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' Well, you know, we 've taken the shootings
at Kirkodale — thirty thousand acres, half of it
forest, and quiet as the grave. That 's something
in these days, when every nice place gets infested
with two-legged rabbits before you know where
you are. No overcrowding, that 's what I say.
We 've got the fishin' in the loch too. You must
come down. But when can / get down ? — that 's

I 12Q



No. 5 John Street

the question. Lord, Lord ! give me five pairs of
hands to hold it all. The world 's too happy,
Charley — that's what 's wrong.'

' Oh, parts of it are all right in the other way.
Heaven 's not so hard as you think.'

* Look at this blessed week we 're in. Young
Bellasy 's coming of age on Wednesday. Doin's
at his place. With him at Eton, and must go
down. Of course, he couldn't come of age any
other day. Wednesday 's the day before Thurs-
day ; and what are you going to do about the
meet of the Four-in-Hand.'* I tell you, it's just
like working in mosaic — so many little bits to fit
in. I don't think our set ever get a chance in
life.'

' Always slaving.'

' That 's it. Sometimes, when I feel I can't
lay hold of it all, I wish I was a "bloke" with
four Bank holidays a year, and there an end.'

' And yet we are called the idle rich.'

' " Idle rich ! " Where would the poor be if
we struck for a quiet life .-* I work ten hours
a day inventing wants for myself, and work for
them, and very often eight hours' overtime.'

* Just to keep 'em out of the workhouses.'

' Well, not quite that, you know, between our-
selves. But I can't stand "idle rich.'"
*Ta-ta! Sin . . .'



130



xin

This is all very well, but that Report to the
Governor of the Island ! That Report ! As yet
not a line done.

The sense of this neglected duty comes to me
one morning as I lie abed. I am in a sort of
waking dream of wonder as to what the deuce
was the matter with John Street — John Street,
now all fading away like a vision of the life
of sleep.

* Ring three times, please, and sing out " Chaw-
ley " at the foot of the stairs.' Lord, how it all
comes back !

I still wake every morning as one might wake
on the other side of the grave — on the right side
naturally. This old room, which I used to take
so much as a matter of course, is now Paradise.
After John Street, and especially after that last
scene, what a change ! Every bit of household
gear seems part of the plenishing of an altar.
The curtained and carpeted peace of the place is
no longer a mere negative charm. I enjoy it
after, the riot of sordid babble of my late back-
yard. I am grateful for Stubbs, and for the soft-
ness of his footfall on the Turkey rug — grateful,
because, for the first time, I am aware. Less

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No. 5 John Street

than two months ago I held such blessings cheaper
than sunshine. All these multitudinous nothings
of luxury and ease, bought in one idle moment,
and forgotten in the next, are now redeemed
to consciousness. The Bond Street tradesman
recovers his rights of appreciation as benefactor
of mankind. As I lie and blink at his boot-trees,
I am distinctly observant of the fineness and
polish of the wood, and of the precision of its
shaping lines. The true need is, not to put
Christopher Sly into the Duke's chamber, but the
Duke into Christopher Sly's.

John Street overdid it a little, I fancy, in trying
to do without. That 's what s the matter with
John Street.

But the point is my duty to my employer.
He is entitled to an interim report.

I ring for Stubbs, and make a sign for writing
tackle. A table with all needful accessories is
wheeled into its place in an instant, and adjusted
to my recumbent posture.

That Report : —

' May it please your Excellency, —

' I have now spent some time in the endeavour to
execute the first part of your esteemed commission.
(Query 'esteemed'; rather too much in the line of a
tradesman's circular? Never mind; he won't know
the difference. Let it stand.)

' I have, accordingly, made it my business to see
something of the life of the masses, in circumstances
with which it is needless to trouble your Honourable
Council in detail. Suffice it to say, sir, that they are
a poor lot in spirit as in worldly goods. If I might

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No. 5 John Street



venture to put it in that way, their condition illustrates
the crime of contentment, the extreme folly of getting
yourself born into states of acquiescence, or schooled
into them by catechisms, the danger of saying " That '11
do" of any of the lower haps of life. Undivine con-
tent has fashioned them. They voluntarily, or, at any
rate, with resignation, live as nobody ought to live.
A few of us excepted over here, whose boots are in
trees, and whose minds are in healthy formulas ; and,
by Heaven, the whole balance of the race are in a
figurative three-pair back. {Note. — The houses here
are built in tiers, and, naturally, you get farther from
all that earth has to give as you get nearer to the sky.)
They are all doing without ; and the evil habit, begin-
ning with their bodies, goes on to their souls ; or put
it the other way on, if you like.

