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Chapter IV

Saturday Night in Paddy's Market

notePADDY'S Market was in its glory, the weekly glory of a Sydney Saturday night, of the one day in the week when the poor man's wife has a few shillings and when the poor caterer for the poor man's wants gleans in the profit field after the stray ears of corn that escape the machine-reaping of retail capitalism. It was filled by a crushing, hustling, pushing mass of humans, some buying, more bartering, most swept aimlessly along in the living currents that moved ceaselessly to and fro. In one of these currents Ned found himself caught, with Nellie. He struggled for a short time, with elbows and shoulders, to make for himself and her a path through the press; experience soon taught him to forego attempting the impossible and simply to drift, as everybody else did, on the stream setting the way they would go.

He found himself, looking around as he drifted, in a long low arcade, brilliant with great flaring lights. Above was the sparkle of glass roofing, on either hand a walling of rough stalls, back and forward a vista of roofing and stalls stretching through distant arches, which were gateways, into outer darkness, which was the streets. On the stalls, as he could see, were thousands of things, all cheap and most nasty.

What were there? What were not there? Boots and bootlaces, fish and china ornaments, fruit, old clothes and new clothes, flowers and plants and lollies, meat and tripe and cheese and butter and bacon! Cheap music-sheets and cheap jewellery! Stockings and pie-dishes and bottles of ink! Everything that the common people buy! Anything by which a penny could be turned by those of small capital and little credit in barter with those who had less.

One old man's face transfixed him for a moment, clung to his memory afterwards, the face of an old man, wan and white, grey-bearded and hollow-eyed, that was thrust through some hosiery hanging on a rod at the back of a stall.note Nobody was buying there, nobody even looked to buy as Ned watched for a minute; the stream swept past and the grizzled face stared on. It had no

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body, no hands even, it was as if hung there, a trunkless head; it was the face of a generation grown old, useless and unloved, which lived by the crumbs that fall from Demos' table and waited wearily to be gone. It expressed nothing, that was the pain in it. It was haggard and grizzled and worn out, that was all. It knew itself no good to anybody, knew that labouring was a pain and thinking a weariness, and hope the delusion of fools, and life a vain mockery. It asked none to buy. It did not move. It only hung there amid the dark draping of its poor stock and waited.

Would he himself ever be like that, Ned wondered. And yet! And yet!

All around were like this. All! All! All! Everyone in this swarming multitude of working Sydney. On the faces of all was misery written. Buyers and sellers and passers-by alike were hateful of life. And if by chance he saw now and then a fat dame at a stall or a lusty huckster pushing his wares or a young couple, curious and loving, laughing and joking as they hustled along arm in arm, he seemed to see on their faces the dawning lines that in the future would stamp them also with the brand of despair.

The women, the poor women, they were most wretched of all; the poor housewives in their pathetic shabbiness, their faces drawn with child-bearing, their features shrunken with the struggling toil that never ceases nor stays; the young girls in their sallow youth that was not youth, with their hollow mirth and their empty faces, and their sharp angles or their unnatural busts; the wizened children that served at the stalls, precocious in infancy, with the wisdom of the Jew and the impudence of the witless babe; the old crones that crawled along—the mothers of a nation haggling for pennies as if they had haggled all their lives long. They bore baskets, most of the girls and housewives and crones; with some were husbands, who sometimes carried the basket but not always; some even carried children in their arms, unable even for an hour to escape the poor housewife's old-man-of-the-seas.

The men were absorbed, hidden away, in the flood of wearied women. There were men, of course, in the crowd, among the stallkeepers—hundreds. And when one noticed them they were wearied also, or sharp like ferrets; oppressed, overborne, or cunning, with the cunning of those who must be cunning to live; imbruted often with the brutishness of apathy, consciousless of

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the dignity of manhood, only dully patient or viciously keen as the ox is or the hawk. Many sottish-looking, or if not sottish with the beery texture of those whose only recreation is to be bestially merry at the drink-shop. This was the impression in which the few who strode with the free air of the ideal Australian workman were lost, as the few comfortable-seeming women were lost in the general weariness of their weary sex.

