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his waistcoat-pocket. 'Well, there's six-
pence for you now and, after all, it's more
than you've earned. I suppose, though,
you'll expect me to give you something
extra; so give me back the sixpence
here's a shilling for you.'

' Thankee, sir. I'm wery much obliged,'
said Sam, touching his cap again, and
turning away.

1 Hi, boy, stop ! What do you mean
by going away like that ? I suppose I
must let you have the sixpence too. If
you'd kept the half-sovereign, you'd have
had nine and sixpence that you'd no kind
of right to, and a bad conscience ; now
you've a shilling that you've really no right



86 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

to, and an easy mind and that must be
worth a good bit more than the other eight
shillings. It's a bad plan a very bad
plan paying people to be honest in that
fashion. People ought to do what's right
without a premium. However, you must
keep it now that you have got it. Good-bye,
boy. Be honest next time without think-
ing you'll get paid for it ; ' and the old
gentleman trotted off, leaving the possessor
of l an easy mind ' also in delighted pos-
session of a capital of eighteenpence.

' The old gent were a bit of a screw, I
fancy,' was Sam's comment on this story ;
' and he worn't fair, besides, because
I didn't want him to give me nuffink,
but I see there was sense in what he said.
Father and mother used to say jest the
same on'y they said it in a nicer sort o'



way.'



At the lodging-house at which Sam



MY GREENGROCER. 87

slept that night, he heard some of his
fellow-lodgers talking about what they had
made by ' working sprats.'

Sprats was jest in, you see, sir,' Sam
explained to me. ' They comes in with
the Lord Mayor. Some says that it ain't
lawful to eat 'em till he's 'ad fust feed off
'em at his feast. That's nonsense, in course;
but he might go furder and fare wuss.
Fried sprats of a cold night is as tasty and
as fillin' a meal as a man 'ad need to 'ave.
Folks says it's wulgar to eat 'em ; but I
don't care about that. I'm wulgar myself,
though, thank God, I can keep a banker
now-a-days. And where' 11 you see a pret-
tier fish than them plump little silver things?
Them as turns up their noses at 'em when
they're sprats, becos they're so common
that down in Essex they uses 'em for muck,
relishes the sprats, I've heard, when they're
turned into anchovies and sardines. It's



88 EPISODES' IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

queer that folks can't believe their own
mouths, but must wait for other folks to
tell 'em what it's proper to say a thing
tastes like.'

On the morning after that night's
sojourn in the lodging-house, Sam invested
part of his capital in a basket, and another
in a joint-purchase at Billingsgate of a
1 ehuck ' of sprats ; and on sprats he man-
aged to make a living until the season was
over.

Afterwards he engaged himself to a
costermonger as ' barker ; ' and the coster-
monger, I have no doubt, was very glad to
get so shrill- voiced, sharp-eyed, industri-
ous, civil a little barker. He had no ob-
jection either to Sarn's honesty, when he
"reaped the benefit of it. Sam could be
trusted not to take a penny more than his
fair 'bunse,' when left to sell off his
master's remnant stock ; but he could not



MY GREENGROCER. 89

anyhow be got to tell his master's custom-
ers what lie knew to be lies. He uncon-
sciously meted and weighed out to them
many a lie in fruit and vegetables, before
he was initiated into the mystery of ' slang '
weights and measures half-pound weights
beaten out to look like pound weights,
quart measures with bottoms so thick as
only to hold a pint and a half, &c. When
he was initiated, Sam set up his back.
c Why, you young gonoph,' reasoned his
master, ' the shopkeepers does it, and
charges full prices ; and hain't we a right
to, when we sells thinx cheap at people's
wery doors ? They charges ye more for
the slangs than they does for the t' others,
so, ye see, the slangs is the superior article,
Sam,' added the master, hoping to muddle
and muzzle his barker with his joke ; but
Sam was not to be muddled or muzzled.
If shopkeepers did what was mean, that



90 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

was no reason why he should have a hand
in doing what was mean too.

