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Title: The Lure of Old London
Author: Cole, Sophie
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).


THE LURE OF OLD LONDON

by

SOPHIE COLE

Author of "A London Posy," "The Loitering Highway," etc.

With 8 Illustrations



Mills & Boon, Limited
49 Rupert Street
London, W. 1

Published 1921



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                         FACING PAGE


      WAX EFFIGIES OF QUEEN ELIZABETH AND CHARLES THE SECOND      16
        From a photograph by D. Weller

      GREAT ST. HELEN'S                                           47
        From a photograph by the Autotype Company

      THE CHARTERHOUSE                                            50
        From a photograph by the Autotype Company

      A BIT OF OLD SMITHFIELD                                     57
        From a photograph by the Autotype Company

      DR. JOHNSON'S HOUSE IN GOUGH SQUARE                         69

      GREAT CHEYNE ROW AND CARLYLE'S HOUSE                        89
        From a photograph by Hedderley, circa 1860

      THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL                                     117
        From a photograph by the Autotype Company

      BERWICK MARKET                                             136
        From a photograph by the Autotype Company



      TO THE FRIEND WHO WANDERED WITH ME
      IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GEORGE AND
      MRS. DARLING



PREFACE


People who are kind enough to read my stories sometimes tell me they
like them on account of their London atmosphere. This is reassuring,
because London is, to me, what "King Charles' head" was to "Mr. Dick,"
and when my publisher suggested that I should write this volume I
mounted my hobby-horse with glee.

The objects of the journeys recorded were chosen haphazard. With a
myriad places clamouring for notice, and each place brimful of interest,
one takes the first that comes, reflecting that what one doesn't see
to-day can be seen to-morrow, regretful only that, no matter how many
to-morrows may remain, there will not be enough to exhaust the charms of
London. London has moods for each hour and surprises round every corner.
It may be the enchantress, or the "stony-hearted step-mother," but one
part it can never play--that of the bore. "Strange stories," says
Walter Thornbury, in his introduction to "Old and New London," "about
strange men grow like moss in every crevice of the bricks." To people
the streets with the shades of those "strange men" is a fascinating
pastime which I owe, in large measure, to the guidance of that wonderful
and inexhaustible book.

If, in this humble little volume of my own, I dared aspire to do
anything more than please myself, it would be to share with some lovers
of London those moods of curious happiness which one finds in the haunts
of London's ghosts.



CHAPTER I


When the Countess of Corbridge sent the quarterly cheque for fifty
pounds to her brother, the Hon. George Tallenach, she always addressed
the envelope to Carrington Mansions, Mayfair. As a matter of fact, the
Honourable George lived in Carrington Mews, Shepherd Market, and derived
a certain ironic pleasure from the contemplation of his sister's
snobbishness. But then the Honourable George had never acted up to the
traditions of his family. His Bohemianism, coupled with an inability to
settle down to any calling, had been the despair of that family ever
since he was ploughed at Oxford. And now, at the age of sixty-five, he
was a pensioner on the bounty of the Countess of Corbridge, living in a
workman's flat in Carrington Mews, an adept in the art of poetic
loafing, an inveterate gossip and roamer of the streets, a kindly old
vagabond with well-brushed shabby clothes, a clean collar and a spotless
pocket handkerchief, the love of London in his bones, and of his fellows
in his heart.

Mrs. Darling, the pensioned widow of a night watchman, who lived in the
flat below, was in the habit of rendering the Honourable George small
services. It was she to whom he applied in any domestic emergency--she
mended his socks and kept his handkerchiefs a good colour, sewed on his
buttons, and inculcated a policy of thrift towards the end of the
quarter when funds were getting low.

Such a period was imminent now, and when Mrs. Darling brought in a pile
of snowy handkerchiefs and deposited them on the table this warm
September morning, the Honourable George, faced with the prospect of
three lean weeks, propounded to her a scheme he had devised for a cheap
form of enjoyment.

"Mrs. Darling," he began, "I have noticed with regret your lamentable
ignorance of the place in which you live."

"Me ignorant of Shepherd Market. I don't think!" declared Mrs. Darling
indignantly. "I 'aven't lived in it for thirty-five years for nothink.
Why, there isn't a shop or a person I----"

"Not so fast, Mrs. Darling. I was referring to London as a whole, of
which Shepherd Market is as a needle in a haystack. And your knowledge
even of the Market and its surroundings is purely superficial. I suppose
you are not aware that Shepherd Market is the place where the fair,
which gave Mayfair its name, was held up to the middle of the
eighteenth century, and that the Market itself is nearly two hundred
years old. No doubt you are also in ignorance of the fact that Kitty
Fisher lived in Carrington Street: Kitty, the celebrated courtesan who
married John Norris and gave herself up to repairing two dilapidated
fortunes, thus proving the inaccuracy of the statement that the leopard
cannot change its spots, and challenging the baseness and the scurvy
malevolence of those 'little scribblers' who accused her of having
'neither sense nor wit, but only impudence'."

"Well, sir, I must admit I _didn't_ know all them things."

"Of course you didn't; but cheer up, it isn't too late to learn. What
d'you say to our having some outings together? Suppose we make a start
this afternoon? London's at its best on these calm autumn days."

"What, _me_ and _you_?"

"Yes--why not?"

"'Spose we met any of yer grand friends? Me, in my ole plush coat I've
'ad this ten years. It's true I got a new 'at, ten and eleven at
Selfridge's bargain basement, but a hat ain't everythink."

"No, you certainly want more than that. But clothes, also, aren't
everything. It's your company I hanker after, Mrs. Darling. I seek a
virgin mind on which to make first impressions. I'm tired of people who
_know everything_. In seeing things through your eyes I shall----"

But Mrs. Darling interrupted the speaker to remark with a scandalised
air that there wasn't much of the virgin about _her_, seeing she'd been
married thirty-three years, and a widow too, not to speak of being the
mother of four children.

This drew forth from the Honourable George a charge of frivolity coupled
with a long-winded explanation of his newly conceived idea, and an
equally long-winded explanation of the benefit Mrs. Darling might derive
from it. The listener, who had been standing first on one leg, then on
the other, her mind racked by a suspicion that the potatoes would be
reduced to pulp, made a reckless promise at the first pause, and then
beat a precipitate retreat to her flat below.

"'E gets worse and worse," she meditated, as she strained off the
potatoes--just in time. "Talk about balmy--if this don't take the bun!
But if it gives 'im any pleasure, it won't do me no 'arm. I'll go this
once, just to pacify 'im. I bet 'e won't ask me again!" and Mrs.
Darling's smile had a quality of grim humour.

The Honourable George, always a favourite with the opposite sex, had had
many love affairs of a more or less light nature, loves of a day, a
week, or a month. But existing with, and surviving these ephemeral
distractions, was "Agatha," the woman he had always meant some day to
ask in marriage. Owing, however, to the Honourable George's thriftless
habits, that day had never arrived, and "Agatha," who had allowed all
her birds in the hand to escape in favour of that elusive bird in the
bush, was at the age of sixty still a spinster, finding her interests in
church work, dogs, and other people's babies. At regular intervals she
had letters from George. George, who was apt to ride rough-shod over her
well-bred susceptibilities with his racy comments on people and things.
George, who shocked her and saved her from old maidishness, whose
letters came into the prim little country house with a refreshing breath
of Bohemianism, providing an antidote to dry rot, and a healthy interest
in men and things outside her narrow circle. The following letters are
those particular ones which gave the account of his peregrinations with
Mrs. Darling.



CHAPTER II


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _13th September_.

Dear Agatha,--I've got a new pal! Her name may have appeared in my
letters before, in connection with the histories of my neighbours in the
other flats, the mending of my vests and pants, and cheap lunches at
home when she provides me with a portion of her beef-steak pie for
ninepence. Her name is Darling, which necessitates the painstaking use
of the "Mrs." for fear of a misunderstanding. She is a widow, and a
person of kindly sympathies but limited intelligence outside the domain
of domestic affairs. She is Cockney to the finger tips, yet London, to
her, is as unexplored and as unknown as one of the stars. The
temptation, when one day I realised this, was irresistible. Obviously,
it was meant that _I_ was destined to take the work of her education in
hand, and to-day we made a start with our immediate surroundings.

It seems hardly credible that Mrs. Darling never went out to buy a pound
of potatoes that she did not pass "Ducking Pond Mews" in Shepherd
Street, yet it had never occurred to her to wonder how it got its title,
much less to make any effort to find out. She said she supposed there
had been a pond there, some time, and when I told her it was what, in
contemporary papers, was described as "an extensive basin of water," she
said, "A penny plain and tuppence coloured". Mrs. D. is very averse to
anything of the nature of "side" in conversation, and so I did not go on
to quote the article which spoke of a "commodious house and a good
disposure of walks". I thought, though, it would interest her to know
that, by payment of the small sum of twopence, lovers of a certain
polite and humane sport could in those old days witness the torture of
the duck when it was put in the pond and hunted by dogs who were driven
in after it. Also that Charles II and some of his nobility were in the
habit of frequenting those sports.

She said she wasn't a bit surprised. She never had thought much of
royalty; all the same, it didn't do to believe everything you were told.

This was a trifle discouraging, and we walked on in silence for a few
minutes, pausing to glance down East Chapel Street, where is the
many-paned window of the "Serendipity" shop, with its old coloured
prints and the original editions of seventeenth-century poets, bound in
vellum; then on to the East Yard, which exists exactly as it was in the
old coaching days.

Do you know, Agatha, that I live in one of the most unique spots in
London? We are hemmed in by an aristocracy of houses, places and people,
yet we are as far apart from it all as if the walls of Jericho came
between. There's no approaching by degrees. One steps through one of
those low arches in Curzon Street into this quaint little island of
loiterers in the twinkling of an eye. A world of cobbled-paved streets,
_culs de sac_, devious by-ways, and shops which in their meditative
unconcern seem to trust in Providence to send them customers. A world
from which one sometimes awakens in Piccadilly with a feeling of having
slept as long as Rip Van Winkle himself.

I suggested the wax effigies at Westminster Abbey with diffidence. To my
relief, however, the old lady received the proposal favourably, and on
our way I imparted to her a dark intention which I had cherished for
years. It was to spend a night in the Abbey. I should choose the warmest
night in summer, and I should go provided with a packet of sandwiches
and a flask of whisky. Imagine the thrill on a moonlight night, when
the figures on the tombs in the long aisles would be like creatures on a
stage frozen into stone at some moment of dramatic intensity. Pointing,
beckoning, warning, praying, weeping and exhorting. "The dust of the
dead"--a fine phrase that. One would see it rise like incense in the
moonbeams, and the vast silences would be thick with whispered thoughts.
Perhaps now and again there would come a sound which had nothing to do
with the dead--the footfall of a watchman.

Mrs. Darling asked if it had occurred to me that the watchman might give
me in charge. I assured her that I had not left such a contingency out
of my calculations. I should well tip the watchman, and a drink out of
my flask on top of the tip would make a friend of him for life. No doubt
he would be glad of a talk to relieve the monotony of his job, and the
talk of a night watchman in Westminster Abbey would be worth listening
to. He could tell me something of those suspected secret places which
are not shown to visitors. He might even let me see them for myself. He
would know the Abbey as it is impossible for the ordinary public to know
it. The ordinary public no more knows the Abbey than does a person, who
stands on the kerb to watch the King pass on his way to some State
function, know the man inside the King. The Abbey should be seen when
the voices of glib guides, and the shuffling footsteps of visitors bored
with sight-seeing, have ceased. Then, when the echoes of the last
footsteps have died away, when the last door has banged, and the last
key been turned in the last lock, _then_ the Abbey puts aside its mask
and communes with its dead. What a strange silence that must be, when
the thoughts of kings and queens, statesmen and warriors, poets and
priests, fill every corner of the ancient building with their noiseless
vigilance!

Mrs. Darling said that, even if I escaped being taken to the police
station, I should certainly get an attack of rheumatism, but I explained
that sensations invariably have their price, and that I shouldn't grudge
paying for this particular one.

We left the daylight of the Broad Sanctuary for the gloom of the vast
interior, and I suggested that we should explore the chapels before
doing the wax effigies in the Islip Chamber.

As we walked down the north transept the old lady asked me if it was
true that "Old Parr" was buried in the Abbey, and I took her to read the
inscription on the stone in Poet's Corner. "Old Parr's" qualification
for hob-nobbing with the élite in art and literature lies in the fact
that he died at the age of 152, and lived in the reigns of ten
sovereigns, an achievement great enough, it was considered, to earn him
the right to such distinguished burial. How came it, I wonder, that this
solitary human being was endowed with such powers of resistance to
natural decay? There must have been something weird about that old man.
Taylor, the poet, in his description of him, says:--

      "From head to heel, his body hath all over
      A quick set, thick set, natural, hairy cover."

Was Old Parr a throw-back to our ancestor the ape?

Mrs. Darling said he must have outlived all his relations and been very
lonely, and to reassure her I mentioned that if he outlived old ties he
also made new ones, marrying his second wife (only his second) at the
age of 120, and having by her one child.

Mrs. D. retorted that he ought to have been ashamed of himself, which
struck me as inconsistent. Parr's first wife had no doubt been dead a
great many years, and all those years he had presumably been waiting for
the end which never came. When, at the age of 120, he found himself
still alive, and still hale and hearty, he would begin to think it was
about time to accept things as they were and start life all over again.
That my thoughts in Poet's Corner, by the way, concerned themselves with
"Old Parr" to the exclusion of Garrick, Johnson, Thackeray, Dickens,
Coleridge, and Spenser, the "Prince of Poets," must have been Mrs. D.'s
fault.

I prefer Monday for a visit to the chapels, not because one saves
sixpence, but because I never follow in the footsteps of a guide without
a humiliating sense of being one of a hungry mob of chickens round the
man with the bag of grain. It is much more exciting to go pecking about
on your own, and on Mondays you can loiter unmolested where you will,
and for as long as you will.

The north aisle of Henry VII's Chapel, where Queen Elizabeth is buried,
invariably draws me, and I led the way there, first. Strangely enough,
it is often empty, and always quiet. One's thoughts of Elizabeth mingle
curiously with those of her hated half-sister, "Bloody Queen Mary," who
is buried below Elizabeth, and who was, according to Sandford, "interred
without any monument or other remembrance".

It is strange to note the unequal distribution of favours in the matter
of burial. Charles II, for instance, has nothing more than his name and
the dates of his birth and death recorded in small letters on the
pavement of the chapel in the south aisle. Pepys says of Charles, "He
was very obscurely buried at night without any manner of pomp, and soon
forgotten after all his vanity".

Addison is near Queen Elizabeth, and close to his friend Charles
Montague, first Earl of Halifax. Reference to the fact is quaintly made
in the two concluding lines of the Addison's epitaph:--

      "Oh for ever gone; take this last adieu,
        And sleep in peace next thy lov'd Montague."

The place is narrow and rather dark. It would have been more befitting
Elizabeth's magnificence had she been laid amidst the colour and pomp of
the chapel of Henry VII. One would think, too, that she had a restless
neighbour in "Bloody Queen Mary". The words of the Latin inscription
perhaps make a mute appeal for charity for the latter when they say,
"Consorts both in throne and grave, in the hope of one resurrection".

Against the east wall is a sarcophagus containing bones found at the
foot of a staircase in the Bloody Tower, and supposed to be those of the
two princes who were murdered in the Tower by their uncle. Yes,
Elizabeth has eerie company, and somehow, in the cold grey light of this
dim corner of the Abbey, it is not the Elizabeth described by Green, the
historian, as that "brilliant, fanciful, unscrupulous child of earth,
and the Renaissance," of whom we think, but the dying, lonely woman who,
her mind unchanged, her old courage gone, "called for a sword to be
constantly beside her, and thrust it from time to time through the
arras as if she heard murderers stirring there". What a subject for a
picture!

The quarters were struck by the chiming of the Abbey clock inside, and
the booming of Big Ben outside, and as we wandered from chapel to chapel
I was wooing those lurking beauties of the building which wait patiently
for the day, the hour, and the man who is to find out their loveliness.
The ordinary visitor is mostly too engaged in picking up crumbs of
information to have leisure to lift his eyes to the sculptured figures
which stand aloft in the blue haze of encroaching twilight. Neither does
he catch the secret flame of some obscure window which suddenly shines
out like a sinking sun through the forest of pillars and arches, nor
notice the jealous little doors to which only the privileged have the
key. I found one such this afternoon in the Chapel of Edward the
Confessor, but when I put my eye to the keyhole, nothing but darkness
rewarded my curiosity. Mrs. Darling asked me if I'd ever had any luck
with keyholes, and I was obliged to admit that I hadn't--still, one
never knows.

There was no need to peer through the keyhole of the door leading to the
Islip Chamber, because for the moderate sum of threepence we were
admitted without parley.

The guide pushed back a door into darkness, touched a button, and
behold a flight of steps leading up to the strange lodging of the
life-sized dolls.

Charles the Second was the first to confront us, his bold black eyes
meeting Mrs. Darling's inquisitive glance with a sinister challenge.

      "Of a tall stature and of sable hue,
      Much like the son of Kish that lofty grew."

"I wouldn't trust 'im a inch further than I could see 'im," was Mrs.
Darling's comment on the "Merry Monarch".

I complimented her on being a good judge of character. The guide had
turned on the electric lights, which were fixed to shine on the silent
company standing in their glass cases. William III and Mary in their
purple velvet and brocades, their real point de rose and imitation
jewels. The Duke of Buckingham, who died at the age of nineteen, lies on
a bier in the centre of the room. The effigy lay in state at his
mother's house, and one reads that she invited all her friends to see
it, stating that "she could carry them in conveniently by a back door".
Plain Queen Anne and "La Belle Stuart," the Duchess of Richmond, loved,
in vain, by Charles II, and jealous for the posthumous reputation of her
beauty. She left orders that her effigy, "as well done as could be,"
should be placed "under clear crown glass and none other". She should
have been content to go down to posterity as the figure of Britannia on
the coins.

Mrs. Darling thought the Duchess would "'ave a bit of a shock if she
could see 'erself now," and, indeed, I have rarely seen a more cynical
comment on the glory that passes than is to be found in these weird
figures in their dingy finery. Yet they have a dignity, and an exciting
interest. One can approach unmolested and share the privilege of the cat
who may look at a king. One may try to pierce the secrets hidden or
betrayed by those waxen masks. There is Queen Elizabeth, for instance
(to my mind the most arresting figure in the collection); the face is
taken from a death mask, and there is something disquieting in the eyes,
awful with the horror of death. A strange face, possessing in its
smallness the curiously repellant qualities of great age: a face to
which the kindly homeliness of Nelson's in the next case made reassuring
contrast.

[Illustration: WAX EFFIGIES OF QUEEN ELIZABETH AND CHARLES THE SECOND.]

Mrs. Darling said "Elizabeth didn't look 'uman," and I suppose one
touches on the tragedy of her life when one says that it is always as a
queen, rather than as a woman, one regards her. Yet she had her feminine
vanities. I have always been impressed by the account of her travelling
from Richmond to Chelsea by night because the torchlight was more
kind to her wrinkles than was the daylight.

The bell was tolling for afternoon service, the voice of a guide could
be heard echoing in the chapels below, and we had the place to
ourselves. Mrs. Darling returned and had another look at Charles II,
just, as she expressed it, to "wonder what any woman could see in him,"
and, for the moment, I was alone with those waxen men and women who
stared at me across the ages. There is something oddly intimate about a
wax figure, and I was making strides in the acquaintance of Queen
Elizabeth and Nelson when the verger returned with the intimation that
sight-seers must depart, as Evensong was about to begin. Remorselessly
he switched off the lights and we clattered down the wooden stairway,
leaving the little company of strangely assorted ghosts to their dreams,
and maybe an interchange of thoughts as the outcome of their long
broodings.

It occurred to me as we came into the sunlight again, that while we were
about it we would go and see the older figures which have been placed in
the Norman Undercroft. And so we turned into Dean's Yard, and from
thence to the cloisters, pausing now and again to read the inscriptions
on the tombstones over which we walked. The lettering on some of them
had been freshly chiselled, and the names stood out, giving, it seemed,
new life to the memories of those who lay beneath.

Mrs. Darling complained that I might have taken her to a more cheerful
place, giving it as her opinion that Westminster Abbey was "nothink more
than a bloomin' churchyard". I had to remind her that it is we who, in
that place, are the ghosts, and the ghosts who are the real people. The
present no longer exists for us. We left it, half an hour ago, to
adventure into the dim old ages.

"Speak for yourself, sir," said she. "The present's good enough for me.
You got a white mark on yer coat leaning up against the wall, and
there's the old chap waiting what you asked to take us underground."

The verger approached with a bunch of keys, leading the way through the
"dark cloister" to a door above which was an iron grating. At its
opening, a gloomy dungeon-like interior was disclosed, but he put up his
hand, and in a moment the Undercroft was flooded with electric light. It
is of spacious proportions and of Norman architecture, having a
clean-swept empty appearance. On the floor are some glass cases
containing the oldest of the effigies, the actual figures which were
carried at the funerals. Here is Katherine of Valois. I never hear her
name without remembering a passage in Pepys' Diary, where he says: "To
Westminster Abbey and there did see all the tombs very finely, having
one with us alone ... and here we did see, by particular favour, the
body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and I had the upper part of her body
in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did
kiss a queen, and that this was my birthday, thirty-six years old."

"Well, who'd er thought they'd come to this!" exclaimed Mrs. Darling, as
she gazed at the "ragged regiment". "_Wot_ a show up! Why, _this_ one
ain't decent," pointing to the nude figure of Prince Henry of Wales.

The verger explained that these historic dolls had been discovered lying
in the cellars under the Dean's house, and how I envied the finder! If
only I could get free permission to roam the Abbey and its precincts
night and day, open every door I came to, go down every cellar, explore
every passage, mount every stairway, I should want to live for ever. I
said as much to Mrs. Darling, and she remarked that it wouldn't surprise
her to hear that, when I got to heaven, I'd been given "some nosey job".

Quite an inspiring idea! and I warned her that next time she came to the
Abbey she might see my ghost peeping through a keyhole.

She shook her head. "You ain't ever likely to meet _me_ 'ere," she
said, "for if I _must_ speak the truth, sir, I think it's very dry."

I told her that was because she didn't realise the living, human side of
the people in whose likeness the effigies had been made, and I captured
her attention with gossip about Henry VII, whose mother was not quite
fourteen when she gave birth to him, and whose usurious disposition led
him to think first of marrying his own daughter-in-law, then a lady who
was insane. The information that on his death-bed he had discharged the
debts of all prisoners in London who owed no more than forty shillings,
roused a cynical comment from the old lady to the effect that Henry VII
did his devil-dodging at the expense of his heirs.

We left the dark cloister as we talked and turned into the vaulted
passage leading to the corner which I have sometimes heard described as
"The Monk's Garden". Surely there is no more peaceful spot in all
London. The little fountain in the enclosure bubbles all day long to the
silence, the huge plane tree above it spreads wide arms to the old
arcade, and ferns unfold their green fronds to the sunshine. It is a
place in which to meditate kindly on the weaknesses of poor human
nature, and to dwell with reverence on its greatness.

I felt impelled to set Henry VII right with Mrs. Darling, and suggested
we should return to visit his chapel, but the words fell on stony soil.
Mrs. D.'s face assumed the expression with which I associated "dryness,"
and I proposed instead an adjournment to one of the neighbouring
tea-shops. The old lady at once became alert, and taking the lead, towed
me reluctantly through Dean's Yard into the roar of Victoria Street.

