In the social classification of the nether world—a subject which so eminentl_dapts itself to the sportive and gracefully picturesque mode of treatment—i_ill be convenient to distinguish broadly, and with reference to males alone, the two great sections of those who do, and those who do not, wear collars.
Each of these orders would, it is obvious, offer much scope to an analys_elighting in subtle gradation. Taking the collarless, bow shrewdly might on_iscriminate between the many kinds of neckcloth which our climate render_ecessary as a substitute for the nobler article of attire! The navvy, th_caffolder, the costermonger, the cab-tout—innumerable would be the varietie_f texture, of fold, of knot, observed in the ranks of unskilled labour. An_mong these whose higher station is indicated by the linen or paper symbol, what a gap between the mechanic with collar attached to a flannel shirt, an_ust visible along the top of a black tie, and the shopman whose pride it i_o adorn himself with the very ugliest neck-encloser put in vogue b_ristocratic sanction. For such attractive disquisition I have, unfortunately, no space; it must suffice that I indicate the two genera. And I was led to d_o in thinking of Bob Hewett.
Bob wore a collar. In the die-sinking establishment which employed him ther_ere, it is true, two men who belonged to the collarless; but their busines_as down in the basement of the building, where they kept up a furnace, worke_uge stamping-machines, and so on. Bob's workshop was upstairs, and th_ompanions with whom he sat, without exception, had something white and stif_ound their necks; in fact, they were every bit as respectable as Sidne_irkwood, and such as he, who bent over a jeweller's table. To John Hewett i_as no slight gratification that he had been able to apprentice his son to _raft which permitted him always to wear a collar. I would not imply that Joh_hought of the matter in these terms, but his reflections bore thi_ignificance. Bob was raised for ever above the rank of those who depen_erely upon their muscles, even as Clara was saved from the dismal destiny o_he women who can do nothing but sew.
There was, on the whole, some reason why John Hewett should feel pride in hi_ldest son. Like Sidney Kirkwood, Bob had early shown a faculty fo_raughtsmansbip; when at school, he made decidedly clever caricatures of suc_ersons as displeased him, and he drew such wonderful horses (on the race- course or pulling cabs), such laughable donkeys in costers' carts, suc_erfect dogs, that on several occasions some friend had purchased with _eritable shilling a specimen of his work. 'Put him to the die-sinking,' sai_n acquaintance of the family, himself so employed; 'he'll find a use for thi_ind of thing some day.' Die-sinking is not the craft it once was; chea_ethods, vulgarising here as everywhere, have diminished the opportunities o_apable men; but a fair living was promised the lad if he stuck to his work, and at the age of nineteen he was already earning his pound a week. Then h_as clever in a good many other ways. He had an ear for music, played (nothin_lse was within his reach) the concertina, sang a lively song with uncommo_elodiousness—a gift much appreciated at the meetings of a certain Mutua_enefit Club, to which his father had paid a weekly subscription, withou_ail, through all adversities. In the regular departments of learning Bob ha_ever shown any particular aptitude; he wrote and read decently, but hi_peech, as you have had occasion for observing, was not marked by refinement, and for books he had no liking. His father, unfortunately, had spoilt him, just as he had spoilt Clara. Being of the nobly independent sex, betwee_ifteen and sixteen he practically free himself from parental control. The us_e made of his liberty was not altogether pleasing to John, but the time fo_estraint and training had hopelessly gone by. The lad was selfish, that ther_as no denying; he grudged the money demanded of him for his support; but i_ther matters he always showed himself so easy-tempered, so disposed to _enial understanding, that the great fault had to be blinked. Many failing_ight have been forgiven him in consideration of the fact that he had neve_et drunk too much, and indeed cared little for liquor.
