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Johnny without being laughed at, it will be
Morning in the Gutter!



CHAPTER XIV

A Silent Sappho

IT was born one spring morning quite early,
before the day was sure that it was to-
day, a little thing and perhaps not so
very wonderful, but to her who brought it
forth strangely enchanting. She was a Poetess
and lived in a tiny dark slip room in a narrow
winding slum. She never burned the mid-
night oil, for she was too poor to waste even
a tallow candle. But sometimes she struck
a match and watched the little black head
burst into a sickly flame that travelled slowly
down the stick, until it scorched her poor thin
fingers. She did not live quite alone. There
was a melancholy white terrier with project-
ing hips and moist eyes, who hid in the cup-
board by day and only ventured out at night
like the great overgrown rats which filled
him with fear. For the Poetess had no
licence. She called him Flossy, a playful
name that was never meant for him ; happily

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A Silent Sappho

he had no sense of humour and answered to it
with one spotted ear alert, and a snivelling
nose against her cheek.

And he would sit for hours, while the
Poetess read to him snatches of verse, and
his stumpy tail thumped approval in the dust
as though in a vain effort to scan the quaint
metre. So the Poetess and the dog and the
Thing lived together and hardly knew them-
selves for happiness. Every morning the
Poetess went out for a walk, and brought
back a number of wire coronets, and some
soft hairy stuff which she wound round them
to make pads for fine ladies to increase the
dimensions of their heads. And so the
Poetess was dependent on the caprice of
feminine vanity for a day's work and bread
enough to eat. The trade had been unusually
slack of late, and in the home of the Poetess
the financial situation became serious as the
winter months dragged wearily on. Day
after day, the Poetess came home with a
dwindling bundle, half a stale loaf, and a
dark piece of meat, for which Flossy fought
bravely with the rats. The dog began to fret

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Gutter-Babies

and pine, whining through the long hours of
his lonely vigil in the cupboard, and during
his brief nightly freedom became too queru-
lous to appreciate the companionship of the
Poetess. But the Thing grew and throve
extraordinarily, and at night when the room
was dark and silent, and Flossy lay still in
the shape of a whiting and breathing hard at
the end of the bed, It almost seemed to be
another soul. Sometimes It cried like a child
at its mother's breast and wept because the
Poetess could not satisfy It. Sometimes It
seemed to be a great bird that beat its wild
wings against the low roof and tore at the
rattling window pane and carried her up, up,
high up above the moon, and she sighed and
asked if that was fame. But when the morn-
ing came, she drew It back like a schoolboy's
kite, nursing It away in her bosom again,
and went out for the walk to the factory that
grew longer every time, with the Gutter-
babies yelling after her, "Ragged Molly!
long-haired Molly!" For Gutter-babies can
be very silly sometimes. They did not recog-
nise within the eyes of the Poetess the glim-

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A Silent Sappho



mer of that divine enthusiasm which no in-
solence can quench, and they never guessed
that under the rags, warm and live against
her breaking heart, slept a treasure that no
thieving hand could ever find.

But Ragged Molly had one champion : over
the darkened intellect and perverse mind of
my Johnny the Poetess and her eccentric
establishment exercised a marvellous influ-
ence. The hours when he ought to have been
occupied profitably in the Special School
were spent inside Ragged Molly's cupboard
where the two odd little outcasts, the dog
without a licence and the human boy whom
Society had labelled "Special,'* hid together
from the law and kept each other warm. Long
after he ought to have been in bed, when
his mother was calling "Johnny! Johnny!"
across the deserted Rec, the Poetess was
teaching him long stories in verse, and making
him say them to her again as he sat at her
feet, a tamed and gentle little Johnny, fasci-
nated by her pale face and wildly brilliant
eyes. They were able sometimes to speak of
the Thing, and they did not know that this

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Gutter-Babies

was the Gift of Tongues, or that the school of
the Mystics would have been glad to claim
them as their own. In the bitter world of
Ragged Molly, the wayward fitful sympathy
of my Johnny must have been a sweet and
cheerful influence. Yet in the end it was
Johnny who betrayed her.

The Poetess was proud of her poverty.
"Great Chatterton starved," she would say,
"and so must we!"

But there came a day when she crawled
back wearily with empty hands, and Flossy 's
eager expectant greeting ended in a wail of
disappointment, as he went back to cover
with his tail between his legs.

