Imatges de pÓgina

huddling together upon a hard mattress his weary and well-worn bones, whilst Jerico and the rest agreed with her ideas of the power and influence of the old chap, who was to them, as well as the poor about old London, as familiar a saint as any of the list of saints set down in the Testament; so that they augured great and glorious results from the mere fact of the old bone attempting to reform some of those one-sided laws which rested upon the wheezy and the wheezy only. Now, it is very far from the purpose of this chapter to enter into the dreams of politics in a pantomime, when the politics of to-day are not the politics of to-morrow, but raiher remind one that there is a fashion or habit in these matters which is constantly changing its appearance from tragic down to comic-nay, it even descends sometimes lower than a farce.

Furthermore, it is not proposed to be political, so let it be fully understood that there was a vacancy in the representation of a county; that Mr. Howard put up for the office of representative, and in due course, after having his name posted here, and there, and everywhere, he found himself minus about 17,0001. at his bankers, but then he was at the head of the poll, and he was cheered and chaired accordingly.

The money was a mere trifle with him, but the power, as he thought, of doing good in a large and permanent way to his fellow-creatures was a vast and important consideration with the old chap ; so that he gave a grand dinner to his new constituents, and said thank’ee upon his health being proposed, seconded, and drunk with all the honours, when he straightway came up to London, so that he might begin to do what he considered an important and necessary duty. Most certainly the old bone had not now so much fire, or warmth, or action in him as he had when first he was met with in this history, for his blood had got thinner, so that it did not fill out his shrunken veins, whilst his shauks were miserably de. ficient of that stamina which is peculiar to Falstaff, or footmen, or Somerset House clerks, or to lord chief barons; yet, sticks as they were, they seemed to prop him up capitally, so that he toddled over the stones towards Westminster, just as though determination dictated every step upon the pavement. His eyes had gone back in his head an inch or so, but then his rubbed and scrubbed spectacles were over them, which assisted materially the old chap in picking his way through the crowds of pedestrians, filling to the bung the streets of the busy metropolis. The same kind of dress he had worn for years, was upon him, and the same cotton umbrella was beneath his aged arm-ay, and the same querulous, peering, irritable smile rested upon his bloodless face, so that he looked for all the world like a pantaloon out of employment, and not at all like a son of God sent for the regeneration of mankind. Still, somehow or other, as the old boy toddled along, there were many poor persons who showered blessings upon him as he passed, which, like sparks of electricity, swept through the air and cuddled his thin heart, until the whole man rose in him towards one great and glorious purpose, which made him stop all of a sudden, take hold of his cotton umbrella, and after squeezing it angrily, say, “ l'll tell them the simple truth, that I will ;" when he went on again with fresh impetus, and after labouring along for a time, he entered through a long passage of great-coats and umbrellas, right through a lobby full of curious strangers, and then, oh, momentous moment!-into the House

of Commons. Of course there was the introduction of the new mem. ber, and of course there was the gripe of the Speaker, when the old bone, who took the whole as a matter of course, sat upon one of the seats nearest to him, and put up both his hands to his ears so that he might hear the debates. Still, with all the assistance of his hands, the old chap had great difficulty in following the different speakers, who did not speak so much apparently with the object of convincing their fellow-niembers, as for the purpose of puzzling this or worrying that minister of the crown. Yet, to tell the honest truth, the ministers of the crown were not to be puzzled so very easily, for let whatever subject be upon the carpet, they had their answers all pat, cut, and dry, on the instant.

The principal chap sat just as though he were asleep; yet he wasn't, for he every now and then got up and took to task those who had gone before him. Amongst the members there were some who opposed everybody and everything, and there were others who supported everybody and everything; there were some who got elected for the purpose of talking, and others for the purpose of voting; whilst many, and by far the greatest number, took no interest whatever either in talking or voting, save in so far as it was consistent with their own private particular, and it may be said, rather peculiar private ends.

Lord bless you, the old bone was so keen a chap, that he saw the whole machinery of the political clock in less than no time, which acted upon him in the same way that gunpowder acts upon a monstrous cannon, for it fills, and fills, and then again it fills, with the assistance of the rammer, when, after all, it fills again, and so on, when, being to all human knowledge positively full, it waits for the spark which is to empty it again.

