[SCENE: Trafalgar Square. Dimly visible through the mist, a dozen people, Dorothy among them, are grouped about one of the benches near the north parapet.]
CHARLIE [singing]: ‘Ail Mary, ‘ail Mary, ‘a-il Ma-ary —[Big Ben strikes ten.]
SNOUTER [mimicking the noise]: Ding dong, ding dong! Shut your —— noise, can’t you? Seven more hours of it on this —— square before we get the chance of a setdown and a bit of sleep! Cripes!
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Non sum qualis eram boni sub regno Edwardi! In the days of my innocence, before the Devil carried me up into a high place and dropped me into the Sunday newspapers — that is to say when I was Rector of Little Fawley-cum-Dewsbury . . . .
DEAFIE [singing]: With my willy willy, WITH my willy willy —
MRS WAYNE: Ah, dearie, as soon as I set eyes on you I knew as you was a lady born and bred. You and me’ve known what it is to come down in the world, haven’t we, dearie? It ain’t the same for us as what it is for some of these others here.
CHARLIE [singing]: ‘Ail Mary, ‘ail Mary, ‘a-il Ma-ary, full of grace!
MRS BENDIGO: Calls himself a bloody husband, does he? Four pound a week in Covent Garden and ‘is wife doing a starry in the bloody Square! Husband!
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Happy days, happy days! My ivied church under the sheltering hillside — my red-tiled Rectory slumbering among Elizabethan yews! My library, my vinery, my cook, house- parlourmaid and groom-gardener! My cash in the bank, my name in Crockford! My black suit of irreproachable cut, my collar back to front, my watered silk cassock in the church precincts . . . .
MRS WAYNE: Of course the one thing I DO thank God for, dearie, is that my poor dear mother never lived to see this day. Because if she ever HAD of lived to see the day when her eldest daughter — as was brought up, mind you, with no expense spared and milk straight from the cow . . . .
MRS BENDIGO: HUSBAND!
GINGER: Come on, less ‘ave a drum of tea while we got the chance. Last we’ll get tonight — coffee shop shuts at ‘ar-parse ten.
THE KIKE: Oh Jesus! This bloody cold’s gonna kill me! I ain’t got nothing on under my trousers. Oh Je-e-e-EEZE!
CHARLIE [singing]: ‘Ail Mary, ‘ail Mary —
SNOUTER: Fourpence! Fourpence for six —— hours on the bum! And that there nosing sod with the wooden leg queering our pitch at every boozer between Aldgate and the Mile End Road. With ‘is —— wooden leg and ‘is war medals as ‘e bought in Lambeth Cut! Bastard!
DEAFIE [singing]: With my willy willy, WITH my willy willy —
MRS BENDIGO: Well, I told the bastard what I thought of ‘im, anyway. ‘Call yourself a man?’ I says. ‘I’ve seen things like you kep’ in a bottle at the ‘orspital,’ I says . . . .
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Happy days, happy days! Roast beef and bobbing villagers, and the peace of God that passeth all understanding! Sunday mornings in my oaken stall, cool flower scent and frou-frou of surplices mingling in the sweet corpse-laden air! Summer evenings when the late sun slanted through my study window — I pensive, boozed with tea, in fragrant wreaths of Cavendish, thumbing drowsily some half-calf volume — Poetical Works of William Shenstone, Esq., Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, J. Lempriere, D.D., professor of immoral theology . . .
GINGER: Come on, ‘oo’s for that drum of riddleme-ree? We got the milk and we got the tea. Question is, ‘oo’s got any bleeding sugar?
DOROTHY: This cold, this cold! It seems to go right through you! Surely it won’t be like this all night?
MRS BENDIGO: Oh, cheese it! I ‘ate these snivelling tarts.
CHARLIE: Ain’t it going to be a proper perisher, too? Look at the perishing river mist creeping up that there column. Freeze the fish-hooks off of ole Nelson before morning.
MRS WAYNE: Of course, at the time that I’m speaking of we still had our little tobacco and sweetstuff business on the corner, you’ll understand . . . .
THE KIKE: Oh Je-e-e-EEZE! Lend’s that overcoat of yours, Ginger. I’m bloody freezing!
SNOUTER:—— double-crossing bastard! P’raps I won’t bash ‘is navel in when I get a ‘old of ‘im!
CHARLIE: Fortunes o’ war, boy, fortunes o’ war. Perishing Square tonight — rumpsteak and kip on feathers tomorrow. What else d’you expect on perishing Thursday?
MRS BENDIGO: Shove up, Daddy, shove up! Think I want your lousy old ‘ed on my shoulder — me a married woman?
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: For preaching, chanting, and intoning I was unrivalled. My Lift up your Hearts’ was renowned throughout the diocese. All styles I could do you, High Church, Low Church, Broad Church and No Church. Throaty Anglo-Cat Warblings, straight from the shoulder muscular Anglican, or the adenoidal Low Church whine in which still lurk the Houyhnhnm-notes of neighing chapel elders . . . .
DEAFIE [singing]: WITH my willy willy —
GINGER: Take your ‘ands off that bleeding overcoat, Kikie. You don’t get no clo’es of mine while you got the chats on you.
As pants the ‘art for cooling streams,
When ‘eated in the chase —
MRS MCELLIGOT [in her sleep]: Was ‘at you, Michael dear?
MRS BENDIGO: It’s my belief as the sneaking bastard ‘ad another wife living when ‘e married me.
MR TALLBOYS [from the roof of his mouth, stage curate-wise, reminiscently]: If any of you know cause of just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony . . .
THE KIKE: A pal! A bloody pal! And won’t lend his bloody overcoat!
MRS WAYNE: Well, now as you’ve mentioned it, I must admit as I never WAS one to refuse a nice cup of tea. I know that when our poor dear mother was alive, pot after pot we used to . . .
NOSY WATSON [to himself, angrily]: Sod! . . . Gee’d into it and then a stretch all round. . . . Never even done the bloody job. . . . Sod!
DEAFIE [singing]: WITH my willy willy —
MRS MCELLIGOT [half asleep]: DEAR Michael. . . . He was real loving, Michael was. Tender an’ true. . . . Never looked at another man since dat evenin’ when I met’m outside Kronk’s slaughter-house an’ he gimme de two pound o’ sausage as he’d bummed off de International Stores for his own supper . . . .
MRS BENDIGO: Well, I suppose we’ll get that bloody tea this time tomorrow.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting, reminiscently]: By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion! . . .
DOROTHY: Oh, this cold, this cold!
SNOUTER: Well, I don’t do no more —— starries this side of Christmas. I’ll ‘ave my kip tomorrow if I ‘ave to cut it out of their bowels.
NOSY WATSON: Detective, is he? Smith of the Flying Squad! Flying Judas more likely! All they can bloody do — copping the old offenders what no beak won’t give a fair chance.