' I was sorry to leave old Ted,' Mr
Mixon informed me. ' I was gittin' used
to him, and him and his old woman had
treated me uncommon well, and he'd put
me up to thinx in the way of business that
was of use to me, and said he'd make a
man of me. The costers and the costers'
women is often wery kind to their boys.
It's their hinterest in course, but, let alone
that, I'd taken a likin' to old Ted. But I
worn't goin' to do what I knew was wrong.
'Tworn't much I knew about right and
wrong in them days, but I knew this much,
that it couldn't be right to take the money
for a pound o' 'taties, an' on'y give 'alf a
pound. " Well," says Ted, " well, Sam,"
says he, " if you won't stay, I can't make
ye, and there's lots o' boys I can 'ave my
pick out on. But some'ow I'd rather



MY GREENGROCER. 91

you'd stayed on you've a way with ye
the women like. You're a flat, Sam, for
all you seem so sharp sometimes. If you
think you're a-goin' to make a livin' on the
square, I wish you may get it, my tulip !
'Tain't to be done, Sam. I don't doubt
you'll sell, an' you'll be sold, too ; them

as buys of you will think ye b per-

liteful, an' then they'll laugh at ye, Sam.
But I don't bear malice Sam. If you
wants to start on your own hook that's
what it comes to, I s'pose I'll lend ye a
trifle for stock-money. I don't doubt you'll
pay me back, though I can't tumble to
your barrikiii. I wish your old father
and mother 'ad been furder. Much good
they got by keepin' on the square. I'd 'a'
made a man on ye, Sam."

Accordingly, Sam did start as a coster-
monger on his ' own hook ' and he was
only a little younger than many a coster-lad



92 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

who does the same. When still children, so
far as years go, the young male costers take
lodgings and female helpmates, and the
young couples labour for the common living
with a persistent, often cheerful, industry,
that makes a feeling of half-respect temper
one's shuddering regret that they should
have been united so early, and in such a
heathenish way. The poor girls claim the
larger amount of our pity. They are
generally true to their unfaithful little
tyrants, who, nevertheless, are brutally
jealous. The girls work even harder than
the boys, but the small ' master of the
house ' spends the lion's share of the com-
mon earnings on smart Sunday dress, drink,
gambling, ' sport,' and i twopenny hops,'
and threepenny theatre-galleries, to which
the soon despised mistress is often only
taken as a special favour.

Acute after a fashion, as pugilistic as



MY GREENGROCER. 93

game-cocks, law-defying, hard-working,
often very cruelj very ignorant, and yet,
in spite of their frequent brutality of
course I am describing a class in broad
lines that do not admit of delicate shading
grateful for kindness, generally staunch
friends to their fellows when in distress,
and kind to the ponies and donkeys they
drive, although sometimes they punch the
heads of the women they live with ; blurt-
ing out, moreover, in their dealings with
the non-costermonger world, startling
opinions as to the ' rights of things ; '-
take 'em all round, the costermongers seem
to me an independently peculiar people,
piquantly inviting to those who need a
peculiar people to stimulate their desire to
make their fellow-creatures zealous of good
works. Civil Sam was, however, an ex-
ceptional costermonger. He had taken to
the business quite young enough to become



94 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

an expert buyer and salesman ; but still
he had not been brought up in the tradi-
tions of the fraternity, and continued civil
and honest after he had become a coster-
monger.

' Quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem
Testa dm.'

At first it seemed as if old Ted's prediction
in reference to the impossibility of making
a living ' on the square ' would be fulfilled
in Sam's case. He had to borrow capital
at an interest of more than a thousand per
cent, per annum. Before he could save
money enough to buy a barrow, he had to
pay a good deal more than its cost for the
use of the one he hired. He would not palm
off stinking fish on drunken people, half-
fill a strawberry pottle with crushed leaves,
mix bad apples and cherries with good,
and then sell them as if all good; prick
his oranges, boil his oranges and plums ;



MY GREENGROCER. 95

or use a weight or measure that could not
have stood the periodical inspection, which
made a good many of the shopkeepers
who looked down upon Sam as a ' low
character' tremble. His fellow-costers
could not make him out. He did not
care for beer, or boxing, or running, or
skittles, or cards, or tossing, or ' hops,' or
dog-fighting, or rat-killing, or pigeon-
fancying, or assisting as an outsider at the
Red House and Hornsey Wood pigeon-
matches. Sam sometimes went, on busi-
ness, to the metropolitan racecourses; oc-
casionally he recreated himself, in his sober
fashion, at the theatre; like most coster-
mongers, he abstained from work and
dressed smart on Sundays. But then Sam
went to church ! and Sam never swore !
He never preached, except in the way of
example ; but his mates, nevertheless,
called him the Parson. He was a n^stery



96 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

to them. Some said that he was a ' gall us
soft,' and some that he was a sneaking spy.
Sam would have been sent to Coventry by
his mates, had it not been for the sour kind
of respect which they could not help feel-
ing for him, in spite of the opprobrious
terms in which they characterized him be-
hind his back; for Sam, though honest
and inoffensive, was keen, arid an 'ugly
customer ' when any one attempted to ride
rough-shod over him, and likewise for the
hearty way in which he not only joined
them in the ' raffles,' &c., got up for dis-
tressed members of the brotherhood, but
also when he had begun to save money,
diminished his earnings, without any
chance of personal benefit for costers
who had ' come to grief.' Precarious gains
and improvident habits make such cases
of distress very common amongst London
street-sellers. It is said that three con-



MY GREENGROCER. 97

tinuous days of downpouring rain in Lon-
don will bring ten thousand times as many
street-sellers very near to the verge of
starvation.

