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London Films by W.D. Howells

Part 4 out of 4

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and at each descent by the company's lift, we left the dark above
ground, and found the light fifty feet below. While this sort of transit
is novel, it is delightful; the air is good, or seems so, and there is a
faint earthy smell, somewhat like that of stale incense in Italian
churches, which I found agreeable from association at least; besides, I
liked to think of passing so far beneath all the superincumbent death
and all the superambulant life of the immense immemorial town.


We found St. Mary Woolnoth closed, being too early for the Sunday
service, and had to content ourselves with the extremely ugly outside of
the church which is reputed the masterpiece of Wren's pupil Hawksmoor;
while we took for granted the tablet or monument of Sir William Phipps,
the governor of Massachusetts, who went back to be buried there after
the failure of his premature expedition against Quebec. My friend had
provided me something as remote from Massachusetts as South Carolina in
colonial interest, and we were presently speeding to New River, which
Sir Hugh Myddleton taught to flow through the meadows of Stoke Newington
to all the streets of London, and so originated her modern water-supply.
This knight, or baronet, he declared, upon the faith of a genealogist,
to be of the ancestry of that family of Middletons who were of the first
South Carolinians then and since. It is at least certain that he was a
Welshman, and that the gift of his engineering genius to London was so
ungratefully received that he was left wellnigh ruined by his
enterprise. The king claimed a half-interest in the profits, but the
losses remained undivided to Myddleton. The fact, such as it is, proves
perhaps the weakest link in a chain of patriotic associations which, I
am afraid the reader must agree with me, has no great strength anywhere.
The New River itself, when you come to it, is a plain straightforward,
canal-like water-course through a grassy and shady level, but it is
interesting for the garden of Charles Lamb's first house backing upon
it, and for the incident of some of his friends walking into it one
night when they left him after an evening that might have been rather
unusually "smoky and drinky." Apart from this I cared for it less than
for the neighborhoods through which I got to it, and which were looking
their best in the blur of the fog. This was softest and richest among
the low trees of Highbury Fields, where, when we ascended to them from
our tubular station, the lawns were of an electric green in their
vividness. In fact, when it is not blindingly thick, a London fog lends
itself to the most charming effects. It caresses the prevailing
commonness and ugliness, and coaxes it into a semblance of beauty in
spite of itself. The rows upon rows of humble brick dwellings in the
streets we passed through were flattered into cottage homes where one
would have liked to live in one's quieter moods, and some rather stately
eighteenth-century mansions in Stoke Newington housed one's pride the
more fittingly, because of the mystery which the fog added to their
antiquity. It hung tenderly and reverently about that old, old parish
church of Stoke Newington where, it is story or fable, they that bore
the body of the dead King Harold from the field of Hastings made one of
their stations on the way to Waltham Abbey; and it was much in the
maundering mind of the kindly spectator who could not leave off pitying
us because we could not get into the church, the sexton having just
before gone down the street to the baker's. It followed us more and more
vaguely into the business quarter where we took our omnibus, and where
we noted that business London, like business New York, was always of the
same complexion and temperament in its shops and saloons, from centre to
circumference. Amid the commonplaceness of Islington where we changed
omnibuses, the fog abandoned us in despair, and rising aloof, dissolved
into the bitterness of a small cold rain.



The fog, through that golden month of September (September is so
silvern in America), was more or less a fact of the daily weather. The
morning began in a mellow mistiness, which the sun burned through by
noon; or if sometimes there was positive rain, it would clear for a warm
sunset, which had moments of a very pretty pensiveness in the hollows of
Green Park, or by the lakes of St. James's. There were always the bright
beds of autumn flowers, and in Hyde Park something of the season's flush
came back in the driving. The town began to be visibly fuller, and I was
aware of many Americans, in carriages and on foot, whom I fancied
alighting after a continental summer, and poising for another flight to
their respective steamers. The sentiment of London was quite different
at the end of September from the sentiment of London at the beginning,
and one could imagine the sort of secondary season which it revisits in
the winter. There was indeed no hint of the great primary season in the
sacred paddock of beauty and fashion in Hyde Park, where the inverted
penny chairs lay with their foreheads in the earth; and the shrivelled
leaves, loosened from their boughs in the windless air, dropped
listlessly round them.

[Illustration: HYDE PARK IN OCTOBER.]

