His bed was made according to his fortune. If he had no money, it was the Embankment; if he had a shilling, he could choose his lodging; if he had fourpence, he was obliged to tramp to Blackfriars. Something of his manner of spending his money he told me : " No, Evie, you do not spend your penny on a mug of tea. That will be gone very quickly. You spend it, Evie, not on a mug of tea; not, I say, on a mug of tea, but on the tea itself. You buy a pennyworth and make it with the boiling water from the common kettle in the doss-house. You get several cups that way instead of one." It was at lodging-houses that he would lie watching the beetles crawling on the ceiling-that was the exchange he made for " the abashless inquisition of each star " of the nights when he had no pennies and so no bed; and it is the image he used afterwards in a Tom-o'-Bedlam's song:-
As a burst and blood-blown insect Cleaves to the wall it dies on,
The smeared sun
Doth clot upon A heaven without horizon.1
In a common lodging-house he met and had talk with the man who was supposed by the group about the fire to De a murderer uncaught. And when it was not in a common lodging-house, it was at a Shelter or Refuge that he would lie in one of the oblong boxes without lids, containing a mattress and a leathern apron or coverlet, that are the fashion, he says, in all Refuges. The time came when for a week his only earning was sixpence got for holding a horse's head. That was after he had made an attempt to establish himself with a boot-black stand, and failed because of the interference of the police, who moved him on at the request of the shopkeeper at his chosen street-corner.
His way home in later years was always northwards, along the Edgware Road. It is a thoroughfare that keeps late hours, crossing the highway between Paddington and King's Cross ; it makes southwards towards Victoria and the town; it has its music-halls, and, after they are closed, its coffee-stalls, tiny centres of distressed humanity waiting for the dawn. They are the pickets set up against the enemy Night, in a campaign which, on the whole, is less sullenly undertaken than the campaign of the day. There is much companionship along the pavements in the night watches : the regiment of the poor falls into some sort of rank, and whether a man's business is merely to keep moving till the park-gates are opened in the morning, or to reach some distant lodging, some favourite shelter, or a point of vantage for the coming day, he need never be com-panionless on this road. And seldom, unless he be very new to the manner of life or very old, does the poor man not fall in with the conviviality that is within his reach. Be he so stupid that he has failed in the meanest ambitions, yet he will be able to establish himself in this society, and be a man of affairs among beggars.
1 There is some parallel for this image (Tom-o'-Bedlam's, be it remembered) in Rossetti's-
But the sea stands spread As one wall with the flat skies, Where the lean black craft, like flies,
Seem well-nigh stagnated,
Soon to drop off dead.
Every man, and every woman however grossly she has fallen, acquires a certain aptitude in the University of the Last Resort. Some sort of shrewdness, entirely above the scullery pitch, has become a necessity by the time the pavement is the Home. And even the poet came, like the outcast ostler, or matchmaker, or scullery-maid, to possess a small share of this lower-worldliness. When it was a matter, during the day, of collecting coppers sufficient for the day and spending them in the pinched markets of poverty, he had perforce to be alive to the world about him. Later on, when there was no necessity, I could observe in him a certain flickering pride of experience : occasionally he would exert himself to show that he knew how to pass the time of day with a man upon the street, how to invest in a pipe, a kettle, or in oddments of cheap food. Ordering his meal at a coffee-house, he would pretend to a certain acumen in the matter of dishes or of waitresses, adjusting his tie and his expression. But who can ever have been deceived that here was any one save a timorous defaulter in the matter of savoir-faire ? Not, certainly, an A.B.C. girl or an observant tramp.
Among the miracles is that of The Golden Halfpennies. They came to him on a day when he had not even the penny to invest in matches that might bring him interest on his money. He was, he told me, walking, vacant with desperation, along a crowded pavement, when he heard the clink of a coin and saw something bright rolling towards the gutter. He stooped, picked it up, looked around, found no claimant, and put into his waistcoat pocket, as he affirmed with the many repetitions that characterised his anecdotes, a bright new halfpenny. He proceeded some distance on his way, pondering the things he could or could not procure with his money, when it struck him that the other direction would lead him to a shop with such wares as he had decided on. As he neared the place where he had found the first coin he saw another glittering in the road. This, too, he picked up, and again thought he held a halfpenny. But looking closer he discovered it to be golden and a sovereign, and only after much persuasion of his senses would he believe the first-found one to be likewise gold. "That was a sovereign too, Evie ; I looked and I saw it was a sovereign too!" he ended, with rising voice and tremulous laughter. One who heard him tell his tale held strictly that he should have delivered the money to the nearest police-station to await the inquiry of its owner; but that, surely, were an ill economy, to look after the farthings of scrupulousness at the cost of the pounds of Providence. Thompson, half suspicious of a miracle, made a shrewd guess that no angel would apply at Marlborough Street.
At another time he did have scruples. One of the Rothschilds, buying a paper from him at the Piccadilly end of Park Lane, put a florin into his hand. " I was worried," said Francis, " lest he thought it was a penny, and tried to catch him up in the street crowd. But he was gone, and it worried me." Years later the news of that Rothschild's death was read out at a meal at our house in Palace Court. Francis heard, and dropped his spoon, aghast. "Then I can never repay him !" he cried.