/ Language: Русский / Genre:antique

Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell

antiqueGeorgeOrwellDown and Out in Paris and Londonrucalibre 0.7.4415.3.2011d3767c1d-d614-442b-b814-8e83b3cbc5911.0

By the same author











" O scathful harm, condition of poverte ! "





Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd. 7 John Street, Bloomsbury, London, W.C.

First published (Gollancz), January

1933 New edition, reset, 1949




THE Rue du Coq d'Or, Paris, seven in the morning.

A succession of furious, choking yells from the street.

Madame Monce, who kept the little hotel opposite mine,

had come out on to the pavement to address a lodger on

the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into sabots and

her grey hair was streaming down.

   Madame Monce: « Salope! Salope!

How many times

have I told you not to squash bugs on the wallpaper? Do

you think you've bought the hotel, eh? Why can't you

throw them out of the window like everyone else?


Salope! »

   The woman on the third floor: « Vache

! »

   Thereupon a whole variegated chorus of yells, as

windows were flung open on every side and half the

street joined in the quarrel. They shut up abruptly ten

minutes later, when a squadron of cavalry rode past and

people stopped shouting to look at them.

   I sketch this scene, just to convey something of the

spirit of the Rue du Coq d'Or. Not that quarrels were the

only thing that happened there-but still, we seldom got

through the morning without at least one outburst of

this description. Quarrels, and the desolate cries of

street hawkers, and the shouts of children chasing

orange-peel over the cobbles, and at night loud singing

and the sour reek of the refuse-carts, made up the

atmosphere of the street.

   It was a very narrow street-a ravine of tall, leprous

houses, lurching towards one another in queer atti-

tudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of

collapse. All the houses were hotels and packed to the

tiles with lodgers, mostly Poles, Arabs and Italians. At 5

the foot of the hotels were tiny bistros, where you could be

drunk for the equivalent of a shilling. On Saturday nights

about a third of the male population of the quarter was

drunk. There was fighting over women, and the Arab

navvies who lived in the cheapest hotels used to conduct

mysterious feuds, and fight them out with chairs and

occasionally revolvers. At night the policemen would

only come through the street two together. It was a fairly

rackety place. And yet amid the noise and dirt lived the

usual respectable French shopkeepers, bakers and

laundresses and the like, keeping themselves to

themselves and quietly piling up small fortunes. It'was

quite a representative Paris slum.

   My hotel was called the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. It

was a dark, rickety warren of five storeys, cut up by

wooden partitions into forty rooms. The rooms were

small and inveterately dirty, for there was no maid,

and Madame F., the patronne, had no time to do any

sweeping. The walls were as thin as matchwood, and

to hide the cracks they had been covered with layer

after layer of pink paper, which had come loose and

housed innumerable bugs. Near the ceiling long lines

of bugs marched all day like columns of soldiers,

and at night came down ravenously hungry, so that

one had to get up every few hours and kill them in

hecatombs. Sometimes when the bugs got too bad

one used to burn sulphur and drive them into the

next room; whereupon the lodger next door would

retort by having his room sulphured, and drive the

bugs back. It was a dirty place, but homelike, for

Madame F. and her husband were good sorts. The

rent of the rooms varied between thirty and fifty

francs a week.

   The lodgers were a floating population, largely

foreigners, who used to turn up without luggage, stay

a week and then disappear again. They were of every

trade-cobblers, bricklayers, stonemasons, navvies,

students, prostitutes, rag-pickers. Some of them were

fantastically poor. In one of the attics there was a

Bulgarian student who made fancy shoes for the Ameri-

can market. From six to twelve he sat on his bed, making

a dozen pairs of shoes and earning thirty-five francs; the

rest of the day he attended lectures at the Sorbonne. He

was studying for the Church, and books of theology lay

face-down on his leather-strewn floor. In another room

lived a Russian woman and her son, who called himself

an artist. The mother worked sixteen hours a day,

darning socks at twenty-five centimes a sock, while the

son, decently dressed, loafed in the Montparnasse cafés.

One room was let to two different lodgers, one a day

worker and the other a night worker. In another room a

widower shared the same bed with his two grown-up

daughters, both consumptive.

   There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris

slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people -people

who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and

given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them

from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees

people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived

lives that were curious beyond words.

   There were the Rougiers, for instance, an old, ragged,

dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They

used to sell post cards on the Boulevard St. Michel. The

curious thing was that the post cards were sold in sealed

packets as pornographic ones, but were actually photo-

graphs of chateaux on the Loire; the buyers did not discover

this till too late, and of course never complained. The

Rougiers earned about a hundred francs a week, and by

strict economy managed to be always half

starved and half drunk. The filth of their room was

such that one could smell it on the floor below. Accord-

ing to Madame F., neither of the Rougiers had taken off

their clothes for four years.

   Or there was Henri, who worked in the sewers. He

was a tall, melancholy man with curly hair, rather

romantic-looking in his long, sewer-man's boots.

Henri's peculiarity was that he did not speak, except for

the purposes of work, literally for days together. Only a

year before he had been a chauffeur in good employ and

saving money. One day he fell in love, and when the girl

refused him he lost his temper and kicked her. On being

kicked the girl fell desperately in love with Henri, and

for a fortnight they lived together and spent a thousand

francs of Henri's money. Then the girl was unfaithful;

Henri planted a knife in her upper arm and was sent to

prison for six months. As soon as she had been stabbed

the girl fell more in love with Henri than ever, and the

two made up their quarrel and agreed that when Henri

came out of jail he should buy a taxi and they would

marry and settle down. But a fortnight later the girl was

unfaithful again, and when Henri came out she was with

child. Henri did not stab her again. He drew out all his

savings and went on a drinking-bout that ended in

another month's imprisonment; after that he went to

work in the sewers. Nothing would induce Henri to talk.

If you asked him why he worked in the sewers he never

answered, but simply crossed his wrists to signify

handcuffs, and jerked his head southward, towards the

prison. Bad luck seemed to have turned him half-witted

in a single day.

   Or there was R., an Englishman, who lived six

months of the year in Putney with his parents and six

months in France. During his time in France he drank

four litres of wine a day, and six litres on Saturdays;

he had once travelled as far as the Azores, because the

wine there is cheaper than anywhere in Europe. He was a

gentle, domesticated creature, never rowdy or

quarrelsome, and never sober. He would lie in bed till

midday, and from then till midnight he was in his corner

of the bistro, quietly and methodically soaking. While he

soaked he talked, in a refined, womanish voice, about

antique furniture. Except myself, R. was the only

Englishman in the quarter.

   There were plenty of other people who lived lives just

as eccentric as these: Monsieur Jules, the Roumanian,

who had a glass eye and would not admit it, Furex the

Limousin stonemason, Roucolle the miser -he died before

my time, though-old Laurent the rag-merchant, who used

to copy his signature from a slip of paper he carried in his

pocket. It would be fun to write some of their

biographies, if one had time. I am trying to describe the

people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but

because they are all part of the story. Poverty is what I

am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty

in this slum. The slum, with its dirt and its queer lives,

was first an object-lesson in poverty, and then the

background of my own experiences. It is for that reason

that I try to give some idea of what life was like there.


L I F E in the quarter. Our

bistro, for instance, at the

foot of the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux. A tiny brick-

floored room, half underground, with wine-sodden

tables, and a photograph of a funeral inscribed « Crédit

est mort »; and red-sashed workmen carving sausage

with big jack-knives; and Madame F., a splendid

Auvergnat peasant woman with the face of a strong-

minded cow, drinking Malaga all day " for her

stomach"; and games of dice for apéritifs; and songs

about «

Les Fraises et Les Framboises, » and about

Madelon, who said, "

Comment épouser un soldat, moi qui

aime tout le régiment?

»; and extraordinarily public love-

making. Half the hotel used to meet in the bistro in the

evenings. I wish one could find a pub in London a

quarter as cheery.

  One heard queer conversations in the

bistro. As a

sample I give you Charlie, one of the local curiosities,


   Charlie was a youth of family and education who

had run away from home and lived on occasional

remittances. Picture him very pink and young, with

the fresh cheeks and soft brown hair of a nice little

boy, and lips excessively red and wet, like cherries. His

feet are tiny, his arms abnormally short, his hands

dimpled like a baby's. He has a way of dancing and

capering while he talks, as though he were too happy

and too full of life to keep still for an instant. It is

three in the afternoon, and there is no one in the bistro

except Madame F. and one or two men who are out of

work; but it is all the same to Charlie whom he talks

to, so long as he can talk about himself. He declaims

like an orator on a barricade, rolling the words on his

tongue and gesticulating with his short arms. His

small, rather piggy eyes glitter with enthusiasm. He is,

somehow, profoundly disgusting to see.

   He is talking of love, his favourite subject.


Ah, l'amour, l'amour! Ah, que les femmes m'ont tué!

Alas, messieurs et dames,

women have been my ruin,

beyond all hope my ruin. At twenty-two I am utterly

worn out and finished. But what things I have learned,

what abysses of wisdom have I not plumbed! How

great a thing it is to have acquired the true wisdom, to

have become in the highest sense of the word a

civilised man, to have become

raffiné, vicieux, » etc. etc.


Messieurs et dames, I perceive that you are sad. Ah,

mais la vie est belle-you must not be sad. Be more gay, I

beseech you!


Fill high ze bowl vid Saurian vine, Ve

vill not sink of semes like zese!

   « Ah, que la vie est belle

! Listen,

messieurs et dames, out

of the fullness of my experience I will discourse to you

of love. I will explain to you what is the true meaning

of love-what is the true sensibility, the higher, more

refined pleasure which is known to civilised men alone.

I will tell you of the happiest day of my life. Alas, but I

am past the time when I could know such happiness as

that. It is gone for ever-the very possibility, even the

desire for it, are gone.

   "Listen, then. It was two years ago; my brother was

in Paris-he is a lawyer-and my parents had told him to

find me and take me out to dinner. We hate each other,

my brother and I, but we preferred not to disobey my

parents. We dined, and at dinner he grew very drunk

upon three bottles of Bordeaux. I took him back to his

hotel, and on the way I bought a bottle of brandy, and

when we had arrived I made my brother drink a

tumberful of it-I told him it was something to make

him sober. He drank it, and immediately he fell down

like somebody in a fit, dead drunk. I lifted him up and

propped his back against the bed; then I went through

his pockets. I found eleven hundred francs, and with

that I hurried down the stairs, jumped into a taxi, and

escaped. My brother did not know my address -I was


   "Where does a man go when he has money? To the


, naturally. But you do not suppose that I was

going to waste my time on some vulgar debauchery fit

only for navvies? Confound it, one is a civilised man! I

was fastidious, exigeant, you understand, with a

thousand francs in my pocket. It was midnight before I

found what I was looking for. I had fallen in with a very

smart youth of eighteen, dressed en smoking and with his

hair cut

à l'américaine, and we were talking in a quiet


away from the boulevards. We understood one

another well, that youth and I. We talked of this and

that, and discussed ways of diverting oneself. Presently

we took a taxi together and were driven away.

   "The taxi stopped in a narrow, solitary street with a

single gas-lamp flaring at the end. There were dark

puddles among the stones. Down one side ran the high,

blank wall of a convent. My guide led me to a tall,

ruinous house with shuttered windows, and knocked

several times at the door. Presently there was a sound of

footsteps and a shooting of bolts, and the door opened a

little. A hand came round the edge of it; it was a large,

crooked hand, that held itself palm upwards under our

noses, demanding money.

   "My guide put his foot between the door and the step.

'How much do you want?' he said.

   " 'A thousand francs,' said a woman's voice. 'Pay up

at once or you don't come in.'

   "I put a thousand francs into the hand and gave the

remaining hundred to my guide: he said good night and

left me. I could hear the voice inside counting the notes,

and then a thin old crow of a woman in a black dress

put her nose out and regarded me suspiciously before

letting me in. It was very dark inside: I could see

nothing except a flaring gas jet that illuminated a patch

of plaster wall, throwing everything else into

deeper shadow. There was a smell of rats and dust.

Without speaking, the old woman lighted a candle at the

gas jet, then hobbled in front of me down a stone

passage to the top of a flight of stone steps.

   " '

Voilà!' she said; 'go down into the cellar there and

do what you like. I shall see nothing, hear nothing, know

nothing. You are free, you understand-perfectly free.'


messieurs, need I describe to you

forcément, you

know it yourselves-that shiver, half of terror and half of

joy, that goes through one at these moments? I crept

down, feeling my way; I could hear my breathing and the

scraping of my shoes on the stones, otherwise all was

silence. At the bottom of the stairs my hand met an

electric switch. I turned it, and a great electrolier of

twelve redglobes flooded the cellarwith a red light. And

behold, I was not in a cellar, but in a bedroom, a great,

rich, garish bedroom, coloured blood red from top to

bottom. Figure it to yourselves,

messieurs et dames! Red

carpet on the floor, red paper on the walls, red plush on

the chairs, even the ceiling red; everywhere red, burning

into the eyes. It was a heavy, stifling red, as though the

light were shining through bowls of blood. At the far end

stood a huge, square bed, with quilts red like the rest,

and on it a girl was lying, dressed in a frock of red velvet.

At the sight of me she shrank away and tried to hide her

knees under the short dress.

   "I had halted by the door. 'Come here, my chicken,' I

called to her.

   "She gave a whimper of fright. With a bound I was

beside the bed; she tried to elude me, but I seized her by

the throat-like this, do you see?-tight! She struggled, she

began to cry out for mercy, but I held her fast, forcing

back her head and staring down into her face. She was

twenty years old, perhaps; her face was the

broad, dull face of a stupid child, but it was coated

with paint and powder, and her blue, stupid eyes,

shining in the red light, wore that shocked, distorted

look that one sees nowhere save in the eyes of these

women. She was some peasant girl, doubtless, whom

her parents had sold into slavery.

   "Without another word I pulled her off the bed and

threw her on to the floor. And then I fell upon her like

a tiger! Ah, the joy, the incomparable rapture of that

time! There,

messieurs et dames, is what I would expound to


voilà (amour! There is the true love, there is the only

thing in the world worth striving for; there is the thing

beside which all your arts and ideals, all your

philosophies and creeds, all your fine words and high

attitudes, are as pale and profitless as ashes. When

one has experienced love-the true love-what is there in

the world that seems more than a mere ghost of joy?

   "More and more savagely I renewed the attack.

Again and again the girl tried to escape; she cried out

for mercy anew, but I laughed at her.

   " 'Mercy!' I said, 'do you suppose I have come here

to show mercy? Do you suppose I have paid a

thousand francs for that?' I swear to you, messieurs et

dames, that if it were not for that accursed law that robs

us of our liberty, I would have murdered her at that


   « Ah, how she screamed, with what bitter cries of

agony. But there was no one to hear them; down there

under the streets of Paris we were as secure as at the

heart of a pyramid. Tears streamed down the girl's

face, washing away the powder in long, dirty smears.

Ah, that irrecoverable time! You,

messieurs et dames, you

who have not cultivated the finer sensibilities of love,

for you such pleasure is almost beyond conception.

And I too, now that my youth is gone-ah, youth!-

shall never again see life so beautiful as that. It

is finished.

   « Ah yes, it is gone-gone for ever. Ah, the poverty,

the shortness, the disappointment of human joy! For

in reality-car

en réalité, what is the duration of the

supreme moment of love? It is nothing, an instant, a

second perhaps. A second of ecstasy, and after that-

dust, ashes, nothingness.

   "And so, just for one instant, I captured the

supreme happiness, the highest and most refined

emotion to which human beings can attain. And in the

same moment it was finished, and I was left-to what?

All my savagery, my passion, were scattered like the

petals of a rose. I was left cold and languid, full. of

vain regrets; in my revulsion I even felt a kind of pity

for the weeping girl on the floor. Is it not nauseous,

that we should be the prey of such mean emotions? I

did not look at the girl again; my sole thought was to

get away. I hastened up the steps of the vault and out

into the street. It was dark and bitterly cold, the

streets were empty, the stones echoed under my heels

with a hollow, lonely ring. All my money was gone, I

had not even the price of a taxi fare. I walked back

alone to my cold, solitary room.

   "But there,

messieurs et dames, that is what I promised

to expound to you. That is Love. That was the happiest

day of my life."

   He was a curious specimen, Charlie. I describe

him, just to show what diverse characters could be

found flourishing in the Coq d'Or quarter.



  L I V E D in the Coq d'Or quarter for about a year

and a half. One day, in summer, I found that I had just

four hundred and fifty francs left, and beyond this

nothing but thirty-six francs a week, which I earned by giving

English lessons. Hitherto I had not thought about the

future, but I now realised that I must do something at

once. I decided to start looking for a job, and-very

luckily, as it turned out-I took the precaution of paying

two hundred francs for a month's rent in advance. With

the other two hundred and fifty francs, besides the

English lessons, I could live a month, and in a month I

should probably find work. I aimed at becoming a guide

to one of the tourist companies, or perhaps an

interpreter. However, a piece of bad luck prevented this.

   One day there turned up at the hotel a young Italian

who called himself a compositor. He was rather an am-

biguous person, for he wore side whiskers, which are

the mark either of an apache or an intellectual, and

nobody was quite certain in which class to put him.

Madame F. did not like the look of him, and made him

pay a week's rent in advance. The Italian paid the rent

and stayed six nights at the hotel. During this time he

managed to prepare some duplicate keys, and on the last

night he robbed a dozen rooms, including mine. Luckily,

he did not find the money that was in my pockets, so I

was not left penniless. I was left with just forty-seven

francs-that is, seven and tenpence.

   This put an end to my plans of looking for work. I

had now got to live at the rate of about six francs a day,

and from the start it was too difficult to leave much

thought for anything else. It was now that my experi-

ences of poverty began-for six francs a day, if not actual

poverty, is on the fringe of it. Six francs is a shilling,

and you can live on a shilling a day in Paris if you know

how. But it is a complicated business.

   It is altogether curious, your first contact with

poverty. You have thought so much about poverty - it

is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you

knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it is all so

utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be

quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You

thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and

boring. It is the peculiar

lowness of poverty that you

discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the

complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.

   You discover, for instance, the secrecy attaching to

poverty. At a sudden stroke you have been reduced to an

income of six francs a day. But of course you dare not

admit it-you have got to pretend that you are living

quite as usual. From the start it tangles you in a net of

lies, and even with the lies you can hardly manage it.

You stop sending clothes to the laundry, and the

laundress catches you in the street and asks you why;

you mumble something, and she, thinking you are

sending the clothes elsewhere, is your enemy for life.

The tobacconist keeps asking why you have cut down

your smoking. There are letters you want to answer, and

cannot, because stamps are too expensive. And then

there are your meals-meals are the worst difficulty of

all. Every day at meal-times you go out, ostensibly to a

restaurant, and loaf an hour in the Luxembourg

Gardens, watching the pigeons. Afterwards you smuggle

your food home in your pockets. Your food is bread and

margarine, or bread and wine, and even the nature of the

food is governed by lies. You have to buy rye bread

instead of household bread, because the rye loaves,

though dearer, are round and can be smuggled in your

pockets. This wastes you a franc a day. Sometimes, to

keep up appearances, you have to spend sixty centimes

on a drink, and go correspondingly short of food. Your

linen gets filthy, and you run out of soap and razor-

blades. Your hair wants cutting, and you try to

cut it yourself, with such fearful results that you

have to go the barber after all, and spend the equivalent

of a day's food. All day you are telling lies, and

expensive lies.

   You discover the extreme precariousness of your six

francs a day. Mean disasters happen and rob you of

food. You have spent your last eighty centimes on half a

litre of milk, and are boiling it over the spirit lamp.

While it boils a bug runs down your forearm; you give

the bug a flick with your nail, and it falls, plop! straight

into the milk. There is nothing for it but to throw the

milk away and go foodless.

   You go to the baker's to buy a pound of bread, and

you wait while the girl cuts a pound for another cus-

tomer. She is clumsy, and cuts more than a pound.

"Pardon, monsieur," she says, "I suppose you don't mind

paying two sous extra?" Bread is a franc a pound, and

you have exactly a franc. When you think that you too

might be asked to pay two sous extra, and would have

to confess that you could not, you bolt in panic. It is

hours before you dare venture into a baker's shop again.

   You go to the greengrocer's to spend a franc on a

kilogram of potatoes. But one of the pieces that make up

the franc is a Belgium piece, and the shopman refuses

it. You slink out of the shop, and can never go there


   You have strayed into a respectable quarter, and you

see a prosperous friend coming. To avoid him you dodge

into the nearest café. Once in the café you must buy

something, so you spend your last fifty centimes on a

glass of black coffee with a dead fly in it. One could

multiply these disasters by the hundred. They are part

of the process of being hard up.

   You discover what it is like to be hungry. With bread

and margarine in your belly, you go out and look

into the shop windows. Everywhere there is food in-

sulting you in huge, wasteful piles; whole dead pigs,

baskets of hot loaves; great yellow blocks of butter,

strings of sausages, mountains of potatoes, vast Gruyère

cheeses like grindstones. A snivelling self-pity comes

over you at the sight of so much food. You plan to grab a

loaf and run, swallowing it before they catch you; and

you refrain, from pure funk.

   You discover the boredom which is inseparable from

poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and,

being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing. For half

a day at a time you lie on your bed, feeling like the jeune

squelette in Baudelaire's poem. Only food could rouse

you. You discover that a man who has gone even a week

on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a

belly with a few accessory organs.

   This-one could describe it further, but it is all in the

same style-is life on six francs a day. Thousands of

people in Paris live it-struggling artists and students,

prostitutes when their luck is out, out-of-work people of

all kinds. It is the suburbs, as it were, of poverty.

   I continued in this style for about three weeks. The

forty-seven francs were soon gone, and I had to do what

I could on thirty-six francs a week from the English

lessons. Being inexperienced, I handled the money

badly, and sometimes I was a day without food. When

this happened I used to sell a few of my clothes, smug-

gling them out of the hotel in small packets and taking

them to a second-hand shop in the Rue de la Montagne

St. Geneviève. The shopman was a red-haired Jew, an

extraordinary disagreeable man, who used to fall into

furious rages at the sight of a client. From his manner

One would have supposed that we had done him some

injury by coming to him. « Merde! » he used to shout,

'you here again? What do you think this is? A soup

kitchen?" And he paid incredibly low prices. For a hat

which I had bought for twenty-five shillings and.

scarcely worn he gave five francs; for a good pair of

shoes, five francs; for shirts, a franc each. He always

preferred to exchange rather than buy, and he had a

trick of thrusting some useless article into one's hand

and then pretending that one had accepted it. Once I

saw him take a good overcoat from an old woman, put

two white billiard-balls into her hand, and then push

her rapidly out of the shop before she could protest. It

would have been a pleasure to flatten the Jew's nose, if

only one could have afforded it.

   These three weeks were squalid and uncomfortable,

and evidently there was worse coming, for my rent

would be due before long. Nevertheless, things were not

a quarter as bad as I had expected. For, when you are

approaching poverty, you make one discovery which

outweighs some of the others. You discover boredom and

mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but

you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty:

the fact that it annihilates the future. Within certain

limits, it is actually true that the less money you have,

the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in

the world you are liable to the most craven panics. When

you have only three francs you are quite indifferent; for

three francs will feed you till to-morrow, and you cannot

think further than that. You are bored, but you are not

afraid. You think vaguely, "I shall be starving in a day or

two-shocking, isn't it?" And then the mind wanders to

other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some

extent, provide its own anodyne.

   And there is another feeling that is a great consola-

tion in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up

has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of

pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down

and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs -

and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them,

and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.


ONE day my English lessons ceased abruptly. The

weather was getting hot and one of my pupils, feeling

too lazy to go on with his lessons, dismissed me. The

other disappeared from his lodgings without notice,

owing me twelve francs. I was left with only thirty

centimes and no tobacco. For a day and a half I had

nothing to eat or smoke, and then, too hungry to put it

off any longer, I packed my remaining clothes into my

suitcase and took them to the pawnshop. This put an

end to all pretence of being in funds, for I could not take

my clothes out of the hotel without asking Madame F.'s

leave. I remember, however, how surprised she was at

my asking her instead of removing the clothes on the

sly, shooting the moon being a common trick in our


   It was the first time that I had been in a French

pawnshop. One went through grandiose stone portals

(marked, of course, «

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité"-they

write that even over the police stations in France) into a

large, bare room like a school classroom, with a counter

and rows of benches. Forty or fifty people were waiting.

One handed one's pledge over the counter and sat down.

Presently, when the clerk had assessed its value he

would call out, « Numéro such and such, will you take

fifty francs?" Sometimes it was only fifteen francs, or

ten, or five-whatever it was, the whole room knew it.

As I came in the clerk called with an air of offence,


Numéro 83-here!" and gave a little whistle and a

beckon, as though calling a dog.

Numéro 83 stepped to

the counter; he was an old bearded man, with an over-

coat buttoned up at the neck and frayed trouser-ends.

Without a word the clerk shot the bundle across the

counter-evidently it was worth nothing. It fell to the

ground and came open, displaying four pairs of men's

woollen pants. No one could help laughing. Poor


83 gathered up his pants and shambled out, muttering to


   The clothes I was pawning, together with the suitcase,

had cost over twenty pounds, and were in good condition.

I thought they must be worth ten pounds, and a quarter

of this (one expects quarter value at a pawnshop) was

two hundred and fifty or three hundred francs. I waited

without anxiety, expecting two hundred francs at the


   At last the clerk called my number: «

Numéro 97!"

   "Yes," I said, standing up.

   "Seventy francs?"

   Seventy francs for ten pounds' worth of clothes! But it

was no use arguing; I had seen someone else attempt to

argue, and the clerk had instantly refused the pledge. I

took the money and the pawnticket and walked out. I

had now no clothes except what I stood up in-the coat

badly out at the elbow-an overcoat, moderately pawnable,

and one spare shirt. Afterwards, when it was too late, I

learned that it was wiser to go to a pawnshop in the

afternoon. The clerks are French, and, like most French

people, are in a bad temper till they have eaten their


   When I got home, Madame F. was sweeping the

bistro floor. She came up the steps to meet me. I could

see in her eye that she was uneasy about my rent.

   "Well," she said, "what did you get for your clothes?

Not much, eh?"

   "Two hundred francs," I said promptly.


Tiens!" she said, surprised; "well, that's not bad.

How expensive those English clothes must be!"

   The lie saved a lot of trouble, and, strangely enough, it

came true. A few days later I did receive exactly two

hundred francs due to me for a newspaper article, and,

though it hurt to do it, I at once paid every penny of it in

rent. So, though I came near to starving in the following

weeks, I was hardly ever without a roof.

   It was now absolutely necessary to find work, and I

remembered a friend of mine, a Russian waiter named

Boris, who might be able to help me. I had first met him

in the public ward of a hospital, where he was being

treated for arthritis in the left leg. He had told me to come

to him if I were ever in difficulties.

   I must say something about Boris, for he was a

curious character and my close friend for a long time. He

was a big, soldierly man of about thirty-five, and had

been good-looking, but since his illness he had grown im-

mensely fat from lying in bed. Like most Russian

refugees, he had had an adventurous life. His parents,

killed in the Revolution, had been rich people, and he had

served through the war in the Second Siberian Rifles,

which, according to him, was the best regiment in the

Russian Army. After the war he had first worked in a

brush factory, then as a porter at Les Halles, then had

become a dishwasher, and had finally worked his way up

to be a waiter. When he fell ill he was at the Hôtel Scribe,

and taking a hundred francs a day in tips. His ambition

was to become a maitre d'hdtel, save fifty thousand

francs, and set up a small, select restaurant on the Right


   Boris always talked of the war as the happiest time

0f his life. War and soldiering were his passion; he

had read innumerable books 0f strategy and military

history, and could tell you all about the theories 0f

Napoleon, Kutuzof, Clausewitz, Moltke and Foch.

Anything to do with soldiers pleased him. His favourite

café was the Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse,

simply because the statue 0f Marshal Ney stands

outside it. Later 0n, Boris and I sometimes went to the

Rue du Commerce together. If we went by Metro, Boris

always got out at Cambronne station instead 0f

Commerce, though Commerce was nearer; he liked the

association with General Cambronne, who was called

on to surrender at Waterloo, and answered simply,


Merde! »

   The only things left to Boris by the Revolution were

his medals and some photographs of his old regiment;

he had kept these when everything else went to the

pawnshop. Almost every day he would spread the

photographs out on the bed and talk about them:


Voila, mon ami! There you see me at the head 0f my

company. Fine big men, eh? Not like these little rats 0f

Frenchmen. A captain at twenty-not bad, eh? Yes, a

captain in the Second Siberian Rifles; and my father

was a colonel.


Ah, mais, mon ami, the ups and downs of life! A

captain in the Russian Army, and then, piff! the Revo-

lution-every penny gone. In 1916 I stayed a week at the

Hotel Édouard Sept; in 1920 I was trying for a job as

night watchman there. I have been night watchman,

cellarman, floor scrubber, dishwasher, porter, lavatory

attendant. I have tipped waiters, and I have been

tipped by waiters.

   « Ah, but I have known what it is to live like a


mon ami. I do not say it to boast, but the

other day I was trying to compute how many

mistresses I have had in my life, and I made it out to

be over two hundred. Yes, at least two hundred . . . Ah, well,

ca reviendra

. Victory is to him who fights the longest.

Courage!" etc. etc.

   Boris had a queer, changeable nature. He always

wished himself back in the army, but he had also been

a waiter long enough t0 acquire the waiter's outlook.

Though he had never saved more than a few thousand

francs, he took it for granted that in the end he would

be able to set up his own restaurant and grow rich. All

waiters, I afterwards found, talk and think of this; it is

what reconciles them to being waiters. Boris used to

talk interestingly about hotel life:

   "Waiting is a gamble," he used to say; "you may die

poor, you may make your fortune in a year. You are

not paid wages, you depend on tips-ten per cent. of the

bill, and a commission from the wine companies on

champagne corks. Sometimes the tips are enormous.

The barman at Maxim's, for instance, makes five

hundred francs a day. More than five hundred, in the

season. . . . I have made two hundred francs a day

myself. It was at a hotel in Biarritz, in the season. The

whole staff, from the manager down to the


was working twenty-one hours a day. Twenty-one

hours' work and two and a half hours in bed, for a

month on end. Still, it was worth it, at two hundred

francs a day.

   "You never know when a stroke of luck is coming.

Once when I was at the Hôtel Royal an American

customer sent for me before dinner and ordered

twentyfour brandy cocktails. I brought them all

together on a tray, in twenty-four glasses. 'Now,


,' said the customer (he was drunk), 'I'll drink

twelve and you'll drink twelve, and if you can walk to

the door afterwards you get a hundred francs.' I

walked to the door, and he gave me a hundred francs.

And every night for six days he did the same thing; twelve


  cocktails, then a hundred francs. A few months later

I heard he had been extradited by the American

Governmentembezzlement. There is something fine, do

you not think, about these Americans?"

   I liked Boris, and we had interesting times together,

playing chess and talking about war and hotels. Boris

used often to suggest that I should become a waiter.

"The life would suit you," he used to say; "when you are

in work, with a hundred francs a day and a nice mistress,

it's not bad. You say you go in for writing. Writing is

bosh. There is only one way to make money at writing,

and that is to marry a publisher's daughter. But you

would make a good waiter if you shaved that moustache

off. You are tall and you speak English those are the

chief things a waiter needs. Wait till I can bend this

accursed leg,

mon ami. And then, if you are ever out of

a job, come to me."

   Now that I was short of my rent, and getting hungry,

I remembered Boris's promise, and decided to look him

up at once. I did not hope to become a waiter so easily

as he had promised, but of course I knew how to scrub

dishes, and no doubt he could get me a job in the

kitchen. He had said that dishwashing jobs were to be

had for the asking during the summer. It was a great

relief to remember that I had after all one influential

friend to fall back on.


A SHORT time before, Boris had given me an address

in the Rue du Marché des Blancs Manteaux. All he had

said in his letter was that "things were not marching too

badly," and I assumed that he was back

at the Hôtel Scribe, touching his hundred francs a

day. I was full of hope, and wondered why I had been

fool enough not to go to Boris before. I saw myself in a

cosy restaurant, with jolly cooks singing love-songs as

they broke eggs into the pan, and five solid meals a day.

I even squandered two francs-fifty on a packet of

Gaulois Bleu, in anticipation of my wages.

   In the morning I walked down to the Rue du Marché

des Blancs Manteaux; with a shock, I found it a slummy

back street as bad as my own. Boris's hotel was the

dirtiest hotel in the street. From its dark doorway there

came out a vile, sour odour, a mixture of slops and

synthetic soup-it was Bouillon Zip, twenty-five

centimes a packet. A misgiving came over me. People

who drink Bouillon Zip are starving, or near it. Could

Boris possibly be earning a hundred francs a day? A

surly patron, sitting in the office, said to me, Yes, the

Russian was at home-in the attic. I went up six flights of

narrow, winding stairs, the Bouillon Zip growing

stronger as one got higher. Boris did not answer when I

knocked at his door, so I opened it and went in.

   The room was an attic, ten feet square, lighted only

by a skylight, its sole furniture a narrow iron bedstead, a

chair, and a washhand-stand with one game leg. A long

S-shaped chain of bugs marched slowly across the wall

above the bed. Boris was lying asleep, naked, his large

belly making a mound under the grimy sheet. His chest

was spotted with insect bites. As I came in he woke up,

rubbed his eyes, and groaned deeply.

   "Name of Jesus Christ!" he exclaimed, "oh, name of

Jesus Christ, my back! Curse it, I believe my back is


   "What's the matter?" I exclaimed.

   "My back is broken, that is all. I have spent the night

on the floor. Oh, name of Jesus Christ! If you knew

what my back feels like!"

   "My dear Boris, are you ill?"

   "Not ill, only starving-yes, starving to death if this

goes on much longer. Besides sleeping on the floor, I

have lived on two francs a day for weeks past. It is

fearful. You have come at a bad moment, mon ami. »

   It did not seem much use to ask whether Boris still

had his job at the Hôtel Scribe. I hurried downstairs

and bought a loaf of bread. Boris threw himself on the

bread and ate half of it, after which he felt better, sat

up in bed, and told me what was the matter with him.

He had failed to get a job after leaving the hospital,

because he was still very lame, and he had spent all

his money and pawned everything, and finally starved

for several days. He had slept a week on the quay

under the Pont d'Austerlitz, among some empty wine

barrels. For the past fortnight he had been living in

this room, together with a Jew, a mechanic. It -

appeared (there was some complicated explanation)

that the Jew owed Boris three hundred francs, and

was repaying this by letting him sleep on the floor and

allowing him two francs a day for food. Two francs

would buy a bowl of coffee and three rolls. The Jew

went to work at seven in the mornings, and after that

Boris would leave his sleepingplace (it was beneath the

skylight, which let in the rain) and get into the bed. He

could not sleep much even there owing to the bugs,

but it rested his back after the floor.

   It was a great disappointment, when I had come to

Boris for help, to find him even worse off than myself. I

explained that I had only about sixty francs left and

must get a job immediately. By this time, however,

Boris had eaten the rest of the bread and was feeling

cheerful and talkative. He said carelessly:

   "Good heavens, what are you worrying about? Sixty

francs-why, it's a fortune! Please hand me that shoe,

mon ami. I'm going to smash some of those bugs if they

come within reach."

   "But do you think there's any chance of getting a


   "Chance? It's a certainty. In fact, I have got some-

thing already. There is a new Russian restaurant which

is to open in a few days in the Rue du Commerce. It is

une chose entendue

that I am to be

maitre d'hôtel. I can

easily get you a job in the kitchen. Five hundred francs

a month and your food-tips, too, if you are lucky."

   "But in the meantime? I've got to pay my rent before


   "Oh, we shall find something. I have got a few cards

up my sleeve. There are people who owe me money, for

"instance-Paris is full of them. One of them is bound to

pay up before long. Then think of all the women who

have been my mistress! A woman never forgets, you

know-I have only to ask and they will help me. 'Besides,

the Jew tells me he is going to steal some magnetos

from the garage where he works, and he will pay us five

francs a day to clean them before he sells them. That

alone would keep us. Never worry, mon ami. Nothing is

easier to get than money."

   "Well, let's go out now and look for a job."

   "Presently, mon ami. We shan't starve, don't you fear.

This is only the fortune of war-I've been in a worse hole

scores of times. It's only a question of persisting.

Remember Foch's maxim: '

Attaquez! Attaquez! Attaquez!' "

   It was midday before Boris decided to get up. All the

clothes he now had left were one suit, with one shirt,

collar and tie, a pair of shoes almost worn out, and a

pair of socks all holes. He had also an overcoat which

was to be pawned in the last extremity. He had

a suitcase, a wretched twenty-franc carboard thing, but

very important, because the

patron of the hotel believed

that it was full of clothes-without that, he would

probably have turned Boris out of doors. What it

actually contained were the medals and photographs,

various odds and ends, and huge bundles of loveletters.

In spite of all this Boris managed to keep a fairly smart

appearance. He shaved without soap and with a razor-

blade two months old, tied his tie so that the holes did

not show, and carefully stuffed the soles of his shoes

with newspaper. Finally, when he was dressed, he

produced an ink-bottle and inked the skin of his ankles

where it showed through his socks. You would never

have thought, when it was finished, that he had recently

been sleeping under the Seine bridges.

   We went to a small café off the Rue de Rivoli, a well-

known rendezvous of hotel managers and employees. At

the back was a, dark, cave-like room where all kinds of

hotel workers were sitting-smart young waiters, others

not so smart and clearly hungry, fat pink cooks, greasy

dishwashers, battered old scrubbing-women. Everyone

had an untouched glass of black coffee in front of him.

The place was, in effect, an employment bureau, and the

money spent on drinks was the patron's commission.