But I could not so easily shake the dust of the Abbey from my feet. I
felt as one of those wax effigies would feel could he come to life, and
stepping from out of his glass case, take a walk to Charing Cross. Then
a strange idea occurred. Suppose I _was_ one of them? It was possible,
if the theory of a former existence holds water. I might be a Charles
II, a Henry VII, a Nelson! On second thoughts, though, I am more
inclined to class myself with the artistic fraternity--a Garrick, a
Beaumont, or a Ben Jonson--"O, rare Ben Jonson!" Yes, I find in myself
traits distinctly reminiscent of the poet who used his pen as Hogarth
used his brush----

"That's the second time you done it, sir." Mrs. Darling's voice brought
me back to the twentieth century with an unpleasant jar.

"Done what?" I asked.

"Run into somebody through not lookin' where yer goin'. That telegraph
boy didn't 'arf size you up. I shouldn't like to repeat wot 'e said."

"I wouldn't ask it of you," I hastened to assure her.

She had come to a halt before the window of an A.B.C. shop. "Look!" she
exclaimed, "_Crumpets!_ 'Ow funny!"

I told her I didn't see the joke, and she said that came of my not
keeping my ears open--the telegraph boy had referred to a certain person
being "balmy on the crumpet!"

I feigned unconsciousness of the deduction. There are occasions when
Mrs. D.'s perverted sense of humour needs keeping in check, and to quote
"Charley's Aunt," it was "such a damned silly joke".

I am sorry to have to end my yarn on this prosaic note, but that is the
way of things in an existence where the necessity to blow your nose or
change your socks breaks in on the most exalted moments.

Believe me, dear Agatha,

      Your devoted,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER III


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _24th September._

Dear Agatha,--I was glad to hear, by the way, that you had been incited
to unearth Pepys from a neglected corner of your bookcase. The old
chap's vitality is infectious. One can scarcely turn a leaf anywhere but
one is interested, amused, or receives the benefit of a shock to one's
sense of the proprieties. This morning I opened him haphazard and read,
"So over the fields to Southwark. I spent half an hour in St. Mary
Overy's Church, where are fine monuments of great antiquity". I took it
as a leading, and this afternoon Mrs. Darling and I paid a visit to
Southwark Cathedral.

The building lies in a hollow, and as one goes down the steps to the
churchyard one leaves behind the rumble of traffic on its way to London
Bridge over the cobbles. Inside we found the length of the long narrow
nave dim and grey, but in the neighbourhood of the clerestory a golden
light diffused itself, falling in patches on the groined roof. At the
tomb of John Gower, the poet, who died in 1408, we paused. It occurred
to me that it might interest Mrs. D. to hear that it was not till his
old age, when his hair was grey, that wearying of his solitary state,
John Gower took a wife.

The old lady stared at the stone effigy with the long hair bound by a
chaplet of red roses, the short curled beard, the clasped hands, and
stiff-buttoned habit falling in straight prim lines to the feet. "They
do say," she remarked parenthetically, that "it's a pore 'eart wot never
rejoices; but perhaps 'e couldn't get anyone to 'ave 'im."

Conscious of a possible application to my own celibate state, I left
John Gower and drew Mrs. D.'s attention to the tomb of John Trehearn,
gentleman servant to Queen Elizabeth and James I. On a table is recorded
the king's testimony to the worth of his servant:--

      Had kings power to lend their subjects breath,
      Trehearn, thou shoulds't not be cast down by death.

John's wife stands by his side, her head reaching but to his shoulder.
John has an apprehensive expression, and his little wife's prim pursed
mouth argues badly for John's happiness and peace of mind. Mrs. Darling,
who, as you will have discovered by this time, is a good judge of
character, said that perhaps, after all, there were worse things than
bachelorhood. I was not in a position to argue the point, and we walked
on into the retro-choir, where lies a curious skeleton effigy, which
represents the ferryman, father of St. Mary Overie, the patron saint of
the church.

The ferryman, it seems, was a penurious old rascal who feigned death for
twenty-four hours, expecting his servants to fast till his funeral and
thus save him the cost of a day's food. The servants, however, who were
half starved, seized the opportunity to break open the larder and feast
instead of fast, and the old ferryman rose in his winding sheet, a
candle in each hand, bent on chastising the miscreants. One of them,
imagining it was the devil himself, picked up the butt end of an oar and
aimed with it a blow which brought the death his master had feigned. His
daughter, whose lover was killed in an accident following the homicide
of her father, entered a convent, and gave the money her father had
amassed to build a house of sisters on the ground where part of the
present church now stands.

There are two windows in the retro-choir of sinister significance. They
represent six clergy of the sixteenth century, and at the base of one of
the windows are the names of Laurence Saunders, Rector of All Hallows,
Bread Street; Robert Ferrier, Bishop of St. David's; Robert Taylor,
Rector of Hadley, Suffolk; and after each name is the awful and laconic
statement, "Burnt". On the other windows the names and dates are almost
indecipherable, but below the central figure stands out one word of
awful import, "Smithfield". The windows have no artistic merit, and
there is nothing arresting in the presentment of those six men who
endured the tortures of the damned for their faith, yet somehow they
seemed from their dark corner at the east end of the retro-choir to
dominate the place. One saw those windows directly one entered--far-off
bits of colour at the base of long tunnels framed by the sharply-pointed
Gothic arches, and the remembrance of them remained, mingling strangely
with thoughts of poets and playwrights. Edmund, brother of William
Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Philip Massinger are buried in the
choir. Of the two last named one doesn't know which had the more tragic
end. Fletcher, the friend of William Shakespeare, who, according to an
old record, had during the great plague been invited by a knight of
Norfolk or Suffolk into the country, and who "stayed in London but to
make himself a suit of clothes, and when it was making, fell sick and
died. This," continues John Aubrey, the writer of the record, "I heard
from the tailor, who is now a very old man, and clerk of St. Marie
Overie."

Massinger, the poet and playwright, died in 1639. The register of that
year records, "Buried, Philip Massinger, a stranger". Poor Philip
Massinger, who, after writing forty popular plays, was buried, a pauper,
at the expense of the parish. Apparently he had been preaching that
which he had been unable to practise when he wrote his play entitled "A
New Way to Pay Old Debts".

Edmund Shakespeare, described as "A Player," died before his brother
William, and perhaps Edmund was in William's thoughts when he wrote:--

      To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
      For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.

Whoever before, whoever again, will express with such heart-searching
simplicity the secret fear which besets us all, that "dread of something
after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller
returns"?

I have strange and uncanny suspicions about Shakespeare. One knows so
little about the _man_ himself, and at times I have wondered if he were
some supernatural being sent, perhaps, from another and more enlightened
world, to be the mouthpiece of poor dumb humanity in this.

It is invariably reserved for Mrs. Darling to bring me up bump against
prosaic facts in the midst of such speculations. We were standing before
the monument erected to the memory of that incredible genius, and she
greeted the alabaster figure which reclines against a topographical
background as an old friend. She knew all about the ghost in "'Amblet"
and something about someone who committed a murder in "Macbeth". She
said, referring to the nude appearance of the poet's legs, that it was
hard on the men of those days who were knock-kneed, they must have felt
very cold with nothing more on their nether limbs than what she
described as a "pair 'er bathin' drawers". A supercilious young woman
standing near turned her lorgnette on the old lady, and fearing
recriminations on the part of Mrs. D., should she discover that she was
an object of derision, I drew her with me to examine some old bosses
which I had noticed, stacked like winter logs in a corner near.

A verger explained that they were removed from the roof of the old nave
when the church was restored. He said they were all of religious
significance. A gross countenance in the act of swallowing a
problematical morsel represented, for instance, the devil consuming
Judas, whilst a hideous face with a lolling, twisted tongue, signified
the liar. There were subjects of beauty, too, and as the man proceeded
with his glib interpretation of those child-like specimens of mediæval
art, I pictured the wood carvers, high up in vaulted roofs, giving the
reins to their varied imaginations--beautiful, devout, ugly, or
grotesque; at times even bestial. What matter! No one of the worshippers
below would see the result of those patient hours of work--only the
sunbeams, finding entrance as they travelled from east to west, or the
light of the moon, stealing like a thief in the night into the darkness
and silence, touching here a rafter, there a bit of carving. And so the
artist could please himself and weave his own fancies, devout or
profane, beautiful or monstrous, up there all alone in the roof, and if
the demons and devils he created leered at the congregations beneath,
the angels smiled at them too, and meanwhile no one was the wiser or any
the worse.

And now here were the old bosses which had lived solitary and unknown in
the dizzy altitudes above the nave, brought down to earth to be stared
at and talked about. Did they appreciate the change? And would their
creators, could they have foreseen such an anti-climax, have made them
different?

I suggested to Mrs. Darling that we should go and have a look at "The
George Inn" while we were in the neighbourhood of the Borough High
Street. A policeman of whom I inquired said he had a sort of notion he
had heard of it. "Down one of those side streets that look as if there's
nothing in them," he volunteered. "About the third or fourth turning."

We found the place easily, owing to the forethought of the proprietor,
who had placed a notice at the entrance of the yard warning passers-by
not to be misled by the appearance of its leading to nothing. The George
Hotel (I was sorry he had adopted that pretentious title in place of the
old word "inn") was there, the notice stated, and with thoughts of stage
coaches, Sam Weller, and Mr. Pickwick I turned into the yard.

Yes, there it was, tucked away in its funny little corner, conscious, it
seemed, of being left behind and forgotten in the present-day rush of
life. There were the old wooden galleries, one above another, running
the length of its long, flat-windowed front, the sloping, red-tiled roof
with its garret windows, the coffee-room with its faded red curtains,
and the entrance by a low door down a step. A waggon, with some porters
in attendance, stood in front of the Great Northern Goods Depot at the
farther end of the yard, but no signs of life about "The George," save a
charwoman with a pail in the lower of the two galleries. This was
probably owing to the fact that it was closing time: surely an
opportunity for the ghosts to put in an appearance! Perhaps, though,
they preferred the bustle of customers and clink of glasses. For myself,
I must confess that the sight of a closed "pub" has an effect as
depressing as that which attends a walk in the City streets between
three and four o'clock on a Christmas afternoon.

I apologised to Mrs. Darling for not being able to offer her a drink at
"The George," and we retraced our steps towards London Bridge. Some day,
Agatha, I will take you to London Bridge about 4.30 on a November
afternoon, when there is just the right kind of sunset to fit the
picture. It was the right kind this afternoon--one of those skies
suffused with rose-coloured clouds which come on like the reinforcements
of a vast army under the smoke of artillery, sullenly beautiful with a
mood which found its response in the river glazed with a reflection of
colour over its black oily depths. Of all the sights of London this, to
myself, is the most inspiring, and judging by the row of loiterers one
invariably finds leaning over the parapet, there are others who fall
under its spell. London Bridge says to the big ships which the Tower
Bridge has opened its arms to receive, "Thus far and no farther," and
there they lie in the Pool, whilst the cranes, like giant fishing-rods,
angle for their booty. Villainous-looking little tugs, with sinister
green lights, belch black smoke which mingles with the white steam and
yellow smoke from the funnels of the large boats. Amidst coils of rope,
bales of goods, and a smutty mirk, the wharf workers and sailors move
like ants to the accompaniment of clanking chains and the hooting of
sirens. On the sides of the ships are painted strange-looking foreign
names, Dutch, Norwegian, and Greek, and Mrs. Darling awoke with surprise
to the knowledge that tea from India was deposited almost on her
doorstep.

Whilst we stood there a big boat moved out into mid-stream, making a
stately course through the smoke-veiled sunset towards where the Tower
Bridge was opening its portals with a welcome to the high seas beyond.
As the vessel neared the bridge, it was as if the artist who was
painting the picture had touched it here and there with the point of a
luminous pencil. The pencil travelled along the blackened wharves,
dotting them with pin-pricks of light, and the men on the barges and
boats below began to hang out their lanthorns. It was an epic, this
passing of the ship through the gates of Old Father Thames. The lights
shone out to give it good speed, and the smouldering fires of sunset
followed in its wake. The majesty of the scene filled one with a sense
of elation, and I said to myself, "It is not for nothing that London is
called 'the Heart of the Empire'".

Mrs. Darling asked me if it was true that houses were built on old
London Bridge, and I quoted the description of the place by a
contemporary writer: "The _street_," he says, "was dark, narrow, and
dangerous, the houses overhanging the road so as to almost shut out the
daylight," adding the information that "arches of timber crossed the
street to keep the shaky old tenements from falling on each other."
"London Bridge," declared an old proverb, "was made for wise men to go
over and fools to go under," but when one reads such statements as "in
1401 another house on the bridge fell down, drowning five of its
inhabitants," it occurs to one that there was almost as much danger
overhead as below, where fifty watermen were computed to be drowned
every year.

What a picture those old records paint! There can be no pictures like it
in the London of to-day. Add the ghastly touch of a row of rotting heads
spiked on the battlements, and you are set wondering anew at the weird
psychology of the dark ages.

I told Mrs. D. the story of Sir Thomas More's head, which his daughter
bribed a man to remove from the spike on the bridge and drop into a boat
below where she sat, and the old lady said, "It must 'ave bin a good
shot". The person responsible for Mrs. D.'s anatomy left out the bump of
reverence; sentiment is also foreign to her composition, whilst her
scepticism of anything she cannot actually see and touch is a deeply
ingrained quality. Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII, Charles II, the
Christian martyrs, are, in her estimation, to be taken with a grain of
salt. She makes no distinction between them and "'Amblet" or the
creations of Bunyan's brain. Tradition is a dead letter to her, and
although she takes a marked interest in the Plague and the Great Fire, I
have a suspicion if she were asked to "have a bit" on the actuality of
those happenings, she would lay odds for, with a sensation of risk.

Another story of a head, instinct with the fee-faw-fum spirit of the
times, is that about good old John Fisher, who would not recognise the
spiritual claims of Henry VIII. Fisher's head was parboiled before being
spiked, and, according to Walter Thornbury, in his "Old and New London,"
"the face for a fortnight remained so ruddy and lifelike and such crowds
collected to see the so-called miracle, that the king, in a rage, at
last ordered the head to be thrown down into the river".

But, dear lady, I am burning the midnight oil and must to bed. Do I
dream, or does the old watchman pass my window crying:--

      Maids in your smocks,
      Look to your locks,
      Your fire and your light,
      And give you good night?

Anyhow, it is a relief to turn from those ghastly trophies on the
battlements of the Bridge to this kindly warning with its concluding
benediction.

I echo the latter, and am ever yours,

      GEORGE.



CHAPTER IV


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      _7th October._

Dear Agatha,--I'm glad you were interested in the account of my outing
with Mrs. Darling. Your reference to Verdant Green was apposite but not
quite kind. I bear no malice, however: witness the continuation of the
history of my wanderings.

I have been reading "Pepys' Diary" for what Mrs. Darling would call the
"umpteenth" time. Strangely enough, I had never visited his tomb, and it
occurred to me that Mrs. Darling and I might make a day of it, starting
with Bankside and working round to Hart Street, Seething Lane, by way of
Upper Thames Street. We got off our 'bus at Southwark Street because I
wanted to see some ancient alms-houses I had been told were tucked away
in a side turning near. Alms-houses have an atmosphere of their own
which I always find congenial to my age and aspirations--a roof to cover
one, food and light, and time to idle: what more could one want! Mrs.
Darling didn't agree with me. She is not the kind of woman to grow old
gracefully. She runs across roads, and would no more dream of sitting
over the fire doing nothing for half an hour than she would contemplate
wearing caps--I refer to old ladies' caps, not the cloth variety which
is the approved head-dress for ladies of her class when doing the
morning's shopping.

We found Hopton's Alms-house in Holland Street almost by chance. It is
so easy to pass along the end of the street without discovering anything
unusual. One sees nothing but an iron railing and a hint of green, and
had I not been on the look out, I should have gone my way unconscious of
Hopton and the little oasis he had created for his old men and women in
this corner of the busy city.

We found that the iron railing shut off a little world of "God's
Houses," as they call them in Belgium, from the squalid road and the
tall ugly buildings opposite. On a tablet was inscribed the laconic
statement, "Chas. Hopton, Esq.: Sole founder of this charity. Anno
1752," and when the winter's gales roar down the chimneys at nights, or
the rain beats against the casements, I hope the pensioners sometimes
give Charles a grateful thought.

The houses are built in blocks round three sides of a green which is
traversed by paved paths and set with trees, one tree in each section.
The grass was very green, and pigeons were assembled on the tiled roofs.
There were wooden benches placed at intervals, and a sleek cat sat on
one of them, whilst some caged birds sang unconcernedly over its head.

I spoke to an old man who stood at the door of one of the houses, and he
took us to the back of his dwelling to show us his little garden, in
which a few chrysanthemums were making a brave struggle against the city
smoke. Each house, he pointed out, had its allotment, but the
overshadowing warehouses and factories made gardening a rather thankless
task.

Continuing our way we turned into a side street of mean houses, at the
end of which the vicinity of the river was disclosed by the rattle and
clank of huge cranes as they made their lazy circular movements against
the sky.

We were in Shakespeare's world, and Bear Garden's Alley must have been
named after the Bear Garden, which was almost next door to the Globe
Theatre, where Shakespeare acted. Rose Alley, too, was reminiscent of
the Rose Theatre, where Ben Jonson's plays were performed. But what has
this dingy wharf to do with the rural scene amidst which those old
theatres were placed? Surely there never could have been fields and
country lanes in this neighbourhood of slums, factories, and
warehouses! Fields and lanes which would be sweet with the scents of
summer evenings, and which Shakespeare must have walked, thinking
perhaps of "a bank where wild thyme grows, quite over-canopied with
luscious woodbine".

It was low tide, and the river flowing oilily between its banks was of
the same hue as the mud. A fog haze lurked in the background all round,
and on the opposite side a red-painted barge stood out as if having
caught the warmth of a hidden sun. A few moments ago there had been no
St. Paul's, but now there grew the vague outline of a vast circumference
suspended in the air high above the warehouses opposite. Minute by
minute, as the veil-thinned details were born, the sun found the gold
cross, and the dome washed with purple rose as at the touch of an
enchanter's wand into the sun-rayed vista.

"_That's_ a place I never bin to," observed Mrs. Darling with an air of
conscious virtue. I did not suggest that she should make good the
omission. To tell the truth, the outside of St. Paul's makes me happier
than the inside. To see its purple dome float in majesty above the sea
of house-tops, as unsubstantial as an opium-eater's dream, or to meet
its august presence face to face half-way up Ludgate Hill, when the
pigeons are wheeling round it like bits of tinder blown from an unseen
fire, is to find that "thing of beauty" which is a "joy for ever". But
to go inside is to lose one's identity in a homeless immensity and a
wilderness of echoes.

I was reluctant to leave the river-side. It is an ideal spot for
"loafing". The men employed on wharves and barges are a class apart from
the ordinary workman, it always seems to me. They may not be conscious
of it, but the meditative spirit of the lazy tide, the slow-moving
barges, and those silent activities of the river's life have instilled
in them a poetical and contemplative outlook on existence which no other
calling can inspire.

We crossed the river by the temporary bridge, and turning to the right
made our way along Upper Thames Street. As we went I meditated on
"What's in a name?" the question being suggested by the quaint
nomenclature of the courts and alleys of the city. From the stores of my
memory I could produce Hanging Sword Alley, Dark House Lane, Passing
Alley, Pudding Lane, Hen and Chicken's Court, World's End Passage, Fig
Tree Court, Green-Arbour Court, Boss Alley, Maypole Alley, Crucifix
Lane, Sugar Loaf Court. And last week I came across a book dated 1732 in
which was an alphabetical table of all the streets, courts, lanes,
alleys, yards, rows, within the bills of mortality. Some day I'm going
to take that old book with me and go on a voyage of discovery. Are Dirty
Lane and Deadman's Place still to be found in the parish of Southwark?
Is Coffin Alley still in St. Sepulchre's? I'm afraid not, and I'm quite
sure that Damnation Alley no longer graces St. Martin's in the Fields.

By way of Fish Street Hill, Eastcheap, Great Tower Street, and Mark Lane
we approached St. Olave's in Hart Street. As, however, I wanted to look
through the railings at the old churchyard, we turned the corner into
Seething Lane, where, on top of the iron gate, is a sinister memento of
the Plague. They were weird times, those old days, with their childish
spirit of fee-faw-fum, and the skulls and crossbones on top of the gate
bring a breath from the dark ages into some moment of to-day. Probably
not one person in a hundred notices the skulls or pauses to look through
the iron railings and reflect that Pepys himself must have walked down
that very pathway between the gravestones on that occasion of which he
wrote. "This is the first time I have been in the church since I left
London for the Plague," he says, "and it frighted me indeed to go
through the church, more than I thought it could have done, to see so
many graves lie so high upon the churchyard. I was much troubled at it,
and do not think to go through it again a good while." Later he records
the reassurance he had experienced in seeing those same graves mantled
in snow.

I believe it was the custom when making the entry to add the letter P
after the names of those who had perished by the Black Death, but I have
never had the privilege of seeing the registers. Mary Ramsey, who is
supposed to have brought the Plague into London, is buried in the
churchyard.

The church is square, with a columned nave, and the old glass in the
large east window sheds a mellow light on some painted figures on a tomb
near. The building does not wear its history on its sleeve, but Samuel
Pepys (the only man who ever told the unromantic truth about himself)
could, if he would, paint pictures of some of the scenes those old walls
have witnessed. His body lies beneath the altar, and high above it, on
the north-east wall, is the monument to his wife. She has a girl-like,
engaging face, the head bent slightly forward as if in the act of
listening for some message from her lord and master who lies so silent
below.

It is certain that when Pepys was so frank with himself about his
weaknesses, he never imagined he was going to have an audience which
would last through the centuries. I wondered as I looked at the
sculptured face with its expression a little wistful, and a little
supercilious, which of us would care to purchase notoriety at such a
price?

Mrs. Darling inquired curiously about the nature of those
self-revelations, and as we consumed our chops and baked potatoes, and
drank our ale at a little restaurant near, I told her of a certain Cock
Tavern opposite the Temple, where Pepys in his diary mentions bringing
Mrs. Knipp (an actress of whom his wife was jealous), and where they
"drank, eat a lobster and sang and mighty merry till almost midnight".
And how these meetings went on until Mrs. Pepys came to the bedside of
her husband one night and threatened to pinch him with red-hot tongs....
Whereupon Mrs. Darling found a resemblance between the Essayist and
"that other old gentleman in the waxworks". "Saucy kippers," she called
them both, bracketing King Charles with the roving Samuel.

In justice to poor Samuel, however, I told the old lady how he had said,
"My wife seemed very pretty to-day, it being for the first time I had
given her leave to wear a black patch". How on another occasion he
records, "Talking with my wife, in whom I never had greater content,
blessed be God!" How he had given her five pounds to buy a petticoat,
and how he states that he is "as happy a man as any in the world....
And all do impute almost wholly to my late temperance, since my making
of my vows against wine and play."

Mrs. Darling, who had finished her second glass of ale and felt
cheerful, pulled on her woollen gloves and set her ten-and-elevenpenny
hat at a more jaunty angle. Men, she declared, were "rovin' by nature,"
and if a woman wanted to be happy there were "some things she got to
shut her eyes to". Half the women who grumbled about their husbands had
in _her_ opinion got nobody but themselves to thank for it. The theme is
a favourite one of the old lady's, and she continued her discourse as we
made our way to Houndsditch--a "melancholy" spot, according to
Shakespeare, taking its name from the old city ditch full of dead dogs.
A region of small wholesale shops in the drapery line which made no
pretentions at setting out the wares to advantage, everything being
conducted on strict business principles which left no room for trifling.
One came across such announcements as "Grand Order of Israel Friendly
Society," and names of such Biblical association as Abraham Lazarus,
Isaac Levi, and Simon Solomon. You might by favour purchase a solitary
blouse or a dozen of buttons, but it was not with such casual purchasers
the little shops wished to trade.

