Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 102
Publication Date: 1910
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Prentiss had a long lease on the house, and because it stood in Jermyn Street the upper floors were, as a matter of course, turned into lodgings for single gentlemen; and because Prentiss was a Florist to the Queen, he placed a lion and unicorn over his flowershop, just in front of the middle window on the first floor. By stretching a little, each of them could see into the window just beyond him, and could hear all that was said inside; and such things as they saw and heard during the reign of Captain Carrington, who moved in at the same time they did! By day the table in the centre of the room was covered with maps, and the Captain sat with a box of pins, with different-colored flags wrapped around them, and amused himself by sticking them in the maps and measuring the spaces in between, swearing meanwhile to himself. It was a selfish amusement, but it appeared to be the Captain's only intellectual pursuit, for at night, the maps were rolled up, and a green cloth was spread across the table, and there was much company and popping of soda-bottles, and little heaps of gold and silver were moved this way and that across the cloth. The smoke drifted out of the open windows, and the laughter of the Captain's guests rang out loudly in the empty street, so that the policeman halted and raised his eyes reprovingly to the lighted windows, and cabmen drew up beneath them and lay in wait, dozing on their folded arms, for the Captain's guests to depart. The Lion and the Unicorn were rather ashamed of the scandal of it, and they were glad when, one day, the Captain went away with his tin boxes and gun-cases piled high on a four-wheeler.
Prentiss stood on the sidewalk and said: "I wish you good luck, sir." And the Captain said: "I'm coming back a Major, Prentiss." But he never came back. And one day—the Lion remembered the day very well, for on that same day the newsboys ran up and down Jermyn Street shouting out the news of "a 'orrible disaster" to the British arms. It was then that a young lady came to the door in a hansom, and Prentiss went out to meet her and led her upstairs. They heard him unlock the Captain's door and say, "This is his room, miss," and after he had gone they watched her standing quite still by the centre table. She stood there for a very long time looking slowly about her, and then she took a photograph of the Captain from the frame on the mantel and slipped it into her pocket, and when she went out again her veil was down, and she was crying. She must have given Prentiss as much as a sovereign, for he called her "Your ladyship," which he never did under a sovereign.
And she drove off, and they never saw her again either, nor could they hear the address she gave the cabman. But it was somewhere up St. John's Wood way.
After that the rooms were empty for some months, and the Lion and the Unicorn were forced to amuse themselves with the beautiful ladies and smart-looking men who came to Prentiss to buy flowers and "buttonholes," and the little round baskets of strawberries, and even the peaches at three shillings each, which looked so tempting as they lay in the window, wrapped up in cotton-wool, like jewels of great price.
Then Philip Carroll, the American gentleman, came, and they heard Prentiss telling him that those rooms had always let for five guineas a week, which they knew was not true; but they also knew that in the economy of nations there must always be a higher price for the rich American, or else why was he given that strange accent, except to betray him into the hands of the London shopkeeper, and the London cabby?
The American walked to the window toward the west, which was the window nearest the Lion, and looked out into the graveyard of St. James's Church, that stretched between their street and Piccadilly.
"You're lucky in having a bit of green to look out on," he said to Prentiss. "I'll take these rooms—at five guineas. That's more than they're worth, you know, but as I know it, too, your conscience needn't trouble you."
Then his eyes fell on the Lion, and he nodded to him gravely. "How do you do?" he said. "I'm coming to live with you for a little time. I have read about you and your friends over there. It is a hazard of new fortunes with me, your Majesty, so be kind to me, and if I win, I will put a new coat of paint on your shield and gild you all over again."
Prentiss smiled obsequiously at the American's pleasantry, but the new lodger only stared at him.
"He seemed a social gentleman," said the Unicorn, that night, when the Lion and he were talking it over. "Now the Captain, the whole time he was here, never gave us so much as a look. This one says he has read of us."
"And why not?" growled the Lion. "I hope Prentiss heard what he said of our needing a new layer of gilt. It's disgraceful. You can see that Lion over Scarlett's, the butcher, as far as Regent Street, and Scarlett is only one of Salisbury's creations. He received his Letters-Patent only two years back. We date from Palmerston."
The lodger came up the street just at that moment, and stopped and looked up at the Lion and the Unicorn from the sidewalk, before he opened the door with his night-key. They heard him enter the room and feel on the mantel for his pipe, and a moment later he appeared at the Lion's window and leaned on the sill, looking down into the street below and blowing whiffs of smoke up into the warm night-air.