When the Visitor called, she was permitted
for the first time, after many attempts, to
enter the home of the Poetess. She was a
common person; by that I mean, as I dare
say you know, that when one first looked at
her one felt quite sure that one had seen her
somewhere before, and when one looked away
one forgot what she was like altogether. And
she always said the obvious thing in the most
obvious way, which would not matter at all,

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The poetess teaching long stories in verse



A Silent Sappho

only it is so seldom the excellent thing or the
acceptable way. Her gloves were out at the
fingers from poking in empty pockets for
phantom pennies, and she had as many names
as there are days in the week, and was re-
ceived courteously or not, accordingly. On
Mondays nobody was very keen she was
the Boot Club. Some people jerked untidy
heads^out of upper windows and screamed,
"No think for yer ter-dy, Miss!" Others
grumbled because the wind blew in their faces
when they opened the door. Tuesday she
was "Charity," and everyone had to remem-
ber to get up late, and sad-faced Gutter-
babies learnt off by heart long and pitiful
stories to recite to her, and woe, indeed, to
any improvident little rascal who had failed
in courtesy on that day. Sometimes she was
" Blue Ribbon," and had herself to remember
to look the other way when the ceaseless
procession of thirsty jugs clinked cheerfully
past her in the dinner hour. Sometimes she
was the Church, and scattered light litera-
ture about whenever she got inside a door,
which was not often, and everyone said they

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Gutter-Babies

would certainly come, but after she had gone
the young Gutter-babies ate up the tickets,
and in the evening the little Visitor peered
anxiously out of a forlorn Mission Hall into
an empty street, and then went back again
to arrange the chairs differently. Her home
was set in a great building like a rabbit
warren with long stone passages and innum-
erable other little homes inside it full of
Gutter-babies, full of human life and human
wrongs.

Once in the window which held the longest
sunbeam, a gilded cage had swung a speckled-
breasted thrush above the winter snows.
But as the mornings grew brighter, the poor
prisoner sang love-songs to a geranium pot in
the next-door flat, and died broken-hearted
in the spring.

And once the little Visitor had caught a
real live Gutter-baby of her own and tamed
it. There had been a wonderful reign of love
then in the lonely home, but quite suddenly
one day the Gutter-baby grew up and ran
away.

Even the Poetess, starving slowly to death
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A Silent Sappho

in her garret, was better off. For she had
something to nurse and cuddle and hide,
which is all a woman wants to make her
happy.

Now when these two, the Visitor and the
Poetess, met, a curious thing happened; the
Visitor quite forgot why she had come, for-
got to ask impertinent questions or to de-
mand the rent-book or to peer into unlikely
places for pawn-tickets, and the Poetess felt
like some little bird sitting on a nest that
has been discovered, for she knew that this
common shabby person had scented the
glorious existence of the Thing.

The Visitor looked round the comfortless,
pitiful little home with its dreadful secret of
a heart's struggle and despair, and even the
poor necessities of bare existence seemed to
wear the semblance of wealth and luxury
there. She promised everything she had to
the Poetess in exchange for the Thing.

"Give it to me!" she said, "just to mind
and nurse and educate for you, and by and
by it will bring us money and fame."

But no desire of earth could touch the



Gutter-Babies

heart of Ragged Molly where it lay twisted
in the warm embrace, which with cooing and
soft laughter and song was already lifting
her into a perfect heaven of love and delight.
Not for anything that worlds might give
must this strange and heavenly companion
be sold to the children of men. And soon the
little Visitor found herself in the cold wind-
swept street, feeling like Hannah when she
stood with her enemies in the gate, and in her
ears rang the voice of Ragged Molly, " You
will go and tell your world of the poor Poetess,
but you will never be able to tell of what you
have seen to-day!"

Some day there will be a long silence in the
little chamber, and presently a curious neigh-
bour will force open the door to stare at the
Poetess lying very quietly, with her head
pillowed in rags on the floor, and watched by
a sad-eyed terrier with a weak hysterical
bark. Then someone will remember that
great Chatterton starved, but nobody will be
able to find the Thing.



CHAPTER XV

The Gutter-Baby Mystic

NO one has very seriously persuaded
the obstinate Paganism of the Gut-
ter Mind.

Often in the story of Guttergarten some
remarkable person has given us his life and
the Gutter has been irresistibly drawn into
the magnetic atmosphere of a great human
influence.

