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The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens

Part 6 out of 8

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couples on wheels were as much amused by the two couples on foot,
as if they were quite unconscious of having themselves set those
fashions, or of being at that very moment engaged in the display of
them.

Is it only in the matter of clothes that fashion descends here in
London--and consequently in England--and thence shabbiness arises?
Let us think a little, and be just. The 'Black Country' round
about Birmingham, is a very black country; but is it quite as black
as it has been lately painted? An appalling accident happened at
the People's Park near Birmingham, this last July, when it was
crowded with people from the Black Country--an appalling accident
consequent on a shamefully dangerous exhibition. Did the
shamefully dangerous exhibition originate in the moral blackness of
the Black Country, and in the Black People's peculiar love of the
excitement attendant on great personal hazard, which they looked on
at, but in which they did not participate? Light is much wanted in
the Black Country. O we are all agreed on that. But, we must not
quite forget the crowds of gentlefolks who set the shamefully
dangerous fashion, either. We must not quite forget the
enterprising Directors of an Institution vaunting mighty
educational pretences, who made the low sensation as strong as they
possibly could make it, by hanging the Blondin rope as high as they
possibly could hang it. All this must not be eclipsed in the
Blackness of the Black Country. The reserved seats high up by the
rope, the cleared space below it, so that no one should be smashed
but the performer, the pretence of slipping and falling off, the
baskets for the feet and the sack for the head, the photographs
everywhere, and the virtuous indignation nowhere--all this must not
be wholly swallowed up in the blackness of the jet-black country.

Whatsoever fashion is set in England, is certain to descend. This
is a text for a perpetual sermon on care in setting fashions. When
you find a fashion low down, look back for the time (it will never
be far off) when it was the fashion high up. This is the text for
a perpetual sermon on social justice. From imitations of Ethiopian
Serenaders, to imitations of Prince's coats and waistcoats, you
will find the original model in St. James's Parish. When the
Serenaders become tiresome, trace them beyond the Black Country;
when the coats and waistcoats become insupportable, refer them to
their source in the Upper Toady Regions.

Gentlemen's clubs were once maintained for purposes of savage party
warfare; working men's clubs of the same day assumed the same
character. Gentlemen's clubs became places of quiet inoffensive
recreation; working men's clubs began to follow suit. If working
men have seemed rather slow to appreciate advantages of combination
which have saved the pockets of gentlemen, and enhanced their
comforts, it is because working men could scarcely, for want of
capital, originate such combinations without help; and because help
has not been separable from that great impertinence, Patronage.
The instinctive revolt of his spirit against patronage, is a
quality much to be respected in the English working man. It is the
base of the base of his best qualities. Nor is it surprising that
he should be unduly suspicious of patronage, and sometimes
resentful of it even where it is not, seeing what a flood of washy
talk has been let loose on his devoted head, or with what
complacent condescension the same devoted head has been smoothed
and patted. It is a proof to me of his self-control that he never
strikes out pugilistically, right and left, when addressed as one
of 'My friends,' or 'My assembled friends;' that he does not become
inappeasable, and run amuck like a Malay, whenever he sees a biped
in broadcloth getting on a platform to talk to him; that any
pretence of improving his mind, does not instantly drive him out of
his mind, and cause him to toss his obliging patron like a mad
bull.

For, how often have I heard the unfortunate working man lectured,
as if he were a little charity-child, humid as to his nasal
development, strictly literal as to his Catechism, and called by
Providence to walk all his days in a station in life represented on
festive occasions by a mug of warm milk-and-water and a bun! What
popguns of jokes have these ears tingled to hear let off at him,
what asinine sentiments, what impotent conclusions, what spelling-
book moralities, what adaptations of the orator's insufferable
tediousness to the assumed level of his understanding! If his
sledge-hammers, his spades and pick-axes, his saws and chisels, his
paint-pots and brushes, his forges, furnaces, and engines, the
horses that he drove at his work, and the machines that drove him
at his work, were all toys in one little paper box, and he the baby
who played with them, he could not have been discoursed to, more
impertinently and absurdly than I have heard him discoursed to
times innumerable. Consequently, not being a fool or a fawner, he
has come to acknowledge his patronage by virtually saying: 'Let me
alone. If you understand me no better than THAT, sir and madam,
let me alone. You mean very well, I dare say, but I don't like it,
and I won't come here again to have any more of it.'

Whatever is done for the comfort and advancement of the working man
must be so far done by himself as that it is maintained by himself.
And there must be in it no touch of condescension, no shadow of
patronage. In the great working districts, this truth is studied
and understood. When the American civil war rendered it necessary,
first in Glasgow, and afterwards in Manchester, that the working
people should be shown how to avail themselves of the advantages
derivable from system, and from the combination of numbers, in the
purchase and the cooking of their food, this truth was above all
things borne in mind. The quick consequence was, that suspicion
and reluctance were vanquished, and that the effort resulted in an
astonishing and a complete success.

Such thoughts passed through my mind on a July morning of this
summer, as I walked towards Commercial Street (not Uncommercial
Street), Whitechapel. The Glasgow and Manchester system had been
lately set a-going there, by certain gentlemen who felt an interest
in its diffusion, and I had been attracted by the following hand-
bill printed on rose-coloured paper:

SELF-SUPPORTING
COOKING DEPOT
FOR THE WORKING CLASSES

Commercial-street, Whitechapel,
Where Accommodation is provided for Dining comfortably
300 Persons at a time.

Open from 7 A.M. till 7 P.M.

PRICES.

All Articles of the BEST QUALITY.

Cup of Tea or Coffee One Penny
Bread and Butter One Penny
Bread and Cheese One Penny
Slice of bread One half-penny or
One Penny
Boiled Egg One Penny
Ginger Beer One Penny

The above Articles always ready.

Besides the above may be had, from 12 to 3 o'clock,

Bowl of Scotch Broth One Penny
Bowl of Soup One Penny
Plate of Potatoes One Penny
Plate of Minced Beef Twopence
Plate of Cold Beef Twopence
Plate of Cold Ham Twopence
Plate of Plum Pudding or Rice One Penny

As the Economy of Cooking depends greatly upon the simplicity of
the arrangements with which a great number of persons can be served
at one time, the Upper Room of this Establishment will be
especially set apart for a

PUBLIC DINNER EVERY DAY

From 12 till 3 o'clock,

Consisting of the following Dishes:

Bowl of Broth, or Soup,
Plate of Cold Beef or Ham,
Plate of Potatoes,
Plum Pudding, or Rice.

FIXED CHARGE 4.5d.

THE DAILY PAPERS PROVIDED.

N.B.--This Establishment is conducted on the strictest business
principles, with the full intention of making it self-supporting,
so that every one may frequent it with a feeling of perfect
independence.

The assistance of all frequenting the Depot is confidently expected
in checking anything interfering with the comfort, quiet, and
regularity of the establishment.

Please do not destroy this Hand Bill, but hand it to some other
person whom it may interest.

The Self-Supporting Cooking Depot (not a very good name, and one
would rather give it an English one) had hired a newly-built
warehouse that it found to let; therefore it was not established in
premises specially designed for the purpose. But, at a small cost
they were exceedingly well adapted to the purpose: being light,
well ventilated, clean, and cheerful. They consisted of three
large rooms. That on the basement story was the kitchen; that on
the ground floor was the general dining-room; that on the floor
above was the Upper Room referred to in the hand-bill, where the
Public Dinner at fourpence-halfpenny a head was provided every day.
The cooking was done, with much economy of space and fuel, by
American cooking-stoves, and by young women not previously, brought
up as cooks; the walls and pillars of the two dining-rooms were
agreeably brightened with ornamental colours; the tables were
capable of accommodating six or eight persons each; the attendants
were all young women, becomingly and neatly dressed, and dressed
alike. I think the whole staff was female, with the exception of
the steward or manager.

My first inquiries were directed to the wages of this staff;
because, if any establishment claiming to be self-supporting, live
upon the spoliation of anybody or anything, or eke out a feeble
existence by poor mouths and beggarly resources (as too many so-
called Mechanics' Institutions do), I make bold to express my
Uncommercial opinion that it has no business to live, and had
better die. It was made clear to me by the account books, that
every person employed was properly paid. My next inquiries were
directed to the quality of the provisions purchased, and to the
terms on which they were bought. It was made equally clear to me
that the quality was the very best, and that all bills were paid
weekly. My next inquiries were directed to the balance-sheet for
the last two weeks--only the third and fourth of the
establishment's career. It was made equally clear to me, that
after everything bought was paid for, and after each week was
charged with its full share of wages, rent and taxes, depreciation
of plant in use, and interest on capital at the rate of four per
cent. per annum, the last week had yielded a profit of (in round
numbers) one pound ten; and the previous week a profit of six
pounds ten. By this time I felt that I had a healthy appetite for
the dinners.

It had just struck twelve, and a quick succession of faces had
already begun to appear at a little window in the wall of the
partitioned space where I sat looking over the books. Within this
little window, like a pay-box at a theatre, a neat and brisk young
woman presided to take money and issue tickets. Every one coming
in must take a ticket. Either the fourpence-halfpenny ticket for
the upper room (the most popular ticket, I think), or a penny
ticket for a bowl of soup, or as many penny tickets as he or she
choose to buy. For three penny tickets one had quite a wide range
of choice. A plate of cold boiled beef and potatoes; or a plate of
cold ham and potatoes; or a plate of hot minced beef and potatoes;
or a bowl of soup, bread and cheese, and a plate of plum-pudding.
Touching what they should have, some customers on taking their
seats fell into a reverie--became mildly distracted--postponed
decision, and said in bewilderment, they would think of it. One
old man I noticed when I sat among the tables in the lower room,
who was startled by the bill of fare, and sat contemplating it as
if it were something of a ghostly nature. The decision of the boys
was as rapid as their execution, and always included pudding.

There were several women among the diners, and several clerks and
shopmen. There were carpenters and painters from the neighbouring
buildings under repair, and there were nautical men, and there
were, as one diner observed to me, 'some of most sorts.' Some were
solitary, some came two together, some dined in parties of three or
four, or six. The latter talked together, but assuredly no one was
louder than at my club in Pall-Mall. One young fellow whistled in
rather a shrill manner while he waited for his dinner, but I was
gratified to observe that he did so in evident defiance of my
Uncommercial individuality. Quite agreeing with him, on
consideration, that I had no business to be there, unless I dined
like the rest, 'I went in,' as the phrase is, for fourpence-
halfpenny.

The room of the fourpence-halfpenny banquet had, like the lower
room, a counter in it, on which were ranged a great number of cold
portions ready for distribution. Behind this counter, the fragrant
soup was steaming in deep cans, and the best-cooked of potatoes
were fished out of similar receptacles. Nothing to eat was touched
with his hand. Every waitress had her own tables to attend to. As
soon as she saw a new customer seat himself at one of her tables,
she took from the counter all his dinner--his soup, potatoes, meat,
and pudding--piled it up dexterously in her two hands, set it
before him, and took his ticket. This serving of the whole dinner
at once, had been found greatly to simplify the business of
attendance, and was also popular with the customers: who were thus
enabled to vary the meal by varying the routine of dishes:
beginning with soup-to-day, putting soup in the middle to-morrow,
putting soup at the end the day after to-morrow, and ringing
similar changes on meat and pudding. The rapidity with which every
new-comer got served, was remarkable; and the dexterity with which
the waitresses (quite new to the art a month before) discharged
their duty, was as agreeable to see, as the neat smartness with
which they wore their dress and had dressed their hair.

If I seldom saw better waiting, so I certainly never ate better
meat, potatoes, or pudding. And the soup was an honest and stout
soup, with rice and barley in it, and 'little matters for the teeth
to touch,' as had been observed to me by my friend below stairs
already quoted. The dinner-service, too, was neither conspicuously
hideous for High Art nor for Low Art, but was of a pleasant and
pure appearance. Concerning the viands and their cookery, one last
remark. I dined at my club in Pall-Mall aforesaid, a few days
afterwards, for exactly twelve times the money, and not half as
well.