At night our little Mayfair Street was the haunt of much voluntary
minstrelsy. Bands of cockney darkeys came down it, tuning their voices
to our native ragtime. Or a balladist, man or woman, took the centre,
and sang towards our compassionate windows. Or a musical husband and
wife placed their portable melodeon on the opposite sidewalk, and
trained their vocal and instrumental attack upon the same weak defences.

It was all in keeping with the simple kindliness of the great town whose
homelikeness arises from its immense habitability. This always strikes
the New-Yorker, whether native or adoptive, if he be a thoughtful New-
Yorker, and goes about the different regions of the ampler metropolis
with an abiding sense of the restricted spaces where man may peacefully
dwell, or quietly lodge over-night, in his own city. In assimilating
each of the smaller towns or villages which it has made itself up of
London has left them so much of their original character that though
merged, they are not lost; and in cases where they have been so long
merged as to have experienced a severance of consciousness, or where
they are only nominally different sections of the vast whole, they have
each its own temperament. It would be quite impossible for one finding
one's self in Bloomsbury to suppose one's self in Belgravia, or in any
of the Kensingtons to fancy one's self in Mayfair. Chelsea is as
temperamentally different from Pimlico as the City from Southwark, and
Islington, again, though it speaks the same language as Whitechapel,
might well be of another tongue, so differently does it think and feel.
The names, and a hundred others, call to the stranger from the sides and
fronts and backs of omnibuses, until he has a weird sense that they
personally knew him long before he knew them. But when once domesticated
in any quarter he is so quickly at home in it that it will be the centre
of London for him, coming to and going from it in a local acceptance
which he cannot help feeling a reciprocal kindliness. He might do this
as a mere hotel-dweller, but if he has given hostages to fortune by
going into lodgings, and forming even indirect relations with the
tradesmen round the corners, the little stationers and newsmen, the
nearest bookseller, the intelligent female infants in the post-office
(which is always within a minute's walk), and perhaps conversed with the
neighboring policeman, or has taken cabs so often from the neighboring
rank as to be recognizable to the cabmen, then he is more quickly and
thoroughly naturalized in the chosen region. He will be unworthy of many
little friendlinesses from his fellow-citizens if he does not like them,
and he will miss, in refusing the image of home which is offered him,
one of the rarest consolations of exile.

At a distance from London (say as small a distance, in time if not
space, as Bath), you will hear it said that everybody is well in London,
but in London you will find that the hygienic critics or authorities
distinguish. All England, indeed, is divided into parts that are
relaxing, and parts that are bracing, and it is not so strange then that
London should be likewise subdivided. Mayfair, you will hear, is very
bracing, but Belgravia, and more particularly Pimlico, on which it
borders, is terribly relaxing. Beyond Pimlico, Chelsea again is bracing,
and as for South Kensington it stands to reason that it is bracing
because it is very high, almost as high as Mayfair. If you pass from
your Pimlico borderland of Belgravia to either of those regions you are
certainly not sensible of any sharp accent, but there is no telling what
a gradual rise of eight or ten feet may make in the quality of the air.
To the stranger all London seems a vast level, with perhaps here and
there the sort of ground-swell you may note from your car-window in the
passage of a Western plain. Ludgate Hill is truly a rise of ground, but
Tower Hill is only such a bad eminence as may gloomily lift itself in
history irrespective of the actual topography. Such an elevation as our
own Murray Hill would be a noticeable height in London, and there are no
such noble inequalities as in our up-town streets along the Hudson. All
great modern cities love the plain surfaces, and London is not different
from Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Paris, or Berlin, or Vienna, or St.
Petersburg, or Milan in this; New York is much more mountainous, and
Boston is a Sierra Nevada in comparison.

