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COPYRIGHT 2013 International Education Institute,
ATTN: Ken Harvey, 2027 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick
WA 99336, USA
THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS
by Jack London
THE EXPERIENCES RELATED in this volume fell to me in the summer of 1902. I went down into the under-world of London with an attitude of mind which I may best liken to that of the explorer. I was open to be convinced by the evidence of my eyes, rather than by the teachings of those who had not seen, or by the words of those who had seen and gone before. Further, I took with me certain simple criteria with which to measure the life of the under-world. That which made for more life, for physical and spiritual health, was good; that which made for less life, which hurt, and dwarfed, and distorted life, was bad.
It will be readily apparent to the reader that I saw much that was bad. Yet it must not be forgotten that the time of which I write was considered 'good times' in England. The starvation and lack of shelter I encountered constituted a chronic condition of misery which is never wiped out, even in the periods of greatest prosperity.
Following the summer in question came a hard winter. To such an extent did the suffering and positive starvation increase that society was unable to cope with it. Great numbers of the unemployed formed into processions, as many as a dozen at a time, and daily marched through the streets of London crying for bread. Mr. Justin McCarthy, writing in the month of January, 1903, to the New York Independent, briefly epitomizes the situation as follows:-
'The workhouses have no space left in which to pack the starving crowds who are craving every day and night at their doors for food and shelter. All the charitable institutions have exhausted their means in trying to raise supplies of food for the famishing residents of the garrets and cellars of London lanes and alleys. The quarters of the Salvation Army in various parts of London are nightly besieged by hosts of the unemployed and the hungry for whom neither shelter nor the means of sustenance can be provided.'
It has been urged that the criticism I have passed on things as they are in England is too pessimistic. I must say, in extenuation, that of optimists I am the most optimistic. But I measure manhood less by political aggregations than by individuals. Society grows, while political machines rack to pieces and become 'scrap.' For the English, so far as manhood and womanhood and health and happiness go, I see a broad and smiling future. But for a great deal of the political machinery, which at present mismanages for them, I see nothing else than the scrap heap.
Christ look upon us in this city,
And keep our sympathy and pity
Fresh, and our faces heavenward,
Lest we grow hard.
'BUT YOU CAN'T DO IT, you know,' friends said, to whom I applied for assistance in the matter of sinking myself down into the East End of London. 'You had better see the police for a guide,' they added, on second thought, painfully endeavoring to adjust themselves to the psychological processes of a madman who had come to them with better credentials than brains.
'But I don't want to see the police,' I protested. 'What I wish to do, is to go down into the East End and see things for myself. I wish to know how those people are living there, and why they are living there, and what they are living for. In short, I am going to live there myself.'
'You don't want to live down there!' everybody said, with disapprobation writ large upon their faces. 'Why, it is said there places where a man's life isn't worth tu'pence.'
'The very places I wish to see,' I broke in.
'But you can't, you know,' was the unfailing rejoinder.
'Which is not what I came to see you about,' I answered brusquely, somewhat nettled by their incomprehension. 'I am a stranger here, and I want you to tell me what you know of the East End, in order that I may have something to start on.'
'But we know nothing of the East End. It is over there, somewhere.' And they waved their hands vaguely in the direction where the sun on rare occasions may be seen to rise.
'Then I shall go to Cook's,' I announced.
'Oh, yes,' they said, with relief. 'Cook's will be sure to know.'
But O Cook, O Thomas Cook & Son, pathfinders and trail-clearers, living sign-posts to all the world and bestowers of first aid to bewildered travellers- unhesitatingly and instantly, with ease and celerity, could you send me to Darkest Africa or Innermost Thibet, but to the East End of London, barely a stone's throw distant from Ludgate Circus, you know not the way!
'You can't do it, you know,' said the human emporium of routes and fares at Cook's Cheapside branch. 'It is so- ahem- so unusual.'
'Consult the police,' he concluded authoritatively, when I persisted. 'We are not accustomed to taking travellers to the East End; we receive no call to take them there, and we know nothing whatsoever about the place at all.'
'Never mind that,' I interposed, to save myself from being swept out of the office by his flood of negations. 'Here's something you can do for me. I wish you to understand in advance what I intend doing, so that in case of trouble you may be able to identify me.'
'Ah, I see; should you be murdered, we would be in position to identify the corpse.'
He said it so cheerfully and cold-bloodedly that on the instant I saw my stark and mutilated cadaver stretched upon a slab where cool waters trickle ceaselessly, and him I saw bending over and sadly and patiently identifying it as the body of the insane American who would see the East End.
'No, no,' I answered; 'merely to identify me in case I get into a scrape with the "bobbies."' This last I said with a thrill; truly, I was gripping hold of the vernacular.
'That,' he said, 'is a matter for the consideration of the Chief Office.'
'It is so unprecedented, you know,' he added apologetically.
The man at the Chief Office hemmed and hawed. 'We make it a rule,' he explained, 'to give no information concerning our clients.'
'But in this case,' I urged, 'it is the client who requests you to give the information concerning himself.'
Again he hemmed and hawed.
'Of course,' I hastily anticipated, 'I know it is unprecedented, but-'
'As I was about to remark,' he went on steadily, 'it is unprecedented, and I don't think we can do anything for you.'
However, I departed with the address of a detective who lived in the East End, and took my way to the American consul-general. And here, at last, I found a man with whom I could 'do business.' There was no hemming and hawing, no lifted brows, open incredulity, or blank amazement. In one minute I explained myself and my project, which he accepted as a matter of course. In the second minute he asked my age, height, and weight, and looked me over. And in the third minute, as we shook hands at parting, he said: 'All right, Jack. I'll remember you and keep track.'
I breathed a sigh of relief. Having built my ships behind me, I was now free to plunge into that human wilderness of which nobody seemed to know anything. But at once I encountered a new difficulty in the shape of my cabby, a gray-whiskered and eminently decorous personage, who had imperturbably driven me for several hours about the 'City.'
'Drive me down to the East End,' I ordered, taking my seat.
'Where, sir?' he demanded with frank surprise.
'To the East End, anywhere. Go on.'
The hansom pursued an aimless way for several minutes, then came to a puzzled stop. The aperture above my head was uncovered, and the cabman peered down perplexedly at me.
'I say,' he said, 'wot plyce yer wanter go?'
'East End,' I repeated. 'Nowhere in particular. Just drive me around, anywhere.'
'But wot's the haddress, sir?'
'See here!' I thundered. 'Drive me down to the East End, and at once!'
It was evident that he did not understand, but he withdrew his head and grumblingly started his horse.
Nowhere in the streets of London may one escape the sight of abject poverty, while five minutes' walk from almost any point will bring one to a slum; but the region my hansom was now penetrating was one unending slum. The streets were filled with a new and different race of people, short of stature, and of wretched or beer-sodden appearance. We rolled along through miles of bricks and squalor, and from each cross street and alley flashed long vistas of bricks and misery. Here and there lurched a drunken man or woman, and the air was obscene with sounds of jangling and squabbling. At a market, tottery old men and women were searching in the garbage thrown in the mud for rotten potatoes, beans, and vegetables, while little children clustered like flies around a festering mass of fruit, thrusting their arms to the shoulders into the liquid corruption, and drawing forth morsels, but partially decayed, which they devoured on the spot.
Not a hansom did I meet with in all my drive, while mine was like an apparition from another and better world, the way the children ran after it and alongside. And as far as I could see were the solid walls of brick, the slimy pavements, and the screaming streets; and for the first time in my life the fear of the crowd smote me. It was like the fear of the sea; and the miserable multitudes, street upon street, seemed so many waves of a vast and malodorous sea, lapping about me and threatening to well up and over me.
'Stepney, sir; Stepney Station,' the cabby called down.
I looked about. It was really a railroad station, and he had driven desperately to it as the one familiar spot he had ever heard of in all that wilderness.
'Well?' I said.
He spluttered unintelligibly, shook his head, and looked very miserable. 'I'm a strynger 'ere,' he managed to articulate. 'An' if yer don't want Stepney Station, I'm blessed if I know wotcher do want.'
'I'll tell you what I want,' I said. 'You drive along and keep your eye out for a shop where old clothes are sold. Now, when you see such a shop, drive right on till you turn the corner, then stop and let me out.'
I could see that he was growing dubious of his fare, but not long afterward he pulled up to the curb and informed me that an old clothes shop was to be found a bit of the way back.
'Won'tcher py me?' he pleaded. 'There's seven an' six owin' me.'
'Yes,' I laughed, 'and it would be the last I'd see of you.'
'Lord lumme, but it'll be the last I see of you if yer don't py me,' he retorted.
But a crowd of ragged onlookers had already gathered around the cab, and I laughed again and walked back to the old clothes shop.
Here the chief difficulty was in making the shopman understand that I really and truly wanted old clothes. But after fruitless attempts to press upon me new and impossible coats and trousers, he began to bring to light heaps of old ones, looking mysterious the while and hinting darkly. This he did with the palpable intention of letting me know that he had 'piped my lay,' in order to bulldoze me, through fear of exposure, into paying heavily for my purchases. A man in trouble, or a high-class criminal from across the water, was what he took my measure for- in either case, a person anxious to avoid the police.
But I disputed with him over the outrageous difference between prices and values, till I quite disabused him of the notion, and he settled down to drive a hard bargain with a hard customer. In the end I selected a pair of stout though well-worn trousers, a frayed jacket with one remaining button, a pair of brogans which had plainly seen service where coal was shovelled, a thin leather belt, and a very dirty cloth cap. My underclothing and socks, however, were new and warm, but of the sort that any American waif, down in his luck, could acquire in the ordinary course of events.
'I must sy yer a sharp 'un,' he said, with counterfeit admiration, as I handed over the ten shillings finally agreed upon for the outfit. 'Blimey, if you ain't ben up an' down Petticut Lane afore now. Yer trouseys is wuth five bob to hany man, an' a docker'ud give two an' six for the shoes, to sy nothin' of the coat an' cap an' new stoker's singlet an' hother things.'
'How much will you give me for them?' I demanded suddenly. 'I paid you ten bob for the lot, and I'll sell them back to you, right now, for eight. Come, it's a go!'
But he grinned and shook his head, and though I had made a good bargain, I was unpleasantly aware that he had made a better one.
I found the cabby and a policeman with their heads together, but the latter, after looking me over sharply and particularly scrutinizing the bundle under my arm, turned away and left the cabby to wax mutinous by himself. And not a step would he budge till I paid him the seven shillings and sixpence owing him. Whereupon he was willing to drive me to the ends of the earth, apologizing profusely for his insistence, and explaining that one ran across queer customers in London Town.
But he drove me only to Highbury Vale, in North London, where my luggage was waiting for me. Here, next day, I took off my shoes (not without regret for their lightness and comfort), and my soft, gray travelling suit, and, in fact, all my clothing; and proceeded to array myself in the clothes of the other and unimaginable men, who must have been indeed unfortunate to have had to part with such rags for the pitiable sums obtainable from a dealer.
Inside my stoker's singlet, in the armpit, I sewed a gold sovereign (an emergency sum certainly of modest proportions); and inside my stoker's singlet I put myself. And then I sat down and moralized upon the fair years and fat, which had made my skin soft and brought the nerves close to the surface; for the singlet was rough and raspy as a hair shirt, and I am confident that the most rigorous of ascetics suffer no more than did I in the ensuing twenty-four hours.
The remainder of my costume was fairly easy to put on, though the brogans, or brogues, were quite a problem. As stiff and hard as if made of wood, it was only after a prolonged pounding of the uppers with my fists that I was able to get my feet into them at all. Then, with a few shillings, a knife, a handkerchief, and some brown papers and flake tobacco stowed away in my pockets, I thumped down the stairs and said good-by to my foreboding friends. As I passed out the door, the 'help,' a comely middle-aged woman, could not conquer a grin that twisted her lips and separated them till the throat, out of involuntary sympathy, made the uncouth animal noises we are wont to designate as 'laughter.'
No sooner was I out on the streets than I was impressed by the difference in status effected by my clothes. All servility vanished from demeanor of the common people with whom I came in contact. Presto! in the twinkling of an eye, so to say, I had become one of them. My frayed and out-at-elbows jacket was the badge and advertisement of my class, which was their class. It made me of like kind, and in place of the fawning and too-respectful attention I had hitherto received, I now shared with them a comradeship. The man in corduroy and dirty neckerchief no longer addressed me as 'sir' or 'governor.' It was 'mate,' now- and a fine and hearty word, with a tingle to it, and a warmth and gladness, which the other term does not possess. Governor! It smacks of mastery, and power, and high authority- the tribute of the man who is under to the man on top, delivered in the hope that he will let up a bit and ease his weight. Which is another way of saying that it is an appeal for alms.
This brings me to a delight I experienced in my rags and tatters which is denied the average American abroad. The European traveller from the States, who is not a Croesus, speedily finds himself reduced to a chronic state of self-conscious sordidness by the hordes of cringing robbers who clutter his steps from dawn till dark, and deplete his pocketbook in a way that puts compound interest to the blush.
In my rags and tatters I escaped the pestilence of tipping, and encountered men on a basis of equality. Nay, before the day was out I turned the tables, and said, most gratefully, 'Thank you, sir,' to a gentleman whose horse I held, and who dropped a penny into my eager palm.
Other changes I discovered were wrought in my condition by my new garb. In crossing crowded thoroughfares I found I had to be, if anything, more lively in avoiding vehicles, and it was strikingly impressed upon me that my life had cheapened in direct ratio with my clothes. When before, I inquired the way of a policeman, I was usually asked, 'Buss or 'ansom, sir?' But now the query became, 'Walk or ride?' Also, at the railway stations it was the rule to be asked, 'First or second, sir?' Now I was asked nothing, a third-class ticket being shoved out to me as a matter of course.
But there was compensation for it all. For the first time I met the English lower classes face to face, and knew them for what they were. When loungers and workmen, on street corners and in public houses, talked with me, they talked as one man to another, and they talked as natural men should talk, without the least idea of getting anything out of me for what they talked or the way they talked.
And when at last I made into the East End, I was gratified to find that the fear of the crowd no longer haunted me. I had become a part of it. The vast and malodorous sea had welled up and over me, or I had slipped gently into it, and there was nothing fearsome about it- with the one exception of the stoker's singlet.
The people live in squalid dens, where there can be no
health and no hope, but dogged discontent at their own
lot, and futile discontent at the wealth which they see
possessed by others.
I SHALL NOT GIVE YOU the address of Johnny Upright. Let it suffice that he lives on the most respectable street in the East End- a street that would be considered very mean in America, but a veritable oasis in the desert of East London. It is surrounded on every side by close-packed squalor and streets jammed by a young and vile and dirty generation; but its own pavements are comparatively bare of the children who have no other place to play, while it has an air of desertion, so few are the people that come and go.
Each house on this street, as on all the streets, is shoulder to shoulder with its neighbors. To each house there is but one entrance, the front door, and each house is about eighteen feet wide, with a bit of a brick-walled yard behind, where, when it is not raining, one may look at a slate-colored sky. But it must be understood that this is East End opulence we are now considering. Some of the people on this street are even so well-to-do as to keep a 'slavey.' Johnny Upright keeps one, as I well know, she being my first acquaintance in this particular portion of the world.
To Johnny Upright's house I came, and to the door came the 'slavey.' Now, mark you, her position in life was pitiable and contemptible, but it was with pity and contempt that she looked at me. She evinced a plain desire that our conversation should be short. It was Sunday, and Johnny Upright was not at home, and that was all there was to it. But I lingered, discussing whether or not it was all there was to it, till Mrs. Johnny Upright was attracted to the door, where she scolded the girl for not having closed it before turning her attention to me.
No, Mr. Johnny Upright was not at home, and further, he saw nobody on Sunday. It is too bad, said I. Was I looking for work? No, quite to the contrary; in fact, I had come to see Johnny Upright on business which might be profitable to him.
A change came over the face of things at once. The gentleman in question was at church, but would be home in an hour or thereabouts, when no doubt he could be seen.
Would I kindly step in?- no, the lady did not ask me, though I fished for an invitation by stating that I would go down to the corner and wait in a public house. And down to the corner I went, but, it being church time, the 'pub' was closed. A miserable drizzle was falling, and, in lieu of better, I took a seat on a neighborly doorstep and waited.
And here to the doorstep came the 'slavey,' very frowzy and very perplexed, to tell me that the missus would let me come back and wait in the kitchen.
'So many people come 'ere lookin' for work,' Mrs. Johnny Upright apologetically explained. 'So I 'ope you won't feel bad the way I spoke.'
'Not at all, not at all,' I replied, in my grandest manner, for the nonce investing my rags with dignity. 'I quite understand, I assure you. I suppose people looking for work almost worry you to death?'
'That they do,' she answered, with an eloquent and expressive glance; and thereupon ushered me into, not the kitchen, but the dining room- a favor, I took it, in recompense for my grand manner.
This dining room, on the same floor as the kitchen, was about four feet below the level of the ground, and so dark (it was midday) that I had to wait a space for my eyes to adjust themselves to the gloom. Dirty light filtered in through a window, the top of which was on a level with the sidewalk, and in this light I found that I was able to read newspaper print.
And here, while waiting the coming of Johnny Upright, let me explain my errand. While living, eating, and sleeping with the people of the East End, it was my intention to have a port of refuge, not too far distant, into which I could run now and again to assure myself that good clothes and cleanliness still existed. Also in such port I could receive my mail, work up my notes, and sally forth occasionally in changed garb to civilization.
But this involved a dilemma. A lodging where my property would be safe implied a landlady apt to be suspicious of a gentleman leading a double life; while a landlady who would not bother her head over the double life of her lodgers would imply lodgings where property was unsafe. To avoid the dilemma was what had brought me to Johnny Upright. A detective of thirty-odd years' continuous service in the East End, known far and wide by a name given him by a convicted felon in the dock, he was just the man to find me an honest landlady, and make her rest easy concerning the strange comings and goings of which I might be guilty.
His two daughters beat him home from church,- and pretty girls they were in their Sunday dresses, withal it was the certain weak and delicate prettiness which characterizes the Cockney lasses, a prettiness which is no more than a promise with no grip on time, and doomed to fade quickly away like the color from a sunset sky.
They looked me over with frank curiosity, as though I were some sort of a strange animal, and then ignored me utterly for the rest of my wait. Then Johnny Upright himself arrived, and I was summoned upstairs to confer with him.
'Speak loud,' he interrupted my opening words. 'I've got a bad cold, and I can't hear well.'
Shades of Old Sleuth and Sherlock Holmes! I wondered as to where the assistant was located whose duty it was to take down whatever information I might loudly vouchsafe. And to this day, much as I have seen of Johnny Upright and much as I have puzzled over the incident, I have never been quite able to make up my mind as to whether or not he had a cold, or had an assistant planted in the other room. But of one thing I am sure; though I gave Johnny Upright the facts concerning myself and project, he withheld judgment till next day, when I dodged into his street conventionally garbed and in a hansom. Then his greeting was cordial enough, and I went down into the dining room to join the family at tea.
'We are humble here,' he said, 'not given to the flesh, and you must take us for what we are, in our humble way.'
The girls were flushed and embarrassed at greeting me, while he did not make it any the easier for them.
'Ha! ha!' he roared heartily, slapping the table with his open hand till the dishes rang. 'The girls thought yesterday you had come to ask for a piece of bread! Ha! ha! ho! ho! ho!'
This they indignantly denied, with snapping eyes and guilty red cheeks, as though it were an essential of true refinement to be able to discern under his rags a man who had no need to go ragged.
And then, while I ate bread and marmalade, proceeded a play at cross purposes, the daughters deeming it an insult to me that I should have been mistaken for a beggar, and the father considering it as the highest compliment to my cleverness to succeed in being so mistaken. All of which I enjoyed, and the bread, the marmalade, and the tea, till the time came for Johnny Upright to find me a lodging, which he did, not half a dozen doors away, on his own respectable and opulent street, in a house as like to his own as a pea to its mate.
My Lodging and Some Others.
The poor, the poor, the poor, they stand,
Wedged by the pressing of Trade's hand,
Against an inward-opening door
That pressure tightens evermore;
They sigh a monstrous, foul-air sigh
For the outside leagues of liberty,
Where art, sweet lark, translates the sky
Into a heavenly melody.
FROM AN EAST LONDON standpoint, the room I rented for six shillings, or a dollar and a half, per week was a most comfortable affair. From the American standpoint, on the other hand, it was rudely furnished, uncomfortable, and small. By the time I had added an ordinary typewriter table to its scanty furnishing, I was hard put to turn around; at the best, I managed to navigate it by a sort of vermicular progression requiring great dexterity and presence of mind.
Having settled myself, or my property rather, I put on my knockabout clothes and went out for a walk. Lodgings being fresh in my mind, I began to look them up, bearing in mind the hypothesis that I was a poor young man with a wife and large family.
My first discovery was that empty houses were few and far between. So far between, in fact, that though I walked miles in irregular circles over a large area, I still remained between. Not one empty house could I find- a conclusive proof that the district was 'saturated.'
It being plain that as a poor young man with a family I could rent no houses at all in this most undesirable region, I next looked for rooms, unfurnished rooms, in which I could store my wife and babies and chattels. There were not many, but I found them, usually in the singular, for one appears to be considered sufficient for a poor man's family in which to cook and eat and sleep. When I asked for two rooms, the sublettees looked at me very much in the manner, I imagine, that a certain personage looked at Oliver Twist when he asked for more.
Not only was one room deemed sufficient for a poor man and his family, but I learned that many families, occupying single rooms, had so much space to spare as to be able to take in a lodger or two. When such rooms can be rented for from 75 cents to $1.50 per week, it is a fair conclusion that a lodger with references should obtain floor space for, say from 15 to 25 cents. He may even be able to board with the sublettees for a few shillings more. This, however, I failed to inquire into- a reprehensible error on my part, considering that I was working on the basis of a hypothetical family.
