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high-pressure work, in which no work-
man's pride could be taken as honest
work, at last was done, even the wretched
price given for such work might not be
forthcoming, however he might wheedle
the shopkeepers who made their profits out
of his necessities and their customers'
passion for l bargains : ' a life that had
now become utterly hopeless, since his
trade was growing worse and worse the
only trade to which his six surviving chil-
dren could be brought up, the trade in
which his other children had died, and in
which his wife was dying.

1 She's in there, sir,' said the cabinet-
maker, pointing over his shoulder to the



THE PA TERNOSTERS. 1 1 5

inner room, as lie went back to his bench
with the glue-pot.

1 Thank you, sir, for coming,' panted
the poor woman, when I had seated myself
beside her wretched bed. Ill as she was,
she was fitting in the flimsy blue lining of
a cheap work-box. 'Yes, sir, I'm bad
very bad, the doctor says.'

' What is it ? '

' Something the matter with my heart
or my lungs, or both of 'em. I can't
make out exactly what from what the doc-
tor says. Of course, I can't expect him to
waste much talk on me for what the parish
gives him, and such a lot of us to look
after. But he's a kind man, sir, for all that.
If he could only cure me so as I could get
up, that's as much as I could expect, but I
shall never get up again, though he says
so, he's a kin' '



Ii6 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

She dropped her work and pressed both
her hands on her left breast. Her face and
lips turned ashy pale, and the flimsy bed-
covering heaved and fell as if a little piston
were throbbing up and down beneatli it.

1 It's over now, sir,' she said, resuming
her work. ' I'm often took like that. Some-
times I feel so faint that I put my hand to
my side in a fright and can't feel a mite o'
beat, and then at other times my heart will
begin to thump as if it'd burst my ribs
out.'

' Had not you better give over working
for a little ? Would not you feel a little
easier if I lifted that box off the bed ? '

' No, sir, thankee- I might in my fin-
gers, but I shouldn't in my mind. I'll do
what I can whilst I last. Look at them
out there.'

' But, surely, your husband wouldn't
force you to work, ill as you are ? '



THE PA TERNOSTERS. 117

' Force me ! poor feller. 'Taint him that
forces me. Look at my old man, and them
poor kids, hard at it from six in the morn-
ing to ten at night, except at meals and
they don't last long, or when my old man
is carting the things about to the slaughter-
houses and that's harder work than the
bench, and more disheartenin'.'

' Slaughter-houses ! ' I exclaimed, 1 1
didn't know that your husband made any-
thing for the butchers.'

' The cheap furnitur' shops,' she ex-
plained, with a glance of astonishment at
my ignorance : ' drapers and the rest of
'em, that grind Englishmen's bones to
make their bread. And them bazaars are
often just as bad. I used to cart about
desks and work-boxes and that like to
them, when I could get about, and some-
times have to take less than the stuff had
cost, because I must take back some kind



ii8 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

o' money. Look at my poor old man and
them poor children,' she added ; i some of
'em's gone first, thank God' and then
she broke down, sobbing.

"When she was a little calmed, I said

' Mrs Paternoster, do you know what
your name means ? '

I made the remark in a vague hope
that I might be able somehow to utilize it
for her comfort ; but, as is often the case
when one tries to use sacred words as a
kind of Abracadabra, I was at first quite
unsuccessful.

1 No, sir ! ' she answered, utterly un-
able to discover the relevancy of what she
plainly thought an unfeelingly trivial ques-
tion.

'It means "our Father" it is the be-
ginning of the Lord's Prayer in Latin.'

' Is it, sir ? I never knew that before.
But what do you mean, sir ? I always say



THE PA TERN OS TERS. \ 1 9

Our Father, and I've taught the children
to say it too. That's all the schoolin'
they've had that and the Ten Command-
ments, and the 'Postles' Creed. If we
could spare the money, and God knows we
can't, we couldn't spare their help in get-
tin' it, and so we can't send 'em to school.'

1 Well, in your hardest struggles, have
not you always had daily bread of some
kind however coarse or scanty ? '

' No, that we haven't ! Many and
many's the time we've gone without. My
poor children ! And what better have
they to look to ? Things are getting worse
instead of better. If it didn't seem mean
to want to get away and leave 'em in it, I
should be glad to think I was goin' soon
where the other poor things is but they
ain't poor now, thank God. And then
there's my poor old man ! '

And again the poor woman began to



120 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

sob so bitterly that I grew alarmed.

