News from Nowhere
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced from the 1908 Longmans, Green, and Co.
edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
NEWS FROM NOWHERE
or AN EPOCH OF REST
being some chapters from
A UTOPIAN ROMANCE
by William Morris
CHAPTER I: DISCUSSION AND BED
Up at the League, says a friend, there had been one night a brisk
conversational discussion, as to what would happen on the Morrow of
the Revolution, finally shading off into a vigorous statement by
various friends of their views on the future of the fully-developed
Says our friend: Considering the subject, the discussion was good-
tempered; for those present being used to public meetings and after-
lecture debates, if they did not listen to each others' opinions
(which could scarcely be expected of them), at all events did not
always attempt to speak all together, as is the custom of people in
ordinary polite society when conversing on a subject which interests
them. For the rest, there were six persons present, and consequently
six sections of the party were represented, four of which had strong
but divergent Anarchist opinions. One of the sections, says our
friend, a man whom he knows very well indeed, sat almost silent at
the beginning of the discussion, but at last got drawn into it, and
finished by roaring out very loud, and damning all the rest for
fools; after which befel a period of noise, and then a lull, during
which the aforesaid section, having said good-night very amicably,
took his way home by himself to a western suburb, using the means of
travelling which civilisation has forced upon us like a habit. As he
sat in that vapour-bath of hurried and discontented humanity, a
carriage of the underground railway, he, like others, stewed
discontentedly, while in self-reproachful mood he turned over the
many excellent and conclusive arguments which, though they lay at his
fingers' ends, he had forgotten in the just past discussion. But
this frame of mind he was so used to, that it didn't last him long,
and after a brief discomfort, caused by disgust with himself for
having lost his temper (which he was also well used to), he found
himself musing on the subject-matter of discussion, but still
discontentedly and unhappily. "If I could but see a day of it," he
said to himself; "if I could but see it!"
As he formed the words, the train stopped at his station, five
minutes' walk from his own house, which stood on the banks of the
Thames, a little way above an ugly suspension bridge. He went out of
the station, still discontented and unhappy, muttering "If I could
but see it! if I could but see it!" but had not gone many steps
towards the river before (says our friend who tells the story) all
that discontent and trouble seemed to slip off him.
It was a beautiful night of early winter, the air just sharp enough
to be refreshing after the hot room and the stinking railway
carriage. The wind, which had lately turned a point or two north of
west, had blown the sky clear of all cloud save a light fleck or two
which went swiftly down the heavens. There was a young moon halfway
up the sky, and as the home-farer caught sight of it, tangled in the
branches of a tall old elm, he could scarce bring to his mind the
shabby London suburb where he was, and he felt as if he were in a
pleasant country place--pleasanter, indeed, than the deep country was
as he had known it.
He came right down to the river-side, and lingered a little, looking
over the low wall to note the moonlit river, near upon high water, go
swirling and glittering up to Chiswick Eyot: as for the ugly bridge
below, he did not notice it or think of it, except when for a moment
(says our friend) it struck him that he missed the row of lights down
stream. Then he turned to his house door and let himself in; and
even as he shut the door to, disappeared all remembrance of that
brilliant logic and foresight which had so illuminated the recent
discussion; and of the discussion itself there remained no trace,
save a vague hope, that was now become a pleasure, for days of peace
and rest, and cleanness and smiling goodwill.
In this mood he tumbled into bed, and fell asleep after his wont, in
two minutes' time; but (contrary to his wont) woke up again not long
after in that curiously wide-awake condition which sometimes
surprises even good sleepers; a condition under which we feel all our
wits preternaturally sharpened, while all the miserable muddles we
have ever got into, all the disgraces and losses of our lives, will
insist on thrusting themselves forward for the consideration of those
In this state he lay (says our friend) till he had almost begun to
enjoy it: till the tale of his stupidities amused him, and the
entanglements before him, which he saw so clearly, began to shape
themselves into an amusing story for him.
He heard one o'clock strike, then two and then three; after which he
fell asleep again. Our friend says that from that sleep he awoke
once more, and afterwards went through such surprising adventures
that he thinks that they should be told to our comrades, and indeed
the public in general, and therefore proposes to tell them now. But,
says he, I think it would be better if I told them in the first
person, as if it were myself who had gone through them; which,
indeed, will be the easier and more natural to me, since I understand
the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better
than any one else in the world does.
CHAPTER II: A MORNING BATH
Well, I awoke, and found that I had kicked my bedclothes off; and no
wonder, for it was hot and the sun shining brightly. I jumped up and
washed and hurried on my clothes, but in a hazy and half-awake
condition, as if I had slept for a long, long while, and could not
shake off the weight of slumber. In fact, I rather took it for
granted that I was at home in my own room than saw that it was so.
When I was dressed, I felt the place so hot that I made haste to get
out of the room and out of the house; and my first feeling was a
delicious relief caused by the fresh air and pleasant breeze; my
second, as I began to gather my wits together, mere measureless
wonder: for it was winter when I went to bed the last night, and
now, by witness of the river-side trees, it was summer, a beautiful
bright morning seemingly of early June. However, there was still the
Thames sparkling under the sun, and near high water, as last night I
had seen it gleaming under the moon.
I had by no means shaken off the feeling of oppression, and wherever
I might have been should scarce have been quite conscious of the
place; so it was no wonder that I felt rather puzzled in despite of
the familiar face of the Thames. Withal I felt dizzy and queer; and
remembering that people often got a boat and had a swim in mid-
stream, I thought I would do no less. It seems very early, quoth I
to myself, but I daresay I shall find someone at Biffin's to take me.
However, I didn't get as far as Biffin's, or even turn to my left
thitherward, because just then I began to see that there was a
landing-stage right before me in front of my house: in fact, on the
place where my next-door neighbour had rigged one up, though somehow
it didn't look like that either. Down I went on to it, and sure
enough among the empty boats moored to it lay a man on his sculls in
a solid-looking tub of a boat clearly meant for bathers. He nodded
to me, and bade me good-morning as if he expected me, so I jumped in
without any words, and he paddled away quietly as I peeled for my
swim. As we went, I looked down on the water, and couldn't help
"How clear the water is this morning!"
"Is it?" said he; "I didn't notice it. You know the flood-tide
always thickens it a bit."
"H'm," said I, "I have seen it pretty muddy even at half-ebb."
He said nothing in answer, but seemed rather astonished; and as he
now lay just stemming the tide, and I had my clothes off, I jumped in
without more ado. Of course when I had my head above water again I
turned towards the tide, and my eyes naturally sought for the bridge,
and so utterly astonished was I by what I saw, that I forgot to
strike out, and went spluttering under water again, and when I came
up made straight for the boat; for I felt that I must ask some
questions of my waterman, so bewildering had been the half-sight I
had seen from the face of the river with the water hardly out of my
eyes; though by this time I was quit of the slumbrous and dizzy
feeling, and was wide-awake and clear-headed.
As I got in up the steps which he had lowered, and he held out his
hand to help me, we went drifting speedily up towards Chiswick; but
now he caught up the sculls and brought her head round again, and
said--"A short swim, neighbour; but perhaps you find the water cold
this morning, after your journey. Shall I put you ashore at once, or
would you like to go down to Putney before breakfast?"
He spoke in a way so unlike what I should have expected from a
Hammersmith waterman, that I stared at him, as I answered, "Please to
hold her a little; I want to look about me a bit."
"All right," he said; "it's no less pretty in its way here than it is
off Barn Elms; it's jolly everywhere this time in the morning. I'm
glad you got up early; it's barely five o'clock yet."
If I was astonished with my sight of the river banks, I was no less
astonished at my waterman, now that I had time to look at him and see
him with my head and eyes clear.
He was a handsome young fellow, with a peculiarly pleasant and
friendly look about his eyes,--an expression which was quite new to
me then, though I soon became familiar with it. For the rest, he was
dark-haired and berry-brown of skin, well-knit and strong, and
obviously used to exercising his muscles, but with nothing rough or
coarse about him, and clean as might be. His dress was not like any
modern work-a-day clothes I had seen, but would have served very well
as a costume for a picture of fourteenth century life: it was of
dark blue cloth, simple enough, but of fine web, and without a stain
on it. He had a brown leather belt round his waist, and I noticed
that its clasp was of damascened steel beautifully wrought. In
short, he seemed to be like some specially manly and refined young
gentleman, playing waterman for a spree, and I concluded that this
was the case.
I felt that I must make some conversation; so I pointed to the Surrey
bank, where I noticed some light plank stages running down the
foreshore, with windlasses at the landward end of them, and said,
"What are they doing with those things here? If we were on the Tay,
I should have said that they were for drawing the salmon nets; but
"Well," said he, smiling, "of course that is what they ARE for.
Where there are salmon, there are likely to be salmon-nets, Tay or
Thames; but of course they are not always in use; we don't want
salmon EVERY day of the season."
I was going to say, "But is this the Thames?" but held my peace in my
wonder, and turned my bewildered eyes eastward to look at the bridge
again, and thence to the shores of the London river; and surely there
was enough to astonish me. For though there was a bridge across the
stream and houses on its banks, how all was changed from last night!
The soap-works with their smoke-vomiting chimneys were gone; the
engineer's works gone; the lead-works gone; and no sound of rivetting
and hammering came down the west wind from Thorneycroft's. Then the
bridge! I had perhaps dreamed of such a bridge, but never seen such
an one out of an illuminated manuscript; for not even the Ponte
Vecchio at Florence came anywhere near it. It was of stone arches,
splendidly solid, and as graceful as they were strong; high enough
also to let ordinary river traffic through easily. Over the parapet
showed quaint and fanciful little buildings, which I supposed to be
booths or shops, beset with painted and gilded vanes and spirelets.
The stone was a little weathered, but showed no marks of the grimy
sootiness which I was used to on every London building more than a
year old. In short, to me a wonder of a bridge.
The sculler noted my eager astonished look, and said, as if in answer
to my thoughts -
"Yes, it IS a pretty bridge, isn't it? Even the up-stream bridges,
which are so much smaller, are scarcely daintier, and the down-stream
ones are scarcely more dignified and stately."
I found myself saying, almost against my will, "How old is it?"