Jollity there was none to speak of. There was an eager huckling for bargains, or a stolid calculation of values, or a loud commendation of wares, or an oppressive indifference. Where was the “fair” to which of old the people swarmed, glad-hearted? Where was even the relaxed caution of the shopping-day? Where was the gay chaffering, the boisterous bandying of wit? Gone, all gone, and nothing left but care and sadness and a careful counting of hard-grudged silver and pence.

Ned turned his head once or twice to steal a glance at Nellie. He could not tell what she thought. Her face gave no sign of her feeling. Only it came home to him that there were none like her there, at least none like her to him. She was sad with a stern sadness, as she had been all day, and in that stern sadness of hers was a dignity, a majesty, that he had not appreciated until now, when she jostled without rudeness in this jostling crowd. This dark background of submissive yielding, of hopeless patience, threw into full light the unbending resolution carved in every line of her passionate face and lithesome figure. Yet he noticed now on her forehead two faint wrinkles showing, and in the corners of her mouth an overhanging fold; and this he saw as if reflected in a thousand ill-made mirrors around, distorted and exaggerated and grotesqued indeed but nevertheless the self-same marks of constant pain and struggle.

They reached the end of the first alley and passed out to the pavement, slippery with trodden mud. There was a little knot gathered there, a human eddy in the centre of the pressing throng. Looking over the heads of the loiterers, he could see in the centre of the eddy, on the kerb, by the light that came from the gateway, a girl whose eyes were closed. She was of an uncertain age—she might be twelve or seventeen. Beside her was a younger child. Just then she began to sing. He and Nellie waited. He knew without being told that the singer was blind.note

It was a hymn she sang, an old-fashioned hymn that has in its music the glad rhythm of the “revival,” the melodious echoing of

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the Methodist day. He recollected hearing it long years before, when he went to the occasional services held in the old bush schoolhouse by some itinerant preacher. He recalled at once the gathering of the saints at the river; mechanically he softly hummed the tune. It was hardly the tune the blind girl sang though. She had little knowledge of tune, apparently. Her cracked discordant voice was unspeakably saddenirg.note

This blind girl was the natural sequence to the sphinx-like head that he had seen amid the black stockings. Her face was large and flat, youthless, ageless, crowned with an ugly black hat, poorly ribboned; her hands were clasped clumsily on the skirt of her poor cotton dress, ill-fitting. There was no expression in her singing, no effort to express, no instinctive conception of the idea. The people only listened because she was blind and they were poor, and so they pitied her. The beautiful river of her hymn meant nothing, to her or to them. It might be; it might not be; it was not in question. She cried to them that she was blind and that the blind poor must eat if they would live and that they desire to live despite the city by-laws. She begged, this blind girl, standing with rent shoes in the sloppy mud. In Sydney, in 1889, in the workingman's paradise, she stood on the kerb, this blind girl, and begged—begged from her own people. And in their poverty, their weariness, their brutishness, they pitied her. None mocked, and many paused, and some gave.

They never thought of her being an impostor. They did not pass her on to the hateful charity that paid parasites dole out for the rich. They did not think that she made a fortune out of her pitifulness and hunt her with canting harshness as a nuisance and a cheat. Her harsh voice did not jar on them. Her discords did not shock their supersensitive ears. They only knew that they, blinded in her stead, must beg for bread and shelter while good Christians glut themselves and while fat law-makers whitewash the unpleasant from the sight of the well-to-do. In her helplessness they saw, unknowing it, their own helplessness, saw in her Humanity wronged and suffering and in need. Those who gave gave to themselves, gave as an impulsive offering to the divine impulse which drives the weak together and aids them to survive.