GINGER: Well, I’m off for the fiddlede-dee. ‘Oo’s got a couple of clods for the water?
MRS MCELLIGOT [waking]: Oh dear, oh dear! If my back ain’t fair broke! Oh holy Jesus, if dis bench don’t catch you across de kidneys! An’ dere was me dreamin’ I was warm in kip wid a nice cup a’ tea an’ two o’ buttered toast waitin’ by me bedside. Well, dere goes me last wink o’ sleep till I gets into Lambeth public lib’ry tomorrow.
DADDY [his head emerging from within his overcoat like a tortoise’s from within its shell]: Wassat you said, boy? Paying money for water! How long’ve you bin on the road, you ignorant young scut? Money for bloody water? Bum it, boy, bum it! Don’t buy what you can bum and don’t bum what you can steal. That’s my word — fifty year on the road, man and boy. [Retires within his coat.]
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: O all ye works of the Lord —
DEAFIE [singing]: WITH my willy willy —
CHARLIE: ‘Oo was it copped you, Nosy?
THE KIKE: Oh Je-e-e-EEZE!
MRS BENDIGO: Shove up, shove up! Seems to me some folks think they’ve took a mortgage on this bloody seat.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: O all ye works of the Lord, curse ye the Lord, curse Him and vilify Him for ever!
MRS MCELLIGOT: What I always says is, it’s always us poor bloody Catholics dat’s down in de bloody dumps.
NOSY WATSON: Smithy. Flying Squad — flying sod! Give us the plans of the house and everything, and then had a van full of coppers waiting and nipped the lot of us. I wrote it up in the Black Maria:
‘Detective Smith knows how to gee;
Tell him he’s a —— from me.’
SNOUTER: ‘Ere, what about our —— tea? Go on, Kikie, you’re a young ‘un; shut that —— noise and take the drums. Don’t you pay nothing. Worm it out of the old tart. Snivel. Do the doleful.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: O all ye children of men, curse ye the Lord, curse Him and vilify Him for ever!
CHARLIE: What, is Smithy crooked too?
MRS BENDIGO: I tell you what, girls, I tell you what gets ME down, and that’s to think of my bloody husband snoring under four blankets and me freezing in this bloody Square. That’s what I can’t stomach. The unnatural sod!
GINGER [singing]: THERE they go — IN their joy — Don’t take that there drum with the cold sausage in it, Kikie.
NOSY WATSON: Crooked? CROOKED? Why, a corkscrew ‘ud look like a bloody bradawl beside of him! There isn’t one of them double —— sons of whores in the Flying Squad but ‘ud sell his grandmother to the knackers for two pound ten and then sit on her gravestone eating potato crisps. The geeing, narking toe rag!
CHARLIE: Perishing tough. ‘Ow many convictions you got?
THERE they go — IN their joy —
‘APpy girl — LUcky boy —
NOSY WATSON: Fourteen. You don’t stand no chance with that lot against you.
MRS WAYNE: What, don’t he keep you, then?
MRS BENDIGO: No, I’m married to this one, sod ‘im!
CHARLIE: I got perishing nine myself.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: O Ananias, Azarias and Misael, curse ye the Lord, curse Him and vilify Him for ever!
THERE they go — IN their joy —
‘APpy girl — LUcky boy —
But ‘ere am I-I-I —
God, I ain’t ‘ad a dig in the grave for three days. ‘Ow long since you washed your face, Snouter?
MRS MCELLIGOT: Oh dear, oh dear! If dat boy don’t come soon wid de tea me insides’ll dry up like a bloody kippered herring.
CHARLIE: YOU can’t sing, none of you. Ought to ‘ear Snouter and me ‘long towards Christmas time when we pipe up ‘Good King Wenceslas’ outside the boozers. ‘Ymns, too. Blokes in the bar weep their perishing eyes out to ‘ear us. ‘Member when we tapped twice at the same ‘ouse by mistake, Snouter? Old tart fair tore the innards out of us.
MR TALLBOYS [marching up and down behind an imaginary drum and singing]:
All things vile and damnable,
All creatures great and small —
[Big Ben strikes half past ten.]
SNOUTER [mimicking the clock]: Ding dong, ding dong! Six and a —— half hours of it! Cripes!
GINGER: Kikie and me knocked off four of them safety-razor blades in Woolworth’s ‘s afternoon. I’ll ‘ave a dig in the bleeding fountains tomorrow if I can bum a bit of soap.
DEAFIE: When I was a stooard in the P. & O., we used to meet them black Indians two days out at sea, in them there great canoes as they call catamarans, catching sea-turtles the size of dinner tables.
MRS WAYNE: Did yoo used to be a clergyman, then, sir?
MR TALLBOYS [halting]: After the order of Melchizedec. There is no question of ‘used to be’, Madam. Once a priest always a priest. Hoc est corpus hocus-pocus. Even though unfrocked — un-Crocked, we call it — and dog-collar publicly torn off by the bishop of the diocese.
GINGER [singing]: THERE they go — IN their joy — Thank Christ! ‘Ere comes Kikie. Now for the consultation-free!
MRS BENDIGO: Not before it’s bloody needed.
CHARLIE: ‘Ow come they give you the sack, mate? Usual story? Choirgirls in the family way?
MRS MCELLIGOT: You’ve took your time, ain’t you, young man? But come on, let’s have a sup of it before me tongue falls out o’ me bloody mouth.
MRS BENDIGO: Shove up, Daddy! You’re sitting on my packet of bloody sugar.
MR TALLBOYS: Girls is a euphemism. Only the usual flannel- bloomered hunters of the unmarried clergy. Church hens — altar- dressers and brass-polishers — spinsters growing bony and desperate. There is a demon that enters into them at thirty-five.
THE KIKE: The old bitch wouldn’t give me the hot water. Had to tap a toff in the street and pay a penny for it.
SNOUTER:—— likely story! Bin swigging it on the way more likely.
DADDY [emerging from his overcoat]: Drum o’ tea, eh? I could sup a drum o’ tea. [Belches slightly.]
CHARLIE: When their bubs get like perishing razor stops? I know.
NOSY WATSON: Tea — bloody catlap. Better’n that cocoa in the stir, though. Lend’s your cup, matie.
GINGER: Jest wait’ll I knock a ‘ole in this tin of milk. Shy us a money or your life, someone.
MRS BENDIGO: Easy with that bloody sugar! ‘Oo paid for it, I sh’d like to know?
MR TALLBOYS: When their bubs get like razor stops. I thank thee for that humour. Pippin’s Weekly made quite a feature of the case. ‘Missing Canon’s Sub Rosa Romance. Intimate Revelations.’ And also an Open Letter in John Bull: ‘To a Skunk in Shepherd’s Clothing’. A pity — I was marked out for preferment. [To Dorothy] Gaiters in the family, if you understand me. You would not think, would you, that the time has been when this unworthy backside dented the plush cushions of a cathedral stall?