"Oh, not very old," he said; "it was built or at least opened, in
2003. There used to be a rather plain timber bridge before then."
The date shut my mouth as if a key had been turned in a padlock fixed
to my lips; for I saw that something inexplicable had happened, and
that if I said much, I should be mixed up in a game of cross
questions and crooked answers. So I tried to look unconcerned, and
to glance in a matter-of-course way at the banks of the river, though
this is what I saw up to the bridge and a little beyond; say as far
as the site of the soap-works. Both shores had a line of very pretty
houses, low and not large, standing back a little way from the river;
they were mostly built of red brick and roofed with tiles, and
looked, above all, comfortable, and as if they were, so to say,
alive, and sympathetic with the life of the dwellers in them. There
was a continuous garden in front of them, going down to the water's
edge, in which the flowers were now blooming luxuriantly, and sending
delicious waves of summer scent over the eddying stream. Behind the
houses, I could see great trees rising, mostly planes, and looking
down the water there were the reaches towards Putney almost as if
they were a lake with a forest shore, so thick were the big trees;
and I said aloud, but as if to myself -
"Well, I'm glad that they have not built over Barn Elms."
I blushed for my fatuity as the words slipped out of my mouth, and my
companion looked at me with a half smile which I thought I
understood; so to hide my confusion I said, "Please take me ashore
now: I want to get my breakfast."
He nodded, and brought her head round with a sharp stroke, and in a
trice we were at the landing-stage again. He jumped out and I
followed him; and of course I was not surprised to see him wait, as
if for the inevitable after-piece that follows the doing of a service
to a fellow-citizen. So I put my hand into my waistcoat-pocket, and
said, "How much?" though still with the uncomfortable feeling that
perhaps I was offering money to a gentleman.
He looked puzzled, and said, "How much? I don't quite understand
what you are asking about. Do you mean the tide? If so, it is close
on the turn now."
I blushed, and said, stammering, "Please don't take it amiss if I ask
you; I mean no offence: but what ought I to pay you? You see I am a
stranger, and don't know your customs--or your coins."
And therewith I took a handful of money out of my pocket, as one does
in a foreign country. And by the way, I saw that the silver had
oxydised, and was like a blackleaded stove in colour.
He still seemed puzzled, but not at all offended; and he looked at
the coins with some curiosity. I thought, Well after all, he IS a
waterman, and is considering what he may venture to take. He seems
such a nice fellow that I'm sure I don't grudge him a little over-
payment. I wonder, by the way, whether I couldn't hire him as a
guide for a day or two, since he is so intelligent.
Therewith my new friend said thoughtfully:
"I think I know what you mean. You think that I have done you a
service; so you feel yourself bound to give me something which I am
not to give to a neighbour, unless he has done something special for
me. I have heard of this kind of thing; but pardon me for saying,
that it seems to us a troublesome and roundabout custom; and we don't
know how to manage it. And you see this ferrying and giving people
casts about the water is my BUSINESS, which I would do for anybody;
so to take gifts in connection with it would look very queer.
Besides, if one person gave me something, then another might, and
another, and so on; and I hope you won't think me rude if I say that
I shouldn't know where to stow away so many mementos of friendship."
And he laughed loud and merrily, as if the idea of being paid for his
work was a very funny joke. I confess I began to be afraid that the
man was mad, though he looked sane enough; and I was rather glad to
think that I was a good swimmer, since we were so close to a deep
swift stream. However, he went on by no means like a madman:
"As to your coins, they are curious, but not very old; they seem to
be all of the reign of Victoria; you might give them to some
scantily-furnished museum. Ours has enough of such coins, besides a
fair number of earlier ones, many of which are beautiful, whereas
these nineteenth century ones are so beastly ugly, ain't they? We
have a piece of Edward III., with the king in a ship, and little
leopards and fleurs-de-lys all along the gunwale, so delicately
worked. You see," he said, with something of a smirk, "I am fond of
working in gold and fine metals; this buckle here is an early piece
No doubt I looked a little shy of him under the influence of that
doubt as to his sanity. So he broke off short, and said in a kind
"But I see that I am boring you, and I ask your pardon. For, not to
mince matters, I can tell that you ARE a stranger, and must come from
a place very unlike England. But also it is clear that it won't do
to overdose you with information about this place, and that you had
best suck it in little by little. Further, I should take it as very
kind in you if you would allow me to be the showman of our new world
to you, since you have stumbled on me first. Though indeed it will
be a mere kindness on your part, for almost anybody would make as
good a guide, and many much better."
There certainly seemed no flavour in him of Colney Hatch; and besides
I thought I could easily shake him off if it turned out that he
really was mad; so I said:
"It is a very kind offer, but it is difficult for me to accept it,
unless--" I was going to say, Unless you will let me pay you
properly; but fearing to stir up Colney Hatch again, I changed the
sentence into, "I fear I shall be taking you away from your work--or
"O," he said, "don't trouble about that, because it will give me an
opportunity of doing a good turn to a friend of mine, who wants to
take my work here. He is a weaver from Yorkshire, who has rather
overdone himself between his weaving and his mathematics, both indoor
work, you see; and being a great friend of mine, he naturally came to
me to get him some outdoor work. If you think you can put up with
me, pray take me as your guide."
He added presently: "It is true that I have promised to go up-stream
to some special friends of mine, for the hay-harvest; but they won't
be ready for us for more than a week: and besides, you might go with
me, you know, and see some very nice people, besides making notes of
our ways in Oxfordshire. You could hardly do better if you want to
see the country."
I felt myself obliged to thank him, whatever might come of it; and he
"Well, then, that's settled. I will give my friend call; he is
living in the Guest House like you, and if he isn't up yet, he ought
to be this fine summer morning."
Therewith he took a little silver bugle-horn from his girdle and blew
two or three sharp but agreeable notes on it; and presently from the
house which stood on the site of my old dwelling (of which more
hereafter) another young man came sauntering towards us. He was not
so well-looking or so strongly made as my sculler friend, being
sandy-haired, rather pale, and not stout-built; but his face was not
wanting in that happy and friendly expression which I had noticed in
his friend. As he came up smiling towards us, I saw with pleasure
that I must give up the Colney Hatch theory as to the waterman, for
no two madmen ever behaved as they did before a sane man. His dress
also was of the same cut as the first man's, though somewhat gayer,
the surcoat being light green with a golden spray embroidered on the
breast, and his belt being of filagree silver-work.
He gave me good-day very civilly, and greeting his friend joyously,
"Well, Dick, what is it this morning? Am I to have my work, or
rather your work? I dreamed last night that we were off up the river
"All right, Bob," said my sculler; "you will drop into my place, and
if you find it too much, there is George Brightling on the look out
for a stroke of work, and he lives close handy to you. But see, here
is a stranger who is willing to amuse me to-day by taking me as his
guide about our country-side, and you may imagine I don't want to
lose the opportunity; so you had better take to the boat at once.
But in any case I shouldn't have kept you out of it for long, since I
am due in the hay-fields in a few days."
The newcomer rubbed his hands with glee, but turning to me, said in a
"Neighbour, both you and friend Dick are lucky, and will have a good
time to-day, as indeed I shall too. But you had better both come in
with me at once and get something to eat, lest you should forget your
dinner in your amusement. I suppose you came into the Guest House
after I had gone to bed last night?"
I nodded, not caring to enter into a long explanation which would
have led to nothing, and which in truth by this time I should have
begun to doubt myself. And we all three turned toward the door of
the Guest House.
CHAPTER III: THE GUEST HOUSE AND BREAKFAST THEREIN
I lingered a little behind the others to have a stare at this house,
which, as I have told you, stood on the site of my old dwelling.
It was a longish building with its gable ends turned away from the
road, and long traceried windows coming rather low down set in the
wall that faced us. It was very handsomely built of red brick with a
lead roof; and high up above the windows there ran a frieze of figure
subjects in baked clay, very well executed, and designed with a force
and directness which I had never noticed in modern work before. The
subjects I recognised at once, and indeed was very particularly
familiar with them.
However, all this I took in in a minute; for we were presently within
doors, and standing in a hall with a floor of marble mosaic and an
open timber roof. There were no windows on the side opposite to the
river, but arches below leading into chambers, one of which showed a
glimpse of a garden beyond, and above them a long space of wall gaily
painted (in fresco, I thought) with similar subjects to those of the
frieze outside; everything about the place was handsome and
generously solid as to material; and though it was not very large
(somewhat smaller than Crosby Hall perhaps), one felt in it that
exhilarating sense of space and freedom which satisfactory
architecture always gives to an unanxious man who is in the habit of
using his eyes.
In this pleasant place, which of course I knew to be the hall of the
Guest House, three young women were flitting to and fro. As they
were the first of the sex I had seen on this eventful morning, I
naturally looked at them very attentively, and found them at least as
good as the gardens, the architecture, and the male men. As to their
dress, which of course I took note of, I should say that they were
decently veiled with drapery, and not bundled up with millinery; that
they were clothed like women, not upholstered like armchairs, as most
women of our time are. In short, their dress was somewhat between
that of the ancient classical costume and the simpler forms of the
fourteenth century garments, though it was clearly not an imitation
of either: the materials were light and gay to suit the season. As
to the women themselves, it was pleasant indeed to see them, they
were so kind and happy-looking in expression of face, so shapely and
well-knit of body, and thoroughly healthy-looking and strong. All
were at least comely, and one of them very handsome and regular of
feature. They came up to us at once merrily and without the least
affectation of shyness, and all three shook hands with me as if I
were a friend newly come back from a long journey: though I could
not help noticing that they looked askance at my garments; for I had
on my clothes of last night, and at the best was never a dressy
A word or two from Robert the weaver, and they bustled about on our
behoof, and presently came and took us by the hands and led us to a
table in the pleasantest corner of the hall, where our breakfast was
spread for us; and, as we sat down, one of them hurried out by the
chambers aforesaid, and came back again in a little while with a
great bunch of roses, very different in size and quality to what
Hammersmith had been wont to grow, but very like the produce of an
old country garden. She hurried back thence into the buttery, and
came back once more with a delicately made glass, into which she put
the flowers and set them down in the midst of our table. One of the
others, who had run off also, then came back with a big cabbage-leaf
filled with strawberries, some of them barely ripe, and said as she
set them on the table, "There, now; I thought of that before I got up
this morning; but looking at the stranger here getting into your
boat, Dick, put it out of my head; so that I was not before ALL the
blackbirds: however, there are a few about as good as you will get
them anywhere in Hammersmith this morning."
