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Title: The Uncommercial Traveller
Author: Dickens, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Uncommercial Traveller" ***

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Transcribed from the 1905 Chapman and Hall edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]

                       [Picture: Time and his Wife]



                             THE UNCOMMERCIAL
                                TRAVELLER


                                * * * * *

                            By CHARLES DICKENS

                                * * * * *

         _With Illustrations by Harry Furniss and A. J. Goodman_

                                * * * * *

                       LONDON: CHAPMAN & HALL, LD.
                    NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                                   1905

                                 CONTENTS

        THE UNCOMMERCIAL TRAVELLER
                     I
_His General Line of Business_            1
                    II
_The Shipwreck_                           2
                    III
_Wapping Workhouse_                      14
                    IV
_Two Views of a Cheap Theatre_           23
                     V
_Poor Mercantile Jack_                   31
                    VI
_Refreshments for Travellers_            42
                    VII
_Travelling Abroad_                      49
                   VIII
_The Great Tasmania’s Cargo_             59
                    IX
_City of London Churches_                67
                     X
_Shy Neighbourhoods_                     75
                    XI
_Tramps_                                 84
                    XII
_Dullborough Town_                       94
                   XIII
_Night Walks_                           102
                    XIV
_Chambers_                              110
                    XV
_Nurse’s Stories_                       120
                    XVI
_Arcadian London_                       129
                   XVII
_The Italian Prisoner_                  137
                   XVIII
_The Calais Night Mail_                 145
                    XIX
_Some Recollections of Mortality_       152
                    XX
_Birthday Celebrations_                 160
                    XXI
_The Short-Timers_                      168
                   XXII
_Bound for the Great Salt Lake_         178
                   XXIII
_The City of the Absent_                188
                   XXIV
_An Old Stage-coaching House_           195
                    XXV
_The Boiled Beef of New England_        202
                   XXVI
_Chatham Dockyard_                      210
                   XXVII
_In the French-Flemish Country_         217
                  XXVIII
_Medicine Men of Civilisation_          227
                   XXIX
_Titbull’s Alms-Houses_                 234
                    XXX
_The Ruffian_                           253
                   XXXI
_Aboard Ship_                           249
                   XXXII
_A Small Star in the East_              258
                  XXXIII
_A Little Dinner in an Hour_            267
                   XXXIV
_Mr. Barlow_                            273
                   XXXV
_On an Amateur Beat_                    278
                   XXXVI
_A Fly-Leaf in a Life_                  284
                  XXXVII
_A Plea for Total Abstinence_           288



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

        THE UNCOMMERCIAL TRAVELLER
_Time and his Wife_          _Frontispiece_
_A Cheap Theatre_                        24
_The City Personage_                     72
_Titbull’s Alms-Houses_                 242



I
HIS GENERAL LINE OF BUSINESS


ALLOW me to introduce myself—first negatively.

No landlord is my friend and brother, no chambermaid loves me, no waiter
worships me, no boots admires and envies me.  No round of beef or tongue
or ham is expressly cooked for me, no pigeon-pie is especially made for
me, no hotel-advertisement is personally addressed to me, no hotel-room
tapestried with great-coats and railway wrappers is set apart for me, no
house of public entertainment in the United Kingdom greatly cares for my
opinion of its brandy or sherry.  When I go upon my journeys, I am not
usually rated at a low figure in the bill; when I come home from my
journeys, I never get any commission.  I know nothing about prices, and
should have no idea, if I were put to it, how to wheedle a man into
ordering something he doesn’t want.  As a town traveller, I am never to
be seen driving a vehicle externally like a young and volatile pianoforte
van, and internally like an oven in which a number of flat boxes are
baking in layers.  As a country traveller, I am rarely to be found in a
gig, and am never to be encountered by a pleasure train, waiting on the
platform of a branch station, quite a Druid in the midst of a light
Stonehenge of samples.

And yet—proceeding now, to introduce myself positively—I am both a town
traveller and a country traveller, and am always on the road.
Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human Interest
Brothers, and have rather a large connection in the fancy goods way.
Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and there from my rooms in
Covent-garden, London—now about the city streets: now, about the country
by-roads—seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because
they interest me, I think may interest others.

These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.



II
THE SHIPWRECK


NEVER had I seen a year going out, or going on, under quieter
circumstances.  Eighteen hundred and fifty-nine had but another day to
live, and truly its end was Peace on that sea-shore that morning.

So settled and orderly was everything seaward, in the bright light of the
sun and under the transparent shadows of the clouds, that it was hard to
imagine the bay otherwise, for years past or to come, than it was that
very day.  The Tug-steamer lying a little off the shore, the Lighter
lying still nearer to the shore, the boat alongside the Lighter, the
regularly-turning windlass aboard the Lighter, the methodical figures at
work, all slowly and regularly heaving up and down with the breathing of
the sea, all seemed as much a part of the nature of the place as the tide
itself.  The tide was on the flow, and had been for some two hours and a
half; there was a slight obstruction in the sea within a few yards of my
feet: as if the stump of a tree, with earth enough about it to keep it
from lying horizontally on the water, had slipped a little from the
land—and as I stood upon the beach and observed it dimpling the light
swell that was coming in, I cast a stone over it.

So orderly, so quiet, so regular—the rising and falling of the
Tug-steamer, the Lighter, and the boat—the turning of the windlass—the
coming in of the tide—that I myself seemed, to my own thinking, anything
but new to the spot.  Yet, I had never seen it in my life, a minute
before, and had traversed two hundred miles to get at it.  That very
morning I had come bowling down, and struggling up, hill-country roads;
looking back at snowy summits; meeting courteous peasants well to do,
driving fat pigs and cattle to market: noting the neat and thrifty
dwellings, with their unusual quantity of clean white linen, drying on
the bushes; having windy weather suggested by every cotter’s little rick,
with its thatch straw-ridged and extra straw-ridged into overlapping
compartments like the back of a rhinoceros.  Had I not given a lift of
fourteen miles to the Coast-guardsman (kit and all), who was coming to
his spell of duty there, and had we not just now parted company?  So it
was; but the journey seemed to glide down into the placid sea, with other
chafe and trouble, and for the moment nothing was so calmly and
monotonously real under the sunlight as the gentle rising and falling of
the water with its freight, the regular turning of the windlass aboard
the Lighter, and the slight obstruction so very near my feet.

O reader, haply turning this page by the fireside at Home, and hearing
the night wind rumble in the chimney, that slight obstruction was the
uppermost fragment of the Wreck of the Royal Charter, Australian trader
and passenger ship, Homeward bound, that struck here on the terrible
morning of the twenty-sixth of this October, broke into three parts, went
down with her treasure of at least five hundred human lives, and has
never stirred since!

From which point, or from which, she drove ashore, stern foremost; on
which side, or on which, she passed the little Island in the bay, for
ages henceforth to be aground certain yards outside her; these are
rendered bootless questions by the darkness of that night and the
darkness of death.  Here she went down.

Even as I stood on the beach with the words ‘Here she went down!’ in my
ears, a diver in his grotesque dress, dipped heavily over the side of the
boat alongside the Lighter, and dropped to the bottom.  On the shore by
the water’s edge, was a rough tent, made of fragments of wreck, where
other divers and workmen sheltered themselves, and where they had kept
Christmas-day with rum and roast beef, to the destruction of their frail
chimney.  Cast up among the stones and boulders of the beach, were great
spars of the lost vessel, and masses of iron twisted by the fury of the
sea into the strangest forms.  The timber was already bleached and iron
rusted, and even these objects did no violence to the prevailing air the
whole scene wore, of having been exactly the same for years and years.

Yet, only two short months had gone, since a man, living on the nearest
hill-top overlooking the sea, being blown out of bed at about daybreak by
the wind that had begun to strip his roof off, and getting upon a ladder
with his nearest neighbour to construct some temporary device for keeping
his house over his head, saw from the ladder’s elevation as he looked
down by chance towards the shore, some dark troubled object close in with
the land.  And he and the other, descending to the beach, and finding the
sea mercilessly beating over a great broken ship, had clambered up the
stony ways, like staircases without stairs, on which the wild village
hangs in little clusters, as fruit hangs on boughs, and had given the
alarm.  And so, over the hill-slopes, and past the waterfall, and down
the gullies where the land drains off into the ocean, the scattered
quarrymen and fishermen inhabiting that part of Wales had come running to
the dismal sight—their clergyman among them.  And as they stood in the
leaden morning, stricken with pity, leaning hard against the wind, their
breath and vision often failing as the sleet and spray rushed at them
from the ever forming and dissolving mountains of sea, and as the wool
which was a part of the vessel’s cargo blew in with the salt foam and
remained upon the land when the foam melted, they saw the ship’s
life-boat put off from one of the heaps of wreck; and first, there were
three men in her, and in a moment she capsized, and there were but two;
and again, she was struck by a vast mass of water, and there was but one;
and again, she was thrown bottom upward, and that one, with his arm
struck through the broken planks and waving as if for the help that could
never reach him, went down into the deep.

It was the clergyman himself from whom I heard this, while I stood on the
shore, looking in his kind wholesome face as it turned to the spot where
the boat had been.  The divers were down then, and busy.  They were
‘lifting’ to-day the gold found yesterday—some five-and-twenty thousand
pounds.  Of three hundred and fifty thousand pounds’ worth of gold, three
hundred thousand pounds’ worth, in round numbers, was at that time
recovered.  The great bulk of the remainder was surely and steadily
coming up.  Some loss of sovereigns there would be, of course; indeed, at
first sovereigns had drifted in with the sand, and been scattered far and
wide over the beach, like sea-shells; but most other golden treasure
would be found.  As it was brought up, it went aboard the Tug-steamer,
where good account was taken of it.  So tremendous had the force of the
sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of
gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in
which, also, several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before
it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid
when they were forced there.  It had been remarked of such bodies come
ashore, too, as had been seen by scientific men, that they had been
stunned to death, and not suffocated.  Observation, both of the internal
change that had been wrought in them, and of their external expression,
showed death to have been thus merciful and easy.  The report was
brought, while I was holding such discourse on the beach, that no more
bodies had come ashore since last night.  It began to be very doubtful
whether many more would be thrown up, until the north-east winds of the
early spring set in.  Moreover, a great number of the passengers, and
particularly the second-class women-passengers, were known to have been
in the middle of the ship when she parted, and thus the collapsing wreck
would have fallen upon them after yawning open, and would keep them down.
A diver made known, even then, that he had come upon the body of a man,
and had sought to release it from a great superincumbent weight; but
that, finding he could not do so without mutilating the remains, he had
left it where it was.

It was the kind and wholesome face I have made mention of as being then
beside me, that I had purposed to myself to see, when I left home for
Wales.  I had heard of that clergyman, as having buried many scores of
the shipwrecked people; of his having opened his house and heart to their
agonised friends; of his having used a most sweet and patient diligence
for weeks and weeks, in the performance of the forlornest offices that
Man can render to his kind; of his having most tenderly and thoroughly
devoted himself to the dead, and to those who were sorrowing for the
dead.  I had said to myself, ‘In the Christmas season of the year, I
should like to see that man!’  And he had swung the gate of his little
garden in coming out to meet me, not half an hour ago.

So cheerful of spirit and guiltless of affectation, as true practical
Christianity ever is!  I read more of the New Testament in the fresh
frank face going up the village beside me, in five minutes, than I have
read in anathematising discourses (albeit put to press with enormous
flourishing of trumpets), in all my life.  I heard more of the Sacred
Book in the cordial voice that had nothing to say about its owner, than
in all the would-be celestial pairs of bellows that have ever blown
conceit at me.

We climbed towards the little church, at a cheery pace, among the loose
stones, the deep mud, the wet coarse grass, the outlying water, and other
obstructions from which frost and snow had lately thawed.  It was a
mistake (my friend was glad to tell me, on the way) to suppose that the
peasantry had shown any superstitious avoidance of the drowned; on the
whole, they had done very well, and had assisted readily.  Ten shillings
had been paid for the bringing of each body up to the church, but the way
was steep, and a horse and cart (in which it was wrapped in a sheet) were
necessary, and three or four men, and, all things considered, it was not
a great price.  The people were none the richer for the wreck, for it was
the season of the herring-shoal—and who could cast nets for fish, and
find dead men and women in the draught?

He had the church keys in his hand, and opened the churchyard gate, and
opened the church door; and we went in.

It is a little church of great antiquity; there is reason to believe that
some church has occupied the spot, these thousand years or more.  The
pulpit was gone, and other things usually belonging to the church were
gone, owing to its living congregation having deserted it for the
neighbouring school-room, and yielded it up to the dead.  The very
Commandments had been shouldered out of their places, in the bringing in
of the dead; the black wooden tables on which they were painted, were
askew, and on the stone pavement below them, and on the stone pavement
all over the church, were the marks and stains where the drowned had been
laid down.  The eye, with little or no aid from the imagination, could
yet see how the bodies had been turned, and where the head had been and
where the feet.  Some faded traces of the wreck of the Australian ship
may be discernible on the stone pavement of this little church, hundreds
of years hence, when the digging for gold in Australia shall have long
and long ceased out of the land.

Forty-four shipwrecked men and women lay here at one time, awaiting
burial.  Here, with weeping and wailing in every room of his house, my
companion worked alone for hours, solemnly surrounded by eyes that could
not see him, and by lips that could not speak to him, patiently examining
the tattered clothing, cutting off buttons, hair, marks from linen,
anything that might lead to subsequent identification, studying faces,
looking for a scar, a bent finger, a crooked toe, comparing letters sent
to him with the ruin about him.  ‘My dearest brother had bright grey eyes
and a pleasant smile,’ one sister wrote.  O poor sister! well for you to
be far from here, and keep that as your last remembrance of him!

The ladies of the clergyman’s family, his wife and two sisters-in-law,
came in among the bodies often.  It grew to be the business of their
lives to do so.  Any new arrival of a bereaved woman would stimulate
their pity to compare the description brought, with the dread realities.
Sometimes, they would go back able to say, ‘I have found him,’ or, ‘I
think she lies there.’  Perhaps, the mourner, unable to bear the sight of
all that lay in the church, would be led in blindfold.  Conducted to the
spot with many compassionate words, and encouraged to look, she would
say, with a piercing cry, ‘This is my boy!’ and drop insensible on the
insensible figure.

He soon observed that in some cases of women, the identification of
persons, though complete, was quite at variance with the marks upon the
linen; this led him to notice that even the marks upon the linen were
sometimes inconsistent with one another; and thus he came to understand
that they had dressed in great haste and agitation, and that their
clothes had become mixed together.  The identification of men by their
dress, was rendered extremely difficult, in consequence of a large
proportion of them being dressed alike—in clothes of one kind, that is to
say, supplied by slopsellers and outfitters, and not made by single
garments but by hundreds.  Many of the men were bringing over parrots,
and had receipts upon them for the price of the birds; others had bills
of exchange in their pockets, or in belts.  Some of these documents,
carefully unwrinkled and dried, were little less fresh in appearance that
day, than the present page will be under ordinary circumstances, after
having been opened three or four times.

In that lonely place, it had not been easy to obtain even such common
commodities in towns, as ordinary disinfectants.  Pitch had been burnt in
the church, as the readiest thing at hand, and the frying-pan in which it
had bubbled over a brazier of coals was still there, with its ashes.
Hard by the Communion-Table, were some boots that had been taken off the
drowned and preserved—a gold-digger’s boot, cut down the leg for its
removal—a trodden-down man’s ankle-boot with a buff cloth top—and
others—soaked and sandy, weedy and salt.

From the church, we passed out into the churchyard.  Here, there lay, at
that time, one hundred and forty-five bodies, that had come ashore from
the wreck.  He had buried them, when not identified, in graves containing
four each.  He had numbered each body in a register describing it, and
had placed a corresponding number on each coffin, and over each grave.
Identified bodies he had buried singly, in private graves, in another
part of the church-yard.  Several bodies had been exhumed from the graves
of four, as relatives had come from a distance and seen his register;
and, when recognised, these have been reburied in private graves, so that
the mourners might erect separate headstones over the remains.  In all
such cases he had performed the funeral service a second time, and the
ladies of his house had attended.  There had been no offence in the poor
ashes when they were brought again to the light of day; the beneficent
Earth had already absorbed it.  The drowned were buried in their clothes.
To supply the great sudden demand for coffins, he had got all the
neighbouring people handy at tools, to work the livelong day, and Sunday
likewise.  The coffins were neatly formed;—I had seen two, waiting for
occupants, under the lee of the ruined walls of a stone hut on the beach,
within call of the tent where the Christmas Feast was held.  Similarly,
one of the graves for four was lying open and ready, here, in the
churchyard.  So much of the scanty space was already devoted to the
wrecked people, that the villagers had begun to express uneasy doubts
whether they themselves could lie in their own ground, with their
forefathers and descendants, by-and-by.  The churchyard being but a step
from the clergyman’s dwelling-house, we crossed to the latter; the white
surplice was hanging up near the door ready to be put on at any time, for
a funeral service.

The cheerful earnestness of this good Christian minister was as
consolatory, as the circumstances out of which it shone were sad.  I
never have seen anything more delightfully genuine than the calm
dismissal by himself and his household of all they had undergone, as a
simple duty that was quietly done and ended.  In speaking of it, they
spoke of it with great compassion for the bereaved; but laid no stress
upon their own hard share in those weary weeks, except as it had attached
many people to them as friends, and elicited many touching expressions of
gratitude.  This clergyman’s brother—himself the clergyman of two
adjoining parishes, who had buried thirty-four of the bodies in his own
churchyard, and who had done to them all that his brother had done as to
the larger number—must be understood as included in the family.  He was
there, with his neatly arranged papers, and made no more account of his
trouble than anybody else did.  Down to yesterday’s post outward, my
clergyman alone had written one thousand and seventy-five letters to
relatives and friends of the lost people.  In the absence of
self-assertion, it was only through my now and then delicately putting a
question as the occasion arose, that I became informed of these things.
It was only when I had remarked again and again, in the church, on the
awful nature of the scene of death he had been required so closely to
familiarise himself with for the soothing of the living, that he had
casually said, without the least abatement of his cheerfulness, ‘indeed,
it had rendered him unable for a time to eat or drink more than a little
coffee now and then, and a piece of bread.’

In this noble modesty, in this beautiful simplicity, in this serene
avoidance of the least attempt to ‘improve’ an occasion which might be
supposed to have sunk of its own weight into my heart, I seemed to have
happily come, in a few steps, from the churchyard with its open grave,
which was the type of Death, to the Christian dwelling side by side with
it, which was the type of Resurrection.  I never shall think of the
former, without the latter.  The two will always rest side by side in my
memory.  If I had lost any one dear to me in this unfortunate ship, if I
had made a voyage from Australia to look at the grave in the churchyard,
I should go away, thankful to GOD that that house was so close to it, and
that its shadow by day and its domestic lights by night fell upon the
earth in which its Master had so tenderly laid my dear one’s head.

The references that naturally arose out of our conversation, to the
descriptions sent down of shipwrecked persons, and to the gratitude of
relations and friends, made me very anxious to see some of those letters.
I was presently seated before a shipwreck of papers, all bordered with
black, and from them I made the following few extracts.

A mother writes:

    REVEREND SIR.  Amongst the many who perished on your shore was
    numbered my beloved son.  I was only just recovering from a severe
    illness, and this fearful affliction has caused a relapse, so that I
    am unable at present to go to identify the remains of the loved and
    lost.  My darling son would have been sixteen on Christmas-day next.
    He was a most amiable and obedient child, early taught the way of
    salvation.  We fondly hoped that as a British seaman he might be an
    ornament to his profession, but, ‘it is well;’ I feel assured my dear
    boy is now with the redeemed.  Oh, he did not wish to go this last
    voyage!  On the fifteenth of October, I received a letter from him
    from Melbourne, date August twelfth; he wrote in high spirits, and in
    conclusion he says: ‘Pray for a fair breeze, dear mamma, and I’ll not
    forget to whistle for it! and, God permitting, I shall see you and
    all my little pets again.  Good-bye, dear mother—good-bye, dearest
    parents.  Good-bye, dear brother.’  Oh, it was indeed an eternal
    farewell.  I do not apologise for thus writing you, for oh, my heart
    is so very sorrowful.

A husband writes:

    MY DEAR KIND SIR.  Will you kindly inform me whether there are any
    initials upon the ring and guard you have in possession, found, as
    the Standard says, last Tuesday?  Believe me, my dear sir, when I say
    that I cannot express my deep gratitude in words sufficiently for
    your kindness to me on that fearful and appalling day.  Will you tell
    me what I can do for you, and will you write me a consoling letter to
    prevent my mind from going astray?

A widow writes:

    Left in such a state as I am, my friends and I thought it best that
    my dear husband should be buried where he lies, and, much as I should
    have liked to have had it otherwise, I must submit.  I feel, from all
    I have heard of you, that you will see it done decently and in order.
    Little does it signify to us, when the soul has departed, where this
    poor body lies, but we who are left behind would do all we can to
    show how we loved them.  This is denied me, but it is God’s hand that
    afflicts us, and I try to submit.  Some day I may be able to visit
    the spot, and see where he lies, and erect a simple stone to his
    memory.  Oh! it will be long, long before I forget that dreadful
    night!  Is there such a thing in the vicinity, or any shop in Bangor,
    to which I could send for a small picture of Moelfra or Llanallgo
    church, a spot now sacred to me?

Another widow writes:

    I have received your letter this morning, and do thank you most
    kindly for the interest you have taken about my dear husband, as well
    for the sentiments yours contains, evincing the spirit of a Christian
    who can sympathise with those who, like myself, are broken down with
    grief.

    May God bless and sustain you, and all in connection with you, in
    this great trial.  Time may roll on and bear all its sons away, but
    your name as a disinterested person will stand in history, and, as
    successive years pass, many a widow will think of your noble conduct,
    and the tears of gratitude flow down many a cheek, the tribute of a
    thankful heart, when other things are forgotten for ever.

A father writes:

    I am at a loss to find words to sufficiently express my gratitude to
    you for your kindness to my son Richard upon the melancholy occasion
    of his visit to his dear brother’s body, and also for your ready
    attention in pronouncing our beautiful burial service over my poor
    unfortunate son’s remains.  God grant that your prayers over him may
    reach the Mercy Seat, and that his soul may be received (through
    Christ’s intercession) into heaven!

    His dear mother begs me to convey to you her heartfelt thanks.

Those who were received at the clergyman’s house, write thus, after
leaving it:

    DEAR AND NEVER-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN FRIENDS.  I arrived here yesterday
    morning without accident, and am about to proceed to my home by
    railway.

    I am overpowered when I think of you and your hospitable home.  No
    words could speak language suited to my heart.  I refrain.  God
    reward you with the same measure you have meted with!

    I enumerate no names, but embrace you all.

MY BELOVED FRIENDS.  This is the first day that I have been able to leave
my bedroom since I returned, which will explain the reason of my not
writing sooner.

If I could only have had my last melancholy hope realised in recovering
the body of my beloved and lamented son, I should have returned home
somewhat comforted, and I think I could then have been comparatively
resigned.

I fear now there is but little prospect, and I mourn as one without hope.

The only consolation to my distressed mind is in having been so feelingly
allowed by you to leave the matter in your hands, by whom I well know
that everything will be done that can be, according to arrangements made
before I left the scene of the awful catastrophe, both as to the
identification of my dear son, and also his interment.

I feel most anxious to hear whether anything fresh has transpired since I
left you; will you add another to the many deep obligations I am under to
you by writing to me?  And should the body of my dear and unfortunate son
be identified, let me hear from you immediately, and I will come again.

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel I owe to you all for your
benevolent aid, your kindness, and your sympathy.

                                * * * * *

MY DEARLY BELOVED FRIENDS.  I arrived in safety at my house yesterday,
and a night’s rest has restored and tranquillised me.  I must again
repeat, that language has no words by which I can express my sense of
obligation to you.  You are enshrined in my heart of hearts.

I have seen him! and can now realise my misfortune more than I have
hitherto been able to do.  Oh, the bitterness of the cup I drink!  But I
bow submissive.  God _must_ have done right.  I do not want to feel less,
but to acquiesce more simply.

                                * * * * *

There were some Jewish passengers on board the Royal Charter, and the
gratitude of the Jewish people is feelingly expressed in the following
letter bearing date from ‘the office of the Chief Rabbi:’

    REVEREND SIR.  I cannot refrain from expressing to you my heartfelt
    thanks on behalf of those of my flock whose relatives have
    unfortunately been among those who perished at the late wreck of the
    Royal Charter.  You have, indeed, like Boaz, ‘not left off your
    kindness to the living and the dead.’

    You have not alone acted kindly towards the living by receiving them
    hospitably at your house, and energetically assisting them in their
    mournful duty, but also towards the dead, by exerting yourself to
    have our co-religionists buried in our ground, and according to our
    rites.  May our heavenly Father reward you for your acts of humanity
    and true philanthropy!

The ‘Old Hebrew congregation of Liverpool’ thus express themselves
through their secretary:

    REVEREND SIR.  The wardens of this congregation have learned with
    great pleasure that, in addition to those indefatigable exertions, at
    the scene of the late disaster to the Royal Charter, which have
    received universal recognition, you have very benevolently employed
    your valuable efforts to assist such members of our faith as have
    sought the bodies of lost friends to give them burial in our
    consecrated grounds, with the observances and rites prescribed by the
    ordinances of our religion.

The wardens desire me to take the earliest available opportunity to offer
to you, on behalf of our community, the expression of their warm
acknowledgments and grateful thanks, and their sincere wishes for your
continued welfare and prosperity.

A Jewish gentleman writes:

    REVEREND AND DEAR SIR.  I take the opportunity of thanking you right
    earnestly for the promptness you displayed in answering my note with
    full particulars concerning my much lamented brother, and I also
    herein beg to express my sincere regard for the willingness you
    displayed and for the facility you afforded for getting the remains
    of my poor brother exhumed.  It has been to us a most sorrowful and
    painful event, but when we meet with such friends as yourself, it in
    a measure, somehow or other, abates that mental anguish, and makes
    the suffering so much easier to be borne.  Considering the
    circumstances connected with my poor brother’s fate, it does, indeed,
    appear a hard one.  He had been away in all seven years; he returned
    four years ago to see his family.  He was then engaged to a very
    amiable young lady.  He had been very successful abroad, and was now
    returning to fulfil his sacred vow; he brought all his property with
    him in gold uninsured.  We heard from him when the ship stopped at
    Queenstown, when he was in the highest of hope, and in a few short
    hours afterwards all was washed away.

Mournful in the deepest degree, but too sacred for quotation here, were
the numerous references to those miniatures of women worn round the necks
of rough men (and found there after death), those locks of hair, those
scraps of letters, those many many slight memorials of hidden tenderness.
One man cast up by the sea bore about him, printed on a perforated lace
card, the following singular (and unavailing) charm:

                                 A BLESSING.

    May the blessing of God await thee.  May the sun of glory shine
    around thy bed; and may the gates of plenty, honour, and happiness be
    ever open to thee.  May no sorrow distress thy days; may no grief
    disturb thy nights.  May the pillow of peace kiss thy cheek, and the
    pleasures of imagination attend thy dreams; and when length of years
    makes thee tired of earthly joys, and the curtain of death gently
    closes around thy last sleep of human existence, may the Angel of God
    attend thy bed, and take care that the expiring lamp of life shall
    not receive one rude blast to hasten on its extinction.

A sailor had these devices on his right arm.  ‘Our Saviour on the Cross,
the forehead of the Crucifix and the vesture stained red; on the lower
part of the arm, a man and woman; on one side of the Cross, the
appearance of a half moon, with a face; on the other side, the sun; on
the top of the Cross, the letters I.H.S.; on the left arm, a man and
woman dancing, with an effort to delineate the female’s dress; under
which, initials.’  Another seaman ‘had, on the lower part of the right
arm, the device of a sailor and a female; the man holding the Union Jack
with a streamer, the folds of which waved over her head, and the end of
it was held in her hand.  On the upper part of the arm, a device of Our
Lord on the Cross, with stars surrounding the head of the Cross, and one
large star on the side in Indian Ink.  On the left arm, a flag, a true
lover’s knot, a face, and initials.’  This tattooing was found still
plain, below the discoloured outer surface of a mutilated arm, when such
surface was carefully scraped away with a knife.  It is not improbable
that the perpetuation of this marking custom among seamen, may be
referred back to their desire to be identified, if drowned and flung
ashore.

It was some time before I could sever myself from the many interesting
papers on the table, and then I broke bread and drank wine with the kind
family before I left them.  As I brought the Coast-guard down, so I took
the Postman back, with his leathern wallet, walking-stick, bugle, and
terrier dog.  Many a heart-broken letter had he brought to the Rectory
House within two months many; a benignantly painstaking answer had he
carried back.

As I rode along, I thought of the many people, inhabitants of this mother
country, who would make pilgrimages to the little churchyard in the years
to come; I thought of the many people in Australia, who would have an
interest in such a shipwreck, and would find their way here when they
visit the Old World; I thought of the writers of all the wreck of letters
I had left upon the table; and I resolved to place this little record
where it stands.  Convocations, Conferences, Diocesan Epistles, and the
like, will do a great deal for Religion, I dare say, and Heaven send they
may! but I doubt if they will ever do their Master’s service half so
well, in all the time they last, as the Heavens have seen it done in this
bleak spot upon the rugged coast of Wales.

Had I lost the friend of my life, in the wreck of the Royal Charter; had
I lost my betrothed, the more than friend of my life; had I lost my
maiden daughter, had I lost my hopeful boy, had I lost my little child; I
would kiss the hands that worked so busily and gently in the church, and
say, ‘None better could have touched the form, though it had lain at
home.’  I could be sure of it, I could be thankful for it: I could be
content to leave the grave near the house the good family pass in and out
of every day, undisturbed, in the little churchyard where so many are so
strangely brought together.

Without the name of the clergyman to whom—I hope, not without carrying
comfort to some heart at some time—I have referred, my reference would be
as nothing.  He is the Reverend Stephen Roose Hughes, of Llanallgo, near
Moelfra, Anglesey.  His brother is the Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes, of
Penrhos, Alligwy.



III
WAPPING WORKHOUSE


MY day’s no-business beckoning me to the East-end of London, I had turned
my face to that point of the metropolitan compass on leaving
Covent-garden, and had got past the India House, thinking in my idle
manner of Tippoo-Sahib and Charles Lamb, and had got past my little
wooden midshipman, after affectionately patting him on one leg of his
knee-shorts for old acquaintance’ sake, and had got past Aldgate Pump,
and had got past the Saracen’s Head (with an ignominious rash of posting
bills disfiguring his swarthy countenance), and had strolled up the empty
yard of his ancient neighbour the Black or Blue Boar, or Bull, who
departed this life I don’t know when, and whose coaches are all gone I
don’t know where; and I had come out again into the age of railways, and
I had got past Whitechapel Church, and was—rather inappropriately for an
Uncommercial Traveller—in the Commercial Road.  Pleasantly wallowing in
the abundant mud of that thoroughfare, and greatly enjoying the huge
piles of building belonging to the sugar refiners, the little masts and
vanes in small back gardens in back streets, the neighbouring canals and
docks, the India vans lumbering along their stone tramway, and the
pawnbrokers’ shops where hard-up Mates had pawned so many sextants and
quadrants, that I should have bought a few cheap if I had the least
notion how to use them, I at last began to file off to the right, towards
Wapping.

Not that I intended to take boat at Wapping Old Stairs, or that I was
going to look at the locality, because I believe (for I don’t) in the
constancy of the young woman who told her sea-going lover, to such a
beautiful old tune, that she had ever continued the same, since she gave
him the ’baccer-box marked with his name; I am afraid he usually got the
worst of those transactions, and was frightfully taken in.  No, I was
going to Wapping, because an Eastern police magistrate had said, through
the morning papers, that there was no classification at the Wapping
workhouse for women, and that it was a disgrace and a shame, and divers
other hard names, and because I wished to see how the fact really stood.
For, that Eastern police magistrates are not always the wisest men of the
East, may be inferred from their course of procedure respecting the
fancy-dressing and pantomime-posturing at St. George’s in that quarter:
which is usually, to discuss the matter at issue, in a state of mind
betokening the weakest perplexity, with all parties concerned and
unconcerned, and, for a final expedient, to consult the complainant as to
what he thinks ought to be done with the defendant, and take the
defendant’s opinion as to what he would recommend to be done with
himself.

Long before I reached Wapping, I gave myself up as having lost my way,
and, abandoning myself to the narrow streets in a Turkish frame of mind,
relied on predestination to bring me somehow or other to the place I
wanted if I were ever to get there.  When I had ceased for an hour or so
to take any trouble about the matter, I found myself on a swing-bridge
looking down at some dark locks in some dirty water.  Over against me,
stood a creature remotely in the likeness of a young man, with a puffed
sallow face, and a figure all dirty and shiny and slimy, who may have
been the youngest son of his filthy old father, Thames, or the drowned
man about whom there was a placard on the granite post like a large
thimble, that stood between us.

I asked this apparition what it called the place?  Unto which, it
replied, with a ghastly grin and a sound like gurgling water in its
throat:

‘Mr. Baker’s trap.’

As it is a point of great sensitiveness with me on such occasions to be
equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation, I deeply
considered the meaning of this speech, while I eyed the apparition—then
engaged in hugging and sucking a horizontal iron bar at the top of the
locks.  Inspiration suggested to me that Mr. Baker was the acting coroner
of that neighbourhood.

‘A common place for suicide,’ said I, looking down at the locks.

‘Sue?’ returned the ghost, with a stare.  ‘Yes!  And Poll.  Likewise
Emily.  And Nancy.  And Jane;’ he sucked the iron between each name; ‘and
all the bileing.  Ketches off their bonnets or shorls, takes a run, and
headers down here, they doos.  Always a headerin’ down here, they is.
Like one o’clock.’

‘And at about that hour of the morning, I suppose?’

‘Ah!’ said the apparition.  ‘_They_ an’t partickler.  Two ’ull do for
_them_.  Three.  All times o’ night.  On’y mind you!’  Here the
apparition rested his profile on the bar, and gurgled in a sarcastic
manner.  ‘There must be somebody comin’.  They don’t go a headerin’ down
here, wen there an’t no Bobby nor gen’ral Cove, fur to hear the splash.’

According to my interpretation of these words, I was myself a General
Cove, or member of the miscellaneous public.  In which modest character I
remarked:

‘They are often taken out, are they, and restored?’

‘I dunno about restored,’ said the apparition, who, for some occult
reason, very much objected to that word; ‘they’re carried into the
werkiss and put into a ’ot bath, and brought round.  But I dunno about
restored,’ said the apparition; ‘blow _that_!’—and vanished.

As it had shown a desire to become offensive, I was not sorry to find
myself alone, especially as the ‘werkiss’ it had indicated with a twist
of its matted head, was close at hand.  So I left Mr. Baker’s terrible
trap (baited with a scum that was like the soapy rinsing of sooty
chimneys), and made bold to ring at the workhouse gate, where I was
wholly unexpected and quite unknown.

A very bright and nimble little matron, with a bunch of keys in her hand,
responded to my request to see the House.  I began to doubt whether the
police magistrate was quite right in his facts, when I noticed her quick,
active little figure and her intelligent eyes.

The Traveller (the matron intimated) should see the worst first.  He was
welcome to see everything.  Such as it was, there it all was.

This was the only preparation for our entering ‘the Foul wards.’  They
were in an old building squeezed away in a corner of a paved yard, quite
detached from the more modern and spacious main body of the workhouse.
They were in a building most monstrously behind the time—a mere series of
garrets or lofts, with every inconvenient and objectionable circumstance
in their construction, and only accessible by steep and narrow
staircases, infamously ill-adapted for the passage up-stairs of the sick
or down-stairs of the dead.

A-bed in these miserable rooms, here on bedsteads, there (for a change,
as I understood it) on the floor, were women in every stage of distress
and disease.  None but those who have attentively observed such scenes,
can conceive the extraordinary variety of expression still latent under
the general monotony and uniformity of colour, attitude, and condition.
The form a little coiled up and turned away, as though it had turned its
back on this world for ever; the uninterested face at once lead-coloured
and yellow, looking passively upward from the pillow; the haggard mouth a
little dropped, the hand outside the coverlet, so dull and indifferent,
so light, and yet so heavy; these were on every pallet; but when I
stopped beside a bed, and said ever so slight a word to the figure lying
there, the ghost of the old character came into the face, and made the
Foul ward as various as the fair world.  No one appeared to care to live,
but no one complained; all who could speak, said that as much was done
for them as could be done there, that the attendance was kind and
patient, that their suffering was very heavy, but they had nothing to ask
for.  The wretched rooms were as clean and sweet as it is possible for
such rooms to be; they would become a pest-house in a single week, if
they were ill-kept.

I accompanied the brisk matron up another barbarous staircase, into a
better kind of loft devoted to the idiotic and imbecile.  There was at
least Light in it, whereas the windows in the former wards had been like
sides of school-boys’ bird-cages.  There was a strong grating over the
fire here, and, holding a kind of state on either side of the hearth,
separated by the breadth of this grating, were two old ladies in a
condition of feeble dignity, which was surely the very last and lowest
reduction of self-complacency to be found in this wonderful humanity of
ours.  They were evidently jealous of each other, and passed their whole
time (as some people do, whose fires are not grated) in mentally
disparaging each other, and contemptuously watching their neighbours.
One of these parodies on provincial gentlewomen was extremely talkative,
and expressed a strong desire to attend the service on Sundays, from
which she represented herself to have derived the greatest interest and
consolation when allowed that privilege.  She gossiped so well, and
looked altogether so cheery and harmless, that I began to think this a
case for the Eastern magistrate, until I found that on the last occasion
of her attending chapel she had secreted a small stick, and had caused
some confusion in the responses by suddenly producing it and belabouring
the congregation.

So, these two old ladies, separated by the breadth of the
grating—otherwise they would fly at one another’s caps—sat all day long,
suspecting one another, and contemplating a world of fits.  For everybody
else in the room had fits, except the wards-woman; an elderly,
able-bodied pauperess, with a large upper lip, and an air of repressing
and saving her strength, as she stood with her hands folded before her,
and her eyes slowly rolling, biding her time for catching or holding
somebody.  This civil personage (in whom I regretted to identify a
reduced member of my honourable friend Mrs. Gamp’s family) said, ‘They
has ’em continiwal, sir.  They drops without no more notice than if they
was coach-horses dropped from the moon, sir.  And when one drops, another
drops, and sometimes there’ll be as many as four or five on ’em at once,
dear me, a rolling and a tearin’, bless you!—this young woman, now, has
’em dreadful bad.’

She turned up this young woman’s face with her hand as she said it.  This
young woman was seated on the floor, pondering in the foreground of the
afflicted.  There was nothing repellent either in her face or head.
Many, apparently worse, varieties of epilepsy and hysteria were about
her, but she was said to be the worst here.  When I had spoken to her a
little, she still sat with her face turned up, pondering, and a gleam of
the mid-day sun shone in upon her.

—Whether this young woman, and the rest of these so sorely troubled, as
they sit or lie pondering in their confused dull way, ever get mental
glimpses among the motes in the sunlight, of healthy people and healthy
things?  Whether this young woman, brooding like this in the summer
season, ever thinks that somewhere there are trees and flowers, even
mountains and the great sea?  Whether, not to go so far, this young woman
ever has any dim revelation of that young woman—that young woman who is
not here and never will come here; who is courted, and caressed, and
loved, and has a husband, and bears children, and lives in a home, and
who never knows what it is to have this lashing and tearing coming upon
her?  And whether this young woman, God help her, gives herself up then
and drops like a coach-horse from the moon?

I hardly knew whether the voices of infant children, penetrating into so
hopeless a place, made a sound that was pleasant or painful to me.  It
was something to be reminded that the weary world was not all aweary, and
was ever renewing itself; but, this young woman was a child not long ago,
and a child not long hence might be such as she.  Howbeit, the active
step and eye of the vigilant matron conducted me past the two provincial
gentlewomen (whose dignity was ruffled by the children), and into the
adjacent nursery.

There were many babies here, and more than one handsome young mother.
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.

‘It ain’t no good being nothink else here,’ said the Chief.

The Uncommercial thought it might be worth trying.

‘Oh no it ain’t,’ said the Chief.

‘Not a bit of good,’ said Number Two.

‘And I’m sure I’d be very thankful to be got into a place, or got
abroad,’ said the Chief.

‘And so should I,’ said Number Two.  ‘Truly thankful, I should.’

Oakum Head then rose, and announced as an entirely new idea, the mention
of which profound novelty might be naturally expected to startle her
unprepared hearers, that she would be very thankful to be got into a
place, or got abroad.  And, as if she had then said, ‘Chorus, ladies!’
all the Skirmishers struck up to the same purpose.  We left them,
thereupon, and began a long walk among the women who were simply old and
infirm; but whenever, in the course of this same walk, I looked out of
any high window that commanded the yard, I saw Oakum Head and all the
other Refractories looking out at their low window for me, and never
failing to catch me, the moment I showed my head.

In ten minutes I had ceased to believe in such fables of a golden time as
youth, the prime of life, or a hale old age.  In ten minutes, all the
lights of womankind seemed to have been blown out, and nothing in that
way to be left this vault to brag of, but the flickering and expiring
snuffs.

And what was very curious, was, that these dim old women had one company
notion which was the fashion of the place.  Every old woman who became
aware of a visitor and was not in bed hobbled over a form into her
accustomed seat, and became one of a line of dim old women confronting
another line of dim old women across a narrow table.  There was no
obligation whatever upon them to range themselves in this way; it was
their manner of ‘receiving.’  As a rule, they made no attempt to talk to
one another, or to look at the visitor, or to look at anything, but sat
silently working their mouths, like a sort of poor old Cows.  In some of
these wards, it was good to see a few green plants; in others, an
isolated Refractory acting as nurse, who did well enough in that
capacity, when separated from her compeers; every one of these wards, day
room, night room, or both combined, was scrupulously clean and fresh.  I
have seen as many such places as most travellers in my line, and I never
saw one such, better kept.

Among the bedridden there was great patience, great reliance on the books
under the pillow, great faith in GOD.  All cared for sympathy, but none
much cared to be encouraged with hope of recovery; on the whole, I should
say, it was considered rather a distinction to have a complication of
disorders, and to be in a worse way than the rest.  From some of the
windows, the river could be seen with all its life and movement; the day
was bright, but I came upon no one who was looking out.

In one large ward, sitting by the fire in arm-chairs of distinction, like
the President and Vice of the good company, were two old women, upwards
of ninety years of age.  The younger of the two, just turned ninety, was
deaf, but not very, and could easily be made to hear.  In her early time
she had nursed a child, who was now another old woman, more infirm than
herself, inhabiting the very same chamber.  She perfectly understood this
when the matron told it, and, with sundry nods and motions of her
forefinger, pointed out the woman in question.  The elder of this pair,
ninety-three, seated before an illustrated newspaper (but not reading
it), was a bright-eyed old soul, really not deaf, wonderfully preserved,
and amazingly conversational.  She had not long lost her husband, and had
been in that place little more than a year.  At Boston, in the State of
Massachusetts, this poor creature would have been individually addressed,
would have been tended in her own room, and would have had her life
gently assimilated to a comfortable life out of doors.  Would that be
much to do in England for a woman who has kept herself out of a workhouse
more than ninety rough long years?  When Britain first, at Heaven’s
command, arose, with a great deal of allegorical confusion, from out the
azure main, did her guardian angels positively forbid it in the Charter
which has been so much besung?

The object of my journey was accomplished when the nimble matron had no
more to show me.  As I shook hands with her at the gate, I told her that
I thought justice had not used her very well, and that the wise men of
the East were not infallible.

Now, I reasoned with myself, as I made my journey home again, concerning
those Foul wards.  They ought not to exist; no person of common decency
and humanity can see them and doubt it.  But what is this Union to do?
The necessary alteration would cost several thousands of pounds; it has
already to support three workhouses; its inhabitants work hard for their
bare lives, and are already rated for the relief of the Poor to the
utmost extent of reasonable endurance.  One poor parish in this very
Union is rated to the amount of FIVE AND SIXPENCE in the pound, at the
very same time when the rich parish of Saint George’s, Hanover-square, is
rated at about SEVENPENCE in the pound, Paddington at about FOURPENCE,
Saint James’s, Westminster, at about TENPENCE!  It is only through the
equalisation of Poor Rates that what is left undone in this wise, can be
done.  Much more is left undone, or is ill-done, than I have space to
suggest in these notes of a single uncommercial journey; but, the wise
men of the East, before they can reasonably hold forth about it, must
look to the North and South and West; let them also, any morning before
taking the seat of Solomon, look into the shops and dwellings all around
the Temple, and first ask themselves ‘how much more can these poor
people—many of whom keep themselves with difficulty enough out of the
workhouse—bear?’

I had yet other matter for reflection as I journeyed home, inasmuch as,
before I altogether departed from the neighbourhood of Mr. Baker’s trap,
I had knocked at the gate of the workhouse of St. George’s-in-the-East,
and had found it to be an establishment highly creditable to those parts,
and thoroughly well administered by a most intelligent master.  I
remarked in it, an instance of the collateral harm that obstinate vanity
and folly can do.  ‘This was the Hall where those old paupers, male and
female, whom I had just seen, met for the Church service, was
it?’—‘Yes.’—‘Did they sing the Psalms to any instrument?’—‘They would
like to, very much; they would have an extraordinary interest in doing
so.’—‘And could none be got?’—‘Well, a piano could even have been got for
nothing, but these unfortunate dissensions—’  Ah! better, far better, my
Christian friend in the beautiful garment, to have let the singing boys
alone, and left the multitude to sing for themselves!  You should know
better than I, but I think I have read that they did so, once upon a
time, and that ‘when they had sung an hymn,’ Some one (not in a beautiful
garment) went up into the Mount of Olives.

It made my heart ache to think of this miserable trifling, in the streets
of a city where every stone seemed to call to me, as I walked along,
‘Turn this way, man, and see what waits to be done!’  So I decoyed myself
into another train of thought to ease my heart.  But, I don’t know that I
did it, for I was so full of paupers, that it was, after all, only a
change to a single pauper, who took possession of my remembrance instead
of a thousand.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he had said, in a confidential manner, on
another occasion, taking me aside; ‘but I have seen better days.’

‘I am very sorry to hear it.’

‘Sir, I have a complaint to make against the master.’

‘I have no power here, I assure you.  And if I had—’

‘But, allow me, sir, to mention it, as between yourself and a man who has
seen better days, sir.  The master and myself are both masons, sir, and I
make him the sign continually; but, because I am in this unfortunate
position, sir, he won’t give me the counter-sign!’



IV
TWO VIEWS OF A CHEAP THEATRE


AS I shut the door of my lodging behind me, and came out into the streets
at six on a drizzling Saturday evening in the last past month of January,
all that neighbourhood of Covent-garden looked very desolate.  It is so
essentially a neighbourhood which has seen better days, that bad weather
affects it sooner than another place which has not come down in the
World.  In its present reduced condition it bears a thaw almost worse
than any place I know.  It gets so dreadfully low-spirited when damp
breaks forth.  Those wonderful houses about Drury-lane Theatre, which in
the palmy days of theatres were prosperous and long-settled places of
business, and which now change hands every week, but never change their
character of being divided and sub-divided on the ground floor into
mouldy dens of shops where an orange and half-a-dozen nuts, or a
pomatum-pot, one cake of fancy soap, and a cigar box, are offered for
sale and never sold, were most ruefully contemplated that evening, by the
statue of Shakespeare, with the rain-drops coursing one another down its
innocent nose.  Those inscrutable pigeon-hole offices, with nothing in
them (not so much as an inkstand) but a model of a theatre before the
curtain, where, in the Italian Opera season, tickets at reduced prices
are kept on sale by nomadic gentlemen in smeary hats too tall for them,
whom one occasionally seems to have seen on race-courses, not wholly
unconnected with strips of cloth of various colours and a rolling
ball—those Bedouin establishments, deserted by the tribe, and tenantless,
except when sheltering in one corner an irregular row of ginger-beer
bottles, which would have made one shudder on such a night, but for its
being plain that they had nothing in them, shrunk from the shrill cries
of the news-boys at their Exchange in the kennel of Catherine-street,
like guilty things upon a fearful summons.  At the pipe-shop in Great
Russell-street, the Death’s-head pipes were like theatrical memento mori,
admonishing beholders of the decline of the playhouse as an Institution.
I walked up Bow-street, disposed to be angry with the shops there, that
were letting out theatrical secrets by exhibiting to work-a-day humanity
the stuff of which diadems and robes of kings are made.  I noticed that
some shops which had once been in the dramatic line, and had struggled
out of it, were not getting on prosperously—like some actors I have
known, who took to business and failed to make it answer.  In a word,
those streets looked so dull, and, considered as theatrical streets, so
broken and bankrupt, that the FOUND DEAD on the black board at the police
station might have announced the decease of the Drama, and the pools of
water outside the fire-engine maker’s at the corner of Long-acre might
have been occasioned by his having brought out the whole of his stock to
play upon its last smouldering ashes.

And yet, on such a night in so degenerate a time, the object of my
journey was theatrical.  And yet within half an hour I was in an immense
theatre, capable of holding nearly five thousand people.

What Theatre?  Her Majesty’s?  Far better.  Royal Italian Opera?  Far
better.  Infinitely superior to the latter for hearing in; infinitely
superior to both, for seeing in.  To every part of this Theatre, spacious
fire-proof ways of ingress and egress.  For every part of it, convenient
places of refreshment and retiring rooms.  Everything to eat and drink
carefully supervised as to quality, and sold at an appointed price;
respectable female attendants ready for the commonest women in the
audience; a general air of consideration, decorum, and supervision, most
commendable; an unquestionably humanising influence in all the social
arrangements of the place.

Surely a dear Theatre, then?  Because there were in London (not very long
ago) Theatres with entrance-prices up to half-a-guinea a head, whose
arrangements were not half so civilised.  Surely, therefore, a dear
Theatre?  Not very dear.  A gallery at three-pence, another gallery at
fourpence, a pit at sixpence, boxes and pit-stalls at a shilling, and a
few private boxes at half-a-crown.

My uncommercial curiosity induced me to go into every nook of this great
place, and among every class of the audience assembled in it—amounting
that evening, as I calculated, to about two thousand and odd hundreds.
Magnificently lighted by a firmament of sparkling chandeliers, the
building was ventilated to perfection.  My sense of smell, without being
particularly delicate, has been so offended in some of the commoner
places of public resort, that I have often been obliged to leave them
when I have made an uncommercial journey expressly to look on.  The air
of this Theatre was fresh, cool, and wholesome.  To help towards this
end, very sensible precautions had been used, ingeniously combining the
experience of hospitals and railway stations.  Asphalt pavements
substituted for wooden floors, honest bare walls of glazed brick and
tile—even at the back of the boxes—for plaster and paper, no benches
stuffed, and no carpeting or baize used; a cool material with a light
glazed surface, being the covering of the seats.

                        [Picture: A Cheap Theatre]

These various contrivances are as well considered in the place in
question as if it were a Fever Hospital; the result is, that it is sweet
and healthful.  It has been constructed from the ground to the roof, with
a careful reference to sight and sound in every corner; the result is,
that its form is beautiful, and that the appearance of the audience, as
seen from the proscenium—with every face in it commanding the stage, and
the whole so admirably raked and turned to that centre, that a hand can
scarcely move in the great assemblage without the movement being seen
from thence—is highly remarkable in its union of vastness with
compactness.  The stage itself, and all its appurtenances of machinery,
cellarage, height and breadth, are on a scale more like the Scala at
Milan, or the San Carlo at Naples, or the Grand Opera at Paris, than any
notion a stranger would be likely to form of the Britannia Theatre at
Hoxton, a mile north of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Old-street-road,
London.  The Forty Thieves might be played here, and every thief ride his
real horse, and the disguised captain bring in his oil jars on a train of
real camels, and nobody be put out of the way.  This really extraordinary
place is the achievement of one man’s enterprise, and was erected on the
ruins of an inconvenient old building in less than five months, at a
round cost of five-and-twenty thousand pounds.  To dismiss this part of
my subject, and still to render to the proprietor the credit that is
strictly his due, I must add that his sense of the responsibility upon
him to make the best of his audience, and to do his best for them, is a
highly agreeable sign of these times.

As the spectators at this theatre, for a reason I will presently show,
were the object of my journey, I entered on the play of the night as one
of the two thousand and odd hundreds, by looking about me at my
neighbours.  We were a motley assemblage of people, and we had a good
many boys and young men among us; we had also many girls and young women.
To represent, however, that we did not include a very great number, and a
very fair proportion of family groups, would be to make a gross
mis-statement.  Such groups were to be seen in all parts of the house; in
the boxes and stalls particularly, they were composed of persons of very
decent appearance, who had many children with them.  Among our dresses
there were most kinds of shabby and greasy wear, and much fustian and
corduroy that was neither sound nor fragrant.  The caps of our young men
were mostly of a limp character, and we who wore them, slouched,
high-shouldered, into our places with our hands in our pockets, and
occasionally twisted our cravats about our necks like eels, and
occasionally tied them down our breasts like links of sausages, and
occasionally had a screw in our hair over each cheek-bone with a slight
Thief-flavour in it.  Besides prowlers and idlers, we were mechanics,
dock-labourers, costermongers, petty tradesmen, small clerks, milliners,
stay-makers, shoe-binders, slop-workers, poor workers in a hundred
highways and byways.  Many of us—on the whole, the majority—were not at
all clean, and not at all choice in our lives or conversation.  But we
had all come together in a place where our convenience was well
consulted, and where we were well looked after, to enjoy an evening’s
entertainment in common.  We were not going to lose any part of what we
had paid for through anybody’s caprice, and as a community we had a
character to lose.  So, we were closely attentive, and kept excellent
order; and let the man or boy who did otherwise instantly get out from
this place, or we would put him out with the greatest expedition.

We began at half-past six with a pantomime—with a pantomime so long, that
before it was over I felt as if I had been travelling for six weeks—going
to India, say, by the Overland Mail.  The Spirit of Liberty was the
principal personage in the Introduction, and the Four Quarters of the
World came out of the globe, glittering, and discoursed with the Spirit,
who sang charmingly.  We were delighted to understand that there was no
liberty anywhere but among ourselves, and we highly applauded the
agreeable fact.  In an allegorical way, which did as well as any other
way, we and the Spirit of Liberty got into a kingdom of Needles and Pins,
and found them at war with a potentate who called in to his aid their old
arch enemy Rust, and who would have got the better of them if the Spirit
of Liberty had not in the nick of time transformed the leaders into
Clown, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Columbine, Harlequina, and a whole family of
Sprites, consisting of a remarkably stout father and three spineless
sons.  We all knew what was coming when the Spirit of Liberty addressed
the king with a big face, and His Majesty backed to the side-scenes and
began untying himself behind, with his big face all on one side.  Our
excitement at that crisis was great, and our delight unbounded.  After
this era in our existence, we went through all the incidents of a
pantomime; it was not by any means a savage pantomime, in the way of
burning or boiling people, or throwing them out of window, or cutting
them up; was often very droll; was always liberally got up, and cleverly
presented.  I noticed that the people who kept the shops, and who
represented the passengers in the thoroughfares, and so forth, had no
conventionality in them, but were unusually like the real thing—from
which I infer that you may take that audience in (if you wish to)
concerning Knights and Ladies, Fairies, Angels, or such like, but they
are not to be done as to anything in the streets.  I noticed, also, that
when two young men, dressed in exact imitation of the
eel-and-sausage-cravated portion of the audience, were chased by
policemen, and, finding themselves in danger of being caught, dropped so
suddenly as to oblige the policemen to tumble over them, there was great
rejoicing among the caps—as though it were a delicate reference to
something they had heard of before.

The Pantomime was succeeded by a Melo-Drama.  Throughout the evening I
was pleased to observe Virtue quite as triumphant as she usually is out
of doors, and indeed I thought rather more so.  We all agreed (for the
time) that honesty was the best policy, and we were as hard as iron upon
Vice, and we wouldn’t hear of Villainy getting on in the world—no, not on
any consideration whatever.

Between the pieces, we almost all of us went out and refreshed.  Many of
us went the length of drinking beer at the bar of the neighbouring
public-house, some of us drank spirits, crowds of us had sandwiches and
ginger-beer at the refreshment-bars established for us in the Theatre.
The sandwich—as substantial as was consistent with portability, and as
cheap as possible—we hailed as one of our greatest institutions.  It
forced its way among us at all stages of the entertainment, and we were
always delighted to see it; its adaptability to the varying moods of our
nature was surprising; we could never weep so comfortably as when our
tears fell on our sandwich; we could never laugh so heartily as when we
choked with sandwich; Virtue never looked so beautiful or Vice so
deformed as when we paused, sandwich in hand, to consider what would come
of that resolution of Wickedness in boots, to sever Innocence in flowered
chintz from Honest Industry in striped stockings.  When the curtain fell
for the night, we still fell back upon sandwich, to help us through the
rain and mire, and home to bed.

This, as I have mentioned, was Saturday night.  Being Saturday night, I
had accomplished but the half of my uncommercial journey; for, its object
was to compare the play on Saturday evening with the preaching in the
same Theatre on Sunday evening.

Therefore, at the same hour of half-past six on the similarly damp and
muddy Sunday evening, I returned to this Theatre.  I drove up to the
entrance (fearful of being late, or I should have come on foot), and
found myself in a large crowd of people who, I am happy to state, were
put into excellent spirits by my arrival.  Having nothing to look at but
the mud and the closed doors, they looked at me, and highly enjoyed the
comic spectacle.  My modesty inducing me to draw off, some hundreds of
yards, into a dark corner, they at once forgot me, and applied themselves
to their former occupation of looking at the mud and looking in at the
closed doors: which, being of grated ironwork, allowed the lighted
passage within to be seen.  They were chiefly people of respectable
appearance, odd and impulsive as most crowds are, and making a joke of
being there as most crowds do.

In the dark corner I might have sat a long while, but that a very
obliging passer-by informed me that the Theatre was already full, and
that the people whom I saw in the street were all shut out for want of
room.  After that, I lost no time in worming myself into the building,
and creeping to a place in a Proscenium box that had been kept for me.

There must have been full four thousand people present.  Carefully
estimating the pit alone, I could bring it out as holding little less
than fourteen hundred.  Every part of the house was well filled, and I
had not found it easy to make my way along the back of the boxes to where
I sat.  The chandeliers in the ceiling were lighted; there was no light
on the stage; the orchestra was empty.  The green curtain was down, and,
packed pretty closely on chairs on the small space of stage before it,
were some thirty gentlemen, and two or three ladies.  In the centre of
these, in a desk or pulpit covered with red baize, was the presiding
minister.  The kind of rostrum he occupied will be very well understood,
if I liken it to a boarded-up fireplace turned towards the audience, with
a gentleman in a black surtout standing in the stove and leaning forward
over the mantelpiece.

A portion of Scripture was being read when I went in.  It was followed by
a discourse, to which the congregation listened with most exemplary
attention and uninterrupted silence and decorum.  My own attention
comprehended both the auditory and the speaker, and shall turn to both in
this recalling of the scene, exactly as it did at the time.

‘A very difficult thing,’ I thought, when the discourse began, ‘to speak
appropriately to so large an audience, and to speak with tact.  Without
it, better not to speak at all.  Infinitely better, to read the New
Testament well, and to let _that_ speak.  In this congregation there is
indubitably one pulse; but I doubt if any power short of genius can touch
it as one, and make it answer as one.’

I could not possibly say to myself as the discourse proceeded, that the
minister was a good speaker.  I could not possibly say to myself that he
expressed an understanding of the general mind and character of his
audience.  There was a supposititious working-man introduced into the
homily, to make supposititious objections to our Christian religion and
be reasoned down, who was not only a very disagreeable person, but
remarkably unlike life—very much more unlike it than anything I had seen
in the pantomime.  The native independence of character this artisan was
supposed to possess, was represented by a suggestion of a dialect that I
certainly never heard in my uncommercial travels, and with a coarse swing
of voice and manner anything but agreeable to his feelings, I should
conceive, considered in the light of a portrait, and as far away from the
fact as a Chinese Tartar.  There was a model pauper introduced in like
manner, who appeared to me to be the most intolerably arrogant pauper
ever relieved, and to show himself in absolute want and dire necessity of
a course of Stone Yard.  For, how did this pauper testify to his having
received the gospel of humility?  A gentleman met him in the workhouse,
and said (which I myself really thought good-natured of him), ‘Ah, John?
I am sorry to see you here.  I am sorry to see you so poor.’  ‘Poor,
sir!’ replied that man, drawing himself up, ‘I am the son of a Prince!
_My_ father is the King of Kings.  _My_ father is the Lord of Lords.
_My_ father is the ruler of all the Princes of the Earth!’ &c.  And this
was what all the preacher’s fellow-sinners might come to, if they would
embrace this blessed book—which I must say it did some violence to my own
feelings of reverence, to see held out at arm’s length at frequent
intervals and soundingly slapped, like a slow lot at a sale.  Now, could
I help asking myself the question, whether the mechanic before me, who
must detect the preacher as being wrong about the visible manner of
himself and the like of himself, and about such a noisy lip-server as
that pauper, might not, most unhappily for the usefulness of the
occasion, doubt that preacher’s being right about things not visible to
human senses?

Again.  Is it necessary or advisable to address such an audience
continually as ‘fellow-sinners’?  Is it not enough to be
fellow-creatures, born yesterday, suffering and striving to-day, dying
to-morrow?  By our common humanity, my brothers and sisters, by our
common capacities for pain and pleasure, by our common laughter and our
common tears, by our common aspiration to reach something better than
ourselves, by our common tendency to believe in something good, and to
invest whatever we love or whatever we lose with some qualities that are
superior to our own failings and weaknesses as we know them in our own
poor hearts—by these, Hear me!—Surely, it is enough to be
fellow-creatures.  Surely, it includes the other designation, and some
touching meanings over and above.

Again.  There was a personage introduced into the discourse (not an
absolute novelty, to the best of my remembrance of my reading), who had
been personally known to the preacher, and had been quite a Crichton in
all the ways of philosophy, but had been an infidel.  Many a time had the
preacher talked with him on that subject, and many a time had he failed
to convince that intelligent man.  But he fell ill, and died, and before
he died he recorded his conversion—in words which the preacher had taken
down, my fellow-sinners, and would read to you from this piece of paper.
I must confess that to me, as one of an uninstructed audience, they did
not appear particularly edifying.  I thought their tone extremely
selfish, and I thought they had a spiritual vanity in them which was of
the before-mentioned refractory pauper’s family.

All slangs and twangs are objectionable everywhere, but the slang and
twang of the conventicle—as bad in its way as that of the House of
Commons, and nothing worse can be said of it—should be studiously avoided
under such circumstances as I describe.  The avoidance was not complete
on this occasion.  Nor was it quite agreeable to see the preacher
addressing his pet ‘points’ to his backers on the stage, as if appealing
to those disciples to show him up, and testify to the multitude that each
of those points was a clincher.

But, in respect of the large Christianity of his general tone; of his
renunciation of all priestly authority; of his earnest and reiterated
assurance to the people that the commonest among them could work out
their own salvation if they would, by simply, lovingly, and dutifully
following Our Saviour, and that they needed the mediation of no erring
man; in these particulars, this gentleman deserved all praise.  Nothing
could be better than the spirit, or the plain emphatic words of his
discourse in these respects.  And it was a most significant and
encouraging circumstance that whenever he struck that chord, or whenever
he described anything which Christ himself had done, the array of faces
before him was very much more earnest, and very much more expressive of
emotion, than at any other time.

And now, I am brought to the fact, that the lowest part of the audience
of the previous night, _was not there_.  There is no doubt about it.
There was no such thing in that building, that Sunday evening.  I have
been told since, that the lowest part of the audience of the Victoria
Theatre has been attracted to its Sunday services.  I have been very glad
to hear it, but on this occasion of which I write, the lowest part of the
usual audience of the Britannia Theatre, decidedly and unquestionably
stayed away.  When I first took my seat and looked at the house, my
surprise at the change in its occupants was as great as my
disappointment.  To the most respectable class of the previous evening,
was added a great number of respectable strangers attracted by curiosity,
and drafts from the regular congregations of various chapels.  It was
impossible to fail in identifying the character of these last, and they
were very numerous.  I came out in a strong, slow tide of them setting
from the boxes.  Indeed, while the discourse was in progress, the
respectable character of the auditory was so manifest in their
appearance, that when the minister addressed a supposititious ‘outcast,’
one really felt a little impatient of it, as a figure of speech not
justified by anything the eye could discover.

The time appointed for the conclusion of the proceedings was eight
o’clock.  The address having lasted until full that time, and it being
the custom to conclude with a hymn, the preacher intimated in a few
sensible words that the clock had struck the hour, and that those who
desired to go before the hymn was sung, could go now, without giving
offence.  No one stirred.  The hymn was then sung, in good time and tune
and unison, and its effect was very striking.  A comprehensive benevolent
prayer dismissed the throng, and in seven or eight minutes there was
nothing left in the Theatre but a light cloud of dust.

That these Sunday meetings in Theatres are good things, I do not doubt.
Nor do I doubt that they will work lower and lower down in the social
scale, if those who preside over them will be very careful on two heads:
firstly, not to disparage the places in which they speak, or the
intelligence of their hearers; secondly, not to set themselves in
antagonism to the natural inborn desire of the mass of mankind to
recreate themselves and to be amused.

There is a third head, taking precedence of all others, to which my
remarks on the discourse I heard, have tended.  In the New Testament
there is the most beautiful and affecting history conceivable by man, and
there are the terse models for all prayer and for all preaching.  As to
the models, imitate them, Sunday preachers—else why are they there,
consider?  As to the history, tell it.  Some people cannot read, some
people will not read, many people (this especially holds among the young
and ignorant) find it hard to pursue the verse-form in which the book is
presented to them, and imagine that those breaks imply gaps and want of
continuity.  Help them over that first stumbling-block, by setting forth
the history in narrative, with no fear of exhausting it.  You will never
preach so well, you will never move them so profoundly, you will never
send them away with half so much to think of.  Which is the better
interest: Christ’s choice of twelve poor men to help in those merciful
wonders among the poor and rejected; or the pious bullying of a whole
Union-full of paupers?  What is your changed philosopher to wretched me,
peeping in at the door out of the mud of the streets and of my life, when
you have the widow’s son to tell me about, the ruler’s daughter, the
other figure at the door when the brother of the two sisters was dead,
and one of the two ran to the mourner, crying, ‘The Master is come and
calleth for thee’?—Let the preacher who will thoroughly forget himself
and remember no individuality but one, and no eloquence but one, stand up
before four thousand men and women at the Britannia Theatre any Sunday
night, recounting that narrative to them as fellow creatures, and he
shall see a sight!



V
POOR MERCANTILE JACK


Is the sweet little cherub who sits smiling aloft and keeps watch on life
of poor Jack, commissioned to take charge of Mercantile Jack, as well as
Jack of the national navy?  If not, who is?  What is the cherub about,
and what are we all about, when poor Mercantile Jack is having his brains
slowly knocked out by penny-weights, aboard the brig Beelzebub, or the
barque Bowie-knife—when he looks his last at that infernal craft, with
the first officer’s iron boot-heel in his remaining eye, or with his
dying body towed overboard in the ship’s wake, while the cruel wounds in
it do ‘the multitudinous seas incarnadine’?

Is it unreasonable to entertain a belief that if, aboard the brig
Beelzebub or the barque Bowie-knife, the first officer did half the
damage to cotton that he does to men, there would presently arise from
both sides of the Atlantic so vociferous an invocation of the sweet
little cherub who sits calculating aloft, keeping watch on the markets
that pay, that such vigilant cherub would, with a winged sword, have that
gallant officer’s organ of destructiveness out of his head in the space
of a flash of lightning?

If it be unreasonable, then am I the most unreasonable of men, for I
believe it with all my soul.

This was my thought as I walked the dock-quays at Liverpool, keeping
watch on poor Mercantile Jack.  Alas for me!  I have long outgrown the
state of sweet little cherub; but there I was, and there Mercantile Jack
was, and very busy he was, and very cold he was: the snow yet lying in
the frozen furrows of the land, and the north-east winds snipping off the
tops of the little waves in the Mersey, and rolling them into hailstones
to pelt him with.  Mercantile Jack was hard at it, in the hard weather:
as he mostly is in all weathers, poor Jack.  He was girded to ships’
masts and funnels of steamers, like a forester to a great oak, scraping
and painting; he was lying out on yards, furling sails that tried to beat
him off; he was dimly discernible up in a world of giant cobwebs, reefing
and splicing; he was faintly audible down in holds, stowing and
unshipping cargo; he was winding round and round at capstans melodious,
monotonous, and drunk; he was of a diabolical aspect, with coaling for
the Antipodes; he was washing decks barefoot, with the breast of his red
shirt open to the blast, though it was sharper than the knife in his
leathern girdle; he was looking over bulwarks, all eyes and hair; he was
standing by at the shoot of the Cunard steamer, off to-morrow, as the
stocks in trade of several butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers, poured
down into the ice-house; he was coming aboard of other vessels, with his
kit in a tarpaulin bag, attended by plunderers to the very last moment of
his shore-going existence.  As though his senses, when released from the
uproar of the elements, were under obligation to be confused by other
turmoil, there was a rattling of wheels, a clattering of hoofs, a
clashing of iron, a jolting of cotton and hides and casks and timber, an
incessant deafening disturbance on the quays, that was the very madness
of sound.  And as, in the midst of it, he stood swaying about, with his
hair blown all manner of wild ways, rather crazedly taking leave of his
plunderers, all the rigging in the docks was shrill in the wind, and
every little steamer coming and going across the Mersey was sharp in its
blowing off, and every buoy in the river bobbed spitefully up and down,
as if there were a general taunting chorus of ‘Come along, Mercantile
Jack!  Ill-lodged, ill-fed, ill-used, hocussed, entrapped, anticipated,
cleaned out.  Come along, Poor Mercantile Jack, and be tempest-tossed
till you are drowned!’

The uncommercial transaction which had brought me and Jack together, was
this:—I had entered the Liverpool police force, that I might have a look
at the various unlawful traps which are every night set for Jack.  As my
term of service in that distinguished corps was short, and as my personal
bias in the capacity of one of its members has ceased, no suspicion will
attach to my evidence that it is an admirable force.  Besides that it is
composed, without favour, of the best men that can be picked, it is
directed by an unusual intelligence.  Its organisation against Fires, I
take to be much better than the metropolitan system, and in all respects
it tempers its remarkable vigilance with a still more remarkable
discretion.

Jack had knocked off work in the docks some hours, and I had taken, for
purposes of identification, a photograph-likeness of a thief, in the
portrait-room at our head police office (on the whole, he seemed rather
complimented by the proceeding), and I had been on police parade, and the
small hand of the clock was moving on to ten, when I took up my lantern
to follow Mr. Superintendent to the traps that were set for Jack.  In Mr.
Superintendent I saw, as anybody might, a tall, well-looking, well-set-up
man of a soldierly bearing, with a cavalry air, a good chest, and a
resolute but not by any means ungentle face.  He carried in his hand a
plain black walking-stick of hard wood; and whenever and wherever, at any
after-time of the night, he struck it on the pavement with a ringing
sound, it instantly produced a whistle out of the darkness, and a
policeman.  To this remarkable stick, I refer an air of mystery and magic
which pervaded the whole of my perquisition among the traps that were set
for Jack.

We began by diving into the obscurest streets and lanes of the port.
Suddenly pausing in a flow of cheerful discourse, before a dead wall,
apparently some ten miles long, Mr. Superintendent struck upon the
ground, and the wall opened and shot out, with military salute of hand to
temple, two policemen—not in the least surprised themselves, not in the
least surprising Mr. Superintendent.

‘All right, Sharpeye?’

‘All right, sir.’

‘All right, Trampfoot?’

‘All right, sir.’

‘Is Quickear there?’

‘Here am I, sir.’

‘Come with us.’

‘Yes, sir.’

So, Sharpeye went before, and Mr. Superintendent and I went next, and
Trampfoot and Quickear marched as rear-guard.  Sharp-eye, I soon had
occasion to remark, had a skilful and quite professional way of opening
doors—touched latches delicately, as if they were keys of musical
instruments—opened every door he touched, as if he were perfectly
confident that there was stolen property behind it—instantly insinuated
himself, to prevent its being shut.

Sharpeye opened several doors of traps that were set for Jack, but Jack
did not happen to be in any of them.  They were all such miserable places
that really, Jack, if I were you, I would give them a wider berth.  In
every trap, somebody was sitting over a fire, waiting for Jack.  Now, it
was a crouching old woman, like the picture of the Norwood Gipsy in the
old sixpenny dream-books; now, it was a crimp of the male sex, in a
checked shirt and without a coat, reading a newspaper; now, it was a man
crimp and a woman crimp, who always introduced themselves as united in
holy matrimony; now, it was Jack’s delight, his (un)lovely Nan; but they
were all waiting for Jack, and were all frightfully disappointed to see
us.

‘Who have you got up-stairs here?’ says Sharpeye, generally.  (In the
Move-on tone.)

‘Nobody, surr; sure not a blessed sowl!’  (Irish feminine reply.)

‘What do you mean by nobody?  Didn’t I hear a woman’s step go up-stairs
when my hand was on the latch?’

‘Ah! sure thin you’re right, surr, I forgot her!  ’Tis on’y Betsy White,
surr.  Ah! you know Betsy, surr.  Come down, Betsy darlin’, and say the
gintlemin.’

Generally, Betsy looks over the banisters (the steep staircase is in the
room) with a forcible expression in her protesting face, of an intention
to compensate herself for the present trial by grinding Jack finer than
usual when he does come.  Generally, Sharpeye turns to Mr.
Superintendent, and says, as if the subjects of his remarks were
wax-work:

‘One of the worst, sir, this house is.  This woman has been indicted
three times.  This man’s a regular bad one likewise.  His real name is
Pegg.  Gives himself out as Waterhouse.’

‘Never had sitch a name as Pegg near me back, thin, since I was in this
house, bee the good Lard!’ says the woman.

Generally, the man says nothing at all, but becomes exceedingly
round-shouldered, and pretends to read his paper with rapt attention.
Generally, Sharpeye directs our observation with a look, to the prints
and pictures that are invariably numerous on the walls.  Always,
Trampfoot and Quickear are taking notice on the doorstep.  In default of
Sharpeye being acquainted with the exact individuality of any gentleman
encountered, one of these two is sure to proclaim from the outer air,
like a gruff spectre, that Jackson is not Jackson, but knows himself to
be Fogle; or that Canlon is Walker’s brother, against whom there was not
sufficient evidence; or that the man who says he never was at sea since
he was a boy, came ashore from a voyage last Thursday, or sails to-morrow
morning.  ‘And that is a bad class of man, you see,’ says Mr.
Superintendent, when he got out into the dark again, ‘and very difficult
to deal with, who, when he has made this place too hot to hold him,
enters himself for a voyage as steward or cook, and is out of knowledge
for months, and then turns up again worse than ever.’

When we had gone into many such houses, and had come out (always leaving
everybody relapsing into waiting for Jack), we started off to a
singing-house where Jack was expected to muster strong.

The vocalisation was taking place in a long low room up-stairs; at one
end, an orchestra of two performers, and a small platform; across the
room, a series of open pews for Jack, with an aisle down the middle; at
the other end a larger pew than the rest, entitled SNUG, and reserved for
mates and similar good company.  About the room, some amazing
coffee-coloured pictures varnished an inch deep, and some stuffed
creatures in cases; dotted among the audience, in Sung and out of Snug,
the ‘Professionals;’ among them, the celebrated comic favourite Mr. Banjo
Bones, looking very hideous with his blackened face and limp sugar-loaf
hat; beside him, sipping rum-and-water, Mrs. Banjo Bones, in her natural
colours—a little heightened.

It was a Friday night, and Friday night was considered not a good night
for Jack.  At any rate, Jack did not show in very great force even here,
though the house was one to which he much resorts, and where a good deal
of money is taken.  There was British Jack, a little maudlin and sleepy,
lolling over his empty glass, as if he were trying to read his fortune at
the bottom; there was Loafing Jack of the Stars and Stripes, rather an
unpromising customer, with his long nose, lank cheek, high cheek-bones,
and nothing soft about him but his cabbage-leaf hat; there was Spanish
Jack, with curls of black hair, rings in his ears, and a knife not far
from his hand, if you got into trouble with him; there were Maltese Jack,
and Jack of Sweden, and Jack the Finn, looming through the smoke of their
pipes, and turning faces that looked as if they were carved out of dark
wood, towards the young lady dancing the hornpipe: who found the platform
so exceedingly small for it, that I had a nervous expectation of seeing
her, in the backward steps, disappear through the window.  Still, if all
hands had been got together, they would not have more than half-filled
the room.  Observe, however, said Mr. Licensed Victualler, the host, that
it was Friday night, and, besides, it was getting on for twelve, and Jack
had gone aboard.  A sharp and watchful man, Mr. Licensed Victualler, the
host, with tight lips and a complete edition of Cocker’s arithmetic in
each eye.  Attended to his business himself, he said.  Always on the
spot.  When he heard of talent, trusted nobody’s account of it, but went
off by rail to see it.  If true talent, engaged it.  Pounds a week for
talent—four pound—five pound.  Banjo Bones was undoubted talent.  Hear
this instrument that was going to play—it was real talent!  In truth it
was very good; a kind of piano-accordion, played by a young girl of a
delicate prettiness of face, figure, and dress, that made the audience
look coarser.  She sang to the instrument, too; first, a song about
village bells, and how they chimed; then a song about how I went to sea;
winding up with an imitation of the bagpipes, which Mercantile Jack
seemed to understand much the best.  A good girl, said Mr. Licensed
Victualler.  Kept herself select.  Sat in Snug, not listening to the
blandishments of Mates.  Lived with mother.  Father dead.  Once a
merchant well to do, but over-speculated himself.  On delicate inquiry as
to salary paid for item of talent under consideration, Mr. Victualler’s
pounds dropped suddenly to shillings—still it was a very comfortable
thing for a young person like that, you know; she only went on six times
a night, and was only required to be there from six at night to twelve.
What was more conclusive was, Mr. Victualler’s assurance that he ‘never
allowed any language, and never suffered any disturbance.’  Sharpeye
confirmed the statement, and the order that prevailed was the best proof
of it that could have been cited.  So, I came to the conclusion that poor
Mercantile Jack might do (as I am afraid he does) much worse than trust
himself to Mr. Victualler, and pass his evenings here.

But we had not yet looked, Mr. Superintendent—said Trampfoot, receiving
us in the street again with military salute—for Dark Jack.  True,
Trampfoot.  Ring the wonderful stick, rub the wonderful lantern, and
cause the spirits of the stick and lantern to convey us to the Darkies.

There was no disappointment in the matter of Dark Jack; _he_ was
producible.  The Genii set us down in the little first floor of a little
public-house, and there, in a stiflingly close atmosphere, were Dark
Jack, and Dark Jack’s delight, his _white_ unlovely Nan, sitting against
the wall all round the room.  More than that: Dark Jack’s delight was the
least unlovely Nan, both morally and physically, that I saw that night.

As a fiddle and tambourine band were sitting among the company, Quickear
suggested why not strike up?  ‘Ah, la’ads!’ said a negro sitting by the
door, ‘gib the jebblem a darnse.  Tak’ yah pardlers, jebblem, for ’um
QUAD-rill.’

This was the landlord, in a Greek cap, and a dress half Greek and half
English.  As master of the ceremonies, he called all the figures, and
occasionally addressed himself parenthetically—after this manner.  When
he was very loud, I use capitals.

‘Now den!  Hoy!  ONE.  Right and left.  (Put a steam on, gib ’um powder.)
LA-dies’ chail.  BAL-loon say.  Lemonade!  TWO.  AD-warnse and go back
(gib ’ell a breakdown, shake it out o’ yerselbs, keep a movil).
SWING-corners, BAL-loon say, and Lemonade!  (Hoy!)  THREE.  GENT come
for’ard with a lady and go back, hoppersite come for’ard and do what yer
can.  (Aeiohoy!)  BAL-loon say, and leetle lemonade.  (Dat hair nigger by
’um fireplace ’hind a’ time, shake it out o’ yerselbs, gib ’ell a
breakdown.)  Now den!  Hoy!  FOUR!  Lemonade.  BAL-loon say, and swing.
FOUR ladies meet in ’um middle, FOUR gents goes round ’um ladies, FOUR
gents passes out under ’um ladies’ arms, SWING—and Lemonade till ’a
moosic can’t play no more!  (Hoy, Hoy!)’

The male dancers were all blacks, and one was an unusually powerful man
of six feet three or four.  The sound of their flat feet on the floor was
as unlike the sound of white feet as their faces were unlike white faces.
They toed and heeled, shuffled, double-shuffled, double-double-shuffled,
covered the buckle, and beat the time out, rarely, dancing with a great
show of teeth, and with a childish good-humoured enjoyment that was very
prepossessing.  They generally kept together, these poor fellows, said
Mr. Superintendent, because they were at a disadvantage singly, and
liable to slights in the neighbouring streets.  But, if I were Light
Jack, I should be very slow to interfere oppressively with Dark Jack,
for, whenever I have had to do with him I have found him a simple and a
gentle fellow.  Bearing this in mind, I asked his friendly permission to
leave him restoration of beer, in wishing him good night, and thus it
fell out that the last words I heard him say as I blundered down the worn
stairs, were, ‘Jebblem’s elth!  Ladies drinks fust!’

The night was now well on into the morning, but, for miles and hours we
explored a strange world, where nobody ever goes to bed, but everybody is
eternally sitting up, waiting for Jack.  This exploration was among a
labyrinth of dismal courts and blind alleys, called Entries, kept in
wonderful order by the police, and in much better order than by the
corporation: the want of gaslight in the most dangerous and infamous of
these places being quite unworthy of so spirited a town.  I need describe
but two or three of the houses in which Jack was waited for as specimens
of the rest.  Many we attained by noisome passages so profoundly dark
that we felt our way with our hands.  Not one of the whole number we
visited, was without its show of prints and ornamental crockery; the
quantity of the latter set forth on little shelves and in little cases,
in otherwise wretched rooms, indicating that Mercantile Jack must have an
extraordinary fondness for crockery, to necessitate so much of that bait
in his traps.

Among such garniture, in one front parlour in the dead of the night, four
women were sitting by a fire.  One of them had a male child in her arms.
On a stool among them was a swarthy youth with a guitar, who had
evidently stopped playing when our footsteps were heard.

‘Well I how do _you_ do?’ says Mr. Superintendent, looking about him.

‘Pretty well, sir, and hope you gentlemen are going to treat us ladies,
now you have come to see us.’

‘Order there!’ says Sharpeye.

‘None of that!’ says Quickear.

Trampfoot, outside, is heard to confide to himself, ‘Meggisson’s lot this
is.  And a bad ’un!’

‘Well!’ says Mr. Superintendent, laying his hand on the shoulder of the
swarthy youth, ‘and who’s this?’

‘Antonio, sir.’

‘And what does _he_ do here?’

‘Come to give us a bit of music.  No harm in that, I suppose?’

‘A young foreign sailor?’

‘Yes.  He’s a Spaniard.  You’re a Spaniard, ain’t you, Antonio?’

‘Me Spanish.’

‘And he don’t know a word you say, not he; not if you was to talk to him
till doomsday.’  (Triumphantly, as if it redounded to the credit of the
house.)

‘Will he play something?’

‘Oh, yes, if you like.  Play something, Antonio.  _You_ ain’t ashamed to
play something; are you?’

The cracked guitar raises the feeblest ghost of a tune, and three of the
women keep time to it with their heads, and the fourth with the child.
If Antonio has brought any money in with him, I am afraid he will never
take it out, and it even strikes me that his jacket and guitar may be in
a bad way.  But, the look of the young man and the tinkling of the
instrument so change the place in a moment to a leaf out of Don Quixote,
that I wonder where his mule is stabled, until he leaves off.