Sometimes a stout, importantlooking man, obviously a

restaurateur, would come in and speak to the barman,

and the barman would call to one of the people at the

back of the café. But he never called to Boris or me, and

we left after two hours, as the etiquette was that you

could only stay two hours for one drink. We learned

afterwards, when it was too late, that the dodge was to

bribe the barman; if you could afford twenty francs he

would generally get you a job.

   We went to the Hôtel Scribe and waited an hour on

the pavement, hoping that the manager would come

out, but he never did. Then we dragged ourselves down

to the Rue du Commerce, only to find that the new

restaurant, which was being redecorated, was shut up

and the

patron away. It was now night. We had walked

fourteen kilometres over pavement, and we were so

tired that we had to waste one franc-fifty on going

home by Metro. Walking was agony to Boris with his game


  and his optimism wore thinner and thinner as the day

went on. When he got out of the Metro at the Place

d'Italie he was in despair. He began to say that it was

no use looking for work-there was nothing for it but to

try crime.

   "Sooner rob than starve,

mon ami. I have often

planned it. A fat, rich American-some dark corner

down Montparnasse way-a cobblestone in a stocking -

bang! And then go through his pockets and bolt. It is

feasible, do you not think? I would not flinch-I have

been a soldier, remember."

   He decided against the plan in the end, because we

were both foreigners and easily recognised.

   When we had got back to my room we spent another

one franc-fifty on bread and chocolate. Boris devoured

his share, and at once cheered up like magic; food

seemed to act on his system as rapidly as a cocktail. He

took out a pencil and began making a list of the people

who would probably give us jobs. There were dozens

of them, he said.

   "To-morrow we shall find something,

mon ami, I

know it in my bones. The luck always changes. Besides,

we both have brains-a man with brains can't starve.

   "What things a man can do with brains! Brains will =-

make money out of anything. I had a friend once, a

Pole, a real man of genius; and what do you think he

used to do? He would buy a gold ring and pawn it for

fifteen francs. Then-you know how carelessly the clerks

fill up the tickets-where the clerk had written ' en or' he

would add '

et diamants' and he would change 'fifteen

francs' to 'fifteen thousand.' Neat, eh? Then, you see,

he could borrow a thousand francs on the security of the

ticket. That is what I mean by brains . . ."

   For the rest of the evening Boris was in a hopeful

mood, talking of the times we should have together

when we were waiters together at Nice or Biarritz, with

smart rooms and enough money to set up mistresses. He

was too tired to walk the three kilometres back to his

hotel, and slept the night on the floor of my room, with

his coat rolled round his shoes for a pillow.


WE again failed to find work the next day, and it was

three weeks before the luck changed. My two hundred

francs saved me from trouble about the rent, but

everything else went as badly as possible. Day after day

Boris and I went up and down Paris, drifting at two

miles an hour through the crowds, bored and hungry,

and finding nothing. One day, I remember, we crossed

the Seine eleven times. We loitered for hours outside

service doorways, and when the manager came out we

would go up to him ingratiatingly, cap in hand. We

always got the same answer: they did not want a lame

man, nor a man without experience. Once we were very

nearly engaged. While we spoke to the manager Boris

stood straight upright, not supporting himself with his

stick, and the manager did not see that he was lame.

"Yes," he said, "we want two men in the cellars.

Perhaps you would do. Come inside." Then Boris

moved, the game was up. « Ah, » said the manager,

"you limp.



   We enrolled our names at agencies and answered

advertisements,_ but walking everywhere made us

slow, and we seemed to miss every job by half an

hour. Once we very nearly got a job swabbing out

railway trucks, but at the last moment they rejected us

in favour of Frenchmen. Once we answered an

advertisement calling for hands at a circus. You had to

shift benches and clean up litter, and, during the

performance, stand on two tubs and let a lion jump

through your legs. When we got to the place, an hour

before the time named, we found a queue of fifty men

already waiting. There is some attraction in lions,


   Once an agency to which I had applied months

earlier sent me a

petit bleu, telling me of an Italian

gentleman who wanted English lessons. The

petit bleu

said "Come at once" and promised twenty francs an

hour. Boris and I were in despair. Here was a splendid

chance, and I could not take it, for it was impossible to

go to the agency with my coat out at the elbow. Then it

occurred to us that I could wear Boris's coat-it did did

not match my trousers, but the trousers were grey and

might pass for flannel at a short distance. The coat was

so much too big for me that I had to wear it unbuttoned

and keep one hand in my pocket. I hurried out, and

wasted seventy-five centimes on a bus fare to get to the

agency. When I got there I found that the Italian had

changed his mind and left Paris.

   Once Boris suggested that I should go to Les Halles

and try for a job as a porter. I arrived at half-past four

the morning, when the work was getting into its swing.

Seeing a short, fat man in a bowler hat directing some

porters, I went up to him and asked for work.

Before answering he seized my right hand and felt the palm.

   "You are strong, eh?" he said.

   "Very strong," I said untruly.


Bien. Let me see you lift that crate."

   It was a huge wicker basket full of potatoes. I took

hold of it, and found that, so far from lifting it, I could

not even move it. The man in the bowler hat watched

me, then shrugged his shoulders and turned away. I

made off When I had gone some distance I looked

back and saw

four men lifting the basket on to a cart.

It weighed three hundredweight, possibly. The man

had seen that I was no use, and taken this way of

getting rid of me.

   Sometimes in his hopeful moments Boris spent

fifty centimes on a stamp and wrote to one of his ex-

mistresses, asking for money. Only one of them ever

replied. It was a woman who, besides having been

his mistress, owed him two hundred francs. When

Boris saw the letter waiting and recognised the

handwriting, he was wild with hope. We seized the

letter and rushed up to Boris's room to read it, like a

child with stolen sweets. Boris read the letter, then

handed it silently to me. It ran:

MY LITTLE CHERISHED WOOLF,-- With what delight did I

open thy charming letter, reminding me of the days of our

perfect love, and of the so dear kisses which I have received

from thy lips. Such memories linger for ever in the heart, like

the perfume of a flower that is dead.

"As to thy request for two hundred francs, alas! it is

impossible. Thou dost not know, my dear one, how I am

desolated to hear of thy embarrassments. But what wouldst

thou? In this life which is so sad, trouble comes to everyone. I

too have had my share. My little sister has been ill (ah, the

poor little one, how she suffered!) and we are obliged to pay I

know not what to the doctor. All our money is gone and we

are passing, I assure thee, very difficult days.

"Courage, my little wolf, always the courage! Remember that

the bad days are not for ever, and the trouble which seems so

terrible will disappear at last.

"Rest assured, my dear one, that I will remember thee always.

And receive the most sincere embraces of her who has never

ceased to love thee, thy


   This letter disappointed Boris so much that he went

straight to bed and would not look for work again that


   My sixty francs lasted about a fortnight. I had

given up the pretence of going out to restaurants, and

we used to eat in my room, one of us sitting on the

bed and the other on the chair. Boris would contribute

his two francs and I three or four francs, and we

would buy bread, potatoes, milk and cheese, and make

soup over my spirit lamp. We had a saucepan and a

coffee-bowl and one spoon; every day there was a

polite squabble as to who should eat out of the

saucepan and who out of the coffee-bowl (the

saucepan held more), and every day, to my secret

anger, Boris gave in first and had the saucepan.

Sometimes we had more bread in the evening,

sometimes not. Our linen was getting filthy, and it

was three weeks since I had had a bath; Boris, so he

said, had not had a bath for months. It was tobacco

that made everything tolerable. We had plenty of

tobacco, for some time before Boris had met a soldier

(the soldiers are given their tobacco free) and bought

twenty or thirty packets at fifty centimes each.

   All this was far worse for Boris than for me. The

walking and sleeping on the floor kept his leg and

back in constant pain, and with his vast Russian

appetite he suffered torments of hunger, though he

never seemed to grow thinner. On the whole he was

surprisingly gay, and he had vast capacities for hope.

He used to say seriously that he had a patron saint who

watched over him, and when things were very bad he would

search the gutter for money, saying that the saint often

dropped a two-franc piece there. One day we were waiting

in the Rue Royale; there was a Russian retaurant near by,

and we were going to ask for a job there. Suddenly, Boris

made up his mind to go into the Madeleine and burn a

fifty-centime candle to his patron saint. Then, coming

out, he said that he would be on the safe side, and

solemnly put a match to a fifty-centime stamp, as a

sacrifice to the immortal gods. Perhaps the gods and the

saints did not get on together; at any rate, we missed the


   On some mornings Boris collapsed in the most utter

despair. He would lie in bed almost weeping, cursing the

Jew with whom he lived. Of late the Jew had become

restive about paying the daily two francs, and, what was

worse, had begun putting on intolerable airs of

patronage. Boris said that I, as an Englishman, could not

conceive what torture it was to a Russian of family to be

at the mercy of a Jew.

   "A Jew,

mon ami, a veritable Jew! And he hasn't even

the decency to be ashamed of it. To think that I, a

captain in the Russian Army-have I ever told you, mon

ami, that I was a captain in the Second Siberian Rifles?

Yes, a captain, and my father was a colonel. And here I

am, eating the bread of a Jew. A Jew ...

   "I will tell you what Jews are like. Once, in the early

months of the war, we were on the march, and we had

halted at a village for the night. A horrible old Jew, with

a red beard like Judas Iscariot, came sneaking up to my

billet. I asked him what he wanted. 'Your honour,' he

said, 'I have brought a girl for you, a beautiful young

girl only seventeen. It will only be fifty francs.' 'Thank

you,' I said, 'you can take her away again. I don't want

to catch any diseases.' 'Diseases!'

cried the Jew, mais,

monsieur le capitaine, there's no fear

of that. It's my own daughter!' That is the Jewish

national character for you.

   "Have I ever told you,

mon ami, that in the old Russian

Army,it was considered bad form to spit on a Jew? Yes,

we thought a Russian officer's spittle was too precious to

be wasted on Jews . . ." etc. etc.

   On these days Boris usually declared himself too ill to

go out and look for work. He would lie till evening in the

greyish, verminous sheets, smoking and reading old

newspapers. Sometimes we played chess. We had no

board, but we wrote down the moves on a piece of paper,

and afterwards we made a board from the side of a

packing-case, and a set of men from buttons, Belgian

coins and the like. Boris, like many Russians, had a

passion for chess. It was a saying of his that the rules of

chess are the same as the rules of love and war, and that

if you can win at one you can win at the others. But he

also said that if you have a chessboard you do not mind

being hungry, which was certainly not true in my case.


MY MONEY oozed away-to eight francs, to four

francs, to one franc, to twenty-five centimes; and twenty-

five centimes is useless, for it will buy nothing except a

newspaper. We went several days on dry bread, and then

I was two and a half days with nothing to eat whatever.

This was an ugly experience. There are people who do

fasting cures of three weeks or more, and they say that

fasting is quite pleasant after the fourth day; I do not

know, never having gone beyond the third day. Probably

it seems different when one is doing it voluntarily and is

not underfed at the start.

   The first day, too inert to look for work, I borrowed a

rod and went fishing in the Seine, baiting with blue-

bottles. I hoped to catch enough for a meal, but of course

I did not. The Seine is full of dace, but they grew cunning

during the seige of Paris, and none of

  them has been

caught since, except in nets. On the second day I thought

of pawning my overcoat, but it seemed too far to walk to

the pawnshop, and I spent the day in bed, reading the

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

. It was all that I felt equal to,

without food. Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless,

brainless condition, more like the after-effects of

influenza than anything else. It is as though one had been

turned into a jellyfish, or as though all one's blood had

been pumped out and luke-warm water substituted.

Complete inertia is my chief memory of hunger; that, and

being obliged to spit very frequently, and the spittle

being curiously white and flocculent, like cuckoo-spit. I

do not know the reason for this, but everyone who has

gone hungry several days has noticed it.

   On the third morning I felt very much better. I

realised that I must do something at once, and I decided

to go and ask Boris to let me share his two francs, at

any rate for a day or two. When I arrived I found Boris

in bed, and furiously angry. As soon as I came in he

burst out, almost choking:

   "He has taken it back, the dirty thief! He has taken it


   "Who's taken what?" I said.

   "The Jew! Taken my two francs, the dog, the thief! He

robbed me in my sleep!"

   It appeared that on the previous night the Jew had

flatly refused to pay the daily two francs. They had

argued and argued, and at last the Jew had consented to

hand over the money; he had done it, Boris said, in

the most offensive manner, making a little speech

about how kind he was, and extorting abject gratitude.

And then in the morning he had stolen the money back

before Boris was awake.

   This was a blow. I was horribly disappointed, for I

had allowed my belly to expect food, a great mistake

when one is hungry. However, rather to my surprise,

Boris was far from despairing. He sat up in bed,

lighted his pipe and reviewed the situation.

   "Now listen,

mon-ami, this is a tight corner. We have

only twenty-five centimes between us, and I don't

suppose the Jew will ever pay my two francs again. In

any case his behaviour is becoming intolerable. Will

you believe it, the other night he had the indecency to

bring a woman in here, while I was there on the floor.

The low animal! And I have a worse thing to tell you.

The Jew intends clearing out of here. He owes a week's

rent, and his idea is to avoid paying that and give me the

slip at the same time. If the Jew shoots the moon I shall

be left without a roof, and the

patron will will take my

suitcase in lieu of rent, curse him! We have got to make

a vigorous move."

   "All right. But what can we do? It seems to me that

the only thing is to pawn our overcoats and get some


   "We'll do that, of course, but I must get my posses-

sions out of this house first. To think of my photographs

being seized! Well, my plan is ready. I'm going to

forestall the Jew and shoot the moon myself. F-----



-retreat, you understand. I think that is the correct

move, eh?"

   "But, my dear Boris, how can you, in daytime? You're

bound to be caught."

   « Ah well, it will need strategy, of course. Our


is on the watch for people slipping out without paying

their rent; he's been had that way before. He and his

wife take it in turns all day to sit in the office-what

misers, these Frenchmen! But I have thought of a way

to do it, if you will help."

   I did not feel in a very helpful mood, but I asked

Boris what his plan was. He explained it carefully.

   "Now listen. We must start by pawning our overcoats.

First go back to your room and fetch your overcoat, then

come back here and fetch mine, and smuggle it out under

cover of yours. Take them to the pawnshop in the Rue

des Francs Bourgeois. You ought to get twenty francs

for the two, with luck. Then go down to the Seine bank

and fill your pockets with stones, and bring them back

and put them in my suitcase. You see the idea? I shall

wrap as many of my things as I can carry in a

newspaper, and go down and ask the patron the way to

the nearest laundry. I shall be very brazen and casual,

you understand, and of course the patron will think the

bundle is nothing but dirty linen. Or, if he does suspect

anything, he will do what he always does, the mean

sneak; he will go up to my room and feel the weight of

my suitcase. And when he feels the weight of stones he

will think it is still full. Strategy, eh? Then afterwards I

can come back and carry my other things out in my


   "But what about the suitcase?"

   "Oh, that? We shall have to abandon it. The miser-

able thing only cost about twenty francs. Besides, one

always abandons something in a retreat. Look at

Napoleon at the Beresina! He abandoned his whole


   Boris was so pleased with this scheme (he called it


ruse de guerre

) that he almost forgot being hungry. Its

main weakness-that he would have nowhere to sleep

after shooting the moon-he ignored.

   At first the

ruse de guerre worked well. I went home

and fetched my overcoat (that made already nine kilo-

metres, on an empty belly) and smuggled Boris's coat

out successfully. Then a hitch occured. The receiver at

the pawnshop, a nasty, sour-faced interfering, little

man-a typical French official-refused the coats on the

ground that they were not wrapped up in anything. He

said that they must be put either in a valise or a

carboard box. This spoiled everything, for we had no

box of any kind, and with only twenty-five centimes

between us we could not buy one.

   I went back and told Boris the bad news. "

Merde!" he

said, "that makes it awkward. Well, no matter, there is

always a way. We'll put the overcoats in my suitcase."

   "But how are we to get the suitcase past the


He's sitting almost in the door of the office. It's


   "How easily you despair,

mon ami! Where is that

English obstinacy that I have read of? Courage! We'll

manage it."

   Boris thought for a little while, and then produced

another cunning plan. The essential difficulty was to

hold the

patron's attention for perhaps five seconds,

while we could slip past with the suitcase. But, as it

happened, the

patron had just one weak spot-that he was

interested in

Le Sport, and was ready to talk if you

approached him on this subject. Boris read an article

about bicycle races in an old copy of the

Petit Parisien,

and then, when he had reconnoitred the stairs, went

down and managed to set the

patron talking. Meanwhile,

I waited at the foot of the stairs, with the overcoats

under one arm and the suitcase under the other. Boris

was to give a cough when he thought the moment

favourable. I waited trembling, for at any moment the


wife might come out of the door opposite the

office, and then the game was up. However, presently

Boris coughed. I sneaked rapidly past the office and out

into the street, rejoicing that my shoes did not creak. The

plan might have failed if Boris had been thinner, for his

big shoulders blocked the doorway of the office. His nerve

was splendid, too; he went on laughing and talking in the

most casual way, and so loud that he quite covered any

noise I made. When I was well away he came and joined

me round the corner, and we bolted.

   And then, after all our trouble, the receiver at the

pawnshop again refused the overcoats. He told me (one

could see his French soul revelling in the pedantry of it)

that I had not sufficient papers of identification; my



was not enough, and I must show a passport or

addressed envelopes. Boris had addressed envelopes by

the score, but his

carte d'identité was out of order (he

never renewed it, so as to avoid the tax), so we could not

pawn the overcoats in his name. All we could do was to

trudge up to my room, get the necessary papers, and

take the coats to the pawnshop in the Boulevard Port


   I left Boris at my room and went down to the pawn-

shop. When I got there I found that it was shut and

would not open till four in the afternoon. It was now

about half-past one, and I had walked twelve kilometres

and had no food for sixty hours. Fate seemed to be

playing a series of extraordinarily unamusing jokes.

   Then the luck changed as though by a miracle. I was

walking home through the Rue Broca when suddenly,

glittering on the cobbles, I saw a five-sou piece. I

pounced on it, hurried home, got our other five-sou piece

and bought a pound of potatoes. There was only enough

alcohol in the stove to parboil them, and we

had no salt, but we wolfed them, skins and all. After

that we felt like new men, and sat playing chess till the

pawnshop opened.

   At four o'clock I went back to the pawnshop. I was

not hopeful, for if I had only got seventy francs before,

what could I expect for two shabby overcoats in a

cardboard suitcase? Boris had said twenty francs, but I

thought it would be ten francs, or even five. Worse yet, I

might be refused altogether, like poor

Numéro 83 on the

previous occasion. I sat on the front bench, so as not to

see people laughing when the clerk said five francs.

   At last the clerk called my number: «

Numéro 117 !"

   "Yes," I said, standing up.

   "Fifty francs?"

   It was almost as great a shock as the seventy francs

had been the time before. I believe now that the clerk

had mixed my number up with someone else's, for one

could not have sold the coats outright for fifty francs. I

hurried home and walked into my room with my hands

behind my back, saying nothing. Boris was playing with

the chessboard. He looked up eagerly.

   "What did you get?" he exclaimed. "What, not twenty

francs? Surely you got ten francs, anyway?

Nom de Dieu,

five francs-that is a bit too thick.

Mon ami, don't say it

was five francs. If you say it was five francs I shall really

begin to think of suicide."

   I threw the fifty-franc note on to the table. Boris

turned white as chalk, and then, springing up, seized my

hand and gave it a grip that almost broke the bones. We

ran out, bought bread and wine, a piece of meat and

alcohol for the stove, and gorged.

   After eating, Boris became more optimistic than I had

ever known him. "What did I tell you?" he said. "The

fortune of war! This morning with five sous, and

now look at us. I have always said it, there is nothing

easier to get than money. And that reminds me, I have a

friend in the Rue Fondary whom we might go and see.

He has cheated me of four thousand francs, the thief. He

is the greatest thief alive when he is sober, but it is a

curious thing, he is quite honest when he is drunk. I

should think he would be drunk by six in the evening.

Let's go and find him. Very likely he will pay up a

hundred on account.

Merde! He might pay two hundred.

Allons y!"

   We went to the Rue Fondary and found the man, and

he was drunk, but we did not get our hundred francs. As

soon as he and Boris met there was a terrible altercation

on the pavement. The other man declared that he did not

owe Boris a penny, but that on the contrary Boris owed


four thousand francs, and both of them kept

appealing to me for my opinion. I never understood the

rights of the matter. The two argued and argued, first in

the street, then in a bistro, then in a

prix fixe restaurant

where we went for dinner, then in another


Finally, having called one another thieves for two hours,

they went off together on a drinking bout that finished

up the last sou of Boris's money.

   Boris slept the night at the house of a cobbler,

another Russian refugee, in the Commerce quarter.

Meanwhile, I had eight francs left, and plenty of

cigarettes, and was stuffed to the eyes with food and

drink. It was a marvellous change for the better after two

bad days.


WE had now twenty-eight francs in hand, and could

start looking for work once more. Boris was still

sleeping, on some mysterious terms, at the house of the

cobbler, and he had managed to borrow another twenty

francs from a Russian friend. He had friends, mostly

exofficers like himself, here and there all over Paris.

Some were waiters or dishwashers, some drove taxis, a

few lived on women, some had managed to bring

money away from Russia and owned garages or

dancing-halls. In general, the Russian refugees in Paris

are hard-working people, and have put up with their

bad luck far better than one can imagine Englishmen

of the same class doing. There are exceptions, of

course. Boris told me of an exiled Russian duke whom

he had once met, who frequented expensive

restaurants. The duke would find out if there was a

Russian officer among the waiters, and, after he had

dined, call him in a friendly way to his table.

   « Ah, » the duke would say,

  "so you are an old

soldier, like myself? These are bad days, eh? Well, well,

the Russian soldier fears nothing. And what was your


   "The so-and-so, sir," the waiter would answer.

   "A very gallant regiment! I inspected them in 1912.

By the way, I have unfortunately left my notecase at

home. A Russian officer will, I know, oblige me with

three hundred francs."

   If the waiter had three hundred francs he would hand

it over, and, of course, never see it again. The duke

made quite a lot in this way. Probably the waiters did

not mind being swindled. A duke is a duke, even in


   It was through one of these Russian refugees that

Boris heard of something which seemed to promise

money. Two days after we had pawned the overcoats,

Boris said to me rather mysteriously:

   "Tell me,

mon ami, have you any political opinions?"

   "No," I said.

   " Neither have I. Of course, one is always a patriot;

but still--- Did not Moses say something about spoiling

the Egyptians? As an Englishman you will have read

the Bible. What I mean is, would you object to earning

money from Communists?"

   "No, of course not."

   "Well, it appears that there is a Russian secret

society in Paris who might do something for us. They

are Communists; in fact they are agents for the Bol-

sheviks. They act as a friendly society, get in touch

with exiled Russians, and try to get them to turn

Bolshevik. My friend has joined their society, and he

thinks they would help us if we went to them."

   "But what can they do for us? In any case they

won't help me, as I'm not a Russian."

   "That is just the point. It seems that they are corre-

spondents for a Moscow paper, and they want some

articles on English politics. If we go to them at once

they may commission you to write the articles."

   "Me? But I don't know anything about politics."


Merde! Neither do they. Who does know anything

about politics? It's easy. All you have to do is to copy it

out of the English papers. Isn't there a Paris

Daily Mail?

Copy it from that."

   "But the

Daily Mail is a Conservative paper. They

loathe the Communists."

   "Well, say the opposite of what the

Daily Mail says,

then you

can't be wrong. We mustn't throw this chance


mon ami. It might mean hundreds of francs"

   I did not like the idea, for the Paris police are very

hard on Communists, especially if they are foreigners,

and I was already under suspicion. Some months

before, a detective had seen me come out of the office

of a Communist weekly paper, and I had had a great

deal of trouble with the police. If they caught me going

to this secret society, it might mean deportation. However,

the chance seemed too good to be missed. That after-

noon Boris's friend, another waiter, came to take us to

the rendezvous. I cannot remember the name of the

street-it was a shabby street running south from the

Seine bank, somewhere near the Chamber of Deputies.

Boris's friend insisted on great caution. We loitered

casually down the street, marked the doorway we were

to enter-it was a laundry-and then strolled back again,

keeping an eye on all the windows and cafés. If the

place were known as a haunt of Communists it was

probably watched, and we intended to go home if we

saw anyone at all like a detective. I was frightened, but

Boris enjoyed these conspiratorial proceedings, and

quite forgot that he was about to trade with the slayers

of his parents.


   When we were certain that the coast was clear we

dived quickly into the doorway. In the laundry was a

Frenchwoman ironing clothes, who told us that "the

Russian gentlemen" lived up a staircase across the

courtyard. We went up several flights of dark stairs

and emerged on to a landing. A strong, surly-looking

young man, with hair growing low on his head, was

standing at the top of the stairs. As I came up he

looked at me suspiciously, barred the way with his

arm and said something in Russian.


Mot d'ordre! » he said sharply when I did not


   I stopped, startled. I had not expected passwords.


Mot d'ordre! » repeated the Russian.

   Boris's friend, who was walking behind, now came

forward and said something in Russian, either the pass

word or an explanation. At this, the surly young man

seemed satisfied, and led us into a small, shabby room

with frosted windows. It was like a very poverty-

stricken office, with propaganda posters in Russian

lettering and a huge, crude picture of Lenin tacked on

the walls. At the table sat an unshaven Russian in shirt

sleeves, addressing newspaper wrappers from a pile in

front of him. As I came in he spoke to me in French,

with a bad accent.

   "This is very careless!" he exclaimed fussily. "Why

have you come here without a parcel of washing?"


   "Everybody who comes here brings washing. It looks

as though they were going to the laundry downstairs.

Bring a good, large bundle next time. We don't want the

police on our tracks."

   This was even more conspiratorial than I had ex-

pected. Boris sat down in the only vacant chair, and

there was a great deal of talking in Russian. Only the

unshaven man talked; the surly one leaned against the

wall with his eyes on me, as though he still suspected

me. It was queer, standing in the little secret room with

its revolutionary posters, listening to a conversation

which I did not understand a word. The Russians of

talked quickly and eagerly, with smiles and shrugs of the

shoulders. I wondered what it was all about. They would

be calling each other "little father," I thought, and "little

dove," and « Ivan Àlexandrovitch," like the characters in

Russian novels. And the talk would be of revolutions.

The unshaven man would be saying firmly, "We never

argue. Controversy is a bourgeois pastime. Deeds are our

arguments." Then I gathered that it was not this exactly.

Twenty francs was being demanded, for an entrance fee

apparently, and Boris was promising to pay it (we had

just seventeen francs in the world). Finally Boris

produced our precious store of money and paid five

francs on account.

   At this the surly man looked less suspicious, and sat

down on the edge of the table. The unshaven one began

to question me in French, making notes on a slip of

paper. Was I a Communist? he asked. By sympathy, I

answered; I had never joined any organisation. Did I

understand the political situation in England? Oh, of

course, of course. I mentioned the names of various

Ministers, and made some contemptuous remarks about

the Labour Party. And what about

Le Sport? Could I do

articles on

Le Sport? (Football and Socialism have some

mysterious connection on the Continent.) Oh, of

course, again. Both men nodded gravely. The unshaven

one said:


Evidemment, you have a thorough knowledge of

conditions in England. Could you undertake to write a

series of articles for a Moscow weekly paper? We will

give you the particulars."


   "Then, comrade, you will hear from us by the first

post to-morrow. Or possibly the second post. Our rate of

pay is a hundred and fifty francs an article. Remember to

bring a parcel of washing next time you come. Au

revoir, comrade."

   We went downstairs, looked carefully out of the

laundry to see if there was anyone in the street, and

slipped out. Boris was wild with joy. In a sort of sacri-

ficial ecstasy he rushed into the nearest tobacconist's

and spent fifty centimes on a cigar. He came out thump-

ing his stick on the pavement and beaming.

   "At last! At last! Now,

mon ami, our fortune really

is made. You took them in finely. Did you hear him

call you comrade? A hundred and fifty francs an


nom de Dieu, what luck!"

   Next morning when I heard the postman I rushed

down to the bistro for my letter; to my disappointment,

it had not come. I stayed at home for the second post;

still no letter. When three days had gone by and I had 4

not heard from the secret society, we gave up hope,

deciding that they must have found somebody else to do

their articles.

   Ten days later we made another visit to the office of

the secret society, taking care to bring a parcel that

looked like washing. And the secret society had van-

ished! The woman in the laundry knew nothing-she

simply said that «

ces messieurs" had left some days

ago, after trouble about the rent. What fools we looked,

standing there with our parcel! But it was a consolation

that we had paid only five francs instead of twenty.

   And that was the last we ever heard of the secret

society. Who or what they really were, nobody knew.

Personally I do not think they had anything to do with

the Communist Party; I think they were simply

swindlers, who preyed upon Russian refugees by ex-

tracting entrance fees to an imaginary society. It was

quite safe, and no doubt they are still doing it in some

other city. They were clever fellows, and played their

part admirably. Their office looked exactly as a secret

Communist office should look, and as for that touch

about bringing a parcel of washing, it was genius.


FOR three more days we continued traipsing about

looking for work, coming home for diminishing meals

of soup and bread in my bedroom. There were now two

gleams of hope. In the first place, Boris had heard of a

possible job at the Hôtel X., near the Place de la

Concorde, and in the second, the

patron of the new

restaurant in the Rue du Commerce had at last come

back. We went down in the afternoon and saw him. On

the way Boris talked of the vast fortunes we should

make if we got this job, and on the importance of

making a good impression on the


   "Appearance-appearance is everything, mon ami. Give

me a new suit

  and I will borrow a thousand francs by

dinner-time. What a pity I did not buy a collar

when we had money. I turned my collar inside out this

morning; but what is the use, one side is as dirty as the

other. Do you think I look hungry, mon ami? »

   "You look pale."

   "Curse it, what can one do on bread and potatoes?

It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick

you. Wait."

   He stopped at a jeweller's window and smacked his

cheeks sharply to bring the blood into them. Then, before

the flush had faded, we hurried into the restaurant and

introduced ourselves to the



patron was a short, fattish, very dignified man

with wavy grey hair, dressed in a smart, doublebreasted

flannel suit and smelling of scent. Boris told me that he

too was an ex-colonel of the Russian Army. His wife was

there too, a horrid, fat Frenchwoman with a dead-white

face and scarlet lips, reminding me of cold veal and

tomatoes. The patron greeted Boris genially, and they

talked together in Russian for a few minutes. I stood in the

background, preparing to tell some big lies about my

experience as a dishwasher.

   Then the

patron came over towards me. I shuffled

uneasily, trying to look servile. Boris had rubbed it into

me that a

plongeur is a slave's slave, and I expected the

patron to treat me like dirt. To my astonishment, he seized

me warmly by the hand.

   "So you are an Englishman!" he exclaimed. "But how

charming! I need not ask, then, whether you are a golfer?"


Mais certainement, » I said, seeing that this was ex-

pected of me.

   "All my life I have wanted to play golf. Will you, my


monsieur, be so kind as to show me a few of the

principal strokes?"

   Apparently this was the Russian way of doing busi-

ness. The patron listened attentively while I explained the

difference between a driver and an iron, and then

suddenly informed me that it was all entendu; Boris was

to be

maitre d'hôtel when the restaurant opened, and I


, with a chance of rising to lavatory attendant if

trade was good. When would the restaurant open? I

asked. "Exactly a fortnight from to-day," the patron

answered grandly (he had a manner of waving his hand

and flicking off his cigarette ash at the same time, which

looked very grand), "exactly a fortnight from to-day, in

time for lunch." Then, with obvious pride, he showed us

over the restaurant.

   It was a smallish place, consisting of a bar, a dining-

room, and a kitchen no bigger than the average bath-

room. The

patron was decorating it in a trumpery

"picturesque" style (he called it «

le Normand »; it was a

matter of sham beams stuck on the plaster, and the like)

and proposed to call it the Auberge de Jehan Cottard, to

give a medieval effect. He had a leaflet printed, full of lies

about the historical associations of the quarter, and this

leaflet actually claimed, among other things, that there

had once been an inn on the site of the restaurant which

was frequented by Charlemagne. The

patron was very

pleased with this touch. He was also having the bar

decorated with indecent pictures by an artist from the

Salon. Finally he gave us each an expensive cigarette,

and after some more talk he went home.

   I felt strongly that we should never get any good

from this restaurant. The

patron had looked to me like a

cheat, and, what was worse, an incompetent cheat, and I

had seen two unmistakable duns hanging about the back

door. But Boris, seeing himself a

maitre d'hôtel once more,

would not be discouraged.

   "We've brought it off-only a fortnight to hold out. What

is a fortnight? Food?

Je m'en f--- . To think that

in only three weeks I shall have my mistress! Will she be

dark or fair, I wonder? I don't mind, so long as she is not

too thin."

   Two bad days followed. We had only sixty centimes left,

and we spent it on half a pound of bread, with a piece of

garlic to rub it with. The point of rubbing garlic on bread is

that the taste lingers and gives one the illusion of having

fed recently. We sat most of that day in the Jardin des

Plantes. Boris had shots with stones at the tame pigeons,

but always missed them, and after that we wrote dinner

menus on the backs of envelopes. We were too hungry even

to try and think of anything except food. I remember the

dinner Boris finally selected for himself. It was: a dozen

oysters, bortch soup (the red, sweet, beetroot soup with

cream on top), crayfishes, a young chicken en casserole, beef

with stewed plums, new potatoes, a salad, suet pudding

and Roquefort cheese, with a litre of Burgundy and some

old brandy. Boris had international tastes in food. Later

on, when we were prosperous, I occasionally saw him eat

meals almost as large without difficulty.

   When our money came to an end I stopped looking for

work, and was another day without food. I did not believe

that the Auberge de Jehan Cottard was really going to

open, and I could see no other prospect, but I was too lazy

to do anything but lie in bed. Then the luck changed

abruptly. At night, at about ten o'clock,

I heard an eager shout from the street. I got up and

went to the window. Boris was there, waving his stick

and beaming. Before speaking he dragged a bent loaf

from his pocket and threw it up to me.


Mon ami, mon cher ami, we're saved! What do you


   "Surely you haven't got a job!"

   "At the Hôtel X., near the Place de la Concorde--five

hundred francs a month, and food. I have been working

there to-day. Name of Jesus Christ, how I have eaten!"

   After ten or twelve hours' work, and with his game

leg, his first thought had been to walk three kilometres

to my hotel and tell me the good news! What was more,

he told me to meet him in the Tuileries the next day

during his afternoon interval, in case he should be able

to steal some food for me. At the appointed time I met

Boris on a public bench. He undid his waistcoat and

produced a large, crushed, newspaper packet; in it were

some minced veal, a wedge of Camembert cheese,

bread and an éclair, all jumbled together.


Voila!" said Boris, "that's all I could smuggle out

for you. The doorkeeper is a cunning swine."

   It is disagreeable to eat out of a newspaper on a

public seat, especially in the Tuileries, which are

generally full of pretty girls, but I was too hungry to

care. While I ate, Boris explained that he was working in

the cafeterie of the hotel-that is, in English, the

stillroom. It appeared that the cafeterie was the very

lowest post in the hotel, and a dreadful come-down for

a waiter, but it would do until the Auberge de Jehan

Cottard opened. Meanwhile I was to meet Boris every

day in the Tuileries, and he would smuggle out as much

food as he dared. For three days we continued with

this arrangement, and I lived entirely on the stolen

food. Then all our troubles came to an end, for one of

the plongeurs left the Hôtel X., and on Boris's recom-

mendation I was given a job there myself.


THE Hôtel X. was a vast, grandiose place with a classical

façade, and at one side a little, dark doorway like a rat-

hole, which was the service entrance. I arrived at a

quarter to seven in the morning. A stream of men with

greasy trousers were hurrying in and being checked by a

doorkeeper who sat in a tiny office. I waited, and

presently the

chef du personnel, a sort of assistant manager,

arrived and began to question me. He was an Italian,

with a round, pale face, haggard from overwork. He

asked whether I was an experienced dishwasher, and I

said that I was; he glanced at my hands and saw that I

was lying, but on hearing that I was an Englishman he

changed his tone and engaged me.

   "We have been looking for someone to practise our

English on," he said. "Our clients are all Americans, and

the only English we know is ---" He repeated something

that little boys write on the walls in London. "You may

be useful. Come downstairs."

   He led me down a winding staircase into a narrow

passage, deep underground, and so low that I had to

stoop in places. It was stiflingly hot and very dark, with

only dim, yellow bulbs several yards apart. There seemed

to be miles of dark labyrinthine passages actually, I

suppose, a few hundred yards in all-that reminded one

queerly of the lower decks of a liner; there were the same

heat and cramped space and warm reek of food, and a humming,

whirring noise (it came from the kitchen furnaces) just like

the whir of engines.

We passed doorways which let out sometimes a shouting

of oaths, sometimes the red glare of a fire, once a

shuddering draught from an ice chamber. As we went

along, something struck me violently in the back. It was

a hundred-pound block of ice, carried by a blueaproned

porter. After him came a boy with a great slab of veal on

his shoulder, his cheek pressed into the damp, spongy

flesh. They shoved me aside with a cry of «



!" and rushed on. On the wall, under one of the

lights, someone had written in a very neat hand: "Sooner

will you find a cloudless sky in winter, than a woman at

the Hôtel X. who has her maidenhead." It seemed a

queer sort of place:

   One of the passages branched off into a laundry,

where an old, skull-faced woman gave me a blue apron

and a pile of dishcloths. Then the

chef du personnel took

me to a tiny underground den-a cellar below a cellar, as

it were-where there were a sink and some gas-ovens. It

was too low for me to stand quite upright, and the

temperature was perhaps 11o degrees Fahrenheit. The

chef du personnel

explained that my job was to fetch meals

for the higher hotel employees, who fed in a small

dining-room above, clean their room and wash their

crockery. When he had gone, a waiter, another Italian,

thrust a fierce, fuzzy head into the doorway and looked

down at me.

