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GASLIGHT AND DAYLIGHT.
THE KEY OF THE STREET
IT is commonly asserted, and as commonly believed, that there
are seventy thousand persons in London who rise every morning without the
slightest knowledge as to where they shall lay their heads at night. However the
number may be over or understated, it is very certain that a vast quantity of
people are daily in the above-mentioned uncertainty regarding sleeping
accommodation, and that when night approaches, a great majority solve the
problem in a somewhat (to themselves) disagreeable manner, by not going to bed
People who stop up, or out all night, may be divided into three classes:- First, editors, bakers, market-gardeners, and all those who are kept out of their beds by business. Secondly, gentlemen and 'gents,' anxious to cultivate a knowledge of the 'lark' species, or intent on the navigation of the 'spree.' Thirdly, and lastly, those ladies and gentlemen who do not go to bed, for the very simple reason that they have no beds to go to.
The members of this last class - a very numerous one - are said, facetiously, to possess 'the key of the street.' And a remarkably disagreeable key it is. It will unlock for you all manner of caskets you would fain know nothing about. It is the 'open sesame' to dens you never saw before, and would much rather never see again, - a key to knowledge which should surely make the learner a sadder man, if it make him not a wiser one.
Come with me, luxuriant tenant of heavy-draped four-poster-basker on feather-bed, and nestler in lawn sheets. Come [-2-] with me, comfortable civic bolster-presser - snug woollen-nightcap-wearer. Come with me, even workman, labourer, peasant-sleeper on narrow pallet - though your mattress be hard, and your rug coarse. Leave your bed - bad as it may be - and gaze on those who have no beds at all. Follow with me the veins and arteries of this huge giant that lies a-sleeping. Listen while with 'the key of the street' I unlock the stony coffer., and bring forth the book, and from the macadamised page read forth the lore of midnight London Life.
I have no bed to-night. Why, it matters not. Perhaps I have lost my latch-key, - perhaps I never had one; yet am fearful of knocking up my landlady after midnight. Perhaps I have a caprice - a fancy - for stopping up all night. At all events, I have no bed; and, saving ninepence (sixpence in silver and threepence in coppers), no money. I must walk the streets all night; for I cannot, look you, get anything in the shape of a bed for less than a shilling. Coffee-houses, into which - seduced by their cheap appearance - I have entered, and where I have humbly sought a lodging, laugh my ninepence to scorn. They demand impossible eighteenpences - unattainable shillings. There is clearly no bed for me.
It is midnight - so the clanging tongue of St. Dunstan's tells me - as I stand thus, bedless, at Temple Bar. I have walked a good deal during the day, and have an uncomfortable sensation in my feet, suggesting the idea that the soles of my boots are made of roasted brick-bats. I am thirsty, too (it is July, and sultry), and, just as the last chime of St. Dunstan's is heard, I have half a pint of porter - and a ninth part of my ninepence is gone from me for ever. The public-house where I have it (or rather the beer-shop, for it is an establishment of the 'glass of ale and sandwich' description) is an early-closing one; and the proprietor, as he serves me, yawningly orders the pot-boy to put up the shutters, for he is 'off to bed.' Happy proprietor! There is a bristly-bearded tailor, too, very beery, having his last pint, who utters a similar somniferous intention. He calls it 'Bedfordshire.' Thrice happy tailor!
I envy him fiercely, as he goes out, though, God wot, his bedchamber may be but a squalid attic, and his bed a tattered hop-sack, with a slop great-coat-from the emporium of Messrs. Melchisedech and Son, and which he has been working at all day - for a coverlid. I envy his children (I am sure he has a [-3-] callow, ragged brood of them), for they have at least somewhere to sleep,-I havn't.
I watch, with a species of lazy curiosity, the whole process of closing the 'Original Burton Ale House,' from the sudden shooting up of the shutters, through the area grating, like gigantic Jacks-in-a-box, to the final adjustment of screws and iron nuts. Then I bend my steps westward, and at the corner of Wellington Street stop to contemplate a cab-stand.
Cudgel thyself, weary Brain,- exhaust thyself, Invention,- torture thyself, Ingenuity - all, and in vain, for the miserable acquisition of six feet of mattress and a blanket!