The company thickened after one o'clock struck, and changed pretty
quickly. Although experience of the place had been so recently
attainable, and although there was still considerable curiosity out
in the street and about the entrance, the general tone was as good
as could be, and the customers fell easily into the ways of the
place. It was clear to me, however, that they were there to have
what they paid for, and to be on an independent footing. To the
best of my judgment, they might be patronised out of the building
in a month. With judicious visiting, and by dint of being
questioned, read to, and talked at, they might even be got rid of
(for the next quarter of a century) in half the time.

This disinterested and wise movement is fraught with so many
wholesome changes in the lives of the working people, and with so
much good in the way of overcoming that suspicion which our own
unconscious impertinence has engendered, that it is scarcely
gracious to criticise details as yet; the rather, because it is
indisputable that the managers of the Whitechapel establishment
most thoroughly feel that they are upon their honour with the
customers, as to the minutest points of administration. But,
although the American stoves cannot roast, they can surely boil one
kind of meat as well as another, and need not always circumscribe
their boiling talents within the limits of ham and beef. The most
enthusiastic admirer of those substantials, would probably not
object to occasional inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton:
or, especially in cold weather, to a little innocent trifling with
Irish stews, meat pies, and toads in holes. Another drawback on
the Whitechapel establishment, is the absence of beer. Regarded
merely as a question of policy, it is very impolitic, as having a
tendency to send the working men to the public-house, where gin is
reported to be sold. But, there is a much higher ground on which
this absence of beer is objectionable. It expresses distrust of
the working man. It is a fragment of that old mantle of patronage
in which so many estimable Thugs, so darkly wandering up and down
the moral world, are sworn to muffle him. Good beer is a good
thing for him, he says, and he likes it; the Depot could give it
him good, and he now gets it bad. Why does the Depot not give it
him good? Because he would get drunk. Why does the Depot not let
him have a pint with his dinner, which would not make him drunk?
Because he might have had another pint, or another two pints,
before he came. Now, this distrust is an affront, is exceedingly
inconsistent with the confidence the managers express in their
hand-bills, and is a timid stopping-short upon the straight
highway. It is unjust and unreasonable, also. It is unjust,
because it punishes the sober man for the vice of the drunken man.
It is unreasonable, because any one at all experienced in such
things knows that the drunken workman does not get drunk where he
goes to eat and drink, but where he goes to drink--expressly to
drink. To suppose that the working man cannot state this question
to himself quite as plainly as I state it here, is to suppose that
he is a baby, and is again to tell him in the old wearisome,
condescending, patronising way that he must be goody-poody, and do
as he is toldy-poldy, and not be a manny-panny or a voter-poter,
but fold his handy-pandys, and be a childy-pildy.

I found from the accounts of the Whitechapel Self-Supporting
Cooking Depot, that every article sold in it, even at the prices I
have quoted, yields a certain small profit! Individual speculators
are of course already in the field, and are of course already
appropriating the name. The classes for whose benefit the real
depots are designed, will distinguish between the two kinds of
enterprise.

CHAPTER XXVI--CHATHAM DOCKYARD

There are some small out-of-the-way landing places on the Thames
and the Medway, where I do much of my summer idling. Running water
is favourable to day-dreams, and a strong tidal river is the best
of running water for mine. I like to watch the great ships
standing out to sea or coming home richly laden, the active little
steam-tugs confidently puffing with them to and from the sea-
horizon, the fleet of barges that seem to have plucked their brown
and russet sails from the ripe trees in the landscape, the heavy
old colliers, light in ballast, floundering down before the tide,
the light screw barks and schooners imperiously holding a straight
course while the others patiently tack and go about, the yachts
with their tiny hulls and great white sheets of canvas, the little
sailing-boats bobbing to and fro on their errands of pleasure or
business, and--as it is the nature of little people to do--making a
prodigious fuss about their small affairs. Watching these objects,
I still am under no obligation to think about them, or even so much
as to see them, unless it perfectly suits my humour. As little am
I obliged to hear the plash and flop of the tide, the ripple at my
feet, the clinking windlass afar off, or the humming steam-ship
paddles further away yet. These, with the creaking little jetty on
which I sit, and the gaunt high-water marks and low-water marks in
the mud, and the broken causeway, and the broken bank, and the
broken stakes and piles leaning forward as if they were vain of
their personal appearance and looking for their reflection in the
water, will melt into any train of fancy. Equally adaptable to any
purpose or to none, are the posturing sheep and kine upon the
marshes, the gulls that wheel and dip around me, the crows (well
out of gunshot) going home from the rich harvest-fields, the heron
that has been out a-fishing and looks as melancholy, up there in
the sky, as if it hadn't agreed with him. Everything within the
range of the senses will, by the aid of the running water, lend
itself to everything beyond that range, and work into a drowsy
whole, not unlike a kind of tune, but for which there is no exact
definition.

One of these landing-places is near an old fort (I can see the Nore
Light from it with my pocket-glass), from which fort mysteriously
emerges a boy, to whom I am much indebted for additions to my
scanty stock of knowledge. He is a young boy, with an intelligent
face burnt to a dust colour by the summer sun, and with crisp hair
of the same hue. He is a boy in whom I have perceived nothing
incompatible with habits of studious inquiry and meditation, unless
an evanescent black eye (I was delicate of inquiring how
occasioned) should be so considered. To him am I indebted for
ability to identify a Custom-house boat at any distance, and for
acquaintance with all the forms and ceremonies observed by a
homeward-bound Indiaman coming up the river, when the Custom-house
officers go aboard her. But for him, I might never have heard of
'the dumb-ague,' respecting which malady I am now learned. Had I
never sat at his feet, I might have finished my mortal career and
never known that when I see a white horse on a barge's sail, that
barge is a lime barge. For precious secrets in reference to beer,
am I likewise beholden to him, involving warning against the beer
of a certain establishment, by reason of its having turned sour
through failure in point of demand: though my young sage is not of
opinion that similar deterioration has befallen the ale. He has
also enlightened me touching the mushrooms of the marshes, and has
gently reproved my ignorance in having supposed them to be
impregnated with salt. His manner of imparting information, is
thoughtful, and appropriate to the scene. As he reclines beside
me, he pitches into the river, a little stone or piece of grit, and
then delivers himself oracularly, as though he spoke out of the
centre of the spreading circle that it makes in the water. He
never improves my mind without observing this formula.

With the wise boy--whom I know by no other name than the Spirit of
the Fort--I recently consorted on a breezy day when the river
leaped about us and was full of life. I had seen the sheaved corn
carrying in the golden fields as I came down to the river; and the
rosy farmer, watching his labouring-men in the saddle on his cob,
had told me how he had reaped his two hundred and sixty acres of
long-strawed corn last week, and how a better week's work he had
never done in all his days. Peace and abundance were on the
country-side in beautiful forms and beautiful colours, and the
harvest seemed even to be sailing out to grace the never-reaped sea
in the yellow-laden barges that mellowed the distance.

It was on this occasion that the Spirit of the Fort, directing his
remarks to a certain floating iron battery lately lying in that
reach of the river, enriched my mind with his opinions on naval
architecture, and informed me that he would like to be an engineer.
I found him up to everything that is done in the contracting line
by Messrs. Peto and Brassey--cunning in the article of concrete--
mellow in the matter of iron--great on the subject of gunnery.
When he spoke of pile-driving and sluice-making, he left me not a
leg to stand on, and I can never sufficiently acknowledge his
forbearance with me in my disabled state. While he thus
discoursed, he several times directed his eyes to one distant
quarter of the landscape, and spoke with vague mysterious awe of
'the Yard.' Pondering his lessons after we had parted, I bethought
me that the Yard was one of our large public Dockyards, and that it
lay hidden among the crops down in the dip behind the windmills, as
if it modestly kept itself out of view in peaceful times, and
sought to trouble no man. Taken with this modesty on the part of
the Yard, I resolved to improve the Yard's acquaintance.

My good opinion of the Yard's retiring character was not dashed by
nearer approach. It resounded with the noise of hammers beating
upon iron; and the great sheds or slips under which the mighty men-
of-war are built, loomed business-like when contemplated from the
opposite side of the river. For all that, however, the Yard made
no display, but kept itself snug under hill-sides of corn-fields,
hop-gardens, and orchards; its great chimneys smoking with a quiet-
-almost a lazy--air, like giants smoking tobacco; and the great
Shears moored off it, looking meekly and inoffensively out of
proportion, like the Giraffe of the machinery creation. The store
of cannon on the neighbouring gun-wharf, had an innocent toy-like
appearance, and the one red-coated sentry on duty over them was a
mere toy figure, with a clock-work movement. As the hot sunlight
sparkled on him he might have passed for the identical little man
who had the little gun, and whose bullets they were made of lead,
lead, lead.

Crossing the river and landing at the Stairs, where a drift of
chips and weed had been trying to land before me and had not
succeeded, but had got into a corner instead, I found the very
street posts to be cannon, and the architectural ornaments to be
shells. And so I came to the Yard, which was shut up tight and
strong with great folded gates, like an enormous patent safe.
These gates devouring me, I became digested into the Yard; and it
had, at first, a clean-swept holiday air, as if it had given over
work until next war-time. Though indeed a quantity of hemp for
rope was tumbling out of store-houses, even there, which would
hardly be lying like so much hay on the white stones if the Yard
were as placid as it pretended.

Ding, Clash, Dong, BANG, Boom, Rattle, Clash, BANG, Clink, BANG,
Dong, BANG, Clatter, BANG BANG BANG! What on earth is this! This
is, or soon will be, the Achilles, iron armour-plated ship. Twelve
hundred men are working at her now; twelve hundred men working on
stages over her sides, over her bows, over her stern, under her
keel, between her decks, down in her hold, within her and without,
crawling and creeping into the finest curves of her lines wherever
it is possible for men to twist. Twelve hundred hammerers,
measurers, caulkers, armourers, forgers, smiths, shipwrights;
twelve hundred dingers, clashers, dongers, rattlers, clinkers,
bangers bangers bangers! Yet all this stupendous uproar around the
rising Achilles is as nothing to the reverberations with which the
perfected Achilles shall resound upon the dreadful day when the
full work is in hand for which this is but note of preparation--the
day when the scuppers that are now fitting like great, dry, thirsty
conduit-pipes, shall run red. All these busy figures between
decks, dimly seen bending at their work in smoke and fire, are as
nothing to the figures that shall do work here of another kind in
smoke and fire, that day. These steam-worked engines alongside,
helping the ship by travelling to and fro, and wafting tons of iron
plates about, as though they were so many leaves of trees, would be
rent limb from limb if they stood by her for a minute then. To
think that this Achilles, monstrous compound of iron tank and oaken
chest, can ever swim or roll! To think that any force of wind and
wave could ever break her! To think that wherever I see a glowing
red-hot iron point thrust out of her side from within--as I do now,
there, and there, and there!--and two watching men on a stage
without, with bared arms and sledge-hammers, strike at it fiercely,
and repeat their blows until it is black and flat, I see a rivet
being driven home, of which there are many in every iron plate, and
thousands upon thousands in the ship! To think that the difficulty
I experience in appreciating the ship's size when I am on board,
arises from her being a series of iron tanks and oaken chests, so
that internally she is ever finishing and ever beginning, and half
of her might be smashed, and yet the remaining half suffice and be
sound. Then, to go over the side again and down among the ooze and
wet to the bottom of the dock, in the depths of the subterranean
forest of dog-shores and stays that hold her up, and to see the
immense mass bulging out against the upper light, and tapering down
towards me, is, with great pains and much clambering, to arrive at
an impossibility of realising that this is a ship at all, and to
become possessed by the fancy that it is an enormous immovable
edifice set up in an ancient amphitheatre (say, that at Verona),
and almost filling it! Yet what would even these things be, without
the tributary workshops and the mechanical powers for piercing the
iron plates--four inches and a half thick--for rivets, shaping them
under hydraulic pressure to the finest tapering turns of the ship's
lines, and paring them away, with knives shaped like the beaks of
strong and cruel birds, to the nicest requirements of the design!
These machines of tremendous force, so easily directed by one
attentive face and presiding hand, seem to me to have in them
something of the retiring character of the Yard. 'Obedient
monster, please to bite this mass of iron through and through, at
equal distances, where these regular chalk-marks are, all round.'
Monster looks at its work, and lifting its ponderous head, replies,
'I don't particularly want to do it; but if it must be done--!'
The solid metal wriggles out, hot from the monster's crunching
tooth, and it IS done. 'Dutiful monster, observe this other mass
of iron. It is required to be pared away, according to this
delicately lessening and arbitrary line, which please to look at.'
Monster (who has been in a reverie) brings down its blunt head,
and, much in the manner of Doctor Johnson, closely looks along the
line--very closely, being somewhat near-sighted. 'I don't
particularly want to do it; but if it must be done--!' Monster
takes another near-sighted look, takes aim, and the tortured piece
writhes off, and falls, a hot, tight-twisted snake, among the
ashes. The making of the rivets is merely a pretty round game,
played by a man and a boy, who put red-hot barley sugar in a Pope
Joan board, and immediately rivets fall out of window; but the tone
of the great machines is the tone of the great Yard and the great
country: 'We don't particularly want to do it; but if it must be
done--!'