Men of talent, as you are aware, not seldom exhibit low tastes in their choic_f companionship. Bob was a case in point; he did not sufficiently appreciat_ocial distinctions. He, who wore a collar, seemed to prefer associating wit_he collarless. There was Jack—more properly 'Jeck'—Bartley, for instance, hi_osom friend until they began to cool in consequence of a common interest i_iss Peckover. Jack never wore a collar in his life, not even on Sundays, an_as closely allied with all sorts of blackguards, who somehow made a living o_he outskirts of turf-land. And there was Eli Snape, compared with whom Jac_as a person of refinement and culture. Eli dealt surreptitiously in dogs an_ats, and the mere odour of him was intolerable to ordinary nostrils; yet h_as a species of hero in Bob's regard, such invaluable information could h_upply with regard to 'events' in which young Hewett took a profound interest.
Perhaps a more serious aspect of Bob's disregard for social standing wa_evealed in his relations with the other sex. Susceptible from his tende_outh, he showed no ambition in the bestowal of his amorous homage. At the ag_f sixteen did he not declare his resolve to wed the daughter of old Sall_udge, who went about selling watercress? and was there not a desperat_onflict at home before this project could be driven from his head? It was bu_he first of many such instances. Had he been left to his own devices, h_ould already, like numbers of his coevals, have been supporting (or declinin_o support) a wife and two or three children. At present he was 'engaged' t_lem Peckover; that was an understood thing. His father did not approve it, but this connection was undeniably better than those he had previousl_eclared or concealed. Bob, it seemed evident, was fated to make _mesalliance_ —a pity, seeing his parts and prospects. He might have aspire_o a wife who had scarcely any difficulty with her _h_ 's; whose bringing-u_nabled her to look with compassion on girls who could not play the piano; wh_ounted among her relatives not one collarless individual.
Clem, as we have seen, had already found, or imagined, cause fo_issatisfaction with her betrothed. She was well enough acquainted with Bob'_epute, and her temper made it improbable, to say the least, that the cours_f wooing would in this case run very smoothly. At present, various littl_igns were beginning to convince her that she had a rival, and the hints o_er rejected admirer, Jack Bartley, fixed her suspicions upon an acquaintanc_hom she had hitherto regarded merely with contempt. This was Pennyloaf Candy, formerly, with her parents, a lodger in Mrs. Peckover's house. The family ha_een ousted some eighteen months ago on account of failure to pay their ren_nd of the frequent intoxication of Mrs. Candy. Pennyloaf's legal name wa_enelope, which, being pronounced as a trisyllable, transformed itself b_urther corruption into a sound at all events conveying some meaning. Applie_n the first instance jocosely, the title grew inseparable from her, and wa_he one she herself always used. Her employment was the making of shirts fo_xport; she earned on an average tenpence a day, and frequently worked fiftee_ours between leaving and returning to her home. That Bob Hewett coul_nterest himself, with whatever motive, in a person of this description, Mis_eckover at first declined to believe. A hint, however, was quite enough t_xcite her jealous temperament; as proof accumulated, cunning and ferocit_rought in her for the devising of such a declaration of war as shoul_peedily scare Pennyloaf from the field. Jane Snowdon's removal had caused he_o little irritation; the hours of evening were heavy on her hands, and thi_ew emotion was not unwelcome as a temporary resource.
As he came home from work one Monday towards the end of April, Bob encountere_ennyloaf; she had a bundle in her hands and was walking hurriedly.
'Hallo! that you?' ho exclaimed, catching her by the arm. 'Where are yo_oing?'
'I can't stop now. I've got some things to put away, an' it's nearly eight.'
'Come round to the Passage to-night. Be there at ten.'
'I can't give no promise. There's been such rows at 'ome. You know mothe_ummonsed father this mornin'?'
'Yes, I've heard. All right! come if you can; I'll ho there.'
Pennyloaf hastened on. She was a meagre, hollow-eyed, bloodless girl o_eventeen, yet her features had a certain charm—that dolorous kind o_rettiness which is often enough seen in the London needle-slave. Her habitua_ook was one of meaningless surprise; whatever she gazed upon seemed a sourc_f astonishment to her, and when she laughed, which was not very often, he_yes grew wider than ever. Her attire was miserable, but there were signs tha_he tried to keep it in order; the boots upon her feet were sewn and patche_nto shapelessness; her limp straw hat had just received a new binding.
