PEOPLE WHO HAVE “COME DOWN”

It was application time in a London police-court. All sorts of people,
with all sorts of difficulties, had stepped, one after another, into the
witness-box, and had put all sorts of questions to the patient
magistrate. They had gone away more or less satisfied with the various
answers the experience of the magistrate suggested, when, last of all,
there stepped in front of him a quaint-looking elderly man. Below the
average size, with a body somewhat bent, grey hair, and a bristly white
moustache, together with a complexion of almost terra-cotta hue, he was
bound to attract attention. When looked at more closely, other
characteristics could be noted: his lips were full and tremulous, his
eyes were strained, and there was a look of pathetic expectancy over his
face.

He handed a paper to the magistrate, and said: “Read that, your
Worship.” His Worship read it. It was an order from the relieving
officer to the manager of the “stone-yard” for Jonathan Pinchbeck to be
given two days’ work. “Jonathan Pinchbeck! is that your name?” said the
magistrate, looking at the quaint old man. “Yes, that’s me.” “Well,
what do you want? Why don’t you go and do the work?” “Well, your
Worship, it is like this: I have been to the stone-yard, and they have
got no work to give me.” “Well,” said the magistrate, “I am sure that I
have no stones for you to break.” “But I don’t want you to give me work!
I ask you for a summons against the Vestry for four shillings,” he said.
“Surely they are bound to find me work or give me the money. I am out of
work, and my wife is ill.”

The magistrate told him that the matter could not be decided in a
police-court, and that he had better go to the County Court. Very
dejectedly the old man stepped down, and silently left the court. I
followed him, and had some conversation with him. He was a
dock-labourer, but had grown old, and could no longer “jostle,” push,
and fight for a job at the dock gates, for younger men with broader
shoulders stepped up before him. He gave me his address, so in the
afternoon of the same day I went to Mandeville Street, Clapton Park. The
landlady told me that Pinchbeck was not at home, but that he occupied
with his wife one room “first-floor front,” and that his wife was an
invalid.

I was about to leave when a husky voice from the first-floor front, the
door of which was evidently open, called out: “Is it a gentleman to see
Jonathan? Tell him to come up.” I went up. I shall not forget going up,
for I found myself in the queerest place I had visited. I was in
Wonderland. The owner of the voice that called me up, Mrs. Pinchbeck,
sat before me–huge, massive, and palpitating. She was twenty stone in
weight, but ill and suffering. Asthma, dropsy, and heart disease had
nearly done their work. It was a stifling day in July, and she drew
breath with difficulty.

She sat on a very strongly-made wooden chair, and did not attempt to
rise when I entered the room. The chair in which she was sitting was
painted vermilion red, and studded with bright brass nails. Every chair
in the room–of which there were four–the strong kitchen table, the
strong wooden fender, and the powerful bedstead, were all vermilion red,
embellished with brass nails. One directing mind had constructed the
lot. When my surprise was lessened, I sat down on a red chair beside the
poor woman, and entered into conversation. Her replies to my questions
came with difficulty, but, despite her illness, I noticed that she was
proud of her quaint husband, and especially proud of the furniture he
had made for her, for the household goods were his workmanship.

“He had only a saw, a hammer, and some sandpaper,” she said, nodding at
the furniture, “and he made the lot.”

They were well-built, and calculated to bear even Mrs. Pinchbeck.
“Vermilion red was his favourite colour,” she said, “and he thought the
bright yellow of the nails livened them up. They had been made a good
many years, but he sometimes gave them a fresh coat of paint.”

Pinchbeck and she had been married many years; they had no children.
They lived by themselves, and he was a very good husband. But there
were other wonders in the room beside the poor woman and the brilliant
furniture, and they soon claimed attention.

In front of me stood a monumental cross some feet in height, and made
apparently of brown marble. The cross stood on three foundation steps of
brown marble, and at intervals round the body of the cross were bands of
yellow ribbon.

She saw me looking at it. “That’s all tobacco,” she said; “it is made of
cigar-ends.” There was a descriptive paper attached to the cross.
“Jonathan collected the cigar-ends, and he made them into that monument,
and he made the calculations in his head, and I wrote them down,” she
said, referring to the paper. “He walked more than ninety thousand miles
to collect the cigar-ends,” she said. I asked permission to read the
descriptive paper attached, and after permission–for I saw the whole
thing was sacred to the suffering woman–I detached it. I was lost in
interest as I read the paper, which was well written, and contained some
curious calculations. I found on inquiry that Jonathan could neither
read nor write, but he could, as she said, “calculate in his own head.”

The document consisted of a double sheet of foolscap, which was covered
on the four pages with writing and figures in a woman’s hand. Briefly it
told of the great deeds of Jonathan, who, as I have previously said, was
a dock-labourer. He had lived in Clapton Park for more than thirty
years, and he had walked every day to and from the East London Docks, a
five-mile tramp every morning, and a return journey at night of equal
length. Hundreds of times his journey had been fruitless, so far as
getting a day’s work was concerned; but, like an industrious bee,
Jonathan returned home every night laden with what to him was sweeter
than honey–cigar-ends that he had gathered from the pavements, gutters,
and streets he traversed and searched during his daily ten-mile tramp.
They lay before me, converted into a massive monumental cross, erected
upon three great slabs of similar material. On each side of it stood a
smaller cross, as if it were to show off the dimensions of the great
cross. The paper stated that the whole of the cigar-ends collected
weighed one hundredweight and three-quarters. It also told how far the
cigars would have reached had they been placed end to end; one cigar was
reckoned at three inches, four to a foot, twelve to a yard, and seven
thousand and forty to a mile. The paper also told how much they cost at
twopence each, how long they took to smoke at one half-hour each, also
how much duty the Government had received on each at four shillings per
pound. Thirty years of interminable tramping, with his eyes on the
ground like a sleuth-hound, had Jonathan done. Hour after hour he had
sat in his little home contemplating his collection, and making his
mental calculations while his wife wrote them down, and then in its
glory arose his great monument.

Handing the paper to Mrs. Pinchbeck, I proceeded to examine the cross. I
felt it, and found it hard, solid, firm, and every edge square and
sharp. I wondered how he had converted such unlikely materials as
cigar-ends into such a solid piece of work. The poor woman told me that
from all the cigar-ends he brought home he trimmed off the burnt ends,
and carefully placed them in a dry place; then he made a great wooden
frame, screwed together, the inside of which represented the cross. In
this frame he arranged end-ways layer after layer of his cigar-ends,
pressing them and even hammering them in; now and again he had poured in
also a solution of treacle and water, placing more cigar-ends until it
was pressed and hammered full. Then it was left for months to slowly
dry. It was a proud day for the couple when the wooden frame was
removed, and the great triumph of Jonathan’s life stood before them.

But the tobacco cross did not by any means exhaust the wonders of the
room. All round strange things were hanging from the ceiling, threaded
on a string like girls thread beads and boys thread
horse-chestnuts–rough, flat-looking things, about the size of a plate
and of a dirty brown colour. “Whatever have you got there, hanging from
the ceiling?” I said. The answer came in a hoarse whisper: “Tops and
bottoms.” Tops and bottoms! tops and bottoms! I looked at them, and
cudgelled my brains to find out what tops and bottoms were. I had to
give it up, and the hoarse whisper came again: “Tops and bottoms.” There
the “tops” hung like a collection of Indian scalps, and there hung the
“bottoms” like a collection of burned pancakes. On examining one string
of them, I found attached the inevitable paper, on which was written
“1856.”

