There is an aristocracy amongst factory hands as in almost every walk of life. The superior young ladies who go to business in first class establishments, and provoke the wondering admiration of discerning foreign visitors by their accomplishments, their dainty dress, and the modesty of their deportment, I know only by sight, the raffish hoydens who stream from some smoky, staring building in a side street, raking up unstable garments, brandishing battered crib baskets, and squealing compliments in the dialect are my good familiar people. They scatter like bees from the hive, running for a lift on homeward bound lorries, kicking vagabond limbs from the tail of truck or dray, scampering in little bands, voluble, raucous, gesticulatory, shouting at each other abuse without anger and threats without venom. Termagants at sixteen, it is as well not to provoke them to eloquence if you have the prejudice of a “higher order,” and object to figuring as the object of a public demonstration. Respectability snorts at them like a blood horse, and then they answer with derision in language that compels madam to stop her ears in self defence. Then madam’s beautiful toque may suffer. It is all very dreadful, but there are faults on both sides, and you cannot have class distinctions without these little differences.
The males come forth later, more soberly; they do not scamper, they are sparing of effort, if there is anything to say it can be as well said leaning against a post or a building. This is not laziness, they will have done a good day’s work, in most cases better than their masters are willing to believe, but have a strong intuitive appreciation of the futility of waste force. Their parting words may sound impertinent to you, genteel reader, but try to remember that the terms that shock you have been refined by usage. Practice makes perfect even in philology. They have a respect for beer that is not always justified by results, and a disrespect for their “superiors” that manifests itself in a grim antipathy to policemen. Larrikins they might have been called had not that useful word been perverted by indiscriminate use to designate either the little knot of sandcarters beguiling a spare half hour with a harmless game of two-up behind the stable, or a brace of garroters putting a strangle hold on an affluent-looking gentleman in an unlit city street.
You may find my factory hands, decked in their best, patrolling the chief thoroughfares of the workingman’s suburbs on fine Saturday nights, the girls in twos and threes, the boys in small parties, the “donahs” grimacing and giggling, the lads “wording ’em” with laboured jocularities peculiar to the class. There are conventions even here, but they do not forbid the young lady striking up an acquaintance with the young gentleman who has introduced himself with a few cant witticisms, which, despite their seeming irrelevance, are compliments of a kind, and imply a dawning sentiment of tenderness in the bosom of the humourist. It is perhaps as well to say here for the benefit of the genteel reader that the result of these meetings is in most cases a trifle of philandering on the part of a lad whose rakish airs may mask a bashful spirit, and a “donah” in whom a good deal of useful knowledge is not incompatible with a very serviceable sort of innocence.