that you've bin cleaned out?"
"Plain as pea-soup," cried another. "Don't you see? He's bin keepin' company with Trumps!"
Here Trumps rose to explain. "No, pals, that's not the reason; but just before comin' here he gave away every rap he had to poor widow Grain."
"He's a brick!" cried one man, with a fierce oath.
"He's a fool!" shouted another, with a fiercer oath. Regardless of the interruption, Trumps went on to explain how he had attempted to rob our hero, and been caught by him, and let off with a mild reproof and a lot of coppers. He also explained how that black-hearted villain Tandy Spivin (meaning David's landlord) had hired him—Trumps—to take this "gen'lem'n" (pointing to David) "down into the den for a purpus—ahem! Of course, on bein' introdooced to him," continued Trumps, "I at once recognised the Scotchman I had tried to rob, and expected he would refuse to go with me; but I soon found that Scotty was a deep as well as a plucky cove, and wasn't to be done out of his fun by trifles, for he said he would go to the slums with me because he could trust me—trust me, pals—note that!"
A loud explosion of laughter interrupted the speaker at this point.
"What!" exclaimed several voices, "said 'e could trust you, Trumps?"
"Ay," cried the thief, looking suddenly fierce, "and why not? Isn't it said, 'There's honour among thieves?'"
"Thrue for ye," cried a big burglarious-looking Irishman, "sure there's honour 'twixt the likes o' you an' me, Trumps, but that gen'lem'n an't a thief!"
"That's so, Bill," exclaimed another man, with bloodshot eyes and beetling brows; "an' it's my opinion that as the cove hain't got no browns 'e ought to contribute 'is checker suit to the good o' the 'ouse. It would fetch summat."
The interest in the missionary's words seemed to be passing away, for at this point the language and looks of some of the company made David Laidlaw feel that he was indeed in a ticklish position. The threats and noise were becoming louder and more furious, and he was beginning to think of the hopeless resource of using his fists, when a loud exclamation, followed by a dead silence, drew every eye to the door.
The girl to whom the keeping of it had been intrusted had neglected her duty for a moment. In letting one of the company out she incautiously stood looking through the open chink into the dark passage. That instant was seized by two tall and powerful limbs of the law, in cloth helmets and with bull's-eye lanterns, who pushed quietly but quickly into the room. Shutting the door, one of the constables stood with his back against it, while the other advanced and examined the faces of the company one by one.
There was dead silence, for the constables were men of business, not of words, while the criminals, some of whom became grave as well as silent, seemed very anxious not to attract undue attention.
The particular person "wanted," however, was not there at that time. On coming to David, who met the glare of the bull's-eye with his grave smile, the constable looked surprised.
"I think, young man," he said in a low voice, "you've come to the wrong shop here."
"That's my business," replied David coolly.
"Well, you know best of course, but if you'll take my advice you'll come out of this place along with us."
"Na. I'll bide where I am. I'll trust them."
"Brayvo! well done, Scotty!" burst from the company, whose courage quickly revived when they found that no one there was "wanted."
The policemen laughed and went out.
"Noo, freen's, I want to say a word," said David, rising. "I'm gaun awa', an' it's ower late t' mak' a speech the nicht, but I want t' ask leave t' come back here again an' hae a crack wi' ye. I want t' ask 'ee some questions, an' gie ye some guid advice. May I come?"
"Of course you may, Scotty," said the landlord, grasping David's hand and receiving a good-humoured squeeze that made him wince. "You're a trump, and we'll give you the freedom of the 'ouse. Won't we, pals?"
"Agreed, agreed," shouted the whole company; "and we've got two Trumps now!" added a wag, amid much laughter and staves of, "He's a jolly good fellow," during the singing of which Laidlaw and his friend took their departure.
Having marked the position of the den well and taken its bearings they said good-night cordially and separated, the thief to his lair, and the Scotsman to his lodging, where he fully expected that the "villain" Tandy Spivin had availed himself of the opportunity to rob him.
But he was wrong. He found his bag, with his watch and money and his little all, intact as he had left it.
David Laidlaw was one of those comfortably constituted men who eat heartily, sleep profoundly, and lie thinking in bed in the mornings— when awake—with philosophic intensity.
On the morning after his first day in London our hero's mind had to grapple with the perplexing question, whether it was possible that a man with a jovial face, a hearty manner, well-off to all appearance in a worldly point of view, and who chanced to have a man's money at his mercy yet did not take it, could be a deceiver and in league with thieves. Impossible! Yet there were the damaging facts that Mr Spivin had introduced a thief to him as a true and converted man, and that this thief, besides denying his own conversion, had pronounced him—Spivin—a black-hearted villain!
