London Days and Doings

I STOOD on the dock where I had landed and looked about me. There, on my right hand, was the famous old Tower of London, grim and terrible in appearance, just as I had expected to find it. Not far away, up the river, rose the dome of St. Paul’s, dark with age. On every side, as far as I could see, were endless rows of buildings, and in the air was the hum of a world’s traffic. It was all very inspiring, and I could have shouted with enthusiasm.

I seated myself on a cargo box and considered the situation. I had in my pocket nearly twenty-five dollars, almost as much as I had started with from Chicago, so thus far the trip had paid for itself. It was necessary now to find work of some sort so that I could save this money for use in emergencies, for my travels were scarcely more than begun. I expected to send articles describing my experiences to two American newspapers, and I expected to get large checks in return, but until the money began to arrive I wanted to save as much as possible of my present funds. So I decided that the best plan was to look for some situation which would net me enough to pay my necessary expenses.

I walked from the wharves to St. Paul’s Churchyard and entered the cathedral, to do a little sightseeing before I faced the problems before me. I found it very impressive, and would have been satisfied to remain there for hours instead of minutes, but I must find a place to stay and the day was short. I saw a news-boy with copies of the papers, and I purchased one to look at the want advertisements. I thought it likely that someone would be advertising for a boy to work, and that by answering an ” ad.” I might find a suitable position. There weren’t many ” wants ” which looked favorable at all, but I noticed at the end of a column one which called for a boy to do chores during the morning, for his room and board. It occurred to me that it would be fortunate if I could have my afternoons to myself, and I asked a policeman to direct me to the address which was mentioned. I found it to be almost in the neighborhood. It was a quaint old inn near the heart of the city, and the pleasant old lady who was in charge said she thought I would answer their requirements. She was greatly impressed when I told her I had just landed from America, and said I was certainly a brave boy to travel alone so far from home. I told her I didn’t feel brave at all, because if I had known in the beginning what was ahead of me I would probably not have started from Chicago.

My Home in London

The inn was one of the quaintest places imaginable, a solitary relic of some bygone age, for it was very old indeed, and looked ready to tumble down. It was just such a house as I had pictured in my dreams of London streets and I was glad to have it for my home. I was told that I was to act as if it were my home, indeed, and the landlady was most kind. My work, too, was easy. In the morning I was expected to kindle fires, trim the lamps and candles and sweep the floors. After a few days I was trusted with errands to the market, and in a couple of weeks I was sent to buy all the provisions for the inn. I was always through by noon, and after the midday meal I started out to see some of the famous places of which I had read. I must have walked miles before I returned at night. There wasn’t much method in my sightseeing; I wandered through one quaint street after another, and when I reached a public building or gallery I went inside.

I never failed to be impressed with the traffic of the London streets. It seemed that I could fairly feel it in my bones that I was in the very greatest city in the world, and I sometimes thought that all the millions of inhabitants must be in the streets. Everything was very different from what I had seen in Chicago and New York. Instead of the trolley and cable cars, the streets were crowded with innumerable ‘buses, which were always filled with passengers, inside and out. They looked very strange at first, covered with advertisements, and I thought them very inferior to the Broadway cable. I had learned something of English money on the steamer, but I had difficulties with it, just the same. On one of my afternoon walks I entered a tea-shop, to follow the English custom of taking tea in the afternoon. The place was filled with people who were eating bread-and-butter with their tea, so I ordered the same, when a waitress with pink cheeks and frizzled hair came to take my order. When I had finished eating I asked her for a check. ” Thrippence-ha’penny,” she said, and I couldn’t imagine what kind of a sum that could be. I handed her a shilling, and as she gave me eight and a halfpence in change, I decided that what she meant was three pence and a halfpenny. I soon learned that a ” bob ” is a shilling, a ” tanner ” is a sixpence, and a “dollar ” in England stands for a five-shilling piece.

I noticed particularly, during the first days of my stay, the English boys. Many of them appeared in the streets in the uniforms of the different schools, and I was astonished when I first saw an Eton boy in his regulation costume. It consisted of long trousers, a short black coat, similar to waiters’ jackets, and a high silk hat. It impressed me as decidedly strange that a boy of twelve or thirteen should be wearing such a hat, but after a few weeks I learned that it is quite the proper thing for English boys to wear top hats as soon as they have donned long trousers.

