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repinings at the privations to which she
had been reduced, would try hard to fancy
that she was as fond of her husband as ever
she was, and that he was as fond as ever of
her. Poor little wasted doll ! I am afraid



A DOCK-LABOURER'S HISTORY. 201

that there was not much fondness left in
her husband's heart that he would have
shed few tears over her corpse, so long as
the children had died before her. But, at
any rate, he did however surlily what
he could for his wife and children. When
he got a day's work at the Docks he toiled
on all day straining at winches, and
walking up hollow cylinders like a wearily
heavy-footed squirrel without diminish-
ing his small pay in summer, his smaller
pay in winter, by running into debt with
the ' grub-man ' beyond a penny or so he
felt himself compelled to expend on trust
when, as often was the case, he had gone
fasting to his fight for work.

I did not know the Searses long. They
vanished from their cock-loft with as little
notice as they had entered it.

My bed-ridden old woman told me of
their departure. ' If they was lying in the



202 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

ground, with their souls at peace with God
through Jesus Christ, I should be glad to
know they was gone though it was a kind
o' company to hear the poor little things
scuffling overhead.'



203



IX.

' KETCH 'EM ALIVE, OH ! '

A LITTLE way ahead of me one summer
evening I noticed a pale sickly lad of ten
or eleven languidly swinging himself along
upon a crutch, whilst a sturdy, chubby,
curly-headed little fellow, a year or two
younger, trotted by his side. They had
not gone far before a lounging hobby-
dehoy brutally knocked up the cripple's
crutch, and the poor little fellow fell
violently on his face. My fingers itched
to box the young coward's ears, but before



204 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

I could get to him, the chubby little boy,
whose curly head scarcely came above the
scoundrel's waistband, had rushed in at
him, and was punishing every reachable
portion of his frame with fist and foot
most strenuously. The bully looked half
scared, but still he could have crushed his
young antagonist by merely falling on
him, and, therefore, I fear the cripple's
plucky little champion would have come
off second best in the long run, had it not
been for my presence on the scene. Avail-
ing himself of that as an excuse for turning
tail before so diminutive an opponent, the
hobbydehoy took to his heels ; turning
back, when he had got to a safe distance,
to shake his fist at Curly Head and shout,
' 7'11 pay yer when I ketches yer. I'll
wring yer neck, yer young warmin; and
wont I give Dot-and-go-one a hidin' ? '
Curly Head was white with rage and



'KETCH 'EM ALIVE, OH.'' 205

quivering with indignation. i Don't blub-
ber, Jack,' he said half crossly, half
pityingly to the cripple 'don't let that
cur see he's hurt ye. He's my brother,
sir,' Curly Head explained to me, ' and
he's lame and weak, and so that willin is
allus a-persecutin' him, when I ain't by to
take his part.'

Poor Jack's nose was bleeding, and he
had been altogether so much shaken by
his fall that I thought it well to walk back
with the boys to their home, close by,
from which they had started for an even-
ing stroll. We entered a ground-floor
room in a house in a blind alley. At the
doors of most of the houses, slovenly men
in shirt-sleeves, and sluttish women who
looked half-undressed, were lolling and
squatting some smoking, others panting
as if the foully sultry air half-stifled them.
But in this room a mangle was rumbling



206 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

backwards and forwards. The perspiring
woman who was turning it rested on the
handle as we went in. l Why, my Jack,'
she cried, ( what's up ? Sam ' turning
reproachfully to Curly Head * I thought
you'd ha' took better care of your brother,
or I wouldn't ha' let him go out with you.'
Poor little Sam seemed to feel this
reproach very keenly. But I explained
that he was not in the slightest degree to
blame for what had happened to his
invalid elder brother, and trumpeted his
prowess in avenging his brother's wrongs.
Jack was as eager as I was to free Sam
from blame. The mother put the door-
key down Jack's back to stop the bleeding
at the nose, and then, having felt him all
over to make sure that no bones were
broken, opened a cupboard, out of which
rolled the boys' bundle of bedding ; ar-
ranged it, with Sam's help, in a corner,



1 KETCH > EM ALIVE, OH ! > 207

and bade Jack lie down and rest upon it.
By the time she went back to her mangle
we were all on very friendly terms with
one another. Conversation, however, is
carried on with difficulty in a room in
which a mangle is rumbling, and, there-
fore, I soon took my departure. It was
hastened by a hint which the good woman
gave that the boys had better undress and
go to bed : ' Jack'll feel easier with his
clothes off, and you've got to be up early
to-morrow, Ketch-'em-alive ! '

Little Sam grinned, and began to
unbutton his waistcoat, but stopped sud-
denly, in perplexity as to whether it would
be ' behaving proper ' to undress before a
parson especially a parson who had found
no fault with him for fighting.