By saying that she had things 'to put away,' she meant that her business wa_ith the pawnbroker, who could not receive pledges after eight o'clock. I_anted some ten minutes of the hour when she entered a side-doorway, and, b_n inner door, passed into one of a series of compartments constructed befor_he pawnbroker's counter. She deposited her bundle, and looked about fo_omeone to attend to her. Two young men were in sight, both transactin_usiness; one was conversing facetiously with a customer on the subject of _ledge. Two or three gas-jets lighted the interior of the shop, but the boxe_ere in shadow. There was a strong musty odour; the gloom, the narro_ompartments, the low tones of conversation, suggested stealth and shame.
Pennyloaf waited with many signs of impatience, until one of the assistant_pproached, a smartly attired youth, with black hair greased into th_iscipline he deemed becoming, with an aquiline nose, a coarse mouth, a larg_orseshoe pin adorning his necktie, and rings on his fingers. He caught hol_f the packet and threw it open; it consisted of a petticoat and the skirt o_n old dress.
'Well, what is it?' he asked, rubbing his tongue along his upper lip befor_nd after speaking.
'Three an' six, please, sir.'
He rolled the things up again with a practised turn of the hand, and sai_ndifferently, glancing towards another box, 'Eighteenpence.'
'Oh, sir, we had two shillin's on the skirt not so long ago,' pleade_ennyloaf, with a subservient voice. 'Make it twoshillin's—please do, sir!
The young man paid no attention; he was curling his moustache and exchanging _mile of intelligence with his counter-companion with respect to a piece o_usiness the latter had in hand. Of a sudden he turned and said sharply:
'Well, are you goin' to take it or not?'
Pennyloaf sighed and nodded.
'Got a 'apenny?' he asked.
He fetched a cloth, rolled the articles in it very tightly, and pinned the_p; then he made out ticket and duplicate, handling his pen with facil_lourish, and having blotted the little piece of card on a box of sand (_ustom which survives in this conservative profession), he threw it to th_ustomer. Lastly, he counted out one shilling and fivepenee halfpenny. Th_oins were sandy, greasy, and of scratched surface.
Pennyloaf sped homewards. She lived in Shooter's Gardens, a picturesqu_ocality which demolition and rebuilding have of late transformed. It was _inding alley, with paving raised a foot above the level of the street whenc_as its main approach. To enter from the obscurer end, you descended a fligh_f steps, under a low archway, in a court itself not easily discovered. Fro_ithout, only a glimpse of the Gardens was obtainable; the houses curved ou_f sight after the first few yards, and left surmise to busy itself with th_haracteristics of the hidden portion. A stranger bold enough to explore woul_ave discovered that the Gardens had a blind offshoot, known simply as 'Th_ourt.' Needless to burden description with further detail; the slum was lik_ny other slum; filth, rottenness, evil odours, possessed these dens o_uperfluous mankind and made them gruesome to the peering imagination. Th_nhabitants of course felt nothing of the sort; a room in Shooter's Garden_as the only kind of home that most of them knew or desired. The majorit_referred it, on all grounds, to that offered them in a block of mode_odgings not very far away; here was independence, that is to say, the libert_o be as vile as they pleased. How they came to love vileness, well, that i_uite another matter, and shall not for the present concern us.
Pennyloaf ran into the jaws of this black horror with the indifference o_abit; it had never occurred to her that the Gardens were fearful in th_ight's gloom, nor even that better lighting would have been a convenience.
Did it happen that she awoke from her first sleep with the ring of ghastl_hrieking in her ears, that was an incident of too common occurrence to caus_er more than a brief curiosity; she could wait till the morning to hear wh_ad half-killed whom. Four days ago it was her own mother's turn to be pounde_nto insensibility; her father (a journeyman baker, often working ninetee_ours out of the twenty-four, which probably did not improve his temper), maddened by his wife's persistent drunkenness, was stopped just on the saf_ide of murder. To the amazement and indignation of the Gardens, Mrs. Cand_rosecuted her sovereign lord; the case had been heard to-day, and Candy ha_een east in a fine. The money was paid, and the baker went his way, remarkin_hat his family were to 'expect him back when they saw him.' Mrs. Candy, o_er return, was hooted through all the length of the Gardens, a demonstratio_f public feeling probably rather of base than of worthy significance.
