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and that lie gave money for their keep to
the old woman with whom he left them
when he went to sea. Neither of the
other children had any recollection of their
parents, and Jack could not remember his
mother. ' We lives with the old cdft still,'
Jack went on, ' pays her for our lodgin',



A BROOD OF MUDLARKS. 29

and grubs ourselves.' ' She's a old witch,'
brother Bill interjected 'cross as two
sticks. She whops Sally when we ain't
by. She's afeared to when -we is, 'cos we
butts her till she's fit to bust don't she
blow, Jack?'

1 But why do you live with her if she
isn't kind to you ? '

' I didn't say nuffink about her not
being kind,' answered Jack. ' She ain't
game to whop me and Bill, and when she
pitches into Sally, we sarves her out some-
how. May as well live there as any-
wheres else, s'far as I sees. When we
can't pay our lodgin', she turns us out, and
we sleeps jest where we can. But we goes
back when we've got the browns. Bill
and me could manage, but it's cold for
little Sally dossin' out is, though we puts
her in the middle, and cuddles up.'

I asked him in what kind of places



30 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

they slept when deprived of their regular
lodgings.

' Sometimes aboard the hempty coal-
barges, and under a boat if it's 'andy.
There's the pipes, too, when the roads is
up they ain't bad if you git one so as the
wind can't cut through it. There was a
old chap once when the roads was up give
us a warm by his fire, and a sack to kiver
us up. Down by the Sun too ain't a bad
place where they throw the hashes. And
there's the little harches behind 'Alfmoon
Stairs they'd be unkimmon snug if they
wasn't quite so mucky an' there's rats
there, an' Sally don't like rats. All kind
o' places we could doss in, if it worn't for
little Sally.',

This, however, was said in no tone of
reproach. The two brothers were plainly
as fond as boys could be of their little
sister the way in which she wedged her-



A BROOD OF MUDLARKS. 31

self between them during our interview
showed how accustomed she was to their
affectionate protection. I afterwards saw
the regular lodgings of this little self-sup-
porting family. They consisted of what
was really merely a triangular cupboard
without a door a space boarded off from
a filthy landing at the top of a filthy,
crooked staircase. A mat and a singed
ironing-blanket, full of holes arid dropping
to pieces, were literally all the furniture.
The i old witch ' anxiously informed me
that she charged them nothing for this
kennel, and gave them the free run of her
kitchen, only taking a penny or two from
them for the use of her fire when coals
were very dear ; but the different story I
had heard from the children appeared the
more probable. The landlady did not look
like one given to perform actions in any
degree disinterested, and when she found



32 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

that her professions of kindness did not
meet with pecuniary acknowledgment, she
changed her tone, and abused both the
children and the person who was inquiring
about them with most vigorous virulence.

I am happy to say that I rescued the
children from the l old witch's ' clutches.
It would have been absurd to expect a
poor woman like her to give the children
even such lodging as she did give them for
nothing. What were they to her ? Only
the orphans of a dead sailor who at one
time paid her pretty liberally for their
keep. But the woman had charged the
children most exorbitantly. I will not
mention the sum, because few people
whose income is counted in pounds even
a very modest amount of pounds can
realize the crushingly important propor-
tion which an expenditure of a few pence
weekly bears to a weekly income of only



A BROOD OF MUDLARKS. 33

a few pence more. The poorest of the
poor are often most kindly helped by those
who are a mere shade less poor, but they
are also sometimes preyed upon by their
next ' superiors,' as the smallest fish are
gobbled by those a trifle larger.

In these papers I want to describe ' the
poor' as they are. A poor person is not
necessarily a posy of the choicest flowers
of virtue, to be used as a striking contrast
to a bundle of rank weeds of rich man's
vice. Amongst poor people as well as
rich, just as there are many very kind
folks, so there are some most awful ' screws '
and the l old witch ' was one of the poor
screwers of the poor. Of course, I did not
trust merely to the children's account in
arriving at this conclusion. I made in-
quiries in various quarters.

' I pity the poor little things, I'm sure,
sir,' said one woman to me, 'but pity's



VOL. III.



