Charles Dickens

There were ugly young mothers also, and sullen young mothers, and callous young mothers. But, the babies had not appropriated to themselves any bad expression yet, and might have been, for anything that appeared to the contrary in their soft faces, Princes Imperial, and Princesses Royal. I had the pleasure of giving a poetical commission to the baker's man to make a cake with all despatch and toss it into the oven for one red-headed young pauper and myself, and felt much the better for it. Without that refreshment, I doubt if I should have been in a condition for 'the Refractories,' towards whom my quick little matron--for whose adaptation to her office I had by this time conceived a genuine respect--drew me next, and marshalled me the way that I was going.

The Refractories were picking oakum, in a small room giving on a yard. They sat in line on a form, with their backs to a window; before them, a table, and their work. The oldest Refractory was, say twenty; youngest Refractory, say sixteen. I have never yet ascertained in the course of my uncommercial travels, why a Refractory habit should affect the tonsils and uvula; but, I have always observed that Refractories of both sexes and every grade, between a Ragged School and the Old Bailey, have one voice, in which the tonsils and uvula gain a diseased ascendency.

'Five pound indeed! I hain't a going fur to pick five pound,' said the Chief of the Refractories, keeping time to herself with her head and chin. 'More than enough to pick what we picks now, in sich a place as this, and on wot we gets here!'

(This was in acknowledgment of a delicate intimation that the amount of work was likely to be increased. It certainly was not heavy then, for one Refractory had already done her day's task--it was barely two o'clock--and was sitting behind it, with a head exactly matching it.)

'A pretty Ouse this is, matron, ain't it?' said Refractory Two, 'where a pleeseman's called in, if a gal says a word!'

'And wen you're sent to prison for nothink or less!' said the Chief, tugging at her oakum as if it were the matron's hair. 'But any place is better than this; that's one thing, and be thankful!'

A laugh of Refractories led by Oakum Head with folded arms--who originated nothing, but who was in command of the skirmishers outside the conversation.

'If any place is better than this,' said my brisk guide, in the calmest manner, 'it is a pity you left a good place when you had one.'

'Ho, no, I didn't, matron,' returned the Chief, with another pull at her oakum, and a very expressive look at the enemy's forehead. 'Don't say that, matron, cos it's lies!'

Oakum Head brought up the skirmishers again, skirmished, and retired.

'And _I_ warn't a going,' exclaimed Refractory Two, 'though I was in one place for as long as four year--_I_ warn't a going fur to stop in a place that warn't fit for me--there! And where the family warn't 'spectable characters--there! And where I fortunately or hunfort'nately, found that the people warn't what they pretended to make theirselves out to be--there! And where it wasn't their faults, by chalks, if I warn't made bad and ruinated-- Hah!'

During this speech, Oakum Head had again made a diversion with the skirmishers, and had again withdrawn.

The Uncommercial Traveller ventured to remark that he supposed Chief Refractory and Number One, to be the two young women who had been taken before the magistrate?

'Yes!' said the Chief, 'we har! and the wonder is, that a pleeseman an't 'ad in now, and we took off agen. You can't open your lips here, without a pleeseman.'

Number Two laughed (very uvularly), and the skirmishers followed suit.

'I'm sure I'd be thankful,' protested the Chief, looking sideways at the Uncommercial, 'if I could be got into a place, or got abroad. I'm sick and tired of this precious Ouse, I am, with reason.'

So would be, and so was, Number Two. So would be, and so was, Oakum Head. So would be, and so were, Skirmishers.

The Uncommercial took the liberty of hinting that he hardly thought it probable that any lady or gentleman in want of a likely young domestic of retiring manners, would be tempted into the engagement of either of the two leading Refractories, on her own presentation of herself as per sample.