BRUM was a man of an original turn of mind and his ideas were often at variance with others. For instance, all tramps in America travel on the railroad, whether they walk or take free rides. Therefore it seems reasonable to infer that the people who live on the outskirts of a town, being farthest from the track, would be more in sympathy with tramps, for they would see and hear less of them. But Brum laughed at this idea, and claimed that his own success was through being of a different mind. 'For,' said he, 'as all tramps are of that opinion, therefore the outskirts are begged too much and the centre of the town too little. For instance,' he continued, 'here is the railroad depot, with its restaurant; now, not one tramp in a hundred would visit such a place, for it is on their direct road, and they believe that it receives far too many appeals. This opinion, being so common, must prove it to be false. However, we will test it and see.' Saying which Brum boldly entered the restaurant, leaving me to wait outside. It was a considerable time before he reappeared, and I began to think he was being supplied with a meal on the premises, but at last he came, carrying in his hand a large paper parcel. 'The place is as good as gold,' said he, 'for here we have a day's provisions for two. Take it down the track to that clump of woods,' said he, 'for the waiter promised that did I bring a jug or can he would supply me with hot coffee.' I started at once towards the woods with this bag, the weight of which proved the presence of either much meat or pudding; while Brum made his way to a small house near the railroad to see if he could borrow a can. It was not long after this when we were seated in the shady green wood with the contents of this parcel before us, which were found to consist of a number of chops, bread and butter, some potatoes and cake. These, with a quart or more of good hot coffee, made such a meal as a working man could only reasonably expect once a week-the day being Sunday.
One of Brum's peculiarities was, on approaching a town, to look out for a church steeple with a cross, which denoted a Catholic church, and therefore a Catholic community. Making his way in the direction of that cross he would begin operations in its surrounding streets, 'and,' said he, 'if I fail in that portion of the town, I shall certainly not succeed elsewhere.'
I shall never forget the happy summer months I spent with Brum at the seaside. Some of the rich merchants there could not spare more than a month or six weeks from business, but, thanks be to Providence, the whole summer was at our disposal. If we grew tired of one town or, as more often the case, the town grew tired of us, we would saunter leisurely to the next one and again pitch our camp; so on, from place to place, during the summer months. We moved freely among the visitors, who apparently held us in great respect, for they did not address us familiarly, but contented themselves with staring at a distance. We lay across their runs on the sands and their paths in the woods; we monopolised their nooks in the rocks and took possession of caves, and not a murmur heard, except from the sea, which of a certainty could not be laid to our account. No doubt detectives were in these places, but they were on the look out for pickpockets, burglars and swindlers; and, seeing that neither the visitors nor the boarding house keepers made any complaint, these detectives did not think it worth while to arrest tramps; for there was no promotion to be had by doing so. 'Ah,' I said to Brum, as we sat in a shady place, eating a large custard pudding from a boarding house, using for the purpose two self-made spoons of wood-'Ah, we would not be so pleasantly occupied as tramps in England. We would there receive tickets for soup; soup that could be taken without spoons; no pleasant picking of the teeth after eating; no sign of a pea, onion or carrot; no sign of anything except flies.' Two-thirds of a large custard pudding between two of us, and if there was one fault to be found with it, it was its being made with too many eggs. Even Brum was surprised at his success on this occasion. 'Although,' as he said, 'she being a fat lady, I expected something unusual.' Brum had a great admiration for fat women; not so much, I believe, as his particular type of beauty, but for the good natured qualities he claimed corpulence denoted. 'How can you expect those skinny creatures to sympathise with another when they half starve their own bodies?' he asked. He often descanted on the excellencies of the fat, to the detriment of the thin, and I never yet heard another beggar disagree with him.
After seeing Brum wash the dish, and wipe it with his pocket-handkerchief, with a care that almost amounted to reverence, and trusting in my own mind that the good lady would have the thought and precaution to wash it again-I settled to a short nap, till Brum's return. For there was no knowing how long he might be away; he might take a notion to beg a shirt, a pair of trousers or shoes, or anything else that came to his mind.
Now, when Brum left, he had on a dark shirt, but I was so accustomed to seeing him change his appearance with a fresh coat, or a different shaped hat, that I was not at all surprised on waking to see him sitting before me in a clean white shirt with a starched front. I said nothing about this change, and he was too good a beggar to give unsolicited information, which would look too much like boasting of his own exploits. That he had met another of his favourite fat ladies, or perhaps the same one had added to her kindness-there was not the least doubt.
Brum's first words rather startled me, for he continued the conversation from the place I left off previous to my sleep. 'When I was in England,' he began, 'I did not experience such hardship as is commonly supposed to exist. Beggars there, as here, choose the wrong places, and not one in three knows which are the best.' 'Surely,' I said, 'a good clean street of houses with respectable fronts, of moderate size, and kept by the better class mechanics, are the best?' 'And so they would be,' he answered, 'if every beggar did not think so. But let me tell you, for your benefit if ever stranded in England, the best places for beggars to operate.' How I learned the truth of his wise teaching, in after days! Every fine looking street you chance upon, pass it; but every little court or blind alley you come across, take possession without delay, especially if its entrance is under an arch, which hides the approach to the houses, making them invisible from the street. Such little out of the way places are not only more profitable than good streets, but are comparatively safe where the police are unusually severe. Then again you should avoid every town that has not either a mill, a factory, or a brewery; old fashioned towns, quiet and without working people-except a few gardeners, coachmen, domestic servants etc.; such places where you see a sign at the free libraries warning tramps not to enter, and every plot of land has its sign-'Beware of the Dog.' In towns where working men are numerous, and the idle rich are few, such signs are not to be seen. 'Of course,' he continued, 'your object in England must be money, for you cannot expect to get meat, cake and custard pudding in a land where even the rich live poorer, with regards to diet, than the labouring classes of this country.' I remembered these wise thoughts of Brum, uttered on the shores of the Atlantic, and if I did not profit much by them in my own experience in England, I certainly made enough attempts to test their truth. I always kept a keen eye for blind alleys, and quiet courts under arches, and I invariably came out of one richer than I went in. And what nice quiet places they are for drinking cups of tea on a doorstep, with only a neighbour or two to see you, and perhaps thousands of people passing to and fro in the street at the other side of the arch. There is no thoroughfare for horses and carts; no short cut for business men, and the truth of the matter is that a number of the inhabitants themselves, born and bred in the town, know not of the existence of such places; and others, knowing them, would be ashamed to confess their acquaintance with them. But Brum knew where to find the kindest hearts in England, not in the fine streets and new villas, but in the poor little white-washed houses in courts and alleys.
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