As Pennyloaf drew near to the house, a wild, discordant voice suddenly brok_orth somewhere in the darkness, singing in a high key, 'All ye works of th_ord, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever!' It was Ma_ack, who had his dwelling in the Court, and at all hours was wont to practis_he psalmody which made him notorious throughout Clerkenwell. A burst o_aughter followed from a group of men and boys gathered near the archway.
Unheeding, the girl passed in at an open door and felt her way up a staircase; the air was noisome, notwithstanding a fierce draught which swept down th_tairs. She entered a room lighted by a small metal lamp hanging on the wall—_recaution of Pennyloaf's own contrivance. There was no bed, but one mattres_ay with a few rags of bed-clothing spread upon it, and two others were rolle_p in a corner. This chamber accommodated, under ordinary circumstances, fou_ersons: Mr. and Mrs. Candy, Pennyloaf, and a son named Stephen, whose year_ere eighteen. (Stephen pursued the occupation of a potman; his hours wer_rom eight in the morning till midnight on week-days, and on Sunday the tim_uring which a public-house is permitted to be open; once a month he wa_llowed freedom after six o'clock.) Against the window was hung an old shaw_ierced with many rents. By the fire sat Mrs. Candy; she leaned forward, he_ead, which was bound in linen swathes, resting upon her hands.
'What have you got?' she asked, in the thick voice of a drunkard, withou_oving.
'Eighteenpence; it's all they'd give me.'
The woman cursed in her throat, but exhibited no anger with Pennyloaf.
'Go an' get some tea an' milk,' she said, after a pause. 'There is sugar. An'
bring seven o' coals; there's only a dust.'
She pointed to a deal box which stood by the hearth. Pennyloaf went out again.
Over the fireplace, the stained wall bore certain singular ornaments. Thes_ere five coloured cards, such as are signed by one who takes a pledge o_otal abstinence; each presented the signature, 'Maria Candy,' and it wa_oticeable that at each progressive date the handwriting had become mor_nsteady. Yes, five times had Maria Candy promised, with the help of God, t_bstain,' &c. &c.; each time she was in earnest. But it appeared that the hel_f God availed little against the views of one Mrs. Green, who kept the beer- shop in Rosoman Street, once Mrs. Peckover's, and who could on no accoun_fford to lose so good a customer. For many years that house, licensed for th_ale of non-spirituous liquors, had been working Mrs. Candy's ruin; not _article of her frame but was vitiated by the drugs retailed there under th_pproving smile of civilisation. Spirits would have been harmless i_omparison. The advantage of Mrs. Green's ale was that the very first half- pint gave conscience its bemuddling sop; for a penny you forgot all the care_f existence; for threepence you became a yelling maniac.
Poor, poor creature. She was sober to-night, sitting over the fire with he_ace battered into shapelessness; and now that her fury had had its way, sh_itterly repented invoking the help of the law against her husband. What use?
what use? Perhaps he had now abandoned her for good, and it was certain tha_he fear of him was the only thing that ever checked her on the ruinous roa_he would so willingly have quitted. But for the harm to himself, the onl_ity was he had not taken her life outright. She knew all the hatefulness o_er existence; she knew also that only the grave would rescue her from it. Th_truggle was too unequal between Mrs. Candy with her appeal to Providence, an_rs. Green with the forces of civilisation at her back.
Pennyloaf speedily returned with a ha'p'orth of milk, a pennyworth of tea, an_even pounds (also price one penny) of coals in an apron. It was very seldo_ndeed that the Candys had more of anything in their room than would last the_or the current day. There being no kettle, water was put on to boil in a ti_aucepan; the tea was made in a jug. Pennyloaf had always been a good girl t_er mother; she tended her as well as she could to-night; but there was n_ord of affection from either. Kindly speech was stifled by the atmosphere o_hooter's Gardens.
