CHAPTER XVIII

Artists' rendezvous in the Wood — Cheap restaurants in the West End — Soho in those days — Pagani's — Pellegrini and the Artists' Room — Veglio's — Reggiori's, Gatti's — The Monico — Its curious history — The cheapest dinner in London — The Café Royal — Verrey's — French and English billiards in Windmill Street — Music halls — Our Saturday night's dissipation — "Adventures" with the girls — Mad pranks — The baked potato merchant — An amusing joke — The bewildered girls — A curious bet — The wealthy waiter — "The Maiden's Prayer" — "Regulars" — The "street walker" of those days — Extraordinary sights in the West End — An amusing skit — John Hollingshead's wit — Foreign women in Regent Street — The "last" 'bus — I make a conquest — Facetious 'bus-drivers — Liquid refreshment — Story of a "rum and milk" — Week-end boating — Painting at Cookham — Flirtation on the Bridge — The boastful Don Juan and the mysterious female — A splendid "spoof" — A delightful adventure — The launch party — Curious denouement — Another adventure — Missing the last train — The good Samaritans — L'incroyable

ALTHOUGH there were a few places in the Wood where one occasionally met artists of an evening, there were no real rendezvous for brothers of the brush and palette up there, so the only chance of seeing any one was to go round to the different studios if you wanted a yarn and a pipe. It was a poor substitute for cafe life, as may be imagined, and it also had the tendency to encourage one to indulge in liquid refreshment of a more enlivening nature than coffee, but it was something to do after dinner if one hadn't got a girl to meet, and one didn't want to play billiards or cards. Of course there was the Hogarth Club to go to if one felt so inclined, but to go down West seldom occurred to us, for unless one had plenty of money to spend, or friends to visit, there was not much amusement in a long 'bus ride with a possibility of having to walk back again, if you stayed out too late, for a cab home was a rare luxury.

There were not many restaurants then in the West End where young fellows, like we all were then, not over-blessed with wealth, could dine cheaply and well. Soho was practically isolated; although there were one or two little places where they gave you a dinner for 1s. 6d. or 2s., there was no indication whatever that it would ultimately develop into the fashionable Bohemian quarter it has of late years. Curiously enough, although it has been stated that the necessaries of life have risen in price beyond all reason during the past twenty-five years, living seems to be far cheaper now than it was then. Of course, I only refer to restaurant life. Perhaps it will be said you don't get such good quality; that, of course, is a question into which I cannot enter, but the fact remains that one can get a dinner for less money now than you could then. There is no doubt that this satisfactory state of things for the poor Bohemian has been brought about by competition, for where there were only a few cheap restaurants then, there are now scores existent, and others springing up everywhere in the West End, and only waiting to be discovered by some exploring journalist to be made popular.

In my St John's Wood days, perhaps the best known of the Bohemian dining-places was Pagani's in Great Portland Street, although at that time it was quite a small and insignificant little place compared with what it is now. It was to Pellegrini, the famous caricaturist of Vanity Fair, that the restaurant owed its initiation, as it were, in the Bohemian life, and he practically started its reputation for being quite the best place in London for Italian cooking and wines.

In those far-off days the restaurant grew not only in size, but in popularity, by leaps and bounds, and at the time I first knew it, one saw there many of the most distinguished artists and musicians in London.

It was about this time that Pellegrini and his friends formed the well-known "Artists' Room," which was a sort of club where they used to meet, and the walls to this day testify to the talent that would congregate there, for they are covered with sketches signed by famous names, all of which are made on the walls direct.

Pagani's was then the artistic rendezvous of London Bohemia, where one could be sure of a well-cooked veal cutlet à la Milanèse and a flask of excellent chianti, and it has maintained its reputation to this day as the leading Italian restaurant in the metropolis.

Another place where we would go when we wanted a change was Veglios in the Euston Road. It has long ceased to exist, but in those days it was also a great place of meetings for artists. It was largely frequented by the Fitzroy Square division, and for a time enjoyed considerable vogue, probably because you got dishes there you could not find on the menus elsewhere.

