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



THE Farmhouse was under the management of an Irishman and his wife. He with a generous heart that always kept him poor, for he often assisted lodgers towards paying for their beds, who, I am sorry to say, were sometimes ungrateful in return. She, more circumspect, but kind hearted and motherly where she thought the case to be a deserving one.

With regards to literary ambition I always kept my own counsel, confiding in one man only- 'Cronje'; a man to be relied on, whose sympathetic ears were always open to receive either good or bad news.

I must have been in this house something like twelve months, when I took a sudden notion to send some work to a literary man, asking him for his opinion of the same. In a few days I received a letter stating that want of time prevented him from passing judgment on my work, which he regretted he would have to return unread. This did not offend me in the least, although I was greatly disappointed, for I knew that a man in his position could have little time to spare, and no doubt was pestered with correspondence of a like nature. But, unfortunately, the MS. returned in an ill condition, having been roughly handled through the post, and arrived at the Farmhouse with the ends of the envelope in tatters. When I received this ragged and disreputable parcel from the Manager, I knew that the cat was out of the bag, and that the secret which I had guarded so jealously was now the property of another, but I made no confession, thinking that he would broach the subject which he did on the following morning. On enquiring if the parcel I had received on the day previous was a manuscript, I lost no time in telling him everything. The upshot of this was that he persuaded me to send some work to a publisher, and if that gentleman thought the book worth publication, he, the Manager, had no doubt that one of the many rich people who were connected with the Farmhouse Mission could be induced to assist me. Hearing this I was sorry that I had not confided in him of my own accord, for I had often seen these rich people coming and going, looking, perhaps for deserving cases.

With these golden projects before me, I again set to work, and, in less than a month, the MS. was ready and in the hands of a publisher. That gentleman wrote in a few days saying that he thought there was literary merit, and that the cost of production would be thirty pounds. The publisher's name was well known, and the Manager was quite satisfied as to its being a genuine offer from an old and respectable firm. Quite contented in my own mind, my part having been performed without difficulty, I gladly allowed this man to take possession of this correspondence, and a few specimen books of verse, which the publisher had sent with it. and, having full trust in the man's goodness and influence, made myself comfortable, and settled down in a fool's paradise. I have never had cause to doubt his goodness, but he certainly overrated his power to influence the philanthropists on the behalf of a lodger.

Several weeks passed, and I had received no encouraging news. No mention had been made of my affairs, and I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this waste of time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day. This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave It, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour. There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called 'the dead man's seat.' It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer, who, unfortunately, had only three days' work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognize in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.

Weeks passed and then months, and I still heard nothing about my book. The Manager had failed, of that I at last became certain. I avoided him as much as possible, because of the confidence I had reposed in him. It was certainly very awkward for the both of us, and I felt much sympathy on his account. When he was near I felt extremely uncomfortable, and I am sure he felt none too easy in my presence.

Spring at last came, and I broke away from the lodging house fire, to indulge in the more pure rays of the sun. I began to absent myself from the house longer every day, until I at last began to regret that there was any necessity to return to It at all. The happiness and stir of Nature, at this time of the year, began to fill me with her own energy. I was in my room, one of these bright mornings, and was looking in the mirror, adjusting my scarf- the mirror and bed being the whole furniture. In this mirror I looked long enough to see a whke hair on the side of my head. Thinking this to be hardly true at my time of life, I shifted the glass to a better light, thinking it must have played me false; but sure enough, here it was-a single hair, as white as snow. Yes, I thought, with some bitterness, this comes of waiting to be fulfilled the promises of other people; and you will never rise if you do not make some effort of your own. Thinking of this white hair, I left the house, wondering what I could do to help myself. And, this particular morning, an idea occurred to me, so simple, so reasonable, and so easily to be accomplished, that it filled me with surprise that such a plan had not presented itself before. I had an income of eight shillings per week; then what was to prevent me from borrowing forty or fifty pounds, even though I paid for it a little more than usual interest? Again I was full of hope and happiness, for I could see nothing to prevent the accomplishment of this. My eight shillings were being received in sums of two pounds every five weeks. Two shillings a week were forwarded home, and I lived abstemiously on the remainder. My five weeks' money was due on the following week, so I at once began making preparations for a trip home. When this money arrived I determined to lose no time in executing these plans, for I had visions of being a white-headed man, if I remained under these hopeless conditions for another year or two. The money came on Saturday night, when it was due, and everything being prepared, I was that very night on my way to Paddington Station, after having told the manager that I was going home for a week, and that I would forward him my rent, if I remained longer than that time. Full of this idea I arrived at home.

The following Monday I invaded the offices of my old granny's lawyer, and telling him I wished to set up in business, consulted him as to the best way of borrowing the money, some forty or fifty pounds being necessary. He saw nothing to prevent this from being done, but strongly advised me not to do so; 'at any rate,' he said, 'see your trustee, ask him if he can lend you the amount, and, if he cannot see his way clear to do so, let me know!' In half an hour I was with the trustee. That gentleman had not the amount on hand, but had plans of his own which, if I strictly adhered to, would be more to my advantage in the long run.

'It is now June,' he said, 'and if you allow your income to stand until the beginning of the New Year, you will then have ten pounds saved to your account, and I give you my promise to advance another twenty pounds without a question of interest, making the amount thirty pounds!' Now it happened that three weeks before I left London, I had sent a work to a printer and publisher, who had priced two hundred and fifty copies at nineteen pounds; so that I knew well that thirty pounds would be ample to meet all expenses. But how was I to live for the next six months? Determined to make any sacrifice to attain this end, I closed with the trustee's offer, and, getting an advance from him of one pound, intended to return at once to London, but was persuaded to remain at home for another three weeks. At the end of this time I paid my fare back to London, and again took possession of my room, for which I had forwarded the rent during my absence. In less than four days after my return, I was very near penniless, and saw no other prospect than to start on another half year's wandering.

How foolish all this was! Why did I not start my travels from home, instead of wasting money on a return fare to London? Why did I pay three weeks' rent for the sake of returning to a room for as many days? Well, I had a faint hope that the Manager might, at last, after six months, have succeeded in his attempt.

I told the Manager that I was going on the road for a month or two, but mentioned no purpose, for I was now resolved to act for myself.
'You will always find room at the Farmhouse,' he said; 'do not doubt that.'
Trying to appear as cheerful as possible, for I knew this man was also disappointed, I left him, determined never to set foot in that house again until I could dispense with the services of others. At this time I had two silver shillings and some odd coppers, and would soon need assistance as a man, without any question as to my work as an author.

Again I was leaving London, not knowing how much I would have to suffer. One idea consoled me not a little; that I would not require money for a bed for at least three months to come; that the nights, though cold, would not be so dangerous as to kill. Whatever the consequences might be, even if this rough life threatened to injure my health permanendy, I was firmly resolved to sacrifice the next six months for whatever might follow them.