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marks their whole demeanour. He seems to
rebuke a truculent-looking boy, who likewise is
going downstairs ; and these are his temperate
words, * You ain't got no business here.'

' Mind your own bloomin' business, or I '11 give
yer a shove in the eye,' is the answer of the boy.

The young man minds his business accord-
ingly by rounding his shoulders, as under a
burden of self-imposed silence, and, with his
friends, is quickly lost to view.

'Now, Mammy,' cries the Amazon to an old
woman, whom I recognise as my bedmaker, ' you
jest go indoors ; you '11 ketch your death o' cold
ere.

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No. 5 John Street

This heralds the departure of the central
group, formed by the heroine of the adventure,
and two admiring bottle-holders of her own sex.
The one addressed looks up at her with an
expression of anxiety ; the other, a mere girl,
eyes her with pride and trust. The girl pre-
sents in her appearance the same problem as
certain insects. How can there be room for a
complete apparatus of organs within her narrow
chest and narrower waist ?

The Amazon leads the aged one into the
house, and to the door of the front parlour. The
three women evidently lodge on the same floor ;
the strongest, as though in support, in the middle
room, with a feeble sister on either side.
Hers is the first back parlour, and beyond it
there is a second, which must be the home of
the one with the merely conjectural inside.
The old woman cannot leave without offerinor
to the champion her sex's universal restorative
or panacea.

' You jest come inside, my dear, and you shall
have a nice cup of tea,'

' Git out with yer ; I don't want no blessid
tea.' — It is our way of declining offers in John
Street. — ' Got any sweet stuff, Nance.'* '

' Yes, you darlin',' cries the other girl in
answer. Then, vanishing, she returns in a
moment with a packet of mixed confectionery,
which is, manifestly, of the heroic age of human
digestion, and which is labelled ' Surprise.'

The Amazon munches two or three morsels

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No. 5 John Street

with the relish of a child ; and, in the pause, her
eye falls on my companion, who has been the
last to leave the yard.

'Thank yer. Covey, for fetchin' 'im that one
on the jore. I thought I was done.'

'Oh, it's all right,' says Low Covey modestly ;
' there warn't no time to square up to 'im when
I see the sticker in 'is 'and.'

And munching still, she retires, with the giver
of the feast, by their common door.

As we mount to our lodgings under the roof,
we overtake an old man toiling upwards beneath
the weight of a huge cylinder in an oilcloth case,
and of a tripod stand.

' 'Ad a good catch, old man?' asks Low Covey,
as he gently relieves him of his entire burden
with one hand.

' Pretty fair,' says the man, with a harshness
of voice that seems to betoken rust in the organ.
'Thank yer, and good-night,* is all the rest we
hear, as he takes back his cylinder at the door
of his own room, which lies between the two
occupied by ourselves.

' Who 's that ? '

' That's Holy Joe, the old cove as calls you up
in the mornin'. He does a bit at night in the
streets with 'is telescope, showin' the stars —
astrolyger by trade. All self-taught. Made the
machine hisself too.'

* He seems a quiet neighbour.'

' Yes ; he wouldn't be a bad sort if he'd only
enj'y hisself. But he won't. Never takes a

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No. 5 John Street

pint ; never says nothin' ; just keeps hisself to
hisself. Seems to 'ave all 'is pals up in the
sky.'

Funny sort of people! Rather unpromising
for the Report.



40



V



A CALL from Low Covey. He Is in shirt-sleeves
and one brace. Such, I should judge, is the
extreme rigour of fashion here for Sunday
morning. To my surprise, he makes absolutely
no allusion to the scene of last night. I, natur-
ally, want to talk about it. He is not averse,
but he does not seem to know that there is any-
thing to talk about. ' It was Sat'd'y night, you
know,' he says ; ' things offin gits a bit lively on
Sat'd'y night' His preference in topics, I should
judge, is for bird-calls, as for something that
suggests the arts and the graces of life. But,
finally, in condescension to my ignorant wonder,
he brings his mind to the subject of my choice.

' Larf,' he says genially, ' I thought I should
ha' bust when I heerd that old cure lettin' out
at the aristocracy arter I had floored the bloke.
That sailor chap warn't no aristocracy, no more
than you or me — barrin', p'raps, the pound or
two he 'ad in 'is pocket.'

' Who is the— the " old cure " ? '

' Blest if I know. They calls him Old '48.
Sort o' Republican. No kings or queens. Bill-
poster when he kin git it to do. But a scholar
though ; I will say that. Always readin' and

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No. 5 John Street

writin'. Preaches about in Hy' Par'. Brings
out a paper all by hisself, so I 'm tould. Never
done me no 'arm.'