Of course there were several other places, Reggiori's in Chapel Street, Edgware Road, Gatti's under the Arches, and Gatti's in the Adelaide Gallery off the Strand. But the Monico was, perhaps, the most important of the popular cafés in the West End. It then only consisted of the present big hall and a billiard-room, which was the largest in London, with twelve tables, and had only been opened in 1877. It is said that it stands on the site of an old inn where one of the coaches used to start from formerly. For several years the entrance was through a coal -yard, and the Monicos had, somehow, managed to rub the owner the wrong way, with the consequence that he would often leave carts blocking the entrance. He was, of course, free to do as he pleased, and nothing could be said, as he had the right of way, but it was very awkward for customers having frequently to push their way in past the dirty carts, especially on a wet night. This was where the principal entrance and café are now. It is difficult to realize the change that has been made. One used to meet at the Monico and play chess, then a very popular game, which was played in many places every evening.

The cheapest dinner in London was at a restaurant in Arundel Street. I forget how many courses they gave you, but I remember it included half a bottle of claret, a cup of coffee, and a liquor of brandy for 2s. You couldn't expect a really good dinner like that for less anywhere, but we couldn't always afford 2s., worse luck, so it was only now and then we patronized it. Occasionally, also, we might go on to the Café Royal, or Verrey's, after dinner, but these were amongst the expensive and chic places even for a humble cup of coffee, and they were not over-lively at night.

There was a very large billiard establishment in Windmill Street we used to go to now and again, as there were French tables there also, the only ones in London, but the establishment was tres mal frequentée, and rows were of constant occurrence. One of the worst fights I ever saw took place in this street, and one of the men died afterwards, I learnt. At Inman's in Oxford Street and Roberts' in Regent Street were private billiard-rooms we sometimes went to.

Music halls and, still less, theaters were not much in our line, perhaps because we didn't care to be cooped up all the evening, but one's plans for recreation were dependent on the ever-present question of ready cash, so one had to be careful and act up to the Russian proverb — "If you can't get meat, you must be content with soup."

Still, there were times when we broke loose, damned the expense, and lived at the rate of £5,000 a year, for a couple of hours or so. Saturday nights were usually fixed on for this wild dissipation, if one may so call our mild orgies. If one were lucky and came across some nice girl or girls, who were not averse to a bit of fun, then indeed we did enjoy ourselves; but it was fun of a character consistent with our youth and boisterous spirits, and never connected with drink in any form, for the simple reason this form of amusement did not appeal to any of us, though none of my pals at the time were in any sense teetotalers. Mrs. Grundy, the dear old thing, might, perhaps, have raised her funny eyebrows if she had heard of some of our escapades, but, after all, what was the harm? We were all of us bachelors, and if a pretty girl who had been in business all the week felt lonely and wanted to be made a fuss of over the weekend, what business was it of anybody's? — and studio walls told no tales, fortunately. Many of my old chums, staid married men now, who may perchance read these lines, will doubtless recall some of the delightful "adventures" we all had together in those never-to-be-forgotten days, when one didn't trouble so much about appearances or what other people thought.

Whenever I return to Paris and re-visit some of my old haunts, I am always agreeably surprised to find how one can re-construct the scenes of one's youth — to use a French phrase, and if one has not grown too fastidious as one has advanced in years, one can almost imagine oneself a youngster again, of course providing you have anything left of your youthful temperament.

It is quite different in London, perhaps for the reason that there has never been a Quartier Latin of any description or anything resembling it over here. Anyway, the change that the past twenty-five years have brought about in the mode of living is so great that it is probably no exaggeration to state that we live in quite a different London, and what was possible in the days of which I am writing, would be considered the very worst of bad form nowadays, whilst I am inclined to doubt whether the present day young man would even unbend to the extent we did.

As I write this I recall one Saturday night down West. We were four of us, all men, and out with the avowed intention of having, with luck, a good time, and we did, for we all managed to pair off with quite nice girls. I remember mine was particularly good-looking. During the evening it was suddenly suggested that we should all go up to the studio of one of us and finish with a dance, and so forth. No sooner said than done. Hansoms were requisitioned, and in we all bundled. As we went along some one espied a baked potato merchant, and a brilliant idea occurred to one of the girls. "Why not have a supper as well, and take the man and his oven with us?" The weird notion was at once adopted and cabs stopped, a bargain made with the potato merchant, and off we started again midst roars of laughter, the potato-oven on its truck, fastened to the back of a cab, and the man hanging on next to the cabby. You couldn't do anything so mad as that nowadays in the electrically illuminated streets, however young one might be. What stupid things one did too, just to make the girls laugh.

I fancy we must have all been very youthful even for our age, as we were always up to some sort of lark. Can one imagine fellows, no longer lads, doing anything so imbecile, for instance, as the following?

