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I call them when they do that ? I call them — ah,
pardon — the word } the word ? '

Low Covey, with a sincere desire to make
himself useful, suggests 'mugs.'


No. 5 John Street

' No, monsieur,' returns Azrael with severity,
disconcerted by the laugh.

'Jugginses?' cries Low Covey, still as one
bearing a hand.

There is no answer — as they say in the House.

But the orator has it at last, ' I call them the

' He dunno the langwidge, yer see,' explains
Low Covey ; ' but I bet yer a dollar he 's tryin'
for "jossers," all the same.'

O the dismal, dismal speech of this spoiler of a
nation's sport ! — dismallest at the close, where he
thunders against the Princely Dinner to the slums
which is to exhibit the virtuous poor by the
hundred thousand struggling, amid all this riot
of opulence, for a cut of beef and a ha'penny
orange, as their highest attainable good in life.
Bitter is his derision of the tactical mistake of
bringing all these incarnate reproaches to the
system out of the hiding of their hovels and fever
dens — wherein their obscurity saves the wear and
tear of the public conscience — to have them
reviewed, like whole armies of misery, in the
light of the Jubilee Day.

Never before have I heard such a speech.
Never have I dreamed that such a speech could
be made, even as an exercise in paradox. ' Sort
o' gives yer a nasty taste in the mouth,' says Low
Covey, as he leaves the meeting, and accepts an
invitation to pot-luck for the remainder of the
revel from one of the Bacchanalian floors.


No. 5 John Street

The morning and the evening make the first
day. There is a second on Wednesday, when we
tramp the streets again, and take our station
betimes for the gala performance at the Opera.
Our modest means will hardly run to anything
higher than the kerbstone, at a time when people
are paying six guineas for a stall, and two
hundred for a box. I am unable, therefore, to
report to His Excellency at first-hand on this
part of the festival. But I have my scissors, and
I have a pot of paste, and these serve to provide
me with much spoil of the following kind : —

' The stalls and boxes contained a superlatively
brilliant assembly. The duchesses were present in full
force, and almost all the dresses were white ; one or two
were black, but pale tones of green or blue or yellow
were numerous. The display of jewels was wonderful.
Scattered among the pretty women were men in
uniform, in Court dress, in lev^e dress. Oriental
magnates in scarlet velvet coats, richly embroidered
in bullion gold, and wearing white-and-silver turbans
glittering with precious stones ; and, altogether, with
the swaying veils of roses, and the perfume of exotics,
the delicious music, and the universal sentiment of
rejoicing, the scene was one to be ever remembered.'

Then, after more illuminations, back again to
the house, its riot more devilish than ever now,
as the madness of drink is intensified by the fear
of approaching famine. The remainder copper
has become too rare to warrant us in wasting it
on bread.



Thursday is a tremendous day. It is for the
dinner to the Poor. On that day, of all the days
in the year, nobody in all ineffectual London is
to go hungry to bed. Such is the high ambition
of our founders of the feast.

Tilda scorns to bid for a place at the board,
being under the impression that, the less eaten by
those who can do without it, the more will there
be left for those who cannot. This only shows
that her political economy is scarcely in even the
rudimentary stage. But there is a call for helpers
in our quarter, and she has volunteered for that
service. The dinner is to be held in a huge hall
which serves as a receiving house for goods on
ordinary occasions, and which bears some of the
odours of the stable. The tables stretch from
end to end of it, in long perspectives of trestle
and deal board. We are going to fill them all.

Tilda has not only offered herself as cupbearer 5
she has taken charge of the entire floral decora-
tion of the table at which she is to serve. It is
the children's table. The seniors of both sexes
will occupy the rest of the hall. We expect a
few cripples, young and old. It will be a fair
muster of the misery of the quarter.
R 257

No. 5 John Street

Her charge necessitates an early visit to Covent
Garden market; and Covey and I have the
privilege of being in attendance. Covey has an
air of standing by to see fairplay, but his services
in that line are not required. It is a lesson in
tradecraft and self-possession to see how the girl
holds her own with the dealers, with what swift
judgment she chooses the blossoms, names her
price for them, and, with here and there a com-
promise, gets them at the price she has named.
The transaction, however, has manifestly made
an inroad on her capital, for it has brought her
down to her last wedding ring.

We return laden with the spoil, which Covey
carries in a huge basket balanced on his head.
He asks for no assistance beyond begging of me
to light the match for his pipe.

