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Club without standing to win or lose five-and-
twenty pounds. He has limited himself to that
sum for the sake of being reasonable. If he
wins, he has had his pleasure for nothing ; if
he loses, he has but paid the market price. He


No. 5 John Street

will put it as candidly to you as you please — show
him how it can be done on less. Pigeons may
be killed, of course, with a popgun in a back-
yard. Thousands are killed daily by simply
wringing their necks. But that is sport for
poulterers, and he would like you to be serious
when the talk is of serious things. He has been
known to shoot pigeons when he has only a ten-
pound note to spare, but he avoids it ; for his
maxim is, ' Never starve the game.' He is for
moderation in all things, as the true secret of
enjoyment. At the billiard-table his risk seldom
exceeds five sovereigns, except when he treats
himself to a contest with a champion, and then
the larger stake is but the fee for a lesson.

He is no wastrel ; he only wants to have
things 'just so.' There is a proper way of doing
them, and there is a mean, and shabby, and
inadequate way. When you are doing it in
this way, leave him out, that's all. He is no
Corinthian patron ; but if there is any difficulty
in making up a purse for a glove-fight between
really good men who will keep at it till they die
to aid the digestion of the Stock Exchange, you
may put him down for fifty pound. The Stock
Exchange likes it as a form of the blood-bath
which gives a fillip to the jaded sense, and is
expected to do wonders for the moral anaemia
of the rich. It is, besides, agreeable in its
suggestion of the potentialities of money. You
may buy the bodies of men for one kind of
entertainment, as the bodies of women for


No. 5 John Street

another. And if there is anything in the physio-
logical theory of the close connection between
lust and cruelty, the two pleasures are closely

His polo is dearer, but that is only natural ; it
is a game for the gods. The eight or ten per-
fectly trained ponies are not to be had for love.
The pick of them have cost him some three
hundred guineas a piece. One, ' Saucy Sally,'
went up to four hundred ; but it would have
been a positive sin to let her go into any other
stable. The others wanting to complete the
team averaged little over two hundred, so he
saved on the lot. The housing and tending of
them, with their costs of transit, eat into the
money ; but — what would you ? On a fine day
at Ranelagh, or at Hurlingham, you have your
money's worth. It pleases him to forget, if he
ever cared to know it, in what subtle sense
Actaeon was devoured by his own dogs. They
wasted that sporting youth's substance of riches,
not his substance of flesh. The rest was prob-
ably but a tale of the nymphs who helped them
in the process. But, after all, like Seton's ponies,
they gave their devotee the ' health and a day,'
wherewith a swaggering sage has promised to do
all sorts of fine things.

Where is Seton to save on it all ? He would
like you to tell him, but he knows you can't.
The polo, after all, is but exercise, and you
would not have him take a walk round
Berkeley Square ! The touting tradesmen, no

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No. 5 John Street

doubt, fidget him a bit with suggestions of ever
new possibilities of perfection. They are always
calling at his place with new ideas in costume
or in jewellery, which it seems imprudent to

' And if he does fool a little money away,' says
Sinclair, to whom I am indebted for these par-
ticulars, ' it all goes for the good of trade.
Circulate the wealth ; you can't go wrong there.
Can you now ? Whenever I go to church for
a charity sermon, and hear about poor people
starving for want of the money to buy a penny
roll, I wish I had six stomachs, to hold as many
meals. Dash it! We must think a little of
other people, after all.'



This way of life suits me. it is still as fresh as
if one had been brought into it by an adver-
tisement for next-of-kin. Let the wind blow
whence or whither it listeth, it is ever laden with
balm and spices for us. What centuries of
quietly organised effort to make it so ! Bless
the piety of our founders. Amen !

The hazards of a day seem all in favour of the
man about town. Take the hazards of this one.
I set forth just to ask young Seton a question,
which, by the way, I forgot by the time I reached
his rooms. It has turned out one of the pleasant-
est days I ever spent in my life.

I have taken to Seton ; I think he has taken
to me. It has been a sort of friendship in the
bud since our meeting at his mother's dinner
table. At our parting, he asked me to call at
his hotel.