Robert patted her on the head in a friendly manner; and we fell to on
our breakfast, which was simple enough, but most delicately cooked,
and set on the table with much daintiness. The bread was
particularly good, and was of several different kinds, from the big,
rather close, dark-coloured, sweet-tasting farmhouse loaf, which was
most to my liking, to the thin pipe-stems of wheaten crust, such as I
have eaten in Turin.
As I was putting the first mouthfuls into my mouth my eye caught a
carved and gilded inscription on the panelling, behind what we should
have called the High Table in an Oxford college hall, and a familiar
name in it forced me to read it through. Thus it ran:
"Guests and neighbours, on the site of this Guest-hall once stood the
lecture-room of the Hammersmith Socialists. Drink a glass to the
memory! May 1962."
It is difficult to tell you how I felt as I read these words, and I
suppose my face showed how much I was moved, for both my friends
looked curiously at me, and there was silence between us for a little
Presently the weaver, who was scarcely so well mannered a man as the
ferryman, said to me rather awkwardly:
"Guest, we don't know what to call you: is there any indiscretion in
asking you your name?"
"Well," said I, "I have some doubts about it myself; so suppose you
call me Guest, which is a family name, you know, and add William to
it if you please."
Dick nodded kindly to me; but a shade of anxiousness passed over the
weaver's face, and he said--"I hope you don't mind my asking, but
would you tell me where you come from? I am curious about such
things for good reasons, literary reasons."
Dick was clearly kicking him underneath the table; but he was not
much abashed, and awaited my answer somewhat eagerly. As for me, I
was just going to blurt out "Hammersmith," when I bethought me what
an entanglement of cross purposes that would lead us into; so I took
time to invent a lie with circumstance, guarded by a little truth,
"You see, I have been such a long time away from Europe that things
seem strange to me now; but I was born and bred on the edge of Epping
Forest; Walthamstow and Woodford, to wit."
"A pretty place, too," broke in Dick; "a very jolly place, now that
the trees have had time to grow again since the great clearing of
houses in 1955."
Quoth the irrepressible weaver: "Dear neighbour, since you knew the
Forest some time ago, could you tell me what truth there is in the
rumour that in the nineteenth century the trees were all pollards?"
This was catching me on my archaeological natural-history side, and I
fell into the trap without any thought of where and when I was; so I
began on it, while one of the girls, the handsome one, who had been
scattering little twigs of lavender and other sweet-smelling herbs
about the floor, came near to listen, and stood behind me with her
hand on my shoulder, in which she held some of the plant that I used
to call balm: its strong sweet smell brought back to my mind my very
early days in the kitchen-garden at Woodford, and the large blue
plums which grew on the wall beyond the sweet-herb patch,--a
connection of memories which all boys will see at once.
I started off: "When I was a boy, and for long after, except for a
piece about Queen Elizabeth's Lodge, and for the part about High
Beech, the Forest was almost wholly made up of pollard hornbeams
mixed with holly thickets. But when the Corporation of London took
it over about twenty-five years ago, the topping and lopping, which
was a part of the old commoners' rights, came to an end, and the
trees were let to grow. But I have not seen the place now for many
years, except once, when we Leaguers went a pleasuring to High Beech.
I was very much shocked then to see how it was built-over and
altered; and the other day we heard that the philistines were going
to landscape-garden it. But what you were saying about the building
being stopped and the trees growing is only too good news;--only you
At that point I suddenly remembered Dick's date, and stopped short
rather confused. The eager weaver didn't notice my confusion, but
said hastily, as if he were almost aware of his breach of good
manners, "But, I say, how old are you?"
Dick and the pretty girl both burst out laughing, as if Robert's
conduct were excusable on the grounds of eccentricity; and Dick said
amidst his laughter:
"Hold hard, Bob; this questioning of guests won't do. Why, much
learning is spoiling you. You remind me of the radical cobblers in
the silly old novels, who, according to the authors, were prepared to
trample down all good manners in the pursuit of utilitarian
knowledge. The fact is, I begin to think that you have so muddled
your head with mathematics, and with grubbing into those idiotic old
books about political economy (he he!), that you scarcely know how to
behave. Really, it is about time for you to take to some open-air
work, so that you may clear away the cobwebs from your brain."
The weaver only laughed good-humouredly; and the girl went up to him
and patted his cheek and said laughingly, "Poor fellow! he was born
As for me, I was a little puzzled, but I laughed also, partly for
company's sake, and partly with pleasure at their unanxious happiness
and good temper; and before Robert could make the excuse to me which
he was getting ready, I said:
"But neighbours" (I had caught up that word), "I don't in the least
mind answering questions, when I can do so: ask me as many as you
please; it's fun for me. I will tell you all about Epping Forest
when I was a boy, if you please; and as to my age, I'm not a fine
lady, you know, so why shouldn't I tell you? I'm hard on fifty-six."
In spite of the recent lecture on good manners, the weaver could not
help giving a long "whew" of astonishment, and the others were so
amused by his naivete that the merriment flitted all over their
faces, though for courtesy's sake they forbore actual laughter; while
I looked from one to the other in a puzzled manner, and at last said:
"Tell me, please, what is amiss: you know I want to learn from you.
And please laugh; only tell me."
Well, they DID laugh, and I joined them again, for the above-stated
reasons. But at last the pretty woman said coaxingly -
"Well, well, he IS rude, poor fellow! but you see I may as well tell
you what he is thinking about: he means that you look rather old for
your age. But surely there need be no wonder in that, since you have
been travelling; and clearly from all you have been saying, in
unsocial countries. It has often been said, and no doubt truly, that
one ages very quickly if one lives amongst unhappy people. Also they
say that southern England is a good place for keeping good looks."
She blushed and said: "How old am I, do you think?"
"Well," quoth I, "I have always been told that a woman is as old as
she looks, so without offence or flattery, I should say that you were
She laughed merrily, and said, "I am well served out for fishing for
compliments, since I have to tell you the truth, to wit, that I am
I stared at her, and drew musical laughter from her again; but I
might well stare, for there was not a careful line on her face; her
skin was as smooth as ivory, her cheeks full and round, her lips as
red as the roses she had brought in; her beautiful arms, which she
had bared for her work, firm and well-knit from shoulder to wrist.
She blushed a little under my gaze, though it was clear that she had
taken me for a man of eighty; so to pass it off I said -
"Well, you see, the old saw is proved right again, and I ought not to
have let you tempt me into asking you a rude question."
She laughed again, and said: "Well, lads, old and young, I must get
to my work now. We shall be rather busy here presently; and I want
to clear it off soon, for I began to read a pretty old book
yesterday, and I want to get on with it this morning: so good-bye
for the present."
She waved a hand to us, and stepped lightly down the hall, taking (as
Scott says) at least part of the sun from our table as she went.
When she was gone, Dick said "Now guest, won't you ask a question or
two of our friend here? It is only fair that you should have your
"I shall be very glad to answer them," said the weaver.
"If I ask you any questions, sir," said I, "they will not be very
severe; but since I hear that you are a weaver, I should like to ask
you something about that craft, as I am--or was--interested in it."
"Oh," said he, "I shall not be of much use to you there, I'm afraid.
I only do the most mechanical kind of weaving, and am in fact but a
poor craftsman, unlike Dick here. Then besides the weaving, I do a
little with machine printing and composing, though I am little use at
the finer kinds of printing; and moreover machine printing is
beginning to die out, along with the waning of the plague of book-
making, so I have had to turn to other things that I have a taste
for, and have taken to mathematics; and also I am writing a sort of
antiquarian book about the peaceable and private history, so to say,
of the end of the nineteenth century,--more for the sake of giving a
picture of the country before the fighting began than for anything
else. That was why I asked you those questions about Epping Forest.
You have rather puzzled me, I confess, though your information was so
interesting. But later on, I hope, we may have some more talk
together, when our friend Dick isn't here. I know he thinks me
rather a grinder, and despises me for not being very deft with my
hands: that's the way nowadays. From what I have read of the
nineteenth century literature (and I have read a good deal), it is
clear to me that this is a kind of revenge for the stupidity of that
day, which despised everybody who COULD use his hands. But Dick, old
fellow, Ne quid nimis! Don't overdo it!"
"Come now," said Dick, "am I likely to? Am I not the most tolerant
man in the world? Am I not quite contented so long as you don't make
me learn mathematics, or go into your new science of aesthetics, and
let me do a little practical aesthetics with my gold and steel, and
the blowpipe and the nice little hammer? But, hillo! here comes
another questioner for you, my poor guest. I say, Bob, you must help
me to defend him now."
"Here, Boffin," he cried out, after a pause; "here we are, if you
must have it!"
I looked over my shoulder, and saw something flash and gleam in the
sunlight that lay across the hall; so I turned round, and at my ease
saw a splendid figure slowly sauntering over the pavement; a man
whose surcoat was embroidered most copiously as well as elegantly, so
that the sun flashed back from him as if he had been clad in golden
armour. The man himself was tall, dark-haired, and exceedingly
handsome, and though his face was no less kindly in expression than
that of the others, he moved with that somewhat haughty mien which
great beauty is apt to give to both men and women. He came and sat
down at our table with a smiling face, stretching out his long legs
and hanging his arm over the chair in the slowly graceful way which
tall and well-built people may use without affectation. He was a man
in the prime of life, but looked as happy as a child who has just got
a new toy. He bowed gracefully to me and said -
"I see clearly that you are the guest, of whom Annie has just told
me, who have come from some distant country that does not know of us,
or our ways of life. So I daresay you would not mind answering me a
few questions; for you see--"
Here Dick broke in: "No, please, Boffin! let it alone for the
present. Of course you want the guest to be happy and comfortable;
and how can that be if he has to trouble himself with answering all
sorts of questions while he is still confused with the new customs
and people about him? No, no: I am going to take him where he can
ask questions himself, and have them answered; that is, to my great-
grandfather in Bloomsbury: and I am sure you can't have anything to
say against that. So instead of bothering, you had much better go
out to James Allen's and get a carriage for me, as I shall drive him
up myself; and please tell Jim to let me have the old grey, for I can
drive a wherry much better than a carriage. Jump up, old fellow, and
don't be disappointed; our guest will keep himself for you and your
I stared at Dick; for I wondered at his speaking to such a dignified-
looking personage so familiarly, not to say curtly; for I thought
that this Mr. Boffin, in spite of his well-known name out of Dickens,
must be at the least a senator of these strange people. However, he
got up and said, "All right, old oar-wearer, whatever you like; this
is not one of my busy days; and though" (with a condescending bow to
me) "my pleasure of a talk with this learned guest is put off, I
admit that he ought to see your worthy kinsman as soon as possible.
