Rich Man's Crumbs

In the year 1814, during the summer following my first taste of the poor man’s pudding, a sea-voyage was recommended to me by my physician. The Battle of Waterloo having closed the long drama of Napoleon’s wars, many strangers were visiting Europe. I arrived in London at the time the victorious princes were there assembled enjoying the Arabian Nights’ hospitalities of a grateful and gorgeous aristocracy, and the courtliest of gentlemen and kings—George the Prince Regent.

I had declined all letters but one to my banker. I wandered about for the best reception an adventurous traveller can have—the reception, I mean, which unsolicited chance and accident throw in his venturous way.

But I omit all else to recount one hour’s hap under the lead of a very friendly man, whose acquaintance I made in the open street of Cheapside. He wore a uniform, and was some sort of a civic subordinate; I forget exactly what. He was off duty that day. His discourse was chiefly of the noble charities of London. He took me to two or three, and made admiring mention of many more.

‘But,’ said he, as we turned into Cheapside again, ‘if you are at all curious about such things, let me take you—if it be not too late—to one of the most interesting of all—our Lord Mayor’s Charities, sir; nay, the charities not only of a lord mayor, but, I may truly say, in this one instance, of emperors, regents and kings. You remember the event of yesterday?’

‘That sad fire on the riverside, you mean, unhousing so many of the poor?’

‘No. The grand Guildhall banquet to the princes. Who can forget it? Sir, the dinner was served on nothing but solid silver and gold plate, worth at the least £200,000—that is, 1,000,000 of your dollars; while the mere expenditure on meats, wines, attendance and upholstery, etc., cannot be footed under £25,000—125,000 dollars of your hard cash.’

‘But, surely, my friend, you do not call that charity—feeding kings at that rate?’

‘No. The feast came first—yesterday; and the charity after—today. How else would you have it, where princes are concerned? But I think we shall be quite in time—come; here we are at King Street, and down there is Guildhall. Will you go?’

‘Gladly, my good friend. Take me where you will. I came but to roam and see.’

Avoiding the main entrance of the hall, which was barred, he took me through some private way, and we found ourselves in a rear blind-walled place in the open air. I looked round amazed. The spot was grimy as a backyard in the Five Points. It was packed with a mass of lean, famished, ferocious creatures, struggling and fighting for some mysterious precedency, and all holding soiled blue tickets in their hands.

‘There is no other way,’ said my guide; ‘we can only get in with the crowd. Will you try it? I hope you have not on your drawingroom suit? What do you say? It will be well worth your sight. So noble a charity does not often offer. The one following the annual banquet of Lord Mayor’s day—fine a charity as that certainly is—is not to be mentioned with what will be seen today. Is it, aye?’

As he spoke, a basement door in the distance was thrown open, and the squalid mass made a rush for the dark vault beyond.

I nodded to my guide, and sideways we joined in with the rest. Ere long we found our retreat cut off by the yelping crowd behind, and I could not but congratulate myself on having a civic, as well as civil guide; one, too, whose uniform made evident his authority.

It was just the same as if I were pressed by a mob of cannibals on some pagan beach. The beings round me roared with famine. For in this mighty London misery but maddens. In the country it softens. As I gazed on the meagre, murderous pack, I thought of the blue eye of the gentle wife of poor Coulter.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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