CHAPTER I--HOW MRS. LIRRIPER CARRIED ON THE BUSINESS
Whoever would begin to be worried with letting Lodgings that wasn't
a lone woman with a living to get is a thing inconceivable to me, my
dear; excuse the familiarity, but it comes natural to me in my own
little room, when wishing to open my mind to those that I can trust,
and I should be truly thankful if they were all mankind, but such is
not so, for have but a Furnished bill in the window and your watch
on the mantelpiece, and farewell to it if you turn your back for but
a second, however gentlemanly the manners; nor is being of your own
sex any safeguard, as I have reason, in the form of sugar-tongs to
know, for that lady (and a fine woman she was) got me to run for a
glass of water, on the plea of going to be confined, which certainly
turned out true, but it was in the Station-house.
Number Eighty-one Norfolk Street, Strand--situated midway between
the City and St. James's, and within five minutes' walk of the
principal places of public amusement--is my address. I have rented
this house many years, as the parish rate-books will testify; and I
could wish my landlord was as alive to the fact as I am myself; but
no, bless you, not a half a pound of paint to save his life, nor so
much, my dear, as a tile upon the roof, though on your bended knees.
My dear, you never have found Number Eighty-one Norfolk Street
Strand advertised in Bradshaw's Railway Guide, and with the blessing
of Heaven you never will or shall so find it. Some there are who do
not think it lowering themselves to make their names that cheap, and
even going the lengths of a portrait of the house not like it with a
blot in every window and a coach and four at the door, but what will
suit Wozenham's lower down on the other side of the way will not
suit me, Miss Wozenham having her opinions and me having mine,
though when it comes to systematic underbidding capable of being
proved on oath in a court of justice and taking the form of "If Mrs.
Lirriper names eighteen shillings a week, I name fifteen and six,"
it then comes to a settlement between yourself and your conscience,
supposing for the sake of argument your name to be Wozenham, which I
am well aware it is not or my opinion of you would be greatly
lowered, and as to airy bedrooms and a night-porter in constant
attendance the less said the better, the bedrooms being stuffy and
the porter stuff.
It is forty years ago since me and my poor Lirriper got married at
St. Clement's Danes, where I now have a sitting in a very pleasant
pew with genteel company and my own hassock, and being partial to
evening service not too crowded. My poor Lirriper was a handsome
figure of a man, with a beaming eye and a voice as mellow as a
musical instrument made of honey and steel, but he had ever been a
free liver being in the commercial travelling line and travelling
what he called a limekiln road--"a dry road, Emma my dear," my poor
Lirriper says to me, "where I have to lay the dust with one drink or
another all day long and half the night, and it wears me Emma"--and
this led to his running through a good deal and might have run
through the turnpike too when that dreadful horse that never would
stand still for a single instant set off, but for its being night
and the gate shut and consequently took his wheel, my poor Lirriper
and the gig smashed to atoms and never spoke afterwards. He was a
handsome figure of a man, and a man with a jovial heart and a sweet
temper; but if they had come up then they never could have given you
the mellowness of his voice, and indeed I consider photographs
wanting in mellowness as a general rule and making you look like a
My poor Lirriper being behindhand with the world and being buried at
Hatfield church in Hertfordshire, not that it was his native place
but that he had a liking for the Salisbury Arms where we went upon
our wedding-day and passed as happy a fortnight as ever happy was, I
went round to the creditors and I says "Gentlemen I am acquainted
with the fact that I am not answerable for my late husband's debts
but I wish to pay them for I am his lawful wife and his good name is
dear to me. I am going into the Lodgings gentlemen as a business
and if I prosper every farthing that my late husband owed shall be
paid for the sake of the love I bore him, by this right hand." It
took a long time to do but it was done, and the silver cream-jug
which is between ourselves and the bed and the mattress in my room
up-stairs (or it would have found legs so sure as ever the Furnished
bill was up) being presented by the gentlemen engraved "To Mrs.
Lirriper a mark of grateful respect for her honourable conduct" gave
me a turn which was too much for my feelings, till Mr. Betley which
at that time had the parlours and loved his joke says "Cheer up Mrs.
Lirriper, you should feel as if it was only your christening and
they were your godfathers and godmothers which did promise for you."
And it brought me round, and I don't mind confessing to you my dear
that I then put a sandwich and a drop of sherry in a little basket
and went down to Hatfield church-yard outside the coach and kissed
my hand and laid it with a kind of proud and swelling love on my
husband's grave, though bless you it had taken me so long to clear
his name that my wedding-ring was worn quite fine and smooth when I
laid it on the green green waving grass.
I am an old woman now and my good looks are gone but that's me my
dear over the plate-warmer and considered like in the times when you
used to pay two guineas on ivory and took your chance pretty much
how you came out, which made you very careful how you left it about
afterwards because people were turned so red and uncomfortable by
mostly guessing it was somebody else quite different, and there was
once a certain person that had put his money in a hop business that
came in one morning to pay his rent and his respects being the
second floor that would have taken it down from its hook and put it
in his breast-pocket--you understand my dear--for the L, he says of
the original--only there was no mellowness in HIS voice and I
wouldn't let him, but his opinion of it you may gather from his
saying to it "Speak to me Emma!" which was far from a rational
observation no doubt but still a tribute to its being a likeness,
and I think myself it WAS like me when I was young and wore that
sort of stays.
But it was about the Lodgings that I was intending to hold forth and
certainly I ought to know something of the business having been in
it so long, for it was early in the second year of my married life
that I lost my poor Lirriper and I set up at Islington directly
afterwards and afterwards came here, being two houses and eight-and-
thirty years and some losses and a deal of experience.