   "English, eh?" he said. "Well, I'm in charge here. If

you work well"-he made the motion of up-ending a

bottle and sucked noisily. "If you don't"-he gave the

doorpost several vigorous kicks. "To me, twisting your

neck would be no more than spitting on the floor. And if

there's any trouble, they'll believe me, not you. So be


   After this I set to work rather hurriedly. Except for

about an hour, I was at work from seven in the morning

till a quarter past nine at night; first at washing

crockery, then at scrubbing the tables and floors of the

employees' dining-room, then at polishing glasses and

knives, then at fetching meals, then at washing crockery

again, then at fetching more meals and washing more

crockery. It was easy work, and I got on well with it

except when I went to the kitchen to fetch meals. The

kitchen was like nothing I had ever seen or imagined-a

stifling, low-ceilinged inferno of a cellar, redlit from the

fires, and deafening with oaths and the clanging of pots

and pans. It was so hot that all the metal-work except

the stoves had to be covered with cloth. In the middle

were furnaces, where twelve cooks skipped to and fro,

their faces dripping sweat in spite of their white caps.

Round that were counters where a mob of waiters and

plongeurs clamoured with trays. Scullions, naked to the

waist, were stoking the fires and scouring huge copper

saucepans with sand. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry

and a rage. The head cook, a fine, scarlet man with big

moustachios, stood in the middle booming

continuously, «

Ça marche deux ouefs brouillés!

Ca marche

un Chateau-briand aux pommes sautées!

» except when he

broke off to curse at a plongeur. There were three

counters, and the first time I went to the kitchen I took

my tray unknowingly to the wrong one. The head cook

walked up to me, twisted his moustaches, and looked

me up and down. Then he beckoned to the breakfast

cook and pointed at me.

   "Do you see

that? That is the type of

plongeur they

send us nowadays. Where do you come from, idiot?

From Charenton, I suppose?" (There is a large lunatic

asylum at Charenton.)

   "From England," I said.

   "I might have known it. Well,

mon cher monsieur


, may I inform you that you are the son of a

whore? And now the camp to the other counter, where

you belong."

   I got this kind of reception every time I went to the

kitchen, for I always made some mistake; I was ex-

pected to know the work, and was cursed accordingly.

From curiosity I counted the number of times I was

called maquereau during the day, and it was thirty-nine.

   At half-past four the Italian told me that I could stop

working, but that it was not worth going out, as we

began again at five. I went to the lavatory for a smoke;

smoking was strictly forbidden, and Boris had warned

me that the lavatory was the only safe place. After that

I worked again till a quarter-past nine, when the waiter

put his head into the doorway and told me to leave the

rest of the crockery. To my astonishment, after calling

me pig, mackerel, etc., all day, he had suddenly grown

quite friendly. I realised that the curses I had met with

were only a kind of probation.

   "That'll do,

mon p'tit," said the waiter. «

Tu n'es pas


, but you work all right. Come up and have

your dinner. The hotel allows us two litres of wine

each, and I've stolen another bottle. We'll have a fine


   We had an excellent dinner from the leavings of the

higher employees. The waiter, grown mellow, told me

stories about his love-affairs, and about two men whom

he had stabbed in Italy, and about how he had dodged

his military service. He was a good fellow when one

got to know him; he reminded me of Benvenuto

Cellini, somehow. I was tired and drenched with sweat,

but I felt a new man after a day's solid food. The work

did not seem difficult, and I felt that this job would suit

me. It was not certain, however, that it would continue,

for I had been engaged as an "extra" for the day only,

at twenty-five francs. The sour-faced doorkeeper

counted out the money, less fifty centimes which he

said was for insurance (a lie, I discovered afterwards).

Then he stepped out into the passage, made me take off

my coat, and carefully prodded me all over, searching

for stolen food. After this the

chef du personnel appeared

and spoke to me. Like the waiter, he had grown more

genial on seeing that I was willing to work.

   "We will give you a permanent job if you like," he

said. "The head waiter says he would enjoy calling an

Englishman names. Will you sign on for a month?"

   Here was a job at last, and I was ready to jump at it.

Then I remembered the Russian restaurant, due to open

in a fortnight. It seemed hardly fair to promise working a

month, and then leave in the middle. I said that I had

other work in prospect-could I be engaged for a

fortnight? But at that the

chef du personnel shrugged his

shoulders and said that the hotel only engaged men by

the month. Evidently I had lost my chance of a job.

   Boris, by arrangement, was waiting for me in the

Arcade of the Rue de Rivoli. When I told him what had

happened, he was furious. For the first time since I had

known him he forgot his manners and called me a fool.

   "Idiot! Species of idiot! What's the good of my

finding you a job when you go and chuck it up the next

moment? How could you be such a fool as to mention

the other restaurant? You'd only to promise you would

work for a month."

   "It seemed more honest to say I might have to leave,"

I objected.

   "Honest! Honest! Who ever heard of a

plongeur being


Mon ami"-suddenly he seized my lapel and

spoke very earnestly-"

mon ami, you have worked

here all day. You see what hotel work is like. Do you

think a

plongeur can afford a sense of honour?"

   "No, perhaps not."

   "Well, then, go back quickly and tell the

chef du


you are quite ready to work for a month. Say

you will throw the other job over. Then, when our

restaurant opens, we have only to walk out."

   "But what about my wages if I break my contract?"

   Boris banged his stick on the pavement and cried out

at such stupidity. "Ask to be paid by the day, then you

won't lose a sou. Do you suppose they would prosecute


plongeur for breaking his contract? 'A

plongeur is too low

to be prosecuted."

   I hurried back, found the

chef du personnel, and told

him that I would work for a month, whereat he signed

me on. This was my first lesson in

plongeur morality.

Later I realised how foolish it had been to have any

scruples, for the big hotels are quite merciless towards

their employees. They engage or discharge men as the

work demands, and they all sack ten per cent. or more

of their staff when the season is over. Nor have they

any difficulty in replacing a man who leaves at short

notice, for Paris is thronged by hotel employees out of



AS it turned out, I did not break my contract, for it

was six weeks before the Auberge de Jehan Cottard

even showed signs of opening. In the meantime I

worked at the Hôtel X., four days a week in the cafe-

terie, one day helping the waiter on the fourth floor,

and one day replacing the woman who washed up for

the dining-room. My day off, luckily, was Sunday, but

sometimes another man was ill and I had to work that

day as well. The hours were from seven in the

morning till two in the afternoon, and from five in the

evening till nine-eleven hours; but it was a fourteen-

hour day when I washed up for the dining-room. By the

ordinary standards of a Paris

plongeur, these are

exceptionally short hours. The only hardship of life was

the fearful heat and stuffiness of these labyrinthine

cellars. Apart from this the hotel, which was large and

well organised, was considered a comfortable one.

   Our cafeterie was a murky cellar measuring twenty

feet by seven by eight high, and so crowded with coffee-

urns, breadcutters and the like that one could hardly

move without banging against something. It was lighted

by one dim electric bulb, and four or five gas-fires that

sent out a fierce red breath. There was a thermometer

there, and the temperature never fell below 11o

degrees Fahrenheit-it neared 13o at some times of the

day. At one end were five service lifts, and at the other

an ice cupboard where we stored milk and butter.

When you went into the ice cupboard you dropped a

hundred degrees of temperature at a single step; it

used to remind me of the hymn about Greenland's icy

mountains and India's coral strand. Two men worked

in the cafeterie besides Boris and myself. One was

Mario, a huge, excitable Italian-he was like a city

policeman with operatic gestures-and the other, a

hairy, uncouth animal whom we called the Magyar; I

think he was a Transylvanian, or something even more

remote. Except the Magyar we were all big men, and at

the rush hours we collided incessantly.

   The work in the cafeterie was spasmodic. We were

never idle, but the real work only came in bursts of two

hours at a time-we called each burst «

un coup defeu."

The first

coup de feu came at eight, when the guests

upstairs began to wake up and demand breakfast. At

eight a sudden banging and yelling would break out all through

the basement; bells rang on all sides, blue-aproned men

rushed through the passages, our service lifts came

down with a simultaneous crash, and the waiters on all

five floors began shouting Italian oaths down the

shafts. I don't remember all our duties, but they

included making tea, coffee and chocolate, fetching

meals from the kitchen, wines from the cellar and fruit

and so forth from the dining-room, slicing bread,

making toast, rolling pats of butter, measuring jam,

opening milk-cans, counting lumps of sugar, boiling

eggs, cooking porridge, pounding ice, grinding coffee-

all this for from a hundred to two hundred customers.

The kitchen was thirty yards away, and the dining-

room sixty or seventy yards. Everything. we sent up in

the service lifts had to be covered by a voucher, and the

vouchers had to be carefully filed, and there was

trouble if even a lump of sugar was lost. Besides this,

we had to supply the staff with bread and coffee, and

fetch the meals for the waiters upstairs. All in all, it

was a complicated job.

   I calculated that one had to walk and run about

fifteen miles during the day, and yet the strain of the

work was more mental than physical. Nothing could be

easier, on the face of it, than this stupid scullion work,

but it is astonishingly hard when one is in a hurry. One

has to leap to and fro between a multitude of jobs -it is

like sorting a pack of cards against the clock. You are,

for example, making toast, when bang! down comes a

service lift with an order for tea, rolls and three

different kinds of jam, and simultaneously bang! down

comes another demanding scrambled eggs, coffee and

grapefruit; you run to the kitchen for the eggs and to

the dining-room for the fruit, going like lightning so as

to be back before your toast burns, and having to re-

member about the tea and coffee, besides half a dozen

other orders that are still pending; and at the same time

some waiter is following you and making trouble about

a lost bottle of soda-water, and you are arguing with

him. It needs more brains than one might think. Mario

said, no doubt truly, that it took a year to make a

reliable cafetier.

   The time between eight and half-past ten was a sort

of delirium. Sometimes we were going as though we

had only five minutes to live; sometimes there were

sudden lulls when the orders stopped and everything

seemed quiet for a moment. Then we swept up the litter

from the floor, threw down fresh sawdust, and

swallowed gallipots of wine or coffee or water-any-

thing, so long as it was wet. Very often we used to

break off chunks of ice and suck them while we

worked. The heat among the gas-fires was nauseating;

we swallowed quarts of drink during the day, and after

a few hours even our aprons were drenched with sweat.

At times we were hopelessly behind with the work, and

some of the customers would have gone without their

breakfast, but Mario always pulled us through. He had

worked fourteen years in the cafeterie, and he had the

skill that never wastes a second between jobs. The

Magyar was very stupid and I was inexperienced, and

Boris was inclined to shirk, partly because of his lame

leg, partly because he was ashamed of working in the

cafeterie after being a waiter; but Mario was wonderful.

The way he would stretch his great arms right across

the cafeterie to fill a coffee-pot with one hand and boil

an egg with the other, at the same time watching toast

and shouting directions to the Magyar, and between

whiles singing snatches from

Rigoletto, was beyond all

praise. The

patron knew his value, and he was paid a

thousand francs a month, instead of five hundred like

the rest of us.

   The breakfast pandemonium stopped at half-past ten.

Then we scrubbed the cafeterie tables, swept the floor

and polished the brasswork, and, on good mornings,

went one at a time to the lavatory for a smoke. This was

our slack time-only relatively slack, however, for we

had only ten minutes for lunch, and we never got

through it uninterrupted. The customers' luncheon hour,

between twelve and two, was another period of turmoil

like the breakfast hour. Most of our work was fetching

meals from the kitchen, which meant constant


from the cooks. By this time the cooks had

sweated in front of their furnaces for four or five hours,

and their tempers were all warmed up.

   At two we were suddenly free men. We threw off our

aprons and put on our coats, hurried out of doors, and,

when we had money, dived into the nearest

bistro. It was

strange, coming up into the street from those firelit

cellars. The air seemed blindingly clear and cold, like

arctic summer; and how sweet the petrol did smell, after

the stenches of sweat and food! Sometimes we met

some of our cooks and waiters in the bistros, and they

were friendly and stood us drinks. Indoors we were their

slaves, but it is an etiquette in hotel life that between

hours everyone is equal, and the

engueulades do not


   At a quarter to five we went back to the hotel. Till

half-past six there were no orders, and we used this time

to polish silver, clean out the coffee-urns, and do other

odd jobs. Then the grand turmoil of the day started-the

dinner hour. I wish I could be Zola for a little while, just

to describe that dinner hour. The essence of the situation

was that a hundred or two hundred people were

demanding individually different meals of five or six

courses, and that fifty or sixty people had to cook and

serve them and clean up the mess

afterwards; anyone with experience of catering will

know what that means. And at this time when the work

was doubled, the whole staff was tired out, and a

number of them were drunk. I could write pages about

the scene without giving a true idea of it. The chargings

to and fro in the narrow passages, the collisions, the

yells, the struggling with crates and trays and blocks of

ice, the heat, the darkness, the furious festering quarrels

which there was no time to fight out-they pass

description. Anyone coming into the basement for the

first time would have thought himself in a den of

maniacs. It was only later, when I understood the

working of a hotel, that I saw order in all this chaos.

   At half-past eight the work stopped very suddenly.

We were not free till nine, but we used to throw our-

selves full length on the floor, and lie there resting our

legs, too lazy even to go to the ice cupboard for a drink.

Sometimes the

chef du personnel would come in with

bottles of beer, for the hotel stood us an extra beer when

we had had a hard day. The food we were given was no

more than eatable, but the

patron was not mean about

drink; he allowed us two litres of wine a day each,

knowing that if a

plongeur is not given two litres he will

steal three. We had the heeltaps of bottles as well, so

that we often drank too much-a good thing, for one

seemed to work faster when partially drunk.

   Four days of the week passed like this; of the other

two working days, one was better and one worse. After

a week of this life I felt in need of a holiday. It was

Saturday night, so the people in our

bistro were busy

getting drunk, and with a free day ahead of me I was

ready to join them. We all went to bed, drunk, at two in

the morning, meaning to sleep till noon. At half-past

five I was suddenly awakened. A night-watchman,

sent from the hotel, was standing at my bedside. He

stripped the clothes back and shook me roughly.

   "Get up!" he said. «

Tu t'es bien saoulé la gueule, eh?

Well, never mind that, the hotel's a man short. You've

got to work to-day."

   "Why should I work?" I protested. "This is my day


   "Day off, nothing! The work's got to be done. Get


I got up and went out, feeling as though my back

were broken and my skull filled with hot cinders. I did

not think that I could possibly do a day's work. And yet,

after only an hour in the basement, I found that I was

perfectly well. It seemed that in the heat of those

cellars, as in a turkish bath, one could sweat out almost

any quantity of drink.

Plongeurs know this, and count on

it. The power of swallowing quarts of wine, and then

sweating it out before it can do much damage, is one of

the compensations of their life.


BY far my best time at the hotel was when I went to help

the waiter on the fourth floor. We worked in a small

pantry which communicated with the cafeterie by

service lifts. It was delightfully cool after the cellars,

and the work was chiefly polishing silver and glasses,

which is a humane job. Valenti, the waiter, was a decent

sort, and treated me almost as an equal when we were

alone, though he had to speak roughly when there was

anyone else present, for it does not do for a waiter to be

friendly with plongeurs. He used sometimes to tip me five

francs when he had had a good day. He was a comely

youth, aged twenty-four but looking eighteen,

and, like most waiters, he carried himself well and knew

how to wear his clothes. With his black tail-coat and

white tie, fresh face and sleek brown hair, he looked just

like an Eton boy; yet he had earned his living since he

was twelve, and worked his way up literally from the

gutter. Crossing the Italian frontier without a passport,

and selling chestnuts from a barrow on the northern

boulevards, and being given fifty days' imprisonment in

London for working without a permit, and being made

love to by a rich old woman in a hotel, who gave him a

diamond ring and afterwards accused him of stealing it,

were among his experiences. I used to enjoy talking to

him, at slack times when we sat smoking down the lift


   My bad day was when I washed up for the diningroom.

I had not to wash the plates, which were done in the

kitchen, but only the other crockery, silver, knives and

glasses; yet, even so, it meant thirteen hours' work, and

I used between thirty and forty dishcloths during the

day. The antiquated methods used in France double the

work of washing up. Plate-racks are unheard-of, and

there are no soap-flakes, only the treacly soft soap,

which refuses to lather in the hard, Paris water. I worked

in a dirty, crowded little den, a pantry and scullery

combined, which gave straight on the diningroom.

Besides washing up, I had to fetch the waiters' food and

serve them at table; most of them were intolerably

insolent, and I had to use my fists more than once to get

common civility. The person who normally washed up

was a woman, and they made her life a misery.

   It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery

and think that only a double door was between us and

the dining-room. There sat the customers in all their

splendour-spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers,

mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and

here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth. For

it really was disgusting filth. There was no time to

sweep the floor till evening, and we slithered about in a

compound of soapy water, lettuce-leaves, torn paper and

trampled food. A dozen waiters with their coats off,

showing their sweaty armpits, sat at the table mixing

salads and sticking their thumbs into the cream pots. The

room had a dirty, mixed smell of food and sweat.

Everywhere in the cupboards, behind the piles of

crockery, were squalid stores of food that the waiters

had stolen. There were only two sinks, and no washing

basin, and it was nothing unusual for a waiter to wash

his face in the water in which clean crockery was

rinsing. But the customers saw nothing of this. There

were a coco-nut mat and a mirror outside the dining-

room door, and the waiters used to preen themselves up

and go in looking the picture of cleanliness.

   It is an instructive sight to see a waiter going into a

hotel dining-room. As he passes the door a sudden

change comes over him. The set of his shoulders alters;

all the dirt and hurry and irritation have dropped off in

an instant. He glides over the carpet, with a solemn

priest-like air. I remember our assistant maitre d'hôtel, a

fiery Italian, pausing at the dining-room door to address

an apprentice who had broken a bottle of wine. Shaking

his fist above his head he yelled (luckily the door was

more or less soundproof)


Tu me fais-----

    Do you call yourself a waiter, you

young bastard? You a waiter! You're not fit to scrub

floors in the brothel your mother came from.

Maquereau! »

   Words failing him, he turned to the door; and as he

opened it he delivered a final insult in the same manner

as Squire Western in

Tom Jones.

   Then he entered the dining-room and sailed across it

dish in hand, graceful as a swan. Ten seconds later he

was bowing reverently to a customer. And you could

not help thinking, as you saw him bow and smile, with

that benign smile of the trained waiter, that the cus-

tomer was put to shame by having such an aristocrat to

serve him.

   This washing up was a thoroughly odious job-not

hard, but boring and silly beyond words. It is dreadful

to think that some people spend their whole decades at

such occupations. The woman whom I replaced was

quite sixty years old, and she stood at the sink thirteen

hours a day, six days a week, the year round; she was,

in addition, horribly bullied by the waiters. She gave

out that she had once been an actress-actually, I

imagine, a prostitute; most prostitutes end as char-

women. It was strange to see that in spite of her age and

her life she still wore a bright blonde wig, and darkened

her eyes and painted her face like a girl of twenty. So

apparently even a seventy-eight-hour week can leave

one with some vitality.


ON my third day at the hotel the

chef du personnel, who

had generally spoken to me in quite a pleasant tone,

called me up and said sharply:

   "Here, you, shave that moustache off at once!

Nom de


, who ever heard of a

plongeur with a moustache?"

   I began to protest, but he cut me short. "A


with a moustache-nonsense! Take care I don't see you

with it to-morrow."

   On the way home I asked Boris what this meant.

He shrugged his shoulders. "You must do what he says,

mon ami

. No one in the hotel wears a moustache, except

the cooks. I should have thought you would have

noticed it. Reason? There is no reason. It is the


   I saw that it was an etiquette, like not wearing a white

tie with a dinner jacket, and shaved off my moustache.

Afterwards I found out the explanation of the custom,

which is this: waiters in good hotels do not wear

moustaches, and to show their superiority they decree


plongeurs shall not wear them either; and the cooks

wear their moustaches to show their contempt for the


   This gives some idea of the elaborate caste system

existing in a hotel. Our staff, amounting to about a

hundred and ten, had their prestige graded as accurately

as that of soldiers, and a cook or waiter was as much

above a

plongeur as a captain above a private. Highest of

all came the manager, who could sack anybody, even the

cooks. We never saw the

patron, and all we knew of him

was that his meals had to be prepared more carefully than

that of the customers; all the discipline of the hotel

depended on the manager. He was a conscientious man,

and always on the lookout for slackness, but we were too

clever for him. A system of service bells ran through the

hotel, and the whole staff used these for signalling to one

another. A long ring and a short ring, followed by two

more long rings, meant that the manager was coming,

and when we heard it we took care to look busy.

   Below the manager came the

maitre d'hôtel. He did not

serve at table, unless to a lord or someone of that kind,

but directed the other waiters and helped with the

catering. His tips, and his bonus from the champagne

companies (it was two francs for each cork he

returned to them), came to two hundred francs a day. He

was in a position quite apart from the rest of the staff,

and took his meals in a private room, with silver on the

table and two apprentices in clean white jackets to serve

him. A little below the head waiter came the head cook,

drawing about five thousand francs a month; he dined in

the kitchen, but at a separate table, and one of the

apprentice cooks waited on him. Then came the

chef du


; he drew only fifteen hundred francs a month,

but he wore a black coat and did no manual work, and he

could sack

plongeurs and fine waiters. Then came the other

cooks, drawing anything between three thousand and

seven hundred and fifty francs a month; then the waiters,

making about seventy francs a day in tips, besides a

small retaining fee; then the laundresses and sewing

women; then the apprentice waiters, who received no

tips, but were paid seven hundred and fifty francs a

month; then the

plongeurs, also at seven hundred and fifty

francs; then the chambermaids, at five or six hundred

francs a month; and lastly the cafetiers, at five hundred a

month. We of the cafeterie were the very dregs of the

hotel, despised and tutoied by everyone.

   There were various others-the office employees,

called generally couriers, the storekeeper, the cellarman,

some porters and pages, the ice man, the bakers, the

night-watchman, the doorkeeper. Different jobs were

done by different races. The office employees and the

cooks and sewing-women were French, the waiters

Italians and Germans (there is hardly such a thing as a

French waiter in Paris), the

plongeurs of every race in

Europe, beside Arabs and negroes. French was the lingua

franca, even the Italians speaking it to one another.

   All the departments had their special perquisites.

In all Paris hotels it is the custom to sell the broken

bread to bakers for eight sous a pound, and the kitchen

scraps to pigkeepers for a trifle, and to divide the pro-

ceeds of this among the

plongeurs. There was much

pilfering, too. The waiters all stole food-in fact, I

seldom saw a waiter trouble to eat the rations provided

for him by the hotel-and the cooks did it on a larger

scale in the kitchen, and we in the cafeterie swilled

illicit tea and coffee. The cellarman stole brandy. By a

rule of the hotel the waiters were not allowed to keep

stores of spirits, but had to go to the cellarman for each

drink as it was ordered. As the cellarman poured out the

drinks he would set aside perhaps a teaspoonful from

each glass, and he amassed quantities in this way. He

would sell you the stolen brandy for five sous a swig if

he thought he could trust you.

   There were thieves among the staff, and if you left

money in your coat pockets it was generally taken. The

doorkeeper, who paid our wages and searched us for

stolen food, was the greatest thief in the hotel. Out of

my five hundred francs a month, this man actually

managed to cheat me of a hundred and fourteen francs in

six weeks. I had asked to be paid daily, so the door-

keeper paid me sixteen francs each evening, and, by not

paying for Sundays (for which of course payment was

due), pocketed sixty-four francs. Also, I sometimes

worked on a Sunday, for which, though I did not know

it, I was entitled to an extra twenty-five francs. The

doorkeeper never paid me this either, and so made away

with another seventy-five francs. I only realised during

my last week that I was being cheated, and, as I could

prove nothing, only twenty-five francs were refunded.

The doorkeeper played similar tricks on any employee

who was fool enough to be taken in. He called

himself a Greek, but in reality he was an Armenian.

After knowing him I saw the force of the proverb

"Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jew before a Greek,

but don't trust an Armenian."

   There were queer characters among the waiters. One

was a gentleman-a youth who had been educated at a

university, and had had a well-paid job in a business

office. He had caught a venereal disease, lost his job,

drifted, and now considered himself lucky to be a

waiter. Many of the waiters had slipped into France

without passports, and one or two of them were spies --it

is a common profession for a spy to adopt. One day

there was a fearful row in the waiters' dining-room

between Morandi, a dangerous-looking man with eyes

set too far apart, and another Italian. It appeared that

Morandi had taken the other man's mistress. The other

man, a weakling and obviously frightened of Morandi,

was threatening vaguely.

   Morandi jeered at him. "Well, what are you going to

do about it? I've slept with your girl, slept with her three

times. It was fine. What can you do, eh?"

   "I can denounce you to the secret police. You are an

Italian spy."

   Morandi did not deny it. He simply produced a razor

from his tail pocket and made two swift strokes in the

air, as though slashing a man's cheeks open. Whereat the

other waiter took it back.

   The queerest type I ever saw in the hotel was an

"extra." He had been engaged at twenty-five francs for

the day to replace the Magyar, who was ill. He was a

Serbian, a thick-set nimble fellow of about twenty-five,

speaking six languages, including English. He seemed to

know all about hotel work, and up till midday he worked

like a slave. Then, as soon as it had struck twelve, he

turned sulky, shirked his work, stole wine,

and finally crowned all by loafing about openly with a

pipe in his mouth. Smoking, of course, was forbidden

under severe penalties. The manager himself heard of it

and came down to interview the Serbian, fuming with


   "What the devil do you mean by smoking here?" he


   "What the devil do you mean by having a face like

that?" answered the Serbian, calmly.

   I cannot convey the blasphemy of such a remark. The

head cook, if a

plongeur had spoken to him like that,

would have thrown a saucepan of hot soup in his face.

The manager said instantly, "You're sacked!" and at two

o'clock the Serbian was given his twenty-five francs and

duly sacked. Before he went out Boris asked him in

Russian what game he was playing. He said the Serbian


   "Look here,

mon vieux, they've got to pay me a day's

wages if I work up to midday, haven't they? That's the

law. And where's the sense of working after I get my

wages? So I'll tell you what I do. I go to a hotel and get

a job as an extra, and up to midday I work hard. Then,

the moment it's struck twelve, I start raising such hell

that they've no choice but to sack me. Neat, eh? Most

days I'm sacked by half-past twelve; to-day it was two

o'clock; but I don't care, I've saved four hours' work.

The only trouble is, one can't do it at the same hotel


   It appeared that he had played this game at half the

hotels and restaurants in Paris. It is probably quite an

easy game to play during the summer, though the hotels

protect themselves against it as well as they can by

means of a black list.


IN a few days I had grasped the main principles on

which the hotel was run. The thing that would astonish

anyone coming for the first time into the service

quarters of a hotel would be the fearful noise and

disorder during the rush hours. It is something so

different from the steady work in a shop or a factory

that it looks at first sight like mere bad management.

But it is really quite unavoidable, and for this reason.

Hotel work is not particularly hard, but by its nature it

comes in rushes and cannot be economised. You cannot,

for instance, grill a steak two hours before it is wanted;

you have to wait till the last moment, by which time a

mass of other work has accumulated, and then do it all

together, in frantic haste. The result is that at meal-

times everyone is doing two men's work, which is

impossible without noise and quarrelling. Indeed the

quarrels are a necessary part of the process, for the pace

would never be kept up if everyone did not accuse

everyone else of idling. It was for this reaon that during

the rush hours the whole staff raged and cursed like

demons. At those times there was scarcely a verb in the

hotel except foutre. A girl in the bakery, aged sixteen,

used oaths that would have defeated a cabman. (Did not

Hamlet say "cursing like a scullion"? No doubt

Shakespeare had watched scullions at work.) But we are

not losing our heads and wasting time; we were just

stimulating one another for the effort of packing four

hours' work into two hours.

   What keeps a hotel going is the fact that the em-

ployees take a genuine pride in their work, beastly and

silly though it is. If a man idles, the others soon find him

out, and conspire against him to get him sacked.

Cooks, waiters and

plongeurs differ greatly in outlook,

but they are all alike in being proud of their efficiency.

   Undoubtedly the most workmanlike class, and the

least servile, are the cooks. They do not earn quite so

much as waiters, but their prestige is higher and their

employment steadier. The cook does not look upon

himself as a servant, but as a skilled workman; he is

generally called «

un ouvrier, » which a waiter never is.

He knows his power-knows that he alone makes or mars

a restaurant, and that if he is five minutes late

everything is out of gear, He despises the whole non-

cooking staff, and makes it a point of honour to insult

everyone below the head waiter. And he takes a genuine

artistic pride in his work, which demands very great

skill. It is not the cooking that is so difficult, but the

doing everything to time. Between breakfast and lun-

cheon the head cook at the Hôtel X. would receive

orders for several hundred dishes, all to be served at

different times; he cooked few of them himself, but he

gave instructions about all of them and inspected them

before they were sent up. His memory was wonderful.

The vouchers were pinned on a board, but the head cook

seldom looked at them; everything was stored in his

mind, and exactly to the minute, as each dish fell due,

he would call out, «

Faites marcher une côtelette de veau » (or

whatever it was) unfailingly. He was an insufferable

bully, but he was also an artist. It is for their punctu-

ality, and not for any superiority in technique, that men

cooks are preferred to women.

   The waiter's outlook is quite different. He too is

proud in a way of his skill, but his skill is chiefly in

being servile. His work gives him the mentality, not of a

workman, but of a snob. He lives perpetually in sight of

rich people, stands at their tables, listens to their conver

sation, sucks up to them with smiles and discreet little

jokes. He has the pleasure of spending money by proxy.

Moreover, there is always the chance that he may

become rich himself, for, though most waiters die poor,

they have long runs of luck occasionally. At some cafés

on the Grand Boulevard there is so much money to be

made that the waiters actually pay the

patron for their

employment. The result is that between constantly

seeing money, and hoping to get it, the waiter comes to

identify himself to some extent with his employers. He

will take pains to serve a meal in style, because he feels

that he is participating in the meal himself.

   I remember Valenti telling me of some banquet at

Nice at which he had once served, and of how it cost

two hundred thousand francs and was talked of for

months afterwards. "It was splendid,

mon p'tit, mais


! Jesus Christ! The champagne, the silver, the

orchids-I have never seen anything like them, and I have

seen some things. Ah, it was glorious!"

   "But, " I said, "you were only there to wait?"

   "Oh, of course. But still, it was splendid."

   The moral is, never be sorry for a waiter. Sometimes

when you sit in a restaurant, still stuffing yourself half

an hour after closing time, you feel that the tired waiter

at your side must surely be despising you. But he is not.

He is not thinking as he looks at you, "What an overfed

lout"; he is thinking, "One day, when I have saved

enough money, I shall be able to imitate that man." He is

ministering to a kind of pleasure he thoroughly

understands and admires. And that is why waiters are

seldom Socialists, have no effective trade union, and

will work twelve hours a day-they work fifteen hours,

seven days a week, in many cafés. They are snobs, and

they find the servile nature of their work rather con-



plongeurs, again, have a different outlook. Theirs

is a job which offers no prospects, is intensely exhaust-

ing, and at the same time has not a trace of skill or

interest; the sort of job that would always be done by

women if women were strong enough. All that is re-

quired of them is to be constantly on the run, and to put

up with long hours and a stuffy atmosphere. They have

no way of escaping from this life, for they cannot save a

penny from their wages, and working from sixty to a

hundred hours a week leaves them no time to train for

anything else. The best they can hope for is to find a

slightly softer job as night-watchman or lavatory


   And yet the

plongeurs, low as they are, also have a

kind of pride. It is the pride of the drudge-the man who

is equal to no matter what quantity of work. At that

level, the mere power to go on working like an ox is

about the only virtue attainable.

Débrouillard is what

every plongeur wants to be called. A

débrouillard is a man

who, even when he is told to do the impossible, will



r-get it done somehow. One of the kitchen

plongeurs at the Hôtel X., a German, was well known as


débrouillard. One night an English lord came to the

hotel, and the waiters were in despair, for the lord had

asked for peaches, and there were none in stock; it was

late at night, and the shops would be shut. "Leave it to

me," said the German. He went out, and in ten minutes

he was back with four peaches. He had gone into a

neighbouring restaurant and stolen them. That is what is

meant by a

débrouillard. The English lord paid for the

peaches at twenty francs each.

   Mario, who was in charge of the cafeterie, had the

typical drudge mentality. All he thought of was getting

through the «

boulot, » and he defied you to give him

too much of it. Fourteen years underground had

left him with about as much natural laziness as a piston

rod. «

Faut étre dur, » he used to say when anyone

complained. You will often hear plongeurs boast, «

Je suis


"-as though they were soldiers, not male charwomen.

   Thus everyone in the hotel had his sense of honour,

and when the press of work came we were all ready for a

grand concerted effort to get through it. The constant

war between the different departments also made for

efficiency, for everyone clung to his own privileges and

tried to stop the others idling and pilfering.

   This is the good side of hotel work. In a hotel a huge

and complicated machine is kept running by an inade-

quate staff, because every man has a well-defined job

and does it scrupulously. But there is a weak point, and

it is this-that the job the staff are doing is not necessarily

what the customer pays for. The customer pays, as he

sees it, for good service; the employee is paid, as he sees

it, for the boulot-meaning, as a rule, an imitation of good

service. The result is that, though hotels are miracles of

punctuality, they are worse than the worst private houses

in the things that matter.

   Take cleanliness, for example. The dirt in the Hôtel

X., as soon as one penetrated into the service quarters,

was revolting. Our cafeterie had year-old filth in all the

dark corners, and the bread-bin was infested with cock-

roaches. Once I suggested killing these beasts to Mario.

"Why kill the poor animals?" he said reproachfully. The

others laughed when I wanted to wash my hands before

touching the butter. Yet we were clean where we

recognised cleanliness as part of the boulot. We

scrubbed the tables and polished the brasswork regu-

larly, because we had orders to do that; but we had no

orders to be genuinely clean, and in any case we had no

time for it. We were simply carrying out our duties;

and as our first duty was punctuality, we saved time by

being dirty.

   In the kitchen the dirt was worse. It is not a figure of

speech, it is a mere statement of fact to say that a

French cook will spit in the soup-that is, if he is not

going to drink it himself. He is an artist, but his art is

not cleanliness. To a certain extent he is even dirty

because he is an artist, for food, to look smart, needs

dirty treatment. When a steak, for instance, is brought

up for the head cook's inspection, he does not handle it

with a fork. He picks it up in his fingers and slaps it

down, runs his thumb round the dish and licks it to

taste the gravy, runs it round and licks again, then

steps back and contemplates the piece of meat like an

artist judging a picture, then presses it lovingly into

place with his fat, pink fingers, every one of which he

has licked a hundred times that morning. When he is

satisfied, he takes a cloth and wipes his fingerprints

from the dish, and hands it to the waiter. And the

waiter, of course, dips his fingers into the gravy-his

nasty, greasy fingers which he is for ever running

through his brilliantined hair. Whenever one pays more

than, say, ten francs for a dish of meat in Paris, one may

be certain that it has been fingered in this manner. In

very cheap restaurants it is different; there, the same

trouble is not taken over the food, and it is just forked

out of the pan and flung on to a plate, without handling.

Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more

sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it.

   Dirtiness is inherent in hotels and restaurants,

because sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and

smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food

ready to remember that it is meant to be eaten. A meal

is simply «

une commande » to him, just as a man dying of

cancer is simply "

a case" to the doctor. A customer

orders, for example, a piece of toast. Somebody, pressed

with work in a cellar deep underground, has to prepare it.

How can he stop and say to himself, "This toast is to be

eaten-I must make it eatable"? All he knows is that it must

look right and must be ready in three minutes. Some large

drops of sweat fall from his forehead on to the toast. Why

should he worry? Presently the toast falls among the filthy

sawdust on the floor. Why trouble to make a new piece? It

is much quicker to wipe the sawdust off. On the way

upstairs the toast falls again, butter side down. Another

wipe is all it needs. And so with everything. The only food

at the Hôtel X. which was ever prepared cleanly was the

staff's, and the

patron's. The maxim, repeated by everyone,

was: "Look out for the

patron, and as for the clients,

s'en f--

pas mal

! » Everywhere in the service quarters dirt festered-a

secret vein of dirt, running through the great garish hotel

like the intestines through a man's body.

   Apart from the dirt, the

patron swindled the customers

wholeheartedly. For the most part the materials of the food

were very bad, though the cooks knew how to serve it up in

style. The meat was at best ordinary, and as to the

vegetables, no good housekeeper would have looked at

them in the market. The cream, by a standing order, was

diluted with milk. The tea and coffee were of inferior sorts,

and the jam was synthetic stuff out of vast, unlabelled tins.

All the cheaper wines, according to Boris, were corked vin

ordinaire. There was a rule that employees must pay for

anything they spoiled, and in consequence damaged things

were seldom thrown away. Once the waiter on the third

floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service

lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper

and so forth at the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and

sent it up again. Upstairs there were dirty tales of once-used

sheets not being washed, but simply damped, ironed and put back

on the beds. The patron was as mean to us as to the

customers. Throughout the vast hotel there was not,

for instance, such a thing as a brush and pan; one had

to manage with a broom and a piece of cardboard. And

the staff lavatory was worthy of Central Asia, and there

was no place to wash one's hands, except the sinks

used for washing crockery.