We might, indeed, easily find here enough
copy to write in heavy volumes our own Acta
Sanctorum within the White Circle of kindly
sympathy and creative holiness which they
have cast down in the swinish heart of Gut-
tergarten.

In the breath of our gibes and stinging
sneers, spattered with the Gutter-babies'
muddy insults, with their vitality and enthu-
siasm daily spent and sucked away by the
exacting devotion and vampire greed which
has at last slain them in our service, the

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Gutter-Babies

Gutter Saints have lived among us and been
entertained. And we have seen their pass-
ing with a shocked reverence and the dumb
sense of a deep personal loss.

And still Guttergarten is unconverted, and
still day after day the Gutter Parson tramps
a hostile, devil-haunted district, and travels
patiently backwards and forwards from the
little grim Mission Chapel, where the noisy
bell summons him so frequently and so im-
periously with its persistent and unmusical
clamouring. And day after day he comes
back, as the shadows are gathering in the
silence of his lonely den, to kick off his dusty
boots with the same tired sigh, and the same
unchanging conclusion, "Well, there's no
religion in them!"

When the Stranger and the Enemy come
to talk with the Gutter Parson upon the very
scene of his herculean labours, he has no
imposing red-brick building to mark the line
of progress on the dingy map of his energies,
no overpopulous night-clubs, covering them-
selves with glory on field and river, and
scarcely a handful of the faithful in the dim

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The Gutter-Baby Mystic

chapel, gathered under the red lamp, only
that homely, sordid, slowly-sinking life of his,
so soon to startle us with the divine enthusi-
asm of the last flicker.

The Gutter Parson's task is but a little
less complicated than that offered to .the
Catholic Church by the heathen empire in
the day of many gods and many creeds.

For deep below the superficial indifference
of Guttergarten slumbers the mighty giant
of Primitive Religion, and his waking move-
ments, as he gropes towards the Light, are
varied in expression.

Among the little wild people themselves
the favourite and most precious symbols of
the Eternal Mysticism are, I think, quite
indisputably the Bonfire, the Garden, and
the Grotto.

From the earliest days of crawling in-
fancy, when the great facts of existence first
began to find a nucleus of interest in the
Special mind of Johnny, the mysterious in-
spiring cry of "Fire" had been the most
splendid invitation that his Gutter-world
offered to him. In the chill dim hours of the

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Gutter-Babies

lonely winter morning, as one by one the
warm bodies of his earthly friends left the
family bed to scatter reluctantly about their
several vocations, the Gutter-baby, shiver-
ing in the nakedness of his material rags,
watched the solemn birthday of the fire, and
learned to look forward eagerly to the il-
luminated moment when he might be old
enough to be trusted to assist at that tremen-
dous function and find out for himself the
puzzling secret locked away in the common
things of coal and wood. As his mother fed
the infant flames and nursed them tenderly
into a ferocious energy, it was with other
eyes than hers that the Gutter-baby beheld
that growing living Thing, writhing and
dilating in the shrine of the sooty grate. He
marked each leaping motion of this strange
phenomenon and in the glow of its radiating
atmosphere he nestled, curiously charmed
and thrilled. The tiny cold blue hands are
lifted up to the kindly blaze, and closer
creeps the little body until Special Johnny is
looking into the heart of the Fire King, as it
slowly unfolds to him its story.

136



The Gutter-Baby Mystic

Through the high grill of the "Regulation
Guard," countless fiery serpent tongues hiss
their utterance to the eternal mysteries.
There the twisting fire-faces smile and beckon
to him, yawning caverns open in the redden-
ing coal, and among the bright colours of the
rising flames spring fairy obelisks and dream
palaces. In the long hours of silent com-
munion, cheering the bitter and incomparable
loneliness of a human babyhood, Special
Johnny cements his Fire friendship.

But the growing and materializing process
of the Gutter-baby soon excommunicates
him from the Sacred Shrine. In a little while
his lengthening limbs seem to be in every-
one's way, the Regulation Guard is required
for drying the new baby's little garments,
and the big chair by the fire belongs to Daddy
and must not be crawled upon by little boys.
And so the Gutter-baby, with the Flame
Secret buried in the fast prison of his young
heart, goes out into the cold world. And
there he learns the mighty force and volume
of his friend when he has escaped from the
control of the Regulation Guard. Following
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Gutter-Babies

the challenge of the fire cry and the signal
wreaths of blue smoke against the flame-lit
sky, he scrambles and struggles among the
crowd which has collected at the summons
of the magic word. The long columns of the
red enemy shoot up the condemned building,
the white faces of threatened victims stare
out at him with torture-stricken eyes. He
hears the thundering roll of wheels upon the
hard road, there is fire dancing below the
swinging body of the Flame Chariot. It darts
in glancing rays from the helmets of those
closely clinging riders, it scatters in brilliant
fireworks under the stinging beat of galloping
hoofs.

