ONLY a few months have elapsed since the retiring Lord Mayor, the Aldermen and Sheriffs, the famous State Chariot, and the equally celebrated Coachman, were all of them on their way to Brussels and Paris. In both cities, an enthusiastic welcome : crowds, cheers, speeches, bouquets and banquets. Among the smaller classes the strangest and most extravagant statements were made about his Lordship of London. He wasafter the Kingthe mightiest personage in the realm. He was also the Governor of the Tower, of ” grim ” and sinister ” renown ; indeed (whispered the gossips), the Lor Maire still had the power to cast “political ” adversaries into its terrible dungeons. On the other hand, the King, who kept his jewellery in the cellars of the Tower, was still legally entitled to chop off the illustrious head of the Lor Maire if ever a single diamond or ruby were missing. Another thrilling rumourthe King was jealous of the Lor Maine’s massive and magnificent coachman. My Lor Maire, in return for your coachman I will give you a dozen of my own,” his Britannic Majesty was alleged to have declared : but his Lordship of London steadily declined. All this, and much more, only a few months agoand photographs of the period represented Sir Vansittart Bowater shaking hands warmly with M. Max, the Burgomaster of Brussels, and chatting and laughing in a group of the Municipal Councillors of Paris.
But today only a few months latergenial and heroic M. Max is a prisoner in Germany, most of the vivacious Paris Municipal Councillors are fighting desperately in the trenches : and the dominating colour in the Lord Mayor’s Procession is not scarlet and gold, but the khaki of war.
A tolerable crowd in Northumberland Avenue, where I station myself behind a party of French ladies and gentlemen. Refugees, of course, but of the more prosperous kind. Both sexes wear miniature flags and carry programmes of the processionthe first they have yet witnessed. Running and darting about the outskirts of the crowd, all kinds of hawkers ; and girls and ladies rattle money-boxes and sell French and Belgian newspapers. Cheers in the distance, the strains of a military bandinto Northumberland Avenue rides a detachment of City Policeand the memorable Lord Mayor’s Show of the terrific year 1914 marches, swings, tramps and drives by. All its usual picturesque (and sometimes ridiculous) elements missing. It is nearly a Colonial demonstration enthusiastic cheers for the Canadian, New-Zealand and Newfoundland contingents. It is almost a sheer exhibition of khaki ; renewed stirring cheering for every successive battalion and regiment ; and loudest cheering of alland frantic waving of handkerchiefs and hats for the 14th Reserve Battalion of the now world-famous London Scottish. Then a pause. And when He appears, massive, magnificent and majestically imperturbable, on the box of the State Chariot, the Lord Mayor’s one and only Coachman receives his usual ovation, and the Lord Mayor himself, as he bows at the windows, also evokes a great deal of enthusiasm. However, amongst the French spectators the Coachman is decisively the plum of the show. ” No wonder,” a Parisienne exclaims to her friends, ” no wonder the King wants him.”
A far vaster crowd round and about the Mansion House at night. Through the de-pressing and perilous semi-darkness, thousands and thousands of Londoners have besieged the city in the hope of catching just a glimpse of the famous personages who have promised to attend this entirely unprecedented Mayoral banquet. But the City Police, in full, relentless force, keep the crowd backmore and more backwards. However high we stand on tiptoe, however desperately we strain our eyes and our necks, no more than the glint of a uniform or the frill of a lady’s opera cloak. Still the crowd sways to and fro, and peers eagerly through the gloom, always hoping and longing for the passage of Mr Asquith, of Mr Winston Churchill, of Mr Balfour, and, above all, of Lord Kitchener.
You won’t see none of them. Gone in long ago. ‘Aving dinner by now,” says a friendly constable. ” But I’ve come all the way from Highgate to see Mr Asquith,” complains a lady. ” Can’t ‘elp it,” replies the constable. ” Take my word for it : dinner is Hon.”
But still the crowd remains closely packed together in the semi-darkness, whilst within the brilliantly illuminated banqueting-hall of the Mansion House England’s most distinguished statesmen are assembled, and historic speeches are being made.
