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Hill, close by Kit's Coty House, that, no
doubt, you've heard of, sir, I felt very
down-hearted. You can see Aylesford
from the hill, and there was a girl there
that I was sweet upon but that wasn't to
be. A good thing for her, and for me too,
I think, now. And yet if I'd '.got work
when I came to London, I might have
been different. I tried my best, so /'m not
to blame, sir. I went to every carpenters'
house of call I could hear of, but it was no
good. No, sir, I didn't drink then, and it
isn't much that I take now. I may break ,
out now and then, but I ain't a lushington,
praise the Lord. I don't see the sense of
it it ain't seeing life when you've got
three parts stupid before the fun begins.
Anyhow, I got rid of my clothes, and then
I got rid of my tools and then what was
I to do?'

When he had just money enough left to



84 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

pay for a bed, he went into a lodging-house
in Keate Street, or Thrawl Street I forget
which and there he matriculated in men-
dicancy. i I'm used to such places now,
and so long as you're warm and got your
grub, where's the sense of making a fuss
about a bit of dirt ? But I was different
then. I'd been used to having things
decent about me till I came to London ;
and the place smelt so bad, and there was
such goings on at night, that I wished my-
self out of it. I was getting a warm at the
fire in the morning, and wondering what I
was to do for a breakfast, when a chap
came up to fill his pot, and says he, 'What's
your lay ? ' I didn't know what he meant,
and, of course, he could see that I was
green. " Come along," says he, " and have
a feed me and my pals will stand it,
though you do look as if you'd got a good
twist of your own."

The invitation to breakfast was ac-



HUGGING RAGS. 85

cepted, and before it was over the carpen-
ter found himself enlisted by a band of

I lurkers ' sham workmen out of work.
He was one, and looked the character they
personated so tellingly that they eagerly
availed themselves of his want to snap him
up as the show-member of their company.

I 1 was shame-faced at first, sir I didn't
like the thought of begging but what was
I to do ? I wasn't going to starve, if I
knew it ; and when I found how the
money came tumbling in, I began to
think that folks must be flats to work when
they could get a deal more by not work-
ing. Ain't it reasonable, sir, for a poor
man to think like that ? He may work all
day, and only get as much in a week as a
swell will spend in a minute. It's only
fair that the swells should give some of
their tin to us, instead of spending it all on
their greedy selves. And if they won't
give it without asking, it's only doing



86 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

them a kindness to ask 'em. If your story
ain't true exactly of yourself, it's true of
somebody they ought to give to, but they
wouldn't.'

1 Figs,' like a great many other people
who have no genuine fear and love of God,
had previously been kept honest simply
because those with whom he mingled
thought it 'respectable' to be honest.
Mixed up with another set who thought it
' spoony ' to be honest, he rapidly adopted
their views. l I've seen a deal of life, sir
that I have, in fact. There ain't many
so fly to a good bit of all sorts as folks in
my line. Bless you, we read the papers,
and it makes us laugh, it does, when they
pity our ignorance. We could put the
editors up to a wrinkle or two, I guess. I
should like to get one of them into a pad-
ding-ken, without a bobbv to look after

/

him. He'd be as helpless as a child in-
deed, there's plenty of children that know



HUGGING RAGS. 87

a deal more of what real life is than edit-
ors. And the bobbies ain't half so know-
ing as the papers make them out to be. I
could show them up, if I chose; but, of
course, it wouldn't pay. A deal of life
I've seen, and a deal more I've shammed
to see. I've been all sorts of trades, and
blown-up stokers, and shipwrecked marin-
ers, with a picture of the wreck, and full
particulars for them that cared to ask for
'em, and some will, but mostly it's old
women it's easy to gammon. Most of my
limbs I've lost down coalpits and else-
where. I've been a wounded soldier dis-
charged without a pension, and appealing
to an indignant, sympathizing country to
right its stingy, ungrateful government's
wrong. And I've been a shivery-shaky,
the man who couldn't get warm, as the
song says ; but I never took much to that,
because you see, sir, it must be pretty cold
when you go out to shiver. I've been all



88 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

sorts of things, and have cultivated the
compassion of my countrymen extensively.
Where's the harm ? Ain't that what you
parsons try to do, sir ? You should get
me to preach a charity sermon for you
just as I am.'

