The Chequers - Being the Natural History of a Public-House, Set Forth in - a Loafer's Diary
by James Runciman
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Natural History of a Public-house,









GENTLEMEN,—This record of ruined lives is inscribed to you, for it is mainly owing to you that I have gained such gruesome experience. From the day when, as a boy of seventeen, I formed my connection with your honourable house, I have owed my professional success to your culture, your generosity, and your admirable relations with the police force. My Sovereign and many other people have been pleased to approve my strange labours; but my chief distinction in life arises from my being your relative. With feelings which I cannot describe,

I remain,

Your obliged and grateful,






It is risky to go home with some of the company from the Chequers, for good-fellowship is by no means fostered in the atmosphere of a public-house. The creatures who write about the cheerful glass, and the jovial evening, and the drink that mellows the heart, know nothing of the sad work that goes on in a boozing-place, while the persons who draw wild pictures of impossible horrors are worse than the hired men who write in publican's papers. It is the plain truth that is wanted, and one year of life in a public-house teaches a man more than all the strained lectures and colourless statistics. I am going to give a series of pictures that will set forth every phase of public-house life. It is useless to step casually into a bar, and then turn out a flashy article. If you want to know how Drink really acts on the inner life of this nation you must actually live among the forlorn folk who drink Circe's draught, and you must live as their equal, their friend, their confidant. I am a Loafer, and not one of the gang at The Chequers would ever dream of regarding me as anything but an equal. My friend Donkey Perkins, the fighting man, curses me with perfect affability and I am on easy terms with about one hundred costermongers. If a "gentleman" went among them he could learn nothing. Observe the hush that falls on the babble of a tap-room if any well-dressed person goes in; listen to the hum of warning, and then notice the laboured hypocrisy of the talk that goes on so long as the stranger is there. I have seen that odd change scores of times, and I know that nothing can be more curious than the contrast between the scrappy, harmless chat that goes on while the representative of respectability is there, and the stupid, frank brutalities which the advent of the visitor silenced.

At nights I go home with one after another of my set, and at merry seasons we stay together till early morning. They throw off all disguise before me, and even the thieves are not afraid. When once you are on level terms with the community you begin to see what is the true result of drink. The clergyman, the district visitor, the professional slummer—all the people who "patronise"—never learn the truth, and they positively invite the wastrel classes to lie.

Some time ago I read some "revelations" which made a great stir in the country. The writer was accused of publishing obscenities, but what struck me most in his work was its absolute display of ignorance. The poor, innocent man had listened to stories which were told in the dialect that is used to impress outsiders, and I laughed as I seemed to hear the very tones of some shady gentry of my own acquaintance. The unhappy vendor of revelations went among his subjects of study for six weeks, and then set up as an authority. Of course, the acute, sleazy dogs whom he questioned kept back everything that was essential, and filled their victim's mind with concoctions which amused professional blackguards for a month. Could that literary adventurer only have heard the criticism which daily met my ear, he would have found that many eager souls were longing for a chance to plunder such an obvious "mug." Another writer, whose works appear in a morning journal, professes to make flying visits to various queer places, and his articles are published as facts; but I had the chance of testing the truth of two tales which dealt with official business, and I found that these two were false from end to end. Not only were they false, but they illustrate nothing, for the writer did not know the conditions of the life which he pretended to describe, and his fiction misled many thousands. Experience, then—sordid, miserable, long experience—is needed before anyone can speak the truth concerning the life of what Carlyle called "the scoundrel classes." The same experience only can teach you anything about the poor. The scoundrels do not actually confide in anybody, and I never yet knew one of them who would not turn on a confederate; but they exhibit themselves freely before people to whom they have become used. It unfortunately happens that the scoundrels and the dissolute poor are much thrown together. A man may be a hopeless drunkard without being a rascal, but the rascals and the boozers are generally taken in the lump by persons of a descriptive turn of mind. That is faulty natural history. The chances are always ten to one in favour of the boozer's becoming a criminal; but we must distinguish between those who have taken the last bad step and those who are merely qualifying. And now for our history.


The bar was very much crowded last night, and the air was impregnated to choking point with smoke and evil exhalations. The noisy times on Saturdays come at 2 p.m., and from ten till closing time. In the afternoon a few labourers fuddle themselves before they go home to dinner, and there is a good deal of slavering incoherence to be heard. From seven to eight in the evening the men drop in, and a vague murmur begins; the murmur grows louder and more confused as time passes, and by ten o'clock our company are in full cry, and all the pipes are in full blast. When I stole quietly in, I thought the scene was hideous enough in its dull way. The gas flared with drowsy refulgence through the reek, and the low masks of the roaring crew somehow left on me an impression that I was gazing on one bestial, distorted face. A man who is a racecourse thief and "ramper" hailed me affably. A beast of prey he is, if ever there was one. His hatchet face with its piggish eyes, his thin, cruel lips, his square jaw, are all murderous, and, indeed, I cannot help thinking that he will commit a murder some day. When he is in his affable mood he is very loathsome, but I cannot afford to loathe anyone, and we smile and smile, though we dislike each other, and though the Ramper hardly knows what to make of me. When I first made his acquaintance we were on our way to a race meeting, and he proposed to give me his company. Like all of his class, he knew many "certainties," and he offered, with engaging frankness, to put me in the way of "gittin' a bit." The racing blackguard never talks of money; indeed, his obliquity of mind prevents him from calling anything by its right name. For him the world is divided between those who "have got it"—it being money—and those who mean to "get a bit" by any means, fair or foul. On that day, long ago, this creature fancied that I had some money, and he was determined, to rob me somehow. I let him imagine that he was leading me on, for there is no luxury that I enjoy more than watching a low, cunning rogue when he thinks he is arranging a successful swindle. I was introduced to a thoroughly safe man. The safe man's face was almost as villanous as that of my mentor, and his manners were, perhaps, a little more offensive. Our first bet closed all transactions between us; as I fully expected, I obtained a ridiculously liberal price, and I won. On my proposing a settlement, the capitalist glared virtuously and yelled with passion—which was also what I expected. Then came my mentor, and softly remarked, "Don't go and queer his pitch. Here's a lot on 'em a-comin', and they'll be all over you if you say a word. Wait till he gits a bit and he'll pay." This was also what I expected. We happened to be in an enclosed ground, so I managed to keep my eye on the capitalist, and the unhappy being vainly strove to dodge away. Catching him in the act of sneaking through the turnstile, I touched him gently, and then beckoned to a policeman. No welsher can hope for admission to one of the enclosed courses after he is once fairly caught, and my victim whimpered, "Come in yere and 'ave a drink." Then he said, "Look yere, I ain't got a bloomin' 'alf dollar but what I 'ad off o' you. I walked down this mornin', and hadn't only the gate-money, and your pal laid me on to you. Say nothin' this time. I ain't had no grub to-day. Give us a chance. 'Twas your pal as put me on, mind. Brandy cold, if you don't mind."

The ineffable impudence of the capitalist's request made it hard for me to keep from laughing; I let him go, and I fear that he and the Ramper made further attempts on the idiots who throng the Silver Ring.

That same evening Mr. Ramper made his last effort to practise on me. We were straddling among a sporting group in The Chequers bar, when he said, "Better settle over Dexter." "Dexter? What about Dexter?" "Didn't you take Dexter agin' Folly?" "Not such a mug." Then the hound raised his voice in the fashion of his tribe. "You goin' to welsh me, are you? You don't mean to pay that ten bob? I'll 'ave it out of your bloomin' liver!" All this was uttered in a yell which was intended to draw attention, and the creak of the brute's voice made me inclined to dash my fist in his vile face. But I only grinned and said "What a poor liar you are."

The more the Ramper screeched, the more I laughed; he durst not strike, and at last, when I reminded him that he had already divided a little plunder with the capitalist, he grumbled a curse or two and lapsed into affability. You cannot shame one of these beings, and the Ramper is now on the most confidential terms with me. I am very glad we did not fight, because he introduced me to one of the most interesting and estimable of all my acquaintances. Said the Ramper, blowing his sickly breath into my very ear, "There's a bloke yere as knows suthin' good for Lincoln. Up in the corner there. Let's sit down." Within a minute I found myself talking to a queer, battered man, who bent moodily over his glass of gin and stole furtive glances at me with bleared, sullen eyes. His blood was charged with bile, and he could not prevent the sudden muscular twitchings of his hands. His knuckles were swollen, and his fingers were twisted slightly. Evidently he was diseased to the very bone through alcoholic excesses. He was dressed in a shiny overcoat, and his bony shanks threatened to pierce his trousers. When he pushed back his rakish greasy hat, he showed a remarkably fine forehead—well filled, strong, square—but he had the weakest and most sensual mouth I ever saw. There was scarcely a sign of a lower jaw, and the chin retreated sharply from the lip to the emaciated neck.

My man spoke with a deep voice that contrasted oddly with his air of debility, and I noticed that he not only had a good accent, but his words were uttered with a deliberate attempt at formal and polished elocution. We talked of horse-racing, and he mouthed out one speech after another with a balanced kind of see-saw, which again and again ran into blank verse. I said, "You have something good for Lincoln, I hear. Any chance of being on?" He replied, "I heed no fairy tales or boasting yarns. When a man says he has a certainty, I tell him to his face that he's a liar. The ways of chance are far beyond our ken, and I can but say that I try. Information I have. From Newmarket I receive daily messages, and I have as much chance of being right as other men have; but you know what the Bard says. Ah! what a student of human nature that man was! What an intellect! In apprehension how like a god! You know what he says of prophecy and chance? I only fire a bolt at a venture, and if my venture don't come off, then I say, 'Pay up and look pleasant.'"

