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London River   By: (1873-1958)

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E text prepared by Al Haines

LONDON RIVER

by

H. M. TOMLINSON

Garden City, New York Garden City Publishing Co., Inc Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

1921

TO MY MOTHER

AND TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER

Contents

I THE FORESHORE II A MIDNIGHT VOYAGE III A SHIPPING PARISH IV THE "HEART'S DESIRE" V THE MASTER VI THE SHIP RUNNERS VII NOT IN THE ALMANAC VIII THE ILLUSION IX IN A COFFEE SHOP X OFF SHORE XI AN OLD LLOYD'S REGISTER

I. The Foreshore

It begins on the north side of the City, at Poverty Corner. It begins imperceptibly, and very likely is no more than what a native knows is there. It does not look like a foreshore. It looks like another of the byways of the capital. There is nothing to distinguish it from the rest of Fenchurch Street. You will not find it in the Directory, for its name is only a familiar bearing used by seamen among themselves. If a wayfarer came upon it from the west, he might stop to light a pipe (as well there as anywhere) and pass on, guessing nothing of what it is and of its memories. And why should he? London is built of such old shadows; and while we are here casting our own there is not much time to turn and question what they fall upon. Yet if some unreasonable doubt, a suspicion that he was being watched, made a stranger hesitate at that corner, he might begin to feel that London there was as different from Bayswater and Clapham as though deep water intervened. In a sense deep water does; and not only the sea, but legends of ships that have gone, and of the men who knew them, and traditions of a service older than anything Whitehall knows, though still as lively as enterprise itself, and as recent as the ships which moved on today's high water.

In a frame outside one of its shops hangs a photograph of a sailing ship. The portrait is so large and the beauty of the subject so evident that it might have been the cause of the stranger stopping there to fill his pipe. Yet how could he know that to those groups of men loitering about the name of that ship is as familiar as Suez or Rio, even though they have never seen her? They know her as well as they know their business. They know her house flag it is indistinguishable in the picture and her master, and it is possible the oldest of them remembers the clippers of that fleet of which she alone now carries the emblem; for this is not only another year, but another era. But they do not look at her portrait. They spit into the road, or stare across it, and rarely move from where they stand, except to pace up and down as though keeping a watch. At one time, perhaps thirty years ago, it was usual to see gold rings in their ears. It is said that if you wanted a bunch of men to run a little river steamer, with a freeboard of six inches, out to Delagoa Bay, you could engage them all at this corner, or at the taverns just up the turning. The suggestion of such a voyage, in such a ship, would turn us to look on these men in wonder, for it is the way of all but the wise to expect appearance to betray admirable qualities. These fellows, though, are not significant, except that you might think of some of them that their ease and indifference were assumed, and that, when trying not to look so, they were very conscious of the haste and importance of this great city into which that corner jutted far enough for them. They have just landed, or they are about to sail again, and they might be standing on the shore eyeing the town beyond, in which the luck of ships is cast by strangers they never see, but who are inimical to them, and whose ways are inscrutable.

If there are any inland shops which can hold one longer than the place where that ship's portrait hangs, then I do not know them. That comes from no more, of course, than the usual fault of an early impression. That fault gives a mould to the mind, and our latest thoughts, which we try to make reasonable, betray that accidental shape. It may be said that I looked into this window while still soft... Continue reading book >>




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