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FROM AN ISLINGTON WINDOW.-II.

I.

THAT Islington window! What a microcosm did I get cognisance of through its dozen moderately sized panes! Rapture and dismay, love and abhorrence, glorification and contempt-all the passions that stir humanity and make up the sum-total of life were here brought within ken. We talk at random of the great world, as if men and women were fashioned by circumstance and not by character, as if indeed the stage formed the actors and not the actors the stage. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, tragedy and comedy were enacted before us from January to December. This single street afforded ample scope for a second Comédie Humaine (tragédie were the more appropriate word) in twenty-five, or another Pickwick' series in twenty-one, volumes.

The little drama in three acts I am about to relate belongs to what is called the Mid-Victorian period, but remains in my memory fresh as an occurrence of yesterday.

On a certain summer morning, then, our thoroughfare from end to end became infected with mysterious transport, a veritable contagion of rejoicing was in the air. No peals announced a Royal Birth, Wedding, or General Holiday. Every object wore its accustomed aspect; yet, metaphorically speaking, trumpets blared, bands played, bells rang, and flags waved. A meaning look was in the face of our City men as they interchanged a brisk 'good day.' One, indeed-Mr. Robinson of Number Ten-who had never been known to close his door five minutes earlier or later during the week, actually lingered as if it were Boxing Day or Whit-Monday, and the clock was of no account. Mr. Thomson, of Number Fifteen, pottered in his tiny front garden pretending to trim his two standard roses. Mr. Brown, of Number Twenty-no relation to our former acquaintance, the portly churchwarden-halted to read his newspaper when half-way down the street. Mr. Green, his next-door neighbour, by some contrariety or other, could not get his pipe comfortably alight, and cast away one match after another.

When fairly off, all glanced before and behind them as they

sauntered along. Wives and daughters peered discreetly between their white muslin curtains; maids-of-all-work loitered over the daily doorstep cleaning; butchers' boys and other youthful wags interchanged five-fingered signals; not a soul but was on the alert, taking part in some local jubilation.

The according bells of a dozen churches had just chimed nine when two four-wheeled cabs slowly turned the corner and stopped at Number Thirty-nine, a midway house on the opposite side and well within eye-shot of our own.

Those two shabby vehicles produced a magical effect and were evidently what folks had been looking for. Their appearance seemed to evoke a collective sigh of relief; yet no white favours heralded a wedding, and no police officers suggested mystery.

Of course we knew something of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Jones, who occupied Number Thirty-nine. Dick and Alfy Jones used to play with our boys and their sisters in the street after school hours. Our butcher and baker served them, our mangling woman called for their house-linen, our Wesleyan maid accompanied theirs to chapel on Sundays. Our family doctor attended the fragile-looking wife who every year added a member to the household; and although we did not visit, we were on 'howd'ye-doing' terms. Our own City man used to chat with 'poor Charley Jones' (as the other was latterly called) on their bus drive to Aldermanbury. The adjective implied an additional struggle in order to keep up appearances, pay the schooling of four children, and remain solvent on less than three hundred a year. But there had seemed no call for especial sympathy until a few months before.

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'A nice surprise that on coming home tired to death,' had said Charley to a fellow-clerk one February morning of this year. Worse than Emmie being taken unawares and a fellow having to fetch nurse and doctor at midnight, and with snow an inch thick on the ground, eh?'

So saying, he brought out a telegram and, with a grimace and well-affected pomposity, read as follows:

'Crewe Junction, five forty-five. Bolingbroke (my superior brother-in-law) to Jones. Give us all beds for the night. Post secured South.'

Since the reception of that terrible missive just sixteen weeks before, four extra beds and a baby's cot had been in request at

Number Thirty-nine, four extra covers laid at every meal, besides a bottled and voracious bantling of nine months to be supplied with milk; there were also a canary and a pet dog to be catered for-part and parcel of the Bolingbroke family-the invasion reducing our honest neighbours almost to beggary—or Bedlam! The cruel situation from matter of daily talk became a local scandal.

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'Humph!' exclaimed our baker. That fine gent who has plumped himself down with his upstarts on poor Mrs. Jones must have a hot roll for breakfast-and it doesn't choke him! Wonderful are the ways of Providence.'

'True as my name is Arabella Martin and I was married in church,' our washerwoman would confide in Louisa,' that there lot at Thirty-nine-their washing-Mrs. B.'s white slips and Mr. B.'s frilled shirt-fronts, and the brats' laced pinnies are enough to break the Bank of England. I should like to turn the rubbish, all on their last legs, into the New River and Mister after them.'

How matters stood we could see clearly from our windows. Each intruder was daily within sight; one and all, down to Gyp, the knowing little spaniel, being evidently quite unconscious of unwelcomeness. With poor Charley Jones' step-family, the traditional order of things was reversed. Here the alien and usurping half got all the cakes and ale-the original and legitimate were sat upon.

