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your leave," even if they knew we was
there. We're looked on as a kind o' ante-
lopers, though I can't see there's any harm
we do pickin' up what nobody would get
if we didn't grub after it. Of course the
people the money we pick up now and then
belonged to would like to have it back, but
who could find 'em out ? So who's a
better right to it than us as wenturs our
lives for it? 'Tain't half as much as
people make out. And it's good we do in
searchin' after it we help clean the shores,
and pay ourselves. It's an honest life,
ours is. The wonder to me is how any
one as hasn't the fear of God before his
eyes can take to it. Besides what I've told
you, sir, there's places so rotten that if you
was to touch a brick, you'd have a cart-
load down on ye, and there's places so



' OLE PIPPIN: 173

narrer, that if you wentur up too far you
may get stuck in 'em, and if a new
hand gets away from his mates and old
hands, too, in places they ain't up to they
may just wander on till they drops down
dead, or the rats tackles them. The rats
is wery wicious if you corners 'em. They
do say there's wild pigs almost as big as
bears in some shores. I don't know about
that. Anyways, I never come across none,
or anybody as had. But there's no doubt
about the rats. They've pulled men down,
and worried 'em, and picked their bones as
clean as a washed plate. The rats nearly
did for me once. I'd heard a lot of 'ein
scuttling up before me, but I didn't care
about that. They must be uncommon
sharp-set to tackle a man, if they can get
away from him. I didn't know that I'd got
into what we call a dead-ender that's a
shore with a dead wall at the end of it a



174 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

kind of no admission, you. understand, sir,
except on business, and not much of that, for
when you do get into 'em you'll find the
muck dangling from, the roofs like candles
in a chandler's shop. All of a sudden, the
warmin turned and came at me scores of
'em hundreds of 'em, I expect. I backed
as fast as ever I 'could, and hit out with my
hoe as well as I could, but the roof was so
low I couldn't get a fair swing. Thank-
ful enough, I can tell you, sir, I was when I
got back to the main, and felt the rats
rushing up and down it between my legs,
without offerin' to bite me. I should like
to die in my bed, and be buried like a
Christian. And I thank God there seems
a chance of it. It ain't likely anything
will happen to me in the shores now, after
what might ha' happened, and hasn't hap-
pened. After all, though, it don't matter
much. If you believe in Him as has given



' OLE PIPPIN: 175

you a chance o' gettin' there, you can go
as straight to heaven out o' the shores as
you could off your own bed. That's often
been a quietin' thought to me when I've
been in a fix.'



iy6



VIII.

A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY.

I WILL give one more sketch of river-
side life an account of one of the many
casual dock-labourers with whom I have
been acquainted. There is no type of
character or costume common to this class
of people. Their destitution is the only
thing they have in common. Those whom
misfortune, sickness, improvidence, vice,
or crime has left penniless and friendless,
but who have still the will, and fancy at
least they still have the strength, for hard



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 177

work that requires neither skill nor recom-
mendation, muster about the dock-gates to
fight for a chance of getting less than a
groat an hour, as sparrows in hard frost
fight for thrown-out crumbs in a back-
yard.

One day I was making the round of
visits I had down on my list for the day.
I was bidding good-bye to a poor bed-
ridden woman, who lay all day long in an
almost dark cupboard, dependent on the
rough charity of her fellow-lodgers for any
kindness or company until her weary
daughter came home from work at night.
This poor woman was singularly patient,
not with the sullen patience which many
sufferers have been hardened into, but
with a patience which sprang from a
genuinely submissive spirit. She thought
little of herself, and bowed herself humbly,
even cheerfully, to the will of God. I felt



12



1 78 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

that it was presumption for me even to
profess to teach Christianity to her. When
I was with her I had to learn to see the
truths I talked about acted upon in un-
mistakable earnest. And yet I could not
help- lingering with this poor woman. It
was such a change for her to have any one
who could stay for a few minutes beside
her lonely bed such a joy to her to have
any one with whom she could talk about
Him who was her support and solace, and
then (even in visiting the sick in the East-
End clerical vanity survives) the personal
reception this poor woman gave me was
so different from what I got from a great
many of those I visited, that I gave her,
the demands upon it being\considered, a
disproportionate share of my time. On
the occasion I speak of I was bidding her
good-bye, at last, in a hurry, when she
said,



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTOR Y. 179

' Couldn't you spare time, sir, to see
those poor people up-stairs ? '

1 What poor people ? ' I asked, thinking
that her mind was wandering. I knew,
not only of no poor people, but of no room,
above her. I was under the impression
that when I had reached her closet I had
mounted to the ' top of the house.'

