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bit on a 'orse, and if yer pull it orf, there 's a
whole suit. As for sickness, there 's the 'orspital ;
but, mind yer, you 've got to bring your own
bottles, and they '11 try to bounce yer into payin'
for advice if they can. As for old age — short
life and a merry one. Very few of us makes old
bones. Don't you be afeard.'

I am somewhat afeard though, for all that, when
the reckoning is done. There comes athwart
my spirit, in a rush, the dread of having but
these few paltry shillings between me and absolute
destitution in the event of any mischance. Never
before have I known this sensation. Nothingr to
hypothecate but the very garments that cover my
nakedness ; and as for borrowing without secu-

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No. 5 John Street

rity, I find that sixpence is the extreme limit of
any possible accommodation of that kind. Low
Covey has said that he can lend such sum at any
time to a pal, when he happens to have it in his
pocket. He will feel obliged, however, by re-
payment in instalments of not less than twopence,
after the second day.

I pass over that first day and first week at the
factory, though it is a capital experience. Else
I could say something of the hideous cheerless-
ness of the place, of the rigour of its moral
climate, which gives the effect of even physical
chill. We are in at seven. At eight we troop
out to breakfast, and are absorbed by innumerable
small dirty coffee-houses which lie furtively about
the purlieus like insect-eating plants waiting for
prey. Oh ! the horror of them — stiff-backed
benches, each the party wall of a hutch ; tables
stained with liquid food ; an atmosphere of grilled
herring and rancid bacon ; a Babel of orders —
* Pint o' kawfee and slice ! ' ' Pint and rasher ! '
' Call this a fresh hegg, missis ? ' * Look alive
with that there tea ! ' 'Tis an unlovely life, this
life of the poor — destitute of beauty far more
than of mere bread and butter. A meal — what a
function when served with art, if only with the
art of cleanliness ! Without that, what an act of
sensuality! In this feeding-shed we all so mani-
festly eat to fill our bellies. We are as fiercely
business-like over it, as surly, as swine at the
trough. We waste no words on each other in
salutations. Nods are not uncommon among the

21



No. 5 John Street

more courteously disposed ; you may nod and
eat at the same time. I think of those breakfasts
at ; the sunHt room ; the soft garden land-
scape beyond, as though wrought in mezzotint ;
the table, another landscape, within, in sheen of
damask, glimmer and glitter of articles of service,
and meadowland of morning flowers ; the people
to match, Honoria as fresh as Aphrodite ; all of
us cleaned up for the business, with morning
devotions, and with morning tub, our talk playing
lightly over the whole surface of things as we
turn over the new leaf of life and hope for the
new day. Immeasurably far is that world from
me as I read of its doings through the grease
stains of the daily paper, now, veritably, after
half an hour's use in this medium, a daily rag.

At half-past eight, ' sharp,' we troop back into
the factory to the iron music of a bell, which
seems to be ticking off the seconds between the
adjustment of the night-cap and the fall of the
drop. By rushing through the meal without
looking to right or left, we may win ten minutes
for a smoke. The wisest are they who speak no
word from first to last, but ever have their mouths
full with either the provender or the pipe. As
we pass the gate, we knock out the glowing
ashes of our cutties against one of its posts.
Bits of the refuse may still be smoked again,
and a street boy stands by to gather them up.
He gleans as much, he tells me, as two ounces
on some days, for we are hundreds strong ; and
this, cleansed by a process of his invention, he

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No. 5 John Street

sells at half-price. It is his modest attempt at
a new industry ; and with this, and coppers for
superfluous service in opening the doors of cabs,
he keeps his superfluous self alive.

We are ticked off a list by a man in charge of
the gate. The penal rigour of the rule seems to
take the life out of us. There is no hypocritical
pretence of labour as joy. We are working out
a life-sentence of servitude incurred as persons
of no account.

' When my Corydon sits on a hill,

Making melody ;
When my lovely one goes to her wheel,
Singing cheerily.'

Ah ! no more o' that — just now, and just here !

At one, we troop forth again, to dine as we
have breakfasted. This time there is the longer
interval of an hour. The meal over, we lounge
upright against the factory wall for the smoking,
read the sporting news and the police reports,
and talk murders and the odds. Thanks to
journalistic enterprise, we are well supplied with
aids to conversation of this sort. If a horse goes
lame in his morning gallop in Yorkshire, we
have news of it at once. Not that we care
anything about the horses. It is only that the
national sport is a national lottery, for our pur-
pose. Parliament may abolish the name, but we
are not going to have it abolish the essential
thing. The sporting lottery is our only hope of
betterment. Hope springs eternal at the cry of
'All the winners,' when the newsboys go round.