How such a prodigious mass as the Achilles can ever be held by such
comparatively little anchors as those intended for her and lying
near her here, is a mystery of seamanship which I will refer to the
wise boy. For my own part, I should as soon have thought of
tethering an elephant to a tent-peg, or the larger hippopotamus in
the Zoological Gardens to my shirt-pin. Yonder in the river,
alongside a hulk, lie two of this ship's hollow iron masts. THEY
are large enough for the eye, I find, and so are all her other
appliances. I wonder why only her anchors look small.

I have no present time to think about it, for I am going to see the
workshops where they make all the oars used in the British Navy. A
pretty large pile of building, I opine, and a pretty long job! As
to the building, I am soon disappointed, because the work is all
done in one loft. And as to a long job--what is this? Two rather
large mangles with a swarm of butterflies hovering over them? What
can there be in the mangles that attracts butterflies?

Drawing nearer, I discern that these are not mangles, but intricate
machines, set with knives and saws and planes, which cut smooth and
straight here, and slantwise there, and now cut such a depth, and
now miss cutting altogether, according to the predestined
requirements of the pieces of wood that are pushed on below them:
each of which pieces is to be an oar, and is roughly adapted to
that purpose before it takes its final leave of far-off forests,
and sails for England. Likewise I discern that the butterflies are
not true butterflies, but wooden shavings, which, being spirted up
from the wood by the violence of the machinery, and kept in rapid
and not equal movement by the impulse of its rotation on the air,
flutter and play, and rise and fall, and conduct themselves as like
butterflies as heart could wish. Suddenly the noise and motion
cease, and the butterflies drop dead. An oar has been made since I
came in, wanting the shaped handle. As quickly as I can follow it
with my eye and thought, the same oar is carried to a turning
lathe. A whirl and a Nick! Handle made. Oar finished.

The exquisite beauty and efficiency of this machinery need no
illustration, but happen to have a pointed illustration to-day. A
pair of oars of unusual size chance to be wanted for a special
purpose, and they have to be made by hand. Side by side with the
subtle and facile machine, and side by side with the fast-growing
pile of oars on the floor, a man shapes out these special oars with
an axe. Attended by no butterflies, and chipping and dinting, by
comparison as leisurely as if he were a labouring Pagan getting
them ready against his decease at threescore and ten, to take with
him as a present to Charon for his boat, the man (aged about
thirty) plies his task. The machine would make a regulation oar
while the man wipes his forehead. The man might be buried in a
mound made of the strips of thin, broad, wooden ribbon torn from
the wood whirled into oars as the minutes fall from the clock,
before he had done a forenoon's work with his axe.

Passing from this wonderful sight to the Ships again--for my heart,
as to the Yard, is where the ships are--I notice certain unfinished
wooden walls left seasoning on the stocks, pending the solution of
the merits of the wood and iron question, and having an air of
biding their time with surly confidence. The names of these
worthies are set up beside them, together with their capacity in
guns--a custom highly conducive to ease and satisfaction in social
intercourse, if it could be adapted to mankind. By a plank more
gracefully pendulous than substantial, I make bold to go aboard a
transport ship (iron screw) just sent in from the contractor's yard
to be inspected and passed. She is a very gratifying experience,
in the simplicity and humanity of her arrangements for troops, in
her provision for light and air and cleanliness, and in her care
for women and children. It occurs to me, as I explore her, that I
would require a handsome sum of money to go aboard her, at midnight
by the Dockyard bell, and stay aboard alone till morning; for
surely she must be haunted by a crowd of ghosts of obstinate old
martinets, mournfully flapping their cherubic epaulettes over the
changed times. Though still we may learn from the astounding ways
and means in our Yards now, more highly than ever to respect the
forefathers who got to sea, and fought the sea, and held the sea,
without them. This remembrance putting me in the best of tempers
with an old hulk, very green as to her copper, and generally dim
and patched, I pull off my hat to her. Which salutation a callow
and downy-faced young officer of Engineers, going by at the moment,
perceiving, appropriates--and to which he is most heartily welcome,
I am sure.

Having been torn to pieces (in imagination) by the steam circular
saws, perpendicular saws, horizontal saws, and saws of eccentric
action, I come to the sauntering part of my expedition, and
consequently to the core of my Uncommercial pursuits.

Everywhere, as I saunter up and down the Yard, I meet with tokens
of its quiet and retiring character. There is a gravity upon its
red brick offices and houses, a staid pretence of having nothing
worth mentioning to do, an avoidance of display, which I never saw
out of England. The white stones of the pavement present no other
trace of Achilles and his twelve hundred banging men (not one of
whom strikes an attitude) than a few occasional echoes. But for a
whisper in the air suggestive of sawdust and shavings, the oar-
making and the saws of many movements might be miles away. Down
below here, is the great reservoir of water where timber is steeped
in various temperatures, as a part of its seasoning process. Above
it, on a tramroad supported by pillars, is a Chinese Enchanter's
Car, which fishes the logs up, when sufficiently steeped, and rolls
smoothly away with them to stack them. When I was a child (the
Yard being then familiar to me) I used to think that I should like
to play at Chinese Enchanter, and to have that apparatus placed at
my disposal for the purpose by a beneficent country. I still think
that I should rather like to try the effect of writing a book in
it. Its retirement is complete, and to go gliding to and fro among
the stacks of timber would be a convenient kind of travelling in
foreign countries--among the forests of North America, the sodden
Honduras swamps, the dark pine woods, the Norwegian frosts, and the
tropical heats, rainy seasons, and thunderstorms. The costly store
of timber is stacked and stowed away in sequestered places, with
the pervading avoidance of flourish or effect. It makes as little
of itself as possible, and calls to no one 'Come and look at me!'
And yet it is picked out from the trees of the world; picked out
for length, picked out for breadth, picked out for straightness,
picked out for crookedness, chosen with an eye to every need of
ship and boat. Strangely twisted pieces lie about, precious in the
sight of shipwrights. Sauntering through these groves, I come upon
an open glade where workmen are examining some timber recently
delivered. Quite a pastoral scene, with a background of river and
windmill! and no more like War than the American States are at
present like an Union.

Sauntering among the ropemaking, I am spun into a state of blissful
indolence, wherein my rope of life seems to be so untwisted by the
process as that I can see back to very early days indeed, when my
bad dreams--they were frightful, though my more mature
understanding has never made out why--were of an interminable sort
of ropemaking, with long minute filaments for strands, which, when
they were spun home together close to my eyes, occasioned
screaming. Next, I walk among the quiet lofts of stores--of sails,
spars, rigging, ships' boats--determined to believe that somebody
in authority wears a girdle and bends beneath the weight of a
massive bunch of keys, and that, when such a thing is wanted, he
comes telling his keys like Blue Beard, and opens such a door.
Impassive as the long lofts look, let the electric battery send
down the word, and the shutters and doors shall fly open, and such
a fleet of armed ships, under steam and under sail, shall burst
forth as will charge the old Medway--where the merry Stuart let the
Dutch come, while his not so merry sailors starved in the streets--
with something worth looking at to carry to the sea. Thus I idle
round to the Medway again, where it is now flood tide; and I find
the river evincing a strong solicitude to force a way into the dry
dock where Achilles is waited on by the twelve hundred bangers,
with intent to bear the whole away before they are ready.

To the last, the Yard puts a quiet face upon it; for I make my way
to the gates through a little quiet grove of trees, shading the
quaintest of Dutch landing-places, where the leaf-speckled shadow
of a shipwright just passing away at the further end might be the
shadow of Russian Peter himself. So, the doors of the great patent
safe at last close upon me, and I take boat again: somehow,
thinking as the oars dip, of braggart Pistol and his brood, and of
the quiet monsters of the Yard, with their 'We don't particularly
want to do it; but if it must be done--!' Scrunch.

CHAPTER XXVII--IN THE FRENCH-FLEMISH COUNTRY

'It is neither a bold nor a diversified country,' said I to myself,
'this country which is three-quarters Flemish, and a quarter
French; yet it has its attractions too. Though great lines of
railway traverse it, the trains leave it behind, and go puffing off
to Paris and the South, to Belgium and Germany, to the Northern
Sea-Coast of France, and to England, and merely smoke it a little
in passing. Then I don't know it, and that is a good reason for
being here; and I can't pronounce half the long queer names I see
inscribed over the shops, and that is another good reason for being
here, since I surely ought to learn how.' In short, I was 'here,'
and I wanted an excuse for not going away from here, and I made it
to my satisfaction, and stayed here.

What part in my decision was borne by Monsieur P. Salcy, is of no
moment, though I own to encountering that gentleman's name on a red
bill on the wall, before I made up my mind. Monsieur P. Salcy,
'par permission de M. le Maire,' had established his theatre in the
whitewashed Hotel de Ville, on the steps of which illustrious
edifice I stood. And Monsieur P. Salcy, privileged director of
such theatre, situate in 'the first theatrical arrondissement of
the department of the North,' invited French-Flemish mankind to
come and partake of the intellectual banquet provided by his family
of dramatic artists, fifteen subjects in number. 'La Famille P.
SALCY, composee d'artistes dramatiques, au nombre de 15 sujets.'