Not only did the houses I investigated have no bath-tubs, but I learned that there were no bath-tubs in all the thousands of houses I had seen. Under the circumstances, with my wife and babies and a couple of lodgers suffering from the too-great spaciousness of one room, taking a bath in a tin wash basin would be an unfeasible undertaking. But, it seems, the compensation comes in with the saving of soap, so all's well, and God's still in heaven. Besides, so beautiful is the adjustment of all things in this world, here in East London it rains nearly every day, and, willy-nilly, our baths would be on tap upon the street.
True, the sanitation of the places I visited was wretched. From the imperfect sewage and drainage, defective traps, poor ventilation, dampness, and general foulness, I might expect my wife and babies speedily to be attacked by diphtheria, croup, typhoid, erysipelas, blood poisoning, bronchitis, pneumonia, consumption, and various kindred disorders. Certainly the death-rate would be exceedingly high. But observe again the beauty of the adjustment. The most rational act for a poor man in East London with a large family is to get rid of it; the conditions in East London are such that they will get rid of the large family for him. Of course, there is the chance that he may perish in the process. Adjustment is not so apparent in this event; but it is there, somewhere, I am sure. And when discovered it will prove to be a very beautiful and subtle adjustment, or else the whole scheme goes awry and something is wrong.
However, I rented no rooms, but returned to my own in Johnny Upright's street. What with my wife, and babies, and lodgers, and the various cubbyholes into which I had fitted them, my mind's eye had become narrow-angled, and I could not quite take in all of my own room at once. The immensity of it was awe-inspiring. Could this be the room I had rented for six shillings a week? Impossible! But my landlady, knocking at the door to learn if I were comfortable, dispelled my doubts.
'Oh, yes, sir,' she said, in reply to a question. 'This street is the very last. All the other streets were like this eight or ten years ago, and all the people were very respectable. But the others have driven our kind out. Those on this street are the only ones left. It's shocking, sir!'
And then she explained the process of saturation, by which the rental value of a neighborhood went up while its tone went down.
'You see, sir, our kind are not used to crowding in the way the others do. We need more room. The others, the foreigners and lower-class people, can get five and six families into this house, where we only get one. So they can pay more rent for the house than we can afford. It is shocking, sir; and just to think, only a few years ago all this neighborhood was just as nice as it could be.'
I looked at her. Here was a woman, of the finest grade of the English working class, with numerous evidences of refinement, being slowly engulfed by that noisome and rotten tide of humanity which the powers that be are pouring eastward out of London Town. Bank, factory, hotel, and office building must go up, and the city poor folk are a nomadic breed; so they migrate eastward, wave upon wave, saturating and degrading neighborhood by neighborhood, driving the better class of workers before them to pioneer on the rim of the city, or dragging them down, if not in the first generation, surely in the second and third.
It is only a question of months when Johnny Upright's street must go. He realizes it himself.
'In a couple of years,' he says, 'my lease expires. My landlord is one of our kind. He has not put up the rent on any of his houses here, and this has enabled us to stay. But any day he may sell, or any day he may die, which is the same thing so far as we are concerned. The house is bought by a money breeder, who builds a sweat shop on the patch of ground at the rear where my grapevine is, adds to the house, and rents it a room to a family. There you are, and Johnny Upright's gone!'
And truly I saw Johnny Upright, and his good wife and fair daughters, and frowzy slavey, like so many ghosts, flitting eastward through the gloom, the monster city roaring at their heels.
But Johnny Upright is not alone in his flitting. Far, far out, on the fringe of the city, live the small business men, little managers, and successful clerks. They dwell in cottages and semidetached villas, with bits of flower garden, and elbow room, and breathing space. They inflate themselves with pride and throw chests when they contemplate the Abyss from which they have escaped, and they thank God that they are not as other men. And lo! down upon them comes Johnny Upright and the monster city at his heels. Tenements spring up like magic, gardens are built upon, villas are divided and subdivided into many dwellings, and the black night of London settles down in a greasy pall.
A Man and the Abyss.
After a momentary silence spake
Some vessel of a more ungainly make;
They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the hand then of the Potter shake?
'I SAY, CAN YOU LET A LODGING?'
These words I discharged carelessly over my shoulder at a stout and elderly woman, of whose fare I was partaking in a greasy coffee-house down near the Pool and not very far from Limehouse.
'Oh, yus,' she answered shortly, my appearance possibly not approximating the standard of affluence required by her house.
I said no more, consuming my rasher of bacon and pint of sickly tea in silence. Nor did she take further interest in me till I came to pay my reckoning (fourpence), when I pulled all of ten shillings out of my pocket. The expected result was produced.
'Yus, sir,' she at once volunteered; 'I 'ave nice lodgin's you'd likely tyke a fancy to. Back from a voyage, sir?'
'How much for a room?' I inquired, ignoring her curiosity.
She looked me up and down with frank surprise. 'I don't let rooms, not to my reg'lar lodgers, much less casuals.'
'Then I'll have to look along a bit,' I said, with marked disappointment.
But the sight of my ten shillings had made her keen. 'I can let you 'ave a nice bed in with two hother men,' she urged. 'Good respectable men, an' steady.'
'But I don't want to sleep with two other men,' I objected.
'You don't 'ave to. There's three beds in the room, an' hit's not a very small room.'
'How much?' I demanded.
'Arf a crown a week, two an' six, to a regular lodger. You'll fancy the men, I'm sure. One works in the ware'ouse, an' 'e's bin with me two years, now. An' the hother's bin with me six. Six years, sir, an' two months comin' nex' Saturday.
''E's a scene-shifter,' she went on. steady, respectable man, never missin' a night's work in the time 'e's bin with me. An' 'e likes the 'ouse; 'e says as it's the best 'e can do in the w'y of lodgin's. I board 'im, an' the hother lodgers too.'
'I suppose he's saving money right along,' I insinuated innocently.
'Bless you, no! Nor can 'e do as well helsewhere with 'is money.'
And I thought of my own spacious West, with room under its sky and unlimited air for a thousand Londons; and here was this man, a steady and reliable man, never missing a night's work, frugal and honest, lodging in one room with two other men, paying two dollars and a half per month for it, and out of his experience adjudging it to be the best he could do! And here was I, on the strength of the ten shillings in my pocket, able to enter in with my rags and take up my bed with him. The human soul is a lonely thing, but it must be very lonely sometimes when there are three beds to a room, and casuals with ten shillings are admitted.
'How long have you been here?' I asked.
'Thirteen years, sir; an' don't you think you'll fancy the lodgin'?'
The while she talked she was shuffling ponderously about the small kitchen in which she cooked the food for her lodgers who were also boarders. When I first entered, she had been hard at work, nor had she let up once throughout the conversation. Undoubtedly she was a busy woman. 'Up at half-past five,' 'to bed the last thing at night,' 'workin' fit ter drop,' thirteen years of it, and for reward, gray hairs, frowzy clothes, stooped shoulders, slatternly figure, unending toil in a foul and noisome coffee-house that faced on an alley ten feet between the walls, and a waterside environment that was ugly and sickening to say the least.
'You'll be hin hagain to 'ave a look?' she questioned wistfully, as I went out of the door.
And as I turned and looked at her, I realized to the full the deeper truth underlying that very wise old maxim: 'Virtue is its own reward.'
I went back to her. 'Have you ever taken a vacation?' I asked.
'A trip to the country for a couple of days, fresh air, a day off, you know, a rest.'
'Lor' lumme!' she laughed, for the first time stopping from her work. 'A vycytion, eh? for the likes o' me? Just fancy, now!- Mind yer feet!'- this last sharply, and to me, as I stumbled over the rotten threshold.
Down near the West India Dock I came upon a young fellow staring disconsolately at the muddy water. A fireman's cap was pulled down across his eyes, and the fit and sag of his clothes whispered unmistakably of the sea.
'Hello, mate,' I greeted him, sparring for a beginning. 'Can you tell me the way to Wapping?'
'Worked yer way over on a cattle boat?' he countered, fixing my nationality on the instant.
And thereupon we entered upon a talk that extended itself to a public house and a couple of pints of 'arf an' arf.' This led to closer intimacy, so that when I brought to light all of a shilling's worth of coppers (ostensibly my all), and put aside sixpence for a bed, and sixpence for more arf an' arf, he generously proposed that we drink up the whole shilling.
'My mate, 'e cut up rough las' night,' he explained. 'An' the bobbies got 'm, so you can bunk in wi' me. Wotcher say?'
I said yes, and by the time we had soaked ourselves in a whole shilling's worth of beer, and slept the night on a miserable bed in a miserable den, I knew him pretty fairly for what he was. And that in one respect he was representative of a large body of the lower-class London workman, my later experience substantiates.
He was London-born, his father a fireman and a drinker before him. As a child, his home was the streets and the docks. He had never learned to read, and had never felt the need for it- a vain and useless accomplishment, he held, at least for a man of his station in life.
He had had a mother and numerous squalling brothers and sisters, all crammed into a couple of rooms and living on poorer and less regular food than he could ordinarily rustle for himself. In fact, he never went home except at periods when he was unfortunate in procuring his own food. Petty pilfering and begging along the streets and docks, a trip or two to sea as mess-boy, a few trips more as coal-trimmer, and then, a full-fledged fireman, he had reached the top of his life.
And in the course of this he had also hammered out a philosophy of life, an ugly and repulsive philosophy, but withal a very logical and sensible one from his point of view. When I asked him what he lived for, he immediately answered, 'Booze.' A voyage to sea (for a man must live and get the wherewithal), and then the paying off and the big drunk at the end. After that, haphazard little drunks, sponged in the 'pubs' from mates with a few coppers left, like myself, and when sponging was played out another trip to sea and a repetition of the beastly cycle.
'But women,' I suggested, when he had finished proclaiming booze the sole end of existence.
'Wimmen!' He thumped his pot upon the bar and orated eloquently. 'Wimmen is a thing my edication 'as learnt me t' let alone. It don't pay, matey; it don't pay. Wot's a man like me want o' wimmen, eh? Jest you tell me. There was my mar, she was enough, a-bangin' the kids about an' makin' the ole man mis'rable when 'e come 'ome, w'ich was seldom, I grant. An' fer w'y? Becos o' mar! She didn't make 'is 'ome 'appy, that was w'y. Then, there's the other wimmen, 'ow do they treat a pore stoker with a few shillin's in 'is trouseys? A good drunk is wot 'e's got in 'is pockits, a good long drunk, an' the wimmen skin 'im out of 'is money so quick 'e ain't 'ad 'ardly a glass. I know. I've 'ad my fling an' I know wot's wot.
'An' I tell you, where's wimmen is trouble- screechin' an' carryin' on, fightin', cuttin', bobbies, magistrates, an' a month's 'ard labor back of it all, an' no pay-day when you come out.'
'But a wife and children,' I insisted. 'A home of your own, and all that. Think of it, back from a voyage, little children climbing on your knee, and the wife happy and smiling, and a kiss for you when she lays the table, and a kiss all around from the babies when they go to bed, and the kettle singing and the long talk afterward of where you've been and what you've seen, and of her and all the little happenings at home while you've been away, and-'
'Garn!' he cried, with a playful shove of his fist on my shoulder. 'Wot's yer game, eh? A missus kissin', an' kids clim'in', an' kettle singin', all on four poun' ten a month w'en you 'ave a ship, an' four nothin' w'en you 'aven't. I'll tell you wot I'd get on four poun' ten- a missus rowin', kids squallin', no coal t' make the kettle sing, an' the kettle up the spout, that's wot I'd get. Enough t' make a bloke bloomin' well glad to be back t' sea. A missus! Wot for? T' make you mis'rable? Kids? Jest take my counsel, matey, an' don't 'ave 'em. Look at me! I can 'ave my beer w'en I like, an' no blessed missus an' kids a-cryin' for bread. I'm 'appy, I am, with my beer an' mates like you, an' a good ship comin', an' another trip to sea. So I say, let's 'ave another pint. Arf an' arf's good enough fer me.'
Without going further with the speech of this young fellow of two and twenty, I think I have sufficiently indicated his philosophy of life and the underlying economic reason for it. Home life he had never known. The word 'home' aroused nothing but unpleasant associations. In the low wages of his father, and of other men in the same walk in life, he found sufficient reason for branding wife and children as encumbrances and causes of masculine misery. An unconscious hedonist, utterly unmoral and materialistic, he sought the greatest possible happiness for himself, and found it in drink.
A young sot; a premature wreck; physical inability to do a stoker's work; the gutter or the workhouse; and the end,- he saw it all, as clearly as I, but it held no terrors for him. From the moment of his birth, all the forces of his environment had tended to harden him, and he viewed his wretched, inevitable future with a callousness and unconcern I could not shake.
And yet he was not a bad man. He was not inherently vicious and brutal. He had normal mentality, and a more than average physique. His eyes were blue and round, shaded by long lashes, and wide apart. And there was a laugh in them, and a fund of humor behind. The brow and general features were good, the mouth and lips sweet, though already developing a harsh twist. The chin was weak, but not too weak; I have seen men sitting in the high places with weaker.
His head was shapely, and so gracefully was it poised upon a perfect neck that I was not surprised by his body that night when he stripped for bed. I have seen many men strip, in gymnasium and training quarters, men of good blood and upbringing, but I have never seen one who stripped to better advantage than this young sot of two and twenty, this young god doomed to rack and ruin in four or five short years, and to pass hence without posterity to receive the splendid heritage it was his to bequeath.
It seemed sacrilege to waste such life, and yet I was forced to confess that he was right in not marrying on four pound ten in London Town. Just as the scene-shifter was happier in making both ends meet in a room shared with two other men, than he would have been had he packed a feeble family along with a couple of men into a cheaper room, and failed in making both ends meet.
And day by day I became convinced that not only is it unwise, but it is criminal for the people of the Abyss to marry. They are the stones by the builder rejected. There is no place for them in the social fabric, while all the forces of society drive them downward till they perish. At the bottom of the Abyss they are feeble, besotted, and imbecile. If they reproduce, the life is so cheap that perforce it perishes of itself. The work of the world goes on above them, and they do not care to take part in it, nor are they able. Moreover, the work of the world does not need them. There are plenty, far fitter than they, clinging to the steep slope above, and struggling frantically to slide no more.
In short, the London Abyss is a vast shambles. Year by year, and decade after decade, rural England pours in a flood of vigorous strong life, that not only does not renew itself, but perishes by the third generation. Competent authorities aver that the London workman whose parents and grandparents were born in London is so remarkable a specimen that he is rarely found.
Mr. A. C. Pigou has said that the aged poor and the residuum which compose the 'submerged tenth,' constitute 7 and 1/2 per cent of the population of London. Which is to say that last year, and yesterday, and to-day, at this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called 'London.' As to how they die, I shall take an instance from this morning's paper.
Yesterday Dr. Wynn Westcott held an inquest at Shoreditch, respecting the death of Elizabeth Crews, aged 77 years, of 32 East Street, Holborn, who died on Wednesday last. Alice Mathieson stated that she was landlady of the house where deceased lived. Witness last saw her alive on the previous Monday. She lived quite alone. Mr. Francis Birch, relieving officer for the Holborn district, stated that deceased had occupied the room in question for 35 years. When witness was called, on the 1st, he found the old woman in a terrible state, and the ambulance and coachman had to be disinfected after the removal. Dr. Chase Fennell said death was due to blood-poisoning from bed-sores, due to self-neglect and filthy surroundings, and the jury returned a verdict to that effect.
The most startling thing about this little incident of a woman's death is the smug complacency with which the officials looked upon it and rendered judgment. That an old woman of seventy-seven years of age should die of SELF-NEGLECT is the most optimistic way possible of looking at it. It was the old dead woman's fault that she died, and having located the responsibility, society goes contentedly on about its own affairs.
Of the 'submerged tenth,' Mr. Pigou has said: 'Either through lack of bodily strength, or of intelligence, or of fibre, or of all three, they are inefficient or unwilling workers, and consequently unable to support themselves.... They are so often degraded in intellect as to be incapable of distinguishing their right from their left hand, or of recognizing the numbers of their own houses; their bodies are feeble and without stamina, their affections are warped, and they scarcely know what family life means.'
Four hundred and fifty thousand is a whole lot of people. The young fireman was only one, and it took him some time to say his little say. I should not like to hear them all talk at once. I wonder if God hears them?
Those on the Edge.
I assure you I found nothing worse, nothing more
degrading, nothing so hopeless, nothing nearly so
intolerably dull and miserable as the life I left
behind me in the East End of London.
MY FIRST IMPRESSION Of East London was naturally a general one. Later the details began to appear, and here and there in the chaos of misery I found little spots where a fair measure of happiness reigned,- sometimes whole rows of houses in little out-of-the-way streets, where artisans dwell and where a rude sort of family life obtains. In the evenings the men can be seen at the doors, pipes in their mouths and children on their knees, wives gossiping, and laughter and fun going on. The content of these people is manifestly great, for, relative to the wretchedness that encompasses them, they are well off.
But at the best, it is a dull, animal happiness, the content of the full belly. The dominant note of their lives is materialistic. They are stupid and heavy, without imagination. The Abyss seems to exude a stupefying atmosphere of torpor, which wraps about them and deadens them. Religion passes them by. The Unseen holds for them neither terror nor delight. They are unaware of the Unseen; and the full belly and the evening pipe, with their regular 'arf an' arf,' is all they demand, or dream of demanding, from existence.
This would not be so bad if it were all; but it is not all. The satisfied torpor in which they are sunk is the deadly inertia that precedes dissolution. There is no progress, and with them not to progress is to fall back and into the Abyss. In their own lives they may only start to fall, leaving the fall to be completed by their children and their children's children. Man always gets less than he demands from life; and so little do they demand, that the less than little they get cannot save them.
At the best, city life is an unnatural life for the human; but the city life of London is so utterly unnatural that the average workman or workwoman cannot stand it. Mind and body are sapped by the undermining influences ceaselessly at work. Moral and physical stamina are broken, and the good workman, fresh from the soil, becomes in the first city generation a poor workman; and by the second city generation, devoid of push and go and initiative, and actually unable physically to perform the labor his father did, he is well on the way to the shambles at the bottom of the Abyss.
If nothing else, the air he breathes, and from which he never escapes, is sufficient to weaken him mentally and physically, so that he becomes unable to compete with the fresh virile life from the country hastening on to London Town to destroy and be destroyed.
Leaving out the disease germs that fill the air of the East End, consider but the one item of smoke. Sir William Thistleton-Dyer, curator of Kew Gardens, has been studying smoke deposits on vegetation, and, according to his calculations, no less than six tons of solid matter, consisting of soot and tarry hydrocarbons, are deposited every week on every quarter of a square mile in and about London. This is equivalent to twenty-four tons per week to the square mile, or 1248 tons per year to the square mile. From the cornice below the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral was recently taken a solid deposit of crystallized sulphate of lime. This deposit had been formed by the action of the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere upon the carbonate of lime in the stone. And this sulphuric acid in the atmosphere is constantly being breathed by the London workmen through all the days and nights of their lives.
It is incontrovertible that the children grow up into rotten adults, without virility or stamina, a-weak-kneed, narrow-chested, listless breed, that crumples up and goes down in the brute struggle for life with the invading hordes from the country. The railway men, carriers, omnibus drivers, corn and timber porters, and all those who require physical stamina, are largely drawn from the country; while in the Metropolitan Police there are, roughly, 12,000 country-born as against 3,000 London-born.
So one is forced to conclude that the Abyss is literally a huge man-killing machine, and when I pass along the little out-of-the-way streets with the full-bellied artisans at the doors, I am aware of a greater sorrow for them than for the 450,000 lost and hopeless wretches dying at the bottom of the pit. They, at least, are dying, that is the point; while these have yet to go through the slow and preliminary pangs extending through two and even three generations.
And yet the quality of the life is good. All human potentialities are in it. Given proper conditions, it could live through the centuries, and great men, heroes and masters, spring from it and make the world better by having lived.
I talked with a woman who was representative of that type which has been jerked out of its little out-of-the-way streets and has started on the fatal fall to the bottom. Her husband was a fitter and a member of the Engineers' Union. That he was a poor engineer was evidenced by his inability to get regular employment. He did not have the energy and enterprise necessary to obtain or hold a steady position.
The pair had two daughters, and the four of them lived in a couple of holes, called 'rooms' by courtesy, for which they paid seven shillings per week. They possessed no stove, managing their cooking on a single gas-ring in the fireplace. Not being persons of property, they were unable to obtain an unlimited supply of gas; but a clever machine had been installed for their benefit. By dropping a penny in the slot, the gas was forthcoming, and when a penny's worth had forthcome the supply was automatically shut off. 'A penny gawn in no time,' she explained, 'an' the cookin' not arf done!'
Incipient starvation had been their portion for years. Month in and month out, they had arisen from the table able and willing to eat more. And when once on the downward slope, chronic innutrition is an important factor in sapping vitality and hastening the descent.
Yet this woman was a hard worker. From 4.30 in the morning till the last light at night, she said, she had toiled at making cloth dress-skirts, lined up and with two flounces, for seven shillings a dozen. Cloth dress-skirts, mark you, lined up and with two flounces, for seven shillings a dozen! This is equal to $1.75 per dozen, or 14 3/4 cents per skirt.
The husband, in order to obtain employment, had to belong to the union, which collected one shilling and sixpence from him each week. Also, when strikes were afoot and he chanced to be working, he had at times been compelled to pay as high as seventeen shillings into the union's coffers for the relief fund.