Had I the delightful impudence, now - the calm audacity - of my friend, Bolt, I should not be five minutes without a bed. Bolt, I verily believe, would not have the slightest hesitation in walking into the grandest hotel in Albemarle Street or Jermyn Street, asking for supper and a bootjack, having his bed warmed, and would trust to Providence and his happy knack of falling, like a cat, on all-fours, for deliverance in the morning. I could as soon imitate Bolt as I could dance on the tight-rope. Spunge again, that stern Jeremy Diddler, who always bullies you when you relieve him, and whose request for the loan of half a crown is more like a threat than a petition - Spunge, I say, would make a violent irruption into a friend's room; and, if he did not turn him out of his bed, would at least take possession of his sofa and his great-coats for the night, and impetuously demand breakfast in the morning. If I were only Spunge, now!
What am I to do? It is just a quarter past twelve; how am I to walk about till noon to-morrow? Suppose I walk three miles an hour, am I to walk thirty-five miles in these fearful London streets? Suppose it rains, can I stand under an archway for twelve hours?
I have heard of the dark arches of the Adelphi, and of houseless vagrants crouching there by night. But, then, I have read that police constables are nightly enjoined by their inspectors to route out these vagrants, and drive them from their squalid refuge. Then there are the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge, and the railway arches; but I abandon the idea of seeking refuge there, for I am naturally timorous, and I can't help thinking of chloroform and life-preservers in connexion with them. Though I have little to be robbed of, Heaven knows!
I have heard, too, of tramps' lodging-houses, and of the [-4-] 'twopenny rope.' I am not prepared to state that I would not avail myself of that species of accommodation, for I am getting terribly tired and foot-sore. But I don't know where to seek for it, and I am ashamed to ask.
I would give something to lie down, too. I wonder whether that cabman would think it beneath his dignity to accept a pot of porter, and allow me to repose in his vehicle till he got a fare? I know some cabmen never obtain one during the night, and I could snooze comfortably in hackney-carriage two thousand and twenty-two. But I cannot form a favourable opinion of the driver, who is discussing beer and democratic politics with the waterman; and neither he nor any of his brother Johns, indeed, seem at all the persons to ask a favour of.
It is Opera night, as I learn from the accidentally-heard remark of a passing policeman. To watch the departing equipages will, surely, help to pass the time on bravely, and with something almost like hope, I stroll to Covent Garden Theatre.
I am in the thick of it at once. Such a scrambling, pushing, jostling, and shouting! Such pawing of spirited horses, and objurgations of excited policemen! Now, Mrs. Fitzsomebody's carriage stops the way; and now, Mr. Smith, of the Stock Exchange, with two ladies on each arm, stands bewildered in a chaos of carriages, helplessly ejaculating 'Cab.' Now, is there a playful episode in the shape of a policeman dodging a pickpocket among horses' heads, and under wheels; and now, a pitiable one, in the person of an elderly maiden lady, who has lost her party in the crush, and her shoe in the mud, and is hopping about the piazza like an agonised sparrow. It is all over soon, however. The carriages rattle, and the cabs lumber away. The great city people, lords of Lombard Street, and kaisers of Cornhill, depart in gorgeous chariots, emblazoned in front and at the back. The dukes and marquises, and people of that sort, glide away in tiny broughams, and infinitesimal clarences. The highest personage of the land drives off in a plain chariot, with two servants in plain black, more like a doctor (as I hear a gentleman from the country near me indignantly exclaim) than a Queen. Mr. Smith has found his party, and the sparrow-like lady her shoe, by this time. Nearly everybody is gone. Stay, the gentleman who thinks it a . genteel' thing to go to the Opera, appears on the threshold carefully adjusting his white neckcloth with the huge bow, and donning a garment some-[-5-]thing between a smockfrock and a horsecloth, which is called, I believe, the 'Opera envelope.' He will walk home to Camberwell with his lorgnette case in his hand, and in white kid gloves, to let everybody know where he has been. The policemen and the night wanderers will be edified, no doubt. Following him comes the habitué, who is a lover of music, I am sure. He puts his gloves, neatly folded, into his breast-pocket, stows away his opera-glass, and buttons his coat. Then he goes quietly over to the Albion, where I watch him gravely disposing of a pint of stout at the bar. He is ten to one a gentleman: and I am sure he is a sensible man. And now all, horse and foot, are departed; the heavy portals are closed, and the Royal Italian Opera is left to the fireman, to darkness, and to me.