One fine Saturday afternoon I was having a stroll with a friend when we espied two smart girls coming towards us. When they got nearer we saw they were both very pretty, and I recognized one as an acquaintance of mine I hadn't met for some time. We stopped, I introduced my pal, and we stood chatting for a few minutes; then, as they said they had somewhere to go, we left them. As we walked away, my companion remarked how pleasant it would have been to have had them both up to tea in the studio, for, as he rightly said, one didn't often come across two girls, both so nice, together. I agreed with him and said that if we had thought of it we might have invited them that afternoon, but it was too late now. He then suggested my fixing something of the sort for the next day, as Sunday was generally pretty dull if you had nothing arranged beforehand. I said I would, when it suddenly struck me I hadn't got my friend's address to send her a line, as I knew she had moved since I last met her. "How stupid of me to forget to ask her for it." What was to be done?

We looked back; they were already far away in the distance, as we had been walking in the opposite direction. Then we saw a 'bus coming along, and the idea of a funny joke occurred to us. We couldn't very well get in to it, catch them up, and explain the reason for our afterthought, that would have been a bit too unblushing. There was no time to lose if we were to carry out the fun we had in our minds, so we jumped inside the 'bus, and in due course passed them, without, of course, their having seen us, then some little distance further on, where the road made a turn, we got down and started re-tracing our steps so as to meet them as they came along. It all went as we arranged. We pretended to be strolling along arm-in-arm, engaged in deep and earnest conversation.

The look of blank amazement on the two girls faces as they saw us coming towards them after leaving us a half a mile back some minutes previously, can be imagined. My friend and I started with well-feigned surprise, and gave an exclamation of pleasure at meeting them again so soon, and stopped to shake hands. The girl I knew stared at me as though she thought I was a ghost, then faltered out, "Am I dreaming, didn't we leave you both down the road ten minutes ago?" "Of course, you did," I answered gaily. "Well, how is it we meet again here, when you were going the other way?" I couldn't keep my countenance any longer and burst into laughter, in which they both joined heartily when they heard how the mystery of our being in two places at once had been accomplished. "Fancy taking all that trouble just for the sake of having a joke on us," was the girls' comment. I didn't think it necessary to enlighten her as to the real reason for our energy, but as it turned out we were well repaid for it, and the tea party came off, and we spent a very delightful afternoon with them.

Here's another idiotic practical joke. Once, at the Monico, I think it was, I forget how it came about, but one of us made a bet that he would eat cream cakes all through his dinner in lieu of bread. It doesn't sound very formidable, but chocolate éclairs, for instance, with bœuf sauté wants some determination to tackle, and entire absence of palate, while most people could not manage meringue à la crême with stewed mutton, but he won his bet, and wasn't ill afterwards either. The look on the face of the waiter, when he saw what was being accomplished, was a study in itself; he must have thought we were escaped lunatics!

By the way, mentioning waiters, there was one whom we usually patronized. He was reputedly quite rich, and all made out of his tips; at last he was reported as going to retire to a property he had bought in Switzerland. I asked him one day how he had managed to amass so much wealth. His reply was succinct. "Between ze gentleman who give me two pence, and ze fool who give me four pence, I am able to retire from ze business." Those must have been palmy days for waiters, judging from the number who started on their own account, and have made little reputations for themselves since.

Of course, it didn't always happen that we returned accompagnés on those Saturday nights, and if we were alone, we would endeavor to catch the last 'bus from Piccadilly Circus. This was facetiously known as "The Maiden's Prayer," by reason of the number of ladies who had had no luck during the evening, who usually returned to their homes in the Wood by it, and any one who was on the lookout for a cheap "adventure" was pretty certain to find it in this particular 'bus. After a time one almost got to know the ''regulars," with their dyed hair, by sight, and to look on them as neighbors living in the same village. If it had turned out a wet night, it was almost pitiful to see them get in with their tawdry finery all bedraggled and mud-spattered, and the look of despondency on their painted and powdered faces, for Saturday was rent day as a rule, and there wouldn't be much chance of doing anything on a Sunday.

Somehow, and almost mysteriously, the entire class of street-walker of those days has disappeared, fortunately, for they were not pleasant objects as one saw them parading the West End, and I often wondered what the police was about to let them offer themselves in such brazen fashion in the most important quarter of the metropolis. It used to amaze foreigners, the sights to be witnessed of an afternoon and evening in Regent Street and round Piccadilly Circus, and more especially after all he had heard of the "goody-goodiness" of London as compared with Paris.