We happened on a gateway over which was inscribed, "Phil's Buildings,
Clothes and General Market". A man who had been sitting unnoticed in a
pay-box thrust his head out of the little window. "Want anyone in there,
sir?" he asked.

"No, I want to see the place."

"Penny, please."

I produced two, and we found ourselves in a yard on each side of which
were empty houses, apparently used as warehouses for second-hand
clothes. Beyond was a little market-place where men were ranging their
goods on long forms under a zinc roof. All round lay huge bundles of
wearing apparel--one bundle would contain men's underwear, another
trousers, another coats, not to mention piles of old boots, hats, and
indiscriminate rubbish.

Through the unglazed windows of the empty houses could be seen a
salesman fitting a customer with an overcoat, and a ticket hanging from
the window-sill gave the information that paper and string cost 2d.

Mrs. Darling said there might be bargains to be had if the buyer was "in
the know," the prices placed upon the garments having no relation to
what the seller expected to get (unless "a mug" came along). Bargaining
was the very spirit of the place, and a good Jew would feel defrauded
of his sport if a customer made no attempt to beat him down.

There was a market every day at two o'clock, the Jew in the pay-box told
us, and on being questioned he was quite ready to talk about the slums
near. A neighbourhood where you wanted a protector after dark--a person
like himself, for instance, who knew every man and woman in the place,
and who, _for a consideration_, would take the gentleman round and show
him such things as he had never dreamed of. There was the house which
had been raided by the police and three of them shot--he could show the
bullet marks in the wall. Then there was Mitre Court, where "Jack the
Ripper" had followed on the very heels of the policeman on his beat and
murdered a poor creature within ear-shot and almost eye-shot of the man
in blue, and never a sound of the horrible outrage to break the silence
of the night.

There are other sinister associations connected with the spot, and as I
listened I remembered the houses near which were built on one of the
plague pits. When the workmen were digging foundations they came upon
hundreds of bodies, being able to distinguish the women by their long
hair. There was an outcry about the fear of contagion, and the bodies
were removed and buried all together in a deep hole dug for the
purpose at the upper end of Rose Alley. I should not like to live in a
house built on a plague pit.

[Illustration: GREAT ST. HELEN'S.]

"Great St. Helen's" in Bishopgate Street was a pleasant change from the
horrors to which we had just been listening. The churchyard was carpeted
with dead leaves and the church inside was vague with a coloured dusk.
The glowing windows shut out the light, but through one of plain glass
the sun entered, making a rainbow bridge high up across the nave towards
the Figure of the Good Shepherd on the opposite window.

As we walked round, trying in the semi-darkness to read the inscriptions
on the tombs of Sir John Crosby, grocer and woolstapler, who built
Crosby Hall; Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange; and Julius
Cæsar, Privy Counsellor to James I, the sunbeams which had penetrated
here and there through cracks and crevices were crossing swords in the
gloom of the old building, finding out a crimson cushion, a sculptured
face or hands folded in prayer, and lighting, as it were, candles in odd
corners.

Not a vestige remains of the old priory of St. Helen's, and the nuns'
gratings on the north side, which communicated with the old crypt, have
now nothing but darkness to reveal to the curious who peer through them.
On the same side of the church is a walled-up door, and a little
circular stone staircase which invites ascent, then confronts the
explorer with impenetrable gloom and "no thoroughfare". The old building
has lost a limb, and "Finis" is, it seems, writ suddenly in the middle
of an exciting chapter.

Mrs. Darling suffers from an infirmity which she describes as "bad
feet," so instead of going on to the Charterhouse, as we had intended,
we had tea, then home by 'bus.

Mrs. Darling, over her third cup, became expansive, and addressed me as
"Old sport". I must certainly give a little time to the study of Cockney
slang. I have arrived at the conclusion that it very effectively fills
gaps left by the vocabulary of the more cultured and colourless classes.

"Old sport." Not half a bad term. There are moods in which I could apply
it to yourself, and occasions on which I really think you might accept
it as a compliment.

Yours with the best of intentions,

      GEORGE.



CHAPTER V


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      _1st November._

Dear Agatha,--Yes, I am sure you would find the study of Pepys a
profitable one. Why not read him to the Mothers' Meeting instead of "The
Parent's Friend" or "How to Keep your Husband out of the 'Pub'"? The old
chap can be as smug and moral as Sandford and Merton, and his
instructiveness is always involuntary.

But to the continuation of the story of my wanderings.

Smithfield, apart from its terrible associations with the Christian
martyrs, is not a pleasant place to visit. On every side one is
confronted by corpses sewn up in muslin shrouds, whilst ghoulish men in
greasy overalls, their hands smeared with blood, superintend the packing
of dead flesh into huge vans. A vegetarian could not find a happier spot
in which to point the moral of his message. Mrs. Darling said it made
her feel as if she could never look a bullock or a sheep in the face
again, and the mutton chop I had had for lunch haunted my digestion.

It was a relief to leave these horrors for Charterhouse Square, a sad
enclosure behind iron railings where the yellow leaves lay thick on the
grass and the benches stood empty under the avenue of limes.

The sparrows and starlings were as vociferous as they only can be on a
November afternoon when dusk is approaching. Their notes made a volume
of soft whistling sound which flowed like a tide in the still, cold air.
It followed us through the gateway and into the courtyard, becoming
muffled as we went, then giving place to the perfect peace and quiet of
the old buildings and their surroundings.

Charterhouse has experienced three phases--first, the Carthusian
monastery, then the residence of members of the nobility, lastly, the
alms-house for old gentlemen; and it is in this latter capacity that its
appeal has always lain for myself, or rather, perhaps, I should say it
is the alms-house grafted on that background of ancient history which
stirs the imagination.

[Illustration: THE CHARTERHOUSE.]

In 1611, at the close of the occupation of the Duke of Norfolk and Lord
Thomas Howard, it was bought and endowed as a hospital and school by Mr.
Thomas Sutton. The school was removed in 1872, and the number of
pensioners ("bachelors or widowers over sixty, gentlemen by descent
and in poverty") has been reduced from eighty to fifty.

Mrs. Darling, who has a kindly feeling for "old chaps" (witness her good
offices to the writer), was very particular in her enquiries as to what
was done for the comfort of these particular old gentlemen, and, judged
by the answers of the guide, they have a quite enviable time. I
shouldn't mind being one myself.

A comfortable bed-sitting-room, with a fire to go to bed by (each
pensioner is allowed two tons and a quarter of coal a year), good food,
and forty pounds a year pocket money: what more could one want in those
later years when desires become fewer with the growing restfulness of
old age! Mrs. Darling was of the opinion that the banning of her sex was
to be traced to the monkish associations of the place, and considered it
a thing to be deprecated. Men, left to themselves, she declared, got
"very narrer-minded and dull". They needed a woman to sharpen their wits
"jest the same as a cat needs somethink to sharpen 'is claws on".

We went through a paved passage where are the memorial tablets to some
of the old school boys since become famous--Thackeray, Wesley, Sir Henry
Havelock, Addison, and Steele--and the guide opening a door at the end,
we caught a glimpse of stained glass windows and the dark heavy
interior of the Jacobean chapel. In the silence we could hear the
tick-tock of the chapel clock, that same old clock which seems the
familiar spirit of such places.

I suppose, Agatha, the Charterhouse chapel spells to you, as it does to
me, Colonel Newcome, and in the raw dusk of the November afternoon I
seemed, in the words of Thackeray, to hear "the old reverend blackgowns
coughing feebly in the twilight----"

There were candles in those days; now, the guide touches a button and
the place is illumined by electric lights--not too many, however--just
enough to throw shadows across the aisles and burnish the carvings on
the pensioners' seats. As we stared at the founder's tomb, and heard of
the customs appertaining to the 12th of December, fiction became merged
in fact, and Colonel Newcome grew from out the shadows of the past, a
figure as convincing as any of those buried beneath the old flagstones.

"His dear old head was bent down over his prayer-book; there was no
mistaking him. He wore the black gown of the pensioners of the Hospital
of Grey Friars. His Order of the Bath was on his breast. He stood there
amongst the poor brethren, uttering the responses to the psalm. The
steps of this good man had been ordered thither by Heaven's decree: to
this alms-house! Here it was ordained that a life all love, and
kindness, and honour should end!"

The guide stood back for us to leave, switched off the lights, and
closed the door on the vision of those "reverend blackgowns coughing
feebly in the twilight". But carrying the remembrance of them with us,
we followed him to Norfolk House. The bare boards of the great oak
staircase have a well-scrubbed appearance, and everywhere was silence, a
dead magnificence, and chill austerity. One can imagine the brothers'
rooms, homelike in the cheerful blaze of their fires, but Norfolk House,
with its great staircase, its library and tapestry room, its tiny
picture gallery and terrace, possesses the tragic aloofness of things
which, having survived their uses, remain to be stared at as relics. The
guide switched on the lights as he went, and there sprang to view the
library with its book-lined walk--old books of Jesuit travel and
divinity which are never opened from one year's end to another. In their
dim bindings they make a scholarly background for the Chippendale
furniture, and the portrait of the man who had bequeathed them to the
institution presides wistfully over the neglected feast of letters. From
thence into the governor's room, with its painted Florentine
mantelpiece, its faded tapestries, leaden-paned diamond windows, and the
arms of the Norfolk family emblazoning the ceiling.

All came to view with the switching on of the lights, then faded into
the dusk again at the touch of a button. Our footsteps echoed hollow
down the great dim staircase, and we entered the dining-hall, the most
ancient of the buildings of pre-Reformation date. Here was the warmth of
human contact again: the embers of a fire glowed on the wide hearth
under the carved stone chimney piece, and Mrs. Darling said she could
smell stewed rabbit and apple tart. She seemed quite pleased with this
unofficial testimony to the kind of fare provided for the brothers, and
when the guide told her that ale was allowed to all, and whisky to some,
her opinion of the administration of the charity went up by leaps and
bounds.

Mrs. Darling has no sympathy with the Pussyfoot movement. The late Mr.
Darling, it seems, was, like Peggotty's husband, "a little near" when he
was sober, and but for his habit of now and again taking too much his
wife would never have got a new hat or frock. "Why this very ole plush
jacket he bought me the day after 'e'd got drunk and give me a black
eye!" she stated triumphantly, "an' it wasn't on'y wot 'e _give_ me
neither. It wos wot I used ter pinch when I turned out 'is pockets! I
got as much as ten bob at a time, an' he daren't say 'e'd lost anythink,
because _I'd_ 'ave said 'e'd kep' bad company and bin robbed!"

Mrs. Darling has an ironic sense of humour you will observe.

I think, of all the pictures provided by the Charterhouse, the one which
gave me the greatest enjoyment was that which met our eyes when the
guide opened the door of the "brothers'" library. He had first taken the
precaution to see that the room was unoccupied, so I imagine it is not
exactly on the list of those parts of the buildings free to the public.
The place is a long, low-ceiled apartment (originally the monks'
refectory), pillared and wainscotted, with square lozenge-paned windows
through which the light of the fading afternoon entered reluctantly. It
must, at any time, be a dark room, the outstanding bookcases dividing it
into aisles, at the end of which were the dusty old windows.

But in the twilight, with a ruby fire glowing on the hearth, a large
crimson Turkey rug before it, and a semi-circle of empty wooden chairs
ranged round, it struck a note of comfort and homeliness very welcome
after our wanderings through rooms given over to ghosts. Not that those
same ghosts did not lurk here too. The empty wooden chairs with their
stiff, outstretched arms, had a suggestion of waiting for a company
other than the black-robed pensioners who, apparently, were fonder of
their own bed-sitting-rooms than this ancient apartment with its monkish
associations.

But the guide was waiting for us: there is no time allowed for dreaming
in these places. One must do that afterwards at home, and I sometimes
think, Agatha, that more even than my enjoyment in the actual visits to
these old scenes, is the pleasure of talking to you about them in these
letters.

A solitary gas lamp was flickering here and there in the cloisters when
we came outside, and we found the sparrows and starlings still
continuing their concert with indefatigable energy. As they flew round
and round the trees it was difficult to distinguish between birds and
falling leaves. The dusk was peopled with both.

The proximity to St. Bartholomew's suggested a visit, and we walked a
few yards down Aldersgate Street and from thence into Cloth Fair. Of the
original Cloth Fair there is very little left now. On every side you see
empty spaces where, not many years ago, had been tortuous streets and
courts of ancient houses that must have witnessed the reign of many a
king and queen--houses that stood there long before the Christian
martyrs were burnt at Smithfield, and first plague, then fire, ravaged
the city. Could they have told their terrible secrets those ancient
dwellings might have recounted stories as terrorising as the most
blood-curdling of nightmares.

[Illustration: A BIT OF OLD SMITHFIELD]

Of the particular row of houses which had always appealed to me by
reason of their contiguity to the churchyard, part of one only remains.
Many a time have I stood and stared at the dingy backs of those
unwholesome dwellings, wondering what it must feel like to live in a
room with a discoloured tombstone peeping in at the window. Familiarity,
one imagines, would breed contempt, but there would be times during
sleepless nights, or in some hour of depression, when the horrid
nearness of that sooty churchyard, with its mouldering bodies under the
rank grass and refuse, would foster the evil imaginations of madness.

However, the houses, and many of their like, have gone now, and Cloth
Fair and Little Britain, with the exception of little bits here and
there such as in East Passage, make space for business premises and
warehouses. In the midst of it all stands St. Bartholomew the Great, a
thing of mutilated limbs--witness the scars on portions of its walls
where its members have been dissevered, and where in their place
mundane buildings have crowded up to within a few yards of it. Yet there
it stands, in dignified aloofness from the intrusive neighbours who
nudge its elbows with irreverent and familiar touch. They may rub
shoulders with it at every point, but between them and it is no more
intimacy than there is between Rahere, its founder, and the sight-seer
who, gazing at his tomb, learns the story of his conversion from jester
to monk. The strange story of a vision of St. Bartholomew, in which the
Saint, with a practical regard to detail, ordered Rahere to build a
church in Smithfield, a behest the noble fulfilment of which is made
evident in the old walls that have weathered so many centuries, and the
Hospital next door.

St. Bartholomew's is one of those buildings which has, like some people,
to be known to be loved. At first one is almost repelled by its austere
and dignified beauty. It is unapproachable with the unapproachableness
of the great. It is dim, too, with the pathetic dimness of a lonely old
age, and one's sense of reverence is violated when one learns that the
Lady Chapel was at one time tenanted by a fringe manufacturer, and the
north transept used as a blacksmith's forge.

But the age of vandalism is past, and within the old walls law and
order are restored. The ring of the blacksmith's hammer has given place
to the solemn notes of the organ, the blaze of the forge fire to the
soft light of altar candles. The fret and hurry of life no more cross
the threshold, and you can meditate undisturbed.

Mrs. Darling was obviously bored. Historical details and dates leave her
cold. She does not belong to the class of sight-seers who, hungry for
information, follow sheep-like in the wake of the guide. She wanders off
on her own and has a curious faculty for seizing on some unimportant
detail which makes a personal appeal to her. Charterhouse will always
mean for her the figure of one of the old pensioners we saw in the
cloisters. A funny old chap in a large slouch felt hat, a dirty trench
coat, and with his trousers sagging about his ankles--that and the smell
of stewed rabbit and apple tart, together with rumours of nips of whisky
and glasses of ale, will stand out in her memory from an undigested mass
of "dry" facts and a background of empty echoing rooms and old grey
walls, which latter, as she expressed it, "give her the pip". The
history of The Priory of St. Bartholomew made her tired, and I suggested
an adjournment.

As we passed St. Bartholomew's Hospital I pointed out to her the brass
plate in the wall on which was inscribed the names of some who, within
a few feet of the spot, had suffered for their faith at the stake in
1556-1557. Smithfield will always be a place of shuddering associations,
and even the prosaic market front and the cold-storage premises, with
their rows of lighted windows starring the blue dusk, seemed in some
strange fashion implicated in its awful memories. As late as March,
1849, when excavations were being made for a new sewer, there were
discovered, three feet below the surface, immediately opposite the
entrance to the church, charred human bones and the remains of some oak
posts partially consumed by fire. From whence did the courage of those
heroic citizens of old come? Life has no greater mystery than the
undaunted spirit with which they faced the hellish tortures of fire and
the rack.

At the top of Giltspur Street I paused with a sudden recollection of
having heard that there still existed the quaint statue of the Fat Boy
who used to stand at Pie Corner, where the Great Fire ceased. The
incident appealed to Mrs. Darling's curious faculty for selection. She
said she would like to see that fat boy, and we promptly went in search
of him.

There were no signs of Pie Corner, the spot where it should have been
being occupied by the shop of a foot specialist. It was Mrs. Darling who
discovered the Fat Boy standing in a little brick alcove, over the
door, which had apparently been made for his reception.

He was not a model of symmetry or beauty, but Mrs. Darling promptly
annexed him as she had annexed the old pensioner of the sagging trousers
and slouched hat, and somewhere in the lumber-room of the old lady's
memory the Fat Boy took his place with Charles II, the aforesaid old
pensioner, and Samuel Pepys, to whom she invariably refers as "that
saucy ole man with the curls".

The fact that the Great Fire broke out at the king's baker's in Pudding
Lane and ended at Pie Corner struck her as something more than a
coincidence. It was all very well for people to talk about "chance,"
_she_ didn't believe in chance. The very fact of the coincidence of
names suggested, to _her_ mind, a well-thought-out plan. She would have
sympathised with the Rev. Samuel Vincent, who, writing at the time,
said, "This doth smell of a Popish design, hatcht in the same place
where the Gunpowder Plot was contrived".

By the way, I never think of the Great Fire without remembering the
description of an eyewitness of the burning of Guild Hall: "And amongst
other things that night, the sight of Guildhall was a fearful spectacle,
which stood, the whole body of it together, in view for several hours
together, after the fire had taken it, without flames (I suppose because
the timber was such solid oak), like a bright shining coal, as if it had
been a palace of gold, or a great building of burnished brass". You
won't beat that for a bit of word painting.

We walked on through the Old Bailey and into Fleet Street, where Shoe
Lane reminded me of the fact that the man who was responsible for the
phrase, "Before you could say Jack Robinson," was a tobacconist named
Herdom, who lived at 98 Shoe Lane some hundred years ago.

The following verse is ascribed to him:--

      Says the lady, says she, "I've changed my state."
      "Why, you don't mean," says Jack, "that you've got a mate?
      You know you promised me". Says she, "I couldn't wait,
      For no tidings could I gain of you, Jack Robinson,
      And somebody one day came to me and said
      That somebody else had somewhere read,
      In some newspaper, that you were somewhere dead".
      "I've not been dead at all," says Jack Robinson,

the pathetic naïveté of which statement marks the simple sailorman.

Richard Lovelace, the Cavalier poet, who lives in the lines--

      I could not love thee, dear, so much,
      Lov'd I not honour more,

together with--

      Stone walls do not a prison make,
      Nor iron bars a cage,

died in Gunpowder Alley, Shoe Lane, and I wondered whether the Alley
still existed under that name.

It did not take many minutes to find out. Yes, there it was, just at the
top on the left-hand side, but no trace of poor Lovelace--nothing but
new offices, one or two dingy little shops, and the patient thump,
thump, of printing presses.

We went by way of New Street through Nevill's Court, where, behind an
old wall and sooty front gardens, stand a row of ancient red brick
houses. I like to go through Nevill's Court on one of those mild days in
February when Spring lurks behind the grey stillness and there are buds
on the lilac bush which looks over the top of that same old wall. The
little greengrocer's at the end, too, always strikes a welcome note of
colour with its flaming oranges and rosy-cheeked apples.

Nevill's Court leads to Fetter Lane, which Mrs. D. at once associated
with Newgate. In order to mitigate her disappointment on hearing that
"Fetter" was a corruption of Fewterers (otherwise the beggars and
disorderly persons who used to frequent the place), I told her the
story of Elizabeth Brownrigge, the celebrated murderess who was
executed at Tyburn, September 14th, 1767, for beating her apprentice to
death. The house where the infamous deed was done was in Fetter Lane,
looking into Fleur-de-lys Court, and the cellar in which the child was
confined, together with the iron grating through which her cries were
heard, used, according to a London historian, to be shown. After the
execution, the corpse was put into a hackney coach and taken to
Surgeons' Hall for dissection, and somewhere in a London collection the
skeleton is still preserved. A hoarding covered with advertisements
stood on the spot, marking the demolition of some old premises. Mrs.
Darling, however, must needs explore Fleur-de-lys Court, and we
discovered an old shut-up house with a cellar grating, which Mrs.
Darling was quite satisfied was the scene of the sinister crime. So
pleasantly excited was she that she forgot her bad feet and walked on
with a swing down Fetter Lane, past "The Record" Office and the entrance
to the Moravian Chapel, that drab little building where Baxter preached
in 1672 and Wesley and Whitfield thundered of the wrath to come, giving
sinners bad nights, and cheating the devil of his due.

I did not remind Mrs. Darling of these things. She was, I knew, looking
forward to tea and toasted scones, over which she would demand a fuller
account of the murder committed by Elizabeth Brownrigge, and speculate
on how the Charterhouse pensioners spent their pocket-money, and what
would happen if they fell in love.

I pass on the solution of the second of these conundrums to you, and
remain,

      Your old friend,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER VI


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      _13th November._

Dear Agatha,--I quite agree with you that it isn't altogether a kind
thing to drag these poor old ghosts out of their hiding-places and talk
scandal about them. One pictures them blinking their dust-dimmed eyes in
the strong light of to-day and resenting the conduct of Paul Prys like
myself. But one must take the bad with the good, and if with stories of
heroism, human kindness, and tenderness one unearths a good deal that is
unworthy, one cannot do better than adopt Mrs. Darling's attitude. _She_
is neither depressed nor demoralised by learning of the frailties and
passions of those who have had their little day, and, going out into the
great unknown, become creatures of Romance and Mystery. That may be
because death has not invested them, for _her_, with any dignity which
can suffer from these familiarities, and her charity, always large for
the living, is just as large, and no larger, for the dead. Mrs. Darling
is a philosopher, and finds in the human comedy her entertainment. She
is also, by the way, an optimist of the first water. "Never say die till
yer shin-bone cuts the blanket," is her advice when there's a yellow fog
and one has a cold in one's head.

This afternoon the old lady and I have been playing a sort of game of
hide and seek in the courts and alleys on the northern side of Fleet
Street. Our ambition was to find Dr. Johnson's house in Gough Square,
always an elusive object, I had been told by those who had been there,
and I, unfortunately, was born without the bump of locality. This
afternoon the strange fact that man, left to himself, travels in a
circle, found startling corroboration. For one solid half-hour the pair
of us revolved round the Doctor's abode, sometimes within a few yards of
it, without finding it. As you may remember, I would always rather lose
a train than question a porter, and I have the same dislike for
confessing the ignorance of my whereabouts to strangers. Besides, I want
to cure myself of this ridiculous habit of rotating. Mrs. Darling, to
whom I explained the situation, had solutions to offer. Was it, she
said, that man was _not meant_ to extend his travels, or was it because
the world was round? Meanwhile it certainly seemed that Providence
didn't intend us to find No. 17 Gough Square. I blush to tell you,
Agatha, that I stared into its side windows without recognising it, and
that I passed entrances to Gough Square from three points of the compass
without being aware of them, but that may have been because I was
mentally employed in sorting out suitable anecdotes about the Doctor for
Mrs. Darling's entertainment when once we reached our goal.