Neither a bold nor a diversified country, I say again, and withal
an untidy country, but pleasant enough to ride in, when the paved
roads over the flats and through the hollows, are not too deep in
black mud. A country so sparely inhabited, that I wonder where the
peasants who till and sow and reap the ground, can possibly dwell,
and also by what invisible balloons they are conveyed from their
distant homes into the fields at sunrise and back again at sunset.
The occasional few poor cottages and farms in this region, surely
cannot afford shelter to the numbers necessary to the cultivation,
albeit the work is done so very deliberately, that on one long
harvest day I have seen, in twelve miles, about twice as many men
and women (all told) reaping and binding. Yet have I seen more
cattle, more sheep, more pigs, and all in better case, than where
there is purer French spoken, and also better ricks--round swelling
peg-top ricks, well thatched; not a shapeless brown heap, like the
toast of a Giant's toast-and-water, pinned to the earth with one of
the skewers out of his kitchen. A good custom they have about
here, likewise, of prolonging the sloping tiled roof of farm or
cottage, so that it overhangs three or four feet, carrying off the
wet, and making a good drying-place wherein to hang up herbs, or
implements, or what not. A better custom than the popular one of
keeping the refuse-heap and puddle close before the house door:
which, although I paint my dwelling never so brightly blue (and it
cannot be too blue for me, hereabouts), will bring fever inside my
door. Wonderful poultry of the French-Flemish country, why take
the trouble to BE poultry? Why not stop short at eggs in the
rising generation, and die out and have done with it? Parents of
chickens have I seen this day, followed by their wretched young
families, scratching nothing out of the mud with an air--tottering
about on legs so scraggy and weak, that the valiant word drumsticks
becomes a mockery when applied to them, and the crow of the lord
and master has been a mere dejected case of croup. Carts have I
seen, and other agricultural instruments, unwieldy, dislocated,
monstrous. Poplar-trees by the thousand fringe the fields and
fringe the end of the flat landscape, so that I feel, looking
straight on before me, as if, when I pass the extremest fringe on
the low horizon, I shall tumble over into space. Little
whitewashed black holes of chapels, with barred doors and Flemish
inscriptions, abound at roadside corners, and often they are
garnished with a sheaf of wooden crosses, like children's swords;
or, in their default, some hollow old tree with a saint roosting in
it, is similarly decorated, or a pole with a very diminutive saint
enshrined aloft in a sort of sacred pigeon-house. Not that we are
deficient in such decoration in the town here, for, over at the
church yonder, outside the building, is a scenic representation of
the Crucifixion, built up with old bricks and stones, and made out
with painted canvas and wooden figures: the whole surmounting the
dusty skull of some holy personage (perhaps), shut up behind a
little ashy iron grate, as if it were originally put there to be
cooked, and the fire had long gone out. A windmilly country this,
though the windmills are so damp and rickety, that they nearly
knock themselves off their legs at every turn of their sails, and
creak in loud complaint. A weaving country, too, for in the
wayside cottages the loom goes wearily--rattle and click, rattle
and click--and, looking in, I see the poor weaving peasant, man or
woman, bending at the work, while the child, working too, turns a
little hand-wheel put upon the ground to suit its height. An
unconscionable monster, the loom in a small dwelling, asserting
himself ungenerously as the bread-winner, straddling over the
children's straw beds, cramping the family in space and air, and
making himself generally objectionable and tyrannical. He is
tributary, too, to ugly mills and factories and bleaching-grounds,
rising out of the sluiced fields in an abrupt bare way, disdaining,
like himself, to be ornamental or accommodating. Surrounded by
these things, here I stood on the steps of the Hotel de Ville,
persuaded to remain by the P. Salcy family, fifteen dramatic
subjects strong.

There was a Fair besides. The double persuasion being
irresistible, and my sponge being left behind at the last Hotel, I
made the tour of the little town to buy another. In the small
sunny shops--mercers, opticians, and druggist-grocers, with here
and there an emporium of religious images--the gravest of old
spectacled Flemish husbands and wives sat contemplating one another
across bare counters, while the wasps, who seemed to have taken
military possession of the town, and to have placed it under wasp-
martial law, executed warlike manoeuvres in the windows. Other
shops the wasps had entirely to themselves, and nobody cared and
nobody came when I beat with a five-franc piece upon the board of
custom. What I sought was no more to be found than if I had sought
a nugget of Californian gold: so I went, spongeless, to pass the
evening with the Family P. Salcy.

The members of the Family P. Salcy were so fat and so like one
another--fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, and aunts--
that I think the local audience were much confused about the plot
of the piece under representation, and to the last expected that
everybody must turn out to be the long-lost relative of everybody
else. The Theatre was established on the top story of the Hotel de
Ville, and was approached by a long bare staircase, whereon, in an
airy situation, one of the P. Salcy Family--a stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt--took the money. This occasioned
the greatest excitement of the evening; for, no sooner did the
curtain rise on the introductory Vaudeville, and reveal in the
person of the young lover (singing a very short song with his
eyebrows) apparently the very same identical stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt, than everybody rushed out to the
paying-place, to ascertain whether he could possibly have put on
that dress-coat, that clear complexion, and those arched black
vocal eyebrows, in so short a space of time. It then became
manifest that this was another stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt: to whom, before the spectators had recovered
their presence of mind, entered a third stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt, exactly like him. These two 'subjects,'
making with the money-taker three of the announced fifteen, fell
into conversation touching a charming young widow: who, presently
appearing, proved to be a stout lady altogether irrepressible by
any means--quite a parallel case to the American Negro--fourth of
the fifteen subjects, and sister of the fifth who presided over the
check-department. In good time the whole of the fifteen subjects
were dramatically presented, and we had the inevitable Ma Mere, Ma
Mere! and also the inevitable malediction d'un pere, and likewise
the inevitable Marquis, and also the inevitable provincial young
man, weak-minded but faithful, who followed Julie to Paris, and
cried and laughed and choked all at once. The story was wrought
out with the help of a virtuous spinning-wheel in the beginning, a
vicious set of diamonds in the middle, and a rheumatic blessing
(which arrived by post) from Ma Mere towards the end; the whole
resulting in a small sword in the body of one of the stout
gentlemen imperfectly repressed by a belt, fifty thousand francs
per annum and a decoration to the other stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt, and an assurance from everybody to the
provincial young man that if he were not supremely happy--which he
seemed to have no reason whatever for being--he ought to be. This
afforded him a final opportunity of crying and laughing and choking
all at once, and sent the audience home sentimentally delighted.
Audience more attentive or better behaved there could not possibly
be, though the places of second rank in the Theatre of the Family
P. Salcy were sixpence each in English money, and the places of
first rank a shilling. How the fifteen subjects ever got so fat
upon it, the kind Heavens know.

What gorgeous china figures of knights and ladies, gilded till they
gleamed again, I might have bought at the Fair for the garniture of
my home, if I had been a French-Flemish peasant, and had had the
money! What shining coffee-cups and saucers I might have won at
the turntables, if I had had the luck! Ravishing perfumery also,
and sweetmeats, I might have speculated in, or I might have fired
for prizes at a multitude of little dolls in niches, and might have
hit the doll of dolls, and won francs and fame. Or, being a
French-Flemish youth, I might have been drawn in a hand-cart by my
compeers, to tilt for municipal rewards at the water-quintain;
which, unless I sent my lance clean through the ring, emptied a
full bucket over me; to fend off which, the competitors wore
grotesque old scarecrow hats. Or, being French-Flemish man or
woman, boy or girl, I might have circled all night on my hobby-
horse in a stately cavalcade of hobby-horses four abreast,
interspersed with triumphal cars, going round and round and round
and round, we the goodly company singing a ceaseless chorus to the
music of the barrel-organ, drum, and cymbals. On the whole, not
more monotonous than the Ring in Hyde Park, London, and much
merrier; for when do the circling company sing chorus, THERE, to
the barrel-organ, when do the ladies embrace their horses round the
neck with both arms, when do the gentlemen fan the ladies with the
tails of their gallant steeds? On all these revolving delights,
and on their own especial lamps and Chinese lanterns revolving with
them, the thoughtful weaver-face brightens, and the Hotel de Ville
sheds an illuminated line of gaslight: while above it, the Eagle
of France, gas-outlined and apparently afflicted with the
prevailing infirmities that have lighted on the poultry, is in a
very undecided state of policy, and as a bird moulting. Flags
flutter all around. Such is the prevailing gaiety that the keeper
of the prison sits on the stone steps outside the prison-door, to
have a look at the world that is not locked up; while that
agreeable retreat, the wine-shop opposite to the prison in the
prison-alley (its sign La Tranquillite, because of its charming
situation), resounds with the voices of the shepherds and
shepherdesses who resort there this festive night. And it reminds
me that only this afternoon, I saw a shepherd in trouble, tending
this way, over the jagged stones of a neighbouring street. A
magnificent sight it was, to behold him in his blouse, a feeble
little jog-trot rustic, swept along by the wind of two immense
gendarmes, in cocked-hats for which the street was hardly wide
enough, each carrying a bundle of stolen property that would not
have held his shoulder-knot, and clanking a sabre that dwarfed the
prisoner.

'Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you at this Fair, as a mark of
my confidence in the people of this so-renowned town, and as an act
of homage to their good sense and fine taste, the Ventriloquist,
the Ventriloquist! Further, Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to
you the Face-Maker, the Physiognomist, the great Changer of
Countenances, who transforms the features that Heaven has bestowed
upon him into an endless succession of surprising and extraordinary
visages, comprehending, Messieurs et Mesdames, all the contortions,
energetic and expressive, of which the human face is capable, and
all the passions of the human heart, as Love, Jealousy, Revenge,
Hatred, Avarice, Despair! Hi hi! Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in!' To
this effect, with an occasional smite upon a sonorous kind of
tambourine--bestowed with a will, as if it represented the people
who won't come in--holds forth a man of lofty and severe demeanour;
a man in stately uniform, gloomy with the knowledge he possesses of
the inner secrets of the booth. 'Come in, come in! Your
opportunity presents itself to-night; to-morrow it will be gone for
ever. To-morrow morning by the Express Train the railroad will
reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker! Algeria will reclaim
the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker! Yes! For the honour of
their country they have accepted propositions of a magnitude
incredible, to appear in Algeria. See them for the last time
before their departure! We go to commence on the instant. Hi hi!
Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in! Take the money that now ascends, Madame;
but after that, no more, for we commence! Come in!'

Nevertheless, the eyes both of the gloomy Speaker and of Madame
receiving sous in a muslin bower, survey the crowd pretty sharply
after the ascending money has ascended, to detect any lingering
sous at the turning-point. 'Come in, come in! Is there any more
money, Madame, on the point of ascending? If so, we wait for it.
If not, we commence!' The orator looks back over his shoulder to
say it, lashing the spectators with the conviction that he beholds
through the folds of the drapery into which he is about to plunge,
the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker. Several sous burst out of
pockets, and ascend. 'Come up, then, Messieurs!' exclaims Madame
in a shrill voice, and beckoning with a bejewelled finger. 'Come
up! This presses. Monsieur has commanded that they commence!'
Monsieur dives into his Interior, and the last half-dozen of us
follow. His Interior is comparatively severe; his Exterior also.
A true Temple of Art needs nothing but seats, drapery, a small
table with two moderator lamps hanging over it, and an ornamental
looking-glass let into the wall. Monsieur in uniform gets behind
the table and surveys us with disdain, his forehead becoming
diabolically intellectual under the moderators. 'Messieurs et
Mesdames, I present to you the Ventriloquist. He will commence
with the celebrated Experience of the bee in the window. The bee,
apparently the veritable bee of Nature, will hover in the window,
and about the room. He will be with difficulty caught in the hand
of Monsieur the Ventriloquist--he will escape--he will again hover-
-at length he will be recaptured by Monsieur the Ventriloquist, and
will be with difficulty put into a bottle. Achieve then,
Monsieur!' Here the proprietor is replaced behind the table by the
Ventriloquist, who is thin and sallow, and of a weakly aspect.
While the bee is in progress, Monsieur the Proprietor sits apart on
a stool, immersed in dark and remote thought. The moment the bee
is bottled, he stalks forward, eyes us gloomily as we applaud, and
then announces, sternly waving his hand: 'The magnificent
Experience of the child with the whooping-cough!' The child
disposed of, he starts up as before. 'The superb and extraordinary
Experience of the dialogue between Monsieur Tatambour in his
dining-room, and his domestic, Jerome, in the cellar; concluding
with the songsters of the grove, and the Concert of domestic Farm-
yard animals.' All this done, and well done, Monsieur the
Ventriloquist withdraws, and Monsieur the Face-Maker bursts in, as
if his retiring-room were a mile long instead of a yard. A
corpulent little man in a large white waistcoat, with a comic
countenance, and with a wig in his hand. Irreverent disposition to
laugh, instantly checked by the tremendous gravity of the Face-
Maker, who intimates in his bow that if we expect that sort of
thing we are mistaken. A very little shaving-glass with a leg
behind it is handed in, and placed on the table before the Face-
Maker. 'Messieurs et Mesdames, with no other assistance than this
mirror and this wig, I shall have the honour of showing you a
thousand characters.' As a preparation, the Face-Maker with both
hands gouges himself, and turns his mouth inside out. He then
becomes frightfully grave again, and says to the Proprietor, 'I am
ready!' Proprietor stalks forth from baleful reverie, and
announces 'The Young Conscript!' Face-Maker claps his wig on, hind
side before, looks in the glass, and appears above it as a
conscript so very imbecile, and squinting so extremely hard, that I
should think the State would never get any good of him. Thunders
of applause. Face-Maker dips behind the looking-glass, brings his
own hair forward, is himself again, is awfully grave. 'A
distinguished inhabitant of the Faubourg St. Germain.' Face-Maker
dips, rises, is supposed to be aged, blear-eyed, toothless,
slightly palsied, supernaturally polite, evidently of noble birth.
'The oldest member of the Corps of Invalides on the fete-day of his
master.' Face-Maker dips, rises, wears the wig on one side, has
become the feeblest military bore in existence, and (it is clear)
would lie frightfully about his past achievements, if he were not
confined to pantomime. 'The Miser!' Face-Maker dips, rises,
clutches a bag, and every hair of the wig is on end to express that
he lives in continual dread of thieves. 'The Genius of France!'
Face-Maker dips, rises, wig pushed back and smoothed flat, little
cocked-hat (artfully concealed till now) put a-top of it, Face-
Maker's white waistcoat much advanced, Face-Maker's left hand in
bosom of white waistcoat, Face-Maker's right hand behind his back.
Thunders. This is the first of three positions of the Genius of
France. In the second position, the Face-Maker takes snuff; in the
third, rolls up his fight hand, and surveys illimitable armies
through that pocket-glass. The Face-Maker then, by putting out his
tongue, and wearing the wig nohow in particular, becomes the
Village Idiot. The most remarkable feature in the whole of his
ingenious performance, is, that whatever he does to disguise
himself, has the effect of rendering him rather more like himself
than he was at first.

