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'ole place is alive with it, branch chirpin' to
branch. I tell yer, if I didn't 'ave a bit of a
chancre o' that sort now and asfain from this 'ere
factory work, I should git quite barmy on the
crumpet.*

' Lord, 'ow I wish I was a man ! I can't 'ear
the birds nowhere but in Seven Dials.'

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No. 5 John Street

* If you want to get it to rights, you must do
like them — roost in the open air. Then one set
on 'em sings yer to sleep; an' another wakes yer
up in the mornin'. It's prime, jest when you 're
goin' off, and jest when you 're comin' to. That 's
the real sort o' feather bed ; where the feathers is
kep' on the birds' backs. Then, when you wants
yer breakfast, ketch a few larks, an' toast 'em
over a 'andful o' sticks.

' It 's a sort o' nature with me,' he murmurs, in
reverie. * I always was good at it as a child.'

' Pretty child you must ha' bin. I should like
to ha' seen yer. Oh my ! '

' Well, I warn't so pretty as you, I dessay.
But that wuz no fault o' mine.'

* You was pretty enough, p'raps,' says the girl,
in a softened tone.

* Oh, go on jumpin' on me,' returns Low Covey,
sensible of his advantage. ' I 'm only a worm.'

* Git out, yer silly swine,' is the maiden's reply.

• • • <

The wretched yard respects nothing, not even
this idyll —

The Tailor. 'You remind me of what Mr.
Ruskin calls '

'48. 'Who's Mr. Rusking?'

The Tailor. ' Oh, you don't know ! You
shouldn't argue if you ain't up to things like
that.'

'48. ' Well, let 's see how much you know.
When was he born ? '

The Tailor. ' What 's that got to do with it ? '

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No. 5 John Street

'48. ' Never mind. I want to find out how
much you know about him.'

Voices. * He 's got 'im there. Stick to 'im,
old Eight-and-Forty.'

'48's subtleties of dialectic are evidently much
relished at the ring side. He is considered as
' artful as they make em,' as indeed he is. He
has the habit of gutter discussion, and he knows
how to ride off in a difficulty, with a demand for
proof on non-essential points.

• » • •

The idyll continued —

Tilda. * Was you knocked about much when
you was a young 'un ? '

Covey. * Pretty tidy, only I alwiz stepped it
when it got too 'ot.'

Tilda. * Which on 'em did it for yer — father
or mother ? '

Covey. ' Never 'ad no father to speak of.
Kind o' bachelor's biby, you know.'

Tilda. ' 'Ow did yer get yer livin' } '

Covey. * I dunno. 'Ere I am.'

Tilda. 'Come, now. Covey, that won't do.*

Covey. * Well, openin' cab doors, London
season. " Box o' lights, sir," other times.
Tried your line once, but couldn't get nobody
to buy. Boys is no good sellin' nosegays — ain't
got no back 'air. I was workin' up quite a little
newspaper business arter that, but lost a shillin'
through a 'ole in my pockit, and couldn't go to
markit for the stock. I tell yer, I was down on
my back seam then.'

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No. 5 John Street

Pore little kid ! '

. • •

From the Yard —

The Tailor. ' There 's grammar ! " You don't
know nothin'." There's Linley Murray for you !
Oh my ! '

'48. 'You're a pretty objeck to talk about
grammar to your fellow-working-man.'

If the Yard has interrupted us, we, I suppose,
to be fair, have sometimes interrupted the Yard.
We have painful evidence of it, indeed, a moment
later. A fragmentary remark of Tilda to Nance,
' I think I '11 'ave my feather done pink, to go
with my noo frock,' has, it seems, reached the
tailor, and has, perhaps, served him as an excuse
for his manifestly impending discomfiture in the
debate. At any rate, it provokes an extremely
ill-advised outburst on his part.

' I want a little more peace and quietness,' he
cries with asperity. ' I can't argue among a lot
of chatterin' women in a back room.'

I know not how, but, in the greatest tumult
of sound, we generally contrive to hear the one
thing that concerns ourselves. Thus, at sunrise,
on the Australian plains, each wandering lamb
instantly begins to thread its way home to break-
fast, through a whole square mile of fleeces, in
answer to its mother's bleat. The tailor's ill-
natured remark is evidently meant for our hostess,
and it goes straight to her ear. It provokes a
fearful reprisal.

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No. 5 John Street

' Shut up, you two bloomin' old idjuts,' cries
her wrathful voice from the window, ' an' get up
and fight it out like men. You 're a pretty pair
to talk about women's chatter, you are. Why,
nobody can't 'ear theirselves speak when you
begin.'

