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Tom balance him on the top of a stick, and
swing in Tom's handkerchief just like a
child. Him and Tom have whistling
matches Tom's a very pretty whistler.
Yes, sir, Dick certainly is a great amuse-
ment to. me, and a real beauty he is, wher*
his ash-coloured tail feathers is out. He's
a Belgian Tom gave five shillings for him.
He's been moulting lately, but you can see



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. in

the grey tail-feathers just sprouting like out
of the gold.'

The poor girl, who was suffering from
incurable spinal complaint, seemed as if
she could never weary of talking of her
brother. l And when flowers is in, Tom's
pretty sure to bring me a bunch of some
sort. He's very free with his money
twopence he'll give for a chameleon them
red and white waxy flowers like roses, with
the glossy green leaves. I'd rather have a
penny bunch of vi'lets, because the smell
of them puts me in mind of old times.'

c You were not always in London
then ? '

1 No, we was bred in the country, and
when we used to go picking vi'lets, we
didn't think we should ever be living toge-
ther in smoky London. But what should
I do without Tom, now, sir ? They couldn't
do me any good in the hospital where I
went, and I should have had to be sent to



U2 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the workhouse, if Tom hadn't taken me.
He would have me. We was always from
children very fond of each other, and it
was partly because Tom was in London
that I came up from the country and took
a place here. I was afraid that he was
getting a bit wild, and thought that, per-
haps, I might do him a bit of good. But
there you see, sir, God has so ordered it
that it's Tom that takes care of me, poor
dear boy.'

1 What part of the country do you come
from ? '

' Burnham Market in Norfolk, sir.
There's ever so many Burnhams about
there one of them where the great Lord
Nelson was born but it's a very sleepy
part of the country, except when the gen-
tlemen are out with their dogs and their
guns. You can hear the turnips growing
down there, is a saying. So it's no wonder
a high-spirited lad like Tom should want



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 113

to see a little more life. So up he came to
London, and got a porter's place, and I
wish he'd stuck to it, poor fellow. But
he'd a good voice, and was always fond of
fun and company, and those nigger singers
began to go about, and he fell in with those
he's with, and joined 'em. That was before
I came to live with him. I wish he'd some
other line of life, poor boy. It exposes
him to a deal of temptation in the way of
drink not that he often comes home the
worse for it, and when he does he never
says a cross word to me, but just goes to
bed quiet, as if he was ashamed of himself.'

1 But he would not have to be ashamed
of himself, if '

1 That's true, sir, but he's such a dear,
kind brother I can't bear to say anything
against him. And then, you know, sir,
he's got into a way of making a joke of
everything, and when I want to speak
serious to him, he tries to put me off with



1 14 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

something funny. I don't find fault with
his spirits, poor boy they're often a com-
fort to me. Jokes are very good things in
their way, but there's a many things you
don't like to hear joked about.'

'Very true; life is too serious to be
only laughed at this life and the one to



come.'



1 Anyhow, I don't feel much inclined to
laugh when I lie awake at night, and hear
the church clocks chime the quarters and
strike the hours for four or five hours at a
stretch.'

' Does Tom ever sing to you ? '

1 Some of the songs he have to sing
seem downright silly to me he don't sing
'em at home now, because he knows they
vex me. It don't seem a life worthy of a
man to go about singing such stuff.'

{ Those who give money to hear them
are as much to blame.'

' But some of the sentimental songs, as



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 115

he calls 'em. are very pretty. I like to
hear them. There's " Mary Blane," and
" Lucy Neal," and " Ben Bolt," too, I like,
though the young woman it's about, as was
always weeping with delight when you
gave her a smile and trembling through
fear at your frown, couldn't have been a
comfortable party to live with, I should



say.'



1 No; I think not.'

' There's another about somebody sit-
ting by the river and weeping all the day.
The tune's very pretty, but I don't hold
with so much crying, no more than I do
with laughing always.'

' One can't help crying sometimes, but
we must learn to bear what God has thought
fit to send upon us crying over it all day
long won't do any good to any one.'

1 But Tom's a dear good fellow, and of
a Sunday night he'll sing me the Evening
Hymn, and he can chant " I will arise and



ii6 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

go unto my Father" beautiful. That do
make me cry if he only meant what he
was sayin', poor fellow ! And he'll always
read the Bible to me when my eyes are
tired, though he don't seem to care for it
as I should like to see him.'