Besides, perhaps he will be the better able to answer MY questions
after his own have been answered."
And therewith he turned and swung himself out of the hall.
When he was well gone, I said: "Is it wrong to ask what Mr. Boffin
is? whose name, by the way, reminds me of many pleasant hours passed
in reading Dickens."
Dick laughed. "Yes, yes," said he, "as it does us. I see you take
the allusion. Of course his real name is not Boffin, but Henry
Johnson; we only call him Boffin as a joke, partly because he is a
dustman, and partly because he will dress so showily, and get as much
gold on him as a baron of the Middle Ages. As why should he not if
he likes? only we are his special friends, you know, so of course we
jest with him."
I held my tongue for some time after that; but Dick went on:
"He is a capital fellow, and you can't help liking him; but he has a
weakness: he will spend his time in writing reactionary novels, and
is very proud of getting the local colour right, as he calls it; and
as he thinks you come from some forgotten corner of the earth, where
people are unhappy, and consequently interesting to a story-teller,
he thinks he might get some information out of you. O, he will be
quite straightforward with you, for that matter. Only for your own
comfort beware of him!"
"Well, Dick," said the weaver, doggedly, "I think his novels are very
"Of course you do," said Dick; "birds of a feather flock together;
mathematics and antiquarian novels stand on much the same footing.
But here he comes again."
And in effect the Golden Dustman hailed us from the hall-door; so we
all got up and went into the porch, before which, with a strong grey
horse in the shafts, stood a carriage ready for us which I could not
help noticing. It was light and handy, but had none of that
sickening vulgarity which I had known as inseparable from the
carriages of our time, especially the "elegant" ones, but was as
graceful and pleasant in line as a Wessex waggon. We got in, Dick
and I. The girls, who had come into the porch to see us off, waved
their hands to us; the weaver nodded kindly; the dustman bowed as
gracefully as a troubadour; Dick shook the reins, and we were off.
CHAPTER IV: A MARKET BY THE WAY
We turned away from the river at once, and were soon in the main road
that runs through Hammersmith. But I should have had no guess as to
where I was, if I had not started from the waterside; for King Street
was gone, and the highway ran through wide sunny meadows and garden-
like tillage. The Creek, which we crossed at once, had been rescued
from its culvert, and as we went over its pretty bridge we saw its
waters, yet swollen by the tide, covered with gay boats of different
sizes. There were houses about, some on the road, some amongst the
fields with pleasant lanes leading down to them, and each surrounded
by a teeming garden. They were all pretty in design, and as solid as
might be, but countryfied in appearance, like yeomen's dwellings;
some of them of red brick like those by the river, but more of timber
and plaster, which were by the necessity of their construction so
like mediaeval houses of the same materials that I fairly felt as if
I were alive in the fourteenth century; a sensation helped out by the
costume of the people that we met or passed, in whose dress there was
nothing "modern." Almost everybody was gaily dressed, but especially
the women, who were so well-looking, or even so handsome, that I
could scarcely refrain my tongue from calling my companion's
attention to the fact. Some faces I saw that were thoughtful, and in
these I noticed great nobility of expression, but none that had a
glimmer of unhappiness, and the greater part (we came upon a good
many people) were frankly and openly joyous.
I thought I knew the Broadway by the lie of the roads that still met
there. On the north side of the road was a range of buildings and
courts, low, but very handsomely built and ornamented, and in that
way forming a great contrast to the unpretentiousness of the houses
round about; while above this lower building rose the steep lead-
covered roof and the buttresses and higher part of the wall of a
great hall, of a splendid and exuberant style of architecture, of
which one can say little more than that it seemed to me to embrace
the best qualities of the Gothic of northern Europe with those of the
Saracenic and Byzantine, though there was no copying of any one of
these styles. On the other, the south side, of the road was an
octagonal building with a high roof, not unlike the Baptistry at
Florence in outline, except that it was surrounded by a lean-to that
clearly made an arcade or cloisters to it: it also was most
This whole mass of architecture which we had come upon so suddenly
from amidst the pleasant fields was not only exquisitely beautiful in
itself, but it bore upon it the expression of such generosity and
abundance of life that I was exhilarated to a pitch that I had never
yet reached. I fairly chuckled for pleasure. My friend seemed to
understand it, and sat looking on me with a pleased and affectionate
interest. We had pulled up amongst a crowd of carts, wherein sat
handsome healthy-looking people, men, women, and children very gaily
dressed, and which were clearly market carts, as they were full of
very tempting-looking country produce.
I said, "I need not ask if this is a market, for I see clearly that
it is; but what market is it that it is so splendid? And what is the
glorious hall there, and what is the building on the south side?"
"O," said he, "it is just our Hammersmith market; and I am glad you
like it so much, for we are really proud of it. Of course the hall
inside is our winter Mote-House; for in summer we mostly meet in the
fields down by the river opposite Barn Elms. The building on our
right hand is our theatre: I hope you like it."
"I should be a fool if I didn't," said I.
He blushed a little as he said: "I am glad of that, too, because I
had a hand in it; I made the great doors, which are of damascened
bronze. We will look at them later in the day, perhaps: but we
ought to be getting on now. As to the market, this is not one of our
busy days; so we shall do better with it another time, because you
will see more people."
I thanked him, and said: "Are these the regular country people?
What very pretty girls there are amongst them."
As I spoke, my eye caught the face of a beautiful woman, tall, dark-
haired, and white-skinned, dressed in a pretty light-green dress in
honour of the season and the hot day, who smiled kindly on me, and
more kindly still, I thought on Dick; so I stopped a minute, but
presently went on:
"I ask because I do not see any of the country-looking people I
should have expected to see at a market--I mean selling things
"I don't understand," said he, "what kind of people you would expect
to see; nor quite what you mean by 'country' people. These are the
neighbours, and that like they run in the Thames valley. There are
parts of these islands which are rougher and rainier than we are
here, and there people are rougher in their dress; and they
themselves are tougher and more hard-bitten than we are to look at.
But some people like their looks better than ours; they say they have
more character in them--that's the word. Well, it's a matter of
taste.--Anyhow, the cross between us and them generally turns out
well," added he, thoughtfully.
I heard him, though my eyes were turned away from him, for that
pretty girl was just disappearing through the gate with her big
basket of early peas, and I felt that disappointed kind of feeling
which overtakes one when one has seen an interesting or lovely face
in the streets which one is never likely to see again; and I was
silent a little. At last I said: "What I mean is, that I haven't
seen any poor people about--not one."
He knit his brows, looked puzzled, and said: "No, naturally; if
anybody is poorly, he is likely to be within doors, or at best
crawling about the garden: but I don't know of any one sick at
present. Why should you expect to see poorly people on the road?"
"No, no," I said; "I don't mean sick people. I mean poor people, you
know; rough people."
"No," said he, smiling merrily, "I really do not know. The fact is,
you must come along quick to my great-grandfather, who will
understand you better than I do. Come on, Greylocks!" Therewith he
shook the reins, and we jogged along merrily eastward.
CHAPTER V: CHILDREN ON THE ROAD
Past the Broadway there were fewer houses on either side. We
presently crossed a pretty little brook that ran across a piece of
land dotted over with trees, and awhile after came to another market
and town-hall, as we should call it. Although there was nothing
familiar to me in its surroundings, I knew pretty well where we were,
and was not surprised when my guide said briefly, "Kensington
Just after this we came into a short street of houses: or rather,
one long house on either side of the way, built of timber and
plaster, and with a pretty arcade over the footway before it.
Quoth Dick: "This is Kensington proper. People are apt to gather
here rather thick, for they like the romance of the wood; and
naturalists haunt it, too; for it is a wild spot even here, what
there is of it; for it does not go far to the south: it goes from
here northward and west right over Paddington and a little way down
Notting Hill: thence it runs north-east to Primrose Hill, and so on;
rather a narrow strip of it gets through Kingsland to Stoke-Newington
and Clapton, where it spreads out along the heights above the Lea
marshes; on the other side of which, as you know, is Epping Forest
holding out a hand to it. This part we are just coming to is called
Kensington Gardens; though why 'gardens' I don't know."
I rather longed to say, "Well, _I_ know"; but there were so many
things about me which I did NOT know, in spite of his assumptions,
that I thought it better to hold my tongue.
The road plunged at once into a beautiful wood spreading out on
either side, but obviously much further on the north side, where even
the oaks and sweet chestnuts were of a good growth; while the
quicker-growing trees (amongst which I thought the planes and
sycamores too numerous) were very big and fine-grown.
It was exceedingly pleasant in the dappled shadow, for the day was
growing as hot as need be, and the coolness and shade soothed my
excited mind into a condition of dreamy pleasure, so that I felt as
if I should like to go on for ever through that balmy freshness. My
companion seemed to share in my feelings, and let the horse go slower
and slower as he sat inhaling the green forest scents, chief amongst
which was the smell of the trodden bracken near the wayside.
Romantic as this Kensington wood was, however, it was not lonely. We
came on many groups both coming and going, or wandering in the edges
of the wood. Amongst these were many children from six or eight
years old up to sixteen or seventeen. They seemed to me to be
especially fine specimens of their race, and enjoying themselves to
the utmost; some of them were hanging about little tents pitched on
the greensward, and by some of these fires were burning, with pots
hanging over them gipsy fashion. Dick explained to me that there
were scattered houses in the forest, and indeed we caught a glimpse
of one or two. He said they were mostly quite small, such as used to
be called cottages when there were slaves in the land, but they were
pleasant enough and fitting for the wood.