The majestic roll of his speech was very funny, and he poured forth his resonant periods as though I had been standing at a distance of twenty yards. As the gin stirred his sluggish blood he became more and more declamatory, and when at last he fairly yelled, "I am a gambler. I could not brook life if I had no excitement. It is my very blood. Yet, think not my words are false as dicers' oaths," and waved his right hand with a lordly gesture, I thought, "An old actor, for certain." So long as his senses remained he talked shrewdly about betting, and his remarks were free from the mingled superstition and rascality which make ordinary racing talk so odious; but when he began to drink rapidly he soon became violent, and finished by carrying on like a madman. He shouted passages from "Hamlet" and "Coriolanus" with ear-splitting fervour, and at last he drew a universal protest from the rest of our crew, who are certainly not sensitive. Then his yell grew maudlin. "Why did God make me thus? Why do I grunt and sweat under the burden of a weary life? Give me, ah, give me the days that are gone!" Then he fell alongside of the bench, and presently his long, gurgling snore sounded fitfully. "Let him sweat there till closing time; he'll be quiet enough," said Mr. Landlord; and sure enough the orator lay until the hour had struck. He shivered when he rose, and his knees were like to fail him. "Heavens! what a mouth I've got!" he moaned, and I could see that the deadly, bitter fur had already covered his palate. "Take a flask home, Billy, and pull yourself together when you turn in." Billy grabbed fiercely at the air. "These infernal flies have started early." The specks were dancing before his eyes, and I fancy he had an ugly night before him; but I didn't see him home.

THURSDAY.—I have found out a good deal about my stagy friend, and we are quite confidential, especially late at night. He weeps plenteously and recalls his own sins, but I think he is fairly truthful. A moving, sordid history is his. Moralising is waste of time, but one might almost moralise to the extent of boredom concerning the life of Billy Devine, boozer, actor, betting-man.

Devine's peculiarly grandiose mode of telling his story was rather effective at first hearing, but it would read like a burlesque, so I translate his narrative into my own dialect. He was a quick, clever lad, and the culture bestowed in a genteel academy was too narrow for him. He read a great deal of romance, and still more poetry. He neglected his school lessons, and he was dismissed after a few years as an incurable scamp.

No sort of steady work suited Devine; his fatal lack of will was supplemented by an eager vanity, and he was only happy when he was attracting notice. Now that he is matured, he is gratified if he can make drunken costermongers stare, so he must have been a very forward creature when his conceit was in full blossom. He began by spouting little recitations, and gradually practised until he could take his part in amateur stage performances. As he put it, "I found that the majesty of Coriolanus and the humour of Paul Pry were alike within my compass, and I impartially included both these celebrated parts in my repertoire." Nothing ever diverts a stage-struck youth from his fell purpose unless he is absolutely pelted off the boards. Devine loathed his office; he hated the sight of a business letter, and he finally appeared in a wretched provincial booth, where he earned seven shillings per week in good times: the restraints of respectability were to hamper him no more. Through all his miserable wanderings I tracked him, for he kept playbills, and each bill suggested some quaint or sordid memory. I felt something like a lump in my throat when he said, "Now, dear friend, at this place I played once the 'The Stranger' and 'The Idiot Witness,' and for two days my comrade and I had nothing to eat. On one eventful night we saw some refuse fish being wheeled off in a barrow, and we begged leave to abstract a fish, which was—I say it without fear of contradiction—the knobbiest and scaliest member of the finny tribe. Sir, we tried to skin this animal and failed. Then we scraped him, and the moving question arose, What about fire? Luckily the landlady had left a lamp on the stairs. My inventive faculties were bestirred. The LAMP! No sooner said than the fish was placed on the fire-shovel, and we then took turns to move the shovel backwards and forwards over the lamp. Regardless of that woman's loud inquiries about the smell, which was in truth, sir, very overpowering, we pursued our joint labours until two in the morning, and then the brute was only half raw. One penknife was our sole cutlery; but we managed to cut through the skin, and we devoured the oily stuff like famished hounds, sir. We were ashamed; but, as the poet truly observes, 'Necessity knows no law,' and we endured the scurrilous language of the woman when, on the morrow, she found the bottom of the shovel encrusted with dirt and the top thickly coated with grease. That fish saved us, sir."

Little by little Devine worked his way towards London, and at length he appeared in a West-end theatre. His reminiscences of the stars are impressive, but we need not deal with them; it is enough to say that he was successful—and in light comedy no less. About this time he began to have his photograph taken very frequently, and the portraits made me feel sad. This dull, sodden man was once a handsome fellow, alert, well poised, brave and cheerful. The profile which I saw in the photographs somehow made me think of an arrow-head on the upward flight; that, lower jaw, which is now so flabby and slobbery was once well rounded, and the weakness was not unpleasantly evident. I often wonder that human vanity has not done away with alcoholism. Men are vain animals, yet a good-looking fellow, who could never pass a mirror without stealing a quiet look, will cheerfully go on drugging himself until every feature is transformed. I have seen the process of facial degradation carried through in so many cases that I can tell within a little how long a man has been a drinker, and that with no other guide than the standard of graduated depravity which is in my mind, and which I instinctively consult. Devine must have been attractive to women, for they certainly did their best to spoil him, if one may judge by the collection of faded notes which he retains. He met his fate at last. A pretty, sentimental girl fell in love with him, and pressed him to make an appointment with her, so the dashing young actor arranged to meet the love-stricken damsel at Hampton Court. The flowers of the chestnuts were splendid, and the spirit of May was in the air. "I seem to see the same sunshine and the same flowers very often, even when I'm too jumpy to know what is going on all round," said the poor, battered man. The girl sobbed and trembled. "I couldn't help it; I had to meet you, and, Oh, if father knew, I believe he'd beat me." Devine found out that the lady was the daughter of a very rich tradesman, and he was not by any means displeased, for romantic actors have just as keen an eye to business as other folk. Before the pleasant afternoon closed, he had gained permission to call the truant Letty, and she primmed her rosy lips as he taught her to say Will. Decidedly Mr. Devine was no laggard in love.

Indiscreet little Letty found means to steal away from home time after time, and her stock of fibs must have been varied and extensive, for three months passed before the inevitable catastrophe came.

"This is Aunt Lizer, is it?"

Devine and Miss Letty were walking in a secluded corner of Wimbledon Common when a loud voice spoke thus. Letty screamed, and turned to face a stout, red-faced man who stood glaring ominously.

Devine, after the approved stage fashion, said "May I ask the meaning of this intrusion?"

"Meanin'! You talk about meanin' to John Billiter? See this stick? I'll meanin' you! This is my daughter, and I'll thank you to tell me who you are." Need I say that Devine rose to the occasion? He recited to me a portion of the reply which he made to the aggrieved parent, and I can fully believe that that worthy man was surprised. "The Rivals," "The Hunchback," "Romeo and Juliet," and other dramatic works were ransacked for phrases, and the stately periods flowed on until Mr. Billiter gasped, "Damn it, gal!—do you mean to say you've deceived your father so you might git out along of a blanked lunatic?" This was too much. Devine observed with majesty, "Sir, I can pardon much to the father of the lady whom I love; but there are limits, sir. Beware!"

"You come along to the trap, you hussy; and as for you mister, let me ketch you anywhere near our place and I'll turn the yard dog out on you!"

Poor Letty was severely shut up at home. Her father questioned her much, and when he heard at length that the flashy young man was an actor, he gave one choking yell, and sat down in limp fashion. All the rest of the day he muttered at intervals, "A hactor!" and pressed his hand to his forehead with many groans. At night he went into Letty's room, and as he gazed on the girl's worn face he said, "A hactor! The Billiters is done for. Their goose is cooked!"

Devine fairly luxuriated in his desolation. I could tell from his mode of dwelling on his woes that he had keenly enjoyed playing the forlorn lover. As he told me of those sleepless nights spent long ago, and rolled out his sonorous record of suffering, his watering eye gleamed with pleasure, and I can well imagine how sorely he bored his friends when he was young and his grief was at its most enjoyable height. But he was no milksop, and he resolved that Mr. Billiter should not baulk him. Where is the actor who does not delight in stratagems and mysteries? Bless their honest hearts, they could not endure life without an occasional plot or mystification! Two months after Letty's incarceration, a decently-dressed man called at Mr. Billiter's with a parcel. The visitor was clad in tweed; his smart whiskers were dexterously trained and he looked like a natty draper's assistant. "These things were ordered by post, and I wish Miss Billiter to select her own patterns."

"Miss Billiter's with her aunt, and she don't see anyone at present."

"Then kindly hand in the parcel, and I will call in an hour."

That night Letty was restless. The sly little thing had managed to deceive her aunt; but the problem of how to elude father was troublesome.

William had an American engagement; he would have a fast horse ready next evening at eight; Mr. Billiter would be summoned by a telegram; then train to Southampton—licence—the mail to New York, and bliss for ever! Letty must rush out like a truant schoolgirl—never mind about hat or cloak; the escape must be made, and then let those catch who can.

This was Devine's plan, and he carried it out with perfect nerve. A fortnight afterwards the mail steamer was surging along in mid-Atlantic, and the plucky actor was passing happy, idle days with his wife.