The old bone was thus full with disgust and anger, and only wanted the opportunity of telling the whole House what his private opinion was upon the subject, but then he had to wait his time for such a sally upon established grievances, there being so many talkers, that it wasn't until the great subject, the important discussion, the never-to-beforgotten change, was taken into consideration, the all-eventful New Poor Laws!

The old man had kept out of the House whilst his bones were getting more and more decay about them, and now he at last had ventured in amongst the wise heads; they were about to upset the whole machinery of the constitution founded by Magna Charta, and to substitute pernicious doctrines for those which had been tried and never

found wanting.

The Bill was read a first time, and the old bone thought his time was not then ; a second time, when old, weary, wheezy and shaky as he was, he stood bolt upright, and as fortune would have it, caught the Speaker's eye, when, out of respect to the worthy man there was a dead silence throughout the whole House ; for they, like all other folks, could not help respecting such virtuous intentions, so that then, resting upon his old umbrella, he began :

“Sirs, the poor have rights, haven't they ?" (Hear, hear.) take 'em away from 'em, but protect 'em.” (A voice—“We are protecting them, Mr. Howard.") "Don't say that, sir, don't say that, sir, for ask them, I say, hear them at the bar, sirs, and let them speak for hemselves.” (Ilear, and laughter.) “But I can't say more, sirs, than

" Don't

to implore you not to pass the New Poor Law Bill, sirs." (Hear, hear, and cheers from all parts of the House.)

After this he sat down, trembling all over with fright, and little drops of perspiration stood out of his skin. Still, for all this, they passed the new law, which made the old man quite angry with himself, because he had not been taught oratory, so that he might have convinced them that it was contrary to every principle of justice or mercy.

The New Poor Law passed both Houses, and it became time to put it into operation ; but previous to doing so, the old chap, after he had watched it narrowly step by step when passing through committee, without being able to do any good by the exercise of his feeble voice, gave up his seat for the county in disgust, and went into private life, so that he might occupy that time which was valuable to the poor in looking after their private interests. The iron age stopped the good man's

purpose ; but there may come a time when such holy aspirations shall be attended to. But really this has been like an old bone, a dry chapter; so let us see what the next will be ; but I do assure you, my dear reader, I am not as vet acquainted with the fellow myself.




In recording the death of Vliss Stiff it is not imperative that you should be made acquainted with the species of malady vi lich carried her lanky form within its arms into the dominion of spirits : but, inasmuch as I give you credit for being a friend to the distressed and weary, you shall be let into the very joint of the secret, with the understanding that you never divulge it. Well, then, Miss Stiff kept her situation at the workhouse, and, as a matter of course, she took an interest in the manner in which affairs were going with the poor in the House of Commons, because the lower they got in the scale of creation the higher she ascended herself. The poor and she were on the opposite ends of a see-saw, and it was curious to observe with what zest and fervour she devoured the speeches of those members who advocated the new law, and also with what phlegm and vexation she ground between her teeth those few sentiments which were different to her own. Gradually, as she found the tide rising in her favour, she held up her head and used .her pocket-handkerchief when she came into collision with those paupers who were placed by the parish under her charge; then she took to wearing stiff frills and collars under her chin ; then she took again to tight lacing. Oh! how Miss Stiff read the papers every night after her paupers had departed to rest, and, oh! what welcome intelligence it was to her when she read in large characters the result of the division, in the House of Commons, as well as in the House of Lords, as well as the consent of the reigning monarch, to its being carried into full ope


ration. She went to bed and had a dream, when she got up and tugged, and tugged at her stay-lace until she got nearly white in the face; when putting on the remainder of her dress-it ought to be mentioned that her garters were tight also-when putting on the remainder of her dress she went down to breakfast. Now it must not be supposed that the paupers didn't see the change which had taken place in Miss Stiff, not only in her figure but also in her conduct towards them ; nay, they even rebelled a little, but it was of no use, for now having the new power she did not care for any one but the Board of Guardians that were to be.