   In spite of all this the Hôtel X. was one of the dozen

most expensive hotels in Paris, and the customers paid

startling prices. The ordinary charge for a night's

lodging, not including breakfast, was two hundred

francs. All wine and tobacco were sold at exactly double

shop prices, though of course the patron bought at the

wholesale price. If a customer had a title, or was

reputed to be a millionaire, all his charges went up

automatically. One morning on the fourth floor an

American who was on diet wanted only salt and hot

water for his breakfast. Valenti was furious. "Jesus

Christ!" he said, "what about my ten per cent.? Ten per

cent. of salt and water!" And he charged twentyfive

francs for the breakfast. The customer paid without a


   According to Boris, the same kind of thing went on

in all Paris hotels, or at least in all the big, expensive

ones. But I imagine that the customers at the Hotel X.

were especially easy to swindle, for they were mostly

Americans, with a sprinkling of English-no Frenchand

seemed to know nothing whatever about good food.

They would stuff themselves with disgusting American

"cereals," and eat marmalade at tea, and drink ver-

mouth after dinner, and order a poulet à la reine at a

hundred francs and then souse it in Worcester sauce.

One customer, from Pittsburg, dined every night in his

bedroom on grape-nuts, scrambled eggs and cocoa.

Perhaps it hardly matters whether such people are

swindled or not.


HEARD queer tales in the hotel. There were tales of

dope fiends, of old debauchees who frequented hotels in

search of pretty page boys, of thefts and blackmail.

Mario told me of a hotel in which he had been, where a

chambermaid stole a priceless diamond ring from an

American lady. For days the staff were searched as they

left work, and two detectives searched the hotel from

top to bottom, but the ring was never found. The

chambermaid had a lover in the bakery, and he had

baked the ring into a roll, where it lay unsuspected

until the search was over.

   Once Valenti, at a slack time, told me a story about


   "You know,

mon p'tit, this hotel life is all very well,

but it's the devil when you're out of work. I expect you

know what it is to go without eating, eh?


otherwise you wouldn't be scrubbing dishes. Well, I'm

not a poor devil of a

plongeur; I'm a waiter, and I went

five days without eating, once. Five days without even a

crust of bread Jesus Christ!

   "I tell you, those five days were the devil. The only

good thing was, I had my rent paid in advance. I was

living in a dirty, cheap little hotel in the Rue Sainte

Éloise up in the Latin quarter. It was called the Hotel

Suzanne May, after some famous prostitute of the time

of the Empire. I was starving, and there was nothing I

could do; I couldn't even go to the cafés where the hotel

proprietors come to engage waiters, because I

hadn't the price of a drink. All I could do was to lie in

bed getting weaker and weaker, and watching the bugs

running about the ceiling. I don't want to go through

that again, I can tell you.

   "In the afternoon of the fifth day I went half mad; at

least, that's how it seems to me now. There was an old

faded print of a woman's head hanging on the wall of

my room, and I took to wondering who it could be; and

after about an hour I realised that it must be Sainte

Éloise, who was the patron saint of the quarter. I had

never taken any notice of the thing before, but now, as I

lay staring at it, a most extraordinary idea came into my



'Écoute, mon cher,' I said to myself, 'you'll be

starving to death if this goes on much longer. You've

got to do something. Why not try a prayer to Sainte

Éloise? Go down on your knees and ask her to send you

some money. After all, it can't do any harm. Try it!'

   "Mad, eh? Still, a man will do anything when he's

hungry. Besides, as I said, it couldn't do any harm. I got

out of bed and began praying. I said:

   " 'Dear Sainte Éloise, if you exist, please send me

some money. I don't ask for much just enough to buy

some bread and a bottle of wine and get my strength

back. Three or four francs would do. You don't know

how grateful I'll be, Sainte Éloise, if you help me this

once. And be sure, if you send me anything, the first

thing I'll do will be to go and burn a candle for you, at

your church down the street. Amen.'

   "I put in that about the candle, because I had heard

that saints like having candles burnt in their honour. I

meant to keep my promise, of course. But I am an

atheist and I didn't really believe that anything would

come of it.

   "Well, I got into bed again, and five minutes later

there came a bang at the door. It was a girl called Maria,

a big fat peasant girl who lived at our hotel. She was a

very stupid girl, but. a good sort, and I didn't much care

for her to see me in the state I was in.

   "She cried out at the sight of me.

'Nom de Dieu!' she

said, 'what's the matter with you? What are you doing

in bed at this time of day?

Quelle mine que tu as! You look

more like a corpse than a man.'

   "Probably I did look a sight. I had been five days

without food, most of the time in bed, and it was three

days since I had had a wash or a shave. The room was a

regular pigsty, too.

   " 'What's the matter?' said Maria again.

   " 'The matter!' I said; 'Jesus Christ! I'm starving. I

haven't eaten for five days. That's what's the matter.'

   "Maria was horrified. 'Not eaten for five days?' she

said. 'But why? Haven't you any money, then?'

   " 'Money!' I said. 'Do you suppose I should be

starving if I had money? I've got just five sous in the

world, and I've pawned everything. Look round the

room and see if there's anything more I can sell or

pawn. If you can find anything that will fetch fifty

centimes, you're cleverer than I am.'

   "Maria began looking round the room. She poked

here and there among a lot of rubbish that was lying

about, and then suddenly she got quite excited. Her

great thick mouth fell open with astonishment.

   " 'You idiot!' she cried out. 'Imbecile! What's



   "I saw that she had picked up an empty oil

bidon that

had been lying in the corner. I had bought it weeks

before, for an oil lamp I had before I sold my things.

   " 'That?' I said. 'That's an oil

bidon. What about it?'

   " 'Imbecile! Didn't you pay three francs fifty

deposit on it?'

   "Now, of course I had paid the three francs fifty.

They always make you pay a deposit on the

bidon, and

you get it back when the

bidon is returned. But I'd for-

gotten all about it.

   " 'Yes---' I began.

   " 'Idiot!' shouted Maria again. She got so excited

that she began to dance about until I thought her

sabots would go through the floor. 'Idiot!

T'es fou!T'es


! What have you got to do but take it back to the

shop and get your deposit back? Starving, with three

francs fifty staring you in the face! Imbecile!'

  "I can hardly believe now that in all those five days

I had never once thought of taking the

bidon back to the

shop. As good as three francs fifty in hard cash, and it

had never occurred to me! I sat up in bed. 'Quick!' I

shouted to Maria, 'you take it for me. Take it to the

grocer's at the corner-run like the devil. And bring

back food!

   Maria didn't need to be told. She grabbed the bidon

and went clattering down the stairs like a herd of

elephants, and in three minutes she was back with two

pounds of bread under one arm and a half-litre bottle

of wine under the other. I didn't stop to thank her; I

just seized the bread and sank my teeth in it. Have you

noticed how bread tastes when you have been hungry

for a long time? Cold, wet, doughy-like putty almost.

But, Jesus Christ, how good it was! As for the wine, I

sucked it all down in one draught, and it seemed to go

straight into my veins and flow round my body like

new blood. Ah, that made a difference!

   "I wolfed the whole two pounds of bread without

stopping to take breath. Maria stood with her hands on

her hips, watching me eat. 'Well, you feel better, eh?'

she said when I had finished.

   " 'Better!' I said. 'I feel perfect! I'm not the same

man as I was five minutes ago. There's only one thing

in the world I need now-a cigarette.'

   "Maria put her hand in her apron pocket. 'You can't

have it,' she said. 'I've no money. This is all I had left

out of your three francs fifty-seven sous. It's no good;

the cheapest cigarettes are twelve sous a packet.'

   " 'Then I can have them!' I said. 'Jesus Christ, what

a piece of luck! I've got five sous-it's just enough.'

   "Maria took the twelve sous and was starting out to the

tobacconist's. And then something I had forgotten all

this time came into my head. There was that cursed

Sainte Éloise! I had promised her a candle if she sent

me money; and really, who could say that the prayer

hadn't come true? 'Three or four francs,' I had said;

and the next moment along came three francs fifty.

There was no getting away from it. I should have to

spend my twelve sous on a candle.

   "I called Maria back. 'It's no use,' I said; 'there is

Sainte Éloise-I have promised her a candle. The twelve

sous will have to go on that. Silly, isn't it? I can't have

my cigarettes after all.'

   « 'Sainte Éloise?' said Maria. 'What about Sainte


   " 'I prayed to her for money and promised her a

candle,' I said. 'She answered the prayer-at any rate,

the money turned up. I shall have to buy that candle.

It's a nuisance, but it seems to me I must keep my


   " 'But what put Sainte Éloise into your head?' said


   " 'It was her picture,' I said, and I explained the

whole thing. 'There she is, you see,' I said, and I pointed

to the picture on the wall.

   "Maria looked at the picture, and then to my surprise

she burst into shouts of laughter. She laughed more and

more, stamping about the room and holding her fat sides

as though they would burst. I thought she had gone mad.

It was two minutes before she could speak.

   " 'Idiot!' she cried at last.

'T'es fou! T'es fou! Do you

mean to tell me you really knelt down and prayed to that

picture? Who told you it was Sainte Éloise?'

   " 'But I made sure it was Sainte Éloise!' I said.

   " 'Imbecile! It isn't Sainte Éloise at all. Who do you

think it is?'

   " 'Who?' I said.

" 'It is Suzanne May, the woman this hotel is called


   "I had been praying to Suzanne May, the famous

prostitute of the Empire. . . .

   "But, after all, I wasn't sorry. Maria and I had a good

laugh, and then we talked it over, and we made out that I

didn't owe Sainte Éloise anything. Clearly it wasn't she

who had answered the prayer, and there was no need to

buy her a candle. So I had my packet of cigarettes after



TIME went on and the Auberge de Jehan Cottard showed

no signs of opening. Boris and I went down there one

day during our afternoon interval and found that none of

the alterations had been done, except the indecent

pictures, and there were three duns instead of two. The


greeted us with his usual blandness,

and the next instant turned to me (his prospective

dishwasher) and borrowed five francs. After that I felt

certain that the restaurant would never get beyond talk.


patron, however, again named the opening for

"exactly a fortnight from to-day," and introduced us to

the woman who was to do the cooking, a Baltic Russian

five feet tall and a yard across the hips. She told us that

she had been a singer before she came down to cooking,

and that she was very artistic and adored English

literature, especially

La Case de l'Oncle Tom.

   In a fortnight I had got so used to the routine of a


life that I could hardly imagine anything

different. It was a life without much variation. At a

quarter to six one woke with a sudden start, tumbled into

grease-stiffened clothes, and hurried out with dirty face

and protesting muscles. It was dawn, and the windows

were dark except for the workmen's cafés. The sky was

like a vast flat wall of cobalt, with roofs and spires of

black paper pasted upon it. Drowsy men were sweeping

the pavements with ten-foot besoms, and ragged families

picking over the dustbins. Workmen, and girls with a

piece of chocolate in one hand and a croissant in the

other, were pouring into the Metro stations. Trams, filled

with more workmen, boomed gloomily past. One

hastened down to the station, fought for a place-one does

literally have to fight on the Paris Metro at six in the

morning-and stood jammed in the swaying mass of

passengers, nose to nose with some hideous French face,

breathing sour wine and garlic. And then one descended

into the labyrinth of the hotel basement, and forgot

daylight till two o'clock, when the sun was hot and the

town black with people and cars.

   After my first week at the hotel I always spent the

afternoon interval in sleeping, or, when I had money,

in a

bistro. Except for a few ambitious waiters who went

to English classes, the whole staff wasted their leisure in

this way; one seemed too lazy after the morning's work

to do anything better. Sometimes half a dozen


would make up a party and go to an abominable brothel

in the Rue de Sieyès, where the charge was only five

francs twenty-five centimes-tenpence half-penny. It was

nicknamed «

le prix fixe, » and they used to describe

their experiences there as a great joke. It was a favourite

rendezvous of hotel workers. The

plongeurs' wages did

not allow them to marry, and no doubt work in the

basement does not encourage fastidious feelings.

   For another four hours one was in the cellars, and

then one emerged, sweating, into the cool street. It was

lamplight-that strange purplish gleam of the Paris lamps-

and beyond the river the Eiffel Tower flashed from top

to bottom with zigzag skysigns, like enormous snakes of

fire. Streams of cars glided silently to and fro, and

women, exquisite-looking in the dim light, strolled up

and down the arcade. Sometimes a woman would glance

at Boris or me, and then, noticing our greasy clothes,

look hastily away again. One fought another battle in the

Metro and was home by ten. Generally from ten to

midnight I went to a little

bistro in our street, an

underground place frequented by Arab navvies. It was a

bad place for fights, and I sometimes saw bottles thrown,

once with fearful effect, but as a rule the Arabs fought

among themselves and let Christians alone. Raki, the

Arab drink, was very cheap, and the bistro was open at

all hours, for the Arabs-lucky men-had the power of

working all day and drinking all night.

   It was the typical life of a

plongeur, and it did not

seem a bad life at the time. I had no sensation of

poverty, for even after paying my rent and setting aside

enough for tobacco and journeys and my food on

Sundays, I still had four francs a day for drinks, and four

francs was wealth. There was-it is hard to express it-a

sort of heavy contentment, the contentment a well-fed

beast might feel, in a life which had become so simple.

For nothing could be simpler than the life of a


He lives in a rhythm between work and sleep, without

time to think, hardly conscious of the exterior world; his

Paris has shrunk to the hotel, the Metro, a few bistros

and his bed. If he goes afield, it is only a few streets

away, on a trip with some servantgirl who sits on his

knee swallowing oysters and beer. On his free day he

lies in bed till noon, puts on a clean shirt, throws dice for

drinks, and after lunch goes back to bed again. Nothing

is quite real to him but the

boulot, drinks and sleep; and

of these sleep is the most important.

   One night, in the small hours, there was a murder just

beneath my window. I was woken by a fearful uproar,

and, going to the window, saw a man lying flat on the

stones below; I could see the murderers, three of them,

flitting away at the end of the street. Some of us went

down and found that the man was quite dead, his skull

cracked with a piece of lead piping. I remember the

colour of his blood, curiously purple, like wine; it was

still on the cobbles when I came home that evening, and

they said the schoolchildren had come from miles round

to see it. But the thing that strikes me in looking back is

that I was in bed and asleep within three minutes of the

murder. So were most of the people in the street; we just

made sure that the man was done for, and went straight

back to bed. We were working people, and where was

the sense of wasting sleep over a murder?

   Work in the hotel taught me the true value of sleep,

just as being hungry had taught me the true value of

food. Sleep had ceased to be a mere physical necessity; it

was something voluptuous, a debauch more than a relief.

I had no more trouble with the bugs. Mario had told me

of a sure remedy for them, namely pepper, strewed thick

over the bedclothes. It made me sneeze, but the bugs all

hated it, and emigrated to other rooms.


WITH thirty francs a week to spend on drinks I could

take part in the social life of the quarter. We had some

jolly evenings, on Saturdays, in the little bistro at the foot

of the Hôtel des Trois Moineaux.

   The brick-floored room, fifteen feet square, was

packed with twenty people, and the air dim with smoke.

The noise was deafening, for everyone was either talking

at the top of his voice or singing. Sometimes it was just a

confused din of voices; sometimes everyone would burst

out together in the same songthe " Marseillaise, » or the

" Internationale, » or " Madelon," or " Les Fraises et les

Framboises. » Azaya, a great clumping peasant girl who

worked fourteen hours a day in a glass factory, sang a

song about, "

Il a perdu ses pantalons, tout en dansant le


." Her friend Marinette, a thin, dark Corsican

girl of obstinate virtue, tied her knees together and

danced the

danse du ventre. The old Rougiers wandered

in and out, cadging drinks and trying to tell a long,

involved story about someone who had once cheated

them over a bedstead. R., cadaverous and silent, sat in

his corner quietly boozing. Charlie, drunk, half danced,

half staggered to and fro with a glass of sham absinthe

balanced in one fat hand, pinching the women's breasts

and declaiming poetry. People played darts and diced

for drinks. Manuel, a Spaniard, dragged the girls to the

bar and shook the dice-box against their bellies, for

luck. Madame F. stood at the bar rapidly pouring


of wine through the pewter funnel, with a wet

dishcloth always handy, because every man in the room

tried to make love to her. Two children, bastards of big

Louis the bricklayer, sat in a corner sharing a glass of


. Everyone was very happy, overwhelmingly

certain that the world was a good place and we a notable

set of people.

   For an hour the noise scarcely slackened. Then about

midnight there was a piercing shout of «

Citoyens! » and

the sound of a chair falling over. A blond, red-faced

workman had risen to his feet and was banging a bottle

on the table. Everyone stopped singing; the word went

round, "Sh! Furex is starting!" Furex was a strange

creature, a Limousin stonemason who worked steadily

all the week and drank himself into a kind of paroxysm

on Saturdays. He had lost his memory and could not

remember anything before the war, and he would have

gone to pieces through drink if Madame F. had not taken

care of him. On Saturday evenings at about five o'clock

she would say to someone, "Catch Furex before he

spends his wages," and when he had been caught she

would take away his money, leaving him enough for one

good drink. One week he escaped, and, rolling blind

drunk in the Place Monge, was run over by a car and

badly hurt.

   The queer thing about Furex was that, though he was

a Communist when sober, he turned violently patriotic

when drunk. He started the evening with good

Communist principles, but after four or five litres he

was a rampant Chauvinist, denouncing spies,

challenging all foreigners to fight, and, if he was not

prevented, throwing bottles. It was at this stage that he

made his speech-for he made a patriotic speech every

Saturday night. The speech was always the same, word

for word. It ran:

   "Citizens of the Republic, are there any Frenchmen

here? If there are any Frenchmen here, I rise to remind

them-to remind them in effect, of the glorious days of

the war. When one looks back upon that time of

comradeship and heroism-one looks back, in effect,

upon that time of comradeship and heroism. When one

remembers the heroes who are dead-one remembers, in

effect, the heroes who are dead. Citizens of the

Republic, I was wounded at Verdun


   Here he partially undressed and showed the wound

he had received at Verdun. There were shouts of

applause. We thought nothing in the world could be

funnier than this speech of Furex's. He was a well-

known spectacle in the quarter; people used to come in

from other

bistros to watch him when his fit started.

   The word was passed round to bait Furex. With a

wink to the others someone called for silence, and asked

him to sing the « Marseillaise. » He sang it well, in a fine

bass voice, with patriotic gurgling noises deep down in

his chest when he came to

« Aux arrmes, citoyens!

Forrmez vos bataillons!

» Veritable tears rolled down his

cheeks; he was too drunk to see that everyone was

laughing at him. Then, before he had finished, two

strong workmen seized him by either arm and held him

down, while Azaya shouted, "Vine l'Allemagne! » just out

of his reach. Furex's face went purple at such infamy.

Everyone in the bistro began shouting together, "


l'Allemagne! A bas la France!"

while Furex struggled to

get at them. But suddenly he spoiled the fun. His face

turned pale and doleful, his limbs went limp, and before

anyone could stop him he was sick on the table. Then Madame

F. hoisted him like a sack and carried him up to bed. In the

morning he reappeared quiet and civil, and bought a copy of



   The table was wiped with a cloth, Madame F.

brought more litre bottles and loaves of bread, and we

settled down to serious drinking. There were more

songs. An itinerant singer came in with his banjo and

performed for five-sou pieces. An Arab and a girl from


bistro down the street did a dance, the man wielding

a painted wooden phallus the size of a rolling-pin.

There were gaps in the noise now. People had begun to

talk about their love-affairs, and the war, and the barbel

fishing in the Seine, and the best way to

faire la


, and to tell stories. Charlie, grown sober again,

captured the conversation and talked about his soul for

five minutes. The doors and windows were opened to

cool the room. The street was emptying, and in the

distance one could hear the lonely milk train thundering

down the Boulevard St. Michel. The air blew cold on

our foreheads, and the coarse African wine still tasted

good: we were still happy, but meditatively, with the

shouting and hilarious mood finished.

   By one o'clock we were not happy any longer. We

felt the joy of the evening wearing thin, and called

hastily for more bottles, but Madame F. was watering

the wine now, and it did not taste the same. Men grew

quarrelsome. The girls were violently kissed and hands

thrust into their bosoms and they made off lest worse

should happen. Big Louis, the bricklayer, was drunk,

and crawled about the floor barking and pretending to

be a dog. The others grew tired of him and kicked at

him as he went past. People seized each other by the

arm and began long rambling confessions, and were

angry when these were not listened to. The crowd

thinned. Manuel and another man, both gamblers, went

across to the Arab

bistro, where card-playing went on till

daylight. Charlie suddenly borrowed thirty francs from

Madame F. and disappeared, probably to a brothel. Men

began to empty their glasses, call briefly, «

'Sieurs, dames!"

and go off to bed.

   By half-past one the last drop of pleasure had

evaporated, leaving nothing but headaches. We perceived

that we were not splendid inhabitants of a splendid

world, but a crew of underpaid workmen grown squalidly

and dismally drunk. We went on swallowing the wine,

but it was only from habit, and the stuff seemed suddenly

nauseating. One's head had swollen up like a balloon, the

floor rocked, one's tongue and lips were stained purple.

At last it was no use keeping it up any longer. Several

men went out into the yard behind the bistro and were

sick. We crawled up to bed, tumbled down half dressed,

and stayed there ten hours.

   Most of my Saturday nights went in this way. On the

whole, the two hours when one was perfectly and wildly

happy seemed worth the subsequent headache. For

many men in the quarter, unmarried and with no future

to think of, the weekly drinking-bout was the one thing

that made life worth living.


CHARLIE told us a good story one Saturday night in the


. Try and picture him-drunk, but sober enough to

talk consecutively. He bangs on the zinc bar and yells for



messieurs et dames-silence, I implore you!

Listen to this story, that I am about to tell you. A

memorable story, an instructive story, one of the

souvenirs of a refined and civilised life. Silence,


et dames


   "It happened at a time when I was hard up. You

know what that is like-how damnable, that a man of

refinement should ever be in such a condition. My

money had not come from home; I had pawned every-

thing, and there was nothing open to me except to

work, which is a thing I will not do. I was living with a

girl at the time-Yvonne her name was-a great half-witted

peasant girl like Azaya there, with yellow hair and fat

legs. The two of us had eaten nothing in three days.



, what sufferings! The girl used to walk up and

down the room with her hands on her belly, howling

like a dog that she was dying of starvation. It was


   "But to a man of intelligence nothing is impossible. I

propounded to myself the question, 'What is the easiest

way to get money without working?' And immediately

the answer came: 'To get money easily one must be a

woman. Has not every woman something to sell?' And

then, as I lay reflecting upon the things I should do if I

were a woman, an idea came into my head. I

remembered the Government maternity hospitals-you

know the Government maternity hospitals? They are

places where women who are enceinte are given meals

free and no questions are asked. It is done to encourage

childbearing. Any woman can go there and demand a

meal, and she is given it immediately.


'Mon Dieu!' I thought, 'if only I were a woman! I

would eat at one of those places every day. Who can

tell whether a woman is enceinte or not, without an

examination?' 7

   "I turned to Yvonne. 'Stop that insufferable

bawling.' I said, 'I have thought of a way to get food.'

   " 'How?' said she.

   " 'It is simple,' I said. "Go to the Government

maternity hospital. Tell them you are enceinte and ask for

food. They will give you a good meal and ask no


   « Yvonne was appalled.

'Mais, mon Dieu,' she cried, 'I

am not


   " 'Who cares?' I said. 'That is easily remedied. What

do you need except a cushion-two cushions if

necessary? It is an inspiration from heaven, ma chére.

Don't waste it.'

   "Well, in the end I persuaded her, and then we

borrowed a cushion and I got her ready and took her to

the maternity hospital. They received her with open

arms. They gave her cabbage soup, a ragoût of beef, a

purée of potatoes, bread and cheese and beer, and all

kinds of advice about her baby. Yvonne gorged till she

almost burst her skin. and mangaed to slip some of the

bread and cheese into her pocket for me. I took her there

every day until I had money again. My intelligence had

saved us.

   "Everything went well until a year later. I was with

Yvonne again, and one day we were walking down the

Boulevard Port Royal, near the barracks. Suddenly

Yvonne's mouth fell open, and she began turning red

and white, and red again.


'Mon Dieu!' she cried, 'look at that who is coming! It

is the nurse who was in charge at the maternity hospital.

I am ruined!'

   " 'Quick!' I said, 'run!' But it was too late. The nurse

had recognised Yvonne, and she came straight up to us,

smiling. She was a big fat woman with a

gold pince-nez and red cheeks like the cheeks of an

apple. A motherly, interfering kind of woman.

   " 'I hope you are well,

ma petite?' she said kindly.

'And your baby, is he well too? Was it a boy, as you

were hoping?'

   « Yvonne had begun trembling so hard that I had to

grip her arm. 'No,' she said at last.

   " 'Ah, then,

evidemment, it was a girl?'

   "Thereupon Yvonne, the idiot, lost her head com-

pletely. 'No,' she actually said again!

   "The nurse was taken aback.

'Comment!' she ex-

claimed, 'neither a boy nor a girl! But how can that be?'

   "Figure to yourselves,

messieurs et dames, it was a

dangerous moment. Yvonne had turned the colour of a

beetroot and she looked ready to burst into tears; another

second and she would have confessed everything.

Heaven knows what might have happened. But as for

me, I had kept my head; I stepped in and saved the


   " 'It was twins,' I said calmly.

   " 'Twins!' exclaimed the nurse. And she was so

pleased that she took Yvonne by the shoulders and

embraced her on both cheeks, publicly.

   "Yes, twins. . . ."


ONE day, when we had been at the Hôtel X. five or six

weeks, Boris disappeared without notice. In the evening

I found him waiting for me in the Rue de Rivoli. He

slapped me gaily on the shoulder.

   "Free at last,

mon ami! You can give notice in the

morning. The Auberge opens to-morrow."


   "Well, possibly we shall need a day or two to arrange

things. But, at any rate, no more



sommes lancés

, mon ami! My tail coat is out of pawn


   His manner was so hearty that I felt sure there was

something wrong, and I did not at all want to leave my

safe and comfortable job at the hotel. However, I had

promised Boris, so I gave notice, and the next morning at

seven went down to the Auberge de Jehan Cottard. It

was locked, and I went in search of Boris, who had once

more bolted from his lodgings and taken a room in the

Rue de la Croix Nivert. I found him asleep, together with

a girl whom he had picked up the night before, and who

he told me was "of a very sympathetic temperament." As

to the restaurant, he said that it was all arranged; there

were only a few little things to be seen to before we


   At ten I managed to get Boris out of bed, and we un-

locked the restaurant. At a glance I saw what the "few

little things" amounted to. It was briefly this: that the

alterations had not been touched since our last visit. The

stoves for the kitchen had not arrived, the water and

electricity had not been laid on, and there was all

manner of painting, polishing and carpentering to be

done. Nothing short of a miracle could open the restau-

rant within ten days, and by the look of things it might

collapse without even opening. It was obvious what had

happened. The

patron was short of money, and he had

engaged the staff (there were four of us) in order to use

us instead of workmen. He would be getting our services

almost free, for waiters are paid no wages, and though he

would have to pay me, he would not be feeding me till

the restaurant opened. In effect, he had swindled us of

several hundred francs by sending for us before the

restaurant was open. We had thrown up a good job for


   Boris, however, was full of hope. He had only one

idea in his head, namely, that here at last was a chance

of being a waiter and wearing a tail coat once more. For

this he was quite willing to do ten days' work unpaid,

with the chance of being left jobless in the end.

"Patience!" he kept saying. "That will arrange itself. Wait

till the restaurant opens, and we'll get it all back.


mon ami! »

   We needed patience, for days passed and the restau-

rant did not even progress towards opening. We cleaned

out the cellars, fixed the shelves, distempered the walls,

polished the woodwork, whitewashed the ceiling, stained

the floor; but the main work, the plumbing and

gasfitting and electricity, was still not done, because the


could not pay the bills. Evidently he was almost

penniless, for he refused the smallest charges, and he

had a trick of swiftly disappearing when asked for

money. His blend of shiftiness and aristocratic manners

made him very hard to deal with. Melancholy duns came

looking for him at all hours, and by instruction we

always told them that he was at Fontainebleau, or Saint

Cloud, or some other place that was safely distant.

Meanwhile, I was getting hungrier and hungrier. I had

left the hotel with thirty francs, and I had to go back

immediately to a diet of dry bread. Boris had managed

in the beginning to extract an advance of sixty francs

from the

patron, but he had spent half of it, in

redeeming his waiter's clothes, and half on the girl of

sympathetic temperament. He borrowed three francs a

day from Jules, the second waiter, and spent it on

bread. Some days we had not even money for tobacco.

   Sometimes the cook came to see how things were

getting on, and when she saw that the kitchen was still

bare of pots and pans she usually wept. Jules, the

second waiter, refused steadily to help with the work. He

was a Magyar, a little dark, sharp-featured fellow in spec-

tacles, and very talkative; he had been a medical

student, but had abandoned his training for lack of

money. He had a taste for talking while other people

were working, and he told me all about himself and his

ideas. It appeared that he was a Communist, and had

various strange theories (he could prove to you by

figures that it was wrong to work), and he was also,

like most Magyars, passionately proud. Proud and lazy

men do not make good waiters. It was Jules's dearest

boast that once when a customer in a restaurant had

insulted him, he had poured a plate of hot soup down

the customer's neck, and then walked straight out

without even waiting to be sacked.

   As each day went by Jules grew more and more en-

raged at the trick the

patron had played on us. He had a

spluttering, oratorical way of talking. He used to walk

up and down shaking his fist, and trying to incite me

not to work:

   "Put that brush down, you fool! You and I belong to

proud races; we don't work for nothing, like these

damned Russian serfs. I tell you, to be cheated like

this is torture to me. There have been times in my life,

when someone has cheated me even of five sous, when

I have vomited-yes, vomited with rage.


mon vieux, don't forget that I'm a Commu-

nist. A

bas la bourgeoisie! Did any man alive ever see me

working when I could avoid it? No. And not only I don't

wear myself out working, like you other fools, but I

steal, just to show my independence. Once I was in a

restaurant where the

patron thought he could treat me

like a dog. Well, in revenge I found out a way to steal

milk from the milk-cans and seal them up again so

that no one should know. I tell you I just swilled that

milk down night and morning. Every day I drank four

litres of milk, besides half a litre of cream. The patron

was at his wits' end to know where the milk was going.

It wasn't that I wanted milk, you understand, because I

hate the stuff, it was principle, just principle.

   "Well, after three days I began to get dreadful pains

in my belly, and I went to the doctor. 'What have you

been eating?' he said. I said: 'I drink four litres of milk

a day, and half a litre of cream.' 'Four litres!' he said.

'Then stop it at once. You'll burst if you go on.' 'What

do I care?' I said. 'With me principle is everything. I

shall go on drinking that milk, even if I do burst.'

   "Well, the next day the

patron caught me stealing

milk. 'You're sacked,' he said; 'you leave at the end of

the week.'

'Pardon, monsieur,' I said, 'I shall leave this

morning.' 'No, you won't,' he said, 'I can't spare you till

Saturday.' 'Very well,

mon patron,' I thought to myself,

'we'll see who gets tired of it first.' And then I set to

work to smash the crockery. I broke nine plates the

first day and thirteen the second; after that the


was glad to see the last of me.

   « Ah, I'm not one of your Russian

moujiks . . ."

   Ten days passed. It was a bad time. I was absolutely at

the end of my money, and my rent was several days

overdue. We loafed about the dismal empty restaurant,

too hungry even to get on with the work that remained.

Only Boris now believed that the restaurant would

open. He had set his heart on being

maitre d'hôtel, and

he invented a theory that the

patron's money was tied

up in shares and he was waiting a favourable moment

for selling. On the tenth day I had nothing to eat or

smoke, and I told the

patron that I could not continue

working without an advance on my wages. As blandly

as usual, the

patron promised the advance, and then,

according to his custom, vanished. I walked part of

the way home, but I did not feel equal to a scene with

Madame F. over the rent, so I passed the night on a

bench on the boulevard. It was very uncomfortable-the

arm of the seat cuts into your back-and much colder

than I had expected. There was plenty of time, in the

long boring hours between dawn and work, to think

what a fool I had been to deliver myself into the hands

of these Russians.

   Then, in the morning, the luck changed. Evidently


patron had come to an understanding with his

creditors, for he arrived with money in his pockets, set

the alterations going, and gave me my advance. Boris

and I bought macaroni and a piece of horse's liver, and

had our first hot meal in ten days.

   The workmen were brought in and the alterations

made, hastily and with incredible shoddiness. The

tables, for instance, were to be covered with baize, but

when the

patron found that baize was expensive he

bought instead disused army blankets, smelling incor-

rigibly of sweat. The table-cloths (they were check, to go

with the "Norman" decorations) would cover them, of

course. On the last night we were at work till two in the

morning, getting things ready. The crockery did not

arrive till eight, and, being new, had all to be washed.

The cutlery did not arrive till the next morning, nor the

linen either, so that we had to dry the crockery with a

shirt of the

patron's and an old pillowslip belonging to

the concierge. Boris and I did all the work. Jules was

skulking, and the

patron and his wife sat in the bar with

a dun and some Russian friends, drinking success to

the restaurant. The cook was in the kitchen with her

head on the table, crying, because she was expected to

cook for fifty people, and there were not pots and pans

enough for ten. About midnight there was a fearful

interview with some duns, who came intending to

seize eight copper saucepans which the

patron had

obtained on credit. They were bought off with half a

bottle of brandy.

   Jules and I missed the last Metro home and had to

sleep on the floor of the restaurant. The first thing we

saw in the morning were two large rats sitting on the

kitchen table, eating from a ham that stood there. It

seemed a bad omen, and I was surer than ever that the

Auberge de Jehan Cottard would turn out a failure.



patron had engaged me as kitchen

plongeur; that is,

my job was to wash up, keep the kitchen clean, prepare

vegetables, make tea, coffee and sandwiches, do the

simpler cooking, and run errands. The terms were, as

usual, five hundred francs a month and food, but I had

no free day and no fixed working hours. At the Hôtel X. I

had seen catering at its best, with unlimited money and

good organisation. Now, at the Auberge, I learned how

things are done in a thoroughly bad restaurant. It is

worth describing, for there are hundreds of similar

restaurants in Paris, and every visitor feeds in one of

them occasionally.

   I should add, by the way, that the Auberge was not

the ordinary cheap eating-house frequented by students

and workmen. We did not provide an adequate meal at

less than twenty-five francs, and we were picturesque

and artistic, which sent up our social standing. There

were the indecent pictures in the bar, and the Norman

decorations-sham beams on the walls, electric lights

done up as candlesticks, "peasant" pottery, even a

mounting-block at the door-and the

patron and the head

waiter were Russian officers, and many of the

customers titled Russian refugees. In short, we were

decidedly chic.

   Nevertheless, the conditions behind the kitchen door

were suitable for a pigsty. For this is what our service

arrangements were like.

   The kitchen measured fifteen feet long by eight

broad, and half this space was taken up by the stoves

and tables. All the pots had to be kept on shelves out of

reach, and there was only room for one dustbin. This

dustbin used to be crammed full by midday, and the

floor was normally an inch deep in a compost of

trampled food.

   For firing we had nothing but three gas-stoves,

without ovens, and all joints had to be sent out to the


   There was no larder. Our substitute for one was a

half-roofed shed in the yard, with a tree growing in the

middle of it. The meat, vegetables and so forth lay there

on the bare earth, raided by rats and cats.

   There was no hot water laid on. Water for washing up

had to be heated in pans, and, as there was no room for

these on the stoves when meals were cooking, most of

the plates had to be washed in cold water. This, with

soft soap and the hard Paris water, meant scraping the

grease off with bits of newspaper.

   We were so short of saucepans that I had to wash

each one as soon as it was done with, instead of leaving

them till the evening. This alone wasted probably an

hour a day.

   Owing to some scamping of expense in the installa-

tion, the electric light usually fused at eight in the

evening. The patron would only allow us three candles

in the kitchen, and the cook said three were unlucky, so

we had only two.

   Our coffee-grinder was borrowed from a

bistro near

by, and our dustbin and brooms from the concierge.

After the first week a quantity of linen did not come back

from the wash, as the bill was not paid. We were in

trouble with the inspector of labour, who had discovered

that the staff included no Frenchmen; he had several

private interviews with the

patron, who, I believe, was

obliged to bribe him. The electric company was still

dunning us, and when the duns found that we would

buy them off with

apéritifs, they came every morning. We

were in debt at the grocery, and credit would have been

stopped, only the grocer's wife (a moustachio'd woman of

sixty) had taken a fancy to Jules, who was sent every

morning to cajole her. Similarly I had to waste an hour

every day haggling over vegetables in the Rue du

Commerce, to save a few centimes.

   These are the results of starting a restaurant on in-

sufficient capital. And in these conditions the cook and I

were expected to serve thirty or forty meals a day, and

would later on be serving a hundred. From the first day

it was too much for us. The cook's working hours were

from eight in the morning till midnight, and mine from

seven in the morning till half-past twelve the next

morning-seventeen and a half hours, almost without a

break. We never had time to sit down till five in the

afternoon, and even then there was no seat except the

top of the dustbin. Boris, who lived near by and had not

to catch the last Metro home, worked from eight in the

morning till two the next morning-eighteen hours a day,

seven days a week. Such hours, though not usual, are

nothing extraordinary in Paris.

   Life settled at once into a routine that made the Hôtel

X. seem like a holiday. Every morning at six I drove

myself out of bed, did not shave, sometimes washed,

hurried up to the Place d'Italie and fought for

a place on the Metro. By seven I was in the desolation of

the cold, filthy kitchen, with the potato skins and bones

and fishtails littered on the floor, and a pile of plates,

stuck together in their grease, waiting from overnight. I

could not start on the plates yet, because the water was

cold, and I had to fetch milk and make coffee, for the

others arrived at eight and expected to find coffee ready.