* * * * *

Billy had the nerve of a man once, but he utters a kind of strangled shriek now if a dog barks close to him, and he cannot lift his glass in the mornings—he stoops to the counter and sucks his first mouthfuls like a horse drinking, or he passes his handkerchief round his neck, and draws his liquor gently up with the handkerchief to steady him. A long way has Billy travelled since he was a merry young player. I shall say more about him presently.


My friend the publisher calls the Loafer's narratives "thrilling," but I, as editor of the Diaries, would prefer another adjective. The Loafer was a man who only cared for gloom and squalor after he had given up the world of gaiety and refinement. Men of his stamp, when they receive a crushing mental blow, always shrink away like wounded animals and forsake their companions. A very distinguished man, who is now living, disappeared for fifteen years, and chose on his return to be regarded as an utter stranger. His former self had died, and he was strengthened and embittered by suffering. The Loafer was of that breed.

Two locked volumes of the Loafer's Diary were delivered to me, and I found that the man had once been joyous to the last degree, ambitious, successful, and full of generous thoughts and fine aspirations. Some of his songs breathe the very spirit of delight, and he wrote his glad thoughts at night when he could not sleep for the keen pleasure of living. Then comes a sudden cloud, and from that time onward the Diary is bitter, brutal, and baldly descriptive of life's abominations. It would not become me to speak with certainty, but I fancy that a woman had something to do with the Loafer's wild and reckless change. He is reticent, but his poems all point in one direction. Here is a grave note of passion:—

The sombre heather framed you round, The starlight touched your pallid face, You moved across the silvered ground— The night was happy with your grace.

The air was steeped in silver fire, The gorse was touched with silvern sheen; The nightingales—the holy choir— Sang bridal songs for you, my queen.

But songs and starfire, pomp of night, Murmur of trees and Ocean's roll, Were poor beside the blind delight— The Love that quivered in my soul.

Further on there is a single brief verse like a cry of rage and despair:—

And is it then the End of all? O, Father! What a doom is mine— An unreturning prodigal, Who feeds on husks and herds with swine!

After many ravings the torn soul seems to grow calm, and we have this pensive and tender fragment of music:—

The dreams that fill the thoughtful night, All holy dreams are in the sky, They stoop to me with viewless flight, And bid me wave my care good-bye.

Spread your dim wings, O sacred friends, Fleet softly to your starry place; I'll meet you as my journey ends, When I shall crave our Master's grace.

Till I may join your shadowy band I'll think of things that are to be— The far-off joy, the Unseen Land, The Lover I shall never see.

After this our man plunges into the slums, and we have no more poetry. One who loved him asked me to go through his journals, and nearly all I know of him is derived from them. By chance I have heard that he was passionately fond of children, but avoided women. One who knew him said that he was witty, and often strung off epigrams by the hour together, but he was always subject to fits of blind frenzy, during which his wit and his genuine sagacity left him. No one followed him to his grave; but he was visited in hospital by a tall, fair lady, who gazed on him with stern composure. He sneered even while dying. "I'm a pretty object, am I not? I was going to shake the world. Will you kiss me once?"

The tall lady stooped and kissed him; he gasped, "Thank you. It was more than I deserved. And now for the Dark."

The lady sighed a little and went away, and I think that a bunch of heather which lay on the coffin must have come from her. Anyway, that is all I know about the Loafer, and he may now tell his story of the Pink Tom Cat in his own way. You observe how drily circumstantial he is.

* * * * *

I shall not be able to go on with Billy Devine's story for some time. We have had an ugly business here, and it is now two months since I wrote a line. It was only by making special inquiry that I found how time had gone, for I have been living in a nightmare.

One fine morning I put on smart flannels and went for a scull on the river. If ever you drink too much it is best to force yourself into violent exercise at any cost, and for that reason I determined to row until the effects of a very bad night had worn off. Usually I keep myself clear of after consequences, but I had been with a keen set, and we did not go to bed at all. When we contrived to separate at 7 a.m., some of my companions began on a fresh day's drinking, but I chose to take a rest.

It was a lovely morning, and I felt like a bad sort of criminal amid the clear, splendid beauty. When the light wind struck across the surface of the river it seemed as if the water were pelted with falling jewels; the osiers bowed and sighed as the breeze ran along their tops; and, here and there, a spirt of shaken dewdrops described a flashing arc, and fell poppling into the stream. Ah! how solemnly glad and pure and radiant the great trees looked! The larks had gone wild with the joy of living, and their delicious rivalry, their ceaseless gurgle of liquid melody, seemed somehow to match the multitudinous glitter of the mighty clouds of foliage. For a man with pure palate and healthy eye the sights and sounds would have made a heaven; but my mouth was like a furnace, and my eye was fevered. Nevertheless, I managed to enjoy the sweet panorama more and more as my muscles grew tense, and I pulled on doggedly for full three hours, until I had not a dry stitch on me; then a funny little waterside inn drew my eye, and I went ashore. Bob Darbishire met me with a shout of welcome, and I wondered what brought him there. Bob did not often visit The Chequers, for he was a wealthy fellow, and he liked best to fool his time away in flash billiard-rooms; but he knew me well enough, and I was on as easy terms with him as with the costers and Rommany chals. I say was when I speak of him. Ah me!

Bob succeeded to a great deal of ready money and a good business when he was barely twenty-one, and he broke out into a rackety life at once, for he had been hard held in by his father and mother, and his mad activities craved for some vent. Had he been well guided he would have become a useful citizen, but he was driven with a cruel bit, and the reins were savagely jerked whenever he seemed restive. When he once was free, he set off at a wild rate down the steep that leads to perdition, and plenty of people cheered him as he flew on. It vexed me often to see a fine, generous lad surrounded by spongers who rooked him at every turn; but what could one do? The sponger has no mercy and no manliness; he is always a person with violent appetites, and he will procure excitement at the cost of his manliness and even of his honesty. Bob had an open hand, and thought nothing of paying for twenty brandies-and-sodas in the course of a morning. Twenty times eightpence does not seem much, but if you keep up that average daily for a year you have spent a fair income. No one ever tried to stay this prodigal with a word of advice; indeed, in such cases advice is always useless, for the very man whom you may seek to save is exceedingly likely to swear, or even to strike at you. He thinks you impugn his wisdom and sharpness, and he loves, above all things, to be regarded as an acute fellow. A few favoured gentry almost lived on Bob, and scores of outsiders had pretty pickings when he was in a lavish humour, which was nearly every day. He betted on races, and lost; he played billiards, and lost; he ran fox terriers, and lost; he played Nap for hours at a stretch, and generally lost. He was only successful in games that required strength and daring. Then, of course, he must needs emulate the true sporting men in amorous achievements, and thus his income bore the drain of some two or three little establishments. Bob would always try to drink twice as much as any other man, and he treated himself with the same liberality in the matter of ex-barmaids and chorus girls. The Wicked Nobleman was a somewhat reckless character in his way, but his feats would not bear comparison with those performed by many and many a young fellow who belongs to the wealthy middle class. Alas! for that splendid middle class which once represented all that was sober and steady and trustworthy in Britain! Go into any smart billiard-room nowadays, or make a round of the various race meetings, and you will see something to make you sad. You see one vast precession of Rakes making their mad Progress.

Bob was always kindly with me, as, indeed, he was with everybody. The very bookmakers scarcely had the heart to offer him false prices, and only the public-house spongers gave him no law. But, then the sponger spares nobody. On this memorable morning the lad was rigged in orthodox flannels, and he looked ruddy and well, but the ruddiness was not quite of the right sort. He had begun drinking early, and his eye had that incipient gloss which always appears about the time when the one pleasurable moment of drunkenness has come. There is but one pleasant moment in a drinking bout, and men make themselves stupid by trying to make that fleeting moment permanent. Bob cried, "Come on, sonny. Oh! what would I give for your thirst! Mine's gone! I'm three parts copped already. Come on. Soda, is it?"

Then, with the usual crass idiocy of our tribe, we proceeded to swallow oblivion by the tumbler until the afternoon was nearly gone. I felt damp and cold and sticky, so I said I should scull home and change my clothes. Then Darbishire yelled with spluttering cordiality, "Home! Not if I know it! My togs just fit you. Go and have a bath, and we'll shove you in the next room to mine. I'm on the rampage, and Joe Coney's coming to-night. You've got nothing to do. Have it out with us. Blow me! we'll have a week—we'll have a fortnight—we'll have a month."

I wish I had never taken part in that rampage.

Towards eight o'clock we both felt the false craving for food which is produced by alcohol, and we clamoured for dinner. Dinner under such circumstances produces a delusive feeling of sobriety, and men think that they have killed the alcohol; but the stuff is still there, and every molecule of it is ready, as it were, to explode and fly through the blood when a fresh draught is added. At eleven o'clock we were at cards with Mr. Coney. At one we went out to admire the moon, and though one of us saw two moons, he felt a dull pain at the heart as he remembered days long ago, when the pale splendour brought gladness. When we had solemnly decided that it was a fine night, we went back to our reeking room again, and pursued our conversation on the principle that each man should select his own subject and try to howl down the other two. This exercise soon palled on us, and one by one we sank to sleep. The clear light was pouring in when I woke, but the very sight of the straight beams made me doleful. When a man is in training, that gush of brightness makes him joyous; but a night with the fiend poisons the light, the air, the soul. Bob lay on the floor under the full glare of the window. What a fine fellow he was! His chest bulged strongly under his fleecy sweater; his neck was round and muscular, and every limb of him seemed compact and hard. His curls were all dishevelled, and his face was miserably puffy, but he had not had time to become bloated. No wonder that girls liked him.