I remember an awfully funny sketch a newly-arrived French artist friend of mine made, which was suggested by this extraordinary apathy on the part of the authorities. It represented the corner by Swan and Edgar's in the height of the season, and on a fine afternoon. There was the usual crowd of well-dressed, respectable people, top-hatted, frock-coated paterfamilias with his wife and daughter, smart military men accompanying fashionable ladies, young girls, carriages driving past, and so forth, whilst amongst the throng were numerous street women strolling about in a state of complete nudity, yet without attracting any notice from the well-dressed people round them!

It was John Hollingshead, I believe, who made the witty remark that at this particular corner one had the best opportunity for observing the staple industry of the neighborhood.

The number of foreign women about was not the least remarkable of the curious state of affairs, in fact one part of Regent Street was for a long time known as the " Calais side," and most of the creatures who patrolled it were so abandoned looking that one wondered how they ever managed to earn even a crust unless they picked up some drunken fool late at night. Of course, to young fellows like ourselves, this phase of West End life offered no attraction, and one simply passed them by without a glance, unless it happened to be something exceptionally scandalous in appearance; but I remember one night something funny happening to me.

There was always a big crowd waiting for the last 'buses, and on this occasion I was standing on the curb with a friend when he remarked to me with a laugh that I had "made a conquest." Looking round in the direction he indicated, I saw a big, fat woman of about forty, who, as soon as she caught my eye, began to ogle me tenderly. She was evidently foreign, and must have weighed 17 stone if she weighed a pound, and looked a positive mound of flabby flesh. The humor of the situation tickled me to such an extent that I must have sniggered at her, when, to my surprise, she evidently misunderstood my intention, and gradually edged her way towards me, with the clear purpose of making the first advance. I then noticed she had a brown paper parcel in her hand. "Go on, Jules, go in and win her, my boy. Don't let me stand in your way," said my pal, jocularly, as the lady adroitly succeeded in placing herself alongside me, without attracting notice from the bystanders. Just for the fun of the thing, I thought I would egg her on to see what would happen, so I sidled a little closer to her and waited, though it was with difficulty I kept my countenance.

She was considerably taller than I, and her elephantine proportions seemed overpowering. Suddenly turning her head she whispered in English, for she was a German evidently, "I have taken great fancy to you. Will you come home with me and be my lover?" I made no reply. An idea had occurred to me. Thinking, perhaps, I had not heard her, she repeated her remark, this time I turned to her, and, to her surprise, made a most voluble statement in gibberish, and looked towards my friend as though asking him to act as interpreter. He knew my love of a practical joke, so at once entered into the spirit of it, and told the lady I was a distinguished foreigner just arrived in England, and, as I could not speak English, he would be pleased to translate to me anything she wished to say. What was it she wanted of me? Though taken aback, she was nothing daunted, and reiterated her amatory sentiments, which were duly translated in gibberish to me. I shrugged my shoulders and gesticulated as though deprecating the honor.

"Tell him," she added, "I think him very nice boy and I have great fancy to him taken, and if he will come with me, I will make him nice presents." Again this was translated; my friend and I were having, apparently, a heated discussion on the advisability of my accepting when the lady again chipped in, and said, "You tell him I have a nice lobster in this parcel and he shall it with me share, if he will come along. It is not often I take fancy so." At this moment, I saw our 'bus coming up, and as I didn't want to walk home, I made signs to my friend that we had better be off. "I regret, madam," he said to my admirer, "I can't persuade him to accept your offer. He says he is very sorry, and it is one of the disappointments of his life, but lobster never agrees with him," and then he added, "It does with me though, won't I do as well?" "No," she answered, almost bursting into tears, and, seizing my hand, squeezed it so hard that I thought she must be a professional strong woman. "If I can't have 'im, I will have nobody. I will go 'ome and eat mine lobster to mineself."

The 'bus-drivers, especially on this route, always struck me as being characters in their way, and the last journey at night appeared to develop their sense of humor somehow. There was always a lot of chaff going on between the jehus of the rival 'buses, which afforded great amusement to the passengers as a rule, whilst any individual who invited sarcasm and was not gifted with ready repartee generally came off badly.

One man I often noted as being particularly quaint in his remarks; at last he got quite a reputation for his impromptu wit, and one would almost wait for it. One soaking wet night, when the rain was simply pouring down, as he was waiting at the corner of Piccadilly Circus for his 'bus to fill up, and calling out his destination, as was usual for drivers to do in those days, his insistence on the fact that it was going to the "Zoo-logical Gardings and Regents Pawk," as though extra inducement to intending passengers on such a night, was, I thought, the very essence of humor.