1 The Searses, sir haven't you heard
of them? The poor woman was in just
before you came half beside herself.''

' But is it a matter I must attend to to-
day ? I have more than half my calls to
make yet.'

1 She says they haven't a friend in the
wide world to help them, and she's afraid
her husband will make away with himself.
He can't get anything to do, and she can't
get anything to do, and they've ever so
many children.'

' Well, I'll go and see them ; but which



i8o EPISODES /A AN OBSCURE LIFE.

way must I get up to them ? '

' Turn to your right, sir, instead of
going down-stairs, and you'll find the lad
der about at the back of my bed.'

I obeyed her instructions, groping
about in the dusk dusk though it was
noontime of the top-landing, and mount-
ing the short ladder, found the Searses in
their strange upper chamber. They had a
roof to cover them, and when that is said,
all is said that can be said as to the home-
likeness of their home. There was no lack
ot light or ventilation in their cock-loft,
since several of the tiles had fallen from
the roof. Between that dilapidated roof
and the joists above the ceiling of the
room beneath, Sears and his wife and a
large family of small children were cooped.
The poor whining youngsters were far less
than half-clad in the most scarecrow col-
lection of odds and ends that I had ever



A DOCK-LABOURERS HISTORY. 181

seen. One little girl had only a chemise
011 a chemise made out of an old coal-
sack, with holes cut in the sides for the
arms, and in the bottom, changed into the
top, for her poor lathy little neck. A
boy's ragged jacket, inverted and buttoned
up behind, prematurely supplied another
pinched baby with a l skeleton-suit.' The
sleeves were turned back at the l wrist ' to
enable the poor little toes to find a way
out from those queer trousers. Mrs Sears' s
scanty cotton gown, through wear and
many washings, first brought back to the
patternless hue of unbleached calico a
colour which much subsequent dirt had
deepened into that of mud hung so limply
about her that it was plain she had no
underclothing. Her face, if clean and
plumped out, and if her unkempt hair had
been neatly ringleted around it, would
have been dollishly pretty. As it was, it



1 82 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

looked like a doll's face melted and
scratched away into a doll's death's-head.
Sears's black-muzzled face, peering out
from a shock of matted black hair, was as
wasted as his wife's, but it had a far fiercer
despair in it. He looked as if, had he
been strong enough, he would have mur-
dered me for intruding upon him.

I told him that I had come to make in-
quiries about him and his family.

1 Inquiries ! ' he howled in scorn. l Can't
you see for yourself? If you haven't
brought food, be off with ye.'

< Oh, don't talk like that, Tom. Don't
mind him, sir he don't mean it,' cried
the poor little woman, in a piteous fright
lest I should take offence and leave them
to their fate. ' My children are starving,
and so 'm I, and so 's he, poor fellow, or
he wouldn't talk like that.'

I found that all they had had that



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY, 183

week and it was drawing to its close
was the two or three loaves the parish had
granted them at the beginning of the week.
As they were plainly famished, I gave
the man a trifle to buy some bread. As
soon as he saw my hand move towards my
pocket, he sprang from the rough floor on
which he had been grovelling, and stood
over me with a menacing look, as if he
would tear my heart out if I did not give
him enough. He pounced upon the first
coin I brought out, darted from the room,
and dashed at a headlong pace down the
staircase. The soles were almost falling
from his boots, and a dreary flap-flap-flap-
ping they made upon the stairs. Presently
he came back panting like a dog. He
shook all over. The exertion he had taken
had so overcome him, that if I had not
caught him, he would have fallen to the
floor. When I laid hold of him, he clutched



1 84 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

his loaves and glared at me as if he thought
I meant to rob him of his bread. As soon
as he was seated, he tore it into portions
for his wife and children, and then fastened
on his own crust. It was horrid to watch
those poor creatures worrying their food.
Except that the man had served the others
before himself, and the woman had given
her youngest child a bit of the piece she
got before she began to eat, they might
have been so many wolves. As it hap-
pened, I had never before seen poor starv-
ing creatures just come into possession of
food. I turned away, and looked out
through one of the holes in the roof upon
a wilderness of tiles and chimneys until
that terrible ' family meal ' was over.

