In the social classification of the nether world—a subject which so eminently adapts itself to the sportive and gracefully picturesque mode of treatment—it will be convenient to distinguish broadly, and with reference to males alone, the two great sections of those who do, and those who do not, wear collars. Each of these orders would, it is obvious, offer much scope to an analyst delighting in subtle gradation. Taking the collarless, how shrewdly might one discriminate between the many kinds of neckcloth which our climate renders necessary as a substitute for the nobler article of attire! The navvy, the scaffolder, the costermonger, the cab-tout—innumerable would be the varieties of texture, of fold, of knot, observed in the ranks of unskilled labour. And among these whose higher station is indicated by the linen or paper symbol, what a gap between the mechanic with collar attached to a flannel shirt, and just visible along the top of a black tie, and the shopman whose pride it is to adorn himself with the very ugliest neck-encloser put in vogue by aristocratic sanction. For such attractive disquisition I have, unfortunately, no space; it must suffice that I indicate the two genera. And I was led to do so in thinking of Bob Hewett.
Bob wore a collar. In the die-sinking establishment which employed him there were, it is true, two men who belonged to the collarless; but their business was down in the basement of the building, where they kept up a furnace, worked huge stamping-machines, and so on. Bob's workshop was upstairs, and the companions with whom he sat, without exception, had something white and stiff round their necks; in fact, they were every bit as respectable as Sidney Kirkwood, and such as he, who bent over a jeweller's table. To John Hewett it was no slight gratification that he had been able to apprentice his son to a craft which permitted him always to wear a collar. I would not imply that John thought of the matter in these terms, but his reflections bore this significance. Bob was raised for ever above the rank of those who depend merely upon their muscles, even as Clara was saved from the dismal destiny of the women who can do nothing but sew.
There was, on the whole, some reason why John Hewett should feel pride in his eldest son. Like Sidney Kirkwood, Bob had early shown a faculty for draughtsmansbip; when at school, he made decidedly clever caricatures of such persons as displeased him, and he drew such wonderful horses (on the race-course or pulling cabs), such laughable donkeys in costers' carts, such perfect dogs, that on several occasions some friend had purchased with a veritable shilling a specimen of his work. 'Put him to the die-sinking,' said an acquaintance of the family, himself so employed; 'he'll find a use for this kind of thing some day.' Die-sinking is not the craft it once was; cheap methods, vulgarising here as everywhere, have diminished the opportunities of capable men; but a fair living was promised the lad if he stuck to his work, and at the age of nineteen he was already earning his pound a week. Then he was clever in a good many other ways. He had an ear for music, played (nothing else was within his reach) the concertina, sang a lively song with uncommon melodiousness—a gift much appreciated at the meetings of a certain Mutual Benefit Club, to which his father had paid a weekly subscription, without fail, through all adversities. In the regular departments of learning Bob had never shown any particular aptitude; he wrote and read decently, but his speech, as you have had occasion for observing, was not marked by refinement, and for books he had no liking. His father, unfortunately, had spoilt him, just as he had spoilt Clara. Being of the nobly independent sex, between fifteen and sixteen he practically freed himself from parental control. The use he made of his liberty was not altogether pleasing to John, but the time for restraint and training had hopelessly gone by. The lad was selfish, that there was no denying; he grudged the money demanded of him for his support; but in other matters he always showed himself so easy-tempered, so disposed to a genial understanding, that the great fault had to be blinked. Many failings might have been forgiven him in consideration of the fact that he had never yet drunk too much, and indeed cared little for liquor.
Men of talent, as you are aware, not seldom exhibit low tastes in their choice of companionship. Bob was a case in point; he did not sufficiently appreciate social distinctions. He, who wore a collar, seemed to prefer associating with the collarless. There was Jack—more properly 'Jeck'—Bartley, for instance, his bosom friend until they began to cool in consequence of a common interest in Miss Peckover. Jack never wore a collar in his life, not even on Sundays, and was closely allied with all sorts of blackguards, who somehow made a living on the outskirts of turf-land. And there was Eli Snape, compared with whom Jack was a person of refinement and culture. Eli dealt surreptitiously in dogs and rats, and the mere odour of him was intolerable to ordinary nostrils; yet he was a species of hero in Bob's regard, such invaluable information could he supply with regard to 'events' in which young Hewett took a profound interest. Perhaps a more serious aspect of Bob's disregard for social standing was revealed in his relations with the other sex. Susceptible from his tender youth, he showed no ambition in the bestowal of his amorous homage. At the age of sixteen did he not declare his resolve to wed the daughter of old Sally Budge, who went about selling watercress? and was there not a desperate conflict at home before this project could be driven from his head? It was but the first of many such instances. Had he been left to his own devices, he would already, like numbers of his coevals, have been supporting (or declining to support) a wife and two or three children. At present he was 'engaged' to Clem Peckover; that was an understood thing. His father did not approve it, but this connection was undeniably better than those he had previously declared or concealed. Bob, it seemed evident, was fated to make a mesalliance—a pity, seeing his parts and prospects. He might have aspired to a wife who had scarcely any difficulty with her h's; whose bringing-up enabled her to look with compassion on girls who could not play the piano; who counted among her relatives not one collarless individual.
Clem, as we have seen, had already found, or imagined, cause for dissatisfaction with her betrothed. She was well enough acquainted with Bob's repute, and her temper made it improbable, to say the least, that the course of wooing would in this case run very smoothly. At present, various little signs were beginning to convince her that she had a rival, and the hints of her rejected admirer, Jack Bartley, fixed her suspicions upon an acquaintance whom she had hitherto regarded merely with contempt. This was Pennyloaf Candy, formerly, with her parents, a lodger in Mrs. Peckover's house. The family had been ousted some eighteen months ago on account of failure to pay their rent and of the frequent intoxication of Mrs. Candy. Pennyloaf's legal name was Penelope, which, being pronounced as a trisyllable, transformed itself by further corruption into a sound at all events conveying some meaning. Applied in the first instance jocosely, the title grew inseparable from her, and was the one she herself always used. Her employment was the making of shirts for export; she earned on an average tenpence a day, and frequently worked fifteen hours between leaving and returning to her home. That Bob Hewett could interest himself, with whatever motive, in a person of this description, Miss Peckover at first declined to believe. A hint, however, was quite enough to excite her jealous temperament; as proof accumulated, cunning and ferocity wrought in her for the devising of such a declaration of war as should speedily scare Pennyloaf from the field. Jane Snowdon's removal had caused her no little irritation; the hours of evening were heavy on her hands, and this new emotion was not unwelcome as a temporary resource.
As he came home from work one Monday towards the end of April, Bob encountered Pennyloaf; she had a bundle in her hands and was walking hurriedly.
'Hallo! that you?' he exclaimed, catching her by the arm. 'Where are you going?'
'I can't stop now. I've got some things to put away, an' it's nearly eight.'
'Come round to the Passage to-night. Be there at ten.'
'I can't give no promise. There's been such rows at 'ome. You know mother summonsed father this mornin'?'
'Yes, I've heard. All right! come if you can; I'll be there.'
Pennyloaf hastened on. She was a meagre, hollow-eyed, bloodless girl of seventeen, yet her features had a certain charm—that dolorous kind of prettiness which is often enough seen in the London needle-slave. Her habitual look was one of meaningless surprise; whatever she gazed upon seemed a source of astonishment to her, and when she laughed, which was not very often, her eyes grew wider than ever. Her attire was miserable, but there were signs that she tried to keep it in order; the boots upon her feet were sewn and patched into shapelessness; her limp straw hat had just received a new binding.
By saying that she had things 'to put away,' she meant that her business was with the pawnbroker, who could not receive pledges after eight o'clock. It wanted some ten minutes of the hour when she entered a side-doorway, and, by an inner door, passed into one of a series of compartments constructed before the pawnbroker's counter. She deposited her bundle, and looked about for someone to attend to her. Two young men were in sight, both transacting business; one was conversing facetiously with a customer on the subject of a pledge. Two or three gas-jets lighted the interior of the shop, but the boxes were in shadow. There was a strong musty odour; the gloom, the narrow compartments, the low tones of conversation, suggested stealth and shame.
Pennyloaf waited with many signs of impatience, until one of the assistants approached, a smartly attired youth, with black hair greased into the discipline he deemed becoming, with an aquiline nose, a coarse mouth, a large horseshoe pin adorning his necktie, and rings on his fingers. He caught hold of the packet and threw it open; it consisted of a petticoat and the skirt of an old dress.
'Well, what is it?' he asked, rubbing his tongue along his upper lip before and after speaking.
'Three an' six, please, sir.'
He rolled the things up again with a practised turn of the hand, and said indifferently, glancing towards another box, 'Eighteenpence.'
'Oh, sir, we had two shillin's on the skirt not so long ago,' pleaded Pennyloaf, with a subservient voice. 'Make it two shillin's—please do, sir!
The young man paid no attention; he was curling his moustache and exchanging a smile of intelligence with his counter-companion with respect to a piece of business the latter had in hand. Of a sudden he turned and said sharply:
'Well, are you goin' to take it or not?'
Pennyloaf sighed and nodded.
'Got a 'apenny?' he asked.
He fetched a cloth, rolled the articles in it very tightly, and pinned them up; then he made out ticket and duplicate, handling his pen with facile flourish, and having blotted the little piece of card on a box of sand (a custom which survives in this conservative profession), he threw it to the customer. Lastly, he counted out one shilling and five pence halfpenny. The coins were sandy, greasy, and of scratched surface.