CHARLIE: ‘Ere comes Florry. Thought she’d be along soon as we got the tea going. Got a nose like a perishing vulture for tea, that girl ‘as.
SNOUTER: Ay, always on the tap. [Singing]
Tap, tap, tappety tap,
I’m a perfec’ devil at that —
MRS MCELLIGOT: De poor kid, she ain’t got no sense. Why don’t she go up to Piccadilly Circus where she’d get her five bob reg’lar? She won’t do herself no good bummin’ round de Square wid a set of miserable ole Tobies.
DOROTHY: Is that milk all right?
GINGER: All right? [Applies his mouth to one of the holes in the tin and blows. A sticky greyish stream dribbles from the other.]
CHARLIE: What luck, Florry? ‘Ow ‘bout that perishing toff as I see you get off with just now?
DOROTHY: It’s got ‘Not fit for babies’ on it.
MRS BENDIGO: Well, you ain’t a bloody baby, are you? You can drop your Buckingham Palace manners, ‘ere, dearie.
FLORRY: Stood me a coffee and a fag — mingy bastard! That tea you got there, Ginger? You always WAS my favourite, Ginger dear.
MRS WAYNE: There’s jest thirteen of us.
MR TALLBOYS: As we are not going to have any dinner you need not disturb yourself.
GINGER: What-o, ladies and gents! Tea is served. Cups forward, please!
THE KIKE: Oh Jeez! You ain’t filled my bloody cup half full!
MRS MCELLIGOT: Well, here’s luck to us all, an’ a better bloody kip tomorrow. I’d ha’ took shelter in one o’ dem dere churches meself, only de b — s won’t let you in if so be as dey t’ink you got de chats on you. [Drinks.]
MRS WAYNE: Well, I can’t say as this is exactly the way as I’ve been ACCUSTOMED to drinking a cup of tea — but still —[Drinks.]
CHARLIE: Perishing good cup of tea. [Drinks.]
DEAFIE: And there was flocks of them there green parakeets in the coco-nut palms, too. [Drinks.]
What potions have I drunk of siren tears,
Distilled from limbecs foul as Hell within!
SNOUTER: Last we’ll get till five in the —— morning. [Drinks.]
[Florry produces a broken shop-made cigarette from her stocking, and cadges a match. The men, except Daddy, Deafie, and Mr Tallboys, roll cigarettes from picked-up fag-ends. The red ends glow through the misty twilight, like a crooked constellation, as the smokers sprawl on the bench, the ground, or the slope of the parapet.]
MRS WAYNE: Well, there now! A nice cup of tea do seem to warm you up, don’t it, now? Not but what I don’t feel it a bit different, as you might say, not having no nice clean table-cloth like I’ve been accustomed to, and the beautiful china tea service as our mother used to have; and always, of course, the very best tea as money could buy — real Pekoe Points at two and nine a pound . . . .
THERE they go — IN their joy —
‘APPY girl — LUCKY boy —
MR TALLBOYS [singing, to the tune of ‘Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles’]: Keep the aspidistra flying —
CHARLIE: ‘Ow long you two kids been in Smoke?
SNOUTER: I’m going to give them boozers such a doing tomorrow as they won’t know if theyr’e on their ‘eads or their —— ‘eels. I’ll ‘ave my ‘alf dollar if I ‘ave to ‘old them upside down and —— shake ‘em.
GINGER: Three days. We come down from York — skippering ‘alf the way. God, wasn’t it jest about bleeding nine carat gold, too!
FLORRY: Got any more tea there, Ginger dear? Well, so long, folks. See you all at Wilkins’s tomorrow morning.
MRS BENDIGO: Thieving little tart! Swallers ‘er tea and then jacks off without so much as a thank you. Can’t waste a bloody moment.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Cold? Ay, I b’lieve you. Skipperin’ in de long grass wid no blanket an’ de bloody dew fit to drown you, an’ den can’t get your bloody fire going’ in de mornin’, an’ got to tap de milkman ‘fore you can make yourself a drum o’ tea. I’ve had some’v it when me and Michael was on de toby.
MRS BENDIGO: Even go with blackies and Chinamen she will, the dirty little cow.
DOROTHY: How much does she get each time?
CHARLIE: Bet your life. Do it for a perishing fag along towards morning.
MRS MCELLIGOT: I never took less’n a shilling, never.
GINGER: Kikie and me skippered in a boneyard one night. Woke up in the morning and found I was lying on a bleeding gravestone.
THE KIKE: She ain’t half got the crabs on her, too.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Michael an’ me skippered in a pigsty once. We was just a-creepin’ in, when, ‘Holy Mary!’ says Michael, ‘dere’s a pig in here!’ ‘Pig be ——!’ I says, ‘he’ll keep us warm anyway.’ So in we goes, an’ dere was an old sow lay on her side snorin’ like a traction engine. I creeps up agen her an’ puts me arms round her, an’ begod she kept me warm all night. I’ve skippered worse.
DEAFIE [singing]: WITH my willy willy —
CHARLIE: Don’t ole Deafie keep it up? Sets up a kind of a ‘umming inside of ‘im, ‘e says.
DADDY: When I was a boy we didn’t live on this ‘ere bread and marg and tea and suchlike trash. Good solid tommy we ‘ad in them days. Beef stoo. Black pudden. Bacon dumpling. Pig’s ‘ead. Fed like a fighting-cock on a tanner a day. And now fifty year I’ve ‘ad of it on the toby. Spud-grabbing, pea-picking, lambing, turnip-topping — everythink. And sleeping in wet straw and not once in a year you don’t fill your guts right full. Well —! [Retires within his coat.]
MRS MCELLIGOT: But he was real bold, Michael was. He’d go in anywhere. Many’s de time we’ve broke into an empty house an kipped in de best bed. ‘Other people got homes,’ he’d say. ‘Why shouln’t we have’m too!’
GINGER [singing]: But I’m dan — cing with tears — in my eyes —
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Absumet haeres Caecuba dignior! To think that there were twenty-one bottles of Clos St Jacques 1911 in my cellar still, that night when the baby was born and I left for London on the milk train! . . .
MRS WAYNE: And as for the WREATHS we ‘as sent us when our mother died — well, you wouldn’t believe! ‘Uge, they was . . . .
MRS BENDIGO: If I ‘ad my time over again I’d marry for bloody money.
But I’m dan — cing with tears — in my eyes —
‘Cos the girl — in my arms — isn’t you-o-ou!
NOSY WATSON: Some of you lot think you got a bloody lot to howl about, don’t you? What about a poor sod like me? You wasn’t narked into the stir when you was eighteen year old, was you?
THE KIKE: Oh Je-e-eEEZE!
