"Forgive me, my good woman," said Sir Richard, hastily, "I did not mean to offend, but circumstances would seem to favour the idea—of—of—"
And here Wealth—although a bank director and chairman of several boards, and capable of making a neat, if weakly, speech on economic laws and the currency when occasion required—was dumb before Poverty. Indeed, though he had often theorised about that stricken creature, he had never before fairly hunted her down, run her into her den, and fairly looked her in the face.
"The fact is, Mrs Frog," said Giles Scott, coming to the rescue, "Sir Richard is anxious to know something about your affairs—your family, you know, and your means of—by the way, where is baby?" he said looking round the room.
"She's gone lost," said Mrs Frog.
"Lost?" repeated Giles, with a significant look.
"Ay, lost," repeated Mrs Frog, with a look of equal significance.
"Bless me, how did you lose your child?" asked Sir Richard, in some surprise.
"Oh! sir, that often happens to us poor folk. We're used to it," said Mrs Frog, in a half bantering half bitter tone.
Sir Richard suddenly called to mind the fact—which had not before impressed him, though he had read and commented on it—that 11,835 children under ten years of age had been lost that year, (and it was no exceptional year, as police reports will show), in the streets of London, and that 23 of these children were never found.
He now beheld, as he imagined, one of the losers of the lost ones, and felt stricken.
"Well now," said Giles to Mrs Frog, "let's hear how you get along. What does your husband do?"
"He mostly does nothin' but drink. Sometimes he sells little birds; sometimes he sells penny watches or boot-laces in Cheapside, an' turns in a little that way, but it all goes to the grog-shop; none of it comes here. Then he has a mill now an' again—"
"A mill?" said Sir Richard,—"is it a snuff or flour—"
"He's a professional pugilist," explained Giles.
"An' he's employed at a music-hall," continued Mrs Frog, "to call out the songs an' keep order. An' Bobby always used to pick a few coppers by runnin' messages, sellin' matches, and odd jobs. But he's knocked over now."
"And yourself. How do you add to the general fund?" asked Sir Richard, becoming interested in the household management of Poverty.
"Well, I char a bit an' wash a bit, sir, when I'm well enough—which ain't often. An' sometimes I lights the Jews' fires for 'em, an' clean up their 'earths on Saturdays—w'ich is their Sundays, sir. But Hetty works like a horse. It's she as keeps us from the work'us, sir. She's got employment at a slop shop, and by workin' 'ard all day manages to make about one shillin' a week."
"I beg your pardon—how much?"
"One shillin', sir."
"Ah, you mean one shilling a day, I suppose."
"No, sir, I mean one shillin' a week. Mr Scott there knows that I'm tellin' what's true."
Giles nodded, and Sir Richard said, "ha-a-hem," having nothing more lucid to remark on such an amazing financial problem as was here set before him.
"But," continued Mrs Frog, "poor Hetty has had a sad disappointment this week—"
"Oh! mother," interrupted Hetty, "don't trouble the gentleman with that. Perhaps he wouldn't understand it, for of course he hasn't heard about all the outs and ins of slop-work."
"Pardon me, my good girl," said Sir Richard, "I have not, as you truly remark, studied the details of slop-work minutely, but my mind is not unaccustomed to financial matters. Pray let me hear about this—"
A savage growling, something between a mastiff and a man, outside the door, here interrupted the visitor, and a hand was heard fumbling about the latch. As the hand seemed to lack skill to open the door the foot considerately took the duty in hand and burst it open, whereupon the huge frame of Ned Frog stumbled into the room and fell prostrate at the feet of Sir Richard, who rose hastily and stepped back.
The pugilist sprang up, doubled his ever ready fists, and, glaring at the knight, asked savagely:
He was checked in the utterance of a ferocious oath, for at that moment he encountered the grave eye of Number 666.
Relaxing his fists he thrust them into his coat-pockets, and, with a subdued air, staggered out of the house.
"My 'usband, sir," said Mrs Frog, in answer to her visitor's inquiring glance.
"Oh! is that his usual mode of returning home?"
"No, sir," answered Bobby from his corner, for he was beginning to be amused by the succession of surprises which Wealth was receiving, "'e don't always come in so. Sometimes 'e sends 'is 'ead first an' the feet come afterwards. In any case the furniture's apt to suffer, not to mention the in'abitants, but you've saved us to-night, sir, or, raither, Mr Scott 'as saved both us an' you."
Poor little Di, who had been terribly frightened, clung closer to her father's arm on hearing this.
"Perhaps," said Sir Richard, "it would be as well that we should go, in case Mr Frog should return."
He was about to say good-bye when Di checked him, and, despite her fears, urged a short delay.
"We haven't heard, you know, about the slops yet. Do stop just one minute, dear papa. I wonder if it's like the beef-tea nurse makes for me when I'm ill."
"It's not that kind of slops, darling, but ready-made clothing to which reference is made. But you are right. Let us hear about it, Miss Hetty."
The idea of "Miss" being applied to Hetty, and slops compared to beef-tea proved almost too much for the broken-legged boy in the corner, but he put strong constraint on himself and listened.
"Indeed, sir, I do not complain," said Hetty, quite distressed at being thus forcibly dragged into notice. "I am thankful for what has been sent—indeed I am—only it was a great disappointment, particularly at this time, when we so much needed all we could make amongst us."
She stopped and had difficulty in restraining tears. "Go on, Hetty," said her mother, "and don't be afraid. Bless you, he's not goin' to report what you say."
"I know that, mother. Well, sir, this was the way on it. They sometimes—"
"Excuse me—who are 'they'?"
"I beg pardon, sir, I—I'd rather not tell."
"Very well. I respect your feelings, my girl. Some slop-making firm, I suppose. Go on."
"Yes, sir. Well—they sometimes gives me extra work to do at home. It do come pretty hard on me after goin' through the regular day's work, from early mornin' till night, but then, you see, it brings in a little more money—and, I'm strong, thank God."
Sir Richard looked at Hetty's thin and colourless though pretty face, and thought it possible that she might be stronger with advantage.
"Of late," continued the girl, "I've bin havin' extra work in this way, and last week I got twelve children's ulsters to make up. This job when finished would bring me six and sixpence."
"Six and sixpence, sir."
"For the whole twelve?" asked Sir Richard.
"Yes, sir—that was sixpence halfpenny for makin' up each ulster. It's not much, sir."
"No," murmured Wealth in an absent manner; "sixpence halfpenny is not much."
"But when I took them back," continued Hetty—and here the tears became again obstreperous and difficult to restrain—"the master said he'd forgot to tell me that this order was for the colonies, that he had taken it at a very low price, and that he could only give me three shillin's for the job. Of—of course three shillin's is better the nothin', but after workin' hard for such a long long time an' expectin' six, it was—"
Here the tears refused to be pent up any longer, and the poor girl quietly bending forward hid her face in her hand.
"Come, I think we will go now," said Sir Richard, rising hastily. "Good-night, Mrs Frog, I shall probably see you again—at least—you shall hear from me. Now, Di—say good-night to your boy."
In a few minutes Sir Richard stood outside, taking in deep draughts of the comparatively fresher air of the court.
"The old screw," growled Bobby, when the door was shut. "'E didn't leave us so much as a single bob—not even a brown, though 'e pretends that six of 'em ain't much."
"Don't be hard on him, Bobby," said Hetty, drying her eyes; "he spoke very kind, you know, an' p'raps he means to help us afterwards."
"Spoke kind," retorted the indignant boy; "I tell 'ee wot, Hetty, you're far too soft an' forgivin'. I s'pose that's wot they teaches you in Sunday-school at George Yard—eh? Vill speakin' kind feed us, vill it clothe us, vill it pay for our lodgin's!"
The door opened at that moment, and Number 666 re-entered.
"The gentleman sent me back to give you this, Mrs Frog," laying a sovereign on the rickety table. "He said he didn't like to offer it to you himself for fear of hurting your feelings, but I told him he needn't be afraid on that score! Was I right, Missis? Look well after it, now, an' see that Ned don't get his fingers on it."
Giles left the room, and Mrs Frog, taking up the piece of gold, fondled it for some time in her thin fingers, as though she wished to make quite sure of its reality. Then wrapping it carefully in a piece of old newspaper, she thrust it into her bosom.
Bobby gazed at her in silence up to this point, and then turned his face to the wall. He did not speak, but we cannot say that he did not pray, for, mentally he said, "I beg your parding, old gen'l'm'n, an' I on'y pray that a lot of fellers like you may come 'ere sometimes to 'urt our feelin's in that vay!"
At that moment Hetty bent over the bed, and, softly kissing her brother's dirty face, whispered, "Yes, Bobby, that's what they teach me in Sunday-school at George Yard."
Thereafter Wealth drove home in a cab, and Poverty went to bed in her rags.
BICYCLING AND ITS OCCASIONAL RESULTS.
It is pleasant to turn from the smoke and turmoil of the city to the fresh air and quiet of the country.