' Bayswater, one of our most elegant suburbs (marked
in red on the accompanying map), is doing without, as
well as John Street (outlined in black as a typical
mean street).

' With the latter, it is this vice of renunciation run-
ning into social disease. If John Street loses a button,
it fastens its breeches with a skewer. I have caught it
washing in gallipots, drinking from the teapot spout.

' The way in which it does without in the apparatus
of clean thought and clean feeling would positively
shock your Excellency and the Council, if related in
detail.

'The plea is that John Street is used to it. But
suppose it got used to munching dirt instead of good
meal bread ! The other day I paid a penny at a
Saturday night's fair to see a pair of savages — said,
though I believe without warrant, to be neighbours of
your Excellency in the South Seas — who ate earth to
save themselves the trouble of raising a crop. I need
hardly observe, sir, that it is no achievement in human



No. 5 John Street

progress to have learned to substitute this mess of
geological top-dressing for good roast and boiled.'

This will never do.

In the first place, from what I know of my late
friend's account of the Islanders, they simply
wouldn't stand it, especially at the start. They
have their own views of the mother land ; and
with them it stands for the one entire and perfect
chrysolite of great and good.

It is all very well to offer people what you call
the truth. How are you to get them to nibble,
if you don't make it look appetising ? Besides,
what is truth ? The question is as fresh as ever
to-day. The more amiable view is that such
little imperfections as I have seen are all in
course of immediate correction.

Here goes again, then !

' May it please your Excellency.'

(As before to end of first paragraph.)

'The town rings, as it were, with preparations for
the Jubilee, and the whole country is getting ready to
keep this great Imperial festival in a manner worthy
of itself, and of the object of the celebration. All
classes have, consequently, been brought together in a
manner hitherto unknown. My researches attest the
existence of a limited number of the humbler sort
whose circumstances are not all that could be desired.
They seem to require aerating— if I may put it so —
both with hope and ozone. This, however, I ascribe,
in great part, to the way in which they are crowding
into the metropolis on this auspicious occasion, and
it is merely a passing inconvenience. We must imagine,



No. 5 John Street

sir, your own beautiful island suddenly overrun with
persons in search of measureless content, from all the
ends of the earth. There is just a little pressure on
the cubic space, and on other resources here and there.

' This, however, only brings out the wonders of our
mechanism of social ministration into greater relief.
The Law, the Churches, the more fortunate classes, are
all busy in their several ways ; and when by chance
they miss a case of absolute starvation, the Press in-
variably makes it the subject of a paragraph exhorting
them to greater vigilance. And in all such cases, there
is reason to believe, the unhappy sufferers are only
those who have steadily refused to work.

* The energy with which the national industries are
pursued is really remarkable. In contrast with the
more leisurely way of providing for simple wants which
prevails in your own community, it might strike your
Excellency as feverish. With you, I believe, labour is
joy, in all its conditions and all its surroundings, an
invigorating, ennobling exercise of the higher faculties
to which its votaries go as to a daily feast of the bless-
ing of life. There is, perhaps, something yet to be
desired in our community under that head — notably,
I think, in the fur trade.

' In my next, I may possibly extend the scope of
this observation to other employments. Meanwhile,
I beg to forward to your Excellency, for presentation
to the Council, a few extracts from the public prints,
which you will be pleased to regard as part of the
Appendix to the forthcoming and fuller text of the
Report.

' I have the honour to be, etc'

Mem. — Pad with cuttings, and a few illustrated
papers ; and type and post at once.



135



XIV

Dinner at Lord Brentmoor's to-night. It is
rather a cut above me ; our paths have
diverged since we left Eton. But travel is a
great leveller ; they all want to hear about the
Caspian Sea.

O this house ! Its vast architectural spaces
are as good as a picture by the Veronese. Man
is the greater for his very littleness in the relation.
It humours his whim that he deserves a world to
himself. Nothing is more ridiculous — nothing
more sublime than to see a single figure mounting
the staircase of the great hall. The footmen, I
observe, escape the sense of nothingness by
doing everything in groups.