One wanted no particulars concerning Mr. Marmaduke Bolingbroke and his story. All who ran could read both. But for unmistakable signs of most carefully warded-off wear and tear, the tall, erect, consequential figure would have been in full fig-surtout of perfect cut, trousers faultless both as to pattern and material, black satin stock that might have been worn by a Harley Street specialist, and so on. His appearance, although a trifle shabbygenteel, added to great dignity of carriage, always inspired respect― among strangers—especially as a little fad might indicate penuriousness rather than want. On the fourth finger of his white wellshaped left hand glittered a diamond ring. And so embittered had become the general feeling against the wearer that more than one neighbour longed to imitate Simon Peter smiting off Malchus' ear-in other words, to sacrifice that white finger and turn its diamond into money for the impoverished Jones household.

There was another little incident that drove folks well-nigh frantic with indignation. The Sunday joint at Number Thirty

nine, as from the top to the bottom of the street, was always served cold on the two or three following days. But of late on Monday and Tuesday mornings, regularly as clockwork, a prime muttonchop had been deposited at the opposite area door, and when Emmie Jones, with her sister and the children, sat down to their cold boiled beef and potatoes, up would come Mary Ann with Mr. Bolingbroke's chop under cover. As we took our own seats for the midday meal in the opposite dining-room we used to see the superior brother-inlaw enter a minute later, tuck his dinner-napkin-the only person indulged with such a luxury-under his chin, remove the cover with a flourish and deliberately and remorselessly degustate. The tragic-comic little scene was inimitable.

Yet more than one observer of human nature from a window would come to the conclusion that, after all, Mr. Bolingbroke was by far the properest object of commiseration. A phase of heredity, hitherto neglected by philosophers and tragedians, a version of 'What's in a name?'-had wrecked his own career and poisoned the lives of those belonging to him. Alike airs and graces, muttonchop and dinner-napkin, were accounted for by the historic patronymic and titular fleur-de-lis. That terrible but seriously taken heritage, as we afterwards learned, was also answerable for years of shifty struggle and parasitic habits. The poor man had not the slightest objection to maintaining his family, but it must be in a genteel, rather gentlemanly way, by means of a post, not of a situation, behind an office table, not a counter. Above all things, employment must be commensurate with the Esq.' of letters received and the heraldic seal on his own; his services must be paid by emoluments,' not 'salary,' to say nothing of the plebeian word wages.' Post after post had failed, as he put it, to give his peculiar abilities free scope. One employer after another had failed to recognise those highly valued gifts; at the end of ten years, desperation on the part of friends, beggary on his own, had brought about a climax, a long stop.

By the greatest good luck, a 'secretaryship,' as Mr. Bolingbroke called it that is to say, the post of clerk-had now been secured for him in the flourishing new settlement of Canterbury, New Zealand. Friends and relations had zealously made up a purse. Berths were secured for the family in the Arethusa, lying off Blackwall, and to sail forthwith.

And such was the astounding news that had spread like wildfire through our little colony, that had metaphorically made flags

fly, trumpets blare, and bands play from one end of our long street to the other on this summer morning.

You see, no one ever expected such a man as Mr. Bolingbroke and his belongings to be got rid of in this world. The least incredulous had snapped their fingers and shaken their heads at the rumoured good tidings. But the appearance of the two cabs settled the matter. All doubts were now at an end. Christian was to cast his bundle, Sinbad his Old Man of the Sea, at last! Then took place a scene of final leave-taking that none who witnessed would ever forget.

The prospect of life-long separation from these relations had positively unwrinkled poor Charley Jones and his wife, and, like the recording angel's tear, had also wiped away every reproach. Radiant as bride and bridegroom-or rich legatees-they now bustled about, at the last moment thinking of a dozen little extras for the seafarers. Nor were their children less in a seventh heaven. That night Dick and Alfy and their sisters would sleep in their own little beds and not upon sofas and folding-chairs. On the following Saturday, so they fondly hoped, they would receive their pocketmoney of a penny a week in full instead of having to halve it with their cousins. The little girls were also in high glee at the thought that dolls, picture-books, and puzzles would once more seem their own and not perpetually be borrowed by Althea and Georgiana, their aristocratic cousins.

One and all had suffered too much to simulate regret. One and all did not know how to show their gratitude for deliverance. So when the mended and re-mended portmanteaus and the muchtravelled trunks, nailed and covered with cow-hide, were hoisted up, and both cabs groaned under their cargoes, came extra upon extra.

6

'To wear on deck, dear,' Emmie got out and wrapped round her sister's neck the white knitted shawl worn after her yearly coming downstairs.'

'No, no,' faintly remonstrated the other, but of course let Emmie have her way.

The sisters, as we learned afterwards, had remained staunch to each other throughout these later tribulations, only Mr. Bolingbroke dividing them. For the wife, alike the name and the fleur-de-lis had proved irresistible-she could only see through her husband's eyes.

Next, having whispered a word in Emmie's ear, Charley rushed indoors, returning with the battered perambulator that had done

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