One daughter, the elder, had worked as green hand for a dressmaker, for one shilling and sixpence per week- 37 1/2 cents per week, or a fraction over 5 cents per day. However, when the slack season came she was discharged, though she had been taken on at such low pay with the understanding that she was to learn the trade and work up. After that she had been employed in a bicycle store for three years, for which she received five shillings per week, walking two miles to her work, and two back, and being fined for tardiness.
As far as the man and woman were concerned, the game was played. They had lost handhold and foothold, and were falling into the pit. But what of the daughters? Living like swine, enfeebled by chronic innutrition, being sapped mentally, morally, and physically, what chance have they to crawl up and out of the Abyss into which they were born falling?
As I write this, and for an hour past, the air had been made hideous by a free-for-all, rough-and-tumble fight going on in the yard that is back to back with my yard. When the first sounds reached me I took it for the barking and snarling of dogs, and some minutes were required to convince me that human beings, and women at that, could produce such a fearful clamor.
Drunken women fighting! It is not nice to think of; it is far worse to listen to. Something like this it runs:-
Incoherent babble, shrieked at the top of the lungs of several women; a lull, in which is heard a child crying and a young girl's voice pleading tearfully; a woman's voice rises, harsh and grating, 'You 'it me! Jest you 'it me!' then, swat! challenge accepted and fight rages afresh.
The back windows of the houses commanding the scene are lined with enthusiastic spectators, and the sound of blows and of oaths that make one's blood run cold, are borne to my ears.
A lull; 'You let that child alone!' child evidently of few years, screaming in downright terror; 'Awright,' repeated insistently and at top pitch twenty times straight running; 'You'll git this rock on the 'ead!' and then rock evidently on the head from the shriek that goes up.
A lull; apparently one combatant temporarily disabled and being resuscitated; child's voice audible again, but now sunk to a lower note of terror and growing exhaustion.
Voices begin to go up the scale, something like this:-
Sufficient affirmation on both sides, conflict again precipitated. One combatant gets overwhelming advantage, and follows it up from the way other combatant screams bloody murder. Bloody murder gurgles and dies out, undoubtedly throttled by a strangle hold.
Entrance of new voices; a flank attack; strangle hold suddenly broken from way bloody murder goes up half an octave higher than before; general hullaballoo, everybody fighting.
Lull; new voice, young girl's, 'I'm goin' ter tyke my mother's part'; dialogue, repeated about five times, 'I'll do as I like, blankety, blank, blank!' 'I'd like ter see yer, blankety, blank, blank!' renewed conflict, mothers, daughters, everybody, during which my landlady calls her young daughter in from the back steps, while I wonder what will be the effect of all that she has heard upon her moral fibre.
Frying-pan Alley and a Glimpse of Inferno.
The beasts they hunger, and eat, and die,
And so do we, and the world's a sty.
'Swinehood hath no remedy,'
Say many men, and hasten by.
THREE OF US WALKED down Mile End Road, and one was a hero. He was a slender lad of nineteen, so slight and frail, in fact, that, like Fra Lippo Lippi, a puff of wind might double him up and turn him over. He was a burning young socialist, in the first throes of enthusiasm and ripe for martyrdom. As platform speaker or chairman he had taken an active and dangerous part in the many indoor and outdoor pro-Boer meetings which have vexed the serenity of Merry England these several years back. Little items he had been imparting to me as he walked along; of being mobbed in parks and on tram-cars; of climbing on the platform to lead the forlorn hope, when brother speaker after brother speaker had been dragged down by the angry crowd and cruelly beaten; of a siege in a church, where he and three others had taken sanctuary, and where, amid flying missiles and the crashing of stained glass, they had fought off the mob till rescued by platoons of constables; of pitched and giddy battles on stairways, galleries, and balconies; of smashed windows, collapsed stairways, wrecked lecture halls, and broken heads and bones- and then, with a regretful sigh, he looked at me and said: 'How I envy you big, strong men! I'm such a little mite I can't do much when it comes to fighting.'
And I, walking a head and shoulders above my two companions, remembered my own husky West and the stalwart men it had been my custom, in turn, to envy there. Also, as I looked at the mite of a youth with the heart of a lion, I thought, this is the type that on occasion rears barricades and shows the world that men have not forgotten how to die.
But up spoke my other companion, a man of twenty-eight who eked out a precarious existence in a sweating den.
'I'm a 'earty man, I am,' he announced. 'Not like the other chaps at my shop, I ain't. They consider me a fine specimen of manhood. W'y, d' ye know, I weigh one hundred and forty pounds!'
I was ashamed to tell him that I weighed one hundred and seventy, so I contented myself with taking his measure. Poor misshapen little man! His skin an unhealthy color, body gnarled and twisted out of all decency, contracted chest, shoulders bent prodigiously from long hours of toil, and head hanging heavily forward and out of place! A ''earty man,' 'e was!
'How tall are you?'
'Five foot two,' he answered proudly; 'an' the chaps at the shop...'
'Let me see that shop,' I said.
The shop was idle just then, but I still desired to see it. Passing Leman Street, we cut off to the left into Spitalfields, and dived into Frying-pan Alley. A spawn of children cluttered the slimy pavement, for all the world like tadpoles just turned frogs on the bottom of a dry pond. In a narrow doorway, so narrow that perforce we stepped over her, sat a woman with a young babe nursing at breasts grossly naked and libelling all the sacredness of motherhood. In the black and narrow hall behind her we waded through a mess of young life, and essayed an even narrower and fouler stairway. Up we went, three flights, each landing two feet by three in area, and heaped with filth and refuse.
There were seven rooms in this abomination called a house. In six of the rooms, twenty-odd people, of both sexes and all ages, cooked, ate, slept, and worked. In size the rooms averaged eight feet by eight, or possibly nine. The seventh room we entered. It was the den in which five men 'sweated.' It was seven feet wide by eight long, and the table at which the work was performed took up the major portion of the space. On this table were five lasts, and there was barely room for the men to stand to their work, for the rest of the space was heaped with cardboard, leather, bundles of shoe uppers, and a miscellaneous assortment of materials used in attaching the uppers of shoes to their soles.
In the adjoining room lived a woman and six children. In another vile hole lived a widow, with an only son of sixteen who was dying of consumption. The woman hawked sweetmeats on the street, I was told, and more often failed than not in supplying her son with the three quarts of milk he daily required. Further, this son, weak and dying, did not taste meat oftener than once a week; and the kind and quality of this meat cannot possibly be imagined by people who have never watched human swine eat.
'The w'y 'e coughs is somethin' terrible,' volunteered my sweated friend, referring to the dying boy. 'We 'ear 'im 'ere, w'ile we're workin', an' it's terrible, I say, terrible!'
And, what of the coughing and the sweetmeats, I found another menace added to the hostile environment of the children of the slum.
My sweated friend, when work was to be had, toiled with four other men in this eight-by-seven room. In winter a lamp burned nearly all the day and added its fumes to the overloaded air, which was breathed, and breathed, and breathed again.
In good times, when there was a rush of work, this man told me that he could earn as high as 'thirty bob a week.'- Thirty shillings! Seven dollars and a half!
'But it's only the best of us can do it,' he qualified. 'An' then we work twelve, thirteen, and fourteen hours a day, just as fast as we can. An' you should see us sweat! Just running from us! If you could see us, it'd dazzle your eyes- tacks flyin' out of mouth like from a machine. Look at my mouth.'
I looked. The teeth were worn down by the constant friction of the metallic brads, while they were coal-black and rotten.
'I clean my teeth,' he added, 'else they'd be worse.'
After he had told me that the workers had to furnish their own tools, brads, 'grindery,' cardboard, rent, light, and what not, it was plain that his thirty bob was a diminishing quantity.
'But how long does the rush season last, in which you receive this high wage of thirty bob?' I asked.
'Four months,' was the answer; and for the rest of the year, he informed me, they average from 'half a quid' to a 'quid' a week, which is equivalent to from two dollars and a half to five dollars. The present week was half gone, and he had earned four bob, or one dollar. And yet I was given to understand that this was one of the better grades of sweating.
I looked out of the window, which should have commanded the back yards of the neighboring buildings. But there were no back yards, or, rather, they were covered with one-story hovels, cowsheds, in which people lived. The roofs of these hovels were covered with deposits of filth, in some places a couple of feet deep- the contributions from the back windows of the second and third stories. I could make out fish and meat bones, garbage, pestilential rags, old boots, broken earthenware, and all the general refuse of a human sty.
'This is the last year of this trade; they're getting machines to do away with us,' said the sweated one mournfully, as we stepped over the woman with the breasts grossly naked and waded anew through the cheap young life.
We next visited the municipal dwellings erected by the London County Council on the site of the slums where lived Arthur Morrison's 'Child of the Jago.' While the buildings housed more people than before, it was much healthier. But the dwellings were inhabited by the better-class workmen and artisans. The slum people had simply drifted on to crowd other slums or to form new slums.
'An' now,' said the sweated one, the 'earty man who worked so fast as to dazzle one's eyes, 'I'll show you one of London's lungs. This is Spitalfields Garden.' And he mouthed the word 'garden' with scorn.
The shadow of Christ's Church falls across Spitalfields Garden, and in the shadow of Christ's Church, at three o'clock in the afternoon, I saw a sight I never wish to see again. There are no flowers in this garden, which is smaller than my own rose garden at home. Grass only grows here, and it is surrounded by sharp-spiked iron fencing, as are all the parks of London Town, so that homeless men and women may not come in at night and sleep upon it.
As we entered the garden, an old woman, between fifty and sixty, passed us, striding with sturdy intention if somewhat rickety action, with two bulky bundles, covered with sacking, slung fore and aft upon her. She was a woman tramp, a houseless soul, too independent to drag her failing carcass through the workhouse door. Like the snail, she carried her home with her. In the two sacking-covered bundles were her household goods, her wardrobe, linen, and dear feminine possessions.
We went up the narrow gravelled walk. On the benches on either side was arrayed a mass of miserable and distorted humanity, the sight of which would have impelled Dore to more diabolical flights of fancy than he ever succeeded in achieving. It was a welter of rags and filth, of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities, and bestial faces. A chill, raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep. Here were a dozen women, ranging in age from twenty years to seventy. Next a babe, possibly of nine months, lying asleep, flat on the hard bench, with neither pillow nor covering, nor with any one looking after it. Next, half a dozen men, sleeping bolt upright or leaning against one another in their sleep. In one place a family group, a child asleep in its sleeping mother's arms, and the husband (or male mate) clumsily mending a dilapidated shoe. On another bench a woman trimming the frayed strips of her rags with a knife, and another woman, with thread and needle, sewing up rents. Adjoining, a man holding a sleeping woman in his arms. Farther on, a man, his clothing caked with gutter mud, asleep with head in the lap of a woman, not more than twenty-five years old, and also asleep.
It was this sleeping that puzzled me. Why were nine out of ten of them asleep or trying to sleep' But it was not till afterward that I learned. It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night. On the pavement, by the portico of Christ's Church, where the stone pillars rise toward the sky in a stately row, were whole rows of men lying asleep or drowsing, and all too deep sunk in torpor to rouse or be made curious by our intrusion.
'A lung of London,' I said; 'nay, an abscess, a great putrescent sore.'
'Oh, why did you bring me here?' demanded the burning young socialist, his delicate face white with sickness of soul and stomach sickness.
'Those women there,' said our guide, 'will sell themselves for thru'pence, or tu'pence, or a loaf of stale bread.'
He said it with a cheerful sneer.
But what more he might have said I do not know, for the sick man cried, 'For heaven's sake, let us get out of this.'
A Winner of the Victoria Cross.
From out of the populous city men groan, and the soul
of the wounded crieth out.
I HAVE FOUND THAT IT is not easy to get into the casual ward of the workhouse. I have made two attempts now, and I shall shortly make a third. The first time I started out at seven o'clock in the evening with four shillings in my pocket. Herein I committed two errors. In the first place, the applicant for admission to the casual ward must be destitute, and as he is subjected to a rigorous search, he must really be destitute; and fourpence, much less four shillings, is sufficient affluence to disqualify him. In the second place, I made the mistake of tardiness. Seven o'clock in the evening is too late in the day for a pauper to get a pauper's bed.
For the benefit of gently nurtured and innocent folk, let me explain what a casual ward is. It is a building where the homeless, bedless, penniless man, if he be lucky, may casually rest his weary bones, and then work like a navvy next day to pay for it.
My second attempt to break into the casual ward began more auspiciously. I started in the middle of the afternoon, accompanied by the burning young socialist and another friend, and all I had in my pocket was thru'pence. They piloted me to the Whitechapel Workhouse, at which I peered from around a friendly corner. It was a few minutes past five in the afternoon, but already a long and melancholy line was formed, which strung out around the corner of the building and out of sight.
It was a most woful picture, men and women waiting in the cold gray end of the day for a pauper's shelter from the night, and I confess it almost unnerved me. Like the boy before the dentist's door, I suddenly discovered a multitude of reasons for being elsewhere. Some hints of the struggle going on within must have shown in my face, for one of my companions said, 'Don't funk; you can do it.'
Of course I could do it, but I became aware that even thru'pence in my pocket was too lordly a treasure for such a throng; and, in order that all invidious distinctions might be removed, I emptied out the coppers. Then I bade good-by to my friends, and with my heart going pit-a-pat, slouched down the street and took my place at the end of the line. Woful it looked, this line of poor folk tottering on the steep pitch to death; how woeful it was I did not dream.
Next to me stood a short, stout man. Hale and hearty, though aged, strong-featured, with the tough and leathery skin produced by long years of sunbeat and weatherbeat, his was the unmistakable sea face and eyes; and at once there came to me a bit of Kipling's 'Galley Slave':
'By the brand upon my shoulder, by the gall of clinging steel;
By the welt the whips have left me, by the scars that never heal;
By eyes grown old with staring through the sun-wash on the brine,
I am paid in full for service....'
How correct I was in my surmise, and how peculiarly appropriate the verse was, you shall learn.
'I won't stand it much longer, I won't,' he was complaining to the man on the other side of him. 'I'll smash a windy, a big 'un, an' get run in for fourteen days. Then I'll have a good place to sleep, never fear, an' better grub than you get here. Though I'd miss my bit of baccy'- this as an afterthought, and said regretfully and resignedly.
'I've been out two nights, now,' he went on; 'wet to the skin night before last, an' I can't stand it much longer. I'm gettin' old, an' some mornin' they'll pick me up dead.'
He whirled with fierce passion on me: 'Don't you ever let yourself grow old, lad. Die when you're young, or you'll come to this. I'm tellin' you sure. Seven an' eighty years am I, an' served my country like a man. Three good conduct stripes and the Victoria Cross, an' this is what I get for it. I wish I was dead, I wish I was dead. Can't come any too quick for me, I tell you.'
The moisture rushed into his eyes, but, before the other man could comfort him, he began to hum a lilting sea song as though there was no such thing as heartbreak in the world.
Given encouragement, this is the story he told while waiting in line at the workhouse after two nights of exposure in the streets.
As a boy he had enlisted in the British navy, and for two score years and more served faithfully and well. Names, dates, commanders, ports, ships, engagements, and battles, rolled from his lips in a steady stream, but it is beyond me to remember them all, for it is not quite in keeping to take notes at the poorhouse door. He had been through the 'First War in China,' as he termed it; had enlisted in the East India Company and served ten years in India; was back in India again, in the English navy, at the time of the Mutiny; had served in the Burmese War and in the Crimea; and all this in addition to having fought and toiled for the English flag pretty well over the rest of the globe.
Then the thing happened. A little thing, if it could only be traced back to first causes: perhaps the lieutenant's breakfast had not agreed with him; or he had been up late the night before; or his debts were pressing; or the commander had spoken brusquely to him. The point is, that on this particular day the lieutenant was irritable. The sailor, with others, was 'setting up' the fore rigging.
Now, mark you, the sailor had been over forty years in the navy, had three good conduct stripes, and possessed the Victoria Cross for distinguished service in battle; so he could not have been such an altogether bad sort of a sailorman. The lieutenant was irritable; the lieutenant called him a name- well, not a nice sort of name. It referred to his mother. When I was a boy it was our boys' code to fight like little demons should such an insult be given our mothers; and many men have died in my part of the world for calling other men this name.
However, the lieutenant called the sailor this name. At that moment it chanced the sailor had an iron lever or bar in his hands. He promptly struck the lieutenant over the head with it, knocking him out of the rigging and overboard.
And then, in the man's own words: 'I saw what I had done. I knew the Regulations, and I said to myself, 'It's all up with you, Jack, my boy; so here goes.' An' I jumped over after him, my mind made up to drown us both. An' I'd ha' done it, too, only the pinnace from the flagship was just comin' alongside. Up we came to the top, me a hold of him an' punchin' him. This was what settled for me. If I hadn't ben strikin' him, I could have claimed that, seein' what I had done, I jumped over to save him.'
Then came the court-martial, or whatever name a sea trial goes by. He recited his sentence, word for word, as though memorized and gone over in bitterness many times. And here it is, for the sake of discipline and respect to officers not always gentlemen, the punishment of a man who was guilty of manhood. To be reduced to the rank of ordinary seaman; to be debarred all prize money due him; to forfeit all rights to pension; to resign the Victoria Cross; to be discharged from the navy with a good character (this being his first offence); to receive fifty lashes; and to serve two years in prison.
'I wish I had drowned that day, I wish to God I had,' he concluded, as the line moved up and we passed around the corner.
At last the door came in sight, through which the paupers were being admitted in bunches. And here I learned a surprising thing: this being Wednesday, none of us would be released till Friday morning. Furthermore, and oh, you tobacco users, take heed: we would not be permitted to take in any tobacco. This we would have to surrender as we entered. Sometimes, I was told, it was returned on leaving, and sometimes it was destroyed.
The old man-of-war's man gave me a lesson. Opening his pouch, he emptied the tobacco (a pitiful quantity) into a piece of paper. This, snugly and flatly wrapped, went down his sock inside his shoe. Down went my piece of tobacco inside my sock, for forty hours without tobacco is a hardship all tobacco users will understand.
Again and again the line moved up, and we were slowly but surely approaching the wicket. At the moment we happened to be standing on an iron grating, and a man appearing underneath, the old sailor called down to him:
'How many more do they want?'
'Twenty-four,' came the answer.
We looked ahead anxiously and counted. Thirty-four were ahead of us. Disappointment and consternation dawned upon the faces about me. It is not a nice thing, hungry and penniless, to face a sleepless night in the streets. But we hoped against hope, till, when ten stood outside the wicket, the porter turned us away.
'Full up,' was what he said, as he banged the door.
Like a flash, for all his eighty-seven years, the old sailor was speeding away on the desperate chance of finding shelter elsewhere. I stood and debated with two other men, wise in the knowledge of casual wards, as to where we should go. They decided on the Poplar Workhouse, three miles away, and we started off.
As we rounded the corner, one of them said, 'I could a' got in 'ere to-day. I come by at one o'clock, an' the line was beginnin' to form then- pets, that's what they are. They let 'm in, the same ones, night upon night.'
The Carter and the Carpenter.
It is not to die, nor even to die of hunger, that makes
a man wretched. Many men have died; all men must die. But
it is to live miserable, we know not why; to work sore, and
yet gain nothing; to be heart-worn, weary, yet isolated,
unrelated, girt in with a cold universal Laissez-faire.
THE CARTER, WITH HIS clean-cut face, chin beard, and shaved upper lip, I should have taken in the United States for anything from a master workman to a well-to-do farmer. The Carpenter- well, I should have taken him for a carpenter. He looked it, lean and wiry, with shrewd, observant eyes, and hands that had grown twisted to the handles of tools through forty-seven years' work at the trade. The chief difficulty with these men was that they were old, and that their children, instead of growing up to take care of them, had died. Their years had told on them, and they had been forced out of the whirl of industry by the younger and stronger competitors who had taken their places.
These two men, turned away from the casual ward of Whitechapel Workhouse, were bound with me for Poplar Workhouse. Not much of a show, they thought, but to chance it was all that remained to us. It was Poplar, or the streets and night. Both men were anxious for a bed, for they were 'about gone,' as they phrased it. The Carter, fifty-eight years of age, had spent the last three nights without shelter or sleep, while the Carpenter, sixty-five years of age, had been out five nights.
But, O dear, soft people, full of meat and blood, with white beds and airy rooms waiting you each night, how can I make you know what it is to suffer as you would suffer if you spent a weary night on London's streets? Believe me, you would think a thousand centuries had come and gone before the east paled into dawn; you would shiver till you were ready to cry aloud with the pain of each aching muscle; and you would marvel that you could endure so much and live. Should you rest upon a bench, and your tired eyes close, depend upon it the policeman would rouse you and gruffly order you to 'move on.' You may rest upon the bench, and benches are few and far between; but if rest means sleep, on you must go, dragging your tired body through the endless streets. Should you, in desperate slyness, seek some forlorn alley or dark passageway and lie down, the omnipresent policeman will rout you out just the same. It is his business to rout you out. It is a law of the powers that be that you shall be routed out.
But when the dawn came, the nightmare over, you would hale you home to refresh yourself, and until you died you would tell the story of your adventure to groups of admiring friends. It would grow into a mighty story. Your little eight-hour night would become an Odyssey and you a Homer.
Not so with these homeless ones who walked to Poplar Workhouse with me. And there are thirty-five thousand of them, men and women, in London Town this night. Please don't remember it as you go to bed; if you are as soft as you ought to be, you may not rest so well as usual. But for old men of sixty, seventy, and eighty, ill-fed, with neither meat nor blood, to greet the dawn unrefreshed, and to stagger through the day in mad search for crusts, with relentless night rushing down upon them again, and to do this five nights and days- O dear, soft people, full of meat and blood, how can you ever understand?
