Chapter XV

  ‘Fairacre, 1st June.

‘POOR, dear Mr. Ferrier has had a severe disappointment with Adolphe, who, under the ex-missionary's unwearied efforts, became not only a total abstainer, but to some extent a lecturer. He devoutly read Mr. Ferrier's good little temperance booklets—nay, learnt much of them by heart; so that when it occurred to some zealous teetotalers to put him on the platform, Adolphe became at once very popular, and was always greeted with cheers. No doubt, like M. Jourdain's dancing-master, who hungered after un

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pen de gloire, Adolphe found that applaudissements me touchent. Last Tuesday he went with Mr. Ferrier to address an evening temperance assemblage at a little township four miles away. It seems that on these occasions it is customary sometimes to make certain experiments with alcohol to show its evil effects. When it came to Adolphe's turn to address the meeting, he gave what Mr. Ferrier called “an able and earnest address.” At a certain point he broke an egg into a glass and then poured some brandy on it to show what a deleterious effect it had on the albumen. The audience cheered lustily, and were much impressed. But when the next speaker rose, Adolphe was seen to slip behind him and swallow the experiment in a few gulps. Loud expressions of disapproval arose, and Adolphe instantly came forward to defend himself from the “calumny.” It was then apparent that he must have been previously imbibing, and, in fact, he had taken a quarter of a bottle of the Major's best brandy to make experiments which should revolt the popular mind against “nervine aliment.” When he returned home that night he went weeping into the Major's room, imploring him not to take any more stimulant of any kind, and holding himself up as an example of its evil effects—and all through swallowing a small experiment by an unaccountable error!

‘Two days ago I was a visit at Mrs. Marwood's, and went from there to what the profane called a “disorganized charity meeting,” along with Mabel Towers. We, too, went as Mrs. Marwood's deputies. But what singular instructions we received: “Here, you see, girls, is my list,” said Mrs. Marwood, producing two octavo sheets with various names and figures, etc.; “you see, there's a large committee of us, and we have to be very business-like. Here are the numbers of things to be given opposite each applicant's name. We decided that at a meeting some days ago. Sometimes we run short, and are obliged to give a pair of trousers instead of a dress; but if any complaints are made, give them a form to fill up and send in, for we have to be very strict and accurate. And if you happen to give too many things to one person, mind you give nothing to the next. Mrs. Benjamin Ezra is to be there to-day; and you must keep an eye on her that she does not give away my share. Her plan is to give heaps

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away till everything is gone. She either loses her list, or else never looks at it. This is very awkward in a society on such strict business principles as the organized relief.”

‘Yes; so determined are we to imitate all the charities of the mother-country, that before this “great fertile young Hercules” is yet fifty years old, we not only provide relief works and soup-kitchens and free breakfasts, as we did last winter, but this season we have also an organized relief society, which, among other nefarious tricks, distributes cast-off clothing. But, my dear, I warn you, do not send any money to the philanthropic novelties of our Metropolis. They are frightfully mischievous, and the really deserving poor do not go near them. There is quite enough discriminating benevolence everywhere in the country to cope with all honest poverty. It is when we begin to tease charity-mongers with salaries that impostors and the cunningly vicious have their innings, and that the unabashed professional pauper appears in the land. We have now not only the weaklings, that have been industriously sent us by emigration agents, but the greasy loafers of other provinces who are attracted to ours by our notoriously indiscriminate distribution of alms. Let me tell you of the two first cases on our list, which may, I believe, be taken as average specimens of what the rest were.

‘No. 1 applicant: Mrs. O'Mulligan, with two girls.—Causes of destitution: Husband, an ex-publican, long out of employment, large family, furniture seized for rent. Mrs. O'Mulligan soon set us to work, I can assure you. We were the first to arrive, and were ushered into a room lined with wide shelves, full of clothing of all kinds, a great deal of it as good as new. It was like a clothes pawn-shop without the pathos, fortunately also without the dirt. Mrs. O'M. was down for one woman's dress, two ditto for girls; one man's coat, one ditto trousers, one ditto boots. She and the girls followed us into the clothes-room. We soon found dresses for them. Then came the mother's turn; but as she weighed over fourteen stone, it was no light task to fit her. “Shure, now, and you see for yourselves, young ladies, that wouldn't kape on me little finger. Yes, that's a foine thick stuff; but where 'ud I be in it?—outside the most av it.” At last she selected a pale blue cashmere, not nearly as large as some useful dresses she

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had rejected. Mrs. Marwood said this choice must have been made with a view to selling or pawning, and no doubt that was the explanation. Then came the husband's turn. He must have been phenomenal in his proportions, judging by the yards of tape with which Mrs. O'M. measured the upper parts of trousers we turned over for her. At last came a pair that looked as though it must be the gift of a benevolent elephant; so this she put aside. Then she pulled an endless sort of string from her pocket, which turned out to be the measure for a pair of boots. Of course there were none of such an impossible length.