Ned wanted to give the blind girl something but he felt ashamed to give before Nellie. He fingered a half-crown in his pocket, with a bushman's careless generosity. By skilful

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manœuvring and convenient yielding to the pressure of the crowd he managed to get near the blind girl as she finished her hymn. Nellie turned round, looking away—he thought afterwards: was it intentionally?—and he slipped his offering into the singer's fingers like a culprit. Then he walked off hastily with his companion, as red and confused as though he had committed some dastardly act. Just as they reached the second arcade they heard another discordant hymn rise amid the shuffling din.note

There were no street-walkers in Paddy's Market, Ned could see. He had caught his foot clumsily on the dress of one above the town-hall, a dashing demi-mondaine with rouged cheeks and unnaturally bright eyes and a huge velvet-covered hat of the Gainsborough shape and had been covered with confusion when she turned sharply round on him with a “Now, clumsy, I'm not a door-mat.” note Then he had noticed that the sad sisterhood were out in force where the bright gas-jets of the better-class shops illuminated the pavement, swaggering it mostly where the kerbs were lined with young fellows, fairly-well dressed as a rule, who talked of cricket and race horses and boating and made audible remarks concerning the women, grave and gay, who passed by in the throng. Nearing the poorer end of George-street, they seemed to disappear, both sisterhood and kerb loungers, until near the Haymarket itself they found the larrikin element gathered strongly under the flaring lights of hotel-bars and music hall entrances. But in Paddy's Market itself there were not even larrikins. Ned did not even notice anybody drunk.

He had seen drinking and drunkenness enough that day. Wherever there was poverty he had seen viciousness flourishing. Wherever there was despair there was a drowning of sorrow in drink. They had passed scores of public houses, that afternoon, through the doors of which workmen were thronging. Coming along George street, they had heard from more than one bar-room the howling of a drunken chorus. Men had staggered by them, and women too, frowsy and besotted. But there was none of this in Paddy's Market. It was a serious place, these long dingy arcades, to which people came to buy cheaply and carefully, people to whom every penny was of value and who had none to throw away, just then at least, either on a brain-turning carouse or on a painted courtesan. The people here were sad and sober and sorrowful. It seemed to Ned that here was collected, as in the centre of a great vortex, all the pained and tired and ill-fed

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and wretched faces that he had been seeing all day. The accumulation of misery pressed on him till it sickened him at the heart. It felt as though something clutched at his throat, as though by some mechanical means his skull was being tightened on his brain. His thoughts were interrupted by an exclamation from Nellie.

“There's a friend of mine,” she explained, making her way through the crowd to a brown-bearded man who was seated on the edge of an empty stall, apparently guarding a large empty basket in which were some white cloths. The man's features were fine and his forehead massive, his face indicating a frail constitution and strong intellectuality. He wore an apron rolled up round his waist. He seemed very poor.note

“How d'ye do, Miss Lawton?” said he getting off the stall and shaking hands warmly. “It's quite an age since I saw you. You're looking as well as ever.” Ned saw that his thin face beamed as he spoke and that his dark brown eyes, though somewhat hectic, were singularly beautiful.

“I'm well, thanks,” said Nellie, beaming in return. “And how are you? You seem browner than you did. What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Me! I've been up the country a piece trying my hand at farming. Jones is taking up a selection, you know, and I've been helping him a little now times aren't very brisk. I'm keeping fairly well, very fairly, I'm glad to say.”

“This is Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Sim,” introduced Nellie; the men shook hands.

“Come inside out of the rush,” invited Sim, making room for them in the entrance-way of the stall. “We haven't got any armchairs, but it's not so bad up on the table here if you're tired.” note

“I'm not tired,” said Nellie, leaning against the doorway. Ned sat up on the stall by her side; his feet were sore, unused to the hard paved city streets.

“I suppose Mr. Hawkins is one of us,” said Sim, perching himself up again.

“I don't know what you call ‘one of us,’” answered Nellie, with a smile. “He's a beginner. Some day he may get as far as you and Jones and the rest of the dynamiters.”

Sim laughed genially. “Do you know, I really believe that Jones would use dynamite if he got an opportunity,” he commented. “I'm not joking. I'm positively convinced of it.”

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“Has he got it as bad as that?” asked Nellie. Ned began to feel interested. He also noticed that Sim used book-words.

“Has he got it as bad as that! ‘Bad’ isn't any name for it. He's the stubbornest man I ever met, and he's full of the most furious hatred against the capitalists. He has it as a personal feeling. Then the life he's got is sufficient to drive a man mad.”

“Selecting is pretty hard,” agreed Nellie, sadly.

“Nellie and I know a little about that, Mr. Sim,” said Ned.