There were peep-shows in this Fair, and I had the pleasure of
recognising several fields of glory with which I became well
acquainted a year or two ago as Crimean battles, now doing duty as
Mexican victories. The change was neatly effected by some extra
smoking of the Russians, and by permitting the camp followers free
range in the foreground to despoil the enemy of their uniforms. As
no British troops had ever happened to be within sight when the
artist took his original sketches, it followed fortunately that
none were in the way now.

The Fair wound up with a ball. Respecting the particular night of
the week on which the ball took place, I decline to commit myself;
merely mentioning that it was held in a stable-yard so very close
to the railway, that it was a mercy the locomotive did not set fire
to it. (In Scotland, I suppose, it would have done so.) There, in
a tent prettily decorated with looking-glasses and a myriad of toy
flags, the people danced all night. It was not an expensive
recreation, the price of a double ticket for a cavalier and lady
being one and threepence in English money, and even of that small
sum fivepence was reclaimable for 'consommation:' which word I
venture to translate into refreshments of no greater strength, at
the strongest, than ordinary wine made hot, with sugar and lemon in
it. It was a ball of great good humour and of great enjoyment,
though very many of the dancers must have been as poor as the
fifteen subjects of the P. Salcy Family.

In short, not having taken my own pet national pint pot with me to
this Fair, I was very well satisfied with the measure of simple
enjoyment that it poured into the dull French-Flemish country life.
How dull that is, I had an opportunity of considering--when the
Fair was over--when the tri-coloured flags were withdrawn from the
windows of the houses on the Place where the Fair was held--when
the windows were close shut, apparently until next Fair-time--when
the Hotel de Ville had cut off its gas and put away its eagle--when
the two paviours, whom I take to form the entire paving population
of the town, were ramming down the stones which had been pulled up
for the erection of decorative poles--when the jailer had slammed
his gate, and sulkily locked himself in with his charges. But
then, as I paced the ring which marked the track of the departed
hobby-horses on the market-place, pondering in my mind how long
some hobby-horses do leave their tracks in public ways, and how
difficult they are to erase, my eyes were greeted with a goodly
sight. I beheld four male personages thoughtfully pacing the Place
together, in the sunlight, evidently not belonging to the town, and
having upon them a certain loose cosmopolitan air of not belonging
to any town. One was clad in a suit of white canvas, another in a
cap and blouse, the third in an old military frock, the fourth in a
shapeless dress that looked as if it had been made out of old
umbrellas. All wore dust-coloured shoes. My heart beat high; for,
in those four male personages, although complexionless and
eyebrowless, I beheld four subjects of the Family P. Salcy. Blue-
bearded though they were, and bereft of the youthful smoothness of
cheek which is imparted by what is termed in Albion a 'Whitechapel
shave' (and which is, in fact, whitening, judiciously applied to
the jaws with the palm of the hand), I recognised them. As I stood
admiring, there emerged from the yard of a lowly Cabaret, the
excellent Ma Mere, Ma Mere, with the words, 'The soup is served;'
words which so elated the subject in the canvas suit, that when
they all ran in to partake, he went last, dancing with his hands
stuck angularly into the pockets of his canvas trousers, after the
Pierrot manner. Glancing down the Yard, the last I saw of him was,
that he looked in through a window (at the soup, no doubt) on one
leg.

Full of this pleasure, I shortly afterwards departed from the town,
little dreaming of an addition to my good fortune. But more was in
reserve. I went by a train which was heavy with third-class
carriages, full of young fellows (well guarded) who had drawn
unlucky numbers in the last conscription, and were on their way to
a famous French garrison town where much of the raw military
material is worked up into soldiery. At the station they had been
sitting about, in their threadbare homespun blue garments, with
their poor little bundles under their arms, covered with dust and
clay, and the various soils of France; sad enough at heart, most of
them, but putting a good face upon it, and slapping their breasts
and singing choruses on the smallest provocation; the gayest
spirits shouldering half loaves of black bread speared upon their
walking-sticks. As we went along, they were audible at every
station, chorusing wildly out of tune, and feigning the highest
hilarity. After a while, however, they began to leave off singing,
and to laugh naturally, while at intervals there mingled with their
laughter the barking of a dog. Now, I had to alight short of their
destination, and, as that stoppage of the train was attended with a
quantity of horn blowing, bell ringing, and proclamation of what
Messieurs les Voyageurs were to do, and were not to do, in order to
reach their respective destinations, I had ample leisure to go
forward on the platform to take a parting look at my recruits,
whose heads were all out at window, and who were laughing like
delighted children. Then I perceived that a large poodle with a
pink nose, who had been their travelling companion and the cause of
their mirth, stood on his hind-legs presenting arms on the extreme
verge of the platform, ready to salute them as the train went off.
This poodle wore a military shako (it is unnecessary to add, very
much on one side over one eye), a little military coat, and the
regulation white gaiters. He was armed with a little musket and a
little sword-bayonet, and he stood presenting arms in perfect
attitude, with his unobscured eye on his master or superior
officer, who stood by him. So admirable was his discipline, that,
when the train moved, and he was greeted with the parting cheers of
the recruits, and also with a shower of centimes, several of which
struck his shako, and had a tendency to discompose him, he remained
staunch on his post, until the train was gone. He then resigned
his arms to his officer, took off his shako by rubbing his paw over
it, dropped on four legs, bringing his uniform coat into the
absurdest relations with the overarching skies, and ran about the
platform in his white gaiters, waging his tail to an exceeding
great extent. It struck me that there was more waggery than this
in the poodle, and that he knew that the recruits would neither get
through their exercises, nor get rid of their uniforms, as easily
as he; revolving which in my thoughts, and seeking in my pockets
some small money to bestow upon him, I casually directed my eyes to
the face of his superior officer, and in him beheld the Face-Maker!
Though it was not the way to Algeria, but quite the reverse, the
military poodle's Colonel was the Face-Maker in a dark blouse, with
a small bundle dangling over his shoulder at the end of an
umbrella, and taking a pipe from his breast to smoke as he and the
poodle went their mysterious way.

CHAPTER XXVIII--MEDICINE MEN OF CIVILISATION

My voyages (in paper boats) among savages often yield me matter for
reflection at home. It is curious to trace the savage in the
civilised man, and to detect the hold of some savage customs on
conditions of society rather boastful of being high above them.

I wonder, is the Medicine Man of the North American Indians never
to be got rid of, out of the North American country? He comes into
my Wigwam on all manner of occasions, and with the absurdest
'Medicine.' I always find it extremely difficult, and I often find
it simply impossible, to keep him out of my Wigwam. For his legal
'Medicine' he sticks upon his head the hair of quadrupeds, and
plasters the same with fat, and dirty white powder, and talks a
gibberish quite unknown to the men and squaws of his tribe. For
his religious 'Medicine' he puts on puffy white sleeves, little
black aprons, large black waistcoats of a peculiar cut, collarless
coats with Medicine button-holes, Medicine stockings and gaiters
and shoes, and tops the whole with a highly grotesque Medicinal
hat. In one respect, to be sure, I am quite free from him. On
occasions when the Medicine Men in general, together with a large
number of the miscellaneous inhabitants of his village, both male
and female, are presented to the principal Chief, his native
'Medicine' is a comical mixture of old odds and ends (hired of
traders) and new things in antiquated shapes, and pieces of red
cloth (of which he is particularly fond), and white and red and
blue paint for the face. The irrationality of this particular
Medicine culminates in a mock battle-rush, from which many of the
squaws are borne out, much dilapidated. I need not observe how
unlike this is to a Drawing Room at St. James's Palace.

The African magician I find it very difficult to exclude from my
Wigwam too. This creature takes cases of death and mourning under
his supervision, and will frequently impoverish a whole family by
his preposterous enchantments. He is a great eater and drinker,
and always conceals a rejoicing stomach under a grieving exterior.
His charms consist of an infinite quantity of worthless scraps, for
which he charges very high. He impresses on the poor bereaved
natives, that the more of his followers they pay to exhibit such
scraps on their persons for an hour or two (though they never saw
the deceased in their lives, and are put in high spirits by his
decease), the more honourably and piously they grieve for the dead.
The poor people submitting themselves to this conjurer, an
expensive procession is formed, in which bits of stick, feathers of
birds, and a quantity of other unmeaning objects besmeared with
black paint, are carried in a certain ghastly order of which no one
understands the meaning, if it ever had any, to the brink of the
grave, and are then brought back again.

In the Tonga Islands everything is supposed to have a soul, so that
when a hatchet is irreparably broken, they say, 'His immortal part
has departed; he is gone to the happy hunting-plains.' This belief
leads to the logical sequence that when a man is buried, some of
his eating and drinking vessels, and some of his warlike
implements, must be broken and buried with him. Superstitious and
wrong, but surely a more respectable superstition than the hire of
antic scraps for a show that has no meaning based on any sincere
belief.

Let me halt on my Uncommercial road, to throw a passing glance on
some funeral solemnities that I have seen where North American
Indians, African Magicians, and Tonga Islanders, are supposed not
to be.

Once, I dwelt in an Italian city, where there dwelt with me for a
while, an Englishman of an amiable nature, great enthusiasm, and no
discretion. This friend discovered a desolate stranger, mourning
over the unexpected death of one very dear to him, in a solitary
cottage among the vineyards of an outlying village. The
circumstances of the bereavement were unusually distressing; and
the survivor, new to the peasants and the country, sorely needed
help, being alone with the remains. With some difficulty, but with
the strong influence of a purpose at once gentle, disinterested,
and determined, my friend--Mr. Kindheart--obtained access to the
mourner, and undertook to arrange the burial.

There was a small Protestant cemetery near the city walls, and as
Mr. Kindheart came back to me, he turned into it and chose the
spot. He was always highly flushed when rendering a service
unaided, and I knew that to make him happy I must keep aloof from
his ministration. But when at dinner he warmed with the good
action of the day, and conceived the brilliant idea of comforting
the mourner with 'an English funeral,' I ventured to intimate that
I thought that institution, which was not absolutely sublime at
home, might prove a failure in Italian hands. However, Mr.
Kindheart was so enraptured with his conception, that he presently
wrote down into the town requesting the attendance with to-morrow's
earliest light of a certain little upholsterer. This upholsterer
was famous for speaking the unintelligible local dialect (his own)
in a far more unintelligible manner than any other man alive.

