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Jacob's Room

CHAPTER FIVE
"I rather think," said Jacob, taking his pipe from his mouth, "it's in Virgil," and pushing
back his chair, he went to the window.
The rashest drivers in the world are, certainly, the drivers of post- office vans. Swinging
down Lamb's Conduit Street, the scarlet van rounded the corner by the pillar box in
such a way as to graze the kerb and make the little girl who was standing on tiptoe to
post a letter look up, half frightened, half curious. She paused with her hand in the
mouth of the box; then dropped her letter and ran away. It is seldom only that we see a
child on tiptoe with pity--more often a dim discomfort, a grain of sand in the shoe which
it's scarcely worth while to remove--that's our feeling, and so--Jacob turned to the
bookcase.
Long ago great people lived here, and coming back from Court past midnight stood,
huddling their satin skirts, under the carved door-posts while the footman roused himself
from his mattress on the floor, hurriedly fastened the lower buttons of his waistcoat, and
let them in. The bitter eighteenth-century rain rushed down the kennel. Southampton
Row, however, is chiefly remarkable nowadays for the fact that you will always find a
man there trying to sell a tortoise to a tailor. "Showing off the tweed, sir; what the gentry
wants is something singular to catch the eye, sir--and clean in their habits, sir!" So they
display their tortoises.
At Mudie's corner in Oxford Street all the red and blue beads had run together on the
string. The motor omnibuses were locked. Mr. Spalding going to the city looked at Mr.
Charles Budgeon bound for Shepherd's Bush. The proximity of the omnibuses gave the
outside passengers an opportunity to stare into each other's faces. Yet few took
advantage of it. Each had his own business to think of. Each had his past shut in him
like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title,
James Spalding, or Charles Budgeon, and the passengers going the opposite way
could read nothing at all--save "a man with a red moustache," "a young man in grey
smoking a pipe." The October sunlight rested upon all these men and women sitting
immobile; and little Johnnie Sturgeon took the chance to swing down the staircase,
carrying his large mysterious parcel, and so dodging a zigzag course between the
wheels he reached the pavement, started to whistle a tune and was soon out of sight--
for ever. The omnibuses jerked on, and every single person felt relief at being a little
nearer to his journey's end, though some cajoled themselves past the immediate
engagement by promise of indulgence beyond--steak and kidney pudding, drink or a
game of dominoes in the smoky corner of a city restaurant. Oh yes, human life is very
tolerable on the top of an omnibus in Holborn, when the policeman holds up his arm and
the sun beats on your back, and if there is such a thing as a shell secreted by man to fit
man himself here we find it, on the banks of the Thames, where the great streets join
and St. Paul's Cathedral, like the volute on the top of the snail shell, finishes it off.
Jacob, getting off his omnibus, loitered up the steps, consulted his watch, and finally
 
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