An evening or two afterwards I called
to inquire after Jack. As I sat chatting
with him and his mother, Sam came in



208 1 ;; EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

looking a very queer little figure. He was
sun-burnt as red as a brick, and his peak-
less cap was tiaraed with a yellow fly-
paper thickly studded with flies.

1 Sold 'era all, mother,' he shouted

' " Ketch 'em alive, the nasty flies,
Don't let 'em bite poor baby's eyes."

And now I must be off to get some more.
I'll soon be back, Jack. There's the
money, mother. Ketch 'em alive, oh ! '

He rattled a heap of coppers out of his
trousers-pockets on to the table, asked his
mother for silver to purchase his next day's
stock, and went off whistling to get it.

1 I'm sure he didn't see you, sir,' apolo-
gized his mother, fearful that I should feel
hurt at not having been noticed by so in-
fluential a member of the family as Sam.
1 He's a dear good boy,' she added, as she
counted out the coppers. ' Miles he must
ha' walked his little legs must be fit to



' KETCH 'M ALIVE, OH r 209

drop off. Seven dozen he's sold. If he
could sell 'em like that every day, me and
you could do, couldn't us, Jack? I wish
you could go out, too, Jack, and so do you,
don't you, Jack ? And there's only a
penny he's spent on hisself, if he's spent
that. He must be half famished. Git his
supper out, Jack, and run round and buy a
saveloy, there's a good boy Sam likes a
relish.'

Jack instantly hopped off, and the good
woman, delighted with her younger son's
earnings, again broke forth in praises of
him. ' A dear good boy he is. Every
penny he arns he brings me. It's a pity
there isn't flies all the year round, though
they is such a bother. The papers least-
ways when they first comes up pays
better than shoe-blackin', and they're
respectabler than tumblin'. But Sam'll do
that when he can't git anythink else to do

VOL. III. 14



2io EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

and uncommon well he does it. You'd
die of laughin' to see him go along on his
toes and 'ands, 'eels hover 'ead, jest as if
he vas a vheel. And he can walk about on
his 'ands with his legs a-danglin' down
all kind o' thinx that boy can do. It's a
blessin' to 'ave a son like him. Anythink
he can do, he will do, and do it well, too.
I wish Jack was like him, but that ain't
poor Jack's fault, and two brothers fonder
o' one another you won't see, go where
you will, no, not if they was young
princes in golden palaces. Jack'll do any-
think he can, poor boy, and, bein' the
eldest, it must be 'ard for him not to do
'alf a quarter as well as Sam. But he never
shows it, and poor Jack didn't ought to
neither. Sam looks arter him like a father
a deal kinder than his own father were.
My poor 'usband he's been at rest this
four year, thank God used to whop poor



' KETCH 'EM ALIVE,' OH! ' 211

Jack, though he were a cripple. It's made
me so savage that, God forgive me, I've
sent the flat-iron flyin' at his 'ead, and I
shouldn't ha' much cared then if it had
settled him, though I feel lonesome without
him now. But it were a cryin' shame,
worn't it, sir, though he is dead, poor man ?
You should ha' seen my little Sam. He
worn't much more than a babby then, but
he'd clinch his little fists and polish off his
daddy in a surprisin' manner for a child o'
his years. My old man would laugh, but
I do believe he got afraid to lift his hand
agin Jack when Sam were by. And to see
that boy now when Jack's bad. He always
works as 'ard as ever he can, but then
you'd say he worked 'arder than ever he
could, to git back to Jack, and he'll sit by
him for the hour together and play marbles
on the bed-clothes. We're talkin' about
Sam ; ' said the woman, as Jack hopped in



212 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

with the saveloy. ' Ain't he a good boy,
Jack?'

1 Who says he ain't ? ' answered Jack,
glancing fiercely at me, as if he meant to
fling his crutch at my head, if he found
that I had been maligning his brother's
character. ^

Presently Sam came back with his
bundle of fly-papers. He was shy at first
when he saw me, and was very hungry
moreover. He ate his supper in silence,
but when that was over, he soon recovered
his tongue, and began to tell us of his
adventures. He had started in the early
morning for Finchley, and then worked
back into the City by way of Fortis Green,
Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Hornsey Rise,
Hollo way, Canonbury, and the New North
Road. 1 1 wished you was with me, Jack,'
I heard him say to his brother. l They
was cuttin' the 'ay out by 'Ighgit. I sold