When from my bath next morning I overheard Mr. Kindheart and the
upholsterer in conference on the top of an echoing staircase; and
when I overheard Mr. Kindheart rendering English Undertaking
phrases into very choice Italian, and the upholsterer replying in
the unknown Tongues; and when I furthermore remembered that the
local funerals had no resemblance to English funerals; I became in
my secret bosom apprehensive. But Mr. Kindheart informed me at
breakfast that measures had been taken to ensure a signal success.

As the funeral was to take place at sunset, and as I knew to which
of the city gates it must tend, I went out at that gate as the sun
descended, and walked along the dusty, dusty road. I had not
walked far, when I encountered this procession:

1. Mr. Kindheart, much abashed, on an immense grey horse.

2. A bright yellow coach and pair, driven by a coachman in bright
red velvet knee-breeches and waistcoat. (This was the established
local idea of State.) Both coach doors kept open by the coffin,
which was on its side within, and sticking out at each.

3. Behind the coach, the mourner, for whom the coach was intended,
walking in the dust.

4. Concealed behind a roadside well for the irrigation of a garden,
the unintelligible Upholsterer, admiring.

It matters little now. Coaches of all colours are alike to poor
Kindheart, and he rests far North of the little cemetery with the
cypress-trees, by the city walls where the Mediterranean is so
beautiful.

My first funeral, a fair representative funeral after its kind, was
that of the husband of a married servant, once my nurse. She
married for money. Sally Flanders, after a year or two of
matrimony, became the relict of Flanders, a small master builder;
and either she or Flanders had done me the honour to express a
desire that I should 'follow.' I may have been seven or eight
years old;--young enough, certainly, to feel rather alarmed by the
expression, as not knowing where the invitation was held to
terminate, and how far I was expected to follow the deceased
Flanders. Consent being given by the heads of houses, I was jobbed
up into what was pronounced at home decent mourning (comprehending
somebody else's shirt, unless my memory deceives me), and was
admonished that if, when the funeral was in action, I put my hands
in my pockets, or took my eyes out of my pocket-handkerchief, I was
personally lost, and my family disgraced. On the eventful day,
having tried to get myself into a disastrous frame of mind, and
having formed a very poor opinion of myself because I couldn't cry,
I repaired to Sally's. Sally was an excellent creature, and had
been a good wife to old Flanders, but the moment I saw her I knew
that she was not in her own real natural state. She formed a sort
of Coat of Arms, grouped with a smelling-bottle, a handkerchief, an
orange, a bottle of vinegar, Flanders's sister, her own sister,
Flanders's brother's wife, and two neighbouring gossips--all in
mourning, and all ready to hold her whenever she fainted. At sight
of poor little me she became much agitated (agitating me much
more), and having exclaimed, 'O here's dear Master Uncommercial!'
became hysterical, and swooned as if I had been the death of her.
An affecting scene followed, during which I was handed about and
poked at her by various people, as if I were the bottle of salts.
Reviving a little, she embraced me, said, 'You knew him well, dear
Master Uncommercial, and he knew you!' and fainted again: which,
as the rest of the Coat of Arms soothingly said, 'done her credit.'
Now, I knew that she needn't have fainted unless she liked, and
that she wouldn't have fainted unless it had been expected of her,
quite as well as I know it at this day. It made me feel
uncomfortable and hypocritical besides. I was not sure but that it
might be manners in ME to faint next, and I resolved to keep my eye
on Flanders's uncle, and if I saw any signs of his going in that
direction, to go too, politely. But Flanders's uncle (who was a
weak little old retail grocer) had only one idea, which was that we
all wanted tea; and he handed us cups of tea all round,
incessantly, whether we refused or not. There was a young nephew
of Flanders's present, to whom Flanders, it was rumoured, had left
nineteen guineas. He drank all the tea that was offered him, this
nephew--amounting, I should say, to several quarts--and ate as much
plum-cake as he could possibly come by; but he felt it to be decent
mourning that he should now and then stop in the midst of a lump of
cake, and appear to forget that his mouth was full, in the
contemplation of his uncle's memory. I felt all this to be the
fault of the undertaker, who was handing us gloves on a tea-tray as
if they were muffins, and tying us into cloaks (mine had to be
pinned up all round, it was so long for me), because I knew that he
was making game. So, when we got out into the streets, and I
constantly disarranged the procession by tumbling on the people
before me because my handkerchief blinded my eyes, and tripping up
the people behind me because my cloak was so long, I felt that we
were all making game. I was truly sorry for Flanders, but I knew
that it was no reason why we should be trying (the women with their
heads in hoods like coal-scuttles with the black side outward) to
keep step with a man in a scarf, carrying a thing like a mourning
spy-glass, which he was going to open presently and sweep the
horizon with. I knew that we should not all have been speaking in
one particular key-note struck by the undertaker, if we had not
been making game. Even in our faces we were every one of us as
like the undertaker as if we had been his own family, and I
perceived that this could not have happened unless we had been
making game. When we returned to Sally's, it was all of a piece.
The continued impossibility of getting on without plum-cake; the
ceremonious apparition of a pair of decanters containing port and
sherry and cork; Sally's sister at the tea-table, clinking the best
crockery and shaking her head mournfully every time she looked down
into the teapot, as if it were the tomb; the Coat of Arms again,
and Sally as before; lastly, the words of consolation administered
to Sally when it was considered right that she should 'come round
nicely:' which were, that the deceased had had 'as com-for-ta-ble a
fu-ne-ral as comfortable could be!'

Other funerals have I seen with grown-up eyes, since that day, of
which the burden has been the same childish burden. Making game.
Real affliction, real grief and solemnity, have been outraged, and
the funeral has been 'performed.' The waste for which the funeral
customs of many tribes of savages are conspicuous, has attended
these civilised obsequies; and once, and twice, have I wished in my
soul that if the waste must be, they would let the undertaker bury
the money, and let me bury the friend.

In France, upon the whole, these ceremonies are more sensibly
regulated, because they are upon the whole less expensively
regulated. I cannot say that I have ever been much edified by the
custom of tying a bib and apron on the front of the house of
mourning, or that I would myself particularly care to be driven to
my grave in a nodding and bobbing car, like an infirm four-post
bedstead, by an inky fellow-creature in a cocked-hat. But it may
be that I am constitutionally insensible to the virtues of a
cocked-hat. In provincial France, the solemnities are sufficiently
hideous, but are few and cheap. The friends and townsmen of the
departed, in their own dresses and not masquerading under the
auspices of the African Conjurer, surround the hand-bier, and often
carry it. It is not considered indispensable to stifle the
bearers, or even to elevate the burden on their shoulders;
consequently it is easily taken up, and easily set down, and is
carried through the streets without the distressing floundering and
shuffling that we see at home. A dirty priest or two, and a
dirtier acolyte or two, do not lend any especial grace to the
proceedings; and I regard with personal animosity the bassoon,
which is blown at intervals by the big-legged priest (it is always
a big-legged priest who blows the bassoon), when his fellows
combine in a lugubrious stalwart drawl. But there is far less of
the Conjurer and the Medicine Man in the business than under like
circumstances here. The grim coaches that we reserve expressly for
such shows, are non-existent; if the cemetery be far out of the
town, the coaches that are hired for other purposes of life are
hired for this purpose; and although the honest vehicles make no
pretence of being overcome, I have never noticed that the people in
them were the worse for it. In Italy, the hooded Members of
Confraternities who attend on funerals, are dismal and ugly to look
upon; but the services they render are at least voluntarily
rendered, and impoverish no one, and cost nothing. Why should high
civilisation and low savagery ever come together on the point of
making them a wantonly wasteful and contemptible set of forms?

Once I lost a friend by death, who had been troubled in his time by
the Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and upon whose limited resources
there were abundant claims. The Conjurer assured me that I must
positively 'follow,' and both he and the Medicine Man entertained
no doubt that I must go in a black carriage, and must wear
'fittings.' I objected to fittings as having nothing to do with my
friendship, and I objected to the black carriage as being in more
senses than one a job. So, it came into my mind to try what would
happen if I quietly walked, in my own way, from my own house to my
friend's burial-place, and stood beside his open grave in my own
dress and person, reverently listening to the best of Services. It
satisfied my mind, I found, quite as well as if I had been
disguised in a hired hatband and scarf both trailing to my very
heels, and as if I had cost the orphan children, in their greatest
need, ten guineas.

Can any one who ever beheld the stupendous absurdities attendant on
'A message from the Lords' in the House of Commons, turn upon the
Medicine Man of the poor Indians? Has he any 'Medicine' in that
dried skin pouch of his, so supremely ludicrous as the two Masters
in Chancery holding up their black petticoats and butting their
ridiculous wigs at Mr. Speaker? Yet there are authorities
innumerable to tell me--as there are authorities innumerable among
the Indians to tell them--that the nonsense is indispensable, and
that its abrogation would involve most awful consequences. What
would any rational creature who had never heard of judicial and
forensic 'fittings,' think of the Court of Common Pleas on the
first day of Term? Or with what an awakened sense of humour would
LIVINGSTONE'S account of a similar scene be perused, if the fur and
red cloth and goats' hair and horse hair and powdered chalk and
black patches on the top of the head, were all at Tala Mungongo
instead of Westminster? That model missionary and good brave man
found at least one tribe of blacks with a very strong sense of the
ridiculous, insomuch that although an amiable and docile people,
they never could see the Missionaries dispose of their legs in the
attitude of kneeling, or hear them begin a hymn in chorus, without
bursting into roars of irrepressible laughter. It is much to be
hoped that no member of this facetious tribe may ever find his way
to England and get committed for contempt of Court.

In the Tonga Island already mentioned, there are a set of
personages called Mataboos--or some such name--who are the masters
of all the public ceremonies, and who know the exact place in which
every chief must sit down when a solemn public meeting takes place:
a meeting which bears a family resemblance to our own Public
Dinner, in respect of its being a main part of the proceedings that
every gentleman present is required to drink something nasty.
These Mataboos are a privileged order, so important is their
avocation, and they make the most of their high functions. A long
way out of the Tonga Islands, indeed, rather near the British
Islands, was there no calling in of the Mataboos the other day to
settle an earth-convulsing question of precedence; and was there no
weighty opinion delivered on the part of the Mataboos which, being
interpreted to that unlucky tribe of blacks with the sense of the
ridiculous, would infallibly set the whole population screaming
with laughter?

My sense of justice demands the admission, however, that this is
not quite a one-sided question. If we submit ourselves meekly to
the Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and are not exalted by it, the
savages may retort upon us that we act more unwisely than they in
other matters wherein we fail to imitate them. It is a widely
diffused custom among savage tribes, when they meet to discuss any
affair of public importance, to sit up all night making a horrible
noise, dancing, blowing shells, and (in cases where they are
familiar with fire-arms) flying out into open places and letting
off guns. It is questionable whether our legislative assemblies
might not take a hint from this. A shell is not a melodious wind-
instrument, and it is monotonous; but it is as musical as, and not
more monotonous than, my Honourable friend's own trumpet, or the
trumpet that he blows so hard for the Minister. The uselessness of
arguing with any supporter of a Government or of an Opposition, is
well known. Try dancing. It is a better exercise, and has the
unspeakable recommendation that it couldn't be reported. The
honourable and savage member who has a loaded gun, and has grown
impatient of debate, plunges out of doors, fires in the air, and
returns calm and silent to the Palaver. Let the honourable and
civilised member similarly charged with a speech, dart into the
cloisters of Westminster Abbey in the silence of night, let his
speech off, and come back harmless. It is not at first sight a
very rational custom to paint a broad blue stripe across one's nose
and both cheeks, and a broad red stripe from the forehead to the
chin, to attach a few pounds of wood to one's under lip, to stick
fish-bones in one's ears and a brass curtain-ring in one's nose,
and to rub one's body all over with rancid oil, as a preliminary to
entering on business. But this is a question of taste and
ceremony, and so is the Windsor Uniform. The manner of entering on
the business itself is another question. A council of six hundred
savage gentlemen entirely independent of tailors, sitting on their
hams in a ring, smoking, and occasionally grunting, seem to me,
according to the experience I have gathered in my voyages and
travels, somehow to do what they come together for; whereas that is
not at all the general experience of a council of six hundred
civilised gentlemen very dependent on tailors and sitting on
mechanical contrivances. It is better that an Assembly should do
its utmost to envelop itself in smoke, than that it should direct
its endeavours to enveloping the public in smoke; and I would
rather it buried half a hundred hatchets than buried one subject
demanding attention.