CHARLIE: Ginger, you can’t sing no more’n a perishing tomcat with the guts-ache. Just you listen to me. I’ll give y’a treat. [Singing]: Jesu, lover OF my soul —
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Et ego in Crockford. . . . With Bishops and Archbishops and with all the Company of Heaven . . . .
NOSY WATSON: D’you know how I got in the stir the first time? Narked by my own sister — yes, my own bloody sister! My sister’s a cow if ever there was one. She got married to a religious maniac — he’s so bloody religious that she’s got fifteen kids now — well, it was him put her up to narking me. But I got back on ‘em, I can tell you. First thing, I done when I come out of the stir, I buys a hammer and goes round to my sister’s house, and smashed her piano to bloody matchwood. ‘There!’ I says, ‘that’s what you get for narking ME! You nosing mare!’ I says.
DOROTHY: This cold, this cold! I don’t know whether my feet are there or not.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Bloody tea don’t warm you for long, do it? I’m fair froze myself.
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: My curate days, my curate days! My fancywork bazaars and morris-dancers in aid of on the village green, my lectures to the Mothers’ Union-missionary work in Western China with fourteen magic lantern slides! My Boys’ Cricket Club, teetotallers only, my Confirmation classes — purity lecture once monthly in the Parish Hall — my Boy Scout orgies! The Wolf Cubs will deliver the Grand Howl. Household Hints for the Parish Magazine, ‘Discarded fountain-pen fillers can be used as enemas for canaries . . . .’
CHARLIE [singing]: Jesu, lover OF my soul —
GINGER: ‘Ere comes the bleeding flattie! Get up off the ground, all of you. [Daddy emerges from his overcoat.]
THE POLICEMAN [shaking the sleepers on the next bench]: Now then, wake up, wake up! Rouse up, you! Got to go home if you want to sleep. This isn’t a common lodging house. Get up, there! [etc., etc.]
MRS BENDIGO: It’s that nosy young sod as wants promotion. Wouldn’t let you bloody breathe if ‘e ‘ad ‘is way.
Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me TO Thy bosom fly —
THE POLICEMAN: Now then, YOU! What you think THIS is? Baptist prayer meeting? [To the Kike] Up you get, and look sharp about it!
CHARLIE: I can’t ‘elp it, sergeant. It’s my toonful nature. It comes out of me natural-like.
THE POLICEMAN [shaking Mrs Bendigo]: Wake up, mother, wake up!
MRS BENDIGO: Mother? MOTHER, is it? Well, if I am a mother, thank God I ain’t got a bloody son like you! And I’ll tell you another little secret, constable. Next time I want a man’s fat ‘ands feeling round the back of my neck, I won’t ask YOU to do it. I’ll ‘ave someone with a bit more sex-appeal.
THE POLICEMAN: Now then, now then! No call to get abusive, you know. We got our orders to carry out. [Exit majestically.]
SNOUTER [sotto voce]:—— off, you —— son of a ——!
While the gathering waters roll,
While the tempest still is ‘igh!
Sung bass in the choir my last two years in Dartmoor, I did.
MRS BENDIGO: I’ll bloody mother ‘im! [Shouting after the policeman] ‘I! Why don’t you get after them bloody cat burglars ‘stead of coming nosing round a respectable married woman?
GINGER: Kip down, blokes. ‘E’s jacked. [Daddy retires within his coat.]
NOSY WATSON: Wassit like in Dartmoor now? D’they give you jam now?
MRS WAYNE: Of course, you can see as they couldn’t reely allow people to sleep in the streets — I mean, it wouldn’t be quite nice — and then you’ve got to remember as it’d be encouraging of all the people as haven’t got homes of their own — the kind of riff-raff, if you take my meaning . . . .
MR TALLBOYS [to himself]: Happy days, happy days! Outings with the Girl Guides in Epping Forest — hired brake and sleek roan horses, and I on the box in my grey flannel suit, speckled straw hat, and discreet layman’s necktie. Buns and ginger pop under the green elms. Twenty Girl Guides pious yet susceptible frisking in the breast-high bracken, and I a happy curate sporting among them, in loco parentis pinching the girls’ backsides . . . .
MRS MCELLIGOT: Well, you may talk about kippin’ down, but begod dere won’t be much sleep for my poor ole bloody bones tonight. I can’t skipper it now de way me and Michael used to.
CHARLIE: Not jam. Gets cheese, though, twice a week.
THE KIKE: Oh Jeez! I can’t stand it no longer. I going down to the M.A.B.
[Dorothy stands up, and then, her knees having stiffened with the cold, almost falls.]
GINGER: Only send you to the bleeding Labour Home. What you say we all go up to Covent Garden tomorrow morning? Bum a few pears if we get there early enough.
CHARLIE: I’ve ‘ad my perishing bellyful of Dartmoor, b’lieve me. Forty on us went through ‘ell for getting off with the ole women down on the allotments. Ole trots seventy years old they was — spud-grabbers. Didn’t we cop it just! Bread and water, chained to the wall — perishing near murdered us.
MRS BENDIGO: No fear! Not while my bloody husband’s there. One black eye in a week’s enough for me, thank you.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting, reminiscently]: As for our harps, we hanged them up, upon the willow trees of Babylon! . . .
MRS MCELLIGOT: Hold up, kiddie! Stamp your feet an’ get de blood back into ‘m. I’ll take y’a walk up to Paul’s in a coupla minutes.
DEAFIE [singing]: WITH my willy willy —
[Big Ben strikes eleven.]
SNOUTER: Six more — hours! Cripes!
[An hour passes. Big Ben stops striking. The mist thins and the cold increases. A grubby-faced moon is seen sneaking among the clouds of the southern sky. A dozen hardened old men remain on the benches, and still contrive to sleep, doubled up and hidden in their greatcoats. Occasionally they groan in their sleep. The others set out in all directions, intending to walk all night and so keep their blood flowing, but nearly all of them have drifted back to the Square by midnight. A new policeman comes on duty. He strolls through the Square at intervals of half an hour, scrutinizing the faces of the sleepers but letting them alone when he has made sure that they are only asleep and not dead. Round each bench revolves a knot of people who take it in turns to sit down and are driven to their feet by the cold after a few minutes. Ginger and Charlie fill two drums at the fountains and set out in the desperate hope of boiling some tea over the navvies’ clinker fire in Chandos Street; but a policeman is warming himself at the fire, and orders them away. The Kike suddenly vanishes, probably to beg a bed at the M.A.B. Towards one o’clock a rumour goes round that a lady is distributing hot coffee, ham sandwiches, and packets of cigarettes under Charing Cross Bridge; there is a rush to the spot, but the rumour turns out to be unfounded. As the Square fills again the ceaseless changing of places upon the benches quickens until it is a game of musical chairs. Sitting down, with one’s hands under one’s armpits, it is possible to get into a kind of sleep, or doze, for two or three minutes on end. In this state, enormous ages seem to pass. One sinks into a complex, troubling dreams which leave one conscious of one’s surroundings and of the bitter cold. The night is growing clearer and colder every minute. There is a chorus of varying sound — groans, curses, bursts of laughter, and singing, and through them all the uncontrollable chattering of teeth.]