Pennyloaf sped homewards. She lived in Shooter's Gardens, a picturesque locality which demolition and rebuilding have of late transformed. It was a winding alley, with paving raised a foot above the level of the street whence was its main approach. To enter from the obscurer end, you descended a flight of steps, under a low archway, in a court itself not easily discovered. From without, only a glimpse of the Gardens was obtainable; the houses curved out of sight after the first few yards, and left surmise to busy itself with the characteristics of the hidden portion. A stranger bold enough to explore would have discovered that the Gardens had a blind offshoot, known simply as 'The Court.' Needless to burden description with further detail; the slum was like any other slum; filth, rottenness, evil odours, possessed these dens of superfluous mankind and made them gruesome to the peering imagination. The inhabitants of course felt nothing of the sort; a room in Shooter's Gardens was the only kind of home that most of them knew or desired. The majority preferred it, on all grounds, to that offered them in a block of model lodgings not very far away; here was independence, that is to say, the liberty to be as vile as they pleased. How they came to love vileness, well, that is quite another matter, and shall not for the present concern us.
Pennyloaf ran into the jaws of this black horror with the indifference of habit; it had never occurred to her that the Gardens were fearful in the night's gloom, nor even that better lighting would have been a convenience. Did it happen that she awoke from her first sleep with the ring of ghastly shrieking in her ears, that was an incident of too common occurrence to cause her more than a brief curiosity; she could wait till the morning to hear who had half-killed whom. Four days ago it was her own mother's turn to be pounded into insensibility; her father (a journeyman baker, often working nineteen hours out of the twenty-four, which probably did not improve his temper), maddened by his wife's persistent drunkenness, was stopped just on the safe side of murder. To the amazement and indignation of the Gardens, Mrs. Candy prosecuted her sovereign lord; the case had been heard to-day, and Candy had been cast in a fine. The money was paid, and the baker went his way, remarking that his family were to 'expect him back when they saw him.' Mrs. Candy, on her return, was hooted through all the length of the Gardens, a demonstration of public feeling probably rather of base than of worthy significance.
As Pennyloaf drew near to the house, a wild, discordant voice suddenly broke forth somewhere in the darkness, singing in a high key, 'All ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever!' It was Mad Jack, who had his dwelling in the Court, and at all hours was wont to practise the psalmody which made him notorious throughout Clerkenwell. A burst of laughter followed from a group of men and boys gathered near the archway. Unheeding, the girl passed in at an open door and felt her way up a staircase; the air was noisome, notwithstanding a fierce draught which swept down the stairs. She entered a room lighted by a small metal lamp hanging on the wall—a precaution of Pennyloaf's own contrivance. There was no bed, but one mattress lay with a few rags of bed-clothing spread upon it, and two others were rolled up in a corner. This chamber accommodated, under ordinary circumstances, four persons: Mr. and Mrs. Candy, Pennyloaf, and a son named Stephen, whose years were eighteen. (Stephen pursued the occupation of a potman; his hours were from eight in the morning till midnight on week-days, and on Sunday the time during which a public-house is permitted to be open; once a month he was allowed freedom after six o'clock.) Against the window was hung an old shawl pierced with many rents. By the fire sat Mrs. Candy; she leaned forward, her head, which was bound in linen swathes, resting upon her hands.
'What have you got?' she asked, in the thick voice of a drunkard, without moving.
'Eighteenpence; it's all they'd give me.'
The woman cursed in her throat, but exhibited no anger with Pennyloaf.
'Go an' get some tea an' milk,' she said, after a pause. 'There is sugar. An' bring seven o' coals; there's only a dust.'
She pointed to a deal box which stood by the hearth. Pennyloaf went out again.
Over the fireplace, the stained wall bore certain singular ornaments. These were five coloured cards, such as are signed by one who takes a pledge of total abstinence; each presented the signature, 'Maria Candy,' and it was noticeable that at each progressive date the handwriting had become more unsteady. Yes, five times had Maria Candy promised, with the help of God, to abstain,' &c. &c.; each time she was in earnest. But it appeared that the help of God availed little against the views of one Mrs. Green, who kept the beer-shop in Rosoman Street, once Mrs. Peckover's, and who could on no account afford to lose so good a customer. For many years that house, licensed for the sale of non-spirituous liquors, had been working Mrs. Candy's ruin; not a particle of her frame but was vitiated by the drugs retailed there under the approving smile of civilisation. Spirits would have been harmless in comparison. The advantage of Mrs. Green's ale was that the very first half-pint gave conscience its bemuddling sop; for a penny you forgot all the cares of existence; for threepence you became a yelling maniac.
Poor, poor creature. She was sober to-night, sitting over the fire with her face battered into shapelessness; and now that her fury had had its way, she bitterly repented invoking the help of the law against her husband. What use? what use? Perhaps he had now abandoned her for good, and it was certain that the fear of him was the only thing that ever checked her on the ruinous road she would so willingly have quitted. But for the harm to himself, the only pity was he had not taken her life outright. She knew all the hatefulness of her existence; she knew also that only the grave would rescue her from it. The struggle was too unequal between Mrs. Candy with her appeal to Providence, and Mrs. Green with the forces of civilisation at her back.
Pennyloaf speedily returned with a ha'p'orth of milk, a pennyworth of tea, and seven pounds (also price one penny) of coals in an apron. It was very seldom indeed that the Candys had more of anything in their room than would last them for the current day. There being no kettle, water was put on to boil in a tin saucepan; the tea was made in a jug. Pennyloaf had always been a good girl to her mother; she tended her as well as she could to-night; but there was no word of affection from either. Kindly speech was stifled by the atmosphere of Shooter's Gardens.
Having drunk her tea, Mrs. Candy lay down, as she was, on the already extended mattress, and drew the ragged coverings about her. In half an hour she slept.
Pennyloaf then put on her hat and jacket again and left the house. She walked away from the denser regions of Clerkenwell, came to Sadler's Wells Theatre (gloomy in its profitless recollection of the last worthy manager that London knew), and there turned into Myddelton Passage. It is a narrow paved walk between brick walls seven feet high; on the one hand lies the New River Head, on the other are small gardens behind Myddelton Square. The branches of a few trees hang over; there are doors, seemingly never opened, belonging one to each garden; a couple of gas-lamps shed feeble light. Pennyloaf paced the length of the Passage several times, meeting no one. Then a policeman came along with echoing tread, and eyed her suspiciously. She had to wait more than a quarter of an hour before Bob Hewett made his appearance. Greeting her with a nod and a laugh, he took up a leaning position against the wall, and began to put questions concerning the state of things at her home.
'And what'll your mother do if the old man don't give her nothing to live on?' he inquired, when he had listened good-naturedly to the recital of domestic difficulties.
'Don't knew,' replied the girl, shaking her head, the habitual surprise of her countenance becoming a blank interrogation of destiny.
Bob kept kicking the wall, first with one heel, then with the other. He whistled a few bars of the last song he had learnt at the music-hall.
'Say, Penny,' he remarked at length, with something of shamefacedness, 'there's a namesake of mine here as I shan't miss, if you can do any good with it.'
He held a shilling towards her under his hand. Pennyloaf turned away, casting down her eyes and looking troubled.
'We can get on for a bit,' she said indistinctly.
Bob returned the coin to his pocket. He whistled again for a moment, then asked abruptly:
'Say! have you seen Clem again?'
'No,' replied the girl, examining him with sudden acuteness. 'What about her?'
'Nothing much. She's got her back up a bit, that's all.'
'About me?' Pennyloaf asked anxiously.
Bob nodded. As he was making some further remarks on the subject, a man's figure appeared at a little distance, and almost immediately withdrew again round a winding of the Passage. A moment after there sounded from that direction a shrill whistle. Bob and the girl regarded each other.
'Who was that?' said the former suspiciously. 'I half believe it was Jeck Bartley. If Jeck is up to any of his larks, I'll make him remember it. You wait here a minute!'
He walked at a sharp pace towards the suspected quarter. Scarcely had he gone half a dozen yards, when there came running from the other end of the Passage a girl whom Pennyloaf at once recognised. It was Clem Peckover; with some friend's assistance she had evidently tracked the couple and was now springing out of ambush. She rushed upon Pennyloaf, who for very alarm could not flee, and attacked her with clenched fists. A scream of terror and pain caused Bob to turn and run back. Pennyloaf could not even ward off the blows that descended upon her head; she was pinned against the wall, her hat was torn away, her hair began to fly in disorder. But Bob effected a speedy rescue. He gripped Clem's muscular arms, and forced them behind her back as if he meant to dismember her. Even then it was with no slight effort that he restrained the girl's fury.
'You run off 'ome!' he shouted to Pennyloaf. 'If she tries this on again, I'll murder her!'
Pennyloaf's hysterical cries and the frantic invectives of her assailant made the Passage ring. Again Bob roared to the former to be off, and was at length obeyed. When Pennyloaf was out of sight he released Clem. Her twisted arms caused her such pain that she threw herself against the wall, mingling maledictions with groans. Bob burst into scornful laughter.
Clem went home vowing vengeance. In the nether world this trifling dissension might have been expected to bear its crop of violent language and straightway pass into oblivion; but Miss Peckover's malevolence was of no common stamp, and the scene of to-night originated a feud which in the end concerned many more people than those immediately interested.
So at length came Monday, the first Monday in August, a day gravely set apart for the repose and recreation of multitudes who neither know how to rest nor how to refresh themselves with pastime. To-day will the slaves of industrialism don the pileus. It is high summertide. With joy does the awaking publican look forth upon the blue-misty heavens, and address his adorations to the Sun-god, inspirer of thirst. Throw wide the doors of the temple of Alcohol! Behold, we come in our thousands, jingling the coins that shall purchase us this one day of tragical mirth. Before us is the dark and dreary autumn; it is a far cry to the foggy joys of Christmas. Io Saturnalia!
For certain friends of ours this morning brought an event of importance. At a church in Clerkenwell were joined together in holy matrimony Robert Hewett and Penelope (otherwise Pennyloaf) Candy, the former aged nineteen, the latter less than that by nearly three years. John Hewett would have nothing to do with an alliance so disreputable; Mrs. Hewett had in vain besought her stepson not to marry so unworthily. Even as a young man of good birth has been known to enjoy a subtle self-flattery in the thought that he graciously bestows his name upon a maiden who, to all intents and purposes, may be said never to have been born at all, so did Bob Hewett feel when he put a ring upon the scrubby finger of Pennyloaf. Proudly conscious was Bob that he a 'married beneath him'—conscious also that Clem Peckover was gnawing her lips in rage.