CHAPTER XXIX--TITBULL'S ALMS-HOUSES

By the side of most railways out of London, one may see Alms-Houses
and Retreats (generally with a Wing or a Centre wanting, and
ambitious of being much bigger than they are), some of which are
newly-founded Institutions, and some old establishments
transplanted. There is a tendency in these pieces of architecture
to shoot upward unexpectedly, like Jack's bean-stalk, and to be
ornate in spires of Chapels and lanterns of Halls, which might lead
to the embellishment of the air with many castles of questionable
beauty but for the restraining consideration of expense. However,
the manners, being always of a sanguine temperament, comfort
themselves with plans and elevations of Loomings in the future, and
are influenced in the present by philanthropy towards the railway
passengers. For, the question how prosperous and promising the
buildings can be made to look in their eyes, usually supersedes the
lesser question how they can be turned to the best account for the
inmates.

Why none of the people who reside in these places ever look out of
window, or take an airing in the piece of ground which is going to
be a garden by-and-by, is one of the wonders I have added to my
always-lengthening list of the wonders of the world. I have got it
into my mind that they live in a state of chronic injury and
resentment, and on that account refuse to decorate the building
with a human interest. As I have known legatees deeply injured by
a bequest of five hundred pounds because it was not five thousand,
and as I was once acquainted with a pensioner on the Public to the
extent of two hundred a year, who perpetually anathematised his
Country because he was not in the receipt of four, having no claim
whatever to sixpence: so perhaps it usually happens, within
certain limits, that to get a little help is to get a notion of
being defrauded of more. 'How do they pass their lives in this
beautiful and peaceful place!' was the subject of my speculation
with a visitor who once accompanied me to a charming rustic retreat
for old men and women: a quaint ancient foundation in a pleasant
English country, behind a picturesque church and among rich old
convent gardens. There were but some dozen or so of houses, and we
agreed that we would talk with the inhabitants, as they sat in
their groined rooms between the light of their fires and the light
shining in at their latticed windows, and would find out. They
passed their lives in considering themselves mulcted of certain
ounces of tea by a deaf old steward who lived among them in the
quadrangle. There was no reason to suppose that any such ounces of
tea had ever been in existence, or that the old steward so much as
knew what was the matter;--he passed HIS life in considering
himself periodically defrauded of a birch-broom by the beadle.

But it is neither to old Alms-Houses in the country, nor to new
Alms-Houses by the railroad, that these present Uncommercial notes
relate. They refer back to journeys made among those common-place,
smoky-fronted London Alms-Houses, with a little paved court-yard in
front enclosed by iron railings, which have got snowed up, as it
were, by bricks and mortar; which were once in a suburb, but are
now in the densely populated town; gaps in the busy life around
them, parentheses in the close and blotted texts of the streets.

Sometimes, these Alms-Houses belong to a Company or Society.
Sometimes, they were established by individuals, and are maintained
out of private funds bequeathed in perpetuity long ago. My
favourite among them is Titbull's, which establishment is a picture
of many. Of Titbull I know no more than that he deceased in 1723,
that his Christian name was Sampson, and his social designation
Esquire, and that he founded these Alms-Houses as Dwellings for
Nine Poor Women and Six Poor Men by his Will and Testament. I
should not know even this much, but for its being inscribed on a
grim stone very difficult to read, let into the front of the centre
house of Titbull's Alms-Houses, and which stone is ornamented a-top
with a piece of sculptured drapery resembling the effigy of
Titbull's bath-towel.

Titbull's Alms-Houses are in the east of London, in a great
highway, in a poor, busy, and thronged neighbourhood. Old iron and
fried fish, cough drops and artificial flowers, boiled pigs'-feet
and household furniture that looks as if it were polished up with
lip-salve, umbrellas full of vocal literature and saucers full of
shell-fish in a green juice which I hope is natural to them when
their health is good, garnish the paved sideways as you go to
Titbull's. I take the ground to have risen in those parts since
Titbull's time, and you drop into his domain by three stone steps.
So did I first drop into it, very nearly striking my brows against
Titbull's pump, which stands with its back to the thoroughfare just
inside the gate, and has a conceited air of reviewing Titbull's
pensioners.

'And a worse one,' said a virulent old man with a pitcher, 'there
isn't nowhere. A harder one to work, nor a grudginer one to yield,
there isn't nowhere!' This old man wore a long coat, such as we
see Hogarth's Chairmen represented with, and it was of that
peculiar green-pea hue without the green, which seems to come of
poverty. It had also that peculiar smell of cupboard which seems
to come of poverty.

'The pump is rusty, perhaps,' said I.

'Not IT,' said the old man, regarding it with undiluted virulence
in his watery eye. 'It never were fit to be termed a pump. That's
what's the matter with IT.'

'Whose fault is that?' said I.

The old man, who had a working mouth which seemed to be trying to
masticate his anger and to find that it was too hard and there was
too much of it, replied, 'Them gentlemen.'

'What gentlemen?'

'Maybe you're one of 'em?' said the old man, suspiciously.

'The trustees?'

'I wouldn't trust 'em myself,' said the virulent old man.

'If you mean the gentlemen who administer this place, no, I am not
one of them; nor have I ever so much as heard of them.'

'I wish _I_ never heard of them,' gasped the old man: 'at my time
of life--with the rheumatics--drawing water-from that thing!' Not
to be deluded into calling it a Pump, the old man gave it another
virulent look, took up his pitcher, and carried it into a corner
dwelling-house, shutting the door after him.

Looking around and seeing that each little house was a house of two
little rooms; and seeing that the little oblong court-yard in front
was like a graveyard for the inhabitants, saving that no word was
engraven on its flat dry stones; and seeing that the currents of
life and noise ran to and fro outside, having no more to do with
the place than if it were a sort of low-water mark on a lively
beach; I say, seeing this and nothing else, I was going out at the
gate when one of the doors opened.

'Was you looking for anything, sir?' asked a tidy, well-favoured
woman.

Really, no; I couldn't say I was.

'Not wanting any one, sir?'

'No--at least I--pray what is the name of the elderly gentleman who
lives in the corner there?'

The tidy woman stepped out to be sure of the door I indicated, and
she and the pump and I stood all three in a row with our backs to
the thoroughfare.

'Oh! HIS name is Mr. Battens,' said the tidy woman, dropping her
voice.

'I have just been talking with him.'

'Indeed?' said the tidy woman. 'Ho! I wonder Mr. Battens talked!'

'Is he usually so silent?'

'Well, Mr. Battens is the oldest here--that is to say, the oldest
of the old gentlemen--in point of residence.'

She had a way of passing her hands over and under one another as
she spoke, that was not only tidy but propitiatory; so I asked her
if I might look at her little sitting-room? She willingly replied
Yes, and we went into it together: she leaving the door open, with
an eye as I understood to the social proprieties. The door opening
at once into the room without any intervening entry, even scandal
must have been silenced by the precaution.

It was a gloomy little chamber, but clean, and with a mug of
wallflower in the window. On the chimney-piece were two peacock's
feathers, a carved ship, a few shells, and a black profile with one
eyelash; whether this portrait purported to be male or female
passed my comprehension, until my hostess informed me that it was
her only son, and 'quite a speaking one.'

'He is alive, I hope?'

'No, sir,' said the widow, 'he were cast away in China.' This was
said with a modest sense of its reflecting a certain geographical
distinction on his mother.

'If the old gentlemen here are not given to talking,' said I, 'I
hope the old ladies are?--not that you are one.'

She shook her head. 'You see they get so cross.'

'How is that?'

'Well, whether the gentlemen really do deprive us of any little
matters which ought to be ours by rights, I cannot say for certain;
but the opinion of the old ones is they do. And Mr. Battens he do
even go so far as to doubt whether credit is due to the Founder.
For Mr. Battens he do say, anyhow he got his name up by it and he
done it cheap.'

'I am afraid the pump has soured Mr. Battens.'

'It may be so,' returned the tidy widow, 'but the handle does go
very hard. Still, what I say to myself is, the gentlemen MAY not
pocket the difference between a good pump and a bad one, and I
would wish to think well of them. And the dwellings,' said my
hostess, glancing round her room; 'perhaps they were convenient
dwellings in the Founder's time, considered AS his time, and
therefore he should not be blamed. But Mrs. Saggers is very hard
upon them.'

'Mrs. Saggers is the oldest here?'

'The oldest but one. Mrs. Quinch being the oldest, and have
totally lost her head.'

'And you?'

'I am the youngest in residence, and consequently am not looked up
to. But when Mrs. Quinch makes a happy release, there will be one
below me. Nor is it to be expected that Mrs. Saggers will prove
herself immortal.'

'True. Nor Mr. Battens.'

'Regarding the old gentlemen,' said my widow slightingly, 'they
count among themselves. They do not count among us. Mr. Battens
is that exceptional that he have written to the gentlemen many
times and have worked the case against them. Therefore he have
took a higher ground. But we do not, as a rule, greatly reckon the
old gentlemen.'

Pursuing the subject, I found it to be traditionally settled among
the poor ladies that the poor gentlemen, whatever their ages, were
all very old indeed, and in a state of dotage. I also discovered
that the juniors and newcomers preserved, for a time, a waning
disposition to believe in Titbull and his trustees, but that as
they gained social standing they lost this faith, and disparaged
Titbull and all his works.

Improving my acquaintance subsequently with this respected lady,
whose name was Mrs. Mitts, and occasionally dropping in upon her
with a little offering of sound Family Hyson in my pocket, I
gradually became familiar with the inner politics and ways of
Titbull's Alms-Houses. But I never could find out who the trustees
were, or where they were: it being one of the fixed ideas of the
place that those authorities must be vaguely and mysteriously
mentioned as 'the gentlemen' only. The secretary of 'the
gentlemen' was once pointed out to me, evidently engaged in
championing the obnoxious pump against the attacks of the
discontented Mr. Battens; but I am not in a condition to report
further of him than that he had the sprightly bearing of a lawyer's
clerk. I had it from Mrs. Mitts's lips in a very confidential
moment, that Mr. Battens was once 'had up before the gentlemen' to
stand or fall by his accusations, and that an old shoe was thrown
after him on his departure from the building on this dread errand;-
-not ineffectually, for, the interview resulting in a plumber, was
considered to have encircled the temples of Mr. Battens with the
wreath of victory,

In Titbull's Alms-Houses, the local society is not regarded as good
society. A gentleman or lady receiving visitors from without, or
going out to tea, counts, as it were, accordingly; but visitings or
tea-drinkings interchanged among Titbullians do not score. Such
interchanges, however, are rare, in consequence of internal
dissensions occasioned by Mrs. Saggers's pail: which household
article has split Titbull's into almost as many parties as there
are dwellings in that precinct. The extremely complicated nature
of the conflicting articles of belief on the subject prevents my
stating them here with my usual perspicuity, but I think they have
all branched off from the root-and-trunk question, Has Mrs. Saggers
any right to stand her pail outside her dwelling? The question has
been much refined upon, but roughly stated may be stated in those
terms.

