Richard Whiteing.

No. 5 John street online

. (page 9 of 21)
Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 9 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that might qualify for the government of states :
twenty years of a service that is perfect dis-
cretion, and never a hasty word with their
betters! It is superhuman. They must redress
the balance of over - strained self-control by
beating their wives. Drinks, suaviter in niodOy


No. 5 John Street

as they slip down, fortiter in re when they
get to their journey's end ! O the Hfe of a
swell !

The smoking-room is in full buzz. Two groups
offer to make room for me, and I am beckoned
from a distant corner. This is popularity ; this
comes of travel to the Caspian Sea. Parties and
prospects is the subject. The House is still sit-
ting, but there is nothing of importance doing
to-night ; and besides, wanderers are within call.
So here we are, at the centre of the move-
ment, where the talk is of the things that never
get into the papers. It is the gossip of the
gods, and with the same average of edification.
But we are all respecters of the professional
secret of class. Never, never is it to pass
these walls, save for other walls as sure, and,
above all, never, never is it to get to John

This is the great business — to keep the com-
position right for John Street. The figures are
carved for the view from the base — like those of
the Parthenon. How majestic the whole gang
of them — Cabinet, Government, Legislature — as
seen from John Street. What dignity, what
wisdom, what zeal for the public cause! And
still to hear their stones about one another, or
little Sinclair's stories about them. Oh, if
Old '48 could play eavesdroper here for just half
an hour, 'twould fare ill with the tailor in their
next bout !

Sinclair is trying to form a new party, but only


No. 5 John Street

a party to run over to the Grand Prix. It has
already developed a dissentient. ' What about
Ascot ?' cries a protesting voice.

* As if we hadn't thought of that ! Sunday
afternoon, Longchamps ; evening, Paris — dine
in peace and be happy ever after till 1 1.30.
Midnight, train for Calais, boat for Dover,
both special, and both fast. Two trains wait-
ing for you at Dover — take your choice,
Victoria or Charing Cross, at 7.30 Monday
morning. Monday in town, and see about the
coach for Ascot — drivin' down myself for the
Nimrod. Tool you down in style. Tuesday,
put you in the front line gents, and do you well.
We 've joined forces with the Centaur this year ;
and our luncheon tent 's goin' to beat creation.
Chef from Bignon s ; service all solid silver —
old Murgatroyd's. The Prince has promised to
look in. How's that, Umpire, for the resources
of civilisation ?*

' Why can't you stay where you are ? '

' Got nothing to fill up Sunday.*

' Dash it all, you 're as bad as that chap from
New York who came over "just to buy a tooth-

' What are you laughin' at, Wrayling ? '

' Because I 've got a better fixture than any of

' What 's that ? '

' Our Annual Puppy Show at Biston. It 's a
little late this year ; but it 's worth waitin' for.
We're joint master of the pack, you know, and


No. 5 John Street

old Tom Sheldrake, who used to be with the
Stapleton harriers, is one of the judges. Come,
any of you that know how to behave yourselves,
and I '11 show you somethin' better than all that
parley- voo. The kennel lingo 's good enough
for me.'

* I 'm good for the Grand Prix, Sinclair, if
you 're sure we can get back in time. It'll be a
lesson in the beastly language, at any rate.'

' You 're a good young man, Ridler, and will
do well in life.'

Ridler, as yet but a great unknown to me, is
the neatest young fellow I think I ever saw, and
that is saying a good deal in this smoking-room.
He is the perfection of finish, in the exclusion of
the non-essential. His tailor and the others have
made a perfect work of him from head to heel,
and he knows how to put his things on. If
Nature had looked after our garments as well
as after our skins, so would man have been
clad. His manner is perfect as well as his
grooming. He has the good looks of youth
and health.

'Who's your friend, Sinclair? There was no
sign of him here when I went away.'

' That 's just it ; we had to let him in, you
know, as they let in the father at the other place.
It's the weight of metal that does it.'

* And who is he ? *
' Young Ridler.'

' Yes, I know. But who, what, and when ?
•Son of Sir Marmaduke Ridler, Bart., M.P.


No. 5 John Street

— Sir Marmaduke — Lieutenancy of the City ;
High-Sheriff of his county; churchwarden of
his parish ; patron of a dozen Hvings ; and any
other blessed thing you Hke, or, at any rate,
anything he wants.'