The bed question has enjoyed a temporary respite while these proceedings are taking place. Its discussion is postponed still further by the amusement and instruction I derive from watching the performances in the ham and beef shop at the corner of Bow Street. Here are crowds of customers, hot and hungry from the Lyceum or Drury Lane, and clamorous for sandwiches. Ham sandwiches, beef sandwiches, German sausage sandwiches - legions of sandwiches are cut and consumed. The cry is 'mustard,' and anon the coppers rattle, and payment is tendered and change given. Then come the people who carry home half a pound of 'cold round' or threepennyworth of 'brisket;' I scrutinise them, their purchases, and their money. I watch the scale with rapt attention, and wait with trembling eagerness the terrific combat between that last piece of fat and the half ounce weight. The half ounce has it; and the beef merchant gives the meat a satisfied slap with the back of his knife, and rattles the price triumphantly. I have been so intent on all this, that I have taken no heed of time as yet; so, when custom begins to flag, glancing at the clock, I am agreeably surprised to find it is ten minutes past one.
A weary waste of hours yet to traverse - the silence of the night season yet to endure. There are many abroad still; but the reputable wayfarers drop off gradually, and the disreputable ones increase with alarming rapidity. The great-coated policeman, the shivering Irish prowlers, and some fleeting shadows that seem to be of women, have taken undisputed possession of Bow Street and Long Acre; and but for a sprinkling of young thieves, and a few tipsy bricklayers, they would have it all their own way in Drury Lane.
[-6-] I have wandered into this last-named unsavoury thoroughfare, and stand disconsolately surveying its aspect. And it strikes me now, that it .is eminently distinguished for its street-corners. There is scarcely a soul to be seen in the street itself, but all the corners have posts, and nearly all the posts are garnished with leaning figures-now two stalwart policemen holding municipal converse-now two women, God help them! - now a knot of lads with pale faces, long greasy hair, and short pipes. Thieves, my friend- (if I had a friend) - unmistakeable thieves.
There are no professional beggars about-what on earth is there for them to be out for! The beggees are gone home to their suppers and their beds, and the beggars are gone home to their suppers and their beds. They have all got beds, bless you!
Some of the doorways have heaps of something huddled up within them; and ever and anon a policeman will come and stir the something up with his truncheon, or more probably with his boot. Then you will see a chaotic movement of legs and arms, and hear a fretful crooning with an Irish accent. Should the guardian of the night insist in the enforcement of his 'move on' decree -t he legs and arms will stagger a few paces onward, and as soon as the policeman's back is turned, slink into another doorway - to be routed out perchance again in another quarter of an hour by another truncheon, or another boot.
Half-past one by the clock of St. Mary-le -Strand, and I am in Charles Street, Drury Lane. It is a very dirty little street this - full worthy, I take it, to challenge competition with Church Lane or Buckeridge Street. A feeling, however, indefinable, but strong, prompts me to pursue its foul and devious course for some score of yards. Then I stop.
'Lodgings for single men at fourpence per night.' This agreeable distich greets me, pictured on the panes of a window, behind which a light is burning. I step into the road to have a good look at the establishment that proffers the invitation. It is a villanous ramshackle house - a horrible cut-throat-looking den, to be sure:- but then the fourpence! I think of that, Master Brooke! There is a profusion of handbills plastered on the door-jambs, which I can read by the light of a gas-lamp a few paces off. I decipher a flattering legend of separate beds, every convenience for cooking, and hot water always ready. I am informed that this is the real [-7-] model lodging-house; and I read, moreover, some derisive couplets relative to the Great Spitalfields lodging-House, which is styled a 'Bastile!' I begin fingering, involuntarily, the eightpence in my pocket. Heaven knows what uncouth company I may fall into; but then, fourpence! and my feet are so tired. Jacta est alea, I will have fourpennorth.
You have heard ore now what the 'deputy' of a tramps' lodging-house is like. I am received by the deputy - a short- haired low-browed stunted lout, sometimes, it is said, not over courteous to inquisitive strangers. As, however, I come to sleep, and not to inspect, I am not abused, but merely inspected and admitted. I am informed that, with the addition my company will make, the establishment is full. I pay my fourpence, without the performance of which ceremony I do not get beyond the filthy entrance passage. Then, the deputy bars the door, and, brandishing an iron candlestick as though it were an antique mace, bids me follow him.