' There 's grammar,' exclaims the tailor again,
this time in a murmur.

* Grammar, you old goshawk,* cries the girl,
throwing a bunch of withered flowers at him
in high disdain. 'What price grammar? It
don't seem to teach people to keep a civil tongue
in their 'ead.'

'It's the two negatives,' says the tailor, as he
bobs to avoid the missile, ' that 's all. But them 's
things you can't understand.'

'Understand yourself! I can tumble to you
anyhow, an' I know how many of you goes to
make a man. That 's enouQ-h for me.'

' Never mind 'im, dear,' pleads Nance sooth-
ingly. * Leave 'im alone. You can stoop to pick
up dirt any day. Come and see my button boots.'

Mammy lifts up her plaintive voice for peace,
and the window-panes are soon interposed
between room and yard.

• • • •

It is thus my happiness to have seen
the Amazon a second time on her path of war.
The devil is in her defiant port — the devil of
scorn, passion, and self-will. It is a devil of the
back streets, and its manner and expressions are
not so choice as those of the sorrowing head of

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No. 5 John Street

the firm who is in personal attendance on May-
fair. She helps one to understand literature,
sacred and profane. The earlier women of spirit
were furies of this sort, I feel sure. She is
Boadicea, skipping centuries of time — Boadicea,
strong of her hands, and usually not a bit too
clean of them, splendid in reasonless passion,
decidedly foul-mouthed -r— no 'British warrior
queen ' of nursery recitation, but a right-down
' raughty gal,' leading her alley to battle against
the Roman ' slops.' With a trifling difference in
costume, but none in spirit, she is Hera, the
furious and proud, who is but travestied in the
airs of a modern fine lady, put upon her by
South Kensington aesthetes. The ferocity of
these types of womanhood is the secret of their
enduring charm. Painted, varnished, framed
and glazed, as we have them in our day, they
are no more the real article than a hero of
Angelica Kaufimann, wrought as in Berlin wool-
work, is a hero of the fields of Troy. Tilda is a
glorious survival of a time when woman struck
for rights with her fist, long before she thought of
cadging for them by witchery and wiles. These
came later, when the rebel found herself van-
quished in the open by a heavier hand. Dames
Minithoea and Tomyris, the sainted Joan herself,
would have felt very much at home at No. 5
and in a real sisterhood of elemental passions and
untameable pride. If Tilda bore arms of her-
aldry, * 'Tis my pleasure ' might be her device.
If she took vestal's vows, it would be less by

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No. 5 John Street

morality than by disdain, and horror of a
conqueror.

Noble savages — Arthur and his Queen and the
whole Table, till they were washed and dressed
by the arch-tireman of a century of proprieties to
make a pageant for a virtuous court. A noble
savage still the sole inheritor of the tradition,
this coster gal ! And a nice young lady for a
small tea-party at all times.



96



X



I HAVE got the sack.

It was given to me this Saturday afternoon, at
the pay-table, without a superfluous word, when
I went to take my money for the week. The
pressure was over ; they were discharging extra
hands ; they would want me no more. They did
not say they were sorry ; they did not say they
were glad. They said just nothing at all on the
sentimental side of the question, which was the
all in all to me. As a mere unconsidered trifle
of cause and effect in the reign of law, it was
managed in a way that might have moved the
envy of Providence itself.

For me it is embarrassing beyond measure as
threatening a premature end of my little chronicle
of works and days. I have less than a pound
in hand after settling my small accounts, and on
this I have to live for the full fortnight that has
yet to run to bring my probation to a close. Six
weeks we said at the outset ; six weeks it shall
be. But how about bread and butter, if no job
turns up in the meantime ?

I own I am considerably down on my luck
when I get home, and begin to realise what it
is to be suddenly thrust into the ranks of the
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No. 5 John Street

unemployed. Their condition, I can imagine, is
not half so funny as it is made to appear in the
comic papers, though one ought not to mind
that. What I had reckoned on was steady work
at steady wages — living on the eighteen bob a
week if you like, but being able to earn it too.
Here I am, all adrift as to the earning, and
under dread of the milkman's frown. There are
moments when I feel as fierce a forerunner of
Socialism as an old Jehovist prophet. It is all
very well to say it will be over in a fortnight ; the
fortnight has to be lived. I am struck more and
more with the consideration how little the sure
and certain hope of Paradise tends to alleviate
the pain of a tight shoe.

