Part 2 out of 10
Then they shook hands and their names were written in a book. The stout
gentleman said, "Well, boys, here you all are. Your first term, you
know--very important. Work and play--work and play. Work first and play
afterwards, and then we'll be friends. Oh, yes! Supper at nine. Prayers at
They were all bundled out, and the tall man with pince-nez said: "Now,
boys, you have an hour before supper," and left them without another word
in a long dark passage. The passage was hung with greatcoats and down each
side of it were play-boxes. At the other end, mistily and vaguely, figures
Peter sat down on one of the play-boxes and saw, to his disgust, that the
eager boy with the piping voice sat down also.
"I say," said the piping boy, "don't you like school awfully?"
"No, I hate it," said Peter.
"Oh, I say! What's your name?"
"Peter! Oh! but your other name. The fellows will rag you most awfully if
you tell them your Christian name."
"Mine's Cheeseman. I'm going to like everybody here and get on. I say,
shall we be chums?"
"Oh, I say! Why not?"
"Because I don't like you."
"Oh, I say!"
"In another minute I'll break your neck."
"Oh! I say!" The piping boy sprang up from the play-box and stood away.
"All right, you needn't be ratty about it! I'll tell the fellows you said
your name was Peter! They'll give it you."
And the piping boy moved down the passage whistling casually.
After this, silence, and only all the greatcoats swaying a little in the
draught and bulging out and then thinning again as though there were two
persons inside them. Peter sat quite motionless for a long time with his
face in his hands. He was very tired and very cold and very hungry.
A crowd advanced towards him--five or six boys, and one large fat boy was
holding the piping one by the ear.
"Oh, I say! Let me go! Let me go! I'll do your boots up, really I will.
I'll do whatever you like! Oh! I say! There's a new boy. He says his name
So did the wretched piping one endeavour to divert attention from his own
person. The fat boy, accompanied by a complacent satellite, approached
"Hullo, you. What's your name?"
"'Tisn't. It's Peter."
"Well, Mr. Peter Westcott, stand up when you're spoken to by your betters.
I say, hack him up, you fellows."
Peter was "hacked" up.
"Now, what do you mean by not speaking when you're spoken to?"
Peter stood square and faced him.
"Oh! you won't speak, won't you? See if this will do it."
Peter's arm and ear were twisted; he was also hit in the mouth.
He was still silent.
Some one in the back of the crowd said, "Oh, come on, you chaps--let's
leave this kid, the other fellow's more fun."
And they passed on bearing the piping one with them.
Peter sat down again; he was feeling sick and his head ached. He buried his
head in the greatcoat that hung above him, and cried quite silently for a
very long time.
A bell rang, and boys ran past him, and he ran with them. He found that it
was supper and that he was sitting with the other new boys at the bottom of
the table, but he could not eat and his head was swimming. Then there were
prayers and, as he knelt on the hard floor with his head against the form,
some one stuck a pin into the soft part of his leg and gave him great pain.
Then at last, and all this time he had spoken to no one, upstairs to bed. A
tall, thin woman in shining black was at the head of the stairs--she read
out to the new boys the numbers of their dormitories in a harsh, metallic
voice. Peter went to his, and found it a long room with twenty beds, twenty
washing basins, and twenty chairs.
One last incident.
He slept and was dreaming. He was climbing the Grey Hill and Stephen was
following him, calling on him. He remembered in his dream that he had not
written Stephen the letter that he had promised, and he turned back down
the hill. Then suddenly the ground began to toss under his feet, he cried
for Stephen, he was flung into the air, he was falling....
He woke and found that he was lying on the floor amongst the tumbled sheets
and blankets. In the distance he could hear stifled laughter. The terror of
that awful wakening was still upon him, and he thought for a moment that he
would die because his heart would never beat again.
Then slowly he gathered his clothes together and tried to arrange them on
the bed. He was dreadfully cold and his toes stuck out at the end of the
bed. He could not cover them.
But, tired as he was, he dared not fall asleep again, lest there should
come once more that dreadful wakening.
DAWSON'S, THE GATE INTO HELL
A letter from Peter to Stephen:
_Dear, dear Steve,
There's a noise going on and boys are throwing paper and things and there's
another boy jogging my elbows so that I can't hold my pen. Dear Steve, I
hope that you are very, very happy as I am. I am very happy here. I am in
the bottom form because my sums are so awful and my master beat me for
them yesterday but he is nothing to father. I was top in the essay. I like
football--I have a friend who is called Galion (I don't think that is the
right way to spell it. He says that it is like a treasure-ship). He is a
nice boy and Mrs. Trussit was his father's housekeeper once; his father
writes stories. There is a boy I hate called Cheeseman, and one called
Pollock. Please give my love to Mrs. Brant, the cows, Mollie and the pigs,
Mr. and Mrs. Figgis, Mr. Tan and all my friends. Dear Steve, I love you
very, very, very much. I am very happy.