1 He seems a very civil, hard-working
man/ I answered, blurting out the first
commonplace I could think of at all con-
solatory.

' Yes, that he is,' she sobbed, trying
hard to gulp down her sobs, l and when
me and John was courtin', he could hold
his head up, and look any man in the face,
and give him back his answer. The spirit
hadn't been taken out of him by them
slaughterers begging and praying they'd
buy what him and the kids and me have
been working our fingers off over. He
was earning good wages for good work
then, and now, if he could get such work
again which he couldn't, try as he might,
I've seen him fit to cry because he
couldn't do it. His hand is out, he says,
and that must be a sore downcome for a



man.'



THE PA TERNOSTERS. 1 2 1

' Does he make the best use of what
you do earn ? ' I inquired, in the charac-
ter of moral censor.

1 Best use ! ' answered the wife in scorn.
' He'd be puzzled to make a bad use of it,
poor John ! If slaving your arms and
your legs off, and then going without grub,
is wasting your money, that's how John
wastes his. He never did drink, but now
it's often he don't taste a half-pint of beer
from week's end to week's end.'

The poor woman's ardent advocacy of
her husband's moral character had brought
on palpitation of the heart once more.
When I had done the little I could to re-
lieve her, I remained as still as I could in
the stifling room meanwhile watching
the wearily persistent industry that was
going on, without a smile, almost without
a word except a rare feeble attempt at a
'bit of fun/ or young-sisterly snarl, be-



122 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

tween little Jane and little Polly in the
hot outer room, whose atmosphere did not
purify that of ours by its many-scented,
sluggish overflowings.

Both for the invalid's sake and my
own, I tried to open the single small back-
window of the inner-room ; but it was
immovable. If I could have opened it,
however, the air it would have let in might
have been even worse than what we were
breathing. The grimy window looked out
on a tiny, walled-in, ink-black backyard
so far as its colour could be discovered in
the midst of its piled-up heaps of ashes and
garbage of all kinds, sweltering beneath
the smoky sunlight of a grilling East End
summer's day.

When Mrs Paternoster could speak
once more, I asked her whether her hus-
band had been in what she called l good
work ' when they were married.



THE PATERNOSTERS. 123

1 He'd just lost it, sir, but no fault of
his own, and I thought he'd get it again.
If I'd known he wouldn't, I wouldn't have
drawed back. A girl likes to get married
anyhow to the chap she's fond of; and
John's been a good husband s'far's ever he
could. What he could do, he's done, poor
feller. But it's been a hard life. Ah, sir,
it's a easy thing for them as are sure of it
to talk about praying to God for your
daily bread ! '

If I had told her that I still believed
that God ivould give their daily bread to
all who humbly asked Him for it, and did
their best to earn it, should I have been
telling the truth ? Even so, could I have
explained to her satisfaction, or my own,
how it was that she and hers had often
gone without daily bread ? Instead, I
said,

' If you have been forced to go without



124 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

literal daily bread, nothing can rob you of
the Bread of Life, if you will only take it.'
I was not sure that I should be understood,
but the woman's eyes instantly lighted up.
' Ah, sir,' she cried, ' talk to me about
Christ that's why I sent for you. He
seems nearer like than God. I read about
Him in the Testament, when I've a chance,
but that ain't often, and John can't spare
time to read to me, and the children can't
read. I should like to go of a Sunday to
church or chapel or anywheres, just, to
hear about Him, but we've to work best
part of Sunday to get along anyhow, and
then in the evenin' John says we hain't
clothes fit for church. " Why, John," says
I, "you don't mind your rags when you
go about week-days." " That don't mat-
ter," says he, " 'cept that the poorer you
looks, the more they screws you down.
Let the kids have a breath of air when they



THE PA TERNOSTERS. \ 2 5

can get it, Molly." And so when it's dusk,
we slip out and slink about the streets as if
we was ashamed of ourselves, though it's
no particular harm we're doin' it'd be a
good thing for the children if they could
get a breath of fresh air once in a way, but
there ain't much o' that where we can get
to. I'd rather be in church, if it was only
for the quiet and the rest. But there I'm
talking as if I was about again, and yet
I'm sure I never shall be. John used to
be a church-goer, but he's got hardened
against the Bible, poor feller, because life's
been so hard to him. " Oh, yes," he'll
say, in a pet like, " I don't doubt God's
good to them as He's made well-off, but
what's that to us?" But it's different
with me. Now my only comfort is to hear
about Him as was poor, too, and yet's
waiting for poor folks in the happy place
he's got ready for 'em.'