“Oh,” I said, “these are the tops and bottoms of your bread. Why did
you cut your bread in that way?” “It was Jonathan’s fancy,” she said. It
might have been her husband’s idea, but she had entered heartily into
it, for she had saved the crusts from all their loaves; she had written
the papers and particulars that were attached to them, and she was proud
of the old crusts, some of which dated from the time of the Crimean War.
I was prepared for other strange whims after my experience with the
vermilion furniture, the tobacco cross, and the “tops and bottoms,” and
it was well that I was, for other revelations awaited me. I found a
great bundle of sugar papers–coarse, heavy papers, some blue, others
grey–neatly folded, tied together, and tabulated. These were the
wrappers that had contained all the sugar the worthy couple had bought
during their married life. A document attached gave particulars of their
weight, told also of how much they had been defrauded by the purchase of
paper and not sugar, told the price of sugar in various years, and the
variations of their losses. Next to these stood a pile of tea-wrappers,
tabulated and ticketed in exactly the same manner. Mr. and Mrs.
Pinchbeck had evidently a just cause of complaint against the grocers.

I cannot possibly reveal the whole contents of the room. Had a local
auctioneer been called in to make a correct inventory, he would surely
have fled in despair. Every available square inch of the room was fully
occupied with strange objects. In one corner was a pile of nails–cut
nails and wrought nails, French nails and old “tenpenny” nails, barndoor
nails and dainty wire nails–collected from the streets during
Jonathan’s long life. They told the industrial history of those years,
and spoke eloquently of the improvement that had taken place even in
nail-making. They told, too, of the poor home-workers of Cradley Heath,
and of the women and children who had made them. Beside the nails was a
heap of screws–poor old blunted rusty things, made years before Mr.
Chamberlain introduced his improved pointed screws, lying mingled with
the Screws of present use, bright, slender, and genteel. Here was a heap
of shoe-tips, some of which had done duty forty years ago in protecting
the heels and toes of cumbrous boots that had stumbled and resounded on
the cobble-stone streets of those days. They, too, had a tale to tell,
for Blakey’s protectors lay there mingled with old, heavy, rusty tips
that had protected “wooden shoon” in the days of long ago.

Decidedly, Jonathan was a modern Autolycus, a “snapper-up of
unconsidered trifles.” He had almost established a corner in hairpins.
There they were, six hundred thousand of them, neatly arranged in starch
boxes, nicely oiled to prevent rust, box after box of them, every box
weighed and counted, the whole lot weighing, so the descriptive paper
says, two and a half hundredweight: hairpins from St. James’s and
Piccadilly–for Jonathan, when work was scarce, had on special occasions
searched with magnetic eye the El Dorado of the West–hairpins from the
narrow streets of the East; hairpins from suburban thoroughfares;
hairpins from the pavements of the City; old, massive hairpins that
would almost have tethered a goat; demure, slender hairpins that would
nestle snugly in the hair, and adapt themselves comfortably to the head;
hairpins plain and hairpins corrugated–there they lay.

I was lost in wonder and imagination, and forgot the nasty cigar-ends in
picturing to myself the world of beauty that had worn and the delicate
hands that had adjusted those hairpins. But the hairpins were not alone
in their glory. Hatpins claimed attention, too. Cruel, fiendish things
they looked, as they lay closely packed in several boxes, with their
beaded ends and sharp, elongated points. I turned quickly from these,
for I knew only too well the fresh terror they added to life–especially
to a policeman’s life. So I proceeded to examine the next
department–“babies’ comforters”–with mingled feelings: two large boxes
full of them, horrible things!–ivory rings, bone rings, rubber rings,
and vulcanite rings, with their suction tubes attached, made to deceive
infant life, and to enable English babies to feed on air. Some day a
similar collection may form a valuable addition to a museum,
illustrating the fraud practised on babies in the twentieth century.

I forgot the presence of poor asthmatical Mrs. Pinchbeck on her red
chair, for the shelves that were fixed on the walls attracted me. These
were heavily laden with glass jars and bottles of various sizes
containing specimens of bread, sugar, tea, coffee, butter, and cheese of
varying dates. “Bread, 1856, 10d. per loaf, Crimean War.” “Tea, 1856,
4s. 6d. per pound.” “Sugar (brown), 1856, 6d. per pound.” So ran some
of the descriptions that were attached to the various jars. But I had to
leave the examination of these till another time, when still more
wonders were revealed, of which I must tell you later.

Bidding Mrs. Pinchbeck “Good-afternoon,” and promising her another
visit, I left her, for other suffering and troubled folk needed me.
Alas! that was the only time I saw the poor woman, for not much longer
was she able to rise from her bed, and in a few weeks there was a
strange funeral, at which Jonathan was chief mourner, and he was left
alone and friendless.

Hard times followed; old age crept on. Failing health and lack of
nourishment combined to make Jonathan of less value in the labour
market, so by-and-by he faced starvation. But by no means did he give up
collecting; his useless stores grew and grew until he had no longer room
to store them. Then he sold his pile of nails for a few shillings; his
screws and tips followed suit, and some of the fruits of his industry
vanished.

Sad to relate, a worse fate befell his cigar-ends, and the great triumph
of his life–his “monumental cross”–brought a second great sorrow into
the poor fellow’s life. It occurred to him that he might obtain money by
exhibiting his work, so he hired a barrow, and, packing his crosses on
it, went into the streets to attract attention and collect coppers. He
secured plenty of attention, especially from boys, who made a “mark” of
the old man; ribald youth scoffed at him; policemen moved him on–but
the other “coppers” came not to him. The barrow cost one shilling per
week. A crisis had arrived; he must sell his tobacco. At eleven o’clock
one night I found him at my front door. There stood the barrow and the
tobacco. He wanted my advice about selling it. It was the only thing to
do. He had received notice to leave his room, and must look for a
smaller home at a less rental. The next day slowly and reluctantly
Jonathan pushed his barrow to Shoreditch. He had found a wholesale
tobacconist who might buy his tobacco at a price. “Bring it in,” he
said, “and I will look at it.” Jonathan took it in. Jonathan was taken
in, too. “Leave it here till to-morrow, and I will decide,” said the
merchant. It was left, and Jonathan pushed an empty barrow on the return
journey. His room seemed empty that night; his wife was dead, and now
his monumental cross was gone. The next day he visited the tobacco
merchant, and found an officer of the Inland Revenue waiting for him.
The merchant had informed. Pinchbeck’s tobacco was impounded, and he
himself was threatened with proceedings for attempting to sell tobacco
without holding a licence. In vain the poor old man protested; in vain
he argued and proved that his tobacco had paid duty, and that the State
had received its dues. His tobacco was detained, and Jonathan saw it no
more. Poor old Jonathan! How he cried over it! But the next day he
turned up at the police-court and asked for a summons against the Inland
Revenue for detaining his tobacco, and here again disappointment awaited
him, for the magistrate had no jurisdiction. It was a heavy blow to him;
his heart appeared to be broken, and all interest in life seemed to
have gone. I sympathized with him, and did my best to cheer him. He
moved to a smaller home, again parting with some of his museum. For a
brief time he struggled on, but he became ill.

