the supertramp - W.H.Davies - proseClick image for Davies home



ALTHOUGH I had at this time become lazy, losing almost all sense of respectability, I often reproached Brum for the aimlessness of this existence; telling him we must seek work and attend to other wants than those of the body. I would tell him of the arts, and how the cultivation of them was lost to us through a continual lack of funds. I told him of the pleasures of reading, visiting picture galleries, museums and theatres, and of the wonders of instrumental music, and of the human voice. Once when we were passing through a street in New Orleans, I paused to listen to a woman singing. Brum, like the faithful companion he was, waited my pleasure, until he too seemed to become impressed by some unusual feeling. The song ended, and as we went our way, I said--'There, Brum, what do you think of that?' 'O lor,' he answered, awestruck, 'wasn't she a blooming cat!' making me laugh heartily at such a strange expression of praise, knowing that it was meant to be truthful and sincere.

Having done a few days' work, as mentioned in the preceding chapter, I resolved to come to an understanding with Brum at once as to our future plans. With this end in view, I invited him to a drink, and thus began: 'What do you intend doing? Your life is not mine. We often go for days without reading matter, and we know not what the world is saying; nor what the world is doing. The beauty of nature is for ever before my eyes, but I am certainly not enriching my mind, for who can contemplate Nature with any profit in the presence of others. I have no leisure to make notes in hopes of future use, and am so over packing my memory with all these scenes, that when their time comes for use, they will not then take definite shape. I must go to work for some months, so that I may live sparingly on my savings in some large city, where I can cultivate my mind.' Now, Brum's method of begging was different in large cities from what it was in the country. In the latter he found no use for money, except for hair cutting or shaving; and when this became necessary he never failed to get the requisite amount for his purpose. When he was ready to have this office performed, it was his custom to interview the Catholic priest of the community, and beg the use of his razor, knowing it was part of that person's creed to shave continually. Of course, the priest would not think of lending his razor to an entire stranger, but seldom refused the ten cents that were necessary for that operation. But in the large cities, Brum scorned private houses, and begged money in the streets, and in their various stores; purchased his meals at a restaurant, and paid his lodgings like an honest working man. Therefore, thinking my discontent was mainly owing to the lack of funds, he said -'All this haste from place to place is not at all to my liking, if you wish to settle in a large city, I can guarantee two dollars a day, at the least, between us, for a visit to the theatre, music hall, for books, papers, or an occasional glass of grog.'. 'No, no,' I said, 'we must either work or part. There are three dollars, half of my earnings, so please yourself whether we work or part, whether you go or stay; for I have already decided my own course. What is it to be?' 'Well,' said he, after a long pause, 'we are now near to the hop country, and they start picking some time next week; that is about the only work to be had at this time of the year.'

Upon this we had several drinks, for I was so pleased at Brum's decision, that I ordered drink after drink with bewildering succession. Brum informed me of a freight train that was to leave the yards at midnight, on which we could beat our way to a small town on the borders of the hop country. Not knowing what to do with ourselves until that rime arrived, we continued to drink until we were not in a fit condition for this hazardous undertaking-except we were fortunate to get an empty car, so as to he down and sleep upon the journey. At last we made our way towards the yards, where we saw the men making up the train. We kept out of sight until that was done and then in the darkness Brum inspected one side of the train and I the other, in quest of an empty car. In vain we sought for that comfort. There was nothing to do but to ride the bumpers or the top of the car, exposed to the cold night air. We jumped the bumpers, the engine whistled twice, toot! toot! and we felt ourselves slowly moving out of the yards. Brum was on one car and I was on the next facing him. Never shall I forget the horrors of that ride. He had taken fast hold on the handle bar of his car, and I had done likewise with mine. We had been riding for some fifteen minutes, and the train was going at its full speed when, to my horror, I saw Brum lurch forward, and then quickly pull himself straight and erect. Several times he did this, and I shouted to him. It was no use, for the man was drunk and fighting against the overpowering effects, and it was a mystery to me how he kept his hold. At last he became motionless for so long that I knew the next time he lurched forward his weight of body must break his hold, and he would fall under the wheels and be cut to pieces. I worked myself carefully towards him and woke him. Although I had great difficulty in waking him, he swore that he was not asleep. I had scarcely done this when a lantern was shown from the top of the car, and a brakesman's voice hailed us. 'Halo, where are you two going?' 'To the hop fields,' I answered. 'Well,' he sneered, 'I guess you won't get to them on this train, so jump off, at once. Jump! d'ye hear?' he cried, using a great oath, as he saw we were little inclined to obey. Brum was now wide awake. 'if you don't jump at once,' shouted this irate brakesman, 'you will be thrown off.' 'To jump,' said Brum quietly, 'will be sure death, and to be thrown off will mean no more.' 'Wait until I come back,' cried the brakesman, 'and we will see whether you ride this train or not,' On which he left us, making his way towards the caboose. 'Now,' said Brum, 'when he returns we must be on the top of the car, for he will probably bring with him a coupling pin to strike us off the bumpers, making us fall under the wheels.' We quickly clambered on top and in a few minutes could see a light approaching us, moving along the top of the cars. We were now lying fiat, so that he might not see us until he stood on the same car. He was very near to us, when we sprang to our feet, and unexpectedly gripped him, one on each side, and before he could recover from his first astonishment. In all my life I have never seen so much fear on a human face. He must have seen our half drunken condition and at once gave up all hopes of mercy from such men, for he stood helpless, not knowing what to do. If he struggled it would mean the fall and death of the three, and did he remain helpless in our hands, it might mean being thrown from that height from a car going at the rate of thirty miles an hour. 'Now,' said Brum to him, 'what is it to be? Shall we ride this train without interference, or shall we have a wrestling bout up here, when the first fall must be our last? Speak?' 'Boys,' said he, affecting a short laugh, 'you have the drop on me; you can ride.' We watched him making his way back to the caboose, which he entered, but every moment I expected to see him reappear assisted by others. It might have been that there was some friction among them, and that they would not ask assistance from one another. For instance, an engineer has to take orders from the conductor, but the former is as well paid, if not better, than the latter, and the most responsibility is on his shoulders, and this often makes ill blood between them. At any rate, American tramps know well that neither the engineer nor the fireman, his faithful attendant, will inform the conductor or brakesman of their presence on a train. Perhaps the man was ashamed of his ill-success, and did not care to own his defeat to the conductor and his fellow brakesmen; but whatever was the matter, we rode that train to its destination and without any more interference.