That stupendous hotel! It overlooks the
river, to say nothing of the English Channel,
which, I should think, must be visible from the
upper floors. I forget the count in hundreds of
bedrooms, in halls fit for the banquets of Bel-
shazzar, and saloons after the palaces of Ind.
Over a dozen lifts, I believe, are at it, day and


No. 5 John Street

night, giving the inmates a foretaste of their ascent
into heaven. Rightly looked at, this is quite a
devotional exercise, and it makes a capital sub-
stitute for morning and evening prayer, for busy

The surest sign of my friend's social import-
ance is that the door - keepers remember his
name. He has ceased to be a mere number ;
and in establishments of this size, that is a
patent of distinction. Hundreds come hither
every day, hundreds depart ; yet the place is
as quiet as any other asylum for the insane.
Thick walls keep the patients apart : to judge
by the abundance of tapestry, there are many
padded rooms. For the difficulty of finding
your way in it without guidance, it is another
labyrinth of the Twelve Kings. Three chamber-
lains in livery successively take charge of me as
I pass from the hall to the private rooms. They
transfer me from one to the other with looks of
reverence ; they take receipts for me in expres-
sive glances ; and Seton's own man nods a final
acknowledgment of delivery intact, as he opens
the door of his master's suite.

The situation is a happy compromise between
scenery and comforts. The inmate has not to
go too far down for his dinner, nor too far up
for his fresh air. He has a balcony to himself,
overlooking the river ; and there I linger for a
moment, while his man takes in my name. On
this summer morning it is a glory of rich blossoms,
rising fresh from a tesselated floor, and shaded by


No. 5 John Street

an awning of white and gold. The florist's man
suspends his finishing touches with some signs
of confusion, as Seton comes forth.

' Glad to see you. Excuse me for one minute.
— Atkinson, where do these flowers come from ? '

* Jukes and Abrams, Coving Garden, sir.'

' Tell Jukes and Abrahams I shall ask for my
bill, if ever I catch their man here again after nine.
I will have all this done before I get up.'

' It was done, sir,' pleads the offender. ' I was
'ere at eight, but I thought you might like a few
Marshal Niels, and I went back to fetch 'em.'

' Give him half-a-crown, Atkinson, and see that
it doesn't happen again.

' All sorts of excuses, my dear fellow; you know
what housekeeping is. I try to make the place
air-tight against worries, but they steal in.'

' The free pass of the microbe ! '

' Ah, yes. I Well, Atkinson ? '

' Menicure, sir.'

'Hang the manicure! Will you excuse me
just for five minutes ? Perhaps you might like
to have a look at the rooms. The idea is —
"comforts of home, and conveniences of hotel
life " ' — and he hands me over to his man.

' One half moment, Sir Chawles,' pleads
Atkinson, as the door-bell calls him away.

I wait for him in the balcony, and see the busy
river and the bridges, and all beyond, as through
a cutting in a hedge of Paradise. The toil and
moil are just in the right place to heighten, by
contrast, the sense of peace. Seen from this


No. 5 John Street

distance, the carman's fustian is but a softer grey-
in the picture. The roar of the traffic, reduced
to a murmur, is positively soothing. The 'bus-
man's blasphemy, the Cockney vowel, cannot
travel so far ; no fumes of manufacture reach
us from the picturesquely grimy Surrey side.
All is movement, without shock, an effect with no
coarsely dominating note. Jukes and Abrahams
have done their work well. The little post of
observation is odour, coolness, and shade, all
combined in one delicious impression of the
' God's in his heaven — all 's right with the world '
of Pangloss and the stall-fed.

'You see, sir, we've taken two sweets of apart-
ments, so as to give us more room,'

It is the voice of Atkinson. He claims his
rights as guide, and takes care that no other
utterance shall check its course.

' This is the breakfast-room where we stand —
dinin'-room if Mr. Seton wants to have a few
friends to himself. All the pictures of 'orses are
portraits, done to order from Sir Marmaduke's
stud by one of the first artists of the day. No
expense spared ; only do the work well.'

This is promising : the hero, from the point
of view of his valet, at last.

' Doors on that side — bedroom, dressin'-room,
bathroom. Doors on this side — 'all, sittin'-
room, servant's room. We're rather proud of
Mr. Seton's set. Our own fittin's — movable —
party wrote about it in the papers. Sheets,
piller-cases, all solid silk, wove special for us,


No. 5 John Street

and, like everything else that touches 'is skin,
sent to the wash right down to the south of
France. We don't have anything to speak of
washed in this country, Sir Chawles. Too care-
less. It seems a pity, too, after what we read in
the papers about the unemployed. But they 've
brought it all on themselves. You couldn't trust
a English person to get up this kind of thing,'
and he holds up a pyjama jacket of creamy silk.
'You might pass it through a weddin' ring. It
seems 'ard that a man can't get 'is shirt washed
in 'is own country, But that 's the English
wukkin' class.'