I walked up Mile End Road between the Carter and the Carpenter. Mile End Road is a wide thoroughfare, cutting the heart of East London, and there were tens of thousands of people abroad on it. I tell you this so that you may fully appreciate what I shall describe in the next paragraph. As I say, we walked along, and when they grew bitter and cursed the land, I cursed with them, cursed as an American waif would curse, stranded in a strange and terrible land. And, as I tried to lead them to believe, and succeeded in making them believe, they took me for a 'seafaring man,' who had spent his money in riotous living, lost his clothes (no unusual occurrence with seafaring men ashore), and was temporarily broke while looking for a ship. This accounted for my ignorance of English ways in general and casual wards in particular, and my curiosity concerning the same.
The Carter was hard put to keep the pace at which we walked (he told me that he had eaten nothing that day), but the Carpenter, lean and hungry, his gray and ragged overcoat flapping mournfully in the breeze, swung on in a long and tireless stride which reminded me strongly of the plains coyote. Both kept their eyes upon the pavement as they walked and talked, and every now and then one or the other would stoop and pick something up, never missing the stride the while. I thought it was cigar and cigarette stumps they were collecting, and for some time took no notice. Then I did notice.
From the slimy sidewalk, they were picking up bits of orange peel, apple skin, and grape stems, and they were eating them. The pips of green gage plums they cracked between their teeth for the kernels inside. They picked up stray crumbs of bread the size of peas, apple cores so black and dirty one would not take them to be apple cores, and these things these two men took into their mouths, and chewed them, and swallowed them; and this, between six and seven o'clock in the evening of August 20, year of our Lord 1902, in the heart of the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful empire the world has ever seen.
These two men talked. They were not fools. They were merely old. And, naturally, their guts a-reek with pavement offal, they talked of bloody revolution. They talked as anarchists, fanatics, and madmen would talk. And who shall blame them? In spite of my three good meals that day, and the snug bed I could occupy if I wished, and my social philosophy, and my evolutionary belief in the slow development and metamorphosis of things- in spite of all this, I say, I felt impelled to talk rot with them or hold my tongue. Poor fools! Not of their sort are revolutions bred. And when they are dead and dust, which will be shortly, other fools will talk bloody revolution as they gather offal from the spittle-drenched sidewalk along Mile End Road to Poplar Workhouse.
Being a foreigner, and a young man, the Carter and the Carpenter explained things to me and advised me. Their advice, by the way, was brief and to the point; it was to get out of the country. 'As far as God'll let me,' I assured them; 'I'll hit only the high places, till you won't be able to see my trail for smoke.' They felt the force of my figures, rather than understood them, and they nodded their heads approvingly.
'Actually make a man a criminal against 'is will,' said the Carpenter. ''Ere I am, old, younger men takin' my place, my clothes gettin' shabbier an' shabbier, an' makin' it 'arder every day to get a job. I go to the casual ward for a bed. Must be there by two or three in the afternoon or I won't get in. You saw what happened to-day. What chance does that give me to look for work? S'pose I do get into the casual ward? Keep me in all day to-morrow, let me out morning' o' next day. What then? The law sez I can't get in another casual ward that night less'n ten miles distant. Have to hurry an' walk to be there in time that day. What chance does that give me to look for a job? S'pose I don't walk. S'pose I look for a job? In no time there's night come, an' no bed. No sleep all night, nothin' to eat, what shape am I in in the mornin' to look for work? Got to make up my sleep in the park somehow' (the vision of Christ's Church, Spitalfields, was strong on me) 'an' get something to eat. An' there I am! Old, down, an' no chance to get up.'
'Used to be a toll-gate 'ere,' said the Carter. 'Many's the time I've paid my toll 'ere in my cartin' days.'
'I've 'ad three 'a' penny rolls in two days,' the Carpenter announced, after a long pause in the conversation.
'Two of them I ate yesterday, an' the third to-day,' he concluded, after another long pause.
'I ain't 'ad anything to-day,' said the Carter. 'An' I'm fagged out. My legs is hurtin' me something fearful.'
'The roll you get in the "spike" is that 'ard you can't eat it nicely with less'n a pint of water,' said the Carpenter, for my benefit. And, on asking him what the 'spike' was, he answered, 'The casual ward. It's a cant word, you know.'
But what surprised me was that he should have the word 'cant' in his vocabulary, a vocabulary that I found was no mean one before we parted.
I asked them what I might expect in the way of treatment, if we succeeded in getting into the Poplar Workhouse and between them I was supplied with much information. Having taken a cold bath on entering, I would be given for supper six ounces of bread and 'three parts of skilly.' 'Three parts' means three-quarters of a pint, and 'skilly' is a fluid concoction of three quarts of oatmeal stirred into three buckets and a half of hot water.
'Milk and sugar, I suppose, and a silver spoon?' I queried.
'No fear. Salt's what you'll get, an' I've seen some places where you'd not get any spoon. 'Old 'er up an' let 'er run down, that's 'ow they do it.'
'You do get good skilly at 'Ackney,' said the Carter.
'Oh, wonderful skilly, that,' praised the Carpenter, and each looked eloquently at the other.
'Flour an' water at St. George's in the East,' said the Carter.
The Carpenter nodded. He had tried them all.
'Then what?' I demanded.
And I was informed that I was sent directly to bed. 'Call you at half after five in the mornin', an' you get up an' take a "sluice"- if there's any soap. Then breakfast, same as supper, three parts o' skilly an' a six-ounce loaf.'
''Tisn't always six ounces,' corrected the Carter.
''Tisn't, no; an' often that sour you can 'ardly eat it. When first I started I couldn't eat the skilly nor the bread, but now I can eat my own an' another man's portion.'
'I could eat three other men's portions,' said the Carter. 'I 'aven't 'ad a bit this blessed day.'
'Then you've got to do your task, pick four pounds of oakum, or clean an' scrub, or break ten to eleven hundredweight o' stones. I don't 'ave to break stones; I'm past sixty, you see. They'll make you do it, though. You're young an' strong.'
'What I don't like,' grumbled the Carter, 'is to be locked up in a cell to pick oakum. It's too much like prison.'
'But suppose, after you've, had your night's sleep, you refuse to pick oakum, or break stones, or do any work at all?' I asked.
'No fear you'll refuse the second time; they'll run you in,' answered the Carpenter. 'Wouldn't advise you to try it on, my lad.'
'Then comes dinner,' he went on. 'Eight ounces of bread, one and a arf ounces of cheese, an' cold water. Then you finish your task an' 'ave supper, same as before, three parts o' skilly an' six ounces o' bread. Then to bed, six o'clock, an' next mornin' you're turned loose, provided you've finished your task.'
We had long since left Mile End Road, and after traversing a gloomy maze of narrow, winding streets, we came to Poplar Workhouse. On a low stone wall we spread our handkerchiefs, and each in his handkerchief put all his worldly possessions with the exception of the 'bit o' baccy' down his sock. And then, as the last light was fading from the drab-colored sky, the wind blowing cheerless and cold, we stood, with our pitiful little bundles in our hands, a forlorn group at the workhouse door.
Three working girls came along, and one looked pityingly at me; as she passed I followed her with my eyes, and she still looked pityingly back at me. The old men she did not notice. Dear Christ, she pitied me, young and vigorous and strong, but she had no pity for the two old men who stood by my side! She was a young woman, and I was a young man, and what vague sex promptings impelled her to pity me put her sentiment on the lowest plane. Pity for old men is an altruistic feeling, and besides, the workhouse door is the accustomed place for old men. So she showed no pity for them, only for me, who deserved it least or not at all. Not in honor do gray hairs go down to the grave in London Town.
On one side the door was a bell handle, on the other side a press button.
'Ring the bell,' said the Carter to me.
And just as I ordinarily would at anybody's door, I pulled out the handle and rang a peal.
'Oh! Oh!' they cried in one terrified voice. 'Not so 'ard!'
I let go, and they looked reproachfully at me, as though I had imperilled their chance for a bed and three parts of skilly. Nobody came. Luckily, it was the wrong bell, and I felt better.
'Press the button,' I said to the Carpenter.
'No, no, wait a bit,' the Carter hurriedly interposed.
From all of which I drew the conclusion that a poorhouse porter, who commonly draws a yearly salary of from thirty to forty dollars, is a very finicky and important personage, and cannot be treated too fastidiously by paupers.
So we waited, ten times a decent interval, when the Carter stealthily advanced a timid forefinger to the button, and gave it the faintest, shortest possible push. I have looked at waiting men where life and death was in the issue; but anxious suspense showed less plainly on their faces than it showed on the faces of these two men as they waited for the coming of the porter.
He came. He barely looked at us. 'Full up,' he said, and shut the door.
'Another night of it,' groaned the Carpenter. In the dim light the Carter looked wan and gray.
Indiscriminate charity is vicious, say the professional philanthropists. Well, I resolved to be vicious.
'Come on; get your knife out and come here,' I said to the Carter, drawing him into a dark alley.
He glared at me in a frightened manner, and tried to draw back. Possibly he took me for a latter day Jack-the-Ripper, with a penchant for elderly male paupers. Or he may have thought I was inveigling him into the commission of some desperate crime. Anyway, he was frightened.
It will be remembered, at the outset, that I sewed a pound inside my stoker's singlet under the armpit. This was my emergency fund, and I was now called upon to use it for the first time.
Not until I had gone through the acts of a contortionist, and shown the round coin sewed in, did I succeed in getting the Carter's help. Even then his hand was trembling so that I was afraid he would cut me instead of the stitches, and I was forced to take the knife away and do it myself. Out rolled the gold piece, a fortune in their hungry eyes; and away we stampeded for the nearest coffee-house.
Of course I had to explain to them that I was merely an investigator, a social student, seeking to find out how the other half lived. And at once they shut up like clams. I was not of their kind; my speech had changed, the tones of my voice were different, in short, I was a superior, and they were superbly class conscious.
'What will you have?' I asked, as the waiter came for the order.
'Two slices an' a cup of tea,' meekly said the Carter.
'Two slices an' a cup of tea,' meekly said the Carpenter.
Stop a moment, and consider the situation. Here were two men, invited by me into the coffee-house. They had seen my gold piece, and they could understand that I was no pauper. One had eaten a ha penny roll that day, the other had eaten nothing. And they called for 'two slices an' a cup of tea!' Each man had given a tu'penny order. 'Two slices,' by the way, means two slices of bread and butter.
This was the same degraded humility that had characterized their attitude toward the poorhouse porter. But I wouldn't have it. Step by step I increased their orders,- eggs, rashers of bacon, more eggs, more bacon, more tea, more slices, and so forth,- they denying wistfully all the while that they cared for anything more, and devouring it ravenously as fast as it arrived.
'First cup o' tea I've 'ad in a fortnight,' said the Carter.
'Wonderful tea, that,' said the Carpenter.
They each drank two pints of it, and I assure you that it was slops. It resembled tea less than lager beer resembles champagne. Nay, it was 'water-bewitched,' and did not resemble tea at all.
It was curious, after the first shock, to notice the effect the food had on them. At first they were melancholy, and talked of the divers times they had contemplated suicide. The Carter, not a week before, had stood on the bridge and looked at the water, and pondered the question. Water, the Carpenter insisted with heat, was a bad route. He, for one, he knew, would struggle. A bullet was ''andier,' but how under the sun was he to get hold of a revolver? That was the rub.
They grew more cheerful as the hot 'tea' soaked in, and talked more about themselves. The Carter had buried his wife and children, with the exception of one son, who grew to manhood and helped him in his little business. Then the thing happened. The son, a man of thirty-one, died of the smallpox. No sooner was this over than the father came down with fever and went to the hospital for three months. Then he was done for. He came out weak, debilitated, no strong young son to stand by him, his little business gone glimmering, and not a farthing. The thing had happened, and the game was up. No chance for an old man to start again. Friends all poor and unable to help. He had tried for work when they were putting up the stands for the first Coronation parade. 'An' I got fair sick of the answer; "No! no! no!" It rang in my ears at night when I tried to sleep, always the same, "No! no! no!"' Only the past week he had answered an advertisement in Hackney, and on giving his age was told, 'Oh, too old, too old by far.'
The Carpenter had been born in the army, where his father had served twenty-two years. Likewise, his two brothers had gone into the army; one, troop sergeant-major of the Seventh Hussars, dying in India after the Mutiny; the other, after nine years under Roberts in the East, had been lost in Egypt. The Carpenter had not gone into the army, so here he was, still on the planet.
'But 'ere, give me your 'and,' he said, ripping open his ragged shirt. 'I'm fit for the anatomist, that's all. I'm wastin' away, sir, actually wastin' away for want of food. Feel my ribs an' you'll see.'
I put my hand under his shirt and felt. The skin was stretched like parchment over the bones, and the sensation produced was for all the world like running one's hand over a washboard.
'Seven years o' bliss I 'ad,' he said. 'A good missus and three bonnie lassies. But they all died. Scarlet fever took the girls inside a fortnight.'
'After this, sir,' said the Carter, indicating the spread, and desiring to turn the conversation into more cheerful channels; 'after this, I wouldn't be able to eat a workhouse breakfast in the morning.'
'Nor I,' agreed the Carpenter, and they fell to discussing belly delights and the fine dishes their respective wives had cooked in the old days.
'I've gone three days and never broke my fast,' said the Carter.
'And I, five,' his companion added, turning gloomy with the memory of it. 'Five days once, with nothing on my stomach but a bit of orange peel, an' outraged nature wouldn't stand it, sir, an' I near died. Sometimes, walkin' the streets at night, I've ben that desperate I've made up my mind to win the horse or lose the saddle. You know what I mean, sir- to commit some big robbery. But when mornin' come, there was I, too weak from 'unger an' cold to 'arm a mouse.'
As their poor vitals warmed to the food, they began to expand and wax boastful, and to talk politics. I can only say that they talked politics as well as the average middle-class man, and a great deal better than some of the middle-class men I have heard. What surprised me was the hold they had on the world, its geography and peoples, and on recent and contemporaneous history. As I say, they were not fools, these two men. They were merely old, and their children had undutifully failed to grow up and give them a place by the fire.
One last incident, as I bade them good-by on the corner, happy with a couple of shillings in their pockets and the certain prospect of a bed for the night. Lighting a cigarette, I was about to throw away the burning match when the Carter reached for it. I proffered him the box, but he said, 'Never mind, won't waste it, sir.' And while he lighted the cigarette I had given him, the Carpenter hurried with the filling of his pipe in order to have a go at the same match.
'It's wrong to waste,' said he.
'Yes,' I said, but I was thinking of the washboard ribs over which I had run my hand.
The old Spartans had a wiser method; and went out
and hunted down their Helots, and speared and spitted
them, when they grew too numerous. With our improved
fashions of hunting, now after the invention of firearms
and standing armies, how much easier were such a hunt!
Perhaps in the most thickly peopled country, some three
days annually might suffice to shoot all the able-bodied
paupers that had accumulated within the year.
FIRST OF ALL, I MUST BEG forgiveness of my body for the vileness through which I have dragged it, and forgiveness of my stomach for the vileness which I have thrust into it. I have been to the spike, and slept in the spike, and eaten in the spike; also, I have run away from the spike.
After my two unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the Whitechapel casual ward, I started early, and joined the desolate line before three o'clock in the afternoon. They did not 'let in' till six, but at that early hour I was number 20, while the news had gone forth that only twenty-two were to be admitted. By four o'clock there were thirty-four in line, the last ten hanging on in the slender hope of getting in by some kind of a miracle. Many more came, looked at the line, and went away, wise to the bitter fact that the spike would be 'full up.'
Conversation was slack at first, standing there, till the man on one side of me and the man on the other side of me discovered that they had been in the smallpox hospital at the same time, though a full house of sixteen hundred patients had prevented their becoming acquainted. But they made up for it, discussing and comparing the more loathsome features of their disease in the most cold-blooded, matter-of-fact way. I learned that the average mortality was one in six, that one of them had been in three months and the other three months and a half, and that they had been 'rotten wi' it.' Whereat my flesh began to creep and crawl, and I asked them how long they had been out. One had been out two weeks, and the other three weeks. Their faces were badly pitted (though each assured the other that this was not so), and further, they showed me in their hands and under the nails the smallpox 'seeds' still working out. Nay, one of them worked a seed out for my edification, and pop it went, right out of his flesh into the air. I tried to shrink up smaller inside my clothes, and I registered a fervent though silent hope that it had not popped on me.
In both instances, I found that the smallpox was the cause of their being 'on the doss,' which means on the tramp. Both had been working when smitten by the disease, and both had emerged from the hospital 'broke,' with the gloomy task before them of hunting for work. So far, they had not found any, and they had come to the spike for a 'rest up' after three days and nights on the street.
It seems that not only the man who becomes old is punished for his involuntary misfortune, but likewise the man who is struck by disease or accident. Later on, I talked with another man,- 'Ginger' we called him, who stood at the head of the line- a sure indication that he had been waiting since one o'clock. A year before, one day, while in the employ of a fish dealer, he was carrying a heavy box of fish which was too much for him. Result: 'something broke,' and there was the box on the ground, and he on the ground beside it.
At the first hospital, whither he was immediately carried, they said it was a rupture, reduced the swelling, gave him some vaseline to rub on it, kept him four hours, and told him to get along. But he was not on the streets more than two or three hours when he was down on his back again. This time he went to another hospital and was patched up. But the point is, the employer did nothing, positively nothing, for the man injured in his employment, and even refused him 'a light job now and again,' when he came out. As far as Ginger is concerned, he is a broken man. His only chance to earn a living was by heavy work. He is now incapable of performing heavy work, and from now until he dies, the spike, the peg, and the streets are all he can look forward to in the way of food and shelter. The thing happened- that is all. He put his back under too great a load of fish, and his chance for happiness in life was crossed off the books.
Several men in the line had been to the United States, and they were wishing that they had remained there, and were cursing themselves for their folly in ever having left. England had become a prison to them, a prison from which there was no hope of escape. It was impossible for them to get away. They could neither scrape together the passage money, nor get a chance to work their passage. The country was too overrun by poor devils on that 'lay.'
I was on the seafaring- man- who- had- lost- his- clothes- and- money tack, and they all condoled with me and gave me much sound advice. To sum it up, the advice was something like this: To keep out of all places like the spike. There was nothing good in it for me. To head for the coast and bend every effort to get away on a ship. To go to work, if possible, and scrape together a pound or so, with which I might bribe some steward or underling to give me chance to work my passage. They envied me my youth and strength, which would sooner or later get me out of the country. These they no longer possessed. Age and English hardship had broken them, and for them the game was played and up.
There was one, however, who was still young, and who, I am sure, will in the end make it out. He had gone to the United States as a young fellow, and in fourteen years' residence the longest period he had been out of work was twelve hours. He had saved his money, grown too prosperous, and returned to the mother country. Now he was standing in line at the spike.
For the past two years, he told me, he had been working as a cook. His hours had been from 7 A.M. to 10.30 P.M., and on Saturday to 12.30 P.M.- ninety-five hours per week, for which he had received twenty shillings, or five dollars.
'But the work and the long hours was killing me,' he said, 'and I had to chuck the job. I had a little money saved, but I spent it living and looking for another place.'
This was his first night in the spike, and he had come in only to get rested. As soon as he emerged he intended to start for Bristol, a one-hundred-and-ten-mile walk, where he thought he would eventually get a ship for the States.
But the men in the line were not all of this caliber. Some were poor, wretched beasts, inarticulate and callous, but for all of that, in many ways very human. I remember a carter, evidently returning home after the day's work, stopping his cart before us so that his young hopeful, who had run to meet him, could climb in. But the cart was big, the young hopeful little, and he failed in his several attempts to swarm up. Whereupon one of the most degraded-looking men stepped out of the line and hoisted him in. Now the virtue and the joy of this act lies in that it was service of love, not hire. The carter was poor, and the man knew it; and the man was standing in the spike line, and the carter knew it; and the man had done the little act, and the carter had thanked him, even as you and I would have done and thanked.
Another beautiful touch was that displayed by the 'Hopper' and his 'ole woman.' He had been in line about half an hour when the 'ole woman' (his mate) came up to him. She was fairly clad, for her class, with a weatherworn bonnet on her gray head and a sacking covered bundle in her arms. As she talked to him, he reached forward, caught the one stray wisp of the white hair that was flying wild, deftly twirled it between his fingers, and tucked it back properly behind her ear. From all of which one may conclude many things. He certainly liked her well enough to wish her to be neat and tidy. He was proud of her, standing there in the spike line, and it was his desire that she should look well in the eyes of the other unfortunates who stood in the spike line. But last and best, and underlying all these motives, it was a sturdy affection he bore her; for man is not prone to bother his head over neatness and tidiness in a woman for whom he does not care, nor is he likely to be proud of such a woman.
And I found myself questioning why this man and his mate, hard workers I knew from their talk, should have to seek a pauper lodging. He had pride, pride in his old woman and pride in himself. When I asked him what he thought I, a greenhorn, might expect to earn at 'hopping,' he sized me up, and said that it all depended. Plenty of people were too slow to pick hops and made a failure of it. A man, to succeed, must use his head and be quick with his fingers, must be exceeding quick with his fingers. Now he and his old woman could do very well at it, working the one bin between them and not going to sleep over it; but then, they had been at it for years.
'I 'ad a mate as went down last year,' spoke up a man. 'It was 'is fust time, but 'e come back wi' two poun' ten in 'is pockit, an' 'e was only gone a month.'
'There you are,' said the Hopper, a wealth of admiration in his voice. 'E was quick. 'E was jest nat'rally born to it, 'e was.'
Two pound ten- twelve dollars and a half- for a month's work when one is 'jest nat'rally born to it'! And in addition, sleeping out without blankets and living the Lord knows how. There are moments when I am thankful that I was not 'jest nat'rally born' a genius for anything, not even hop-picking.