"They must be pretty well stocked with children," said I, pointing to
the many youngsters about the way.
"O," said he, "these children do not all come from the near houses,
the woodland houses, but from the country-side generally. They often
make up parties, and come to play in the woods for weeks together in
summer-time, living in tents, as you see. We rather encourage them
to it; they learn to do things for themselves, and get to notice the
wild creatures; and, you see, the less they stew inside houses the
better for them. Indeed, I must tell you that many grown people will
go to live in the forests through the summer; though they for the
most part go to the bigger ones, like Windsor, or the Forest of Dean,
or the northern wastes. Apart from the other pleasures of it, it
gives them a little rough work, which I am sorry to say is getting
somewhat scarce for these last fifty years."
He broke off, and then said, "I tell you all this, because I see that
if I talk I must be answering questions, which you are thinking, even
if you are not speaking them out; but my kinsman will tell you more
I saw that I was likely to get out of my depth again, and so merely
for the sake of tiding over an awkwardness and to say something, I
"Well, the youngsters here will be all the fresher for school when
the summer gets over and they have to go back again."
"School?" he said; "yes, what do you mean by that word? I don't see
how it can have anything to do with children. We talk, indeed, of a
school of herring, and a school of painting, and in the former sense
we might talk of a school of children--but otherwise," said he,
laughing, "I must own myself beaten."
Hang it! thought I, I can't open my mouth without digging up some new
complexity. I wouldn't try to set my friend right in his etymology;
and I thought I had best say nothing about the boy-farms which I had
been used to call schools, as I saw pretty clearly that they had
disappeared; so I said after a little fumbling, "I was using the word
in the sense of a system of education."
"Education?" said he, meditatively, "I know enough Latin to know that
the word must come from educere, to lead out; and I have heard it
used; but I have never met anybody who could give me a clear
explanation of what it means."
You may imagine how my new friends fell in my esteem when I heard
this frank avowal; and I said, rather contemptuously, "Well,
education means a system of teaching young people."
"Why not old people also?" said he with a twinkle in his eye. "But,"
he went on, "I can assure you our children learn, whether they go
through a 'system of teaching' or not. Why, you will not find one of
these children about here, boy or girl, who cannot swim; and every
one of them has been used to tumbling about the little forest ponies-
-there's one of them now! They all of them know how to cook; the
bigger lads can mow; many can thatch and do odd jobs at carpentering;
or they know how to keep shop. I can tell you they know plenty of
"Yes, but their mental education, the teaching of their minds," said
I, kindly translating my phrase.
"Guest," said he, "perhaps you have not learned to do these things I
have been speaking about; and if that's the case, don't you run away
with the idea that it doesn't take some skill to do them, and doesn't
give plenty of work for one's mind: you would change your opinion if
you saw a Dorsetshire lad thatching, for instance. But, however, I
understand you to be speaking of book-learning; and as to that, it is
a simple affair. Most children, seeing books lying about, manage to
read by the time they are four years old; though I am told it has not
always been so. As to writing, we do not encourage them to scrawl
too early (though scrawl a little they will), because it gets them
into a habit of ugly writing; and what's the use of a lot of ugly
writing being done, when rough printing can be done so easily. You
understand that handsome writing we like, and many people will write
their books out when they make them, or get them written; I mean
books of which only a few copies are needed--poems, and such like,
you know. However, I am wandering from my lambs; but you must excuse
me, for I am interested in this matter of writing, being myself a
"Well," said I, "about the children; when they know how to read and
write, don't they learn something else--languages, for instance?"
"Of course," he said; "sometimes even before they can read, they can
talk French, which is the nearest language talked on the other side
of the water; and they soon get to know German also, which is talked
by a huge number of communes and colleges on the mainland. These are
the principal languages we speak in these islands, along with English
or Welsh, or Irish, which is another form of Welsh; and children pick
them up very quickly, because their elders all know them; and besides
our guests from over sea often bring their children with them, and
the little ones get together, and rub their speech into one another."
"And the older languages?" said I.
"O, yes," said he, "they mostly learn Latin and Greek along with the
modern ones, when they do anything more than merely pick up the
"And history?" said I; "how do you teach history?"
"Well," said he, "when a person can read, of course he reads what he
likes to; and he can easily get someone to tell him what are the best
books to read on such or such a subject, or to explain what he
doesn't understand in the books when he is reading them."
"Well," said I, "what else do they learn? I suppose they don't all
"No, no," said he; "some don't care about it; in fact, I don't think
many do. I have heard my great-grandfather say that it is mostly in
periods of turmoil and strife and confusion that people care much
about history; and you know," said my friend, with an amiable smile,
"we are not like that now. No; many people study facts about the
make of things and the matters of cause and effect, so that knowledge
increases on us, if that be good; and some, as you heard about friend
Bob yonder, will spend time over mathematics. 'Tis no use forcing
Said I: "But you don't mean that children learn all these things?"
Said he: "That depends on what you mean by children; and also you
must remember how much they differ. As a rule, they don't do much
reading, except for a few story-books, till they are about fifteen
years old; we don't encourage early bookishness: though you will
find some children who WILL take to books very early; which perhaps
is not good for them; but it's no use thwarting them; and very often
it doesn't last long with them, and they find their level before they
are twenty years old. You see, children are mostly given to
imitating their elders, and when they see most people about them
engaged in genuinely amusing work, like house-building and street-
paving, and gardening, and the like, that is what they want to be
doing; so I don't think we need fear having too many book-learned
What could I say? I sat and held my peace, for fear of fresh
entanglements. Besides, I was using my eyes with all my might,
wondering as the old horse jogged on, when I should come into London
proper, and what it would be like now.
But my companion couldn't let his subject quite drop, and went on
"After all, I don't know that it does them much harm, even if they do
grow up book-students. Such people as that, 'tis a great pleasure
seeing them so happy over work which is not much sought for. And
besides, these students are generally such pleasant people; so kind
and sweet tempered; so humble, and at the same time so anxious to
teach everybody all that they know. Really, I like those that I have
This seemed to me such very queer talk that I was on the point of
asking him another question; when just as we came to the top of a
rising ground, down a long glade of the wood on my right I caught
sight of a stately building whose outline was familiar to me, and I
cried out, "Westminster Abbey!"
"Yes," said Dick, "Westminster Abbey--what there is left of it."
"Why, what have you done with it?" quoth I in terror.
"What have WE done with it?" said he; "nothing much, save clean it.
But you know the whole outside was spoiled centuries ago: as to the
inside, that remains in its beauty after the great clearance, which
took place over a hundred years ago, of the beastly monuments to
fools and knaves, which once blocked it up, as great-grandfather
We went on a little further, and I looked to the right again, and
said, in rather a doubtful tone of voice, "Why, there are the Houses
of Parliament! Do you still use them?"
He burst out laughing, and was some time before he could control
himself; then he clapped me on the back and said:
"I take you, neighbour; you may well wonder at our keeping them
standing, and I know something about that, and my old kinsman has
given me books to read about the strange game that they played there.
Use them! Well, yes, they are used for a sort of subsidiary market,
and a storage place for manure, and they are handy for that, being on
the waterside. I believe it was intended to pull them down quite at
the beginning of our days; but there was, I am told, a queer
antiquarian society, which had done some service in past times, and
which straightway set up its pipe against their destruction, as it
has done with many other buildings, which most people looked upon as
worthless, and public nuisances; and it was so energetic, and had
such good reasons to give, that it generally gained its point; and I
must say that when all is said I am glad of it: because you know at
the worst these silly old buildings serve as a kind of foil to the
beautiful ones which we build now. You will see several others in
these parts; the place my great-grandfather lives in, for instance,
and a big building called St. Paul's. And you see, in this matter we
need not grudge a few poorish buildings standing, because we can
always build elsewhere; nor need we be anxious as to the breeding of
pleasant work in such matters, for there is always room for more and
more work in a new building, even without making it pretentious. For
instance, elbow-room WITHIN doors is to me so delightful that if I
were driven to it I would most sacrifice outdoor space to it. Then,
of course, there is the ornament, which, as we must all allow, may
easily be overdone in mere living houses, but can hardly be in mote-
halls and markets, and so forth. I must tell you, though, that my
great-grandfather sometimes tells me I am a little cracked on this
subject of fine building; and indeed I DO think that the energies of
mankind are chiefly of use to them for such work; for in that
direction I can see no end to the work, while in many others a limit
does seem possible."
CHAPTER VI: A LITTLE SHOPPING
As he spoke, we came suddenly out of the woodland into a short street
of handsomely built houses, which my companion named to me at once as
Piccadilly: the lower part of these I should have called shops, if
it had not been that, as far as I could see, the people were ignorant
of the arts of buying and selling. Wares were displayed in their
finely designed fronts, as if to tempt people in, and people stood
and looked at them, or went in and came out with parcels under their
arms, just like the real thing. On each side of the street ran an
elegant arcade to protect foot-passengers, as in some of the old
Italian cities. About halfway down, a huge building of the kind I
was now prepared to expect told me that this also was a centre of
some kind, and had its special public buildings.
Said Dick: "Here, you see, is another market on a different plan
from most others: the upper stories of these houses are used for
guest-houses; for people from all about the country are apt to drift
up hither from time to time, as folk are very thick upon the ground,
which you will see evidence of presently, and there are people who
are fond of crowds, though I can't say that I am."
I couldn't help smiling to see how long a tradition would last. Here
was the ghost of London still asserting itself as a centre,--an
intellectual centre, for aught I knew. However, I said nothing,
except that I asked him to drive very slowly, as the things in the
booths looked exceedingly pretty.
"Yes," said he, "this is a very good market for pretty things, and is
mostly kept for the handsomer goods, as the Houses-of-Parliament
market, where they set out cabbages and turnips and such like things,
along with beer and the rougher kind of wine, is so near."
Then he looked at me curiously, and said, "Perhaps you would like to
do a little shopping, as 'tis called."
