Alfred Joshua Butler.

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evening he reads the Bible to me. There's
one good thing in being blind you can
read without a candle. Yes, sir, we've
been very happy, and I pray God He'll
spare my poor husband to me. He's the
only one in the wide world that belongs
to me like.'



56 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

1 Had you ever any children ? '
1 One, sir, we had, the year after we
were married, but God took her when she
was three year old. I didn't want the neigh-
bours to tell me that she was a sweet pretty
child you'd only to run your hand over
her face, and feel the dimples, to know that.
Oh, yes, sir, she could see, and beauti-
ful eyes she had, and long curls as soft as
silk. I can't tell you, sir, how proud I was
of my pretty pet. Seemed as if God had
given her to me to make up for making
such a fright of me. And we were both so
fond of her, and she was so fond of us. She
was fond of everybody, pretty dear, and
everybody was fond of her. Why, sir, the
dog no, it was long before Billy's time
jumped up on her bed when he heard the
doctor say there was no hope for her, and
she died cuddling of him, pretty dear. It
did seem hard to have her took away from
us that had got so little, and I was wicked



A BLIND COUPLE. 57

enough to say so. But my husband says
to me, " The Lord gave, and the Lord hath
taken away, blessed be the name of the
Lord," and yet Stevens was just as much
cut up as me, only in a quieter sort of way.
All, she tvas a miss. It was months before
we got used like to her being away. She
was always so full of fun, nobody could be
dull where she was. The dog got mopish
without her to play with, and my old man
would sit as still as a mouse in the evening.
She used to go and kneel down by him,
you see, when I'd put on her little night-
gown, and say her little prayers. She could
say them right through without anybody
telling of her, though she couldn't speak
plain. If she'd lived, she'd be getting an
old woman now, but it seems as if 'twas
only yesterday I heard her saying,

" Dentle Desus, meek an' mile,
Book upon a 'ittle chile."

She'll always seem a little girl to me till I



58 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

see her a grown-up angel, if God will be
so good as to let me. It's strange how I
long to see her. Now my husband's differ-
ent. He never knew what sight was, and
so he can't understand my feelings about
that. To have hold of her, and hear her
talk, seemed enough for him, but I was al-
ways wondering exactly what she was like.
I'd got my notion of her, but I couldn't
be sure it was right, and so I felt robbed
like not to know my own child's face for
certain. I wonder sometimes which is
hardest, not to know how things look, like
my poor husband ; or to remember how
they used to look, like me.'

I encouraged the poor woman to talk,
to divert her thoughts as much as possible
from her husband's accident. When first
told of it, she had wanted to start off at
once to go to him. ' Poor dear,' she had
said, ' lying there all alone of himself.
Billy will take me, and I'd leave him if



A BLIND COUPLE. 59

they'd promise to give him something to
eat. Billy would be a comfort to my poor
old man. It's astonishing what a kind
heart that dog has hdd see his master
wasn't put upon.'

I persuaded the good woman, however,
both for her own sake and her husband's,
to wait until the next l visiting day ' be-
fore she went to the hospital. When we
had been talking for some time, she sud-
denly exclaimed, l It seems cruel to be
sitting here doing nothing, and him lying
yonder. If I mayn't go, will you say a
prayer for him, sir ? ' She sobbed out her
amens, but when we rose from our knees
she seemed to be comforted. ' Thankee,
sir,' she said. ' We've asked God to take
care of him, and we can't do better than
that, can we, Billy ? ' She spoke, habit-
ually, to the dog just as if he were l the
Christian ' she called him. Billy in re-
sponse leaped into her lap. l Now, isn't that



60 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

strange ? ' said the old woman. ' He'll
never do that when Stevens is at home, but
he wants to say he's pleased, and '11 do all
he can to cheer me up.'

