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"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 yard."
"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 sixpence."
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 £$ 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 tied up with pink ribbon, so I have brought my money away and shall replace it in the bank."
I was glad to hear such a cheerful account of my friends; but when I reached their home I saw that matters were not really so flourishing as I had hoped to find them. Harry Blair had come in tired and dispirited, having failed in securing the work of which he had been in search; baby was very ailing and fretful, and Lizzie did not hesitate to speak openly of her brother-in-law's meanness in not offering them a little help.
"He would have helped you," I said quietly—for I thought it might do her good to know the truth. "He came here with that intention, but says he found you so smart in a lace collar and gold chain that he did not think you needed it."
Mrs. Blair flushed and exclaimed, "It's only a tuppenny thing I bought for one of the children."
"But what man would believe that a woman of your age could be so vain and foolish as to wear a tin thing like that ?" said her husband angrily. "A few pounds would have been an immense help just now, and we have missed through your love of show."
"Well, I am sure, Harry, you would not like to come home and find me dirty and dowdy," exclaimed Lizzie.
"There's no need to be that," replied her husband. "John's wife is never either dirty or dowdy, but she doesn't dress herself up in chains and ribbons. I am always telling you we can't afford such silly finery." And he got up and left the room.
Reader, you may think that this is overdrawn; but it is
a faithful pict ure of a real case that came under my own
notice, and I do not think it is by any means a solitary or
an unusual one. We hear terrible accounts of homes that
are poverty-stricken through the drunkenness of the husband
and sometimes of the wife, but how many homes there are,
not perhaps ruined, but always pinched and straitened, and
where the members live as we say " from hand to mouth,"
because all the earnings are s wallowed up by the mother's love of finery and desire to keep up appearances. Lizzie Blair was not born a working woman exactly; her father was a schoolmaster in a very humble fashion, but still her parents always had their "parlour" to sit in, and Lizzie struggled to keep up the "gentility" of her girlhood, though her husband was only a journeyman printer, and they lived with a number of children in three small rooms. One room must be called the "parlour," and the comfort of the whole family diminished to maintain its character, and to deck it with a few trumpery ornaments. Edith, the eldest girl, must have a feather in her hat, "like a young lady," and to procure this, the money is spent that was sorely needed to mend Charlie's boots. Is this not often so? And each trifle bought seems so trifling that the husband finds it difficult to make a stand against the wasteful expenditure; but as the continuous dropping of water wears away stone, so the constant spending of pennies undermines the income. By all means try to keep a bright home for your husband's return from work, and teach your children in all things to be pleasant, and to make home cheerful and happy. But beware of that gaudy and flimsy show, beneath which there is no real comfort; dread that cheap finery which in the end is so terribly dear.
Cfre Utill gitrn.
WHEN he was a young, a. generous boy,
Under what stones the smooth trout lay.
He told the habits of the flies,
From the German of Luther.
THE best time of the year for me
And, chief of all, the nightingale
Yet more, the dear Lord God and King,
Him lauds with joy the morning light,