I am bound to acknowledge (as it tends rather to my uncommercial
confusion), that I occasioned a difficulty in this establishment, by
having taken the child in my arms.  For, on my offering to restore it to
a ferocious joker not unstimulated by rum, who claimed to be its mother,
that unnatural parent put her hands behind her, and declined to accept
it; backing into the fireplace, and very shrilly declaring, regardless of
remonstrance from her friends, that she knowed it to be Law, that whoever
took a child from its mother of his own will, was bound to stick to it.
The uncommercial sense of being in a rather ridiculous position with the
poor little child beginning to be frightened, was relieved by my worthy
friend and fellow-constable, Trampfoot; who, laying hands on the article
as if it were a Bottle, passed it on to the nearest woman, and bade her
‘take hold of that.’  As we came out the Bottle was passed to the
ferocious joker, and they all sat down as before, including Antonio and
the guitar.  It was clear that there was no such thing as a nightcap to
this baby’s head, and that even he never went to bed, but was always kept
up—and would grow up, kept up—waiting for Jack.

Later still in the night, we came (by the court ‘where the man was
murdered,’ and by the other court across the street, into which his body
was dragged) to another parlour in another Entry, where several people
were sitting round a fire in just the same way.  It was a dirty and
offensive place, with some ragged clothes drying in it; but there was a
high shelf over the entrance-door (to be out of the reach of marauding
hands, possibly) with two large white loaves on it, and a great piece of
Cheshire cheese.

‘Well!’ says Mr. Superintendent, with a comprehensive look all round.
‘How do _you_ do?’

‘Not much to boast of, sir.’  From the curtseying woman of the house.
‘This is my good man, sir.’

‘You are not registered as a common Lodging House?’

‘No, sir.’

Sharpeye (in the Move-on tone) puts in the pertinent inquiry, ‘Then why
ain’t you?’

‘Ain’t got no one here, Mr. Sharpeye,’ rejoin the woman and my good man
together, ‘but our own family.’

‘How many are you in family?’

The woman takes time to count, under pretence of coughing, and adds, as
one scant of breath, ‘Seven, sir.’

But she has missed one, so Sharpeye, who knows all about it, says:

‘Here’s a young man here makes eight, who ain’t of your family?’

‘No, Mr. Sharpeye, he’s a weekly lodger.’

‘What does he do for a living?’

The young man here, takes the reply upon himself, and shortly answers,
‘Ain’t got nothing to do.’

The young man here, is modestly brooding behind a damp apron pendent from
a clothes-line.  As I glance at him I become—but I don’t know why—vaguely
reminded of Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Dover.  When we get out,
my respected fellow-constable Sharpeye, addressing Mr. Superintendent,
says:

‘You noticed that young man, sir, in at Darby’s?’

‘Yes.  What is he?’

‘Deserter, sir.’

Mr. Sharpeye further intimates that when we have done with his services,
he will step back and take that young man.  Which in course of time he
does: feeling at perfect ease about finding him, and knowing for a moral
certainty that nobody in that region will be gone to bed.

Later still in the night, we came to another parlour up a step or two
from the street, which was very cleanly, neatly, even tastefully, kept,
and in which, set forth on a draped chest of drawers masking the
staircase, was such a profusion of ornamental crockery, that it would
have furnished forth a handsome sale-booth at a fair.  It backed up a
stout old lady—HOGARTH drew her exact likeness more than once—and a boy
who was carefully writing a copy in a copy-book.

‘Well, ma’am, how do _you_ do?’

Sweetly, she can assure the dear gentlemen, sweetly.  Charmingly,
charmingly.  And overjoyed to see us!

‘Why, this is a strange time for this boy to be writing his copy.  In the
middle of the night!’

‘So it is, dear gentlemen, Heaven bless your welcome faces and send ye
prosperous, but he has been to the Play with a young friend for his
diversion, and he combinates his improvement with entertainment, by doing
his school-writing afterwards, God be good to ye!’

The copy admonished human nature to subjugate the fire of every fierce
desire.  One might have thought it recommended stirring the fire, the old
lady so approved it.  There she sat, rosily beaming at the copy-book and
the boy, and invoking showers of blessings on our heads, when we left her
in the middle of the night, waiting for Jack.

Later still in the night, we came to a nauseous room with an earth floor,
into which the refuse scum of an alley trickled.  The stench of this
habitation was abominable; the seeming poverty of it, diseased and dire.
Yet, here again, was visitor or lodger—a man sitting before the fire,
like the rest of them elsewhere, and apparently not distasteful to the
mistress’s niece, who was also before the fire.  The mistress herself had
the misfortune of being in jail.

Three weird old women of transcendent ghastliness, were at needlework at
a table in this room.  Says Trampfoot to First Witch, ‘What are you
making?’  Says she, ‘Money-bags.’

‘_What_ are you making?’ retorts Trampfoot, a little off his balance.

‘Bags to hold your money,’ says the witch, shaking her head, and setting
her teeth; ‘you as has got it.’

She holds up a common cash-bag, and on the table is a heap of such bags.
Witch Two laughs at us.  Witch Three scowls at us.  Witch sisterhood all,
stitch, stitch.  First Witch has a circle round each eye.  I fancy it
like the beginning of the development of a perverted diabolical halo, and
that when it spreads all round her head, she will die in the odour of
devilry.

Trampfoot wishes to be informed what First Witch has got behind the
table, down by the side of her, there?  Witches Two and Three croak
angrily, ‘Show him the child!’

She drags out a skinny little arm from a brown dustheap on the ground.
Adjured not to disturb the child, she lets it drop again.  Thus we find
at last that there is one child in the world of Entries who goes to
bed—if this be bed.

Mr. Superintendent asks how long are they going to work at those bags?

How long?  First Witch repeats.  Going to have supper presently.  See the
cups and saucers, and the plates.

‘Late?  Ay!  But we has to ’arn our supper afore we eats it!’  Both the
other witches repeat this after First Witch, and take the Uncommercial
measurement with their eyes, as for a charmed winding-sheet.  Some grim
discourse ensues, referring to the mistress of the cave, who will be
released from jail to-morrow.  Witches pronounce Trampfoot ‘right there,’
when he deems it a trying distance for the old lady to walk; she shall be
fetched by niece in a spring-cart.

As I took a parting look at First Witch in turning away, the red marks
round her eyes seemed to have already grown larger, and she hungrily and
thirstily looked out beyond me into the dark doorway, to see if Jack was
there.  For, Jack came even here, and the mistress had got into jail
through deluding Jack.

When I at last ended this night of travel and got to bed, I failed to
keep my mind on comfortable thoughts of Seaman’s Homes (not overdone with
strictness), and improved dock regulations giving Jack greater benefit of
fire and candle aboard ship, through my mind’s wandering among the vermin
I had seen.  Afterwards the same vermin ran all over my sleep.  Evermore,
when on a breezy day I see Poor Mercantile Jack running into port with a
fair wind under all sail, I shall think of the unsleeping host of
devourers who never go to bed, and are always in their set traps waiting
for him.



VI
REFRESHMENTS FOR TRAVELLERS


IN the late high winds I was blown to a great many places—and indeed,
wind or no wind, I generally have extensive transactions on hand in the
article of Air—but I have not been blown to any English place lately, and
I very seldom have blown to any English place in my life, where I could
get anything good to eat and drink in five minutes, or where, if I sought
it, I was received with a welcome.

This is a curious thing to consider.  But before (stimulated by my own
experiences and the representations of many fellow-travellers of every
uncommercial and commercial degree) I consider it further, I must utter a
passing word of wonder concerning high winds.

I wonder why metropolitan gales always blow so hard at Walworth.  I
cannot imagine what Walworth has done, to bring such windy punishment
upon itself, as I never fail to find recorded in the newspapers when the
wind has blown at all hard.  Brixton seems to have something on its
conscience; Peckham suffers more than a virtuous Peckham might be
supposed to deserve; the howling neighbourhood of Deptford figures
largely in the accounts of the ingenious gentlemen who are out in every
wind that blows, and to whom it is an ill high wind that blows no good;
but, there can hardly be any Walworth left by this time.  It must surely
be blown away.  I have read of more chimney-stacks and house-copings
coming down with terrific smashes at Walworth, and of more sacred
edifices being nearly (not quite) blown out to sea from the same accursed
locality, than I have read of practised thieves with the appearance and
manners of gentlemen—a popular phenomenon which never existed on earth
out of fiction and a police report.  Again: I wonder why people are
always blown into the Surrey Canal, and into no other piece of water!
Why do people get up early and go out in groups, to be blown into the
Surrey Canal?  Do they say to one another, ‘Welcome death, so that we get
into the newspapers’?  Even that would be an insufficient explanation,
because even then they might sometimes put themselves in the way of being
blown into the Regent’s Canal, instead of always saddling Surrey for the
field.  Some nameless policeman, too, is constantly, on the slightest
provocation, getting himself blown into this same Surrey Canal.  Will SIR
RICHARD MAYNE see to it, and restrain that weak-minded and feeble-bodied
constable?

To resume the consideration of the curious question of Refreshment.  I am
a Briton, and, as such, I am aware that I never will be a slave—and yet I
have latent suspicion that there must be some slavery of wrong custom in
this matter.

I travel by railroad.  I start from home at seven or eight in the
morning, after breakfasting hurriedly.  What with skimming over the open
landscape, what with mining in the damp bowels of the earth, what with
banging, booming and shrieking the scores of miles away, I am hungry when
I arrive at the ‘Refreshment’ station where I am expected.  Please to
observe, expected.  I have said, I am hungry; perhaps I might say, with
greater point and force, that I am to some extent exhausted, and that I
need—in the expressive French sense of the word—to be restored.  What is
provided for my restoration?  The apartment that is to restore me is a
wind-trap, cunningly set to inveigle all the draughts in that
country-side, and to communicate a special intensity and velocity to them
as they rotate in two hurricanes: one, about my wretched head: one, about
my wretched legs.  The training of the young ladies behind the counter
who are to restore me, has been from their infancy directed to the
assumption of a defiant dramatic show that I am _not_ expected.  It is in
vain for me to represent to them by my humble and conciliatory manners,
that I wish to be liberal.  It is in vain for me to represent to myself,
for the encouragement of my sinking soul, that the young ladies have a
pecuniary interest in my arrival.  Neither my reason nor my feelings can
make head against the cold glazed glare of eye with which I am assured
that I am not expected, and not wanted.  The solitary man among the
bottles would sometimes take pity on me, if he dared, but he is powerless
against the rights and mights of Woman.  (Of the page I make no account,
for, he is a boy, and therefore the natural enemy of Creation.)  Chilling
fast, in the deadly tornadoes to which my upper and lower extremities are
exposed, and subdued by the moral disadvantage at which I stand, I turn
my disconsolate eyes on the refreshments that are to restore me.  I find
that I must either scald my throat by insanely ladling into it, against
time and for no wager, brown hot water stiffened with flour; or I must
make myself flaky and sick with Banbury cake; or, I must stuff into my
delicate organisation, a currant pincushion which I know will swell into
immeasurable dimensions when it has got there; or, I must extort from an
iron-bound quarry, with a fork, as if I were farming an inhospitable
soil, some glutinous lumps of gristle and grease, called pork-pie.  While
thus forlornly occupied, I find that the depressing banquet on the table
is, in every phase of its profoundly unsatisfactory character, so like
the banquet at the meanest and shabbiest of evening parties, that I begin
to think I must have ‘brought down’ to supper, the old lady unknown, blue
with cold, who is setting her teeth on edge with a cool orange at my
elbow—that the pastrycook who has compounded for the company on the
lowest terms per head, is a fraudulent bankrupt, redeeming his contract
with the stale stock from his window—that, for some unexplained reason,
the family giving the party have become my mortal foes, and have given it
on purpose to affront me.  Or, I fancy that I am ‘breaking up’ again, at
the evening conversazione at school, charged two-and-sixpence in the
half-year’s bill; or breaking down again at that celebrated evening party
given at Mrs. Bogles’s boarding-house when I was a boarder there, on
which occasion Mrs. Bogles was taken in execution by a branch of the
legal profession who got in as the harp, and was removed (with the keys
and subscribed capital) to a place of durance, half an hour prior to the
commencement of the festivities.

Take another case.

Mr. Grazinglands, of the Midland Counties, came to London by railroad one
morning last week, accompanied by the amiable and fascinating Mrs.
Grazinglands.  Mr. G. is a gentleman of a comfortable property, and had a
little business to transact at the Bank of England, which required the
concurrence and signature of Mrs. G.  Their business disposed of, Mr. and
Mrs. Grazinglands viewed the Royal Exchange, and the exterior of St.
Paul’s Cathedral.  The spirits of Mrs. Grazinglands then gradually
beginning to flag, Mr. Grazinglands (who is the tenderest of husbands)
remarked with sympathy, ‘Arabella’, my dear, ‘fear you are faint.’  Mrs.
Grazing-lands replied, ‘Alexander, I am rather faint; but don’t mind me,
I shall be better presently.’  Touched by the feminine meekness of this
answer, Mr. Grazinglands looked in at a pastrycook’s window, hesitating
as to the expediency of lunching at that establishment.  He beheld
nothing to eat, but butter in various forms, slightly charged with jam,
and languidly frizzling over tepid water.  Two ancient turtle-shells, on
which was inscribed the legend, ‘SOUPS,’ decorated a glass partition
within, enclosing a stuffy alcove, from which a ghastly mockery of a
marriage-breakfast spread on a rickety table, warned the terrified
traveller.  An oblong box of stale and broken pastry at reduced prices,
mounted on a stool, ornamented the doorway; and two high chairs that
looked as if they were performing on stilts, embellished the counter.
Over the whole, a young lady presided, whose gloomy haughtiness as she
surveyed the street, announced a deep-seated grievance against society,
and an implacable determination to be avenged.  From a beetle-haunted
kitchen below this institution, fumes arose, suggestive of a class of
soup which Mr. Grazinglands knew, from painful experience, enfeebles the
mind, distends the stomach, forces itself into the complexion, and tries
to ooze out at the eyes.  As he decided against entering, and turned
away, Mrs. Grazinglands becoming perceptibly weaker, repeated, ‘I am
rather faint, Alexander, but don’t mind me.’  Urged to new efforts by
these words of resignation, Mr. Grazinglands looked in at a cold and
floury baker’s shop, where utilitarian buns unrelieved by a currant,
consorted with hard biscuits, a stone filter of cold water, a hard pale
clock, and a hard little old woman with flaxen hair, of an
undeveloped-farinaceous aspect, as if she had been fed upon seeds.  He
might have entered even here, but for the timely remembrance coming upon
him that Jairing’s was but round the corner.

Now, Jairing’s being an hotel for families and gentlemen, in high repute
among the midland counties, Mr. Grazinglands plucked up a great spirit
when he told Mrs. Grazinglands she should have a chop there.  That lady,
likewise felt that she was going to see Life.  Arriving on that gay and
festive scene, they found the second waiter, in a flabby undress,
cleaning the windows of the empty coffee-room; and the first waiter,
denuded of his white tie, making up his cruets behind the Post-Office
Directory.  The latter (who took them in hand) was greatly put out by
their patronage, and showed his mind to be troubled by a sense of the
pressing necessity of instantly smuggling Mrs. Grazinglands into the
obscurest corner of the building.  This slighted lady (who is the pride
of her division of the county) was immediately conveyed, by several dark
passages, and up and down several steps, into a penitential apartment at
the back of the house, where five invalided old plate-warmers leaned up
against one another under a discarded old melancholy sideboard, and where
the wintry leaves of all the dining-tables in the house lay thick.  Also,
a sofa, of incomprehensible form regarded from any sofane point of view,
murmured ‘Bed;’ while an air of mingled fluffiness and heeltaps, added,
‘Second Waiter’s.’  Secreted in this dismal hold, objects of a mysterious
distrust and suspicion, Mr. Grazinglands and his charming partner waited
twenty minutes for the smoke (for it never came to a fire), twenty-five
minutes for the sherry, half an hour for the tablecloth, forty minutes
for the knives and forks, three-quarters of an hour for the chops, and an
hour for the potatoes.  On settling the little bill—which was not much
more than the day’s pay of a Lieutenant in the navy—Mr. Grazinglands took
heart to remonstrate against the general quality and cost of his
reception.  To whom the waiter replied, substantially, that Jairing’s
made it a merit to have accepted him on any terms: ‘for,’ added the
waiter (unmistakably coughing at Mrs. Grazinglands, the pride of her
division of the county), ‘when indiwiduals is not staying in the ’Ouse,
their favours is not as a rule looked upon as making it worth Mr.
Jairing’s while; nor is it, indeed, a style of business Mr. Jairing
wishes.’  Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Grazinglands passed out of Jairing’s
hotel for Families and Gentlemen, in a state of the greatest depression,
scorned by the bar; and did not recover their self-respect for several
days.

Or take another case.  Take your own case.

You are going off by railway, from any Terminus.  You have twenty minutes
for dinner, before you go.  You want your dinner, and like Dr. Johnson,
Sir, you like to dine.  You present to your mind, a picture of the
refreshment-table at that terminus.  The conventional shabby
evening-party supper—accepted as the model for all termini and all
refreshment stations, because it is the last repast known to this state
of existence of which any human creature would partake, but in the direst
extremity—sickens your contemplation, and your words are these: ‘I cannot
dine on stale sponge-cakes that turn to sand in the mouth.  I cannot dine
on shining brown patties, composed of unknown animals within, and
offering to my view the device of an indigestible star-fish in leaden
pie-crust without.  I cannot dine on a sandwich that has long been pining
under an exhausted receiver.  I cannot dine on barley-sugar.  I cannot
dine on Toffee.’  You repair to the nearest hotel, and arrive, agitated,
in the coffee-room.

It is a most astonishing fact that the waiter is very cold to you.
Account for it how you may, smooth it over how you will, you cannot deny
that he is cold to you.  He is not glad to see you, he does not want you,
he would much rather you hadn’t come.  He opposes to your flushed
condition, an immovable composure.  As if this were not enough, another
waiter, born, as it would seem, expressly to look at you in this passage
of your life, stands at a little distance, with his napkin under his arm
and his hands folded, looking at you with all his might.  You impress on
your waiter that you have ten minutes for dinner, and he proposes that
you shall begin with a bit of fish which will be ready in twenty.  That
proposal declined, he suggests—as a neat originality—‘a weal or mutton
cutlet.’  You close with either cutlet, any cutlet, anything.  He goes,
leisurely, behind a door and calls down some unseen shaft.  A
ventriloquial dialogue ensues, tending finally to the effect that weal
only, is available on the spur of the moment.  You anxiously call out,
‘Veal, then!’  Your waiter having settled that point, returns to array
your tablecloth, with a table napkin folded cocked-hat-wise (slowly, for
something out of window engages his eye), a white wine-glass, a green
wine-glass, a blue finger-glass, a tumbler, and a powerful field battery
of fourteen casters with nothing in them; or at all events—which is
enough for your purpose—with nothing in them that will come out.  All
this time, the other waiter looks at you—with an air of mental comparison
and curiosity, now, as if it had occurred to him that you are rather like
his brother.  Half your time gone, and nothing come but the jug of ale
and the bread, you implore your waiter to ‘see after that cutlet, waiter;
pray do!’  He cannot go at once, for he is carrying in seventeen pounds
of American cheese for you to finish with, and a small Landed Estate of
celery and water-cresses.  The other waiter changes his leg, and takes a
new view of you, doubtfully, now, as if he had rejected the resemblance
to his brother, and had begun to think you more like his aunt or his
grandmother.  Again you beseech your waiter with pathetic indignation, to
‘see after that cutlet!’  He steps out to see after it, and by-and-by,
when you are going away without it, comes back with it.  Even then, he
will not take the sham silver cover off, without a pause for a flourish,
and a look at the musty cutlet as if he were surprised to see it—which
cannot possibly be the case, he must have seen it so often before.  A
sort of fur has been produced upon its surface by the cook’s art, and in
a sham silver vessel staggering on two feet instead of three, is a
cutaneous kind of sauce of brown pimples and pickled cucumber.  You order
the bill, but your waiter cannot bring your bill yet, because he is
bringing, instead, three flinty-hearted potatoes and two grim head of
broccoli, like the occasional ornaments on area railings, badly boiled.
You know that you will never come to this pass, any more than to the
cheese and celery, and you imperatively demand your bill; but, it takes
time to get, even when gone for, because your waiter has to communicate
with a lady who lives behind a sash-window in a corner, and who appears
to have to refer to several Ledgers before she can make it out—as if you
had been staying there a year.  You become distracted to get away, and
the other waiter, once more changing his leg, still looks at you—but
suspiciously, now, as if you had begun to remind him of the party who
took the great-coats last winter.  Your bill at last brought and paid, at
the rate of sixpence a mouthful, your waiter reproachfully reminds you
that ‘attendance is not charged for a single meal,’ and you have to
search in all your pockets for sixpence more.  He has a worse opinion of
you than ever, when you have given it to him, and lets you out into the
street with the air of one saying to himself, as you cannot again doubt
he is, ‘I hope we shall never see _you_ here again!’

Or, take any other of the numerous travelling instances in which, with
more time at your disposal, you are, have been, or may be, equally ill
served.  Take the old-established Bull’s Head with its old-established
knife-boxes on its old-established sideboards, its old-established flue
under its old-established four-post bedsteads in its old-established
airless rooms, its old-established frouziness up-stairs and down-stairs,
its old-established cookery, and its old-established principles of
plunder.  Count up your injuries, in its side-dishes of ailing
sweetbreads in white poultices, of apothecaries’ powders in rice for
curry, of pale stewed bits of calf ineffectually relying for an
adventitious interest on forcemeat balls.  You have had experience of the
old-established Bull’s Head stringy fowls, with lower extremities like
wooden legs, sticking up out of the dish; of its cannibalic boiled
mutton, gushing horribly among its capers, when carved; of its little
dishes of pastry—roofs of spermaceti ointment, erected over half an apple
or four gooseberries.  Well for you if you have yet forgotten the
old-established Bull’s Head fruity port: whose reputation was gained
solely by the old-established price the Bull’s Head put upon it, and by
the old-established air with which the Bull’s Head set the glasses and
D’Oyleys on, and held that Liquid Gout to the three-and-sixpenny
wax-candle, as if its old-established colour hadn’t come from the dyer’s.

Or lastly, take to finish with, two cases that we all know, every day.

We all know the new hotel near the station, where it is always gusty,
going up the lane which is always muddy, where we are sure to arrive at
night, and where we make the gas start awfully when we open the front
door.  We all know the flooring of the passages and staircases that is
too new, and the walls that are too new, and the house that is haunted by
the ghost of mortar.  We all know the doors that have cracked, and the
cracked shutters through which we get a glimpse of the disconsolate moon.
We all know the new people, who have come to keep the new hotel, and who
wish they had never come, and who (inevitable result) wish _we_ had never
come.  We all know how much too scant and smooth and bright the new
furniture is, and how it has never settled down, and cannot fit itself
into right places, and will get into wrong places.  We all know how the
gas, being lighted, shows maps of Damp upon the walls.  We all know how
the ghost of mortar passes into our sandwich, stirs our negus, goes up to
bed with us, ascends the pale bedroom chimney, and prevents the smoke
from following.  We all know how a leg of our chair comes off at
breakfast in the morning, and how the dejected waiter attributes the
accident to a general greenness pervading the establishment, and informs
us, in reply to a local inquiry, that he is thankful to say he is an
entire stranger in that part of the country and is going back to his own
connexion on Saturday.

We all know, on the other hand, the great station hotel belonging to the
company of proprietors, which has suddenly sprung up in the back
outskirts of any place we like to name, and where we look out of our
palatial windows at little back yards and gardens, old summer-houses,
fowl-houses, pigeon-traps, and pigsties.  We all know this hotel in which
we can get anything we want, after its kind, for money; but where nobody
is glad to see us, or sorry to see us, or minds (our bill paid) whether
we come or go, or how, or when, or why, or cares about us.  We all know
this hotel, where we have no individuality, but put ourselves into the
general post, as it were, and are sorted and disposed of according to our
division.  We all know that we can get on very well indeed at such a
place, but still not perfectly well; and this may be, because the place
is largely wholesale, and there is a lingering personal retail interest
within us that asks to be satisfied.

To sum up.  My uncommercial travelling has not yet brought me to the
conclusion that we are close to perfection in these matters.  And just as
I do not believe that the end of the world will ever be near at hand, so
long as any of the very tiresome and arrogant people who constantly
predict that catastrophe are left in it, so, I shall have small faith in
the Hotel Millennium, while any of the uncomfortable superstitions I have
glanced at remain in existence.



VII
TRAVELLING ABROAD


I GOT into the travelling chariot—it was of German make, roomy, heavy,
and unvarnished—I got into the travelling chariot, pulled up the steps
after me, shut myself in with a smart bang of the door, and gave the
word, ‘Go on!’

Immediately, all that W. and S.W. division of London began to slide away
at a pace so lively, that I was over the river, and past the Old Kent
Road, and out on Blackheath, and even ascending Shooter’s Hill, before I
had had time to look about me in the carriage, like a collected
traveller.

I had two ample Imperials on the roof, other fitted storage for luggage
in front, and other up behind; I had a net for books overhead, great
pockets to all the windows, a leathern pouch or two hung up for odds and
ends, and a reading lamp fixed in the back of the chariot, in case I
should be benighted.  I was amply provided in all respects, and had no
idea where I was going (which was delightful), except that I was going
abroad.

So smooth was the old high road, and so fresh were the horses, and so
fast went I, that it was midway between Gravesend and Rochester, and the
widening river was bearing the ships, white sailed or black-smoked, out
to sea, when I noticed by the wayside a very queer small boy.

‘Holloa!’ said I, to the very queer small boy, ‘where do you live?’

‘At Chatham,’ says he.

‘What do you do there?’ says I.

‘I go to school,’ says he.

I took him up in a moment, and we went on.  Presently, the very queer
small boy says, ‘This is Gads-hill we are coming to, where Falstaff went
out to rob those travellers, and ran away.’

‘You know something about Falstaff, eh?’ said I.

‘All about him,’ said the very queer small boy.  ‘I am old (I am nine),
and I read all sorts of books.  But _do_ let us stop at the top of the
hill, and look at the house there, if you please!’

‘You admire that house?’ said I.

‘Bless you, sir,’ said the very queer small boy, ‘when I was not more
than half as old as nine, it used to be a treat for me to be brought to
look at it.  And now, I am nine, I come by myself to look at it.  And
ever since I can recollect, my father, seeing me so fond of it, has often
said to me, “If you were to be very persevering and were to work hard,
you might some day come to live in it.”  Though that’s impossible!’ said
the very queer small boy, drawing a low breath, and now staring at the
house out of window with all his might.

I was rather amazed to be told this by the very queer small boy; for that
house happens to be _my_ house, and I have reason to believe that what he
said was true.

Well!  I made no halt there, and I soon dropped the very queer small boy
and went on.  Over the road where the old Romans used to march, over the
road where the old Canterbury pilgrims used to go, over the road where
the travelling trains of the old imperious priests and princes used to
jingle on horseback between the continent and this Island through the mud
and water, over the road where Shakespeare hummed to himself, ‘Blow,
blow, thou winter wind,’ as he sat in the saddle at the gate of the inn
yard noticing the carriers; all among the cherry orchards, apple
orchards, corn-fields, and hop-gardens; so went I, by Canterbury to
Dover.  There, the sea was tumbling in, with deep sounds, after dark, and
the revolving French light on Cape Grinez was seen regularly bursting out
and becoming obscured, as if the head of a gigantic light-keeper in an
anxious state of mind were interposed every half-minute, to look how it
was burning.

Early in the morning I was on the deck of the steam-packet, and we were
aiming at the bar in the usual intolerable manner, and the bar was aiming
at us in the usual intolerable manner, and the bar got by far the best of
it, and we got by far the worst—all in the usual intolerable manner.

But, when I was clear of the Custom House on the other side, and when I
began to make the dust fly on the thirsty French roads, and when the
twigsome trees by the wayside (which, I suppose, never will grow leafy,
for they never did) guarded here and there a dusty soldier, or field
labourer, baking on a heap of broken stones, sound asleep in a fiction of
shade, I began to recover my travelling spirits.  Coming upon the breaker
of the broken stones, in a hard, hot, shining hat, on which the sun
played at a distance as on a burning-glass, I felt that now, indeed, I
was in the dear old France of my affections.  I should have known it,
without the well-remembered bottle of rough ordinary wine, the cold roast
fowl, the loaf, and the pinch of salt, on which I lunched with
unspeakable satisfaction, from one of the stuffed pockets of the chariot.

I must have fallen asleep after lunch, for when a bright face looked in
at the window, I started, and said:

‘Good God, Louis, I dreamed you were dead!’

My cheerful servant laughed, and answered:

‘Me?  Not at all, sir.’

‘How glad I am to wake!  What are we doing Louis?’

‘We go to take relay of horses.  Will you walk up the hill?’

‘Certainly.’

Welcome the old French hill, with the old French lunatic (not in the most
distant degree related to Sterne’s Maria) living in a thatched dog-kennel
half-way up, and flying out with his crutch and his big head and extended
nightcap, to be beforehand with the old men and women exhibiting crippled
children, and with the children exhibiting old men and women, ugly and
blind, who always seemed by resurrectionary process to be recalled out of
the elements for the sudden peopling of the solitude!

‘It is well,’ said I, scattering among them what small coin I had; ‘here
comes Louis, and I am quite roused from my nap.’

We journeyed on again, and I welcomed every new assurance that France
stood where I had left it.  There were the posting-houses, with their
archways, dirty stable-yards, and clean post-masters’ wives, bright women
of business, looking on at the putting-to of the horses; there were the
postilions counting what money they got, into their hats, and never
making enough of it; there were the standard population of grey horses of
Flanders descent, invariably biting one another when they got a chance;
there were the fleecy sheepskins, looped on over their uniforms by the
postilions, like bibbed aprons when it blew and rained; there were their
Jack-boots, and their cracking whips; there were the cathedrals that I
got out to see, as under some cruel bondage, in no wise desiring to see
them; there were the little towns that appeared to have no reason for
being towns, since most of their houses were to let and nobody could be
induced to look at them, except the people who couldn’t let them and had
nothing else to do but look at them all day.  I lay a night upon the road
and enjoyed delectable cookery of potatoes, and some other sensible
things, adoption of which at home would inevitably be shown to be fraught
with ruin, somehow or other, to that rickety national blessing, the
British farmer; and at last I was rattled, like a single pill in a box,
over leagues of stones, until—madly cracking, plunging, and flourishing
two grey tails about—I made my triumphal entry into Paris.

At Paris, I took an upper apartment for a few days in one of the hotels
of the Rue de Rivoli; my front windows looking into the garden of the
Tuileries (where the principal difference between the nursemaids and the
flowers seemed to be that the former were locomotive and the latter not):
my back windows looking at all the other back windows in the hotel, and
deep down into a paved yard, where my German chariot had retired under a
tight-fitting archway, to all appearance for life, and where bells rang
all day without anybody’s minding them but certain chamberlains with
feather brooms and green baize caps, who here and there leaned out of
some high window placidly looking down, and where neat waiters with trays
on their left shoulders passed and repassed from morning to night.

Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible force into the Morgue.
I never want to go there, but am always pulled there.  One Christmas Day,
when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was attracted in, to see
an old grey man lying all alone on his cold bed, with a tap of water
turned on over his grey hair, and running, drip, drip, drip, down his
wretched face until it got to the corner of his mouth, where it took a
turn, and made him look sly.  One New Year’s Morning (by the same token,
the sun was shining outside, and there was a mountebank balancing a
feather on his nose, within a yard of the gate), I was pulled in again to
look at a flaxen-haired boy of eighteen, with a heart hanging on his
breast—‘from his mother,’ was engraven on it—who had come into the net
across the river, with a bullet wound in his fair forehead and his hands
cut with a knife, but whence or how was a blank mystery.  This time, I
was forced into the same dread place, to see a large dark man whose
disfigurement by water was in a frightful manner comic, and whose
expression was that of a prize-fighter who had closed his eyelids under a
heavy blow, but was going immediately to open them, shake his head, and
‘come up smiling.’  Oh what this large dark man cost me in that bright
city!

It was very hot weather, and he was none the better for that, and I was
much the worse.  Indeed, a very neat and pleasant little woman with the
key of her lodging on her forefinger, who had been showing him to her
little girl while she and the child ate sweetmeats, observed monsieur
looking poorly as we came out together, and asked monsieur, with her
wondering little eyebrows prettily raised, if there were anything the
matter?  Faintly replying in the negative, monsieur crossed the road to a
wine-shop, got some brandy, and resolved to freshen himself with a dip in
the great floating bath on the river.

The bath was crowded in the usual airy manner, by a male population in
striped drawers of various gay colours, who walked up and down arm in
arm, drank coffee, smoked cigars, sat at little tables, conversed
politely with the damsels who dispensed the towels, and every now and
then pitched themselves into the river head foremost, and came out again
to repeat this social routine.  I made haste to participate in the water
part of the entertainments, and was in the full enjoyment of a delightful
bath, when all in a moment I was seized with an unreasonable idea that
the large dark body was floating straight at me.

I was out of the river, and dressing instantly.  In the shock I had taken
some water into my mouth, and it turned me sick, for I fancied that the
contamination of the creature was in it.  I had got back to my cool
darkened room in the hotel, and was lying on a sofa there, before I began
to reason with myself.

Of course, I knew perfectly well that the large dark creature was stone
dead, and that I should no more come upon him out of the place where I
had seen him dead, than I should come upon the cathedral of Notre-Dame in
an entirely new situation.  What troubled me was the picture of the
creature; and that had so curiously and strongly painted itself upon my
brain, that I could not get rid of it until it was worn out.

I noticed the peculiarities of this possession, while it was a real
discomfort to me.  That very day, at dinner, some morsel on my plate
looked like a piece of him, and I was glad to get up and go out.  Later
in the evening, I was walking along the Rue St. Honoré, when I saw a bill
at a public room there, announcing small-sword exercise, broad-sword
exercise, wrestling, and other such feats.  I went in, and some of the
sword-play being very skilful, remained.  A specimen of our own national
sport, The British Boaxe, was announced to be given at the close of the
evening.  In an evil hour, I determined to wait for this Boaxe, as became
a Briton.  It was a clumsy specimen (executed by two English grooms out
of place), but one of the combatants, receiving a straight right-hander
with the glove between his eyes, did exactly what the large dark creature
in the Morgue had seemed going to do—and finished me for that night.

There was rather a sickly smell (not at all an unusual fragrance in
Paris) in the little ante-room of my apartment at the hotel.  The large
dark creature in the Morgue was by no direct experience associated with
my sense of smell, because, when I came to the knowledge of him, he lay
behind a wall of thick plate-glass as good as a wall of steel or marble
for that matter.  Yet the whiff of the room never failed to reproduce
him.  What was more curious, was the capriciousness with which his
portrait seemed to light itself up in my mind, elsewhere.  I might be
walking in the Palais Royal, lazily enjoying the shop windows, and might
be regaling myself with one of the ready-made clothes shops that are set
out there.  My eyes, wandering over impossible-waisted dressing-gowns and
luminous waistcoats, would fall upon the master, or the shopman, or even
the very dummy at the door, and would suggest to me, ‘Something like
him!’—and instantly I was sickened again.

This would happen at the theatre, in the same manner.  Often it would
happen in the street, when I certainly was not looking for the likeness,
and when probably there was no likeness there.  It was not because the
creature was dead that I was so haunted, because I know that I might have
been (and I know it because I have been) equally attended by the image of
a living aversion.  This lasted about a week.  The picture did not fade
by degrees, in the sense that it became a whit less forcible and
distinct, but in the sense that it obtruded itself less and less
frequently.  The experience may be worth considering by some who have the
care of children.  It would be difficult to overstate the intensity and
accuracy of an intelligent child’s observation.  At that impressible time
of life, it must sometimes produce a fixed impression.  If the fixed
impression be of an object terrible to the child, it will be (for want of
reasoning upon) inseparable from great fear.  Force the child at such a
time, be Spartan with it, send it into the dark against its will, leave
it in a lonely bedroom against its will, and you had better murder it.

On a bright morning I rattled away from Paris, in the German chariot, and
left the large dark creature behind me for good.  I ought to confess,
though, that I had been drawn back to the Morgue, after he was put
underground, to look at his clothes, and that I found them frightfully
like him—particularly his boots.  However, I rattled away for
Switzerland, looking forward and not backward, and so we parted company.

Welcome again, the long, long spell of France, with the queer country
inns, full of vases of flowers and clocks, in the dull little town, and
with the little population not at all dull on the little Boulevard in the
evening, under the little trees!  Welcome Monsieur the Curé, walking
alone in the early morning a short way out of the town, reading that
eternal Breviary of yours, which surely might be almost read, without
book, by this time!  Welcome Monsieur the Curé, later in the day, jolting
through the highway dust (as if you had already ascended to the cloudy
region), in a very big-headed cabriolet, with the dried mud of a dozen
winters on it.  Welcome again Monsieur the Curé, as we exchange
salutations; you, straightening your back to look at the German chariot,
while picking in your little village garden a vegetable or two for the
day’s soup: I, looking out of the German chariot window in that delicious
traveller’s trance which knows no cares, no yesterdays, no to-morrows,
nothing but the passing objects and the passing scents and sounds!  And
so I came, in due course of delight, to Strasbourg, where I passed a wet
Sunday evening at a window, while an idle trifle of a vaudeville was
played for me at the opposite house.

How such a large house came to have only three people living in it, was
its own affair.  There were at least a score of windows in its high roof
alone; how many in its grotesque front, I soon gave up counting.  The
owner was a shopkeeper, by name Straudenheim; by trade—I couldn’t make
out what by trade, for he had forborne to write that up, and his shop was
shut.

At first, as I looked at Straudenheim’s, through the steadily falling
rain, I set him up in business in the goose-liver line.  But, inspection
of Straudenheim, who became visible at a window on the second floor,
convinced me that there was something more precious than liver in the
case.  He wore a black velvet skull-cap, and looked usurious and rich.  A
large-lipped, pear-nosed old man, with white hair, and keen eyes, though
near-sighted.  He was writing at a desk, was Straudenheim, and ever and
again left off writing, put his pen in his mouth, and went through
actions with his right hand, like a man steadying piles of cash.
Five-franc pieces, Straudenheim, or golden Napoleons?  A jeweller,
Straudenheim, a dealer in money, a diamond merchant, or what?

Below Straudenheim, at a window on the first floor, sat his
housekeeper—far from young, but of a comely presence, suggestive of a
well-matured foot and ankle.  She was cheerily dressed, had a fan in her
hand, and wore large gold earrings and a large gold cross.  She would
have been out holiday-making (as I settled it) but for the pestilent
rain.  Strasbourg had given up holiday-making for that once, as a bad
job, because the rain was jerking in gushes out of the old roof-spouts,
and running in a brook down the middle of the street.  The housekeeper,
her arms folded on her bosom and her fan tapping her chin, was bright and
smiling at her open window, but otherwise Straudenheim’s house front was
very dreary.  The housekeeper’s was the only open window in it;
Straudenheim kept himself close, though it was a sultry evening when air
is pleasant, and though the rain had brought into the town that vague
refreshing smell of grass which rain does bring in the summer-time.

The dim appearance of a man at Straudenheim’s shoulder, inspired me with
a misgiving that somebody had come to murder that flourishing merchant
for the wealth with which I had handsomely endowed him: the rather, as it
was an excited man, lean and long of figure, and evidently stealthy of
foot.  But, he conferred with Straudenheim instead of doing him a mortal
injury, and then they both softly opened the other window of that
room—which was immediately over the housekeeper’s—and tried to see her by
looking down.  And my opinion of Straudenheim was much lowered when I saw
that eminent citizen spit out of window, clearly with the hope of
spitting on the housekeeper.

The unconscious housekeeper fanned herself, tossed her head, and laughed.
Though unconscious of Straudenheim, she was conscious of somebody else—of
me?—there was nobody else.

After leaning so far out of the window, that I confidently expected to
see their heels tilt up, Straudenheim and the lean man drew their heads
in and shut the window.  Presently, the house door secretly opened, and
they slowly and spitefully crept forth into the pouring rain.  They were
coming over to me (I thought) to demand satisfaction for my looking at
the housekeeper, when they plunged into a recess in the architecture
under my window and dragged out the puniest of little soldiers, begirt
with the most innocent of little swords.  The tall glazed head-dress of
this warrior, Straudenheim instantly knocked off, and out of it fell two
sugar-sticks, and three or four large lumps of sugar.

The warrior made no effort to recover his property or to pick up his
shako, but looked with an expression of attention at Straudenheim when he
kicked him five times, and also at the lean man when _he_ kicked him five
times, and again at Straudenheim when he tore the breast of his (the
warrior’s) little coat open, and shook all his ten fingers in his face,
as if they were ten thousand.  When these outrages had been committed,
Straudenheim and his man went into the house again and barred the door.
A wonderful circumstance was, that the housekeeper who saw it all (and
who could have taken six such warriors to her buxom bosom at once), only
fanned herself and laughed as she had laughed before, and seemed to have
no opinion about it, one way or other.

But, the chief effect of the drama was the remarkable vengeance taken by
the little warrior.  Left alone in the rain, he picked up his shako; put
it on, all wet and dirty as it was; retired into a court, of which
Straudenheim’s house formed the corner; wheeled about; and bringing his
two forefingers close to the top of his nose, rubbed them over one
another, cross-wise, in derision, defiance, and contempt of Straudenheim.
Although Straudenheim could not possibly be supposed to be conscious of
this strange proceeding, it so inflated and comforted the little
warrior’s soul, that twice he went away, and twice came back into the
court to repeat it, as though it must goad his enemy to madness.  Not
only that, but he afterwards came back with two other small warriors, and
they all three did it together.  Not only that—as I live to tell the
tale!—but just as it was falling quite dark, the three came back,
bringing with them a huge bearded Sapper, whom they moved, by recital of
the original wrong, to go through the same performance, with the same
complete absence of all possible knowledge of it on the part of
Straudenheim.  And then they all went away, arm in arm, singing.

I went away too, in the German chariot at sunrise, and rattled on, day
after day, like one in a sweet dream; with so many clear little bells on
the harness of the horses, that the nursery rhyme about Banbury Cross and
the venerable lady who rode in state there, was always in my ears.  And
now I came to the land of wooden houses, innocent cakes, thin butter
soup, and spotless little inn bedrooms with a family likeness to Dairies.
And now the Swiss marksmen were for ever rifle-shooting at marks across
gorges, so exceedingly near my ear, that I felt like a new Gesler in a
Canton of Tells, and went in highly-deserved danger of my tyrannical
life.  The prizes at these shootings, were watches, smart handkerchiefs,
hats, spoons, and (above all) tea-trays; and at these contests I came
upon a more than usually accomplished and amiable countryman of my own,
who had shot himself deaf in whole years of competition, and had won so
many tea-trays that he went about the country with his carriage full of
them, like a glorified Cheap-Jack.

In the mountain-country into which I had now travelled, a yoke of oxen
were sometimes hooked on before the post-horses, and I went lumbering up,
up, up, through mist and rain, with the roar of falling water for change
of music.  Of a sudden, mist and rain would clear away, and I would come
down into picturesque little towns with gleaming spires and odd towers;
and would stroll afoot into market-places in steep winding streets, where
a hundred women in bodices, sold eggs and honey, butter and fruit, and
suckled their children as they sat by their clean baskets, and had such
enormous goîtres (or glandular swellings in the throat) that it became a
science to know where the nurse ended and the child began.  About this
time, I deserted my German chariot for the back of a mule (in colour and
consistency so very like a dusty old hair trunk I once had at school,
that I half expected to see my initials in brass-headed nails on his
backbone), and went up a thousand rugged ways, and looked down at a
thousand woods of fir and pine, and would on the whole have preferred my
mule’s keeping a little nearer to the inside, and not usually travelling
with a hoof or two over the precipice—though much consoled by explanation
that this was to be attributed to his great sagacity, by reason of his
carrying broad loads of wood at other times, and not being clear but that
I myself belonged to that station of life, and required as much room as
they.  He brought me safely, in his own wise way, among the passes of the
Alps, and here I enjoyed a dozen climates a day; being now (like Don
Quixote on the back of the wooden horse) in the region of wind, now in
the region of fire, now in the region of unmelting ice and snow.  Here, I
passed over trembling domes of ice, beneath which the cataract was
roaring; and here was received under arches of icicles, of unspeakable
beauty; and here the sweet air was so bracing and so light, that at
halting-times I rolled in the snow when I saw my mule do it, thinking
that he must know best.  At this part of the journey we would come, at
mid-day, into half an hour’s thaw: when the rough mountain inn would be
found on an island of deep mud in a sea of snow, while the baiting
strings of mules, and the carts full of casks and bales, which had been
in an Arctic condition a mile off, would steam again.  By such ways and
means, I would come to the cluster of châlets where I had to turn out of
the track to see the waterfall; and then, uttering a howl like a young
giant, on espying a traveller—in other words, something to eat—coming up
the steep, the idiot lying on the wood-pile who sunned himself and nursed
his goître, would rouse the woman-guide within the hut, who would stream
out hastily, throwing her child over one of her shoulders and her goître
over the other, as she came along.  I slept at religious houses, and
bleak refuges of many kinds, on this journey, and by the stove at night
heard stories of travellers who had perished within call, in wreaths and
drifts of snow.  One night the stove within, and the cold outside,
awakened childish associations long forgotten, and I dreamed I was in
Russia—the identical serf out of a picture-book I had, before I could
read it for myself—and that I was going to be knouted by a noble
personage in a fur cap, boots, and earrings, who, I think, must have come
out of some melodrama.

Commend me to the beautiful waters among these mountains!  Though I was
not of their mind: they, being inveterately bent on getting down into the
level country, and I ardently desiring to linger where I was.  What
desperate leaps they took, what dark abysses they plunged into, what
rocks they wore away, what echoes they invoked!  In one part where I
went, they were pressed into the service of carrying wood down, to be
burnt next winter, as costly fuel, in Italy.  But, their fierce savage
nature was not to be easily constrained, and they fought with every limb
of the wood; whirling it round and round, stripping its bark away,
dashing it against pointed corners, driving it out of the course, and
roaring and flying at the peasants who steered it back again from the
bank with long stout poles.  Alas! concurrent streams of time and water
carried _me_ down fast, and I came, on an exquisitely clear day, to the
Lausanne shore of the Lake of Geneva, where I stood looking at the bright
blue water, the flushed white mountains opposite, and the boats at my
feet with their furled Mediterranean sails, showing like enormous
magnifications of this goose-quill pen that is now in my hand.

—The sky became overcast without any notice; a wind very like the March
east wind of England, blew across me; and a voice said, ‘How do you like
it?  Will it do?’

I had merely shut myself, for half a minute, in a German travelling
chariot that stood for sale in the Carriage Department of the London
Pantechnicon.  I had a commission to buy it, for a friend who was going
abroad; and the look and manner of the chariot, as I tried the cushions
and the springs, brought all these hints of travelling remembrance before
me.

‘It will do very well,’ said I, rather sorrowfully, as I got out at the
other door, and shut the carriage up.



VIII
THE GREAT TASMANIA’S CARGO


I TRAVEL constantly, up and down a certain line of railway that has a
terminus in London.  It is the railway for a large military depôt, and
for other large barracks.  To the best of my serious belief, I have never
been on that railway by daylight, without seeing some handcuffed
deserters in the train.

It is in the nature of things that such an institution as our English
army should have many bad and troublesome characters in it.  But, this is
a reason for, and not against, its being made as acceptable as possible
to well-disposed men of decent behaviour.  Such men are assuredly not
tempted into the ranks, by the beastly inversion of natural laws, and the
compulsion to live in worse than swinish foulness.  Accordingly, when any
such Circumlocutional embellishments of the soldier’s condition have of
late been brought to notice, we civilians, seated in outer darkness
cheerfully meditating on an Income Tax, have considered the matter as
being our business, and have shown a tendency to declare that we would
rather not have it misregulated, if such declaration may, without
violence to the Church Catechism, be hinted to those who are put in
authority over us.

Any animated description of a modern battle, any private soldier’s letter
published in the newspapers, any page of the records of the Victoria
Cross, will show that in the ranks of the army, there exists under all
disadvantages as fine a sense of duty as is to be found in any station on
earth.  Who doubts that if we all did our duty as faithfully as the
soldier does his, this world would be a better place?  There may be
greater difficulties in our way than in the soldier’s.  Not disputed.
But, let us at least do our duty towards _him_.

I had got back again to that rich and beautiful port where I had looked
after Mercantile Jack, and I was walking up a hill there, on a wild March
morning.  My conversation with my official friend Pangloss, by whom I was
accidentally accompanied, took this direction as we took the up-hill
direction, because the object of my uncommercial journey was to see some
discharged soldiers who had recently come home from India.  There were
men of HAVELOCK’S among them; there were men who had been in many of the
great battles of the great Indian campaign, among them; and I was curious
to note what our discharged soldiers looked like, when they were done
with.

I was not the less interested (as I mentioned to my official friend
Pangloss) because these men had claimed to be discharged, when their
right to be discharged was not admitted.  They had behaved with
unblemished fidelity and bravery; but, a change of circumstances had
arisen, which, as they considered, put an end to their compact and
entitled them to enter on a new one.  Their demand had been blunderingly
resisted by the authorities in India: but, it is to be presumed that the
men were not far wrong, inasmuch as the bungle had ended in their being
sent home discharged, in pursuance of orders from home.  (There was an
immense waste of money, of course.)

Under these circumstances—thought I, as I walked up the hill, on which I
accidentally encountered my official friend—under these circumstances of
the men having successfully opposed themselves to the Pagoda Department
of that great Circumlocution Office on which the sun never sets and the
light of reason never rises, the Pagoda Department will have been
particularly careful of the national honour.  It will have shown these
men, in the scrupulous good faith, not to say the generosity, of its
dealing with them, that great national authorities can have no small
retaliations and revenges.  It will have made every provision for their
health on the passage home, and will have landed them, restored from
their campaigning fatigues by a sea-voyage, pure air, sound food, and
good medicines.  And I pleased myself with dwelling beforehand, on the
great accounts of their personal treatment which these men would carry
into their various towns and villages, and on the increasing popularity
of the service that would insensibly follow.  I almost began to hope that
the hitherto-never-failing deserters on my railroad would by-and-by
become a phenomenon.

In this agreeable frame of mind I entered the workhouse of
Liverpool.—For, the cultivation of laurels in a sandy soil, had brought
the soldiers in question to _that_ abode of Glory.

Before going into their wards to visit them, I inquired how they had made
their triumphant entry there?  They had been brought through the rain in
carts it seemed, from the landing-place to the gate, and had then been
carried up-stairs on the backs of paupers.  Their groans and pains during
the performance of this glorious pageant, had been so distressing, as to
bring tears into the eyes of spectators but too well accustomed to scenes
of suffering.  The men were so dreadfully cold, that those who could get
near the fires were hard to be restrained from thrusting their feet in
among the blazing coals.  They were so horribly reduced, that they were
awful to look upon.  Racked with dysentery and blackened with scurvy, one
hundred and forty wretched soldiers had been revived with brandy and laid
in bed.

My official friend Pangloss is lineally descended from a learned doctor
of that name, who was once tutor to Candide, an ingenious young gentleman
of some celebrity.  In his personal character, he is as humane and worthy
a gentleman as any I know; in his official capacity, he unfortunately
preaches the doctrines of his renowned ancestor, by demonstrating on all
occasions that we live in the best of all possible official worlds.

‘In the name of Humanity,’ said I, ‘how did the men fall into this
deplorable state?  Was the ship well found in stores?’

‘I am not here to asseverate that I know the fact, of my own knowledge,’
answered Pangloss, ‘but I have grounds for asserting that the stores were
the best of all possible stores.’

A medical officer laid before us, a handful of rotten biscuit, and a
handful of split peas.  The biscuit was a honeycombed heap of maggots,
and the excrement of maggots.  The peas were even harder than this filth.
A similar handful had been experimentally boiled six hours, and had shown
no signs of softening.  These were the stores on which the soldiers had
been fed.

‘The beef—’ I began, when Pangloss cut me short.

‘Was the best of all possible beef,’ said he.

But, behold, there was laid before us certain evidence given at the
Coroner’s Inquest, holden on some of the men (who had obstinately died of
their treatment), and from that evidence it appeared that the beef was
the worst of possible beef!

‘Then I lay my hand upon my heart, and take my stand,’ said Pangloss, ‘by
the pork, which was the best of all possible pork.’

‘But look at this food before our eyes, if one may so misuse the word,’
said I.  ‘Would any Inspector who did his duty, pass such abomination?’

‘It ought not to have been passed,’ Pangloss admitted.

‘Then the authorities out there—’ I began, when Pangloss cut me short
again.

‘There would certainly seem to have been something wrong somewhere,’ said
he; ‘but I am prepared to prove that the authorities out there, are the
best of all possible authorities.’

I never heard of any impeached public authority in my life, who was not
the best public authority in existence.

‘We are told of these unfortunate men being laid low by scurvy,’ said I.
‘Since lime-juice has been regularly stored and served out in our navy,
surely that disease, which used to devastate it, has almost disappeared?
Was there lime-juice aboard this transport?’

My official friend was beginning ‘the best of all possible—’ when an
inconvenient medical forefinger pointed out another passage in the
evidence, from which it appeared that the lime-juice had been bad too.
Not to mention that the vinegar had been bad too, the vegetables bad too,
the cooking accommodation insufficient (if there had been anything worth
mentioning to cook), the water supply exceedingly inadequate, and the
beer sour.

‘Then the men,’ said Pangloss, a little irritated, ‘Were the worst of all
possible men.’

‘In what respect?’ I asked.

‘Oh!  Habitual drunkards,’ said Pangloss.

But, again the same incorrigible medical forefinger pointed out another
passage in the evidence, showing that the dead men had been examined
after death, and that they, at least, could not possibly have been
habitual drunkards, because the organs within them which must have shown
traces of that habit, were perfectly sound.

‘And besides,’ said the three doctors present, ‘one and all, habitual
drunkards brought as low as these men have been, could not recover under
care and food, as the great majority of these men are recovering.  They
would not have strength of constitution to do it.’

‘Reckless and improvident dogs, then,’ said Pangloss.  ‘Always are—nine
times out of ten.’

I turned to the master of the workhouse, and asked him whether the men
had any money?

‘Money?’ said he.  ‘I have in my iron safe, nearly four hundred pounds of
theirs; the agents have nearly a hundred pounds more and many of them
have left money in Indian banks besides.’

‘Hah!’ said I to myself, as we went up-stairs, ‘this is not the best of
all possible stories, I doubt!’

We went into a large ward, containing some twenty or five-and-twenty
beds.  We went into several such wards, one after another.  I find it
very difficult to indicate what a shocking sight I saw in them, without
frightening the reader from the perusal of these lines, and defeating my
object of making it known.

O the sunken eyes that turned to me as I walked between the rows of beds,
or—worse still—that glazedly looked at the white ceiling, and saw nothing
and cared for nothing!  Here, lay the skeleton of a man, so lightly
covered with a thin unwholesome skin, that not a bone in the anatomy was
clothed, and I could clasp the arm above the elbow, in my finger and
thumb.  Here, lay a man with the black scurvy eating his legs away, his
gums gone, and his teeth all gaunt and bare.  This bed was empty, because
gangrene had set in, and the patient had died but yesterday.  That bed
was a hopeless one, because its occupant was sinking fast, and could only
be roused to turn the poor pinched mask of face upon the pillow, with a
feeble moan.  The awful thinness of the fallen cheeks, the awful
brightness of the deep set eyes, the lips of lead, the hands of ivory,
the recumbent human images lying in the shadow of death with a kind of
solemn twilight on them, like the sixty who had died aboard the ship and
were lying at the bottom of the sea, O Pangloss, GOD forgive you!

In one bed, lay a man whose life had been saved (as it was hoped) by deep
incisions in the feet and legs.  While I was speaking to him, a nurse
came up to change the poultices which this operation had rendered
necessary, and I had an instinctive feeling that it was not well to turn
away, merely to spare myself.  He was sorely wasted and keenly
susceptible, but the efforts he made to subdue any expression of
impatience or suffering, were quite heroic.  It was easy to see, in the
shrinking of the figure, and the drawing of the bed-clothes over the
head, how acute the endurance was, and it made me shrink too, as if I
were in pain; but, when the new bandages were on, and the poor feet were
composed again, he made an apology for himself (though he had not uttered
a word), and said plaintively, ‘I am so tender and weak, you see, sir!’
Neither from him nor from any one sufferer of the whole ghastly number,
did I hear a complaint.  Of thankfulness for present solicitude and care,
I heard much; of complaint, not a word.

I think I could have recognised in the dismalest skeleton there, the
ghost of a soldier.  Something of the old air was still latent in the
palest shadow of life I talked to.  One emaciated creature, in the
strictest literality worn to the bone, lay stretched on his back, looking
so like death that I asked one of the doctors if he were not dying, or
dead?  A few kind words from the doctor, in his ear, and he opened his
eyes, and smiled—looked, in a moment, as if he would have made a salute,
if he could.  ‘We shall pull him through, please God,’ said the Doctor.
‘Plase God, surr, and thankye,’ said the patient.  ‘You are much better
to-day; are you not?’ said the Doctor.  ‘Plase God, surr; ’tis the slape
I want, surr; ’tis my breathin’ makes the nights so long.’  ‘He is a
careful fellow this, you must know,’ said the Doctor, cheerfully; ‘it was
raining hard when they put him in the open cart to bring him here, and he
had the presence of mind to ask to have a sovereign taken out of his
pocket that he had there, and a cab engaged.  Probably it saved his
life.’  The patient rattled out the skeleton of a laugh, and said, proud
of the story, ‘’Deed, surr, an open cairt was a comical means o’ bringin’
a dyin’ man here, and a clever way to kill him.’  You might have sworn to
him for a soldier when he said it.

One thing had perplexed me very much in going from bed to bed.  A very
significant and cruel thing.  I could find no young man but one.  He had
attracted my notice, by having got up and dressed himself in his
soldier’s jacket and trousers, with the intention of sitting by the fire;
but he had found himself too weak, and had crept back to his bed and laid
himself down on the outside of it.  I could have pronounced him, alone,
to be a young man aged by famine and sickness.  As we were standing by
the Irish soldier’s bed, I mentioned my perplexity to the Doctor.  He
took a board with an inscription on it from the head of the Irishman’s
bed, and asked me what age I supposed that man to be?  I had observed him
with attention while talking to him, and answered, confidently, ‘Fifty.’
The Doctor, with a pitying glance at the patient, who had dropped into a
stupor again, put the board back, and said, ‘Twenty-four.’

All the arrangements of the wards were excellent.  They could not have
been more humane, sympathising, gentle, attentive, or wholesome.  The
owners of the ship, too, had done all they could, liberally.  There were
bright fires in every room, and the convalescent men were sitting round
them, reading various papers and periodicals.  I took the liberty of
inviting my official friend Pangloss to look at those convalescent men,
and to tell me whether their faces and bearing were or were not,
generally, the faces and bearing of steady respectable soldiers?  The
master of the workhouse, overhearing me, said he had had a pretty large
experience of troops, and that better conducted men than these, he had
never had to do with.  They were always (he added) as we saw them.  And
of us visitors (I add) they knew nothing whatever, except that we were
there.

It was audacious in me, but I took another liberty with Pangloss.
Prefacing it with the observation that, of course, I knew beforehand that
there was not the faintest desire, anywhere, to hush up any part of this
dreadful business, and that the Inquest was the fairest of all possible
Inquests, I besought four things of Pangloss.  Firstly, to observe that
the Inquest _was not held in that place_, but at some distance off.
Secondly, to look round upon those helpless spectres in their beds.
Thirdly, to remember that the witnesses produced from among them before
that Inquest, could not have been selected because they were the men who
had the most to tell it, but because they happened to be in a state
admitting of their safe removal.  Fourthly, to say whether the coroner
and jury could have come there, to those pillows, and taken a little
evidence?  My official friend declined to commit himself to a reply.

There was a sergeant, reading, in one of the fireside groups.  As he was
a man of very intelligent countenance, and as I have a great respect for
non-commissioned officers as a class, I sat down on the nearest bed, to
have some talk with him.  (It was the bed of one of the grisliest of the
poor skeletons, and he died soon afterwards.)

‘I was glad to see, in the evidence of an officer at the Inquest,
sergeant, that he never saw men behave better on board ship than these
men.’

‘They did behave very well, sir.’

‘I was glad to see, too, that every man had a hammock.’  The sergeant
gravely shook his head.  ‘There must be some mistake, sir.  The men of my
own mess had no hammocks.  There were not hammocks enough on board, and
the men of the two next messes laid hold of hammocks for themselves as
soon as they got on board, and squeezed my men out, as I may say.’

‘Had the squeezed-out men none then?’

‘None, sir.  As men died, their hammocks were used by other men, who
wanted hammocks; but many men had none at all.’

‘Then you don’t agree with the evidence on that point?’

‘Certainly not, sir.  A man can’t, when he knows to the contrary.’

‘Did any of the men sell their bedding for drink?’

‘There is some mistake on that point too, sir.  Men were under the
impression—I knew it for a fact at the time—that it was not allowed to
take blankets or bedding on board, and so men who had things of that sort
came to sell them purposely.’

‘Did any of the men sell their clothes for drink?’

‘They did, sir.’  (I believe there never was a more truthful witness than
the sergeant.  He had no inclination to make out a case.)

‘Many?’

‘Some, sir’ (considering the question).  ‘Soldier-like.  They had been
long marching in the rainy season, by bad roads—no roads at all, in
short—and when they got to Calcutta, men turned to and drank, before
taking a last look at it.  Soldier-like.’

‘Do you see any men in this ward, for example, who sold clothes for drink
at that time?’

The sergeant’s wan eye, happily just beginning to rekindle with health,
travelled round the place and came back to me.  ‘Certainly, sir.’

‘The marching to Calcutta in the rainy season must have been severe?’

‘It was very severe, sir.’

‘Yet what with the rest and the sea air, I should have thought that the
men (even the men who got drunk) would have soon begun to recover on
board ship?’

‘So they might; but the bad food told upon them, and when we got into a
cold latitude, it began to tell more, and the men dropped.’

‘The sick had a general disinclination for food, I am told, sergeant?’

‘Have you seen the food, sir?’

‘Some of it.’

‘Have you seen the state of their mouths, sir?’

If the sergeant, who was a man of a few orderly words, had spoken the
amount of this volume, he could not have settled that question better.  I
believe the sick could as soon have eaten the ship, as the ship’s
provisions.

I took the additional liberty with my friend Pangloss, when I had left
the sergeant with good wishes, of asking Pangloss whether he had ever
heard of biscuit getting drunk and bartering its nutritious qualities for
putrefaction and vermin; of peas becoming hardened in liquor; of hammocks
drinking themselves off the face of the earth; of lime-juice, vegetables,
vinegar, cooking accommodation, water supply, and beer, all taking to
drinking together and going to ruin?  ‘If not (I asked him), what did he
say in defence of the officers condemned by the Coroner’s jury, who, by
signing the General Inspection report relative to the ship Great
Tasmania, chartered for these troops, had deliberately asserted all that
bad and poisonous dunghill refuse, to be good and wholesome food?’  My
official friend replied that it was a remarkable fact, that whereas some
officers were only positively good, and other officers only comparatively
better, those particular officers were superlatively the very best of all
possible officers.

My hand and my heart fail me, in writing my record of this journey.  The
spectacle of the soldiers in the hospital-beds of that Liverpool
workhouse (a very good workhouse, indeed, be it understood), was so
shocking and so shameful, that as an Englishman I blush to remember it.
It would have been simply unbearable at the time, but for the
consideration and pity with which they were soothed in their sufferings.

No punishment that our inefficient laws provide, is worthy of the name
when set against the guilt of this transaction.  But, if the memory of it
die out unavenged, and if it do not result in the inexorable dismissal
and disgrace of those who are responsible for it, their escape will be
infamous to the Government (no matter of what party) that so neglects its
duty, and infamous to the nation that tamely suffers such intolerable
wrong to be done in its name.



IX
CITY OF LONDON CHURCHES


IF the confession that I have often travelled from this Covent Garden
lodging of mine on Sundays, should give offence to those who never travel
on Sundays, they will be satisfied (I hope) by my adding that the
journeys in question were made to churches.

Not that I have any curiosity to hear powerful preachers.  Time was, when
I was dragged by the hair of my head, as one may say, to hear too many.
On summer evenings, when every flower, and tree, and bird, might have
better addressed my soft young heart, I have in my day been caught in the
palm of a female hand by the crown, have been violently scrubbed from the
neck to the roots of the hair as a purification for the Temple, and have
then been carried off highly charged with saponaceous electricity, to be
steamed like a potato in the unventilated breath of the powerful
Boanerges Boiler and his congregation, until what small mind I had, was
quite steamed out of me.  In which pitiable plight I have been haled out
of the place of meeting, at the conclusion of the exercises, and
catechised respecting Boanerges Boiler, his fifthly, his sixthly, and his
seventhly, until I have regarded that reverend person in the light of a
most dismal and oppressive Charade.  Time was, when I was carried off to
platform assemblages at which no human child, whether of wrath or grace,
could possibly keep its eyes open, and when I felt the fatal sleep
stealing, stealing over me, and when I gradually heard the orator in
possession, spinning and humming like a great top, until he rolled,
collapsed, and tumbled over, and I discovered to my burning shame and
fear, that as to that last stage it was not he, but I.  I have sat under
Boanerges when he has specifically addressed himself to us—us, the
infants—and at this present writing I hear his lumbering jocularity
(which never amused us, though we basely pretended that it did), and I
behold his big round face, and I look up the inside of his outstretched
coat-sleeve as if it were a telescope with the stopper on, and I hate him
with an unwholesome hatred for two hours.  Through such means did it come
to pass that I knew the powerful preacher from beginning to end, all over
and all through, while I was very young, and that I left him behind at an
early period of life.  Peace be with him!  More peace than he brought to
me!

Now, I have heard many preachers since that time—not powerful; merely
Christian, unaffected, and reverential—and I have had many such preachers
on my roll of friends.  But, it was not to hear these, any more than the
powerful class, that I made my Sunday journeys.  They were journeys of
curiosity to the numerous churches in the City of London.  It came into
my head one day, here had I been cultivating a familiarity with all the
churches of Rome, and I knew nothing of the insides of the old churches
of London!  This befell on a Sunday morning.  I began my expeditions that
very same day, and they lasted me a year.

I never wanted to know the names of the churches to which I went, and to
this hour I am profoundly ignorant in that particular of at least
nine-tenths of them.  Indeed, saying that I know the church of old
GOWER’S tomb (he lies in effigy with his head upon his books) to be the
church of Saint Saviour’s, Southwark; and the church of MILTON’S tomb to
be the church of Cripplegate; and the church on Cornhill with the great
golden keys to be the church of Saint Peter; I doubt if I could pass a
competitive examination in any of the names.  No question did I ever ask
of living creature concerning these churches, and no answer to any
antiquarian question on the subject that I ever put to books, shall
harass the reader’s soul.  A full half of my pleasure in them arose out
of their mystery; mysterious I found them; mysterious they shall remain
for me.

Where shall I begin my round of hidden and forgotten old churches in the
City of London?

It is twenty minutes short of eleven on a Sunday morning, when I stroll
down one of the many narrow hilly streets in the City that tend due south
to the Thames.  It is my first experiment, and I have come to the region
of Whittington in an omnibus, and we have put down a fierce-eyed, spare
old woman, whose slate-coloured gown smells of herbs, and who walked up
Aldersgate-street to some chapel where she comforts herself with
brimstone doctrine, I warrant.  We have also put down a stouter and
sweeter old lady, with a pretty large prayer-book in an unfolded
pocket-handkerchief, who got out at a corner of a court near Stationers’
Hall, and who I think must go to church there, because she is the widow
of some deceased old Company’s Beadle.  The rest of our freight were mere
chance pleasure-seekers and rural walkers, and went on to the Blackwall
railway.  So many bells are ringing, when I stand undecided at a street
corner, that every sheep in the ecclesiastical fold might be a
bell-wether.  The discordance is fearful.  My state of indecision is
referable to, and about equally divisible among, four great churches,
which are all within sight and sound, all within the space of a few
square yards.

As I stand at the street corner, I don’t see as many as four people at
once going to church, though I see as many as four churches with their
steeples clamouring for people.  I choose my church, and go up the flight
of steps to the great entrance in the tower.  A mouldy tower within, and
like a neglected washhouse.  A rope comes through the beamed roof, and a
man in the corner pulls it and clashes the bell—a whity-brown man, whose
clothes were once black—a man with flue on him, and cobweb.  He stares at
me, wondering how I come there, and I stare at him, wondering how he
comes there.  Through a screen of wood and glass, I peep into the dim
church.  About twenty people are discernible, waiting to begin.
Christening would seem to have faded out of this church long ago, for the
font has the dust of desuetude thick upon it, and its wooden cover
(shaped like an old-fashioned tureen-cover) looks as if it wouldn’t come
off, upon requirement.  I perceive the altar to be rickety and the
Commandments damp.  Entering after this survey, I jostle the clergyman in
his canonicals, who is entering too from a dark lane behind a pew of
state with curtains, where nobody sits.  The pew is ornamented with four
blue wands, once carried by four somebodys, I suppose, before somebody
else, but which there is nobody now to hold or receive honour from.  I
open the door of a family pew, and shut myself in; if I could occupy
twenty family pews at once I might have them.  The clerk, a brisk young
man (how does _he_ come here?), glances at me knowingly, as who should
say, ‘You have done it now; you must stop.’  Organ plays.  Organ-loft is
in a small gallery across the church; gallery congregation, two girls.  I
wonder within myself what will happen when we are required to sing.

There is a pale heap of books in the corner of my pew, and while the
organ, which is hoarse and sleepy, plays in such fashion that I can hear
more of the rusty working of the stops than of any music, I look at the
books, which are mostly bound in faded baize and stuff.  They belonged in
1754, to the Dowgate family; and who were they?  Jane Comport must have
married Young Dowgate, and come into the family that way; Young Dowgate
was courting Jane Comport when he gave her her prayer-book, and recorded
the presentation in the fly-leaf; if Jane were fond of Young Dowgate, why
did she die and leave the book here?  Perhaps at the rickety altar, and
before the damp Commandments, she, Comport, had taken him, Dowgate, in a
flush of youthful hope and joy, and perhaps it had not turned out in the
long run as great a success as was expected?

The opening of the service recalls my wandering thoughts.  I then find,
to my astonishment, that I have been, and still am, taking a strong kind
of invisible snuff, up my nose, into my eyes, and down my throat.  I
wink, sneeze, and cough.  The clerk sneezes; the clergyman winks; the
unseen organist sneezes and coughs (and probably winks); all our little
party wink, sneeze, and cough.  The snuff seems to be made of the decay
of matting, wood, cloth, stone, iron, earth, and something else.  Is the
something else, the decay of dead citizens in the vaults below?  As sure
as Death it is!  Not only in the cold, damp February day, do we cough and
sneeze dead citizens, all through the service, but dead citizens have got
into the very bellows of the organ, and half choked the same.  We stamp
our feet to warm them, and dead citizens arise in heavy clouds.  Dead
citizens stick upon the walls, and lie pulverised on the sounding-board
over the clergyman’s head, and, when a gust of air comes, tumble down
upon him.

In this first experience I was so nauseated by too much snuff, made of
the Dowgate family, the Comport branch, and other families and branches,
that I gave but little heed to our dull manner of ambling through the
service; to the brisk clerk’s manner of encouraging us to try a note or
two at psalm time; to the gallery-congregation’s manner of enjoying a
shrill duet, without a notion of time or tune; to the whity-brown man’s
manner of shutting the minister into the pulpit, and being very
particular with the lock of the door, as if he were a dangerous animal.
But, I tried again next Sunday, and soon accustomed myself to the dead
citizens when I found that I could not possibly get on without them among
the City churches.

Another Sunday.

After being again rung for by conflicting bells, like a leg of mutton or
a laced hat a hundred years ago, I make selection of a church oddly put
away in a corner among a number of lanes—a smaller church than the last,
and an ugly: of about the date of Queen Anne.  As a congregation, we are
fourteen strong: not counting an exhausted charity school in a gallery,
which has dwindled away to four boys, and two girls.  In the porch, is a
benefaction of loaves of bread, which there would seem to be nobody left
in the exhausted congregation to claim, and which I saw an exhausted
beadle, long faded out of uniform, eating with his eyes for self and
family when I passed in.  There is also an exhausted clerk in a brown
wig, and two or three exhausted doors and windows have been bricked up,
and the service books are musty, and the pulpit cushions are threadbare,
and the whole of the church furniture is in a very advanced stage of
exhaustion.  We are three old women (habitual), two young lovers
(accidental), two tradesmen, one with a wife and one alone, an aunt and
nephew, again two girls (these two girls dressed out for church with
everything about them limp that should be stiff, and _vice versâ_, are an
invariable experience), and three sniggering boys.  The clergyman is,
perhaps, the chaplain of a civic company; he has the moist and vinous
look, and eke the bulbous boots, of one acquainted with ’Twenty port, and
comet vintages.

We are so quiet in our dulness that the three sniggering boys, who have
got away into a corner by the altar-railing, give us a start, like
crackers, whenever they laugh.  And this reminds me of my own village
church where, during sermon-time on bright Sundays when the birds are
very musical indeed, farmers’ boys patter out over the stone pavement,
and the clerk steps out from his desk after them, and is distinctly heard
in the summer repose to pursue and punch them in the churchyard, and is
seen to return with a meditative countenance, making believe that nothing
of the sort has happened.  The aunt and nephew in this City church are
much disturbed by the sniggering boys.  The nephew is himself a boy, and
the sniggerers tempt him to secular thoughts of marbles and string, by
secretly offering such commodities to his distant contemplation.  This
young Saint Anthony for a while resists, but presently becomes a
backslider, and in dumb show defies the sniggerers to ‘heave’ a marble or
two in his direction.  Here in he is detected by the aunt (a rigorous
reduced gentlewoman who has the charge of offices), and I perceive that
worthy relative to poke him in the side, with the corrugated hooked
handle of an ancient umbrella.  The nephew revenges himself for this, by
holding his breath and terrifying his kinswoman with the dread belief
that he has made up his mind to burst.  Regardless of whispers and
shakes, he swells and becomes discoloured, and yet again swells and
becomes discoloured, until the aunt can bear it no longer, but leads him
out, with no visible neck, and with his eyes going before him like a
prawn’s.  This causes the sniggerers to regard flight as an eligible
move, and I know which of them will go out first, because of the
over-devout attention that he suddenly concentrates on the clergyman.  In
a little while, this hypocrite, with an elaborate demonstration of
hushing his footsteps, and with a face generally expressive of having
until now forgotten a religious appointment elsewhere, is gone.  Number
two gets out in the same way, but rather quicker.  Number three getting
safely to the door, there turns reckless, and banging it open, flies
forth with a Whoop! that vibrates to the top of the tower above us.

The clergyman, who is of a prandial presence and a muffled voice, may be
scant of hearing as well as of breath, but he only glances up, as having
an idea that somebody has said Amen in a wrong place, and continues his
steady jog-trot, like a farmer’s wife going to market.  He does all he
has to do, in the same easy way, and gives us a concise sermon, still
like the jog-trot of the farmer’s wife on a level road.  Its drowsy
cadence soon lulls the three old women asleep, and the unmarried
tradesman sits looking out at window, and the married tradesman sits
looking at his wife’s bonnet, and the lovers sit looking at one another,
so superlatively happy, that I mind when I, turned of eighteen, went with
my Angelica to a City church on account of a shower (by this special
coincidence that it was in Huggin-lane), and when I said to my Angelica,
‘Let the blessed event, Angelica, occur at no altar but this!’ and when
my Angelica consented that it should occur at no other—which it certainly
never did, for it never occurred anywhere.  And O, Angelica, what has
become of you, this present Sunday morning when I can’t attend to the
sermon; and, more difficult question than that, what has become of Me as
I was when I sat by your side!

But, we receive the signal to make that unanimous dive which surely is a
little conventional—like the strange rustlings and settlings and
clearings of throats and noses, which are never dispensed with, at
certain points of the Church service, and are never held to be necessary
under any other circumstances.  In a minute more it is all over, and the
organ expresses itself to be as glad of it as it can be of anything in
its rheumatic state, and in another minute we are all of us out of the
church, and Whity-brown has locked it up.  Another minute or little more,
and, in the neighbouring churchyard—not the yard of that church, but of
another—a churchyard like a great shabby old mignonette box, with two
trees in it and one tomb—I meet Whity-brown, in his private capacity,
fetching a pint of beer for his dinner from the public-house in the
corner, where the keys of the rotting fire-ladders are kept and were
never asked for, and where there is a ragged, white-seamed,
out-at-elbowed bagatelle board on the first floor.

In one of these City churches, and only in one, I found an individual who
might have been claimed as expressly a City personage.  I remember the
church, by the feature that the clergyman couldn’t get to his own desk
without going through the clerk’s, or couldn’t get to the pulpit without
going through the reading-desk—I forget which, and it is no matter—and by
the presence of this personage among the exceedingly sparse congregation.
I doubt if we were a dozen, and we had no exhausted charity school to
help us out.  The personage was dressed in black of square cut, and was
stricken in years, and wore a black velvet cap, and cloth shoes.  He was
of a staid, wealthy, and dissatisfied aspect.  In his hand, he conducted
to church a mysterious child: a child of the feminine gender.  The child
had a beaver hat, with a stiff drab plume that surely never belonged to
any bird of the air.  The child was further attired in a nankeen frock
and spencer, brown boxing-gloves, and a veil.  It had a blemish, in the
nature of currant jelly, on its chin; and was a thirsty child.  Insomuch
that the personage carried in his pocket a green bottle, from which, when
the first psalm was given out, the child was openly refreshed.  At all
other times throughout the service it was motionless, and stood on the
seat of the large pew, closely fitted into the corner, like a rain-water
pipe.

                      [Picture: The City Personage]

The personage never opened his book, and never looked at the clergyman.
He never sat down either, but stood with his arms leaning on the top of
the pew, and his forehead sometimes shaded with his right hand, always
looking at the church door.  It was a long church for a church of its
size, and he was at the upper end, but he always looked at the door.
That he was an old bookkeeper, or an old trader who had kept his own
books, and that he might be seen at the Bank of England about Dividend
times, no doubt.  That he had lived in the City all his life and was
disdainful of other localities, no doubt.  Why he looked at the door, I
never absolutely proved, but it is my belief that he lived in expectation
of the time when the citizens would come back to live in the City, and
its ancient glories would be renewed.  He appeared to expect that this
would occur on a Sunday, and that the wanderers would first appear, in
the deserted churches, penitent and humbled.  Hence, he looked at the
door which they never darkened.  Whose child the child was, whether the
child of a disinherited daughter, or some parish orphan whom the
personage had adopted, there was nothing to lead up to.  It never played,
or skipped, or smiled.  Once, the idea occurred to me that it was an
automaton, and that the personage had made it; but following the strange
couple out one Sunday, I heard the personage say to it, ‘Thirteen
thousand pounds;’ to which it added in a weak human voice, ‘Seventeen and
fourpence.’  Four Sundays I followed them out, and this is all I ever
heard or saw them say.  One Sunday, I followed them home.  They lived
behind a pump, and the personage opened their abode with an exceeding
large key.  The one solitary inscription on their house related to a
fire-plug.  The house was partly undermined by a deserted and closed
gateway; its windows were blind with dirt; and it stood with its face
disconsolately turned to a wall.  Five great churches and two small ones
rang their Sunday bells between this house and the church the couple
frequented, so they must have had some special reason for going a quarter
of a mile to it.  The last time I saw them, was on this wise.  I had been
to explore another church at a distance, and happened to pass the church
they frequented, at about two of the afternoon when that edifice was
closed.  But, a little side-door, which I had never observed before,
stood open, and disclosed certain cellarous steps.  Methought ‘They are
airing the vaults to-day,’ when the personage and the child silently
arrived at the steps, and silently descended.  Of course, I came to the
conclusion that the personage had at last despaired of the looked-for
return of the penitent citizens, and that he and the child went down to
get themselves buried.

In the course of my pilgrimages I came upon one obscure church which had
broken out in the melodramatic style, and was got up with various tawdry
decorations, much after the manner of the extinct London may-poles.
These attractions had induced several young priests or deacons in black
bibs for waistcoats, and several young ladies interested in that holy
order (the proportion being, as I estimated, seventeen young ladies to a
deacon), to come into the City as a new and odd excitement.  It was
wonderful to see how these young people played out their little play in
the heart of the City, all among themselves, without the deserted City’s
knowing anything about it.  It was as if you should take an empty
counting-house on a Sunday, and act one of the old Mysteries there.  They
had impressed a small school (from what neighbourhood I don’t know) to
assist in the performances, and it was pleasant to notice frantic
garlands of inscription on the walls, especially addressing those poor
innocents in characters impossible for them to decipher.  There was a
remarkably agreeable smell of pomatum in this congregation.

But, in other cases, rot and mildew and dead citizens formed the
uppermost scent, while, infused into it in a dreamy way not at all
displeasing, was the staple character of the neighbourhood.  In the
churches about Mark-lane, for example, there was a dry whiff of wheat;
and I accidentally struck an airy sample of barley out of an aged hassock
in one of them.  From Rood-lane to Tower-street, and thereabouts, there
was often a subtle flavour of wine: sometimes, of tea.  One church near
Mincing-lane smelt like a druggist’s drawer.  Behind the Monument the
service had a flavour of damaged oranges, which, a little further down
towards the river, tempered into herrings, and gradually toned into a
cosmopolitan blast of fish.  In one church, the exact counterpart of the
church in the Rake’s Progress where the hero is being married to the
horrible old lady, there was no speciality of atmosphere, until the organ
shook a perfume of hides all over us from some adjacent warehouse.

Be the scent what it would, however, there was no speciality in the
people.  There were never enough of them to represent any calling or
neighbourhood.  They had all gone elsewhere over-night, and the few
stragglers in the many churches languished there inexpressively.

Among the Uncommercial travels in which I have engaged, this year of
Sunday travel occupies its own place, apart from all the rest.  Whether I
think of the church where the sails of the oyster-boats in the river
almost flapped against the windows, or of the church where the railroad
made the bells hum as the train rushed by above the roof, I recall a
curious experience.  On summer Sundays, in the gentle rain or the bright
sunshine—either, deepening the idleness of the idle City—I have sat, in
that singular silence which belongs to resting-places usually astir, in
scores of buildings at the heart of the world’s metropolis, unknown to
far greater numbers of people speaking the English tongue, than the
ancient edifices of the Eternal City, or the Pyramids of Egypt.  The dark
vestries and registries into which I have peeped, and the little
hemmed-in churchyards that have echoed to my feet, have left impressions
on my memory as distinct and quaint as any it has in that way received.
In all those dusty registers that the worms are eating, there is not a
line but made some hearts leap, or some tears flow, in their day.  Still
and dry now, still and dry! and the old tree at the window with no room
for its branches, has seen them all out.  So with the tomb of the old
Master of the old Company, on which it drips.  His son restored it and
died, his daughter restored it and died, and then he had been remembered
long enough, and the tree took possession of him, and his name cracked
out.

There are few more striking indications of the changes of manners and
customs that two or three hundred years have brought about, than these
deserted churches.  Many of them are handsome and costly structures,
several of them were designed by WREN, many of them arose from the ashes
of the great fire, others of them outlived the plague and the fire too,
to die a slow death in these later days.  No one can be sure of the
coming time; but it is not too much to say of it that it has no sign in
its outsetting tides, of the reflux to these churches of their
congregations and uses.  They remain like the tombs of the old citizens
who lie beneath them and around them, Monuments of another age.  They are
worth a Sunday-exploration, now and then, for they yet echo, not
unharmoniously, to the time when the City of London really was London;
when the ’Prentices and Trained Bands were of mark in the state; when
even the Lord Mayor himself was a Reality—not a Fiction conventionally
be-puffed on one day in the year by illustrious friends, who no less
conventionally laugh at him on the remaining three hundred and sixty-four
days.