Yet, I suppose there must be something in the superstition that one part
of London is more bracing or more relaxing than another, and that there
is really, however insensibly, a difference of levels. That difference
of temperaments which I have mentioned, seems mostly intimated in the
size and age of the houses. They are larger and older in Bloomsbury,
where they express a citizen substance and comfort; they are statelier
about the parks and squares of Belgravia, which is comparatively a new
settlement; but there are more little houses among the grandeurs of
Mayfair which is of the same social quality, though many of its streets
crossing from Piccadilly have quite gone to shops and family hotels and
lodgings. It is more irregular and ancient than Belgravia, and its
grandeurs have a more casual air. The historic mansions crowded by the
clubs towards Hyde Park Corner, and grouped about the open space into
which Piccadilly falters there, or following the park in the flat curve
of Park Lane, have not the effect of withdrawal and exclusion of the
Belgravian mansions; beyond which again there is a world of small
dwellings of fainter and fainter self-assertion till they fade into the
hopeless plebeian unconsciousness of Pimlico, whose endless streets are
without beauty or dignity. Yet beyond this lost realm Chelsea redeems
itself in a grace of domestic architecture and an atmosphere of esthetic
associations which make it a favorite abode of the tastes as well as the
means. Kensington, where you arrive after what seems hopeless straggling
through the roaring thoroughfare prolonging the Fleet-and-Strand-derived
Piccadilly, is of almost equal artistic and literary appeal, but is
older and perhaps less actual in its claims upon the cultivated
sympathies. In either of these regions the polite American of definite
resources might, if banished from the republic, dwell in great material
and spiritual comfort; but if he chose Chelsea for his exile, I do not
know that I should blame his preference. There he would have the
neighborhood of many charming people whom to know for neighbors would
add a certain grace to existence, although he might not otherwise know
them. Besides he would have, beyond the Thames, the wooded stretch of
Battersea Park, if his dwelling, as it very well might, looked out upon
the river and across it; and in the distance he would have the roofs and
chimneys of that far Southwark, which no one seems anxious to have
nearer than, say, the seventeenth century, and yet which being a part of
London must be full of perfectly delightful people.

[Illustration: THAMES EMBANKMENT.]

Even if you make-believe that Southwark bears some such relation to
London as Jersey City bears to New York (but the image is very
imperfect) still New York, you are aware, can never domesticate the
Hudson as London has domesticated the Thames. Our river is too vast, too
grand, if you will, ever to be redeemed from its primitive wildness,
much less made an intimate part of the city's life. It may be laced with
ferries and bound with all the meshes that commerce can weave with its
swift-flying shuttles; it shall be tunnelled and bridged hereafter,
again and again, but its mere size will keep it savage, just as a giant,
though ever so amiable and good-natured, could not imaginably be
civilized as a man of the usual five-foot-six may be. Among rivers the
Thames is strictly of the five-foot-six average, and is therefore
perfectly proportioned to the little continent of which it is the Amazon
or the Mississippi. If it were larger it would make England ridiculous,
as Denmark, for instance, is made ridiculous by the sounds and estuaries
that sunder it. But the Thames is of just the right size to be held in
London's arms, and if it is not for her the graceful plaything that the
Seine is for Paris, it is more suited to the practical nature of London.
There are, so far as I noted, no whispering poplars planted by the brink
of the Thames, but I feel sure that if there were, and there were
citizens fishing their years away in their shade, they would sometimes
catch a fish, which the life-long anglers in the Seine never do. That
forms a great difference, expressive of a lasting difference of
character in the two capitals. Along the Thames the trees are planted on
the successive Embankments, in a beautiful leafy parkway following its
course, broken here and there by public edifices, like the Parliament
buildings, but forming a screen mostly uninterrupted, behind which a
parade of grandiose hotels does not altogether hide itself from the
river. Then the national quality of the English stream is expressed in
the succession of bridges which span it. These are uglier than any that
cross the Seine; each one, in fact, is uglier than the other, till you
come to the Tower Bridge, which is the ugliest of all. They have a
strange fascination, and quickly endear themselves to the stranger who
lounges on their parapets and looks down upon the grimy little steamers
scuttling under them, or the uncouth barges pushed and pulled over the
opacity of the swift puddle. They form also an admirable point for
viewing the clumsy craft of all types which the falling tide leaves
wallowing in the iridescent slime of the shoals, showing their huge
flanks, and resting their blunt snouts on the mud-banks in a slumberous

It is seldom that the prospect reveals a vessel of more dignified
proportions or presence, though in my drives along one of the
Embankments I came upon a steamer of the modest size which we used to
think large when we crossed the Atlantic in it, but which might be swung
among the small boats from the davits of a latter-day liner. This vessel
always had an admiring crowd about it, and I suppose it had some
peculiar interest for the public which did not translate itself to me.
As far as the more visible commerce of the more sight-seen parts of the
Thames is concerned, it is as unimpressive as may be. It has nothing of
the dramatic presence of the shipping in the Hudson or the East River,
with its light operatic touches in the gayly painted Sound and North
River steamboats. You must go as far at least as Stepney on the Thames
before you begin to realize that London is the largest port, as well as
the largest city, in the world.