23



No. 5 John Street

At two we troop back again, and the day is
more than half done. At six we are free for
good. We are not an organised industry, or we
might have earlier, and perhaps shorter toil.
Nine and a half is our daily tale. Then it is
home — to the three-pair back — and, I can safely
say, delight without alloy. In the first place, I am
master there. The solitude is welcome after the
overmuch companionship of the working hours.
The room meets every immediate need of the
spirit in its cleanliness, its simplicity, its perfect
adaptation of means to ends. All I want is here,
and — almost more important — nothing I do not
want. This last consideration introduces a new
element of pleasure — taste. I have stumbled on
it merely by accident, but that does not matter in
the least. The entire freedom from superfluity is
beauty on the negative side. Positive aspects
are not wanting. Many a shilling have I paid
in Bond Street to see painted harmonies that are
no whit better than these in my garret. The
deal of the table and stool is in perfect harmony
with the new-washed paint of the wainscot, still
yellow with age, and with the well-scrubbed
floor, where every knot in the wood has its uses
in breaking the monotony of the surface effect.
As for the shapes of things, they are good
because they are quite honest in their adaptation
of means to ends. The table and stool are, I
believe, of the * washing ' variety, and their four
sloping outstretched legs make perfect geo-
metrical forms. Really, as an idea, the whole

24



No. 5 John Street

thinof would be worth the attention of the West
End furniture dealers. They might bring it out
— of course, with accessories of silver and of
porcelain, to give a pretext for the overcharge —
as a new * Bachelor suite — Monastic style.'

Monastic style !— that is exactly what I want
to come to. I have at last some practical insight
into the mystery of the truth that the right way
to belong to yourself is to have as few possessions
as possible of other kinds. Merely to apprehend
this, while lolling on a stuffed couch, within reach
of all the so-called appliances of civilisation, is to
have no clue to its meaning. St. Jerome's Paula,
the good friend of a good man, could hardly cross
the floor of her palace on the Aventine without
some friendly hand to relieve her of the weight
of the armour of gold-tissue, which was the tea-
gown of her time. Reduce the claim of externals
— this is the true spiritual tale of the tub, and
mere cynicism is no part of its moral. Placed as
I am now, to covet would be a torture of the
damned. My sense of happiness is emphatically
the science of doing without. I have furnished
on the principle of those wise nomads who are
ready, at a moment's notice, to gather all their
traps on the back of a camel, and fare whither-
soever duty or pleasure calls. I can see even
further possibilities of reduction, until I have
absolutely no more about me than I can stow on
a coster's barrow or on a four-wheeled cab.
will work out one day the 'Spiritual Independ-
ence Suite,' in a couple of deal boxes packed

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No. 5 John Street

with all the needful resources of civilisation.
Why, for instance, a dozen books, if you come
to that? Why more than one, borrowed from
the Free Library round the corner ? You cannot
read two at a time, and as for storage, read the
one properly, and there it is, stored for ever —
inside. It is the senseless craving for ' furniture
and effects ' that keeps us all slaves. Poor
Bellamy, with his hunger for hangings of price,
suites in all the timbers of the forest — trumpery,
in a word — began as a man, but I am full sure is
going to end as a stock-jobber. Maurice sweats
over parchments in the Temple, as the bond-
slave of a house in Bryanston Square, when his
true gift is the ingle corner of a cottage and the
labours of the field. These misguided persons
sweat themselves only ; but how many another
sweats his fellow-man for monstrous braveries of
wear which hang as heavy on the shoulders of
the wearer as a suit of mail.

So, by this present Saturday night, hard on
Sunday morning, I have made a good start in
the new life. I have had my first v/eek at the
factory, my wages are in my pocket, and I am
now sitting by the open window just before
turning in. It is a night of great beauty, and
there are deep shadows and sharp reliefs of light,
with the help of the shining moon. The old
eighteenth century house, with its ground-plan
of three rooms to the floor in diminishing sizes,
forms great masses of silvery white and black as
it catches, or misses, the gleam from the sky.