Girls are your first trial after fixtures and they try you even
worse than what I call the Wandering Christians, though why THEY
should roam the earth looking for bills and then coming in and
viewing the apartments and stickling about terms and never at all
wanting them or dreaming of taking them being already provided, is,
a mystery I should be thankful to have explained if by any miracle
it could be. It's wonderful they live so long and thrive so on it
but I suppose the exercise makes it healthy, knocking so much and
going from house to house and up and down-stairs all day, and then
their pretending to be so particular and punctual is a most
astonishing thing, looking at their watches and saying "Could you
give me the refusal of the rooms till twenty minutes past eleven the
day after to-morrow in the forenoon, and supposing it to be
considered essential by my friend from the country could there be a
small iron bedstead put in the little room upon the stairs?" Why
when I was new to it my dear I used to consider before I promised
and to make my mind anxious with calculations and to get quite
wearied out with disappointments, but now I says "Certainly by all
means" well knowing it's a Wandering Christian and I shall hear no
more about it, indeed by this time I know most of the Wandering
Christians by sight as well as they know me, it being the habit of
each individual revolving round London in that capacity to come back
about twice a year, and it's very remarkable that it runs in
families and the children grow up to it, but even were it otherwise
I should no sooner hear of the friend from the country which is a
certain sign than I should nod and say to myself You're a Wandering
Christian, though whether they are (as I HAVE heard) persons of
small property with a taste for regular employment and frequent
change of scene I cannot undertake to tell you.
Girls as I was beginning to remark are one of your first and your
lasting troubles, being like your teeth which begin with convulsions
and never cease tormenting you from the time you cut them till they
cut you, and then you don't want to part with them which seems hard
but we must all succumb or buy artificial, and even where you get a
will nine times out of ten you'll get a dirty face with it and
naturally lodgers do not like good society to be shown in with a
smear of black across the nose or a smudgy eyebrow. Where they pick
the black up is a mystery I cannot solve, as in the case of the
willingest girl that ever came into a house half-starved poor thing,
a girl so willing that I called her Willing Sophy down upon her
knees scrubbing early and late and ever cheerful but always smiling
with a black face. And I says to Sophy, "Now Sophy my good girl
have a regular day for your stoves and keep the width of the Airy
between yourself and the blacking and do not brush your hair with
the bottoms of the saucepans and do not meddle with the snuffs of
the candles and it stands to reason that it can no longer be" yet
there it was and always on her nose, which turning up and being
broad at the end seemed to boast of it and caused warning from a
steady gentleman and excellent lodger with breakfast by the week but
a little irritable and use of a sitting-room when required, his
words being "Mrs. Lirriper I have arrived at the point of admitting
that the Black is a man and a brother, but only in a natural form
and when it can't be got off." Well consequently I put poor Sophy
on to other work and forbid her answering the door or answering a
bell on any account but she was so unfortunately willing that
nothing would stop her flying up the kitchen-stairs whenever a bell
was heard to tingle. I put it to her "O Sophy Sophy for goodness'
goodness' sake where does it come from?" To which that poor unlucky
willing mortal--bursting out crying to see me so vexed replied "I
took a deal of black into me ma'am when I was a small child being
much neglected and I think it must be, that it works out," so it
continuing to work out of that poor thing and not having another
fault to find with her I says "Sophy what do you seriously think of
my helping you away to New South Wales where it might not be
noticed?" Nor did I ever repent the money which was well spent, for
she married the ship's cook on the voyage (himself a Mulotter) and
did well and lived happy, and so far as ever I heard it was NOT
noticed in a new state of society to her dying day.
In what way Miss Wozenham lower down on the other side of the way
reconciled it to her feelings as a lady (which she is not) to entice
Mary Anne Perkinsop from my service is best known to herself, I do
not know and I do not wish to know how opinions are formed at
Wozenham's on any point. But Mary Anne Perkinsop although I behaved
handsomely to her and she behaved unhandsomely to me was worth her
weight in gold as overawing lodgers without driving them away, for
lodgers would be far more sparing of their bells with Mary Anne than
I ever knew them to be with Maid or Mistress, which is a great
triumph especially when accompanied with a cast in the eye and a bag
of bones, but it was the steadiness of her way with them through her
father's having failed in Pork. It was Mary Anne's looking so
respectable in her person and being so strict in her spirits that
conquered the tea-and-sugarest gentleman (for he weighed them both
in a pair of scales every morning) that I have ever had to deal with
and no lamb grew meeker, still it afterwards came round to me that
Miss Wozenham happening to pass and seeing Mary Anne take in the
milk of a milkman that made free in a rosy-faced way (I think no
worse of him) with every girl in the street but was quite frozen up
like the statue at Charing-cross by her, saw Mary Anne's value in
the lodging business and went as high as one pound per quarter more,
consequently Mary Anne with not a word betwixt us says "If you will
provide yourself Mrs. Lirriper in a month from this day I have
already done the same," which hurt me and I said so, and she then
hurt me more by insinuating that her father having failed in Pork
had laid her open to it.
My dear I do assure you it's a harassing thing to know what kind of
girls to give the preference to, for if they are lively they get
bell'd off their legs and if they are sluggish you suffer from it
yourself in complaints and if they are sparkling-eyed they get made
love to, and if they are smart in their persons they try on your
Lodgers' bonnets and if they are musical I defy you to keep them
away from bands and organs, and allowing for any difference you like
in their heads their heads will be always out of window just the
same. And then what the gentlemen like in girls the ladies don't,
which is fruitful hot water for all parties, and then there's temper
though such a temper as Caroline Maxey's I hope not often. A good-
looking black-eyed girl was Caroline and a comely-made girl to your
cost when she did break out and laid about her, as took place first
and last through a new-married couple come to see London in the
first floor and the lady very high and it WAS supposed not liking
the good looks of Caroline having none of her own to spare, but
anyhow she did try Caroline though that was no excuse. So one
afternoon Caroline comes down into the kitchen flushed and flashing,
and she says to me "Mrs. Lirriper that woman in the first has
aggravated me past bearing," I says "Caroline keep your temper,"
Caroline says with a curdling laugh "Keep my temper? You're right
Mrs. Lirriper, so I will. Capital D her!" bursts out Caroline (you
might have struck me into the centre of the earth with a feather
when she said it) "I'll give her a touch of the temper that I keep!"
