Story type: Essay
This window by which we sit is really very trying to our spirit. On a clear fluid blue day the sunlight pours over the cliffs and craggy coves and angles of the great buildings round St. Paul’s churchyard. We can see the temptation of being a cubist painter as we study all those intersecting planes of light and shadow. Across the way, on Fulton Street, above the girl in a green hat who is just now ingurgitating a phial of orangeade, there are six different roof levels, rising like steps toward the gold lightning bolts of the statue on top of the Telephone and Telegraph Building. Each of these planes carries its own particular impact of light or shadow. The sunshine seems to flow like an impalpable cataract over the top of the Hudson Terminal, breaking and shining in a hundred splashes and pools of brightness among the stone channels below. Far down the course of Church Street we can see the top floors of the Whitehall Building. We think of the little gilt ball that darts and dances so merrily in the fountain jet in front of that building. We think of the merry mercators of the Whitehall Club sitting at lunch on the cool summit of that great edifice. We think of the view as seen from there, the olive-coloured gleam of the water, the ships and tugs speckled about the harbour. And, looking down, we can see a peaceful gentleman sitting on a bench in St. Paul’s graveyard, reading a book. We think seriously of writing a note, “What are you reading?” and weighting it with an inkwell and hurling it down to him. This window continually draws our mind outward and sets us speculating, when we ought to be answering letters or making inquiries of coal dealers as to whether there is any chance of getting a supply for next winter.
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On such a day, having in mind that we ought to write another chapter of our book “How to Spend Three Hours at Lunch Time,” we issued forth with Endymion to seek refreshment. It was a noontide to stir even the most carefully fettered bourgeois to impulses of escapade and foray. What should we do? At first we had some thought of showing to Endymion the delightful subterranean passage that leads from the cathedral grottoes of the Woolworth Building to the City Hall subway station, but we decided we could not bear to leave the sunlight. So we chose a path at random and found ourselves at the corner of Beekman and Gold streets.
Now our intention was to make tracks toward Hanover Square and there to consider the world as viewed over the profile of a slab of cheesecake; but on viewing the agreeable old house at the corner of Gold Street–“The Old Beekman, Erected 1827,” once called the Old Beekman Halfway House, but now the Old Beekman Luncheonette–no hungry man in his senses could pass without tarrying. A flavour of comely and respectable romance was apparent in this pleasant place, with its neat and tight-waisted white curtains in the upstairs windows and an outdoor stairway leading up to the second floor. Inside, at a table in a cool, dark corner, we dealt with hot dogs and cloudy cider in a manner beyond criticism. The name Luncheonette does this fine tavern serious injustice: there is nothing of the feminine or the soda fountain about it: it is robust, and we could see by the assured bearing of some well-satisfied habitues that it is an old landmark in that section.
But the brisk air and tempting serenity of the day made it seem emphatically an occasion for two lunches, and we passed on, along Pearl Street, in the bright checkerboard of sunbeams that slip through the trestles of the “L.” It was cheerful to see that the same old Spanish cafes are still there, though we were a little disappointed to see that one of them has moved from its old-time quarters, where that fine brass-bound stairway led up from the street, to a new and gaudy palace on the other side. We also admired the famous and fascinating camp outfitting shop at 208 Pearl Street, which apparently calls itself WESTMINSTER ABBEY: but that is not the name of the shop but of the proprietor. We have been told that Mr. Abbey’s father christened him so, intending him to enter the church. In the neighbourhood of Cliff and Pearl streets we browsed about enjoying the odd and savoury smells. There are all sorts of aromas in that part of the city, coffee and spices, drugs, leather, soap, and cigars. There was one very sweet, pervasive, and subtle smell, a caressing harmony for the nostril, which we pursued up and down various byways. Here it would quicken and grow almost strong enough for identification; then again it would become faint and hardly discernible. It had a rich, sweet oily tang, but we were at a loss to name it. We finally concluded that it was the bouquet of an “odourless disinfectant” that seemed to have its headquarters near by. In one place some bales of dried and withered roots were being loaded on a truck: they gave off a faint savour, which was familiar but baffling. On inquiry, these were sarsaparilla. Endymion was pleased with a sign on a doorway: “Crude drugs and spices and essential oils.” This, he said, was a perfect Miltonic line.
Hanover Square, however, was the apex of our pilgrimage. To come upon India House is like stepping back into the world of Charles Lamb. We had once lunched in the clubrooms upstairs with a charming member and we had never forgotten the old seafaring prints, the mustard pots of dark blue glass, the five-inch mutton chops, the Victorian contour of the waiter’s waistcoat of green and yellow stripe. This time we fared toward the tavern in the basement, where even the outsider may penetrate, and were rejoiced by a snug table in the corner. Here we felt at once the true atmosphere of lunching, which is at its best when one can get in a corner, next to some old woodwork rubbed and shiny with age. Shandygaff, we found, was not unknown to the servitor; and the cider that we saw Endymion beaming upon was a blithe, clear yellow, as merry to look at as a fine white wine. Very well, very well indeed, we said to ourselves; let the world revolve; in the meantime, what is that printed in blackface type upon the menu? We have looked upon the faces of many men, we have endured travail and toil and perplexity, we have written much rot and suffered much inward shame to contemplate it; but in the meantime (we said, gazing earnestly upon the face of Endymion), in the meantime, we repeated, and before destiny administers that final and condign chastisement that we ripely merit, let us sit here in the corner of the India House and be of good cheer. And at this point, matters being so, and a second order of butter being already necessary, the waiter arrived with the Spanish omelet.
Homeward by the way of South Street, admiring the slender concave bows of fine ships–the Mexico and the Santa Marta, for instance–and privily wondering what were our chances of smelling blue water within the next quinquennium, we passed in mild and placid abandonment. On Burling Slip, just where in former times there used to hang a sign KIPLING BREW (which always interested us), we saw a great, ragged, burly rogue sitting on a doorstep. He had the beard of a buccaneer, the placid face of one at ease with fortune. He hitched up his shirt and shifted from one ham to another with supreme and sunkissed contentment. And Endymion, who sees all things as the beginnings of heavenly poems, said merrily: “As I was walking on Burling Slip, I saw a seaman without a ship.”