Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala, 1859 - Chapter 30 - How I Went to Sea

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How many years ago is it, I wonder, when, resenting some boyish grievance, deeply and irrecoverably irate at some fancied injury, wounded and exacerbated in my tenderest feel­ings, I ran away from school with the hard, determined, unalterable intention of going on the tramp and then going to sea? The curtain has fallen years ago, and the lights have been put out long since, on that portion of my history. The door of the theatre has been long locked and the key lost where that play was acted. Let me break the door open now and clear away the cobwebs.
About that time there must have been an epidemic, I think, for running away at Mr. Bogryne’s establishment, Bolting House, Ealing. ‘Chivying’ we called it. We had three or four Eton boys among us, who had carried out so well the maxim of Floreat Etona at that classic establishment, that they had flourished clean out of it; and—whether it was they missed the daily flogging, (Mr. Bogryne was tender-hearted) or the fagging, or the interminable treadmill on the Gradus ad Parnassum (we were more commercial than classical)—they were always running away. One boy ‘chivied’ in consequence of a compulsory small-tooth comb on Wednesday evenings—he wouldn’t have minded it, he said, if it had been on Saturdays. Another fled his Alma Mater because he was obliged to eat fat, and another because he could not get fat enough. Spewloe, our biggest boy,—who was the greatest fool and the best carpenter of his age I ever knew—caught the chivying disease of the Etonians, and was continually absconding. He was always being brought back in a chaise-cart at breakfast-time, and spoiling our breakfast with his shrieks (he was fifteen, and bellowed like a bull) while undergoing punishment. They beat him, and he ran away the more. They took away his clothes, and he ran away the next day in the French master’s pantaloons (crimson crossbars on an orange ground), and the knife-boy’s jacket. They tried kindness with him, and fed him with large blocks of plum cake and glasses of ginger wine, but still he ran away. They rivetted a chain on him with a huge wooden log attached to it, as if he had [-346-] been a donkey; but he ran off next day, log and all, and was found browsing in a hedge, like an animal as he was. At last they sent for his Uncle, a fierce Being connected with the East Indies, in a blue surtout and white duck trousers; so starched and stiff and cutting, that his legs looked, as he walked, like a pair of shears. He took Spewloe away; but what he did with him I know not, for he never revealed the secrets of his prison-house. I saw him again, years afterwards, in a cab, with a tiger; his foolish face decorated with such tight whiskers and mustachoes, such a tight neckcloth, such tight boots and gloves and stays, that he could scarcely move. I believe he went into the army and to India, to fight the Affghans. I hope they proved less terrible to him than Bogryne, and that he did not run away from them.
I think, were I to be put upon my affirmation relative to the cause of my running away from Mr. Bogryne’s establishment, and going on tramp, that I should place it to the account of the Pie. There was a dreadful pie for dinner every Monday; a meat pie with a stony crust that did not break; but split into scaly layers, with horrible lumps of gristle inside, and such strings of sinew (alternated by lumps of flabby fat) as a ghoule might use as a rosary. We called it kitten pie—resurrection pie—rag pie—dead man’s pie. We cursed it by night, we cursed it by day: we wouldn’t stand it, we said; we would write to our friends; we would go to sea. Old Bogryne (we called him ‘old’ as an insulting adjective, as a disparaging adjective, and not at all with reference to the affection and respect due to age)—old Bogryne kept Giggleswick the monitor seven hours on a form with the pie before him; but Giggleswick held out bravely, and would not taste of the accursed food, he boxed the ears of Clitheroe (whose father supplied the groceries to the establishment, and who was called in consequence ‘Ginger’) like a sack, for remarking, sneeringly, to the cook, that he (Bogryne) never ate any of the pie himself, and that he knew the reason why. Candyman, my chum, found a tooth in the pie one day—a dreadful double-tooth. Who was going to stop in a school where they fed you with double-teeth? This, combined with the tyranny of the dancing-master, some difficulties connected with the size of the breakfast roll, and others respecting the conjugation of the verb tupto [-written in Greek alphabet, ed.-] , (for, though we were commercial, we learnt Greek, hang it!), and the confiscation of a favourite hocky stick—for which I had given no less a sum than fourpence and a copy of Philip [-347-] Quarll—drove me to desperation. I ‘chivied’ with the full intention of walking to Portsmouth, and going to sea. Lord help me!