' And the tall man in black, who called him an
old fool ? '

'Fellow-lodger. Foreigner. Mr. Izreel, orsome
name o' that sort. One of these 'ere Anarchests
— suthin abaout blowin' people inside out, I 've
heerd say. Commune, if you know what that
means : I don't.'

' Ah ! Old '48, and young '7 1 , is that it ?'

• Blest if I know.

' My idea of the row,' he continues, ' is, it was
all along o' that lot dahnstairs. Rummy lot
dahn there. The kitchins may be all right ;
can't say. Never bin there but once. It's the
cellars underneath them. Yer go dahn two
flights. They ought to block up that secind
staircase. Nobody lives there ; and so, yer
see, everybody lives there. People goes in an'
out all day long — an' all night too when they got
nowhere else to go to. Some on 'em 'ides
things there. 'Tecs down, one day, from Scot-
land Yard to look for dynamit'. Didn't find
none, but turned up a lot o' spoons — silver ones.
But, mind yer, they ain't no class, them dirty
little boys as runs in an' out there. Fancies
theirselves burglars. Nothin' o' the sort — sneak
thieves.'

' Thieves! '

' Oh, well,' says Low Covey, correcting him-
self hastily ; ' I dunno.'

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No. 5 John Street

* Who were those young fellows that one of
the boys wanted to fight ? '

* Ah, that 's another pair o* shoes. They lives
in the front kitchin ; but yer see none o' them
makes no fuss. Quietest lodgers in the 'ouse.
They 're regularly in the line, they are.'

* What line ? '

' Oh, I dunno. Never done no 'arm to me.'

This is evidently his simple standard of tolera-
tion, as I fancy it is also the world's.

' And the woman ? '

' Back kitchin. Pass the time o' day with 'er
sometimes. No bizness o' mine.'

* What a set ! '

' Well, yer see, they lives dahnstairs. Buried
like. I always think that makes a difference.
Dahnstairs ain't never no class in 'ouses o' this
sort. It's what's above — that's what yer must
look at for the real style of a place. Suppose
you was to go dahnstairs at St. Paul's or Wes'-
mi'ster Abbey, what would yer find '^ Dead
uns. Same everywhere ; give the sun a charnce.
You kin take my tip ; there 's some very respect-
able people in this place. One on 'em, they say,
could keep 'is carriage if he liked.'

' What a swell ! '

* It 's ole I key there on the fust floor. Got the
whole floor to hisself, front, back, and little room.
Sort o' sweater by trade — in the fur line. You
should see 'em goin' out o' Saturday nights. Tip-
top. Won't speak to nobody. Funks the place
out sometimes, when they're busy. I dunno which

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No. 5 John Street

is wuss, 'is furs, or the chaps he brings in to dress
em — foriners. Can't speak a word of HingHsh.'

' When the wind and the sun are both workin'
together,' he resumes, after a pause, 'and the sun
strikes I key fair, along with the chap in the back-
yard as keeps the Hve stock, I tell yer you 'd be
glad to put yer 'ed up the chimbley for a breath of
air. It's wuss though, sometimes, when that
chap takes 'is stock into the 'ouse in winter-time.
Phew ! '

' What about the sanitary inspectors ? '

Low Covey smiles. ' They ain't no good for
this 'ouse. They dunno half the trades what 's
goin' on ; and, of course, it ain't nobody's busi-
ness to tell 'em, unless there 's a row, Even then,
what 's the use o' foulin' yer own nest ? You see,
if the baby farm was to split on I key, he might
split on the baby farm.'

' Great Scott ! Where 's the baby farm ? '

' Second floor back. Why, you see it when
you was comin' dahn last night. You might
'ave heerd it too. Lord, what a baby you are
yourself !

' But it ain't all fur and baby farms in the place,
don't you forgit it,' he continues, in a tone of pride.
' Didn't yer notice the flowers on 'Tilda's winder-
sell ? You can see 'em from your room.'

* You see, I haven't yet noticed 'Tilda herself,
so far as I know.'

' Well, you seemed to stare pretty 'ard at 'er
last night, any'ow, when she was standin' up for
the kid.'

