In these various Shelters and Institutions I saw some strange characters. One had been an electrical engineer, educated under Professor Owen, at Cardiff College. He came into money, and gambled away L13,000 on horse-racing, although he told me that he won as much as L8,000 on one Ascot meeting. His subsequent history is a story in itself, one too long to set out; but the end of it, in his own words, was ’Four years ago I came here, and, thank God! I am going on all right.’
Why do not the writers of naturalistic novels study Salvation Army Shelters? In any one of them they would find more material than could be used up in ten lifetimes; though, personally, I confess I am content to read such stories in the secret annals of the various Institutions.
Another man, a very pleasant and humorous person, who was once a Church worker and a singer in the choir, etc., when, in his own words, he used ’to put on religion with his Sunday clothes and take it off again with them,’ came to grief through sheer love of amusement, such as that which is to be found in music-halls and theatres. His habit was to spend the money of an insurance company by which he was employed, in taking out the young lady to whom he was engaged, to such entertainments. Ultimately, of course, he was found out, and, when starving on the road, determined to commit suicide. The Salvationists found him in the nick of time, and now he is foreman of their paper-collecting yard.
Another, at the ripe age of twenty-four, had been twenty-seven times in prison. His father was in prison, his eldest brother committed suicide in prison by throwing himself over the banisters. Also, he had two brothers at present undergoing penal servitude, who, when he was a little fellow, used to pass him through windows to open doors in houses which they were burgling.
I suggested that it was a poor game and that he had better give it up. He answered:—’I shall never do it again, sir, God helping me.’ Really I think he meant what he said.
Another, in the Chepstow Street Shelter, where he acted as night-watchman, was discharged from Portland, after serving a fifteen years’ sentence for manslaughter. His trouble was that he killed a man in a fight, and as he had fought him before and had a grudge against him, was very nearly hanged for his pains. This man earned L9 in some way or other during his sentence, which he sent to his wife. Afterwards, he discovered that she had been living with another man, who died and left her well off. But she has never refunded the L9, nor will she have anything to do with her husband.