One bright moonlight night I rose stealthily from my bed, dressed, and stole down stairs. I held my breath, and trod softly as I passed dormitory after dormitory; but all slept soundly. The French master—who was wont to decorate himself hideously at night with a green handkerchief round his head, and a night-garment emblazoned like the San benito of a victim of the Inquisition—gurgled and moaned as I passed his door: but he had a habit of choking himself in his sleep, and I feared him not. Clitheroe, who slept under the last flight of stairs, was snoring like a barrel organ; and Runks, his bedfellow, who was the best story-teller in the school, was telling idiotic tales, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, to himself in his slumbers. I crept across the playground cautiously, in the shadow of the wall. The play-shed ; the brick wall against which we were went to play ‘fives;’ the trim little gardens, three feet by four, where we cultivated mustard and cress, and flowering plants which never flowered; somehow seemed to glance reproachfully at me as I stole out like a thief in the night. The tall gymnastic pole on which we climbed appeared to east a loving, lingering shadow towards me, as if to bring me back. The sky was so clear, the moon was so bright, and the fleecy clouds were so calm and peaceful as they floated by, that I half repented of my design and began to blubber. But the clock of Ealing church striking, called to mind the bell I hated most—the ‘getting-up bell.’ The pie, the tooth, the dancing-master, the diminished roll, and the Greek verb, came trooping up; and, my unquenchable nautical ardour filling me with daring, I got over the low palings, and dropped into the high road on my way to sea.
Nobody was in my confidence. Such friends and relatives as I had were far away, and. I felt that ‘the world was all before me where to choose.’ My capital was not extensive. I had jacket, waistcoat, and trousers with the etceteras, half a crown in money, a curiously-bladed knife with a boat-hook and a corkscrew by way of rider, and an accordion. I felt that, with these though, I had the riches of Peru.
To this day I cannot imagine what the New Police could have been about, that moonlight night, that they did not pounce upon me, many-bladed knife, accordion and all, long before I reached Hyde Park Corner. Nor can I discover why Mr. [-348-] Bogryne pursued me in a chaise-cart and sent foot runners after me up and down all roads save the very one I was walking quietly along. I must have looked so very like a runaway boy. The ink was scarcely dry on my fingers; the traces of yesterday’s ruler were yet fresh on my knuckles; the dust of the play-ground adhered to my knees.
A bed next night at a London coffee-shop; a breakfast and a wild debauch on raspberry tarts and ginger-beer, very soon brought my half-crown to twopence, and I felt a lowness of spirits and the want of stimulants. A penny roll and a saveloy brought me to zero. The accordion was a bed the next night, and a sausage roll by way of breakfast, the next morning. The many-bladed knife produced a mouthful of bread and cheese and half a pint of beer for dinner. Then, having nothing, 1 felt independent.
By some strange intuitive education, I felt myself all at once a tramp, and looked at the journey to Portsmouth quite philosophica]ly. Curiously, when the produce of the many-bladed knife had been consumed and forgotten, and the want of another repast began to be very unpleasantly remembered; it never once occurred to me to turn back, to seek assistance from any friend or friend’s friend or boy’s father with whom I had spent a holiday in London. It never struck me that if employment were to be found at sea, there were docks and ships in London. I was bound for Portsmouth—why I know not—but bound as irrevocably as though I had a passport made out for that particular seaport, and the route was not by any means to be deviated from. If the London Docks were situated in New York, and if Blackwall were the port of Bombay, they could not, in my mind, have been more unattainable for the purpose of going to sea, than they were, only a mile or so off. I was not afraid of Mr. Bogyrne. I seemed to have done with him ages ago. I had quite finished and settled up accounts with him - so it appeared to me. He, and the days when I wore clean linen, and was Master Anybody, with a name written in the fly-leaf of a ciphering-book; with a playbox, and with friends to send me plum cakes and bright five-shilling pieces, were fifty thousand miles away. They loomed in the distance, just as the burning cities might have done to Lot’s wife, very dimly indeed.