What makes me, when we have ascended the rotten staircase, when I have entered my bedchamber - when the 'deputy' has even bid me a wolfish good-night - what makes me rush down stairs, and, bursting through the passage, beg him to let me out for Heaven's sake? What makes me, when the 'deputy' has unbarred the door, and bade me go out, and be something'd, and has not given me back my fourpence, stand sick and stupified in the street, till I wake up to a disgusted consciousness in being nearly knocked down by a group of staggering roysterers, howling out a drunken chorus?
It was not the hang-dog look of the 'deputy,' or the cutthroat appearance of the house. It was not even the aspect of the score or more ragged wretches who were to be my sleeping companions. It was, in plain English, the smell of the bugs. Ugh !-the place was alive with them. They crawled on the floor - they dropped from the ceiling - they ran mad races on the walls! Give me the key of the street, and let me wander forth again.
I have not got further than Broad Street, St. Giles's, before I begin to think that I have been slightly hasty. I feel so tired, so worn, so full of sleep now, that I can't help the thought that I might have fallen off into heavy sleep yonder and that the havoc committed by the bugs on my carcase might have been borne unfelt. It is too late now. The fourpence are departed, and I dare not face the deputy again.
[-8-] Two in the morning, and still black, thick, impervious night, as I turn into Oxford Street, by Meux's Brewery. The flitting shadows that seemed to be of women, have grown scarcer. A quarter past two, and I have gained the Regent Circus, and can take my choice, either for a stroll in the neighbourhood of the Regent's Park, or a quiet lounge in the district of the Clubs. Quite an epicure! I choose the Clubs, and shamble down Regent Street, towards Piccadilly.
1 feel myself slowly, but surely, becoming more of a regular night skulker - a houseless, hopeless, vagrant, every moment. I feel my feet shuffle, my shoulders rise towards my ears; my head goes on one side; I hold my hands in a crouching position before me; I no longer walk, I prowl. Though it is July, I shiver. As I stand at the corner of Conduit Street (all night skulkers affect corners), a passing figure, in satin and black lace, flings me a penny. How does the phantom know that I have the key of the streets? I am not in rags, and yet my plight must be evident. So I take the penny.
Where are the policemen, I wonder? I am walking in the centre of the road, yet, from end to end of the magnificent street, Icannot see a single soul. Stay, here is one. A little fair-headed ruffian leaps from the shadow of Archbishop Tenison's Chapel. He has on a ragged pair of trousers, and nothing else to speak of. He vehemently demands to be allowed to turn head over heels three times for a penny. I give him the penny the phantom gave me (cheap charity!), and intimate that I can dispense with the tumbling. But he is too honest for that, and, putting the penny in his mouths disappears in a series of summersaults. Then, the gas-lamps and I have it all to ourselves.
Safe at the corner (corners again you see!) of what was once the Quadrant, where a mongrel dog joins company. I know he is a dog without a bed, like I am, for he has not that grave trot, so full of purpose, which the dog on business has. This dog wanders irresolutely, and makes feigned turnings up by-streets - returning to the main thoroughfare in a slouching manner; he ruminates over cigar-stumps and cabbage-stalks, which no homeward-bound dog would do. But even that dog is happier than I am, for he can lie down on any doorstep, and take his rest, and no policeman shall say him nay; but the New Police Act won't let me do so, and says sternly that I must 'move on.'
Hallo! a rattle in the distance-nearer-nearer-louder and [-9-] louder! Now it bursts upon my sight. A fire-engine at full speed; and the street is crowded in a moment!
Where the people come from I don't pretend to say - but there they are-hundreds of them all wakeful and noisy, and clamorous. On goes the engine, with people hallooing, and following, and mingling with the night wind the dreadful cry of FIRE.
I follow of course. An engine at top speed is as potent a spell to a night prowler, as a pack of hounds in full cry is to a Leicestershire yeoman. Its influence is contagious too, and the crowd swells at every yard of distance traversed. The fire is in a narrow street of Soho, at a pickle-shop. It is a fierce one, at which I think the crowd is pleased; but then nobody lives in the house, at which I imagine they are slightly chagrined; for excitement, you see, at a fire is everything. En revanche there are no less than three families of small children next door, and the crowd are hugely delighted when they are expeditiously brought out in their night-dresses, by the Fire-brigade.
More excitement! The house on the other side has caught fire. The mob are in ecstasies, and the pickpockets make a simultaneous onslaught on all the likely pockets near them. I am not pleased, but interested - highly interested. I would pump, but I am not strong in the arms. Those who pump, I observe, receive beer.