After a pause, she added, anxiously :
1 1 hope you don't think, sir, that I'm find-
ing fault with Tom. I should be an un-
grateful wretch if I did. It's just because
I'm so fond of him that I can't help griev-
ing to see that he don't care about the
things that give me my comfort. Kind as
he is, what should I do lying here, if I
couldn't trust in God and hope to meet my
blessed Saviour in heaven ? '

' It must be very solemn to lie all alone,
and hear the noise outside that you have
no share in.'

1 1 wouldn't care if I could but see my
poor Tom setting his face Zionward. I
could then say, "Now, Lord, lettest thou



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. . 117

thy servant depart in peace" though it
would be a sore trial to part from him,
and I do believe he'd fret for me, trouble
as I am to him.'

1 He doesn't seem to think anything a
trouble that he can do for you.'

No, no. Last thing at night he comes
to tuck me in, and put my orange handy
for me, and if he hears me moaning in the
night, he's up to see what he can do. I
can't help moaning sometimes when I fancy
he's asleep it seems to let a little bit of
the pain out. And then in the morning he
lights the fire, and gets my breakfast for
me, and puts my Bible, and the bird, and
everything else I want handy before he
goes out.'

' But does no one else come to attend
you?'

' Oh yes, he pays a woman down below
to cook me a bit of dinner, and get my
tea for me. Sometimes, perhaps, he don't



Ii8 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

come home quite as soon as he might at
night, but that ain't to be wondered at.
I'm sure I shouldn't grudge him a bit of
pleasure, poor fellow, if I wasn't afraid it
was doing him harm. And often he do
come home as soon as ever he's knocked
off singing, and do all he can to 'liven me
up.'

f I hope he does not leave you alone
on Sunday.'

1 It ain't often that he does, and when
I've got him that's my nicest day. He's
quieter then, specially in the evening, and
sometimes he'll let me talk to him a bit.
When you're without company all the
week, it's a real treat to have your own
brother with you all day Sunday and
then he's so kind and handy in his ways
no woman can beat him at cooking or at
nursing either. Often I want him to go to
church, but he says, " No, if I go out, I



BANJO AND HIS SISTER. 119

shan't go to church so I had better stop
where I am, Nance." So I've to quiet my
conscience with that, and I'm afraid I'm
too ready, because it's so nice to have Tom
at home.'



120



VI.



'MARCH HARE.'



ONE day when I was going out of my
house, I almost ran against an old woman
who had come up to ring the bell mean-
while dolefully chanting l Hare-skins
rabbit-skins ? ' A skin or two dangled
from her arm, and they were the only
warm -looking wraps she had about her.
In spite of great coat, comforter, muffetees,
and cork-soles, the bleak east wind had
nipped me when I opened the front door,
but this poor old creature was shivering in
a cotton gown that had lost all ' body ' and



' MARCH HARE: 121

definable colour from long wear and many
washings, and a shawl so threadbare that
the wind must have rushed through it like
water through a net. She stooped as if
she found the burden of life too heavy for
her, and had the half stern, half stolid look
which a lifetime of cloud, scarcely ever
broken by the merest glimpse of light,
generally gives to those unto whom such
days and nights are appointed.

' Any hare-skins or rabbit-skins ? ' she
repeated with mechanical monotony when
I made my appearance. ' Oh ! I thought
you had brought me a hare,' I said by way
of joke, pointing to the hare-skin dangling
from her arm. ' I'm too busy to shoot
hares, even if I had the chance, and I'm
too poor to buy hares and no one ever
sends me any.' Instead of smiling at my
very mild facetiousness, the old woman in-
stantly turned away and went along the
street, raising from time to time her dreary



122 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

chant. Time was too precious to her to
be wasted in idle chat with one who
offered such poor chances of his ever being
available for the extension of her business.
As the bent, miserably-poor old woman
went down the straight, cold, grim street
with the hare-skin hanging over her arm,
the brambled woodlands in which the hare
had frolicked, the grassy lanes along which
it had scampered, the green corn it had
nibbled in the dewy moonlight, were
scarcely more difficult to realize than the
comfortable dinner-table at which, most
probably, it had been eaten. It was
through having been led to think of the
contrasts between the surroundings of the
hare and those of the old woman who
would make her little profit out of the sale
of its skin, that I chanced to take particular
notice of her ; and so was able to recognize
her when I met her a week or two after-
wards. She was turning into a little paved



' MARCH HARE: -123

court, a pinched oblong, with an opening
that was a mere slit between the houses of
the street on which it gave. Its own little
houses were two-floored, but a tall man
standing on tiptoe could almost have
looked into their upper windows. If the
doors of the two rows of hovels that stared
into each other's faces with lack-lustre eyes
had opened outwards, they would nearly
have met. At the bottom of the court rose
a high dead wall. Nevertheless, this cut
de sac was used as a drying-ground, damp,
dusky sheets, shirts, &c., hanging thickly
from the lines stretched across it. Beneath
the dripping clothes ragged children were
sprawling and squabbling on the filthy
flags, and in a corner at the bottom of the
court half-a-dozen lads were playing at
pitch and toss.