I looked at what I could see of my rough blue duds, which I had
plenty of opportunity of contrasting with the gay attire of the
citizens we had come across; and I thought that if, as seemed likely,
I should presently be shown about as a curiosity for the amusement of
this most unbusinesslike people, I should like to look a little less
like a discharged ship's purser. But in spite of all that had
happened, my hand went down into my pocket again, where to my dismay
it met nothing metallic except two rusty old keys, and I remembered
that amidst our talk in the guest-hall at Hammersmith I had taken the
cash out of my pocket to show to the pretty Annie, and had left it
lying there. My face fell fifty per cent., and Dick, beholding me,
said rather sharply -
"Hilloa, Guest! what's the matter now? Is it a wasp?"
"No," said I, "but I've left it behind."
"Well," said he, "whatever you have left behind, you can get in this
market again, so don't trouble yourself about it."
I had come to my senses by this time, and remembering the astounding
customs of this country, had no mind for another lecture on social
economy and the Edwardian coinage; so I said only -
"My clothes--Couldn't I? You see--What do think could be done about
He didn't seem in the least inclined to laugh, but said quite
"O don't get new clothes yet. You see, my great-grandfather is an
antiquarian, and he will want to see you just as you are. And, you
know, I mustn't preach to you, but surely it wouldn't be right for
you to take away people's pleasure of studying your attire, by just
going and making yourself like everybody else. You feel that, don't
you?" said he, earnestly.
I did NOT feel it my duty to set myself up for a scarecrow amidst
this beauty-loving people, but I saw I had got across some
ineradicable prejudice, and that it wouldn't do to quarrel with my
new friend. So I merely said, "O certainly, certainly."
"Well," said he, pleasantly, "you may as well see what the inside of
these booths is like: think of something you want."
Said I: "Could I get some tobacco and a pipe?"
"Of course," said he; "what was I thinking of, not asking you before?
Well, Bob is always telling me that we non-smokers are a selfish lot,
and I'm afraid he is right. But come along; here is a place just
Therewith he drew rein and jumped down, and I followed. A very
handsome woman, splendidly clad in figured silk, was slowly passing
by, looking into the windows as she went. To her quoth Dick:
"Maiden, would you kindly hold our horse while we go in for a
little?" She nodded to us with a kind smile, and fell to patting the
horse with her pretty hand.
"What a beautiful creature!" said I to Dick as we entered.
"What, old Greylocks?" said he, with a sly grin.
"No, no," said I; "Goldylocks,--the lady."
"Well, so she is," said he. "'Tis a good job there are so many of
them that every Jack may have his Jill: else I fear that we should
get fighting for them. Indeed," said he, becoming very grave, "I
don't say that it does not happen even now, sometimes. For you know
love is not a very reasonable thing, and perversity and self-will are
commoner than some of our moralist's think." He added, in a still
more sombre tone: "Yes, only a month ago there was a mishap down by
us, that in the end cost the lives of two men and a woman, and, as it
were, put out the sunlight for us for a while. Don't ask me about it
just now; I may tell you about it later on."
By this time we were within the shop or booth, which had a counter,
and shelves on the walls, all very neat, though without any pretence
of showiness, but otherwise not very different to what I had been
used to. Within were a couple of children--a brown-skinned boy of
about twelve, who sat reading a book, and a pretty little girl of
about a year older, who was sitting also reading behind the counter;
they were obviously brother and sister.
"Good morning, little neighbours," said Dick. "My friend here wants
tobacco and a pipe; can you help him?"
"O yes, certainly," said the girl with a sort of demure alertness
which was somewhat amusing. The boy looked up, and fell to staring
at my outlandish attire, but presently reddened and turned his head,
as if he knew that he was not behaving prettily.
"Dear neighbour," said the girl, with the most solemn countenance of
a child playing at keeping shop, "what tobacco is it you would like?"
"Latakia," quoth I, feeling as if I were assisting at a child's game,
and wondering whether I should get anything but make-believe.
But the girl took a dainty little basket from a shelf beside her,
went to a jar, and took out a lot of tobacco and put the filled
basket down on the counter before me, where I could both smell and
see that it was excellent Latakia.
"But you haven't weighed it," said I, "and--and how much am I to
"Why," she said, "I advise you to cram your bag, because you may be
going where you can't get Latakia. Where is your bag?"
I fumbled about, and at last pulled out my piece of cotton print
which does duty with me for a tobacco pouch. But the girl looked at
it with some disdain, and said -
"Dear neighbour, I can give you something much better than that
cotton rag." And she tripped up the shop and came back presently,
and as she passed the boy whispered something in his ear, and he
nodded and got up and went out. The girl held up in her finger and
thumb a red morocco bag, gaily embroidered, and said, "There, I have
chosen one for you, and you are to have it: it is pretty, and will
hold a lot."
Therewith she fell to cramming it with the tobacco, and laid it down
by me and said, "Now for the pipe: that also you must let me choose
for you; there are three pretty ones just come in."
She disappeared again, and came back with a big-bowled pipe in her
hand, carved out of some hard wood very elaborately, and mounted in
gold sprinkled with little gems. It was, in short, as pretty and gay
a toy as I had ever seen; something like the best kind of Japanese
work, but better.
"Dear me!" said I, when I set eyes on it, "this is altogether too
grand for me, or for anybody but the Emperor of the World. Besides,
I shall lose it: I always lose my pipes."
The child seemed rather dashed, and said, "Don't you like it,
"O yes," I said, "of course I like it."
"Well, then, take it," said she, "and don't trouble about losing it.
What will it matter if you do? Somebody is sure to find it, and he
will use it, and you can get another."
I took it out of her hand to look at it, and while I did so, forgot
my caution, and said, "But however am I to pay for such a thing as
Dick laid his hand on my shoulder as I spoke, and turning I met his
eyes with a comical expression in them, which warned me against
another exhibition of extinct commercial morality; so I reddened and
held my tongue, while the girl simply looked at me with the deepest
gravity, as if I were a foreigner blundering in my speech, for she
clearly didn't understand me a bit.
"Thank you so very much," I said at last, effusively, as I put the
pipe in my pocket, not without a qualm of doubt as to whether I
shouldn't find myself before a magistrate presently.
"O, you are so very welcome," said the little lass, with an
affectation of grown-up manners at their best which was very quaint.
"It is such a pleasure to serve dear old gentlemen like you;
especially when one can see at once that you have come from far over
"Yes, my dear," quoth I, "I have been a great traveller."
As I told this lie from pure politeness, in came the lad again, with
a tray in his hands, on which I saw a long flask and two beautiful
glasses. "Neighbours," said the girl (who did all the talking, her
brother being very shy, clearly) "please to drink a glass to us
before you go, since we do not have guests like this every day."
Therewith the boy put the tray on the counter and solemnly poured out
a straw-coloured wine into the long bowls. Nothing loth, I drank,
for I was thirsty with the hot day; and thinks I, I am yet in the
world, and the grapes of the Rhine have not yet lost their flavour;
for if ever I drank good Steinberg, I drank it that morning; and I
made a mental note to ask Dick how they managed to make fine wine
when there were no longer labourers compelled to drink rot-gut
instead of the fine wine which they themselves made.
"Don't you drink a glass to us, dear little neighbours?" said I.
"I don't drink wine," said the lass; "I like lemonade better: but I
wish your health!"
"And I like ginger-beer better," said the little lad.
Well, well, thought I, neither have children's tastes changed much.
And therewith we gave them good day and went out of the booth.
To my disappointment, like a change in a dream, a tall old man was
holding our horse instead of the beautiful woman. He explained to us
that the maiden could not wait, and that he had taken her place; and
he winked at us and laughed when he saw how our faces fell, so that
we had nothing for it but to laugh also -
"Where are you going?" said he to Dick.
"To Bloomsbury," said Dick.
"If you two don't want to be alone, I'll come with you," said the old
"All right," said Dick, "tell me when you want to get down and I'll
stop for you. Let's get on."
So we got under way again; and I asked if children generally waited
on people in the markets. "Often enough," said he, "when it isn't a
matter of dealing with heavy weights, but by no means always. The
children like to amuse themselves with it, and it is good for them,
because they handle a lot of diverse wares and get to learn about
them, how they are made, and where they come from, and so on.
Besides, it is such very easy work that anybody can do it. It is
said that in the early days of our epoch there were a good many
people who were hereditarily afflicted with a disease called
Idleness, because they were the direct descendants of those who in
the bad times used to force other people to work for them--the
people, you know, who are called slave-holders or employers of labour
in the history books. Well, these Idleness-stricken people used to
serve booths ALL their time, because they were fit for so little.
Indeed, I believe that at one time they were actually COMPELLED to do
some such work, because they, especially the women, got so ugly and
produced such ugly children if their disease was not treated sharply,
that the neighbours couldn't stand it. However, I'm happy to say
that all that is gone by now; the disease is either extinct, or
exists in such a mild form that a short course of aperient medicine
carries it off. It is sometimes called the Blue-devils now, or the
Mulleygrubs. Queer names, ain't they?"
"Yes," said I, pondering much. But the old man broke in:
"Yes, all that is true, neighbour; and I have seen some of those poor
women grown old. But my father used to know some of them when they
were young; and he said that they were as little like young women as
might be: they had hands like bunches of skewers, and wretched
little arms like sticks; and waists like hour-glasses, and thin lips
and peaked noses and pale cheeks; and they were always pretending to
be offended at anything you said or did to them. No wonder they bore
ugly children, for no one except men like them could be in love with
He stopped, and seemed to be musing on his past life, and then said:
"And do you know, neighbours, that once on a time people were still
anxious about that disease of Idleness: at one time we gave
ourselves a great deal of trouble in trying to cure people of it.
Have you not read any of the medical books on the subject?"
"No," said I; for the old man was speaking to me.
"Well," said he, "it was thought at the time that it was the survival
of the old mediaeval disease of leprosy: it seems it was very
catching, for many of the people afflicted by it were much secluded,
and were waited upon by a special class of diseased persons queerly
dressed up, so that they might be known. They wore amongst other
garments, breeches made of worsted velvet, that stuff which used to
be called plush some years ago."
All this seemed very interesting to me, and I should like to have
made the old man talk more. But Dick got rather restive under so
much ancient history: besides, I suspect he wanted to keep me as
fresh as he could for his great-grandfather. So he burst out
laughing at last, and said: "Excuse me, neighbours, but I can't help
it. Fancy people not liking to work!--it's too ridiculous. Why,
even you like to work, old fellow--sometimes," said he,
affectionately patting the old horse with the whip. "What a queer
disease! it may well be called Mulleygrubs!"