X
SHY NEIGHBOURHOODS


SO much of my travelling is done on foot, that if I cherished betting
propensities, I should probably be found registered in sporting
newspapers under some such title as the Elastic Novice, challenging all
eleven stone mankind to competition in walking.  My last special feat was
turning out of bed at two, after a hard day, pedestrian and otherwise,
and walking thirty miles into the country to breakfast.  The road was so
lonely in the night, that I fell asleep to the monotonous sound of my own
feet, doing their regular four miles an hour.  Mile after mile I walked,
without the slightest sense of exertion, dozing heavily and dreaming
constantly.  It was only when I made a stumble like a drunken man, or
struck out into the road to avoid a horseman close upon me on the
path—who had no existence—that I came to myself and looked about.  The
day broke mistily (it was autumn time), and I could not disembarrass
myself of the idea that I had to climb those heights and banks of cloud,
and that there was an Alpine Convent somewhere behind the sun, where I
was going to breakfast.  This sleepy notion was so much stronger than
such substantial objects as villages and haystacks, that, after the sun
was up and bright, and when I was sufficiently awake to have a sense of
pleasure in the prospect, I still occasionally caught myself looking
about for wooden arms to point the right track up the mountain, and
wondering there was no snow yet.  It is a curiosity of broken sleep that
I made immense quantities of verses on that pedestrian occasion (of
course I never make any when I am in my right senses), and that I spoke a
certain language once pretty familiar to me, but which I have nearly
forgotten from disuse, with fluency.  Of both these phenomena I have such
frequent experience in the state between sleeping and waking, that I
sometimes argue with myself that I know I cannot be awake, for, if I
were, I should not be half so ready.  The readiness is not imaginary,
because I often recall long strings of the verses, and many turns of the
fluent speech, after I am broad awake.

My walking is of two kinds: one, straight on end to a definite goal at a
round pace; one, objectless, loitering, and purely vagabond.  In the
latter state, no gipsy on earth is a greater vagabond than myself; it is
so natural to me, and strong with me, that I think I must be the
descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp.

One of the pleasantest things I have lately met with, in a vagabond
course of shy metropolitan neighbourhoods and small shops, is the fancy
of a humble artist, as exemplified in two portraits representing Mr.
Thomas Sayers, of Great Britain, and Mr. John Heenan, of the United
States of America.  These illustrious men are highly coloured in fighting
trim, and fighting attitude.  To suggest the pastoral and meditative
nature of their peaceful calling, Mr. Heenan is represented on emerald
sward, with primroses and other modest flowers springing up under the
heels of his half-boots; while Mr. Sayers is impelled to the
administration of his favourite blow, the Auctioneer, by the silent
eloquence of a village church.  The humble homes of England, with their
domestic virtues and honeysuckle porches, urge both heroes to go in and
win; and the lark and other singing birds are observable in the upper
air, ecstatically carolling their thanks to Heaven for a fight.  On the
whole, the associations entwined with the pugilistic art by this artist
are much in the manner of Izaak Walton.

But, it is with the lower animals of back streets and by-ways that my
present purpose rests.  For human notes we may return to such
neighbourhoods when leisure and opportunity serve.

Nothing in shy neighbourhoods perplexes my mind more, than the bad
company birds keep.  Foreign birds often get into good society, but
British birds are inseparable from low associates.  There is a whole
street of them in St. Giles’s; and I always find them in poor and immoral
neighbourhoods, convenient to the public-house and the pawnbroker’s.
They seem to lead people into drinking, and even the man who makes their
cages usually gets into a chronic state of black eye.  Why is this?
Also, they will do things for people in short-skirted velveteen coats
with bone buttons, or in sleeved waistcoats and fur caps, which they
cannot be persuaded by the respectable orders of society to undertake.
In a dirty court in Spitalfields, once, I found a goldfinch drawing his
own water, and drawing as much of it as if he were in a consuming fever.
That goldfinch lived at a bird-shop, and offered, in writing, to barter
himself against old clothes, empty bottles, or even kitchen stuff.
Surely a low thing and a depraved taste in any finch!  I bought that
goldfinch for money.  He was sent home, and hung upon a nail over against
my table.  He lived outside a counterfeit dwelling-house, supposed (as I
argued) to be a dyer’s; otherwise it would have been impossible to
account for his perch sticking out of the garret window.  From the time
of his appearance in my room, either he left off being thirsty—which was
not in the bond—or he could not make up his mind to hear his little
bucket drop back into his well when he let it go: a shock which in the
best of times had made him tremble.  He drew no water but by stealth and
under the cloak of night.  After an interval of futile and at length
hopeless expectation, the merchant who had educated him was appealed to.
The merchant was a bow-legged character, with a flat and cushiony nose,
like the last new strawberry.  He wore a fur cap, and shorts, and was of
the velveteen race, velveteeny.  He sent word that he would ‘look round.’
He looked round, appeared in the doorway of the room, and slightly cocked
up his evil eye at the goldfinch.  Instantly a raging thirst beset that
bird; when it was appeased, he still drew several unnecessary buckets of
water; and finally, leaped about his perch and sharpened his bill, as if
he had been to the nearest wine vaults and got drunk.

Donkeys again.  I know shy neighbourhoods where the Donkey goes in at the
street door, and appears to live up-stairs, for I have examined the
back-yard from over the palings, and have been unable to make him out.
Gentility, nobility, Royalty, would appeal to that donkey in vain to do
what he does for a costermonger.  Feed him with oats at the highest
price, put an infant prince and princess in a pair of panniers on his
back, adjust his delicate trappings to a nicety, take him to the softest
slopes at Windsor, and try what pace you can get out of him.  Then,
starve him, harness him anyhow to a truck with a flat tray on it, and see
him bowl from Whitechapel to Bayswater.  There appears to be no
particular private understanding between birds and donkeys, in a state of
nature; but in the shy neighbourhood state, you shall see them always in
the same hands and always developing their very best energies for the
very worst company.  I have known a donkey—by sight; we were not on
speaking terms—who lived over on the Surrey side of London-bridge, among
the fastnesses of Jacob’s Island and Dockhead.  It was the habit of that
animal, when his services were not in immediate requisition, to go out
alone, idling.  I have met him a mile from his place of residence,
loitering about the streets; and the expression of his countenance at
such times was most degraded.  He was attached to the establishment of an
elderly lady who sold periwinkles, and he used to stand on Saturday
nights with a cartful of those delicacies outside a gin-shop, pricking up
his ears when a customer came to the cart, and too evidently deriving
satisfaction from the knowledge that they got bad measure.  His mistress
was sometimes overtaken by inebriety.  The last time I ever saw him
(about five years ago) he was in circumstances of difficulty, caused by
this failing.  Having been left alone with the cart of periwinkles, and
forgotten, he went off idling.  He prowled among his usual low haunts for
some time, gratifying his depraved tastes, until, not taking the cart
into his calculations, he endeavoured to turn up a narrow alley, and
became greatly involved.  He was taken into custody by the police, and,
the Green Yard of the district being near at hand, was backed into that
place of durance.  At that crisis, I encountered him; the stubborn sense
he evinced of being—not to compromise the expression—a blackguard, I
never saw exceeded in the human subject.  A flaring candle in a paper
shade, stuck in among his periwinkles, showed him, with his ragged
harness broken and his cart extensively shattered, twitching his mouth
and shaking his hanging head, a picture of disgrace and obduracy.  I have
seen boys being taken to station-houses, who were as like him as his own
brother.

The dogs of shy neighbourhoods, I observe to avoid play, and to be
conscious of poverty.  They avoid work, too, if they can, of course; that
is in the nature of all animals.  I have the pleasure to know a dog in a
back street in the neighbourhood of Walworth, who has greatly
distinguished himself in the minor drama, and who takes his portrait with
him when he makes an engagement, for the illustration of the play-bill.
His portrait (which is not at all like him) represents him in the act of
dragging to the earth a recreant Indian, who is supposed to have
tomahawked, or essayed to tomahawk, a British officer.  The design is
pure poetry, for there is no such Indian in the piece, and no such
incident.  He is a dog of the Newfoundland breed, for whose honesty I
would be bail to any amount; but whose intellectual qualities in
association with dramatic fiction, I cannot rate high.  Indeed, he is too
honest for the profession he has entered.  Being at a town in Yorkshire
last summer, and seeing him posted in the bill of the night, I attended
the performance.  His first scene was eminently successful; but, as it
occupied a second in its representation (and five lines in the bill), it
scarcely afforded ground for a cool and deliberate judgment of his
powers.  He had merely to bark, run on, and jump through an inn window,
after a comic fugitive.  The next scene of importance to the fable was a
little marred in its interest by his over-anxiety; forasmuch as while his
master (a belated soldier in a den of robbers on a tempestuous night) was
feelingly lamenting the absence of his faithful dog, and laying great
stress on the fact that he was thirty leagues away, the faithful dog was
barking furiously in the prompter’s box, and clearly choking himself
against his collar.  But it was in his greatest scene of all, that his
honesty got the better of him.  He had to enter a dense and trackless
forest, on the trail of the murderer, and there to fly at the murderer
when he found him resting at the foot of a tree, with his victim bound
ready for slaughter.  It was a hot night, and he came into the forest
from an altogether unexpected direction, in the sweetest temper, at a
very deliberate trot, not in the least excited; trotted to the
foot-lights with his tongue out; and there sat down, panting, and amiably
surveying the audience, with his tail beating on the boards, like a Dutch
clock.  Meanwhile the murderer, impatient to receive his doom, was
audibly calling to him ‘CO-O-OME here!’ while the victim, struggling with
his bonds, assailed him with the most injurious expressions.  It happened
through these means, that when he was in course of time persuaded to trot
up and rend the murderer limb from limb, he made it (for dramatic
purposes) a little too obvious that he worked out that awful retribution
by licking butter off his blood-stained hands.

In a shy street, behind Long-acre, two honest dogs live, who perform in
Punch’s shows.  I may venture to say that I am on terms of intimacy with
both, and that I never saw either guilty of the falsehood of failing to
look down at the man inside the show, during the whole performance.  The
difficulty other dogs have in satisfying their minds about these dogs,
appears to be never overcome by time.  The same dogs must encounter them
over and over again, as they trudge along in their off-minutes behind the
legs of the show and beside the drum; but all dogs seem to suspect their
frills and jackets, and to sniff at them as if they thought those
articles of personal adornment, an eruption—a something in the nature of
mange, perhaps.  From this Covent-garden window of mine I noticed a
country dog, only the other day, who had come up to Covent-garden Market
under a cart, and had broken his cord, an end of which he still trailed
along with him.  He loitered about the corners of the four streets
commanded by my window; and bad London dogs came up, and told him lies
that he didn’t believe; and worse London dogs came up, and made proposals
to him to go and steal in the market, which his principles rejected; and
the ways of the town confused him, and he crept aside and lay down in a
doorway.  He had scarcely got a wink of sleep, when up comes Punch with
Toby.  He was darting to Toby for consolation and advice, when he saw the
frill, and stopped, in the middle of the street, appalled.  The show was
pitched, Toby retired behind the drapery, the audience formed, the drum
and pipes struck up.  My country dog remained immovable, intently staring
at these strange appearances, until Toby opened the drama by appearing on
his ledge, and to him entered Punch, who put a tobacco-pipe into Toby’s
mouth.  At this spectacle, the country dog threw up his head, gave one
terrible howl, and fled due west.

We talk of men keeping dogs, but we might often talk more expressively of
dogs keeping men.  I know a bull-dog in a shy corner of Hammersmith who
keeps a man.  He keeps him up a yard, and makes him go to public-houses
and lay wagers on him, and obliges him to lean against posts and look at
him, and forces him to neglect work for him, and keeps him under rigid
coercion.  I once knew a fancy terrier who kept a gentleman—a gentleman
who had been brought up at Oxford, too.  The dog kept the gentleman
entirely for his glorification, and the gentleman never talked about
anything but the terrier.  This, however, was not in a shy neighbourhood,
and is a digression consequently.

There are a great many dogs in shy neighbourhoods, who keep boys.  I have
my eye on a mongrel in Somerstown who keeps three boys.  He feigns that
he can bring down sparrows, and unburrow rats (he can do neither), and he
takes the boys out on sporting pretences into all sorts of suburban
fields.  He has likewise made them believe that he possesses some
mysterious knowledge of the art of fishing, and they consider themselves
incompletely equipped for the Hampstead ponds, with a pickle-jar and
wide-mouthed bottle, unless he is with them and barking tremendously.
There is a dog residing in the Borough of Southwark who keeps a blind
man.  He may be seen, most days, in Oxford-street, haling the blind man
away on expeditions wholly uncontemplated by, and unintelligible to, the
man: wholly of the dog’s conception and execution.  Contrariwise, when
the man has projects, the dog will sit down in a crowded thoroughfare and
meditate.  I saw him yesterday, wearing the money-tray like an easy
collar, instead of offering it to the public, taking the man against his
will, on the invitation of a disreputable cur, apparently to visit a dog
at Harrow—he was so intent on that direction.  The north wall of
Burlington House Gardens, between the Arcade and the Albany, offers a shy
spot for appointments among blind men at about two or three o’clock in
the afternoon.  They sit (very uncomfortably) on a sloping stone there,
and compare notes.  Their dogs may always be observed at the same time,
openly disparaging the men they keep, to one another, and settling where
they shall respectively take their men when they begin to move again.  At
a small butcher’s, in a shy neighbourhood (there is no reason for
suppressing the name; it is by Notting-hill, and gives upon the district
called the Potteries), I know a shaggy black and white dog who keeps a
drover.  He is a dog of an easy disposition, and too frequently allows
this drover to get drunk.  On these occasions, it is the dog’s custom to
sit outside the public-house, keeping his eye on a few sheep, and
thinking.  I have seen him with six sheep, plainly casting up in his mind
how many he began with when he left the market, and at what places he has
left the rest.  I have seen him perplexed by not being able to account to
himself for certain particular sheep.  A light has gradually broken on
him, he has remembered at what butcher’s he left them, and in a burst of
grave satisfaction has caught a fly off his nose, and shown himself much
relieved.  If I could at any time have doubted the fact that it was he
who kept the drover, and not the drover who kept him, it would have been
abundantly proved by his way of taking undivided charge of the six sheep,
when the drover came out besmeared with red ochre and beer, and gave him
wrong directions, which he calmly disregarded.  He has taken the sheep
entirely into his own hands, has merely remarked with respectful
firmness, ‘That instruction would place them under an omnibus; you had
better confine your attention to yourself—you will want it all;’ and has
driven his charge away, with an intelligence of ears and tail, and a
knowledge of business, that has left his lout of a man very, very far
behind.

As the dogs of shy neighbourhoods usually betray a slinking consciousness
of being in poor circumstances—for the most part manifested in an aspect
of anxiety, an awkwardness in their play, and a misgiving that somebody
is going to harness them to something, to pick up a living—so the cats of
shy neighbourhoods exhibit a strong tendency to relapse into barbarism.
Not only are they made selfishly ferocious by ruminating on the surplus
population around them, and on the densely crowded state of all the
avenues to cat’s meat; not only is there a moral and politico-economical
haggardness in them, traceable to these reflections; but they evince a
physical deterioration.  Their linen is not clean, and is wretchedly got
up; their black turns rusty, like old mourning; they wear very
indifferent fur; and take to the shabbiest cotton velvet, instead of silk
velvet.  I am on terms of recognition with several small streets of cats,
about the Obelisk in Saint George’s Fields, and also in the vicinity of
Clerkenwell-green, and also in the back settlements of Drury-lane.  In
appearance, they are very like the women among whom they live.  They seem
to turn out of their unwholesome beds into the street, without any
preparation.  They leave their young families to stagger about the
gutters, unassisted, while they frouzily quarrel and swear and scratch
and spit, at street corners.  In particular, I remark that when they are
about to increase their families (an event of frequent recurrence) the
resemblance is strongly expressed in a certain dusty dowdiness,
down-at-heel self-neglect, and general giving up of things.  I cannot
honestly report that I have ever seen a feline matron of this class
washing her face when in an interesting condition.

Not to prolong these notes of uncommercial travel among the lower animals
of shy neighbourhoods, by dwelling at length upon the exasperated
moodiness of the tom-cats, and their resemblance in many respects to a
man and a brother, I will come to a close with a word on the fowls of the
same localities.

That anything born of an egg and invested with wings, should have got to
the pass that it hops contentedly down a ladder into a cellar, and calls
_that_ going home, is a circumstance so amazing as to leave one nothing
more in this connexion to wonder at.  Otherwise I might wonder at the
completeness with which these fowls have become separated from all the
birds of the air—have taken to grovelling in bricks and mortar and
mud—have forgotten all about live trees, and make roosting-places of
shop-boards, barrows, oyster-tubs, bulk-heads, and door-scrapers.  I
wonder at nothing concerning them, and take them as they are.  I accept
as products of Nature and things of course, a reduced Bantam family of my
acquaintance in the Hackney-road, who are incessantly at the
pawnbroker’s.  I cannot say that they enjoy themselves, for they are of a
melancholy temperament; but what enjoyment they are capable of, they
derive from crowding together in the pawnbroker’s side-entry.  Here, they
are always to be found in a feeble flutter, as if they were newly come
down in the world, and were afraid of being identified.  I know a low
fellow, originally of a good family from Dorking, who takes his whole
establishment of wives, in single file, in at the door of the jug
Department of a disorderly tavern near the Haymarket, manœuvres them
among the company’s legs, emerges with them at the Bottle Entrance, and
so passes his life: seldom, in the season, going to bed before two in the
morning.  Over Waterloo-bridge, there is a shabby old speckled couple
(they belong to the wooden French-bedstead, washing-stand, and
towel-horse-making trade), who are always trying to get in at the door of
a chapel.  Whether the old lady, under a delusion reminding one of Mrs.
Southcott, has an idea of entrusting an egg to that particular
denomination, or merely understands that she has no business in the
building and is consequently frantic to enter it, I cannot determine; but
she is constantly endeavouring to undermine the principal door: while her
partner, who is infirm upon his legs, walks up and down, encouraging her
and defying the Universe.  But, the family I have been best acquainted
with, since the removal from this trying sphere of a Chinese circle at
Brentford, reside in the densest part of Bethnal-green.  Their
abstraction from the objects among which they live, or rather their
conviction that those objects have all come into existence in express
subservience to fowls, has so enchanted me, that I have made them the
subject of many journeys at divers hours.  After careful observation of
the two lords and the ten ladies of whom this family consists, I have
come to the conclusion that their opinions are represented by the leading
lord and leading lady: the latter, as I judge, an aged personage,
afflicted with a paucity of feather and visibility of quill, that gives
her the appearance of a bundle of office pens.  When a railway goods van
that would crush an elephant comes round the corner, tearing over these
fowls, they emerge unharmed from under the horses, perfectly satisfied
that the whole rush was a passing property in the air, which may have
left something to eat behind it.  They look upon old shoes, wrecks of
kettles and saucepans, and fragments of bonnets, as a kind of meteoric
discharge, for fowls to peck at.  Peg-tops and hoops they account, I
think, as a sort of hail; shuttlecocks, as rain, or dew.  Gaslight comes
quite as natural to them as any other light; and I have more than a
suspicion that, in the minds of the two lords, the early public-house at
the corner has superseded the sun.  I have established it as a certain
fact, that they always begin to crow when the public-house shutters begin
to be taken down, and that they salute the potboy, the instant he appears
to perform that duty, as if he were Phoebus in person.



XI
TRAMPS


THE chance use of the word ‘Tramp’ in my last paper, brought that
numerous fraternity so vividly before my mind’s eye, that I had no sooner
laid down my pen than a compulsion was upon me to take it up again, and
make notes of the Tramps whom I perceived on all the summer roads in all
directions.

Whenever a tramp sits down to rest by the wayside, he sits with his legs
in a dry ditch; and whenever he goes to sleep (which is very often
indeed), he goes to sleep on his back.  Yonder, by the high road, glaring
white in the bright sunshine, lies, on the dusty bit of turf under the
bramble-bush that fences the coppice from the highway, the tramp of the
order savage, fast asleep.  He lies on the broad of his back, with his
face turned up to the sky, and one of his ragged arms loosely thrown
across his face.  His bundle (what can be the contents of that mysterious
bundle, to make it worth his while to carry it about?) is thrown down
beside him, and the waking woman with him sits with her legs in the
ditch, and her back to the road.  She wears her bonnet rakishly perched
on the front of her head, to shade her face from the sun in walking, and
she ties her skirts round her in conventionally tight tramp-fashion with
a sort of apron.  You can seldom catch sight of her, resting thus,
without seeing her in a despondently defiant manner doing something to
her hair or her bonnet, and glancing at you between her fingers.  She
does not often go to sleep herself in the daytime, but will sit for any
length of time beside the man.  And his slumberous propensities would not
seem to be referable to the fatigue of carrying the bundle, for she
carries it much oftener and further than he.  When they are afoot, you
will mostly find him slouching on ahead, in a gruff temper, while she
lags heavily behind with the burden.  He is given to personally
correcting her, too—which phase of his character develops itself
oftenest, on benches outside alehouse doors—and she appears to become
strongly attached to him for these reasons; it may usually be noticed
that when the poor creature has a bruised face, she is the most
affectionate.  He has no occupation whatever, this order of tramp, and
has no object whatever in going anywhere.  He will sometimes call himself
a brickmaker, or a sawyer, but only when he takes an imaginary flight.
He generally represents himself, in a vague way, as looking out for a job
of work; but he never did work, he never does, and he never will.  It is
a favourite fiction with him, however (as if he were the most industrious
character on earth), that _you_ never work; and as he goes past your
garden and sees you looking at your flowers, you will overhear him growl
with a strong sense of contrast, ‘_You_ are a lucky hidle devil, _you_
are!’

The slinking tramp is of the same hopeless order, and has the same
injured conviction on him that you were born to whatever you possess, and
never did anything to get it: but he is of a less audacious disposition.
He will stop before your gate, and say to his female companion with an
air of constitutional humility and propitiation—to edify any one who may
be within hearing behind a blind or a bush—‘This is a sweet spot, ain’t
it?  A lovelly spot!  And I wonder if they’d give two poor footsore
travellers like me and you, a drop of fresh water out of such a pretty
gen-teel crib?  We’d take it wery koind on ’em, wouldn’t us?  Wery koind,
upon my word, us would?’  He has a quick sense of a dog in the vicinity,
and will extend his modestly-injured propitiation to the dog chained up
in your yard; remarking, as he slinks at the yard gate, ‘Ah!  You are a
foine breed o’ dog, too, and _you_ ain’t kep for nothink!  I’d take it
wery koind o’ your master if he’d elp a traveller and his woife as envies
no gentlefolk their good fortun, wi’ a bit o’ your broken wittles.  He’d
never know the want of it, nor more would you.  Don’t bark like that, at
poor persons as never done you no arm; the poor is down-trodden and broke
enough without that; O DON’T!’  He generally heaves a prodigious sigh in
moving away, and always looks up the lane and down the lane, and up the
road and down the road, before going on.

Both of these orders of tramp are of a very robust habit; let the
hard-working labourer at whose cottage-door they prowl and beg, have the
ague never so badly, these tramps are sure to be in good health.

There is another kind of tramp, whom you encounter this bright summer
day—say, on a road with the sea-breeze making its dust lively, and sails
of ships in the blue distance beyond the slope of Down.  As you walk
enjoyingly on, you descry in the perspective at the bottom of a steep
hill up which your way lies, a figure that appears to be sitting airily
on a gate, whistling in a cheerful and disengaged manner.  As you
approach nearer to it, you observe the figure to slide down from the
gate, to desist from whistling, to uncock its hat, to become tender of
foot, to depress its head and elevate its shoulders, and to present all
the characteristics of profound despondency.  Arriving at the bottom of
the hill and coming close to the figure, you observe it to be the figure
of a shabby young man.  He is moving painfully forward, in the direction
in which you are going, and his mind is so preoccupied with his
misfortunes that he is not aware of your approach until you are close
upon him at the hill-foot.  When he is aware of you, you discover him to
be a remarkably well-behaved young man, and a remarkably well-spoken
young man.  You know him to be well-behaved, by his respectful manner of
touching his hat: you know him to be well-spoken, by his smooth manner of
expressing himself.  He says in a flowing confidential voice, and without
punctuation, ‘I ask your pardon sir but if you would excuse the liberty
of being so addressed upon the public Iway by one who is almost reduced
to rags though it as not always been so and by no fault of his own but
through ill elth in his family and many unmerited sufferings it would be
a great obligation sir to know the time.’  You give the well-spoken young
man the time.  The well-spoken young man, keeping well up with you,
resumes: ‘I am aware sir that it is a liberty to intrude a further
question on a gentleman walking for his entertainment but might I make so
bold as ask the favour of the way to Dover sir and about the distance?’
You inform the well-spoken young man that the way to Dover is straight
on, and the distance some eighteen miles.  The well-spoken young man
becomes greatly agitated.  ‘In the condition to which I am reduced,’ says
he, ‘I could not ope to reach Dover before dark even if my shoes were in
a state to take me there or my feet were in a state to old out over the
flinty road and were not on the bare ground of which any gentleman has
the means to satisfy himself by looking Sir may I take the liberty of
speaking to you?’  As the well-spoken young man keeps so well up with you
that you can’t prevent his taking the liberty of speaking to you, he goes
on, with fluency: ‘Sir it is not begging that is my intention for I was
brought up by the best of mothers and begging is not my trade I should
not know sir how to follow it as a trade if such were my shameful wishes
for the best of mothers long taught otherwise and in the best of omes
though now reduced to take the present liberty on the Iway Sir my
business was the law-stationering and I was favourably known to the
Solicitor-General the Attorney-General the majority of the judges and the
ole of the legal profession but through ill elth in my family and the
treachery of a friend for whom I became security and he no other than my
own wife’s brother the brother of my own wife I was cast forth with my
tender partner and three young children not to beg for I will sooner die
of deprivation but to make my way to the sea-port town of Dover where I
have a relative i in respect not only that will assist me but that would
trust me with untold gold Sir in appier times and hare this calamity fell
upon me I made for my amusement when I little thought that I should ever
need it excepting for my air this’—here the well-spoken young man put his
hand into his breast—‘this comb!  Sir I implore you in the name of
charity to purchase a tortoiseshell comb which is a genuine article at
any price that your humanity may put upon it and may the blessings of a
ouseless family awaiting with beating arts the return of a husband and a
father from Dover upon the cold stone seats of London-bridge ever attend
you Sir may I take the liberty of speaking to you I implore you to buy
this comb!’  By this time, being a reasonably good walker, you will have
been too much for the well-spoken young man, who will stop short and
express his disgust and his want of breath, in a long expectoration, as
you leave him behind.

Towards the end of the same walk, on the same bright summer day, at the
corner of the next little town or village, you may find another kind of
tramp, embodied in the persons of a most exemplary couple whose only
improvidence appears to have been, that they spent the last of their
little All on soap.  They are a man and woman, spotless to behold—John
Anderson, with the frost on his short smock-frock instead of his ‘pow,’
attended by Mrs. Anderson.  John is over-ostentatious of the frost upon
his raiment, and wears a curious and, you would say, an almost
unnecessary demonstration of girdle of white linen wound about his
waist—a girdle, snowy as Mrs. Anderson’s apron.  This cleanliness was the
expiring effort of the respectable couple, and nothing then remained to
Mr. Anderson but to get chalked upon his spade in snow-white copy-book
characters, HUNGRY! and to sit down here.  Yes; one thing more remained
to Mr. Anderson—his character; Monarchs could not deprive him of his
hard-earned character.  Accordingly, as you come up with this spectacle
of virtue in distress, Mrs. Anderson rises, and with a decent curtsey
presents for your consideration a certificate from a Doctor of Divinity,
the reverend the Vicar of Upper Dodgington, who informs his Christian
friends and all whom it may concern that the bearers, John Anderson and
lawful wife, are persons to whom you cannot be too liberal.  This
benevolent pastor omitted no work of his hands to fit the good couple
out, for with half an eye you can recognise his autograph on the spade.

Another class of tramp is a man, the most valuable part of whose
stock-in-trade is a highly perplexed demeanour.  He is got up like a
countryman, and you will often come upon the poor fellow, while he is
endeavouring to decipher the inscription on a milestone—quite a fruitless
endeavour, for he cannot read.  He asks your pardon, he truly does (he is
very slow of speech, this tramp, and he looks in a bewildered way all
round the prospect while he talks to you), but all of us shold do as we
wold be done by, and he’ll take it kind, if you’ll put a power man in the
right road fur to jine his eldest son as has broke his leg bad in the
masoning, and is in this heere Orspit’l as is wrote down by Squire
Pouncerby’s own hand as wold not tell a lie fur no man.  He then produces
from under his dark frock (being always very slow and perplexed) a neat
but worn old leathern purse, from which he takes a scrap of paper.  On
this scrap of paper is written, by Squire Pouncerby, of The Grove,
‘Please to direct the Bearer, a poor but very worthy man, to the Sussex
County Hospital, near Brighton’—a matter of some difficulty at the
moment, seeing that the request comes suddenly upon you in the depths of
Hertfordshire.  The more you endeavour to indicate where Brighton is—when
you have with the greatest difficulty remembered—the less the devoted
father can be made to comprehend, and the more obtusely he stares at the
prospect; whereby, being reduced to extremity, you recommend the faithful
parent to begin by going to St. Albans, and present him with
half-a-crown.  It does him good, no doubt, but scarcely helps him
forward, since you find him lying drunk that same evening in the
wheelwright’s sawpit under the shed where the felled trees are, opposite
the sign of the Three Jolly Hedgers.

But, the most vicious, by far, of all the idle tramps, is the tramp who
pretends to have been a gentleman.  ‘Educated,’ he writes, from the
village beer-shop in pale ink of a ferruginous complexion; ‘educated at
Trin. Coll. Cam.—nursed in the lap of affluence—once in my small way the
pattron of the Muses,’ &c. &c. &c.—surely a sympathetic mind will not
withhold a trifle, to help him on to the market-town where he thinks of
giving a Lecture to the _fruges consumere nati_, on things in general?
This shameful creature lolling about hedge tap-rooms in his ragged
clothes, now so far from being black that they look as if they never can
have been black, is more selfish and insolent than even the savage tramp.
He would sponge on the poorest boy for a farthing, and spurn him when he
had got it; he would interpose (if he could get anything by it) between
the baby and the mother’s breast.  So much lower than the company he
keeps, for his maudlin assumption of being higher, this pitiless rascal
blights the summer road as he maunders on between the luxuriant hedges;
where (to my thinking) even the wild convolvulus and rose and
sweet-briar, are the worse for his going by, and need time to recover
from the taint of him in the air.

The young fellows who trudge along barefoot, five or six together, their
boots slung over their shoulders, their shabby bundles under their arms,
their sticks newly cut from some roadside wood, are not eminently
prepossessing, but are much less objectionable.  There is a
tramp-fellowship among them.  They pick one another up at resting
stations, and go on in companies.  They always go at a fast swing—though
they generally limp too—and there is invariably one of the company who
has much ado to keep up with the rest.  They generally talk about horses,
and any other means of locomotion than walking: or, one of the company
relates some recent experiences of the road—which are always disputes and
difficulties.  As for example.  ‘So as I’m a standing at the pump in the
market, blest if there don’t come up a Beadle, and he ses, “Mustn’t stand
here,” he ses.  “Why not?” I ses.  “No beggars allowed in this town,” he
ses.  “Who’s a beggar?” I ses.  “You are,” he ses.  “Who ever see _me_
beg?  Did _you_?” I ses.  “Then you’re a tramp,” he ses.  “I’d rather be
that than a Beadle,” I ses.’  (The company express great approval.)
‘“Would you?” he ses to me.  “Yes, I would,” I ses to him.  “Well,” he
ses, “anyhow, get out of this town.”  “Why, blow your little town!” I
ses, “who wants to be in it?  Wot does your dirty little town mean by
comin’ and stickin’ itself in the road to anywhere?  Why don’t you get a
shovel and a barrer, and clear your town out o’ people’s way?”’  (The
company expressing the highest approval and laughing aloud, they all go
down the hill.)

Then, there are the tramp handicraft men.  Are they not all over England,
in this Midsummer time?  Where does the lark sing, the corn grow, the
mill turn, the river run, and they are not among the lights and shadows,
tinkering, chair-mending, umbrella-mending, clock-mending,
knife-grinding?  Surely, a pleasant thing, if we were in that condition
of life, to grind our way through Kent, Sussex, and Surrey.  For the
worst six weeks or so, we should see the sparks we ground off, fiery
bright against a background of green wheat and green leaves.  A little
later, and the ripe harvest would pale our sparks from red to yellow,
until we got the dark newly-turned land for a background again, and they
were red once more.  By that time, we should have ground our way to the
sea cliffs, and the whirr of our wheel would be lost in the breaking of
the waves.  Our next variety in sparks would be derived from contrast
with the gorgeous medley of colours in the autumn woods, and, by the time
we had ground our way round to the heathy lands between Reigate and
Croydon, doing a prosperous stroke of business all along, we should show
like a little firework in the light frosty air, and be the next best
thing to the blacksmith’s forge.  Very agreeable, too, to go on a
chair-mending tour.  What judges we should be of rushes, and how
knowingly (with a sheaf and a bottomless chair at our back) we should
lounge on bridges, looking over at osier-beds!  Among all the innumerable
occupations that cannot possibly be transacted without the assistance of
lookers-on, chair-mending may take a station in the first rank.  When we
sat down with our backs against the barn or the public-house, and began
to mend, what a sense of popularity would grow upon us!  When all the
children came to look at us, and the tailor, and the general dealer, and
the farmer who had been giving a small order at the little saddler’s, and
the groom from the great house, and the publican, and even the two
skittle-players (and here note that, howsoever busy all the rest of
village human-kind may be, there will always be two people with leisure
to play at skittles, wherever village skittles are), what encouragement
would be on us to plait and weave!  No one looks at us while we plait and
weave these words.  Clock-mending again.  Except for the slight
inconvenience of carrying a clock under our arm, and the monotony of
making the bell go, whenever we came to a human habitation, what a
pleasant privilege to give a voice to the dumb cottage-clock, and set it
talking to the cottage family again!  Likewise we foresee great interest
in going round by the park plantations, under the overhanging boughs
(hares, rabbits, partridges, and pheasants, scudding like mad across and
across the chequered ground before us), and so over the park ladder, and
through the wood, until we came to the Keeper’s lodge.  Then, would, the
Keeper be discoverable at his door, in a deep nest of leaves, smoking his
pipe.  Then, on our accosting him in the way of our trade, would he call
to Mrs. Keeper, respecting ‘t’ould clock’ in the kitchen.  Then, would
Mrs. Keeper ask us into the lodge, and on due examination we should offer
to make a good job of it for eighteenpence; which offer, being accepted,
would set us tinkling and clinking among the chubby, awe-struck little
Keepers for an hour and more.  So completely to the family’s satisfaction
would we achieve our work, that the Keeper would mention how that there
was something wrong with the bell of the turret stable-clock up at the
Hall, and that if we thought good of going up to the housekeeper on the
chance of that job too, why he would take us.  Then, should we go, among
the branching oaks and the deep fern, by silent ways of mystery known to
the Keeper, seeing the herd glancing here and there as we went along,
until we came to the old Hall, solemn and grand.  Under the Terrace
Flower Garden, and round by the stables, would the Keeper take us in, and
as we passed we should observe how spacious and stately the stables, and
how fine the painting of the horses’ names over their stalls, and how
solitary all: the family being in London.  Then, should we find ourselves
presented to the housekeeper, sitting, in hushed state, at needlework, in
a bay-window looking out upon a mighty grim red-brick quadrangle, guarded
by stone lions disrespectfully throwing somersaults over the escutcheons
of the noble family.  Then, our services accepted and we insinuated with
a candle into the stable-turret, we should find it to be a mere question
of pendulum, but one that would hold us until dark.  Then, should we fall
to work, with a general impression of Ghosts being about, and of pictures
indoors that of a certainty came out of their frames and ‘walked,’ if the
family would only own it.  Then, should we work and work, until the day
gradually turned to dusk, and even until the dusk gradually turned to
dark.  Our task at length accomplished, we should be taken into an
enormous servants’ hall, and there regaled with beef and bread, and
powerful ale.  Then, paid freely, we should be at liberty to go, and
should be told by a pointing helper to keep round over yinder by the
blasted ash, and so straight through the woods, till we should see the
town-lights right afore us.  Then, feeling lonesome, should we desire
upon the whole, that the ash had not been blasted, or that the helper had
had the manners not to mention it.  However, we should keep on, all
right, till suddenly the stable bell would strike ten in the dolefullest
way, quite chilling our blood, though we had so lately taught him how to
acquit himself.  Then, as we went on, should we recall old stories, and
dimly consider what it would be most advisable to do, in the event of a
tall figure, all in white, with saucer eyes, coming up and saying, ‘I
want you to come to a churchyard and mend a church clock.  Follow me!’
Then, should we make a burst to get clear of the trees, and should soon
find ourselves in the open, with the town-lights bright ahead of us.  So
should we lie that night at the ancient sign of the Crispin and
Crispanus, and rise early next morning to be betimes on tramp again.

Bricklayers often tramp, in twos and threes, lying by night at their
‘lodges,’ which are scattered all over the country.  Bricklaying is
another of the occupations that can by no means be transacted in rural
parts, without the assistance of spectators—of as many as can be
convened.  In thinly-peopled spots, I have known brick-layers on tramp,
coming up with bricklayers at work, to be so sensible of the
indispensability of lookers-on, that they themselves have sat up in that
capacity, and have been unable to subside into the acceptance of a
proffered share in the job, for two or three days together.  Sometimes,
the ‘navvy,’ on tramp, with an extra pair of half-boots over his
shoulder, a bag, a bottle, and a can, will take a similar part in a job
of excavation, and will look at it without engaging in it, until all his
money is gone.  The current of my uncommercial pursuits caused me only
last summer to want a little body of workmen for a certain spell of work
in a pleasant part of the country; and I was at one time honoured with
the attendance of as many as seven-and-twenty, who were looking at six.

Who can be familiar with any rustic highway in summer-time, without
storing up knowledge of the many tramps who go from one oasis of town or
village to another, to sell a stock in trade, apparently not worth a
shilling when sold?  Shrimps are a favourite commodity for this kind of
speculation, and so are cakes of a soft and spongy character, coupled
with Spanish nuts and brandy balls.  The stock is carried on the head in
a basket, and, between the head and the basket, are the trestles on which
the stock is displayed at trading times.  Fleet of foot, but a careworn
class of tramp this, mostly; with a certain stiffness of neck, occasioned
by much anxious balancing of baskets; and also with a long, Chinese sort
of eye, which an overweighted forehead would seem to have squeezed into
that form.

On the hot dusty roads near seaport towns and great rivers, behold the
tramping Soldier.  And if you should happen never to have asked yourself
whether his uniform is suited to his work, perhaps the poor fellow’s
appearance as he comes distressfully towards you, with his absurdly tight
jacket unbuttoned, his neck-gear in his hand, and his legs well chafed by
his trousers of baize, may suggest the personal inquiry, how you think
_you_ would like it.  Much better the tramping Sailor, although his cloth
is somewhat too thick for land service.  But, why the tramping
merchant-mate should put on a black velvet waistcoat, for a chalky
country in the dog-days, is one of the great secrets of nature that will
never be discovered.

I have my eye upon a piece of Kentish road, bordered on either side by a
wood, and having on one hand, between the road-dust and the trees, a
skirting patch of grass.  Wild flowers grow in abundance on this spot,
and it lies high and airy, with a distant river stealing steadily away to
the ocean, like a man’s life.  To gain the milestone here, which the
moss, primroses, violets, blue-bells, and wild roses, would soon render
illegible but for peering travellers pushing them aside with their
sticks, you must come up a steep hill, come which way you may.  So, all
the tramps with carts or caravans—the Gipsy-tramp, the Show-tramp, the
Cheap Jack—find it impossible to resist the temptations of the place, and
all turn the horse loose when they come to it, and boil the pot.  Bless
the place, I love the ashes of the vagabond fires that have scorched its
grass!  What tramp children do I see here, attired in a handful of rags,
making a gymnasium of the shafts of the cart, making a feather-bed of the
flints and brambles, making a toy of the hobbled old horse who is not
much more like a horse than any cheap toy would be!  Here, do I encounter
the cart of mats and brooms and baskets—with all thoughts of business
given to the evening wind—with the stew made and being served out—with
Cheap Jack and Dear Jill striking soft music out of the plates that are
rattled like warlike cymbals when put up for auction at fairs and
markets—their minds so influenced (no doubt) by the melody of the
nightingales as they begin to sing in the woods behind them, that if I
were to propose to deal, they would sell me anything at cost price.  On
this hallowed ground has it been my happy privilege (let me whisper it),
to behold the White-haired Lady with the pink eyes, eating meat-pie with
the Giant: while, by the hedge-side, on the box of blankets which I knew
contained the snakes, were set forth the cups and saucers and the teapot.
It was on an evening in August, that I chanced upon this ravishing
spectacle, and I noticed that, whereas the Giant reclined half concealed
beneath the overhanging boughs and seemed indifferent to Nature, the
white hair of the gracious Lady streamed free in the breath of evening,
and her pink eyes found pleasure in the landscape.  I heard only a single
sentence of her uttering, yet it bespoke a talent for modest repartee.
The ill-mannered Giant—accursed be his evil race!—had interrupted the
Lady in some remark, and, as I passed that enchanted corner of the wood,
she gently reproved him, with the words, ‘Now, Cobby;’—Cobby! so short a
name!—‘ain’t one fool enough to talk at a time?’

Within appropriate distance of this magic ground, though not so near it
as that the song trolled from tap or bench at door, can invade its
woodland silence, is a little hostelry which no man possessed of a penny
was ever known to pass in warm weather.  Before its entrance, are certain
pleasant, trimmed limes; likewise, a cool well, with so musical a
bucket-handle that its fall upon the bucket rim will make a horse prick
up his ears and neigh, upon the droughty road half a mile off.  This is a
house of great resort for haymaking tramps and harvest tramps, insomuch
that as they sit within, drinking their mugs of beer, their relinquished
scythes and reaping-hooks glare out of the open windows, as if the whole
establishment were a family war-coach of Ancient Britons.  Later in the
season, the whole country-side, for miles and miles, will swarm with
hopping tramps.  They come in families, men, women, and children, every
family provided with a bundle of bedding, an iron pot, a number of
babies, and too often with some poor sick creature quite unfit for the
rough life, for whom they suppose the smell of the fresh hop to be a
sovereign remedy.  Many of these hoppers are Irish, but many come from
London.  They crowd all the roads, and camp under all the hedges and on
all the scraps of common-land, and live among and upon the hops until
they are all picked, and the hop-gardens, so beautiful through the
summer, look as if they had been laid waste by an invading army.  Then,
there is a vast exodus of tramps out of the country; and if you ride or
drive round any turn of any road, at more than a foot pace, you will be
bewildered to find that you have charged into the bosom of fifty
families, and that there are splashing up all around you, in the utmost
prodigality of confusion, bundles of bedding, babies, iron pots, and a
good-humoured multitude of both sexes and all ages, equally divided
between perspiration and intoxication.



XII
DULLBOROUGH TOWN


IT lately happened that I found myself rambling about the scenes among
which my earliest days were passed; scenes from which I departed when I
was a child, and which I did not revisit until I was a man.  This is no
uncommon chance, but one that befalls some of us any day; perhaps it may
not be quite uninteresting to compare notes with the reader respecting an
experience so familiar and a journey so uncommercial.

I call my boyhood’s home (and I feel like a Tenor in an English Opera
when I mention it) Dullborough.  Most of us come from Dullborough who
come from a country town.

As I left Dullborough in the days when there were no railroads in the
land, I left it in a stage-coach.  Through all the years that have since
passed, have I ever lost the smell of the damp straw in which I was
packed—like game—and forwarded, carriage paid, to the Cross Keys,
Wood-street, Cheapside, London?  There was no other inside passenger, and
I consumed my sandwiches in solitude and dreariness, and it rained hard
all the way, and I thought life sloppier than I had expected to find it.

With this tender remembrance upon me, I was cavalierly shunted back into
Dullborough the other day, by train.  My ticket had been previously
collected, like my taxes, and my shining new portmanteau had had a great
plaster stuck upon it, and I had been defied by Act of Parliament to
offer an objection to anything that was done to it, or me, under a
penalty of not less than forty shillings or more than five pounds,
compoundable for a term of imprisonment.  When I had sent my disfigured
property on to the hotel, I began to look about me; and the first
discovery I made, was, that the Station had swallowed up the
playing-field.

It was gone.  The two beautiful hawthorn-trees, the hedge, the turf, and
all those buttercups and daisies, had given place to the stoniest of
jolting roads: while, beyond the Station, an ugly dark monster of a
tunnel kept its jaws open, as if it had swallowed them and were ravenous
for more destruction.  The coach that had carried me away, was
melodiously called Timpson’s Blue-Eyed Maid, and belonged to Timpson, at
the coach-office up-street; the locomotive engine that had brought me
back, was called severely No. 97, and belonged to S.E.R., and was
spitting ashes and hot water over the blighted ground.

When I had been let out at the platform-door, like a prisoner whom his
turnkey grudgingly released, I looked in again over the low wall, at the
scene of departed glories.  Here, in the haymaking time, had I been
delivered from the dungeons of Seringapatam, an immense pile (of
haycock), by my own countrymen, the victorious British (boy next door and
his two cousins), and had been recognised with ecstasy by my affianced
one (Miss Green), who had come all the way from England (second house in
the terrace) to ransom me, and marry me.  Here, had I first heard in
confidence, from one whose father was greatly connected, being under
Government, of the existence of a terrible banditti, called ‘The
Radicals,’ whose principles were, that the Prince Regent wore stays, and
that nobody had a right to any salary, and that the army and navy ought
to be put down—horrors at which I trembled in my bed, after supplicating
that the Radicals might be speedily taken and hanged.  Here, too, had we,
the small boys of Boles’s, had that cricket match against the small boys
of Coles’s, when Boles and Coles had actually met upon the ground, and
when, instead of instantly hitting out at one another with the utmost
fury, as we had all hoped and expected, those sneaks had said
respectively, ‘I hope Mrs. Boles is well,’ and ‘I hope Mrs. Coles and the
baby are doing charmingly.’  Could it be that, after all this, and much
more, the Playing-field was a Station, and No. 97 expectorated boiling
water and redhot cinders on it, and the whole belonged by Act of
Parliament to S.E.R.?

As it could be, and was, I left the place with a heavy heart for a walk
all over the town.  And first of Timpson’s up-street.  When I departed
from Dullborough in the strawy arms of Timpson’s Blue-Eyed Maid,
Timpson’s was a moderate-sized coach-office (in fact, a little
coach-office), with an oval transparency in the window, which looked
beautiful by night, representing one of Timpson’s coaches in the act of
passing a milestone on the London road with great velocity, completely
full inside and out, and all the passengers dressed in the first style of
fashion, and enjoying themselves tremendously.  I found no such place as
Timpson’s now—no such bricks and rafters, not to mention the name—no such
edifice on the teeming earth.  Pickford had come and knocked Timpson’s
down.  Pickford had not only knocked Timpson’s down, but had knocked two
or three houses down on each side of Timpson’s, and then had knocked the
whole into one great establishment with a pair of big gates, in and out
of which, his (Pickford’s) waggons are, in these days, always rattling,
with their drivers sitting up so high, that they look in at the
second-floor windows of the old-fashioned houses in the High-street as
they shake the town.  I have not the honour of Pickford’s acquaintance,
but I felt that he had done me an injury, not to say committed an act of
boyslaughter, in running over my Childhood in this rough manner; and if
ever I meet Pickford driving one of his own monsters, and smoking a pipe
the while (which is the custom of his men), he shall know by the
expression of my eye, if it catches his, that there is something wrong
between us.

Moreover, I felt that Pickford had no right to come rushing into
Dullborough and deprive the town of a public picture.  He is not Napoleon
Bonaparte.  When he took down the transparent stage-coach, he ought to
have given the town a transparent van.  With a gloomy conviction that
Pickford is wholly utilitarian and unimaginative, I proceeded on my way.

It is a mercy I have not a red and green lamp and a night-bell at my
door, for in my very young days I was taken to so many lyings-in that I
wonder I escaped becoming a professional martyr to them in after-life.  I
suppose I had a very sympathetic nurse, with a large circle of married
acquaintance.  However that was, as I continued my walk through
Dullborough, I found many houses to be solely associated in my mind with
this particular interest.  At one little greengrocer’s shop, down certain
steps from the street, I remember to have waited on a lady who had had
four children (I am afraid to write five, though I fully believe it was
five) at a birth.  This meritorious woman held quite a reception in her
room on the morning when I was introduced there, and the sight of the
house brought vividly to my mind how the four (five) deceased young
people lay, side by side, on a clean cloth on a chest of drawers;
reminding me by a homely association, which I suspect their complexion to
have assisted, of pigs’ feet as they are usually displayed at a neat
tripe-shop.  Hot candle was handed round on the occasion, and I further
remembered as I stood contemplating the greengrocer’s, that a
subscription was entered into among the company, which became extremely
alarming to my consciousness of having pocket-money on my person.  This
fact being known to my conductress, whoever she was, I was earnestly
exhorted to contribute, but resolutely declined: therein disgusting the
company, who gave me to understand that I must dismiss all expectations
of going to Heaven.

How does it happen that when all else is change wherever one goes, there
yet seem, in every place, to be some few people who never alter?  As the
sight of the greengrocer’s house recalled these trivial incidents of long
ago, the identical greengrocer appeared on the steps, with his hands in
his pockets, and leaning his shoulder against the door-post, as my
childish eyes had seen him many a time; indeed, there was his old mark on
the door-post yet, as if his shadow had become a fixture there.  It was
he himself; he might formerly have been an old-looking young man, or he
might now be a young-looking old man, but there he was.  In walking along
the street, I had as yet looked in vain for a familiar face, or even a
transmitted face; here was the very greengrocer who had been weighing and
handling baskets on the morning of the reception.  As he brought with him
a dawning remembrance that he had had no proprietary interest in those
babies, I crossed the road, and accosted him on the subject.  He was not
in the least excited or gratified, or in any way roused, by the accuracy
of my recollection, but said, Yes, summut out of the common—he didn’t
remember how many it was (as if half-a-dozen babes either way made no
difference)—had happened to a Mrs. What’s-her-name, as once lodged
there—but he didn’t call it to mind, particular.  Nettled by this
phlegmatic conduct, I informed him that I had left the town when I was a
child.  He slowly returned, quite unsoftened, and not without a sarcastic
kind of complacency, _Had_ I?  Ah!  And did I find it had got on
tolerably well without me?  Such is the difference (I thought, when I had
left him a few hundred yards behind, and was by so much in a better
temper) between going away from a place and remaining in it.  I had no
right, I reflected, to be angry with the greengrocer for his want of
interest, I was nothing to him: whereas he was the town, the cathedral,
the bridge, the river, my childhood, and a large slice of my life, to me.

Of course the town had shrunk fearfully, since I was a child there.  I
had entertained the impression that the High-street was at least as wide
as Regent-street, London, or the Italian Boulevard at Paris.  I found it
little better than a lane.  There was a public clock in it, which I had
supposed to be the finest clock in the world: whereas it now turned out
to be as inexpressive, moon-faced, and weak a clock as ever I saw.  It
belonged to a Town Hall, where I had seen an Indian (who I now suppose
wasn’t an Indian) swallow a sword (which I now suppose he didn’t).  The
edifice had appeared to me in those days so glorious a structure, that I
had set it up in my mind as the model on which the Genie of the Lamp
built the palace for Aladdin.  A mean little brick heap, like a demented
chapel, with a few yawning persons in leather gaiters, and in the last
extremity for something to do, lounging at the door with their hands in
their pockets, and calling themselves a Corn Exchange!

The Theatre was in existence, I found, on asking the fishmonger, who had
a compact show of stock in his window, consisting of a sole and a quart
of shrimps—and I resolved to comfort my mind by going to look at it.
Richard the Third, in a very uncomfortable cloak, had first appeared to
me there, and had made my heart leap with terror by backing up against
the stage-box in which I was posted, while struggling for life against
the virtuous Richmond.  It was within those walls that I had learnt as
from a page of English history, how that wicked King slept in war-time on
a sofa much too short for him, and how fearfully his conscience troubled
his boots.  There, too, had I first seen the funny countryman, but
countryman of noble principles, in a flowered waistcoat, crunch up his
little hat and throw it on the ground, and pull off his coat, saying,
‘Dom thee, squire, coom on with thy fistes then!’  At which the lovely
young woman who kept company with him (and who went out gleaning, in a
narrow white muslin apron with five beautiful bars of five
different-coloured ribbons across it) was so frightened for his sake,
that she fainted away.  Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I come to the
knowledge of in that sanctuary: of which not the least terrific were,
that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful resemblance to the Thanes and
other proper inhabitants of Scotland; and that the good King Duncan
couldn’t rest in his grave, but was constantly coming out of it and
calling himself somebody else.  To the Theatre, therefore, I repaired for
consolation.  But I found very little, for it was in a bad and declining
way.  A dealer in wine and bottled beer had already squeezed his trade
into the box-office, and the theatrical money was taken—when it came—in a
kind of meat-safe in the passage.  The dealer in wine and bottled beer
must have insinuated himself under the stage too; for he announced that
he had various descriptions of alcoholic drinks ‘in the wood,’ and there
was no possible stowage for the wood anywhere else.  Evidently, he was by
degrees eating the establishment away to the core, and would soon have
sole possession of it.  It was To Let, and hopelessly so, for its old
purposes; and there had been no entertainment within its walls for a long
time except a Panorama; and even that had been announced as ‘pleasingly
instructive,’ and I know too well the fatal meaning and the leaden import
of those terrible expressions.  No, there was no comfort in the Theatre.
It was mysteriously gone, like my own youth.  Unlike my own youth, it
might be coming back some day; but there was little promise of it.

As the town was placarded with references to the Dullborough Mechanics’
Institution, I thought I would go and look at that establishment next.
There had been no such thing in the town, in my young day, and it
occurred to me that its extreme prosperity might have brought adversity
upon the Drama.  I found the Institution with some difficulty, and should
scarcely have known that I had found it if I had judged from its external
appearance only; but this was attributable to its never having been
finished, and having no front: consequently, it led a modest and retired
existence up a stable-yard.  It was (as I learnt, on inquiry) a most
flourishing Institution, and of the highest benefit to the town: two
triumphs which I was glad to understand were not at all impaired by the
seeming drawbacks that no mechanics belonged to it, and that it was
steeped in debt to the chimney-pots.  It had a large room, which was
approached by an infirm step-ladder: the builder having declined to
construct the intended staircase, without a present payment in cash,
which Dullborough (though profoundly appreciative of the Institution)
seemed unaccountably bashful about subscribing.  The large room had
cost—or would, when paid for—five hundred pounds; and it had more mortar
in it and more echoes, than one might have expected to get for the money.
It was fitted up with a platform, and the usual lecturing tools,
including a large black board of a menacing appearance.  On referring to
lists of the courses of lectures that had been given in this thriving
Hall, I fancied I detected a shyness in admitting that human nature when
at leisure has any desire whatever to be relieved and diverted; and a
furtive sliding in of any poor make-weight piece of amusement,
shame-facedly and edgewise.  Thus, I observed that it was necessary for
the members to be knocked on the head with Gas, Air, Water, Food, the
Solar System, the Geological periods, Criticism on Milton, the
Steam-engine, John Bunyan, and Arrow-Headed Inscriptions, before they
might be tickled by those unaccountable choristers, the negro singers in
the court costume of the reign of George the Second.  Likewise, that they
must be stunned by a weighty inquiry whether there was internal evidence
in Shakespeare’s works, to prove that his uncle by the mother’s side
lived for some years at Stoke Newington, before they were brought-to by a
Miscellaneous Concert.  But, indeed, the masking of entertainment, and
pretending it was something else—as people mask bedsteads when they are
obliged to have them in sitting-rooms, and make believe that they are
book-cases, sofas, chests of drawers, anything rather than bedsteads—was
manifest even in the pretence of dreariness that the unfortunate
entertainers themselves felt obliged in decency to put forth when they
came here.  One very agreeable professional singer, who travelled with
two professional ladies, knew better than to introduce either of those
ladies to sing the ballad ‘Comin’ through the Rye’ without prefacing it
himself, with some general remarks on wheat and clover; and even then, he
dared not for his life call the song, a song, but disguised it in the
bill as an ‘Illustration.’  In the library, also—fitted with shelves for
three thousand books, and containing upwards of one hundred and seventy
(presented copies mostly), seething their edges in damp plaster—there was
such a painfully apologetic return of 62 offenders who had read Travels,
Popular Biography, and mere Fiction descriptive of the aspirations of the
hearts and souls of mere human creatures like themselves; and such an
elaborate parade of 2 bright examples who had had down Euclid after the
day’s occupation and confinement; and 3 who had had down Metaphysics
after ditto; and I who had had down Theology after ditto; and 4 who had
worried Grammar, Political Economy, Botany, and Logarithms all at once
after ditto; that I suspected the boasted class to be one man, who had
been hired to do it.

Emerging from the Mechanics’ Institution and continuing my walk about the
town, I still noticed everywhere the prevalence, to an extraordinary
degree, of this custom of putting the natural demand for amusement out of
sight, as some untidy housekeepers put dust, and pretending that it was
swept away.  And yet it was ministered to, in a dull and abortive manner,
by all who made this feint.  Looking in at what is called in Dullborough
‘the serious bookseller’s,’ where, in my childhood, I had studied the
faces of numbers of gentlemen depicted in rostrums with a gaslight on
each side of them, and casting my eyes over the open pages of certain
printed discourses there, I found a vast deal of aiming at jocosity and
dramatic effect, even in them—yes, verily, even on the part of one very
wrathful expounder who bitterly anathematised a poor little Circus.
Similarly, in the reading provided for the young people enrolled in the
Lasso of Love, and other excellent unions, I found the writers generally
under a distressing sense that they must start (at all events) like
story-tellers, and delude the young persons into the belief that they
were going to be interesting.  As I looked in at this window for twenty
minutes by the clock, I am in a position to offer a friendly
remonstrance—not bearing on this particular point—to the designers and
engravers of the pictures in those publications.  Have they considered
the awful consequences likely to flow from their representations of
Virtue?  Have they asked themselves the question, whether the terrific
prospect of acquiring that fearful chubbiness of head, unwieldiness of
arm, feeble dislocation of leg, crispiness of hair, and enormity of
shirt-collar, which they represent as inseparable from Goodness, may not
tend to confirm sensitive waverers, in Evil?  A most impressive example
(if I had believed it) of what a Dustman and a Sailor may come to, when
they mend their ways, was presented to me in this same shop-window.  When
they were leaning (they were intimate friends) against a post, drunk and
reckless, with surpassingly bad hats on, and their hair over their
foreheads, they were rather picturesque, and looked as if they might be
agreeable men, if they would not be beasts.  But, when they had got over
their bad propensities, and when, as a consequence, their heads had
swelled alarmingly, their hair had got so curly that it lifted their
blown-out cheeks up, their coat-cuffs were so long that they never could
do any work, and their eyes were so wide open that they never could do
any sleep, they presented a spectacle calculated to plunge a timid nature
into the depths of Infamy.

But, the clock that had so degenerated since I saw it last, admonished me
that I had stayed here long enough; and I resumed my walk.

I had not gone fifty paces along the street when I was suddenly brought
up by the sight of a man who got out of a little phaeton at the doctor’s
door, and went into the doctor’s house.  Immediately, the air was filled
with the scent of trodden grass, and the perspective of years opened, and
at the end of it was a little likeness of this man keeping a wicket, and
I said, ‘God bless my soul!  Joe Specks!’

Through many changes and much work, I had preserved a tenderness for the
memory of Joe, forasmuch as we had made the acquaintance of Roderick
Random together, and had believed him to be no ruffian, but an ingenuous
and engaging hero.  Scorning to ask the boy left in the phaeton whether
it was really Joe, and scorning even to read the brass plate on the
door—so sure was I—I rang the bell and informed the servant maid that a
stranger sought audience of Mr. Specks.  Into a room, half surgery, half
study, I was shown to await his coming, and I found it, by a series of
elaborate accidents, bestrewn with testimonies to Joe.  Portrait of Mr.
Specks, bust of Mr. Specks, silver cup from grateful patient to Mr.
Specks, presentation sermon from local clergyman, dedication poem from
local poet, dinner-card from local nobleman, tract on balance of power
from local refugee, inscribed _Hommage de l’auteur à Specks_.

When my old schoolfellow came in, and I informed him with a smile that I
was not a patient, he seemed rather at a loss to perceive any reason for
smiling in connexion with that fact, and inquired to what was he to
attribute the honour?  I asked him with another smile, could he remember
me at all?  He had not (he said) that pleasure.  I was beginning to have
but a poor opinion of Mr. Specks, when he said reflectively, ‘And yet
there’s a something too.’  Upon that, I saw a boyish light in his eyes
that looked well, and I asked him if he could inform me, as a stranger
who desired to know and had not the means of reference at hand, what the
name of the young lady was, who married Mr. Random?  Upon that, he said
‘Narcissa,’ and, after staring for a moment, called me by my name, shook
me by the hand, and melted into a roar of laughter.  ‘Why, of course,
you’ll remember Lucy Green,’ he said, after we had talked a little.  ‘Of
course,’ said I.  ‘Whom do you think she married?’ said he.  ‘You?’ I
hazarded.  ‘Me,’ said Specks, ‘and you shall see her.’  So I saw her, and
she was fat, and if all the hay in the world had been heaped upon her, it
could scarcely have altered her face more than Time had altered it from
my remembrance of the face that had once looked down upon me into the
fragrant dungeons of Seringapatam.  But when her youngest child came in
after dinner (for I dined with them, and we had no other company than
Specks, Junior, Barrister-at-law, who went away as soon as the cloth was
removed, to look after the young lady to whom he was going to be married
next week), I saw again, in that little daughter, the little face of the
hayfield, unchanged, and it quite touched my foolish heart.  We talked
immensely, Specks and Mrs. Specks, and I, and we spoke of our old selves
as though our old selves were dead and gone, and indeed, indeed they
were—dead and gone as the playing-field that had become a wilderness of
rusty iron, and the property of S.E.R.

Specks, however, illuminated Dullborough with the rays of interest that I
wanted and should otherwise have missed in it, and linked its present to
its past, with a highly agreeable chain.  And in Specks’s society I had
new occasion to observe what I had before noticed in similar
communications among other men.  All the schoolfellows and others of old,
whom I inquired about, had either done superlatively well or
superlatively ill—had either become uncertificated bankrupts, or been
felonious and got themselves transported; or had made great hits in life,
and done wonders.  And this is so commonly the case, that I never can
imagine what becomes of all the mediocre people of people’s
youth—especially considering that we find no lack of the species in our
maturity.  But, I did not propound this difficulty to Specks, for no
pause in the conversation gave me an occasion.  Nor, could I discover one
single flaw in the good doctor—when he reads this, he will receive in a
friendly spirit the pleasantly meant record—except that he had forgotten
his Roderick Random, and that he confounded Strap with Lieutenant
Hatchway; who never knew Random, howsoever intimate with Pickle.

When I went alone to the Railway to catch my train at night (Specks had
meant to go with me, but was inopportunely called out), I was in a more
charitable mood with Dullborough than I had been all day; and yet in my
heart I had loved it all day too.  Ah! who was I that I should quarrel
with the town for being changed to me, when I myself had come back, so
changed, to it!  All my early readings and early imaginations dated from
this place, and I took them away so full of innocent construction and
guileless belief, and I brought them back so worn and torn, so much the
wiser and so much the worse!



XIII
NIGHT WALKS


SOME years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, referable to a
distressing impression, caused me to walk about the streets all night,
for a series of several nights.  The disorder might have taken a long
time to conquer, if it had been faintly experimented on in bed; but, it
was soon defeated by the brisk treatment of getting up directly after
lying down, and going out, and coming home tired at sunrise.

In the course of those nights, I finished my education in a fair amateur
experience of houselessness.  My principal object being to get through
the night, the pursuit of it brought me into sympathetic relations with
people who have no other object every night in the year.

The month was March, and the weather damp, cloudy, and cold.  The sun not
rising before half-past five, the night perspective looked sufficiently
long at half-past twelve: which was about my time for confronting it.

The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles and
tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first entertainments
offered to the contemplation of us houseless people.  It lasted about two
hours.  We lost a great deal of companionship when the late public-houses
turned their lamps out, and when the potmen thrust the last brawling
drunkards into the street; but stray vehicles and stray people were left
us, after that.  If we were very lucky, a policeman’s rattle sprang and a
fray turned up; but, in general, surprisingly little of this diversion
was provided.  Except in the Haymarket, which is the worst kept part of
London, and about Kent-street in the Borough, and along a portion of the
line of the Old Kent-road, the peace was seldom violently broken.  But,
it was always the case that London, as if in imitation of individual
citizens belonging to it, had expiring fits and starts of restlessness.
After all seemed quiet, if one cab rattled by, half-a-dozen would surely
follow; and Houselessness even observed that intoxicated people appeared
to be magnetically attracted towards each other; so that we knew when we
saw one drunken object staggering against the shutters of a shop, that
another drunken object would stagger up before five minutes were out, to
fraternise or fight with it.  When we made a divergence from the regular
species of drunkard, the thin-armed, puff-faced, leaden-lipped
gin-drinker, and encountered a rarer specimen of a more decent
appearance, fifty to one but that specimen was dressed in soiled
mourning.  As the street experience in the night, so the street
experience in the day; the common folk who come unexpectedly into a
little property, come unexpectedly into a deal of liquor.

At length these flickering sparks would die away, worn out—the last
veritable sparks of waking life trailed from some late pieman or
hot-potato man—and London would sink to rest.  And then the yearning of
the houseless mind would be for any sign of company, any lighted place,
any movement, anything suggestive of any one being up—nay, even so much
as awake, for the houseless eye looked out for lights in windows.

Walking the streets under the pattering rain, Houselessness would walk
and walk and walk, seeing nothing but the interminable tangle of streets,
save at a corner, here and there, two policemen in conversation, or the
sergeant or inspector looking after his men.  Now and then in the
night—but rarely—Houselessness would become aware of a furtive head
peering out of a doorway a few yards before him, and, coming up with the
head, would find a man standing bolt upright to keep within the doorway’s
shadow, and evidently intent upon no particular service to society.
Under a kind of fascination, and in a ghostly silence suitable to the
time, Houselessness and this gentleman would eye one another from head to
foot, and so, without exchange of speech, part, mutually suspicious.
Drip, drip, drip, from ledge and coping, splash from pipes and
water-spouts, and by-and-by the houseless shadow would fall upon the
stones that pave the way to Waterloo-bridge; it being in the houseless
mind to have a halfpenny worth of excuse for saying ‘Good-night’ to the
toll-keeper, and catching a glimpse of his fire.  A good fire and a good
great-coat and a good woollen neck-shawl, were comfortable things to see
in conjunction with the toll-keeper; also his brisk wakefulness was
excellent company when he rattled the change of halfpence down upon that
metal table of his, like a man who defied the night, with all its
sorrowful thoughts, and didn’t care for the coming of dawn.  There was
need of encouragement on the threshold of the bridge, for the bridge was
dreary.  The chopped-up murdered man, had not been lowered with a rope
over the parapet when those nights were; he was alive, and slept then
quietly enough most likely, and undisturbed by any dream of where he was
to come.  But the river had an awful look, the buildings on the banks
were muffled in black shrouds, and the reflected lights seemed to
originate deep in the water, as if the spectres of suicides were holding
them to show where they went down.  The wild moon and clouds were as
restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of
the immensity of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river.

Between the bridge and the two great theatres, there was but the distance
of a few hundred paces, so the theatres came next.  Grim and black
within, at night, those great dry Wells, and lonesome to imagine, with
the rows of faces faded out, the lights extinguished, and the seats all
empty.  One would think that nothing in them knew itself at such a time
but Yorick’s skull.  In one of my night walks, as the church steeples
were shaking the March winds and rain with the strokes of Four, I passed
the outer boundary of one of these great deserts, and entered it.  With a
dim lantern in my hand, I groped my well-known way to the stage and
looked over the orchestra—which was like a great grave dug for a time of
pestilence—into the void beyond.  A dismal cavern of an immense aspect,
with the chandelier gone dead like everything else, and nothing visible
through mist and fog and space, but tiers of winding-sheets.  The ground
at my feet where, when last there, I had seen the peasantry of Naples
dancing among the vines, reckless of the burning mountain which
threatened to overwhelm them, was now in possession of a strong serpent
of engine-hose, watchfully lying in wait for the serpent Fire, and ready
to fly at it if it showed its forked tongue.  A ghost of a watchman,
carrying a faint corpse candle, haunted the distant upper gallery and
flitted away.  Retiring within the proscenium, and holding my light above
my head towards the rolled-up curtain—green no more, but black as
ebony—my sight lost itself in a gloomy vault, showing faint indications
in it of a shipwreck of canvas and cordage.  Methought I felt much as a
diver might, at the bottom of the sea.

In those small hours when there was no movement in the streets, it
afforded matter for reflection to take Newgate in the way, and, touching
its rough stone, to think of the prisoners in their sleep, and then to
glance in at the lodge over the spiked wicket, and see the fire and light
of the watching turnkeys, on the white wall.  Not an inappropriate time
either, to linger by that wicked little Debtors’ Door—shutting tighter
than any other door one ever saw—which has been Death’s Door to so many.
In the days of the uttering of forged one-pound notes by people tempted
up from the country, how many hundreds of wretched creatures of both
sexes—many quite innocent—swung out of a pitiless and inconsistent world,
with the tower of yonder Christian church of Saint Sepulchre monstrously
before their eyes!  Is there any haunting of the Bank Parlour, by the
remorseful souls of old directors, in the nights of these later days, I
wonder, or is it as quiet as this degenerate Aceldama of an Old Bailey?

To walk on to the Bank, lamenting the good old times and bemoaning the
present evil period, would be an easy next step, so I would take it, and
would make my houseless circuit of the Bank, and give a thought to the
treasure within; likewise to the guard of soldiers passing the night
there, and nodding over the fire.  Next, I went to Billingsgate, in some
hope of market-people, but it proving as yet too early, crossed
London-bridge and got down by the water-side on the Surrey shore among
the buildings of the great brewery.  There was plenty going on at the
brewery; and the reek, and the smell of grains, and the rattling of the
plump dray horses at their mangers, were capital company.  Quite
refreshed by having mingled with this good society, I made a new start
with a new heart, setting the old King’s Bench prison before me for my
next object, and resolving, when I should come to the wall, to think of
poor Horace Kinch, and the Dry Rot in men.

A very curious disease the Dry Rot in men, and difficult to detect the
beginning of.  It had carried Horace Kinch inside the wall of the old
King’s Bench prison, and it had carried him out with his feet foremost.
He was a likely man to look at, in the prime of life, well to do, as
clever as he needed to be, and popular among many friends.  He was
suitably married, and had healthy and pretty children.  But, like some
fair-looking houses or fair-looking ships, he took the Dry Rot.  The
first strong external revelation of the Dry Rot in men, is a tendency to
lurk and lounge; to be at street-corners without intelligible reason; to
be going anywhere when met; to be about many places rather than at any;
to do nothing tangible, but to have an intention of performing a variety
of intangible duties to-morrow or the day after.  When this manifestation
of the disease is observed, the observer will usually connect it with a
vague impression once formed or received, that the patient was living a
little too hard.  He will scarcely have had leisure to turn it over in
his mind and form the terrible suspicion ‘Dry Rot,’ when he will notice a
change for the worse in the patient’s appearance: a certain slovenliness
and deterioration, which is not poverty, nor dirt, nor intoxication, nor
ill-health, but simply Dry Rot.  To this, succeeds a smell as of strong
waters, in the morning; to that, a looseness respecting money; to that, a
stronger smell as of strong waters, at all times; to that, a looseness
respecting everything; to that, a trembling of the limbs, somnolency,
misery, and crumbling to pieces.  As it is in wood, so it is in men.  Dry
Rot advances at a compound usury quite incalculable.  A plank is found
infected with it, and the whole structure is devoted.  Thus it had been
with the unhappy Horace Kinch, lately buried by a small subscription.
Those who knew him had not nigh done saying, ‘So well off, so comfortably
established, with such hope before him—and yet, it is feared, with a
slight touch of Dry Rot!’ when lo! the man was all Dry Rot and dust.

From the dead wall associated on those houseless nights with this too
common story, I chose next to wander by Bethlehem Hospital; partly,
because it lay on my road round to Westminster; partly, because I had a
night fancy in my head which could be best pursued within sight of its
walls and dome.  And the fancy was this: Are not the sane and the insane
equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming?  Are not all of us outside
this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside
it, every night of our lives?  Are we not nightly persuaded, as they
daily are, that we associate preposterously with kings and queens,
emperors and empresses, and notabilities of all sorts?  Do we not nightly
jumble events and personages and times and places, as these do daily?
Are we not sometimes troubled by our own sleeping inconsistencies, and do
we not vexedly try to account for them or excuse them, just as these do
sometimes in respect of their waking delusions?  Said an afflicted man to
me, when I was last in a hospital like this, ‘Sir, I can frequently fly.’
I was half ashamed to reflect that so could I—by night.  Said a woman to
me on the same occasion, ‘Queen Victoria frequently comes to dine with
me, and her Majesty and I dine off peaches and maccaroni in our
night-gowns, and his Royal Highness the Prince Consort does us the honour
to make a third on horseback in a Field-Marshal’s uniform.’  Could I
refrain from reddening with consciousness when I remembered the amazing
royal parties I myself had given (at night), the unaccountable viands I
had put on table, and my extraordinary manner of conducting myself on
those distinguished occasions?  I wonder that the great master who knew
everything, when he called Sleep the death of each day’s life, did not
call Dreams the insanity of each day’s sanity.

By this time I had left the Hospital behind me, and was again setting
towards the river; and in a short breathing space I was on
Westminster-bridge, regaling my houseless eyes with the external walls of
the British Parliament—the perfection of a stupendous institution, I
know, and the admiration of all surrounding nations and succeeding ages,
I do not doubt, but perhaps a little the better now and then for being
pricked up to its work.  Turning off into Old Palace-yard, the Courts of
Law kept me company for a quarter of an hour; hinting in low whispers
what numbers of people they were keeping awake, and how intensely
wretched and horrible they were rendering the small hours to unfortunate
suitors.  Westminster Abbey was fine gloomy society for another quarter
of an hour; suggesting a wonderful procession of its dead among the dark
arches and pillars, each century more amazed by the century following it
than by all the centuries going before.  And indeed in those houseless
night walks—which even included cemeteries where watchmen went round
among the graves at stated times, and moved the tell-tale handle of an
index which recorded that they had touched it at such an hour—it was a
solemn consideration what enormous hosts of dead belong to one old great
city, and how, if they were raised while the living slept, there would
not be the space of a pin’s point in all the streets and ways for the
living to come out into.  Not only that, but the vast armies of dead
would overflow the hills and valleys beyond the city, and would stretch
away all round it, God knows how far.

When a church clock strikes, on houseless ears in the dead of the night,
it may be at first mistaken for company and hailed as such.  But, as the
spreading circles of vibration, which you may perceive at such a time
with great clearness, go opening out, for ever and ever afterwards
widening perhaps (as the philosopher has suggested) in eternal space, the
mistake is rectified and the sense of loneliness is profounder.  Once—it
was after leaving the Abbey and turning my face north—I came to the great
steps of St. Martin’s church as the clock was striking Three.  Suddenly,
a thing that in a moment more I should have trodden upon without seeing,
rose up at my feet with a cry of loneliness and houselessness, struck out
of it by the bell, the like of which I never heard.  We then stood face
to face looking at one another, frightened by one another.  The creature
was like a beetle-browed hair-lipped youth of twenty, and it had a loose
bundle of rags on, which it held together with one of its hands.  It
shivered from head to foot, and its teeth chattered, and as it stared at
me—persecutor, devil, ghost, whatever it thought me—it made with its
whining mouth as if it were snapping at me, like a worried dog.
Intending to give this ugly object money, I put out my hand to stay
it—for it recoiled as it whined and snapped—and laid my hand upon its
shoulder.  Instantly, it twisted out of its garment, like the young man
in the New Testament, and left me standing alone with its rags in my
hands.

Covent-garden Market, when it was market morning, was wonderful company.
The great waggons of cabbages, with growers’ men and boys lying asleep
under them, and with sharp dogs from market-garden neighbourhoods looking
after the whole, were as good as a party.  But one of the worst night
sights I know in London, is to be found in the children who prowl about
this place; who sleep in the baskets, fight for the offal, dart at any
object they think they can lay their their thieving hands on, dive under
the carts and barrows, dodge the constables, and are perpetually making a
blunt pattering on the pavement of the Piazza with the rain of their
naked feet.  A painful and unnatural result comes of the comparison one
is forced to institute between the growth of corruption as displayed in
the so much improved and cared for fruits of the earth, and the growth of
corruption as displayed in these all uncared for (except inasmuch as
ever-hunted) savages.

There was early coffee to be got about Covent-garden Market, and that was
more company—warm company, too, which was better.  Toast of a very
substantial quality, was likewise procurable: though the towzled-headed
man who made it, in an inner chamber within the coffee-room, hadn’t got
his coat on yet, and was so heavy with sleep that in every interval of
toast and coffee he went off anew behind the partition into complicated
cross-roads of choke and snore, and lost his way directly.  Into one of
these establishments (among the earliest) near Bow-street, there came one
morning as I sat over my houseless cup, pondering where to go next, a man
in a high and long snuff-coloured coat, and shoes, and, to the best of my
belief, nothing else but a hat, who took out of his hat a large cold meat
pudding; a meat pudding so large that it was a very tight fit, and
brought the lining of the hat out with it.  This mysterious man was known
by his pudding, for on his entering, the man of sleep brought him a pint
of hot tea, a small loaf, and a large knife and fork and plate.  Left to
himself in his box, he stood the pudding on the bare table, and, instead
of cutting it, stabbed it, overhand, with the knife, like a mortal enemy;
then took the knife out, wiped it on his sleeve, tore the pudding asunder
with his fingers, and ate it all up.  The remembrance of this man with
the pudding remains with me as the remembrance of the most spectral
person my houselessness encountered.  Twice only was I in that
establishment, and twice I saw him stalk in (as I should say, just out of
bed, and presently going back to bed), take out his pudding, stab his
pudding, wipe the dagger, and eat his pudding all up.  He was a man whose
figure promised cadaverousness, but who had an excessively red face,
though shaped like a horse’s.  On the second occasion of my seeing him,
he said huskily to the man of sleep, ‘Am I red to-night?’  ‘You are,’ he
uncompromisingly answered.  ‘My mother,’ said the spectre, ‘was a
red-faced woman that liked drink, and I looked at her hard when she laid
in her coffin, and I took the complexion.’  Somehow, the pudding seemed
an unwholesome pudding after that, and I put myself in its way no more.

When there was no market, or when I wanted variety, a railway terminus
with the morning mails coming in, was remunerative company.  But like
most of the company to be had in this world, it lasted only a very short
time.  The station lamps would burst out ablaze, the porters would emerge
from places of concealment, the cabs and trucks would rattle to their
places (the post-office carts were already in theirs), and, finally, the
bell would strike up, and the train would come banging in.  But there
were few passengers and little luggage, and everything scuttled away with
the greatest expedition.  The locomotive post-offices, with their great
nets—as if they had been dragging the country for bodies—would fly open
as to their doors, and would disgorge a smell of lamp, an exhausted
clerk, a guard in a red coat, and their bags of letters; the engine would
blow and heave and perspire, like an engine wiping its forehead and
saying what a run it had had; and within ten minutes the lamps were out,
and I was houseless and alone again.

But now, there were driven cattle on the high road near, wanting (as
cattle always do) to turn into the midst of stone walls, and squeeze
themselves through six inches’ width of iron railing, and getting their
heads down (also as cattle always do) for tossing-purchase at quite
imaginary dogs, and giving themselves and every devoted creature
associated with them a most extraordinary amount of unnecessary trouble.
Now, too, the conscious gas began to grow pale with the knowledge that
daylight was coming, and straggling workpeople were already in the
streets, and, as waking life had become extinguished with the last
pieman’s sparks, so it began to be rekindled with the fires of the first
street-corner breakfast-sellers.  And so by faster and faster degrees,
until the last degrees were very fast, the day came, and I was tired and
could sleep.  And it is not, as I used to think, going home at such
times, the least wonderful thing in London, that in the real desert
region of the night, the houseless wanderer is alone there.  I knew well
enough where to find Vice and Misfortune of all kinds, if I had chosen;
but they were put out of sight, and my houselessness had many miles upon
miles of streets in which it could, and did, have its own solitary way.



XIV
CHAMBERS


HAVING occasion to transact some business with a solicitor who occupies a
highly suicidal set of chambers in Gray’s Inn, I afterwards took a turn
in the large square of that stronghold of Melancholy, reviewing, with
congenial surroundings, my experiences of Chambers.

I began, as was natural, with the Chambers I had just left.  They were an
upper set on a rotten staircase, with a mysterious bunk or bulkhead on
the landing outside them, of a rather nautical and Screw Collier-like
appearance than otherwise, and painted an intense black.  Many dusty
years have passed since the appropriation of this Davy Jones’s locker to
any purpose, and during the whole period within the memory of living man,
it has been hasped and padlocked.  I cannot quite satisfy my mind whether
it was originally meant for the reception of coals, or bodies, or as a
place of temporary security for the plunder ‘looted’ by laundresses; but
I incline to the last opinion.  It is about breast high, and usually
serves as a bulk for defendants in reduced circumstances to lean against
and ponder at, when they come on the hopeful errand of trying to make an
arrangement without money—under which auspicious circumstances it mostly
happens that the legal gentleman they want to see, is much engaged, and
they pervade the staircase for a considerable period.  Against this
opposing bulk, in the absurdest manner, the tomb-like outer door of the
solicitor’s chambers (which is also of an intense black) stands in dark
ambush, half open, and half shut, all day.  The solicitor’s apartments
are three in number; consisting of a slice, a cell, and a wedge.  The
slice is assigned to the two clerks, the cell is occupied by the
principal, and the wedge is devoted to stray papers, old game baskets
from the country, a washing-stand, and a model of a patent Ship’s Caboose
which was exhibited in Chancery at the commencement of the present
century on an application for an injunction to restrain infringement.  At
about half-past nine on every week-day morning, the younger of the two
clerks (who, I have reason to believe, leads the fashion at Pentonville
in the articles of pipes and shirts) may be found knocking the dust out
of his official door-key on the bunk or locker before mentioned; and so
exceedingly subject to dust is his key, and so very retentive of that
superfluity, that in exceptional summer weather when a ray of sunlight
has fallen on the locker in my presence, I have noticed its inexpressive
countenance to be deeply marked by a kind of Bramah erysipelas or
small-pox.

This set of chambers (as I have gradually discovered, when I have had
restless occasion to make inquiries or leave messages, after office
hours) is under the charge of a lady named Sweeney, in figure extremely
like an old family-umbrella: whose dwelling confronts a dead wall in a
court off Gray’s Inn-lane, and who is usually fetched into the passage of
that bower, when wanted, from some neighbouring home of industry, which
has the curious property of imparting an inflammatory appearance to her
visage.  Mrs. Sweeney is one of the race of professed laundresses, and is
the compiler of a remarkable manuscript volume entitled ‘Mrs. Sweeney’s
Book,’ from which much curious statistical information may be gathered
respecting the high prices and small uses of soda, soap, sand, firewood,
and other such articles.  I have created a legend in my mind—and
consequently I believe it with the utmost pertinacity—that the late Mr.
Sweeney was a ticket-porter under the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn,
and that, in consideration of his long and valuable services, Mrs.
Sweeney was appointed to her present post.  For, though devoid of
personal charms, I have observed this lady to exercise a fascination over
the elderly ticker-porter mind (particularly under the gateway, and in
corners and entries), which I can only refer to her being one of the
fraternity, yet not competing with it.  All that need be said concerning
this set of chambers, is said, when I have added that it is in a large
double house in Gray’s Inn-square, very much out of repair, and that the
outer portal is ornamented in a hideous manner with certain stone
remains, which have the appearance of the dismembered bust, torso, and
limbs of a petrified bencher.