A little public-house called "The Red Lion," squeezed into a corner of
Red Lion Court (a most unsuitable spot, one would have thought, for a
"pub"), exercised an unholy attraction for us. Three times did we make
it our starting point, and three times did we come back to it with
feelings of surprise at finding an old friend from whom we thought we
had parted for good. I hope it isn't necessary to add _that we hadn't
been inside_. Getting clear of "The Red Lion" at last, we got entangled
with Bolt Court, Hind Court, and Wine-office Court on the other side,
only escaping their labyrinthine twists and turns to get mixed up in
Shoe Lane, East Harding Street, and Goldsmith's Street. At last we
emerged into Fleet Street once more to take breath and Mrs. Darling
triumphantly pointed to "Johnson's Court," which, by the way, has no
connection with the Doctor. I had no faith in the promise held out by
the august name, but in desperation I turned into it. This time,
however, it was impossible to go astray, because once inside
Johnson's Court we had no choice but to follow our noses. Up the court,
across a paved square, through a narrow passage, along by the backs of
some houses, round an abrupt turn to the left, and behold one was in
Gough Square, and the object of one's pilgrimage come into being, as it
were, by magic. In fact, so suddenly and unexpectedly did it break on us
that the wonder is we didn't pass it unnoticed and forge straight ahead
again for "The Red Lion".

[Illustration: DR. JOHNSON'S HOUSE IN GOUGH SQUARE.]

Mrs. Darling claimed acquaintance with the Doctor by virtue of an old
copy of the Dictionary which she told me she found lying on the kerb
near a bookstall in Farringdon Road. I suggested that she should have
made enquiries of the owner of the stall as to whether the book was his.
But she said that seeing she had at different times lost a watch which
didn't go, a purse containing two and sevenpence three farthings, a flat
iron, and a set of artificial teeth belonging to an old friend who died,
she thought it was time she _found_ something.

There was a poetic sort of justice about this reasoning which I was loth
to question, and I evaded the issue by directing the old lady's
attention to the tablet on the wall of the house, which informs
passers-by that Dr. Johnson lived there from 1748 to 1758.

She answered, "Well, I never," and in her turn drew my attention to the
fact that someone had opened the door and was waiting for us to enter.

Mrs. Darling followed at my heels with an apologetic clearing of her
throat. I think she anticipated being introduced to some alarming social
function. This was not a museum nor a church. This was a house with
curtains at the windows, pictures on the walls, and even flowers in
vases, and Mrs. Darling had never heard of the idea of turning a house
into a shrine. I pointed out to her the portrait of the author of the
Dictionary, and she gave it as her opinion that he was trustworthy but
of a bilious disposition.

There were no other visitors, at the moment, and we wandered unmolested
from room to room, finding everywhere a strange silence set in the
monotonous hum and clack of the printing presses outside--a sound which
fills the neighbouring courts and alleys with a ceaseless thump, thump,
as of the labouring heart of this backwater of Fleet Street.

Mrs. Darling stared out of the windows and took an occasional rest in
one of the stiff rush-bottomed chairs, whilst I peered into the glass
cases containing yellow letters inscribed with faded brown characters,
thinking how surprised the writers would have been could they have
foreseen this day, nearly two hundred years ahead, when some chance
note, scribbled on the spur of the moment, was read by the curious eyes
of strangers, eager to put an eye to any hole in the curtain of the
past.

The portraits, too, were eloquent. Boswell of the long ears, who did for
Johnson what Pepys did for himself. "Bozzy," who saw with the terrible
eyes of a child, and who, without any apparent realisation that each
word was a stroke of the chisel, patiently hewed his living portrait of
Dr. Johnson for posterity. I do not agree with the implications of
toadyism against "Bozzy". There was real humility in his attitude
towards the great man, and real love for the object of his hero worship.

To myself, the history of "Bozzy's" patience under rebuff, his elation
at small victories, his hopes and fears, and the minuteness with which
he chronicles every detail of his intercourse with the object of his
adoration, is more thrilling than many a romance of the love of man for
woman.

There was Garrick, too, of whom Goldsmith wrote, "He cast off his
friends as a huntsman his pack, for he knew when he pleased he could
whistle them back". Johnson, speaking of the actor's great wealth and
popularity, said, "If all this had happened to me I should have had a
couple of fellows with long poles walking before me, to knock down
everybody that stood in the way.... Yet Garrick speaks to _us_.... A
liberal man. He has given away more money than any man in England." To
which Boswell replies, "Yet Foote used to say of him that he walked out
with an intention to do a generous action, but, turning the corner of a
street, he met the ghost of a halfpenny, which frightened him". I've
been reading "Bozzy," you will see, and having my faith in the colossal
inconsistency of human nature strongly confirmed.

The vivacious Mrs. Thrale, whom Macaulay describes as "one of those
clever, kind-hearted, engaging, vain, pert young women who are
perpetually saying or doing something that is not exactly right; but
who, do or say what they may, are always agreeable," wears a hat which
lends her an appearance of false solemnity. She has, though, an air of
elegance which makes it easy to believe that she was the lady "for whom"
the Doctor "bought silver buckles and new wigs, and by associating with
whom, his external appearance was much improved".

There also was Goldsmith, with his ugly, bulging forehead, his
protruding, obstinate mouth and apprehensive eyes, the eyes of a man who
anticipates adverse criticism. To _him_ the Doctor accorded a protective
tenderness the more notable that, whilst recognising the genius of his
protégé, Johnson could have but ill understood poor Goldy's
self-consciousness and foolish little weaknesses.

The poet himself had a lively appreciation of this trait of chivalry in
the Doctor. Witness his words when speaking of a ne'er-do-well of his
acquaintance: "He is now become miserable," says Goldsmith, "and that
insures the protection of Johnson".

Mrs. Darling was curious to know whether the Doctor had a wife, and I
told her the strange story of his wooing and winning a lady twice his
age--not a beauty, according to Garrick, who described her as "very fat,
with a bosom of more than ordinary protuberance, with swelled cheeks, of
a florid red, produced by thick painting, and increased by the liberal
use of cordials; flaring and fantastic in her dress, and affected both
in her speech and her general behaviour". Boswell's remark apropos of
the situation is very naïve. Says "Bozzy" in his most pompous style,
referring to the Doctor and his wife, "He had a high opinion of her
understanding, and the impressions which her beauty, real or imaginary,
had originally made upon his fancy, being continued by habit, had not
been effaced, though she herself was doubtless much altered for the
worse". What a touching view this gives of the learned Doctor's
simplicity of heart! Mrs. Darling, on whom even such an ancient piece of
gossip as this had a cheering effect, remarked that the Doctor wasn't
everybody's money. For her part she wouldn't have taken him "if 'is 'air
'ad 'ung with dimonds". Not that she doubted the excellence of his
character, but, well--and really, Agatha, you must forgive me if I
appear vain in repeating the incident. "Give me a man," said Mrs.
Darling solemnly, with an unmistakable glance of admiration in _my_
direction--"Give me a man that keeps 'imself _clean_ and 'olds 'imself
stright, even if 'e does put a bit of glass in 'is eye and pretend 'e
can see through it." Mrs. Darling, by the way, never misses an occasion
for airing her disapproval of my monocle.

We climbed the winding staircase and stood in the garret where the
dictionary had been written, a long, low-ceiled room with small
curtained windows, one end of which was chill with the approach of dusk,
whilst the other was warmed by slant beams of a red sun shining amongst
the crowding chimney-pots and telephone wires. I pictured on some such
afternoon Johnson's six amanuenses busy at their part in the great work,
and wondered whether they knocked off at dusk.

The Doctor, in his rusty brown suit and his "little old shrivelled
unpowdered wig, his black worsted stockings ill drawn up and his
unbuckled shoes," would probably be busy with them. Perhaps he would be,
as Boswell once found him, "covered with dust and buffeting his books,"
whilst Mrs. Hannah Williams in the room downstairs waited at the tea
table. Presently the Doctor would go down and they would drink tea by
the light of the fire. What would they talk about? Boswell describes the
blind lady as "a woman of more than ordinary talents and literature,"
and the two might have discussed some contribution Johnson had in his
mind for "The Literary Magazine"--"A Free Inquiry into the Nature and
Origin of Evil," perhaps, or his "Essay on Tea".

"I suppose no person ever enjoyed with more relish the infusion of that
fragrant leaf than Johnson," says Boswell, and as Mrs. Darling shares
with myself the Doctor's weakness, I proposed an adjournment to Temple
Tea Rooms--if we could extricate ourselves from the maze surrounding
Gough Square.

And so we left the tall, flat-fronted, eighteenth-century house as the
lights were coming out in the offices all round. At the printers'
windows compositors were busy setting up type, and the printing machines
had no peace from their treadmill labour. But no sound issued from
Number 17, and no face appeared at any one of the long narrow windows.

"Even if you 'adn't told me, sir, I should 'ave known that wos a empty
house," announced Mrs. Darling, as she stared meditatively at the Queen
Anne front, and the roof line against the reddening sky.

"Why?" I enquired.

"Oh, I dunno 'ow I know, but I _do_ know." Mrs. Darling begins, you will
see, to display signs of imagination. It would not surprise me to learn
that she belongs to the class of "mute inglorious" Miltons. Hers may
be:--

      "Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
      Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre."

I shared her feeling about the place, and as we stood taking a final
look it occurred to me that such houses are pathetic attempts to assuage
a wistful craving for things that have passed. Perhaps, though, it is in
their very failure that they score. If one could put back the centuries
and meet the real selves of all those people about whom one had been
dreaming one might lose something for which nothing gained could
compensate.

No. 17 Gough Square, however, isn't _always_ forlorn. There are
afternoons when merry tea parties of twentieth-century men and women
gather in the garret, or in the "Pink" room sacred to those long ago
tea parties when Hannah Williams entertained the Doctor's friends. There
are, too, evenings when members of the Johnsonian Club, literary folk,
or societies given over to the study of London lore, meet for discussion
or conviviality. I hope the Doctor doesn't resent the intrusion: I don't
think he does, for hospitality was one of his distinguishing traits.

Mrs. Darling suggested we should go back by the way we came. She feared
the magnetic power of The Red Lion, coupled with my propensity for
rotating. And so we turned to the right and followed our noses until
they brought us out into the bustle of Fleet Street and the sight of the
dark archway leading to Middle Temple Lane under the jutting windows of
Prince Henry's room.

At the risk of inducing in Mrs. Darling a mood which she describes as
the "bloomin' 'ump," I suggested over the tea-cups that, being on the
spot, it would only be seemly to visit poor "Goldy's" grave in the
Temple.

She said she was in "good sperets" this afternoon and thought she could
bear it. Poor Goldy! it seems from the accounts one reads of his end
that it was his humble friends who grieved most for him. Neither Johnson
nor Reynolds nor Burke nor Garrick followed him to the grave, and
Boswell, writing to Johnson on June 24th (Goldsmith died on April 4th),
says, "You have said nothing to me about poor Goldsmith," to which
Johnson replied, "Of poor dear Dr. Goldsmith there is little to be told,
more than the papers have made public. He died of a fever, made, I am
afraid, more violent by uneasiness of mind. His debts began to be heavy,
and all his resources were exhausted."

Darkness had fallen when we left the tearooms, and people were hurrying
through the Temple on their way home from work. The gas lamps shone on
the windows of the circular end of the Temple Church, giving them a
frosty sort of glitter, and no one but ourselves heeded the turning
which leads to the poet's tomb. The little corner where he lies was
deserted and silent, and the inscription on the tombstone could be
deciphered easily by the light of the gas lamp near. There is so little
of it to read:--

  "Here lies Oliver Goldsmith. Born November 10th, 1728, died April
  4th, 1774."

As I read it I thought of his own words: "Innocently to amuse the
imagination in this dream of life is wisdom."

"This dream of life." Is he _awake_ now? An idea occurs to me, Agatha:
the idea that these ghosts enjoy a visit to their old haunts in the
same fashion that we enjoy trying to reconstruct their past, but they
are only allowed to return during those moments when someone in this
life thinks of them. If this is so, _I_ must be much sought after on the
other side, and my obsession with the past is accounted for.

I showed Mrs. Darling the chambers in Brick Court where Goldsmith died,
and we looked in through the open door at the crooked, narrow staircase
where those poor creatures he had befriended wept for his loss on the
morning after his death. No doubt he had given them sympathy as well as
alms. _He_ knew the meaning of poverty from the day when, as a humble
physician, he hid the holes in the front of his coat with his hat when
paying visits, to the hour when, dying a debtor to the extent of two
thousand pounds, he earned Johnson's exclamation, "Was ever poet so
trusted before!"

Returning to Temple Bar, we exchanged confidences about our early
recollections of the old gate, and I wondered at the barbarity of those
times, not much more than a hundred and fifty years ago, when the heads
of traitors were spiked over the gate and allowed to rot under the eyes
of those who passed to and fro beneath. There's a lot of "frightfulness"
in old London. It reads at times very much like a penny dreadful. The
kings and queens, saints and warriors, the men of letters and gentle
poets are limned against a tenebrous background of narrow ill-lit
streets, of plague and fire, persecution and deeds of violence. There is
something of the crudeness of cheap melodrama about it all, but at the
same time a virility which satisfies.

But it grows late as I write this, and to quote Goldsmith once more,
"Let me no longer waste the night over the page of antiquity ... the
dying lamp emits a yellow gleam; no sound is heard but of the chiming
clock...."

Meanwhile, dear Agatha,

      I am, yours as ever,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER VII


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _November 25th._

Dear Agatha,--I anticipated your wish that I should make Chelsea the
object of my next pilgrimage. Mrs. D. and I went there yesterday.

The gulls were very busy about nothing over the river, and they
harmonised with the colour scheme of the afternoon. Pale sunshine, a sky
of washed-out blue, a silver river, wharves, and leafless trees in
Battersea Park veiled by a curtain which was part autumn mist and part
smoke from the factory chimneys on the south side.

The square brick tower of the old parish church makes a landmark to the
barges and steamboats on their silent passing, and at night its clock
shines out like a full moon above the plane trees which line the
Embankment.

A quaint old place it is inside, with a great west gallery that
encroaches almost to the chancel. Where the pews leave off the crowding
large tombs begin, and where the tombs end the discoloured walls are
covered with coats of arms. All this, seen by the homely light of day,
which falls through the windows of plain glass, has an intimate and
pleasant appearance. Even the ancient tombs in their proximity to the
worshippers seem friendly.

In Sir Thomas More's chapel a certain Arthur Georges, who died in 1660,
lies under the feet of the person who happens to occupy the chair which
partly hides the inscription on his tomb:--

   "Here lies interred the body of that generous and worthy Gent,
   Arthur Georges, Esq. Here sleepes and feeles noe pressure of ye
   stone. He that had all the Georges Soules in One. Here the
   ingenious Arthur lies to be bewailed by marble and our eyes...."

"The ingenious Arthur!" One pictures him. A man who had "a way with
women". Apt to get into scrapes, irresponsible, but with a knack of
getting out of a tight corner. Kind-hearted, given to take what life
offers in the way of pleasure, and always ready to pass on good things,
and do a good turn to the under-dog. The inscription goes on to say,
"When all the Georges rise he'll rise again," which pious belief set me
speculating as to whether I might some day meet the "ingenious Arthur".
I'm sure I should like him.

Mrs. Darling was visibly impressed when I told her that the body of Sir
Thomas More (whose head had been thrown from London Bridge into his
daughter's arms below) was in all probability buried under the church.
His tomb in the chancel consists of a ledge and a tablet of black marble
surmounted by a flat Gothic arch. On the ledge was a bunch of tawny
chrysanthemums and a cross of scarlet immortelles, so the old man who
went to the scaffold rather than be a party to the chicanery and
concupiscence of Henry VIII is not yet forgotten. Sir Thomas More, it
has always seemed to me, carried his asceticism to extreme limits in the
matter of his marriage. "Having determined," so says the historian, "by
the advice of his ghostly father to be a married man, he was offered the
choice of the two daughters of a friend, and although his affection most
served him to the second, for that he thought her the fairest and best
favoured, yet when he thought within himself that it would be a grief
and some blemish to the eldest to have the youngest sister preferred
before her, he, out of a kind of compassion, settled his fancy on the
eldest, and soon afterwards married her."

More's first marriage, curiously arranged as it was, seemed to have
proved happier than his second, and one is driven to the conclusion that
the great man lacked discrimination in affairs of the heart. Hear his
second wife's tirade when visiting in the Tower. "I marvel," says she,
"that you, who have been hitherto always taken for a wise man, will now
so play the fool as to lie here in this close-fitting prison, and be
content to be shut up thus with mice, and rats, when you might be abroad
at your liberty, with the favour and goodwill of the King and his
council, if you would but do as the bishops and best learned of his
realm have done."

Mrs. Darling said that was what _she_ called "a sensible woman," but
when I explained the marital complications of Henry VIII, and the
particular offence with which the Lord Chancellor was charged, the old
lady changed her front, saying she was glad some one had had the "spunk
to stand up to that ole rapscallion in the 'tammy'!" Mrs. D. is
evidently familiar with pictures of the amorous monarch.

We found our way to that corner of the church where are the chained
books. Mrs. D., whose knowledge of literature included, by hearsay,
"Foxe's Book of Martyrs," accorded a glance of fearful curiosity at the
brown back of the dread old volume. The books, the verger told us, were
taken out of the case and dusted once a month, and I envied the person
to whom the task was allotted.

I think, though, I'd choose a bright early morning when morbid fancies
do not find easy foothold. "Foxe's Book of Martyrs," in the old church
at dusk, might raise ugly phantoms which no bell or candle could lay.

In these ancient buildings, which are so jealous of the admission of
light, the sunbeams play impish pranks once they gain entrance. They are
as elusive as ghosts, and as nimble as fairies. They throw ruddy gleams
on discoloured walls, setting old brasses afire, and giving a semblance
of warmth to the sculptured features of the dead. The venerable walls
are the target for their elfish tricks and wanton caresses, their
fugitive withdrawals and stealthy returns. The soundless game was in
progress as we left the church, and I shall always picture the quaint
homely old building touched to beauty by the tender flitting of these
noiseless visitors.

Crosby Hall, that fragment of antiquity, is within a stone's throw of
the church, and to anyone not knowing the story of its presence there,
it must appear a strange erection standing in the centre of a piece of
waste ground surrounded by a hoarding. It was a daring and ingenious
idea to uproot it from its native soil in Bishopsgate Street, and if the
horrid crime had to be done, no better spot than Chelsea, on the site
of Sir Thomas More's garden, could be found for its transplanting.

We walked all round the hoarding seeking entrance, and at last found a
hitherto unnoticed door. The caretaker said the Hall was not open to
visitors, except by appointment, but that if we liked we could go in. We
went and found the place like a huge, cold barn, its fine oak flooring
chalked out for Badminton, whilst into the cavernous old fireplace,
decorated with Sir John Crosby's crest--a ram, armed and hoofed--had
been put a hideous iron stove. The magnificent timber roof, forty feet
above, looked down on these innovations sadly, and the glorious oriel
window, with the old glass emblazoned with coats of arms, was eloquent
of the times when Richard, Duke of Gloucester, entertained there in
1470, and of such occasions as the visit of Princess Katherine of Aragon
to Sir Bartholomew Bird, or the masque performed by the students of
Gray's Inn before Queen Elizabeth. What changes of fortune have visited
it since! amongst which it has figured in turn as a Presbyterian Chapel
and a restaurant! The caretaker's voice echoed hollow in that husk of a
building from which the kernel is gone. It had borne its transplanting
ill, and even the ghosts, I felt, had deserted it.

Outside, we found the world transfigured by the setting sun, and I left
Crosby Hall behind with a sensation of relief. For once in my delvings
into the past I had missed the thrill, but the blood-red sun over the
river provided a compensation, and I thought of the little house where
J. M. W. Turner died close at hand. If ever he haunts the spot it would
be at such an hour, when the wizardry of the sinking sun casts its spell
of romance and mystery over the most commonplace objects. All too short
are such moments, but Turner, that mad genius who lived with his visions
of splendour in the midst of dirt and squalor, "the wizened, meagre old
man," has snatched and imprisoned for those who come after him the
fleeting miracle.

Mrs. Darling, who is tolerant of what she considers my "balmy"
propensity for "staring at nothink," occupied herself with watching the
craft on the river whilst I meditated before the little green-shuttered
house. It lies below the level of the footpath and behind the frontage
line of its neighbours, seeking, it seems, as would the man who lived,
worked and died there, to evade notice. J. M. W. Turner's action in
suddenly and secretly leaving his "den" in Queen Anne's Street to take
refuge in Cheyne Walk was dictated by a mad impulse to go into hiding,
and one pictures the flight of the strange old man who wanted only to be
left alone with his tyrannical mistress, Art. The house is described as
being "next door to a ginger-beer shop close to Cremorne Pier". There is
no ginger-beer shop now, only "The Aquatic Stores," and Cremorne has
long disappeared.

I looked up at the windows and wondered from which one it was that the
dying painter watched the gates of heaven open to let out the mystic
flood of colour and take in the departing sun. There was the iron
balcony on the roof, erected by Turner himself, so that he should not
fall off when busy there at his easel. How well he must have known the
limitless moods of the river! The silence of its inexorable tides, its
liquid fire under the flaming sun, its pale shiver under the silver
moon, and its black despair on a winter's night.

Mrs. Darling interrupted my meditations to inform me that a policeman
was observing me with suspicion, and that she thought it would be
advisable to move on. She said she had noticed on former occasions that
my "ixcentrik 'abits" had attracted unwelcome notice, but that she
hadn't liked to mention the matter for fear of making me nervous. Pure
imagination on the old lady's part, of course, but she finds a certain
pleasurable excitement in such fancies, and so I humoured her by walking
on with an air of assumed indifference calculated to allay the
apprehensions of any "nosey" member of the force.

       *       *       *       *       *

      _4th December._

It was too late when we left Cheyne Walk to go to Carlyle's house, and
we have paid another visit to Chelsea to-day. The weather which, so far,
has been kind to our wanderings, turned the disagreeable side of its
face to us this afternoon. The wind was blowing a gale from the
north-east, and pieces of paper and dead leaves flew as high as the
topmost branches of the plane trees along the Embankment. Mrs. Darling
was quite cheerful. She said the cold weather "agreed" with her feet,
but, for myself, old age slapped me insultingly in the face with every
spiteful gust of the biting blast.

[Illustration: GREAT CHEYNE ROW AND CARLYLE'S HOUSE.]

No. 28 Cheyne Row, built in 1708, has a modest exterior which somewhat
belies its interior. I rang the bell, the sound prolonging itself in a
tinkle that seemed to take a journey to some remote corner of the house,
and almost before its warning voice had ceased the door was opened by a
girl whose glance set at rest my fears of intrusion. She ushered us into
a dim, drab room wainscotted from floor to ceiling, but before I go any
further, Agatha, I have a confession to make. It was not Carlyle whom I
had chiefly come to see. If the maid had answered my ring and said,
"Mr. Carlyle is out, but Mrs. Carlyle is at home," I should certainly
not have turned away; indeed, I'm afraid it would have been difficult to
disguise my satisfaction at the prospect of a _tête-à-tête_ with Jane
Welsh--Jane, who never sunk her individuality to the extent of becoming
"the wife of Thomas Carlyle". Jane, who has always been, and always will
be, "Jane Welsh" and not "Jane Carlyle" to her admirers.

It was Jane who had lured me to the old house on this bleak afternoon
when I should have been sitting over the fire, forgetting my sixty-five
years in a novel of youth. Jane, who in her cheery way describes the
house as "an excellent lodgement, and most antique physiognomy, quite to
our humour; roomy, substantial, commodious, with closets to satisfy any
Bluebeard, ..." and who, in an earlier letter on the same subject, says,
"I have a great liking to the massive old concern with the broad
staircase and abundant accommodation for crockery. But is it not too
near the river? And another idea presents itself along with that
wainscot--if bugs have been in the house! Must they not have found there
as well as the inmates room without end?" I hope, by the way, that the
dear lady's fears were unfounded, but judging from her later letters, I
have my doubts.