For some months he lay in the workhouse infirmary, alone and unfriended,
and I thought the streets of London would know his peering eyes no more.
But there was more vitality in the old man than I expected. One cold
winter’s day, when the snow was falling, I met a melancholy procession
of sandwich-men on Stamford Hill, among whom was Jonathan. The wind
buffeted him, and his hands and his face were blue with cold. “I could
not stand it any longer; I should have died if I had not come out,” he
told me when I asked as to his welfare. He gave me his address, and the
quaint old man and I were again on visiting terms. Where he had bestowed
his strange collection during his sojourn in the workhouse I never
ascertained, but the bulk of it was in his new home. His things had been
taken care of, he said, but no more. “How are you going to live?” “They
allow me three shillings and sixpence from ‘the house,’ and I must pick
up the rest.” So he proceeded to pick up, for his health improved and
his collection grew; but he did not pick up much money. The spring came,
and Jonathan grew young again. One fine morning I met him, looking quite
fresh and debonair. “Why, Jonathan,” I said, “I really did not know you.
How well and fresh you look!” “Yes, bless the Lord! He gives me strength
to walk.” “I wonder why He does that?” I foolishly said; but I expected
the answer I got. “To find things that nobody else would find, and to
prove that teetotallers are fools,” he said. “But, Jonathan, I am a
teetotaller.” “I can’t help that, can I? Look here, you can tell me how
many gallons of water there is in a barrel of beer, but you can’t tell
me how much paper you bought when you thought you were buying tea and
sugar.” I humbly admitted my ignorance, and asked him what he was
finding. “All sorts of things. Come in and see them when you are down my
way.” I went again to his “palace of varieties,” and saw a cross of
about eighteen inches high, standing in a neat wooden base, which was
painted a bright vermilion, and a smaller cross made of cigarette-ends
standing beside it. Pointing to the latter, he said: “That’s to lie on
my breast when I am in my coffin, and that” (the bigger one) “is to lie
on my coffin when I’m buried. I don’t want any wreaths.” Small chance of
wreaths at a parish funeral when this, our dear brother, is
unceremoniously committed to the earth, I thought; but he was fearful
about his tobacco. “You won’t tell, will you? Don’t give the show away,”
he said. I advised him not to offer the tobacco for sale this time. “Not
me; I’ll die first,” he promptly replied.

His cigar and cigarette ends amounted to over thirty pounds in weight,
which he had pressed into various shapes. A strange piece of
architecture, with many turrets and towers, all shining like burnished
silver, claimed attention. “What have you here?” “Five hundred empty
milk-tins. I have saved them all. They have all been full. I always use
the ‘Milkmaid’ brand.” “I suppose you alter your plan of your building
sometimes?” “Oh yes,” he said; “I make cathedrals sometimes.”

Twenty-four flat cardboard boxes, with covers on, attracted me. “What
have you got in these boxes?” “Ah! I have got something to show you,”
and he proceeded to take off the lids. One look dazzled me, for never in
my life had I seen such a weird combination of brilliant colours; the
old vermilion seemed quite pale and insipid in comparison. Blues,
greens, yellows, and pinks of every shade predominated; but almost every
other colour and shade of colour was represented, and their combined
effect was stupendous. Some of the boxes were full of little cubes,
others of narrow strips; some full of flat pieces about one inch square;
others with the same substance graduated in different sizes. “All
orange-peel, Mr. Holmes, picked up in the streets; all of it would have
been wasted but for me.” “But what good is it now?” I asked. He looked
sadly at me, and said: “Good, good! Why, it shows what can be done.”
Whether it was worth the doing did not concern him; but my question had
offended him, so I had to make peace. Half a crown soothed his wounded
feelings. I then asked him how he did it all. “Picked ’em up, flattened
’em, cut ’em up, and coloured ’em,” was all I could get out of him. “Do
you know what’s in these boxes?” producing four boxes of similar
pattern, and opening them. They contained small cubes of material, and
their colours, at any rate, were of modest hue. I confessed again my
ignorance. “Taste!” I was much alarmed, but I tasted. “Potatoes?”
“Right,” he said. “That’s how I save all my potatoes. They do to put in
my broth.” “But how do you get them all to this size and colour?” I
asked. “That’s my secret,” he said. I asked him if he was saving “tops
and bottoms” now. “Only the new uns; I have made use of the old uns.
I’ll show you.” He went on his knees, and from a store under his bed he
produced several three-pound glass jars full of some brown meal, of
varying degrees of coarseness. “All good–all good food! Microbes can’t
live in bread fifty years old. These are ‘tops and bottoms.'” He had
broken up his old bread, pounded it with a hammer, put the crumbs
through different sized sieves, and stored the resulting material in
glass jars. “Beats Quaker Oats, Grape Nuts, and ‘Sunny Jim,'” he said.
“I can stand a siege. I just boil some water, take two spoonfuls of
‘Milkmaid,’ two tablespoonfuls of ‘tops and bottoms,’ and I have good
milk porridge in three minutes. I have a pot of Bovril, too, and when I
want some soup, hot water, Bovril, and desiccated potatoes or
potato-powder give it to me. The old man is not such a fool as people
think!” But again he put me into a tight place. He wanted me to buy, or
find customers for, his granulated “tops and bottoms.” He felt sure if
people only knew how good and nice the “food” was, they would buy it
readily.

I had to change the subject, and asked him what was in the box over the
head of his bed, so securely attached to the wall. I was just going to
handle it when he sang out: “Don’t touch it! don’t touch it, or you’ll
blow up the whole house!” “What is it?” “Explosives,” he said. “I may
want them; I’m not going to the workhouse again.” I did not touch them,
but got away as far as possible. Jonathan then produced an ordinary
medicine-bottle, about half full of some liquid. “That’s the last bottle
the doctor ever sent my wife, and half of it was enough. I’m saving the
other half; I may require it. No workhouse or parish doctor for me.” I
began to feel creepy; but the old man continued: “Lift that little
bucket out of the corner, and tell me what’s in it.” I lifted it, and
examined it, and said: “It is three parts full of charcoal, on the top
of which is a quantity of sulphur. There is a piece of candle fixed in
the sulphur and a box of matches attached to the handle of the bucket.”

“Right,” he said. “When my food is gone, I may put that bucket beside my
bed, lock my door, light that candle, and lie down to sleep. I may do
that, or I may blow the show up, or I may take that half-bottle of
medicine. I haven’t decided yet.”

There was no appearance of boasting or jesting about the old man; his
lips quivered, and he evidently meant what he said. But life has too
much interest for him at present, and so long as he can find things and
employ his strange talents in strange ways, Jonathan will not hasten his
end. But when the streets know him no more, when his fading eyesight and
his dwindling strength prevent him finding things, when he feels his
dependence on others and can no longer burnish his milk-cans, then, and
not before then, Jonathan will make his choice, and he may light his
candle.

