To begin with, the streets of London are not paved with gold; but I need not have said that, for nowadays the very youngest child knows it. It was Dick Whittington who first imagined anything so foolish; but then he was only a country lad, and in his days there were not the same opportunities for finding out the truth about things as there are now. There were very few books for one thing, and those there were cost a great deal of money, and would hardly be likely to come in Dick's way; so that if there was by chance a book which described London as it was then, it is not at all probable that he would have seen it. There were no photographs, either, to show him what London was really like, so, of course, he had to make up ideas about it himself, just as you who live in the country and have heard people talking about London do now. Are the stories you invent at all like the stories Dick Whittington made up for himself? You can't answer because you're not writing this book, so I must answer for you. Perhaps you think London is a place where there are no lessons to do, and where there is always a great deal of fun going on; where you can go to see sights all day long; the huge waxwork figures at Madame Tussaud's, as big as real people; and lions and tigers and elephants and bears at the Zoo; and you think that the boys and girls who live in London spend all their time in seeing wonderful things.
If this is what you think, some of it is true enough. There are a great many wonderful things to be seen in London, and if you want to hear about them at once you must skip all this chapter and a great many others besides, and go on to page 241, where you will find them described. But if you want to know what London itself is really like you must wait a little longer. The best people to tell you would be the children who live in London; they will read this book, and, of course, they could answer all your questions, but they would not all answer in the same way.
Some would say: 'Oh yes, of course we all know the Zoo, but that's for small children; we are quite tired of a dull place like that, where everyone goes; we like balls, with good floors for dancing, and programmes, and everything done as it is at grown-up balls; and we like theatres, where we can sit in the front row and look through opera-glasses and eat ices. Madame Tussaud's? Yes, it's there still; we went to it when we were quite little babies, but it's not at all fashionable.'
And another child might say: 'I don't mind driving with mother in the Row when I'm really beautifully dressed.'
But I'll tell you a secret about the little boys and girls who talk like this: they are not really children at all, they never have been and never will be; they are grown-up men and women in child shapes, and by the time their bodies have grown big they won't enjoy anything at all. Master Augustus will be a dull young man, who hates everybody, and does not know how to get through the long, dreary day; and Miss Ruby will be a mere heartless woman, who only cares to please herself, and does not mind how unhappy she makes everyone else....