To the man who spends most of his time in the heart of London, going into the country—even for a short distance—is like passing into the fields of Elysium. This was, at all events, the opinion of Stephen Welland; and Stephen must have been a good judge, for he tried the change frequently, being exceedingly fond of bicycling, and occasionally taking what he termed long spins on that remarkable instrument.
One morning, early in the summer-time, young Welland, (he was only eighteen), mounted his iron horse in the neighbourhood of Kensington, and glided away at a leisurely pace through the crowded streets. Arrived in the suburbs of London he got up steam, to use his own phrase, and went at a rapid pace until he met a "chum," by appointment. This chum was also mounted on a bicycle, and was none other than our friend Samuel Twitter, Junior—known at home as Sammy, and by his companions as Sam.
"Isn't it a glorious day, Sam?" said Welland as he rode up and sprang off his steed.
"Magnificent!" answered his friend, also dismounting and shaking hands. "Why, Stephen, what an enormous machine you ride!"
"Yes, it's pretty high—48 inches. My legs are long, you see. Well, where are we to run to-day?"
"Wherever you like," said Sam, "only let it be a short run, not more than forty miles, for I've got an appointment this afternoon with my old dad which I can't get off."
"That'll do very well," said Welland, "so we can go round by—"
Here he described a route by country road and village, which we pretend not to remember. It is sufficient to know that it represented the required "short" run of forty miles—such is the estimate of distance by the youth of the present day!
"Now then, off we go," said Welland, giving his wheel—he quite ignored the existence of the little thing at the back—a shove, putting his left foot on the treadle, and flinging his right leg gracefully over.
Young Twitter followed suit, but Sammy was neither expert nor graceful. True, he could ride easily, and travel long distances, but he could only mount by means of the somewhat clumsy process of hopping behind for several yards.
Once up, however, he went swiftly enough alongside his tall companion, and the two friends thereafter kept abreast.
"Oh! isn't it a charming sensation to have the cool air fanning one's cheeks, and feel the soft tremor of the wheel, and see the trees and houses flow past at such a pace? It is the likest thing to flying I ever felt," said Welland, as they descended a slight incline at, probably, fifteen miles an hour.
"It is delightful," replied Sam, "but, I say, we better put on the brakes here a bit. It gets much steeper further down."
Instead of applying the brake, however, young Welland, in the exuberance of his joy, threw his long legs over the handles, and went down the slope at railway speed, ready, as he remarked, for a jump if anything should go wrong.
Twitter was by no means as bold as his friend, but, being ashamed to show the white feather, he quietly threw his shorter legs over the handles, and thus the two, perched—from a fore-and-aft point of view— upon nothing, went in triumph to the bottom of the hill.
A long stretch of smooth level road now lay before them. It required the merest touch on the treadles to send them skimming along like skaters on smooth ice, or swallows flying low. Like gentle ghosts they fleeted along with little more than a muffled sound, for their axles turned in ball-sockets and their warning bells were silent save when touched.
Onward they went with untiring energy, mile after mile, passing everything on the way—pedestrians, equestrians, carts and gigs; driving over the level ground with easy force, taking the hills with a rush to keep up the pace, and descending on the other sides at what Welland styled a "lightning run."
Now they were skimming along a road which skirted the margin of a canal, the one with hands in his coat-pockets, the other with his arms crossed, and both steering with their feet; now passing under a railway-arch, and giving a wild shout, partly to rouse the slumbering echoes that lodged there, and partly to rouse the spirit of a small dog which chanced to be passing under it—in both cases successfully! Anon they were gliding over a piece of exposed ground on which the sun beat with intense light, causing their shadows to race along with them. Again they were down in a hollow, gliding under a row of trees, where they shut off a little of the steam and removed their caps, the better to enjoy the grateful shade. Soon they were out in the sunshine again, the spokes of their wheels invisible as they topped a small eminence from the summit of which they took in one comprehensive view of undulating lands, with villages scattered all round, farm-houses here and there, green fields and flowering meadows, traversed by rivulet or canal, with cattle, sheep, and horses gazing at them in silent or startled wonder, and birds twittering welcome from the trees and hedge-rows everywhere.
Now they were crossing a bridge and nearing a small town where they had to put hands to the handles again and steer with precaution, for little dogs had a tendency to bolt out at them from unexpected corners, and poultry is prone to lose its heads and rush into the very jaws of danger, in a cackling effort to avoid it. Stray kittens and pigs, too, exhibited obstinate tendencies, and only gave in when it was nearly too late for repentance. Little children, also, became sources of danger, standing in the middle of roads until, perceiving a possible catastrophe, they dashed wildly aside—always to the very side on which the riders had resolved to pass,—and escaped by absolute miracle!
Presently they came to a steep hill. It was not steep enough to necessitate dismounting, but it rendered a rush inadvisable. They therefore worked up slowly, and, on gaining the top, got off to breathe and rest a while.
"That was a glorious run, wasn't it, Sam?" said Welland, flicking the dust from his knees with his handkerchief. "What d'ye say to a glass of beer?"
"Can't do it, Stephen, I'm Blue Ribbon."
"Oh! nonsense. Why not do as I do—drink in moderation?"
"Well, I didn't think much about it when I put it on," said Sam, who was a very sensitive, and not very strong-minded youth; "the rest of us did it, you know, by father's advice, and I joined because they did."
Welland laughed rather sarcastically at this, but made no rejoinder, and Sam, who could not stand being laughed at, said—
"Well, come, I'll go in for one glass. I'll be my own doctor, and prescribe it medicinally! Besides, it's an exceptional occasion this, for it is awfully hot."
"It's about the best run I ever had in the same space of time," said Welland on quitting the beer shop.
"First-rate," returned Sam, "I wish my old dad could ride with us. He would enjoy it so."
"Couldn't we bring him out on a horse? He could ride that, I suppose?"
"Never saw him on a horse but once," said Sam, "and that time he fell off. But it's worth suggesting to him."
"Better if he got a tricycle," said Welland.
"I don't think that would do, for he's too old for long rides, and too short-winded. Now, Stephen, I'm not going to run down this hill. We must take it easy, for it's far too steep."
"Nonsense, man, it's nothing to speak of; see, I'll go first and show you the way."
He gave the treadle a thrust that sent him off like an arrow from a bow.
"Stay! there's a caravan or something at the bottom—wild beasts' show, I think! Stop! hold on!"
But Sam Twitter shouted in vain. Welland's was a joyous spirit, apt to run away with him. He placed his legs over the handles for security, and allowed the machine to run. It gathered speed as it went, for the hill became steeper, insomuch that the rider once or twice felt the hind-wheel rise, and had to lean well back to keep it on the ground. The pace began to exceed even Welland's idea of pleasure, but now it was too late to use the brake, for well did he know that on such a slope and going at such a pace the slightest check on the front wheel would send him over. He did not feel alarmed however, for he was now near the bottom of the hill, and half a minute more would send him in safety on the level road at the foot.
But just at the foot there was a sharpish turn in the road, and Welland looked at it earnestly. At an ordinary pace such a turn could have been easily taken, but at such a rate as he had by that time attained, he felt it would require a tremendous lean over to accomplish it. Still he lost no confidence, for he was an athlete by practice if not by profession, and he gathered up his energies for the moment of action.
The people of the caravan—whoever they were—had seen him coming, and, beginning to realise his danger to some extent, had hastily cleared the road to let him pass.
Welland considered the rate of speed; felt, rather than calculated, the angle of inclination; leaned over boldly until the tire almost slipped sideways on the road, and came rushing round with a magnificent sweep, when, horrible sight! a slight ridge of what is called road-metal crossed the entire road from side to side! A drain or water pipe had recently been repaired, and the new ridge had not yet been worn down by traffic. There was no time for thought or change of action. Another moment and the wheel was upon it, the crash came, and the rider went off with such force that he was shot well in advance of the machine, as it went with tremendous violence into the ditch. If Welland's feet had been on the treadles he must have turned a complete somersault. As it was he alighted on his feet, but came to the ground with such force that he failed to save himself. One frantic effort he made and then went down headlong and rolled over on his back in a state of insensibility.
When Sam Twitter came to the bottom of the hill with the brake well applied he was able to check himself in time to escape the danger, and ran to where his friend lay.
For a few minutes the unfortunate youth lay as if he had been dead. Then his blood resumed its flow, and when the eyes opened he found Sam kneeling on one side of him with a smelling bottle which some lady had lent him, and a kindly-faced elderly man with an iron-grey beard kneeling on the other side and holding a cup of water to his lips.
"That's right, Stephen, look up," said Sam, who was terribly frightened, "you're not much hurt, are you?"
"Hurt, old fellow, eh?" sighed Stephen, "why should I be hurt? Where am I? What has happened?"
"Take a sip, my young friend, it will revive you," said the man with the kindly face. "You have had a narrow escape, but God has mercifully spared you. Try to move now; gently—we must see that no bones have been broken before allowing you to rise."
By this time Welland had completely recovered, and was anxious to rise; all the more that a crowd of children surrounded him, among whom he observed several ladies and gentlemen, but he lay still until the kindly stranger had felt him all over and come to the conclusion that no serious damage had been done.
