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The Mikado Jewel

108 pages
Library of Alexandria
From the main thoroughfare of Bayswater, where the shops display their goods and the tides of life run strongly, Crook Street extends its long line of ugly dwellings to a considerable distance. Its shape suggests a shepherd's crook,--hence undoubtedly the name--as it finally terminates in a curved cul de sac, the end of which is blocked by Number One hundred and eleven. This is an imposing, if somewhat dilapidated mansion, standing in its own limited grounds, which are surrounded by a high crumbling wall of brick, more or less overgrown with grimy ivy. There is a small front garden, planted with stunted shrubs; a narrow passage on either side of the house, screened midway by green-painted trellis-work, and--at the back--a worn-out lawn, dominated by a funereal cedar. Beneath this, through rain and sunshine, is a rustic table and a rustic seat, where the boarders have afternoon tea in summertime. Everywhere there is a feeling of dampness. The mansion is of Georgian architecture, square and heavy, greatly in need of a coat of paint, which it has not received for years. With its discoloured surface, once white, its cheap stucco scaling off in leprous patches, its trails of moss and soot, never to be washed off by any rain, however violent, it looks a tumbledown, ruinous sort of dwelling. Or, as an imaginative boarder once suggested, it is like a derelict hulk, stranded in a stagnant backwater of Life's mighty River. It is certainly doleful, and infinitely dreary, only securing inhabitants by reason of the unusually cheap board and lodging to be obtained under its weather-worn roof. Mrs. Sellars, who rented this sad suburban dwelling, euphoniously called it "The Home of Art," and in a seductive advertisement invited any male or female connected with music, literature, painting, poetry, and more particularly with the drama, to enjoy the refinements of an æsthetic abode at the moderate cost of twenty shillings a week, inclusive. As the house was shabbily comfortable, and its mistress was a retired actress of cheery manners, still indirectly connected with the stage, the bedrooms of The Home of Art were generally occupied by youths and maidens, ambitious of renown. There were very few really old people, as Mrs. Sellars--although elderly herself--did not care for the aged, who had no future, but loved to gather the young and aspiring round her hospitable table. And that same table truly deserved the kindly term, for the slatternly, good-natured woman supplied far better food in far larger quantities than the rate of payment allowed. Indeed, it is questionable if Mrs. Sellars made any profit whatsoever, as nearly all the boarders were juvenile and hungry. But what they paid, together with the landlady's small private income, kept things going in a happy-go-lucky fashion, which was all that was necessary. The children--as Mrs. Sellars called her boarders--adored "Ma," as the boarders called Mrs. Sellars, and with good reason, for she gave one and all largely what money could not buy. She advised, she sympathized, she nursed, she scolded, and to her the children came with their troubles, great and small, for aid and consolation. It was no wonder that with such a blessed helper of humanity, the ruinous old suburban boarding-house was usually filled to its greatest capacity.