Although, as I have said, none of our fun ever consisted of indulgence in liquid refreshments, there were times when conviviality demanded a certain departure from this abstemiousness, but I don't think our bill for whisky and brandy ever amounted to much at the end of the year. There was no call to drown "dull care," as few of us had any then. I suppose it was that it didn't matter so much if you were hard up if you had no particular responsibilities. I recollect in this connection something rather amusing that happened one morning at our place.

We had had rather a festive night, and had not gone to bed until the early hours. In order not to break up the party, we had persuaded one of our friends who lived out of town to miss his last train and sleep in the spare bedroom which was in the front of the house. The following morning I went up about nine o'clock to wake him, when, to my surprise, I found him already up and dressed, and on expressing my astonishment at his being so matinal, considering the time we had got to bed, he told me he could not sleep after 8 o'clock, and, on looking out of the window, he could not resist the chance of a rum-and-milk "doing nothing," as he put it, at the "Eyre Arms" over the way; it seemed a pity to miss such an opportunity, so he had dressed and gone out to get it. "This was," he said, "the first time he had ever slept opposite a public house," so it explained his unwonted energy. I had an idea, however, that perhaps it was the pretty barmaid over there who also had something to do with it.

We went a good deal up the river during the summer — not that we were devotees to boating, for I fear none of my chums were in any sense athletes, but it was a good excuse to get away from town on Sunday, and, as a friend of mine had a house-boat near Cookham, we generally went to see him. There is no more delightful spot anywhere on the river than here, and it is, in fact, one of the few places within easy distance of London that has not been spoilt by the day tripper, for the village is very little changed from what it was in Fred Walker's time. On one occasion I spent a month down there with an artist friend. It was in the early summer, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, and painted, and boated, and bathed to our hearts' content, and went to bed early and slept like tops, as there was not much in the shape of dissipation in the quiet village, as may be imagined. We lived in a tiny cottage close to the common, and of an evening after supper would light our pipes and stroll up to the bridge, where there was always the chance of a little flirtation of a very mild description with the local lasses, as there were really some very pretty girls there, mostly the daughters of tradesmen of the village.

Perhaps It Was
              The Pretty Barmaid...

To them, the advent of spring meant emancipation after the dreary winter months, and with the warm days and the boating season came the smart London boys in flannels and blazers to talk to and cheer them up after the long dark nights. Unfortunately, however, there were never enough pretty girls to go round, and you were lucky if you came across one who was unattached.

You certainly wanted something in petticoats to stroll with through the fields by the side of the river in the lovely summer evenings. One could commune with Nature much better, I always thought, if you had your arm round a dear little girl's waist, and her fluffy hair blowing into your face. Without this companionship sylvan life offered but little attraction for me, at any rate.

Talking of the girls reminds me of a "spoof" my friend and I played on an artist who was living in the village when we were there. He was quite a little chap, not bad-looking, but awfully conceited, especially where girls were concerned; in fact, he fancied that no one knew what a pretty girl was except himself, and he was constantly airing his opinions on the subject. He used to brag that he knew every good-looking girl for miles round, and that they had all offered to sit for him. Often would he tell us of his amorous escapades, probably to make us envy him his good fortune, but we had our doubts about them.

This was gradually getting on our nerves when I thought of a practical joke to play on him, and when I told my friend of it, he thought it was good enough to carry out at once. So we wrote him a letter on cheap notepaper in an illiterate sort of feminine writing, telling him that the writer would wait for him at 9 o'clock the next evening outside his house, as she so much wanted to know him, or words to that effect, and we signed it with an illegible signature. It looked just the kind of letter a country girl would write. When we knew he was out painting, I went and pushed the letter under his door so that we could be perfectly sure it reached him.