Indeed, I look upon Gray’s Inn generally as one of the most depressing
institutions in brick and mortar, known to the children of men.  Can
anything be more dreary than its arid Square, Sahara Desert of the law,
with the ugly old tiled-topped tenements, the dirty windows, the bills To
Let, To Let, the door-posts inscribed like gravestones, the crazy gateway
giving upon the filthy Lane, the scowling, iron-barred prison-like
passage into Verulam-buildings, the mouldy red-nosed ticket-porters with
little coffin plates, and why with aprons, the dry, hard, atomy-like
appearance of the whole dust-heap?  When my uncommercial travels tend to
this dismal spot, my comfort is its rickety state.  Imagination gloats
over the fulness of time when the staircases shall have quite tumbled
down—they are daily wearing into an ill-savoured powder, but have not
quite tumbled down yet—when the last old prolix bencher all of the olden
time, shall have been got out of an upper window by means of a Fire
Ladder, and carried off to the Holborn Union; when the last clerk shall
have engrossed the last parchment behind the last splash on the last of
the mud-stained windows, which, all through the miry year, are pilloried
out of recognition in Gray’s Inn-lane.  Then, shall a squalid little
trench, with rank grass and a pump in it, lying between the coffee-house
and South-square, be wholly given up to cats and rats, and not, as now,
have its empire divided between those animals and a few briefless
bipeds—surely called to the Bar by voices of deceiving spirits, seeing
that they are wanted there by no mortal—who glance down, with eyes better
glazed than their casements, from their dreary and lacklustre rooms.
Then shall the way Nor’ Westward, now lying under a short grim colonnade
where in summer-time pounce flies from law-stationering windows into the
eyes of laymen, be choked with rubbish and happily become impassable.
Then shall the gardens where turf, trees, and gravel wear a legal livery
of black, run rank, and pilgrims go to Gorhambury to see Bacon’s effigy
as he sat, and not come here (which in truth they seldom do) to see where
he walked.  Then, in a word, shall the old-established vendor of
periodicals sit alone in his little crib of a shop behind the Holborn
Gate, like that lumbering Marius among the ruins of Carthage, who has sat
heavy on a thousand million of similes.

At one period of my uncommercial career I much frequented another set of
chambers in Gray’s Inn-square.  They were what is familiarly called ‘a
top set,’ and all the eatables and drinkables introduced into them
acquired a flavour of Cockloft.  I have known an unopened Strasbourg pâté
fresh from Fortnum and Mason’s, to draw in this cockloft tone through its
crockery dish, and become penetrated with cockloft to the core of its
inmost truffle in three-quarters of an hour.  This, however, was not the
most curious feature of those chambers; that, consisted in the profound
conviction entertained by my esteemed friend Parkle (their tenant) that
they were clean.  Whether it was an inborn hallucination, or whether it
was imparted to him by Mrs. Miggot the laundress, I never could
ascertain.  But, I believe he would have gone to the stake upon the
question.  Now, they were so dirty that I could take off the distinctest
impression of my figure on any article of furniture by merely lounging
upon it for a few moments; and it used to be a private amusement of mine
to print myself off—if I may use the expression—all over the rooms.  It
was the first large circulation I had.  At other times I have
accidentally shaken a window curtain while in animated conversation with
Parkle, and struggling insects which were certainly red, and were
certainly not ladybirds, have dropped on the back of my hand.  Yet Parkle
lived in that top set years, bound body and soul to the superstition that
they were clean.  He used to say, when congratulated upon them, ‘Well,
they are not like chambers in one respect, you know; they are clean.’
Concurrently, he had an idea which he could never explain, that Mrs.
Miggot was in some way connected with the Church.  When he was in
particularly good spirits, he used to believe that a deceased uncle of
hers had been a Dean; when he was poorly and low, he believed that her
brother had been a Curate.  I and Mrs. Miggot (she was a genteel woman)
were on confidential terms, but I never knew her to commit herself to any
distinct assertion on the subject; she merely claimed a proprietorship in
the Church, by looking when it was mentioned, as if the reference
awakened the slumbering Past, and were personal.  It may have been his
amiable confidence in Mrs. Miggot’s better days that inspired my friend
with his delusion respecting the chambers, but he never wavered in his
fidelity to it for a moment, though he wallowed in dirt seven years.

Two of the windows of these chambers looked down into the garden; and we
have sat up there together many a summer evening, saying how pleasant it
was, and talking of many things.  To my intimacy with that top set, I am
indebted for three of my liveliest personal impressions of the loneliness
of life in chambers.  They shall follow here, in order; first, second,
and third.

First.  My Gray’s Inn friend, on a time, hurt one of his legs, and it
became seriously inflamed.  Not knowing of his indisposition, I was on my
way to visit him as usual, one summer evening, when I was much surprised
by meeting a lively leech in Field-court, Gray’s Inn, seemingly on his
way to the West End of London.  As the leech was alone, and was of course
unable to explain his position, even if he had been inclined to do so
(which he had not the appearance of being), I passed him and went on.
Turning the corner of Gray’s Inn-square, I was beyond expression amazed
by meeting another leech—also entirely alone, and also proceeding in a
westerly direction, though with less decision of purpose.  Ruminating on
this extraordinary circumstance, and endeavouring to remember whether I
had ever read, in the Philosophical Transactions or any work on Natural
History, of a migration of Leeches, I ascended to the top set, past the
dreary series of closed outer doors of offices and an empty set or two,
which intervened between that lofty region and the surface.  Entering my
friend’s rooms, I found him stretched upon his back, like Prometheus
Bound, with a perfectly demented ticket-porter in attendance on him
instead of the Vulture: which helpless individual, who was feeble and
frightened, and had (my friend explained to me, in great choler) been
endeavouring for some hours to apply leeches to his leg, and as yet had
only got on two out of twenty.  To this Unfortunate’s distraction between
a damp cloth on which he had placed the leeches to freshen them, and the
wrathful adjurations of my friend to ‘Stick ’em on, sir!’ I referred the
phenomenon I had encountered: the rather as two fine specimens were at
that moment going out at the door, while a general insurrection of the
rest was in progress on the table.  After a while our united efforts
prevailed, and, when the leeches came off and had recovered their
spirits, we carefully tied them up in a decanter.  But I never heard more
of them than that they were all gone next morning, and that the
Out-of-door young man of Bickle, Bush and Bodger, on the ground floor,
had been bitten and blooded by some creature not identified.  They never
‘took’ on Mrs. Miggot, the laundress; but, I have always preserved fresh,
the belief that she unconsciously carried several about her, until they
gradually found openings in life.

Second.  On the same staircase with my friend Parkle, and on the same
floor, there lived a man of law who pursued his business elsewhere, and
used those chambers as his place of residence.  For three or four years,
Parkle rather knew of him than knew him, but after that—for
Englishmen—short pause of consideration, they began to speak.  Parkle
exchanged words with him in his private character only, and knew nothing
of his business ways, or means.  He was a man a good deal about town, but
always alone.  We used to remark to one another, that although we often
encountered him in theatres, concert-rooms, and similar public places, he
was always alone.  Yet he was not a gloomy man, and was of a decidedly
conversational turn; insomuch that he would sometimes of an evening
lounge with a cigar in his mouth, half in and half out of Parkle’s rooms,
and discuss the topics of the day by the hour.  He used to hint on these
occasions that he had four faults to find with life; firstly, that it
obliged a man to be always winding up his watch; secondly, that London
was too small; thirdly, that it therefore wanted variety; fourthly, that
there was too much dust in it.  There was so much dust in his own faded
chambers, certainly, that they reminded me of a sepulchre, furnished in
prophetic anticipation of the present time, which had newly been brought
to light, after having remained buried a few thousand years.  One dry,
hot autumn evening at twilight, this man, being then five years turned of
fifty, looked in upon Parkle in his usual lounging way, with his cigar in
his mouth as usual, and said, ‘I am going out of town.’  As he never went
out of town, Parkle said, ‘Oh indeed!  At last?’  ‘Yes,’ says he, ‘at
last.  For what is a man to do?  London is so small!  If you go West, you
come to Hounslow.  If you go East, you come to Bow.  If you go South,
there’s Brixton or Norwood.  If you go North, you can’t get rid of
Barnet.  Then, the monotony of all the streets, streets, streets—and of
all the roads, roads, roads—and the dust, dust, dust!’  When he had said
this, he wished Parkle a good evening, but came back again and said, with
his watch in his hand, ‘Oh, I really cannot go on winding up this watch
over and over again; I wish you would take care of it.’  So, Parkle
laughed and consented, and the man went out of town.  The man remained
out of town so long, that his letter-box became choked, and no more
letters could be got into it, and they began to be left at the lodge and
to accumulate there.  At last the head-porter decided, on conference with
the steward, to use his master-key and look into the chambers, and give
them the benefit of a whiff of air.  Then, it was found that he had
hanged himself to his bedstead, and had left this written memorandum: ‘I
should prefer to be cut down by my neighbour and friend (if he will allow
me to call him so), H. Parkle, Esq.’  This was an end of Parkle’s
occupancy of chambers.  He went into lodgings immediately.

Third.  While Parkle lived in Gray’s Inn, and I myself was uncommercially
preparing for the Bar—which is done, as everybody knows, by having a
frayed old gown put on in a pantry by an old woman in a chronic state of
Saint Anthony’s fire and dropsy, and, so decorated, bolting a bad dinner
in a party of four, whereof each individual mistrusts the other three—I
say, while these things were, there was a certain elderly gentleman who
lived in a court of the Temple, and was a great judge and lover of port
wine.  Every day he dined at his club and drank his bottle or two of port
wine, and every night came home to the Temple and went to bed in his
lonely chambers.  This had gone on many years without variation, when one
night he had a fit on coming home, and fell and cut his head deep, but
partly recovered and groped about in the dark to find the door.  When he
was afterwards discovered, dead, it was clearly established by the marks
of his hands about the room that he must have done so.  Now, this chanced
on the night of Christmas Eve, and over him lived a young fellow who had
sisters and young country friends, and who gave them a little party that
night, in the course of which they played at Blindman’s Buff.  They
played that game, for their greater sport, by the light of the fire only;
and once, when they were all quietly rustling and stealing about, and the
blindman was trying to pick out the prettiest sister (for which I am far
from blaming him), somebody cried, Hark!  The man below must be playing
Blindman’s Buff by himself to-night!  They listened, and they heard
sounds of some one falling about and stumbling against furniture, and
they all laughed at the conceit, and went on with their play, more
light-hearted and merry than ever.  Thus, those two so different games of
life and death were played out together, blindfolded, in the two sets of
chambers.

Such are the occurrences, which, coming to my knowledge, imbued me long
ago with a strong sense of the loneliness of chambers.  There was a
fantastic illustration to much the same purpose implicitly believed by a
strange sort of man now dead, whom I knew when I had not quite arrived at
legal years of discretion, though I was already in the uncommercial line.

This was a man who, though not more than thirty, had seen the world in
divers irreconcilable capacities—had been an officer in a South American
regiment among other odd things—but had not achieved much in any way of
life, and was in debt, and in hiding.  He occupied chambers of the
dreariest nature in Lyons Inn; his name, however, was not up on the door,
or door-post, but in lieu of it stood the name of a friend who had died
in the chambers, and had given him the furniture.  The story arose out of
the furniture, and was to this effect:—Let the former holder of the
chambers, whose name was still upon the door and door-post, be Mr.
Testator.

Mr. Testator took a set of chambers in Lyons Inn when he had but very
scanty furniture for his bedroom, and none for his sitting-room.  He had
lived some wintry months in this condition, and had found it very bare
and cold.  One night, past midnight, when he sat writing and still had
writing to do that must be done before he went to bed, he found himself
out of coals.  He had coals down-stairs, but had never been to his
cellar; however the cellar-key was on his mantelshelf, and if he went
down and opened the cellar it fitted, he might fairly assume the coals in
that cellar to be his.  As to his laundress, she lived among the
coal-waggons and Thames watermen—for there were Thames watermen at that
time—in some unknown rat-hole by the river, down lanes and alleys on the
other side of the Strand.  As to any other person to meet him or obstruct
him, Lyons Inn was dreaming, drunk, maudlin, moody, betting, brooding
over bill-discounting or renewing—asleep or awake, minding its own
affairs.  Mr. Testator took his coal-scuttle in one hand, his candle and
key in the other, and descended to the dismallest underground dens of
Lyons Inn, where the late vehicles in the streets became thunderous, and
all the water-pipes in the neighbourhood seemed to have Macbeth’s Amen
sticking in their throats, and to be trying to get it out.  After groping
here and there among low doors to no purpose, Mr. Testator at length came
to a door with a rusty padlock which his key fitted.  Getting the door
open with much trouble, and looking in, he found, no coals, but a
confused pile of furniture.  Alarmed by this intrusion on another man’s
property, he locked the door again, found his own cellar, filled his
scuttle, and returned up-stairs.

But the furniture he had seen, ran on castors across and across Mr.
Testator’s mind incessantly, when, in the chill hour of five in the
morning, he got to bed.  He particularly wanted a table to write at, and
a table expressly made to be written at, had been the piece of furniture
in the foreground of the heap.  When his laundress emerged from her
burrow in the morning to make his kettle boil, he artfully led up to the
subject of cellars and furniture; but the two ideas had evidently no
connexion in her mind.  When she left him, and he sat at his breakfast,
thinking about the furniture, he recalled the rusty state of the padlock,
and inferred that the furniture must have been stored in the cellars for
a long time—was perhaps forgotten—owner dead, perhaps?  After thinking it
over, a few days, in the course of which he could pump nothing out of
Lyons Inn about the furniture, he became desperate, and resolved to
borrow that table.  He did so, that night.  He had not had the table
long, when he determined to borrow an easy-chair; he had not had that
long, when he made up his mind to borrow a bookcase; then, a couch; then,
a carpet and rug.  By that time, he felt he was ‘in furniture stepped in
so far,’ as that it could be no worse to borrow it all.  Consequently, he
borrowed it all, and locked up the cellar for good.  He had always locked
it, after every visit.  He had carried up every separate article in the
dead of the night, and, at the best, had felt as wicked as a Resurrection
Man.  Every article was blue and furry when brought into his rooms, and
he had had, in a murderous and guilty sort of way, to polish it up while
London slept.

Mr. Testator lived in his furnished chambers two or three years, or more,
and gradually lulled himself into the opinion that the furniture was his
own.  This was his convenient state of mind when, late one night, a step
came up the stairs, and a hand passed over his door feeling for his
knocker, and then one deep and solemn rap was rapped that might have been
a spring in Mr. Testator’s easy-chair to shoot him out of it; so promptly
was it attended with that effect.

With a candle in his hand, Mr. Testator went to the door, and found
there, a very pale and very tall man; a man who stooped; a man with very
high shoulders, a very narrow chest, and a very red nose; a
shabby-genteel man.  He was wrapped in a long thread-bare black coat,
fastened up the front with more pins than buttons, and under his arm he
squeezed an umbrella without a handle, as if he were playing bagpipes.
He said, ‘I ask your pardon, but can you tell me—’ and stopped; his eyes
resting on some object within the chambers.

‘Can I tell you what?’ asked Mr. Testator, noting his stoppage with quick
alarm.

‘I ask your pardon,’ said the stranger, ‘but—this is not the inquiry I
was going to make—_do_ I see in there, any small article of property
belonging to _me_?’

Mr. Testator was beginning to stammer that he was not aware—when the
visitor slipped past him, into the chambers.  There, in a goblin way
which froze Mr. Testator to the marrow, he examined, first, the
writing-table, and said, ‘Mine;’ then, the easy-chair, and said, ‘Mine;’
then, the bookcase, and said, ‘Mine;’ then, turned up a corner of the
carpet, and said, ‘Mine!’ in a word, inspected every item of furniture
from the cellar, in succession, and said, ‘Mine!’  Towards the end of
this investigation, Mr. Testator perceived that he was sodden with
liquor, and that the liquor was gin.  He was not unsteady with gin,
either in his speech or carriage; but he was stiff with gin in both
particulars.

Mr. Testator was in a dreadful state, for (according to his making out of
the story) the possible consequences of what he had done in recklessness
and hardihood, flashed upon him in their fulness for the first time.
When they had stood gazing at one another for a little while, he
tremulously began:

‘Sir, I am conscious that the fullest explanation, compensation, and
restitution, are your due.  They shall be yours.  Allow me to entreat
that, without temper, without even natural irritation on your part, we
may have a little—’

‘Drop of something to drink,’ interposed the stranger.  ‘I am agreeable.’

Mr. Testator had intended to say, ‘a little quiet conversation,’ but with
great relief of mind adopted the amendment.  He produced a decanter of
gin, and was bustling about for hot water and sugar, when he found that
his visitor had already drunk half of the decanter’s contents.  With hot
water and sugar the visitor drank the remainder before he had been an
hour in the chambers by the chimes of the church of St. Mary in the
Strand; and during the process he frequently whispered to himself,
‘Mine!’

The gin gone, and Mr. Testator wondering what was to follow it, the
visitor rose and said, with increased stiffness, ‘At what hour of the
morning, sir, will it be convenient?’  Mr. Testator hazarded, ‘At ten?’
‘Sir,’ said the visitor, ‘at ten, to the moment, I shall be here.’  He
then contemplated Mr. Testator somewhat at leisure, and said, ‘God bless
you!  How is your wife?’  Mr. Testator (who never had a wife) replied
with much feeling, ‘Deeply anxious, poor soul, but otherwise well.’  The
visitor thereupon turned and went away, and fell twice in going
down-stairs.  From that hour he was never heard of.  Whether he was a
ghost, or a spectral illusion of conscience, or a drunken man who had no
business there, or the drunken rightful owner of the furniture, with a
transitory gleam of memory; whether he got safe home, or had no time to
get to; whether he died of liquor on the way, or lived in liquor ever
afterwards; he never was heard of more.  This was the story, received
with the furniture and held to be as substantial, by its second possessor
in an upper set of chambers in grim Lyons Inn.

It is to be remarked of chambers in general, that they must have been
built for chambers, to have the right kind of loneliness.  You may make a
great dwelling-house very lonely, but isolating suites of rooms and
calling them chambers, but you cannot make the true kind of loneliness.
In dwelling-houses, there have been family festivals; children have grown
in them, girls have bloomed into women in them, courtships and marriages
have taken place in them.  True chambers never were young, childish,
maidenly; never had dolls in them, or rocking-horses, or christenings, or
betrothals, or little coffins.  Let Gray’s Inn identify the child who
first touched hands and hearts with Robinson Crusoe, in any one of its
many ‘sets,’ and that child’s little statue, in white marble with a
golden inscription, shall be at its service, at my cost and charge, as a
drinking fountain for the spirit, to freshen its thirsty square.  Let
Lincoln’s produce from all its houses, a twentieth of the procession
derivable from any dwelling-house one-twentieth of its age, of fair young
brides who married for love and hope, not settlements, and all the
Vice-Chancellors shall thenceforward be kept in nosegays for nothing, on
application to the writer hereof.  It is not denied that on the terrace
of the Adelphi, or in any of the streets of that
subterranean-stable-haunted spot, or about Bedford-row, or James-street
of that ilk (a grewsome place), or anywhere among the neighbourhoods that
have done flowering and have run to seed, you may find Chambers replete
with the accommodations of Solitude, Closeness, and Darkness, where you
may be as low-spirited as in the genuine article, and might be as easily
murdered, with the placid reputation of having merely gone down to the
sea-side.  But, the many waters of life did run musical in those dry
channels once;—among the Inns, never.  The only popular legend known in
relation to any one of the dull family of Inns, is a dark Old Bailey
whisper concerning Clement’s, and importing how the black creature who
holds the sun-dial there, was a negro who slew his master and built the
dismal pile out of the contents of his strong box—for which architectural
offence alone he ought to have been condemned to live in it.  But, what
populace would waste fancy upon such a place, or on New Inn, Staple Inn,
Barnard’s Inn, or any of the shabby crew?

The genuine laundress, too, is an institution not to be had in its
entirety out of and away from the genuine Chambers.  Again, it is not
denied that you may be robbed elsewhere.  Elsewhere you may have—for
money—dishonesty, drunkenness, dirt, laziness, and profound incapacity.
But the veritable shining-red-faced shameless laundress; the true Mrs.
Sweeney—in figure, colour, texture, and smell, like the old damp family
umbrella; the tip-top complicated abomination of stockings, spirits,
bonnet, limpness, looseness, and larceny; is only to be drawn at the
fountain-head.  Mrs. Sweeney is beyond the reach of individual art.  It
requires the united efforts of several men to ensure that great result,
and it is only developed in perfection under an Honourable Society and in
an Inn of Court.



XV
NURSE’S STORIES


THERE are not many places that I find it more agreeable to revisit when I
am in an idle mood, than some places to which I have never been.  For, my
acquaintance with those spots is of such long standing, and has ripened
into an intimacy of so affectionate a nature, that I take a particular
interest in assuring myself that they are unchanged.

I never was in Robinson Crusoe’s Island, yet I frequently return there.
The colony he established on it soon faded away, and it is uninhabited by
any descendants of the grave and courteous Spaniards, or of Will Atkins
and the other mutineers, and has relapsed into its original condition.
Not a twig of its wicker houses remains, its goats have long run wild
again, its screaming parrots would darken the sun with a cloud of many
flaming colours if a gun were fired there, no face is ever reflected in
the waters of the little creek which Friday swam across when pursued by
his two brother cannibals with sharpened stomachs.  After comparing notes
with other travellers who have similarly revisited the Island and
conscientiously inspected it, I have satisfied myself that it contains no
vestige of Mr. Atkins’s domesticity or theology, though his track on the
memorable evening of his landing to set his captain ashore, when he was
decoyed about and round about until it was dark, and his boat was stove,
and his strength and spirits failed him, is yet plainly to be traced.  So
is the hill-top on which Robinson was struck dumb with joy when the
reinstated captain pointed to the ship, riding within half a mile of the
shore, that was to bear him away, in the nine-and-twentieth year of his
seclusion in that lonely place.  So is the sandy beach on which the
memorable footstep was impressed, and where the savages hauled up their
canoes when they came ashore for those dreadful public dinners, which led
to a dancing worse than speech-making.  So is the cave where the flaring
eyes of the old goat made such a goblin appearance in the dark.  So is
the site of the hut where Robinson lived with the dog and the parrot and
the cat, and where he endured those first agonies of solitude,
which—strange to say—never involved any ghostly fancies; a circumstance
so very remarkable, that perhaps he left out something in writing his
record?  Round hundreds of such objects, hidden in the dense tropical
foliage, the tropical sea breaks evermore; and over them the tropical
sky, saving in the short rainy season, shines bright and cloudless.

Neither, was I ever belated among wolves, on the borders of France and
Spain; nor, did I ever, when night was closing in and the ground was
covered with snow, draw up my little company among some felled trees
which served as a breastwork, and there fire a train of gunpowder so
dexterously that suddenly we had three or four score blazing wolves
illuminating the darkness around us.  Nevertheless, I occasionally go
back to that dismal region and perform the feat again; when indeed to
smell the singeing and the frying of the wolves afire, and to see them
setting one another alight as they rush and tumble, and to behold them
rolling in the snow vainly attempting to put themselves out, and to hear
their howlings taken up by all the echoes as well as by all the unseen
wolves within the woods, makes me tremble.

I was never in the robbers’ cave, where Gil Blas lived, but I often go
back there and find the trap-door just as heavy to raise as it used to
be, while that wicked old disabled Black lies everlastingly cursing in
bed.  I was never in Don Quixote’s study, where he read his books of
chivalry until he rose and hacked at imaginary giants, and then refreshed
himself with great draughts of water, yet you couldn’t move a book in it
without my knowledge, or with my consent.  I was never (thank Heaven) in
company with the little old woman who hobbled out of the chest and told
the merchant Abudah to go in search of the Talisman of Oromanes, yet I
make it my business to know that she is well preserved and as intolerable
as ever.  I was never at the school where the boy Horatio Nelson got out
of bed to steal the pears: not because he wanted any, but because every
other boy was afraid: yet I have several times been back to this Academy,
to see him let down out of window with a sheet.  So with Damascus, and
Bagdad, and Brobingnag (which has the curious fate of being usually
misspelt when written), and Lilliput, and Laputa, and the Nile, and
Abyssinia, and the Ganges, and the North Pole, and many hundreds of
places—I was never at them, yet it is an affair of my life to keep them
intact, and I am always going back to them.

But, when I was in Dullborough one day, revisiting the associations of my
childhood as recorded in previous pages of these notes, my experience in
this wise was made quite inconsiderable and of no account, by the
quantity of places and people—utterly impossible places and people, but
none the less alarmingly real—that I found I had been introduced to by my
nurse before I was six years old, and used to be forced to go back to at
night without at all wanting to go.  If we all knew our own minds (in a
more enlarged sense than the popular acceptation of that phrase), I
suspect we should find our nurses responsible for most of the dark
corners we are forced to go back to, against our wills.

The first diabolical character who intruded himself on my peaceful youth
(as I called to mind that day at Dullborough), was a certain Captain
Murderer.  This wretch must have been an off-shoot of the Blue Beard
family, but I had no suspicion of the consanguinity in those times.  His
warning name would seem to have awakened no general prejudice against
him, for he was admitted into the best society and possessed immense
wealth.  Captain Murderer’s mission was matrimony, and the gratification
of a cannibal appetite with tender brides.  On his marriage morning, he
always caused both sides of the way to church to be planted with curious
flowers; and when his bride said, ‘Dear Captain Murderer, I ever saw
flowers like these before: what are they called?’ he answered, ‘They are
called Garnish for house-lamb,’ and laughed at his ferocious practical
joke in a horrid manner, disquieting the minds of the noble bridal
company, with a very sharp show of teeth, then displayed for the first
time.  He made love in a coach and six, and married in a coach and
twelve, and all his horses were milk-white horses with one red spot on
the back which he caused to be hidden by the harness.  For, the spot
_would_ come there, though every horse was milk-white when Captain
Murderer bought him.  And the spot was young bride’s blood.  (To this
terrific point I am indebted for my first personal experience of a
shudder and cold beads on the forehead.)  When Captain Murderer had made
an end of feasting and revelry, and had dismissed the noble guests, and
was alone with his wife on the day month after their marriage, it was his
whimsical custom to produce a golden rolling-pin and a silver pie-board.
Now, there was this special feature in the Captain’s courtships, that he
always asked if the young lady could make pie-crust; and if she couldn’t
by nature or education, she was taught.  Well.  When the bride saw
Captain Murderer produce the golden rolling-pin and silver pie-board, she
remembered this, and turned up her laced-silk sleeves to make a pie.  The
Captain brought out a silver pie-dish of immense capacity, and the
Captain brought out flour and butter and eggs and all things needful,
except the inside of the pie; of materials for the staple of the pie
itself, the Captain brought out none.  Then said the lovely bride, ‘Dear
Captain Murderer, what pie is this to be?’  He replied, ‘A meat pie.’
Then said the lovely bride, ‘Dear Captain Murderer, I see no meat.’  The
Captain humorously retorted, ‘Look in the glass.’  She looked in the
glass, but still she saw no meat, and then the Captain roared with
laughter, and suddenly frowning and drawing his sword, bade her roll out
the crust.  So she rolled out the crust, dropping large tears upon it all
the time because he was so cross, and when she had lined the dish with
crust and had cut the crust all ready to fit the top, the Captain called
out, ‘I see the meat in the glass!’  And the bride looked up at the
glass, just in time to see the Captain cutting her head off; and he
chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in
the pie, and sent it to the baker’s, and ate it all, and picked the
bones.

Captain Murderer went on in this way, prospering exceedingly, until he
came to choose a bride from two twin sisters, and at first didn’t know
which to choose.  For, though one was fair and the other dark, they were
both equally beautiful.  But the fair twin loved him, and the dark twin
hated him, so he chose the fair one.  The dark twin would have prevented
the marriage if she could, but she couldn’t; however, on the night before
it, much suspecting Captain Murderer, she stole out and climbed his
garden wall, and looked in at his window through a chink in the shutter,
and saw him having his teeth filed sharp.  Next day she listened all day,
and heard him make his joke about the house-lamb.  And that day month, he
had the paste rolled out, and cut the fair twin’s head off, and chopped
her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie,
and sent it to the baker’s, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

Now, the dark twin had had her suspicions much increased by the filing of
the Captain’s teeth, and again by the house-lamb joke.  Putting all
things together when he gave out that her sister was dead, she divined
the truth, and determined to be revenged.  So, she went up to Captain
Murderer’s house, and knocked at the knocker and pulled at the bell, and
when the Captain came to the door, said: ‘Dear Captain Murderer, marry me
next, for I always loved you and was jealous of my sister.’  The Captain
took it as a compliment, and made a polite answer, and the marriage was
quickly arranged.  On the night before it, the bride again climbed to his
window, and again saw him having his teeth filed sharp.  At this sight
she laughed such a terrible laugh at the chink in the shutter, that the
Captain’s blood curdled, and he said: ‘I hope nothing has disagreed with
me!’  At that, she laughed again, a still more terrible laugh, and the
shutter was opened and search made, but she was nimbly gone, and there
was no one.  Next day they went to church in a coach and twelve, and were
married.  And that day month, she rolled the pie-crust out, and Captain
Murderer cut her head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her,
and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker’s, and
ate it all, and picked the bones.

But before she began to roll out the paste she had taken a deadly poison
of a most awful character, distilled from toads’ eyes and spiders’ knees;
and Captain Murderer had hardly picked her last bone, when he began to
swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over spots, and to scream.  And he
went on swelling and turning bluer, and being more all over spots and
screaming, until he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall;
and then, at one o’clock in the morning, he blew up with a loud
explosion.  At the sound of it, all the milk-white horses in the stables
broke their halters and went mad, and then they galloped over everybody
in Captain Murderer’s house (beginning with the family blacksmith who had
filed his teeth) until the whole were dead, and then they galloped away.

Hundreds of times did I hear this legend of Captain Murderer, in my early
youth, and added hundreds of times was there a mental compulsion upon me
in bed, to peep in at his window as the dark twin peeped, and to revisit
his horrible house, and look at him in his blue and spotty and screaming
stage, as he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall.  The
young woman who brought me acquainted with Captain Murderer had a
fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember—as a sort
of introductory overture—by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering
a long low hollow groan.  So acutely did I suffer from this ceremony in
combination with this infernal Captain, that I sometimes used to plead I
thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear the story again
just yet.  But, she never spared me one word of it, and indeed commanded
the awful chalice to my lips as the only preservative known to science
against ‘The Black Cat’—a weird and glaring-eyed supernatural Tom, who
was reputed to prowl about the world by night, sucking the breath of
infancy, and who was endowed with a special thirst (as I was given to
understand) for mine.

This female bard—may she have been repaid my debt of obligation to her in
the matter of nightmares and perspirations!—reappears in my memory as the
daughter of a shipwright.  Her name was Mercy, though she had none on me.
There was something of a shipbuilding flavour in the following story.  As
it always recurs to me in a vague association with calomel pills, I
believe it to have been reserved for dull nights when I was low with
medicine.

There was once a shipwright, and he wrought in a Government Yard, and his
name was Chips.  And his father’s name before him was Chips, and _his_
father’s name before _him_ was Chips, and they were all Chipses.  And
Chips the father had sold himself to the Devil for an iron pot and a
bushel of tenpenny nails and half a ton of copper and a rat that could
speak; and Chips the grandfather had sold himself to the Devil for an
iron pot and a bushel of tenpenny nails and half a ton of copper and a
rat that could speak; and Chips the great-grandfather had disposed of
himself in the same direction on the same terms; and the bargain had run
in the family for a long, long time.  So, one day, when young Chips was
at work in the Dock Slip all alone, down in the dark hold of an old
Seventy-four that was haled up for repairs, the Devil presented himself,
and remarked:

    ‘A Lemon has pips,
    And a Yard has ships,
    And _I_’ll have Chips!’

(I don’t know why, but this fact of the Devil’s expressing himself in
rhyme was peculiarly trying to me.)  Chips looked up when he heard the
words, and there he saw the Devil with saucer eyes that squinted on a
terrible great scale, and that struck out sparks of blue fire
continually.  And whenever he winked his eyes, showers of blue sparks
came out, and his eyelashes made a clattering like flints and steels
striking lights.  And hanging over one of his arms by the handle was an
iron pot, and under that arm was a bushel of tenpenny nails, and under
his other arm was half a ton of copper, and sitting on one of his
shoulders was a rat that could speak.  So, the Devil said again:

    ‘A Lemon has pips,
    And a Yard has ships,
    And _I_’ll have Chips!’

(The invariable effect of this alarming tautology on the part of the Evil
Spirit was to deprive me of my senses for some moments.)  So, Chips
answered never a word, but went on with his work.  ‘What are you doing,
Chips?’ said the rat that could speak.  ‘I am putting in new planks where
you and your gang have eaten old away,’ said Chips.  ‘But we’ll eat them
too,’ said the rat that could speak; ‘and we’ll let in the water and
drown the crew, and we’ll eat them too.’  Chips, being only a shipwright,
and not a Man-of-war’s man, said, ‘You are welcome to it.’  But he
couldn’t keep his eyes off the half a ton of copper or the bushel of
tenpenny nails; for nails and copper are a shipwright’s sweethearts, and
shipwrights will run away with them whenever they can.  So, the Devil
said, ‘I see what you are looking at, Chips.  You had better strike the
bargain.  You know the terms.  Your father before you was well acquainted
with them, and so were your grandfather and great-grandfather before
him.’  Says Chips, ‘I like the copper, and I like the nails, and I don’t
mind the pot, but I don’t like the rat.’  Says the Devil, fiercely, ‘You
can’t have the metal without him—and _he’s_ a curiosity.  I’m going.’
Chips, afraid of losing the half a ton of copper and the bushel of nails,
then said, ‘Give us hold!’  So, he got the copper and the nails and the
pot and the rat that could speak, and the Devil vanished.  Chips sold the
copper, and he sold the nails, and he would have sold the pot; but
whenever he offered it for sale, the rat was in it, and the dealers
dropped it, and would have nothing to say to the bargain.  So, Chips
resolved to kill the rat, and, being at work in the Yard one day with a
great kettle of hot pitch on one side of him and the iron pot with the
rat in it on the other, he turned the scalding pitch into the pot, and
filled it full.  Then, he kept his eye upon it till it cooled and
hardened, and then he let it stand for twenty days, and then he heated
the pitch again and turned it back into the kettle, and then he sank the
pot in water for twenty days more, and then he got the smelters to put it
in the furnace for twenty days more, and then they gave it him out, red
hot, and looking like red-hot glass instead of iron-yet there was the rat
in it, just the same as ever!  And the moment it caught his eye, it said
with a jeer:

    ‘A Lemon has pips,
    And a Yard has ships,
    And _I_’ll have Chips!’

(For this Refrain I had waited since its last appearance, with
inexpressible horror, which now culminated.)  Chips now felt certain in
his own mind that the rat would stick to him; the rat, answering his
thought, said, ‘I will—like pitch!’

Now, as the rat leaped out of the pot when it had spoken, and made off,
Chips began to hope that it wouldn’t keep its word.  But, a terrible
thing happened next day.  For, when dinner-time came, and the Dock-bell
rang to strike work, he put his rule into the long pocket at the side of
his trousers, and there he found a rat—not that rat, but another rat.
And in his hat, he found another; and in his pocket-handkerchief,
another; and in the sleeves of his coat, when he pulled it on to go to
dinner, two more.  And from that time he found himself so frightfully
intimate with all the rats in the Yard, that they climbed up his legs
when he was at work, and sat on his tools while he used them.  And they
could all speak to one another, and he understood what they said.  And
they got into his lodging, and into his bed, and into his teapot, and
into his beer, and into his boots.  And he was going to be married to a
corn-chandler’s daughter; and when he gave her a workbox he had himself
made for her, a rat jumped out of it; and when he put his arm round her
waist, a rat clung about her; so the marriage was broken off, though the
banns were already twice put up—which the parish clerk well remembers,
for, as he handed the book to the clergyman for the second time of
asking, a large fat rat ran over the leaf.  (By this time a special
cascade of rats was rolling down my back, and the whole of my small
listening person was overrun with them.  At intervals ever since, I have
been morbidly afraid of my own pocket, lest my exploring hand should find
a specimen or two of those vermin in it.)

You may believe that all this was very terrible to Chips; but even all
this was not the worst.  He knew besides, what the rats were doing,
wherever they were.  So, sometimes he would cry aloud, when he was at his
club at night, ‘Oh!  Keep the rats out of the convicts’ burying-ground!
Don’t let them do that!’  Or, ‘There’s one of them at the cheese
down-stairs!’  Or, ‘There’s two of them smelling at the baby in the
garret!’  Or, other things of that sort.  At last, he was voted mad, and
lost his work in the Yard, and could get no other work.  But, King George
wanted men, so before very long he got pressed for a sailor.  And so he
was taken off in a boat one evening to his ship, lying at Spithead, ready
to sail.  And so the first thing he made out in her as he got near her,
was the figure-head of the old Seventy-four, where he had seen the Devil.
She was called the Argonaut, and they rowed right under the bowsprit
where the figure-head of the Argonaut, with a sheepskin in his hand and a
blue gown on, was looking out to sea; and sitting staring on his forehead
was the rat who could speak, and his exact words were these: ‘Chips ahoy!
Old boy!  We’ve pretty well eat them too, and we’ll drown the crew, and
will eat them too!’  (Here I always became exceedingly faint, and would
have asked for water, but that I was speechless.)

The ship was bound for the Indies; and if you don’t know where that is,
you ought to it, and angels will never love you.  (Here I felt myself an
outcast from a future state.)  The ship set sail that very night, and she
sailed, and sailed, and sailed.  Chips’s feelings were dreadful.  Nothing
ever equalled his terrors.  No wonder.  At last, one day he asked leave
to speak to the Admiral.  The Admiral giv’ leave.  Chips went down on his
knees in the Great State Cabin.  ‘Your Honour, unless your Honour,
without a moment’s loss of time, makes sail for the nearest shore, this
is a doomed ship, and her name is the Coffin!’  ‘Young man, your words
are a madman’s words.’  ‘Your Honour no; they are nibbling us away.’
‘They?’  ‘Your Honour, them dreadful rats.  Dust and hollowness where
solid oak ought to be!  Rats nibbling a grave for every man on board!
Oh!  Does your Honour love your Lady and your pretty children?’  ‘Yes, my
man, to be sure.’  ‘Then, for God’s sake, make for the nearest shore, for
at this present moment the rats are all stopping in their work, and are
all looking straight towards you with bare teeth, and are all saying to
one another that you shall never, never, never, never, see your Lady and
your children more.’  ‘My poor fellow, you are a case for the doctor.
Sentry, take care of this man!’

So, he was bled and he was blistered, and he was this and that, for six
whole days and nights.  So, then he again asked leave to speak to the
Admiral.  The Admiral giv’ leave.  He went down on his knees in the Great
State Cabin.  ‘Now, Admiral, you must die!  You took no warning; you must
die!  The rats are never wrong in their calculations, and they make out
that they’ll be through, at twelve to-night.  So, you must die!—With me
and all the rest!’  And so at twelve o’clock there was a great leak
reported in the ship, and a torrent of water rushed in and nothing could
stop it, and they all went down, every living soul.  And what the
rats—being water-rats—left of Chips, at last floated to shore, and
sitting on him was an immense overgrown rat, laughing, that dived when
the corpse touched the beach and never came up.  And there was a deal of
seaweed on the remains.  And if you get thirteen bits of seaweed, and dry
them and burn them in the fire, they will go off like in these thirteen
words as plain as plain can be:

    ‘A Lemon has pips,
    And a Yard has ships,
    And _I_’ve got Chips!’

The same female bard—descended, possibly, from those terrible old Scalds
who seem to have existed for the express purpose of addling the brains of
mankind when they begin to investigate languages—made a standing pretence
which greatly assisted in forcing me back to a number of hideous places
that I would by all means have avoided.  This pretence was, that all her
ghost stories had occurred to her own relations.  Politeness towards a
meritorious family, therefore, forbade my doubting them, and they
acquired an air of authentication that impaired my digestive powers for
life.  There was a narrative concerning an unearthly animal foreboding
death, which appeared in the open street to a parlour-maid who ‘went to
fetch the beer’ for supper: first (as I now recall it) assuming the
likeness of a black dog, and gradually rising on its hind-legs and
swelling into the semblance of some quadruped greatly surpassing a
hippopotamus: which apparition—not because I deemed it in the least
improbable, but because I felt it to be really too large to bear—I feebly
endeavoured to explain away.  But, on Mercy’s retorting with wounded
dignity that the parlour-maid was her own sister-in-law, I perceived
there was no hope, and resigned myself to this zoological phenomenon as
one of my many pursuers.  There was another narrative describing the
apparition of a young woman who came out of a glass-case and haunted
another young woman until the other young woman questioned it and
elicited that its bones (Lord!  To think of its being so particular about
its bones!) were buried under the glass-case, whereas she required them
to be interred, with every Undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound
ten, in another particular place.  This narrative I considered—I had a
personal interest in disproving, because we had glass-cases at home, and
how, otherwise, was I to be guaranteed from the intrusion of young women
requiring _me_ to bury them up to twenty-four pound ten, when I had only
twopence a week?  But my remorseless nurse cut the ground from under my
tender feet, by informing me that She was the other young woman; and I
couldn’t say ‘I don’t believe you;’ it was not possible.

Such are a few of the uncommercial journeys that I was forced to make,
against my will, when I was very young and unreasoning.  And really, as
to the latter part of them, it is not so very long ago—now I come to
think of it—that I was asked to undertake them once again, with a steady
countenance.



XVI
ARCADIAN LONDON


BEING in a humour for complete solitude and uninterrupted meditation this
autumn, I have taken a lodging for six weeks in the most unfrequented
part of England—in a word, in London.

The retreat into which I have withdrawn myself, is Bond-street.  From
this lonely spot I make pilgrimages into the surrounding wilderness, and
traverse extensive tracts of the Great Desert.  The first solemn feeling
of isolation overcome, the first oppressive consciousness of profound
retirement conquered, I enjoy that sense of freedom, and feel reviving
within me that latent wildness of the original savage, which has been
(upon the whole somewhat frequently) noticed by Travellers.

My lodgings are at a hatter’s—my own hatter’s.  After exhibiting no
articles in his window for some weeks, but sea-side wide-awakes,
shooting-caps, and a choice of rough waterproof head-gear for the moors
and mountains, he has put upon the heads of his family as much of this
stock as they could carry, and has taken them off to the Isle of Thanet.
His young man alone remains—and remains alone in the shop.  The young man
has let out the fire at which the irons are heated, and, saving his
strong sense of duty, I see no reason why he should take the shutters
down.

Happily for himself and for his country the young man is a Volunteer;
most happily for himself, or I think he would become the prey of a
settled melancholy.  For, to live surrounded by human hats, and alienated
from human heads to fit them on, is surely a great endurance.  But, the
young man, sustained by practising his exercise, and by constantly
furbishing up his regulation plume (it is unnecessary to observe that, as
a hatter, he is in a cock’s-feather corps), is resigned, and
uncomplaining.  On a Saturday, when he closes early and gets his
Knickerbockers on, he is even cheerful.  I am gratefully particular in
this reference to him, because he is my companion through many peaceful
hours.

My hatter has a desk up certain steps behind his counter, enclosed like
the clerk’s desk at Church.  I shut myself into this place of seclusion,
after breakfast, and meditate.  At such times, I observe the young man
loading an imaginary rifle with the greatest precision, and maintaining a
most galling and destructive fire upon the national enemy.  I thank him
publicly for his companionship and his patriotism.

The simple character of my life, and the calm nature of the scenes by
which I am surrounded, occasion me to rise early.  I go forth in my
slippers, and promenade the pavement.  It is pastoral to feel the
freshness of the air in the uninhabited town, and to appreciate the
shepherdess character of the few milkwomen who purvey so little milk that
it would be worth nobody’s while to adulterate it, if anybody were left
to undertake the task.  On the crowded sea-shore, the great demand for
milk, combined with the strong local temptation of chalk, would betray
itself in the lowered quality of the article.  In Arcadian London I
derive it from the cow.

The Arcadian simplicity of the metropolis altogether, and the primitive
ways into which it has fallen in this autumnal Golden Age, make it
entirely new to me.  Within a few hundred yards of my retreat, is the
house of a friend who maintains a most sumptuous butler.  I never, until
yesterday, saw that butler out of superfine black broadcloth.  Until
yesterday, I never saw him off duty, never saw him (he is the best of
butlers) with the appearance of having any mind for anything but the
glory of his master and his master’s friends.  Yesterday morning, walking
in my slippers near the house of which he is the prop and ornament—a
house now a waste of shutters—I encountered that butler, also in his
slippers, and in a shooting suit of one colour, and in a low-crowned
straw-hat, smoking an early cigar.  He felt that we had formerly met in
another state of existence, and that we were translated into a new
sphere.  Wisely and well, he passed me without recognition.  Under his
arm he carried the morning paper, and shortly afterwards I saw him
sitting on a rail in the pleasant open landscape of Regent-street,
perusing it at his ease under the ripening sun.

My landlord having taken his whole establishment to be salted down, I am
waited on by an elderly woman labouring under a chronic sniff, who, at
the shadowy hour of half-past nine o’clock of every evening, gives
admittance at the street door to a meagre and mouldy old man whom I have
never yet seen detached from a flat pint of beer in a pewter pot.  The
meagre and mouldy old man is her husband, and the pair have a dejected
consciousness that they are not justified in appearing on the surface of
the earth.  They come out of some hole when London empties itself, and go
in again when it fills.  I saw them arrive on the evening when I myself
took possession, and they arrived with the flat pint of beer, and their
bed in a bundle.  The old man is a weak old man, and appeared to me to
get the bed down the kitchen stairs by tumbling down with and upon it.
They make their bed in the lowest and remotest corner of the basement,
and they smell of bed, and have no possession but bed: unless it be
(which I rather infer from an under-current of flavour in them) cheese.
I know their name, through the chance of having called the wife’s
attention, at half-past nine on the second evening of our acquaintance,
to the circumstance of there being some one at the house door; when she
apologetically explained, ‘It’s only Mr. Klem.’  What becomes of Mr. Klem
all day, or when he goes out, or why, is a mystery I cannot penetrate;
but at half-past nine he never fails to turn up on the door-step with the
flat pint of beer.  And the pint of beer, flat as it is, is so much more
important than himself, that it always seems to my fancy as if it had
found him drivelling in the street and had humanely brought him home.  In
making his way below, Mr. Klem never goes down the middle of the passage,
like another Christian, but shuffles against the wall as if entreating me
to take notice that he is occupying as little space as possible in the
house; and whenever I come upon him face to face, he backs from me in
fascinated confusion.  The most extraordinary circumstance I have traced
in connexion with this aged couple, is, that there is a Miss Klem, their
daughter, apparently ten years older than either of them, who has also a
bed and smells of it, and carries it about the earth at dusk and hides it
in deserted houses.  I came into this piece of knowledge through Mrs.
Klem’s beseeching me to sanction the sheltering of Miss Klem under that
roof for a single night, ‘between her takin’ care of the upper part in
Pall Mall which the family of his back, and a ’ouse in Serjameses-street,
which the family of leaves towng ter-morrer.’  I gave my gracious consent
(having nothing that I know of to do with it), and in the shadowy hours
Miss Klem became perceptible on the door-step, wrestling with a bed in a
bundle.  Where she made it up for the night I cannot positively state,
but, I think, in a sink.  I know that with the instinct of a reptile or
an insect, she stowed it and herself away in deep obscurity.  In the Klem
family, I have noticed another remarkable gift of nature, and that is a
power they possess of converting everything into flue.  Such broken
victuals as they take by stealth, appear (whatever the nature of the
viands) invariably to generate flue; and even the nightly pint of beer,
instead of assimilating naturally, strikes me as breaking out in that
form, equally on the shabby gown of Mrs. Klem, and the threadbare coat of
her husband.

Mrs. Klem has no idea of my name—as to Mr. Klem he has no idea of
anything—and only knows me as her good gentleman.  Thus, if doubtful
whether I am in my room or no, Mrs. Klem taps at the door and says, ‘Is
my good gentleman here?’  Or, if a messenger desiring to see me were
consistent with my solitude, she would show him in with ‘Here is my good
gentleman.’  I find this to be a generic custom.  For, I meant to have
observed before now, that in its Arcadian time all my part of London is
indistinctly pervaded by the Klem species.  They creep about with beds,
and go to bed in miles of deserted houses.  They hold no companionship
except that sometimes, after dark, two of them will emerge from opposite
houses, and meet in the middle of the road as on neutral ground, or will
peep from adjoining houses over an interposing barrier of area railings,
and compare a few reserved mistrustful notes respecting their good ladies
or good gentlemen.  This I have discovered in the course of various
solitary rambles I have taken Northward from my retirement, along the
awful perspectives of Wimpole-street, Harley-street, and similar frowning
regions.  Their effect would be scarcely distinguishable from that of the
primeval forests, but for the Klem stragglers; these may be dimly
observed, when the heavy shadows fall, flitting to and fro, putting up
the door-chain, taking in the pint of beer, lowering like phantoms at the
dark parlour windows, or secretly consorting underground with the
dust-bin and the water-cistern.

In the Burlington Arcade, I observe, with peculiar pleasure, a primitive
state of manners to have superseded the baneful influences of ultra
civilisation.  Nothing can surpass the innocence of the ladies’
shoe-shops, the artificial-flower repositories, and the head-dress
depots.  They are in strange hands at this time of year—hands of
unaccustomed persons, who are imperfectly acquainted with the prices of
the goods, and contemplate them with unsophisticated delight and wonder.
The children of these virtuous people exchange familiarities in the
Arcade, and temper the asperity of the two tall beadles.  Their youthful
prattle blends in an unwonted manner with the harmonious shade of the
scene, and the general effect is, as of the voices of birds in a grove.
In this happy restoration of the golden time, it has been my privilege
even to see the bigger beadle’s wife.  She brought him his dinner in a
basin, and he ate it in his arm-chair, and afterwards fell asleep like a
satiated child.  At Mr. Truefitt’s, the excellent hairdresser’s, they are
learning French to beguile the time; and even the few solitaries left on
guard at Mr. Atkinson’s, the perfumer’s round the corner (generally the
most inexorable gentleman in London, and the most scornful of
three-and-sixpence), condescend a little, as they drowsily bide or recall
their turn for chasing the ebbing Neptune on the ribbed sea-sand.  From
Messrs. Hunt and Roskell’s, the jewellers, all things are absent but the
precious stones, and the gold and silver, and the soldierly pensioner at
the door with his decorated breast.  I might stand night and day for a
month to come, in Saville-row, with my tongue out, yet not find a doctor
to look at it for love or money.  The dentists’ instruments are rusting
in their drawers, and their horrible cool parlours, where people pretend
to read the Every-Day Book and not to be afraid, are doing penance for
their grimness in white sheets.  The light-weight of shrewd appearance,
with one eye always shut up, as if he were eating a sharp gooseberry in
all seasons, who usually stands at the gateway of the livery-stables on
very little legs under a very large waistcoat, has gone to Doncaster.  Of
such undesigning aspect is his guileless yard now, with its gravel and
scarlet beans, and the yellow Break housed under a glass roof in a
corner, that I almost believe I could not be taken in there, if I tried.
In the places of business of the great tailors, the cheval-glasses are
dim and dusty for lack of being looked into.  Ranges of brown paper coat
and waistcoat bodies look as funereal as if they were the hatchments of
the customers with whose names they are inscribed; the measuring tapes
hang idle on the wall; the order-taker, left on the hopeless chance of
some one looking in, yawns in the last extremity over the book of
patterns, as if he were trying to read that entertaining library.  The
hotels in Brook-street have no one in them, and the staffs of servants
stare disconsolately for next season out of all the windows.  The very
man who goes about like an erect Turtle, between two boards
recommendatory of the Sixteen Shilling Trousers, is aware of himself as a
hollow mockery, and eats filberts while he leans his hinder shell against
a wall.

Among these tranquillising objects, it is my delight to walk and
meditate.  Soothed by the repose around me, I wander insensibly to
considerable distances, and guide myself back by the stars.  Thus, I
enjoy the contrast of a few still partially inhabited and busy spots
where all the lights are not fled, where all the garlands are not dead,
whence all but I have not departed.  Then, does it appear to me that in
this age three things are clamorously required of Man in the
miscellaneous thoroughfares of the metropolis.  Firstly, that he have his
boots cleaned.  Secondly, that he eat a penny ice.  Thirdly, that he get
himself photographed.  Then do I speculate, What have those seam-worn
artists been who stand at the photograph doors in Greek caps, sample in
hand, and mysteriously salute the public—the female public with a
pressing tenderness—to come in and be ‘took’?  What did they do with
their greasy blandishments, before the era of cheap photography?  Of what
class were their previous victims, and how victimised?  And how did they
get, and how did they pay for, that large collection of likenesses, all
purporting to have been taken inside, with the taking of none of which
had that establishment any more to do than with the taking of Delhi?

But, these are small oases, and I am soon back again in metropolitan
Arcadia.  It is my impression that much of its serene and peaceful
character is attributable to the absence of customary Talk.  How do I
know but there may be subtle influences in Talk, to vex the souls of men
who don’t hear it?  How do I know but that Talk, five, ten, twenty miles
off, may get into the air and disagree with me?  If I rise from my bed,
vaguely troubled and wearied and sick of my life, in the session of
Parliament, who shall say that my noble friend, my right reverend friend,
my right honourable friend, my honourable friend, my honourable and
learned friend, or my honourable and gallant friend, may not be
responsible for that effect upon my nervous system?  Too much Ozone in
the air, I am informed and fully believe (though I have no idea what it
is), would affect me in a marvellously disagreeable way; why may not too
much Talk?  I don’t see or hear the Ozone; I don’t see or hear the Talk.
And there is so much Talk; so much too much; such loud cry, and such
scant supply of wool; such a deal of fleecing, and so little fleece!
Hence, in the Arcadian season, I find it a delicious triumph to walk down
to deserted Westminster, and see the Courts shut up; to walk a little
further and see the Two Houses shut up; to stand in the Abbey Yard, like
the New Zealander of the grand English History (concerning which
unfortunate man, a whole rookery of mares’ nests is generally being
discovered), and gloat upon the ruins of Talk.  Returning to my primitive
solitude and lying down to sleep, my grateful heart expands with the
consciousness that there is no adjourned Debate, no ministerial
explanation, nobody to give notice of intention to ask the noble Lord at
the head of her Majesty’s Government five-and-twenty bootless questions
in one, no term time with legal argument, no Nisi Prius with eloquent
appeal to British Jury; that the air will to-morrow, and to-morrow, and
to-morrow, remain untroubled by this superabundant generating of Talk.
In a minor degree it is a delicious triumph to me to go into the club,
and see the carpets up, and the Bores and the other dust dispersed to the
four winds.  Again, New Zealander-like, I stand on the cold hearth, and
say in the solitude, ‘Here I watched Bore A 1, with voice always
mysteriously low and head always mysteriously drooped, whispering
political secrets into the ears of Adam’s confiding children.  Accursed
be his memory for ever and a day!’

But, I have all this time been coming to the point, that the happy nature
of my retirement is most sweetly expressed in its being the abode of
Love.  It is, as it were, an inexpensive Agapemone: nobody’s speculation:
everybody’s profit.  The one great result of the resumption of primitive
habits, and (convertible terms) the not having much to do, is, the
abounding of Love.

The Klem species are incapable of the softer emotions; probably, in that
low nomadic race, the softer emotions have all degenerated into flue.
But, with this exception, all the sharers of my retreat make love.

I have mentioned Saville-row.  We all know the Doctor’s servant.  We all
know what a respectable man he is, what a hard dry man, what a firm man,
what a confidential man: how he lets us into the waiting-room, like a man
who knows minutely what is the matter with us, but from whom the rack
should not wring the secret.  In the prosaic “season,” he has distinctly
the appearance of a man conscious of money in the savings bank, and
taking his stand on his respectability with both feet.  At that time it
is as impossible to associate him with relaxation, or any human weakness,
as it is to meet his eye without feeling guilty of indisposition.  In the
blest Arcadian time, how changed!  I have seen him, in a pepper-and-salt
jacket—jacket—and drab trousers, with his arm round the waist of a
bootmaker’s housemaid, smiling in open day.  I have seen him at the pump
by the Albany, unsolicitedly pumping for two fair young creatures, whose
figures as they bent over their cans, were—if I may be allowed an
original expression—a model for the sculptor.  I have seen him trying the
piano in the Doctor’s drawing-room with his forefinger, and have heard
him humming tunes in praise of lovely woman.  I have seen him seated on a
fire-engine, and going (obviously in search of excitement) to a fire.  I
saw him, one moonlight evening when the peace and purity of our Arcadian
west were at their height, polk with the lovely daughter of a cleaner of
gloves, from the door-steps of his own residence, across Saville-row,
round by Clifford-street and Old Burlington-street, back to
Burlington-gardens.  Is this the Golden Age revived, or Iron London?

The Dentist’s servant.  Is that man no mystery to us, no type of
invisible power?  The tremendous individual knows (who else does?) what
is done with the extracted teeth; he knows what goes on in the little
room where something is always being washed or filed; he knows what warm
spicy infusion is put into the comfortable tumbler from which we rinse
our wounded mouth, with a gap in it that feels a foot wide; he knows
whether the thing we spit into is a fixture communicating with the
Thames, or could be cleared away for a dance; he sees the horrible
parlour where there are no patients in it, and he could reveal, if he
would, what becomes of the Every-Day Book then.  The conviction of my
coward conscience when I see that man in a professional light, is, that
he knows all the statistics of my teeth and gums, my double teeth, my
single teeth, my stopped teeth, and my sound.  In this Arcadian rest, I
am fearless of him as of a harmless, powerless creature in a Scotch cap,
who adores a young lady in a voluminous crinoline, at a neighbouring
billiard-room, and whose passion would be uninfluenced if every one of
her teeth were false.  They may be.  He takes them all on trust.

In secluded corners of the place of my seclusion, there are little shops
withdrawn from public curiosity, and never two together, where servants’
perquisites are bought.  The cook may dispose of grease at these modest
and convenient marts; the butler, of bottles; the valet and lady’s maid,
of clothes; most servants, indeed, of most things they may happen to lay
hold of.  I have been told that in sterner times loving correspondence,
otherwise interdicted, may be maintained by letter through the agency of
some of these useful establishments.  In the Arcadian autumn, no such
device is necessary.  Everybody loves, and openly and blamelessly loves.
My landlord’s young man loves the whole of one side of the way of Old
Bond-street, and is beloved several doors up New Bond-street besides.  I
never look out of window but I see kissing of hands going on all around
me.  It is the morning custom to glide from shop to shop and exchange
tender sentiments; it is the evening custom for couples to stand hand in
hand at house doors, or roam, linked in that flowery manner, through the
unpeopled streets.  There is nothing else to do but love; and what there
is to do, is done.

In unison with this pursuit, a chaste simplicity obtains in the domestic
habits of Arcadia.  Its few scattered people dine early, live moderately,
sup socially, and sleep soundly.  It is rumoured that the Beadles of the
Arcade, from being the mortal enemies of boys, have signed with tears an
address to Lord Shaftesbury, and subscribed to a ragged school.  No
wonder!  For, they might turn their heavy maces into crooks and tend
sheep in the Arcade, to the purling of the water-carts as they give the
thirsty streets much more to drink than they can carry.

A happy Golden Age, and a serene tranquillity.  Charming picture, but it
will fade.  The iron age will return, London will come back to town, if I
show my tongue then in Saville-row for half a minute I shall be
prescribed for, the Doctor’s man and the Dentist’s man will then pretend
that these days of unprofessional innocence never existed.  Where Mr. and
Mrs. Klem and their bed will be at that time, passes human knowledge; but
my hatter hermitage will then know them no more, nor will it then know
me.  The desk at which I have written these meditations will
retributively assist at the making out of my account, and the wheels of
gorgeous carriages and the hoofs of high-stepping horses will crush the
silence out of Bond-street—will grind Arcadia away, and give it to the
elements in granite powder.



XVII
THE ITALIAN PRISONER


THE rising of the Italian people from under their unutterable wrongs, and
the tardy burst of day upon them after the long long night of oppression
that has darkened their beautiful country, have naturally caused my mind
to dwell often of late on my own small wanderings in Italy.  Connected
with them, is a curious little drama, in which the character I myself
sustained was so very subordinate that I may relate its story without any
fear of being suspected of self-display.  It is strictly a true story.

I am newly arrived one summer evening, in a certain small town on the
Mediterranean.  I have had my dinner at the inn, and I and the mosquitoes
are coming out into the streets together.  It is far from Naples; but a
bright, brown, plump little woman-servant at the inn, is a Neapolitan,
and is so vivaciously expert in panto-mimic action, that in the single
moment of answering my request to have a pair of shoes cleaned which I
have left up-stairs, she plies imaginary brushes, and goes completely
through the motions of polishing the shoes up, and laying them at my
feet.  I smile at the brisk little woman in perfect satisfaction with her
briskness; and the brisk little woman, amiably pleased with me because I
am pleased with her, claps her hands and laughs delightfully.  We are in
the inn yard.  As the little woman’s bright eyes sparkle on the cigarette
I am smoking, I make bold to offer her one; she accepts it none the less
merrily, because I touch a most charming little dimple in her fat cheek,
with its light paper end.  Glancing up at the many green lattices to
assure herself that the mistress is not looking on, the little woman then
puts her two little dimple arms a-kimbo, and stands on tiptoe to light
her cigarette at mine.  ‘And now, dear little sir,’ says she, puffing out
smoke in a most innocent and cherubic manner, ‘keep quite straight on,
take the first to the right and probably you will see him standing at his
door.’

I gave a commission to ‘him,’ and I have been inquiring about him.  I
have carried the commission about Italy several months.  Before I left
England, there came to me one night a certain generous and gentle English
nobleman (he is dead in these days when I relate the story, and exiles
have lost their best British friend), with this request: ‘Whenever you
come to such a town, will you seek out one Giovanni Carlavero, who keeps
a little wine-shop there, mention my name to him suddenly, and observe
how it affects him?’  I accepted the trust, and am on my way to discharge
it.

The sirocco has been blowing all day, and it is a hot unwholesome evening
with no cool sea-breeze.  Mosquitoes and fire-flies are lively enough,
but most other creatures are faint.  The coquettish airs of pretty young
women in the tiniest and wickedest of dolls’ straw hats, who lean out at
opened lattice blinds, are almost the only airs stirring.  Very ugly and
haggard old women with distaffs, and with a grey tow upon them that looks
as if they were spinning out their own hair (I suppose they were once
pretty, too, but it is very difficult to believe so), sit on the footway
leaning against house walls.  Everybody who has come for water to the
fountain, stays there, and seems incapable of any such energetic idea as
going home.  Vespers are over, though not so long but that I can smell
the heavy resinous incense as I pass the church.  No man seems to be at
work, save the coppersmith.  In an Italian town he is always at work, and
always thumping in the deadliest manner.

I keep straight on, and come in due time to the first on the right: a
narrow dull street, where I see a well-favoured man of good stature and
military bearing, in a great cloak, standing at a door.  Drawing nearer
to this threshold, I see it is the threshold of a small wine-shop; and I
can just make out, in the dim light, the inscription that it is kept by
Giovanni Carlavero.

I touch my hat to the figure in the cloak, and pass in, and draw a stool
to a little table.  The lamp (just such another as they dig out of
Pompeii) is lighted, but the place is empty.  The figure in the cloak has
followed me in, and stands before me.

‘The master?’

‘At your service, sir.’

‘Please to give me a glass of the wine of the country.’

He turns to a little counter, to get it.  As his striking face is pale,
and his action is evidently that of an enfeebled man, I remark that I
fear he has been ill.  It is not much, he courteously and gravely
answers, though bad while it lasts: the fever.

As he sets the wine on the little table, to his manifest surprise I lay
my hand on the back of his, look him in the face, and say in a low voice:
‘I am an Englishman, and you are acquainted with a friend of mine.  Do
you recollect—?’ and I mentioned the name of my generous countryman.

Instantly, he utters a loud cry, bursts into tears, and falls on his
knees at my feet, clasping my legs in both his arms and bowing his head
to the ground.

Some years ago, this man at my feet, whose over-fraught heart is heaving
as if it would burst from his breast, and whose tears are wet upon the
dress I wear, was a galley-slave in the North of Italy.  He was a
political offender, having been concerned in the then last rising, and
was sentenced to imprisonment for life.  That he would have died in his
chains, is certain, but for the circumstance that the Englishman happened
to visit his prison.

It was one of the vile old prisons of Italy, and a part of it was below
the waters of the harbour.  The place of his confinement was an arched
under-ground and under-water gallery, with a grill-gate at the entrance,
through which it received such light and air as it got.  Its condition
was insufferably foul, and a stranger could hardly breathe in it, or see
in it with the aid of a torch.  At the upper end of this dungeon, and
consequently in the worst position, as being the furthest removed from
light and air, the Englishman first beheld him, sitting on an iron
bedstead to which he was chained by a heavy chain.  His countenance
impressed the Englishmen as having nothing in common with the faces of
the malefactors with whom he was associated, and he talked with him, and
learnt how he came to be there.

When the Englishman emerged from the dreadful den into the light of day,
he asked his conductor, the governor of the jail, why Giovanni Carlavero
was put into the worst place?

‘Because he is particularly recommended,’ was the stringent answer.

‘Recommended, that is to say, for death?’

‘Excuse me; particularly recommended,’ was again the answer.

‘He has a bad tumour in his neck, no doubt occasioned by the hardship of
his miserable life.  If he continues to be neglected, and he remains
where he is, it will kill him.’

‘Excuse me, I can do nothing.  He is particularly recommended.’  The
Englishman was staying in that town, and he went to his home there; but
the figure of this man chained to the bedstead made it no home, and
destroyed his rest and peace.  He was an Englishman of an extraordinarily
tender heart, and he could not bear the picture.  He went back to the
prison grate; went back again and again, and talked to the man and
cheered him.  He used his utmost influence to get the man unchained from
the bedstead, were it only for ever so short a time in the day, and
permitted to come to the grate.  It look a long time, but the
Englishman’s station, personal character, and steadiness of purpose, wore
out opposition so far, and that grace was at last accorded.  Through the
bars, when he could thus get light upon the tumour, the Englishman lanced
it, and it did well, and healed.  His strong interest in the prisoner had
greatly increased by this time, and he formed the desperate resolution
that he would exert his utmost self-devotion and use his utmost efforts,
to get Carlavero pardoned.

If the prisoner had been a brigand and a murderer, if he had committed
every non-political crime in the Newgate Calendar and out of it, nothing
would have been easier than for a man of any court or priestly influence
to obtain his release.  As it was, nothing could have been more
difficult.  Italian authorities, and English authorities who had interest
with them, alike assured the Englishman that his object was hopeless.  He
met with nothing but evasion, refusal, and ridicule.  His political
prisoner became a joke in the place.  It was especially observable that
English Circumlocution, and English Society on its travels, were as
humorous on the subject as Circumlocution and Society may be on any
subject without loss of caste.  But, the Englishman possessed (and proved
it well in his life) a courage very uncommon among us: he had not the
least fear of being considered a bore, in a good humane cause.  So he
went on persistently trying, and trying, and trying, to get Giovanni
Carlavero out.  That prisoner had been rigorously re-chained, after the
tumour operation, and it was not likely that his miserable life could
last very long.

One day, when all the town knew about the Englishman and his political
prisoner, there came to the Englishman, a certain sprightly Italian
Advocate of whom he had some knowledge; and he made this strange
proposal.  ‘Give me a hundred pounds to obtain Carlavero’s release.  I
think I can get him a pardon, with that money.  But I cannot tell you
what I am going to do with the money, nor must you ever ask me the
question if I succeed, nor must you ever ask me for an account of the
money if I fail.’  The Englishman decided to hazard the hundred pounds.
He did so, and heard not another word of the matter.  For half a year and
more, the Advocate made no sign, and never once ‘took on’ in any way, to
have the subject on his mind.  The Englishman was then obliged to change
his residence to another and more famous town in the North of Italy.  He
parted from the poor prisoner with a sorrowful heart, as from a doomed
man for whom there was no release but Death.

The Englishman lived in his new place of abode another half-year and
more, and had no tidings of the wretched prisoner.  At length, one day,
he received from the Advocate a cool, concise, mysterious note, to this
effect.  ‘If you still wish to bestow that benefit upon the man in whom
you were once interested, send me fifty pounds more, and I think it can
be ensured.’  Now, the Englishman had long settled in his mind that the
Advocate was a heartless sharper, who had preyed upon his credulity and
his interest in an unfortunate sufferer.  So, he sat down and wrote a dry
answer, giving the Advocate to understand that he was wiser now than he
had been formerly, and that no more money was extractable from his
pocket.

He lived outside the city gates, some mile or two from the post-office,
and was accustomed to walk into the city with his letters and post them
himself.  On a lovely spring day, when the sky was exquisitely blue, and
the sea Divinely beautiful, he took his usual walk, carrying this letter
to the Advocate in his pocket.  As he went along, his gentle heart was
much moved by the loveliness of the prospect, and by the thought of the
slowly dying prisoner chained to the bedstead, for whom the universe had
no delights.  As he drew nearer and nearer to the city where he was to
post the letter, he became very uneasy in his mind.  He debated with
himself, was it remotely possible, after all, that this sum of fifty
pounds could restore the fellow-creature whom he pitied so much, and for
whom he had striven so hard, to liberty?  He was not a conventionally
rich Englishman—very far from that—but, he had a spare fifty pounds at
the banker’s.  He resolved to risk it.  Without doubt, GOD has
recompensed him for the resolution.

He went to the banker’s, and got a bill for the amount, and enclosed it
in a letter to the Advocate that I wish I could have seen.  He simply
told the Advocate that he was quite a poor man, and that he was sensible
it might be a great weakness in him to part with so much money on the
faith of so vague a communication; but, that there it was, and that he
prayed the Advocate to make a good use of it.  If he did otherwise no
good could ever come of it, and it would lie heavy on his soul one day.

Within a week, the Englishman was sitting at his breakfast, when he heard
some suppressed sounds of agitation on the staircase, and Giovanni
Carlavero leaped into the room and fell upon his breast, a free man!

Conscious of having wronged the Advocate in his own thoughts, the
Englishman wrote him an earnest and grateful letter, avowing the fact,
and entreating him to confide by what means and through what agency he
had succeeded so well.  The Advocate returned for answer through the
post, ‘There are many things, as you know, in this Italy of ours, that
are safest and best not even spoken of—far less written of.  We may meet
some day, and then I may tell you what you want to know; not here, and
now.’  But, the two never did meet again.  The Advocate was dead when the
Englishman gave me my trust; and how the man had been set free, remained
as great a mystery to the Englishman, and to the man himself, as it was
to me.

But, I knew this:—here was the man, this sultry night, on his knees at my
feet, because I was the Englishman’s friend; here were his tears upon my
dress; here were his sobs choking his utterance; here were his kisses on
my hands, because they had touched the hands that had worked out his
release.  He had no need to tell me it would be happiness to him to die
for his benefactor; I doubt if I ever saw real, sterling, fervent
gratitude of soul, before or since.

He was much watched and suspected, he said, and had had enough to do to
keep himself out of trouble.  This, and his not having prospered in his
worldly affairs, had led to his having failed in his usual communications
to the Englishman for—as I now remember the period—some two or three
years.  But, his prospects were brighter, and his wife who had been very
ill had recovered, and his fever had left him, and he had bought a little
vineyard, and would I carry to his benefactor the first of its wine?  Ay,
that I would (I told him with enthusiasm), and not a drop of it should be
spilled or lost!

He had cautiously closed the door before speaking of himself, and had
talked with such excess of emotion, and in a provincial Italian so
difficult to understand, that I had more than once been obliged to stop
him, and beg him to have compassion on me and be slower and calmer.  By
degrees he became so, and tranquilly walked back with me to the hotel.
There, I sat down before I went to bed and wrote a faithful account of
him to the Englishman: which I concluded by saying that I would bring the
wine home, against any difficulties, every drop.

Early next morning, when I came out at the hotel door to pursue my
journey, I found my friend waiting with one of those immense bottles in
which the Italian peasants store their wine—a bottle holding some
half-dozen gallons—bound round with basket-work for greater safety on the
journey.  I see him now, in the bright sunshine, tears of gratitude in
his eyes, proudly inviting my attention to this corpulent bottle.  (At
the street-comer hard by, two high-flavoured, able-bodied
monks—pretending to talk together, but keeping their four evil eyes upon
us.)

How the bottle had been got there, did not appear; but the difficulty of
getting it into the ramshackle vetturino carriage in which I was
departing, was so great, and it took up so much room when it was got in,
that I elected to sit outside.  The last I saw of Giovanni Carlavero was
his running through the town by the side of the jingling wheels, clasping
my hand as I stretched it down from the box, charging me with a thousand
last loving and dutiful messages to his dear patron, and finally looking
in at the bottle as it reposed inside, with an admiration of its
honourable way of travelling that was beyond measure delightful.

And now, what disquiet of mind this dearly-beloved and highly-treasured
Bottle began to cost me, no man knows.  It was my precious charge through
a long tour, and, for hundreds of miles, I never had it off my mind by
day or by night.  Over bad roads—and they were many—I clung to it with
affectionate desperation.  Up mountains, I looked in at it and saw it
helplessly tilting over on its back, with terror.  At innumerable inn
doors when the weather was bad, I was obliged to be put into my vehicle
before the Bottle could be got in, and was obliged to have the Bottle
lifted out before human aid could come near me.  The Imp of the same
name, except that his associations were all evil and these associations
were all good, would have been a less troublesome travelling companion.
I might have served Mr. Cruikshank as a subject for a new illustration of
the miseries of the Bottle.  The National Temperance Society might have
made a powerful Tract of me.

The suspicions that attached to this innocent Bottle, greatly aggravated
my difficulties.  It was like the apple-pie in the child’s book.  Parma
pouted at it, Modena mocked it, Tuscany tackled it, Naples nibbled it,
Rome refused it, Austria accused it, Soldiers suspected it, Jesuits
jobbed it.  I composed a neat Oration, developing my inoffensive
intentions in connexion with this Bottle, and delivered it in an infinity
of guard-houses, at a multitude of town gates, and on every drawbridge,
angle, and rampart, of a complete system of fortifications.  Fifty times
a day, I got down to harangue an infuriated soldiery about the Bottle.
Through the filthy degradation of the abject and vile Roman States, I had
as much difficulty in working my way with the Bottle, as if it had
bottled up a complete system of heretical theology.  In the Neapolitan
country, where everybody was a spy, a soldier, a priest, or a lazzarone,
the shameless beggars of all four denominations incessantly pounced on
the Bottle and made it a pretext for extorting money from me.
Quires—quires do I say?  Reams—of forms illegibly printed on whity-brown
paper were filled up about the Bottle, and it was the subject of more
stamping and sanding than I had ever seen before.  In consequence of
which haze of sand, perhaps, it was always irregular, and always latent
with dismal penalties of going back or not going forward, which were only
to be abated by the silver crossing of a base hand, poked shirtless out
of a ragged uniform sleeve.  Under all discouragements, however, I stuck
to my Bottle, and held firm to my resolution that every drop of its
contents should reach the Bottle’s destination.

The latter refinement cost me a separate heap of troubles on its own
separate account.  What corkscrews did I see the military power bring out
against that Bottle; what gimlets, spikes, divining rods, gauges, and
unknown tests and instruments!  At some places, they persisted in
declaring that the wine must not be passed, without being opened and
tasted; I, pleading to the contrary, used then to argue the question
seated on the Bottle lest they should open it in spite of me.  In the
southern parts of Italy more violent shrieking, face-making, and
gesticulating, greater vehemence of speech and countenance and action,
went on about that Bottle than would attend fifty murders in a northern
latitude.  It raised important functionaries out of their beds, in the
dead of night.  I have known half-a-dozen military lanterns to disperse
themselves at all points of a great sleeping Piazza, each lantern
summoning some official creature to get up, put on his cocked-hat
instantly, and come and stop the Bottle.  It was characteristic that
while this innocent Bottle had such immense difficulty in getting from
little town to town, Signor Mazzini and the fiery cross were traversing
Italy from end to end.

Still, I stuck to my Bottle, like any fine old English gentleman all of
the olden time.  The more the Bottle was interfered with, the stauncher I
became (if possible) in my first determination that my countryman should
have it delivered to him intact, as the man whom he had so nobly restored
to life and liberty had delivered it to me.  If ever I had been obstinate
in my days—and I may have been, say, once or twice—I was obstinate about
the Bottle.  But, I made it a rule always to keep a pocket full of small
coin at its service, and never to be out of temper in its cause.  Thus, I
and the Bottle made our way.  Once we had a break-down; rather a bad
break-down, on a steep high place with the sea below us, on a tempestuous
evening when it blew great guns.  We were driving four wild horses
abreast, Southern fashion, and there was some little difficulty in
stopping them.  I was outside, and not thrown off; but no words can
describe my feelings when I saw the Bottle—travelling inside, as
usual—burst the door open, and roll obesely out into the road.  A blessed
Bottle with a charmed existence, he took no hurt, and we repaired damage,
and went on triumphant.

A thousand representations were made to me that the Bottle must be left
at this place, or that, and called for again.  I never yielded to one of
them, and never parted from the Bottle, on any pretence, consideration,
threat, or entreaty.  I had no faith in any official receipt for the
Bottle, and nothing would induce me to accept one.  These unmanageable
politics at last brought me and the Bottle, still triumphant, to Genoa.
There, I took a tender and reluctant leave of him for a few weeks, and
consigned him to a trusty English captain, to be conveyed to the Port of
London by sea.

While the Bottle was on his voyage to England, I read the Shipping
Intelligence as anxiously as if I had been an underwriter.  There was
some stormy weather after I myself had got to England by way of
Switzerland and France, and my mind greatly misgave me that the Bottle
might be wrecked.  At last to my great joy, I received notice of his safe
arrival, and immediately went down to Saint Katharine’s Docks, and found
him in a state of honourable captivity in the Custom House.

The wine was mere vinegar when I set it down before the generous
Englishman—probably it had been something like vinegar when I took it up
from Giovanni Carlavero—but not a drop of it was spilled or gone.  And
the Englishman told me, with much emotion in his face and voice, that he
had never tasted wine that seemed to him so sweet and sound.  And long
afterwards, the Bottle graced his table.  And the last time I saw him in
this world that misses him, he took me aside in a crowd, to say, with his
amiable smile: ‘We were talking of you only to-day at dinner, and I
wished you had been there, for I had some Claret up in Carlavero’s
Bottle.’



XVIII
THE CALAIS NIGHT MAIL


IT is an unsettled question with me whether I shall leave Calais
something handsome in my will, or whether I shall leave it my
malediction.  I hate it so much, and yet I am always so very glad to see
it, that I am in a state of constant indecision on this subject.  When I
first made acquaintance with Calais, it was as a maundering young wretch
in a clammy perspiration and dripping saline particles, who was conscious
of no extremities but the one great extremity, sea-sickness—who was a
mere bilious torso, with a mislaid headache somewhere in its stomach—who
had been put into a horrible swing in Dover Harbour, and had tumbled
giddily out of it on the French coast, or the Isle of Man, or anywhere.
Times have changed, and now I enter Calais self-reliant and rational.  I
know where it is beforehand, I keep a look out for it, I recognise its
landmarks when I see any of them, I am acquainted with its ways, and I
know—and I can bear—its worst behaviour.

Malignant Calais!  Low-lying alligator, evading the eyesight and
discouraging hope!  Dodging flat streak, now on this bow, now on that,
now anywhere, now everywhere, now nowhere!  In vain Cape Grinez, coming
frankly forth into the sea, exhorts the failing to be stout of heart and
stomach: sneaking Calais, prone behind its bar, invites emetically to
despair.  Even when it can no longer quite conceal itself in its muddy
dock, it has an evil way of falling off, has Calais, which is more
hopeless than its invisibility.  The pier is all but on the bowsprit, and
you think you are there—roll, roar, wash!—Calais has retired miles
inland, and Dover has burst out to look for it.  It has a last dip and
slide in its character, has Calais, to be especially commanded to the
infernal gods.  Thrice accursed be that garrison-town, when it dives
under the boat’s keel, and comes up a league or two to the right, with
the packet shivering and spluttering and staring about for it!

Not but what I have my animosities towards Dover.  I particularly detest
Dover for the self-complacency with which it goes to bed.  It always goes
to bed (when I am going to Calais) with a more brilliant display of lamp
and candle than any other town.  Mr. and Mrs. Birmingham, host and
hostess of the Lord Warden Hotel, are my much esteemed friends, but they
are too conceited about the comforts of that establishment when the Night
Mail is starting.  I know it is a good house to stay at, and I don’t want
the fact insisted upon in all its warm bright windows at such an hour.  I
know the Warden is a stationary edifice that never rolls or pitches, and
I object to its big outline seeming to insist upon that circumstance,
and, as it were, to come over me with it, when I am reeling on the deck
of the boat.  Beshrew the Warden likewise, for obstructing that corner,
and making the wind so angry as it rushes round.  Shall I not know that
it blows quite soon enough, without the officious Warden’s interference?

As I wait here on board the night packet, for the South-Eastern Train to
come down with the Mail, Dover appears to me to be illuminated for some
intensely aggravating festivity in my personal dishonour.  All its noises
smack of taunting praises of the land, and dispraises of the gloomy sea,
and of me for going on it.  The drums upon the heights have gone to bed,
or I know they would rattle taunts against me for having my unsteady
footing on this slippery deck.  The many gas eyes of the Marine Parade
twinkle in an offensive manner, as if with derision.  The distant dogs of
Dover bark at me in my misshapen wrappers, as if I were Richard the
Third.

A screech, a bell, and two red eyes come gliding down the Admiralty Pier
with a smoothness of motion rendered more smooth by the heaving of the
boat.  The sea makes noises against the pier, as if several hippopotami
were lapping at it, and were prevented by circumstances over which they
had no control from drinking peaceably.  We, the boat, become violently
agitated—rumble, hum, scream, roar, and establish an immense family
washing-day at each paddle-box.  Bright patches break out in the train as
the doors of the post-office vans are opened, and instantly stooping
figures with sacks upon their backs begin to be beheld among the piles,
descending as it would seem in ghostly procession to Davy Jones’s Locker.
The passengers come on board; a few shadowy Frenchmen, with hatboxes
shaped like the stoppers of gigantic case-bottles; a few shadowy Germans
in immense fur coats and boots; a few shadowy Englishmen prepared for the
worst and pretending not to expect it.  I cannot disguise from my
uncommercial mind the miserable fact that we are a body of outcasts; that
the attendants on us are as scant in number as may serve to get rid of us
with the least possible delay; that there are no night-loungers
interested in us; that the unwilling lamps shiver and shudder at us; that
the sole object is to commit us to the deep and abandon us.  Lo, the two
red eyes glaring in increasing distance, and then the very train itself
has gone to bed before we are off!