Brentmoor is naturally a little blunt. No
man's manners can match such a place — even to
scale. You will have to give it up, one time or
other. Those who are born to it wisely give it
up at the start. As a boy, I remember, my host
was as ruesfed as a clean-mouthed cabman. To
this equilibrium of simplicity you attain in the
highest reaches, by mere pressure of opposing
forces. It is but a habit of prudence, and it
involves no moral effort of any sort. You keep
still amid the wonders of your lot. Whichever

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No. 5 John Street

way these people turn they have the pick of a
dozen civilisations in art and braveries. The
mincing superfine ways are for those who may
still hope to make a fight for personal dignity
against surroundings that give them a chance.
We of the happy mean positively reek of such
affectations. Brentmoor is as broad and massive
in his effects as the Poussins on his walls. His
wife is just as fine a fragment of a classic age.
It is impossible to exceed her high-bred rusticity
of style. She lets him call her ' Polly ' when no
one else is at hand. By Heaven, I am tempted
to call her so myself — and die ! She is as great
a lady as the Townley Venus ; her cards might
bear the legend, ' No frills.'

We assemble in the long drawing-room. Well,
well, I thought I was fairly proof against up-
holstery — but upon my word !

The point is, that they have been steadily
labouring at this for a dozen generations, until
they have worn off the cutting edges from every
impression of life. The pictures are as restful to
the eye as the couches to the frame. The light —
soft yet brilliant, brilliant yet soft — matches the
pictures. The subdued manner of the owners,
shaded in passionless repose, matches the light.
The very bisque at the dinner-table — butter,
with no bones in it — will, I have no doubt,
match the manner.

Everything has been, as it were, unconsciously
laboured for the blend of contrasting effects. I
like the alternation of Greuzes and Watteaus

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No. 5 John Street

with hunting and battle-pieces, in which the very
victims seem to enjoy the sport. The canvas is
generally let into the wall instead of laid on it ;
and it suggests stars peeping from the depths of
a sky. Impossible to harbour a harsh or a dis-
tracting thought here. The harmonies forbid.
The very carpets, with their thick pile, tend to
promote the same mood of a naturalistic quietism
that can dispense with faith. The great tapes-
tried panels of the central scheme of decora-
tion —

' . . . The story,
Proud Cleopatra when she met her Roman ' —

Stand as a screen between you and the sound-
waves of a troubled world. And to think that
these few hundred cubic feet of space thus filled,
and thus transformed, were once but the raw fog
of a London marsh! Immeasurably beyond us
lies all that is sordid, base, and hateful in life.
Surely there are solar spaces between this and
John Street.

I look round to guess my fate for the dining-
room, but a becoming humility makes it no easy
matter to find a match. To raise one's eyes on
some of these fellow-creatures is but to drop
them again, with a sense of the impossibility of
attainment — perhaps not without a sense of relief.
The Dowager is, of course, for the Colonial
Governor, or for the Prelate. I cannot mate in
fancy, so I await the decree.

We are all soft-mannered; I think I have said
that But did I say bad-mannered too? It is a

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No. 5 John Street

strange combination ; and one must have been
where I have been, to understand it. There the
manners are hard and good, as distinct from the
soft and bad that prevail here. In John Street
we were coarse to each other in the expression ;
but when we were not quarrelling, the turn of
phrase showed the utmost desire to oblige. Our
Yea was * Yes, mum,' if our Nay was 'Go to
blazes.' I remember the fine-company style of
Tilda's tea-party, 'After you 's manners,' when-
ever we passed the plate. There is nothing of that
here. We are as innocent of the minor forms —
to sustain the comparison, I must not say, as
disdainful — as ruminant animals. A field of
cattle could not be more mildly self-centred in
its view of life. Needless to say, we never butt
each other, as they sometimes do in the pastures
and in the town pens.

Dinner. My fate is a quiet little matron of a
sweet sedateness of expression, who, obviously,
has something on her mind. Of course, she
is the only woman in the room who has not
entered into my calculations. These unions of
an hour are lotteries, like those of longer term.
She sat near the door, overshadowed by a
colossal Bouddha in bronze, emblem of the
peace ineffable, which is the note of the whole
scene.