"It bothers me!" said David at length, getting over the side of the bed, and sitting there for some time abstractedly stroking his chin.
Pondering the subject deeply, he dressed, called for breakfast, met Spivin with a quiet "guid-mornin', freen," said that he had had "a pleesant time o't i' the slums," and then went out to visit his friends in Cherub Court. Before going, however, he removed his money from his bag, put it in an inner breast-pocket, and paid his bill.
"You won't be back to dinner, I suppose," said the landlord in his genial manner.
"Na. I'm gaun to plowter aboot a' day an' see the toon. I may be late o' comin' in, but ye'll keep my bed for me, an' tak' care o' my bag."
Spivin said he would do so with such hearty goodwill that David said, mentally, "He's innocent."
At the moment a tall dark man with a sharp intelligent expression entered the house and bade the landlord good-morning. The latter started, laughed, winked, glanced expressively at the Scotsman, and returned the stranger's salute in a tone that induced David to say, mentally, "He's guilty."
Gravely pondering these contradictory opinions, our hero walked along until he found himself close to the alley which led into Cherub Court. A female yell issued from the alley as he came up, and Mrs Rampy suddenly appeared in a state of violent self-assertion. She was a strong, red-faced woman, who might have been born a man, perhaps, with advantage. She carried a broken-lipped jug, and was on her way to the shop which was at least the second cause of all her woes.
Standing aside to let the virago pass, Laidlaw proceeded to the court, where, to his great surprise, he found Tommy Splint sitting on a doorstep, not exactly in tears, but with disconsolation deeply impressed on his dirty young face.
"Eh, laddie, what's wrang?" exclaimed the Scot, his mind reverting anxiously, and strangely enough, to the "waux doll."
"O, Mr Laidlow" exclaimed the boy.
"Na, na," interrupted David, "I'm no laid low yet, though the Lun'on folk hae done their best to bring me t' that condeetion. My name's Laid-law, laddie. Freen's ca' me David, an' ye may do the same; but for ony sake dinna use that English Daivid. I canna thole that. Use the lang, braid, Bible a. But what's the maitter wi' ye?"
"Well, Mr Da-a-a-vid," returned the boy, unable to resist a touch of fun even in his distress, "they've bin an' dismissed our Susy, wot's as good as gold; so she's hout o' work, and chimley-pot Liz she's fit to break 'er hold 'art, 'cause she ain't able to earn enough now to pay the rent of 'er room, an' the landlord, what's a lawyer, 'e is, says two weeks' rent is overdue, and 'e'll turn 'er hout into the street to-morrer if it's not paid."
"That's bad news, Tammy," said Laidlaw, thrusting both hands into his pockets, and looking meditatively at the ground. "But why doesna Sam Blake, the waux—, I mean Susy's faither, lend them the siller?"
"'Cause he's gone to Liverpool for somethink or other about 'is wessel, an' left no address, an' won't be back for two or three days, an' the old ooman ain't got a friend on 'arth—leastwise not a rich 'un who can 'elp 'er."
"Hoots, laddie, ye're wrang! I can help her."
"Ah, but," said the boy, still in tones of disconsolation, "you don't know chimley-pot Liz. She's proud, she is, an' won't take nuffin from strangers."
"Weel, weel, but I'm no'—a stranger, callant."
"I rather think you are!" replied the boy, with a knowing look.
"Ye may be richt. Weel, I'll no' gi'e them the chance to refuse. What's the name of the lawyer-body that's their landlord?"
"Lockhart. John would be 'is Christian name if 'e wos a Christian. But a cove with a Christian name as is not a Christian do seem an absurdity—don't it? They say 'e's about the greatest willian out o' Newgate. An' 'is office is somewhere near Chancery Lane."
"Weel, Christian or no Christian, I'll gi'e him a ca'," said David; "are they up there enow?" he added, with a significant motion of his head towards the garden on the roof.
"Yes, both of 'em—'owling. I couldn't stand it, so came down 'ere to veep alone."
"Weel, ye better stop where ye are, an' veep—as ye say—a wee while langer. I'll gang up to see them."
A minute more and David, tapping at the garret door, was bidden to enter by a sweet voice which caused the slightest imaginable sensation in his heart! Susan was there alone—not 'owling, as Tommy had expressed it, but with the traces of tears obviously about her eyes. She blushed deeply and looked a little confused as David entered, probably because of being caught with the signs aforesaid on her cheeks.
"Guid-mornin', Miss Blake," said David earnestly, giving the girl a warm shake of the hand. "O lassie, but I am sorry to hear that ye're in trouble! I do assure ye that if a pund or twa would help yer granny—"
"'Sh, Mr Laidlaw!" said Susan, looking furtively round and speaking low. "Granny will hear! You must not offer her money. From father, indeed, if he were here, she would accept it, but not from a—a stranger."