There are certain characteristics, qualities, of London which I am aware
of not calling aright, but which I will call _sentiments_ for want
of some better word. One of them was the feel of the night-air,
especially late in the season, when there was a waste and weariness in
it as if the vast human endeavor for pleasure and success had exhaled
its despair upon it. Whatever there was of disappointment in one's past,
of apprehension in one's future, came to the surface of the spirit, and
asserted its unity with the collective melancholy. It was not exactly a
_Weltschmerz_; that is as out-dated as the romantic movement; but
it was a sort of scientific relinquishment, which was by no means
scornful of others, or too appreciative of one's own unrecognized worth.
Through the senses it related itself to the noises of the quiescing
city, to the smell of its tormented dust, to the whiff of a casual
cigar, or the odor of the herbage and foliage in the park or square that
one was passing, one may not be more definite about what was perhaps
nothing at all. But I fancy that relinquishment of any sort would be
easier in London than in cities of simpler interest or smaller
population. For my own part I was content to deny many knowledges that I
would have liked to believe myself possessed of, and to go about clothed
in my ignorance as in a garment, or defended by it as by armor. There
was a sort of luxury in passing through streets memorable for a thousand
things and as dense with associations as Long Island with mosquitoes
when the winds are low, and in reflecting that I need not be ashamed for
neglecting in part what no man could know in whole. I really suppose
that upon any other terms the life of the cultivated American would be
hardly safe from his own violence in London. If one did not shut one's
self out from the complex appeal to one's higher self one could hardly
go to one's tailor or one's hatter or one's shoemaker, on those missions
which, it is a national superstition with us, may be more inexpensively
fulfilled there than at home. The best way is to begin by giving up
everything, by frankly saying to yourself that you will not be bothered,
that man's days of travel are full of trouble, and that you are going to
get what little joy you can out of them as you go along. Then, perhaps,
on some errand of quite ignoble purport, you will be seized with the
knowledge that in the very spot where you stand one of the most
significant things in history happened. It will be quite enough for you,
as you inhale a breath of the London mixture of smoke, dust, and fog,
that it is something like the air which Shakespeare and Milton breathed
when they were meditating the works which have given so many
international after-dinner orators the assurance of a bond of amity in
our common language. Once, in driving through one of the dullest streets
imaginable, I chanced to look out of the side-window of my hansom, and
saw on a flying house-wall a tablet reading: "Here lived John Dryden,"
and though Dryden is a poet to move one to tenderness as little as may
be, the tears came into my eyes.

It is but one of a thousand names, great in some sort or other, which
make sojourn in London impossible, if one takes them to heart as an
obligation to consciousness of her constant and instant claim. They show
you Johnson's house in Bolt Court, but it only avails to vex you with
the thought of the many and many houses of better and greater men which
they will never show you. As for the scenes of events in fiction you
have a plain duty to shun them, for in a city where the great facts of
the past are written so deep upon the walls and pavement one over
another, it is folly which can be forgiven only to the vacancy of youth
to go looking for the places where this imaginary thing happened. Yet
this claim of folly has been recognized, and if you wish to indulge it,
you can do so at little trouble. Where the real localities are not
available they have fictitious ones, and they show you an Old Curiosity
Shop, for instance, which serves every purpose of having been the home
of Little Nell. There are at least three Cock Taverns, and several
Mitres, all genuine; and so on. Forty odd years ago I myself, on first
arriving in London, lodged at the Golden Cross, because it was there
that David Copperfield stopped; and I was insensately pleased the other
day that there was still a hotel of that name at the old stand. Whether
it was the old inn, I did not challenge the ghost within me to say. I
doubt if you now dine there "off the joint" in the "coffee-room"; more
probably you have a _table d'hôte_ meal served you "at separate
tables," by a German lad just beginning to ignore English. The shambling
elderly waiter who was part of the furniture in 1861 is very likely
dead; and for the credit of our country I hope that the recreant
American whom I heard telling an Englishman there in those disheartening
days, of our civic corruptions, may have also passed away. He said that
he himself had bought votes, as many as he wanted, in the city of
Providence; and though I could deny the general prevalence of such
venality at least in my own stainless state of Ohio, I did not think to
suggest that in such a case the corruption was in the buyer rather than
the seller of the votes, and that if he had now come to live, as he
implied, in a purer country, he had not taken the right way to be worthy
of it. But at twenty-four you cannot think of everything at once, and a
recreant American is so uncommon that you need hardly, at any age,
provide for him.