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No. 5 John Street

There are other houses Hke it, and other efiects,
on the farther side of the party wall. It is as
something from a play ; and much dramatic
action of the highest import might go on with
this for a background. I have learned two
precious things, I think, in this one week. The
little place is good as a discipline in truth and the

realities, and even beautiful as a

A sudden tumult in the back yard. A shriek
of 'Murder,' and, evidently, a shriek in good
faith.



27



IV

In an instant we are in wild rushing tumult, in
fierce hurry to and fro, to the accompaniment of
cries and slamming doors. Thrust the point of
your stick into an ant-hill, and turn up one single
piece of sod, and you have the effect — in all but
the noise, imperceptible to our coarser sense.
The whole house seems to live in every separate
atom, like a cheese under the microscope. There
is one exception at least. I knock at my friend
Low Covey's door, and rush in without waiting
for an answer. His apartment resounds softly to
a low musical trill, produced by himself, with the
aid of a tube half sunk in a glass of water. He
is practising a bird-call. It is exquisite in its
liquid softness, and I could fain stop and listen
but for the dreadful summons from below.

' What 's up now ?' he asks, with something of
the impatience of a prima donna disturbed in her
scales.

* Did you hear that fearful cry ? '
'Ah! I 'eerd somethink.'

' There 's murder going on — a woman, I
think.'

' Dessay ; it's Sat'd'y night*

* I 'm going to see."

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No. 5 John Street

* S pose so ; you 're fresh to the place.'

' Come on too, for God's sake.'

He withdraws the tube, wipes it carefully on
his cuff, and lays it on the mantel-shelf.

' Oh, all right, then. I 'm on. You 'ook it
daown ; I '11 be there soon 's you.'

He is not the only self-possessed mite in the
cheese. As I pass the second-floor back, I see,
through the chink of the half-opened door, a
woman placidly eating a supper of what, I have
reason to believe, is fried fish. A querulous wail
of infancy, in a discord of many notes, is also
wafted outwards with the fumes of the meal.

The rush of wild figures, men, women, chil-
dren, clad or half clad, is towards the upper back
yard — for there are two yards, the lower like a
dry well. We cross a kind of permanent draw-
bridge over the well ; and there, in the full moon-
light, stands a tall, powerful girl, with her back to
the door of an outhouse that usurps half the yard.
A little boy cowers at her feet against the door.
Her arms are in the attitude of fight, common in
the sporting prints, and she holds them in very
workmanlike fashion. In front of her stands a
half-drunken sailor man, his face disfigured with
a blood streak, and his right hand slowly caress-
ing a large, open-bladed pocket-knife, with a
gesture sickening to behold. As an accessory
figure of this gruesome composition, yet still well
in the centre of it, is a faded-looking woman,
whose whole person has an indescribable air of
steamy dampness and melting away. She is as

29



No. 5 John Street

indeterminate in outline as an ill-made pudding.
Hers was evidently the shriek of alarm. Her
eyes seems bulging out of her head with fear, and
she has lost all sense of purpose in her actions.
She still cries 'Murder! Murder! Murder!'
with an automatic regularity suggestive of some
new variety of a Bank holiday machine.

' Who 'it 'im ? ' cries the Amazon, answering
some question from the crowd. ' I 'it 'im ; and
I '11 'it 'im agin if he touches the kid. I kin do
'im any di, and charnce it. Mike 'im put 'is
knife down — thet's all.'

The knife ! Yes, that is the capital fact of the
situation. I know that, in another moment, it
may be darted into the girl's side, finding the
needful * purchase ' of resistance in the hard
surface of her stays. There is no mistaking the
import of the man's devilish smile. Yet I am
perfectly well aware, at the same time, of many
other details of the scene which, in this dire peril,
ought to seem insignificant. At such moments, I
suppose, the senses * bolt ' impressions, good,
bad, and indifferent, ever so much faster than the
judgment can digest them. Thus I see that the
girl is a flower-seller, and one of the most stal-
wart of the corps. Her basket lies in a corner
empty, but for a few stalks. By its side, as
though knocked off in a scuffle, is her helmet —
hat it is hardly to be called — a huge structure
of felt, with nodding plumes. I am able to
notice that one of the feathers droops at a sharp
angle, where, perhaps, it has been broken by a

