Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 24 - The Ship (Greenwich)

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IT was pleasant to see Miss Dainty’s (of all the principal London theatres) handwriting again. She had read all the “Dinners and Diners,” she told me, and did not think that any of them were as good as the one when I had the inspiration of her presence. She had been very ill—at the point of death, indeed—owing to a sprained ankle, which prevented her going to Ascot, for which race-meeting she had ordered three dresses, each of which was a dream. Why did I take out to dinner nobody but Editors and Society ladies now? The parrot was very well, but was peck­ing the feathers out of his tail. She had some new pets—two goldfish, whose glass bowl had been broken and who now lived in a big yellow vase. The cat had eaten one of the lovebirds, and was ill for two days afterwards. The pug had been exchanged for a fox-terrier—Jack, the dearest dog in the world. Jack had gone up the river on the electric launch and had fought two dogs, and had been bitten over the eye, and had covered all his mistress's white piqué skirt  [-176-] with blood; but for all that he was a duck and his mother’s own darling.
This, much summarised, was the pretty little lady’s letter, and I wrote back at once to say that the pleasure of entertaining a princess of the blood-royal was as nothing to the honour of her company, and if the foot was well enough, would she honour me with her presence at dinner any­where she liked? And, as the weather had turned tropical, I suggested either Richmond or Greenwich or the restaurant at Earl’s Court.
Greenwich the fair lady gave her decision for, and then I made a further suggestion: that, if she did not mind unaristocratic company, the pleasantest way was to go by boat.
This suggestion was accepted, and Miss Dainty in the late afternoon called for me at a dingy Fleet Street office. I was delighted to see the little lady, looking very fresh and nice as she sat back in her cab, and I trust that my face showed nothing except pleasure when I perceived a small fox-terrier with a large muzzle and a long leash sitting by her side. Miss Dainty explained that as she had allowed her maid to go out for the afternoon she had to bring Jack, and of course I said that I was delighted.
We embarked at the Temple pier on a boat, which was as most river boats are. There were gentlemen who had neglected to shave smoking strong pipes ; there were affable ladies of a conversational tendency, and there were a violin and harp ; but there were as a compensation all the beautiful sights of the river to be seen, the cathedral - like Tower Bridge, the forest of [-177-] shipping, the red-sailed boats fighting their way up against the tide, the line of barges in picturesque zig-gag following the puffing tugs; and all these things Miss Dainty saw and appre­ciated. There was much to tell, too, that Miss Dainty had not written in her letter, and Jack was a never-failing source of interest. Jack wound his leash round the legs of the pipe- smoking gentlemen, was not quite sure that the babies of the conversational ladies were not somethings that he ought to eat, and at intervals wanted to go overboard and fight imaginary dogs in the Thames.
Arrived at Greenwich, at the Ship (the tavern with a rather dingy front, with two tiers of bow windows, with its little garden gay with white and green lamps, and with its fountain and rockery which had bits of paper and straws float­ing in the basin), I asked for the proprietor. Mr. Bale, thickset, and with a little moustache, came out of his room, and whether it was that Fleet Street and the Thames had given me a tramp-like appearance, or whether it was that he did not at once take a fancy to Jack, I could not say, but he did not seem overjoyed to see us. Yet presently he thawed, told me that he had kept a table by the window for us, and that our dinner would be ready at 6.30, as I had telegraphed.
In the meantime I suggested that we should see the rest of the house. “Would it not be better to leave the dog downstairs ?“ suggested Mr. Bale, and Jack was tied up somewhere below, while we went round the upper two stories of [-178-] dining-rooms—for the Ship is a house of nothing but dining-rooms. It is a tavern, not a hotel, and there are no bedrooms for guests. We went into the pleasant bow-windowed rooms on the first floor, in one of which a table was laid ready, with a very beautiful decoration of pink and white flowers, and in the other of which stand the busts of Fox and Pitt. We looked at the two curious wooden images in the passage, at the chairs with the picture of a ship let into their backs, and at the flags of all nations which hang in the long banqueting-room; and all the time Jack, tied up below, lifted up his voice and wept.