The cynical candour of the man's con-
fessions astounded me, but he explained
their candour with equal cynicism. ' Why,
you see, sir, I soon found out that I
couldn't bleed you. You haven't much
blood to lose, I guess, and though you don't
know half as much about such as me as you
fancy, at any rate, you have got to know
us when you see us, and you've learnt at
last not to trust us and so I thought, just
to take a rise out of you, I'd make you
open your eyes with a bit of Gospel truth.
You'll excuse my saying it, I hope, but
you've a soft look, and I don't think you'd
have the heart to turn me out of here to-
night even if you'd got the power, which,



HUGGING RAGS. 89

I believe, you haven't, so long as I obey
regulations and don't make a row ; and,
power or no power, you'd have to send for
the police and that wouldn't look pretty
in the papers, would it, sir? there'd be
leaders about the homeless wanderer kicked
out by the folks that call themselves cha-
ritable lamentable to state, at the insti-
gation of a clergyman into the bitter
inclemency of the wintry elements. I
shan't trouble you after to-night, sir.
Your accommodation ain't to my taste,
nor your grub either, and I was fool
enough to think I'd get a good feed, and
so I didn't bring anything in. You've
done me, sir. I owe you one, I own.'

I suppose I ought to be ashamed to say
so, but I could scarcely suppress a smile at
the fellow's impudent out-spokenness. Of
course, he instantly noticed the twitching
of my lips, and went on in high good-
humour : ' You're not bad in London.



90 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

Where there's such a sight of folks, there
must be a sight of flats. But the yokels
are better. If you can't butter 'em, you
can bounce 'em. The farmers, big as they
are, are very timorous. They'll give a
cadger, if he's only a bit cheeky, and the
farm's a bit lonely, a tanner, and some-
times a bob, to get him to move on when
the day's drawing in ; and how they'll
watch you down the lanes shamming not
to, all the while ! They're afraid their
ricks will be fired, or their throats cut at
night. I've slept in many a barn, for all
their looking-out. It's a good game .to go
up to the back door of a farm-house, when
all the men folk are out. The maids look
as if they'd drop through the floor when
you poke your head in, and " However did
he get past the dog?" you'll hear the
mistress say ; but we know a trick or two
besides that. And then the scran you get
in the country not round near London,



HUGGING RAGS. 91

but when you go north'ard. It ain't dry
crusts and cold fat, such as they give
away in London, and think themselves
very charitable for getting rid of what
they can't eat ; but real good stuff that it's
a pleasure to eat ham, and pies, and such
like and what you can't eat you can sell
with a good conscience at the ken. And
rare larks you can have at some of them
country kens. Quiet little places they
may be in you'd think three parts of the
folks went to bed as soon as they'd had
their supper, and then lay trembling for
fear the country beaks should wake 'em
up to say they've some fault to find with
them ; but we've nice games, notwith-
standing, in them quiet little cribs with
i( Accommodation for Travellers" up over
them, as steady-looking as if the travellers
were Methody travelling preachers. 7

To make the man feel ashamed of him-
self, I asked him how he had felt the first



92 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

time he visited Maidstone as a beggar.
' Well, sir, I won't deny that I felt queer
afraid like, somehow, that I should meet
myself what used to be myself, I mean
but I can't explain silly nonsense. Of
course, I met lots of people I knew, but
they didn't know me, and if they had, they
wouldn't have been likely to claim my
acquaintance. A cadger is better off than
a king if he wants to travel incog., he
can. But it did make me uncomfort-
able that first time I was in Maidstone. I
saw the house where I was born, and the
school I went to, and the shop I worked
at, and the woman's where I lodged, and
they all looked so decent, that I half wished
I'd never gone away. But this was the
cuttingest thing at the houses we use,
they mostly put you up to the best walks
to take in turn. Well, the day after I got
to Maidstone, I was up pretty early. We
mostly are. We ain't early to bed, but



HUGGING RAGS. 93

we're early to rise, and that's what mates
us so healthy, wealthy, and wise. "Well,
when I got to Allington, I thought I'd sit
down on the grass by the old castle, and
have a pipe there before I went to business.
Who do you think came by, sir, whilst I
was sitting there ? The very girl I courted
at Aylesford. I knew her, but she didn't
know me. When I was going to speak to
her, back she ran, screeching " John, John,"
and up came her husband, a big quarry-
man, looking as black as thunder. I'd
half a mind to tell him I knew his wife
before he did, but then there's no use in
making mischief when you can't get any-
thing out of it ; and so I said, as mild as
milk, " I'm sorry I frightened the lady I
was only going to ask her for a copper to
help a poor traveller, that's been sleeping
under a hayrick, to a breakfast." And she
gave me a penny with her own hand, and
look'd right at me, sir, and yet she didn't



94 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.'

know me so, you see, sir, she hadn't
broken her heart about me.'

