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she slammed the door in the poor soul's face, with such a vengeance as to set the latticed lantern swinging at a rate that threatened to dislodge the sprig of mistletoe.
If this was not Mrs Blisterchick who had opened the door, she was evidently the presiding genius of the establishment; and it was equally certain that it was not she who had adorned the lantern. Perhaps some market gardener, lumbering that way the night before on his holly-and-mistletoe-laden cart, had conceived the grim joke of sticking the sprig there, little dreaming of the treacherous beacon he was planting. Of course it is impossible for me, since I did not hear her words, to say what the poor wayfarer with the two small children asked the dirty old fat woman for. Perhaps she simply wished to be informed if her husband was there ; perhaps she sought to know whether she was on the right road for Dartford ; still it is not improbable that she might have been as much taken in by that bit of mistletoe as I was. She may not have thought, a moment before, of knocking at Blisterchick's door ; but, spying the emblem of peace and goodwill, sudden hope may have leapt to her desolate heart. “Here's a Godsend !” she may have said to herself, as she caught sight of the mystic green and the snowy berries. “They must at least be cheery-hearted folk who hang that out in a place like this; here goes to try my good luck this bitter night, at all events. And she raps at the door, and out bursts hideous old Mother Blisterchick, uglier than any ogress in a story book. “Go to the devil,” says she, and bangs the door ; and the poor soul, without a word, creeps away and is gradually lost in the bleak dark, just as the Hautboy, having extracted his nose from his comforter, patheti
cally pipes up“ While shepherds watched their flock by night.”
The reason why this villanous street was included in our round, as I am informed by the Cornopean, is that the landlady of the “ Kilkenny Cats,” the most flourishing public-house in the neighbourhood, is a devout believer in “Waits,” and is undoubtedly “good” for half a crown and a quart of egg-hot when they call on her on Boxing Day. The “Kilkenny Cats” is not many steps from Blisterchick's, but it exhibits no light, and with its flashy lamps and gilded boards, and the recent imprint of human feet in mud and sawdust on its threshold, has a stark and stricken-suddenly-dead aspect that is not easy to describe. An emblem of the last evil act it committed before departing this life appears in the shape of á “navvy” lying at full length on the wooden cellar-flap, with some bacon and a cabbage tied in a bundle-handkerchief, hugged affectionately to his breast, and serving him in part as a pillow. The navvy rouses at the first strains of “While shepherds watched," &c., and hiccups some drunken words to the sacred tune, and drums with his hob-nailed heels on the cellar-flap. The solemn slowness of the music, however, presently excites his wrath ; and, ferociously addressing Mr Weevil, he requests him to “chuck it out livelier," unless he wants his precious ribs stove in. This unreasonable demand not being complied with, the navvy scrambles to his feet, and, using awful language, makes a vicious lounge at the Flageolet, but, missing him and staggering past him, he happily keeps on, balancing himself and maintaining an erect posture, solely by virtue of the bundle, which he skilfully manoeuvres as a counter-weight, and so vanishes. I remarked to the old gentleman who had so narrowly
escaped assault and battery, that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood did not seem to possess a particularly keen appreciation for sacred music. “I'd sooner play to the beasts in the Sirlogical Gardens,” he replied ; " but being the wust of the wust, I s'pose we must make some allowance for them.” “And so you consider the people hereabout the worst of the worst ?” “I'd wager a guinea, if I had one,” the old flageolet-player whispered back in confidence, “ that there isn't a house on either side of the way, from top to bottom, that doesn't contain a convicted thief. Bless you! there's none' but thieves, and bad women, and tramps, and cadgers, and bullies lives about here."
One not unfrequently hears of folk such as those mentioned by the venerable “Wait” being converted from their ways of sin by means less potent than that of a sacred message of mercy and forgiveness sounding in guilty ears suddenly awakened in the middle of the quiet night; but if any such result attended our humble ministrations, I am scarcely in a position to say that I was aware of it. To be sure, one never can tell ; and it is especially hard to form a judgment in the case of persons so peculiarly constituted as were those inhabiting the houses about us. It is a fact that, in three or four instances, late stragglers, returning from God only knows what manner of occupation to their lodgings in this vile street, caught up the tune that was being played, and softly whistled it to themselves as they came shuffling along with their coat tight-buttoned, their collars upturned, and their hat or cap pulled down low-for the double purpose possibly of screening their features from the observations of a too attentive Police, and protecting their unhappy noses from the biting wind that was blowing. One of these, arrived at his
door, did not at once enter, but, pulling up his jacket collar yet a little higher, stood in the shadow, as though with some idea that it would be a pity to be shut in from sharing in a real bit of Christmas, and favoured us with a whistling accompaniment to “ Lo, He comes !” to its very end ; although he was driven by stress of weather, poor fellow, to utilise his musical effort by blowing on his benumbed fingers, in order to impart a little warmth into them.
On the other hand, one inhabitant — the fact of his keeping a small beer-shop exactly opposite the flourishing “Kilkenny Cats,” to the proprietress of which our efforts were mainly directed, may have had to do with it—waxed wroth at our music. He flung up his window with a furious bang, and appearing at the opening with his nightcap on, and with a patchwork counterpane huddled over his shoulders, swore in horrible terms that if we did not that instant "sling our Daniels ” — which the Trombone informed me was a Sludge Street equivalent for moving off—he would "shy” at us every heavenly article of crockery his apartment contained.
There was a woman, too! She came up Sludge Street in a condition of reckless and defiant intoxication, her wretched finery and the profuse display of flower and feather in her bonnet sufficiently denoting the class to which she belonged. I don't quite remember the tune we were at the moment playing ; but whatever it may have been, she took offence at it. She stood still a little time and listened, and then she broke out with tremendous ferocity, “ It is all cant and lies,” she cried, raising her voice almost to a shriek, at the same time leaning her unsteady body against the shutters of an oil-shop to enable her to stamp with her feet, “it is all lies and cant—all rot, all a cheat; and you ought to be pole-axed, you hoary-headed old thief,” she continued, addressing the meek Flageolet, "for helping to put it about. Ha! ha! who believes that ?”—she knew the words of the tune, it seemed. “Do I believe it, do you think? Look at me," and as she shrieked forth the words she stretched out her arms, at the time spreading her shawl, and in the semi-darkness giving herself an appearance as of some evil angel. "Look at me, and then talk of saving. I'm miles too low down to be hooked up again; and there's thousands with memillions ; you whining old Methodist, I am going to
- straight, I tell you; and I mean to lush well along the road.” And then, with a shout of wild laughter, she staggered off, her draggletails flapping in the wind.
I did not see what became of her. My impression was that she entered one of the houses, or turned into one of the abounding arched alleys with which both sides of the way were pierced. She did not go far, anyhow. In less than ten minutes, quite suddenly, she appeared again, scarcely staggering at all now, and walking fast. She made straight for Mr Weevil, and, plucking one of his hands from his instrument before he could recover from his amazement, thrust into his palm and pressed his fingers over the sum of fourpencehalfpenny in coppers. “I was drunk just now," she remarked quietly. “Thank'ee kindly, missus,” replied the forgiving Flageolet. “Don't thank me-hit me,” cried the woman, growing excited again ; "strike me down into the mud, and tread on me. Stamp me down into the ground and bury me. It would be a good riddance, for I'm no good alive—no good, no good.” And the strange creature fitted away again, still