Caroline downs with her hair my dear, screeches and rushes up-
stairs, I following as fast as my trembling legs could bear me, but
before I got into the room the dinner-cloth and pink-and-white
service all dragged off upon the floor with a crash and the new-
married couple on their backs in the firegrate, him with the shovel
and tongs and a dish of cucumber across him and a mercy it was
summer-time. "Caroline" I says "be calm," but she catches off my
cap and tears it in her teeth as she passes me, then pounces on the
new-married lady makes her a bundle of ribbons takes her by the two
ears and knocks the back of her head upon the carpet Murder
screaming all the time Policemen running down the street and
Wozenham's windows (judge of my feelings when I came to know it)
thrown up and Miss Wozenham calling out from the balcony with
crocodile's tears "It's Mrs. Lirriper been overcharging somebody to
madness--she'll be murdered--I always thought so--Pleeseman save
her!" My dear four of them and Caroline behind the chiffoniere
attacking with the poker and when disarmed prize-fighting with her
double fists, and down and up and up and down and dreadful! But I
couldn't bear to see the poor young creature roughly handled and her
hair torn when they got the better of her, and I says "Gentlemen
Policemen pray remember that her sex is the sex of your mothers and
sisters and your sweethearts, and God bless them and you!" And
there she was sitting down on the ground handcuffed, taking breath
against the skirting-board and them cool with their coats in strips,
and all she says was "Mrs. Lirriper I'm sorry as ever I touched you,
for you're a kind motherly old thing," and it made me think that I
had often wished I had been a mother indeed and how would my heart
have felt if I had been the mother of that girl! Well you know it
turned out at the Police-office that she had done it before, and she
had her clothes away and was sent to prison, and when she was to
come out I trotted off to the gate in the evening with just a morsel
of jelly in that little basket of mine to give her a mite of
strength to face the world again, and there I met with a very decent
mother waiting for her son through bad company and a stubborn one he
was with his half-boots not laced. So out came Caroline and I says
"Caroline come along with me and sit down under the wall where it's
retired and eat a little trifle that I have brought with me to do
you good," and she throws her arms round my neck and says sobbing "O
why were you never a mother when there are such mothers as there
are!" she says, and in half a minute more she begins to laugh and
says "Did I really tear your cap to shreds?" and when I told her
"You certainly did so Caroline" she laughed again and said while she
patted my face "Then why do you wear such queer old caps you dear
old thing? if you hadn't worn such queer old caps I don't think I
should have done it even then." Fancy the girl! Nothing could get
out of her what she was going to do except O she would do well
enough, and we parted she being very thankful and kissing my hands,
and I nevermore saw or heard of that girl, except that I shall
always believe that a very genteel cap which was brought anonymous
to me one Saturday night in an oilskin basket by a most impertinent
young sparrow of a monkey whistling with dirty shoes on the clean
steps and playing the harp on the Airy railings with a hoop-stick
came from Caroline.
What you lay yourself open to my dear in the way of being the object
of uncharitable suspicions when you go into the Lodging business I
have not the words to tell you, but never was I so dishonourable as
to have two keys nor would I willingly think it even of Miss
Wozenham lower down on the other side of the way sincerely hoping
that it may not be, though doubtless at the same time money cannot
come from nowhere and it is not reason to suppose that Bradshaws put
it in for love be it blotty as it may. It IS a hardship hurting to
the feelings that Lodgers open their minds so wide to the idea that
you are trying to get the better of them and shut their minds so
close to the idea that they are trying to get the better of you, but
as Major Jackman says to me, "I know the ways of this circular world
Mrs. Lirriper, and that's one of 'em all round it" and many is the
little ruffle in my mind that the Major has smoothed, for he is a
clever man who has seen much. Dear dear, thirteen years have passed
though it seems but yesterday since I was sitting with my glasses on
at the open front parlour window one evening in August (the parlours
being then vacant) reading yesterday's paper my eyes for print being
poor though still I am thankful to say a long sight at a distance,
when I hear a gentleman come posting across the road and up the
street in a dreadful rage talking to himself in a fury and d'ing and
c'ing somebody. "By George!" says he out loud and clutching his
walking-stick, "I'll go to Mrs. Lirriper's. Which is Mrs.
Lirriper's?" Then looking round and seeing me he flourishes his hat
right off his head as if I had been the queen and he says, "Excuse
the intrusion Madam, but pray Madam can you tell me at what number
in this street there resides a well-known and much-respected lady by
the name of Lirriper?" A little flustered though I must say
gratified I took off my glasses and courtesied and said "Sir, Mrs.
Lirriper is your humble servant." "Astonishing!" says he. "A
million pardons! Madam, may I ask you to have the kindness to
direct one of your domestics to open the door to a gentleman in
search of apartments, by the name of Jackman?" I had never heard
the name but a politer gentleman I never hope to see, for says he,
"Madam I am shocked at your opening the door yourself to no worthier
a fellow than Jemmy Jackman. After you Madam. I never precede a
lady." Then he comes into the parlours and he sniffs, and he says
"Hah! These are parlours! Not musty cupboards" he says "but
parlours, and no smell of coal-sacks." Now my dear it having been
remarked by some inimical to the whole neighbourhood that it always
smells of coal-sacks which might prove a drawback to Lodgers if
encouraged, I says to the Major gently though firmly that I think he
is referring to Arundel or Surrey or Howard but not Norfolk.
"Madam" says he "I refer to Wozenham's lower down over the way--
Madam you can form no notion what Wozenham's is--Madam it is a vast
coal-sack, and Miss Wozenham has the principles and manners of a
female heaver--Madam from the manner in which I have heard her
mention you I know she has no appreciation of a lady, and from the
manner in which she has conducted herself towards me I know she has
no appreciation of a gentleman--Madam my name is Jackman--should you
require any other reference than what I have already said, I name
the Bank of England--perhaps you know it!" Such was the beginning
of the Major's occupying the parlours and from that hour to this the
same and a most obliging Lodger and punctual in all respects except
one irregular which I need not particularly specify, but made up for
by his being a protection and at all times ready to fill in the
papers of the Assessed Taxes and Juries and that, and once collared
a young man with the drawing-room clock under his coat, and once on
the parapets with his own hands and blankets put out the kitchen
chimney and afterwards attending the summons made a most eloquent
speech against the Parish before the magistrates and saved the
engine, and ever quite the gentleman though passionate. And
certainly Miss Wozenham's detaining the trunks and umbrella was not
in a liberal spirit though it may have been according to her rights
in law or an act I would myself have stooped to, the Major being so
much the gentleman that though he is far from tall he seems almost
so when he has his shirt-frill out and his frock-coat on and his hat
with the curly brims, and in what service he was I cannot truly tell
you my dear whether Militia or Foreign, for I never heard him even
name himself as Major but always simple "Jemmy Jackman" and once
soon after he came when I felt it my duty to let him know that Miss
Wozenham had put it about that he was no Major and I took the
liberty of adding "which you are sir" his words were "Madam at any
rate I am not a Minor, and sufficient for the day is the evil
thereof" which cannot be denied to be the sacred truth, nor yet his
military ways of having his boots with only the dirt brushed off
taken to him in the front parlour every morning on a clean plate and
varnishing them himself with a little sponge and a saucer and a
whistle in a whisper so sure as ever his breakfast is ended, and so
neat his ways that it never soils his linen which is scrupulous
though more in quality than quantity, neither that nor his
mustachios which to the best of my belief are done at the same time
and which are as black and shining as his boots, his head of hair
being a lovely white.