34 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

about all I've got to spare 'em 'cept now
and then a bit o' bread and drippin' I've
got so many o' my own. It's hard lines
with the pore little things. I knows the
ways o' their life, 'cos I was the same
when I was a little un, and the wonder is
I've growed up a honest woman. Most of
the gals goes to the bad when they're
children still, pore dears. It's sich a hard
life, you see, sir, that they're glad to do
anythink to git out of it, and nobody's told
'em it's wrong to act wrong like that. And
the boys horfen grows up thieves. They're
used to findin', you see, and so they gits
into the 'abit o' findin' what ain't lost.
Copper nails is about what pays 'em best
to find, and they can't git a farden a
pound more for dry rope than they can for
wet, and so they prowls about the ship-
yards, but they precious soon gits 'united off.
They'll prig coals too out o' the lighters,



A BROOD OF MUDLARKS. 35

when they gits a chance ; and when they're
ashore, they're 'angin' about the streets, try-
in' to pick up a penny any'ow. It's a bad
life for a child. It's down by Greenwich
I used to go out. The swells sometimes
would pitch us coppers out o' the inn win-
ders and laugh to see us duckin' our 'eads
and our 'ands, an' tumblin' one another
over in the slush, scramblin' arter them.
There worn't much kindness in that, as I
can see. It's easy to give money for your
fun, and what's a handful o' pennies to a
swell ? If they'd remember that them they
sets scramblin' was made by the same God
as made them, and give 'em a chance to
larn to be'ave accordin' that 'ud be kinder,
to my way o' thinkin'. Not that the swells
is so well-be'aved. Some o' those Green-
wich fellers 'ud come to the winders with
faces as red as biled lobsters, and shout
and go on so as they'd ha' been took up



36 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

if they'd been common people. It were a
wonder they didn't flop over into the mud
theirselves. For my part I can't see much
difference between folks, swells or common
folk, when they've got a drop too much
drink in them. They goes on in the same
silly way. And if eddication's good for
anythink, that's what oughtn't not to be.'

I brought back the good woman to the
little people I was inquiring about.

' Pore little dears ! The boys is un-
common good to their little sister. 'Ow
they'll stand up for her, and give her the
best of everythink ! And she's a nice little
gal, though she do cry so when she've got
the chilblains. I've seed her pore little
toes swollen up like little taturs. It's cold
work gropin' about in the mud barefoot,
when it's 'alf-friz. Them pore little things
goes and stands in the 'ot water runnm'
down from Mr Grainger's works, to warm



A BROOD OF MUDLARKS. 37

their legs up a bit. I should say there's
things in it, though, that isn't wery good
for chilblains.'

Brother Jack and brother Bill are now
black-bearded A. B.'s both of them in the
Naval Eeserve. The uncles, one of them
home from Bombay, and the other from
Callao, stood sponsors for their sister's first-
born son. ' Little Sally ' has grown up
into a good, shrewd little woman, and is
married to an honest giant, who has regu-
lar work in a timber-yard a most affec-
tionate and obedient husband. She man-
ages all his affairs for him, and he regards
her as quite a superior being ; but her
brothers still extend most patronizing pro.
tection to little Sally when they are ashore,
quite unconscious of the fact that it is she
now who saves them from being put upon.



III.

MORE ABOUT THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS.

HOP-GATHERING in a picture is a most
( idyllic ' occupation. The hop garden it-
self is so beautiful, that an artist who does
not make it look so on his canvas must be
a wilful traducer of natural beauty. The
whilom stiff brown poles no longer look
like ranks of giants' broomsticks. Their
identity is lost in the gracefully irregular
cones of glossy leaves and tassels of light-
golden blossom that twine and droop
around them. If you think of the prop at



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 39

all, it is to fancy, as the lazy sunny autumn
breeze stirs the vine-like leaves of the bine,
that the nearly smothered pole is, never-
theless, complacently murmuring

' All my misfortunes are but as the stuff
Whence fancy makes me dreams of happiness ;
Tor hops grow round me, like the twining vine,
And fruits and foliage, not my own, seem mine.'

