On a Bank-holiday only a few insignificant shops remain open even in the poor districts of London; sweets you can purchase, and tobacco, but not much else that is sold across an ordinary counter. The more noticeable becomes the brisk trade of public-houses. At the gin-shop centres the life of each street; here is a wide door and a noisy welcome, the more attractive by contrast with the stretch of closed shutters on either hand. At such a door, midway in the sultry afternoon, John Hewett paused. To look at his stooping shoulders, his uncertain swaying this way and that, his flushed, perspiring face, you might have taken him for one who had already been drinking. No; it was only a struggle between his despairing wretchedness and a lifelong habit of mind. Not difficult to foresee which would prevail; the public-house always has its doors open in expectation of such instances. With a gesture which made him yet more like a drunken man he turned from the pavement and entered. . . .
About nine o’clock in the evening, just when Mrs. Hewett had put the unwilling children to bed, and had given her baby a sleeping-dose— it had cried incessantly for eighteen hours,—the door of the room was pushed open. Her husband came in. She stood looking at him— unable to credit the evidence of her eyes.
She laid her hand upon him and stared into his face. The man shook her off, without speaking, and moved staggeringly forward. Then he turned round, waved his arm, and shouted:
‘Let her go to the devil She cares nothing for her father.’
He threw himself upon the bed, and soon sank into drunken sleep.
A WELCOME GUEST
The bells of St. James’s, Clerkenwell, ring melodies in intervals of the pealing for service-time. One morning of spring their music, like the rain that fell intermittently, was flung westwards by the boisterous wind, away over Clerkenwell Close, until the notes failed one by one, or were clashed out of existence by the clamour of a less civilised steeple. Had the wind been under mortal control it would doubtless have blown thus violently and in this quarter in order that the inhabitants of the House of Detention might derive no solace from the melody. Yet I know not; just now the bells were playing ‘There is a happy land, far, far away,’ and that hymn makes too great a demand upon the imagination to soothe amid instant miseries.
In Mrs. Peckover’s kitchen the music was audible in bursts. Clem and her mother, however, it neither summoned to prepare for church, nor lulled into a mood of restful reverie. The two were sitting very close together before the fire, and holding intimate converse; their voices kept a low murmur, as if; though the door was shut, they felt it necessary to use every precaution against being overheard. Three years have come and gone since we saw these persons.