I have been watching the blazing pile so long-basking, as it were, in the noise and shouting and confusion; the hoarse clank of the engines-the cheering of the crowd-the dull roar of the fire, that the bed question has been quite in abeyance, and I have forgotten all about it and the time. But when the fire is quenched, or at least brought under, as it is at last; when the sheets of flame and sparks are succeeded by columns of smoke and steam; when, as a natural consequence, the excitement begins to flag a little, and the pressure of the crowd diminishes; then, turning away from the charred and gutted pickle-shop, I hear the clock of St. Anne's, Soho, strike four, and find that it is broad daylight.
Four dreary hours yet to wander before a London day commences; four weary, dismal revolutions on the clock-face, before the milkman makes his rounds, and I can obtain access to my penatés, with the matutinal supply of milk!
To add to my discomfort and to the utter heart-weariness and listless misery which is creeping over me, it begins to [-10-] rain. Not a sharp pelting shower, but a slow, monotonous, ill-conditioned drizzle; damping without wetting - now deludinug you into the idea that it is going to hold up, and now with a sudden spirt in your face, mockingly informing you that it has no intention of the kind. Very wretchedly indeed I thread the narrow little streets about Soho, meeting no one but a tom-cat returning from his club, and a misanthropic-looking policeman, who is feeling shutter-bolts and tugging at door-handles with a vicious aspect, as though he were disappointed that some unwary householder had not left a slight temptation for a sharp housebreaker.
I meet another policeman in Golden Square, who looks dull; missing, probably, the society of the functionary who guards the fire-escape situated in that fashionable locality, and who hasn't come back from the burnt pickle-shop yet. He honours me with a long stare as I pass him.
'Good morning,' he says.
I return the compliment.
'Going home to bed?' he asks.
'Y-e-es,' I answer.
He turns on his heels and says no more; but, bless you! I can see irony in his bull's-eye - contemptuous incredulity in his oil-skin cape! It needs not the long low whistle in which to tell me that he knows very well I have no bed to go home to.
I sneak quietly down Sherrard Street into the Quadrant. I don't know why, but I begin to be afraid of policemen. I never transgressed the law - yet I avoid the 'force.' The sound of their heavy boot-heels disquiets me. One of them stands at the door of Messrs. Swan and Edgar's, and to avoid him I actually abandon a resolution I had formed of walking up Regent Street, and turn down the Haymarket instead.
There are three choice spirits who evidently have got beds to go to, though they are somewhat tardy in seeking them. I can tell that they have latch-keys, by their determined air - their bold and confident speech. They have just turned, or have been turned out from an oyster-room. They are all three very drunk, have on each other's hats, and one of them has a quantity of dressed lobster in his cravat.
These promising gentlemen are 'out on the spree.' The doors of the flash public-houses and oyster-rooms are letting out similar detachments of choice spirits all down the Hay-[-11-]market; some of a most patrician sort, with most fierce moustachios and whiskers; whom I think I have seen before, and whom I may very probably see again, in jackboots and golden aiguillettes, prancing on huge black horses by the side of Her Majesty's carriage, going to open Parliament. The gentlemen or rather gents on the 'spree' call this 'life.' They will probably sleep in the station-house this morning, and will be fined various sums for riotous conduct. They will get drunk, I dare say, three hundred times in the course of a year, for about three years. In the last-mentioned space of time they will bonnet many dozen policemen, break some hundreds of gas-lamps, have some hundreds of 'larks,' and scores of 'rows.' They will go to Epsom by the rail, and create disturbances on the course, and among the 'sticks,' and 'Aunt Sallies.' They will frequent the Adelphi at half-price, and haunt night-houses afterwards. They will spend their salaries in debauchery, and obtain fresh supplies of money from bill-discounters, and be swindled out of it by the proprietors of gambling-houses. Some day, when their health and their money are gone - when they are sued on all their bills, and by all the tradesmen they have plundered - they will be discharged from their situations,. or be discarded by their friends. Then they will subside into Whitecross Street and the Insolvent Debtors' Court - and then, God knows! they will die miserably, I suppose: of delirium tremens, maybe.