We had some more chat, in the course
of which I learnt the history of this blind
couple. The parish on which she was left
chargeable started the blind girl as a seller
of tape, pins, boot and stay laces, and other
such l small wares.' At best the living she
thus got was next door to starvation, and
her state of health often threw her back
again upon the parish's care. A guardian
interested himself to procure her one of the
few-shillings pensions that are given to the
blind by benevolent persons in London,
and at the house of her benefactress, the

Countess of C , the blind girl made

the acquaintance of Stevens, a fellow-
pensioner. He had been taught basket-
making at the institution in which he had
been trained, and then was in pretty regular



A BLIND COUPLE. 61

employ. The two marriedj and had and lost
their little pet. The wife did her best to
supplement her husband's wages with
1 small-ware ' earnings, but had been so
often ill that, as she phrased it, ' any other
man but Stevens would have got rid of me
long ago; instead of a help, I'm a hindrance.'
' He could soon have got another,' she went
on. ( A blind man can take his pick of wives,
if he'll only beg. There's blind folk, I
know, that could be cured if they would,
but they won't, because they can make
more without their eyes than with them.
But my husband was never one of that sort.
As long as he could get work at the basket-
making he did it, but that's no trade for a
blind man now. He can't work against
them that have got their eyes, especially
when he's getting a bit old and stiff. So
Stevens took to playing in the street, but
that ain't begging, sir. He gives good
music for the money he gets. He won't so



62 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

much as say, " Please to pity the poor
blind," or have it wrote on a card, as a many
do. He's a man of a very independent spirit,
is my husband, and yet there's few that
thinks so little of theirselves. It'll be dreary
to-morrow without him, won't it, Billy ? We
always go to church twice on Sundays, sir,
and Billy goes with us, and lies under the
seat as good as gold. And then when we
come home, its nice to be able to be to-
gether and sit still, instead of tramping
about. And Stevens reads the Testament
to me, and we sing a hymn or two before
we go to bed. Sometimes there's drunken
folks that make game on us, but mostly the
neighbours stop it. There's few that ain't
kind to blind people. An' some o' them as
ain't got much to bless theirselves with can
cheer up old folks like us just by their
company-like. There's the four orphanses
as live in the Alley. They comes in
now and then an' has a cup o' tea, an'



A BLIND COUPLE. 63

it's nice to hear 'em. They 're all so fond
o' one another. Sunday's always been the
best day of the week to me ever since we
married. Sitting at home, or sitting in
church, heaven seems nearer somehow than
it do of a week-day, and it's nice to have
my old man with me all day long. I shall
feel lost to-morrow without him.'

I You seem very fond of your hus-
band.'

I 1 ought to be, sir. A kinder soul don't
breathe. Many a time he's gone without
that I mightn't, and nursed me when I was
ill just as if he was my mother. And he's
as good as a minister to me. It isn't
mucli that he says, but he says it so
gentle, and then he behaves according. It
was him that first taught me really to be-
lieve in my Saviour. I took a religious
turn when I lost my sight most blind folk
have a liking that way but it wasn't till
I knew Stevens that I got to understand



64 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

what religion was. That's enough to make
me fond o' him let alone his being so
kind, and my little girl's father.'

I became much interested in the four
little orphans to whom Mrs Stevens had
referred, and I shall have something to say
of them again ; but I may here state what
I then gathered of their history from her,
and a day or two afterwards from the
eldest of them.

This eldest, Phcebe, was not fourteen,
but she was quite a mother to her sisters,
Harriet and Emma, of eleven and ten, and
her little brother, Dick, of nine. They
lodged together in a room tenanted by an
old woman who kept a i refuse ' fruit-stall
in a neighbouring street. Disfigured as
her fruit generally was, its colours con-
trasted queerly with the dusky gloom of
the dark cramped attic in which surplus
stock was garnered at night, and when the
children brought home unsold posies, the



A BLIND COUPLE. 65

bound, faded flowers seemed to be con-
sciously-pining captives.

Phoebe was a very grave little maiden.
Her responsibilities seemed to have crushed
all girlish glee out of her. She talked as
if she had been past forty, instead of not
fourteen. This was the account she gave
me, when I wanted to get an idea of the
little lonely family's daily life: 'Well, sir,
I wakes the children in the mornin', and
it's hard work sometimes, when they've
been walkin' a good bit the day afore, poor
little things. And we says our prayers, and
goes to Common Garding. It's mostly
flowers we sticks to, but we'll work other
things when we can git the chance. That's
a good step from here, and horfen we're
'ungry by the time we gits there. There's
cawfee and bread and butter you can git,
but if you can't git it, why it makes you
feel the 'ungrier. No, sir, I can't say that
the fruit and the wegetables ever made me



VOL. II.