We do not go straight to quarters. Under
Tilda's imperious direction, our path diverges to
a highly fashionable thoroughfare. Our motto,
of course, where she is concerned, is that of the
Vizier of Haroun, * To hear is to obey.' But
Covey mutters beneath his load that he would
be glad to know what she is up to now. In his
case, however, disaffection is almost suppressed
by the difficulty of utterance. There is no
sufficient aperture for full-voiced treason with
that weight on the head.

I should not myself be sorry to be better in-
formed as to the reasons for visiting this district,
and as to the probable duration of our stay in it.
There may be awkward meetings at any moment,


No. 5 John Street

and I am still to be detected at close quarters,
though I wear my Jubilee disguise. At length,
I learn that our destination is the house of ' a lidy
of title/ in whom, when I venture to ask her name,
I recognise one of the most charming adepts of
the new religion at Lady Ridler's five o'clock for
tea and praise. She is, it seems, our principal
lady patroness for the dinner, and Tilda goes by
appointment to take her final orders for the
children's table. Luckily, I have no reason to
believe that she ever looked my way on the day
of the meeting, though, for very sufficient reasons,
I often looked hers. She was exceeding fair to

' She s what they calls our Lady Pattern,' says
Tilda loftily, in answer to our interrogatories. ' I
promised 'er I 'd call this mornin' to see if there
was anything else she wanted done afore she
come down.'

' All right ; Covey and I will wait round the
corner just out of sight of the house,' is my pro-
position, as swiftly made, as swiftly accepted.
Tilda then hastily gathers a few flowers for a
votive offering, and pulls the servants' bell.

We find seclusion in the inevitable tavern,
which, for all the smartness of the neighbour-
hood, is not far to seek. Covey is disturbed at
the thought of Tilda's mission. • Fust time in 'er
life,' he says, ' she's ever 'ad any truck with any
of them sort of 'er own sect. If they cheek 'er,
she 's sure to give it back agin. Why couldn't
she ha' sent you, mate ? You 've got more o' that


No. 5 John Street

" O please don't tickle me " way o' speakin', when
yer choose to put it on.'

His talk wanders away to the uses of ' Patterns'
in the scheme of charity, and I gather from it that
their services are usually too impersonal to suit
his taste. ' The coin 's all paid over in what they
call cheques now,' he says ; ' and as for gettin' a
bob out of em for the likes of you or me, you
might as well ask a perleeceman.'

Our conversation is still pleasantly discursive
on this theme when Tilda returns, and discovers
us at our potations by her sure instinct of search.
She declines her proffered share, and gives us our
marching orders at once.

* The Princess — the Princess o' Wyles, d' y'
'ear ? — is comin' to see our lot, er own self, this
arternoon. Buck up you two.'

There is a change in the girl, and the announce-
ment she has just made but partly accounts for it.
She is quiet and subdued — not, I think, with any
feeling of annoyance or discontent, but with a
kind of wonder. It is a case of ' Look, how our
partner's rapt.'

The procession is reformed. Covey balances
his load with upturned eyes, and as soon as he
has settled into his swing, begins to seek the
gratification of his legitimate curiosity.

' Well, 'ow did yer git on ? '

* Oh, I got on all right — why shouldn't

' Thought you might ha' bin upset by the
carpits on the stairs.'


No. 5 John Street

Tilda {with dignity). ' 'T'aint the fust time
I 've walked on a carpit.'

Covey. ' Still you Ve got to watch 'em. They
gits under yer feet so.'

Tilda, ' Where else would yer 'ave 'em be ?
On your 'ed ? '

Covey. ' Did yer see 'er ? '

Tilda. ' Yes ; I see 'er all right.'

Covey. ' Did she pay for the flowers ? '

Tilda. * Wanted to, but I mean to do this bit

Covey (in a kind of stupor). ' Why, yer don't
mean to sye -?'

Then we learn that the girl has refused to take
a single penny, either for her service at the table
or for the flowers — still with the foolish idea that
' it '11 make more grub for the little lot ' under her
charge. She deprecates our admiring wonder
with the remark, * Why, flowers don t cost nothin'
if you 've got your 'ed in your shoulders when you
buy 'em.' This is understood to be a dismissal
of the topic, but it only makes Covey more
inquisitive than ever.

' Did she come down to yer in the passige, like?'

Tilda. ' No, I went up.'