How shall I describe to you the effect of that chill, prim room, seen in
the light of the bleak winter afternoon! One thing of living beauty
alone made a link with the present--a great bunch of tawny yellow and
white chrysanthemums which a worshipper had brought to the shrine on
this, the birthday, of the great man. We had chosen an auspicious date
for our visit, and inspired by the coincidence, I sought to animate the
dry bones with life. Over the fireplace hangs a picture in which Jane is
represented sitting by the fire in this very apartment, whilst her
spouse, attired in a plaid dressing-gown, stands with his back against
the mantel. Here is the identical room, the identical tables and chairs,
the horsehair sofa and pictures, but the room no more resembles the
home-like one in the picture than do dried rose leaves placed between
the leaves of a book resemble the scented freshness of freshly plucked
velvety petals. Ah, well! the dead cannot live again in _this_ world,
and those of us who visit ghosts' houses must leave our more material
selves on the doorstep.

Everywhere are portraits of the sad, brooding face of Thomas Carlyle.
Mrs. D. said the late Mr. D. used to look like that "when 'e'd lost a
bit on a 'orse," and I was moved to explain that identical results may
be obtained by widely different causes. Who would choose to be a genius
if he realised that loneliness was the price? Loneliness, with Jane by
the fireside! Strange problem! I looked at her portrait in youth, the
heart-shaped face with the parted lips and frank eyes, the dark curls
and beautiful throat, and as I looked sentences in her letters came to
mind. Referring to her choice of a husband, she says, "Indeed, I
continue quite content with my bargain; I could wish him a little _less
yellow_ and a little more _peaceable_, but that is all." And again, when
writing to him, she says, "Try all that ever you can to be patient and
good-natured with your povera piccola Gooda, and then she loves you, and
is ready to do anything on earth that you wish.... But when the signor
della casa has neither kind look nor word for me, what can I do but grow
desperate and fret myself to fiddlestrings."

Referring to a birthday present from him, she says, "Only think of my
husband, too, having given me a little present! He who never attends to
such nonsense as birthdays, and who dislikes nothing in the world so
much as going into a shop to buy anything.... Well, he actually risked
himself in a jeweller's shop and bought me a very nice smelling bottle!"

Poor little wife! Poor husband, too, when after her death he has so
often to say, "Ah me! too late, too late". Yet they loved each other
well, and when Thomas Carlyle wrote on her tombstone, "For forty years
she was the true and ever-loving helpmate of her husband," and added
that she was "suddenly snatched away from him, and the light of his life
as if gone out," no one doubts that the words came from the deepest
depths of his heart.

In the china closet a glass case contains some pathetic mementoes--a
yellowed old lace cap worn by Mrs. Carlyle, a brooch with the portrait
of her dog Nero, given by the mistress to "little Charlotte," a sock of
Carlyle's with his initials neatly marked in red thread, and two small
cardboard boxes, each containing locks of the hair of Thomas Carlyle and
his wife. Trivial things, which yet in their haunting intimacy are too
sacred, it seems, to be stared at by the curious sightseers.

In a corner hangs an etching that deserves a more prominent place, the
desolate picture of a funereal _cortège_ wending its slow way against a
bleak background of snow and leaden sky.... Thomas Carlyle is being
carried to his last rest, and surely the Great Scene Shifter had well
chosen the setting. The simple dignity of the procession approaching
over the white countryside, the little group of humble folk awaiting its
arrival at the gate of the churchyard, the frozen silence of the dead
day--what could be more touching or impressive!

As we mounted the stairs on our way to the upper rooms, Mrs. D., who had
said nothing for quite five minutes, remarked that, for _her_ part, she
couldn't see why people weren't allowed to rest in their graves. Even
Mrs. D.'s scepticism and want of imagination was not proof against those
little mementoes in the glass case, and I think she resented her
inability on this occasion to take refuge behind the usual, "'Ow d'yer
know it's all true?" The old lady was visibly depressed, and, to cheer
her up, I asked her if she had ever worn a "bustle," quoting a letter of
Jane Welsh's, in which she wrote, "The diameter of the fashionable
ladies at present is about three yards; their bustles (false bottoms)
are the size of an ordinary sheep's fleece. Eliza Miles told me a maid
of theirs went out one Sunday with three kitchen dusters pinned-on as a
substitute."

Whereupon Mrs. D., between laughter and breathlessness, had to pause on
the top stair whilst she adjusted her hat at a still more rakish angle,
and ejaculated, "Oh, saucy!"

It is well nigh impossible, in the later portraits of Mrs. Carlyle, to
recognise the girl in the miniature. The dark brooding face is almost
forbidding, and one is forced to the conclusion that the portraits have
little real likeness to the original. Jane, with a vitality that upheld
her through years of bodily and mental suffering, with a gaiety and wit
which won her the admiration and homage of those celebrated men who went
to see her husband, and stayed to make friends with her, Jane could
never have looked _like that_! No doubt the coal-scuttle bonnet and
severe style of hair dressing had a great deal to do with it. The
fashions in those days were not kind to the middle-aged woman. All the
same, when I looked at a portrait of Lady Ashburton, Carlyle's friend
and patron, I found there a woman whose beauty could triumph over such
handicaps. Jane thought Lady Ashburton a "cat," and the insolent eyes
and disdainful curve of "Harriet's" mouth incline me to think Jane was
right. Comparisons are unkind, but one is forced to the conclusion that
whilst Lady Ashburton's face might well be her fortune, Jane Welsh would
have to draw on her wit and intellect.

The cold wind outside roared round the cold house, and a piano-organ in
the street ground out a hymn. Down below the bell tinkled. More visitors
were arriving, and wishing to keep in advance of them, we left the
drawing-room for Mrs. Carlyle's bedroom.

"Red bed," says Carlyle in a letter to his wife, "will stand behind the
drawing-room"--and here it is! A four-poster with bare laths hung with
faded red curtains and flounce. There is nothing more intimate than a
bed, but this bed, standing so many years unwarmed by human contact, has
outlived all such associations. It was not always a kind bed, either,
judging from the tragic account in her letters of Jane's sleepless
nights. "Oh!" she writes, "if there was any sleep to be got in that bed
wherever it stands!" (alluding to a change in the position of her bed at
Chelsea). "But it looks to my excited imagination, that bed I was born
in, like a sort of instrument of red-hot torture; after all those nights
I lay meditating on self-destruction as my only escape from insanity." A
woman who could express her sufferings in such vivid language would be
spared no iota of misery. Pin-pricks, which a stupid person might
ignore, would to Jane be sword-thrusts.

As one thinks of her one remembers those words written by her husband:
"Rest? Rest? Shall I not have all Eternity to rest in?" and there, on
the wall close at hand, hangs the photograph of her grave in Haddington
Church.

But, dear me, Agatha, this won't do! I don't want (to quote my pal, Mrs.
D.) to give you the "bloomin' 'ump". One must remember that Jane was not
always ill or unhappy. Jane had her bright days and her friends,
"dandering individuals dropping in," Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Alfred
Tennyson. Note this little vignette of the latter: "Passing through a
long, dim passage" (she was at the theatre) "I came on a tall man leant
to the wall, with his head touching the ceiling like a caryatid, to all
appearances asleep, or resolutely trying it under most unfavourable
circumstances. 'Alfred Tennyson,' I exclaimed in joyful surprise.
'Well,' said he, taking the hand I held out to him and forgetting to let
it go again, 'I should like to know who you are. I know that I know you,
but I cannot tell your name.'"

Then, too, there was Macready, D'Orsay, Lord Houghton, and Mazzini. Of
the latter she says, "He told me there was nothing worth recording
except that he had received the other day a declaration of love. Of
course, I asked the particulars. Why not?--and I got them fully." And
again, "He had had two other declarations of love! 'What, more of them?'
'Ah, yes!--unhappily! They begin to rain on me like _sauterelles_!'"

Mrs. Darling said there was "nothink in _that_!" _Her_ old man had had
six proposals before _she_ herself annexed him. I inquired how she had
succeeded in capturing such a shy bird, and she said it only needed a
bit of confidence and a lot of soft soap. _Any_ woman could marry _any_
man if she properly set her mind to it. The news was rather disquieting;
also, it was not exactly flattering to one's vanity to reflect that,
apparently, no woman had been anxious enough to marry me to set her mind
properly to the task.

When we mounted the last flight of stairs and entered the attic study we
seemed to leave Jane behind. Carlyle himself met us on the threshold of
this refuge, fondly planned with dreams of quiet in which he could work
unmolested. As a matter of fact, it did not repay him for the
discomforts endured whilst it was being built. "My room," he writes, "is
irremediably somewhat of a failure, and 'quiet' is far off me yet."

The afternoon was beginning to draw in and a little fire glowed in the
old-fashioned grate. Perhaps that was why the attic study seemed the
most cheerful room in the house. It might not be "sound"-proof, but, at
least, the wail of the north-east wind, as it careered round the old
walls, was lost here, and through the ground glass window came a warm
light which suggested a fragment of sunset somewhere out in the
stormdriven sky. The apartment had a hermit-like atmosphere, although
there could have been but little peace for the man who travailed as
Carlyle did over his gigantic tasks. One recalls to mind such words as
"I was in the throes of the French Revolution at this time, heavy laden
in many ways and gloomy of mind...." "I, in dismal continual wrestle
with 'Friedrich,' the inexcusable book, the second of my twelve years
'wrestle' in that element." ... "Hades was not more laborious than that
book, too, now was to me."

What must it have been to one, who so travailed in the birth of those
children of his brain, to lose as he did, through the "miserablest
accident" of his whole life, the first volume of the French Revolution?
And surely never man behaved so chivalrously to the friend who was the
innocent cause of the disaster as did Carlyle to the unfortunate Mill.
Poor John Stuart Mill! One imagines with a shudder his feelings when,
with the black consciousness of the awful news he had to impart, he
stood on the doorstep of No. 5 Cheyne Row waiting admittance! A visit to
the dentist would, in contrast, have been an occasion of happiness. The
thought of what that wretched man must have suffered diverts my mind
from the contemplation of the cruel blow to the victim. The picture of
Mill as, after having made his terrible disclosure, "he sat three hours
trying to talk of other subjects," passes the bounds of tragedy and
almost verges on the ludicrous. How he must have longed to go! and how
Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle must have ached to see the back of him!

Dusk was gathering on the stairs and in the grey empty rooms as we left
the attic, and we had to go carefully round the corners. Was it the
whisper of a silken gown, or the swish of the wind through the branches
of the bare trees in the little garden which accompanied us? Who can
tell? Who _wants_ to tell? Leave us some room for speculation--some peg
on which to hang our hopes of things beyond which we can see and handle.

We walked down the little street at the end of which is the Embankment
gardens, and there, in the blue twilight amidst the purple branches of
the bare trees, is a seated figure. A figure of which even the distant
view conveys a suggestion of profound and brooding melancholy. There
sits Carlyle, watching for ever the silent passing of the river. Silver
lights dotted the wharves opposite, and in the west, behind the four
tall chimneys of the power station, there was yet a smouldering red
amidst the almost extinct fires of sunset.

Perhaps if the mute lips could speak they would echo the once written
words, "Yes, poor mortals, such of you as have gone so far, _shall_ be
permitted to go farther: hope, despair not".

And on that note I close this long epistle.

      Ever your friend,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER VIII


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _6th December._

Dear Agatha,--Mrs. Darling has announced that she doesn't want to go to
any more dead people's houses. She says they give her a "nasty, sleepy
feelin'". She is, moreover, of the opinion that, in these days, when
living people can't get homes, it's downright wicked to waste bricks and
mortar on ghosts.

She said she wanted to go to St. Paul's Churchyard to see the shops, and
in a moment of weak amiability I consented to accompany her. If my good
nature had stopped at that point all would have been well, but putting
on the brakes halfway down hill is a thing I've never been able to
accomplish, and I was lured into a draper's to help the old lady choose
a blouse for Christmas.

I had never in my most imaginative moments thought of Mrs. D. as a vain
woman, but her conduct over the purchase of that blouse was a
revelation! If she looked at one she looked at twenty; moreover, she
insisted on trying some of them on with disastrous results. Blouses that
looked quite attractive off, assumed a curious appearance of bodginess
when on. The little minx who served us could, I suspect, have explained
the reason. _I_ could only grope for it whilst I watched Mrs. D., with
the help of the little minx, push a fat arm clothed in a cloth sleeve
into another sleeve composed of gossamer fabric which the assistant
called "_Georgette_"!

"It's too tight," said Mrs. D. "'Tisn't my colour neither. 'Aven't you
got somethink in a red silk, with a bit er lace on it?"

At this moment I became conscious of a perfume with familiar
associations, and some one put a hand on my sleeve from behind.
"George!" Then a laugh--you know Katherine's laugh. It used to be one of
her assets, but there's a thin note in it now which betrays her age.
"You look so absurd," said she. "What _are_ you doing?"

"Helping Mrs. Darling to choose a blouse," said I, with a nod in the
direction of Mrs. D., who at that moment was entangled in the georgette
creation which the little minx was removing from above.

Now Katherine may be a cat, but she knows how to behave, and she didn't
turn a hair.

"How sporting of you!" she exclaimed, with a sympathetic glance towards
Mrs. D., who emerged from the entanglements of the blouse like a diver
coming to the surface to take breath.

"That'll be ninepence, and you can keep the change," remarked the old
lady, with a satirical glance towards the saleswoman. (I may add, in
parenthesis, that the offer was not intended to be taken seriously.)
"Talk about skinnin' a rabbit! I dunno who they make these blouses for!"
Then she caught sight of Katherine, and assumed what one might call her
"company smile" with a jerk of her facial machinery.

"This is my sister, Mrs. Darling," said I, "the one who lives in Curzon
Street."

There was a moment's pause whilst Mrs. D. adjusted herself to the
situation, then, getting on the stilts with much more ease than she had
got out of the blouse, she said, "Hindeed! I 'ope you're well and can
get wot you want, mam. Shoppin' ain't ixactly a dream in these days.
They don't seem to make anythink suitable for middle-aged people like
your ladyship and myself."

"But don't you think that's very kind of them," argued Katherine with
undiminished amiability. "You see, they want to help us keep up the
illusion of youth."

"Well, I got a few grains er common sense," announced the old lady,
"and ain't goin' to make a igiot er meself in one er them tom fool
blouses. I know what I want. I got in me mind's eye, but I ain't seen it
in this shop."

"Why not take the advice offered with such dreary persistency in the
tube, 'Get it at Harrods'!'" suggested Katherine.

"A good idea," said I to Mrs. D., "and we'll explore Kensington at the
same time. We haven't been there yet."

Katherine glanced from Mrs. Darling to myself. I foresaw that the scene
would be reproduced for the benefit of her guests next time she gave a
dinner party. She had already grasped the situation and _got_ Mrs. D.
You know Katherine's powers of mimicry. Well, I don't grudge her the
fun. She's entitled to a little return for the two hundred a year she
allows me, and she has a pretty dull time with her eternal round of
so-called gaieties.

"No, we _'aven't_ bin to Kensington," agreed Mrs. D., "and wot's more,
you know quite well, sir, we ain't goin'," with a warning glance in my
direction. "It's quite a haccident your ladyship finds me 'ere with your
brother," the old lady went on. "I little thought when I come out this
mornin' ter buy a blouse I should meet Mr. Tallenach in the shop." Oh,
Mrs. Darling, and I had imagined you a truthful woman!

"Fate arranges such meetings for us," declared Katherine fervently, and
her self-congratulation was obviously genuine. I had provided her with
that most desirable thing in life, a _sensation_, and it is long since
she bestowed on me any invitation so genuine as the one she gave for
dinner that night.

But I had no intention of satisfying her curiosity, and excused myself
on the plea that my dinner jacket had gone to the tailor's to be
pressed. She said there was no need to dress as she would be alone, and
Mrs. D. signalled frantically to me to accept.

I, however, persisted in my refusal, and, with a growing feeling for the
dramatic possibilities of the situation, mentioned that, as a matter of
fact, Mrs. Darling and I usually went to the pictures on Wednesday
evening. There is no telling to what further lengths I might have gone
had not Mrs. D. began to display symptoms of apoplexy, whilst
Katherine's desire for my company became so urgent that, to get rid of
her at the moment, I promised to go to Curzon Street on the morrow.

"I see _this_ comin' all along," remarked Mrs. D., with tragic emphasis,
as we made our way down Cheapside. "You bin and done it with a vengeance
now, sir. I drempt I 'ad a tooth out last night, and that's a bad sign.
I shouldn't wonder if the Countess didn't wash 'er 'ands of you after
_this_!"

I reassured the old lady by telling her the Countess hadn't been so
gracious for years--not since the occasion on which she tried to
manoeuvre me into marriage with a rich woman old enough to be my mother.

In Bishopsgate Street we came to a halt before the giant pair of
spectacles placed over the fronts of the two ancient shops which stand
in the porch of St. Ethelburga. There is no more gracious surprise in
the whole city than that bit of antiquity which breaks the long line of
new buildings in Bishopsgate. So unexpectedly does it occur, and so
unobtrusive are the quaint little shops in their unique situation, that
thousands of people must pass the place daily without noticing them, or
being aware that behind them is the smallest of the eight churches that
escaped the Great Fire. From the opposite side of the road one can see
the west front of the church rising behind the jutting first floor of
the shops, and an inscription that this is "The Church of St.
Ethelburga" invites the curious to cross the road and pass through the
gateway leading to the tunnel-like entrance.

The charm of this hidden sanctuary will reward him for lingering by the
way. It has an atmosphere all its own, entirely unlike the atmosphere
of the typical City churches, with their chill air of having survived
the worship of long dead days. Tucked away so cosily and standing its
ground so sturdily amidst the pushing, elbowing crowd of new buildings
all round, St. Ethelburga's has ready for each person who enters a
glimpse of beauty to refresh the eyes, and a garment of peace in which
to enwrap the spirit.

You pass under the low west gallery, and looking down the nave, with its
pointed arches and clustered columns, see through the fretted screen at
the east end, a red lamp burning dimly against the dull blue altar
hangings. The windows of the nave are almost entirely blocked up, and
pictures hang on the old grey walls. Through the clerestory a chill
light mingles with the yellow gleam of the electric burners below, and
the little building is full of soft shadows, picturesque vistas, and
mystery.

The monuments are few and the names on them unknown. There are no ghosts
with claims for recollection on one's affection or homage. Those obscure
citizens who lie buried within the church or outside it, in what one
might call the church's little "back garden," are content to be
forgotten, but some of their names figure in the parish records, and in
the paper-covered book which one can buy in the church there are such
entries as:--

"John de Weston, called 'de St. Ives,' brewer of Colmanstrete, left 13s.
4d. for the repair of the belfry in 1374, and Matilda Balsham left 10s.
for the building of a porch over the entrance in the year before!" Ten
shillings for building a porch! Money must have gone farther then than
now! Witness the fact that in 1570 the "little shop" on the south side
of the porch was let at a rent of 5s. a year!

Rents, however, went up, even in those days, and in 1577 a certain
George Clarke paid 6s. 8d. a year for the same premises, whilst in 1616
a Mr. John Miller, the sexton, paid £1. Meanwhile the shop on the north
side had been built in 1615, and let at a rent of £4. One would like to
know the character of the business carried on by the numerous tenants
mentioned, but save for one reference to "the eye-man" (which looks as
if the present spectacle-makers are carrying on the traditions), another
to the "little shop," in 1832, as the "Gold Beater's House," and the
mention, 1592, of "Samuel Aylesworde, a glover," no light is thrown on
the subject.

In this same paper-covered book there is recorded the loss of "a curious
sculptured figure of stone," which a few years ago was removed from the
tower to "serve as a guide to the modeller in the preparation of a
silver figure which now crowns the beadle's staff". Who could have
stolen the old figure? What was the motive? Where is it now? Huddled in
a dusty corner in the shop of some dealer in antiques perhaps. Or was it
seized by some zealous Roman Catholic as lawful booty? The ghosts maybe
themselves have appropriated it? I shall never think of St. Ethelburga's
without pausing to speculate, with a pleasant little thrill, on the fate
of "the curious sculptured figure of stone". To find it would be an
adventure after my own heart. One would take up such a quest as a hobby
and continue it until it became an obsession. Think of the hunt for
antique shops where such a thing would be likely to make a temporary
halt. The more obscure the shop, the more heterogeneous its contents,
the more likely to contain the treasure. "Imidges," as Mrs. D. calls
them, would haunt one's dreams by night and lure one to strange journeys
by day. The particular "imidge" which had bewitched you would take on
the attributes of the Philosopher's Stone, and the pursuit of it become
what the winning number in a lottery is to the gambler who hopes with
every fresh stake to retrieve his fortunes. Then, one day, perhaps,
success (which in your heart you had never expected, or, let me whisper
it, _really_ wanted) comes. The solution of the riddle was quite
ordinary, the----

In the middle of my meditations the old lady, who had been making a tour
of the church examining the pictures, tapped me on the back, announcing
she had seen all there was to be seen and that, judging from my looks, I
must have gone out that morning before I got up. The interruption was
not unwelcome, arriving as it did at the moment of disillusionment, and
I followed her out of the church.

Being in the neighbourhood of St. Mary Axe, it occurred to me we might
go on to St. Andrew Undershaft to see Stow's monument. The church is
open from 12 to 2, and I asked Mrs. D. whether she would have lunch
before, or after, the visit. She said she thought "two churches running"
might be "rather dry," and, taking the hint, I came to a halt at the
nearest restaurant.

The beefsteak was tough but the ale was good, and Mrs. D. declared, as
we rose from the table, that she felt quite equal to another church, but
she hoped it was not an underground one. She seemed to connect the word
"Undershaft" with coal mines, and I hastened to tell her the story of
the Maypole, which used, on May Day, to be set up hung with flowers
opposite the south door of St. Andrew's. It must have been a very tall
one, for Stow says of it that the "shaft when it was set on end and
fixed in the ground was higher than the church steeple".

St. Andrew's is spacious, dignified, and rather chill. The windows are a
special feature, and some of them display the coats of arms of various
of the city guilds. I never, by the way, think of those guilds without
smelling in imagination that odour reminiscent of centuries of past
dinners, which hangs about their old halls, remembering, too, Hallam's
words, "The common banquet and the common purse". Here is the coat of
arms of the Merchant Tailors, the Haberdashers, Wool Staplers, and
Merchant Adventurers. (I should have liked to have been a "Merchant
Adventurer".) There you have the ideal mingling of Commerce with
Romance--Romance, with nothing behind it, is as evanescent as the
rainbow, a lopsided article which satisfies no one for long, but that
Romance which is an integral part of the business of living makes for a
solid happiness that wears well.

I am afraid John Stow did not achieve it. _His_ work could not have been
of a lucrative nature seeing that, at the age of 78, he obtained from
James I a licence to beg! There, in the far corner at the east end of
the church, he sits at his writing table, the implement of his craft, a
quill pen, in his hand. A funny little squat figure with a ruff, framing
a small, delicate face, not the face of one able to battle successfully
with a hard world. I wondered how his widow, who erected the monument,
found the necessary cash. But Mrs. D. remarked that no matter how the
poor lived, they always contrived the means to pay respect to their dead
with the "insurance money". _Her_ husband had had three coaches, with a
pair of horses in each, to follow him to the grave, although, on account
of his long illness, she owed two months' rent at the time of his death,
and had pawned the parlour clock and the fire-irons. Such talk seemed to
savour of bad taste, under the circumstances, and I sent an apprehensive
glance in Stow's direction, but he was too absorbed with his task to
look up. How often must he have sat thus in his lifetime writing those
endless pages without which we should know so little of the intimate
history of the middle ages! In his love of detail he was, like Pepys,
chosen to preserve for future generations living documents made of small
homely details. The sculptured face gives testimony to the patience and
concentration of the historian who wrote "The Survey of London". It is
the face of one who, if he made up his mind to discover the difference
between two blades of grass, would pursue that study with the world
tumbling about his ears. It is consistent with the neglect with which he
was treated in life that in 1732 his body was removed from its resting
place "to make way for another". Who that "other" was I don't know, but
this much I am sure--he was a beastly interloper who had no more right
to usurp poor old Stow's last resting place than has the cat to turn me
out of my armchair.

