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8. Queer Dormitories.

I HAVE long left sack, and am now a young man of unimpeachable morals, but I have the misfortune to “number on my list of friends” a goodly, or rather shocking, array of gentlemen on whose characters, I am sorry to say, I cannot bestow a similar encomium. I keep up the acquaintance merely in the hope of benefiting them—visiting the sinners after their outbreaks, to deliver the sermon which, according to Lord Byron, is wine's proper sequel “the day after.”

Bound on such ethical mission, I called a morning or two ago upon my friend, Fred Fast; having observed Frederick the night before “steering wild,” as the sailors say, through the thoroughfares of Sydney, evidently laden—to keep up the figure—with a pretty heavy cargo of wines and spirits. Even if he had not been making boards in that remarkable manner, I could have inferred his freight from his face—a “manifest,” as it were, written in smudged red ink.

Just as I reached the landing, Fred's bed-room door was flung violently open, and forth rushed the slavey, hotly pursued by a Wellington boot, which I was unlucky enough to intercept. Bridget, it appears, had omitted to take up soda-, as well as shaving-water: hinc illa caliga.

My disgust at Mr. Frederick's dissipation, of course, was not lessened by the specimen of his politeness with which he had unintentionally favoured me. Growling out “boots were meant for their owner's feet, not other people's faces,” I entered the apartment; determined to make my lecture more than ordinarily trenchant. Remembering an old scrap of Latin that would serve my turn, I assumed an ultra-puritanic air, and thus in solemn tones addressed my friend:—Ægrotare te, amice, vulgo dictum est. Ea profecto re multum doleo—mentior, you shied your boot at me, you blackguard—atqui hanc te (quod item ferunt) ægritudinem largius bibendo contraxisse, id vero mihi multo magis dolet. Vehementer te oro, ut ebrietatis te tuæ pœniteat—here I was interrupted by a graceless “You be blowed!” coupled with a command to go to blazes with my Latin. I sat down on the bed instead. The floor of the room was strewed


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with raiment; here a shirt, there a stocking, and underneath the unthrown boot a vest. The cravat was in the grate, and a white hat—once white, alas! now sorely stained and spattered, and battered into dire collapse—was cocked rakishly upon the head of a plaster bust of Milton.

Behind the mosquito-curtains (in which there was a terrific rent—hiatus valde deflendus by Frederic's hostess—occasioned, no doubt, by Fred's having returned home with theatrical associations in his head, and having then attempted to retire to his couch à la Harlequin, or the man who jumps through the paper-hoops at the Circus) sat my friend, upright, in bed, examining the contents of his coat-pockets, with a view, probably, of constructing, by their suggestive aid, a history of his over-night adventures.

I subjoin a catalogue, a table of the said contents:—Sundry playbills, crumpled and blurred—half-a-dozen theatre “passes,” to all parts of the house—a bundle of cigars, suffering from spinal curvature—a corkscrew, a fragment of wired cork, and the neck of a bottle—a brickbat, a brass bell-handle, and a lump of dessiccated mud—a young lady's collar and ribbon—a gentleman's card with the name rubbed out—a mysterious document, in pencilled hieroglyphics, headed “No. 3”—discovered, after long inspection, to be a French supper-bill for six people—a party that Master Frederic had not the faintest recollection of having entertained—a salt-cellar—a stale roll—no handkerchief—one penny.

The tail of the coat, moreover, was almost severed from the body, and when, at his request, I handed Fred his breeches, they were discovered to be in the condition of the Irishman's sedan. Frederic was of opinion, on reflection, that the missing fragment might, probably, be found on the iron railings in Macquarie-street; having scaled them under the impression that the Assembly Chamber was the Royal, and having hung for some time suspended from their spikes aftèr the fashion of the Bears, Blue Boars, and Lambs, that dangle above the portals of old-fashioned inns in England. Finding that he had spent the night al fresco, I subjected him to a searching cross-examination; in his replies to which he made a confession of his experiences in the line that gives its title to this paper:

“Wine and want, my dear fellow—to remodel an old proverb”—[Fred doesn't talk quite in this literary way,—especially when seedy; he having furnished the matter of these revelations, I find the words] “make a man acquainted with strange sleeping places. I've been in want, and then I hope I didn't whine; but as I'm almost always whining when I'm not in want, you see I've had excellent opportunities of becoming acquainted with queer dormitories.




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“The bench of a bathing machine has been my couch; a raw-beef-fisted old bathing-woman my ‘rosy-fingered dawn’—routing me out in the morning, with much blasphemy on her part, and a little, and many blushes on mine, before a group of girls half laughing and half frightened at the usurping occupant of their dressing-room in fore.

“The bleating sheep and bellowing cattle woke me one market morning at Romford, from sweet slumber at the bottom of a cab; the jarvie solemnly assuring me that, when he picked me up in the Strand the night before, I had engaged him to drive me by easy stages down to Yarmouth.

“I once found myself lying, like a huge cod, on a fishmonger's stall.

