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



WE were determined to be in the fashion, and to visit the various delightful watering places on Long Island Sound. Of course it would be necessary to combine business with pleasure, and pursue our calling as beggars. With the exception of begging our food, which would not be difficult, seeing that the boarding houses were full, and that large quantities of good stuff were being made, there was no reason why we should not get as much enjoyment out of life as the summer visitors. We would share with them the same sun and breeze; we could dip in the surf at our own pleasure, and during the heat of the day we could stretch our limbs in the green shade, or in the shadow of some large rock that overlooked the Sound. However, we could no longer stand the sultry heat of New York, where we had been for several days, during which time we had been groaning and gasping for air. So I and Brum started out of the City, on the way towards Hartford, Connecticut, with the intention of walking no more than six miles a day along the seacoast. What a glorious time we had; the people catered for us as though we were the only tramps in the whole world, and as if they considered it providential that we should call at their houses for assistance. The usual order of things changed considerably. Cake-which we had hitherto considered as a luxury-became at this time our common food, and we were at last compelled to install plain bread and butter as the luxury, preferring it before the finest sponge cake flavoured with spices and eggs. Fresh water springs were numerous, gushing joyously out of the rocks, or lying quiet in shady nooks; and there was many a tramp's camp, with tin cans ready to hand, where we could make our coffee and consume the contents of paper bags. This part of the country was also exceptionally good for clothes. Summer boarders often left clothes behind, and of what use were they to the landladies, for no rag-and-bone man ever called at their houses. The truth of the matter was that in less than a week I was well dressed from head to foot, all of these things being voluntary offerings, when in quest of eatables. Brum, of course, had fared likewise, but still retained the same pair of dungarees, which he swore he would not discard except at the instance of a brand new pair of tweeds. It was this pair of working man's trousers which had caused a most regrettable mistake. We had just finished begging at one of these small watering-places and, loaded with booty, were on our way in the direction of the camp which, Brum informed me, was half a mile north of the town. When we reached this camp we found it occupied by one man, who had just then made his coffee and was about to eat. On which Brum asked this man's permission to use his fire, which would save us the trouble of making one of our own. The stranger gave a reluctant consent, and at the same time moved some distance away, as though he did not wish further intimacy. While we were gathering wood and filling our cans at the spring, I could not help but see this stranger glaring hatefully at my companion's trousers, and expected every moment to hear some insulting remark. At last we were ready and Brum proceeded to unload himself. He had eight or nine parcels of food distributed about his clothes, but in such a way that no one could be the wiser. It was then that I noted a change come over the stranger's face, who seeing the parcels, seemed to be smitten with remorse. In another moment he was on his feet and coming towards us, said impulsively-'Excuse me, boys, for not giving you a more hearty welcome, but really'- glancing again at my companion's trousers-'I thought you were working men, but I now see that you are true beggars.' Brum laughed at this, and mentioned that others had also been deceived. He explained that the said trousers had been given him against his wish, but on seeing that they were good, and were likely to outlast several pairs of cloth, he had resolved to stick to them for another month or two. 'I regret having had such an opinion of you,' said the stranger, in a choking voice, 'and trust, boys, that you will forgive me.' Thus ended in a friendly spirit what promised at first to become very unpleasant.

This stranger turned out to be New Haven Baldy. We had never had the pleasure of meeting him before, but had often heard of him. He had a great reputation in the State of Connecticut, which he never left-except for an annual trip through Massachusetts to the city of Boston. There was not one good house in the former State that was not known to Baldy. This was put to the test in our presence, that very day. A man came to the camp who, poor fellow, claimed to be a hard-working man. He had lost his job and had been robbed of his savings, now being forced to walk home to Meridan. He had never begged in his life, and had now been without food for two days, and was almost too weak to continue his journey. 'Yes,' said Baldy, 'and when you are settled at home, and the wrinkles are taken out of you, what sympathy will you have with us? You will tell us to go and work for our living, the same as yourself.' The poor fellow protested, saying that he had never known his mother to refuse any man food. At this Baldy pricked up his ears and enquired of the stranger his mother's address. On hearing the name of the street Baldy at once proceeded to describe the one-and only one-good house to be found there. 'That is our house,' said the stranger. Baldy, not yet convinced, asked for a description of the old lady and her husband. This was given, to Baldy's satisfaction. 'Well,' said he, 'I have had many a meal at your house, and you shall now have one with me.' Saying which he gave the stranger a parcel which, being spread on the grass, was seen to contain several meat sandwiches and a number of small cakes. After eating these, and others from Brum, the stranger left, saying that he would not again feel hungry until he reached home.

After the stranger had gone Baldy laughed immoderately. That man's father,' said he, 'was a railroad man, who became a boss, and at last retired on a comfortable little sum. In the kitchen, where the old people have often fed me, the old man has hung on the wall the shovel which he had used in his early days. There it is to be seen tasselled and kept shining bright, and treated reverently as a family heirloom. How I have laughed,' continued Baldy, 'to see that shovel, to think what a simple old fellow he must be to take a pride in showing how he toiled in his early life. Every time I go there the old man points at the shovel with pride, and I have as much as I can do to keep a calm face in listening to its history. But in spite of all that the old man is a good sort, and I am glad to have been able to assist his son.'

Alas, what a disastrous end was ours! When we reached the town of New Haven, we began to beg from passers by in the open streets and in less than an hour were in jail. On being brought up next morning before the judge, we were each sentenced to thirty days. But what hurt our feelings most was the personal comment of the judge-that we were two brawny scoundrels who would not work if we had the chance. However true this might be as applied to us in a moral sense, it certainly was not a literal fact, for we were both small men. People who, not seeing us, would read this remark in the local paper, would be misled as to our personal appearance. I am doubtful whether any judge is justified in using such a term. At any rate, thirty days had to be served.

We were in a far better position than an Italian who was waiting to be tried for murder, and whose cell was not far distant from ours.

At this jail we had to perform. the light labour of caning chairs, and were well treated in the way of food and sleeping accommodation and, in addition, received a liberal supply of chewing tobacco.

Being interested in the Italian, the first thing we did on regaining our liberty was to enquire as to his fate. We were told that he had received a life sentence; or, as our alien informant strangely expressed it-'Antonia, he didn't get some of de time, but he got all of de rime.'

Thus what promised to be a summer's outing full of enjoyment, came to a disastrous close sooner than we expected. And, when we were again free, the summer season was practically over, the visitors were gradually leaving for their town houses; which meant that our treatment at the boarding houses would become colder and colder in accordance with the number of boarders.

At this time I accepted employment as a wood-chopper, but unfortunately. the work did not last; and just as I began to feel the inclination for this more respectable life, I was discharged, much to Brum's delight, who was apparently disgusted with this new motivation called work, and could not understand any man's desire for it.