For these ceremonial occasions, Brentmoor has
music. And why not ? It is part of his state.
A neighbour at table who dines at Court assures
me that the whole thing beats Buckingham

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No. 5 John Street

Palace, and even Windsor, The plate is as old
and as abundant as it is at the command dinners ;
the great dining-room is Hyperion to the satyr
of their best in that line. It is well done cer-
tainly, and it draws sighs of admiration from the
seasoned veterans at the board. Here, again, we
have that marvellous union of the opposites of
power and repose which marks our whole manner
of life. The chastened glow of the walls, of the
sideboard, the table, the damask, the service of
Venetian glass, the flowers, the nestling lights, is
perfect in the harmony of its contrasts. Invention
in all the arts may vary the effect ; it can never
surpass. The Olympian homecoming after the
visit to Okeanos must have been like this. So
(if so well) was the table spread.
And the recorders : —

'The wailful sweetness of the violin

Floats down the hushed waters of the wind ;
The passionate strings of the throbb'd harp begin
To long in aching music spirit pined.'

Exquisitely chosen these strains from the min-
strels' gallery. Brentmoor waives the compliment
in so far as it is personal, ' My steward is a bit of
an amateur.'

Here, again, it is strength and softness, deep-
searching chords, but the most finished lightness
of play on the surface of the sensorial nerve. The
notes are of the very essence of sound, like highly
clarified oils wherein only the pure spirit remains.
It is untainted spirit everywhere — sound without

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No. 5 John Street

uproar, food without grossness, light without
glare.

There is but this out of unison. For the life of
me, I cannot forbear from estimating the items
of the menu at their probable cost, and secretly-
fingering my cash to see if I have the where-
withal. It is a touch of nightmare — no more. I
am again at the fourpenny ordinary, balancing
coppers against cravings, and cuts of baked
sheep's heart against slices of plum duff. The
temptation to throw bread about becomes almost
irresistible. I compound for it by rolling an
invisible pellet between finger and thumb, and
flicking it at an Archbishop-designate near the
head of the board. It misses him, and all 's well.
Resuming my calculations, I find that, by the
end of the second remove, I have but eighteen-
pence left out of a guinea — allowing for wines
and the table charges.

A glance at my fair partner for the feast recalls
me to my better self. She is pensive, as with
the sense of sorrow. A word with her convinces
me that, if I had hit my Archbishop, I might
still have fallen short of the unpardonable sin.
I learn that he has supplanted her own favourite
prelate in two things — the invitation to this
dinner, and the vacant See. Her favourite,
she thinks, must be the man for all England,
since he is the darling of women in society.
He ministers to this class of sufferers in a
special service held once a week in his own
palace.

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No. 5 John Street

* Now, that is what I call a great Bishop — a
Bishop who sees and knows. He does not offer
all mankind the same meat out of the same spoon.
He gives us exactly what we want, nothing heavy
— ^just a collect, a hymn, and a few words of
counsel ; but the right collect, the right hymn,
and the right words,'

' And at the right time too — just before dress-
ing for dinner.'

' Exactly ! Such tact, such a sense of actual
needs ! I assure you, for the want of Bishops
like that, many of us are obliged to be Bishops
to one another.'

' An amateur Episcopate ? '

'You must not laugh. It is very serious.
Society has been shamefully neglected by the
churches. It will be a bad day for them if
they let us lapse. Where will be the sub-
scriptions and the example in the parishes ?
If we went further, it is they who would fare
worse.'

' It might run into devil-worship.'

' Oh! shocking, shocking! I don't mean any-
thing of that sort. No, but many of us feel the
need of special ministrations for special cases.
Why are we to be told not to covet our neigh-
bours' goods ? We have enough of our own.
It 's just like choosing a doctor : he must know
your complaint. I sometimes think we want a
new religion, but it seems unkind to say so. The
clergy are so willing, so helpful, so well disposed.
I am a seeker, all the same. For the life of me, I

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No. 5 John Street

can't help that. Call it mere woman's curiosity, if
you like. There seems to be a lack of a some-
thing — a kind of — well, I can't quite explain.'

' I think I know what you mean — a sort
of '

* Exactly. A few of us meet now and then to
try to give it a name. We call ourselves the
Seekers, for the present.'

' And you go forth with your lanterns into the
wide world.'

' Oh no ! We meet in Lady Ridler's drawing-
room.'