"Oh! I'm all right, thank you," said the youth on rising, and affecting to move as though nothing had happened, but he was constrained to catch hold of the stranger rather suddenly, and sat down on the grass by the road-side.
"I do believe I've got a shake after all," he said with a perplexed smile and sigh. "But," he added, looking round with an attempt at gaiety, "I suspect my poor bicycle has got a worse shake. Do look after it, Sam, and see how it is."
Twitter soon returned with a crestfallen expression. "It's done for, Stephen. I'm sorry to say the whole concern seems to be mashed up into a kind of wire-fencing!"
"Is it past mending, Sam?"
"Past mending by any ordinary blacksmith, certainly. No one but the maker can doctor it, and I should think it would take him a fortnight at least."
"What is to be done?" said Stephen, with some of his companion's regret of tone. "What a fool I was to take such a hill—spoilt such a glorious day too—for you as well as myself, Sam. I'm very sorry, but that won't mend matters."
"Are you far from home, gentlemen?" asked the man with the iron-grey beard, who had listened to the conversation with a look of sympathy.
"Ay, much too far to walk," said Welland. "D'you happen to know how far off the nearest railway station is?"
"Three miles," answered the stranger, "and in your condition you are quite unfit to walk that distance."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied the youth, with a pitiful look. "I think I'm game for three miles, if I had nothing to carry but myself, but I can't leave my bicycle in the ditch, you know!"
"Of course you can't," rejoined the stranger in a cheery tone, "and I think we can help you in this difficulty. I am a London City Missionary. My name is John Seaward. We have, as you see, brought out a number of our Sunday-school children, to give them a sight of God's beautiful earth; poor things, they've been used to bricks, mortar, and stone all their lives hitherto. Now, if you choose to spend the remainder of the day with us, we will be happy to give you and the injured bicycle a place in our vans till we reach a cabstand or a railway station. What say you? It will give much pleasure to me and the teachers."
Welland glanced at his friend. "You see, Sam, there's no help for it, old boy. You'll have to return alone."
"Unless your friend will also join us," said the missionary.
"You are very kind," said Sam, "but I cannot stay, as I have an engagement which must be kept. Never mind, Stephen. I'll just complete the trip alone, and comfort myself with the assurance that I leave you in good hands. So, good-bye, old boy."
"Good-bye, Twitter," said Stephen, grasping his friend's hand.
"Twitter," repeated the missionary, "I heard your friend call you Sam just now. Excuse my asking—are you related to Samuel Twitter of Twitter, Slime, and Company, in the city?"
"I'm his eldest son," said Sam.
"Then I have much pleasure in making your acquaintance," returned the other, extending his hand, "for although I have never met your father, I know your mother well. She is one of the best and most regular teachers in our Sunday-schools. Is she not, Hetty?" he said, turning to a sweet-faced girl who stood near him.
"Indeed she is, I was her pupil for some years, and now I teach one of her old classes," replied the girl.
"I work in the neighbourhood of Whitechapel, sir," continued the missionary, "and most of the children here attend the Institution in George Yard."
"Well, I shall tell my mother of this unexpected meeting," said Sam, as he remounted his bicycle. "Good-bye, Stephen. Don't romp too much with the children!"
"Adieu, Sam, and don't break your neck on the bicycle."
In a few minutes Sam Twitter and his bicycle were out of sight.
A GREAT AND MEMORABLE DAY.
When young Stephen Welland was conducted by John Seaward the missionary into a large field dotted with trees, close to where his accident had happened, he found that the children and their guardians were busily engaged in making arrangements for the spending of an enjoyable day.
And then he also found that this was not a mere monster excursion of ordinary Sunday-schools, but one of exceedingly poor children, whose garments, faces, and general condition, told too surely that they belonged to the lowest grade in the social scale.
"Yes," said the missionary, in reply to some question from Welland, "the agency at George Yard, to which I have referred, has a wide-embracing influence—though but a small lump of leaven when compared with the mass of corruption around it. This is a flock of the ragged and utterly forlorn, to many of whom green fields and fresh air are absolutely new, but we have other flocks besides these."
"Indeed! Well, now I look at them more carefully, I see that their garments do speak of squalid poverty. I have never before seen such a ragged crew, though I have sometimes encountered individuals of the class on the streets."
"Hm!" coughed the missionary with a peculiar smile. "They are not so ragged as they were. Neither are they as ragged as they will be in an hour or two."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that these very rough little ones have to receive peculiar treatment before we can give them such an outing as they are having to-day. As you see, swings and see-saws have been put up here, toys are now being distributed, and a plentiful feast will ere long be forthcoming, through the kindness of a Christian gentleman whose heart the Lord has inclined to 'consider the poor,' but before we could venture to move the little band, much of their ragged clothing had to be stitched up to prevent it falling off on the journey, and we had to make them move carefully on their way to the train—for vans have brought us only part of the way. Now that they are here, our minds are somewhat relieved, but I suspect that the effect of games and romping will undo much of our handiwork. Come, let us watch them."
The youth and the missionary advanced towards a group of the children, whose souls, for the time being, were steeped in a see-saw. This instrument of delight consisted of a strong plank balanced on the trunk of a noble tree which had been recently felled, with many others, to thin the woods of the philanthropist's park. It was an enormous see-saw! such as the ragged creatures had never before seen—perhaps never conceived of, their experiences in such joys having been hitherto confined to small bits of broken plank placed over empty beer barrels, or back-yard fences. No fewer than eight children were able to find accommodation on it at one and the same time, besides one of the bigger boys to straddle in the centre; and it required the utmost vigilance on the part of a young man teacher at one end of the machine, and Hetty Frog at the other end, to prevent the little ragamuffins at either extremity from being forced off.
Already the missionary's anticipation in regard to the undoing of their labour had begun to be verified. There were at least four of the eight whose nether garments had succumbed to the effort made in mounting the plank, and various patches of flesh-colour revealed the fact that the poor little wearers were innocent of flannels. But it was summer-time, and the fact had little effect either on wearers or spectators. The missionary, however, was not so absorbed in the present but that he felt impelled to remark to Welland: "That is their winter as well as summer clothing."
The bicyclist said nothing in reply, but the remark was not lost upon him.
"Now, Dick Swiller," said the young man teacher, "I see what you're up to. You mustn't do it!"
Richard Swiller, who was a particularly rugged as well as ragged boy of about thirteen, not being in the habit of taking advice, did do it. That is, he sent his end of the plank up with such violence that the other end came to the ground with a shock which caused those who sat there to gasp, while it all but unseated most of those who were on the higher end. Indeed one very small and pinched but intelligent little boy, named by his companions Blobby, who looked as if Time, through the influence of privation and suffering, had been dwindling instead of developing him,—actually did come off with a cry of alarm, which, however, changed into a laugh of glee when he found himself in his teacher's arms, instead of lying "busted on the ground," as he afterwards expressed it when relating the incident to an admiring audience of fellow ragamuffins in the slums of Spitalfields.
Blobby was immediately restored to his lost position, and Swiller was degraded, besides being made to stand behind a large tree for a quarter of an hour in forced inaction, so that he might have time to meditate on the evil consequences of disobedience.
"Take care, Robin," said Hetty, to a very small but astonishingly energetic fellow, at her end of the see-saw, who was impressed with the notion that he was doing good service by wriggling his own body up and down, "if you go on so, you'll push Lilly Snow off."
Robin, unlike Dick, was obedient. He ceased his efforts, and thereby saved the last button which held his much too small waistcoat across his bare bosom.
"What a sweet face the child she calls Lilly Snow has—if it were only clean," observed Welland. "A little soap and water with a hair brush would make her quite beautiful."
"Yes, she is very pretty," said the missionary and the kindly smile with which he had been watching the fun vanished, as he added in a sorrowful voice, "her case is a very sad one, dear child. Her mother is a poor but deserving woman who earns a little now and then by tailoring, but she has been crushed for years by a wicked and drunken husband who has at last deserted her. We know not where he is, perhaps dead. Five times has her home been broken up by him, and many a time has she with her little one been obliged to sit on doorsteps all night, when homeless. Little Lilly attends our Sunday-school regularly, and Hetty is her teacher. It is not long since Hetty herself was a scholar, and I know that she is very anxious to lead Lilly to the Lord. The sufferings and sorrows to which this poor child has been exposed have told upon her severely, and I fear that her health will give way. A day in the country like this may do her good perhaps."
As the missionary spoke little Lilly threw up her arms and uttered a cry of alarm. Robin, although obedient, was short of memory, and his energetic spirit being too strong for his excitable little frame he had recommenced his wriggling, with the effect of bursting the last button off his waistcoat and thrusting Lilly off the plank. She was received, however, on Hetty's breast, who fell with her to the ground.
"Not hurt, Hetty!" exclaimed the missionary, running forward to help the girl up.
"Oh! no, sir," replied Hetty with a short laugh, as she rose and placed Lilly on a safer part of the see-saw.
