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passage in the story of ' Alee the Son of Bekkar '
will ever dwell in my memory : —

' And while they were amusing themselves with the
sight of these extraordinary objects, lo, ten female
slaves approached with a graceful and conceited gait,
resembling moons, dazzling the sight, and confounding
the imagination. They stood in ranks, looking like
the black-eyed damsels of Paradise ; and after them
came ten other female slaves, with lutes in their hands,
and other instruments of diversion and mirth ; and
they saluted the two guests, and played upon the lutes,
and sang verses ; and every one of them was a tempta-
tion to the servants of God.'

At its conclusion, Tilda rose, and, placing her
hand in mine, said she supposed there was some-
thing wrong with her, but she would try to be a
better girl.



John Street has struck work for the Jubilee.
It is a novelty in the circumstances, even for
such of us as never work, an altogether delight-
ful sensation for the others. For the moment,
the economic framework of things is dissolved,
and there is a suggestion of new heavens and a
new earth, by the latest, the day after to-morrow.
This sense of plodding toil as a page of personal
history turned, and turned for ever, is rare, even
as an illusion, for most of our inmates. It is the
only comfort of some deathbeds. A fortnight's
rest in the infirmary, while waiting for the uncer-
tainties of the next world, is by no means a thing
to be despised. A humble friend in John Street,
who has passed through the horrors of shipwreck,
tells me that the week's idleness on the reef lent
positive attractions even to that trying scene.
It was pleasant to sit in one of the deck cabins,
share the tobacco and the biscuit, and make sure
of a good ' mike ' on this side of a life to come
which theology has robbed of its idea of rest.

We cannot quite believe that we shall ever
return to the collar in the old way. We don't
know what is coming, and we don't want to know.
We vaguely aspire to perpetual loafing, varied


No. 5 John Street

by occasional revel. Change is hope ; the
instinct of conservation belongs to a happier

We go into committee of ways and means.
Money, no doubt, will shortly be abolished, but
meanwhile it is undoubtedly tight. We sell, and
swap, and pawn to raise the wherewithal for a
week's inaction. We are ready to believe that
all the future is our own when we see but two
days ahead.

It is the newspapers that work us up so. We
feel the eyes of the whole world upon us. Bona-
parte's soldiers had that pleasing assurance in
depth of consciousness, when under the observa-
tion of the Forty Centuries. We have it in
breadth, as from China to Peru.

The papers give us a new shock of delight
with every issue. This morning it is the list of
Jubilee Honours. The Sinclairs and Applebys
are down ; and there is Sir Marmaduke Ridler,
Bart., if you please, with a C.B. — no doubt for
services to the human race.

But we have small time for the papers to-day.
It is the Tuesday of our hopes. Our party is
afoot with the dawn — Nance and Tilda, Covey
and my humble self. We are provisioned as for
travel in the desert, and I carry the gourd. Our
first proceeding is to tramp the route on our side
of the river in search of a place. Tilda stalks
ahead, like Artemis moving through high grass
after a slain doe. Distance is no object. It is
near three miles of historic memories. It would


No. 5 John Street

be six if we might cross the bridges. We range
from Constitution Hill, by Piccadilly, St. James's
Street — where I find my slouch hat useful from
time to time — the old Palace, Pall Mall, the
Square, the Temple, and so on. It seems to
carry one back to the great celebrations of the
past, each, in its turn, a day of like promise for
poor devils, with no to-morrow. My friends are
untroubled by that consideration, for their read-
insr does not allow them to take much account of
dead hopes. But, for certain, their fathers before
them were buoyed up in the same foolish way
when William of Orange went forth in state to
start the new time, when Elizabeth rode to St.
Paul's for the Armada.

Covey gives the moral. ' If yer come to think
of it, it's only a case of "Change of proprietorship:
all liquors of the fust quality " writ up outside a
pub. Of course, the new landlord takes over the
old stuff.'