Miss Stiff had just now arrived at, as she supposed, the very pinnacle of prosperity when, what with pride and what with the swelling of her heart through satisfaction, the circulation stopped all of a sudden, and Miss Stiff fell down as cold as a whipping-post. There was surprise ; there was a look of joy from one pauper towards another pauper, when, after putting the woman beneath a few lumps of earth, all went on as smoothly-nay, much smoother than before. In the meantime a contract was entered into with an architect for the erection of a strongly built, morose, prison-faced building, large enough to contain the poor of several parishes around all under one roof and management, which, when finished, was to be christened The Union.”'* The contract specified that there was to be one place for the men, and another place for the women ; and again, another place for the separation of the children of the poor from their own natural mothers. The contract specified many things which were to be done in the shape of not making any portion of the building sufficiently inviting or comfortable for any of its visitors remaining beyond the time flesh and blood kept company, save and except one portion of the place, which was to be fitted up in a snug manner, so that the governor and his lady might luxuriate and fatten in the midst of poverty and desperate desolation. The builder accordingly erected an establishment which went to the very letter of his bargain ; and after he had finished he wrote a note to the Board of Guardians, asking their opinion as to its appearance and adaptability. Thus the house--the dismal house of mourning---was completed, and, as before hinted, the Board of Guardians were not only appointed, but had actually commenced carrying out the views of the commissioners, when, prior to the entrance of the paupers, it was resolved that a governor or master, and a governess or matron, should be forthwith appointed, when an advertisement appeared in the country Newspapers, in order that eligible personages should make their appearance, so that the ugliest might be initiated into the office. The paupers looked on at the whole machinery tremblingly, for they knew by report that the change which had taken place in the law was for the purpose of making them more miserable than they had been before ; whilst all good men and women who were blessed with plenty entered into the feelings of the poor.

So matters stood in the country when Mr. and Mrs. Death-who it is to be hoped are not out of the mind of the reader--when Mr. and Mrs. Death sat in their little parlour at the back of the coffin-shop, looking daggers and whispering knives and forks to one another in consequence of their deplorable condition by reason of the New Poor

Law; for it must be known that the Board of Guardians had taken away all the profit of the old woikhouse coffin-makers, and furthermore appeared determined that not only the poor should be poor, but that all those who had anything to do with the poor, whether dead or alive, should be poor also. Commissioners, guardians, and governors were to be exceptions to the grand law of gravitation; whilst doctors, butchers, bakers, and undertakers were not to derive any advantage whatso

Mr. and Mrs. Death looked at one another and ground their teeth at one another over and over again ; for, to tell the truth, they had passed the rubicon of the honeymoon long, very long ago, and having no children to open their affections they were grown grim both of them, and apparently dissatisfied with the world as well as with one another. Mr. Death's only associates had been the dead bodies of the poor, whom he treated roughly and savagely, whilst Mrs. Death's only companion was her white-faced undertaker, body-snatching-looking husband ; so that the days seemed like weeks to both of them, and the rights were miserably prolonged and passed away with the velocity of snails, rather than that of modern steam-engines. Poor, miserably poor, and without much hope for the future, it all of a sudden struck Mr. Death that the situations advertised in the newspapers were snug


and comfortable, and, if they could get them, would be capital lifts for them in the scale of society. Accordingly Mr. and Mrs. Death went to work in right earnest with the Board of Guardians, urging in the first place that their sister, Miss Stiff, had had to do with living paupers, and in the second that they had had to do with dead ones. They said they knew how to manage unruly rascals, and how to smother the cry of an infant when it cried for its mother, by reason of their not having been parents themselves. They urged, as a reason of their eligibility, that their hearts were not over alive to charitable sermons, screams of maniacs, or the last gasps of the dying, and they wound up their appeal by declaring that devilish paupers ought to get fat upon union dietary, and ought always pray that God would shower down his blessings upon those poets who originated, as well as those commissioners who carried out the plan for doing away entirely with the poor of the land. Having signed the document they forth with transmitted it, so that it might come before the board, and in due course it did so come, when having been called up, and having had the laws, rules, and regulations of the union read over to them three times, they were informed that they might enter upon their office without any further delay. There were other candidates for the post of governor in the persons of two turnkeys of two houses of correction, one carcass butcher, and twenty-seven ferocious-looking schoolmasters ; but Mr. and Mrs. Death carried all before them, and actually grinned with satisfaction as they passed them in the hall of the building on their way to the street. And sure enough when they reached the street they were surrounded in a moment by their new subjects, the paupers, who recognised in an instant the likeness between Mrs. Death, who was to be their governess, and Miss Stiff, their lately departed matron. Poor souls, they didn't look with the same confidence as before, for they knew the alteration which had taken place in the law, and they knew full well that they daren't even say that their old, their hollow bones were their own property ; so that

« AnteriorContinua »