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Jones’s Alley
by [?]

She lived in Jones’s Alley. She cleaned offices, washed, and nursed from daylight until any time after dark, and filled in her spare time cleaning her own place (which she always found dirty–in a “beastly filthy state,” she called it–on account of the children being left in possession all day), cooking, and nursing her own sick–for her family, though small, was so in the two senses of the word, and sickly; one or another of the children was always sick, but not through her fault. She did her own, or rather the family washing, at home too, when she couldn’t do it by kind permission, or surreptitiously in connection with that of her employers. She was a haggard woman. Her second husband was supposed to be dead, and she, lived in dread of his daily resurrection. Her eldest son was at large, but, not being yet sufficiently hardened in misery, she dreaded his getting into trouble even more than his frequent and interested appearances at home. She could buy off the son for a shilling or two and a clean shirt and collar, but she couldn’t purchase the absence of the father at any price–he claimed what he called his “conzugal rights” as well as his board, lodging, washing and beer. She slaved for her children, and nag-nag-nagged them everlastingly, whether they were in the right or in the wrong, but they were hardened to it and took small notice. She had the spirit of a bullock. Her whole nature was soured. She had those “worse troubles” which she couldn’t tell to anybody, but bad to suffer in silence.

She also, in what she called her “spare time,” put new cuffs and collar-bands on gentlemen’s shirts. The gentlemen didn’t live in Jones’s Alley–they boarded with a patroness of the haggard woman; they didn’t know their shirts were done there–had they known it, and known Jones’s Alley, one or two of them, who were medical students, might probably have objected. The landlady charged them just twice as much for repairing their shirts as she paid the haggard woman, who, therefore, being unable to buy the cuffs and collar-bands ready-made for sewing on, had no lack of employment with which to fill in her spare time.

Therefore, she was a “respectable woman,” and was known in Jones’s Alley as “Misses” Aspinall, and called so generally, and even by Mother Brock, who kept “that place” opposite. There is implied a world of difference between the “Mother” and the “Misses,” as applied to matrons in Jones’s Alley; and this distinction was about the only thing–always excepting the everlasting “children”–that the haggard woman had left to care about, to take a selfish, narrow-minded sort of pleasure in–if, indeed, she could yet take pleasure, grim or otherwise, in anything except, perhaps, a good cup of tea and time to drink it in.

Times were hard with Mrs Aspinall. Two coppers and two half-pence in her purse were threepence to her now, and the absence of one of the half-pence made a difference to her, especially in Paddy’s market–that eloquent advertisement of a young city’s sin and poverty and rotten wealth–on Saturday night. She counted the coppers as anxiously and nervously as a thirsty dead-beat does. And her house was “falling down on her” and her troubles, and she couldn’t get the landlord to do a “han’stern” to it.

At last, after persistent agitation on her part (but not before a portion of the plastered ceiling had fallen and severely injured one of her children) the landlord caused two men to be sent to “effect necessary repairs” to the three square, dingy, plastered holes–called “three rooms and a kitchen”–for the privilege of living in which, and calling it “my place,” she paid ten shillings a week.

Previously the agent, as soon as he had received the rent and signed the receipt, would cut short her reiterated complaints–which he privately called her “clack”–by saying that he’d see to it, he’d speak to the landlord; and, later on, that he had spoken to him, or could do nothing more in the matter–that it wasn’t his business. Neither it was, to do the agent justice. It was his business to collect the rent, and thereby earn the means of paying his own. He had to keep a family on his own account, by assisting the Fat Man to keep his at the expense of people–especially widows with large families, or women, in the case of Jones’s Alley–who couldn’t afford it without being half-starved, or running greater and unspeakable risks which “society” is not supposed to know anything about.