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“Perfectly true. Now, boys, for the proverb; who will find it first ?"
Old Andrew's stall was deserted in a moment, for we were all off to the school-room to get our Bibles and search for the proverb.
As we all began to search at the commencement of the book of Proverbs, and searched straight on, most of us found the passage about the same time, and there was quite a race back to the stall, who should be first; and some were shouting as soon as they came in sight of it, “ Prov. xiv. 1 : 'Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish woman plucketh it down with her hands.””
“Yes, that is it,” said Old Andrew, speaking rather more loudly than usual as we gather round him; for it was evident that, though speaking to us, the audience he wished chiefly to interest was the little crowd of untidy women whose curiosity kept them lingering near. .
“ Yes, that is it. 'Every wise woman buildeth up her house. I have known some such wise women. My own mother was one of them. She was wise enough to mend a rent and patch a hole, instead of letting it grow bigger,” said Old Andrew, glancing at the women near, some of whom I could see shift their position, in order to conceal some blemish in their garments.
“Yes,” continued he, “ she believed that a stitch in time saves nine, and she acted upon it, and, as the Scotch poet
"She gars the auld claes look amaist as weel as new.'
And she believed in the virtues of soap and water, and whitewash, and kept everything clean and sweet and neat. And she believed in fresh air, and opened her windows to let it in.
“And she believed in economy, too. You would never find her throwing away the bones of a bit of meat for the dogs to worry at, or pouring out the water the beef had been boiled in. She knew how to make a good meal out of next to nothing; and, when the bones were boiled till nothing more could be got out of them, she kept them till she had enough to sell. And she did the same with all the wastepaper. She could rock the cradle with her foot, and knit with her hands, and keep an eye upon the pot on the fire that it did not boil over, and at the same time read by snatches some good book, or teach her little ones to read and spell. She could make a shilling go as far as some of her neighbours could make half-a-crown. And she trained us all to be cleanly and tidy, and honest and industrious. She was a wise woman and a good woman, and she built up her house; for many a comfortable garment, and many a nice bit of furniture was bought out of her savings; and when a rainy day came, and father was ill for a long while, we did not need to go to the workhouse, or ask for relief from the parish. Mother wrought the harder, and encouraged us all to do the same; and, though her little hoard grew less and less, it was not all spent when God was pleased to restore my father's health and strength. Yes, * Every wise woman buildeth her house.'”
Here Old Andrew paused, and seemed as if he meant to say no more; but he was not allowed to pause for long, for soon one of the boys asked: “But what about the foolish woman, uncle Andrew ?”.
“The foolish woman," said Old Andrew. "Ah, there are too many women of that sort. She plucks down her house with her hands. She does not mean to pluck it down, but she does so all the same; and she has a great many different ways of doing it.
“Sometimes she plucks it down with laziness and idleness, and lets everything go to wreck and ruin. I know one woman whose bad temper and scolding tongue have plucked down her house, for these drove her husband to the alehouse, and the alehouse proved the road to ruin. I know another woman, a foolish woman, who plucked down her house about her ears by means of vanity and extravagance in dress. She went in debt deeper and deeper for dress, unknown to her husband; and when the debts had to be paid there was no money to pay them, and their furniture was sold for debt; and the husband, disgusted with his wife's conduct, ran away and left her, and she and her two children had to go to the workhouse. I know a foolish woman whose meddlesome disposition and gossiping tongue ruined her home, for they gave rise to unending quarrels in the family, till at last the home was broken up and the family scattered. I know another, whose foolish jealousy plucked her house down. She was jealous of her husband without cause, and made his life so miserable with her suspicions that at last they separated. She thinks herself an injured woman, but everybody who knows her and her husband, knows she is a fool, who with her own hands has plucked down the structure of her home and her happiness.
“I have known too many who have ruined their homes by their love for strong drink. Hundreds of women are doing so now. Boys, that will do. I hear your school-bell ringing."
Thus ended Old Andrew's lesson about women in the building trade.
stopped at the door of a shabby-looking house
bury Square, and gave two distinct single raps with the worn iron knocker, to signify that my visit was to the occupants of the second floor. A child of twelve opened the door; she was a nice-looking girl with pretty fair hair elaborately curled, and tied back with faded blue ribbon; but her dress showed more than one rent, whilst her shabby boots were almost destitute of buttons.
“ How is your mother, my dear?" I asked. “She keeps very weak, Miss Tighe," replied the child; “but baby is nicely. Will you please to walk up ?-mother's still in bed.”
I mounted the uneven and not over-clean stairs and entered the bed-room. Mrs. Blair was sitting up in bed, propped with pillows, looking pale and wan; beside her lay her ten days' old baby, his chubby arms bare, his sleeves tied up with rose-coloured ribbons which made gay spots on the white bed. I had known Mrs. Blair for many years, known her when, in the early days after her marriage, she used to add to her husband's income by giving music-lessons, and they managed to live very comfortably; but this was her seventh child, and the music-lessons had long been given up. During the last ten years of their married life she and her husband had slipped steadily down the social ladder. From being the proprietor of a small printing-office he had become an ordinary working compositor; from a decent little house in the suburbs they had descended to three small rooms in a back street of Bloomsbury; and one great cause of this steady descent was Mrs. Blair's inveterate love of finery and display. It all seemed harmless enough; it was never perhaps carried to the point of ruinous extravagance, but on that very account the wife's weakness was the more dangerous to the welfare of her husband and family. Sixpence for a pretty light lace collar to brighten up a dark stuff dress did not appear to be a very heavy expenditure, but when it is remembered that a lace collar at such a price can scarcely be expected to bear more than one washing, whilst for the same money, two or even three linen collars can be bought that will wash and wear and look neat for months, it must be allowed that lace collars are not an economical purchase for the needy mother of a large family. A shilling for a pair of vases to make the mantel-piece “look pretty” is not unreasonable, if it did not happen, as it always did in Mrs. Blair's case, that that same shilling was required for many purposes of a far more urgent kind.
I sat down by the bed and chatted some little time with Mrs. Blair, and admired the baby.
“Yes, he's a fine boy,” said Mrs. Blair ; “but he will soon get thin if I don't get stronger.”
“ You look pale and thin,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied; “ you see I ought to have my good mutton and pint of stout every day now, and I can't till Harry gets into full work again.”
I did not say anything, but drew the baby's bright ribbons through my fingers thoughtfully. Mrs. Blair noticed the action.
“ Lovely ribbon, isn't it?" she said, “and only sixpence a
“Would it not have been better-just now—to spend the sixpence on a chop?" I asked with some hesitation.
“Well, one chop is not much good,” she replied. “I ought to have it every day for a week or ten days; and I could not bear to have baby dowdy for the sake of six
I am an old maid, and perhaps I do not understand or sympathise with these little motherly vanities; but I thought to myself that even one chop would make a beginning towards strength, and be far more profitable to mother and child than the red ribbon; moreover I felt pretty sure in my own mind that the price of a good many chops was expended in the course of each week in such pretty cheap adornments.
I was away from London for several weeks after this, but as soon as possible after my return to town, I started out to see how Lizzie Blair and her baby were progressing. In Bloomsbury Square I met her husband's brother John, who was a thrifty, hardworking clerk, and lived at Hammersmith.
I inquired for his brother's family.
“I have just been to see them,” he said. “I heard that the baby was ill, and Harry not earning much just now, and I put £ 5 in my pocket, though I could not very well spare it, in case they really needed a lift; but Harry was out after some fresh work he has heard of, and Lizzie looked very gay with a gold chain and lace collar, and the white curtains were