"Come here, Hetty," said John Seaward, "and rest a while. You have done enough just now; let some one else take your place."
After repairing the buttonless waistcoat with a pin and giving its owner a caution, Hetty went and sat down on the grass beside the missionary.
"How is Bobby?" asked the latter, "I have not found a moment to speak to you till now."
"Thank you, sir, he's better; much better. I fear he will be well too soon."
"How so? That's a strange remark, my girl."
"It may seem strange, sir, but—you know—father's very fond of Bobby."
"Well, Hetty, that's not a bad sign of your father."
"Oh but, sir, father sits at his bedside when he's sober, an' has such long talks with him about robberies and burglaries, and presses him very hard to agree to go out with him when he's well. I can't bear to hear it, for dear Bobby seems to listen to what he says, though sometimes he refuses, and defies him to do his worst, especially when he—"
"Stay, dear girl. It is very very sad, but don't tell me anything more about your father. Tell it all to Jesus, Hetty. He not only sympathises with, but is able to save—even to the uttermost."
"Yes, thank God for that 'uttermost,'" said the poor girl, clasping her hands quickly together. "Oh, I understood that when He saved me, and I will trust to it now."
"And the gentleman who called on you,—has he been again?" asked the missionary.
"No, sir, he has only come once, but he has sent his butler three or four times with some money for us, and always with the message that it is from Miss Diana, to be divided between Bobby and me. Unfortunately father chanced to be at home the first time he came and got it all, so we got none of it. But he was out the other times. The butler is an oldish man, and a very strange one. He went about our court crying."
"Crying! Hetty, that's a curious condition for an oldish butler to be in."
"Oh, of course I don't mean cryin' out like a baby," said Hetty, looking down with a modest smile, "but I saw tears in his eyes, and sometimes they got on his cheeks. I can't think what's the matter with him."
Whatever Mr Seaward thought on this point he said nothing, but asked if Bobby was able to go out.
Oh yes, he was quite able to walk about now with a little help, Hetty said, and she had taken several walks with him and tried to get him to speak about his soul, but he only laughed at that, and said he had too much trouble with his body to think about his soul—there was time enough for that!
They were interrupted at this point by a merry shout of glee, and, looking up, found that young Welland had mounted the see-saw, taken Lilly Snow in front of him, had Dick Swiller reinstated to counterbalance his extra weight, and was enjoying himself in a most hilarious manner among the fluttering rags. Assuredly, the fluttering rags did not enjoy themselves a whit less hilariously than he.
In this condition he was found by the owner of the grounds, George Brisbane, Esquire, of Lively Hall, who, accompanied by his wife, and a tall, dignified friend with a little girl, approached the see-saw.
"I am glad you enjoy yourself so much, my young friend," he said to Welland; "to which of the ragged schools may you belong?"
In much confusion—for he was rather shy—Welland made several abortive efforts to check the see-saw, which efforts Dick Swiller resisted to the uttermost, to the intense amusement of a little girl who held Mrs Brisbane's hand. At last he succeeded in arresting it and leaped off.
"I beg pardon," he said, taking off his cap to the lady as he advanced, "for intruding uninvited on—"
"Pray don't speak of intrusion," interrupted Mr Brisbane, extending his hand; "if you are here as Mr Seaward's friend you are a welcome guest. Your only intrusion was among the little ones, but as they seem not to resent it neither do I."
Welland grasped the proffered hand. "Thank you very much," he returned, "but I can scarcely lay claim to Mr Seaward's friendship. The fact is, I am here in consequence of an accident to my bicycle."
"Oh! then you are one of the poor unfortunates after all," said the host. "Come, you are doubly welcome. Not hurt much, I hope. No? That's all right. But don't let me keep you from your amusements. Remember, we shall expect you at the feast on the lawn. You see, Sir Richard," he added, turning to his dignified friend, "when we go in for this sort of thing we don't do it by halves. To have any lasting effect, it must make a deep impression. So we have got up all sorts of amusements, as you observe, and shall have no fewer than two good feeds. Come, let us visit some other—Why, what are you gazing at so intently?"
He might well ask the question, for Sir Richard Brandon had just observed Hetty Frog, and she, unaccustomed to such marked attention, was gazing in perplexed confusion on the ground. At the same time little Di, having caught sight of her, quitted Mrs Brisbane, ran towards her with a delighted scream, and clasping her hand in both of hers, proclaimed her the sister of "my boy!"
Hetty's was not the nature to refuse such affection. Though among the poorest of the poor, and clothed in the shabbiest and most patchy of garments, (which in her case, however, were neat, clean and well mended), she was rich in a loving disposition; so that, forgetting herself and the presence of others, she stooped and folded the little girl in her arms. And, when the soft brown hair and pale pretty face of Poverty were thus seen as it were co-mingling with the golden locks and rosy cheeks of Wealth, even Sir Richard was forced to admit to himself that it was not after all a very outrageous piece of impropriety!
"Oh! I'm so glad to hear that he's much better, and been out too! I would have come to see him again long long ago, but p—"
She checked herself, for Mrs Screwbury had carefully explained to her that no good girl ever said anything against her parents; and little Di had swallowed the lesson, for, when not led by passion, she was extremely teachable.
"And oh!" she continued, opening her great blue lakelets to their widest state of solemnity, "you haven't the smallest bit of notion how I have dreamt about my boy—and my policeman too! I never can get over the feeling that they might both have been killed, and if they had, you know, it would have been me that did it; only think! I would have— been—a murderer! P'raps they'd have hanged me!"
"But they weren't killed, dear," said Hetty, unable to restrain a smile at the awful solemnity of the child, and the terrible fate referred to.
"No—I'm so glad, but I can't get over it," continued Di, while those near to her stood quietly by unable to avoid overhearing, even if they had wished to do so. "And they do such strange things in my dreams," continued Di, "you can't think. Only last night I was in our basket-cart—the dream-one, you know, not the real one—and the dream-pony ran away again, and gave my boy such a dreadful knock that he fell flat down on his back, tumbled over two or three times, and rose up—a policeman! Not my policeman, you know, but quite another one that I had never seen before! But the very oddest thing of all was that it made me so angry that I jumped with all my might on to his breast, and when I got there it wasn't the policeman but the pony! and it was dead—quite dead, for I had killed it, and I wasn't sorry at all—not a bit!"
This was too much for Hetty, who burst into a laugh, and Sir Richard thought it time to go and see the games that were going on in other parts of the field, accompanied by Welland and the missionary, while Hetty returned to her special pet Lilly Snow.
And, truly, if "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin," there were touches of nature enough seen that day among these outcasts of society to have warranted their claiming kin with the whole world.
Leap-frog was greatly in favour, because the practitioners could abandon themselves to a squirrel-and-cat sort of bound on the soft grass, which they had never dared to indulge in on the London pavements. It was a trying game, however, to the rags, which not only betrayed their character to the eye by the exhibition of flesh-tints through numerous holes, but addressed themselves also to the ears by means of frequent and explosive rendings. Pins, however, were applied to the worst of these with admirable though temporary effect, and the fun became faster and more furious,—especially so when the points of some of the pins touched up the flesh-tints unexpectedly.
On these occasions the touches of nature became strongly pronounced— expressing themselves generally in a yell. Another evidence of worldly kinship was, that the touched-up ones, instead of attributing the misfortune to accident, were prone to turn round with fierce scowl and doubled fists under the impression that a guilty comrade was in rear!
The proceedings were totally arrested for one hour at mid-day, when unlimited food was issued, and many of the forlorn ones began to feel the rare sensation of being stuffed quite full and rendered incapable of wishing for more! But this was a mere interlude. Like little giants refreshed they rose up again to play—to swing, to leap, to wrestle, to ramble, to gather flowers, to roll on the grass, to bask in the gladdening sunshine, and, in some cases, to thank God for all His mercies, in spite of the latent feeling of regret that there was so little of all that enjoyment in the slums, and dark courts, and filthy back-streets of the monster city.
Of course all the pins were extracted in this second act of the play, and innumerable new and gaping wounds were introduced into the clothing, insomuch that all ordinary civilised people, except philanthropists, would have been shocked with the appearance of the little ones.
But it was during the third and closing act of the play that the affair culminated. The scene was laid on the lawn in front of Mr Brisbane's mansion.
Enter, at one end of the lawn, a band of small and dirty but flushed and happy boys and girls, in rags which might appropriately be styled ribbons. At the other end of the lawn a train of domestics bearing trays with tea, cakes, buns, pies, fruits, and other delectable things, to which the ragged army sits down.
Enter host and hostess, with Sir Richard, friends and attendants.
(Host.)—after asking a blessing—"My little friends, this afternoon we meet to eat, and only one request have I to make—that you shall do your duty well." (Small boy in ribbons.—"Von't I, just!") "No platter shall return to my house till it be empty. No little one shall quit these premises till he be full; what cannot be eaten must be carried away."
(The ragged army cheers.)
(Little boy in tatters, pausing.)—"I shan't fall two, I'll fall three or four."
(Another little boy, in worse tatters.)—"So shall I."