Mrs. Candy was still sober at the hour of the ceremony. Her husband, not a bad fellow in his way, had long since returned to her, and as yet had not done more than threaten a repetition of his assault. Both were present at church. A week ago Bob had established himself in a room in Shooter's Gardens, henceforth to be shared with him by his bride. Probably he might have discovered a more inviting abode for the early days of married life, but Bob had something of the artist's temperament and could not trouble about practical details; for the present this room would do as well as another. It was cheap, and he had need of all the money he could save from everyday expenses. Pennyloaf would go en with her shirt-making, of course, and all they wanted was a roof over their heads at night.
And in truth he was fond of Pennyloaf. The poor little slave worshipped him so sincerely; she repaid his affectionate words with such fervent gratitude; and there was no denying that she had rather a pretty face, which had attracted him from the first. But above all, this preference accorded to so humble a rival had set Clem Peckover beside herself. It was all very well for Clem to make pretence of having transferred her affections to Jack Bartley. Why, Suke Jollop (ostensibly Clem's bosom friend, but treacherous at times because she had herself given an eye to Jack)—Suke Jollop reported that Clem would have killed Pennyloaf had she dared. Pennyloaf had been going about in fear for her life since that attack upon her in Myddelton Passage. 'I dursn't marry you, Bob! I dursn't!' she kept saying, when the proposal was first made. But Bob laughed with contemptuous defiance. He carried his point, and now he was going to spend his wedding-day at the Crystal Palace—choosing that resort because he knew Clem would be there, and Jack Bartley, and Suke Jollop, and many another acquaintance, before whom he was resolved to make display of magnanimity.
Pennyloaf shone in most unwonted apparel. Everything was new except her boots—it had been decided that these only needed soleing. Her broad-brimmed hat of yellow straw was graced with the reddest feather purchasable in the City Road; she had a dolman of most fashionable cut, blue, lustrous; blue likewise was her dress, hung about with bows and streamers. And the gleaming ring on the scrubby small finger! On that hand most assuredly Pennyloaf would wear no glove. How proud she was of her ring! How she turned it round and round when nobody was looking! Gold, Pennyloaf, real gold! The pawnbroker would lend her seven-and-sixpence on it, any time.
At Holborn Viaduct there was a perpetual rush of people for the trains to the 'Paliss.' As soon as a train was full, off it went, and another long string of empty carriages drew up in its place. No distinction between 'classes' to-day; get in where you like, where you can. Positively, Pennyloaf found herself seated in a first-class carriage; she would have been awe-struck, but that Bob flung himself back on the cushions with such an easy air, and nodded laughingly at her. Among their companions was a youth with a concertina; as soon as the train moved he burst into melody. It was the natural invitation to song, and all joined in the latest ditties learnt at the music-hall. Away they sped, over the roofs of South London, about them the universal glare of sunlight, the carriage dense with tobacco-smoke. He for the bottle of muddy ale, passed round in genial fellowship from mouth to mouth! Pennyloaf would not drink of it; she had a dread of all such bottles. In her heart she rejoiced that Bob knew no craving for strong liquor. Towards the end of the journey the young man with the concertina passed round his hat.
Clem Peckover had come by the same train; she was one of a large party which had followed close behind Bob and Pennyloaf to the railway station. Now they followed along the long corridors into the 'Paliss,' with many a loud expression of mockery, with hee-hawing laughter, with coarse jokes. Depend upon it, Clem was gorgeously arrayed; amid her satellites she swept on 'like a stately ship of Tarsus, bound for the isles of Javan or Gadire;' her face was aflame, her eyes flashed in enjoyment of the uproar. Jack Bartley wore a high hat—Bob never had owned one in his life—and about his neck was a tie of crimson; yellow was his waistcoat, even such a waistcoat as you may see in Pall Mall, and his walking-stick had a nigger's head for handle. He was the oracle of the maidens around him; every moment the appeal was to 'Jeck! Jeck!' Suke Jollop, who would in reality have preferred to accompany Bob and his allies, whispered it about that Jack had two-pound-ten in his pocket, and was going to spend every penny of it before he left the 'Paliss'—yes, 'every bloomin' penny!'
Thus early in the day, the grounds were of course preferred to the interior of the glass house. Bob and Pennyloaf bent their steps to the fair. Here already was gathered much goodly company; above their heads hung a thick white wavering cloud of dust. Swing-boats and merry-go-rounds are from of old the chief features of these rural festivities; they soared and dipped and circled to the joyous music of organs which played the same tune automatically for any number of hours, whilst raucous voices invited all and sundry to take their turn. Should this delight pall, behold on every hand such sports as are dearest to the Briton, those which call for strength of sinew and exactitude of aim. The philosophic mind would have noted with interest how ingeniously these games were made to appeal to the patriotism of the throng. Did you choose to 'shy' sticks in the contest for cocoa-nuts, behold your object was a wooden model of the treacherous Afghan or the base African. If you took up the mallet to smite upon a spring and make proof of how far you could send a ball flying upwards, your blow descended upon the head of some other recent foeman. Try your fist at the indicator of muscularity, and with zeal you smote full in the stomach of a guy made to represent a Russian. If you essayed the pop-gun, the mark set you was on the flank of a wooden donkey, so contrived that it would kick when hit in the true spot. What a joy to observe the tendency of all these diversions! How characteristic of a high-spirited people that nowhere could be found any amusement appealing to the mere mind, or calculated to effeminate by encouraging a love of beauty.
Bob had a sovereign to get rid of. He shied for cocoa-nuts, he swung in the boat with Pennyloaf, he rode with her on the whirligigs. When they were choked, and whitened from head to foot, with dust, it was natural to seek the nearest refreshment-booth. Bob had some half-dozen male and female acquaintances clustered about him by now; of course. He must celebrate the occasion by entertaining all of them. Consumed with thirst, he began to drink without counting the glasses. Pennyloaf plucked at his elbow, but Bob was beginning to feel that he must display spirit. Because he was married, that was no reason for his relinquishing the claims to leadership in gallantry which had always been recognised. Hollo! Here was Suke Jollop! She had just quarrelled with Clem, and had been searching for the hostile camp. 'Have a drink, Suke!' cried Bob, when he heard her acrimonious charges against Clem and Jack. A pretty girl, Suke, and with a hat which made itself proudly manifest a quarter of a mile away. Drink! of course she would drink; that thirsty she could almost drop! Bob enjoyed this secession from the enemy. He knew Suke's old fondness for him, and began to play upon it. Elated with beer and vanity, he no longer paid the least attention to Pennyloaf's remonstrances; nay, he at length bade her 'hold her bloomin' row!' Pennyloaf had a tear in her eye; she looked fiercely at Miss Jollop.
The day wore on. For utter weariness Pennyloaf was constrained to beg that they might go into the 'Paliss' and find a shadowed seat. Her tone revived tenderness in Bob; again he became gracious, devoted; he promised that not another glass of beer should pass his lips, and Sake Jollop, with all her like, might go to perdition. But heavens! how sweltering it was under this glass canopy. How the dust rose from the trampled boards! Come, let's have tea. The programme says there'll be a military band playing presently, and we shall return refreshed to hear it.
So they made their way to the 'Shilling Tea-room.' Having paid at the entrance, they were admitted to feed freely on all that lay before them. With difficulty could a seat be found in the huge room; the uproar of voices was deafening. On the tables lay bread, butter, cake in hunches, tea-pots, milk-jugs, sugar-basins—all things to whomso could secure them in the conflict. Along the gangways coursed perspiring waiters, heaping up giant structures of used plates and cups, distributing clean utensils, and miraculously sharp in securing the gratuity expected from each guest as he rose satiate. Muscular men in aprons wheeled hither the supplies of steaming fluid in immense cans on heavy trucks. Here practical joking found the most graceful of opportunities, whether it were the deft direction of a piece of cake at the nose of a person sitting opposite, or the emptying of a saucer down your neighbour's back, or the ingenious jogging of an arm which was in the act of raising a full tea-cup. Now and then an ill-conditioned fellow, whose beer disagreed with him, would resent some piece of elegant trifling, and the waiters would find it needful to request gentlemen not to fight until they had left the room. These cases, however, were exceptional. On the whole there reigned a spirit of imbecile joviality. Shrieks of female laughter testified to the success of the entertainment.
As Bob and his companion quitted this sphere of delight, ill-luck brought it to pass that Mr. Jack Bartley and his train were on the point of entering. Jack uttered a phrase of stinging sarcasm with reference to Pennyloaf's red feather; whereupon Bob smote him exactly between the eyes. Yells arose; there was a scuffle, a rush, a tumult. The two were separated before further harm came of the little misunderstanding, but Jack went to the tea-tables vowing vengeance.
Poor Pennyloaf shed tears as Bob led her to the place where the band had begun playing. Only her husband's anger prevented her from yielding to utter misery. But now they had come to the centre of the building, and by dint of much struggle in the crowd they obtained a standing whence they could see the vast amphitheatre, filled with thousands of faces. Here at length was quietness, intermission of folly and brutality. Bob became another man as he stood and listened. He looked with kindness into Pennyloaf's pale, weary face, and his arm stole about her waist to support her. Ha! Pennyloaf was happy! The last trace of tears vanished. She too was sensible of the influences of music; her heart throbbed as she let herself lean against her husband.
Well, as every one must needs have his panacea for the ills of society, let me inform you of mine. To humanise the multitude two things are necessary—two things of the simplest kind conceivable. In the first place, you must effect an entire change of economic conditions: a preliminary step of which every tyro will recognise the easiness; then you must bring to bear on the new order of things the constant influence of music. Does not the prescription recommend itself? It is jesting in earnest. For, work as you will, there is no chance of a new and better world until the old be utterly destroyed. Destroy, sweep away, prepare the ground; then shall music the holy, music the civiliser, breathe over the renewed earth, and with Orphean magic raise in perfected beauty the towers of the City of Man.