I began then to make inquiries. To
begin with, I asked Sears whether being
out in search for work would not be better
than nursing his despair at home.



A DOCK-LABOURERS HISTORY. 185

1 Haven't I been ? ' he retorted fiercely,
with many epithets, which I need not re-
peat. ' Wasn't I down at the Docks this
morning ? And wasn't I turned away,
with hundreds more, because this horrid
east wind keeps on blowing, just to keep
the ships out? I'm not afraid of work.
Why don't you give me some, instead of
talking about it ? Whatever it is, I'll do
it. I've worked, and she's worked, poor
thing, whenever we could get work to do.
Where can I get work now except at the
Docks ? and this beastly wind has done

me out of the chance of that. I'm a likely-
i

looking fellow for any one to hire, ain't I ?
You'd rig me out and be my reference,
wouldn't you ? And what's she to do un-
less you want her to walk the streets ?
And that would be no use either ; and yet
she was a smart pretty lass once, poor
thing ! ' And the man, as he said it, burst



1 36 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

into a laugh, half of mockery, half of
remorseful pity, all of utter misery, and
clutched at the breast of his tattered, nap-
less, greasy frock-coat with such violence
that the string which supplied the place of
buttons broke, and I saw that, as I sus-
pected, he was shirtless.

It was not easily that I gained Sears's
confidence. His heart was sore, and at
war with all the world. If I took out my
watch when I visited him, he looked as if
I had insulted him. He seemed to think
that I did him an injury in merely possess-
ing a watch whilst he had none. At last,
however, partly from him, and more from
his poor little wife, I learnt something of
their history, and, adding my own im-
pressions, may put it together thus :

Sears was the son of a small but toler-
ably thriving grocer and tea-dealer in a
country town. He was placed at its free



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 187

grammar-sell ool, and proved himself a
clever boy. So long as he was stimulated
by novelty and vanity, he would work, but
when the work became mere humdrum
routine, he took no further interest in it.
He was a flighty lad, and always getting
into scrapes. When he left school his
father wished to apprentice him to himself,
but young Sears had a soul above a grocer's
apron. He wanted to be a ' lawyer.' His
father could not afford to article him, but
he made interest with the attorney who
managed such little law business as" old
Sears had to put into his hands, and the
attorney, having heard that young Sears
was a sharp lad, consented to take him
into his office as a paid clerk, obscurely
hinting that if he made himself useful, he
might, perhaps, eventually get his articles
given him. A month of copying and
errand-running, however, disgusted Sears



1 88 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

with the ' law.' Two or three other lines
of life were tried for him at his own request,
but time after time he came back upon his
father's hands ; grudging any work his
father wished him to do at home, and yet
feeling grievously injured if his father
would not give him all the pocket-money
he wanted. When his father refused him
money, his mother was weak enough to
supply him with it on the sly. He had
grown up into a handsome hobbydehoy,
dawdling about in a small country town,
and fancying that he had l gentlemanly
tastes,' because he disliked regular work,
and, without doing any, could somehow
get comfortable food and drink, and toler-
ably smart clothes with a little money in
their pockets. He soon found such a life as
that f slow,' and to escape from its ennui,
plunged, or rather paddled, into the still
duller dissipation within his reach. Per-



A DOCK-LABOURERS HISTORY. 189

haps it was no very great harm he did at
first, but character is soon lost in a small
country town, where no ill deed can be hid,
every ill deed is magnified, and deeds that
admit of two interpretations are sure to
be construed in the less charitable sense.
Having obtained, however, the reputation
of a ' scamp,' youug Sears proceeded to
justify it ; and to escape the consequences
of his escapade, he ran away to London,
hurried to Charles Street, Westminster, and
enlisted in a Lancer regiment. He chose
the cavalry because he thought it the most
dashing arm of the service, but when he
had been sworn in and sent to his depot,
he found that cavalry soldiers had a good
many more disagreeable duties to perform
than riding out in full regimentals, with
their band braying and clashing and
thumping in the van, and crowds of smil-
ing women and children gaping admira-



igo EPISODES IN AM OBSCURE LIFE.

