Page:Homes of the London Poor.djvu/47

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45
BLANK COURT; OR, LANDLORDS AND TENANTS.

know that we are to be found in the "club room" (one of the former shops of the court, and now used by us for a men's club, and for boys' and girls' evening classes, as well as for this purpose of collecting savings), and that they may come to us there if they like, either for business or a friendly chat.

Picture a low, rather long room, one of my assistants and myself sitting in state, with pen and ink and bags for money, at a deal table under a flaring gas jet; the door, which leads straight into the court, standing wide open. A bright red blind, drawn down over the broad window, prevents the passers-by from gazing in there, but, round the open door, there are gathered a set of wild, dirty faces looking in upon us. Such a semicircle they make, as the strong gas-light falls upon them! They are mostly children with disheveled hair, and ragged, uncared-for clothes; but, above them, now and then one sees the haggard face of a woman hurrying to make her Saturday evening purchases, or the vacant stare of some half-drunken man. The grown-up people who stop to look in are usually strangers, for those who know us generally come in to us. "Well! they've give it this time, anyhow," one woman will exclaim, sitting down on a bench near us, so engrossed in the question of whether she obtains a parish allowance that she thinks "they" can mean no one but the Board of Guardians, and "it" nothing but the much-desired allowance. "Yes, I thought I'd come in and tell you," she will go on; "I went up Tuesday—" And then will follow the whole story.

"Well, and how do you find yourself, Miss?" a big Irish laborer in a flannel jacket will say, entering afterwards; "I just come in to say I shall be knocked off Monday; finished our job across the park: and if so be there's any little thing in whitewashing to do, why, I'll be glad to do it."

"Presently," we reply, nodding to a thin, slight woman at the door. She has not spoken, but we know the mean-