When we got to the street the clerk
hailed a cab and told us to jump in. The strange
looking vehicle, with the coachman sitting on a box
at the back of a hood that covered us, I learned later
was a hansom cab. Mattia and I were huddled in
a corner with Capi between our legs. The clerk
took up the rest of the seat. Mattia had heard
him tell the coachman to drive us to Bethnal-Green.
The driver seemed none too anxious to take us there.
Mattia and I thought it was probably on account of
the distance. We both knew what “Green”
meant in English, and Bethnal-Green undoubtedly was
the name of the park where my people lived. For
a long time the cab rolled through the busy streets
of London. It was such a long way that I thought
perhaps their estate was situated on the outskirts
of the city. The word “green” made
us think that it might be in the country. But
nothing around us announced the country. We were
in a very thickly populated quarter; the black mud
splashed our cab as we drove along; then we turned
into a much poorer part of the city and every now
and again the cabman pulled up as though he did not
know his way. At last he stopped altogether and
through the little window of the hansom a discussion
took place between Greth & Galley’s clerk and
the bewildered cabman. From what Mattia could
learn the man said that it was no use, he could not
find his way, and he asked the clerk which direction
he should take. The clerk replied that he did
not know for he had never been in that thieves’
locality before. We both caught the word “thieves.”
Then the clerk gave some money to the coachman and
told us to get out of the cab. The man grumbled
at his fare and then turned round and drove off.
We were standing now in a muddy street before what
the English call a gin palace. Our guide looked
about him in disgust, then entered the swing-doors
of the gin palace. We followed. Although
we were in a miserable part of the city I had never
seen anything more luxurious. There were gilt
framed mirrors everywhere, glass chandeliers and a
magnificent counter that shone like silver. Yet
the people who filled this place were filthy and in
rags. Our guide gulped down a drink standing
before the beautiful counter, then asked the man who
had served him if he could direct him to the place
he wanted to find. Evidently he got the information
he required for he hurried out again through the swing-doors,
we following close on his heels. The streets through
which we walked now were even narrower and from one
house across to another were swung wash lines from
which dirty rags were hanging. The women who
sat in their doorways were pale and their matted fair
hair hung loose over their shoulders. The children
were almost naked and the few clothes that they did
wear were but rags. In the alley were some pigs
wallowing in the stagnant water from which a fetid
odor arose. Our guide stopped. Evidently
he had lost his way. But at this moment a policeman
appeared. The clerk spoke to him and the officer
told him he would show him the way.... We followed
the policeman down more narrow streets. At last
we stopped at a yard in the middle of which was a
“This is Red Lion Court,” said the officer.
Why were we stopping there? Could
it be possible that my parents lived in this place?
The policeman knocked at the door of a wooden hut and
our guide thanked him. So we had arrived.
Mattia took my hand and gently pressed it. I
pressed his. We understood one another. I
was as in a dream when the door was opened and we
found ourselves in a room with a big fire burning
in the grate.
Before the fire in a large cane chair
sat an old man with a white beard, and his head covered
with a black skull cap. At a table sat a man of
about forty and a woman about six years his junior.
She must have been very pretty once but now her eyes
had a glassy stare and her manners were listless.
Then there were four children two boys and
two girls all very fair like their mother.
The eldest boy was about eleven, the youngest girl,
scarcely three. I did not know what the clerk
was saying to the man, I only caught the name “Driscoll,”
my name, so the lawyer had said. All eyes were
turned on Mattia and me, only the baby girl paid attention
“Which one is Remi?” asked the man in
“I am,” I said, taking a step forward.
“Then come and kiss your father, my boy.”
When I had thought of this moment
I had imagined that I should be overwhelmed with happiness
and spring into my father’s arms, but I felt
nothing of the kind. I went up and kissed my father.
“Now,” he said, “there’s
your grandfather, your mother, your brothers and sisters.”
I went up to my mother first and put
my arms about her. She let me kiss her but she
did not return my caress; she only said two or three
words which I did not understand.
“Shake hands with your grandfather,”
said my father, “and go gently; he’s paralyzed.”
I also shook hands with my brothers
and my eldest sister. I wanted to take the little
one in my arms but she was too occupied with Capi and
pushed me away. As I went from one to the other
I was angry with myself. Why could I not feel
any pleasure at having found my family at last.
