Arthur Morrison.

Tales of Mean Streets

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One Saturday afternoon, as Mrs. Randall was buying greens and potatoes, old Jack, waiting without, strolled toward a crowd standing about a speaker. A near approach discovered the speaker to be Mr. Joe Parsons, who was saying: —

" – strike pay is little enough at the time, of course, but don't forget what it will lead to! An' strike pay does very well, my frien's, when the party knows 'ow to lay it out, an' don't go passin' it on to the lan'lord. Don't give it away. When the lan'lord comes o' Monday mornin', tell 'im (polite as you like) that there's nothink for 'im till there's more for you. Let the lan'lord earn 'is money, like me an' you. Let the lan'lords pay a bit towards this 'ere strike as well as the other blaggards, the imployers. Lan'lords gits quite enough out o' you, my feller workers, when – "

"They don't git much out o' you!" shouted old Jack in his wrath; and then felt sorry he had spoken. For everybody looked at him, and he knew some of the faces.

"Ho!" rejoined the speaker, mincingly. "There's a gent there as seems to want to address this 'ere meetin'. P'r'aps you'll 'ave the kindness to step up 'ere, my friend, an' say wot you got to say plain." And he looked full at old Jack, pointing with his finger.

Old Jack fidgeted, wishing himself out of it. "You pay me what you owe me," he growled sulkily.

"As this 'ere individual, after intruding 'isself on this peaceful meetin', ain't got anythink to say for 'isself," pursued Mr. Joe Parsons, "I'll explain things for 'im. That's my lan'lord, that is: look at 'im! 'E comes 'angin' round my door waitin' for a chance to turn my pore wife an' children out o' 'ouse and 'ome. 'E follers me in the street an' tries to intimidate me. 'E comes 'ere, my feller workers, as a spy, an' to try an' poison your minds agin me as devotes my 'ole life to your int'rests. That's the sort o' man, that's the sort o' lan'lord 'e is. But 'e's somethink more than a greedy, thievin', overfed lan'lord, my frien's, an' I'll tell you wot. 'E's a dirty, crawlin' blackleg; that's wot else 'e is. 'E's the on'y man as wouldn't come out o' Maidment's; an' 'e's workin' there now, skulkin' in an' out in the dark – a dirty rat! Now you all know very well I won't 'ave nothink to do with any violence or intimidation. It's agin my principles, although I know there's very often great temptation, an' it's impossible to identify in a crowd, an' safe to be very little evidence. But this I will say, that when a dirty low rat, not content with fattenin' on starvin' tenants, goes an' takes the bread out o' 'is feller men's mouths, like that bleedin' blackleg – blackleg! – blackleg! – "

Old Jack was down. A dozen heavy boots were at work about his head and belly. In from the edge of the crowd a woman tore her way, shedding potatoes as she ran, and screaming; threw herself upon the man on the ground; and shared the kicks. Over the shoulders of the kickers whirled the buckle-end of a belt. "One for the old cow," said a voice.


When a man is lying helpless on his back, with nothing in hand, he pays nothing off a building society mortgage, because, as his wife pawns the goods of the house, the resulting money goes for necessaries. To such a man the society shows no useless grace: especially when the secretary has a friend always ready to take over a forfeited house at forced sale price. So the lease of Twenty-seven vanished, and old Jack's savings with it.

And one day, some months later, old Jack, supported by the missis and a stick, took his way across the workhouse forecourt. There was a door some twenty yards from that directly before them, and two men came out of it, carrying a laden coffin of plain deal.

"Look there, Jack," the missis said, as she checked her step; "what a common caufin!" And indeed there was a distinct bulge in the bottom.


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