Presently we were all awake, and a more wretched company could not very well be found. Novelists talk about "a debauch" in a way that makes novices think debauchery has something grand and mysterious about it. "We must have orgies; it's the proper thing," says Tom Sawyer the delightful. The raw lad finds "debauches" mentioned with majestic melancholy, and he naturally fancies that, although a debauch may be wicked, it is neither nasty nor contemptible. Why cannot some good man tell the sordid truth? I suppose he would be accused of Zolaism, but he would frighten away many a nice lad from the wrong road. Let any youngster who reads this try to remember his worst sick headache; let him (if he has been to sea) remember that moment when he longed for someone to come and throw him overboard; let him then imagine that he has committed a deadly crime; let him also fancy what he would feel if he knew that some awful irreparable calamity must inevitably fall on him within an hour. Then he will understand that state of mind and body which makes men loathe beauty, loathe goodness, loathe life; then he will understand what jolly fellows endure.

We glowered glassily on each other, and we were quite ready either to quarrel or to shed tears on the faintest provocation. Presently Bob laughed in a forced way, and said, "God, what a head! Let's come out. Those yellow shades make me bilious." The glory of full day flooded the lovely banks, but the light pained our eyes, and we sought refuge in the cool, dim shades of the parlour. Our conversation was exactly like that of passengers on board ship when they are just about to collapse. The minutes seemed like hours; our limbs were listless, as if we had been beaten into helplessness. So passed one doleful hour. I mentioned breakfast, and Bob shuddered, while Coney rushed from the room. What a pleasant thing is a jovial night!

"Let's see if we can manage some champagne," said Darbishire, and the "merry" three were soon mournfully gazing on a costly magnum. Sip by sip we contrived to drink a glass each; then the false thirst woke, the nausea departed, and we were started again for the day.

I persisted in taking violent exercise, but Darbishire seemed to have lost all his muscular aptitudes, and although I implored him to exert himself, he sank into a lethargy that was only varied by mad fits, during which he performed the freaks of a lunatic. After the sixth day's drinking I proposed to go away. Bob looked queerly at me, and said in a whisper, "Don't you try it on! See that!" and he showed me a little Derringer. I laughed; but I was not really amused. You always notice that, when a man is about to go wrong, he thinks of killing those whom he likes best. That night Bob's hands flew asunder with a jerk while we were playing cards; the cards flew about; then he flung a decanter violently into the fireplace, and sat down trembling and glaring. I sprang to his side, and found that the sweat was running down his neck. I pulled off his shoes—his socks were drenched! I said, "I thought you'd get them, old fellow. Now, have some beef-tea, and I'll send right away for a sleeping draught." Bob trembled still more.

"No beef-tea. I've had nothing these three days, as you know. It would kill me to swallow." Then he said, in a horrible whisper, "The brute's coming down the chimney again. There's a paw! Now his head! Now's a chance! Yah! you pink devil, that's got you! Three days you've been coming, and now you're cheeky. Yeo, ho! That's done him." Then he flung a second decanter, and sank down once more with a shriek.

"I'll have a drink on that!" he screamed; and I let him take a full glass of spirits, for I wanted to secure the Derringer. The drink appeared to paralyse him, and I slipped down to the landlord's room. The worthy man took things very coolly; none of his trade ever like to see a man drunk, but they become hardened to it in time, and talk about delirium tremens as if it were measles. Here is the dialogue.

"Bob's queer."

"I thought so. He's had 'em once before. He must be careful, but you can't stop him."

"I must have help. I could drown myself when I think that I've perhaps encouraged him."

"Don't you worry yourself. He'd have been a million times worse if you'd not been about. He sits with the watchmen and all sorts of tow-rags then."

"We must get him home somehow."

The landlord fairly shouted: "Home! anything but that! Not that I want to keep him, but we must have him right first. There's his mother, what could she do?" Then, dropping his voice, the shrewd fellow said, "You see, it would nearly pay me to be without his custom, for I'm in the old lady's hands. Fact is, they've engaged him to a swell girl, and she's awful spoons on him, for there ain't nobody so nice and hearty as he is when he's square. He's fond of her, too, but she wants to reclaim him, don't you know, and he kinder kicks. So he says when he came, "I'm going to be out of apron-strings for a bit," and I don't want him to go near home till he's fit to meet the lady. She's a screamer, she is—a real swell; and she'd go off her head if she saw him with 'em on. I'll tell you what we'll do. I've got one bromide of potass draught. We'll get that into him somehow, and in the morning we may manage to feed him. During the day we'll get some more stuff from the doctor, and patch him up ready for home I don't care to see him again, for there's no stopping him."

When I went up to our room, Bob was lying on the floor, and breathing heavily. He opened his eyes, rose, and staggered a little; then he said, "B'lieve I can walk a bit; come out for a stroll on the tow-path." The moon was charging through wild clouds, and the river was flecked alternately by strong lights and broad swathes of shadow. Bob muttered as he walked; so, to give him an excuse for conversation, I said, "Why were you chucking the hardware so gay and free, Robert?" He put his lips to my ear, and said, "That pink tom cat has followed me for ever so long, and I can't do for him anyhow. By God, he's everywhere! A pink cat, you know, with eyes made of red fire. He's on to me just when I don't expect him. Take me for a row. The brute can't come on the water."

"You'll never go out to-night!"

"Won't I? And so will you, or I'll know the reason why!"

I had not secured that Derringer.

I picked a big, broad boat at the inn stairs, and we were soon dropping gently over the tide, but I would not row hard, as I wanted to be near assistance. To my astonishment Darbishire began to talk quite lucidly, and went on for a few minutes with all the charm that distinguished him when he was sober. By some strange process the blood had begun to circulate with regularity in the vessels of the impoverished brain, and the man was sane. I was overjoyed, and in the fulness of my heart I said, "We'll drive home, or row there to-morrow. My dear fellow, I thought you were going dotty." His jaw fell; he yelled, "Stop him—stop him! He's coming with his mouth open! Oh! red-hot teeth and his belly full of flames—the cat! Oh, I'll stand this no more—you brute, you shall drown!" In an instant he sprang overboard; the clouds came over the moon, and I could only tell Bob's whereabouts by hearing him wallowing and snarling like a dog. I backed up to him, leaned over, and passed one of the rudder-lines under his arm-pits; his struggling ceased and I shouted for help. Lights moved on the bank, and presently a boat shot towards us. The landlord said, "Mercy on us! Excuse me, sir, but you did ought to be careful. You ought to be shot for risking that man's life; I see as how it is." I was only too glad to have missed seeing a tragedy, and I let Boniface talk on.

It was agreed that Bob should have his draught, and that I should sit up by his bedside till four next morning. We wrapped him in warm blankets, and coaxed him into taking the medicine. He started and twitched for some time, and at last sank into sleep. He moaned again and again, but showed no signs of waking, and I sat quietly smoking and framing good resolutions. My eyeballs were irritable, and I found that I could only obtain ease by closing my eyes. Once I started up and walked to and fro; then it struck me I ought to throw the Derringer out of the window, and I did so; then I sat down. The clock struck two; my tired eyes closed, but I was sure I could keep awake, and I began to repeat old songs merely to test my memory and keep the brain active.

Crash! I was sitting on the floor. The clock struck one, two, three! Bob was gone. I had fallen asleep and betrayed my trust. I could have cried, but that would do little good. The door opened, and Darbishire appeared—prowling stealthily and glaring. A long glitter met my eye, and I saw that Bob had taken down an old Yeomanry sabre from the wall of the next room. He came on, and I shrank under the shadow of my arm-chair. He heaved up the sabre, and shouted, "Now, you beast, I've got you on the hop!" and hacked at the bed with wild fury. As he turned his back on me, I prepared to lay hold on him; he whirled round swiftly, and my heart came into my mouth. I cried out, "Bob, old man!" He started furiously for a second, and then made a pass at me, sending the steel through my clothes on the right side. I felt a slight sting, but did not mind, and by wrenching myself half round I tore the sabre from his hand. Then I closed, and held him, in spite of his struggles and frothing curses, until the landlord and ostler burst in and helped me.

The cut on my side only needed sticking-plaister, but I was completely exhausted, and I resolved not to risk such another experience for any price. I said to the landlord, "He must be taken to the town, where we can have a doctor and attendants handy."

"But you won't drive that poor lady out of her senses, will you?"

"No, I'll take him to The Chequers, and smuggle him in at night. They know me there, and not a soul but the doctor and the men will be able to tell where he is."

Boniface was not quite satisfied, but he agreed to lend me two men, and at dusk I drove round to the back gate of The Chequers, and smuggled Bob through the stables.

He was very well behaved when the doctor came, and even thanked him for providing two careful attendants. The doctor's directions were very simple. "I'll give him some strong meat essence at once; then he must have the draught that I will send. No alcohol on any consideration, no matter if he goes on his knees to you. Let him have milk and beef-tea as often as you can, and never leave him for an instant."

Our landlord of The Chequers was very funny about the jim-jams, and funnier still about my suddenly taking to swell company; but I let him talk on, and he certainly kept unusually quiet, though no more inveterate gossip ever lived.