What is the moral support derived by some sea-going amateurs from an
umbrella?  Why do certain voyagers across the Channel always put up that
article, and hold it up with a grim and fierce tenacity?  A
fellow-creature near me—whom I only know to _be_ a fellow-creature,
because of his umbrella: without which he might be a dark bit of cliff,
pier, or bulkbead—clutches that instrument with a desperate grasp, that
will not relax until he lands at Calais.  Is there any analogy, in
certain constitutions, between keeping an umbrella up, and keeping the
spirits up?  A hawser thrown on board with a flop replies ‘Stand by!’
‘Stand by, below!’  ‘Half a turn a head!’  ‘Half a turn a head!’  ‘Half
speed!’  ‘Half speed!’  ‘Port!’  ‘Port!’  ‘Steady!’  ‘Steady!’  ‘Go on!’
‘Go on!’

A stout wooden wedge driven in at my right temple and out at my left, a
floating deposit of lukewarm oil in my throat, and a compression of the
bridge of my nose in a blunt pair of pincers,—these are the personal
sensations by which I know we are off, and by which I shall continue to
know it until I am on the soil of France.  My symptoms have scarcely
established themselves comfortably, when two or three skating shadows
that have been trying to walk or stand, get flung together, and other two
or three shadows in tarpaulin slide with them into corners and cover them
up.  Then the South Foreland lights begin to hiccup at us in a way that
bodes no good.

It is at about this period that my detestation of Calais knows no bounds.
Inwardly I resolve afresh that I never will forgive that hated town.  I
have done so before, many times, but that is past.  Let me register a
vow.  Implacable animosity to Calais everm— that was an awkward sea, and
the funnel seems of my opinion, for it gives a complaining roar.

The wind blows stiffly from the Nor-East, the sea runs high, we ship a
deal of water, the night is dark and cold, and the shapeless passengers
lie about in melancholy bundles, as if they were sorted out for the
laundress; but for my own uncommercial part I cannot pretend that I am
much inconvenienced by any of these things.  A general howling,
whistling, flopping, gurgling, and scooping, I am aware of, and a general
knocking about of Nature; but the impressions I receive are very vague.
In a sweet faint temper, something like the smell of damaged oranges, I
think I should feel languidly benevolent if I had time.  I have not time,
because I am under a curious compulsion to occupy myself with the Irish
melodies.  ‘Rich and rare were the gems she wore,’ is the particular
melody to which I find myself devoted.  I sing it to myself in the most
charming manner and with the greatest expression.  Now and then, I raise
my head (I am sitting on the hardest of wet seats, in the most
uncomfortable of wet attitudes, but I don’t mind it,) and notice that I
am a whirling shuttlecock between a fiery battledore of a lighthouse on
the French coast and a fiery battledore of a lighthouse on the English
coast; but I don’t notice it particularly, except to feel envenomed in my
hatred of Calais.  Then I go on again, ‘Rich and rare were the ge-ems
she-e-e-e wore, And a bright gold ring on her wa-and she bo-ore, But O
her beauty was fa-a-a-a-r beyond’—I am particularly proud of my execution
here, when I become aware of another awkward shock from the sea, and
another protest from the funnel, and a fellow-creature at the paddle-box
more audibly indisposed than I think he need be—‘Her sparkling gems, or
snow-white wand, But O her beauty was fa-a-a-a-a-r beyond’—another
awkward one here, and the fellow-creature with the umbrella down and
picked up—‘Her spa-a-rkling ge-ems, or her Port! port! steady! steady!
snow-white fellow-creature at the paddle-box very selfishly audible,
bump, roar, wash, white wand.’

As my execution of the Irish melodies partakes of my imperfect
perceptions of what is going on around me, so what is going on around me
becomes something else than what it is.  The stokers open the furnace
doors below, to feed the fires, and I am again on the box of the old
Exeter Telegraph fast coach, and that is the light of the for ever
extinguished coach-lamps, and the gleam on the hatches and paddle-boxes
is _their_ gleam on cottages and haystacks, and the monotonous noise of
the engines is the steady jingle of the splendid team.  Anon, the
intermittent funnel roar of protest at every violent roll, becomes the
regular blast of a high pressure engine, and I recognise the exceedingly
explosive steamer in which I ascended the Mississippi when the American
civil war was not, and when only its causes were.  A fragment of mast on
which the light of a lantern falls, an end of rope, and a jerking block
or so, become suggestive of Franconi’s Circus at Paris where I shall be
this very night mayhap (for it must be morning now), and they dance to
the self-same time and tune as the trained steed, Black Raven.  What may
be the speciality of these waves as they come rushing on, I cannot desert
the pressing demands made upon me by the gems she wore, to inquire, but
they are charged with something about Robinson Crusoe, and I think it was
in Yarmouth Roads that he first went a seafaring and was near foundering
(what a terrific sound that word had for me when I was a boy!) in his
first gale of wind.  Still, through all this, I must ask her (who _was_
she I wonder!) for the fiftieth time, and without ever stopping, Does she
not fear to stray, So lone and lovely through this bleak way, And are
Erin’s sons so good or so cold, As not to be tempted by more
fellow-creatures at the paddle-box or gold?  Sir Knight I feel not the
least alarm, No son of Erin will offer me harm, For though they love
fellow-creature with umbrella down again and golden store, Sir Knight
they what a tremendous one love honour and virtue more: For though they
love Stewards with a bull’s eye bright, they’ll trouble you for your
ticket, sir-rough passage to-night!

I freely admit it to be a miserable piece of human weakness and
inconsistency, but I no sooner become conscious of those last words from
the steward than I begin to soften towards Calais.  Whereas I have been
vindictively wishing that those Calais burghers who came out of their
town by a short cut into the History of England, with those fatal ropes
round their necks by which they have since been towed into so many
cartoons, had all been hanged on the spot, I now begin to regard them as
highly respectable and virtuous tradesmen.  Looking about me, I see the
light of Cape Grinez well astern of the boat on the davits to leeward,
and the light of Calais Harbour undeniably at its old tricks, but still
ahead and shining.  Sentiments of forgiveness of Calais, not to say of
attachment to Calais, begin to expand my bosom.  I have weak notions that
I will stay there a day or two on my way back.  A faded and recumbent
stranger pausing in a profound reverie over the rim of a basin, asks me
what kind of place Calais is?  I tell him (Heaven forgive me!) a very
agreeable place indeed—rather hilly than otherwise.

So strangely goes the time, and on the whole so quickly—though still I
seem to have been on board a week—that I am bumped, rolled, gurgled,
washed and pitched into Calais Harbour before her maiden smile has
finally lighted her through the Green Isle, When blest for ever is she
who relied, On entering Calais at the top of the tide.  For we have not
to land to-night down among those slimy timbers—covered with green hair
as if it were the mermaids’ favourite combing-place—where one crawls to
the surface of the jetty, like a stranded shrimp, but we go steaming up
the harbour to the Railway Station Quay.  And as we go, the sea washes in
and out among piles and planks, with dead heavy beats and in quite a
furious manner (whereof we are proud), and the lamps shake in the wind,
and the bells of Calais striking One seem to send their vibrations
struggling against troubled air, as we have come struggling against
troubled water.  And now, in the sudden relief and wiping of faces,
everybody on board seems to have had a prodigious double-tooth out, and
to be this very instant free of the Dentist’s hands.  And now we all know
for the first time how wet and cold we are, and how salt we are; and now
I love Calais with my heart of hearts!

‘Hôtel Dessin!’ (but in this one case it is not a vocal cry; it is but a
bright lustre in the eyes of the cheery representative of that best of
inns).  ‘Hôtel Meurice!’  ‘Hôtel de France!’  ‘Hôtel de Calais!’  ‘The
Royal Hotel, Sir, Angaishe ouse!’  ‘You going to Parry, Sir?’  ‘Your
baggage, registair froo, Sir?’  Bless ye, my Touters, bless ye, my
commissionaires, bless ye, my hungry-eyed mysteries in caps of a military
form, who are always here, day or night, fair weather or foul, seeking
inscrutable jobs which I never see you get!  Bless ye, my Custom House
officers in green and grey; permit me to grasp the welcome hands that
descend into my travelling-bag, one on each side, and meet at the bottom
to give my change of linen a peculiar shake up, as if it were a measure
of chaff or grain!  I have nothing to declare, Monsieur le Douanier,
except that when I cease to breathe, Calais will be found written on my
heart.  No article liable to local duty have I with me, Monsieur
l’Officier de l’Octroi, unless the overflowing of a breast devoted to
your charming town should be in that wise chargeable.  Ah! see at the
gangway by the twinkling lantern, my dearest brother and friend, he once
of the Passport Office, he who collects the names!  May he be for ever
changeless in his buttoned black surtout, with his note-book in his hand,
and his tall black hat, surmounting his round, smiling, patient face!
Let us embrace, my dearest brother.  I am yours à tout jamais—for the
whole of ever.

Calais up and doing at the railway station, and Calais down and dreaming
in its bed; Calais with something of ‘an ancient and fish-like smell’
about it, and Calais blown and sea-washed pure; Calais represented at the
Buffet by savoury roast fowls, hot coffee, cognac, and Bordeaux; and
Calais represented everywhere by flitting persons with a monomania for
changing money—though I never shall be able to understand in my present
state of existence how they live by it, but I suppose I should, if I
understood the currency question—Calais _en gros_, and Calais _en
détail_, forgive one who has deeply wronged you.—I was not fully aware of
it on the other side, but I meant Dover.

Ding, ding!  To the carriages, gentlemen the travellers.  Ascend then,
gentlemen the travellers, for Hazebroucke, Lille, Douai, Bruxelles,
Arras, Amiens, and Paris!  I, humble representative of the uncommercial
interest, ascend with the rest.  The train is light to-night, and I share
my compartment with but two fellow-travellers; one, a compatriot in an
obsolete cravat, who thinks it a quite unaccountable thing that they
don’t keep ‘London time’ on a French railway, and who is made angry by my
modestly suggesting the possibility of Paris time being more in their
way; the other, a young priest, with a very small bird in a very small
cage, who feeds the small bird with a quill, and then puts him up in the
network above his head, where he advances twittering, to his front wires,
and seems to address me in an electioneering manner.  The compatriot (who
crossed in the boat, and whom I judge to be some person of distinction,
as he was shut up, like a stately species of rabbit, in a private hutch
on deck) and the young priest (who joined us at Calais) are soon asleep,
and then the bird and I have it all to ourselves.

A stormy night still; a night that sweeps the wires of the electric
telegraph with a wild and fitful hand; a night so very stormy, with the
added storm of the train-progress through it, that when the Guard comes
clambering round to mark the tickets while we are at full speed (a really
horrible performance in an express train, though he holds on to the open
window by his elbows in the most deliberate manner), he stands in such a
whirlwind that I grip him fast by the collar, and feel it next to
manslaughter to let him go.  Still, when he is gone, the small, small
bird remains at his front wires feebly twittering to me—twittering and
twittering, until, leaning back in my place and looking at him in drowsy
fascination, I find that he seems to jog my memory as we rush along.

Uncommercial travels (thus the small, small bird) have lain in their idle
thriftless way through all this range of swamp and dyke, as through many
other odd places; and about here, as you very well know, are the queer
old stone farm-houses, approached by drawbridges, and the windmills that
you get at by boats.  Here, are the lands where the women hoe and dig,
paddling canoe-wise from field to field, and here are the cabarets and
other peasant-houses where the stone dove-cotes in the littered yards are
as strong as warders’ towers in old castles.  Here, are the long
monotonous miles of canal, with the great Dutch-built barges garishly
painted, and the towing girls, sometimes harnessed by the forehead,
sometimes by the girdle and the shoulders, not a pleasant sight to see.
Scattered through this country are mighty works of VAUBAN, whom you know
about, and regiments of such corporals as you heard of once upon a time,
and many a blue-eyed Bebelle.  Through these flat districts, in the
shining summer days, walk those long, grotesque files of young novices in
enormous shovel-hats, whom you remember blackening the ground checkered
by the avenues of leafy trees.  And now that Hazebroucke slumbers certain
kilometres ahead, recall the summer evening when your dusty feet
strolling up from the station tended hap-hazard to a Fair there, where
the oldest inhabitants were circling round and round a barrel-organ on
hobby-horses, with the greatest gravity, and where the principal show in
the Fair was a Religious Richardson’s—literally, on its own announcement
in great letters, THEATRE RELIGIEUX.  In which improving Temple, the
dramatic representation was of ‘all the interesting events in the life of
our Lord, from the Manger to the Tomb;’ the principal female character,
without any reservation or exception, being at the moment of your
arrival, engaged in trimming the external Moderators (as it was growing
dusk), while the next principal female character took the money, and the
Young Saint John disported himself upside down on the platform.

Looking up at this point to confirm the small, small bird in every
particular he has mentioned, I find he has ceased to twitter, and has put
his head under his wing.  Therefore, in my different way I follow the
good example.



XIX
SOME RECOLLECTIONS OF MORTALITY


I HAD parted from the small bird at somewhere about four o’clock in the
morning, when he had got out at Arras, and had been received by two
shovel-hats in waiting at the station, who presented an appropriately
ornithological and crow-like appearance.  My compatriot and I had gone on
to Paris; my compatriot enlightening me occasionally with a long list of
the enormous grievances of French railway travelling: every one of which,
as I am a sinner, was perfectly new to me, though I have as much
experience of French railways as most uncommercials.  I had left him at
the terminus (through his conviction, against all explanation and
remonstrance, that his baggage-ticket was his passenger-ticket),
insisting in a very high temper to the functionary on duty, that in his
own personal identity he was four packages weighing so many
kilogrammes—as if he had been Cassim Baba!  I had bathed and breakfasted,
and was strolling on the bright quays.  The subject of my meditations was
the question whether it is positively in the essence and nature of
things, as a certain school of Britons would seem to think it, that a
Capital must be ensnared and enslaved before it can be made beautiful:
when I lifted up my eyes and found that my feet, straying like my mind,
had brought me to Notre-Dame.

That is to say, Notre-Dame was before me, but there was a large open
space between us.  A very little while gone, I had left that space
covered with buildings densely crowded; and now it was cleared for some
new wonder in the way of public Street, Place, Garden, Fountain, or all
four.  Only the obscene little Morgue, slinking on the brink of the river
and soon to come down, was left there, looking mortally ashamed of
itself, and supremely wicked.  I had but glanced at this old
acquaintance, when I beheld an airy procession coming round in front of
Notre-Dame, past the great hospital.  It had something of a Masaniello
look, with fluttering striped curtains in the midst of it, and it came
dancing round the cathedral in the liveliest manner.

I was speculating on a marriage in Blouse-life, or a Christening, or some
other domestic festivity which I would see out, when I found, from the
talk of a quick rush of Blouses past me, that it was a Body coming to the
Morgue.  Having never before chanced upon this initiation, I constituted
myself a Blouse likewise, and ran into the Morgue with the rest.  It was
a very muddy day, and we took in a quantity of mire with us, and the
procession coming in upon our heels brought a quantity more.  The
procession was in the highest spirits, and consisted of idlers who had
come with the curtained litter from its starting-place, and of all the
reinforcements it had picked up by the way.  It set the litter down in
the midst of the Morgue, and then two Custodians proclaimed aloud that we
were all ‘invited’ to go out.  This invitation was rendered the more
pressing, if not the more flattering, by our being shoved out, and the
folding-gates being barred upon us.

Those who have never seen the Morgue, may see it perfectly, by presenting
to themselves on indifferently paved coach-house accessible from the
street by a pair of folding-gates; on the left of the coach-house,
occupying its width, any large London tailor’s or linendraper’s
plate-glass window reaching to the ground; within the window, on two rows
of inclined plane, what the coach-house has to show; hanging above, like
irregular stalactites from the roof of a cave, a quantity of clothes—the
clothes of the dead and buried shows of the coach-house.

We had been excited in the highest degree by seeing the Custodians pull
off their coats and tuck up their shirt-sleeves, as the procession came
along.  It looked so interestingly like business.  Shut out in the muddy
street, we now became quite ravenous to know all about it.  Was it river,
pistol, knife, love, gambling, robbery, hatred, how many stabs, how many
bullets, fresh or decomposed, suicide or murder?  All wedged together,
and all staring at one another with our heads thrust forward, we
propounded these inquiries and a hundred more such.  Imperceptibly, it
came to be known that Monsieur the tall and sallow mason yonder, was
acquainted with the facts.  Would Monsieur the tall and sallow mason,
surged at by a new wave of us, have the goodness to impart?  It was but a
poor old man, passing along the street under one of the new buildings, on
whom a stone had fallen, and who had tumbled dead.  His age?  Another
wave surged up against the tall and sallow mason, and our wave swept on
and broke, and he was any age from sixty-five to ninety.

An old man was not much: moreover, we could have wished he had been
killed by human agency—his own, or somebody else’s: the latter,
preferable—but our comfort was, that he had nothing about him to lead to
his identification, and that his people must seek him here.  Perhaps they
were waiting dinner for him even now?  We liked that.  Such of us as had
pocket-handkerchiefs took a slow, intense, protracted wipe at our noses,
and then crammed our handkerchiefs into the breast of our blouses.
Others of us who had no handkerchiefs administered a similar relief to
our overwrought minds, by means of prolonged smears or wipes of our
mouths on our sleeves.  One man with a gloomy malformation of brow—a
homicidal worker in white-lead, to judge from his blue tone of colour,
and a certain flavour of paralysis pervading him—got his coat-collar
between his teeth, and bit at it with an appetite.  Several decent women
arrived upon the outskirts of the crowd, and prepared to launch
themselves into the dismal coach-house when opportunity should come;
among them, a pretty young mother, pretending to bite the forefinger of
her baby-boy, kept it between her rosy lips that it might be handy for
guiding to point at the show.  Meantime, all faces were turned towards
the building, and we men waited with a fixed and stern resolution:—for
the most part with folded arms.  Surely, it was the only public French
sight these uncommercial eyes had seen, at which the expectant people did
not form _en queue_.  But there was no such order of arrangement here;
nothing but a general determination to make a rush for it, and a
disposition to object to some boys who had mounted on the two stone posts
by the hinges of the gates, with the design of swooping in when the
hinges should turn.

Now, they turned, and we rushed!  Great pressure, and a scream or two
from the front.  Then a laugh or two, some expressions of disappointment,
and a slackening of the pressure and subsidence of the struggle.—Old man
not there.

‘But what would you have?’ the Custodian reasonably argues, as he looks
out at his little door.  ‘Patience, patience!  We make his toilette,
gentlemen.  He will be exposed presently.  It is necessary to proceed
according to rule.  His toilette is not made all at a blow.  He will be
exposed in good time, gentlemen, in good time.’  And so retires, smoking,
with a wave of his sleeveless arm towards the window, importing,
‘Entertain yourselves in the meanwhile with the other curiosities.
Fortunately the Museum is not empty to-day.’

Who would have thought of public fickleness even at the Morgue?  But
there it was, on that occasion.  Three lately popular articles that had
been attracting greatly when the litter was first descried coming dancing
round the corner by the great cathedral, were so completely deposed now,
that nobody save two little girls (one showing them to a doll) would look
at them.  Yet the chief of the three, the article in the front row, had
received jagged injury of the left temple; and the other two in the back
row, the drowned two lying side by side with their heads very slightly
turned towards each other, seemed to be comparing notes about it.
Indeed, those two of the back row were so furtive of appearance, and so
(in their puffed way) assassinatingly knowing as to the one of the front,
that it was hard to think the three had never come together in their
lives, and were only chance companions after death.  Whether or no this
was the general, as it was the uncommercial, fancy, it is not to be
disputed that the group had drawn exceedingly within ten minutes.  Yet
now, the inconstant public turned its back upon them, and even leaned its
elbows carelessly against the bar outside the window and shook off the
mud from its shoes, and also lent and borrowed fire for pipes.

Custodian re-enters from his door.  ‘Again once, gentlemen, you are
invited—’  No further invitation necessary.  Ready dash into the street.
Toilette finished.  Old man coming out.

This time, the interest was grown too hot to admit of toleration of the
boys on the stone posts.  The homicidal white-lead worker made a pounce
upon one boy who was hoisting himself up, and brought him to earth amidst
general commendation.  Closely stowed as we were, we yet formed into
groups—groups of conversation, without separation from the mass—to
discuss the old man.  Rivals of the tall and sallow mason sprang into
being, and here again was popular inconstancy.  These rivals attracted
audiences, and were greedily listened to; and whereas they had derived
their information solely from the tall and sallow one, officious members
of the crowd now sought to enlighten _him_ on their authority.  Changed
by this social experience into an iron-visaged and inveterate
misanthrope, the mason glared at mankind, and evidently cherished in his
breast the wish that the whole of the present company could change places
with the deceased old man.  And now listeners became inattentive, and
people made a start forward at a slight sound, and an unholy fire kindled
in the public eye, and those next the gates beat at them impatiently, as
if they were of the cannibal species and hungry.

Again the hinges creaked, and we rushed.  Disorderly pressure for some
time ensued before the uncommercial unit got figured into the front row
of the sum.  It was strange to see so much heat and uproar seething about
one poor spare, white-haired old man, quiet for evermore.  He was calm of
feature and undisfigured, as he lay on his back—having been struck upon
the hinder part of his head, and thrown forward—and something like a tear
or two had started from the closed eyes, and lay wet upon the face.  The
uncommercial interest, sated at a glance, directed itself upon the
striving crowd on either side and behind: wondering whether one might
have guessed, from the expression of those faces merely, what kind of
sight they were looking at.  The differences of expression were not many.
There was a little pity, but not much, and that mostly with a selfish
touch in it—as who would say, ‘Shall I, poor I, look like that, when the
time comes!’  There was more of a secretly brooding contemplation and
curiosity, as ‘That man I don’t like, and have the grudge against; would
such be his appearance, if some one—not to mention names—by any chance
gave him an knock?’  There was a wolfish stare at the object, in which
homicidal white-lead worker shone conspicuous.  And there was a much more
general, purposeless, vacant staring at it—like looking at waxwork,
without a catalogue, and not knowing what to make of it.  But all these
expressions concurred in possessing the one underlying expression of
_looking at something that could not return a look_.  The uncommercial
notice had established this as very remarkable, when a new pressure all
at once coming up from the street pinioned him ignominiously, and hurried
him into the arms (now sleeved again) of the Custodian smoking at his
door, and answering questions, between puffs, with a certain placid
meritorious air of not being proud, though high in office.  And
mentioning pride, it may be observed, by the way, that one could not well
help investing the original sole occupant of the front row with an air
depreciatory of the legitimate attraction of the poor old man: while the
two in the second row seemed to exult at this superseded popularity.

Pacing presently round the garden of the Tower of St. Jacques de la
Boucherie, and presently again in front of the Hôtel de Ville, I called
to mind a certain desolate open-air Morgue that I happened to light upon
in London, one day in the hard winter of 1861, and which seemed as
strange to me, at the time of seeing it, as if I had found it in China.
Towards that hour of a winter’s afternoon when the lamp-lighters are
beginning to light the lamps in the streets a little before they are
wanted, because the darkness thickens fast and soon, I was walking in
from the country on the northern side of the Regent’s Park—hard frozen
and deserted—when I saw an empty Hansom cab drive up to the lodge at
Gloucester-gate, and the driver with great agitation call to the man
there: who quickly reached a long pole from a tree, and, deftly collared
by the driver, jumped to the step of his little seat, and so the Hansom
rattled out at the gate, galloping over the iron-bound road.  I followed
running, though not so fast but that when I came to the right-hand Canal
Bridge, near the cross-path to Chalk Farm, the Hansom was stationary, the
horse was smoking hot, the long pole was idle on the ground, and the
driver and the park-keeper were looking over the bridge parapet.  Looking
over too, I saw, lying on the towing-path with her face turned up towards
us, a woman, dead a day or two, and under thirty, as I guessed, poorly
dressed in black.  The feet were lightly crossed at the ankles, and the
dark hair, all pushed back from the face, as though that had been the
last action of her desperate hands, streamed over the ground.  Dabbled
all about her, was the water and the broken ice that had dropped from her
dress, and had splashed as she was got out.  The policeman who had just
got her out, and the passing costermonger who had helped him, were
standing near the body; the latter with that stare at it which I have
likened to being at a waxwork exhibition without a catalogue; the former,
looking over his stock, with professional stiffness and coolness, in the
direction in which the bearers he had sent for were expected.  So
dreadfully forlorn, so dreadfully sad, so dreadfully mysterious, this
spectacle of our dear sister here departed!  A barge came up, breaking
the floating ice and the silence, and a woman steered it.  The man with
the horse that towed it, cared so little for the body, that the stumbling
hoofs had been among the hair, and the tow-rope had caught and turned the
head, before our cry of horror took him to the bridle.  At which sound
the steering woman looked up at us on the bridge, with contempt
unutterable, and then looking down at the body with a similar
expression—as if it were made in another likeness from herself, had been
informed with other passions, had been lost by other chances, had had
another nature dragged down to perdition—steered a spurning streak of mud
at it, and passed on.

A better experience, but also of the Morgue kind, in which chance happily
made me useful in a slight degree, arose to my remembrance as I took my
way by the Boulevard de Sébastopol to the brighter scenes of Paris.

The thing happened, say five-and-twenty years ago.  I was a modest young
uncommercial then, and timid and inexperienced.  Many suns and winds have
browned me in the line, but those were my pale days.  Having newly taken
the lease of a house in a certain distinguished metropolitan parish—a
house which then appeared to me to be a frightfully first-class Family
Mansion, involving awful responsibilities—I became the prey of a Beadle.
I think the Beadle must have seen me going in or coming out, and must
have observed that I tottered under the weight of my grandeur.  Or he may
have been in hiding under straw when I bought my first horse (in the
desirable stable-yard attached to the first-class Family Mansion), and
when the vendor remarked to me, in an original manner, on bringing him
for approval, taking his cloth off and smacking him, ‘There, Sir!
_There’s_ a Orse!’  And when I said gallantly, ‘How much do you want for
him?’ and when the vendor said, ‘No more than sixty guineas, from you,’
and when I said smartly, ‘Why not more than sixty from _me_?’  And when
he said crushingly, ‘Because upon my soul and body he’d be considered
cheap at seventy, by one who understood the subject—but you don’t.’—I
say, the Beadle may have been in hiding under straw, when this disgrace
befell me, or he may have noted that I was too raw and young an Atlas to
carry the first-class Family Mansion in a knowing manner.  Be this as it
may, the Beadle did what Melancholy did to the youth in Gray’s Elegy—he
marked me for his own.  And the way in which the Beadle did it, was this:
he summoned me as a Juryman on his Coroner’s Inquests.

In my first feverish alarm I repaired ‘for safety and for succour’—like
those sagacious Northern shepherds who, having had no previous reason
whatever to believe in young Norval, very prudently did not originate the
hazardous idea of believing in him—to a deep householder.  This profound
man informed me that the Beadle counted on my buying him off; on my
bribing him not to summon me; and that if I would attend an Inquest with
a cheerful countenance, and profess alacrity in that branch of my
country’s service, the Beadle would be disheartened, and would give up
the game.

I roused my energies, and the next time the wily Beadle summoned me, I
went.  The Beadle was the blankest Beadle I have ever looked on when I
answered to my name; and his discomfiture gave me courage to go through
with it.

We were impanelled to inquire concerning the death of a very little mite
of a child.  It was the old miserable story.  Whether the mother had
committed the minor offence of concealing the birth, or whether she had
committed the major offence of killing the child, was the question on
which we were wanted.  We must commit her on one of the two issues.

The Inquest came off in the parish workhouse, and I have yet a lively
impression that I was unanimously received by my brother Jurymen as a
brother of the utmost conceivable insignificance.  Also, that before we
began, a broker who had lately cheated me fearfully in the matter of a
pair of card-tables, was for the utmost rigour of the law.  I remember
that we sat in a sort of board-room, on such very large square horse-hair
chairs that I wondered what race of Patagonians they were made for; and
further, that an undertaker gave me his card when we were in the full
moral freshness of having just been sworn, as ‘an inhabitant that was
newly come into the parish, and was likely to have a young family.’  The
case was then stated to us by the Coroner, and then we went
down-stairs—led by the plotting Beadle—to view the body.  From that day
to this, the poor little figure, on which that sounding legal appellation
was bestowed, has lain in the same place and with the same surroundings,
to my thinking.  In a kind of crypt devoted to the warehousing of the
parochial coffins, and in the midst of a perfect Panorama of coffins of
all sizes, it was stretched on a box; the mother had put it in her
box—this box—almost as soon as it was born, and it had been presently
found there.  It had been opened, and neatly sewn up, and regarded from
that point of view, it looked like a stuffed creature.  It rested on a
clean white cloth, with a surgical instrument or so at hand, and regarded
from that point of view, it looked as if the cloth were ‘laid,’ and the
Giant were coming to dinner.  There was nothing repellent about the poor
piece of innocence, and it demanded a mere form of looking at.  So, we
looked at an old pauper who was going about among the coffins with a foot
rule, as if he were a case of Self-Measurement; and we looked at one
another; and we said the place was well whitewashed anyhow; and then our
conversational powers as a British Jury flagged, and the foreman said,
‘All right, gentlemen?  Back again, Mr. Beadle!’

The miserable young creature who had given birth to this child within a
very few days, and who had cleaned the cold wet door-steps immediately
afterwards, was brought before us when we resumed our horse-hair chairs,
and was present during the proceedings.  She had a horse-hair chair
herself, being very weak and ill; and I remember how she turned to the
unsympathetic nurse who attended her, and who might have been the
figure-head of a pauper-ship, and how she hid her face and sobs and tears
upon that wooden shoulder.  I remember, too, how hard her mistress was
upon her (she was a servant-of-all-work), and with what a cruel
pertinacity that piece of Virtue spun her thread of evidence double, by
intertwisting it with the sternest thread of construction.  Smitten hard
by the terrible low wail from the utterly friendless orphan girl, which
never ceased during the whole inquiry, I took heart to ask this witness a
question or two, which hopefully admitted of an answer that might give a
favourable turn to the case.  She made the turn as little favourable as
it could be, but it did some good, and the Coroner, who was nobly patient
and humane (he was the late Mr. Wakley), cast a look of strong
encouragement in my direction.  Then, we had the doctor who had made the
examination, and the usual tests as to whether the child was born alive;
but he was a timid, muddle-headed doctor, and got confused and
contradictory, and wouldn’t say this, and couldn’t answer for that, and
the immaculate broker was too much for him, and our side slid back again.
However, I tried again, and the Coroner backed me again, for which I ever
afterwards felt grateful to him as I do now to his memory; and we got
another favourable turn, out of some other witness, some member of the
family with a strong prepossession against the sinner; and I think we had
the doctor back again; and I know that the Coroner summed up for our
side, and that I and my British brothers turned round to discuss our
verdict, and get ourselves into great difficulties with our large chairs
and the broker.  At that stage of the case I tried hard again, being
convinced that I had cause for it; and at last we found for the minor
offence of only concealing the birth; and the poor desolate creature, who
had been taken out during our deliberation, being brought in again to be
told of the verdict, then dropped upon her knees before us, with
protestations that we were right—protestations among the most affecting
that I have ever heard in my life—and was carried away insensible.

(In private conversation after this was all over, the Coroner showed me
his reasons as a trained surgeon, for perceiving it to be impossible that
the child could, under the most favourable circumstances, have drawn many
breaths, in the very doubtful case of its having ever breathed at all;
this, owing to the discovery of some foreign matter in the windpipe,
quite irreconcilable with many moments of life.)

When the agonised girl had made those final protestations, I had seen her
face, and it was in unison with her distracted heartbroken voice, and it
was very moving.  It certainly did not impress me by any beauty that it
had, and if I ever see it again in another world I shall only know it by
the help of some new sense or intelligence.  But it came to me in my
sleep that night, and I selfishly dismissed it in the most efficient way
I could think of.  I caused some extra care to be taken of her in the
prison, and counsel to be retained for her defence when she was tried at
the Old Bailey; and her sentence was lenient, and her history and conduct
proved that it was right.  In doing the little I did for her, I remember
to have had the kind help of some gentle-hearted functionary to whom I
addressed myself—but what functionary I have long forgotten—who I suppose
was officially present at the Inquest.

I regard this as a very notable uncommercial experience, because this
good came of a Beadle.  And to the best of my knowledge, information, and
belief, it is the only good that ever did come of a Beadle since the
first Beadle put on his cocked-hat.



XX
BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS


IT came into my mind that I would recall in these notes a few of the many
hostelries I have rested at in the course of my journeys; and, indeed, I
had taken up my pen for the purpose, when I was baffled by an accidental
circumstance.  It was the having to leave off, to wish the owner of a
certain bright face that looked in at my door, ‘many happy returns of the
day.’  Thereupon a new thought came into my mind, driving its predecessor
out, and I began to recall—instead of Inns—the birthdays that I have put
up at, on my way to this present sheet of paper.

I can very well remember being taken out to visit some peach-faced
creature in a blue sash, and shoes to correspond, whose life I supposed
to consist entirely of birthdays.  Upon seed-cake, sweet wine, and
shining presents, that glorified young person seemed to me to be
exclusively reared.  At so early a stage of my travels did I assist at
the anniversary of her nativity (and become enamoured of her), that I had
not yet acquired the recondite knowledge that a birthday is the common
property of all who are born, but supposed it to be a special gift
bestowed by the favouring Heavens on that one distinguished infant.
There was no other company, and we sat in a shady bower—under a table, as
my better (or worse) knowledge leads me to believe—and were regaled with
saccharine substances and liquids, until it was time to part.  A bitter
powder was administered to me next morning, and I was wretched.  On the
whole, a pretty accurate foreshadowing of my more mature experiences in
such wise!

Then came the time when, inseparable from one’s own birthday, was a
certain sense of merit, a consciousness of well-earned distinction.  When
I regarded my birthday as a graceful achievement of my own, a monument of
my perseverance, independence, and good sense, redounding greatly to my
honour.  This was at about the period when Olympia Squires became
involved in the anniversary.  Olympia was most beautiful (of course), and
I loved her to that degree, that I used to be obliged to get out of my
little bed in the night, expressly to exclaim to Solitude, ‘O, Olympia
Squires!’  Visions of Olympia, clothed entirely in sage-green, from which
I infer a defectively educated taste on the part of her respected
parents, who were necessarily unacquainted with the South Kensington
Museum, still arise before me.  Truth is sacred, and the visions are
crowned by a shining white beaver bonnet, impossibly suggestive of a
little feminine postboy.  My memory presents a birthday when Olympia and
I were taken by an unfeeling relative—some cruel uncle, or the like—to a
slow torture called an Orrery.  The terrible instrument was set up at the
local Theatre, and I had expressed a profane wish in the morning that it
was a Play: for which a serious aunt had probed my conscience deep, and
my pocket deeper, by reclaiming a bestowed half-crown.  It was a
venerable and a shabby Orrery, at least one thousand stars and
twenty-five comets behind the age.  Nevertheless, it was awful.  When the
low-spirited gentleman with a wand said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ (meaning
particularly Olympia and me), ‘the lights are about to be put out, but
there is not the slightest cause for alarm,’ it was very alarming.  Then
the planets and stars began.  Sometimes they wouldn’t come on, sometimes
they wouldn’t go off, sometimes they had holes in them, and mostly they
didn’t seem to be good likenesses.  All this time the gentleman with the
wand was going on in the dark (tapping away at the heavenly bodies
between whiles, like a wearisome woodpecker), about a sphere revolving on
its own axis eight hundred and ninety-seven thousand millions of times—or
miles—in two hundred and sixty-three thousand five hundred and
twenty-four millions of something elses, until I thought if this was a
birthday it were better never to have been born.  Olympia, also, became
much depressed, and we both slumbered and woke cross, and still the
gentleman was going on in the dark—whether up in the stars, or down on
the stage, it would have been hard to make out, if it had been worth
trying—cyphering away about planes of orbits, to such an infamous extent
that Olympia, stung to madness, actually kicked me.  A pretty birthday
spectacle, when the lights were turned up again, and all the schools in
the town (including the National, who had come in for nothing, and serve
them right, for they were always throwing stones) were discovered with
exhausted countenances, screwing their knuckles into their eyes, or
clutching their heads of hair.  A pretty birthday speech when Dr. Sleek
of the City-Free bobbed up his powdered head in the stage-box, and said
that before this assembly dispersed he really must beg to express his
entire approval of a lecture as improving, as informing, as devoid of
anything that could call a blush into the cheek of youth, as any it had
ever been his lot to hear delivered.  A pretty birthday altogether, when
Astronomy couldn’t leave poor Small Olympia Squires and me alone, but
must put an end to our loves!  For, we never got over it; the threadbare
Orrery outwore our mutual tenderness; the man with the wand was too much
for the boy with the bow.

When shall I disconnect the combined smells of oranges, brown paper, and
straw, from those other birthdays at school, when the coming hamper casts
its shadow before, and when a week of social harmony—shall I add of
admiring and affectionate popularity—led up to that Institution?  What
noble sentiments were expressed to me in the days before the hamper, what
vows of friendship were sworn to me, what exceedingly old knives were
given me, what generous avowals of having been in the wrong emanated from
else obstinate spirits once enrolled among my enemies!  The birthday of
the potted game and guava jelly, is still made special to me by the noble
conduct of Bully Globson.  Letters from home had mysteriously inquired
whether I should be much surprised and disappointed if among the
treasures in the coming hamper I discovered potted game, and guava jelly
from the Western Indies.  I had mentioned those hints in confidence to a
few friends, and had promised to give away, as I now see reason to
believe, a handsome covey of partridges potted, and about a hundredweight
of guava jelly.  It was now that Globson, Bully no more, sought me out in
the playground.  He was a big fat boy, with a big fat head and a big fat
fist, and at the beginning of that Half had raised such a bump on my
forehead that I couldn’t get my hat of state on, to go to church.  He
said that after an interval of cool reflection (four months) he now felt
this blow to have been an error of judgment, and that he wished to
apologise for the same.  Not only that, but holding down his big head
between his two big hands in order that I might reach it conveniently, he
requested me, as an act of justice which would appease his awakened
conscience, to raise a retributive bump upon it, in the presence of
witnesses.  This handsome proposal I modestly declined, and he then
embraced me, and we walked away conversing.  We conversed respecting the
West India Islands, and, in the pursuit of knowledge he asked me with
much interest whether in the course of my reading I had met with any
reliable description of the mode of manufacturing guava jelly; or whether
I had ever happened to taste that conserve, which he had been given to
understand was of rare excellence.

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty; and then with the waning months
came an ever augmenting sense of the dignity of twenty-one.  Heaven knows
I had nothing to ‘come into,’ save the bare birthday, and yet I esteemed
it as a great possession.  I now and then paved the way to my state of
dignity, by beginning a proposition with the casual words, ‘say that a
man of twenty-one,’ or by the incidental assumption of a fact that could
not sanely be disputed, as, ‘for when a fellow comes to be a man of
twenty-one.’  I gave a party on the occasion.  She was there.  It is
unnecessary to name Her, more particularly; She was older than I, and had
pervaded every chink and crevice of my mind for three or four years.  I
had held volumes of Imaginary Conversations with her mother on the
subject of our union, and I had written letters more in number than
Horace Walpole’s, to that discreet woman, soliciting her daughter’s hand
in marriage.  I had never had the remotest intention of sending any of
those letters; but to write them, and after a few days tear them up, had
been a sublime occupation.  Sometimes, I had begun ‘Honoured Madam.  I
think that a lady gifted with those powers of observation which I know
you to possess, and endowed with those womanly sympathies with the young
and ardent which it were more than heresy to doubt, can scarcely have
failed to discover that I love your adorable daughter, deeply,
devotedly.’  In less buoyant states of mind I had begun, ‘Bear with me,
Dear Madam, bear with a daring wretch who is about to make a surprising
confession to you, wholly unanticipated by yourself, and which he
beseeches you to commit to the flames as soon as you have become aware to
what a towering height his mad ambition soars.’  At other times—periods
of profound mental depression, when She had gone out to balls where I was
not—the draft took the affecting form of a paper to be left on my table
after my departure to the confines of the globe.  As thus: ‘For Mrs.
Onowenever, these lines when the hand that traces them shall be far away.
I could not bear the daily torture of hopelessly loving the dear one whom
I will not name.  Broiling on the coast of Africa, or congealing on the
shores of Greenland, I am far far better there than here.’  (In this
sentiment my cooler judgment perceives that the family of the beloved
object would have most completely concurred.)  ‘If I ever emerge from
obscurity, and my name is ever heralded by Fame, it will be for her dear
sake.  If I ever amass Gold, it will be to pour it at her feet.  Should I
on the other hand become the prey of Ravens—’  I doubt if I ever quite
made up my mind what was to be done in that affecting case; I tried ‘then
it is better so;’ but not feeling convinced that it would be better so, I
vacillated between leaving all else blank, which looked expressive and
bleak, or winding up with ‘Farewell!’

This fictitious correspondence of mine is to blame for the foregoing
digression.  I was about to pursue the statement that on my twenty-first
birthday I gave a party, and She was there.  It was a beautiful party.
There was not a single animate or inanimate object connected with it
(except the company and myself) that I had ever seen before.  Everything
was hired, and the mercenaries in attendance were profound strangers to
me.  Behind a door, in the crumby part of the night when wine-glasses
were to be found in unexpected spots, I spoke to Her—spoke out to Her.
What passed, I cannot as a man of honour reveal.  She was all angelical
gentleness, but a word was mentioned—a short and dreadful word of three
letters, beginning with a B— which, as I remarked at the moment,
‘scorched my brain.’  She went away soon afterwards, and when the hollow
throng (though to be sure it was no fault of theirs) dispersed, I issued
forth, with a dissipated scorner, and, as I mentioned expressly to him,
‘sought oblivion.’  It was found, with a dreadful headache in it, but it
didn’t last; for, in the shaming light of next day’s noon, I raised my
heavy head in bed, looking back to the birthdays behind me, and tracking
the circle by which I had got round, after all, to the bitter powder and
the wretchedness again.

This reactionary powder (taken so largely by the human race I am inclined
to regard it as the Universal Medicine once sought for in Laboratories)
is capable of being made up in another form for birthday use.  Anybody’s
long-lost brother will do ill to turn up on a birthday.  If I had a
long-lost brother I should know beforehand that he would prove a
tremendous fraternal failure if he appointed to rush into my arms on my
birthday.  The first Magic Lantern I ever saw, was secretly and
elaborately planned to be the great effect of a very juvenile birthday;
but it wouldn’t act, and its images were dim.  My experience of adult
birthday Magic Lanterns may possibly have been unfortunate, but has
certainly been similar.  I have an illustrative birthday in my eye: a
birthday of my friend Flipfield, whose birthdays had long been remarkable
as social successes.  There had been nothing set or formal about them;
Flipfield having been accustomed merely to say, two or three days before,
‘Don’t forget to come and dine, old boy, according to custom;’—I don’t
know what he said to the ladies he invited, but I may safely assume it
_not_ to have been ‘old girl.’  Those were delightful gatherings, and
were enjoyed by all participators.  In an evil hour, a long-lost brother
of Flipfield’s came to light in foreign parts.  Where he had been hidden,
or what he had been doing, I don’t know, for Flipfield vaguely informed
me that he had turned up ‘on the banks of the Ganges’—speaking of him as
if he had been washed ashore.  The Long-lost was coming home, and
Flipfield made an unfortunate calculation, based on the well-known
regularity of the P. and O. Steamers, that matters might be so contrived
as that the Long-lost should appear in the nick of time on his
(Flipfield’s) birthday.  Delicacy commanded that I should repress the
gloomy anticipations with which my soul became fraught when I heard of
this plan.  The fatal day arrived, and we assembled in force.  Mrs.
Flipfield senior formed an interesting feature in the group, with a
blue-veined miniature of the late Mr. Flipfield round her neck, in an
oval, resembling a tart from the pastrycook’s: his hair powdered, and the
bright buttons on his coat, evidently very like.  She was accompanied by
Miss Flipfield, the eldest of her numerous family, who held her
pocket-handkerchief to her bosom in a majestic manner, and spoke to all
of us (none of us had ever seen her before), in pious and condoning
tones, of all the quarrels that had taken place in the family, from her
infancy—which must have been a long time ago—down to that hour.  The
Long-lost did not appear.  Dinner, half an hour later than usual, was
announced, and still no Long-lost.  We sat down to table.  The knife and
fork of the Long-lost made a vacuum in Nature, and when the champagne
came round for the first time, Flipfield gave him up for the day, and had
them removed.  It was then that the Long-lost gained the height of his
popularity with the company; for my own part, I felt convinced that I
loved him dearly.  Flipfield’s dinners are perfect, and he is the easiest
and best of entertainers.  Dinner went on brilliantly, and the more the
Long-lost didn’t come, the more comfortable we grew, and the more highly
we thought of him.  Flipfield’s own man (who has a regard for me) was in
the act of struggling with an ignorant stipendiary, to wrest from him the
wooden leg of a Guinea-fowl which he was pressing on my acceptance, and
to substitute a slice of the breast, when a ringing at the door-bell
suspended the strife.  I looked round me, and perceived the sudden pallor
which I knew my own visage revealed, reflected in the faces of the
company.  Flipfield hurriedly excused himself, went out, was absent for
about a minute or two, and then re-entered with the Long-lost.

I beg to say distinctly that if the stranger had brought Mont Blanc with
him, or had come attended by a retinue of eternal snows, he could not
have chilled the circle to the marrow in a more efficient manner.
Embodied Failure sat enthroned upon the Long-lost’s brow, and pervaded
him to his Long-lost boots.  In vain Mrs. Flipfield senior, opening her
arms, exclaimed, ‘My Tom!’ and pressed his nose against the counterfeit
presentment of his other parent.  In vain Miss Flipfield, in the first
transports of this re-union, showed him a dint upon her maidenly cheek,
and asked him if he remembered when he did that with the bellows?  We,
the bystanders, were overcome, but overcome by the palpable,
undisguisable, utter, and total break-down of the Long-lost.  Nothing he
could have done would have set him right with us but his instant return
to the Ganges.  In the very same moments it became established that the
feeling was reciprocal, and that the Long-lost detested us.  When a
friend of the family (not myself, upon my honour), wishing to set things
going again, asked him, while he partook of soup—asked him with an
amiability of intention beyond all praise, but with a weakness of
execution open to defeat—what kind of river he considered the Ganges, the
Long-lost, scowling at the friend of the family over his spoon, as one of
an abhorrent race, replied, ‘Why, a river of water, I suppose,’ and
spooned his soup into himself with a malignancy of hand and eye that
blighted the amiable questioner.  Not an opinion could be elicited from
the Long-lost, in unison with the sentiments of any individual present.
He contradicted Flipfield dead, before he had eaten his salmon.  He had
no idea—or affected to have no idea—that it was his brother’s birthday,
and on the communication of that interesting fact to him, merely wanted
to make him out four years older than he was.  He was an antipathetical
being, with a peculiar power and gift of treading on everybody’s
tenderest place.  They talk in America of a man’s ‘Platform.’  I should
describe the Platform of the Long-lost as a Platform composed of other
people’s corns, on which he had stumped his way, with all his might and
main, to his present position.  It is needless to add that Flipfield’s
great birthday went by the board, and that he was a wreck when I
pretended at parting to wish him many happy returns of it.

There is another class of birthdays at which I have so frequently
assisted, that I may assume such birthdays to be pretty well known to the
human race.  My friend Mayday’s birthday is an example.  The guests have
no knowledge of one another except on that one day in the year, and are
annually terrified for a week by the prospect of meeting one another
again.  There is a fiction among us that we have uncommon reasons for
being particularly lively and spirited on the occasion, whereas deep
despondency is no phrase for the expression of our feelings.  But the
wonderful feature of the case is, that we are in tacit accordance to
avoid the subject—to keep it as far off as possible, as long as
possible—and to talk about anything else, rather than the joyful event.
I may even go so far as to assert that there is a dumb compact among us
that we will pretend that it is NOT Mayday’s birthday.  A mysterious and
gloomy Being, who is said to have gone to school with Mayday, and who is
so lank and lean that he seriously impugns the Dietary of the
establishment at which they were jointly educated, always leads us, as I
may say, to the block, by laying his grisly hand on a decanter and
begging us to fill our glasses.  The devices and pretences that I have
seen put in practice to defer the fatal moment, and to interpose between
this man and his purpose, are innumerable.  I have known desperate
guests, when they saw the grisly hand approaching the decanter, wildly to
begin, without any antecedent whatsoever, ‘That reminds me—’ and to
plunge into long stories.  When at last the hand and the decanter come
together, a shudder, a palpable perceptible shudder, goes round the
table.  We receive the reminder that it is Mayday’s birthday, as if it
were the anniversary of some profound disgrace he had undergone, and we
sought to comfort him.  And when we have drunk Mayday’s health, and
wished him many happy returns, we are seized for some moments with a
ghastly blitheness, an unnatural levity, as if we were in the first
flushed reaction of having undergone a surgical operation.

Birthdays of this species have a public as well as a private phase.  My
‘boyhood’s home,’ Dullborough, presents a case in point.  An Immortal
Somebody was wanted in Dullborough, to dimple for a day the stagnant face
of the waters; he was rather wanted by Dullborough generally, and much
wanted by the principal hotel-keeper.  The County history was looked up
for a locally Immortal Somebody, but the registered Dullborough worthies
were all Nobodies.  In this state of things, it is hardly necessary to
record that Dullborough did what every man does when he wants to write a
book or deliver a lecture, and is provided with all the materials except
a subject.  It fell back upon Shakespeare.

No sooner was it resolved to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday in
Dullborough, than the popularity of the immortal bard became surprising.
You might have supposed the first edition of his works to have been
published last week, and enthusiastic Dullborough to have got half
through them.  (I doubt, by the way, whether it had ever done half that,
but that is a private opinion.)  A young gentleman with a sonnet, the
retention of which for two years had enfeebled his mind and undermined
his knees, got the sonnet into the Dullborough Warden, and gained flesh.
Portraits of Shakespeare broke out in the bookshop windows, and our
principal artist painted a large original portrait in oils for the
decoration of the dining-room.  It was not in the least like any of the
other Portraits, and was exceedingly admired, the head being much
swollen.  At the Institution, the Debating Society discussed the new
question, Was there sufficient ground for supposing that the Immortal
Shakespeare ever stole deer?  This was indignantly decided by an
overwhelming majority in the negative; indeed, there was but one vote on
the Poaching side, and that was the vote of the orator who had undertaken
to advocate it, and who became quite an obnoxious character—particularly
to the Dullborough ‘roughs,’ who were about as well informed on the
matter as most other people.  Distinguished speakers were invited down,
and very nearly came (but not quite).  Subscriptions were opened, and
committees sat, and it would have been far from a popular measure in the
height of the excitement, to have told Dullborough that it wasn’t
Stratford-upon-Avon.  Yet, after all these preparations, when the great
festivity took place, and the portrait, elevated aloft, surveyed the
company as if it were in danger of springing a mine of intellect and
blowing itself up, it did undoubtedly happen, according to the
inscrutable mysteries of things, that nobody could be induced, not to say
to touch upon Shakespeare, but to come within a mile of him, until the
crack speaker of Dullborough rose to propose the immortal memory.  Which
he did with the perplexing and astonishing result that before he had
repeated the great name half-a-dozen times, or had been upon his legs as
many minutes, he was assailed with a general shout of ‘Question.’



XXI
THE SHORT-TIMERS


‘WITHIN so many yards of this Covent-garden lodging of mine, as within so
many yards of Westminster Abbey, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of
Parliament, the Prisons, the Courts of Justice, all the Institutions that
govern the land, I can find—_must_ find, whether I will or no—in the open
streets, shameful instances of neglect of children, intolerable
toleration of the engenderment of paupers, idlers, thieves, races of
wretched and destructive cripples both in body and mind, a misery to
themselves, a misery to the community, a disgrace to civilisation, and an
outrage on Christianity.—I know it to be a fact as easy of demonstration
as any sum in any of the elementary rules of arithmetic, that if the
State would begin its work and duty at the beginning, and would with the
strong hand take those children out of the streets, while they are yet
children, and wisely train them, it would make them a part of England’s
glory, not its shame—of England’s strength, not its weakness—would raise
good soldiers and sailors, and good citizens, and many great men, out of
the seeds of its criminal population.  Yet I go on bearing with the
enormity as if it were nothing, and I go on reading the Parliamentary
Debates as if they were something, and I concern myself far more about
one railway-bridge across a public thoroughfare, than about a dozen
generations of scrofula, ignorance, wickedness, prostitution, poverty,
and felony.  I can slip out at my door, in the small hours after any
midnight, and, in one circuit of the purlieus of Covent-garden Market,
can behold a state of infancy and youth, as vile as if a Bourbon sat upon
the English throne; a great police force looking on with authority to do
no more than worry and hunt the dreadful vermin into corners, and there
leave them.  Within the length of a few streets I can find a workhouse,
mismanaged with that dull short-sighted obstinacy that its greatest
opportunities as to the children it receives are lost, and yet not a
farthing saved to any one.  But the wheel goes round, and round, and
round; and because it goes round—so I am told by the politest
authorities—it goes well.’

Thus I reflected, one day in the Whitsun week last past, as I floated
down the Thames among the bridges, looking—not inappropriately—at the
drags that were hanging up at certain dirty stairs to hook the drowned
out, and at the numerous conveniences provided to facilitate their
tumbling in.  My object in that uncommercial journey called up another
train of thought, and it ran as follows:

‘When I was at school, one of seventy boys, I wonder by what secret
understanding our attention began to wander when we had pored over our
books for some hours.  I wonder by what ingenuity we brought on that
confused state of mind when sense became nonsense, when figures wouldn’t
work, when dead languages wouldn’t construe, when live languages wouldn’t
be spoken, when memory wouldn’t come, when dulness and vacancy wouldn’t
go.  I cannot remember that we ever conspired to be sleepy after dinner,
or that we ever particularly wanted to be stupid, and to have flushed
faces and hot beating heads, or to find blank hopelessness and obscurity
this afternoon in what would become perfectly clear and bright in the
freshness of to-morrow morning.  We suffered for these things, and they
made us miserable enough.  Neither do I remember that we ever bound
ourselves by any secret oath or other solemn obligation, to find the
seats getting too hard to be sat upon after a certain time; or to have
intolerable twitches in our legs, rendering us aggressive and malicious
with those members; or to be troubled with a similar uneasiness in our
elbows, attended with fistic consequences to our neighbours; or to carry
two pounds of lead in the chest, four pounds in the head, and several
active blue-bottles in each ear.  Yet, for certain, we suffered under
those distresses, and were always charged at for labouring under them, as
if we had brought them on, of our own deliberate act and deed.  As to the
mental portion of them being my own fault in my own case—I should like to
ask any well-trained and experienced teacher, not to say psychologist.
And as to the physical portion—I should like to ask PROFESSOR OWEN.’

It happened that I had a small bundle of papers with me, on what is
called ‘The Half-Time System’ in schools.  Referring to one of those
papers I found that the indefatigable MR. CHADWICK had been beforehand
with me, and had already asked Professor Owen: who had handsomely replied
that I was not to blame, but that, being troubled with a skeleton, and
having been constituted according to certain natural laws, I and my
skeleton were unfortunately bound by those laws even in school—and had
comported ourselves accordingly.  Much comforted by the good Professor’s
being on my side, I read on to discover whether the indefatigable Mr.
Chadwick had taken up the mental part of my afflictions.  I found that he
had, and that he had gained on my behalf, SIR BENJAMIN BRODIE, SIR DAVID
WILKIE, SIR WALTER SCOTT, and the common sense of mankind.  For which I
beg Mr. Chadwick, if this should meet his eye, to accept my warm
acknowledgments.

Up to that time I had retained a misgiving that the seventy unfortunates
of whom I was one, must have been, without knowing it, leagued together
by the spirit of evil in a sort of perpetual Guy Fawkes Plot, to grope
about in vaults with dark lanterns after a certain period of continuous
study.  But now the misgiving vanished, and I floated on with a quieted
mind to see the Half-Time System in action.  For that was the purpose of
my journey, both by steamboat on the Thames, and by very dirty railway on
the shore.  To which last institution, I beg to recommend the legal use
of coke as engine-fuel, rather than the illegal use of coal; the
recommendation is quite disinterested, for I was most liberally supplied
with small coal on the journey, for which no charge was made.  I had not
only my eyes, nose, and ears filled, but my hat, and all my pockets, and
my pocket-book, and my watch.

The V.D.S.C.R.C. (or Very Dirty and Small Coal Railway Company) delivered
me close to my destination, and I soon found the Half-Time System
established in spacious premises, and freely placed at my convenience and
disposal.

What would I see first of the Half-Time System?  I chose Military Drill.
‘Atten-tion!’  Instantly a hundred boys stood forth in the paved yard as
one boy; bright, quick, eager, steady, watchful for the look of command,
instant and ready for the word.  Not only was there complete
precision—complete accord to the eye and to the ear—but an alertness in
the doing of the thing which deprived it, curiously, of its monotonous or
mechanical character.  There was perfect uniformity, and yet an
individual spirit and emulation.  No spectator could doubt that the boys
liked it.  With non-commissioned officers varying from a yard to a yard
and a half high, the result could not possibly have been attained
otherwise.  They marched, and counter-marched, and formed in line and
square, and company, and single file and double file, and performed a
variety of evolutions; all most admirably.  In respect of an air of
enjoyable understanding of what they were about, which seems to be
forbidden to English soldiers, the boys might have been small French
troops.  When they were dismissed and the broadsword exercise, limited to
a much smaller number, succeeded, the boys who had no part in that new
drill, either looked on attentively, or disported themselves in a
gymnasium hard by.  The steadiness of the broadsword boys on their short
legs, and the firmness with which they sustained the different positions,
was truly remarkable.

The broadsword exercise over, suddenly there was great excitement and a
rush.  Naval Drill!

In the corner of the ground stood a decked mimic ship, with real masts,
yards, and sails—mainmast seventy feet high.  At the word of command from
the Skipper of this ship—a mahogany-faced Old Salt, with the
indispensable quid in his cheek, the true nautical roll, and all
wonderfully complete—the rigging was covered with a swarm of boys: one,
the first to spring into the shrouds, outstripping all the others, and
resting on the truck of the main-topmast in no time.

And now we stood out to sea, in a most amazing manner; the Skipper
himself, the whole crew, the Uncommercial, and all hands present,
implicitly believing that there was not a moment to lose, that the wind
had that instant chopped round and sprung up fair, and that we were away
on a voyage round the world.  Get all sail upon her!  With a will, my
lads!  Lay out upon the main-yard there!  Look alive at the weather
earring!  Cheery, my boys!  Let go the sheet, now!  Stand by at the
braces, you!  With a will, aloft there!  Belay, starboard watch!  Fifer!
Come aft, fifer, and give ’em a tune!  Forthwith, springs up fifer, fife
in hand—smallest boy ever seen—big lump on temple, having lately fallen
down on a paving-stone—gives ’em a tune with all his might and main.
Hoo-roar, fifer!  With a will, my lads!  Tip ’em a livelier one, fifer!
Fifer tips ’em a livelier one, and excitement increases.  Shake ’em out,
my lads!  Well done!  There you have her!  Pretty, pretty!  Every rag
upon her she can carry, wind right astarn, and ship cutting through the
water fifteen knots an hour!

At this favourable moment of her voyage, I gave the alarm ‘A man
overboard!’ (on the gravel), but he was immediately recovered, none the
worse.  Presently, I observed the Skipper overboard, but forbore to
mention it, as he seemed in no wise disconcerted by the accident.
Indeed, I soon came to regard the Skipper as an amphibious creature, for
he was so perpetually plunging overboard to look up at the hands aloft,
that he was oftener in the bosom of the ocean than on deck.  His pride in
his crew on those occasions was delightful, and the conventional
unintelligibility of his orders in the ears of uncommercial landlubbers
and loblolly boys, though they were always intelligible to the crew, was
hardly less pleasant.  But we couldn’t expect to go on in this way for
ever; dirty weather came on, and then worse weather, and when we least
expected it we got into tremendous difficulties.  Screw loose in the
chart perhaps—something certainly wrong somewhere—but here we were with
breakers ahead, my lads, driving head on, slap on a lee shore!  The
Skipper broached this terrific announcement in such great agitation, that
the small fifer, not fifeing now, but standing looking on near the wheel
with his fife under his arm, seemed for the moment quite unboyed, though
he speedily recovered his presence of mind.  In the trying circumstances
that ensued, the Skipper and the crew proved worthy of one another.  The
Skipper got dreadfully hoarse, but otherwise was master of the situation.
The man at the wheel did wonders; all hands (except the fifer) were
turned up to wear ship; and I observed the fifer, when we were at our
greatest extremity, to refer to some document in his waistcoat-pocket,
which I conceived to be his will.  I think she struck.  I was not myself
conscious of any collision, but I saw the Skipper so very often washed
overboard and back again, that I could only impute it to the beating of
the ship.  I am not enough of a seaman to describe the manœuvres by which
we were saved, but they made the Skipper very hot (French polishing his
mahogany face) and the crew very nimble, and succeeded to a marvel; for,
within a few minutes of the first alarm, we had wore ship and got her
off, and were all a-tauto—which I felt very grateful for: not that I knew
what it was, but that I perceived that we had not been all a-tauto
lately.  Land now appeared on our weather-bow, and we shaped our course
for it, having the wind abeam, and frequently changing the man at the
helm, in order that every man might have his spell.  We worked into
harbour under prosperous circumstances, and furled our sails, and squared
our yards, and made all ship-shape and handsome, and so our voyage ended.
When I complimented the Skipper at parting on his exertions and those of
his gallant crew, he informed me that the latter were provided for the
worst, all hands being taught to swim and dive; and he added that the
able seaman at the main-topmast truck especially, could dive as deep as
he could go high.

The next adventure that befell me in my visit to the Short-Timers, was
the sudden apparition of a military band.  I had been inspecting the
hammocks of the crew of the good ship, when I saw with astonishment that
several musical instruments, brazen and of great size, appeared to have
suddenly developed two legs each, and to be trotting about a yard.  And
my astonishment was heightened when I observed a large drum, that had
previously been leaning helpless against a wall, taking up a stout
position on four legs.  Approaching this drum and looking over it, I
found two boys behind it (it was too much for one), and then I found that
each of the brazen instruments had brought out a boy, and was going to
discourse sweet sounds.  The boys—not omitting the fifer, now playing a
new instrument—were dressed in neat uniform, and stood up in a circle at
their music-stands, like any other Military Band.  They played a march or
two, and then we had Cheer boys, Cheer, and then we had Yankee Doodle,
and we finished, as in loyal duty bound, with God save the Queen.  The
band’s proficiency was perfectly wonderful, and it was not at all
wonderful that the whole body corporate of Short-Timers listened with
faces of the liveliest interest and pleasure.

What happened next among the Short-Timers?  As if the band had blown me
into a great class-room out of their brazen tubes, _in_ a great
class-room I found myself now, with the whole choral force of
Short-Timers singing the praises of a summer’s day to the harmonium, and
my small but highly respected friend the fifer blazing away vocally, as
if he had been saving up his wind for the last twelvemonth; also the
whole crew of the good ship Nameless swarming up and down the scale as if
they had never swarmed up and down the rigging.  This done, we threw our
whole power into God bless the Prince of Wales, and blessed his Royal
Highness to such an extent that, for my own Uncommercial part, I gasped
again when it was over.  The moment this was done, we formed, with
surpassing freshness, into hollow squares, and fell to work at oral
lessons as if we never did, and had never thought of doing, anything
else.

Let a veil be drawn over the self-committals into which the Uncommercial
Traveller would have been betrayed but for a discreet reticence, coupled
with an air of absolute wisdom on the part of that artful personage.
Take the square of five, multiply it by fifteen, divide it by three,
deduct eight from it, add four dozen to it, give me the result in pence,
and tell me how many eggs I could get for it at three farthings apiece.
The problem is hardly stated, when a dozen small boys pour out answers.
Some wide, some very nearly right, some worked as far as they go with
such accuracy, as at once to show what link of the chain has been dropped
in the hurry.  For the moment, none are quite right; but behold a
labouring spirit beating the buttons on its corporeal waistcoat, in a
process of internal calculation, and knitting an accidental bump on its
corporeal forehead in a concentration of mental arithmetic!  It is my
honourable friend (if he will allow me to call him so) the fifer.  With
right arm eagerly extended in token of being inspired with an answer, and
with right leg foremost, the fifer solves the mystery: then recalls both
arm and leg, and with bump in ambush awaits the next poser.  Take the
square of three, multiply it by seven, divide it by four, add fifty to
it, take thirteen from it, multiply it by two, double it, give me the
result in pence, and say how many halfpence.  Wise as the serpent is the
four feet of performer on the nearest approach to that instrument, whose
right arm instantly appears, and quenches this arithmetical fire.  Tell
me something about Great Britain, tell me something about its principal
productions, tell me something about its ports, tell me something about
its seas and rivers, tell me something about coal, iron, cotton, timber,
tin, and turpentine.  The hollow square bristles with extended right
arms; but ever faithful to fact is the fifer, ever wise as the serpent is
the performer on that instrument, ever prominently buoyant and brilliant
are all members of the band.  I observe the player of the cymbals to dash
at a sounding answer now and then rather than not cut in at all; but I
take that to be in the way of his instrument.  All these questions, and
many such, are put on the spur of the moment, and by one who has never
examined these boys.  The Uncommercial, invited to add another,
falteringly demands how many birthdays a man born on the twenty-ninth of
February will have had on completing his fiftieth year?  A general
perception of trap and pitfall instantly arises, and the fifer is seen to
retire behind the corduroys of his next neighbours, as perceiving special
necessity for collecting himself and communing with his mind.  Meanwhile,
the wisdom of the serpent suggests that the man will have had only one
birthday in all that time, for how can any man have more than one, seeing
that he is born once and dies once?  The blushing Uncommercial stands
corrected, and amends the formula.  Pondering ensues, two or three wrong
answers are offered, and Cymbals strikes up ‘Six!’ but doesn’t know why.
Then modestly emerging from his Academic Grove of corduroys appears the
fifer, right arm extended, right leg foremost, bump irradiated.  ‘Twelve,
and two over!’

The feminine Short-Timers passed a similar examination, and very
creditably too.  Would have done better perhaps, with a little more
geniality on the part of their pupil-teacher; for a cold eye, my young
friend, and a hard, abrupt manner, are not by any means the powerful
engines that your innocence supposes them to be.  Both girls and boys
wrote excellently, from copy and dictation; both could cook; both could
mend their own clothes; both could clean up everything about them in an
orderly and skilful way, the girls having womanly household knowledge
superadded.  Order and method began in the songs of the Infant School
which I visited likewise, and they were even in their dwarf degree to be
found in the Nursery, where the Uncommercial walking-stick was carried
off with acclamations, and where ‘the Doctor’—a medical gentleman of two,
who took his degree on the night when he was found at an apothecary’s
door—did the honours of the establishment with great urbanity and gaiety.

These have long been excellent schools; long before the days of the
Short-Time.  I first saw them, twelve or fifteen years ago.  But since
the introduction of the Short-Time system it has been proved here that
eighteen hours a week of book-learning are more profitable than
thirty-six, and that the pupils are far quicker and brighter than of
yore.  The good influences of music on the whole body of children have
likewise been surprisingly proved.  Obviously another of the immense
advantages of the Short-Time system to the cause of good education is the
great diminution of its cost, and of the period of time over which it
extends.  The last is a most important consideration, as poor parents are
always impatient to profit by their children’s labour.

It will be objected: Firstly, that this is all very well, but special
local advantages and special selection of children must be necessary to
such success.  Secondly, that this is all very well, but must be very
expensive.  Thirdly, that this is all very well, but we have no proof of
the results, sir, no proof.

On the first head of local advantages and special selection.  Would
Limehouse Hole be picked out for the site of a Children’s Paradise?  Or
would the legitimate and illegitimate pauper children of the long-shore
population of such a riverside district, be regarded as unusually
favourable specimens to work with?  Yet these schools are at Limehouse,
and are the Pauper Schools of the Stepney Pauper Union.

On the second head of expense.  Would sixpence a week be considered a
very large cost for the education of each pupil, including all salaries
of teachers and rations of teachers?  But supposing the cost were not
sixpence a week, not fivepence? it is FOURPENCE-HALFPENNY.

On the third head of no proof, sir, no proof.  Is there any proof in the
facts that Pupil Teachers more in number, and more highly qualified, have
been produced here under the Short-Time system than under the Long-Time
system?  That the Short-Timers, in a writing competition, beat the
Long-Timers of a first-class National School?  That the sailor-boys are
in such demand for merchant ships, that whereas, before they were
trained, 10_l._ premium used to be given with each boy—too often to some
greedy brute of a drunken skipper, who disappeared before the term of
apprenticeship was out, if the ill-used boy didn’t—captains of the best
character now take these boys more than willingly, with no premium at
all?  That they are also much esteemed in the Royal Navy, which they
prefer, ‘because everything is so neat and clean and orderly’?  Or, is
there any proof in Naval captains writing ‘Your little fellows are all
that I can desire’?  Or, is there any proof in such testimony as this:
‘The owner of a vessel called at the school, and said that as his ship
was going down Channel on her last voyage, with one of the boys from the
school on board, the pilot said, “It would be as well if the royal were
lowered; I wish it were down.”  Without waiting for any orders, and
unobserved by the pilot, the lad, whom they had taken on board from the
school, instantly mounted the mast and lowered the royal, and at the next
glance of the pilot to the masthead, he perceived that the sail had been
let down.  He exclaimed, “Who’s done that job?”  The owner, who was on
board, said, “That was the little fellow whom I put on board two days
ago.”  The pilot immediately said, “Why, where could he have been brought
up?”  The boy had never seen the sea or been on a real ship before’?  Or,
is there any proof in these boys being in greater demand for Regimental
Bands than the Union can meet?  Or, in ninety-eight of them having gone
into Regimental Bands in three years?  Or, in twelve of them being in the
band of one regiment?  Or, in the colonel of that regiment writing, ‘We
want six more boys; they are excellent lads’?  Or, in one of the boys
having risen to be band-corporal in the same regiment?  Or, in employers
of all kinds chorusing, ‘Give us drilled boys, for they are prompt,
obedient, and punctual’?  Other proofs I have myself beheld with these
Uncommercial eyes, though I do not regard myself as having a right to
relate in what social positions they have seen respected men and women
who were once pauper children of the Stepney Union.

Into what admirable soldiers others of these boys have the capabilities
for being turned, I need not point out.  Many of them are always
ambitious of military service; and once upon a time when an old boy came
back to see the old place, a cavalry soldier all complete, _with his
spurs on_, such a yearning broke out to get into cavalry regiments and
wear those sublime appendages, that it was one of the greatest
excitements ever known in the school.  The girls make excellent domestic
servants, and at certain periods come back, a score or two at a time, to
see the old building, and to take tea with the old teachers, and to hear
the old band, and to see the old ship with her masts towering up above
the neighbouring roofs and chimneys.  As to the physical health of these
schools, it is so exceptionally remarkable (simply because the sanitary
regulations are as good as the other educational arrangements), that when
Mr. TUFNELL, the Inspector, first stated it in a report, he was supposed,
in spite of his high character, to have been betrayed into some
extraordinary mistake or exaggeration.  In the moral health of these
schools—where corporal punishment is unknown—Truthfulness stands high.
When the ship was first erected, the boys were forbidden to go aloft,
until the nets, which are now always there, were stretched as a
precaution against accidents.  Certain boys, in their eagerness,
disobeyed the injunction, got out of window in the early daylight, and
climbed to the masthead.  One boy unfortunately fell, and was killed.
There was no clue to the others; but all the boys were assembled, and the
chairman of the Board addressed them.  ‘I promise nothing; you see what a
dreadful thing has happened; you know what a grave offence it is that has
led to such a consequence; I cannot say what will be done with the
offenders; but, boys, you have been trained here, above all things, to
respect the truth.  I want the truth.  Who are the delinquents?’
Instantly, the whole number of boys concerned, separated from the rest,
and stood out.

Now, the head and heart of that gentleman (it is needless to say, a good
head and a good heart) have been deeply interested in these schools for
many years, and are so still; and the establishment is very fortunate in
a most admirable master, and moreover the schools of the Stepney Union
cannot have got to be what they are, without the Stepney Board of
Guardians having been earnest and humane men strongly imbued with a sense
of their responsibility.  But what one set of men can do in this wise,
another set of men can do; and this is a noble example to all other
Bodies and Unions, and a noble example to the State.  Followed, and
enlarged upon by its enforcement on bad parents, it would clear London
streets of the most terrible objects they smite the sight with—myriads of
little children who awfully reverse Our Saviour’s words, and are not of
the Kingdom of Heaven, but of the Kingdom of Hell.

Clear the public streets of such shame, and the public conscience of such
reproach?  Ah!  Almost prophetic, surely, the child’s jingle:

    When will that be,
    Say the bells of Step-ney!



XXII
BOUND FOR THE GREAT SALT LAKE


BEHOLD me on my way to an Emigrant Ship, on a hot morning early in June.
My road lies through that part of London generally known to the initiated
as ‘Down by the Docks.’  Down by the Docks, is home to a good many
people—to too many, if I may judge from the overflow of local population
in the streets—but my nose insinuates that the number to whom it is Sweet
Home might be easily counted.  Down by the Docks, is a region I would
choose as my point of embarkation aboard ship if I were an emigrant.  It
would present my intention to me in such a sensible light; it would show
me so many things to be run away from.

Down by the Docks, they eat the largest oysters and scatter the roughest
oyster-shells, known to the descendants of Saint George and the Dragon.
Down by the Docks, they consume the slimiest of shell-fish, which seem to
have been scraped off the copper bottoms of ships.  Down by the Docks,
the vegetables at green-grocers’ doors acquire a saline and a scaly look,
as if they had been crossed with fish and seaweed.  Down by the Docks,
they ‘board seamen’ at the eating-houses, the public-houses, the
slop-shops, the coffee-shops, the tally-shops, all kinds of shops
mentionable and unmentionable—board them, as it were, in the piratical
sense, making them bleed terribly, and giving no quarter.  Down by the
Docks, the seamen roam in mid-street and mid-day, their pockets inside
out, and their heads no better.  Down by the Docks, the daughters of
wave-ruling Britannia also rove, clad in silken attire, with uncovered
tresses streaming in the breeze, bandanna kerchiefs floating from their
shoulders, and crinoline not wanting.  Down by the Docks, you may hear
the Incomparable Joe Jackson sing the Standard of England, with a
hornpipe, any night; or any day may see at the waxwork, for a penny and
no waiting, him as killed the policeman at Acton and suffered for it.
Down by the Docks, you may buy polonies, saveloys, and sausage
preparations various, if you are not particular what they are made of
besides seasoning.  Down by the Docks, the children of Israel creep into
any gloomy cribs and entries they can hire, and hang slops there—pewter
watches, sou’-wester hats, waterproof overalls—‘firtht rate articleth,
Thjack.’  Down by the Docks, such dealers exhibiting on a frame a
complete nautical suit without the refinement of a waxen visage in the
hat, present the imaginary wearer as drooping at the yard-arm, with his
seafaring and earthfaring troubles over.  Down by the Docks, the placards
in the shops apostrophise the customer, knowing him familiarly
beforehand, as, ‘Look here, Jack!’  ‘Here’s your sort, my lad!’  ‘Try our
sea-going mixed, at two and nine!’  ‘The right kit for the British tar!’
‘Ship ahoy!’  ‘Splice the main-brace, brother!’  ‘Come, cheer up, my
lads.  We’ve the best liquors here, And you’ll find something new In our
wonderful Beer!’  Down by the Docks, the pawnbroker lends money on
Union-Jack pocket-handkerchiefs, on watches with little ships pitching
fore and aft on the dial, on telescopes, nautical instruments in cases,
and such-like.  Down by the Docks, the apothecary sets up in business on
the wretchedest scale—chiefly on lint and plaster for the strapping of
wounds—and with no bright bottles, and with no little drawers.  Down by
the Docks, the shabby undertaker’s shop will bury you for next to
nothing, after the Malay or Chinaman has stabbed you for nothing at all:
so you can hardly hope to make a cheaper end.  Down by the Docks, anybody
drunk will quarrel with anybody drunk or sober, and everybody else will
have a hand in it, and on the shortest notice you may revolve in a
whirlpool of red shirts, shaggy beards, wild heads of hair, bare tattooed
arms, Britannia’s daughters, malice, mud, maundering, and madness.  Down
by the Docks, scraping fiddles go in the public-houses all day long, and,
shrill above their din and all the din, rises the screeching of
innumerable parrots brought from foreign parts, who appear to be very
much astonished by what they find on these native shores of ours.
Possibly the parrots don’t know, possibly they do, that Down by the Docks
is the road to the Pacific Ocean, with its lovely islands, where the
savage girls plait flowers, and the savage boys carve cocoa-nut shells,
and the grim blind idols muse in their shady groves to exactly the same
purpose as the priests and chiefs.  And possibly the parrots don’t know,
possibly they do, that the noble savage is a wearisome impostor wherever
he is, and has five hundred thousand volumes of indifferent rhyme, and no
reason, to answer for.

Shadwell church!  Pleasant whispers of there being a fresher air down the
river than down by the Docks, go pursuing one another, playfully, in and
out of the openings in its spire.  Gigantic in the basin just beyond the
church, looms my Emigrant Ship: her name, the Amazon.  Her figure-head is
not disfigured as those beauteous founders of the race of strong-minded
women are fabled to have been, for the convenience of drawing the bow;
but I sympathise with the carver:

    A flattering carver who made it his care
    To carve busts as they ought to be—not as they were.

My Emigrant Ship lies broadside-on to the wharf.  Two great gangways made
of spars and planks connect her with the wharf; and up and down these
gangways, perpetually crowding to and fro and in and out, like ants, are
the Emigrants who are going to sail in my Emigrant Ship.  Some with
cabbages, some with loaves of bread, some with cheese and butter, some
with milk and beer, some with boxes, beds, and bundles, some with
babies—nearly all with children—nearly all with bran-new tin cans for
their daily allowance of water, uncomfortably suggestive of a tin flavour
in the drink.  To and fro, up and down, aboard and ashore, swarming here
and there and everywhere, my Emigrants.  And still as the Dock-Gate
swings upon its hinges, cabs appear, and carts appear, and vans appear,
bringing more of my Emigrants, with more cabbages, more loaves, more
cheese and butter, more milk and beer, more boxes, beds, and bundles,
more tin cans, and on those shipping investments accumulated compound
interest of children.

I go aboard my Emigrant Ship.  I go first to the great cabin, and find it
in the usual condition of a Cabin at that pass.  Perspiring landsmen,
with loose papers, and with pens and inkstands, pervade it; and the
general appearance of things is as if the late Mr. Amazon’s funeral had
just come home from the cemetery, and the disconsolate Mrs. Amazon’s
trustees found the affairs in great disorder, and were looking high and
low for the will.  I go out on the poop-deck, for air, and surveying the
emigrants on the deck below (indeed they are crowded all about me, up
there too), find more pens and inkstands in action, and more papers, and
interminable complication respecting accounts with individuals for tin
cans and what not.  But nobody is in an ill-temper, nobody is the worse
for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears
depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck in every corner
where it is possible to find a few square feet to kneel, crouch, or lie
in, people, in every unsuitable attitude for writing, are writing
letters.

Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June.  And these
people are so strikingly different from all other people in like
circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, ‘What _would_ a
stranger suppose these emigrants to be!’

The vigilant, bright face of the weather-browned captain of the Amazon is
at my shoulder, and he says, ‘What, indeed!  The most of these came
aboard yesterday evening.  They came from various parts of England in
small parties that had never seen one another before.  Yet they had not
been a couple of hours on board, when they established their own police,
made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the
hatchways.  Before nine o’clock, the ship was as orderly and as quiet as
a man-of-war.’

I looked about me again, and saw the letter-writing going on with the
most curious composure.  Perfectly abstracted in the midst of the crowd;
while great casks were swinging aloft, and being lowered into the hold;
while hot agents were hurrying up and down, adjusting the interminable
accounts; while two hundred strangers were searching everywhere for two
hundred other strangers, and were asking questions about them of two
hundred more; while the children played up and down all the steps, and in
and out among all the people’s legs, and were beheld, to the general
dismay, toppling over all the dangerous places; the letter-writers wrote
on calmly.  On the starboard side of the ship, a grizzled man dictated a
long letter to another grizzled man in an immense fur cap: which letter
was of so profound a quality, that it became necessary for the amanuensis
at intervals to take off his fur cap in both his hands, for the
ventilation of his brain, and stare at him who dictated, as a man of many
mysteries who was worth looking at.  On the lar-board side, a woman had
covered a belaying-pin with a white cloth to make a neat desk of it, and
was sitting on a little box, writing with the deliberation of a
bookkeeper.  Down, upon her breast on the planks of the deck at this
woman’s feet, with her head diving in under a beam of the bulwarks on
that side, as an eligible place of refuge for her sheet of paper, a neat
and pretty girl wrote for a good hour (she fainted at last), only rising
to the surface occasionally for a dip of ink.  Alongside the boat, close
to me on the poop-deck, another girl, a fresh, well-grown country girl,
was writing another letter on the bare deck.  Later in the day, when this
self-same boat was filled with a choir who sang glees and catches for a
long time, one of the singers, a girl, sang her part mechanically all the
while, and wrote a letter in the bottom of the boat while doing so.

‘A stranger would be puzzled to guess the right name for these people,
Mr. Uncommercial,’ says the captain.

‘Indeed he would.’

‘If you hadn’t known, could you ever have supposed—?’

‘How could I!  I should have said they were in their degree, the pick and
flower of England.’

‘So should I,’ says the captain.

‘How many are they?’

‘Eight hundred in round numbers.’

I went between-decks, where the families with children swarmed in the
dark, where unavoidable confusion had been caused by the last arrivals,
and where the confusion was increased by the little preparations for
dinner that were going on in each group.  A few women here and there, had
got lost, and were laughing at it, and asking their way to their own
people, or out on deck again.  A few of the poor children were crying;
but otherwise the universal cheerfulness was amazing.  ‘We shall shake
down by to-morrow.’  ‘We shall come all right in a day or so.’  ‘We shall
have more light at sea.’  Such phrases I heard everywhere, as I groped my
way among chests and barrels and beams and unstowed cargo and ring-bolts
and Emigrants, down to the lower-deck, and thence up to the light of day
again, and to my former station.

Surely, an extraordinary people in their power of self-abstraction!  All
the former letter-writers were still writing calmly, and many more
letter-writers had broken out in my absence.  A boy with a bag of books
in his hand and a slate under his arm, emerged from below, concentrated
himself in my neighbourhood (espying a convenient skylight for his
purpose), and went to work at a sum as if he were stone deaf.  A father
and mother and several young children, on the main deck below me, had
formed a family circle close to the foot of the crowded restless gangway,
where the children made a nest for themselves in a coil of rope, and the
father and mother, she suckling the youngest, discussed family affairs as
peaceably as if they were in perfect retirement.  I think the most
noticeable characteristic in the eight hundred as a mass, was their
exemption from hurry.

Eight hundred what?  ‘Geese, villain?’  EIGHT HUNDRED MORMONS.  I,
Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human Interest Brothers, had come
aboard this Emigrant Ship to see what Eight hundred Latter-day Saints
were like, and I found them (to the rout and overthrow of all my
expectations) like what I now describe with scrupulous exactness.

The Mormon Agent who had been active in getting them together, and in
making the contract with my friends the owners of the ship to take them
as far as New York on their way to the Great Salt Lake, was pointed out
to me.  A compactly-made handsome man in black, rather short, with rich
brown hair and beard, and clear bright eyes.  From his speech, I should
set him down as American.  Probably, a man who had ‘knocked about the
world’ pretty much.  A man with a frank open manner, and unshrinking
look; withal a man of great quickness.  I believe he was wholly ignorant
of my Uncommercial individuality, and consequently of my immense
Uncommercial importance.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  These are a very fine set of people you have brought
together here.

MORMON AGENT.  Yes, sir, they are a _very_ fine set of people.

UNCOMMERCIAL (looking about).  Indeed, I think it would be difficult to
find Eight hundred people together anywhere else, and find so much beauty
and so much strength and capacity for work among them.

MORMON AGENT (not looking about, but looking steadily at Uncommercial).
I think so.—We sent out about a thousand more, yes’day, from Liverpool.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  You are not going with these emigrants?