tion on either flank than clanking their
spurs in undress uniform on the pavements
in the evening, with the air of heroes who
have just saved their country, and confident-
ly expect their non-militant countrymen's
abject worship and their countrywomen's
proudly affectionate gratitude. For one
thing, Sears found that he had to be taught
to ride, and the bullying and the chaff he
received in the riding-school hurt him more
even than the frequent falls he got there.
And then especially since he was not yet
privileged to ride the horses, in public,
when they were groomed he loathed the
' stable-call ' that rang with such taunting
menace ' for if you don't do it, the
Colonel shall hear-r-r ' through the morn-
ing air. He had not enlisted in the cavalry
that he might get up at unseasonable hours
to currycomb biting horses, and wheel
about barrow-loads of dung, in a dirty



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 191

shirt, with braces dangling over dusty blue
trousers that would give him a longer spell
of brushing, to make them look decent,
than he had to give his horses. He very
soon wrote a penitent letter to his father,
entreating him to buy him out. But the
old man was annoyed by the disgrace
which his son had brought upon him, and
sternly refused. He was half inclined not
to let his wife visit her son, but at last per-
mitted her to do so. When, however, she
came back in tears, he was as obdurate as
ever. She tried to move him to pity by
telling him that she had found her Tom on
his knees at the barracks, scrubbing floors
like a slavey ; but the old man only answer-
ed that it was a good thing anybody could
make Tom do anything anyhow useful.
Accordingly young Sears was drafted off
to the head-quarters of his regiment at the
Cape, and for some months his family heard



192 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

nothing of him. But he turned up again
at home pretty speedily discharged from
the service, according to his own statement,
on account of an accident he had met with.
By this time the old man had softened
towards his son, and the mother and sisters
were very proud to welcome home their
sun-burnt l warrior ' from foreign parts.
At any rate, he had seen ' wild Caffres.'
He recommenced his dawdling life, and
though his character was really rather
worse instead of better, he was at firs^
regarded with rather more respect by his
townsfolk as being one who had ' seen the
world.' Whilst he was leading this idle
life he fell in love with a blue-eyed, flaxen-
haired little dressmaker, who listened to
him as Desdemona listened to Othello, and,
since she had, for a wonder, decision of
character enough to insist upon marriage,
he married her clandestinely. His father



A DOCK-LABOLRERS HISTORY. 193

was very angry when he discovered the
marriage, but was persuaded by his wife to
buy a small tobacconist's business in Lon-
don for his son. He soon failed in that. His
father put him into other small businesses
a musical-instrument shop, a news-ven-
dor's, &c. but he managed somehow to
fail in all. At last the old man's patience
was exhausted. In reply to a hundredth
appeal for help for all this time little ones
had been coming as fast as they could
come he sent his son a 5 note, and told
him that that was the last money he would
ever have from home that he had already
had far more than was just to his sisters.
Nevertheless, of course, the mother did send
money after that ; but that source of sup-
ply was soon dried up, and Sears found
himself with a large family and nothing
to keep them and himself upon. No doubt
he was quite sincere when he told me that

VOL. nr. 13



194 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

he would do any work a poor fellow who
cannot even get dock- work is not likely to
be very fastidious but I could plainly see
that his f pride ' (to use a very absurd con-
ventional phrase), foolishly encouraged by
his fondly admiring little wife, had made
him turn up his nose at chances of what
he called l menial ' work which, if he had
secured it, would have enabled him to earn
some kind of a living, at any rate. Though
he still called such work ' menial,' and
thought he had been shamefully used in not
having had the refusal of better employ-
ment offered him, he cursed his folly in
having despised such work until it was too
late for him to get it, however eagerly he
might covet it.

