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he accompanied me to the door at which I entered, and, opening it, kept me standing with naked feet on the stone threshold, full in the draught of the frosty air, while he pointed out the way I should go. It was not a long way, but I would have given much not to have trodden it. It was open as the highway, — with flag-stones below and the stars overhead, and, as I said before, and cannot help saying again, a frosty wind was blowing.
“Straight across,” said Daddy,“ to where you see the light shining through. Go in there, and turn to the left, and you 'll find the beds in a heap. Take one of 'em and make yourself comfortable.” And straight across I went, my naked feet seeming to cling to the stones as though they were burning hot instead of icy cold (they had just stepped out of a bath you should remember), till I reached the space through which the light was shining, and I entered in.
No language with which I am acquainted is capable of conveying an adequate conception of the spectacle I then encountered. Imagine a space of about thirty feet by thirty feet enclosed on three sides by a dingy whitewashed wall, and roofed with naked tiles, which were furred with the damp and filth that reeked within. As for the fourth side of the shed, it was boarded in for (say) a third of its breadth; the remaining space being hung with flimsy canvas, in which was a gap two feet wide at top, widening to at least four feet at bottom. This far too airy shed was paved with stone, the flags so thickly incrusted with filth that I mistook it first for a floor of natural earth. Extending from one end of my bedroom to the other, in three rows, were certain iron “cranks” (of which I subsequently learnt the use), with their many arms raised in various attitudes, as the stiffened arms of men are on a battle-field. My bedfellows lay among the cranks, distributed over the flagstones in a double row, on narrow bags scantily stuffed with hay. At one glance my appalled vision took in thirty of them, — thirty men and boys stretched upon shallow pallets, with but only six inches of comfortable hay between them and the stony floor. These beds were placed close together, every occupant being provided with a rug like that which I was fain to hug across my shoulders. In not a few cases two gentlemen had clubbed beds and rugs and slept together. In one case (to be further mentioned presently) four gentlemen had so clubbed together. Many of my fellow-casuals were awake, - others asleep or pretending to sleep; and shocking as were the waking ones to look upon, they were quite pleasant when compared with the sleepers. For this reason, the practised and well-seasoned casual seems to have a peculiar way of putting himself to bed. He rolls himself in his rug, tucking himself in, head and feet, so that he is completely enveloped; and, lying quite still on his pallet, he looks precisely like a corpse covered because of its hideousness. Some were stretched out at full length; some lay nose and knees together; some with an arm or a leg showing crooked through the coverlet. It was like the result of a railway accident; these ghastly figures were awaiting the coroner.
From the moral point of view, however, the wakeful ones were more dreadful still. Tousled, dirty, villanous, they squatted up in their beds, and smoked foul pipes, and sang snatches of horrible songs, and bandied jokes so obscene as to be absolutely appalling. Eight or ten were so enjoying themselves, — the majority with the check shirt on, and the frowzy rug pulled about their legs; but two or three wore no shirts at all, squatting naked to the waist, their bodies fully exposed in the light of the single flaring jet of gas fixed high up on the
My entrance excited very little attention. There was a horse-pail three parts full of water standing by a post in the middle of the shed, with a little tin pot beside it. Addressing me as “old pal,” one of the naked ruffians begged me to “hand him a swig,” as he was “werry nigh garspin.” Such an appeal of course no “old pal” could withstand, and I gave him a potful of water. He showed himself grateful for the attention. “I should lay over there, if I was you," he said, pointing to the left side of the shed; “it's more out of the wind than this 'ere side is.” I took the good-natured advice, and (by this time shivering with cold) stepped over the stones to where the beds of straw-bags were heaped, and dragged one of them to the spot suggested by my naked comrade. But I had no more idea of how to arrange it than of making an apple-pudding; and a certain little discovery added much to my embarrassment. In the middle of the bed I had selected was a stain of blood bigger than a man's hand! I did not know what to do now. To lie on such a horrid thing seemed impossible; yet to carry back the bed and exchange it for another might betray a degree of fastidiousness repugnant to the feelings of my fellow-lodgers, and possibly excite suspicion that I was not what I seemed. Just in the nick of time in came that good man Daddy.
“What! not pitched yet P” he exclaimed; “here, I'll show you. Hallo! somebody's been a bleedin'! Never mind; let 's turn him over. There you are, you see! Now lay down, and cover your rug over you."
There was no help for it. It was too late to go back. Down I lay and spread the rug over me. I should have mentioned that I brought in with me a cotton handkerchief, and this I tied round my head by way of a nightcap; but not daring to pull the rug as high as my face. Before I could in any way settle my mind to reflection, in came Daddy once more to do me a further kindness and point out a stupid blunder I had committed.
“Why, you are a rummy chap!” said Daddy. “You forgot your bread! Lay hold. And look here, I've brought you another rug; it's perishing cold to-night.” So saying he spread the rug over my legs and went away. I was very thankful for the extra covering, but I was in a dilemma about the bread. I could n't possibly eat it; what then was to be done with it? I broke it, however, and in view of such of the company as might happen to be looking, made a ferocious bite at a bit as large as a bean, and munched violently. By good luck, however, I presently got half-way over my difficulty very neatly. Just behind me, so close indeed that their feet came within half a yard of my head, three lads were sleeping together.
“Did you hear that, Punch ? ” one of them asked. “ 'Ear what?" answered Punch, sleepy and snappish.
“Why, a cove forgot his toke! Gordstruth! you would n't ketch me a forgettin' mine."
“ You may have half of it, old pal, if you ’re hungry,” I observed, leaning upon my elbows.
“Chuck it here, good luck to yer ! ” replied my young friend, starting up with an eager clap of his dirty hands.
I“chucked it here," and slipping the other half under the side of my bed, lay my head on my folded arms.
It was about half past nine when, having made myself as comfortable as circumstances permitted, I closed my eyes in the desperate hope that I might fall asleep, and so escape from the horrors with which I was surrounded. “At seven to-morrow morning the bell will ring,” Daddy had informed me, " and then you will give up your ticket and get back your bundle.” Between that time and the present full nine long hours had to wear away.
But I was speedily convinced that, at least for the present, sleep was impossible. The young fellow (one of the three who lay in one bed, with their feet to my head) whom my bread had refreshed, presently swore with frightful imprecations that he was now going to have a smoke; and immediately put his threat into execution. Thereupon his bedfellows sat up and lit their pipes too. But O, if they had only smoked, — if they had not taken such an unfortunate fancy to spit at the leg of a crank, distant a few inches from my head, — how much misery and apprehension would have been spared me. To make matters worse, they united with this American practice an Eastern one; as they smoked they related little autobiographical anecdotes, — so abominable that three or four decent men who lay at the farther end of the shed were so provoked that they threatened, unless the talk abated in filthiness, to get up and stop it by main force.