Fancying that he was softening, I asked
' Figs ' whether his brazen talk was not all
bravado whether he had not often felt
ashamed of the unmanly line of life he had
adopted. ' Can't say I have, sir. Well
yes, I did once feel downright ashamed of
myself. It was at Chelmsford. The Three
Queens I was stopping at, and I was going
along the London Road when an old lady
looked over her garden gate. There's some
tidyish little houses along the London Road.
11 Poor man," says the old lady, "you look
very hungry, and as if you'd like a job."
" Yes, ma'am," says I, " I am very hun-
gry, and I should like a job." "Well,
then," says she, " come in, my poor
man, and I'll give you some breakfast, and
then I'll give you a job." And a jolly
good breakfast she gave me in her kitchen
coffee with cream in it, and as much as



HUGGING RAGS. 95

I liked to have of buttered toast. I'd had
a good feed before I started, and so it was
hard work to eat all that the old lady
wanted me to but she liked me all the
better for being so modest. She kept the
servant girl toasting for me till her face
was as red as a brick, and " Don't spare
the butter, Jane," says she, " it ain't often
this poor man can get a meal." I'd hard
work to keep from bursting out laughing,
but I didn't. When she'd let me give over
at last, she took me down to a bit of grass
in her garden, and says she, "Now, my
good man, I want you to roll this for an
hour, and I'll give you a shilling that's
more than you've had for a week, I sup-
pose ? " (My opinions were different, but
that wasn't the time to express 'em.) " I'm
sure you'll roll it well you've such an
honest face." " Thankee, ma'am," says I,
"I hope I have. A man may be honest,
though he is poor." " Of course he can,"



96 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

says she. " I hope you don't think I wanted
to wound your feelings, my poor man. I'm
going down into the town for an hour, and
when I come back, you'll have finished,
and I'll pay you." I clutched hold of the
handle of the roller, and set to as if I was
Agoing to work like a steam-engine, but
before the old lady was in-doors, I was
down with my back against a tree, having
a pipe. I 'was up again at the roller,
though, by the time I thought she'd have
got her bonnet and shawl on. She was a
neat old body, of a Quaker kind of cut, and
I guessed she'd be a pretty good bit about
it. But, bless you, she never looked at me
when she came out she was so sure that
I was honest. I was up again by the time
I thought she'd be back. She was a bit
late, and so I had to trundle that confound-
ed old roller pretty brisk for five minutes
or so. Up she came running like a part-
ridge, but I didn't take any notice of her



HUGGING RAGS. 97

till she was right on me. " Oh," says she,
out of breath, " my poor man, I'm so sorry
I've kept you waiting. And you've done
it so nicely how hard you must have been
working, with your feeble frame !" Blessed
if she didn't give me a bull, and advise me
to put half of it into the savings' bank.
Yes, I did feel a bit ashamed when I took
it I hadn't earned it anyway. I hadn't
had to set my wits against hers. She'd
done my business for me. The innocence
of the poor old silly was downright touch-
ing.'

I have made a chapter of these cadger-
confessions just now, because in the winter
month in which I have been turning over
m.y diary to prepare my present Episodes,
frightful destitution once more prevails,
and is likely for some time to prevail, in
the East End. Wanting every penny we
can get for our genuine poor, I am more
than ever anxious to warn the charitably -

YOL. II. 7



98 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

disposed against the sham poor. Let all
who have money or goods to give for the
relief of their suffering fellow-countrymen,
make it a religious duty to ascertain, either
by personal inquiry amongst the poor, or
by a strict eye kept over the agency they
may select as their almoner, that their gifts
really go to those who are really in want
of them. Otherwise they may merely
manure our already rankly rampant mendi-
cancy, and rob the very people they wish
to serve. It is a sin, and not a virtue, to
scatter money for what schoolboys call a
1 scramble ' in a distressed district. In the
pauper parish, as in the playground, the
sturdiest beggars, under suchcir cumstances,
are sure to appropriate the bulk of the in-
discriminate donation.



99



V.



BANJO AXD HIS SISTER.

