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which was a little snug sort of room at the end of the passage,
and Fixem (as we always did in that profession), without
waiting to be announced, walks in arter him, and before the
servant could get out, 'Please, sir, here's a man as wants to
speak to you,' looks in at the door as familiar and pleasant
as may be. ' Who the devil are you, and how dare you walk
into a gentleman's house without leave ? ' says the master, as
fierce as a bull in fits. ' My name,' says Fixem, winking to
the master to send the servant away, and putting the warrant
into his hands folded up like a note, ' My name's Smith,' says
he, 'and I called from Johnson's about that business of
Thompson's.' 'Oh,' says the other, quite down on him
directly, ' How is Thompson ? ' says he ; ' Pray sit down, Mr.
Smith: John, leave the room.' Out went the servant; and


the gentleman and Fixeni looked at one another till they
couldn't look any longer, and then they varied the amuse-
ments by looking at me, who had been standing on the mat
nil this time. ' Hundred and fifty pounds, I see, 1 said the
gentleman at last. ' Hundred and fifty pound, 1 said Fixem,
'besides cost of levy, sheriffs poundage, and all other in-
cidental expenses. 1 'Urn, 1 says the gentleman, 'I shan't be
able to settle this before to-morrow afternoon.' ' Very sorry ;
but I shall be obliged to leave my man here till then,' replies
Fixem, pretending to look very miserable over it. 'That's
very unfort'nate,' says the gentleman, ' for I have got a large
party here to-night, and I'm ruined if those fellows of mine
get an inkling of the matter just step here, Mr. Smith,' says
he, after a short pause. So Fixeni walks with him up to the
window, and after a good deal of whispering, and a little
chinking of suverins, and looking at me, he comes back and
says, ' Bung, you're a handy fellow, and very honest I know.
This gentleman wants an assistant to clean the plate and
wait at table to-day, and if you're not particularly engaged,'
says old Fixem, grinning like mad, and shoving a couple of
suverins into my hand, 'he'll be very glad to avail himself of
your services.' Well, I laughed : and the gentleman laughed,
and we all laughed; and I went home and cleaned myself,
leaving Fixem there, and when I went back, Fixem went
away, and I polished up the plate, and waited at table, and
gammoned the servants, and nobody had the least idea I was
in possession, though it very nearly came out after all ; for
one of the last gentlemen who remained, came down-stairs
into the hall where I was sitting pretty late at night, and
putting half-a-crown into my hand, says, * Here, my man,'
says he, ' run and get me a coach, will you ? ' I thought it
was a do, to get me out of the house, and was just going to
say so, sulkily enough, when the gentleman (who was up to
everything) came running down-stairs, as if he was in great
anxiety. ' Bung,' says he, pretending to be in a consuming
passion. ' Sir,' says I. ' Why the devil an't you looking



after that plate ? ' ' I was just going to send him for a coach
for me,' says the other gentleman. ' And I was just a-going
to say, 1 says I 'Anybody else, my dear fellow,' interrupts
the master of the house, pushing me down the passage to get
out of the way ' anybody else ; but I have put this man in
possession of all the plate and valuables, and I cannot allow
him on any consideration whatever, to leave the house.
Bung, you scoundrel, go and count those forks in the break-
fast-parlour instantly.' You may be sure I went laughing
pretty hearty when I found it was all right. The money
was paid next day, with the addition of something else for
myself, and that was the best job that I (and I suspect old
Fixem too) ever got in that line.

"But this is the bright side of the picture, sir, after all,"
resumed Mr. Bung, laying aside the knowing look, and flash
air, with which he had repeated the previous anecdote " and
I'm sorry to say, it's the side one sees very, very seldom, in
comparison with the dark one. The civility which money
will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none ;
and there's a consolation even in being able to patch up one
difficulty, to make way for another, to which very poor people
are strangers. I was once put into a house down George's-
yard that little dirty court at the back of the gas-works ;
and I never shall forget the misery of them people, dear me !
It was a distress for half a year's rent two pound ten, I
think. There was only two rooms in the house, and as there
was no passage, the lodgers up-stairs always went through
the room of the people of the house, as they passed in and
out ; and every time they did so which, on the average, was
about four times every quai't'er of an hour they blowed
up quite frightful : for their things had been seized too, and
included in the inventory. There was a little piece of en-
closed dust in front of the house, with a cinder-path leading
up to the door, and an open rain-water butt 011 one side.
A dirty striped curtain, on a very slack string, hung in the
window, and a little triangular bit of broken looking-glass