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No. 5 John Street

' Why, is that 'Tilda — the splendid girl that
fougrht the sailor ? '

'That's the gal, sir. Fight anybody of 'er
own sect in all London, bar none. She don't
know it, and it ain't worth while to puff 'er up
abaht it ; but she could. Lord, what a pity she
warn't a man ; she 's clean thrown away on petti-
coats. That chap ain't the fust one she 's fought
when her blood was up. I 've spotted 'er many
a time when she didn't think I was lookin'. But
I never took no notice to 'er. Puffs 'em up so.
You see, 'er brother was a fightin' man, and she
learned it natural-like, playin' with 'im. She
dunno what she knows in that line, 'cept when
she 's mad, and then it all comes out. You 've
got to git 'er mad fust, though. Quiet as a child
at other times. That little gal what took the back
room off her jest wusships 'er. So does that old
woman as makes the weskits in the parlour front.
Funny to see the two gals both together, like
a big dawg and a little dawg. Strange too :
couldn't fight a mouse that little 'un. She tried
the flower trade, but warn't strong enough for it.
Gone into a sweet-stuff fact'ry now.'

* 'Tilda sells flowers in the streets ? '

' That 's it. Piccerdilly Circus. Most respect-
able. Take yer to see 'er any day yer like.' He
says this as one who is able to give influential
introductions in public life. And, with it, he
takes his leave. Once again — most extraordinary
neighbours ! A most extraordinary house !



45



No. 5 John Street

Letter from Sedgcombe. Where am I ? (What's
that to him ?) Glowing account of the Duke's
house party for Chester Races, House parties all
over the place. Meeting never so well supported
by the county for years. Good old Sedgcombe !
Good old Sedgcombe ! Query — poor me ? No,
I think not.

Letter from Trevor. Has turned serious, and
joined the Eton Mission for the Slums. * We
ought to do something, you know.' What a bore
if he comes this way and spots me ! Will I join ?
No, and be hanged to him ! — I fancy I 'm already
on the job.



46



VI

There is one thing Covey has forgotten to say,
and naturally, for he would hardly consider it
worth his notice.

Never, never, never is this house at rest. It
groans like a labouring ship. In your stillest berth,
on the stillest ocean, you may hear your craft ever
creaking its protest against the hindrance of wind
or wave. So here, you have always some sound,
by day or by night — an oath, a laugh, a child's
cry, a door at odds with its hinges, which, rightly
interpreted, means ' Let us have peace.' Once, in
the dead of night, I wagered a beggar's dole to
nothing that my house could not possibly keep
quiet for fifteen minutes at a stretch. Just as the
church clock struck the quarter, somebody fell
upstairs, and the beggar won.

In the daytime the caller-up begins his rounds
with the dawn, and you may mark his progress
from floor to floor by a muffled thunder of rapping,
and the answering shock of heavy bodies rolling
out of bed. Then the staircase wakes, as the
labourers, in their hobnails, hurry off to work.
At breakfast-time, dishevelled mothers bawl sup-
plementary orders from their landings to children
on their way to the chandler's shop. Now it is

47



No. 5 John Street

the trade noises — the mangle ever at odds with
the principle of the equilibrium of forces ; the
tap, the thud, the click of other minor industries ;
the cries of the captive animals in the yard, or of
the wizened babies in the farm — live-stock both,
and both commodities of trade. Then come the
social noises — the chatter of the slatternly gossips
from their windows ; the resumption of last
night's quarrels, or last night's reconciliations,
equal parts of the happy day ; the preparation
for the midday meal, this a noise, like the rest,
as plates, dishes, knives, are lent, or borrowed,
from floor to floor. There is more noise than
ever when the children troop in from school to
dinner, with fathers, brothers, and sisters, who
work hard by. Their play in the yard carries on
this perpetual motion of tumult for an hour more.
These are mostly the lucky children who are
in natural ownership and kindly tending. The
unlucky minority are not all in the baby farm.
Some are locked in all day, * to keep 'em quiet,'
while their owners go forth to work or to booze.
The infant faces, lined with their own dirt, and
distorted by the smeared impurities of the window
panes, seem like the faces of actors made up for
effects of old age. The poor little hands finger
the panes without ceasing, as they might finger
prison bars. The captives crawl over one another
like caged insects, and all their gestures show the
irritation of contact. But the clearest transmis-
sion through that foul medium is to the ear rather
than to the eye, in the querulous whimper, at times

48



No. 5 John Street

rising to a wail, which betokens the agitation of
their shattered nerves. The children playing
below look up at them, and beckon them into the
yard, or make faces at them, with the charitable
intent of provoking them to a smile.

Other infants, only less closely confined, have
come from the outside, as Lilliputian journeymen,
to earn their living by some of the slop industries
carried on in the place, and at wages reckoned
by halfpence a day. Some are thrall to the fur-
dresser ; one acts as a sort of shepherd of the
multifarious live stock, to enable the proprietor
to get drunk by method in a neighbouring bar.
As this employer of labour always keeps to the
same bar during business hours, the child is
never at a loss to find him when a customer calls.
These have been bred by habit in a sort of
artificial disdain of play, and taught to place the
point of honour in an ostentatious impatience of
' kids ' of their own age.