It was the third year nearly up of the Major's being in the parlours
that early one morning in the month of February when Parliament was
coming on and you may therefore suppose a number of impostors were
about ready to take hold of anything they could get, a gentleman and
a lady from the country came in to view the Second, and I well
remember that I had been looking out of window and had watched them
and the heavy sleet driving down the street together looking for
bills. I did not quite take to the face of the gentleman though he
was good-looking too but the lady was a very pretty young thing and
delicate, and it seemed too rough for her to be out at all though
she had only come from the Adelphi Hotel which would not have been
much above a quarter of a mile if the weather had been less severe.
Now it did so happen my dear that I had been forced to put five
shillings weekly additional on the second in consequence of a loss
from running away full dressed as if going out to a dinner-party,
which was very artful and had made me rather suspicious taking it
along with Parliament, so when the gentleman proposed three months
certain and the money in advance and leave then reserved to renew on
the same terms for six months more, I says I was not quite certain
but that I might have engaged myself to another party but would step
down-stairs and look into it if they would take a seat. They took a
seat and I went down to the handle of the Major's door that I had
already began to consult finding it a great blessing, and I knew by
his whistling in a whisper that he was varnishing his boots which
was generally considered private, however he kindly calls out "If
it's you, Madam, come in," and I went in and told him.
"Well, Madam," says the Major rubbing his nose--as I did fear at the
moment with the black sponge but it was only his knuckle, he being
always neat and dexterous with his fingers--"well, Madam, I suppose
you would be glad of the money?"
I was delicate of saying "Yes" too out, for a little extra colour
rose into the Major's cheeks and there was irregularity which I will
not particularly specify in a quarter which I will not name.
"I am of opinion, Madam," says the Major, "that when money is ready
for you--when it is ready for you, Mrs. Lirriper--you ought to take
it. What is there against it, Madam, in this case up-stairs?"
"I really cannot say there is anything against it, sir, still I
thought I would consult you."
"You said a newly-married couple, I think, Madam?" says the Major.
I says "Ye-es. Evidently. And indeed the young lady mentioned to
me in a casual way that she had not been married many months."
The Major rubbed his nose again and stirred the varnish round and
round in its little saucer with his piece of sponge and took to his
whistling in a whisper for a few moments. Then he says "You would
call it a Good Let, Madam?"
"O certainly a Good Let sir."
"Say they renew for the additional six months. Would it put you
about very much Madam if--if the worst was to come to the worst?"
said the Major.
"Well I hardly know," I says to the Major. "It depends upon
circumstances. Would YOU object Sir for instance?"
"I?" says the Major. "Object? Jemmy Jackman? Mrs. Lirriper close
with the proposal."
So I went up-stairs and accepted, and they came in next day which
was Saturday and the Major was so good as to draw up a Memorandum of
an agreement in a beautiful round hand and expressions that sounded
to me equally legal and military, and Mr. Edson signed it on the
Monday morning and the Major called upon Mr. Edson on the Tuesday
and Mr. Edson called upon the Major on the Wednesday and the Second
and the parlours were as friendly as could be wished.
The three months paid for had run out and we had got without any
fresh overtures as to payment into May my dear, when there came an
obligation upon Mr. Edson to go a business expedition right across
the Isle of Man, which fell quite unexpected upon that pretty little
thing and is not a place that according to my views is particularly
in the way to anywhere at any time but that may be a matter of
opinion. So short a notice was it that he was to go next day, and
dreadfully she cried poor pretty, and I am sure I cried too when I
saw her on the cold pavement in the sharp east wind--it being a very
backward spring that year--taking a last leave of him with her
pretty bright hair blowing this way and that and her arms clinging
round his neck and him saying "There there there. Now let me go
Peggy." And by that time it was plain that what the Major had been
so accommodating as to say he would not object to happening in the
house, would happen in it, and I told her as much when he was gone
while I comforted her with my arm up the staircase, for I says "You
will soon have others to keep up for my pretty and you must think of
His letter never came when it ought to have come and what she went
through morning after morning when the postman brought none for her
the very postman himself compassionated when she ran down to the
door, and yet we cannot wonder at its being calculated to blunt the
feelings to have all the trouble of other people's letters and none
of the pleasure and doing it oftener in the mud and mizzle than not
and at a rate of wages more resembling Little Britain than Great.
But at last one morning when she was too poorly to come running
down-stairs he says to me with a pleased look in his face that made
me next to love the man in his uniform coat though he was dripping
wet "I have taken you first in the street this morning Mrs.
Lirriper, for here's the one for Mrs. Edson." I went up to her
bedroom with it as fast as ever I could go, and she sat up in bed
when she saw it and kissed it and tore it open and then a blank
stare came upon her. "It's very short!" she says lifting her large
eyes to my face. "O Mrs. Lirriper it's very short!" I says "My
dear Mrs. Edson no doubt that's because your husband hadn't time to
write more just at that time." "No doubt, no doubt," says she, and
puts her two hands on her face and turns round in her bed.
I shut her softly in and I crept down-stairs and I tapped at the
Major's door, and when the Major having his thin slices of bacon in
his own Dutch oven saw me he came out of his chair and put me down
on the sofa. "Hush!" says he, "I see something's the matter. Don't
speak--take time." I says "O Major I'm afraid there's cruel work
up-stairs." "Yes yes" says he "I had begun to be afraid of it--take
time." And then in opposition to his own words he rages out
frightfully, and says "I shall never forgive myself Madam, that I,
Jemmy Jackman, didn't see it all that morning--didn't go straight
up-stairs when my boot-sponge was in my hand--didn't force it down
his throat--and choke him dead with it on the spot!"