* What 's all that machinery by the side of the
oed ? Does Mr. Ridler play the organ .'* '

' Little comforts, sir. Mr. Seton likes to 'ave
things 'andy. This spring lowers the bed-rest,
so as he can sit up an' read. Here's his racin
calendar, and what not, and his Sportin Times,
all in this little revolvin' bookcase. Writin'-table
within reach. He can't study in the daytime.
Touch that spring, and out comes all his writin'
things. Touch the other, and there 's his whisky
and soda, and suchlike, if he happens to fancy a
drink in the nio^ht. That black knob would let
ofT a bell right in my yeer, if I 'd forgot the

' The bathroom took us a good deal of time.
This is all ours as it stands, and we 've got the
right to take it away when we leave. We 're
tryin' aloominum at present — 'ighly recommended.
Mr. Seton likes to have things right ; and we Ve


No. 5 John Street

got this about jes' so. You can have pretty nigh
every kind of bath you want here, by touchin'
the right sort of 'andle. These is showers.
Them 's dowches, and suchHke — 'ot, cold,
lu'warm, steam. The Httle jars is essences to
freshen up the skin. That yonder 's electricity.
The same current 'eats the irons for the

' The dressing-room was what you may call a
problem. There was no room for Mr. Seton's
things, do what you would. We brought in our
own rosewood presses, and lined the walls with
'em. Wouldn't do. That was what first made
us think of takin' the other set. Now, I fancy,
we are all right for the present. I keep this
room only for the things in wear, accordin' to
the season. The things in waitin' is in the

' The worst of it is, Mr. Seton don't give a
thought to storage. The goods comes in from
the tailors almost too fast to put 'em away. My
poor 'ead !

' Then, there 's the body linen. Sir Chawles.
It's fearful, now they 've brought in the coloured
shirt fronts, and all them fads in silk and fancy
wool — Burmese floss, Chinese Imperial dragon,
watered in the web. O dear ! O dear ! I hate
the touch of the sticky stuff myself Believe me,
sir, I Ve got to buy every shirt I wear.

'A fad every week at the 'osiers' shops,' he
adds reflectively, ' that 's about the size of it ; and
if you don't watch it, a new rig-out for every fad.


No. 5 John Street

' Sometimes I hardly know myself what Mr.
Seton's got. You might almost as well ask him.
I get so moidered with it all.

' These glass cases for the boots was my inven-
tion. They keep the dust off, and show the
patterns at a glance. He 's got a fancy for cloth
uppers in the same style as his tro'^sers. That
means a new pair of boots for every pair of the
other things. The worst of it is, the moment
the trousers go out of fashion, out goes the boots.
The boots are growin' on us. Sir Chawles ; and
if they keep at it long enough, we shall be turned
out of 'ouse and 'ome in that article alone.

* I wish, sir, you would say a word to Mr. Seton
if you get the chance. He 's the best-dressed
man in town, by a long way. I know it, and I 'm
proud of him. But I 'm hardly equal to the
strain of it at the rate at which he orders things.
One 'ead, to say nothin' of one pair of 'ands, can't
keep pace with him. Last Chris'mas he gave me
a boy to help in the brushin' and the rough part.
But what's that? It's the plannin' that makes
the work. Mr. Seton 's got such an eye for
colour ; and to match him throughout, right
down to his very gloves and scarf-pin, in two
or three suits a day, is a fearful strain on the

'Excuse me, master's bell. That means he's
got his nails done, and is waitin' for you in his
sittin'-room. We shall have his tradesmen 'ere
presently for orders, and then he '11 be ready to
drive round for his little commissions in town.


No. 5 John Street

Let me see ! I think it 's polo this afternoon.
I '11 go and pack the kit bags. My poor 'ead ! '

• * • • •

' I fancy I came to ask you something, Ridler,
but I can't be quite sure.'

' Never mind, here you are, all the same. Do
come and see the match.'

' Wants thinkin' about.'

* Look here,' he says, ' I 've just got to see a
few tradesmen's touts, and to go my mornin'
round. Then we '11 have lunch somewhere, and
I '11 drive you down.'

* I hate to look so far ahead. Mine is the
wisdom of short views. Make the lunch the
certainty, and leave the rest to take care of

The hall bell sounds again and again — softly,
yet with the insistence that will not be denied.
It is the levSe a la fnode — old as civilisation — the
ante-chamber filling with the panders of luxury
who have come to lend a hand in the search for
wants. The typical figures change — that is all.
The led captain, and the poet with the ode are
missing ; but their place is supplied by the
showmen in wine, jewels, and cigars.

