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Gutter-Babies



DOROTHEA SLADE



,-n



Gutter-Babies




Blanchie threatening (p. 166)



Gutter-Babies

BY

DOROTHEA SLADE
Hi

With Illustrations by
LADY STANLEY




BOSTON AND NEW YORK

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

(Cfre RftJEtrfifce prw Cambridge

1912



COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY DOROTHEA SLADB
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published October iqia



Contents

I. Guttergarten and the Fall ... I

II. A Paradise Lost 10

III. The Philosophy of the Gutter . . .14

IV. The Pedigree of Johnny .... 24
V. Walking out with Special Johnny . . 34

VI. Where the Gutter-Babies Play . . 45

VII. Trippers in Guttergarten ... 52

VIII. The Development of Johnny ... 59

IX. The Gutter Parson 67

X. How the Gutter-Babies Go . .80

XI. The Minding of a Gutter-Baby . . 87
XII. A Grandmother in Guttergarten . . 100

XIII. The Gutter Philanthropy . . . in

XIV. A Silent Sappho 124

XV. The Gutter-Baby Mystic . . . 133

XVI. The Crown of Thorns . x . . .144

XVII. "At Home" in Guttergarten . . . 157

XVIII. The Elder Lizzie . . 166



Contents

XIX. The Open Door in Guttergarten . 176

XX. The Time to Hop 189

XXI. The Game in Guttergarten . .196

XXII. The Prisoner of Guttergarten . . 207

XXIII. The Starver 219

XXIV. The Frown of Guttergarten . . . 229
XXV. Thursday . . . ,;* /r ,; ;.].../ 243

XXVI. The Palm Boy . V V ^*W. . 256

XXVII. Among the Deaf and Dumb . . 264

XXVIII. The Christmas Tree . . . .275

XXIX. An Omo-Pathetic Opinion . . . 288

XXX. The Boy in the Wood . . . .297

XXXI. The Jest of Guttergarten . . .308

XXXII. Sick Gutter-Babies .... 320

XXXIII. The Twilight of Johnny . . .334



Illustrations

Blanchie threatening (p. 166) . . . Frontispiece
"My beauty a liften' up 'is voice" ... 2
A youthful philosopher in the flattest pose . 16
"Run! run!" screamed Johnny .... 84
The Poetess teaching long stories in verse . . 128
"Please 'member the Grotto!" . . . .140

The Strange Woman lurched against the ban-
nisters 164

"We can't agree". . . . . . . .202

Struggling to command her dizzy senses . . 220
A Gutter-baby was taking his first walk . . 282
It was an unusually hard winter .... 310

A group of stealthy figures sliding away . . 340



Gutter-Babies

CHAPTER I

Gutter garten and the Fall



F ""^HERE has never been more than one
sin in Guttergarten. The whole ex-

-*- perience of the race has come down to
the Gutter in the relentless severity of one
prohibitive commandment, "Thou shalt not
be found out." Upon this elementary princi-
ple the Gutter has schooled its young for un-
told generations, to tire out their extravagant
energies and the splendid joy of being in
the swinging enthusiasm and wild ecstasy of
Gutter-life, under a veil of stolid indifference
and patient apathy, and to die at last in the
full hope and assurance of self-righteous re-
spectability, " I ain't never got meself into no
trouble."

In the particular experience of the indi-
vidual Gutter-baby, the crash of the historic
Fall comes with appalling violence and the

i



Gutter-Babies

shock of a great physical force, in one un-
guarded moment, after a protracted period of
successful hide-and-seek and cunning evasion.

"Stop where yar!" says Gutter Maternity,
as she deposits a raw teething Beginning
on the recently scoured doorstep, barricades
from it the enticing view of the great world
beyond by a chair thrown backwards across
the threshold, shakes a warning red finger
wildly overhead, "Ef I ketches yer!" and
deserts her off spring for the back-yard and the
wash-tub.

Left to his own devices, the solitary Begin-
ning passes through a variety of the element-
ary stages of development.

At first, the only real fact which seems to be
apparent in this strange new world of matter
is the consciousness of the small self-life of
its own personal helplessness and isolation.
There is no one to notice the startled intelli-
gence of two blue unseeing eyes as they swim,
round and forlorn, in each slowly rising pond
of tears, or the lengthening proportions of the
upper lip, which trembles presently into a
song of frightened sweetness.

2





That 's my beauty a liften up 'is voice



Guttergarten and the Fall

The woman in the back-yard has heard it
with the alert ear of primitive motherhood,
but remains stubbornly unsympathetic to
the piteousness of the appeal. "That's my
beauty a liften' up 'is voice," she calls to the
next-door back-yard.