The Major and me agreed when we came to ourselves that just at
present we could do no more than take on to suspect nothing and use
our best endeavours to keep that poor young creature quiet, and what
I ever should have done without the Major when it got about among
the organ-men that quiet was our object is unknown, for he made lion
and tiger war upon them to that degree that without seeing it I
could not have believed it was in any gentleman to have such a power
of bursting out with fire-irons walking-sticks water-jugs coals
potatoes off his table the very hat off his head, and at the same
time so furious in foreign languages that they would stand with
their handles half-turned fixed like the Sleeping Ugly--for I cannot
Ever to see the postman come near the house now gave me such I fear
that it was a reprieve when he went by, but in about another ten
days or a fortnight he says again, "Here's one for Mrs. Edson.--Is
she pretty well?" "She is pretty well postman, but not well enough
to rise so early as she used" which was so far gospel-truth.
I carried the letter in to the Major at his breakfast and I says
tottering "Major I have not the courage to take it up to her."
"It's an ill-looking villain of a letter," says the Major.
"I have not the courage Major" I says again in a tremble "to take it
up to her."
After seeming lost in consideration for some moments the Major says,
raising his head as if something new and useful had occurred to his
mind "Mrs. Lirriper, I shall never forgive myself that I, Jemmy
Jackman, didn't go straight up-stairs that morning when my boot-
sponge was in my hand--and force it down his throat--and choke him
dead with it."
"Major" I says a little hasty "you didn't do it which is a blessing,
for it would have done no good and I think your sponge was better
employed on your own honourable boots."
So we got to be rational, and planned that I should tap at her
bedroom door and lay the letter on the mat outside and wait on the
upper landing for what might happen, and never was gunpowder cannon-
balls or shells or rockets more dreaded than that dreadful letter
was by me as I took it to the second floor.
A terrible loud scream sounded through the house the minute after
she had opened it, and I found her on the floor lying as if her life
was gone. My dear I never looked at the face of the letter which
was lying, open by her, for there was no occasion.
Everything I needed to bring her round the Major brought up with his
own hands, besides running out to the chemist's for what was not in
the house and likewise having the fiercest of all his many
skirmishes with a musical instrument representing a ball-room I do
not know in what particular country and company waltzing in and out
at folding-doors with rolling eyes. When after a long time I saw
her coming to, I slipped on the landing till I heard her cry, and
then I went in and says cheerily "Mrs. Edson you're not well my dear
and it's not to be wondered at," as if I had not been in before.
Whether she believed or disbelieved I cannot say and it would
signify nothing if I could, but I stayed by her for hours and then
she God ever blesses me! and says she will try to rest for her head
"Major," I whispers, looking in at the parlours, "I beg and pray of
you don't go out."
The Major whispers, "Madam, trust me I will do no such a thing. How
I says "Major the good Lord above us only knows what burns and rages
in her poor mind. I left her sitting at her window. I am going to
sit at mine."
It came on afternoon and it came on evening. Norfolk is a
delightful street to lodge in--provided you don't go lower down--but
of a summer evening when the dust and waste paper lie in it and
stray children play in it and a kind of a gritty calm and bake
settles on it and a peal of church-bells is practising in the
neighbourhood it is a trifle dull, and never have I seen it since at
such a time and never shall I see it evermore at such a time without
seeing the dull June evening when that forlorn young creature sat at
her open corner window on the second and me at my open corner window
(the other corner) on the third. Something merciful, something
wiser and better far than my own self, had moved me while it was yet
light to sit in my bonnet and shawl, and as the shadows fell and the
tide rose I could sometimes--when I put out my head and looked at
her window below--see that she leaned out a little looking down the
street. It was just settling dark when I saw HER in the street.
So fearful of losing sight of her that it almost stops my breath
while I tell it, I went down-stairs faster than I ever moved in all
my life and only tapped with my hand at the Major's door in passing
it and slipping out. She was gone already. I made the same speed
down the street and when I came to the corner of Howard Street I saw
that she had turned it and was there plain before me going towards
the west. O with what a thankful heart I saw her going along!
She was quite unacquainted with London and had very seldom been out
for more than an airing in our own street where she knew two or
three little children belonging to neighbours and had sometimes
stood among them at the street looking at the water. She must be
going at hazard I knew, still she kept the by-streets quite
correctly as long as they would serve her, and then turned up into
the Strand. But at every corner I could see her head turned one
way, and that way was always the river way.
It may have been only the darkness and quiet of the Adelphi that
caused her to strike into it but she struck into it much as readily
as if she had set out to go there, which perhaps was the case. She
went straight down to the Terrace and along it and looked over the
iron rail, and I often woke afterwards in my own bed with the horror
of seeing her do it. The desertion of the wharf below and the
flowing of the high water there seemed to settle her purpose. She
looked about as if to make out the way down, and she struck out the
right way or the wrong way--I don't know which, for I don't know the
place before or since--and I followed her the way she went.
It was noticeable that all this time she never once looked back.
But there was now a great change in the manner of her going, and
instead of going at a steady quick walk with her arms folded before
her,--among the dark dismal arches she went in a wild way with her
arms opened wide, as if they were wings and she was flying to her
We were on the wharf and she stopped. I stopped. I saw her hands
at her bonnet-strings, and I rushed between her and the brink and
took her round the waist with both my arms. She might have drowned
me, I felt then, but she could never have got quit of me.
Down to that moment my mind had been all in a maze and not half an
idea had I had in it what I should say to her, but the instant I
touched her it came to me like magic and I had my natural voice and
my senses and even almost my breath.
"Mrs. Edson!" I says "My dear! Take care. How ever did you lose
your way and stumble on a dangerous place like this? Why you must
have come here by the most perplexing streets in all London. No
wonder you are lost, I'm sure. And this place too! Why I thought
nobody ever got here, except me to order my coals and the Major in
the parlours to smoke his cigar!"--for I saw that blessed man close
by, pretending to it.
"Hah--Hah--Hum!" coughs the Major.
"And good gracious me" I says," why here he is!"
"Halloa! who goes there?" says the Major in a military manner.
"Well!" I says, "if this don't beat everything! Don't you know us
"Halloa!" says the Major. "Who calls on Jemmy Jackman?" (and more
out of breath he was, and did it less like life than I should have
"Why here's Mrs. Edson Major" I says, "strolling out to cool her
poor head which has been very bad, has missed her way and got lost,
and Goodness knows where she might have got to but for me coming
here to drop an order into my coal merchant's letter-box and you
coming here to smoke your cigar!--And you really are not well enough
my dear" I says to her "to be half so far from home without me. And
your arm will be very acceptable I am sure Major" I says to him "and
I know she may lean upon it as heavy as she likes." And now we had
both got her--thanks be Above!--one on each side.
