« VorigeDoorgaan »
racters who have done me the honour of making my house their home. I have had, during the period of my servitude, men of all professions under my roof. Far Le it from me to deny that I have met with kindness and generosity where I had no reason to expect, much less right to demand it. But my experience upon the whole is not very creditable to that section of human nature which lives in lodgings. I derive that impression not so much from any outraged feelings of my own-the world I move in having long since taught me that such things as feelings are not recognised in one of my condition-as from the information of my ledger, which shows an average of bad debts amounting to something over fourteen per cent. upon my entire receipts; and, from the state of my savings'-bank book, which shows that less than ten pounds remains to be drawn out, the last relic of the two hundred which comforted me and gave me courage at the commencement of my career of "landlady." Candour compels me to say that a most disproportionate share of defaulters in my case are literary men, or, perhaps, I should call them "booksellers' hacks," who live or starve, as it may happen, by the labour of their brains.
The end of my landladyship is drawing nigh. Without a fund in store, it is impossible that I can continue to furnish bed and board, for less than they cost, to the houseless public. I have spent the best days of my life, and the whole of my little substance, in providing for their accommodation-and now, after nine years of such toil and anxiety as no Carolinian negro ever endured, the widow's house is devoured. My two boys are not educated, but they are grown big enough to labour, and, for a small premium each, will be taken out of my hands and taught to work hard at an honest trade. The premiums I must pay by the sale of my furniture, which is well nigh worn out in the service of those who, having none of their own, have abused it on the most disinterested principle. It is good for little else now
than the hammer of the auctioneer, who will consign it a prey to the broker. When it is gone, and transformed into an outfit for my dear boys, I shall consult the columns of the Times for a situation that will suit me. I feel already exhilarated by the bare thought of emancipation from the lot and the load which has weighed me down so long, and which, while compelling me to act as the ever grateful recipient of obligations without number, has broken my spirit and beggared my resources. As housekeeper-as maid of all work-as cook in a respectable family, I may retain my self-respect, and indulge the consciousness that the philosophers who in our day instruct mankind in the truths of life, regard me as something better than that canting, lying, thieving, drunken specimen of filthy and degraded humanity which, according to their unanimous verdict, lets lodgings.
CROCODILE COURT is a second-rate court, debouching at one end in a third-rate street, which, on Saturday nights is a fourth-rate market, and at the other in a lane. The lane leads to nowhere particular, unless it be to the gin-shop at the end, one side of which sends its flashing illumination at night-time far down the darksome labyrinth, where squalor and misery crouch from public view, while the other turns a magnificent and hilarious face upon a splendid street, as if utterly unconscious that there are such things as squalor and misery in the world. The court itself may be about a furlong in length, and averages some nine or ten feet in width, and its area, until it comes to the entrance of the lane, where you suddenly turn a corner, is supposed to be paved over the entire surface, with the exceptions, of course, of the little gratings which give light to the cellars below. We say "supposed," because a good number of the flags have mysteriously disappeared, leaving little square patches of moist earth, which agreeably chequer the ground, chess-board fashion, and are moreover exceedingly convenient in affording material for the development of the fictile genius of a limited band of urchins, playfully denominated the young crocodiles, the aborigines of the locality. The readiness with which, after a shower of rain, these little Pre-Raphaelites will get up a batch of mud-pies-transform the whole into a Malakoff -make a redoubt out of a broken dish, and bombard the "Rooshins" with pellets of clay, is striking to behold; and the spectacle of their patriotism might warm the heart of the
war minister, if the sight of their hapless filth and friendliness did not send a chill through the official cartilage.
The aspect of the court is not fascinating to a casual visitor. Like many other valuable subjects of study, it only surrenders its treasures to the man of patient observation, who will take the pains to penetrate beneath its unpromising surface. On entering it from the street, you have to pass through a covered way, which is flanked on one side by a gin-shop and on the other by a pawnbroker's window, and a pawnbroker's side-door which admits the hypothecative philosopher into a box, which is emphatically not a witness-box, where, with the aid of another philosopher skilled in the logic of a peculiar school, he may solve the problem his poverty propounds. We cannot pause to investigate what connexion there may be between the "bottle-department' on our right and the three golden balls on our left, especially as we have to elbow our way through a dozen or so of the inhabitants of the court, to whom the shelter of the covered entrance, fragrant as it is with the alcoholic odours of the gin-shop, seems a favourite rendezvous, where they meet to gossip and look out upon the world at large.
The architecture of Crocodile Court, when you get into it, strikes you as decidedly of the mixed order. It is plain that a number of builders combined a variety of talents in its construction that each built as high as he could, and stopped when he had no money to carry him higher. The brick walls would be brown if they were not black; the windows would be of glass if they were not half of them of brown paper varied with rags of no colour at all; and the woodwork would yet wear a coat of white paint, had not the rain without and the worm within-the wet-rot and the dry-rot -crumbled it and sluiced it and stripped it of every vestige of its original hue. Yet here and there, amidst the general mass of decay and disrepair, you may discern the individual evidences of neatness and attempts at comfort and even
decency, not to say respectability of appearance. Here a tenant of a first-floor has painted his sash, and, in spite of surrounding example, luxuriates in whole squares of glass; and a dweller in a front parlour actually cleans her windows, and parades a bit of muslin blind as a fence against popular curiosity. Such indications of gentility are, however, but few, and it is possible they are looked upon with a jealous eye by the aggregate crocodiles, and only tolerated in consideration of ancient privilege and long standing on the part of the owners. Let us look around now, and make acquaintance with some of the component parts of this characteristic microcosm, and see what is to be got out of them.
"The first and foremost man of all the world"-the world of Crocodile Court-and the most formidable crocodile of the whole brood, is undoubtedly, Mr. Brassy, the marine-storeman. Brassy is a man who has seen nearly three-score summers, during the whole of which time he and his unhappy parent (who in '41 went to Australia, and there died) have kept the rubbishy shop in which he is content to sit from morning to night, waiting the arrival of customers who come to buy and to sell. Brassy's shop is a museum of everything that is worth little or nothing-of old iron, old copper, old brass, old tools, old panels of oak and mahogany, old cranks and cogwheels and fragments of incomprehensible machines, to which you may add the rusty keys of forty thousand perished locks, and coils of rope and shreds of broadcloth strung together in huge mops upon wires. Nobody would imagine, from the contemplation of Brassy's stock, or from his face, which is just as hard and impenetrable and rusty, or from his garb, for which Monmouth Street would hardly make room- -that he could possibly do anything better than live from dirty hand to dirtier mouth, without being able to afford the luxury of soap. And yet the fact is, that Brassy is a man of substance, the owner of half the houses in the court which are worth having and in