At a very late hour I was strolling homeward, long after the last reeling coster had swayed and howled towards his slum, when two women stopped me Then a man came from the shadow of the wall, and I thought I had fallen across some strange night-birds; but one of the women spoke, and I knew she was a lady. "You have my boy in that horrid place. Tell me, is he well? I must see him; I'll tear the doors down with my nails." Then the man said, "I drove the keb, sir. I knows Mr. Robert, and I thought I'd better tell his mother." I eagerly said, "Madam, you shall see him, but, pray, not to-night. The shock might kill him. On my honour he is in good hands, and I promise to come to you on the instant when it is safe for you to meet him." The lady moaned, "Oh, my boy—my darling—my own! Oh! the curse!"—and then she went away.

In two days Bob was quite calm and rational. He craved for food, and seemed so well that I thought I might manage him single-handed. So the attendants were dismissed, with the doctor's permission, and Bob and I settled down for a quiet chat. I shall never forget that talk. The lad was not maudlin, and he utterly refused to whimper, but he seemed suddenly to have seen the horror of the past. "You can stop in time, old man," he said, "but I can't. When I'm well, I'll turn to work, and I'll try to keep other chaps from getting into the mud. It would be funny to see me preaching to the boys up river, wouldn't it?" For a moment I thought, "I'll turn teetotal as well," but I did not say it. I bent towards Bob and asked, "Would you care to see your mother, old man?" He smiled beautifully, and eagerly answered, "Go for her now."

I was away about two hours, and returned with Mrs. Darbishire. The landlord met us, and gravely said "I've been away, but the potman tells me a queer yarn. Mr. Darbishire made queer signs out of window to the man you call the Ramper, and Mr. Ramper goes to the pub over the way and then up to the room. And now Mr. Robert's been locked in for a hour and a half." My heart gave one leap, and then I felt cold. We hurried up stairs, and we heard a long shrill snarl—not like a human voice.

"Locked! Fetch a crowbar, and call up one of the lads to help."

We burst open the door, and there on the bed lay Bob. He was chattering, as it were, in his sleep, and a brandy bottle lay on the floor. He had swallowed nearly the whole of the poison raw, and his limbs were paralyzed. Suddenly he opened his eyes; then he writhed and yelled, "Mother!—the beast! the beast!" The lady threw herself down on her knees with a pitiful cry, but Bob did not speak to her. He never spoke any more.


I was so weak and nervous after Bob Darbishire's death that I did not go much to The Chequers; I hid myself most in my own rooms. The funeral was attended by all the well-to-do folks in the district; but I was not there, because I did not care to pass by The Chequers in the procession. Most people had a good word for poor Bob, and many kind fellows could not mention him without the tears coming into their eyes. Only the spongers were indifferent; but they had, of course, to look around for another liberal spendthrift. Bob was so young, and bright, and brave; I never knew a straighter or a kinder man, and I have seen few who had so much ability. He drifted into drunkenness by accident, and the vice had him hard by the throat before he found out that he was really a prisoner. He struggled for awhile, and repented again and again; but his will was captured, and when once a man's will is enslaved, vices seem to come easy to him. I am not fit to moralise about his relations with women; I only know that he was a sinner, and I think of his temptations. Like so many splendid young Englishmen, he was conquered by drink. The vice seizes on some of the best in all classes, and the finest flowers soon become as worthless as weeds when the blight has caught them. It is nearly always the bright lad of a family, the most promising, the mother's darling, that goes wrong; it is the brilliant students, the men of whom one says, "Ah, what could he not do if he would only try!" is those who trip, and quench their brilliance in the mud. A little rift in the fabric of the will, a little instability of temper, an unlucky week of idleness—these are the things that start a man towards the very gulf of doom. Bob Darbishire, the athlete, the delightful and exhilarating companion, was set gliding on the slope, and now he and his hopes and his unknown capabilities have passed away, deeper than ever plummet sounded. It is a big puzzle. I am a loafer, and I suppose I shall never be anything else, so it is not for me to solve the ugly problem.

The Ramper fawned on me, and asked me if I had heard of "that there pore young bloke wot kicked the bucket upstairs."

I said, "Yes; I fancy he was murdered. Do you know who took the brandy up to him?"

The Ramper looked very wicked, but merely answered, "'Ow should I know? He arst me, and I goes and says, 'No, sir; not for a thick 'un.' I see 'ow he was. I've 'ad 'em on myself, and I knowed as 'ow he wasn't up there for nothing."

The Ramper is undoubtedly a liar.

The Wanderer often asked me to call, for he knows that I have a stiff flask in my pocket every night. I have pieced out the rest of his story, and I shall put it into my book when I am less glum. At present I swear every day that I shall turn temperance lecturer, and spend my money on the Cause; but, somehow, habit, and my roving blood, are too much for me. Like all men of my sort, from Burns downward, I can see evils clearly, and state their nature plainly enough; but when it comes to keeping clear of them, I resemble my tribe in being rather unhandy at judicious strategy. Vogue la galere!

Three months more have gone and my journals have never been written up, save in chance scraps. The Wanderer is quite as interesting as ever! I took the odds to L2 with him over a race run at Newmarket, and he paid promptly. He puts out little signs of improvement—sprouts of gentility—at times: but one heavy spell of gin and Shakespeare takes him back to the old level again. Still, he is more amusing than the dandies; in fact, I do not think I shall go amongst the respectable division again. I make no pretence of immolating myself: I go among the blackguards and wastrels because I am fascinated; I tell exactly what I see, and leave other people to make practical use of my words. During the last three months I have been, as usual, hard hit. It seems as though any creature that I am fond of must soon be lost to me, and the pages of my journal are like rows of tombstones.

We were making a great noise in the bar one night, for a cornet and fiddle were playing, and a few couples were moved by the music and the beer to begin dancing. A good many women come in at one time or other, and their shrill laughter forms the treble of our crashing chorus. One tall, broad-shouldered dame, who boasts of having six sons serving in the Guards, made a great commotion. Her weight is considerable. She had been drinking for four hours, and, when she attempted to illustrate her theory of the waltz, she sent drinkers and drink flying as though her offspring's battalion had charged. She had disabled one sporting coster who tried to guide her, and the landlord was preparing for practical remonstrance, when she sailed down upon me, yawing all the way as though she were running before a hard breeze. I prepared for the shock, but I was not destined to receive it. A tiny little lad had just received some beer in a bottle from the counter, and he was making for home, when the tall woman plumped upon him. The bottle was broken, the beer ran among the dirt and sawdust, and the little lad was almost smothered before the landlord (who impolitely addressed the waltzer as a cow) had managed to haul the ponderous woman to her feet. The boy was a good deal hurt physically, but his mental distress at sight of the lost beer prevented him from noticing his bruises. When he fully grasped the extent of the calamity he actually became pale, and I do not think I ever saw such a piteous little face in my life. I asked "How much was it, little 'un?" His lips trembled, and he said, "I dunno. I put a-money down, and her knows what to put in a-bottle. Father got to 'ave his beer, else he not have good supper." I thought, "This youngster isn't ill-used, or he wouldn't be anxious for his father to have a good supper." Then I ordered a pint can of ale, and offered it to the youth. He hesitated, and said, "It's dark. I slip on a stone, and then more beer gone," so I took his hand, and marched off with the can, notwithstanding the fact that my friend the cornet player struck up "See the conquering hero" in a most humorous and embarrassing manner.

It was very quiet and fresh outside, after the hoarse wrangling and the dreadful air, and I liked to have the boy's soft hand in mine. He said, "Missa Benjo's cellar open. Two mens fall down a-night; you keep a-hold o' my hand." I went very warily down the alley, and found that Mr. Benjo had assuredly left an awkward trap for the people from The Chequers. My young man seemed very smart and careful, and he soon led to a lone door which opened into a den that was half kitchen, half cellar.

"Who a-you got long o' you, Teddy?" inquired a gruff man who was crouched on a stool by the side of the empty grate.

"It's a man, father, wot give me the beer."

"Come in, mate, if you've a mind."

I accepted the invitation, prompted by my usual curiosity, and found myself in a stinking little box, which was lit by a guttering dip. Some clothes hung on a line, and these offended more senses than one. No breath of pure air seemed to have blown through that gruesome dwelling for many a day, but I am seasoned, and nothing puts me out much.

"Ain't got another seat, mate. Take the bed."

The bed was not suggestive of sleep, and I was a trifle uneasy as I sat down; yet I knew it would never do to hesitate, so down I sat.

"Wot's this about givin' Teddy the beer?"

I made answer.

"Ain't got no more 'n two bloomin' dee, but you can have 'em, and thank ye for your trouble."

"I have money enough, thanks. A pint isn't much."

"Oh, now I knows you. A bloke was a-tellin' me they had a broken-down toff round at The Chequers, and some on 'em says you ain't no more broken down 'n the Lord Mayor. Allus got enough for a 'eavy booze. Anyway, you talks like a toff. I used to git round to the bar, but it don't run to it now. Two kids; and Teddy's clothes there ain't not so easy to buy now. Missus is out charin'. She'll fetch us a bit o' supper, and I makes out middlin' well along o' my pint and bit o' bacca. How's things, mate?"

I said that things were flourishing fairly.

"You ain't never done much blank work, you ain't. Your dukes is same as silk. Bin a tailor?"

"No, I have other work to do."

"All square, mate; 'tain't no business o' mine. Things is bad 'ere. The blank, blank swine of a blank landlord, he takes pooty well 'alf of every tanner I can make, and d——d if he'll do anything to the place."

"Smells are queer down here."

