David Lewis Paget
Sunday Best - Poem by David Lewis Paget
‘We haven’t the money for bread, my love,
We haven’t the money for tea,
You’d best get dressed in your Sunday best
And go down to the docks for me.
There’s plenty of sailors round the town
Who have just come in from the sea,
They’ll spare five shillings a head, my love,
You only need two or three.’
So Rosalie went to the old wood chest,
To change, as she always did,
Slipped off her shabby old cotton dress
And shook, as she lifted the lid,
Her muslin dress was a shade of grey
That had come third hand from a sale,
Next to a whale-bone corset that
Laced up, made her face go pale.
They’d only been married the year before
When he’d sworn he would care for her,
But most of his money had gone on drink
And the Dollymops at the fair,
He never had kept enough for the rent
When the landlord came, to pay,
‘It’s time that we used what assets we have…’
He’d grinned, in that crooked way.
‘Make sure that you pull your bodice down, ’
He said as he tightened her stays,
‘You need to be showing some cleavage, but
Make sure that the blighter pays!
Just leave your drawers on the bedroom floor
You’ll not be needing them there,
The quicker they’re in and out, my love,
The less that you’ll have to bare.’
They walked together along the street,
He to the Wayside Inn,
While she went on to the alleyways
That were always so dark and grim,
He’d wait for her ‘til she’d done the deed
Then she’d meet him back at the bar,
And hand whatever she’d earned out there
In the clutch of many a tar.
She’d steel herself and would go quite numb
At the thought of those clumsy hands,
The leering faces, the coarse remarks
For the rent, and a pot of jam.
The other women would glower at her
If she pitched too close to their stall,
Was pushed in alcoves and spread on bins
And stood, her back to the wall.
She would have left, but her folks were dead
So there wasn’t a place to go,
And he would have thrown her out in the street
If ever she’d whispered ‘No! ’
London was full of the fallen ones
Who were shunned, as she would be,
For only a Madam would let her in
To be used, continually.
Her husband sat at the Wayside bar
‘Til it closed, and bundled him out,
With still no sign of his Rosalie
He was mad, and grim at the mouth.
He headed down to the alleyway
When he saw the bobbies there,
They were standing over a pile of rags
And a tangle of auburn hair.
‘You can’t come on, there’s a murder done, ’
Said the sergeant, raising his hand,
A croak came up from the pile of rags,
‘Oh dear, that’s my old man! ’
She stirred and murmured before she died
Sunk deep in a bleak distress,
‘Oh John, I’m sorry, the sailor lied,
And the blood has ruined my dress! ’
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