As we neared the town we saw a large camp fire in a small dingle near the track, at which a man lay asleep. Seeing this comfortable sight, and being cold and tired, we made up our minds to jump off the train as soon as possible, and to return to that fire for a few hours' comfort. The whistle blew for the station, and the train began gradually to slacken speed, when we jumped from the bumpers; and our limbs being stiff, we staggered and fell, but received no hurt. It must have been a mile or more back to that place, but we arrived there in due time, and without waking its solitary occupant, were soon stretched out fast asleep .On the other side of the fire. When we awoke the stranger had already been to town, had returned with food, and was now making coffee in a tomato can, all of which he generously offered to share with us. This I gladly accepted, but Brum declined with thanks, saying that he was always capable of getting his own meals, and if needs be, could beg enough for half a dozen others. I gave this stranger my entire confidence, and soon learnt that he had come to these parts for the same purpose. 'We three,' said he, 'will work together on the same land, and under the one master. I am a moulder by trade,' he continued, 'and a week ago I had a hundred dollars saved, but went on the spree, and am now probably without a cent.' To my surprise, at this stage of the narrative, he unlaced his right boot and began to feel in its toes, at the same rime shaking his head despondently. After which he put it on again and laced it. 'Yes,' he said, taking off his coat and feeling the lining, 'a week ago I had a hundred dollars saved.'

Brum, having now returned from town laden with sandwiches, cakes, etc., and he having had a hot dinner from a convent we packed those necessaries for future use, and started on foot for the hop fields. Every now and then the stranger-whom Brum at once called Australian Red, owing to his being born in that country, and his having a florid complexion-would try our patience extremely by sitting on fallen timber and taking off his boot, sometimes the two; and after feeling in them, replacing them on his feet, with a sigh of disappointment. Often he would take off his hat and minutely examine the lining, to our unfeigned astonishment. At one time we lost all patience with him. He had seen a low stack of timber, and requested a few moments' delay. On this being granted, Australian Red began to take off his garments one by one, and to examine them. Not one article was placed aside without having undergone a thorough scrutiny, until nothing but his shirt remained. All this waste of time was very trying to our patience, and when he was again dressed, we requested him at once and for all to put a stop to such manoeuvres. We walked on in silence, but had scarcely covered a short mile, when Red was seen to be preparing to strip for another investigation. On seeing which Brum, losing a little patience, said - 'Look here, old fellow, if such is going to be your conduct, you can't, on no account, travel any further with us.' For a time Australian Red looked undecided, and then let his coat slip back to its position. 'It is like this,' he said, 'I am a moulder by trade: a week ago I had a hundred dollars saved, but where are they now? It is always my custom,' he continued, 'when I go on the spree, to secrete my money in some safe place. Although I have no recollection of doing so, I am positively assured that such has been the case; and would not be surprised at any moment to discover a twenty dollar bill in the lining of my clothes; but, with regards to the boots, I am now thoroughly satisfied.' When I became better acquainted with Australian Red, this peculiarity was often made apparent to me. Perhaps he did secrete money, for I have often wondered as to where it had vanished. Whether or not, it was certainly never to be found on his person, and must have been slipped under the mat in strange places, dropped into vases, or hidden behind looking-glasses.

In a day or two we reached the hop-fields and all three succeeded in being hired by the same farmer. This could not have been very well different, as neither one would have otherwise worked. The season, if I remember right, lasted between three and four weeks, which we began and finished, but were not very well satisfied with the financial result. Our total earnings were, clear of all expenses, about forty dollars, and with that amount we walked to the nearest large town intending to beat our way to New York and paint it a forty dollar red. We reached the said town, and made enquiries of a switchman as to when the next freight train would be leaving for New York. The sight of a flask of whiskey in the hands of Australian Red, enlightened us considerably as to the time of trains, their qualification for carrying human freight, and the cruel or kind disposition of their attendant crews. We made choice of a train leaving about dusk, and finding an empty car on a side track, we entered it, to wait as patiently as possible until that time came. We were not so quiet as we should have been, considering that we were trespassing on the railroad; and that is why we were soon startled by a voice crying: 'What are you doing there? Do you know that you are trespassing on the railroad?' With that the marshal of the town stood before the open door, showing the star of his authority on his dark clothes. 'I can't get any sleep day or night, through you fellows,' he said; 'consider yourselves under arrest.' Saying this, he marched us off at the point of a revolver, and began seeking the judge for our trial at that strange hour of the night.