Covey. ' Droring-room ? '

Tilda. ' Dressin'-room, yer silly ! You don't
s'pose they waltzes about in their droring-rooms
fust thing in the mornin'. {Ironically) ' Anythink
else ? '

Covey. ' Well, yer needn't be so short. I
knowed a fellow as see one of their dressin'-rooms


No. 5 John Street

once. He was settin' a grate, with a flunkey in
the place all the time to see as he didn't nobble
the stuff. My eye ! '

Tilda (incautiously). * That wasn't nothin' to
this 'ere dressin'-room I see this mornin'.'
Covey {logically). ' 'Ow d'ye know ? '
Tilda {breathlessly, as tho2igh losing her self-
control). ' Solid silver every blessed thing on the
table, sometimes solid gold. Real tortershell,
real ivory, cut glass — fetch yer eye out soon as
look at yer ; real satten for paperin' the walls ;
carpits, like walkin' on melted butter ; lookin'-
glasses all over the shop, some of 'em couple o'
yards long. And there she was a sittin' in front
o' one on 'em in a sort o' topcoat o' solid silk, with
a bloomin' servant gal a brushin' 'er 'air for 'er
an' talkin' French. There, now you 've got it ;
an' shut up ! '

I have to divine the rest, including the mystery
of Tilda's silent and embarrassed air. For the
first time in her life she has come to close quarters
with a great lady in the workshop of beauty, and
her own poor pride of craftsmanship in that line
is abased to the dust. The wanderer from the
tents of Ishmael has suddenly found her way into
a Cleopatra's palace, whose majesty of ordered
life and being has hitherto been but a dim tradi-
tion of the tribe. The wooden shoe has been
confronted with the shoe of satin — confronted
and aware.

And this experience comes when the girl is still


No. 5 John Street

under the influence of that determination to be a
better girl by and by, by which, it may be
remembered, she has previously signified her
perception of loftier ideals.

Covey may spare all further question. Dull
would be the imagination that, on these hints,
could not shape out the full comedy of Tilda's
meeting with this exquisite minister of grace.
She has entered the house in her old spirit of
defiance, and she has come out the more effectu-
ally humbled because of the perfect courtesy of
her reception. I hear her half-reluctant, half-
aggressive, pull at the bell. I see her following
the supercilious ' Johnnie in a short jacket ' who
answers it, ' Who 's afraid ? ' written all over her
bold bearing and her defiant eyes. Her rash and
rapid judgment seems to put the whole household
through test after test of supremacy, and to find
them wanting. They cannot work, fight, or
slang, as she estimates these aptitudes. This
mood endures until she enters the presence.
Then it vanishes straightway. For she has come
prepared for everything except for silvery-toned
civility without a taint of condescension, and for a
vision of languorous beauty beside which her own
outfit in this line seems but as the russet apple in
competition for points with the peach. Then her
humbled pride of womanhood — which, whatever
its form, is always a pride of charm — flushes her
cheeks as she feels that this rare being may, if
she please, return scorn for scorn with over-
whelming force of reprisal ; may hold Tilda


No. 5 John Street

herself as cheap as she would hold Tilda's toilette-
table, with its penny bottle of scent from the
chandler's shop, against her own magnificent
batteries of essences and decoctions ; as she
would hold Tilda's tongue against her own ex-
quisite English, or Tilda's mind against her own
storehouse of accomplishments and knowledge of
the world. On the too sudden inroad of all these
alarms Tilda has found her spirit quite o'er-
crowed. As she gazes on the delicate make of
the thing before her, and stifles her awestruck
cry of ' O s'welp me,' she feels lifted into some-
thing like worship at the thought that her
Creator has sometimes wrought so excellently
fine. Then, gathering courage, she has in imagi-
nation touched the tender mignonne, fresh as
from a bath of dew ; has pinched the soft, firm
flesh, like a savage playing with a watch-spring,
and has been cowed by the triumphant issue of
the test as it springs back into its perfect shape.
Her overmastering curiosity of awe makes her
wish that she dared kneel to fondle the silky
wonder of the hair, to follow with an amazement
that precludes envy the filbert line of the nails in
pink and white, to beg for a dainty shoe to hang up
in her parlour back in confirmation of the tradi-
tion of a godlike race. Then her eye wanders to
the jewels, as they still lie loose in the strong-
box, in a disorder which betokens the fatigue of
last night's ball, and again she changes colour at
the thought of their vast potentialities of emanci-
pation from the servitude of labour for ' the likes


No. 5 John Street

of her.' I see her looking down from these to her
own bracelet of plated metal, and rubbing the same
like some awkward Aladdin who has yet to learn
the trick. And now, as the wondrous creature
before her changes her native music for the softer
lingo of the foreign waiting-maid, proud Tilda
seems to bow the head in utter self-surrender to
this mighty man-subduing machine, and to feel
how poor her own compensation of gifts in the
power to lick the transcendent creation with one
hand, at catch weight.