But the end was not yet, neither did it come in catastrophic fashion. I
had not seen him for months, but, wishing to know how the old man was
getting on, I ran down to his little home to renew our acquaintance; but
he had disappeared, for the workhouse infirmary had received him.

THE PASSING OF JONATHAN.

Poor old Jonathan! The byways and thoroughfares of London know him no
longer. Hairpins lie in scattered profusion on our pavements East and
West, and babies’ comforters may be seen in the mud and slime of our
gutters; but hairpins and comforters lie unheeded, for Jonathan has
passed.

The peering eyes, the quaint face, the bent body, and the bulging
pockets of my old friend are now memories, for Jonathan has passed. Poor
old Jonathan! my heart goes out to him as I think of him in his new and
last earthly home–surely the saddest of all earthly homes–a lunatic
asylum; for I know that even there his heart is with his treasures, and
his poor brains are concerned about the mass of things he had been so
long in collecting, and the rubbish that he had so passionately loved.
Fifty long years ago he commenced his self-imposed task; fifty years,
with bent back and eyes on the ground, had he traversed thousands of
miles with wearied feet, but with a brave and expectant heart.

Load after load he had carried home as he returned day after day to his
little hive, like a bee laden with honey. Who can estimate the amount of
interest and even pleasure he had experienced during those fifty years,
as he added little by little to his great store? Surely the joy that a
collector of curios experiences was no stranger to the heart of
Jonathan. And now the asylum! It is all too sad; we could wish it far
otherwise.

But Jonathan has some compensations, for he lives in the past, and joys
in the knowledge of what he has accomplished; but he does not know the
cruel fate of his great collection, and surely it is to be wished that a
kindly Providence may preserve him from the knowledge, for such
knowledge would bring to him the greatest sorrow of his life. So in the
asylum Jonathan’s heart is with his treasures; they still exist, and
their value is “beyond the price of rubies.”

Jonathan grew feebler. With increasing age sandwich-boards grew too
heavy for him, and the grasshopper became a burden when it was
discovered that kind friends, for charity’s sake, supplemented the
miserable sum (three shillings and sixpence) allowed him weekly by the
“parish,” and which served to pay his rent; and this discovery was
brought to the knowledge of the said “parish”; then the “parish,” with
all the humanity it was capable of, stopped the allowance, and Jonathan
was left to his own exertions. So he got behind with his rent; his
worries increased; he got less food and of a poorer quality, and illness
came upon him. By-and-by the dreaded day arrived when the gates of a
great workhouse opened for him and closed upon him. Jonathan was
separated from his treasures. This was the unkindest cut of all, and it
proved too much for his tottering reason, and the infirmary ward of the
great workhouse was supplanted by a ward in a well-known pauper lunatic
asylum, where it is to be hoped that Jonathan’s days will be few. The
old man had for many years been a great sufferer, and it has always been
a marvel to me how he went through his innumerable wanderings and tasks,
subject always to a great physical disability and intense pain.

I have previously told my readers that Jonathan could not read or write:
his wonderful memory enabled him to dispense with those requirements;
but he could not forget, neither does he forget now, so his treasures
have acquired an added value. No fabled cave ever contained the riches
that his poor home contains. Day by day they increase in value, and he
lives in the certain hope that some portion may be sold, that the
“parish” may be repaid for the cost he imposed on it, and that some
friendly hand will knock at the door of the asylum, and some friendly
voice will cry, “Open, sesame,” that he may come forth a free man to
join the residue of his quaint collection. And it is well, poor old
Jonathan! that thou shouldst live in this belief, and that thou shouldst
hug those delusions, for in thy case a false hope is better far than a
knowledge of the truth. Live on, then, quaint old man, long or short as
the days may be–live on in the world of thy own creating.

But to my friends who may read this sketch of real life, the plain,
unvarnished truth is due. Jonathan’s accumulation of treasures passed
into the fiery furnace of the local dust-destructor, and from thence
leapt into thin air or emerged as “clinkers.” It sorely puzzled the
“parish,” which had disposed of Jonathan, how to dispose of Jonathan’s
effects, but it promptly annexed the vermilion chairs. The parish
labourers, not behind time, promptly annexed the tobacco, and the
“crosses,” that were to lie “one on my breast inside the coffin and one
on the lid,” disappeared, to be devoted, doubtless, to a less honourable
cause.

But the hairpins that had nestled in the hair of many fair ladies no one
would look at; no scrap merchant would buy them; so into the fiery
furnace of the dust-destructor they went. Hatpins–instruments of
torture, weapons of offence or defence, that had added many a danger to
life–followed the hairpins. Babies’ comforters–the fiery furnace
roared for them, and licked its hot lips as it sucked them in. Think of
it, mothers, who mock your children with such civilized productions!
“Tops and bottoms,” hoary scalps of fifty years ago, “granulated tops
and bottoms,” that drove “Sunny Jim” to despair, had scant
consideration. In they went, and the flames leapt higher and higher as
box after box of Jonathan’s treasure fed them, till, “like the baseless
fabric of a vision,” they dissolved, and “left not a wrack behind.”

But the “parish” looked suspiciously at and walked warily round the box
of explosives wherewith Jonathan had the means of “blowing up the
blooming show.” This was carefully deposited in a cistern of water
before it was carried off. But the fiery dragon at the dust-destructor
refused the “Milkmaid” milk-tins, and, alone in their glory, sole
representatives of Jonathan’s power, they remained in Jonathan’s room,
for even the dust-collector fought shy of them. Like pyramids they stood
as silent witnesses of the past. How they missed Jonathan! Their lustre
was tarnished; there was no friendly hand to polish them now; neither
was there any subtle brain to devise new styles of architecture for
them. Well had it been for the “Milkmaids” if they had suffered the
fiery fate of their many companions, for a far worse fate awaited them;
for when the nights were dark, and fogs deadened sound, Jonathan’s old
landlady would steal craftily with an apron full of “Milkmaids,” and
drop one in the gutter, throw others over the garden-walls, dispose of
some on pieces of unoccupied ground, till all were gone. The painter and
paperhanger were afterwards required in Jonathan’s room.

London’s abyss contains a very mixed population. Naturally the “born
poor” predominate, of whom the larger portion are helpless and hopeless,
for environment and temperament are against them.

Amongst these, but not of these, exists a strange medley of people who
have “come down” in life. Drunkenness, fast living, gambling, and
general rascality have hurried many educated men into the abyss; and
such fellows descend to depths of wickedness and uncleanliness that the
gross and ignorant poor cannot emulate, for nothing I have met in life
is quite so disgusting and appalling as the demoralized educated men
living in Inferno.

Misfortune, sorrow, ill-health, loss of friends, position or money, and
ill-advised speculations, are often prime causes of “descent,” producing
pitiful lives and strange characters; while others–sometimes women,
sometimes men–have been cursed by very small annuities, not sufficient
for living purposes, but quite sufficient to prevent them attempting any
honest labour. Often these are ashamed to work, but by no means ashamed
to beg. Clinging to the rags of their gentility, they exhibit open
contempt for the ignorant poor, who treat them with awesome respect,
because “they have come down in life.”

The postman brings them numerous letters–replies to their systematic
begging appeals–and not before a detective calls to make inquiries do
the poor question the _bona fides_ of, or lose their respect for, “the
poor lady upstairs.”

