A Night Adventure in St. Paul's.
We colonials, on the whole, I think, have more appreciation of St. Paul's Cathedral than any other of the London sights. Coming over from Australia for a six months' visit, one of the first things I promised myself was to see St. Paul's. ] I felt it impossible to go back and face my friends if I could not say that I had seen the metropolitan cathedral. First one thing intervened, and then another, until my last day in England had been reached. That last day I had kept clear of engage-1 ments purposely, but unfortunately aj telegram arrived in the morning summoning •me to Norwich, and ifc was 8 o'clock in the evening before 1 reached Liverpool street on the return. journey. Now, I was bound to start for Brindisi the next day, and it seemed as if it were to be my fate to miss the last chance of seeing St. Paul's. Still I was determined, and a fast hansom put me down at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard. ' - As I stood on the pavement looking up at the giant dome, the "clock struck 9. The j sun had set, and ■'high overhead the golden ball and cross stood out against the sky, still burnished by the evening glow. The traffic had slackened, there were but few j pedestrians, and an occasional cab crawled by. The city seemed to sleep, and Sfci Paul's was closely fastened up. Was I doomed only to see the outside ? Bending back my neck and gazing upwards, I saw that about the great golden ball was a tracery as of cobwebs, and men like flies .were crawling about. Stout scaffolding and cables, they were, no doubt, but from the street they appeared but trifling.- After quickly walking round in vain, search of an open door, I came to the end of the south transept; I spied a light. .^Presently I heard a door softly close, and a-grey headed old .verger opened the iron grills. With all-the eloquence of which I am I master, I entreated him to let me into the [sacred fane. He hesitated and shook his r.head.
'Very well,' he said, 'it is against the rules, but, as you say, it's a long way from . Australia; I'll let you in- if you don't mind stopping inside for an hour. I shall return then, but I must lock the
door behind me. Do you wish to go inside V
Thanking him warmly, I said, 'Certainly, yes.' I got under the great dome which hung like a luminous cloud above, full of hazy, uncertain shadows, a faint circle of light flitting round the huge piers—white figures gleaming here and there in shadowy recesses, marble warriors j heroes, and statesmen. •■". - Under the dome in the great openipace was a vast crowd of chairs, rush-bottomed, lashed'together in rows looking eastwards. Choosing one of the most central of these I safe down and began to dream, peopling the area with a vast invisible congregation. In soft, long-drawn cadence, the bells of St Paul's tolled.out the hour of 10. I had been in the place an hour. I felt chilled and numbed. I walked briskly up and clown an avenue between the chairs. I had seen enough, and wanted to get away from the scene of shadows. Looking upwards, a faint circle of light marked the soaring vault, and just above !my head I saw a rope hanging down from the vast height above. Then I remembered the spider-webs I had seen outside above the ball and cross, and as I stood and listened I heard' faint sounds "of hammering and knocking. Men were at work hundreds of feet above ; lights shone here and there, twinkling like stars.
In years gone by I used to be a famous gymnast, and the sight of the rope hanging above me pub me in mind of niy former prowess. How many times, I wondered, could I, hanging on the rope, draw my.chin up to my knuckles 1 1 leapt up and caughfc the rope. Once, twice, thrice. Drawing myself up and down until I grew tired, I stretched myself, expecting to reach the ground with my toes. But I could not. Glancing below me I saw that the flooring had vanished from under me. I was swinging suspended by my hands high up towards the dome ! If I had dropped at that momant I might have been safe, but I hesitated, and was lost. Slowly and steadily the rope was being wound up. I shut my eyes. There I swung, a tiny human speck half way betweed heaven and earth. My muscles were wearied with the load. I made huge efforts to grasp the rope with my feet also, but impossible,- I could not do it. I could, therefore, only lr Id on.
I was now on a level with the plinth that surmounts the great arches of the dome ; the colossal fresco figures seemed rto mock my agony. I must be half way up now —could I hold on to the end? But to my despair I now saw that the seeming dome was a false one, above which rose the real conical roof another 100 ft or more, and that through a vast round orifice, the sham dome, the rope was to ascend to the uppermost peak. In that moment of torture I saw that my fate was inevitable ; my muscles now were relaxing, my grasp would fail, in another minute I must fall and be dashed to pieces! Confused thoughts whirled through my brain. In my mind's eye I saw the plains of grass, herds, and
flocks in my far-off home. My limbs were relaxed, my senses almost deserted me. Voices, I thought, were calling me. I was slipping, slipping, slipping, and-^-I fell.
' How do you feel now, sir ?' was whispered close to my ear. Was it possible ? Was I still alivQ ? Yes, my brain was conscious. Bub my frame ? shattered, no doubt; a mere human wreck. I only dared to use my eye, an 4 yet I had
no feeling of pain. An old man was bending over me ; he had a wineglass in his hand. A candle by his. side formed a little chamber of light about us, '* Am I knocked all to pieces? Do say.' I whispered. ' I don't think so, sir, you are not hurt a bit. Bless you sir, you only fell about 3ft.' I stretched out my arms ; they were all right, and my legs were sound.' ' How is this ?' I said, sitting up and looking about me. ' I thought. I was carried up intq the. dome ?' ' so you w,ere. You'd have been a dead man by this, "but just jn the nick of time I came back". I don't suppose I should have noticed you because of the light, byt I ca.uglit sight of your body against the gilding, and then you giye a sorfc of moan. Says I, * There's death here if I don't think of something at once. Then I recollected hearing that the workmen chaps whistled three times when they wanted the rope lowered, so I piped away, and the rope began to come down. I fshouted to you, to hold on, and keep your heart up, but' you diwfc seem to hear anything. " When your; feet came within a yard of the floor you quivered ajicl fell in $ dead faint. But what; were you about" to let tyieni draw you up like that V I explained my gymnastic feats. 'Oh, I see, you sh.qok the rope. That's the signal to pull up," and up they'pulled. The men are working double shifts now, and in a hurry to get finished. When'l left St. Paul's Cathedral that
evening I felt weak and nerveless, as if I
j had gone through a long jlln.e,ss, I b^aye, I written this; fcr.ua and untarnished aoeount j of my mishap as an outlet to my feelings, j I did not talk much about St. Paul's when I 1 returned to the Antipodes.
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A Night Adventure in St. Paul's., Ashburton Guardian, Volume XIV, Issue 2434, 6 June 1890
A Night Adventure in St. Paul's. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XIV, Issue 2434, 6 June 1890
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