"Well 'e ain't come to much 'arm while 'e
can make that shindy, for sure."

By-and-by the Beginning gradually ceases
to cry intelligently, the whimpering sobs con-
tinue spasmodically and aimlessly, for al-
ready the busy little brain speck is off in an-
other direction. Oblivion has gathered the
woman into the unreal ghostland of an ele-
mentary memory. The Beginning has for-
gotten his mother! But somewhere still in
the vague unfocussed atmosphere of the
small self's environment, that warning red
finger wags a nameless threat. And on the
other side of the prostrated chair ring the
merry music of human voices and the clap-
ping of nailed boots upon the stone pave-
ment, and the battle of hoofs and wheels in
that ceaselessly excited world beyond. The
whimpering subsides into puzzled contempla-

3



Gutter-Babies

tion and silence comes; for the dawn of a life-
long wonder is slowly breaking over the stolid
material horizon of the familiar wooden chair.
The day is surely coming when the Beginning,
who is now independent of human compan-
ionship, and has learnt to forget his mother at
intervals, will discover the old-world game of
playing at chance with the warning red finger
of fear. The crisis arrives when the Beginning
knows that he is strong enough in wind and
will and has acquired the necessary control
over his little body to enter into an encounter
with the wooden chair. The conquest of the
material enemy is a slow and tiresome pro-
cess, punctuated by many persevering fail-
ures and heroic adventures. Outside in the
back-yard the white clothes are bobbing and
wagging in long irregular lines before the
majesty of the morning sun. Long-limbed
garments are swinging in fantastic gestures
and making eccentric advances towards a row
of babies' pinafores, tossed and tumbled in
the tomboy clutches of the spring winds.

"Ain't it a dy for dryin'?" remarks the
woman.

4



Bump! from within, and a shrill wail of
anguish summons her hurriedly from the
back-yard.

"My! wotever's 'appened now!" And the
Beginning is promptly gathered up in two
red arms and crushed with loud kisses against a
warm and ample bosom. ' ' Was it the naughty
chair, then, didums?"

Presently a solemn-eyed Beginning, with a
hard lump, smeared with butter, on his puck-
ered forehead, watched the violent readjust-
ment of the chair and slowly realised the force
of that "Ef I ketches yer!" as it loomed with
a tremendous purpose out of the shadow of
the mysteries and became crystallized in the
solid world of facts. Might he not one day
change places with the chair, and the wrath
of the woman be directed against himself? As
the Beginning grasped his first lesson in moral
discipline, one deep impression was received
upon the blank surface of his young mind,
"Thou shalt not be found out!" And thus
he made his first step in the life of decep-
tion.

One day the woman will discover that the
5



Gutter-Babies

chair has been shifted out of its original posi-
tion. "'Oo moved this cheer, I wonders!"
But by this time the Beginning has cut several
teeth, bumped himself into a condition of in-
vulnerable endurance, and learned his lesson
intelligently. He is no longer a raw and im-
mature Beginning. Waving a fat fist that has
gained much in weight and force since his first
introduction to the chair, he succeeds in di-
verting the attention of the woman in the
direction of the cat, who, having picked out
a little circle of sunlight for her own use, has
settled herself inoffensively within it. Held
upwards at an impossible angle, one back leg
has become the subject of her meditations,
and will probably inspire her presently to at-
tempt ablutionary operations upon it.

Captured unawares, the unsuspecting cat
flies into space at the red hands' pleasure.
"Yer nasty beast! take that and that, and
now 'ook it, will yer!"

Meanwhile the Beginning adds another
mental note to his observations. To deserved
discipline he adds substitution, and again his
little brain is deeply scarred with the old im-

6



Guttergarten and the Fall

pression, as it were, in letters of fire, "Thou
shalt not be found out."

And as yet the Beginning still ripens in the
innocent enjoyment of the Gutter-baby's
Eden. He has never been naughty! But wait
for a little while till the red hands are busy
rather longer than usual among the soapsuds
in the back-yard, until the chair has at last
yielded to superior force, till mind has com-
pletely subdued matter, and the little Begin-
ning is lord at last of his whole correspond-
ence. Wait for a little till the kitchen is
empty, and the red hands are lifted appeal-
ingly in piteous dismay. The wooden enemy
is kicked aside, and the cat sleeps securely on
the tiled roof of the little tool-house next
door, but the erring footsteps of the Begin-
ning are printed clearly on the white doorstep.
And soon the fate of the Beginning is sealed
for ever.