"Smell! Lord love you, come down yere to-morrer, and you'll git to know wot stinks is. Let Teddy show you that 'ere bloomin' ditch at the back. They calls it a stream, but I dussn't say wot I thinks it is afore the nipper. All the dead cats and muck in the bloomin' crehation gits dumped in there. On 'ot days you wants a nosebag on, I tell you, and no error."

"Does Teddy go to school?"

"No fear; not yet. But he's fly as they makes 'em, he is. Useful he is, too. 'Andy as makes no matter, and he ain't no more 'n seven."

"Well, I'm coming to see Teddy and the ditch to-morrow. Will you have another pint?"

"Right, matey; that'll do for to-morrow. Ain't you got no less 'n a tanner? Never mind, I'll square when I'm flush."

Next day I visited the alley, and went to the gap where it opened on to the ditch. There was an admirably efficient hotbed for rearing diseases there. A solid bed of sewage of about two feet deep seemed to fill the hollow, and a thin sheet of filthy water covered this bed—with sickly breaks here and there. Ordure palpable and abominable was plentiful, and the swollen carcasses of small animals exhaled their biting wafts. Poor little Teddy! I said, "Come home with me, will you? Mind, you mustn't tell anyone where I live;" and the amiable little dot set off at my side. He could not walk very well, for he had one shoe minus a sole, and his toes stuck through the other. When we reached my room I sent out for a pair of boots and two pairs of socks; then I pitched Teddy's away, and presently to his terror, and my own amusement, I found myself engaged in washing his feet. Nice little feet they were when they came clean, and their owner pattered about with perfect satisfaction on my carpet. I pulled out some cakes, and Teddy accepted a few, turning away his head as he took them. He had the exact look of a dog that is being reproved, and I had some trouble in persuading him to begin. When he had finished one sponge-cake he grinned and enigmatically observed, "Teddy's belly." I said, "That's baby talk. You talked all right last night. Finish your cakes and you'll have some more for tea. Trot about as you like till it's ready." He went gaily about, touching some articles, and even sniffing at others; he dived into my bedroom, and I heard him cry "Ooh!" Then there was a scraping sound, and Teddy appeared lugging a small looking-glass and smiling broadly. "Ooh! This is what there is when a lady gives you a beer." I understood that he referred to the bleared glass behind the bar of the Chequers, and I appreciated Teddy's powers of comparison; but I explained to him that mirrors cannot be safely hauled about by little boys, and he kindly assented to this proposition.

We had tea, and Teddy so far improved on his bashfulness that he made grabs at several things which would have disagreed with him if I had let him follow his inclinations. He affably received my hints on table etiquette, and smiled with gentleness when I told him he had eaten enough. The little creature's ideas were like those of a dog. He had been taught to follow and to come home to his kennel; he was ready to be gracious toward those who fed him, and he had the true canine glance which expresses gratitude and expectancy at once. But he was only a rudimentary human being, and his brain power had slept so far. I showed him Caldecott's wonderful "House that Jack Built," and he gloated over that delightful villain of a dog; the cat and the rat he understood, but he knew nothing of the cow. I let him stare at the dog as long as he chose, and he chuckled like a magpie all the time. He proposed to remove the picture-book, and it was only with difficulty that I persuaded him to let me keep it. Knowing the street arab class very well, I did not try to talk with him, for I have always found that an arab's curiosity when he finds himself in a new place renders him incapable of attending to anything that is said to him until he has learned the appearance of every object in the room. The little chap is a barbarian, and you must treat him exactly as you would treat an adult member of a friendly savage tribe.

Before Teddy went home I rigged him up in his new boots and stockings, and he was amusingly proud. When we parted at the alley he said, "You let me go you house again, and have some nice things and see the dog?" Of course I invited him, and henceforth he waylaid me in the afternoons as I went home. At first he was not polite, and his mode of calling, "Hoy, man! wait for me!" drew marked attention from the public. But he soon learned to lift his hat and to shake hands. At intervals I gave him set lessons on manners, and, if he behaved nicely, we had a game at cricket in my queer old garden. It was almost impossible to make Teddy understand the morality of any game at first. When he learned that the ball must not touch his wicket, his treatment of my slow bowling was positively immoral. I did not mind his kicking the ball out of the way, nor did I object to his using his bat like a scoop; but when he lay down in front of the wicket, and sweetly smiled as the ball touched his stomach, I had to insist on severe cricketing etiquette. As the nights darkened in I took to amusing myself more and more with Teddy, and sometimes I did not go out to the Chequers at all. The boy was a severe trial to me when he learned to play draughts. When once the fundamental laws of the game dawned on his mind, and he understood that he must try to reduce the number of my pieces, he thought that any means were justified if he could be successful. Once I left the room for a minute while we were playing, and on my return found four of my men had disappeared. I said, "Where are those men?" Teddy smiled courteously; "I taken 'em. I go hop, hop, hop, over a lot. All fair." "But where have you put them?" "In a pocket. All fair." But he gradually grew out of his habits of picking and stealing, and he behaved much like a well-trained dog. It is plain to me that he regarded me as a sort of deity; but his love was quite unalloyed by fear. He would stroke my beard, and say, "You very nice," when I had been specially good-humoured, and, as his stock of words increased, he prattled on by the hour. One must love something, and I got into the habit of loving this pale little urchin, so that at length I fitted up a crib for him, and asked his mother to let him stay with me. This made a great change in my habits. Teddy seemed to wake as by magic, if I rose to go out after he was in bed, and, although he never cried, his way of saying, "You won't let me stop by myself—perhaps the black man might come," always settled me. By degrees I fell into the habit of reading at nights, and the steady life made my brain clear. Books that had been dim memories to me for years became vivid, and the power of sustained thinking came back. In those long, calm evenings, I went through my Gibbon again, and the awful pageant that rolls past our view under the direction of the aristocrat of literature made my late life seem poor and mean. How low we were! The darkened costers are interesting as studies in animal life; but the more pretentious persons whose humour reaches its highest flight in an indecent story, and whose wit consists in calling someone else a liar—how petty they are, and how fruitless is their friendship! I began to feel like a patrician who surveys the mob from his lordly dais, and I almost resolved to go back to the clubs and theatres once more.

Teddy increased so much in mental power that he took interest in fairy tales, and he was a rigorous taskmaster. I was obliged to illustrate the stories in varied ways. Once I was asked, "What's a gian'?" I said, "A very, very big man." "Big as you?" "Far bigger." "How bigger? Has he got legs, and heads, and—and things like that?" "We'll see. When I stand on this chair I'm as big as a giant," but it was all of no avail, and only after Teddy had seen a huge, knock-kneed being in a penny show did he understand what a giant could be like. Then he asked for giant stories on all occasions.

It struck me that I was neglecting Teddy's religious education. Hundreds and thousands of such little fellows in and about London have no notion of a God, or any ruling power save the policeman. I had a dark mind to deal with, and Teddy's questions fairly beat me. Of course I took the old orthodox ideas, and tried to make them simple, but Teddy posed me like this:

"Do God live in a sky?"

"Far away. Yes; well, say in the sky."

"Where does he hang up his coat when he goes to his bed?"

What on earth was a poor, distracted loafer to say? I could not deal with Jesus, for I saw that Teddy did not understand goodness. He knew that I was kind, and he liked to kiss my hand slily, and rub his cheek on my knee; but abstract goodness and gentle words like those of Jesus did not appeal to him. I was satisfied to have a queer creature that followed me like a dog, and I am afraid that if he had lived I should have made him a kind of heathen; but the luck was against me. Teddy's father came on a Sunday morning, and said, "If you don't mind, his mother'd like to 'ave him along to dinner to-morrow. We got a bit o' pork and a horrange spesshal for him." So Teddy went home when the ditch was in worse order than usual. He had been kept amid good air, and he was clean—I washed him myself—and I fancy that the stenches poisoned him simply because he could not become acclimatised to the alley again. Anyway, he was heavy and listless when he came back, and in two days I had to send for his father and mother. I am not going into any pathetic details, for that is not my line. Night after night I walked the floor with the youngster, and when the doctor said I should catch diphtheria if I kissed him, I said I didn't care a damn, for I was wild. Then my boy went away.

One night I was walking about the park in mad fashion while a hoarse gale roused a deep chorus among the trees. I could have sworn that my lad called to me. Then I went back and dropped into The Chequers. The Ramper said, "Wot cher, yer old bugaboo?" The Wanderer shouted, "Now let the trumpet to the kettle speak; the kettle to the cannoneer without. He comes! He comes!"

And I went home and stayed till dawn with the Wanderer. That is the way we live.


Several racing men have warned me against the Wanderer, in their peculiarly friendly way. They want me to bet with them. But I like the Bohemian, the blackleg, better than I do better men. Moreover, though I am carefully informed that he is a blackleg, I find him honest. His story has long been hanging in my mind, and we may as well take it at once.

Devine's runaway match turned out well for a time. When old Mr. Billiter came home and heard what had happened he fell in a fit, and, on his recovery, he went about for a long time moaning, "We'll never hold up our heads no more." His friends thought he would lose his reason, for he would stop people in the street, and say, "Have you a daughter? Kill her, if you care for her. Mine's gone off with a hactor." But the young couple were happy enough in reality, and Devine took the fancy of the New Yorkers to such a degree that his engagement was extended over three years. Letty Devine led a gay, careless life; her husband had plenty of money, and she was introduced to pleasures that made the frowsy life of home seem very repulsive. Devine was kind to her, and continued to play the lover in his pompous style. She was proud of her man, too. He played Claude Melnotte for his benefit once, and she longed to say to the ladies in the theatre, "He belongs to me. How could she help being fascinated with him? Where could you find such another princely being?" She felt a lump in her throat when the great house rose at her William, and the more so since she knew that her praise was more to him than all the clamour of the theatre. Devine had begun by fortune-hunting, and ended by loving his wife, though she did not bring him a penny.