Hours yet before the fireworks begin. Never mind; here by good luck we find seats where we can watch the throng passing and repassing. It is a great review of the People. On the whole how respectable they are, how sober, how deadly dull! See how worn-out the poor girls are becoming, how they gape, what listless eyes most of them have! The stoop in the shoulders so universal among them merely means over-toil in the workroom. Not one in a thousand shows the elements of taste in dress; vulgarity and worse glares in all but every costume. Observe the middle-aged women; it would be small surprise that their good looks had vanished, but whence comes it they are animal, repulsive, absolutely vicious in ugliness? Mark the men in their turn: four in every six have visages so deformed by ill-health that they excite disgust; their hair is cut down to within half an inch of the scalp; their legs are twisted out of shape by evil conditions of life from birth upwards. Whenever a youth and a girl come along arm-in-arm, how flagrantly shows the man's coarseness! They are pretty, so many of these girls, delicate of feature, graceful did but their slavery allow them natural development; and the heart sinks as one sees them side by side with the men who are to be their husbands.
One of the livelier groups is surging hitherwards; here we have frolic, here we have humour. The young man who leads them has been going about all day with the lining of his hat turned down over his forehead; for the thousandth time those girls are screaming with laughter at the sight of him. Ha, ha! He has slipped and fallen upon the floor, and makes an obstruction; his companions treat him like a horse that is 'down' in the street. 'Look out for his 'eels!' cries one; and another, 'Sit on his 'ed!' If this doesn't come to an end we shall die of laughter. Lot one of the funniest of the party is wearing a gigantic cardboard nose and flame-coloured whiskers. There, the stumbler is on his feet again. ''Ere he comes up smilin'!' cries his friend of the cardboard nose, and we shake our diaphragms with mirth. One of the party is an unusually tall man. 'When are you comin' down to have a look at us?' cries a pert lass as she skips by him.
A great review of the People. Since man came into being did the world ever exhibit a sadder spectacle?
Evening advances; the great ugly building will presently be lighted with innumerable lamps. Away to the west yonder the heavens are afire with sunset, but at that we do not care to look; never in our lives did we regard it. We know not what is meant by beauty or grandeur. Here under the glass roof stand white forms of undraped men and women—casts of antique statues—but we care as little for the glory of art as for that of nature; we have a vague feeling that, for some reason or other, antiquity excuses the indecent, but further than that we do not get.
As the dusk descends there is a general setting of the throng towards the open air; all the pathways swarm with groups which have a tendency to disintegrate into couples; universal is the protecting arm. Relief from the sweltering atmosphere of the hours of sunshine causes a revival of hilarity; those who have hitherto only bemused themselves with liquor now pass into the stage of jovial recklessness, and others, determined to prolong a flagging merriment, begin to depend upon their companions for guidance. On the terraces dancing has commenced; the players of violins, concertinas, and penny-whistles do a brisk trade among the groups eager for a rough-and-tumble valse; so do the pickpockets. Vigorous and varied is the jollity that occupies the external galleries, filling now in expectation of the fireworks; indescribable the mingled tumult that roars heavenwards. Girls linked by the half-dozen arm-in-arm leap along with shrieks like grotesque maenads; a rougher horseplay finds favour among the youths, occasionally leading to fisticuffs. Thick voices bellow in fragmentary chorus; from every side comes the yell, the eat-call, the ear-rending whistle; and as the bass, the never-ceasing accompaniment, sounds myriad-footed tramp, tramp along the wooden flooring. A fight, a scene of bestial drunkenness, a tender whispering between two lovers, proceed concurrently in a space of five square yards.—Above them glimmers the dawn of starlight.
For perhaps the first time in his life Bob Hewett has drunk more than he can well carry. To Pennyloaf's remonstrances he answers more and more impatiently: 'Why does she talk like a bloomin' fool?—one doesn't get married every day.' He is on the look-out for Jack Bartley now; only let him meet Jack, and it shall be seen who is the better man. Pennyloaf rejoices that the hostile party are nowhere discoverable. She is persuaded to join in a dance, though every moment it seems to her that she must sink to the ground in uttermost exhaustion. Naturally she does not dance with sufficient liveliness to please Bob; he seizes another girl, a stranger, and whirls round the six-foot circle with a laugh of triumph. Pennyloaf's misery is relieved by the beginning of the fireworks. Up shoot the rockets, and all the reeking multitude utters a huge 'Oh' of idiot admiration.
Now at length must we think of tearing ourselves away from these delights. Already the more prudent people are hurrying to the railway, knowing by dire experience what it means to linger until the last cargoes. Pennyloaf has hard work to get her husband as far as the station; Bob is not quite steady upon his feet, and the hustling of the crowd perpetually excites him to bellicose challenges. They reach the platform somehow; they stand wedged amid a throng which roars persistently as a substitute for the activity of limb Row become impossible. A train is drawing up slowly; the danger is lest people in the front row should be pushed over the edge of the platform, but porters exert themselves with success. A rush, a tumble, curses, blows, laughter, screams of pain—and we are in a carriage. Pennyloaf has to be dragged up from under the seat, and all her indignation cannot free her from the jovial embrace of a man who insists that there is plenty of room on his knee. Off we go! It is a long third-class coach, and already five or six musical instruments have struck up. We smoke and sing at the same time; we quarrel and make love—the latter in somewhat primitive fashion; we roll about with the rolling of the train; we nod into hoggish sleep.
The platform at Holborn Viaduct; and there, to Pennyloaf's terror, it is seen that Clem Peckover and her satellites have come by the same train. She does her best to get Bob quickly away, but Clem keeps close in their neighbourhood. Just as they issue from the station Pennyloaf feels herself bespattered from head to foot with some kind of fluid; turning, she is aware that all her enemies have squirts in their hands, and are preparing for a second discharge of filthy water. Anguish for the ruin of her dress overcomes all other fear; she calls upon Bob to defend her.
But an immediate conflict was not Jack Bartley's intention. He and those with him made off at a run, Bob pursuing as closely as his unsteadiness would permit. In this way they all traversed the short distance to Clerkenwell Green, either party echoing the other's objurgations along the thinly-peopled streets. At length arrived the suitable moment. Near St. James's Church Jack Bartley made a stand, and defied his enemy to come on. Bob responded with furious eagerness; amid a press of delighted spectators, swelled by people just turned out of the public-houses, the two lads fought like wild animals. Nor were they the only combatants. Exasperated by the certainty that her hat and dolman were ruined, Pennyloaf flew with erected nails at Clem Peckover. It was just what the latter desired. In an instant she had rent half Pennyloaf's garments off her back, and was tearing her face till the blood streamed. Inconsolable was the grief of the crowd when a couple of stalwart policemen came hustling forward, thrusting to left and right, irresistibly clearing the corner. There was no question of making arrests; it was the night of Bank-holiday, and the capacity of police-cells is limited. Enough that the fight perforce came to an end. Amid frenzied blasphemy Bob and Jack went their several ways; so did Clem and Pennyloaf.
Poor Pennyloaf! Arrived at Shooter's Gardens, and having groped her way blindly up to the black hole which was her wedding-chamber, she just managed to light a candle, then sank down upon the bare floor and wept. You could not have recognised her; her pretty face was all blood and dirt. She held in her hand the fragment of a hat, and her dolman had disappeared. Her husband was not in much better plight; his waistcoat and shirt were rent open, his coat was filth-smeared, and it seemed likely that he had lost the sight of one eye. Sitting there in drunken lassitude, he breathed nothing but threats of future vengeance.
An hour later noises of a familiar kind sounded beneath the window. A woman's voice was raised in the fury of mad drunkenness, and a man answered her with threats and blows.
'That's mother,' sobbed Pennyloaf. 'I knew she wouldn't get over to-day. She never did get over a Bank-holiday.'
Mrs. Candy had taken the pledge when her husband consented to return and live with her. Unfortunately she did not at the same time transfer herself to a country where there are no beer-shops and no Bank-holidays. Short of such decisive change, what hope for her?
Bob was already asleep, breathing stertorously. As for Pennyloaf, she was so overwearied that hours passed before oblivion fell upon her aching eyelids. She was thinking all the time that on the morrow it would be necessary to pawn her wedding-ring.
A VISION OF NOBLE THINGS
He slept but for an hour or two, and even then with such disturbance of fitful dreams that he could not be said to rest. At the earliest sound of movements in the house he rose and went out into the morning air. There had fallen a heavy shower just after sunrise, and the glory of the east was still partly veiled with uncertain clouds. Heedless of weather-signs, Sidney strode away at a great pace, urged by his ungovernable thoughts. His state was that miserable one in which a man repeats for the thousandth time something he has said, and torments himself with devising possible and impossible interpretations thereof. Through the night he had done nothing but imagine what significance Jane might have attached to his words about Clara Hewett. Why had he spoken of Clara at all? One moment he understood his reasons, and approved them; the next he was at a loss to account for such needless revival of a miserable story. How had Jane interpreted him? And was it right or wrong to have paused when on the point of confessing that he loved her?
Rain caught him at a distance from home, and he returned to breakfast in rather a cheerless plight. He found that Michael was not feeling quite himself, and would not rise till midday. Jane had a look of anxiety, and he fancied she behaved to him with a constraint hitherto unknown. The fancy was dispelled, however, when, later in the morning, she persuaded him to bring out his sketch-book, and suggested points of view for a drawing of the farm that had been promised to Mr. Pammenter Himself unable to recover the tone of calm intimacy which till yesterday had been natural between them, Sidney found himself studying the girl, seeking to surprise some proof that she too was no longer the same, and only affected this unconsciousness of change. There was, perhaps, a little less readiness in her eyes to meet his, but she talked as naturally as ever, and the spontaneousness of her good-humour was assuredly not feigned.