I am sitting in a state of deep despondency,
when a whistle at the door announces a visit from
Low Covey. I whistle a reply — it is our estab-
lished form — and he comes in, cheerful as ever
and begs a light for his pipe.

* Did you get the shove to-day .-* ' he asks.
' The what ?'

' The sack?'

* Yes.'

' I got it too, and I fancied, like, it might be
goin' round for the new 'uns.'

' What are we to do ? What are you to do ?'
It was the mere politeness of altruism, but I was
able to summon just enough of it for the occasion.

' Wait till somethin' turns up, I s'pose.'

* Oh, but that won't do at any price, my good
friend. You must make something turn up. How

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No. 5 John Street

are you going to live ? Don't you think now you
might try to be a policeman ? '

' A slop ! ' said Low Covey, in deep disgust ;
* not me.'

' Well, let 's see — a messenger at a club, how
would that do ? I have some little interest, per-
haps, and might speak for you.'

'You are a green 'un, and no mistake,' waa
Low Covey's reply.

' Yes, I see ; the reading and writing perhaps.
I forgot. There's a good deal of steady work
at knife-cleaning, I believe ; boots too, and that
sort of thing. Let me speak to somebody. I
think I could manage something for you ; I am
sure I could. You shan't be left like this. Do
you know anything about horses?'

' Donkeys, any amount,' he said — at first I
feared with a personal reference, but I did him
wrong. * I 've made a good bit that way at the
'Eath in my time, but it ain't no go now. All in
the 'ands of the gipsies, and you've got to fight
the lot for the charnce of a crust.'

' Wheeling a bath chair ; have you ever thought
of that?'

' My langwidge wouldn't do for it,' he said
modestly ; * it reely would not. Besides, there 's
other drawbacks for things of that sort.

* The fact is,' he added, in a burst of candour,
• I ain't eot no charikter — that's about the size
of it. Never could keep a job long enough to
earn one. Nearly managed it once — six months
as potman and chucker-out at the " Feathers."

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No. 5 John Street

And then lost the berth, 'cos I wouldn't set to
work on a pal as wanted to fight the landlord.
Chucked us both out at the same time, and a
jolly day we had of it. Never enjoyed anything
so much in my life. He 'd bin in the militia too,
and I wasn't goin' to round on 'im. No, no, you
keep your charnces for yourself. You '11 want
'em afore you've done. Don't you fidget about
me ; I 'm all right.

' But that warn't what I come to s'y. There 's
a little bit of a kick-up to-night with a few of us
— sort of sing-song. Thought you might like to
come — pleasure of your company ; that kind o'
thing, you know.'

' Delighted. Where, and when?'

* In the 'All downstairs, any time yer like, soon
as it gits dark.'

With this he takes his leave, or, of course, as
he prefers to put it, his hook.

The Hall is that mysterious room in the yard
in which we saw the congregation at prayer. It
has been run up at the expense of what was once
the garden, and it is let for meetings, and for
other public uses in relation to the life of the
main building. It serves innumerable ends. You
may hire it from day to day, and more especially
from night to night, and you may make any
reasonable tumult you like there, down to twelve,
when, as a rule, not without exception, the gas is
turned down. There is nothing, I understand,
to break but a few forms. The deal table has
survived a hundred fights.

lOO



No. 5 John Street

The landlord maintains the fiction of not letting
it to the public. He merely lends it to his ten-
ants, on a slight payment for wear and tear. He
is entirely impartial as to its uses within the law,
or rather, let us say, within the risks of detection.
I first beheld it as a conventicle. When next
I became aware of it, it was the scene of an
Anarchist meeting. I saw the poor wretches
trail their dripping banners into its recesses,
after a three hours' drizzle in Hyde Park.
On the following night it witnessed a boxing
competition, which, I am credibly informed,
was really a prize fight. The other day they
held a wake there ; and hellish was the tumult of
wailing and warfare as it rose to the reproachful
sky.

It is a Feather Club on Sundays, from eight to
nine, before the service of the Peculiar People,
who have a little settlement at No. 5. A Feather
Club is an institution for supplying our younger
womankind with the one thing needful in the
shape of ostrich plumes for their hats. The
plumes are dear, and it is impossible to pay ready
money for them without having recourse to the
principle of association. So the members of the
club subscribe a shilling a week, and take their
turn by lot to secure a feather, which is pur-
chased with the proceeds. In this way every one
is adorned in course of time, and on a system
of instalments which is within all but the most
modest means. The meeting is usually a brief
one. The secretary, who is also the agent of

lOI



No. 5 John Street

the dealer, keeps the accounts, and presently the
fortunate purchaser of the day emerges from
the 'All to shame the sun with a crimson or a
purple plume. The back windows await her,
and cry congratulations, derisive or sincere, from
their topmost heights.