Those were merry days in New York. Champagne was plentiful as water, and William Devine often came home in a very lively condition, but his wife did not mind, for she thought that a man must have his glass. Women of the lower and middle classes have a great deal to do with supplying customers to the public-house. Some of them drive their men there by nagging, but more of them lead a man on to drink by sheer indulgence. They encourage him to enjoy himself without thinking of the day when enjoyment will be impossible, and when they and their children will reach the lowermost rung of the ladder of shame and penury. The Wanderer went merrily on his way, but his vice was steadily gaining on him, and his nerve was going. He took a long engagement for an Australian tour, and carried on very loosely all the while; but Letty saw no change. Women never do until the very worst has happened. When Devine came to England he was eagerly looked after, and he should have fared well. For a time he had engagements and money in plenty, but a subtle change was taking place in him, and managers and audiences saw it, though they could not say precisely where the deterioration had taken place.

There is a certain sporting set of theatrical men who are very dangerous companions. Their daily work is exciting, and when they want change they often gamble, because that is the only form of excitement which is keener than the stir and tumult of the theatre. When Devine won three hundred pounds on one Derby he was a lost man. He pitted his wits against the bookmakers'; he took to loafing about with those flash, cunning fellows who appear to spend their mornings in bars and their evenings in music-halls; he lost his ambition, and he began to lead a double life. In the end he took to presenting himself at the theatre in various stages of drunkenness, and on one unlucky night he practically settled his own fate by falling down on the stage after he had blundered over his lines a dozen times. The public saw little of him after that, for he had not the power of Kean, or Cooke, or Brooke.

They all go the same way when they slip as Devine did. You can meet them on the roads, in common lodging-houses, in the workhouse. The residuum is constantly recruited from the "comfortable" classes, and, out of thousands of cases, I never knew half-a-dozen in which the cause was not drink. I blame nobody. A drunkard is always selfish—the most selfish of created beings—and his flashes of generosity are symptoms of disease. If he lives to be cured of his vice his selfishness disappears, and he is another man; but so long as he is mastered by the craving, all things on earth are blotted out for him saving his own miserable personality. So far does the disease of egotism go, that it is impossible to find a drunkard who can so much as listen to another person; he is inexorably impelled to utter forth his views with more or less incoherence.

Devine, the tender husband, the kind father, became a mere slinker, a haunter of tap-rooms, a weed. Sometimes he was lucky enough to win a pound or two on a race, and that was his only means of support. The children were ragged; Letty tried to live on tea and bread, but the lack of food soon brought her low, and from sheer weakness she became a pitiful slattern.

Mr. Billiter was informed that a woman "like a beggar" wanted to see him particularly. He was about to order her off at first, but he finished by going to the door, and the beggar-woman went on her knees to him. He trembled; then he fairly lifted the poor soul up in his arms and sobbed hard. "My gal, my pooty as was. My little gal. To think as you never come before you was like this. I've bin dead since you was away. My 'art was dead, my little gal. And you're goin' away no more, never no more, with no hactors. Sit down. Give me that shawl. Lord bless me, it's a dish clout! And your neck's like a chicken's, and your breasts is all flat, as was round as could be. O me!"

But the good fellow's moanings soon fell on deaf ears, for Letty fainted. When she came round, the servants fed her, and she began to cry for the children. "Children if you like, but never him," said Billiter; and he at once drove off to bring his darling's ragged little ones home.

Devine was snoring on the floor when the old tradesman entered the lodging. There was no fire, no furniture, no food, and the half-naked children were huddled together for warmth. The youngest two screamed when a rough man came in, for they thought it was the brokers once more. Billiter sent the eldest out for a candle, which he stuck in an empty gin-bottle. He looked at the snoring drunkard, and gave him a contemptuous push with his foot; but the one little boy screamed, "You not touch my dada, you bad man!" and the old fellow was instantly ashamed. He said, "Now, my little dears, I want you to come to your mamma. She sent me for you. We'll all go away in a warm carriage, and you'll have something warm and nice to eat. Put the youngsters' clothes on, my gal."

"We've none of us got any clothes, sir."

"My God! Here, you sir—wake up. Sit against the wall. Do you see me? I've got your wife at home, and I'm going to take these kids. You'll hear from me to-morrow."

"Devine finally woke just before the public-houses closed. He staggered out, and, after his first drink, the memory of what had passed flashed back on him. He felt in his pockets. Yes! He had some money—a good deal as it happened, for he had put five shillings on a horse at 33 to 1. "Pull yourself together, Billy," he muttered. "You must have a warm bed to-night, and face it out to-morrow. One more drink, and I'll have my bed here."

In the morning he felt wretched, but when he had regained his nerve by the usual method he acted like a man. First he wrote a letter to his wife. (I saw the yellow old copy of it.)

"Dearest,—I had a bit of luck yesterday, and took too much on the strength of it. I was carried home from this house, and I could not speak to Lily or any of them. I deserve to lose you, and I will never ask you to come back unless there is no fear of more misery. But this I will do. I intend to maintain my own children, if I go and sell matches. I won eight pounds odd yesterday. I squandered one pound, I keep two to make a fresh start, and you have the rest. While this heart shall beat—yes, while memory holds her seat, as the poet says, you are dear to me. Once more, in the poet's words, I grapple you to my soul with hoops of steel. What has come over me I do not know, and when I wake to the fact of my degradation I go madly to the drink again. But I will try, and I implore your forgiveness. I cannot hope to see you often, and it is better that I should not, for I am worthless. But think of me, and, if I fall again and again, believe me that I shall go on striving to do better.—Until death, I am your loving, W. DEVINE."

"We don't want none of his 'oss-racin' money. Send it back, my gal," growled old Billiter when he saw this letter. But the poor woman would not hurt her husband.

Devine found all respectable employments closed to him, and he was often in desperate straits; but he would always contrive to send something, if it were only a half-crown, toward the support of his children. When he reached the Nadir of shabbiness, he touted in Piccadilly among the cabs, and picked up a few coppers in that way. For days he could abstain from drink, but that curse never left him, and he broke down again and again, only to repent and strive more fervently than ever. Alas! how weak we are. Surely we should help each other. I am often tempted to forget there is evil in the world. There are moments when I can almost pardon myself, but that is too hard. Devine said he could not see Letty often. He only saw her once more. She was ailing and weakly, and one day she put her arms round her father's neck, and whispered to him. He started, and growled, "All right, my gal; I deny you nothin'. Only I'll go out of the 'ouse before he comes."

So William Devine was summoned, and he found his wife propped up in bed. Her hands were frail, and the bones of her arms stood out sharply. The man was choking, Letty made an effort, lifted her arms, and drew him down to her with an ineffable gesture of tenderness. "Oh, Will, I'm glad you've come. How happy we were—how happy! I forget everything but that." Devine could not speak for a while. Letty said:

"You'll always be near the children, won't you?"

"So help me God! I'll give up my life to them."

Then the doctor came, and the Wanderer saw his stricken wife no more.

Devine bore many hardships before he was able to claim his children, and even when he had rigged up a house fit to shelter them he was vigorously opposed by old Billiter. But he got his own way, and Letty's children joined their father.

And now I must speak of a strange thing. The room which the Wanderer occupies is bare of every comfort. When we sit together we rest our glasses on the mantelpiece (for there is no table), and our feet are on the boards. But one night Devine said, "Come up and see my pets in bed." The young people were disposed in two absolutely comfortable rooms. Everything was neat and clean, and there were signs even of luxury. "How is this? Squalor below, comfort here," I thought. A little girl who was awake said, "Kiss me, papa, dear." Her nightgown was white and pretty. All the clothes that lay around were good. "Now, see the children's room," said my seedy host. "They live there." And, behold! a perfectly comfortable place, fitted up with strong, good furniture.

When we went down, the Wanderer helped himself from my flask. Then, with majesty, he observed, "You marvel to see me so shabby? Sir, you must know that I wear my clothes till they are falling to pieces. I deny myself everything but the booze, and I never start on that till I've handed my daughter—bless her!—the best part of the money. I made a promise to a saint, sir. I couldn't drop the liquor. It's my master, so I fight as long as I can and get better as soon as possible after it's over. I'm wrong to give way and spend money on it. I can't help myself. But I give all but my drink-money to them. Sir, I am content to meet the scoffs of respectability; I think only of my children in my sober moments. On the racecourse I'm a gambler, I'm a blackleg (if you believe all you hear); but when the horses are passing the post and all the people are mad, I am quite quiet. I pray sir, to win; but I only pray because my children's faces are before me. Yes, sir, take away the drink and give me a chance of honest work and I might nearly be a good man."

