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ketched coming down, or a female ketched going up, after they've been quartered, gets their travelling ticket, whatever the hour might be.".
All this, rendered into English by Mr Giles, meant that males and females seeking lodgings at Pugmaster's · were lodged on separate floors, and that any attempt to evade the decent rule was punished by instant expulsion from the premises.
The first floor, which was devoted to married couples, was the first we entered. I am not thoroughly acquainted with the Lodging-House Act, but I believe one of its provisions is that there shall be no more than one bed and bedstead in each room set apart for the use of the married, and that each room shall afford a certain quantity of pure air adjudged to be sufficient for healthful respiration. I don't say that this salutary law was absolutely set at defiance at Pugmaster's, but most decidedly Pugmaster had ventured as near the edge of infraction as he possibly could without toppling over. The apartment was about forty feet long and twenty wide ; and the whole space was divided into strips, each barely large enough to contain a bedstead, the partitioning being a mere flimsy screen of half-inch deal not more than seven feet high, with a gap at bottom between it and the floor wide enough for any human creature of moderate bulk to crawl through. I pointed this out to the Deputy, and his reply was that “that was 'ow it was rigistered.”
“And how about the air ?” said I.
“As to the quantity; you are particular on that score, of course ?”
“Get out,” said Mr Deputy, grinning; "what the 'ell's their hair to do with us?"
Then, a light suddenly dawning on him, he continued,
“Oh, the rigistered air, you mean.' Oh, it's all right enough: there's nothink here but wot's rigistered.”
“But it doesn't seem to me that there can be sufficient air in this place for so many lodgers, when the beds are full.”
“Ay, but look on the quality on it," returned the Deputy, pointing to an open window that overlooked a wretched tree, naked and in the last stage of consumption; and as he spoke he inhaled a heavy mouthful, and slapped his chest as though he liked the flavour, admired it for its density, and regarded it as a sort of over-proof spirit that might be diluted tremendously and still retain strength enough for ordinary purposes.
“We charges a tanner a pair—for married 'uns, that is,” said Mr Deputy, “and fourpence for single 'uns."
“But suppose a married couple have children ?”
“Then they pays for 'em, of course. Dash it all!” said the Deputy, “the omblibusts does that."
“But little children—mere infants, I allude to.”
“They all counts,” returned Deputy; "they ain't got no call to bring 'em to 'blige us; we don't want 'em.”
I inquired of Deputy if the bedsteads were always in the state in which they now appeared—with a thick coating of grease and dirt all over the head-board-and if what I saw was about the average cleanliness of the sheets; to which he replied, with much satisfaction, that what I saw was the average condition of things “as nigh as a toucher," and that everything was duly “rigistered.”
When I entered the married folks' dormitory, I looked anxiously about me for a personage whose existence had been but vaguely hinted by Mr Deputy at the commencement of our interview, when he spoke of “only the Bedrid.” We had by this time ascended the next flight of stairs, and I was about to ask further concerning the mysterious Bedrid, when Deputy opened a door, and at the same time gave me a clue. In size the apartment was similar to the one below, but there were no partitions, and a long range of bedsteads, each about the width of an ordinary hearthrug, extended the length of the side walls. I don't think that the windows had been opened as yet, and the air of the place was misty having in it, among other things, a flavour of rum. In a few moments my eyes grew used to the mist, and then I could make out that one of the bedsteads in a distant corner was occupied. There was an upraised arm, a hand grasping a bottle, and making with it signs of beckoning. Mr Deputy hurried forward, and we followed.
"'Ow are yer, old cock ?” the Deputy inquired cordially; to which the “old cock”-of whom nothing was visible but the arm and hand, the bottle, a green woollen nightcap, and a pair of bloodshot eyes peering over the edge of the frowsy coverlet-replied hoarsely that he was “on the werge of sinking, and would the Deputy be good enough to procure him a quarten of rum.”
“Why, 'tain't time," said the Deputy, cheerily; “it's bare eleven by the church clock.”
“The church clock's a liar," returned the fierce old cock, uncovering his hideous unshaven muzzle to give more distinct utterance to the accusation ; "you go and do what you're asked ; that's a good lad.”
Then, for the first time observing Mr Giles and myself, he looked scared, and mutely appealed to the Deputy for an explanation. Being assured that it was all right, his apprehensions subsided. After a few moments' reflection, he thrust under the bed-clothes the hand that had just grasped the rum-bottle, and, after a little delay, hauled up what evidently was the end of a trouser brace——" in case of fire,” he whispered, hoarsely, at the same time wagging his ugly head vigorously in support of his assertion. “It 'ud be a horful thing to be burned in the bed, so I sleeps in 'em.” On which Mr Giles winked at the Deputy, who gravely chafed his nose with the rum-bottle ; and both said it was the best thing he could do. As the Deputy was anxious to fetch the rum, we could stay with the Bedrid no longer; but the Deputy kindly enlightened me.
“He's the best customer we've got,” said he ; "he's been where you see him now laying these months and months. He's got a parrylatic stroke through saying ‘Lord, strike me a cripple,' so they tell. He's a wonder at livin'. 'Cept bread, rum and saveloys is his wittles. He drinks rum all day long, and he has reg'ler two saveloys for his supper. Got money? I should rayther think that he had. Where? Why, in his trowsis pockets, to be sure. Didn't he show you the braces of 'em? Well, he always wears 'em-never had 'em off once since I've knowed him. 'Course it's all gammon about wearing 'em in bed in case of fire; it's cos he's afraid of trusting anybody with his money. Where does he get it from? Ah! that's what I should like to know. There's a old woman-his sister, he says she is—comes to see him once a fortnight; and p'raps she brings him it. Lor' .bless you, he pays like a prince. When they're reg'ler, as many of 'em are wot lodges here, we chucks in Sundays; but he won't have it; he makes me the 'lowance of it, and many a sixpence as well. Well, d'ye see, I nusses him ; he's helpless as a young 'um, and I fetches him his rum and that. How much ? Why, about a pint and a quarten a day; and there he lays, singing to
hisself mostly, but sometime swearing awful, and layin' awake all night for fear that any of 'em should get up to their tricks with his trowsis.”
There was a good deal to be seen at Pugmaster's after this, but I could not banish the rum-swigging, saveloydevouring, bedridden, frightful old savage from my mind. There was an opportunity for doing so, however; for, quitting the chamber of horrors I have mentioned, Mr Deputy opened the door of a room between the foul bedrooms, from which there instantly issued the loveliest odours of violets and other sweet-scented spring flowers that ever greeted human nostrils.
“That's a freshener, ain't it?" exclaimed the Deputy. “ They're tiresome young beggars; but we always get this treat this time o' year.”
“Who are the tiresome young beggars?” I inquired.
“The flower-selling gals,” returned Mr Deputy. “Them's their stocks ;” and as he spoke, he pointed to a great pile of flower-laden baskets, by the side of what seemed to be a heap of tramps' cast-off rags. Violets were there, lilies of the valley, wall-flowers, primroses, and dainty sprigs deftly got up as “buttonholers.” “They are obliged to be up very early to get 'em at Covent Garden, so they comes back and turns in again till it's time to ketch the swells as buys 'em.”
It was nice to smell the sweet flowers in that pestiferous hole of Pugmaster's; but what about the villanous odours of fever and pestilence with which the innocent buds and blooms might become impregnated during their sojourn of several hours between the bedrooms of a common lodging-house? Who would suspect deadly malaria lurking in the blushing leaves of the dainty spring rosebud held so gratefully to the face of beauty? This subject provided me with food for reflec