' KE TCH 'EM ALIVE, OH!' 213

six to them as was cuttin' it, to take 'ome,
but one chap put his down, sticky side
up'ards, and when he went to look for it
he couldn't see it for the flies. So I give
him another for nuffink, becos he'd give
me a bit o' bacon and a sup o' beer. They
was restin' 'avin' their dinners, so I stopped
an' 'ad a rest too, and see, Jack, what I've
brought ye I got 'em whilst I was waitin'.'
Out of his cap and his jacket-pocket
Sam produced a pile of crushed grass,
weeds, white clover, groundsel, sorrel,
hemlock-blossom, and plantain-spires. It
was a queer-looking posy, but Jack hung
delighted over it, arranging it as artistically
as he could. Crushed though it was, the
sweet scent of the dewy, sunny country
still lingered upon it, and common though
the leaves and flowers were, they were
precious to .poor Jack, whose infirmity had
prevented him from ever reaching a mea-



214 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE,

dow. All his little life long lie had been
cooped up in brick and mortar. Grimy
Goodman's Fields were the only fields he
knew, and the garden in Trinity Square
the biggest spread of verdure he had ever
seen. Sam had also brought home a plump
little red field-mouse from the hay-field.
1 1 was layin' down,' he said, ' and I see
somefink cuttin' along as if it was a bit o'
brick runnin', so I grabbed at it, and it felt
soft, but I'd precious 'ard work to ketch it,
it wriggled in and out so, and there it was
a kind o' mouse. I 'ope I 'aven't squashed
him. I knew you'd like to see him, Jack.'
Sam put his hand into his shirt-bosom, and
pulled out poor rumpled, almost asphyxi-
ated little mousie. He looked at first very
much as if he had been ' squashed,' but gra-
dually recovered breath arid spirits, and
trailing his stumpy little tail, scuttled across
the table right into the hands of delighted



' KE TCH 'EM ALIVE, OH 7 ' 215

Jack. The mother was by no means so
delighted. ' What ever did you go for to
bring that nasty thing home for, Sam ? '
she querulously inquired. l Hain't we got
enough o' them beastly rats and mice
without your bringin' more on 'em to eat
us up ? What ever are you a-strokin' him
for, as if he was a Christian, Jack ? ' she
added sharply. l Turn him out into the
lane this minute, and don't be sich a babby.
I do wonder you and Sam hain't more
sense.'

But Sam, who had brought home niousie
in the verified expectation that his stay-at-
home brother would be pleased to make a
pet of such a curiosity, pointed out loftily,
if not very learnedly, the differences be-
tween town and country mice, and saddled
himself with the responsibility of procuring
provender for the captive. Sam's notions
of what the mouse would ' like to eat ' were



2i6 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

vague, but he arranged matters to his own
satisfaction by stating that he could always
go once a week, at any rate, and get l a
lot o' stuff out of an 'edge.' Accordingly
Jack was allowed to retain his pet, and
when I left, the two boys were very busy
making a home for mousie out of an old
cigar-box that had somehow found its way
into their rank-tobacco-smoking alley. The
flies were very numerous that summer, and
Sam got rid of his papers very readily.
He never remembered such a time, he said,
with a grave air of ' old experience ' his
acquaintance with the ' ketch-'em-alive-oh '
business dating only from the previous
summer. ' Sam's goin' ahead, sir,' said
his pleased mother on another evening
when I looked in. l He's got quite a con-
nection now. Some of his customers say
they do believe the papers only draws the
flies. Any'ow they ketches 'em, and the



KETCH 'EM ALIVE, OH f 217

people goes on buyin' the papers. Hup
'Ighgit way, more partic'lar, there's a
regular run on 'em. And that Sam is sich
a boy. A dear good boy he is. What do
you think he's been and gone and done
now, sir ? He's been talkin' so about the
medders hup 'Ighgit way that poor Jack
fair pined to git a sight on 'em. Afore
to-day he's never been out o' London, poor
boy. And what do you think that Sam o'
mine went and did ? There's a man that
lives down Crown Yard as keeps a furnitur'
wan, and Sam found out that he were a
goin' on a job somevheres hup by the
Harchway Tavern, and so Sam got him to
give both of 'em a lift so far as that, and
then Sam was to take Jack into the med-
ders, and leave him there whilst he went
about sellin' his ketch-' em-alives, and come
for him and pay his 'bus back to the Bank,
as if he was a gen'leman, and Jack was to



2i 8 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

wait for him there, and they'd come home
together. I wish they was iu. They'll
both be dead-tired, poor boys.'