rested on the sill inside. I suppose it was meant for the
peopled use, but their appearance was so wretched, and so
miserable, that I'm certain they never could have plucked up
courage to look themselves in the face a second time, if they
survived the fright of doing so once. There was two or three
chairs, that might have been worth, in their best days, from
eightpence to a shilling a-piece ; a small deal table, an old
corner cupboard with nothing in it, and one of those bedsteads
which turn up half way, and leave the bottom legs sticking
out for you to knock your head against, or hang your hat
upon ; no bed, no bedding. There was an old sack, by way
of rug, before the fireplace, and four or five children were
grovelling about, among the sand on the floor. The execution
was only put in, to get 'em out of the house, for there was
nothing to take to pay the expenses ; and here I stopped for
three days, though that was a mere form too : for, in course, I
knew, and we all knew, they could never pay the money. In
one of the chairs, by the side of the place where the fire
ought to have been, was an old 'ooman the ugliest and
dirtiest I ever see who sat rocking herself backwards and
forwards, backwards and forwards, without once stopping,
except for an instant now and then, to clasp together the
withered hands which, with these exceptions, she kept con-
stantly rubbing upon her knees, just raising and depressing
her fingers convulsively, in time to the rocking of the chair.
On the other side sat the mother with an infant in her arms,
which cried till it cried itself to sleep, and when it 'woke,
cried till it cried itself off again. The old "ooman's voice I
never heard : she seemed completely stupefied ; and as to the
mother's, it would have been better if she had been so too, for
misery had changed her to a devil. If you had heard how
she cursed the little naked children as was rolling on the floor,
and seen how savagely she struck the infant when it cried with
hunger, you'd have shuddered as much as I did. There they
remained all the time : the children ate a morsel of bread
once or twice, and I gave "em best part of the dinners my


missis brought me, but the woman ate nothing ; they never
even laid on the bedstead, nor was the room swept or cleaned
all the time. The neighbours were all too poor themselves
to take any notice of 'em, but from what I could make out
from the abuse of the woman up-stairs, it seemed the husband
had been transported a few weeks before. When the time was
up, the landlord and old Fixem too, got rather frightened
about the family, and so they made a stir about it, and had
'em taken to the workhouse. They sent the sick couch for
the old 'ooman, and Simmons took the children away at
night. The old 'ooman went into the infirmary, and very
soon died. The children are all in the house to this day, and
very comfortable they are in comparison. As to the mother,
there was no taming her at all. She had been a quiet, hard-
working woman, I believe, but her misery had actually drove
her wild ; so after she had been sent to the house of correction
half-a-dozen times, for throwing inkstands at the overseers,
blaspheming the churchwardens, and smashing everybody as
come near her, she burst a blood-vessel one mornin', and died
too; and a happy release it was, both for herself and the
old paupers, male and female, which she used to tip over in
all directions, as if they were so many skittles, and she the

" Now this was bad enough,"" resumed Mr. Bung, taking a
half-step towards the door, as if to intimate that he had nearly
concluded. "This was bad enough, but there was a sort of
quiet misery if you understand what I mean by that, sir-
about a lady at one house I was put into, as touched me a
good deal more. It doesn't matter where it was exactly :
indeed, I'd rather not say, but it was the same sort o" 1 job. I
went with Fixem in the usual way there was a year's
rent in arrear ; a very small servant-girl opened the door, and
three or four fine-looking little children was in the front
parlour we were shown into, which was very clean, but very
scantily furnished, much like the children themselves. * Bung,'
says Fixem to me, in a low voice, when we were left alone for


