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Out of a black, dreamless sleep, with the sense of being drawn
upwards through enormous and gradually lightening abysses, Dorothy
awoke to a species of consciousness.
Her eyes were still closed. By degrees, however, their lids became
less opaque to the light, and then flickered open of their own
accord. She was looking out upon a street--a shabby, lively street
of small shops and narrow-faced houses, with streams of men, trams,
and cars passing in either direction.
But as yet it could not properly be said that she was LOOKING. For
the things she saw were not apprehended as men, trams, and cars,
nor as anything in particular; they were not even apprehended as
things moving; not even as THINGS. She merely SAW, as an animal
sees, without speculation and almost without consciousness. The
noises of the street--the confused din of voices, the hooting of
horns and the scream of the trams grinding on their gritty rails--
flowed through her head provoking purely physical responses. She
had no words, nor any conception of the purpose of such things as
words, nor any consciousness of time or place, or of her own body
or even of her own existence.
Nevertheless, by degrees her perceptions became sharper. The
stream of moving things began to penetrate beyond her eyes and sort
themselves out into separate images in her brain. She began, still
wordlessly, to observe the shapes of things. A long-shaped thing
swam past, supported on four other, narrower long-shaped things,
and drawing after it a square-shaped thing balanced on two circles.
Dorothy watched it pass; and suddenly, as though spontaneously, a
word flashed into her mind. The word was 'horse'. It faded, but
returned presently in the more complex form: 'THAT IS A HORSE.'
Other words followed--'house', 'street', 'tram', 'car', 'bicycle'--
until in a few minutes she had found a name for almost everything
within sight. She discovered the words 'man' and 'woman', and,
speculating upon these words, discovered that she knew the
difference between living and inanimate things, and between human
beings and horses, and between men and women.
It was only now, after becoming aware of most of the things about
her, that she became aware of HERSELF. Hitherto she had been as it
were a pair of eyes with a receptive but purely impersonal brain
behind them. But now, with a curious little shock, she discovered
her separate and unique existence; she could FEEL herself existing;
it was as though something within her were exclaiming 'I am I!'
Also, in some way she knew that this 'I' had existed and been the
same from remote periods in the past, though it was a past of which
she had no remembrance.
But it was only for a moment that this discovery occupied her.
From the first there was a sense of incompleteness in it, of
something vaguely unsatisfactory. And it was this: the 'I am I'
which had seemed an answer had itself become a question. It was no
longer 'I am I', but 'WHO am I'?
WHO WAS SHE? She turned the question over in her mind, and found
that she had not the dimmest notion of who she was; except that,
watching the people and horses passing, she grasped that she was a
human being and not a horse. And that the question altered itself
and took this form: 'Am I a man or a woman?' Again neither
feeling nor memory gave any clue to the answer. But at that
moment, by accident possibly, her finger-tips brushed against her
body. She realized more clearly than before that her body existed,
and that it was her own--that it was, in fact, herself. She began
to explore it with her hands, and her hands encountered breasts.
She was a woman, therefore. Only women had breasts. In some way
she knew, without knowing how she knew, that all those women who
passed had breasts beneath their clothes, though she could not see
She now grasped that in order to identify herself she must examine
her own body, beginning with her face; and for some moments she
actually attempted to look at her own face, before realizing that
this was impossible. She looked down, and saw a shabby black satin
dress, rather long, a pair of flesh-coloured artificial silk
stockings, laddered and dirty, and a pair of very shabby black
satin shoes with high heels. None of them was in the least
familiar to her. She examined her hands, and they were both
strange and unstrange. They were smallish hands, with hard palms,
and very dirty. After a moment she realized that it was their
dirtiness that made them strange to her. The hands themselves
seemed natural and appropriate, though she did not recognize them.
After hesitating a few moments longer, she turned to her left and
began to walk slowly along the pavement. A fragment of knowledge
had come to her, mysteriously, out of the blank past: the existence
of mirrors, their purpose, and the fact that there are often
mirrors in shop windows. After a moment she came to a cheap little
jeweller's shop in which a strip of mirror, set at an angle,
reflected the faces of people passing. Dorothy picked her
reflection out from among a dozen others, immediately realizing it
to be her own. Yet it could not be said that she had recognized
it; she had no memory of ever having seen it till this moment. It
showed her a woman's youngish face, thin, very blonde, with crow's-
feet round the eyes, and faintly smudged with dirt. A vulgar black
cloche hat was stuck carelessly on the head, concealing most of the
hair. The face was quite unfamiliar to her, and yet not strange.
She had not known till this moment what face to expect, but now
that she had seen it she realized that it was the face she might
have expected. It was appropriate. It corresponded to something
As she turned away from the jeweller's mirror, she caught sight of
the words 'Fry's Chocolate' on a shop window opposite, and
discovered that she understood the purpose of writing, and also,
after a momentary effort, that she was able to read. Her eyes
flitted across the street, taking in and deciphering odd scraps of
print; the names of shops, advertisements, newspaper posters. She
spelled out the letters of two red and white posters outside a
tobacconist's shop. One of them read, 'Fresh Rumours about
Rector's Daughter', and the other, 'Rector's Daughter. Now
believed in Paris'. Then she looked upwards, and saw in white
lettering on the corner of a house: 'New Kent Road'. The words
arrested her. She grasped that she was standing in the New Kent
Road, and--another fragment of her mysterious knowledge--the New
Kent Road was somewhere in London. So she was in London.
As she made this discovery a peculiar tremor ran through her. Her
mind was now fully awakened; she grasped, as she had not grasped
before, the strangeness of her situation, and it bewildered and
frightened her. What could it all MEAN? What was she doing here?
How had she got here? What had happened to her?
The answer was not long in coming. She thought--and it seemed to
her that she understood perfectly well what the words meant: 'Of
course! I've lost my memory!'
At this moment two youths and a girl who were trudging past, the
youths with clumsy sacking bundles on their backs, stopped and
looked curiously at Dorothy. They hesitated for a moment, then
walked on, but halted again by a lamp-post five yards away.
Dorothy saw them looking back at her and talking among themselves.
One of the youths was about twenty, narrow-chested, black-haired,
ruddy-cheeked, good-looking in a nosy cockney way, and dressed in
the wreck of a raffishly smart blue suit and a check cap. The
other was about twenty-six, squat, nimble, and powerful, with a
snub nose, a clear pink skin and huge lips as coarse as sausages,
exposing strong yellow teeth. He was frankly ragged, and he had a
mat of orange-coloured hair cropped short and growing low on his
head, which gave him a startling resemblance to an orang-outang.