Also, there were always several copper saucepans to

clean. Those copper saucepans are the bane of a


life. They have to be scoured with sand and

bunches of chain, ten minutes to each one, and then

polished on the outside with Brasso. Fortunately, the art

of making them has been lost and they are gradually

vanishing from French kitchens, though one can still

buy them second-hand.

   When I had begun on the plates the cook would take

me away from the plates to begin skinning onions, and

when I had begun on the onions the

patron would arrive

and send me out to buy cabbages. When I came back

with the cabbages the

patron's wife would tell me to go to

some shop half a mile away and buy a pot of rouge; by

the time I came back there would be more vegetables

waiting, and the plates were still not done. In this way

our incompetence piled one job on another throughout

the day, everything in arrears.

   Till ten, things went comparatively easily, though we

were working fast, and no one lost his temper. The cook

would find time to talk about her artistic nature, and say

did I not think Tolstoi was

épatant, and sing in a fine

soprano voice as she minced beef on the board. But at

ten the waiters began clamouring for their lunch, which

they had early, and at eleven the first customers would

be arriving. Suddenly everything became hurry and bad

temper. There was not the same furious rushing and

yelling as at the Hôtel X., but an atmosphere of

muddle, petty spite and exasperation. Discomfort was at

the bottom of it. It was unbearably cramped in the

kitchen, and dishes had to be put on the floor, and one

had to be thinking constantly about not stepping on

them. The cook's vast buttocks banged against me as she

moved to and fro. A ceaseless, nagging chorus of orders

streamed from her:

   "Unspeakable idiot! How many times have I told you

not to bleed the beetroots? Quick, let me get to the sink!

Put those knives away; get on with the potatoes. What

have you done with my strainer? Oh, leave those

potatoes alone. Didn't I tell you to skim the

bouillon? Take

that can of water off the stove. Never mind the washing

up, chop this celery. No, not like that, you fool, like this.

There! Look at you letting those peas boil over! Now get

to work and scale these herrings. Look, do you call this

plate clean? Wipe it on your apron. Put that salad on the

floor. That's right, put it where I'm bound to step in it!

Look out, that pot's boiling over! Get me down that

saucepan. No, the other one. Put this on the grill. Throw

those potatoes away. Don't waste time, throw them on

the floor. Tread them in.' Now throw down some sawdust;

this floor's like a skating-rink. Look, you fool, that

steak's burning!

Mon Dieu, why did they send me an idiot

for a

plongeur? Who are you talking to? Do you realise that

my aunt was a Russian countess?" etc. etc. etc.

   This went on till three o'clock without much variation,

except that about eleven the cook usually had a

crise de


and a flood of tears. From three to five was a fairly

slack time for the waiters, but the cook was still busy,

and I was working my fastest, for there was a pile of dirty

plates waiting, and it was a race to get them done, or

partly done, before dinner began. The washing up was

doubled by the primitive conditions-

a cramped draining-board, tepid water, sodden cloths,

and a sink that got blocked once in an hour. By five the

cook and I were feeling unsteady on our feet, not having

eaten or sat down since seven. We used to collapse, she

on the dustbin and I on the floor, drink a bottle of beer,

and apologise for some of the things we had said in the

morning. Tea was what kept us going. We took care to

have a pot always stewing, and drank pints during the


   At half-past five the hurry and quarrelling began

again, and now worse than before, because everyone was

tired out. The cook had a

crise de nerfs at six and another

at nine; they came on so regularly that one could have

told the time by them. She would flop down on the

dustbin, begin weeping hysterically, and cry out that

never, no, never had she thought to come to such a life as

this; her nerves would not stand it; she had studied

music at Vienna; she had a bedridden husband to

support, etc. etc. At another time one would have been

sorry for her, but, tired as we all were, her whimpering

voice merely infuriated us. Jules used. to stand in the

doorway and mimic her weeping. The

patron's wife nagged,

and Boris and Jules quarrelled all day, because Jules

shirked his work, and Boris, as head waiter, claimed the

larger share of the tips. Only the second day after the

restaurant opened, they came to blows in the kitchen over

a two-franc tip, and the cook and I had to separate them.

The only person who never forgot his manners was the


. He kept the same hours as the rest of us, but he

had no work to do, for it was his wife who really managed

things. His sole job, besides ordering the supplies, was to

stand in the bar smoking cigarettes and looking

gentlemanly, and he did that to perfection.

   The cook and I generally found time to eat our

dinner between ten and eleven o'clock. At midnight the

cook would steal a packet of food for her husband, stow

it under her clothes, and make off, whimpering that

these hours would kill her and she would give notice in

the morning. Jules also left at midnight, usually after a

dispute with Boris, who had to look after the bar till two.

Between twelve and half-past I did what I could to finish

the washing up. There was no time to attempt doing the

work properly, and I used simply to rub the grease off

the plates with tablenapkins. As for the dirt on the floor,

I let it lie, or swept the worst of it out of sight under the


   At half-past twelve I would put on my coat and hurry

out. The

patron, bland as ever, would stop me as I went

down the alley-way past the bar. «

Mais, mon cher


, how tired you look! Please do me the favour of

accepting this glass of brandy."

   He would hand me the glass of brandy as courteously

as though I had been a Russian duke instead of a

plongeur. He treated all of us like this. It was our com-

pensation for working seventeen hours a day.

  As a rule the last Metro was almost empty-a great

advantage, for one could sit down and sleep for a

quarter of an hour. Generally I was in bed by halfpast

one. Sometimes I missed the train and had to sleep on

the floor of the restaurant, but it hardly mattered, for I

could have slept on cobblestones at that time.


THIS life went on for about a fortnight, with a slight

increase of work as more customers came to the restaur-

ant. I could have saved an hour a day by taking a

room near the restaurant, but it seemed impossible to

find time to change lodgings-or, for that matter, to get

my hair cut, look at a newspaper, or even undress

completely. After ten days I managed to find a free

quarter of an hour, and wrote to my friend B. in London

asking him if he could get me a job of some sort-

anything, so long as it allowed more than five hours

sleep. I was simply not equal to going on with a

seventeen-hour day, though there are plenty of people

who think nothing of it. When one is overworked, it is a

good cure for self-pity to think of the thousands of

people in Paris restaurants who work such hours, and

will go on doing it, not for a few weeks, but for years.

There was a girl in a

bistro near my hotel who worked

from seven in the morning till midnight for a whole year,

only sitting down to her meals. I remember once asking

her to come to a dance, and she laughed and said that

she had not been further than the street corner for

several months. She was consumptive, and died about

the time I left Paris.

   After only a week we were all neurasthenic with

fatigue, except Jules, who skulked persistently. The

quarrels, intermittent at first, had now become con-

tinuous. For hours one would keep up a drizzle of

useless nagging, rising into storms of abuse every few

minutes. "Get me down that saucepan, idiot!' the cook

would cry (she was not tall enough to reach the shelves

where the saucepans were kept). "Get it down yourself,

you old whore," I would answer. Such remarks seemed to

be generated spontaneously from the air of the kitchen.

   We quarrelled over things of inconceivable pettiness.

The dustbin, for instance, was an unending source of

quarrels-whether it should be put where I wanted it,

which was in the cook's way, or where she wanted it,

which was between me and the sink. Once she nagged

and nagged until at last, in pure spite, I lifted the

dustbin up and put it out in the middle of the floor,

where she was bound to trip over it.

   "Now, you cow," I said, "move it yourself."

   Poor old woman, it was too heavy for her to lift, and

she sat down, put her head on the table and burst out

crying. And I jeered at her. This is the kind of effect that

fatigue has upon one's manners.

   After a few days the cook had ceased talking about

Tolstoi and her artistic nature, and she and I were not

on speaking terms, except for the purposes of work, and

Boris and Jules were not on speaking terms, and neither

of them was on speaking terms with the cook. Even

Boris and I were barely on speaking terms. We had

agreed beforehand that the

engueulades of working hours

did not count between times; but we had called each

other things too bad to be forgotten-and besides, there

were no between times. Jules grew lazier and lazier, and

he stole food constantly-from a sense of duty, he said.

He called the rest of us

jaune-blackleg-when we would

not join with him in stealing. He had a curious,

malignant spirit. He told me, as a matter of pride, that

he had sometimes wrung a dirty dishcloth into a

customer's soup before taking it in, just to be revenged

upon a member of the bourgeoisie.

   The kitchen grew dirtier and the rats bolder, though

we trapped a few of them. Looking round that filthy

room, with raw meat lying among refuse on the floor,

and cold, clotted saucepans sprawling everywhere, and

the sink blocked and coated with grease, I used to

wonder whether there could be a restaurant in the world

as bad as ours. But the other three all said that they

had been in dirtier places. Jules took a positive pleasure

in seeings things dirty. In the afternoon, when 8

he had not much to do, he used to stand in the kitchen

doorway jeering at us for working too hard:

   "Fool! Why do you wash that plate? Wipe it on your

trousers. Who cares about the customers?

They don't

know what's going on. What is restaurant work? You

are carving a chicken and it falls on the floor. You

apologise, you bow, you go out; and in five minutes you

come back by another door-with the same chicken. That

is restaurant work," etc.

   And, strange to say, in spite of all this filth and in-

competence, the Auberge de Jehan Cottard was actually

a success. For the first few days all our customers were

Russians, friends of the

patron, and these were followed

by Americans and other foreigners-no Frenchmen.

Then one night there was tremendous excitement,

because our first Frenchman had arrived. For a moment

our quarrels were forgotten and we all united in the

effort to serve a good dinner. Boris tiptoed into the

kitchen, jerked his thumb over his shoulder and

whispered conspiratorially:


Sh! Attention, un Français! »

   A moment later the patron's wife came and



Attention, un Français! See that he gets a double

portion of all vegetables."

   While the Frenchman ate, the

patron's wife stood

behind the grille of the kitchen door and watched the

expression of his face. Next night the Frenchman came

back with two other Frenchmen. This meant that we

were earning a good name; the surest sign of a bad

restaurant is to be frequented only by foreigners. Pro-

bably part of the reason for our success was that the

patron, with the sole gleam of sense he had shown in

fitting out the restaurant, had bought very sharp table-

knives. Sharp knives, of course, are the secret of a

successful restaurant. I am glad that this happened, for

it destroyed one of my illusions, namely, the idea that

Frenchmen know good food when they see it. Or

perhaps we were a fairly good restaurant by Paris

standards; in which case the bad ones must be past


   In a very few days after I had written to B. he replied

to say that there was a job he could get for me. It was to

look after a congenital imbecile, which sounded a

splendid rest cure after the Auberge de Jehan Cottard. I

pictured myself loafing in the country lanes, knocking

thistle-heads off with my stick, feeding on roast lamb and

treacle tart, and sleeping ten hours a night in sheets

smelling of lavender. B. sent me a fiver to pay my

passage and get my clothes out of the pawn, and as soon

as the money arrived I gave one day's notice and left the

restaurant. My leaving so suddenly embarrassed the


for as usual he was penniless, and he had to pay

my wages thirty francs short. However he stood me a

glass of Courvoisier '48 brandy, and I think he felt that

this made up the difference. They engaged a Czech, a

thoroughly competent

plongeur, in my place, and the poor

old cook was sacked a few weeks later. Afterwards I

heard that, with two first-rate people in the kitchen, the


work had been cut down to fifteen hours a day.

Below that no one could have cut it, short of

modernising the kitchen.


FOR what they are worth I want to give my opinions

about the life of a Paris

plongeur. When one comes to

think of it, it is strange that thousands of people in a

great modern city should spend their waking hours

swabbing dishes in hot dens underground. The

question I am raising is why this life goes on-what

purpose it serves, and who wants it to continue, and why.

I am not taking the merely rebellious,

fainéant attitude. I

am trying to consider the social significance of a



   I think one should start by saying that a

plongeur is

one of the slaves of the modern world. Not that there is

any need to whine over him, for he is better off than

many manual workers, but still, he is no freer than if he

were bought and sold. His work is servile and without

art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only

holiday is the sack. He is cut off from marriage, or, if he

marries, his wife must work too. Except by a lucky

chance, he has no escape from this life, save into prison.

At this moment there are men with university degrees

scrubbing dishes in Paris for ten or fifteen hours a day.

One cannot say that it is mere idleness on their part, for

an idle man cannot be a

plongeur; they have simply been

trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. If


thought at all, they would long ago have formed

a union and gone on strike for better treatment. But

they do not think, because they have no leisure for it;

their life has made slaves of them.

   The question is, why does this slavery continue?

People have a way of taking it for granted that all work

is done for a sound purpose. They see somebody else

doing a disagreeable job, and think that they have

solved things by saying that the job is necessary. Coal-

mining, for example, is hard work, but it is necessary-we

must have coal. Working in the sewers is unpleasant,

but somebody must work in the sewers. And similarly

with a

plongeur's work. Some people must feed in

restaurants, and so other people must swab dishes for

eighty hours a week. It is the work of civilisation,

therefore unquestionable. This point is worth


   Is a

plongeur's work really necessary to civilisation?

We have a feeling that it must be "honest" work,

because it is hard and disagreeable, and we have made

a sort of fetish of manual work. We see a man cutting

down a tree, and we make sure that he is filling a social

need, just because he uses his muscles; it does not

occur to us that he may only be cutting down a

beautiful tree to make room for a hideous statue. I

believe it is the same with a

plongeur. He earns his bread

in the sweat of his brow, but it does not follow that he is

doing anything useful; he may be only supplying a

luxury which, very often, is not a luxury.

   As an example of what I mean by luxuries which are

not luxuries, take an extreme case, such as one hardly

sees in Europe. Take an Indian rickshaw puller, or a

gharry pony. In any Far Eastern town there are

rickshaw pullers by the hundred, black wretches

weighing eight stone, clad in loin-cloths. Some of them

are diseased; some of them are fifty years old. For miles

on end they trot in the sun or rain, head down, dragging

at the shafts, with the sweat dripping from their grey

moustaches. When they go too slowly the passenger

calls them

bahinchut. They earn thirty or forty rupees a

month, and cough their lungs out after a few years. The

gharry ponies are gaunt, vicious things that have been

sold cheap as having a few years' work left in them.

Their master looks on the whip as a substitute for food.

Their work expresses itself in a sort of equation-whip

plus food equals energy; generally it is about sixty per

cent. whip and forty per cent. food. Sometimes their

necks are encircled by one vast sore, so that they drag

all day on raw flesh. It is still possible to make them

work, however; it is just a question of thrashing them so

hard that the pain behind outweighs the pain in front.

After a few years even the whip loses its virtue, and the

pony goes to the knacker. These are instances of un-

necessary work, for there is no real need for gharries

and rickshaws; they only exist because Orientals con-

sider it vulgar to walk. They are luxuries, and, as any-

one who has ridden in them knows, very poor luxuries.

They afford a small amount of convenience, which

cannot possibly balance the suffering of the men and


   Similarly with the

plongeur. He is a king compared

with a rickshaw puller or a gharry pony, but his case is

analogous. He is the slave of a hotel or a restaurant,

and his slavery is more or less useless. For, after all,

where is the real need of big hotels and smart

restaurants? They are supposed to provide luxury, but

in reality they provide only a cheap, shoddy imitation of

it. Nearly everyone hates hotels. Some restaurants are

better than others, but it is impossible to get as good a

meal in a restaurant as one can get, for the same ex-

pense, in a private house. No doubt hotels and restau-

rants must exist, but there is no need that they should

enslave hundreds of people. What makes the work in

them is not the essentials; it is the shams that are sup-

posed to represent luxury. Smartness, as it is called,

means, in effect, merely that the staff work more and

the customers pay more; no one benefits except the

proprietor, who will presently buy himself a striped villa

at Deauville. Essentially, a "smart" hotel is a place

where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two

hundred may pay through the nose for things they do

not really want. If the nonsense were cut out of hotels

and restaurants, and the work done with simple


plongeurs might work six or eight hours a day

instead of ten or fifteen.

   Suppose it is granted that a

plongeur's work is more

or less useless. Then the question follows, Why does any

one want him to go on working? I am trying to go beyond

the immediate economic cause, and to consider what

pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing

dishes for life. For there is no doubt that people-

comfortably situated people-do find a pleasure in such

thoughts. A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working

when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his

work is needed or not, he must work, because work in

itself is good-for slaves, at least. This sentiment still

survives, and it has piled up mountains of useless


   I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work

is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the

thought runs) are such low animals that they would be

dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them

too busy to think. A rich man who happens to be

intellectually honest, if he is questioned about the

improvement of working conditions, usually says some-

thing like this:

   "We know that poverty is unpleasant; in fact, since it

is so remote, we rather enjoy harrowing ourselves with

the thought of its unpleasantness. But don't expect us

to do anything about it. We are sorry for you lower

classes, just as we are sorry for a cat with the mange,

but we will fight like devils against any improvement of

your condition. We feel that you are much safer as you

are. The present state of affairs suits us, and we are not

going to take the risk of setting you free, even by an

extra hour a day. So, dear brothers, since evidently you

must sweat to pay for our trips to Italy, sweat and be

damned to you."

   This is particularly the attitude of intelligent,

cultivated people; one can read the substance of it in a

hundred essays. Very few cultivated people have less

than (say) four hundred pounds a year, and naturally

they side with the rich, because they imagine that any

liberty conceded to the poor is a threat to their own

liberty. Foreseeing some dismal Marxian Utopia as the

alternative, the educated man prefers to keep things as

they are. Possibly he does not like his fellow-rich very

much, but he supposes that even the vulgarest of them

are less inimical to his pleasures, more his kind of

people, than the poor, and that he had better stand by

them. It is this fear of a supposedly dangerous mob that

makes nearly all intelligent people conservative in their


   Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on

the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental

difference between rich and poor, as though they were

two different races, like negroes and white men. But in

reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich

and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and

nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the

average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change

places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is

the thief? Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with

the poor knows this quite well. But the trouble is that

intelligent, cultivated people, the very people who might

be expected to have liberal opinions, never do mix with

the poor. For what do the majority of educated people

know about poverty? In my copy of Villon's poems the

editor has actually thought it necessary to explain the

line «

Ne pain ne voyent qu'aux fenestres" by a footnote; so

remote is even hunger from the educated man's

experience. From this ignorance a superstitious fear of

the mob results quite naturally. The educated man

pictures a horde of submen, wanting only a day's liberty

to loot his house, burn his books, and set him to work

minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory.

"Anything," he thinks, "any injustice,

sooner than let that mob loose." He does not see that

since there is no difference between the mass of rich and

poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The

mob is in fact loose now, and-in the shape of rich men-is

using its power to set up enormous treadmills of

boredom, such as "smart" hotels.

   To sum up. A

plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave,

doing stupid and largely unnecessary work. He is kept at

work, ultimately, because of a vague feeling that he

would be dangerous if he had leisure. And educated

people, who should be on his side, acquiesce in the

process, because they know nothing about him and

consequently are afraid of him. I say this of the


because it is his case I have been considering; it would

apply equally to numberless other types of worker. These

are only my own ideas about the basic facts of a


life, made without reference to immediate economic

questions, and no doubt largely platitudes. I present

them as a sample of the thoughts that are put into one's

head by working in a hotel.


As soon as I left the Auberge de Jehan Cottard I went to

bed and slept the clock round, all but one hour. Then I

washed my teeth for the first time in a fortnight, bathed

and had my hair cut, and got my clothes out of pawn. I

had two glorious days of loafing. I even went in my best

suit to the Auberge, leant against the bar and spent five

francs on a bottle of English beer. It is a curious

sensation, being a customer where you have been a slave's

slave. Boris was sorry that I had left the restaurant just at

the moment when we were lancés and there was a. chance

of making money. I have heard

from him since, and he tells me that he is making a

hundred francs a day and has set up a girl who is trés

serieuse and never smells of garlic.

   I spent a day wandering about our quarter, saying

good-bye to everyone. It was on this day that Charlie

told me about the death of old Roucolle the miser, who

had once lived in the quarter. Very likely Charlie was

lying as usual, but it was a good story.

   Roucolle died, aged seventy-four, a year or two

before I went to Paris, but the people in the quarter still

talked of him while I was there. He never equalled

Daniel Dancer or anyone of that kind, but he was an

interesting character. He went to Les Halles every

morning to pick up damaged vegetables, and ate cat's

meat, and wore newspaper instead of underclothes, and

used the wainscoting of his room for firewood, and

made himself a pair of trousers out of a sack-all this

with half a million francs invested. I should like very

much to have known him.

   Like many misers, Roucolle came to a bad end

through putting his money into a wildcat scheme. One

day a Jew appeared in the quarter, an alert, businesslike

young chap who had a first-rate plan for smuggling

cocaine into England. It is easy enough, of course, to buy

cocaine in Paris, and the smuggling would be quite

simple in itself, only there is always some spy who

betrays the plan to the customs or the police. It is said

that this is often done by the very people who sell the

cocaine, because the smuggling trade is in the hands of a

large combine, who do not want competition. The Jew,

however, swore that there was no danger. He knew a way

of getting cocaine direct from Vienna, not through the

usual channels, and there would be no blackmail to pay.

He had got into touch with Roucolle through a young

Pole, a student at the Sorbonne, who

was going to put four thousand francs into the scheme if

Roucolle would put six thousand. For this they could buy

ten pounds of cocaine, which would be worth a small

fortune in England.

   The Pole and the Jew had a tremendous struggle to

get the money from between old Roucolle's claws. Six

thousand francs was not much-he had more than that

sewn into the mattress in his room-but it was agony for

him to part with a sou. The Pole and the Jew were at him

for weeks on end, explaining, bullying, coaxing, arguing,

going down on their knees and imploring him to produce

the money. The old man was half frantic between greed

and fear. His bowels yearned at the thought of getting,

perhaps, fifty thousand francs' profit, and yet he could

not bring himself to risk the money. He used to sit in a

corner with his head in his hands, groaning and

sometimes yelling out in agony, and often he would kneel

down (he was very pious) and pray for strength, but still

he couldn't do it. But at last, more from exhaustion than

anything else, he gave in quite suddenly; he slit open the

mattress where his money was concealed and handed

over six thousand francs to the Jew.

   The Jew delivered the cocaine the same day, and

promptly vanished. And meanwhile, as was not sur-

prising after the fuss Roucolle had made, the affair had

been noised all over the quarter. The very next morning

the hotel was raided and searched by the police.

   Roucolle and the Pole were in agonies. The police were

downstairs, working their way up and searching every

room in turn, and there was the great packet of cocaine

on the table, with no place to hide it and no chance of

escaping down the stairs. The Pole was for throwing the

stuff out of the window, but Roucolle

would not hear of it. Charlie told me that he had been

present at the scene. He said that when they tried to

take the packet from Roucolle he clasped it to his

breast and struggled like a madman, although he was

seventy-four years old. He was wild with fright, but he

would go to prison rather than throw his money away.

   At last, when the police were searching only one floor

below, somebody had an idea. A man on Roucolle's floor

had a dozen tins of face-powder which he was selling on

commission; it was suggested that the cocaine could be

put into the tins and passed off as face-powder. The

powder was hastily thrown out of the window and the

cocaine substituted, and the tins were put openly on

Roucolle's table, as though there there were nothing to

conceal. A few minutes later the police came to search

Roucolle's room. They tapped the walls and looked up the

chimney and turned out the drawers and examined the

floorboards, and then, just as they were about to give it

up, having found nothing, the inspector noticed the tins

on the table.


Tiens," he said, "have a look at those tins. I hadn't

noticed them. What's in them, eh?"

   "Face-powder," said the Pole as calmly as he could

manage. But at the same instant Roucolle let out a loud

groaning noise, from alarm, and the police became

suspicious immediately. They opened one of the tins and

tipped out the contents, and after smelling it, the

inspector said that he believed it was cocaine. Roucolle

and the Pole began swearing on the names of the saints

that it was only face-powder; but it was no use, the more

they protested the more suspicious the police became.

The two men were arrested and led off to the police

station, followed by half the quarter.

   At the station, Roucolle and the Pole were inter

rogated by the Commissaire while a tin of the cocaine

was sent away to be analysed. Charlie said that the

scene Roucolle made was beyond description. He wept,

prayed, made contradictory statements and denounced

the Pole all at once, so loud that he could be heard half

a street away. The policemen almost burst with

laughing at him.

   After an hour a policeman came back with the tin of

cocaine and a note from the analyst. He was laughing.

   "This is not cocaine, monsieur," he said.

   "What, not cocaine?" said the Commissaire. "



-what is it, then?"

   "It is face-powder."

   Roucolle and the Pole were released at once, entirely

exonerated but very angry. The Jew had doublecrossed

them. Afterwards, when the excitement was over, it

turned out that he had played the same trick on two

other people in the quarter.

   The Pole was glad enough to escape, even though he

had lost his four thousand francs, but poor old

Roucolle was utterly broken down. He took to his bed at

once, and all that day and half the night they could

hear him thrashing about, mumbling, and sometimes

yelling out at the top of his voice:

   "Six thousand francs!

Nom de Jesus-Christ! Six

thousand francs!"

   Three days later he had some kind of stroke, and in

a fortnight he was dead-of a broken heart, Charlie said.


I TRAVELLED to England third class via Dunkirk and

Tilbury, which is the cheapest and not the worst way of

crossing the Channel. You had to pay extra for

a cabin, so I slept in the saloon, together with most of

the third-class passengers. I find this entry in my diary

for that day:

   "Sleeping in the saloon, twenty-seven men, sixteen

women. Of the women, not a single one has washed her

face this morning. The men mostly went to the bathroom;

the women merely produced vanity cases and covered the

dirt with powder.

Q,. A secondary sexual difference?"

  On the journey I fell in with a couple of Roumanians,

mere children, who were going to England on their

honeymoon trip. They asked innumerable questions

about England, and I told them some startling lies. I was

so pleased to be getting home, after being hard up for

months in a foreign city, that England seemed to me a

sort of Paradise. There are, indeed, many things in

England that make you glad to get home; bathrooms,

armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked,

brown bread, marmalade, beer made with veritable hops-

they are all splendid, if you can pay for them. England is

a very good country when you are not poor; and, of

course, with a tame imbecile to look after, I was not

going to be poor. The thought of not being poor made me

very patriotic. The more questions the Roumanians

asked, the more I praised England; the climate, the

scenery, the art, the literature, the laws-everything in

England was perfect.

   Was the architecture in England good? the Rou-

manians asked. "Splendid!" I said. "And you should just

see the London statues! Paris is vulgar-half grandiosity

and half slums. But London-"

   Then the boat drew alongside Tilbury pier. The first

building we saw on the waterside was one of those huge

hotels, all stucco and pinnacles, which stare from the

English coast like idiots staring over an asylum

wall. I saw the Roumanians, too polite to say anything,

cocking their eyes at the hotel. "Built by French

architects," I assured them; and even later, when the

train was crawling into London through the eastern

slums, I still kept it up about the beauties of English

architecture. Nothing seemed too good to say about

England, now that I was coming home and was not hard

up any more.

   I went to B.'s office, and his first words knocked

everything to ruins. "I'm sorry," he said; "your employers

have gone abroad, patient and all. However, they'll be

back in a month. I suppose you can hang on till then?"

   I was outside in the street before it even occurred to

me to borrow some more money. There was a month to

wait, and I had exactly nineteen and sixpence in hand.

The news had taken my breath away. For a long time I

could not make up my mind what to do. I loafed the day

in the streets, and at night, not having the slightest

notion of how to get a cheap bed in London, I went to a

"family" hotel, where the charge was seven and sixpence.

After paying the bill I had ten and twopence in hand.

   By the morning I had made my plans. Sooner or later

I should have to go to B. for more money, but it seemed

hardly decent to do so yet, and in the meantime I must

exist in some hole-and-corner way. Past experience set

me against pawning my best suit. I would leave all my

things at the station cloakroom, except my second-best

suit, which I could exchange for some cheap clothes and

perhaps a pound. If I was going to live a month on thirty

shillings I must have bad clothes-indeed, the worse the

better. Whether thirty shillings could be made to last a

month I had no idea, not knowing London as I knew

Paris. Perhaps I could beg, or sell bootlaces, and I

remembered articles I had read in the Sunday papers about

beggars who have two thousand pounds sewn into their

trousers. It was, at any rate, notoriously impossible to

starve in London, so there was nothing to be anxious about.

   To sell my clothes I went down into Lambeth, where

the people are poor and there are a lot of rag shops. At

the first shop I tried the proprietor was polite but

unhelpful; at the second he was rude; at the third he

was stone deaf, or pretended to be so. The fourth

shopman was a large blond young man, very pink all

over, like a slice of ham. He looked at the clothes I was

wearing and felt them disparagingly between thumb and


   "Poor stuff," he said, "very poor stuff, that is." (It was

quite a good suit.) "What yer want for 'em?"

   I explained that I wanted some older clothes and as

much money as he could spare. He thought for a moment,

then collected some dirty-looking rags and threw them on

to the counter. "What about the money?" I said, hoping for

a pound. He pursed his lips, then produced a

shilling and

laid it beside the clothes. I did not argue-I was going to

argue, but as I opened my mouth he reached out as

though to take up the shilling again; I saw that I was

helpless. He let me change in a small room behind the


   The clothes were a coat, once dark brown, a pair of

black dungaree trousers, a scarf and a cloth cap; I had

kept my own shirt, socks and boots, and I had a comb and

razor in my pocket. It gives one a very strange feeling to be

wearing such clothes. I had worn bad enough things

before, but nothing at all like these; they were not merely

dirty and shapeless, they had - how is one to express it?-a

gracelessness, a patina of antique filth, quite different

from mere shabbiness.

They were the sort of clothes you see on a bootlace seller,

or a tramp. An hour later, in Lambeth, I saw a hang-dog

man, obviously a tramp, coming towards me, and when I

looked again it was myself, reflected in a shop window.

The dirt was plastering my face already. Dirt is a great

respecter of persons; it lets you alone when you are well

dressed, but as soon as your collar is gone it flies towards

you from all directions.

   I stayed in the streets till late at night, keeping on the

move all the time. Dressed as I was, I was half afraid that

the police might arrest me as a vagabond, and I dared not

speak to anyone, imagining that they must notice a

disparity between my accent and my clothes. (Later I

discovered that this never happened.) My new clothes had

put me instantly into a new world. Everyone's demeanour

seemed to have changed abruptly. I helped a hawker pick

up a barrow that he had upset. "Thanks, mate," he said

with a grin. No one had called me mate before in my life-it

was the clothes that had done it. For the first time I

noticed, too, how the attitude of women varies with a

man's clothes. When a badly dressed man passes them

they shudder away from him with a quite frank movement

of disgust, as though he were a dead cat. Clothes are

powerful things. Dressed in a tramp's clothes it is very

difficult, at any rate for the first day, not to feel that you

are genuinely degraded. You might feel the same shame,

irrational but very real, your first night in prison.

   At about eleven I began looking for a bed. I had read

about doss-houses (they are never called dosshouses, by

the way), and I supposed that one could get a bed for

fourpence or thereabouts. Seeing a man, a navvy or

something of the kind, standing on the kerb in the

Waterloo Road, I stopped and questioned him.

I said that I was stony broke and wanted the cheapest

bed I could get.

   "Oh," said he, "you go to that 'ouse across the street

there, with the sign 'Good Beds for Single Men.' That's a

good kip [sleeping place], that is. I bin there myself on and

off You'll find it cheap

and clean."

   It was a tall, battered-looking house, with dim lights in

all the windows, some of which were patched with brown

paper. I entered a stone passage-way, and a little etiolated

boy with sleepy eyes appeared from a door leading to a

cellar. Murmurous sounds came from the cellar, and a

wave of hot air and cheese. The boy yawned and held out

his hand.

   "Want a kip? That'll be a 'og, guv'nor."

   I paid the shilling, and the boy led me up a rickety

unlighted staircase to a bedroom. It had a sweetish reek of

paregoric and foul linen; the windows seemed to be tight

shut, and the air was almost suffocating at first. There

was a candle burning, and I saw that the room measured

fifteen feet square by eight high, and had eight beds in it.

Already six lodgers were in bed, queer lumpy shapes with

all their own clothes, even their boots, piled on top of

them. Someone was coughing in a loathsome manner in

one corner.

   When I got into the bed I found that it was as hard as a

board, and as for the pillow, it was a mere hard cylinder

like a block of wood. It was rather worse than sleeping on

a table, because the bed was not six feet long, and very

narrow, and the mattress was convex, so that one had to

hold on to avoid falling out. The sheets stank so horribly

of sweat that I could not bear them near my nose. Also,

the bedclothes only consisted of the sheets and a cotton

counterpane, so that though stuffy it was none too warm.

Several noises recurred throughout the night. About once

in an hour the man on my left a sailor, I think-woke up,

swore vilely, and lighted a cigarette. Another man, victim

of a bladder disease, got up and noisily used his chamber-pot

half a dozen times during the night. The man in the corner

had a coughing fit once in every twenty minutes, so regularly

that one came to listen for it as one listens for the next

yap when a dog is baying the moon. It was an unspeakably

repellent sound; a foul bubbling and retching, as though the

man's bowels were being churned up within him. Once when he

struck a match I saw that he was a very old man, with a grey,

sunken face like that of a corpse, and he was wearing his

trousers wrapped round his head as a nightcap, a thing

which for some reason disgusted me very much. Every

time he coughed or the other man swore, a sleepy voice

from one of the other beds cried out:

   "Shut up! Oh, for Christ's ------

sake shut up!"

   I had about an hour's sleep in all. In the morning I was

woken by a dim impression of some large brown thing

coming towards me. I opened my eyes and saw that it was

one of the sailor's feet, sticking out of bed close to my

face. It was dark brown, quite dark brown like an Indian's,

with dirt. The walls were leprous, and the sheets, three

weeks from the wash, were almost raw umber colour. I got

up, dressed and went downstairs. In the cellar were a row

of basins and two slippery roller towels. I had a piece of

soap in my pocket, and I was going to wash, when I

noticed that every basin was streaked with grime-solid,

sticky filth as black as boot-blacking. I went out

unwashed. Altogether, the lodging-house had not come up

to its description as cheap and clean. It was however, as I

found later, a fairly representative lodging-house.

   I crossed the river and walked a long way eastward,

finally going into a coffeeshop on Tower Hill. Anfinally

going into a coffee-shop on Tower Hill. An

ordinary London coffee-shop, like a thousand others, it

seemed queer and foreign after Paris. It was a little stuffy

room with the high-backed pews that were fashionable in

the 'forties, the day's menu written on a mirror with a

piece of soap, and a girl of fourteen handling the dishes.

Navvies were eating out of newspaper parcels, and

drinking tea in vast saucerless mugs like china tumblers.

In a corner by himself a Jew, muzzle down in the plate,

was guiltily wolfing bacon.

   "Could I have some tea and bread and butter?" I said to

the girl.

She stared. "No butter, only marg," she said, surprised.

And she repeated the order in the phrase that is to London

what the eternal

coup de rouge is to Paris: "Large tea and

two slices!"

   On the wall beside my pew there was a notice saying

"Pocketing the sugar not allowed," and beneath it some

poetic customer had written:

He that takes away the sugar,

Shall be called a dirty---

but someone else had been at pains to scratch out the last

word. This was England. The tea-and-two-slices cost

threepence halfpenny, leaving me with eight and



THE eight shillings lasted three days and four nights. After

my bad experience in the Waterloo Road'. I moved

eastward, and spent the next night in a lodginghouse in

Pennyfields. This was a typical lodging-house, like scores

of others in London. It had accommo-

1 It is a curious but well-known fact that bugs are much commoner in

south than north London. For some reason they have not yet crossed the

river in any great numbers


dation for between fifty and a hundred men, and was

managed by a "deputy"-a deputy for the owner, that is, for

these lodging-houses are profitable concerns and are

owned by rich men. We slept fifteen or twenty in a

dormitory; the beds were again cold and hard, but the

sheets were not more than a week from the wash, which

was an improvement. The charge was ninepence or a

shilling (in the shilling dormitory the beds were six feet

apart instead of four) and the terms were cash down by

seven in the evening or out you went.

   Downstairs there was a kitchen common to all lodgers,

with free firing and a supply of cooking-pots, tea-basins,

and toasting-forks. There were two great, clinker fires,

which were kept burning day and night the year through.

The work of tending the fires, sweeping the kitchen and

making the beds was done by the lodgers in rotation. One

senior lodger, a fine Norman-looking stevedore named

Steve, was known as "head of the house," and was arbiter

of disputes and unpaid chuckerout.

   I liked the kitchen. It was a low-ceiled cellar deep

underground, very hot and drowsy with coke fumes, and

lighted only by the fires, which cast black velvet shadows

in the corners. Ragged washing hung on strings from the

ceiling. Red-lit men, stevedores mostly, moved about the

fires with cooking-pots; some of them were quite naked,

for they had been laundering and were waiting for their

clothes to dry. At night there were games of nap and

draughts, and songs"I'm a chap what's done wrong by my

parents," was a favourite, and so was another popular song

about a shipwreck. Sometimes late at night men would

come in with a pail of winkles they had bought cheap, and

share them out. There was a general sharing of food, and it

was taken for granted to feed men who were out

of work. A little pale, wizened creature, obviously

dying, referred to as "pore Brown, bin under the doctor

and cut open three times," was regularly fed by the


   Two or three of the lodgers were old-age pensioners.

Till meeting them I had never realised that there are

people in England who live on nothing but the oldage

pension of ten shillings a week. None of these old men

had any other resource whatever. One of them was

talkative, and I asked him how he managed to exist. He


   "Well, there's ninepence a night for yer kip-that's five

an' threepence a week. Then there's threepence on

Saturday for a shave-that's five an' six. Then say you 'as

a 'aircut once a month for sixpence-that's another

three'apence a week. So you 'as about four an' fourpence

for food an' bacca."