30



No. 5 John Street

fall. With that helmet on her brows, she would
look but little shorter than a Lifeguardsman.
Without it, she is manifestly of splendid build.
Her gown, torn open in the scuffle, exposes the
heavinof breast. Her black hair streams over
her shoulders. Her sleeves are turned up to the
elbows for battle. One stout fist is streaked with
the blood of the man with the knife. The lips
are parted with her quick breathing ; the flashing
eyes outshine the moonlight. A touch of imagina-
tion would convert her into some well-preserved
fragment of a bas-relief exhibiting Antiope on
the war-path. To complete this idea of the
statuesque, the little ragged boy crouching at her
feet makes a triangular base for the composition.
As an Antiope of the slums, she carries no
weapon but Nature's. Her right arm lies across
her chest ; her left moves steadily to and fro for
delivery ; her eyes follow every motion of the
wretch with the knife, as she waits to catch him
on the spring. I, too, watch him, and within his
distance, until, in another moment, we are both
saved all further trouble on that score. Low
Covey has hitherto followed me with lagging
foot ; but, on catching sight of the girl, he takes
the drawbridge at a bound, with the exclamation,
* Oh, it 's a pal.' Without another word, he fells
the sailor man with a blow on the jaw, so swift,
and sure, and unforeseen, that the fellow falls
quite senseless, and his fingers relax their hold
on the knife. Low Covey pockets the weapon of
the vanquished, as spoil of war, drags him out of

31



No. 5 John Street

the throng, loosens his neckcloth, lays him with a
certain tenderness of touch against the wall, and
having, as he puts it, ' mide him comftablV turns
with a look of inquiry to the girl. She, however,
speaks no word, but drops her now nerveless
arms, and, leaning against the door of the shed,
closes her eyes. The babble of the yard, sus-
pended during the crisis of the scene, now breaks
forth again, and explains all. The sailor man
was groping his way to a subterranean, with the
moist-looking woman of the murder-shriek for
guide, when he stumbled over the child, asleep in
an angle of the stairs.

* There 's alwiz a kid on them stires,' explains
one of the voices, ' and there alwiz will be, till
they puts a lamp up, and leaves off leaving the
street door on the jar. They comes in when
they ain't got no lodgin' money for the four-
pennies, pore little things.*

The sailor man was angfered and kicked the
child. The moist woman remonstrated, got a
blow for her pains, and brought worse punishment
on the innocent cause of the disturbance. The
sailor man was for dragging the child into the
yard and beating him there at his leisure, when
the street door opened once more, to admit the
flower-girl coming home from her day's work.
She darted forward, and struck the man full in
the face. The moist woman set up her shriek to
the universe. The rest is told.

By this time the heroine of the adventure has
gathered up her 'things,' including the dreadful



32



No. 5 John Street

helmet, and she seems to have perfectly recovered
her belligerent and defiant self.

' My kid ! ' she cries fiercely, in answer to
another question, ' he 's no kid o' mine. I ain't
got such a thing.'

* He don't look as if he was inybody's kid,'
says another. * Never had no mother, I should
say. Speak up. Tommy, what 's yer name ? '

At this the flower-girl turns and looks down at
the urchin, where he crouches still at her feet as
though settling himself once more to lawless
sleep. His claim against Society, Nature, God
— call it what you will — seems stupendous. He
lacks everything — clothing, flesh to hang it on, all
the amenities presumptively down to the ABC.
He wears a shirt torn at the shoulder, and a pair
of trousers which is but a picturesque ruin — just
these and no more. A ridiculous fag - end of the
shirt, itself a shred, sticks tailwise out behind
through one of the rents. He is shoeless, cap-
less, uncombed, and, even in this light, manifestly
very dirty. With the dirt on his face, there is a
tiny dried-up rivulet of blood. At sight of the
blood the flower-girl catches him up in her arms,
and all the Amazon vanishes as she bursts into
pitying tears. She holds him to her fine firm-
lined bosom, calls him ' pore lamb,' and makes
awkward, untrained attempts to dress the cut by
wiping it with the corner of her apron. He
resists. The strong hand seems to hurt him, and
to confirm a wild, nomad terror of human touch
which he has found invariably harmful. She sets
c 33



No. 5 John Street

him down, and enters the house to fetch water
for his wound. When she returns with that,
and with a huge sUce of bread and butter, he is
nowhere to be seen. He had followed her, as
we thought, to her room, but really only to steal
away to the unconditioned freedom of the street
by the ever-open door.