Each of my companions, naturally, finds full
provision for the feast of the eye. Tilda and
Nance are fascinated by the beauty of the hang-
ings, the rainbow range of the festoons and of the
toilettes. Covey's most stimulating impression
on the sense of colour is in the blue of the police.
He says he shouldn't have thought that there
were so many ' slops ' in the world, and he seems
to yield for a moment to the depressing con-
viction that we are too much governed. It would
be quite a mistake to think that those of our sort
in the crowd — I do not speak specially of our


No. 5 John Street

party — take a disinterested delight in the enjoy-
ment of their fellow-creatures in the best seats.
They do nothing of the sort. They envy the
cleverness of these persons, but hate their good
fortune. It is the jealousy of the Turkey carpet
on the part of those whose foothold is the dust.
We ' guy ' our betters in slangy undertones, and,
in short, make three miles of rude remarks. I,
too, see that there are distinctly two views of life
from St. James's Street. There is the view from
the bow-window, and there is the view from the
kerb. Persons I had hitherto thought blameless
look perfect plutocrats, not to say blood-suckers,
as they now affront my poverty from their
numbered seats.

This, I think, is the common feeling of the
more 'beggarly crew.' They would cheer the
happy few, if anybody led off. And, in a less
favourable conjunction of circumstances, they
would, with equal readiness, tear them to pieces.
They have the instincts of the house-dog towards
domestic game. The kitchen cat is safe as long
as it walks with no provocation, and, above all,
with no show of fear. If it broke into a run, he
would be after it in a moment with very dire

Tilda longs for a peep at St. Paul's, but the
police forbid. We therefore miss the view of
that heart of London, which, with more or less
energy, has pumped the blood through our ever-
growing body politic since the time of Christ.
Covey's scheme was to take his station at a point
Q 241

No. 5 John Street

whence he could enjoy a view of the Bank, and
chew the cud of certain statistical fancies, sweet
and bitter, culled from a Threepenny Guide. This
work, in its chapter on the Bank, excites him
with a tabulation of eighty millions of notes,
stored in thirteen thousand boxes, and of a whole
cellar full of bars of gold. * An' nothin' between
us and them but a bloomin' file o' sojers an' a
word o' command. Lord ! what foolish things
there is in life ! '

On our way back we are arrested by a shout
which seems to aspire to a particular window in
Fleet Street. We look up. The survivors of
the Balaclava Charge are being entertained, as
per advertisement. After years of cold obstruc-
tion, they get their apotheosis of a cheer. As far
as may be judged at this distance, they are of
those old men who, according to a satirical slave,
have grey beards, and whose eyes (once so fierce
in battle) purge amber and plum-tree gum. There
they sit in full view of the ravished populace, and
right in the midst of them, to our infinite wonder,
sits Holy Joe ! He, too, then was in that famous
fight ! How like him never to have said a word
about it ! Tilda waves her kerchief, Nance kisses
her hand, Low Covey chi-hikes with a cry, which
is still itself, and no other, amid all this Babel of
sounds. It arrests the old man's attention, and
he salutes us with a palsied nod. Then the stream
carries us on. We stop at last, on a principle
which led a wit of Covey's circle to indicate the
way to his residence in the terms : * Walk along


No. 5 John Street

the Goswell Road until you drop, and then ring
the bell.' When Nance can fare no further,
Tilda orders us to come to a stand.

There is really not much to wait for. We have
seen the Jubilee in seeing its line of march. The
true show is in these myriads of the happy few,
every one of them lord of a slice of the world, or
of its equivalent. Mine, and forest, and prairie
are theirs. Ships, telegraphs, commodities, seem
to radiate from them to all the points. The
great, opulent, all-compelling middle class that
holds the keys to bind and loose for this life keeps
its revel to-day. It has come as a King to show
itself to its faithful Commons on the kerbstone.
We look up, and own a master, as it looks down,
with God knows what in its mind. It is some-
thing, I think, not unpleasant, to judge by the
indulgent smile.

We play up to our star performers. All our
talk is of the cost of the pageant, as evidence of
the wealth of the land. The wider the rents in
our gaberdines, the more freely do our patriotic
bosoms swell beneath. Tilda has heard that one
of the decorated houses in Piccadilly is the pro-
perty of a * lidy ' whose fortune, as per Three-
penny Guide, would weigh, in sovereigns, over
thirteen tons. Our watery mouths water again
as we reckon that the gold pieces, ranged in a
row, would reach four-and-twenty miles. But
what is that to the cost of * this 'ere little flourish '
as a whole? 'Fifty million, if it cost a penny,'
says Low Covey, with the doctrinal certitude of


No. 5 John Street

a teacher who is just one lesson ahead of the
taught. * Put that lot en' to en', an' it would
make a thin gold line of pavement all the way
from 'ere to Sutherlan'shire in Scotland — 690
mile. Blimey ! You could never git through it
in twenty lifetimes if you give a quid for every
pot o' beer. Lay 'em one atop o' the other, an'
they 'd make a sort o' monyment seven hundred
times as 'igh as St. Paul's. O Canaan, 'appy
land ! '

I meditate the uses of this pile as a pedestal for
a golden calf, visible to all at the hour of morning

* I should like to 'ave the pilin' on 'em,' says
Covey, from where he squats on the kerb. He
seems to leap in his form at the thought of it as
a possible job for the unemployed, under the
benefit of the precept, ' Thou shalt not muzzle
the ox.'