Backboneless men and women in a moral sense are numerous in the abyss,
with no vices, but with virtues of a negative character. Possessing no
grit, no adaptability, no idea of making a fight for life, they appear
to think that because their parents were well-to-do, and they themselves
had “received” an education, it is somebody’s business to keep them.
They are as sanguine as Mr. Micawber, always expecting something to
“turn up,” but never proceeding to turn up anything on their own
account.

Waiting, hoping, starving, they go down to premature death–if, indeed,
the workhouse infirmary does not swallow them alive.

But what courage and endurance, what industry and self-respect others
exhibit, deprived by death or misfortune of the very means of existence,
brought face to face with absolute poverty! Men and women, precipitated
into the abyss through no fault of their own, shine resplendent in the
dark regions they have been forced to inhabit. Not soured by misfortune,
not despondent because of disappointment, hand in hand and heart to
heart, I have seen elderly couples living in one-roomed homes, joining
bravely in the great struggle for existence.

Others are made bitter by their misfortune, and nurse a sense of their
grievances; they “keep themselves to themselves,” and generally put on
airs and graces in any dealings they may have with their neighbours.
They quickly resent any approach to friendship; any kindness done to
them is received with freezing politeness, and any attempt to search out
the truth with regard to their antecedents is the signal for storm.
Personally, I have suffered much at the hands of scornful ladies “who
have come down.” Sometimes I am afraid that my patience and my temper
have been exhausted when dealing with them, for such ladies require
careful handling.

Experience is, however, a great teacher, and I learned at least to hear
myself with becoming humility when such ladies condescended to receive
at my hands any help that I might be able to give.

“Do you know, sir, that you are speaking to an officer’s daughter? How
dare you ask me for references! My word is surely good enough for a
Police-Court Missionary. You are a fitting representative of your
office. Please leave my room.”

I looked at her. She was over sixty, and there was the unmistakable air
about her that told of better days. She was starving in a little room
situated in a little court–not St. James’s. She owed a month’s rent to
people who were poor and ill, and who had two epileptics in the family;
and now their worries were increased by the loss of rent, and the
knowledge that they had a starving “lady” upstairs. She had brought
down to the abyss to keep her company a grandchild, a pretty boy of
seven. I sat still, and she continued: “I know I am poor, but still I
have some self-respect, and I will not be insulted. References, indeed!”
“Well, madam,” I at length ventured to say, “you sought my help; I did
not seek you.” “Yes; and I made a great mistake. Sir, are you going?”
“No, madam, I am not going at present, for I am going to pay the rent
you owe the poor, suffering people below. Shame on you! Have you no
thought for them? How are they to pay their rent if yours remains
unpaid? Please don’t put on any airs, and don’t insult me, or I will
have you and the child taken to the workhouse. Find me your rent-book.”

She sat down and cried. I called the child to me, and from my bag
produced some cake, fruit, and sweets, filling the child’s pinafore. He
instantly began to eat, and running to the irate lady, said: “Look,
grandma, what the gentleman has given me! Have some–do have some,
grandma.”

That was oil on the fire.

“I knew you were no gentleman; now I know that you are a coward. You
know that I cannot take them away from the child.” I said: “I should be
ashamed of you if you had, and I should have left your room and never
re-entered it. See how the child is enjoying those grapes! Do have some
with him. Let us be friends. Bring your grandma some grapes.” And as the
child came to her, I saw the light of love in her old eyes–that
wonderful love of a grandmother. The child’s enjoyment of the food
conquered her: the child “beguiled her, and she did eat”; but she
considered I had taken a mean advantage, and she never thoroughly
forgave me–never, though we became cool friends.

I found the utmost difficulty in obtaining her confidence, although I
visited her many times, and removed her most pressing wants.

She was always on heights to which I could not hope to attain, and she
treated me with becoming, but freezing, dignity. I wanted to be of
assistance to her, but she made my work difficult and my task thankless.
When I called upon her one day to pay a week’s rent, etc., she said in a
lofty way: “Small assistance is of little use to me, but I can’t expect
anything better from one in your position.” I put up with the snub, and
humbly told her that it would be possible for me to do more if she would
condescend to give me the names and addresses of her friends.

This bare suggestion was enough. She rose majestically, opened the room
door, and in a dramatic manner said, “Go!” I sat still, and examined
some needlework she was doing for a factory. Beautiful work it was–all
done by hand. I knew that she would not earn more than one penny per
hour, for her eyes were getting dim, and the room was not well lighted.
So I talked about her work and her pay. Many times since that day have I
been glad that I stayed on after that unceremonious “Go,” for I learned
a lesson worth the knowing, for as I sat the postman’s tap-tap was
heard, and the epileptic girl from below brought up a letter. “Excuse
me, sir, while I read this,” she said. I, of course, bowed
acquiescence, and watched her while she read. I saw her tremulous
fingers and quivering face. Presently she sat down; the letter and a
ten-pound note dropped on the floor. For a moment she sat quite silent,
then the tears burst forth. She rose, picked up the letter and note, and
her eyes flashed as she cried: “Read that! read that! and then dare to
ask me for a reference.” She threw the letter at me. It was from an old
servant of hers, who was a cook for a regimental officers’ mess, getting
forty pounds a year. This is the letter:

“DEAR MRS. —-,

“Yesterday I received my quarter’s salary, and I am sending it to
you, hoping that you will kindly receive it as a small
acknowledgment of your many kindnesses to me.

“When I think of the happy days I spent in your service, of your
goodness to everyone in trouble, and of the beautiful home you have
lost, I cannot rest night or day. I wish I could send you a hundred
times as much, that I might really help you and the dear little
boy.”

The letter was better than any testimonial; it was too much for me.
“Madam,” I said, “I am very sorry that I hurt your feelings by
questioning you. That letter makes me ashamed. It more than answers any
questions I put to you. Will you kindly lend me the letter, that I may
show it to my friend?”

She looked triumphant, and said that I might have the letter for a short
time. I sent the letter to ladies and gentlemen who had not “come
down.” Some old friends were found who cheerfully subscribed a
sufficient sum to furnish a commodious boarding-house in a fashionable
watering-place, so she again had a beautiful home of her own. But she
was very “touchy,” and I had no pleasant task in making arrangements.
She never gave me the least credit, and it always appeared that she was
conferring favours by allowing me the privilege of consulting her.

However, the boarding-house was ready at last. She entered possession,
and with some help prepared to receive visitors. My wife, myself, and
some friends were her first “paying guests,” paying, of course, the
usual charges. We spent a miserable three weeks. We were not of the
class she wanted and had been used to; she kept us in our places. I had
to speak to her, and treat her as a distinguished, but quite unknown,
lady. We were all glad when our time for leaving came; neither have we
paid her another visit.

She was a remarkable woman, indomitable, industrious, and clever:
cooking, or managing a house, needlework, dressmaking, or anything
pertaining to woman’s life, she was equal to; but her superiority was
too much for us all. We could not live up to it–the strain was too
great.