It is a Cock-and-Hen Club on the n'lgrht of
our visit. This is a convivial institution, and,
as its name implies, both sexes are eligible for
membership. They meet to sing, and, of course,
to drink — a lady 'obliging,' and then a gentle-
man, by turns. Some of the songs are merely
comic or sentimental ; others, as Covey observes,
would make your hair curl ; and there I leave that
piece of information for what it is worth to the
wise. Toasts and sentiments vary the entertain-
ment. These are given with much solemnity, in
response to calls from the Chair, and they are
expected to be of an epigrammatic turn. ' May
the wing of friendship never moult a feather,' is
a favourite one, though, strictly speaking, by its
very triteness, it is considered the resource of a
feeble mind. The postulant for honours is ex-
pected to study the literature of the subject. It
is within his reach, in the form of a collection of
'The Best Toasts and Sentiments of Ancient and
Modern Times,' published at the low price of
one penny. I have a copy in my possession.
As I should judge, some of the sentiments have
the same hair-curling property as the songs of
which we have just heard. From what I have
learned to-night, No. 5 John Street usually means

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No. 5 John Street

business, when it meets in Committee of the whole
House of the sexes combined.

Covey takes cordial leave of me as we reach
our landing. 'Off on tramp to-morrer, fust thing.
See yer agin some day. Keep your pecker up.
Lord, what a livin' you might make pickin up
people ! Wish I 'd got your education. Ta-ta ! '

For the first time since I came to John Street
I feel quite alone.



103



XI



It is a wretched next morning. How live for
the remaining fortnight without a berth ?

The budget in the first place.

After paying all bills, I have just 17s. 6jd. in
hand. In all this time I haven't saved a copper.
Deduct 6s. for next fortnight's rent (the terms
are — pay, or turn out), and the balance, us. 6jd.,
must serve for everything — washing, food, odds
and ends, household and personal, * the fun of the
fair.'

The old budget is hopeless in this situation.
The rent, of course, stands : for the rest, the
pruning-knife. Cut down washing and service,
to which Low Covey has ever objected as money
thrown away ; cut out the appropriation for
pleasure ; make a smaller sum serve to cover the
whole fortnight, for all incidentals, and we have
9s. ojd. left. Sevenpence a day for food makes
8s. 2d. for the fortnight, and leaves lojd. to carry
over to reserve fund, or three farthings a day for
the unknown. An illness must come out of the
three farthings, a luxury must come out of it — or
if not, out of the seven penn'orth of food. It is
clear, at any rate, and that is one thing gained.
So I tie my money up in a sock, and begin.

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No. 5 John Street

I find that sugarless cocoa, dry brown bread,
and water from the brook — freely construed as
tank, or as drinking fountain — will make the famine
ration for my need. With these at hand, I cannot
starve. The water will cost nothing. The bread,
a fresh crisp loaf, decidedly appetising to look at,
can be bought for twopence-halfpenny. The cocoa
is but a fraction in farthings. Say threepence for
the whole thing. With these as charms in the
cupboard, the wolf can hardly force the door. A
hunk of bread in the pocket will serve for other
meals, and the fourpence left will buy a relish to
help it down. Fried fish and potatoes can be
had for twopence, and this, with the bread, should
make a dinner for a banished lord. Do without
potatoes, and we add a penny to the reserve.

There is nothing like knowing exactly what
you ought to do. It gives such a delightful sense
of recreation in the breach of the rule.

So I lay in the bread and cocoa, and put a
shilling in my pocket from the sock. Then, with
a deep resolve to return the squalid balance
at night to the fund, I sally forth to look for a
berth.

To look for a berth ! O celestial powers !
Nobody wants me on this wide earth ! Abso-
lutely nothing that is in demand in the labour
market can I supply. My poor old University
gleanings in the field of the literatures, living and
dead, are not a commodity. None will bid for
my little airs and graces in somewhat broken
German, and non-idiomatic French, My really

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No. 5 John Street

curious reading in cabalistic literature has not
the value of one of my loaves of bread. For an
outsider, though I say it, I have a fair knowledge
of the Greek coins of Asia Minor. My cabinet
of the same has been examined with an interest,
perhaps not altogether free from condescension,
by experts from the British Museum. But my
lore of that kind is not exchangeable into British
coins in any market to which I have access. My
very reading, writing, and arithmetic are not up
to the current demand. I answer advertisements
— I cannot afford to insert them — I drop in casu-
ally at offices and shops, and ask if they want a
clerk. I am stared out, laughed out, or turned
out. Few take me seriously enough to put a
single question. One good Samaritan goes so
far as to ask if I understand the typewriter.
Amid the general indifference, his notice is an act
of charity. A truly benevolent manager of a
bank advises me to learn shorthand, and book-
keeping by double entry — not, however, he is
careful to add, with a view to any opening in his
own congested establishment. Another good
man, and the last of them — all honour to his
name — struck, I would fain believe, by something
in my air and manner, offers me a letter to the
secretary of an omnibus company. It is to back
an application for a conductor's place.