It was Saturday afternoon. I well remember loitering some time about Vauxhall, and wondering whether that hot dusty read—with the odours of half a dozen bone-boiling establish-[-349-]ments coursing up and down it like siroccos—could be near the fairy establishment where there were always fifty thousand additional lamps, and to which young Simms at Bolting house had been—marvellous boy !—twice during the Midsummer holidays. After listlessly counting the fat sluggish barges on the river, and the tall dusty trees at Nine Elms (there was no railway station there then), I set out walking, doggedly. I caught a glimpse of myself in the polished plate-glass window of a baker’s shop, and found myself to be a very black grimy boy. Vagabondism had already set its mark upon me. I looked, so long and so earnestly, in at the baker’s window that the baker—a lean, spiky Scotchman (whose name, McCorquodale, in lean spiky letters above his shop-front, looked like himself), appeared to think I was meditating a bold border foray on his stock in trade, and rushed at me so fiercely round his counter with a bread-tin, that I fled like a young gazelle. I plodded down the Wandsworth road.; blushing very much as I passed people in clean shirts and well-brushed clothes, and pretty servant-maids, dressed out in ribbons like Maypoles, laughing and chattering in the gardens and at the doors of suburban villas. I had a dreadful qualm, too, on meeting a boarding-school for young gentlemen in full force, walking in procession two and two. As I passed the master—a stout man genteelly garotted in a white neckcloth, and walking severely with the youngest pupil as if he had him in custody—I shivered. Bolting House and Mr. Bogryne loomed, for an instant, not in the distance, but close upon me. Good. gracious! I thought - What if there should be some masonic intercourse between preceptors, relative to the recovery of runaways; some scholastic hue-and-cry; some telegraphic detection of chivying? But the schoolmaster passed me in silence, merely giving me a glance, and then glancing at his boys, as if he would say, ‘See, young gentlemen, the advantage of being boarded, washed, and educated in an establishment where moral suasion is combined with physical development (‘ Times,’ August 20). If ever you neglect your use of the globes, or sneer at your preceptors, or rebel at pies, you may come, some day, to look like that.’ The last and biggest boy, in a checked neckcloth and a stand-up collar, as I made way for him on the pavement, made a face at me. It was so like the face I used to make at the ragged little boys, when Bogryne’s pupils went out walking, that I sat down on a dogs’-meat vendor’s barrow and cried again.
[-350-] By some circuitous route which took me, I think, over Wandsworth Common, and through Roehampton and Putney, I got that evening to Kingston-upon-Thames. The sun was setting, as I leaned over the bridge. I was tired and hungry; but, dismissing the idea of supper, as something not sufficiently within the range of possibility to be discussed, I certainly began to feel anxious concerning bed. Where or how was it to be? Was it to be barn, or hay-rick, or out­house—or simply field, with the grass for a pillow, and the sky for a counterpane? My thoughts were interrupted by a stranger.
