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Title: Edgar Wallace by Himself
Author: Edgar Wallace
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Title: Edgar Wallace by Himself
Author: Edgar Wallace

Edgar Wallace



--Edgar Wallace


I Am aware that this autobiography differs drastically in many respects
from the memoirs which appear from time to time in volumes written by men
and women who have been associated with the great and the famous, even as
it differs from those recollections which appear in the popular press and
have to deal with half-forgotten scandals and the better forgotten
transactions of sometime millionaires.

Essentially it is the story of the poor, and of one atom that climbed out
of the thick mud which clogs the feet of the battling millions. If it
encourages one ambitious child to strive to eminence, if it helps make
lighter the lot of one man or one woman and gives hope where there is no
hope, it will not have been written in vain.

Incidentally, this little autobiography is in itself a tribute to the
system under which we live. There cannot be much wrong with a society
which made possible the rise either of J. H. Thomas or Edgar Wallace,
that gave "Jamie" Brown the status of a king in Scotland, and put
Robertson at the War Office as Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

We were the poor who were not satisfied with our poverty; the lowly who
grew to the stature of our faith and are growing still, I hope.

I have sought nothing so illusory as "success"--rather have I found new
footholds from which to gain a wider view, new capacities for gratitude
towards my fellow-man, and a new and heartfelt sense of humility as, from
my little point of vantage on the ever-upward path, I watch the wondrous
patience and courage of those who are struggling up behind me.

Chapter I

Generally speaking, there is no mystery about birth, even in the least
creditable circumstances. The most mysterious thing that can happen to
any man is not to be born at all. Less mystery why, swathed (one
presumes) in voluminous shawls, one should be carried from Ashburnham
Road to a little court hard by the Deptford Creek which separates the
Royal Town of Greenwich from the unsalubrious purlieus of Deptford.

I was adopted at the age of nine days. Otherwise there might have been
for me a romantic upbringing in Greenwich Workhouse or one of those
institutions whither motherless and fatherless persons of nine days old
and having no visible means of support are brought to maturity. Happily,
there was a philanthropist who heard of my plight, and having for the
workhouse the loathing which is the proper possession of the proud poor,
he dispatched Clara to fetch me,

"She's adopted", said Mr. Freeman, an autocrat in his way.

Nor when he discovered that he had been mistaken as to my sex did he vary
his humane decision.

In name and fact he was Freeman--a liveryman of the Haberdashers'
Company; a Freeman of the City of London--he could trace his ancestry
back for five hundred years through family and city records. And he was a
fish porter at Billingsgate Market. A stocky, big-featured man, with a
powerful nose and a chin beard such as Abraham Lincoln wore.

I never saw him write anything but his name. I never saw him read
anything but the New Testament--a big, calf-bound volume with leaves
that were yellow from age. He used to "break out" about twice a year and
drink brandy. Then was the Testament laid reverently aside, and he would
fight any man of any size and beat him. Once he fought for two hours,
perilously, on the edge of a deep cutting.

He had the strength of an ox; balanced on the flat leather hat he wore in
business hours, he could carry heavy cases of fish, and they were no more
to him than such chaplets as the patricians wore.

He never did a crooked thing in his life. His wife was the gentlest
mother that ever lived. She could not write, but she could read. Mostly
she read aloud the murders in the Sunday newspapers, and we discussed
historic criminals--Peace, Palmer (whose trial she remembered) and such
moderns as Mrs. Maybrick. I loved them and they loved me. They are dead,
and I am the poorer for it.

I remember dimly the sinking of the Princess Alice. Greenwich had a
maritime flavour in those days. It was a town of blue-jerseyed men, and
in every other house in our neighbourhood was the model of a full-rigged
ship. And over most parlour mantelpieces hung a collection of brightly
coloured china rolling-pins, the exact significance of which I have never
understood, except that they had to do with foreign travel.

My first vivid recollection in life is one of a sort of possessive pride
in prison vans. The gloomy "Black Maria" that rumbled up the Greenwich
Road every afternoon. I recollect giving the infants' class at St.
Peter's School a miss and toddling up Trafalgar Street to see the gloomy
tumbril pass in the rain, with a shiny warder sitting on a little
knifeboard behind and a top-hatted driver under the tarpaulin apron in

I think Young Harry was in the van on his way to Wandsworth. And Young
Harry was my adopted "brother." All his life he hated policemen and he
had a passion for fighting them. Later, Tom took up this hobby, and they
were both in Wandsworth together when, as a very small boy, I walked all
the way to Wandsworth Prison to see it with my own eyes. I had a very
proud feeling about Wandsworth Prison--I felt that it belonged to me;
just as one feels towards the handsome residences which are occupied by
rich relations.

Neither Tom nor Harry did anything much worse than assault the
constabulary--but they did this so consistently that they were scarcely
ever at home. Harry, lean of body and face, with a pair of deep-set dark
eyes; Tom, fair and handsome: they have passed over. Drink killed them in
the lifetime of their father.

"Young Dick", Harry used to say to me in all solemnity (one of my names
is "Richard"), "if you don't eat up your pudden, how d'you expect to hit

George Freeman heard of the discreditable exploits of his sons with
scarcely a ruffle.

"Father, Harry's got three months."

He would look up from his large-print Testament. "Do him good", was his
invariable comment--he was a loud conversationalist; in such moments as
these he shouted.

Queer that he and his gentle wife should rear such children as they had.
He lived a Christian life, was just to all men, fearless--he could not

At three o'clock every morning, winter and summer, he left his house for
Billingsgate Market. When I was old enough I sometimes accompanied him.
Our way led through the street along which runs the boundary wall of
Guy's. At exactly the same spot every morning he stopped, took off his
hat (I must do the same) whilst he prayed shortly for all those who
suffered in those long wards. He was an inmate once and brought away the
legend of an infallible ointment which cured everything. I went through
the early part of my boyhood smeared with it, for he believed that the
cure of such inevitable trials as measles, scarlet fever, and indeed any
disease, lay in the treatment of the symptoms. There are many earnest
and learned social reformers who enjoy the same delusion.

Down Love Lane, off Eastcheap, was a dimly-lit coffee-shop, redolent of
fish. Here a man, and even a boy, could feast royally for
threepence--wonderful coffee in cone-shaped mugs, and new bread and
country butter. How often, wedged between the porters, have I sat, my
jaws working, my ears cocked for that flow of language which is
Billingsgate's pride. And I heard nothing, for I was a child and your
labouring man is a gentleman. I suspect that they choked back many lurid
illustrations and comments--I have seen warning glances flash from man
to man. And when once a large red-faced porter forgot himself: "There's
a child present!" said half a dozen voices in chorus.

How those men worked! Their hobnailed boots rattling over the slippery
pavement of the market--along the planks that spanned between wharf and
the G.I.C. boats that lay alongside. I have stood on the quay hour after
hour in the glory of a summer morning. In the chill of winter, watching
the boats. Ice-rimed boats from Grimsby, tubby eelboats from Holland, big
ship and little ship. "Collectors" that had come rolling from the Dogger
Bank with their holds packed with silvery fish that was officially

Mrs. Freeman hated the market that she had never seen. She hated it for
the toll it had taken of her sons. It was to her a Fagin's kitchen of

"Never work in the market, Dick", she warned me.

My career was mapped out. I was to be properly educated--which meant that
I was not to leave school at the age of ten, as the others had done.

Billingsgate has for me only one unhappy memory. George Freeman had a
weakness for hats. There used to be an old Jewish pedlar--one supposes
he died in Park Lane worth his million--who carried hundreds of
second-hand hats of all sizes except mine. Old George favoured a Derby
hat with a high crown such as Mr. Churchill made unpopular. It was
something between a top-hat and a billycock. He used to pay as much as
threepence for them. How often have I, with a sinking heart, watched him
approach with a look of triumph on his rugged, handsome face, and a newly
acquired hat in his hand! How often have I sat in the dimly-lit
coffee-shop in Love Lane whilst a committee of porters have folded strips
of newspaper to stuff inside the lining that my small head might not be
altogether extinguished! Mrs. Freeman invariably thought there was one
layer of paper packing too many for my comfort, and took it out.

A new hat meant chapel. With a plaid scarf round my neck and the
atrocious dark tower supported on my ears, I must accompany him to the
Wesleyan kirk, there to be bored for one hour and forty minutes by a
superman I could not hear, probing into mysteries which I could not

Church is a terrible experience for children--a cruel experience. A
lecture on Chinese metaphysics or Arch-Masonry, or Einstein's Theory of
Relativity, is as intelligible. How bewilderingly painted, enamelled,
covered with mystic signs and obscured by smoky vapours, is the simple
Jesus to the average poor child who hears of Him through the medium of
the grown-up's pulpit!

I slept in the next room to "father" and "mother", and every night
brought the inevitable exchange:

"Night, Dick."

"Night, father."

"Said yer prayers?"

"Yes, father."


"You'll go to hell if you don't."

"Yes, father."

A longer pause.

"I don't know that you will."

School and the promised education came at the age of six. I learnt to
sign my name "Dick Freeman." George gave me a penny and carried the
scrawl to the market for the admiration of his friends.

School. A big yellow barracks of a place, built (or rumour lied) on an
old rubbish-pit into which the building was gradually sinking. We used to
put chalk marks on the wall near the ground to check the subsidence. And
every morning when I turned the corner of Reddin's Road, Peckham, and saw
the Board School still standing where it did, I was filled with a
helpless sense of disappointment. And the fires that were never lit, and
the evil blackboard where godlike teachers, whose caligraphy is still my
envy, wrote words of fearful length. The drone of the class-rooms, the
humourless lessons, the agonies of mental arithmetic and the seeming
impossibilities of the written variety. There were golden days--poetry
days. We learnt the "Inchcape Rock", of that Sir Ralph the Rover who
sailed away

"And scoured the seas for many a day.
At last grown rich with plunder's store,
He steered his course for Scotland's shore."

And Casabianca, and Brave Horatius, and so by degrees to the Master. I
learnt whole scenes of "Macbeth" and "Julius Caesar" and "Hamlet", and
could--and did--recite them with gusto on every and any excuse.

There was one very bright day indeed. Mr. Newton, the class master,
initiated a practice which I hope is still a feature of elementary
education: he read to us--and chose the "Arabian Nights." The colour and
beauty of the East stole through the foggy windows of Reddin's Road
School. Here was a magic carpet indeed that transported forty none too
cleanly little boys into the palace of the Caliphs, through the spicy
bazaars of Bagdad, hand in hand with the king of kings.

Out of school, life ran normally. Up before breakfast, and with a mat
bag ranging the Old Kent Road for the day's provisions. (I did most of
the shopping.) A pound of sixpenny "pieces" from Mills the butcher,
two-penn'orth of potatoes from the greengrocer's, a parsnip and a
penn'orth of carrots--I came to have a violent antipathy to Irish stew.
"Pieces" are those odds and ends of meat, the by-products of the
butchering business. I was something of a connoisseur in pieces; could
tell at a glance the tainted "end", guessed unerringly the depth of fat
in a scraggy nob of mutton. One could buy fourpenny pieces, but only the
very poor touched these. They were almost low, and one lost caste if
detected buying them.

The clean, decent poor! Their women are more wonderful than the daughters
of kings. I've shopped with them; stood at their front doors talking to
them--they seldom asked you inside for fear you saw their makeshifts.
Their lace curtains white as snow, the perennial geraniums behind the
polished glass of their front windows, their chicken-houses and
pigeon-lofts in the back yard above which on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
waved and fluttered the spotless banners of their decency.

You saw their women hanging out the washing: stout women dying of cancer
and smiling through it. Gripping their clothes-pegs in their teeth,
propping up lines, arresting their labours to wipe wet foreheads with
wetter arms and exchange a jest with the woman next door. Working,
bearing and dying. The insurance man calls once a week that they may make
provision for a decorous burying--their very ambitions are headed towards
the grave.

Chapter II

The value of popular education has so often been discussed by men who are
authorities on the subject that I hesitate to put on record my own point
of view. But at any rate I can see the subject from another angle. If
every boy who came from a Council school were being prepared for a
definite career, it would be a simple matter for the hard-working
teachers to train him towards perfection; but the truth is that eighty
per cent. of the boys who go through Council schools go forth into the
world to swell the ranks of unskilled labour. Their seven or eight years
of dreary grind has taught them to read, to write an indifferent hand,
and to figure. Within a year of leaving school even a public school boy
would find it difficult to qualify for a lower certificate. How much
harder is it for the poor boy who leaves a Council school, a place more
often than not of unpleasant memories, to utilise the knowledge he has
acquired during those seven or eight years! The weary hours he spends
securing a working knowledge of the capes and bays of England--knowledge
that passes in a flash almost as soon as he has taken a joyous farewell
of his school!

I was a fairly intelligent boy, and I am trying to remember now just what
I did learn. At geography, roughly the shape of England; nothing about
the United States, nothing about the railway systems of Europe. I learnt
that China had two great rivers, the Yangtse-kiang and Hoangho, but which
is which I can't remember. I knew the shape of Africa and that it was an
easy map to draw. I knew nothing about France except that Paris was on
the Seine. I knew the shape of Italy was like a top-booted leg, and that
India was in the shape of a pear; but except that there had been a mutiny
in that country, it was terra incognita to me.

History: The ancient Britons smeared themselves with woad and paddled
round in basket-shaped boats. William the Conqueror came to England in
1066. Henry VIII had seven--or was it eight?--wives. King Charles was
executed for some obscure reason, and at a vague period of English
history there was a War of the Roses.

Chemistry: If you put a piece of heated wire in oxygen--or was it
hydrogen?--it glowed very brightly. If you blow through a straw into lime
water, the water becomes cloudy.

English Literature: Three plays of Shakespeare which especially appealed
to me, and knowledge of which was of the greatest service in after life;
an acquaintance with the "Arabian Nights", and one or two poets.

Religion: No more than I learnt at Sunday school.

Drawing: Hours of hard work in an attempt to acquire proficiency in an
art for which I had no aptitude.

Arithmetic: As far as decimals. In those days book-keeping was not learnt
at school. You might say that all the knowledge I acquired from my
lessons in arithmetic was the ability to tot columns of figures with
great rapidity.

I think I would undertake to teach in a month more geography than I
learnt in six years. Not, I hasten to add, because the teachers were
deficient, for we had in "Tubby" Gaines one of the finest head masters
that ever went to an elementary school, but because the system is as
wrong as it can well be, and hour after hour of time is wasted in
inculcating into a class of fifty, knowledge which is of no interest
whatever except to possibly two or three.

You have to remember to take into account the attitude not only of the
boys but of their parents towards school. To the average poor father and
mother, school is a place which occupies a boy's time that otherwise
would be spent in making himself a nuisance at home. When he gets a
little older, school becomes an interference with the liberty of the
subject; the boy is being detained when he ought to be earning his

To the average boy, school is a horrible duty, and if there are ever any
who do not wake on Monday morning and groan at the prospect of another
week's grind, then they are hardly normal. In any case, the time given to
popular education is ridiculously inadequate. Twenty-seven and a half
hours a week compares very unfavourably with the time spent by a boy at a
public school. In my day, games were not encouraged; there was little or
no drill, and no break in the morning. School was divided into standards,
and the teacher took most of the lessons, though occasionally there was
an exchange.

The real trouble with the Council school is that there is no machinery by
which continuation classes can be made compulsory. No boy should be given
a clearance certificate until, say, he has made himself proficient in one
of the modern languages. As matters are at present, a boy leaves school
more or less illiterate, with no other qualification than that required
for a van or errand boy. But mostly, I think, the real deficiency in the
system is that he is not taught to speak. Well acquainted as I am with
the peculiar intonation of the street boy, I am frequently at a loss to
understand what he is talking about. This stricture not only applies to
London, but to the provinces. The horrible articulation of the average
Council-trained youth is a terrible handicap to him in after life.
Indeed, the only difference that exists between the Council boy and the
public school boy is his voice. The nasal whine of the Cockney schoolboy
is an offence. And there is really no reason in the world why he should
be allowed to go into the world under such a disadvantage.

Eleven years of life passed for me--confused years in which sixpenny
pieces and half-hundredweights of coal and Caius Cassius and wagonette
drives to Sidcup are inextricably mixed up.

George Freeman's breakings-out are more clearly remembered. There was a
sort of routine which began with his return from the market in a more
jocular frame of mind, and a morning visit to the "Glengall Arms." And
then a visit to the Post Office Savings Bank to withdraw fabulous sums,
and then the hire of a wagonette and horse which he drove to Sidcup,
where tea was to be had under the elms. Then came a period of deep
depression and remorse; a certain harshness of temper, and finally the
interminable reading of the Old Testament, glasses perched on his thick

Those "on the drink" periods had their joys and sorrows for me. Money was
plentiful--pennies to be had for the asking. There were other times when
I sat on the doorstep of the hostel waiting for closing-time and cursing
all public-houses that kept me out of bed. The bouts lasted less than a
week--he was both a frugal and a cautious man. He carried always in his
waistcoat pocket a piece of steel umbrella rib hooked at the end to
retrieve his false teeth in case he ever swallowed them.

At ten or thereabouts I became a sort of associate member of a gang of
burglars. They stole type from a type-founder's. I never took part in the
raids carried out under the direction of a desperado very little older
than myself, but I received a little of the loot and regretted that it
was not more useful. And about now I met a man who asked me to buy him
cigarettes--a penn'orth at a time. He gave me nice new florins and I
brought him back the change. After I had changed five, I took the sixth
to the nearest policeman and said:

"If you please, sir, is this money snide?"

He broke it with his finger and thumb and said that it was snide. So my
employer was pinched, and the magistrate said I was a smart little boy. I
kept the News of the World cutting for a long time--it was the first time
my name ever appeared in print.

Eleven years passed. I made a suggestion to Mrs. Freeman, which she
rejected with indignation.

"Only raggity boys sell newspapers on the streets", she said.

And I wasn't a raggity boy. Nevertheless--I had explored the fascinating
part of the City. It begins at St. Paul's and ends at Temple Bar. I was a
theatre-goer too--the Surrey and the Elephant and Castle gallery was like
home to me. Have I not shed tears over the sorrows of Mrs. Bennett,
driven from home by cruel parents and dying in the paper snow.
Theatre-going was something of an adventure. It involved saving--on less
than sixpence the evening was a failure. The gallery cost fourpence at
the Surrey (as against threepence at the Elephant); an extra penny was
required for a bottle of ginger-beer and a penny for the tram ride home.

And at home trouble began. A knock at the door... a wait... the sound of
feet in the passage.

"Is that you, Dick?"

The door was always locked and bolted against the burglar who never came.
God knows what he could have stolen, for Mr. Freeman's savings book was
locked in the bottom drawer and he kept a policeman's truncheon hanging
to the rail of his bed.

"Yes, mother."

The sound of bolts being pulled and a running commentary on my
disgraceful behaviour.

"This time of night... you ought to be ashamed of yourself... you young

There was always a gentle slap awaiting me as I darted through, but I was
a nimble dodger.

It was during the summer holidays of 1886 that I began my business
career. Unknown to the Freemans, I "went to London" and was initiated
into the mysteries of "sale or return." The paper I chose was the Echo, a
bilious-looking sheet that was remarkable for its high moral tone and the
accuracy of its tips.

On a summer afternoon I appeared outside Cook's office at Ludgate Hill
beneath the windows of the very club of which I was one day to be
chairman, with a bundle of Echos under my arm. It was an enthralling
experience. I stood in the very centre of London. Past me rumbled the
horse buses, the drays and wagons of the great metropolis. I saw great
men, pointed out to me by a queer old gentleman in a frowsy overcoat and
top hat who haunted Ludgate Circus. Sala--Mr. Lawson, who owned the
Telegraph, the father of the present Viscount Burnham-Toole, who came
occasionally to Fleet Street--Henry Irving driving in a hansom cab with a
beautiful lady called Ellen Terry (they were coming from St. Paul's). I
was very happy and grateful that I had the opportunity of seeing such

Winter came. Attendance at my pitch involved "hopping the wag", a
mysterious colloquialism which meant playing truant from school. And in
the winter trade was slack. All the cold bitter winds of the world
circled madly in Ludgate Circus. It was a shivering, nose-nipping
business. I found a novel method of generating heat. As I stamped my feet
I recited in a mutter the quarrel scene from Julius Caesar.

CASSIUS: That you have wrong'd me doth appear in this:
You have condemn'd and noted Lucius Pella
For taking bribes hereof the Sardians;
Wherein my letters praying on his side
Because I knew the man, were slighted of.

BRUTUS: You wronged yourself to write in such a case.

How I hated Cassius! How I made him whine and cringe, and how wrathful
and indignant I, Brutus, was! Before the end of the scene I was glowing
with righteous anger.

Only once was I too vehement. A tall policeman suddenly overshadowed me
like a tower of blue.

"What's the matter with you, boy?"

"Nothing, sir", I stammered.


"Yes, sir", I said, thinking that this was rather a cunning explanation.

"You better push orf home then", he said.

I pushed.

My earnings averaged (I guess) about three shillings a week, which I
spent in dissipation--ginger-beer, theatres and a succulent toffee called

There was Sunday school, of course, and Sunday school introduced me to my
first fiction. It was a story called "Christie's Old Organ", over which I
have shed many tears. The moral of the story was that one ought to be
kind to people less fortunate than oneself. The complex introduced into
my mental system by "Christie's Old Organ" has cost me thousands of
pounds. I have often wished that I had begun my course of reading with
"Jack Sheppard."

My periods of piety began usually in the month of April every year and
ended in July. Between those two dates is held the annual Sunday school
excursion, and for sixpence (if you are a regular scholar) you can get a
day in the country with food thrown in. And you are not a regular scholar
unless you have been on the books for a month. In the course of the years
I worked almost every Sunday school in the neighbourhood, accumulated a
working knowledge of the more picturesque miracles, and had seen the
world from Epping Forest to Chislehurst, from Richmond Park to Epping

The last treat of all was that given by Queen Victoria to the Board
school children. I went to Hyde Park labelled, drank sweet lemonade,
cheered the wrong lady in the royal procession, and was awarded a Jubilee
mug shaped like a truncated cone. I won three others coming home in the
train by tossing, but I had to surrender them to the enraged parents who
were waiting at Peckham Rye Station to welcome the adventurers home.

The serious business of life began soon after. Paper-selling was low;
worse, it was unremunerative. For the first time I sallied forth under my
own name--I had to get a copy of my birth certificate to secure my first

It was very interesting to be called by a name I'd never used in my life;
I felt a little more important, as though the Queen had bestowed a title
upon me.

There was a big printing firm in Newington Causeway that wanted a "taker
off." The wages were five shillings a week from which, during the first
three weeks, five shillings was deducted as a guarantee that the employee
would not leave without giving due notice.

From eight o'clock in the morning until five-thirty at night, with an
hour for dinner, I stood by a lithographic machine and "took off" paper
bags as they were printed. It was rather tiring, but I wore a felt apron
and in the course of the day my face grew black. Sometimes when we had
gold work to do, my boots were covered with "gold" dust. People could see
as I walked homeward that I was one of the world's workers.

I learnt a lot. Why do machinists say "Sy up!" instead of "Stop the
machine"? I have never solved that riddle. And I learnt something of
usury. There were men and boys on every floor who would lend you
fourpence if you returned sixpence on Saturdays. The place was rotten
with this form of brigandage. Often of my five shillings I took home
two--a goodly proportion of my income having gone in the shape of
interest. It goes on still, I believe, and the trade unions could kill it
dead, if they moved in the matter.

My parting from this house was a violent one. I stayed away for a day,
and a few hours after I had returned I was given the money due to me and
told to clear out. I asked for the five shillings deposit and was told it
was forfeited; was shown the very paper had signed which admitted the
right of seizure.

I went to the first policeman I met--I have always had a blind faith in
the police. He was a fat man with cheeks that overhung his neck, but he
was Harry Curtis-Bennett to me.

"They've got no right to keep your money", he said loudly, "and you can't
sign away anything because you're a minor."

I thought my dingy countenance had misled him to the belief that I was a
heaver of coal. He explained.

"You're under age", he said.

"I'm twelve last birthday", I said regretfully.

"Take a summons", he said, in his juridical way.

So I went to the police court and sandwiched myself in a queue between a
girl who wanted a weekly allowance from the father of her child, and a
miserable man who came to complain of his pugnacious wife. In turn I told
the magistrate the sad story of the five shillings.

