Alfred Joshua Butler.

Episodes in an obscure life (Volume 3) online

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more about them : that was what poor Mrs
Jude's look said. I dropped Bessie, and
got the old woman to talk about other
matters. Every now and then, as we chat-
ted, she would nod off to sleep, but she
often got interested, and talked as sanely
as she had ever talked. . She proved to be
right, and Bessie and I wrong, as to the


date of some little occurrence in Bateman's
Rents we had been talking about. The
poor old woman was delighted at her tri-
umph. The next minute she was flounder-
ing in a chaos of curiously distorted and
blended recollections ; but as we had owned
that she had once been right, she felt sure
that, whatever we might choose to say, we
must acknowledge to ourselves, at any rate,
that she was always right, and she rode
rough-shod over us accordingly. She did so
with an exultation evidently so pleasant to
herself that Bessie and I had not the slight-
est wish to disturb her belief in her infalli-
bility. From the argumentative vantage-
point she thought she occupied she began
to look down so complacently on Bessie
that I began to hope that Bessie would be
spared any more sharp speeches.

But Bessie washed her gunpowdery
hands, went to the cupboard, put some


food ori a plate, mixed a little weak
brandy-and-water, and brought the solid
and liquid refreshment to her grandmother,
saying cheerily, * Now then, granny, it's
time. The doctor said, you know, that
you was to take a little and horfen.' The
poor old woman gave a pettish push at the
plate and glass, taking care, however,
not to spill the brandy-and-water. ' The
doctor didn't say nuffink o' the sort,' she
answered testily. ' The doctor don't know
nuffink. 'Tairft horfen I gits it. No, I
don't. There's nuffink fit to heat in this
'ouse. You're allus a-stuffin' me till I'm fit
to bust. And sperrits ! you know I never
tasted sperrits in my life. You git 'em in
to drink 'em yourself, and make me your
hexcuse; and who's to pay for 'em, I'd
like to know ? That's how I'm put upon,


' Come, granny, take your grub, and


drink this up it'll do you good.'

< No, I 'ont.'

But the poor old woman, when left to
herself, did eat her food, and drink her
drink, in slow enjoyment only complain-
ing of her brandy-and-water, first that it
was so strong, it took her breath away ;
and, next, that it was so weak that she
couldn't taste t nuffink but water spiled.'

But poor Mrs Jude's temper was soon
again ruffled by the appearance of a good-
tempered young fellow, who looked rather
sheepish when he found that I was there.

' What is it, Flop ? ' asked Bessie, who
also looked rather shamefaced.

1 Is his legs ready, Bessie ? ' was the

Bessie drew two long roughly-sewn
empty sacking-bags from under the bed,
and Flop ( = Philip) departed. ' Ah,
that's the way I'm treated now,' groaned


Mrs Jude. ' That gal brings her fellers
colloguin' about, and robs me to my wery

' Why, granny, them ain't yourn, an'
they wouldn't be worth much if they was.
You see, sir, Flop and his brother is goin'
out with a Guy on the Fifth, and so as me
and Flop's acquainted, I said I'd do the
legs for 'em. 'Tain't that they want no
more shapin' than a roley-poley pudden,
but Flop ain't over 'andy with his needle.'

1 And what is Flop ? '

( Well, sir, he ain't doin' nuffink jest at
present. A light-porter he were, but he
slipped off a ladder and 'urt the small of
his back, and so he lost his place, and now
he's lookin' about for another, poor feller.
That's why he's a-goin' out with the Guy.
He's a wery industr'ous young man, and
don't like to set twiddlin' his thumbs.'

1 But what will he get by his Guy ? '


' Oh, mayhap, clear a pound or so, if
them Hirish don't set on him, and take it,
and spile the Guy. They're that spiteful
'specially when the Guys is about.
They makes 'ein as rampagious as mad
bulls, an' they're savage enough at the best
o' times.'

' Those poor Irish, Bessie. Haven't
you learnt to leave them alone yet ? '

' It's them as won't leave us alone, sir.
What right has them Romans to hinterfere
with us Protestants in our own country?
If we likes to carry Guys, and Popes, and
Cardinal Wisemans about, and burn 'em
arterwards, we've a right to, and serve
'em jolly well right. You was a-preachin'
agin the Pope yerself, sir, on'y last Sun-

1 1 don't think I said that it was a kind
or a sensible thing to make a hideous
image of him and carry it about to ex-


asperate people who reverence him. You
have improved wonderfully since I first
knew you, Bessie, but you have a good
deal of charity to learn yet. You must
remember that Roman Catholics, after all,
are fellow-Christians.'