On Monday the farmer had business in Maldon. Occasionally when he drove over to that town he took one or other of his children with him to visit a relative, and to-day he proposed that Jane should be of the party. They started after an early dinner. Michael and Sidney stood together in the road, watching the vehicle as it rolled away; then they walked in silence to a familiar spot where they could sit in shadow. Sidney was glad of Jane's departure for the afternoon. He found it impossible to escape the restlessness into which he had fallen, and was resolved to seek relief by opening his mind to the old man. There could be little doubt that Michael already understood his thoughts, and no better opportunity for such a conversation was likely to present itself. When they had been seated for a minute or two, neither speaking, Sidney turned to his companion with a grave look. At the same instant Michael also had raised his eyes and seemed on the point of saying something of importance. They regarded each other. The old man's face was set in an expression of profound feeling, and his lips moved tremulously before words rose to them.
'What were you going to say, Sidney?' he asked, reading the other's features.
'Something which I hope won't be displeasing to you. I was going to speak of Jane. Since she has been living with you she has grown from a child to a woman. When I was talking with her in the garden on Saturday night I felt this change more distinctly than I had ever done before. I understood that it had made a change in myself. I love her, Mr. Snowdon, and it's my dearest hope that she may come to feel the same for me.'
Michael was more agitated than the speaker; he raised a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes as if the light pained them. But the smile with which he speedily answered Sidney's look of trouble was full of reassurance.
'You couldn't have said anything that would give me more pleasure,' he replied, just above his breath. 'Does she know it? Did you speak to her?'
'We were talking of years ago, and I mentioned Clara Hewett. I said that I had forgotten all about her except that she'd befriended Jane. But nothing more than that. I couldn't say what I was feeling just then. Partly I thought that it was right to speak to you first; and then—it seemed to me almost as if I should be treating her unfairly. I'm so much older—she knows that it isn't the first time I—and she's always thought of me just as a friend.'
'So much older?' repeated Michael, with a grave smile. 'Why, you're both children to my sight. Wait and let me think a bit, Sidney. I too have something I want to say. I'm glad you've spoken this afternoon, when there's time for us to talk. Just wait a few minutes, and let me think.'
Sidney had as good as forgotten that there was anything unusual in his friend's circumstances; this last day or two he had thought of nothing but Jane and his love for her. Now he recalled the anticipation—originating he scarcely knew how—that some kind of disclosure would before long be made to him. The trouble of' his mind was heightened; he waited with all but dread for the next words.
'I think I've told you,' Michael resumed at length, steadying his voice, 'that Joseph is my youngest son, and that I had three others. Three others: Michael, Edward, and Robert—all dead. Edward died when he was a boy of fifteen; Robert was killed on the railway—he was a porter—at three-and-twenty. The eldest went out to Australia; he took a wife there, and had one child; the wife died when they'd been married a year or two, and Michael and his boy were drowned, both together. I was living with them at the time, as you know. But what I've never spoken of' Sidney, is that my son had made his fortune. He left a deal of land, and many thousands of pounds, behind him. There was no finding any will; a lawyer in the nearest town, a man that had known him a long time, said he felt sure there'd been no will made. So, as things were, the law gave everything to his father.'
He related it with subdued voice, in a solemn and agitated tone. The effect of the news upon Sidney was a painful constriction of the heart, a rush of confused thought, an involvement of all his perceptions in a sense of fear. The pallor of his cheeks and the pained parting of his lips bore witness to how little he was prepared for such a story.
'I've begun with what ought by rights to have come last,' pursued Michael, after drawing a deep sigh. 'But it does me good to get it told; it's been burdening me this long while. Now you must listen, Sidney, whilst I show you why I've kept this a secret. I've no fear but you'll understand me, though most people wouldn't. It's a secret from everybody except a lawyer in London, who does business for me; a right-hearted man he is, in most things, and I'm glad I met with him, but he doesn't understand me as you will; he thinks I'm making a mistake. My son knows nothing about it; at least, it's my hope and belief he doesn't. He told me he hadn't heard of his brother's death. I say I hope he doesn't know; it isn't selfishness, that; I needn't tell you. I've never for a minute thought of myself as a rich man, Sidney; I've never thought of the money as my own, never; and if Joseph proves himself honest, I'm ready to give up to him the share of his brother's property that it seems to me ought to be rightly his, though the law for some reason looks at it in a different way. I'm ready, but I must know that he's an honest man; I must prove him first.'
The eagerness of his thought impelled him to repetitions and emphasis. His voice fell upon a note of feebleness, and with an effort he recovered the tone in which he had begun.
'As soon as I knew that all this wealth had fallen to me I decided at once to come back to England. What could I do out there? I decided to come to England, but I couldn't see farther ahead than that. I sold all the land; I had the business done for me by that lawyer I spoke of, that had known my son, and he recommended me to a Mr. Percival in London. I came back, and I found little Jane, and then bit by bit I began to understand what my duty was. It got clear in my mind; I formed a purpose, a plan, and it's as strong in me now as ever. Let me think again for a little, Sidney. I want to make it as plain to you as it is to me. You'll understand me best if I go back and tell you more than I have done yet about my life before I left England. Let me think a while.'
He was overcome with a fear that he might not be able to convey with sufficient force the design which had wholly possessed him. So painful was the struggle in him between enthusiasm and a consciousness of failing faculties, that Sidney grasped his hand and begged him to speak simply, without effort.
'Have no fear about my understanding you. We've talked a great deal together, and I know very well what your strongest motives are. Trust me to sympathise with you.'
'I do! If I hadn't that trust, Sidney, I couldn't have felt the joy I did when you spoke to me of my Jane. You'll help me to carry out my plan; you and Jane will; you and Jane! I've got to be such an old man all at once, as it seems, and I dursn't have waited much longer without telling you what I had in my mind. See now, I'll go back to when I was a boy, as far back as I can remember. You know I was born in Clerkenwell, and I've told you a little now and then of the hard times I went through. My poor father and mother came out of the country, thinking to better themselves; instead of that, they found nothing but cold and hunger, and toil and moil. They were both dead by when I was between thirteen and fourteen. They died in the same winter—a cruel winter. I used to go about begging bits of firewood from the neighbours. There was a man in our house who kept dogs, and I remember once catching hold of a bit of dirty meat—I can't call it meat—that one of them had gnawed and left on the stairs; and I ate it, as if I'd been a dog myself, I was that driven with hunger. Why, I feel the cold and the hunger at this minute! It was a cruel winter, that, and it left me alone. I had to get my own living as best I could.
'No teaching. I was nineteen before I could read the signs over shops, or write my own name. Between nineteen and twenty I got all the education I ever was to have, paying a man with what I could save out of my earnings. The blessing was I had health and strength, and with hard struggling I got into a regular employment. At five-and-twenty I could earn my pound a week, pretty certain. When it got to five shillings more, I must needs have a wife to share it with me. My poor girl came to live with me in a room in Hill Street.
I've never spoken to you of her, but you shall hear it all now, cost me what it may in the telling. Of course she was out of a poor home, and she'd known as well as me what it was to go cold and hungry. I sometimes think, Sidney, I can see a look of her in Jane's face—but she was prettier than Jane; yes, yes, prettier than Jane. And to think a man could treat a poor little thing like her the way I did!—you don't know what sort of a man Michael Snowdon was then; no, you don't know what I was then. You're not to think I ill-used her in the common way; I never raised my hand, thank God! and I never spoke a word a man should be ashamed of. But I was a hard, self-willed, stubborn fool. How she came to like me and to marry me, I don't know; we were so different in every way. Well, it was partly my nature and partly what I'd gone through; we hadn't been married more than a month or two when I began to find fault with her, and from that day on she could never please me. I earned five-and-twenty shillings a week, and I'd made up my mind that we must save out of it. I wouldn't let her work; no, what she had to do was to keep the home on as little as possible, and always have everything clean and straight when I got back at night. But Jenny hadn't the same ideas about things as I had. She couldn't pinch and pare, and our plans of saving came to nothing. It grew worse as the children were horn. The more need there was for carefulness, the more heedless Jenny seemed to get. And it was my fault, mine from beginning to end. Another man would have been gentle with her and showed her kindly when she was wrong, and have been thankful for the love she gave him, whatever her faults. That wasn't my way. I got angry, and made her life a burden to her. I must have things done exactly as I wished; if not, there was no end to my fault-finding. And yet, if you'll believe it, I loved my wife as truly as man ever did. Jenny couldn't understand that—and how should she? At last she began to deceive me in all sorts of little things; she got into debt with shop-people, she showed me false accounts, she pawned things without my knowing. Last of all, she began to drink. Our fourth child was born just at that time; Jenny had a bad illness, and I believe it set her mind wrong. I lost all control of her, and she used to say if it wasn't for the children she'd go and leave me. One morning we quarrelled very badly, and I did as I'd threatened to—I walked about the streets all the night that followed, never coming home. I went to work next day, but at dinner-time I got frightened and ran home just to speak a word. Little Mike, the eldest, was playing on the stairs, and he said his mother was asleep. I went into the room, and saw Jenny lying on the bed dressed. There was something queer in the way her arms were stretched out. When I got near I saw she was dead. She'd taken poison.
'And it was I had killed her, just as much as if I'd put the poison to her lips. All because I thought myself such a wise fellow, because I'd resolved to live more prudently than other men of my kind did. I wanted to save money for the future—out of five-and-twenty shillings a week. Many and many a day I starved myself to try and make up for expenses of the home. Sidney, you remember that man we once went to hear lecture, the man that talked of nothing but the thriftlessness of the poor, and how it was their own fault they suffered? I was very near telling you my story when we came away that night. Why, look; I myself was just the kind of poor man that would have suited that lecturer. And what came of it? If I'd let my poor Jenny go her own way from the first, we should have had hard times now and then, but there'd have been our love to help us, and we should have been happy enough. They talk about thriftiness, and it just means that poor people are expected to practise a self-denial that the rich can't even imagine, much less carry out. You know now why this kind of talk always angers me.'
Michael brooded for a few moments, his eyes straying sadly over the landscape before him.
