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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 13
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    A VISIT TO MR. SAMUEL PEPYS

    There are several unjustifiable extravagances which every normal man commits. There are also several unjustifiable economies. Among others, there is that absurd eagerness to save the striking of a second match, which occasions so many burned fingers, and such picturesque language. And again, there is the desire to compress a telegraphic message into the minimum sixpennyworth, and so send an ambiguous and cryptic sentence, when sevenpence would have made it as clear as light. We all tend to be stylists in our telegrams.

    A week after the conversation about Mr. Pepys, when some progress had been made with the reading of the Diary, Maude received the following wire from Frank -

    'Mrs. Crosse. Woking.--Pepys buttered toast suede gloves four Monument wait late.'

    As a sixpennyworth it was a success, but as a message it seemed to leave something to be desired. Maude puzzled over it, and tried every possible combination of the words. The nearest approach to sense was when it was divided in this way--Pepys--buttered toast-- suede gloves--four--Monument, wait late.

    She wrote it out in this form, and took it section by section. 'Pepys,' that was unintelligible. 'Buttered toast,' no sense in that. 'Suede gloves,' yes, she had told Frank that when she came to town, she would buy some suede gloves at a certain shop in the City, where she could get for three and threepence a pair which would cost her three and ninepence in Woking. Maude was so conscientiously economical, that she was always prepared to spend two shillings in railway fares to reach a spot where a sixpence was to be saved, and to lavish her nerve and energy freely in the venture. Here, then, in the suede gloves, was a central point of light. And then her heart bounded with joy, as she realised that the last part could only mean that she was to meet Frank at the Monument at four, and that she was to wait for him if he were late.

    So, now, returning to the opening of the message, with the light which shone from the ending, she realised that buttered toast might refer to a queer little City hostel, remarkable for that luxury, where Frank had already taken her twice to tea. And so leaving Mr. Pepys to explain himself later, Maude gave hurried orders to Jemima and the cook, and dashed upstairs to put on her new fawn-coloured walking-dress--a garment which filled her with an extraordinary mixture of delight and remorse, for it was very smart, cost seven guineas, and had not yet been paid for.

    The rendezvous was evidently a sudden thought upon the part of Frank, for he had left very little time for her to reach the trysting-place. However, she was fortunate in catching a train to Waterloo, and another thence to the City, and so reached the Monument at five minutes to four. The hour was just striking when Frank, with his well-brushed top-hat and immaculate business frock-coat, came rushing from the direction of King William Street. Maude held out her hand and he shook it, and then they both laughed at the formality.

    'I am so glad you were able to come, dearest. How you do brighten up the old City!'

    'Do I? I felt quite lonely until you came. Nothing but droves of men--and all staring.'

    'It's your dress.'

    'Oh, thank you, sir!'

    'Entirely that pretty brown--'

    'Brown! Fawn colour.'

    'Well, that's brown. Anyhow, it looks charming. And so do you--by Jove you do, Maude! Come this way!'

    'Where are we going?'

    'By underground. Here we are.--Two second singles, Mark Lane, please!--No, that's for the west-end trains. Down here! Next train, the man says.'

    They were in the mephitic cellar, with the two long wooden platforms where the subterranean trains land or load their freights. A strangling gas tickled their throats and set them coughing. It was all dank and dark and gloomy. But little youth and love care for that! They were bubbling over with the happiness of this abnormal meeting. Both talked together in their delight, and Maude patted Frank's sleeve with every remark. They could even illuminate all that was around them, by the beauty and brightness of their own love. It went the length of open praise for their abominable surroundings.

    'Isn't it grand and solemn?' said Maude. 'Look at the black shadows.'

    'When they come to excavate all this some thousands of years hence, they will think it was constructed by a race of giants,' Frank answered.

    'The modern works for the benefit of the community are really far greater than those which sprang from the caprice of kings. The London and North-Western Railway is an infinitely grander thing than the pyramids. Look at the two headlights in the dark!'

    Two sullen crimson discs glowed in the black arch of the tunnel. With a menacing and sinister speed, they grew and grew until roaring they sprang out of the darkness, and the long, dingy train, with a whining of brakes, drew up at the platform.

    'Here's one nearly empty,' said Frank, with his hand on the handle.

    'Don't you think--' said Maude.

    'Yes, I do,' cried Frank.

    And they got into one which was quite empty. For the underground railway is blessed as regards privacy above all other lines, and where could a loving couple be more happy, who have been torn apart by cruel fate for seven long hours or so? It was with a groan that Frank remarked that they had reached Mark Lane.

    'Bother!' said Maude, and wondered if there were any shop near where she could buy hairpins. As every lady knows, or will know, there is a very intimate connection between hairpins and a loving husband.

    'Now, Frank, about your telegram.'