Your loving friend,
A letter from Stephen to Peter:
_Dear Mr. Peter,
I have thought every day of you and I was mighty glad to get your bit of a
letter fearing that, maybe, thiccy place in Devon might have driven your
old friends out of your head. I am no hand with a pen and it is taking me a
time to write this so I will just say that I'm right glad you're happy and
that I'll greet the day I see you again, and that's it's poor trade here
I am always, your friend,
But Peter had lied in his letter. He was not in any way happy at all. He
had lied because he knew that it would have hurt Stephen if he had told him
the truth--and the truth was something that must be met with clenched teeth
and shoulders set back.
Taking him at the end of the first week one finds simple bewilderment and
also a conviction that silence is the best policy. He was placed in the
lowest form because of his ignorance of Latin and Mathematics, and here
every one was younger and weaker. During school hours there was comparative
peace, and he sat with perplexed brow and inky fingers, or was sent down to
the bottom for inattention. It was not inattention but rather a complete
incapacity for grasping the system on which everything worked. Meanwhile
in this first week he had earned a reputation and made three friends, and
although he did not know it that was not a bad beginning.
On the day after his arrival Peter, after midday dinner, standing
desolately in the playground and feeling certain that he ought to be
playing football somewhere but completely ignorant as to the place where
lists commonly hung, saw another new boy and hailed him. This boy he had
noticed before--he was shapeless of body, with big, round, good-tempered
eyes, and he moved more slowly than any one whom Peter had ever seen.
Nothing stirred him; he did not mind it when his ears were pulled or his
arms twisted, but only said slowly, "Oh, drop it!" To this wonderful boy
Peter made approach.
"Can you tell me where the lists are for football? I ought to have been
playing yesterday only I didn't know where to look."
The slow boy smiled. "I'm going to look myself," he said, "come on."
And then two things happened. First sauntering down the playground there
came a boy whom Peter had noticed on that first morning in school--some one
very little older than Peter and not very much bigger, but with a grace,
a dignity, an air that was very wonderful indeed. He was a dark boy with
his hair carelessly tossed over his forehead; he was very clean and he had
beautiful hands. To Peter's rough and clumsy figure he seemed everything
that a boy should be, and, in his mind, he had called him "Steerforth." As
this boy approached there suddenly burst into view a discordant crowd with
some one in their midst. They were shouting and laughing, and Peter could
hear that some one was crying. The crowd separated and formed a ring and
danced shouting round a very small and chubby boy who was standing crying
quite desperately, with his head buried in his arm. Every now and then the
infant was knocked by one boy in the ring into another boy's arms, and so
was tossed from side to side.
The hopeless sound of the chubby one's crying caused Peter suddenly to
go red hot somewhere inside his chest, and like a bullet from a gun he
was into the middle of the circle. "You beasts! You beasts," he sobbed
hysterically. He began to hit wildly, with his head down, at any one
near him, and very soon there was a glorious melee. The crowd roared
with laughter as they flung the two small boys against one another, then
suddenly one of the circle got a wild blow in the eye from Peter's fist and
went staggering back, another was kicked in the shins, a third was badly
winded. Peter had lost all sense of place or time, of reason or sanity; he
was wild with excitement, and the pent-up emotions of the last five days
found magnificent overwhelming freedom. He did not know whether he were hit
or no, once he was down and in an instant up again--once a face was close
to his and he drove hard at the mouth--but he was small and his arms and
legs were short. Indeed it would have gone badly with him had there not
been heard, in all the roar of battle, the mystic whisper "Binns," and in
an instant, as the snow flies before the sun, so had that gallant crowd
disappeared. Only the small cause of the disturbance and Peter remained.
The tall form of a master passed slowly down the playground, but it
appeared that he had seen nothing, and he did not speak. The small boy was
gazing at Peter with wide-opened eyes, large in a white face on which were
many tear stains. Peter, who was conscious now that blood was pouring from
a cut in his cheek, that one of his teeth was missing and that one of his
eyes was fast closing, was about to speak to him when he was aware that his
"Steerforth" had sprung from nowhere and was advancing gracefully to meet
him. Peter's heart beat very fast.