( Christians ! They may call theirselves
so ; and so you might call yerself a cow-
cumber, but that wouldn't make ye one.'

The fear of what might happen to
Flop's Guy had so intensified Bessie's
dislike of the Irish originally a merely
traditional unreasoning international an-
tipathy, but now disguised under cover of
regard for pure doctrine that she raised
her voice in a way that made me raise my

Mrs Jude instantly struck in. The
poor old woman chafed under the constant
supervision which Bessie's kindness com-
pelled her to keep over her grandmother.


There was a chance now, Mrs Jude
thought, of her bringing her monitress to
book with the interested approval of a
bystander, and so she exclaimed with de-
lighted indignation,

1 Who are you a-talkin' to, you saucy
slut ? An' you as shammed to set such
store on parsons ! Is them yer manners ? '

I got the poor old woman into chat
again, and presently I read and prayed
with her. At first she objected to the
reading. The Bible was good, very good,
no doubt, she said, but it was no use now
to the likes of her. But when she caught
familiar phrases, they seemed to soothe
her. She nodded her head approvingly,
and ceased tapping her fingers with feeble
impatience on the arms of her chair.
When Bessie and I knelt down, she in-
sisted on kneeling down too. When we
rose from our knees, she did not resent the


necessary help which Bessie gave her in
rising from hers. She shook hands with
me at parting as if she was quite at peace
with herself and every one else once more;
but I had hardly got outside the room
before I heard her again scolding Bessie,
and again obstinately raking out the coals.

Of course, I had discovered the relation
in which * Flop' stood to Bessie, and there-
fore made it my business to make inquiries
about him. I found that he was a very
worthy young fellow, sober, industrious,
and very fond of the handsome young
woman I still could not help thinking of,
and occasionally speaking of, as i Little

For a time, like Bessie, he did any odd
jobs lie could get hold of; but he saved
money enough to procure his license, and,
at last, thanks to the character he received
from the firm in whose service he had been


as a junior light-porter, he was engaged as
a conductor for one of the Bow and Strat-
ford omnibuses. Four shillings a day,
certain, seemed a handsome income to
Bessie she began to consider Flop quite
a person of property. But hard enough
he had to work for his 28s. a week up so
early, home so late, that he had scarcely
time to court. And worse still, he was as
busy on Sundays as on other days. He
had to give up coming to church. This
was a sore trial to Bessie. It was she who
had persuaded Flop to come to church,
and, when she could get a neighbour to sit
with her grandmother, it had been a great
pleasure to her to attend service with her
1 young man.' I asked Flop whether he
could not get a Sunday now and then if he
asked for it.

' I could git one, sir, fast enough,' he
answered with a grin, l but I shouldn't


have no need to ax for another. " You
needn't hurry back" that's what they'd
say to me.'

Bessie thought that, perhaps, under
these circumstances, it would be better if
Flop gave up his berth, but just then he
had no chance of getting anything else,
and so Bessie, who was very fond of her
Flop, only half-heartedly advised him to
take this course, and he continued a con-

He had behaved very well in reference
to Mrs Jude. At first Bessie had said that
she could not marry whilst her grand-
mother was alive. Flop had then pro-
posed that Mrs Jude should live with the
young people.

' No, Flop,' Bessie had answered,
1 you're a-goin' to marry me, but you ain't
bound to marry my granny too.'


1 Well, but she'll be my granny when
we're married ? '

( No, Flop, that ain't marriage lor.
What's yours is mine, and what's mine's
my own. And if she would be, it 'ud be
agin the Prayer-book for you to marry
your own grandmother.'

But Flop took two rooms, one for the
old woman, and insisted on being married
as soon as he could get a day to be mar-
ried in. It was not any liking that the
old woman had shown for him which made
him wish to take her into his home. When
he went into hers she would scowl at him
all the time he stayed there; talking at
him to herself, as if he were a villain bent
on robbing her of everything she pos-
sessed, and bringing down her grey hairs
with sorrow to the grave. Flop at last
plucked up courage and asked l at the



yard ' for a day to get married in. He
was told that his employers had no ob-
jection to his getting married that was no
concern of theirs but that he must not
waste a minute of their time time they
paid him for in getting his wife. At last,
however, he managed to obtain an hour in
the slack part of the day. I married the
young couple, and then Flop had to rush
back to his monkey-board in his new suit,
with a dahlia in his button-hole there to
be chaffed considerably as he went up and
down the road on account of his beamingly
swellish appearance; whilst Bessie went
back to Bateman's Rents to take off her
wedding-clothes, pack up a few articles of
furniture, and convey them and her grand-
mother to their new home.

