We walk on, our talk suspended, past a ruthlessly clumsy hoarding, towards where men and women and children are struggling about a string of omnibuses. A newsvendor at the corner spreads a newspaper placard upon the wood pavement, pins the corners down with stones, and we glimpse something about:—
Dear old familiar world!
An angry parent in conversation with a sympathetic friend jostles against us. “I'll knock his blooming young 'ed orf if 'e cheeks me again. It's these 'ere brasted Board Schools―”
An omnibus passes, bearing on a board beneath an incorrectly drawn Union Jack an exhortation to the true patriot to “Buy Bumper's British-Boiled Jam.”…
I am stunned beyond the possibility of discussion for a space. In this very place it must have been that the high terrace ran with the gardens below it, along which I came from my double to our hotel. I am going back, but now through reality, along the path I passed so happily in my dream. And the people I saw then are the people I am looking at now—with a difference.
The botanist walks beside me, white and nervously jerky in his movements, his ultimatum delivered.
We start to cross the road. An open carriage drives by, and we see a jaded, red-haired woman, smeared with paint, dressed in furs, and petulantly discontented. Her face is familiar to me, her face, with a difference.
Why do I think of her as dressed in green?
Of course!—she it was I saw leading her children by the hand!
Comes a crash to our left, and a running of people to see a cab-horse down on the slippery, slanting pavement outside St. Martin's Church.
We go on up the street.
A heavy-eyed young Jewess, a draggled prostitute—no crimson flower for her hair, poor girl!—regards us with a momentary speculation, and we get a whiff of foul language from two newsboys on the kerb.
“We can't go on talking,” the botanist begins, and ducks aside just in time to save his eye from the ferule of a stupidly held umbrella. He is going to treat our little tiff about that lady as closed. He has the air of picking up our conversation again at some earlier point.
He steps into the gutter, walks round outside a negro hawker, just escapes the wheel of a hansom, and comes to my side again.
“We can't go on talking of your Utopia,” he says, “in a noise and crowd like this.”
We are separated by a portly man going in the opposite direction, and join again. “We can't go on talking of Utopia,” he repeats, “in London… . Up in the mountains—and holiday-time—it was all right. We let ourselves go!”
“I've been living in Utopia,” I answer, tacitly adopting his tacit proposal to drop the lady out of the question.
“At times,” he says, with a queer laugh, “you've almost made me live there too.”
He reflects. “It doesn't do, you know. No! And I don't know whether, after all, I want―”
We are separated again by half-a-dozen lifted flagstones, a burning brazier, and two engineers concerned with some underground business or other—in the busiest hour of the day's traffic.
“Why shouldn't it do?” I ask.
“It spoils the world of everyday to let your mind run on impossible perfections.”
“I wish,” I shout against the traffic, “I could smash the world of everyday.”
My note becomes quarrelsome. “You may accept this as the world of reality, you may consent to be one scar in an ill-dressed compound wound, but so—not I! This is a dream too—this world. Your dream, and you bring me back to it—out of Utopia―”
The crossing of Bow Street gives me pause again.
The face of a girl who is passing westward, a student girl, rather carelessly dressed, her books in a carrying-strap, comes across my field of vision. The westward sun of London glows upon her face. She has eyes that dream, surely no sensuous nor personal dream.
After all, after all, dispersed, hidden, disorganised, undiscovered, unsuspected even by themselves, the samurai of Utopia are in this world, the motives that are developed and organised there stir dumbly here and stifle in ten thousand futile hearts… .
I overtake the botanist, who got ahead at the crossing by the advantage of a dust-cart.
“You think this is real because you can't wake out of it,” I say. “It's all a dream, and there are people—I'm just one of the first of a multitude—between sleeping and waking—who will presently be rubbing it out of their eyes.”
A pinched and dirty little girl, with sores upon her face, stretches out a bunch of wilting violets, in a pitifully thin little fist, and interrupts my speech. “Bunch o' vi'lets—on'y a penny.”
“No!” I say curtly, hardening my heart.
A ragged and filthy nursing mother, with her last addition to our Imperial People on her arm, comes out of a drinkshop, and stands a little unsteadily, and wipes mouth and nose comprehensively with the back of a red chapped hand… .