He was, like myself, a tramp: but, I think I may say without vanity, he was infinitely more hideous to look at. Short and squat and squarely built, he had the neck of a bull and the legs of a bandy tailor. His hands were as the hands of a prizefighter. They were so brown and horny that where the wrists joined on to his arm you might fancy the termination of a pair of leather gloves. His face was burnt, and. tanned with exposure to sun and rain to a dull brickdust colour; purple-red on the cheek-bones and tips of the nose and chin. Both hands and face were inlaid with a curious chequer-work of dirt, warranted to stand the most vigorous application of a scrubbing-brush. His head was close cropped like a blighted stubble-field, and his flabby ears kept watch on either side of it like scarecrows. He had pigs’ eyes of no particular colour; no eyebrows, no beard save a stubbly mildew on his upper lip like unto the mildew on a pet of paste, a ‘bashed’ nose, and a horrible hare-lip. He had an indefinite jacket with some letters—a W, I think, and an I—branded on one sleeve, a pair of doubtful trousers, and something that was intended for a shirt. None of these were ragged, nor could they be called patched, for they were one patch. Finally, he had a bundle in his hand, a cap like a disc cut out of a door-mat on his head, and something on his feet which I took to be a pair of fawn-coloured slippers, but which I subsequently found to be a coating of hardened mud and dust upon his skin.
He looked at me for a moment half curiously, half menacingly; and then said, in a shrill falsetto voice that threw me into a violent perspiration
‘Where wos you a going to?’
I replied, trembling, that I was going to bed.
‘And where wos you a going to sleep?’ he asked.
[-351-] I said I didn’t know.
He stroked the mildew on his lip and spoke again:—
    ‘I s’pose now you’ a young midshipmite?’
I am certain that I must have looked more like a young sweep, but I contented myself with saying that I did not belong to His Majesty’s service ;—yet.
‘W hat might you be a doing of, now?’ he demanded.
It was a dreadful peculiarity of this man that when he spoke he scratched himself; and that when he didn’t speak he gave his body an angular oscillatory wrench backwards and forwards from the shoulder to the hip, as if he had something to rasp between his jacket and his skin; which there is no doubt he had. I was so fearful and fascinated by his uncouth gestures that be had to repeat his question twice before I answered: then, not knowing what to describe myself, (for I could not even assume that most ambiguous of all titles, a gentleman), I said, at hazard, that I was a tailor.
Where wos you a going to-morrow?’
Isaid, hesitatingly, to Portsmouth.
‘Ah! to Portsmouth,’ resumed the man, ‘to Portsmouth, surely! Have you got thruppence?’
I replied, humbly, that I hadn’t.
‘No more haven’t I,’ said the tramp conclusively; ‘not a mag.'
There ensued an ambiguous, and, to me, somewhat terrifying silence. I feared that my companion was indignant at my poverty, and that, on the principle of having meal if he couldn’t get malt, he would have three-pennorth of jacket, or three-pennorth of waistcoat, or three-pennorth of blood. But I was agreeably disappointed; the villanous countenance of my companion cleared. up; and he said condescendingly—
    'I’m a traveller.’
‘And a very evil-looking traveller, too,’ I thought.
   ‘If you had got thruppence, and I had got thruppence,’ he went on to say, ‘I knows a crib down yonder where we might a snoozed snug. But if you ain’t got nuffin, and I ain’t got nuffin,’ the traveller continued, quite in a didactic style, ‘we must turn in at the Union. Do you know what the Union is?’
I had heard of the repeal of the Union, and the Union Jack, and one of our boy’s fathers was a member of the Union Club. I had an indistinct notion, too, of an Union [-352-] workhouse; but my fellow-tramp had some difficulty in explaining to me that the Union was a species of gratuitous hotel; a caravansary kept by the Poor Law Commissioners for the special relief of the class of travellers known in ordinary parlance as tramps, and in the New Poor Law Act as ‘casual paupers;’ and where, in consideration of doing an hour’s work in the morning, I could be provided with supper and a bed.
We walked together to the house of the relieving officer to obtain tickets of admission. The functionary in question lived in a pretty little cottage, with a shining brass door-plate much too large for the door, and a fierce bell; which, every time it pealed., shook the little house to its every honeysuckle. The parochial magnate was not at home; but a rosy girl with an illuminated ribbon and a species of petrified oyster as a brooch, and who was his daughter, I suppose—came to a little side window in the wall in answer to our summons; and, scarcely deigning to look at us, handed us the required tickets. Ah me! A twitch, a transient twitch came ever me when I thought that there had been days when Master Somebody in a prodigious lay-down collar and white ducks, had walked with young ladies quite as rosy, with brooches quite as petrified, and had even been called by them, ‘a bold boy.’
