I think of young Caddies always as he was seen in the New Kent Road, the sunset warm upon his perplexed and staring face. The Road was thick with its varied traffic, omnibuses, trams, vans, carts, trolleys, cyclists, motors, and a marvelling crowd— loafers, women, nurse-maids, shopping women, children, venturesome hobble-dehoys— gathered behind his gingerly moving feet. The hoardings were untidy everywhere with the tattered election paper. A babblement of voices surged about him. One sees the customers and shopmen crowding in the doorways of the shops, the faces that came and went at the windows, the little street boys running and shouting, the policemen taking it all quite stiffly and calmly, the workmen knocking off upon scaffoldings, the seething miscellany of the little folks. They shouted to him, vague encouragement, vague insults, the imbecile catchwords of the day, and he stared down at them, at such a multitude of living creatures as he had never before imagined in the world.
Now that he had fairly entered London he had had to slacken his pace more and more, the little folks crowded so mightily upon him. The crowd grew denser at every step, and at last, at a corner where two great ways converged, he came to a stop, and the multitude flowed about him and closed him in.
There he stood, with his feet a little apart, his back to a big corner gin palace that towered twice his height and ended In a sky sign, staring down at the pigmies and wondering— trying, I doubt not, to collate it all with the other things of his life, with the valley among the downlands, the nocturnal lovers, the singing in the church, the chalk he hammered daily, and with instinct and death and the sky, trying to see it all together coherent and significant. His brows were knit. He put up his huge paw to scratch his coarse hair, and groaned aloud.
“I don’t see It,” he said.
His accent was unfamiliar. A great babblement went across the open space— a babblement amidst which the gongs of the trams, ploughing their obstinate way through the mass, rose like red poppies amidst corn. “What did he say?” “Said he didn’t see.” “Said, where is the sea?” “Said, where is a seat?” “He wants a seat.” “Can’t the brasted fool sit on a ’ouse or somethin’?”
“What are ye for, ye swarming little people? What are ye all doing, what are ye all for?
“What are ye doing up here, ye swarming little people, while I’m a-cuttin’ chalk for ye, down in the chalk pits there?”
His queer voice, the voice that had been so bad for school discipline at Cheasing Eyebright, smote the multitude to silence while it sounded and splashed them all to tumult at the end. Some wit was audible screaming “Speech, speech!” “What’s he saying?” was the burthen of the public mind, and an opinion was abroad that he was drunk. “Hi, hi, hi,” bawled the omnibus-drivers, threading a dangerous way. A drunken American sailor wandered about tearfully inquiring, “What’s he want anyhow?” A leathery-faced rag-dealer upon a little pony-drawn cart soared up over the tumult by virtue of his voice. “Garn ’ome, you Brasted Giant!” he brawled, “Garn ’Ome! You Brasted Great Dangerous Thing! Can’t you see you’re a-frightening the ’orses? Go ’ome with you! ’Asn’t any one ’ad the sense to tell you the law?” And over all this uproar young Caddies stared, perplexed, expectant, saying no more.
Down a side road came a little string of solemn policemen, and threaded itself ingeniously into the traffic. “Stand back,” said the little voices; “keep moving, please.”
Young Caddles became aware of a little dark blue figure thumping at his shin. He looked down, and perceived two white hands gesticulating. “What?” he said, bending forward.
“Can’t stand about here,” shouted the inspector.
“No! You can’t stand about here,” he repeated.
“But where am I to go?”
“Back to your village. Place of location. Anyhow, now— you’ve got to move on. You’re obstructing the traffic.”
“Along the road.”
“But where is it going? Where does it come from? What does it mean? They’re all round me. What do they want? What are they doin’? I want to understand. I’m tired of cuttin’ chalk and bein’ all alone. What are they doin’ for me while I’m a-cuttin’ chalk? I may just as well understand here and now as anywhere.”
“Sorry. But we aren’t here to explain things of that sort. I must arst you to move on.”
“Don’t you know?”
“I must arst you to move on—if you please … I’d strongly advise you to get off ’ome. We’ve ’ad no special instructions yet— but it’s against the law … Clear away there. Clear away.”
The pavement to his left became invitingly bare, and young Caddles went slowly on his way. But now his tongue was loosened.
“I don’t understand,” he muttered. “I don’t understand.” He would appeal brokenly to the changing crowd that ever trailed beside him and behind. “I didn’t know there were such places as this. What are all you people doing with yourselves? What’s it Jail for? What is it all for, and where do I come in?”
He had already begotten a new catchword. Young men of wit and spirit addressed each other in this manner, “Ullo ’Arry O’Cock. Wot’s it all for? Eh? Wot’s it all bloomin’ well for?”
To which there sprang up a competing variety of repartees, for the most part impolite. The most popular and best adapted for general use appears to have been “Shut it,” or, in a voice of scornful detachment— “Gam I”
There were others almost equally popular.