We left the painstaking worker at his task, the white feather of the
quill being the last thing I saw as I turned my head for a parting look.
Does the quill move sometimes in the silence and darkness of the long
nights in the old church? and could I, if I had the eyes, read what it
writes?

On our way back we went into St. Peter's, Cornhill, where the dusk of
the sombre interior makes a rich setting for the lovely peacock blue of
the windows at the east end. As we pushed back the door we were greeted
with the solemn chant of Wagner's "Pilgrims' Chorus," a strange and
beautiful substitute for the roar of the traffic in Cornhill. Who shall
say the City churches are of no use when they provide such interludes of
rest and refreshment for men and women working in the offices at their
doors?

St. Peter's lives in my memory not because it claims to be the first
Christian church founded in London, but by reason of a tablet which I
once discovered there in a dark corner. On it is described a story that
for pathos and terror stands alone in my experience of such things. At
the conclusion of the organ recital I took Mrs. Darling to that spot at
the south-east end of the church where the sinister record is to be
seen. Below the sculptured heads of seven cherubs is the following
inscription:--

  "Jane, born 1773. May, 1774. Charles, 1776. Harriet, 1777. George,
  1778. John and Eliza, twins, 1779.... The whole offspring of James
  and Mary Woodmason, in the same awful moment on the 18th January,
  1782, were translated by sudden and irresistible flames, in the
  late mansion of their sorrowing parents, from the sleep of
  innocence to eternal bliss.

  "Their remains, collected from the ruins, are here combined. A
  sympathetic friend of the bereaved parents, their companion during
  the night of the 18th January, in a scene of distress beyond the
  powers of language, perhaps of imagination, devotes this
  spontaneous tribute of the feelings of his mind to the memory of
  innocence."

We turned away in silence, and we had got the length of the church
before Mrs. D. said, "I wonder wot them parents 'ad done to be treated
_like that_ by the Almighty. 'Tisn't as if you paid yer money and took
yer choice about livin' in this ole world. They didn't ask to be born
neither, did them poor lambs that was burnt."

I wondered too. Did those parents continue to live in an empty world?
Did they even live long enough to forget that night of surpassing
horror?

There was no one to answer these questions, and catching sight of the
caretaker it occurred to me that I had another question to ask which
she would certainly be able to answer.

I had heard there was a subterranean passage entered by a flight of
steps from the belfry, and I wanted to know if it was true.

"Yes, it is quite true," she answered. The passage led "right across to
St. Helen's," but this may be only hearsay, as it has been bricked up a
number of years. Why brick up such relics of mediævalism? They are of no
use, answers the practical person, so why keep them? and he might add,
just for the edification of a few Paul Prys like yourself. Subterranean
passages, secret drawers, sliding panels, concealed cupboards, all,
alas! have gone out of fashion. They belong to a childish age which we
have outgrown.

Mrs. D. said she had no patience with people who were always putting
their noses into holes and corners, expressing her conviction that such
passages had dark histories in connection with "them monks," and after
this I had not the courage to name my desire to explore the flight of
steps leading from the belfry to the passage.

I think some day, though, I must return, without Mrs. D., and see if I
can get round that caretaker to show me the spot.

How infinitely poorer the city would be without these old landmarks
which have stood their ground so obstinately against the pushing,
vulgar spirit of progress. What would the streets be like without the
surprises they provide? An ancient wall in which there is a door leading
to silence and the company of those for whom the fight is over. A sooty
graveyard where the sparrows quarrel in the plane trees at dusk, and the
mouldering tombstones stir the imagination to dreams and reflection. A
spire or tower rising like a challenge above the roofs of offices and
warehouses. Those old churches--one never goes a walk in the city
without playing hide and seek with them. They lurk round corners and
materialise under one's very nose out of blank walls. They are as much a
part of this city of ours as are the men and women who in the dim ages
trod its streets and made its history. Yet those same sturdy old
churches are, to-day, as criminals awaiting their death sentence in the
dock. There are those who would treat many of them, as poor old Stow's
body was treated when it was moved, "to make room for another".

May such an act of vandalism be delayed until I too have to go that
another man may take my place. Meanwhile, dear Agatha,

      I am ever your devoted,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER IX


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _19th December._

My Dear Agatha,--I am sorry you accuse me of levity. It wasn't in human
nature to resist the unique opportunity for mischief provided by the
meeting between Katherine and Mrs. D. I followed it up with lunch in
Curzon Street, during which I discovered in myself a quite new and
marked talent for fiction. I won't say more out of consideration for
your scruples, but I may mention it's a long while since I had such an
excellent lunch. It must be many days, too, since Katherine was provided
with so surprising a succession of thrills in the course of an hour and
a half.

[Illustration: THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL.]

This Sunday morning Mrs. D. and I have been to service at the Foundling
Hospital, a place I have never before visited, although I have often, in
passing, looked inquisitively through the iron railings at the immense
block of buildings at the top of Great Coram Street.

Hogarth has painted the portrait of Thomas Coram, the old sailor who
endowed the hospital, and the picture hangs in the gallery there. A
kindly gentleman he looks, with ruddy smiling face which may well be the
index of a heart large enough to hold the big family he fathers.

That family sits in the galleries of the church on each side of the
organ, the girls in their white caps and aprons to the right, to the
left the boys in their funny uniform of brown cloth, with red waistcoats
and twinkling brass buttons. "Love children!" It always seems to me, by
the way, that the term is an aspersion against the institution of
marriage. Why can't _all_ children be "love children"?

It is a touching sight, and Mrs. D., who is very soft-hearted, was
visibly affected. The cherubic face of the smallest of the children
certainly finds out the chink in the armour of even an old bachelor like
myself. Mrs. D. said the boys looked like robin redbreasts in their
cut-away coats and red waistcoats, and there certainly is something of
the perkiness of that bird in the little round heads above the white
collars and black bows. I noticed that Mrs. D.'s attention was focussed
on the boys. The poor old lady lost two sons in the war, and I expect
she was seeing them again as small boys in some of those youngsters in
the red waistcoats. For myself, it was the girls who distracted my
attention from prayers and psalms. Those small maidens with their
burnished hair under the white caps, their rosy faces and primly clasped
hands! How well drilled they were, and how well behaved! No fidgeting or
giggling, not even any wandering glances in _my_ direction. One's eyes
travelled along the tiers of faces and figures, noting the variety of
types. No two children wore their uniform in quite the same way. The cap
and apron on some seemed a badge of servitude, on others the prettiest
of adornments, suggestive of musical comedy.

Those same aprons play a quaint part in the ritual of the service when,
during prayers, the children raise the aprons and hide their small
countenances behind them. The demure gesture has a savour of bygone
times, and is no doubt as old as the institution.

As we left our seat in the gallery we met, face to face, the brown-clad
boys clattering down the stairs opposite. They all wore trousers, big
and little, and one of the smallest of them took a joyous slide over the
tiled pavement of the ambulatory. No doubt he was glad to be out of
church, and was looking forward to his dinner. We shared his pleasant
anticipations. It was the prospect of seeing him and his companions feed
which had brought Mrs. D. and myself to the hospital that morning, and
the sight well rewarded us for the journey.

The rooms are long, having a gallery-like effect, with rows of windows
on one side, and everywhere is cleanliness and light and space. There
was an appetising smell of potatoes baked in their jackets, and cold
roast mutton, and down the long tables were placed at intervals a knife
and fork, a mug, a piece of bread and a cake. The girls came trooping in
and stood each by her place behind the forms, then at a given signal
they stepped over the forms and stood to sing grace. At another signal
they seated themselves, and the nurses who were serving placed portions
of meat and potatoes on plates, which were handed from one to another
down the long length of the narrow tables.

The children seemed quite unconscious of the spectators who had come to
stare at them whilst they ate their Sunday dinner, and as one watched
their contented faces and unconcerned manners one felt that, no matter
what tragedies had accompanied their advent into a world of dark
problems, _here_, at least, there was no tragedy.

"An' to think," said Mrs. D., as we followed the attendant upstairs to
inspect the dormitories, "to think that there might 'ave bin some of the
_mothers_ in that very church this mornin'."

"_And_ fathers," I reminded her.

"I _don't think_," answered the old lady. "A father out er wedlock's a
very different thing to a mother out er wedlock. Nature never took much
account er the _fathers_. _They_ ony got a walkin'-on part, and some of
them's precious quick at _walkin' orf_ when it's a case er payin' the
piper."

The long, long rows of little white-counterpaned beds in the dormitories
were an eloquent comment on the old lady's indictment of my sex, and I
am glad it was a _man_ who thought of making a home for the babies. If
Thomas Coram's ghost walks, it must sometimes pay a visit to the little
sleepers who have no mothers to tuck them up. Those long dormitories,
too, must often be haunted at nights by ghosts of the living women, who,
in their dreams, look for _one_ round face on its pillow--the one who is
_theirs_. To visit them in the flesh is not allowed. The surrender of
the babies is complete, no alternative being compatible with the working
of the scheme which is to save the child and at the same time to hide
the mother's shame.

One hears stories of callous behaviour on the part of some of the
mothers. But such cases are rare, I should think, and that long pathway
leading from the hospital to the iron gates must have been a _via
dolorosa_ to many a woman who trod it on her way back home with empty
arms.

No child is received after the age of twelve months, and they are put
out to nurse in country homes until the age of five, when they are
returned to the hospital. Would a woman who had parted from her child of
a year old know it again at five? Did such women ever go to that
prosaic-looking church and search the rows of small faces for the one
which belonged to her by rights of the flesh? If she did she must,
anyhow, have found comfort in the sight of that happy-looking crowd of
youngsters.

Mrs. Darling asked me if I thought the children ever found their parents
when, at the age of fifteen and sixteen, they left the hospital? It was
a question which opened up all sorts of possibilities and situations.
There must be mothers who had died, mothers who, in the course of years,
had become reconciled to the loss of their children, but what of those
who had _not_ forgotten or died?

In one of the yearly reports which I saw there is mention of _one_ child
only restored to its mother. I believe instances of this kind are rare,
very searching inquiry being made by the governors before they consent
to such an application. As a rule, once the institution takes the
children they belong to it practically for life. It does not wash its
hands of them when it sends them out to service or apprenticeship, but
gives them substantial assistance (when needed, and as far as the means
of the Institution permit) to the day of their death.

The situation of these children is not only pathetic but strange in the
entire isolation from the ordinary ties and obligations of humanity. No
going home for holidays, no parcels from fond parents, no one particular
person to whom the small boy or girl _belongs_. They do not miss these
things because they have never known them, and, at least, they are not
burdened with objectionable or tiresome relatives. There must, though,
be moments when they feel lonely: moments when they could sympathise
with the little drudge I once saw in a play who wrote letters to
herself, and put a crape band on her arm for the death of a supposed
relative.

The picture gallery, with its polished floor, its great expanse of
Turkey carpet, its richly carved plaster ceiling, is a room in which to
spend a winter afternoon with a book, watching the light fade through
the row of long windows, and finding fresh horrors in Rafælle's "Murder
of the Innocents," an enormous cartoon which covers nearly the whole of
the wall at one end. The apartment is the Court Room as well as the
picture gallery, and it must have been the Calvary of many a woman who
parts from her child within its walls.

The "tokens," used as a means of identification in those days when
children were received indiscriminately in a basket hung at the gate of
the hospital, have a dumb eloquence. In a glass case before the windows
are the old coins, pieces of ribbon worked in beads, metal hearts,
crosses, and buttons which were attached to the persons of the children
when they were left behind. On a mother of pearl shield, dated 1757, I
noticed inscribed, "James, son of James Concannon, gent.," the "gent."
being scratched in as an afterthought apparently.

Those two Jameses have long ago passed away, but human nature is the
same, and there are still such James the firsts to father such James the
seconds. Probably many of the children we had been watching in the
chapel could write "gent." after their father's name. "Breed _will_
out," said Mrs. D., and one could see it in the faces and figures of
some of the small boys and girls.

There is an autograph of Queen Elizabeth in one of the cases, and if
character can be read by handwriting, this autograph should offer a
lifelong study. Mrs. D., who is interested in Elizabeth since she saw
her wax effigy, said, "No one but a queen could have the cheek to sign
her name _like that_!" The signature certainly has a regal significance
in its largeness and maze-like convolutions. The ink is faded and
brown, the flourishes have the shakiness of age. One would give a great
deal for an intimate knowledge of the occasion on which it was written.
The Earl of Leicester's autograph is close by, and it bears a marked
resemblance to Elizabeth's. Did he model it on that of his royal
mistress? Did Elizabeth love Leicester? and if she did, was it with a
tragic unconsciousness of his self-seeking? A woman as clever as
Elizabeth can lose her head and be strangely blind in matters of sex;
also, Elizabeth was vain. But no--I don't think Elizabeth was blind. On
the contrary, it was her clear-sightedness which prevented her marriage
with the man who appealed to the natural instincts of her sex. She was
woman enough to like to love and be loved, but shrewd enough to know
where to stop.

Outside the birds were singing, and the light falling through the long
rows of windows had in it something of the quality of spring. I should
have liked to linger in the old rooms for a while--the Stone Hall, the
Picture Gallery, and the Secretary's Room--all of which have treasures
demanding a great deal more than a cursory glance. One has to _live_
with such things to appreciate them, and these passing glimpses seem to
me in the nature of an insult. There is, behind those glimpses, a
haunted atmosphere made up of the echoes of laughter long since
silenced, of words spoken, and dreams dreamed, and to breathe it is to
capture romance. True, it is only a mirage, but actually to set foot in
a mirage and stay there awhile is an achievement for which to thank the
gods.

       *       *       *       *       *

It occurred to me after lunch that, instead of sitting over the fire
with a novel I would go to the National Portrait Gallery. Sir Walter
Scott says that portraits of our ancestors enable us "to compare their
persons and countenances with their sentiments and actions," and I
wanted to see if the Earl of Leicester's countenance fitted the story of
his relations with Elizabeth, whether Nell Gwynne was as attractive as I
had been told, if Pepys resembled the bust on his tomb, also to renew
acquaintance with dear old Sir Thomas More and some other of those
"ancestors" whose haunts I had lately been exploring.

Mrs. Darling excused herself. No power on earth will on a Sunday
afternoon draw her from the fireside, where she can, in comfort, study
humanity through the pages of "The News of the World".

A visit to the National Portrait Gallery isn't exactly a restful
experience. Those long rows of faces, each making its appeal for
understanding, have an exhausting effect after a time. They promise so
much to Paul Pry, then baffle him with their underlying secretiveness.

Sunday afternoon is not the best time to go. Early on a week-day morning
is better, when the gallery is almost deserted, and in the silence you
can hear the traffic in the street outside, and the echoes of an
attendant's voice in some far room where he gossips to a companion. The
rows upon rows of faces staring patiently from its walls give a
curiously crowded sense to its emptiness, and one pictures them at
closing time when the last visitor has gone, and the attendant has
switched off the lights. I think I should give the Duke of Monmouth,
painted after his execution, a wide berth _then_. There are others, too,
who would not be cheerful companions--some of those waxen mediæval
countenances would glimmer unpleasantly in the dusk, and one would be
conscious of a stirring amongst the gathering of kings and queens, poets
and statesmen, courtesans and cardinals, at the approach of night.

I found Leicester, next to Elizabeth--a haughty-looking gentleman
in his high collar and ruff. I don't like his eyes. They aren't
trustworthy--but perhaps that is because I _know_. Anyhow, he has an air
which would win favour with women, and he played a big part in the life
of his queen from her girlhood's days until his death. There have been
sinister stories told about Leicester. Ben Jonson said the Earl gave
his wife "a bottle of liquor which he willed her to use in any
faintness, which she, not knowing it was poison, gave him, and so he
died". According to the gossip of the times, the Queen's favourite seems
to have been accounted a veritable Bluebeard. Well, the secrets of his
life were buried with him three hundred years ago and more, and no
matter how deep we dig, we shall never discover them.

I found Pepys, and he looks much more _material_ in paint than he does
in stone. There is, though, an expression of childlike speculation in
the eyes, and there one finds Samuel of the Diary. Bunyan hangs next to
him, a humorous looking old chap, a man one could trust. The same can be
said of Sir Thomas More, with his gentle, clean-cut face, and his kind,
intellectual brown eyes.

Nell Gwynne is neighbour to her Charles. She is pert, with a look of the
gamin about her as she points a derisive finger in direction of her
royal lover. By the by, I didn't know Whitfield squinted! There is a
quaint picture of him preaching to an audience of four, and an admiring
female in the front row is making a vain effort to catch his eye.

What a mixed company it is! and how do they pair off at nights when, in
the darkness and echoing silence of the long galleries, they step out
of their frames? Pepys might hob-nob with Bunyan very easily, Sir Thomas
More with Hannah More, and Charlotte Brontë with Dr. Johnson, but how
about Nell Gwynne with Charles's lawful consort. How about "Bloody Queen
Mary" with old John Foxe and Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots?
Meanwhile Horace Walpole would be quizzing the lot of them (I know it by
the bright busy-body expression in his eyes), and writing letters to
Madame du Deffand to tell her all about it. I have always been curious
about his friendship with the infatuated old Frenchwoman of sixty-nine,
and very disgusted with Walpole for causing his correspondence with her
to be destroyed. By the way, Madame du Deffand was blind. I wonder who
had the privilege of reading Horace's letters to her?

I left the gallery pondering the odd situation, and was met by Mrs. D.
on my return with the announcement that she had got crumpets for
tea--would I like some? I said I would; moreover, I suggested that I
should eat them in her company and have a cup of tea out of her tea-pot.
I told her about Horace Walpole and Madame du Deffand as we sat over the
fire drinking our tea, and she remarked that there were "no fools like
old fools". This was a bit damping, and I said to myself, "George, you
must be a _very_ lonely man to seek the company of such an unsympathetic
woman!" Nevertheless, I was in no hurry to return to my solitary room,
but sat smoking and watching the old lady mend my socks until the bells
began to ring for evening service, and I bethought myself of this letter
I had in my mind to write to you. Here it is, with the affectionate
thought of

      Your old friend,
      GEORGE.



CHAPTER X


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _20th January._

Dear Agatha,--Mrs. D. and I have been exploring Soho this afternoon. I
started out with the intention of localising certain houses in certain
streets associated with men of letters, but, alas! it was a question of
"change" (_without_ decay) "in all around I see". Old landmarks gone,
and brand new buildings, mostly offices, in their place. Still, there is
enough left to make a visit well worth while, and the weather was
perfect. Frowsy old Soho was almond-scented from the great bunches of
mimosa in the costers' barrows, whilst the streets smiled under the
light of a January afternoon into which Spring had wandered.

There are moods to fit different districts. A mood for the City, one for
Piccadilly, a Chelsea mood, one for the East End, and one for Soho. Soho
was the one spot in the world for me this afternoon, and Mrs. Darling,
who is not subject to moods, said it was "all the same to her where we
went so long as it wasn't a lunatic asylum or a prison".

Soho has an atmosphere distinct from any other spot in London.
Blindfold, you would be aware of the fact directly you crossed its
borders. Its restaurants smell of savoury dishes and its narrow streets
echo gaily to the jangle of piano organs. Its language is cosmopolitan,
and its postcards and paper-covered novels have to be taken with a
tolerant shrug of the shoulders for the odd taste of "those foreigners".
Its shops are dingy, but they _get there_ all the same. There is an art
in their very carelessness. They invite search and have an air of being
at the mercy of the customer.

Mrs. Darling was obviously hoodwinked by this stratagem, and remarked
that she supposed you could get "one er them necklaces" (referring to a
string of real amber beads in a jeweller's window) for about "'alf a
crown". I explained to her that the beads were probably worth £10, to
which she replied that perhaps the shopkeeper _didn't know it_! I got
her away from the window with difficulty, and I have no doubt she will
go to her grave thinking she might have bought that necklace for a song
but for my impatience.

The unusual mildness of the afternoon was indicated in the number of
figures seated on the benches in St. Anne's Churchyard. Drink has
stamped its sinister hall-mark on most of them. Dirt and disease, the
companions of drink, are there too. Despair, which one might reasonably
look for, is absent. Despair argues sensibility, and these human wrecks
seem to have got beyond that stage. They exist in a comatose state,
feeling perhaps a momentary amelioration of their misery in this hour of
Spring, and not looking beyond it.

They have a companion in adversity in the royal pauper, Theodore, King
of Corsica, who died in Soho, and who, as Edward Walford says in his
"Old and New London," was buried at the cost of a small tradesman who
had known him in the days of his prosperity.

We found the tablet without difficulty at the base of the church tower,
close to that of William Hazlitt. The epitaph is by Horace Walpole, and
runs:--

      "The grave, great teacher, to a level brings
      Heroes and beggars, galley slaves and kings,
      But Theodore this moral learn'd ere dead;
      Fate pour'd its lesson on his living head--
      Bestow'd a kingdom and denied him bread."

Unfortunate Theodore, who, on leaving the prison without a sixpence in
his pocket, took refuge with a tailor in Soho, where three days later
he died. Who out of those passing through the churchyard pause to give a
thought to Theodore or to ponder Walpole's reflections on "The grave,
great teacher".

We found we should have to make a detour to get inside the church, which
lies at a level below the churchyard and is shut off by an iron railing.
So we retraced our steps along Shaftesbury Avenue and into Dean Street.
The church door was open and some one inside was practising on the
organ. The sound came faintly as we entered the porch, and rushed out to
meet us with a burst of melody as we pushed back the inner door. The
player was performing to an empty church, and I recognised the rhythm of
the tumbling notes as Bach's. How many times have I clambered the
gallery stairs of this same old church to listen to the music of John
Sebastian! Strangely enough, it was the recollection of those occasions
which had prompted my visit this afternoon. Good old John! who can sweep
away the cobwebs like a March wind with one of his fugues, set one
smiling at the tender grace of a pastorale, or thrill one with that
solemn and awful summons to Calvary in the dramatic opening of the
Passion Music.

The fugue gave place to a quaint old dance, and Spring, which was paying
a premature visit to the Soho streets outside, stole with the sunshine
through the windows into the church. With it came a dream, and as I
listened to the music, ladies in silk petticoats, with patches and
powder, and gentlemen in wigs and knee breeches paced gravely through a
minuet in the aisle. It was irreverent, but John Sebastian was to blame,
and somehow the dancers seemed no more out of place than did the
sunbeams which found entrance through the dusty windows.

Mrs. Darling had gone to read the "Roll of Honour" in a corner of the
church decorated by flags. She has sounded depths in life which are
outside my experience, and I do not like to obtrude my presence at such
moments. I could see her from where I sat wiping her eyes, yet I knew
that presently she would come back with a cheerful face and some
soul-destroying remark which would knock the bottom out of my dreams.
There is no pose with Mrs. Darling.

It was as I expected. She wanted to know if the man was tuning the
organ? Oh, Mrs. D.! What is the tie which binds me to your prosaic,
plush-jacketed person? Why do I court your unappreciative companionship,
and sacrifice _you_ to my mania for imparting information?