In the matter of getting an outfit for 'the hops,' the Hopper gave me some sterling advice, to which same give heed, you soft and tender people, in case you should ever be stranded in London Town.
'If you ain't got tins an' cookin' things, all as you can get'll be bread and cheese. No bloody good that! You must 'ave 'ot tea, an' wegetables, an' a bit o' meat, now an' again, if you're goin' to do work as is work. Cawn't do it on cold wittles. Tell you wot you do, lad. Run around in the mornin' an' look in the dust pans. You'll find plenty o' tins to cook in. Fine tins, wonderful good some o' them. Me an' the ole woman got ours that way.' (He pointed at the bundle she held, while she nodded proudly, beaming on me with good nature and consciousness of success and prosperity.) 'This overcoat is as good as a blanket,' he went on, advancing the skirt of it that I might feel its thickness. 'An' 'oo knows, I may find a blanket before long.
Again the old woman nodded and beamed, this time with the dead certainty that he would find a blanket before long.
'I call it a 'oliday, 'oppin',' he concluded rapturously. 'A tidy way o' gettin' two or three pounds together an' fixin' up for winter. The only thing I don't like'- and here was the rift within the lute- 'is paddin' the 'oof down there.'
It was plain the years were telling on this energetic pair, and while they enjoyed the quick work with the fingers, 'paddin' the 'oof,' which is walking, was beginning to bear heavily upon them. And I looked at their gray hairs, and ahead into the future ten years, and wondered how it would be with them.
I noticed another man and his old woman join the line, both of them past fifty. The woman, because she was a woman, was admitted into the spike; but he was too late, and, separated from his mate, was turned away to tramp the streets all night.
The street on which we stood, from wall to wall, was barely twenty feet wide. The sidewalks were three feet wide. It was a residence street. At least workmen and their families existed in some sort of fashion in the houses across from us. And each day and every day, from one in the afternoon till six, our ragged spike line is the principal feature of the view commanded by their front doors and windows. One workman sat in his door directly opposite us, taking his rest and a breath of air after the toil of the day. His wife came to chat with him. The doorway was too small for two, so she stood up. Their babes sprawled before them. And here was the spike line, less than a score of feet away- neither privacy for the workman, nor privacy for the pauper. About our feet played the children of the neighborhood. To them our presence was nothing unusual. We were not an intrusion. We were as natural and ordinary as the brick walls and stone curbs of their environment. They had been born to the sight of the spike line, and all their brief days they had seen it.
At six o'clock the line moved up, and we were admitted in groups of three. Name, age, occupation, place of birth, condition of destitution, and the previous night's 'doss,' were taken with lightning-like rapidity by the superintendent; and as I turned I was startled by a man's thrusting into my hand something that felt like a brick, and shouting into my ear, 'Any knives, matches, or tobacco?' 'No, sir,' I lied, as lied every man who entered. As I passed downstairs to the cellar, I looked at the brick in my hand, and saw that by doing violence to the language it might be called 'bread.' By its weight and hardness it certainly must have been unleavened.
The light was very dim down in the cellar, and before I knew it some other man had thrust a pannikin into my other hand. Then I stumbled on to a still darker room, where were benches and tables and men. The place smelled vilely, and the sombre gloom, and the mumble of voices from out of the obscurity, made it seem more like some anteroom to the infernal regions.
Most of the men were suffering from tired feet, and they prefaced the meal by removing their shoes and unbinding the filthy rags with which their feet were wrapped. This added to the general noisomeness, while it took away from my appetite.
In fact, I found that I had made a mistake. I had eaten a hearty dinner five hours before, and to have done justice to the fare before me I should have fasted for a couple of days. The pannikin contained skilly, three-quarters of a pint, a mixture of Indian corn and hot water. The men were dipping their bread into heaps of salt scattered over the dirty tables. I attempted the same, but the bread seemed to stick in my mouth, and I remembered the words of the Carpenter: 'You need a pint of water to eat the bread nicely.'
I went over into a dark corner where I had observed other men going, and found the water. Then I returned and attacked the skilly. It was coarse of texture, unseasoned, gross, and bitter. This bitterness which lingered persistently in the mouth after the skilly had passed on, I found especially repulsive. I struggled manfully, but was mastered by my qualms, and half a dozen mouthfuls of skilly and bread was the measure of my success. The man beside me ate his own share, and mine to boot, scraped the pannikins, and looked hungrily for more.
'I met a "towny," and he stood me too good a dinner,' I explained.
'An' I 'aven't 'ad a bite since yesterday mornin',' he replied.
'How about tobacco?' I asked. 'Will the bloke bother with a fellow now?'
'Oh, no,' he answered me. 'No bloody fear. This is the easiest spike goin'. Y'oughto see some of them. Search you to the skin.'
The pannikins scraped clean, conversation began to spring up. 'This super'tendent 'ere is always writin' to the papers 'bout us mugs,' said the man on the other side of me.
'What does he say?' I asked.
'Oh, 'e sez we're no good, a lot o' blackguards an' scoundrels as won't work. Tells all the ole tricks I've bin 'earin' for twenty years an' w'ich I never seen a mug ever do. Las' thing of 'is I see, 'e was tellin' 'ow a mug gets out o' the spike, wi' a crust in 'is pockit. An' w'en 'e sees a nice ole gentleman comin' along the street 'e chucks the crust into the drain, an' borrows the old gent's stick to poke it out. An' then the ole gent gi'es 'im a tanner' [sixpence].
A roar of applause greeted the time-honored yarn, and from somewhere over in the deeper darkness came another voice, orating angrily:-
'Talk o' the country bein' good for tommy [food]. I'd like to see it. I jest came up from Dover, an' blessed little tommy I got. They won't gi' ye a drink o' water, they won't, much less tommy.'
'There's mugs never go out of Kent,' spoke a second voice, 'an' they live bloomin' fat all along.'
'I come through Kent,' went on the first voice, still more angrily, 'an' Gawd blimey if I see any tommy. An' I always notices as the blokes as talks about 'ow much they can get, w'en they're in the spike can eat my share o' skilly as well as their bleedin' own.'
'There's chaps in London,' said a man across the table from me, 'that get all the tommy they want, an' they never think o' goin' to the country. Stay in London the year 'round. Nor do they think of lookin' for a kip [place to sleep), till nine or ten o'clock at night.'
A general chorus verified this statement.
'But they're bloody clever, them chaps,' said an admiring voice.
'Course they are,' said another voice. 'But it's not the likes of me an' you can do it. You got to be born to it, I say. Them chaps 'ave ben openin' cabs an' sellin' papers since the day they was born, an' their fathers an' mothers before 'em. It's all in the trainin', I say, an' the likes of me an' you 'ud starve at it.'
This also was verified by the general chorus, and likewise the statement that there were 'mugs as lives the twelvemonth 'round in the spike an' never get a blessed bit o' tommy other than spike skilly an' bread.'
'I once got arf a crown in the Stratford spike,' said a new voice. Silence fell on the instant, and all listened to the wonderful tale. 'There was three of us breakin' stones. Wintertime, an' the cold was cruel. T'other two said they'd be blessed if they do it, an' they didn't; but I kept wearin' into mine to warm up, you know. An' then the guardians come, an' t'other chaps got run in for fourteen days, an' the guardians, w'en they see wot I'd been doin', gives me a tanner each, five o' them, an' turns me up.'
The majority of these men, nay, all of them, I found, do not like the spike, and only come to it when driven in. After the 'rest up' they are good for two or three days and nights on the streets, when they are driven in again for another rest. Of course, this continuous hardship quickly breaks their constitutions, and they realize it, though only in a vague way; while it is so much the common run of things that they do not worry about it.
'On the doss,' they call vagabondage here, which corresponds to 'on the road' in the United States. The agreement is that kipping, or dossing, or sleeping, is the hardest problem they have to face, harder even than that of food. The inclement weather and the harsh laws are mainly responsible for this, while the men themselves ascribe their homelessness to foreign immigration, especially of Polish and Russian Jews, who take their places at lower wages and establish the sweating system.
By seven o'clock we were called away to bathe and go to bed. We stripped our clothes, wrapping them up in our coats and buckling our belts about them, and deposited them in a heaped rack and on the floor- a beautiful scheme for the spread of vermin. Then, two by two, we entered the bathroom. There were two ordinary tubs, and this I know: the two men preceding had washed in that water, we washed in the same water, and it was not changed for the two men that followed us. This I know; but I am quite certain that the twenty-two of us washed in the same water.
I did no more than make a show of splashing some of this dubious liquid at myself, while I hastily brushed it off with a towel wet from the bodies of other men. My equanimity was not restored by seeing the back of one poor wretch a mass of blood from attacks of vermin and retaliatory scratching.
A shirt was handed me- which I could not help but wonder how many other men had worn; and with a couple of blankets under my arm I trudged off to the sleeping apartment. This was a long, narrow room, traversed by two low iron rails. Between these rails were stretched, not hammocks, but pieces of canvas, six feet long and less than two feet wide. These were the beds, and they were six inches apart and about eight inches above the floor. The chief difficulty was that the head was somewhat higher than the feet, which caused the body constantly to slip down. Being slung to the same rails, when one man moved, no matter how slightly, the rest were set rocking; and whenever I dozed somebody was sure to struggle back to the position from which he had slipped, and arouse me again.
Many hours passed before I won to sleep. It was only seven in the evening, and the voices of children, in shrill outcry, playing in the street, continued till nearly midnight. The smell was frightful and sickening, while my imagination broke loose, and my skin crept and crawled till I was nearly frantic. Grunting, groaning, and snoring arose like the sounds emitted by some sea monster, and several times, afflicted by nightmare, one or another, by his shrieks and yells, aroused the lot of us. Toward morning I was awakened by a rat or some similar animal on my breast. In the quick transition from sleep to waking, before I was completely myself, I raised a shout to wake the dead. At any rate, I woke the living, and they cursed me roundly for my lack of manners.
But morning came, with a six o'clock breakfast of bread and skilly, which I gave away; and we were told off to our various tasks. Some were set to scrubbing and cleaning, others to picking oakum, and eight of us were convoyed across the street to the Whitechapel Infirmary, where we were set at scavenger work. This was the method by which we paid for our skilly and canvas, and I, for one, know that I paid in full many times over.
Though we had most revolting tasks to perform, our allotment was considered the best, and the other men deemed themselves lucky in being chosen to perform it.
'Don't touch it, mate, the nurse sez it's deadly,' warned my working partner, as I held open a sack into which he was emptying a garbage can.
It came from the sick wards, and I told him that I purposed neither to touch it, nor to allow it to touch me. Nevertheless, I had to carry the sack, and other sacks, down five flights of stairs and empty them in a receptacle where the corruption was speedily sprinkled with strong disinfectant.
Perhaps there is a wise mercy in all this. These men of the spike, the peg, and the street, are encumbrances. They are of no good or use to any one, nor to themselves. They clutter the earth with their presence, and are better out of the way. Broken by hardship, ill fed, and worse nourished, they are always the first to be struck down by disease, as they are likewise the quickest to die.
They feel, themselves, that the forces of society tend to hurl them out of existence. We were sprinkling disinfectant by the mortuary, when the dead wagon drove up and five bodies were packed into it. The conversation turned to the 'white potion' and 'black jack,' and I found they were all agreed that the poor person, man or woman, who in the Infirmary gave too much trouble or was in a bad way, was 'polished off.' That is to say, the incurables and the obstreperous were given a dose of 'black jack' or the 'white potion,' and sent over the divide. It does not matter in the least whether this be actually so or not. The point is, they have the feeling that it is so, and they have created the language with which to express that feeling- 'black jack,' 'white potion,' 'polishing off.'
At eight o'clock we went down into a cellar under the Infirmary, where tea was brought to us, and the hospital scraps. These were heaped high on a huge platter in an indescribable mess- pieces of bread, chunks of grease and fat pork, the burnt skin from the outside of roasted joints, bones, in short, all the leavings from the fingers and mouths of the sick ones suffering from all manner of diseases. Into this mess the men plunged their hands, digging, pawing, turning over, examining, rejecting, and scrambling for. It wasn't pretty. Pigs couldn't have done worse. But the poor devils were hungry, and they ate ravenously of the swill, and when they could eat no more they bundled what was left into their handkerchiefs and thrust it inside their shirts.
'Once, w'en I was 'ere before, wot did I find out there but a 'ole lot of pork-ribs,' said Ginger to me. By 'out there' he meant the place where the corruption was dumped and sprinkled with strong disinfectant. 'They was a prime lot, no end o' meat on 'em, an' I 'ad 'em into my arms an' was out the gate an' down the street, a-lookin' for some 'un to gi' 'em to. Couldn't see a soul, an' I was runnin' 'round clean crazy, the bloke runnin' after me an' thinkin' I was 'slingin' my 'ook' [running away]. But jest before 'e got me, I got a ole woman an' poked 'em into 'er apron.'
O Charity, O Philanthropy, descend to the spike and take a lesson from Ginger. At the bottom of the Abyss he performed as purely an altruistic act as was ever performed outside the Abyss. It was fine of Ginger, and if the old woman caught some contagion from the 'no end o' meat' on the pork-ribs, it was still fine, though not so fine. But the most salient thing in this incident, it seems to me, is poor Ginger, 'clean crazy' at sight of so much food going to waste.
It is the rule of the casual ward that a man who enters must stay two nights and a day; but I had seen sufficient for my purpose, had paid for my skilly and canvas, and was preparing to run for it.
'Come on, let's sling it,' I said to one of my mates, pointing toward the open gate through which the dead wagon had come.
'An' get fourteen days?'
'No; get away.'
'Aw, I come 'ere for a rest,' he said complacently. 'An' another night's kip won't 'urt me none.'
They were all of this opinion, so I was forced to 'sling it' alone.
'You cawn't ever come back 'ere again for a doss,' they warned me.
'No bloody fear,' said I, with an enthusiasm they could not comprehend; and, dodging out the gate, I sped down the street.
Straight to my room I hurried, changed my clothes, and less than an hour from my escape, in a Turkish bath, I was sweating out whatever germs and other things had penetrated my epidermis, and wishing that I could stand a temperature of three hundred and twenty rather than two hundred and twenty.
Carrying the Banner.
I would not have the laborer sacrificed to the
result. I would not have the laborer sacrificed to
my convenience and pride, nor to that of a great
class of such as me. Let there be worse cotton and
better men. The weaver should not be bereaved of
his superiority to his work.
'TO CARRY THE BANNER' means to walk the streets all night; and I, with the figurative emblem hoisted, went out to see what I could see. Men and women walk the streets at night all over this great city, but I selected the West End, making Leicester Square my base, and scouting about from the Thames Embankment to Hyde Park.
The rain was falling heavily when the theatres let out, and the brilliant throng which poured from the places of amusement was hard put to find cabs. The streets were so many wild rivers of cabs, most of which were engaged, however; and here I saw the desperate attempts of ragged men and boys to get a shelter from the night by procuring cabs for the cabless ladies and gentlemen. I use the word 'desperate' advisedly; for these wretched homeless ones were gambling a soaking against a bed; and most of them, I took notice, got the soaking and missed the bed. Now, to go through a stormy night with wet clothes, and, in addition, to be ill-nourished and not to have tasted meat for a week or a month, is about as severe a hardship as a man can undergo. Well-fed and well-clad, I have travelled all day with the spirit thermometer down to seventy-four degrees below zero; and though I suffered, it was a mere nothing compared with carrying the banner for a night, ill-fed, ill-clad, and soaking wet.
The streets grew very quiet and lonely after the theatre crowd had gone home. Only were to be seen the ubiquitous policemen, flashing their dark lanterns into doorways and alleys, and men and women and boys taking shelter in the lee of buildings from the wind and rain. Piccadilly, however, was not quite so deserted. Its pavements were brightened by well-dressed women without escort, and there was more life and action there than elsewhere, due to the process of finding escort. But by three o'clock the last of them had vanished, and it was then indeed lonely.
At half-past one the steady downpour ceased, and only showers fell thereafter. The homeless folk came away from the protection of the buildings, and slouched up and down and everywhere, in order to rush up the circulation and keep warm.
One old woman, between fifty and sixty, a sheer wreck, I had noticed, earlier in the night, standing in Piccadilly, not far from Leicester Square. She seemed to have neither the sense nor the strength to get out of the rain or keep walking, but stood stupidly, whenever she got the chance, meditating on past days, I imagine, when life was young and blood was warm. But she did not get the chance often. She was moved on by every policeman, and it required an average of six moves to send her doddering off one man's beat and on to another's. By three o'clock she had progressed as far as St. James Street, and as the clocks were striking four I saw her sleeping soundly against the iron railings of Green Park. A brisk shower was falling at the time, and she must have been drenched to the skin.
Now, said I, at one o'clock, to myself; consider that you are a poor young man, penniless, in London Town, and that to-morrow you must look for work. It is necessary, therefore, that you get some sleep in order that you may have strength to look for work and to do work in case you find it.
So I sat down on the stone steps of a building. Five minutes later, a policeman was looking at me. My eyes were wide open, so he only grunted and passed on. Ten minutes later my head was on my knees, I was dozing, and the same policeman was saying gruffly, ''Ere, you, get outa that!'
I got. And, like the old woman, I continued to get; for every time I dozed, a policeman was there to rout me along again. Not long after, when I had given this up, I was walking with a young Londoner (who had been out to the colonies and wished he were out to them again), when I noticed an open passage leading under a building and disappearing in darkness. A low iron gate barred the entrance.
'Come on,' I said. 'Let's climb over and get a good sleep.'
'Wot?' he answered, recoiling from me. 'An' get run in fer three months! Blimey if I do!'
Later on, I was passing Hyde Park with a young boy of fourteen or fifteen, a most wretched-looking youth, gaunt and hollow-eyed and sick.
'Let's go over the fence,' I proposed, 'and crawl into the shrubbery for a sleep. The bobbies couldn't find us there.'
'No fear,' he answered. 'There's the park guardians, and they'd run you in for six months.'
Times have changed, alas! When I was a youngster I used to read of homeless boys sleeping in doorways. Already the thing has become a tradition. As a stock situation it will doubtlessly linger in literature for a century to come, but as a cold fact it has ceased to be. Here are the doorways, and here are the boys, but happy conjunctions are no longer effected. The doorways remain empty, and the boys keep awake and carry the banner.
'I was down under the arches,' grumbled another young fellow. By 'arches' he meant the shore arches where begin the bridges that span the Thames. 'I was down under the arches, w'en it was ryning its 'ardest, an' a bobby comes in an' chyses me out. But I come back, an' 'e come too. "'Ere" sez 'e, "wot you doin' 'ere?" An' out I goes, but I sez, "Think I want ter pinch [steal] the bleedin' bridge?"'
Among those who carry the banner, Green Park has the reputation of opening its gates earlier than the other parks, and at quarter-past four in the morning, I, and many more, entered Green Park. It was raining again, but they were worn out with the night's walking, and they were down on the benches and asleep at once. Many of the men stretched out full length on the dripping wet grass, and, with the rain falling steadily upon them, were sleeping the sleep of exhaustion.
And now I wish to criticize the powers that be. They are the powers, therefore they may decree whatever they please; so I make bold only to criticize the ridiculousness of their decrees. All night long they make the homeless ones walk up and down. They drive them out of doors and passages, and lock them out of the parks. The evident intention of all this is to deprive them of sleep. Well and good, the powers have the power to deprive them of sleep, or of anything else for that matter; but why under the sun do they open the gates of the parks at five o'clock in the morning and let the homeless ones go inside and sleep? If it is their intention to deprive them of sleep, why do they let them sleep after five in the morning? And if it is not their intention to deprive them of sleep, why don't they let them sleep earlier in the night?
In this connection, I will say that I came by Green Park that same day, at one in the afternoon, and that I counted scores of the ragged wretches asleep in the grass. It was Sunday afternoon, the sun was fitfully appearing, and the well-dressed West Enders, with their wives and progeny, were out by thousands, taking the air. It was not a pleasant sight for them, those horrible, unkempt, sleeping vagabonds; while the vagabonds themselves, I know, would rather have done their sleeping the night before.
And so, dear soft people, should you ever visit London Town, and see these men asleep on the benches and in the grass, please do not think they are lazy creatures, preferring sleep to work. Know that the powers that be have kept them walking all the night long, and that in the day they have nowhere else to sleep.
And I believe that this claim for a healthy body for
all of us carries with it all other due claims; for
who knows where the seeds of disease, which even rich
people suffer from, were first sown? From the luxury of
an ancestor, perhaps; yet often, I suspect, from his poverty.
BUT, AFTER CARRYING THE BANNER all night, I did not sleep in Green Park when morning dawned. I was wet to the skin, it is true, and I had had no sleep for twenty-four hours; but, still adventuring as a penniless man looking for work, I had to look about me, first for a breakfast, and next for the work.
During the night I had heard of a place over on the Surrey side of the Thames, where the Salvation Army every Sunday morning gave away a breakfast to the unwashed. (And, by the way, the men who carry the banner are unwashed in the morning, and unless it is raining they do not have much show for a wash, either.) This, thought I, is the very thing,- breakfast in the morning, and then the whole day in which to look for work.
It was a weary walk. Down St. James Street I dragged my tired legs, along Pall Mall, past Trafalgar Square, to the Strand. I crossed the Waterloo Bridge to the Surrey side, cut across to Blackfriars Road, coming out near the Surrey Theatre, and arrived at the Salvation Army barracks before seven o'clock. This was 'the peg.' And by 'the peg,' in the argot, is meant the place where a free meal may be obtained.
Here was a motley crowd of woebegone wretches who had spent the night in the rain. Such prodigious misery! and so much of it! Old men, young men, all manner of men, and boys to boot, and all manner of boys. Some were drowsing standing up; half a score of them were stretched out on the stone steps in most painful postures, all of them sound asleep, the skin of their bodies showing red through the holes and rents in their rags. And up and down the street and across the street for a block either way, each doorstep had from two to three occupants, all asleep, their heads bent forward on their knees. And, it must be remembered, these are not hard times in England. Things are going on very much as they ordinarily do, and times are neither hard nor easy.