The girl was a silly-looking, plump creature, dressed in clothes
very like Dorothy's own. Dorothy could hear some of what they were
'That tart looks ill,' said the girl.
The orange-headed one, who was singing 'Sonny Boy' in a good
baritone voice, stopped singing to answer. 'She ain't ill,' he
said. 'She's on the beach all right, though. Same as us.'
'She'd do jest nicely for Nobby, wouldn't she?' said the dark-
'Oh, YOU!' exclaimed the girl with a shocked-amorous air, pretending
to smack the dark one over the head.
The youths had lowered their bundles and leaned them against the
lamp-post. All three of them now came rather hesitantly towards
Dorothy, the orange-headed one, whose name seemed to be Nobby,
leading the way as their ambassador. He moved with a gambolling,
apelike gait, and his grin was so frank and wide that it was
impossible not to smile back at him. He addressed Dorothy in a
'You on the beach, kid?'
'On the beach?'
'Well, on the bum?'
'On the bum?'
'Christ! she's batty,' murmured the girl, twitching at the black-
haired one's arm as though to pull him away.
'Well, what I mean to say, kid--have you got any money?'
'I don't know.'
At this all three looked at one another in stupefaction. For a
moment they probably thought that Dorothy really WAS batty. But
simultaneously Dorothy, who had earlier discovered a small pocket
in the side of her dress, put her hand into it and felt the outline
of a large coin.
'I believe I've got a penny,' she said.
'A penny!' said the dark youth disgustedly, '--lot of good that is
Dorothy drew it out. It was a half-crown. An astonishing change
came over the faces of the three others. Nobby's mouth split open
with delight, he gambolled several steps to and fro like some great
jubilant ape, and then, halting, took Dorothy confidentially by the
'That's the mulligatawny!' he said. 'We've struck it lucky--and
so've you, kid, believe me. You're going to bless the day you set
eyes on us lot. We're going to make your fortune for you, we are.
Now, see here, kid--are you on to go into cahoots with us three?'
'What?' said Dorothy.
'What I mean to say--how about you chumming in with Flo and Charlie
and me? Partners, see? Comrades all, shoulder to shoulder.
United we stand, divided we fall. We put up the brains, you put up
the money. How about it, kid? Are you on, or are you off?'
'Shut up, Nobby!' interrupted the girl. 'She don't understand a
word of what you're saying. Talk to her proper, can't you?'
'That'll do, Flo,' said Nobby equably. 'You keep it shut and leave
the talking to me. I got a way with the tarts, I have. Now, you
listen to me, kid--what might your name happen to be, kid?'
Dorothy was within an ace of saying 'I don't know,' but she was
sufficiently on the alert to stop herself in time. Choosing a
feminine name from the half-dozen that sprang immediately into her
mind, she answered, 'Ellen.'
'Ellen. That's the mulligatawny. No surnames when you're on the
bum. Well now, Ellen dear, you listen to me. Us three are going
down hopping, see--'
''Opping!' put in the dark youth impatiently, as though disgusted
by Dorothy's ignorance. His voice and manner were rather sullen,
and his accent much baser than Nobby's. 'Pickin' 'ops--dahn in
Kent! C'n understand that, can't yer?'
'Oh, HOPS! For beer?'
'That's the mulligatawny! Coming on fine, she is. Well, kid, 'z I
was saying, here's us three going down hopping, and got a job
promised us and all--Blessington's farm, Lower Molesworth. Only
we're just a bit in the mulligatawny, see? Because we ain't got a
brown between us, and we got to do it on the toby--thirty-five
miles it is--and got to tap for our tommy and skipper at night as
well. And that's a bit of a mulligatawny, with ladies in the
party. But now s'pose f'rinstance you was to come along with us,
see? We c'd take the twopenny tram far as Bromley, and that's
fifteen miles done, and we won't need skipper more'n one night on
the way. And you can chum in at our bin--four to a bin's the best
picking--and if Blessington's paying twopence a bushel you'll turn
your ten bob a week easy. What do you say to it, kid? Your two
and a tanner won't do you much good here in Smoke. But you go into
partnership with us, and you'll get your kip for a month and
something over--and WE'LL get a lift to Bromley and a bit of scran
About a quarter of his speech was intelligible to Dorothy. She
asked rather at random:
'What is SCRAN?'
'Scran? Tommy--food. I can see YOU ain't been long on the beach,
'Oh. . . . Well, you want me to come down hop-picking with you, is
'That's it, Ellen my dear. Are you on, or are you off?'
'All right,' said Dorothy promptly. 'I'll come.'
She made this decision without any misgiving whatever. It is true
that if she had had time to think over her position, she would
probably have acted differently; in all probability she would have
gone to a police station and asked for assistance. That would have
been the sensible course to take. But Nobby and the others had
appeared just at the critical moment, and, helpless as she was, it
seemed quite natural to throw in her lot with the first human being
who presented himself. Moreover, for some reason which she did not
understand, it reassured her to hear that they were making for
Kent. Kent, it seemed to her, was the very place to which she
wanted to go. The others showed no further curiosity, and asked no
uncomfortable questions. Nobby simply said, 'O.K. That's the
mulligatawny!' and then gently took Dorothy's half-crown out of her
hand and slid it into his pocket--in case she should lose it, he
explained. The dark youth--apparently his name was Charlie--said
in his surly, disagreeable way:
'Come on, less get movin'! It's 'ar-parse two already. We don't
want to miss that there ---- tram. Where d'they start from,
'The Elephant,' said Nobby: 'and we got to catch it before four
o'clock, because they don't give no free rides after four.'
'Come on, then, don't less waste no more time. Nice job we'll 'ave
of it if we got to 'ike it down to Bromley AND look for a place to
skipper in the ---- dark. C'm on, Flo.'
'Quick march!' said Nobby, swinging his bundle on to his shoulder.
They set out, without more words said, Dorothy, still bewildered
but feeling much better than she had felt half an hour ago, walked
beside Flo and Charlie, who talked to one another and took no
further notice of her. From the very first they seemed to hold
themselves a little aloof from Dorothy--willing enough to share her
half-crown, but with no friendly feelings towards her. Nobby
marched in front, stepping out briskly in spite of his burden, and
singing, with spirited imitations of military music, the well-known
military song of which the only recorded words seem to be:
'"----!" was all the band could play;
"----! ----!" And the same to you!'