   He could imagine no other expenses. His food was

bread and margarine and tea-towards the end of the week

dry bread and tea without milk-and perhaps he got his

clothes from charity. He seemed contented, valuing his

bed and fire more than food. But, with an income of ten

shillings a week, to spend money on a shave-it is awe-


   All day I loafed in the streets, east as far as Wapping,

west as far as Whitechapel. It was queer after Paris;

everything was so much cleaner and quieter and drearier.

One missed the scream of the trams, and the noisy,

festering life of the back streets, and the armed men

clattering through the squares. The crowds were better

dressed and the faces comelier and milder and more

alike, without that fierce individuality and malice of the

French. There was less drunkenness, and less dirt, and

less quarrelling, and more idling. Knots of men stood at

all the corners, slightly underfed, but kept

going by the tea-and-two-slices which the Londoner

swallows every two hours. One seemed to breathe a less

feverish air than in Paris. It was the land of the tea urn

and the Labour Exchange, as Paris is the land of the bistro

and the sweatshop.

   It was interesting to watch the crowds. The East

London women are pretty (it is the mixture of blood,

perhaps), and Limehouse was sprinkled with Orientals -

Chinamen, Chittagonian lascars, Dravidians selling silk

scarves, even a few Sikhs, come goodness knows how.

Here and there were street meetings. In Whitechapel

somebody called The Singing Evangel undertook to save

you from hell for the charge of sixpence. In the East

India Dock Road the Salvation Army were holding a

service. They were singing "Anybody here like sneaking

Judas?" to the tune of "What's to be done with a drunken

sailor?" On Tower Hill two Mormons were trying to

address a meeting. Round their platform struggled a mob

of men, shouting and interrupting. Someone was

denouncing them for polygamists. A lame, bearded man,

evidently an atheist, had heard the word God and was

heckling angrily. There was a confused uproar of voices.

   "My dear friends, if you would only let us finish what

we were saying-!-That's right, give 'em a say. Don't get

on the argue!-No, no, you answer me. Can you

show me

God? You show 'im me, then I'll believe in 'im.-Oh, shut

up, don't keep interrupting of 'em!Interrupt yourself!-

polygamists!-Well, there's a lot to be said for polygamy.

Take the women out of industry, anyway.-My dear

friends, if you would just

    -No, no, don't you slip out

of it. 'Ave you seen God? 'Ave you

touched 'im? 'Ave you

shook '

ands with 'im?-Oh, don't get on the argue, for

Christ's sake don't get on the

argue!" etc. etc. I listened

for twenty minutes, anxious to learn something about

Mormonism, but the meeting never got beyond shouts. It

is the general fate of street meetings.

   In Middlesex Street, among the crowds at the market, a

draggled, down-at-heel woman was hauling a brat of five

by the arm. She brandished a tin trumpet in its face. The

brat was squalling.

   "Enjoy yourself!" yelled the mother. "What yer think I

brought yer out 'ere for an' bought y'a trumpet an' all?

D'ya want to go across my knee? You little bastard, you


enjoy yerself!"

   Some drops of spittle fell from the trumpet. The mother

and the child disappeared, both bawling. It was all very

queer after Paris.

   The last night that I was in the Pennyfields lodginghouse

there was a quarrel between two of the lodgers, a vile

scene. One of the old-age pensioners, a man of about

seventy, naked to the waist (he had been laundering), was

violently abusing a short, thickset stevedore, who stood

with his back to the fire. I could see the old man's face in

the light of the fire, and he was almost crying with grief

and rage. Evidently something very serious had happened.

   The old-age pensioner

: "You---!"

   The stevedore

: "Shut yer mouth, you ole---, afore I

set about yer!"

   The old-age pensioner

: "Jest you try it on, you--!

I'm thirty year older'n you, but it wouldn't take much to

make me give you one as'd knock you into a bucketful of


   The stevedore

: « Ah, an' then p'raps I wouldn't smash

you up after, you ole---!"

   Thus for five minutes. The lodgers sat round, unhappy,

trying to disregard the quarrel. The stevedore looked

sullen, but the old man was growing more and

more furious. He kept making little rushes at the other,

sticking out his face and screaming from a few inches

distant like a cat on a wall, and spitting. He was trying to

nerve himself to strike a blow, and not quite suc

ceeding. Finally he burst out:

   "A--, that's what you are, a---! Take that

in your dirty gob and suck it, you--! By--, I'll

smash you afore I've done with you. A---, that's

what you are, a son of a --- whore. Lick that, you---!

That's what I think of you, you---, you---, you---


   Whereat he suddenly collapsed on a bench, took his

face in his hands, and began crying. The other man seeing

that public feeling was against him, went out.

   Afterwards I heard Steve explaining the cause of the

quarrel. It appeared that it was all about a shilling's worth

of food. In some way the old man had lost his store of

bread and margarine, and so would have nothing to eat

for the next three days, except what the others gave him

in charity. The stevedore, who was in work and well fed,

had taunted him; hence the quarrel.

   When my money was down to one and fourpence I went

for a night to a lodging house in Bow, where the charge

was only eightpence. One went down an area and through

an alley-way into a deep, stifling cellar, ten feet square.

Ten men, navvies mostly, were sitting in the fierce glare

of the fire. It was midnight, but the deputy's son, a pale,

sticky child of five, was there playing on the navvies'

knees. An old Irishman was whistling to a blind bullfinch

in a tiny cage. There were other songbirds there-tiny,

faded things, that had lived all their lives underground.

The lodgers habitually made water in the fire, to save

going across a yard to the lavatory. As I sat at the table I

felt something stir near my feet, and, looking down, saw a

wave of black things moving slowly across the floor; they

were blackbeetles.

   There were six beds in the dormitory, and the sheets,

marked in huge letters "Stolen from No.--- Road," smelt

loathsome. In the next bed to me lay a very old man, a

pavement artist, with some extraordinary curvature of the

spine that made him stick right out of bed, with his back a

foot or two from my face. It was bare, and marked with

curious swirls of dirt, like a marble table-top. During the

night a man came in drunk and was sick on the floor,

close to my bed. There were bugs too-not so bad as in

Paris, but enough to keep one awake. It was a filthy place.

Yet the deputy and his wife were friendly people, and

ready to make one a cup of tea at any hour of the day or



IN the morning after paying for the usual tea-andtwo-

slices and buying half an ounce of tobacco, I had a

halfpenny left. I did not care to ask B. for more money

yet, so there was nothing for it but to go to a casual

ward. I had very little idea how to set about this, but I

knew that there was a casual ward at Romton, so I

walked out there, arriving at three or four in the after-

noon. Leaning against the pigpens in Romton market-

place was a wizened old Irishman, obviously a tramp. I

went and leaned beside him, and presently offered him

my tobacco-box. He opened the box and looked at the

tobacco in astonishment:

   "By God," he said, "dere's sixpennorth o' good baccy

here! Where de hell d'you get hold o' dat? You ain't

been on de road long."

   "What, don't you have tobacco on the road?" I said.

   "Oh, we

has it. Look."

   He produced a rusty tin which had once held Oxo

Cubes. In it were twenty or thirty cigarette ends, picked

up from the pavement. The Irishman said that he rarely

got any other tobacco; he added that, with care, one

could collect two ounces of tobacco a day on the

London pavements.

   "D'you come out o' one o' de London spikes [casual

wards], eh?" he asked me.

   I said yes, thinking this would make him accept me as a

fellow tramp, and asked him what the spike at Romton

was like. He said:

   "Well, 'tis a cocoa spike. Dere's tay spikes, and cocoa

spikes, and skilly spikes. Dey don't give you skilly in

Romton, t'ank God-leastways, dey didn't de last time I

was here. I been up to York and round Wales since."

   "What is skilly?" I said.

   "Skilly? A can o' hot water wid some bloody oatmeal

at de bottom; dat's skilly. De skilly spikes is always de


   We stayed talking for an hour or two. The Irishman was a

friendly old man, but he smelt very unpleasant, which was

not surprising when one learned how many diseases he

suffered from. It appeared (he described his symptoms

fully) that taking him from top to bottom he had the

following things wrong with him: on his crown, which

was bald, he had eczema; he was shortsighted, and had no

glasses; he had chronic bronchitis; he had some

undiagnosed pain in the back; he had dyspepsia; he had

urethritis; he had varicose veins, bunions and flat feet.

With this assemblage of diseases he had tramped the

roads for fifteen years.

   At about five the Irishmen said, "Could you do wid e

cup o' tay? De spike don't open till six."

   "I should think I could."

   "Well, dere's a place here where dey gives you a free

cup o' tay and a bun.

Good tay it is. Dey makes you say

a lot o' bloody prayers after; but hell! It all passes de

time away. You come wid me."

   He led the way to a small tin-roofed shed in a side-

street, rather like a village cricket pavilion. About

twenty-five other tramps were waiting. A few of them

were dirty old habitual vagabonds, the majority decent-

looking lads from the north, probably miners or cotton

operatives out of work. Presently the door opened and a

lady in a blue silk dress, wearing gold spectacles end a

crucifix, welcomed us in. Inside were thirty or forty hard

chairs, a harmonium, and a very gory lithograph of the


   Uncomfortably we took off our caps end sat down. The

lady handed out the tea, and while we ate and drank she

moved to and fro, talking benignly. She talked upon

religious subjects-about Jesus Christ always having e

soft spot for poor rough men like us, and about how

quickly the time passed when you were in church, and

what a difference it made to a man on the road if he said

his prayers regularly. We hated it. We sat against the

well fingering our caps (a tramp feels indecently exposed

with his cap off), and turning pink and trying to mumble

something when the lady addressed us. There was no

doubt that she meant it all kindly. As she came up to one

of the north country lads with the plate of buns, she said

to him:

   "And you, my boy, how long is it since you knelt down

and spoke with your Father in Heaven?"

   Poor lad, not a word could he utter; but his belly

answered for him, with a disgraceful rumbling which

it set up at sight of the food. Thereafter he was so

overcome with shame that he could scarcely swallow his

bun. Only one men managed to answer the lady in her

own style, end he was a spry, red-nosed fellow looking

like a corporal who had lost his stripe for drunkenness.

He could pronounce the words "the dear Lord Jesus"

with less shame then anyone I ever saw. No doubt he had

learned the knack in prison.

   Tea ended, and I saw the tramps looking furtively at

one another. An unspoken thought was running from

man to man-could we possibly make off before the

prayers started? Someone stirred in his chair-not getting

up actually, but with just a glance at the door, as though

half suggesting the idea of departure. The lady quelled

him with one look. She said in a more benign tone than


   "I don't think you need go

quite yet. The casual ward

doesn't open till six, and we have time to kneel down and

say a few words to our Father first. I think we should all

feel better after that, shouldn't we?"

  The red-nosed man was very helpful, pulling the

harmonium into place and handing out the prayerbooks.

His back was to the lady as he did this, and it was his

idea of a joke to deal the books like a pack of cards,

whispering to each men as he did so, "There y'are, mate,

there's a--- nap 'end for yer! Four aces and a king!" etc.

   Bareheaded, we knelt down among the dirty teacups

and began to mumble that we had left undone those

things that we ought to have done, and done those things

that we ought not to have done, and there was no health

in us. The lady prayed very fervently, but her eyes roved

over us all the time, making sure that we were attending.

When she was not looking we grinned and winked at one

another, and whispered bawdy jokes, just to show that we did

not care; but it stuck in our throats a little. No one except

the rednosed man was self-possessed enough to speak the

responses above a whisper. We got on better with the singing,

except that one old tramp knew no tune but "Onward,

Christian soldiers," and reverted to it sometimes,

spoiling the harmony.

   The prayers lasted half an hour, and then, after a

handshake at the door, we made off. "Well," said

somebody as soon as we were out of hearing, "the

trouble's over. I thought them ----prayers was never goin'

to end."

   "You 'ad your bun," said another; "you got to pay for


   "Pray for it, you mean. Ah, you don't get much for

nothing. They can't even give you a twopenny cup of tea

without you go down on you -----knees for it."

   There were murmurs of agreement. Evidently the

tramps were not grateful for their tea. And yet it was

excellent tea, as different from coffee-shop tea as good

Bordeaux is from the muck called colonial claret, and we

were all glad of it. I am sure too that it was given in a

good spirit, without any intention of humiliating us; so in

fairness we ought to have been grateful-still, we were



AT about a quarter to six the Irishman led me to the spike.

It was a grim, smoky yellow cube of brick, standing in a

corner of the workhouse grounds. With its rows of tiny,

barred windows, and a high wall and iron gates separating

it from the road, it looked much like a prison. Already a

long queue of ragged men had

formed up, waiting for the gates to open. They were of

all kinds and ages, the youngest a fresh-faced boy of

sixteen, the oldest a doubled-up, toothless mummy of

seventy-five. Some were hardened tramps, recognisable

by their sticks and billies and dust-darkened faces; some

were factory hands out of work, some agricultural

labourers, one a clerk in collar and tie, two certainly

imbeciles. Seen in the mass, lounging there, they were a

disgusting sight; nothing villainous or dangerous, but a

graceless, mangy crew, nearly all ragged and palpably

underfed. They were friendly, however, and asked no

questions. Many offered me tobacco-cigarette ends,

that is.

   We leaned against the wall, smoking, and the tramps

began to talk about the spikes they had been in recently.

It appeared from what they said that all spikes are

different, each with its peculiar merits and demerits, and

it is important to know these when you are on the road.

An old hand will tell you the peculiarities of every spike

in England, as: at A you are allowed to smoke but there

are bugs in the cells; at B the beds are comfortable but

the porter is a bully; at C they let you out early in the

morning but the tea is undrinkable; at D the officials

steal your money if you have any-and so on

interminably. There are regular beaten tracks where the

spikes are within a day's march of one another. I was

told that the Barnet-St. Albans route is the best, and they

warned me to steer clear of Billericay and Chelmsford,

also Ide Hill in Kent. Chelsea was said to be the most

luxurious spike in England; someone, praising it, said

that the blankets there were more like prison than the

spike. Tramps go far afield in summer, and in winter,

they circle as much as possible round the large towns,

where it is warmer and there is more charity. But they

have to keep moving, for you may not enter any one spike,

or any two London spikes, more than once in a month, on pain

of being confined for a week.

   Some time after six the gates opened and we began to

file in one at a time. In the yard was an office where an

official entered in a ledger our names and trades and ages,

also the places we were coming from and going to-this last

is intended to keep a check on the movements of tramps. I

gave my trade as "painter"; I had painted water-colours-

who has not? The official also asked us whether we had

any money, and every man said no. It is against the law to

enter the spike with more than eightpence, and any sum

less than this one is supposed to hand over at the gate. But

as a rule the tramps prefer to smuggle their money in,

tying it tight in a piece of cloth so that it will not chink.

Generally they put it in the bag of tea and sugar that every

tramp carries, or among their "papers." The "papers" are

considered sacred and are never searched.

   After registering at the office we were led into the

spike by an official known as the Tramp Major (his job is

to supervise casuals, and he is generally a workhouse

pauper) and a great bawling ruffian of a porter in a blue

uniform, who treated us like cattle. The spike consisted

simply of a bathroom and lavatory, and, for the rest, long

double rows of stone cells, perhaps a hundred cells in all.

It was a bare, gloomy place of stone and whitewash,

unwillingly clean, with a smell which, somehow, I had

foreseen from its appearance; a smell of soft soap, Jeyes'

fluid and latrines-a cold, discouraging, prisonish smell.

   The porter herded us all into the passage, and then told

us to come into the bathroom six at a time, to be searched

before bathing. The search was for money and tobacco,

Romton being one of those spikes where you

can smoke once you have smuggled your tobacco in, but it

will be confiscated if it is found on you. The old hands

had told us that the porter never searched below the knee,

so before going in we had all hidden our tobacco in the

ankles of our boots. Afterwards, while undressing, we

slipped it into our coats, which we were allowed to keep,

to serve as pillows.

   The scene in the bathroom was extraordinarily re-

pulsive. Fifty dirty, stark-naked men elbowing each other

in a room twenty feet square, with only two bathtubs and

two slimy roller towels between them all. I shall never

forget the reek of dirty feet. Less than half the tramps

actually bathed (I heard them saying that hot water is

"weakening" to the system), but they all washed their

faces and feet, and the horrid greasy little clouts known as

toe-rags which they bind round their toes. Fresh water was

only allowed for men who were having a complete bath,

so many men had to bathe in water where others had

washed their feet. The porter shoved us to and fro, giving

the rough side of his tongue when anyone wasted time.

When my turn came for the bath, I asked if I might swill

out the tub, which was streaked with dirt, before using it.

He answered simply, "Shut yer mouth and get on with yer

bath!" That set the social tone of the place, and I did not

speak again.

   When we had finished bathing, the porter tied our

clothes in bundles and gave us workhouse shirts-grey

cotton things of doubtful cleanliness, like abbreviated

nightgowns. We were sent along to the cells at once, and

presently the porter and the Tramp Major brought our

supper across from the workhouse. Each man's ration was

a half-pound wedge of bread smeared with margarine, and

a pint of bitter sugarless cocoa in a tin billy. Sitting on the

floor we wolfed this in five

minutes, and at about seven o'clock the cell doors were

locked on the outside, to remain locked till eight in the


   Each man was allowed to sleep with his mate, the cells

being intended to hold two men apiece. I had no mate, and

was put in with another solitary man, a thin scrubby-faced

fellow with a slight squint. The cell measured eight feet by

five by eight high, was made of stone, and had a tiny

barred window high up in the wall and a spyhole in the

door, just like a cell in a prison. In it were six blankets, a

chamber-pot, a hot water pipe, and nothing else whatever.

I looked round the cell with a vague feeling that there was

something missing. Then, with a shock of surprise, I

realised what it was, and exclaimed:

   "But I say, damn it, where are the beds?"


Beds?" said the other man, surprised. "There aren't no

beds! What yer expect? This is one of them spikes where

you sleeps on the floor. Christ! Ain't you got used to that


   It appeared that no beds was quite a normal condition

in the spike. We rolled up our coats and put them against

the hot-water pipe, and made ourselves as comfortable as

we could. It grew foully stuffy, but it was not warm

enough to allow of our putting all the blankets underneath,

so that we could only use one to soften the floor. We lay a

foot apart, breathing into one another's face, with our

naked limbs constantly touching, and rolling against one

another whenever we fell asleep. One fidgeted from side

to side, but it did not do much good; whichever way one

turned there would be first a dull numb feeling, than a

sharp ache as the hardness of the floor wore through the

blanket. One could sleep, but not for more than ten

minutes on end.

   About midnight the other man began making homo-

sexual attempts upon me-a nasty experience in a locked,

pitch-dark cell. He was a feeble creature and I could

manage him easily, but of course it was impossible to go

to sleep again. For the rest of the night we stayed awake,

smoking and talking. The man told me the story of his

life-he was a fitter, out of work for three years. He said

that his wife had promptly deserted him when he lost his

job, and he had been so long away from women that he

had almost forgotten what they were like. Homosexuality

is general among tramps of long standing, he said.

   At eight the porter came along the passage unlocking

the doors and shouting "All out!" The doors opened,

letting out a stale, fetid stink. At once the passage was full

of squalid, grey-shirted figures, each chamber-pot in hand,

scrambling for the bathroom. It appeared that in the

morning only one tub of water was allowed for the lot of

us, and when I arrived twenty tramps had already washed

their faces; I took one glance at the black scum floating on

the water, and went unwashed. After this we were given a

breakfast identical with the previous night's supper, our

clothes were returned to us, and we were ordered out into

the yard to work. The work was peeling potatoes for the

pauper's dinner, but it was a mere formality, to keep us

occupied until the doctor came to inspect us. Most of the

tramps frankly idled. The doctor turned up at about ten

o'clock and we were told to go back to our cells, strip and

wait in the passage for the inspection.

   Naked and shivering, we lined up in the passage. You

cannot conceive what ruinous, degenerate curs we looked,

standing there in the merciless morning light. A tramp's

clothes are bad, but they conceal far worse things; to see

him as he really is, unmitigated,

you must see him naked. Flat feet, pot bellies, hollow

chests, sagging muscles-every kind of physical rottenness

was there. Nearly everyone was under-nourished, and

some clearly diseased; two men were wearing trusses, and

as for the old mummy-like creature of seventy-five, one

wondered how he could possibly make his daily march.

Looking at our faces, unshaven and creased from the

sleepless night, you would have thought that all of us were

recovering from a week on the drink.

   The inspection was designed merely to detect small-

pox, and took no notice of our general condition. A young

medical student, smoking a cigarette, walked rapidly

along the line glancing us up and down, and not inquiring

whether any man was well or ill. When my cell

companion stripped I saw that his chest was covered with

a red rash, and, having spent the night a few inches away

from him, I fell into a panic about smallpox. The doctor,

however, examined the rash and said that it was due

merely to under-nourishment.

   After the inspection we dressed and were sent into the

yard, where the porter called our names over, gave us back

any possessions we had left at the office, and distributed

meal tickets. These were worth sixpence each, and were

directed to coffee-shops on the route we had named the

night before. It was interesting to see that quite a number

of the tramps could not read, and had to apply to myself

and other "scholards" to decipher their tickets.

   The gates were opened, and we dispersed immediately.

How sweet the air does smell-even the air of a back street

in the suburbs-after the shut-in, subfaecal stench of the

spike! I had a mate now, for while we were peeling

potatoes I had made friends with an Irish tramp named

Paddy Jaques, a melancholy

pale man who seemed clean and decent. He was going to

Edbury spike, and suggested that we should go together.

We set out, getting there at three in the afternoon. It was a

twelve-mile walk, but we made it fourteen by getting lost

among the desolate north London slums. Our meal tickets

were directed to a coffee-shop in Ilford. When we got

there, the little chit of a serving-maid, having seen our

tickets and grasped that we were tramps, tossed her head

in contempt and for a long time would not serve us.

Finally she slapped on the table two "large teas" and four

slices of bread and dripping-that is, eightpenny-worth of

food. It appeared that the shop habitually cheated the

tramps of twopence or so on each ticket; having tickets

instead of money, the tramps could not protest or go



PADDY was my mate for about the next fortnight, and, as

he was the first tramp I had known at all well, I want to

give an account of him. I believe that he was a typical

tramp and there are tens of thousands in England like him.

  He was a tallish man, aged about thirty-five, with fair

hair going grizzled and watery blue eyes. His features

were good, but his cheeks had lanked and had that greyish,

dirty in the grain look that comes of a bread and margarine

diet. He was dressed, rather better than most tramps, in a

tweed shooting jacket and a pair of old evening trousers

with the braid still on them. Evidently the braid figured in

his mind as a lingering scrap of respectability, and he took

care to sew it on again when it came loose. He was careful

of his appearance altogether, and carried a razor and

bootbrush that he would not sell, though he had sold his

"papers" and even his pocket-knife long since.

Nevertheless, one would have known him for a tramp a

hundred yards away. There was something in his drifting

style of walk, and the way he had of hunching his

shoulders forward, essentially abject. Seeing him walk,

you felt instinctively that he would sooner take a blow

than give one.

  He had been brought up in Ireland, served two years

in the war, and then worked in a metal polish factory,

where he had lost his job two years earlier. He was

horribly ashamed of being a tramp, but he had picked up

all a tramp's ways. He browsed the pavements

unceasingly, never missing a cigarette end, or even an

empty cigarette packet, as he used the tissue paper for

rolling cigarettes. On our way into Edbury he saw a

newspaper parcel on the pavement, pounced on it, and

found that it contained two mutton sandwiches, rather

frayed at the edges; these he insisted on my sharing. He

never passed an automatic machine without giving a tug

at the handle, for he said that sometimes they are out of

order and will eject pennies if you tug at them. He had

no stomach for crime, however. When we were in the

outskirts of Romton, Paddy noticed a bottle of milk on a

doorstep, evidently left there by mistake. He stopped,

eyeing the bottle hungrily.

   "Christ!" he said, "dere's good food goin' to waste.

Somebody could knock dat bottle off, eh? Knock it off


   I saw that he was thinking of "knocking it off" himself.

He looked up and down the street; it was a quiet

residential street and there was nobody in sight. Paddy's

sickly, chap-fallen face yearned over the milk. Then he

turned away, saying gloomily:

   "Best leave it. It don't do a man no good to steal.

Tank God, I ain't never stolen nothin' yet."

   It was funk, bred of hunger, that kept him virtuous.

With only two or three sound meals in his belly, he would

have found courage to steal the milk.

   He had two subjects of conversation, the shame and

come-down of being a tramp, and the best way of getting

a free meal. As we drifted through the streets he would

keep up a monologue in this style, in a whimpering, self-

pitying Irish voice:

   "It's hell bein' on de road, eh? It breaks yer heart goin'

into dem bloody spikes. But what's a man to do else, eh?

I ain't had a good meat meal for about two months, an'

me boots is getting bad, an'-Christ! How'd it be if we was

to try for a cup o' tay at one o' dem convents on de way

to Edbury? Most times dey're good for a cup o' tay. Ah,

what'd a man do widout religion, eh? I've took cups o' tay

from de convents, an' de Baptists, an' de Church of

England, an' all sorts. I'm a Catholic meself. Dat's to say,

I ain't been to confession for. about seventeen year, but

still I got me religious feelin's, y'understand. An' dem

convents is always good for a cup o' tay . . ." etc. etc. He

would keep this up all day, almost without stopping.

   His ignorance was limitless and appalling. He once

asked me, for instance, whether Napoleon lived before

Jesus Christ or after. Another time, when I was looking

into a bookshop window, he grew very perturbed because

one of the books was called Of the

Imitation of Christ. He

took this for blasphemy. "What de hell do dey want to go

imitatin' of

Him for?" he demanded angrily. He could

read, but he had a kind of loathing for books. On our

way from Romton to Edbury I went into a public library,

and, though Paddy did not want to read, I suggested that

he should come in and rest his

legs. But he preferred to wait on the pavement. "No," he

said, "de sight of all dat bloody print makes me sick."

   Like most tramps, he was passionately mean about

matches. He had a box of matches when I met him, but I

never saw him strike one, and he used to lecture me for

extravagance when I struck mine. His method was to

cadge a light from strangers, sometimes going without a

smoke for half an hour rather than strike a match.

   Self-pity was the clue to his character. The thought of

his bad luck never seemed to leave him for an instant. He

would break long silences to exclaim, apropos of nothing,

"It's hell when yer clo'es begin to go up de spout, eh?" or

"Dat tay in de spike ain't tay, it's piss," as though there

was nothing else in the world to think about. And he had a

low, worm-like envy of anyone who was better off-not of

the rich, for they were beyond his social horizon, but of

men in work. He pined for work as an artist pines to be

famous. If he saw an old man working he would say

bitterly, "Look at dat old keepin' able-bodied men out o'

work"; or if it was a boy, "It's dem young devils what's

takin' de bread out of our mouths." And all foreigners to

him were "dem bloody dagoes"-for, according to his

theory, foreigners were responsible for unemployment.

   He looked at women with a mixture of longing and

hatred. Young, pretty women were too much above him to

enter into his ideas, but his mouth watered at prostitutes.

A couple of scarlet-lipped old creatures would go past;

Paddy's face would flush pale pink, and he would turn and

stare hungrily after the women. "Tarts!" he would

murmur, like a boy at a sweetshop window. He told me

once that he had not had to do with a woman for two

years-since he had lost his job, that is-and he had

forgotten that one could aim higherthan prostitutes.

He had the regular character of a tramp-abject, envious,

a jackal's character.

   Nevertheless, he was a good fellow, generous by nature

and capable of sharing his last crust with a friend;

indeed he did literally share his last crust with me

more than once. He was probably capable of work too, if

he had been well fed for a few months. But two years of

bread and margarine had lowered his standards hopelessly.

He had lived on this filthy imitation of food till his own

mind and body were compounded of inferior stuff. It was

malnutrition and not any native vice that had destroyed

his manhood.


ON the way to Edbury I told Paddy that I had a friend

from whom I could be sure of getting money, and

suggested going straight into London rather than face

another night in the spike. But Paddy had not been in

Edbury spike recently, and, tramp-like, he would not

waste a night's free lodging. We arranged to go into

London the next morning. I had only a halfpenny, but

Paddy had two shillings, which would get us a bed each

and a few cups of tea.

   The Edbury spike did not differ much from the one at

Romton. The worst feature was that all tobacco was

confiscated at the gate, and we were warned that any man

caught smoking would be turned out at once. Under the

Vagrancy Act tramps can be prosecuted for smoking in the

spike-in fact, they can be prosecuted for almost anything;

but the authorities generally save the trouble of a

prosecution by turning disobedient men out of doors.

There was no work to do, and the cells were fairly

comfortable. We slept two in a cell,

"one up, one down"-that is, one on a wooden shelf and

one on the floor, with straw palliasses and plenty of

blankets, dirty but not verminous. The food was the same

as at Romton, except that we had tea instead of cocoa.

One could get extra tea in the morning, as the Tramp

Major was selling it at a halfpenny a mug, illicitly no

doubt. We were each given a hunk of bread and cheese to

take away for our midday meal.

   When we got into London we had eight hours to kill

before the lodging-houses opened. It is curious how one

does not notice things. I had been in London innumerable

times, and yet till that day I had never noticed one of the

worst things about London-the fact that it costs money

even to sit down. In Paris, if you had no money and could

not find a public bench, you would sit on the pavement.

Heaven knows what sitting on the pavement would lead to

in London-prison, probably. By four we had stood five

hours, and our feet seemed red-hot from the hardness of

the stones. We were hungry, having eaten our ration as

soon as we left the spike, and I was out of tobacco-it

mattered less to Paddy, who picked up cigarette ends. We

tried two churches and found them locked. Then we tried a

public library, but there were no seats in it.-As a last hope

Paddy suggested trying a Romton House; by the rules they

would not let us in before seven, but we might slip in

unnoticed. We walked up to the magnificent doorway (the

Rowton Houses really are magnificent) and very casually,

trying to look like regular lodgers, began to stroll in.

Instantly a man lounging in the doorway, a sharp-faced

fellow, evidently in some position of authority, barred the


   "You men sleep 'ere last night?"



   We obeyed, and stood two more hours on the street

corner. It was unpleasant, but it taught me not to use the

expression "street corner loafer," so I gained something

from it.

   At six we went to a Salvation Army shelter. We could

not book beds till eight and it was not certain that there

would be any vacant, but an official, who called us

"Brother," let us in on the condition that we paid for two

cups of tea. The main hall of the shelter was a great white-

washed barn of a place, oppressively clean and bare, with

no fires. Two hundred decentish, rather subdued-looking

people were sitting packed on long wooden benches. One

or two officers in uniform prowled up and down. On the

wall were pictures of General Booth, and notices

prohibiting cooking, drinking, spitting, swearing,

quarrelling and gambling. As a specimen of these notices,

here is one that I copied word for word:

"Any man found gambling or playing cards will be

expelled and will not be admitted under any


"A reward will be given for information leading to

the discovery of such persons.

"The officers in charge appeal to all lodgers to

assist them in keeping this hostel free from the


   "Gambling or playing cards" is a delightful phrase.

   To my eye these Salvation Army shelters, though clean,

are far drearier than the worst of the common lodging-

houses. There is such a hopelessness about some of the

people there-decent, broken-down types who have pawned

their collars but are still trying for office jobs.

Coming to a Salvation Army shelter, where it is

at least clean, is their last clutch at respectability. At the

next table to me were two foreigners, dressed in rags

but manifestly gentlemen. They were playing chess

verbally, not even writing down the moves. One of them

was blind, and I heard them say that they had been

saving up for a long time to buy a board, price half a

crown, but could never manage it. Here and there were

clerks out of work, pallid and moody. Among a group of

them a tall, thin, deadly pale young man was talking

excitedly. He thumped his fist on the table and boasted

in a strange, feverish style. When the officers were out

of hearing he broke out into startling blasphemies

   "I tell you what, boys, I'm going to get that job to-

morrow. I'm not one of your bloody down-on-the-knee

brigade; I can look after myself. Look at that notice there!

'The Lord will provide!' A bloody lot He's ever provided me

with. You don't catch me trusting to the

  Lord. You

leave it to me, boys.

I'm going to get that job," etc. etc.

   I watched him, struck by the wild, agitated way in

which he talked; he seemed hysterical, or perhaps a little

drunk. An hour later I went into a small room, apart

from the main hall, which was intended for reading. It

had no books or papers in it, so few of the lodgers went

there. As I opened the door I saw the young clerk in there

all alone; he was on his knees, praying. Before I shut the

door again I had time to see his face, and it looked

agonised. Quite suddenly I realised, from the expression

of his face, that he was starving.

   The charge for beds was eightpence. Paddy and I had

fivepence left, and we spent it at the "bar," where food

was cheap, though not so cheap as in some common

lodging-houses. The tea appeared to be made

with tea

dust, which I fancy had been given to the

Salvation Army in charity, though they sold it at three-

halfpence a cup. It was foul stuff. At ten o'clock an

officer marched round the hall blowing a whistle.

Immediately everyone stood up.

   "What's this for?" I said to Paddy, astonished.

   "Dat means you has to go off to bed. An' you has to

look sharp about it, too."

   Obediently as sheep, the whole two hundred men

trooped off to bed, under the command of the officers.

   The dormitory was a great attic like a barrack room, with

sixty or seventy beds in it. They were clean and tolerably

comfortable, but very narrow and very close together, so

that one breathed straight into one's neighbour's face.

Two officers slept in the room, to see that there was no

smoking and no talking after lights-out. Paddy and I had

scarcely a wink of sleep, for there was a man near us

who had some nervous trouble, shellshock perhaps,

which made him cry out "Pip!" at irregular intervals. It

was a loud, startling noise, something like the toot of a

small motor-horn. You never knew when it was coming,

and it was a sure preventer of sleep. It appeared that Pip,

as the others called him, slept regularly in the shelter,

and he must have kept ten or twenty people awake every

night. He was an example of the kind of thing that

prevents one from ever getting enough sleep when men

are herded as they are in these lodging-houses.

   At seven another whistle blew, and the officers went

round shaking those who did not get up at once. Since

then I have slept in a number of Salvation Army

shelters, and found that, though the different houses

vary a little, this semi-military discipline is the same in

all of them. They are certainly cheap, but they are too

like workhouses for my taste. In some of them there is

even a compulsory religious service once or twice a week,

which the lodgers must attend or leave the house. The fact

is that the Salvation Army are so in the habit of thinking

themselves a charitable body that they cannot even run a

lodging-house without making it stink of charity.

   At ten I went to B.'s office and asked him to lend me a

pound. He gave me two pounds and told me to come again

when necessary, so that Paddy and I were free of money

troubles for a week at least. We loitered the day in

Trafalgar Square, looking for a friend of Paddy's who

never turned up, and at night went to a lodginghouse in a

back alley near the Strand. The charge was elevenpence,

but it was a dark, evil-smelling place, and a notorious

haunt of the "nancy boys." Downstairs, in the murky

kitchen, three ambiguous-looking youths in smartish blue

suits were sitting on a bench apart, ignored by the other

lodgers. I suppose they were "nancy boys." They looked

the same type as the apache boys one sees in Paris, except

that they wore no sidewhiskers. In front of the fire a fully

dressed man and a stark-naked man were bargaining. They

were newspaper sellers. The dressed man was selling his

clothes to the naked man. He said:

   "'Ere y'are, the best rig-out you ever 'ad. A tosheroon

[half a crown] for the coat, two 'ogs for the trousers, one

and a tanner for the boots, and a 'og for the cap and scarf.

That's seven bob."

   "You got a 'ope! I'll give yer one and a tanner for the

coat, a 'og for the trousers, and two 'ogs for the rest.

That's four and a tanner."

   "Take the 'ole lot for five and a tanner, chum."

"Right y'are, off with 'em. I got to get out to sell my late


   The clothed man stripped, and in three minutes their

positions were reversed; the naked man dressed, and the

other kilted with a sheet of the Daily Mail.

   The dormitory was dark and close, with fifteen beds in

it. There was a horrible hot reek of urine, so beastly that at

first one tried to breathe in small, shallow puffs, not filling

one's lungs to the bottom. As I lay down in bed a man

loomed out of the darkness, leant over me and began

babbling in an educated, half-drunken voice:

   "An old public school boy, what? [He had heard me

say something to Paddy.] Don't meet many of the old

school here. I am an old Etonian. You know-twenty years

hence this weather and all that." He began to quaver out

the Eton boating-song, not untunefully:

            "Jolly boating weather,

            And a hay harvest---"

   "Stop that----

noise!" shouted several lodgers.

   "Low types," said the old Etonian, "very low types. Funny

sort of place for you and me, eh? Do you know what my

friends say to me? They say, 'M-, you are past

redemption.' Quite true, I am past redemption.

I've come down in the world; not like these-----

      s here,

who couldn't come down if they tried. We chaps who

have come down ought to hang together a bit. Youth will

be still in our faces-you know. May I offer you a drink?"

   He produced a bottle of cherry brandy, and at the same

moment lost his balance and fell heavily across my legs.

Paddy, who was undressing, pulled him upright.

   "Get back to yer bed, you silly ole-----


   The old Etonian walked unsteadily to his bed and

crawled under the sheets with all his clothes on, even his

boots. Several times in the night I heard him murmuring,

"M-, you are past redemption," as though the phrase

appealed to him. In the morning he was

lying asleep fully dressed, with the bottle clasped in his

arms. He was a man of about fifty, with a refined, worn

face, and, curiously enough, quite fashionably dressed. It

was queer to see his good patent-leather shoes sticking out

of that filthy bed. It occurred to me, too, that the cherry

brandy must have cost the equivalent of a fortnight's

lodging, so he could not have been seriously hard up.

