Unless you knew that by taking a few turnings in any direction and walking for five minutes you would inevitably come into one of the great, clashing, shrieking thoroughfares of London, you might think that Romney Place, Chelsea, was situated in some world-forgotten cathedral city. Why it is called a “place,” history does not record. It is simply a street, or double terrace, the quietest, sedatest, most unruffled, most old-maidish street you can imagine. Its primness is painful. It is rigorously closed to organ-grinders and German bands; and itinerant vendors of coal would have as much hope of selling their wares inside the British Museum as of attracting custom in Romney Place by their raucous appeal. Little dogs on leads and lazy Persian cats are its genii loci. It consists of a double row of little Early Victorian houses, each having a basement protected by area railings, an entrance floor reached by a prim little flight of steps, and an upper floor. Three little houses close one end of the street, a sleepy little modern church masks the other. Each house has a tiny back garden which, on the south side, owing to the gradual slope of the ground riverwards, is on a level with the basement floor and thus on a lower level than the street. Some of the houses on this south side are constructed with a studio on the garden level running the whole height of the house. A sloping skylight in the roof admits the precious north light, and a French window leads on to the garden. A gallery runs round the studio, on a level and in communication with the entrance floor; and from this to the ground is a spiral staircase.
From such a gallery did Tommy Burgrave, one November afternoon, look down into the studio of Clementina Wing. She was not alone, as he had expected; for in front of an easel carrying a nearly finished portrait stood the original, a pretty, dainty girl accompanied by a well-dressed, well-fed, bullet-headed, bull-necked, commonplace young man. Clementina, on hearing footsteps, looked up.