'I was punished,' he continued, 'and in the fittest way. The two of my boys who showed most love for me, Edward and Robert, died young. The eldest and youngest were a constant trouble to me. Michael was quick-tempered and self-willed, like myself; I took the wrong way with him, just like I had with his mother, and there was no peace till he left home. Joseph was still harder to deal with; but he's the only one left alive, and there is no need to bring up things against him. With him I wasn't to blame, unless I treated him too kindly and spoilt him. He was my favourite, was Jo, and he repaid me cruelly. When he married, I only heard of it from other people; we'd been parted for a long time already. And just about then I had a letter from Michael, asking me if I was willing to go out and live with him in Australia. I hadn't heard from him more than two or three times in twelve years, and when this letter came to me I was living in Sheffield; I'd been there about five years. He wrote to say he was doing well, and that he didn't like to think of me being left to spend my old age alone. It was a kind letter, and it warmed my heart. Lonely I was; as lonely and sorrowful a man as any in England. I wrote back to say that I'd come to him gladly if he could promise to put me in the way of earning my own living. He agreed to that, and I left the old country, little thinking I should ever see it again. I didn't see Joseph before I went. All I knew of him was, that he lived in Clerkenwell Close, married; and that was all I had to guide me when I tried to find him a few years after. I was bitter against him, and went without trying to say good-bye.
'My son's fortune seems to have been made chiefly out of horse-dealing and what they call "land-grabbing"—buying sheep-runs over the heads of squatters, to be bought out again at a high profit. Well, you know what my opinion is of trading at the best, and as far as I could understand it, it was trading at about its worst that had filled Michael's pockets. He'd had a partner for a time, and very ugly stories were told me about the man. However, Michael gave me as kind a welcome as his letter promised; prosperity had done him good, and he seemed only anxious to make up for the years of unkindness that had gone by. Had I been willing, I might have lived under his roof at my ease; but I held him to his bargain, and worked like any other man who goes there without money. It's a comfort to me to think of those few years spent in quiet and goodwill with my eldest boy. His own lad would have given trouble, I'm afraid, if he'd lived; Michael used to talk to me uneasily about him, poor fellow! But they both came to their end before the world had parted them.
'If I'd been a young man, I dare say I should have felt different when they told me how rich I was; it gave me no pleasure at first, and when I'd had time to think about it I only grew worried. I even thought once or twice of getting rid of the burden by giving all the money to a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne. But then I remembered that the poor in the old country had more claim on me, and when I'd got used to the idea of being a wealthy man, I found myself recalling all sorts of fancies and wishes that used to come into my head when I was working hard for a poor living. It took some time to get all the lawyer's business finished, and by when it was done I began to see a way before me. First of all I must find my son in England, and see if he needed help. I hadn't made any change in my way of living, and I came back from Australia as a steerage passenger, wearing the same clothes that I'd worked in. The lawyer laughed at me, but I'm sure I should have laughed at myself if I'd dressed up as a gentleman and begun to play the fool in my old age. The money wasn't to be used in that way. I'd got my ideas, and they grew clearer during the voyage home.
'You know how I found Jane. Not long after, I put an advertisement in the papers, asking my son, if he saw it, to communicate with Mr. Percival—that's the lawyer I was recommended to in London. There was no answer; Joseph was in America at that time. I hadn't much reason to like Mrs. Peckover and her daughter, but I kept up acquaintance with them because I thought they might hear of Jo some day. And after a while I sent Jane to learn a business. Do you know why I did that? Can you think why I brought up the child as if I'd only had just enough to keep us both, and never gave a sign that I could have made a rich lady of her?'
In asking the question, he bent forward and laid his hand on Sidney's shoulder. His eyes gleamed with that light which betrays the enthusiast, the idealist. As he approached the explanation to which his story had tended, the signs of age and weakness disappeared before the intensity of his feeling. Sidney understood now why he had always been conscious of something in the man's mind that was not revealed to him, of a life-controlling purpose but vaguely indicated by the general tenor of Michael's opinions. The latter's fervour affected him, and he replied with emotion:
'You wish Jane to think of this money as you do yourself—not to regard it as wealth, but as the means of bringing help to the miserable.'
'That is my thought, Sidney. It came to me in that form whilst I was sitting by her bed, when she was ill at Mrs. Peckover's. I knew nothing of her character then, and the idea I had might have come to nothing through her turning out untrustworthy. But I thought to myself: Suppose she grows up to be a good woman—suppose I can teach her to look at things in the same way as I do myself, train her to feel that no happiness could be greater than the power to put an end to ever so little of the want and wretchedness about her—suppose when I die I could have the certainty that all this money was going to be used for the good of the poor by a woman who herself belonged to the poor? You understand me? It would have been easy enough to leave it among charities in the ordinary way; but my idea went beyond that. I might have had Jane schooled and fashioned into a lady, and still have hoped that she would use the money well; but my idea went beyond that. There's plenty of ladies nowadays taking an interest in the miserable, and spending their means unselfishly. What I hoped was to raise up for the poor and the untaught a friend out of their own midst, some one who had gone through all that they suffer, who was accustomed to earn her own living by the work of her hands as they do, who had never thought herself their better, who saw the world as they see it and knew all their wants. A lady may do good, we know that; but she can't be the friend of the poor as I understand it; there's too great a distance between her world and theirs. Can you picture to yourself how anxiously I've watched this child from the first day she came to live with me? I've scarcely had a thought but about her. I saw very soon that she had good feelings, and I set myself to encourage them. I wanted her to be able to read and write, but there was no need of any more education than that; it was the heart I cared about, not the mind. Besides, I had always to keep saying to myself that perhaps, after all, she wouldn't turn out the kind of woman I wished, and in that case she mustn't be spoiled for an ordinary life. Sidney, it's this money that has made me a weak old man when I might still have been as strong as many at fifty; the care of it has worn me out; I haven't slept quietly since it came into my hands. But the worst is over. I shan't be disappointed. Jane will be the woman I've hoped for, and however soon my own life comes to an end, I shall die knowing that there's a true man by her side to help her to make my idea a reality.
'I've mentioned Mr. Percival, the lawyer. He's an old man like myself, and we've had many a long talk together. About a year and a half ago I told him what I've told you now. Since I came back to England he's been managing the money for me; he's paid me the little we needed, and the rest of the income has been used in charity by some people we could trust. Well, Mr. Percival doesn't go with me in my plans for Jane. He thinks I'm making a mistake, that I ought to have had the child educated to fit her to live with rich people. It's no use; I can't get him to feel what a grand thing it'll be for Jane to go about among her own people and help them as nobody ever could. He said to me not long ago, "And isn't the girl ever to have a husband?" It's my hope that she will, I told him. "And do you suppose," he went on, "that whoever marries her will let her live in the way you talk of? Where are you going to find a working man that'll be content never to touch this money—to work on for his weekly wages, when he might be living at his ease?" And I told him that it wasn't as impossible as he thought. What do you think, Sidney?'
The communication of a noble idea has the same effect upon the brains of certain men—of one, let us say, in every hundred thousand—as a wine that exalts and enraptures. As Sidney listened to the old man telling of his wondrous vision, he became possessed with ardour such as he had known but once or twice in his life. Idealism such as Michael Snowdon had developed in these latter years is a form of genius; given the susceptible hearer, it dazzles, inspires, raises to heroic contempt of the facts of life. Had this story been related to him of some unknown person, Sidney would have admired, but as one admires the nobly impracticable; subject to the electric influence of a man who was great enough to conceive and direct his life by such a project, who could repose so supreme a faith in those he loved, all the primitive nobleness of his character asserted itself, and he could accept with a throbbing heart the superb challenge addressed to him.
'If Jane can think me worthy to be her husband,' he replied, 'your friend shall see that he has feared without cause.'
'I knew it, Sidney; I knew it!' exclaimed the old man. 'How much younger I feel now that I have shared this burden with you!'
'And shall you now tell Jane?' the other inquired.
'Not yet; not just yet. She is very young; we must wait a little. But there can be no reason why you shouldn't speak to her—of yourself.'
Sidney was descending from the clouds. As the flush of his humanitarian enthusiasm passed away, and he thought of his personal relations to Jane, a misgiving, a scruple began to make itself heard within him. Worldly and commonplace the thought, but—had he a right to ask the girl to pledge herself to him under circumstances such as these? To be sure, it was not as if Jane were an heiress in the ordinary way; for all that, would it not be a proceeding of doubtful justice to woo her when as yet she was wholly ignorant of the most important item in her situation? His sincerity was unassailable, but—suppose, in fact, he had to judge the conduct of another man thus placed? Upon the heated pulsing of his blood succeeded a coolness, almost a chill; he felt as though he had been on the verge of a precipice, and had been warned to draw back only just in time. Every second showed him more distinctly what his duty was. He experienced a sensation of thankfulness that he had not spoken definitely on Saturday evening. His instinct had guided him aright; Jane was still too young to be called upon solemnly to decide her whole future.
'That, too, had better wait, Mr. Snowdon,' he said, after a pause of a minute. 'I should like her to know everything before I speak to her in that way. In a year it will be time enough.'
Michael regarded him thoughtfully.
'Perhaps you are right. I wish you knew Mr. Percival; but there is time, there is time. He still thinks I shall be persuaded to alter my plans. That night you came to Hanover Street and found me away, he took me to see a lady who works among the poor in Clerkenwell; she knew me by name, because Mr. Percival had given her money from me to use, but we'd never seen each other till then. He wants me to ask her opinion about Jane.'
'Has he spoken of her to the lady, do you think?'
'Oh no!' replied the other, with perfect confidence. 'He has promised me to keep all that a secret as long as I wish. The lady—her name is Miss Lant—seemed all that my friend said she was, and perhaps Jane might do well to make her acquaintance some day; but that mustn't be till Jane knows and approves the purpose of my life and hers. The one thing that troubles me still, Sidney, is—her father. It's hard that I can't be sure whether my son will be a help or a hindrance. I must wait, and try to know him better.'