But I am anticipating matters. Sam
gradually advanced from the l prickle '
and the * shallow ' and the head-basket to
the hired hand-barrow, and so on to the
owned barrow dealing in the strange
variety of produce which London markets
supply to the versatile commercial genius
of London street distributors. Flowers
' all a-blowing, all a-growing ; ' rhubarb,
radishes, potatoes, onions, lettuces, green
peas, summer cabbages, scarlet runners,
French beans, broad beans, * colliflow-
vers,' ' cow-cumbers,' sweet herbs, Brussels
sprouts ; the rich variety of English fruits,
English cobnuts and walnuts ; Turkey fil-
berts, Brazil nuts, Barcelona nuts, cocoa-
nuts ; almonds and raisins, oranges and



VOL. III.



98 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

lemons, dates, figs, Peninsular grapes
purchased, packed in sawdust, from Duke's
Place, pines from the West Indies, bananas
from Madeira; fish, wet and dry, from
England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Hol-
land, Norway ; hearthstone, great slabs of
salt these were some of the articles in
which Sam dealt. Whatever was the
article, Sam tried to supply his customers
with the best specimen of it he could fairly
offer at the price he asked, and always
gave full weight and measure.

'A knave is only a fool with a cir-
cumbendibus,' says Coleridge ; ' honesty,
after all, is the best policy,' the old man
admitted, who also confessed that he had
' tried both ways.' Sam's pleasant face
and civil tongue did something towards
securing him a constantly increasing round
of regular customers, but his fairness of
dealing did more. He sometimes charged



MY GREENGROCER. 99

a little more than other costermongers
charged, and therefore lost some custom-
ers amongst those who held the too preva-
lent, very idiotic belief, that mere absolute
lowness of price constitutes cheapness ; but
a good many people soon learnt that both
Sam and his goods could be trusted ; and
his l connection ' widened like a circle in
water. Whilst old Ted, who had confi-
dently prophesied Sam's failure, was still
painfully propelling a hand-barrow, Sam
was able to go to l Smiffle Races,' i.e., the
cattle market, on Friday afternoon, and
purchase a smart donkey, and the donkey
was soon superseded by a still handsomer
little fast-trotting pony. The harness was
brass-mounted, and Sam kept the brass so
brightly polished, the leather so neatly
black, the fast-trotter so sleek and con-
scientiously groomed, the knowing-looking
little cart so clean and gaily painted, and



ioo EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the driver, moreover, was always so spruce
and i civil spoken,' that Sam was regarded
as an i eligible young man ' by the sprucest
servants in the shopless streets which con-
stituted the, comparatively, l genteel ' por-
tion of Sam's ' connection.' They would
have turned up their noses at most coster-
mongers, even if the costermongers had
been disposed to persecute them with ma-
trimonial addresses, but they did not call
Sam a costermonger. As soon as he reined
up the fast-trotter before their doors, they
would run in to their mistresses with a
' Please'm, the general dealer has called
what do we want to-day, mum ? ' Sam was
almost as great a favourite, in a different
way, with the mistresses as he was with
the maids. He was commissioned to pro-
cure geese for Michaelmas Day, turkeys
for Christmas Day, fowls for other special
occasions, and fruit and fish and vegetables



MY GREENGROCER. 101

that he did not keep in stock, for invalids ;
and he always supplied articles both so
cheap and so good that the unconscionable
mistresses made him a l general dealer ' on
their behalf for all kinds of things that
were utterly out of his line. ' There was
one lady as got me to buy a cradle for her,
and another a warming-pan,' said grinning
Sam.

Sam married one of the nattiest of the
maid-servants, and took her to preside over
the coals-and-greens shed of which he had
become the proprietor. A coals-and-greens
shed is the ne plus ultra of most coster-
mongers' ambition, but it was not to be
the limit of Sam's success. At first he left
his wife and a boy to manage the business
of the shed, whilst he still took his rounds
behind the fast-trotting pony ; but the busi-
ness of the shed increased so that Sam had
to stay at home, and hire another hand.