a minute, * I know something about this here family, and my
opinion is, ifs no go." 1 ' Do you think they can't settle ? 1
says I, quite anxiously ; for I liked the looks of them children.
Fixem shook his head, and was just about to reply, when the
door opened, and in come a lady, as white as ever I see any
one in my days, except about the eyes, which were red with
crying. She walked in, as firm as I could have done ; shut the
door carefully after her, and sat herself down with a face as
composed as if it was made of stone. * What is the matter,
gentlemen? 1 says she, in a surprisin' steady voice. '/.? this
an execution ?' 'It is, mum, 1 says Fixem. The lady looked
at him as steady as ever : she didn't seem to have understood
him. 'It is, mum, 1 says Fixem again; 'this is my warrant
of distress, mum, 1 says he, handing it over as polite as if it
was a newspaper which had been bespoke arter the next

"The lady's lip trembled as she took the printed paper.
She cast her eye over it, and old Fixem began to explain the
form, but I saw she wasn't reading it, plain enough, poor
tiling. ' Oh, my God ! 1 says she, suddenly a-bursting out
crying, letting the warrant fall, and hiding her face in her
hands. ' Oh, my God ! what will become of us ! "" The noise
she made, brought in a young lady of about nineteen or twenty,
who, I suppose, had been a-listening at the door, and who had
got a little boy in her arms : she sat him down in the lady's
lap, without speaking, and she hugged the poor little fellow to
her bosom, and cried over him, till even old Fixem put on his
blue spectacles to hide the two tears, that was a-trickling down,
one on each side of his dirty face. ' Now, dear ma, 1 says the
young lady, 'you know how much you have borne. For all
our sakes for pa's sake,' says she, ' don't give way to this ! '
' No, no, I won't ! ' says the lady, gathering herself up, hastily,
and drying her eyes ; ' I am very foolish, but I'm better now
much better. 1 And then she roused herself up, went with
us into every room while we took the inventory, opened all
the drawers of her own accord, sorted the children's little


clothes to make the work easier ; and, except doing everything
in a strange sort of hurry, seemed as calm and composed as
if nothing had happened. When we came down-stairs again,
she hesitated a minute or two, and at last says, * Gentlemen,'
says she, * I am afraid I have done wrong, and perhaps it
may bring you into trouble. I secreted just now,' she says,
'the only trinket I have left in the world here it is. 1 So
she lays down on the table a little miniature mounted in gold.
* It's a miniature,' she says, ' of my poor dear father ! I little
thought once, that I should ever thank God for depriving me
of the original, but I do, and have done for years back, most
fervently. Take it away, sir,' she says, ' it's a face that never
turned from me in sickness or distress, and I can hardly bear
to turn from it now, when, God knows, I suffer both in no
ordinary degree.' I couldn't say nothing, but I raised my
head from the inventory which I was filling up, and looked
at Fixem; the old fellow nodded to me significantly, so I
ran my pen through the ' Mini" 1 I had just written, and left
the miniature on the table.

" Well, sir, to make short of a long story, I was left in
possession, and in possession I remained ; and though I was
an ignorant man, and the master of the house a clever one,
I saw what he never did, but what he would give worlds now
(if he had 'em) to have seen in time. I saw, sir, that his
wife was wasting away, beneath cares of which she never
complained, and griefs she never told. I saw that she was
dying before his eyes ; I knew that one exertion from him
might have saved her, but he never made it. I don't blame
him : I don't think he could rouse himself. She had so long
anticipated ah 1 his wishes, and acted for him, that he was
a lost man when left to himself. I used to think when I
caught sight of her, in the clothes she used to wear, which
looked shabby even upon her, and would have been scarcely
decent on any one else, that if I was a gentleman it would
wring my very heart to see the woman that was a smart and
merry girl when I courted her, so altered through her love


for me. Bitter cold and damp weather it was, yet, though
her dress was thin, and her shoes none of the best, during
the whole three days, from morning to night, she was out of
doors running about to try and raise the money. The money
was raised and the execution was paid out. The whole family
crowded into the room where I was, when the money arrived.
The father was quite happy as the inconvenience was
removed I dare say he didn't know how ; the children looked
merry and cheerful again ; the eldest girl was bustling about,
making preparations for the first comfortable meal they had
had since the distress was put in ; and the mother looked
pleased to see them all so. But if ever I saw death in a
woman's face, I saw it in hers that night.