I have taken a fancy to have a stroll - save the mark ! - in St. James's Park, and am about to descend the huge flight of stone steps leading to the Mall, when I encounter a martial band, consisting of a grenadier in a great-coat, and holding a lighted lantern (it is light as noon-day), an officer in a cloak, and four or five more grenadiers in great-coats, looking remarkably ridiculous in those hideous grey garments. As to the officer, he appears to regard everything with an air of unmitigated disgust, and to look at the duty upon which he is engaged as a special bore. I regard it rather in the light of a farce. Yet, if I mistake not, these are 'Grand Rounds,' or something of the sort. When the officer gets within a few yards of the sentinel at the Duke of York's Column he shouts out some unintelligible question, to which the bearer of Brown Bess gives a responsive, but as unintelligible howl. Then the foremost grenadier plays in an imbecile manner with his lantern, like King Lear with his straw, and the officer flourishes his sword; and 'Grand Rounds' are over, so far as the Duke [-12-] of York is concerned, I suppose; for the whole party trot gravely down Pall Mall, towards the Duchess of Kent's.
I leave them to their devices, and saunter moodily into the Mall. It is but a quarter to five, now; and I am so jaded and tired that I can scarcely drag one foot after another. The rain has ceased; but the morning air is raw and cold; and the rawness clings, as it were, to the marrow of my bones. My hair is wet, and falls in draggled hanks on my cheeks. My feet seem to have grown preposterously large, and my boots so preposterously small. I wish I were a dog or a dormouse! I long for a haystack, or a heap of sacks, or anything. I even think I could find repose on. one of those terrible inclined planes which you see tilted towards you through the window of the Morgue at Paris. I have a good mind to smash a lamp, and be taken to the station-house. I have a good mind to throw myself over Westminster Bridge. I suppose I am afraid; for I don't do either.
Seeing a bench under a tree, I fling myself thereon; and, hard and full of knots and bumps as the seat is, roll myself into a species of ball, and strive to go to sleep. But oh, vain delusion! I am horribly, excruciatingly wakeful. To make the matter worse, I rise, and take a turn or two-then I feel as though I could sleep standing; but availing myself of what I consider a favourably drowsy moment, I cast myself on the bench again, and find myself as wakeful as before!
There is a young vagrant - a tramp of some eighteen summers - sitting beside me - fast asleep, and snoring with provoking pertinacity. He is half naked, and has neither shoes nor stockings. Yet he sleeps, and very soundly too, to all appearance. As the loud-sounding Horse-Guards clock strikes five, he wakes, eyes me for a moment, and muttering 'hard lines, mate,' turns to sleep again. In the mysterious freemasonry of misery, he calls me 'mate.' I suppose, eventually that I catch from him some portion of his vagrant acquirement of somnolence under difficulties, for, after writhing and turning on the comfortless wooden seat till every bone and muscle are sore, I fall into a deep, deep sleep - so deep it seems like death.
So deep that I don't hear the quarters striking of that nuisance to Park-sleepers, the Horse-Guards clock-and rise only, suddenly en sursaut, as six o'clock strikes. My vagrant friend has departed, and being apprehensive myself of cross examination from an approaching policeman (not knowing, in fact, what hideous crime sleeping in St. James's Park might be) I also [-13-] withdrew, feeling very fagged and footsore - yet slightly refreshed by the hour's nap I have had. I pass the stands where the cows are milked, and curds and whey dispensed, on summer evenings; and enter Charing Cross by the long Spring Garden passage.
I have been apprised several times during the night that this was a market-morning in Covent Garden. I have seen waggons, surmounted by enormous mountains of vegetable-baskets, wending their way through the silent streets. I have been met by the early costermongers in their donkey-carts, and chaffed by the costerboys on my forlorn appearance. But I have reserved Covent Garden as a bonne bouche - a wind-up to my pilgrimage; for I have heard and read how fertile is the market in question in subjects of amusement and contemplation.
I confess that I am disappointed. Covent Garden seems to me to be but one great accumulation of cabbages. I am pelted with these vegetables as they are thrown from the lofty summits of piled waggons to costermongers standing at the base. I stumble among them as I walk; in short, above, below, on either side, cabbages preponderate.
I dare say, had I patience, that I should see a great deal more; but I am dazed with cabbages, and jostled to and fro, and 'danged' dreadfully by rude market-gardeners - so I eschew the market, and creep round the piazza.