Perhaps the answer was supplied by the old lady herself when we issued
from the church. "I 'spose you'd 'ave stopped in that old church all the
afternoon if I 'adn't tipped you the wink to git out, sir," she said.
"No one could accuse you er bein' a rollin' stone. If it wasn't for _me_
you'd be _choked up_ with moss."

When I leave Shaftesbury Avenue for Berwick Market I always think of
Hogarth, which, by the way, reminds me that I saw a bronze bust of him
at the Portrait Gallery. A keen, small-featured, refined face, with a
penetrating, bad-tempered expression about the eyes--not the face one
would picture of the creator of "The Rake's Progress" or "Marriage à la
Mode". But when is the occasion on which one does not have to readjust
one's mental attitude towards the artist (known only through his works)
on first making acquaintance with his face and features?

[Illustration: BERWICK MARKET.]

Berwick Market, with a Spring sky above the costers' barrows of fruit
and flowers making splashes of colour amidst the motley crowd peopling
its narrow confines, might have stepped straight out of an Italian
canvas on this delectable afternoon. Busy sellers and loitering buyers
seemed to be making a pleasant pastime of it all. The stall-keepers,
with an artless intimacy and a reckless confidence in the weather, had
hung out on lines silk stockings, articles of lingerie, yards of ribbon
and laces. Everything here is open to the world, even the little shops
on either side of the gutter are windowless. What happens in Berwick
Market on wet days, I don't know. I always choose the time of my visits,
carefully avoiding it when there's a blizzard or a downpour. I want to
keep the memory of its cheeriness intact, undimmed. When I pine for a
continental trip, which my purse will not allow, I go to Berwick Market
and stare at the long French loaves in the bakers' shops, at the weird,
dirty-looking sausages enclosed in a network of string, the ropes of
garlic, the spaghetti and salad dressings in the Italian provision
dealers, listening meanwhile to the chatter of foreign tongues all
round. Berwick Market lives out of doors and it doesn't wear hats. It
takes the stranger into its confidence and is never dull. It thrusts fur
coats, frocks, and blouses under your nose as you walk. It will supply
you with butcher's meat, cabbages and potatoes, flowers and fruit,
ironware, books, music, toys, jewellery, leather goods and trinkets, all
within the space of a few hundred yards, and if you buy any of these
things you will go away under the pleasant but false impression that you
have taken advantage of an ingenuous huckster who didn't know the value
of his goods.

Mrs. D. bought a flat-iron, two saucepan lids, and a hat shape. In view
of these articles having to accompany us on the remainder of our
journey, they seemed to me an unwise purchase, especially as it was
problematical whether the lids would fit the saucepans for which they
were intended. She was, however, so convinced that never again would the
opportunity occur for securing ironware at so low a price, or a hat of
such a becoming shape, that I shouldered my share of the burden (the
flat-iron and saucepan lids) and refrained from putting a damper on her
satisfaction.

At the top of Greek Street is the house where De Quincey lived, and it
is always of De Quincey and poor Ann that I think when meditating in
Soho Square. The story of that poor child of the streets, who, out of
her penury, befriended her companion in misfortune and afterwards
disappeared so mysteriously, is one of undying interest and pathos. "For
weeks," says De Quincey, "I had walked with this poor friendless girl up
and down Oxford Street, or rested with her on steps under the shelter of
porticoes...." What a picture of the misery of these two children the
words call up! Speaking of that night in Soho Square when he fainted in
her arms, and she rose and fetched the glass of hot spiced wine which he
was convinced saved his life, he continues, "We sat down on the steps of
a house, which, to this hour, I never pass without a pang of grief and
an inner act of homage to the spirit of that unhappy girl, in memory of
the noble action which she there performed".

I told Mrs. D. the story, and we speculated as to the particular
doorstep on which the outcasts sat. Mrs. D., who treats all facts more
than fifty years old as fiction, said it was "very touchin'," and that
she hoped the young man found Ann in the end and married her. I did not
insist on the truth of the story or the sadness of the end. There are
times when I envy Mrs. D.'s limitations, and this was one of them. I
would give a good deal to know that De Quincey found Ann again. I
picture him after his short absence from London, going at six o'clock to
the bottom of Great Titchfield Street (the appointed place of
rendezvous) in the sure expectation of meeting her. The minutes would
pass and he would watch for the familiar form, at first with confidence,
then with a disappointment which grew minute by minute, and was
accompanied by foreboding conjectures as to the cause of her absence.
When the last hope of her appearance had fled he would seek consolation
in the thought that she who had never failed him in the past must have
had some good reason for not keeping her tryst to-night. She would come
to-morrow. But to-morrow night and all other to-morrows came without
bringing Ann. "I sought her daily," he says, "and waited for her every
night so long as I staid in London, at the corner of Titchfield
Street.... But to this hour I have never heard a syllable about
her...." "Some feelings," he records in another passage, "though not
deeper or more passionate, are more tender than others, and often when I
walk in Oxford Street by dreamy lamplight and hear those airs played on
a barrel organ, which years ago solaced me and my dear companion, as I
must always call her, I shed tears and muse with myself at the
mysterious dispensation which so suddenly and so critically separated us
for ever."

We went and looked at the house in Greek Street, on the front of which
is a tablet stating that De Quincey lived there. One has a feeling of
gratitude towards the Society of Arts which in such fashion strives to
keep green the memory of those men and women who trod the streets of the
great city, dreaming their dreams, and leaving for those who came after
them great deeds to inspire, romance to allure, thoughts of beauty to
refresh the mind, and visions of colour to delight the eyes.

Frith Street was noisy with the play of children just released from
school, and there was a hint of the slackening of the day's activities.
We left Frith Street for Old Compton Street, and from thence into New
Compton Street, which has a dreary "end of the world" sort of
atmosphere. Cheery Soho loses heart at this point, where it is about to
take leave of you, and Church Passage, which terminates in a little
flight of stone steps, and an iron gateway leading into the churchyard
of St. Giles's in the Fields, has a Dickens'-like suggestion of "Joe"
and "Bleak House".

When I told Mrs. D. that St. Giles was the patron saint of lepers, and
that the present church stood not very far from the site of a hospital
for lepers built by the wife of Henry I in 1118, she said she could well
believe it. She was also not surprised to hear that the plague broke out
in St. Giles's, and that the gallows named "Tyburn Tree" was set up near
the aforesaid leper hospital.

I asked her if she had ever read the "Newgate Calendar". She replied
with regret that she hadn't, admitting that if there _was_ a book she
would enjoy it was this particular one. In her estimation there was
nothing like a good murder trial for taking you out of yourself.

The "Newgate Calendar" had occurred to me in connection with "Tyburn
Tree" by reason of references in that gruesome volume to the "last
drink," a glass of ale which used to be presented to the criminals on
their way to the gallows when they passed the gate of the leper
hospital. Yes, there really _is_ some foundation for the eerie
atmosphere of the churchyard of St. Giles. I always remember coming upon
that gate at the end of Church Passage one autumn evening when twilight
was merging into dusk. I had no idea where it led, and I mounted the
steps and found myself in the old churchyard with something of the
sensation which characterises the initial stage of a nightmare. The
backs of squalid houses overlooked the place, and still figures, sunk in
abysmal meditation, sat about on the benches. In the window of a
studio-like building were some plaster casts of heads, and the white
glimmering faces stared into the glimmering shades of evening which were
stealing across the dingy burying-ground. I left the place without
identifying it, and did not see it again for years. Then one day I
stumbled on it unexpectedly, and discovered that my ghostly churchyard
was St. Giles's in the Fields.

Even on this afternoon of sweet promise St. Giles's straggling graveyard
was not a cheerful spot. I have, by the by, never seen so many cats
congregated in any corner of London as I saw in St. Giles's Churchyard.
A villainous-looking old tom, with torn ears, the hero of many a fray,
was seated on a large tomb abutting on to the path, and the first line
of the epitaph chiselled on the stone arrested my attention. "Hold,
passenger!" it began peremptorily, and I barred Mrs. D.'s path whilst I
read:--

      "Hold, passenger, here's shrouded in his hearse,
      Unparallel'd Pendrill through the universe."

"Pendrill," said I to myself--"who's he?" and, ashamed of my ignorance
of a person so eulogised, I inquired of Mrs. D. if she knew anyone of
that name. She said there was a man named Pennybill who used to sell
Ostend rabbits in Shepherd's Market, but he hadn't been dead long enough
for his tomb to have got so dirty. As she spoke, enlightenment came.
Ostend, Holland, the battle of Worcester, Charles II, and yes, on the
other side of the tomb was the inscription to Richard Pendrill, the
preserver of the life of Charles II.

What an odd, unexpected link with the past that forgotten old tomb made,
standing solitary amidst the sooty shrubs in the cat-haunted churchyard!
The escape of Charles from Worcester to Shoreham, where he found a coal
boat that carried him over to Normandy, might well be a page out of some
romance for all one realises it, as a rule. There are times when I share
Mrs. D.'s scepticism about the past, and Charles, Cromwell, Queen
Elizabeth, Henry VIII and the Gunpowder Plot, wars, plagues, and fires
are just so many incidents in a story book. Then I stumble on an ancient
tombstone with such an inscription as this, almost obliterated by the
winds and rains, the frosts and heats of centuries, or I open Pepys and
read how, on 27th February, 1659, the old chap was "Up in the morning,
and had some red herrings to our breakfast, while my boot-heel was
a-mending, by the same token that the boy left the hole as it was
before," and I say to myself with the shock of coming up bump against
something solid where one had anticipated vacancy, "Then it _was_ all
true!"

The church was closed, but we found the "Resurrection Gateway," where it
rears itself in dignified isolation above the iron railings on the
western side of the church. There is, over it, a curious carving in oak
of the "Last Judgment," depicting that day when long-dead citizens,
endowed with renewed strength, will throw off their earthen trammels,
and shouldering their tombstones with the ease of a Samson, rise to
disclose those secret thoughts and deeds which the kindly grave had
hidden for centuries.

Mrs. Darling remarked that, for her part, she had no fear of death or
judgment. "If I wos to go to bed this night and never git up no more,"
she stated, "there ain't a livin' soul can say I owe them a brass
farthin'. I never done one er my fellow creatures a hinjury, and there's
the things all ready to lay me out in the bottom drawer near the
washstand."

She flourished the paper bag containing the hat shape with an air of
conscious virtue, but I could not emulate her action with the flat iron,
which weighed seven pounds! To tell the truth, I was looking out for a
friendly tombstone behind which that article, together with the saucepan
lids, could be conveniently lost, but some children playing in the
churchyard were watching me as if they suspected my designs, and I had
to abandon the idea.

We took a 'bus down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus, and had tea
in Jermyn Street at a little confectioner's for which we have an
affection. The cakes are home made and the tea and bread and butter are
good. There is an inner sanctuary with coloured prints of old London on
the walls where one can talk cosily, and is admitted to an amusing
intimacy with the workings of the establishment. Now and again a man in
a white jacket comes and delves into a corner cupboard, and we have
glimpses of pots of jam and groceries. Young men and women drop in from
neighbouring businesses for tea, and everybody knows everybody else. The
waitress has admitted Mrs. D. and me to the family circle, and with a
"Same as usual, sir?" goes to fetch our pot of tea and two plates of
bread and butter. This afternoon she did not even trouble to make the
formal inquiry, but appeared before us with the tea-tray almost as
quickly as we had seated ourselves.

Piccadilly was like fairyland as we walked down it on our way back to
Shepherd Market, and I wished you were with me. The red lights in the
rear of the vehicles, and the silver ones in front, were dancing like
fireflies in one of the most wonderful gloamings I have ever witnessed.
The perfect day, drawing its garments of smoke and rose over the mauve
sky, was making its tender, reluctant farewell, whilst above the sadness
of its passing hung the evening star, companioned by the most slender of
new moons. We turned our money, and felt that Fortune was about to smile
on us.

In the quiet of Half Moon Street, whom should I encounter but Katherine,
in her car? The first intimation I had of her neighbourhood was a
white-gloved hand waving a greeting from the window of the car, then a
face appeared eloquent of a satirical enjoyment of the picture presented
by Mrs. D. and myself with our respective parcels. The incident was over
in a flash and Mrs. D. none the wiser. I am reminded to mention it by
reason of an odd but peculiarly vivid impression I received of Katherine
having suddenly become an old woman. It may have been some trick of
light as the car shot by in the dusk, or a moment of prophetic insight
on my part. But whatever it was, it made me feel I wanted to take up the
cudgels for her and keep the enemy at bay. Blood, after all, is thicker
than water, and Katherine has no weapons with which to fight _that_
spectre.

Shepherd Market is almost deserted at this hour in the late afternoon.
The old coaching yard is full of black shadows, and there are no
customers in the shops. Lights are dim, and the echoes of footsteps in
neighbouring courts and passages can be heard a long way off. In
Carrington Mews some warmth of the fading sunset still lingered, and I
left it with reluctance to mount the dark staircase to my room. There
are days when one feels all is well--not only with _this_ world, but
with the next, which is presumably more important. Youth, on such days,
returns to whisper flatteries in the ears of Old Age. Is it wisdom or
foolishness on the part of Old Age to listen? I leave you with that
question on the thirty-fifth anniversary of our friendship. Do you
remember?

      GEORGE.



CHAPTER XI


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _17th February._

My Dear Agatha,--So you, too, remembered! Strange, after our having
overlooked the anniversary for so long! The violets you picked for me in
your garden _that_ afternoon scented my room for days. Thank you.

Acting on your advice, I took Mrs. D. to the London Museum yesterday.
You are quite right, the place was made for children, and the old lady
thoroughly enjoyed herself.

The basement, with its long stone-paved corridors, its gloom (dispelled,
I am forced to admit, by electric light), is the right place for the
models of ancient London, old doorways, knockers, horn lanthorns, oak
panelling, relics of Newgate, prison cells, and yellowed news sheets
containing the accounts of the execution of celebrated criminals.

One catches the mood of the place when one gets to the bottom of the
stairs and sees the row of wooden figures each of which has weathered
many a storm from its post outside some shop in the London streets of a
hundred and fifty years or more ago. The grocers' Chinaman, the
tobacconists' Highlander, and the scale-makers' figure of Justice. Now
and again, at rare intervals, we may meet the Highlander outside a
tobacconist's, or the figure of Justice over the scale-maker's window,
but the Chinaman seems to have completely disappeared.

To go into the basement of the London Museum is like opening the door of
some dim, dusty lumber-room and unearthing the forgotten toys of our
childhood. Things which we greet with an indulgent smile, and now and
again a sigh. The basement is a place to visit on that sort of idle
afternoon in early Spring when one is moved to turn out old letters, to
bring to mind the playmates of one's youth, and muse, while the light
wanes, on the changes the years have brought.

Here is a shop-front of George III's time, and behind the small-paned
window a grotesque collection of ragged puppets, the property of some
long-defunct proprietor of a Punch and Judy show. Many a time must those
grimacing dolls have played in the immortal drama to an audience of our
great-great-great-grandfathers.

The oak-panelled, seventeenth century parlour where a man sits drinking
by candle-light sets one speculating. There are his gloves on the table
and his pipe, which he has removed from his pocket. His wife has filled
his glass with wine, and stands telling him what has been happening
during his absence. He sits back in his chair, too intent on her news to
fill his pipe or lift the glass to his lips. The Great Fire, perhaps, is
raging at that very moment, and the wife may be telling her husband that
three hundred houses are already burnt, and how the churches were all
filled with goods and people. Or maybe it is of the outbreak of the
plague which the man learns, and the fear of which makes him forget his
pipe and the wine poured out at his elbow. Every time I go to the London
Museum I visit the pair, and always they are carrying on that same
conversation. The woman's dress gets dustier and dustier, and the wine
in the glass does not grow less. People come and stare and go away,
leaving the couple unmoved. Is it my fancy, that when _I_ come, the
conversation in that oak-panelled room becomes more tense, and if only I
stayed long enough I should discover what it was about?

In the model of old London Bridge Mrs. D. found something with which she
is now familiar, and my character for veracity with her went up by
leaps and bounds. The spiked heads on the battlements might have
belonged to objectionable relatives, with such satisfaction did she
greet them. The model of the old bridge clothed the dry bones of the
past with flesh, and Mrs. D., as a student of history, got a move on.
One can sympathise with her scepticism when one looks across at Bankside
with its gabled houses sleeping in the sunlight, and the glimpse of a
white country road shaded by green trees. That, Bankside! Surely, never!
I did not voice the thought, not wishing to quench the flax of the old
lady's newly acquired faith.

The fire of London next engaged her attention. To myself it is the least
successful of the models, although I confess to a childish pleasure in
watching old St. Paul's and its neighbourhood all aglow, like one of
those pictures one sees in the heart of a burning log. I thought, as I
looked at it, of the words of a writer of the times, quoted by Walter
Thornbury. "It was in the depth and the dead of the night," says the
Rev. Samuel Vincent, "when most doors and senses were lockt up in the
city, that the fire doth break forth and appear abroad." This is just
the thing one would expect of those "penny dreadful" days, and the
progress of the ghastly monster is described with a living terror as it
"rusheth down the hill (Fish Street Hill) towards the bridge, crosseth
Thames Street, invadeth Magnus Church at the bridge foot ... marcheth
back towards the city again, and runs along with great noise and
violence through Thames Street westward.... Rattle, rattle, rattle, was
the noise which the fire struck upon the ear round about, as if there
had been a thousand iron chariots beating upon the stones.... You might
see in some places whole streets at once in flames, that issued forth as
if they had been so many great forges from the opposite windows, which,
folding together, were united in one great flame throughout the whole
street; and then you might see the houses tumble, tumble, tumble from
one end of the street to the other with a great crash, leaving the
foundations open to the view of the heavens."

There was nothing half-hearted in the thrills provided for Londoners in
_those_ days, and the quaint little toy behind the plate glass revives a
ghostly repetition of them to an imaginative spectator. Mrs. D. said she
hadn't seen "anythink so pretty for a long time," and I left her glued
to the spot while I looked at Frost Fair on the Thames, with the Globe
Theatre behind, and sought in vain to find any of to-day in the models
of old Cheapside and Charing Cross.

I got Mrs. D. away from the Great Fire with a promise of prison cells
and relics of Newgate, and I must admit to a sensation myself when face
to face with the door of the condemned cell of Newgate Prison. This
particular corner of the Museum makes a bid for popularity with those
with a taste for horrors. The prison cells from Neptune Street, in which
debtors were confined for indefinite periods for small debts, are an
example of old London's cruelty to those of its unfortunate citizens who
couldn't pay their way. "Sly House," as the place was called, because of
the many who were seen to enter it and never seen to leave it, must have
been an object of terror to the impecunious. "Sly House" possessed a
subterranean passage to the Tower and the docks, and prisoners were
taken thence and embarked on the convict ship _Success_. The wooden
walls are scored with the names of some of those wretched human beings
who passed months and years in this living tomb. Apparently, they were
not all treated as is the man who lies chained from both wrists in the
outer cell. He could not have found temporary diversion from his misery
in such a task, but this other sitting at a table in the inner cell
might answer to one of those names. It is rather difficult to decipher
them in the dim light of the lantern which hangs in a corner of the
cell, and as I stooped forward my foot inadvertently came in contact
with the foot of the frowsy prisoner seated at the table. For an
instant I was conscious of an odd sensation of something like fear: not
fear of the poor lay figure, but fear of those dark days which, in some
curious fashion, the momentary contact had brought _quite close_. It was
as if I had stroked a stuffed tiger and it had suddenly snarled and
showed its teeth! Quite absurd, of course; a touch of Frankenstein, born
of my ambition to make the dry bones live.

There is a portrait sketch of Jack Sheppard by Sir James Thornhill in
the adjoining room. The audacious young rascal has a curious face in
which there is intellect, even soul, and an animal sort of alertness,
and the account of his daring escape from Newgate, where he was loaded
with irons and chained to a staple in the floor, reads like a page from
Dumas. He had, too, the sort of luck that attends heroes in fiction when
he found that small nail with which he freed his chain from the floor
staple. This done he got up the chimney, broke into a room over the
chapel with the aid of another large nail, which was provided by
Providence for the purpose, and with the help of an iron spike from the
chapel door, hacked a hole in the wall, through which he climbed on to
the leads. One holds one's breath when, these obstacles surmounted and
liberty almost within his grasp, Jack is confronted with the need of a
rope, and goes back to his cell by the way he had come to fetch his
blanket! It is not only the courage, but the optimism of the act which
strikes one, an optimism which was justified. He got the blanket, made
the rope, and with its aid descended to the roof of a turner who lived
in a house adjoining the prison. One must bear in mind, too, that Jack
was still handicapped by his irons! Picture him, having effected an
entrance into the turner's house by means of a garret window, slinking
down the stairs, past closed doors which might open any moment to wreck
his project at the moment of consummation.

According to that same account of his escape, a woman heard the chink of
his irons as he passed one of those doors, and thought it was the cat!
Maybe she was sitting by the fire nursing her baby, or reading some tale
of adventure, little dreaming that as exciting a story as any in fiction
was being enacted at her elbow.

One hears with regret that Jack's liberty was short-lived. Not a week
had passed before he was at his old game of burglary, and being captured
whilst drunk was once more imprisoned in Newgate, only to leave it this
time to be hanged at Tyburn.

Whilst I sought to read the riddle of the young reprobate's strange
physiognomy, Mrs. Darling was browsing with dark satisfaction amongst
the murder trials and executions. There she stood, spectacles on the
tip of her nose, hat perched at a jaunty angle, her lips forming the
words of the "Sorrowful Lamentation and last Farewell to the world of
four robbers," as she read:--

      Four hopeless youth this day I tell
        In Newgate dark and drear.
      O, hear their last and sad farewell
        To part this world of care.
      On Tuesday next, that awful day
        Which fast approaches nigh,
      All in their prime of youthful years
        They must prepare to die.

"Ain't it 'eart renderin'!" she exclaimed, as I looked over her
shoulder. "I reckon the man who said, 'Wot's got over the devil's back
is spent under 'is belly,' wasn't very far wrong neither."

Upstairs we came to a halt before the glass case in which Queen
Victoria's historic dresses are placed, beginning with the wedding
dress, and continuing with the gowns the Queen had worn at great
functions during those first years of her marriage. I invariably spend a
few meditative moments before the yellowed satin wedding dress and the
white silk which the bride had worn at dinner on that last day of
spinsterhood.

The heart of just a girl beat beneath those stiff little bodices. She
had the world at her feet, and it was the day of her mating with her
hero. I must admit that, to myself, "Albert" has never appeared in a
romantic light. Perhaps it's the fault of the "Memorial". Where is the
man who could live down the Albert Memorial? The adoring queen did her
dead husband an ill turn when she sought to immortalise him in such
fashion.

Ah, well! the adored and the adorer are both in their graves now, and
here, ironic fact, the bride's faded finery, after being laid away in
lavender for years, has emerged from seclusion to enact the new rôle of
relic.

"Now, if that'd bin _me_," remarked Mrs. Darling, as she stared at the
ivory satin dress, "I should 'ave took orf that real lace, which must be
worth _pounds and pounds_, and put on a nice himitation."

"Well, I'm glad it _wasn't_ you," I retorted.