This was the twenty-ninth of August. It was on the night of the
twenty-first that Dorothy had fallen asleep in the conservatory; so
that there had been an interregnum in her life of not quite eight
The thing that had happened to her was commonplace enough--almost
every week one reads in the newspapers of a similar case. A man
disappears from home, is lost sight of for days or weeks, and
presently fetches up at a police station or in a hospital, with no
notion of who he is or where he has come from. As a rule it is
impossible to tell how he has spent the intervening time; he has
been wandering, presumably, in some hypnotic or somnambulistic
state in which he has nevertheless been able to pass for normal.
In Dorothy's case only one thing is certain, and that is that she
had been robbed at some time during her travels; for the clothes
she was wearing were not her own, and her gold cross was missing.
At the moment when Nobby accosted her, she was already on the road
to recovery; and if she had been properly cared for, her memory
might have come back to her within a few days or even hours. A
very small thing would have been enough to accomplish it; a chance
meeting with a friend, a photograph of her home, a few questions
skilfully put. But as it was, the slight mental stimulus that she
needed was never given. She was left in the peculiar state in
which she had first found herself--a state in which her mind was
potentially normal, but not quite strung up to the effort of
puzzling out her own identity.
For of course, once she had thrown in her lot with Nobby and the
others, all chance of reflection was gone. There was no time to
sit down and think the matter over--no time to come to grips with
her difficulty and reason her way to its solution. In the strange,
dirty sub-world into which she was instantly plunged, even five
minutes of consecutive thought would have been impossible. The
days passed in ceaseless nightmarish activity. Indeed, it was very
like a nightmare; a nightmare not of urgent terrors, but of hunger,
squalor, and fatigue, and of alternating heat and cold. Afterwards,
when she looked back upon that time, days and nights merged
themselves together so that she could never remember with perfect
certainty how many of them there had been. She only knew that for
some indefinite period she had been perpetually footsore and almost
perpetually hungry. Hunger and the soreness of her feet were her
clearest memories of that time; and also the cold of the nights, and
a peculiar, blowsy, witless feeling that came of sleeplessness and
constant exposure to the air.
After getting to Bromley they had 'drummed up' on a horrible,
paper-littered rubbish dump, reeking with the refuse of several
slaughter-houses, and then passed a shuddering night, with only
sacks for cover, in long wet grass on the edge of a recreation
ground. In the morning they had started out, on foot, for the
hopfields. Even at this early date Dorothy had discovered that the
tale Nobby had told her, about the promise of a job, was totally
untrue. He had invented it--he confessed this quite light-
heartedly--to induce her to come with them. Their only chance of
getting a job was to march down into the hop country and apply at
every farm till they found one where pickers were still needed.
They had perhaps thirty-five miles to go, as the crow flies, and
yet at the end of three days they had barely reached the fringe of
the hopfields. The need of getting food, of course, was what
slowed their progress. They could have marched the whole distance
in two days or even in a day if they had not been obliged to feed
themselves. As it was, they had hardly even time to think of
whether they were going in the direction of the hopfields or not;
it was food that dictated all their movements. Dorothy's half-
crown had melted within a few hours, and after that there was
nothing for it except to beg. But there came the difficulty. One
person can beg his food easily enough on the road, and even two can
manage it, but it is a very different matter when there are four
people together. In such circumstances one can only keep alive if
one hunts for food as persistently and single-mindedly as a wild
beast. Food--that was their sole preoccupation during those three
days--just food, and the endless difficulty of getting it.
From morning to night they were begging. They wandered enormous
distances, zigzagging right across the country, trailing from
village to village and from house to house, 'tapping' at every
butcher's and every baker's and every likely looking cottage, and
hanging hopefully round picnic parties, and waving--always vainly--
at passing cars, and accosting old gentlemen with the right kind of
face and pitching hard-up stories. Often they went five miles out
of their way to get a crust of bread or a handful of scraps of
bacon. All of them begged, Dorothy with the others; she had no
remembered past, no standards of comparison to make her ashamed of
it. And yet with all their efforts they would have gone empty-
bellied half the time if they had not stolen as well as begged.
At dusk and in the early mornings they pillaged the orchards and
the fields, stealing apples, damsons, pears, cobnuts, autumn
raspberries, and, above all, potatoes; Nobby counted it a sin to
pass a potato field without getting at least a pocketful. It was
Nobby who did most of the stealing, while the others kept guard.
He was a bold thief; it was his peculiar boast that he would steal
anything that was not tied down, and he would have landed them all
in prison if they had not restrained him sometimes. Once he even
laid hands on a goose, but the goose set up a fearful clamour, and
Charlie and Dorothy dragged Nobby off just as the owner came out of
doors to see what was the matter.
Each of those first days they walked between twenty and twenty-five
miles. They trailed across commons and through buried villages
with incredible names, and lost themselves in lanes that led
nowhere, and sprawled exhausted in dry ditches smelling of fennel
and tansies, and sneaked into private woods and 'drummed up' in
thickets where firewood and water were handy, and cooked strange,
squalid meals in the two two-pound snuff-tins that were their only
cooking pots. Sometimes, when their luck was in, they had
excellent stews of cadged bacon and stolen cauliflowers, sometimes
great insipid gorges of potatoes roasted in the ashes, sometimes
jam made of stolen autumn raspberries which they boiled in one of
the snuff-tins and devoured while it was still scalding hot. Tea
was the one thing they never ran short of. Even when there was no
food at all there was always tea, stewed, dark brown and reviving.
It is a thing that can be begged more easily than most. 'Please,
ma'am, could you spare me a pinch of tea?' is a plea that seldom
fails, even with the case-hardened Kentish housewives.
The days were burning hot, the white roads glared and the passing
cars sent stinging dust into their faces. Often families of hop-
pickers drove past, cheering, in lorries piled sky-high with
furniture, children, dogs, and birdcages. The nights were always
cold. There is hardly such a thing as a night in England when it
is really warm after midnight. Two large sacks were all the
bedding they had between them. Flo and Charlie had one sack,
Dorothy had the other, and Nobby slept on the bare ground. The
discomfort was almost as bad as the cold. If you lay on your back,
your head, with no pillow, lolled backwards so that your neck
seemed to be breaking; if you lay on your side, your hip-bone
pressing against the earth caused you torments. Even when, towards
the small hours, you managed to fall asleep by fits and starts, the
cold penetrated into your deepest dreams. Nobby was the only one
who could really stand it. He could sleep as peacefully in a nest
of sodden grass as in a bed, and his coarse, simian face, with
barely a dozen red-gold hairs glittering on the chin like snippings
of copper wire, never lost its warm, pink colour. He was one of
those red-haired people who seem to glow with an inner radiance
that warms not only themselves but the surrounding air.