It could scarcely be a chillier, or a rainier, or a murkier, or a more wholly miserable and deplorable afternoon. Indeed, one of those villainous November afternoons that might strike us down with influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia, and then it’s the doctor and bed, and it’s fever, delirium, and pain, and sometimes it is death, and a coffin, and a grave, and the end of it all. However, on this perilous Thursday afternoon, thousands and thousands of all kinds and conditions of Londoners stand closely packed together on the wet, greasy pavement of Newgate Street, and the rain patters and beats down on their umbrellas, and the cold brings tears into their eyes, and causes their ears and their noses to tingle and turn pink, and almost frozen are their hands, and numb are their feet. No matter. Little by little (as a fact, about ten every five minutes) the crowd, four abreast, advances through the rain and the mist towards Cheapside andSt Paul’s. A fine target for rain, the dome of the Cathedral what a wet mass it is ! Rain and mud ; splashed, also, are the railings to which have been affixed the Call to Arms, and boards that bear the eloquent invitation : ” This Way To The Recruiting Office.” Rain streaming down the capes of the City Police. Rain blurring the windows of the famous drapery establishments in St Paul’s Churchyard. Rain spoiling the silk hats of gentlemen and soddening the enormous muffs of ladies. Rain swelling the gutters and becoming an evil yellow in colour as it hurries along. Rain, chill mist and gloom. The very atmospheric conditions for influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia. Nothing but peril. Almost self-suicide. But no matter.
” This was the kind of weather that killed Lord Roberts in France,” says an elderly lady in the damp, interminable queue. ” He would go he insisted upon going, in spite of all Lady Roberts could say. I have heard, for a fact, that Lord Kitchener himself begged him not to go. But he would go. Yeshe would go and say a cheering word to the Indian soldiers.”
In the spring of this year, in the newspapers and from the pulpit, many an eminent ecclesiastic scathingly or sadly affirmed that the people of London were too busy with their pleasures to attend places of worship. Empty pews in the churches, but ” house full” at the music halls and theatres. As for the cinemas, already at noonyes, actually before luncheonLondon’s innumerable films were dizzily ” presenting ” the grotesque adventures of ” Bunny,” the amazing exploits of cowboys, as well as, love stories, burglaries, fires, railway accidents, boxing-matches and horseraces. Particularly gloomy was Dean Inge over this thirst for amusement. More than one religious newspaper opened the discussion, ” Is England Decadent ? ” Wellthe answer came promptly and decisively with the outbreak of war. Down went the receipts of the music halls and cinemas. Scores of empty seats (in spite of reduced prices) in the theatres. And ” house full ” at the churches.
Ask, for instance, Mr Wilfred Berridge, who is at once a chemist and a churchwarden in the busy and lively borough of Hammersmith. Both these positions he has held with admirable discretion and urbanity for a number of years. Now that autumn, and coughs, and colds in the head have come on, Mr Berridge the chemist is ” doing ” excellently. In his capacity as churchwarden he is equally satisfied.
” A wonderful change since the war,” neat, grey-haired Mr Berridge informs me. ” Our congregation has at least trebled, and only last week we had to order a quantity of new Prayer Books and chairs. Lots of my customers, whom I have never seen in our church before, now go there every Sunday.” Then, with an apologetic cough : ” I may add that the collections arewellpositively magnificent.”
It was inevitable, of course, that the war should send increased numbers of Londoners to the churches. But that is not the only change in churchland that the war has occasioned. It has, if I may say so, instilled a new spirit into the Sunday sermons, many of which in the past were tedious, narrow, or unnecessarily austere. But the sermon of to-day, be it delivered in church, chapel or tabernacle, is distinguished by vigorous humanity and infinite compassion. It soothes and it stirs, it appeals to the heart and the soul it is the most striking of all testimonies to the righteousness of this war.
Not a preacher of today but alludes emotion-ally and eloquently to the agony of little Belgium. ” The greatest crime in history,” cries the Rev. F. B. Meyer ; ” certainly the greatest crime within the annals of modern history.” Listen to Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitariansnot one but extols the heroism of our soldiers and the justice of our cause. And the congregations of all these different denominations ? Very prolonged are their private prayers, very fervently do they sing the hymns, very quietly do they leave the church, on the notice-board of which there very often hangs the Call to Arms.
The French residents and refugees in London also flock to church. Not a vacant chair, scarcely a corner in their favourite place of worship in Leicester Square. Almost facing the altar, be-hold M. Cambon, the venerable, white-haired French ambassador, accompanied by his staff. All in black is M. Cambon ; in mourning, too, are the ladies, many of them with heavy crêpe veils. Here and there the small bourgeoisie of Soho. Rare flowers on the altar, the clouds and odour of incense, the deep voice of the priest, ” Dominus vobiscum,” the muffled, reverent response, ” Et cum spiritu tuo.”
The service ended, down the aisle, grave, tired-looking, but erect, walks M. Cambon, the French attachés close behind him. The candles on the altar are extinguished, but many a Frenchman, and most of the French ladies, remain behind in the semi – darkness. Bent, kneeling figures ; bowed, motionless heads. Silence in the church, save for an occasional convulsive sob.