"Take a summons", he said.

It cost me a shilling. I conducted my own case and won my first lawsuit.

As I came out of court, I was approached by a policeman with a broken

"You used to be called Freeman", he accused.

Quakingly I admitted the truth of the charge.

He pointed to his nose.

"Your brother Harry done that", he said.

He seemed to bear no malice. We had tea together in a coffee shop and he
paid. I tried another printers--Riddle & Couchmans--and was quite happy.
I was in the paper store and it was very interesting. Have you seen
electric sparks come from between two sheets of paper after they have
been under a hydraulic press? Did you know that you could cut your finger
to the bone on the sharp edge of paper? There was a boy there who painted
pictures. He was going to exhibit in the Royal Academy one day. I often
wonder if he did, or whether he became an artist.

Chapter III

I left Riddles more violently still. It was in the period of strikes. One
day all the boys walked out--all except me. When I came out to dinner I
was reproached, but went in again. I don't know what it was all about,
but in the afternoon I held a meeting with myself and made a dramatic
exit from the building by way of the paper chute. The boys were
enthusiastic but I was out of work.

I found another printers. I was there a fortnight. It was a soulless kind
of place. They printed railway timetables. There was no colour or life in
it. I had to carry large parcels of railway printing to very dull
offices. After this I went back to my old love--newspapers. W.H. Smith
provided me with a peaked cap, and on the wind-swept railway platform
at Ludgate Hill and St. Paul's I promoted the sale of newspapers in a
perfectly respectable manner. When this palled I found a new job just off
the Old Bailey, where, if you went to work early enough, you could see
the black flag go up and hear the bell toll to signify the death of
picturesque sinners.

In a job and out of a job: I stayed a while with a bootseller marking the
virgin soles of balmorals with their selling prices. It was one of those
multiple shops with branches in various poor districts. On Saturday
nights you could earn an extra shilling by attaching yourself to one of
the branches. In a clean, white apron I sold tins of blacking to the
ladies of Peckham and tins of dubbin to the horny-handed male saunterers.
I drew attention to delightful slippers for women, and hooked down
dangling hobnailed boots for the inspection of hardier citizens. It was
not very interesting, and I drifted into a rubber factory in Camberwell.

I had got into the habit of standing back and taking a good look at

"Here you are", said I, "making macintosh cloth."

"Here I am", I agreed thankfully. I had got on. I was a "hand" in a
factory--I, who had started life as a furtive seller of newspapers, had
found my proper place in the industrial scheme.

At the rubber works was a bitter man who taught me something. He was
bitter about everything--his home, his work, the beef sandwiches his wife
packed for him, my incompetence (I was his assistant), his grinding
employer. I sat down one morning in the breakfast hour and puzzled
through, without assistance to the genesis of bitterness. And I reduced
it to a first cause. I was so full of my unaided discovery that I fell
upon him the moment he came in from the yard.

"You're sorry for yourself", I said, with the air of a savant revealing a
great discovery.

He was carrying a roll of damask and hit me over the head with it. Thus I
learnt two things: never to be sorry for yourself; never to tell people
unpalatable truths unless you are in a position to hit them back.

The art of cheap drunkenness was acquired at this factory. Rubber was
dissolved in naphtha. By leaning over the vat in which the process was in
operation and breathing the naphtha fumes, it was possible to get
pleasantly and even hilariously intoxicated. You could also get dead. I
had many a pleasant jag until one day it made me very sick.

I wrote the first scene of a little play in rhymed couplets. It was an
insulting play about my self-pitying chief. Some time later he complained
that I was not as useful an assistant as I might be. I went out of rubber
into leather, manufacturing boot heels by pasting scraps of leather
together in a mould.

On Friday nights and Saturday afternoons I had a very delicate, indeed an
artistic task. One of the Freeman girls had married a flower seller. He
was an honest boilermaker when they married, but from what I could
gather, boilers went out of fashion soon after the marriage and he had
drifted into flowers. I never see a boiler but it suggests nosegays to
me. My task in the summer was to "wire" roses, transfix their bases on
two sides so that the leaves would neither droop nor fall. In the winter
I dipped ivy leaves and hips and haws in sugar and water. They dried

Every Saturday morning he came back from Covent Garden with a tale of

"Fi'pence a bunch--for them!" He'd shake the unoffending violets
savagely. "I never knew flowers so dear!"

The other day I talked with an old lady who sells flowers in Piccadilly
Circus. She drew forth from the depths of her basket a shaggy bunch of

"Two hog a bunch for them! I never knew flowers to be so dear!"

There were odd jobs I took, some of which only lasted a fortnight. I was
never out of work for more than two or three days.

One day I came home to Mrs. Freeman and told her that I had a job out of
London. She was worried at this, because out of London was synonymous
with out of the world. So I told her no more, but accompanied the
obliging young seaman (I sat next to him in the Surrey gallery) to
Grimsby. I brought with me papers signed by my "parent or guardian"--Mr.
Freeman's signature was easy to forge--permitting me to ship as a boy on
the biggest steam trawler out of Grimsby. I have forgotten the name of
it. There is to-day in the Iceland fisheries a Hull trawler called the
'Edgar Wallace'. Remembering my own unhappy experience, I was reluctant
even to have my own inanimate name attached to such a craft.

I don't know how long I was at sea. It seemed rather like twenty-eight
years. It may have been a month. It was the depth of winter. A gale blew
us out and a gale blew us home, and in between whiles it blew an
intermittent blizzard. The yards were frozen stiff. The fish were solid
as they shovelled them into the hold. I was cook and captain's boy. I
boiled cocoa and soup and tea. I made plum puddings and roasted frozen
mutton. And I was ill all the time. I was cuffed by the crew for bringing
a paper of pins on board--an unpardonable crime on a fishing boat, for
pins bring bad luck--and I was cuffed by the captain and the mate for my
deficiencies as a chef.

We came into Grimsby one seventh day of February and though I had bound
myself for a year I lit out for home with a shilling I had stolen from
the captain's cabin and a pair of sea boots that were two sizes too big.
Thus equipped, I walked to London. I did odd work on the way but where I
couldn't get work I stole bread from bakers' vans. Literally my diet was
bread and water. The journey took me the best part of three weeks, and I
reached home wearing the shoes of a trustful but wealthy gentleman of St.
Albans. His servant had cleaned them and put them on his window-sill.
There I found them when I came prowling round in search of food.

For some reason, which I did not discover until years later, Mrs. Freeman
regarded this exploit as being a little discreditable. I afterwards
learnt that it was the dread word "desertion" which horrified her. I had
deserted a ship and apparently there were heavy penalties, even
imprisonment, for such nefarious goings on.

"You had better not tell any of the others", she warned me. Mr. Freeman
agreed. Generally speaking, he accepted her code as his own.

"You'd better go into milk", said George Freeman; so, after a family
consultation, I joined forces with Harry the Milkman.

Harry the Milkman was a sort of relation. A burly, fresh-faced man from
Wiltshire with a tiny waxed moustache. He had been in a little trouble
with his employers before saving a bit of money, he started forth on his
own. I forget whether it was three or six months he got for his
embezzlements: I never discussed so trivial a matter.

There never was a more entrancing canvasser than Harry. The lift of his
hat to a cook had changed the course of many a dairy account. His hair
was parted in the middle and beautifully brushed. He had a way with
housemaids which left them with dreams, and when he was not "on the
drunk" he was the most passionate abstainer.

Then would he sally forth to Deptford Broadway in a top hat and a
frock-coat befitting the importance of the occasion, and address the
crowd from a rostrum on the iniquities and evils of intemperance. Harry
the Milkman was known far and wide: even to-day Deptford recalls his name
and remembers his doings.

He had had one business of his own in the north of London and had allowed
that to go smash. Partly drink, partly gallantry. He was all too popular
with housemaids. Incidentally, he was married.

We had at least one vice in common: we loved reading. Preferably stories
written round the life of that historic character "Deadwood Dick." Often
and often on chilly mornings we sat in front of the fire together, each
with our slim volume, devouring every line--enthralled by hairbreadth
escape, by haughty defiance, by daredevil rescue of innocent maidenhood.

Sometimes Harry would read aloud, his voice quivering with excitement.

"By heavens!" cried Black Pedro. "You shall rue the day you crossed my
path, Deadwood!"

Our hero flung his sombrero into the air with a merry laugh.

"Threatened men live long, Black Pedro", he cried. "Adios!"

And, flinging himself upon Starlight, he put spurs to the mustang and
disappeared in a cloud of alkali dust.

And all this while, the milk cart was standing outside the door of the
shop, a cold horse pawing the macadam, and the maddened customers of
Brockley were howling for the breakfast milk that had not come.

In one of his periods of abstinence, he induced me to sign the pledge. As
I did not even know the taste of strong drink, I signed readily. He was a
member of a lodge, the Rose of Kent, of the Sons of the Phoenix, and in
due course became its chief noble. I also became a Son of the Phoenix and
was jobbed into the position of lodge secretary--a post which brought me
in 2d. per member per quarter. As an officer of the lodge I wore a large
scarlet velvet sash, embellished with a tinsel eye of God which should
have appeared over my heart, but, owing to my lack of inches, invariably
glared on the world from the region of my stomach.

I was ceremoniously addressed as "Worthy Secretary." I wore this sash in
public processions--mainly funerals--walking under a large silk banner
depicting, if I remember aright, the road to ruin down which The Drinker
slowly totters. The banner was borne by two staggering men who, except at
funerals, smoked, to show how little they bothered about the burden.

The members were working men--good fellows doing good work. I have
nothing but respect and affection for them. The old lodge still stands--I
saw its new banner go past the window of my flat in a hospital parade,
and I would have gone on to my balcony and saluted it--only I was in my

For years I have kept a souvenir of those days--a daguerreotype showing
me with a basket of eggs on my arm, standing in a graceful attitude by a
milk barrow. And when my children have grumbled about returning to their
expensive schools at the end of term, I have produced the picture.

"It is easier to go to school than to sell eggs", I said, "especially the
kind of eggs that I had to sell."

Harry and I quarrelled frequently over the cleaning of milk cans. He said
I was a bad cleaner, and I told him loftily that my hands were never
intended for the cleaning of milk cans. We parted.

There was a worthy brother of the lodge who was also a worthy plasterer.
Also a worthy foreman to a roadmaking firm. He offered me a job. The
Victoria Dock Road was being torn up and relaid with granite pitchers. I
was appointed timekeeper and mason's labourer. My duties were various. I
kept some sort of accounts, I can't remember what, and I carried huge
pails of water from a distant standard to the place where the concrete
was mixed. I also held the tape when the job was measured up. I relieved
the night watchman whilst he had his tea. I helped trim the red lamps
that hung on the scaffold poles.

One day when I was helping to hang the lamps on the poles a man came up
to me and asked me how much I was earning. I told him, with conscious
pride, that I robbed the firm to the extent of fifteen shillings a week.

"Pah!" he said.

He was a man with a beard and talked with an accent. He wore a
deer-stalker cap and he had the manner of authority.

"You're doing a man's work", he said. "Ask for more."

I was astonished. I never dreamt that I was worth as much. Here I was--I
who had been glad of five shillings a week, and now I was earning fifteen

The seed of revolt did not take root, and when I joined the night
watchman I asked who the old bloke was.

"That's Keir Hardie--he's standing for this district."

I came on the job one morning to learn that he had been elected to

Soon after this I was sent to a Silvertown wharf to check the weights of
granite that were loaded from barges to carts. Here I met a French
inventor who was experimenting with a new kind of brick. He told me there
was no God, which was a great relief to me. He believed in reincarnation
and had once been a cat. He was a green-eyed, pimply-faced man, terribly
thin and full of admiration for Motley the historian. He brought me a
copy of "The Rise and Fall of the Dutch Republic", which, though I tried
hard, I could not read. It was terribly dry after "Deadwood Dick."

The job finished. My worthy brother of the Phoenix asked me to go to
Clacton with him. Some miscreant was erecting row upon row of attached
villas, and my Phoenix man had tendered for the plastering.

It was in the depth of winter. Timekeeper, I was--but usually when the
other work was done. From dawn to sunset I lorried lime with a
long-handled hoe and filled hods and carried them up steep ladders. The
lime worked into my hands till I could not bear water on them. I testify
to the health-giving qualities of Clacton air--I was hungry all the time.
One day I decided to quit; I could have asked for my money, but I decided
it would be useless. I was working for a working man, and a working man,
when he gets on in the world, is something of a tyrant.

Instead, I walked to Colchester; pawned my overcoat for six shillings,
and came to London with one fixed determination, the result of a long
talk I had had with myself.

"Here you are!" I said.

"Where are you?" said I. "You're earning fifteen shillings a week. You
have no education, no prospects. You're handwriting is rotten; you're not
strong enough for a navvy and not clever enough for a clerk. You're in a
rut--how are you going to get out of it?"

On Boxing Day I spent my last shilling to see Fred Leslie in
"Cinderella." On the following day, Mrs. Freeman protesting with tears, I
borrowed sixpence to pay my fare, and, going down to Woolwich, enlisted
myself a private of the Royal West Kent Regiment.

* * * * *

Here, then, was the break, a definite and sharp turn of the road, the
first crag in the climb. I had no more definite objective than the man
who finds himself at the bottom of a pit into which he has fallen--my one
desire was to get out. Somebody had lent me a copy of Smiles's
"Self-Help": I think it was the most depressing book I had ever read. All
these poor boys who had achieved greatness in various arts and
professions had some natural bent. They were mathematicians or artists;
the foundation of their fortunes was laid by their inclinations. There
were a few patient souls who had worked their way from office-boys to the
control of great companies; but it always seemed to me that they did no
more than keep themselves in the middle of a great, slow-moving river,
and drift towards their elegant harbours.

I had no definite ambitions: I neither burnt the midnight oil in the
study of law, nor hoarded my farthings towards a fortune. I never desired
enormous monies. Rather, money was cash, to be spent and enjoyed.

If I had a quake at all in the contemplation of my new career, it was the
inward shiver that a boy experiences when he enters the fatal train that
carries him to his first boarding school. The journey to Maidstone was
rather a desolate one--I occupied the same carriage as two convicts being
transferred to Maidstone Prison, and on the whole they were more cheerful
than I. They had been there before and canvassed the possibility of
returning to their old jobs, discussing the advantage of one "ward" over
the other.

"Is old So-and-so still on the gate?"

The warder was friendly and informed them that old So-and-so WAS still
"on the gate." But there was a new chief warder. One of the prisoners had
"met him" in Exeter Jail. He thought he was rather a decent chap, but the
warder gave no enthusiastic confirmation of this view.

They asked after old friends. Bill This was "on the Moor" and Harry That
was at Portland. They agreed that Portland was worse than Dartmoor but
not so cold.

One of the men spoke of prisons in the manner of a virtuoso. He might
have been a member of the leisured classes discussing continental hotels.
At the journey's end I parted from them with some regret--indeed, I
should not have been sorry to have accompanied such agreeable and
experienced adventurers. After all, they had only "got" five years, and I
was in the army for seven, with no remission for good conduct.

Chapter IV

I have read and read and read until I am tired of reading about the poor
and their problems. From time to time young Oxford gentlemen descend to
what is so picturesquely described as the abyss and grope around in the
mud for first causes. They write learnedly about labour and economics and
supply and demand, and they produce in high lights such examples and
illustrations to support their theories as come to their observation.

To-day they tell us that the sight of so much luxury in the West End, the
jewellers' shops, the shining limousines, the delicately nurtured
lap-dogs of society women, are creating a feeling of unrest among the
labouring poor. I cannot remember when this "proof" of a coming
revolution was not adduced. The truth is that, if working people are
decently housed and can earn sufficient to supply their families with the
comforts to which they are entitled, they care precious little about
those who are doing better than themselves. Class hatred is an invention.
The British poor are too sentimental to resent the romance of success,
too high-principled and too intelligent to find a grievance in the
prosperity of their neighbours. They are decent people, cleanspoken,
clean-thinking. They hold the sealed patterns of national behaviour.

It is the habit to think of the poor in terms of slumdom, but there is a
poor which lives in shabby streets and cleans its windows and whitens its
doorsteps. A poor whose horror is charity, and whose haunting fear is
that it may be buried by the parish. A proud, self-reliant poor that
scorns relief and guards the secret of its poverty most jealously. And
these are the vast majority. The writers of theses never meet these
people, and, if they met them, would learn nothing, for they do not talk
about themselves, and regard with sour suspicion those who come prying in
to their affairs. Their men have a best suit for Sundays, their children
wear stiff little suits and dresses that have been carefully folded and
put away all the week. You can see the little boys sent out on Sunday
mornings with nosegays pinned upon their coats. This is the poor that has
parlours in which the family may sit on Sundays only, does its washing on
Tuesdays or Wednesdays and its shopping on Saturday afternoons.

Remember this, that starvation and dirt are not the hall-mark of poverty:
they are the normal condition of thriftlessness. I am referring to the
poor who average fifteen shillings per week per member of a household; of
women who have to consider every penny they spend and to whom Bank
Holidays are events of supreme importance, to be saved up for, to be
looked forward to, to be remembered. This is the poor that the Church has
lost--because for years the Church has offered nothing but a duty to men
and women who needed a day's relief from duty, because it brought a new
gloom into lives which were drab enough, God knows.

The Christmas decorations still hung in the barrack-room--a melancholy
sight for the raw recruit. There was only one other man in the long bare
room when I came in. He sat on the edge of his bed and he was polishing
his buttons. The bed was laced with snowy white belts and straps, a tiny
knapsack no bigger than a lady's handbag glistened blackly at the foot of
the bed.

"Don't touch them straps or I'll gallop your guts out", he said, in a
mild, almost friendly, way.

He was "for guard" next morning. The sleeve of the red serge jacket which
hung on a peg above the cot was decorated with two conduct stripes. He
was, he admitted sort of self-conscious indifference, "an old sweat."
He'd "done his seven" and was "taking on" for another five. There was no
place like India, the army wasn't like it was--nor the beer either. All
"quarter blokes" made enormous sums out of cheating the troops and bought
rows of houses; the sergeant-major wasn't a bad feller, but the colour
bloke was a reg'lar barstid.

Thus he put all the army ropes in my hands, the scandal and pride of
Maidstone Barracks. I asked him where the library was: the corporal who
had met me at the station told me that I could get refreshment there.

"Libr'y?" The old sweat tried to believe that his ears had misinformed
him. "Libr'y? You mean the canteen, don't you? Don't come into the army
an' be a teetotaller or you'll be dead 'n a month. Specially in India.
They're always the first to go. Alive to-night an' dead to-morrer! All
due to drinkin' lemonade and buns."

He offered to show me the canteen. I was firm to see the library. He
offered to show me that, and explained that I would not have found him in
the barrack-room at all if he had had any money.

"Coffee's better than nothin'--but don't ask me to have lemonade: it rots
the inside."

The library was chiefly distinguished by its innocence of anything that
looked like a book. There: were two large volumes on a shelf, but
investigation revealed these as draught or chess boards camouflaged as
literature. It was a wooden building with two hanging oil lamps, a
folding bagatelle table, several tables and a sprinkling of chairs. At
one end of the room was a counter, behind which was a smoky oil lamp, a
large steaming kettle, a few bottles of lemonade and a plate of
sober-looking confectionery. Heat was supplied by a stove, but this I did
not immediately notice. I saw a lot of men sitting round something, but I
thought they were playing a game.

"The canteen's livelier", pleaded my guide. "Beer does make you sing.
Lemonade merely eats away the linin' of the stummick."

I explained that I neither touched, tasted nor handled the accursed enemy
that men put into their mouths to steal away their brains. He shook his
head gloomily, blowing on his coffee the while.

"You'll DIE in India", he said ominously. "Every night we have a funeral
an' it's gen'rally a lemonade drinker. Beer drinkers never die natural.
But Bible-thumpers go orf like the snuff of a candle. It's the climate."

He drank the coffee and thanked me politely. After which he borrowed
threepence to buy a tin of blanco, and disappeared, presumably in the
direction of the canteen.

He was the first of the many Nobby Clarks I met in the army. Why all
Clarks should be "Nobby" I have never discovered. Nor why all Taylors
should be "Buck." It is an army mystery.

Maidstone Barracks consisted of two-story wooden hutments of great
antiquity; there was a modern block consisting of four large rooms, two
in each wing; hutments and brick block formed two sides of a square,
which was bounded on the remaining two sides with one-storied married
quarters. Old trees fringed the square; behind the barrack block was a
large playing field that ran down to the footpath along the Medway.

I was housed in the brick barracks. My bed consisted of three square
"biscuits" stuffed with some unresilient matter, three blankets and two
sheets of rough unbleached linen which were changed once a month.

The first parade was at 7.30 in the morning, the last parade at 2.30.
Generally speaking, the accommodation was inferior to the average
workhouse and very much below the standard maintained at Dartmoor Prison.
I'm not complaining. I was quite happy about it. It was quite as good as
anything I had had.

For days I moved like a man in a dream. I drew my kit, was measured for
my scarlet coat, possessed myself of a rifle and bayonet and the
Slade-Wallace equipment. I moved hither and thither at the orders of
sundry gods with stripes on their arms, and learnt to distinguish bugle
calls, the first two of which every soldier learns are "Cookhouse" and
"Defaulters." Corporals filled me with awe; sergeants thrilled me. The
first officer I saw was to me the most tremendous vision. I welcomed
eagerly my first "saluting drill" and once I had mastered that ritual of
homage, I lay in wait for officers to practise on. I acquired my nickname
very early on. I was named "Nunc", after a famous prize-fighter.

It was intensely interesting. The men were most kind to the raw recruit;
but then, Tommy is the everlasting flower of chivalry. There are some
people who think that there is a magic atmosphere in the army which
translates wasters and blackguards into good fellows--but of course that
is rubbish. They were good fellows before they came in. They belong to
the cheerfully suffering class. Their mothers have stood at the wash-tub
with a horrid pain gripping at their vitals, and have smiled their way
through washing day. Their fathers have turned out in the cold mornings
and have sweated and grumbled through the long day, and have come home at
nights for a sluice at the kitchen sink, a cup of tea and a bloater and a
cheery evening pipe. The Tommy is the salt of the earth because the
working poor of the Anglo-Saxon race are the salt of the earth. The clean
and decent working poor who erected their sons and daughters as perpetual
monuments to the memory of their sacrifice and devotion. Some day, when I
am a rich man, I will put up a statue of a woman at a wash-tub and I will
call her the Core of the Nation.

There were two subjects which you might not discuss in the barrack-room:
one was politics and the other was religion. Not that we privates took
religion very seriously, but we had a great respect for people who did.
You will find exactly the same attitude to-day in any third-class
carriage on any race train. You will find it on Epsom Downs during Derby
week in the blank, unrecognisable stare with which the text-bearers are
greeted. They are there, but men and women of our class are polite enough
not to see them.

I only once met a soldier who knelt by his bed to say his prayers. Nobody
threw boots at him, as they do in tracts. But then, religious tracts are
the most naive form of fiction. We used to shut up until his public
supplications were through, and if we felt uncomfortable, old man
conscience had nothing to do with the latter--we were simply feeling
awkward, as I might feel awkward to-day if I heard a man rise up in
church and take exception to a preacher's argument.

Two things you might not do in a barrack-room--fix a bayonet or whistle
the "Dead March in Saul" For each such offender the door of the
guard-room yawned.

Infantry work is not very interesting. Picket duty was more so. There was
a little pub near the barracks called "The Phoenix" (how that word clung
to me!) which was patronised by certain turbulent spirits. One night
there was a rough house, and I and another were ordered in to throw out a
large militiaman in the quarrelsome stages of booze. When I saw the size
of him I thought that diplomacy was desirable. I told him that the
corporal of the picket wanted him to come out and fight. There were
twenty men outside waiting to claim him.

"Ho!" said the militia, and took a sighting shot at me. I lost one tooth,
but I had the satisfaction of helping to frog-march him to the
guard-room. Twice we had to drop him heavily--he was a sick man the next
morning, but bore no malice and was a good fellow really.

The militia was a source of income to some of the lads of Deptford. A few
of them belonged to five or six different "crushes." No sooner was their
preliminary training over than they left with their bonus and joined
another "crush" in a false name. One man told me that he was a deserter
from fourteen various militia battalions.