I meet my vagrant friend of the Park here, who is having a cheap and nutritious breakfast at a coffee-stall. The stall itself is a nondescript species of edifice-something between a gipsy's tent and a watchman's box; while, to carry out the comparison, as it were, the lady who serves out the coffee very much resembles a gipsy in person, and is clad in a decided watchman's coat. The aromatic beverage (if I may be allowed to give that name to the compound of burnt beans, roasted horse-liver, and refuse chicory, of which the coffee' is composed) is poured, boiling hot, from a very cabalistic-looking cauldron into a whole regiment of cups and saucers standing near; while, for more solid refection, the cups are flanked by plates bearing massive piles of thick bread and butter, and an equivocal substance, called 'cake.' Besides my friend the vagrant, two coster-lads are partaking of the hospitalities of the café; and a huge gardener, straddling over a pile of potato-sacks, hard by, has provided himself with bread and butter and coffee, from the same establishment, and is con-[-14-]suming them with such avidity that the tears start from his eyes at every gulp.
I have, meanwhile, remembered the existence of a certain fourpenny-piece in my pocket, and have been twice or thrice tempted to expend it. Yet, on reflection, I deem it better to purchase with it a regular breakfast, and to repair to a legitimate coffee-shop. The day is by this time getting rapidly on, and something of the roar of London begins to be heard in earnest. The dull murmur of wheels has never ceased, indeed, the whole night through; but now, laden cabs come tearing past on their way to the railway station. The night policemen gradually disappear, and sleepy potboys now gradually appear, yawning at the doors of public-houses-sleepy waitresses at the doors of coffee-houses and reading-rooms. There have been both public-houses and coffee-shops open, however, the whole night. The Mohawks' Arms' in the market never closes. Young Lord Stultus, with Captain Asinus of the Heavies, endeavoured to turn on all the taps there at four o'clock this morning, but at the earnest desire of Frume, the landlord, desisted; and subsequently subsided into a chivalrous offer of standing glasses of 'Old Tom' all round, which was as chivalrously accepted. As the 'all round' comprised some thirty ladies and gentlemen, Frume made a very good thing of it; and, like a prudent tradesman as he is, he still further acted on the golden opportunity, by giving all those members of the company (about three-fourths) who were drunk, glasses of water instead of gin; which operation contributed to discourage intemperance, and improve his own exchequer in a very signal and efficacious manner. As with the 'Mohawks' Arms,' so with the 'Turpin's Head,' the great market-gardeners' house, and the 'Pipe and Horse Collar,' frequented by the night cabmen-to say nothing of that remarkably snug little house near Drury Lane, 'The Blue Bludgeon,' which is well known to be the rendezvous of the famous Tom Thug and his gang, whose achievements in the strangling line, by means of a silk handkerchief and a life-preserver, used tourniquet fashion, were so generally admired by the consistent advocates of the ticket-of-leave system. I peep into some of these noted hostelries as I saunter about. They begin to grow rather quiet and demure as the day advances, and will be till midnight, indeed, very dull and drowsy pothouses, as times go. They don't light up to life, and jollity, and robbery, and violence, before the small hours.
[-15-] So with the coffee-shops. The one I enter, to invest my fourpence in a breakfast of coffee and bread and butter, has been open all night likewise; but the sole occupants now are a dirty waiter, in a pitiable state of drowsiness, and half a dozen homeless wretches who have earned the privilege of sitting down at the filthy tables by the purchase of a cup of coffee, and, with their heads on their hands, are snatching furtive naps, cut short-too short, alas ! -by the pokes and 'Wake up, there!' of the waiter. It is apparently his condigne to allow no sleeping.
I sit down here, and endeavour to keep myself awake over the columns of the 'Sun' newspaper of last Tuesday week - unsuccessfully, however. I am so jaded and weary, so dog-tired and utterly worn out, that I fall off again to sleep; and whether it is that the waiter has gone to sleep too, or that the expenditure of fourpence secures exemption for me, I am allowed to slumber.
I dream this time. A dreadful vision it is, of bugs, and cabbages, and tramping soldiers, and anon of the fire at the pickle-shop. As I wake, and find, to my great joy, that it is ten minutes past eight o'clock, a ragged little news-boy brings in a damp copy of the 'Times,' and I see half a column in that journal headed 'Dreadful Conflagration in Soho.'
Were I not so tired, I should moralize over this, no doubt; but there are now but two things in my mind - two things in the world for me - HOME and BED. Eight o'clock restores these both to me - so cruelly deprived of them for so long a time. So, just as London - work-away, steady-going London - begins to bestir itself, I hurry across the Strand, cross the shadow of the first omnibus going towards the Bank; and, as I sink between the sheets of MY BED, resign the key of the street into the hands of its proper custodian, whoever he may be-and, whoever he may be, I don't envy him.