"I was right, sir," continued Mr. Bung, hurriedly passing
his coat-sleeve over his face ; " the family grew more
prosperous, and good fortune arrived. But it was too late.
Those children are motherless now, and their father would
give up all he has since gained house, home, goods, money :
all that he has, or ever can have, to restore the wife he
has lost."



OFR Parish is very prolific in ladies' 1 charitable institutions.
In winter, when wet feet are common, and colds not scarce,
we have the ladies' soup distribution society, the ladies' coal
distribution society, and the ladies' blanket distribution
society ; in summer, when stone fruits flourish and stomach
aches prevail, we have the ladies' dispensary, and the ladies' sick
visitation committee; and all the year round we have the
ladies' child's examination society, the ladies' bible and prayer-
book circulation society, and the ladies' childbed-linen
monthly loan society. The two latter are decidedly the
most important; whether they are productive of more
benefit than the rest, it is not for us to say, but we can
take upon ourselves to affirm, with the utmost solemnity,
that they create a greater stir and more bustle, than all the
others put together.

We should be disposed to affirm, on the first blush of the
matter, that the bible and prayer-book society is not so
popular as the childbed-linen society; the bible and prayer-
book society has, however, considerably increased in impor-
tance within the last year or two, having derived some
adventitious aid from the factious opposition of the child's
examination society; which factious opposition originated in
manner following : When the young curate w^as popular,
and all the unmarried ladies in the parish took a serious turn,


the charity children all at once became objects of peculiar
and especial interest. The three Miss Browns (enthusiastic
admirers of the curate) taught, and exercised, and examined,
and re-examined the unfortunate children, until the boys
grew pale, and the girls consumptive with study and fatigue.
The three Miss Browns stood it out very well, because they
relieved each other; but the children, having no relief at all,
exhibited decided symptoms of weariness and care. The
unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this, but
the more reflective portion of the inhabitants abstained from
expressing any opinion on the subject until that of the curate
had been clearly ascertained.

The opportunity was not long wanting. The curate
preached a charity sermon on behalf of the charity school,
and in the charity sermon aforesaid, expatiated in glowing
terms on the praiseworthy and indefatigable exertions of
certain estimable individuals. Sobs were heard to issue from
the three Miss Browns 1 pew ; the pew-opener of the division
was seen to hurry down the centre aisle to the vestry door,
and to return immediately, bearing a glass of water in her
hand. A low moaning ensued ; two more pew-openers
rushed to the spot, and the three Miss Browns, each sup-
ported by a pew-opener, were led out of the church, and
led in again after the lapse of five minutes with white pocket-
handkerchiefs to their eyes, as if they had been attending
a funeral in the churchyard adjoining. If any doubt had for
a moment existed, as to whom the allusion was intended to
apply, it was at once removed. The wish to enlighten the
charity children became universal, and the three Miss Browns
were unanimously besought to divide the school into classes,
and to assign each class to the superintendence of two young

A little learning is a dangerous thing, but a little patron-
age is more so ; the three Miss Browns appointed all the old
maids, and carefully excluded the young ones. Maiden aunts
triumphed, mammas were reduced to the lowest depths of


despair, and there is no telling in what act of violence the
general indignation against the three Miss Browns might
have vented itself, had not a perfectly providential occurrence
changed the tide of public feeling. Mrs. Johnson Parker, the
mother of seven extremely fine girls all unmarried hastily
reported to several other mammas of several other unmarried
families, that five old men, six old women, and children
innumerable, in the free seats near her pew, were in the
habit of coming to church every Sunday, without either bible
or prayer-book. Was this to be borne in a civilised
country ? Could such things be tolerated in a Christian land ?
Never! A ladies' bible and prayer-book distribution society
was instantly formed : president, Mrs. Johnson Parker ;
treasurers, auditors, and secretary, the Misses Johnson
Parker: subscriptions were entered into, books were bought,
all the free-seat people provided therewith, and when the
first lesson was given out, on the first Sunday succeeding
these events, there was such a dropping of books, and rustling
of leaves, that it was morally impossible to hear one word of
the service for five minutes afterwards.