Yet may Tilda have done less justice to her-
self. Familiarity palls ; these hothouse flowers
abound at every step ; and after excessive orchid,
one would fain see the wild rose.

. . • • •

It is not much like a holiday so far, Tilda is
imperative in her demands upon our time. She
has snapped us up as by press-gang — all but
Nance, who is too weak for the service — and we
have to toil for her table like slaves at the oar.
We rinse the flowers, decorate the flower-pots
with gold-and-silver paper, nail our flag to the
wall, if not to the mast, and make ourselves handy
in a thousand ways. The girls under her orders
busy themselves in other parts of the work.
When all is done, it is impossible to deny the
justness of Covey's remark that Tilda's table
takes the cake.

It wins high commendation from the committee,
who presently appear, and who in their turn are
joined by the chief patroness — the masterpiece of


No. 5 John Street

Art and Nature whom Tilda left but an hour
or two ago. She is honoured in herself, and as
the all-potent influence to which we owe the
promise of the Royal visit. She offers her hand
to Tilda, with a smile which is more expressive
than words. The guests arrive.

The sight, I observe, draws tears from many
eyes, and these not merely the eyes of women.
In both sexes, all ages, it is a pathetic exhibition
of human waste. These are the slag of our
smelting fires of civilisation, yet one cannot but
feel that they might as richly repay a second
visitation for ore as the dross of ancient mines.
They seem to demand new and nicer processes
of treatment, that is all. They look shabby, as a
matter of course, but this is nothing to their want
of spiritual form. There is no speculation of self-
reliant manhood, womanhood, childhood, in their
eyes. They seem to have had a fright of hostile
social forces at birth, or before.

The desperate struggle for decency in the
make-up is the most touching part of the sight.
It is the clean collar indeed, but manifestly the
clean collar under difficulties.

The difficulties have been most triumphantly
met at Tilda's table. Each girl or boy mite is
accompanied by its trainer, and delivered in all
attainable smartness at the scratch. The healthier
and stronger hurry to their places in a tumult
that gives a needful pulse to the scene. The
thud of crutches here and there evokes a not
ill-meant ' Go it, ye cripples,' from the observant


No. 5 John Street

Covey, but the pleasantry is not exactly to Tilda's
taste. One infant is brought in on his stretcher
bed, and lies full length to his provender like a
Roman of old.

The almost intoxicating bill of fare is hot roast
beef, vegetables, tarts, and other kickshaws, with
apples and oranges for dessert.

We are at the oranges, when a sense of some-
thing unwonted, fateful, going on at the door
suspends the whole festival as by a word of
command. It is at first but a sound of carriage
wheels mingled with hoarse ' Hoorays' and rasp-
ing cries of 'Stand back.' Then it grows, un-
mistakable in its import, as the committee and
patrons hurriedly leave the hall. By general
consent of murmur, ' She 's come.'

For the best of us, I am afraid, it is now a
case of —

• You meaner beauties of the night,

That poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your Hght,

You common people of the skies ;
What are you when the moon shall rise ? '

A clatter as of grounded arms shows that the
crutches have been brought to the floor to enable
the very cripples to rise. Even the recumbent
Roman tries to rise with them, and is with diffi-
culty kept in his place by the combined agencies
of a stout nurse and a weak spine. So we touch
miracle again, as in the ages of faith ; for, by the
power of this transcendent presence, the very
halt seem to be made whole. It is a presence in


No. 5 John Street

white and mauve, with large and lustrous eyes
which owe much of their expression of command
to their perfect steadiness, and with features that
defy the enemy in their firm and faultless lines,
for the face seems to have perpetual youth among
other attributes of the skies. There are more
figures belonging to the same exalted region — a
Jovian co-partner and head of the family, who
beams genially upon the whole scene, but who,
on this occasion, rather avoids notice ; daughter
Princesses, erect, immobile, impassive, as though
waiting their turn to smile according to the pri-
vilege of their degree ; secondary satellites of
ladies and gentlemen in attendance, who will take
up the smile in their turn when it has passed all
the steps of the Throne. But, for the moment,
our regards, our thoughts, are fixed on the one
in whose name we have been bidden to the feast.
It is the Dinner of the Princess, and the Princess
is here.