"Mrs. Williams, do you know your baby's
in the road?"

It is over at last. In the family bed all alone
the Beginning comes to himself. He collects
his convulsed and stricken intelligence to

7



Gutter-Babies

ponder deeply over his own shaken and bat-
tered little body, and the whole tremendous
problem of fallen humanity, and the mission of
evil in a Gutter-baby world. He hears the
cheerful clatter of man's boots on the pave-
ment below, and the familiar sound of
Daddy's voice calling to him. But he must
not go. For everything has happened since
this morning, and nothing will ever be the
same again. This is the Fall, and the Begin-
ning has been found out.

If everyone knew and remembered this epi-
sode in the early history of a Gutter-baby,
most probably the curious little enigma of his
subsequent career would be far more intelli-
gible to those who make such valiant efforts
and long so greedily to read its secret. It is
difficult to keep in correspondence with his
violent changes of pose and character, and
next to impossible to trace through them the
slender and elusive chain of continuity which
so marvellously preserves his little personality
unique and individual, but he never forgets
his first impression of morality, or seriously
changes his mind about it. Sin is always

8



Guttergarten and the Fall

represented by a "copper" and handcuffs, and
in every real storm in Guttergarten the worst
sinner is the person who interferes or blows
the police whistle, and he is always bitterly
blamed for the criminal's misfortune. In Gut-
tergarten the only virtuous woman is she who
tells her business to nobody. No wonder,
therefore, that the Gutter-baby who tries to
be good keeps himself to himself. ,



CHAPTER II

A Paradise Lost

HUNT STREET was comparatively
quiet, for the London County Coun-
cil is as greedy for our boys and
girls as the seductive Pied Piper of Hamelin.
There was nobody to take the "Byby" out
walking in the Gutter, and the highway, the
playground of the elders, was deserted. One
or two red-faced women shouted at each other
from their respective doorways. A coster-boy
had upset a barrel of apples from his truck
and swore a little as he rescued them one by
one from muddy graves, wiping them carefully
with his kerchief, the badge of his office, and
as sacred to the profession as the barrister's
wig, or the physician's thermometer. Sud-
denly from No. 6, top front, came the cry of a
little child. The small room was full of women,
beery and emotional, with moist, sympathetic
eyes. On the bed a three-days-old infant was
dying with blue lips and convulsed limbs. %

10



A Paradise Lost

Someone said, "Go for the Priest!" And
the rest of us kept watch silently. I noticed
a faint purple mark on the left temple of the
tiny upturned face. The fire had been starved
out, and the useless steam kettle pointed out
a long attenuated finger of derision. A piece
of stout paper with a little rent in it was
pinned across the broken window. In the
corner was a odd-shaped bundle wrapped in
a plaid shawl. Then the Priest came.

"Name this child."

At this point the bundle in the corner under
the plaid came to life.

"Sit quiet, Johnny William!" said a re-
proving voice from one of the women.

"John William!" repeated the Priest
gravely.

Then something happened in the little room,
and we knew that the newly enlisted soldier
had received his orders for foreign service.

The mother began to cry hysterically and
the women shuffled clumsily away.

"Yer done 'im wrong, Father!" said one
rough mourner as she passed; "that's the
little bloke's nime!"

ii



Gutter-Babies

From its corner the plaid bundle was
observant. It had a very big head with queer
twisted features and shrewd round eyes, legs
too, but they were weakly things, and not
much to be trusted, and It did not often stand
upright. It did not now, but came out of Its
covered retreat in a sitting posture, with odd
uncertain movements, steered by a pair of
energetic heels. There was nothing either
lovely or childish in the elfin creature, yet
something must be said.

For a moment the Priest and the lay
bundle looked at each other, then It under-
stood.

"Wot did yer do it fer, Guvner? It's this
man's nime!"

"Child!" said the Priest gently, "the little
one is dead!" To him it seemed the way out
of the difficulty.

Johnny William peered up through the
slit in the paper blind, at the pitiless grey
sky, and smothered a storm of passion in the
friendly plaid.

"Then Vs doned me, the bloomin' tike!"
he said huskily.

12



A Paradise Lost

We were all a little shocked. For already
the sanctity of death had shrouded the still
small body, and we were too old to know that
to a baby with crooked legs the passing of a
three-days'-wonder is nothing at all com-
pared with a Paradise lost!

The plaid bundle, surprising everybody
and itself most, grew up one day, straight
and strong, if a little eccentric, and became
my Johnny.

But from some deep subconscious pocket of
the memory I still believe that little incident
embitters his outlook on life, and suggests the
phantasy that every living thing that looks
at him is his natural enemy, until it has proved
itself a friend.