The old lady winked at an attendant who was standing near, and I left
her to complete the conquest while I paid a visit to the "Georgian
dinner party". Those diners linger over their dessert an unconscionable
time. I wished I had the chance to help them out with the wine and the
biscuits. The red wine in the tall glasses, the cakes and fruit,
tantalise a hungry man who stares at them through the glass. The
gentlemen of the party apparently don't take tea. Three cups and
saucers only stand in front of the hostess, who is about to pour out.
One of the guests has risen and placed his glass of wine on the
mantelpiece. I imagine him the spokesman of the party. The museum was
almost deserted, everybody having gone to lunch. I could hear Mrs.
Darling's laugh in the distance. She and the attendant seemed to have a
good deal to say to each other; but in the corner where I stood there
was no one to disturb the Georgian ladies and gentlemen at their talk.
Their voices, speaking through the tunnel of nearly two hundred years,
were an atmosphere rather than a sound, and I was making an effort to
interpret it when Mrs. D. reappeared. She said she was sorry to have
kept me waiting, but the man to whom she had been talking knew the
barber who used to shave her husband when he had "bin on the drink," and
judging from her air of pleasant pre-occupation the encounter seemed to
have had a cheering effect.

I noticed, as she spoke, that her eyes wandered hungrily to the Georgian
dinner table, and I suggested that after we had had a look at the top
floor we should go and get some lunch. An idea had suddenly occurred to
me of steak pudding at the "Cheshire Cheese". Mrs. D., I felt, would
appreciate the homeliness of that place of entertainment.

There's a nice little furnished flat on the top floor of the Museum
which would suit me "down to the ground," as Mrs. D. expresses it. One
is not allowed to go inside and explore, and from where I stood I could
only catch tantalising glimpses of the three rooms it contained. In one
was an old four-poster standing cosily in a corner that seemed made to
hold it. To the right, through an open door, I caught a slant glimpse of
a fine apartment in which stood a magnificent old carved sideboard, two
ancient wooden chairs, and some pictures in oval gilt frames on the
panelled walls.

An opening into the third room, of which I could see just a corner lit
by a small-paned window, excited my curiosity still more. The flat had
no doubt been so staged with an idea of enhancing its desirableness. A
touch of mystery is as provocative in a house as it is in a woman. What
old Wemmick did with his drawbridge and his cannon is an instance of
what can be done by condescending to make believe.

As I continued to stare, a face appeared at the small-paned window
lighting the mysterious room. It was Mrs. Darling's face, grimacing
mischievously. How did she get there? I walked to the end of the
corridor and turned to the left, turned again, and behold, the secrets
of room three were revealed. A prim faded apartment with an open
spinet, old wooden chairs standing stiffly against the panelled wall, an
alcove in which old china was ranged, and needlework pictures.

Mrs. Darling had again disappeared, and I stood for some time taking
stock of the contents of the room three and room two from this new point
of vantage. I was rather sorry I had wrested their secrets from them.
All Mrs. D.'s fault. It was just like her to find a prosaic solution
whilst I was making mysteries out of nothing. There she was again,
signalling from the spot where I had stood a few minutes before. She
seemed to be inviting me to a game of hide and seek, but a sense of
dignity, and fear of the attendants, prevented my accepting the
challenge.

On our way downstairs we went into Room Four to see the relics of the
Great Plague. There is a bell used by the men in charge of the death
carts, when they went round calling their awful summons, "Bring out your
dead!" That old rusty bell with the long wooden handle could tell a tale
of horror if its iron tongue could speak our language. What sights it
has seen as the dead cart rumbled through the dark, narrow streets of
ancient London, and the bell rang its accompaniment to the bell-man's
fearful chant. Doors would open and lights shine out across the
pavement. The stricken silence of the night would be broken by stealthy
movements and smothered voices, shapeless, horrible burdens would
exchange hands, and the cart continue its way over the cobbles to the
awful goal of the plague pits. Perhaps it's well that rusty old bell
_can't_ speak!

There are also the Bills of Mortality, and remedies prescribed as
preventive measures (boiled milk with two cloves of garlick, was one I
noticed), also two fuming pots, in which charcoal was burnt: one found
at Moorfield and one in Town Ditch, Broad Street.

In a healthy reaction from the horrors of the Plague, Mrs. D. insisted
on having another look at the model of the Great Fire before we left the
Museum. It was only by reminding her that the "Cheshire Cheese" was a
"pub," and closed at three o'clock, that I at last succeeded in getting
her away from the fascinating toy.

It is now past 1 A.M., and as I have been writing ever since 10 P.M., I
must leave the account of our visit to the "Cheese" till my next. Mrs.
Darling is, presumably, sleeping the sleep of the just, and I hope not
disturbed by anything worse than dreams of the Great Fire. To lay any
ghosts of _that man_ with the rusty old bell who may haunt my own
thoughts, and yours, I quote dear old Herrick's words of another and
happier "Bell Man":--

      From noise of scare-fires rest ye free,
        From murders, Benedicite;
      From all mischances that may fright
      Your pleasing slumbers in the night,
      Mercy secure ye all, and keep
      The goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
      Past one o'clock, and almost two--
      My masters all, good day to you!

Yours ever,

      GEORGE.



CHAPTER XII


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      SHEPHERD MARKET,
      _24th February._

My Dear Agatha,--To take up my story where I dropped it the other
night.... You can approach the "Cheshire Cheese" either by the front
door in Wine Office Court or by the back door in Cheshire Court. I
prefer the tunnel-like passage leading to the back door, it seems a more
fit means of transporting one from Fleet Street of to-day to the Fleet
Street of 1667.

Mrs. D.'s visions of bread and cheese gave place to something more
appetising as the combined odours of steak puddings, mutton chops, baked
potatoes, and Irish stew greeted our entrance into the narrow passage
where waiters jostled each other and hurled orders, like invectives, at
the kitchen upstairs. Walls, panelled to the ceiling, old rough benches,
sawdusted floors, a glowing fire burning in the large old-fashioned
grate--_this_ was the "Cheshire Cheese" of two hundred and fifty years
ago. One crosses the threshold of this homely tavern, and in the
twinkling of an eye is admitted to an intimacy with the rude comfort of
the past. Brisk waiters were pouring sparkling ale into tankards, and
placing before customers plates containing helpings generous enough to
satisfy the appetite of a starving man. In the box in the corner,
curtained off by a faded crimson frill from the rest of the room, were
two vacant places, which Mrs. D. and I took, and from my seat there I
could watch the gentleman in the morning coat who serves The Pudding. It
occupies the place of honour in the middle of the room, together with an
enormous joint of good old English roast beef. The Pudding resembles a
mountain of the volcanic order, and into its steaming crater the server,
after having cut slices of crust from its sides, delves deep with a
long-handled silver ladle, bringing up savoury portions of the
mysterious contents.

The waiter brought the menu, but we did not need to study it. To go to
the "Cheshire Cheese" without having some of The Pudding is to explore a
wine vault without tasting of the vintage stored in the old barrels. By
the way, if you want a napkin at "The Cheese" you have to ask for it.
The presence of pewter on the tables, and the absence of napkins, is all
part of the ritual which strives to keep alive the spirit of those days
when, rumour has it, Dr. Johnson frequented the place. As to whether he
ever did is one of those disputed points of history which furnish
material for conjecture and research with the student of old times.
Those who say he _didn't_ base their assumption chiefly on the fact that
Boswell never mentioned the "Cheshire Cheese," but even Boswell did not
record what Johnson had for dinner every day, or how often he visited
his barber. Also, Johnson may have given up frequenting the "Cheshire
Cheese" before he knew Boswell. Seeing that Johnson lived just round the
corner, it is only reasonable to suppose that now and again he might
drop in, especially as his friend Goldsmith, whose visits to the tavern
are usually granted, lived almost opposite it. Picture the Doctor, fed
up with his collection of quarrelsome old women--Mrs. Williams, Mrs.
Desmoulins, Miss Carmichael--not to mention Levet, the eccentric
apothecary (Good God, Agatha! was there ever such a victim to good
nature?)--Picture him, on some bitter winter's night, putting on his
cocked hat, his greatcoat and muffler, taking his stout stick, and
banging the door of his asylum behind him with a grunt of satisfaction.
How the wind howls through the dark courts! But there are ruddy lights
in the windows of "The Cheese," and inside a blazing fire, the smoke
from a dozen churchwardens, the scent of hot punch, and last but not
least, listeners and the companionship of congenial spirits. Whatever
Johnson may have done in his life, he certainly haunts the old place in
death. One cannot turn one's eyes in any direction without encountering
mementoes of the old lexicographer, and there is the brass tablet set in
the wall over "The Favourite Seat of Dr. Samuel Johnson". You can't get
away from that! "Deny it who can!" says the tablet defiantly, and it
suddenly occurred to me that here is another task for Paul Pry--a task
more fascinating even than the quest of the "curious sculptured figure,"
which disappeared so strangely from St. Ethelburga's, Bishopsgate. One
could make it the work of a lifetime to find out if Dr. Johnson was in
the habit of frequenting the "Cheshire Cheese". Meanwhile, perhaps the
problem would have been solved by accident. Some descendant of one of
the Doctor's correspondents finds an old letter amidst a bundle of dusty
documents that had not seen the light of day for many a long year--a
letter in which the Doctor, after giving a vivid account of the Gordon
Riots, congratulates himself that Bolt Court is so near the "Cheshire
Cheese," it not being safe for respectable citizens to be much abroad in
the streets at nights. The letter would be put up to auction, and the
"Cheshire Cheese" would run up the bidding....

The waiter placed before me a portion of The Pudding, and Mrs. D.
brought me back to realities to ask what I imagined was in it. I told
her there was steak in it, oysters, kidneys, and larks, and she said it
wasn't fair to the birds. She also subsequently became of the opinion
that it wasn't fair to the eaters, when she suffered embarrassment from
the tiny bones of the larks. If it was a bloater, said she, you'd know
what you were about, and where to look for the bones, but bones in a
beef-steak pudding, where you didn't expect them, were a trap for the
unwary. I reassured her that I had never heard of an accident, and I had
lunched and dined many times at "The Cheese," but I regret to say that
The Pudding, from Mrs. D.'s point of view, was not a success.

When paying the bill I said something to the waiter about the Familiar
Spirit of the place, and he suggested that we should visit the rooms
above. He then went out into the sawdusted passage by the bar, and in
exactly the same tone of voice as that with which he ordered chops and
steaks, shouted up the stairs, "Charlie, a gentleman to see The Chair".

Whereupon up we went, gathering sawdust on the soles of our shoes as we
climbed the twisted staircase, past the kitchen (where The Pudding is
cooked in a huge copper boiler which is kept going all night)--at this
moment the fizzling, sputtering, steaming scene of a score of culinary
activities--past a grandfather clock in the corner which is older than
Dr. Johnson himself, and into the room where stands the original chair
used by Dr. Johnson at the Mitre Tavern in Chancery Lane, which place, I
need hardly add, exists no longer.

There the old chair stands, wide enough and sturdy enough to hold the
ponderous form in the snuff-coloured coat with the brass buttons. I hope
the wearer of that coat had many a pleasant hour within the wooden arms,
now empty with an emptiness never more to be filled apparently. The
chair, alas! is enclosed in a glass case, no doubt a necessary
precaution, but one which must effectually keep the ghost out of his
seat. No self-respecting ghost could condescend to enter a glass case.
_I_ should have had the chair standing in a corner of the room where, in
some quiet hour, the Doctor might seat himself for a while to recall
bygone times in a spot where yesterday still defies to-day.

A night at the "Cheshire Cheese," by the way, might be prolific in
ghostly adventure. That grandfather clock on the staircase would have
something to say. A clock is, to me, the mouthpiece of a silent house,
and after I had visited the bar, to help myself to a drink, and had sat
for a while in the Doctor's seat in the dark coffee-room, I should mount
the stairs softly, taking the clock unawares. Old clocks are given to
thinking aloud, and there's no telling what this one might not reveal.

But I am forgetting--the house would not be as silent as I had been
picturing it. There would be another sound close at hand, one to which
no stretch of the imagination could impute a ghostly interpretation: the
sound of _The Pudding_ bubbling and rumbling in the copper boiler! And
the ghosts would reasonably wish to avoid the reminder of a feast in
which they are no longer able to participate. Nevertheless, I shall put
the "Cheshire Cheese" on the list of places I intend to visit when I'm a
ghost myself. Meanwhile, I am just going out to post this and buy an
evening paper. It therefore behoves me, dear Agatha, to say,

      _Adieu._



CHAPTER XIII


When the Honourable George Tallenach issued from the dark doorway of
Carrington Mews into the evening light of Shepherd Market he had no
premonition of having come out to meet anything unusual, unless it were
the beauty of the close of that perfect spring day. He stood for a
moment under the flickering gas lamp twirling the letter he carried
between his thumbs, then he crossed the cobbles towards the little shop
at the corner where he was in the habit of buying his morning and
evening papers. He could see the placards from the moment of coming out,
and as he went his hand travelled mechanically towards his pocket to
find a penny.

The day's work done, Shepherd Market gossiped and loitered. Sounds
travelled in the quiet, and as he stood reading the news-sheets he could
hear the clatter of pails from the mews where men washed down motor
cars, and the echoes of voices and footsteps in adjacent streets and
turnings. His eyes travelled along the newspaper boards expectantly. It
was all grist that came to his mill, from Captain Coe's finals to the
Irish question, or the opinion of a leading novelist on the novels of
the future.

"Sudden death of a Countess." The statement leapt at him in staring
black letters, and he stood staring at the words conscious of a feeling
of intimate disturbance, and forgetful that he had to make the nightly
choice between a "Pall Mall" and a "Westminster". As a matter of fact,
though, "The Evening News" placard had taken the decision out of his
hands. That paper having made a specialty of the "Sudden death of a
Countess," could presumably give some of the particulars.

Of course, he told himself, as he pursued his way with the paper in his
pocket, of course there was more than one Countess in existence, and it
was pure nervousness on his part to have associated the announcement
with Katherine. But even as he so reflected there came the recollection
of her face, as he had last seen it from the window of her car. That was
a month or more ago, and he had heard nothing of her since. He wished
now he had called--he had meant to do so, but had procrastinated as
usual. Well, he would call to-morrow. Yes, he would certainly call
to-morrow.

He paused at the shop at the corner of East Chapel Street to admire the
colour effect of some enamelled candlesticks against a length of orange
cretonne, and his hand went towards the pocket in which was the
newspaper. "It's too dark to read it here," he muttered, and walked on,
carrying the paper in his hand. It was just six o'clock, and the
public-house opposite the Serendipity shop was lighting up. If he went
inside he would be able to read the paper there. But he didn't go
inside. He continued his way through Market Place and across Curzon
Street to the post office in Queen Street, where he dropped Agatha's
letter in the box. This done, he stood in an attitude of indecision for
a minute or two, then, with an effort that left him rather breathless,
he drew near the open door through which a light streamed and unfolded
the newspaper.

His hands shook, and for a moment the print danced under his eyes. But
presently a name separated itself from the blurred characters, the name
he had expected to see, and he knew it would not now be necessary to pay
the call he had planned to make on the morrow.

Perhaps he had some intention of paying it this evening, for his feet,
when he left the post office, led him towards the house in Curzon
Street, where Katherine had spent the years of her childless widowhood.
As he went he thought, "I wish I'd gone to see her," and those
quarter-days, when a cheque for fifty pounds had appeared with clockwork
like punctuality by the first post, became so many poignant stabs of
recollection. He had sometimes felt aggrieved that the cheque had not
been bigger, but at this moment he could find a score of reasons why
there should have been no cheque at all. It was hard on Katherine having
a brother like himself, living just round the corner. She had tried to
carry it off by making a joke of it, but the joke, he suspected, rather
hung fire.

There was a peach-coloured sky in the west, and the electric arcs
multiplied themselves down the misty street like a string of giant
opals. The tall house with the balconies and the shrubs in green boxes
loomed ahead, and his pace slowed. The blinds were all down, and there
was a light in one of the upper windows. He supposed he ought to go in.
There was no one but himself to represent the dead woman. But he did not
want to go in. He could not face the loquacious housekeeper to-night.
To-morrow--yes, on second thoughts, he would have, after all, to keep
that resolution to call at Curzon Street on the morrow, but the errand
would be strangely different. He had meant to make the visit an occasion
for saying certain kind things to his sister, but, as usual, he had let
the opportunity slip. It had gone to swell the ranks of all those other
lost chances of his life, and once again he was met by those saddest of
all sad words, "Too late".



CHAPTER XIV


      CARRINGTON MEWS,
      _12th March._

Dear Agatha,--The letter you sent in answer to my wire has remained too
long unanswered, but I have, since Katherine's death, been immersed in
correspondence of a most uninteresting and tedious description. The work
entailed in the settling of affairs is colossal, and when I haven't been
writing tiresome business epistles, or others even more tiresome to
people who never remembered my existence when I was a poor man, the
lawyers have had me in their octopus-like clutches.

You will notice that I refer to my poverty in the past tense. Yes,
Agatha, I have no longer to consider whether I can afford a glass of ale
with my chop for lunch, or half a crown for admission to the pit (to be
quite correct, I should say three shillings, the odd sixpence being
one's contribution towards the expenses of the war). I can even, if I
wish, call a taxi to take me round the corner, or ask Mrs. Darling to
dine with me at the Ritz. Katherine left me all she possessed. She did
it, I believe, with qualms as to the wisdom of the deed, but, as I have
remarked before, "blood is thicker than water," and the habit of giving,
where I am concerned, had become with Katherine a habit. Her
forebodings, however, were apparent in the wording of her will, and her
lawyer treated me to quite a sermon when I called to sign some papers
the other day. He said it behoved me to take up the social duties
entailed in the possession of a house in Curzon Street, together with an
income of five thousand a year. The Countess, he reminded me, had always
been very punctilious in the discharge of her obligations as a member of
the aristocracy, and it would be an act of ingratitude on my part if I
failed to carry on the family traditions. (I wonder if he has, at any
time, seen me with Mrs. Darling.) He hinted at the desirability of my
settling down with a suitable wife. Mrs. Darling, by the way, has
already had her say on this subject, putting it a little more crudely,
and with a rather unflattering reference to "Old Parr". By the way, she
refuses absolutely to go any more jaunts round London with me. She says
if I don't know my place, she knows hers, and that she has no ambition
to "git into the papers". She added that there had been a man with a
camera hanging about the Mews lately, and she shouldn't wonder if he
wasn't waiting to snapshot the heir to the Countess of Corbridge's
thousands.

Mrs. Darling, alas! has altered. Gone is her air of good comradeship,
gone _her_ meat puddings, and _my_ snowy pocket handkerchiefs. She says
I can afford to lunch out properly now, and send my washing to a laundry
in the country. She seems to have lost interest in me since I ceased to
want anything of her. It's a trait I have noticed in women in whom the
maternal instinct is strongly developed. But if Mrs. Darling is
faithless to me, I am not faithless to her. I have plans for the old
lady which I shall unfold in due course. Katherine pensioned her
housekeeper, who is retiring, and I propose taking Mrs. Darling with me
to Curzon Street. She will be almost as difficult to transplant from
Carrington Mews as I shall, but a companion in misfortune softens the
blow, and we shall help each other.

Dear me, Agatha, but this is a doleful letter, and to tell the truth, my
mood is not hilarious. I would give a good deal to have Katherine back
in Curzon Street, and myself secure in a life of vagabondage. When I
think of all this new life entails I lose heart, and fear to lose my
youth also.

Now I come to think of it, that's an admission worthy of Old Parr
himself. Lose my youth at sixty-five! Haven't I already lost it? The
answer is--No, for youth and vagabondage are synonymous. There is only
one person who can help me in such a crisis, and that person is
yourself. Existence has become too complex to be faced alone. I want
some one to help me spend this money in the service of those to whom a
few pounds makes the difference between heaven and hell, and your talent
for philanthropy has always been handicapped by lack of means. There is,
though, a condition attached which may put you off the bargain--George
Tallenach is, as Mrs. Darling will tell you, "not everybody's money".
But years ago there was a woman who stuck up for George when no one else
had a good word to say for him. If now he asks her to change the duties
of friend for those of a wife, will she think it too late?

Adieu, Agatha, and may the meeting, and the answer, come soon.

      GEORGE TALLENACH.


_Postscript._

George sealed the letter and moved to his armchair by the hearth. The
March evening was chill and the fire was companionable. He was in no
hurry to light his lamp, for there was always at such an hour the book
in the grate which could be best read in the dark.

Turning its leaves to-night he found the record of a past which, if it
offered nothing else, certainly provided variety of interest, and
through its changing scenes there had always been Agatha. Agatha who, in
those days when they first met, had been a beauty with a score of
admirers. He had never understood why she had given them all the go-by
to remain true to his unworthy self. He supposed it had become a habit.
If Agatha had a fault it was that she was given to habits. She was also
inclined to be conventional. He had seen her wince involuntarily when he
had shocked some social prejudice, but the wince had been hustled into a
corner by the smiling eyes that said, "It's very silly of me, I know".
There was no doubt his friendship had saved her from the worst perils of
spinsterhood. She would take to Curzon Street like a fish to water, and
she would accept Mrs. Darling with the wince and its accompanying smile.
The smile he had no doubt would triumph in the end, for Mrs. Darling was
a sport and Agatha was no snob.

His chin dropped on his chest as the scene shifted to those days of
vagabondage which had come with the gift of Katherine's two hundred a
year. Days when the London streets had been the scene of limitless
wanderings, providing undying interest and entertainment, romance and
adventure. They had been happy days--were they ended?

The door opened with a jerk, letting in a draught and Mrs. Darling.
"Jest as I expected!" she exclaimed. "I ses to myself as I was comin' up
the stairs, I ses, 'I wouldn't mind bettin' 'e's sittin' there in the
dark, lettin' the fire out,'" and the speaker, after making a vigorous
onslaught on a smouldering lump of coal, looked round for matches.

"I don't want the lamp lit yet," complained George.

But Mrs. D. calmly proceeded with her self-elected task. "Sittin' in the
dark's only fit for blind people and lovers," she stated, and her eyes
went towards the stamped letter which lay on the writing pad.

"I'm jest goin' to the post, I'll take it," she offered, and a few
minutes later, as she dropped the letter into the box, she said to
herself, "If he _'as_ asked her to marry 'im, it's jest as well not to
give 'im the chance of changin' 'is mind."

      THE END.



ABERDEEN: THE UNIVERSITY PRESS



MILLS & BOON'S AUTUMN LIST 1921

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Mr. Reginald Blunt's forthcoming book. "BY CHELSEA REACH," comprises a
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      CURIOUS HAPPENINGS                             Marjorie Bowen.
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      A BIT AT A TIME                         Dion Clayton Calthrop.
      THE HOOFSLIDE                                 Anthony Carlyle.
      THE DEVIL'S CHAPEL                                Sophie Cole.
      THE CYPRESS TREE                                  Sophie Cole.
      A VARIETY ENTERTAINMENT                           Sophie Cole.
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      ISLAND TALES                                      Jack London.
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      (*)WICKED                                       Arthur Applin.
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      WAR OF THE CLASSES                                Jack London.
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      A SON OF THE SUN                                  Jack London.
      ADVENTURE                                         Jack London.
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      RED GOLD                                           Roy Norton.
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      THE MADONNA OF THE BEECHWOOD                   Morley Roberts.
      IN THE NIGHT                                  Joan Sutherland.
      THE DAWN                                      Joan Sutherland.
      THE EDGE OF EMPIRE                            Joan Sutherland.
      BEYOND THE SHADOW                             Joan Sutherland.
      FETTERED (Cophetua's Son)                     Joan Sutherland.
      THE HIDDEN ROAD                               Joan Sutherland.
      THE PRICE OF A SOUL                                Paul Trent.
      AN UNKNOWN LOVER                      Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey.
      GRIZEL MARRIED                        Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey.
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      LOVE                                             W. B. Trites.


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      THE RAINY DAY                                   Harold Begbie.
      CLOSED DOORS                                    Harold Begbie.
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      THE FLYING JOCKEY                                 E. C. Buley.
      CAN A MAN BE TRUE                             Winifred Graham.
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