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint! . . .
MRS MCELLIGOT: Ellen an’ me bin wanderin’ round de City dis two hours. Begod it’s like a bloody tomb wid dem great lamps glarin’ down on you an’ not a soul stirren’ excep’ de flatties strollin’ two an’ two.
SNOUTER: Five past —— one and I ain’t ‘ad a bite since dinner! Course it ‘ad to ‘appen to us on a —— night like this!
MR TALLBOYS: A drinking night I should have called it. But every man to his taste. [Chanting] ‘My strength is dried like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my gums!’ . . .
CHARLIE: Say, what you think? Nosy and me done a smash jest now. Nosy sees a tobacconist’s show-case full of them fancy boxes of Gold Flake, and ‘e says, ‘By cripes I’m going to ‘ave some of them fags if they give me a perishing stretch for it!’ ‘e says. So ‘e wraps ‘is scarf round ‘is ‘and, and we waits till there’s a perishing great van passing as’ll drown the noise, and then Nosy lets fly — biff! We nipped a dozen packets of fags, and then I bet you didn’t see our a — s for dust. And when we gets round the corner and opens them, there wasn’t no perishing fags inside! Perishing dummy boxes. I ‘ad to laugh.
DOROTHY: My knees are giving way. I can’t stand up much longer.
MRS BENDIGO: Oh, the sod, the sod! To turn a woman out of doors on a night like bloody this! You wait’ll I get ‘im drunk o’ Saturday night and ‘e can’t ‘it back. I’ll mash ‘im to bloody shin of beef, I will. ‘E’ll look like two pennorth of pieces after I’ve swiped ‘im with the bloody flat-iron.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Here, make room’n let de kid sit down. Press up agen ole Daddy, dear. Put his arm round you. He’s chatty, but he’ll keep you warm.
GINGER [double marking time]: Stamp your feet on the ground — only bleeding thing to do. Strike up a song, someone, and less all stamp our bleeding feet in time to it.
DADDY [waking and emerging]: Wassat? [Still half asleep, he lets his head fall back, with mouth open and Adam’s apple protruding from his withered throat like the blade of a tomahawk.]
MRS BENDIGO: There’s women what if they’d stood what I’VE stood, they’d ave put spirits of salts in ‘is cup of bloody tea.
MR TALLBOYS [beating an imaginary drum and singing]: Onward, heathen so-oldiers —
MRS WAYNE: Well, reely now! If any of us’d ever of thought, in the dear old days when we used to sit round our own Silkstone coal fire, with the kettle on the hob and a nice dish of toasted crumpets from the baker’s over the way . . . .
[The chattering of her teeth silences her.]
CHARLIE: No perishing church trap now, matie. I’ll give y’a bit of smut — something as we can perishing dance to. You listen t’me.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Don’t you get talkin’ about crumpets, Missis. Me bloody belly’s rubbin’ agen me backbone already.
[Charlie draws himself up, clears his throat, and in an enormous voice roars out a song entitled ‘Rollicking Bill the Sailor’. A laugh that is partly a shudder bursts from the people on the bench. They sing the song through again, with increasing volume of noise, stamping and clapping in time. Those sitting down, packed elbow to elbow, sway grotesquely from side to side, working their feet as though stamping on the pedals of a harmonium. Even Mrs Wayne joins in after a moment, laughing in spite of herself. They are all laughing, though with chattering teeth. Mr Tallboys marches up and down behind his vast swag belly, pretending to carry a banner or crozier in front of him. The night is now quite clear, and an icy wind comes shuddering at intervals through the Square. The stamping and clapping rise to a kind of frenzy as the people feel the deadly cold penetrate to their bones. Then the policeman is seen wandering into the Square from the eastern end, and the singing ceases abruptly.]
CHARLIE: There! You can’t say as a bit of music don’t warm you up.
MRS BENDIGO: This bloody wind! And I ain’t even got any drawers on, the bastard kicked me out in such a ‘urry.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Well, glory be to Jesus, ‘twon’t be long before dat dere church in de Gray’s Inn Road opens up for de winter. Dey gives you a roof over your head of a night, ‘t any rate.
THE POLICEMAN: Now then, now THEN! D’you think this is the time of night to begin singing like a blooming bear garden? I shall have to send you back to your homes if you can’t keep quiet.
SNOUTER [sotto voce]: You —— son of a ——!
GINGER: Yes — they lets you kip on the bleeding stone floor with three newspaper posters ‘stead of blankets. Might as well be in the Square and ‘ave done with it. God, I wish I was in the bleeding spike.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Still, you gets a cup of Horlicks an’ two slices. I bin glad to kip dere often enough.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord! . . .
DOROTHY [starting up]: Oh, this cold, this cold! I don’t know whether it’s worse when you’re sitting down or when you’re standing up. Oh, how can you all stand it? Surely you don’t have to do this every night of your lives?
MRS WAYNE: You mustn’t think, dearie, as there isn’t SOME of us wasn’t brought up respectable.
CHARLIE [singing]: Cheer up, cully, you’ll soon be dead! Brrh! Perishing Jesus! Ain’t my fish-hooks blue! [Double marks time and beats his arms against his sides.]
DOROTHY: Oh, but how can you stand it? How can you go on like this, night after night, year after year? It’s not possible that people can live so! It’s so absurd that one wouldn’t believe it if one didn’t know it was true. It’s impossible!
SNOUTER:—— possible if you ask me.
MR TALLBOYS [stage curate-wise]: With God, all things are possible.
[Dorothy sinks back on to the bench, her knees still being unsteady.]
CHARLIE: Well, it’s jest on ‘ar-parse one. Either we got to get moving, or else make a pyramid on that perishing bench. Unless we want to perishing turn up our toes. ‘Oo’s for a little constitootional up to the Tower of London?
MRS MCELLIGOT: ‘Twon’t be me dat’ll walk another step tonight. Me bloody legs’ve given out on me.
GINGER: What-o for the pyramid! This is a bit too bleeding nine- day-old for me. Less scrum into that bench — beg pardon, Ma!
DADDY [sleepily]: Wassa game? Can’t a man get a bit of kip but what you must come worriting ‘in and shaking of ‘im?
CHARLIE: That’s the stuff! Shove in! Shift yourself, Daddy, and make room for my little sit-me-down. Get one atop of each other. That’s right. Never mind the chats. Jam all together like pilchards in a perishing tin.
MRS WAYNE: Here! I didn’t ask you to sit on my lap, young man!
