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Homeless


One cold morning at Penzance I got into an omnibus at the station to
travel to the small town of St. Just, six or seven miles away. Just
before we started, a party of eight or ten queer-looking people came
hurriedly up and climbed to the top seats. They were men and women,
with two or three children, the women carelessly dressed, the men
chalky-faced and long-haired, in ulsters of light colours and large
patterns. When we had travelled two or three miles one of the outside
passengers climbed down and came in to escape from the cold, and edged
into a place opposite mine. He was a little boy of about seven or eight
years old, and he had a small, quaint face with a tired expression on
it, and wore a soiled scarlet Turkish fez on his head, and a big
pepper-and-salt overcoat heavily trimmed with old, ragged imitation
astrachan. He was keenly alive to the sensation his entrance created
among us when the loud buzz of conversation ceased very suddenly and
all eyes were fixed on him; but he bore it very bravely, sitting back
in his seat, rubbing his cold hands together, then burying them deep in
his pockets and fixing his eyes on the roof. Soon the talk recommenced,
and the little fellow, wishing to feel more free, took his hands out
and tried to unbutton his coat. The top button--a big horn button--
resisted the efforts he made with his stiff little fingers, so I undid
it for him and threw the coat open, disclosing a blue jersey striped
with red, green velvet knickerbockers, and black stockings, all soiled
like the old scarlet flower-pot shaped cap. In his get-up he reminded
me of a famous music-master and composer of my acquaintance, whose
sense of harmony is very perfect with regard to sounds, but exceedingly
crude as to colours. Imagine a big, long-haired man arrayed in a
bottle-green coat, scarlet waistcoat, pink necktie, blue trousers,
white hat, purple gloves and yellow boots! If it were not for the fact
that he wears his clothes a very long time and never has them brushed
or the grease spots taken out, the effect would be almost painful. But
he selects his colours, whereas the poor little boy probably had no
choice in the matter.

By-and-by the humorous gentlemen who sat on either side of him began to
play him little tricks, one snatching off his scarlet cap and the other
blowing on his neck. He laughed a little, just to show that he didn't
object to a bit of fun at his expense, but when the annoyance was
continued he put on a serious face, and folding up his cap thrust it
into his overcoat pocket. He was not going to be made a butt of!

"Where is your home?" I asked him.

"I haven't got a home," he returned.

"What, no home? Where was your home when you had one?"

"I never had a home," he said. "I've always been travelling; but
sometimes we stay a month in a place." Then, after an interval, he
added: "I belong to a dramatic company."

"And do you ever go on the stage to act?" I asked.

"Yes," he returned, with a weary little sigh.

Then our journey came to an end, and we saw the doors and windows of
the St. Just Working Men's Institute aflame with yellow placards
announcing a series of sensational plays to be performed there.

The queer-looking people came down and straggled off to the Institute,
paying no attention to the small boy. "Let me advise you," I said,
standing over him on the pavement, "to treat yourself to a stiff
tumbler of grog after your cold ride," and at the same time I put my
hand in my pocket.

He didn't smile, but at once held out his open hand. I put some pence
in it, and clutching them he murmured "Thank you," and went after the
others.

W. H. Hudson