Misery, they say, makes a man acquainted with strange bed-fellows; but shall I ever again, I wonder, sleep in company with such strange characters as shared the trusses of straw, the lump of bread, and slab of Dutch cheese, that night, in the casual ward of Kingston workhouse? There was a hulking fellow in a smock-frock, who had been a navigator, but had fallen drunk into a lime-pit and burnt his eyes out, who was too lazy to beg for himself, and was led about by a ragged, sharp-eyed boy. There were two lads who tramped in company: they had been to sea and were walking from Gosport to London. My fellow, the man with the wrench, had been born a tramp and bred a tramp; his father was a tramp before him, and I dare say his children are tramps now.
‘Yer see,’ he deigned to explain to me, after he had despatched his supper, ‘I likes change. I summers in the country, and winters in London. There’s refuges and “ressipockles,” ‘ (by which, I presume, he meant receptacles) ‘in winter time, and lots of coves as gives yer grub. Then comes [-353-] spring time ; I gets passed to my parish—the farther oft the better, and I gets a penny a mile. When I gets there I goes cross country, on quite another tack. I knows every Union in England. In some they gives you bread and cheese, and un some broth, and in some skillygolee. In some they gives you breakfast in the morning, and in some they doesn’t. You have to work your bed out. Here, Kingston way, you wheels barrows; at Guildford you pumps; at Richmond you breaks stones; at Farnham you picks oakum; at Wandsworth they makes you grind corn in a hand-mill till your fingers almost drops off at yer wristés. At Brighton now, they’re a good sort, and only makes you chop up firewood; but Portsmouth’s the place! You’re a young'un,’ he pursued, looking at me benignantly, ‘and green. Now, I’ll give you a wrinkle. If you’re a-going to Portsmouth, you manage to get there on a. Saturday night; for they keeps you all day Sunday, and they won’t let you do no work; and they gives you the jolliest blow-out of beef and taters as ever passed your breastbone. The taters is like dollops o’meal!’
With this enthusiastic eulogium on the way in which they managed matters at Portsmouth, the traveller went to sleep— not gradually, but with a sudden grunt and jerk backward. The blind navigator and his guide had been snoring valorously for half an hour; and the two sailor lads, after an amicable kicking match for the biggest heap of straw, soon dropped off to sleep, too. There was an unsociable tinker in the corner, who had smuggled in a blacking-bottle full of gin, notwithstanding the personal search of the workhouse porter. He gave no one, however, any of the surreptitious cordial, but muddled himself in silence; merely throwing out a general apothegm to the auditory that he preferred getting drunk in bed, as ‘he hadn’t far to fall.’ He did get drunk, and he did fall. I was too tired, I think, to sleep; but none of my companions woke during the night, save an Irish reaper who appeared more destitute than any of us; but whom I watched, in the dead of the night, tying up some gold and silver in a dirty rag.
Next morning was Sunday—a glorious, sunshiny, bird-singing, tree-waving Sunday. They turned us out at eight o’clock with a meal of hot gruel, and without exacting any work from us. The hereditary tramp and I walked together from Kingston to Esher. The navigator stopped in Kingston, having a genteel begging walk in the environs: and the [-354-] Irishman sallied forth London-ward with a slipshod wife, and a tribe of ragged children, who had slept in the women's casual ward. With them went the two sailor lads; one of whom, with a rough kindness that would have made me give him a penny if I had possessed one, carried the Irishwoman's sickly baby.
‘Why don’t you chuck them ere shoeses off?’ asked my friend as we plodded. along. ‘They wouldn’t fetch nothing, to sell, and they’re only a bother to walk in, unless you was to put some wet grass in 'em. Look at my trotters,’ he continued, pointing to his feet, and tapping the sole of one of them with the blade of his knife, ‘they’se as hard as bricks, they is. Go buff-steppered—that’s the game.’