“Another time I awoke in a little village church in Wales. Everything seemed so quiet and holy about me, that I really felt frightened and half ashamed. Half of the church was in deep shadow, but the moonlight streamed in through the chancel window, silvering the worn inscriptions on the flag-stones of the aisle, and making me think how long, long ago it was since human glances, as sad and loving had fallen there—of the old times when those dim letters were sharply cut, and their mournful records freshly carved on aching hearts, as well.” [Fred here was very sentimental. The effect would have been better, had he previously washed and shaved, and had he not been walking up and down his room with nothing on but a shirt somewhat remarkable for shortness.] “There were two marble effigies lying with me in the chancel, and as the moonbeams poured through the painted panes upon the lady's face, she seemed to blush; and when the shadows of the ivy leaves, just stirred by the night wind, played faintly over the brow of the cross-legged knight, the Crusader seemed to frown at my profane intrusion. I could just hear the murmur of the summer sea without—talking in its sleep, I fancied it. And then the clock struck TWO, making the silence tremble. I thought the jarring sound in the belfry, and the lingering echoes in the church, would never die away.

“Whilst on the spree in Paris, I got locked up in a church there, too, and discovered myself, in the morning, self-pilloried—head and arms thrust through one of those triangular stands for votive tapers. My hair was singed, and there were little kisses of white wax upon my nose. Even the grim old pictured saint before whom I was standing, seemed to be grinning, through his cake of grime and varnish, at the figure that I cut.

“Before bidding farewell to the shores of England, I paid a valedictory visit to its stage, as represented by the Plymouth Theatre. Smitten by the charms of a Kate-Warde-like houri, whom I had espied whilst sitting in the front,' I found my way—past growling Cerberi, and along dark


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labyrinthine passages full of dirt, shirt-sleeves, pewter pots, and gas pipes—‘behind.’ I paid my footing in champagne, and assisted, to the best of my limited ability, in disposing of the fee. Consequently, after a brief misty vision of cotton-velvet cloaks, plumes, spangles, and buff boots; muslin skirts, blue ribbons, rouge, and saucy laughing eyes; I fell asleep upon the green-room sofa—to find myself next morning in a polka-jacket and pink bonnet (not improved in shape through having had nightcap duty to perform), and with a most ferocious pair of (corked) moustaches—to find, moreover, that the good ship Burra Burra, by which I had taken my passage to the land of gold, had sailed three hours ago.

“I did, however, get here at last—perhaps, as you see me here, it may appear superfluous to assure you that I am not in England. N'importe. My normal luck in obtaining abnormal sleeping places attended me on my travels. On Christmas Eve, in 1852, I slept on Table Mountain, with the ‘table cloth’ for a counterpane. In Cape Town itself, a hayloft on one occasion was my bed-chamber; and, when I awoke, I found myself watched by a blackfellow unrolling himself from his curled slumbers like a sow-bug, his gash of a mouth grinning from ear to ear with its white sparkling teeth, as though ‘a sable cloud turned out its silver lining on the night;’ and by a stupid penguin (they eat penguin's eggs at Cape Town) fat, stolid and sturdy as a Dutchman—as it stood bolt upright, with its little wings close to its sides, and its most leaden eye, it looked uncommonly like a burgomaster, in the short cloak with which painters (but not, I think, his tailors, now-a-days) invest him.

“When I reached Melbourne, lodgings could not be procured for money, and, therefore, certainly not for love. Accordingly, my mates and I pitched our tent on Emerald Hill. It was agreed that one of us should keep watch during the first night, and I, like a spooney, thinking there was a touch of romance in the affair, volunteered my services. The Canvas-Town people on the other side of the valley blazed out their customary evening volley; the Emeralders echoed back their gunpowdery good night—here and there a deep-mouthed watch-dog kept up a monotonous baying like the measured puffs of a steamboat—and, pipe in mouth and revolver in pocket, ‘the sentry paced his lonely round.’ So lonely, indeed, did I find it, that I speedily adjourned to the neighbouring hotel; prostrate in the verandah of which, I believe, I was found in the morning, presenting a rum bottle at one of the posts with a solemn assurance that the weapon was loaded: in this, however, I was mistaken—I had long before drawn both cork and charge.

“I have had some very queer dormitories in and about Sydney. I have


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slept in a paddock on the Parramatta Road, in company with an old horse with something on his mind, and which, in consequence, moaned horribly in his dreams. I have spent the night on a bench of the Lover's Walk—not a bad place that, were it not for the deuced draught from Macquarie-street; and, when I slept there, the Racecourse—it was the time of the distemper—was covered with expiring dogs. I have found myself on the roof of a house in Elizabeth-street, against which bricklayers had left their ladder; startling the sleepy peeler when I peered over the parapet in the morning, and eliciting from him the witty observation, that he ‘'s’posed as how I must have got pretty considerable elewated last night. I have awoke on a Sunday morning at the bottom of Market-street, sans hat, sans boots, sans coat, sans cash, sans almost everything; in which condition it wasn't very agreeable to walk home to Woolloomooloo, exposed to the criticism of the early worshippers at St. Mary's. I have slept on the floor at supper-rooms, fondly imagining the table to be a four-poster, the table-cloth mosquito-curtains. I have—I blush to say—been an occasional visitor to the watch-house. I like that berth worst of all; the boards are so hard, and the blankets so scanty; and then it's so annoying to have your sleep broken every now and then by boisterous fresh arrivals. Besides, if your bail doesn't come in time, you're inserted, with other very comical articles, in Constable's Miscellany—marched down to the Central Police Court, handcuffed, very likely, to some old sailor who calls you ‘skipper,’ and exhorts you all the way—by no means sotto voce—‘to keep your pluck up.’ It an't pleasant by any means—that. I have—but law! when will that girl bring the soda-water?”

Fred, my boy, don't you think you spend a good deal of money not to get a bed?

Such was my sapient comment on my friend's insane confessions.

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