‘ “It's not, thin, that Mr. O'Mulligan has such a large fut at all at all, but he gets the swelled rheumatzises so bad. Indade, he had an ilegant fut in his young days. But what with the throubles and the sorrow, they seems to git larger ivery year.” As the string was twenty inches long, it was evident some mistake was made. It was, in fact, “the lingth av little Paddy's throusers.” After all the articles for which this woman was put down had been produced, we politely asked her to take them away. “Is it that this is all I'm to git?” she asked, with a tragic air. We asked her what else she wanted, and she said: “I have six helpless childer, and I want a complate shuit for each. Ye see thim two girrls wid me? Wan av thim has a good ulster on, an' that's a lind; the other, she has a good pair av boots, an' thim is a lind; so is the hat wid a feather on top av my head, an' the gloves on me hands, an' the mantle on me back wid a bead collar.” She raised her voice and she flourished her arms as she spoke. Finally she took up three pairs of boys' trousers that were near her and went away, saying she would put us in the papers for cruelty to an “onfortinate rispictable woman wid a husband that had seen better days, and a large family and no support.” She turned back at the door and said: “Ye have a great roomful av things sint by the charitable, an' ye sind me away wid a few miserable rags for reasons best beknowns to yerselves!”

‘Our next case was a small thin woman with an extraordinary facility for tears. She wept copiously the moment we spoke to her. She never had accepted charity before in all her life, and it was very hard to begin now. With this she made a dart at a heap of boys' shirts that were near

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her quite new, Mr. Marwood and other wholesale drapers having sent various parcels of clothing from their warehouses. She wiped her eyes, and folded up three shirts. She was down on the list as a widow with one boy; name, Eliza Trimton; and the written oracle restricted her to two articles for herself and three for the boy. I explained this to her, and added that we were bound to keep to our list. Yes, of course—she knew that; and she began to shed tears afresh, and pounced on an elaborate tea-gown that had been sent by someone who had more money than wit. Next she fixed her gaze on a very good ulster, and she instantly began to cry afresh. No one, she said, but those that had seen better days knew how bitter it was to accept alms. With that she folded up the ulster, and put it with the other spoils. “It comes very hard to accept charity for the first time,” she murmured, seizing on a blue cloud, a boy's vest, and a pair of merino stockings all at one swoop. For the second time I read over to her the articles to which she was entitled, and thought she had taken the hint, for she began to tie up her bundle. But presently her tears flowed, and she picked up a woman's hat, a boy's greatcoat, and a pair of boots in rapid succession. “But really, you know, this is a great deal more than your share,” said Mabel. “More than my share!” retorted Mrs. Trimton, wiping her eyes vigorously. “Who took it on theirselves to know all I want? I never breathed it to anyone I needed so much. Never having accepted charity before, my feelings was too delicate-like.” With that she dried her eyes and went away.

‘By this time most of the committee-ladies had arrived, and one of them said, as so many applicants were coming to-day, they had better not be admitted into the room where the clothing was. “Of course that is the proper plan,” said another lady; “but there will be a heap of letters in the papers saying the public gave so generously to the clothing fund, and that the poor people were not allowed to fit themselves.” However, the applicants were finally made to wait outside, and served in their turn alphabetically, an arrangement that gave great umbrage to some. I heard one woman say it was a real shame she should have to wait so long because her name began with Ho. Another woman was in tears because a baby's hood given to her had no pink lining.

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A neighbour of hers, she said, had one from the Relief Society last week lined with beautiful pink silk, fit for a little princess! “Look at this,” said another recipient of aid, holding up a child's handsome scarlet mantle. “There's where the tassel should be, and I won't go away till it's found.” Still another woman spoke in broken accents of despair of a pair of shoes that were given to her with one buckle missing. It would be unfair, however, not to mention one old woman who seemed to be quite grateful. We came upon her in the lobby rearranging a man's greatcoat and some other articles of male attire. Someone near her asked if any mistake had been made. “Yes, my dear,” she said, in a semi-confidential whisper. Her face was very red, and she carried with her a strong odour of some liquor. “There's been some blessed mistake, and I'm just hurrying away before it's found out. I can get far more for these than for any flimsy perticoats they'd give an old woman like me.”

‘I am this instant going into the Park Lands with Dorothy to see if a magpie does not give us an act out of a bird comedy. By the way, talking of birds, the last time Mr. Lindsay was here he told me a very Haroun al Raschid anecdote of a man who lost a very peculiar sleeve-link on the Murray Flats, and found it a year afterwards in the playhouse of a silky bower-bird, dangling beside the capsule of a brandy-bottle and the scarlet flowers of the pretty native wistaria. Mem. for my note-book — Would this make a peg on which to hang an alibi? I asked Mr. Lindsay the question, and he promptly said: “Oh, if it was to save a fellow from swinging, of course it would never be found.” Now, you know how little speculative or “morbid” he is. Is it possible that life itself is often more morbid than any reflections regarding it?’