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She Was Good For Nothing
by [?]

The mayor stood at the open window. His shirt-frill was very fine, and so were his ruffles; he had a breast-pin stuck in his frill, and was uncommonly smooth-shaven–all his own work; certainly he had given himself a slight cut, but he had stuck a bit of newspaper on the place. “Hark ‘ee, youngster!” he cried.

The youngster in question was no other than the son of the poor washerwoman, who was just going past the house; and he pulled off his cap respectfully. The peak of the said cap was broken in the middle, for the cap was arranged so that it could be rolled up and crammed into his pocket. In his poor, but clean and well-mended attire, with heavy wooden shoes on his feet, the boy stood there, as humble and abashed as if he stood opposite the king himself.

“You’re a good boy,” said Mr. Mayor. “You’re a civil boy. I suppose your mother is rinsing clothes down yonder in the river? I suppose you are to carry that thing to your mother that you have in your pocket? That’s a bad affair with your mother. How much have you got in it?”

“Half a quartern,” stammered the boy, in a frightened voice.

“And this morning she had just as much,” the mayor continued.

“No,” replied the boy, “it was yesterday.”

“Two halves make a whole. She’s good for nothing! It’s a sad thing with that kind of people! Tell your mother that she ought to be ashamed of herself; and mind you don’t become a drunkard–but you will become one, though. Poor child–there, go!”

Accordingly the boy went on his way. He kept his cap in his hand, and the wind played with his yellow hair, so that great locks of it stood up straight. He turned down by the street corner, into the little lane that led to the river, where his mother stood by the washing bench, beating the heavy linen with the mallet. The water rolled quickly along, for the flood-gates at the mill had been drawn up, and the sheets were caught by the stream, and threatened to overturn the bench. The washerwoman was obliged to lean against the bench, to support it.

“I was very nearly sailing away,” she said. “It is a good thing that you are come, for I have need to recruit my strength a little. For six hours I’ve been standing in the water. Have you brought anything for me?”

The boy produced the bottle, and the mother put it to her mouth, and took a little.

“Ah, how that revives one!” she said: “how it warms! It is as good as a hot meal, and not so dear. And you, my boy! you look quite pale. You are shivering in your thin clothes–to be sure it is autumn. Ugh! how cold the water is! I hope I shall not be ill. But no, I shall not be that! Give me a little more, and you may have a sip too, but only a little sip, for you must not accustom yourself to it, my poor dear child!”

And she stepped up to the bridge on which the boy stood, and came ashore. The water dripped from the straw matting she had wound round her, and from her gown.

“I work and toil as much as ever I can,” she said, “but I do it willingly, if I can only manage to bring you up honestly and well, my boy.”

As she spoke, a somewhat older woman came towards them. She was poor enough to behold, lame of one leg, and with a large false curl hanging down over one of her eyes, which was a blind one. The curl was intended to cover the eye, but it only made the defect more striking. This was a friend of the laundress. She was called among the neighbours, “Lame Martha with the curl.”