And then came the policeman. 'Get outa that, you bloody swine! Eigh! eigh! Get out now!' And like swine he drove them from the doorways and scattered them to the four winds of Surrey. But when he encountered the crowd asleep on the steps he was astounded. 'Shocking!' he exclaimed. 'Shocking! And of a Sunday morning! A pretty sight! Eigh! eigh! Get outa that, you bleeding nuisances!'
Of course it was a shocking sight. I was shocked myself. And I should not care to have my own daughter pollute her eyes with such a sight, or come within half a mile of it; but- and there we were, and there you are, and 'but' is all that can be said.
The policeman passed on, and back we clustered, like flies around a honey jar. For was there not that wonderful thing, a breakfast, awaiting us? We could not have clustered more persistently and desperately had they been giving away million-dollar bank-notes. Some were already off to sleep, when back came the policeman and away we scattered, only to return again as soon as the coast was clear.
At half-past seven a little door opened, and a Salvation Army soldier stuck out his head. 'Ayn't no sense blockin' the wy up that wy,' he said. 'Those as 'as tickets cawn come hin now, an' those as 'asn't cawn't come hin till nine.'
Oh, that breakfast! Nine o'clock! An hour and a half longer! The men who held tickets were greatly envied. They were permitted to go inside, have a wash, and sit down and rest until breakfast, while we waited for the same breakfast on the street. The tickets had been distributed the previous night on the street, and along the Embankment, and the possession of them was not a matter of merit, but of chance.
At eight-thirty, more men with tickets were admitted, and by nine the little gate was opened to us. We crushed through somehow, and found ourselves packed in a courtyard like sardines. On more occasions than one, as a Yankee tramp in Yankeeland, I have had to work for my breakfast; but for no breakfast did I ever work so hard as for this one. For over two hours I had waited outside, and for over another hour I waited in this packed courtyard. I had had nothing to eat all night, and I was weak and faint, while the smell. of the soiled clothes and unwashed bodies, steaming from pent animal heat, and blocked solidly about me, nearly turned my stomach. So tightly were we packed, that a number of the men took advantage of the opportunity and went soundly asleep standing up.
Now, about the Salvation Army in general I know nothing, and whatever criticism I shall make here is of that particular portion of the Salvation Army which does business on Blackfriars Road near the Surrey Theatre. In the first place, this forcing of men who have been up all night to stand on their feet for hours longer, is as cruel as it is needless. We were weak, famished, and exhausted from our night's hardship and lack of sleep, and yet there we stood, and stood, and stood, without rhyme or reason.
Sailors were very plentiful in this crowd. It seemed to me that one man in four was looking for a ship, and I found at least a dozen of them to be American sailors. In accounting for their being 'on the beach,' I received the same story from each and all, and from my knowledge of sea affairs this story rang true. English ships sign their sailors for the voyage which means the round trip, sometimes lasting as long as three years; and they cannot sign off and receive their discharges until they reach the home port, which is England. Their wages are low, their food is bad, and their treatment worse. Very often they are really forced by their captains to desert in the New World or the colonies, leaving a handsome sum of wages behind them,- a distinct gain, either to the captain or the owners, or to both. But whether for this reason alone or not, it is a fact that large numbers of them desert. Then, for the home voyage, the ship engages whatever sailors it can find on the beach. These men are engaged at the somewhat higher wages that obtain in other portions of the world, under the agreement that they shall sign off on reaching England. The reason for this is obvious; for it would be poor business policy to sign them for any longer time, since seamen's wages are low in England, and England is always crowded with sailormen on the beach. So this fully accounted for the American seamen at the Salvation Army barracks. To get off the beach in other outlandish places they had come to England, and gone on the beach in the most outlandish place of all.
There were fully a score of Americans in the crowd, the non-sailors being 'tramps royal,' the men whose 'mate is the wind that tramps the world.' They were all cheerful, facing things with the pluck which is their chief characteristic and which seems never to desert them, withal they were cursing the country with lurid metaphors quite refreshing after a month of unimaginative, monotonous Cockney swearing. The Cockney has one oath, and one oath only, the most indecent in the language, which he uses on any and every occasion. Far different is the luminous and varied Western swearing, which runs to blasphemy rather than indecency. And after all, since men will swear, I think I prefer blasphemy to indecency; there is an audacity about it, an adventurousness and defiance that is far finer than sheer filthiness.
There was one American tramp royal whom I found particularly enjoyable. I first noticed him on the street, asleep in a doorway, his head on his knees, but a hat on his head that one does not meet this side of the Western Ocean. When the policeman routed him out, he got up slowly and deliberately, looked at the policeman, yawned and stretched himself, looked at the policeman again as much as to say he didn't know whether he would or wouldn't, and then sauntered leisurely down the sidewalk. At the outset I was sure of the hat, but this made me sure of the wearer of that hat.
In the jam inside I found myself alongside of him, and we had quite a chat. He had been through Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and France, and had accomplished the practically impossible feat of beating his way three hundred miles on a French railway without being caught at the finish. Where was I hanging out? he asked. And how did I manage for 'kipping'?- which means sleeping. Did I know the rounds yet? He was getting on, though the country was 'horstyl' and the cities were 'bum.' Fierce, wasn't it? Couldn't 'batter' (beg) anywhere without being 'pinched.' But he wasn't going to quit it. Buffalo Bill's Show was coming over soon, and a man who could drive eight horses was sure of a job any time. These mugs over here didn't know beans about driving anything more than a span. What was the matter with me hanging on and waiting for Buffalo Bill? He was sure I could ring in somehow.
And so, after all, blood is thicker than water. We were fellow-countrymen and strangers in a strange land. I had warmed to his battered old hat at sight of it, and he was as solicitous for my welfare as if we were blood brothers. We swapped all manner of useful information concerning the country and the ways of its people, methods by which to obtain food and shelter and what not, and we parted genuinely sorry at having to say good-by.
One thing particularly conspicuous in this crowd was the shortness of stature. I, who am but of medium height, looked over the heads of nine out of ten. The natives were all short, as were the foreign sailors. There were only five or six in the crowd who could be called fairly tall, and they were Scandinavians and Americans. The tallest man there, however, was an exception. He was an Englishman, though not a Londoner. 'Candidate for the Life Guards,' I remarked to him. 'You've hit it, mate,' was his reply; 'I've served my bit in that same, and the way things are I'll be back at it before long.'
For an hour we stood quietly in this packed courtyard. Then the men began to grow restless. There was pushing and shoving forward, and a mild hubbub of voices. Nothing rough, however, or violent; merely the restlessness of weary and hungry men. At this juncture forth came the adjutant. I did not like him. His eyes were not good. There was nothing of the lowly Galilean about him, but a great deal of the centurion who said: 'For I am a man in authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.'
Well, he looked at us in just that way, and those nearest to him quailed. Then he lifted his voice.
'Stop this 'ere, now, or I'll turn you the other wy, an' march you out, an' you'll get no breakfast.'
I cannot convey by printed speech the insufferable way in which he said this, the self-consciousness of superiority, the brutal gluttony of power. He revelled in that he was a man in authority, able to say to half a thousand ragged wretches, 'You may eat or go hungry, as I elect.'
To deny us our breakfast after standing for hours! It was an awful threat, and the pitiful, abject silence which instantly fell attested its awfulness. And it was a cowardly threat, a foul blow, struck below the belt. We could not strike back, for we were starving; and it is the way of the world that when one man feeds another he is the man's master. But the centurion- I mean the adjutant- was not satisfied. In the dead silence he raised his voice again, and repeated the threat, and amplified it, and glared ferociously.
At last we were permitted to enter the feasting hall, where we found the 'ticket men' washed but unfed. All told, there must have been nearly seven hundred of us who sat down- not to meat or bread, but to speech, song, and prayer. From all of which I am convinced that Tantalus suffers in many guises this side of the infernal regions. The adjutant made the prayer, but I did not take note of it, being too engrossed with the massed picture of misery before me. But the speech ran something like this: 'You will feast in paradise. No matter how you starve and suffer here, you will feast in paradise, that is, if you will follow the directions.' And so forth and so forth. A clever bit of propaganda, I took it, but rendered of no avail for two reasons. First, the men who received it were unimaginative and materialistic, unaware of the existence of any Unseen, and too inured to hell on earth to be frightened by hell to come. And second, weary and exhausted from the night's sleeplessness and hardship, suffering from the long wait upon their feet, and faint from hunger, they were yearning, not for salvation, but for grub. The 'soul-snatchers' (as these men call all religious propagandists) should study the physiological basis of psychology a little, if they wish to make their efforts more effective.
All in good time, about eleven o'clock, breakfast arrived. It arrived, not on plates, but in paper parcels. I did not have all I wanted, and I am sure that no man there had all he wanted, or half of what he wanted or needed. I gave part of my bread to the tramp royal who was waiting for Buffalo Bill, and he was as ravenous at the end as he was in the beginning. This is the breakfast: two slices of bread, one small piece of bread with raisins in it and called 'cake,' a wafer of cheese, and a mug of 'water bewitched.' Numbers of the men had been waiting since five o'clock for it, while all of us had waited at least four hours; and in addition, we had been herded like swine, packed like sardines, and treated like curs, and been preached at, and sung to, and prayed for. Nor was that all.
No sooner was breakfast over (and it was over almost as quickly as it takes to tell) than the tired heads began to nod and droop, and in five minutes half of us were sound asleep. There were no signs of our being dismissed, while there were unmistakable signs of preparation for a meeting. I looked at a small clock hanging on the wall. It indicated twenty-five minutes to twelve. Heigh ho, thought I, time is flying, and I have yet to look for work.
'I want to go,' I said to a couple of waking men near me.
'Got ter sty fer the service,' was the answer.
'Do you want to stay?' I asked.
They shook their heads.
'Then let us go up and tell them we want to get out,' I continued. 'Come on.'
But the poor creatures were aghast. So I left them to their fate, and went up to the nearest Salvation Army man.
'I want to go,' I said. 'I came here for breakfast in order that I might be in shape to look for work. I didn't think it would take so long to get breakfast. I think I have a chance for work in Stepney, and the sooner I start, the better chance I'll have of getting it.'
He was really a good fellow, though he was startled by my request. 'Why,' he said, 'we're goin' to 'old services, and you'd better sty.'
'But that will spoil my chances for work,' I urged. 'And work is the most important thing for me just now.'
As he was only a private, he referred me to the adjutant, and to the adjutant I repeated my reasons for wishing to go, and politely requested that he let me go.
'But it cawn't be done,' he said, waxing virtuously indignant at such ingratitude. 'The idea!' he snorted. 'The idea!'
'Do you mean to say that I can't get out of here?' I demanded. 'That you will keep me here against my will?'
'Yes,' he snorted.
I do not know what might have happened, for I was waxing indignant myself; but the 'congregation' had 'piped' the situation, and he drew me over to a corner of the room, and then into another room. Here he again demanded my reasons for wishing to go.
'I want to go,' I said, 'because I wish to look for work over in Stepney, and every hour lessens my chance of finding work. It is now twenty-five minutes to twelve. I did not think when I came in that it would take so long to get a breakfast.'
'You 'ave business, eh?' he sneered. 'A man of business you are, eh? Then wot did you come 'ere for?'
'I was out all night, and I needed a breakfast in order to strengthen me to find work. That is why I came here.'
'A nice thing to do,' he went on, in the same sneering manner. 'A man with business shouldn't come 'ere. You've tyken some poor man's breakfast 'ere this morning, that's wot you've done.'
Which was a lie, for every mother's son of us had come in.
Now I submit, was this Christian-like, or even honest?- after I had plainly stated that I was homeless and hungry, and that I wished to look for work, for him to call my looking for work 'business', to call me therefore a business man, and to draw the corollary that a man of business, and well off, did not require a charity breakfast, and that by taking a charity breakfast I had robbed some hungry waif who was not a man of business.
I kept my temper, but I went over the facts again and clearly and concisely demonstrated to him how unjust he was and how he had perverted the facts. As I manifested no signs of backing down (and I am sure my eyes were beginning to snap), he led me to the rear of the building, where, in an open court, stood a tent. In the same sneering tone he informed a couple of privates standing there that ''ere is a fellow that 'as business an' 'e wants to go before services.'
They were duly shocked, of course, and they looked unutterable horror while he went into the tent and brought out the major. Still in the same sneering manner, laying particular stress on the 'business,' he brought my case before the commanding officer. The major was of a different stamp of man. I liked him as soon as I saw him, and to him I stated my case in the same fashion as before.
'Didn't you know you had to stay for services?' he asked.
'Certainly not,' I answered, 'or I should have gone without my breakfast. You have no placards posted to that effect, nor was I so informed when I entered the place.'
He meditated a moment. 'You can go,' he said.
It was twelve o'clock when I gained the street, and I couldn't quite make up my mind whether I had been in the army or in prison. The day was half gone, and it was a far fetch to Stepney. And besides, it was Sunday, and why should even a starving man look for work on Sunday? Furthermore, it was my judgment that I had done a hard night's work walking the streets, and a hard day's work getting my breakfast; so I disconnected myself from my working hypothesis of a starving young man in search of employment, hailed a bus, and climbed aboard.
After a shave and a bath, with my clothes all off, I got in between clean white sheets and went to sleep. It was six in the evening when I closed my eyes. When they opened again, the clocks were striking nine next morning. I had slept fifteen straight hours. And as I lay there drowsily, my mind went back to the seven hundred unfortunates I had left waiting for services. No bath, no shave for them, no clean white sheets and all clothes off, and fifteen hours straight sleep. Services over, it was the weary streets again, the problem of a crust of bread ere night, and the long sleepless night in the streets, and the pondering of the problem of how to obtain a crust at dawn.
O thou that sea-walls sever
From lands unwalled by seas!
Wilt thou endure forever,
O Milton's England, these?
Thou that wast his Republic,
Wilt thou clasp their knees?
These royalties rust-eaten,
These worm-corroded lies
That keep thy head storm-beaten,
And sun-like strength of eyes
From the open air and heaven
Of intercepted skies!
VIVAT REX EDUARDUS! They crowned a king this day, and there has been great rejoicing and elaborate tomfoolery, and I am perplexed and saddened. I never saw anything to compare with the pageant, except Yankee circuses and Alhambra ballets; nor did I ever see anything so hopeless and so tragic.
To have enjoyed the Coronation procession, I should have come straight from America to the Hotel Cecil, and straight from the Hotel Cecil to a five-guinea seat among the washed. My mistake was in coming from the unwashed of the East End. There were not many who came from that quarter. The East End, as a whole, remained in the East End and got drunk. The Socialists, Democrats, and Republicans went off to the country for a breath of fresh air, quite unaffected by the fact that forty millions of people were taking to themselves a crowned and anointed ruler. Six thousand five hundred prelates, priests, statesmen, princes, and warriors beheld the crowning and anointing and the rest of us the pageant as it passed.
I saw it at Trafalgar Square, 'the most splendid site in Europe,' and the very uttermost heart of the empire. There were many thousands of us, all checked and held in order by a superb display of armed power. The line of march was double-walled with soldiers. The base of the Nelson Column was triple-fringed with blue-jackets. Eastward, at the entrance to the square, stood the Royal Marine Artillery. In the triangle of Pall Mall and Cockspur, the statue of George Ill was buttressed on either side by the Lancers and Hussars. To the west were the red coats of the Royal Marines, and from the Union Club to the embouchure of Whitehall swept the glittering, massive curve of the 1st Life Guards- gigantic men mounted on gigantic charges, steel-breastplated, steel-helmeted, steel-caparisoned, a great war-sword of steel ready to the hand of the powers that be. And further, throughout the crowd, were flung long lines of the Metropolitan Constabulary, while in the rear were the reserves- tall, well-fed men, with weapons to wield and muscles to wield them in case of need.
And as it was thus at Trafalgar Square, so was it along the whole line of march- force, overpowering force; myriads of men, splendid men, the pick of the people, whose sole function in life is blindly to obey, and blindly to kill and destroy and stamp out life. And that they should be well fed, well clothed, and well armed, and have ships to hurl them to the ends of the earth, the East End of London, and the 'East End' of all England, toils and rots and dies.
There is a Chinese proverb that if one man lives in laziness another will die of hunger; and Montesquieu has said, 'The fact that many men are occupied in making clothes for one individual is the cause of there being many people without clothes.' So one explains the other. We cannot understand the starved and runty toiler of the East End (living with his family in a one-room den, and letting out the floor space for lodgings to other starved and runty toilers) till we look at the strapping Life Guardsmen of the West End, and come to know that the one must feed and clothe and groom the other.
And while in Westminster Abbey the people were taking unto themselves a king, I, jammed between the Life Guards and Constabulary of Trafalgar Square, was dwelling upon the time when the people of Israel first took unto themselves a king. You all know how it runs. The elders came to the Prophet Samuel, and said: 'Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.'
And the Lord said unto Samuel: Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king, and he said:
This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will set some to plough his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
And he will take a tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
He will take a tenth of your flocks; and ye shall be his servants.
And ye shall call out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not answer you in that day.
All of which came to pass in that ancient day, and they did cry out to Samuel, saying: 'Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.' And after Saul and David came Solomon, who 'answered the people roughly, saying: My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.'
And in these latter days, five hundred hereditary peers own one-fifth of England; and they, and the officers and servants under the King, and those who go to compose the powers that be, yearly spend in wasteful luxury $1,850,000,000, which is thirty-two per cent of the total wealth produced by all the toilers of the country.
At the Abbey, clad in wonderful golden raiment, amid fanfare of trumpets and throbbing of music, surrounded by a brilliant throng of masters, lords, and rulers, the King was being invested with the insignia of his sovereignty. The spurs were placed to his heels by the Lord Great Chamberlain, and a sword of state, in purple scabbard, was presented him by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with these words:
Receive this kingly sword brought now from the altar of God, and delivered to you by the hands of the bishops and servants of God, though unworthy.
Whereupon, being girded, he gave heed to the Archbishop's exhortation:
With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the Holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order.
But hark! There is cheering down Whitehall; the crowd sways, the double walls of soldiers come to attention, and into view swing the King's watermen, in fantastic mediaeval garbs of red, for all the world like the van of a circus parade. Then a royal carriage, filled with ladies and gentlemen of the household, with powdered footmen and coachmen most gorgeously arrayed. More carriages, lords, and chamberlains, viscounts, mistresses of the robes- lackeys all. Then the warriors, a kingly escort, generals, bronzed and worn, from the ends of the earth come up to London Town; volunteer officers, officers of the militia and regular forces; Spens and Plumer, Broadwood and Cooper who relieved Ookiep, Malthias of Dargai, Dixon of Vlakfontein; General Gaselee and Admiral Seymour of China; Kitchener of Khartoum; Lord Roberts of India and all the world- the fighting men of England, masters of destruction, engineers of death! Another race of men from those of the shops and slums, a totally different race of men.
But here they come, in all the pomp and certitude of power, and still they come, these men of steel, these war lords and world harnessers. Pell-mell, peers and commoners, princes and maharajahs, Equerries to the King and Yeomen of the Guard. And here the colonials, lithe and hardy men; and here all the breeds of all the world- soldiers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand; from Bermuda, Borneo, Fiji, and the Gold Coast; from Rhodesia, Cape Colony, Natal, Sierra Leone and Gambia, Nigeria, and Uganda; from Ceylon, Cyprus, Hong-Kong, Jamaica, and Wei-Hai-Wei; from Lagos, Malta, St. Lucia, Singapore, Straits Settlements, Trinidad. And here the conquered men of Ind, swarthy horsemen and sword wielders, fiercely barbaric, blazing in crimson and scarlet, Sikhs, Rajputs, Burmese, province by province, and caste by caste.
And now the Horse Guards, a glimpse of beautiful cream ponies, and a golden panoply, a hurricane of cheers, the crashing of bands- 'The King! the King! God save the King!' Everybody has gone mad. The contagion is sweeping me off my feet. I, too, want to shout, 'The King! God save the King!' Ragged men about me, tears in their eyes, are tossing up their hats and crying ecstatically, 'Bless 'em! Bless 'em! Bless 'em!' See, there he is, in that wondrous golden coach, the great crown flashing on his head, the woman in white beside him likewise crowned.
And I check myself with a rush, striving to convince myself that it is all real and rational, and not some glimpse of fairyland. This I cannot succeed in doing, and it is better so. I much prefer to believe that all this pomp, and vanity, and show, and mumbo-jumbo foolery has come from fairlyand, than to believe it the performance of sane and sensible people who have mastered matter, and solved the secrets of the stars.
Princes and princelings, dukes, duchesses, and all manner of coroneted folk of the royal train are flashing past; more warriors, and lackeys, and conquered peoples, and the pageant is over. I drift with the crowd out of the square into a tangle of narrow streets, where the public houses are a-roar with drunkenness, men, women, and children mixed together in colossal debauch. And on every side is rising the favorite song of the Coronation:
Oh! on Coronation Day, on Coronation Day,
We'll have a spree, a jubilee, and shout, Hip, hip, hooray,
For we'll all be merry, drinking whiskey, wine, and sherry.
We'll be merry on Coronation Day.
The rain is pouring down in torrents. Up the street come troops of the auxiliaries, black Africans and yellow Asiatics, beturbaned and befezed, and coolies swinging along with machine guns and mountain batteries on their heads, and the bare feet of all, in quick rhythm, going slish, slish, through the pavement mud. The public houses empty by magic, and the swarthy allegiants are cheered by their British brothers, who return at once to the carouse.