Dinner over, it is time once more for the
click, the thud, and the tap of our domestic
trades. But there is a sort of supplementary
meal hour, or movable feast, for the benefit of
the girls who sell goods in the streets. These
hearty and happy creatures rush in and out for
the bite and sup, as occasion serves.

It is during one of these tempestuous inroads
for nourishment that I have my promised intro-
duction to the Amazonian 'Tilda. A whistle from
Low Covey brings her to the window of her
room as we both stand together in the yard.
D 49



No. 5 John Street

She appears, holding a sHce of bread-and-jam,
cut on the colossal scale. The open window
frames her like a picture which has the recesses
of the room for its background. It reveals no
amenities in the interior scene, no prints nor
knicknacks, no finery even, but her best hat.
This lies on the bed, which alone is ample enough
to support its broad circumference. Like the
hat of St. Jerome, in a well-known picture, when
not in wear, it serves to furnish the room. Her
sense of decoration is purely personal. She is
unusually well dressed for her station — in fierce
blue as to the skirt, and in a bodice of some
smart-looking cotton stuff. She grows on one as
seen in the light of day. She is unquestionably
a fine girl — a fine woman, her age, as I should
guess, being about two-and-twenty. She is also
a handsome one, though no faultless monster in
that respect. Her expression is her strong point
— all fire, energy, dare-devil, and untamed will.
She differs from many of the other women in
having never had to endure a blow ; and, I think,
some of them like her no better for that. If the
face were before me on canvas, to shape as I
liked, I should take just a thought from the
prominence of the cheekbones, and perhaps
reduce the fulness of the lips. I should do
nothing at all to the dark eyes, and should leave
the nose just as it had been left by Nature and
the happy immunities of pugilistic war. This is
not to signify that the feature is perfect, but only
that it is straight as far as it goes, though it does

50



No. 5 John Street

not go very far. The temptation to lengthen it a
little, and to put more drawing into its rounded
tip, might spoil an effect of perfect self-reliance,
which is her note of expression. Tilda is evi-
dently of the blessed minority who 'don't care,'
and who have never had to feel that it is neces-
sary to do so. She might, I fear, do herself an
injustice if she looked clever. She uses no false
pretence, I know, in looking game. She is tame-
less and unconditioned to the very folds of her
hair. I particularly admire the way in which the
black mass of it is caught up into a great knot
behind, as though with one fierce swoop of the
hand. It is fettered there, I have no doubt, with
frequent hair-pins, but it is manifestly rebellious
in its bondage. In front, it is arranged in those
curious side-locks, which seem to have come
down to the coster girls from grandmothers of
the epoch of Queen Adelaide.

The shape and air of the face is rather Eastern,
and, especially, Japanese — no uncommon thing
in this rank. Yet it is Japanese only in the
woman's way, and with due suavity of line. The
type is outlandish in the modelling of the cheeks,
in the short nose, and in the pouting lips. The
large well-shaped eye, however, and the white
and red of the complexion, bring it home again.
It is as though Omar's ' Potter' had wrought with
the fullest sense of creative freedom, and in a
mood of happy carelessness which gave its own
spiritual character to the work of his hands. In
our civilisation such faces mark those who live

51



No. 5 John Street

their lives from day to day, with no yester-
days and no to-morrows — London coster-girls,
Grevin's grisettes.

' What 's up now ? ' is her salutation in a tone
which, I am sorry to say, lacks clearness owing
to her attempt to do justice at once to the articula-
tion and to the bread-and-jam.

' 'Ere's that bloke what lives in the next room
to mine,' observes Low Covey, indicating me
with a wave of his hand. It is simple, but it
serves.

' 'Ow d'yer do, sir ? ' says Tilda.

It is painfully embarrassing. I really do not
know how to begin to speak to her. The Duke
of Wellington, I believe, was in the like case
when he reflected on the difficulty of pleasing a
youthful sovereign. ' I have no small talk,' he
said ; ' and Peel has no manners.' For a cere-
mony of this sort, Covey and I are a poor pair.
A hundred nothings that might have carried me
with credit throuah a London drawino-room are
rejected as unsuitable ere they rise to my lips.
Covey comes to my aid, but not effectually.

' Ain't she a clippin' gal ? '

* Git out, yer silly fool,' says Tilda, tapping
the window-sill with a certain impatience.

The situation grows desperate.

' I hope you have quite recovered from your
alarm the other night ? '

' Meanin' to sye .-* ' says Tilda, with a glance of
angry inquiry. She thinks, I fancy, that a speech
which is civil in form must necessarily be unin-

52



No. 5 John Street

telligible in substance, and, being so, is probably
charged with the venom of a sneer.