She was all in a cold shiver and she so continued till I laid her on
her own bed, and up to the early morning she held me by the hand and
moaned and moaned "O wicked, wicked, wicked!" But when at last I
made believe to droop my head and be overpowered with a dead sleep,
I heard that poor young creature give such touching and such humble
thanks for being preserved from taking her own life in her madness
that I thought I should have cried my eyes out on the counterpane
and I knew she was safe.
Being well enough to do and able to afford it, me and the Major laid
our little plans next day while she was asleep worn out, and so I
says to her as soon as I could do it nicely:
"Mrs. Edson my dear, when Mr. Edson paid me the rent for these
farther six months--"
She gave a start and I felt her large eyes look at me, but I went on
with it and with my needlework.
"--I can't say that I am quite sure I dated the receipt right.
Could you let me look at it?"
She laid her frozen cold hand upon mine and she looked through me
when I was forced to look up from my needlework, but I had taken the
precaution of having on my spectacles.
"I have no receipt" says she.
"Ah! Then he has got it" I says in a careless way. "It's of no
great consequence. A receipt's a receipt."
From that time she always had hold of my hand when I could spare it
which was generally only when I read to her, for of course she and
me had our bits of needlework to plod at and neither of us was very
handy at those little things, though I am still rather proud of my
share in them too considering. And though she took to all I read to
her, I used to fancy that next to what was taught upon the Mount she
took most of all to His gentle compassion for us poor women and to
His young life and to how His mother was proud of Him and treasured
His sayings in her heart. She had a grateful look in her eyes that
never never never will be out of mine until they are closed in my
last sleep, and when I chanced to look at her without thinking of it
I would always meet that look, and she would often offer me her
trembling lip to kiss, much more like a little affectionate half
broken-hearted child than ever I can imagine any grown person.
One time the trembling of this poor lip was so strong and her tears
ran down so fast that I thought she was going to tell me all her
woe, so I takes her two hands in mine and I says:
"No my dear not now, you had best not try to do it now. Wait for
better times when you have got over this and are strong, and then
you shall tell me whatever you will. Shall it be agreed?"
With our hands still joined she nodded her head many times, and she
lifted my hands and put them to her lips and to her bosom. "Only
one word now my dear" I says. "Is there any one?"
She looked inquiringly "Any one?"
"That I can go to?"
She shook her head.
"No one that I can bring?"
She shook her head.
"No one is wanted by ME my dear. Now that may be considered past
Not much more than a week afterwards--for this was far on in the
time of our being so together--I was bending over at her bedside
with my ear down to her lips, by turns listening for her breath and
looking for a sign of life in her face. At last it came in a solemn
way--not in a flash but like a kind of pale faint light brought very
slow to the face.
She said something to me that had no sound in it, but I saw she
"Is this death?"
And I says:
"Poor dear poor dear, I think it is."
Knowing somehow that she wanted me to move her weak right hand, I
took it and laid it on her breast and then folded her other hand
upon it, and she prayed a good good prayer and I joined in it poor
me though there were no words spoke. Then I brought the baby in its
wrappers from where it lay, and I says:
"My dear this is sent to a childless old woman. This is for me to
take care of."
The trembling lip was put up towards my face for the last time, and
I dearly kissed it.
"Yes my dear," I says. "Please God! Me and the Major."
I don't know how to tell it right, but I saw her soul brighten and
leap up, and get free and fly away in the grateful look.
* * *
So this is the why and wherefore of its coming to pass my dear that
we called him Jemmy, being after the Major his own godfather with
Lirriper for a surname being after myself, and never was a dear
child such a brightening thing in a Lodgings or such a playmate to
his grandmother as Jemmy to this house and me, and always good and
minding what he was told (upon the whole) and soothing for the
temper and making everything pleasanter except when he grew old
enough to drop his cap down Wozenham's Airy and they wouldn't hand
it up to him, and being worked into a state I put on my best bonnet
and gloves and parasol with the child in my hand and I says "Miss
Wozenham I little thought ever to have entered your house but unless
my grandson's cap is instantly restored, the laws of this country
regulating the property of the Subject shall at length decide
betwixt yourself and me, cost what it may." With a sneer upon her
face which did strike me I must say as being expressive of two keys
but it may have been a mistake and if there is any doubt let Miss
Wozenham have the full benefit of it as is but right, she rang the
bell and she says "Jane, is there a street-child's old cap down our
Airy?" I says "Miss Wozenham before your housemaid answers that
question you must allow me to inform you to your face that my
grandson is NOT a street-child and is NOT in the habit of wearing
old caps. In fact" I says "Miss Wozenham I am far from sure that my
grandson's cap may not be newer than your own" which was perfectly
savage in me, her lace being the commonest machine-make washed and
torn besides, but I had been put into a state to begin with fomented
by impertinence. Miss Wozenham says red in the face "Jane you heard
my question, is there any child's cap down our Airy?" "Yes Ma'am"
says Jane, "I think I did see some such rubbish a-lying there."
"Then" says Miss Wozenham "let these visitors out, and then throw up
that worthless article out of my premises." But here the child who
had been staring at Miss Wozenham with all his eyes and more, frowns
down his little eyebrows purses up his little mouth puts his chubby
legs far apart turns his little dimpled fists round and round slowly
over one another like a little coffee-mill, and says to her "Oo
impdent to mi Gran, me tut oor hi!" "O!" says Miss Wozenham looking
down scornfully at the Mite "this is not a street-child is it not!
Really!" I bursts out laughing and I says "Miss Wozenham if this
ain't a pretty sight to you I don't envy your feelings and I wish
you good-day. Jemmy come along with Gran." And I was still in the
best of humours though his cap came flying up into the street as if
it had been just turned on out of the water-plug, and I went home
laughing all the way, all owing to that dear boy.