The conversation had so wearied Michael, that in returning to the house he had to lean on his companion's arm. Sidney was silent, and yielded, he scarce knew why, to a mood of depression. When Jane returned from Maldon in the evening, and he heard her happy voice as the children ran out to welcome her, there was a heaviness at his heart. Perhaps it came only of hope deferred.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Snowdon were now established in rooms in Burton Crescent, which is not far from King's Cross. Joseph had urged that Clerkenwell Close was scarcely a suitable quarter for a man of his standing, and, though with difficulty, he had achieved thus much deliverance. Of Clem he could not get rid—just yet; but it was something to escape Mrs. Peckover's superintendence. Clem herself favoured the removal, naturally for private reasons. Thus far working in alliance with her shrewd mother, she was now forming independent projects. Mrs. Peckover's zeal was assuredly not disinterested, and why, Clem mused with herself, should the fruits of strategy be shared? Her husband's father could not, she saw every reason to believe, be much longer for this world. How his property was to be divided she had no means of discovering; Joseph professed to have no accurate information, but as a matter of course he was deceiving her. Should he inherit a considerable sum, it was more than probable he would think of again quitting his native land—and without encumbrances. That movement must somehow be guarded against; how, it was difficult as yet to determine. In the next place, Jane was sure to take a large share of the fortune. To that Clem strongly objected, both on abstract grounds and because she regarded Jane with a savage hatred—a hatred which had its roots in the time of Jane's childhood, and which had grown in proportion as the girl reaped happiness from life. The necessity of cloaking this sentiment had not, you may be sure, tended to mitigate it. Joseph said that there was no longer any fear of a speedy marriage between Jane and Kirkwood, but that such a marriage would come off some day,—if not prevented—Clem held to be a matter of certainty. Sidney Kirkwood was a wide-awake young man; of course he had his satisfactory reasons for delay. Now Clem's hatred of Sidney was, from of old, only less than that wherewith she regarded Jane. To frustrate the hopes of that couple would be a gratification worth a good deal of risk.
She heard nothing of what had befallen Clara Hewett until the latter's return home, and then not from her husband. Joseph and Scawthorne, foiled by that event in an ingenious scheme which you have doubtless understood (they little knowing how easily the severance between Jane and Kirkwood might be effected), agreed that it was well to get Clara restored to her father's household—for, though it seemed unlikely, it was not impossible that she might in one way or another aid their schemes—and on that account the anonymous letter was despatched which informed John Hewett of his daughter's position. Between John and Snowdon, now that they stood in the relations of master and servant, there was naturally no longer familiar intercourse, and, in begging leave of absence for his journey northwards, Hewett only said that a near relative had met with a bad accident. But it would be easy, Joseph decided, to win the man's confidence again, and thus be apprised of all that went on. With Clem he kept silence on the subject; not improbably she would learn sooner or later what had happened, and indeed, as things now stood, it did not matter much; but on principle he excluded her as much as possible from his confidence. He knew she hated him, and he was not backward in returning the sentiment, though constantly affecting a cheerful friendliness in his manner to her; after all, their union was but temporary. In Hanover Street he was also silent regarding the Hewetts, for there his role was that of a good, simple-minded fellow, incapable of intrigue, living for the domestic affections. If Kirkwood chose to speak to Michael or Jane of the matter, well, one way or another, that would advance things a stage, and there was nothing for it but to watch the progress.
Alone all through the day, and very often in the evening Clem was not at all disposed to occupy herself in domestic activity. The lodgings were taken furnished, and a bondmaid of the house did such work as was indispensable. Dirt and disorder were matters of indifference to the pair, who represented therein the large class occupying cheap London lodgings; an impure atmosphere, surroundings more or less squalid, constant bickering with the landlady, coarse usage of the servant—these things Clem understood as necessaries of independent life, and it would have cost her much discomfort had she been required to live in a more civilised manner. Her ambitions were essentially gross. In the way of social advancement she appreciated nothing but an increased power of spending money, and consequently of asserting herself over others. She had no desire whatever to enter a higher class than that in which she was born; to be of importance in her familiar circle was the most she aimed at. In visiting the theatre, she did not so much care to occupy a superior place—indeed, such a position made her ill at ease—as to astonish her neighbours in the pit by a lavish style of costume, by loud remarks implying a free command of cash, by purchase between the acts of something expensive to eat or drink. Needless to say that she never read anything but police news; in the fiction of her world she found no charm, so sluggishly unimaginative was her nature. Till of late she had either abandoned herself all day long to a brutal indolence, eating rather too much, and finding quite sufficient occupation for her slow brain in the thought of how pleasant it was not to be obliged to work, and occasionally in reviewing the chances that she might eventually have plenty of money and no Joseph Snowdon as a restraint upon her; or else, her physical robustness demanding exercise, she walked considerable distances about the localities she knew, calling now and then upon an acquaintance.
Till of late; but a change had come upon her life. It was now seldom that she kept the house all day; when within doors she was restless, quarrelsome. Joseph became aware with surprise that she no longer tried to conceal her enmity against him; on a slight provocation she broke into a fierceness which reminded him of the day when he undeceived her as to his position, and her look at such times was murderous. It might come, he imagined, of her being released from the prudent control of her mother. However, again a few weeks and things were somewhat improved; she eyed him like a wild beast, but was less frequent in her outbreaks. Here, too, it might be that Mrs. Peckover's influence was at work, for Clara spent at least four evenings of the seven away from home, and always said she had been at the Close. As indifferent as it was possible to be, Joseph made no attempt to restrain her independence; indeed he was glad to have her out of his way.
We must follow her on one of these evenings ostensibly passed at Mrs. Peckover's—no, not follow, but discover her at nine o'clock.
In Old Street, not far from Shoreditch Station, was a shabby little place of refreshment, kept by an Italian; pastry and sweet-stuff filled the window; at the back of the shop, through a doorway on each side of which was looped a pink curtain, a room, furnished with three marble-topped tables, invited those who wished to eat and drink more at ease than was possible before the counter. Except on Sunday evening this room was very little used, and there, on the occasion of which I speak, Clem was sitting with Bob Hewett. They had been having supper together—French pastry and a cup of cocoa.
She leaned forward on her elbows, and said imperatively, 'Tell Pennyloaf to make it up with her again.'
'Because I want to know what goes on in Hanover Street. You was a fool to send her away, and you'd ought to have told me about it before now. If they was such friends, I suppose the girl told her lots o' things. But I expect they see each other just the same. You don't suppose she does all you tell her?'
'I'll bet you what you like she does!' cried Bob.
Clem glared at him.
'Oh, you an' your Pennyloaf! Likely she tells you the truth. You're so fond of each other, ain't you! Tells you everything, does she?—and the way you treat her!'
'Who's always at me to make me treat her worse still?' Bob retorted half angrily, half in expostulation.
'Well, and so I am, 'cause I hate the name of her! I'd like to hear as you starve her and her brats half to death. How much money did you give her last week? Now you just tell me the truth. How much was it?'
'How can I remember? Three or four bob, I s'pose.'
'Three or four bob!' she repeated, snarling. 'Give her one, and make her live all the week on it. Wear her down! Make her pawn all she has, and go cold!'
Her cheeks were on fire; her eyes started in the fury of jealousy; she set her teeth together.
'I'd better do for her altogether,' said Bob, with an evil grin.
Clem looked at him, without speaking; kept her gaze on him; then she said in a thick voice:
'There's many a true word said in joke.'
Bob moved uncomfortably. There was a brief silence, then the other, putting her face nearer his:
'Not just yet. I want to use her to get all I can about that girl and her old beast of a grandfather. Mind you do as I tell you. Pennyloaf's to have her back again, and she's to make her talk, and you're to get all you can from Pennyloaf—understand?'
There came noises from the shop. Three work-girls had just entered and were buying cakes, which they began to eat at the counter. They were loud in gossip and laughter, and their voices rang like brass against brass. Clem amused herself in listening to them for a few minutes; then she became absent, moving a finger round and round on her plate. A disagreeable flush still lingered under her eyes.
'Have you told her about Clara?'
'Who? Pennyloaf, of course.'
'No, I haven't. Why should I?'
'Oh, you're such a affectionate couple! See, you're only to give her two shillin's next week. Let her go hungry this nice weather.'
'She won't do that if Jane Snowdon comes back, so there you're out of it!'
Clem bit her lip.
'What's the odds? Make it up with a hit in the mouth now and then.'
'What do you expect to know from that girl?' inquired Bob.
'Lots o' things. I want to know what the old bloke's goin' to do with his money, don't I? And I want to know what my beast of a 'usband's got out of him. And I want to know what that feller Kirkwood's goin' to do. He'd ought to marry your sister by rights.'
'Not much fear of that now.'
'Trust him! He'll stick where there's money. See, Bob; if that Jane was to kick the bucket, do you think the old bloke 'ud leave it all to Jo?'
'How can I tell?'
'Well, look here. Supposin' he died an' left most to her; an' then supposin' she was to go off; would Jo have all her tin?'
'Course he would.'
Clem mused, eating her lower lip.
'But supposin' Jo was to go off first, after the old bloke? Should I have all he left?'
'I think so, but I'm not sure.'
'You think so? And then should I have all hers? If she had a accident, you know.'
'I suppose you would. But then that's only if they didn't make wills, and leave it away from you.'
Clem started. Intent as she had been for a long time on the possibilities hinted at, the thought of unfavourable disposition by will had never occurred to her. She shook it away.
'Why should they make wills? They ain't old enough for that, neither of them.'
'And you might as well say they ain't old enough to be likely to take their hook, either,' suggested Bob, with a certain uneasiness in his tone.
Clem looked about her, as if her fierce eyes sought something. Her brows twitched a little. She glanced at Bob, but he did not meet her look. 'I don't care so much about the money,' she said, in a lower and altered voice. 'I'd be content with a bit of it, if only I could get rid of him at the same time.'
Bob looked gloomy.
'Well, it's no use talking,' he muttered.
'It's all your fault.'
'How do you make that out? It was you quarrelled first.'