The boy smiled at him and held out his hand.
"I say, shake hands. You've got pluck--my eye! I never saw such a rag!"
Peter shook hands and was speechless.
"What's your name?"
"Mine's Cardillac. It isn't spelt as it's spoken, you know.
C-a-r-d-i-l-l-a-c. I'm in White's--what do you say to places next each
other at table?"
"Rather." Peter's face was crimson. "Thanks most awfully." He stammered in
"Right you are--see you after chapel." The boy moved away.
Peter said something to the infant whom he had delivered, and was
considering where he might most unobtrusively wash when he was once more
conscious of some one at his elbow. It was the slow boy who was smiling at
"I say, you're a sight. You'd better wash, you know."
"Yes, I was just thinking of that only I didn't quite know where to go."
"Come with me--I'll get round Mother Gill all right. She likes me. You've
got some cheek. Prester and Banks Mi, and all sorts of fellows were in that
crowd. You landed Prester nicely." He chuckled. "What's your name?"
"Galleon?" Peter's eyes shone. "I say, you didn't ever have a housekeeper
called Mrs. Trussit?"
"Trussit? Yes, rather, of course I remember, when I was awfully small."
"Why, she's ours now! Then it must be your father who writes books!"
"Yes, rather. He's most awfully famous!"
Peter stopped still, his mouth open with excitement.
Of all the amazing things! What doesn't life give you if you trust it!
But before it became a question of individuals there is the place to be
considered. This Dawson's of twenty years ago does not exist now nor, let
us pray the Fates, are there others like it. It is not only with bitterness
that a boy whom Dawson's had formed would look back on it but also with
a dim, confused wonder that he had escaped with a straight soul and a
straight body from that Place. There were many, very many indeed, who did
not escape, and it would indeed have been better for them all had they died
before they were old enough to test its hospitality. If any of those into
whose hands this story of Peter may fall were, by the design of God,
themselves trained by the place of which I speak, they will understand that
all were not as fortunate as Peter--and for those others there should be
To Peter indeed it all came very slowly because he had known so little
before. He had not been a week in the place before there were very many
things that he was told--there were other things that he saw for himself.
There is, for instance, at the end of the third week, the incident of
Ferris, the Captain of the School. He was as a God in Peter's eyes, he was
greater, more wonderful than Stephen, than any one in the world. His word
One late afternoon Peter cleaned plates for him in his study, and Ferris
watched him. Ferris was kind and talked about many things out of his great
wisdom, and then he asked Peter whether he would always like to be his fag,
and Peter, delighted, said "Yes."
Then Ferris smiled and spoke, dropping his voice. Three weeks earlier Peter
would not have understood, but now he understood quite well and he went
very white and broke from the room, leaving the plates where they were--and
Cheeseman became Ferris' fag--
This was all very puzzling and perplexing to Peter.
But after that first evening when he had hidden his head in the greatcoat
and cried, he had shown no sign of fear and he soon found that, on that
side of Life, things became easy. He was speedily left alone, and indeed he
must have been, in spite of his small size, something of a figure even
His head was so very firm on his shoulders, his grey eyes were so very
straight, and his lip curled in a disagreeable way when he was displeased;
he was something of the bulldog, and even at this early period the First
and Second forms showed signs of meek surrender to his leadership. But he
was, of course, not happy--he was entirely miserable. He would be happier
later on when he had been able to arrange all these puzzling certainties so
different from those dazzling imaginations that he had painted. How strange
of him to have been so glad to leave Stephen and the others--even old
Curtis! What could he have thought was coming!
He remembered as though it had been another life that Christmas Eve, the
fight, the beating, the carols....
And yet, with it all, with the dreariness and greyness and fierceness and
dirtiness of it all, he would not change it for those earlier things--this
was growing, this was growing up!
He was certainly happier after his meeting with Cardillac--"Cards" as he
was always called. Here was a hero indeed! Not to displace, of course,
Stephen, who remained as a stained-glass window remains, to be looked at
and treasured and remembered--but here was a living wonder! Every movement
that Cards made was astounding, and not only Peter felt it. Even the
masters seemed to suggest that he was different from the rest and watched
him admiringly. Cards was only fourteen, but he had seen the world. He had
been with his mother (his father was dead) about Europe, he knew London, he
had been to the theatres; school, he gave them all to understand, was an
interim in the social round. He took Peter's worship very easily and went
for walks with him and talked in a wonderful way. He admired Peter's
Peter found that Galleon--Bobby Galleon--was disappointing, not very
interesting. He had never read his father's books, and he couldn't tell
Peter very much about the great man; he was proud of him but rather
reserved. He had not many ideas about anything and indeed when he went
for a walk with Peter was usually very silent, although always in a good
temper. Cards thought Galleon very dull and never spoke to him if he could
avoid doing so, and Peter was sometimes quite angry with Galleon because he
would "turn up so" when one might have had Cards to oneself.