The adroitest artist can only hint the deli-
ciously bracing coolness of the autumn
morning air, when the obliquely-shooting
sunbeams begin to drink up the dew that
trembles, like drops of etherealized quick-
silver, on the leaves and blossoms of the
bines ; or the lulling aroma that broods in
a hop-garden, when its rows and bins are
basking in early-afternoon sunshine. But he
can make the ripe red wall, and white split
extinguishers of warped weather-board on
the roof of the old l oast-house ' in the
background, almost as real as reality, and



40 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

more eye-pleasing; and so marvellous is
the beauty-discovering faculty of Art he
can group the very rags of the hop-pickers
into combinations on which the eye de-
lights to linger. Most of the pickers, when
the ' tally ' pleases them, are merry -faced
at hopping-time, and therefore the artist is
only faithful in giving them merry faces.
But how he idealizes those merry faces !
keeps the fun in them, the features often,
too, without giving a hint of the too fre-
quently filthy jest that has caused the mer-
riment. No doubt, he is right in doing so.
He has to paint a picture that will please,
and even vice takes no delight in its own
portrait limned without softening. More or
less unconsciously, also, he may have a
moral purpose in his aesthetics though few
of those who, directly, most need its teach-
ing, may ever see his doubly-coloured ser-
mon. Art worships Beauty ; and, au fond,



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 41

the beauties of the body, mind, and heart
are intertwined like the three Graces. The
artist paints the hop-garden innocent,
because he feels, perhaps, rather than
thinks, that the hop-garden would be more
beautiful, in every sense, if it were inno-
cent.

But, when taking a rare holiday, I have
helped to strip off the yellow blossoms of
the hop into the canvas bins respectfully
admonished by the professional workers,
whose 'tally' I was doing my best to
swell as an amateur, on account of the
number of leaves with which I was unwit-
tingly vitiating it ; and I have heard the
talk that was going on, close at hand, over
bins unaided by my amateur labours, and
unawed by my professional presence pos-
sibly stimulated into ranker impropriety
thereby. I have seen the appreciative
grins with which my comrades in the long



42 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

double row of pickers greeted those sallies
looking very much like bubblingly-ooz-
ing bottles of stout, just at the point of
bursting, in the hot sunshine, from the
painful efforts which their interested sense
of propriety made them make to abstain
from acknowledging the same with an
uproarious guffaw. I have also seen
something, and have heard more from
others, of the scenes that take place in and
about the thronged * hopper-houses ; ' and,
therefore, hopping does not seem very
' idyllic ' (in the modern sense) to me.
The idyll is of the ancient type hoppers
talk and act like Theocritus's peasants.

Nevertheless, I cannot help rejoicing
when hopping-time comes round. The
poorest poor of East End and South Lon-
don slums then get their one real holiday,
and, whilst they take it, gain not only
health, but unwonted wages also. Their



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 43

lodging, rough as it generally is, is proba-
bly not worse, either physically or morally,
than what the bulk of them have been ac-
customed to ( at home.' If they did not
go into the country, they could not escape,
poor creatures, from defiling sights and
sounds ; and, in the country, there is just
a chance that Nature's teaching may tell
upon them in some slight degree. At any
rate, for a week or two, they have work
that they can enjoy, and fresh air to do it
in. That does not seem much to say, but
it means a good deal when said in reference
to those whose lot in life has been cast in
the midst of the dreary drudgery and
squalid misery of the stifling streets, lanes,
alleys, and courts of East and South Lon-
don. Down the London pickers swarm to
join the local pickers, whom they terrify
often especially the Irish amongst the
strangers and, generally speaking, I am



44 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

afraid, do not often edify. Some already
engaged, and some on spec. ; . some by the
South-Eastern's hopper-trains, and some by
boat to Gravesend, and so, on foot, across
country, to hop-begirt old Maidstone ; some
tramping down the whole dusty, weary
way ; some jolting down in fearfully over-
laden costermongers' carts and barrows.
The provisionally hired are sometimes met
upon their way by hop-growers' waggons ;
the others get to their quarters as best they
can. And even this humble army is fol-
lowed by a little swarm of lazy vultures,
who have no thought of working, but
mean to pick up anything that may come
handy in the excitement of hop-harvest
even though taken from the scanty furni-
ture of a hopper-house carelessly left un-
padlocked.