We generally met during the afternoon, and this time we made a point of it, and on separating, asked him if he would come in and have supper with us the next evening. "Thanks, very much," he replied, "but I can't. I'm engaged tomorrow night. Got something very special on. An awfully pretty girl to meet." "You are a Don Juan," I said chaffingly. "Where on earth do you find them all? We can't come across anything." "Oh," he replied airily, "there's a lot of it about. I get more than I want, and find it a bit of a nuisance knowing so many." "Appointment near here?" asked my friend tentatively. In an outburst of swagger, for he was evidently very pleased with himself, he told us he didn't believe in going a long way to meet a girl; if she wanted to see him, she must come to him, so the rendezvous was close to his place. So far, the "spoof" had come off even better than we expected; it only remained now to carry it out completely. Next day I managed to borrow from our landlady, who was a good sort, her Sunday skirt, coat, and hat, as well as something that would answer the purpose of a thick veil. At half past eight I dressed myself up in them. It is perhaps necessary to mention that in those days I was fairly slim, my chest hadn't commenced to "slip down" as it has since, so when my toilet was finished, I really believe that I didn't look too masculine. My friend, who helped me to disguise myself, was convulsed with laughter as he surveyed me when I was completed. He said I had better be careful not to be seen, or I might get more than I bargained for. Our victim lived only a short distance from us, so there was not much fear of meeting any one ; moreover, it was quite dark. We succeeded in getting out of the house without our landlady seeing us, and made our way stealthily to the trysting-place. As the clock struck nine I took my place under some trees opposite where he lodged. My friend hid himself a little way off where he could watch the result. No one was about, so I ran no risk of being noticed. There was a light in his room, and I could see him plainly pacing about impatiently. The window was wide open, so I gave a significant cough to attract his attention; he looked out immediately, and, seeing me, put on his hat and hurried to where I stood.

Coming up to me, he peered hard at me to get a glimpse of my face, but my thick veil effectively baffled his curiosity, so he seized me by the hand and exclaimed, "I received your letter, little girl" (he didn't reach much above my shoulder). "It was too awfully sweet of you to want to know me, and to write. Tell me, where have we met, and what is your name?" I whispered softly, "Presently, dear." This seemed to embolden him, and, putting his arm through mine, he said, "Let's go for a walk, I know a lovely quiet place not far from here where we shall be away from everybody and you can tell me all about yourself, and let me look at your pretty face. I am simply dying to know who you are. Come along, it is just the very evening to be together, darling."

I pretended to hesitate, and murmured very softly, "I don't think I ought to." Then he tried to put his arm round my waist, and draw me towards him and kiss me, but I resisted gently. "Not yet, sweetheart," I whispered. As may be imagined, I had the greatest difficulty to prevent myself from giggling, as he was so full of conceit, thinking I was really smitten with him, for he took it all for granted, and that I was a simple village maiden ready to fall into his arms. There was a momentary pause; the little fellow seemed nonplussed. I could see my friend behind the trees close by making signs to me to let my Adonis embrace me and have done with it. This finished me. I couldn't keep my countenance any longer. With a peal of laughter I whipped up my skirt, and, showing my trousered legs, I ran off, whilst my friend emerged from his hiding-place and joined me. Next day our victim came round and tried to brazen it out, saying, with a feeble attempt at a laugh, that "he knew who it was all the time." But we heard no more of his escapades with the fair sex after this little take-down.

On another occasion when I was staying at Cookham I had a delightful "adventure" which I have always remembered, more especially as something out of the way occurred in connection with it. I had a fancy to put one of my sentimental ideas on a large canvas, and with this laudable object in view had evolved a subject of a time-worn nature, which I was hoping to treat on somewhat original lines. It was necessary in order to carry it out with any chance of success to find a girl of the type I had in mind and induce her to sit for me, as I wanted to paint the entire picture in situ with my model against the actual background. One does not come across one's ideal just when one is seeking for it, as I have already pointed out, and I had been looking around in vain when a bit of luck came my way. Some friends of mine had taken a house near the village for the season. They were very hospitable people, and I was often invited there. They had two daughters, and a son about my age, and there were usually some visitors staying with them, so it made a cheery party. One day I was told that a school friend of one of the girls, who lived at Marlow, was coming over to tennis, and she turned out to be exactly the type of English girl I had been looking for. Tall, fair, and delightfully slim, and with a complexion like a peach, a real river girl, the sort to make you fall madly in love with in a few hours. I was, as I have said, on most intimate terms with the family, and dropped in whenever I liked. It struck me that, perhaps, I might be able to induce her, therefore, to sit for the picture, so I managed to have a walk with her round the garden after tea, and I told her all about it. To my delight, she was quite interested, and promised to write and let me know when she could manage it. I may mention that I had already discovered the very place to paint the picture in, a charming and secluded backwater just below the Quarry Woods, and so it was settled that she should walk along the towing path on the day she appointed and meet me at a spot she would tell me of when she wrote. She enjoined me to secrecy, saying that "she knew her people would say it was very wrong of her to meet me at all, but, of course, no one but ourselves need know of it, so where was the harm?" With which argument I was, of course, in perfect agreement.

