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observers we are proud to belong. From
the earliest periods of our existence we
have been the victim of this fascination.
In our early youth we fell into the
toils of a shop window in a mouldy street
it was mouldy then, and is a shade
mouldier nownear Albany-street,
Regent' s-park, N.W. It was not N.W. then,
but it is N.W. now. The shop was a dim
little shop inside, and the front had no
pretensions to decorative merit of any sort.
The window-panes were small, and were
cleaned at very remote and uncertain
intervals. The window was only to be
approached across a terrific grating, from
which several bars were missing, and which
seemed to be on the point of giving way,
and precipitating the boys who always
covered it, into the area beneath. Unhallowed
smells arose constantly from this
area. Water trickled frequently into it
from the defective gutter on the roof, after
having dropped on the boys on the way.
It was altogether scarcely the sort of situation
to be selected for a comfortable view.
The attractions that chained us to the
spot, despite all dangers and difficulties,
would not have been obvious to the casual
observer. A few cheap weekly illustrated
papers, some hoop-sticks and whips, a
forlorn doll or so, and two or three bottles
of highly coloured sweets would have been
the first important objects visible. But it
was for none of these articles we cared.
It is true that some of the pictures in
the weekly miscellanies gratified us
exceedingly ; the pistol and dagger work
in those productions always being dear to
the boyish mind. It is also true that, in
a general way, we felt no contempt for
sweets ; but here they were as nothing.
Skelt was the attraction of this window.
Skelt was the magician who enthralled us.
Here were Skelt's treasures in any quantity.
Skelt's characters in the Miller and his
Men ; in my Poll and my Partner Joe, for
eighteenpence ; in Blue Beard, for two
shillings (processions and elephants were
expensive even in Skelt) ; in the Forest
of Bondy, delightful play, but difficult
to manage, by reason of the
impossibilities required to be done by a limp
dog ; extra sheets of wings, slides, lamps ;
drop scenes, exquisitely drawn, as we
thought, and only awaiting the painter's
(our) art to eclipse the feebler productions,
as they seemed to us then, of a Stanfield or
a Roberts. What a shop window ! Didn't
we know that that parcel in blue paper con-
tained blue fire ; that that other parcel, in
red paper, held a powder which, kindled in
one of those flat little tin pans yonder, would
produce a crimson light, and smoke enough
to suffocate our dearest relations and friends?
That Dutch metal we knew what to do with ;
the powdered glass in the jar would
(experience told us), make beautiful spangles,
if sprinkled over the lightly gummed tunic
of Hardiknute in One o'clock, or the Knight
and the Wood Demon, and would impart to
him a ravishing surface, something between
the track of a slug or a snail, and the celestial
sheen upon a Bath bun. It was happiness
merely to gaze on these treasures, and to
feast, in imagination, on the splendour with
which the dramas should be produced
under our management, as soon as ever (if
ever) the treasury should be full enough to
justify the preliminary outlay. But if this
shop window were delightful to us from the
outside, what was it from the inside ?
Whenever we received from enlightened
capitalists, who had proper ideas how boys
should be treated, the grateful tip, we flew
to Fairy-street, Albany-street (we have
forgotten what its real name was then, and the
Board of Works has changed it since), and
enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Long
consideration was necessary before a decision
could be arrived at. A careful manager
must not decide rashly. All the plays
were earnestly examined. As we remember,
we usually selected those in which
small characters (supposed to be large
characters in perspective) had to cross a
bridge, or row in a boat, at the back of the
scene. The delight of the stage-direction
— " small millers in plate five cross set piece,
plate three,"— was intense ; and in the
Miller's Maid we obeyed the command,
" Put on small Giles and George struggling,
plate seven," with rapture : albeit, the
manual substitution before the eyes of any
grown-up critic, of George and Giles
struggling, for George and Giles in the highest
state of devoted friendship, was usually
considered to require explanatory statements
from the management not conducive to
poetical effect. When the final selection
was made, and all our money spentwe
took care not to retain a farthing, and if the
play were not costly enough, would
recklessly buy extra sheets of superswe had
weeks of joyous preparation, followed by a
few days of unceasing performance, until
we thirsted for fresh managerial triumphs,
and would repair once more to Fairy-street
to gaze with covetous eyes on fresh Skelts
and dramas new. Who was Skelt ? Does
he still exist, or does his place (where was