With his money dwindling to nothing, Orwell borrows a pole and goes fishing on the Seine. The fish, though, won’t bite, having grown smart during the siege of Paris in 1870 when nearly all the city’s animals (including two zoo elephants) were slaughtered for food. Too hungry to look for work, Orwell stays in his room and reads The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, pondering how hunger turns one into a jellyfish, with no motivation, no energy, and no hope.
The cycle of poverty grinds on partially because a man, once hungry, no longer has the will or strength to continue his frustrating search for work. The poor man is not the smart Seine fish. He is a floppy, spineless thing, an easy catch.
On the third day without food, Orwell goes to see Boris, hoping to share his two francs, but Boris is furious and desperate, too. Boris’ roommate paid him his daily two-franc allowance only to steal it back the next day. Furthermore, the roommate is threatening to leave the attic still owing rent, which will stick Boris with the bill. Boris decides he has no choice but to abandon his lodgings immediately. There’s a catch, though. His landlord is always on the lookout for people trying to cheat him, so Boris comes up with a plan that involves pawning both his and Orwell’s overcoats and filling a suitcase with rocks so that, when the landlord inevitably goes up to the attic to see if Boris has bailed, he’ll be convinced by the heavy suitcase that Boris still plans to return.
Those who live in poverty must perform nearly every day a delicate balancing act, weighing, on one hand, their precarious livelihood, and, on the other, the demands made on them by people in authority. Housing is precious, but it also enslaves a man to a certain extent. Tenants depend on the generosity of their landlords, and those landlords often lack empathy. This situation gives rise to schemes and scams. Again, honesty does not pay off—cunning does.
Orwell agrees to the plan, but it fails when a picky pawnshop clerk refuses to purchase coats that aren’t wrapped up or boxed. Boris’s second plan is to stuff the overcoats in his suitcase and to distract the landlord while Orwell waits on the stairs with Boris’s possessions. This plan works until the same pawnshop clerk refuses again to buy the overcoats, this time because Orwell and Boris are lacking sufficient identification. Orwell wants to sell the overcoats to a different pawnshop but it is closed until the next day. Despairing, he finds a five sou note on the street and purchases potatoes, which he and Boris scarf down in their skins without salt. They play chess until the pawnshop opens the next day.
Orwell and Boris continually find themselves the victims of Paris’s petty tyrants. The papers that the pawn shop clerk demands do not exist; he only asks for them because he doesn’t want to pay for the overcoats and is taking pleasure in sending Orwell on a wild goose chase. Grace comes again in a stroke of random good luck, but even that stroke, a five sou note, only buys a few tasteless potatoes.
At the shop, the same one where the old man was laughed at when trying to sell his woolen pants, Orwell gets 50 francs for the overcoats. Orwell assumes it’s a mistake. The pawn shop clerk would never pay him such a generous amount on purpose. He goes home to tell Boris the good news and they gorge themselves. That night, after their feast, they go in search of a friend of Boris’s whom Boris claims owes him four thousand francs. Boris and the friend get into a fight over the debt, then, having made up, go out drinking together. Boris falls in a with another Russian refugee, and Orwell goes home full for a change.
Orwell and Boris prosper at this moment only because a pawn shop clerk makes a fortunate mistake. With no guarantees of a brighter future or better days ahead, they live in the moment. For Orwell, that means appreciating more than he might have in the past the feeling of contentment that comes with being genuinely full, a feeling the well-off can take for granted. It’s worth noting, also, that their windfall could have been stretched further without a big meal. Perhaps, as Orwell previously noted, this is evidence of poverty robbing people of their ability to plan for the future.