I had to go to hospital to have my tooth attended, and there I saw the
comfortable quarters of the Medical Staff Corps. Nice beds, cosy
sitting-room and better pay. Also a private held some sort of position.
His uniform was quietly blue with red facings; he wore a round cap and
chin-strap of cavalry jauntiness. I gave the matter considerable thought.
Foot sloggers were to have broad red stripes up their trousers. The news
thrilled us, but nothing came of it.

One morning I paraded before my company officer and asked permission to
transfer to the Medical Staff Corps. The request was received a little
coldly, but the application was forwarded--in quadruplicate, I imagine.
My friend, the old soldier, was both indignant and sarcastic. "What do
you want to go an' mix poultices for? And you a teetotaller! You'll be
dead in a month!"

None the less, on the morning of St. Patrick's Day, 1894, I paraded on
the M.S.C. Depot square at Aldershot, and was cordially welcomed by a
gaunt staff-sergeant.

"The Corps ain't bad enough but we've got to have a lot of Deptford
roughs transferred to us! If you make a good nurse, I'll eat my forage

I discovered afterwards that he had a grudge against the West Kents,
which was indeed mainly recruited from Deptford and Greenwich.

The work at the depot was heavy. Classes in anatomy--of sorts--brought me
to a new acquaintance with human beings. They were no longer men, but
bits of flesh with bones stuck inside them and certain organs which had
the trick of going wonky on the slightest excuse. The discipline was not
so strict as in the West Kents, but the drill sergeants were more vivid
in the imagery they employed. Their standard of education was higher
because it was broader. All the sergeants and most of the corporals added
the art of dispensing to their other accomplishments. They were versed in
the "British Pharmacopoeia" and "Squire's Companion." From Acacia Gummi
to Zingiber (which is ginger) they knew the properties and
compatibilities of all listed drugs. Some of them were dentists in so far
as tooth-drawing was concerned; not a few had got beyond the bones and
organs stage of knowledge and dabbled in nerves and muscles.

We class men grew terribly important as we progressed from knowledge to
knowledge. We ceased to be entirely military--we became scientists.

There was a kit inspection on the square every Saturday morning. One man,
pinched for time, found he had not packed his blacking brushes. He thrust
them into the breast of his jacket. The colonel came round, saw the
bulging bosom of the soldier, and tapped it with his cane.

"What have you there, my man?" he asked, and quick came the answer.

"Heart, lungs and thoracic artery, sir!"

I passed out of my class and was ordered for hospital duty--No. 2
hospital, North Camp. With a few other graduates I marched to my new

The next morning I came into touch with a malady that one had heard about
and discussed in a shamefaced way. I was put in charge of a ward which
contained twenty-four cases of syphilis!

I was sick at the thought of it. In those days the disease was viewed as
leprosy was once regarded. A sick man was regarded as a criminal. He was
told that his case was hopeless--but not by the doctors of the Army
Medical Corps. We had a great old colonel who took summary vengeance on a
supercilious sister at the Cambridge Hospital who referred to North Camp
as "the dirty hospital." We had no women nurses at North Camp, and for
this reason were the envy of the other companies; and the work, though
hard, was interesting. When I had got over my repugnance to handling the
sheets and bed linen, and no longer picked them up with my carbolized
finger-tips, when I had taken a few dead men to the mortuary and had
learnt to dissect them for post-mortem purposes without the little shed
spinning round and round and feeling a hollow sensation in the pit of my
stomach, I enjoyed the work. What good chaps they were in No. 2

I began to write little verses for their amusement. One of them, Gus Ward
(he is a captain now and retired) was a famous elocutionist. For him I
wrote a set of verses on the sinking of Admiral Tryon's battleship. They
weren't good verses, but they were vigorous, and the lines both scanned
and rhymed. We had great sing-songs in our little canteen, and forbidden
games--vingt-et-un, anglicised and militarised as "pontoon", kept us up
till one in the morning, with blankets over the windows.

Once there was a mild riot and a daring youth with a grievance against
the sergeant-major, who lived in the opposite hut, took a large lump of
coal and dropped it through the sergeant-major's window under which he
slept. I believe it fell upon his stomach and he was naturally annoyed.
The doer of this deed was never discovered. All except a few wards were
the old-fashioned Crimean hutments. To North Camp came all infectious
cases, and in course of time I slept in wards or tents with men suffering
from every disease from itch to smallpox. In such cases the orderly was
isolated as much as the patient, and none could approach him.

I had not been at North Camp more than a year when there came an incident
which was greatly to affect my life. At the time I was detailed for range
duty at Ash, and two things happened there. A soldier and his wife had a
hutment near the ranges, and one rainy evening, when the medical officer
had gone, the woman fell into labour with her first child. Leaving me in
charge of her--there was no woman available--he went into North Camp to
get a doctor. I was terrified. I tried to get the landlord of a little
inn to send his barmaid to the woman, but she refused.

The landlord, a widower, told me there was nothing to be worried about.
He produced for me a book on obstetrics filled with ghastly
illustrations. This I carried back, and, a crisis arising, I delivered
the child, running from the bed to the open book on the table and from
the table to the bed. The doctor, a civilian, came with the husband an
hour after the birth and was terribly shocked. Three days later the hair
at the side of my head went grey.

Ash range duty gave me a lot of time to read and write. "Deadwood Dick"
no longer fascinated me. I began to dip into the "Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire", skipping the long words and the very immense wads of stuff
about the growth and development of the Christian religion. And I began
to write little songs. Just then Arthur Roberts was at the height of his
fame, and, greatly daring, I sent him a lyric called "A Sort of a Kind of
a--" I was stunned one morning to hear from him and to learn that my
first literary effort was successful. I never met Roberts till years
later. When I called at the Prince of Wales' Theatre it was to meet Mr.
Lowenthal, who gave me five pounds and a lot of good advice. I believe
that Roberts sang the song for years--on one occasion at a party where
the late King Edward was a guest. "Biarritz" was the play for which the
song was required. The day I was to go to town to hear it I was made a
"prisoner at large" for some military offence. Nevertheless I went, and
stayed absent for five days. On my return I was charged with:

"That being a prisoner at large, Private Wallace broke out of barracks
and remained absent until apprehended by the military police."

The latter part was a picturesque fiction and was expunged. Edgar Wallace

Old Colonel Cleary glared at me over his glasses.

"You'll go to prison with hard labour for ninety-six hours", he said.

Chapter V

At two o'clock that afternoon I was marched off to the military prison,
more curious than scared, in spite of dark hints of the fate that awaited
me. Here was a new experience--imprisonment without the smear of
criminality. As I passed through the grim postern I thought of poor
Harry, now dead, and I was glad that I was not going inside for hitting a

"The Glass House", as the military prison was facetiously called, was
like every prison I have seen. A wide hall surrounded by galleries, the
walls punctured at intervals with small black doors. I was given a bath
and changed into convict attire, ornamented by the conventional broad
arrows, and marched up to a cell. It was a bare apartment, with a board
bed and a ridiculously inadequate supply of blankets. There was a Bible
and a set of rules to read, a window of frosted glass (behind bars) to
admit daylight and share of a dim light at night. An hour after I arrived
a warder came and cut off my hair. Nowadays such things do not happen.
The soldier keeps his own uniform and his own hair, but in those days the
military prisoner had a worse time than any convict.

There was no work to do on the first day. I practised standing on my head
against the wall and acquired a certain proficiency. After that, I had no
time for gymnastics. I think I had skilly and potatoes for tea--unsalted,
unsugared oatmeal at which my proud stomach revolted. In the morning
breakfast was a repetition of tea.

A warder came and flung me in a piece of rope. I was taught how to turn
the rope into oakum. At eleven o'clock I was marched out of the cell to a
drill yard and initiated into the art of shot drill, the most damnable
and heartbreaking punishment that was ever invented.

You stand in four lines, a heavy iron shot at your feet. At the word of
command you lift the shot breast high, turn left, march four paces and
put it down. Walking back, you find the shot that the man on your right
has deposited. You lift this and follow the same routine, until you have
carried four shots to the left. Then you carry them back again to the

Two days of this broke me up physically--it was the army, chaplain, one
of the best men in the world, the Rev. V. C. Hordern, who had me taken
off this punishment. Thereafter I picked oakum. A little breeze between a
warder and myself did not improve matters. Not realising that the oakum
was weighed, I made away with quite a few strands by pushing them through
the holes of a ventilator. However, the punishment was not too irksome.

I was glad when my period of imprisonment was ended. I had lived on bread
and water and potatoes, and came out with all my curiosity completely
satisfied. I took a good look at "The Glass House" as I was marched away,
and decided that the Lord had never designed me for a callous criminal.

Yet officers and pals were very nice about it all. My own doctor met me
at the door of my ward next morning with a broad smile; the colonel who
sentenced me recommended me later as a second-class orderly, which meant
twopence a day extra.

Poor Mrs. Freeman got to learn and was terribly upset. She feared that I
had "gone on the drink." It was her only explanation for the disasters
which overtook her sons.

My song writing went on, but I found no buyer and inspiration languished.

One morning, when I was in the mortuary dealing with a poor boy who had
died in the night, my room corporal came in.

"Wallace, you're marked for foreign service--you go to the Depot on

The fascinating problem was--whither? Drafts were going to Singapore,
Malta, Egypt, Gibraltar, Hong-Kong, Bermuda, Jamaica, Nova Scotia,
Mauritius and South Africa. I learnt that my destination was the Cape. I
went to London and said good-bye to the Freemans. I never saw "mother"
again. I have only one satisfaction, that I was able to make that gentle
life a little more easy before the end. She forgot her own children at
the last and remembered me. George Freeman survived her by many years.

It was on the Scot, newly lengthened, that I went out of England in
August, 1896. There was a party of the corps on board and the
accommodation was agreeable. The Scot was not the steadiest of ships, but
the weather was good and we made Cape Town without discomfort.

The South African winter is nearing its end in August. The nights are
chilly, but the hardier and earlier flowers are beginning to appear. From
the sea, standing at the foot of Table Mountain, the town is a beautiful
sight. I have always loved Cape Town and the peninsula. There is no spot
on earth quite like it. There was still some doubt as to our destination.
I hoped to be sent to Natal--I found I was destined for Simons Town.

"You lucky young devil!" said one of the Cape Town crowd.

Simons Town was in those days the greatest "loaf" known to orderlies the
wide world over. It was the ideal station--a non-dieted hospital, with
four beds and a staff of four, a surgeon, a sergeant, an orderly and a
cook. All bad cases that required nursing were transferred at once to
Wynberg. The only cases I remember being detained were a lunatic and an
unfortunate sergeant who fractured his skull by a fall from a bicycle.
And he died.

The officer was a charming gentleman named Greenway. There was a
procession of sergeants, and in my time three cooks, the greatest of whom
was Private Pinder. He is, I hope, a colonel by now. Pinder was the
caterer, and a frugal man. He never bought more milk for tea than was
sufficient for one. We played euchre to decide who had the milk.
Generally he won. His kitchen was spotlessly clean, he was something of a
martinet, and ran the establishment on such economical lines that there
was usually something due to us at the end of every month from the grocer
who supplied us. Whether it was in the form of rebate or just plain
"squeeze" I forget.

There was a compact little surgery, and in the hours when I was alone I
experimented on myself with every drug. I took opium, morphia, cocaine
(which made me laugh hysterically), ether and Indian hemp. The morphia
nearly killed me, but I suffered nothing from the others. And I had no
desire to repeat the experiments.

The hospital was situated at the end of a long avenue of eucalyptus
trees, and at the mouth of a little kloof, where baboons barked all night
and a waterfall provided an endless murmur of sound. At the end of the
avenue was the main road and Admiralty House, and beyond that Simons Bay,
as blue as the skies and dotted with white cruisers. And when the spring
and summer came, the kloof was a treasure-house of arum lily and
gladioli, and Admiralty House was encircled by the blue fire of plumbago.
There were gardens everywhere. Gardens where narcissus and freesia,
heliotrope and roses, grew in their seasons. Geraniums ran wild in thick
bushes, and there were traces with great pink blossoms.

You might climb the kloof, or the zigzag path in the face of the hill,
and see False Bay stretch out to the Blue Mountains, or take a trip
across the plateau and look upon the very spot where the Birkenhead went
down. A place of wonder and, unsuspected by me, of most lovable people.
The Wesleyan chaplain was the Rev. William Shaw Caldecott, a bearded
giant of a man, an autocrat of autocrats, a brilliant scholar and the
author of several books on the Temples of Ezekiel and Solomon. He was
most kind to me. Mrs. Caldecott was my literary fairy godmother. A very
gentle lady of great character and beauty, she was the daughter of
Benjamin Hellier, then editing the Agricultural Journal for the
Government, a white-bearded, Father-Christmas-looking gentleman, who
invariably wore a white top-hat. I remember him as one who never said an
ill word--even about snakes. A marvel of erudition, this patriarch is the
standard by which I judge good men. Marion Caldecott had written little
verses and descriptions, but she had a wide and selective knowledge of
the authors.

To her guidance I owe the shaping of my life. She opened out new vistas,
showed me new excellences, gave me my first glimpse of the cultured
gentlewoman of my dreams. Her age then I do not know; her hair was grey,
turning white; she had piercing blue eyes and the most beautiful hands I
have ever seen. I became permanently Wesleyan and took a proprietorial
interest in religion. I even joined the choir.

There was plenty happening to relieve the monotony of life--if there had
been any monotony. The Benin Expedition to the West Coast of Africa under
Admiral Rawson was short and sharp. In the details of that little war,
most of which I learnt at second hand, was born the germ of an idea which
later was to fructify in my series of "Sanders" stories. I had the unique
experience of receiving a letter of thanks from the Admiralty for my care
of the sick and wounded, which, I presume, embellishes my documents at
the War Office to this day.

New books came to me--Maurice Hewlett, Kipling--especially Kipling. I
soaked myself in him. One morning I read in the Cape Times that he was
coming to South Africa for a holiday. I sat down and wrote a "Welcome" in
the Kipling manner and sent it off to the Cape Times. I heard nothing
more of the matter, but on the day Kipling landed the "poem" was printed
in a conspicuous place and I was summoned to Cape Town to meet the
editor--that mercurial genius, Edmund Garrett, alive to his finger tips,
though in the inexorable grip of a disease that was wasting him. I see
him now with his keen boyish face and wavy hair--a man whose eyes were
dancing with life, who bubbled over with the joy of it. His courage was
truly wonderful.

I was to meet Kipling. The City Club was giving him a dinner--would I
come? I said "Yes", but with misgivings, and consulted Mrs. Caldecott.
Should I know which were the right knives to use and the right forks? How
many wine glasses were there, and which wine went into which? She was
rather hazy about the wine glasses, but put me right over such problems
as knives and forks. I had had the same trouble when I dined with her
family, but there the courses were few. This City Club dinner began with
hors d'oeuvres and ended with ices.

Carrying in my mind's eye the distinguishing marks of fish knives, I
attended the club. I was in uniform, of course. When I came into the
reception-room Kipling was talking to the Mayor of Cape Town. A
round-faced rather ferocious-looking man, with very powerful-looking
spectacles, he came half-way to meet me. Lockwood Kipling, his father,
gave me as hearty a greeting. I said nothing. My mind was too occupied by
cutlery. I could only bask in this new sun. As to the wines, I had made
up my mind: I drank everything that was offered to me. Alas! for the
noble principles enunciated by Harry the Milkman and adopted en bloc by a
past secretary of the Rose of Kent Lodge, most fiery of young Phoenixes--I
went back to Simons Town that night rather tight.

Some time later Kipling wrote to me from Newlands--he had not gone into
his house that was being built above Groot Schin by Rhodes. It was a
charming letter in his most legible handwriting. I was to put "more spit
and polish" in to my work. I was to practise journalism.

Kipling has the reputation of being something of a recluse. Journalists
say that he is difficult of approach, forgetting that Kipling is at heart
a journalist, knowing the weakness of his brethren.

Many years later, when I met Mark Twain, I understood better Kipling's

"I don't mind your interviewing me", said the great Mark, "but for God's
sake don't put my words in quotation marks. I couldn't talk as an
interviewer makes me talk."

Nevertheless, I and a dozen reporters clamoured for that interview, and
Mark led us forward--we were on the ship which brought him to England at
the time--to where there was working the noisiest donkey-engine that it
has been my misfortune to hear. He drew the little circle of reporters
close up to the clattering pandemonium and spoke. We heard nothing!

My prospects, even with the boost to ambition which the Kipling talk had
given to me, were none too rosy. One day I saw Kipling at his bungalow
and we had a long talk.

I was very much in awe of him, very gauche and awkward. I blurted out a
foolish question.

"How does it feel to be a very great writer?"

He pulled at the pipe he was smoking and scowled at me from under his
black eyebrows.

"I probably think less about myself than you think about yourself", he
answered, a little crushingly.

I confess I did not feel that I was on the way to greatness.

Edmund Garrett said he would accept more verses--he did, a few. But

He shook his head. He was too fine a gentleman to point out my
deficiencies. I was just a Cockney soldier, half illiterate, gauche and
awkward. Between me and this product of Oxford was a gulf wider than
Table Bay. I felt that he could not "see me in the part", as they say in
theatreland. Journalism, he said, was a very exacting profession--an
ill-paid profession. Should I learn shorthand? I asked him.

"For God's sake, don't do that--you'll become an automaton!"

I had better go on writing verses. His assistant editor, however, had a
newspaper mind. I might supply items of interest about Simons Town
municipal meetings. I jumped at this suggestion. There was another
opening. A wonderful fellow--the most irresponsible devil I've
met--started a local newspaper in Simons Town. He collected the
advertisements; I began to saw off lengths of prose for the paper. I
wrote short items of news and long items. I wrote leading articles
denouncing President Kruger. Incidentally, I sent a polite note to
Admiralty House asking for ship news. Admirals who get friendly letters
from private soldiers may be forgiven if they display a little hauteur. A
brief curt note came back--a snappy note.

I stopped denouncing Kruger for one week and denounced Admiral Harris. In
forty-eight hours I was en route for Cape Town--a journalistic victim of
official tyranny. I had discovered a limitation of journalism. My colonel
talked to me very seriously, pointing out certain paragraphs of Queen's
Regulations. I was given a ward to look after--thirty medical cases. The
dolce far niente of Simons Town became a delightfully remembered dream.

A political consciousness was awakening in my mind. Home politics I
understood, of course. There were two parties in England--Conservatives
and Liberals. If the Liberals came in you had Home Rule, and if the
Conservatives came in you didn't. Had I not cheered Mr. Darling, the
eminent Conservative Member for Deptford? And did I not speak
disparagingly of Mr. Sidney Webb, the Liberal County Councillor, and Lord
Edmund FitzMaurice, the Liberal candidate? The other day I reminded Lord
Darling that I had been one of the most vocal of his supporters. He
wasn't awfully impressed.

But in South Africa politics were vital because they were racial. On the
one hand you had the psalm-singing, coffee-drinking Dutch; on the other
hand the true-born Englishman with his inalienable right to do as he
damn' pleased in any country at any time. Could there be the slightest
doubt in what direction my sentiments leant?

I was under a cloud. Major Hilliard, who had the C.M.G. for his care of
the late Prince Henry of Battenberg in his last moments, asked me
ironically whether I would go into Parliament or pass my examination for
corporal? I elected for the latter as a matter of precaution. The meagre
income from the Simons Town newspaper and the correspondence and
versifying that my leisure gave to me, was cut off. I considered the
matter one night as I was taking my turn to sit by the bedside of a dying
sergeant, and decided upon a new plan. In East London, which is on the
east coast of Cape Colony, was a bright little paper called the East
London Dispatch. I wrote to the editor: told him I was the famous Edgar
Wallace who wrote such wonderful poetry in the Cape Times, and offered to
write him a weekly causerie in the style of Sims's feature "Mustard and
Cress." I chose this because it seemed easy. I told him it would be light
and frivolous and possibly witty. I didn't call it a "causerie", because
I hadn't met the word then and I shouldn't have been able to spell it if
I had.

To my joy he accepted the suggestion. I was to start right away at 30s.
an article, and he had no objection to my syndicating the feature. I knew
nothing about syndication, but I found out. It meant sending the same
stuff to other papers. After I had been writing for a month or two I
received an order from the Midland News in Cradock and Grocott's Penny
Mail in Grahamstown. From these sources I received £3 12s. a week. The
article was written when I was on night duty in the quietness of the
waiting-room. Many a bright paragraph, scintillating with calf humour,
was interrupted by the arrival of casualties. Once I turned out to
resuscitate a half-drowned civilian who had tried to commit suicide on
the beach.

Chapter VI

Versifying is wonderful training for a writer--even doggerel versifying.
I turned up an old army exercise book the other day full of scraps of
"poems" written in a sprawling boyish hand. I wasn't ashamed of the stuff
I had written it frightened me a little: suppose I had realised how
terribly deficient I was, how heartbreaking it would have been! I
wondered how many other young men had thrown up the sponge when a sense
of their limitations came to them. Happy was I in my good conceit that
this "poetry" of mine was in a fair way to being very good indeed.

I wish I had preserved the scraps of paper on which my earliest
paragraphs in the Sims manner had been inscribed. They were written with
labour and corrected painfully. I would spend half an hour in the search
of the right word--even delved down to the very roots to secure one which
expressed the exact shade of meaning. Mrs. Caldecott gave me a Trench's
book on "The Study of Words", which was immensely valuable. Trench
sometimes jumped to conclusions which were a little fantastic, but I was
happy to jump with him, and if there is some doubt that "trivial" is
derived from "three roads", and the gossip that is peculiar to idlers who
meet at their junction, Trench gave the interpretation a warm and human

Trench helped me very considerably, for he made me examine the tools of
my trade with closer attention than I should have done, and he taught me
that the English language is a very beautiful inheritance. He taught me
that words are keys that will only fit their own locks. It was an easy
lesson to learn--a hard one to practise. My vocabulary was a very small
one. I discovered this when I found that in leading article of the Cape
Time, consisting of 700 words, there were twenty words I did not
understand and eleven sentences which conveyed nothing to me. For six
months I rewrote the Cape Times leaders, reducing them to understandable
terms--it was a very useful exercise. At the same time I practised
condensing them to forty words, no more and no less, and that was the
best exercise of all. I did the same thing with the more profound of the
English reviews. One article in the Quarterly took me three weeks to
understand, and involved the reading of some thirty articles in an old
encyclopaedia which Mr. Caldecott had in his study. At the end of that
time I could have written a Quarterly article on economics, for,
incidentally, I had unearthed a flaw in the writer's argument and a gross
error in the basis of his calculations. I remember that another article
in the Atlantic Monthly brought me to a study of the Chinese Dynasties!

The Owl, a Cape Town weekly, took a weekly verse, and then its more
vigorous rival, the South African Review, gave me a standing order for
thirty-six inches of political poetry. I discovered "Hiawatha"--the
easiest poem in the world to parody. My verses and articles were all
about Kruger, "Oom Paul", and the burghers and the downtrodden Uitlanders
and Byworners and similar exciting subjects. My political fervour grew.
Sir William Butler, commander-in-chief, sent word privately that it was
not seemly that a soldier should interest himself in politics.

I was in trouble just then from another cause. Having to paint the chest
of a bronchial case with liniment of iodine, I had executed a china
pattern plate on his chest. The best drawing I have ever made. And the
Principal Medical Officer, making an unexpected call, had seen but had
not admired my artistry. Also there was the incident of the corporal's
bed. He was a very objectionable corporal, and he used to come in late
and rather tight. One evening we pulled down his sheets and poured inside
two tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup. All that I did was to open the tins and
rearrange the bedclothes, but there was considerable trouble at 1 a.m.,
and worse to follow at orderly room in the morning. Happily, by well-knit
perjury, we cleared ourselves.

The colonel spoke to me on the political matter like a father. Wouldn't
it be better if I got out of the army? I was earning too much money and
demoralising the detachment. Rumours had reached him of wild nights at
Bill Scarsons--Bill kept a wine shop near the hospital. I applied for my
discharge, borrowing £20 from Mrs. Caldecott's son--a great scientist and
as generous as he was clever--and in course of time the order for my
discharge was received.

