David Elliott Meets Will in the Moon Under Water Pub
When I’m in London, which isn’t often enough, it is de rigueur for me to visit The Moon Under Water public house. It’s just a short walk from a bus stop and a left turn onto a quiet side street. The Moon Under Water was established in 1946 by Eric Arthur Blair, according to The Evening Standard.
Since Bailey Herrington, my creator, was struggling to write a first draft of my next adventure, I had time on my hands. I pushed open the heavy wooden doors and entered The Moon Under Water. My eyes went to an intriguing portrait of Mr. Blair pouring a bottle of Guinness Stout into a strawberry-tinted china cup.
During a previous visit, Sally, one of the barmaids, told me that Mr. Blair always drank his beer from a china cup. “He insisted that beer tasted better in a china cup. We have a few regulars who continue his habit.”
Blair designed the pub in authentic Victorian style. In addition to the main pub, The Moon Under Water includes a saloon bar, a ladies’s bar, and an area where you can purchase a “take-away” bottle or jug. Fireplaces promise cheery warmth during the frequent London chill, and framed mirrors behind the mahogany bars reflect the comfortable aspect of the room. A stuffed bull’s head looms over the mantelpiece.
Unlike American bars and taverns, The Moon Under Water is always quiet. There are no gargantuan TV sets looming from every wall, and the conversations among the patrons are exchanged in normal voices.
Sally recognized me and greeted me with a smile. “Hello, Dear,” she said. “Your usual pint of Newcastle?”
“Yes, please. Oh, uh, could I have it in a china cup?”
Sally put her hands on her hips. “Sorry, David. They’re reserved for our regulars. Believe me, a china cup doesn’t improve the taste.” She looked around, looking for an empty chair. Her face brightened. “Do you see that man wearing the fancy jacket with the big collar beneath his chin? There’s a place at his table. His name’s Will. He lives up north of here.”
I studied him as I approached his table. His shoulder-length brown hair receded from his forehead although he appeared to be in his mid-forties. A narrow, slightly curled mustache accented his upper lip and a small soul patch defined his mouth and chin.
He wore an elaborate dark blue jacket trimmed with a floral brocade. Under his chin a stiff rectangular light blue collar with a white border extended around his head. It reminded me of the collar veterinarians attach to dogs to keep them from scratching.
Will was scribbling words on a sheaf of paper using a quill pen, which he dipped frequently in an inkwell, muttering to himself. A half-full pewter mug of ale stood at his left elbow.
Will? Could this be Will Shakespeare? Oh my gosh! It is! He looks just like the portrait in my Shakespeare textbook!
“Excuse me, Will,” I began, “I’m David. David Elliott. Sally suggested that you wouldn’t mind if I sat at your table.”
“She did, did she?” he said in a rich baritone voice. He looked up. “I do desire we may be better strangers.”*
“OK, I’m sorry to have bothered you.” I turned to leave.
He grasped my arm. “Stay, good fellow. Pray forgive my inhospitable insult, conditioned by the demands of fleeting time.” He gestured for me to sit.
“I have been in such a pickle lately.”** Will picked up a penknife and carved a new point on his feathered pen. “I must finish this play by the end of the month, or the players will have scant time to rehearse before it opens in London. I prefer to work in my study at home, but Susanna my eldest child, hast turned me out to use the study as a temporary bedroom for a weekend visit from the Halls, parents of her betrothed, John Hall. I made protestations, but Mistress Anne sided with her daughter, giving me short shrift.***
“Thrice the close stool in the privy overflowed, and the weak stomachs of the servant wench and my wife and daughters foisted the nasty business on me. ‘Tis a task fit for a scullion. Then Spot the cat knocked my last bottle of ink on the floor. The final straw had dropped. I jumped to my feet and laid hands on the fustian feline. At the Dutch door to the garden, I threw open the upper panel. “Out, damned Spot!”**** I shouted, and dropped the cat on the paving stones.”
“Isn’t that a line Lady Macbeth speaks when she’s sleepwalking?”
“One takes inspiration wherever it reveals itself,” Will said.
“Truth be told, I get most of my ideas from history books. The source for Macbeth is Holinshed’s Chronicles. I marvel much that so few young people of your time seriously study history.”
“Will. . . uh, Mr. Shakespeare, I read Hamlet in my college Shakespeare course. I’ve always wondered about Hamlet, the character. Is he an idealist who’s repelled by the evils which surround him, but is incapable of taking action and withdraws into the world of his own mind? Is he faking that he’s crazy because he has a knack for pretending or because you meant it to arouse the suspicion of the king?”
“By my fay! Didst your professor expose you to the ravings of self-styled literary critics Endymion Porter, Ben Jonson and Charles Lamb? They have no more brain than I have in mine elbows.”*****
“Shouldst thou wish to read the work of an authentic critic of Hamlet, a scholar who understood the meaning of the play and the title character, get yourself a copy of What Happens in Hamlet by John Dover Wilson.”
He picked up his quill, dipped it in the inkwell, and said to me, “God ye good den, Mister Elliott.”
I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded polite. Thanks, Will. I mean Mr. Shakespeare.”
“Fare ye well.”
“Fare ye well, too.”
He saw I still sat across the table. He jabbed the quill at me. “Out upon thee, sirrah!”
I stood, picked up my glass of ale and retreated. I smiled. Will Shakespeare had a fancy way of saying, “Get lost, mister.”
* As You Like It, Act 3. Scene 2 Brothers Orlando and Jaques snipe at each other. Jaque: “Let’s meet as little as we can.” Orlando: “I do desire we may be better strangers.”
** The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1 Trinculo, a jester, says he has been “pickled”- drunk for some time.
***Richard III, Act 3, Scene 4 “make a short shrift” - a brief confession by Lord Hastings before he is beheaded at the command of King Richard III.
****Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1 “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” Lady Macbeth is implicated with her husband in the killing Duncan, enabling Macbeth to seize the throne. She is trying to wash imaginary blood from her hands.”
***** Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 1 Ajax, a Greek commander is this play’s designated meathead. Thersites, a potty-mouth servant lays him out without flowers, shouting, “Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.”
"The Moon Under Water" is a 1946 essay by George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), originally published as the Saturday Essay in the Evening Standard on 9 February 1946, in which he provided a detailed description of his ideal pub, the fictitious Moon Under Water. Source: Wikipedia.