A Real
                  River Girl...

When we rejoined the family circle, I remember that, although I felt elated at my good fortune, I had the sentiment of being somewhat of a conspirator. " How lovely your roses look," remarked my fair companion casually to our hostess, as she let herself drop in a wicker chair, as though to explain our absence. I glanced towards her. She looked the very embodiment of girlish ingenuousness.

A couple of days later I received a letter from her fixing a rendezvous. So I got a boat, put my canvas and easel and painting things in it, and rowed up to meet her. I shall never forget my impression as I saw her coming towards me along the river bank. She was dressed entirely in white, a quite simple river frock, but its effect in the afternoon sunshine was ethereal. She looked a dream of a beautiful English girl.

I will not attempt to describe the delightful times we spent together after this meeting. They were idyllic, and I don't remember ever having painted en plein air under more poetic conditions. I have since those far-off days often passed the spot where we used to moor the boat, and abandon ourselves to the long afternoon of undisturbed happiness in the cool shade of the overhanging trees till the lengthening shadows warned us it was time to be returning ; then, I remember, with a heavy heart, I used to pack up my paraphernalia, and row her back to the spot where we had met. I can see her now in my mind's eye, crossing the meadow, turning round now and again to wave me yet another and another farewell until she was out of sight.

Those were, indeed, never-to-be-forgotten hours, and with all the charm of them was that they were so greatly in contrast to my studio life, for whilst there was the fascination of our meetings being of a clandestine nature, there was really nothing in them to which even that hard taskmistress, Mrs. Grundy, could have taken exception. It was a delightful experience, in the course of which I managed somehow to paint a picture without her people ever getting to know of it. One thing, however, is certain, and that is that she never looked on our escapade as anything more than a harmless summer flirtation, for she was little more than a girl, and I was quite a young man without any serious thoughts at all in my head, at the time, on matrimonial subjects.

After we had been meeting thus for a week or so without having, as I thought, excited any suspicion amongst her people of what was going on between us, there occurred the curious incident I alluded to at the commencement of this little story. I forgot to mention that we had occasionally met at our mutual friend's house since that memorable afternoon when I had first been introduced to her, but, of course, she gave no sign of undue friendship towards me. I was Mr. Price to her, and she was Miss So-and-so to me.

On the occasion to which I am about to refer, she had not been able to meet me for several days, and she had written to say she would come and sit for me the following afternoon, and how much she was looking forward to a lovely time together. That evening one of the young fellows who used to be always in and out of our friend's house came to my lodgings to invite me to go with them the following day on a launch party up the river. He told me that it was going to be a very jolly outing, as they were to picnic somewhere on the way, have tea on board, and finish up with a dinner on returning home.

It would have been difficult to imagine a pleasanter excursion. The weather was delightful at the time and looked like lasting, so that the invitation was indeed an alluring one. Then he told me who was going to be of the party. "All the usual crowd of nice boys and girls, and, of course," he added, "Amy," which, we will say, was my girl's name. For a moment I thought he knew something, and that he mentioned her name purposely. I felt my back hair stiffening, but almost instantly I realized that it was over-sensitiveness that made me imagine an affront in what was probably only an innocent statement, so I made no remark. I began to wonder whether this sudden picnic would not have altered her arrangements to meet me in spite of her letter, so I thought I had better be on the safe side, as I should have liked to go on the launch, especially if she were going to be there also. I replied, therefore, that "I might have to go to town the next day for a few hours, so if I might leave it open I would come if I could." He said that he was fixing it all up himself, and that they were starting from the bridge at such and such a time, and that if I could manage to join them they would be delighted, so we left it at that.

I almost expected to get a note from Amy the next morning to put off her appointment, but there was none, so I decided not to go on the launch and to chance her being at our usual rendezvous. To my delight she was there, and we passed several hours together. The picnic had not appealed to her, and she preferred to come and sit for me, so had made some excuse to get out of going.

When at last it was time to be thinking of packing up, the sun was nearly setting. The entrance to the backwater in which we were ensconced was masked, fortunately, as it turned out, by overhanging trees, for just as I was pushing out into the main stream, and had got the bows of the boat clear, we were startled by the whistle of a large steam launch coming rapidly towards us. There were loud cries of warning, and only just in time I managed by a great effort to stop my boat from being run down and probably cut in half.

 We Were Very Great Pals

As the launch swished past, I heard a well-known voice call out, "Isn't that Jules in the skiff?" To which some one else replied, "It is like him, but he's gone up to town today, so it can't be." Amy, luckily, was hidden by the bushes, or the incident would have been very awkward for both of us.