66 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

feel 'ungry you want somethin' warmin'er
when you turn out o' your bed at daylight.
But it is astonishin' who can eat all that lot
wan-loads and wan-loads of 'm the
streets round about is choked with 'em, and
the cabbages is piled up like 'ouses. When
the rubub's in, you can smell it ever so far
off, and there's the water runnin' about on
the leaves like sixpences. Pretty ? I hain't
much time to think of what's pretty, sir.
I've got to think of what'll pay best. Yes,
sir, sometimes I give the little uns a bit
of a feed afore I starts 'em, but that's ac-
cordin' to what I've got for stock-money.
I buy whatever's in. Wi'lets comes in
twice a year. Sometimes 'tis wi'lets, and
sometimes 'tis primroses, and sometimes 'tis
roses, and sometimes 'tis wall-flowers, and
stocks, and pansies, and minninet, and
lilies o' the walley some o' the young City
gents as fancies theirselves swells are wery
fond o' stickin' the lily o' the walley in their



A BLIND COUPLE. 67

button-'oles. And sometimes it's green
lavender. We sells dry lavender too, but
that's in the winter when we can't git no-
thin' else. Fresh tilings we buys for a
penny a bunch at the market, and then we
splits 'em up inter two or three, and sells
'em at a penny, or a 'a'penny, accordin' to
chances, and sometimes we has to bring 'em
'ome for nothin'. I does my best to freshen
'em up, but they look drunk-like in the
mornin'. When we're ready, we start
sometimes this way, sometimes t'other as
far apart as we can. We takes our rounds turn
and turn about. Miles we walk hup ' Aver-
stock '111, and about the swell streets in the
West End, and hout to Clapton, and so on,
sometimes. No, we never goes across the
bridges I don't know nothin' about them
parts. Sometimes we does tidyish in the
City, round about by the Bank and the
'Change. But I don't mean 'Arriet shall
go there when she gits a bit older. She's



68 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

a pretty little gal, and she knows it, and
some o' the gals there is a bad lot. I was
on the pavement in front o' the 'Change
one Saturday arternoon, and I see a gal
that was sellin' flowers there three weeks
afore, with scarce a shoe to her foot, come
along with a velvet bonnet and a silk cloak
on ; and 'Arriet's fond of dressin' 'erself up.
She'll put roses in 'er 'air, when we're
a-tyin' 'em up, and I've seed her stop at
a water-trough to look at her face in it.
But she sha'n't git fine things that way
not if I knows it. Mother would be fit to
jump out of heaven, if she did. Yes, sir,
there's bad amongst flower-gals, but there's
good too, and it's 'ard that those as tries
to behave theirselves should git a bad
name becos o' what the t'others does.
It's 'ard work haviii' to look arter chil-
dren. Hemmer's a trouble to me, too,
but that's only becos she's so weakly.
A quieter, willin'er little gal never was.



A BLIND COUPLE. 69

But Dick's a trial like 'Arriet. He
ain't a bad-meanin' little chap, but big
boys gits 'old on 'im, and I'm afeared
they'll teach 'im wrong. He's wery ow-
dacious. Last winter he went out Christ-
masin' with some big chaps. They put
him up to git a great bough of misletoe off
a tree in an old gen'leman's horchard down
by Chingford. But out come the old
gen'leman and collared 'im, and away the
t'other chaps cut. The old gen'leman was
in a hawful rage, for he'd 'ad all his 'oily-
trees spiled the night afore. So he up
with 'is stick, and was jest agoin' to hide
Dick, when he stopped all of a sudding.
" No," says he, " it ain't your fault, you
shrimp. I wish I could ketch them
cowardly mates o' yourn." And he give
Dick a penny, but he didn't let 'im take
the mistletoe. I wish I could git Dick
1'arnt a trade. He'll go wrong, I'm
afeared, if he keeps in the streets - and



70 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

so '11 'Arriet. . They both minds me now,
but when they git to my age, they won't
be so teachable. They're a trouble to me,
sir both on 'em. Night and mornin' I
prays for 'em, for they're dear, kind
children, though they is so flighty. When
little Hemmer's bad, they'll work twice as
'ard as they will other times. And it ain't
jest for their own bellies becos there's
Hemmer's takin's to make up. It's becos
they want to give 'er a bit of a treat ; and
they'll be so quiet when they come 'ome,
it's strange to see 'em 'specially Dick.
He's uncommon fond o' Hemmer, and so's
Hemmer of 'im. I wish they could be
shook up together. Dick 'ud be all the
better of her willin'ness, and she'd be all
the better of a bit of his sperrit. And yet,
though she is so quiet, she takes, mostly,
more than any on us. " Pore little thing,"
a good many people says when they sees
her. If all as says it was to buy of her,



A BLIND COUPLE. 71

Hemmer would soon be sold out ; but it's
heasier to pity a party than to 'elp 'em
not that I'm a-complainin'. All things
considered, we do uncommon well, thank
God.'