'And how did you like the procession, mate?' I asked an old man on a bench in Green Park.
''Ow did I like it? A bloody good chawnce, sez I to myself, for a sleep, wi' all the coppers aw'y, so I turned into the corner there, along wi' fifty others. But I couldn't sleep, a-lyin' there 'ungry an' thinkin' 'ow I'd worked all the years o' my life an' now 'ad no plyce to rest my 'ead; an' the music comin' to me, an' the cheers an' cannon, till I got almost a hanarchist an' wanted to blow out the brains o' the Lord Chamberlain.'
Why the Lord Chamberlain, I could not precisely see, nor could he, but that was the way he felt, he said conclusively, and there was no more discussion.
As night drew on, the city became a blaze of light. Splashes of color, green, amber, and ruby, caught the eye at every point, and 'E. R.,' in great cut-crystal letters and backed by flaming gas, was everywhere. The crowds in the streets increased by hundreds of thousands, and though the police sternly put down mafficking, drunkenness and rough play abounded. The tired workers seemed to have gone mad with the relaxation and excitement, and they surged and danced down the streets, men and women, old and young, with linked arms and in long rows, singing, 'I may be crazy, but I love you,' 'Dolly Gray,' and 'The Honeysuckle and the Bee,'- the last rendered something like this:
Yew aw the enny, ennyseckle, Oi em ther bee,
Oi'd like ter sip ther enny from those red lips, yew see.
I sat on a bench on the Thames Embankment, looking across the illuminated water. It was approaching midnight, and before me poured the better class of merrymakers, shunning the more riotous streets and returning home. On the bench beside me sat two ragged creatures, a man and a woman, nodding and dozing. The woman sat with her arms clasped across the breast, holding tightly, her body in constant play,- now dropping forward till it seemed its balance would be overcome and she would fall to the pavement; now inclining to the left, sideways, till her head rested on the man's shoulder; and now to the right, stretched and strained, till the pain of it awoke her and she sat bolt upright. Whereupon the dropping forward would begin again and go through its cycle till she was aroused by the strain and stretch.
Every little while, boys and young men stopped long enough to go behind the bench and give vent to sudden and fiendish shouts. This always jerked the man and woman abruptly from their sleep; and at sight of the startled woe upon their faces the crowd would roar with laughter as it flooded past.
This was the most striking thing, the general heartlessness exhibited on every hand. It is a commonplace, the homeless on the benches, the poor miserable folk who may be teased and are harmless. Fifty thousand people must have passed the bench while I sat upon it, and not one, on such a jubilee occasion as the crowning of the King, felt his heart-strings touched sufficiently to come up and say to the woman: 'Here's sixpence; go and get a bed.' But the women, especially the young women, made witty remarks upon the woman nodding, and invariably set their companions laughing.
To use a Briticism, it was 'cruel'; the corresponding Americanism was more appropriate- it was 'fierce.' I confess I began to grow incensed at this happy crowd streaming by, and to extract a sort of satisfaction from the London statistics which demonstrate that one in every four adults is destined to die on public charity, either in the workhouse, the infirmary, or the asylum.
I talked with the man. He was fifty-four and a broken-down docker. He could only find odd work when there was a large demand for labor, for the younger and stronger men were preferred when times were slack. He had spent a week, now, on the benches of the Embankment; but things looked brighter for next week, and he might possibly get in a few days' work and have a bed in some doss-house. He had lived all his life in London, save for five years, when, in 1878, he saw foreign service in India.
Of course he would eat; so would the girl. Days like this were uncommon hard on such as they, though the coppers were so busy poor folk could get in more sleep. I awoke the girl, or woman rather, for she was 'Eyght an' twenty, sir'; and we started for a coffee-house.
''Wot a lot o' work, puttin' up the lights,' said the man at sight of some building superbly illuminated. This was the keynote of his being. All his life he had worked, and the whole objective universe, as well as his own soul, he could express in terms only of work. 'Coronations is some good,' he went on. 'They give work to men.'
'But your belly is empty,' I said.
'Yes,' he answered. 'I tried, but there wasn't any chawnce. My age is against me. Wot do you work at? Seafarin' chap, eh? I knew it from yer clothes.'
'I know wot you are,' said the girl, 'an Eyetalian.'
'No 'e ayn't,' the man cried heatedly. ''E's a Yank, that's wot 'e is. I know.'
'Lord lumme, look a' that,' she exclaimed as we debouched upon the Strand, choked with the roaring, reeling Coronation crowd, the men bellowing and the girls singing in high throaty notes:
Oh! on Coronation D'y, on Coronation D'y,
We'll 'ave a spree, a jubilee, an' shout 'Ip, 'ip, 'ooray.
For we'll all be merry, drinkin' whiskey, wine, and sherry,
We'll be merry on Coronation D'y.
''Ow dirty I am, bein' around the w'y I 'ave,' the woman said, as she sat down in a coffee-house, wiping the sleep and grime from the corners of her eyes. 'An' the sights I 'ave seen this d'y, an' I enjoyed it, though it was lonesome by myself. An' the duchesses an' the lydies 'ad sich gran' w'ite dresses. They was jest bu'ful, bu'ful.'
'I'm Irish,' she said, in answer to a question. 'My nyme's Eyethorne.'
'What?' I asked.
'Eyethorne, sir; Eyethorne.'
'Oh,' I said, 'Irish Cockney.'
'Yes, sir, London-born.'
She had lived happily at home till her father died, killed in an accident, when she had found herself on the world. One brother was in the army, and the other brother, engaged in keeping a wife and eight children on twenty shillings a week and unsteady employment, could do nothing for her. She had been out of London once in her life, to a place in Essex, twelve miles away, where she had picked fruit for three weeks- 'An' I was as brown as a berry w'en I come back. You won't b'lieve it, but I was.'
The last place in which she had worked was a coffee-house, hours from seven in the morning till eleven at night, and for which she had received five shillings a week and her food. Then she had fallen sick, and since emerging from the hospital had been unable to find anything to do. She wasn't feeling up to much, and the last two nights had been spent in the street.
Between them they stowed away a prodigious amount of food, this man and woman, and it was not till I had duplicated and triplicated their original orders that they showed signs of easing down.
Once she reached across and felt the texture of my coat and shirt, and remarked upon the good clothes the Yanks wore. My rags good clothes! It put me to the blush; but, on inspecting them more closely and on examining the clothes worn by the man and woman, I began to feel quite well-dressed and respectable.
'What do you expect to do in the end?' I asked them. 'You know you're growing older every day.'
'Work'ouse,' said he.
'Gawd blimey if I do,' said she. 'There's no 'ope for me, I know, but I'll die on the streets. No work'ouse for me, thank you.'
'No, indeed,' she sniffed in the silence that fell.
'After you have been out all night in the streets,' I asked, 'what do you do in the morning for something to eat?'
'Try to get a penny, if you 'aven't one saved over,' the man explained. 'Then go to a coffee-'ouse an' get a mug o' tea.'
'But I don't see how that is to feed you,' I objected.
The pair smiled knowingly.
'You drink your tea in little sips,' he went on, 'making it last its longest. An' you look sharp, an' there's some as leaves a bit be'ind 'em.'
'It's s'prisin', the food wot some people leaves,' the woman broke in.
'The thing,' said the man judicially, as the trick dawned upon me, 'is to get 'old o' the penny.'
As we started to leave, Miss Haythorne gathered up a couple of crusts from the neighboring tables and thrust them somewhere into her rags.
'Cawn't wyste 'em, you know,' said she, to which the docker nodded, tucking away a couple of crusts himself.
At three in the morning I strolled up the Embankment. It was a gala night for the homeless, for the police were elsewhere; and each bench was jammed with sleeping occupants. There were as many women as men, and the great majority of them, male and female, were old. Occasionally a boy was to be seen. On one bench I noticed a family, a man sitting upright with a sleeping babe in his arms, his wife asleep, her head on his shoulder, and in her lap the head of a sleeping youngster. The man's eyes were wide open. He was staring out over the water and thinking, which is not a good thing for a shelterless man with a family to do. It would not be a pleasant thing to speculate upon his thoughts; but this I know, and all London knows, that the cases of out-of-works killing their wives and babies is not an uncommon happening.
One cannot walk along the Thames Embankment, in the small hours of morning, from the Houses of Parliament, past Cleopatra's Needle, to Waterloo Bridge, without being reminded of the sufferings, seven and twenty centuries old, recited by the author of 'Job':
There are that remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks and feed them.
They drive away the ass of the fatherless, they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
They turn the needy out of the way; the poor of the earth hide themselves together.
Behold, as wild asses in the desert they go forth to their work, seeking diligently for meat; the wilderness yieldeth them food for their children.
They cut their provender in the field, and they glean the vintage of the wicked.
They lie all night naked without clothing, and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the showers of the mountains, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter.
There are that pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor.
So that they go about naked without clothing, and being an hungered they carry the sheaves.- Job xxiv. 2-10.
Seven and twenty centuries agone! And it is all as true and apposite to-day in the innermost centre of this Christian civilization whereof Edward VII is king.
Dan Cullen, Docker.
Life scarce can tread majestically
Foul court and fever-stricken alley.
I STOOD YESTERDAY, IN A ROOM in one of the 'Municipal Dwellings,' not far from Leman Street. If I looked into a dreary future and saw that I would have to live in such a room until I died, I should immediately go down, plump into the Thames, and cut the tenancy short.
It was not a room. Courtesy to the language will no more permit it to be called a room than it will permit a hovel to be called a mansion. It was a den, a lair. Seven feet by eight were its dimensions, and the ceiling was so low as not to give the cubic air space required by a British soldier in barracks. A crazy couch, with ragged coverlets, occupied nearly half the room. A rickety table, a chair, and a couple of boxes left little space in which to turn around. Five dollars would have purchased everything in sight. The floor was bare, while the walls and ceiling were literally covered with blood marks and splotches. Each mark represented a violent death- of a bed-bug, with which vermin the building swarmed, a plague with which no person could cope single-handed.
The man who had occupied this hole, one Dan Cullen, docker, was dying in hospital. Yet he had impressed his personality on his miserable surroundings sufficiently to give an inkling as to what sort of a man he was. On the walls were cheap pictures of Garibaldi, Engels, Dan Burns, and other labor leaders, while on the table lay one of Walter Besant's novels. He knew his Shakespeare, I was told, and had read history, sociology, and economics. And he was self-educated.
On the table, amidst a wonderful disarray, lay a sheet of paper on which was scrawled: Mr. Cullen, please return the large white jug and corkscrew I lent you,- articles loaned, during the first stages of his sickness, by a woman neighbor, and demanded back in anticipation of his death. A large white jug and a corkscrew are far too valuable to a creature of the Abyss to permit another creature to die in peace. To the last, Dan Cullen's soul must be harrowed by the sordidness out of which it strove vainly to rise.
It is a brief little story, the story of Dan Cullen, but there is much to read between the lines. He was born lowly in a city and land where the lines of caste are tightly drawn. All his days he toiled hard with his body; and because he had opened the books, and been caught up by the fires of the spirit, and could 'write a letter like a lawyer,' he had been selected by his fellows to toil hard for them with his brain. He became a leader of the fruit-porters, represented the dockers on the London Trades Council, and wrote trenchant articles for the labor journals.
He did not cringe to other men, even though they were his economic masters and controlled the means whereby he lived, and he spoke his mind freely, and fought the good fight. In the 'Great Dock Strike' he was guilty of taking a leading part. And that was the end of Dan Cullen. From that day he was a marked man, and every day, for ten years and more, he was 'paid off' for what he had done.
A docker is a casual laborer. Work ebbs and flows, and he works or does not work according to the amount of goods on hand to be moved. Dan Cullen was discriminated against. While he was not absolutely turned away (which would have caused trouble, and which would certainly have been more merciful), he was called in by the foreman to do not more than two or three days' work per week. This is what is called being 'disciplined,' or 'drilled.' It means being starved. There is no politer word. Ten years of it broke his heart, and broken-hearted men cannot live.
He took to his bed in his terrible den, which grew more terrible with his helplessness. He was without kith or kin, a lonely old man, embittered and pessimistic, fighting vermin the while and looking at Garibaldi, Engels, and Dan Burns gazing down at him from the blood-bespattered walls. No one came to see him in that crowded municipal barracks (he had made friends with none of them), and he was left to rot.
But from the far-reaches of the East End came a cobbler and his son, his sole friends. They cleansed his room, brought fresh linen from home, and took from off his limbs the sheets, grayish-black with dirt. And they brought to him one of the Queen's Bounty nurses from Aldgate.
She washed his face, shook up his couch, and talked with him. It was interesting to talk with him- until he learned her name. Oh, yes, Blank was her name, she replied innocently, and Sir George Blank was her brother. Sir George Blank, eh? thundered old Dan Cullen on his death-bed; Sir George Blank, solicitor to the docks at Cardiff, who, more than any other man, had broken up the Docker's Union of Cardiff, and was knighted? And she was his sister? Thereupon Dan Cullen sat up on his crazy couch and pronounced anathema upon her and all her breed; and she fled, to return no more, strongly impressed with the ungratefulness of the poor.
Dan Cullen's feet became swollen with dropsy. He sat up all day on the side of the bed (to keep the water out of his body), no mat on the floor, a thin blanket on his legs, and an old coat around his shoulders. A missionary brought him a pair of paper slippers, worth fourpence (I saw them), and proceeded to offer up fifty prayers or so for the good of Dan Cullen's soul. But Dan Cullen was the sort of a man that wanted his soul left alone. He did not care to have Tom, Dick, or Harry, on the strength of fourpenny slippers, tampering with it. He asked the missionary kindly to open the window, so that he might toss the slippers out. And the missionary went away, to return no more, likewise impressed with the ungratefulness of the poor.
The cobbler, a brave old hero himself, though unannaled and unsung, went privily to the head office of the big fruit brokers for whom Dan Cullen had worked as a casual laborer for thirty years. Their system was such that the work was almost entirely done by casual hands. The cobbler told them the man's desperate plight, old, broken, dying, without help or money, reminded them that he had worked for them thirty years, and asked them to do something for him.
'Oh,' said the manager, remembering Dan Cullen without having to refer to the books, 'you see, we make it a rule never to help casuals, and we can do nothing.'
Nor did they do anything, not even sign a letter asking for Dan Cullen's admission to a hospital. And it is not so easy to get into a hospital in London Town. At Hampstead, if he passed the doctors, at least four months would elapse before he could get in, there were so many on the books ahead of him. The cobbler finally got him into the Whitechapel Infirmary, where he visited him frequently. Here he found that Dan Cullen had succumbed to the prevalent feeling, that, being hopeless, they were hurrying him out of the way. A fair and logical conclusion, one must agree, for an old and broken man to arrive at, who has been resolutely 'disciplined' and 'drilled' for ten years. When they sweated him for Bright's disease to remove the fat from the kidneys, Dan Cullen contended that the sweating was hastening his death; while Bright's disease, being a wasting away of the kidneys, there was therefore no fat to remove and the doctor's excuse was a palpable lie. Whereupon the doctor became wroth, and did not come near him for nine days.
Then his bed was tilted up so that his feet and legs were elevated. At once dropsy appeared in the body, and Dan Cullen contended that the thing was done in order to run the water down into his body from his legs and kill him more quickly. He demanded his discharge, though they told him he would die on the stairs, and dragged himself more dead than alive to the cobbler's shop. At the moment of writing this, he is dying at the Temperance Hospital, into which place his stanch friend, the cobbler, moved heaven and earth to have him admitted.
Poor Dan Cullen! A Jude the Obscure, who reached out after knowledge; who toiled with his body in the day and studied in the watches of the night; who dreamed his dream and struck valiantly for the Cause; a patriot, a lover of human freedom, and a fighter unafraid; and in the end, not gigantic enough to beat down the conditions which baffled and stifled him, a cynic and a pessimist, gasping his final agony on a pauper's couch in a charity ward. 'For a man to have died who might have been wise and was not, this I call a tragedy.'
Hops and Hoppers.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade,
A breath can make them, as a breath is made;
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
SO FAR HAS THE DIVORCEMENT of the worker from the soil proceeded, that the farming districts, the civilized world over, are dependent upon the cities for the gathering of the harvests. Then it is, when the land is spilling its ripe wealth to waste, that the street folk, who have been driven away from the soil, are called back to it again. But in England they return, not as prodigals, but as outcasts still, as vagrants and pariahs, to be doubted and flouted by their country brethren, to sleep in jails and casual wards, or under the hedges, and to live the Lord knows how.
It is estimated that Kent alone requires eighty thousand of the street people to pick her hops. And out they come, obedient to the call, which is the call of their bellies and of the lingering dregs of adventure- lust still in them. Slum, stews, and ghetto pour them forth, and the festering contents of slum, stews, and ghetto are undiminished. Yet they overrun the country like an army of ghouls, and the country does not want them. They are out of place. As they drag their squat, misshapen bodies along the highways and byways, they resemble some vile spawn from underground. Their very presence, the fact of their existence, is an outrage to the fresh bright sun and the green and growing things. The clean, upstanding trees cry shame upon them and their withered crookedness, and their rottenness is a slimy desecration of the sweetness and purity of nature.
Is the picture overdrawn? It all depends. For one who sees and thinks life in terms of shares and coupons, it is certainly overdrawn. But for one who sees and thinks life in terms of manhood and womanhood, it cannot be overdrawn. Such hordes of beastly wretchedness and inarticulate misery are no compensation for a millionaire brewer who lives in a West End palace, sates himself with the sensuous delights of London's golden theatres, hobnobs with lordlings and princelings, and is knighted by the king. Wins his spurs- God forbid! In old time the great blonde beasts rode in the battle's van and won their spurs by cleaving men from pate to chine. And, after all, it is far finer to kill a strong man with a clean-slicing blow of singing steel than to make a beast of him, and of his seed through the generations, by the artful and spidery manipulation of industry and politics.
But to return to the hops. Here the divorcement from the soil is as apparent as in every other agricultural line in England. While the manufacture of beer steadily increases, the growth of hops steadily decreases. In 1835 the acreage under hops was 71,327. To-day it stands at 48,024, a decrease of 3103 from the acreage of last year.
Small as the acreage is this year, a poor summer and terrible storms reduced the yield. This misfortune is divided between the people who own hops and the people who pick hops. The owners perforce must put up with less of the nicer things of life, the pickers with less grub, of which, in the best of times, they never get enough. For weary weeks headlines like the following have appeared in the London papers:
TRAMPS PLENTIFUL, BUT THE HOPS ARE FEW
AND NOT YET READY.
Then there have been numberless paragraphs like this:
From the neighborhood of the hop fields comes news of a distressing nature. The bright outburst of the last two days has sent many hundreds of hoppers into Kent, who will have to wait till the fields are ready for them. At Dover the number of vagrants in the workhouse is treble the number there last year at this time, and in other towns the lateness of the season is responsible for a large increase in the number of casuals.
To cap their wretchedness, when at last the picking had begun, hops and hoppers were well-nigh swept away by a frightful storm of wind, rain, and hail. The hops were stripped clean from the poles and pounded into the earth, while the hoppers, seeking shelter from the stinging hail, were close to drowning in their huts and camps on the low-lying ground. Their condition after the storm was pitiable, their state of vagrancy more pronounced than ever; for, poor crop that it was, its destruction had taken away the chance of earning a few pennies, and nothing remained for thousands of them but to 'pad the hoof' back to London.
'We ayn't crossin'-sweepers,' they said, turning away from the ground, carpeted ankle-deep with hops.
Those that remained grumbled savagely among the half-stripped poles at the seven bushels for a shilling- a rate paid in good seasons when the hops are in prime condition, and a rate likewise paid in bad seasons by the growers because they cannot afford more.
I passed through Teston and East and West Farleigh shortly after the storm, and listened to the grumbling of the hoppers and saw the hops rotting on the ground. At the hothouses of Barham Court, thirty thousand panes of glass had been broken by the hail, while peaches, plums, pears, apples, rhubarb, cabbages, mangolds,- everything, had been pounded to pieces and torn to shreds.
All of which was too bad for the owners, certainly; but at the worst, not one of them, for one meal, would have to go short of food or drink. Yet it was to them that the newspapers devoted columns of sympathy, their pecuniary losses being detailed at harrowing length. 'Mr. Herbert Leney calculates his loss at L8000;' 'Mr. Fremlin, of brewery fame, who rents all the land in this parish, loses L10,000;' and 'Mr. Leney, the Wateringbury brewer, brother to Mr. Herbert Leney, is another heavy loser.' As for the hoppers, they did not count. Yet I venture to assert that the several almost square meals lost by underfed William Buggles, and underfed Mrs. Buggles, and the underfed Buggles kiddies, was a greater tragedy than the L10,000 lost by Mr. Fremlin. And in addition, underfed William Buggles' tragedy might be multiplied by thousands where Mr. Fremlin's could not be multiplied by five.
To see how William Buggles and his kind fared, I donned my seafaring togs and started out to get a job. With me was a young East London cobbler, Bert, who had yielded to the lure of adventure and joined me for the trip. Acting on my advice, he had brought his 'worst rags,' and as we hiked up the London Road out of Maidstone he was worrying greatly for fear we had come too ill-dressed for the business.
Nor was he to be blamed. When we stopped in a tavern the publican eyed us gingerly, nor did his demeanor brighten till we flashed the color of our cash. The natives along the road were all dubious; and 'bean-feasters' from London, dashing past in coaches, cheered and jeered and shouted insulting things after us. But before we were done with the Maidstone district my friend found that we were as well clad, if not better, than the average hopper. Some of the bunches of rags we chanced upon were marvellous.
'The tide is out,' called a gypsy-looking woman to her mates, as we came up a long row of bins into which the pickers were stripping the hops.
'Do you twig?' Bert whispered. 'She's on to you.'