(First little boy.)—"I say, Jim, wot would mother say if she was here?"
(Jim.)—"She'd say nothin'. 'Er mouth 'ud be too full to speak."
(Prolonged silence. Only mastication heard, mingled with a few cases of choking, which are promptly dealt with.)
(Blobby, with a sigh.)—"I say, Robin, I'm gettin' tight."
(Robin, with a gasp.)—"So am I; I'm about bustin'."
(Blobby, coming to another pause.)—"I say, Robin, I'm as full as I can 'old. So's all my pockits, an' there's some left over!"
(Robin—sharply.)—"Stick it in your 'at, then."
(Blobby takes off his billycock, thrusts the remnant of food therein, and puts it on.)
Enter the brass band of the neighbouring village, (the bandsmen being boys), which plays a selection of airs, and sends a few of the smaller ragamuffins to sleep.
(Sir Richard Brandon, confidentially to his friend.)—"It is an amazing sight."
(Host.)—"Would that it were a more common sight!"
Enter more domestics with more tea, buns, and fruit; but the army is glutted, and the pockets are brought into requisition: much pinning being a necessary consequence.
(Lilly Snow, softly.)—"It's like 'eaven!"
(Hetty, remonstratingly.)—"Oh! Lilly, 'eaven is quite different."
(Dick Swiller.)—"I'm sorry for it. Couldn't be much 'appier to my mind."
(Host.)—"Now, dear boys and girls, before we close the proceedings of this happy day, my excellent friend, your missionary, Mr Seaward, will say a few words."
John Seaward steps to the front, and says a few words—says them so well, too, so simply, so kindly, yet so heartily, that the army is roused to a pitch of great enthusiasm; but we leave this speech to the reader's imagination: after which—Exeunt Omnes.
And, as the curtain of night falls on these ragged ones, scattered now, many of them, to varied homes of vice, and filth, and misery, the heavy eyelids close to open again, perchance, in ecstatic dreams of food, and fun and green fields, fresh air and sunshine, which impress them more or less with the idea embodied in the aphorism, that "God made the country, but man made the town."
HOW THE POOR ARE SUCCOURED.
"I am obliged to you, Mr Seaward, for coming out of your way to see me," said Sir Richard Brandon, while little Di brought their visitor a chair. "I know that your time is fully occupied, and would not have asked you to call had not my friend Mr Brisbane assured me that you had to pass my house daily on your way to—to business."
"No apology, Sir Richard, pray. I am at all times ready to answer a call whether of the poor or the rich, if by any means I may help my Lord's cause."
The knight thought for a moment that he might claim to be classed among the poor, seeing that his miserable pittance of five thousand barely enabled him to make the two ends meet, but he only said:
"Ever since we had the pleasure of meeting at that gathering of ragged children, my little girl here has been asking so many questions about poor people—the lower orders, I mean—which I could not answer, that I have asked you to call, that we may get some information about them. You see, Diana is an eccentric little puss," (Di opened her eyes very wide at this, wondering what "eccentric" could mean), "and she has got into a most unaccountable habit of thinking and planning about poor people."
"A good habit, Sir Richard," said the missionary. "'Blessed are they that consider the poor.'"
Sir Richard acknowledged this remark with a little bow. "Now, we should like to ask, if you have no objection, what is your chief object in the mission at—what did you say its name—ah! George Yard?"
"To save souls," said Mr Seaward.
"Oh—ah—precisely," said the knight, taken somewhat aback by the nature and brevity of the answer, "that of course; but I meant, how do you proceed? What is the method, and what the machinery that you put in motion?"
"Perhaps," said the missionary, drawing a small pamphlet from his pocket, "this will furnish you with all the information you desire. You can read it over to Miss Diana at your leisure—and don't return it; I have plenty more. Meanwhile I may briefly state that the mission premises are in George Yard, High Street, Whitechapel, one of the worst parts of the east of London, where the fire of sin and crime rages most fiercely; where the soldiers of the Cross are comparatively few, and would be overwhelmed by mere numbers, were it not that they are invincible, carrying on the war as they do in the strength of Him who said, 'Lo, I am with you alway.'
"In the old coaching days," continued Mr Seaward, "this was a great centre, a starting-point for mail-coaches. For nigh thirty years the mission has been there. The 'Black Horse' was a public-house in George Yard, once known to the magistrates as one of the worst gin-shops and resort of thieves and nurseries of crime in London. That public-house is now a shelter for friendless girls, and a place where sick children of the poor are gratuitously fed."
From this point the missionary went off into a graphic account of incidents illustrative of the great work done by the mission, and succeeded in deeply interesting both Diana and her father, though the latter held himself well in hand, knowing, as he was fond of remarking, that there were two sides to every question.
Checking his visitor at one point, he said, "You have mentioned ragged schools and the good that is done by them, but why should not the school-boards look after such children?"
"Because, Sir Richard, the school-boards cannot reach them. There are upwards of 150,000 people in London who have never lived more than three months in one place. No law reaches this class, because they do not stay long enough in any neighbourhood for the school-board authorities to put the law into operation. Now, nearly three hundred of the children of these wanderers meet in our Free Ragged Day Schools twice a day for instruction. Here we teach them as efficiently as we can in secular matters, and of course they are taught the Word of God, and told of Jesus the Saviour of sinners; but our difficulties are great, for children as well as parents are often in extremest poverty, the former suffering from hunger even when sent to school—and they never stay with us long. Let me give you an instance:—
"One morning a mother came and begged to have her children admitted. She had just left the workhouse. Three children in rags, that did not suffice to cover much less to protect them, stood by her side. She did not know where they were to sleep that night, but hoped to obtain a little charing and earn enough to obtain a lodging somewhere. She could not take the children with her while seeking work—Would we take them in? for, if not, they would have to be left in the streets, and as they were very young they might lose themselves or be run over. We took them in, fed, sympathised with, and taught them. In the afternoon the mother returned weary, hungry, dejected. She had failed to obtain employment, and took the children away to apply for admission to a casual ward."
"What is a casual ward, Mr Missionary?" asked Di.
"Seaward, my love,—his name is not Missionary," said Sir Richard.
"A casual ward," answered the visitor, "is an exceedingly plain room with rows of very poor beds; mere wooden frames with canvas stretched on them, in which any miserable beggars who choose to submit to the rules may sleep for a night after eating a bit of bread and a basin of gruel— for all which they pay nothing. It is a very poor and comfortless place—at least you would think it so—and is meant to save poor people from sleeping, perhaps dying, in the streets."
"Do some people sleep in the streets?" asked Di in great surprise.
"Yes, dear, I'm sorry to say that many do."
"D'you mean on the stones, in their night-dresses?" asked the child with increasing surprise.
"Yes, love," said her father, "but in their ordinary clothes, not in their night-dresses—they have no night-dresses."
Little Di had now reached a pitch of surprise which rendered her dumb, so the missionary continued:
"Here is another case. A poor widow called once, and said she would be so grateful if we would admit her little girl and boy into the schools. She looked clean and tidy, and the children had not been neglected. She could not afford to pay for them, as she had not a penny in the world, and applied to us because we made no charge. The children were admitted and supplied with a plain but nourishing meal, while their mother went away to seek for work. We did not hear how she sped, but she had probably taken her case to God, and found Him faithful, for she had said, before going away, 'I know that God is the Father of the fatherless, and the husband of the widow.'
"Again, another poor woman came. Her husband had fallen sick. Till within a few days her children had been at a school and paid for, but now the bread-winner was ill—might never recover—and had gone to the hospital. These children were at once admitted, and in each case investigation was made to test the veracity of the applicants.
"Of course," continued the missionary, "I have spoken chiefly about the agencies with which I happen to have come personally in contact, but it must not be supposed that therefore I ignore or am indifferent to the other grand centres of influence which are elsewhere at work in London; such as, for instance, the various agencies set agoing and superintended by Dr Barnardo, whose Home for Working and Destitute Boys, in Stepney Causeway, is a shelter from which thousands of rescued little ones go forth to labour as honest and useful members of society, instead of dying miserably in the slums of London, or growing up to recruit the ranks of our criminal classes. These agencies, besides rescuing destitute and neglected children, include Homes for destitute girls and for little boys in Ilford and Jersey, an Infirmary for sick children of the destitute classes in Stepney, Orphan Homes, Ragged and Day schools, Free dinner-table to destitute children, Mission Halls, Coffee Palaces, and, in short, a grand net-work of beneficent agencies—Evangelistic, Temperance, and Medical—for the conduct of which is required not far short of One Hundred Pounds a day!"
Even Sir Richard Brandon, with all his supposed financial capacities, seemed struck with the magnitude of this sum.
"And where does Dr Barnardo obtain so large an amount?" he asked.
"From the voluntary gifts of those who sympathise with and consider the poor," replied Seaward.
"Then," he added, "there is that noble work carried on by Miss Rye of the Emigration Home for Destitute Little Girls, at the Avenue House, Peckham, from which a stream of destitute little ones continually flows to Canada, where they are much wanted, and who, if allowed to remain here, would almost certainly be lost. Strong testimony to the value of this work has been given by the Bishops of Toronto and Niagara, and other competent judges. Let me mention a case of one of Miss Rye's little ones, which speaks for itself.