When the mother's supplies ceased,
Sears had to sell furniture and clothes to
keep his family a little while longer afloat.
Whilst he had still a ' respectable ' suit of



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 195

clothes he got a few odd jobs of work
which he did not consider menial re-
ceiving for them less than a quarter of the
pay menial work for the same time would
have brought him in. His wife did a little
at her old trade, but the little suddenly
became less and then became nothing.
She soon had no clothes fit to seek custom-
ers in, and had come to live amongst
people who had no money to spend 'on
dress-making who thought themselves
lucky if they could make the rags they
had still hold together anyhow. In his
first sermon on the Lord's Prayer Mr
Maurice remarks, l As the mere legal,
formal, distinctions of caste become less
marked, how apt are men to indemnify
themselves for that loss by drawing lines
of their own as deep, and more arbitrary ! '
There is no section of our complex English
society which that acute remark might not



196 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

cause to flinch. Old families look down
upon families of recent creation. Sons of
men who have gained wealth and titles
through commerce, speak with ludicrous
horror of the defilement caused by ' twade.'
The wholesale dealer looks upon a shop-
keeper as a being with whom, except as a
customer, he cannot possibly have any con-
nection. The druggist's wife loftily ig-
nores the baker's wife (although, perhaps,
they went to school together), and the
flour-powdered baker considers the butcher
' a greasy, vulgar feller.' In any claimant
of intrinsic superiority founded on acci-
dental circumstances, such airs would seem
ridiculous if they were not so awfully un-
christian. As Mr Maurice points out, how
can such people say, in sincerity, l Our
Father ? ' And who, in his human phase,
was the Saviour in whom these despisers
of their brethren would fain hope they



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 197

have interest enough, when they are on
their death-beds, to get them into heaven ?
A carpenter's apprentice who afterwards
had not where to lay his head, who lived
on alms, and died a convict's death.

The unchristianity of social exclusive-
ness is so glaring that one hardly likes to
laugh at its absurdity, and yet sometimes
it is very amusing. I once heard a man
without education, manners, wit, or even
money, who, nevertheless, prided himself
on being descended from a long traceable
line of humdrum ancestors who had never
done anything for the world except per-
petuate their very uninteresting family,
gravely state that although he charitably
hoped that l common people ' might get to
heaven, he could not believe that he should
be obliged to mix with them there. He
seemed to think that he, so to speak, would
be ceremoniously shown into a celestial



198 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

family-pew, whilst any common people
who managed to enter heaven would have
to slink into the free seats. Perhaps even
more amusing than such folly as this is the
hauteur with which people of the lower
middle class look down on l mere working
men,' though they, or their fathers, may
have been mere working men, and really
better off as such than as small shopkeep-
ers. To have to work so many hours
a-day for a master degrades a man in the
eyes of these social judges, and to have to
1 sink ' to such a position afflicts them as
much as an ( aristocrat ' would be afflicted
if compelled to wait behind the counter of
a shop, and run out, bare-headed, cringing,
smirking, and ' washing his hands with
invisible soap,' to l carriage customers.'

It was not, therefore, until starvation
absolutely stared him in the face that Sears
in desperation tried the Docks. He thought



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 199

that, having stooped to such a degradation,
he was sure of work, but he found himself
terribly mistaken. Many a time after shout-
ing himself hoarse, and getting squeezed
black and blue, in his efforts to attract the
attention of the calling foreman, he had
found himself still unhired. When there
was the slightest chance of fresh hands
being needed in the course of the day, he
lingered on in or about the Docks until
pay time came, in a faint hope of earning
a few pence by a sudden job. At other
times, as on the occasion on which I
made his acquaintance; he returned to his
wretched i home ' to madden himself by
the sight of those for whom he felt that
he ought to have been the bread-winner.

There was not much to esteem in the

+
man's character, and, therefore, I was glad

to see that he never shirked his responsi-
bility as husband and father. I have



200 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

known many men, under less crushing cir-
cumstances, free themselves of the care of
wife and children by running away from
them. It was, I think, a fortunate thing
for poor little Mrs Sears and her children
that, even when anxious to get her hand-
some husband anyhow, she insisted on his
marrying her. The legal tie not only
made him afraid of the consequences of
deserting his wife and children, but gave
him a respect for her, however wildly he
might talk at times, which she would cer-
tainly have lacked if she had come to him
on the terms he was at first base enough to
propose. It was pathetic to see how the
poor little woman, in spite of her frequent


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