The following day I ran across the man who had come to me with the invitation. "You missed a splendid time, yesterday," he told me. "We had a lovely day and glorious weather. They were all very disappointed you could not turn up," and then, as though to rub it in still more, he added, "and, Amy especially asked after you." "Was she there then?" I asked nonchalantly. "Of course, she was, the party wouldn't have been complete without her," was his unabashed reply.

I recall another experience of my boating days, which ended in a curious manner.

One Sunday a friend had lent me his punt and I had taken a sweetly pretty girl out for the day. We were very great pals, and had spent some very good times together. We started from Weybridge and made a lovely trip up the River Wey, which was as secluded a spot as one could desire. It was like an exploration journey, we thought. I remember we took a hamper with us, and had a little picnic all to ourselves, so we passed one of the most joyous days imaginable. The weather was perfect, and I had a delightful companion, so what more could a fellow want? Everything was so idyllic that we were quite loth to return to the prosaic surroundings of the main stream, and it was only when the shadows began to lengthen that we decided it was time to think of the train. But we had reckoned without taking mishaps into consideration. The River Wey is a tortuous and insignificant stream, and all of a sudden we got stuck right across it and in a most awkward position. Of course, there was no risk, as there are only a few inches of water, but it took me some little time to get clear, as my companion was more ornament than use in a punt, and when at last we got to Weybridge it was quite dark and much later than we had intended.

We lost no time getting to the station, when, to the horror of my companion, we learned that the last train for London had gone, and the telegraph office was closed. I shall never forget the look of consternation on her pretty face, for I forgot to mention she was a very nice, quiet girl, who lived at home with her people. We stared at each other in blank dismay. What was to be done? The porter to whom we addressed ourselves was evidently the village idiot before he took up his station job, judging from the view he took of our predicament, and he seemed to think it rather a good joke our being so worried about it; perhaps to him it was not an unusual thing for young couples to lose their last train home — anyhow, all he could suggest was that there was an inn close by and that we had "better make a night of it" — or words to that effect — " since there was no chance of our getting back to town unless we caught the mail at 3 o'clock in the morning."

We left him and wandered down the road, and out in the darkness my companion completely broke down and sobbed like a child. What would her people think? They were always a bit suspicious of me, and she wouldn't have had this happen for worlds; they would be waiting up all night for her, and so forth. I tried my best to console her. "Accidents would happen," I told her, but I felt quite nonplussed, for I hadn't thought she would take it so seriously. Then I remembered the early morning train. If we managed to catch that, it would get us to town at an unearthly hour, it is true, but better than staying away all night. She eagerly jumped at this suggestion, but the question was, where to go until it was time to get back to the station, as it was only 1o o'clock then.

We couldn't very well walk about all night. An idea occurred to me, and I went to the hotel close by, and saw the proprietor, to whom I explained our predicament. He looked, and was, a real good fellow. He called his wife, a kind, motherly person, and she was most sympathetic when she saw my pretty companion's tear-stained face. But they were closing for the night, she said. She and her husband went aside and had a talk together, and then told us that they were going to bed, but would let us stay in their sitting-room until it was time to go to the station, and would trust to us to put out the gas and shut the outer door quietly, when we left. Such kindness and confidence, on the part of people who did not even know who we were, was so unexpected, that we neither of us knew how sufficiently to express our thanks.

We were shown into a cozy parlor, and the landlord said he was going to leave us a bite of something on the sideboard, in case we felt hungry before we started, and to cap it all, refused to take a penny piece for what they were doing for us, as it was after closing time, they said. They were, indeed, good Samaritans. After they had bade us good night, and we found ourselves alone, my companion threw her arms round me, and kissed me for very joy of our having found a way out of the predicament. We had nearly five hours before us, and our only fear now was that we might fall asleep, and not wake up in time, so we determined to take no risks, and although we were both very tired we managed to keep awake somehow, and caught the train, so it all ended without further misadventure.

The funniest part of it all, what in France would be ycelpt l'incroyable, was that we sat there all those hours, in separate armchairs, until it was time to go, for all the world like two Sunday-school children. How this was I don't quite know, but so far as I was concerned, such a thing as love-making never entered my head. I remember I said afterwards that it was her fault, but she did not agree. She had put it down, she told me, to my nervousness about not missing the train. For a long time after I pondered over her remark, and even now I recall that night at Weybridge with a twinge of vain regret.




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