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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bricks and Ivy
By Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1837–1919)
 
From ‘Old Kensington’

A QUARTER of a century ago, the shabby tide of progress had not spread to the quiet old suburb where Lady Sarah Francis’s brown house was standing, with its many windows dazzling, as the sun traveled across the old-fashioned house-tops to set into a distant sea of tenements and echoing life. The roar did not reach the old house. The children could listen to the cawing of the rooks, to the echo of the hours, as they struck on from one day to another, vibrating from the old brown tower of the church. At night the strokes seemed to ring more slowly than in the day. Little Dolly Vanborough, Lady Sarah’s niece, thought each special hour had its voice. The church clock is silent now, but the rooks caw on undisturbed from one spring to another in the old Kensington suburb. There are tranquil corners still, and sunny silent nooks, and ivy wreaths growing in the western sun; and jasmines and vine-trees, planted by a former generation, spreading along the old garden walls. But every year the shabby stream of progress rises and ingulfs one relic or another, carrying off many and many a landmark and memory. Last year only the old church was standing, in its iron cage, at the junction of the thoroughfares. It was the Church of England itself to Dolly and George Vanborough, in those early church-going days of theirs. There was the old painting of the lion and the unicorn hanging from the gallery; the light streaming through the brown saints over the communion table. In after life the children may have seen other saints more glorious in crimson and in purple, nobler piles and arches; but none of them have ever seemed so near to heaven as the old Queen Anne building, and the wooden pew with its high stools, through which elbows of straw were protruding, where they used to kneel on either side of their aunt, watching with awe-stricken faces the tears as they came falling from the widow’s sad eyes.  1
  Lady Sarah could scarcely have told you the meaning of those tears as they fell: old love and life partings, sorrows and past mercies, all came returning to her with the familiar words of the prayers. The tears fell bright and awe-stricken as she thought of the present, of distances immeasurable, of life and its inconceivable mystery; and then her heart would warm with hope perhaps of what might be to come, of the overwhelming possibilities—how many of them to her lay in the warm clasp of the child’s hand that came pushing into hers! For her, as for the children, heaven’s state was in the old wooden pew. Then the sing-song of the hymn would flood the old church with its homely cadence.
  “Prepare your glad voices;
Let Hisreal rejoice,”
sang the little charity children; poor little Israelites, with blue stockings, and funny woolen knobs to their fustian caps, rejoicing, though their pastures were not green as yet, nor was their land overflowing with milk and honey. However, they sang praises for others, as all people do at times; thanks be to the merciful dispensation that allows us to weep, to work, to be comforted, and to rejoice, with one another’s hearts, consciously or unconsciously, as long as life exists.
  2
  Every lane and corner and archway had a childish story for Dolly and her brother; for Dolly most especially, because girls cling more to the inanimate aspects of life than boys do. For Dolly the hawthorn bleeds as it is laid low, and is transformed year after year into iron railings and areas; for particulars of which you are requested to apply to the railway company, and to Mr. Taylor, the house-agent.  3
  In those days the lanes spread to Fulham, white with blossom in spring, or golden with the yellow London sunsets that blazed beyond the cabbage fields. In those days there were gardens and trees and great walls along the high-road that came from London, passing through the old white turnpike. There were high brown walls along Kensington Gardens, reaching to the Palace Gate; elms spread their shade, and birds chirruped, and children played behind them.  4
  Dolly Vanborough and her brother had many a game there, and knew every corner and haunt of this sylvan world of children and ducks and nurse-maids. They had knocked their noses against the old sun-dial many and many a time. Sometimes now, as she comes walking along the straight avenues, Dolly thinks she can hear the echo of their own childish voices whooping and calling to one another as they used to do. How often they had played with their big cousin, Robert Henley, and the little Morgans, round about the stately orange-house, and made believe to be statues in the niches!  5
  “I am Apollo,” cries George Vanborough, throwing himself into an attitude.  6
  “Apollo!” cries Robert, exploding with schoolboy wit; “an Apollo-guy, you mean.”  7
  Dolly does not understand why the Morgan boys laugh, and George blushes up furiously. When they are tired of jumping about in the sun, the statues straggle homeward, accompanied by Dolly’s French governess, who has been reading a novel on a bench close by. They pass along the front of the old Palace, that stands blinking its sleepy windows across elmy vistas, or into tranquil courts where sentries go pacing. Robert has his grandmother living in the Palace, and he strides off across the court to her apartments. The children think she is a witch and always on the watch for them, though they do not tell Robert so. The Morgans turn up Old Street, and George and Dolly escort them so far on their way home. It is a shabby brown street, with shops at one end, and old-fashioned houses, stone-stepped, bow-windowed, at the other. Dear Old Street! where an echo still lingers of the quaint and stately music of the past, of which the voice comes to us like a song of Mozart sounding above the dreamy flutterings of a Wagner of the present! Little Zoë Morgan would linger to peep at the parrot that lived next door in the area, with the little page-boy, who always winked at them as they went by; little Cassie would glance wistfully at a certain shop-front where various medals and crosses were exposed for sale. There were even in those days convents and Catholics established at Kensington, and this little repository had been opened for their use.  8
  When they have seen the little Morgans safe into their old brown house,—very often it is John Morgan who comes to the door to admit them (John is the eldest son, the curate, the tutor, the mainstay of the straggling establishment),—Dolly and her brother trudge home through the Square, followed by Mademoiselle, still lost in her novel. The lilacs are flowering behind the rusty rails. The children know every flagstone and window; they turn up a little shabby passage of narrow doorways and wide-eaved roofs, and so get out into the high-road again. They look up with friendly recognition at the little boy and girl, in their quaint Dutch garb, standing on their pedestals above the crowd as it passes the Vestry-hall; then they turn down a sunshiny spring lane, where ivy is growing, and brown bricks are twinkling in the western sunshine; and they ring at a gateway where an iron bell is swung. The house is called Church House, and all its windows look upon gardens, along which the sunshine comes flowing. The light used to fill Dolly’s slanting wooden school-room at the top of the house. When the bells were ringing, and the sun flood came in and made shadows on the wall, it used to seem to her like a chapel full of music.  9
  George wanted to make an altar one day, and to light Lady Sarah’s toilet candles, and to burn the sandalwood matches; but Dolly, who was a little Puritan, blew the matches out and carried the candles back to their places.  10
  “I shall go over to the Morgans,” said George, “since you are so disagreeable.” Whether Dolly was agreeable or not, this was what George was pretty sure to do.  11
 
 
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