However the Golden Cross Inn may have inwardly or outwardly changed,
the Golden Cross Hotel keeps its old place hard by the Charing Cross
station, which is now so different from the station of the earlier day.
I do not think it is one of the most sympathetic of the London stations.
I myself prefer rather the sentiment of the good old Euston station,
which continues for you the feeling of arrival in England, and keeps you
in the glow of landing that you have, or had in the days when you always
landed in Liverpool, and the constant Cunarders and Inmans ignored the
upstart pretensions of Southampton and Plymouth to be ports of entry
from the United States. But among the stations of minor autobiographical
interest, Charing Cross is undoubtedly the first, and you may have your
tenderness for it as the place where you took the train for the
nightboat at Folkestone in first crossing to the continent. How strange
it all was, and yet how not unfriendly; for there is always a great deal
of human nature in England. She is very motherly, even with us children
who ran away from home, and only come back now and then to make sure
that we are glad of having done so. In the lamp-broken obscurity of the
second-class carriage I am aware still of a youthful exile being asked
his destination, and then his derivation, by a gentle old lady in the
seat opposite (she might have been Mother England in person), who,
hearing that he was from America where the civil war was then very
unpromising, could only say, comfortingly: "And very glad to be out of
it, _I_ dare say!" He must protest, but if he failed to convince,
how could he explain that part of his high mission to the ports of the
Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom was to sweep from the Adriatic the
Confederate privateers which Great Britain was then fitting out to prey
upon our sparse commerce there? As a matter of fact he had eventually to
do little or no sweeping of that sort; for no privateers came to
interrupt the calm in which he devoted himself, unofficially, to writing
a book about the chief of those ports.

It was the first of many departures from London, where you are always
more or less arriving or departing as long as you remain in England. It
is indeed an axiom with the natives that if you want to go from any one
point to any other in the island it is easier to come to London and
start afresh for it, than to reach the point across country. The trains
to and from the capital are swifter and more frequent, and you are not
likely to lose your way in the mazes of Bradshaw if you consult the
indefinitely simplified A B C tables which instruct you how to launch
yourself direct from London upon any objective, or to recoil from it. My
impression is that you habitually drive to a London station as nearly in
time to take your train as may be, and that there is very little use for
waiting-rooms. This may be why the waiting-room seems so small and
unattractive a part of the general equipment. It never bears any such
proportion to the rest as the waiting-rooms in the great Boston
stations, or even that of the Grand Central in New York, and is by no
chance so really fine as that of the Atchison and Topeka at Omaha, or
that of the Lake Shore at Pittsburg. Neither the management nor the
climate is so unkind as to keep intending passengers from the platforms,
where they stand talking, or walk up and down, or lean from their
carriage-doors and take leave of attendant friends with repeated pathos.
With us it is either too cold or too hot to do that, and at all the
great stations we are now fenced off from the tracks, as on the
Continent, and unless we can make favor with the gateman, must despatch
our farewells before our parting dear ones press forward to have their
tickets punched. But at no London station, and far less at any
provincial station in England, are you subjected to these formalities;
and the English seem to linger out their farewells almost abusively,
especially if they are young and have much of life before them.