She stands perfectly detached from her courtly
background, bowing repeatedly with gentle inclin-
ations, and, at each recovery, smiling approval as
she takes in some line of the vista with that
unflinching gaze. A glance now summons our
chief patroness to her side, as though for explana-
tions. In these there is evidently some reference
to our table, for the august visitor at once deter-
mines the order of procedure by leading the way
towards Tilda's infant brigade.

It has happened so quickly, that our detachment
is quite taken by surprise, and the very camp


No. 5 John Street

followers are cut off without hope of escape.
From my obscure position among these I see
that Tilda is completely in the toils. She has
been waving one of the infants as a flag ; and
the necessity of restoring him unbroken to his
place has delayed her retreat, and brought her
face to face with the Princess.

In an instant we have one of those crystallisa-
tions of incident that make what is called a situa-
tion. The whole room strains for sight and
sound of what is going to happen. The children,
and some of the old men and women, gather
round, as the Aztecs might have gathered round
Cortes when they felt that, at last, they had
before them one of the promised children of the
Sun. Furtive hands, some of them skinny with
the age that ought to know better, stretch forth
to touch the hem of the white and mauve, as
though even that must have some effluence of
the supernatural. The coster ' gal ' and the
Princess stand motionless in the centre of the
circle, the one so immeasurably high, the other
so immeasurably humble, yet in the view of their
mother Nature, perhaps, with hardly a pin to
choose between them in every essential attribute
of womanhood.

The Princess speaks —

' What a very pretty table, and how nicely the
flowers are arranged ! '

Tilda's agitation is painfully apparent to me.
She is, as ever, straight as a dart, but there is
a deep flush on her cheek, and her breathing


No. 5 John Street

is registered in the short convulsive agitation of
a little brooch of German silver which she wears
on her breast.

But a gracious observation has been made, and
the gracious observation demands a reply.

' Thank you, lidy. Thank you, Milidy. Yes,
Your Majesty.' Poor Tilda !

But really the best of us can hardly come to
these things by the light of Nature. Tilda will
rally presently, I feel sure, but she is naturally a
little unsteady in the first passes of this awful

The smiling end of the Committee of Reception,
which is the one nearest to the point of courtly
contact, has made many attempts to intervene.
It now makes another, as though to save the
Princess from Tilda by substituting its more
polished self. To its surprise, a little perhaps to
its chagrin, the Princess avoids the threatened
rescue by a dexterous half-turn towards the coster
girl, which is equivalent to a command. She is
smiling too, but her smile is that of the only
unembarrassed person in the circle, and in this
connection it has the unmistakable significance
of ' Please leave us alone.'

' And are you the kind flower-girl that arranged
it all ? '

* Yes, mum.' Tilda has got it at last ; if she
can only stick to it now.

* Lady Ashbury tells me that you have paid
for the flowers out of your own pocket. It is so
good of you.'


No. 5 John Street

A silence, natural enough in the circumstances.
One part of its import, I begin to fear, is that it
measures the immeasurableness of the social
void between them, the stellar remoteness of all
possible points of contact.

* It must be delightful to live in the country
with the beautiful flowers.'

It is a shot which, in its aim, takes no account
of the economic uses of Covent Garden market,
or of the fact that Tilda has hardly ever in her
life beheld a flower growing 'wholesale.'

*Oh, Milidy' (Tilda! Tilda! make it one
thing or the other), * I ain't got nothin' to do
with makin' 'em grow. But 'ow should you know,
Milidy.-* 'Ow should you know ?'

Perturbation of Committee, which shows a
disposition to push itself forward with a short
account of the system of distribution in the flower

' Milidy,' however, is apparently a better judge
of a good answer than the Committee, and her
fair countenance is still turned to the quarter from
which the answer came. If the distance between
the two women is still one of stellar spaces, it has
yet been lessened by stellar spaces by Tilda's
considerate offer of an excuse.

The Press looks disconcerted. What seemed
only to be an exchange of passing remarks now

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 15 of 21)