'You're a liar!'
'Oh, there's no talking to you!'
He shuffled with his feet, then rose.
'Where can I see you on Wednesday morning?' asked Clem. 'I want to hear about that girl.'
'It can't be Wednesday morning. I tell you I shall be getting the sack next thing; they've promised it. Two days last week I wasn't at the shop, and one day this. It can't go on.'
His companion retorted angrily, and for five minutes they stood in embittered colloquy. It ended in Bob's turning away and going out into the street. Clem followed, and they walked westwards in silence. Reaching City Road, and crossing to the corner where lowers St. Luke's Hospital—grim abode of the insane, here in the midst of London's squalor and uproar—they halted to take leave. The last words they exchanged, after making an appointment, were of brutal violence.
This was two days after Clara Hewett's arrival in London, and the same fog still hung about the streets, allowing little to be seen save the blurred glimmer of gas. Bob sauntered through it, his hands in his pockets, observant of nothing; now and then a word escaped his lips, generally an oath. Out of Old Street he turned into Whitecross Street, whence by black and all but deserted ways—Barbican and Long Lane—he emerged into West Smithfield. An alley in the shadow of Bartholomew's Hospital brought him to a certain house: just as he was about to knock at the door it opened, and Jack Bartley appeared on the threshold. They exchanged a 'Hello!' of surprise, and after a whispered word or two on the pavement, went in. They mounted the stairs to a bedroom which Jack occupied. When the door was closed:
'Bill's got copped! 'whispered Bartley.
'Copped? Any of it on him?'
'Only the half-crown as he was pitchin', thank God! They let him go again after he'd been to the station. It was a conductor, I'd never try them blokes myself; they're too downy.'
'Let's have a look at 'em,' said Bob, after musing. 'I thought myself as they wasn't quite the reg'lar.'
As he spoke he softly turned the key in the door. Jack then put his arm up the chimney and brought down a small tin box, soot-blackened; he opened it, and showed about a dozen pieces of money—in appearance half-crowns and florins. One of the commonest of offences against the law in London, this to which our young friends were not unsuccessfully directing their attention; one of the easiest to commit, moreover, for a man with Bob's craft at his finger-ends. A mere question of a mould and a pewter-pot, if one be content with the simpler branches of the industry. 'The snyde' or 'the queer' is the technical name by which such products are known. Distribution is, of course, the main difficulty; it necessitates mutual trust between various confederates. Bob Hewett still kept to his daily work, but gradually he was being drawn into alliance with an increasing number of men who scorned the yoke of a recognised occupation. His face, his clothing, his speech, all told whither he was tending, had one but the experience necessary for the noting of such points. Bob did not find his life particularly pleasant; he was in perpetual fear; many a time he said to himself that he would turn back. Impossible to do so; for a thousand reasons impossible; yet he still believed that the choice lay with him.
His colloquy with Jack only lasted a few minutes, then he walked homewards, crossing the Metropolitan Meat-market, going up St. John's Lane, beneath St. John's Arch, thence to Rosoman Street and Merlin Place, where at present he lived. All the way he pondered Clem's words. Already their import had become familiar enough to lose that first terribleness. Of course he should never take up the proposal seriously; no, no, that was going a bit too far; but suppose Clem's husband were really contriving this plot on his own account? Likely, very likely; but he'd be a clever fellow if he managed such a thing in a way that did not immediately subject him to suspicion. How could it be done? No harm in thinking over an affair of that kind when you have no intention of being drawn into it yourself. There was that man at Peckham who poisoned his sister not long ago; he was a fool to get found out in the way he did; he might have—
The room in which he found Pennyloaf sitting was so full of fog that the lamp seemed very dim; the fire had all but died out. One of the children lay asleep; the other Pennyloaf was nursing, for it had a bad cough and looked much like a wax doll that has gone through a great deal of ill-usage. A few more weeks and Pennyloaf would be again a mother; she felt very miserable as often as she thought of it, and Bob had several times spoken with harsh impatience on the subject.
At present he was in no mood for conversation; to Pennyloaf's remarks and questions he gave not the slightest heed, but in a few minutes tumbled himself into bed.
'Get that light put out,' he exclaimed, after lying still for a while.
Pennyloaf said she was uneasy about the child; its cough seemed to be better, but it moved about restlessly and showed no sign of getting to sleep.
'Give it some of the mixture, then. Be sharp and put the light out.'
Pennyloaf obeyed the second injunction, and she too lay down, keeping the child in her arms; of the 'mixture' she was afraid, for a few days since the child of a neighbour had died in consequence of an overdose of this same anodyne. For a long time there was silence in the room. Outside, voices kept sounding with that peculiar muffled distinctness which they have on a night of dense fog, when there is little or no wheel-traffic to make the wonted rumbling.
'Are y'asleep?' Bob asked suddenly.
'There's something I wanted to tell you. You can have Jane Snowdon here again, if you like.'
'I can? Really?'
'You may as well make use of her. That'll do; shut up and go to sleep.'
In the morning Pennyloaf was obliged to ask for money; she wished to take the child to the hospital again, and as the weather was very bad she would have to pay an omnibus fare. Bob growled at the demand, as was nowadays his custom. Since he had found a way of keeping his own pocket tolerably well supplied from time to time, he was becoming so penurious at home that Pennyloaf had to beg for what she needed copper by copper. Excepting breakfast, he seldom took a meal with her. The easy good-nature which in the beginning made him an indulgent husband had turned in other directions since his marriage was grown a weariness to him. He did not, in truth, spend much upon himself, but in his leisure time was always surrounded by companions whom he had a pleasure in treating with the generosity of the public-house. A word of flattery was always sure of payment if Bob had a coin in his pocket. Ever hungry for admiration, for prominence, he found new opportunities of gratifying his taste now that he had a resource when his wages ran out. So far from becoming freer-handed again with his wife and children, he grudged every coin that he was obliged to expend on them. Pennyloaf's submissiveness encouraged him in this habit; where other wives would have 'made a row,' she yielded at once to his grumbling and made shift with the paltriest allowance. You should have seen the kind of diet on which she habitually lived. Like all the women of her class, utterly ignorant and helpless in the matter of preparing food, she abandoned the attempt to cook anything, and expended her few pence daily on whatever happened to tempt her in a shop, when meal-time came round. In the present state of her health she often suffered from a morbid appetite and fed on things of incredible unwholesomeness. Thus, there was a kind of cake exposed in a window in Rosoman Street, two layers of pastry with half an inch of something like very coarse mincemeat between; it cost a halfpenny a square, and not seldom she ate four, or even six, of these squares, as heavy as lead, making this her dinner. A cookshop within her range exhibited at midday great dough-puddings, kept hot by jets of steam that came up through the zinc on which they lay; this food was cheap and satisfying, and Pennyloaf often regaled both herself and the children on thick slabs of it. Pease-pudding also attracted her; she fetched it from the pork-butcher's in a little basin, which enabled her to bring away at the same time a spoonful or two of gravy from the joints of which she was not rich enough to purchase a cut. Her drink was tea; she had the pot on the table all day, and kept adding hot water. Treacle she purchased now and then, but only as a treat when her dinner had cost even less than usual; she did not venture to buy more than a couple of ounces at a time, knowing by experience that she could not resist this form of temptation, and must eat and eat till all was finished.
Bob flung sixpence on the table. He was ashamed of himself—you will not understand him if you fail to recognise that—but the shame only served to make him fret under his bondage. Was he going to be tied to Pennyloaf all his life, with a family constantly increasing? Practically he had already made a resolve to be free before very long; the way was not quite clear to him as yet. But he went to work still brooding over Clem's words of the night before.
Pennyloaf let the fire go out, locked the elder child into the room for safety against accidents, and set forth for the hospital. It rained heavily, and the wind rendered her umbrella useless. She had to stand for a long time at a street-corner before the omnibus came; the water soaked into her leaky shoes, but that didn't matter; it was the child on whose account she was anxious. Having reached her destination, she sat for a long time waiting her turn among the numerous out-patients. Just as the opportunity for passing into the doctor's room arrived, a movement in the bundle she held made her look closely at the child's face; at that instant it had ceased to live.
The medical man behaved kindly to her, but she gave way to no outburst of grief; with tearless eyes she stared at the unmoving body in a sort of astonishment. The questions addressed to her she could not answer with any intelligence; several times she asked stupidly, 'Is she really dead?' There was nothing to wonder at, however; the doctor glanced at the paper on which he had written prescriptions twice or thrice during the past few weeks, and found the event natural enough. . . .
Towards the close of the afternoon Pennyloaf was in Hanover Street. She wished to see Jane Snowdon, but had a fear of going up to the door and knocking. Jane might not be at home, and, if she were, Pennyloaf did not know in what words to explain her coming and say what had happened. She was in a dazed, heavy, tongue-tied state; indeed she did not clearly remember how she had come thus far, or what she had done since leaving the hospital at midday. However, her steps drew nearer to the house, and at last she had raised the knocker—just raised it and let it fall.
Mrs. Byass opened; she did not know Pennyloaf by sight. The latter tried to say something, but only stammered a meaningless sound; thereupon Bessie concluded she was a beggar, and with a shake of the head shut the door upon her.
Pennyloaf turned away in confusion and dull misery. She walked to the end of the street and stood there. On leaving home she had forgotten her umbrella, and now it was raining heavily again. Of a sudden her need became powerful enough to overcome all obstacles; she knew that she must see Jane Snowdon, that she could not go home till she had done so. Jane was the only friend she had; the only creature who would speak the kind of words to her for which she longed.
Again the knocker fell, and again Mrs. Byass appeared.
'What do you want? I've got nothing for you,' she cried impatiently.
'I want to see Miss Snowdon, please, mum—Miss Snowdon, please—'
'Miss Snowdon? Then why didn't you say so? Step inside.'
A few moments and Jane came running downstairs.
Ah! that was the voice that did good. How it comforted and blessed, after the hospital, and the miserable room in which the dead child was left lying, and the rainy street!