MORMON AGENT.  No, sir.  I remain.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  But you have been in the Mormon Territory?

MORMON AGENT.  Yes; I left Utah about three years ago.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  It is surprising to me that these people are all so
cheery, and make so little of the immense distance before them.

MORMON AGENT.  Well, you see; many of ’em have friends out at Utah, and
many of ’em look forward to meeting friends on the way.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  On the way?

MORMON AGENT.  This way ’tis.  This ship lands ’em in New York City.
Then they go on by rail right away beyond St. Louis, to that part of the
Banks of the Missouri where they strike the Plains.  There, waggons from
the settlement meet ’em to bear ’em company on their journey
’cross-twelve hundred miles about.  Industrious people who come out to
the settlement soon get waggons of their own, and so the friends of some
of these will come down in their own waggons to meet ’em.  They look
forward to that, greatly.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  On their long journey across the Desert, do you arm them?

MORMON AGENT.  Mostly you would find they have arms of some kind or
another already with them.  Such as had not arms we should arm across the
Plains, for the general protection and defence.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  Will these waggons bring down any produce to the Missouri?

MORMON AGENT.  Well, since the war broke out, we’ve taken to growing
cotton, and they’ll likely bring down cotton to be exchanged for
machinery.  We want machinery.  Also we have taken to growing indigo,
which is a fine commodity for profit.  It has been found that the climate
on the further side of the Great Salt Lake suits well for raising indigo.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  I am told that these people now on board are principally
from the South of England?

MORMON AGENT.  And from Wales.  That’s true.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  Do you get many Scotch?

MORMON AGENT.  Not many.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  Highlanders, for instance?

MORMON AGENT.  No, not Highlanders.  They ain’t interested enough in
universal brotherhood and peace and good will.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  The old fighting blood is strong in them?

MORMON AGENT.  Well, yes.  And besides; they’ve no faith.

UNCOMMERCIAL (who has been burning to get at the Prophet Joe Smith, and
seems to discover an opening).  Faith in—!

MORMON AGENT (far too many for Uncommercial).  Well.—In anything!

Similarly on this same head, the Uncommercial underwent discomfiture from
a Wiltshire labourer: a simple, fresh-coloured farm-labourer, of
eight-and-thirty, who at one time stood beside him looking on at new
arrivals, and with whom he held this dialogue:

UNCOMMERCIAL.  Would you mind my asking you what part of the country you
come from?

WILTSHIRE.  Not a bit.  Theer! (exultingly) I’ve worked all my life o’
Salisbury Plain, right under the shadder o’ Stonehenge.  You mightn’t
think it, but I haive.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  And a pleasant country too.

WILTSHIRE.  Ah!  ’Tis a pleasant country.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  Have you any family on board?

WILTSHIRE.  Two children, boy and gal.  I am a widderer, _I_ am, and I’m
going out alonger my boy and gal.  That’s my gal, and she’s a fine gal o’
sixteen (pointing out the girl who is writing by the boat).  I’ll go and
fetch my boy.  I’d like to show you my boy.  (Here Wiltshire disappears,
and presently comes back with a big, shy boy of twelve, in a
superabundance of boots, who is not at all glad to be presented.)  He is
a fine boy too, and a boy fur to work!  (Boy having undutifully bolted,
Wiltshire drops him.)

UNCOMMERCIAL.  It must cost you a great deal of money to go so far, three
strong.

WILTSHIRE.  A power of money.  Theer!  Eight shillen a week, eight
shillen a week, eight shillen a week, put by out of the week’s wages for
ever so long.

UNCOMMERCIAL.  I wonder how you did it.

WILTSHIRE (recognising in this a kindred spirit).  See theer now!  I
wonder how I done it!  But what with a bit o’ subscription heer, and what
with a bit o’ help theer, it were done at last, though I don’t hardly
know how.  Then it were unfort’net for us, you see, as we got kep’ in
Bristol so long—nigh a fortnight, it were—on accounts of a mistake wi’
Brother Halliday.  Swaller’d up money, it did, when we might have come
straight on.

UNCOMMERCIAL (delicately approaching Joe Smith).  You are of the Mormon
religion, of course?

WILTSHIRE (confidently).  O yes, I’m a Mormon.  (Then reflectively.)  I’m
a Mormon.  (Then, looking round the ship, feigns to descry a particular
friend in an empty spot, and evades the Uncommercial for evermore.)

After a noontide pause for dinner, during which my Emigrants were nearly
all between-decks, and the Amazon looked deserted, a general muster took
place.  The muster was for the ceremony of passing the Government
Inspector and the Doctor.  Those authorities held their temporary state
amidships, by a cask or two; and, knowing that the whole Eight hundred
emigrants must come face to face with them, I took my station behind the
two.  They knew nothing whatever of me, I believe, and my testimony to
the unpretending gentleness and good nature with which they discharged
their duty, may be of the greater worth.  There was not the slightest
flavour of the Circumlocution Office about their proceedings.

The emigrants were now all on deck.  They were densely crowded aft, and
swarmed upon the poop-deck like bees.  Two or three Mormon agents stood
ready to hand them on to the Inspector, and to hand them forward when
they had passed.  By what successful means, a special aptitude for
organisation had been infused into these people, I am, of course, unable
to report.  But I know that, even now, there was no disorder, hurry, or
difficulty.

All being ready, the first group are handed on.  That member of the party
who is entrusted with the passenger-ticket for the whole, has been warned
by one of the agents to have it ready, and here it is in his hand.  In
every instance through the whole eight hundred, without an exception,
this paper is always ready.

INSPECTOR (reading the ticket).  Jessie Jobson, Sophronia Jobson, Jessie
Jobson again, Matilda Jobson, William Jobson, Jane Jobson, Matilda Jobson
again, Brigham Jobson, Leonardo Jobson, and Orson Jobson.  Are you all
here? (glancing at the party, over his spectacles).

JESSIE JOBSON NUMBER TWO.  All here, sir.

This group is composed of an old grandfather and grandmother, their
married son and his wife, and _their_ family of children.  Orson Jobson
is a little child asleep in his mother’s arms.  The Doctor, with a kind
word or so, lifts up the corner of the mother’s shawl, looks at the
child’s face, and touches the little clenched hand.  If we were all as
well as Orson Jobson, doctoring would be a poor profession.

INSPECTOR.  Quite right, Jessie Jobson.  Take your ticket, Jessie, and
pass on.

And away they go.  Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands them on.
Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands next party up.

INSPECTOR (reading ticket again).  Susannah Cleverly and William
Cleverly.  Brother and sister, eh?

SISTER (young woman of business, hustling slow brother).  Yes, sir.

INSPECTOR.  Very good, Susannah Cleverly.  Take your ticket, Susannah,
and take care of it.

And away they go.

INSPECTOR (taking ticket again).  Sampson Dibble and Dorothy Dibble
(surveying a very old couple over his spectacles, with some surprise).
Your husband quite blind, Mrs. Dibble?

MRS. DIBBLE.  Yes, sir, he be stone-blind.

MR. DIBBLE (addressing the mast).  Yes, sir, I be stone-blind.

INSPECTOR.  That’s a bad job.  Take your ticket, Mrs. Dibble, and don’t
lose it, and pass on.

Doctor taps Mr. Dibble on the eyebrow with his forefinger, and away they
go.

INSPECTOR (taking ticket again).  Anastatia Weedle.

ANASTATIA (a pretty girl, in a bright Garibaldi, this morning elected by
universal suffrage the Beauty of the Ship).  That is me, sir.

INSPECTOR.  Going alone, Anastatia?

ANASTATIA (shaking her curls).  I am with Mrs. Jobson, sir, but I’ve got
separated for the moment.

INSPECTOR.  Oh!  You are with the Jobsons?  Quite right.  That’ll do,
Miss Weedle.  Don’t lose your ticket.

Away she goes, and joins the Jobsons who are waiting for her, and stoops
and kisses Brigham Jobson—who appears to be considered too young for the
purpose, by several Mormons rising twenty, who are looking on.  Before
her extensive skirts have departed from the casks, a decent widow stands
there with four children, and so the roll goes.

The faces of some of the Welsh people, among whom there were many old
persons, were certainly the least intelligent.  Some of these emigrants
would have bungled sorely, but for the directing hand that was always
ready.  The intelligence here was unquestionably of a low order, and the
heads were of a poor type.  Generally the case was the reverse.  There
were many worn faces bearing traces of patient poverty and hard work, and
there was great steadiness of purpose and much undemonstrative
self-respect among this class.  A few young men were going singly.
Several girls were going, two or three together.  These latter I found it
very difficult to refer back, in my mind, to their relinquished homes and
pursuits.  Perhaps they were more like country milliners, and pupil
teachers rather tawdrily dressed, than any other classes of young women.
I noticed, among many little ornaments worn, more than one
photograph-brooch of the Princess of Wales, and also of the late Prince
Consort.  Some single women of from thirty to forty, whom one might
suppose to be embroiderers, or straw-bonnet-makers, were obviously going
out in quest of husbands, as finer ladies go to India.  That they had any
distinct notions of a plurality of husbands or wives, I do not believe.
To suppose the family groups of whom the majority of emigrants were
composed, polygamically possessed, would be to suppose an absurdity,
manifest to any one who saw the fathers and mothers.

I should say (I had no means of ascertaining the fact) that most familiar
kinds of handicraft trades were represented here.  Farm-labourers,
shepherds, and the like, had their full share of representation, but I
doubt if they preponderated.  It was interesting to see how the leading
spirit in the family circle never failed to show itself, even in the
simple process of answering to the names as they were called, and
checking off the owners of the names.  Sometimes it was the father, much
oftener the mother, sometimes a quick little girl second or third in
order of seniority.  It seemed to occur for the first time to some heavy
fathers, what large families they had; and their eyes rolled about,
during the calling of the list, as if they half misdoubted some other
family to have been smuggled into their own.  Among all the fine handsome
children, I observed but two with marks upon their necks that were
probably scrofulous.  Out of the whole number of emigrants, but one old
woman was temporarily set aside by the doctor, on suspicion of fever; but
even she afterwards obtained a clean bill of health.

When all had ‘passed,’ and the afternoon began to wear on, a black box
became visible on deck, which box was in charge of certain personages
also in black, of whom only one had the conventional air of an itinerant
preacher.  This box contained a supply of hymn-books, neatly printed and
got up, published at Liverpool, and also in London at the ‘Latter-Day
Saints’ Book Depôt, 30, Florence-street.’  Some copies were handsomely
bound; the plainer were the more in request, and many were bought.  The
title ran: ‘Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Church of Jesus
Church of Latter-Day Saints.’  The Preface, dated Manchester, 1840, ran
thus:—‘The Saints in this country have been very desirous for a Hymn Book
adapted to their faith and worship, that they might sing the truth with
an understanding heart, and express their praise, joy, and gratitude in
songs adapted to the New and Everlasting Covenant.  In accordance with
their wishes, we have selected the following volume, which we hope will
prove acceptable until a greater variety can be added.  With sentiments
of high consideration and esteem, we subscribe ourselves your brethren in
the New and Everlasting Covenant, BRIGHAM YOUNG, PARLEY P. PRATT, JOHN
TAYLOR.’  From this book—by no means explanatory to myself of the New and
Everlasting Covenant, and not at all making my heart an understanding one
on the subject of that mystery—a hymn was sung, which did not attract any
great amount of attention, and was supported by a rather select circle.
But the choir in the boat was very popular and pleasant; and there was to
have been a Band, only the Cornet was late in coming on board.  In the
course of the afternoon, a mother appeared from shore, in search of her
daughter, ‘who had run away with the Mormons.’  She received every
assistance from the Inspector, but her daughter was not found to be on
board.  The saints did not seem to me, particularly interested in finding
her.

Towards five o’clock, the galley became full of tea-kettles, and an
agreeable fragrance of tea pervaded the ship.  There was no scrambling or
jostling for the hot water, no ill humour, no quarrelling.  As the Amazon
was to sail with the next tide, and as it would not be high water before
two o’clock in the morning, I left her with her tea in full action, and
her idle Steam Tug lying by, deputing steam and smoke for the time being
to the Tea-kettles.

I afterwards learned that a Despatch was sent home by the captain before
he struck out into the wide Atlantic, highly extolling the behaviour of
these Emigrants, and the perfect order and propriety of all their social
arrangements.  What is in store for the poor people on the shores of the
Great Salt Lake, what happy delusions they are labouring under now, on
what miserable blindness their eyes may be opened then, I do not pretend
to say.  But I went on board their ship to bear testimony against them if
they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great
astonishment they did not deserve it; and my predispositions and
tendencies must not affect me as an honest witness.  I went over the
Amazon’s side, feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some
remarkable influence had produced a remarkable result, which better known
influences have often missed. {188}



XXIII
THE CITY OF THE ABSENT


WHEN I think I deserve particularly well of myself, and have earned the
right to enjoy a little treat, I stroll from Covent-garden into the City
of London, after business-hours there, on a Saturday, or—better yet—on a
Sunday, and roam about its deserted nooks and corners.  It is necessary
to the full enjoyment of these journeys that they should be made in
summer-time, for then the retired spots that I love to haunt, are at
their idlest and dullest.  A gentle fall of rain is not objectionable,
and a warm mist sets off my favourite retreats to decided advantage.

Among these, City Churchyards hold a high place.  Such strange
churchyards hide in the City of London; churchyards sometimes so entirely
detached from churches, always so pressed upon by houses; so small, so
rank, so silent, so forgotten, except by the few people who ever look
down into them from their smoky windows.  As I stand peeping in through
the iron gates and rails, I can peel the rusty metal off, like bark from
an old tree.  The illegible tombstones are all lop-sided, the
grave-mounds lost their shape in the rains of a hundred years ago, the
Lombardy Poplar or Plane-Tree that was once a drysalter’s daughter and
several common-councilmen, has withered like those worthies, and its
departed leaves are dust beneath it.  Contagion of slow ruin overhangs
the place.  The discoloured tiled roofs of the environing buildings stand
so awry, that they can hardly be proof against any stress of weather.
Old crazy stacks of chimneys seem to look down as they overhang,
dubiously calculating how far they will have to fall.  In an angle of the
walls, what was once the tool-house of the grave-digger rots away,
encrusted with toadstools.  Pipes and spouts for carrying off the rain
from the encompassing gables, broken or feloniously cut for old lead long
ago, now let the rain drip and splash as it list, upon the weedy earth.
Sometimes there is a rusty pump somewhere near, and, as I look in at the
rails and meditate, I hear it working under an unknown hand with a
creaking protest: as though the departed in the churchyard urged, ‘Let us
lie here in peace; don’t suck us up and drink us!’

One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of Saint
Ghastly Grim; touching what men in general call it, I have no
information.  It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall Railway
shrieks at it daily.  It is a small small churchyard, with a ferocious,
strong, spiked iron gate, like a jail.  This gate is ornamented with
skulls and cross-bones, larger than the life, wrought in stone; but it
likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron
spikes a-top of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a
pleasant device.  Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust
through and through with iron spears.  Hence, there is attraction of
repulsion for me in Saint Ghastly Grim, and, having often contemplated it
in the daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn towards it in a
thunderstorm at midnight.  ‘Why not?’ I said, in self-excuse.  ‘I have
been to see the Colosseum by the light of the moon; is it worse to go to
see Saint Ghastly Grim by the light of the lightning?’  I repaired to the
Saint in a hackney cab, and found the skulls most effective, having the
air of a public execution, and seeming, as the lightning flashed, to wink
and grin with the pain of the spikes.  Having no other person to whom to
impart my satisfaction, I communicated it to the driver.  So far from
being responsive, he surveyed me—he was naturally a bottled-nosed,
red-faced man—with a blanched countenance.  And as he drove me back, he
ever and again glanced in over his shoulder through the little front
window of his carriage, as mistrusting that I was a fare originally from
a grave in the churchyard of Saint Ghastly Grim, who might have flitted
home again without paying.

Sometimes, the queer Hall of some queer Company gives upon a churchyard
such as this, and, when the Livery dine, you may hear them (if you are
looking in through the iron rails, which you never are when I am)
toasting their own Worshipful prosperity.  Sometimes, a wholesale house
of business, requiring much room for stowage, will occupy one or two or
even all three sides of the enclosing space, and the backs of bales of
goods will lumber up the windows, as if they were holding some crowded
trade-meeting of themselves within.  Sometimes, the commanding windows
are all blank, and show no more sign of life than the graves below—not so
much, for _they_ tell of what once upon a time was life undoubtedly.
Such was the surrounding of one City churchyard that I saw last summer,
on a Volunteering Saturday evening towards eight of the clock, when with
astonishment I beheld an old old man and an old old woman in it, making
hay.  Yes, of all occupations in this world, making hay!  It was a very
confined patch of churchyard lying between Gracechurch-street and the
Tower, capable of yielding, say an apronful of hay.  By what means the
old old man and woman had got into it, with an almost toothless
hay-making rake, I could not fathom.  No open window was within view; no
window at all was within view, sufficiently near the ground to have
enabled their old legs to descend from it; the rusty churchyard-gate was
locked, the mouldy church was locked.  Gravely among the graves, they
made hay, all alone by themselves.  They looked like Time and his wife.
There was but the one rake between them, and they both had hold of it in
a pastorally-loving manner, and there was hay on the old woman’s black
bonnet, as if the old man had recently been playful.  The old man was
quite an obsolete old man, in knee-breeches and coarse grey stockings,
and the old woman wore mittens like unto his stockings in texture and in
colour.  They took no heed of me as I looked on, unable to account for
them.  The old woman was much too bright for a pew-opener, the old man
much too meek for a beadle.  On an old tombstone in the foreground
between me and them, were two cherubim; but for those celestial
embellishments being represented as having no possible use for
knee-breeches, stockings, or mittens, I should have compared them with
the hay-makers, and sought a likeness.  I coughed and awoke the echoes,
but the hay-makers never looked at me.  They used the rake with a
measured action, drawing the scanty crop towards them; and so I was fain
to leave them under three yards and a half of darkening sky, gravely
making hay among the graves, all alone by themselves.  Perhaps they were
Spectres, and I wanted a Medium.

In another City churchyard of similar cramped dimensions, I saw, that
selfsame summer, two comfortable charity children.  They were making
love—tremendous proof of the vigour of that immortal article, for they
were in the graceful uniform under which English Charity delights to hide
herself—and they were overgrown, and their legs (his legs at least, for I
am modestly incompetent to speak of hers) were as much in the wrong as
mere passive weakness of character can render legs.  O it was a leaden
churchyard, but no doubt a golden ground to those young persons!  I first
saw them on a Saturday evening, and, perceiving from their occupation
that Saturday evening was their trysting-time, I returned that evening
se’nnight, and renewed the contemplation of them.  They came there to
shake the bits of matting which were spread in the church aisles, and
they afterwards rolled them up, he rolling his end, she rolling hers,
until they met, and over the two once divided now united rolls—sweet
emblem!—gave and received a chaste salute.  It was so refreshing to find
one of my faded churchyards blooming into flower thus, that I returned a
second time, and a third, and ultimately this befell:—They had left the
church door open, in their dusting and arranging.  Walking in to look at
the church, I became aware, by the dim light, of him in the pulpit, of
her in the reading-desk, of him looking down, of her looking up,
exchanging tender discourse.  Immediately both dived, and became as it
were non-existent on this sphere.  With an assumption of innocence I
turned to leave the sacred edifice, when an obese form stood in the
portal, puffily demanding Joseph, or in default of Joseph, Celia.  Taking
this monster by the sleeve, and luring him forth on pretence of showing
him whom he sought, I gave time for the emergence of Joseph and Celia,
who presently came towards us in the churchyard, bending under dusty
matting, a picture of thriving and unconscious industry.  It would be
superfluous to hint that I have ever since deemed this the proudest
passage in my life.

But such instances, or any tokens of vitality, are rare indeed in my City
churchyards.  A few sparrows occasionally try to raise a lively chirrup
in their solitary tree—perhaps, as taking a different view of worms from
that entertained by humanity—but they are flat and hoarse of voice, like
the clerk, the organ, the bell, the clergyman, and all the rest of the
Church-works when they are wound up for Sunday.  Caged larks, thrushes,
or blackbirds, hanging in neighbouring courts, pour forth their strains
passionately, as scenting the tree, trying to break out, and see leaves
again before they die, but their song is Willow, Willow—of a churchyard
cast.  So little light lives inside the churches of my churchyards, when
the two are co-existent, that it is often only by an accident and after
long acquaintance that I discover their having stained glass in some odd
window.  The westering sun slants into the churchyard by some unwonted
entry, a few prismatic tears drop on an old tombstone, and a window that
I thought was only dirty, is for the moment all bejewelled.  Then the
light passes and the colours die.  Though even then, if there be room
enough for me to fall back so far as that I can gaze up to the top of the
Church Tower, I see the rusty vane new burnished, and seeming to look out
with a joyful flash over the sea of smoke at the distant shore of
country.

Blinking old men who are let out of workhouses by the hour, have a
tendency to sit on bits of coping stone in these churchyards, leaning
with both hands on their sticks and asthmatically gasping.  The more
depressed class of beggars too, bring hither broken meats, and munch.  I
am on nodding terms with a meditative turncock who lingers in one of
them, and whom I suspect of a turn for poetry; the rather, as he looks
out of temper when he gives the fire-plug a disparaging wrench with that
large tuning-fork of his which would wear out the shoulder of his coat,
but for a precautionary piece of inlaid leather.  Fire-ladders, which I
am satisfied nobody knows anything about, and the keys of which were lost
in ancient times, moulder away in the larger churchyards, under eaves
like wooden eyebrows; and so removed are those corners from the haunts of
men and boys, that once on a fifth of November I found a ‘Guy’ trusted to
take care of himself there, while his proprietors had gone to dinner.  Of
the expression of his face I cannot report, because it was turned to the
wall; but his shrugged shoulders and his ten extended fingers, appeared
to denote that he had moralised in his little straw chair on the mystery
of mortality until he gave it up as a bad job.

You do not come upon these churchyards violently; there are shapes of
transition in the neighbourhood.  An antiquated news shop, or barber’s
shop, apparently bereft of customers in the earlier days of George the
Third, would warn me to look out for one, if any discoveries in this
respect were left for me to make.  A very quiet court, in combination
with an unaccountable dyer’s and scourer’s, would prepare me for a
churchyard.  An exceedingly retiring public-house, with a bagatelle-board
shadily visible in a sawdusty parlour shaped like an omnibus, and with a
shelf of punch-bowls in the bar, would apprise me that I stood near
consecrated ground.  A ‘Dairy,’ exhibiting in its modest window one very
little milk-can and three eggs, would suggest to me the certainty of
finding the poultry hard by, pecking at my forefathers.  I first inferred
the vicinity of Saint Ghastly Grim, from a certain air of extra repose
and gloom pervading a vast stack of warehouses.

From the hush of these places, it is congenial to pass into the hushed
resorts of business.  Down the lanes I like to see the carts and waggons
huddled together in repose, the cranes idle, and the warehouses shut.
Pausing in the alleys behind the closed Banks of mighty Lombard-street,
it gives one as good as a rich feeling to think of the broad counters
with a rim along the edge, made for telling money out on, the scales for
weighing precious metals, the ponderous ledgers, and, above all, the
bright copper shovels for shovelling gold.  When I draw money, it never
seems so much money as when it is shovelled at me out of a bright copper
shovel.  I like to say, ‘In gold,’ and to see seven pounds musically
pouring out of the shovel, like seventy; the Bank appearing to remark to
me—I italicise _appearing_—‘if you want more of this yellow earth, we
keep it in barrows at your service.’  To think of the banker’s clerk with
his deft finger turning the crisp edges of the Hundred-Pound Notes he has
taken in a fat roll out of a drawer, is again to hear the rustling of
that delicious south-cash wind.  ‘How will you have it?’  I once heard
this usual question asked at a Bank Counter of an elderly female, habited
in mourning and steeped in simplicity, who answered, open-eyed,
crook-fingered, laughing with expectation, ‘Anyhow!’  Calling these
things to mind as I stroll among the Banks, I wonder whether the other
solitary Sunday man I pass, has designs upon the Banks.  For the interest
and mystery of the matter, I almost hope he may have, and that his
confederate may be at this moment taking impressions of the keys of the
iron closets in wax, and that a delightful robbery may be in course of
transaction.  About College-hill, Mark-lane, and so on towards the Tower,
and Dockward, the deserted wine-merchants’ cellars are fine subjects for
consideration; but the deserted money-cellars of the Bankers, and their
plate-cellars, and their jewel-cellars, what subterranean regions of the
Wonderful Lamp are these!  And again: possibly some shoeless boy in rags,
passed through this street yesterday, for whom it is reserved to be a
Banker in the fulness of time, and to be surpassing rich.  Such reverses
have been, since the days of Whittington; and were, long before.  I want
to know whether the boy has any foreglittering of that glittering fortune
now, when he treads these stones, hungry.  Much as I also want to know
whether the next man to be hanged at Newgate yonder, had any suspicion
upon him that he was moving steadily towards that fate, when he talked so
much about the last man who paid the same great debt at the same small
Debtors’ Door.

Where are all the people who on busy working-days pervade these scenes?
The locomotive banker’s clerk, who carries a black portfolio chained to
him by a chain of steel, where is he?  Does he go to bed with his chain
on—to church with his chain on—or does he lay it by?  And if he lays it
by, what becomes of his portfolio when he is unchained for a holiday?
The wastepaper baskets of these closed counting-houses would let me into
many hints of business matters if I had the exploration of them; and what
secrets of the heart should I discover on the ‘pads’ of the young
clerks—the sheets of cartridge-paper and blotting-paper interposed
between their writing and their desks!  Pads are taken into confidence on
the tenderest occasions, and oftentimes when I have made a business
visit, and have sent in my name from the outer office, have I had it
forced on my discursive notice that the officiating young gentleman has
over and over again inscribed AMELIA, in ink of various dates, on corners
of his pad.  Indeed, the pad may be regarded as the legitimate modern
successor of the old forest-tree: whereon these young knights (having no
attainable forest nearer than Epping) engrave the names of their
mistresses.  After all, it is a more satisfactory process than carving,
and can be oftener repeated.  So these courts in their Sunday rest are
courts of Love Omnipotent (I rejoice to bethink myself), dry as they
look.  And here is Garraway’s, bolted and shuttered hard and fast!  It is
possible to imagine the man who cuts the sandwiches, on his back in a
hayfield; it is possible to imagine his desk, like the desk of a clerk at
church, without him; but imagination is unable to pursue the men who wait
at Garraway’s all the week for the men who never come.  When they are
forcibly put out of Garraway’s on Saturday night—which they must be, for
they never would go out of their own accord—where do they vanish until
Monday morning?  On the first Sunday that I ever strayed here, I expected
to find them hovering about these lanes, like restless ghosts, and trying
to peep into Garraway’s through chinks in the shutters, if not
endeavouring to turn the lock of the door with false keys, picks, and
screw-drivers.  But the wonder is, that they go clean away!  And now I
think of it, the wonder is, that every working-day pervader of these
scenes goes clean away.  The man who sells the dogs’ collars and the
little toy coal-scuttles, feels under as great an obligation to go afar
off, as Glyn and Co., or Smith, Payne, and Smith.  There is an old
monastery-crypt under Garraway’s (I have been in it among the port wine),
and perhaps Garraway’s, taking pity on the mouldy men who wait in its
public-room all their lives, gives them cool house-room down there over
Sundays; but the catacombs of Paris would not be large enough to hold the
rest of the missing.  This characteristic of London City greatly helps
its being the quaint place it is in the weekly pause of business, and
greatly helps my Sunday sensation in it of being the Last Man.  In my
solitude, the ticket-porters being all gone with the rest, I venture to
breathe to the quiet bricks and stones my confidential wonderment why a
ticket-porter, who never does any work with his hands, is bound to wear a
white apron, and why a great Ecclesiastical Dignitary, who never does any
work with his hands either, is equally bound to wear a black one.



XXIV
AN OLD STAGE-COACHING HOUSE


BEFORE the waitress had shut the door, I had forgotten how many
stage-coaches she said used to change horses in the town every day.  But
it was of little moment; any high number would do as well as another.  It
had been a great stage-coaching town in the great stage-coaching times,
and the ruthless railways had killed and buried it.

The sign of the house was the Dolphin’s Head.  Why only head, I don’t
know; for the Dolphin’s effigy at full length, and upside down—as a
Dolphin is always bound to be when artistically treated, though I suppose
he is sometimes right side upward in his natural condition—graced the
sign-board.  The sign-board chafed its rusty hooks outside the bow-window
of my room, and was a shabby work.  No visitor could have denied that the
Dolphin was dying by inches, but he showed no bright colours.  He had
once served another master; there was a newer streak of paint below him,
displaying with inconsistent freshness the legend, By J. MELLOWS.

My door opened again, and J. Mellows’s representative came back.  I had
asked her what I could have for dinner, and she now returned with the
counter question, what would I like?  As the Dolphin stood possessed of
nothing that I do like, I was fain to yield to the suggestion of a duck,
which I don’t like.  J. Mellows’s representative was a mournful young
woman with eye susceptible of guidance, and one uncontrollable eye; which
latter, seeming to wander in quest of stage-coaches, deepened the
melancholy in which the Dolphin was steeped.

This young woman had but shut the door on retiring again when I bethought
me of adding to my order, the words, ‘with nice vegetables.’  Looking out
at the door to give them emphatic utterance, I found her already in a
state of pensive catalepsy in the deserted gallery, picking her teeth
with a pin.

At the Railway Station seven miles off, I had been the subject of wonder
when I ordered a fly in which to come here.  And when I gave the
direction ‘To the Dolphin’s Head,’ I had observed an ominous stare on the
countenance of the strong young man in velveteen, who was the platform
servant of the Company.  He had also called to my driver at parting, ‘All
ri-ight!  Don’t hang yourself when you get there, Geo-o-rge!’ in a
sarcastic tone, for which I had entertained some transitory thoughts of
reporting him to the General Manager.

I had no business in the town—I never have any business in any town—but I
had been caught by the fancy that I would come and look at it in its
degeneracy.  My purpose was fitly inaugurated by the Dolphin’s Head,
which everywhere expressed past coachfulness and present coachlessness.
Coloured prints of coaches, starting, arriving, changing horses, coaches
in the sunshine, coaches in the snow, coaches in the wind, coaches in the
mist and rain, coaches on the King’s birthday, coaches in all
circumstances compatible with their triumph and victory, but never in the
act of breaking down or overturning, pervaded the house.  Of these works
of art, some, framed and not glazed, had holes in them; the varnish of
others had become so brown and cracked, that they looked like overdone
pie-crust; the designs of others were almost obliterated by the flies of
many summers.  Broken glasses, damaged frames, lop-sided hanging, and
consignment of incurable cripples to places of refuge in dark corners,
attested the desolation of the rest.  The old room on the ground floor
where the passengers of the Highflyer used to dine, had nothing in it but
a wretched show of twigs and flower-pots in the broad window to hide the
nakedness of the land, and in a corner little Mellows’s perambulator,
with even its parasol-head turned despondently to the wall.  The other
room, where post-horse company used to wait while relays were getting
ready down the yard, still held its ground, but was as airless as I
conceive a hearse to be: insomuch that Mr. Pitt, hanging high against the
partition (with spots on him like port wine, though it is mysterious how
port wine ever got squirted up there), had good reason for perking his
nose and sniffing.  The stopperless cruets on the spindle-shanked
sideboard were in a miserably dejected state: the anchovy sauce having
turned blue some years ago, and the cayenne pepper (with a scoop in it
like a small model of a wooden leg) having turned solid.  The old
fraudulent candles which were always being paid for and never used, were
burnt out at last; but their tall stilts of candlesticks still lingered,
and still outraged the human intellect by pretending to be silver.  The
mouldy old unreformed Borough Member, with his right hand buttoned up in
the breast of his coat, and his back characteristically turned on bales
of petitions from his constituents, was there too; and the poker which
never had been among the fire-irons, lest post-horse company should
overstir the fire, was _not_ there, as of old.

Pursuing my researches in the Dolphin’s Head, I found it sorely shrunken.
When J. Mellows came into possession, he had walled off half the bar,
which was now a tobacco-shop with its own entrance in the yard—the once
glorious yard where the postboys, whip in hand and always buttoning their
waistcoats at the last moment, used to come running forth to mount and
away.  A ‘Scientific Shoeing—Smith and Veterinary Surgeon,’ had further
encroached upon the yard; and a grimly satirical jobber, who announced
himself as having to Let ‘A neat one-horse fly, and a one-horse cart,’
had established his business, himself, and his family, in a part of the
extensive stables.  Another part was lopped clean off from the Dolphin’s
Head, and now comprised a chapel, a wheelwright’s, and a Young Men’s
Mutual Improvement and Discussion Society (in a loft): the whole forming
a back lane.  No audacious hand had plucked down the vane from the
central cupola of the stables, but it had grown rusty and stuck at N-Nil:
while the score or two of pigeons that remained true to their ancestral
traditions and the place, had collected in a row on the roof-ridge of the
only outhouse retained by the Dolphin, where all the inside pigeons tried
to push the outside pigeon off.  This I accepted as emblematical of the
struggle for post and place in railway times.

Sauntering forth into the town, by way of the covered and pillared
entrance to the Dolphin’s Yard, once redolent of soup and stable-litter,
now redolent of musty disuse, I paced the street.  It was a hot day, and
the little sun-blinds of the shops were all drawn down, and the more
enterprising tradesmen had caused their ’Prentices to trickle water on
the pavement appertaining to their frontage.  It looked as if they had
been shedding tears for the stage-coaches, and drying their ineffectual
pocket-handkerchiefs.  Such weakness would have been excusable; for
business was—as one dejected porkman who kept a shop which refused to
reciprocate the compliment by keeping him, informed me—‘bitter bad.’
Most of the harness-makers and corn-dealers were gone the way of the
coaches, but it was a pleasant recognition of the eternal procession of
Children down that old original steep Incline, the Valley of the Shadow,
that those tradesmen were mostly succeeded by vendors of sweetmeats and
cheap toys.  The opposition house to the Dolphin, once famous as the New
White Hart, had long collapsed.  In a fit of abject depression, it had
cast whitewash on its windows, and boarded up its front door, and reduced
itself to a side entrance; but even that had proved a world too wide for
the Literary Institution which had been its last phase; for the
Institution had collapsed too, and of the ambitious letters of its
inscription on the White Hart’s front, all had fallen off but these:

                             L      Y   INS    T

—suggestive of Lamentably Insolvent.  As to the neighbouring
market-place, it seemed to have wholly relinquished marketing, to the
dealer in crockery whose pots and pans straggled half across it, and to
the Cheap Jack who sat with folded arms on the shafts of his cart,
superciliously gazing around; his velveteen waistcoat, evidently
harbouring grave doubts whether it was worth his while to stay a night in
such a place.

The church bells began to ring as I left this spot, but they by no means
improved the case, for they said, in a petulant way, and speaking with
some difficulty in their irritation, WHAT’S-be-come-of-THE-coach-ES!’
Nor would they (I found on listening) ever vary their emphasis, save in
respect of growing more sharp and vexed, but invariably went on,
‘WHAT’S-be-come-of-THE-coach-ES!’—always beginning the inquiry with an
unpolite abruptness.  Perhaps from their elevation they saw the railway,
and it aggravated them.

Coming upon a coachmaker’s workshop, I began to look about me with a
revived spirit, thinking that perchance I might behold there some remains
of the old times of the town’s greatness.  There was only one man at
work—a dry man, grizzled, and far advanced in years, but tall and
upright, who, becoming aware of me looking on, straightened his back,
pushed up his spectacles against his brown-paper cap, and appeared
inclined to defy me.  To whom I pacifically said:

‘Good day, sir!’

‘What?’ said he.

‘Good day, sir.’

He seemed to consider about that, and not to agree with me.—‘Was you a
looking for anything?’ he then asked, in a pointed manner.

‘I was wondering whether there happened to be any fragment of an old
stage-coach here.’

‘Is that all?’

‘That’s all.’

‘No, there ain’t.’

It was now my turn to say ‘Oh!’ and I said it.  Not another word did the
dry and grizzled man say, but bent to his work again.  In the
coach-making days, the coach-painters had tried their brushes on a post
beside him; and quite a Calendar of departed glories was to be read upon
it, in blue and yellow and red and green, some inches thick.  Presently
he looked up again.

‘You seem to have a deal of time on your hands,’ was his querulous
remark.

I admitted the fact.

‘I think it’s a pity you was not brought up to something,’ said he.

I said I thought so too.

Appearing to be informed with an idea, he laid down his plane (for it was
a plane he was at work with), pushed up his spectacles again, and came to
the door.

‘Would a po-shay do for you?’ he asked.

‘I am not sure that I understand what you mean.’

‘Would a po-shay,’ said the coachmaker, standing close before me, and
folding his arms in the manner of a cross-examining counsel—‘would a
po-shay meet the views you have expressed?  Yes, or no?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you keep straight along down there till you see one.  _You’ll_ see
one if you go fur enough.’

With that, he turned me by the shoulder in the direction I was to take,
and went in and resumed his work against a background of leaves and
grapes.  For, although he was a soured man and a discontented, his
workshop was that agreeable mixture of town and country, street and
garden, which is often to be seen in a small English town.

I went the way he had turned me, and I came to the Beer-shop with the
sign of The First and Last, and was out of the town on the old London
road.  I came to the Turnpike, and I found it, in its silent way,
eloquent respecting the change that had fallen on the road.  The
Turnpike-house was all overgrown with ivy; and the Turnpike-keeper,
unable to get a living out of the tolls, plied the trade of a cobbler.
Not only that, but his wife sold ginger-beer, and, in the very window of
espial through which the Toll-takers of old times used with awe to behold
the grand London coaches coming on at a gallop, exhibited for sale little
barber’s-poles of sweetstuff in a sticky lantern.

The political economy of the master of the turnpike thus expressed
itself.

‘How goes turnpike business, master?’ said I to him, as he sat in his
little porch, repairing a shoe.

‘It don’t go at all, master,’ said he to me.  ‘It’s stopped.’

‘That’s bad,’ said I.

‘Bad?’ he repeated.  And he pointed to one of his sunburnt dusty children
who was climbing the turnpike-gate, and said, extending his open right
hand in remonstrance with Universal Nature.  ‘Five on ’em!’

‘But how to improve Turnpike business?’ said I.

‘There’s a way, master,’ said he, with the air of one who had thought
deeply on the subject.

‘I should like to know it.’

‘Lay a toll on everything as comes through; lay a toll on walkers.  Lay
another toll on everything as don’t come through; lay a toll on them as
stops at home.’

‘Would the last remedy be fair?’

‘Fair?  Them as stops at home, could come through if they liked; couldn’t
they?’

‘Say they could.’

‘Toll ’em.  If they don’t come through, it’s _their_ look out.
Anyways,—Toll ’em!’

Finding it was as impossible to argue with this financial genius as if he
had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and consequently the right man in
the right place, I passed on meekly.

My mind now began to misgive me that the disappointed coach-maker had
sent me on a wild-goose errand, and that there was no post-chaise in
those parts.  But coming within view of certain allotment-gardens by the
roadside, I retracted the suspicion, and confessed that I had done him an
injustice.  For, there I saw, surely, the poorest superannuated
post-chaise left on earth.

It was a post-chaise taken off its axletree and wheels, and plumped down
on the clayey soil among a ragged growth of vegetables.  It was a
post-chaise not even set straight upon the ground, but tilted over, as if
it had fallen out of a balloon.  It was a post-chaise that had been a
long time in those decayed circumstances, and against which scarlet beans
were trained.  It was a post-chaise patched and mended with old
tea-trays, or with scraps of iron that looked like them, and boarded up
as to the windows, but having A KNOCKER on the off-side door.  Whether it
was a post-chaise used as tool-house, summer-house, or dwelling-house, I
could not discover, for there was nobody at home at the post-chaise when
I knocked, but it was certainly used for something, and locked up.  In
the wonder of this discovery, I walked round and round the post-chaise
many times, and sat down by the post-chaise, waiting for further
elucidation.  None came.  At last, I made my way back to the old London
road by the further end of the allotment-gardens, and consequently at a
point beyond that from which I had diverged.  I had to scramble through a
hedge and down a steep bank, and I nearly came down a-top of a little
spare man who sat breaking stones by the roadside.

He stayed his hammer, and said, regarding me mysteriously through his
dark goggles of wire:

‘Are you aware, sir, that you’ve been trespassing?’

‘I turned out of the way,’ said I, in explanation, ‘to look at that odd
post-chaise.  Do you happen to know anything about it?’

‘I know it was many a year upon the road,’ said he.

‘So I supposed.  Do you know to whom it belongs?’

The stone-breaker bent his brows and goggles over his heap of stones, as
if he were considering whether he should answer the question or not.
Then, raising his barred eyes to my features as before, he said:

‘To me.’

Being quite unprepared for the reply, I received it with a sufficiently
awkward ‘Indeed!  Dear me!’  Presently I added, ‘Do you—’ I was going to
say ‘live there,’ but it seemed so absurd a question, that I substituted
‘live near here?’

The stone-breaker, who had not broken a fragment since we began to
converse, then did as follows.  He raised himself by poising his finger
on his hammer, and took his coat, on which he had been seated, over his
arm.  He then backed to an easier part of the bank than that by which I
had come down, keeping his dark goggles silently upon me all the time,
and then shouldered his hammer, suddenly turned, ascended, and was gone.
His face was so small, and his goggles were so large, that he left me
wholly uninformed as to his countenance; but he left me a profound
impression that the curved legs I had seen from behind as he vanished,
were the legs of an old postboy.  It was not until then that I noticed he
had been working by a grass-grown milestone, which looked like a
tombstone erected over the grave of the London road.

My dinner-hour being close at hand, I had no leisure to pursue the
goggles or the subject then, but made my way back to the Dolphin’s Head.
In the gateway I found J. Mellows, looking at nothing, and apparently
experiencing that it failed to raise his spirits.

‘_I_ don’t care for the town,’ said J. Mellows, when I complimented him
on the sanitary advantages it may or may not possess; ‘I wish I had never
seen the town!’

‘You don’t belong to it, Mr. Mellows?’

‘Belong to it!’ repeated Mellows.  ‘If I didn’t belong to a better style
of town than this, I’d take and drown myself in a pail.’  It then
occurred to me that Mellows, having so little to do, was habitually
thrown back on his internal resources—by which I mean the Dolphin’s
cellar.

‘What we want,’ said Mellows, pulling off his hat, and making as if he
emptied it of the last load of Disgust that had exuded from his brain,
before he put it on again for another load; ‘what we want, is a Branch.
The Petition for the Branch Bill is in the coffee-room.  Would you put
your name to it?  Every little helps.’

I found the document in question stretched out flat on the coffee-room
table by the aid of certain weights from the kitchen, and I gave it the
additional weight of my uncommercial signature.  To the best of my
belief, I bound myself to the modest statement that universal traffic,
happiness, prosperity, and civilisation, together with unbounded national
triumph in competition with the foreigner, would infallibly flow from the
Branch.

Having achieved this constitutional feat, I asked Mr. Mellows if he could
grace my dinner with a pint of good wine?  Mr. Mellows thus replied.

‘If I couldn’t give you a pint of good wine, I’d—there!—I’d take and
drown myself in a pail.  But I was deceived when I bought this business,
and the stock was higgledy-piggledy, and I haven’t yet tasted my way
quite through it with a view to sorting it.  Therefore, if you order one
kind and get another, change till it comes right.  For what,’ said
Mellows, unloading his hat as before, ‘what would you or any gentleman
do, if you ordered one kind of wine and was required to drink another?
Why, you’d (and naturally and properly, having the feelings of a
gentleman), you’d take and drown yourself in a pail!’



XXV
THE BOILED BEEF OF NEW ENGLAND


THE shabbiness of our English capital, as compared with Paris, Bordeaux,
Frankfort, Milan, Geneva—almost any important town on the continent of
Europe—I find very striking after an absence of any duration in foreign
parts.  London is shabby in contrast with Edinburgh, with Aberdeen, with
Exeter, with Liverpool, with a bright little town like Bury St. Edmunds.
London is shabby in contrast with New York, with Boston, with
Philadelphia.  In detail, one would say it can rarely fail to be a
disappointing piece of shabbiness, to a stranger from any of those
places.  There is nothing shabbier than Drury-lane, in Rome itself.  The
meanness of Regent-street, set against the great line of Boulevards in
Paris, is as striking as the abortive ugliness of Trafalgar-square, set
against the gallant beauty of the Place de la Concorde.  London is shabby
by daylight, and shabbier by gaslight.  No Englishman knows what gaslight
is, until he sees the Rue de Rivoli and the Palais Royal after dark.

The mass of London people are shabby.  The absence of distinctive dress
has, no doubt, something to do with it.  The porters of the Vintners’
Company, the draymen, and the butchers, are about the only people who
wear distinctive dresses; and even these do not wear them on holidays.
We have nothing which for cheapness, cleanliness, convenience, or
picturesqueness, can compare with the belted blouse.  As to our
women;—next Easter or Whitsuntide, look at the bonnets at the British
Museum or the National Gallery, and think of the pretty white French cap,
the Spanish mantilla, or the Genoese mezzero.

Probably there are not more second-hand clothes sold in London than in
Paris, and yet the mass of the London population have a second-hand look
which is not to be detected on the mass of the Parisian population.  I
think this is mainly because a Parisian workman does not in the least
trouble himself about what is worn by a Parisian idler, but dresses in
the way of his own class, and for his own comfort.  In London, on the
contrary, the fashions descend; and you never fully know how inconvenient
or ridiculous a fashion is, until you see it in its last descent.  It was
but the other day, on a race-course, that I observed four people in a
barouche deriving great entertainment from the contemplation of four
people on foot.  The four people on foot were two young men and two young
women; the four people in the barouche were two young men and two young
women.  The four young women were dressed in exactly the same style; the
four young men were dressed in exactly the same style.  Yet the two
couples on wheels were as much amused by the two couples on foot, as if
they were quite unconscious of having themselves set those fashions, or
of being at that very moment engaged in the display of them.

Is it only in the matter of clothes that fashion descends here in
London—and consequently in England—and thence shabbiness arises?  Let us
think a little, and be just.  The ‘Black Country’ round about Birmingham,
is a very black country; but is it quite as black as it has been lately
painted?  An appalling accident happened at the People’s Park near
Birmingham, this last July, when it was crowded with people from the
Black Country—an appalling accident consequent on a shamefully dangerous
exhibition.  Did the shamefully dangerous exhibition originate in the
moral blackness of the Black Country, and in the Black People’s peculiar
love of the excitement attendant on great personal hazard, which they
looked on at, but in which they did not participate?  Light is much
wanted in the Black Country.  O we are all agreed on that.  But, we must
not quite forget the crowds of gentlefolks who set the shamefully
dangerous fashion, either.  We must not quite forget the enterprising
Directors of an Institution vaunting mighty educational pretences, who
made the low sensation as strong as they possibly could make it, by
hanging the Blondin rope as high as they possibly could hang it.  All
this must not be eclipsed in the Blackness of the Black Country.  The
reserved seats high up by the rope, the cleared space below it, so that
no one should be smashed but the performer, the pretence of slipping and
falling off, the baskets for the feet and the sack for the head, the
photographs everywhere, and the virtuous indignation nowhere—all this
must not be wholly swallowed up in the blackness of the jet-black
country.

Whatsoever fashion is set in England, is certain to descend.  This is a
text for a perpetual sermon on care in setting fashions.  When you find a
fashion low down, look back for the time (it will never be far off) when
it was the fashion high up.  This is the text for a perpetual sermon on
social justice.  From imitations of Ethiopian Serenaders, to imitations
of Prince’s coats and waistcoats, you will find the original model in St.
James’s Parish.  When the Serenaders become tiresome, trace them beyond
the Black Country; when the coats and waistcoats become insupportable,
refer them to their source in the Upper Toady Regions.

Gentlemen’s clubs were once maintained for purposes of savage party
warfare; working men’s clubs of the same day assumed the same character.
Gentlemen’s clubs became places of quiet inoffensive recreation; working
men’s clubs began to follow suit.  If working men have seemed rather slow
to appreciate advantages of combination which have saved the pockets of
gentlemen, and enhanced their comforts, it is because working men could
scarcely, for want of capital, originate such combinations without help;
and because help has not been separable from that great impertinence,
Patronage.  The instinctive revolt of his spirit against patronage, is a
quality much to be respected in the English working man.  It is the base
of the base of his best qualities.  Nor is it surprising that he should
be unduly suspicious of patronage, and sometimes resentful of it even
where it is not, seeing what a flood of washy talk has been let loose on
his devoted head, or with what complacent condescension the same devoted
head has been smoothed and patted.  It is a proof to me of his
self-control that he never strikes out pugilistically, right and left,
when addressed as one of ‘My friends,’ or ‘My assembled friends;’ that he
does not become inappeasable, and run amuck like a Malay, whenever he
sees a biped in broadcloth getting on a platform to talk to him; that any
pretence of improving his mind, does not instantly drive him out of his
mind, and cause him to toss his obliging patron like a mad bull.

For, how often have I heard the unfortunate working man lectured, as if
he were a little charity-child, humid as to his nasal development,
strictly literal as to his Catechism, and called by Providence to walk
all his days in a station in life represented on festive occasions by a
mug of warm milk-and-water and a bun!  What popguns of jokes have these
ears tingled to hear let off at him, what asinine sentiments, what
impotent conclusions, what spelling-book moralities, what adaptations of
the orator’s insufferable tediousness to the assumed level of his
understanding!  If his sledge-hammers, his spades and pick-axes, his saws
and chisels, his paint-pots and brushes, his forges, furnaces, and
engines, the horses that he drove at his work, and the machines that
drove him at his work, were all toys in one little paper box, and he the
baby who played with them, he could not have been discoursed to, more
impertinently and absurdly than I have heard him discoursed to times
innumerable.  Consequently, not being a fool or a fawner, he has come to
acknowledge his patronage by virtually saying: ‘Let me alone.  If you
understand me no better than _that_, sir and madam, let me alone.  You
mean very well, I dare say, but I don’t like it, and I won’t come here
again to have any more of it.’

Whatever is done for the comfort and advancement of the working man must
be so far done by himself as that it is maintained by himself.  And there
must be in it no touch of condescension, no shadow of patronage.  In the
great working districts, this truth is studied and understood.  When the
American civil war rendered it necessary, first in Glasgow, and
afterwards in Manchester, that the working people should be shown how to
avail themselves of the advantages derivable from system, and from the
combination of numbers, in the purchase and the cooking of their food,
this truth was above all things borne in mind.  The quick consequence
was, that suspicion and reluctance were vanquished, and that the effort
resulted in an astonishing and a complete success.

Such thoughts passed through my mind on a July morning of this summer, as
I walked towards Commercial Street (not Uncommercial Street),
Whitechapel.  The Glasgow and Manchester system had been lately set
a-going there, by certain gentlemen who felt an interest in its
diffusion, and I had been attracted by the following hand-bill printed on
rose-coloured paper:

                             SELF-SUPPORTING
                              COOKING DEPÔT
                         FOR THE WORKING CLASSES

                     Commercial-street, Whitechapel,

          Where Accommodation is provided for Dining comfortably
                          300 Persons at a time.

                       Open from 7 A.M. till 7 P.M.

                                 PRICES.

                    All Articles of the BEST QUALITY.

Cup of Tea or Coffee                 One Penny
Bread and Butter                     One Penny
Bread and Cheese                     One Penny
Slice of bread   One half-penny or   One Penny
Boiled Egg                           One Penny
Ginger Beer                          One Penny
         The above Articles always ready.
Besides the above may be had, from 12 to 3
o’clock,
Bowl of Scotch Broth                 One Penny
Bowl of Soup                         One Penny
Plate of Potatoes                    One Penny
Plate of Minced Beef                 Twopence
Plate of Cold Beef                   Twopence
Plate of Cold Ham                    Twopence
Plate of Plum Pudding or Rice        One Penny

As the Economy of Cooking depends greatly upon the simplicity of the
arrangements with which a great number of persons can be served at one
time, the Upper Room of this Establishment will be especially set apart
for a

                         PUBLIC DINNER EVERY DAY

                         From 12 till 3 o’clock,

                  _Consisting of the following Dishes_:

                         Bowl of Broth, or Soup,
                        Plate of Cold Beef or Ham,
                            Plate of Potatoes,
                          Plum Pudding, or Rice.

                           FIXED CHARGE 4½_d._

                        THE DAILY PAPERS PROVIDED.

N.B.—This Establishment is conducted on the strictest business
principles, with the full intention of making it self-supporting, so that
every one may frequent it with a feeling of perfect independence.

The assistance of all frequenting the Depôt is confidently expected in
checking anything interfering with the comfort, quiet, and regularity of
the establishment.

Please do not destroy this Hand Bill, but hand it to some other person
whom it may interest.

                                * * * * *

The Self-Supporting Cooking Depôt (not a very good name, and one would
rather give it an English one) had hired a newly-built warehouse that it
found to let; therefore it was not established in premises specially
designed for the purpose.  But, at a small cost they were exceedingly
well adapted to the purpose: being light, well ventilated, clean, and
cheerful.  They consisted of three large rooms.  That on the basement
story was the kitchen; that on the ground floor was the general
dining-room; that on the floor above was the Upper Room referred to in
the hand-bill, where the Public Dinner at fourpence-halfpenny a head was
provided every day.  The cooking was done, with much economy of space and
fuel, by American cooking-stoves, and by young women not previously,
brought up as cooks; the walls and pillars of the two dining-rooms were
agreeably brightened with ornamental colours; the tables were capable of
accommodating six or eight persons each; the attendants were all young
women, becomingly and neatly dressed, and dressed alike.  I think the
whole staff was female, with the exception of the steward or manager.

My first inquiries were directed to the wages of this staff; because, if
any establishment claiming to be self-supporting, live upon the
spoliation of anybody or anything, or eke out a feeble existence by poor
mouths and beggarly resources (as too many so-called Mechanics’
Institutions do), I make bold to express my Uncommercial opinion that it
has no business to live, and had better die.  It was made clear to me by
the account books, that every person employed was properly paid.  My next
inquiries were directed to the quality of the provisions purchased, and
to the terms on which they were bought.  It was made equally clear to me
that the quality was the very best, and that all bills were paid weekly.
My next inquiries were directed to the balance-sheet for the last two
weeks—only the third and fourth of the establishment’s career.  It was
made equally clear to me, that after everything bought was paid for, and
after each week was charged with its full share of wages, rent and taxes,
depreciation of plant in use, and interest on capital at the rate of four
per cent. per annum, the last week had yielded a profit of (in round
numbers) one pound ten; and the previous week a profit of six pounds ten.
By this time I felt that I had a healthy appetite for the dinners.

It had just struck twelve, and a quick succession of faces had already
begun to appear at a little window in the wall of the partitioned space
where I sat looking over the books.  Within this little window, like a
pay-box at a theatre, a neat and brisk young woman presided to take money
and issue tickets.  Every one coming in must take a ticket.  Either the
fourpence-halfpenny ticket for the upper room (the most popular ticket, I
think), or a penny ticket for a bowl of soup, or as many penny tickets as
he or she choose to buy.  For three penny tickets one had quite a wide
range of choice.  A plate of cold boiled beef and potatoes; or a plate of
cold ham and potatoes; or a plate of hot minced beef and potatoes; or a
bowl of soup, bread and cheese, and a plate of plum-pudding.  Touching
what they should have, some customers on taking their seats fell into a
reverie—became mildly distracted—postponed decision, and said in
bewilderment, they would think of it.  One old man I noticed when I sat
among the tables in the lower room, who was startled by the bill of fare,
and sat contemplating it as if it were something of a ghostly nature.
The decision of the boys was as rapid as their execution, and always
included pudding.

There were several women among the diners, and several clerks and
shopmen.  There were carpenters and painters from the neighbouring
buildings under repair, and there were nautical men, and there were, as
one diner observed to me, ‘some of most sorts.’  Some were solitary, some
came two together, some dined in parties of three or four, or six.  The
latter talked together, but assuredly no one was louder than at my club
in Pall-Mall.  One young fellow whistled in rather a shrill manner while
he waited for his dinner, but I was gratified to observe that he did so
in evident defiance of my Uncommercial individuality.  Quite agreeing
with him, on consideration, that I had no business to be there, unless I
dined like the rest, ‘I went in,’ as the phrase is, for
fourpence-halfpenny.

The room of the fourpence-halfpenny banquet had, like the lower room, a
counter in it, on which were ranged a great number of cold portions ready
for distribution.  Behind this counter, the fragrant soup was steaming in
deep cans, and the best-cooked of potatoes were fished out of similar
receptacles.  Nothing to eat was touched with his hand.  Every waitress
had her own tables to attend to.  As soon as she saw a new customer seat
himself at one of her tables, she took from the counter all his
dinner—his soup, potatoes, meat, and pudding—piled it up dexterously in
her two hands, set it before him, and took his ticket.  This serving of
the whole dinner at once, had been found greatly to simplify the business
of attendance, and was also popular with the customers: who were thus
enabled to vary the meal by varying the routine of dishes: beginning with
soup-to-day, putting soup in the middle to-morrow, putting soup at the
end the day after to-morrow, and ringing similar changes on meat and
pudding.  The rapidity with which every new-comer got served, was
remarkable; and the dexterity with which the waitresses (quite new to the
art a month before) discharged their duty, was as agreeable to see, as
the neat smartness with which they wore their dress and had dressed their
hair.

If I seldom saw better waiting, so I certainly never ate better meat,
potatoes, or pudding.  And the soup was an honest and stout soup, with
rice and barley in it, and ‘little matters for the teeth to touch,’ as
had been observed to me by my friend below stairs already quoted.  The
dinner-service, too, was neither conspicuously hideous for High Art nor
for Low Art, but was of a pleasant and pure appearance.  Concerning the
viands and their cookery, one last remark.  I dined at my club in
Pall-Mall aforesaid, a few days afterwards, for exactly twelve times the
money, and not half as well.

The company thickened after one o’clock struck, and changed pretty
quickly.  Although experience of the place had been so recently
attainable, and although there was still considerable curiosity out in
the street and about the entrance, the general tone was as good as could
be, and the customers fell easily into the ways of the place.  It was
clear to me, however, that they were there to have what they paid for,
and to be on an independent footing.  To the best of my judgment, they
might be patronised out of the building in a month.  With judicious
visiting, and by dint of being questioned, read to, and talked at, they
might even be got rid of (for the next quarter of a century) in half the
time.

This disinterested and wise movement is fraught with so many wholesome
changes in the lives of the working people, and with so much good in the
way of overcoming that suspicion which our own unconscious impertinence
has engendered, that it is scarcely gracious to criticise details as yet;
the rather, because it is indisputable that the managers of the
Whitechapel establishment most thoroughly feel that they are upon their
honour with the customers, as to the minutest points of administration.
But, although the American stoves cannot roast, they can surely boil one
kind of meat as well as another, and need not always circumscribe their
boiling talents within the limits of ham and beef.  The most enthusiastic
admirer of those substantials, would probably not object to occasional
inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton: or, especially in cold
weather, to a little innocent trifling with Irish stews, meat pies, and
toads in holes.  Another drawback on the Whitechapel establishment, is
the absence of beer.  Regarded merely as a question of policy, it is very
impolitic, as having a tendency to send the working men to the
public-house, where gin is reported to be sold.  But, there is a much
higher ground on which this absence of beer is objectionable.  It
expresses distrust of the working man.  It is a fragment of that old
mantle of patronage in which so many estimable Thugs, so darkly wandering
up and down the moral world, are sworn to muffle him.  Good beer is a
good thing for him, he says, and he likes it; the Depôt could give it him
good, and he now gets it bad.  Why does the Depôt not give it him good?
Because he would get drunk.  Why does the Depôt not let him have a pint
with his dinner, which would not make him drunk?  Because he might have
had another pint, or another two pints, before he came.  Now, this
distrust is an affront, is exceedingly inconsistent with the confidence
the managers express in their hand-bills, and is a timid stopping-short
upon the straight highway.  It is unjust and unreasonable, also.  It is
unjust, because it punishes the sober man for the vice of the drunken
man.  It is unreasonable, because any one at all experienced in such
things knows that the drunken workman does not get drunk where he goes to
eat and drink, but where he goes to drink—expressly to drink.  To suppose
that the working man cannot state this question to himself quite as
plainly as I state it here, is to suppose that he is a baby, and is again
to tell him in the old wearisome, condescending, patronising way that he
must be goody-poody, and do as he is toldy-poldy, and not be a
manny-panny or a voter-poter, but fold his handy-pandys, and be a
childy-pildy.

I found from the accounts of the Whitechapel Self-Supporting Cooking
Depôt, that every article sold in it, even at the prices I have quoted,
yields a certain small profit!  Individual speculators are of course
already in the field, and are of course already appropriating the name.
The classes for whose benefit the real depôts are designed, will
distinguish between the two kinds of enterprise.



XXVI
CHATHAM DOCKYARD


THERE are some small out-of-the-way landing places on the Thames and the
Medway, where I do much of my summer idling.  Running water is favourable
to day-dreams, and a strong tidal river is the best of running water for
mine.  I like to watch the great ships standing out to sea or coming home
richly laden, the active little steam-tugs confidently puffing with them
to and from the sea-horizon, the fleet of barges that seem to have
plucked their brown and russet sails from the ripe trees in the
landscape, the heavy old colliers, light in ballast, floundering down
before the tide, the light screw barks and schooners imperiously holding
a straight course while the others patiently tack and go about, the
yachts with their tiny hulls and great white sheets of canvas, the little
sailing-boats bobbing to and fro on their errands of pleasure or
business, and—as it is the nature of little people to do—making a
prodigious fuss about their small affairs.  Watching these objects, I
still am under no obligation to think about them, or even so much as to
see them, unless it perfectly suits my humour.  As little am I obliged to
hear the plash and flop of the tide, the ripple at my feet, the clinking
windlass afar off, or the humming steam-ship paddles further away yet.
These, with the creaking little jetty on which I sit, and the gaunt
high-water marks and low-water marks in the mud, and the broken causeway,
and the broken bank, and the broken stakes and piles leaning forward as
if they were vain of their personal appearance and looking for their
reflection in the water, will melt into any train of fancy.  Equally
adaptable to any purpose or to none, are the posturing sheep and kine
upon the marshes, the gulls that wheel and dip around me, the crows (well
out of gunshot) going home from the rich harvest-fields, the heron that
has been out a-fishing and looks as melancholy, up there in the sky, as
if it hadn’t agreed with him.  Everything within the range of the senses
will, by the aid of the running water, lend itself to everything beyond
that range, and work into a drowsy whole, not unlike a kind of tune, but
for which there is no exact definition.

One of these landing-places is near an old fort (I can see the Nore Light
from it with my pocket-glass), from which fort mysteriously emerges a
boy, to whom I am much indebted for additions to my scanty stock of
knowledge.  He is a young boy, with an intelligent face burnt to a dust
colour by the summer sun, and with crisp hair of the same hue.  He is a
boy in whom I have perceived nothing incompatible with habits of studious
inquiry and meditation, unless an evanescent black eye (I was delicate of
inquiring how occasioned) should be so considered.  To him am I indebted
for ability to identify a Custom-house boat at any distance, and for
acquaintance with all the forms and ceremonies observed by a
homeward-bound Indiaman coming up the river, when the Custom-house
officers go aboard her.  But for him, I might never have heard of ‘the
dumb-ague,’ respecting which malady I am now learned.  Had I never sat at
his feet, I might have finished my mortal career and never known that
when I see a white horse on a barge’s sail, that barge is a lime barge.
For precious secrets in reference to beer, am I likewise beholden to him,
involving warning against the beer of a certain establishment, by reason
of its having turned sour through failure in point of demand: though my
young sage is not of opinion that similar deterioration has befallen the
ale.  He has also enlightened me touching the mushrooms of the marshes,
and has gently reproved my ignorance in having supposed them to be
impregnated with salt.  His manner of imparting information, is
thoughtful, and appropriate to the scene.  As he reclines beside me, he
pitches into the river, a little stone or piece of grit, and then
delivers himself oracularly, as though he spoke out of the centre of the
spreading circle that it makes in the water.  He never improves my mind
without observing this formula.

With the wise boy—whom I know by no other name than the Spirit of the
Fort—I recently consorted on a breezy day when the river leaped about us
and was full of life.  I had seen the sheaved corn carrying in the golden
fields as I came down to the river; and the rosy farmer, watching his
labouring-men in the saddle on his cob, had told me how he had reaped his
two hundred and sixty acres of long-strawed corn last week, and how a
better week’s work he had never done in all his days.  Peace and
abundance were on the country-side in beautiful forms and beautiful
colours, and the harvest seemed even to be sailing out to grace the
never-reaped sea in the yellow-laden barges that mellowed the distance.

It was on this occasion that the Spirit of the Fort, directing his
remarks to a certain floating iron battery lately lying in that reach of
the river, enriched my mind with his opinions on naval architecture, and
informed me that he would like to be an engineer.  I found him up to
everything that is done in the contracting line by Messrs. Peto and
Brassey—cunning in the article of concrete—mellow in the matter of
iron—great on the subject of gunnery.  When he spoke of pile-driving and
sluice-making, he left me not a leg to stand on, and I can never
sufficiently acknowledge his forbearance with me in my disabled state.
While he thus discoursed, he several times directed his eyes to one
distant quarter of the landscape, and spoke with vague mysterious awe of
‘the Yard.’  Pondering his lessons after we had parted, I bethought me
that the Yard was one of our large public Dockyards, and that it lay
hidden among the crops down in the dip behind the windmills, as if it
modestly kept itself out of view in peaceful times, and sought to trouble
no man.  Taken with this modesty on the part of the Yard, I resolved to
improve the Yard’s acquaintance.

My good opinion of the Yard’s retiring character was not dashed by nearer
approach.  It resounded with the noise of hammers beating upon iron; and
the great sheds or slips under which the mighty men-of-war are built,
loomed business-like when contemplated from the opposite side of the
river.  For all that, however, the Yard made no display, but kept itself
snug under hill-sides of corn-fields, hop-gardens, and orchards; its
great chimneys smoking with a quiet—almost a lazy—air, like giants
smoking tobacco; and the great Shears moored off it, looking meekly and
inoffensively out of proportion, like the Giraffe of the machinery
creation.  The store of cannon on the neighbouring gun-wharf, had an
innocent toy-like appearance, and the one red-coated sentry on duty over
them was a mere toy figure, with a clock-work movement.  As the hot
sunlight sparkled on him he might have passed for the identical little
man who had the little gun, and whose bullets they were made of lead,
lead, lead.

Crossing the river and landing at the Stairs, where a drift of chips and
weed had been trying to land before me and had not succeeded, but had got
into a corner instead, I found the very street posts to be cannon, and
the architectural ornaments to be shells.  And so I came to the Yard,
which was shut up tight and strong with great folded gates, like an
enormous patent safe.  These gates devouring me, I became digested into
the Yard; and it had, at first, a clean-swept holiday air, as if it had
given over work until next war-time.  Though indeed a quantity of hemp
for rope was tumbling out of store-houses, even there, which would hardly
be lying like so much hay on the white stones if the Yard were as placid
as it pretended.

Ding, Clash, Dong, BANG, Boom, Rattle, Clash, BANG, Clink, BANG, Dong,
BANG, Clatter, BANG BANG BANG!  What on earth is this!  This is, or soon
will be, the Achilles, iron armour-plated ship.  Twelve hundred men are
working at her now; twelve hundred men working on stages over her sides,
over her bows, over her stern, under her keel, between her decks, down in
her hold, within her and without, crawling and creeping into the finest
curves of her lines wherever it is possible for men to twist.  Twelve
hundred hammerers, measurers, caulkers, armourers, forgers, smiths,
shipwrights; twelve hundred dingers, clashers, dongers, rattlers,
clinkers, bangers bangers bangers!  Yet all this stupendous uproar around
the rising Achilles is as nothing to the reverberations with which the
perfected Achilles shall resound upon the dreadful day when the full work
is in hand for which this is but note of preparation—the day when the
scuppers that are now fitting like great, dry, thirsty conduit-pipes,
shall run red.  All these busy figures between decks, dimly seen bending
at their work in smoke and fire, are as nothing to the figures that shall
do work here of another kind in smoke and fire, that day.  These
steam-worked engines alongside, helping the ship by travelling to and
fro, and wafting tons of iron plates about, as though they were so many
leaves of trees, would be rent limb from limb if they stood by her for a
minute then.  To think that this Achilles, monstrous compound of iron
tank and oaken chest, can ever swim or roll!  To think that any force of
wind and wave could ever break her!  To think that wherever I see a
glowing red-hot iron point thrust out of her side from within—as I do
now, there, and there, and there!—and two watching men on a stage
without, with bared arms and sledge-hammers, strike at it fiercely, and
repeat their blows until it is black and flat, I see a rivet being driven
home, of which there are many in every iron plate, and thousands upon
thousands in the ship!  To think that the difficulty I experience in
appreciating the ship’s size when I am on board, arises from her being a
series of iron tanks and oaken chests, so that internally she is ever
finishing and ever beginning, and half of her might be smashed, and yet
the remaining half suffice and be sound.  Then, to go over the side again
and down among the ooze and wet to the bottom of the dock, in the depths
of the subterranean forest of dog-shores and stays that hold her up, and
to see the immense mass bulging out against the upper light, and tapering
down towards me, is, with great pains and much clambering, to arrive at
an impossibility of realising that this is a ship at all, and to become
possessed by the fancy that it is an enormous immovable edifice set up in
an ancient amphitheatre (say, that at Verona), and almost filling it! Yet
what would even these things be, without the tributary workshops and the
mechanical powers for piercing the iron plates—four inches and a half
thick—for rivets, shaping them under hydraulic pressure to the finest
tapering turns of the ship’s lines, and paring them away, with knives
shaped like the beaks of strong and cruel birds, to the nicest
requirements of the design!  These machines of tremendous force, so
easily directed by one attentive face and presiding hand, seem to me to
have in them something of the retiring character of the Yard.  ‘Obedient
monster, please to bite this mass of iron through and through, at equal
distances, where these regular chalk-marks are, all round.’  Monster
looks at its work, and lifting its ponderous head, replies, ‘I don’t
particularly want to do it; but if it must be done—!’  The solid metal
wriggles out, hot from the monster’s crunching tooth, and it _is_ done.
‘Dutiful monster, observe this other mass of iron.  It is required to be
pared away, according to this delicately lessening and arbitrary line,
which please to look at.’  Monster (who has been in a reverie) brings
down its blunt head, and, much in the manner of Doctor Johnson, closely
looks along the line—very closely, being somewhat near-sighted.  ‘I don’t
particularly want to do it; but if it must be done—!’  Monster takes
another near-sighted look, takes aim, and the tortured piece writhes off,
and falls, a hot, tight-twisted snake, among the ashes.  The making of
the rivets is merely a pretty round game, played by a man and a boy, who
put red-hot barley sugar in a Pope Joan board, and immediately rivets
fall out of window; but the tone of the great machines is the tone of the
great Yard and the great country: ‘We don’t particularly want to do it;
but if it must be done—!’

How such a prodigious mass as the Achilles can ever be held by such
comparatively little anchors as those intended for her and lying near her
here, is a mystery of seamanship which I will refer to the wise boy.  For
my own part, I should as soon have thought of tethering an elephant to a
tent-peg, or the larger hippopotamus in the Zoological Gardens to my
shirt-pin.  Yonder in the river, alongside a hulk, lie two of this ship’s
hollow iron masts.  _They_ are large enough for the eye, I find, and so
are all her other appliances.  I wonder why only her anchors look small.

I have no present time to think about it, for I am going to see the
workshops where they make all the oars used in the British Navy.  A
pretty large pile of building, I opine, and a pretty long job!  As to the
building, I am soon disappointed, because the work is all done in one
loft.  And as to a long job—what is this?  Two rather large mangles with
a swarm of butterflies hovering over them?  What can there be in the
mangles that attracts butterflies?

Drawing nearer, I discern that these are not mangles, but intricate
machines, set with knives and saws and planes, which cut smooth and
straight here, and slantwise there, and now cut such a depth, and now
miss cutting altogether, according to the predestined requirements of the
pieces of wood that are pushed on below them: each of which pieces is to
be an oar, and is roughly adapted to that purpose before it takes its
final leave of far-off forests, and sails for England.  Likewise I
discern that the butterflies are not true butterflies, but wooden
shavings, which, being spirted up from the wood by the violence of the
machinery, and kept in rapid and not equal movement by the impulse of its
rotation on the air, flutter and play, and rise and fall, and conduct
themselves as like butterflies as heart could wish.  Suddenly the noise
and motion cease, and the butterflies drop dead.  An oar has been made
since I came in, wanting the shaped handle.  As quickly as I can follow
it with my eye and thought, the same oar is carried to a turning lathe.
A whirl and a Nick!  Handle made.  Oar finished.

The exquisite beauty and efficiency of this machinery need no
illustration, but happen to have a pointed illustration to-day.  A pair
of oars of unusual size chance to be wanted for a special purpose, and
they have to be made by hand.  Side by side with the subtle and facile
machine, and side by side with the fast-growing pile of oars on the
floor, a man shapes out these special oars with an axe.  Attended by no
butterflies, and chipping and dinting, by comparison as leisurely as if
he were a labouring Pagan getting them ready against his decease at
threescore and ten, to take with him as a present to Charon for his boat,
the man (aged about thirty) plies his task.  The machine would make a
regulation oar while the man wipes his forehead.  The man might be buried
in a mound made of the strips of thin, broad, wooden ribbon torn from the
wood whirled into oars as the minutes fall from the clock, before he had
done a forenoon’s work with his axe.

Passing from this wonderful sight to the Ships again—for my heart, as to
the Yard, is where the ships are—I notice certain unfinished wooden walls
left seasoning on the stocks, pending the solution of the merits of the
wood and iron question, and having an air of biding their time with surly
confidence.  The names of these worthies are set up beside them, together
with their capacity in guns—a custom highly conducive to ease and
satisfaction in social intercourse, if it could be adapted to mankind.
By a plank more gracefully pendulous than substantial, I make bold to go
aboard a transport ship (iron screw) just sent in from the contractor’s
yard to be inspected and passed.  She is a very gratifying experience, in
the simplicity and humanity of her arrangements for troops, in her
provision for light and air and cleanliness, and in her care for women
and children.  It occurs to me, as I explore her, that I would require a
handsome sum of money to go aboard her, at midnight by the Dockyard bell,
and stay aboard alone till morning; for surely she must be haunted by a
crowd of ghosts of obstinate old martinets, mournfully flapping their
cherubic epaulettes over the changed times.  Though still we may learn
from the astounding ways and means in our Yards now, more highly than
ever to respect the forefathers who got to sea, and fought the sea, and
held the sea, without them.  This remembrance putting me in the best of
tempers with an old hulk, very green as to her copper, and generally dim
and patched, I pull off my hat to her.  Which salutation a callow and
downy-faced young officer of Engineers, going by at the moment,
perceiving, appropriates—and to which he is most heartily welcome, I am
sure.

Having been torn to pieces (in imagination) by the steam circular saws,
perpendicular saws, horizontal saws, and saws of eccentric action, I come
to the sauntering part of my expedition, and consequently to the core of
my Uncommercial pursuits.

Everywhere, as I saunter up and down the Yard, I meet with tokens of its
quiet and retiring character.  There is a gravity upon its red brick
offices and houses, a staid pretence of having nothing worth mentioning
to do, an avoidance of display, which I never saw out of England.  The
white stones of the pavement present no other trace of Achilles and his
twelve hundred banging men (not one of whom strikes an attitude) than a
few occasional echoes.  But for a whisper in the air suggestive of
sawdust and shavings, the oar-making and the saws of many movements might
be miles away.  Down below here, is the great reservoir of water where
timber is steeped in various temperatures, as a part of its seasoning
process.  Above it, on a tramroad supported by pillars, is a Chinese
Enchanter’s Car, which fishes the logs up, when sufficiently steeped, and
rolls smoothly away with them to stack them.  When I was a child (the
Yard being then familiar to me) I used to think that I should like to
play at Chinese Enchanter, and to have that apparatus placed at my
disposal for the purpose by a beneficent country.  I still think that I
should rather like to try the effect of writing a book in it.  Its
retirement is complete, and to go gliding to and fro among the stacks of
timber would be a convenient kind of travelling in foreign
countries—among the forests of North America, the sodden Honduras swamps,
the dark pine woods, the Norwegian frosts, and the tropical heats, rainy
seasons, and thunderstorms.  The costly store of timber is stacked and
stowed away in sequestered places, with the pervading avoidance of
flourish or effect.  It makes as little of itself as possible, and calls
to no one ‘Come and look at me!’  And yet it is picked out from the trees
of the world; picked out for length, picked out for breadth, picked out
for straightness, picked out for crookedness, chosen with an eye to every
need of ship and boat.  Strangely twisted pieces lie about, precious in
the sight of shipwrights.  Sauntering through these groves, I come upon
an open glade where workmen are examining some timber recently delivered.
Quite a pastoral scene, with a background of river and windmill! and no
more like War than the American States are at present like an Union.

Sauntering among the ropemaking, I am spun into a state of blissful
indolence, wherein my rope of life seems to be so untwisted by the
process as that I can see back to very early days indeed, when my bad
dreams—they were frightful, though my more mature understanding has never
made out why—were of an interminable sort of ropemaking, with long minute
filaments for strands, which, when they were spun home together close to
my eyes, occasioned screaming.  Next, I walk among the quiet lofts of
stores—of sails, spars, rigging, ships’ boats—determined to believe that
somebody in authority wears a girdle and bends beneath the weight of a
massive bunch of keys, and that, when such a thing is wanted, he comes
telling his keys like Blue Beard, and opens such a door.  Impassive as
the long lofts look, let the electric battery send down the word, and the
shutters and doors shall fly open, and such a fleet of armed ships, under
steam and under sail, shall burst forth as will charge the old
Medway—where the merry Stuart let the Dutch come, while his not so merry
sailors starved in the streets—with something worth looking at to carry
to the sea.  Thus I idle round to the Medway again, where it is now flood
tide; and I find the river evincing a strong solicitude to force a way
into the dry dock where Achilles is waited on by the twelve hundred
bangers, with intent to bear the whole away before they are ready.

To the last, the Yard puts a quiet face upon it; for I make my way to the
gates through a little quiet grove of trees, shading the quaintest of
Dutch landing-places, where the leaf-speckled shadow of a shipwright just
passing away at the further end might be the shadow of Russian Peter
himself.  So, the doors of the great patent safe at last close upon me,
and I take boat again: somehow, thinking as the oars dip, of braggart
Pistol and his brood, and of the quiet monsters of the Yard, with their
‘We don’t particularly want to do it; but if it must be done—!’  Scrunch.



XXVII
IN THE FRENCH-FLEMISH COUNTRY


‘IT is neither a bold nor a diversified country,’ said I to myself, ‘this
country which is three-quarters Flemish, and a quarter French; yet it has
its attractions too.  Though great lines of railway traverse it, the
trains leave it behind, and go puffing off to Paris and the South, to
Belgium and Germany, to the Northern Sea-Coast of France, and to England,
and merely smoke it a little in passing.  Then I don’t know it, and that
is a good reason for being here; and I can’t pronounce half the long
queer names I see inscribed over the shops, and that is another good
reason for being here, since I surely ought to learn how.’  In short, I
was ‘here,’ and I wanted an excuse for not going away from here, and I
made it to my satisfaction, and stayed here.

What part in my decision was borne by Monsieur P. Salcy, is of no moment,
though I own to encountering that gentleman’s name on a red bill on the
wall, before I made up my mind.  Monsieur P. Salcy, ‘par permission de M.
le Maire,’ had established his theatre in the whitewashed Hôtel de Ville,
on the steps of which illustrious edifice I stood.  And Monsieur P.
Salcy, privileged director of such theatre, situate in ‘the first
theatrical arrondissement of the department of the North,’ invited
French-Flemish mankind to come and partake of the intellectual banquet
provided by his family of dramatic artists, fifteen subjects in number.
‘La Famille P. SALCY, composée d’artistes dramatiques, au nombre de 15
sujets.’

Neither a bold nor a diversified country, I say again, and withal an
untidy country, but pleasant enough to ride in, when the paved roads over
the flats and through the hollows, are not too deep in black mud.  A
country so sparely inhabited, that I wonder where the peasants who till
and sow and reap the ground, can possibly dwell, and also by what
invisible balloons they are conveyed from their distant homes into the
fields at sunrise and back again at sunset.  The occasional few poor
cottages and farms in this region, surely cannot afford shelter to the
numbers necessary to the cultivation, albeit the work is done so very
deliberately, that on one long harvest day I have seen, in twelve miles,
about twice as many men and women (all told) reaping and binding.  Yet
have I seen more cattle, more sheep, more pigs, and all in better case,
than where there is purer French spoken, and also better ricks—round
swelling peg-top ricks, well thatched; not a shapeless brown heap, like
the toast of a Giant’s toast-and-water, pinned to the earth with one of
the skewers out of his kitchen.  A good custom they have about here,
likewise, of prolonging the sloping tiled roof of farm or cottage, so
that it overhangs three or four feet, carrying off the wet, and making a
good drying-place wherein to hang up herbs, or implements, or what not.
A better custom than the popular one of keeping the refuse-heap and
puddle close before the house door: which, although I paint my dwelling
never so brightly blue (and it cannot be too blue for me, hereabouts),
will bring fever inside my door.  Wonderful poultry of the French-Flemish
country, why take the trouble to _be_ poultry?  Why not stop short at
eggs in the rising generation, and die out and have done with it?
Parents of chickens have I seen this day, followed by their wretched
young families, scratching nothing out of the mud with an air—tottering
about on legs so scraggy and weak, that the valiant word drumsticks
becomes a mockery when applied to them, and the crow of the lord and
master has been a mere dejected case of croup.  Carts have I seen, and
other agricultural instruments, unwieldy, dislocated, monstrous.
Poplar-trees by the thousand fringe the fields and fringe the end of the
flat landscape, so that I feel, looking straight on before me, as if,
when I pass the extremest fringe on the low horizon, I shall tumble over
into space.  Little whitewashed black holes of chapels, with barred doors
and Flemish inscriptions, abound at roadside corners, and often they are
garnished with a sheaf of wooden crosses, like children’s swords; or, in
their default, some hollow old tree with a saint roosting in it, is
similarly decorated, or a pole with a very diminutive saint enshrined
aloft in a sort of sacred pigeon-house.  Not that we are deficient in
such decoration in the town here, for, over at the church yonder, outside
the building, is a scenic representation of the Crucifixion, built up
with old bricks and stones, and made out with painted canvas and wooden
figures: the whole surmounting the dusty skull of some holy personage
(perhaps), shut up behind a little ashy iron grate, as if it were
originally put there to be cooked, and the fire had long gone out.  A
windmilly country this, though the windmills are so damp and rickety,
that they nearly knock themselves off their legs at every turn of their
sails, and creak in loud complaint.  A weaving country, too, for in the
wayside cottages the loom goes wearily—rattle and click, rattle and
click—and, looking in, I see the poor weaving peasant, man or woman,
bending at the work, while the child, working too, turns a little
hand-wheel put upon the ground to suit its height.  An unconscionable
monster, the loom in a small dwelling, asserting himself ungenerously as
the bread-winner, straddling over the children’s straw beds, cramping the
family in space and air, and making himself generally objectionable and
tyrannical.  He is tributary, too, to ugly mills and factories and
bleaching-grounds, rising out of the sluiced fields in an abrupt bare
way, disdaining, like himself, to be ornamental or accommodating.
Surrounded by these things, here I stood on the steps of the Hôtel de
Ville, persuaded to remain by the P. Salcy family, fifteen dramatic
subjects strong.