"A little girl of six was deserted by both father and mother."
"Oh! poor little thing!" exclaimed the sympathetic Di, with an amazing series of pitiful curves about her eyebrows.
"Yes, poor indeed!" responded Seaward. "The mother forsook her first; then her father took her on the tramp, but the little feet could not travel fast enough, so he got tired of her and offered her to a workhouse. They refused her, so the tramping was continued, and at last baby was sold for three shillings to a stranger man. On taking his purchase home, however, the man found that his wife was unwilling to receive her; he therefore sent poor little baby adrift in the streets of London!"
"What a shame!" cried Di, with flashing orbs.
"Was it not? But, when father and mother cast this little one off, the Lord cared for it. An inspector of police, who found it, took it to his wife, and she carried it to Miss Rye's Home, where it was at once received and cared for, and, doubtless, this little foundling girl is now dwelling happily and usefully with a Canadian family."
"How nice!" exclaimed Di, her eyes, lips, and teeth bearing eloquent witness to her satisfaction.
"But no doubt you have heard of Miss Rye's work, as well as that of Miss Annie Macpherson at the Home of Industry, and, perhaps, contributed to—"
"No," interrupted Sir Richard, quickly, "I do not contribute; but pray, Mr Seaward, are there other institutions of this sort in London?"
"Oh! yes, there are several, it would take me too long to go into the details of the various agencies we have for succouring the poor. There is, among others, The Church of England 'Central Home for Waifs and Strays,' with a 'Receiving House' for boys in Upper Clapton, and one for girls in East Dulwich, with the Archbishop of Canterbury for its President. Possibly you may have heard of the 'Strangers' Rest,' in Saint George Street, Ratcliff Highway, where, as far as man can judge, great and permanent good is being constantly done to the souls of sailors. A sailor once entered this 'Rest' considerably the worse for drink. He was spoken to by Christian friends, and asked to sign the pledge. He did so, and has now been steadfast for years. Returning from a long voyage lately, he went to revisit the Rest, and there, at the Bible-class, prayed. Part of his prayer was—'God bless the Strangers' Rest. O Lord, we thank Thee for this place, and we shall thank Thee to all eternity.' This is a sample of the feeling with which the place is regarded by those who have received blessing there. In the same street, only a few doors from this Rest, is the 'Sailor's Welcome Home.' This is more of a home than the other, for it furnishes lodging and unintoxicating refreshment, while its devoted soul-loving manager, Miss Child, and her assistant workers, go fearlessly into the very dens of iniquity, and do all they can to bring sailors to Jesus, and induce them to take the pledge against strong drink, in which work they are, through God's blessing, wonderfully successful. These two missions work, as it were, into each other's hands. In the 'Rest' are held prayer-meetings and Bible-classes, and when these are dismissed, the sailors find the open door of the 'Welcome Home' ready to receive them, and the inmates there seek to deepen the good influence that has been brought to bear at the meetings—and this in the midst of one of the very worst parts of London, where temptation to every species of evil is rampant, on the right-hand and on the left, before and behind.
"But, Sir Richard, although I say that a grand and extensive work of salvation to soul, body, and spirit is being done to thousands of men, and women, and children, by the agencies which I have mentioned, and by many similar agencies which I have not now time to mention, as well as by the band of City Missionaries to which I have the honour to belong, I would earnestly point out that these all put together only scratch the surface of the vast mass of corruption which has to be dealt with in this seething world of London, the population of which is, as you are aware, equal to that of all Scotland; and very specially would I remark that the work is almost exclusively carried on by the voluntary contributions of those who 'consider the poor!'
"The little tract which I have given you will explain much of the details of this great work, as carried on in the George Yard Mission. When you have read that, if you desire it, I will call on you again. Meanwhile engagements compel me to take my leave."
After luncheon, that day, Sir Richard drew his chair to the window, but instead of taking up the newspaper and recommending his little one to visit the nursery, he said:
"Come here, Di. You and I will examine this pamphlet—this little book—and I'll try to explain it, for reports are usually very dry."
Di looked innocently puzzled. "Should reports always be wet, papa?"
Sir Richard came nearer to the confines of a laugh than he had reached for a long time past.
"No, love—not exactly wet, but—hm—you shall hear. Draw the stool close to my knee and lay your head on it."
With his large hand on the golden tresses, Sir Richard Brandon began to examine the record of work done in the George Yard Mission.
"What is this?" he said. "Toy Classes,—why, this must be something quite in your way, Di."
"Oh yes, I'm sure of that, for I adore toys. Tell me about it."
"These toy classes are for the cheerless and neglected," said the knight, frowning in a businesslike way at the pamphlet. "Sometimes so many as eighty neglected little ones attend these classes. On one occasion, only one of these had boots on, which were very old, much too large, and both lefts. When they were seated, toys and scrap-books were lent to them. There were puzzles, and toy-bricks, and many other things which kept them quite happy for an hour. Of course the opportunity was seized to tell them about Jesus and His love. A blessed lesson which they would not have had a chance of learning at home—if they had homes; but many of them had none. When it was time to go they said—'Can't we stay longer?'
"The beginning of this class was interesting," said Sir Richard, continuing to read. "The thought arose—'gather in the most forlorn and wretched children; those who are seldom seen to smile, or heard to laugh; there are many such who require Christian sympathy.' The thought was immediately acted on. A little barefooted ragged boy was sent into the streets to bring in the children. Soon there was a crowd round the school-door. The most miserable among the little ones were admitted. The proceedings commenced with prayer—then the toys were distributed, the dirty little hands became active, and the dirty little faces began to look happy. When the toys were gathered up, some could not be found, so, at the next meeting, some of the bigger children were set to watch the smaller ones. Presently one little detective said: 'Please, teacher, Teddy's got a horse in his pocket,' and another said that Sally had an elephant in her pinafore! Occasion was thus found to show the evil of stealing, and teach the blessedness of honesty. They soon gave up pilfering, and they now play with the toys without desiring to take them away."
"How nice!" said Di. "Go on, papa."
"What can this be?" continued Sir Richard, quoting—"Wild Flowers of the Forest Day Nursery. Oh! I see—very good idea. I'll not read it, Di, I'll tell you about it. There are many poor widows, you must know, and women whose husbands are bad, who have no money to buy food and shelter for themselves and little ones except what they can earn each day. But some of these poor women have babies, and they can't work, you know, with babies in their arms, neither can they leave the babies at home with no one to look after them, except, perhaps, little sisters or brothers not much older than themselves, so they take their babies to this Cradle-Home, and each pays only twopence, for which small sum her baby is taken in, washed, clothed, warmed, fed, and amused by kind nurses, who keep it till the mother returns from her work to get it back again. Isn't that good?"
"Oh! yes," assented Di, with all her heart.
"And I read here," continued her father, "that thousands of the infants of the poor die every year because they have not enough food, or enough clothing to keep them warm."
"Oh what a pity!" exclaimed Di, the tears of ready sympathy rushing hot into her upturned eyes.
"So you see," continued Sir Richard, who had unconsciously, as it were, become a pleader for the poor, "if there were a great many nurseries of this kind all over London, a great many little lives would be saved."
"And why are there not a great many nurseries of that kind, papa?"
"Well, I suppose, it is because there are no funds."
"No what? papa."
"Not enough of money, dear."
"Oh! what a pity! I wish I had lots and lots of money, and then wouldn't I have Cradle-Homes everywhere?"
Sir Richard, knowing that he had "lots and lots" of money, but had not hitherto contributed one farthing to the object under consideration, thought it best to change the subject by going on with the George Yard Record.
But we will not conduct the reader through it all—interesting though the subject certainly is. Suffice it to say that he found the account classed under several heads. Under "Feeding the Hungry," for instance, he learned that many poor children are entirely without food, sometimes, for a whole day, so that only two courses are open to them— to steal food and become criminals, or drift into sickness and die. From which fate many hundreds are annually rescued by timely aid at George Yard, the supplies for which are sent by liberal-minded Christians in all ranks of life—from Mr Crackaby with his 150 pounds a year, up through Mr Brisbane and his class to the present Earl of Shaftesbury—who, by the way, has taken a deep interest and lent able support to this particular Mission for more than a quarter of a century. But the name of Sir Richard Brandon did not appear on the roll of contributors. He had not studied the "lower orders" much, except from a politico-economical-argumentative after-dinner-port-winey point of view.
Under the head of "Clothing necessitous Children," he found that some of the little ones presented themselves at the school-door in such a net-work of rags, probably infected, as to be unfit even for a Ragged School. They were therefore taken in, had their garments destroyed, and were supplied with new clothes. Also, that about 1000 children between the ages of three and fourteen years were connected with the Institution—scattered among the various works of usefulness conducted for the young.
