The Burlington Arcade by A. A. Milne

It is the fashion, I understand, to be late for dinner, but punctual for lunch. What the perfect gentleman does when he accepts an invitation to breakfast I do not know. Possibly he has to be early. But for lunch the guests should arrive at the very stroke of the appointed hour, even though it leads to a certain congestion on the mat.

My engagement was for one-thirty, and for a little while my reputation seemed to be in jeopardy. Two circumstances contributed to this. The first one was the ever-present difficulty in these busy days of synchronizing an arrival. A prudent man allows himself time for being pushed off the first half-dozen omnibuses and trusts to surging up with the seventh wave. I was so unlucky as to cleave my way on to the first ‘bus of all, with the result that when I descended from it I was a good ten minutes early. Well, that was bad enough. But, just as I was approaching the door, I realized that my calculations had been made for a one o’clock lunch. It was now ten to one; I had forty minutes in hand.

It is very difficult to know what to do with forty minutes in the middle of Piccadilly, particularly when it is raining. Until a year ago I had had a club there, and I had actually resigned from it (how little one foresees the future!) on the plea that I never had occasion to use it. I felt that I would cheerfully have paid the subscription for the rest of my life in order to have had the loan of its roof at that moment. My new club–like the National Gallery and the British Museum, those refuges for the wet Londoner–was too far away. The Academy had not yet opened.

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And then a sudden inspiration drew me into the Burlington Arcade. They say that the churches of London are ill-attended nowadays, but at least St. James, Piccadilly, can have no cause for complaint, for I suppose that the merchants of the Arcade, and all those dependent on them, repair thither twice weekly to pray for wet weather. The Burlington Arcade is indeed a beautiful place on a wet day. One can move leisurely from window to window, passing from silk pyjamas to bead necklaces and from bead necklaces back to silk pyjamas again; one can look for a break in the weather from either the north or the south; and at the south end there is a clock conveniently placed for those who have a watch waiting its turn at the repairer’s and a luncheon engagement in forty minutes.

For a long time I hesitated between a bead necklace and a pair of pyjamas. A few coloured stones on a chain were introduced to the umbrella-less onlooker as “The Latest Fashion,” followed by the announcement, superfluous in the circumstances, that it was “Very Stylish.” It came as a shock to read further that one could be in the fashion for so little a sum as six shillings. There were other necklaces at the same price but of entirely different design, which were equally “Stylish,” and of a fashion no less up to date. In this the merchant seemed to me to have made a mistake; for the whole glory of wearing “The Latest Fashion” is the realization that the other woman has just missed it by a bead or two. A fashion must be exclusive. St. James, Piccadilly, is all very well, but one has also to consider how to draw the umbrella-less within after one has got their noses to the shop window.

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I passed on to the pyjamas, which seemed to be mostly in regimental colours. This war came upon us too suddenly, so that most of us rushed into the army without a proper consideration of essentials. I doubt if anyone who enlisted in the early days stopped to ask himself whether the regimental colours would suit him. It will be different in the next war. If anybody joins the infantry at all (which is doubtful), he will at least join a regiment whose pyjamas may be worn with self-respect in the happy peace days.

There are objections to turning up to lunch (however warmly invited) with a pair of pyjamas under the arm. It looks as though you might stay too long. I moved on to another row of bead necklaces. They offered themselves for two shillings, and all that the owner could find to say for them was that they were “Quite New.” If he meant that nobody had ever worn such a necklace before, he was probably right, but I feel that he could have done better for them than this, and that, “As supplied to the Queen of Denmark,” or something of the sort, would have justified an increase to two and threepence.

By this time nearly everybody was lunching except myself, and my clock said one twenty-five. If I were to arrive with that exact punctuality upon which I so credit myself, I must buy my bead necklace upon some other day. I said good-bye to the Burlington Arcade, and stepped out of it with the air of a man who has done a successful morning’s shopping. A clock in the hall was striking one-thirty as I entered. Then I remembered. It was Tuesday’s lunch which was to be at one-thirty. To-day’s was at one o’clock… However, I had discovered the Burlington Arcade.

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