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"At what time did you come home last
night ?"

"About two."

"Then you don't know the news ?"


"Covent Garden Theatre is burnt to the

"O! nonsense!"

This conversation was shouted through
the door that separated my brother's
bed-room from my own. There appeared
something so preposterous in the idea of Covent
Garden Theatre ever being burnt downof
those stone corridors  along which we were
accustomed to walk, Gibus hat and double
lorgnette in handthat broad magnificent
staircase, with its marbled pillars and
bronzed wicketsthat grand portico with
its massive columns, under which the stream
of carriages flowed so continuously and
commodiouslyever becoming what the papers
call, a prey to the devouring element, despite
its ostrich-like capacity of digestion, that I
simply expressed my disbelief in the
announcement, and turned round for another
ten minutes' doze. But when I further
heard that the news, first communicated by
the milkman, and then strengthened by the
housemaid next door (one of whose gentlemen
had been out all night, and only jest
come home, such a figure as she never see),
was finally corroborated by a few damp lines
in the Times, I expressed my feelings in a
word or two, which might not appear so
pardonable in type as they did in the startle of
the intelligence, and jumped out of bed.  In
another quarter of an hour I was on my way
to Bow Street in a Hansom.

There was no want of evidence that a
great excitement was stirring all London.
It was now about nine o'clock, and an
unwonted rush of cabs and people, all going
one way, was perceptible even in Oxford
Street. Down Crown Street and across
Seven Dials the crowd kept hurrying on;
and as there must have been a similar pressure
from all directions, it can be conceived
that Long Acre was completely jammed up
and impassable.

I have the doubtful advantage of being
" known to the police," and I was soon
permitted to shoulder my way through the
human barrier that closed the top of Bow
Street. Once inside this, I was master of as
sad a view as could fall to the lot of an
ordinary Londoner to gaze upon. Some huge
bare, blackened walls, with square perforations,
from which the firemen, with their
hatchets, were crashing the remaining glass
and window-frames for the hose to enter; a
roofless portico still plastered with tawdry
posting-bills; a few charred and shortened
beams seen through the window-holes, still
blazing, and every now and then coming
down with a great fall upon the embers
below; and everywhere within the boundary
walls a haze of smoke and flashes and flying
tons of water coming from unseen supplies,
and spluttering, hissing, and crackling against
the glowing ruins in all directions;—this was
all that occupied the spot where Covent
Garden Theatre stood not half-a-dozen hours

The crowd that gazed with me on all this
devastation was a very peculiar one. It was
purely theatrical. As bees return and haunt
the spot where a hive has been destroyed or
despoiled, so did these people assemble about
the wreck of the playhouse. They all knew
one another, even to the inmates of the
houses opposite, whose interests were more
or less wound up with the mammoth establishment
no longer existing; and they had all
some dreadful story to tell of some acquaintance,
more or less apocryphal, who had lost
everything. The amount of personal effects
recklessly left about in a theatre by those to
whom a superfluity of anything may be
considered rather as the exception than the rule,
was marvellous.  And they all knew the
particular individual who had discovered the
fire, and saved the property, and cleared the
house, and knew more about it all than
anybody; and this was always somebody else;
and they all gravely asserted that the truth
would never be known, which, from the utter
and absolute destruction of everything,
appeared more than probable.

As I stood in the doorway of the gas-fitter's
shop a little knot of spectators were exchanging
anecdotes. They had all the shaved face,
hard red chapped skin, blue temples, and
colour-gone olive-green frock-coat of the
entire professional.