Boot Lace Sellers – August 1909

(Margaret shows herself to be quite hard woman here. Considering her obvious political leanings I am quite surprised by her lack of compassion. )

Political knowledge is spreading downwards so that now the very hawkers and tramps have it at their tongue-end. I can imagine them in the lodging-houses of an evening holding interested discourse on the great day of their rights which is dawning. If not too miserable of aspect, I like drawing them out to air their views.

When I ventured to suggest to a stalwart vendor of bootlaces that he might find some occupation more suited to his strength and talents, he said he had heard tell there was a bill in Parliament for feeding men as couldn’t get work, and he was trying to put on till this here Parliament started providing for them and could I tell him what he was to do till then?

Surely, he urged, people as had something to spare wouldn’t grudge a few pence to give us poor fellows a bite and a bed till Parliament started a-feeding of them. And it wasn’t as if he was asking me to give him a penny for nothing — there was a pair of good bootlaces, sure to come in useful some time.

A lame young man, with his hair neatly parted down the middle, did not offer to sell me anything but frankly asked for a copper or two towards a night’s lodgings. “You’d never miss a penny, lady! “ he pleaded I explained to him that although I would not miss one penny, I would suffer loss if I gave away four or five every day, so many of his class come to our door.

Besides I had to work for my pennies and why should not he? Well, he said, he had been round all the shoemakers in the town, and none of them would give him work, and how was that his fault, and could I tell him what he was to do? He evidently regarded me as a reasonable person who would understand the irresistible logic of his position — that nothing but begging was open to him — and awaited with an amiable meekness my solution of his life’s problem.

Many amusing arguments I have with the male tramps and hawkers, but the women — most of them —- rouse my wrath, especially the wrecks of womanhood with babies in their arms. When one miserable creature tried to direct my pity to a dirty baby muching a lump of bread-and-jam, I asked her what right she had to have a baby when she could not feed it or lodge it.

This question took her so much by surprise that she could not answer it. She evidently thought the baby her trump card in the begging game, and had not counted on stony-hearted women like myself.

The woman-hawker has far more to say than the man. She will not go away till she has shown the whole contents of her basket, although I tell her decidedly that I do not require a print apron, nor tape buttons, nor a sixpenny brooch, nor a small tooth-comb.

She argues that, if I bought something from her, I would be helping an honest woman to get a living. Pursuing the argument, I say that when I buy a joint of meat, I am helping the butcher, but it is not for his good that I buy, nor do we expect any charitable person to buy our butter or our lambs in order to help us with our rent.

But she thinks her aprons belong to a quite different class of goods. They will “come in useful” and I will also have the satisfaction of knowing that I am “helping a poor woman.” When I persist in my refusal to buy from her, she says that the Scotch (my accent betrays me) are well-known to be mean but they are not all quite so mean as myself for there is one Scotch lady who bought something from her only last week.

As she straps up her hamper with a vicious tug, she observes that it would be a pity for poor folk if all ladies were like me when an honest widow wanted to sell bits of things to keep a roof over her head. Surely it was the duty of people that had money to buy from her!

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