The Nest of the Sparrowhawk HTML version

XIII. The House In London
It stood about midway down an unusually narrow by-street off the Strand.
A tumble-down archway, leaning to one side like a lame hen, gave access to a
dark passage, dank with moisture, whereon the door of the house gave some
eighteen feet up on the left.
The unpaved street, undrained and unutterably filthy, was ankle-deep in mud,
even at the close of this hot August day. Down one side a long blank wall, stone-
built and green with mildew, presented an unbroken frontage: on the other the
row of houses with doors perpetually barred, and windows whereon dust and grit
had formed effectual curtains against prying eyes, added to the sense of
loneliness, of insecurity, of unknown dangers lurking behind that crippled
archway, or beneath the shadows of the projecting eaves, whence the perpetual
drip-drip of soot water came as a note of melancholy desolation.
From all the houses the plaster was peeling off in many places, a prey to the
inclemencies of London winters; all presented gray facades, with an air of
eeriness about their few windows, flush with the outside wall--at one time painted
white, no doubt, but now of uniform dinginess with the rest of the plaster work.
There was a grim hint about the whole street of secret meetings, and of
unavowable deeds done under cover of isolation and of darkness, whilst the
great crooked mouth of the archway disclosing the blackness and gloom of the
passage beyond, suggested the lair of human wild beasts who only went about in
the night.
As a rule but few passers-by availed themselves of this short and narrow cut
down to the river-side. Nathless, the unarmed citizen was scared by these dank
and dreary shadows, whilst the city watchman, mindful of his own safety, was
wont to pass the mean street by.
Only my Lord Protector's new police-patrol fresh to its onerous task, solemnly
marched down it once in twenty-four hours, keeping shoulder to shoulder, looking
neither to right nor left, thankful when either issue was once more within sight.
But in this same evening in August, 1657, it seemed as if quite a number of
people had business in Bath Street off the Strand. At any rate this was specially
noticeable after St. Mary's had struck the hour of nine, when several cloaked and
hooded figures slipped, one after another, some singly, others in groups of two or
three, into the shadow of the narrow lane.
They all walked in silence, and did not greet one another as they passed; some
cast from time to time furtive looks behind them; but every one of these evening