CHAPTER III

The Philosophy of the Gutter

I SUPPOSE it is because Nature dazzles
us with such an exuberance of wealth
overhead that there is so little time to
look for her windfalls. Some day perhaps
people will grow tired of star-gazing and will
turn their eyes to the Gutter; then they will
find the Gutter-babies, and many wonderful
things.

A little way out on the map of life, every
pilgrim from his own mountain of myrrh
must make his venture; some of us have a
natural tendency to the Gutter. It is much
better than going to the wall. No psycholo-
gist could possibly find a more convenient
observatory, for nowhere else is human cor-
respondence so abruptly gracious and inti-
mate. Here the dirtiest and most diminu-
tive of Gutter atoms crawl safely through the
elementary stages of infancy into precocious
adolescence, far from the battle of hoofs and

14



The Philosophy of the Gutter

wheels and the congested struggle of the high-
way. For the Gutter is the nursery of the
poor.

Here, too, are foreigners among the natives,
stars who have dropped out of an unknown
and uncharted meridian, with queer and
often pathetic biographies of their own, which
they will tell, but not at all times or to all
enquirers.

Once I met a youthful philosopher in the
flattest pose possible to rotund humanity,
with pink heels kicking at vacuity and a
cunning nose levelled to the grating of a drain.

It was my Johnny.

"Do you like smelling drains, Johnny?'*

He lifted a somewhat apoplectic counte-
nance to explain.

" It ain't the bloomin' drain what matters,
it's what comes out of its bloody inside!
Once my Rosie, her finded a fadger here."
Johnny smiled a great, blissful, expectant
smile. " I 'm lookin* for a dear little shiner!"
he said.

"We will play that game together, Johnny."

So we did, he and I, and never got tired of it.
15



Gutter-Babies

I was walking with a very small person;
she was dressed in a tumbled cotton frock
and a sunbonnet with one string. Otherwise
she was quite curiously unlike the local lady.
As we proceeded, the small person became
confidential. Her name was Blanchie, and
Johnny claimed her as a relative because she
was brought up by his aunt who took in
Gutter-babies to mind, and she called
Johnny's twin cousins, Alf and Earn, her
brothers. But many streets and many gut-
ters divided them from Special Johnny, and
if it had not been for the call of the blood it is
doubtful if the authorities would even have
permitted them to play together.

For the Twins' Dad was a gentleman all the
week, and the little boys had their hair
curled and wore velveteen on Sundays. The
steps into society are frequently quite as
abrupt in the Gutter-world, but Blanchie
was the secret of this family success.

She was a Gutter-baby Wonder.

All day long she said her lessons and sucked
sweets surreptitiously in the big school of the
Gutter-babies, ate a scrappy fish dinner on

16



The Philosophy of the Gutter

her way out to play, just like the normal
Gutter-baby, and romped and fought and
wept through Gutter-life, the merriest and
most mischievous of the little wild people,
the spoilt darling of our set.

This was the Blanchie that we knew best,
a wistful, precocious, sharp-witted creature,
with whom always and everywhere flowed
the warm and glowing atmosphere of the
guardian Spirit, called out of his Art Heaven
to mind this wayward nursling of Genius
through her extraordinary and very earthly
career.

But when her playmates were cuddled
together dreaming, with their restless limbs
and chattering tongues as still as they ever
are (for every real Gutter-baby tosses and
moans in his sleep), while Johnny lay on his
back snoring, and the Twins slept sweetly in
pink flannelette, with their golden hair
securely fastened up in pins, all night long
before two "Houses" a very absurdly rosy
and professionally smiling Blanchie in a short
skirt tripped about on the points of satin
slippers, singing loudly through her nose, as



Gutter-Babies

she held sway over a troupe of overgrown
and clumsy fairies in an obscurely suburban
music-hall. The presence of the Guardian,
paling and sick at this sordid insult to his
art, yet more brilliant than the blinding lime-
light, wrapped itself about her innocence, so
that the cold world, which shuts its heart
against Gutter-babies, found a tender thought
for the Art-nursling, and someone would re-
member his own spoilt darling asleep on a
soft pillow, and someone else would offer to
see her safely across the road to the station.
A tiny fist it was that he held, gripping fast
a bulky treasure tucked away inside a cotton
glove the three pennies for her return fare
to Shepherd's Bush.

But the small person was talking to me.

"I shan't do no acting when I'm big, you
know, there won't be time."

I wondered why, and was presently in-
formed with due solemnity.

