A night-time stroll through Hyde Park London. A story about young love from the nineteen twenties.
Young love begins at the ball.
Tears streaming down her face, the young woman stood by the side of the grave. She was remembering the young man, who’s once smiling face, now lay mouldering just six feet beneath her shoes. It had been a short, but a happy association. They met at the Berkeley Square Ball in 1923. The ball was the highlight of The London Season, in the days when the daughters of the aristocracy were launched onto the marriage market, like prize pigs being entered for a very prestigious show. It was an accident at the supper table that first brought them together.
At the Berkeley Square Ball the food was always laid out in a room separated from the location where all the dancing took place. After her card had been filled, and many of the young squires there had their nights made happier by the opportunity to foxtrot round the dance floor with her, she had decided to take a quiet moment for herself, and at the same time, recoup her strength for further quickstep exertions, by partaking of the fare that was laid out in the supper room for the delectation of the guests. The food had been prepared by the head chef of one of the greatest hotels in London, and it was reputed to be one of the most enticingly luxurious ball suppers to be had in the entire season.
Her hopes of enjoying a quiet period, away from the noise of the music and dancing were to be denied her. The supper room was as crowded as the ballroom. But instead of the eager faces of the hot young aristos looking for love and excitement, the room was filled with the “Mamas” and the “Papas”, with an assortment of grandparents thrown into the mix as well. It always was the case at these great occasions, that there would be a considerable amount of the guests whose dancing days were over, usually because they were either too married, or just too plain old. These were the type of person who usually congregated round the supper tables. If they couldn’t dance, they might as well eat. The young people could count themselves lucky, if there was even a claw of lobster left for them when they decided to partake of the feast.
The conversation, snatches of which she caught as she tried to jostle her way towards the rapidly diminishing dishes of food, consisted mainly of references to last season’s hunting, and the perfidy of Lloyd George. She managed, however, to get some food on her plate, and she was just trying to manoeuvre her way through the throng of elderly “locusts”, when as luck would have it, she slipped on a piece of Peach Melba that had fallen from one of the plates. She didn’t actually fall, but in her shock, she splashed half the contents of her own meal all over her dress. All thoughts of eating then vanished from her mind. Equally she could hardly return to the dance floor while she was dripping with lobster salad. There was nothing for it, but to fetch her coat from the cloakroom, and return alone to her Aunt Marchmain’s house by cab. She didn’t want to spoil her parent’s night by asking one of them to accompany her. They were, no doubt, among the throng of “olders” feasting in the supper room. That is where she would leave them.
Meeting a handsome stranger.
There was a small room, just off from the entrance hall of the house, which had been set aside for use as a cloakroom, and it was to hear that she first bent her retreating steps. Earlier on there had been an elderly couple who had been taking the coats from the guests, but this time they were not to be seen. Instead she was surprised to see that the cloakroom was now occupied by a strikingly handsome young man, and one that was wearing the evening clothes of a gentleman rather than the livery of a servant. The smell of good Turkish tobacco that wafted from the cigarette, nonchalantly dangling from his left hand, reinforced the evidence of his attire.
“Can I help you Madam”. His voice had a slightly racier quality about it than the accents of the sweating “lordlings” in the ballroom. It seemed to say “I may look like a gentleman. I may even act, usually, like one. But don’t be fooled. I am not like the rest of them in there.”
Slightly taken aback, the distressed young lady could only stammer in reply.
“I! I! I! was hoping to collect my coat here. Where are the cloakroom servants”?
“Oh. Higginbottom and wife are gone for a much needed break. My grandfather was a footman, so I have always had a soft spot for “the lower orders”. I decided to take over from them for a while. I am glad I did now, as it has given me an opportunity to meet the most beautiful girl here”.
The young girl blushed. It only added to his attractiveness to discover that he was not as blue blooded as at first he seemed. It made her feel adventurous, and the shameless flattery was somehow very gratifying.
“Are you going to offer me a cigarette”? She ventured.
It was now his turn to be slightly embarrassed.
“Oh! Your beauty makes me forget my manners” he said.
He came out from the half door that had divided him from where she was. She accepted the proffered cigarette, and a light from the gold, diamond encrusted, lighter that he took from out of his inside jacket pocket.
“Is this your first time at the Berkeley Ball”? He asked.” I longed to dance with you. But you were just besieged by young swains, and I could only glance at you from the far side of the room”.
“It is”. She replied. And I will be in no hurry to come here again. Almost all the young men are boring, and I ruined my dress”.
She suddenly realised that she was talking to one of “the young men”. “I don’t include you in that grouping” she said. “You are not boring at all”.
They were talking away, like young people who are attracted to each other have been doing since Adam lost a rib and gained a wife, when Higginbottom and spouse returned.
“Oh! Thanksh you so much for thash break Kind Sir” the elderly servant said. The wife just smiled and gave a rather staggery curtsey. It was obvious that they both had made good use of their freedom, probably in the footman’s cellar.
The young couple just laughed indulgently. There are few things funnier at a ball, than to see servitors who have imbibed too much from their master’s wine. Such has always been the case, and always will be, as the reader and I know.
“Where would you like to go to now” the young man asked. “ I don’t feel that I need to stay at the ball any longer, And I think that you are just about ready to leave as well”.
“ I just need to get my coat, and then I intend to get a taxicab back to my Aunt’s house in The Strand”. The suggestion that she intended to be a good girl and leave alone, was truer in her words than in the look she gave him.