There was a Fair besides.  The double persuasion being irresistible, and
my sponge being left behind at the last Hotel, I made the tour of the
little town to buy another.  In the small sunny shops—mercers, opticians,
and druggist-grocers, with here and there an emporium of religious
images—the gravest of old spectacled Flemish husbands and wives sat
contemplating one another across bare counters, while the wasps, who
seemed to have taken military possession of the town, and to have placed
it under wasp-martial law, executed warlike manœuvres in the windows.
Other shops the wasps had entirely to themselves, and nobody cared and
nobody came when I beat with a five-franc piece upon the board of custom.
What I sought was no more to be found than if I had sought a nugget of
Californian gold: so I went, spongeless, to pass the evening with the
Family P. Salcy.

The members of the Family P. Salcy were so fat and so like one
another—fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, and aunts—that I
think the local audience were much confused about the plot of the piece
under representation, and to the last expected that everybody must turn
out to be the long-lost relative of everybody else.  The Theatre was
established on the top story of the Hôtel de Ville, and was approached by
a long bare staircase, whereon, in an airy situation, one of the P. Salcy
Family—a stout gentleman imperfectly repressed by a belt—took the money.
This occasioned the greatest excitement of the evening; for, no sooner
did the curtain rise on the introductory Vaudeville, and reveal in the
person of the young lover (singing a very short song with his eyebrows)
apparently the very same identical stout gentleman imperfectly repressed
by a belt, than everybody rushed out to the paying-place, to ascertain
whether he could possibly have put on that dress-coat, that clear
complexion, and those arched black vocal eyebrows, in so short a space of
time.  It then became manifest that this was another stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt: to whom, before the spectators had
recovered their presence of mind, entered a third stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt, exactly like him.  These two ‘subjects,’
making with the money-taker three of the announced fifteen, fell into
conversation touching a charming young widow: who, presently appearing,
proved to be a stout lady altogether irrepressible by any means—quite a
parallel case to the American Negro—fourth of the fifteen subjects, and
sister of the fifth who presided over the check-department.  In good time
the whole of the fifteen subjects were dramatically presented, and we had
the inevitable Ma Mère, Ma Mère! and also the inevitable malédiction d’un
père, and likewise the inevitable Marquis, and also the inevitable
provincial young man, weak-minded but faithful, who followed Julie to
Paris, and cried and laughed and choked all at once.  The story was
wrought out with the help of a virtuous spinning-wheel in the beginning,
a vicious set of diamonds in the middle, and a rheumatic blessing (which
arrived by post) from Ma Mère towards the end; the whole resulting in a
small sword in the body of one of the stout gentlemen imperfectly
repressed by a belt, fifty thousand francs per annum and a decoration to
the other stout gentleman imperfectly repressed by a belt, and an
assurance from everybody to the provincial young man that if he were not
supremely happy—which he seemed to have no reason whatever for being—he
ought to be.  This afforded him a final opportunity of crying and
laughing and choking all at once, and sent the audience home
sentimentally delighted.  Audience more attentive or better behaved there
could not possibly be, though the places of second rank in the Theatre of
the Family P. Salcy were sixpence each in English money, and the places
of first rank a shilling.  How the fifteen subjects ever got so fat upon
it, the kind Heavens know.

What gorgeous china figures of knights and ladies, gilded till they
gleamed again, I might have bought at the Fair for the garniture of my
home, if I had been a French-Flemish peasant, and had had the money!
What shining coffee-cups and saucers I might have won at the turntables,
if I had had the luck!  Ravishing perfumery also, and sweetmeats, I might
have speculated in, or I might have fired for prizes at a multitude of
little dolls in niches, and might have hit the doll of dolls, and won
francs and fame.  Or, being a French-Flemish youth, I might have been
drawn in a hand-cart by my compeers, to tilt for municipal rewards at the
water-quintain; which, unless I sent my lance clean through the ring,
emptied a full bucket over me; to fend off which, the competitors wore
grotesque old scarecrow hats.  Or, being French-Flemish man or woman, boy
or girl, I might have circled all night on my hobby-horse in a stately
cavalcade of hobby-horses four abreast, interspersed with triumphal cars,
going round and round and round and round, we the goodly company singing
a ceaseless chorus to the music of the barrel-organ, drum, and cymbals.
On the whole, not more monotonous than the Ring in Hyde Park, London, and
much merrier; for when do the circling company sing chorus, _there_, to
the barrel-organ, when do the ladies embrace their horses round the neck
with both arms, when do the gentlemen fan the ladies with the tails of
their gallant steeds?  On all these revolving delights, and on their own
especial lamps and Chinese lanterns revolving with them, the thoughtful
weaver-face brightens, and the Hôtel de Ville sheds an illuminated line
of gaslight: while above it, the Eagle of France, gas-outlined and
apparently afflicted with the prevailing infirmities that have lighted on
the poultry, is in a very undecided state of policy, and as a bird
moulting.  Flags flutter all around.  Such is the prevailing gaiety that
the keeper of the prison sits on the stone steps outside the prison-door,
to have a look at the world that is not locked up; while that agreeable
retreat, the wine-shop opposite to the prison in the prison-alley (its
sign La Tranquillité, because of its charming situation), resounds with
the voices of the shepherds and shepherdesses who resort there this
festive night.  And it reminds me that only this afternoon, I saw a
shepherd in trouble, tending this way, over the jagged stones of a
neighbouring street.  A magnificent sight it was, to behold him in his
blouse, a feeble little jog-trot rustic, swept along by the wind of two
immense gendarmes, in cocked-hats for which the street was hardly wide
enough, each carrying a bundle of stolen property that would not have
held his shoulder-knot, and clanking a sabre that dwarfed the prisoner.

‘Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you at this Fair, as a mark of my
confidence in the people of this so-renowned town, and as an act of
homage to their good sense and fine taste, the Ventriloquist, the
Ventriloquist!  Further, Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you the
Face-Maker, the Physiognomist, the great Changer of Countenances, who
transforms the features that Heaven has bestowed upon him into an endless
succession of surprising and extraordinary visages, comprehending,
Messieurs et Mesdames, all the contortions, energetic and expressive, of
which the human face is capable, and all the passions of the human heart,
as Love, Jealousy, Revenge, Hatred, Avarice, Despair!  Hi hi!  Ho ho!  Lu
lu!  Come in!’  To this effect, with an occasional smite upon a sonorous
kind of tambourine—bestowed with a will, as if it represented the people
who won’t come in—holds forth a man of lofty and severe demeanour; a man
in stately uniform, gloomy with the knowledge he possesses of the inner
secrets of the booth.  ‘Come in, come in!  Your opportunity presents
itself to-night; to-morrow it will be gone for ever.  To-morrow morning
by the Express Train the railroad will reclaim the Ventriloquist and the
Face-Maker!  Algeria will reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker!
Yes!  For the honour of their country they have accepted propositions of
a magnitude incredible, to appear in Algeria.  See them for the last time
before their departure!  We go to commence on the instant.  Hi hi!  Ho
ho!  Lu lu!  Come in!  Take the money that now ascends, Madame; but after
that, no more, for we commence!  Come in!’

Nevertheless, the eyes both of the gloomy Speaker and of Madame receiving
sous in a muslin bower, survey the crowd pretty sharply after the
ascending money has ascended, to detect any lingering sous at the
turning-point.  ‘Come in, come in!  Is there any more money, Madame, on
the point of ascending?  If so, we wait for it.  If not, we commence!’
The orator looks back over his shoulder to say it, lashing the spectators
with the conviction that he beholds through the folds of the drapery into
which he is about to plunge, the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker.
Several sous burst out of pockets, and ascend.  ‘Come up, then,
Messieurs!’ exclaims Madame in a shrill voice, and beckoning with a
bejewelled finger.  ‘Come up!  This presses.  Monsieur has commanded that
they commence!’  Monsieur dives into his Interior, and the last
half-dozen of us follow.  His Interior is comparatively severe; his
Exterior also.  A true Temple of Art needs nothing but seats, drapery, a
small table with two moderator lamps hanging over it, and an ornamental
looking-glass let into the wall.  Monsieur in uniform gets behind the
table and surveys us with disdain, his forehead becoming diabolically
intellectual under the moderators.  ‘Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to
you the Ventriloquist.  He will commence with the celebrated Experience
of the bee in the window.  The bee, apparently the veritable bee of
Nature, will hover in the window, and about the room.  He will be with
difficulty caught in the hand of Monsieur the Ventriloquist—he will
escape—he will again hover—at length he will be recaptured by Monsieur
the Ventriloquist, and will be with difficulty put into a bottle.
Achieve then, Monsieur!’  Here the proprietor is replaced behind the
table by the Ventriloquist, who is thin and sallow, and of a weakly
aspect.  While the bee is in progress, Monsieur the Proprietor sits apart
on a stool, immersed in dark and remote thought.  The moment the bee is
bottled, he stalks forward, eyes us gloomily as we applaud, and then
announces, sternly waving his hand: ‘The magnificent Experience of the
child with the whooping-cough!’  The child disposed of, he starts up as
before.  ‘The superb and extraordinary Experience of the dialogue between
Monsieur Tatambour in his dining-room, and his domestic, Jerome, in the
cellar; concluding with the songsters of the grove, and the Concert of
domestic Farm-yard animals.’  All this done, and well done, Monsieur the
Ventriloquist withdraws, and Monsieur the Face-Maker bursts in, as if his
retiring-room were a mile long instead of a yard.  A corpulent little man
in a large white waistcoat, with a comic countenance, and with a wig in
his hand.  Irreverent disposition to laugh, instantly checked by the
tremendous gravity of the Face-Maker, who intimates in his bow that if we
expect that sort of thing we are mistaken.  A very little shaving-glass
with a leg behind it is handed in, and placed on the table before the
Face-Maker.  ‘Messieurs et Mesdames, with no other assistance than this
mirror and this wig, I shall have the honour of showing you a thousand
characters.’  As a preparation, the Face-Maker with both hands gouges
himself, and turns his mouth inside out.  He then becomes frightfully
grave again, and says to the Proprietor, ‘I am ready!’  Proprietor stalks
forth from baleful reverie, and announces ‘The Young Conscript!’
Face-Maker claps his wig on, hind side before, looks in the glass, and
appears above it as a conscript so very imbecile, and squinting so
extremely hard, that I should think the State would never get any good of
him.  Thunders of applause.  Face-Maker dips behind the looking-glass,
brings his own hair forward, is himself again, is awfully grave.  ‘A
distinguished inhabitant of the Faubourg St. Germain.’  Face-Maker dips,
rises, is supposed to be aged, blear-eyed, toothless, slightly palsied,
supernaturally polite, evidently of noble birth.  ‘The oldest member of
the Corps of Invalides on the fête-day of his master.’  Face-Maker dips,
rises, wears the wig on one side, has become the feeblest military bore
in existence, and (it is clear) would lie frightfully about his past
achievements, if he were not confined to pantomime.  ‘The Miser!’
Face-Maker dips, rises, clutches a bag, and every hair of the wig is on
end to express that he lives in continual dread of thieves.  ‘The Genius
of France!’  Face-Maker dips, rises, wig pushed back and smoothed flat,
little cocked-hat (artfully concealed till now) put a-top of it,
Face-Maker’s white waistcoat much advanced, Face-Maker’s left hand in
bosom of white waistcoat, Face-Maker’s right hand behind his back.
Thunders.  This is the first of three positions of the Genius of France.
In the second position, the Face-Maker takes snuff; in the third, rolls
up his fight hand, and surveys illimitable armies through that
pocket-glass.  The Face-Maker then, by putting out his tongue, and
wearing the wig nohow in particular, becomes the Village Idiot.  The most
remarkable feature in the whole of his ingenious performance, is, that
whatever he does to disguise himself, has the effect of rendering him
rather more like himself than he was at first.

There were peep-shows in this Fair, and I had the pleasure of recognising
several fields of glory with which I became well acquainted a year or two
ago as Crimean battles, now doing duty as Mexican victories.  The change
was neatly effected by some extra smoking of the Russians, and by
permitting the camp followers free range in the foreground to despoil the
enemy of their uniforms.  As no British troops had ever happened to be
within sight when the artist took his original sketches, it followed
fortunately that none were in the way now.

The Fair wound up with a ball.  Respecting the particular night of the
week on which the ball took place, I decline to commit myself; merely
mentioning that it was held in a stable-yard so very close to the
railway, that it was a mercy the locomotive did not set fire to it.  (In
Scotland, I suppose, it would have done so.)  There, in a tent prettily
decorated with looking-glasses and a myriad of toy flags, the people
danced all night. It was not an expensive recreation, the price of a
double ticket for a cavalier and lady being one and threepence in English
money, and even of that small sum fivepence was reclaimable for
‘consommation:’ which word I venture to translate into refreshments of no
greater strength, at the strongest, than ordinary wine made hot, with
sugar and lemon in it.  It was a ball of great good humour and of great
enjoyment, though very many of the dancers must have been as poor as the
fifteen subjects of the P. Salcy Family.

In short, not having taken my own pet national pint pot with me to this
Fair, I was very well satisfied with the measure of simple enjoyment that
it poured into the dull French-Flemish country life.  How dull that is, I
had an opportunity of considering—when the Fair was over—when the
tri-coloured flags were withdrawn from the windows of the houses on the
Place where the Fair was held—when the windows were close shut,
apparently until next Fair-time—when the Hôtel de Ville had cut off its
gas and put away its eagle—when the two paviours, whom I take to form the
entire paving population of the town, were ramming down the stones which
had been pulled up for the erection of decorative poles—when the jailer
had slammed his gate, and sulkily locked himself in with his charges.
But then, as I paced the ring which marked the track of the departed
hobby-horses on the market-place, pondering in my mind how long some
hobby-horses do leave their tracks in public ways, and how difficult they
are to erase, my eyes were greeted with a goodly sight.  I beheld four
male personages thoughtfully pacing the Place together, in the sunlight,
evidently not belonging to the town, and having upon them a certain loose
cosmopolitan air of not belonging to any town.  One was clad in a suit of
white canvas, another in a cap and blouse, the third in an old military
frock, the fourth in a shapeless dress that looked as if it had been made
out of old umbrellas.  All wore dust-coloured shoes.  My heart beat high;
for, in those four male personages, although complexionless and
eyebrowless, I beheld four subjects of the Family P. Salcy.  Blue-bearded
though they were, and bereft of the youthful smoothness of cheek which is
imparted by what is termed in Albion a ‘Whitechapel shave’ (and which is,
in fact, whitening, judiciously applied to the jaws with the palm of the
hand), I recognised them.  As I stood admiring, there emerged from the
yard of a lowly Cabaret, the excellent Ma Mère, Ma Mère, with the words,
‘The soup is served;’ words which so elated the subject in the canvas
suit, that when they all ran in to partake, he went last, dancing with
his hands stuck angularly into the pockets of his canvas trousers, after
the Pierrot manner.  Glancing down the Yard, the last I saw of him was,
that he looked in through a window (at the soup, no doubt) on one leg.

Full of this pleasure, I shortly afterwards departed from the town,
little dreaming of an addition to my good fortune.  But more was in
reserve.  I went by a train which was heavy with third-class carriages,
full of young fellows (well guarded) who had drawn unlucky numbers in the
last conscription, and were on their way to a famous French garrison town
where much of the raw military material is worked up into soldiery.  At
the station they had been sitting about, in their threadbare homespun
blue garments, with their poor little bundles under their arms, covered
with dust and clay, and the various soils of France; sad enough at heart,
most of them, but putting a good face upon it, and slapping their breasts
and singing choruses on the smallest provocation; the gayest spirits
shouldering half loaves of black bread speared upon their walking-sticks.
As we went along, they were audible at every station, chorusing wildly
out of tune, and feigning the highest hilarity.  After a while, however,
they began to leave off singing, and to laugh naturally, while at
intervals there mingled with their laughter the barking of a dog.  Now, I
had to alight short of their destination, and, as that stoppage of the
train was attended with a quantity of horn blowing, bell ringing, and
proclamation of what Messieurs les Voyageurs were to do, and were not to
do, in order to reach their respective destinations, I had ample leisure
to go forward on the platform to take a parting look at my recruits,
whose heads were all out at window, and who were laughing like delighted
children.  Then I perceived that a large poodle with a pink nose, who had
been their travelling companion and the cause of their mirth, stood on
his hind-legs presenting arms on the extreme verge of the platform, ready
to salute them as the train went off.  This poodle wore a military shako
(it is unnecessary to add, very much on one side over one eye), a little
military coat, and the regulation white gaiters.  He was armed with a
little musket and a little sword-bayonet, and he stood presenting arms in
perfect attitude, with his unobscured eye on his master or superior
officer, who stood by him.  So admirable was his discipline, that, when
the train moved, and he was greeted with the parting cheers of the
recruits, and also with a shower of centimes, several of which struck his
shako, and had a tendency to discompose him, he remained staunch on his
post, until the train was gone.  He then resigned his arms to his
officer, took off his shako by rubbing his paw over it, dropped on four
legs, bringing his uniform coat into the absurdest relations with the
overarching skies, and ran about the platform in his white gaiters,
waging his tail to an exceeding great extent.  It struck me that there
was more waggery than this in the poodle, and that he knew that the
recruits would neither get through their exercises, nor get rid of their
uniforms, as easily as he; revolving which in my thoughts, and seeking in
my pockets some small money to bestow upon him, I casually directed my
eyes to the face of his superior officer, and in him beheld the
Face-Maker!  Though it was not the way to Algeria, but quite the reverse,
the military poodle’s Colonel was the Face-Maker in a dark blouse, with a
small bundle dangling over his shoulder at the end of an umbrella, and
taking a pipe from his breast to smoke as he and the poodle went their
mysterious way.



XXVIII
MEDICINE MEN OF CIVILISATION


MY voyages (in paper boats) among savages often yield me matter for
reflection at home.  It is curious to trace the savage in the civilised
man, and to detect the hold of some savage customs on conditions of
society rather boastful of being high above them.

I wonder, is the Medicine Man of the North American Indians never to be
got rid of, out of the North American country?  He comes into my Wigwam
on all manner of occasions, and with the absurdest ‘Medicine.’  I always
find it extremely difficult, and I often find it simply impossible, to
keep him out of my Wigwam.  For his legal ‘Medicine’ he sticks upon his
head the hair of quadrupeds, and plasters the same with fat, and dirty
white powder, and talks a gibberish quite unknown to the men and squaws
of his tribe.  For his religious ‘Medicine’ he puts on puffy white
sleeves, little black aprons, large black waistcoats of a peculiar cut,
collarless coats with Medicine button-holes, Medicine stockings and
gaiters and shoes, and tops the whole with a highly grotesque Medicinal
hat.  In one respect, to be sure, I am quite free from him.  On occasions
when the Medicine Men in general, together with a large number of the
miscellaneous inhabitants of his village, both male and female, are
presented to the principal Chief, his native ‘Medicine’ is a comical
mixture of old odds and ends (hired of traders) and new things in
antiquated shapes, and pieces of red cloth (of which he is particularly
fond), and white and red and blue paint for the face.  The irrationality
of this particular Medicine culminates in a mock battle-rush, from which
many of the squaws are borne out, much dilapidated.  I need not observe
how unlike this is to a Drawing Room at St. James’s Palace.

The African magician I find it very difficult to exclude from my Wigwam
too.  This creature takes cases of death and mourning under his
supervision, and will frequently impoverish a whole family by his
preposterous enchantments.  He is a great eater and drinker, and always
conceals a rejoicing stomach under a grieving exterior.  His charms
consist of an infinite quantity of worthless scraps, for which he charges
very high.  He impresses on the poor bereaved natives, that the more of
his followers they pay to exhibit such scraps on their persons for an
hour or two (though they never saw the deceased in their lives, and are
put in high spirits by his decease), the more honourably and piously they
grieve for the dead.  The poor people submitting themselves to this
conjurer, an expensive procession is formed, in which bits of stick,
feathers of birds, and a quantity of other unmeaning objects besmeared
with black paint, are carried in a certain ghastly order of which no one
understands the meaning, if it ever had any, to the brink of the grave,
and are then brought back again.

In the Tonga Islands everything is supposed to have a soul, so that when
a hatchet is irreparably broken, they say, ‘His immortal part has
departed; he is gone to the happy hunting-plains.’  This belief leads to
the logical sequence that when a man is buried, some of his eating and
drinking vessels, and some of his warlike implements, must be broken and
buried with him.  Superstitious and wrong, but surely a more respectable
superstition than the hire of antic scraps for a show that has no meaning
based on any sincere belief.

Let me halt on my Uncommercial road, to throw a passing glance on some
funeral solemnities that I have seen where North American Indians,
African Magicians, and Tonga Islanders, are supposed not to be.

Once, I dwelt in an Italian city, where there dwelt with me for a while,
an Englishman of an amiable nature, great enthusiasm, and no discretion.
This friend discovered a desolate stranger, mourning over the unexpected
death of one very dear to him, in a solitary cottage among the vineyards
of an outlying village.  The circumstances of the bereavement were
unusually distressing; and the survivor, new to the peasants and the
country, sorely needed help, being alone with the remains.  With some
difficulty, but with the strong influence of a purpose at once gentle,
disinterested, and determined, my friend—Mr. Kindheart—obtained access to
the mourner, and undertook to arrange the burial.

There was a small Protestant cemetery near the city walls, and as Mr.
Kindheart came back to me, he turned into it and chose the spot.  He was
always highly flushed when rendering a service unaided, and I knew that
to make him happy I must keep aloof from his ministration.  But when at
dinner he warmed with the good action of the day, and conceived the
brilliant idea of comforting the mourner with ‘an English funeral,’ I
ventured to intimate that I thought that institution, which was not
absolutely sublime at home, might prove a failure in Italian hands.
However, Mr. Kindheart was so enraptured with his conception, that he
presently wrote down into the town requesting the attendance with
to-morrow’s earliest light of a certain little upholsterer.  This
upholsterer was famous for speaking the unintelligible local dialect (his
own) in a far more unintelligible manner than any other man alive.

When from my bath next morning I overheard Mr. Kindheart and the
upholsterer in conference on the top of an echoing staircase; and when I
overheard Mr. Kindheart rendering English Undertaking phrases into very
choice Italian, and the upholsterer replying in the unknown Tongues; and
when I furthermore remembered that the local funerals had no resemblance
to English funerals; I became in my secret bosom apprehensive.  But Mr.
Kindheart informed me at breakfast that measures had been taken to ensure
a signal success.

As the funeral was to take place at sunset, and as I knew to which of the
city gates it must tend, I went out at that gate as the sun descended,
and walked along the dusty, dusty road.  I had not walked far, when I
encountered this procession:

1.  Mr. Kindheart, much abashed, on an immense grey horse.

2.  A bright yellow coach and pair, driven by a coachman in bright red
velvet knee-breeches and waistcoat.  (This was the established local idea
of State.)  Both coach doors kept open by the coffin, which was on its
side within, and sticking out at each.

3.  Behind the coach, the mourner, for whom the coach was intended,
walking in the dust.

4. Concealed behind a roadside well for the irrigation of a garden, the
unintelligible Upholsterer, admiring.

It matters little now.  Coaches of all colours are alike to poor
Kindheart, and he rests far North of the little cemetery with the
cypress-trees, by the city walls where the Mediterranean is so beautiful.

My first funeral, a fair representative funeral after its kind, was that
of the husband of a married servant, once my nurse.  She married for
money.  Sally Flanders, after a year or two of matrimony, became the
relict of Flanders, a small master builder; and either she or Flanders
had done me the honour to express a desire that I should ‘follow.’  I may
have been seven or eight years old;—young enough, certainly, to feel
rather alarmed by the expression, as not knowing where the invitation was
held to terminate, and how far I was expected to follow the deceased
Flanders.  Consent being given by the heads of houses, I was jobbed up
into what was pronounced at home decent mourning (comprehending somebody
else’s shirt, unless my memory deceives me), and was admonished that if,
when the funeral was in action, I put my hands in my pockets, or took my
eyes out of my pocket-handkerchief, I was personally lost, and my family
disgraced.  On the eventful day, having tried to get myself into a
disastrous frame of mind, and having formed a very poor opinion of myself
because I couldn’t cry, I repaired to Sally’s.  Sally was an excellent
creature, and had been a good wife to old Flanders, but the moment I saw
her I knew that she was not in her own real natural state.  She formed a
sort of Coat of Arms, grouped with a smelling-bottle, a handkerchief, an
orange, a bottle of vinegar, Flanders’s sister, her own sister,
Flanders’s brother’s wife, and two neighbouring gossips—all in mourning,
and all ready to hold her whenever she fainted.  At sight of poor little
me she became much agitated (agitating me much more), and having
exclaimed, ‘O here’s dear Master Uncommercial!’ became hysterical, and
swooned as if I had been the death of her.  An affecting scene followed,
during which I was handed about and poked at her by various people, as if
I were the bottle of salts.  Reviving a little, she embraced me, said,
‘You knew him well, dear Master Uncommercial, and he knew you!’ and
fainted again: which, as the rest of the Coat of Arms soothingly said,
‘done her credit.’  Now, I knew that she needn’t have fainted unless she
liked, and that she wouldn’t have fainted unless it had been expected of
her, quite as well as I know it at this day.  It made me feel
uncomfortable and hypocritical besides.  I was not sure but that it might
be manners in _me_ to faint next, and I resolved to keep my eye on
Flanders’s uncle, and if I saw any signs of his going in that direction,
to go too, politely.  But Flanders’s uncle (who was a weak little old
retail grocer) had only one idea, which was that we all wanted tea; and
he handed us cups of tea all round, incessantly, whether we refused or
not.  There was a young nephew of Flanders’s present, to whom Flanders,
it was rumoured, had left nineteen guineas.  He drank all the tea that
was offered him, this nephew—amounting, I should say, to several
quarts—and ate as much plum-cake as he could possibly come by; but he
felt it to be decent mourning that he should now and then stop in the
midst of a lump of cake, and appear to forget that his mouth was full, in
the contemplation of his uncle’s memory.  I felt all this to be the fault
of the undertaker, who was handing us gloves on a tea-tray as if they
were muffins, and tying us into cloaks (mine had to be pinned up all
round, it was so long for me), because I knew that he was making game.
So, when we got out into the streets, and I constantly disarranged the
procession by tumbling on the people before me because my handkerchief
blinded my eyes, and tripping up the people behind me because my cloak
was so long, I felt that we were all making game.  I was truly sorry for
Flanders, but I knew that it was no reason why we should be trying (the
women with their heads in hoods like coal-scuttles with the black side
outward) to keep step with a man in a scarf, carrying a thing like a
mourning spy-glass, which he was going to open presently and sweep the
horizon with.  I knew that we should not all have been speaking in one
particular key-note struck by the undertaker, if we had not been making
game.  Even in our faces we were every one of us as like the undertaker
as if we had been his own family, and I perceived that this could not
have happened unless we had been making game.  When we returned to
Sally’s, it was all of a piece.  The continued impossibility of getting
on without plum-cake; the ceremonious apparition of a pair of decanters
containing port and sherry and cork; Sally’s sister at the tea-table,
clinking the best crockery and shaking her head mournfully every time she
looked down into the teapot, as if it were the tomb; the Coat of Arms
again, and Sally as before; lastly, the words of consolation administered
to Sally when it was considered right that she should ‘come round
nicely:’ which were, that the deceased had had ‘as com-for-ta-ble a
fu-ne-ral as comfortable could be!’

Other funerals have I seen with grown-up eyes, since that day, of which
the burden has been the same childish burden.  Making game.  Real
affliction, real grief and solemnity, have been outraged, and the funeral
has been ‘performed.’  The waste for which the funeral customs of many
tribes of savages are conspicuous, has attended these civilised
obsequies; and once, and twice, have I wished in my soul that if the
waste must be, they would let the undertaker bury the money, and let me
bury the friend.

In France, upon the whole, these ceremonies are more sensibly regulated,
because they are upon the whole less expensively regulated.  I cannot say
that I have ever been much edified by the custom of tying a bib and apron
on the front of the house of mourning, or that I would myself
particularly care to be driven to my grave in a nodding and bobbing car,
like an infirm four-post bedstead, by an inky fellow-creature in a
cocked-hat.  But it may be that I am constitutionally insensible to the
virtues of a cocked-hat.  In provincial France, the solemnities are
sufficiently hideous, but are few and cheap.  The friends and townsmen of
the departed, in their own dresses and not masquerading under the
auspices of the African Conjurer, surround the hand-bier, and often carry
it.  It is not considered indispensable to stifle the bearers, or even to
elevate the burden on their shoulders; consequently it is easily taken
up, and easily set down, and is carried through the streets without the
distressing floundering and shuffling that we see at home.  A dirty
priest or two, and a dirtier acolyte or two, do not lend any especial
grace to the proceedings; and I regard with personal animosity the
bassoon, which is blown at intervals by the big-legged priest (it is
always a big-legged priest who blows the bassoon), when his fellows
combine in a lugubrious stalwart drawl.  But there is far less of the
Conjurer and the Medicine Man in the business than under like
circumstances here.  The grim coaches that we reserve expressly for such
shows, are non-existent; if the cemetery be far out of the town, the
coaches that are hired for other purposes of life are hired for this
purpose; and although the honest vehicles make no pretence of being
overcome, I have never noticed that the people in them were the worse for
it.  In Italy, the hooded Members of Confraternities who attend on
funerals, are dismal and ugly to look upon; but the services they render
are at least voluntarily rendered, and impoverish no one, and cost
nothing.  Why should high civilisation and low savagery ever come
together on the point of making them a wantonly wasteful and contemptible
set of forms?

Once I lost a friend by death, who had been troubled in his time by the
Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and upon whose limited resources there
were abundant claims.  The Conjurer assured me that I must positively
‘follow,’ and both he and the Medicine Man entertained no doubt that I
must go in a black carriage, and must wear ‘fittings.’  I objected to
fittings as having nothing to do with my friendship, and I objected to
the black carriage as being in more senses than one a job.  So, it came
into my mind to try what would happen if I quietly walked, in my own way,
from my own house to my friend’s burial-place, and stood beside his open
grave in my own dress and person, reverently listening to the best of
Services.  It satisfied my mind, I found, quite as well as if I had been
disguised in a hired hatband and scarf both trailing to my very heels,
and as if I had cost the orphan children, in their greatest need, ten
guineas.

Can any one who ever beheld the stupendous absurdities attendant on ‘A
message from the Lords’ in the House of Commons, turn upon the Medicine
Man of the poor Indians?  Has he any ‘Medicine’ in that dried skin pouch
of his, so supremely ludicrous as the two Masters in Chancery holding up
their black petticoats and butting their ridiculous wigs at Mr. Speaker?
Yet there are authorities innumerable to tell me—as there are authorities
innumerable among the Indians to tell them—that the nonsense is
indispensable, and that its abrogation would involve most awful
consequences.  What would any rational creature who had never heard of
judicial and forensic ‘fittings,’ think of the Court of Common Pleas on
the first day of Term?  Or with what an awakened sense of humour would
LIVINGSTONE’S account of a similar scene be perused, if the fur and red
cloth and goats’ hair and horse hair and powdered chalk and black patches
on the top of the head, were all at Tala Mungongo instead of Westminster?
That model missionary and good brave man found at least one tribe of
blacks with a very strong sense of the ridiculous, insomuch that although
an amiable and docile people, they never could see the Missionaries
dispose of their legs in the attitude of kneeling, or hear them begin a
hymn in chorus, without bursting into roars of irrepressible laughter.
It is much to be hoped that no member of this facetious tribe may ever
find his way to England and get committed for contempt of Court.

In the Tonga Island already mentioned, there are a set of personages
called Mataboos—or some such name—who are the masters of all the public
ceremonies, and who know the exact place in which every chief must sit
down when a solemn public meeting takes place: a meeting which bears a
family resemblance to our own Public Dinner, in respect of its being a
main part of the proceedings that every gentleman present is required to
drink something nasty.  These Mataboos are a privileged order, so
important is their avocation, and they make the most of their high
functions.  A long way out of the Tonga Islands, indeed, rather near the
British Islands, was there no calling in of the Mataboos the other day to
settle an earth-convulsing question of precedence; and was there no
weighty opinion delivered on the part of the Mataboos which, being
interpreted to that unlucky tribe of blacks with the sense of the
ridiculous, would infallibly set the whole population screaming with
laughter?

My sense of justice demands the admission, however, that this is not
quite a one-sided question.  If we submit ourselves meekly to the
Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and are not exalted by it, the savages may
retort upon us that we act more unwisely than they in other matters
wherein we fail to imitate them.  It is a widely diffused custom among
savage tribes, when they meet to discuss any affair of public importance,
to sit up all night making a horrible noise, dancing, blowing shells, and
(in cases where they are familiar with fire-arms) flying out into open
places and letting off guns.  It is questionable whether our legislative
assemblies might not take a hint from this.  A shell is not a melodious
wind-instrument, and it is monotonous; but it is as musical as, and not
more monotonous than, my Honourable friend’s own trumpet, or the trumpet
that he blows so hard for the Minister.  The uselessness of arguing with
any supporter of a Government or of an Opposition, is well known.  Try
dancing.  It is a better exercise, and has the unspeakable recommendation
that it couldn’t be reported.  The honourable and savage member who has a
loaded gun, and has grown impatient of debate, plunges out of doors,
fires in the air, and returns calm and silent to the Palaver.  Let the
honourable and civilised member similarly charged with a speech, dart
into the cloisters of Westminster Abbey in the silence of night, let his
speech off, and come back harmless.  It is not at first sight a very
rational custom to paint a broad blue stripe across one’s nose and both
cheeks, and a broad red stripe from the forehead to the chin, to attach a
few pounds of wood to one’s under lip, to stick fish-bones in one’s ears
and a brass curtain-ring in one’s nose, and to rub one’s body all over
with rancid oil, as a preliminary to entering on business.  But this is a
question of taste and ceremony, and so is the Windsor Uniform.  The
manner of entering on the business itself is another question.  A council
of six hundred savage gentlemen entirely independent of tailors, sitting
on their hams in a ring, smoking, and occasionally grunting, seem to me,
according to the experience I have gathered in my voyages and travels,
somehow to do what they come together for; whereas that is not at all the
general experience of a council of six hundred civilised gentlemen very
dependent on tailors and sitting on mechanical contrivances.  It is
better that an Assembly should do its utmost to envelop itself in smoke,
than that it should direct its endeavours to enveloping the public in
smoke; and I would rather it buried half a hundred hatchets than buried
one subject demanding attention.



XXIX
TITBULL’S ALMS-HOUSES


BY the side of most railways out of London, one may see Alms-Houses and
Retreats (generally with a Wing or a Centre wanting, and ambitious of
being much bigger than they are), some of which are newly-founded
Institutions, and some old establishments transplanted.  There is a
tendency in these pieces of architecture to shoot upward unexpectedly,
like Jack’s bean-stalk, and to be ornate in spires of Chapels and
lanterns of Halls, which might lead to the embellishment of the air with
many castles of questionable beauty but for the restraining consideration
of expense.  However, the manners, being always of a sanguine
temperament, comfort themselves with plans and elevations of Loomings in
the future, and are influenced in the present by philanthropy towards the
railway passengers.  For, the question how prosperous and promising the
buildings can be made to look in their eyes, usually supersedes the
lesser question how they can be turned to the best account for the
inmates.

Why none of the people who reside in these places ever look out of
window, or take an airing in the piece of ground which is going to be a
garden by-and-by, is one of the wonders I have added to my
always-lengthening list of the wonders of the world.  I have got it into
my mind that they live in a state of chronic injury and resentment, and
on that account refuse to decorate the building with a human interest.
As I have known legatees deeply injured by a bequest of five hundred
pounds because it was not five thousand, and as I was once acquainted
with a pensioner on the Public to the extent of two hundred a year, who
perpetually anathematised his Country because he was not in the receipt
of four, having no claim whatever to sixpence: so perhaps it usually
happens, within certain limits, that to get a little help is to get a
notion of being defrauded of more.  ‘How do they pass their lives in this
beautiful and peaceful place!’ was the subject of my speculation with a
visitor who once accompanied me to a charming rustic retreat for old men
and women: a quaint ancient foundation in a pleasant English country,
behind a picturesque church and among rich old convent gardens.  There
were but some dozen or so of houses, and we agreed that we would talk
with the inhabitants, as they sat in their groined rooms between the
light of their fires and the light shining in at their latticed windows,
and would find out.  They passed their lives in considering themselves
mulcted of certain ounces of tea by a deaf old steward who lived among
them in the quadrangle.  There was no reason to suppose that any such
ounces of tea had ever been in existence, or that the old steward so much
as knew what was the matter;—he passed _his_ life in considering himself
periodically defrauded of a birch-broom by the beadle.

But it is neither to old Alms-Houses in the country, nor to new
Alms-Houses by the railroad, that these present Uncommercial notes
relate.  They refer back to journeys made among those common-place,
smoky-fronted London Alms-Houses, with a little paved court-yard in front
enclosed by iron railings, which have got snowed up, as it were, by
bricks and mortar; which were once in a suburb, but are now in the
densely populated town; gaps in the busy life around them, parentheses in
the close and blotted texts of the streets.

Sometimes, these Alms-Houses belong to a Company or Society.  Sometimes,
they were established by individuals, and are maintained out of private
funds bequeathed in perpetuity long ago.  My favourite among them is
Titbull’s, which establishment is a picture of many.  Of Titbull I know
no more than that he deceased in 1723, that his Christian name was
Sampson, and his social designation Esquire, and that he founded these
Alms-Houses as Dwellings for Nine Poor Women and Six Poor Men by his Will
and Testament.  I should not know even this much, but for its being
inscribed on a grim stone very difficult to read, let into the front of
the centre house of Titbull’s Alms-Houses, and which stone is ornamented
a-top with a piece of sculptured drapery resembling the effigy of
Titbull’s bath-towel.

Titbull’s Alms-Houses are in the east of London, in a great highway, in a
poor, busy, and thronged neighbourhood.  Old iron and fried fish, cough
drops and artificial flowers, boiled pigs’-feet and household furniture
that looks as if it were polished up with lip-salve, umbrellas full of
vocal literature and saucers full of shell-fish in a green juice which I
hope is natural to them when their health is good, garnish the paved
sideways as you go to Titbull’s.  I take the ground to have risen in
those parts since Titbull’s time, and you drop into his domain by three
stone steps.  So did I first drop into it, very nearly striking my brows
against Titbull’s pump, which stands with its back to the thoroughfare
just inside the gate, and has a conceited air of reviewing Titbull’s
pensioners.

‘And a worse one,’ said a virulent old man with a pitcher, ‘there isn’t
nowhere.  A harder one to work, nor a grudginer one to yield, there isn’t
nowhere!’  This old man wore a long coat, such as we see Hogarth’s
Chairmen represented with, and it was of that peculiar green-pea hue
without the green, which seems to come of poverty.  It had also that
peculiar smell of cupboard which seems to come of poverty.

‘The pump is rusty, perhaps,’ said I.

‘Not _it_,’ said the old man, regarding it with undiluted virulence in
his watery eye.  ‘It never were fit to be termed a pump.  That’s what’s
the matter with _it_.’

‘Whose fault is that?’ said I.

The old man, who had a working mouth which seemed to be trying to
masticate his anger and to find that it was too hard and there was too
much of it, replied, ‘Them gentlemen.’

‘What gentlemen?’

‘Maybe you’re one of ’em?’ said the old man, suspiciously.

‘The trustees?’

‘I wouldn’t trust ’em myself,’ said the virulent old man.

‘If you mean the gentlemen who administer this place, no, I am not one of
them; nor have I ever so much as heard of them.’

‘I wish _I_ never heard of them,’ gasped the old man: ‘at my time of
life—with the rheumatics—drawing water-from that thing!’  Not to be
deluded into calling it a Pump, the old man gave it another virulent
look, took up his pitcher, and carried it into a corner dwelling-house,
shutting the door after him.

Looking around and seeing that each little house was a house of two
little rooms; and seeing that the little oblong court-yard in front was
like a graveyard for the inhabitants, saving that no word was engraven on
its flat dry stones; and seeing that the currents of life and noise ran
to and fro outside, having no more to do with the place than if it were a
sort of low-water mark on a lively beach; I say, seeing this and nothing
else, I was going out at the gate when one of the doors opened.

‘Was you looking for anything, sir?’ asked a tidy, well-favoured woman.

Really, no; I couldn’t say I was.

‘Not wanting any one, sir?’

‘No—at least I—pray what is the name of the elderly gentleman who lives
in the corner there?’

The tidy woman stepped out to be sure of the door I indicated, and she
and the pump and I stood all three in a row with our backs to the
thoroughfare.

‘Oh!  _His_ name is Mr. Battens,’ said the tidy woman, dropping her
voice.

‘I have just been talking with him.’

‘Indeed?’ said the tidy woman.  ‘Ho!  I wonder Mr. Battens talked!’

‘Is he usually so silent?’

‘Well, Mr. Battens is the oldest here—that is to say, the oldest of the
old gentlemen—in point of residence.’

She had a way of passing her hands over and under one another as she
spoke, that was not only tidy but propitiatory; so I asked her if I might
look at her little sitting-room?  She willingly replied Yes, and we went
into it together: she leaving the door open, with an eye as I understood
to the social proprieties.  The door opening at once into the room
without any intervening entry, even scandal must have been silenced by
the precaution.

It was a gloomy little chamber, but clean, and with a mug of wallflower
in the window.  On the chimney-piece were two peacock’s feathers, a
carved ship, a few shells, and a black profile with one eyelash; whether
this portrait purported to be male or female passed my comprehension,
until my hostess informed me that it was her only son, and ‘quite a
speaking one.’

‘He is alive, I hope?’

‘No, sir,’ said the widow, ‘he were cast away in China.’  This was said
with a modest sense of its reflecting a certain geographical distinction
on his mother.

‘If the old gentlemen here are not given to talking,’ said I, ‘I hope the
old ladies are?—not that you are one.’

She shook her head.  ‘You see they get so cross.’

‘How is that?’

‘Well, whether the gentlemen really do deprive us of any little matters
which ought to be ours by rights, I cannot say for certain; but the
opinion of the old ones is they do.  And Mr. Battens he do even go so far
as to doubt whether credit is due to the Founder.  For Mr. Battens he do
say, anyhow he got his name up by it and he done it cheap.’

‘I am afraid the pump has soured Mr. Battens.’

‘It may be so,’ returned the tidy widow, ‘but the handle does go very
hard.  Still, what I say to myself is, the gentlemen _may_ not pocket the
difference between a good pump and a bad one, and I would wish to think
well of them.  And the dwellings,’ said my hostess, glancing round her
room; ‘perhaps they were convenient dwellings in the Founder’s time,
considered _as_ his time, and therefore he should not be blamed.  But
Mrs. Saggers is very hard upon them.’

‘Mrs. Saggers is the oldest here?’

‘The oldest but one.  Mrs. Quinch being the oldest, and have totally lost
her head.’

‘And you?’

‘I am the youngest in residence, and consequently am not looked up to.
But when Mrs. Quinch makes a happy release, there will be one below me.
Nor is it to be expected that Mrs. Saggers will prove herself immortal.’

‘True.  Nor Mr. Battens.’

‘Regarding the old gentlemen,’ said my widow slightingly, ‘they count
among themselves.  They do not count among us.  Mr. Battens is that
exceptional that he have written to the gentlemen many times and have
worked the case against them.  Therefore he have took a higher ground.
But we do not, as a rule, greatly reckon the old gentlemen.’

Pursuing the subject, I found it to be traditionally settled among the
poor ladies that the poor gentlemen, whatever their ages, were all very
old indeed, and in a state of dotage.  I also discovered that the juniors
and newcomers preserved, for a time, a waning disposition to believe in
Titbull and his trustees, but that as they gained social standing they
lost this faith, and disparaged Titbull and all his works.

Improving my acquaintance subsequently with this respected lady, whose
name was Mrs. Mitts, and occasionally dropping in upon her with a little
offering of sound Family Hyson in my pocket, I gradually became familiar
with the inner politics and ways of Titbull’s Alms-Houses.  But I never
could find out who the trustees were, or where they were: it being one of
the fixed ideas of the place that those authorities must be vaguely and
mysteriously mentioned as ‘the gentlemen’ only.  The secretary of ‘the
gentlemen’ was once pointed out to me, evidently engaged in championing
the obnoxious pump against the attacks of the discontented Mr. Battens;
but I am not in a condition to report further of him than that he had the
sprightly bearing of a lawyer’s clerk.  I had it from Mrs. Mitts’s lips
in a very confidential moment, that Mr. Battens was once ‘had up before
the gentlemen’ to stand or fall by his accusations, and that an old shoe
was thrown after him on his departure from the building on this dread
errand;—not ineffectually, for, the interview resulting in a plumber, was
considered to have encircled the temples of Mr. Battens with the wreath
of victory.

In Titbull’s Alms-Houses, the local society is not regarded as good
society.  A gentleman or lady receiving visitors from without, or going
out to tea, counts, as it were, accordingly; but visitings or
tea-drinkings interchanged among Titbullians do not score.  Such
interchanges, however, are rare, in consequence of internal dissensions
occasioned by Mrs. Saggers’s pail: which household article has split
Titbull’s into almost as many parties as there are dwellings in that
precinct.  The extremely complicated nature of the conflicting articles
of belief on the subject prevents my stating them here with my usual
perspicuity, but I think they have all branched off from the
root-and-trunk question, Has Mrs. Saggers any right to stand her pail
outside her dwelling?  The question has been much refined upon, but
roughly stated may be stated in those terms.

There are two old men in Titbull’s Alms-Houses who, I have been given to
understand, knew each other in the world beyond its pump and iron
railings, when they were both ‘in trade.’  They make the best of their
reverses, and are looked upon with great contempt.  They are little,
stooping, blear-eyed old men of cheerful countenance, and they hobble up
and down the court-yard wagging their chins and talking together quite
gaily.  This has given offence, and has, moreover, raised the question
whether they are justified in passing any other windows than their own.
Mr. Battens, however, permitting them to pass _his_ windows, on the
disdainful ground that their imbecility almost amounts to
irresponsibility, they are allowed to take their walk in peace.  They
live next door to one another, and take it by turns to read the newspaper
aloud (that is to say, the newest newspaper they can get), and they play
cribbage at night.  On warm and sunny days they have been known to go so
far as to bring out two chairs and sit by the iron railings, looking
forth; but this low conduct, being much remarked upon throughout
Titbull’s, they were deterred by an outraged public opinion from
repeating it.  There is a rumour—but it may be malicious—that they hold
the memory of Titbull in some weak sort of veneration, and that they once
set off together on a pilgrimage to the parish churchyard to find his
tomb.  To this, perhaps, might be traced a general suspicion that they
are spies of ‘the gentlemen:’ to which they were supposed to have given
colour in my own presence on the occasion of the weak attempt at
justification of the pump by the gentlemen’s clerk; when they emerged
bare-headed from the doors of their dwellings, as if their dwellings and
themselves constituted an old-fashioned weather-glass of double action
with two figures of old ladies inside, and deferentially bowed to him at
intervals until he took his departure.  They are understood to be
perfectly friendless and relationless.  Unquestionably the two poor
fellows make the very best of their lives in Titbull’s Alms-Houses, and
unquestionably they are (as before mentioned) the subjects of unmitigated
contempt there.

On Saturday nights, when there is a greater stir than usual outside, and
when itinerant vendors of miscellaneous wares even take their stations
and light up their smoky lamps before the iron railings, Titbull’s
becomes flurried.  Mrs. Saggers has her celebrated palpitations of the
heart, for the most part, on Saturday nights.  But Titbull’s is unfit to
strive with the uproar of the streets in any of its phases.  It is
religiously believed at Titbull’s that people push more than they used,
and likewise that the foremost object of the population of England and
Wales is to get you down and trample on you.  Even of railroads they
know, at Titbull’s, little more than the shriek (which Mrs. Saggers says
goes through her, and ought to be taken up by Government); and the penny
postage may even yet be unknown there, for I have never seen a letter
delivered to any inhabitant.  But there is a tall, straight, sallow lady
resident in Number Seven, Titbull’s, who never speaks to anybody, who is
surrounded by a superstitious halo of lost wealth, who does her household
work in housemaid’s gloves, and who is secretly much deferred to, though
openly cavilled at; and it has obscurely leaked out that this old lady
has a son, grandson, nephew, or other relative, who is ‘a Contractor,’
and who would think it nothing of a job to knock down Titbull’s, pack it
off into Cornwall, and knock it together again.  An immense sensation was
made by a gipsy-party calling in a spring-van, to take this old lady up
to go for a day’s pleasure into Epping Forest, and notes were compared as
to which of the company was the son, grandson, nephew, or other relative,
the Contractor.  A thick-set personage with a white hat and a cigar in
his mouth, was the favourite: though as Titbull’s had no other reason to
believe that the Contractor was there at all, than that this man was
supposed to eye the chimney stacks as if he would like to knock them down
and cart them off, the general mind was much unsettled in arriving at a
conclusion.  As a way out of this difficulty, it concentrated itself on
the acknowledged Beauty of the party, every stitch in whose dress was
verbally unripped by the old ladies then and there, and whose ‘goings on’
with another and a thinner personage in a white hat might have suffused
the pump (where they were principally discussed) with blushes, for months
afterwards.  Herein Titbull’s was to Titbull’s true, for it has a
constitutional dislike of all strangers.  As concerning innovations and
improvements, it is always of opinion that what it doesn’t want itself,
nobody ought to want.  But I think I have met with this opinion outside
Titbull’s.

Of the humble treasures of furniture brought into Titbull’s by the
inmates when they establish themselves in that place of contemplation for
the rest of their days, by far the greater and more valuable part belongs
to the ladies.  I may claim the honour of having either crossed the
threshold, or looked in at the door, of every one of the nine ladies, and
I have noticed that they are all particular in the article of bedsteads,
and maintain favourite and long-established bedsteads and bedding as a
regular part of their rest.  Generally an antiquated chest of drawers is
among their cherished possessions; a tea-tray always is.  I know of at
least two rooms in which a little tea-kettle of genuine burnished copper,
vies with the cat in winking at the fire; and one old lady has a tea-urn
set forth in state on the top of her chest of drawers, which urn is used
as her library, and contains four duodecimo volumes, and a black-bordered
newspaper giving an account of the funeral of Her Royal Highness the
Princess Charlotte.  Among the poor old gentlemen there are no such
niceties.  Their furniture has the air of being contributed, like some
obsolete Literary Miscellany, ‘by several hands;’ their few chairs never
match; old patchwork coverlets linger among them; and they have an untidy
habit of keeping their wardrobes in hat-boxes.  When I recall one old
gentleman who is rather choice in his shoe-brushes and blacking-bottle, I
have summed up the domestic elegances of that side of the building.

On the occurrence of a death in Titbull’s, it is invariably agreed among
the survivors—and it is the only subject on which they do agree—that the
departed did something ‘to bring it on.’  Judging by Titbull’s, I should
say the human race need never die, if they took care.  But they don’t
take care, and they do die, and when they die in Titbull’s they are
buried at the cost of the Foundation.  Some provision has been made for
the purpose, in virtue of which (I record this on the strength of having
seen the funeral of Mrs. Quinch) a lively neighbouring undertaker dresses
up four of the old men, and four of the old women, hustles them into a
procession of four couples, and leads off with a large black bow at the
back of his hat, looking over his shoulder at them airily from time to
time to see that no member of the party has got lost, or has tumbled
down; as if they were a company of dim old dolls.

Resignation of a dwelling is of very rare occurrence in Titbull’s.  A
story does obtain there, how an old lady’s son once drew a prize of
Thirty Thousand Pounds in the Lottery, and presently drove to the gate in
his own carriage, with French Horns playing up behind, and whisked his
mother away, and left ten guineas for a Feast.  But I have been unable to
substantiate it by any evidence, and regard it as an Alms-House Fairy
Tale.  It is curious that the only proved case of resignation happened
within my knowledge.

It happened on this wise.  There is a sharp competition among the ladies
respecting the gentility of their visitors, and I have so often observed
visitors to be dressed as for a holiday occasion, that I suppose the
ladies to have besought them to make all possible display when they come.
In these circumstances much excitement was one day occasioned by Mrs.
Mitts receiving a visit from a Greenwich Pensioner.  He was a Pensioner
of a bluff and warlike appearance, with an empty coat-sleeve, and he was
got up with unusual care; his coat-buttons were extremely bright, he wore
his empty coat-sleeve in a graceful festoon, and he had a walking-stick
in his hand that must have cost money.  When, with the head of his
walking-stick, he knocked at Mrs. Mitts’s door—there are no knockers in
Titbull’s—Mrs. Mitts was overheard by a next-door neighbour to utter a
cry of surprise expressing much agitation; and the same neighbour did
afterwards solemnly affirm that when he was admitted into Mrs. Mitts’s
room, she heard a smack.  Heard a smack which was not a blow.

There was an air about this Greenwich Pensioner when he took his
departure, which imbued all Titbull’s with the conviction that he was
coming again.  He was eagerly looked for, and Mrs. Mitts was closely
watched.  In the meantime, if anything could have placed the unfortunate
six old gentlemen at a greater disadvantage than that at which they
chronically stood, it would have been the apparition of this Greenwich
Pensioner.  They were well shrunken already, but they shrunk to nothing
in comparison with the Pensioner.  Even the poor old gentlemen themselves
seemed conscious of their inferiority, and to know submissively that they
could never hope to hold their own against the Pensioner with his warlike
and maritime experience in the past, and his tobacco money in the
present: his chequered career of blue water, black gunpowder, and red
bloodshed for England, home, and beauty.

Before three weeks were out, the Pensioner reappeared.  Again he knocked
at Mrs. Mitts’s door with the handle of his stick, and again was he
admitted.  But not again did he depart alone; for Mrs. Mitts, in a bonnet
identified as having been re-embellished, went out walking with him, and
stayed out till the ten o’clock beer, Greenwich time.

There was now a truce, even as to the troubled waters of Mrs. Saggers’s
pail; nothing was spoken of among the ladies but the conduct of Mrs.
Mitts and its blighting influence on the reputation of Titbull’s.  It was
agreed that Mr. Battens ‘ought to take it up,’ and Mr. Battens was
communicated with on the subject.  That unsatisfactory individual replied
‘that he didn’t see his way yet,’ and it was unanimously voted by the
ladies that aggravation was in his nature.

How it came to pass, with some appearance of inconsistency, that Mrs.
Mitts was cut by all the ladies and the Pensioner admired by all the
ladies, matters not.  Before another week was out, Titbull’s was startled
by another phenomenon.  At ten o’clock in the forenoon appeared a cab,
containing not only the Greenwich Pensioner with one arm, but, to boot, a
Chelsea Pensioner with one leg.  Both dismounting to assist Mrs. Mitts
into the cab, the Greenwich Pensioner bore her company inside, and the
Chelsea Pensioner mounted the box by the driver: his wooden leg sticking
out after the manner of a bowsprit, as if in jocular homage to his
friend’s sea-going career.  Thus the equipage drove away.  No Mrs. Mitts
returned that night.

                     [Picture: Titbull’s Alms-Houses]

What Mr. Battens might have done in the matter of taking it up, goaded by
the infuriated state of public feeling next morning, was anticipated by
another phenomenon.  A Truck, propelled by the Greenwich Pensioner and
the Chelsea Pensioner, each placidly smoking a pipe, and pushing his
warrior breast against the handle.

The display on the part of the Greenwich Pensioner of his
‘marriage-lines,’ and his announcement that himself and friend had looked
in for the furniture of Mrs. G. Pensioner, late Mitts, by no means
reconciled the ladies to the conduct of their sister; on the contrary, it
is said that they appeared more than ever exasperated.  Nevertheless, my
stray visits to Titbull’s since the date of this occurrence, have
confirmed me in an impression that it was a wholesome fillip.  The nine
ladies are smarter, both in mind and dress, than they used to be, though
it must be admitted that they despise the six gentlemen to the last
extent.  They have a much greater interest in the external thoroughfare
too, than they had when I first knew Titbull’s.  And whenever I chance to
be leaning my back against the pump or the iron railings, and to be
talking to one of the junior ladies, and to see that a flush has passed
over her face, I immediately know without looking round that a Greenwich
Pensioner has gone past.



XXX
THE RUFFIAN


I ENTERTAIN so strong an objection to the euphonious softening of Ruffian
into Rough, which has lately become popular, that I restore the right
word to the heading of this paper; the rather, as my object is to dwell
upon the fact that the Ruffian is tolerated among us to an extent that
goes beyond all unruffianly endurance.  I take the liberty to believe
that if the Ruffian besets my life, a professional Ruffian at large in
the open streets of a great city, notoriously having no other calling
than that of Ruffian, and of disquieting and despoiling me as I go
peacefully about my lawful business, interfering with no one, then the
Government under which I have the great constitutional privilege, supreme
honour and happiness, and all the rest of it, to exist, breaks down in
the discharge of any Government’s most simple elementary duty.

What did I read in the London daily papers, in the early days of this
last September?  That the Police had ‘AT LENGTH SUCCEEDED IN CAPTURING
TWO OF THE NOTORIOUS GANG THAT HAVE SO LONG INVESTED THE WATERLOO ROAD.’
Is it possible?  What a wonderful Police!  Here is a straight, broad,
public thoroughfare of immense resort; half a mile long; gas-lighted by
night; with a great gas-lighted railway station in it, extra the street
lamps; full of shops; traversed by two popular cross thoroughfares of
considerable traffic; itself the main road to the South of London; and
the admirable Police have, after long infestment of this dark and lonely
spot by a gang of Ruffians, actually got hold of two of them.  Why, can
it be doubted that any man of fair London knowledge and common
resolution, armed with the powers of the Law, could have captured the
whole confederacy in a week?

It is to the saving up of the Ruffian class by the Magistracy and
Police—to the conventional preserving of them, as if they were
Partridges—that their number and audacity must be in great part referred.
Why is a notorious Thief and Ruffian ever left at large?  He never turns
his liberty to any account but violence and plunder, he never did a day’s
work out of gaol, he never will do a day’s work out of gaol.  As a proved
notorious Thief he is always consignable to prison for three months.
When he comes out, he is surely as notorious a Thief as he was when he
went in.  Then send him back again.  ‘Just Heaven!’ cries the Society for
the protection of remonstrant Ruffians.  ‘This is equivalent to a
sentence of perpetual imprisonment!’  Precisely for that reason it has my
advocacy.  I demand to have the Ruffian kept out of my way, and out of
the way of all decent people.  I demand to have the Ruffian employed,
perforce, in hewing wood and drawing water somewhere for the general
service, instead of hewing at her Majesty’s subjects and drawing their
watches out of their pockets.  If this be termed an unreasonable demand,
then the tax-gatherer’s demand on me must be far more unreasonable, and
cannot be otherwise than extortionate and unjust.

It will be seen that I treat of the Thief and Ruffian as one.  I do so,
because I know the two characters to be one, in the vast majority of
cases, just as well as the Police know it.  (As to the Magistracy, with a
few exceptions, they know nothing about it but what the Police choose to
tell them.)  There are disorderly classes of men who are not thieves; as
railway-navigators, brickmakers, wood-sawyers, costermongers.  These
classes are often disorderly and troublesome; but it is mostly among
themselves, and at any rate they have their industrious avocations, they
work early and late, and work hard.  The generic Ruffian—honourable
member for what is tenderly called the Rough Element—is either a Thief,
or the companion of Thieves.  When he infamously molests women coming out
of chapel on Sunday evenings (for which I would have his back scarified
often and deep) it is not only for the gratification of his pleasant
instincts, but that there may be a confusion raised by which either he or
his friends may profit, in the commission of highway robberies or in
picking pockets.  When he gets a police-constable down and kicks him
helpless for life, it is because that constable once did his duty in
bringing him to justice.  When he rushes into the bar of a public-house
and scoops an eye out of one of the company there, or bites his ear off,
it is because the man he maims gave evidence against him.  When he and a
line of comrades extending across the footway—say of that solitary
mountain-spur of the Abruzzi, the Waterloo Road—advance towards me
‘skylarking’ among themselves, my purse or shirt-pin is in predestined
peril from his playfulness.  Always a Ruffian, always a Thief.  Always a
Thief, always a Ruffian.

Now, when I, who am not paid to know these things, know them daily on the
evidence of my senses and experience; when I know that the Ruffian never
jostles a lady in the streets, or knocks a hat off, but in order that the
Thief may profit, is it surprising that I should require from those who
_are_ paid to know these things, prevention of them?

Look at this group at a street corner.  Number one is a shirking fellow
of five-and-twenty, in an ill-favoured and ill-savoured suit, his
trousers of corduroy, his coat of some indiscernible groundwork for the
deposition of grease, his neckerchief like an eel, his complexion like
dirty dough, his mangy fur cap pulled low upon his beetle brows to hide
the prison cut of his hair.  His hands are in his pockets.  He puts them
there when they are idle, as naturally as in other people’s pockets when
they are busy, for he knows that they are not roughened by work, and that
they tell a tale.  Hence, whenever he takes one out to draw a sleeve
across his nose—which is often, for he has weak eyes and a constitutional
cold in his head—he restores it to its pocket immediately afterwards.
Number two is a burly brute of five-and-thirty, in a tall stiff hat; is a
composite as to his clothes of betting-man and fighting-man; is
whiskered; has a staring pin in his breast, along with his right hand;
has insolent and cruel eyes: large shoulders; strong legs booted and
tipped for kicking.  Number three is forty years of age; is short,
thick-set, strong, and bow-legged; wears knee cords and white stockings,
a very long-sleeved waistcoat, a very large neckerchief doubled or
trebled round his throat, and a crumpled white hat crowns his ghastly
parchment face.  This fellow looks like an executed postboy of other
days, cut down from the gallows too soon, and restored and preserved by
express diabolical agency.  Numbers five, six, and seven, are hulking,
idle, slouching young men, patched and shabby, too short in the sleeves
and too tight in the legs, slimily clothed, foul-spoken, repulsive
wretches inside and out.  In all the party there obtains a certain
twitching character of mouth and furtiveness of eye, that hint how the
coward is lurking under the bully.  The hint is quite correct, for they
are a slinking sneaking set, far more prone to lie down on their backs
and kick out, when in difficulty, than to make a stand for it.  (This may
account for the street mud on the backs of Numbers five, six, and seven,
being much fresher than the stale splashes on their legs.)

These engaging gentry a Police-constable stands contemplating.  His
Station, with a Reserve of assistance, is very near at hand.  They cannot
pretend to any trade, not even to be porters or messengers.  It would be
idle if they did, for he knows them, and they know that he knows them, to
be nothing but professed Thieves and Ruffians.  He knows where they
resort, knows by what slang names they call one another, knows how often
they have been in prison, and how long, and for what.  All this is known
at his Station, too, and is (or ought to be) known at Scotland Yard, too.
But does he know, or does his Station know, or does Scotland Yard know,
or does anybody know, why these fellows should be here at liberty, when,
as reputed Thieves to whom a whole Division of Police could swear, they
might all be under lock and key at hard labour?  Not he; truly he would
be a wise man if he did!  He only knows that these are members of the
‘notorious gang,’ which, according to the newspaper Police-office reports
of this last past September, ‘have so long infested’ the awful solitudes
of the Waterloo Road, and out of which almost impregnable fastnesses the
Police have at length dragged Two, to the unspeakable admiration of all
good civilians.

The consequences of this contemplative habit on the part of the
Executive—a habit to be looked for in a hermit, but not in a Police
System—are familiar to us all.  The Ruffian becomes one of the
established orders of the body politic.  Under the playful name of Rough
(as if he were merely a practical joker) his movements and successes are
recorded on public occasions.  Whether he mustered in large numbers, or
small; whether he was in good spirits, or depressed; whether he turned
his generous exertions to very prosperous account, or Fortune was against
him; whether he was in a sanguinary mood, or robbed with amiable
horse-play and a gracious consideration for life and limb; all this is
chronicled as if he were an Institution.  Is there any city in Europe,
out of England, in which these terms are held with the pests of Society?
Or in which, at this day, such violent robberies from the person are
constantly committed as in London?

The Preparatory Schools of Ruffianism are similarly borne with.  The
young Ruffians of London—not Thieves yet, but training for scholarships
and fellowships in the Criminal Court Universities—molest quiet people
and their property, to an extent that is hardly credible.  The throwing
of stones in the streets has become a dangerous and destructive offence,
which surely could have got to no greater height though we had had no
Police but our own riding-whips and walking-sticks—the Police to which I
myself appeal on these occasions.  The throwing of stones at the windows
of railway carriages in motion—an act of wanton wickedness with the very
Arch-Fiend’s hand in it—had become a crying evil, when the railway
companies forced it on Police notice.  Constabular contemplation had
until then been the order of the day.

Within these twelve months, there arose among the young gentlemen of
London aspiring to Ruffianism, and cultivating that much-encouraged
social art, a facetious cry of ‘I’ll have this!’ accompanied with a
clutch at some article of a passing lady’s dress.  I have known a lady’s
veil to be thus humorously torn from her face and carried off in the open
streets at noon; and I have had the honour of myself giving chase, on
Westminster Bridge, to another young Ruffian, who, in full daylight early
on a summer evening, had nearly thrown a modest young woman into a swoon
of indignation and confusion, by his shameful manner of attacking her
with this cry as she harmlessly passed along before me.  Mr. CARLYLE,
some time since, awakened a little pleasantry by writing of his own
experience of the Ruffian of the streets.  I have seen the Ruffian act in
exact accordance with Mr. Carlyle’s description, innumerable times, and I
never saw him checked.

The blaring use of the very worst language possible, in our public
thoroughfares—especially in those set apart for recreation—is another
disgrace to us, and another result of constabular contemplation, the like
of which I have never heard in any other country to which my uncommercial
travels have extended.  Years ago, when I had a near interest in certain
children who were sent with their nurses, for air and exercise, into the
Regent’s Park, I found this evil to be so abhorrent and horrible there,
that I called public attention to it, and also to its contemplative
reception by the Police.  Looking afterwards into the newest Police Act,
and finding that the offence was punishable under it, I resolved, when
striking occasion should arise, to try my hand as prosecutor.  The
occasion arose soon enough, and I ran the following gauntlet.

The utterer of the base coin in question was a girl of seventeen or
eighteen, who, with a suitable attendance of blackguards, youths, and
boys, was flaunting along the streets, returning from an Irish funeral,
in a Progress interspersed with singing and dancing.  She had turned
round to me and expressed herself in the most audible manner, to the
great delight of that select circle.  I attended the party, on the
opposite side of the way, for a mile further, and then encountered a
Police-constable.  The party had made themselves merry at my expense
until now, but seeing me speak to the constable, its male members
instantly took to their heels, leaving the girl alone.  I asked the
constable did he know my name?  Yes, he did.  ‘Take that girl into
custody, on my charge, for using bad language in the streets.’  He had
never heard of such a charge.  I had.  Would he take my word that he
should get into no trouble?  Yes, sir, he would do that.  So he took the
girl, and I went home for my Police Act.

With this potent instrument in my pocket, I literally as well as
figuratively ‘returned to the charge,’ and presented myself at the Police
Station of the district.  There, I found on duty a very intelligent
Inspector (they are all intelligent men), who, likewise, had never heard
of such a charge.  I showed him my clause, and we went over it together
twice or thrice.  It was plain, and I engaged to wait upon the suburban
Magistrate to-morrow morning at ten o’clock.

In the morning I put my Police Act in my pocket again, and waited on the
suburban Magistrate.  I was not quite so courteously received by him as I
should have been by The Lord Chancellor or The Lord Chief Justice, but
that was a question of good breeding on the suburban Magistrate’s part,
and I had my clause ready with its leaf turned down.  Which was enough
for _me_.

Conference took place between the Magistrate and clerk respecting the
charge.  During conference I was evidently regarded as a much more
objectionable person than the prisoner;—one giving trouble by coming
there voluntarily, which the prisoner could not be accused of doing.  The
prisoner had been got up, since I last had the pleasure of seeing her,
with a great effect of white apron and straw bonnet.  She reminded me of
an elder sister of Red Riding Hood, and I seemed to remind the
sympathising Chimney Sweep by whom she was attended, of the Wolf.

The Magistrate was doubtful, Mr. Uncommercial Traveller, whether this
charge could be entertained.  It was not known.  Mr. Uncommercial
Traveller replied that he wished it were better known, and that, if he
could afford the leisure, he would use his endeavours to make it so.
There was no question about it, however, he contended.  Here was the
clause.

The clause was handed in, and more conference resulted.  After which I
was asked the extraordinary question: ‘Mr. Uncommercial, do you really
wish this girl to be sent to prison?’  To which I grimly answered,
staring: ‘If I didn’t, why should I take the trouble to come here?’
Finally, I was sworn, and gave my agreeable evidence in detail, and White
Riding Hood was fined ten shillings, under the clause, or sent to prison
for so many days.  ‘Why, Lord bless you, sir,’ said the Police-officer,
who showed me out, with a great enjoyment of the jest of her having been
got up so effectively, and caused so much hesitation: ‘if she goes to
prison, that will be nothing new to _her_.  She comes from Charles
Street, Drury Lane!’

The Police, all things considered, are an excellent force, and I have
borne my small testimony to their merits.  Constabular contemplation is
the result of a bad system; a system which is administered, not invented,
by the man in constable’s uniform, employed at twenty shillings a week.
He has his orders, and would be marked for discouragement if he
overstepped them.  That the system is bad, there needs no lengthened
argument to prove, because the fact is self-evident.  If it were anything
else, the results that have attended it could not possibly have come to
pass.  Who will say that under a good system, our streets could have got
into their present state?

The objection to the whole Police system, as concerning the Ruffian, may
be stated, and its failure exemplified, as follows.  It is well known
that on all great occasions, when they come together in numbers, the mass
of the English people are their own trustworthy Police.  It is well known
that wheresoever there is collected together any fair general
representation of the people, a respect for law and order, and a
determination to discountenance lawlessness and disorder, may be relied
upon.  As to one another, the people are a very good Police, and yet are
quite willing in their good-nature that the stipendiary Police should
have the credit of the people’s moderation.  But we are all of us
powerless against the Ruffian, because we submit to the law, and it is
his only trade, by superior force and by violence, to defy it.  Moreover,
we are constantly admonished from high places (like so many Sunday-school
children out for a holiday of buns and milk-and-water) that we are not to
take the law into our own hands, but are to hand our defence over to it.
It is clear that the common enemy to be punished and exterminated first
of all is the Ruffian.  It is clear that he is, of all others, _the_
offender for whose repressal we maintain a costly system of Police.  Him,
therefore, we expressly present to the Police to deal with, conscious
that, on the whole, we can, and do, deal reasonably well with one
another.  Him the Police deal with so inefficiently and absurdly that he
flourishes, and multiplies, and, with all his evil deeds upon his head as
notoriously as his hat is, pervades the streets with no more let or
hindrance than ourselves.



XXXI
ABOARD SHIP


MY journeys as Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human-Interest
Brothers have not slackened since I last reported of them, but have kept
me continually on the move.  I remain in the same idle employment.  I
never solicit an order, I never get any commission, I am the rolling
stone that gathers no moss,—unless any should by chance be found among
these samples.

Some half a year ago, I found myself in my idlest, dreamiest, and least
accountable condition altogether, on board ship, in the harbour of the
city of New York, in the United States of America.  Of all the good ships
afloat, mine was the good steamship ‘RUSSIA,’ CAPT. COOK, Cunard Line,
bound for Liverpool.  What more could I wish for?

I had nothing to wish for but a prosperous passage.  My salad-days, when
I was green of visage and sea-sick, being gone with better things (and no
worse), no coming event cast its shadow before.

I might but a few moments previously have imitated Sterne, and said,
‘“And yet, methinks, Eugenius,”—laying my forefinger wistfully on his
coat-sleeve, thus,—“and yet, methinks, Eugenius, ’tis but sorry work to
part with thee, for what fresh fields, . . . my dear Eugenius, . . . can
be fresher than thou art, and in what pastures new shall I find Eliza, or
call her, Eugenius, if thou wilt, Annie?”’—I say I might have done this;
but Eugenius was gone, and I hadn’t done it.

I was resting on a skylight on the hurricane-deck, watching the working
of the ship very slowly about, that she might head for England.  It was
high noon on a most brilliant day in April, and the beautiful bay was
glorious and glowing.  Full many a time, on shore there, had I seen the
snow come down, down, down (itself like down), until it lay deep in all
the ways of men, and particularly, as it seemed, in my way, for I had not
gone dry-shod many hours for months.  Within two or three days last past
had I watched the feathery fall setting in with the ardour of a new idea,
instead of dragging at the skirts of a worn-out winter, and permitting
glimpses of a fresh young spring.  But a bright sun and a clear sky had
melted the snow in the great crucible of nature; and it had been poured
out again that morning over sea and land, transformed into myriads of
gold and silver sparkles.

The ship was fragrant with flowers.  Something of the old Mexican passion
for flowers may have gradually passed into North America, where flowers
are luxuriously grown, and tastefully combined in the richest profusion;
but, be that as it may, such gorgeous farewells in flowers had come on
board, that the small officer’s cabin on deck, which I tenanted, bloomed
over into the adjacent scuppers, and banks of other flowers that it
couldn’t hold made a garden of the unoccupied tables in the passengers’
saloon.  These delicious scents of the shore, mingling with the fresh
airs of the sea, made the atmosphere a dreamy, an enchanting one.  And
so, with the watch aloft setting all the sails, and with the screw below
revolving at a mighty rate, and occasionally giving the ship an angry
shake for resisting, I fell into my idlest ways, and lost myself.

As, for instance, whether it was I lying there, or some other entity even
more mysterious, was a matter I was far too lazy to look into.  What did
it signify to me if it were I? or to the more mysterious entity, if it
were he?  Equally as to the remembrances that drowsily floated by me, or
by him, why ask when or where the things happened?  Was it not enough
that they befell at some time, somewhere?

There was that assisting at the church service on board another
steamship, one Sunday, in a stiff breeze.  Perhaps on the passage out.
No matter.  Pleasant to hear the ship’s bells go as like church-bells as
they could; pleasant to see the watch off duty mustered and come in: best
hats, best Guernseys, washed hands and faces, smoothed heads.  But then
arose a set of circumstances so rampantly comical, that no check which
the gravest intentions could put upon them would hold them in hand.  Thus
the scene.  Some seventy passengers assembled at the saloon tables.
Prayer-books on tables.  Ship rolling heavily.  Pause.  No minister.
Rumour has related that a modest young clergyman on board has responded
to the captain’s request that he will officiate.  Pause again, and very
heavy rolling.

Closed double doors suddenly burst open, and two strong stewards skate
in, supporting minister between them.  General appearance as of somebody
picked up drunk and incapable, and under conveyance to station-house.
Stoppage, pause, and particularly heavy rolling.  Stewards watch their
opportunity, and balance themselves, but cannot balance minister; who,
struggling with a drooping head and a backward tendency, seems determined
to return below, while they are as determined that he shall be got to the
reading-desk in mid-saloon.  Desk portable, sliding away down a long
table, and aiming itself at the breasts of various members of the
congregation.  Here the double doors, which have been carefully closed by
other stewards, fly open again, and worldly passenger tumbles in,
seemingly with pale-ale designs: who, seeking friend, says ‘Joe!’
Perceiving incongruity, says, ‘Hullo!  Beg yer pardon!’ and tumbles out
again.  All this time the congregation have been breaking up into
sects,—as the manner of congregations often is, each sect sliding away by
itself, and all pounding the weakest sect which slid first into the
corner.  Utmost point of dissent soon attained in every corner, and
violent rolling.  Stewards at length make a dash; conduct minister to the
mast in the centre of the saloon, which he embraces with both arms; skate
out; and leave him in that condition to arrange affairs with flock.

There was another Sunday, when an officer of the ship read the service.
It was quiet and impressive, until we fell upon the dangerous and
perfectly unnecessary experiment of striking up a hymn.  After it was
given out, we all rose, but everybody left it to somebody else to begin.
Silence resulting, the officer (no singer himself) rather reproachfully
gave us the first line again, upon which a rosy pippin of an old
gentleman, remarkable throughout the passage for his cheerful politeness,
gave a little stamp with his boot (as if he were leading off a country
dance), and blithely warbled us into a show of joining.  At the end of
the first verse we became, through these tactics, so much refreshed and
encouraged, that none of us, howsoever unmelodious, would submit to be
left out of the second verse; while as to the third we lifted up our
voices in a sacred howl that left it doubtful whether we were the more
boastful of the sentiments we united in professing, or of professing them
with a most discordant defiance of time and tune.

‘Lord bless us!’ thought I, when the fresh remembrance of these things
made me laugh heartily alone in the dead water-gurgling waste of the
night, what time I was wedged into my berth by a wooden bar, or I must
have rolled out of it, ‘what errand was I then upon, and to what
Abyssinian point had public events then marched?  No matter as to me.
And as to them, if the wonderful popular rage for a plaything (utterly
confounding in its inscrutable unreason) I had not then lighted on a poor
young savage boy, and a poor old screw of a horse, and hauled the first
off by the hair of his princely head to “inspect” the British volunteers,
and hauled the second off by the hair of his equine tail to the Crystal
Palace, why so much the better for all of us outside Bedlam!’

So, sticking to the ship, I was at the trouble of asking myself would I
like to show the grog distribution in ‘the fiddle’ at noon to the Grand
United Amalgamated Total Abstinence Society?  Yes, I think I should.  I
think it would do them good to smell the rum, under the circumstances.
Over the grog, mixed in a bucket, presides the boatswain’s mate, small
tin can in hand.  Enter the crew, the guilty consumers, the grown-up
brood of Giant Despair, in contradistinction to the band of youthful
angel Hope.  Some in boots, some in leggings, some in tarpaulin overalls,
some in frocks, some in pea-coats, a very few in jackets, most with
sou’wester hats, all with something rough and rugged round the throat;
all, dripping salt water where they stand; all pelted by weather,
besmeared with grease, and blackened by the sooty rigging.

Each man’s knife in its sheath in his girdle, loosened for dinner.  As
the first man, with a knowingly kindled eye, watches the filling of the
poisoned chalice (truly but a very small tin mug, to be prosaic), and,
tossing back his head, tosses the contents into himself, and passes the
empty chalice and passes on, so the second man with an anticipatory wipe
of his mouth on sleeve or handkerchief, bides his turn, and drinks and
hands and passes on, in whom, and in each as his turn approaches, beams a
knowingly kindled eye, a brighter temper, and a suddenly awakened
tendency to be jocose with some shipmate.  Nor do I even observe that the
man in charge of the ship’s lamps, who in right of his office has a
double allowance of poisoned chalices, seems thereby vastly degraded,
even though he empties the chalices into himself, one after the other,
much as if he were delivering their contents at some absorbent
establishment in which he had no personal interest.  But vastly
comforted, I note them all to be, on deck presently, even to the
circulation of redder blood in their cold blue knuckles; and when I look
up at them lying out on the yards, and holding on for life among the
beating sails, I cannot for _my_ life see the justice of visiting on
them—or on me—the drunken crimes of any number of criminals arraigned at
the heaviest of assizes.

Abetting myself in my idle humour, I closed my eyes, and recalled life on
board of one of those mail-packets, as I lay, part of that day, in the
Bay of New York, O!  The regular life began—mine always did, for I never
got to sleep afterwards—with the rigging of the pump while it was yet
dark, and washing down of decks.  Any enormous giant at a prodigious
hydropathic establishment, conscientiously undergoing the water-cure in
all its departments, and extremely particular about cleaning his teeth,
would make those noises.  Swash, splash, scrub, rub, toothbrush, bubble,
swash, splash, bubble, toothbrush, splash, splash, bubble, rub.  Then the
day would break, and, descending from my berth by a graceful ladder
composed of half-opened drawers beneath it, I would reopen my outer
dead-light and my inner sliding window (closed by a watchman during the
water-cure), and would look out at the long-rolling, lead-coloured, white
topped waves over which the dawn, on a cold winter morning, cast a level,
lonely glance, and through which the ship fought her melancholy way at a
terrific rate.  And now, lying down again, awaiting the season for
broiled ham and tea, I would be compelled to listen to the voice of
conscience,—the screw.

It might be, in some cases, no more than the voice of stomach; but I
called it in my fancy by the higher name.  Because it seemed to me that
we were all of us, all day long, endeavouring to stifle the voice.
Because it was under everybody’s pillow, everybody’s plate, everybody’s
camp-stool, everybody’s book, everybody’s occupation.  Because we
pretended not to hear it, especially at meal-times, evening whist, and
morning conversation on deck; but it was always among us in an under
monotone, not to be drowned in pea-soup, not to be shuffled with cards,
not to be diverted by books, not to be knitted into any pattern, not to
be walked away from.  It was smoked in the weediest cigar, and drunk in
the strongest cocktail; it was conveyed on deck at noon with limp ladies,
who lay there in their wrappers until the stars shone; it waited at table
with the stewards; nobody could put it out with the lights.  It was
considered (as on shore) ill-bred to acknowledge the voice of conscience.
It was not polite to mention it.  One squally day an amiable gentleman in
love gave much offence to a surrounding circle, including the object of
his attachment, by saying of it, after it had goaded him over two
easy-chairs and a skylight, ‘Screw!’

Sometimes it would appear subdued.  In fleeting moments, when bubbles of
champagne pervaded the nose, or when there was ‘hot pot’ in the bill of
fare, or when an old dish we had had regularly every day was described in
that official document by a new name,—under such excitements, one would
almost believe it hushed.  The ceremony of washing plates on deck,
performed after every meal by a circle as of ringers of crockery
triple-bob majors for a prize, would keep it down.  Hauling the reel,
taking the sun at noon, posting the twenty-four hours’ run, altering the
ship’s time by the meridian, casting the waste food overboard, and
attracting the eager gulls that followed in our wake,—these events would
suppress it for a while.  But the instant any break or pause took place
in any such diversion, the voice would be at it again, importuning us to
the last extent.  A newly married young pair, who walked the deck
affectionately some twenty miles per day, would, in the full flush of
their exercise, suddenly become stricken by it, and stand trembling, but
otherwise immovable, under its reproaches.

When this terrible monitor was most severe with us was when the time
approached for our retiring to our dens for the night; when the lighted
candles in the saloon grew fewer and fewer; when the deserted glasses
with spoons in them grew more and more numerous; when waifs of toasted
cheese and strays of sardines fried in batter slid languidly to and fro
in the table-racks; when the man who always read had shut up his book,
and blown out his candle; when the man who always talked had ceased from
troubling; when the man who was always medically reported as going to
have delirium tremens had put it off till to-morrow; when the man who
every night devoted himself to a midnight smoke on deck two hours in
length, and who every night was in bed within ten minutes afterwards, was
buttoning himself up in his third coat for his hardy vigil: for then, as
we fell off one by one, and, entering our several hutches, came into a
peculiar atmosphere of bilge-water and Windsor soap, the voice would
shake us to the centre.  Woe to us when we sat down on our sofa, watching
the swinging candle for ever trying and retrying to stand upon his head!
or our coat upon its peg, imitating us as we appeared in our gymnastic
days by sustaining itself horizontally from the wall, in emulation of the
lighter and more facile towels!  Then would the voice especially claim us
for its prey, and rend us all to pieces.

Lights out, we in our berths, and the wind rising, the voice grows
angrier and deeper.  Under the mattress and under the pillow, under the
sofa and under the washing-stand, under the ship and under the sea,
seeming to rise from the foundations under the earth with every scoop of
the great Atlantic (and oh! why scoop so?), always the voice.  Vain to
deny its existence in the night season; impossible to be hard of hearing;
screw, screw, screw!  Sometimes it lifts out of the water, and revolves
with a whirr, like a ferocious firework,—except that it never expends
itself, but is always ready to go off again; sometimes it seems to be in
anguish, and shivers; sometimes it seems to be terrified by its last
plunge, and has a fit which causes it to struggle, quiver, and for an
instant stop.  And now the ship sets in rolling, as only ships so
fiercely screwed through time and space, day and night, fair weather and
foul, _can_ roll.

