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King Charles Street lies in Westminster; you turn a corner and find yourself in Charles Street as one might turn a corner and find oneself in History. The cheap, the nasty, and the new vanish, and fine old comfortable houses of red brick, darkened by weather and fog, take you into their keeping, tell you that Queen Anne is not dead, amuse you with pictures of Sedan chairs and running footmen and discharge you at the other end into the twentieth century from whence you came.

Simon Pettigrew lived at No. 12, where his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had lived before him—lawyers all of them. So respected, so rooted in the soil of the Courts as to be less a family of lawyers than a minor English Institution. Divorce your mind[Pg 10] entirely from all petty matters of litigation in connection with the Pettigrews, Simon or any of his forebears would have appeared just as readily in their shirt-sleeves in Fleet Street as in County or Police Court for or against the defendant; they were old family lawyers and they had a fair proportion of the old English families in their keeping—deed-boxes stuffed with papers, secrets to make one's hair curl.

To the general public this great and potent firm was almost unknown, yet Pettigrew and Pettigrew had cut off enough heirs to furnish material for a dozen Braddon novels, had smothered numerous screaming tragedies in high life and buried them at dead of night, and all without a wrinkle on the brow of the placid old firm that drove its curricle through the reigns of the Georges, took snuff in the days of Palmerston, and in the days of Edward Rex still refused to employ the typewriter.

Simon, the last of the firm, unmarried and without near relation, was at the time of this story turned sixty—a clean-shaven, bright-eyed, old-fashioned type of man, sedate, famed for his cellar, and a member of the Athen?um. A man you never, never would have imagined to possess such a thing as a Past. Never would[Pg 11] have imagined to have been filled with that semi-diabolical, semi-angelical joy of life which leads to the follies of youth.

All the same, Simon, between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-two, had raked the town vigorously more than viciously, haunted Evans' supper-rooms, fallen madly in love with an actress, enjoyed life as only the young can enjoy life in the gorgeous, dazzling, deceitful country of Youth.

Driving in hansom cabs was then a pleasure! New clothes and outrageous shirts and ties a delight, actresses goddesses. Then, one day his actress turned out an actress, and the following night he came out of the Cocoa Tree owing a gambling debt of a thousand pounds that he could not pay. His father paid on his promising to turn over a new leaf, which he did. But his youth was checked, his brightness eclipsed, and arm-in-arm with common sense he set out on the long journey that led him at last to the high position of a joyless, loveless, desolate, wealthy solicitor of sixty—respected, very much respected. In fact, less a man than a firm. Yet there still remained to him as a legacy of his youth, a very pretty wit of his own, an irresponsible turn of talk when he gave himself away—as at dinner-parties.

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