What a chance ! These drawing room religions
are a favourite diversion of society just now ;
and here, possibly, may be an opportunity of
seeing one of the conventicles of the newest
fashion. In comfort, I understand, they are be-
yond all comparison superior to the old meetings
on the hillside. I am exceedingly attentive to my
little partner after this — all deference, all submis-
sion, and studied respect In due course, I have
my reward in her promise to procure me an in-
vitation to a meeting of the Seekers, on Wednes-
day next. The sole stipulation is that ' I must
not mind Lady Ridler ; she 's very well-meaning,
and they do a great deal of good with their
money.'

Encouraged by this success, I am able to
address myself with becoming spirit to the enter-
tainment of the neighbour on the other side, a
sprightly American bride. She has come here to
learn to be a Marchioness, and Polly has her in

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No. 5 John Street

hand. The apprenticeship system may have died
out, but there are other ways of picking up a
craft. She has already joined the Primrose
League, and she talks with a nice contempt of
popular institutions. She has just spent three
weeks at Brentmoor : the town house is to be
the finishing school. She wants but little more.
I heard her speaking of ' our ancestors ' just now.
In a fortnight more, she will be ready to manage
her half of an English county as though she had
been at it all her days.

There is more work in it, I fancy, than she
bargained for.

' He 's a tired man,' she says of our host ;
'that 's what 's the matter with him.'

'Yes, he owns three towns, and I don't know
how many square miles of country. No sparrow
may fall in any of them without his knowing it.
A dog's life.'

' Why can't he make them own themselves ?
What right have they to spoil a man's rest ? '

' Territorial magnate — duties — responsibilities.'

' Territorial Clerk of the Works, I should say,'
lauofhs she. ' I 've seen it all. That place at
Brentmoor is just a little government — board
meetings, petitions, charities, audits, basketful of
begging letters every morning. My ! '

' It 's the penalty of having to set an example.'

' Oh, that 's just lovely, that part of it. Lady
Brentmoor has been showing me how to do it.
I don't mind church twice on Sunday, but I do
think it hard to be setting an example all the

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No. 5 John Street

week. Guess you rather spoil folks if you make
yourself too cheap. I 've struck at the sewing
classes. I 'm going to do it in a new way :
drive round Tuesdays and Fridays in my new
buggy, and let 'em take the example out of
that.'

' Don't you think you'd be happier in France?'
' The French women are such prudes.'
' I thought they had such a good time.'

* Gracious ! When were you over there ?
Their young women are just as proper as your
old ones. You two countries ought to swap
grandmothers, and then you'd match.'

The ' Designate,' I suppose, has heard of her
from the Duke, for when we are left alone she
is his theme.

' Another American settler — why not ? We
have a great deal to learn from America, especi-
ally in the management of the masses.'

' Very dangerous example, I fancy,' cries a
voice from the other end.

' Not now,' says the Designate, in a tone of
mild correction. ' That was the America of the
past. With the growth of wealth, and the differ-
entiation of classes on both sides of the Atlantic,
the two civilisations have come to comprehend
one another. They mean the same thing, I feel
sure. Let us try to believe the best of every-
body. A man may make a fortune there, and
keep it as securely as he does here.'

' Till they shoot him in a strike.'

• I think I have heard,' returns the good man

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No. 5 John Street

softly, * that the shooting is not always on one
side. I speak with submission ; but, I under-
stand, property usually wins. I dislike the vulgar
prejudice against America. Believe me, our dis-
contented classes find no encouragement there.
America is drawn closer to us every day by the
bond of common social difficulties, and social
aspirations. There are more human beings to
the acre in the New York slums than in the worst
parts of Bethnal Green. It is a tie of brother-
hood in its way.'

His look, his gestures are apostolic. I think
we all feel better men.

We break up at the usual time, the time at
which a well-conducted person ought to go
straight to bed. But I have contracted fatal
habits in John Street, and one of them is that I
want a nip in a pothouse before retiring to rest.
I turn into my club.

It is an improvement certainly on the institu-
tion in which I used to take my glass in company
with Covey, or with the 'man as kep' the live
stock.' Pure tesselated floors — one might eat off
them. Great lounge chairs, upholstered in roan
— how could I ever have been indifferent to such
things I Soft-spoken waiters, with a manner


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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 8 of 21)