CHILDREN OF THE STATE
Mrs. Reeve was an average widow with encumbrances. Ten years before she had married a steady-going man—a cabinet-maker during working hours, and something of a Dissenter and a Radical in the evenings and on Sundays. His wages had touched thirty shillings, and they had lived in three rooms, first floor, in a quiet neighbourhood, keeping themselves to themselves, as they boasted without undue pride. In their living-room was a flowery tablecloth; a glass shade stood on the mantelpiece; there were a few books in a cupboard. They had thoughts of buying a live indiarubber plant to stand by the window, when unexpectedly the man died.
He had followed the advice of economists. He had practised thrift. During his brief illness his society had supplied a doctor, and it provided a comfortable funeral. His widow was left with a small sum in hand to start her new life upon, and she increased it by at once pawning the superfluous furniture and the books. She lost no time hanging about the old home. Within a week she had dried her eyes, washed out her handkerchiefs, made a hatchment of her little girl’s frock with quarterings of crape, piled the few necessities of existence on a barrow and settled in a single room in the poorest street of the district.
It was not much of a place, and it cost her half a crown a week, but in six months she had come to think of it as a home. She had brushed the ceiling and walls, and scrubbed the boards, the children helping. She had added the touch of art with advertisements and picture almanacs. A bed for the three children stood in one corner—a big green iron bed, once her own. On the floor was laid a mattress for herself and the baby. Round it she hung her shawl and petticoats as a screen over some lengths of cords. Right across the room ran a line for the family’s bits of washing. A tiny looking-glass threw mysterious rays on to the ceiling at night. On the whole, it really was not so bad, she thought, as she looked round the room one evening. Only unfortunately her capital had been slipping away shilling by shilling, and the first notice to quit had been served that day. She was what she called “upset” about it.
“Now, Alfred,” she said to her eldest boy, “it’s time I got to my work, and it won’t do for you to start gettin’ ’ungry again after yer teas. So you put yerself and Lizzie to bed, and I’ll make a race of it with Hen and the baby.”
“There now,” she said when the race was over, “that’s what’s called a dead ‘eat, and that’s a way of winnin’ as saves the expense of givin’ a prize.”
With complete disregard for the theorising of science, she then stuck the poker up in front of the bars to keep the fire bright.
“Now, Alfred,” she said, “you mind out for baby cryin’, and if she should ’appen to want for anythink, just give a call to Mrs. Thomas through the next door.”