There are two old men in Titbull's Alms-Houses who, I have been
given to understand, knew each other in the world beyond its pump
and iron railings, when they were both 'in trade.' They make the
best of their reverses, and are looked upon with great contempt.
They are little, stooping, blear-eyed old men of cheerful
countenance, and they hobble up and down the court-yard wagging
their chins and talking together quite gaily. This has given
offence, and has, moreover, raised the question whether they are
justified in passing any other windows than their own. Mr.
Battens, however, permitting them to pass HIS windows, on the
disdainful ground that their imbecility almost amounts to
irresponsibility, they are allowed to take their walk in peace.
They live next door to one another, and take it by turns to read
the newspaper aloud (that is to say, the newest newspaper they can
get), and they play cribbage at night. On warm and sunny days they
have been known to go so far as to bring out two chairs and sit by
the iron railings, looking forth; but this low conduct, being much
remarked upon throughout Titbull's, they were deterred by an
outraged public opinion from repeating it. There is a rumour--but
it may be malicious--that they hold the memory of Titbull in some
weak sort of veneration, and that they once set off together on a
pilgrimage to the parish churchyard to find his tomb. To this,
perhaps, might be traced a general suspicion that they are spies of
'the gentlemen:' to which they were supposed to have given colour
in my own presence on the occasion of the weak attempt at
justification of the pump by the gentlemen's clerk; when they
emerged bare-headed from the doors of their dwellings, as if their
dwellings and themselves constituted an old-fashioned weather-glass
of double action with two figures of old ladies inside, and
deferentially bowed to him at intervals until he took his
departure. They are understood to be perfectly friendless and
relationless. Unquestionably the two poor fellows make the very
best of their lives in Titbull's Alms-Houses, and unquestionably
they are (as before mentioned) the subjects of unmitigated contempt
there.

On Saturday nights, when there is a greater stir than usual
outside, and when itinerant vendors of miscellaneous wares even
take their stations and light up their smoky lamps before the iron
railings, Titbull's becomes flurried. Mrs. Saggers has her
celebrated palpitations of the heart, for the most part, on
Saturday nights. But Titbull's is unfit to strive with the uproar
of the streets in any of its phases. It is religiously believed at
Titbull's that people push more than they used, and likewise that
the foremost object of the population of England and Wales is to
get you down and trample on you. Even of railroads they know, at
Titbull's, little more than the shriek (which Mrs. Saggers says
goes through her, and ought to be taken up by Government); and the
penny postage may even yet be unknown there, for I have never seen
a letter delivered to any inhabitant. But there is a tall,
straight, sallow lady resident in Number Seven, Titbull's, who
never speaks to anybody, who is surrounded by a superstitious halo
of lost wealth, who does her household work in housemaid's gloves,
and who is secretly much deferred to, though openly cavilled at;
and it has obscurely leaked out that this old lady has a son,
grandson, nephew, or other relative, who is 'a Contractor,' and who
would think it nothing of a job to knock down Titbull's, pack it
off into Cornwall, and knock it together again. An immense
sensation was made by a gipsy-party calling in a spring-van, to
take this old lady up to go for a day's pleasure into Epping
Forest, and notes were compared as to which of the company was the
son, grandson, nephew, or other relative, the Contractor. A thick-
set personage with a white hat and a cigar in his mouth, was the
favourite: though as Titbull's had no other reason to believe that
the Contractor was there at all, than that this man was supposed to
eye the chimney stacks as if he would like to knock them down and
cart them off, the general mind was much unsettled in arriving at a
conclusion. As a way out of this difficulty, it concentrated
itself on the acknowledged Beauty of the party, every stitch in
whose dress was verbally unripped by the old ladies then and there,
and whose 'goings on' with another and a thinner personage in a
white hat might have suffused the pump (where they were principally
discussed) with blushes, for months afterwards. Herein Titbull's
was to Titbull's true, for it has a constitutional dislike of all
strangers. As concerning innovations and improvements, it is
always of opinion that what it doesn't want itself, nobody ought to
want. But I think I have met with this opinion outside Titbull's.

Of the humble treasures of furniture brought into Titbull's by the
inmates when they establish themselves in that place of
contemplation for the rest of their days, by far the greater and
more valuable part belongs to the ladies. I may claim the honour
of having either crossed the threshold, or looked in at the door,
of every one of the nine ladies, and I have noticed that they are
all particular in the article of bedsteads, and maintain favourite
and long-established bedsteads and bedding as a regular part of
their rest. Generally an antiquated chest of drawers is among
their cherished possessions; a tea-tray always is. I know of at
least two rooms in which a little tea-kettle of genuine burnished
copper, vies with the cat in winking at the fire; and one old lady
has a tea-urn set forth in state on the top of her chest of
drawers, which urn is used as her library, and contains four
duodecimo volumes, and a black-bordered newspaper giving an account
of the funeral of Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte. Among
the poor old gentlemen there are no such niceties. Their furniture
has the air of being contributed, like some obsolete Literary
Miscellany, 'by several hands;' their few chairs never match; old
patchwork coverlets linger among them; and they have an untidy
habit of keeping their wardrobes in hat-boxes. When I recall one
old gentleman who is rather choice in his shoe-brushes and
blacking-bottle, I have summed up the domestic elegances of that
side of the building.

On the occurrence of a death in Titbull's, it is invariably agreed
among the survivors--and it is the only subject on which they do
agree--that the departed did something 'to bring it on.' Judging
by Titbull's, I should say the human race need never die, if they
took care. But they don't take care, and they do die, and when
they die in Titbull's they are buried at the cost of the
Foundation. Some provision has been made for the purpose, in
virtue of which (I record this on the strength of having seen the
funeral of Mrs. Quinch) a lively neighbouring undertaker dresses up
four of the old men, and four of the old women, hustles them into a
procession of four couples, and leads off with a large black bow at
the back of his hat, looking over his shoulder at them airily from
time to time to see that no member of the party has got lost, or
has tumbled down; as if they were a company of dim old dolls.

Resignation of a dwelling is of very rare occurrence in Titbull's.
A story does obtain there, how an old lady's son once drew a prize
of Thirty Thousand Pounds in the Lottery, and presently drove to
the gate in his own carriage, with French Horns playing up behind,
and whisked his mother away, and left ten guineas for a Feast. But
I have been unable to substantiate it by any evidence, and regard
it as an Alms-House Fairy Tale. It is curious that the only proved
case of resignation happened within my knowledge.

It happened on this wise. There is a sharp competition among the
ladies respecting the gentility of their visitors, and I have so
often observed visitors to be dressed as for a holiday occasion,
that I suppose the ladies to have besought them to make all
possible display when they come. In these circumstances much
excitement was one day occasioned by Mrs. Mitts receiving a visit
from a Greenwich Pensioner. He was a Pensioner of a bluff and
warlike appearance, with an empty coat-sleeve, and he was got up
with unusual care; his coat-buttons were extremely bright, he wore
his empty coat-sleeve in a graceful festoon, and he had a walking-
stick in his hand that must have cost money. When, with the head
of his walking-stick, he knocked at Mrs. Mitts's door--there are no
knockers in Titbull's--Mrs. Mitts was overheard by a next-door
neighbour to utter a cry of surprise expressing much agitation; and
the same neighbour did afterwards solemnly affirm that when he was
admitted into Mrs. Mitts's room, she heard a smack. Heard a smack
which was not a blow.

There was an air about this Greenwich Pensioner when he took his
departure, which imbued all Titbull's with the conviction that he
was coming again. He was eagerly looked for, and Mrs. Mitts was
closely watched. In the meantime, if anything could have placed
the unfortunate six old gentlemen at a greater disadvantage than
that at which they chronically stood, it would have been the
apparition of this Greenwich Pensioner. They were well shrunken
already, but they shrunk to nothing in comparison with the
Pensioner. Even the poor old gentlemen themselves seemed conscious
of their inferiority, and to know submissively that they could
never hope to hold their own against the Pensioner with his warlike
and maritime experience in the past, and his tobacco money in the
present: his chequered career of blue water, black gunpowder, and
red bloodshed for England, home, and beauty.

Before three weeks were out, the Pensioner reappeared. Again he
knocked at Mrs. Mitts's door with the handle of his stick, and
again was he admitted. But not again did he depart alone; for Mrs.
Mitts, in a bonnet identified as having been re-embellished, went
out walking with him, and stayed out till the ten o'clock beer,
Greenwich time.

There was now a truce, even as to the troubled waters of Mrs.
Saggers's pail; nothing was spoken of among the ladies but the
conduct of Mrs. Mitts and its blighting influence on the reputation
of Titbull's. It was agreed that Mr. Battens 'ought to take it
up,' and Mr. Battens was communicated with on the subject. That
unsatisfactory individual replied 'that he didn't see his way yet,'
and it was unanimously voted by the ladies that aggravation was in
his nature.

How it came to pass, with some appearance of inconsistency, that
Mrs. Mitts was cut by all the ladies and the Pensioner admired by
all the ladies, matters not. Before another week was out,
Titbull's was startled by another phenomenon. At ten o'clock in
the forenoon appeared a cab, containing not only the Greenwich
Pensioner with one arm, but, to boot, a Chelsea Pensioner with one
leg. Both dismounting to assist Mrs. Mitts into the cab, the
Greenwich Pensioner bore her company inside, and the Chelsea
Pensioner mounted the box by the driver: his wooden leg sticking
out after the manner of a bowsprit, as if in jocular homage to his
friend's sea-going career. Thus the equipage drove away. No Mrs.
Mitts returned that night.

What Mr. Battens might have done in the matter of taking it up,
goaded by the infuriated state of public feeling next morning, was
anticipated by another phenomenon. A Truck, propelled by the
Greenwich Pensioner and the Chelsea Pensioner, each placidly
smoking a pipe, and pushing his warrior breast against the handle.

The display on the part of the Greenwich Pensioner of his
'marriage-lines,' and his announcement that himself and friend had
looked in for the furniture of Mrs. G. Pensioner, late Mitts, by no
means reconciled the ladies to the conduct of their sister; on the
contrary, it is said that they appeared more than ever exasperated.
Nevertheless, my stray visits to Titbull's since the date of this
occurrence, have confirmed me in an impression that it was a
wholesome fillip. The nine ladies are smarter, both in mind and
dress, than they used to be, though it must be admitted that they
despise the six gentlemen to the last extent. They have a much
greater interest in the external thoroughfare too, than they had
when I first knew Titbull's. And whenever I chance to be leaning
my back against the pump or the iron railings, and to be talking to
one of the junior ladies, and to see that a flush has passed over
her face, I immediately know without looking round that a Greenwich
Pensioner has gone past.

CHAPTER XXX--THE RUFFIAN

I entertain so strong an objection to the euphonious softening of
Ruffian into Rough, which has lately become popular, that I restore
the right word to the heading of this paper; the rather, as my
object is to dwell upon the fact that the Ruffian is tolerated
among us to an extent that goes beyond all unruffianly endurance.
I take the liberty to believe that if the Ruffian besets my life, a
professional Ruffian at large in the open streets of a great city,
notoriously having no other calling than that of Ruffian, and of
disquieting and despoiling me as I go peacefully about my lawful
business, interfering with no one, then the Government under which
I have the great constitutional privilege, supreme honour and
happiness, and all the rest of it, to exist, breaks down in the
discharge of any Government's most simple elementary duty.

What did I read in the London daily papers, in the early days of
this last September? That the Police had 'AT LENGTH SUCCEEDED IN
CAPTURING TWO OF THE NOTORIOUS GANG THAT HAVE SO LONG INVESTED THE
WATERLOO ROAD.' Is it possible? What a wonderful Police! Here is
a straight, broad, public thoroughfare of immense resort; half a
mile long; gas-lighted by night; with a great gas-lighted railway
station in it, extra the street lamps; full of shops; traversed by
two popular cross thoroughfares of considerable traffic; itself the
main road to the South of London; and the admirable Police have,
after long infestment of this dark and lonely spot by a gang of

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