Perhaps he frequented common lodginghouses in search of

the "nancy boys."

   The beds were not more than two feet apart. About

midnight I woke up to find that the man next to me was

trying to steal the money from beneath my pillow. He was

pretending to be asleep while he did it, sliding his hand

under the pillow as gently as a rat. In the morning I saw

that he was a hunchback, with long, apelike arms. I told

Paddy about the attempted theft. He laughed and said:

   "Christ! You got to get used to dat. Dese lodgin'

houses is full o' thieves. In some houses dere's notlain'

safe but to sleep wid all yer clo'es on. I seen 'em steal a

wooden leg off a cripple before now. Once I see a man-

fourteen stone man he was-come into a lodgin'-house wid

four pound ten. He puts it under his mattress. 'Now,' he

says, 'any dat touches dat money does it over my body,'

he says. But dey done him all de same. In de mornin' he

woke up on de floor. Four fellers had took his mattress by

de corners an' lifted him off as light as a feather. He never

saw his four pound ten again."


THE next morning we began looking once more for

Paddy's friend, who was called Bozo, and was a screever-

that is, a pavement artist. Addresses did

not exist in Paddy's world, but he had a vague idea that

Bozo might be found in Lambeth, and in the end we ran

across him on the Embankment, where he had established

himself not far from Waterloo Bridge. He was kneeling on

the pavement with a box of chalks, copying a sketch of

Winston Churchill from a penny note-book. The likeness

was not at all bad. Bozo was a small, dark, hook-nosed

man, with curly hair growing low on his head. His right

leg was dreadfully deformed, the foot being twisted heel

forward in a way horrible to see. From his appearance one

could have taken him for a Jew, but he used to deny this

vigorously. He spoke of his hook-nose as "Roman," and

was proud of his resemblance to some Roman Emperor-it

was Vespasian, I think.

   Bozo had a strange way of talking, Cockneyfied and

yet very lucid and expressive. It was as though he had

read good books but had never troubled to correct his

grammar. For a while Paddy and I stayed on the

Embankment, talking, and Bozo gave us an account of the

screeving trade. I repeat what he said more or less in his

own words.

   "I'm what they call a serious screever. I don't draw in

blackboard chalks like these others, I use proper colours

the same as what painters use; bloody expensive they are,

especially the reds. I use five bobs' worth of colours in a

long day, and never less than two bobs' worth.' Cartoons

is my line-you know, politics and cricket and that. Look

here"-he showed me his notebook-"here's likenesses of all

the political blokes, what I've copied from the papers. I

have a different cartoon every day. For instance, when the

Budget was on I had one of Winston trying to push an



Pavement artists buy their colours in the form of powder,

and work them into cakes with condensed milk


marked 'Debt,' and underneath I wrote, 'Will he budge

it?' See? You can have cartoons about any of the parties,

but you mustn't put anything in favour of Socialism,

because the police won't stand it. Once I did a cartoon of

a boa constrictor marked Capital swallowing a rabbit

marked Labour. The copper came along and saw it, and

he says, 'You rub that out, and look sharp about it,' he

says. I had to rub it out. The copper's got the right to

move you on for loitering, and it's no good giving them a

back answer."

   I asked Bozo what one could earn at screeving. He


   "This time of year, when it don't rain, I take about three

quid between Friday and Sunday-people get their wages

Fridays, you see. I can't work when it rains; the colours

get washed off straight away. Take the year round, I make

about a pound a week, because you can't do much in the

winter. Boat Race day, and Cup Final day, I've took as

much as four pounds. But you have to cut it out of them,

you know; you don't take a bob if you just sit and look at

them. A halfpenny's the usual drop [gift], and you don't

get even that unless you give them a bit of backchat.

Once they've answered you they feel ashamed not to give

you a drop. The best thing's to keep changing your

picture, because when they see you drawing they'll stop

and watch you. The trouble is, the beggars scatter as soon

as you turn round with the hat. You really want a nobber

[assistant] at this game. You keep at work and get a crowd

watching you, and the nobber comes casual-like round the

back of them. They don't know he's the nobber. Then

suddenly he pulls his cap off, and you got them between

two fires like. You'll never get a drop off real toffs. It's

shabby sort of blokes you get most off, and foreigners.

I've had even sixpences off Japs, and blackies, and that.

They're not so bloody mean as what an Englishman is.

Another thing to remember is to keep your money

covered up, except perhaps a penny in the hat. People

won't give you anything if they see you got a bob or two


   Bozo had the deepest contempt for the other screevves

on the Embankment. He called them "the salmon

platers." At that time there was a screever almost every

twenty-five yards along the Embankmenttwenty-five

yards being the recognised minimum between pitches.

Bozo contemptuously pointed out an old white-bearded

screever fifty yards away.

   "You see that silly old fool? He's bin doing the same

picture every day for ten years. 'A faithful friend' he calls

it. It's of a dog pulling a child out of the water. The silly

old bastard can't draw any better than a child of ten. He's

learned just that one picture by rule of thumb, like you

learn to put a puzzle together. There's a lot of that sort

about here. They come pinching my ideas sometimes; but

I don't care; the silly s can't think of anything for

themselves, so I'm always ahead of them. The whole

thing with cartoons is being up to date. Once a child got

its head stuck in the railings of Chelsea Bridge. Well, I

heard about it, and my cartoon was on the pavement

before they'd got the child's head out of the railings.

Prompt, I am."

   Bozo seemed an interesting man, and I was anxious to see

more of him. That evening I went down to the

Embankment to meet him, as he had arranged to take

Paddy and myself to a lodging-house south of the river.

Bozo washed his pictures off the pavement and counted

his takings-it was about sixteen shillings, of which he said

twelve or thirteen would be profit. We

walked down into Lambeth. Bozo limped slowly, with a

queer crablike gait, half sideways, dragging his smashed

foot behind him. He carried a stick in each hand and slung

his box of colours over his shoulder. As we were crossing

the bridge he stopped in one of the alcoves to rest. He fell

silent for a minute or two, and to my surprise I saw that he

was looking at the stars. He touched my arm and pointed

to the sky with his stick.

   "Say, will you look at Aldebaran! Look at the colour.

Like a ------------

     great blood orange!"

   From the way he spoke he might have been an art critic

in a picture gallery. I was astonished. I confessed that I

did not know which Aldebaran was, indeed, I had never

even noticed that the stars were of different colours. Bozo

began to give me some elementary hints on astronomy,

pointing out the chief constellations. He seemed

concerned at my ignorance. I said to him, surprised:

   "You seem to know a lot about stars."

   "Not a great lot. I know a bit, though. I got two letters

from the Astronomer Royal thanking me for writing about

meteors. Now and again I go out at night and watch for

meteors. The stars are a free show; it don't cost anything

to use your eyes."

   "What a good idea! I should never have thought of it."

   "Well, you got to take an interest in something. It don't

follow that because a man's on the road he can't think of

anything but tea-and-two-slices."

   "But isn't it very hard to take an interest in things-

things like stars-living this life?"

   "Screeving, you mean? Not necessarily. It don't need

turn you into a bloody rabbit-that is, not if you set your

mind to it."

   "It seems to have that effect on most people."

   "Of course. Look at Paddy-a tea-swilling old moocher,

only fit to scrounge for fag-ends. That's the way most of

them go. I despise them. But you don't need to get like that.

If you've got any education, it don't matter to you if

you're on the road for the rest of your life."

   "Well, I've found just the contrary," I said. "It seems to

me that when you take a man's money away he's fit for

nothing from that moment."

   "No, not necessarily. If you set yourself to it, you can

live the same life, rich or poor. You 'can still keep on with

your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself,

   'I'm a free man in here' "-he tapped his forehead-"and

you're all right."

   Bozo talked further in the same strain, and I listened

with attention. He seemed a very unusual screever, and he

was, moreover, the first person I had heard maintain that

poverty did not matter. I saw a good deal of him during

the next few days, for several times it rained and he could

not work. He told me the history of his life, and it was a

curious one.

   The son of a bankrupt bookseller, he had gone to work

as a house-painter at eighteen, and then served three years

in France and India during the war. After the war he had

found a house-painting job in Paris, and had stayed there

several years. France suited him better than England (he

despised the English), and he had been doing well in

Paris, saving money, and engaged to a French girl. One

day the girl was crushed to death under the wheels of an

omnibus. Bozo went on the drink for a week, and then

returned to work, rather shaky; the same morning he fell

from a stage on which he was working, forty feet on to the

pavement, and smashed his right foot to pulp. For some

reason he received only sixty pounds compensation. He

returned to England, spent his money in looking for jobs,

tried hawking books in Middlesex Street market, then

tried selling toys from a tray, and finally settled down as

a screever. He had lived hand to mouth ever since, half

starved throughout the winter, and often sleeping in the

spike or on the Embankment. When I knew him he

owned nothing but the clothes he stood up in, and his

drawing materials and a few books. The clothes were the

usual beggar's rags, but he wore a collar and tie, of

which he was rather proud. The collar, a year or more

old, was constantly "going" round the neck, and Bozo

used to patch it with bits cut from the tail of his shirt so

that the shirt had scarcely any tail left. His damaged leg

was getting worse and would probably have to be

amputated, and his knees, from kneeling on the stones,

had pads of skin on them as thick as boot-soles. There

was, clearly, no future for him but beggary and a death

in the workhouse.

   With all this, he had neither fear, nor regret, nor

shame, nor self-pity. He had faced his position, and

made a philosophy for himself. Being a beggar, he said,

was not his fault, and he refused either to have any

compunction about it or to let it trouble him. He was the

enemy of society, and quite ready to take to crime if he

saw a good opportunity. He _ refused on principle to be

thrifty. In the summer he saved nothing, spending his

surplus earnings on drink, as he did not care about

women. If he was penniless when winter came on, then

society must look after him. He was ready to extract

every penny he could from charity, provided that he was

not expected to say thank you for it. He avoided

religious charities, however, for he said that it stuck in

his throat to sing hymns for buns.

He had various other points of honour; for instance, it

was his boast that never in his life, even when starving,

had he picked up a cigarette end. He considered himself

in a class above the ordinary run of beggars, who, he

said, were an abject lot, without even the decency to be


   He spoke French passably, and had read some of Zola's

novels, all Shakespeare's plays, Gulliver's Travels, and a

number of essays. He could describe his adventures in

words that one remembered. For instance, speaking of

funerals, he said to me:

   "Have you ever seen a corpse burned? I have, in India.

They put the old chap on the fire, and the next moment I

almost jumped out of my skin, because he'd started

kicking. It was only his muscles contracting in the heat-

still, it give me a turn. Well, he wriggled about for a bit

like a kipper on hot coals, and then his belly blew up and

went off with a bang you could have heard fifty yards

away. It fair put me against cremation."

   Or, again, apropos of his accident:

   "The doctor says to me, 'You fell on one foot, my man.

And bloody lucky for you you didn't fall on both feet,' he

says. 'Because if you had of fallen on both feet you'd

have shut up like a bloody concertina, and your thigh

bones'd be sticking out of your ears!"

   Clearly the phrase was not the doctor's but Bozo's

own. He had a gift for phrases. He had managed to keep

his brain intact and alert, and so nothing could make him

succumb to poverty. He might be ragged and cold, or even

starving, but so long as he could read, think and watch for

meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.

   He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who

does not so much disbelieve in God as personally

dislike Him), and took a sort of pleasure in thinking that

human affairs would never improve. Sometimes, he said,

when sleeping on the Embankment, it had consoled him

to look up at Mars or Jupiter and think that there were

probably Embankment sleepers there. He had a curious

theory about this. Life on earth, he said, is harsh because

the planet is poor in the necessities of existence. Mars,

with its cold climate and scanty water, must be far

poorer, and life correspondingly harsher. Whereas on

earth you are merely imprisoned for stealing sixpence,

on Mars you are probably boiled alive. This thought

cheered Bozo, I do not know why. He was a very

exceptional man.


THE charge at Bozo's lodging-house was ninepence a

night. It was a large, crowded place, with accommodation

for five hundred men, and a well-known rendezvous of

tramps, beggars and petty criminals. All races, even black

and white, mixed in it on terms of equality. There were

Indians there, and when I spoke to one of them in bad

Urdu he addressed me as "tum"-a thing to make one

shudder, if it had been in India. We had got below the

range of colour prejudice. One had glimpses of curious

lives. Old "Grandpa," a tramp of seventy who made his

living, or a great part of it, by collecting cigarette ends and

selling the tobacco at threepence an ounce. " The Doctor"-

he was a real doctor, who had been struck off the register

for some offence, and besides selling newspapers gave

medical advice at a few pence a time. A little Chittagonian

lascar, barefoot and starving, who had deserted his ship

and wandered for days through London, so

vague and helpless that he did not even know the name of

the city he was in-he thought it was Liverpool, until I told

him. A begging-letter writer, a friend of Bozo's, who

wrote pathetic appeals for aid to pay for his wife's funeral,

and, when a letter had taken effect, blew himself out with

huge solitary gorges of bread and margarine. He was a

nasty, hyena-like creature. I talked to him and found that,

like most swindlers, he believed a great part of his own

lies. The lodging-house was an Alsatia for types like


   While I was with Bozo he taught me something about

the technique of London begging. There is more in it than

one might suppose. Beggars vary greatly, and there is a

sharp social line between those who merely cadge and

those who attempt to give some value for money. The

amounts that one can earn by the different "gags" also

vary. The stories in the Sunday papers about beggars who

die with two thousand pounds sewn into their trousers are,

of course, lies; but the better-class beggars do have runs of

luck, when they earn a living wage for weeks at a time.

The most prosperous beggars are street acrobats and street

photographers. On a good pitch-a theatre queue, for

instance-a street acrobat will often earn five pounds a

week. Street photographers can earn about the same, but

they are dependent on fine weather. They have a cunning

dodge to stimulate trade. When they see a likely victim

approaching, one of them runs behind the camera and

pretends to take a photograph. Then as the victim reaches

them, they exclaim:

   "There y'are, Sir, took yer photo lovely. That'll be a


   "But I never asked you to take it," protests the victim.

   "What, you didn't want it took? Why, we thought

you signalled with your 'and. Well, there's a plate wasted!

That's cost us sixpence, that 'as."

   At this the victim usually takes pity and says he will

have the photo after all. The photographers examine the

plate and say that it is spoiled, and that they will take a

fresh one free of charge. Of course, they have not really

taken the first photo; and so, if the victim refuses, they

waste nothing.

   Organ-grinders, like acrobats, are considered artists

rather than beggars. An organ-grinder named Shorty, a

friend of Bozo's, told me all about his trade. He and his

mate "worked" the coffee-shops and public-houses round

Whitechapel and the Commercial Road. It is a mistake to

think that organ-grinders earn their living in the street;

nine-tenths of their money is taken in coffee-shops and

pubs-only the cheap pubs, for they are not allowed into

the good-class ones. Shorty's procedure was to stop

outside a pub and play one tune, after which his mate,

who had a wooden leg and could excite compassion, went

in and passed round the hat. It was a point of honour

with Shorty always to play another tune after receiving

the "drop"an encore, as it were; the idea being that he

was a genuine entertainer and not merely paid to go

away. He and his mate took two or three pounds a week

between them, but, as they had to pay fifteen shillings a

week for the hire of the organ, they only averaged a

pound a week each. They were on the streets from eight

in the morning till ten at night, and later on Saturdays.

   Screevers can sometimes be called artists, sometimes

not. Bozo introduced me to one who was a "real" artist-

that is, he had studied art in Paris and submitted

pictures to the Salon in his day. His line was copies of

Old Masters, which he did marvellously,

considering that he was drawing on stone. He told me

how he began as a screever:

   "My wife and kids were starving. I was walking home

late at night, with a lot of drawings I'd been taking round

the dealers, and wondering how the devil to raise a bob

or two. Then, in the Strand, I saw a fellow kneeling on

the pavement drawing, and people giving him pennies. As

I came past he got up and went into a pub. 'Damn it,' I

thought, 'if he can make money at that, so can L' So on

the impulse I knelt down and began drawing with his

chalks. Heaven knows how I came to do it; I must have

been lightheaded with hunger. The curious thing was

that I'd never used pastels before; I had to learn the

technique as I went along. Well, people began to stop and

say that my drawing wasn't bad, and they gave me nine-

pence between them. At this moment the other fellow

came out of the pub. 'What in are you doing on my

pitch?' he said. I explained that I was hungry and had to

earn something. 'Oh,' said he, 'come and have a pint with

me.' So I had a pint, and since that day I've been a

screever. I make a pound a week. You can't keep six kids

on a pound a week, but luckily my wife earns a bit taking

in sewing.

   "The worst thing in this life is the cold, and the next

worst is the interference you have to put up with. At

first, not knowing any better, I used sometimes to copy a

nude on the pavement. The first I did was outside St.

Martin's-in-the-Fields church. A fellow in blackI suppose

he was a churchwarden or somethingcame out in a

tearing rage. 'Do you think we can have that obscenity

outside God's holy house?' he cried. So I had to wash it

out. It was a copy of Botticelli's Venus. Another time I

copied the same picture on the Embankment. A

policeman passing looked at it, and

then, without a word, walked on to it and rubbed it out

with his great flat feet."

   Bozo told the same tale of police interference. At the

time when I was with him there had been a case of

"immoral conduct" in Hyde Park, in which the police had

behaved rather badly. Bozo produced a cartoon of Hyde

Park with policemen concealed in the trees, and the

legend, "Puzzle, find the policemen." I pointed out to him

how much more telling it would be to put, "Puzzle, find

the immoral conduct," but Bozo would not hear of it. He

said that any policeman who saw it would move him on,

and he would lose his pitch for good.

   Below screevers come the people who sing hymns, or

sell matches, or bootlaces, or envelopes containing a few

grains of lavender-called, euphemistically, perfume. All

these people are frankly beggars, exploiting an appearance

of misery, and none of them takes on an average more

than half a crown a day. The reason why they have to

pretend to sell matches and so forth instead of begging

outright is that this is demanded by the absurd English

laws about begging. As the law now stands, if you

approach a stranger and ask him for twopence, he can call

a policeman and get you seven days for begging. But if

you make the air hideous by droning "Nearer, my God, to

Thee," or scrawl some chalk daubs on the pavement, or

stand about with a tray of matches-in short, if you make a

nuisance of yourself-you are held to be following a

legitimate trade and not begging. Match-selling and street-

singing are simply legalised crimes. Not profitable crimes,

however; there is not a singer or match-seller in London

who can be sure of £5o a year-a poor return for standing

eighty-four hours a week on the kerb, with the cars

grazing your backside.

   It is worth saying something about the social position

of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and

found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot

help being struck by the curious attitude that society

takes towards them. People seem to feel that there is

some essential difference between beggars and ordinary

"working" men. They are a race apart, outcasts, like

criminals and prostitutes. Working men "work," beggars

do not "work"; they are parasites, worthless in their very

nature. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not

"earn" his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic

"earns" his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated

because we live in a humane age, but essentially


   Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no


difference between a beggar's livelihood and that

of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it

is said; but, then, what is

work? A navvy works by

swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up

figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all

weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis,

etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course -

but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as

a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others.

He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent

medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday

newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-

purchase tout-in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless

parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from

the community, and, what should justify him according to

our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering.

I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets

him in a different class from other people, or gives most

modern men the right to despise him.

   Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised? -

for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the

simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In

practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless,

productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it

shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy,

efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning

is there except "Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of

it"? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this

test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one

could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would

become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar,

looked at realistically, is simply a business man, getting

his living, like other business men, in the way that comes

to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold

his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing

a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.


I WANT to put in some notes, as short as possible, on

London slang and swearing. These (omitting the ones

that everyone knows) are some of the cant words now

used in London:

   A gagger-beggar or street performer of any kind. A

moocher-one who begs outright, without pretence of

doing a trade. A nobbler-one who collects pennies for a

beggar. A chanter-a street singer. A clodhopper -a street

dancer. A mugfaker-a street photographer. A glimmer-

one who watches vacant motor-cars. A gee (or jee-it is

pronounced jee)-the accomplice of a cheapjack, who

stimulates trade by pretending to buy

something. A split-a detective. A flattie-a policeman. A

dideki-a gypsy. A toby-a tramp.

   A drop-money given to a beggar. Funkumlavender or

other perfume sold in envelopes. A boozer -a public-

house. A slang-a hawker's licence. A kip -a place to

sleep in, or a night's lodging. SmokeLondon. A judy-a

woman. The spike-the casual ward. The lump-the casual

ward. A tosheroon-a half-crown. A denner-a shilling. A

hog-a shilling. A sprowsie-a sixpence. Clods-coppers. A

drum-a billy can. Shackles-soup. A chat-a louse. Hard-

up-tobacco made from cigarette ends. A stick or cane -a

burglar's jemmy. A peter-a safe. A bly-a burglar's oxy-

acetylene blow-lamp

   To bawl-to suck or swallow. To knock off-to steal. To

skipper-to sleep in the open.

   About half of these words are in the larger diction-

aries. It is interesting to guess at the derivation of some

of them, though one or two-for instance, "funkum" and

"tosheroon"-are beyond guessing. "Deaner" presumably

comes from "denier." "Glimmer" (with the verb "to

glim") may have something to do with the old word

"glim," meaning a light, or another old word "glim,"

meaning a glimpse; but it is an instance of the formation

of new words, for in its present sense it can hardly be

older than motor-cars. "Gee" is a curious word;

conceivably it has arisen out of "gee," meaning horse, in

the sense of stalking horse. The derivation of "screever"

is mysterious. It must come ultimately from scribo, but

there has been no similar word in English for the past

hundred and fifty years; nor can it have come directly

from the French, for pavement artists are unknown in

France. "Judy" and "bawl" are East End words, not

found west of Tower Bridge. "Smoke" is a word used

only by tramps. "Kip" is Danish. Till quite recently

the word "doss" was used in this sense, but it is now

quite obsolete.

   London slang and dialect seem to change very

rapidly. The old London accent described by Dickens

and Surtees, with v for w and w for v and so forth, has

now vanished utterly. The Cockney accent as we know

it seems to have come up in the 'forties (it is first men-

tioned in an American book, Herman Melville's



), and Cockney is already changing; there are few

people now who say "fice" for "face," "nawce" for

"nice" and so forth as consistently as they did twenty

years ago. The slang changes together with the accent.

Twenty-five or thirty years ago, for instance, the

"rhyming slang" was all the rage in London. In the

"rhyming slang" everything was named by something

rhyming with it-a "hit or miss" for a kiss, "plates of

meat" for feet, etc. It was so common that it was even

reproduced in novels; now it is almost extinct.' Perhaps

all the words I have mentioned above will have van-

ished in another twenty years.

   The swear words also change-or, at any rate, they are

subject to fashions. For example, twenty years ago the

London working classes habitually used the word

"bloody." Now they have abandoned it utterly, though

novelists still represent them as using it. No born

Londoner (it is different with people of Scotch or Irish

origin) now says "bloody," unless he is a man of some

education. The word has, in fact, moved up in the social

scale and ceased to be a swear word for the purposes of

the working classes. The current London adjective, now

tacked on to every noun, is ---------

     . No

doubt in time---, like "bloody," will find its way into

1 It survives in certain abbreviations, such as "use your

twopenny" or "use your head." "Twopenny" is arrived at like

this: head-loaf of bread-twopenny loaf-twopenny.

the drawing-room and be replaced by some other word.

   The whole business of swearing, especially English

swearing, is mysterious. Of its very nature swearing is

as irrational as magic-indeed, it is a species of magic.

But there is also a paradox about it, namely this: Our

intention in swearing is to shock and wound, which we

do by mentioning something that should be kept secret -

usually something to do with the sexual functions. But

the strange thing is that when a word is well established

as a swear word, it seems to lose its original meaning;

that is, it loses the thing that made it into a swear word.

A word becomes an oath because it means a certain

thing, and, because it has become an oath, it ceases to

mean that thing. For example, ----. The Londoners do

not now use, or very seldom use, this word in its

original meaning; it is on their lips from morning till

night, but it is a mere expletive and means nothing.

Similarly with -------, which is rapidly losing its original

sense. One can think of similar instances in French-for

example,------,, which is now a quite meaningless

expletive. The word---

  , also, is still used

occasionally in Paris, but the people who use it, or most

of them, have no idea of what it once meant. The rule

seems to be that words accepted as swear words have

some magical character, which sets them apart and

makes them useless for ordinary conversation.

   Words used as insults seem to be governed by the

same paradox as swear words. A word becomes an

insult, one would suppose, because it means something

bad; but in practice its insult-value has little to do with

its actual meaning. For example, the most bitter insult

one can offer to a Londoner is "bastard"which, taken for

what it means, is hardly an insult at all. And the worst

insult to a women, either in London

or Paris, is "cow"; a name which might even be a com-

pliment, for cows are among the most likeable of animals.

Evidently a word is an insult simply because it is meant as

an insult, without reference to its dictionary meaning;

words, especially swear words, being what public opinion

chooses to make them. In this connection it is interesting

to see how a swear word can change character by crossing

a frontier. In England you can print «

Je m'en fous »

without protest from anybody. In France you have to print

it "

Je m'en f-----" Or, as another example,

take the word "barnshoot"a corruption of the Hindustani


bahinchut. A vile and unforgivable insult in India, this

word is a piece of gentle badinage in England. I have even

seen it in a school text-book; it was in one of

Aristophanes' plays, and the annotator suggested it as a

rendering of some gibberish spoken by a Persian

ambassador. Presumably the annotator knew what


meant. But, because it was a foreign word, it had

lost its magical swear-word quality and could be printed.

   One other thing is noticeable about swearing in

London, and that is that the men do not usually swear in

front of the women. In Paris it is quite different. A

Parisian workman may prefer to suppress an oath in front

of a woman, but he is not at all scrupulous about it, and

the women themselves swear freely. The Londoners are

more polite, or more squeamish, in this matter.

   These are a few notes that I have set down more or less

at random. It is a pity that someone capable of dealing

with the subject does not keep a year-book of London

slang and swearing, registering the changes accurately. It

might throw useful light upon the formation, development

and obsolescence of words.


THE two pounds that B. had given me lasted about ten

days. That it lasted so long was due to Paddy, who had

learned parsimony on the road and considered even one

sound meal a day a wild extravagance. Food, to him, had

come to mean simply bread and margarine -the eternal tea-

and-two-slices, which will cheat hunger for an hour or

two. He taught me how to live, food, bed, tobacco and all,

at the rate of half a crown a day. And he managed to earn

a few extra shillings by "glimming" in the evenings. It

was a precarious job, because illegal, but it brought in a

little and eked out our money.

   One morning we tried for a job as sandwich men. We

went at five to an alley-way behind some offices, but there

was already a queue of thirty or forty men waiting, and

after two hours we were told that there was no work for

us. We had not missed much, for sandwich men have an

unenviable job. They are paid about three shillings a day

for ten hours' work-it is hard work, especially in windy

weather, and there is no skulking, for an inspector comes

round frequently to see that the men are on their beat. To

add to their troubles, they are only engaged by the day, or

sometimes for three days, never weekly, so that they have

to wait hours for their job every morning. The number of

unemployed men who are ready to do the work makes

them powerless to fight for better treatment. The job all

sandwich men covet is distributing, handbills, which is

paid for at the same rate. When you see a man distributing

handbills you can do him a good turn by taking one, for he

goes off duty when he has distributed all his bills.

   Meanwhile we went on with the lodging-house life-

a squalid, eventless life of crushing boredom. For days

together there was nothing to do but sit in the under-

ground kitchen, reading yesterday's newspaper, or, when

one could get hold of it, a back number of the

Union Jack.

It rained a great deal at this time, and everyone who came

in steamed, so that the kitchen stank horribly. One's only

excitement was the periodical tea-and-two-slices. I do not

know how many men are living this life in London-it must

be thousands at the least. As to Paddy, it was actually the

best life he had known for two years past. His interludes

from tramping, the times when he had somehow laid

hands on a few shillings, had all been like this; the

tramping itself had been slightly worse. Listening to his

whimpering voice-he was always whimpering when he was

not eating-one realised what torture unemployment must

be to him. People are wrong when they think that an

unemployed man only worries about losing his wages; on

the contrary, 'an illiterate man, with the work habit in his

bones, needs work even more than he needs money. An

educated man can put up with enforced idleness, which is

one of the worst evils of poverty. But a man like Paddy,

with no means of filling up time, is as miserable out of

work as a dog on the chain. That is why it is such

nonsense to pretend that those who have "come down in

the world" are to be pitied above all others. The man who

really merits pity is the man who has been down from the

start, and faces poverty with a blank, resourceless mind.

   It was a dull time, and little of it stays in my mind,

except for talks with Bozo. Once the lodging-house was

invaded by a slumming-party. Paddy and I had been out,

and, coming back in the afternoon, we heard sounds of

music downstairs. We went down to find

three gentle-people, sleekly dressed, holding a religious

service in our kitchen. They were a grave and reverend

seignior in a frock coat, a lady sitting at a portable

harmonium, and a chinless youth toying with a crucifix. It

appeared that they had marched in and started to hold

the service, without any kind of invitation whatever.

   It was a pleasure to see how the lodgers met this

intrusion. They did not offer the smallest rudeness to the

slummers; they just ignored them. By common consent

everyone in the kitchen-a hundred men, perhaps behaved

as though the slummers had not existed. There they stood

patiently singing and exhorting, and no more notice was

taken of them than if they had been earwigs. The

gentleman in the frock coat preached a sermon, but not a

word of it was audible; it was drowned in the usual din of

songs, oaths and the clattering of pans. Men sat at their

meals and card games three feet away from the

harmonium, peaceably ignoring it. Presently the slummers

gave it up and cleared out, not insulted in any way, but

merely disregarded. No doubt they consoled themselves by

thinking how brave they had been, "freely venturing into

the lowest dens," etc. etc.

   Bozo said that these people came to the lodginghouse

several times a month. They had influence with the police,

and the "deputy" could not exclude them. It is curious

how people take it for granted that they have a right to

preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income

falls below a certain level.

   After nine days B.'s two pounds was reduced to one and

ninepence. Paddy and I set aside eighteenpence for our

beds, and spent threepence on the usual tea-andtwo-

slices, which we shared-an appetiser rather than a meal.

By the afternoon we were damnably hungry and

Paddy remembered a church near King's Cross Station

where a free tea was given once a week to tramps. This

was the day, and we decided to go there. Bozo, though it

was rainy weather and he was almost penniless, would not

come, saying that churches were not his style.

   Outside the church quite a hundred men were waiting,

dirty types who had gathered from far and wide at the

news of a free tea, like kites round a dead buffalo.

Presently the doors opened and a clergyman and some

girls shepherded us into a gallery at the top of the church.

It was an evangelical church, gaunt and wilfully ugly, with

texts about blood and fire blazoned on the walls, and a

hymn-book containing twelve hundred and fifty-one

hymns; reading some of the hymns, I concluded that the

book would do as it stood for an anthology of bad verse.

There was to be a service after the tea, and the regular

congregation were sitting in the well of the church below.

It was a week-day, and there were only a few dozen of

them, mostly stringy old women who reminded one of

boilingfowls. We ranged ourselves in the gallery pews and

were given our tea; it was a one-pound jam jar of tea each,

with six slices of bread and margarine. As soon as tea was

over, a dozen tramps who had stationed themselves near

the door bolted to avoid the service; the rest stayed, less

from gratitude than lacking the cheek to go.

   The organ let out a few preliminary hoots and the service

began. And instantly, as though at a signal, the tramps

began to misbehave in the most outrageous way. One

would not have thought such scenes possible in a church.

All round the gallery men lolled in their pews, laughed,

chattered, leaned over and flicked pellets of bread among

the congregation; I had to re

strain the man next to me, more or less by force, from

lighting a cigarette. The tramps treated the service as a

purely comic spectacle. It was, indeed, a sufficiently

ludicrous service-the kind where there are sudden yells of

"Hallelujah!" and endless extempore prayersbut their

behaviour passed all bounds. There was one old fellow in

the congregation-Brother Bootle or some such name-who

was often called on to lead us in prayer, and whenever he

stood up the tramps would begin stamping as though in a

theatre; they said that on a previous occasion he had kept

up an extempore prayer for twenty-five minutes, until the

minister had interrupted him. Once when Brother Bootle

stood up a tramp called out, "Two to one 'e don't beat

seven minutes!" so loud that the whole church must hear.

It was not long before we were making far more noise than

the minister. Sometimes somebody below would send up

an indignant "Hush!" but it made no impression. We had

set ourselves to guy the service, and there was no

stopping us.

   It was a queer, rather disgusting scene. Below were the

handful of simple, well-meaning people, trying hard to

worship; and above were the hundred men whom they had

fed, deliberately making worship impossible. A ring of

dirty, hairy faces grinned down from the gallery, openly

jeering. What could a few women and old men do against a

hundred hostile tramps? They were afraid of us, and we

were frankly bullying them. It was our revenge upon them

for having humiliated us by feeding us.

   The minister was a brave man. He thundered steadily

through a long sermon on Joshua, and managed almost to

ignore the sniggers and chattering from above. But in the

end, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he announced


   "I shall address the last five minutes of my sermon to


unsaved sinners!"

   Having said which, he turned his face to the gallery

and kept it so for five minutes, lest there should be any

doubt about who were saved and who unsaved. But much

we cared! Even while the minister was threatening hell

fire, we were rolling cigarettes, and at the last amen we

clattered down the stairs with a yell, many agreeing to

come back for another free tea next week.

   The scene had interested me. It was so different from

the ordinary demeanour of tramps-from the abject worm-

like gratitude with which they normally accept charity.

The explanation, of course, was that we outnumbered the

congregation and so were not afraid of them. A man

receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor-it

is a fixed characteristic of human nature; and, when he has

fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it.

   In the evening, after the free tea, Paddy unexpectedly

earned another eighteenpence at "glimming." It was

exactly enough for another night's lodging, and we put it

aside and went hungry till nine the next evening. Bozo,

who might have given us some food, was away all day.

The pavements were wet, and he had gone to the Elephant

and Castle, where he knew of a pitch under shelter.

Luckily I still had some tobacco, so that the day might

have been worse.

 At half-past eight Paddy took me to the Embankment,

where a clergyman was known to distribute meal tickets

once a week. Under Charing Cross Bridge fifty men were

waiting, mirrored in the shivering puddles. Some of them

were truly appalling specimens-they were Embankment

sleepers, and the Embankment dredges up worse types

than the spike. One of them, I

remember, was dressed in an overcoat without buttons,

laced up with rope, a pair of ragged trousers, and boots

exposing his toes-not a rag else. He was bearded like a

fakir, and he had managed to streak his chest and

shoulders with some horrible black filth resembling train

oil. What one could see of his face under the dirt and hair

was bleached white as paper by some malignant disease. I

heard him speak, and he had a goodish accent, as of a

clerk or shopwalker.

   Presently the clergyman appeared and the men ranged

themselves in a queue in the order in which they had

arrived. The clergyman was a nice, chubby, youngish

man, and, curiously enough, very like Charlie, my friend

in Paris. He was shy and embarrassed, and did not speak

except for a brief good evening; he simply hurried down

the line of men, thrusting a ticket upon each, and not

waiting to be thanked. The consequence was that, for

once, there was genuine gratitude, and everyone said that

the clergyman was a good feller. Someone (in his hearing,

I believe) called out: "Well,

he'll never be a-----bishop!"-

this, of course, intended as a warm compliment.

   The tickets were worth sixpence each, and were

directed to an eating-house not far away. When we got

there we found that the proprietor, knowing that the

tramps could not go elsewhere, was cheating by only

giving four pennyworth of food for each ticket. Paddy and

I pooled our tickets, and received food which we could

have got for sevenpence or eightpence at most coffee-

shops. The clergyman had distributed well over a pound in

tickets, so that the proprietor was evidently swindling the

tramps to the tune of seven shillings or more a week. This

kind of victimisation is a regular part of a tramp's life, and

it will go on as long as people continue to give meal tickets

instead of money.

   Paddy and I went back to the lodging-house and, still

hungry, loafed in the kitchen, making the warmth of the

fire a substitute for food. At half-past ten Bozo arrived,

tired out and haggard, for his mangled leg made walking

an agony. He had not earned a penny at screening, all the

pitches under shelter being taken, and for several hours he

had begged outright, with one eye on the policemen. He

had amassed eightpence -a penny short of his kip. It was

long past the hour for paying, and he had only managed to

slip indoors when the deputy was not looking; at any

moment he might be caught and turned out, to sleep on the

Embankment. Bozo took the things out of his pockets and

looked them over, debating what to sell. He decided on his

razor, took it round the kitchen, and in a few minutes he

had sold it for threepence-enough to pay his kip, buy a

basin of tea, and leave a halfpenny over.

   Bozo got his basin of tea and sat down by the fire to

dry his clothes. As he drank the tea I saw that he was

laughing to himself, as though at some good joke.

Surprised, I asked him what he had to laugh at.

   "It's bloody funny!" he said. "It's funny enough for


. What do you think I been and done?"


   "Sold my razor without having a shave first: Of all

the fools!"

   He had not eaten since the morning, had walked several

miles with a twisted leg, his clothes were drenched, and he

had a halfpenny between himself and starvation. With all

this, he could laugh over the loss of his razor. One could

not help admiring him.