She, however, did us a great honour the day previous to our leaving. As
a special favour, she invited us to take tea with her in the “boudoir.”
The remembrance of that occasion remains with me through the years. She
prepared not only a nice little tea, with cream, knick-knacks, etc., but
the room was tastefully decorated, and she was suitably arrayed. Her
old silks and laces had been renovated, her old jewellery polished and
attended to; and at a definite time, after a formal invitation, we were
ushered into the “boudoir.” She rose and gracefully bowed as we were
announced, and directed us to our seats. We had a stiff time of it. No
doubt it was good discipline for us all, for we realized more fully than
ever the inferiority of our birth, breeding, and manners.

Poor woman! She never forgave us for knowing that she had been in the
“abyss,” neither did she ever forgive me for helping her out. Our
acquaintance ended with that five o’clock tea in her “boudoir.” She has
not written to me, neither have I inquired after her. Freely will I
forgive her all the snubs and insults she flung at me if she will “keep
her distance.” She was a terror. One in a lifetime is quite sufficient
for me.

Still, she was a good woman, and I can only suppose that privations and
disappointments had on the one side embittered her, and on the other had
developed a natural feeling until it became a craze, and the idea of
being a “lady” dominated her existence.

Some men, too, that have come down are by no means pleasant
companions–often the reverse. Several clergymen that I saw much of were
too terrible for words, so I pass them; but of one I must tell, for when
I called on him in the early afternoon, he was lying on a miserable bed,
unwashed, wearing a cassock. Penny packets of cigarettes–five for a
penny–were strongly in evidence. There being no chairs in the room, I
sat down upon an inverted packing-case.

He rose from his bed, lit another cigarette, and asked me what I wanted.
I had previously spoken to his wife, and had made up my mind that she
was demented. I had seen a big-headed girl of seventeen, with a vacant
face and thick, slobbering lips, nursing and laughing over a little
doll. I had also spoken to a cunning-looking boy of fourteen. I had now
to speak to a demoralized clergyman.

I felt that a horsewhip was needed more than the monetary help that I
was commissioned to offer from friends, on certain conditions being
complied with.

He was a choice specimen of manhood: his reading seemed confined to
penny illustrated papers of a dubious kind, embellished with
questionable pictures. He no sooner learned that friends had empowered
me to act for them than his estimate of himself went up considerably.
His market value went up also.

Thirty shillings per week was not enough; he was not to be bought at the
price. He must also have his wardrobe replenished. The Bishop must find
him a curacy. No, he would not leave London. Preaching to intelligent
people was his vocation. He was a Welshman, but London was good enough
for him. I sat on the box and listened; the vacant-faced girl with her
doll sat on another box in front of me; the clergyman in his cassock,
cigarette in his fingers while he talked, and in his lips when he was
silent, sat on the edge of the bed; and his demented wife stood by.

Such was my introduction to the fellow, of whom I saw much during the
next three years; but every time I met him I became the more enamoured
of the horsewhip treatment.

For three years he received more than generous help from friends of the
Church, who were anxious for his good, and more than anxious that no
scandal should come upon the Church they loved. It was all in vain, and
the last sight I had of him was in Tottenham, where I studiously avoided
him; but, nevertheless, I had opportunities of watching him. He stood
outside a public-house. He wore an old clerical coat, green and greasy;
his clerical collar was crumpled and dirty; his boots were old and
broken, and his trousers were frayed and torn. He had a rough stick in
his hand and an old cloth cap on his head. The cunning-looking boy has
been in the hands of the police for snatching a lady’s purse, and the
imbecile girl, now a woman, continues to nurse her doll somewhere in
London’s abyss; for the demented mother loves her afflicted child, and
only death will part them.

Artists are numerous among those who have “come down.” I never meet a
poor fellow in London’s streets carrying a picture wrapped in canvas
without experiencing feelings of deepest pity. One look at such a man
tells me whether his picture has been done to order, or whether he is
seeking, rather than hoping to find, a customer. The former goes briskly
enough to his destination, and though he will receive but little
payment from the picture-dealer, he sorely needs that little, and
hastens to get it.

But the other poor fellow has no objective: he walks slowly and
aimlessly about; there is a wistful, shamefaced air about him. When he
arrives at a picture-dealer’s, he enters with reluctance and timidity.
Sometimes broken-down men will hawk their pictures from door to door,
and will sell decent pictures, upon which they have spent much time and
labour, for a few shillings. Occasionally an alert policeman watches
them, and ultimately arrests them for hawking goods and not being in
possession of the necessary licence.

A boy of fourteen who was hawking his father’s pictures was arrested and
charged. The police had discovered that he did not hold a pedlar’s
licence. The pictures were quite works of art, done on pieces of
cardboard about twelve inches square, some being original sketches;
others were copies of famous pictures. They were done in
black-and-white, and competent judges declared that the work was
exceedingly well done. The boy said his father was ill in bed, and had
sent him out to sell the pictures; his mother was dead, and his father
and himself lived together in Hackney.

I went with the boy to their one room, and there, in a miserable street
and in a still more miserable room, lay the artist in bed. There was
nothing of any value in the room, excepting some pictures, and as I
entered I found him sitting up in bed at work upon another. They had no
money at all, and that morning the boy had been sent out to try and
sell the pictures and bring back food and coals. The lad’s mother had
died some years before, and the father and son were living together.

The father had learned no other business, and at one time there was some
demand for his work, so he married. One can easily picture the life they
led–the gradual shadows, the disappointments that came upon the wife,
the hopeless struggle with poverty, the early death, and the misery of
the husband when the partner of his poverty was taken away. Now, partly
paralyzed in his legs, some days able to rise and dress himself and pay
an occasional call on the “trade,” and to return home more hopeless, he
was glad to sell a picture for five shillings, unframed, that had cost
him much effort and time.

I bought one of his pictures at a fair price, and saw that he had both
food and coals, for it was winter-time. I called on him frequently, and
did what I could to cheer him, and other friends bought his pictures.
But he gradually grew worse in health, until the gates of one of our
great infirmaries closed upon him, and the world saw him no more, and it
was left to me to make some suitable provision for the boy.

One Christmas Eve some years ago there was a cry of “Police! police!” In
a little upper room in North London an elderly man had been found in a
pool of blood; his throat had been cut, and as a razor lay beside him,
it was evident the injury was self-inflicted. It was a frightful gash,
but he was carried to a neighbouring hospital, where all the resources
of skill and science were at hand. In three months’ time he was able to
stand in the dock, and evidence was given against him. He was
sixty-three years of age, had on a very old frock-coat that had been
originally blue, and an ancient fez that bore traces of silver braid.
When the evidence had been taken, and the magistrate was about to commit
him for trial, a singular-looking man stepped up, and said he was the
prisoner’s brother, and that he would take care of him if his Worship
would discharge him. He said a friend had given his brother some drink,
and it was when under the influence of the drink that the prisoner had
tried to cut his own throat; that he himself was a teetotaller–and he
pointed triumphantly to a piece of blue ribbon on his very shabby
coat–and that he would take care that his brother had no more drink.

The magistrate very kindly accepted him as surety, and asked me to visit
them, which I accordingly did, and found myself in very strange company.
Three brothers were living together: sixty-five, sixty-three, and sixty
were their ages. The one who had been charged was the middle brother,
and was an artist; the other two were quaint individuals: they had been
brought up in luxury, and now, being reduced to poverty, had not the
slightest idea of how to earn a shilling.