A man stood watching them : a man of
thirty, with scraps of paper pinned here
and there, for ornament, upon his ragged



124 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

clothes, and a roll of paper, torn at the end
into a rough imitation of a plume, stuck
into the band of his hat, the semi-detached
crown of which stood up over his shaggy
hair like the lid of an opened preserved-
meat tin. ' There's mammy, March Hare,'
cried one of the lads, and the poor idiot
came capering up to the poor old hare-
skin collector. Each seemed delighted to
see the other. The old woman's sternly
sombre face broke out into a fond mother's
smile as she greeted her poor prancing
son. but l March Hare's ' face soon clouded.
' Lollies, mammy, lollies,' he wheedled,
holding out his hand like a monkey's paw.
When his mother told him that she had not
been able to bring him any lollies, he put
his finger in his mouth, and sulked. l Lol-
lies to-morrer, perhaps, Tommy,' said the
old woman. l Come in with mammy now,
like a good boy.' ' No, s'an't,' lisped poor
Tommy, stamping his foot like a spoilt



* MARCH HARE: 125

child. She persuaded him to go in with
her, however, and they disappeared in the
entry of one of the houses.

I had not time to make inquiries about
them then, but one evening when I had a
little leisure I went to the house. The
little children squatted on the doorstep
maintained a solemn silence when I asked
them in which room the old woman who
sold hare-skins lived. They did not budge
an inch to enable me to pass through their
serried ranks ; so I had to make a long
stride over their matted heads. Then one
of them condescended to say, l Up-stairs
right afore ye,' and, at this remark, al-
though I was puzzled to discover the point
of the joke, the whole company of infantry
grinned and chuckled. The door they had
pointed out stood open, and when I looked
into the little room, I saw the poor grown-
up baby seated on his mother's knee, suck-
ing a bit of sugar-stick, at the same time



126 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

pouting his sticky lips, in baby style, for
the kisses which his poor old mother was
giving him. l He's not himself, poor boy,
and so you see, sir, I humour him,' she said.
1 Run out now, Tommy, and play like a good
boy, becos me and the gentleman wants to
have a talk.'

1 Got any lollies ? ' said Tommy, getting
off his mother's knee, and sidling up to me.
' Tommy likes lollies.' He looked so dis-
appointed when he found I had none, that
I gave him a penny to buy some, and then
he departed in high glee. My young
friends of the doorstep had been peeping
into the room, and rushed down before him,
shouting

o

' The swell's guv March Hare a penny,
and he's a-goin' to spend it ! '

1 He won't get much out o' that, won't
poor Tommy, thank you all the same, sir,'
said the old woman. l He's uncommon
fond o' sweeties but he'll give 'em all away



' MARCH HARE: 127

to the little mis, if they axes him, and they
takes ad wantage of him.'

' Do they tease him ? '

1 No, sir ; neither them nor the other
folks about here as knows him : they're all
kind to him in their way, and 'ill take his
part, if they sees strangers puttin' on him.
But then poor Tommy goes roamin', and
gits 'unted by bad boys elsevheres. He'll
come 'ome kivered with muck, and cryin'
as if 'is 'eart 'ood break. Ah, sir, it's a
sore trial to a mother to see a fine 'andsome
chap like him runnin' up to her jest as if
he was a baby and him all she's got in the
world, poor feller.'

I had not noticed poor Tommy's
good looks ; but then I had not his mother's
eyes to look at him with. As delicately as
I could, I asked why he was called March
Hare.

' Well, you see, sir, it's partly along o'
my sellin' the skins, and partly becos he



128 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

ain't quite right. " As mad as a March
hare," you know, they says the hares goes
mad in March, I'm told all on 'em.
Though if they isn't madder than my poor
boy, they'll do no harm. It's astonishin',
sir, what sense he have sometimes : he
ain't half as silly as he seems. It's only
his funny ways as makes folks think he is.
God's give him sich a 'appy 'eart, that he
can't 'elp caperin' about at what seems
queer times to most folk ; but Tommy's a
sight more brains, hid away like, than
many as laughs at him. He fair frightens
me the way he talks sometimes jest as if
he was a-talkin' wi' angels. He see a angel
down by the lamp-post, outside the court,
and if that's bein' silly, I wish I was silly,
too ; for I don't see no angels, and it 'ud
be a change to sich as me.'

