See, children, this couple walking along the road. One is a tall, handsome, and very finely made woman, with a beautiful mild firmness of expression, the other a conceited little boy. Why, of course, it is Ma Ruskin taking a stroll with Little Ruskin. They walk straight past the toyshop window without a glance. Little Ruskin knows he will never be allowed the temptation of toys. But Ma Ruskin has promised to take him to a spot, somewhere between Herne Hill and Camberwell, where he may pick a pebble to take home with him. Little Ruskin loves his pebbles.
As they turn a corner, Little Ruskin’s buoyant mood changes, however, for ahead of them loom the great granite walls of the Charitable Mercy Home For Crippled Tinies.
“Can we increase the speed of our strolling, Ma, the quicker to be past this benighted cripplehaven?” pleads Little Ruskin.
“We shall stroll at the pace the Lord intends,” replies Ma Ruskin, not unkindly, but with her usual mild firmness.
Little Ruskin begins to tremble.
And then, children, out of the gates of the Mercy Home comes Little Ruskin’s worst nightmare! It is a diminutive girlie with a twisted, deformed spine, and her hair is in ringlets!
“Aaaghh!” screeches Little Ruskin, shielding his eyes from the horrible sight and trying to hide himself in the folds of Ma Ruskin’s skirts.
Ma Ruskin scolds her son for making such a din and a spectacle, and she turns him about and marches him home.
“There will be no pebble for you today, Little Ruskin!” she says, mildly firm.
And so, quaking with a mixture of disgust and horror, Little Ruskin ends up back at the house on the hill, forbidden even to jump off his favourite box.
Further reading : Praeterita, Volume I, Chapter V, here.