The bystanders rise to the theme.

* Why, this night's fireworks alone, sir, is to be
wuth eighty times the Qiieen's weight in gold. I
see it in the piper. Wish I may die ! '

Mighty, mighty, mighty are some of the Out-
landers who are with us to-day. ' The Australian
Jay Gould ' once made ten thousand per cent, by
a timely supply of food in a famine. When
' Diamond Jem of Denver ' takes a walk in his
best clothes, he carries jewellery to the tune of
;^ 1 20,000!

• • • • •

Hush — the Procession ! The warning trump


No. 5 John Street

and drum are superfluous to me. I saw it coming
full sixty seconds ago by a light, as of battle, in
Tilda's eye.

It is heralded to the ear by rising and falling
waves of shouting, to the eye by heliographic
signals from helm and breastplate. See ! Kettle-
drums and trumpets of the Royal Horse Guards,
and behind them a famous general on his battle
horse. His memories run back to a day at the
Sikunderabagh, when two thousand mutineers lay
in a heap ' as high as my head ' — * a heaving,
surging mass of dead and dying, inextricably
entangled ' — to mend a rent in our wall of Empire.
Tilda seems to regard him as a second Scipio, the
height of Rome.

Now for the Colonies, sampled by their
Premiers, and by their military detachments —
hussars and dragoons, lancers and mounted rifles,
all, as Low Covey puts it, ' as white as you or me.'
Way for the yellow men ! — Chinee and other.
Way for the brown ! — Sikh and Singalese. Way
for the black ! — giants from the Gold Coast and
from the West Indies. Way for the North Borneo
boys ! — who have travelled ten thousand miles to
join us, and whose mothers were courted with
presents of human heads. What a circus is ours !

And hard on the heels of these come endless
squadrons and batteries of the conquering race,
splendid with trappings, awesome with the sleek
and silent guns. Tilda stares at these weapons
with all the curiosity of first acquaintance, and
remarks that they look as though butter wouldn't


No. 5 John Street

melt in their mouths. There is Rayner, at the
head of his squadron. He cannot abase his glance
to the humble individual in slouched felt and
threadbare wrap-rascal, who peers over Nance's
shoulder, the most uncompromising ' warmint ' in
the gang.

Of one other I am fortunately unobserved.
Right opposite my station, in permanent session,
in the most gorgeous of all possible stands, sits
Sir Marmaduke Ridler, Bart., C.B., M.R, in all
the glory of the best tailoring in town. He, and
Lady Ridler, and their distinguished son, entertain
a large party on the best floor of the house. He
has taken that floor in the Irish sense, as in the
English. In sheer magnificence, his manner is
not to be surpassed. The figure fascinates the
beholder by its air of perfect self-confidence and
self-satisfaction, of perfect adequacy to all the
purposes of the spectacle. What came ye out for
to see? Sir Marmaduke Ridler, Bart., and as
aforesaid. The rest are but his foils or his
satellites. It is his triumph. He cuts in before
the climax, and renders it superfluous. The
Ambassadors attend him. To the seeing eye,
the endless carriages, a whole Court on wheels,
the Royal Princesses, the Royal Princes from
all the ends of the earth, do but swell his state.
Nay, the very eight cream horses, with their
burden (though we forget it, in a momentary hush
of awe, as with the sense of some Real Presence),
are but adjuncts of his style, since, with their help,
he plays his conquering part.


No. 5 John Street

It has come; it has gone. In half an hour
more, they will be singing Hosannahs at the
Cathedral. The brain reels with it still. The
message which bears the news of its progress to
three hundred and fifty millions, with one touch
of an electric button, makes no mention of Sir
Marmaduke. But his dominant personality is
still implicit in that Royal and Imperial saluta-
tion to a fifth of the population of the globe. The
native runners, who are even now tearino: alonof
with it from Tropical and Antipodean receiving
offices to every hole and corner of the wondrous
system, really carry the glad tidings that Sir
Marmaduke kisses his hand to the human race.



