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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Lure of Old London, by Sophie Cole

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Title: The Lure of Old London

Author: Sophie Cole

Release Date: June 6, 2012 [eBook #39932]

Language: English



E-text prepared by Ian Deane
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team















Published 1921




With 24 Illustrations. Demy 8vo. 10s. 6d. net



With 30 Illustrations from Photographs. Demy 8vo.

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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.[1]


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.[2]

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,[3] 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[4] 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[5] 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.[6]




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.[7]

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 [8] 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[9] 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.[10] 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,[11] 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,[12] 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".[13]

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[14] 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,[15] 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[16] 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.


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[17] 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[18] 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[19] 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[20] 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[21] 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[22] 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,[23]

Your devoted,





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[24] 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,[25] 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[26] 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,[27] 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.[28]

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,[29] 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[30] 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[31] 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[32] 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[33] 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[34] 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[35] 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,[36]




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[37] 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[38] 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[39] 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[40] 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,[41] 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[42] 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[43] 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[44] 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.[45]

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[46] 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[47] purpose at the upper end of Rose Alley. I should not like to live in a house built on a plague pit.


"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[48] 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,[49]




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[50] 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.


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[51] ("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[52] 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[53]] 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[54] 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[55] '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[56] 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[57] 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.


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[58] 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[59] 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,[60] 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[61] 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[62] 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—[63]

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[64] 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[65] 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,[66]

Your old friend,




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,[67] 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.[68] 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,[69] 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".


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.[70]

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[71] 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[72] 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[73] 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[74] 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[75] "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,[76] 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[77] 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[78] 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[79] 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[80] 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,[81]

I am, yours as ever,





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 [82] 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.[83]

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[84] 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.[85]

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[86] 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[87] 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[88] 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[89] 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.


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[90] 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.[91]

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[92] 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![93] 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[94] 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[95] 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[96] 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[97] 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[98] 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[99] 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![100]

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.[101]

Ever your friend,





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[102] 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,[103] 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,"[104] 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![105]

"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[106] 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 manœuvre 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[107] 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:—[108]

"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[109] 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——[110]

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".[111]

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,[112] 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"[113] 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[114] 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[115] 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[116] 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,[117]

I am ever your devoted,





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.


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.[118]

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[119] 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[120] 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.[121]

"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.[122]

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[123] 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.[124]

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[125] 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[126] 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[127] 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[128] 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[129] 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[130] 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[131]

Your old friend,





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[132] 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[133] 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[134] 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[135] 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[136] 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?


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[137] 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,[138] 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".[139]

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[140] 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,[141] 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[142] 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:—[143]

"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[144] 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 ner the washstand."[145]

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[146] 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,[147] 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?[148]





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[149] 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.[150]

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[151] 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[152] 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,[153] 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[154] 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[155] 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[156] 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[157] 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[158] 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.[159]

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[160] 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.[161] 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":—[162]

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![163]

Yours ever,





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"[164] 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[165] 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 rudy lights in the windows of "The Cheese,"[166] 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[167] 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[168] 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[169] 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,[170]



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[171] 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[172] 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[173] 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[174] 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".[175]



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[176] 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[177] 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 [178] 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 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[179] 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[180] 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."








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And did you know that this Street of old gothic gables and swinging casements, as if it had not enough mysteries of its own, goes wandering about the world with its children and their governess from London to Damascus, from the North Pole to El Dorado, running into adventures with wild beasts and queer characters till you tremble for the safety of your own tiled roof.

And did you know....

Ah, but you must read this beautiful story of enchantment to know all about the boy and girl, their charming governess, and the mysterious Street that ran away with them. No one can tell that tale save the author of the book. All we can do is to tell you no tale but a fact—the fact that here is a really lovely and wonderful book which the children of the world will take to their hearts and remember when they have children of their own clamouring for a story.


By THE HON. STEPHEN COLERIDGE. Crown 8vo. 4s. net.

Mills & Boon have in the press a series of letters written by Mr. Stephen Coleridge to his grandson on Science. Mr. Coleridge, as is well known, entertains a strong opinion that the study of Science should never displace in the education of the young the study of letters, agreeing with Dr. Johnson that to acquire a knowledge of Science is "not the great or the frequent business of the mind."

Nevertheless, Mr. Coleridge believes that an ignorance of the laws of nature and of the wonders of the Universe is a condition of vulgarity, and that every child should learn from the world about him, first to recognise the evidences of design patently displayed everywhere in the order and process of nature, and, secondly, to be filled with reverence for the Power that ordained it; accordingly he has written these letters explaining to his grandson the wonderful provisions that cover the earth with devices that not only make it habitable, but spread over it beauty on every side.

