While it lay within the power of the Inn to ward off visitors from the green, it was not similarly within their purview to drive the public from the barrister offices and their network of cobbled streets and courtyards. By one such passage did I come to the old Fig Tree Court, its namesake lost along with the adjoining buttery, first, to conflagration and, later, to enemy action. Perhaps the fig had in the end thought it better to take root elsewhere.
The Court gave onto a tangle of lanes along which the relics of any number of architectural periods awaited their entry into a catalogue, likely already extant. I gave no more than the briefest attention to the garish neo-classical brick and limestone outpost at one corner nor to the alternately bleached and weathered, cut-stone nave just opposite. At one more modest door, just eight panes set into a wooden door painted white, a list of names more than half again my height beckoned me, so I trawled its length of Mr., Ms., and Miss for a name bearing a passing resemblance to one which I knew from some other walk of life.
No such name was to be found, but the lack of passersby emboldened me to the point of crossing the threshold. No denizen appeared at the sound of my entry, so I mounted the carpeted stairway, creaking beneath my slight frame, and gained the first landing. There, I paused and listened attentively for watchmen but was treated only to the sound of a photocopier’s many parts turning endlessly about themselves. Vaguely disappointed, I had a closer look at the landing’s trimmings before turning back. Given the considerable amount of iron framing and bracing the door, it seemed, to me at least, likely that the fixings had known no change in some time, save for the careful application of a new layer of black paint every ten or twenty years. So did the door and frame, jamb and hinge swell over time, the accretion of the minutes, weeks and years visible in their slow growth outwards.
At the liberty’s northern edge, a church, bearing the unsurprising name of Temple Church, occupied a swath of land, the extent of which was in keeping with its status as neither here nor there. Faint snatches of song and chant drifted from a side portal; a devotee had propped one half open. Although I, at first, started towards the door before, with a half-formed question already in mind for the priest presiding, I turned aside at the churchyard. Shunted to a court behind the church, the churchyard appeared malcontent with the lesser dimensions, and the occasional aboveground tomb sprouted from the flagstones much as would an irritation of the skin.
At the court’s northern side stood a line of low brick archways. If, behind their wrought-iron gates, I thought to glimpse marvels beyond my ken, I found only more mundane affairs, stone, wood and metal set aside for the court’s flagstones, posts and ongoing projects. Doubly disappointed, I turned to retrace my steps to the way in but, instead, caught myself at the sight of a tree recently made a stump. Cut off at ground level, the tree revealed its innards: outer bands cherrywood red, inner not far from white pine. Yet the bands proved uniform in neither width nor hue and left an irregular white island amid receding cherry seas, all of which led me to suppose that, with sufficient instruction, one could read therein any manner of events past or future. It delighted me to think that the Temple Church vestry, from time to time, sacrificed a bough to indulged such heathen rites as tree divination but a few steps from nave and transept.
From Church Court and churchyard, I passed through Pump Court where, once again, I was unable to locate the court’s titular item. I began to wonder whether I was witness to some long-running experiment on the part of the liberty to see how far they might push humanity’s fixation on place names, to learn at which precise point inhabitants at last gave up on an old name in order to put another forward in its place. Unable to come to any conclusions thereon, I chose instead to pursue my wandering through Middle Temple Lane, of which I later learned that it had often served as a filming location for productions looking to capture what remained of Victorian London, and then on to Fountain Court in which a decrepit tree with bulbous outgrowths hunched on crutch beside a scummy pool.
Though the far side of the complex, the Fountain Court proved not so far from the gatehouse and way in as I was wont to imagine. Brain brimming with half-developed thoughts, I could only surmise for the moment that I had lived the Inn, Inner Temple and Middle, as one might a bureaucracy which far outstripped one’s powers of comprehension. So extensive did the complex appear so long the list of names posted at each door, so mishmashed and mismatched the building styles, that I had the impression of having been let loose in a city apart and of its own devising and at the inner workings of which I could only in two lifetimes get. Visitors had seemed few and far between. Perhaps, it owed only to the gardens’ not opening to the public until May and only for three hours midday at that. Still, I felt that I had begun to scratch at the surface of an entity greater than myself and so, naturally,worried for a time whether I would not meet a dog’s end like K., throat slit in a ditch behind one Temple hall or another.