At last, free of food and baggage, light of heart, and brimming over with youth, he stepped into the street. It was but little past eight o’clock. He had just heard the hour chimed, in various tones of sweetness and solemnity, from several mellow clocks, evidently hidden high in the air in his near vicinity. For two or three hours there would be no editor or publisher to be seen, and meanwhile he had London to himself. He stepped out into it as into a garden,—a garden of those old-time flowers in which antiquity has become a perfume full of pictures.
Yes, there was the Thames! “Sweet Themmes, run softly till I end my song!” he quoted to himself. Chaucer’s, Spenser’s, Elizabeth’s Thames!
It was a bright morning and the river gleamed to advantage. The tall tower of Westminster glittered richly in the sun, and the long front of Somerset House wore a lordly smile. The embankment gardens sparkled and rustled in morning freshness. Henry drew in the air of London as though it had been a rose. Here was the Thames at the foot of the street, and there at the head was the Strand, a stream of omnibuses and cabs, and city-faring men and women. The Temple must be somewhere close by. Of course it was here to his left. But he would first walk quietly by the Thames side to Westminster, and then come back by the Strand. As he walked, he stepped lightly and gently, as though reverent to the very stones of so sacred a city, and all the time from every prospect and every other street-corner came streaming like strains of music magnetic memories,—“streets with the names of old kings, strong earls, and warrior saints.” If for no other reason, how important for the future of a nation is it to preserve in such ancient cities as London and Oxford the energising spectacle of a noble and strenuous antiquity; for there are no such inspirers of young men as these old places! So much strength and youth went into them long ago that even yet they have strength and youth to give, and from them, as from the strong hills, pours out an inexhaustible potency of bracing influence.
At last Henry found himself back at the top-end of his street. He had walked the Strand with deliberate enjoyment. Fleet Street he still reserved, but, as according to the tower of Clement Danes it was only just ten o’clock, it seemed still a little early to attack his business. A florist’s close by suggested a charming commonplace way of filling the time. He would buy some flowers and carry them to Goldsmith’s grave. Why Goldsmith’s grave should thus be specially honoured, he a little wondered. He was conscious of loving several writers quite as well. But it was a Johnsonian tradition to love Goldy, and the accessibility of his resting-place made sentiment easy.
He repented this momentary flippancy of thought as he stood in the cloistered corner where Goldsmith sleeps under the eye of the law; and, when he laid his little wreath on the worn stone, it was a genuine offering. From it he turned away to his own personal dreams.