' You don't say so ; why, I 'm going to a meet-
ing at his mother's house.'

' Of course you are. Everybody has to go
to his mother's house, or to his father's racing
stables, or to his father's son's polo parties. You
know what they were ? '

' Not a bit of it.'

* The boy 's all right — Oxford, and even Eton.
They 're going to try to put him through for the
diplomatic service. Grandfather sold things over
the counter. The father 's some tremendous pot
in the financial way, and got his baronetcy for
a Royal visit. He '11 get his peerage in time.
Ever met him ?'


' Fearful old bounder, but there 's no keeping
him back. He '11 get through anything by the
sheer crash of his broadside. Gives the lad
^7000 a year pocket-money, with the under-
standing that if more's wanted, there's more
behind. * In things essential, don't stint,' is his
simple rule ; and the one thing needful here is
pace. The Ridlers have to cover a long dis-
tance in a short time. They 're all working at it,
you know. That's their strong point — the old
man with his patron-of-the-turf business, and all
that sort of thing — he 's making frantic efforts to


No. 5 John Street

win a Derby, and I 've seen him with my own
eyes in the Royal drag ; — the old woman with her
religious meetings ; the young 'un with his real
style in going about town. He's the best of the
lot. He does it for the fun of the thing, and does
it like one of us.'



Wednesday, and the new drawing-room religion
at three sharp.

I am informed by a person who follows these
movements with attention that most modern
faiths are started in this way. You think out
your gospel by yourself, and then put it under
the patronage of a lady of quality. It saves the
great loss of time involved in wandering among
the rocks and caves of the early dispensation.
The person of quality lends her rooms — with the
windows open, or the fire lit, according to the
season ; double knocks at the door announce the
disciples ; the prophet is in the big arm-chair ;
there is tea at five.

I have made inquiries about my amiable hostess,
and I find that she keeps a sort of open house for
believers of beliefs. All are welcome, if only they
have something to say for themselves, and do not
damage the furniture of the drawing-room, or the
foundations of society. I have known ladies who
extend precisely the same hospitality to the ad-
vertised medicines of the day. They can never
deny the compounder the right to put just one
bottle into the system, as evidence for flavour, if
for nothing else.


No. 5 John Street

To-day we are led by a Brahmin, imported at
some cost from the banks of the Ganges. I appre-
hend him, as I enter, merely as an impression of
spareness and youth in whitey brown. I advance
on tiptoe, on an intimation from the footman to
make as little noise as possible. There is a
twinkle in that footman's eye ; and I feel that,
with the slightest intimation on my part of a
readiness to waive the difference in station, there
would be a wink. The adepts, I observe, sidle
in like well-trained mutes, and I can but follow
their example. Some twenty persons sit round
the room, with their eyes fixed as though in

It is, as I afterwards learn, the hour of medita-
tion, in a new experimental service of worship by
the will. You fix the thoughts — at first, on any
little thing, for practice ; then, on a greater. The
class is at present engaged on a tulip in a Vene-
tian vase. By this means the Brahmin leads us
gently to the outermost courts of Nirvana. In
spite of the outward symbol, we look within, and
there we may hope to find Om. Silence is a first
condition. You enter without salutation, and the
only sound heard from first to last is the rat-tat of
the knocker — to be deadened in future, I believe,
by the application of a kid glove. On the pre-
sent occasion, our time allowance is but a quarter
of an hour. We are as fretful as babes whose
regimen of quiet must still be adapted to their
appetite for noise. An Indian colonel, who has
manifestly been brought here by his young and


No. 5 John Street

pretty wife, looks uneasily in his hat, as at church
until the magnetism of a stern glance from his
custodian compels him to fix the flower with his
wandering eye. He is well groomed ; the three
other men with difficulty check a tendency to long
hair. The women, who form the majority, seem
to glide gracefully into trance the moment they
take their seats. When time is up, the Baboo
speaks to us in English undefiled. His theme is
the Right Knowledge of the Royal Mystery. We
like it the better, I fancy, for being a mystery, and,
better yet, for being Royal. We hear of Krishna
and Arjuna, and the blessed Mahabharata.

Then they bring in tea ; ' attention ' gives way
to ' stand-at-ease ' ; and the meeting dissolves
into worldly buzz.