The fellow's face grew almost youthful as he spouted, and I thought, "That little girl upstairs is very young. Her father is not an old man after all." Old he looks—battered, scared, frail; but he has a young heart. What a compound! The more I meditate, the more I am convinced that we shall have to invent a new morality. The standards whereby we judge men are far too rigid. Who shall say that Devine is bad? He is a victim to the disease of alcoholism, and his disease brings with it fits of selfishness. But there is another Devine—the real man—who is neither diseased nor selfish; and both are labelled as disreputable. When next I see poor Billy on the floor after his yelling fit I shall think of him in a friendly way. More than ever I am convinced by his fate that all the high-flying legislation, all the preaching of morality, all pulpit abstractions count for nothing. The best men must try by strenuous individual exertions to combat the subtle curse which has converted the good, generous Billy Devine into a mean debauche. I am out of it. I smoke with Billy, I clink glasses with Billy, I laugh at Billy's declamations, and I am often muddled when I leave Billy in the morning. He illustrates sordidly a chapter of England's history. I wish he didn't.


I was robbed last night, and it served me right for being a fool. A seedy, down-looking man hangs about The Chequers all day, and he never does any work except stick up the pins in the skittle alley. He has a sly, secret look, and I fancy he is one of the stupid class of criminals. We often talk together, but there is not much to be got out of him; he usually keeps his eye on someone else's pewter, and he is catholic in his taste for drinks. Of late he has been accompanied by three other persons—a stout, slatternly woman, whom he named as his wife; a rather pretty, snub-nosed girl, who dresses in tawdry prints; and a red-faced, thick-set, dark fellow, who grins perpetually and shows a nice set of teeth. The elder man confidentially informed me that the stout young man was his son-in-law.

We had been a long time acquainted before I learned anything definite about these four. The girl usually arrives about half-past ten; she spends money freely, and the four always take home a huge can of beer. Some while ago the young man—Blackey he is nicknamed—went out, and I followed him quietly. He had been affable with me all the evening, and went so far as to offer me a drink. It struck me that he was indirectly trying to pump me, for he said, "You don't talk like none of us. I reckon you've been on the road." Moreover, when we met he had saluted me thus, "Sarishan Pala. Kushto Bak," and this salutation happens to be Rommany. As we pursued our talk, he inquired, "You rakker Rommanis?" (You speak the gipsy tongue?) and I answered, "Avo." I could see that he wanted to establish some bond of communication between us, and that was why I followed him. As I quietly came up behind him he said, "That's tacho like my dad. I dicked a bar and a pash-crooner." (That's as true as can be. I saw a sovereign and a half-crown.) He was not comfortable when he saw me, and I knew I had been a fool to let him know that I spoke Rommany. However, I passed on as if I had not heard a word. The fellow had no doubt been told that I was a tramp, and he put a feeler to find out whether I knew the language of the road. Next day we met very early. I had stayed out all night with some poachers, and I was in The Chequers by half-past seven in the morning. Master Blackey was there also, and we exchanged greetings. He was blotchy and his eyes seemed heavy; moreover, he was without a drink, and I correctly guessed that he had no money. My evil genius prompted me to ask for brandy-and-soda, which was the last thing I should have done, and Blackey said, "Us blokes can't go for sixpenny drinks. Let me 'ave a drappie levinor." The gipsy word for ale was quietly dropped in, and I ordered the right stuff as if nothing unusual had been said. Then it flashed on me. "This beauty has heard of me from the Suffolk gipsies; he knows that I carry money sometimes, and he wants to find out if I am really the laulo Rye." (The Surrey Roms call me the Boro Rye; the Suffolk Roms call me laulo Rye.)

For a good while after this the times seemed to be rather bad for the four companions. Several times I saw Blackey mutter savagely when the girl came in, and it was easy to see that he was not a full-blood gipsy, or he would never have threatened to strike her in a public bar. Then it happened that I heard a yell one night as I was stealing around the by-streets after most of the drunken people had gone home. A man's voice growled harshly—it was like the snarl of a wild beast,—"Three nights you done no good. Blarst yer slobberin'! you ain't got no more savvey than a blank blank cow. I'd put a new head on yer for tuppence."

A woman answered, "You've struck me, you swine; and if I've got a black eye I'll quod you, sure as I'm yere. Ain't I lushed you, and fed you, and found your clobber long enough?"

"Garn, you farthin' face! Shet your neck."

"All very fine, Mister Blackey, but how would you like a smack in the bloomin' eye? I done the best as I knew for you, and there ain't a bloke round as has a judy wot'll go where I goes and hand over the wongur."

"Never mind, I was waxy when I done it. Maybe we'll 'ave some luck to morrow'."

I was hidden all this time, and I kept very quiet until the pair moved away. Over my last pipe I had many meditations, and formed my own conclusions about Master Blackey.

There are, as I have said, thousands of fellows who have never done any work, and never mean to do any; they are born in various grades of life; the public-house is their temple; they live well and lie warm, and you can see a fine set of them in the full flush of their hoggish jollity at any suburban race meeting. Blackey was a fair specimen of his tribe; they are often pleasant and plausible in a certain way, and it is really a pity that they cannot be forcibly drafted into the army, for they are always men of fine physique. They are vermin, if you like, but how admirably we protect them, and how convenient are the houses of call which we provide for them.

I went warily to work with Blackey, but I was resolved all the same to see him in his home. It happens that even Blackey's household has a hanger-on, who also happens to be a parasite of mine. He is a lanky, weedy lad, with a foxy face. His dark, oblique-set eyes, his high cheek-bones, his sharp chin, are vulpine to the last degree, and, as he slouches along with his shoulders rucked up and his knees bent, he looks like the Representative Thief. He is called Patsey, and I frequently spare him a copper; but his chief patron is Blackey, who often hands him the dregs of a pot of beer.

Yesterday morning Patsey waylaid me, but I waved him off. At night he caught me going in at the back gate of The Chequers; his hand trembled as he clutched my arm, and he said with chattering teeth, "Give me a dollar, and I'll tell you somethin'."

"Tell me the something first, and then we'll see about the dollar."

"Don't you go near Blackey's place to-night. They're a goin' to ast you if they kin. Blackey's found out as you've got respectable relations as wouldn't like to see your name in the papers, and he's goin' to 'ave a new lay on. 'Taint no bloomin' error neither. The gal—Tilley, don't-cherknow—she'll say, 'I'll walk home with you a bit,' when Blackey's out. He meets you, and he says, 'Wot 'cher doin' 'long o' my wife? Didn't I trust you at home? I'll expose you.' She ain't no more his wife than I am, so you look out."

"That's worth a dollar, Patsey. Now sneak you into the stables, and don't come near me all night."

I was quite at ease, and became convivial with Blackey and his worthy father-in-law. The only thing that worried me was the knowledge that I had one note in my watch-pocket besides my loose spending money. Still I felt sure of dodging the gang, and I tried to appear innocent as possible while the artless Blackey offered me liquor after liquor; and he remarked at about ten, "My missus orfen says to me, 'Why don't you fetch him home?' she says. If he brings a bottle we'll find our lot, and he'll be just as jolly as he is at Billy Devine's. What say to come down to-night?"

"All right, only not too late."

At twelve we departed, and I was taken to a row of low cottages, which, however, were fairly solid and neat. At first we sat in a kitchen, and I was accommodated with a tub for a seat. Our light came from the fire and a dull lamp, which only made a reddened twilight in the air. The fat woman watched me like a cat, and I fancied that her mouth was like that of a carnivorous beast. The sly old man looked on the ground, but his stealthy eye—like the eye of a cunning magpie—glittered sometimes as he turned it on me. Blackey was most cordial, and soon proposed a song. He obliged first, and warbled some ghastly affair which aimed at being nautical in sentiment. The chorus contained some observations like "Hilley-hiley-Hilley-ho," and it also gave us the information that gentleman named Jack would shortly come home from the sea. The thing was a silly Cockney travesty of a sailor's song, but we were all pleased with it, and it led the way nicely to the girl's ditty, which stated that somebody was going sailing, sailing, over the bounding main (sailors always mention the sea as the bounding main), and by easy steps we got to the fat woman's "Banks of Hallan Worrrtter." We were a jovial company: four of us were wondering how they could rob the fifth, and that fifth resolved, quite early in this seance, to use his knuckle-duster promptly, and to prevent either of the male warblers from getting behind him, at any risk. About three o'clock the junior lady placed herself on my knee, and her husband approvingly described her as a bloomin' baggage. I did not like the special perfume which my friend employed for her hair, and I also disliked the evidences which went to prove that the bath was not her favourite luxury; but we did not fall out, and, after a spell of sprightly song, we all indulged in a dance of the most spirited description. Drink was plentiful, and, as I saw I was being plied very freely, I pretended to be eager for more. This modified the strategy of my friends, for they were reasonably anxious to secure a skinful, and they feared lest my powers might prove to be abnormal. Four watching like wild beasts! One waiting, and calculating chances! The sullen, grey-eyed old man had taken on the aspect of a ferret; the fat woman was like that awful wretch who meets the pale girl in Hogarth's "Marriage a la Mode;" the bastard gipsy smiled in "leary" fashion, as if he were coming up for the second round of a fight, and knew that he had it all own way. I pumped up jokes, and my snub-nosed charmer pretended to laugh. Ah! what a laugh.

This was the position when Blackey declared that he must go. "Got to shunt, old man? You squat still, now, and git through that there lotion. I got to go to market, and we ain't no bloomin' moke. I'm on on my stand ten o'clock—no later—and that wants doin'. The missus'll fetch me some corrfee, and, hear you, put a nip o' that booze in. It warms yer liver up. By-by. Mind you stay, now, and no faint hearts. Mother, up with your heavy wet, and try suthin' short. I'm off!"

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