purpose, and if he ran out of clean forks he wiped over one or two on the roller towel. Otherwise, as he explained to his friends, his ‘system’ was quite simple, and he couldn’t understand why people made all this fuss about housekeeping.

‘You simply dirty everything you’ve got, get a hag in once a week to clean up, and the thing’s done.’

The result looked like a gigantic dustbin. Even the floor was littered with toast crusts, envelopes, cigarette ends. But Ma Parker bore him no grudge. She pitied the poor young gentleman for having no one to look after him. Out of the smudgy little window you could see an immense expanse of sad-looking sky, and whenever there were clouds they looked very worn, old clouds, frayed at the edges, with holes in them, or dark stains like tea.

While the water was heating, Ma Parker began sweeping the floor. ‘Yes,’ she thought, as the broom knocked, ‘what with one thing and another I’ve had my share. I’ve had a hard life.’

Even the neighbours said that of her. Many a time, hobbling home with her fish bag, she heard them, waiting at the corner, or leaning over the area railings, say among themselves, ‘She’s had a hard life, has Ma Parker.’ And it was so true she wasn’t in the least proud of it. It was just as if you were to say she lived in the basement-back at Number 27. A hard life! …

At sixteen she’d left Stratford and come up to London as kitching-maid. Yes, she was born in Stratford- on-Avon. Shakespeare, sir? No, people were always arsking her about him. But she’d never heard his name until she saw it on the theatres.

Nothing remained of Stratford except that ‘sitting in the fire-place of a evening you could see the stars through the chimley,’ and ‘Mother always ’ad ’er side of bacon ’anging from the ceiling.’ And there was something—a bush, there was—at the front door, that smelt ever so nice. But the bush was very vague. She ’d only remembered it once or twice in the hospital, when she’d been taken bad.

That was a dreadful place—her first place. She was never allowed out. She never went upstairs except for prayers morning and evening. It was a fair cellar. And the cook was a cruel woman. She used to snatch away her letters from home before she’d read them, and throw them in the range because they made her dreamy. … And the beedles! Would you believe it? —until she came to London she’d never seen a black beedle. Here Ma always gave a little laugh, as though —not to have seen a black beedle! Well! It was as if to say you’d never seen your own feet.

When that family was sold up she went as ‘help’ to a doctor’s house, and after two years there, on the run from morning till night, she married her husband. He was a baker.

‘A baker, Mrs. Parker!’ the literary gentleman would say. For occasionally he laid aside his tomes and lent an ear, at least, to this product called Life. It must be rather nice to be married to a baker!’

Mrs. Parker didn’t look so sure.

‘Such a clean trade,’ said the gentleman.

Mrs. Parker didn’t look convinced.

‘And didn’t you like handing the new loaves to the customers?’

‘Well, sir,’ said Mrs. Parker, ‘I wasn’t in the shop above a great deal. We had thirteen little ones and buried seven of them. If it wasn’t the ’ospital it was the infirmary, you might say!’

‘You might, indeed, Mrs. Parker!’ said the gentleman, shuddering, and taking up his pen again.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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