126 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

1 Yes, think of what He suffered ! '

1 Ah, that He did, or how could any of

/ /

us have a hope of a better world than this ?
And that would be a poor look-out, I ex-
pect, for most of us. And yet, sir '

1 Well, and yet ? '

( I'm half afraid to say it. It seems as
if I wasn't thankful to Him for what He's
done. And yet sometimes, when I'm half-
choked 'specially on a day like this I
can't help thinking that if He hadn't where
to lay his head, He could wander about in
the fresh air and pick lilies of the field.
And then, if there was such lots of bad
men set against Him, He'd some men,
and women, and children that was fonder
of Him than anybody's been fond of any-
body before or since.'

' " And they all forsook him and fled,"
and, patient as He was, He was forced to
cry, u My God, my God, why hast thou



THE PATERNOSTERS. 127

forsaken me ? " What loneliness that any
one has felt could be like that to Him ? I
don't wonder at your feeling lonely, but at
any rate you have your husband and chil-
dren close to you. You love them, and I
have no doubt they love you.'

1 Yes, sir, that we do, but then you see,
sir, people that are driven about from pillar
to post like us hain't no time to be fond of
one another. If you don't get snappish to
one another, you get hard somehow. I
mustn't talk for a bit I want quietin*
read me a chapter, please, sir out of the
Revelations.'

The Apocalypse I am not the first to
remark is the favourite book of believers
in the Bible who are worsted in the
humblest of life's struggles. They find no
fault they find a charm in its material
images : in splendour and purity so utterly
beyond the scope of their experience in any



128 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

way as to become ideal to them. They
know nothing of the controversies that
have raged, and go on raging, over the
Apocalypse's predictions ; the prophecy
they read in it is one of solace after afflic-
tion, of a happy home for ever with Christ
for those who sincerely, however ignor-
antly, wish to do His will.

I opened Mrs Paternoster's Testament,
turned over the leaves, and began almost
at random at the fourth verse of the twenty-
first chapter of the Revelation : -

c And God shall wipe away all tears
from their eyes, and there shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither
shall there be any more pain : for the
former things are passed away.'

( Ah, sir, that's beautiful,' said the poor
woman faintly, but with a face that shone
with joy, as if it had been transfigured.
' I feel as if I could go to sleep now, and



THE PATERNOSTERS. 129

dream I was in heaven ; and if I was to
wake there, how happy ! I feel as if I
could lay on my left side again, my heart's
going so easy.'

She struggled over on to her left side,
and fell asleep ; whilst I went out of the
room on tiptoe, and told Paternoster that
it would be well to let his wife take her
rest for some time without disturbance. A
useless caution ; the next day I learnt that
when Paternoster next spoke to his wife he
found that she had entered into the rest
that can never be broken.



130



VI.

'THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN.'

IN one of the parishes in which I have
served, in order to raise a sum of money
for parochial purposes, the incumbent, a
brother curate, and myself resolved to be-
come systematically sturdy beggars to
divide the parish into three districts, take
one each, and make a personal appeal to
every householder therein whom we could
suppose to have any money, much or little,
to spare for charitable purposes.

It was in this way I became acquainted



1 THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN.' 131

with Mrs Phipps, who kept the rag-and-
bottle and ' dolly ' shop in Blackberry Lane.
That was a very rural sound, and once
upon a time, I suppose, the dark, dirty,
built-in thoroughfare so called was a grassy,
briar-dotted, bee and butterfly-haunted
country lane, winding between meadows
fragrant with May and cows' breath ; but
anything less country-like than Blackberry
Lane is now, and long has been, it would
be hard to fancy. And Mrs Phipps's shop
is, perhaps, the most unrural feature even
where there are so many of them. A rusty
gibbet projects from the lintel of the shop-
door, and from the end of the gibbet
dangles a grinning, goggle-eyed wooden
negress, with cataleptic arms and legs, and
arrayed in a flaring-bordered night-cap and
gown of what was once perhaps white
calico. The panes of the shop-window are
blinded with bills, announcing, by bloated



132 . EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

red and black figures in their centre, the
prices per Ib. which the proprietress gives
for the very miscellaneous articles in which
she deals. These bills are bossed with a
coloured cartoon depicting a happy family
beaming with delight around a vast, holly-
sprigged Christmas pudding, which, the
accompanying letter-press informs the pass-
er-by, Materfamilias has procured for her
ecstatically astonished husband and little
ones simply by selling at this ( emporium '
what she once threw away as rubbish.
Against one of the door-posts leans, pasted
on a board, what looks like a Royal pro-
clamation. It is headed V. R., with the
Royal arms sprawling between the Royal
initials. But on examination V. R. turns
out to be an integral portion of another of
Mrs Phipps's advertisements, which must
thus be read: l Ve are giving' so arid so
for such and such. The inside of the shop



THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN! 133

is a filthy chaos. There is not a single
clean thing in it. The few visible portions
of the floor, walls, ceiling, &c., are, per-
haps, even dirtier than the piled, leaning,
and hanging wares, almost literally of all
sorts, by which the greater portion of their
superficies is hidden. The air is foul with
the scent of musty, fusty rags, bedding, and
wearing apparel, mildewed boots and shoes,
horse collars and traces, rancid kitchen stuff,
perspiring candle-ends, putrescent bones,
and a mouldy et-ccetera of seemingly utterly
used-up i trash.' Heaps and boxfuls and
rrayfuls of old metal block the way ; frag-
ments of crumpled sheet-lead, short lengths
of twisted leaden pipe, pewter measures
and trenchers and basins, lidless tin kettles,
a battered zinc-pail, copper nails, a crushed
copper carboy, brass name-plates, bell-pulls,
beer-taps and water-taps, leprous with ver-
digris, and steel and iron chisels, saws,



134 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE

hammer-heads, locks, keys, bolts, one-
legged tongs, pokers with the bottom off,
horse-shoes, donkey-shoes, chain-links, seg-
ments of cog-wheels, screws, nails, scraps
of hoop, &c., &c., so rusty and dusty that
you cannot help fancying they must have
lain for a hundred years at the bottom of
the sea, and then for another century, un-
disturbed, in Mrs Phipps's shop. They
are so rusty that it is hard to believe that
any sound metal can be left within the
scabby flakes of corrosion that crumble
into red powder at the slightest touch.

Glass is supposed to be transparent, or
at least translucent, but Mrs Phipps's glass
can claim neither attribute : bulbous drug-
gists' bottles, with gilt cabalistic characters
almost obliterated, and void of the coloured
water that once made them look so gay ;
graduated medicine-bottles, physic -phials,
with their labels half scratched off, or still



' 7 HE SQUARE DOLL YWOMAN? 135

pasted round their waists, or sloping in a
very crumpled condition from their necks ;
wine bottles, beer bottles, pickle jars ; long-
necked scent-bottles, with specks of gilding
still clinging to their cut bodies ; square-
built scent-bottles, with Jean Maria Fa-
rina's sprawling signature still dimly dis-
cernible upon them. That is a curious
signature to see in Mrs Phipps's shop
except that its stenches rival those of
Cologne. To match the empty druggists'
bottles, there is a little colony of empty,
banded, white druggists' jars, scrolled with
1 Leeches,' ' Tamarinds,' &c. To match
the pewter pots, there is a beer-engine,
minus one handle, and the china encase-
ments of two of the others. But ' match-
ing' is not, by any means, the strong
p<fint in Mrs Phipps's stock. A conscien-
tious inventory-maker for it could very
seldom lighten his labour by dittoes. Al-



136 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

most smothered in a drift of ropes' ends,
stands an old-fashioned chest of drawers,
with the veneer chipped off at the corners,
and tags of frayed string doing duty for
the long- vanished brass handles. All the
drawers are crammed with property of the
most bewildering variety and infinitesimal
value. On the top of the chest of drawers
lies an anatomized iron bedstead, and on
that lies a bridgeless, stringless, bowless
violin ; and beside the fiddle stands a
domed canary cage, whose brass wires
doubtless once gleamed dazzlingly, but
now are as thickly furred with black dirt
as if it had been hanging for months in an
ever-smoking chimney. Mrs Phipps also
occasionally deals in a small way in books,
pictures, and engravings. Jt must be very
occasionally, or else she must get rid of
her new purchases very expeditiously. So
long as I have known her shop, it has dis-



THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN: 137

played the same brown-measled engraving
of Napoleon crossing the Alps, at full gal-
lop, over snow which ever-accumulating
grime has turned into soot; the same
frameless oil paintings of semi-obliterated
Nobodies and Nowheres; the same little
piles of unreadable books in blue boards,
with curly-edged leaves clotted together
with smoky dust. It is not a pleasant
task to inspect Mrs Phipps's little literary
stock. When you open the books, and
then shut them with a clap to free them of
their dust, it flies out in such a cloud that
you are half choked ; and as you turn the
faded, freckled pages that seem at first to
have as much life of any kind in them as
a yellow mouldering shroud, you find that
they have life in them of a disagreeably
crawling kind that makes you drop the
volume as you might drop a hot cinder you
had unwittingly taken up.