THE next morning, our money being at an end, Paddy and

I set out for the spike. We went southward by the Old

Kent Road, making for Cromley; we could not go to a

London spike, for Paddy had been in one recently and did

not care to risk going again. It was a sixteen-mile walk

over asphalt, blistering to the heels, and we were acutely

hungry. Paddy browsed the pavement, laying up a store of

cigarette ends against his time in the spike. In the end his

perseverance was rewarded, for he picked up a penny. We

bought a large piece of stale bread, and devoured it as we


   When we got to Cromley, it was too early to go the

spike, and we walked several miles farther, to a plantation

beside a meadow, where one could sit down. It was a

regular caravanserai of tramps-one could tell it by the

worn grass and the sodden newspaper and rusty cans that

they had left behind. Other tramps were arriving by ones

and twos. It was jolly autumn weather. Near by, a deep

bed of tansies was growing; it seems to me that even now

I can smell the sharp reek of those tansies, warring with

the reek of tramps. In the meadow two carthorse colts, raw

sienna colour with white manes and tails, were nibbling at

a gate. We sprawled about on the ground, sweaty and ex-

hausted. Someone managed to find dry sticks and get a

fire going, and we all had milkless tea out of a tin "drum"

which was passed round.

   Some of the tramps began telling stories. One of them,

Bill, was an interesting type, a genuine sturdy beggar of

the old breed, strong as Hercules and a frank foe of work.

He boasted that with his great strength he

could get a navvying job any time he liked, but as soon as

he drew his first week's wages he went on a terrific drunk

and was sacked. Between whiles he "mooched," chiefly

from shopkeepers. He talked like this:

   "I ain't goin' far in ---Kent. Kent's a tight county,

Kent is. There's too many bin' moochin' about 'ere. The

---bakers get so as they'll throw

their bread away sooner'n give it you. Now Oxford, that's

the place for moochin', Oxford is. When I was in Oxford I

mooched bread, and I mooched bacon, and I mooched

beef, and every night I mooched tanners for my kip off of

the students. The last night I was twopence short of my

kip, so I goes up to a parson and mooches 'im for

threepence. He give me threepence, and the next moment

he turns round and gives me in charge for beggin'. 'You

bin beggin',' the copper says. 'No I ain't,' I says, 'I was

askin' the gentlemen the time,' I says. The copper starts

feelin' inside my coat, and he pulls out a pound of meat

and two loaves of bread. 'Well, what's all this, then?' he

says. 'You better come 'long to the station,' he says. The

beak give me seven days. I don't mooch from no more

---parsons. But Christ! what do I

care for a lay-up of seven days?" etc. etc.

   It seemed that his whole life was this-a round of

mooching, drunks and lay-ups. He laughed as he talked of

it, taking it all for a tremendous joke. He looked as though

he made a poor thing out of begging, for he wore only a

corduroy suit, scarf and capno socks or linen. Still, he was

fat and jolly, and he even smelt of beer, a most unusual

smell in a tramp nowadays.

   Two of the tramps had been in Cromley spike recently,

and they told a ghost story connected with it. Years

earlier, they said, there had been a suicide there.

A tramp had managed to smuggle a razor into his cell, and

there cut his throat. In the morning, when the Tramp

Major came round, the body was jammed against the door,

and to open it they had to break the dead man's arm. In

revenge for this, the dead man haunted his cell, and

anyone who slept there was certain to die within the year;

there were copious instances, of course. If a cell door

stuck when you tried to open it, you should avoid that cell

like the plague, for it was the haunted one.

   Two tramps, ex-sailors, told another grisly story. A

man (they swore they had known him) had planned to

stow away on a boat bound for Chile. It was laden with

manufactured goods packed in big wooden crates, and

with the help of a docker the stowaway had managed to

hide himself in one of these. But the docker had made a

mistake about the order in which the crates were to be

loaded. The crane gripped the stowaway, swung him aloft,

and deposited him-at the very bottom of the hold, beneath

hundreds of crates. No one discovered what had happened

until the end of the voyage, when they found the

stowaway rotting, dead of suffocation.

   Another tramp told the story of Gilderoy, the Scottish

robber. Gilderoy was the man who was condemned to be

hanged, escaped, captured the judge who had sentenced

him, and (splendid fellow!) hanged him. The tramps liked

the story, of course, but the interesting thing was to see

that they had got it all wrong. Their version was that

Gilderoy escaped to America, whereas in reality he was

recaptured and put to death. The story had been amended,

no doubt deliberately; just as children amend the stories of

Samson and Robin Hood, giving them happy endings

which are quite imaginary.

   This set the tramps talking about history, and a very

old man declared that the "one bite law" was a survival

from days when the nobles hunted men instead of deer.

Some of the others laughed at him, but he had the idea

firm in his head. He had heard, too, of the Corn Laws,

and the

jus primae noctis (he believed it had really

existed); also of the Great Rebellion, which he thought

was a rebellion of poor against rich-perhaps he had got it

mixed up with the peasant rebellions. I doubt whether

the old man could read, and certainly he was not

repeating newspaper articles. His scraps of history had

been passed from generation to generation of tramps,

perhaps for centuries in some cases. It was oral tradition

lingering on, like a faint echo from the Middle Ages.

   Paddy and I went to the spike at six in the evening,

getting out at ten in the morning. It was much like

Romton and Edbury, and we saw nothing of the ghost.

Among the casuals were two young men named William

and Fred, ex-fishermen from Norfolk, a lively pair and

fond of singing. They had a song called "Unhappy Bella"

that is worth writing down. I heard them sing it half a

dozen times during the next two days, and I managed to

get it by heart, except a line or two which I have guessed.

It ran:

     Bella was young and Bella was fair With

     bright blue eyes and golden hair, O

     unhappy Bella!

     Her step was light and her heart was gay, But

     she had no sense, and one fine day She got

     herself put in the family way

     By a wicked, heartless, cruel deceiver.

     Poor Bella was young, she didn't believe That

     the world is hard and men deceive, 0 unhappy


     She said, "My man will do what's just, He'll

     marry me now, because he must"; Her heart

     was full of loving trust

     In a wicked, heartless, cruel deceiver.

     She went to his house; that dirty skunk Had

     packed his bags and done a bunk, O unhappy


     Her landlady said, "Get out, you whore,

     I won't have your sort a-darkening my door." Poor

     Bella was put to affliction sore

 By a wicked, heartless, cruel deceiver.

     All night she tramped the cruel snows, What she

     must have suffered nobody knows, O unhappy


     And when the morning dawned so red, Alas,

     alas, poor Bella was dead,

     Sent so young to her lonely bed

     By a wicked, heartless, cruel deceiver.

     So thus, you see, do what you will, The

     fruits of sin are suffering still, O unhappy


     As into the grave they laid her low, The men

     said, "Alas, but life is so," But the women

     chanted, sweet and low, "It's all the men, the

     dirty bastards!"

   Written by a woman, perhaps.

   William and Fred, the singers of this song, were

thorough scallywags, the sort of men who get tramps a

bad name. They happened to know that the Tramp Major

at Cromley had a stock of old clothes, which were to be

given at need to casuals. Before going in William and

Fred took off their boots, ripped the seams and cut

pieces off the soles, more or less ruining them. Then they

applied for two pairs of boots, and the Tramp Major,

seeing how bad their boots were, gave them almost new

pairs. William and Fred were scarcely

outside the spike in the morning before they had sold

these boots for one and ninepence. It seemed to them

quite worth while, for one and ninepence, to make their

own boots practically unwearable.

   Leaving the spike, we all started southward, a long

slouching procession, for Lower Binfield and Ide Hill. On

the way there was a fight between two of the tramps.

They had quarrelled overnight (there was some silly



about one saying to the other, "Bull shit," which was

taken for Bolshevik-a deadly insult), and they fought it

out in a field. A dozen of us stayed to watch them. The

scene sticks in my mind for one thing -the man who was

beaten going down, and his cap falling off and showing

that his hair was quite white. After that some of us

intervened and stopped the fight. Paddy had meanwhile

been making inquiries, and found that the real cause of

the quarrel was, as usual, a few pennyworth of food.

   We got to Lower Binfield quite early, and Paddy filled

in the time by asking for work at back doors. At one

house he was given some boxes to chop up for firewood,

and, saying he had a mate outside, he brought me in and

we did the work together. When it was done the

householder told the maid to take us out a cup of tea. I

remember the terrified way in which she brought it out,

and then, losing her courage, set the cups down on the

path and bolted back to the house, shutting herself in

the kitchen. So dreadful is the name of "tramp." They

paid us sixpence each, and we bought a threepenny loaf

and half an ounce of tobacco, leaving fivepence.

   Paddy thought it wiser to bury our fivepence, for the

Tramp Major at Lower Binfield was renowned as a tyrant

and might refuse to admit us if we had any money at all.

It is quite a common practice of tramps

to' bury their money. If they intend to smuggle at ah a

large sum into the spike they generally sew it into their

clothes, which may mean prison if they are caught, of

course. Paddy and Bozo used to tell a good story about

this. An Irishman (Bozo said it was an Irishman; Paddy

said an Englishman), not a tramp, and in possession of

thirty pounds, was stranded in a small village where-he

could not get a bed. He consulted a tramp, who advised

him to go to the workhouse. It is quite a

regular proceeding, if one cannot get a bed elsewhere, to

get one at the workhouse, paying a reasonable sum for it.

The Irishman, however, thought he would be clever and

get a bed for nothing, so he presented himself at the

workhouse as an ordinary casual. He had sewn the thirty

pounds into his clothes. Meanwhile the tramp who had

advised him had seen his chance, and that night he

privately asked the Tramp Major for permission to leave

the spike early in the morning, as he had to see about a

job. At six in the morning he was released, and went out-

in the Irishman's clothes. The Irishman complained of

the theft, and was given thirty days for going into a

casual ward under false pretences.


ARRIVED at Lower Binfield, we sprawled for a long time

on the green, watched by cottagers from their front gates.

A clergyman and his daughter came and stared silently

at us for a while, as though we had been aquarium

fishes, and then went away again. There were several

dozen of us waiting. William and Fred were there, still

singing, and the men who had fought, and Bill the

moocher. He had been mooching from bakers, and had

quantities of stale bread tucked away between

his coat and his bare body. He shared it out, and we were

all glad of it. There was a woman among us, the first

woman tramp I had ever seen. She was a fattish,

battered, very dirty woman of sixty, in a long, trailing

black skirt. She put on great airs of dignity, and if any-

one sat down near her she sniffed and moved farther off.

   "Where you bound for, missis?" one of the tramps

called to her.

   The woman sniffed and looked into the distance.

   "Come on, missis," he said, "cheer up. Be chummy.

We're all in the same boat 'ere."

   "Thank you," said the woman bitterly, "when I want to

get mixed up with a set of

tramps, I'll let you know."

   I enjoyed the way she said

tramps. It seemed to show you

in a flash the whole of her soul; a small, blinkered,

feminine soul, that had learned absolutely nothing from

years on the road. She was, no doubt, a respectable widow

woman, become a tramp through some grotesque accident.

   The spike opened at six. This was Saturday, and we were

to be confined over the week-end, which is the usual

practice; why, I do not know, unless it is from a vague

feeling that Sunday merits something disagreeable.

When we registered I gave my trade as "journalist." It

was truer than "painter," for I had sometimes earned

money from newspaper articles, but it was a silly thing

to say, being bound to lead to questions. As soon as we

were inside the spike and had been lined up for the

search, the Tramp Major called my name. He was a stiff,

soldierly man of forty, not looking the bully he had been

represented, but with an old soldier's gruffness. He said


   "Which of you is Blank?" (I forget what name I had


   "Me, sir."

   "So you are a journalist?"

   "Yes, Sir," I said, quaking. A few questions would

betray the fact that I had been lying, which might mean

prison. But the Tramp Major only looked me up and down

and said:

   "Then you are a gentleman?" "I suppose so."

   He gave me another long look. "Well, that's bloody bad

luck, guv'nor," he said; "bloody bad luck that is." And

thereafter he treated me with unfair favouritism, and even

with a kind of deference. He did not search me, and in the

bathroom he actually gave me a clean towel to myself-an

unheard-of luxury. So powerful is the word "gentleman"

in an old soldier's ear.

   By seven we had wolfed our bread and tea and were in our

cells. We slept one in a cell, and there were bedsteads and

straw palliasses, so that one ought to have had a good

night's sleep. But no spike is perfect, and the peculiar

shortcoming at Lower Binfield was the cold. The hot pipes

were not working, and the two blankets we had been given

were thin cotton things and almost useless. It was only

autumn, but the cold was bitter. One spent the long

twelve-hour night in turning from side to side, falling

asleep for a few minutes and waking up shivering. We

could not smoke, for our tobacco, which we had managed

to smuggle in, was in our clothes and we should not get

these back till the morning. All down the passage one

could hear groaning noises, and sometimes a shouted oath.

No one, I imagine, got more than an hour or two of sleep.

   In the morning, after breakfast and the doctor's inspection,

the Tramp Major herded us all into the dining-room and

locked the door upon us. It was a

limewashed, stone-floored room, unutterably dreary, with

its furniture of deal boards and benches, and its prison

smell. The barred windows were too high to look out of,

and there were no ornaments save a clock and a copy of

the workhouse rules. Packed elbow to elbow on the

benches, we were bored already, though it was barely

eight in the morning. There was nothing to do, nothing to

talk about, not even room to move. The sole consolation

was that one could smoke, for smoking was connived at so

long as one was not caught in the act. Scotty, a little hairy

tramp with. a bastard accent sired by Cockney out of

Glasgow, was tobaccoless, his tin of cigarette ends having

fallen out of his boot during the search and been

impounded. I stood him the makings of a cigarette. We

smoked furtively, thrusting our cigarettes into our pockets,

like schoolboys, when we heard the Tramp Major coming.

   Most of the tramps spent ten continuous hours in this

comfortless, soulless room. Heaven knows how they put

up with it. I was luckier than the others, for at ten o'clock

the Tramp Major told off a few men for odd jobs, and he

picked me out. to help in the workhouse kitchen, the most

coveted job of all. This, like the clean towel, was a charm

worked by the word "gentleman."

   There was no work to do in the kitchen, and I sneaked

off into a small shed used for storing potatoes, where

some workhouse paupers were skulking to avoid the

Sunday morning service. There were comfortable packing-

cases to sit on, and some back numbers of the



, and even a copy of

Raffles from the workhouse

library. The paupers talked interestingly about workhouse

life. They told me, among other things, that the thing

really hated in the workhouse, as a stigma of charity, is

the uniform; if the men could

wear, their own clothes, or even their own caps and

scarves, they would not mind being paupers. I had my

dinner from the workhouse table, and it was a meal fit for

a boa-constrictor-the largest meal I had 'eaten since my

first day at the Hôtel X. The paupers said that they

habitually gorged to the bursting-point on Sunday and

were underfed the rest of the week. After dinner the cook

set me to do the washing up, and told me to throw away

the food that remained. The wastage was astonishing and,

in the circumstances, appalling. Half-eaten joints of meat,

and bucketfuls of broken bread and vegetables, were

pitched away like so much rubbish and then defiled with

tea-leaves. I filled five dustbins to overflowing with quite

eatable food. And while I did so fifty tramps were sitting

in the spike with their bellies half filled by the spike

dinner of bread and cheese, and perhaps two cold boiled

potatoes each in honour of Sunday. According to the

paupers, the food was thrown away from deliberate policy,

rather than that it should be given to the tramps.

   At three I went back to the spike. The tramps had

been sitting there since eight, with hardly room to move

an elbow, and they were now half mad with boredom.

Even smoking was at an end, for a tramp's tobacco is

picked-up cigarette ends, and he starves if he is more

than a few hours away from the pavement. Most of the

men were too bored even to talk; they just sat packed on

the benches, staring at nothing, their scrubby faces split

in two by enormous yawns. The room stank of


   Paddy, his backside aching from the hard bench, was

in a whimpering mood, and to pass the time away I

talked with a rather superior tramp, a young carpenter

who wore a collar and tie and was on the

road, he said, for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little

aloof from the other tramps, and held himself more like a

free man than a casual. He had literary tastes, too, and

carried a copy of

Quentin Durward in his pocket. He told

me that he never went into a spike unless driven there by

hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in

preference. Along the south coast he had begged by day

and slept in bathing-huts for weeks at a time.

   We talked of life on the road. He criticised the

system that makes a tramp spend fourteen hours a day

in the spike, and the other ten in walking and dodging

the police. He spoke of his own case-six months at the

public charge for want of a few pounds' worth of tools.

It was idiotic, he said.

   Then I told him about the wastage of food in the

workhouse kitchen, and what I thought of it. And at that

he changed his tone instantly. I saw that I had awakened

the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman.

Though he had been famished along with the others, he

at once saw reasons why the food should have been

thrown away rather than given to the tramps. He

admonished me quite severely.

   "They have to do it," he said. "If they made these

places too comfortable, you'd have all the scum of the

country flocking into them. It's only the bad food as

keeps all that scum away. These here tramps are too

lazy to work, that's all that's wrong with them. You

don't want to go encouraging of them. They're scum."

  I produced, arguments to prove him wrong, but he

would not listen. He kept repeating:

   "You don't want to have any pity on these here

tramps-scum, they are. You don't want to judge them

by the same standards as men like you and me. They're

scum, just Scum."

   It was interesting to see the subtle way in which he

disassociated himself from "these here tramps." He had

been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he

seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. I imagine there are

quite a lot of tramps who thank God they are not tramps.

They are like the trippers who say such cutting things

about trippers.

   Three hours dragged by. At six supper arrived, and

turned out to be quite uneatable; the bread, tough enough

in the morning (it had been cut into slices on Saturday

night), was now as hard as ship's biscuit. Luckily it was

spread with dripping, and we scraped the dripping off and

ate that alone, which was better than nothing. At a quarter-

past six we were sent to bed. New tramps were arriving,

and in order not to mix the tramps of different days (for

fear of infectious diseases) the new men were put in the

cells and we in dormitories. Our dormitory was a barn-like

room with thirty beds close together, and a tub to serve as

a common chamber-pot. It stank abominably, and the

older men coughed and got up all night. But being so

many together kept the room warm, and we had some


   We dispersed at ten in the morning, after a fresh

medical inspection, with a hunk of bread and cheese for

our midday dinner. William and Fred, strong in the

possession of a shilling, impaled their bread on the spike

railings-as a protest, they said. This was the second spike

in Kent that they had made too hot to hold them, and

they thought it a great joke. They were cheerful souls,

for tramps. The imbecile (there is an imbecile in every

collection of tramps) said that he was too tired to walk

and clung to the railings, until the Tramp Major had to

dislodge him and start him with a kick, Paddy and I

turned north, for London.

Most of the others were going on to Ide Hill, said to be

about the worst spike in England.'

   Once again it was jolly autumn weather, and the road

was quiet, with few cars passing. The air was like sweet-

briar after the spike's mingled stenches of sweat, soap

and drains. We two seemed the only tramps on the road.

Then I heard a hurried step behind us, and someone

calling. It was little Scotty, the Glasgow tramp, who had

run after us panting. He produced a rusty tin from his

'pocket. He wore a friendly smile, like someone repaying

an obligation.

   "Here y'are, mate," he said cordially. "I owe you some

fag ends. You stood me a smoke yesterday. The Tramp

Major give me back my box of fag ends when we come

out this morning. One good turn deserves another-here


   And he put four sodden, debauched, loathly cigarette

ends into my hand.


I WANT to set down some general remarks about

tramps. When one comes to think of it, tramps are a

queer product and worth thinking over. It is queer that a

tribe of men, tens of thousands in number, should be

marching up and down England like so many Wandering

Jews. But though the case obviously wants considering,

one cannot even start to consider it until one has got rid

of certain prejudices. These prejudices are rooted in the

idea that every tramp,

ipso facto, is a blackguard. In

childhood we have been taught that tramps are

blackguards, and consequently there exists in our minds a

sort of ideal or typical tramp -a repulsive, rather

dangerous creature, who would

1 I have been in it since, and it is not so bad.

die rather than work or wash, and wants nothing but to

beg, drink and rob hen-houses. This tramp-monster is

no truer to life than the sinister Chinaman of the

magazine stories, but he is very hard to get rid of. The

very word "tramp" evokes his image. And the belief in

him obscures the real questions of vagrancy.

   To take a fundamental question about vagrancy: Why do

tramps exist at all? It is a curious thing, but very few

people know what makes a tramp take to the road. And,

because of the belief in the tramp-monster, the most

fantastic reasons are suggested. It is said, for instance,

that tramps tramp to avoid work, to beg more easily, to

seek opportunities for crime, even-least probable of

reasons-because they like tramping. I have even read in a

book of criminology that the tramp is an atavism, a

throw-back to the nomadic stage of humanity. And

meanwhile the quite obvious cause of vagrancy is staring

one in the face. Of course a tramp is not a nomadic

atavism-one might as well say that a commercial traveller

is an atavism. A tramp tramps, not because he likes it,

but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left;

because there happens to be a law compelling him to do

so. A destitute man, if he is not supported by the parish,

can only get relief at the casual wards, and as each casual

ward will only admit him for one night, he is

automatically kept moving. He is a vagrant because, in

the state of the law, it is that or starve. But people have

been brought up to believe in the tramp-monster, and

so they prefer to think that there must be some more or

less villainous motive for tramping.

   As a matter of fact, very little of the tramp-monster

will survive inquiry. Take the generally accepted idea

that tramps are dangerous characters. Quite apart from

experience, one can say

a priori that very few

tramps are dangerous, because if they were dangerous they

would be treated accordingly. A casual ward will often

admit a hundred, tramps in one night, and these are

handled by a staff of at most three porters. A hundred

ruffians could not be controlled by three unarmed men.

Indeed, when one sees how tramps let themselves be

bullied by the workhouse officials, it is obvious that they

are the most docile, broken-spirited creatures imaginable.

Or take the idea that all tramps are drunkards-an idea

ridiculous on the face of it. No doubt many tramps would

drink if they got the chance, but in the nature of things

they cannot- get the chance. At this moment a pale watery

stuff called beer is sevenpence a pint in England. To be

drunk on it would cost at least half a crown, and a man

who can command half a crown at all often is not a tramp.

The idea that tramps are impudent social parasites

("sturdy beggars") is not absolutely unfounded, but it is

only true in a few per cent. of the cases. Deliberate,

cynical parasitism, such as one reads of in Jack London's

books on American tramping, is not in the English

character. The English are a conscience-ridden race, with

a strong sense of the sinfulness of poverty. One cannot

imagine the average Englishman deliberately turning

parasite, and this national character does not necessarily

change because a man is thrown out of work. Indeed, if

one remembers that a tramp is only an Englishman out of

work, forced by law to live as a vagabond, then the tramp-

monster vanishes. I am not saying, of course, that most

tramps are ideal characters; I am only saying that they are

ordinary human beings, and that if they are worse than

other people it is the result and not the cause of their way

of life.

   It follows that the "Serve them damned well right"

attitude that is normally taken towards tramps is no

fairer than it would be towards cripples or invalids. When

one has realised that, one begins to put oneself in a

tramp's place and understand what his life is like. It is an

extraordinarily futile, acutely unpleasant life. I have

described the casual ward-the routine of a tramp's day-but

there are three especial evils that need insisting upon. The

first is hunger, which is the almost general fate of tramps.

The casual ward gives them a ration which is probably not

even meant to be sufficient, and anything beyond this

must be got by begging-that is, by breaking the law: The

result is that nearly every tramp is rotted by malnutrition;

for proof of which one need only look at the men lining up

outside any casual ward. The second great evil of a

tramp's life-it seems much smaller at first sight, but it is a

good second-is that he is entirely cut off from contact with

women. This point needs elaborating.

   Tramps are cut off from women, in the first place,

because there Are very few women at their level of

society. One might imagine that among destitute people

the sexes would be as equally balanced as elsewhere. But

it is not so; in fact, one can almost say that below a certain

level society is entirely male. The following figures,

published by the L.C.C. from a night census taken on

February 13th, 1931, will show the relative numbers of

destitute men and destitute women:

Spending the night in the streets, 6o men, 18 women.'

In shelters and homes not licensed as common lodging-houses,

1,057 men, 137 women.

In the crypt of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields Church, 88 men, 12


In L.C.C. casual wards and hostels, 674 men, 15 women.

It will be seen from these figures that at the charity

1 This must be an underestimate. Still, the proportions probably

hold good.

level men outnumber women by something like ten to

one. The cause is presumably that unemployment affects

women less than men; also that any presentable woman

can, in the last resort, attach herself to some man. The

result, for a tramp, is that he is condemned to perpetual

celibacy. For of course it goes without saying that if a

tramp finds no women at his own level, those above-

even a very little above-are as far out of his reach as the

moon. The reasons are not worth discussing, but there

is no doubt that women never, or hardly ever,

condescend to men who are much poorer than

themselves. A tramp, therefore, is a celibate from the

moment when he takes to the road. He is absolutely

without hope of getting a wife, a mistress, or any kind of

woman except-very rarely, when he can raise a few

shillings-a prostitute.

   It is obvious what the results of this must be: homo-

sexuality, for instance, and occasional rape cases. But

deeper than these there is the degradation worked in man

who knows that he is not even considered fit for

marriage. The sexual impulse, not to put it any higher, is a

fundamental impulse, and starvation of it can be almost as

demoralising as physical hunger. The evil of poverty is not

so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him

physically and spiritually. And there can be no doubt that

sexual starvation contributes to this rotting process. Cut

off from the whole race of women, a tramp feels himself

degraded to the rank of a cripple or a lunatic. No

humiliation could do more damage to a man's self-


   The other great evil of a tramp's life is enforced idleness.

By our vagrancy laws things are so arranged that when he

is not walking the road he is sitting in a cell; or, in the

intervals, lying on the ground waiting for the casual ward

to open. It is obvious that this is a dismal,

demoralising way of life, especially for an uneducated


   Besides these one could enumerate scores of minor

evils-to name only one, discomfort, which is inseparable

from life on the road; it is worth remembering that the

average tramp has no clothes but what he stands up in,

wears boots that are ill-fitting, and does not sit in a chair

for months together. But the important point is that a

tramp's sufferings are entirely useless. He lives a

fantastically disagreeable life, and lives it to no purpose

whatever. One could not, in fact invent a more futile

routine than walking from prison to prison, spending

perhaps eighteen hours a day in the cell and on the road.

There must be at the least several tens of thousands of

tramps in England. Each day they expend innumerable

foot-pounds of energy-enough to plough thousands of

acres, build miles of road, put up dozens of houses-in

mere, useless walking. Each day they waste between them

possibly ten years of time in staring at cell walls. They cost

the country at least a pound a week a man, and give

nothing in return for it. They go round and round, on an

endless boring game of general post, which is of no use,

and is not even meant to be of any use to any person

whatever. The law keeps this process going, and we have

got so accustomed to it that we are not surprised. But it is

very silly.

   Granting the futility of a tramp's life, the question is

whether anything could be done to improve it. Obviously

it would be possible, for instance, to make the casual

wards a little more habitable, and this is actually being

done in some cases. During the last year some of the

casual wards have been improved-beyond recognition, if

the accounts are true-and there is talk of doing the same

to all of them. But this does not go to the heart of the

problem. The problem is how to turn

the tramp from a bored, half alive vagrant into a self-

respecting human being. A mere increase of comfort

cannot do this. Even if the casual wards became positively

luxurious (they never will)' a tramp's life would still be

wasted. He would still be a pauper, cut off from marriage

and home life, and a dead loss to the community. What is

needed is to depauperise him, and this can only be done by

finding him work-not work for the sake of working, but

work of which he can enjoy the benefit. At present, in the

great majority of casual wards, tramps do no work

whatever. At one time they were made to break stones for

their food, but this was stopped when they had broken

enough stone for years ahead and put the stone-breakers

out of work. Nowadays they are kept idle, because there is

seemingly nothing for them to do. Yet there is a fairly

obvious way of making them useful, namely this: Each

workhouse could run a small farm, or at least a kitchen

garden, and every able-bodied tramp who presented

himself could be made to do a sound day's work. The

produce of the farm or garden could be used for feeding

the tramps, and at the worst it would be better than the

filthy diet of bread and margarine and tea. Of course, the

casual wards could never be quite selfsupporting, but they

could go a long way towards it, and the rates would

probably benefit in the long run. It must be remembered

that under the present system tramps are as dead a loss to

the country as they could possibly be, for they do not only

do no work, but they live on a diet that is bound to

undermine their health; the system, therefore, loses lives

as well as money. A

1 In fairness it must be added that a few of the casual wards have been

improved recently, at least from the point of view of sleeping

accommodation. But most of them are the same as ever, and there has

been no real improvement in the food.

scheme which fed them decently, and made them produce

at least a part of their own food, would be worth trying.

   It may be objected that a farm or even a garden could

not be run with casual labour. But there is no real reason

why tramps should only stay a day at each casual ward;

they might stay a month or even a year, if there were work

for them to do. The constant circulation of tramps is

something quite artificial. At present a tramp is an

expense to the rates, and the object of each workhouse is

therefore to push him on to the next; hence the rule that he

can stay only one night. If he returns within a month he is

penalised by being confined for a week, and, as this is

much the same as being in prison, naturally he keeps

moving. But if he represented labour to the workhouse,

and the workhouse represented sound food to him, it

would be another matter. The workhouses would develop

into partially self-supporting institutions, and the tramps,

settling down here or there according as they were needed,

would cease to be tramps. They would be doing something

comparatively useful, getting decent food, and living a

settled life. By degrees, if the scheme worked well, they

might even cease to be regarded as paupers, and be able to

marry and take a respectable place in society.

   This is only a rough idea, and there are some obvious

objections to it. Nevertheless, it does suggest a way of

improving the status of tramps without piling new burdens

on the rates. And the solution must, in any case, be

something of this kind. For the question is, what to do

with men who are underfed and idle; and the answer-to

make them grow their own food - imposes itself



A WORD about the sleeping accommodation open to

a homeless person in London. At present it is impossible

to get a

bed in any non-charitable institution in London for

less than sevenpence a night. If you cannot afford

sevenpence for a bed, you must put up

with one of the following substitutes:

   I. The Embankment. Here is the account that Paddy

gave me of sleeping on the Embankment:

   "De whole t'ing wid de Embankment is gettin' to sleep

early. You got to be on your bench by eight o'clock,

because dere ain't too many benches and sometimes

dey're all taken. And you got

  to try to get to

sleep at once. 'Tis too cold to sleep much after twelve

o'clock, an' de police turns you off at four in de mornin'.

It ain't easy to sleep, dough, wid dem bloody trams flyin'

past your head all de time, an' dem sky-signs across de

river flickin' on an' off in your eyes. De cold's cruel. Dem

as sleeps dere generally wraps demselves

up in newspaper, but it don't do much good. You'd

be bloody lucky if you got t'ree hours' sleep."

   I have slept on the Embankment and found that it

corresponded to Paddy's description. It is, however,

much better than not sleeping at all, which is the alter-

native if you spend the night in the streets, elsewhere

than on the Embankment. According to the law in

London, you may sit down for the night, but the police

must move you on if they see you asleep; the Embank

ment and one or two odd corners (there is one behind

the Lyceum Theatre) are special exceptions. This law

is evidently a piece of wilful offensiveness. Its object, so it

is said, is to prevent people from dying of exposure;

but clearly if a man has no home and is going to die of

exposure, die he will, asleep or awake. In Paris there is no

such law. There, people sleep by the score under the Seine

bridges, and in doorways, and on benches in the squares,

and round the ventilating shafts of the Metro, and even

inside the Metro stations. It does no apparent harm. No

one will spend a night in the street if he can possibly help

it, and if he is going to stay out of doors he might as well

be allowed to sleep, if he can.

   2. The Twopenny Hangover. This comes a little

higher than the Embankment. At the Twopenny Hang

over, the lodgers sit in a row on a bench; there is a rope

in front of them, and they lean on this as though

leaning over a fence. A man, humorously called the valet,

cuts the rope at five in the morning. I have never

been there myself, but Bozo had been there often. I asked

him whether anyone could possibly sleep in such

an attitude, and he said that it was more comfortable

than it sounded-at any rate, better than the bare

floor. There are similar shelters in Paris, but the charge

there is only twenty-five centimes (a halfpenny) instead

of twopence.

   3. The Coffin, at fourpence a night. At the Coffin

you sleep in a wooden box, with a tarpaulin for cover

ing. It is cold, and the worst thing about it are the bugs,

which, being enclosed in a box, you cannot escape.

   Above this come the common lodging-houses, with

charges varying between sevenpence and one and a

penny a night. The best are the Rowton Houses, where

the charge is a shilling, for which you get a cubicle to

yourself, and the use of excellent bathrooms. You can

also pay half a crown for a "special," which is practi

cally hotel accommodation. The Rowton Houses are

splendid buildings, and the only objection to them

is the strict discipline, with rules against cooking, card

playing, etc. Perhaps the best advertisement for the

Rowton Houses is the fact that they are always full to

overflowing. The Bruce Houses, at one and a penny, are

also excellent.

   Next best, in point of cleanliness, are the Salvation

Army hostels, at sevenpence or eightpence. They vary (I

have been in one or two that were not very unlike common

lodging-houses), but most of them are clean, and they

have good bathrooms; you have to pay extra for a bath,

however. You can get a cubicle for a shilling. In the

eightpenny dormitories the beds are comfortable, but

there are so many of them (as a rule at least forty to a

room), and so close together, that it is impossible to get a

quiet night. The numerous restrictions stink of prison and

charity. The Salvation Army hostels would only appeal to

people who put cleanliness before anything else.

   Beyond this there are the ordinary common lodging-

houses. Whether you pay sevenpence or a shilling, they

are all stuffy and noisy, and the beds are uniformly dirty

and uncomfortable. What redeems them are their



atmosphere and the warm homelike kitchens where

one can lounge at all hours of the day or night. They are

squalid dens, but some kind of social life is possible in

them. The women's lodging-houses are said to be generally

worse than the men's, and there are very few houses with

accommodation for married couples. In fact, it is nothing

out of the common for a homeless man to sleep in one

lodging-house and his wife in another.

   At this moment at least fifteen thousand people in

London are living in common lodging-houses. For an

unattached man earning two pounds a week, or less, a

lodging-house is a great convenience. He could hardly get

a furnished room so cheaply, and the lodging-house gives

him free firing, a bathroom of sorts, and plenty

of society. As for the dirt, it is a minor evil. The really bad

fault of lodging-houses is that they are places in which

one pays to sleep, and in which sound sleep is impossible.

All one gets for one's money is a bed measuring five feet

six by two feet six, with a hard convex mattress and a

pillow like a block of wood, covered by one cotton

counterpane and two grey, stinking sheets. In winter there

are blankets, but never enough. And this bed is in a room

where there are never less than five, and sometimes fifty

or sixty beds, a yard or two apart. Of course, no one can

sleep soundly in such circumstances. The only other

places where people are herded like this are barracks and

hospitals. In the public wards of a hospital no one even

hopes to sleep well. In barracks the soldiers are crowded,

but they have good beds, and they are healthy; in a

common lodginghouse nearly all the lodgers have chronic

coughs, and a large number have bladder diseases which

make them get up at all the hours of the night. The result

is a perpetual racket, making sleep impossible. So far as

my observation goes, no one in a lodging-house sleeps

more than five hours a night-a damnable swindle when

one has paid sevenpence or more.

   Here legislation could accomplish something. At

present there is all manner of legislation by the L.C.C..

about lodging-houses, but it is not done in the interests of

the lodgers. The L.C.C. only exert themselves to forbid

drinking, gambling, fighting, etc. etc. There is no law to

say that the beds in a lodging-house must be comfortable.

This would be quite an easy thing to enforce-much easier,

for instance, than restrictions upon gambling. The

lodging-house keepers should be compelled to provide

adequate bedclothes and better mattresses, and above all

to divide their dormitories into cubicles. It does not matter

how small a cubicle is,

the important thing is that a man should be alone when

he sleeps. These few changes, strictly enforced, would

make an enormous difference. It is not impossible to make

a lodging-house reasonably comfortable at the usual rates

of payment. In the Croydon municipal lodging-house,

where the charge is only ninepence, there are cubicles,

good beds, chairs (a very rare luxury in lodging-houses),

and kitchens above ground instead of in a cellar. There is

no reason why every ninepenny lodging-house should not

come up to this standard.

   Of course, the owners of lodging-houses would be


en bloc to any improvement, for their present

business is an immensely profitable one. The average

house takes five or ten pounds a night, with no bad debts

(credit being strictly forbidden), and except for rent the

expenses are small. Any improvement would mean less

crowding, and hence less profit. Still, the excellent

municipal lodging-house at Croydon shows how well one

can be served for ninepence. A few welldirected laws could

make these conditions general. If the authorities are going

to concern themselves with lodging-houses at all, they

ought to start by making them more comfortable, not by

silly restrictions that would never be tolerated in a hotel.


AFTER we left the spike at Lower Binfield, Paddy and I

earned half a crown at weeding and sweeping in

somebody's garden, stayed the night at Cromley, and

walked back to London. I parted from Paddy a day or two

later. B. lent me a final two pounds, and, as I had only

another eight days to hold out, that was the end

of my troubles. My tame imbecile turned out worse than I

had expected, but not bad enough to make me wish myself

back in the spike or the Auberge de Jehan Cottard.

   Paddy set out for Portsmouth, where he had a friend

who might conceivably find work for him, and I have never

seen him since. A short time ago I was told that he had

been run over and killed, but perhaps my informant was

mixing him up with someone else. I had news of Bozo only

three days ago. He is in Wandsworth -fourteen days for

begging. I do not suppose prison worries him very much.

   My story ends here. It is a fairly trivial story, and I can

only hope that it has been interesting in the same way as

a travel diary is interesting. I can at least say, Here is the

world that awaits you if you are ever penniless. Some day I

want to explore -that world more thoroughly. I should like

to know people like Mario and Paddy and Bill the

moocher, not from casual encounters, but intimately; I

should like to understand what really goes on in the souls

of plongeurs and tramps and Embankment sleepers. At

present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe

of poverty.

   Still I can point to one or two things I have definitely

learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all

tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be

grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men

out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation

Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor

enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.