Charing Cross has the distinction, sole among her sister stations, of a
royal entrance. There is no doubt a reason for this; but as royalty is
always coming and going in every direction, it is not easy to know why
the other stations do not provide themselves with like facilities. One
cannot imagine just how the king and queen get in and out of the common
gateway, but it has to be managed everywhere but at Charing Cross, no
matter what hardship to royalty it involves. Neither has any other
station a modern copy of a Queen Eleanor's Cross, but this is doubtless
because no other station was the last of these points where her coffin
was set down on its way from Lincoln to its final restingplace in
Westminster. You cannot altogether regret their lack after you have seen
such an original cross as that of Northampton, for though the Victorian
piety which replaced the monument at Charing Cross was faithful and
earnest, it was not somehow the art of 1291. One feels no greater
hardness in the Parliamentary zeal which razed the cross in 1647 than in
the stony fidelity of detail which hurts the eye in the modern work, and
refuses to be softened by any effect of the mellowing London air. It
looks out over the scurry of cabs, the ponderous tread of omnibuses, the
rainfall patter of human feet, as inexorably latter-day as anything in
the Strand. It is only an instance of the constant futility of the
restoration which, in a world so violent or merely wearing as ours, must
still go on, and give us dead corpses of the past instead of living
images. Fortunately it cannot take from Charing Cross its preeminence
among the London railway stations, which is chiefly due to its place in
the busy heart of the town, and to that certain openness of aspect,
which sometimes, as with the space at Hyde Park Corner, does the effect
of sunniness in London. It may be nearer or farther, as related to one's
own abode, but it has not the positive remoteness from the great
centres, by force of which, for instance, Waterloo seems in a peripheral
whirl of non-arrival, and Vauxhall lost somewhere in a rude borderland,
and King's Cross bewildered in a roar of tormented streets beyond
darkest Bloomsbury. Even Paddington, which is of a politer situation,
and is the gate of the beautiful West-of-England country, has not the
allure of Charing Cross; even Euston which so sweetly prolongs the
old-fashioned Liverpool voyage from New York, and keeps one to the last
moment in a sense of home, really stays one from London by its kind
reluctance. It is at Charing Cross alone that you are immediately and
unmistakably in the London of your dreams.

I think that sooner or later we had arrived at or departed from all the
great stations, but I will not make so sure of St. Pancras. I am afraid
that I was, more strictly speaking, only at a small church hard by, of
so marked a ritualistic temperament that it had pictures in it, and gave
me an illusion of Italy, though I was explicitly there because of an
American origin in the baptism of Junius Brutus Booth. I am sorry I do
not remember the name of that little church, but it stood among autumn
flowers, in the heart of a still, sunny morning, where the reader will
easily find it. Of Victoria station I am many times certain, for it was
from it that we at last left London, and that at the time of an earlier
sojourn we arrived in a fog of a type which stamped our sense of the
world's metropolis with a completeness which it had hitherto
disappointingly wanted.

It had been a dull evening on the way up from Dover, but not uncommonly
dull for an evening of the English November, and we did not notice that
we had emerged from the train into an intensified obscurity. In the
corridors of the station-hotel hung wreaths of what a confident spirit
of our party declared to be smoke, in expression of the alarming
conviction that the house was on fire. Nobody but ourselves seemed
troubled by the smoke, however, and with a prompt recurrence to the
reading which makes the American an intimate of the English circumstance
though he has never personally known it, we realized that what seemed
smoke must be a very marked phase of London fog. It did not perceptibly
thicken in-doors that night, but the next day no day dawned, nor, for
that matter, the day after the next. All the same the town was invisibly
astir everywhere in a world which hesitated at moments between total and
partial blindness. The usual motives and incentives were at work in the
business of men, more like the mental operations of sleep than of
waking. From the height of an upper window one could look down and feel
the city's efforts to break the mesh of its weird captivity, with an
invisible stir in all directions, as of groping. Of course, life had to
go on, upon such terms as it could, and if you descended from your
window that showed nothing, and went into the street, and joined the
groping, you could make out something of its objects. With a cabman who
knew his way, as a pilot knows his way on a river in a black night, you
could depart and even arrive. In the course of your journey you would
find the thoroughfare thick with hesitating or arrested traffic. At one
place you would be aware of a dull, red light, brightening into a veiled
glare, and you would have come upon a group of horses, detached from
several omnibuses, and standing head to head till they might hopefully
be put to and driven on again. The same light, with the torches carried
by boys, would reveal trucks and carts stopped, or slowly creeping
forward. Cab-horses between the blotches of flame made by the cab-lamps
were craning their necks forward, or twitching them from side to side.
Through the press foot-passengers found their way across the street, and
imaginably in the dark that swallowed up the sidewalks, they were going
and coming on errands that could brook no stay. The wonder was that they
could know which way they were going, or how they could expect to reach
any given point.

Where the buildings were densest the fog was thinnest, and there it was
a greenish-yellow, like water when you open your eyes and look at it far
below the surface. Where the houses fell away, and you found yourself in
a square, or with a park on one side, the vapor thickened into blackness
and seemed to swell, a turbid tide, overhead and underfoot. It hurt your
straining eyes, and got into your throat, and burned it like a sullen
steam. If your cab stopped, miraculously enough, at the address given,
you got out incredulous and fearful of abandonment. When you emerged
again, and found your cab waiting, you mutely mounted to your place and
resumed your strange quality of something in a dream.

