The city at four o'clock

The City at Four O'Clock  (1894) 
by W. Pett Ridge

Extracted from To-day magazine, 25 December 1894, pp. 254-255. Accompanying illustrations by Hal Hurst omitted.




Tea rooms in City, four p.m. Every chair at every marble table occupied; figures of occupants multiplied by mirrors to a total that cannot be counted. White pinafored waitresses flush with exertion; superior person at counter cuts scones and takes the cake. Young men who are in hurry to become Lord Mayors drink tea swiftly and silently; those who are not, talk.

Joyous Youth. Cup of tea and a roll, dearest. (Turns to companion). Regular swell of a dance I tell you. Good people there, too. Why, there was me and——

Second Youth (languidly). Nice girls?

Joyous Youth. (with ecstacy). My boy! "Were there any nice girls? Why, I never saw such a lot of rattlers in all my born days. There was one girl there who was simply well, A 1.

Second Youth. (with blasé air). Good-looking Tottie?

Joyous Youth. Absolutely lovely, my boy. I tell you she even knocked me silly. I haven't felt such a fool for years and years. She said she liked my dress tie very much.

Second Youth. Oh, only your dress tie.

Joyous Youth. One thing made me awfully mad, though. I had her name on my card for the barn dance, and so I went up to her, and I tapped her on the shoulder, and said, "This is our little trot round, I think." And she looked up and she said, "Oh, I am so sorry."

Second Youth. Rough on you, old chap.

Joyous Youth. Not at all; not at all. Nothing of the kind. She was sorry because she had promised to go down to supper just then with her cousin, Legal Johnny. What annoyed me was that she stuck to him all the rest of the evening. I was mad.

Second Youth (pensively). Girls are a rum lot.

Joyous Youth. Never know how to take them, do you? How are you getting on with your little affair?

Second Youth (crossly). Oh, I don't know. (Confidentially) To tell the truth, I'm getting the hump of it. What d'you think the latest is?

Joyous Youth. Heaven knows!

Second Youth (bitterly). So do I! She wants me to look out for a house.

Joyous Youth. Well, I'm hanged!

Second Youth. Says I ought to save, too.

Joyous Youth. Cheek!

Second Youth. Why, you can't take your girl out without it costing money, can you? Look at me. We ¦went the other night to the South Kensington Museum. That sounds like a cheap outing, doesn't it? Very well, then. We go into the refreshment-room; she has a cup of coffee—I have a drink and a cigar to smoke outside. (Gesture of despair.) One and three! I tell you, when you're engaged it's pay out—pay out—pay out all the blessed time.


(Senior Cleric, of much importance, seats himself at next table, beside a junior. Junior anxiously bows.)

Senior (with elephantine buoyancy). Ah, Mr. Wakeley! (Junior bows again.) Taking a cup of the beverage that—er—cheers but does not inebriate? Eh?

Junior. Yes, sir. (With diffidence.) Extraordinary weather this afternoon?

Senior. Er—yes. Yes.

Junior (with increasing courage). I see the papers say——

Senior (impressively). I pay no attention to what the papers say; I know too much of the world.

Junior. But I suppose, sir, one ought not to disbelieve everything one sees in print.

Senior (mysteriously). I'm not so sure about that. If you only knew the kind of men who write these things, you—well, it's a queer business altogether. I should be ve-ry sorry to see a son of mine get mixed up with authors and writers and (vaguely) what not. I like to see a man work for his living. Why, I often take up a book at home—my girls belong to Mudie's—take it up in the evening just to pass the time. Very well. What do I find? (Stirs tea and pauses. Junior, fearful of being caught, does not venture to reply.) I find there, sir (sips tea)—I find there a lot of nonsense about a lot of people, who in all probability never existed. The leaves of a book are of no more interest to me (looks round as though for illustration) than—er—the leaves of a tree. (Chuckles. Junior smiles generously.) Now that's not half a bad way of putting it, is it? (Drinks his own health.)

Junior (with enthusiasm). I think it's capital, sir. Capital! I've never heard it put that way before. Leaves of a book and leaves of a tree. That's good enough for one of the comics.

Senior (modestly). Oh, I often find myself putting things rather aptly.

Junior (persistently). You ought to put them down in black and white, sir. I've seen worse than that in Punch.

(Repeats phrase softly to himself and laughs again.)

Senior. Not married, are you, Mr. Wakeley?

Junior. Not yet, sir. Thinking about it.

Senior (benevolently). Let me see, what is your screw?

(Junior mentions a sum that is really not a screw, but only a tin tack.)

Senior. Ah, well. We must see if the firm will do something for you, Mr. Wakeley. I must be off now. Get back sharp to your work.

Junior. Yes, sir, thank you. And I shan't forget that capital joke of yours about the leaves.

Senior (delighted). Oh, nonsense, nonsense.

(Goes. Junior looks at mirror and winks at himself twice congratulatingly. Two Youthful Blades enter.)

First Blade. The biggest old beano—two coffees, sweetest—biggest old beano I was ever mixed up in, in all my born days. Banks was there, and Banks can shift the liquor, mind you.

Second Blade (approvingly). Banks is a treat.

First Blade. Well, the manager comes to the door of the box, and he says, "I hope you gentlemen won't make too much noise," and Banks—you know his style——

Second Blade. Ra-ther.

First Blade. Banks says, "It's a'right, old chap. We're not gen'lemen, we're only just or'nary chaps like—hic—yourself. What gointave?" And then the manager got raw. "What am I going to have?" he says. "Why, I'm going to have you turned out." And I'm blessed if he didn't, too. And Banks lost his hat, and—oh, it was great, my boy, great. Warm member, Banks.

Second Blade. Warm as they make 'em. (Hesitatingly) He's a bit too handy with his walking-stick sometimes, when he's a trifle on.

First Blade. Oh, it's only his way. We're none of us perfect.

(They finish and rise.)

First Blade (to Superior Damsel behind counter). Sophonisba; Sophonisba, dear.

Superior Damsel (with hauteur). I beg your pardon.

First Blade. Shan't give it to you. Where did that flower come from?

Superior Damsel (coldly). I assume that it came from a garden.

Second Blade. She had you there, old man; she had you. (Superior Damsel relents at tidings of victory. Second Blade takes the attack in hand.) We've been having an argument about you, Miss.

Superior Damsel. Indeed!

Second Blade. I say that I think you belong to the Montmorency family of Yorkshire. There used to be two or three rather fine daughters at the old manor, and——

Superior Damsel. Well, most of my people come from——

Second Blade. And he says that he thinks you belong to the family of Smith in the Walworth Road.

Superior Damsel (very annoyed). Oh, go along with your impudence.

(They go along with their impudence. Others go too.)

Superior Damsel (to bare-armed menial washing cups) Mary, get on with your work there.

Mary. Ain't I a'getting on with me work 'ere?

Superior Damsel (unsatisfied). Well, then leave off and come here this minute and clean the counter.

Mary (sotto voce). It's a mystery to me why some people was ever born.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1930, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 92 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.