138 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

After all, I have only hinted at the
' infinite variety ' of Mrs Phipps's wares.
Malodorous dirt is the one characteristic
common to them all ; and Mrs Phipps
seemed to me a fit dealer in such wares
when I crossed her threshold. She, too,
was very dirty. There was a look of cun-
ning also on her fat face that prejudiced
me against her. I made up my mind that
she had grown fat on the bargains she had
screwed out of the poorest of the poor.
There was a self-hugging defiance of all
considerations that did not affect herself
in the way in which she tightened the
embrace in which her fat arms held her
feather-bed bust, that made it plain I
should not get a farthing out of her.

So I thought but I felt very much
ashamed of myself when I had explained
my business to Mrs Phipps. She asked
sharp questions so sharp as to imply, or



'THE SQUARE DOLLYIVOMAN.' 139

rather to indicate sans phrase, that, at start-
ing, it was an open question with her
whether I was or was not ; cadging,' under
false pretences, for my own benefit. Her
nearest approach to an apology for such
an imputation was not very compliment-
ary : ' I'm not blamin' ye, sir. If you can
get the money out o' them as are flats
enough to give it, why shouldn't ye ? Par-
sons must live, and they've got families to
keep like other folks, and most o' the par-
sons about 'ere, they say, is as poor as
church mice. I'm not blamin' ye, sir. It's
a shame you should be druv to it that's
all I say. Sich as you does all the work,
an' them as does nothin' gits the pay gits
made deacons, an' ^are^-deacons, an' all
kind o' harches. Harches ! what right's
any parson to be called a liarch ? There
ain't one o' them could build a bridge, I'll
go bail. I'm not blamin' ye, sir. I pity



140 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

you poor parsons about 'ere that's what I
say. Why, I s'pose you now, sir may go
on slavin' and cadgin' all your born days,
and never git made even so much as a
deacon of let alone the harches.'

I thought it would merely puzzle, and,
possibly, still further prejudice, Mrs Phipps
if I informed her that, at any rate, I could
claim priest's orders ; and so I went on
with my work of explanation. When at
last she was satisfied that I was, bond fide,
collecting money for the benefit of her
poor neighbours, her contribution to the
parochial fund was, in proportion to her
means, one of the most liberal we ob-
tained.

After that first interview, brief in spite
of the cross-questionings with which she
had protracted it, I got to know a good
deal more about Mrs Phipps. I found that
she was called in the neighbourhood the



'THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN.' 141

1 square dolly- woman.' Round would have
been a far more appropriate adjective so
far as figure went, I thought ; and one day
I asked Mrs Phipps how she had obtained
her curious title.

'Why, you see, sir, I keeps a dolly-
lends money to poor folks on things they
couldn't pop at the regular pawns, an' I
tries not to be quite so 'ard on 'em as some
of the dollies is, and I'm freer-'anded in
buyin'. So that's why they calls me
square, I s'pose. I've to keep my eyes
open though, both with them I lends to
and them I buys of, or they wouldn't hact
on the square with me. I've got a name
for good natur', and they'd take adwantage
of it, if I'd let 'em. I don't mind doin' a
kind h action now an' then, but I won't be
done. If it's kindness, it's kindness ; and
if it's business, it's business. I won't be
diddled out o' the credit o' doin' a kind



142 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

haction, an' made to believe I'm only a-
doin' business. When they tries that game
on with me, my back's soon up, I can tell
ye, sir. Fust time you come to see me,
sir, thinks I to myself, "If the poor gen-
'leman would only humble hisself to ask
me straightforward, I'd give him, willin',
what I could for hisself; but if he's too
proud to take it that way, I ain't a-goin' to
let him think he's gammoned me into
believin' it's for the p'rish'ners." That's
why I was so short with ye, at fust, sir, till
I'd made out the rights of what you'd come
about.'

' What kind of things do the poor peo-
ple pledge ? '

' Oh, all sorts some as I could 'ardly
git back the money I lent on 'em for and
that's where they tries to do me.'

' And what do you charge ? '

1 Why, at most of the dolly shops, sir,



' THE SQUARE DOLLYWOMAN.' 143

they charge jist the same whether a thing's
in a week or whether it's in a day


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