For the third time in the experience of
Special Johnny, the Lawses' little oil-shop
was burning fiercely.

The Lawses themselves had put their fam-
ily to bed and were out on a shopping expedi-
tion. So there were children in there, Gutter-
babies like himself who had loved the Fire!
t Gutter-babies, perhaps, who had searched
the Gutter for fragments of real coal, and
gathered the forbidden twigs in the parks

138



The Gutter-Baby Mystic

and front gardens of the West, who had
saved their pennies to buy the precious black
knobs to drop into the greedy devouring red
mouth, and risked their little bodies in steal-
ing from the wood-yard. Gutter-babies who
had wept in the hard times for the Fire that
died of starvation.

And now they were suffocating in the cruel
remorseless grip of the Fire Fiend's wrath.

For many days after, the charred ruin of
the Lawses* devastated home, and the shrink-
ing fear of those three little stiffening bodies
paralysed the mind of Special Johnny.

But there were other moods in which he
might still seek safely the society of his old
friends. On his reluctant way to the Special
School every morning, the blacksmith's forge
never failed to arrest his speculative atten-
tion. Here the merry army of glowing sparks
springing from the anvil filled the world
with a shower of golden insect life and tickled
his childish fancy into dreamland again.

Once more the old irresistible fascination of
the Fire King was upon him, and so it hap-
pens that in every sheltered nook and cranny

139



Gutter-Babies

of the windswept Gutter streets we find recent
traces of the Gutter-baby's Fire-worship.
Here, where the ashes are scarcely scattered
and the ground is blackened and strewn with
the debris of charred sticks and dead matches,
has squatted sometime the figure of a tiny
Gutter-baby philosopher, and with infinite
tenderness has nursed his little god.

How much all this has to do with the gro-
tesque miniature architecture so skilfully
and delicately erected, in the eagerly appro-
priated sites of Guttergarten, I suppose even
the Gutter-baby himself will never be able to
tell us.

"Please 'member the Grotto!"

An evil-smelling oyster shell in a grubby
and persistent little hand, and a pleading
cockney voice is at our elbow. And lo! we
are standing unsuspectingly on the very
threshold of a Lilliputian cave of Mysteries.
Into what stupendous psychic adventure have
we now stumbled? Is this the sanctuary of
a miniature Corycian Cavern wherein, per-
haps in the rent chasm of a winkle-shell, the
dread Typhon yet nurses his wrath? Perhaps

140




Please 'member the Grotto 1



The Gutter-Baby Mystic

we have never before quite realised the im-
mense fact of the Grotto in the development
of human experience.

It may be the lament of Adonis, or an echo
from the Crib, that we shall hear in this little
Bethlehem of Guttergarten.

But we must not forget to look for the
Gutter-baby Gardener. Very much is being
done just now to encourage him by the local
authorities.

In the arid desert of the asphalt "Rec"
one spot, apparently quite deliberately set
apart for the purpose of Tree-worship, is
fenced off with barbed wire and high yew
hedges from the devastating explorations of
Gutter-baby adventurers. Here, with round
and envious eyes, and impotently greedy
fingers, Special Johnny may cultivate an
appreciation for the stunted newly planted
shrubs and sooty beds of geraniums, far
removed from the reach of his plundering
capacity. Serious, indeed, would be the case
of any presumptuous Gutter-baby who might
trespass on those hallowed precincts, or,
squirming his small body between the forti-

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Gutter-Babies

fications, dare to carry off in a hot little hand
one fading bloom.

And yet, unwatched and unguarded in
another part of the open "Rec," the same
Gutter-baby, unchecked by any official re-
straint, learns the vicious secrets of brutal
men and evil-mouthed women.

But soon in the Special mind of Johnny the
old Adam wakes from slumber.

"Back to the land."

And long before the Feast of the Midsum-
mer Saint the bare wall of the Gutter cot-
tages are hung with bright-coloured little
pot-gardens, charging the thick atmosphere
of Guttergarten with the heavy scent of their
ephemeral sweetness, varied at intervals by
the narrow prisons of caged songbirds.

