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



IT is not unusual to read of cases where men who have descended to the lowest forms of labour - aye, even become tramps - being sought and found as heirs to fortunes, left often by people who either had no power to will otherwise, or whom death had taken unawares. Therefore, when one fine morning a cab drove up to a beer-house, which was also a tramps' lodging house, and a well dressed gentleman entered and enquired of the landlord for a man named James Macquire - the landlord at once pronounced him to be a solicitor in quest of a lost heir. "Sir," said he, "we do not take the names of our lodgers, but several are now in the kitchen. James Macquire, you said*?" On receiving answer in the affirmative the landlord at once visited the lodgers' kitchen, and standing at the door enquired in a very respectable manner if there was any gentleman present by the name of Macquire, whose christian name was James. At which a delicate looking man, who had arrived the previous night, sprang quickly to his feet and said in a surprised voice - "That is my name." "Well," said the landlord, "a gentleman wishes to see you at once; he came here in a cab, and, for your sake, I trust my surmises are right."

With the exception of having on a good clean white shirt, the man Macquire was ill clad, and he looked ruefully at his clothes, and then at the landlord. "Please ask the gentleman to wait," said he, and, going to the tap, began to wash his hands and face, after which he carefully combed his hair.

The strange gentleman was seated quietly in the bar when the man Macquire presented himself, and the landlord was engaged in washing glasses and dusting decanters. "Mr. James Macquire?" asked the gentleman, rising and addressing the ill-clad one in a respectful manner, which the landlord could not help but notice. "That is my name," answered Macquire, with some dignity. "Do you know anything of Mr. Frederick Macquire, of Doggery Hall?" asked the gentleman. "I do," said the ill-clad one; and, after a long pause, and seeming to give the information with much reluctance, he added - "Mr. Frederick Macquire, of Doggery Hall, is my uncle." Several other questions were asked and answered. "That will do, thank you," said the gentleman; "will you please call at the 'King's Head' and see me at seven p.m.? You have been advertised for since the death of Mr. Frederick Macquire, some weeks ago. Good morning," he said, shaking James Macquire by the hand in a highly respectful manner, as the landlord could not fail to see, totally regardless of the man's rags.

The ill-clad one stood at the bar speechless, apparently absorbed in deep thought. "What will you have to drink?" asked the landlord kindly. "Whisky," answered Macquire, in a faint voice. After drinking this, and another, he seemed to re- cover his composure, and said to the landlord - "I am at present, as you must know, penniless, and you would greatly oblige me by the loan of a few shillings, say half a sovereign until I draw a couple of hundred pounds in advance. Whatever I receive from you, you shall have a receipt, and, al- though nothing is said about interest, the amount owing will be doubled, aye trebled, you may rest assured of that, for I never forget a kindness." "You had better take a sovereign," said the land- lord, "and, of course, the Mrs. will supply any meals you may need, and drink is at your disposal." "Thank you," said Macquire, in a choking voice - "let me have a couple of pots of your best ale for the poor fellows in the kitchen."

What a surprise for the poor lodgers when they were asked to drink Macquire's health! On being told of his good fortune, they one and all cheered and congratulated him. But the easy way in which this man Macquire threw his weight about the kitchen and, for that matter, the whole house was extraordinary.

Now it happened that there were at this house two stonemasons who, although heavy drinkers, had been working steady for a week or more, for their job was drawing to a close, and they knew not how many idle weeks might follow. These men were at breakfast and, being repeatedly offered drink, grew careless and resolved to quit work there and then and draw their money, which amounted to three pounds ten shillings between them. Macquire favoured this resolution and, said he, "Before your money is spent, I shall have a couple of hundred pounds at my disposal." The landlord was present at the passing of this resolution and, though he said nothing, apparently favoured it, for he laughed pleasantly.

In less than half an hour Macquire and the two stonemasons were back in the lodging house kitchen, and drinking ale as fast as they possibly could. In a number of cases the former received money from his new friends to buy the beer, but, according to after developments he must have pocketed this money and had the beer entered to his account, in addition to that which he fetched of his own accord. However, when evening came Macquire, though seemingly possessed of business faculties, was not in a bodily condition to keep his lawyer's appointment. As he himself confessed - "he was drunk in the legs, but sober in the brain." What an evening we had! Not one man in the house retired sober, and the kindness of the ill-clad one brought tears into a number of eyes, for he made the stonemasons spend their money freely, and he made the landlord fetch pot after pot, and all he did in the way of payment was to utter that name, grown strangely powerful -James Macquire.

Now when the next morning came there seemed to be a suspicion that all was not right. For, as soon as James Macquire put in an appearance, one of the stonemasons abruptly asked when he intended to see the lawyer. At this moment the landlord entered, and, though he had not heard the question, he too, would like to know when Macquire intended seeing his lawyer. "Don't bother me," said Macquire, "you see what a state I am in, trembling after drink?' "I'll soon put you right," said the landlord, leaving the kitchen, and entering the bar.

The stonemasons offered their future benefactor a drink of beer, which he waved aside, saying that he must first have a short drink to steady his stomach. "You don't mind giving me a saucerful of your tea?" said Macquire to me, for I was then at breakfast. "With pleasure," said I, and, filling the saucer pushed it towards him. "Thank you," said he, after drinking it -"that saucer of tea has cost me a sovereign!" "Nonsense," said I, inwardly pleased, "it is of no value whatever." "Have you any tobacco*?" he asked. At this question one of the stonemasons, in fear that Macquire would promise me more money, sprang forward with tobacco. "I am not asking you for tobacco," said Macquire slowly -"but am asking this gentleman." This was said in such a way as could not give offence; as much as to say that he already knew that the stonemason's heart was good, but that he felt disposed to test mine and, if he found it generous, he would not forget me when he came into his estate. Not setting great value on a pipeful of tobacco, I offered him my pouch to help himself. After he had filled his pipe, he said, in an abrupt manner, as he was walking towards the bar - "Please remember, friend, I am five pounds in your debt." "What a fine fellow he is," said the stonemason to me; "for the few kindnesses we did him yesterday, he has promised me and my pal twenty pounds each out of his first advance, and larger sums to follow."

At this moment the postman entered with a letter addressed to James Macquire, Esq. If the land- lord, or any one else, had the least suspicion earlier in the morning, it certainly vanished at the sight of this letter. Macquire opened the letter and, after reading it, passed it to the landlord. That gentleman's face beamed with satisfaction, although it was but an ordinary note saying that the lawyer had expected Macquire the night previous, and trusted that he would keep the appointment at the same hour on the following day, by which time the lawyer woiild be able to advance him some money. "That's something like business," said Macquire, to which every one agreed, the landlord and the stonemasons showing the most approval.

"Now," said James Macquire to the landlord, "you had better let me have some money." "What for?" asked that gentleman; "you can have anything that you require, as I told you before." "Just for my own satisfaction," said Macquire. "I am going to walk out for a while, so as to keep myself sober for business." "You can't go out in those rags," said the landlord - "you had better take my best suit."

In ten minutes or less the ill-clad one was standing at the bar in the landlord's best suit of clothes, after which the said landlord gave him all the money available, amounting to thirty shillings. "How much am I in your debt?" asked Macquire. "Oh, about three pounds," was the answer. "We will call it fifty pounds," cried Macquire and, drinking his whisky, he left the house, followed closely by the faithful stonemasons.

In half an hour the stonemasons were back, having lost their companion in the market place, and were at the bar awaiting him, thinking he might have already returned. Yes, and they could wait, for that was the last of Macquire, and, to the surprise and mortification of the landlord and the two stonemasons, the house received no more visits or letters from lawyers.