The three Miss Browns, and their party, saw the approach-
ing danger, and endeavoured to avert it by ridicule and
sarcasm. Neither the old men nor the old women could
read their books, now they had got them, said the three
Miss Browns. Never mind ; they could learn, replied Mrs.
Johnson Parker. The children couldn't read either, suggested
the three Miss Browns. No matter ; they could be taught,
retorted Mrs. Johnson Parker. A balance of parties took
place. The Miss Browns publicly examined popular
feeling inclined to the child's examination society. The
Miss Johnson Parkers publicly distributed a reaction took
place in favour of the prayer-book distribution. A feather
would have turned the scale, and a feather did turn it.
A missionary returned from the West Indies ; he was to
be presented to the Dissenters' Missionary Society on his
marriage with a wealthy window. Overtures were made to


the Dissenters by the Johnson Parkers. Their object was
the same, and why not have a joint meeting of the two
societies? The proposition was accepted. The meeting was
duly heralded by public announcement, and the room was
crowded to suffocation. The Missionary appeared on the
platform ; he was hailed with enthusiasm. He repeated a
dialogue he had heard between two negroes, behind a hedge,
on the subject of distribution societies ; the approbation was
tumultuous. He gave an imitation of the two negroes in
broken English ; the roof was rent with applause. From
that period we date (with one trifling exception) a daily
increase in the popularity of the distribution society, and
an increase of popularity, which the feeble and impotent
opposition of the examination party, has only tended to

Now, the great points about the childbed-linen monthly loan
society are, that it is less dependent on the fluctuations of
public opinion than either the distribution or the child's
examination ; and that, come what may, there is never any
lack of objects on which to exercise its benevolence. Our
parish is a very populous one, and, if anything, contributes,
we should be disposed to say, rather more than its due share
to the aggregate amount of births in the metropolis and its
environs. The consequence is, that the monthly loan society
flourishes, and invests its members with a most enviable
amount of bustling patronage. The society (whose only
notion of dividing time, would appear to be its allotment
into months) holds monthly tea-drinkings, at which the
monthly report is received, a secretary elected for the month
ensuing, and such of the monthly boxes as may not happen
to be out on loan for the month, carefully examined.

We were never present at one of these meetings, from all of
which it is scarcely necessary to say, gentlemen are carefully
excluded; but Mr. Bung has been called before the board
once or twice, and we have his authority for stating, that its
proceedings are conducted with great order and regularity :


not more than four members being allowed to speak at one
time on any pretence whatever. The regular committee is
composed exclusively of married ladies, but a vast number of
young unmarried ladies of from eighteen to twenty-five years
of age, respectively, are admitted as honorary members,
partly because they are very useful in replenishing the boxes,
and visiting the confined ; partly because it is highly desirable
that they should be initiated, at an early period, into the
more serious and matronly duties of after-life; and partly,
because prudent mammas have not unfrequently been known
to turn this circumstance to wonderfully good account in
matrimonial speculations.

In addition to the loan of the monthly boxes (which are
always painted blue, with the name of the society in large
white letters on the lid), the society dispense occasional grants
of beef-tea, and a composition of warm beer, spice, eggs, and
sugar, commonly known by the name of "caudle," to its
patients. And here again the services of the honorary
members are called into requisition, and most cheerfully
conceded. Deputations of twos or threes are sent out to
visit the patients, and on these occasions there is such a
tasting of caudle and beef-tea, such a stirring about of
little messes in tiny saucepans on the hob, such a dressing
and undressing of infants, such a tying, and folding, and
pinning; such a nursing and warming of little legs and feet
before the fire, such a delightful confusion of talking and
cooking, bustle, importance, and officiousness, as never can
be enjoyed in its full extent but on similar occasions.

In rivalry of these two institutions, and as a last expiring
effort to acquire parochial popularity, the child's examination
people determined, the other day, on having a grand public
examination of the pupils ; and the large school-room of the
national seminary was, by and with the consent of the parish

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 4 of 31)