Were the Gutter Parson to be passing just
now and were he to stop to reconsider his
condemnation of the Soul of Guttergarten, he
might perhaps be tempted to plant a little seed
in the rich soil of pagan imagination and sit
down beside the Bonfire and the Grotto under
the little swinging pot-gardensof Adonis, to tell
the eternal tragedy of the Sun-god, who, while

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The Gutter-Baby Mystic

the Gutter-babies are gently dreaming, sets
out every night on his little boat on that
perilous voyage through the Moon's white
heart into the fields of the Morning Rose.
A little audience would gradually gather
about him, open-mouthed and semi-articulate,
with eager questions, and perhaps even a
loutish overgrown Gutter-baby, on his way
back from the day's work, would be gladly
welcomed in their midst.

"Daddy, come and listen to our fairy
tale!"

But the big Gutter-baby stops only a
moment with his foolish vacant stare, and as
he turns away to his own little temple of
Dionysus, his beer-muddled, unreceptive
brain forms its brief conclusion,

"Damned rot!"

Perhaps after all the Gutter Parson did not
make any mistake!



CHAPTER XVI

The Crown of Thorns

THERE is a certain kind of super-
special Gutter-baby who has no
place even in the diversified scheme
of Guttergarten.

The deaf Gutter-babies and the blind
Gutter-babies, the Gutter-babies who have
fits, even those who are distinguished by
peculiar tendencies towards certain moral
accomplishments, and the poor little Gutter-
babies who have dead mothers and fathers,
are all eagerly appropriated by various asy-
lums almost as soon as their different eccen-
tricities have declared themselves.

But it is not so with this Gutter-baby.

And day by day, as the enormous numbers
of the maimed and crippled little people are
sorted out, and tenderly gathered up by good
Samaritan omnibuses, to be deposited in their
own particular pigeon-holes for education,
there is one Gutter-baby who always stretches

144



The Crown of Thorns

out appealing little hands in vain. For no-
body wants this super-special Gutter-baby.

To the round bright eyes of this Gutter-
baby the gladness of earth's springtime means
nothing at all, and it does not know whether
the new garment that gives such supreme
pleasure to this little egoist is red or green.
The sound of the great World-voice reaches
those little grimy, self-assertively projecting
ears through a blanket soaked with dulled
intelligence. This Gutter-baby speaks with
a thickened stubborn tongue its own lan-
guage of confused gibberish which conveys
little or no meaning to anyone. And often
it rolls purposelessly upon the floor, and beats
its curly tangled head against the wall with
the pain of a life which cannot be interpreted.

And yet this Gutter-baby is not really deaf,
nor can it be medically certified as blind or
insane. It is just a super-special Gutter-
baby. It must not disturb even the gentle
discipline of the Special school-room, and it
must not ride away in the omnibus with the
little maimed people. This Gutter-baby has
got to learn to manage its own little crippled

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Gutter-Babies

life for itself, because it has been declared
perfectly ineducable. And so it will run wild
all over Guttergarten, becoming always more
and more a derelict of Gutter-baby society,
and always less easily influenced by the world
of sense, until at last some of those little
devils who are so lively in Guttergarten catch
the little body for themselves. And they do
not often leave it until they have brought it
to the prison or the madhouse.

A Gutter-baby after this type was our Bess.

A "fair picture!" her father said she was,
and worshipped her. And certainly she pos-
sessed that comparatively rare and attract-
ive gift of Gutter beauty. Her round bright
eyes were marvellous, notwithstanding the
fact that they were of so little use to her, and
the heavy curls about her suffering little
head were amber-rich. Every limb was sound
and straight, and her small delicately mod-
elled features gave no freakish suggestions.
Her firm chin was set as boldly as any self-
reliant little spirit could have moulded it, and
yet she had no means whatever of commun-
ication with us, and seemed to live in a little

146



world of her own fixed far away from ours.
For a long time she used to sit on the seat
beside Johnny on his rare visits to the Special
School and it was during this period, I sup-
pose, that the great friendship ripened which
was destined to play so large a part in the
psychic museum of Guttergarten.

It was an idle morning in March, with the
smell of spring in the air, and a certain sharp-
ness rushing in through the open window.
Blanchie had just cleared a little corner in
the muddle of occupations which had failed
to absorb my attention, and had disappeared
up the street on the urgent quest of dinners.


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