All this strange, comfortless life Dorothy took utterly for
granted--only dimly aware, if at all, that the other, unremembered
life that lay behind her had been in some way different from this.
After only a couple of days she had ceased to wonder any longer
about her queer predicament. She accepted everything--accepted the
dirt and hunger and fatigue, the endless trailing to and fro, the
hot, dusty days and the sleepless, shivering nights. She was, in
any case, far too tired to think. By the afternoon of the second
day they were all desperately, overwhelmingly tired, except Nobby,
whom nothing could tire. Even the fact that soon after they set
out a nail began to work its way through the sole of his boot
hardly seemed to trouble him. There were periods of an hour at a
time when Dorothy seemed almost to be sleeping as she walked. She
had a burden to carry now, for as the two men were already loaded
and Flo steadfastly refused to carry anything, Dorothy had
volunteered to carry the sack that held the stolen potatoes. They
generally had ten pounds or so of potatoes in reserve. Dorothy
slung the sack over her shoulder as Nobby and Charlie did with
their bundles, but the string cut into her like a saw and the sack
bumped against her hip and chafed it so that finally it began to
bleed. Her wretched, flimsy shoes had begun to go to pieces from
the very beginning. On the second day the heel of her right shoe
came off and left her hobbling; but Nobby, expert in such matters,
advised her to tear the heel off the other shoe and walk
flatfooted. The result was a fiery pain down her shins when she
walked uphill, and a feeling as though the soles of her feet had
been hammered with an iron bar.
But Flo and Charlie were in a much worse case than she. They were
not so much exhausted as amazed and scandalized by the distances
they were expected to walk. Walking twenty miles in a day was a
thing they had never heard of till now. They were cockneys born
and bred, and though they had had several months of destitution in
London, neither of them had ever been on the road before. Charlie,
till fairly recently, had been in good employment, and Flo, too,
had had a good home until she had been seduced and turned out of
doors to live on the streets. They had fallen in with Nobby in
Trafalgar Square and agreed to come hop-picking with him, imagining
that it would be a bit of a lark. Of course, having been 'on the
beach' a comparatively short time, they looked down on Nobby and
Dorothy. They valued Nobby's knowledge of the road and his
boldness in thieving, but he was their social inferior--that was
their attitude. And as for Dorothy, they scarcely even deigned to
look at her after her half-crown came to an end.
Even on the second day their courage was failing. They lagged
behind, grumbled incessantly, and demanded more than their fair
share of food. By the third day it was almost impossible to keep
them on the road at all. They were pining to be back in London,
and had long ceased to care whether they ever got to the hopfields
or not; all they wanted to do was to sprawl in any comfortable
halting place they could find, and, when there was any food left,
devour endless snacks. After every halt there was a tedious
argument before they could be got to their feet again.
'Come on, blokes!' Nobby would say. 'Pack your peter up, Charlie.
Time we was getting off.'
'Oh, ---- getting off!' Charlie would answer morosely.
'Well, we can't skipper here, can we? We said we was going to hike
as far as Sevenoaks tonight, didn't we?'
'Oh, ---- Sevenoaks! Sevenoaks or any other bleeding place--it
don't make any bleeding difference to me.'
'But ---- it! We want to get a job tomorrow, don't we? And we got
to get down among the farms 'fore we can start looking for one.'
'Oh, ---- the farms! I wish I'd never 'eard of a ---- 'op! I
wasn't brought up to this ---- 'iking and skippering like you was.
I'm fed up; that's what I am ---- fed up.'
'If this is bloody 'opping,' Flo would chime in, 'I've 'ad my
bloody bellyful of it already.'
Nobby gave Dorothy his private opinion that Flo and Charlie would
probably 'jack off' if they got the chance of a lift back to
London. But as for Nobby, nothing disheartened him or ruffled his
good temper, not even when the nail in his boot was at its worst
and his filthy remnant of a sock was dark with blood. By the third
day the nail had worn a permanent hole in his foot, and Nobby had
to halt once in a mile to hammer it down.
''Scuse me, kid,' he would say; 'got to attend to my bloody hoof
again. This nail's a mulligatawny.'
He would search for a round stone, squat in the ditch and carefully
hammer the nail down.
'There!' he would say optimistically, feeling the place with his
thumb. 'THAT b--'s in his grave!'
The epitaph should have been Resurgam, however. The nail
invariably worked its way up again within a quarter of an hour.
Nobby had tried to make love to Dorothy, of course, and, when she
repulsed him, bore her no grudge. He had that happy temperament
that is incapable of taking its own reverses very seriously. He
was always debonair, always singing in a lusty baritone voice--his
three favourite songs were: 'Sonny Boy', ''Twas Christmas Day in
the Workhouse' (to the tune of 'The Church's One Foundation'), and
'"----!" was all the band could play', given with lively renderings
of military music. He was twenty-six years old and was a widower,
and had been successively a seller of newspapers, a petty thief,
a Borstal boy, a soldier, a burglar, and a tramp. These facts,
however, you had to piece together for yourself, for he was not
equal to giving a consecutive account of his life. His conversation
was studded with casual picturesque memories--the six months he had
served in a line regiment before he was invalided out with a damaged
eye, the loathsomeness of the skilly in Holloway, his childhood in
the Deptford gutters, the death of his wife, aged eighteen, in
childbirth, when he was twenty, the horrible suppleness of the
Borstal canes, the dull boom of the nitro- glycerine, blowing in the
safe door at Woodward's boot and shoe factory, where Nobby had
cleared a hundred and twenty-five pounds and spent it in three
On the afternoon of the third day they reached the fringe of the
hop country, and began to meet discouraged people, mostly tramps,
trailing back to London with the news that there was nothing doing--
hops were bad and the price was low, and the gypsies and 'home
pickers' had collared all the jobs. At this Flo and Charlie gave
up hope altogether, but by an adroit mixture of bullying and
persuasion Nobby managed to drive them a few miles farther. In a
little village called Wale they fell in with an old Irishwoman--
Mrs McElligot was her name--who had just been given a job at a
neighbouring hopfield, and they swapped some of their stolen apples
for a piece of meat she had 'bummed' earlier in the day. She gave
them some useful hints about hop-picking and about what farms to
try. They were all sprawling on the village green, tired out,
opposite a little general shop with some newspaper posters outside.
'You'd best go down'n have a try at Chalmers's,' Mrs McElligot
advised them in her base Dublin accent. 'Dat's a bit above five
mile from here. I've heard tell as Chalmers wants a dozen pickers
still. I daresay he'd give y'a job if you gets dere early enough.'