There was a riotous evening the night I left. We had a concert and a
presentation--a gold headed cane, which was a noble accompaniment to my
new suit. It was queer to find myself free of the army, with a room of my
own, people to wait on me at breakfast, with no need for getting up at
any hour, and the right to go to bed just when I pleased. The night after
my release I walked about Cape Town till three o'clock in the morning for
the satisfaction of using my own latchkey. I then discovered that there
was no train to Wynberg until six. The experience did not seem worth

But there I was in my own room, with a window looking out upon the
mountains, and a large, smooth table and pen and ink and paper, a big
dictionary, Roget's "Thesaurus", and a volume of familiar quotations. I
had all the necessary equipment for a successful writer.

There was leisure to read. I remember digesting a book by Flammarion on
astronomy and Xenophon's "Anabasis" and "The Dialogues of Socrates", and
failing dismally to get beyond page thirteen of Motley's "Rise and Fall
of the Dutch Republic."

Another man left the corps just about then. He was tired of the army, he
said, and had got job on the sanitary board somewhere up country.

"There's going to be a war, and when you fellows are slogging across the
veld you can think of me sitting in civvies outside my hut, with a pint
of beer and a big cigar!"

The town to which he went to take up his appointment was--Mafeking! I saw
him a few days after the town was relieved. As I rode down the main
street I saw a scarecrow eating a banana and recognised him as The Man
Who Wanted a Quiet Time.

Out of the army, in a high white collar and a natty grey suit; no
blooming reveille, no "Show a leg, will yer? Blimey, some of you
fellers'll sleep your brains away!" No parades, no P.M.'s, no orderly
room at 10 o'clock.

Eventually I found lodgings in Wynberg and sat me down to enlarge my
connections. I could report council meetings to my heart's content.

"MR. COUNCILLOR SMART asked when Little Kloof Road was to have another
lamp-post. The state of the road was a disgrace to the municipality.

"MR. SMITH (Borough Engineer) said the matter was under consideration.

"The MAYOR said he hoped there would be no acrimony on the subject (hear,
hear). He lived in Little Kloof Road and had to suffer as much as anybody
else (hear, hear)."

I was sending Mrs. Freeman a pound a week, which later I increased to £2
10s. I have an idea she never spent a penny of it, but saved it up
against my return. Suspecting this I wrote a lordly letter telling her
she must use it on herself, that soon I should be worth thousands. She
shook her head when she heard this.

"I hope the boy isn't doing anything he oughtn't to do", she said.

I got into the Parliamentary gallery and did a longhand summary of the
proceedings. To meet people was easy now, and I made the acquaintance of
Cecil Rhodes, a big-framed, reddish-faced man with a curiously squeaky
voice. And Willie Schreiner, and the mysterious Jan Hoffman, who, though
out of Parliament, was the big power behind the Dutch.

Rhodes's power was on the decline. He had aroused the bitterest enmity
amongst the Dutch by the part he had played in organising the Jameson
Raid. He never joined in a debate but the atmosphere became electric.
John X. Merriman, that lank politician, was his bete noire, and sometimes
the exchanges across the floor of the House brought Dr. Berry, the
Speaker, to his feet with a stern expostulation.

I saw Rhodes once at Groot Schorn. Possibly Kipling had spoken of me to
him, for he was very kindly, took me round his terraced garden, but
refused to talk any kind of politics. He did, however, express the
opinion that Joseph Chamberlain was the biggest statesman that England
possessed, and asked me if I knew Alfred Harmsworth.

Rhodes had a favourite expression. He would ramble on till he reached
some baffling expression of opinion.

"That is a thought", he would say impressively. He was always propounding
"thoughts"--subject-matter for consideration. His voice alternated
between a squeak and a rumble; he himself thought quicker than he could
speak, and sometimes he would leave you with the wreckage of a sentence
to disentangle as best you could, whilst he went off at a tangent to talk
about something altogether different, again to leave it in the middle of
an uncompleted sentence.

At the opening of the South African Exhibition in Grahamstown I went up
to represent a news agency. There never was a quieter town than
Grahamstown. It lies in the fold of the hills, a sweltering hot city,
full of churches. When Sir William Butler (Acting High Commissioner)
arrived in state to open the exhibition, one man cheered and was silenced
by a stern policeman.

"We don't want any of that sort of noise here", he said.

Alfred Milner was High Commissioner, but he was home on leave. Butler, a
lover of peace, saw all things working for war, and in his speech uttered
a warning:

"South Africa wants peace", he said--a statement which brought about his

I heard the speech, and by some queer instinct recognised its
significance. It was almost a gesture of challenge thrown at Milner. My
account was the first to reach Cape Town and England. It was my first

One of the hardest habits for an ex-soldier to drop is the habit of
saluting. For years after I left the army I could not meet an officer
without my hand mechanically moving upward. I held all officers in awe,
and when Sir William saw me later in the day and beckoned me, my knees

"You're the writing soldier, aren't you, Mr. Wallace? Well, what do you
think of my speech?"

"I think, sir, there will be an awful fuss at home about it."

"I think so too", he nodded.

He was rather sad. William Butler was a big man--you will remember his
wife's picture, "The Roll Call"--a large-hearted man who felt things
very deeply. You can imagine no greater contrast in characters than his
and Milner's. Milner had the soulless brilliancy of a lawyer; the
conscious superiority of an aristocrat. He worried about petty things and
was incautiously dogmatic about big things. I think he came to South
Africa with a fixed idea--that there was no solution to the problem
which the Dutch states offered but the solution which could be forced by
arms. He was honest in this faith--I could not imagine Alfred Milner
being guilty of one act of trickery or deception.

My own position just about now was rather comfortable. The output of
weekly political verse had increased to a yard and a half! I was a
gentleman of leisure, with two suits and a suit of dress clothes. The
latter, bought ready to wear, was a little tight, but was rather
beautiful to look upon. "Leisure" is, of course, a relative term. I had
learnt the habit of early rising and early working, and always I worked
at top speed. I read and read and read, "masking" the passages I could
not quite understand and returning to them later to puzzle them out. My
chief exercise was a book on Logic--Deductive and Inductive. I read this
page by page. I have had it for years. I have it now. I still don't
understand it.

In this period I published my first book--a collection of verses. It was
called "The Mission that Failed", and took its title from the first
"poem" which dealt with the Jameson Raid. It had paper covers and was
printed locally and sold for a shilling. I have no copy of it and would
gladly give a tenner for one.

Life in Cape Town in these days was delightful. I lived on the edge of
Constantia, a district Kipling has made famous. It was a place of
glorious ranges, of vineyards and pines. I marvel that I do not live
there now.

My verses had reached England. The Daily Chronicle published some of the
best, the Spectator published one or two. They were, of course,
Kiplingesque--just as Robert Service's were. Every young writer imitates
somebody, consciously or unconsciously. I was a frank imitator of

The South African War came inevitably--one saw the black cloud rising,
and there was warning enough before the storm broke.

Chapter VII

Curiously enough, in my travels around the Eastern Province, I had made a
layman's reconnaissance of one disastrous battle-ground--Stormberg,
though I never dreamt that Gatacre or any other general would attempt a
frontal attack against such a position. Cape Town was electrified by the
war. Transports. were arriving daily. Train after train laden with
artillery passed up the line to a region that had suddenly become a
mysterious and terrifying Unknown.

I published a number of war poems in pamphlet form, with the assistance
of a gentleman who had a consumptive cure he wished to advertise. He took
the back page for advertising purposes and paid half the cost of the

One night when I got back to Wynberg I found a telegram waiting for me.
It was from H. A. Gwynne, chief correspondent and manager of Reuter's
Capetown. Gwynne is now editor of the Morning Post--a great athlete and a
great gentleman. Again I was to come into contact with the officer type.
In my opinion, he was the finest correspondent the South African War
produced, for not only was a shrewd and knowledgeable news-gatherer, but
had a sense of proportion that put him in a different class from the
others. He had not, of course, the vivid pen of G. W. Steevens, but then
Steevens was rather an impressionist than a news man.

"Would you like to go to the front?" he asked me.

The offer came at a moment when I had decided to re-enlist. It was so
horrible sitting in Cape Town writing about things I had not seen. My
heart was with the detachment, which was somewhere on the Orange River,
and I jumped at the offer. A correspondent's pass was secured, and with a
hundred pounds in my pocket I left Town one night en route for De Aar.

A hundred pounds! It was all the money in the world. No Rothschild was
richer than I, and in order to make the money go as far as possible and
to maintain this enormous capital, I lived economically, grudging the £20
I had to pay for a horse.

I left Cape Town at night, feeling rather solemn, if the truth be told. I
was going into the blue, to an unknown and ominous beyond, where there
was fighting and death and the confusion of war. I sat through that
moonlit night as the train crawled up through the Hex River Mountains,
wondering whether this was an opening, or whether I was slipping into a
dead end. The train thudded on through the next day across the white-hot
Karoo, a place of silence and desolation, and we reached De Aar that
night. We could not go any farther apparently; the line had been blown up
between De Aar and Newport, or possibly a rail had buckled or a culvert
had collapsed. Whatever it was, it held us at that arid junction till
daylight. The Guards were detraining as I left, huge and stolid men,
resting here for a day or two before they joined Methuen on the Orange

I went along to Naawport, a ghastly hole of a place, which had its
railway officer, armoured train, and a sprinkling of disgruntled and
suspicious Dutch farmers. French was holding a line somewhere north of
the latter place, and I went up in an armoured train and heard the first
boom of the guns. There was little news at Colesberg--but I saw there a
very charming Chief Staff Officer. He was a major of cavalry and a very
courteous man--a Major Douglas Haig.

"I'm afraid there is very little news for you here", he said. "Would you
like to see the General?"

The General received me in the friendliest way. French was a little man,
a cheery soul, though worried the morning I saw him. It was a curious
experience to have met the two men who in turn commanded the Army in
France, within five minutes of one another. French, a whisky-and-soda in
his hand, a little talkative; Haig, debonair, very silent and thoughtful;
and somewhere in the distance the intermittent "klik-klok" of rifles.
Methuen had got to the Orange River and was planning a move towards
Kimberley. I arrived at Orange River Station the day he left.

My old detachment of R.A.M.C. men was at Orange River when I arrived, a
sunburnt whiskery lot of men, half of whom had grown beards and were
unrecognisable. I had had an invitation to dine that night with a swell I
had met on the train--I think it was the Earl de la Warr, who was
corresponding for some newspaper or other--and I sent a message over
telling him that I had been unavoidably detained, and squatted down with
the gang around the blackened camp kettle to an over-rich dinner of
boiled rabbit, chicken and bully beef. It was a gorgeous evening,
somewhat spoilt by a raging thunderstorm which came up the Orange River.

My position was that of second correspondent. My chief--I forget who he
was for the moment--was on the other side of the river with the main body
of the army, at that moment preparing to advance towards Kimberley. I was
happy to learn, however, that the military authorities knew nothing about
my subordinate position, and I was allowed to cross the river as and when
I wished, not with the idea of doing the other man's job, but because I
had that insatiable curiosity which is the chief ingredient in the
make-up of the perfect correspondent.

Gwynne himself came up before the advance began. He was very satisfied
with the work I had done, but told me it was necessary that I should stay
at Orange River, not only to collect any news that was going, but to act
as reserve for himself. Orange River was not my idea of a perfect front,
and I continued my visits to the army, using a bicycle to get about the
country, and keeping well out of sight of my chief.

I can't remember how many times I lost myself in that God-forsaken
stretch of no-man's land. I spent two nights sleeping in the wilderness.
The second time I was taken prisoner by a small commando of Cape rebels
which was trekking eastward to join Kronje. When I say "taken prisoner" I
am indulging in heroics. I was questioned by the leader of the party and
allowed to go on my way. It is a curious fact that, although this little
party crossed the one line of rails which formed the slender line of
communication with Methuen's force, they not only made no attempt to blow
it up or destroy it in some other way, but actually stopped to remove an
obstruction which had accidentally washed down upon the rails!

From a hill I watched the Battle of Belmont, and later saw E. F. Knight,
the Morning Post correspondent, with his arm shattered by a rifle bullet.

It was at Orange River that I had my first tussle with the military

But the queer incident that occurred was after the Battle of Modder
River. I had written out a story I got from a wounded officer, in the
course of which I had mentioned that a certain officer had been killed. I
misspelt his name (it was the difference between Ferguson and
Fergeson--these are not the real names). The General sent for me, a nice
little man with a quiet, gentle manner, and read me a little lecture.

"Be awfully careful about names", he said.

He was General Wauchope, and when, a week or so later, I learnt that he
had been killed leading the Highland Brigade into action, I dared not
send on the news, though I had it before the correspondents at Modder
River, for fear I had confused his name with another.

Between whiles I did a little unofficial hospital work. The wounded were
coming down from Modder River and were being accommodated in the field
hospital at Orange River Junction. The R.A.M.C. staff was a small one and
I was able to help a little, for I was a first-class orderly and surgical
work was my speciality. I hasten to add that I did very little, for the
hospital staff was reinforced from De Aar almost immediately; but I
managed to get around to the tents where some of the badly wounded men
were lying, and take down the letters they dictated to their people. The
courage of the dying Tommy is beyond belief: I never saw a tear, never
heard one regret from these men who were taking farewell of life and all
that life held. They fill me with wonder and awe, even to-day, when I
remember those death-beds. They were not supermen, they were just true to
type, and every Briton should go down on his knees and thank God for his

Soon after Magersfontein I was sent up to Orange River and found myself
herded with the elephants of the newspaper world. Julian Ralph was there,
Lionel James of The Times, Carl de la Mere, Percival Landon. Later came
Charles Hardy and Gwynne, Bennett Burleigh and Winston Churchill. George
Steevens I had met on his way through to Natal. A quiet, watchful man who
was rather difficult to know. He gave you the impression of great
simplicity and an impatience of trivialities. He had played a bigger part
in the world than he knew, or even his friend Alfred Harmsworth had
guessed, for he created the illusion of an invincible Kitchener.

Winston I only saw. I had an opportunity of meeting him, but was rather
shy about meeting celebrities. A sturdy, red young man, brimming over
with life and confidence. An adviser of generals even then, if rumour
spoke truly. They might have done better if they had followed his advice,
for I am one of the people who believe that be has a large quantity of
the military genius of the first Duke of Marlborough, his ancestor. All
his life he has comported himself in the field with an absolute disregard
for his safety--whether you like his politics or not, you have to
acknowledge his personal bravery; he is a man without fear.

Bennett Burleigh I never liked. I have the memory of gratuitous snubs
which were unpardonable. He was a bluff, noisy man, very capable at his
job and very kind at heart, I believe. Melton Prior, whom I met later,
was, with Villiers, one of the old school. He was something of an old
soldier too. I met Lord Methuen--they called him "Paul." and he was the
easiest man in the world for an ex-Tommy to meet. Throughout the war I
thanked God when my work brought me into contact with officers of the
Brigade of Guards. They never made me conscious of my social limitations,
and that is the highest compliment I can pay to their breeding.

In addition to my cables to London, it was my duty to write short
articles, which were forwarded to Reuter's head office in London and
distributed to the newspapers. Because of my shocking caligraphy and my
curious spelling, I took the precaution of sending my written notes to a
typist in Cape Town: a girl who was earning a little money in her spare
time after business hours. When the first few of these were printed and
came out, I sent copies of the newspapers containing them to almost
everybody I could think of. I was tremendously proud of my achievement,
and three copies of the Daily News with the article "by Reuter's Special
Correspondent" went to the typist. I did not explain to her that other
newspapers throughout England were also printing the articles, and my
failure to explain this led to amazing results. For subsequent articles
(there were not many), instead of going forward to Reuter, were sent
direct to the Daily News. All but one notable exception.

The first intimation I had of this was a cable which later came to me in

Splendid article. Continue. Robinson.

For all I knew, Robinson was Reuter's other name, and I continued! I did
not identify Sir John Robinson till months later. After the Battle of
Magersfontein I was sent to join Sir Frederick Carrington, who was taking
a force through Rhodesia to relieve Mafeking. On a tiny ship, crowded
with Queensland bushmen, I made the painful journey to Beira, a place I
remember for its sand and its cocktails. At Sixty Mile Peg, where the
narrow and the broad gauge lines met, I killed my first lion, before
going on to Marandellas to find that Sir Frederick Carrington, who had
come out to South Africa much against his will, for he was an old man and
rather lethargic, had built himself a house and was looking for a likely
fourth at bridge.

Troops were, however, going forward to join Plumer, who was attacking to
the north of Mafeking. I travelled up to Salisbury, booked myself a place
on the overland coach--the type of conveyance with which my early studies
of Deadwood Dick had made me acquainted--and began the long and painful
trek to Buluwayo. I reached Mafeking when, so to speak, the powder of
Plumer's attack still hung in the air.

Plumer in those days was a colonel of infantry, a stolid, quiet-spoken,
phlegmatic man, very sparing of speech, yet withal possessed of an
extraordinarily keen sense of humour. He was by far the most popular of
the "little commanders." Baden-Powell was preparing to go home; and the
curious fact is that, although I was two days in Mafeking, I never saw
him and have never spoken with him in my life!

I had to hurry back to Buluwayo and from Buluwayo by the same painful
process to Salisbury. There was talk of a native rising. Chief Linchwe
had given trouble along the northern frontiers of the Transvaal; or two
had been burnt, and a few unfortunate women had been murdered and worse.
Later I was to join an expedition and be a participator rather than a
spectator in the grim vengeance which followed.

Apparently it was not intended that I should go east again, and I
returned to Buluwayo, travelling with Whigham, who was, I think, acting
for the Morning Post, and later became one of the most brilliant editors
in America. For years he had charge of the Metropolitan Magazine, a
unique performance for an Englishman of Englishmen.

By this time Roberts had driven through to Pretoria, and, officially at
any rate, the war was over. Personally, I was rather sick at heart: Mrs.
Freeman had died, and much of the zest of life had for the moment gone
out. I was weary of the war and South Africa. Going down to Cape Town, I
took the first ship to Europe.

It was only when I reached London that I realised the extraordinary work
my typist had been doing; for not only had she sent these articles to the
Daily News, which I had not seen until I reached London; but she had
branched forth and sent one of the "stories" to the Daily Mail! I met
Douglas Sladen--I don't know how I got into such a literary atmosphere,
but it was Sladen who said that he had seen an article of mine in the
Daily Mail. The next morning I went down to the office to search the
articles. When I had discovered the article, I sent my name up to the
editor, and there began my acquaintance with a man who, more than any
other, founded my journalistic fortune.

One has to deal very briefly and delicately with the incident, because
Thomas Marlowe is one of the few men I know who genuinely resents this
kind of publicity. He was grey, even in hose days, with remarkable eyes
and a deep, menacing voice that has filled generations of reporters with
terror. I told him I was going back to the Cape, that in my opinion the
war would last at least for another year, and he commissioned me to write
a few articles for the paper. I had only sent a few from Cape Town when I
had a cable appointing me correspondent and giving me the freest of
hands. I left immediately for the front and had the good luck to attach
myself to a column that at that moment was on the point of leaving
Magersfontein in search of Hertzog, the present Prime Minister of South

Although Hertzog's commando was bigger than our little force, he
consistently avoided battle. We had with us a detachment of Australians
(Victorians, if my memory serves me), Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, a
battalion of the Coldstream Guards, and two guns of the Royal Horse

The day of days was that when I accompanied a party of the irregular
horse on an unofficial sniping expedition, and had the good fortune to
bring down a Boer commander, who, I have every reason to believe, was
Hertzog. My shot killed the horse, and probably I should have killed the
rider, but a loud-mouthed officer demanded what in something we were
doing at the moment I was drawing on my prey. I am pretty certain, from
what we subsequently learnt, that the gentleman I brought down was
Hertzog himself.

Chapter VIII

Who will ever forget those days of marching and counter--marching through
the driving rain in search of a shadowy enemy, his presence notified
occasionally by a desultory exchange of rifle shots; turning out at dawn
in the drizzle, with a streak of light between the tops of the hills and
the heavy rain-clouds. The stink of wet wood trying to burn; the
undertone of blasphemy that chorused up from the men's lines; and the
ride into nowhere--a wet man on a wet horse, the rain streaking down,
drops dripping from the brim of your broad-brimmed sombrero; the clatter
and groan of the mules lugging their burdens over a road that had ceased
to be a road, probably never was a road. The everlasting foot-slogging
Tommy, his rifle slung over his shoulder, muzzle down, his hands deep in
his pockets, a pipe between his teeth. Alone in that column of misery is
he cheerful. His voice rises in an unmusical howl as he murders the music
of popular songs. Dead mules and dead horses at the side of the road; a
swollen drift to cross; and so into camp, weary and aching. And what a
camp! Waterproof covers fastened together to shelter the men; tiny tents,
hardly as serviceable for the officers; but in ten minutes after camp is
reached Mr. Atkins is as cheerful as ever he was. Fires are burning, for
each Tommy in a company carries a dry stick of communal wood under his
tunic. Sometimes when we were crossing the path of a little column that
had trekked laterally before, we came upon evidence of tiny battles,
forgotten nowadays.

Once, when was taking a short cut, I found all that remained of a British
soldier, and halted to bury him. It is a commentary on our civilisation
that I had to borrow the prayer-book from my coloured mule-driver before
I could read the service over the pitiable dead.

Once I found a Boer girl walking across the veld completely nude. She was
rather difficult to deal with, for she was mad. She told the story in
Dutch that she had been maltreated and stripped by some English soldiers,
but the Dutch farmer to whom I took her told me that this wandering
nakedly was an old and disconcerting habit of hers. I spent the night at
the farm, and in the morning the farmer informed me that the girl had
hanged herself in the night. He told me this quite calmly at breakfast,
and invited me to break off in repast and go in and see her. She was
still hanging when I went in and, amazingly enough was alive! She was
alive when I left the place. The next time I saw the farm it had been
destroyed by fire--I think the man was a loyalist and the Hertzog
commando had passed. Hertzog was rather a terrible fellow
to loyalists.

I always remember those long hikes after a invisible enemy for one
characteristic of the soldier which I would like you to carry in your
minds. If one was sleeping in one's d'abri tent and heard a chorus of
song in the middle of the night one could be sure that it was raining,
and that the sodden men sleeping outside in the open were greeting the
dismal weather in their own fashion.

The soldier grumbles because it is part of his British nature to grumble.
He grouses and endures. And when he comes out of the army he still
grouses, with very good reason, and people stare affrighted at the
phenomenon and imagine a new breed of man loosely labelled
"revolutionary" and "communist" has grown up in the night, never
realising that he is only Tommy without uniform, exercising his right to
complain against the corporals and sergeants (very seldom the officers)
who are making his life a little more irksome than he deems necessary.

Let this fact sink into your mind--it is the non-commissioned officers of
life who hurt, and against whom resentment is felt. The foremen and the
petty overseers; the small men with near horizons and no vision beyond;
the little go-betweens who have acquired the habit of tyranny--these form
the grit in the machinery of industry. Sometimes they are for the bosses
and make life hell for the men under them. Sometimes they stand for
rebellion against higher direction, but invariably their object is power.
They are ready to adopt the shibboleths of either side so long as they
gain authority thereby. If they learn the trick of oratory they become
leaders on one side or the other, not because they possess the intrinsic
qualities of leadership, but because they are pleasingly vocal.

Nor is this phenomenon peculiar to any class. Oratory has passed for
statesmanship in every phase and period of our political history, and
many a man has risen to the governance of great departments of State with
no other qualification than his aptitude for epigram and sonorous

What magnificent men the Coldstreamers were! Henniker, burly and genial;
Marker, the perfect type of clever soldier (he was killed outside Ypres);
little Monk, then a junior subaltern, who died in France; Crichton, John
Campbell, now commanding the regiment and the gallant fellow who won his
V.C. by rallying the Guards with a hunting horn; Claude Willoughby,
Crook, Lawless, the Guards doctor, and Beach, the R.A.M.C. doctor,
Powell, the horse gunner--these men are among the bright memories of the

There are other memories, curious and macabre. Scheepers, for example.
Scheepers was a Cape rebel, tried by court martial and sentenced to
death. That he would have died, I very much doubt. Unfortunately, a
misguided pro-Boer in the House of Commons staged a full-dress debate.
Before the agitation was well on its way, a message was transmitted to
Pretoria from London. That same night Henniker had a telegram,
characteristically brief: "Shoot Scheepers. K." They went to his cell and
woke up the rebel leader and told him his fate. The next morning he was
shot by a firing party of the Guards; and there the matter would have
ended, but it came to the ears of authority that certain sympathisers
were seeking the exact place where Scheepers was buried. An attempt had
been made to bribe two members of the firing party to convey this
information. That night Scheepers was dug up from his new grave,
deposited in a Cape cart and moved to a fold of the wild hills, there to
be reburied. There is, I believe, a monument over the supposed grave of
this not at all admirable leader of Cape marauders. There is, however, no
body beneath the marble.