Did she ever take a roll before like that last?  Did she ever take a roll
before like this worse one that is coming now?  Here is the partition at
my ear down in the deep on the lee side.  Are we ever coming up again
together?  I think not; the partition and I are so long about it that I
really do believe we have overdone it this time.  Heavens, what a scoop!
What a deep scoop, what a hollow scoop, what a long scoop!  Will it ever
end, and can we bear the heavy mass of water we have taken on board, and
which has let loose all the table furniture in the officers’ mess, and
has beaten open the door of the little passage between the purser and me,
and is swashing about, even there and even here?  The purser snores
reassuringly, and the ship’s bells striking, I hear the cheerful ‘All’s
well!’ of the watch musically given back the length of the deck, as the
lately diving partition, now high in air, tries (unsoftened by what we
have gone through together) to force me out of bed and berth.

‘All’s well!’  Comforting to know, though surely all might be better.
Put aside the rolling and the rush of water, and think of darting through
such darkness with such velocity.  Think of any other similar object
coming in the opposite direction!

Whether there may be an attraction in two such moving bodies out at sea,
which may help accident to bring them into collision?  Thoughts, too,
arise (the voice never silent all the while, but marvellously suggestive)
of the gulf below; of the strange, unfruitful mountain ranges and deep
valleys over which we are passing; of monstrous fish midway; of the
ship’s suddenly altering her course on her own account, and with a wild
plunge settling down, and making _that_ voyage with a crew of dead
discoverers.  Now, too, one recalls an almost universal tendency on the
part of passengers to stumble, at some time or other in the day, on the
topic of a certain large steamer making this same run, which was lost at
sea, and never heard of more.  Everybody has seemed under a spell,
compelling approach to the threshold of the grim subject, stoppage,
discomfiture, and pretence of never having been near it.  The boatswain’s
whistle sounds!  A change in the wind, hoarse orders issuing, and the
watch very busy.  Sails come crashing home overhead, ropes (that seem all
knot) ditto; every man engaged appears to have twenty feet, with twenty
times the average amount of stamping power in each.  Gradually the noise
slackens, the hoarse cries die away, the boatswain’s whistle softens into
the soothing and contented notes, which rather reluctantly admit that the
job is done for the time, and the voice sets in again.

Thus come unintelligible dreams of up hill and down, and swinging and
swaying, until consciousness revives of atmospherical Windsor soap and
bilge-water, and the voice announces that the giant has come for the
water-cure again.

Such were my fanciful reminiscences as I lay, part of that day, in the
Bay of New York, O!  Also as we passed clear of the Narrows, and got out
to sea; also in many an idle hour at sea in sunny weather!  At length the
observations and computations showed that we should make the coast of
Ireland to-night.  So I stood watch on deck all night to-night, to see
how we made the coast of Ireland.

Very dark, and the sea most brilliantly phosphorescent.  Great way on the
ship, and double look-out kept.  Vigilant captain on the bridge, vigilant
first officer looking over the port side, vigilant second officer
standing by the quarter-master at the compass, vigilant third officer
posted at the stern rail with a lantern.  No passengers on the quiet
decks, but expectation everywhere nevertheless.  The two men at the wheel
very steady, very serious, and very prompt to answer orders.  An order
issued sharply now and then, and echoed back; otherwise the night drags
slowly, silently, with no change.

All of a sudden, at the blank hour of two in the morning, a vague
movement of relief from a long strain expresses itself in all hands; the
third officer’s lantern tinkles, and he fires a rocket, and another
rocket.  A sullen solitary light is pointed out to me in the black sky
yonder.  A change is expected in the light, but none takes place.  ‘Give
them two more rockets, Mr. Vigilant.’  Two more, and a blue-light burnt.
All eyes watch the light again.  At last a little toy sky-rocket is
flashed up from it; and, even as that small streak in the darkness dies
away, we are telegraphed to Queenstown, Liverpool, and London, and back
again under the ocean to America.

Then up come the half-dozen passengers who are going ashore at Queenstown
and up comes the mail-agent in charge of the bags, and up come the men
who are to carry the bags into the mail-tender that will come off for
them out of the harbour.  Lamps and lanterns gleam here and there about
the decks, and impeding bulks are knocked away with handspikes; and the
port-side bulwark, barren but a moment ago, bursts into a crop of heads
of seamen, stewards, and engineers.

The light begins to be gained upon, begins to be alongside, begins to be
left astern.  More rockets, and, between us and the land, steams
beautifully the Inman steamship City of Paris, for New York, outward
bound.  We observe with complacency that the wind is dead against her (it
being _with_ us), and that she rolls and pitches.  (The sickest passenger
on board is the most delighted by this circumstance.)  Time rushes by as
we rush on; and now we see the light in Queenstown Harbour, and now the
lights of the mail-tender coming out to us.  What vagaries the
mail-tender performs on the way, in every point of the compass,
especially in those where she has no business, and why she performs them,
Heaven only knows!  At length she is seen plunging within a cable’s
length of our port broadside, and is being roared at through our
speaking-trumpets to do this thing, and not to do that, and to stand by
the other, as if she were a very demented tender indeed.  Then, we
slackening amidst a deafening roar of steam, this much-abused tender is
made fast to us by hawsers, and the men in readiness carry the bags
aboard, and return for more, bending under their burdens, and looking
just like the pasteboard figures of the miller and his men in the theatre
of our boyhood, and comporting themselves almost as unsteadily.  All the
while the unfortunate tender plunges high and low, and is roared at.
Then the Queenstown passengers are put on board of her, with infinite
plunging and roaring, and the tender gets heaved up on the sea to that
surprising extent that she looks within an ace of washing aboard of us,
high and dry.  Roared at with contumely to the last, this wretched tender
is at length let go, with a final plunge of great ignominy, and falls
spinning into our wake.

The voice of conscience resumed its dominion as the day climbed up the
sky, and kept by all of us passengers into port; kept by us as we passed
other lighthouses, and dangerous islands off the coast, where some of the
officers, with whom I stood my watch, had gone ashore in sailing-ships in
fogs (and of which by that token they seemed to have quite an
affectionate remembrance), and past the Welsh coast, and past the
Cheshire coast, and past everything and everywhere lying between our ship
and her own special dock in the Mersey.  Off which, at last, at nine of
the clock, on a fair evening early in May, we stopped, and the voice
ceased.  A very curious sensation, not unlike having my own ears stopped,
ensued upon that silence; and it was with a no less curious sensation
that I went over the side of the good Cunard ship ‘Russia’ (whom
prosperity attend through all her voyages!) and surveyed the outer hull
of the gracious monster that the voice had inhabited.  So, perhaps, shall
we all, in the spirit, one day survey the frame that held the busier
voice from which my vagrant fancy derived this similitude.



XXXII
A SMALL STAR IN THE EAST


I HAD been looking, yesternight, through the famous ‘Dance of Death,’ and
to-day the grim old woodcuts arose in my mind with the new significance
of a ghastly monotony not to be found in the original.  The weird
skeleton rattled along the streets before me, and struck fiercely; but it
was never at the pains of assuming a disguise.  It played on no dulcimer
here, was crowned with no flowers, waved no plume, minced in no flowing
robe or train, lifted no wine-cup, sat at no feast, cast no dice, counted
no gold.  It was simply a bare, gaunt, famished skeleton, slaying his way
along.

The borders of Ratcliff and Stepney, eastward of London, and giving on
the impure river, were the scene of this uncompromising dance of death,
upon a drizzling November day.  A squalid maze of streets, courts, and
alleys of miserable houses let out in single rooms.  A wilderness of
dirt, rags, and hunger.  A mud-desert, chiefly inhabited by a tribe from
whom employment has departed, or to whom it comes but fitfully and
rarely.  They are not skilled mechanics in any wise.  They are but
labourers,—dock-labourers, water-side labourers, coal-porters,
ballast-heavers, such-like hewers of wood and drawers of water.  But they
have come into existence, and they propagate their wretched race.

One grisly joke alone, methought, the skeleton seemed to play off here.
It had stuck election-bills on the walls, which the wind and rain had
deteriorated into suitable rags.  It had even summed up the state of the
poll, in chalk, on the shutters of one ruined house.  It adjured the free
and independent starvers to vote for Thisman and vote for Thatman; not to
plump, as they valued the state of parties and the national prosperity
(both of great importance to them, I think); but, by returning Thisman
and Thatman, each naught without the other, to compound a glorious and
immortal whole.  Surely the skeleton is nowhere more cruelly ironical in
the original monkish idea!

Pondering in my mind the far-seeing schemes of Thisman and Thatman, and
of the public blessing called Party, for staying the degeneracy, physical
and moral, of many thousands (who shall say how many?) of the English
race; for devising employment useful to the community for those who want
but to work and live; for equalising rates, cultivating waste lands,
facilitating emigration, and, above all things, saving and utilising the
oncoming generations, and thereby changing ever-growing national weakness
into strength: pondering in my mind, I say, these hopeful exertions, I
turned down a narrow street to look into a house or two.

It was a dark street with a dead wall on one side.  Nearly all the outer
doors of the houses stood open.  I took the first entry, and knocked at a
parlour-door.  Might I come in?  I might, if I plased, sur.

The woman of the room (Irish) had picked up some long strips of wood,
about some wharf or barge; and they had just now been thrust into the
otherwise empty grate to make two iron pots boil.  There was some fish in
one, and there were some potatoes in the other.  The flare of the burning
wood enabled me to see a table, and a broken chair or so, and some old
cheap crockery ornaments about the chimney-piece.  It was not until I had
spoken with the woman a few minutes, that I saw a horrible brown heap on
the floor in a corner, which, but for previous experience in this dismal
wise, I might not have suspected to be ‘the bed.’  There was something
thrown upon it; and I asked what that was.

‘’Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and ’tis very bad she is,
and ’tis very bad she’s been this long time, and ’tis better she’ll never
be, and ’tis slape she does all day, and ’tis wake she does all night,
and ’tis the lead, sur.’

‘The what?’

‘The lead, sur.  Sure ’tis the lead-mills, where the women gets took on
at eighteen-pence a day, sur, when they makes application early enough,
and is lucky and wanted; and ’tis lead-pisoned she is, sur, and some of
them gets lead-pisoned soon, and some of them gets lead-pisoned later,
and some, but not many, niver; and ’tis all according to the
constitooshun, sur, and some constitooshuns is strong, and some is weak;
and her constitooshun is lead-pisoned, bad as can be, sur; and her brain
is coming out at her ear, and it hurts her dreadful; and that’s what it
is, and niver no more, and niver no less, sur.’

The sick young woman moaning here, the speaker bent over her, took a
bandage from her head, and threw open a back door to let in the daylight
upon it, from the smallest and most miserable backyard I ever saw.

‘That’s what cooms from her, sur, being lead-pisoned; and it cooms from
her night and day, the poor, sick craythur; and the pain of it is
dreadful; and God he knows that my husband has walked the sthreets these
four days, being a labourer, and is walking them now, and is ready to
work, and no work for him, and no fire and no food but the bit in the
pot, and no more than ten shillings in a fortnight; God be good to us!
and it is poor we are, and dark it is and could it is indeed.’

Knowing that I could compensate myself thereafter for my self-denial, if
I saw fit, I had resolved that I would give nothing in the course of
these visits.  I did this to try the people.  I may state at once that my
closest observation could not detect any indication whatever of an
expectation that I would give money: they were grateful to be talked to
about their miserable affairs, and sympathy was plainly a comfort to
them; but they neither asked for money in any case, nor showed the least
trace of surprise or disappointment or resentment at my giving none.

The woman’s married daughter had by this time come down from her room on
the floor above, to join in the conversation.  She herself had been to
the lead-mills very early that morning to be ‘took on,’ but had not
succeeded.  She had four children; and her husband, also a water-side
labourer, and then out seeking work, seemed in no better case as to
finding it than her father.  She was English, and by nature, of a buxom
figure and cheerful.  Both in her poor dress and in her mother’s there
was an effort to keep up some appearance of neatness.  She knew all about
the sufferings of the unfortunate invalid, and all about the
lead-poisoning, and how the symptoms came on, and how they grew,—having
often seen them.  The very smell when you stood inside the door of the
works was enough to knock you down, she said: yet she was going back
again to get ‘took on.’  What could she do?  Better be ulcerated and
paralysed for eighteen-pence a day, while it lasted, than see the
children starve.

A dark and squalid cupboard in this room, touching the back door and all
manner of offence, had been for some time the sleeping-place of the sick
young woman.  But the nights being now wintry, and the blankets and
coverlets ‘gone to the leaving shop,’ she lay all night where she lay all
day, and was lying then.  The woman of the room, her husband, this most
miserable patient, and two others, lay on the one brown heap together for
warmth.

‘God bless you, sir, and thank you!’ were the parting words from these
people,—gratefully spoken too,—with which I left this place.

Some streets away, I tapped at another parlour-door on another
ground-floor.  Looking in, I found a man, his wife, and four children,
sitting at a washing-stool by way of table, at their dinner of bread and
infused tea-leaves.  There was a very scanty cinderous fire in the grate
by which they sat; and there was a tent bedstead in the room with a bed
upon it and a coverlet.  The man did not rise when I went in, nor during
my stay, but civilly inclined his head on my pulling off my hat, and, in
answer to my inquiry whether I might ask him a question or two, said,
‘Certainly.’  There being a window at each end of this room, back and
front, it might have been ventilated; but it was shut up tight, to keep
the cold out, and was very sickening.

The wife, an intelligent, quick woman, rose and stood at her husband’s
elbow; and he glanced up at her as if for help.  It soon appeared that he
was rather deaf.  He was a slow, simple fellow of about thirty.

‘What was he by trade?’

‘Gentleman asks what are you by trade, John?’

‘I am a boilermaker;’ looking about him with an exceedingly perplexed
air, as if for a boiler that had unaccountably vanished.

‘He ain’t a mechanic, you understand, sir,’ the wife put in: ‘he’s only a
labourer.’

‘Are you in work?’

He looked up at his wife again.  ‘Gentleman says are you in work, John?’

‘In work!’ cried this forlorn boilermaker, staring aghast at his wife,
and then working his vision’s way very slowly round to me: ‘Lord, no!’

‘Ah, he ain’t indeed!’ said the poor woman, shaking her head, as she
looked at the four children in succession, and then at him.

‘Work!’ said the boilermaker, still seeking that evaporated boiler, first
in my countenance, then in the air, and then in the features of his
second son at his knee: ‘I wish I _was_ in work!  I haven’t had more than
a day’s work to do this three weeks.’

‘How have you lived?’

A faint gleam of admiration lighted up the face of the would-be
boilermaker, as he stretched out the short sleeve of his thread-bare
canvas jacket, and replied, pointing her out, ‘On the work of the wife.’

I forget where boilermaking had gone to, or where he supposed it had gone
to; but he added some resigned information on that head, coupled with an
expression of his belief that it was never coming back.

The cheery helpfulness of the wife was very remarkable.  She did
slop-work; made pea-jackets.  She produced the pea-jacket then in hand,
and spread it out upon the bed,—the only piece of furniture in the room
on which to spread it.  She showed how much of it she made, and how much
was afterwards finished off by the machine.  According to her calculation
at the moment, deducting what her trimming cost her, she got for making a
pea-jacket tenpence half-penny, and she could make one in something less
than two days.

But, you see, it come to her through two hands, and of course it didn’t
come through the second hand for nothing.  Why did it come through the
second hand at all?  Why, this way.  The second hand took the risk of the
given-out work, you see.  If she had money enough to pay the security
deposit,—call it two pound,—she could get the work from the first hand,
and so the second would not have to be deducted for.  But, having no
money at all, the second hand come in and took its profit, and so the
whole worked down to tenpence half-penny.  Having explained all this with
great intelligence, even with some little pride, and without a whine or
murmur, she folded her work again, sat down by her husband’s side at the
washing-stool, and resumed her dinner of dry bread.  Mean as the meal
was, on the bare board, with its old gallipots for cups, and what not
other sordid makeshifts; shabby as the woman was in dress, and toning
done towards the Bosjesman colour, with want of nutriment and
washing,—there was positively a dignity in her, as the family anchor just
holding the poor ship-wrecked boilermaker’s bark.  When I left the room,
the boiler-maker’s eyes were slowly turned towards her, as if his last
hope of ever again seeing that vanished boiler lay in her direction.

These people had never applied for parish relief but once; and that was
when the husband met with a disabling accident at his work.

Not many doors from here, I went into a room on the first floor.  The
woman apologised for its being in ‘an untidy mess.’  The day was
Saturday, and she was boiling the children’s clothes in a saucepan on the
hearth.  There was nothing else into which she could have put them.
There was no crockery, or tinware, or tub, or bucket.  There was an old
gallipot or two, and there was a broken bottle or so, and there were some
broken boxes for seats.  The last small scraping of coals left was raked
together in a corner of the floor.  There were some rags in an open
cupboard, also on the floor.  In a corner of the room was a crazy old
French bed-stead, with a man lying on his back upon it in a ragged pilot
jacket, and rough oil-skin fantail hat.  The room was perfectly black.
It was difficult to believe, at first, that it was not purposely coloured
black, the walls were so begrimed.

As I stood opposite the woman boiling the children’s clothes,—she had not
even a piece of soap to wash them with,—and apologising for her
occupation, I could take in all these things without appearing to notice
them, and could even correct my inventory.  I had missed, at the first
glance, some half a pound of bread in the otherwise empty safe, an old
red ragged crinoline hanging on the handle of the door by which I had
entered, and certain fragments of rusty iron scattered on the floor,
which looked like broken tools and a piece of stove-pipe.  A child stood
looking on.  On the box nearest to the fire sat two younger children; one
a delicate and pretty little creature, whom the other sometimes kissed.

This woman, like the last, was wofully shabby, and was degenerating to
the Bosjesman complexion.  But her figure, and the ghost of a certain
vivacity about her, and the spectre of a dimple in her cheek, carried my
memory strangely back to the old days of the Adelphi Theatre, London,
when Mrs. Fitzwilliam was the friend of Victorine.

‘May I ask you what your husband is?’

‘He’s a coal-porter, sir,’—with a glance and a sigh towards the bed.

‘Is he out of work?’

‘Oh, yes, sir! and work’s at all times very, very scanty with him; and
now he’s laid up.’

‘It’s my legs,’ said the man upon the bed.  ‘I’ll unroll ’em.’  And
immediately began.

‘Have you any older children?’

‘I have a daughter that does the needle-work, and I have a son that does
what he can.  She’s at her work now, and he’s trying for work.’

‘Do they live here?’

‘They sleep here.  They can’t afford to pay more rent, and so they come
here at night.  The rent is very hard upon us.  It’s rose upon us too,
now,—sixpence a week,—on account of these new changes in the law, about
the rates.  We are a week behind; the landlord’s been shaking and
rattling at that door frightfully; he says he’ll turn us out.  I don’t
know what’s to come of it.’

The man upon the bed ruefully interposed, ‘Here’s my legs.  The skin’s
broke, besides the swelling.  I have had a many kicks, working, one way
and another.’

He looked at his legs (which were much discoloured and misshapen) for a
while, and then appearing to remember that they were not popular with his
family, rolled them up again, as if they were something in the nature of
maps or plans that were not wanted to be referred to, lay hopelessly down
on his back once more with his fantail hat over his face, and stirred
not.

‘Do your eldest son and daughter sleep in that cupboard?’

‘Yes,’ replied the woman.

‘With the children?’

‘Yes.  We have to get together for warmth.  We have little to cover us.’

‘Have you nothing by you to eat but the piece of bread I see there?’

‘Nothing.  And we had the rest of the loaf for our breakfast, with water.
I don’t know what’s to come of it.’

‘Have you no prospect of improvement?’

‘If my eldest son earns anything to-day, he’ll bring it home.  Then we
shall have something to eat to-night, and may be able to do something
towards the rent.  If not, I don’t know what’s to come of it.’

‘This is a sad state of things.’

‘Yes, sir; it’s a hard, hard life.  Take care of the stairs as you go,
sir,—they’re broken,—and good day, sir!’

These people had a mortal dread of entering the workhouse, and received
no out-of-door relief.

In another room, in still another tenement, I found a very decent woman
with five children,—the last a baby, and she herself a patient of the
parish doctor,—to whom, her husband being in the hospital, the Union
allowed for the support of herself and family, four shillings a week and
five loaves.  I suppose when Thisman, M.P., and Thatman, M.P., and the
Public-blessing Party, lay their heads together in course of time, and
come to an equalization of rating, she may go down to the dance of death
to the tune of sixpence more.

I could enter no other houses for that one while, for I could not bear
the contemplation of the children.  Such heart as I had summoned to
sustain me against the miseries of the adults failed me when I looked at
the children.  I saw how young they were, how hungry, how serious and
still.  I thought of them, sick and dying in those lairs.  I think of
them dead without anguish; but to think of them so suffering and so dying
quite unmanned me.

Down by the river’s bank in Ratcliff, I was turning upward by a
side-street, therefore, to regain the railway, when my eyes rested on the
inscription across the road, ‘East London Children’s Hospital.’  I could
scarcely have seen an inscription better suited to my frame of mind; and
I went across and went straight in.

I found the children’s hospital established in an old sail-loft or
storehouse, of the roughest nature, and on the simplest means.  There
were trap-doors in the floors, where goods had been hoisted up and down;
heavy feet and heavy weights had started every knot in the well-trodden
planking: inconvenient bulks and beams and awkward staircases perplexed
my passage through the wards.  But I found it airy, sweet, and clean.  In
its seven and thirty beds I saw but little beauty; for starvation in the
second or third generation takes a pinched look: but I saw the sufferings
both of infancy and childhood tenderly assuaged; I heard the little
patients answering to pet playful names, the light touch of a delicate
lady laid bare the wasted sticks of arms for me to pity; and the
claw-like little hands, as she did so, twined themselves lovingly around
her wedding-ring.

One baby mite there was as pretty as any of Raphael’s angels.  The tiny
head was bandaged for water on the brain; and it was suffering with acute
bronchitis too, and made from time to time a plaintive, though not
impatient or complaining, little sound.  The smooth curve of the cheeks
and of the chin was faultless in its condensation of infantine beauty,
and the large bright eyes were most lovely.  It happened as I stopped at
the foot of the bed, that these eyes rested upon mine with that wistful
expression of wondering thoughtfulness which we all know sometimes in
very little children.  They remained fixed on mine, and never turned from
me while I stood there.  When the utterance of that plaintive sound shook
the little form, the gaze still remained unchanged.  I felt as though the
child implored me to tell the story of the little hospital in which it
was sheltered to any gentle heart I could address.  Laying my world-worn
hand upon the little unmarked clasped hand at the chin, I gave it a
silent promise that I would do so.

A gentleman and lady, a young husband and wife, have bought and fitted up
this building for its present noble use, and have quietly settled
themselves in it as its medical officers and directors.  Both have had
considerable practical experience of medicine and surgery; he as
house-surgeon of a great London hospital; she as a very earnest student,
tested by severe examination, and also as a nurse of the sick poor during
the prevalence of cholera.

With every qualification to lure them away, with youth and
accomplishments and tastes and habits that can have no response in any
breast near them, close begirt by every repulsive circumstance
inseparable from such a neighbourhood, there they dwell.  They live in
the hospital itself, and their rooms are on its first floor.  Sitting at
their dinner-table, they could hear the cry of one of the children in
pain.  The lady’s piano, drawing-materials, books, and other such
evidences of refinement are as much a part of the rough place as the iron
bedsteads of the little patients.  They are put to shifts for room, like
passengers on board ship.  The dispenser of medicines (attracted to them
not by self-interest, but by their own magnetism and that of their cause)
sleeps in a recess in the dining-room, and has his washing apparatus in
the sideboard.

Their contented manner of making the best of the things around them, I
found so pleasantly inseparable from their usefulness!  Their pride in
this partition that we put up ourselves, or in that partition that we
took down, or in that other partition that we moved, or in the stove that
was given us for the waiting-room, or in our nightly conversion of the
little consulting-room into a smoking-room!  Their admiration of the
situation, if we could only get rid of its one objectionable incident,
the coal-yard at the back!  ‘Our hospital carriage, presented by a
friend, and very useful.’  That was my presentation to a perambulator,
for which a coach-house had been discovered in a corner down-stairs, just
large enough to hold it.  Coloured prints, in all stages of preparation
for being added to those already decorating the wards, were plentiful; a
charming wooden phenomenon of a bird, with an impossible top-knot, who
ducked his head when you set a counter weight going, had been inaugurated
as a public statue that very morning; and trotting about among the beds,
on familiar terms with all the patients, was a comical mongrel dog,
called Poodles.  This comical dog (quite a tonic in himself) was found
characteristically starving at the door of the institution, and was taken
in and fed, and has lived here ever since.  An admirer of his mental
endowments has presented him with a collar bearing the legend, ‘Judge not
Poodles by external appearances.’  He was merrily wagging his tail on a
boy’s pillow when he made this modest appeal to me.

When this hospital was first opened, in January of the present year, the
people could not possibly conceive but that somebody paid for the
services rendered there; and were disposed to claim them as a right, and
to find fault if out of temper.  They soon came to understand the case
better, and have much increased in gratitude.  The mothers of the
patients avail themselves very freely of the visiting rules; the fathers
often on Sundays.  There is an unreasonable (but still, I think, touching
and intelligible) tendency in the parents to take a child away to its
wretched home, if on the point of death.  One boy who had been thus
carried off on a rainy night, when in a violent state of inflammation,
and who had been afterwards brought back, had been recovered with
exceeding difficulty; but he was a jolly boy, with a specially strong
interest in his dinner, when I saw him.

Insufficient food and unwholesome living are the main causes of disease
among these small patients.  So nourishment, cleanliness, and ventilation
are the main remedies.  Discharged patients are looked after, and invited
to come and dine now and then; so are certain famishing creatures who
were never patients.  Both the lady and the gentleman are well
acquainted, not only with the histories of the patients and their
families, but with the characters and circumstances of great numbers of
their neighbours—of these they keep a register.  It is their common
experience, that people, sinking down by inches into deeper and deeper
poverty, will conceal it, even from them, if possible, unto the very last
extremity.

The nurses of this hospital are all young,—ranging, say, from nineteen to
four and twenty.  They have even within these narrow limits, what many
well-endowed hospitals would not give them, a comfortable room of their
own in which to take their meals.  It is a beautiful truth, that interest
in the children and sympathy with their sorrows bind these young women to
their places far more strongly than any other consideration could.  The
best skilled of the nurses came originally from a kindred neighbourhood,
almost as poor; and she knew how much the work was needed.  She is a fair
dressmaker.  The hospital cannot pay her as many pounds in the year as
there are months in it; and one day the lady regarded it as a duty to
speak to her about her improving her prospects and following her trade.
‘No,’ she said: she could never be so useful or so happy elsewhere any
more; she must stay among the children.

And she stays.  One of the nurses, as I passed her, was washing a
baby-boy.  Liking her pleasant face, I stopped to speak to her charge,—a
common, bullet-headed, frowning charge enough, laying hold of his own
nose with a slippery grasp, and staring very solemnly out of a blanket.
The melting of the pleasant face into delighted smiles, as this young
gentleman gave an unexpected kick, and laughed at me, was almost worth my
previous pain.

An affecting play was acted in Paris years ago, called ‘The Children’s
Doctor.’  As I parted from my children’s doctor, now in question, I saw
in his easy black necktie, in his loose buttoned black frock-coat, in his
pensive face, in the flow of his dark hair, in his eyelashes, in the very
turn of his moustache, the exact realisation of the Paris artist’s ideal
as it was presented on the stage.  But no romancer that I know of has had
the boldness to prefigure the life and home of this young husband and
young wife in the Children’s Hospital in the east of London.

I came away from Ratcliff by the Stepney railway station to the terminus
at Fenchurch Street.  Any one who will reverse that route may retrace my
steps.



XXXIII
A LITTLE DINNER IN AN HOUR


IT fell out on a day in this last autumn, that I had to go down from
London to a place of seaside resort, on an hour’s business, accompanied
by my esteemed friend Bullfinch.  Let the place of seaside resort be, for
the nonce, called Namelesston.

I had been loitering about Paris in very hot weather, pleasantly
breakfasting in the open air in the garden of the Palais Royal or the
Tuileries, pleasantly dining in the open air in the Elysian Fields,
pleasantly taking my cigar and lemonade in the open air on the Italian
Boulevard towards the small hours after midnight.  Bullfinch—an excellent
man of business—has summoned me back across the Channel, to transact this
said hour’s business at Namelesston; and thus it fell out that Bullfinch
and I were in a railway carriage together on our way to Namelesston, each
with his return-ticket in his waistcoat-pocket.

Says Bullfinch, ‘I have a proposal to make.  Let us dine at the
Temeraire.’

I asked Bullfinch, did he recommend the Temeraire? inasmuch as I had not
been rated on the books of the Temeraire for many years.

Bullfinch declined to accept the responsibility of recommending the
Temeraire, but on the whole was rather sanguine about it.  He ‘seemed to
remember,’ Bullfinch said, that he had dined well there.  A plain dinner,
but good.  Certainly not like a Parisian dinner (here Bullfinch obviously
became the prey of want of confidence), but of its kind very fair.

I appeal to Bullfinch’s intimate knowledge of my wants and ways to decide
whether I was usually ready to be pleased with any dinner, or—for the
matter of that—with anything that was fair of its kind and really what it
claimed to be.  Bullfinch doing me the honour to respond in the
affirmative, I agreed to ship myself as an able trencherman on board the
Temeraire.

‘Now, our plan shall be this,’ says Bullfinch, with his forefinger at his
nose.  ‘As soon as we get to Namelesston, we’ll drive straight to the
Temeraire, and order a little dinner in an hour.  And as we shall not
have more than enough time in which to dispose of it comfortably, what do
you say to giving the house the best opportunities of serving it hot and
quickly by dining in the coffee-room?’

What I had to say was, Certainly.  Bullfinch (who is by nature of a
hopeful constitution) then began to babble of green geese.  But I checked
him in that Falstaffian vein, urging considerations of time and cookery.

In due sequence of events we drove up to the Temeraire, and alighted.  A
youth in livery received us on the door-step.  ‘Looks well,’ said
Bullfinch confidentially.  And then aloud, ‘Coffee-room!’

The youth in livery (now perceived to be mouldy) conducted us to the
desired haven, and was enjoined by Bullfinch to send the waiter at once,
as we wished to order a little dinner in an hour.  Then Bullfinch and I
waited for the waiter, until, the waiter continuing to wait in some
unknown and invisible sphere of action, we rang for the waiter; which
ring produced the waiter, who announced himself as not the waiter who
ought to wait upon us, and who didn’t wait a moment longer.

So Bullfinch approached the coffee-room door, and melodiously pitching
his voice into a bar where two young ladies were keeping the books of the
Temeraire, apologetically explained that we wished to order a little
dinner in an hour, and that we were debarred from the execution of our
inoffensive purpose by consignment to solitude.

Hereupon one of the young ladies ran a bell, which reproduced—at the bar
this time—the waiter who was not the waiter who ought to wait upon us;
that extraordinary man, whose life seemed consumed in waiting upon people
to say that he wouldn’t wait upon them, repeated his former protest with
great indignation, and retired.

Bullfinch, with a fallen countenance, was about to say to me, ‘This won’t
do,’ when the waiter who ought to wait upon us left off keeping us
waiting at last.  ‘Waiter,’ said Bullfinch piteously, ‘we have been a
long time waiting.’  The waiter who ought to wait upon us laid the blame
upon the waiter who ought not to wait upon us, and said it was all that
waiter’s fault.

‘We wish,’ said Bullfinch, much depressed, ‘to order a little dinner in
an hour.  What can we have?’

‘What would you like to have, gentlemen?’

Bullfinch, with extreme mournfulness of speech and action, and with a
forlorn old fly-blown bill of fare in his hand which the waiter had given
him, and which was a sort of general manuscript index to any cookery-book
you please, moved the previous question.

We could have mock-turtle soup, a sole, curry, and roast duck.  Agreed.
At this table by this window.  Punctually in an hour.

I had been feigning to look out of this window; but I had been taking
note of the crumbs on all the tables, the dirty table-cloths, the stuffy,
soupy, airless atmosphere, the stale leavings everywhere about, the deep
gloom of the waiter who ought to wait upon us, and the stomach-ache with
which a lonely traveller at a distant table in a corner was too evidently
afflicted.  I now pointed out to Bullfinch the alarming circumstance that
this traveller had _dined_.  We hurriedly debated whether, without
infringement of good breeding, we could ask him to disclose if he had
partaken of mock-turtle, sole, curry, or roast duck?  We decided that the
thing could not be politely done, and we had set our own stomachs on a
cast, and they must stand the hazard of the die.

I hold phrenology, within certain limits, to be true; I am much of the
same mind as to the subtler expressions of the hand; I hold physiognomy
to be infallible; though all these sciences demand rare qualities in the
student.  But I also hold that there is no more certain index to personal
character than the condition of a set of casters is to the character of
any hotel.  Knowing, and having often tested this theory of mine,
Bullfinch resigned himself to the worst, when, laying aside any remaining
veil of disguise, I held up before him in succession the cloudy oil and
furry vinegar, the clogged cayenne, the dirty salt, the obscene dregs of
soy, and the anchovy sauce in a flannel waistcoat of decomposition.

We went out to transact our business.  So inspiriting was the relief of
passing into the clean and windy streets of Namelesston from the heavy
and vapid closeness of the coffee-room of the Temeraire, that hope began
to revive within us.  We began to consider that perhaps the lonely
traveller had taken physic, or done something injudicious to bring his
complaint on.  Bullfinch remarked that he thought the waiter who ought to
wait upon us had brightened a little when suggesting curry; and although
I knew him to have been at that moment the express image of despair, I
allowed myself to become elevated in spirits.  As we walked by the
softly-lapping sea, all the notabilities of Namelesston, who are for ever
going up and down with the changelessness of the tides, passed to and fro
in procession.  Pretty girls on horseback, and with detested
riding-masters; pretty girls on foot; mature ladies in hats,—spectacled,
strong-minded, and glaring at the opposite or weaker sex.  The Stock
Exchange was strongly represented, Jerusalem was strongly represented,
the bores of the prosier London clubs were strongly represented.
Fortune-hunters of all denominations were there, from hirsute insolvency,
in a curricle, to closely-buttoned swindlery in doubtful boots, on the
sharp look-out for any likely young gentleman disposed to play a game at
billiards round the corner.  Masters of languages, their lessons finished
for the day, were going to their homes out of sight of the sea;
mistresses of accomplishments, carrying small portfolios, likewise
tripped homeward; pairs of scholastic pupils, two and two, went languidly
along the beach, surveying the face of the waters as if waiting for some
Ark to come and take them off.  Spectres of the George the Fourth days
flitted unsteadily among the crowd, bearing the outward semblance of
ancient dandies, of every one of whom it might be said, not that he had
one leg in the grave, or both legs, but that he was steeped in grave to
the summit of his high shirt-collar, and had nothing real about him but
his bones.  Alone stationary in the midst of all the movements, the
Namelesston boatmen leaned against the railings and yawned, and looked
out to sea, or looked at the moored fishing-boats and at nothing.  Such
is the unchanging manner of life with this nursery of our hardy seamen;
and very dry nurses they are, and always wanting something to drink.  The
only two nautical personages detached from the railing were the two
fortunate possessors of the celebrated monstrous unknown barking-fish,
just caught (frequently just caught off Namelesston), who carried him
about in a hamper, and pressed the scientific to look in at the lid.

The sands of the hour had all run out when we got back to the Temeraire.
Says Bullfinch, then, to the youth in livery, with boldness, ‘Lavatory!’

When we arrived at the family vault with a skylight, which the youth in
livery presented as the institution sought, we had already whisked off
our cravats and coats; but finding ourselves in the presence of an evil
smell, and no linen but two crumpled towels newly damp from the
countenances of two somebody elses, we put on our cravats and coats
again, and fled unwashed to the coffee-room.

There the waiter who ought to wait upon us had set forth our knives and
forks and glasses, on the cloth whose dirty acquaintance we had already
had the pleasure of making, and which we were pleased to recognise by the
familiar expression of its stains.  And now there occurred the truly
surprising phenomenon, that the waiter who ought not to wait upon us
swooped down upon us, clutched our loaf of bread, and vanished with the
same.

Bullfinch, with distracted eyes, was following this unaccountable figure
‘out at the portal,’ like the ghost in Hamlet, when the waiter who ought
to wait upon us jostled against it, carrying a tureen.

‘Waiter!’ said a severe diner, lately finished, perusing his bill
fiercely through his eye-glass.

The waiter put down our tureen on a remote side-table, and went to see
what was amiss in this new direction.

‘This is not right, you know, waiter.  Look here! here’s yesterday’s
sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again, two shillings.  And
what does sixpence mean?’

So far from knowing what sixpence meant, the waiter protested that he
didn’t know what anything meant.  He wiped the perspiration from his
clammy brow, and said it was impossible to do it,—not particularising
what,—and the kitchen was so far off.

‘Take the bill to the bar, and get it altered,’ said Mr. Indignation
Cocker, so to call him.

The waiter took it, looked intensely at it, didn’t seem to like the idea
of taking it to the bar, and submitted, as a new light upon the case,
that perhaps sixpence meant sixpence.

‘I tell you again,’ said Mr. Indignation Cocker, ‘here’s yesterday’s
sherry—can’t you see it?—one and eightpence, and here we are again, two
shillings.  What do you make of one and eightpence and two shillings?’

Totally unable to make anything of one and eightpence and two shillings,
the waiter went out to try if anybody else could; merely casting a
helpless backward glance at Bullfinch, in acknowledgement of his pathetic
entreaties for our soup-tureen.  After a pause, during which Mr.
Indignation Cocker read a newspaper and coughed defiant coughs, Bullfinch
arose to get the tureen, when the waiter reappeared and brought
it,—dropping Mr. Indignation Cocker’s altered bill on Mr. Indignation
Cocker’s table as he came along.

‘It’s quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,’ murmured the waiter; ‘and
the kitchen is so far off.’

‘Well, you don’t keep the house; it’s not your fault, we suppose.  Bring
some sherry.’

‘Waiter!’ from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense of
injury upon him.

The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and came
back to see what was wrong now.

‘Will you look here?  This is worse than before.  _Do_ you understand?
Here’s yesterday’s sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again two
shillings.  And what the devil does ninepence mean?’

This new portent utterly confounded the waiter.  He wrung his napkin, and
mutely appealed to the ceiling.

‘Waiter, fetch that sherry,’ says Bullfinch, in open wrath and revolt.

‘I want to know,’ persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, ‘the meaning of
ninepence.  I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence
yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings.  Send somebody.’

The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending somebody,
and by that means got our wine.  But the instant he appeared with our
decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him again.

‘Waiter!’

‘You will now have the goodness to attend to our dinner, waiter,’ said
Bullfinch, sternly.

‘I am very sorry, but it’s quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,’ pleaded
the waiter; ‘and the kitchen—’

‘Waiter!’ said Mr. Indignation Cocker.

‘—Is,’ resumed the waiter, ‘so far off, that—’

‘Waiter!’ persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, ‘send somebody.’

We were not without our fears that the waiter rushed out to hang himself;
and we were much relieved by his fetching somebody,—in graceful, flowing
skirts and with a waist,—who very soon settled Mr. Indignation Cocker’s
business.

‘Oh!’ said Mr. Cocker, with his fire surprisingly quenched by this
apparition; ‘I wished to ask about this bill of mine, because it appears
to me that there’s a little mistake here.  Let me show you.  Here’s
yesterday’s sherry one and eightpence, and here we are again two
shillings.  And how do you explain ninepence?’

However it was explained, in tones too soft to be overheard.  Mr. Cocker
was heard to say nothing more than ‘Ah-h-h!  Indeed; thank you!  Yes,’
and shortly afterwards went out, a milder man.

The lonely traveller with the stomach-ache had all this time suffered
severely, drawing up a leg now and then, and sipping hot brandy-and-water
with grated ginger in it.  When we tasted our (very) mock-turtle soup,
and were instantly seized with symptoms of some disorder simulating
apoplexy, and occasioned by the surcharge of nose and brain with lukewarm
dish-water holding in solution sour flour, poisonous condiments, and
(say) seventy-five per cent. of miscellaneous kitchen stuff rolled into
balls, we were inclined to trace his disorder to that source.  On the
other hand, there was a silent anguish upon him too strongly resembling
the results established within ourselves by the sherry, to be discarded
from alarmed consideration.  Again, we observed him, with terror, to be
much overcome by our sole’s being aired in a temporary retreat close to
him, while the waiter went out (as we conceived) to see his friends.  And
when the curry made its appearance he suddenly retired in great disorder.

In fine, for the uneatable part of this little dinner (as
contradistinguished from the undrinkable) we paid only seven shillings
and sixpence each.  And Bullfinch and I agreed unanimously, that no such
ill-served, ill-appointed, ill-cooked, nasty little dinner could be got
for the money anywhere else under the sun.  With that comfort to our
backs, we turned them on the dear old Temeraire, the charging Temeraire,
and resolved (in the Scotch dialect) to gang nae mair to the flabby
Temeraire.



XXXIV
MR. BARLOW


A GREAT reader of good fiction at an unusually early age, it seems to me
as though I had been born under the superintendence of the estimable but
terrific gentleman whose name stands at the head of my present
reflections.  The instructive monomaniac, Mr. Barlow, will be remembered
as the tutor of Master Harry Sandford and Master Tommy Merton.  He knew
everything, and didactically improved all sorts of occasions, from the
consumption of a plate of cherries to the contemplation of a starlight
night.  What youth came to without Mr. Barlow was displayed in the
history of Sandford and Merton, by the example of a certain awful Master
Mash.  This young wretch wore buckles and powder, conducted himself with
insupportable levity at the theatre, had no idea of facing a mad bull
single-handed (in which I think him less reprehensible, as remotely
reflecting my own character), and was a frightful instance of the
enervating effects of luxury upon the human race.

Strange destiny on the part of Mr. Barlow, to go down to posterity as
childhood’s experience of a bore!  Immortal Mr. Barlow, boring his way
through the verdant freshness of ages!

My personal indictment against Mr. Barlow is one of many counts.  I will
proceed to set forth a few of the injuries he has done me.

In the first place, he never made or took a joke.  This insensibility on
Mr. Barlow’s part not only cast its own gloom over my boyhood, but
blighted even the sixpenny jest-books of the time; for, groaning under a
moral spell constraining me to refer all things to Mr. Barlow, I could
not choose but ask myself in a whisper when tickled by a printed jest,
‘What would _he_ think of it?  What would _he_ see in it?’  The point of
the jest immediately became a sting, and stung my conscience.  For my
mind’s eye saw him stolid, frigid, perchance taking from its shelf some
dreary Greek book, and translating at full length what some dismal sage
said (and touched up afterwards, perhaps, for publication), when he
banished some unlucky joker from Athens.

The incompatibility of Mr. Barlow with all other portions of my young
life but himself, the adamantine inadaptability of the man to my
favourite fancies and amusements, is the thing for which I hate him most.
What right had he to bore his way into my Arabian Nights?  Yet he did.
He was always hinting doubts of the veracity of Sindbad the Sailor.  If
he could have got hold of the Wonderful Lamp, I knew he would have
trimmed it and lighted it, and delivered a lecture over it on the
qualities of sperm-oil, with a glance at the whale fisheries.  He would
so soon have found out—on mechanical principles—the peg in the neck of
the Enchanted Horse, and would have turned it the right way in so
workmanlike a manner, that the horse could never have got any height into
the air, and the story couldn’t have been.  He would have proved, by map
and compass, that there was no such kingdom as the delightful kingdom of
Casgar, on the frontiers of Tartary.  He would have caused that
hypocritical young prig Harry to make an experiment,—with the aid of a
temporary building in the garden and a dummy,—demonstrating that you
couldn’t let a choked hunchback down an Eastern chimney with a cord, and
leave him upright on the hearth to terrify the sultan’s purveyor.

The golden sounds of the overture to the first metropolitan pantomime, I
remember, were alloyed by Mr. Barlow.  Click click, ting ting, bang bang,
weedle weedle weedle, bang!  I recall the chilling air that ran across my
frame and cooled my hot delight, as the thought occurred to me, ‘This
would never do for Mr. Barlow!’  After the curtain drew up, dreadful
doubts of Mr. Barlow’s considering the costumes of the Nymphs of the
Nebula as being sufficiently opaque, obtruded themselves on my enjoyment.
In the clown I perceived two persons; one a fascinating unaccountable
creature of a hectic complexion, joyous in spirits though feeble in
intellect, with flashes of brilliancy; the other a pupil for Mr. Barlow.
I thought how Mr. Barlow would secretly rise early in the morning, and
butter the pavement for _him_, and, when he had brought him down, would
look severely out of his study window and ask _him_ how he enjoyed the
fun.

I thought how Mr. Barlow would heat all the pokers in the house, and
singe him with the whole collection, to bring him better acquainted with
the properties of incandescent iron, on which he (Barlow) would fully
expatiate.  I pictured Mr. Barlow’s instituting a comparison between the
clown’s conduct at his studies,—drinking up the ink, licking his
copy-book, and using his head for blotting-paper,—and that of the already
mentioned young prig of prigs, Harry, sitting at the Barlovian feet,
sneakingly pretending to be in a rapture of youthful knowledge.  I
thought how soon Mr. Barlow would smooth the clown’s hair down, instead
of letting it stand erect in three tall tufts; and how, after a couple of
years or so with Mr. Barlow, he would keep his legs close together when
he walked, and would take his hands out of his big loose pockets, and
wouldn’t have a jump left in him.

That I am particularly ignorant what most things in the universe are made
of, and how they are made, is another of my charges against Mr. Barlow.
With the dread upon me of developing into a Harry, and with a further
dread upon me of being Barlowed if I made inquiries, by bringing down
upon myself a cold shower-bath of explanations and experiments, I forbore
enlightenment in my youth, and became, as they say in melodramas, ‘the
wreck you now behold.’  That I consorted with idlers and dunces is
another of the melancholy facts for which I hold Mr. Barlow responsible.
That pragmatical prig, Harry, became so detestable in my sight, that, he
being reported studious in the South, I would have fled idle to the
extremest North.  Better to learn misconduct from a Master Mash than
science and statistics from a Sandford!  So I took the path, which, but
for Mr. Barlow, I might never have trodden.  Thought I, with a shudder,
‘Mr. Barlow is a bore, with an immense constructive power of making
bores.  His prize specimen is a bore.  He seeks to make a bore of me.
That knowledge is power I am not prepared to gainsay; but, with Mr.
Barlow, knowledge is power to bore.’  Therefore I took refuge in the
caves of ignorance, wherein I have resided ever since, and which are
still my private address.

But the weightiest charge of all my charges against Mr. Barlow is, that
he still walks the earth in various disguises, seeking to make a Tommy of
me, even in my maturity.  Irrepressible, instructive monomaniac, Mr.
Barlow fills my life with pitfalls, and lies hiding at the bottom to
burst out upon me when I least expect him.

A few of these dismal experiences of mine shall suffice.

Knowing Mr. Barlow to have invested largely in the moving panorama trade,
and having on various occasions identified him in the dark with a long
wand in his hand, holding forth in his old way (made more appalling in
this connection by his sometimes cracking a piece of Mr. Carlyle’s own
Dead-Sea fruit in mistake for a joke), I systematically shun pictorial
entertainment on rollers.  Similarly, I should demand responsible bail
and guaranty against the appearance of Mr. Barlow, before committing
myself to attendance at any assemblage of my fellow-creatures where a
bottle of water and a note-book were conspicuous objects; for in either
of those associations, I should expressly expect him.  But such is the
designing nature of the man, that he steals in where no reasoning
precaution or provision could expect him.  As in the following case:—

Adjoining the Caves of Ignorance is a country town.  In this country town
the Mississippi Momuses, nine in number, were announced to appear in the
town-hall, for the general delectation, this last Christmas week.
Knowing Mr. Barlow to be unconnected with the Mississippi, though holding
republican opinions, and deeming myself secure, I took a stall.  My
object was to hear and see the Mississippi Momuses in what the bills
described as their ‘National ballads, plantation break-downs, nigger
part-songs, choice conundrums, sparkling repartees, &c.’  I found the
nine dressed alike, in the black coat and trousers, white waistcoat, very
large shirt-front, very large shirt-collar, and very large white tie and
wristbands, which constitute the dress of the mass of the African race,
and which has been observed by travellers to prevail over a vast number
of degrees of latitude.  All the nine rolled their eyes exceedingly, and
had very red lips.  At the extremities of the curve they formed, seated
in their chairs, were the performers on the tambourine and bones.  The
centre Momus, a black of melancholy aspect (who inspired me with a vague
uneasiness for which I could not then account), performed on a
Mississippi instrument closely resembling what was once called in this
island a hurdy-gurdy.  The Momuses on either side of him had each another
instrument peculiar to the Father of Waters, which may be likened to a
stringed weather-glass held upside down.  There were likewise a little
flute and a violin.  All went well for awhile, and we had had several
sparkling repartees exchanged between the performers on the tambourine
and bones, when the black of melancholy aspect, turning to the latter,
and addressing him in a deep and improving voice as ‘Bones, sir,’
delivered certain grave remarks to him concerning the juveniles present,
and the season of the year; whereon I perceived that I was in the
presence of Mr. Barlow—corked!

Another night—and this was in London—I attended the representation of a
little comedy.  As the characters were lifelike (and consequently not
improving), and as they went upon their several ways and designs without
personally addressing themselves to me, I felt rather confident of coming
through it without being regarded as Tommy, the more so, as we were
clearly getting close to the end.  But I deceived myself.  All of a
sudden, Apropos of nothing, everybody concerned came to a check and halt,
advanced to the foot-lights in a general rally to take dead aim at me,
and brought me down with a moral homily, in which I detected the dread
hand of Barlow.

Nay, so intricate and subtle are the toils of this hunter, that on the
very next night after that, I was again entrapped, where no vestige of a
spring could have been apprehended by the timidest.  It was a burlesque
that I saw performed; an uncompromising burlesque, where everybody
concerned, but especially the ladies, carried on at a very considerable
rate indeed.  Most prominent and active among the corps of performers was
what I took to be (and she really gave me very fair opportunities of
coming to a right conclusion) a young lady of a pretty figure.  She was
dressed as a picturesque young gentleman, whose pantaloons had been cut
off in their infancy; and she had very neat knees and very neat satin
boots.  Immediately after singing a slang song and dancing a slang dance,
this engaging figure approached the fatal lamps, and, bending over them,
delivered in a thrilling voice a random eulogium on, and exhortation to
pursue, the virtues.  ‘Great Heaven!’ was my exclamation; ‘Barlow!’

There is still another aspect in which Mr. Barlow perpetually insists on
my sustaining the character of Tommy, which is more unendurable yet, on
account of its extreme aggressiveness.  For the purposes of a review or
newspaper, he will get up an abstruse subject with definite pains, will
Barlow, utterly regardless of the price of midnight oil, and indeed of
everything else, save cramming himself to the eyes.

But mark.  When Mr. Barlow blows his information off, he is not contented
with having rammed it home, and discharged it upon me, Tommy, his target,
but he pretends that he was always in possession of it, and made nothing
of it,—that he imbibed it with mother’s milk,—and that I, the wretched
Tommy, am most abjectly behindhand in not having done the same.  I ask,
why is Tommy to be always the foil of Mr. Barlow to this extent?  What
Mr. Barlow had not the slightest notion of himself, a week ago, it surely
cannot be any very heavy backsliding in me not to have at my fingers’
ends to-day!  And yet Mr. Barlow systematically carries it over me with a
high hand, and will tauntingly ask me, in his articles, whether it is
possible that I am not aware that every school-boy knows that the
fourteenth turning on the left in the steppes of Russia will conduct to
such and such a wandering tribe? with other disparaging questions of like
nature.  So, when Mr. Barlow addresses a letter to any journal as a
volunteer correspondent (which I frequently find him doing), he will
previously have gotten somebody to tell him some tremendous technicality,
and will write in the coolest manner, ‘Now, sir, I may assume that every
reader of your columns, possessing average information and intelligence,
knows as well as I do that’—say that the draught from the touch-hole of a
cannon of such a calibre bears such a proportion in the nicest fractions
to the draught from the muzzle; or some equally familiar little fact.
But whatever it is, be certain that it always tends to the exaltation of
Mr. Barlow, and the depression of his enforced and enslaved pupil.

Mr. Barlow’s knowledge of my own pursuits I find to be so profound, that
my own knowledge of them becomes as nothing.  Mr. Barlow (disguised and
bearing a feigned name, but detected by me) has occasionally taught me,
in a sonorous voice, from end to end of a long dinner-table, trifles that
I took the liberty of teaching him five-and-twenty years ago.  My closing
article of impeachment against Mr. Barlow is, that he goes out to
breakfast, goes out to dinner, goes out everywhere, high and low, and
that he WILL preach to me, and that I CAN’T get rid of him.  He makes me
a Promethean Tommy, bound; and he is the vulture that gorges itself upon
the liver of my uninstructed mind.



XXXV
ON AN AMATEUR BEAT


IT is one of my fancies, that even my idlest walk must always have its
appointed destination.  I set myself a task before I leave my lodging in
Covent-garden on a street expedition, and should no more think of
altering my route by the way, or turning back and leaving a part of it
unachieved, than I should think of fraudulently violating an agreement
entered into with somebody else.  The other day, finding myself under
this kind of obligation to proceed to Limehouse, I started punctually at
noon, in compliance with the terms of the contract with myself to which
my good faith was pledged.

On such an occasion, it is my habit to regard my walk as my beat, and
myself as a higher sort of police-constable doing duty on the same.
There is many a ruffian in the streets whom I mentally collar and clear
out of them, who would see mighty little of London, I can tell him, if I
could deal with him physically.

Issuing forth upon this very beat, and following with my eyes three
hulking garrotters on their way home,—which home I could confidently
swear to be within so many yards of Drury-lane, in such a narrow and
restricted direction (though they live in their lodging quite as
undisturbed as I in mine),—I went on duty with a consideration which I
respectfully offer to the new Chief Commissioner,—in whom I thoroughly
confide as a tried and efficient public servant.  How often (thought I)
have I been forced to swallow, in police-reports, the intolerable
stereotyped pill of nonsense, how that the police-constable informed the
worthy magistrate how that the associates of the prisoner did, at that
present speaking, dwell in a street or court which no man dared go down,
and how that the worthy magistrate had heard of the dark reputation of
such street or court, and how that our readers would doubtless remember
that it was always the same street or court which was thus edifyingly
discoursed about, say once a fortnight.

Now, suppose that a Chief Commissioner sent round a circular to every
division of police employed in London, requiring instantly the names in
all districts of all such much-puffed streets or courts which no man
durst go down; and suppose that in such circular he gave plain warning,
‘If those places really exist, they are a proof of police inefficiency
which I mean to punish; and if they do not exist, but are a conventional
fiction, then they are a proof of lazy tacit police connivance with
professional crime, which I also mean to punish’—what then?  Fictions or
realities, could they survive the touchstone of this atom of common
sense?  To tell us in open court, until it has become as trite a feature
of news as the great gooseberry, that a costly police-system such as was
never before heard of, has left in London, in the days of steam and gas
and photographs of thieves and electric telegraphs, the sanctuaries and
stews of the Stuarts!  Why, a parity of practice, in all departments,
would bring back the Plague in two summers, and the Druids in a century!

Walking faster under my share of this public injury, I overturned a
wretched little creature, who, clutching at the rags of a pair of
trousers with one of its claws, and at its ragged hair with the other,
pattered with bare feet over the muddy stones.  I stopped to raise and
succour this poor weeping wretch, and fifty like it, but of both sexes,
were about me in a moment, begging, tumbling, fighting, clamouring,
yelling, shivering in their nakedness and hunger.  The piece of money I
had put into the claw of the child I had over-turned was clawed out of
it, and was again clawed out of that wolfish gripe, and again out of
that, and soon I had no notion in what part of the obscene scuffle in the
mud, of rags and legs and arms and dirt, the money might be.  In raising
the child, I had drawn it aside out of the main thoroughfare, and this
took place among some wooden hoardings and barriers and ruins of
demolished buildings, hard by Temple Bar.

Unexpectedly, from among them emerged a genuine police-constable, before
whom the dreadful brood dispersed in various directions, he making feints
and darts in this direction and in that, and catching nothing.  When all
were frightened away, he took off his hat, pulled out a handkerchief from
it, wiped his heated brow, and restored the handkerchief and hat to their
places, with the air of a man who had discharged a great moral duty,—as
indeed he had, in doing what was set down for him.  I looked at him, and
I looked about at the disorderly traces in the mud, and I thought of the
drops of rain and the footprints of an extinct creature, hoary ages upon
ages old, that geologists have identified on the face of a cliff; and
this speculation came over me: If this mud could petrify at this moment,
and could lie concealed here for ten thousand years, I wonder whether the
race of men then to be our successors on the earth could, from these or
any marks, by the utmost force of the human intellect, unassisted by
tradition, deduce such an astounding inference as the existence of a
polished state of society that bore with the public savagery of neglected
children in the streets of its capital city, and was proud of its power
by sea and land, and never used its power to seize and save them!

After this, when I came to the Old Bailey and glanced up it towards
Newgate, I found that the prison had an inconsistent look.  There seemed
to be some unlucky inconsistency in the atmosphere that day; for though
the proportions of St. Paul’s Cathedral are very beautiful, it had an air
of being somewhat out of drawing, in my eyes.  I felt as though the cross
were too high up, and perched upon the intervening golden ball too far
away.

Facing eastward, I left behind me Smithfield and Old Bailey,—fire and
faggot, condemned hold, public hanging, whipping through the city at the
cart-tail, pillory, branding-iron, and other beautiful ancestral
landmarks, which rude hands have rooted up, without bringing the stars
quite down upon us as yet,—and went my way upon my beat, noting how oddly
characteristic neighbourhoods are divided from one another, hereabout, as
though by an invisible line across the way.  Here shall cease the bankers
and the money-changers; here shall begin the shipping interest and the
nautical-instrument shops; here shall follow a scarcely perceptible
flavouring of groceries and drugs; here shall come a strong infusion of
butchers; now, small hosiers shall be in the ascendant; henceforth,
everything exposed for sale shall have its ticketed price attached.  All
this as if specially ordered and appointed.

A single stride at Houndsditch Church, no wider than sufficed to cross
the kennel at the bottom of the Canon-gate, which the debtors in Holyrood
sanctuary were wont to relieve their minds by skipping over, as Scott
relates, and standing in delightful daring of catchpoles on the free
side,—a single stride, and everything is entirely changed in grain and
character.  West of the stride, a table, or a chest of drawers on sale,
shall be of mahogany and French-polished; east of the stride, it shall be
of deal, smeared with a cheap counterfeit resembling lip-salve.  West of
the stride, a penny loaf or bun shall be compact and self-contained; east
of the stride, it shall be of a sprawling and splay-footed character, as
seeking to make more of itself for the money.  My beat lying round by
Whitechapel Church, and the adjacent sugar-refineries,—great buildings,
tier upon tier, that have the appearance of being nearly related to the
dock-warehouses at Liverpool,—I turned off to my right, and, passing
round the awkward corner on my left, came suddenly on an apparition
familiar to London streets afar off.

What London peripatetic of these times has not seen the woman who has
fallen forward, double, through some affection of the spine, and whose
head has of late taken a turn to one side, so that it now droops over the
back of one of her arms at about the wrist?  Who does not know her staff,
and her shawl, and her basket, as she gropes her way along, capable of
seeing nothing but the pavement, never begging, never stopping, for ever
going somewhere on no business?  How does she live, whence does she come,
whither does she go, and why?  I mind the time when her yellow arms were
naught but bone and parchment.  Slight changes steal over her; for there
is a shadowy suggestion of human skin on them now.  The Strand may be
taken as the central point about which she revolves in a half-mile orbit.
How comes she so far east as this?  And coming back too!  Having been how
much farther?  She is a rare spectacle in this neighbourhood.  I receive
intelligent information to this effect from a dog—a lop-sided mongrel
with a foolish tail, plodding along with his tail up, and his ears
pricked, and displaying an amiable interest in the ways of his
fellow-men,—if I may be allowed the expression.  After pausing at a
pork-shop, he is jogging eastward like myself, with a benevolent
countenance and a watery mouth, as though musing on the many excellences
of pork, when he beholds this doubled-up bundle approaching.  He is not
so much astonished at the bundle (though amazed by that), as the
circumstance that it has within itself the means of locomotion.  He
stops, pricks his ears higher, makes a slight point, stares, utters a
short, low growl, and glistens at the nose,—as I conceive with terror.
The bundle continuing to approach, he barks, turns tail, and is about to
fly, when, arguing with himself that flight is not becoming in a dog, he
turns, and once more faces the advancing heap of clothes.  After much
hesitation, it occurs to him that there may be a face in it somewhere.
Desperately resolving to undertake the adventure, and pursue the inquiry,
he goes slowly up to the bundle, goes slowly round it, and coming at
length upon the human countenance down there where never human
countenance should be, gives a yelp of horror, and flies for the East
India Docks.

Being now in the Commercial Road district of my beat, and bethinking
myself that Stepney Station is near, I quicken my pace that I may turn
out of the road at that point, and see how my small eastern star is
shining.

The Children’s Hospital, to which I gave that name, is in full force.
All its beds are occupied.  There is a new face on the bed where my
pretty baby lay, and that sweet little child is now at rest for ever.
Much kind sympathy has been here since my former visit, and it is good to
see the walls profusely garnished with dolls.  I wonder what Poodles may
think of them, as they stretch out their arms above the beds, and stare,
and display their splendid dresses.  Poodles has a greater interest in
the patients.  I find him making the round of the beds, like a
house-surgeon, attended by another dog,—a friend,—who appears to trot
about with him in the character of his pupil dresser.  Poodles is anxious
to make me known to a pretty little girl looking wonderfully healthy, who
had had a leg taken off for cancer of the knee.  A difficult operation,
Poodles intimates, wagging his tail on the counterpane, but perfectly
successful, as you see, dear sir!  The patient, patting Poodles, adds
with a smile, ‘The leg was so much trouble to me, that I am glad it’s
gone.’  I never saw anything in doggery finer than the deportment of
Poodles, when another little girl opens her mouth to show a peculiar
enlargement of the tongue.  Poodles (at that time on a table, to be on a
level with the occasion) looks at the tongue (with his own
sympathetically out) so very gravely and knowingly, that I feel inclined
to put my hand in my waistcoat-pocket, and give him a guinea, wrapped in
paper.

On my beat again, and close to Limehouse Church, its termination, I found
myself near to certain ‘Lead-Mills.’  Struck by the name, which was fresh
in my memory, and finding, on inquiry, that these same lead-mills were
identified with those same lead-mills of which I made mention when I
first visited the East London Children’s Hospital and its neighbourhood
as Uncommercial Traveller, I resolved to have a look at them.

Received by two very intelligent gentlemen, brothers, and partners with
their father in the concern, and who testified every desire to show their
works to me freely, I went over the lead-mills.  The purport of such
works is the conversion of pig-lead into white-lead.  This conversion is
brought about by the slow and gradual effecting of certain successive
chemical changes in the lead itself.  The processes are picturesque and
interesting,—the most so, being the burying of the lead, at a certain
stage of preparation, in pots, each pot containing a certain quantity of
acid besides, and all the pots being buried in vast numbers, in layers,
under tan, for some ten weeks.

Hopping up ladders, and across planks, and on elevated perches, until I
was uncertain whether to liken myself to a bird or a brick-layer, I
became conscious of standing on nothing particular, looking down into one
of a series of large cocklofts, with the outer day peeping in through the
chinks in the tiled roof above.  A number of women were ascending to, and
descending from, this cockloft, each carrying on the upward journey a pot
of prepared lead and acid, for deposition under the smoking tan.  When
one layer of pots was completely filled, it was carefully covered in with
planks, and those were carefully covered with tan again, and then another
layer of pots was begun above; sufficient means of ventilation being
preserved through wooden tubes.  Going down into the cockloft then
filling, I found the heat of the tan to be surprisingly great, and also
the odour of the lead and acid to be not absolutely exquisite, though I
believe not noxious at that stage.  In other cocklofts, where the pots
were being exhumed, the heat of the steaming tan was much greater, and
the smell was penetrating and peculiar.  There were cocklofts in all
stages; full and empty, half filled and half emptied; strong, active
women were clambering about them busily; and the whole thing had rather
the air of the upper part of the house of some immensely rich old Turk,
whose faithful seraglio were hiding his money because the sultan or the
pasha was coming.

As is the case with most pulps or pigments, so in the instance of this
white-lead, processes of stirring, separating, washing, grinding,
rolling, and pressing succeed.  Some of these are unquestionably inimical
to health, the danger arising from inhalation of particles of lead, or
from contact between the lead and the touch, or both.  Against these
dangers, I found good respirators provided (simply made of flannel and
muslin, so as to be inexpensively renewed, and in some instances washed
with scented soap), and gauntlet gloves, and loose gowns.  Everywhere,
there was as much fresh air as windows, well placed and opened, could
possibly admit.  And it was explained that the precaution of frequently
changing the women employed in the worst parts of the work (a precaution
originating in their own experience or apprehension of its ill effects)
was found salutary.  They had a mysterious and singular appearance, with
the mouth and nose covered, and the loose gown on, and yet bore out the
simile of the old Turk and the seraglio all the better for the disguise.

At last this vexed white-lead, having been buried and resuscitated, and
heated and cooled and stirred, and separated and washed and ground, and
rolled and pressed, is subjected to the action of intense fiery heat.  A
row of women, dressed as above described, stood, let us say, in a large
stone bakehouse, passing on the baking-dishes as they were given out by
the cooks, from hand to hand, into the ovens.  The oven, or stove, cold
as yet, looked as high as an ordinary house, and was full of men and
women on temporary footholds, briskly passing up and stowing away the
dishes.  The door of another oven, or stove, about to be cooled and
emptied, was opened from above, for the uncommercial countenance to peer
down into.  The uncommercial countenance withdrew itself, with expedition
and a sense of suffocation, from the dull-glowing heat and the
overpowering smell.  On the whole, perhaps the going into these stoves to
work, when they are freshly opened, may be the worst part of the
occupation.

But I made it out to be indubitable that the owners of these lead-mills
honestly and sedulously try to reduce the dangers of the occupation to
the lowest point.

A washing-place is provided for the women (I thought there might have
been more towels), and a room in which they hang their clothes, and take
their meals, and where they have a good fire-range and fire, and a female
attendant to help them, and to watch that they do not neglect the
cleansing of their hands before touching their food.  An experienced
medical attendant is provided for them, and any premonitory symptoms of
lead-poisoning are carefully treated.  Their teapots and such things were
set out on tables ready for their afternoon meal, when I saw their room;
and it had a homely look.  It is found that they bear the work much
better than men: some few of them have been at it for years, and the
great majority of those I observed were strong and active.  On the other
hand, it should be remembered that most of them are very capricious and
irregular in their attendance.

American inventiveness would seem to indicate that before very long
white-lead may be made entirely by machinery.  The sooner, the better.
In the meantime, I parted from my two frank conductors over the mills, by
telling them that they had nothing there to be concealed, and nothing to
be blamed for.  As to the rest, the philosophy of the matter of
lead-poisoning and workpeople seems to me to have been pretty fairly
summed up by the Irishwoman whom I quoted in my former paper: ‘Some of
them gets lead-pisoned soon, and some of them gets lead-pisoned later,
and some, but not many, niver; and ’tis all according to the
constitooshun, sur; and some constitooshuns is strong and some is weak.’
Retracing my footsteps over my beat, I went off duty.



XXXVI
A FLY-LEAF IN A LIFE


ONCE upon a time (no matter when), I was engaged in a pursuit (no matter
what), which could be transacted by myself alone; in which I could have
no help; which imposed a constant strain on the attention, memory,
observation, and physical powers; and which involved an almost fabulous
amount of change of place and rapid railway travelling.  I had followed
this pursuit through an exceptionally trying winter in an always trying
climate, and had resumed it in England after but a brief repose.  Thus it
came to be prolonged until, at length—and, as it seemed, all of a
sudden—it so wore me out that I could not rely, with my usual cheerful
confidence, upon myself to achieve the constantly recurring task, and
began to feel (for the first time in my life) giddy, jarred, shaken,
faint, uncertain of voice and sight and tread and touch, and dull of
spirit.  The medical advice I sought within a few hours, was given in two
words: ‘instant rest.’  Being accustomed to observe myself as curiously
as if I were another man, and knowing the advice to meet my only need, I
instantly halted in the pursuit of which I speak, and rested.

My intention was, to interpose, as it were, a fly-leaf in the book of my
life, in which nothing should be written from without for a brief season
of a few weeks.  But some very singular experiences recorded themselves
on this same fly-leaf, and I am going to relate them literally.  I repeat
the word: literally.

My first odd experience was of the remarkable coincidence between my
case, in the general mind, and one Mr. Merdle’s as I find it recorded in
a work of fiction called LITTLE DORRIT.  To be sure, Mr. Merdle was a
swindler, forger, and thief, and my calling had been of a less harmful
(and less remunerative) nature; but it was all one for that.

Here is Mr. Merdle’s case:

‘At first, he was dead of all the diseases that ever were known, and of
several bran-new maladies invented with the speed of Light to meet the
demand of the occasion.  He had concealed a dropsy from infancy, he had
inherited a large estate of water on the chest from his grandfather, he
had had an operation performed upon him every morning of his life for
eighteen years, he had been subject to the explosion of important veins
in his body after the manner of fireworks, he had had something the
matter with his lungs, he had had something the matter with his heart, he
had had something the matter with his brain.  Five hundred people who sat
down to breakfast entirely uninformed on the whole subject, believed
before they had done breakfast, that they privately and personally knew
Physician to have said to Mr. Merdle, “You must expect to go out, some
day, like the snuff of a candle;” and that they knew Mr. Merdle to have
said to Physician, “A man can die but once.”  By about eleven o’clock in
the forenoon, something the matter with the brain, became the favourite
theory against the field; and by twelve the something had been distinctly
ascertained to be “Pressure.”

‘Pressure was so entirely satisfactory to the public mind, and seemed to
make every one so comfortable, that it might have lasted all day but for
Bar’s having taken the real state of the case into Court at half-past
nine.  Pressure, however, so far from being overthrown by the discovery,
became a greater favourite than ever.  There was a general moralising
upon Pressure, in every street.  All the people who had tried to make
money and had not been able to do it, said, There you were!  You no
sooner began to devote yourself to the pursuit of wealth, than you got
Pressure.  The idle people improved the occasion in a similar manner.
See, said they, what you brought yourself to by work, work, work!  You
persisted in working, you overdid it, Pressure came on, and you were done
for!  This consideration was very potent in many quarters, but nowhere
more so than among the young clerks and partners who had never been in
the slightest danger of overdoing it.  These, one and all declared, quite
piously, that they hoped they would never forget the warning as long as
they lived, and that their conduct might be so regulated as to keep off
Pressure, and preserve them, a comfort to their friends, for many years.’

Just my case—if I had only known it—when I was quietly basking in the
sunshine in my Kentish meadow!

But while I so rested, thankfully recovering every hour, I had
experiences more odd than this.  I had experiences of spiritual conceit,
for which, as giving me a new warning against that curse of mankind, I
shall always feel grateful to the supposition that I was too far gone to
protest against playing sick lion to any stray donkey with an itching
hoof.  All sorts of people seemed to become vicariously religious at my
expense.  I received the most uncompromising warning that I was a
Heathen: on the conclusive authority of a field preacher, who, like the
most of his ignorant and vain and daring class, could not construct a
tolerable sentence in his native tongue or pen a fair letter.  This
inspired individual called me to order roundly, and knew in the freest
and easiest way where I was going to, and what would become of me if I
failed to fashion myself on his bright example, and was on terms of
blasphemous confidence with the Heavenly Host.  He was in the secrets of
my heart, and in the lowest soundings of my soul—he!—and could read the
depths of my nature better than his A B C, and could turn me inside out,
like his own clammy glove.  But what is far more extraordinary than
this—for such dirty water as this could alone be drawn from such a
shallow and muddy source—I found from the information of a beneficed
clergyman, of whom I never heard and whom I never saw, that I had not, as
I rather supposed I had, lived a life of some reading, contemplation, and
inquiry; that I had not studied, as I rather supposed I had, to inculcate
some Christian lessons in books; that I had never tried, as I rather
supposed I had, to turn a child or two tenderly towards the knowledge and
love of our Saviour; that I had never had, as I rather supposed I had
had, departed friends, or stood beside open graves; but that I had lived
a life of ‘uninterrupted prosperity,’ and that I needed this ‘check,
overmuch,’ and that the way to turn it to account was to read these
sermons and these poems, enclosed, and written and issued by my
correspondent!  I beg it may be understood that I relate facts of my own
uncommercial experience, and no vain imaginings.  The documents in proof
lie near my hand.

Another odd entry on the fly-leaf, of a more entertaining character, was
the wonderful persistency with which kind sympathisers assumed that I had
injuriously coupled with the so suddenly relinquished pursuit, those
personal habits of mine most obviously incompatible with it, and most
plainly impossible of being maintained, along with it.  As, all that
exercise, all that cold bathing, all that wind and weather, all that
uphill training—all that everything else, say, which is usually carried
about by express trains in a portmanteau and hat-box, and partaken of
under a flaming row of gas-lights in the company of two thousand people.
This assuming of a whole case against all fact and likelihood, struck me
as particularly droll, and was an oddity of which I certainly had had no
adequate experience in life until I turned that curious fly-leaf.

My old acquaintances the begging-letter writers came out on the fly-leaf,
very piously indeed.  They were glad, at such a serious crisis, to afford
me another opportunity of sending that Post-office order.  I needn’t make
it a pound, as previously insisted on; ten shillings might ease my mind.
And Heaven forbid that they should refuse, at such an insignificant
figure, to take a weight off the memory of an erring fellow-creature!
One gentleman, of an artistic turn (and copiously illustrating the books
of the Mendicity Society), thought it might soothe my conscience, in the
tender respect of gifts misused, if I would immediately cash up in aid of
his lowly talent for original design—as a specimen of which he enclosed
me a work of art which I recognized as a tracing from a woodcut
originally published in the late Mrs. Trollope’s book on America, forty
or fifty years ago.  The number of people who were prepared to live long
years after me, untiring benefactors to their species, for fifty pounds
apiece down, was astonishing.  Also, of those who wanted bank-notes for
stiff penitential amounts, to give away:—not to keep, on any account.

Divers wonderful medicines and machines insinuated recommendations of
themselves into the fly-leaf that was to have been so blank.  It was
specially observable that every prescriber, whether in a moral or
physical direction, knew me thoroughly—knew me from head to heel, in and
out, through and through, upside down.  I was a glass piece of general
property, and everybody was on the most surprisingly intimate terms with
me.  A few public institutions had complimentary perceptions of corners
in my mind, of which, after considerable self-examination, I have not
discovered any indication.  Neat little printed forms were addressed to
those corners, beginning with the words: ‘I give and bequeath.’

Will it seem exaggerative to state my belief that the most honest, the
most modest, and the least vain-glorious of all the records upon this
strange fly-leaf, was a letter from the self-deceived discoverer of the
recondite secret ‘how to live four or five hundred years’?  Doubtless it
will seem so, yet the statement is not exaggerative by any means, but is
made in my serious and sincere conviction.  With this, and with a laugh
at the rest that shall not be cynical, I turn the Fly-leaf, and go on
again.



XXXVII
A PLEA FOR TOTAL ABSTINENCE


ONE day this last Whitsuntide, at precisely eleven o’clock in the
forenoon, there suddenly rode into the field of view commanded by the
windows of my lodging an equestrian phenomenon.  It was a fellow-creature
on horseback, dressed in the absurdest manner.  The fellow-creature wore
high boots; some other (and much larger) fellow-creature’s breeches, of a
slack-baked doughy colour and a baggy form; a blue shirt, whereof the
skirt, or tail, was puffily tucked into the waist-band of the said
breeches; no coat; a red shoulder-belt; and a demi-semi-military scarlet
hat, with a feathered ornament in front, which, to the uninstructed human
vision, had the appearance of a moulting shuttlecock.  I laid down the
newspaper with which I had been occupied, and surveyed the fellow-man in
question with astonishment.  Whether he had been sitting to any painter
as a frontispiece for a new edition of ‘Sartor Resartus;’ whether ‘the
husk or shell of him,’ as the esteemed Herr Teufelsdroch might put it,
were founded on a jockey, on a circus, on General Garibaldi, on cheap
porcelain, on a toy shop, on Guy Fawkes, on waxwork, on gold-digging, on
Bedlam, or on all,—were doubts that greatly exercised my mind.
Meanwhile, my fellow-man stumbled and slided, excessively against his
will, on the slippery stones of my Covent-garden street, and elicited
shrieks from several sympathetic females, by convulsively restraining
himself from pitching over his horse’s head.  In the very crisis of these
evolutions, and indeed at the trying moment when his charger’s tail was
in a tobacconist’s shop, and his head anywhere about town, this cavalier
was joined by two similar portents, who, likewise stumbling and sliding,
caused him to stumble and slide the more distressingly.  At length this
Gilpinian triumvirate effected a halt, and, looking northward, waved
their three right hands as commanding unseen troops, to ‘Up, guards! and
at ’em.’  Hereupon a brazen band burst forth, which caused them to be
instantly bolted with to some remote spot of earth in the direction of
the Surrey Hills.

Judging from these appearances that a procession was under way, I threw
up my window, and, craning out, had the satisfaction of beholding it
advancing along the streets.  It was a Teetotal procession, as I learnt
from its banners, and was long enough to consume twenty minutes in
passing.  There were a great number of children in it, some of them so
very young in their mothers’ arms as to be in the act of practically
exemplifying their abstinence from fermented liquors, and attachment to
an unintoxicating drink, while the procession defiled.  The display was,
on the whole, pleasant to see, as any good-humoured holiday assemblage of
clean, cheerful, and well-conducted people should be.  It was bright with
ribbons, tinsel, and shoulder-belts, and abounded in flowers, as if those
latter trophies had come up in profusion under much watering.  The day
being breezy, the insubordination of the large banners was very
reprehensible.  Each of these being borne aloft on two poles and stayed
with some half-dozen lines, was carried, as polite books in the last
century used to be written, by ‘various hands,’ and the anxiety expressed
in the upturned faces of those officers,—something between the anxiety
attendant on the balancing art, and that inseparable from the pastime of
kite-flying, with a touch of the angler’s quality in landing his scaly
prey,—much impressed me.  Suddenly, too, a banner would shiver in the
wind, and go about in the most inconvenient manner.  This always happened
oftenest with such gorgeous standards as those representing a gentleman
in black, corpulent with tea and water, in the laudable act of summarily
reforming a family, feeble and pinched with beer.  The gentleman in black
distended by wind would then conduct himself with the most unbecoming
levity, while the beery family, growing beerier, would frantically try to
tear themselves away from his ministration.  Some of the inscriptions
accompanying the banners were of a highly determined character, as ‘We
never, never will give up the temperance cause,’ with similar sound
resolutions rather suggestive to the profane mind of Mrs. Micawber’s ‘I
never will desert Mr. Micawber,’ and of Mr. Micawber’s retort, ‘Really,
my dear, I am not aware that you were ever required by any human being to
do anything of the sort.’

At intervals, a gloom would fall on the passing members of the
procession, for which I was at first unable to account.  But this I
discovered, after a little observation, to be occasioned by the coming on
of the executioners,—the terrible official beings who were to make the
speeches by-and-by,—who were distributed in open carriages at various
points of the cavalcade.  A dark cloud and a sensation of dampness, as
from many wet blankets, invariably preceded the rolling on of the
dreadful cars containing these headsmen; and I noticed that the wretched
people who closely followed them, and who were in a manner forced to
contemplate their folded arms, complacent countenances, and threatening
lips, were more overshadowed by the cloud and damp than those in front.
Indeed, I perceived in some of these so moody an implacability towards
the magnates of the scaffold, and so plain a desire to tear them limb
from limb, that I would respectfully suggest to the managers the
expediency of conveying the executioners to the scene of their dismal
labours by unfrequented ways, and in closely-tilted carts, next
Whitsuntide.

The procession was composed of a series of smaller processions, which had
come together, each from its own metropolitan district.  An infusion of
allegory became perceptible when patriotic Peckham advanced.  So I
judged, from the circumstance of Peckham’s unfurling a silken banner that
fanned heaven and earth with the words, ‘The Peckham Lifeboat.’  No boat
being in attendance, though life, in the likeness of ‘a gallant, gallant
crew,’ in nautical uniform, followed the flag, I was led to meditate on
the fact that Peckham is described by geographers as an inland
settlement, with no larger or nearer shore-line than the towing-path of
the Surrey Canal, on which stormy station I had been given to understand
no lifeboat exists.  Thus I deduced an allegorical meaning, and came to
the conclusion, that if patriotic Peckham picked a peck of pickled
poetry, this _was_ the peck of pickled poetry which patriotic Peckham
picked.

I have observed that the aggregate procession was on the whole pleasant
to see.  I made use of that qualified expression with a direct meaning,
which I will now explain.  It involves the title of this paper, and a
little fair trying of teetotalism by its own tests.  There were many
people on foot, and many people in vehicles of various kinds.  The former
were pleasant to see, and the latter were not pleasant to see; for the
reason that I never, on any occasion or under any circumstances, have
beheld heavier overloading of horses than in this public show.  Unless
the imposition of a great van laden with from ten to twenty people on a
single horse be a moderate tasking of the poor creature, then the
temperate use of horses was immoderate and cruel.  From the smallest and
lightest horse to the largest and heaviest, there were many instances in
which the beast of burden was so shamefully overladen, that the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have frequently interposed in
less gross cases.

Now, I have always held that there may be, and that there unquestionably
is, such a thing as use without abuse, and that therefore the total
abolitionists are irrational and wrong-headed.  But the procession
completely converted me.  For so large a number of the people using
draught-horses in it were so clearly unable to use them without abusing
them, that I perceived total abstinence from horseflesh to be the only
remedy of which the case admitted.  As it is all one to teetotalers
whether you take half a pint of beer or half a gallon, so it was all one
here whether the beast of burden were a pony or a cart-horse.  Indeed, my
case had the special strength that the half-pint quadruped underwent as
much suffering as the half-gallon quadruped.  Moral: total abstinence
from horseflesh through the whole length and breadth of the scale.  This
pledge will be in course of administration to all teetotal
processionists, not pedestrians, at the publishing office of ‘All the
Year Round,’ on the 1st day of April, 1870.

Observe a point for consideration.  This procession comprised many
persons in their gigs, broughams, tax-carts, barouches, chaises, and what
not, who were merciful to the dumb beasts that drew them, and did not
overcharge their strength.  What is to be done with those unoffending
persons?  I will not run amuck and vilify and defame them, as teetotal
tracts and platforms would most assuredly do, if the question were one of
drinking instead of driving: I merely ask what is to be done with them!
The reply admits of no dispute whatever.  Manifestly, in strict
accordance with teetotal doctrines, THEY must come in too, and take the
total abstinence from horseflesh pledge.  It is not pretended that those
members of the procession misused certain auxiliaries which in most
countries and all ages have been bestowed upon man for his use, but it is
undeniable that other members of the procession did.  Teetotal
mathematics demonstrate that the less includes the greater; that the
guilty include the innocent, the blind the seeing, the deaf the hearing,
the dumb the speaking, the drunken the sober.  If any of the moderate
users of draught-cattle in question should deem that there is any gentle
violence done to their reason by these elements of logic, they are
invited to come out of the procession next Whitsuntide, and look at it
from my window.



FOOTNOTES.


{188}  After this Uncommercial Journey was printed, I happened to mention
the experience it describes to Lord Houghton.  That gentleman then showed
me an article of his writing, in _The Edinburgh Review_ for January,
1862, which is highly remarkable for its philosophical and literary
research concerning these Latter-Day Saints.  I find in it the following
sentences:—‘The Select Committee of the House of Commons on emigrant
ships for 1854 summoned the Mormon agent and passenger-broker before it,
and came to the conclusion that no ships under the provisions of the
“Passengers Act” could be depended upon for comfort and security in the
same degree as those under his administration. The Mormon ship is a
Family under strong and accepted discipline, with every provision for
comfort, decorum and internal peace.’





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Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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