'Five miles! Cripes! Ain't there none nearer'n that?' grumbled
'Well, dere's Norman's. I got a job at Norman's meself--I'm
startin' tomorrow mornin'. But 'twouldn't be no use for you to try
at Norman's. He ain't takin' on none but home pickers, an' dey say
as he's goin' to let half his hops blow.'
'What's home pickers?' said Nobby.
'Why, dem as has got homes o' deir own. Eider you got to live in
de neighbourhood, or else de farmer's got to give y'a hut to sleep
in. Dat's de law nowadays. In de ole days when you come down
hoppin', you kipped in a stable an' dere was no questions asked.
But dem bloody interferin' gets of a Labour Government brought in a
law to say as no pickers was to be taken on widout de farmer had
proper accommodation for 'em. So Norman only takes on folks as has
got homes o' deir own.'
'Well, you ain't got a home of your own, have you?'
'No bloody fear! But Norman t'inks I have. I kidded'm I was
stayin' in a cottage near by. Between you an' me, I'm skipperin'
in a cow byre. 'Tain't so bad except for de stink o' de muck, but
you got to be out be five in de mornin', else de cowmen 'ud catch
'We ain't got no experience of hopping,' Nobby said. 'I wouldn't
know a bloody hop if I saw one. Best to let on you're an old hand
when you go up for a job, eh?'
'Hell! Hops don't need no experience. Tear 'em off an' fling 'em
into de bin. Dat's all der is to it, wid hops.'
Dorothy was nearly asleep. She heard the others talking desultorily,
first about hop-picking, then about some story in the newspapers of
a girl who had disappeared from home. Flo and Charlie had been
reading the posters on the shop-front opposite; and this had revived
them somewhat, because the posters reminded them of London and its
joys. The missing girl, in whose fate they seemed to be rather
interested, was spoken of as 'The Rector's Daughter'.
'J'a see that one, Flo?' said Charlie, reading a poster aloud with
intense relish: '"Secret Love Life of Rector's Daughter.
Startling Revelations." Coo! Wish I 'ad a penny to 'ave a read of
'Oh? What's 't all about, then?'
'What? Didn't j'a read about it? Papers 'as bin full of it.
Rector's Daughter this and Rector's Daughter that--wasn't 'alf
smutty, some of it, too.'
'She's bit of hot stuff, the ole Rector's Daughter,' said Nobby
reflectively, lying on his back. 'Wish she was here now! I'd know
what to do with her, all right, I would.'
''Twas a kid run away from home,' put in Mrs McElligot. 'She was
carryin' on wid a man twenty year older'n herself, an' now she's
disappeared an' dey're searchin' for her high an' low.'
'Jacked off in the middle of the night in a motor-car with no
clo'es on 'cep' 'er nightdress,' said Charlie appreciatively. 'The
'ole village sore 'em go.'
'Dere's some t'ink as he's took her abroad an' sold her to one o'
dem flash cat-houses in Parrus,' added Mrs McElligot.
'No clo'es on 'cep' 'er nightdress? Dirty tart she must 'a been!'
The conversation might have proceeded to further details, but at
this moment Dorothy interrupted it. What they were saying had
roused a faint curiosity in her. She realized that she did not
know the meaning of the word 'Rector'. She sat up and asked Nobby:
'What is a Rector?'
'Rector? Why, a sky-pilot--parson bloke. Bloke that preaches and
gives out the hymns and that in church. We passed one of 'em
yesterday--riding a green bicycle and had his collar on back to
front. A priest--clergyman. YOU know.'
'Oh. . . . Yes, I think so.'
'Priests! Bloody ole getsies dey are too, some o' dem,' said Mrs
Dorothy was left not much the wiser. What Nobby had said did
enlighten her a little, but only a very little. The whole train of
thought connected with 'church' and 'clergyman' was strangely vague
and blurred in her mind. It was one of the gaps--there was a
number of such gaps--in the mysterious knowledge that she had
brought with her out of the past.
That was their third night on the road. When it was dark they
slipped into a spinney as usual to 'skipper', and a little after
midnight it began to pelt with rain. They spent a miserable hour
stumbling to and fro in the darkness, trying to find a place to
shelter, and finally found a hay-stack, where they huddled
themselves on the lee side till it was light enough to see. Flo
blubbered throughout the night in the most intolerable manner, and
by the morning she was in a state of semi-collapse. Her silly fat
face, washed clean by rain and tears, looked like a bladder of
lard, if one can imagine a bladder of lard contorted with self-
pity. Nobby rooted about under the hedge until he had collected an
armful of partially dry sticks, and then managed to get a fire
going and boil some tea as usual. There was no weather so bad that
Nobby could not produce a can of tea. He carried, among other
things, some pieces of old motor tyre that would make a flare when
the wood was wet, and he even possessed the art, known only to a
few cognoscenti among tramps, of getting water to boil over a
Everyone's limbs had stiffened after the horrible night, and Flo
declared herself unable to walk a step farther. Charlie backed her
up. So, as the other two refused to move, Dorothy and Nobby went
on to Chalmers's farm, arranging a rendezvous where they should
meet when they had tried their luck. They got to Chalmers's, five
miles away, found their way through vast orchards to the hop-
fields, and were told that the overseer 'would be along presently'.
So they waited four hours on the edge of the plantation, with the
sun drying their clothes on their backs, watching the hop-pickers
at work. It was a scene somehow peaceful and alluring. The hop
bines, tall climbing plants like runner beans enormously magnified,
grew in green leafy lanes, with the hops dangling from them in pale
green bunches like gigantic grapes. When the wind stirred them
they shook forth a fresh, bitter scent of sulphur and cool beer.
In each lane of bines a family of sunburnt people were shredding
the hops into sacking bins, and singing as they worked; and
presently a hooter sounded and they knocked off to boil cans of tea
over crackling fires of hop bines. Dorothy envied them greatly.
How happy they looked, sitting round the fires with their cans of
tea and their hunks of bread and bacon, in the smell of hops and
wood smoke! She pined for such a job--however, for the present
there was nothing doing. At about one o'clock the overseer arrived
and told them that he had no jobs for them, so they trailed back to
the road, only avenging themselves on Chalmers's farm by stealing a
dozen apples as they went.
When they reached their rendezvous, Flo and Charlie had vanished.
Of course they searched for them, but, equally of course, they knew
very well what had happened. Indeed, it was perfectly obvious.