Six days pass in this way, and at the end of
them I have an awful shock. I have spent
exactly six shillings when I should have spent
but as many sevenpences, and I am all the

1 06



No. 5 John Street

difference to the bad. The daily shilling taken
from the sock, and the nightly resolution to put
the chanofe back next time, have done the busi-
ness. I have gormandised — there is no other
word for it. One cannot think of two things at
once. In trying to earn, I have forgotten to
save.

What right had I to a dinner of steak pudding at
fourpence and of two vegetables, a whole half-pint
of beer, and a slice of jam-roll for the wind-up ?
Eightpence for one tuck-out ! It was the tempo-
rary insanity of extravagance. The cup of tea at
a later stage of the meal was madness itself.
What right had I to a whole baked sheep's-heart
at another never-to-be-forgotten revel ? Three-
pence for the heart, with ' tuppence ' more for the
boiled potatoes and the slab of greens, made five-
pence, and a crime. In truth, the devil of Devil-
may-care had entered into me with every false
hope of getting work ; and I feasted triumph in
advance. When my Samaritan gave me the
letter to the 'bus company, I at once fell upon
roast pork, baked plum-pudding, and a foaming
half-pint, to an extent which made me the poorer
by the better part of a shilling. Triple fool ! An
onion or an apple would have been flavour enough
for the dry bread. But I must needs offer the
bread to a beggar, in the belief that I had done
with it for ever. The beggar on this occasion
scorned even the pretence of living on it ; he had
not the good manners to wait until I was out of
sight, before he threw it away.

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No. 5 John Street

It is the last folly of the kind. The loaf, the
disgusting cocoa, and the water have now to
serve. Yet when the bread positively mutinies
on its way down, and I am in danger of starving
in the midst of this plenty of farinaceous dust, I
commit other imprudences by giving it a lift with
three penn'orth of leg-of-beef soup, or a morsel of
fried fish.

The worst hardship of this fare is the style in
which it is served. Those eating-houses ! Shall
I ever forget them to my dying day ? The dirt
of them ! The cut of the customers — rough
customers and no mistake — who fight for knives
and forks at the counter, and toss their leavings
in the sawdust of the floor ! The unholy boys
of the tribe never waste anything in this way.
Whenever they reject a morsel, they throw it at
a neighbour in sport. Their vernacular is sheer
slang. At the words ' doorstep and sea rover,'
the man at the bar produces a slice of bread and
a herring. ' Bag o' mystery ' is the recognised
equivalent for saveloy. At length I snatch my
scrap and run, to find the elements of decency in
the open street. Penury's worst hardship is the
style in which its diet is served.

Yet while I loathe it, I grow used to it.
Little by little I lose the saving sense of nausea,
and at last, for two pins, I could hurl my bit of
broken with the best of them.

But one thing holds me back— the certainty that
next Saturday midnight will see the end of it. At
that blessed hour I am due at my dear old rooms

1 08



No. 5 John Street

in Piccadilly. I am pledged to it by a paragraph
in the Morning Post announcing my speedy
return to town. I have foregone a slice of pudding
to buy a copy of the paper ; and whenever my
spirits sink too low, I draw the well-thumbed
sheet from my pocket, and read my charter of
hope. Stubbs has arranged it all. I am sup-
posed to be rattling across Europe on my way
home from the Caspian. He has his orders.
I expect to find everything ready for me, but
nobody sitting up. I am to turn my latch-key
and walk in to the old life.

Thus my whole probation is still unreal, and I
make the humblest excuses for it. A few days will
see the triumphant end, and then, with the man in
the play, 'away to life and happiness.' Still, it
has certain uses in suggestion. It is some slight
approach to a statement in consciousness of the
problem of the poor devil. I hunger ; or I am,
at least, ill fed ; and, to feed better, I must find
work. It is only an experience of the labora-
tory, I know ; but it yields interesting results.


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