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WILLIS’S ROOMS (KING STREET)
I WAS getting to the end of a tiring day in a dingy office in Fleet Street,
and the little printer’s devil, who was sitting on a chair in the corner by
the fire playing cat’s-cradle, had brought word that all that was now wanted
from me were a few short notes.
OEufs de pluviers.
Soupe Henri IV.
Barbué au vin de Bourgogne.
Noisettes de pré-salé à la Dubarry.
Haricots verts nouveaux de Poissy.
Poulet de grain polonaise.
Coeurs de romaine en salade.
Asperges d’Argenteuil. Sauce mousseline.
Fraises a l’orange.
Miss Morgan would have none of the plovers’
eggs, nor would she be tempted by the other delicacies offered her in their
“Have you begun to absorb your local colouring?” I asked, and she was anxious in return to know if it would seem outré to take notes, and being encouraged thereto produced a workmanlike note-book. “Did you notice, as you came in, the window, six arched, with its ‘Déjeuners, dîners, soupers, patissier,’ etc., on it ? and the tall commissionaire and the little page? “ Miss Morgan nodded her head and jotted all these [-99-] down. Then the soup was brought. A simple soup enough, as its name would promise, but excellently hot. “Now for the interior,” and Miss Morgan picked up her pencil again. “You might note that it is as close a transcript of a Parisian restaurant as could be found in London, the white walls with great mirrors let into the shining wood, the scarlet couches by the wall, the chairs with their quaint backs and scarlet seats all savour of Paris,” and Miss Morgan jotted all this down. Then the brill, reposing in its brown sauce, with little hillocks of mushrooms around it, was shown to us, a bottle of old hock, carefully decanted, was put on the table, and I, at least, cared for the time nothing for local colour, for the sauce yin de Bourgogne was delicious, and the hock was golden.
But Miss Morgan was trifling with her pencil, and, looking over her page, I found that she had noted the dumb-waiter in the centre of the restaurant piled high with fruit and bundles or asparagus, with the duck press of shining silver, the dame de comptoir in black at her little desk with a little clock above it, and the great clock of enamel and ormolu, the principal ornament of the room. The noisettes I thought a little too dry; but I could get no opinion from Miss Morgan except that she thought the little potatofilled open cases on which they were served were pretty.
I pointed out to her, as a purely French touch, the black apron of the wine waiter, the distinguishing mark from the others, all white-aproned explained the position of the room upstairs, and [-100-] where the distant music of the band came from gave her some reminiscences of Willis’s in past days, and then waxed eloquent over the poulet polonaise, which, with its savoury accompaniment of rice and chicken liver, was excellent.
But Miss Morgan wanted now to know who all the guests at the tables were. There were two grandes dames, Lady A. and Lady B., there were a couple of Guardsmen I knew, there was Sir George Lewis, the British Fouché—Miss Morgan noted that—there was a handsome lady in black with many black sequins, there was an ex-soldier, now a power on the Stock Exchange, and a number of other well-groomed men whom I did not know. But this I was aware would not satisfy Miss Morgan, so my previous glimpse at the book of the tables came in useful, and the unknown men became minor members of the Ministry, lords, poets, editors, and composers. Miss Morgan wrote them all down, and was happy.
The asparagus and the strawberries were excellent, and over the latter, served in a silver dish over a silver bowl of ice, Miss Morgan for the first time became enthusiastic. The coffee, too, and the liqueurs were good.
I paid the bill—two dinners, ,£1:5s.; one bottle 131, 6s. ; café, 1s.; liqueurs, 2s.—total, £1:14s.; and in explanation of the lack of detail, told Miss Morgan that in the old days of the Amphitryon we who were not over-wealthy used, when we gave a dinner, to go to Emile and ask him to do the best he could for us at 12s. 6d. a head. But though I told her this I was [-101-] perfectly aware that I had been treated too kindly by the management, and that the bill should have been of larger proportions.
I put Miss Morgan into a cab, amid thanks on her part and many messages to our common friend on mine.
I shall be interested to read the Amphitryon chapter in “The Education of an Angel,” by “George Swanston Clarke.”