"I'm a scholar; I'm sharp at my lessons;
they think they learned me to read at schule,
but they never. I knew my letters off the
'buses before I could walk."

18



The Philosophy of the Gutter

I dropped the foolish air of patronage which
one sometimes assumes for the benefit of
Gutter-babies who require cultivating, and
became respectful.

"Then I suppose you intend to be a
teacher?"

"No, I'll have a schule; I'll be guveness!"

Presently she asked cheerfully, " What did
you take up with me for?"

I told her as well as I could, and then made
an attempt to reply to a volley of questions.

"It's good to ask 'em, ain't it?"

I assented agreeably, supposing it to be at
least the best way to learn the answer, any-
way.

"Some don't seem to think so, but I reck-
ons you can find out a lot this way, if you
don't ask silly ones and put people off you."

One great fear haunts and threatens the
"scholar's" brilliant future. It is that the
terrible medical certificate may stop her
"schulinV It does happen sometimes to
"awful sharp kids." Some day I suppose the
Art-nursling will arrive at independence and
will go away with her books, shaking off the

19



.1

Gutter-Babies

foster family (who will then cease to appear
in velveteen on Sundays) and leaving behind
her a little pair of worn-out dancing-shoes
with blunted toes.

Earn was not really a disagreeable little
boy, in spite of his unfortunate weakness for
curls and velveteen. He had a magnificent
gift of lying, and a clinging affection for the
environment of Johnny. At times it seemed
as if he might be quite one of us some day.
His mother was very proud of having reared
him from seven months, and to this interest-
ing fact in his early history she attributed all
his many feelings and eccentricities. After
administering a vigorous chastisement she
would console herself with the reflection,
"There, what can you expect of a seven-
months!"

She sent him to me the other day, seriously
alarmed at his powers of mendacity, which
were indeed remarkable, even for a Gutter-
baby.

"The lyin* little 'ound," she introduced
him. " I 'm sure me and his Dad, no one can't
say as 'ow we don't keep our children respect-

20



The Philosophy of the Gutter

able, and I doos 'is 'air up every night, I do,
and where 'e learns it I can't think. It all
comes of takin' other people's to mind. They
ain't like yer own. But there," she finished,
with a shrewd wink at me over the golden
head of the weeping Earn, "what can you
expect!"

We heard her patiently, but when she had
gone we sat far into the tea-hour together,
his soft confiding voice charming away the
twilight. Both of us quite forgot why he had
come, forgot that he was a mean little snob
who told lies, a Gutter-weakling with tangled
curls and the Gutter-babies' chief abhor-
rence spotless linen ! These narrow firelit
walls, the hard edges of our little world, sur-
rendered to a fairy kingdom of limitless dimen-
sions. Spellbound we followed the thread of
his expert imagination through a narrative,
if slightly incoherent and vaguely suggestive,
yet sufficiently graceful not to shame the
great Grimms themselves.

Then, a sudden hesitation, with no hope of
continuation in our next, and no persuasion
could drag from the orator anything but the

21



Gutter-Babies

most trivial conversation. It was the only
glimpse I had into that vivid and fertile
mental atmosphere. For the sickly, freakish
energy of the "seven-months" was easily
exhausted and his time with us was brief.
But a few days after our interview he was
observed playing with some other children
at a school-treat on the shore at Bognor.
A basket with the usual Gutter-baby trea-
sures broken crockery, presents for loved
ones at home, and the diminishing store of
sticky pennies slipped into the waves
splashing stormily at high tide in a strong
breeze.

The small group stared dismally at the
tragedy, but the little despised boy in his
absurd tunic, with his damp curls tortured
by the wind, singing to a trail of seaweed all
by himself in his dreamy and vacant way,
suddenly became the hero of the occasion,
and waded out waist deep among the breakers
to recover the precious articles.

His dripping and triumphant return, as he
handed the wreckage to its weeping owner,
was greeted by an indignant welcome from

22



The Philosophy of the Gutter

the presiding Sister, in whose judgment the
drenched and forlorn condition of his little
person was the most serious dilemma.

It was not worth the risk of being washed
out to sea, or the chance of rheumatic fever,
or the spoiling of his velveteens.

If his Mother had been there she would
certainly have added "There, what can
you expect of a seven-months!"

But we knew better.

"I was play in' it was a baby," whispered
Earn; "I 'card it cry."

And what is to come of it all? Will the
London County Council be equal to the
educational problem? Or must Philosopher,
Scholar, Romanticist, smother in the Gutter
that gave them birth?



CHAPTER IV

The Pedigree of Johnny


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