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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review October 1914

"Ask a Policeman."

page 11

"Ask a Policeman."

(Together with a few notes on a butcher, a custodian, and a servant.)

In London the thing to do when in doubt, or in need of pleasant conversation, is to ask a policeman. We liked it, and did it a great deal, especially during the first days. One day we suffered two rebuffs, but that was very unusual. The first was a semi-rebuff. It was a Saturday, some three-quarters of an hour after mid-day. We wanted to buy things, so we asked a policeman which shops shut at one. "All respectable shops," was the' answer, given in a tone of reproof. So that when I sneaked into a modest draper's some minutes after one, I had an uneasy feeling that I was doing something not quite respectable.

The next rebuff occurred when we asked about a 'bus. The policeman was standing on an "island" in a rather narrow street. "You want a 'No. 16,' "he replied in answer to our question. One approached, and we made to jump on." 'Ere, not that; the other side," he called. We paused, both half on the 'bus, wondering whether to try the other end. "Other side of what?" I asked, bewildered. "Other side of the road," was the withering retort, in an unnecessarily loud voice, while the conductor and some of the passengers laughed, those nasty, sniggering laughs. That decided me. I would be revenged on the force. Next day I sallied forth, passing two keen-eyed policemen, who didn't look as though they could be taken in easily, and selected a nice, bulgy, complacent one. So that I would not laugh, I tried to think of something really sad, and pictured in my mind Prof. Adamson making a speech. Therefore, with becoming gravity, I approached the policeman. As I wished to be alliterative, "please" was left out from my carefully-prepared sentence.

"Vill you tell me vair ees Vitehall, und vitch ees the vay to Vestmeenster?" He smiled indulgently, and explained at length. I knit my brows intently, then, in a page 12 hesitating voice, asked, "Vill you it tell to me again, more slow?" So he repeated it, and told me I had better take 'Bus 24. 'Bus 80, which I wanted, then came by, so I sprang on board.

"Here," he yelled, "not that one."

"Thanks awfully," I called back, "but it happens to be the one I want." Fortunately, I have not met that policeman since.

That I was "not quite myself" with him reminds me of a subterfuge that somehow seemed forced on me down in Sussex. It happened at Worthing, a seaside resort, a fact you will know if you "earnestly" read your Oscar Wilde (one of the Frog's favourite authors). We were in "Apartments," catering for ourselves, and I did the shopping.

I got into difficulties at the butcher's over a shoulder of lamb. He was a very charming butcher, one of those rosy-faced, helpful young things, who are paternal while still on the sunny side of thirty. That decided my course of action.

"I'm not very used to housekeeping," I explained, bash-fully taking him into my confidence. "Will you help me? I don't know quite how much to get."

"With pleasure, madam," said he, beaming, "enough for two, madam, I suppose?"

I blushed, really at my own duplicity—he thought it was just because I had begun to run a menage a deux.

"Yes, for two," I murmured, modestly.

When it arrived, we found that it would have done for three for about half a week. Men were deceivers ever!

But, to hark back to our policeman ! I was walking along Stratford-on-Avon, High Street, one day, having just come from Harvard House, where I had been shown round with a party of Americans, some of whose phrases I rather liked, and I found myself repeating them in my mind and trying them over. There was a policeman standing at the corner of the street. "Say!" I said, stopping in front of him, "Kin yew tell me if thet's Henley Street stretchin' thet way?"

page 13

"Yes, Miss," replied he, "and that's Shakespeare's house over there—tickets is., at the house before."

"I guess this sight-seeing makes the dollars fly," said I. "They've just touched me for sixpence at Harvard."

"Oh," said he, smiling, "but you American ladies have plenty of money."

"You kin search me," said I, beaming on him, as I walked away, feeling quite pleased and proud.

There was the usual monotonous voiced custodian downstairs in Shakespeare's house, but upstairs was a very charming old lady, with plump, be-ringed hands, in which she twirled a little embroidered fan. I had her all to myself for a time, so, to be interesting, I told her I came from New Zealand, and that my father was President of the Wellington Shakespeare Club. When you don't know the W.S.C. that sounds rather top-hole. She was obviously impressed, and conducted me round, and showed me all the treasures, talking meanwhile of Shakespeare as though he were a contemporary and an intimate friend. When the room filled with sight-seers, however, she raised her voice and talked pompously of "The Immortal Bard."

"Here," said she, lifting a little red cloth which protected the writing from the light, "is one of our chief treasures. A letter to Shakespeare."

"Only to Shakespeare," ejaculated a man, with an aggrieved voice and a face like an egg. "Is this the birth-room?" he added, looking round with faint interest.

"No," said she, and his slight look of interest faded. "But, personally," she added, in defence of her own special room, "I consider the whole house sacred to Shakespeare."

By the way, I know a very good story about the birth-room, but I can't tell it here, as it's fit only for members of the Heretics' Club. Perhaps, if they send a request and three penny stamps, I might. . . .

After looking over the house, I returned to my lodgings at "Elsinore," where tea was brought to my sitting-room by an elderly maid, as gloomy as the Dane himself.

page 14

"Look's like rain," she remarked, in a depressing voice; "hope it clears, though," she added, "then the other lodgers will go out. I hate them playing the pianner. They play them rag-times—terrible noisy music. I likes it soft. Our young lady (she referred to the landlady's daughter) she plays soft, now. It was lovely to hear her play the 'Dead March' the day Mr. Chamberlain was buried. I can't play the pianner myself, I'm not edjercated. Me sister is, but then she ain't married, while I've been twice. But, as I said to her, 'When yer first dies, and leaves yer with three children, wot are yer ter do?' Yer must find someone ter help keep them, so I married again. My second 'usband been through the wars in South Africa, not the last one. 'E couldn't go to that, 'cos 'e 'ad a bullet in 'is thumb, and can't 'old a rifle. So I used to read 'im the war news—read 'im ter sleep with it. I'm a good one at plain reading, and 'e isn't edjercated at all. But I couldn't say them queer Dutch names; 'e could, though. It was the Zulus wot 'e'd fought, and he's got a lot of curiosities. Why, in my 'ouse, I've got a necklace o' strong human teeth 'anging up!"

Oh, the pity of it! A string of strong human teeth in her parlour, and only two wobbly ones in her head !

Mais, il faut finir."