So, all that day the pall hung upon the town, and all the next. The
third day the travellers were to sail from Liverpool, and there was some
imperative last-shopping on the eve. Two of them took a courageous cab,
and started for Bond Street. In a few moments the cab was in the thick
of the fog and its consequences, a tangle of stationary vehicles with
horses detached, or marking time, without advancing either way. A
trembling hand lifted the little trap in the cab-roof, and a trembling
voice asked the cabman: "Do you think you can go on?" "I think so, sir."
The horse's head had already vanished; now his haunches faded away.
Towards the dashboard the shafts of another cab came yawing, and again
the eager voice quavered: "Do you think you can get back?" "Oh yes,
sir," the answer came more cheerfully, and the shopping was done a week
later in Twenty-third Street.

There is an insensate wish in the human witness to have nature when she
begins misbehaving do her worst. One longs to have her go all lengths,
and this perhaps is why an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, of
violent type is so satisfactory to those it spares. It formed the secret
joy of the great blizzard of 1888, and it must form the mystical delight
of such a London fog as we had experienced. But you see the blizzard
once in a generation or a century, while if you are good, or good enough
to live in London, you may see a characteristic fog almost any year. It
is another case in which the metropolis of the New World must yield to
the metropolis of the whole world. Fog for fog, I do not say but the fog
in which we left New York, on March 3, 1904, was not as perfect as our
great London fog. But the New York fog was only blindingly white and the
London fog blindingly black, and that is a main difference.

The tender and hesitating mist with which each day of our final
September in London began, must not be confused in the reader's mind
with a true London fog. The mist grew a little heavier, day by day,
perhaps; but only once the sun failed to burn through it before noon,
and that was one of the first days of October, as if in September it had
not yet lost the last of its summer force. Even then, though it rained
all the forenoon, and well into the afternoon, the weather cleared for a
mild, warm sunset, and we could take the last of our pleasant walks from
Half-Moon Street into St. James's Park.

When the last day of our London sojourn came, it was fitly tearful, and
we had our misgivings of the Channel crossing. The crossing of the day
before had been so bad that _Pretty Polly_, who had won the St.
Leger, held all England in approving suspense, while her owners decided
that she should not venture to the defeat that awaited her in France,
till the sea was smoother. But in the morning the papers prophesied fair
weather, and it was promised that _Pretty Polly_ should cross. Her
courage confirmed our own, and we took our initial departure in the
London fashion which is so different from the New York fashion. Not with
the struggle, personally and telephonically, in an exchange of bitter
sarcasms prolonged with the haughty agents of the express monopoly, did
we get our baggage expensively before us to the station and follow in a
costly coupé, but with all our trunks piled upon two reasonable four-
wheelers, we set out contemporaneously with them. In New York we paid
six dollars for our entire transportation to the steamer; in London we
paid six shillings to reach the Victoria station with our belongings.
The right fare would have been five; the imagination of our cabman rose
to three and six each, and feebly fluttered there, but sank to three,
and did not rise again. At our admirable lodging the landlady, the
butler and the chambermaid had descended with us to the outer door in a
smiling convention of regret, the kindly Swiss boots allowed the street
porter to help him up with our trunks, and we drove away in the
tradition of personal acceptability which bathes the stranger in a
gentle self-satisfaction, and which prolonged itself through all the
formalities of registering our baggage for the continent at the station,
of bribing the guard in the hope of an entire first-class compartment to
ourselves and then sharing it with four others similarly promised its
sole use, and of telegraphing to secure seats in the _rapide_ from
Calais to Paris.

Then we were off in a fine chill, small English rain through a landscape
in which all the forms showed like figures in blotting-paper, as Taine
said, once for all. After we had run out of the wet ranks of yellowish-
black city houses, and passed the sullen suburbs,

"All in a death-doing autumn-dripping gloom,"

we found ourselves in a world which was the dim ghost of the English
country we had so loved in the summer. On some of the trees and
hedgerows the leaves hung dull yellow or dull red, but on most they were
a blackening green. The raw green of the cold flat meadows, the purplish
green of the interminable ranks of cabbages, and the harsh green of the
turnip-fields, blurred with the reeking yellow of mustard bloom,
together with the gleaming brown of ploughed fields, formed a prospect
from which the eye turned with the heart, in a rapturous vision of the
South towards which we were now swiftly pulsing.


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