The last comer is from the fancy stationer's,
and his business is to call attention to a new set
of furniture for the writing-table — just about to
be ' introduced ' by the firm. A case of gris de
Russie leather contains notepaper in vert de
Vienne, stamped with monogram or armorial
bearings in your own colours. The penny postage


No. 5 John Street

stamps are in a three-guinea box of lapis lazuli.
The whole thing is described as a chaste present
for a lady. All that remains is to find the lady
to match. But there, for the moment, poor Seton
sticks ; and he can only promise to bear it in

' Don't let in any more of these fellows to-day,
Atkinson. We must be off.'

' Beg pardon, sir, there 's a man waitin' from
the dressin'-case maker's with a present — order
of Lady Ridler, sir, I believe.'

' Why, of course, my birthday to-morrow !
Forgot all about it.'

The man comes in, bearing a huge parcel in
brown paper, which he proceeds to unfold. It
takes some time. Beneath the brown paper is an
inner skin of tissue paper. Beneath that, and
as the heart of the mystery, lies a wonder of a
dressing bag in crocodile, which might assuredly
have served Solomon for the return visit to
Sheba. At the touch of a deft finger, the bag
flies open, to disclose a stupendous range of
glittering superfluities of travel in solid ivory,
solid silver, and solid tomfoolery of every sort.
As it opens, a note drops out addressed to Seton,
and evidently in his mother's hand.

' Dear old mater ! ' murmurs the lad with
feeling ; and as he reads, I gaze.

The bag is of the new pattern — that is to say,
the limited quantity of apparel it can accommo-
date lies in laager, four-square, of every kind of
travelling tool. One side of the square is all


No. 5 John Street

bottles, built in massive silver, from stopper to
base. Another is in ivory-backed brushes, almost
heavy enough to resist artillery fire. The re-
maining sides are packed two and three deep
with writing pads, tweezer cases, shaving sets,
and other miscellaneous gear. The mouth is
lined with ever so much more. There are signs
or suggestions of everything that the most exact-
ing person might, or might not, want on a journey
to the moon, except, perhaps, a four-post bed.
The theory of the designer is, I suppose, that
you are suddenly thrown, with this bag, on
another island of Juan Fernandez, and without
the resources of the wreck. You are far away
from hotels and matutinal hot water. What of
that ? Here is a lamp — solid silver as before — for
heating water for yourself. Presently, you will
want to build a hut or boat. Here are the im-
plements, solid as ever, in this huge clasp-knife,
which supplies even a saw for the timber, and,
in its other uses, is at once a table service of
cutlery, and a stand of arms. When the big blade
has helped you to carve your dinner, it removes
the head of the savage chief. The heavy boot-
hook may serve a second purpose, as a shepherd's

The shopman takes up the wondrous tale of
contrivance, as Seton finishes the reading of his
letter. He lays out the articles, one by one, until
they cover the floor. He lectures on their use-
less uses as travelling clocks, match-boxes, purses,
pocket-books, cigar-cases, and on their exceptional
M 177

No. 5 John Street

chastity of design, in its proportions of the pound,
in costs of casing, to the penny in cost of

* About the best thing in the market, eh ? '
says Seton, with evident delight in the rich and

* The very best, sir.*

* And the dearest ? '

* You couldn't have it dearer, sir, unless '

* Unless what ? '

* You had all the metal fittings in gold.'
' Phew ! What would that come to ? '

' Fifteen carat, sir, or eighteen ? '

' Eighteen, of course.'

*We will send you an estimate, sir?'

* What does it stand at now ? '

* A hundred and fifty guineas, sir, was what
your lady-mother paid.'

The things are still lying on the floor ; and
the three of us look not unlike a gang of burglars,
contemplating the night's spoil, when Atkinson
announces —

' Mr. Popenough.'

The rendering is, of course, entirely his, but it
is close enough to show his meaning. Seton
mutters a malediction on ' that beastly Russian
lesson,' as an old acquaintance of mine stalks
into the room.

It is no other than Mr. Azrael, the Angel of
Death, lecturer on dynamite, and general mystery
man of my John Street backyard. This clears up
one of his mysteries — his way of getting a living.


