Under the Dragon Flag by James Allan

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Page 1

About eleven o'clock one spring night of the year 1892, I was standing
close to the railings of the Whitworth Park in my native city of
Manchester, to whose dull provincial shades I had retired at the
enforced close of my creditable career. I remember that I was engaged
in wondering what on earth I could have done with all my money, the
only tangible return for which appeared to be an intimate and peculiar
knowledge of the French language and of certain undesirable phases of
French life. The hour, as I have said, was late, and Moss Lane, the
street in which I stood disconsolate, dark and deserted. Presently
there came along towards me a man whose uncertain gait was strongly
suggestive of the influence of alcohol. He stopped upon reaching me,
and asked if I could direct him to Victoria Park. This is an extensive
semi-private enclosure, where numbers of the plutocracy of
Cottonopolis have their residences. One of its several gates is nearly
opposite the spot where Moss Lane leads into Oxford Street, which fact
I communicated to my questioner. To my surprise he, by way of
acknowledgment, struck his hand into mine and shook it fervently.

"Shake hands, shake hands," he said; "that's right--you're talking to
a gentleman, though you mightn't think it."

I certainly should not have thought it. He was a short, thick-set man,
of about five feet and two or three inches, shabbily dressed; and his
unsteady lurch, swollen features, and odorous breath, told plainly of
a heavy debauch. Amused by his manner, I entered into conversation
with him. He was, it appeared, a sailor, a Lancashire man, and, if he
was to be believed, very respectably connected in Manchester. I
gathered that he had ended a boyhood of contumacy by running away to
sea, his people, though they had practically disowned him, allowing
him a pound a week. This allowance had for some time past been
stopped, and he was coming up in person to investigate the why and
wherefore. Having a week or two before come off a voyage at Liverpool,

and nights of revelry, an assertion to which his personal appearance
bore strong corroborative testimony. He appeared, on the whole, to
consider himself an exceedingly ill-used person. "I'm a houtcast," he
repeatedly said. I asked him in what capacity he served on shipboard.
"A.B.," he replied, "always A.B.;" and certainly, in speech and
appearance, he seemed nothing better than a foremast man, although,
shaking hands with me again and again, he each time asseverated that
it was the hand of a gentleman. At length he went on his way, and I
stood watching his receding figure as he reeled down the street. I was
just turning away, when I heard a loud outcry; the "houtcast," about a
hundred yards distant, was hailing me. On what trifles does destiny
depend! My first impulse was to walk off without taking any notice of
his shouts, and on the simple decision to stay and see what he wanted,
turned the whole future. It appeared that whilst talking with me his
obfuscated mind had lost the directions I had given him as to the
locality of Victoria Park. Having nothing in particular to do, I
volunteered to walk along with him, and keep him in the right
direction, and accordingly we entered the park together. With
considerable difficulty, he found out the road and house he was in
search of; I doubt if, without my aid, he would have found it at all
in his then condition. He had not, he informed me, been in Manchester
for years, and those he was looking up had changed their residence.
The exterior of the place, when found, seemed to bear out his
statement as to the social position of his relatives. I asked him what
sort of reception he thought he would get from them.

"He did not," he replied, "care a d----n what it might be, but he was
going to see why they had stopped his quid, and no mistake about it."

He extended to me an invitation to come in with him "and have a
drink," a courtesy which, needless to say, I declined. He then left
me, after another vehement handshaking, and proceeded up the drive in
front of the house. A feeling of curiosity to see what kind of
greeting the drunken, wastrel "houtcast" would command from his folk,
all unconscious of his disagreeable proximity to their eminently
respectable residence, induced me to follow him. I paused at a point
where, concealed by some shrubbery, I had a view of the hall door,
which, upon my friend's ringing, was opened by a smart maid-servant.
Swaying up and down on the steps in a most ludicrous manner, the
"houtcast" addressed her, although I was too far off to make out the
words, but to judge by her looks she felt no prepossession in his
favour. After a while she went away, leaving the door open and him
standing on the steps. In about a minute a stout, middle-aged
gentleman appeared from the brightly-lighted hall, his whole aspect
presenting the strongest possible contrast to that of the seedy
mariner. The conference between them was brief and angry, and
terminated with the gentleman's returning within and slamming the door
in the other's face, who, with his hands in his pockets, stood for
some time planted where he was, staring at the _visage de bois_ as if
dumfounded. Then he applied himself vigorously to the bell, and pulled
with might and main. This course of treatment having no effect, he
commenced shouting a series of objurgations much too vigorous to be
here set down. No response, of course, was forthcoming, and at length
the discomfited visitor turned slowly away from the inhospitable
mansion. I rejoined him as he staggered past me. He showed no surprise
at seeing me again, but contented himself with simply asking me where
the ---- I had been. From what he said in answer to my questions, it
appeared that they had had the brutality to tell him to call when he
was sober,--"as if," said he, with a good many curses, "I wasn't sober
enough for them. Wouldn't even give me a night's shelter. But it's
always how they've treated me--a houtcast, that's what I am--a

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 24th Jan 2020, 14:31