The woman of the murder-shriek has vanished
too. The water comes in handy for the revival
of the mariner. Low Covey lifts the still in-
sensible patient's head, which yields with a facility
sickeningly suggestive of dislocation of the neck.
Presently he shows signs of returning life, and is,
in due course, on his legs, and staring absently
at the company. His expression changes to a
scowl as he recovers fuller consciousness, and
seems to realise himself in a sort of habitual
hatred of his kind. Then he, too, finally lets the
street door swing behind him, and disappears
from that scene, and from this story.

The door of the wooden shed in the yard, after
which the battle ought to be named in history,
closes on a doorkeeper returning to his post be-
hind it. As it opened to receive him, the swing-
ing light within afforded a glimpse of a number
of belated devotees slowly settling down by the
knees to a resumption of prayer, like so many
camels waitinpf to be eased of their loads. The
back premises at No. 5 John Street will soon be
left to moonlight and to me.

Yet not quite so soon as I think. We still
linger to exchange views. This curious house !

34



No. 5 John Street

Who would have thought one had so many
neighbours? It is a colony, tier upon tier. I
see the figures, in various stages of undress, still
haunting the back windows, as though loth to
leave the entertainment while there may yet be
a parting scuffle or a parting groan. There is a
patriarchal head at the first floor ; and a patri-
archal fist there threatens a mob of infants at the
adjacent window to drive them back to bed.
Such a head, I have no doubt, was often seen on
the plain of Shinar. The hooked nose, the mass
of spiral locks, the flowing beard, seem unchanged.
In that respect only time and space separate John
Street from Chaldea.

The premises have yet to quiet down. A
querulous barking and yelping still comes from
the end of the yard. Unnoticed during the
rumpus, except as an accompaniment in a minor
key, it is now a distinct offence to the ear. I
trace it to its source in a mouldy green-house,
once, no doubt, the pleasaunce of the mansion,
when the place was inhabited by persons of
dignity and note. The kindly moonlight, stream-
ing through the roof, shows me a domestic
menagerie, and a dissolute-looking man within.
He seems to be engaged in flicking the inhabi-
tants into peace with a towel, or, when that fails,
in smoking them into stupefaction from a short
pipe. Dogs of many breeds dodge his blows,
barking or yelping still. Rabbits jerk to and fro
in their hutches — mere troubled specks of colour,
as their markings catch or lose the light. Con-

35



No. 5 John Street

Irasting effects of twinkling whiteness, in smaller
cages, are probably toy mice in a scare. Sea-
green pigeons roost above on shelves which once
held flowers.

Next to this den, and nearer to the main build-
ing, is another shed, which faces the unexpected
house of prayer. The doorway of this abode has
been occupied all through the adventure by a
strange-looking figure, pen in hand, and spectacles
on nose, as though the spirit within were given
to the labours of literature. It is the figure of an
old man. He is very slovenly ; and I should say
that, under a searchlight, he would prove to be
dirty as well. But, in this subduing beam, you
have to take all but the darkest stains on trust.
He has merely watched the incident during its
actual progress ; but now that it is past, he seems
ready with its moral. He straightens himself as
for an oration, and in a husky, cavernous voice,
observes, ' The cursed aristocracy — blast 'em ! '
But this oration is never to be finished. A tall,
spare man of middle age, clad in black, emerges
from the depths of the hut, lays a softly compel-
ling hand upon the orator, and enjoins silence
with the words, ' Come in, old fool.' They are
quite gently spoken, in a foreign accent, by one
who has what I can describe only as a look of
superiority. The speaker seems something of a
personage, by virtue of his air of melancholy,
which seems to have no origin in petty cares, his
high brow, his well-cut features, and especially
of what we are able to see, by this faint light, as

36



No. 5 John Street

to the expression of his eyes. ' Come in, old
fool,' he repeats tenderly, and the door closes on
the pair.

It is bedtime. Two or three sleek young men,
who look soft spoken as well, seem to be aware
of it, and they move indoors. They have been
in the yard from the first ; but, to their credit as
men of peace, they have preserved an absolute
neutrality between the contending parties. If
the knife had reached its mark, I feel sure they
would have slunk off as decorously as they slink
off now. Yet they seem to know one of the
crowd, for the quietest of them sought to ex-
change glances with the moist woman, when her
assailant was felled. They now file off with
her, as though to their respective shares of cave
dwellings. One of them, indeed, speaks at last,
though still in the tone of perfect discretion that


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