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My Friend, The Policeman
by [?]

To the best of my knowledge and belief (as a popular phrase has it), I am the only person in the United States who corresponds with a London policeman. About all you know about the London policeman is that he is a trim and well-set-up figure and an efficient-looking officer. When you have asked him your way he has replied somewhat thus: “Straight up the road, sir, take your first turning to the right, sir, the second left, sir, and then at the top of the street you will find it directly before you, sir.” You have, perhaps, heard that the London police force offers something like an honourable career to a young man, that “Bobbies” are decently paid, that they are advanced systematically, may retire early on a fair pension, and that frequently they come from the country, as their innocent English faces and fresh complexions indicate. Sometimes also you have observed that in directing you they find it necessary to consult a pocket map of the town. Your general impression doubtless is that they are rather nice fellows.

It was in Cheyne Walk that I met my policeman. I had got off the ‘bus at Battersea Bridge, and was seeking my way to Oakley Street, where I had been directed to lodgings described as excellent. He was a large, fat man, with a heavy black moustache; and he had a very pleasant manner. When I came out that evening for a walk along the Embankment I came across him on Albert Bridge, at the “bottom,” as they say over there, of my street.

“You’re still here, sir,” he remarked cheerfully. I asked him how long Mr. Whistler’s Battersea Bridge had been gone, and he told me I forget how many years. He had seen it and had been here all the while. In the course of time he directed me a good deal about in Chelsea, and so it was that I came to chat with him frequently in the evenings, for he “came on” at six and was “off” some time early in the morning.

I was a source of some considerable interest to him with my odd foreign ways. “When are you going ‘ome?” he asked me one day when our friendship had ripened.

“Oh, some time in the fall,” I replied.

“In the fall?” he queried in a puzzled way.

“Why, yes,” I said; “September or October.”

“Oh,” he remarked, “in the autumn.” And I heard him murmur musingly, “In the fall of the leaves.”

Sometimes I met him in the company of his colleague, the “big un,” or “baby,” as I learned he was familiarly called, a very tall man with enormous feet clad in boots that glistened like great mirrors, who rocked as he walked, like a ship. My friend had very bright eyes. They sparkled with merriment one day when he said to the big un, nodding toward me, “He’s going ‘ome in the fall.”

It was a warm evening along the side of old Father Thames. My friend, with much graceful delicacy, made it known to me that a drop of “ile” now and then did not go bad with one tried by the cares of a policeman. So we set out for the nearby “King’s Head and Eight Bells.” When we came to this public house I discovered that it was apparently absolutely impossible for my friend to go in. He instructed me then in this way: I was to go in alone and order for my friend outside a pint of “mull and bitter, in a tankard.” The potman, he informed me, would bring it out to him. The expense of this refreshment was not heavy; it came to one penny ha’penny. The services of the obliging potman were gratuitous. I found my friend in the pathway outside with the tankard between his hearty face and the sky. When he had concluded his draught, he thanked me, smacked his lips, wiped his mouth with a large handkerchief, and hurried away, as, he said, “the inspector” would be along presently. Just why the inspector would regard “ile” in the open air in view of the whole world less an evil than a tankard of mull and bitter in a public house I cannot say. But it may be that as long as one is in the open one can still keep one eye on one’s duty.