102 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

He has quite a handsome greengrocer's
shop, with knobbed and polished brass -
rails, &c., in a leading East End thorough-
fare now, and keeps three horses ; but his
prosperity has not spoiled him. Mrs Mix-
on, perhaps, is a trifle bumptious and grasp-
ing; but Sam is as civil, and honest, and
kind-hearted as ever. There is no man in
the parish, though it contains the business-
places of some very wealthy non-residents,
who subscribes more liberally and un-
grudgingly to all kinds of parish charities
than Mr Mixon if only he can be ap-
pealed to out of hearing of Mrs Mixon,
and be got to commit himself to a definite
sum before he has had a chance of consult-
ing her. Mrs Mixon, ex-maid of all work,
has become, as she thinks, l aristocratic ' in
her views, and is of opinion that if people
are poor, of course it's their own fault, and
so it's a sin, and only f makes 'em sarcy,' if



MY GKEENGROCEK. 103

' respectable people as 'as al'ays paid their
way, an 7 got ten times the money now
some o' them shabby-genteels that thinks
theirselves sich swells can bless 'emselves
with,' put their hands in their pockets to
1 'elp sich riff-raff.'

1 They didn't arn the money so why
should they git it ? ' says Mrs Mixon.

Such talk is not pleasing to Mr Mixon,
but he stands rather in dread of the sharp
tongue of Mrs Mixon, who has been a
shrewdly-good wife to him : so it is well to
get him to put his name down on a subscrip-
tion list before he has had an opportunity
of ' talking the matter over ' with his wife.
There is a comical mixture of satisfaction
and fearful foreboding on his countenance
when he has put down his name for a
handsome amount. He knows that he will
* catch it,' but he knows also that the thing
cannot be undone ; and so he returns to



104 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the inevitable lecture with a cheerfulness
which is not altogether feigned.

I will merely add one little sample of
Mr Mixon's kindness, as I heard it related,
by no means in terms of praise, by Mrs
Mixon.

' M.'s as good a 'usband as a woman
need wish to 'ave, 'owever genteel she may
'ave been brought up,' said Mrs M. ' And
he knows his business too, I don't deny
so far as buyin' goes ; but when it comes
to sellin', though you mightn't think it, sir,
of me as 'ad never to stand behind a coun-
ter afore I married M., the business 'ud go
to rack and ruin if I wasn't to keep my
eyes about me. He's sharp in a sort o'
way, is M., an' yet he's silly too, though
he is my 'usband. Why, sir, one day,
when we'd the other shop, M. was standin'
outside servin', an' there was a lot o'



MY GREENGROCER. 105

women about pickin' out their pertaturs.
There was one draggle-tail as I kept my
eye on, as well as I could servin' inside.
She looked as if she didn't know the taste
o' meat, an' she'd two or three o' her beg-
gar brats 'angin' on to 'er. She was sich a
time, an' she looked so scared when she see
me a-lookin' at her, that I felt sure she was
up to no good. Presen'ly I see her slip
a pertatur into her skirts, an' out I shouted.
For a wonder M. see her too, and cotched
her 'and, an' pulled out a bag witli a good
four pounds o' pertaturs in it, that M. 'ad
let 'er prig afore his wery nose. Out she
busts screechin' an' cryin' for mercy, an'
talkin' about the lots o' 'ungry kids she'd
got at 'ome. " Send for the pollis, M.
give her in charge this minute, M.," says
I. But M. wouldn't 'ave it. He gives her
a look, and then he gives her a lectur', and



106 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

pretty strong he pitched it I'll say that
for him, for M. can't abide sich mean ways
but then could you believe it, sir?
he give her the pertaturs ! I never was so
disgusted in all my born days, an' so I told
him, right out afore all the people in the
shop. I felt downright ashamed o' my 'us-
band makin' hisself sich a soft afore them,
as was sure to take adwantage of it. And
M. worn't content with that. He must
find out where that old 'ussy lived, an'
bother his 'ead to git her work. If she
'adn't been sich a old fright fit a'most to
be his mother I should ha' thought there
was more in it than M. was willin' to own
to. We've got two of her boys a-workin'
for us now. I don't say they don't do their
work, an' I hain't caught 'em priggin' yet.
They knows I looks after 'em pretty sharp.
But we shall see some day who's right.



MY GREENGROCER, 107

What's bred in the bone, you know, sir,
won't come out o' the flesh. It ain't re-
spectable to emply sich wulgar riff-raff in
a shop like ourn. Them's my opinions,
sir, and I don't care who knows 'em.'



io8



V.