THACKERAY makes one of his characters
say, ' What a master nay, destroyer of
the affections want is ! ' There is truth in
this. It would be ridiculous to pretend
that poverty does not often breed in a
family a gross, grasping selfishness which
makes the poverty still more ghastly. But
if this is, perhaps, the rule, there are noble
and numerous exceptions to it. In the
present and the following chapter, I will
give two of the many that have fallen
under my own notice.



ioo EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

The street Ethiopian serenader is not, I
fear, generally speaking, a very estimable
character. He has taken to his peculiar
calling, as a rule, because he hates work,
and likes a vagabond life, coupled with
chances of drink. There are times, no
doubt, in which he makes more than he
coujd have got from his previous employ-
ment, when he has been a working man of
any kind ; but there are often also times
in which he makes a good deal less than
he might have got if he had stuck heartily
to work. It is the beery Bohemianism of
his peripatetic profession which attracts
him. The street Ethiopian serenader of
whom I am about to write was in some
respects not much better than the majority
of his brethren ; but he had a genuine
love for a sick sister a love which mani-
fested itself in self-denial for her sake.

I made my acquaintance with him.
thus.



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 101

I was visiting a sick parishioner in a
quiet side-street, when a company of
serenaders then more novel than they
are now accompanied by a noisy crowd,
came and struck up an air, with a tu-
multuous vocal and instrumental chorus,
under the very window of the invalid.
They seemed to have selected their stand
because they had seen the window-blind
drawn down. The poor young fellow I
was visiting the only son of a respectable
widow in straitened circumstances had
been just dropping off to sleep when the
vile din of cracked tenor, bull-like bass,
idiotic ' Yah, yah, yah,' scraped fiddle,
thumped tambourine, tortured concertina,
twanged banjo, and clattering bones be-
gan ; but the noise instantly brought him
back to his former state of tossing unrest.
His mother gave her little maid a penny,
and bade her give it to the men, and bid
them go away, because there was some



102 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

one ill in the house. The only result of
this mission, however, was an outburst of
choral confusion worse confounded ; and,
therefore, I went out to see what I could
do. l Bones,' half-drunk and very im-
pudent, made himself the spokesman of
the company. He rattled his bones in my
face, and said that if Englishmen did do
the niggers, they wasiHt niggers to be druv
away by anybody, when they was earnin'
a honest livin'. They'd a right to play
in the Queen's highway, and play they
would, if they wasn't paid for goin'. If
folks was ill, they wasn't to stop them,
unless they paid accordin'. Give 'em a
bob, and they'd go then.

' Very well, then,' I said : ' I shall go
for a policeman.'

' Don't you wish you may get him ? '
retorted the bibulous Bones

' " Go away, go away," says the shabby-genteel ;
" Go away, go away," says he ;



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 103

" He's too much of a scurf to give us a bob,
But he'll bring, if he can, a bob-foe."

Now then, boys, go on with the consort.'

But Banjo refused to join in. l You
shut up, Bones,' he cried. ' The gentle-
man spoke civil enough to you ; and if
there's anybody ill in there, it's a jolly
shame to keep 'em awake with our row.'

Tambourine, Fiddle, and Concertina,
who were going to follow Bones's lead,
looked half ashamed when Banjo spoke up
in this way, and the company took their
departure : Bones stopping at the corner
of the street to clatter his bones once more,
and give me a Parthian shot in the shape
of a ' yah yali YAH ' of profoundly con-
temptuous disgust.

Shortly afterwards I met Banjo in his
white hat, exaggerated shirt collar, and
absurd dress-coat, walking along by him-
self, with his instrument under his arm.
He was shaking himself as if all his bones



104 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

were out of joint, rolling his eyes, and
baring his teeth, as if he were chewing the
cud of most rollickingly facetious fancy,
mincing as if the ground were not good
enough for him to tread on, and yet hurry-
ing as if a crowded opera-house were im-
patiently waiting for his appearance. But
when I spoke to him to thank him for
his backing he instantly dropped his
professional manner. l It ivas a shame,
sir,' he said ; l but then Simpson was half
slewed he was sewn up before we got
home that night, /know what illness is.
I've got a sick sister at home. Religion
ain't much in my line, but I know it when
I see it, and a real downright religious gal
she is, and no mistake. If you. could give
a look in now and then, sir, it would be a
real kindness to the poor dear gal. There
she lies all day without a soul to speak to.
I'm out all day, and when I'm in, I haven't



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 105

the knack of talkin' about the things she'd
like to hear about. I'm not a hypocrite, sir,
that I can say of myself but really I've
felt as if I should like to sham pious, if I
only knew how, to please that poor gal.
Though it wouldn't be no good after all.
When anybody's the real thing themselves,
it's easy for 'em to spot them as isn't, how-
ever hard they may sham. 'But if you'll
call now and then to see my poor sister,
sir, you'll do her a real kindness, and
though I ain't in the religious line myself,
I shall be very grateful to you, sir. No.
17, Bertha Street, three-pair back, is where
we live. Good-mornin' to ye, sir, and
thank ye, sir.'