Home, to refresh ourselves, and to wait for night
and the illuminations. Low Covey proposes a
nap, and a call sharp at eight, for the resumption
of the struggle. We all want rest, Nance especi-
ally. The poor child is in the state known among
us as ' fit to drop.' So Tilda peremptorily puts
her to bed, promising her the illuminations for
another night, and a full account of this night's
wonders on our return.

The three of us set forth at dusk to see Bagdad
by night, the Bagdad with which Tilda has
already made some acquaintance in The Arabian
Nights. There is a strange awe and wonder in
the girl's eyes, as the glories of the main
thoroughfares recall her studies in that famous
work of fiction. It is no momentary change.
For some time past, I think, Tilda has been try-
ing 'to be good,' to put off her old unregenerate
self, and to rise to higher things in behaviour.
Her language and deportment are most exemplary.

We take Piccadilly twice over, up one side,
down the other. Then it is ' Lead, kindly light,'
as far as the Bank. Earth is changed. We are
of a new race, the children of fire for whom dul-
ness forms no part of the punishment of original


No. 5 John Street

sin. They enter their dwellings by porticoes of
radiance. They drape them, even for the public
scene, with gorgeous stuffs. Sheer beauty is the
first law of these resplendent ones. Their good-
ness is but a consequence of their horror of every
kind of grime. The world has found the secret
at last, for the whole world is in it. The papers
have told us that when the clock at Greenwich
strikes half-past ten this night, there will be a
girdle of flame all round the island, from the bon-
fires on the hill-tops, and from the rockets that
hiss their challenge to the stars. Nay, the very
Empire will be outlined in light wherever else
the sun sets on it at this moment of time.
Ormuzd has come to his own, and, in spite of the
sages, hard it is to believe that Ahriman shall
ever spoil sport again. Surely the very planet
glows with unwonted intensity in its passage
through space, and its perturbations occasion
effects of the same kind in the moral order, in
astonished Mars. Such, at least, is my impres-
sion ; and I would that I could submit it for verifi-
cation to Holy Joe. But the astronomer-soldier,
as I have just seen, is still at his window in Fleet
Street, among his fellows of the glorious remnant,
bowing with the perpetual motion of a mandarin
toy, in response to the perpetual roar of recogni-
tion from below.

That mighty crowd, ever changing and ever
the same ! The tramp of it on the gravelled
roadway reminds Covey of nothing more awful
than the rhythm of the sand dance at the music


No. 5 John Street

hall. To me, it is as some vast migration of
the race — Asia marching on Europe for a
change of lodgings, and, with lagging footfall,
ruffling the desert dust. It is like the gunpowder
of the definition — in the grain, smutty and con-
temptible ; in the mass, very terrible indeed.
One trembles to think of what might happen if
it were suddenly fired with a shock of rage.
There is no danger of that just now. It sings
hymns to the Light — the Zend-Avesta, as it were,
adapted to the devotional scheme of the penny
gaffs — and the weariness of the toil of pleasure
inclines it to peace. It is no joke to have to do
Heaven in four hours. The light shines on many
a mile of haggard face and fretful baby, but on
never a breach of order or a lapse in the ecstasy
of the scene.

If the day was Sir Marmaduke's, the night is
ours. The day was for the Empire-makers, and
such was the glory of their pomp that there
seemed no time to look at anything else. We
were all there — as Covey might phrase it — but
we could not take stock of ourselves. It was the
parade of the contractors for the great job of race
extension in all the continents and in all the seas.
To-night is the bean-feast of the 'hands,' of the
myriads in collar, as of the other myriads who
wait for a billet, or for whom a billet waits in

All our sections are on the colossal scale.
There is something at once appalling and uplift-
ing in the thought that perhaps thirty thousand


No. 5 John Street

thieves are at work in the crowd, counting those
who have come over specially for the harvest
from the Continent, or from the United States,
We recosfnise some of our own cellarmen from
John Street here and there. But we 'don't take
no notice,' bearing in mind Low Covey's golden

It is early morning when we reach John Street
again, wearied as to death. In our innocence, we
have come home to sleep. Vain thought ! John
Street is a pandemonium of swinish revelry. It
is the revelry of the Jolly Beggars, with no item
of that copious bill of fare for the senses left out.
Caste distinctions are abolished — an unheard-of
thing. The wilder sort rule, and they have
evidently voted the Saturnalia in permanent
session. The milder are too demoralised by the
distracting influences of the hour for effective
resistance. They, too, vaguely hope the new
time. The drink is not so much a flowing
Thames as a rising Nile that seems to flood the
whole land. The Cock and Hen Club is in full
song ; the Baby Farm is in full cry ; the very
live stock in the yard yell or scream their sense
of the rush of events. 48's room, open for once
to all comers, is gorged with Anarchists listening
to an address from Mr. Azrael, the Solomon
Eagle of our wrath to come. His eyes are
ablaze, and with no stimulant from the outside
stronger than lemonade. The rest is all inward
fire of hate.