Having drunk her tea, Mrs. Candy lay down, as she was, on the already extende_attress, and drew the ragged coverings about her. In half an hour she slept.
Pennyloaf then put on her hat and jacket again and left the house. She walke_way from the denser regions of Clerkenwell, came to Sadler's Wells Theatre (gloomy in its profitless recollection of the last worthy manager that Londo_new), and there turned into Myddelton Passage. It is a narrow paved wal_etween brick walls seven feet high; on the one hand lies the New River Head, on the other are small gardens behind Myddelton Square. The branches of a fe_rees hang over; there are doors, seemingly never opened, belonging one t_ach garden; a couple of gas-lamps shed feeble light. Pennyloaf paced th_ength of the Passage several times, meeting no one. Then a policeman cam_long with echoing tread, and eyed her suspiciously. She had to wait more tha_ quarter of an hour before Bob Hewett made his appearance. Greeting her wit_ nod and a laugh, he took up a leaning position against the wall, and bega_o put questions concerning the state of things at her home.
'And what'll your mother do if the old man don't give her nothing to live on?'
he inquired, when he had listened good-naturedly to the recital of domesti_ifficulties.
'Don't knew,' replied the girl, shaking her head, the habitual surprise of he_ountenance becoming a blank interrogation of destiny.
Bob kept kicking the wall, first with one heel, then with the other. H_histled a few bars of the last song he had learnt at the music-hall.
'Say, Penny,' he remarked at length, with something of shamefacedness,
'there's a namesake of mine here as I shan't miss, if you can do any good wit_t.'
He held a shilling towards her under his hand. Pennyloaf turned away, castin_own her eyes and looking troubled.
'We can get on for a bit,' she said indistinctly.
Bob returned the coin to his pocket. He whistled again for a moment, the_sked abruptly:
'Say! have you seen Clem again?'
'No,' replied the girl, examining him with sudden acuteness. 'What about her?'
'Nothing much. She's got her back up a bit, that's all.'
'About me?' Pennyloaf asked anxiously.
Bob nodded. As he was making some further remarks on the subject, a man'_igure appeared at a little distance, and almost immediately withdrew agai_ound a winding of the Passage. A moment after there sounded from tha_irection a shrill whistle. Bob and the girl regarded each other.
'Who was that?' said the former suspiciously. 'I half believe it was Jec_artley. If Jeck is up to any of his larks, I'll make him remember it. Yo_ait here a minute!'
He walked at a sharp pace towards the suspected quarter. Scarcely had he gon_alf a dozen yards, when there came running from the other end of the Passag_ girl whom Pennyloaf at once recognised. It was Clem Peckover; with som_riend's assistance she had evidently tracked the couple and was now springin_ut of ambush. She rushed upon Pennyloaf, who for very alarm could not flee, and attacked her with clenched fists. A scream of terror and pain caused Bo_o turn and run back. Pennyloaf could not even ward off the blows tha_escended upon her head; she was pinned against the wall, her hat was tor_way, her hair began to fly in disorder. But Bob effected a speedy rescue. H_ripped Clem's muscular arms, and forced them behind her back as if he mean_o dismember her. Even then it was with no slight effort that he restraine_he girl's fury.
'You run off 'ome!' he shouted to Pennyloaf. 'If she tries this on again, I'l_urder her!'
Pennyloaf's hysterical cries and the frantic invectives of her assailant mad_he Passage ring. Again Bob roared to the former to be off, and was at lengt_beyed. When Pennyloaf was out of sight he released Clem. Her twisted arm_aused her such pain that she threw herself against the wall, minglin_aledictions with groans. Bob burst into scornful laughter.
Clem went home vowing vengeance. In the nether world this trifling dissensio_ight have been expected to bear its crop of violent language and straightwa_ass into oblivion; but Miss Peckover's malevolence was of no common stamp, and the scene of to-night originated a feud which in the end concerned man_ore people than those immediately interested.