GINGER: Sir on mine, then, mother —‘sall the same. What-o! First bit of stuff I’ve ‘ad my arm round since Easter.
[They pile themselves in a monstrous shapeless clot, men and women clinging indiscriminately together, like a bunch of toads at spawning time. There is a writhing movement as the heap settles down, and a sour stench of clothes diffuses itself. Only Mr Tallboys remains marching up and down.]
MR TALLBOYS [declaiming]: O ye nights and days, ye light and darkness, ye lightnings and clouds, curse ye the Lord!
[Deafie, someone having sat on his diaphragm, utters a strange, unreproducible sound.]
MRS BENDIGO: Get off my bad leg, can’t you? What you think I am? Bloody drawing-room sofa?
CHARLIE: Don’t ole Daddy stink when you get up agen ‘im?
GINGER: Bleeding Bank ‘oliday for the chats this’ll be.
DOROTHY: Oh, God, God!
MR TALLBOYS [halting]: Why call on God, you puling deathbed penitent? Stick to your guns and call on the Devil as I do. Hail to thee, Lucifer, Prince of the Air! [Singing to the tune of ‘Holy, holy holy’]: Incubi and Succubi, falling down before Thee! . . .
MRS BENDIGO: Oh, shut up, you blarsphemous old sod! ‘E’s too bloody fat to feel the cold, that’s what’s wrong with ‘im.
CHARLIE: Nice soft be’ind you got, Ma. Keep an eye out for the perishing flattie, Ginger.
MR TALLBOYS: Malecidite, omnia opera! The Black Mass! Why not? Once a priest always a priest. Hand me a chunk of toke and I will work the miracle. Sulphur candles, Lord’s Prayer backwards, crucifix upside down. [To Dorothy] If we had a black he-goat you would come in useful.
[The animal heat of the piled bodies had already made itself felt. A drowsiness is descending upon everyone.]
MRS WAYNE: You mustn’t think as I’m ACCUSTOMED to sitting on a gentleman’s knee, you know . . .
MRS MCELLIGOT [drowsily]: It took my sacraments reg’lar till de bloody priest wouldn’t give me absolution along o’ my Michael. De ole get, de ole getsie! . . .
MR TALLBOYS [striking an attitude]: Per aquam sacratam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio . . . .
GINGER: ‘Oo’s got a fill of ‘ard-up? I’ve smoked by last bleeding fag-end.
MR TALLBOYS [as at the altar]: Dearly beloved brethren we are gathered together in the sight of God for the solemnization of unholy blasphemy. He has afflicted us with dirt and cold, with hunger and solitude, with the pox and the itch, with the headlouse and the crablouse. Our food is damp crusts and slimy meat-scraps handed out in packets from hotel doorways. Our pleasure is stewed tea and sawdust cakes bolted in reeking cellars, bar-rinsing sand spittle of common ale, the embrace of toothless hags. Our destiny is the pauper’s grave, twenty-feet deep in deal coffins, the kip- house of underground. It is very meet, right and our bounden duty at all times and in all places to curse Him and revile Him. Therefore with Demons and Archdemons [etc., etc., etc.].
MRS MCELLIGOT [drowsily]: By holy Jesus, I’m half asleep right now, only some b —‘s lyin’ across my legs and crushin’ ‘em.
MR TALLBOYS: Amen. Evil from us deliver, but temptation into not us lead [etc., etc., etc.].
[As he reaches the first word of the prayer he tears the consecrated bread across. The blood runs out of it. There is a rolling sound, as of thunder, and the landscape changes. Dorothy’s feet are very cold. Monstrous winged shapes of Demons and Archdemons are dimly visible, moving to and fro. Something, beak or claw, closes upon Dorothy’s shoulder, reminding her that her feet and hands are aching with cold.]
THE POLICEMAN [shaking Dorothy by the shoulder]: Wake up, now, wake up, wake up! Haven’t you got an overcoat? You’re as white as death. Don’t you know better than to let yourself sprawl about in the cold like that?
[Dorothy finds that she is stiff with cold. The sky is now quite clear, with gritty little stars twinkling like electric lamps enormously remote. The pyramid has unrolled itself.]
MRS MCELLIGOT: De poor kid, she ain’t used to roughin’ it de way us others are.
GINGER [beating his arms]: Brr! Woo! ‘Taters in the bleeding mould!
MRS WAYNE: She’s a lady born and bred.
THE POLICEMAN: Is that so? — See here, Miss, you best come down to the M.A.B. with me. They’ll give you a bed all right. Anyone can see with half an eye as you’re a cut above these others here.
MRS BENDIGO: Thank you, constable, THANK you! ‘Ear that, girls? ‘A cut above us,’ ‘e says. Nice, ain’t it? [To the policeman] Proper bloody Ascot swell yourself, ain’t you?
DOROTHY: No, no! Leave me, I’d rather stay here.
THE POLICEMAN: Well, please yourself. You looked real bad just now. I’ll be along later and take a look at you. [Moves off doubtfully.]
CHARLIE: Wait’ll the perisher’s round the corner and then pile up agen. Only perishing way we’ll keep warm.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Come on, kid. Get underneath an’ let’m warm you.
SNOUTER: Ten minutes to —— two. Can’t last for ever, I s’pose.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart also in the midst of my body is like unto melting wax! . . .
[Once more the people pile themselves on the bench. But the temperature is now not many degrees above freezing-point, and the wind is blowing more cuttingly. The people wriggle their wind- nipped faces into the heap like sucking pigs struggling for their mother’s teats. One’s interludes of sleep shrink to a few seconds, and one’s dreams grow more monstrous, troubling, and undreamlike. There are times when the nine people are talking almost normally, times when they can even laugh at their situation, and times when they press themselves together in a kind of frenzy, with deep groans of pain. Mr Tallboys suddenly becomes exhausted and his monologue degenerates into a stream of nonsense. He drops his vast bulk on top of the others, almost suffocating them. The heap rolls apart. Some remain on the bench, some slide to the ground and collapse against the parapet or against the others’ knees. The policeman enters the Square and orders those on the ground to their feet. They get up, and collapse again the moment he is gone. There is no sound from the ten people save of snores that are partly groans. Their heads nod like those of joined porcelain Chinamen as they fall asleep and reawake as rhythmically as the ticking of a clock. Three strikes somewhere. A voice yells like a trumpet from the eastern end of the Square: ‘Boys! Up you get! The noospapers is come!’]
CHARLIE [starting from his sleep]: The perishing papers! C’m on, Ginger! Run like Hell!