The blue-ribbon brother was the youngest member of the family, and
though he drank cold water, he appeared to have a strong aversion to its
external use. He was of a religious turn of mind, and had he exercised
himself one-half as much about work as he did about religious subjects,
the catastrophe that had happened might have been avoided.

The elder brother was in weak health, and walked with some difficulty.
The artist was certainly by far the best man of the three; still, they
all had an air of faded gentility. Briefly, they were the sons of a
well-known artist, who, many years ago, was a frequent exhibitor in the
Royal Academy, and whose frescoes adorn one of the royal palaces.

After his death the three brothers and a sister lived together. Each was
left an income of about twenty-five pounds per annum, and the sister
managed their affairs. As long as she lived and the artist brother could
sell pictures, all went fairly well; but when she died the brothers were
left to struggle for themselves. Gradually their home went down–dirt
and discomfort ensued, fewer pictures were sold, and then one Christmas
the artist fell into my care. What a room it was, and how hopeless it
all seemed! I found the artist himself had exhibited in the Royal
Academy, and that he was undoubtedly a talented man. I found him as
simple as a child, and his two brothers as innocent as babes.

I sold some of his pictures, and obtained orders for others; but I
discovered that, instead of the younger brother looking after the
artist, the artist had to look after the younger brother, and I also
found, to my cost, that, instead of having one unfortunate man to look
after, I had three of them on my hands. The elder brother sat reading
goody books hour after hour; the younger one went to his
prayer-meetings, but never brought a shilling home; while the artist
stuck to his work, when he had any to do, splendidly.

One day I took counsel with the three of them, and we formed a committee
of ways and means. To the elder one I said: “What are you going to do to
bring a little grist to this mill?” In a sweetly simple manner, and
rubbing his hands, he said: “Oh, I read while Charles paints.” To the
younger one I said: “What are you going to do to help the finances?”
“Oh,” he said, “I’ll write some texts of Scripture on cardboard, and you
can sell them for me.” It was a quaint sight to see this band of
brothers go marketing, to buy their bits of meat, vegetables, etc. I
have watched them, too, at their culinary preparations, and noticed that
the artist himself washed the plates and dishes, and handled and cooked
the food.

Their rooms are now larger, and in much better order. The paintings left
by their father are more visible, for the dust and dirt have been
removed. They are still living together, and the artist, without any
blue ribbon on his coat, is still working away, when he can secure
orders. They are quaint specimens of humanity, but I think much of them,
for they are kind-hearted and gentle to each other; there are no
heart-burnings and bickerings; poverty has not soured their
dispositions, and if times are sometimes hard, they make the best of
things, and hope that God will give them better days.

None the less, my artist friend has to bear the brunt of it, and when
he sells a picture he is more than willing to share his means with his
helpless brothers.

One picture I have of his conveys a striking lesson. It is founded upon
the old story of the Prodigal Son. A tall, gaunt, weary man, with his
sandals worn out, his staff by his side, and his gourd empty, sits upon
a piece of rock upon the hill-side looking down into the valley, where
he sees his father’s house. He is debating within himself whether or not
he shall attempt to travel that last mile and reach his old home. The
old home looks inviting and the gardens pleasant, and he feels impelled
to go thither. Beside him is a huge cactus, and in a tree at the back of
him are two vultures waiting to pick his bones.

The failure of a popular financial scheme is often accompanied by
disastrous consequences to refined and elderly people.

I have met many who, being ruined by the collapse of such investments,
were compelled to resort to that forlorn hope of distressed middle-aged
women–some branch of sewing-machine work done at home.

The struggles they make in order to secure the pretence of an existence
are often heroic, and their endeavours to maintain an appearance of
respectability and comfort are great, almost passing belief.

In the great world of London life and suffering no figures stand out
quite so vividly as they do, for no other class of individuals exhibit
quite the same qualities of endurance and pathetic heroism.

On arriving home one Saturday I found two women, a mother and her
daughter, awaiting me, evidently in great distress. I had known them for
some years, and their struggles and difficulties were familiar to me.
The husband of the elder woman lay in their little home paralyzed and
ill. For years the girl and her mother had supported him and maintained
themselves by making children’s costumes.

He had been an accountant for many years with an old-established firm,
and had saved money, which he invested in the Liberator. Just when the
smash came their troubles were intensified by the death of his old
employer, and the consequent loss of his employment. A paralytic stroke
came upon him, and though he recovered somewhat, he became utterly unfit
for any kind of work. They received a little assistance from the
Liberator Relief Fund, and while this lasted mother and daughter gave
three months’ service each, and were taught the children’s costume
trade. A catastrophe had now overtaken them, hence their visit to me.
They had worked incessantly all the week in the hope of finishing some
work and getting it to the factory before twelve on Saturday. Friday
night found them behindhand. At two o’clock on Saturday morning mother
and daughter lay down on their beds without removing their clothes. At
five they rose again, and sat down to their machines.

The hours passed, their task made progress, and at 11.30 they finished;
but the factory was far away–nearly an hour’s ride on the tram-car.
Still, the younger one hurried with her bundle, only to find on arriving
that the factory was closed, and that no work would be taken in till
Tuesday morning. There was the rent to pay, the poor stock of provisions
to be obtained, some little comfort to be got for the father, who had
watched their brave but tragic struggle, and no money, after all.

My wife set food before them, and they made a pitiful pretence of
eating. Their hearts were too full, though undoubtedly their stomachs
were empty.

When I put a sovereign into the tremulous hand of the elder woman, they
both broke down, and went away weeping.

A few weeks later the father died, and mother and daughter were left to
comfort and care for each other.

Years have passed, and they still live and work together. Rising early
and retiring late, they manage to “live.” But the mother is getting
feeble; her eyesight and powers for work are decaying. Never murmuring
or repining, the daughter bears the brunt of the battle. She works,
whilst her mother goes to and from the factory. And now–in June,
1908–another catastrophe has befallen them; for the feeble old woman
has slipped and fallen from the tram-car, and lies at home with a broken
arm and other injuries; but the daughter works for both.

Sometimes my experiences of women who have “come down” have been far
more unpleasant, as the following instance may serve to show:

I received a letter from a titled lady asking me to inquire into the
case of two sisters who had repeatedly appealed to her for help, and to
whose appeal she had several times responded. This lady recognized the
futility of sending a few pounds at intervals to two elderly women, of
whom she knew nothing excepting that their father had once built a house
for her. She knew, too, that their father had been in a large way of
business, employing five hundred men at one time. Her ladyship also
forwarded to me a letter she had received from the sisters, and asked me
to find out what could be done for them, promising that if I could
suggest anything reasonable, she would send me the necessary funds.
Their letter was of the usual begging-letter style, telling of their own
wrongs and poverty, and pleading for help on account of their dear
lamented father.