Flo had made eyes at some passing lorry driver, who had given the
two of them a lift back to London for the chance of a good cuddle
on the way. Worse yet, they had stolen both bundles. Dorothy and
Nobby had not a scrap of food left, not a crust of bread nor a
potato nor a pinch of tea, no bedding, and not even a snuff-tin in
which to cook anything they could cadge or steal--nothing, in fact,
except the clothes they stood up in.
The next thirty-six hours were a bad time--a very bad time. How
they pined for a job, in their hunger and exhaustion! But the
chances of getting one seemed to grow smaller and smaller as they
got farther into the hop country. They made interminable marches
from farm to farm, getting the same answer everywhere--no pickers
needed--and they were so busy marching to and fro that they had not
even time to beg, so that they had nothing to eat except stolen
apples and damsons that tormented their stomachs with their acid
juice and yet left them ravenously hungry. It did not rain that
night, but it was much colder than before. Dorothy did not even
attempt to sleep, but spent the night in crouching over the fire
and keeping it alight. They were hiding in a beech wood, under a
squat, ancient tree that kept the wind away but also wetted them
periodically with sprinklings of chilly dew. Nobby, stretched on
his back, mouth open, one broad cheek faintly illumined by the
feeble rays of the fire, slept as peacefully as a child. All night
long a vague wonder, born of sleeplessness and intolerable
discomfort, kept stirring in Dorothy's mind. Was this the life to
which she had been bred--this life of wandering empty-bellied all
day and shivering at night under dripping trees? Had it been like
this even in the blank past? Where had she come from? Who was
she? No answer came, and they were on the road at dawn. By the
evening they had tried at eleven farms in all, and Dorothy's legs
were giving out, and she was so dizzy with fatigue that she found
difficulty in walking straight.
But late in the evening, quite unexpectedly, their luck turned.
They tried at a farm named Cairns's, in the village of Clintock,
and were taken on immediately, with no questions asked. The
overseer merely looked them up and down, said briefly, 'Right you
are--you'll do. Start in the morning; bin number 7, set 19,' and
did not even bother to ask their names. Hop-picking, it seemed,
needed neither character nor experience.
They found their way to the meadow where the pickers' camp was
situated. In a dreamlike state, between exhaustion and the joy of
having got a job at last, Dorothy found herself walking through a
maze of tin-roofed huts and gypsies' caravans with many-coloured
washing hanging from the windows. Hordes of children swarmed in
the narrow grass alleys between the huts, and ragged, agreeable-
looking people were cooking meals over innumerable faggot fires.
At the bottom of the field there were some round tin huts, much
inferior to the others, set apart for unmarried people. An old man
who was toasting cheese at a fire directed Dorothy to one of the
Dorothy pushed open the door of the hut. It was about twelve feet
across, with unglazed windows which had been boarded up, and it had
no furniture whatever. There seemed to be nothing in it but an
enormous pile of straw reaching to the roof--in fact, the hut was
almost entirely filled with straw. To Dorothy's eyes, already
sticky with sleep, the straw looked paradisically comfortable. She
began to push her way into it, and was checked by a sharp yelp from
"Ere! What yer doin' of? Get off of it! 'Oo asked YOU to walk
about on my belly, stoopid?'
Seemingly there were women down among the straw. Dorothy burrowed
forward more circumspectly, tripped over something, sank into the
straw and in the same instant began to fall asleep. A rough-
looking woman, partially undressed, popped up like a mermaid from
the strawy sea.
''Ullo, mate!' she said. 'Jest about all in, ain't you, mate?'
'Yes, I'm tired--very tired.'
'Well, you'll bloody freeze in this straw with no bed-clo'es on
you. Ain't you got a blanket?'
''Alf a mo, then. I got a poke 'ere.'
She dived down into the straw and re-emerged with a hop-poke seven
feet long. Dorothy was asleep already. She allowed herself to be
woken up, and inserted herself somehow into the sack, which was so
long that she could get into it head and all; and then she was half
wriggling, half sinking down, deep down, into a nest of straw
warmer and drier than she had conceived possible. The straw
tickled her nostrils and got into her hair and pricked her even
through the sack, but at that moment no imaginable sleeping place--
not Cleopatra's couch of swan's-down nor the floating bed of Haroun
al Raschid--could have caressed her more voluptuously.
It was remarkable how easily, once you had got a job, you settled
down to the routine of hop-picking. After only a week of it you
ranked as an expert picker, and felt as though you had been picking
hops all your life.
It was exceedingly easy work. Physically, no doubt, it was
exhausting--it kept you on your feet ten or twelve hours a day, and
you were dropping with sleep by six in the evening--but it needed
no kind of skill. Quite a third of the pickers in the camp were as
new to the job as Dorothy herself. Some of them had come down from
London with not the dimmest idea of what hops were like, or how you
picked them, or why. One man, it was said, on his first morning on
the way to the fields, had asked, 'Where are the spades?' He
imagined that hops were dug up out of the ground.
Except for Sundays, one day at the hop camp was very like another.
At half past five, at a tap on the wall of your hut, you crawled
out of your sleeping nest and began searching for your shoes, amid
sleepy curses from the women (there were six or seven or possibly
even eight of them) who were buried here and there in the straw.
In that vast pile of straw any clothes that you were so unwise as
to take off always lost themselves immediately. You grabbed an
armful of straw and another of dried hop bines, and a faggot from
the pile outside, and got the fire going for breakfast. Dorothy
always cooked Nobby's breakfast as well as her own, and tapped on
the wall of his hut when it was ready, she being better at waking
up in the morning than he. It was very cold on those September
mornings, the eastern sky was fading slowly from black to cobalt,
and the grass was silvery white with dew. Your breakfast was
always the same--bacon, tea, and bread fried in the grease of the
bacon. While you ate it you cooked another exactly similar meal,
to serve for dinner, and then, carrying your dinner-pail, you set
out for the fields, a mile-and-a-half walk through the blue, windy
dawn, with your nose running so in the cold that you had to stop
occasionally and wipe it on your sacking apron.
The hops were divided up into plantations of about an acre, and
each set--forty pickers or thereabouts, under a foreman who was
often a gypsy--picked one plantation at a time. The bines grew
twelve feet high or more, and they were trained up strings and
slung over horizontal wires, in rows a yard or two apart; in each
row there was a sacking bin like a very deep hammock slung on a
heavy wooden frame. As soon as you arrived you swung your bin into
position, slit the strings from the next two bines, and tore them
down--huge, tapering strands of foliage, like the plaits of
Rapunzel's hair, that came tumbling down on top of you, showering
you with dew. You dragged them into place over the bin, and then,
starting at the thick end of the bine, began tearing off the heavy
bunches of hops. At that hour of the morning you could only pick
slowly and awkwardly. Your hands were still stiff and the coldness
of the dew numbed them, and the hops were wet and slippery. The
great difficulty was to pick the hops without picking the leaves
and stalks as well; for the measurer was liable to refuse your hops
if they had too many leaves among them.