The miles and miles that me and the Major have travelled with Jemmy
in the dusk between the lights are not to be calculated, Jemmy
driving on the coach-box which is the Major's brass-bound writing
desk on the table, me inside in the easy-chair and the Major Guard
up behind with a brown-paper horn doing it really wonderful. I do
assure you my dear that sometimes when I have taken a few winks in
my place inside the coach and have come half awake by the flashing
light of the fire and have heard that precious pet driving and the
Major blowing up behind to have the change of horses ready when we
got to the Inn, I have half believed we were on the old North Road
that my poor Lirriper knew so well. Then to see that child and the
Major both wrapped up getting down to warm their feet and going
stamping about and having glasses of ale out of the paper matchboxes
on the chimney-piece is to see the Major enjoying it fully as much
as the child I am very sure, and it's equal to any play when Coachee
opens the coach-door to look in at me inside and say "Wery 'past
that 'tage.--'Prightened old lady?"
But what my inexpressible feelings were when we lost that child can
only be compared to the Major's which were not a shade better,
through his straying out at five years old and eleven o'clock in the
forenoon and never heard of by word or sign or deed till half-past
nine at night, when the Major had gone to the Editor of the Times
newspaper to put in an advertisement, which came out next day four-
and-twenty hours after he was found, and which I mean always
carefully to keep in my lavender drawer as the first printed account
of him. The more the day got on, the more I got distracted and the
Major too and both of us made worse by the composed ways of the
police though very civil and obliging and what I must call their
obstinacy in not entertaining the idea that he was stolen. "We
mostly find Mum" says the sergeant who came round to comfort me,
which he didn't at all and he had been one of the private constables
in Caroline's time to which he referred in his opening words when he
said "Don't give way to uneasiness in your mind Mum, it'll all come
as right as my nose did when I got the same barked by that young
woman in your second floor"--says this sergeant "we mostly find Mum
as people ain't over-anxious to have what I may call second-hand
children. YOU'LL get him back Mum." "O but my dear good sir" I
says clasping my hands and wringing them and clasping them again "he
is such an uncommon child!" "Yes Mum" says the sergeant, "we mostly
find that too Mum. The question is what his clothes were worth."
"His clothes" I says "were not worth much sir for he had only got
his playing-dress on, but the dear child!--" "All right Mum" says
the sergeant. "You'll get him back Mum. And even if he'd had his
best clothes on, it wouldn't come to worse than his being found
wrapped up in a cabbage-leaf, a shivering in a lane." His words
pierced my heart like daggers and daggers, and me and the Major ran
in and out like wild things all day long till the Major returning
from his interview with the Editor of the Times at night rushes into
my little room hysterical and squeezes my hand and wipes his eyes
and says "Joy joy--officer in plain clothes came up on the steps as
I was letting myself in--compose your feelings--Jemmy's found."
Consequently I fainted away and when I came to, embraced the legs of
the officer in plain clothes who seemed to be taking a kind of a
quiet inventory in his mind of the property in my little room with
brown whiskers, and I says "Blessings on you sir where is the
Darling!" and he says "In Kennington Station House." I was dropping
at his feet Stone at the image of that Innocence in cells with
murderers when he adds "He followed the Monkey." I says deeming it
slang language "O sir explain for a loving grandmother what Monkey!"
He says "Him in the spangled cap with the strap under the chin, as
won't keep on--him as sweeps the crossings on a round table and
don't want to draw his sabre more than he can help." Then I
understood it all and most thankfully thanked him, and me and the
Major and him drove over to Kennington and there we found our boy
lying quite comfortable before a blazing fire having sweetly played
himself to sleep upon a small accordion nothing like so big as a
flat-iron which they had been so kind as to lend him for the purpose
and which it appeared had been stopped upon a very young person.
My dear the system upon which the Major commenced and as I may say
perfected Jemmy's learning when he was so small that if the dear was
on the other side of the table you had to look under it instead of
over it to see him with his mother's own bright hair in beautiful
curls, is a thing that ought to be known to the Throne and Lords and
Commons and then might obtain some promotion for the Major which he
well deserves and would be none the worse for (speaking between
friends) L. S. D.-ically. When the Major first undertook his
learning he says to me:
"I'm going Madam," he says "to make our child a Calculating Boy.
"Major," I says, "you terrify me and may do the pet a permanent
injury you would never forgive yourself."
"Madam," says the Major, "next to my regret that when I had my boot-
sponge in my hand, I didn't choke that scoundrel with it--on the
"There! For Gracious' sake," I interrupts, "let his conscience find
him without sponges."
"--I say next to that regret, Madam," says the Major "would be the
regret with which my breast," which he tapped, "would be surcharged
if this fine mind was not early cultivated. But mark me Madam,"
says the Major holding up his forefinger "cultivated on a principle
that will make it a delight."
"Major" I says "I will be candid with you and tell you openly that
if ever I find the dear child fall off in his appetite I shall know
it is his calculations and shall put a stop to them at two minutes'
notice. Or if I find them mounting to his head" I says, "or
striking anyways cold to his stomach or leading to anything
approaching flabbiness in his legs, the result will be the same, but
Major you are a clever man and have seen much and you love the child
and are his own godfather, and if you feel a confidence in trying
"Spoken Madam" says the Major "like Emma Lirriper. All I have to
ask, Madam, is that you will leave my godson and myself to make a
week or two's preparations for surprising you, and that you will
give me leave to have up and down any small articles not actually in
use that I may require from the kitchen."
"From the kitchen Major?" I says half feeling as if he had a mind to
cook the child.
"From the kitchen" says the Major, and smiles and swells, and at the
same time looks taller.
So I passed my word and the Major and the dear boy were shut up
together for half an hour at a time through a certain while, and
never could I hear anything going on betwixt them but talking and
laughing and Jemmy clapping his hands and screaming out numbers, so
I says to myself "it has not harmed him yet" nor could I on
examining the dear find any signs of it anywhere about him which was
likewise a great relief. At last one day Jemmy brings me a card in
joke in the Major's neat writing "The Messrs. Jemmy Jackman" for we
had given him the Major's other name too "request the honour of Mrs.
Lirriper's company at the Jackman Institution in the front parlour
this evening at five, military time, to witness a few slight feats
of elementary arithmetic." And if you'll believe me there in the
front parlour at five punctual to the moment was the Major behind
the Pembroke table with both leaves up and a lot of things from the
kitchen tidily set out on old newspapers spread atop of it, and
there was the Mite stood upon a chair with his rosy cheeks flushing
and his eyes sparkling clusters of diamonds.