Some remnants of Master Somebody’s pride in his neat Bluchers must have lingered about me, for I declined the invitation to walk barefoot.
‘When shoes is shoes,’ pursued the tramp argumentatively, ‘they’se good for those as likes ‘em, which I don’t; but when they’re “crab-shells,” and leaky and gummy in the soles, and lark-heeled the sooner you get shut of ‘em the better. There’s togs, too,’ he pursued, looking with proper pride at his own attire, ‘the sooner you peels off them cloth kicksies the better. There ain’t no wear in ‘em, and they’se no good, if you ain’t on the flash lay. My jacket ‘s Guildford gaol. My trousers is Dartford union; and my flannel shirt is the Society for the ‘Ouseless Poor. When I can’t patch ‘m no longer, and they gets all alive like, I tears up. Do you know what “tearing” up is? A course you don’t. Well, I goes to a Union a night, and I rips up into bits every mortal bit I has upon me. Then they comes in the morning, and they puts me into a sack, and they puts me in a cart and takes me afore the beak. Tearing up is twenty-one days, and quod meals, which is mind ye reglar is good for a cove, and freshens him up.'
Here he sat down on a milestone; and producing a remarkably neat housewife case, proceeded to overhaul all parts of his apparel with as much care and circumspection as if they had been of purple and fine linen, catching up any stray rents and ‘Jacob’s ladders’ with a grave and deliberate countenance.
How long this man and I might have kept company I am not prepared to say; but we soon fell out. He descried, or fancied that he could descry, something in my face that would be sure to attract the sympathies of the benevolent, and [-355-] loosen their purse-strings; or, as he phrased it ‘nobble the flats;’ and he urged me with great vehemence, not only to beg pecuniary relief from all passers by, but also to diverge from the high road, and go ‘a grub cadging,’ i. e., to beg broken victuals at small cottages and gentlemen’s lodge-gates. Finding that I was too shamefaced, he felt himself, I suppose, called upon to renounce and repudiate me as unworthy his distinguished company and advice; and, telling me that I warn’t fit for tramping nohow, he departed in great dudgeon down a cross road leading towards Reading. I never saw him again.
I walked that day—very slowly and painfully, for my feet had begun to swell—to Guildford. I was very hungry and faint when I arrived, but could not muster courage enough to beg. I had a drink or two of water at public-houses, going along, which was always readily granted; and I comforted myself from milestone to milestone with the thought of a supper and bed at Guildford, where my ex-mentor had informed me there was a ‘stunning Union.’ But, woeful event! when I got to Guildford, it was full nine o’clock in the evening. The good people of that pleasant market town were taking their walks abroad, after church-service; good, easy, comfortable, family folk—fathers of families—sweethearts in loving couples—all, doubtless, with cosy suppers to go home to, and snug beds—and knowing and caring nothing for one poor, soiled, miserable tramp, toiling along the highway with his fainting spirit just kept breast high by the problematical reversion of a pauper’s pallet and a pauper’s crust. I soon found out the relieving officer, who gave me my ticket, and told me to look sharp or the Union would be closed; but I mistook the way, and stumbled through dark lanes, and found myself, weeping piteously and praying incoherently, in quag­mires; and when I did get at last to the grim, brick, castellated Union-house, the gates were closed, and admission to the casual ward was impossible. The porter, a fat, timid man, surveyed me through the grate, and drew back again as by the light of a lantern he scanned my gaunt, hunger-stricken mien. He thrust a piece of bread to me between the bars, and recommended me to seek the relieving officer again, who, he said, would find me a bed. Then, he wished me good night, and retreated into his little lodge or den with the air of a man who has got rid of a troublesome customer.
[-356-] Good night! it began to rain, and to menace a thunder­storm; but I sat down in a ditch, and devoured the bread. It was eleven o’clock, and I was wet to the skin; when by dint of dodging up and down dark lanes, and knocking up against posts, and bruising my shins over mile-stones, I got to the relieving officer’s again.
