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Notes on Old Edinburgh
written by "Bird, Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy), 1831-1904"
..., but it would be the true tragedy of the real, suffering, everyday life of the poor. From six in the morning till nearly midnight, it is the centre of a throng, feminine mainly, but often essentially unwomanly in its language and manners. As a horde of thirsty pilgrims struggles for the first draught[Pg 5] of the water of the bright oasis of the desert, so this crowd often struggles for the first turn at the tap. In its more usual condition, it is sad rather than belligerent, feeble in its scuffling, loud-voiced in its abuse. Here the weakest go to the wall. Here children carrying buckets nearly as big as themselves are sometimes known to wait from one to five hours for the water which is to wash the faces, cook the food, and quench the thirst of the family for the day. Here they wait, losing time and gaining a precocious familiarity with evil from the profanity and depravity of the talk and chaffing around them. To this well the aged widow, who struggles hard to keep up appearances, with her white mutch and neatly-pinned black shawl, totters with her pail down her dark stair of 150 steps, up the steep close, and down the street, waiting with the patience born of necessity in the heat, or rain, or snow, as the case may be, till the younger and stronger have got their “turn,” and then stumbles with failing breath up her stair, the water, which is precious as that of the well of Bethlehem, spilling as she goes. At what a cost does she buy the whiteness of her mutch! Hither comes the young, weary-looking mother, having locked up her young family in her eyrie. Heavily burdened with care she looks. We may trust she forgets the perils of fire and window at home; she scuffles feebly; street brawling is a new and uncongenial thing to her, and she usually ends by losing the best part of the morning. She is slowly dropping out of her cleanly habits. Can we wonder? She thinks twice at least about scrubbing the floor, and it isn’t ...

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