'That sylor chap,' explains Covey, ever anxious
to make himself useful.

' Oh, that lot. I could ha' done'im fast enough
if it 'adn't 'a bin for the knife.'

* Could you spare me a buttonhole .'* ' I ask,
presenting the collar of my shabby coat.

'Sold out, wuss luck,' laughs the girl. *An'
blow me if I shan't be sold up too, if I don't soon
sling my 'ook, an' git some more. Ta-ta, Covey.
See you agin, sir, bimeby.'

Yet she lingers ; and it is now her turn to look
embarrassed, as though she has some kindly
intention which she hesitates to express.

' Please, mammy, I 'm shy,* says Covey, by way
of explanation, and sticking his finger in his
mouth, in grotesque mimicry of the air of a blush-
ing child.

' She wants yer to show up at a sort o' bun
struggle in 'er room,' he explains, in answer to
my inquiring look ; * an' she dunno 'ow to git
it out.'

* A sort of what ? '

'Well, kind of a tea-fight,' he returns, for his
only conception of plain English is never any-
thing more than a second dilution of slang.

I look to Tilda for confirmation.

' Come to tea next Sunday ? ' says the girl.

I gladly accept. The window closes ; and she
disappears.

'She is a neat little bit o' muslin, ain't she

53



No. 5 John Street

now ?* cries Covey, as we leave the yard. 'It's
all bizniss, of course. The gal as looks best sells
most nosegays. That gal would live by a flower
basket where others would starve. Rag-bags
(her competitors) tied in the middle with a bit o'
string — that 's what I calls 'em. She do look
nobby — don't she now ? You wouldn't have no
idea of the kind of people as talks to 'er — a lord
once, swelp me lucky I ain't tellin' yer no lie !
And she 's got 'er answer for all on 'em ; don't
you make no mistike.

' Allwize a-washin' 'erself,' he adds abstractedly.
' Bizniss agin ' — as though trying to explain a
seeming eccentricity by its law. * Scented soap,
too, Sundays — num ! num ! num ! *

As the day wears to its close, we come to the
night sights, the night sounds. It is still the
groaning of the ship in pain. No. 5 John Street
is ill at ease. It sleeps heavily, though it turns
in its sleep, and it has troubled dreams. It seems
to wake from them at times in fierce quarrel ;
and fragments of passionate utterance, not pre-
cisely Sapphic, float from the open windows to
the sky. In spite of their almost invariable vul-
garity, they are touched with romantic suggestion
by the associations. To hear them in broad day
would be altogether revolting. Heard when the
moon is shining, they have a sentiment of another
kind.

''Cause I ain't got no bloomin' money yer
round on me,' for instance, seems, on the face of
it, to betoken no more than the expulsion of a

54



No. 5 John Street

supplementary lodger from an overcrowded room.
And the impression is strengthened by a noise
on the stairs, which may be taken as a sign of
process in an action of summary ejectment. Yet
heard in the peculiar circumstances I have men-
tioned, smiting as it were the momentary silence
of night, it stands for an eviction, at the very
least, and, potentially, for all evictions, for all
thrustings forth of the encumbrance from Hagar's
day to our own.

Watch when you will, the sordid drama moves
with scarcely a pause. After midnight, the gangs
return in carousal from the ginshops, the more
thoughtful of them with stored liquor for the
morning draught. Now, it is three stages of
man — no more — man gushing, confiding, uplifted,
as he feels the effect of the lighter fumes ; dis-
putatious, quarrelsome, as the heavier mount in
a second brew of hell ; raging with wrath and
hate, as the very dregs send their emanations to
the tortured brain.

The embrace, the wrangle, and the blow — this
is the order of succession. Till one — to mark it
by the clock — we sing ' 'Art to 'art an' 'and to
'and.' At about 1.45 you may expect the tribal
row between the Gangs, who prey on one another
for recreation, and on society for a living. Our
brutes read the current gospel of the survival of
the fittest in their own way, and they dimly appr<s-
hend that mankind is still organised as a preda-
tory horde. The ever-open door brings us much
trouble from the outside. The unlit staircase

55



No. 5 John Street

is a place of rendezvous, and, not unfrequently,
of deadly quarrel, in undertones of concentrated
fury, between wretches who seek seclusion for
the work of manslaughter. Our latest returning
inmate, the other night, stumbled over the body
of a woman not known at No. 5. She had been
kicked to death within sight and sound of lodgers
who, believing it to be a matrimonial difference,
held interference to be no business of theirs.


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