The letters inculcate the habit of observation and of curiosity concerning matters of every-day experience which are not often dealt with in school books, such as the causes of the singing of the kettle on the hob, of the blue colour of the sky in the daytime and of the red and gold colours of it at Sunset, of rain and dew, and winds, and many others of the daily experiences about us. But always Mr. Coleridge enforces the principle that scientific knowledge should never for a moment lessen our adoration for the glories of nature; and as an instance of his method we give the following quotation from the 8th letter:—

"XXX. This is the explanation made by scientific people of the blue sky, and of the glorious reds and golds and amber and daffodil depths of the dying day. I do not know there is any particular harm in ascertaining, if it be true information, how these wonders of the world are caused, any more than there is any particular harm in knowing that behind the beautiful face and form of a lovely woman there exist a skull and skeleton made of bone; but those who permit these items of dull knowledge to impair in the slightest degree their reverence for the loveliness of a beautiful woman, or their adoration for the great Spirit of the Universe, 'whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,' had better never have acquired them."



With Twenty-four Illustrations. F'cap. 8vo. 4s. net.

This is a new and thoroughly revised edition. The volume contains considerable new matter, and gives the fullest and probably most up to date information to be obtained.




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Evening Standard.—"A mellow, jovial book, replete with good stories which will amuse even those who have no walnuts and no wine. Some excellent stories are told of the Services, and every parent will revel in the stories about children in this little symposium."



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"OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY" is written for ordinary men and women who are not content to be mere puppets in the hands of professional agents, but desire to have some intelligent appreciation of their responsibilities and of the principles which ought to govern their decisions.

The plain man will find that he can read "OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY" from beginning to end with understanding and enjoyment, for it is always lucid, reasonable and humane. Its method is to proceed from the exposition of principles to their logical application in practice so that the reader learns not only what he ought to do or avoid doing, but why that may be done and not this. The chapters on investments will be found particularly helpful and often illuminating. Equally authoritative and valuable are the author's observations on proving a will, on distinctions between capital and income, on the payment of annuities, on legacies to minors, on choosing executors and trustees, on the Public Trustee and on other corporate trustees.



By EDMUND DANE, LL.B. F'cap. 8vo. 2s. 6d. net.

What is the secret of the clear and strong common sense, which inspires confidence in the judgments of those who have it? That is the question which the author has set himself to investigate and answer, and he has revealed the mystery. The modern principles of Psychology, stripped of technicality and difficulty, are lucidly summarised and the part played by Feeling, Imagination and Will in the working of the mind as an efficient machine set out as well as the part played by the Reasoning Faculty. It is shown that Logic, as the Art of Reasoning, is properly an application of Psychology as the Science of Mind Power. The uses of the Art of Reasoning in Inductive and Deductive Inference and in the formation of correct judgments are dealt with practically. A valuable feature is the chapter on how to avoid and detect fallacies. This, in short, is a book which everybody who desires to add to his mental efficiency and success should carry in his pocket. It can be read and re-read, since it contains a large amount of scientific marrow in a small compass; it is the science of Mind Power and Mental Economics put in a nutshell.



By the Author of "HOW TO MAKE A FORTUNE."

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In this little book the truths of Thrift and Economics are set out in simple and idiomatic English, freed from difficulty and plainly and clearly stated. The author shows how character makes money and how a true view of the world and its affairs, formed early in life, is the secret of thriving and success. The aim is to give boys and girls a grasp of practical and working truths and facts which all should, for their own happiness and well-being, know. It covers ground not hitherto taken up in education, and, alike in subject and style, is admirably adapted as a reading book. From cover to cover the book is packed with fact tersely put and in a way that makes it insistently interesting. The author has laid himself out to put lucidly the lessons of life and the results of experience, so that youthful readers may avoid pitfalls. What money is and does and what is meant by industry and commerce are shown in language the youngest minds can readily understand.



F'cap. 8vo. 2s. 6d. net.

"THE HISTORY AND ADVENTURES OF A PENNY"—In the form of a simple story this little book sets out some of the leading and elementary truths of economics, and more especially those relating to wages, prices, production, and exchange. It touches upon and illustrates the true association between Capital and Labour in the creation of wealth, and shows the part played by science, invention, and skill. The author's thesis in effect is that to promote a popular knowledge of economic truth is the surest means of promoting popular thrift, which, based upon a popular knowledge of economic truth is the surest safeguard against fantastic politics. The means of creating wealth and common abundance were never greater than they are to-day, and the lack of a popular knowledge of economics is the chief stumbling block. Facts are put in this book in a form which the simplest minds can readily grasp, and in a manner interesting to all. The plan of the book is novel as well as useful.



(Member of Parliament).


Crown 8vo. 1s. net.



Sometime Professor of International Politics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Crown 8vo. 1s. net.

A brilliant and incisive, but studiously unbiassed, sketch by a recognised authority on modern Wales and its problems and of the relations between Welsh and English, which should be of particular interest at the present juncture.