And he laughed out again most boisterously; rather too much so, I
thought, for his usual good manners; and I laughed with him for
company's sake, but from the teeth outward only; for _I_ saw nothing
funny in people not liking to work, as you may well imagine.
CHAPTER VII: TRAFALGAR SQUARE
And now again I was busy looking about me, for we were quite clear of
Piccadilly Market, and were in a region of elegantly-built much
ornamented houses, which I should have called villas if they had been
ugly and pretentious, which was very far from being the case. Each
house stood in a garden carefully cultivated, and running over with
flowers. The blackbirds were singing their best amidst the garden-
trees, which, except for a bay here and there, and occasional groups
of limes, seemed to be all fruit-trees: there were a great many
cherry-trees, now all laden with fruit; and several times as we
passed by a garden we were offered baskets of fine fruit by children
and young girls. Amidst all these gardens and houses it was of
course impossible to trace the sites of the old streets: but it
seemed to me that the main roadways were the same as of old.
We came presently into a large open space, sloping somewhat toward
the south, the sunny site of which had been taken advantage of for
planting an orchard, mainly, as I could see, of apricot-trees, in the
midst of which was a pretty gay little structure of wood, painted and
gilded, that looked like a refreshment-stall. From the southern side
of the said orchard ran a long road, chequered over with the shadow
of tall old pear trees, at the end of which showed the high tower of
the Parliament House, or Dung Market.
A strange sensation came over me; I shut my eyes to keep out the
sight of the sun glittering on this fair abode of gardens, and for a
moment there passed before them a phantasmagoria of another day. A
great space surrounded by tall ugly houses, with an ugly church at
the corner and a nondescript ugly cupolaed building at my back; the
roadway thronged with a sweltering and excited crowd, dominated by
omnibuses crowded with spectators. In the midst a paved be-
fountained square, populated only by a few men dressed in blue, and a
good many singularly ugly bronze images (one on the top of a tall
column). The said square guarded up to the edge of the roadway by a
four-fold line of big men clad in blue, and across the southern
roadway the helmets of a band of horse-soldiers, dead white in the
greyness of the chilly November afternoon--I opened my eyes to the
sunlight again and looked round me, and cried out among the
whispering trees and odorous blossoms, "Trafalgar Square!"
"Yes," said Dick, who had drawn rein again, "so it is. I don't
wonder at your finding the name ridiculous: but after all, it was
nobody's business to alter it, since the name of a dead folly doesn't
bite. Yet sometimes I think we might have given it a name which
would have commemorated the great battle which was fought on the spot
itself in 1952,--that was important enough, if the historians don't
"Which they generally do, or at least did," said the old man. "For
instance, what can you make of this, neighbours? I have read a
muddled account in a book--O a stupid book--called James' Social
Democratic History, of a fight which took place here in or about the
year 1887 (I am bad at dates). Some people, says this story, were
going to hold a ward-mote here, or some such thing, and the
Government of London, or the Council, or the Commission, or what not
other barbarous half-hatched body of fools, fell upon these citizens
(as they were then called) with the armed hand. That seems too
ridiculous to be true; but according to this version of the story,
nothing much came of it, which certainly IS too ridiculous to be
"Well," quoth I, "but after all your Mr. James is right so far, and
it IS true; except that there was no fighting, merely unarmed and
peaceable people attacked by ruffians armed with bludgeons."
"And they put up with that?" said Dick, with the first unpleasant
expression I had seen on his good-tempered face.
Said I, reddening: "We HAD to put up with it; we couldn't help it."
The old man looked at me keenly, and said: "You seem to know a great
deal about it, neighbour! And is it really true that nothing came of
"This came of it," said I, "that a good many people were sent to
prison because of it."
"What, of the bludgeoners?" said the old man. "Poor devils!"
"No, no," said I, "of the bludgeoned."
Said the old man rather severely: "Friend, I expect that you have
been reading some rotten collection of lies, and have been taken in
by it too easily."
"I assure you," said I, "what I have been saying is true."
"Well, well, I am sure you think so, neighbour," said the old man,
"but I don't see why you should be so cocksure."
As I couldn't explain why, I held my tongue. Meanwhile Dick, who had
been sitting with knit brows, cogitating, spoke at last, and said
gently and rather sadly:
"How strange to think that there have been men like ourselves, and
living in this beautiful and happy country, who I suppose had
feelings and affections like ourselves, who could yet do such
"Yes," said I, in a didactic tone; "yet after all, even those days
were a great improvement on the days that had gone before them. Have
you not read of the Mediaeval period, and the ferocity of its
criminal laws; and how in those days men fairly seemed to have
enjoyed tormenting their fellow men?--nay, for the matter of that,
they made their God a tormentor and a jailer rather than anything
"Yes," said Dick, "there are good books on that period also, some of
which I have read. But as to the great improvement of the nineteenth
century, I don't see it. After all, the Mediaeval folk acted after
their conscience, as your remark about their God (which is true)
shows, and they were ready to bear what they inflicted on others;
whereas the nineteenth century ones were hypocrites, and pretended to
be humane, and yet went on tormenting those whom they dared to treat
so by shutting them up in prison, for no reason at all, except that
they were what they themselves, the prison-masters, had forced them
to be. O, it's horrible to think of!"
"But perhaps," said I, "they did not know what the prisons were
Dick seemed roused, and even angry. "More shame for them," said he,
"when you and I know it all these years afterwards. Look you,
neighbour, they couldn't fail to know what a disgrace a prison is to
the Commonwealth at the best, and that their prisons were a good step
on towards being at the worst."
Quoth I: "But have you no prisons at all now?"
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt that I had made a
mistake, for Dick flushed red and frowned, and the old man looked
surprised and pained; and presently Dick said angrily, yet as if
restraining himself somewhat -
"Man alive! how can you ask such a question? Have I not told you
that we know what a prison means by the undoubted evidence of really
trustworthy books, helped out by our own imaginations? And haven't
you specially called me to notice that the people about the roads and
streets look happy? and how could they look happy if they knew that
their neighbours were shut up in prison, while they bore such things
quietly? And if there were people in prison, you couldn't hide it
from folk, like you may an occasional man-slaying; because that isn't
done of set purpose, with a lot of people backing up the slayer in
cold blood, as this prison business is. Prisons, indeed! O no, no,
He stopped, and began to cool down, and said in a kind voice: "But
forgive me! I needn't be so hot about it, since there are NOT any
prisons: I'm afraid you will think the worse of me for losing my
temper. Of course, you, coming from the outlands, cannot be expected
to know about these things. And now I'm afraid I have made you feel
In a way he had; but he was so generous in his heat, that I liked him
the better for it, and I said:
"No, really 'tis all my fault for being so stupid. Let me change the
subject, and ask you what the stately building is on our left just
showing at the end of that grove of plane-trees?"
"Ah," he said, "that is an old building built before the middle of
the twentieth century, and as you see, in a queer fantastic style not
over beautiful; but there are some fine things inside it, too, mostly
pictures, some very old. It is called the National Gallery; I have
sometimes puzzled as to what the name means: anyhow, nowadays
wherever there is a place where pictures are kept as curiosities
permanently it is called a National Gallery, perhaps after this one.
Of course there are a good many of them up and down the country."
I didn't try to enlighten him, feeling the task too heavy; but I
pulled out my magnificent pipe and fell a-smoking, and the old horse
jogged on again. As we went, I said:
"This pipe is a very elaborate toy, and you seem so reasonable in
this country, and your architecture is so good, that I rather wonder
at your turning out such trivialities."
It struck me as I spoke that this was rather ungrateful of me, after
having received such a fine present; but Dick didn't seem to notice
my bad manners, but said:
"Well, I don't know; it is a pretty thing, and since nobody need make
such things unless they like, I don't see why they shouldn't make
them, if they like. Of course, if carvers were scarce they would all
be busy on the architecture, as you call it, and then these 'toys' (a
good word) would not be made; but since there are plenty of people
who can carve--in fact, almost everybody, and as work is somewhat
scarce, or we are afraid it may be, folk do not discourage this kind
of petty work."
He mused a little, and seemed somewhat perturbed; but presently his
face cleared, and he said: "After all, you must admit that the pipe
is a very pretty thing, with the little people under the trees all
cut so clean and sweet;--too elaborate for a pipe, perhaps, but--
well, it is very pretty."
"Too valuable for its use, perhaps," said I.
"What's that?" said he; "I don't understand."
I was just going in a helpless way to try to make him understand,
when we came by the gates of a big rambling building, in which work
of some sort seemed going on. "What building is that?" said I,
eagerly; for it was a pleasure amidst all these strange things to see
something a little like what I was used to: "it seems to be a
"Yes," he said, "I think I know what you mean, and that's what it is;
but we don't call them factories now, but Banded-workshops: that is,
places where people collect who want to work together."
"I suppose," said I, "power of some sort is used there?"
"No, no," said he. "Why should people collect together to use power,
when they can have it at the places where they live, or hard by, any
two or three of them; or any one, for the matter of that? No; folk
collect in these Banded-workshops to do hand-work in which working
together is necessary or convenient; such work is often very
pleasant. In there, for instance, they make pottery and glass,--
there, you can see the tops of the furnaces. Well, of course it's
handy to have fair-sized ovens and kilns and glass-pots, and a good
lot of things to use them for: though of course there are a good
many such places, as it would be ridiculous if a man had a liking for
pot-making or glass-blowing that he should have to live in one place
or be obliged to forego the work he liked."
"I see no smoke coming from the furnaces," said I.
"Smoke?" said Dick; "why should you see smoke?"
I held my tongue, and he went on: "It's a nice place inside, though
as plain as you see outside. As to the crafts, throwing the clay
must be jolly work: the glass-blowing is rather a sweltering job;
but some folk like it very much indeed; and I don't much wonder:
there is such a sense of power, when you have got deft in it, in
dealing with the hot metal. It makes a lot of pleasant work," said
he, smiling, "for however much care you take of such goods, break
they will, one day or another, so there is always plenty to do."
I held my tongue and pondered.