Another night to be remembered was spent in a midland town. A local
farmer had turned rebel and was captured in a fight, tried by court
martial and sentenced to be hanged. The man whose dreadful duty it was to
perform the execution arrived with the ghastly apparatus, fitted it up in
the courtyard of the local prison, and spent the rest of the afternoon
absorbing strong drink. He was, I believe, in terror of assassination. I
woke up at midnight to the sound of a fearful scream, and discovered that
friend hangman occupied the adjoining room to me in the hotel and that he
was in the most violent stages of delirium tremens. With the aid of a
local newspaper man we got him back to bed and tied him down, and for
four hours, with ice and cold sponges, we worked on the raving,
half-demented hangman. It was a night one will not readily forget. He had
very ugly memories and he told us all about them. My companion was
physically sick. Eventually we got him to sleep, and he turned up, a
little shaky, but quite normal, to perform his nasty job.

This was described as a senseless execution, as also was the killing of
Scheepers, and the shooting of five men at De Aar for train wrecking; but
it has to be remembered that we had an enormously long line of
communications; the country through which the railway passed was peopled
generally by sympathisers with the Boer cause. Without these examples,
anarchy would have reigned; and if we erred at all it was on the side of
leniency. In making examples the mildest of offenders frequently suffer
for the sins of their leaders.

Soon after this unpleasant affair I was to meet Kitchener for the first
time. I had seen him often enough, and I knew all the rumours that were
in circulation about his being "in disgrace with Roberts." Roberts was a
sort of hero of mine, and undoubtedly he was a magnificent soldier and a
brilliant strategist.

It was while Kitchener's train was waiting at Elandslaagte that I was
introduced by a member of his staff. My first sensation was one of
disappointment. "K." was a very big, heavy-looking man, with a
forbidding, rather repulsive face. He had a slight cast in one eye, and
his manner at that interview was a little harsh and overbearing. The
Tommy who described him as "Gawd's young brother Alf" was understandable.
And yet Kitchener was in truth a very gentle, kindly and simple soul. He
was shy and more conscious of his own limitations than any but his best
friends knew. It may seem a fantastic suggestion, but I shall always
contend that G. W. Steevens ruined Kitchener when he wrote his fanciful
pen-picture of the man in that brilliant series of articles afterwards
published under the title "With Kitchener to Khartoum." Steevens showed
him as a man of ice and blood--one who dressed himself in Arab garb in
order learn the secrets of the enemy--a man without bowels of compassion,
remorseless, ruthless, relentless. I have the impression that Kitchener
spent the greater part of his life in trying to live up to that
reputation, and that all his ferocity, his seeming boorishness and his
invariable aloofness, were due to another man's estimate which he had all
too willingly accepted.

He had already put into execution his plan to end the war: the creation
of vast block-house lines, designed to keep the enemy within certain
restricted areas. As a protection for the railway lines they were
excellent, but as a means of bringing the war to an end, they were, in my
humble judgment, futile. Nothing was easier than to break through them in
the night, as the Boers proved time and time again.

I first found myself in conflict with Lord Kitchener over the shooting of
the British wounded at Vlakfontein. There had been a little fight, in
which our men had been driven back, and undoubtedly after the engagement
a number of Boers walked round the battle field shooting the wounded
Tommies. I had this information at first-hand and put it on the wire. It
was, as I subsequently discovered, censored out of existence.
Fortunately, I sent at the same time a long written dispatch to the Daily
Mail, describing the incident. This was published and created a great
sensation. Questions were asked in Parliament, and since the Government
had had no information from Lord Kitchener, the story was characterised
as an invention. The Under-Secretary of State for War was then Lord
Stanley, the present Lord Derby, a man for whom I have the highest regard
and affection. Stanley could do no more than say that the Government had
no information at all on the subject, to promise inquiry and to award
condign punishment to the correspondent who had so lacerated the feelings
of the soldiers' relatives.

Kitchener had apparently made no statement about this incident; indeed,
until he was cabled by the Government, he furnished no particulars of the
Boers' most discreditable exploit, and one which was condemned by Louis
Botha in very pregnant words. But "K" was getting very weary of the war,
most anxious to bring about its end, still more anxious that the feeling
at home should not be further inflamed against his enemy. He was
prepared, as I know, to grant the Boers a measure of self-government
immediately on the signing of peace. Some time later, Milner told me,
with some acerbity, that Lord Kitchener had made an unjustifiable use of
the press to further his own views. At the moment, the "unjustifiable
use" that "K." was making of the press was to deny news of actual
happenings. Under pressure from the Government he admitted that my
account was substantially accurate.

In the meantime he was very annoyed with me, and I received a direct hint
from the censor in Johannesburg that my presence in the gold city was
undesirable and that I had best go to Cape Town. I went down, accompanied
by two bright young officer lads, and only discovered as the train was
drawing in to Cape Town station that they were acting as escort. I spent
three days in Cape Town and went back to Johannesburg, and by this time
the truth had come out.

I thought it best to see Kitchener, and went over to Pretoria for the
purpose, but he would have none of me. I wanted to see him on another
matter. As an excuse for the censorship he had made a statement that the
Boers got all their information from English newspapers, and that when he
went in to parley with Louis Botha he found the latest copies of all the
English journals in Botha's camp. This created a mild sensation when the
news was cabled home. It was Gwynne, I believe, who tackled him with this
statement of his, and was met by a cool denial that he had ever said
anything of the sort! Later he said that the only paper that the Boers
got was the one I wrote for, and I never had a chance to discuss the
matter with him; and when eventually we met on more or less friendly
terms I thought it would be tactless to raise the subject.

The war was drifting to its end; the Boers were sick and tired of being
away from their farms year after year, and peace negotiations had begun.
I heard that the British and Dutch were to meet at Vereenigen, on the
banks of the Vaal River, and conveyed this news in a short telegram. The
censor summoned me to his office and, greeting me with a bland smile,
handed the telegram back to me.

"Oh, no", he said cheerfully, 'there's no news whatever to go through
about the peace negotiations."

"Why not?" I asked in astonishment, thinking that such glad tidings would
be the first Kitchener would wish published.

"It is K.'s orders," he told me.

Returning to my hotel, I puzzled the matter out. I had met a very good
fellow, the financier Freeman-Cohen, who had a branch office in London
conducted by his brother Caesar. Harry Freeman-Cohen was a little man who
had the face of a stage comedy Jew, but I never met a straighter, cleaner
or whiter man in my life. I count his friendship as one of the happiest I
made in South Africa. My first step was to send a wire, with his help, to
his brother, saying: "Any message that comes to you, take to Carmelite
House." This passed the censor.

My next step was to code my message, which ran:

"Peace negotiations begun. Boer representatives are in Pretoria. Milner
gone there to secure basis negotiations."

I tore this up and wrote instead.

"With reference Paxfontein Mines, all parties necessary to contract are
now in Pretoria, whither Alfred gone get bottom price."

In this obscure way I was able to send from day to day the progress of
the peace negotiations. These had hardly commenced before, to my
amazement, Kitchener wired asking me to come over to breakfast. I went
expecting to get a kick in the pants for some (journalistic) villainy. In
point of fact, I thought that he had discovered my code. I was agreeably
surprised to be greeted like an old friend.

I arrived too late for breakfast, and our interview was in his little
study, alone; here he explained what he wanted to do.

"Your newspaper has a large influence in England, hasn't it?"

I said it had a tremendous influence, without
knowing a great deal about it.

"Well, I'll tell you what I wish you would do, Wallace", he said. "Can't
you persuade your people to take this line in regard to concessions to
the Boers?"

He then outlined a number of concessions, to some of which I dared demur.

"I can't send this as a news message", I explained, and we agreed that it
would have to take the form of a leader. So between us we sat down and
constructed a Daily Mail leader (which, I believe, never went into the
newspaper) urging the necessity for dealing gently with the Boer,
promising him a measure of self-government within a few years, a promise
which anticipated Campbell-Bannerman's Act, granting a general amnesty to
Cape rebels, and a few other things which I knew must be embodied in any
terms of peace between the South African Republic and the British

The wire went off; two days later we wrote another leader, but apparently
the news that the first had not appeared in the Mail inhibited any
further confidence, and I was not sent for again.

And again I resumed my underground messages. Kitchener had sent word that
if he caught me there would be trouble. I didn't want telling.

"But I should like to point out to you that if I don't get news through
to England there will also be trouble", I explained to the censor.

To find one's way into the guarded peace camp was of course impossible.
One elderly correspondent tried it, but his disguise would not have
deceived an amateur detective, and he was unceremoniously booted forth
into the cold world.

Fortunately for me, there was a good pal of mine in the camp, a Tommy
with whom I had soldiered, and, meeting him, I arranged a code of
signals. He was to have three handkerchiefs--one red, one white, one
blue. The railway ran within sight of the camp, and every' morning I
journeyed down to the Vaal River by train, took the next train back,
keeping my eye on the camp for the signal. Red meant "nothing doing",
blue "making progress", and the white handkerchief was to signify that
the peace treaty had actually been signed. I don't now how many journeys
I made on that infernal railway, but never once was the red handkerchief

Then one morning, when rumour was rife that the negotiations had fallen
through, I saw my friend standing on the end of the tent lines, and he
was displaying a white handkerchief conspicuously. I did not wait to get
back to Pretoria. Instead I sent a wire from Germiston:

Contract signed.

I have said that Kitchener knew that I was sending messages in code. Too
late he discovered how.

In the course of these long negotiations I had made one or two trips up
and down the line--once as far as Cape Town--so that no suspicion should
rest upon me, and it was my misfortune that I sent a wire from Beaufort
West detailing some developments in the Peace Conference, my language
being so unguarded that a man standing by my side, and himself waiting to
send a wire, read it, guessed its importance and notified Kitchener. The
name of my "betrayer" was General Smuts.

One of Lord Kitchener's staff subsequently stated that I had given him my
word that I would not break the censorship regulations; but the truth is,
I had made no such promise. I had been warned of the dire consequences to
me should I continue sending uncensored messages; but a correspondent's
first duty, within the bounds of honour and decency, is to his newspaper.
It is the ship for which he is prepared to make any sacrifice, and week
after week the Daily Mail published particulars of the negotiations, and
I became more and more an object of suspicion. Bennett Burleigh
complained to head-quarters that I was getting news through by some
underground channel, but he, I think, was the only correspondent who took
that step.

When the Daily Mail, which had been accused of getting its news from the
Colonial Office by improper means, came out with the story of how the
messages had been sent through, I had my big strafe. I was strafed at
second-hand by Kitchener, by the Chief of Staff, by the censor, by
everybody except my paper. But already the war was finished for me, and a
new vista was opening up.

Chapter IX

On the day peace was officially proclaimed, and whilst the church bells
were ringing, the churches were filled with thankful citizens of the
Transvaal, Freeman-Cohen walked into my room at Heath's Hotel, a large
cigar between his white teeth and a twinkle in his eye. He had been
riding all the morning and his horse was at the door of the hotel.

"I have bought the Standard and Diggers' News", he said. This was the
most important paper in the Transvaal, and had in pre-war days been
subsidised by the Kruger Government. "I want you to edit it", he went on.
"I'll give you fifteen hundred a year and a share of the profits."

Now to appreciate the situation, you have to remember that I had never
been in a newspaper office in my life except to hand in my deathless
prose about municipal councils. But I was of the age when all things seem
easy. I accepted the appointment, staffed the paper, and produced a new
journal in the Rand Daily Mail, which is now one of the two greatest
newspapers in South Africa.

Those nine months of service on the Rand Daily Mail were hectic months
for me. I was learning all the time, mainly discovering my own
deficiencies. Yet it was a bright paper, extravagantly run, but popular
from the first. We had the competition of the Transvaal Leader, a
loyalist journal which had established itself under the Krugerian regime,
but this we eventually killed (not in my time, it is true). We had also
an evening paper, the Star, against us, and it was an uphill fight for
six months, all the time I was editor. We had a few scoops, and a few
that came unstuck. We were instrumental in saving the lives of a number
of Tommies sentenced to death for a barrack-room riot on St. Patrick's
Day, and we asked for, and got, a good kicking from Milner.

Lord Milner was a gentleman of a peculiar temperament. He was an unhuman
man in many respects. You could imagine him as the permanent head of a
great Government department, for Milner was the beau-ideal of a Civil
Servant. He was consciously superior to common people. I am not saying
this unpleasantly. He did nice things and kind things and humane things;
the people who worked with him loved him. He was as honest as the day,
but he was the world's worst "mixer."

It was his worst handicap that he worried about little matters such as an
ordinary man would have hardly noticed, and was so sensitive to criticism
that without knowing his past you could have betted that he had been a
journalist who wrote leading articles.

There was nothing personal in his little brush with the Rand Daily Mail.

We had a correspondent at Lorenço Marques who sent us a rumour that the
British Government were buying that town from Portugal as an entrepot to
the Transvaal. This, if it were true, was a sensational piece of news,
and the brief cable was handed over to an imaginative artist to expand.
We came out with a splash column in heavily-leaded type, announcing the
forthcoming transfer of Lorenço Marques to the British Government.

The story was instantly and violently denied by Milner.

We were a young newspaper, and this was a smack in the eye that was going
to leave a mark unless we did something, and did something quick. I was
seized with a bright idea. I had the whole column translated into
Portuguese and set up. The next morning I printed Milner's denial, and

"Whilst of course we accept His Excellency's statement that the British
Government contemplate no such purchase, we can only reprint our
correspondent's message as we received it, and ask our readers to judge
for themselves."

Here followed three-quarters of a column of fluent Portuguese, which I am
satisfied not one reader in twenty thousand could understand.

Soon after this little episode I had a row with Freeman-Cohen on a purely
personal matter and resigned my editorship. He was in the right and I was
in the wrong, but I was just a little bit swollen-headed and rather too
satisfied with my own infallibility. Before the resignation came,
however, Joseph Chamberlain arrived in Johannesburg, and I had an
opportunity of a talk with that remarkable man. If Milner was a bad
mixer, Joe was the best mixer that ever sat on the front bench. His
frankness was startling.

"Milner is much too touchy", he said, referring to an incident that had
happened two nights before.

Pretoria gave a banquet to Joe, and Milner of course attended. In the
course of the speeches some bucolic arose and regretted that Lord Milner
did not come more often to Pretoria. It needed only this little gibe to
set Milner aflame. Instead of delivering the speech that he had ready, he
launched forth into a justification of his avoidance of Pretoria.

"He's very sensitive. I wish he wasn't", said Chamberlain.

I asked him something about the policy of the Government, whether it
would change in the event of a general election.

"If there is a general election", said Chamberlain with a smile, "the
Conservatives will return. There is no doubt of that. I am an infallible
judge of the constituencies--I have never made a mistake."

He could not at that period have intended making Tariff Reform an issue,
for at the general election which followed our conversation the Tories
were driven into the shade, and Campbell-Bannerman came in to give the
Boers all that Kitchener had promised--rightly, as I believe.

In those days Johannesburg was a fascinating place to live in. It was
arousing slowly from the dusty sleep of war; the mines were beginning to
work again--and everybody had money!

I had now a position: I was editor of what promised to be--and the
promise was well kept--the most important newspaper in Johannesburg. My
salary was roughly £2,000 a year; I had the entree to whatever society
there was--it was the most tremendous period of my life.

All the world was drifting into Johannesburg: men and women whose names
are household words came and went. Baden-Powell was organising a South
African police force, the only thing about which I remember was that it
wore green ties and that from its uniform B.P. modelled the kit of the
Boy Scouts! Great actors and actresses were appearing on the Johannesburg
stage, and well do I remember one dreadful Sunday when Edward Terry, John
Le Hay, Leonard Rayne and I carried the body of poor Kate Vaughan through
a sandstorm to her last resting place.

Johannesburg thought and talked of nothing but money, of stocks that were
rising or falling, of borings in new fields, of assays that produced
fabulous results. I plunged into the market with the best of them, made
£12,000 in one week and lost £20,000 between eleven in the morning and
one o'clock in the afternoon.

There were other adventures. One day a small-part lady in a musical
comedy, who had received an unkindly notice from my dramatic critic,
stalked into my office with a large whip and informed me she was going to
thrash me within an inch of my life! It was a delicate situation, but was
saved by timely brutality. I told her I had never been flogged by a
woman, and I didn't exactly know what I would do, but I rather thought
that I should give her a black eye to start with! After that I took her
out to lunch.

One day there came into my office a man who had discovered a diamond mine
somewhere up in the bush veld. He was floating it for a million pounds
and desired ten pages of the Rand Daily Mail to advertise his prospectus.
He offered to pay £500 a page--in share certificates. I pointed out to
him very gently that we also had a printing machine downstairs and could
turn out share certificates quite as easily as any other printer.

Yet another memory of those tumultuous days: there was a man whose name I
will not mention; he was a member of the aristocracy, a charming,
cultured, courteous gentleman. During the war he was an officer in a
crack regiment, and I had been brought in touch with him. After the war
was over he settled in Johannesburg to repair his fortunes. I saw him one
day racing and he told me that he had a block of shares which at that
time were worth £2,000 each and would, he assured me, be worth £10,000.
They were in a gold mine on the East Rand, and already there was doubt as
to whether gold in payable quantities existed. The shares sank down and
down, and down, and one evening, as he sat in his drawing room, with a
smile on his lips he asked a girl who was a member of the party and who
was a beautiful pianist, to play him the "Dead March in Saul." He
listened until she had finished, and then, with a smile walked across,
shook her hand and going out into his own room--shot himself.

What a queer, mad, tragic place Johannesburg was in those days, with its
overnight millionaires its tremendous hospitality, its bubbling faith in
quick and easy wealth! I left some of my heart and some of my faith in
the golden city when I flicked its dust from my boots in the mail train
that carried me to Cape Town and went on board the homeward-bound steamer
with exactly £80, most of which I lost at poker. I arrived in London with
three shillings--much less than I had had in my pocket when I sailed on
the Scot as a Tommy six years before.

There are two things which matter in life. One is health: your own health
and the health of those you love; and the other is faith. There are few
mornings in my life that I have not wakened to thank God I am alive, and
to dash instantly at the nearest newspaper and discover what the world
has been doing while I wasn't watching. All these wonderful events, from
the King opening Parliament to Mrs. Jones being charged with having been
drunk and disorderly, have a message for me, which may take years to
interpret, but eventually is solidified into one golden speck of usable
knowledge. Money doesn't really matter at all. At the worst, you can
always do something discreditable and get money.

Three shillings is a very small sum to restart one's life, but at the
Daily Mail office that Saturday I had the good luck to find Marlowe, who
was most kind, and he sent me on to John Cowley, the manager, who was
kind in another way, and I walked out to Tallis Street with a job and
£60. And that evening occurred one of those peculiar incidents which I
shall never forget.

I had parted from Kitchener more in anger than in sorrow; my name was mud
in the official records, my medals had been withdrawn from me for the
crime of breaking through the censorship, and I think I had a fairly
unbiased view of K.'s peculiar temperament. That night I went to the
Gaiety, not knowing that Kitchener was in the house. In the interval
between two acts he strolled into the vestibule, where a lot of
fellow-me-lads were sitting around smoking. Instantly they came to their
feet, and I wondered what all the commotion was about, not realising that
K. was a great hero and that these young men were doing him homage.
Looking round I saw the big fellow, and my first inclination was to rise.
My second was to sit very still and pretend there wasn't such a person in
the world as K. of K. He looked round the room with those slumbering eyes
of his, and presently they rested on me; and then, to my amazement, he
walked over, and of course I got up and shook hands with him. Had I stood
with the others, he would have treated me like dirt.

I have referred in a previous article to the sensitiveness of Milner. I
had been home a few weeks when I was asked to write an article about him,
and in the course of this three-quarters of a column I suggested that he
had outlived his period of usefulness, and that it would be an excellent
thing both for South Africa and for his own reputation if he came home.
Apparently this article was cabled to the Cape, and once more Milner fell
for criticism. He had to attend a party to give away prizes, and instead
of delivering the address which the occasion called for, he launched
forth, in his most bitter terminology, on this unfortunate article of
mine. I cannot for the life of me understand why such a man in such a
position should care twopence what some little three-shilling journalist
wrote about him. I am satisfied that my suggestion was a good one, and
soon after he did resign his position as High Commissioner and return to
England--probably that was already arranged. But why worry about little

I put the question to Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth, as he was) and
he crushed me.

"You are little, Wallace, but the Daily Mail is big", he said gravely.

I did not think it was a moment to remind him that Milner had not
mentioned the paper but he had mentioned me.

I was now a reporter, and, curiously enough I had never been a reporter
before! It is true that a war correspondent is a sort of specialised
reporter. It is equally true that in the days of my apprenticeship I had
jotted down the emotional exchanges peculiar to the meetings of municipal
councillors. But here was I, dropped down in Fleet Street, a tyro amongst
experts, expected to deal authoritatively and efficiently with every
phase of trouble. For news is trouble. Nobody wants to read about
pleasant things. Major Armstrong might be the centre of a social life,
perform good deeds and contribute to the happiness of his fellow
creatures, but until he poisoned his wife, and tried to poison a lawyer,
he had no news value.

Happily, Marlowe gave me the star jobs; that is to say, the stories that
practically supplied their own story, and required only a certain amount
of embellishment in the matter of write up. Of shorthand I knew nothing,
and as an interviewer, but for my extraordinary memory, I should have
been a hopeless failure, for I possessed the fatal faculty of interesting
conversation, and usually after half an hour with a victim I had not
given him an opportunity of expressing a single view, whilst I, on the
other hand, had expressed many!

I once went to interview a scientist--I think it was Ray Lankester--and
at the end of about an hour's animated talk he said, with a touch of that
sardonic humour which was a characteristic of his:

"Very interesting indeed--now shall I talk?"

I think it must have been largely nervousness which made me so chatty.
After one of the general elections Sir William Grantham was severely
criticised for his conduct of certain election trials, and I was sent up
to Morpeth to discover whether he intended resigning. The old judge
received me with the greatest courtesy, and having heard my views on the
South African war, the state of Europe, the new naval programme, the
genius of Alfred Harmsworth and the immense superiority of the newspaper
I represented over all other newspapers, Sir William remarked, a little

"I gather you've come up here to try to discover whether I intend
resigning--I don't."

It was on this occasion that I saw at the Newcastle Assizes a great,
red-faced brute, who stood in a studied attitude of nonchalance, his
elbow on the edge of the dock, his other hand resting lightly on his hip,
and listening with certain amount of amusement to the most horrible story
of assault that has ever been told in a court of law. The unfortunate
girl fainted twice in the course of her narrative, and it was a sickening
tale to hear. When the evidence had been sifted and the jury returned a
verdict of "Guilty", the man still preserved his elegant indifference,
and even when Grantham addressed him in the most scathing terms, and told
him he was sending him to penal servitude for seven years, the prisoner
still smiled. And then there arose in the body of the court a stout
woman, her face wet with tears, who turned to the dock and wailed:

"Oh, Bill! Oh, Bill!"

It was the prisoner's wife, and the effect of this interruption was
electrical. His face went purple, his neck was swollen with fury, and,
shaking his fist at his unfortunate wife, he hissed:

"What do you mean by coming up here--AND SHOWING ME UP!"

My experience of crime reporting taught me a great deal about humanity
that has been very useful to me, and, alas! I have seen that indignant
prisoner in many guises, for vanity is behind four-fifths of the murders
I have reported.

