THE WORLDS END.
At a quarter to six o'clock, on a wet Sunday evening, Silas Darby left his house in Upper Manor Street, for a quiet drink at the Worlds End Pub in Chelsea. This Victorian built establishment had apparently taken its name from the fact that it had stood, for as far as most people could remember, like an isolated oasis at the more unfashionable end of the Kings Road, London.
The morning had been fine for November; but before midday the clouds had gathered, the rain had begun, and the inveterate fog of the season had closed dingily over the wet streets, far and near. The gardens in the middle of Beauchamp Square—with its close-cut turf, its vacant beds, its rustic seats, its young trees that had not yet grown as high as the railings around them—seemed to be absolutely rotting away in yellow mist and softly-steady rain. It was deserted, even by the cats.
Blinds were drawn down for the most part over windows; what light came from the sky came like light seen through dusty glass; the grim brown hue of the brick houses looked more dirtily mournful than ever; the smoke from the chimney-pots was lost mysteriously in deepening superincumbent fog; the muddy gutters gurgled; the heavy rain-drops dripped into empty areas audibly. No object great or small appeared anywhere, to break the dismal uniformity of line and substance in the perspective of the square. No living being moved over the watery pavement, save the solitary Darby.
He plodded on into a Crescent, and still the awful Sunday solitude spread grimly humid all around him. Entering next a street with some closed shops in it; here, at last, some consoling signs of human life attracted his attention. He now saw the sweeper of the district smoking a pipe under the covered way that led to a mews and detected, through half closed shutters, a chemist's apprentice yawning over a large book. He passed an ostler, and two costermongers wandering wearily and apparently, aimlessly. Then was heard the heavy clop clop of thickly-booted feet advancing behind him, and a stern voice growling, "Now then! be off with you, or you'll get locked up!"—and, looking round, saw an orange-girl, guilty of having obstructed an empty pavement, driven along before a policeman, who was followed admiringly by a ragged boy gnawing a piece of orange-peel.
At the nearby church portico, a page waited sulkily among his fellow servants and their umbrellas for the congregation to come out.
Silas had left behind a house where his wife, twelve children (mainly girls) and in-laws all lived under one roof. It was by definition of circumstances, a family house and in which the father ruled. The parlor was neat, clean, comfortably and sensibly furnished. It was of the average size. It had the usual side-board, dining-table, looking-glass, scroll fender, chimney-piece with a clock on it, carpet with a drugget over it, and window-blinds to keep people from looking in, characteristic of all respectable London parlors of the middle class. The mother, May as all knew her, was one of those women that were never happier than when they had a new baby in their arms to make a fuss of. To Silas though, a certain amount of discipline was required. The boys were OK, but his girls had to be kept on a tighter leash due to their sporadic, somewhat lavish displays of exuberance. And thus Silas, although a gentle man by character, invariably looked severe.
He approached the pub and looked up at the familiar large sign between the 2nd and 3rd floors, which read “Welch Ale Brewery.” He entered quietly through the centralized double swing doors and crossed over the saw-dusted wooden floor to the main bar. Across to the left was an empty snug, where pensioners normally nursed their Guinness’s in a manner reminiscent of trespassing upon eternity. To the right was the saloon, but Silas was unable to see if anyone was there.
The barman shuffled up, cleaning a fresh glass as he approached. His open necked shirt seemed three days old, whilst the collar was without doubt, a stranger to any intimate relationship with something called “starch.”
“Usual is it, Mr. Darby sir?”
Passing a penny across the counter, he waited for his pint of mild & bitter, whilst carefully watching that the measure was pulled from the taps and not the swill bucket dregs.
“There you go, Mr. Darby sir, your usual.”
“The change is wrong,” said Silas.
“No Mr. Darby sir, it’s gone up from a half penny to three farthings a pint now. Sorry Brewery orders.”
“Day-light robbery,” muttered Silas and took his drink to a table by the corner where he sat alone from any other dubious characters that were known to frequent the place.
He had a calm, imaginable expression on his face and he crossed one of his legs over the other, rested an elbow on each arm of his chair, and clasped his hands in front of him. On the wall opposite hung several lithographed portraits of distinguished individuals of that time —mostly represented as very sturdily-constructed men with bristly hair, fronting the spectator interrogatively.
Silas got out his bacci tin of “Digger Shag” and started to roll one. He normally got his second youngest girl to do this, as she had just the right knack of coming up with a nice neat roll, with neither too little, nor too much bacci in the cigarette.
Silas now fixed his eyes on one of the portraits, with a faint approach to a smile on his face, (he never was known to laugh), and with a look and manner which said as plainly as if he had spoken it: "That old man in the picture is about to say something improper or absurd to me; but I’ll bear with him."