Under "Work among Lads," he found that those big boys whom one sees idling about corners of streets, fancying themselves men, smoking with obvious dislike and pretended pleasure, and on the highroad to the jail and the gallows—that those boys were enticed into classes opened for carpentry, turning, fretwork, and other attractive industrial pursuits— including even printing, at a press supplied by Lord Shaftesbury. This, in connection with evening classes for reading, writing, and arithmetic—the whole leading up to the grand object and aim of all—the salvation of souls.
Under other heads he found that outcast boys were received, sheltered, sent to Industrial Homes, or returned to friends and parents; that temperance meetings were held, and drunkards, male and female, sought out, prayed for, lovingly reasoned with, and reclaimed from this perhaps the greatest curse of the land; that Juvenile Bands of Hope were formed, on the ground of prevention being better than cure; that lodging-houses, where the poorest of the poor, and the lowest of the low do congregate, were visited, and the gospel proclaimed to ears that were deaf to nearly every good influence; that mothers' meetings were held—one of them at that old headquarters of sin, the "Black Horse," where counsel and sympathy were mingled with a Clothing Club and a Bible-woman; that there were a Working Men's Benefit Society, Bible-Classes, Sunday-School, a Sewing-Class, a Mutual Labour Loan Society, a Shelter for Homeless Girls, a library, an Invalid Children's Dinner, a bath-room and lavatory, a Flower Mission, and—hear it, ye who fancy that a penny stands very low in the scale of financial littleness—a Farthing Bank! All this free—conducted by an unpaid band of considerably over a hundred Christian workers, male and female—and leavening the foundations of society, without which, and similar missions, there would be very few leavening influences at all, and the superstructure of society would stand a pretty fair chance of being burst up or blown to atoms—though the superstructure is not very willing to believe the fact!
In addition to all this, Sir Richard learned, to his great amazement, that the Jews won't light their fires on the Sabbath-day—that is, on our Saturday—that they won't even poke it, and that this abstinence is the immediate cause of a source of revenue to the un-Jewish poor, whom the Jews hire to light and poke their fires for them.
And, lastly, Sir Richard Brandon learned that Mr George Holland, who had managed that mission for more than quarter of a century, was resolved, in the strength of the Lord, to seek out the lost and rescue the perishing, even though he, Sir Richard, and all who resembled him, should refuse to aid by tongue or hand in the glorious work of rescuing the poor from sin and its consequences.
BALLS, BOBBY, SIR RICHARD, AND GILES APPEAR ON THE STAGE.
As from the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step, so, from the dining-room to the kitchen there is but a stair. Let us descend the stair and learn that while Sir Richard was expounding the subject of "the poor" to little Di, Mr Balls, the butler, was engaged on the same subject in the servants' hall.
"I cannot tell you," said Balls, "what a impression the sight o' these poor people made on me."
"La! Mr Balls," said the cook, who was not unacquainted with low life in London, having herself been born within sound of Bow-Bells, "you've got no occasion to worrit yourself about it. It 'as never bin different."
"That makes it all the worse, cook," returned Balls, standing with his back to the fireplace and his legs wide apart; "if it was only a temporary depression in trade, or the repeal of the corn laws that did it, one could stand it, but to think that such a state of things always goes on is something fearful. You know I'm a country-bred man myself, and ain't used to the town, or to such awful sights of squalor. It almost made me weep, I do assure you. One room that I looked into had a mother and two children in it, and I declare to you that the little boy was going about stark naked, and his sister was only just a slight degree better."
"P'raps they was goin' to bed," suggested Mrs Screwbury.
"No, nurse, they wasn't; they was playing about evidently in their usual costume—for that evenin' at least. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it. And the mother was so tattered and draggled and dirty—which, also, was the room."
"Was that in the court where the Frogs live?" asked Jessie Summers.
"It was, and a dreadful court too—shocking!"
"By the way, Mr Balls," asked the cook, "is there any chance o' that brat of a boy Bobby, as they call him, coming here? I can't think why master has offered to take such a creeter into his service."
"No, cook, there is no chance. I forgot to tell you about that little matter. The boy was here yesterday and he refused—absolutely declined a splendid offer."
"I'm glad to hear it," returned the cook.
"Tell us about it, Mr Balls," said Jessie Summers with a reproachful look at the other. "I'm quite fond of that boy—he's such a smart fellow, and wouldn't be bad-looking if he'd only wash his face and comb his hair."
"He's smart enough, no doubt, but impudence is his strong point," rejoined the butler with a laugh. The way he spoke to the master beats everything.
"'I've sent for you, my boy,' said Sir Richard, in his usual dignified, kindly way, 'to offer you the situation of under-gardener in my establishment.'"
"'Oh! that's wot you wants with me, is it?' said the boy, as bold as brass; indeed I may say as bold as gun-metal, for his eyes an' teeth glittered as he spoke, and he said it with the air of a dook. Master didn't quite seem to like it, but I saw he laid restraint on himself and said: 'You have to thank my daughter for this offer—'
"'Thank you, Miss,' said the boy, turnin' to Miss Di with a low bow, imitatin' Sir Richard's manner, I thought, as much as he could.
"'Of course,' continued the master, rather sharply, 'I offer you this situation out of mere charity—'
"'Oh! you do, do you?' said the extraordinary boy in the coolest manner, 'but wot if I objec' to receive charity? Ven I 'olds a 'orse I expecs to be paid for so doin', same as you expecs to be paid w'en you attends a board-meetin' to grin an' do nuffin.'
"'Come, come, boy,' said Sir Richard, gettin' redder in the face than I ever before saw him, 'I am not accustomed to low pleasantry, and—'
"'An' I ain't accustomed,' broke in the boy, 'to 'igh hinsults. Do you think that every gent what years a coat an' pants with 'oles in 'em is a beggar?'
"For some moments master seemed to be struck speechless, an' I feared that in spite of his well-known gentleness of character he'd throw the ink-stand at the boy's head, but he didn't; he merely said in a low voice, 'I would dismiss you at once, boy, were it not that I have promised my daughter to offer you employment, and you can see by her looks how much your unnatural conduct grieves her.'
"An' this was true, for poor Miss Di sat there with her hands clasped, her eyes full of tears, her eyebrows disappearin' among her hair with astonishment, and her whole appearance the very pictur' of distress. 'However,' continued Sir Richard, 'I still make you the offer, though I doubt much whether you will be able to retain the situation. Your wages will—'
"'Please sir,' pleaded the boy, 'don't mention the wages. I couldn't stand that. Indeed I couldn't; it would really be too much for me.'
"'Why, what do you mean?' says master.
"'I mean,' says Impudence, 'that I agree with you. I don't think I could retain the sitivation, cause w'y? In the fust place, I ain't got no talent at gardenin'. The on'y time I tried it was w'en I planted a toolip in a flower-pot, an' w'en I dug it up to see 'ow it was a-gittin on a cove told me I'd planted it upside down. However, I wasn't goin' to be beat by that cove, so I say to 'im, Jack, I says, I planted it so a purpus, an' w'en it sprouts I'm a-goin' to 'ang it up to see if it won't grow through the 'ole in the bottom. In the second place, I couldn't retain the sitivation 'cause I don't intend to take it, though you was to offer me six thousand no shillin's an' no pence no farthin's a year as salary.'
"I r'ally did think master would ha' dropt out of his chair at that. As for Miss Di, she was so tickled that she gave a sort of hysterical laugh.
"'Balls,' said master, 'show him out, and—' he pulled up short, but I knew he meant to say have an eye on the great-coats and umbrellas, so I showed the boy out, an' he went down-stairs, quite quiet, but the last thing I saw of him was performin' a sort of minstrel dance at the end of the street just before he turned the corner and disappeared."
"Imp'rence!" exclaimed the cook.
"Naughty, ungrateful boy!" said Mrs Screwbury.
"But it was plucky of him," said Jessie Summers.
"I would call it cheeky," said Balls, "I can't think what put it into his head to go on so."
If Mr Balls had followed Bobby Frog in spirit, watched his subsequent movements, and listened to his remarks, perhaps he might have understood the meaning of his conduct a little better.
After he had turned the corner of the street, as above mentioned, Bobby trotted on for a short space, and then, coming to a full stop, executed a few steps of the minstrel dance, at the end of which he brought his foot down with tremendous emphasis on the pavement, and said—
"Yes, I've bin an' done it. I know'd I was game for a good deal, but I did not think I was up to that. One never knows wot 'e's fit for till 'e tries. Wot'll Hetty think, I wonder?"
What Hetty thought he soon found out, for he overtook her on the Thames embankment on her way home. Bobby was fond of that route, though a little out of his way, because he loved the running water, though it was muddy, and the sight of steamers and barges.
"Well, Bobby," she said, laying her hand on his shoulder, "where have you been?"
"To see old Swallow'd-the-poker, Hetty."
"What took you there?" asked the girl in surprise.
"My legs. You don't suppose I've set up my carriage yet, do you?"
"Come, you know what I mean."
"Vell, then, I went because I was sent for, an' wot d'ye think? the old gen'l'man hoffered me the sitivation of under-gardener!"