They certainly did look tired when
they came in a few minutes afterwards.
Even the walk from the Bank was a pull
upon Jack's strength, and although little
Sam had got the lift to High gate, he had
been on his legs nearly all day.

But two happier boys I never saw.
Jack had been holiday-making from early
morning in a world that was so new to
him, that he could hardly believe in its
reality. By that time the grass must have
been dried up and the hedges dusty, but
' Oh ! mother, everything's green and clean
in the country,' was Jack's ecstatic sum-
mary of his experiences.

Sam was as pleased, because he had
not only done well in his business, but also
been able to stand treat to his sick brother.



1 KETCH >EM ALIVE, OH/' 219

Perhaps Sam showed a little half jealous,
half supercilious superiority, when Jack
talked of the country as if somehow he un-
derstood it better, could get more pleasur-
able meaning out of it, though he had been
only one day in it, than experienced Sam.
To keep up his reputation for experience,
Sam would ever and anon interject the
name of a road, &c., into Jack's descrip-
tions of the places he had visited ' Them's
St John's Willas ' ' 'Ornsey Lane they
calls that ' and so on. But although Sam
was better up than his brother in topo-
graphical nomenclature, he seemed quite
astounded that Jack had noticed so many
things that he had not noticed. l One 'ud
think you'd heyes at the back o' yer 'ead,
Jack but then it's all new to you, an' I'm
glad you liked it,' said experienced and,
on the whole, delighted little Sam.

Hot summer weather extended late into



220 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

the autumn that year. Sam sold so many
1 ketch-'em-alives,' that he began to won-
der what his mother could do with l all the
money ' he brought home. Jack had more
than one other country trip out of it, and
tli en frost setting in suddenly, Jack be-
ing laid up for the winter, and both Sam
and his mother suddenly sinking from
full work into slack their united f all '
very soon looked very little. The change
made the poor woman peevish. Sam's lean
days had swallowed up his fat days out
of her memory. She no longer sang his
praises, and although she never ceased to
pity poor Jack, her pity took a form that
was very unpleasant to both boys. She
was fond of saying before me, when they
were both present, that it was * a thousand
pities Jack hadn't the use of his limbs
he'd be a good, industr'ous boy, instid o'
livin' on his mother, doiri' nothin' ; which



' KETCH 'EM ALIVE, OH /' 221

there is a hexcuse for him, poor feller, becos
he can't do a raortial think, 'owever he
might wish it.'

Jack did not like to be reminded in
this way of his infirmity, but he felt more
on account of the injustice done to willing
little Sam a good deal more than Sam
felt for himself. Of course, when he had
been out in the cold streets all day trying
hard to earn a few pence, he thought it too
bad that he should be snubbed for having
brought home so few, and that he should
be scowled at as a robber of his struggling
mother and sick brother if he had ventured
to invest in a l ha'p'orth ' of l baked plum '
or l currant roley-poley ' for his own out-
of-doors consumption ; but Sam bore the
snubbing and the scowling very philo-
sophically. He knew that Jack did not
think him lazy or selfish, and went on
being thoughtfully kind to Jack, and wait-



222 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

ing patiently until his mother should be in
a better temper. He would fire up some-
times at her constant harping on his
brother's involuntary uselessness, but he
never gave her back an angry word I
cannot say quite so much about looks in
return for her constant nagging at what
she made out to be his wilful lack of work.
Altogether I came to entertain a great
respect for little ' Ketch-'em-alive-oh,' as I
had got into the habit of calling Sam.
The title from my lips at first not only
amused him but gratified him ; but I ceased
to use it when I found that it slightly an-
noyed him even from me, as reminding
him of the time when his mother had
made so much of him because there were
so many flies to catch alive. My respect
for the little fellow was not in the slightest
degree lessened because he could not help
sometimes showing by his looks that his



1 KE TCH 'EM ALIVE, OH ! > 223

sense of justice had been wounded. I have
small respect for people who are always
talking about their rights and righteous-
ness small belief in the rights and right-
eousness of which they prate; but I do
not think that little Sam sinned grievously
against the law of Christian charity in not
being able always to prevent his eyes from
saying that his mother did him wrong.



22 4



X.



BESSIE MARRIED.

I BEGAN this series of desultory papers
with an account of ' Little Creases,' I
will end it with a little further account of
her.