( And to a good many more, I suspect.'

1 Well, the kindness of that poor boy

you wouldn't believe. I tries to keep about



' MARCH HARE: 129

for both our sakes ; but now and then I
gits laid up, and to see the way my poor
Tom 'angs about me, and does what he
can, poor dear, 'ud surprise you, sir. I pray
God I may keep him as long as I can do
for him ; but when I've been a-lyin' 'ere,
not knowing but what I might be gone
afore to-morrer, I've prayed as God 'ud
take my poor Tommy afore me ; for there
'ud be nobody as could understand him
when I was gone. They'd shut Tommy
up, and that he never could abide.'
1 Can he do anything to help you ? '
' I've no doubt he could, sir, and he'd
be willing enough, poor boy, but then you
see folks has a prejudice agin flighty ways
in the way o' business, and besides, Tom-
my's so kind-hearted, he'd be sure to git
took in. But what he can he does. He'll
have the kittle bilin' for me when he don't
'appen to forgit it, poor boy, and he'll tidy



130 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

up the place accordin' to his notions it
ain't ezackly my way, but then he looks
jest as if I'd scolded him if I puts the things
straight, and so when poor Tom's been a-
tidyin' I lets the things be till he's out o'
the way agin.'

1 1 suppose he never goes far from
home ? '

1 Oh, he'll go out into the country and
bring me 'ome great boughs o' May, and
bundles o' buttercups and blue-bells that
you couldn't grapse in your two hands, sir.
The room's like a bower spring time and
summer. But Tommy can't abear to
see the flowers a-witherin'. He'll pull
'em down in a rage like, but he don't
chuck 'em into the court. He makes a
great 'eap o' them, and carts 'em back into
the country next time he goes for more.
He's got a fancy that they'll git better if
he takes 'em 'ome that's what Tommy
calls it.'



* MARCH HARE: 131

1 Do you ever go into the country with
him ? '

1 No, sir, I've enough walkin' about in
the town. All day long I'm at it, and
sometimes I don't git a single individival
skin. It's years since I was as far as the
Forest not since I was married.'

' Did you ever see a hare running then ?'

1 No, sir, I never see a live hare and
never tasted a dead un. Some o' the
neighbours goes to the Forest sometimes
in a wan, but I hain't no money to spend
on wans, and if I had, my poor Tommy
'oodn't go. You couldn't git him into a
wan no, sir, not if you offered him ten
thousand golden guineas, nor not if it was
to save his life.'

I How is that ? '

I 1 was in the family-way with him
when his poor father was killed by one o'
them lumberiii' brewers' drays had his
'ead smashed as vou'd scrunch a black



132 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

beetle, sir and that's what upset poor
Tommy's mind. Bad boys tries to pull him
up to a wan, or a cart, or anything that's
got wheels, sometimes, and tells him he
must git in, jest to tease him. But it ain't
a safe game to play. It drives my poor
Tommy downright wild. He'll howl so as
it's awful to 'ear 'im, and bite and kick
and do anything he can to git away. Ah,
that was the beginnin' of my troubles ! My
husband was a steady young man, and we
was very fond o' one another, and we 'adn't
been married a year. P'r'aps he might
ha' got tired on me, and cross to me like
other men, if he'd lived, but I don't believe
he 'ood, anyhow he hadn't the chance.
My poor Tommy was born in the workus,
but, please God, he shan't die there no,
nor the workus shan't bury him, if I can
'elp it.'

1 Has he lived with you ever since he
was born ? '



4 MARCH HARE: 133

'Yes, sir, when I came out of the
workus, I brought Tommy with me, and
we hain't been parted since. He was sich
a comfort to me when he was quite a little
un not but what he's a comfort to me
now I'd never part with him ; but that
was different. I used to thank God so as
he was a boy, and not a gal. The men
al'ays gits the best of it in this world,
however 'tis in the next. I thought he'd
grow up a steady tradesman like his father,
and then I should have some un to lean on
agin.'

' And you were never married again ? '
1 P'r'aps I might ha' got married agin if
I'd wanted anyhow, I wasn't axed, and
I didn't want neither. " I'll look arter my
boy," I used to say to myself, "and he'll
be a comfort to me." The neighbours as
see the child used to say that he didn't
take notice and behave like other babies ;
but I thought that was jest envy becos he



134 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

was sich a much finer child than theirn.
" He airft like other children," I'd tell 'em
back, boastin' like, " as you'll find when he
grows up." It was a long, long time afore
I'd let myself believe that he was different
from other children in another kind o'
way, but I was forced at last, and a sore
trial it were to me.'