“Why don’t you save your money, and let me walk you through the park. It is a beautiful night, and The Strand is not so very far away”. The handsome fellow smiled so attractively as he said this, that the girl’s heart melted within her. It was not recommended in society that a young lady should walk through a park at night with a man not of her family. If the wrong people got to hear that she was so “louche”, invitations would dry up, and she could expect never to attend another great season ball.
But there was something about this young man that put all thoughts of future balls out of her head. Besides he was so open and friendly, and who was to know. It was the nineteen twenties. Conventional living was for the Victorian Age. Tonight she was just going to live and enjoy herself.
Young love in Hyde Park.
So ten minutes later they were laughing together as they entered the gloomy expanse of Hyde Park. They were still laughing when they reached the famous lake called The Serpentine. There is an area of The Serpentine where little paddle boats are kept for hire to people to amuse themselves on the lake. They were there in the nineteen twenties, and I am happy to say, they are there in our time as well. Sometimes young men will risk taking one illegally at night, most often when they have had a little bit too much champagne, and especially if there is a special girl to impress. This was exactly the situation that our young couple found themselves in on this night.
There was a full moon shining , and the broken clouds cast fleeting shadows on the young couple as they sat together in the little boat in the centre of the Hyde Park lake. The girl gave a slight shiver. It was a chilly night after all. When her companion reached over to put his jacket round her shoulders, his lips just brushed her forehead. The cold night seemed to her to vanish from existence, when he took her in his arms, and kissed her, long, slowly, and passionately. “This must be how it feels to be falling in love” were her thoughts at that moment of bliss.
The full moon, that illumined the lovers on the lake, was not just casting its rays on their burgeoning love. In Hyde Park that night there were more people about than just our happy pair. Some of the very “ lower orders”, that the young man had sprung from, were prowling the park at the same time. These were not of the “cheeky chappie cockney variety”. They were instead a bunch of cutthroats, who regularly lay in wait, in order to rob, and sometimes murder, members of the public who ventured into the park at night.
They had been attracted to The Serpentine by the sounds of mirth, and the moonlight had enabled them to see that there was a “posh” couple fooling around in one of the paddle boats on the middle of the water. The pickings would be easy tonight. They waited in the shadows, by the bushes near the landing place, for the young couple to disembark.
The happy boy and girl were walking hand in hand as they entered into the gloom of the shrubbery that surrounded the lake. Suddenly the young man’s hand slipped from that of the girl, as a sharp serrated knife was slid across his, oh so handsome, throat. His carotid artery was severed. The blood spurted almost to the height his head had been, as he lay dying on the ground. As for the girl, she just ran and ran.
Grief can affect everybody differently.
When the young lady reached the gates of Hyde Park, she was almost in a state of collapse. She didn’t cry. But she did think. Something truly awful had just happened. What should she do? Should she scream for help? Ought she to call the police? It wasn’t just lobster salad that was spoiling her dress now. There was blood on it. Lots of blood. But as I just said, she did think. These were her thoughts.
“If I scream for help, or call the police, I shall be required as a witness. The whole world will know that I was in the park alone at night, with a man not of my family, a man whose grandfather was a footman, and who is friendly with servants as well. There will be no more invitations to society balls, and I will die a despised and pitied spinster. Therefore there will be no screaming and definitely no police”.
I will not relate to you, the exact details of how our heroine got safely to her bed that night, in her Aunt Marchmain’s house in The Strand. Suffice it to say that there was no involvement of the officers of the law, but there was a story that needed to be told to a taxi man about a ball that had to be left early, because of a dreadful nosebleed. For the first time ever she did not require the assistance of a ladies maid before going to bed.
For the following few weeks the newspapers were screaming headlines about the young gentleman who had been murdered in Hyde Park. No witnesses came forward, and nobody was arrested. You might have expected that the Higginbottoms would have said that he left The Berkeley Square Ball with a young lady. But they did not. Perhaps their care about the reputation of a lady took precedence over their regard for the young man. Maybe they were just too drunk to remember.
When the funeral of the dead youth took place about ten days later In Kensal Green cemetery, there were no members of the young lady’s family in attendance. He was nobody any of them knew.
The pretty young girl did get invited to more balls that season, and for several seasons after that. Her untarnished reputation ensured her continued favour. Within five years she had secured a most fantastic match. Her husband was the descendant of many Dukes, not a footman in sight.
"After the ball" a picture from an earlier age.
One of the sights of Kensal Green cemetery.
But actions do have consequences, if not in this life, then definitely in the next. When eventually after a very full, and rewarding time on this planet, the, once very pretty, girl came to meet her maker, she did not get a free pass to enter through the celestial gates. There was a duty to be performed on Earth first.
If you go to Kensal Green cemetery in the evening, and especially when the full moon casts its intrusive glow over the final resting places of generations of Londoners, you will sometimes hear bitter sobbing coming from an area in the older part of the necropolis. If your courage, or your curiosity, allows you to investigate the source of the grieving, you will see, standing over a grave, a young lady in the garb that was fashionable during the nineteen twenties. Her dress will be spattered with lobster salad, and blood can be seen dripping down, and forming a pool at her feet. The absolutely most striking thing about this weeping spectre is that she is weighed down with chains made from, engagement rings, champagne glasses, and land and property deeds.
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