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as this has peculiar characteristics of its own; there are always three or four bells at the side of the door, where originally there used to be but one. Fixed up above the kitchen window is generally a small board with the figure of a mangle, or perhaps a notice that “ repairs are neatly executed” by J. Smith, the individual himself being visible in the kitchen window, diligently occupied upon a dilapidated shoe; in general, small heaps of oyster-shells are scattered here and there; and the tribe of costermongers and barrel organists, whose name is legion, fill the air with a most distracting din. The whole street boasts most probably of two or three shops, and as many schools; the former embrace one of petty articles of grocery, one of sweet-stuff and cheap toys, and a milkman's, whose chalk cow is highly emblematic of the liquid he sells; and the latter show almost an equal variety, being designated, according to the fancy or ambition of the proprietors, “ Establishment for Young Ladies,” to Mr. ——'s Seminary," or simply, and unostentatiously, “ Boys' School.” “"
One other shop there was, over and above the few which we have already mentioned, and presenting an appearance of grandeur considerably greater than theirs. This was the beer-shop and gin-palace, which at night almost illuminated the street with the three huge lamps which blazed before its door, and even by day attracted the notice of every passer-by; for a huge union-jack waved over its portals, as though it laid claim to being one of the national institutions of the land. This house was called the “Golden Robin," and no shop in the neighbourhood could boast of such custom as it enjoyed. When we tell the reader that here and there a window exhibited a bill, stating that there was “A room for a single man,” and that here and there a paper was wafered to the window, saying that an apartment was to be had “furnished or unfurnished,” we think that we shall have given him a pretty accurate idea of the locality to which our tale refers.
In No. 4 of this street, on a dull drizzly evening in October, lay a widow, dying fast from consumption. The autumnal fogs had rapidly increased her complaint, and she knew that, beyond a doubt, the hand of death was heavy upon her now. The only room that she and her three children occupied, was the back parlour, and here she now lay: a few dying embers casting a sickly light through the room, and the faint sounds of the children at play struggling in from the street; for, despite the drizzle, they were keeping up their games.
None of the widow's children were joining in that merry play; two of them were crouching over the fire, and the third had not as yet come in from his work. The two over the fire were twins, of about five years of age; they were brother and sister; it was when they were born that their father was missed, and had been heard of no more, and that the seeds of their mother's complaint were planted, seeds which were about so soon to bring forth their fruit in death.
Mrs. Graham had a presentiment that she should never see the next day, and anxiously from time to time she turned her eyes to the door, expecting her son John home from work; little Eddy and Mary did the same, for John had generally a penny roll, or some such present for them; he never spent anything on himself; his mother and the children got all he had.
John Graham was fourteen years old, and a fine, strong, and active boy he was; he never had pain or ache; his spirits, despite the misfortunes of his family, were always good, and although he worked hard for what he had, he never asked to keep one penny for himself, but spent it all on his sick mother and the two children, who were almost entirely dependent upon him. They had, however, a little from another source ; an uncle of Mrs. Graham's allowed her five shillings a week through the parish, and every Saturday the relieving officer left it on his rounds.
The position in which John Graham found himself had made him a man before his time, and he had done all that lay in his power to provide his mother with everything that she could want; the little ones, too, he treated quite as though they were his own, and they looked upon him with veneration as well as love.
When they had all looked for some time at the door, the welcome sound was heard, and the two children jumped up from their little stools before the fire, to let him in. He was not long in reading in their little faces that all was not well with their mother, and his fears were increased by their neglecting to ask for their usual present. They usually put out their hands for the bun or cake, and whichever got it divided it with the other; but to-night they only laid hold of him by the coat, and pulled him timidly along, as though they were almost afraid to speak.
John Graham did not need much force to drag him along; in a moment he was by his mother's bed, and had her thin cold hand in
“How are you to-night, mother, dear?” said the affectionate youth, as he pressed that hand as closely as he dared, for of late the fingers had become so thin that they seemed as though, with the least violence, they must be crushed.
Mrs. Graham was too weak to answer him for a while, and a closer look at her by
the dim light of the fire, made her son feel that it was not necessary to repeat the question. *“Dying, my son; I am dying. To-night will, I suppose, see the end.”
“No, mother, no, not to-night.”
“ And why not to-night? If it is to be to-night, I would not put it off.”
“Poor little Eddy and Mary!" ejaculated the youth, as he cast his eyes towards the fire, and saw them sitting silently by it, the bun halved indeed as usual, but not tasted.
“I am glad you are come, my son, for there are some things yet to be said, and perhaps but little time to say them. I want to speak to you about them”and her eyes turned toward the twins—"and,”—and here her voice faltered, and fell into an even still lower whisper," and about him.”
“Tell me everything, mother; there's not a wish but that I'll fulfil, so far as can be done by mortal man.”
“I know it, my son; you've never cost me a single tear; you've been my stay and staff since we lost your poor father, and I have every confidence in you now. As soon as I am gone, Eddy and Mary will have no one to look to but you. They are helpless little things, and you will promise your dying mother to take care of them?”
“I will,” said John Graham, with a solemn voice.