I asked if Jack might be allowed to come into the dining-room and sit beside his mistress while we had dinner, giving the dog a character for peacefulness and quiet for which I might have been prosecuted for perjury ; but it was against the rules of the house, and Mr. Bale suggested that if Jack was tied up to a pole of the awning just outside the window he would be able to gaze through the glass at his mistress and be happy.
A fine old Britannic waiter, who looked like a very much reduced copy of Sir William Vernon­Harcourt, put down two round silver dishes, lifted up the covers, and there were two souchés, one of salmon and one of flounder. I helped Miss Dainty to some of the salmon and filled her glass with the ‘84 Pommery, which, after much thought, I had selected from the wine list. But she touched neither; her eyes were on Jack outside, for that accomplished dog, after doing a maypole dance round the pole, had now arrived [-179-] at the end of his leash—and incipient strangulation. Miss Dainty went outside to rescue her pet from instant death, and I, having eaten my souché, followed. Jack wanted water, and a sympathetic hall porter who appeared on the scene volunteered to get him a soup - plateful, and tie him somewhere where he could not strangle himself.
The souchés had been removed, and some lobster rissoles and fried slips had taken their place. Miss Dainty took a rissole and ate it while she watched the hail porter put Jack’s plate of water down, and I made short work of a slip and was going to try the rissoles when Jack, in a plaintive tone of voice, informed the world that something was the matter. His mistress understood him at once. The poor dear would not drink his water unless she stood by; and this having been proved by actual fact, Miss Dainty, with myself in attendance, came back to find that whiting puddings and stewed eels had taken the place of the former dishes.
Miss Dainty took a small helping of the eels, looked at it, and then turned her eyes again to Jack, who was going through a series of gymnas­tics. I ate my whiting pudding, which I love, in fevered haste, and had got halfway through my helping of eels, when Miss Dainty discovered what was the matter with Jack. The boys on the steps below were annoying him, and the only way to keep him quiet would be to give him some bones. The sympathetic hall porter again came to the rescue, and Jack, under his mistress’s eye, made fine trencher play with two bones.
[-180-] There was a look of reproach in the veteran waiter’s eye when we came back and found the crab omelette and salmon cutlets a l’Indienne were cooling. I tried to draw Miss Dainty’s attention away from Jack. I told her how Mr. Punch had called her Faustine, and had written a page about her; but when she found there was nothing to quote in her book of press notices she lost all interest in the hump-backed gentleman.
With the advent of the plain whitebait a new danger to Jack arose. A turtle was brought by three men on to the lawn and turned loose, and Miss Dainty had to go out and assure herself that Jack was not frightened, and that the turtle was not meditating an attack upon him.
The turtle was found to be a harmless and interesting insect, and having been shown, with practical illustrations, how the beast was captured by savages, Miss Dainty took great pity on it, collected water in the soup-plate from the fountain, poured it over its head, and tried to induce it to drink, which the turtle steadfastly refused to do.
The veteran waiter was stern when we re­turned and found the devilled whitebait on the table. I told him to bring the coffee and liqueurs and bill out into the garden, because Miss Dainty, having been separated from her dog so long, wanted to nurse and pet him.
This was the bill :—Two dinners, 14s.; one Pommery ‘84, 18s.; two liqueurs, 1s. 6d.; coffee, 1s. ; attendance, 1s. ; total, £1:15:6.
We sat and watched St. Paul’s stand clear [-181-] against the sunset, and Miss Dainty, her dog happy in her lap, suddenly said, “If you give this place a good notice, I’ll never speak to you again.”
“Why ?“ I replied. “The whitebait was delicious, the whiting pudding capital, the omelette good. I liked the fried slips and the rissoles.”
“Yes, perhaps,” said Miss Dainty, with a pout. “But they wouldn’t let me have my dog in the dining-room !“
19th July.