A minute afterwards Banjo had re-
sumed his consequentially-comic look and
dislocated gait, but as I watched him ca-
reering along the street, escorted by an
ever-growing crowd of widely-grinning



io6 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

youngsters, I could not help feeling a kind
of respect for the kind-hearted, black-faced
buffoon.

I paid my first visit to ' No. 17, Bertha
Street, three-pair back,' pretty early in the
morning, in the hope of being able to see
Banjo as well as his sister. I was just in
time to have a word with him. No answer
being given when I knocked at the door of
the three-pair back, I opened it and walked
into a very scantily-furnished chamber.
One side was curtained off with sacking.
This rough curtain was lifted, and I saw
Banjo in professional costume stooping
down to kiss a poor pinched girl who lay
on a low bed within, before he went out to
his professional labours for the day. l I'm
glad you've come, sir I said you would,'
was his remark when he looked round.
1 Nance, this is the clergyman I was telling
you about. Come inside, sir wait a bit,
I'll get you a chair. What was chairs



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 107

made for but to be sat upon ? And we've
got two, hain't we, Nance? so there's a
choice. This un, though, has got a bit of
the bottom out, so you shall have the one
I'm keeping for Nance when she gets up
to make my breakfast the week after next.
There, sir, sit ye down, and talk away,
and thank ye, sir. Good-bye, old gal, I'm
off now I shan't be late. Good-mornin',
sir, and thank ye, sir.'

So speaking, he cocked his white hat
still more on one side, and stalked sprawl-
ingly to the door, strumming on his .banjo.
He turned round to give his poor sister a
good-bye grin, which had a great deal of
love in it, then made us both a very low,
mock-reverential bow, and softly closed the
door after him. The poor girl had smiled
faintly at her brother's antics, and reflected
with interest his look of love.

'A kind-hearted fellow your brother
seems to be,' I said to her.



loS EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

( That he is, sir,' she answered eagerly.
' A better brother never breathed. There
ain't many brothers that would burden
themselves with a poor helpless thing like



me.'



1 Have you been long an invalid ? '

1 Going on for four year I've been here
now, and instead of getting tired of me,
he's almost kinder to me than he was when
I first come.'

1 1 suppose he makes a good deal of
money ? '

' Yes, sir, sometimes he may make a
tidyish bit, but then most men wouldn't
think it was enough to divide between two ;
and sometimes it's very little indeed he
gets. Much or little, however, he will
make me take what I want, however lie's
off himself. And he don't sit moping as if
he was making a martyr of himself, but
seems merriest, I think, when he's worst



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 109

off. Of course, he does that to cheer me
up.'

1 You must be very lonely here by
yourself?'

1 Not so very, for Tom makes me keep
a bird here he is by the bed though the
seed comes to more than he can well afford
in hard times. But he says I want a com-
panion, and a dear little chap Dick is.
Tom puts the cage by the bed before he
goes out, so that I can get at it, and when
I open the door, Dick '11 hop out and light
on my head, and then he'll fly about the
room, and then he'll fly back and perch on
the cage, and sing as if he'd burst himself.'

' It is astonishing how much cheerful-
ness one of these little mites can throw
round one.'

1 Yes ; and how wise Dick is ! As soon
as he sees that I want to go to sleep, he's
as mum as a mouse. He's a fond little



i io EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

chap he nestles up to me like a child.
But he's twice as fond of Tom as he is of
me. Rare games they'll have when Tom
comes home. Dick maybe's been moping,
but he brightens up as soon as he hears
Tom's step, and hops away to hide.
" Tweet, tweet," he says, for all the world
like a child crying "Whoop," and then
there's a hunt and a chase, and when Tom's
penned Dick up in a corner, he'll ruffle up
his feathers and make believe to bite him,
and then he'll hop on his shoulder, and
walk up his fingers like a ladder, and let


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