I am presented to my hostess, Lady Ridler.
Her acquired manner seems to need time to
mature into the incivility of instinct. But she
does her best. She leads me to the Brahmin,
after a whispered insistence on the altitude of
his caste. He has somewhat fallen from it, it
appears, in coming to us, but our need is urgent,
and he knows how to right himself.

' Don't be hurt if he refuses to take your hand.
Our touch is defilement for him. But he means
no offence.'

* No carpenter's son, this one ? '

• Oh no. No more than the other. Excellent
family, both. Read the genealogies. You must
have men of family for work of this kind.
Buddha's father was a king.


No. 5 John Street

I have but a moment with our leader, for others
wait whose fervour gives them a better right. A
most charming person, who follows me, desires to
consult him on the propriety of drinking a glass
of claret at dinner, in compliance with her doctor's
orders. Will it be likely to impair her powers of
meditation, to bar her way to the comprehension
of the Om ?

* You know our rule,' he says sweetly — * half of
what can be conveniently taken. The great point
is to lose the intrusive consciousness of the pos-
session of a material system. If you eat too little,
you have that consciousness through hunger ; if
you eat too much, you have it through repletion.
You do not want to have it either way. It is an
inferior, and must not thrust itself into the pre-
sence of its lord.'

'Ask him about your cigars, Arthur,' whispers
the Colonel's wife to the Colonel.

' I '11 be damned if I do, Clara,' whispers the
Colonel to the Colonel's wife.

The Brahmin is treated with great considera-
tion. In deference to his supposed dread of
defilement, skirts are gathered up as he ap-
proaches, lest one should brush his robes. Lady
Ridler is particularly civil to him. A few look
longingly at his brown hand, yet none dare offer
to sully it with the touch of a palm of white. He
is extremely interesting in my eyes, as a sort of
searcher for the new philosopher's stone. The old
seekers were for turning everything into superflu-
ous gold. This one is for the transmutation into,


No. 5 John Street

perhaps, equally superfluous spirit. There is, I
hear, a whole modern school of them. A drawing-
room, or a public hall, is their laboratory ; a tea-
cup, their crucible. But they are quite capable of
working without apparatus, and most consistently
so, for apparatus is but a form of that intrusive
materiality from which they are to show us the
way of escape. With a bare word in season, they
will undertake to reduce the whole glorious show
of things into the ether spray of ideas. Their
search is perhaps just as futile as that of their
forerunners of the forge and bellows ; but it must
be owned, to their credit, that they make very
little mess.

The presentations naturally include several
rival practitioners in the arts of regeneration.
One dame is the author of a scheme for bringing
the higher culture to the working man by means
of free, and conceivably snuffy, lectures on the
Pentateuch and other burning questions of the
time. This scheme has been handsomely en-
dowed, and I have the happiness to learn that the
larger hall will be open by the end of the year.
The idea is to let Spitalfields know what Ger-
many thinks of the Mosaic cosmogony, and what
Oxford thinks of both.

' It is the only way to counteract the Socialists.
The working classes must have intellectual leaders ;
and if we don't give them the best, they will get
the others.'

' You have often met the working classes, no
doubt ? '

No. 5 John Street

* Oh yes. I make a point of doing so whenever
the house is under repair. I had a most interest-
ing talk the other day with a carpenter who was
mending a bHnd,'

The Colonel's wife is for Silence classes in the

* Why not do for them, poor things, what we
have been doing for ourselves this afternoon —
bring them together to think Om, even if they
cannot realise it all at once ? '

* It is our bounden duty,' I reply. * I have
observed that some of them have a most astonish-
ing gift of reflective introspection. They will stand
for hours at a street corner gazing into the vacancy
of a hoarding, or of a tavern sign — gazing, ques-
tioning '

' Ah ! and who knows ? Perhaps getting a
response at last.'

' Or a drink. Their disappointment, I fear,
sometimes has a most demoralising effect.'

She sighs. ' If only we could turn that long-
ing into what the engineers call " power." My
fixed idea — I cannot get away from it — is that we
have no right to keep such things to ourselves.
They belong to all.'