She grew up into a handsome young
woman so handsome that I was very glad
when she ceased to be a street-seller. Her
grandmother became so infirm both in
body and in mind that it was necessary
she should have some one always with her.
The neighbours advised Bessie to let her be



BESSIE MARRIED. 225

taken into the workhouse, but Bessie would
not hear of this ; although poor Mrs Jude,
in her imbecility, had relapsed into the
cantankerousness which was her character-
istic before she had come under any soft-
ening influences. For Bessie's sake, neigh-
bours would now and then drop in to look
after the old woman, but not often, or for
long. In their own phrase, it ' worn't
pleasant to 'ave their noses snapt off jist
for doin' a kindness to the old cat.' So
Bessie had to give up the wandering life
which long habit had made far pleasanter
than a sedentary life seemed to her at first,
and stay at home to look after, and work
hard for, a poor cross old woman who had
never shown her much kindness, and who
rewarded her kind nurse for her often most
disagreeable duties by constant grumpi-
ness and fault-finding, and sometimes by
speeches that would have been shamefully

VOL. III. 15



226 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

insulting if the poor old creature had been
responsible for her utterances. When,
however, such speeches are only slight
exaggerations of utterances which the
hearer remembers to have been made when
the utterer was responsible, it is difficult to
allow at all times full weight to the plea of
irresponsibility, and, under any circum-
stances, such speeches are not pleasant to
listen to. Bessie's temper was often sorely
tried, but it bore the trial bravely. The
goodness of cloth is tested by rubbing it
the wrong way, and that is the only in-
fallible mode of testing goodness of temper
likewise.

The indoor work which Bessie did was
not all of one kind. She did whatever she
could get to do. One of her jobs, I re-
member, was fireworks-making. A manu-
facturer of these, on a small scale, lived in
Bateman's Rents, and he employed Bessie



BESSIE MARRIED. 227

to stuff his cases. A day or two before
one Fifth of November I went into Mrs
Jude's room, and found the old woman
raking out the little fire, which I learnt
Bessie had already lighted five times.
1 'Tain't any use, sir,' whispered Bessie,
with a smile, when I began to remonstrate
with the old woman. ' Granny '11 feel
cold bimeby, an' then she'll be glad on it.
I'd keep her warm, if she'd let me, but it
puts her out, and so I humour her, poor
thing.' Mrs Jude had been listening with
a face full of suspicion, almost of hatred.
Replying to what she had imperfectly over-
heard, she said angrily, ' Puts it out ! Yes,
and I means to put it out. I ain't a-goin'
to be blowed up with gunpowder, whilst
I've got my five senses left. That's what
that gal's doin' it for. And me that's kep'
her since she was a babby. She wants to
git rid o' me, she do ; but she shan't, not



228 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

whilst I've got my senses. Mayhap, my
strength ain't what it was, though Bessie
do make me do all the nastiest work a
dozen times and more I've had to see to
that fire and yet she won't give me
enough to eat. But I ain't a fool yet,
though Bessie 'd make folks think so.
You're a reg'lar bad gal, Bessie jest like
your wicked mother ; but I ain't a-goin' to
be blowed up with gunpowder.'

And the old woman chuckled, wagged
her head, and went on raking out the coals.

Bessie might, perhaps, have felt uncom-
fortable if her grandmother had talked in
this way before some people ; but she knew
that I should not attach any weight to
what the poor old creature said, and so she
said nothing in reply, but went on smutty-
ing her face and fingers at her little table,
so littered with powder and blue and



BESSIE MARRIED. 229

whitey-brown serpent cases that it looked
like a Lilliputian arsenal.

I asked Mrs Jude whether she would
not let me take the tongs and put the
embers back into the grate, on the plea
that I felt cold.

' Ah, well, she wouldn't blow me up
while you was here,' Mrs Jude answered,
giving me the tongs. When I had coaxed
the coals into a little flame, she warmed her
hands enjoyingly over it, and went on,

' Everybody 's kinder to me than my
own flesh and blood. That gal knows how
perished I feel, settin' here shiverin' with-
out a fire ; but she will make me. If she
can't blow me up, she thinks she can make
me ketch my death o' cold. She's a down-
right bad gal jest like her mother.
'T wouldn't be safe for me to live with her,
if I hadn't my wits about me. But that's



230 EPISODES IN AN OBSCURE LIFE.

what I have, thank God, and I ain't a-goin'
to be friz to death, no, nor I ain't a-goin'
to be blowed up nayther, and that's what I
can tell her ! '

I was foolish enough to try to show the
poor old woman the real state of the case-
how ludicrously she was deceived, how ut-
terly she misrepresented Bessie. In reply,
Mrs Jude jerked up her chin with a scornful
though voiceless little laugh, and a wooden
look of obstinate incredulity. If I couldn't
see things that lay plain before my eyes,
why then it was no use talking to me any


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