Obrazy na stronie

of round bundle of a figure, habited in a cotton dress, with short sleeves, provided with a capacious pair of pockets, for the reception and concealment of candleends, bits of soap, or broken victuals, just as chance, opportunity, or the generosity of the maid may determine. A mob-cap, with a very full border, conceals her tresses when in the suds; and an apron or two protect her dress from the accidental sprinklings of the wash-tub.

The effects of her steamy occupation give to her physiognomy a par-boiled complexion, relieved occasionally by a rosy hue, which partially tinges her nasal promontory, consequent on certain libations of Geneva, or other strong waters. The elbows of her brawny arms are red, her hands unnaturally white and spongy, arising from the continual immersion in hot water to which her arduous vocation subjects them. The tongue is peculiarly well-hung, and appears indefatigable. She soaps, and rubs, and souses, and rattles on with unabated energy, apparently thinking, with the immortal bard of Avon, that

"Silence is alone commendable

In a neat's tongue dried or a maid not vendible.”

She is the peripatetic chronicle of domestic intelligence, the "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles," which she ingeniously works up with farther particulars, on dits, and rumours, drawing her inferences and conclusions to suit the taste of her hearers, with all the tact and one-sided policy of one experienced in the concoction of "impartial news." She is a perfect re

[ocr errors]

gister of births, deaths, and marriages for the district in which she moves and washes; and, generally speaking, her narrations are about as faithful and veracious as those embellished romances given to the world under the title of histories.

The confidante and adviser of the maids-of-all-work, she is looked upon by them in the light of a primeminister; for, like that great functionary, she has always some snug place in her gift, or, as she phrases it, "in her eye," which, although it may prove no sinecure, is still desirable. Her recommendation, however, is by no means disinterested; for through these humble agents she politically expects to gain a footing in the family, and to come in for the "loaves and fishes," in the humble shape of the fragmentary portions of the hospitable board: indeed, "wheels within wheels" form the intricate machinery of her truly political system, selfishness being the main-spring which sets the whole in motion.

Between four and five o'clock on one of those thick and saffron-tinted foggy mornings in the suicidal month of November, the melancholy mugginess of which was only partially refreshed by a gentle, drizzling rain, an old woman, in a huge wrapping-cloak, and a tattered black chip bonnet tied over her ears with a dingy-coloured cotton handkerchief, was cautiously picking her way through the streets, to the "clinkclanking" accompaniment of a pair of pattens, bearing in her hand a horn lantern of most formidable dimensions. This precaution at the period of our veracious record was indisputably necessary; for those modern

[ocr errors]

illuminati, the gas companies, had not then put forth their claims to the applause of an "enlightened British public," and the parish lamps, whose feeble rays were scarcely sufficient to render "darkness visible," were blinking and flickering, and vainly endeavouring to shoot their friendly rays through the globular glasses which surrounded them, like a very little intelligence in a very thick head!

For our own part, although we abhor all innovation, yet do we rejoice in real improvement, and certainly do not repine that—

"The light of other days"

hath departed. The sharp and monotonous "clinkclank" of the said pattens was alone interrupted by the drowsy tone of the watchman calling the hour. Swinging his lantern in his hand, which was very much like a younger branch of the same family as the old wo



Half-past fo-ur a-clock ing!" bawled the ancient Half-past

"Watchman," said the old woman, cutting short his useless information, "pray, vich ind o' this here street is number siventy-six?"


Thank'ee," replied the old woman. "Mussy! vot

a mornin' it is!



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

- and a fog-gy

and a


guardian of the night.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Mother Naggs? It is, I do declare!" said the watchman, holding up his lantern to her shrouded visage. "Vell, that's cur'us. I knowed ye by y'ur woice."

"Vot, Davis !-vell, that's funny now — who'd ha' thought it!" exclaimed the washerwoman, in her turn.elevating her dim luminary. "Vell, and how's Mother Davis and the little uns?" And, without waiting for a reply to her kind inquiry, continued, "Do you happen to know them people, the Dickens's, at siventy-six? Are they vell to do, and all that? — for this 'ere's the fust time as I've bin engaged to do for 'em."



Siventy-six ?" repeated the watchman.

oh, yes! Them's werry respectable hinhabitants — leastvays they al'ays tips half-a-crown at Christmas time, vich ve reckon raythur hansom' as things go, Missis Naggs."


Hereupon Missis Naggs sagely remarked that "times vos sadly changed;" and then her old acquaintance politely volunteered to see her to the door, leaving half his "round" unfinished; and they had "sich a gossip" enjoying their chat in spite of the weather.

The door of number seventy-six is reached, and the "rappant appendage to the ligneous barricade" modestly applied in a single knock.

A "good mornin'" between the washerwoman and the watchman is exchanged, and she is "let in."

"Dear me, vot a miserable mornin'!" says the sympathising maid-of-all-work. "For goodness' sake come in, and varm yourself!"

Blowing out her end of candle, and delicately pinching out the red snuff with those primitive snuffers and extinguishers, her fingers, the old woman proceeds to

take off her "things," while the maid rams the huge kitchen poker into the blazing fire, to expedite the boiling of the kettle.

A glance round the room is sufficient to satisfy the experienced eye of the washerwoman that she has got into good quarters. The tea-tackle is already displayed, and some thick rounds of buttered toast are ‘frizzling” on the hob.


"You've a comfortable place 'ere, my dear. There doesn't seem no vant o' nothin' neither," observes Mrs. Naggs.

"You're right, marm. It's the most liberallest family- plenty to eat and drink; and thof I 've enough to do, of all conscience, seeing there's only myself, I've no cause to complain."

"Is there many in family ?"

"On'y master and missus. He's at office through the day, and missus reads pretty vell all her time; and there ain't no wisitors, and neither chick nor child. Children is such plagues, I can't bear 'em. Verever they are, vun 's al'ays doing, and never done. The werry last place as I had there vos six on 'em, and a pretty life I had on't—half starved into the bargain. I hope your tea 's to your liking?"

Mrs. Naggs nodded, and sipped, and stretched out her black-worsted ankles, and placed her thick shoes on the iron fender, the very picture of comfort; while the maid continued her narrative of the "last family" - with six children.

"I found they not only grudged vot I did eat, but

« PoprzedniaDalej »