"Am I, then, such a stranger?" asked David in a peculiar tone, for the word sounded cold and disagreeable.
Again Susan blushed, yet felt a tendency to laugh, as she replied, "Well, you know, although you have helped me in trouble, it is not very long since we met. But come and see granny; she's in the garden—and, please, don't speak of our troubles."
"Weel, weel, please yersel', lassie," returned the Scot, almost sternly, as he followed Susan into the garden on the roof, where old Liz sat in her rustic chair resting her head on her hand, and looking sadly at the sunlight, which flickered through the foliage on to the zinc floor. Despite Susan's caution Laidlaw sat down beside the old woman and took her hand.
"Noo, Mrs Morley," he said, "it's o' no use me tryin' to haud my tongue whan I want to speak. I'm a plain north-country man, an' I canna thole to see a puir auld body in trouble withoot offerin' t' help her. I've been telt o' Susy's misfortin' an' aboot the rent, and if ye'll accep'—"
"No, sir, no," said old Liz firmly, but without any look of that pride with which she had been credited. "I will not accept money from—"
"But I'm no' askin' ye," interrupted David, "to accep' money as a gift—only as a loan, ye ken, withoot interest of course."
"Not even as a loan," said the old woman. "Besides, young man, you must not fancy that I am altogether penniless. I 'appen to 'ave shares in an American Railway, which my landlord advised me to buy with my small savings. No doubt, just at present the dividend on the shares of the Washab and Roria Railway have fallen off terribly, but—"
"What railway?" asked Laidlaw quickly.
"The Washab and Roria. Somewhere in the United States," said Liz.
"H'm! I was readin' the papers yestreen," said David. "Ye see, I'm fond o' fishin' aboot odd corners o' the papers—the money market, an' stocks, an' the like—an' I noticed that vera railway—owin' to its daft-like name, nae doot—an' its deevidends are first-rate. Ye could sell oot enow at a high profit gin ye like."
"Indeed? You must be mistaken, I think," replied the old woman, "for I 'ave 'ad almost nothink for a year or two. You see, my landlord, who takes charge of these matters for me—"
"That's Mr Lockhart the lawyer, ye mean?"
"Yes. He says they're losing money now, and there was no dividend at all last half-year."
"H'm! that is strange," said David, stroking his chin, "uncommon— strange!"
"D'you think Mr Lockhart has made a mistake, Mr Laidlaw?" asked Susan hopefully.
"Ay, I think he hes made a mistake. But 'oo'll see. An' noo, to change the subjec', I'll tell 'ee aboot some o' the adventur's I had last nicht."
From this point David Laidlaw entertained old Liz and Susy and Tommy Splint, who had by that time joined them, with a graphic account of his adventures in the slums, in the telling of which he kept his audience in fits of laughter, yet spoke at times with such pathos that Susan was almost moved to tears.
"Noo, I must away," he said at length, rising. "I've got partikler business in haund. Come wi' me, Tammy. I'll want 'ee, and I'll come back sune to see ye, auld Liz. Dinna ye tak' on aboot losin' yer place, Su—, Miss Blake, lass. Ye'll git a better place afore lang—tak' my word for 't."
On the way down-stairs Laidlaw and his little companion passed a tall gentleman and two ladies who were ascending. Ere the foot of the stair was reached, loud exclamations of recognition and joy were heard in the regions above.
"I say!" exclaimed Tommy Splint, with wide-open eyes, "ain't they a-goin' of it up there? Let's go back an' listen."
"Na, ye wee rascal, we'll no' gang back. If ye want to be freen's wi' me ye'll no daur to putt yer lug to keyholes. Come awa'. It's nae business o' yours or mine."
They had not gone far in the direction of Chancery Lane when, to their surprise, they met Sam Blake, who had changed his mind about the visit to Liverpool. David at once seized him by the arm, and made him walk with them, while he explained the circumstances in which his daughter and old Liz had been so suddenly placed.
"Wouldn't it be better for me," said Sam, "to steer straight for the garden than to go along with you?"
"Na—ye'll gang wi' me. It's plain that they hae auld freen's veesitin' them at the gairden, sae we'd better lat them alane. Besides, I want ye for a wutness; I'm no much o' a polis man, nevertheless I'm gaun to try my haund at a bit o' detective business. Just you come wi' me, and niver say a word till ye're spoken to."
"Heave ahead then, skipper; you're in command," returned the sailor with a quiet laugh. It was echoed by little Tommy, who was hugely pleased with the semi-mysterious looks and nods of his Scottish friend, and regarded the turn affairs seemed to be taking as infinitely superior to mere ordinary mischief.