Alexander's Bridge HTML version

Chapter 3
The next evening Alexander dined alone at a club, and at about nine o'clock he
dropped in at the Duke of York's. The house was sold out and he stood through
the second act. When he returned to his hotel he examined the new directory,
and found Miss Burgoyne's address still given as off Bedford Square, though at a
new number. He remembered that, in so far as she had been brought up at all,
she had been brought up in Bloomsbury. Her father and mother played in the
provinces most of the year, and she was left a great deal in the care of an old
aunt who was crippled by rheumatism and who had had to leave the stage
altogether. In the days when Alexander knew her, Hilda always managed to have
a lodging of some sort about Bedford Square, because she clung tenaciously to
such scraps and shreds of memories as were connected with it. The mummy
room of the British Museum had been one of the chief delights of her childhood.
That forbidding pile was the goal of her truant fancy, and she was sometimes
taken there for a treat, as other children are taken to the theatre. It was long
since Alexander had thought of any of these things, but now they came back to
him quite fresh, and had a significance they did not have when they were first
told him in his restless twenties. So she was still in the old neighborhood, near
Bedford Square. The new number probably meant increased prosperity. He
hoped so. He would like to know that she was snugly settled. He looked at his
watch. It was a quarter past ten; she would not be home for a good two hours
yet, and he might as well walk over and have a look at the place. He
remembered the shortest way.
It was a warm, smoky evening, and there was a grimy moon. He went through
Covent Garden to Oxford Street, and as he turned into Museum Street he walked
more slowly, smiling at his own nervousness as he approached the sullen gray
mass at the end. He had not been inside the Museum, actually, since he and
Hilda used to meet there; sometimes to set out for gay adventures at
Twickenham or Richmond, sometimes to linger about the place for a while and to
ponder by Lord Elgin's marbles upon the lastingness of some things, or, in the
mummy room, upon the awful brevity of others. Since then Bartley had always
thought of the British Museum as the ultimate repository of mortality, where all
the dead things in the world were assembled to make one's hour of youth the
more precious. One trembled lest before he got out it might somehow escape
him, lest he might drop the glass from over-eagerness and see it shivered on the
stone floor at his feet. How one hid his youth under his coat and hugged it! And
how good it was to turn one's back upon all that vaulted cold, to take Hilda's arm
and hurry out of the great door and down the steps into the sunlight among the
pigeons--to know that the warm and vital thing within him was still there and had
not been snatched away to flush Caesar's lean cheek or to feed the veins of
some bearded Assyrian king. They in their day had carried the flaming liquor, but
to-day was his! So the song used to run in his head those summer mornings a