    'All right, dear. Come along where I lead you, and you will understand all about it.'

    They passed out of Mark Lane Station and down a steep and narrow street to the right. At the bottom lay an old smoke-stained church with a square tower, and a small open churchyard beside it.

    'That's the church of Saint Olave,' said Frank. 'We are going into it.'

    He pushed open a folding oaken door, and they found themselves inside it. Rows of modern seats filled the body of it, but the walls and windows gave an impression of great antiquity. The stained glass-- especially that which surmounted the altar--contained those rich satisfying purples and deep deep crimsons which only go with age. It was a bright and yet a mellow light, falling in patches of vivid colour upon the brown woodwork and the grey floors. Here and there upon the walls were marble inscriptions in the Latin tongue, with pompous allegorical figures with trumpets, for our ancestors blew them in stone as well as in epitaphs over their tombs. They loved to die, as they had lived, with dignity and with affectation. White statues glimmered in the shadows of the corners. As Frank and his wife passed down the side-aisle, their steps clanged through the empty and silent church.

    'Here he is!' said Frank, and faced to the wall.

    He was looking up at the modern representation of a gentleman in a full and curly wig. It was a well-rounded and comely face, with shrewd eyes and a sensitive mouth. The face of a man of affairs, and a good fellow, with just that saving touch of sensuality about it which makes an expression human and lovable. Underneath was printed

    -

    SAMUEL PEPYS Erected by public subscription 1883.

    'Oh, isn't he nice?' said Maude.

    'He's not a bad-looking chap, is he?'

    'I don't believe that man ever could have struck his wife or kicked the maid.'

    'That's calling him a liar.'

    'Oh dear, I forgot that he said so himself. Then I suppose he must have done it. What a pity it seems.'

    'Cheer up! We must say what the old heathen lady said when they read the gospels to her.'

    'What did she say?'

    'She said, "Well, it was a long time ago, and we'll hope that it wasn't true!"'

    'O Frank, how can you tell such stories in a church. Do you really suppose that Mr. Pepys is in that wall?'

    'I presume that the monument marks the grave.'

    'There's a little bit of plaster loose. Do you think I might take it?'

    'It isn't quite the thing.'

    'But it can't matter, and it isn't wrong, and we are quite alone.' She picked off the little flake of plaster, and her heart sprang into her mouth as she did so, for there came an indignant snort from her very elbow, and there was a queer little smoke-dried, black-dressed person who seemed to have risen, like the Eastern genii or a modern genius, in a single instant. A pair of black list slippers explained the silence of his approach.

    'Put that back, young lady,' said he severely.

    Poor Maude held out her guilty relic on the palm of her hand. 'I am so sorry,' said she. 'I am afraid I cannot put it back.'

    'We'll 'ave the 'ole church picked to pieces at this rate,' said the clerk. 'You shouldn't 'ave done it, and it was very wrong.' He snorted and shook his head.

    'It's of no consequence,' said Frank. 'The plaster was hanging, and must have fallen in any case. Don't make a fuss about a trifle.'

    The clerk looked at the young gentleman and saw defiance in one of his eyes and half a crown in the other.

    'Well, well!' he grumbled. 'It shows as the young lady takes an interest, and that's more than most. Why, sir, if you'll believe me, there's not one in a hundred that comes to this church that ever 'eard of Pepys. "Pepys!" says they. "'Oo's Pepys?" "The Diarist," says I. "Diarist!" says they, "wot's a Diarist?" I could sit down sometimes an' cry. But maybe, miss, you thought as you were picking that plaster off 'is grave?'

    'Yes, I thought so.'

    The clerk chuckled.

    'Well, it ain't so. I'll tell you where 'e really lies, if you'll promise you won't pick another chunk off that. Well, then, it's there--beside the communion. I saw 'im lyin' there with these very eyes, and 'is wife in the coffin beneath 'im.'

    'You saw him?'

    'Yes, sir, I saw 'im, an' that's more than any livin' man could say, for there were only four of us, and the other three are as dead as Pepys by now.'

    'Oh do tell us about it!' cried Maude.

    'Well, it was like this, miss. We 'ad to examine to see 'ow much room there was down there, and so we came upon them.'

    'And what did you see?'

    'Well, miss, 'is coffin lay above, and 'is wife's below, as might be expected, seeing that she died thirty years or so before 'im. The coffins was very much broken, an' we could see 'im as clear us I can see you. When we first looked in I saw 'im lying quite plain--a short thick figure of a man--with 'is 'ands across 'is chest. And then, just as we looked at 'im, 'e crumbled in, as you might say, across 'is breast bone, an' just quietly settled down into a 'uddle of dust. It's a way they 'as when the fresh air strikes 'em. An' she the same, an' 'is dust just fell through the chinks o' the wood and mixed itself with 'ers.'