The relieving officer lived up a steep flight of steps; and, as I approached the bottom thereof, was peeping out at the door to see what sort of a night it was. He shook his head, either at the dirty aspect of the weather or at that of your humble servant, and was just about closing his door, when I ran up the steps and caught him by the coat-tail.
'Dear-a deary me!’ said the relieving officer, when I had explained my errand to him, ‘dear-a deary me!’
This was perplexing rather than encouraging; and I waited some moments for a more definite communication. But, none came, and the relieving officer kept staring at me with a bewildered expression, twitching nervously at a watch-ribbon meanwhile, and then whirling it round as if he intended presently to sling the seals at my head; but I made bold to tell him what the porter had told me about his finding me a bed.
‘Dear-a deary me!’ said the relieving officer again, dropping the threatened missiles; but, this time, with a shake of the head that gave solemn significance to his words. ‘Where am I to find a bed?’
    This was a question that I could not answer; nor, apparently, could the relieving officer. So he changed the theme.
'There isn’t such a thing as a bed,’ he remarked.
I don’t think that he meant to deny the existence of such a thing as a bed, taken in the light of a bed; but rather that he intended to convey the impossibility of there being such arm institution as a bed for such as I was.
‘You must go further,’ he said.
‘Where further?’ I asked desperately.
‘Oh, I’m sure I can’t say,’ replied the relieving officer; ‘you must go on. Yes,’ he repeated with another stare of bewilderment and clutch at his watch appendages, ‘go on— further—there’s a good lad.’
Whatever I may have found inclination to respond to this invitation, was cut short by the relieving officer shutting the door precipitately, and putting up the chain. So I did go on; [-357-] but not much further. I wandered down to the banks of the canal, where I found a coal-barge just unladen. It was very hard, and black, and gritty; but I found out the softest board, and, in that barge, in spite of all the rain and the coal-dust, I slept soundly.
From Guildford to Farnham next day, through Alton; where, if I remember right, the ale is brewed. My feet were terribly swollen and blistered; but, with a sullen pride I kept to my shoes. I have those shoes to this day in a neat case. Such crabshells! It was just one o’clock when I walked into Farnham; but, I was so tired out, that, pending the opening of my hotel, the workhouse, I turned into a field, and slept there, under a hedge, until nearly eight o’clock.
I may remark as a noteworthy feature of the frame of mind I must have been in during my tramp, that although I was a sharp boy, with a taste for art and a keen eye for the beauties of nature, I observed nothing, admired nothing—nor smiling landscapes, nor picturesque villages, nor antique churches. I saw, felt, thought, of nothing but of the mortal miles I had to walk. The counties of Surrey and Hampshire were to me but vast deserts of coach-roads, diversified by oases of milestones, with a Mecca or Medina, in the shape of an Union workhouse, at the end of each day’s weary travel. I met wayfarers like myself, but they were merely duplicates of the sunburnt tramp, the Irish reaper, and the drunken tinker. There was, now and then, a stray Italian boy, and an Alsatian broom-girl or so; and once I met a philanthropist in a donkey-cart, who sold apples, onions, pots and pans, red- hem-rings, Common Prayer Books, and flannel. He gave me a raw red herring—if, being already cured, that fishy esculent can be said to be raw. Raw or cooked, I ate it there and then.
I never begged. Stout farmers’ wives, with good-humoured countenances, threw inc a halfpenny sometimes, and one pleasant-spoken gentleman bade me wait till he saw whether he could find sixpence for me. But he had no change, he said; and, bidding me good evening in quite a fatherly manner, rode away on his dapple gray steed. Has he change, now, I wonder?