[They run, or shamble, as fast as they can to the corner of the Square, where three youths are distributing surplus posters given away in charity by the morning newspapers. Charlie and Ginger come back with a thick wad of posters. The five largest men now jam themselves together on the bench, Deafie and the four women sitting across their knees; then, with infinite difficulty (as it has to be done from the inside), they wrap themselves in a monstrous cocoon of paper, several sheets thick, tucking the loose ends into their necks or breasts or between their shoulders and the back of the bench. Finally nothing is uncovered save their heads and the lower part of their legs. For their heads they fashion hoods of paper. The paper constantly comes loose and lets in cold shafts of wind, but it is now possible to sleep for as much as five minutes consecutively. At this time — between three and five in the morning — it is customary with the police not to disturb the Square sleepers. A measure of warmth steals through everyone and extends even to their feet. There is some furtive fondling of the women under cover of the paper. Dorothy is too far gone to care.
By a quarter past four the paper is all crumpled and torn to nothing, and it is far too cold to remain sitting down. The people get up, swear, find their legs somewhat rested, and begin to slouch to and fro in couples, frequently halting from mere lassitude. Every belly is now contorted with hunger. Ginger’s tin of condensed milk is torn open and the contents devoured, everyone dipping their fingers into it and licking them. Those who have no money at all leave the Square for the Green Park, where they will be undisturbed till seven. Those who can command even a halfpenny make for Wilkins’s cafe not far from the Charing Cross Road. It is known that the cafe will not open till five o’clock; nevertheless, a crowd is waiting outside the door by twenty to five.]
MRS MCELLIGOT: Got your halfpenny, dearie? Dey won’t let more’n four of us in on one cup o’tea, de stingy ole gets!
MR TALLBOYS [singing]: The roseate hu-ues of early da-awn —
GINGER: God, that bit of sleep we ‘ad under the newspapers done me some good. [Singing] But I’m dan-cing with tears — in my eyes —
CHARLIE: Oh, boys, boys! Look through that perishing window, will you? Look at the ‘eat steaming down the window pane! Look at the tea-urns jest on the boil, and them great piles of ‘ot toast and ‘am sandwiches, and them there sausages sizzling in the pan! Don’t it make your belly turn perishing summersaults to see ‘em?
DOROTHY: I’ve got a penny. I can’t get a cup of tea for that, can I?
SNOUTER:—— lot of sausages we’ll get this morning with fourpence between us. ‘Alf a cup of tea and a —— doughnut more likely. There’s a breakfus’ for you!
MRS MCELLIGOT: You don’t need buy a cup o’ tea all to yourself. I got a halfpenny an’ so’s Daddy, an’ we’ll put’m to your penny an’ have a cup between de t’ree of us. He’s got sores on his lip, but Hell! who cares? Drink near de handle an’ dere’s no harm done.
[A quarter to five strikes.]
MRS BENDIGO: I’d bet a dollar my ole man’s got a bit of ‘addock to ‘is breakfast. I ‘ope it bloody chokes ‘im.
GINGER [singing]: But I’m dan-cing with tears — in my eyes —
MR TALLBOYS [singing]: Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee!
MRS MCELLIGOT: You gets a bit o’ kip in dis place, dat’s one comfort. Dey lets you sleep wid your head on de table till seven o’clock. It’s a bloody godsend to us Square Tobies.
CHARLIE [slavering like a dog]: Sausages! Perishing sausages! Welsh rabbit! ‘Ot dripping toast! And a rump-steak two inches thick with chips and a pint of Ole Burton! Oh, perishing Jesus!
[He bounds forward, pushes his way through the crowd and rattles the handle of the glass door. The whole crowd of people, about forty strong, surge forward and attempt to storm the door, which is stoutly held within by Mr Wilkins, the proprietor of the cafe. He menaces them through the glass. Some press their breasts and faces against the window as though warming themselves. With a whoop and a rush Florry and four other girls, comparatively fresh from having spent part of the night in bed, debouch from a neighbouring alley, accompanied by a gang of youths in blue suits. They hurl themselves upon the rear of the crowd with such momentum that the door is almost broken. Mr Wilkins pulls it furiously open and shoves the leaders back. A fume of sausages, kippers, coffee, and hot bread streams into the outer cold.]
YOUTHS VOICES FROM THE REAR: Why can’t he —— open before five? We’re starving for our —— tea! Ram the —— door in! [etc., etc.]
MR WILKINS: Get out! Get out, the lot of you! Or by God not one of you comes in this morning!
GIRLS’ VOICES FROM THE REAR: Mis-ter Wil-kins! Mis-ter Wil-kins! BE a sport and let us in! I’ll give y’a kiss all free for nothing. BE a sport now! [etc., etc.]
MR WILKINS: Get on out of it! We don’t open before five, and you know it. [Slams the door.]
MRS MCELLIGOT: Oh, holy Jesus, if dis ain’t de longest ten minutes o’ de whole bloody night! Well, I’ll give me poor ole legs a rest, anyway. [Squats on her heels coal-miner-fashion. Many others do the same.]
GINGER: ‘Oo’s got a ‘alfpenny? I’m ripe to go fifty-fifty on a doughnut.
YOUTHS’ VOICES [imitating military music, then singing]:
‘——!’ was all the band could play;
‘——! ——’ And the same to you!
DOROTHY [to Mrs McElligot]: Look at us all! Just look at us! What clothes! What faces!
MRS BENDIGO: You’re no Greta Garbo yourself, if you don’t mind my mentioning it.
MRS WAYNE: Well, now, the time DO seem to pass slowly when you’re waiting for a nice cup of tea, don’t it now?
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: For our soul is brought low, even unto the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the ground!
CHARLIE: Kippers! Perishing piles of ‘em! I can smell ‘em through the perishing glass.
But I’m dan-cing with tears — in my eyes —
‘Cos the girl — in my arms — isn’t you-o-ou!
[Much time passes. Five strikes. Intolerable ages seem to pass. Then the door is suddenly wrenched open and the people stampede in to fight for the corner seats. Almost swooning in the hot air, they fling themselves down and sprawl across the tables, drinking in the heat and the smell of food through all their pores.]
MR WILKINS: Now then, all! You know the rules, I s’pose. No hokey-pokey this morning! Sleep till seven if you like, but if I see any man asleep after that, out he goes on his neck. Get busy with that tea, girls!
A DEAFENING CHORUS Of YELLS: Two teas ‘ere! Large tea and a doughnut between us four! Kippers! Mis-ter Wil-kins! ‘Ow much them sausages? Two slices! Mis-ter Wil-kins! Got any fag papers? Kipp-ers! [etc., etc.]
MR WILKINS: Shut up, shut up! Stop that hollering or I don’t serve any of you.
MRS MCELLIGOT: D’you feel de blood runnin’ back into your toes, dearie?
MRS WAYNE: He do speak rough to you, don’t he? Not what I’d call a reely gentlemanly kind of man.
SNOUTER: This is —— starvation Corner, this is. Cripes! Couldn’t I do a couple of them sausages!
