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A Comedy of Masks A Novel

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In that intricate and obscure locality, which stretches between the Tower and Poplar, a tarry region, scarcely suspected by the majority of Londoners, to whom the "Port of London" is an expression purely geographical, there is, or was not many years ago, to be found a certain dry dock called Blackpool, but better known from time immemorial to skippers and longshoremen, and all who go down to the sea in ships, as "Rainham's Dock."

Many years ago, in the days of the first Rainham and of wooden ships, it had been no doubt a flourishing ship-yard; and, indeed, models of wooden leviathans of the period, which had been turned out, not a few, in those palmy days, were still dusty ornaments of its somewhat antique office. But as time went on, and the age of iron intervened, and the advance on the Clyde and the Tyne had made Thames ship-building a thing of the past, Blackpool Dock had ceased to be of commercial importance. No more ships were built there, and fewer ships put in to be overhauled and painted; while even these were for the most part of a class viewed at Lloyd's with scant favour, which seemed, like the yard itself, to have fallen somewhat behind the day. The original Rainham had not bequeathed his energy along with his hoards to his descendants; and, indeed, the last of these, Philip Rainham, a man of weak health, original Rainham had not bequeathed his energy along with his hoards to his descendants; and, indeed, the last of these, Philip Rainham, a man of weak health, whose tastes, although these were veiled in obscurity, were supposed to trench little upon shipping, let the business jog along so much after its own fashion, that the popular view hinted at its imminent dissolution. A dignified, scarcely prosperous quiet seemed the normal air of Blackpool Dock, so that even when it was busiest —and work still came in, almost by tradition, with a certain steadiness—when the hammers of the riveters and the shipwrights awoke the echoes from sunrise to sunset, with a ferocious regularity which the present proprietor could almost deplore, there was still a suggestion of mildewed antiquity about it all that was, at least to the nostrils of the outsider, not unpleasing. And when the ships were painted, and had departed, it resumed very easily its more regular aspect of picturesque dilapidation. For in spite of its sordid surroundings and its occasional lapses into bustle, Blackpool Dock, as Rainham would sometimes remind himself, when its commercial motive was pressed upon him too forcibly, was deeply permeated by the spirit of the picturesque.

Certainly Mr. Richard Lightmark, a young artist, in whose work some excellent judges were beginning already to discern, if not the hand of the master, at least a touch remarkably happy, was inclined to plume himself on having discovered, in his search after originality, the artistic points of a dockyard.

It was on his first visit to Rainham, whom he had met abroad some years before, and with whom he had contracted an alliance that promised to be permanent, that Lightmark had decided his study should certainly be the river....