When I woke up I went straight to the workhouse. Farnham did not boast an Union, but had a workhouse of the old school. The master was a pleasant old man, with a large white apron, amid gave me a liberal ration of bread and cheese. [-358-] I happened to be the only occupant of the ward that evening; and, being locked up early, I had time to look about me, and select time cleanest and softest-looking truss of straw. The whitewashed walls were covered with the names of former tramps ; their poetical effusions and their political sentiments were scratched with nails or scrawled in charcoal. John Hind had laboured hard to rhyme ‘workhouse’ with ‘sorrow; but, although he had covered some six feet of wall with his efforts, he had not succeeded. Some anonymous hand had scrawled in desperate Roman capitals ‘God help the poor;’ to which I said. ‘Amen.’ Mr. Jack Bullivant had recorded, in energetic but untranscribable terms, his disapproval of the quality of the cheese; and J. Naylor had given vent to his democratic enthusiasm in ‘Hurrah for uni’—something which looked like unicorn, but was intended, I fancy, to mean ‘universal suffrage.’ Chartism was the great wall-cry in those days. Close to the door was the sign manual of ‘Paul Sweeny, bound to London with Fore Kids.’ Motherless, perhaps.
There had been one ‘casual’ in before me; but he was taken so violently ill immediately after his admission, that he had. been removed into another out-house, on to a truckle bed: the rules of the establishment not permitting his being transferred to the infirmary. The poor wretch lay groaning piteously, as I could hear with painful distinctness through the thin wall that separated him from the casual ward. His groans became at last so appalling that they worked me into an agony of terror; and  I clung to the locked door (in the centre of which there was a largish grating) and beat against it, to the great disgust and irritation of the porter; who, with a lantern at the end of a pitchfork, came in to look at the moribund occasionally, and who made a rush at me at last as he would have done at a young bull. ‘It’s all over with him,’ he said to me in remonstrance; ‘so where’s the good? The doctor’s gone to a birth; but we’ve give him a bottle of stuff till he comes, and made him comfable. So lie down.’
Whatever the ‘stuff’ was—doctors’ stuff, kitchen stuff, or household stuff—the miserable man continued ‘ moaning of his life out’ as the porter said querulously, until it was almost morning. Then the doctor (a pale, over-worked, under-paid young man with tight trousers, and spectacles, always in a chaise and a perspiration) came; and I heard him tell the porter that the man would ‘go off easily.’ He presently did.
[-359-] They let me out at eight o’clock—sick, dizzy, and terrified. ‘I told you so,’ the porter said with apologetic complacency, ‘he went off quite “comfable.” ‘ This was his epitaph. Who he was or what he was—where he came from or whither he was going—no man knew, and it was no man’s business to inquire. I suppose they put him in the plain deal shell, which I saw the village carpenter tacking together as I turned down the street, and. so lowered him under ground. They might have written ‘comfable’ on his tombstone, for any purpose a word would serve—if they gave paupers tomb­stones; which they do not.
But, this poor dead unknown man did me a service. For, whether I was superstitious, or whether my nerves were unstrung, or whether repentance at my obdurate folly came tardily, but came at last, I went no farther on the way to Portsmouth, but thought I wouldn’t go to sea, just at present, and tramped manfully back to Ealing, determined to take all Mr. Bogryne could give me, and be thankful. But I did not get what I expected and what I deserved. I found anxious friends just on the point of putting out bills of discovery, as for a strayed puppy; I found a fatted calf already slaughtered—kindness, affection, forgiveness, and Home.
There was but one drawback to my happiness. With some strong preconceived notion of the dreadful company I must have been keeping, and the horrible dens I must have sojourned in, my relations and friends found it to be their bounden duty to wash me continually. When it wasn’t warm bath, it was yellow soap and scrubbing-brushes; and when it wasn’t that, it was foot-bath. I was washed half away. I was considerably chafed, and morally hustled, too, by good pious relatives in the country; who, for many months afterwards, were for ever sending me thick parcels; which, seeing, I thought to be cakes; which, opening, I found to be tracts.
I have walked a good deal to and fro on the surface of this globe since then; but I have never been to sea—on similar terms—since, any more.