Though their “dear lamented father” had been dead for twenty-nine years,
I called at the address given, and found it to be an old-clothes shop in
a very poor district. In the midst of old clothes and dirt I found the
landlady. No, she said, the sisters did not live there. Sometimes they
did a bit of needlework for her, and she allowed them to use her address
for postal purposes. “They had a letter this morning?” I said. “Yes,
there was one.” “How many more?” “One only this morning.” “Do they often
have letters?” “Sometimes.” “How many do they receive a week?” “What is
that to you?” “Well, I come on behalf of a friend who wishes to help
them. The letter they received this morning was from her, and there was
money in it. How much did they give you this morning?” “Two shillings.”
“They work for you: why should they give you money?” “I have been good
to them and lent them money; they owe me a good deal; but they have
expectations.” “Did you know they had ‘come down’ in life?” “Oh yes, I
knew.” “Now, tell me, where do they live?” “They are on the move.” “What
do you mean by that?” “On the move–looking for a place.” “Where did
they sleep last night?” “Somewhere close by.” “Now, tell me truly as you
would a friend, what do you think about them?” “I think they are a pair
of unfortunate ladies. They have been robbed.” “Would you help them if
you could?” “Certainly I would.” “Shall you see them to-day?” “Oh yes;
they are sure to come in.” So I gave her my address, and told her to ask
the sisters to call on me. Woe to me! I did foolishly, and had to suffer
for it. In the evening when I arrived home, one of the sisters was
waiting for me. She had been waiting some time, to the consternation of
my wife and the maid. The front door had no sooner been opened to her
imperative tap, than she marched in without any ceremony, smelling, I
was told, of the public-house and dirt. My wife said: “She is in the
drawing-room. I could not ask her in here: we were just having tea.” I
found her without any difficulty. The evidence of my nose was enough. I
opened wide the window, and then looked at her, or it, or something! I
was just getting my breath, when, “Oh, you have heard from Lady —-,
and she is wanting to help me.” I said: “Yes, and you have heard from
Lady —-. She sent you some money, and I see you have been spending
it.” “What do you mean, sir? I will let you know that I am a lady.” I
groaned and said: “You are letting me know it; I fully realize it.”
“Look here, sir; attend to me. I am going to keep a butter and cheese
shop. I want twenty pounds to set me up. You must write to her ladyship
for it.” “Very good, then.” “Now I want to tell you about our troubles;”
and she did. It took me two good hours to get her safely outside the
front door, after which I gave positive orders to the whole household
that in future all business with this “lady” must be transacted on the
doorstep, with a half-closed door.

She was a Welshwoman, and possessed a double amount of that nation’s
eloquence. Those two hours I shall never forget. It took all the
diplomacy at my command to get her out; but she promised to come again
and bring her sister. I was terribly alarmed at the prospect, but did
not tell her not to come, for my courage failed me. However, she had
given me her address, which, unfortunately, was close by; so, finally, I
told her that, after hearing from Lady —-, I would call upon her and
give her whatever help was sent. She called every day for a week, and
every time she came my wife hid herself, and the servant was mindful of
my instructions about the door. Nevertheless, our house was attracting
some attention, for our respectable neighbours were alive to the
situation. I often wished she had made a mistake, like poor old
Cakebread did, and had gone to the wrong house; but I did not get even
that scrap of comfort. At length I sent a note to her, telling her that
I was going to call on her at ten o’clock next morning. This I
accordingly did, and found that the sisters had obtained a room in the
house of a poor but very decent woman who had four young children. The
landlady let me in, and called to the sisters that a gentleman had come
to see them. “Tell him we are not quite ready to receive visitors,” I
heard a familiar voice reply.

The landlady asked me to step into her room. I did so, and she carefully
closed the door, and then burst out: “What can I do with them? How can I
get rid of them? We shall be ill.” “Have they paid you any rent?” “No; I
won’t take any. They gave me a shilling deposit before they moved in.”
“Give it to them back, and tell them to go.” “They won’t take it, and
they won’t go.” “Tell your husband to put them out.” “He won’t touch
them, and he blames me for taking them in.” “Why did you take them in?”
“We are poor; I am going to have another. I thought they were ladies who
had ‘come down.’ They gave me a letter from a lady to read. Whatever
shall we do?” “When did they come in?” “Just a week ago. They were drunk
the first night. One had a black eye!”

In due time they were ready to receive visitors, and I went to their
room. I knew what to expect, but it was too much for me. Phew! They were
there, black eye and all. Half undressed, quite unwashed, a nice pair of
harridans; no furniture saving an old rusty bedstead, on which were some
rags. The thought of the poor woman below and her young children gave me
courage. “I see how it is, you old sinners. Shame on you for forcing
yourselves into this poor woman’s house! You are not fit to live
anywhere but in a pigsty. If you don’t get out I will have the pair of
you carted to the workhouse. I will see that you get no more from Lady
—-. If you don’t get out pretty quick, I will myself put you out.” One
of them came forward in a threatening attitude, saying: “I will let you
know that my father was your superior.” I told them that I was glad I
never knew their father if he at all resembled them.

I called the landlady, and told her to fetch a policeman, as they were
trespassers, and had no right in her room. But the landlady said, if
that was the case, her husband would put them out in the afternoon; it
being Saturday, he would be home early. Then the torrent of abuse began.
They rose to the occasion, and gave vent to their feelings, I am sorry
to say, in vulgar English. Had it been Welsh, it would not have
mattered, but slum English expressed with Welsh fervour was too much for
me. I left. I was, however, to have a still more striking proof of the
power that Welsh “ladies” have to express themselves in very vulgar
English, for the same evening, after having refreshed themselves, they
forced an entrance when my front door responded to their knock and ring.
Fortunately my wife was away. I was called to interview the two “ladies”
and the black eye. They were inside–there could be no mistake about
that; the door was closed, too. As soon as they saw me there was a
soprano and contralto duet. “What did you write to Lady —- for? Do
you say we are dirty? Who told you we got drunk? Why did you come so
early? Ragged, are we? Help to have us put out, would you? You are a
nice Christian!” I brushed past them and opened the front door. “Fetch a
policeman, will you? We’ll have the law for you, you scoundrel! robber!
thief!” I seized the one with the decorated eye, and out she went. In a
twinkling the other sister was after her, and before they realized it,
the front door was closed and bolted. Then the storm began, and for
thirty-five minutes they kept it up. Every choice expression known to
the blackguards of London tripped lightly but emphatically from their
tongues; sometimes in unison, sometimes in horrible discord, sometimes
singly, and sometimes together they kept it up. They ran through the
whole gamut of discordant notes–_fortissimo_ generally, _piano_ only
when breath failed. When quite exhausted, one took charge of the
knocker, the other of the bell, and instrumental music followed the
vocal. A good many of my respectable neighbours came to the concert, but
blushingly retired; they could not stand it. I knew very well that they
could not keep up the pace long; but it was the longest thirty-five
minutes I ever endured. When quite worn out and too hoarse to vocalize,
they retired, and our street resumed its normal respectability. But to
the valour of Wales they added the perseverance of women. After again
refreshing themselves, they returned to the poor woman they had “taken
in,” and gave her a concert, much to her terror. Her husband called the
police, but this only roused them. Ultimately they were taken into
custody for being drunk and disorderly, and, sad to relate, the
following Monday they were fined by the magistrate.

I heard more bad language in that thirty-five minutes than I ever
listened to in a month, even in a police-court. I must have received
considerable mental and moral damage, and I really think that I ought to
receive some compensation from Lady —-.

But, at all events, I hope that I have completed my experience of people
who have “come down.”