One essential quality there is, however, in this Vie de Boheme that will never alter. It demands that those who live it, shall be careless of the morrow; it expects an absolute liberty of soul, let manners and conditions be what they may. You will still find that; you will always find it. Certain souls must be free and they always seek out the spots of the earth where social restrictions, social exigencies, are least of all in force. They live where life is freest; they eat their meals where it is not compulsory for them to be on their best behaviour. You cannot expect the Bohemian to be a slave, and to customs least of all. The only well-ruled line that he can follow is the customary prompting of his own instinct.
Such a spot—an ideal corner of all unconventionality—is Soho. They say that Greek Street is the worst street in London. You must say something is the worst, to show how bad and good things are. Then why not Greek Street? But for no definite reason. It is really no worse than many another and, with a few more lamps to light its darkened pathways, it might earn that reputation for respectability which would endear it to the most exacting of British matrons. All the doubtful deeds are only done in dark streets. Light is the sole remedy; you will see crime retreating before it like some crawling vermin that dares not show its face. Therefore, why blame Greek Street and those who live there? The county council are to blame that they do not cleanse the place with light.
Bad or good, though—whatever it may be—it is part of Soho; the refuge of Bohemianism to which district Traill brought Sally Bishop on that Thursday evening.
Outside the restaurant in Old Compton Street with its latticed windows, and its almost spotless white lintels and the low-roofed doorway, a barrel-organ was twirling tunes to which two or three girls danced a clumsy step. In the doorway itself, at the top of the precipitous flight of stairs that led immediately to the room below, stood Madame, the proprietor’s wife—ready to welcome all who came. Her round, French, good-natured face beamed when she saw Traill, and her little brown eyes gleamed with genuine approval as they swept over Sally.
“Bon soir, Monsieur; bon soir, Madame.”
Every lady is Madame, however many during the week Monsieur may choose to bring, and she makes a romance of every single one of them. Her own days are memories, but, being French, she still lives in the romance of others.
“Good evening,” said Traill; “how’s the business—good?”
“Mais, oui, Monsieur; les affaires vont assez bien.”
They climbed down the narrow little staircase, made narrower and almost impassable by the pots of evergreens placed for decoration upon some of the steps. There, in the flood of light, the little room papered in gold, hung with pictures advertising the place, all done by needy customers—mostly French—who had given them to the establishment for a few francs, or out of the fullness of their hearts, they were greeted in welcome again by Berthe, the little waitress.