That gruesome address ! — the more gruesome


No. 5 John Street

in its effect for the botchy English. There is
everything in it one does not want to hear.
Azrael has seen the procession, and, of course,
seen it in his own way. For him it is but a revel
of the drones at the expense of the drudges. He
contrasts its splendours with the squalor of the
ministrant industries. He rings the chancres on
both with the facility of a practised player.
Where we have seen only the ermine, or other
decorative patches of fur, he sees only the fur-
pullers — women clothed in sacking, and working,
eating, and sleeping ' in an atmosphere thick
with impalpable hairs,' and tainted with the
stench of skins. Helm and breastplate are, for
him, but the mirrors wherein, as in the crystal
ball, he beholds darkly the horrors of the chemi-
cal industries to which they owe their sheen.
The smart bridle chains of the cavalry seem to
lead him, link by link of associated ideas, to the
wretched girl-thralls of Cradley, dancing on a
pair of bellows all day to forge these emblems of
bondage, at wages which, by their insignificance,
are almost necessarily wages of sin. Through
the paint of the carriages, as through a trans-
parency, he sees, and makes us see, other wretched
girls drawing the stoves in the white-lead works,
their faces veiled — as though they were of some
dismal harem of Greed — to keep the poison from
their blue-lined gums. The very broadcloth of
our men of worship, to his microscopic eye, seems
peopled with the ghosts of the deadly microbe of
anthrax, the wool-comber's disease. Everywhere


No. 5 John Street

he shows us a hundred men or women spoiled
and flung away that one may be made.

' Behold your lot to-day,' he says. ' The same
thing arrive to-morrow to all the captive peoples
at the tail of your car. You turn them into the
wealth-producing slaves. But what do they get
out of it ? '

* Religion, you fool,' cries a hoarse voice from
the body of the meeting — Holy Joe, the un-
expected again, out of his beat for a moment
on his way up to bed !

Azrael's mockingr laugrh is now echoed all

' The fine thing ! My compliments. But no
matter ! what do you get out of it, old man ? '

Poor Joe hangs his head for a moment, as
though the blow had struck home. But he has
not ridden in the Charge for nothing, and he
faces his Russian again.

' I had the salute of the Commander-in-Chief
this blessed day.'

' The sweater touch his hat to the sweated. Ha !
ha ! To him the peerage, to you the knocks.'

' Whose head-piece does the plannin' ? '

* Whose laife is gaged on the plan .-* Say me
that. Why shall he have the cocked hat ? No,
no, my friend, the tame elephant get no more out
of it than the wild elephant he bring into the
kraal. The doom is for all. Wherever you go,
you carry the blight of your system in your haver-
sack for both sides. How can you help it?
Your system make the paupers, as a button


No. 5 John Street

machine make the buttons. Failure is out of the
question. You devour whole continents, yet half
of you have never enough to eat. That empty
belly on which the sun never sets — that make me
gay. Australia already has a social question.
You cannot make the wealth half so quick as
your masters sweep it into their pockets. You
are going to gobble up Africa in a wink of the eye.
You settled in the Johannesburg only the other day.
There is already hundreds in Johannesburg who
cannot get the bread. It is the same everywhere
— in my country as in yours, in France as in
Germany, and in free America. There are no
nationalities ; there is only one system economic,
and that always grind out the same thing. More
land ! More land ! You have land enough
already to feed the human race. But where is it ."*
All in the strong-boxes of the Park Lane. Your
true little Englander is not the one who refuse to
join in the grab, but the one who get so little out
of it for himself. If your bon Dieu give you all
the planets for free pasture, still you manage to
leave half the people with nothing to eat. Civilisa-
tion invent the hunger and the Maxim gun. The
savage never know how to starve in the midst of
plenty, till you show him the way.

' And that is what the proletarian go out to
throw up their caps for. Shall I tell you what

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 14 of 21)