    'O Frank!' Maude's ready tears sprang to her eyes. She put her hand upon her husband's and was surprised to find how cold it was. Women never realise that the male sex is the more sensitive. He had not said, 'O Maude!' because he could not.

    'They used some powder like pepper for embalmin' in those days,' said the clerk. 'And the vicar--it was in old Bellamy's time--'e took a sniff into the grave, an' 'e sneezed an' sneezed till we thought we should 'ave to fetch a doctor. 'Ave you seen Mrs. Pepys' tomb?'

    'No, we have only just come.'

    'That's it on the left of the common.'

    'With the woman leaning forward?'

    'Yes, sir. That's Mrs. Pepys herself.'

    It was an arch laughing face, the face of a quite young woman; the sculptor had depicted her as leaning forward in an animated and natural attitude. Below was engraved -

    Obiit Xo Novembris AEtatis 29 Conjugii 15 Anno Domini 1669.

    'Poor dear!' whispered Maude.

    'It was hard that she should die just as her husband was becoming famous and successful,' said Frank. 'She who had washed his shirts, and made up the coal fires, when they lived in a garret together. What a pity that she could not have a good time!'

    'Ah well, if she loved him, dear, she had a good time in the garret.'

    Maude was leaning forward with her face raised to look at the bust of the dead woman, which also leaned forward as if to look down upon her. A pair of marble skulls flanked the lady's grave. A red glow from the evening sun struck through a side-window and bathed the whole group in its ruddy light. As Frank, standing back in the shadow, ran his eyes from the face of the dead young wife to that of his own sweet, girlish bride, with those sinister skulls between, there came over him like a wave, a realisation of the horror which lies in things, the grim close of the passing pageant, the black gloom, which swallows up the never-ending stream of life. Will the spirit wear better than the body; and if not, what infernal practical joke is this to which we are subjected!

    'It will. It must,' he said.

    'WHY, Frank--Frank dear, what is the matter? You are quite pale.'

    'Come out into the air, Maude. I have had enough of this stuffy old church.'

    'Stuffy!' said the clerk. 'Well, we've 'ad the Lord Mayor 'ere at least once a year, an' 'e never found it stuffy. A cleaner, fresher church you won't find in the city of London. It's 'ad its day, I'll allow. There was a time--and I can remember it--when folk used to spend their money where they made it, and the plate would be full of paper and gold, where now we find it 'ard enough to get coppers. That was fifty year ago, when I was a young clerk. You might not think it, but I've seen a Lord Mayor, a past Lord Mayor, and a Lord Mayor elect of the city of London, all sitting on one bench in this very church. And YOU call it stuffy!'

    Frank soothed the wounded feelings of the old clerk, and explained that by stuffy he meant interesting. He also shook hands with him in a peculiar way as he held his palm upturned in the small of his back. Then Maude and he retraced their steps up the narrow street which is called Seething Lane.

    'Poor old boy! What was it, then?' asked Maude, looking up with her sympathetic eyes. It is at such moments that a man realises what the companionship of women means. The clouds melted before the sun.

    'What an ass I was! I began to think of all sorts of horrible things. Never mind, Maude! We are out for a holiday. Hang the future! Let us live in the present.'

    'I always do,' said Maude, and she spoke for her sex.

    'Well, what now? Buttered toast or suede gloves?'

    'Business first!' said Maude primly, and so proceeded to save her sixpence on the gloves. As she was tempted, however ('such a civil obliging shopman, Frank!'), to buy four yards of so-called Astrakhan trimming, a frill of torchon lace, six dear little festooned handkerchiefs, and four pairs of open-work stockings--none of which were contemplated when she entered the shop--her sixpenny saving was not as brilliant a piece of finance as she imagined.

    And then they finished their excursion in the dark, wainscotted, low- ceilinged coffee-room of an old-fashioned inn, once the mother of many coaches, and now barren and deserted, but with a strange cunning in the matter of buttered toast which had come down from more prosperous days. It was a new waiter who served them, and he imagined them to be lovers and scented an intrigue; but when they called for a second plate of toast and a jug of boiling water, he recognised the healthy appetite of the married. And then, instead of going home like a good little couple, Maude suddenly got it into her head that it would cheer away the last traces of Frank's gloom if they went to see 'Charley's Aunt' at the Globe. So they loitered and shopped for a couple of hours, and then squeezed into the back of the pit; and wedged in among honest, hearty folk who were not ashamed to show their emotions, they laughed until they were tired. And so home, as their friend Pepys would have said, after such a day as comes into the memory, shining golden among the drab, when old folk look back, and think of the dear dead past. May you and I, reader, if ever we also come to sit in our final armchairs in the chimney corners, have many such to which our minds may turn, sweet and innocent and fragrant, to cheer us in those darksome hours to come.
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