When I returned to the little inn after a day of wandering, I found it very interesting to sit there and listen to the people of the neighborhood as they gossiped and argued the questions of the day. There was a strong feeling against Germany among the working class, and it was a source of never-failing amuse-ment to hear the threats of the workmen as to what would be done to humiliate the haughty Teutons. America, too, was always an interesting topic of conversation, and I was plied with questions regarding my native land. The ignorance of most uneducated Englishmen regarding American geography is something peculiar, and I soon gave up any attempt to set them right in their ideas. One evening, for instance, there was a serious argument regarding the situation of the Hudson River. One ” navvy ” insisted that it flowed between two ranges of the Rocky Mountains, while another held that the Rocky Mountains were at least three hundred miles west of the Hudson. I thought it a shame to shock them with the truth, and so let them argue it out to suit themselves.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

The one great event to which I had looked forward on my arrival in London was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, and the celebrations which were to take place on that occasion. I had read about the event for so long that ,my expectations were greatly exaggerated, and I thought I was to witness something which would be almost beyond description. There were evidences when I reached London that the celebration was not far off. Great reviewing stands, capable of seating many thousand people, had been erected along the streets through which the Queen’s procession was to pass, and enormous prices were being asked for the sèats. Decorations in gas and electric lights were placed on the principal public buildings and business houses, and there was scarcely a hovel anywhere in the great metropolis which didn’t show its Union Jack or bit of bunting. All London was occupied with preparations for the great day, and when it finally arrived the city presented a gala appearance.

Preparations were made for handling a crowd of many millions. The restaurants and hotels stored up great quantities of provisions, and every house-holder who could spare a room was advertising it for rent at a fabulous price. There were predictions that even the greatest city in the world would be unable to accommodate the crowd which was sure to come, that grand stands would probably collapse, and that all sorts of calamities would happen before the celebration was finished. Every one was interested in the condition of the weather, for a rainy day would cause a loss of millions of pounds.

There was more excitement in London than there is in America during a Presidential campaign, and I was greatly impressed with the British enthusiasm for the Queen. They seemed to fairly worship the good woman who had reigned so long and so well, and I was filled with curiousity to see what such a great Queen looked like.

When the eventful day arrived, I think all London rose about four o’clock to see what the weather was like. The day was fair, and millions were made happy. I was up early in order to finish the necessary chores I had to do, and at six o’clock I started out in order to find a good place from which to view the procession. I was surprised to find a crowd which was much smaller than I had expected to see, and as the day advanced it was evident that the calamitous predictions had scared many people into staying at home. There was such a throng, however, that I found it impossible to find a point from which I could see over people’s shoulders, and I was becoming discouraged, when I came to a church which fronted on a street through which the parade would pass. The building was surrounded with grand stands with the exception of one window, and there I saw two small boys seated. There was room for one more boy, so I got up beside them, and I’m sure that we three had a better view of the procession than many people who had paid twenty and twenty-five dollars for seats in the reviewing stands.

First Glimpse of Royalty

It was a long time before the procession reached my neighborhood, but in the interval of waiting I found much that was interesting to watch. In the street below I observed nearly every type of humanity to be found in London. There were the costers from Whitechapel, the aristocrats from the West lend, and the working classes from the suburban districts. It was easy to know when the procession approached. The crowds started cheering while the Queen was yet a half mile off, and as she approached the din grew in volume until it was fairly deafening. There was an awful crush in the street below, for every one was pushing and shoving to get near the Sovereign. I hadn’t a very good look at the Queen as she drove past. The carriage moved rapidly, and I could only see her bowing head over the shoulder of the Princess Beatrice. I determined then and there that I would get a closer look before I left London, but I had no idea how I would be able to manage it, as I had learned during my short stay in London how difficult it is to get audience with royalty, unless one has a proper introduction.

The Jubilee celebrations at night were far more spectacular than those of the day. The illuminations surpassed anything I had dreamed of, and the fire-works were on a larger scale than I would have believed possible. Nearly every building in the city bore its crown of light and the familiar royal initials ” V. R.” and there were dozens of portraits of the royal family, outlined in fire. The streets were thronged with people, those who had remained home in the morning venturing out at night in the hope that there would be fewer pedestrians. The police, however, as usual in London, were equal to the occasion, and there were no serious accidents. But when I finally returned to my little inn I felt completely exhausted from struggling with the crowd. It had been a wonderful and a memorable day, and I had enjoyed the experience of a genuine British holiday, but I was glad it was over.