The stems of the bines were covered with minute thorns which within
two or three days had torn the skin of your hands to pieces. In
the morning it was a torment to begin picking when your fingers
were almost too stiff to bend and bleeding in a dozen places; but
the pain wore off when the cuts had reopened and the blood was
flowing freely. If the hops were good and you picked well, you
could strip a bine in ten minutes, and the best bines yielded half
a bushel of hops. But the hops varied greatly from one plantation
to another. In some they were as large as walnuts, and hung in
great leafless bunches which you could rip off with a single twist;
in others they were miserable things no bigger than peas, and grew
so thinly that you had to pick them one at a time. Some hops were
so bad that you could not pick a bushel of them in an hour.
It was slow work in the early morning, before the hops were dry
enough to handle. But presently the sun came out, and the lovely,
bitter odour began to stream from the warming hops, and people's
early-morning surliness wore off, and the work got into its stride.
From eight till midday you were picking, picking, picking, in a
sort of passion of work--a passionate eagerness, which grew
stronger and stronger as the morning advanced, to get each bine
done and shift your bin a little farther along the row. At the
beginning of each plantation all the bins started abreast, but by
degrees the better pickers forged ahead, and some of them had
finished their lane of hops when the others were barely halfway
along; whereupon, if you were far behind, they were allowed to turn
back and finish your row for you, which was called 'stealing your
hops'. Dorothy and Nobby were always among the last, there being
only two of them--there were four people at most of the bins. And
Nobby was a clumsy picker, with his great coarse hands; on the
whole, the women picked better than the men.
It was always a neck and neck race between the two bins on either
side of Dorothy and Nobby, bin number 6 and bin number 8. Bin
number 6 was a family of gypsies--a curly-headed, ear-ringed
father, an old dried-up leather-coloured mother, and two strapping
sons--and bin number 8 was an old East End costerwoman who wore a
broad hat and long black cloak and took snuff out of a papiermache
box with a steamer painted on the lid. She was always helped by
relays of daughters and granddaughters who came down from London
for two days at a time. There was quite a troop of children
working with the set, following the bins with baskets and gathering
up the fallen hops while the adults picked. And the old
costerwoman's tiny, pale granddaughter Rose, and a little gypsy
girl, dark as an Indian, were perpetually slipping off to steal
autumn raspberries and make swings out of hop bines; and the
constant singing round the bins was pierced by shrill cries from
the costerwoman of, 'Go on, Rose, you lazy little cat! Pick them
'ops up! I'll warm your a-- for you!' etc., etc.
Quite half the pickers in the set were gypsies--there were not less
than two hundred of them in the camp. Diddykies, the other pickers
called them. They were not a bad sort of people, friendly enough,
and they flattered you grossly when they wanted to get anything out
of you; yet they were sly, with the impenetrable slyness of
savages. In their oafish, Oriental faces there was a look as of
some wild but sluggish animal--a look of dense stupidity existing
side by side with untameable cunning. Their talk consisted of
about half a dozen remarks which they repeated over and over again
without ever growing tired of them. The two young gypsies at bin
number 6 would ask Nobby and Dorothy as many as a dozen times a day
the same conundrum:
'What is it the cleverest man in England couldn't do?'
'I don't know. What?'
'Tickle a gnat's a-- with a telegraph pole.'
At this, never-failing bellows of laughter. They were all
abysmally ignorant; they informed you with pride that not one of
them could read a single word. The old curly-headed father, who
had conceived some dim notion that Dorothy was a 'scholard', once
seriously asked her whether he could drive his caravan to New York.
At twelve o'clock a hooter down at the farm signalled to the
pickers to knock off work for an hour, and it was generally a
little before this that the measurer came round to collect the
hops. At a warning shout from the foreman of ''Ops ready, number
nineteen!' everyone would hasten to pick up the fallen hops, finish
off the tendrils that had been left unpicked here and there, and
clear the leaves out of the bin. There was an art in that. It did
not pay to pick too 'clean', for leaves and hops alike all went to
swell the tally. The old hands, such as the gypsies, were adepts
at knowing just how 'dirty' it was safe to pick.
The measurer would come round, carrying a wicker basket which held
a bushel, and accompanied by the 'bookie,' who entered the pickings
of each bin in a ledger. The 'bookies' were young men, clerks and
chartered accountants and the like, who took this job as a paying
holiday. The measurer would scoop the hops out of the bin a bushel
at a time, intoning as he did so, 'One! Two! Three! Four!' and
the pickers would enter the number in their tally books. Each
bushel they picked earned them twopence, and naturally there were
endless quarrels and accusations of unfairness over the measuring.
Hops are spongy things--you can crush a bushel of them into a quart
pot if you choose; so after each scoop one of the pickers would
lean over into the bin and stir the hops up to make them lie
looser, and then the measurer would hoist the end of the bin and
shake the hops together again. Some mornings he had orders to
'take them heavy', and would shovel them in so that he got a couple
of bushels at each scoop, whereat there were angry yells of, 'Look
how the b--'s ramming them down! Why don't you bloody well stamp
on them?' etc.; and the old hands would say darkly that they had
known measurers to be ducked in cowponds on the last day of
picking. From the bins the hops were put into pokes which
theoretically held a hundredweight; but it took two men to hoist a
full poke when the measurer had been 'taking them heavy'. You had
an hour for dinner, and you made a fire of hop bines--this was
forbidden, but everyone did it--and heated up your tea and ate your
bacon sandwiches. After dinner you were picking again till five or
six in the evening, when the measurer came once more to take your
hops, after which you were free to go back to the camp.
Looking back, afterwards, upon her interlude of hop-picking, it was
always the afternoons that Dorothy remembered. Those long,
laborious hours in the strong sunlight, in the sound of forty
voices singing, in the smell of hops and wood smoke, had a quality
peculiar and unforgettable. As the afternoon wore on you grew
almost too tired to stand, and the small green hop lice got into
your hair and into your ears and worried you, and your hands, from
the sulphurous juice, were as black as a Negro's except where they
were bleeding. Yet you were happy, with an unreasonable happiness.