' But God fits the back to the burden.'
' I know that, sir, and if it wasn't for
fearin' as I might die afore him, and leave
him with nobody to care for him, I could
almost be glad that my poor Tom is as he
is. If he'd had all his right senses, he
mightn't ha' loved his mother as he do
now that he's got nobody else to hold to.
He'd ha' had a wife and little uns of his
own, and p'r'aps he'd ha' thought nothin'
o' me. He's a real comfort to me, sir,
though you mightn't think it. He's so
fond o' me. Though he's sich a great big
chap, his heart haven't growed like out of



1 MARCH HARE: 135

knowledge. He'll snuggle up to me and
stroke my face, jest as he would when I
'ad him at the breast.'

On my asking her as to the kind of
living she made she went on,

1 Me and my poor Tom has been pretty
nigh starvin' sometimes, but, thank God,
we've got through the hard times some-
how, as the sparrers does, and there never
was a cross word betwixt us. And, as I
was a-sayin', Tom ain't half as silly as
folks make him out to be. It 'ud be long
afore a good many o' them 'ud say the
improvin' things my poor Tom do at
times. He'll be talkin' all kinds o' stuff
that I can't make neither head nor tail of,
and then, all of a sudden, he'll look round
sharp like a bird and say somethin' jest
like a bit out o' the Bible. It was only
last week he'd been goin' on with his
games, though I couldn't 'elp cryin', for
I'd done uncommon bad, and how I was



136 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

to pay my rent I didn't know. Well, sir,
poor Tommy see me, and up lie come, and
says he, "No cry, no cry. Laugh like
Tommy." " Ah, my poor boy," says I,
" I wish I could." " God loves merry folk,"
says Tom. Well, sir, that set me a-think-
in', as Tom's sayin's often does. Anyhow,
if I couldn't be merry, I thought I wouldn't
be mopish. It seemed a sin like, and my
poor boy so cheerful. So I shook myself
up, and things looked a deal brighter. If
you believe in God, it do seem a sin to go
about as if you was at a funeral there
ain't much faith in that though it's un-
common 'ard for sich as me to cheer up
sometimes.'

When I heard this poor old woman
inculcating the duty of Christian cheerful-
ness, I could not help thinking of the heads
always bowing like a bulrush, the faces
never relaxing into a smile, that I had
seen in ' Christian homes ' crammed with



* MARCH HARE: 137

all kinds of comfort. The repellent effect
which such visages must have upon the
young has often been pointed out, but we
are too apt to look upon persistent doleful-
ness of this kind as merely an unfortunate
weakness, whereas it is really, as the old
woman called it, a sin.*

In reply to further inquiries about her
calling, the old woman said :

1 Well, sir, my trade ain't like a good
many it's briskest in winter. There's
more skins to be picked up then, and
they're better. God gives the poor things
more hair in the winter to keep 'em warm.
I've sometimes wished my gown 'ud grow
thick like that, but then, arter a man-

* On this point I may quote a pregnant little paragraph
from Mrs Jameson : ' Dante placed in his lowest hell those
who in life were melancholy and repining without a canse,
thus profaning and darkening God's blessed sunshine ; and in
some of the ancient Christian systems of virtues and vices,
melancholy is unholy and a vice ; cheerfulness is holy and a
virtue. Lord Bacon also makes one of the characteristics of
moral health and goodness to consist in "a constant quick
sense of felicity, and a noble satisfaction." '



138 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

ner o' speakin', it is somehow that way
with me, becos I can do best when the
weather's cold. But then the coals runs
away with the money so p'r'aps it don't
make much difference and you want to
eat more when the weather's sharp. Poor
Tommy's appetite is good, and it goes
agin my heart to stint him I'd far rather
go without myself but sometimes I'm
forced to. My earnin's ain't much to keep
two people on : 2d. } and sometimes more,
I've to give for a skin, and then I only git
a ha'penny by it.'

' Where do you go to church ? '
1 1 don't go to church nor to chapel
not reg'lar chapel neither. I haven't got
fit clothes, nor Tommy hasn't, and they
wouldn't let him run about at a reg'lar
place o' worship as they does where we
goes.'

I found that a good, simple-hearted
man, a genuine Christian, though he was a



1 MARCH HARE: i 39

' Christian unattached,' had hired for Sun-


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