We came just here on a gang of men road-mending which delayed us a
little; but I was not sorry for it; for all I had seen hitherto
seemed a mere part of a summer holiday; and I wanted to see how this
folk would set to on a piece of real necessary work. They had been
resting, and had only just begun work again as we came up; so that
the rattle of the picks was what woke me from my musing. There were
about a dozen of them, strong young men, looking much like a boating
party at Oxford would have looked in the days I remembered, and not
more troubled with their work: their outer raiment lay on the road-
side in an orderly pile under the guardianship of a six-year-old boy,
who had his arm thrown over the neck of a big mastiff, who was as
happily lazy as if the summer-day had been made for him alone. As I
eyed the pile of clothes, I could see the gleam of gold and silk
embroidery on it, and judged that some of these workmen had tastes
akin to those of the Golden Dustman of Hammersmith. Beside them lay
a good big basket that had hints about it of cold pie and wine: a
half dozen of young women stood by watching the work or the workers,
both of which were worth watching, for the latter smote great strokes
and were very deft in their labour, and as handsome clean-built
fellows as you might find a dozen of in a summer day. They were
laughing and talking merrily with each other and the women, but
presently their foreman looked up and saw our way stopped. So he
stayed his pick and sang out, "Spell ho, mates! here are neighbours
want to get past." Whereon the others stopped also, and, drawing
around us, helped the old horse by easing our wheels over the half
undone road, and then, like men with a pleasant task on hand, hurried
back to their work, only stopping to give us a smiling good-day; so
that the sound of the picks broke out again before Greylocks had
taken to his jog-trot. Dick looked back over his shoulder at them
"They are in luck to-day: it's right down good sport trying how much
pick-work one can get into an hour; and I can see those neighbours
know their business well. It is not a mere matter of strength
getting on quickly with such work; is it, guest?"
"I should think not," said I, "but to tell you the truth, I have
never tried my hand at it."
"Really?" said he gravely, "that seems a pity; it is good work for
hardening the muscles, and I like it; though I admit it is pleasanter
the second week than the first. Not that I am a good hand at it:
the fellows used to chaff me at one job where I was working, I
remember, and sing out to me, 'Well rowed, stroke!' 'Put your back
into it, bow!'"
"Not much of a joke," quoth I.
"Well," said Dick, "everything seems like a joke when we have a
pleasant spell of work on, and good fellows merry about us; we feels
so happy, you know." Again I pondered silently.
CHAPTER VIII: AN OLD FRIEND
We now turned into a pleasant lane where the branches of great plane-
trees nearly met overhead, but behind them lay low houses standing
rather close together.
"This is Long Acre," quoth Dick; "so there must once have been a
cornfield here. How curious it is that places change so, and yet
keep their old names! Just look how thick the houses stand! and they
are still going on building, look you!"
"Yes," said the old man, "but I think the cornfields must have been
built over before the middle of the nineteenth century. I have heard
that about here was one of the thickest parts of the town. But I
must get down here, neighbours; I have got to call on a friend who
lives in the gardens behind this Long Acre. Good-bye and good luck,
And he jumped down and strode away vigorously, like a young man.
"How old should you say that neighbour will be?" said I to Dick as we
lost sight of him; for I saw that he was old, and yet he looked dry
and sturdy like a piece of old oak; a type of old man I was not used
"O, about ninety, I should say," said Dick.
"How long-lived your people must be!" said I.
"Yes," said Dick, "certainly we have beaten the threescore-and-ten of
the old Jewish proverb-book. But then you see that was written of
Syria, a hot dry country, where people live faster than in our
temperate climate. However, I don't think it matters much, so long
as a man is healthy and happy while he IS alive. But now, Guest, we
are so near to my old kinsman's dwelling-place that I think you had
better keep all future questions for him."
I nodded a yes; and therewith we turned to the left, and went down a
gentle slope through some beautiful rose-gardens, laid out on what I
took to be the site of Endell Street. We passed on, and Dick drew
rein an instant as we came across a long straightish road with houses
scantily scattered up and down it. He waved his hand right and left,
and said, "Holborn that side, Oxford Road that. This was once a very
important part of the crowded city outside the ancient walls of the
Roman and Mediaeval burg: many of the feudal nobles of the Middle
Ages, we are told, had big houses on either side of Holborn. I
daresay you remember that the Bishop of Ely's house is mentioned in
Shakespeare's play of King Richard III.; and there are some remains
of that still left. However, this road is not of the same
importance, now that the ancient city is gone, walls and all."
He drove on again, while I smiled faintly to think how the nineteenth
century, of which such big words have been said, counted for nothing
in the memory of this man, who read Shakespeare and had not forgotten
the Middle Ages.
We crossed the road into a short narrow lane between the gardens, and
came out again into a wide road, on one side of which was a great and
long building, turning its gables away from the highway, which I saw
at once was another public group. Opposite to it was a wide space of
greenery, without any wall or fence of any kind. I looked through
the trees and saw beyond them a pillared portico quite familiar to
me--no less old a friend, in fact, than the British Museum. It
rather took my breath away, amidst all the strange things I had seen;
but I held my tongue and let Dick speak. Said he:
"Yonder is the British Museum, where my great-grandfather mostly
lives; so I won't say much about it. The building on the left is the
Museum Market, and I think we had better turn in there for a minute
or two; for Greylocks will be wanting his rest and his oats; and I
suppose you will stay with my kinsman the greater part of the day;
and to say the truth, there may be some one there whom I particularly
want to see, and perhaps have a long talk with."
He blushed and sighed, not altogether with pleasure, I thought; so of
course I said nothing, and he turned the horse under an archway which
brought us into a very large paved quadrangle, with a big sycamore
tree in each corner and a plashing fountain in the midst. Near the
fountain were a few market stalls, with awnings over them of gay
striped linen cloth, about which some people, mostly women and
children, were moving quietly, looking at the goods exposed there.
The ground floor of the building round the quadrangle was occupied by
a wide arcade or cloister, whose fanciful but strong architecture I
could not enough admire. Here also a few people were sauntering or
sitting reading on the benches.
Dick said to me apologetically: "Here as elsewhere there is little
doing to-day; on a Friday you would see it thronged, and gay with
people, and in the afternoon there is generally music about the
fountain. However, I daresay we shall have a pretty good gathering
at our mid-day meal."
We drove through the quadrangle and by an archway, into a large
handsome stable on the other side, where we speedily stalled the old
nag and made him happy with horse-meat, and then turned and walked
back again through the market, Dick looking rather thoughtful, as it
seemed to me.
I noticed that people couldn't help looking at me rather hard, and
considering my clothes and theirs, I didn't wonder; but whenever they
caught my eye they made me a very friendly sign of greeting.
We walked straight into the forecourt of the Museum, where, except
that the railings were gone, and the whispering boughs of the trees
were all about, nothing seemed changed; the very pigeons were
wheeling about the building and clinging to the ornaments of the
pediment as I had seen them of old.
Dick seemed grown a little absent, but he could not forbear giving me
an architectural note, and said:
"It is rather an ugly old building, isn't it? Many people have
wanted to pull it down and rebuild it: and perhaps if work does
really get scarce we may yet do so. But, as my great grandfather
will tell you, it would not be quite a straightforward job; for there
are wonderful collections in there of all kinds of antiquities,
besides an enormous library with many exceedingly beautiful books in
it, and many most useful ones as genuine records, texts of ancient
works and the like; and the worry and anxiety, and even risk, there
would be in moving all this has saved the buildings themselves.
Besides, as we said before, it is not a bad thing to have some record
of what our forefathers thought a handsome building. For there is
plenty of labour and material in it."
"I see there is," said I, "and I quite agree with you. But now
hadn't we better make haste to see your great-grandfather?"
In fact, I could not help seeing that he was rather dallying with the
time. He said, "Yes, we will go into the house in a minute. My
kinsman is too old to do much work in the Museum, where he was a
custodian of the books for many years; but he still lives here a good
deal; indeed I think," said he, smiling, "that he looks upon himself
as a part of the books, or the books a part of him, I don't know
He hesitated a little longer, then flushing up, took my hand, and
saying, "Come along, then!" led me toward the door of one of the old
CHAPTER IX: CONCERNING LOVE
"Your kinsman doesn't much care for beautiful building, then," said
I, as we entered the rather dreary classical house; which indeed was
as bare as need be, except for some big pots of the June flowers
which stood about here and there; though it was very clean and nicely
"O I don't know," said Dick, rather absently. "He is getting old,
certainly, for he is over a hundred and five, and no doubt he doesn't
care about moving. But of course he could live in a prettier house
if he liked: he is not obliged to live in one place any more than
any one else. This way, Guest."
And he led the way upstairs, and opening a door we went into a fair-
sized room of the old type, as plain as the rest of the house, with a
few necessary pieces of furniture, and those very simple and even
rude, but solid and with a good deal of carving about them, well
designed but rather crudely executed. At the furthest corner of the
room, at a desk near the window, sat a little old man in a roomy oak
chair, well becushioned. He was dressed in a sort of Norfolk jacket
of blue serge worn threadbare, with breeches of the same, and grey
worsted stockings. He jumped up from his chair, and cried out in a
voice of considerable volume for such an old man, "Welcome, Dick, my
lad; Clara is here, and will be more than glad to see you; so keep
your heart up."
"Clara here?" quoth Dick; "if I had known, I would not have brought--
At least, I mean I would--"
He was stuttering and confused, clearly because he was anxious to say
nothing to make me feel one too many. But the old man, who had not
seen me at first, helped him out by coming forward and saying to me
in a kind tone:
"Pray pardon me, for I did not notice that Dick, who is big enough to
hide anybody, you know, had brought a friend with him. A most hearty
welcome to you! All the more, as I almost hope that you are going to
amuse an old man by giving him news from over sea, for I can see that
you are come from over the water and far off countries."
He looked at me thoughtfully, almost anxiously, as he said in a
changed voice, "Might I ask you where you come from, as you are so
clearly a stranger?"
I said in an absent way: "I used to live in England, and now I am
come back again; and I slept last night at the Hammersmith Guest
He bowed gravely, but seemed, I thought, a little disappointed with
my answer. As for me, I was now looking at him harder than good
manners allowed of; perhaps; for in truth his face, dried-apple-like
Back to Full Books