' My own impression,' I venture to say, ' is that
what we want is a new society of Shakers, a sort
of active branch, whose business it should be to
shake a stupid world, and one another, twice a
day. The great need of the age is a good sound
shaking, periodically administered, to get the
nonsense out. Now I cannot conceive anything


No. 5 John Street

more beautiful than an association of men and
women bound to each other by this tie of essen-
tial service. You meet a brother — I use the word
in its widest acceptation, for I will never consent
to shut our sisters out — and, after proper greet-
ings, you instantly proceed to shake that spiritual
relative within an inch of his life. The deeper-
seated foolishness is only to be dusted out of
human nature in that way. Your brother thanks
you by requiting the benefit in kind ; you salute,
and depart on your several ways. I see immense
developments — a great hierarchy of Shakers, com-
posed of the strongest, who scour our cities day
and night, and who are often generous enough to
waive their right to be shaken for their own good.
I see Prophet Shakers, wild men of the woods,
who rush up to town from time to time to shake
the Court, the Camp, the Mart, the Grove — men
in sheepskins, who bear down on the Royal
Exchange at its high hour, and shake it into in-
cipient paralysis ; Daniels, Hoseas, and Habak-
kuks of Shaking, mounting pulpits and giving Mr.
Dean a turn, just when he is midway between his
text and the luncheon bell, or forcing their way
into the courtly crowd on Drawing-Room days,
and paying particular attention to the dowagers,
whose years leave them without excuse.'

' There may be something in it,' she says
thoughtfully, ' but it would never suit the present
style of doing the hair.'



The Ridlers fascinate me. What a trio : Mar-
maduke of the milHons, their respected head ;
his wife, the Seeker after many things ; his son,
a veritable lad of gold. I have met this one a
second time, but only as a guest at his father's
house. Their way of life in one of the largest
mansions in town is too narrow for him, and he
is lodged in one of the still larger hotels. He
has his suite there, his servants, his right to
entertain without a week's notice to the cook.
Sir Marmaduke pays.

Sir Marmaduke is on his way to a peerage.
There can be no doubt of it. He is the modern
natural leader. How silly to sneer at ennobled
drapery, or at ennobled malt ! These, as means
of wealth, are means of power, and power has
ever been the thing that counts. It was war, of
old time ; it is business now ; only the forms
change. And how quick the changes ! Two
generations ago, a Ridler bent over the counter
in a small general shop, and humbly inquired,
' Next article, please,' of a slut with threepence
three farthings in her purse. To-day young
Seton Ridler holds his own with the best bloods


No. 5 John Street

of the Row — in all the essentials of mastery,
indeed, the best blood of them all.

The old way of knocking people on the head
no longer leads to advancement. I have seen it
in its decline. I remember taking a stroll in the
Whitechapel shambles one 'killing day,' while
living at No. 5. A slaughterman came out to
drink, as the woolly spoil of his knife might have
come, had the broad street and the ginshop
reverted to their orig-inal condition of meadow
and running brook. Never shall I forget the
figure. It smoked with slaying. Steam went
up from it, as the long blue garment caught the
chill of the outer air on its warmth of blood. It
dripped with the tell-tale fluid in red gouts. It
was greasy and sticky with the same from heel
to crown. I followed my man into the tavern
with the fascination of horror, and furtively
watched him the while he took his quiet glass.
I was haunted with the idea that I had seen him
before. But where ? Why, there, of course, in
the Temple Church, lying cross-legged on the pave-
ment, in effigy, or wherever else brass or marble
preserves a memorial of the warlike dead. His
smock had the exact cut of a coat of chain mail.
He was belted like a knight, for the carriage of
his swinging steel. His cap was but the old
fighting headpiece in a softer stuff. His sewer
boots were a trifle heavy for the stricken field,
but they were justified by the fact that he had no
resistance to expect. Exactly so must the smartest
founder of a line have looked in working hours,


No. 5 John Street

when he toiled in the press at Hastings, and
before he was cleaned up for history by his serv-
ing men — the painters and the poets. He must
have looked so, ay, and smelt so — puh ! for, not
to put it offensively, I daresay he matched this
latest of the slaughtermen in the stink of his
trade. War is this, I felt ; and this is war, and
ever shall be, in spite of the serving-man with the
quill, and of the other lacquey with the brush.
Thereafter, in every picture of the age of chivalry,
I have seemed to see, as in some effect of spirit
photography, a pailful of offal in the background,
and a whole foreground slimy, as the edge of a
duck-pond, with something that even the ducks
could hardly get down. As my man, having
swallowed his draught, laboured back, with heavy
footfall, to finish his day's work, I felt that I had
before me, in epitome, the pageant of the fifteen
decisive battles of the world. But this type
grows belated, since it now hacks and slashes all
day long, for a poor couple of half-crowns, instead
of having its reward in principalities. Your new
founder of families is at the mercer's shop over
the way ; and, as he measures a yard of calico, he
also measures a yard of land.