It was soon after my return to London that I began to take a real and
intelligent interest in the human race. Indeed, about this time I had my
mind the collation of a monumental work which was to be entitled "Motives
and Expressions." The book has never been written, although at one time I
had collected an immense amount data and had translated the significance
over 500 human attitudes and expressions. I have spent whole days
watching men, how they stood, how they moved their hands and feet, so
that, seeing them from a distance, I could almost put into words what
they were saying or feeling or thinking. Some day a much cleverer man
than I will undertake this task, for the language of expression and
gesture is universal. For example, an English baby of two or three years
employs exactly the same gestures as a child of the same age in the most
primitive part of Africa, and a man who is telling another that he has
been badly treated and will not endure such injustice, moves his hands,
his head, his feet, and inclines his body at a similar angle, whether he
is a member of the London Stock Exchange or a N'gombi warrior.

Mantegazza wrote a very unsatisfactory treatise on the subject;
unsatisfactory because he was more concerned with satirising the ancient
authorities on the subject than with contributing any original
observations of his own.

I think I was the first reporter to notice the fact that when a jury
comes into court to return a verdict of "Guilty" against a murderer, they
never look at the prisoner. I once got a two-minute "beat" in a murder
case by noticing this fact. And I wonder how many doctors can spot a man
with a history of epilepsy by the peculiar shape of his chin? Personally,
I have never seen an epileptic who had a normal chin. And why do men with
high foreheads and deep-set eyes go bald at an early age?

I discussed this book with Kennedy Jones and he was very interested,
until, producing a "sample" description of an abnormal face, he saw such
a striking likeness to a public man we both knew--he eventually held a
high public office--that he grew sceptical of my sincerity and I was
discouraged by his banter. The man in question committed suicide by
taking an overdose of veronal. He did this to escape a very serious
charge, and though the coroner's jury returned a verdict of accidental
death, it was suicide beyond any question.

Chapter X

In those days there were three forces at Carmelite House. The first of
these was Alfred. I shall never forget the day I first met him. The
setting was unique: it was his beautiful, boudoir-like office on the
first floor; a long, noble room, at which I gaped in awe. The panelled
walls, the concealed lights, the Empire furniture, the statue of Napoleon
and the pastel portrait of Mrs. Alfred Harmsworth on an easel. And
against this background, a youthful, plumpish, smooth-faced man with
searching eyes and fair hair that was brushed over his forehead, a
glaring tie... Vivid little fragments go to make up the picture.

He talked quickly, earnestly, convincingly. You felt that to argue was to
invite the thunder-bolts of Jove. He had a ready laugh and a charm which
is beyond description. The Chief remains for me an almost sacred
personage. I did not know him in the days when disease had gripped him
and he was slipping to death. Then I believe he was very hard with his
best friends, a tyrant who spared none. But I knew the normal man, the
lovable "Mr. Alfred", generous to a fault. Once he saved me from ruin,
and that is a service that I shall never forget.

The second of the triumvirate was "Mr. Harold", a taller, slimmer man, of
the officer type: shrewd, a little suspicious, a little sardonic, a much
steadier quantity than Alfred, he thought more slowly and saw much
farther. He was not the Viscount Rothermere then, but was admitted to be
the financial genius of the House of Harmsworth. Much of his work lay on
the business side. One never saw him at the news conferences; one seldom
heard his suggestions put forward; but he was a power, and he and George
Sutton (now Sir George Sutton, Chairman of the Amalgamated Press), were
mainly responsible for the upbuilding of the gigantic business which
Northcliffe and his brother founded.

The third of the trio was "K. J." Kennedy Jones was responsible for the
Harmsworths going into daily journalism. He had persuaded them to buy the
Evening News, which he had turned from the wreckage of a fine property
into a handsomely paying proposition. It was he who had laid down the
lines of the Daily Mail. When I came back to London he was at the height
of his power: a difficult man to deal with, a Scotsman without mercy for
those who failed him, and the best-hated man at Carmelite House in
consequence. Behind that hard mask of his was a very likeable
personality, but it took me quite a number of years to sort out his
pleasing qualities.

Alfred you knew at once, or thought you did. You melted under the
geniality and kindness of him. With Harold you were on your guard,
suspecting an understanding of your deficiencies. With K. J. you were in
a constant sweat of apprehension. And behind the three was George Sutton,
who, I imagined, examined every item of expense in the expense sheet, and
Marlowe, very sane, very straight, and very dependable. There was no man
more loyal to his staff, or more humane.

From the first day I saw Gwynne in his office in Adderley Street,
Capetown, until a long time after I joined the staff of the Daily Mail, I
was obsessed by one fear--the fear that somebody would "find me out."
That on a fatal day an omnipotent being would confront me and, pointing a
scornful finger, would say:

"He isn't a journalist! He's a newspaper boy! He is a slum
child--ignorant of the very elements of English grammar. Ask him a few
questions and his sham is exposed."

Yet in my life only one man ever made me go cold with that fear of

He was the writer of bright notes in an evening newspaper--I think it was
the Echo. And he reviewed my little book of verse, "Writ in Barracks."
And he so reviewed it that I felt that I was a hopeless mediocrity. I was
stripped of my robes and exposed in all my skinny nakedness.

It was a lesson to me. I have been very careful, in criticising the work
of young people never to crush them as I was crushed. Happily I am rather
resilient. But I never forgot the scorn of this literary gentleman.

What was it gave me confidence and killed the absurd self-consciousness?
I t was the comradeship of my brother journalists--the old brotherhood
that was so familiar to a soldier; the readiness to cover up faults and
forgive errors. The working journalist of "The Street" is the salt of the

And in my early days on the Daily Mail what an amazingly good staff we
had! Charlie Hands, Lincoln Springfield, Sidney Dark, Mackenzie, Filson
Young, Frank Dilnot, W. H. Wilson, "L. G. M." (Mainland). I was counting
up, the other day, that seven out of every nine reporters of those days
have since become London editors.

Alfred was fighting Chamberlain over the Stomach Tax. After a little time
I was sent to Canada to discover opposition to preferential duties on
corn. Happily, the accounts I sent were favourable to tariff
reform--"happily" because I had hardly reached Canada before Alfred
Harmsworth came to terms with Chamberlain and offered him the strongest

I was quite an important person in Canada, partly, indeed mainly, because
in South Africa I had been able to show a little hospitality to visiting
Canadians. They gave me a dinner or two, and I returned to London with a
little of my old arrogance restored.

I returned from New York on the Majestic with as interesting a collection
of passengers as one could hope to meet. Lord Denbigh and the late
Countess, Mr. Pease (afterwards Lord Gainsboro) and William Jennings
Bryan were each in his or her way educative. Lady Denbigh was a very
sweet woman. Her simplicity and goodness were allied to a very large,
shrewd knowledge of men and affairs. Her brother, Hugh Clifford, had just
written an absorbing book on the Head-hunters of Borneo.

Bryan's simplicity was of another kind. It was the studied variety, for
he was a great actor as well as a great demagogue. Sincerity is a
relative term. He acted sincerity until it became his second nature. Ever
he had an instinct for unpopular but profitable causes; his views on all
non-parochial affairs were ludicrously wrong. And yet there was much that
was likeable about him. He stood as godfather to my boy (who was named
Bryan after him) and solemnly presented him with a volume of Tolstoy's
Essays, and me with a top-hat that William J. had found too large for

The captain of the Majestic was Smith, who afterwards sank in the

As I say, I came back to London rather pleased with myself, for I had
done fairly well in Canada. Stalking in to the Daily Mail office on the
night of my return, I stood in a picturesque attitude by the side of the
news editor's desk.

"I'm back", I said simply.

He looked up over his glasses. He was neither surprised nor enthusiastic.
He did not rise and shake me warmly by the hand and give me a welcome to
the City. Instead, he passed a slip across to me.

"There's an execution at--to-morrow morning. Go down and cover it."

A novelist is allowed only within limit to stretch the long arm of
coincidence--in real life the most astonishingly unexpected things may
happen, and be accepted without question.

More than two years before, we had had fight with De Wet in the Cape
Colony, and after it was all over I rode into the nearest town to send
off my dispatches. As I neared the dorp I became conscious that somebody
was shooting at me. Little spurts of dust sprang up in the road, and,
looking round, I located on a kopje a soldier taking deliberate aim at
me. Though I am not the best of riders, I kicked my horse into a state of
liveliness and went at a gallop towards the assassin, and it must be said
that he shot steadily until I was within a dozen yards, when, guessing
that I was British, he ceased fire and stood up. In a fury I asked him
his name and his regiment, and then demanded in the lurid language which
I had acquired during my sojourn in the Army, what he meant by shooting
at me.

"I thought you were a Boer", he said. "What do you want to wear a hat
like that for?"

"My friend", said I (I didn't say "my friend" but something much more
picturesque), "if you shoot people because you don't like their hats,
you'll end by being hanged!"

I threatened to report him to his colonel, but of course I didn't do
anything so unsporting, and he passed out of my mind and had been
forgotten, until that grim, grey morning when I stood outside the
condemned cell in an eastern county prison and watched the hangman lead
forth a weed of a man to his death. And then, to my amazement, I
recognised him as the soldier of the kopje! Later, in the Governor's
room, when I signed the death certificate or whatever the document is one
signs, I saw his name, and all doubt was set at rest.

Of all the executions I have seen, that one remains with me for another
reason: the parson lost his place in the book half-way between the
condemned cell and the scaffold, and we had to stand for an eternity, it
seemed, whilst he found it again.

Ugh! those executions! The crash of the trap as it fell. The hangman with
his hand out steadying the rope; the dangling figure curved like a bow
that swung at its end. A ghastly thing but most business-like, and all
over before you really begin to feel rattled.

My first English execution is memorable another reason--it was the cause
of a most remarkable story-dream.

There is a literature of dreams, and one has read and heard much of
their significance. But I wonder if my own experience can be paralleled?
The dream occurred a few nights after this execution. I dreamt a dream,
which was a story complete from start to finish, and was, moreover, a
most striking parable.

I have related it many times to my friends, and, generally speaking, they
have not believed me, the only persons who ever accepted (or appeared to
accept) my assurance that I had not made up this yarn being Michael Arlen
and Dulac, that wonder artist. Yet in truth every detail of the
dream-story was as I relate it.

I dreamt I was walking on the parapet of heaven. The parapet of heaven
was rather like the "parade" of a small seaside town.

There was a wall, a strip of pavement, and a road running parallel.
Leaning over the wall and looking down into a void in which, through
mists and dimly, one saw a pale green world turning, were a number of old
saints. Their robes were rather grimy and ragged, and generally they bore
a happy but neglected appearance. With their elbows on the parapet they
gazed abstractedly at the world below, and they were smoking short clay
pipes; from the rank aroma that came to my nostrils I guessed they were
smoking shag.

Presently I saw another and older saint come shuffling in his sandalled
feet across the roadway; under one arm he held an immense mortar and in
his hand he carried a large porcelain pestle. The abstracted saints
scarcely noticed him till he sat down on the kerb, filled his pipe
carefully and lit it, and then, depositing the mortar between his feet,
took from his robes a large blue diamond that sparkled dazzlingly in the

This he put at the bottom of his mortar, and hammered at the diamond
until it was crushed into small pieces. Hour after hour he ground away
until all that was left of the gem was a mass of white powder. From time
to time the saints on the parapet turned their heads and watched him.

When he had finished he laid down the pestle, and, picking up the
mortar, deposited it upon the flat top of the parapet. Each of the old
saints took a handful of the powder and threw it into space, and,
leaning over, I saw the dust of it, like an iridescent cloud, sinking
out of sight. And as I looked, the world came nearer, and I saw the dust
settling on the face of it. And I saw human men searching, as distinctly
as though I were standing by their side. Presently one human found a
speck, and his frenzied shouts brought hundreds and thousands of other
humans to him, and they put the speck of dust in a large golden box and
they built a church around it.

And in another part of the earth another speck was found, and those who
discovered it erected a university, masses of red buildings and spires
and temples, in honour of its discovery. Where a third speck was found by
a searcher a hospital was erected, and a new science grew into being. And
this thing went on day after day, year after year, it seemed, for time
had no dimension, and as I looked, centuries passed in a flash. But every
time a speck was discovered and a church or a synagogue was built about
it, the old saints roared with laughter until the tears rolled down their
lined faces.

"What is the joke?" I asked one of the saintly men, and as he dried his
eyes he explained.

"You saw yon diamond old Harry was grinding? Well, that is THE TRUTH. You
saw him grind it up into fine dust?"

"I saw that", I replied, "but what is the joke?"

"The joke!"

He was convulsed with laughter and could not speak for a long time, and
then he said:

"This is the joke--every man on earth who finds a speck thinks he has
the whole!"

I have never told the story in print before. I put it now without
expecting that my assurance of its authenticity will be universally
accepted. But that is the dream, almost line for line, word for word, as
it was dreamt. It had a profound effect upon my philosophy, shifted all
my angles, and, as I believe, brought me nearer to an understanding of
the larger tolerance than most unlettered men have reached.

Some time after this I met young Billington, the executioner, and asked
him if his grisly job gave him dreams. He told me it kept him awake but
did not produce anything phenomenal in the shape of nightmares. His
father, who was a more conscientious man, was undisturbed by his horrible
experiences. One day a friend of his committed a murder, was duly tried
and sentenced to death. Old Billington was taken ill just about this
time; he was in truth sick unto death; but the rumour reached him that
people were saying he was shamming, so that he should not have the misery
of hanging a friend. It needed only this to stimulate the sick man. He
rose from his bed, went to Strangways Jail, hanged his sometime friend,
and came home to die.

Ellis, the most taciturn of all the hangmen, was terribly worried over
some of his "jobs." I was in a provincial jail the other day, talking to
the chief warder, and the subject of hangmen arose. He had some
interesting views.

"Hangmen are not what they used to be", he said, shaking his head
sorrowfully. "In the old days, when a hangman came into the jail, all he
wanted for breakfast was a glass of beer and a bit of bread and cheese.
Nowadays they want caviare and peaches!"

He told me that the hangman who had officiated at the execution which was
immortalised in Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" had protested to
the Home Office against the suggestion that he wore "gardener's gloves"
on that occasion--a rather amusing sidelight on literary history.

One of the people to whom the story of the dream was told was Bryan.
"Very interesting", he said; but then he had not listened. Bryan never
listened except in matters affecting his own private affairs. He had
gone marvellously through life without learning from human experience.
The sum of his knowledge was added together from written theories. He
had a passionate faith in other people's unpopular views and made them
his own. He told me naively enough that he believed in the sour-milk
theory for prolonging life, until "everybody began to drink sour milk
and I just quit!"

Alfred Harmsworth asked me to bring him down to Sutton Court, and I
conducted the big American into Surrey. K.J. was there and Max Pemberton,
and when in all gravity K. J. asked the silver-tongued orator of Nevada
to make a speech, Bryan instantly obliged! I think it was on the silver
question that he grew so thunderously eloquent, and I shall never forget
that fantastic situation when Bryan in his innocence "showed off" before
the smallest audience he had ever addressed.

Bryan was especially friendly to me, and it was when I dined with him a
few days after the visit that in all solemnity he presented me with his
useless top-hat. I kept it for years, and where it went eventually I
cannot trace. I have just taken down from the shelf the little volume of
Tolstoy's letters and essays which he presented through me to my son.
Alas, the leaves are mainly uncut!

"I shall one day be President of the United States", he told me, "and on
that day wars will cease."

As showing his extraordinary, almost incredible, innocence, I was one day
telling him, at his request, about the fighting strength of the British
Navy. It was on the Majestic and the subject arose from the fact that we
had just passed a British battleship. On the back of a menu card I drew a
picture of a torpedo and described as best I could how it worked.

"How large is it?" he asked, and when I told him he gasped.

"Do you ever think", he demanded, "of the poor fellow who has to sit
inside and work it?"

I told Lord Denbigh: he was amused, but thought I was lying.

Bryan had an idea of starting a newspaper in London on the lines of one
which he was running in Nebraska--a sort of right-all journal which would
ensure peace and happiness for all mankind; but Alfred smiled it out of

Chapter XI

Work was not all Bryan and Sutton Court, however. Mine disasters, royal
processions, important funerals, religious troubles, riots in France,
murders, mysterious disappearances, a procession of trouble... the
special correspondent's job is a wonderful school for the budding

I became quite an expert on Spanish affairs; went to Madrid half a dozen
times and to Morocco as many. In South Africa I had had a bad fall from a
horse, and to-day I would not mount the meekest charger for a hundred
pounds. I overcame my nervousness in Morocco to ride out to meet Raisuli
the brigand, and as luck would have it, as I rode through the Sok, the
horse slipped and I fell between the weedy animal and an old wall. An
aged Jew ran out of the bazaar and gave me help. Incidentally he paid me
a real left-handed compliment.

"You fell off because of the saddle", he explained soothingly. "I will
send a saddle to your hotel from which you cannot fall."

Thinking it was something new in Moor inventions, I gave him an order for
this prince of saddles, and that afternoon there arrived at my hotel--a
pair of boots!

One trip to Morocco was remarkable. You will remember that during the
Russo-Japanese War the Russian fleet, passing through the North Bank,
fired upon and destroyed some English trawlers. This act of nervousness
on the part of Rodjetvenski created an immense sensation and nearly led
to a very bad international situation.

The Russian fleet was to coal at Vigo, and I was sent post-haste to that
port, there to gather, as best I could, particulars from the Russian
point of view. The day I reached Vigo the fleet came in, and I had to
wait till night before one of my scouts brought me news that a couple of
Russian petty officers ad come secretly ashore and were carousing at a
house of ill-repute.

To this house I repaired, and found, surrounded by ladies curiously
attired, two rather drunken sailors, one of whom spoke English. From him
I had a good story of the panic that had seized the Russian ships, and
this I wired to London. I did not wait for the fleet to sail, but hurried
back from Madrid to Algeciras and thence, by way of Gibraltar, to
Tangier, in time to see the fleet arrive and witness the reception of the
admiral in his gold-laced uniform. I learnt only one thing of importance,
namely, that the two men who had informed me about the events in the
North Sea (the non-English-speaking Russian had prompted the other) had
been detected and had been hanged from the yard-arm between Vigo and

Algeciras and Gibraltar were like home towns to me, and when, after the
Agadir incident, the Powers called a conference of their representatives
to meet at that beautiful little port, I was sent down to represent my

It was the weirdest conference I have ever attended. Here we had the
first hint of the coming of the war that was in 1914 to devastate Europe.
At the moment neither France nor Germany could afford to go to
war--France had not yet re-armed her artillery; Germany, for quite
another reason, was unprepared for a long conflict; and the Algeciras
Conference was chiefly engaged in face-saving, and ostensibly occupied in
the task of defining spheres of influence in Morocco.

At the most tense stages of the meetings, when the French and Germans
seemed irreconcilable, the King of Italy made an effort to bring the
great protagonists together. We knew that he had cabled to Visconti
Visconti instructing him to find a middle way, and all day long there was
a coming and going of the harassed Italian minister, now visiting the
French, now the German, followed by a small army of correspondents
waiting for the result of this attempt at reconciliation. I waited
too--near the telegraph office at the hotel.

It was eleven o'clock that night when the Italian secretary brought a
huge wad of telegraph forms into office and passed them to the clerk.
They were in code, of course, but I didn't need to read them: I sent a
wire to my newspaper saying that the attempt on the part of the Italians
to smooth matters over had been a failure. I had no other information
than a glimpse of that thick pile of message forms, but I argued this
way: if the Italian minister had succeeded, he would have first sent a
short and jubilant wire to his master to announce his success. No short
wire went to Italy. The long message, I guessed, was an explanation--and
one only explains failures.

As it proved, I was right, but the statement made by poor Jules Hedeman,
of the Matin (and very hotly made the following morning), that I had
obtained a copy of the dispatch and in some mysterious manner decoded it,
was of course all moonshine. Poor Hedeman! He died a hero's death before

I shall remember Madrid for the royal wedding. I had been sent down to
cover this interesting event, and started well by inviting certain
important telegraph operators to dinner at the Cafe Fornos. It is wise,
of course, to make friends with ministers of state and ambassadors, but
the special correspondent whose reputation rests upon getting news
quickly and dispatching it even more quickly, doesn't know his job unless
he clears all the avenues to his editor.

To write the story from the inside of the church and get it off was a
tedious business. A day before the wedding I went into the little church
where the ceremony was to be performed, made a brief word sketch of its
architecture, examined the service thoroughly, roughed out and then wrote
the account of the ceremony, leaving blank spaces in which unforeseen
details might be filled.

I sent the local correspondent into the church to watch, and waited for
him to come out, which he did before the royal party left, and together
we checked over the account which was already written. As it happened,
there were only two or three details to fix in, and those I did sitting
in the roadway, to the wonder of thousands of curious spectators, writing
in the missing details with a pencil as he dictated them.

My pass allowed me to walk along the line of procession. I made my way
back to the Puerta del Sol, handed in the cable, came back to the big,
sun-bathed "place" and waited the coming of the royal procession.

I was not exactly "dressed for the party." My kit consisted of a white
shirt, a pair of grey flannel trousers, nondescript shoes and a broad
sombrero, for it was a poisonously hot day; but Spain is essentially a
democratic country, perhaps the most democratic in the world except our
own. With my police pass tacked under my shirt, none said "nay" when I
fell in with the procession and followed it into the Calle Mayor. Behind
me somewhere (and his attention I was most anxious to avoid, lest he
inquired as to who was the scarecrow and complained of my deshabille)
rode the Prince of Wales, our present King.

Keeping behind the Coach of Respect, I footed it along the hot asphalt
roadway. The crowd was frenzied in its joy. Queen Ena, as we called
her--Victoria Eugenie, as she is named--looked beautiful. The young King
Alfonso was one broad smile. There never was a braver fellow than
Alfonso. Nothing ever scared him. His main recreation was driving a
motor-car at something between 70 and 90 miles an hour over the
uncertain country roads of Spain.

The Calle Mayor is a narrow thoroughfare, but at one point it widens, and
the royal coach was reaching the wider space where stands a church. (I am
not sure of this, but I have an impression of a church.)

Something made me look up. The windows above both sides of the street
were crowded, and, as I raised my eyes, I saw a bunch of flowers hurtling
down from an upper window and caught a glimpse of a man's bare head? The
moment I saw those flowers, my heart nearly stopped beating. They were
dropping at such a rate that there could be no question that they
concealed something heavy, something sinister...

The force of the explosion almost lifted me off my feet, and in a second
I was in the middle of a confused, screaming throng of people, mad with
fear. I had a glimpse of dying horses, of blood lying on the roadway, of
a half-fainting queen being assisted from the carriage, her white dress
splashed with blood. But more vivid still is the impression of the king,
as he stood up, an immovable smile on his long face, his fingers waving
encouragement to the crowd--the one calm man in that horrible nightmare
of screaming confusion.

I don't know how I managed to get back to the telegraph office, but,
quick as I was, officialdom had been quicker. The lines were closed. No
news of any kind must go from Madrid concerning the outrage.

There was a more pressing reason why none should come from me--I had no
money! I had spent almost my last peseta on the cable describing the
wedding, and there began the queerest search that any correspondent has
ever made--a search in a strange city for money on a holiday when all the
banks were closed and Cook's was barricaded!

Lovell, who was Waring & Gillow's architect and my sheet anchor, was as
badly off as I, but I got a little from him; I borrowed some from the
Paris Hotel by leaving my watch with the hall porter, I touted the
British Lancer officers who had come to the King of Spain's wedding
whilst they were at lunch, but alas! they could help me very little, and
finally I fell on the neck of a philanthropic American of a trustful
disposition who parted with two hundred pesetas.

The only definite news was that a bomb had been thrown at the king. Who
had thrown it and why, it was impossible to discover. The thing to do was
to send a succession of wires through to London, passing along the most
plausible of the rumours, giving London the responsibility of sorting out
and amending, from any information the office could get from the Embassy,
the obvious truths from the palpable guesses. And this I proceeded to do.

Though the telegraph office was closed, messages were accepted, but those
who sent them were warned that nothing about the bomb-throwing would be
allowed to pass. Notices to this effect were posted.