The blind man lay in hospital a weary
while. The fracture was a serious one,
and when the arm was getting better, an
almost total prostration of strength super-
vened. A more patient sufferer I never
saw. His only anxiety seemed to be about
his wife and Billy. A friend to whom I
had mentioned the case agreed to make
the old woman a little allowance until her
husband should be able to get about again.
When I told him of this, his face flushed.
* I'm ashamed of myself,' he said. ' After
all that God's done for me, I was begin-
ning to doubt Him. I was worrying myself
to think that Charlotte would have to go
into the house, and that would have been



72 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the death of her, poor old girl. We've
always managed to keep off the parish
somehow, and she'd break her heart if she
couldn't come to me when the doctors
allows it. I ought to have known better.
There's the Lamentation the blind folks
that go out begging sing. I don't like a
man begging when he can do something
for his living, just because he's blind ; but
there's some pretty poetry in the lamenta-
tion, sir. I've often said these lines out of
it to myself

' But since it is God's will,
The more I cannot see the day,
He'll be my comfort still ! '

And I'll go on saying 'em, for He is a
comfort every way. When I first come to
the hospital, I used to have bad dreams,
but now they're so nice it's a treat to go to
sleep and what's that but God's good-
ness? Why it was only last night I
dreamt that my little girl, that's dead and



A BLIND COUPLE. 73

buried years ago, came and sat on - my
knee, and put her hands round my neck,
just as she used to do, and then there was
sweet voices all round me like birds
singing, but what they sung was all my
favourite verses, out of the Psalms and the
Testament. And now you've come and
brought me this good news, and Charlotte
and Billy will be here directly, and I
shall be able to enjoy their company. I
sha'n't feel as if I was starving them, lying
here doing nothing.'

Charlotte and Billy were very regular
visitors at the hospital. Billy at first was
refused admission, but interest was made
for him, and Billy was allowed to patter up
the long ward at the end of which his
master lay. As soon as he reached his
master's bed, Billy would leap upon it, lick
the sick man's face, and then, as if con-
scious that he was on his good behaviour,
sit quite still, wistfully watching his



74 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

master, but ready to jump down the
moment his mistress rose to say good-bye.
It was not much that the old people said
to one another, but they found a comfort
in being together, hand in hand. Just
before she took her departure, Charlotte
generally brought out some little thing she
had managed to buy for her ' old man ; '
not venturing to produce it sooner, be-
cause he had forbidden her to stint her-
self to get things for him, when he had
everything he wanted, and this was the
one command of his which she was obstin-
ately determined not to obey.

At last, however, Charlotte and Billy
came to the hospital on a more cheerful
mission. The old man was discharged,
and they had come to convoy him home.
Billy, generally a very grave dog, leaped
and circled and whined for joy like a
young puppy, until, suddenly remember-
ing his responsibilities, he trotted up to



A BLIND COUPLE. 75

his master to have his collar put on again.
The old people did not belong to my
parish, but they came to my church the
first Sunday after the old man's discharge.
They knelt in the aisle just under me
Billy's bullet-head peeping between his
master's feet when I read out, An old
man and his wife desire to return thanks
to Almighty God for His great goodness
unto them.' And in their case the formula
was no empty form : they meant the
thanks they oifered.



7 6



IV.



HUGGING RAGS.

STREET-TRADING is not the mode of in-
dustry I should select for a London child
compelled to earn its own living if only
(a mocking condition in hundreds of cases)
it could find anything better to do. Street-
life is not civilizing. Those bred to it can
rarely settle down, when they can get the
chance, to what persons accustomed to
home and within-walls labour would think
far more comfortable callings. Sometimes
they become vagabonds in the moral sense,
and they are almost sure to become vaga-



HUGGING RAGS. 77

bonds in the etymological sense. They
like to be free to rove or rest according to
their pleasure. They prefer * chancy '
profits to fixed wages ; if to-day's take is
bad, they comfort themselves with the
thought of ' better luck to-morrow.' Per-
manent shelter, associated with confine-
ment, makes them feel, in their own
phrase, l choked like.' In spite of these
nomadic tendencies, however, laziness is
not a charge which can be brought against
the street-sellers of London. The miles
they walk, the hours they stand, the shouts
they utter, and often the heavy weights
they push or pull or carry, make such an
accusation ridiculous. The vast majority
of London street-sellers work hard enough
for their living, and feel a pride in being
beholden to nobody for their keep. Their
honesty is not always unimpeachable, but
many of them are strictly honest ; and
when we remember the very high places of



78 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

British commerce that are defiled by dirty
tricks of trade, we should be chary of
casting pharisaic stones at those of the
uninstructed, sorely-tempted street-sellers
who do try to defraud their customers.

