BY "PUNCH'S" COMMISSIONER.
THE nearest Wells, except those of Sadler or
Bagnigge (which are too near to Pentonville and Islington to require description
for Londoners), are, I believe, those comparatively modern Spas of Beulah,
situated among the pleasant hills of Norwood, and to be reached by a person
inhabiting the western end of the metropolis with not too much exertion.
Determined to examine these Wells, and averse to solitary travel, I put myself in communication with my young friend, LIEUTENANT RAWBOLD, of the 75th Lancers - selecting that young fellow, not on account of his conversational powers, which are small; but rather because he possesses an exceedingly well-regulated cab and horse, or, as he says (in his clever facetious way), "the mast hactionest hoss and the most himpidintest tiger in the village of Lunding." In this vehicle we made our way to the Spa in question.
The purlieus of London are not to be described. The mind sickens in recalling the odious particulars of the immediate neighbourhood of the bridges. The hucksters and Jew furniture-shops, the enormous tawdry gin-palaces, and those awful little by-lanes, of two-storied tenements, where patent mangles are to let - where MISS MIFFIN, milliner, lives on the first-floor (her trade being symbolised by a staring pasteboard dummy in a cap of fly-blown silver paper) - where the street is encumbered by oyster-shells and black puddles, and little children playing in them. All these we passed : likewise grim-looking Methodist chapels, and schools, churches, and asylums innumerable. But the road has possibly been travelled by my indulgent readers.
I perceived that the persons at the turnpikes were facetiously inclined. A species of jokes passed between them and AUGUSTUS FREDERIC, RAWBOLD'S groom, who was clinging on behind like a spread-eagle.
You emerge from the horrid road at length on a greenish spot, which I am led to believe is called Kennington Common; and henceforward the route becomes far more agreeable. Placid villas of cockneys adorn each side of the road-stock-brokers, sugar-bakers - that sort of people. We saw cruelty-vans (I mean those odious double-barrelled gigs, so injurious to horse-flesh) lined with stout females with ringlets, bustles, and variegated parasols. The leading stout female of the party drove the carriage, (jerking and bumping the reins mast ludicrously, and giving the fat horse the queerest little cuts with the whip); a fat boy, resplendent in buttons, commonly occupied the rumble, with many children: in some cases I remarked that disguised footboys, habited in a half-coachman's dress, drove the vehicle. I presume that AUGUSTUS FREDERIC, our Spread- Eagle, must have made signals of various kinds to these persons from behind; for I perceived various expressions of indignation or wonder in the persons' countenances as we passed their singular equipages.
In this cockney villa district I observed that the country was almost tenanted by women. All the people walking were women, except young stock-brokers in the arms of nursery-maids; or occasional pages following young ladies; or the doctor's boy ringing at some willa gate; or the blue-clad butcherling arriving with the fillet of veal. The men are absent in enormous, smoking London - 'tis only with sunset that they come back to their families and the fillet of veal.
The willas give each other the hand all
the way up Camden Hill, Denmark Hill, &c. ; one acacia leans over to another
in his neighbour's wall; DOBB'S bell-pull runs cheek by jowl with HOBB'S; one
willa is just like another; and there is no intermission in the comfortable
chain. But by the time you reach Norwood, an actual country is to be viewed by
glimpses - a country so beautiful that I have seen nothing more charming - no,
not in France, nor in Spain, nor in Italy, nor in the novels of MR. JAMES.
I had pictured to myself a watering-place like Ems or Wiesbaden, frequented by a number of agreeable ladies and gentlemen; woods, waterfalls, pic-nics, donkey excursions, and waltzing on the grass with lovely young ladies; a little enlivenment of roulette in the evenings; a battue, perhaps, in the covers when the pheasant-shooting came; and about a thousand people meeting every morning at the Spa - the majority of them, of course, handsome women. In fact, I had stated such to be the case to my young friend RAWBOLD, as we drove down.
We entered a lodge in the Swiss style; and here a gentleman demanded a shilling from us before we were free of the Spa. "Is there a great deal of company staying at the Spa?" says I. "Tol lol," says he, and motioned us into the gardens.
They are beautiful. The prettiest lawns, the prettiest flowers, rocks, grottoes, bridges, shrubberies, hermitages, kiosks, and what not; and charming bowers, wherein a man might repose by the lady of his heart, and, methinks, be supremely happy. But the company we saw were,-
Three trumpeters dressed in green, blowing Suoni la tromba out of a canvas arbour - a most melancholy obligato;
A snuffy little old gentleman, with two grandsons - one a blue-coat boy. His yellow stockings glittered like buttercups on the sunshiny grass;
A professional gipsy in a dark walk;
And two pretty servant-maids carrying a small basket, and on the look-out for their Masters and Missusses, who were straying in some part of this Elysium.
When the trumpeters had done, a poor old wizened, grinning, good-natured Italian, dressed up with a hat and peacock's feathers - very like the monkey that accompanies the barrel-organ - came up and began warbling, in rather a sweet feeble voice, the most seedy old songs.
There was something ludicrously sad in that honest creature's face. He didn't mind being laughed at, but joined himself quite good-humouredly in the jocularity. At night, he says, he takes off those gimcracks, and walks the streets like another Christian. To have seen harlequin in the daylight is something.
RAWBOLD, and even AUGUSTUS FREDERIC, who had put up the cab by this time and joined us, gave him moneys - not for singing, but for looking so unutterably and pathetically comical. Do likewise, O benevolent reader, if thou recognisest the Troubadour of Beulah.
Then we strayed through shrubberies and rose-gardens until we came to an archery-ground. Targets were set up, just, for all the world, as in Ivanhoe - and a fellow in Lincoln-green came forward and invited us to the Butts. I challenged RAWBOLD to a contest, and shot - with what success you here behold. RAWBOLD hit no better : and the odious fellow in Lincoln-green sneered all the while. "It isn't the harrows that's bad," said he sardonically, laughing at our complaints- "they're good enough to shoot with."
"Can you shoot with them?" says RAWB0LD, piqued.
"I should think I could," replied LINCOLN GREEN - and, rather to his discomfiture, we called upon him to do so. He levelled his arrow; he bent and twiddled with his bow previous to stringing it; he lifted up to the sight-mark and brought it down; he put himself into an attitude so prodigionsly correct, that we thought the bull's-eye might as well shut up at once, for he was sure to hit it. We looked at one another, as much as to say, "What a tremendous Sagittarius of a fellow this Lincoln Green one is!" At last, whizz! the arrow went.
It missed. The old humbug could no more shoot than we could. He took twelve shots at the target, and didn't hit once. "There are many Lincoln Green ones in the world," I said, (apostrophising young AUGUSTUS FREDERIC) ; "fellows who pretend to do everything, and whom everybody believes, because they brag so. Take warning by yon pseudo-toxophilite, and be modest in all your dealings, my little man."
And so we left the archery-ground, with
the most undisguised contempt. No new company had arrived at the Spa during our
brief absence. The little old man was still sunning and snuffing himself on his
bench. The Blue-coat boy and his companion were still clambering over rustic
archways. The two servant-maids had found Master and Missus, and were spreading
out a cloth in an arbour.
We thought they might be going to dine-but not so. They produced from the basket a loaf, hot - though, no doubt, stale; some butter in an almost melting state; some perspiring shrimps - and a screw of tea. I suppose they took the Spa water for tea. The band began to blow when this banquet was served - the poor minstrel came up, leering and grinning with his guitar, ready to perform for them - they and we were the only guests of the place - the solitude was intense. We left them there, of a gorgeous summer afternoon, drinking tea and eating shrimps in the sunshine.
Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1845