Queer barracks most of these hopper-
houses are long, low, red-brick lines of



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 45

hovels, bedded with straw, in each of
which a dozen and more of men, women,
and children l house ' like pigs. Anyhow,
the night air of the line of walled and lat-
ticed-off compartments must almost neces-
sarily be foul, but their miscellaneous

/ '

tenants make it fouler by blocking up, to
the best of their ability, the means of ven-
tilation provided. The poor creatures are
accustomed to foul air at night : a good
many of them, no doubt, have often felt
cold air blowing over them at night : but
that experience is clustered around with so
many dreary associations, that, when they
can get the chance, they like to be warm
at night, at any cost. Some hop-growers
house their pickers in tents, some in extem-
porized structures of straw-thatched hur-
dle, some in the out-buildings of their
farmsteads the last not always taking pro-
per care that the cattle-sheds are decently



46 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

cleansed before their human cattle are
turned into them. Common cooking-
places are erected outside the barracks of
all sorts. The farmers supply their casual
labourers with fuel ; common gathering-
fires are lighted, al fresco, and round them,
after dusk, the hoppers lounge, and gossip,
and sing, and dance, and squabble, and
fight. Near such a fire I once heard an
ex-student of -Maynooth at least such was
his account of himself warbling a Latin
hymn in joyous tranquillity, like a pious
lark, whilst a party of his scarcely more
tattered countrymen and countrywomen
were breaking, in a howling and screech-
ing ' free fight,' one another's heads, and
the head of any Saxon rash or stupid
enough to venture within the jaggedly
eccentric circle of the combat. The ' do-
mestic ' conditions of the hop-pickers often
seem pestilence-inviting to a theorist, but



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 47

they are used to such conditions, and in
the country they have so much of fresh
sunny air to aid them, that, as a rule,
there, at any rate, they can manage to
defy what seems to a sanitary theorist their
inevitable fate.

Sometimes, however, in spite of sunny
country air, pestilence does swoop down
upon the hoppers most literally with a
vengeance. It is of such a time that I have
to tell as I can reproduce the story told
me by Phoebe, the flower-seller, the only

*

survivor then of the little family in which
she had played, or rather genuinely per-
formed, the part of mother. Phoebe's
gravity so out of keeping with her tender
years had struck me when I first saw
her; but when she told me her story of
death in the hop-gardens, the few months
that had passed since we first became
acquainted might have been years multi-



48 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

plied tenfold, so completely had she lost
the merest trace of even the very little
childlike gaiety she ever possessed.

The four children had been enlisted in
a little party going down to Kent on foot,
but little ' Em ' was to have a seat in the
tiny, donkey-drawn baggage-waggon of
the party. Merrily they trooped out of
their East-end quarters in the early Sep-
tember morning. Merrily they tramped
across London Bridge the blue-guernsey -
ed, greasy-corded fish-buyers going up and
down the steps leading to crowded Lower
Thames Street and Billingsgate envying
the hoppers as they passed. Merrily they
turned down by the red church in the
Borough, and so into the Old Kent Road
the prematurely sere leaves of its stunted
garden-trees all clogged with dust ; and up
to and over dusty, brown-burned Black-
heath ; and so at last into a road that



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 49

began to look like country. The black-
berries in the hedges were dusty, but Har-
riet and Dick hunted for them as if they
had been peaches or pine-apples, and
smeared their faces and fingers with the
juice until they looked like jovial little can-
nibals. ' Em ' sometimes joined them in
their hunts, but poor little Em was weaker
even than usual it was chiefly for her
sake that Phcebe had arranged to take her
little family into the country : so little Em
generally sat in the donkey-cart, supplied
by Harriet and Dick with a good many
more blackberries than she could have
gathered for herself. As for Phoebe, she
was far too staid a personage to indulge in
any such frivolous pursuit as ' blackberry -
in',' when no money could be made out
of it.

All the party, young and old, except
poor little Em, could 'pad the hoof with-



VOL. III.



50 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

out inconvenience. The change from the
dingy, dung-scented streets in which they
generally toiled about was so great that the
walking hoppers thoroughly enjoyed their
country tramp ; and little Em, who had
only to tramp when she pleased, began to
think that she must have been mysteriously
metamorphosed into ' a lady.'