I made my way round to the back of the mises, secured an entrance to the
instrument-room, and found my friends of the Cafe Fornos. They shook
their heads. The Spanish government, which was at least an efficient
instrument of censorship, had placed an embargo on all "bomb" wires. Even
the Prince of Wales's message to the late King Edward had been held up. I
was told that, when the wires were open, I could send a few short ones at
urgent rates--that is to say, at three times the ordinary cost per word.
Then one of the clerks gave me a handful of little red labels, one which
is stuck on each urgent message to give it precedence over ordinary

Sending a long wire at urgent rates was out of the question. I had not
sufficient money. This I explained to my Spanish friend; he shrugged his
shoulders and turned his back abruptly upon me. At first I thought this
was an affront, but then--

I had a sheaf of telegrams in my hand. Rapidly I stuck on every one the
magic red labels and placed them in the basket reserved for the more
important telegrams of ambassadors and ministers to their governments. My
wires got through! Later, when money came from London, I called and
liquidated my debt. The first column in the Daily Mail the next morning
contained a series of messages which been conveyed free of charge by the
Spanish Government, though they were not aware of the fact.

As soon as I had got rid of my wires, I hurried off to the house where a
colleague lived. He was not exactly a colleague, but he was a most
important person who was writing for a most important newspaper,
affiliated at that time with the Daily Mail. I found him in court dress
and slippers. He was writing laboriously an account of the wedding. He
looked upon my intrusion with no friendly eye.

"I suppose you know somebody's chucked a bomb at the King of Spain?" said
I, by way of excusing my presence.

He closed his eyes wearily and his white hand gesticulated towards the

"My dear fellow", he said, with infinite patience, "I am in the middle of
the wedding. Please don't bother me now."

His paper certainly contained a three-line reference to the
bomb-throwing, but it owed its origin to the indefatigable Reuter.

That night I called at the palace, with very little hope of getting in,
the more so since the Spanish press with one accord had decided that the
assassin was an Englishman. A straw hat had been discovered in the room
from which the bomb was thrown, and in the crown was printed the damning
inscription "Made in England." On this discovery was founded the police
theory that the miscreant was English! When I say that it was impossible
to buy a straw hat in Madrid that did not bear a similar label, you will
be able to form a fairly just estimate of the intelligence of the Spanish
secret service at the time.

To my amazement, I was not only passed through the military cordon which
surrounded the palace, but gained admission. I interviewed one who was
either a grandee or a court servant, and by him was afforded a peep at
the King and Queen of Spain on their wedding night. They were walking
slowly along the picture gallery, and he was amusing her with stories of
his ancestors!

Alfonso is a sportsman--as white as any Christian in Europe.

It was discovered this same night that the man who threw the bomb was a
ne'er-do-well named Morel, from Barcelona. He was arrested the following
morning and shot dead the rural guard who took him, and was in turn
killed by another guard. His body was conveyed to a little village and
carried into a bread-shop, the lower shelves cleared of loaves waiting
for sale, and here it was laid until the ambulance came to bring him into
Madrid. He was an anarchist, but he had a physical reason for his

Chapter XII

This is an appropriate moment to go back a year or two--to 1906, to be
exact. I had realised that, whilst journalism was a splendid profession
and offered rich prizes to those who were fortunate enough to get into
the front rank, it led nowhere. I had had a brief experience of editing.
Alfred Harmsworth had placed me in charge of the Evening News. But it was
a deadly sort of job, involving, as it did, office work, and I am not so
sure that I was a born Delane. Anyway, I very joyously seized the first
opportunity of getting out. K.J. arranged to send me down into Macedonia,
and to this end I was instructed to get a working knowledge of French. I
did more than this; plunged into a study of Turkish Arabic, a study which
was interrupted by the urgent need of a special correspondent in Morocco.

What was in my mind, however, was to launch forth as a story-writer. I
had written one or two short stories whilst I was in Cape Town, but they
were not of any account. My best practice were my "Smithy" articles in
the Daily Mail, and the short history of the Russian Tsars which ran
serially in the same paper. Collecting the "Smithys", I sought for a
publisher, but nobody seemed anxious to put his imprint upon my work, and
in a moment of magnificent optimism I founded a little publishing
business, which was called "The Tallis Press." It occupied one room in
Temple Chambers, and from here I issued "Smithy" at 1s. and sold about
30,000 copies.

Emboldened by this success, I sat down to turn a short story I had
written, and which had been rejected by every magazine in London, into a
longer one. The story was called "The Four Just Men", in which a
Minister was mysteriously killed and a prize was offered for the best
explanation of his death. It was published at 3s. 6d. I was determined,
believing the story to be good, to make some sort of reputation as a
story-writer, even if it broke me to do so. It broke me all right. I
advertised in newspapers, on hoardings, on tubes and 'buses, the
superlative merits of "The Four Just Men." The result was that, although
I sold 38,000 copies, I lost £1,400! There was, I discovered, such a
thing as over-advertising.

Lord Northcliffe came to my rescue and pulled me out of the mess I'd got
myself into. In disgust, I sold the remaining book rights for £72 to
George Newnes. I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of copies
George Newnes have sold, but they have always been good people to work
for, and I hope they made big money out of my over-boomed romance--which
is really a very good story. I read it again the other day and was quite
pleased with my handiwork.

At any rate I had established some sort of a name as a writer of mystery
stories, and every penny I lost was well lost. The publishers who had
told me, with a smile and a shake of their heads: "No, thank you Mr.
Wallace. We don't know you as a story writer. We'll be glad to take any
volume dealing with your experience in Africa", were confounded, but it
took me a long time to get over the result of my experiment in

It was whilst I was very broke, and judgments were out against me in all
directions that a young man newly from Oxford was writing a series of
articles on "How the Poor Live." He had done a little slumming, had slept
a night in a doss-house, and had had a morning at Covent Garden, and it
occurred to him that it would be an excellent idea if he spent
twenty-four hours as a broker's man. His father was the proprietor of a
chain of provincial newspapers, and he himself, I believe, was fairly

By the oddest of chances he must choose my neighbourhood for his
broker-man exploit, and one morning I found a distress warrant levied on
my house and furniture for £93 (I hadn't ninety-three pence), and an
apologetic young man of very good address installed in my drawing-room.
When he found that I was in the same profession as himself, he wanted to
clear out.

"No, you'd better have the experience", I said, and reluctantly he

I was quite alone in the place. My people were away in South Africa; I
had no servants. After we had cooked a chop for dinner, and he began to
find time hanging rather heavily on his hands, he suggested that we
should play piquet, at which, he said, he was rather more proficient than
the best man he had ever met. It so happened that piquet was also my
game. We started at nine o'clock playing piquet at threepence a hundred,
and finished at six o'clock in the morning. I won sufficient money from
him to pay him out and take £60 to Kempton Park!

It was when the fortunes of the Tallis Press were at their lowest ebb
that I had a communication from a Durham schoolmaster, who had a
collection of short stories he wished to publish. I met him and made
arrangements for their publication, and eventually they came out, but
only after a struggle. On the day they should have been delivered I had a
printer's bill to pay, and though I am sure the kindly souls who
manufactured the book would have given me grace, I was obliged to pawn
everything I had to raise £50 to get the book in hand. The young author's
name was Ian Hay! Though financially it was not a successful venture for
him, the Tallis Press introduced to the world one of the most popular
authors of the day.

To revert to my "Four Just Men" publication. I had lost all my money, and
in desperation had asked the Chief to help me out. It was in Madrid that
I had the joyous news from him that the £1,000 would be forthcoming. He
was rather pleased about the bomb story, but I don't think he was very
much influenced by that success. He liked me, and I was always a sort of
favourite of his.

Following receipt of this letter, I had a wire instructing me to go to
Lisbon, and telling me that a letter was awaiting me there. When I
reached Lisbon I found a highly confidential document from the news
editor, in which he told me that they had news an attempt was to be made
to assassinate King Carlos. The Foreign Office knew all about it, and
incidentally so did the Lisbon Government.

I saw the king, through the good offices of a friend of an old
correspondent of mine in South Africa, a very stout, genial soul, who
pooh-poohed the idea of any immediate danger. He knew, however, that
there was a plot against his life. The Republican movement was an open
one, and some of the best people in Portugal were implicated. I told His
Majesty that I would hang on for a week in case anything interesting
happened. He seemed amused at the grim and, as it happened, unconscious

Apparently at home they were rather weary of waiting for this belated
assassination, for I had orders to proceed at once to Trondhjem, in the
north of Norway, to attend the crowning of King Haakon, a journey
involving a rush through Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Denmark and
Sweden, to the land of the midnight sun, or, if it was too far south for
the midnight sun, at least it was a land of daylight midnight.

The misguided British Government had sent a British cruiser to take part
in the coronation festivities, and part of the programme was a firework
display! It came off, because sailors obey orders, but the spectacle of
fireworks bursting in a blue, sunlit sky was hardly impressive.

The crowning was a homely affair, and there was present the Prince of
Wales (his present Majesty), who, like myself, was doing a lot of
travelling which he would much rather not have done, one suspects.

I had only seen King George twice in Madrid--he was one of the few
visiting royalties who did not disguise his indignation at the slackness
which made such an outrage possible. I saw him just after the bomb fell.
He and the Queen were most Britishly calm and self possessed in that
moment of blind panic which followed the fall of the bomb--and they were
most unpleasantly near the scene of the outrage!

Soon after this I found myself in Narbonne. There had been a strike of
wine-growers which had developed a little bloodily into riot and
disorder. When I arrived in that ancient city there were cairns in the
middle of the street "to the memory of---, murdered by the men of
the --th Regiment."

The visit is chiefly memorable because it brought me in touch with
Jaures, who was assassinated on the eve of the Great War. The great
Socialist was practically in control of the town, and when I reached
Narbonne was issuing brassards and passes permitting pressmen to move
about at will. He was an important little man, rather striking in
appearance and pompous in his manner. Exactly why he should have been
issuing passes in a town practically under military government, I never
succeeded in finding out. He was a very earnest, honest man, though
something of a firebrand. In addition to whatever duties he was
performing, he acted as correspondent for a Parisian paper, and was most
humanly journalistic when he discovered that some of his choicest periods
had been cut by an unsympathetic sub-editor.

Another riot in France was that caused by the terrible colliery disaster
at Courriere. There must have been something like a division of infantry
guarding the coal-pits; fights with the miners occurred every day, and
the cause of the trouble was the contention that the French engineers had
shut down the mines, which were burning, and had left the miners to their
fate, when they could with a little trouble have saved them. The
correspondents were invited to go down one of the still burning mines, an
invitation which I did not feel inclined to accept. Indeed, there was
only one correspondent who did go down, and that was Albert de Courville,
who was representing a London evening newspaper. He made the dangerous
journey underground, traversing three or four kilometres of the
galleries, and from his description--there were dead men at the very
bottom of the shaft--I should say that the miners' complaint was well
justified. Over a thousand men were left to death, and for months
afterwards the engineers went about under military protection.

De Courville I knew from his early youth, when he was a reporter under me
on the Evening News. He was, I think, the most courageous kid I have ever
known--nothing daunted him. He went over to report the wreck of the
Berlin on a stormy wintry night, leaving London in a dress jacket and
thin shoes, and did the best story of that disaster that was received in
London. The effort nearly killed him.

The story-writing business languished. There was not, as I had
anticipated, a passionate desire, either on the part of serial editors or
book publishers, to grab at my work. Nobody pointed me out as a coming
author, though one of my only story-writing friends, W. Pett Ridge, whose
book "A Son of the State" had a very big influence on the style of my
early tales, never ceased to encourage me. W. W. Jacobs was the second of
my "backers"--he was most encouraging. In spite of which, it was a toss
up whether or not I should find another outlet for my energies, when E.
D. Morel began his storm attack upon the Government of the Belgian Congo.
His book "Red Rubber" ran into several editions, and Northcliffe decided
that I must go out to the Congo and see with my own eyes what was
happening in the dark interior of Africa.

The true history of that attack upon the Belgian Government, the text of
which was Belgium's inability to colonise the Congo Free State is a
secret which, in its entirety, died with E. D. Morel. The basis of the
charge against the Congo Government was that its officials were guilty of
innumerable atrocities on the natives, and undoubtedly crimes of
mutilation and of a similar character had been committed by native
soldiers in the employ of the Congo Government. There was missionary
support for these stories but, beyond question, there was bad blood
between the British missionaries and the Belgian officials, and we
regarded the missionary angle with a little scepticism.

They are splendid fellows, but twenty years ago they were a pretty
unequal lot. I always remembered Mrs. Caldecott's dictum: "There are lots
of people you can pray with, but very few you can play with", and though
I very humbly acknowledge their earnestness and sincerity, there were
some one wouldn't care to have as partners in any intellectual round

Very few of the missionaries spoke French, though most of them had
acquired the native tongue, and it complicated matters that the majority
of them were Protestants, whilst the religion of the Congo Free State, if
it had an official religion, was Roman Catholic.

I have nothing to say against missionaries: they treated me royally
whilst I was their guest. But I saw no evidence of atrocities that were
not fourteen years old. Germany coveted the Congo, and I am perfectly
satisfied in my mind that, in so far as Morel was concerned, he was a
propaganda agent working on behalf of the German Foreign Office. With him
was Roger Casement, British Consul at Boma, a man who in all sincerity
hated England and the English, and was, moreover, a decadent of

Nightingale had succeeded Casement when I arrived--a jolly and cheery
Englishman, handicapped by the "discoveries" of his predecessor, and torn
between anxiety to support him and the necessity for reporting things as
he found them. Casement (who was hanged at Wandsworth during the war for
treason) was certainly in the Red Rubber swindle--swindle in so far as it
was an attempt to defame the Belgian Government in order to bring about a
conference of the Powers that would deprive Belgium of its colony.

It says much for the prescience of Marlowe that he saw through the
agitation from the start, and was averse to my being sent to the Congo.

That trip, however, was for me one of fascinating interest. I came closer
into contact with aboriginal tribes; I studied their lives, and in a
superficial way their language. Brief as was my stay, I secured a
knowledge of the natives additional to the understanding I gained in
South Africa, which was invaluable. Their folklore, customs, their
childlike systems of reasoning, and their biblical simplicity--I absorbed
the sights and sounds as blotting-paper absorbs water. The information I
acquired made it possible for me to write, later, considerably over a
hundred stories in which natives were the principal characters. For this
is a fact which must be remembered, that the natives of the African
hinterland, whether they are under British, German or French rule, differ
very little one from the other.

I had hardly put my foot in the country before I paid the penalty for my
temerity in appearing at sundown without mosquito-boots. I awoke the next
morning with a swollen ankle, and fourteen days later to the hour I went
down with an attack of blackwater fever. The missionaries rushed me to
Bongindanga, where there is rising ground; and in connection with this
visit I have a vivid recollection of a most unlikely book--"Little
Dorrit." I have never read "Little Dorrit", even to this day. I was
half-way through the story, lying in a convalescent chair under an
awning, when forty-three forest natives who came out in an iron-barked
canoe to board the ship bumped our side, the canoe capsized, and of the
forty-three only two were saved. I have the most vivid recollection of
watching these drowning people, never dreaming that they could not swim,
for the river folk are as much at home in the water as the indigenous
crocodile. In fact I was rather amused at their horrified faces, thinking
that they were putting up a little stunt for my amusement, since the
cannibal has a great sense of fun. I know the page and the line where I
left off reading. I never took up the book again.

Bongindanga and the forest around is reputedly the home of the okapi,
that shy beast which until a few years ago was regarded a mythical. Armed
with a Mannlicher rifle, I went out half a dozen times, but though I
found his spoor and once thought I saw the flicker of his hide, I never
had the luck to get a specimen. That he is fairly common about
Bongindanga is proved by the fact that strips of his skin are readily
obtainable. Until quite recently I had an old elephant knife, the leather
sling of which was indubitably okapi hide. It was at this little
missionary station that I made acquaintance with the soldier ant.

Travelling up and down the coast as I did before I entered the Congo, I
met British officials and learnt from them the legends of old
administrators: of that official who had hanged three malefactors at
Grand Bassam with his own hands; of strange and sinister palavers held
in the bush; of witch doctors, jujus, fetishes; of Liberia with its
quaint Government and English-speaking negroes; of the strange slave
folk of Angola, still bought and sold for a bottle of synthetic
gin--indeed, I stored a quantity of knowledge and information which I
shall never exhaust.

I came back to England to the shock of discovering that before I left for
Africa I had libelled a naval officer, who brought a successful action
against the Daily Mail and recovered £5,000 damages. I was entirely in
the wrong. I had sent off an account from Portsmouth of a naval "mutiny"
without being careful to verify the facts before I wrote the story. I
think I am the only man that has ever been "fired" from the Daily Mail.
All the other past members of the staff resigned.

Chapter XIII

I break my narrative here to deal with a matter on which I am regarded as
an authority--it is not a claim which I should advance on my own
behalf--namely, the criminal. There are practically no books on the
criminal which are in any way helpful to those who have a scientific
interest in crime. Lombroso only wrote one book that was worth a hoot,
and, generally speaking, the Italian school of anthropologists devoted
their explorations in this science to meaningless and deceptive
measurements and tabulations. It may be interesting I to know that the
majority of murderers have asymmetrical faces, but then so have quite a
number of people who aren't murderers. It is a fact that one seldom sees
normal features in the dock of the Old Bailey, but an examination of the
well of the court where eminent counsel are sitting reveals the same

To understand the criminal you must know him and have or affect a
sympathy with him in his delinquencies. You have to reach a stage of
confidence when he is not showing off or lying to impress you. In fact it
is necessary that he should believe you to be criminally minded.
Criminals will talk very frankly in certain conditions.

Not many years ago a brutal murder was committed in a country town, and
it occurred to a sort of journalist who supplied sensations for a certain
newspaper that it would be a great idea if he could get a confession as
to how the murder was committed. With the help of an unscrupulous person
who had access to the prisoner, he conveyed the following offer. He would
pay for the man's defence, though the result of the trial was a foregone
conclusion, and in addition would supply him with "outside" food whilst
he was awaiting trial, if he would smuggle out the story of the deed.

The murderer, a man of low mentality, agreed. The story of the murder was
set out piecemeal, and in return counsel was briefed for the defence.

On the day of the trial the horror-hunter had the biggest and most
sensational story ever published, and he only had to wait for the verdict
to release the confession. But so eloquent was the counsel that the man
was acquitted! To-day, in a provincial newspaper office, there exists an
unusable murder confession, whilst the scoundrel who committed the murder
is at large--I saw him near Marble Arch about two years ago!

Parallel with the events which I have recorded ran rather an interesting
acquaintance with the criminal classes. Only during my Army life did I
lose touch with these, but during the period of my adolescence, until my
enlistment, and from 1902 onwards, I have met, and to some extent
studied, the lawbreaker, and have perhaps a better acquaintance with him
than any save the "higher command" at Scotland Yard.

There are, roughly speaking, three types of criminals:

(1) Criminals through opportunity.

(2) Criminals through real or imaginary necessity.

(3) Criminals through deliberate intention.

The "good time" motive largely operates with the first two classes; that
is to say, people commit criminal acts with the idea of getting money to
enjoy themselves. To the second category belong most murders, and it may
be noted that very few who come under the first or second headings are
criminals in the strictest sense of the word.

To the first belong the pilferers, the people who steal stamps, open
letters, and extract their contents, thieve whilst acting as caretakers
or in positions of trust. In the second class are those who either seize
or make opportunity, with the idea of having a good time.

The first and second classes are peculiar in that the people so
classified never imagine that their offences will be detected. They are,
as a rule, "safe" stealers; they never suppose or prepare for detection.
They have complete faith that the cleverness with which the offence is
committed, the absence of all observation, the certainty that suspicion
will be distributed over a wide area, affords them the minimum amount of
danger. That is one of the reasons why I count most murderers in this
category. Men of the Crippen, Seddon, Armstrong type--that is to say, men
who are above the average in the matter of education and worldly
knowledge--meet inquiry with the greatest self-confidence. They are
conscious of their intellectual superiority to those whose business it is
to bring them to justice or who will be in charge of the investigations,
should they ever be made.

Swindlers on the grand scale have the same mental attitude. But, as I
say, these men are not criminals in the strict sense. They have not spent
their lives in criminal practices. Only about 10 per cent. of convicted
murderers have any previous convictions, and the majority of the go per
cent. are men and women who have lived fairly blameless lives except for
the offences with which they are charged.

My first acquaintance with the criminal began in Canning Town, in the
Star Music Hall. Here I met two young men who, according to their own
account, made a fairly good living out of stealing this from small
tradesmen's shops. They asked me if I would join them: they wanted a
third member, for they had ambitious plans, which embraced a series of
West End robberies. I was to be supplied with swell clobber, and was to
"smoodge" various lady cashiers. This offer was made after my third
meeting with them. The whole thing was discussed in quite a businesslike
way. They bore me no malice when I rejected their offer.

I was curious enough to make a call at the establishment which had been
singled out for attack, to look upon the young lady who was to be
"smoodged" (in other words, to whom I was to pay flattering attentions).
She was a girl of fifteen, and I understood why one of my youthful age
had been chosen. Whilst I was still in Canning Town the robbery was
committed, and both men arrested. Years afterwards I saw one of them
sentenced to death at the Old Bailey for murdering an old woman.

Soon after this, and I think (I am not sure) as a result of this
acquaintance, I had the confidence of a leading ladder larcenist, whose
home was also in Canning Town. He worked three-handed, and was the best
artisan at his game. The ladder larcenist has lately been glorified with
the title of "cat-burglar", and there are quite a number of innocent
people who believe that this form of crime is something that has grown
out of the war. The ladder man's modus operandi is simple. He and two of
his confederates watch a country house, and when the family are at dinner
he erects a convenient ladder to one of the bedroom windows, shins up,
collects all that he can find, after locking the bedroom door to secure
himself from observation, and beats a hasty retreat.

None of the ladder larcenists I have met was a burglar in the strict
sense of the word. It is a curious fact that burglars generally work from
the ground floor, and the ladder larcenist does his job on the first

Most of the criminals by intention are specialists at their own job.
There may be isolated instances where ladder men are pickpockets, but
they have never come under my observation. The gang that goes "on the
whizz" (pocket-picking) do little else until they become too old to run
or too clumsy to dip. They work in gangs of two or three, and usually one
of these is a "minder", whose job is to maltreat the man or woman who
discovers her loss and to hinder pursuit.

Most pickpockets on detection assume what they fondly believe to be the
diction and style of a gentleman. Their indignation is impressive. They
talk about their solicitors and hint darkly at actions for false
imprisonment. Bill H., who is an all-round criminal and an exception to
the general rule, for he is both a pickpocket, burglar and a luggage
thief, once took the watch of an officer as he was riding by his side
along Whitehall. Rising to make his exit, the loss was discovered; the
bus was stopped and a police constable summoned. Bill's hauteur and wrath
so impressed the policeman that he nearly let him go, but at last he took
him off to Cannon Row Police Station, which is near, and Bill was
searched. Nothing was found on him, and for an excellent reason. In a
second when he was free from observation he slipped the watch between his
soft collar and his throat; but it was a noisily-ticking watch, and Bill
had to talk all the time for fear the "busy" heard this guilty sound. He
was known, of course, at the station, and was put into the cells as a
suspected person; and although the watch was passed out of the cell, he
was eventually convicted.

William is a type of habitual criminal, not in the strictly legal sense,
though he has had more than one lagging. The real criminal cannot be
reformed. He may get too old for his job, or he may possibly get a
violent bout of religion, but during the period of his mental and
physical activity it is humanly impossible that he can be directed into
thinking straight. Prison is merely a penalty of the game which he
accepts philosophically. Nowadays, when imprisonment is lightened by
concert parties and wireless concerts, when he is allowed association his
kind, and can even smoke in certain prisons, the time passes much more
quickly than it used; but the effect upon his moral character is
practically nil.

Prison only puts the fear of God into the non-criminal classes: to the
intentional criminal it is a home from home. There are judges who are
divided in opinion as to whether long or short sentences have the more
reformative effect, but the length of the sentence matters very little.
The only thing that will halve and quarter the number of men who are in
and out of prison year after year is the alteration of prison regime;
until prison is a really horrible place, at which the discharged prisoner
turns and shakes his fist, you will have little or no diminution of
professional crime. A month of the treatment I received in the military
prison at Aldershot would break the stoutest heart and make a man think
three times before he preferred his old practices to honest labour.

When I was visiting Exeter Prison some five or six years ago I saw a man,
under forty, who had been over forty times an inmate of that
establishment. There are tramps who make a regular practice every winter
of committing an offence which will send them to jail to tide over the
colder months. They do this in preference to going into the workhouse--a
fact on which it is not necessary to comment.