THE TARTS [in chorus]: Kippers ‘ere! ‘Urry up with them kippers! Mis-ter Wilkins! Kippers all round! AND a doughnut!
CHARLIE: Not ‘alf! Got to fill up on the smell of ‘em this morning. Sooner be ‘ere than on the perishing Square, ALL the same.
GINGER: ‘Ere, Deafie! You’ve ‘ad your ‘alf! Gimme me that bleeding cup.
MR TALLBOYS [chanting]: Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with joy! . . .
MRS MCELLIGOT: Begod I’m half asleep already. It’s de heat o’ de room as does it.
MR WILKINS: Stop that singing there! You know the rules.
THE TARTS [in chorus]: Kipp-ers!
SNOUTER:—— doughnuts! Cold prog! It turns my belly sick.
DADDY: Even the tea they give you ain’t no more than water with a bit of dust in it. [Belches.]
CHARLIE: Bes’ thing —‘ave a bit of shut-eye and forget about it. Dream about perishing cut off the joint and two veg. Less get our ‘eads on the table and pack up comfortable.
MRS MCELLIGOT: Lean up agen me shoulder, dearie. I’ve got more flesh on me bones’n what you have.
GINGER: I’d give a tanner for a bleeding fag, if I ‘ad a bleeding tanner.
CHARLIE: Pack up. Get your ‘ead agenst mine, Snouter. That’s right. Jesus, won’t I perishing sleep!
[A dish of smoking kippers is borne past to the tarts’ table.]
SNOUTER [drowsily]: More —— kippers. Wonder ‘ow many times she’s bin on ‘er back to pay for that lot.
MRS MCELLIGOT [half-asleep]: ‘Twas a pity, ‘twas a real pity, when Michael went off on his jack an’ left me wid de bloody baby an’ all . . . .
MRS BENDIGO [furiously, following the dish of kippers with accusing finger]: Look at that, girls! Look at that! Kippers! Don’t it make you bloody wild? We don’t get kippers for breakfast, do we, girls? Bloody tarts swallering down kippers as fast as they can turn ‘em out of the pan, and us ‘ere with a cup of tea between four of us and lucky to get that! Kippers!
MR TALLBOYS [stage curate-wise]: The wages of sin is kippers.
GINGER: Don’t breathe in my face, Deafie. I can’t bleeding stand it.
CHARLIE [in his sleep]: Charles-Wisdom-drunk-and-incapable-drunk?- yes-six-shillings-move-on-NEXT!
DOROTHY [on Mrs McElligot’s bosom]: Oh, joy, joy!
[They are asleep.]
And so it goes on.
Dorothy endured this life for ten days — to be exact, nine days and ten nights. It was hard to see what else she could do. Her father, seemingly, had abandoned her altogether, and though she had friends in London who would readily have helped her, she did not feel that she could face them after what had happened, or what was supposed to have happened. And she dared not apply to organized charity because it would almost certainly lead to the discovery of her name, and hence, perhaps, to a fresh hullabaloo about the ‘Rector’s Daughter’.
So she stayed in London, and became one of that curious tribe, rare but never quite extinct — the tribe of women who are penniless and homeless, but who make such desperate efforts to hide it that they very nearly succeed; women who wash their faces at drinking fountains in the cold of the dawn, and carefully uncrumple their clothes after sleepless nights, and carry themselves with an air of reserve and decency, so that only their faces, pale beneath sunburn, tell you for certain that they are destitute. It was not in her to become a hardened beggar like most of the people about her. Her first twenty-four hours on the Square she spent without any food whatever, except for the cup of tea that she had had overnight and a third of a cup more that she had had at Wilkins’s cafe in the morning. But in the evening, made desperate by hunger and the others’ example, she walked up to a strange woman, mastered her voice with an effort, and said: ‘Please, Madam, could you give me twopence? I have had nothing to eat since yesterday.’ The woman stared, but she opened her purse and gave Dorothy threepence. Dorothy did not know it, but her educated accent, which had made it impossible to get work as a servant, was an invaluable asset to her as a beggar.
After that she found that it was really very easy to beg the daily shilling or so that was needed to keep her alive. And yet she never begged — it seemed to her that actually she could not do it — except when hunger was past bearing or when she had got to lay in the precious penny that was the passport to Wilkins’s cafe in the morning. With Nobby, on the way to the hopfields, she had begged without fear or scruple. But it had been different then; she had not known what she was doing. Now, it was only under the spur of actual hunger that she could screw her courage to the point, and ask for a few coppers from some woman whose face looked friendly. It was always women that she begged from, of course. She did once try begging from a man — but only once.
For the rest, she grew used to the life that she was leading — used to the enormous sleepless nights, the cold, the dirt, the boredom, and the horrible communism of the Square. After a day or two she had ceased to feel even a flicker of surprise at her situation. She had come, like everyone about her, to accept this monstrous existence almost as though it were normal. The dazed, witless feeling that she had known on the way to the hopfields had come back upon her more strongly than before. It is the common effect of sleeplessness and still more of exposure. To live continuously in the open air, never going under a roof for more than an hour or two, blurs your perceptions like a strong light glaring in your eyes or a noise drumming in your ears. You act and plan and suffer, and yet all the while it is as though everything were a little out of focus, a little unreal. The world, inner and outer, grows dimmer till it reaches almost the vagueness of a dream.
Meanwhile, the police were getting to know her by sight. On the Square people are perpetually coming and going, more or less unnoticed. They arrive from nowhere with their drums and their bundles, camp for a few days and nights, and then disappear as mysteriously as they come. If you stay for more than a week or thereabouts, the police will mark you down as an habitual beggar, and they will arrest you sooner or later. It is impossible for them to enforce the begging laws at all regularly, but from time to time they make a sudden raid and capture two or three of the people they have had their eye on. And so it happened in Dorothy’s case.
One evening she was ‘knocked off’, in company with Mrs McElligot and another woman whose name she did not know. They had been careless and begged off a nasty old lady with a face like a horse, who had promptly walked up to the nearest policeman and given them in charge.
Dorothy did not mind very much. Everything was dreamlike now — the face of the nasty old lady, eagerly accusing them, and the walk to the station with a young policeman’s gentle, almost deferential hand on her arm; and then the white-tiled cell, with the fatherly sergeant handing her a cup of tea through the grille and telling her that the magistrate wouldn’t be too hard on her if she pleaded guilty. In the cell next door Mrs McElligot stormed at the sergeant, called him a bloody get, and then spent half the night in bewailing her fate. But Dorothy had no feeling save vague relief at being in so clean and warm a place. She crept immediately on to the plank bed that was fixed like a shelf to the wall, too tired even to pull the blankets about her, and slept for ten hours without stirring. It was only on the following morning that she began to grasp the reality of her situation, as the Black Maria rolled briskly up to Old Street Police Court, to the tune of ‘Adeste fideles’ shouted by five drunks inside.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12