By ALICE and CLARENCE PONTING. F'cap. 8vo. 2s. 6d. net each.

Charming and Original.

Mills & Boon are issuing a series of delightful children's books by Alice and Clarence Ponting. The pictures, taken by an expert photographer, are probably the most original which have yet appeared. The four volumes ready are


Times.—"These fairy-tale books are delightfully illustrated by photographs of real children playing the rôles of the personages of the tales."

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Aberdeen Free Press.—"These pleasantly written books represent a novel and interesting departure. The photographs are admirably conceived and skilfully executed. To those practically acquainted with photography the features will be a revelation of how fairy effects can be secured by simple methods; to young readers they will be a source of never-failing wonder."



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This Volume contains Two Fairy Stories, and the pictures are remarkable.


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Punch.—"He can write enthrallingly. Mr. Williams wins my most sincere admiration."

Scotsman.—"A fine tale."

Athenæum.—"We are particularly pleased."

Times.—"An excellent story."

Time and Tide.—"Mr. Williams can spin a first-rate yarn."

Clarion.—"I made a mental note to keep an eye open for more."

Westminster Gazette.—"His love and knowledge of the sea, the sure way in which he sets before us the closed, cramped, personal atmosphere of life deserves comparison with the greater power of Mr. Conrad's genius. Mr. Williams is evidently in training for a championship, and we await the next round with interest. We might even put a little money on him."

By the Author of "BIG TREMAINE."


By MARIE VAN VORST. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

A delightful novel.

By the Author of "THE HOOFSLIDE."


By ANTHONY CARLYLE. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

An enchanting story.



By SOPHIE COLE. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

A charming novel.

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A powerful and absorbing novel.

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A delightful novel.

By the Author of "HAGAR'S HOARD."


By GEORGE KIBBE TURNER. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

"Hagar's Hoard" was one of the greatest first novels of recent years. Mills and Boon confidently recommend "WHITE SHOULDERS" as a truly remarkable novel, which is certain of immense popularity, and which will undoubtedly place Mr George Kibbe Turner in the foremost rank of living novelists.



By JOHN GUISBOROUGH. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

A fine novel of adventure by an officer who served in the Mesopotamian campaign for more than three years. It completes the library of those who collect books on Mesopotamia, a land of Oriental mystery, jinn and efreets. The English hero and heroine in hours of peril cross the desert, passing Ur of the Chaldees, said to be the home of Abraham. All the fascination of the Near East, its Arabs and Turks, its deserts and rivers are here vividly portrayed.

By the Author of "HAPPY EVER AFTER."


By ROSE ALLATINI. Crown 8vo. 8s. 6d. net.

A brilliant novel.


By RICHARD CHATER. Crown 8vo. 6s. net.

Mr. Chater gives us a story which does something more than interest and excite the reader. It does more than hold his attention from the first page to the last. It haunts the memory.

This is the test of a masterpiece.

The story is the chronicle of a swift year of passion in the lives of two sisters and one man. In quite different ways these two sisters are lovable English girls, so charming and graceful that they find additional lovers with every reader of the book. The man, belonging to a different class, is a son of the wild country, with a drive in his temperament which is like a torrent. How love played with these lives is the drama of the tale.

The story is set in the midst of the Yorkshire fells, and the grandeur of those mountainous solitudes invests the tale with a sensible greatness. The reader forgets all the conventions of society and all the restrictions of the town. He finds himself listening to a movement of the human heart in the midst of nature's eternal indifference to mankind.

Mr. Chater writes with an extraordinary swiftness, getting all his effects without verbosity and without effort. His passionate sympathy with human nature and his deep knowledge of men and women are evident throughout the story, so that the reader lives with his people, loves with them, hates with them, rejoices with them, sorrows with them, and in the end finds he is haunted by their memory.


By W. EDWARD STIRLING. Crown 8vo 3s. 6d. net.

This is the novelization of the play by F. Brett Young and W. Edward Stirling about to be produced in London and the provinces.

Recent Additions to Mills & Boon's List.





Second Edition. Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

The Spectator.—"... he is destined to light a match which in the future may be used to light a candle that will illuminate our little corner of the world. To hope more would be to hope too much. And yet how great, how tremendous a destiny we are half-prophesying for our author!"

Public Opinion.—"Few men have the vision, and the knowledge, and the power to write books like this. The publishers' lists show that, and the newspapers confirm it, and the pulpit proves it."


Daily Telegraph.—"A book with a soul."

Sunday Herald.—By "Someone really behind the scenes."



Fourteenth Edition. Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

The Times.—"A remarkable collection ... brilliantly written ... knowledge, shrewdness and subtlety."

Times Literary Supplement.—"Fresh, acute, intimate, and without political bias."