THE PATERNOSTERS.



' How on earth can it be made for the
money ? ' is a remark often made, when
the money has been paid, by the purchas-
ers of 'cheap, natty -looking' articles. Such
articles, in reality, are not cheap, because
they are not really made, but simply put
together with sufficient showiness and adhe-
siveness to last until they havelocen bought.
When the bloom has suddenly vanished, and
the dissolution of continuity suddenly takes
place, the buyers who, fancying that they



THE PA TERNOSTERS. 109

had got unheard-of bargains, had bestowed
cheap pity on the makers of the cheap
wares, proceed to lavish unmeasured abuse
upon those l knavish ' people. But if the
conditions under which such scamped work
is ' finished ' at the East End were gener-
ally known, a good many of its disappoint-
ed after all, the prices given being taken
into consideration, not really defrauded
purchasers would still, I think, continue to
pity ' the poor creatures who made it.'

One day a ragged, dirty little toddler
so little that, after having drummed in
vain upon the door, she was obliged to ask
a passer-by to use the knocker for her
came to my house, and told the servant
that she had been sent to ' fetch the
parson.'

When I went out to the poor little
woman, she told me that I must come at
once, because mother was taken so bad



i io EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

father would have come, but he was too
busy, she was to say, and she must hurry
back to her work poor little toddler ! so
would I come at once please, because,
please, she'd to show me where it was ?

She gave me the name of her mother,
and the name of the street to which she
was to take me ; but I recognized neither.
Paternoster was the surname not so ex-
ceptional, I have found, as I thought it
then.

As I walked back with the poor little
thing, I could see that, anxious as she was
about her mother, and impressed thougli
she was with the necessity of returning
speedily to her ' work,' she could not help
enjoying the brief respite from it which
she had got, and also the ' sensational ' im-
portance of having been ' sent for the par-
son.' She piloted me into a stifling little
street leading out of the Old Bethnal Green



; THE PATERNOSTERS. in

Road. The street was unpaved, dusty,
pitted with cracked, desiccated mud-pud-
dles, and littered with stinking herring-
heads and wilted outside cabbage-leaves.
Most of the mean, black -jaundiced houses
on both sides had weavers' many-paned,
horizontally-oblong casements in their
upper floors, although silk-weavers no
longer constituted the bulk of the street's
swarming, struggling, half-starving popula-
tion. My little guide steered me up a
filthy, crooked, crazy staircase to an upper
floor so lighted, and into a room that smelt
of sawdust, shavings, glue, shellac, rancid-
ly-oiled metal, and all kinds of rankly or
mustily malodorous muddle\^This was the
workshop of the Paternosters their kit-
chen and meal-room, also the bed-room of
some of them the rest huddled at night
in the smaller inner room, in which, the
door being ajar, I could hear poor Mrs



112 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

Paternoster gasping for a breath of fresh
air.

As soon as we entered the workshop,
my guide, little Polly Paternoster, went
back to her place at the bench, and hopped
on to the dirty, splintered egg-box which
brought her up to the level of her ' work,'
like a weary little trained finch, compelled
to begin drawing up its little bucket once
more. Small as Polly Paternoster was,
there was a smaller Jane Paternoster hard
at work next to her at the bench. Hard at
work, but, oh, so wearily at work. Poor
little Jane seemed to grudge the ' outing '
which Polly had had. If Jane had only
known where the parson lived, she would
have been sent for him, because Polly's
labour was a trifle more valuable than
Jane's, and in that family the slightest
difference in receipts was of serious im-
portance. A boy of thirteen, another of



THE PA TERNOSTERS. 1 1 3

twelve, and two other girls a year or two
older than Polly, were the rest of the young
workers poor stunted little creatures all of
them, and with that dreary half-knowing,
half-stupefied look which premature car 6
prints on children's faces. The father was
stooping to take a glue-pot off the fire
when I went in, and until he turned round,
I thought that lie was a boy too he was so
narrow across the back. His apron was
ragged, but the trousers it professed to
protect were more tattered still. Between
his high, cramped shoulders, which looked
as if they would soon meet beneath his
nose, there drooped one of the saddest faces
I ever saw in my life the face of a
thoroughly beaten man. Not that there
was any acute sorrow visible in it. The
eyes were dull, and the general expression
of the haggard, unshaven face was simply
stolid. But a dismal biography was writ-

VOL. III. 8



ii4 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

ten in its dirty crow's-feet and crossing
wrinkles a life of daylong struggles for
daily bread continued for years, with an
ever-haunting anxiety that, when the


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