The old woman was pleased at first
with her new room, but soon got an almost
fixed notion that the young people who


were befriending her were living at her
expense, because she missed one or two
things she had long been accustomed to in
Bateman's Rents. They had been sold for
a trifle, because Flop had bought better of
the kind. I am afraid that Bessie had not
a very lively wedding-day, but, fortunately,
Mrs Jude was asleep when Flop came home
at night, and when Bessie ran out to meet
him, once more in her wedding-gown,
London did not hold a happier bride or

In due course, a Bessie junior made her
appearance. Bessie senior was intensely
proud of her baby, and talked as if she had
suddenly grown ten years older. Flop
doted on little Bessie. He did not grumble
at having his rest broken by her restless-
ness and wails ; but he did complain when,
shortly afterwards, owing to his early de-
partures and late arrivals, he could only


see his child asleep. His wife often had
great difficulty in preventing him from
waking baby up in order to discover
whether she l took notice ' of l daddy.'
Mrs Jude sometimes made much of her
great-granddaughter, and talked to the
baby in confidence about the wrongs which
Flop and Bessie had done to both of them.
Sometimes she seemed quite unconscious
of the child's existence, even when it had
got her yellow, shrivelled finger in its pink,
plump, crumpled paw, or silverily-slobber-
ing little rosebud of a mouth. At other
times Mrs Jude would scowl at the baby as
a villanous conspiratrix with its father and
mother against her peace of mind and body.
And then poor Mrs Jude would rock her-
self and moan, 'I wish I was dead I
wish I was dead nobody cares- for me
nobody. They'll be glad to git rid on me
nobody, nobody.'


One Saturday night Flop came home
and said, t I can go to church with you
to-morrow, Bessie.'

' Oh, that is jolly,' answered Bessie ;
' but what makes you look so glum,

t They've given me the sack, that's all,
Bessie. I axed 'em what they'd got agin
me, and they said nothirf. No more they
haven't, whatever cheats is about that I'm
to suffer for. Nothing they says, but I
needn't come to-morrow they don't want
me any more. Is that a fair way to treat
a man ? I don't doubt they do git cheated,
but I never wronged 'em of a penny. Is
that the way to treat a honest man ? Let
'em say what they think, and I could
answer them fast enough. But, no, they
says " notMri 1 ;" and what can I do?
There ain't another yard'll take me, turned
out o' theirs. " Nothirf " 'on't do for a


character in the 'bus line. It's a cowardly
shame it is, Bessie. There's you, and
baby, and that poor old granny o' yourn '

Mrs Jude had been roused from sleep
by the unwonted loudness of her grand-
son-in-law's voice. She staggered out of
her inside room into the one in which
Bessie, rocking the baby, and savagely
gesticulating Philip, were sitting. Mrs
Jude's contribution to the conversation was
more concise than comforting

' There, you gal, I allus said that feller
was a willin, and now you knows it.'

Soon afterwards the poor old woman
died waking up once more, just before
she died, to a consciousness that her dreary
life had been made dreary not entirely
without fault on her side. ' Ah, sir,' she
gasped, l Bessie's been good, I don't deny,
but talk to me about Christ Jesus He's


the only un that can care about me.
Bessie don't nobody nobody 'cept
Christ Jesus. I'm a lonely old woman
nobody '11 miss me. Though I did nuss
Bessie from a babby. But there's Christ,
as I never did nuffink for. He'll ' And
the old woman ceased to speak, for ever
with those poor, pale, peevishly-puckered

Soon after this I lost sight of my brave
Bessie and her honest husband. They
went to Liverpool, and then they vanished
in what direction, some strange mis-
chance prevented me from ever learn-

Bessie had done me so much good when
I was a novice in clerical duty that I could
never think either honest Flop or even her
sil verily slobbering baby quite worthy of
her; but still I had a hearty liking for


all three, for personal as well as relative
reasons. I am heartily sorry, therefore,
that I cannot finish off with a more definite
pleasantly definite account of what be-
came of Bessie and her belongings ; but
throughout these papers I have followed
fact instead of fancy, and, therefore, I
must finish as I began. My papers have
been full of November fog, but if you wish
to register honestly the weather of a dis-
trict in which November fog is the normal
atmosphere, it is impossible to keep that
fog from recurring, however wearisomely,
in your register. But I hope that I have
been able to show that the Sun of Right-
eousness can mellow, gild, even dissipate,
the dreariest gloom of East-End life ; and
that, although it is true enough that

' misery is trodden on by many,'

it is not true that misery is,


' being low, never relieved by any,'

even of those who share, or are only an
infinitesimal grade above, the dismal depths
of East-End distress.




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Online LibraryAlfred Joshua ButlerEpisodes in an obscure life (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 9)