The work took hold of you and absorbed you. It was stupid work,
mechanical, exhausting, and every day more painful to the hands,
and yet you never wearied of it; when the weather was fine and the
hops were good you had the feeling that you could go on picking for
ever and for ever. It gave you a physical joy, a warm satisfied
feeling inside you, to stand there hour after hour, tearing off the
heavy clusters and watching the pale green pile grow higher and
higher in your bin, every bushel another twopence in your pocket.
The sun burned down upon you, baking you brown, and the bitter,
never-palling scent, like a wind from oceans of cool beer, flowed
into your nostrils and refreshed you. When the sun was shining
everybody sang as they worked; the plantations rang with singing.
For some reason all the songs were sad that autumn--songs about
rejected love and fidelity unrewarded, like gutter versions of
Carmen and Manon Lescaut. There was:
THERE they GO--IN their joy--
'APPY girl--LUCKY boy--
But 'ere am _I-I-I_--
And there was:
But I'm dan--cing with tears--in my eyes--
'Cos the girl--in my arms--isn't you-o-ou!
The bells--are ringing--for Sally--
But no-o-ot--for Sally--and me!
The little gypsy girl used to sing over and over again:
We're so misable, all so misable,
Down on Misable Farm!
And though everyone told her that the name of it was Misery Farm,
she persisted in calling it Misable Farm. The old costerwoman and
her granddaughter Rose had a hop-picking song which went:
'Our lousy 'ops!
Our lousy 'ops!
When the measurer 'e comes round,
Pick 'em up, pick 'em up off the ground!
When 'e comes to measure,
'E never knows where to stop;
Ay, ay, get in the bin
And take the bloody lot!'
'There they go in their joy', and 'The bells are ringing for
Sally', were the especial favourites. The pickers never grew tired
of singing them; they must have sung both of them several hundred
times over before the season came to an end. As much a part of the
atmosphere of the hopfields as the bitter scent and the blowsy
sunlight were the tunes of those two songs, ringing through the
leafy lanes of the bines.
When you got back to the camp, at half past six or thereabouts, you
squatted down by the stream that ran past the huts, and washed your
face, probably for the first time that day. It took you twenty
minutes or so to get the coal-black filth off your hands. Water
and even soap made no impression on it; only two things would
remove it--one of them was mud, and the other, curiously enough,
was hop juice. Then you cooked your supper, which was usually
bread and tea and bacon again, unless Nobby had been along to the
village and bought two pennyworth of pieces from the butcher. It
was always Nobby who did the shopping. He was the sort of man who
knows how to get four pennyworth of meat from the butcher for
twopence, and, besides, he was expert in tiny economies. For
instance, he always bought a cottage loaf in preference to any of
the other shapes, because, as he used to point out, a cottage loaf
seems like two loaves when you tear it in half.
Even before you had eaten your supper you were dropping with sleep,
but the huge fires that people used to build between the huts were
too agreeable to leave. The farm allowed two faggots a day for
each hut, but the pickers plundered as many more as they wanted,
and also great lumps of elm root which kept smouldering till
morning. On some nights the fires were so enormous that twenty
people could sit round them in comfort, and there was singing far
into the night, and telling of stories and roasting of stolen
apples. Youths and girls slipped off to the dark lanes together,
and a few bold spirits like Nobby set out with sacks and robbed the
neighbouring orchards, and the children played hide-and-seek in the
dusk and harried the nightjars which haunted the camp and which, in
their cockney ignorance, they imagined to be pheasants. On
Saturday nights fifty or sixty of the pickers used to get drunk in
the pub and then march down the village street roaring bawdy songs,
to the scandal of the inhabitants, who looked on the hopping season
as decent provincials in Roman Gaul might have looked on the yearly
incursion of the Goths.
When finally you managed to drag yourself away to your nest in the
straw, it was none too warm or comfortable. After that first
blissful night, Dorothy discovered that straw is wretched stuff to
sleep in. It is not only prickly, but, unlike hay, it lets in the
draught from every possible direction. However, you had the chance
to steal an almost unlimited number of hop-pokes from the fields,
and by making herself a sort of cocoon of four hop-pokes, one on
top of the other, she managed to keep warm enough to sleep at any
rate five hours a night.
As to what you earned by hop-picking, it was just enough to keep
body and soul together, and no more.
The rate of pay at Cairns's was twopence a bushel, and given good
hops a practised picker can average three bushels an hour. In
theory, therefore, it would have been possible to earn thirty
shillings by a sixty-hour week. Actually, no one in the camp came
anywhere near this figure. The best pickers of all earned thirteen
or fourteen shillings a week, and the worst hardly as much as six
shillings. Nobby and Dorothy, pooling their hops and dividing the
proceeds, made round about ten shillings a week each.
There were various reasons for this. To begin with, there was the
badness of the hops in some of the fields. Again, there were the
delays which wasted an hour or two of every day. When one
plantation was finished you had to carry your bin to the next,
which might be a mile distant; and then perhaps it would turn out
that there was some mistake, and the set, struggling under their
bins (they weighed a hundredweight), would have to waste another
half-hour in traipsing elsewhere. Worst of all, there was the
rain. It was a bad September that year, raining one day in three.
Sometimes for a whole morning or afternoon you shivered miserably
in the shelter of the unstripped bines, with a dripping hop-poke
round your shoulders, waiting for the rain to stop. It was
impossible to pick when it was raining. The hops were too slippery
to handle, and if you did pick them it was worse than useless, for
when sodden with water they shrank all to nothing in the bin.
Sometimes you were in the fields all day to earn a shilling or
This did not matter to the majority of the pickers, for quite half
of them were gypsies and accustomed to starvation wages, and most
of the others were respectable East Enders, costermongers and small
shopkeepers and the like, who came hop-picking for a holiday and
were satisfied if they earned enough for their fare both ways and a
bit of fun on Saturday nights. The farmers knew this and traded on
it. Indeed, were it not that hop-picking is regarded as a holiday,
the industry would collapse forthwith, for the price of hops is now
so low that no farmer could afford to pay his pickers a living
Twice a week you could 'sub' up to the amount of half your
earnings. If you left before the picking was finished (an
inconvenient thing for the farmers) they had the right to pay you
off at the rate of a penny a bushel instead of twopence--that is,
to pocket half of what they owed you. It was also common knowledge
that towards the end of the season, when all the pickers had a fair
sum owing to them and would not want to sacrifice it by throwing up
their jobs, the farmer would reduce the rate of payment from
twopence a bushel to a penny halfpenny. Strikes were practically
impossible. The pickers had no union, and the foremen of the sets,
instead of being paid twopence a bushel like the others, were paid
a weekly wage which stopped automatically if there was a stri