I had a father, a mother, brothers, sisters and a
grandfather. I had longed for this moment, I
had been mad with joy in thinking that I, like other
boys, would have a family that I could call my own
to love me and whom I could love.... And now
I was staring at my family curiously, finding nothing
in my heart to say to them, not a word of affection.
Was I a monster? If I had found my parents in
a palace instead of in a hovel should I have had more
affection for them? I felt ashamed at this thought.
Going over again to my mother I put my arms round her
and kissed her full on the lips. Evidently she
did not understand what made me do this, for instead
of returning my kisses she looked at me in a listless
manner, then turning to her husband, my father, she
shrugged her shoulders and said something that I could
not understand but which made him laugh. Her
indifference and my father’s laugh went right
to my heart. It did not seem to me that my affection
should have been received in such a way.
“Who is he?” asked my
father, pointing to Mattia. I told him that Mattia
was my dearest friend and how much I owed him.
“Good,” said my father;
“would he like to stay and see the country?”
I was about to answer for Mattia, but he spoke first.
“That’s just what I want,” he exclaimed.
My father then asked why Barberin
had not come with me. I told him that he was
dead. He seemed pleased to hear this. He
repeated it to my mother, who also seemed pleased.
Why were they both pleased that Barberin was dead?
“You must be rather surprised
that we have not searched for you for thirteen years,”
said my father, “and then suddenly to go off
and look up this man who found you when you were a
I told him that I was very surprised,
and that I’d like to know about it.
“Come near the fire then and I’ll tell
you all about it.”
I flung the bag from my shoulders
and took the chair that he offered me. As I stretched
out my legs, wet, and covered with mud, to the fire
my grandfather spat on one side, like an old cat that
“Don’t pay any attention
to him,” said my father; “the old chap
doesn’t like any one to sit before his fire,
but you needn’t mind him, if you’re cold.”
I was surprised to hear any one speak
like this of an old man. I kept my legs under
my chair, for I thought that attention should be paid
“You are my eldest son now,”
said my father; “you were born a year after
my marriage with your mother. When I married there
was a young girl who thought that I was going to marry
her, and out of revenge she stole you from us when
you were six months old. We searched everywhere
for you but we did not go so far as Paris. We
thought that you were dead until three months ago
when this woman was dying she confessed the truth.
I went over to France at once and the police in that
locality where you had been left, told me that you
had been adopted by a mason named Barberin who lived
at Chavanon. I found him and he told me that he
had loaned you to a musician named Vitalis and that
you were tramping through France. I could not
stay over there any longer, but I left Barberin some
money and told him to search for you, and when he had
news to write to Greth and Galley. I did not
give him my address here, because we are only in London
during the winter; the rest of the year we travel through
England and Scotland. We are peddlers by trade,
and I have my own caravans. There, boy, that
is how it is you have come back to us after thirteen
years. You may feel a little timid at first because
you can’t understand us, but you’ll soon
pick up English and be able to talk to your brothers
and sisters. It won’t be long before you’re
used to us.”
Yes, of course I should get used to
them; were they not my own people? The fine baby
linen, the beautiful clothes had not spoken the truth.
But what did that matter! Affection was worth
more than riches. It was not money that I pined
for, but to have affection, a family and a home.
While my father was talking to me they had set the
table for supper. A large joint of roast beef
with potatoes round it was placed in the middle of
“Are you hungry, boys?”
asked my father, addressing Mattia and myself.
Mattia showed his white teeth.
“Well, sit down to table.”
But before sitting down he pushed
my grandfather’s cane rocker up to the table.
Then taking his own place with his back to the fire,
he commenced to cut the roast beef and gave each one
a fine big slice and some potatoes.
Although I had not been brought up
exactly on the principle of good breeding, I noticed
that my brothers and sister’s behaved very badly
at table; they ate more often with their fingers,
sticking them into the gravy and licking them without
my father and mother seeming to notice them.
As to my grandfather, he gave his whole attention to
what was before him, and the one hand that he was
able to use went continually from his plate to his
mouth. When he let a piece fall from his shaking
fingers my brothers and sisters laughed.
I thought that we should spend the
evening together round the fire, but my father said
that he was expecting friends, and told us to go to
bed. Beckoning to Mattia and me he took a candle
and went out to a stable that led from the room where
we had been eating. In this stable were two big
caravans. He opened the door of one and we saw
two small beds, one above the other.
“There you are, boys, there
are your beds,” he said. “Sleep well.”
Such was the welcome into my family.