"You don't say so! Oh! Bobby, what a lucky boy—an' what a kind gentleman! Tell me all about it now," said Hetty, pressing her hand more tenderly on her brother's shoulder. "What wages is he to give you?"
"No wages wotsomever."
Hetty looked into her brother's face with an expression of concerned surprise. She knew some tradespeople who made her work hard for so very little, that it was not difficult to believe in a gentleman asking her brother to work for nothin'! Still she had thought better of Sir Richard, and expected to hear something more creditable to him.
"Ah, you may look, but I do assure you he is to give me no wages, an' I'm to do no work."
Here Bobby executed a few steps of his favourite dance, but evidently from mere habit, and unconsciously, for he left off in the middle, and seemed to forget the salient point of emphasis with his foot.
"What do you mean, Bobby?—be earnest, like a dear boy, for once."
"Earnest!" exclaimed the urchin with vehemence. "I never was more in earnest in my life. You should 'ave seen Swallow'd-the-poker w'en I refused to 'ave it."
"Ay—refused it. Come Hetty, I'll explain."
The boy dropped his facetious tone and manner while he rapidly ran over the chief points of his interview with Sir Richard.
"But why did you refuse so good an offer?" asked Hetty, still unable to repress her surprise.
"Because of daddy."
"Ay, daddy. You know he's fond o' me, is daddy, and, d'ye know, though p'r'aps you mayn't believe it, I'm raither fond o' him; but 'e's a bad 'un, is daddy. He's bent on mischief, you see, an' 'e's set his 'art on my 'elpin' of 'im. But I wont 'elp 'im—that's flat. Now, what d'ye think, Hetty," (here he dropped his voice to almost a whisper and looked solemn), "dad wants to make use o' me to commit a burglary on Swallow'd-the-poker's 'ouse."
"You don't mean it, Bobby!"
"But I do, Hetty. Dad found out from that rediklous butler that goes veepin' around our court like a leeky pump, that the old gen'l'man was goin' to hoffer me this sitivation, an 'e's bin wery 'ard on me to accept it, so that I may find out the ways o' the 'ouse where the plate an' waluables lay, let 'im in some fine dark night an' 'elp 'im to carry off the swag."
A distressed expression marked poor Hetty's reception of this news, but she said never a word.
"Now you won't tell, Hetty?" said the boy with a look of real anxiety on his face. "It's not so much his killin' me I cares about, but I wouldn't bring daddy to grief for any money. I'd raither 'elp 'im than that. You'll not say a word to nobody?"
"No, Bobby, I won't say a word."
"Vell, you see," continued the boy, "ven I'd made myself so disagreeable that the old gen'l'man would 'ave nothin' to do with me, I came straight away, an' 'ere I am; but it was a trial, let me tell you, specially ven 'e come to mention wages—an sitch a 'eavenly smell o' roasted wittles come up from the kitchen too at the moment, but I 'ad only to look at Miss Di, to make me as stubborn as a nox or a hass. 'Wot!' thinks I to myself, 'betray that hangel—no, never!' yet if I was to go into that 'ouse I know I'd do it, for daddy's got sitch a wheedlin' way with 'im w'en 'e likes, that I couldn't 'old hout long—so I giv' old Swallowed-the-poker sitch a lot o' cheek that I thought 'e'd kick me right through the winder. He was considerable astonished as well as riled, I can tell you, an' Miss Di's face was a pictur', but the old butler was the sight. He'd got 'is face screwed up into sitch a state o' surprise that it looked like a eight-day clock with a gamboil. Now, Hetty, I'm goin' to tell 'ee what'll take your breath away. I've made up my mind to go to Canada!"
Hetty did, on hearing this, look as if her breath had been taken away. When it returned sufficiently she said:
"Bobby, what put that into your head?"
"The 'Ome of Hindustry," said Bobby with a mysterious look.
"The Home of Industry," repeated the girl in surprise, for she knew that Institution well, having frequently assisted its workers in their labour of love.
"Yes, that's the name—'Ome of Hindustry, what sends off so many ragged boys to Canada under Miss Macpherson."
"Ay, Bobby, it does a great deal more than that," returned the girl. "Sending off poor boys and girls to Canada is only one branch of its work. If you'd bin to its tea-meetin's for the destitute, as I have, an' its clothin' meetin's and its mothers' meetin's, an—"
"'Ow d'ye know I 'aven't bin at 'em all?" asked the boy with an impudent look.
"Well, you know, you couldn't have been at the mothers' meetings, Bobby."
"Oh! for the matter o' that, no more could you."
"True, but I've heard of them all many and many a time; but come, tell me all about it. How did you come to go near the Home of Industry at all after refusing so often to go with me?"
"Vell, I didn't go because of bein' axed to go, you may be sure o' that, but my little dosser, Tim Lumpy, you remember 'im? The cove wi' the nose like a button, an' no body to speak of—all legs an' arms, like a 'uman win'-mill; vell, you must know they've nabbed 'im, an' given 'im a rig-out o' noo slops, an' they're goin' to send 'im to Canada. So I 'appened to be down near the 'Ome one day three weeks past, an' I see Lumpy a-goin' in. ''Allo!' says I. ''Allo!' says 'e; an' then 'e told me all about it. 'Does they feed you well?' I axed. 'Oh! don't they, just!' said 'e. 'There's to be a blow hout this wery night,' said 'e. 'I wonder,' says I, 'if they'd let me in, for I'm uncommon 'ungry, I tell you; 'ad nuffin' to heat since last night.' Just as I said that, a lot o' fellers like me came tumblin' up to the door—so I sneaked in wi' the rest—for I thought they'd kick me hout if they knowed I'd come without inwitation."
"Well, and what then?" asked Hetty.
Here our little street-Arab began to tell, in his own peculiar language and style, how that he went in, and found a number of ladies in an upper room with forms set, and hot tea and bread to be had—as much as they could stuff—for nothing; that the boys were very wild and unruly at first, but that after the chief lady had prayed they became better, and that when half-a-dozen nice little girls were brought in and had sung a hymn or two they were quite quiet and ready to listen. Like many other people, this city Arab did not like to speak out freely, even to his sister, on matters that touched his feelings deeply, but he said enough to let the eager and thankful Hetty know that not only had Jesus and His love been preached to the boys, but she perceived that what had been said and sung had made an unusual impression, though the little ragged waif sought to conceal it under the veil of cool pleasantry, and she now recognised the fact that the prayers which she had been putting up for many a day in her brother's behalf had been answered.
"Oh! I'm so happy," she said; and, unable to restrain herself, flung her arms round Bobby's neck and kissed him.
It was evident that the little fellow rather liked this, though he pretended that he did not.
"Come, old gal," he said brusquely, "none o' that sort o' thing. I can't stand it. Don't you see, the popilation is lookin' at us in surprise; besides, you've bin an' crushed all my shirt front!"
"But," continued Hetty, as they walked on again, "I'm not happy to hear that you are goin' to Canada. What ever will I do without you, Bobby?"
Poor girl, she could well afford to do without him in one sense, for he had hitherto been chiefly an object of anxiety and expense to her, though also an object of love.
"I'm sorry to think of goin' too, Hetty, for your sake an' mother's, but for daddy's sake and my own I must go. You see, I can't 'old hout agin 'im. W'en 'e makes up 'is mind to a thing you know 'e sticks to it, for 'e's a tough un; an' 'e's got sitch a wheedlin' sort o' way with 'im that I can't 'elp givin' in a'most. So, you see, it'll be better for both of us that I should go away. But I'll come back, you know, Hetty, with a fortin—see if I don't—an' then, oh! won't I keep a carridge an' a ridin' 'oss for daddy, an' feed mother an' you on plum-duff an' pork sassengers to breakfast, dinner, an' supper, with ice cream for a relish!"
Poor Hetty did not even smile at this prospect of temporal felicity. She felt that in the main the boy was right, and that the only chance he had of escaping the toils in which her father was wrapping him by the strange union of affection and villainy, was to leave the country. She knew, also, that, thanks to the Home of Industry and its promoters, the sending of a ragged, friendless, penniless London waif, clothed and in his right mind, to a new land of bright and hopeful prospects, was an event brought within the bounds of possibility.
That night Bob Frog stood with his dosser, (i.e. his friend), Tim Lumpy, discussing their future prospects in the partial privacy of a railway-arch. They talked long, and, for waifs, earnestly—both as to the land they were about to quit and that to which they were going; and the surprising fact might have been noted by a listener—had there been any such present, save a homeless cat—that neither of the boys perpetrated a joke for the space of at least ten minutes.
"Vy," observed little Frog at length, "you seem to 'ave got all the fun drove out o' you, Lumpy."
"Not a bit on it," returned the other, with a hurt look, as though he had been charged with some serious misdemeanour, "but it do seem sitch a shabby thing to go an' forsake my blind old mother."
"But yer blind old mother wants you to go," said Bobby, "an' says she'll be well looked arter by the ladies of the 'Ome, and that she wouldn't stand in the way o' your prospec's. Besides, she ain't yer mother!"