Daily Telegraph.—"Pungent and effective ... remarkably revealing ... a book with a soul and a vivid purpose."

Manchester Guardian.—"This nameless author who knows so much and writes so well. The essays contain the most important contribution to the knowledge and understanding of our age."

Spectator.—"Not only brilliantly worded, but full of intuition."

Morning Post.—"Wise and witty."

Daily Graphic.—"Promises to be the most talked of book of the day."

Evening News.—"He possesses the sure gift of portraiture."

The Rt. Hon. C. F. G. MASTERMAN in the Sheffield Independent.—"Written with sincerity and no personal advertisement."

New York Herald.—"Of fascinating interest, with a style pungent and epigrammatic. Does not contain a dull line."

Baltimore Evening Sun.—"Truly a most brilliant book. An intellectual treat."


By EDWIN L. ASH, M.D., B.S., M.R.C.S.


Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

Evening Standard.—"Dr. Ash is a specialist on the problem of nervous breakdown. Incidentally, he is a literary man who possesses the rare gift of being able to express profound knowledge in a simple manner. The book is packed with directions for those who lack concentration of mind."

Sheffield Daily Telegraph.—"There is no nonsense about Dr. Ash's MENTAL SELF-HELP. It is a stimulating, sensible book by a doctor who has thoroughly studied his subject."

Everyman.—"Never was it so necessary as at present to insist on the influence of the mind on health, and this is the first work I have seen which deals with the subject simply and practically."


With about 40 Illustrations and picture wrappers.

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RAMBLES IN ROME G. E. Troutbeck.



Illustrated. Fourth Edition, revised.

Stiff paper cover, 2s. 6d. net. Cloth, 5s. net.

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2s. 6d. net. Bound, with Jackets and especially suited to Circulating Libraries.
THE SEAS OF GOD A. W. Armstrong.
A BIT AT A TIME Dion Clayton Calthrop.
THE HOOFSLIDE Anthony Carlyle.
THE LOVE CHIT Maud Mallet.
TAKE JOY HOME S. C. Nethersole.
PANSY MEARES Horace W. C. Newte.
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(*)THE MAN FROM NOWHERE Victor Bridges.
(*)MR. LYNDON AT LIBERTY Victor Bridges.
(*)A SPANISH VENDETTA Louise Gerard.
(*)BEAUTIFUL END Constance Holme.
(*)THE SPLENDID FAIRING Constance Holme.
(*)ISLAND TALES Jack London.
SPARROWS Horace W. C. Newte.
(*)THE LOCUST Joan Sutherland.
(*)THE SEA BRIDE Ben Ames Williams.
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(*)FOOTLIGHTS Arthur Applin.
(*)WICKED Arthur Applin.
(*)MRS. O'H Harold Begbie.
A LONDON GIRL Harold Begbie.
(*)THE CYPRESS TREE Sophie Cole.
A LONDON POSY Sophie Cole.
THE WITCH CHILD Louise Gerard.
(*)THE CORAL PALACE Beatrice Grimshaw.
KRIS GIRL Beatrice Grimshaw.
GUINEA GOLD Beatrice Grimshaw.
THE RED ONE Jack London.
THE IRON HEEL Jack London.
THE ROAD Jack London.
THE JACKET Jack London.
A SON OF THE SUN Jack London.
ADVENTURE Jack London.
MY FRENCH FRIENDS Constance E. Maud.
RED GOLD Roy Norton.
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.
AN UNKNOWN LOVER Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey.
GRIZEL MARRIED Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey.
BIG TREMAINE Marie Van Vorst.
(*)MARY MORELAND Marie Van Vorst.
(*) Marked thus are new volumes.
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DADDALUMS (the Novel of the Play) Arthur Applin.
ROMANCE (the Novel of the Play and Film) Acton Davies.
SPARROWS Horace W. C. Newte.
SIDELIGHTS Horace W. C. Newte.
(*) Marked thus are new volumes.
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LOST FACE Jack London.
LOVE OF LIFE Jack London.
LOVE W. B. Trites.
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SHOP GIRLSArthur Applin.
FOOTLIGHTSArthur Applin.
A LONDON GIRLHarold Begbie.
THE RAINY DAYHarold Begbie.
CLOSED DOORSHarold Begbie.
CAN A MAN BE TRUEWinifred Graham.
A GOOD TIMEHorace W. C. Newte.
CALICO JACKHorace W. C. Newte.
PANSY MEARESHorace W. C. Newte.
LENA SWALLOWHorace W. C. Newte.
A PILLAR OF SALTHorace W. C. Newte.
LOVEW. B. Trites.
Picture Wrappers. 1s. net.
LINED WITH RAGSPhyllis Campbell.
JOHN CAVEW. B. Trites.

Burnley Express Printing Company Limited Burnley England

Transcriber's note: Original spelling variations have not been changed.




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