The most skilful pickpocket was a man I met in Cape Town. He was
practically in the employment of Cape Town's biggest receiver, a jeweller
and pawnbroker in quite a large way of business. To illustrate his skill,
he brushed against me, and in a fraction of a second's time unfastened my
watch from a leather guard and at the same time took my pocket-book from
my hip pocket. I have never seen his equal. Eventually he relieved a
passenger from the incoming mail boat of about £600, and, failing to
notify his "find" to his employer, was "shopped" by that gentleman on a
trumped-up charge and was sent to the Breakwater, where he died.

Another Cape Town criminal, whose speciality was acting as middleman
between uncut diamond stealers and an Antwerp fence, was probably the
richest criminal the world has known. I was ignorant of his questionable
calling until he made a quick get-away on an Australian ship. He is still
alive and, if one may judge by appearances, very prosperous. Another
I.D.B. man (illicit diamond-buying) got away from the Cape with a
brief-bag full of uncut diamonds, came to London, and hadn't the nerve to
sell them. Eventually he had the brilliant idea of going to Amsterdam and
learning the business of diamond-cutting. It was seven years after he
came by his ill-gotten gains that he marketed the first of the stones,
and during that time he nearly starved, with £100,000 worth of sparklers
in his trunk!

Illicit diamond-buying is not one of the romantic crimes of the past. It
still goes on, and, in spite of the drastic character of the Cape laws,
will go on whilst there are diamonds to be stolen.

There is little mystery about the genesis of the continuous criminal (I
employ that word rather than "habitual", which has a peculiar legal
significance). He is being recruited all the time from Classes (1) and
(2), and it is perfectly true that, whilst burglary and the gigantic
crimes of the novelist are not planned in prison, the young and
accidental offender, finding himself in the company of experts, is
attracted to them. He has gone into prison perhaps feeling heartily
ashamed of himself, and depressed by a sense of his abominable conduct,
dinned into him by the attitude of his relations and friends, and by the
shame and disgrace of his conviction. Being human, he is anxious to find
excuses for his crime. In prison he is introduced to a class which does
not regard his act as crime at all. He will find a sympathetic audience
in the old offenders, and gradually his angle of judgment takes an
oblique slant. He learns that the only crime he has committed was to be
found out. He goes out of prison a ready-made novice for a new and a
dangerous game.

They will tell you, the prison reformers, that first offenders do not mix
with the old lags. In theory that is a fact. In practice, unless you have
the first offenders in a separate prison, nothing will prevent contact.

I must that I have never met a clever criminal. The vast majority are
illiterate and have a bad school record. Not a few are on the borderline
of imbecility. Nor have I yet met a criminal who was not as vain as a
peacock over some quality of his own. Nor have I met criminal who was not
an unconscionable liar. The first moral sense that atrophies in a
continuous criminal is the sense of truth, and I think, reversing this
hypothesis, you can make no mistake in saying that any non-criminal liar
you know--that is to say, a man who has not been in the hands of the
police but lies for the joy of the lying--is capable of breaking the law,
and will break the law sooner or later. The faculty of ready lying is, in
my experience, the inevitable stigma of an ineradicable "sense" of
dishonesty. I am not speaking of children, who are natural romancers, but
of persons who are passing through their adolescence, and I am speaking
of course of what we call unnecessary lying.

There is a type of vanity in a criminal which prevents him from
committing small offences and urges him to commit greater. Crippen would
not steal, but he would murder his wife and pretend she had gone away
from him, rather than risk the censure of the world by running away from
her. Seddon murdered a woman because he feared the disgrace which would
come to his suburban home if it was proved that he had swindled her out
of her savings. Mahon was the most amazing instance of criminal vanity.
Thorne was another--these were both murders of vanity.

The real criminal classes, by the way, have a horror of murder, and are
the stoutest upholders of capital punishment. I have never spoken with an
old lag who did not believe in hanging, and if you were to take a census
of any great convict establishment you would find an overwhelming
majority in favour of capital punishment. Except for women, of whose
mentality the criminal has a very low estimate.

Just before I went to Johannesburg a murder was committed in Standerton
by the Greek steward of the officers' club. In revenge he shot a Jewish
storekeeper who had reported him for selling tobacco out of bond. I was
in the club on the night of the murder. The Greek, whose name I think was
Poropulos, walked out of the mess-room in the middle of dinner, went down
to the store, shot the storekeeper dead, and came back to the
dining-room, stopping only to change his boots--an act which brought
about his undoing, for a half-tipsy subaltern detected the change, and on
his evidence the man was arrested, tried in Johannesburg before the
special court and sentenced to death.

I had a chat with Poropulos whilst he was awaiting trial. He claimed to
be--and I heard no evidence to the contrary--an honest man, except for
this little matter of selling tobacco out of bond; and his chief
indignation was directed towards a law which intended punishing him
because he had killed "the greatest thief in the Transvaal." Poropulos
went to the scaffold smiling, and when asked to admit his guilt promised
to do so if they would give him a cigarette. He stood on the trap, the
rope round his neck, smoking calmly until he came to the last half-inch
of the cigarette. Then he spat out the end.

"Were you guilty, Poropulos?" the chaplain asked him.

He looked calmly from one to the other of the group about him, and then,
with a smile:

"You can all go to hell", he said, and with that they dropped him.

Such an end was paralleled by Landru's. After they brought Landru from
prison to the foot of the guillotine, the counsel for the defence, who
was present, embraced and kissed him. "I have done my best for you,
Landru", he said. "Will you not tell me--did you kill these women?"

Landru smiled.

"Cher maitre", he said calmly, "I am going a long journey and have only
that little bit of baggage. Let me take it with me!"

The police force of England would never be able to cope with the criminal
but for his stupidity and his habit of specialising. Add to this the
"nose", or the police informer, who is always ready and willing to give
away his best friend for a ten-shilling note, and the chance of the
law-breaker to escape detection is a remote one.

Between the police and the continuous criminal there is a very excellent
feeling, which almost amounts to camaraderie. The other day a
detective-inspector pulled up an old offender.

"There's been a burglary in so-and-so Street", he said. "What do you know
about it, Jim?"

The man grew red with anger.

"Why, I'm living in that district myself!" he said indignantly. "Would I
take a liberty on your manor?"

"Manor" is the quaint term used by police and thief alike to denote a
certain area; and it is a fact that the average known criminal will never
commit a crime in the district where he lives, that being regarded as a
personal affront to the detective-inspector of the district.

I have seen a detective stroll into a West End bar, cast a quick eye over
the company and, beckoning one to him, say reproachfully:

"Get off my manor, Joe", and Joe, being a wise man, obeyed instantly.

There is an idea in the minds of uninformed people that the police hound
down the criminal. They do nothing of the kind. A detective will go out
of his way to help a man if he is trying the straight game. There is
naturally a certain amount of give and take. The police do not arrest
every man they believe to be guilty, and a man charged with being a
suspected person, and loitering for the purpose of committing a felony,
has generally had his first warning and has only himself to thank for the
trouble in which he finds himself.

It is equally true that the police will turn a conveniently blind eye
upon mild wrongdoing; but woe betide those who, encouraged by this
tolerance, enlarge their activities.

An old criminal whom I knew when I lived in Notting Hill, and who once,
with the greatest sang-froid, took me a round of fences' shops, told me
that the longest imprisonment he had was due to his own folly.

"I was making snide half-dollars in a small way, and planting them round
Camden Town", he told me. "A fellow from the Yard come to me and said:
'Bill, I'm warning you.' Of course I said I didn't know what he was
talking about and gave him a lot of madam about his interfering with me
when I was trying to earn an honest living. They pinched me a month
later and they brought every charge in the world against me. The busy
that went into the box at the Old Bailey couldn't say anything bad
enough about me. They'd have hung me if they could. If I'd taken the
warning and been pinched for something else, they'd have said how I'd
tried to get work, and have got me off with eighteen moons. Never take

I have no sympathy with criminals, not even a sneaking sympathy. They are
a little less interesting than lunatics, a little less romantic than
sewermen. Their lives are drab and ugly, fuggy and fusty, and the
majority "go crook" only because they are too lazy or too unintelligent
to earn an honest living. Those who possess some degree of education and
intelligence are as a rule unspeakably vile in other respects. Moreover,
they are always broke!

I call to mind six of the intelligentsia of crime who are "operating" in
London at the time of writing:

1. Card-sharp; held a commission in the pre-war army. A bigamist, but now
has a worse record. Heavily in debt. Only once in the hands of the

2. An overseas citizen. Two terms of penal servitude. Card-sharper and
confidence man. Bad moral record. Is at the moment wanted for passing a
dud cheque.

3. Jewel and hotel thief. Several convictions. Bad moral record. Has been
convicted of "living on the earnings, etc." Living in obscurity to avoid

4. Luggage thief. Suspected bigamist; several convictions. Broke.

5. Jewel thief, confidence man and card-sharp. (This man had a university
education.) Traffics in dope and lives on the earnings of women. Has a
little money.

6. Confidence man and "jargoon" seller. Very bad moral record. Several
convictions. Bankrupt.

There is nothing Raffles-ish about these six, and they are typical of the

A "jargoon" is a white sapphire, usually set in a plain gold ring. The
"operator" scrapes acquaintance with a likely victim and shows him a
genuine diamond ring which he has bought (he says) for sixty pounds.

"Diamond rings are no good to me: will you buy it?"

The victim is a little shy of buying diamond rings from chance

"Take it home--show it to any jeweller you like--if it isn't worth the
money, don't buy it", says the seller, and generally the mug takes the
ring and at the first opportunity shows it to a jeweller.

"That is genuine enough", says the jeweller. "The gold is nine carat but
the stone is worth a hundred."

Next day an appointment is kept.

"I'll buy this ring", says the innocent.

"You can have it for seventy", says the seller.

"You said sixty."

The crook shakes his head.

"I said seventy--not a penny less."

With this he takes the ring from the buyer and skilfully palms it,
substituting the "jargoon." There is a little haggling and the ring
changes hands--the operator retiring with £60, the mug carrying off a
jargoon worth about seventeen shillings.

But surely, you say, even a tyro could distinguish a white sapphire from
a diamond?

Not even a jeweller can at a glance, because the jargoon has been
"treated." Packed in silver sand, it has been baked in a gas oven which
gives it the brilliancy of a diamond--a brilliancy which lasts two days.
Jargoon rings cost twenty-five shillings each in Clerkenwell, and there
used to be a master criminal in Islington who financed the sellers and
took fifty per cent. of the profits. Without the "fence" the average
middle-grade criminal could not live.

It will be news to most people that the fence usually buys the proceeds
of a robbery before it is committed.

"I'm going to do a fur shop", says a thief to the receiver. "I wish you'd
come along and price it."

The receiver goes to the store which is to be burgled, buys some small
article, makes a quick survey of the stock and fixes a price. He pays not
on the proceeds of the robbery--which he may not see before it is
planted--but on the list of stolen articles published in the police organ
Hue and Cry.

It is exactly the same with motor-cars. A receiver will examine a car and
price it ten minutes before the thief drives it off. The receiver helps
the police, for he is the most unconscionable "nose", providing his own
safety is not involved, but sooner or later he himself will be "dragged."

"If the police know that a man is a receiver, why is he not arrested at
once?" you ask.

Police work is a delicate and complicated business. There must be, as I
have already said, a whole lot of give and take in it, and invariably
the criminal is the giver.

I am perfectly satisfied in my mind that crime would be very considerably
decreased if a new form of punishment were instituted. There should be
disciplinary prisons, where the punishment was short and sharp; where,
within the limits of humanity, a prisoner's life should be made so
unbearable that he would never risk a repetition of his experience. It is
absurd to take an embezzling milkman and deprive his wife and family of
the support he could give them for nine months, when you could achieve
the same result by a fortnight or three weeks' discipline. A prisoner
should never be allowed to get used to jail. In four cases out of five
the dietary and the accommodation that a prisoner receives are superior
to anything he has previously experienced. He is allowed the pick of a
library, concerts are organised for his amusement, visitors appointed for
his entertainment. Running by the side of the disciplinary treatment
there should be inaugurated a system of suspended sentences. It is absurd
to send to prison to associate with criminals, say, a postman with twenty
years' service who has been detected stealing some letters. The man's
ruin is complete before sentence is passed. A technical conviction is all
that is necessary to complete his downfall. There is no sense in sending
him to prison and to contact with hardened criminals.

Jail has no terror for the professional thief: it is just an inevitable
inconvenience, like the measles of childhood, to be got through as easily
as possible before the man is discharged to qualify for a further term.
You cannot stamp out smallpox by segregating healthy people in a

Before I leave the subject I will refer to one class of thief who is
exceptional in many respects from his fellows: the highly specialised
gangs who cross and re-cross the ocean a dozen times a year and make
their living by fleecing passengers at cards are in a class by
themselves. Generally speaking, they are a respectable lot of men, with
wives and families comfortably circumstanced. Their casualties are very
few indeed. For some reason the ocean-going lines seldom prosecute, and
do not even employ ship's detectives to check their activities. These men
are thrifty souls who have reduced thieving to an exact science. Their
expenses are heavy, but they are the only thieves I know who
systematically save money and eventually retire with a competence. I have
known a large number of these, and once, but only once, was "caught" for
£80. I accepted the swindle philosophically, wrote a dozen stories based
upon that painful episode, and made my experience pay me a handsome

When they come to London they are generally to be found in the best
hotels, and seldom operate in the West End. They are well aware that
Scotland Yard knows them and, given the opportunity, will be merciless,
and they take no risk, for first and foremost they are business men.

Generally speaking, the British criminal differs from the criminal of
every other nation. Thieving is unaccompanied by violence. The
professional gunman is unknown, and a burglar of my acquaintance who
found his partner carrying a revolver just as they were going on a job,
broke off his enterprise to give his reckless companion a good thrashing.
If you see in the Hue and Cry an announcement that a wanted man is
"dangerous: carries firearms", you can be pretty sure that he is not

Flogging blotted out the garrotter, and additional and heavy sentences
for the armed burglar have made him an almost extinct species. There is
only one effective weapon in the hands of the law for dealing with the
criminal, and that is the weapon of terrorisation.

Burglars, by the way, are a very timid class. Their nightmare is the
vision of a householder armed with a revolver. There is not one burglar
in a hundred who does not go through life with this horror hanging over

Chapter XIV

The first short story I had published in London was based upon a
newspaper experience--the wreck of the American boat train at Salisbury,
which I covered. The story was published in the now defunct Pall Mall
Magazine; but it was the Windsor which gave me my first real start, and
A. M. Hutchinson, who still edits the magazine, who edged me on to the
map of short-story writers.

I suppose it is because I have been so interested in human beings that
most of my stories have been woven around types. Smithy, Sanders, Bones,
Mr. Reeder, Educated Evans, are all real people to me--and were real
people before they came to me! The technique of short-story writing is an
art not easily acquired. I must have written a hundred stories before I
mastered the balance of it.

Curiously enough, on my flying visit to London from South Africa, I had
decided that short-story writing was to be my long suit, and I had made
up my mind to consult the highest literary on the subject. In my Wesleyan
days I was an avid reader of the British Weekly, and it was to Dr.
Robertson Nicoll that I determined to go. He was to me a very tremendous
person, and with a quaking heart I wrote to him--I think he lived in
Hampstead at the time--asking for an appointment. The appointment was
granted, and with considerable trepidation I went up to keep it, arriving
half an hour before the hour fixed. I walked up down outside the house to
pass the time, and eventually was admitted. I was ushered into the
drawing-room and told by his secretary that the doctor was still in bed
and that he could not see me for half an hour. I was left alone to bring
my scattered thoughts into order.

Looking back, I cannot understand why I was so worried about this
interview, or why I attached so much importance to the opinion he would
offer. Perhaps it was the fear that, having read some stories which I had
sent to him when I asked for the interview, he would tell me that
story-writing was not my game, that put me into such a sweat. Five
minutes before the half-hour had expired I tiptoed from the room and from
the house. I never saw Dr. Robertson Nicoll after that.

My stories, particularly my short stories, were selling better, and I was
earning a steady income. A year passed before I joined Edward Hulton, to
edit one of his periodicals. "Young Mr. Edward" was a dying man then, and
though it was sixteen years before he actually died, something of the
gloom of death lay on him all the time I knew him.

It was an amusing association, but it did not last long. Charles Watney,
the capable foreign editor of the Daily Mail, had joined the staff of the
Standard and invited me to the reporters' room. Incidentally, I found
myself again in association with H. A. Gwynne, who was now editor of this
solid journal. E. V. Knox was another member of the reportorial staff--so
was Andrew Soutar.

I remember distinctly two episodes of my service on the Standard. First,
King Edward's funeral, the story of which I wrote in St. George's Chapel;
the second, when sent down to Ascot to "cover the Royal Hunt Cup", with a
free ticket and a golden sovereign for expenses. I came back with
£1,000--so elated by my success as a gambler that I forgot my duty as a
journalist, and it was not till nearly midnight when, drinking champagne
and stout at the Press Club, I was urgently reminded that I had a column
to write.

Watney had already planned the launching of the ill-fated Evening Times,
and to the staff of this I was appointed--as racing editor! Racing has
always been a hobby of mine, and in whatever other respect we may have
failed on the Evening Times, I think I may claim without immodesty that
the racing feature was a success.

The paper was financed by two well-known Members of Parliament, one of
whom was Sir Samuel Scott. John Cowley from the Daily Mail was manager,
and eventually sank the greater portion of his own private fortune in an
heroic attempt to keep the paper going. Mr. Mallaby-Deeley was also
associated with the Evening Times for a while, but he took very little
active part in its management, nor did he make himself responsible for
its continuance.

The richer of the two men decided at a very awkward moment to withdraw
financial support, and since Sir Samuel could not be expected to bear the
burden of carrying the paper to success single-handed, it was decided to
hand over the paper to the staff.

What really killed the Evening Times was the Crippen "confession." We had
established communication with one who had access to Crippen, then under
sentence of death for the murder of Belle Elmore. I do not doubt for one
moment that the confession was actually made to this man. We paid £500
for the privilege of printing Crippen's own story, conveyed at third
hand, and sold a million copies of the edition in which it was printed.
We were hardly on the streets before the Governor of Pentonville denied
that Crippen had made any statement whatever, and this was supported at
the inquest.

That Crippen did admit his guilt and describe the circumstances of the
crime to our informant there is no doubt whatever. We were in the
position that we could not explain the source of our information, and for
months we struggled on under the shadow of the discredit which came to
us. With the reconstruction of the company all salaries were cut, and
most of us volunteered to work to save the Evening Times for a wage at
which the average labourer would turn up his nose. My salary was £3 a

We struggled on month after month, Cowley finding the money. No man in
his senses could face the inevitable ruin which would follow the
continuance of publication, and one sad day we closed down. I do not know
how much John Cowley lost, but if ever I am asked to name the bravest
deed I ever saw, I shall endeavour to describe Cowley with a chequebook
and a fountain pen striving to hold the fort.

The Sidney Street siege gave us a lift. I came to work every morning at
half-past four, and on arriving at the office learnt of the exciting
events which were occurring in the East End. I rushed through my work--in
my agitation picking five winners out of the six races that were to be
decided that day--and, taking a cab, dashed off to Sidney Street. It was
rather like old times, though queerly unreal, listening to the klik-klok
of rifles in that dingy thoroughfare. By good luck I got into a house
almost opposite that where the murderers were at bay, and could, I think,
have got one of them if I had had a rifle, for he showed himself for a
second at the window.

I left the siege to go to a racing meeting, and returned at night to find
the house where the dead murderers lay a smoking ruin.

I have only the faintest memory of how the following two years were
filled. It was a period of struggle, but not of any great stress. I have
an idea that I had rather a cheery time. It was Kennedy Jones who came to
my rescue and gave me the assistant-editorship of Town Topics, a little
weekly that he had financed for Arthur Binstead, or, as everybody knew
him, "Pitcher." "Pitcher" had been on the Sporting Times, and when John
Corlett sold the paper, "Pitcher" and his colleagues, Colonel Newnham
Davis, J. H. Booth and Horace Lennard, decided to start, with K. J.'s
assistance, a tolerable imitation of the Pink 'Un. Even K.J.'s newspaper
genius could not make the paper go, and I was called in as a director of
editorial affairs, without, I believe, greatly adding to the circulation.

"Pitcher" belonged to the old school of journalists, and was a splendid
wit and a man of great geniality. The world's centre for him was
Romano's. One day he was going down the stairs of the Town Topics office
and saw the office boy coming up, bearing on a plate a glass of milk and
a few biscuits. "Pitcher" stared at the sight.

"Where is that going?" he asked.

"It's for Mr. Wallace", said the boy.

"Pitcher" gasped.

"Isn't he WEANED?" he demanded.

"Pitcher", Newnham Davis, that gallant old gentleman who died in harness,
and Horace Lennard have passed: three good men who did excellent work and
were well loved in Fleet Street.

My salary was £10 a week when the European War broke on the world, and
all my cherished plans were knocked sideways. K.J. cut our salaries in
half. Other newspapers to which I was contributing either closed down or
restricted the size of their papers. I say that the war "broke", but to
me there was ample warning. That fatal Sunday night when I read in the
late edition of the News of the World the story of Sarajevo and the
assassination of the heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, it was
as clear as daylight that war was inevitable. My wanderings in Europe had
given me some idea of what we might expect at the first excuse for war.
The effect on me was disastrous. Contracts were suspended, a weekly
newspaper for which I was working cut its salaries in half, and I was
well over the age limit for service.

It was at this moment that Charles Hyde (now a baronet), of the
Birmingham Post, decided to appoint me as military correspondent.
Kitchener's old ban still hung over me, but I was to write a daily
commentary on military events, provided that my article passed the
censor. In the four years of war I wrote a million and a half words for
the Birmingham Daily Post, but although I have been credited with having
done much to keep the Midlands in good heart, I account my best
achievement in the war period to the unofficial propaganda I initiated in
the United States of America.

In the early stages of the war the possibilities of propaganda were never
discussed or considered, and indeed I did not call my efforts by any such
pretentious title.

I am a diligent reader of American newspapers, and I saw that the only
soldier who got any kind of appreciation in the American press was the
French soldier. Poor Tommy was never mentioned. And this, very naturally,
touched me on the raw--for the "poor blinking infantry" are the wonder of
the world. I wrote some stories about Tommies and sent them out to
America, telling my agent that I didn't want paying for them so long as
they were published.

This was a foolish thing to do. It stamped the stories as propaganda.

I tried again--changed the style of the stories and had two accepted and
paid for: "The Greater Battle" and "The Straightened Angle." Others did
not "get past", as they say.

I was certain in my mind that the only medium to show our people in a
fair light was the short story, and at last, thank Heaven, I discovered a
vehicle. My idea was to convey to America a picture of English soldiers
and English effort which would create an atmosphere of sympathy, if not
for our cause, for the men who were fighting our battles. I never worked
so hard in all my life to bring my stories to perfection.

It was a series called "Tam of the Scouts" which was most effective. This
dealt with a little Scottish mechanic who rose to be an officer in the
Royal Flying Corps, and the story of his exploits ran without
interruption for two years in Everybody's Magazine. "Tam Clubs" were
formed in many of the big cities, and I believe he even enjoyed the
distinction of having a horse named after him!

I confess that I did not even know that there was such a thing as a
Propaganda Department fostered by the British Government, and even if I
had known, it is doubtful whether I should have approached the bigwigs of
Whitehall, for what help could they possibly have given to me? It was
sufficient satisfaction to me to know that my independent efforts were
going into 500,000 American homes every month. When I was in New York
four years ago, an American editor told me that Tam was the inspirer of
the American Flying Corps spirit, and although I would not endorse this
extravagant estimate, I feel that I did something to put a branch of the
British fighting services "on the map" in the United States.

There is no end to any story, but here I will make the end of mine; for
an autobiography should conclude at some decent interval from to-day. I
shall be broke again and rich again; but broke or rich, I shall, if the
Lord keeps me in good health, be grateful and happy for every new
experience, for every novel aspect which the slow-moving circle of life
presents to me. I have made many big friends and provoked a few little
enmities, which will clear up someday. And I am here! Newspaper-boy,
cabin-boy, soldier, journalist, writer--what next? Whatever it is, I'll
bet it is interesting.


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