So, when I dined with Sir Marmaduke, I saw
the father of our kings to be ; at any rate, of the
barons who are to lead us in council and in war.
Other barons were at the board — mighty war-
lords who had won their spurs on the Australian
sheep farms, or in the goldfields of the Rand.
One felt, by the look of their terrible faces, that
L i6i

No. 5 John Street

there was no keeping them back. Nothing can
stand against such men. They have that to give
which is wanted by every mother's son ; and,
since they are masters in fact, they may just as
well be masters in name. They need never hang
their heads in the House of Lords. To do them
justice, I believe, they never do. They bear
themselves as those who have come into their
own, and stare down the stray thinker who has
managed to slip through, as one who, properly
speaking, is not in the game. They are even
rather contemptuous of the others whose mastery
is of the older sort. A poor old peer, whose
name has hardly been in the papers since the time
of King John, assures me that they are distinctly
chilling towards him, and that, for real comrade-
ship, they will not touch anything earlier than
George the Fourth. They form their own set,
and they admit to it from the outside none but
those they regard as promising candidates for the
same honours. Hence the vast significance of
their presence at Sir Marmaduke's feast. His
destiny, I believe, is so manifest to himself that
he is now choosing his territorial appellation by
the simple process of writing out names of places
on a sheet of paper, to see which gives least
trouble to a hand beginning to feel the twinges
of gout.

Young Seton, his heir, is a lad of three-and-
twenty, of the new type of dandy athlete, a per-
sonage at Hurlingham, as in the Row. He has
positively no taint of the counter, if taint there is.


No. 5 John Street

The good old grandfather, whom they buried out
of sight in a remote churchyard, on pretence of
laying him at rest in his own native place, and
very deep, on pretence of giving him a gravel
bed, was, I understand, counter unadorned. Sir
Marmaduke has manifestly been there : you can
say no more ; but the traces of his sojourn are
growing faint beneath that polish of the world
which is not exactly vernis- Martin for trans-
parency. His son might have done nothing for
seven hundred years, such the calm of his man-
ner, the unhastingness, such his tranquil and
unobtrusive satisfaction with himself. This he
'owes to temperament, and to what Sir Marma-
duke calls the best schooling that money can buy.
He means the best tarts at Eton, and the best
wine-parties at Oxford. The lad's hampers from
home are still a tradition of the seminary by
Windsor Towers. In all the niceties of taste
proper to an exalted order, Seton is now as good
as to the manner born. He nothing common
did, nor mean, upon the memorable scene of
Balliol. Selectness is, or was, the first and last
note of the whole place, no matter in what
domain. Some are choice in the cut of a covert
coat, others in the facture of verse, or in theories
of depravity. To have to run with the herd in
virtues, vices, accents, or even in the very fashion
of bowler hats, is anathema to them. The pant-
ing bounder from without toils after them in
vain, as they feel his hot breath, and turn to
something new and strange. Good physical


No. 5 John Street

training has made this youth as hard as nails, yet
in some points he is fastidious to effeminacy.
He had rather starve, I believe, than eat his
soup with a plated spoon. It is not extravagance
for its own sake ; still less is it ostentation. All
he wants is that everything shall be 'just so.'

So he is still poor, with the ;!^7ooo a year which
Sir Marmaduke gives him in fixed allowance,
and without question asked. The father knows
it, and his sustaining hand is there at the cry
for help. The help may be given in specie, or it
may be given in kind. The young fellow has
both his own little private stud, and the free run
of the family stables, lest he should ever be hard
pushed for a mount for himself or a friend. The
parental yacht is at his entire disposal at stated
times, and at others he is permitted to nominate
for invitations to sailing cruises. For matches,
the crew like him better than his sire. He offers
a more liberal largesse as the reward of victory ;
and without such encouragement, victory is not
to be had at the hands of these pampered menials
of the seas.

He never touches a card — this, and temper-
ance in drink, are his principal virtues. He
' puts a bit ' on his skill in the sports that please
him. He rarely passes an afternoon at the Gun

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 9 of 21)