I twigged. And it must be confessed the figure was an apt one. When the tide is out boats are left on the beach and do not sail, and a sailor, when the tide is out, does not sail either. My seafaring togs and my presence in the hop field proclaimed that I was a seaman without a ship, a man on the beach, and very like a craft at low water.
'Can yer give us a job, governor?' Bert asked the bailiff, a kindly faced and elderly man who was very busy.
His 'No,' was decisively uttered; but Bert clung on and followed him about, and I followed after, pretty well all over the field. Whether our persistency struck the bailiff as anxiety to work, or whether he was affected by our hard-luck appearance and tale, neither Bert nor I succeeded in making out; but in the end he softened his heart and found us the one unoccupied bin in the place- a bin deserted by two other men, from what I could learn, because of inability to make living wages.
'No bad conduct, mind ye,' warned the bailiff, as he left us at work in the midst of the women.
It was Saturday afternoon, and we knew quitting time would come early; so we applied ourselves earnestly to the task, desiring to learn if we could at least make our salt. It was simple work, woman's work, in fact, and not man's. We sat on the edge of the bin, between the standing hops, while a pole-puller supplied us with great fragrant branches. In an hour's time we became as expert as it is possible to become. As soon as the fingers became accustomed automatically to differentiate between hops and leaves and to strip half a dozen blossoms at a time there was no more to learn.
We worked nimbly, and as fast as the women themselves, though their bins filled more rapidly because of their swarming children each of which picked with two hands almost as fast as we picked.
'Don'tcher pick too clean, it's against the rules,' one of the women informed us; and we took the tip and were grateful.
As the afternoon wore along, we realized that living wages could not be made- by men. Women could pick as much as men, and children could do almost as well as women; so it was impossible for a man to compete with a woman and half a dozen children. For it is the woman and the half-dozen children who count as a unit and by their combined capacity determine the unit's pay.
'I say, matey, I'm beastly hungry,' said I to Bert. We had not had any dinner.
'Blimey, but I could eat the 'ops,' he replied.
Whereupon we both lamented our negligence in not rearing up a numerous progeny to help us in this day of need. And in such fashion we whiled away the time and talked for the edification of our neighbors. We quite won the sympathy of the pole-puller, a young country yokel, who now and again emptied a few picked blossoms into our bin, it being part of his business to gather up the stray clusters torn off in the process of pulling.
With him we discussed how much we could 'sub,' and were informed that while we were being paid a shilling for seven bushels, we could only 'sub,' or have advanced to us, a shilling for every twelve bushels. Which is to say that the pay for five out of every twelve bushels was withheld- a method of the grower to hold the hopper to his work whether the crop runs good or bad, and especially if it runs bad.
After all, it was pleasant sitting there in the bright sunshine, the golden pollen showering from our hands, the pungent, aromatic odor of the hops biting our nostrils, and the while remembering dimly the sounding cities whence these people came. Poor street people! Poor gutter folk! Even they grow earth-hungry, and yearn vaguely for the soil from which they have been driven, and for the free life in the open, and the wind and rain and sun all undefiled by city smirches. As the sea calls to the sailor, so calls the land to them; and, deep down in their aborted and decaying carcasses, they are stirred strangely by the peasant memories of their forebears who lived before cities were. And in incomprehensible ways they are made glad by the earth smells and sights and sounds which their blood has not forgotten though unremembered by them.
'No more 'ops, matey,' Bert complained.
It was five o'clock, and the pole-pullers had knocked off, so that everything could be cleaned up, there being no work on Sunday. For an hour we were forced idly to wait the coming of the measurers, our feet tingling with the frost which came on the heels of the setting sun. In the adjoining bin, two women and half a dozen children had picked nine bushels; so that the five bushels the measurers found in our bin demonstrated that we had done equally well, for the half-dozen children had ranged from nine to fourteen years of age.
Five bushels! We worked it out to eight pence ha'penny, or seventeen cents, for two men working three hours and a half. Eight and one-half cents apiece, a rate of two and three-sevenths cents per hour! But we were allowed only to 'sub' fivepence of the total sum, though the tally-keeper, short of change, gave us sixpence. Entreaty was in vain. A hard luck story could not move him. He proclaimed loudly that we had received a penny more than our due, and went his way.
Granting, for the sake of the argument, that we were what we represented ourselves to be, namely, poor men and broke, then here was our position: night was coming on; we had had no supper, much less dinner; and we possessed sixpence between us. I was hungry enough to eat three sixpenn'orths of food, and so was Bert. One thing was patent. By doing 16 2/3 per cent justice to our stomachs, we would expend the sixpence, and our stomachs would still be gnawing under 83 1/3 per cent injustice. Being broke again, we could sleep under a hedge, which was not so bad, though the cold would sap an undue portion of what we had eaten. But the morrow was Sunday, on which we could do no work, though our silly stomachs would not knock off on that account. Here, then, was the problem: how to get three meals on Sunday, and two on Monday (for we could not make another 'sub' till Monday evening). We knew that the casual wards were overcrowded; also, that if we begged from farmer or villager, there was a large likelihood of our going to jail for fourteen days. What was to be done? We looked at each other in despair-
Not a bit of it. We joyfully thanked God that we were not as other men, especially hoppers, and went down the road to Maidstone, jingling in our pockets the half-crowns and florins we had brought from London.
The Sea Wife.
These stupid peasants, who, throughout the world, hold
potentates on their thrones, make statesmen illustrious,
provide generals with lasting victories, all with ignorance,
indifference, or half-witted hatred, moving the world with
the strength of their arms, and getting their heads knocked
together in the name of God, the king, or the stock exchange-
immortal, dreaming, hopeless asses, who surrender their reason
to the care of a shining puppet, and persuade some toy to carry
their lives in his purse.
YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT TO FIND the Sea Wife in the heart of Kent, but that is where I found her, on a mean street, in the poor quarter of Maidstone. In her window she had no sign of lodgings to let, and persuasion was necessary before she could bring herself to let me sleep in her front room. In the evening I descended to the semi-subterranean kitchen, and talked with her and her old man, Thomas Mugridge by name.
And as I talked to them, all the subtleties and complexities of this tremendous machine civilization vanished away. It seemed that I went down through the skin and the flesh to the naked soul of it, and in Thomas Mugridge and his old woman gripped hold of the essence of this remarkable English breed. I found there the spirit of the wander-lust which has lured Albion's sons across the zones; and I found there the colossal unreckoning which has tricked the English into foolish squabblings and preposterous fights, and the doggedness and stubbornness which have brought them blindly through to empire and greatness; and likewise I found that vast, incomprehensible patience which has enabled the home population to endure under the burden of it all, to toil without complaint through the weary years, and docilely to yield the best of its sons to fight and colonize to the ends of the earth.
Thomas Mugridge was seventy-one years old and a little man. It was because he was little that he had not gone for a soldier. He had remained at home and worked. His first recollections were connected with work. He knew nothing else but work. He had worked all his days, and at seventy-one he still worked. Each morning saw him up with the lark and afield, a day laborer, for as such he had been born. Mrs. Mugridge was seventy-three. From seven years of age she had worked in the fields, doing a boy's work at first, and later, a man's. She still worked, keeping the house shining, washing, boiling, and baking, and, with my advent, cooking for me and shaming me by making my bed. At the end of threescore years and more of work they possessed nothing, had nothing to look forward to save more work. And they were contented. They expected nothing else, desired nothing else.
They lived simply. Their wants were few,- a pint of beer at the end of the day, sipped in the semi-subterranean kitchen, a weekly paper to pore over for seven nights hand-running, and conversation as meditative and vacant as the chewing of a heifer's cud. From a wood engraving on the wall a slender, angelic girl looked down upon them, and underneath was the legend: 'Our Future Queen.' And from a highly colored lithograph alongside looked down a stout and elderly lady, with underneath: 'Our Queen- Diamond jubilee.'
'What you earn is sweetest,' quoth Mrs. Mugridge, when I suggested that it was about time they took a rest.
'No, an' we don't want help,' said Thomas Mugridge, in reply to my question as to whether the children lent them a hand.
'We'll work till we dry up and blow away, mother an' me,' he added; and Mrs. Mugridge nodded her head in vigorous indorsement.
Fifteen children she had borne, and all were away and gone, or dead. The 'baby,' however, lived in Maidstone, and she was twenty-seven. When the children married they had their hands full with their own families and troubles, like their fathers and mothers before them.
Where were the children? Ah, where were they not? Lizzie was in Australia; Mary was in Buenos Ayres; Poll was in New York; Joe had died in India,- and so they called them up, the living and the dead, soldier and sailor, and colonist's wife, for the traveller's sake who sat in their kitchen.
They passed me a photograph. A trim young fellow in soldier's garb looked out at me.
'And which son is this?' I asked.
They laughed a hearty chorus. Son! Nay, grandson, just back from Indian service and a soldier-trumpeter to the King. His brother was in the same regiment with him. And so it ran, sons and daughters, and grand sons and daughters, world-wanderers and empire-builders, all of them, while the old folks stayed at home and worked at building empire too.
There dwells a wife by the Northern Gate,
And a wealthy wife is she;
She breeds a breed o' rovin' men
And casts them over sea.
And some are drowned in deep water,
And some in sight of shore;
And word goes back to the weary wife,
And ever she sends more.
But the Sea Wife's childbearing is about done. The stock is running out, and the planet is filling up. The wives of her sons may carry on the breed, but her work is past. The erstwhile men of England are now the men of Australia, of Africa, of America. England has sent forth 'the best she breeds' for so long, and has destroyed those that remained so fiercely, that little remains for her to do but to sit down through the long nights and gaze at royalty on the wall.
The true British merchant seaman has passed away. The merchant service is no longer a recruiting ground for such sea dogs as fought with Nelson at Trafalgar and the Nile. Foreigners largely man the merchant ships, though Englishmen still continue to officer them and to prefer foreigners for'ard. In South Africa the colonial teaches the Islander how to shoot, and the officers muddle and blunder; while at home the street people play hysterically at mafficking, and the War Office lowers the stature for enlistment.
It could not be otherwise. The most complacent Britisher cannot hope to draw off the life blood, and underfeed, and keep it up forever. The average Mrs. Thomas Mugridge has been driven into the city, and she is not breeding very much of anything save an anaemic and sickly progeny which cannot find enough to eat. The strength of the English-speaking race to-day is not in the tight little island, but in the New World overseas, where are the sons and daughters of Mrs. Thomas Mugridge. The Sea Wife by the Northern Gate has just about done her work in the world, though she does not realize it. She must sit down and rest her tired loins for a space; and if the casual ward and the workhouse do not await her, it is because of the sons and daughters she has reared up against the day of her feebleness and decay.
Property versus Person.
The rights of property have been so much extended
that the rights of the community have almost
altogether disappeared, and it is hardly too much
to say that the prosperity and the comfort and the
liberties of a great proportion of the population
has been laid at the feet of a small number of
proprietors, who neither toil nor spin.
IN A CIVILIZATION FRANKLY materialistic and based upon property, not soul, it is inevitable that property shall be exalted over soul, that crimes against property shall be considered far more serious than crimes against the person. To pound one's wife to a jelly and break a few of her ribs is a trivial offence compared with sleeping out under the naked stars because one has not the price of a doss. The lad who steals a few pears from a wealthy railway corporation is a greater menace to society than the young brute who commits an unprovoked assault upon an old man over seventy years of age. While the young girl who takes a lodging under the pretence that she has work commits so dangerous an offence, that, were she not severely punished, she and her kind might bring the whole fabric of property clattering to the ground. Had she unholily tramped Piccadilly and the Strand after midnight, the police would not have interfered with her, and she would have been able to pay for her lodging.
The following illustrative cases are culled from the police court reports for a single week:
Widnes Police Court. Before Aldermen Gossage and Neil. Thomas Lynch, charged with being drunk and disorderly and with assaulting a constable. Defendant rescued a woman from custody, kicked the constable, and threw stones at him. Fined 3s. 6d. for the first offence, and 10s. and costs for the assault.
Glasgow Queen's Park Police Court. Before Bailie Norman Thompson. John Kane pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife. There were five previous convictions. Fined L2 2s.
Taunton County Petty Sessions. John Painter, a big, burly fellow, described as a laborer, charged with assaulting his wife. The woman received two severe black eyes, and her face was badly swollen. Fined L1 8s. including costs, and bound over to keep the peace.
Widnes Police Court. Richard Bestwick and George Hunt, charged with trespassing in search of game. Hunt fined L1 and costs, Bestwick L2 and costs; in default one month.
Shaftesbury Police Court. Before the Mayor (Mr. A. T. Carpenter). Thomas Baker, charged with sleeping out. Fourteen days.
Glasgow Central Police Court. Before Bailie Dunlop. Edward Morrison, a lad, convicted of stealing fifteen pears from a lorry at the railroad station. Seven days.
Doncaster Borough Police Court. Before Alderman Clark and other magistrates. James M'Gowan, charged under the Poaching Prevention Act with being found in possession of poaching implements and a number of rabbits. Fined L2 and costs, or one month.
Dunfermline Sheriff Court. Before Sheriff Gillespie. John Young, a pit-head worker, pleaded guilty to assaulting Alexander Storrar by beating him about the head and body with his fists, throwing him on the ground, and also striking him with a pit prop. Fined L1.
Kirkcaldy Police Court. Before Bailie Dishart. Simon Walker pleaded guilty to assaulting a man by striking and knocking him down. It was an unprovoked assault, and the magistrate described the accused as a perfect danger to the community. Fined 30s.
Mansfield Police Court. Before the Mayor, Messrs. F. J. Turner, J Whitaker, F. Tidsbury, E. Holmes, and Dr. R. Nesbitt. Joseph Jackson, charged with assaulting Charles Nunn. Without any provocation, defendant struck the complainant a violent blow in the face, knocking him down, and then kicked him on the side of the head. He was rendered unconscious, and he remained under medical treatment for a fortnight. Fined. 21s.
Perth Sheriff Court. Before Sheriff Sym. David Mitchell, charged with poaching. There were two previous convictions, the last being three years ago. The sheriff was asked to deal leniently with Mitchell, who was sixty-two years of age, and who offered no resistance to the gamekeeper. Four months.
Dundee Sheriff Court. Before Hon. Sheriff substitute R. C. Walker. John Murray, Donald Craig, and James Parkes, charged with poaching. Craig and Parkes fined L1 each or fourteen days; Murray L5 or one month.
Reading Borough Police Court. Before Messrs. W. B. Monck, F. B. Parfitt, H. M. Wallis, and G. Gillagan. Alfred Masters, aged sixteen, charged with sleeping out on a waste piece of ground and having no visible means of subsistence. Seven days.
Salisbury City Petty Sessions. Before the Mayor, Messrs. C. Hoskins, G. Fullford, E. Alexander, and W. Marlow. James Moore, charged with stealing a pair of boots from outside a shop. Twenty-one days.
Horncastle Police Court. Before the Rev. W. P. Massingberd, the Rev. J. Graham, and Mr. N. Lucas Calcraft. George Brackenbury, a young laborer, convicted of what the magistrates characterized as an altogether unprovoked and brutal assault upon James Sargeant Foster, a man over seventy years of age. Fined L1 and 5s. 6d. costs.
Worksop Petty Sessions. Before Messrs. F. J. S. Foljambe, R. Eddison, and S. Smith. John Priestley, charged with assaulting the Rev. Leslie Graham. Defendant, who was drunk, was wheeling a perambulator and pushed it in front of a lorry, with the result that the perambulator was overturned and the baby in it thrown out. The lorry passed over the perambulator, but the baby was uninjured. Defendant then attacked the driver of the lorry, and afterwards assaulted the complainant, who remonstrated with him upon his conduct. In consequence of the injuries defendant inflicted, complainant had to consult a doctor. Fined 40s. and costs.
Rotherham West Riding Police Court. Before Messrs. C. Wright and G. Pugh and Colonel Stoddart. Benjamin Storey, Thomas Brammer, and Samuel Wilcock, charged with poaching. One month each.
Southampton County Police Court. Before Admiral J. C. Rowley, Mr. H. H. Culme-Seymour, and other magistrates. Henry Thorrington, charged with sleeping out. Seven days.
Eckington Police Court. Before Major L. B. Bowden, Messrs. R. Eyre, and H. A. Fowler, and Dr. Court. Joseph Watts, charged with stealing nine ferns from a garden. One month.
Ripley Petty Sessions. Before Messrs. J. B. Wheeler, W. D. Bembridge, and M. Hooper. Vincent Allen and George Hall, charged under the Poaching Prevention Act with being found in possession of a number of rabbits, and John Sparham, charged with aiding and abetting them. Hall and Sparham fined L1 17s. 4d., and Allen L2 17s. 4d., including costs; the former committed for fourteen days and the latter for one month in default of payment.
South-western Police Court, London. Before Mr. Rose. John Probyn, charged with doing grievous bodily harm to a constable. Prisoner had been kicking his wife, and also assaulting another woman who protested against his brutality. The constable tried to persuade him to go inside his house, but prisoner suddenly turned upon him, knocking him down by a blow on the face, kicking him as he lay on the ground, and attempting to strangle him. Finally the prisoner deliberately kicked the officer in a dangerous part, inflicting an injury which will keep him off duty for a long time to come. Six weeks.
Lambeth Police Court, London. Before Mr. Hopkins. 'Baby' Stuart, aged nineteen, described as a chorus girl, charged with obtaining food and lodging to the value of 5s., by false pretences, and with intent to defraud Emma Brasier. Emma Brasier, complainant, lodging-house keeper of Atwell Road. Prisoner took apartments at her house on the representation that she was employed at the Crown Theatre. After prisoner had been in her house two or three days, Mrs. Brasier made inquiries, and, finding the girl's story untrue, gave her into custody. Prisoner told the magistrate that she would have worked had she not had such bad health. Six weeks hard labor.
I'd rather die on the high road under the open blue. I'd
rather starve to death in the sweet air, or drown in the
brave, salt sea, or have one fierce glad hour of battle,
and then a bullet, than lead the life of a brute in a
stinking hell, and gasp out my broken breath at last on
a pauper's pallet.
I STOPPED A MOMENT TO LISTEN to an argument on the Mile End Waste. It was night-time, and they were all workmen of the better class. They had surrounded one of their number, a pleasant-faced man of thirty, and were giving it to him rather heatedly.
'But 'ow about this 'ere cheap immigration?' one of them demanded. 'The Jews of Whitechapel, say, a-cuttin' our throats right along?'
'You can't blame them,' was the answer. 'They're just like us, and they've got to live. Don't blame the man who offers to work cheaper than you and gets your job.'
'But 'ow about the wife an' kiddies?' his interlocutor demanded.
'There you are,' came the answer. 'How about the wife and kiddies of the man who works cheaper than you and gets your job? Eh? How about his wife and kiddies? He's more interested in them than in yours, and he can't see them starve. So he cuts the price of labor and out you go. But you mustn't blame him, poor devil. He can't help it. Wages always come down when two men are after the same job. That's the fault of competition, not of the man who cuts the price.'
'But wyges don't come down where there's a union,' the objection was made.
'And there you are again, right on the head. The union checks competition among the laborers, but makes it harder where there are no unions. There's where your cheap labor of Whitechapel comes in. They're unskilled, and have no unions, and cut each other's throats, and ours in the bargain, if we don't belong to a strong union.'
Without going further into the argument, this man on the Mile End Waste pointed the moral that when two men were after the one job wages were bound to fall. Had he gone deeper into the matter, he would have found that even the union, say twenty thousand strong, could not hold up wages if twenty thousand idle men were trying to displace the union men. This is admirably instanced, just now, by the return and disbandment of the soldiers from South Africa. They find themselves, by tens of thousands, in desperate straits in the army of the unemployed. There is a general decline in wages throughout the land, which, giving rise to labor disputes and strikes, is taken advantage of by the unemployed, who gladly pick up the tools thrown down by the strikers.
Sweating, starvation wages, armies of unemployed, and great numbers of the homeless and shelterless are inevitable when there are more men to do work than there is work for men to do. The men and women I have met upon the streets, and in the spikes and pegs, are not there because as a mode of life it may be considered a 'soft snap.' I have sufficiently outlined the hardships they undergo to demonstrate that their existence is anything but 'soft.'
It is a matter of sober calculation, here in England, that it is softer to work for twenty shillings ($5) a week, and have regular food, and a bed at night, than it is to walk the streets. The man who walks the streets suffers more, and works harder, for far less return. I have depicted the nights they spend, and how, driven in by physical exhaustion, they go to the casual ward for a 'rest up.' Nor is the casual ward a soft snap. To pick four pounds of oakum, break twelve hundred-weight of stones, or perform the most revolting tasks, in return for the miserable food and shelter they receive, is an unqualified extravagance on the part of the men who are guilty of it. On the part of the authorities, it is sheer robbery. They give the men far less for their labor than do the capitalistic employers. The wage for the same amount of labor, performed for a private employer, would buy them better beds, better food, more good cheer, and, above all, greater freedom.
As I say, it is an extravagance for a man to patronize a casual ward. And that they know it themselves is shown by the way these men shun it till driven in by physical exhaustion. Then why do they do it? Not because they are discouraged workers. The very opposite is true; they are discouraged vagabonds. In the United States the tramp is almost invariably a discouraged worker. He finds tramping a softer mode of life than working. But this is not true in England. Here the powers that be do their utmost to discourage the tramp and vagabond, and he is, in all truth, a mightily discouraged creature. He knows that two shillings a day, which is only fifty cents, will buy him three fair meals, a bed at night, and leave him a couple of pennies for pocket money. He would rather work for those two shillings, than for the charity of the casual ward; for he knows that he would not have to work so hard and that he would not be so abominably treated. He does not do so, however, because there are more men to do work than there is work for men to do.