"Now Gran" says he, "oo tit down and don't oo touch ler people"--for
he saw with every one of those diamonds of his that I was going to
give him a squeeze.
"Very well sir" I says "I am obedient in this good company I am
sure." And I sits down in the easy-chair that was put for me,
shaking my sides.
But picture my admiration when the Major going on almost as quick as
if he was conjuring sets out all the articles he names, and says
"Three saucepans, an Italian iron, a hand-bell, a toasting-fork, a
nutmeg-grater, four potlids, a spice-box, two egg-cups, and a
chopping-board--how many?" and when that Mite instantly cries
"Tifteen, tut down tive and carry ler 'toppin-board" and then claps
his hands draws up his legs and dances on his chair.
My dear with the same astonishing ease and correctness him and the
Major added up the tables chairs and sofy, the picters fenders and
fire-irons their own selves me and the cat and the eyes in Miss
Wozenham's head, and whenever the sum was done Young Roses and
Diamonds claps his hands and draws up his legs and dances on his
The pride of the Major! ("HERE'S a mind Ma'am!" he says to me
behind his hand.)
Then he says aloud, "We now come to the next elementary rule,--which
"Umtraction!" cries Jemmy.
"Right," says the Major. "We have here a toasting-fork, a potato in
its natural state, two potlids, one egg-cup, a wooden spoon, and two
skewers, from which it is necessary for commercial purposes to
subtract a sprat-gridiron, a small pickle-jar, two lemons, one
pepper-castor, a blackbeetle-trap, and a knob of the dresser-drawer-
"Toatin-fork!" cries Jemmy.
"In numbers how many?" says the Major.
"One!" cries Jemmy.
("HERE'S a boy, Ma'am!" says the Major to me behind his hand.) Then
the Major goes on:
"We now approach the next elementary rule,--which is entitled--"
"Tickleication" cries Jemmy.
"Correct" says the Major.
But my dear to relate to you in detail the way in which they
multiplied fourteen sticks of firewood by two bits of ginger and a
larding needle, or divided pretty well everything else there was on
the table by the heater of the Italian iron and a chamber
candlestick, and got a lemon over, would make my head spin round and
round and round as it did at the time. So I says "if you'll excuse
my addressing the chair Professor Jackman I think the period of the
lecture has now arrived when it becomes necessary that I should take
a good hug of this young scholar." Upon which Jemmy calls out from
his station on the chair, "Gran oo open oor arms and me'll make a
'pring into 'em." So I opened my arms to him as I had opened my
sorrowful heart when his poor young mother lay a dying, and he had
his jump and we had a good long hug together and the Major prouder
than any peacock says to me behind his hand, "You need not let him
know it Madam" (which I certainly need not for the Major was quite
audible) "but he IS a boy!"
In this way Jemmy grew and grew and went to day-school and continued
under the Major too, and in summer we were as happy as the days were
long, and in winter we were as happy as the days were short and
there seemed to rest a Blessing on the Lodgings for they as good as
Let themselves and would have done it if there had been twice the
accommodation, when sore and hard against my will I one day says to
"Major you know what I am going to break to you. Our boy must go to
It was a sad sight to see the Major's countenance drop, and I pitied
the good soul with all my heart.
"Yes Major" I says, "though he is as popular with the Lodgers as you
are yourself and though he is to you and me what only you and me
know, still it is in the course of things and Life is made of
partings and we must part with our Pet."
Bold as I spoke, I saw two Majors and half-a-dozen fireplaces, and
when the poor Major put one of his neat bright-varnished boots upon
the fender and his elbow on his knee and his head upon his hand and
rocked himself a little to and fro, I was dreadfully cut up.
"But" says I clearing my throat "you have so well prepared him
Major--he has had such a Tutor in you--that he will have none of the
first drudgery to go through. And he is so clever besides that
he'll soon make his way to the front rank."
"He is a boy" says the Major--having sniffed--"that has not his like
on the face of the earth."
"True as you say Major, and it is not for us merely for our own
sakes to do anything to keep him back from being a credit and an
ornament wherever he goes and perhaps even rising to be a great man,
is it Major? He will have all my little savings when my work is
done (being all the world to me) and we must try to make him a wise
man and a good man, mustn't we Major?"
"Madam" says the Major rising "Jemmy Jackman is becoming an older
file than I was aware of, and you put him to shame. You are
thoroughly right Madam. You are simply and undeniably right.--And
if you'll excuse me, I'll take a walk."
So the Major being gone out and Jemmy being at home, I got the child
into my little room here and I stood him by my chair and I took his
mother's own curls in my hand and I spoke to him loving and serious.
And when I had reminded the darling how that he was now in his tenth
year and when I had said to him about his getting on in life pretty
much what I had said to the Major I broke to him how that we must
have this same parting, and there I was forced to stop for there I
saw of a sudden the well-remembered lip with its tremble, and it so
brought back that time! But with the spirit that was in him he
controlled it soon and he says gravely nodding through his tears, "I
understand Gran--I know it MUST be, Gran--go on Gran, don't be
afraid of ME." And when I had said all that ever I could think of,
he turned his bright steady face to mine and he says just a little
broken here and there "You shall see Gran that I can be a man and
that I can do anything that is grateful and loving to you--and if I
don't grow up to be what you would like to have me--I hope it will
be--because I shall die." And with that he sat down by me and I
went on to tell him of the school of which I had excellent
recommendations and where it was and how many scholars and what
games they played as I had heard and what length of holidays, to all
of which he listened bright and clear. And so it came that at last
he says "And now dear Gran let me kneel down here where I have been
used to say my prayers and let me fold my face for just a minute in
your gown and let me cry, for you have been more than father--more
than mother--more than brothers sisters friends--to me!" And so he
did cry and I too and we were both much the better for it.
From that time forth he was true to his word and ever blithe and
ready, and even when me and the Major took him down into
Lincolnshire he was far the gayest of the party though for sure and
certain he might easily have been that, but he really was and put
life into us only when it came to the last Good-bye, he says with a
wistful look, "You wouldn't have me not really sorry would you
Gran?" and when I says "No dear, Lord forbid!" he says "I am glad of
that!" and ran in out of sight.
But now that the child was gone out of the Lodgings the Major fell
into a regularly moping state. It was taken notice of by all the
Lodgers that the Major moped. He hadn't even the same air of being
rather tall than he used to have, and if he varnished his boo