No. 5 John Street

He is evidently a teacher of languages ; and
childlike Seton, knowing him only in that
capacity, entertains an angel of a quite peculiar
pattern unawares. Luckily, the recognition is
confined entirely to one side. The new-comer
has not the faintest sense of my identity, and
he meets my gaze with no inquiry in his coldly
penetrating glance.

Yes, here is Mr. Azrael beyond doubt — the
tall figure, clad in threadbare black, the air of
distinction, the small piercing eyes. I have to
realise him to myself more fully this time. The
stamp of his personality is a combination of
pedant and thinker — of fanatic too, but that is
really his mode of the pedantry. A dead, pitiless
obstinacy is written all over the face, with its
high cheekbones, its rigid lines, the contraction
of its regard, which is as though some original
breadth of human sympathy had been beaten into
one thin straight line of purpose. He looks at
once intellectual and narrow. It is no uncommon
type. It runs all through history, and varies
only in its incarnations. Sometimes it is a
Spanish Inquisitor, sometimes a Genevese Cal-
vinist, and sometimes the man who tried to exalt
Westminster Hall to the skies.

A cold fanatical fixity seems to be his dominant
note. I describe him first by his expression, by
his spiritual significance, rather than by the actual
ways and means of form and feature. It is the
natural order ; we always apprehend faces in that
way. They are, at first, meanings to us, whether


No. 5 John Street

right ones or wrong, and only after that com-
binations of shape and colour. I may have
formed my opinion of him, because he has a high,
narrow brow, but I was aware of the estimate
before I was aware of the brow. His baldness
and his still vigorous middle age come some-
where into the reckoning, but I cannot fix their
place in it. A scar on his hand — as though from
a sword-cut — which has turned his little finger
into the likeness of a little toe, has doubtless its
part in the effect. Of one thing I am sure, he is
of the great Puritan species, which in its in-
numerable varieties has had so large a share in
the making and marring of the world.

Seton's blunt, not to say brutal, English way
with him offers a contrast which, beginning at
men, runs on to manners, civilisations, social
states, and, in fact, never stops.

* Oh, Mr. — Mr. Poff , so very sorry, but I

can't have the lesson to-day. Game of polo — you
understand, though I believe you haven't got it
in your country. — Atkinson, give him his money,
and fix it for next week.'

And the golden youth turns his back on his
instructor, without any intent of discourtesy, but
simply to look once more at his mother's gift.

Mr. Azrael is looking at the gift too, and from
it to the owner, and, indeed, to all of us, with
a significance which is perfectly apparent to me
beneath his mask of calm. Seton's manner of
dismissal has clearly stung him like a cut from a
thong. But, manner or no manner, he no less

1 80

No. 5 John Street

clearly includes our whole company in one vast,
all-embracing, and all-sufficing sentiment of class
hatred and contempt.

* Yaas, I come next week,' is all he says, as he,
too, turns his back on the scene, as though by
word of command, and marches out of the room.
' I 'm afraid you 've hurt his feelings, Ridler.'
' Oh, not at all. You don't know him. He is
always like that. Rum beggar ! Never speaks
a blessed word beside what 's in the lesson. Like
a machine. Comes and goes by his watch —
never a second early or a second late. I like his
style. His business is to sell you an hour's
Russian, or an hour's French, for three half-
crowns. Well, there 's the article ; have it or
leave it, without any waste of words. You can
get on with a chap like him. Bless you, he
doesn't mind being sent away. How can he
He gets the coin. I often have to pack him off
like that. Can't find time for it. It's the most
blessed nonsense, the whole thing — a fad of
my good mother's — diplomatic service and all
that rot. I don't mind fooling about with him
to please her, but I won't go to a coaching mill.
They say he is a first-rater — college professor in
his own country — but had to bolt, because they
wanted to send him to Siberia. That 's where
they send most of 'em, I believe. Bolted from
the infernal lingo, I should say. You never heard
anything like it ; and as for the writin' '



Atkinson now comes in to put the finishing
touches to his master for the morning prome-
nade. He brings half-a-dozen cravats, and
a whole trayful of scarf-pins of price. Seton
is to choose. He does it swiftly, yet with care,
puts a forefinger on a scarf of quiet grey ; then,
again, laying it on a perfect pearl, not too large,
retires to his dressing-room, followed by his man.
When he reappears, it is as the finished product
of civilisation. He is booted, hatted, gloved,
and generally carried out in all details of a perfect
scheme. The pearl is not only rightly chosen, it
is rightly placed. It could not have been any-
where but just where it is ; and no other would

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 10 of 21)