It is our tramp class, whom we too
often encourage by miscalled i charity,'
because we like to buy a little reputation
for benevolence, from ourselves or others,
cheap ; because we are too indolent to
make inquiries ; or because we want to get
rid of the bore of having a disagreeable-
looking, brimstone-scented object running
beside us on the pavement, or whining or
bullying at our doors it is our tramps
who, par excellence (or the lack of it), form
the lazily-dishonest species of the awfully
large body slumped under the generic
head of the London Poor. A professional
thief seems almost respectable in com-
parison with a tramp. The trained thief
has a theory that alienum is rightfully suum,



HUGGING RAGS. 79

and, to carry his theory into practice^ he
will expose himself to risk, and sometimes
work very hard. The tramp's theory of
the universe, on the other hand, is this
that he is to be fed and housed without
any trouble to himself. He is ready to
steal and riot, when he can do so without
much danger ; for l a lark ' he will even
risk his neck ; but, as a rule, he thinks
that the less he does the more society is
bound to support him. Sometimes he will
not even take the trouble to beg. I have
seen tattered tramps lounging in Regent
Street, on a fine day, with as self-possessed
an air as any l swell ' upon the pavement.
They had slept the night before in a casual
ward; another casual ward was waiting
for them ; they had managed somehow to
get a dinner ; and so they were amusing
themselves by ' looking at the shops.' A
poor man who genuinely shrinks from
observation because of his tatteredness is



8o EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

one of the most pity-moving sights that
can be seen, but this lazy contentment
with rags is loathsomely fearful to behold.
It is a pungent satire on the philosophy
and religion which make a merit of a
man's learning to live on as little as he can
although, when they have the oppor-
tunity of gratifying them, tramps are by
no means ascetics in any of their appetites.
And yet, despicable as the dirty tramp
may seem, sluggishly feeding on society
*like parasitic vermin, his is a state into
which it is far easier for a once self-re-
specting man to sink and subside than
those disposed to despise him might like to
believe possible. As a contrast to some of
these lives I have recorded, I will give the
history of such a man. I fell in with him
at the Refuge, and got him to talk pretty
freely with me. Now and then he gave a
professionally sanctimonious whine, in the
hope of propitiating me ; when he spoke of



HUGGING RAGS. 81

the time when he was in work, he did seem
to feel a momentary touch of shame ; but
a chuckle over his adroitness in making
other people provide for him ran through
the greater part of his narrative. He
could read and write, and, though he
interlarded his talk with the l cadger's
cant ' he had picked up not only in Lon-
don, but all over England, he otherwise
spoke pretty correctly. His clothing was
wretched, and he was very dirty ; but
there was no trace of famine in his fleshy
face and form. He would not give me his
real name. l Figs ' was the name, he said,
he went by- why, he could not, or would
not, tell. He had been apprenticed to a
carpenter in Maidstone, and, for a year or
two after the expiration of his apprentice-
ship, had earned good wages as a journey-
man. ' I used to go to All Saints' of a
Sunday it's a fine old church, and I used
to like to see the soldiers of a morning.



82 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

They've cavalry soldiers of all sorts at the
barracks, big and little, red and blue ; and
they used to make a pretty sight marching
in and out, and clanking their spurs and
their sabres when they got up and down at
prayers. I was always fond of variety.
Sometimes I'd go in the afternoon. There's
a travellers' house on the left-hand side as
you come up from the bridge. When I've
seen the tramps and the hoppers hanging
about there of a Sunday afternoon, and the
church-geing folks looking at them half-
frightened, I little thought I should ever
.be one of them ; but I've had some jolly
larks in that house since.'

Work became slack in Maidstone, and
after spending almost all his savings in
search of it in his native town, the car-
penter started on foot for London. ' Least-
ways I footed it to Gravesend, meaning
to take the boat there. I'd got a bundle of
my clothes, and my tool basket, and a sliill-



HUGGING RAGS. 83

ing or two. When I was going up Bluebell


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