When the Jubilee celebrations were over and London had begun to resume its normal life, I continued my explorations in the out-of-the-way corners of the city. I spent several afternoons in the famous East End, where I never tired of watching the coster folk, with their picturesque donkey wagons and their queer costumes. They were different from any people I had ever seen, and I was glad to see their unusual manner of living. The little donkeys which they drive to their carts were particularly interesting to my boyish mind, and I felt that I couldn’t be satisfied until I had experienced a ride behind one of them. I one day asked a costermonger if he would be willing to let me drive the donkey just one block and back, and he very readily consented. If I had known then what I afterwards discovered concerning the disposition of the donkey, I would have been suspicious of his readiness, but at the time I was delighted with the prospect. I had little more than started when the donkey began to buck, and then, when I whipped him, he started off as fast as he could go. The little beast acted as if he were determined to upset me on the pavement, and he did his best to collide with the other vehicles in the street. I decided that if I kept my seat a catastrophe was inevitable, and at the first opportunity I jumped out. I got a few bruises, but was so glad to escape with my life that I thought them hardly worth noticing. The donkey was stopped by a policeman a couple of blocks off, so the incident ended without any loss to anyone. The coster, indeed, seemed delighted with the adventure, and said he hadn’t laughed so much in a long time.

A Night of Fashionable Life

Occasionally I visited the fashionable West End district, and saw something of the city’s gilded life. But in all my wanderings through Hyde Park I witnessed less of splendor and fashion than I saw in one evening at the famous ball of the Duchess of Devonshire. This was the principal society event of the Jubilee season, and the papers were filled with accounts of the people who were to be there and the entertainment which was to be provided. The more I read of this function the more I desired to witness it. Certainly it was an occasion that I shouldn’t miss, if I desired to see anything of high life in the British capital. I puzzled my brain to devise ways and means to accomplish this new ambition, and finally it occurred to me to visit the authorities at Devonshire House and state my case. I explained my desire to be present, merely to look on, and asked if I couldn’t make myself useful in some way. At first I was laughed at, but when I told something of my experiences, and how I had worked my passage across the Atlantic, I was more favorably received. Finally I was told that if I would be willing to wear a uniform and do as I was told, they would arrange to accommodate me, and I willingly agreed to obey their directions.

When I reported on the eventful night, I was dressed in a servant’s uniform and stationed at one of the doorways of the great ballroom. I couldn’t have desired a better place from which to view the guests, and I was in ecstasies of delight. The novelty of my position, a servant in the household of an English duke, was sufficient to make me happy, and I realized that this would prove one of the most interesting adventures of my trip.

It was a fancy dress ball, and the costumes were dazzling in their magnificence. I never imagined there were so many jewels in the world as I saw worn that night, and the silks and brocades were gorgeous beyond description. Occasionally I had a chance to exchange a word with one of the servants, and had pointed out to me the more distinguished guests. All the famous people of London society were in attendance, and several members of the royal family passed through the door where I stood on guard. I recognized the Prince and Princess of Wales by the deference shown them as they entered the ballroom, and I thought I had never seen a sweeter face than that of Britain’s future queen.

The evening passed like a period spent in fairyland. I was fascinated with the brilliant scene passing before my eyes, and though I must have been on my feet for many hours I hadn’t the least sense of fatigue. When it was all over, at last, the sun was rising in the east, and when I reached my little inn I kindled the morning fire before I went to bed. Later in the day I regaled the landlady with an account of the nobility as they appeared in fancy dress, and several times during the recital, she remarked that ” These Yankee boys beat all.

My time was not altogether occupied with exploring the city. I had many serious problems to solve, and one of them was how to earn some money while I was in London. I was under very slight expense while I lived at the inn, but I didn’t expect to remain there always, and I was anxious to accumulate enough money for a tour of England and Scotland. For some time I tried in vain to think of a plan to enrich myself, and was feeling rather discouraged when at last my finances took a turn for the better.