The hoppers camped out that night
under the donkey-cart and in a dry ditch.
There were nettles in the ditch, but Dick
mowed them down with such vigorous
valour that even tired little Em could not
help laughing. The grown-up members
of the party laughed again when Phoebe
called her brood around her to say their
prayers before they went to sleep ; but the
laughter, though thoughtless, was not, for
the most part, unkindly, and when Harriet
and Dick appeared half inclined to mutiny,
most of the elders, of whose ridicule they



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 51

had stood in dread, gruffly bade them do
as they were bid. One more night the
little party camped out, just outside Maid-
stone, on the Wrotham road ; and then
the chief of the party went into the town
speedily returning to conduct his followers
to the work he had secured for them a mile
or two beyond. They settled themselves
in their compartment of the long row of
hopper-houses, and then took holiday for
the rest of that Saturday. Their picking
was to begin upon the following Monday.
Phoebe stayed at home with her little in-
valid, but Harriet and Dick roamed far
and wide through the shady woods and
sunny fields and lanes, revelling in the
bright air and their freedom from the ne-
cessity of doing anything but amuse them-
selves. They came home very hungry to
their evening meal. The kitchen fires
were burning brightly. Laughing hoppers



52 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

were clustered about them cooking, or sit-
ting in knots on the little strip of green in
front of the hopper-houses, taking their
suppers. And then one or two bonfires
were lighted on the green, and the hoppers
gathered round them, dancing, and joking,
and singing almost all of them in the
best of tempers. Before the next Saturday
night came round, fierce, foul language
and savage blows had begun to interrupt
the harmony of those open-air soirees ; and
when the Saturday after that came round,
the penumbra of the awful shadow of death
was stealing with the night-dusk over the
little colony; but that Saturday night all
was pleasurable excitement or peaceful rest
upon the little green. The stars budded
and suddenly blossomed into serene or
trembling brilliance in the almost cloudless
sky ; the moon came up, and made the
smoky fires look a little less cheerful from



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 53

their contrast to her silvery light; but
Phoebe and Em still sat out upon the green
Em cuddled in Phoebe's motherly almost
grandmotherly arms ; each thinking, in
her different way, that she had never been
so happy before. Dick and Harriet, mean-
while, as happy in their way, zigzagged
about in the moonlit dusk like bats ex-
cept that bats generally make no noise,
and Dick and Harriet were about the
noisiest people on the green. Their high
spirits and Harriet's prettiness had already
made them favourites in the hopper- colony.
Phcebe grew anxious when she found that
they did not ' mind ' her as they had been
accustomed to mind her in London. That
was the sole drawback from her tranquil
pleasure. She fussed about like a hen that
wants to get its chickens to roost, when
she thought that it was time at last for all
of them to go to bed. Harriet and Dick



54 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

were both saucy when she told them to
come in, but when they saw that Phoebe
was half ready to cry, and that little Em
was crying, at their disobedience, they
came readily enough then. One or two of
their grown-up companions were already
stretching themselves on the straw that
formed the common bed of the compart-
ment one or two who were not the best
of the party, and who might, perhaps,
have encouraged the young truants, if they
had been inclined to strike against prayers
again ; but Harriet and Dick, nevertheless,
knelt down and began to say their prayers
directly Phoebe bade them do so. She had
roughly curtained off an angle of the hovel
with an old shawl almost the only impcdi-
mentum which the children had burdened the
baggage-waggon with. Within that little
screen the little vagrant could enjoy some-
thing of the ' domesticity ' she liked, in



THE ORPHAN FLOWER-SELLERS. 55



spite of her vagrancy. The children were
soon sound asleep in the clean abundant
straw. When all the other tenants of the
hovel had rolled themselves up in their
rugs, &c.j and were snoring in the dim
light of the lantern, hung slanting from
the rough wall, packed almost as tight as
a drum of figs, the air of the hovel soon
ceased to be pure, and before the middle
of the next week the straw was anything
but clean ; but all those bed-fellows were
used to rude lodging, and did not break
their hearts about such trifles.

On the Sunday morning Phoebe and
her brood were allowed to get their turn
at the washing-bowl pretty early by their
grown-up and hobbydehoy companions,
who, after their fashion, were almost all
kind to the orphans, and then as the don-
key-cart-owner who had engaged them
' grubbed ' his party, the children were



56 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

%

free to spend the Sunday as they pleased
so long (if they wished to get any l grub ')
as they were back to the common meals.

In spite of the numbers that had flocked
into the country parish, the village church
had few more worshippers than usual in it
that Sunday morning. Perhaps even fewer,
since some of the parishioners who had
been engaged for the hop-picking had al-
ready been corrupted by the latitudina-
rianism of their strange fellow-workers,
and, like them, preferred a snug snooze or
a lazy lounge to church-going. A large
percentage of the strangers were Roman


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