“Well, Jones' selection is a hard one,” went on Sim, good-humouredly. “I prefer to sell trotters, when I sell out like this, to attempting it. The soil is all stones, and there is not a drop of water when the least drought comes on. Poor Jones toils like a team of horses and hardly gets sufficient to keep him alive. I never saw a man work as he does. For a man who thinks and has ideas to be buried like that in the bush is terrible. He has no one to converse with. He goes mooning about sometimes and muttering to himself enough to frighten one into a fit.”

“Does he still do any printing?” asked Nellie, archly.

“Oh, the printing,” answered Sim, laughing again. “He initiated me into the art of wood-engraving. You see, Mr. Hawkins”—turning to Ned—“Jones hasn't got any type, and of course he can't afford to buy it, but he's got hold of a little second-hand toy printing press. To print from he takes a piece of wood, cut across the grain and rubbed smooth with sand, and cuts out of it the most revolutionary and blood-curdling leaflets, letter by letter. If you only have patience it's quite easy after a few weeks' practice.” note

“Does he print them?” asked Ned

“Print them! I should say he did. Every old scrap of paper he can collect or get sent him he prints his leaflets on and gets them distributed all over the country. Many a night I've sat up assisting with the pottering little press. Talk about Nihilism! Jones vows that there is only one way to cure things and that is to destroy the rule of Force.”

“He's a long while starting,” remarked Nellie with a slight sneer. “Those people who talk so much never do anything.”

“Oh, Jones isn't like that,” answered Sim, with cheerful confidence. “He'll do anything that he thinks is worth while. But I suppose I'm horrifying you, Mr. Hawkins? Miss Lawton here knows what we are and is accustomed to our talk.”

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“It'll take considerable to horrify me,” replied Ned, standing down as Nellie straightened herself out for a move-on. “You can blow the whole world to pieces for all I care. There's not much worth watching in it as far as I can see.”

“You're pretty well an anarchist,” said the brown-bearded trotter-seller, his kindly intellectual face lighted up. “It'll come some day, that's one satisfaction. Do you think that many here will regret it?” He waved his hand to include the crowd that moved to and fro before them, its voices covered with the din of its dragging feet.

“That'll do, Sim!” said Nellie. “Don't stuff Ned's head with those absurd anarchistical night-mares of yours. We're going; we've got somewhere to go. Good-bye! Tell Jones you saw me when you write, and remember me to him, will you? I like him—he's so good-hearted, though he does rave.”

“He's as good-hearted a man as there is in New South Wales,” corroborated Sim, shaking hands. “I'm expecting to meet a friend here or I'd stroll along. Good-bye! Glad to have met you, Mr. Hawkins.”

He re-mounted the stall again as they moved off. In another minute he was lost to their sight as they were swallowed up once more in the living tide that ebbed and flowed through Paddy's Market.

After that Ned did not notice much, so absorbed was he. He vaguely knew that they drifted along another arcade and then crossed a street to an open cobble-paved space where there were shooting-tunnels and merry-go-rounds and try-your-weights and see-how-much-you-lifts. He looked dazedly at wizen-faced lads who gathered round ice-cream stalls, and at hungry folks who ate stewed peas. Everything seemed grimy and frayed and sordid; the flaring torches smelt of oil; those who shot, or ate, or rode, by spending a penny, were the envied of standers-by. Amid all this drumming and hawking and flaring of lights were swarms of boys and growing girls, precocious and vicious and foul-tongued.

Ten o'clock struck. “For God's sake, let us get out of this, Nellie!” cried Ned, as the ringing bell-notes roused him.

“Have you had enough of Sydney?” she asked, leading the way out.

“I've had enough of every place,” he answered hotly. She did not say any more.note

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As they stood in George-street, waiting for their 'bus, a high-heeled, tightly-corsetted, gaily-hatted larrikiness flounced out of the side door of a hotel near by. A couple of larrikin acquaintances were standing there, shrivelled young men in high-heeled pointed-toed shoes, belled trousers, gaudy neckties and round soft hats tipped over the left ear.note

“Hello, you blokes!” cried the larrikiness, slapping one on the shoulder. “Isn't this a blank of a time you're having?”

It was her ideal of pleasure, hers and theirs, to parade the street or stand in it, to gape or be gaped at.