Peter's main feeling about it all when half term arrived was that one must
just stand with one's back to the wall if one was to avoid being hurt. He
did not now plunge into broils to help other people; he found that it did
not in reality help them and that it only meant that he got kicked as well
as the other boy. One's life was a diligent watchfulness with the end in
view of avoiding the enemy. The enemy was to be found in any shape and
form; there was no security by night or day, but on the whole life was
safer if one spoke as little as possible and stuck to the wall. There were
Devils--most certainly Devils--roaming the world, and as he watched the
Torture and the Terror and then the very dreadful submission, he vowed with
clenched lips that he would never Submit...and so gradually he was learning
the truth of that which Frosted Moses had spoken...
Cornwall, meanwhile--the Grey Hill, Scaw House, the hills above
Truro--remained to him during these weeks, securely hidden.
There remains to be chronicled of that first term only the Comber Fight
and, a little conversation, one windy day, with Galleon. The small boy, by
name Beech Minimus, whom Peter had defended on that earlier occasion, had
attached himself with unswerving fidelity to his preserver. He was round
and fat, and on his arrival had had red cheeks and sparkling eyes--now he
was pale and there were lines under his eyes; he started if any one spoke
to him, and was always eager to hide when possible. Peter was very sorry
for him, but, after a month of the term had passed he had, himself,
acquired the indifference of those that stand with their backs to the wall.
Beech would go on any kind of errand for him and would willingly have died
for him had it been required of him--he did indeed during the hours that he
was left in peace in his dormitory, picture to himself wonderful scenes in
which he saved Peter from horrible deaths and for his own part perished.
It may have been that he clung to Peter partly because there was more
safety in his neighbourhood, for amongst the lower school boys at any rate,
very considerable fear of Peter was to be noticed, but Beech's large eyes
raised to the other boy's face or his eager smile as he did something that
Peter required of him, spoke devotion.
Beech Minimus was forced, however, for the good of his soul, to suffer
especial torture between the hours of eight and nine in the evening. It was
the custom that the Lower School should retire from preparation at eight
o'clock, it being supposed that at that hour the Lower School went to bed.
But Authority, blinded by trustful good nature and being engaged at that
hour with its wine and dinner, left the issue to chance and the Gods, and
human nature being what it is, the Lower School triumphed in freedom. There
was a large, empty class room at the back of the building where much noise
might safely be made, and in this place and at this hour followed the
nightly torture of Beech and his minute companions--that torture named by
the Gods, "Discipline," by the Authorities, "Boys will be Boys," by the
Parent, "Learning to be a Man," and by the Lower School "A Rag." Beech and
his companions had not as yet a name for it. Peter was, as a rule, left to
his own thoughts and spent the hours amongst the greatcoats in the passage
reading David Copperfield or talking in whispers to Bobby Galleon. But
nevertheless he was not really indifferent, he was horribly conscious even
in his sleep, of Beech's shrill "Oh! Comber, don't! Please, Comber, oh!"
and Beech being in the same dormitory as himself he noticed, almost against
his will, that shivering little mortal as he crept into bed and cowered
beneath the sheets wondering whether before morning he would be tossed in
sheets or would find his bed drenched in water or would be beaten with hair
brushes. Peter's philosophy of standing it in silence and hitting back if
he were himself attacked was scarcely satisfactory in Beech's case, and,
again and again, his attention would be dragged away from his book to that
other room where some small boys were learning lessons in life.
The head of this pleasant sport was one Comber, a large, pale-faced boy,
some years older than his place in the school justified, but of a crass
stupidity, a greedy stomach and a vicious cruelty. Peter had already met
him in football and had annoyed him by collaring him violently on one
occasion, it being the boy's habit, owing to his size and reputation, to
run down the field in the Lower School game, unattacked. Peter's hatred
of him grew more intense week by week; some days after Mid-Term, it had
swollen into a passion. He finally told Bobby Galleon one day at luncheon
that on that very evening he was going to defy this Comber. Galleon
besought him not to do this, pointing out Comber's greater strength and the
natural tendency of the Lower School to follow their leader blindly. Peter
said nothing in reply but watched, when eight o'clock had struck and the
Lower School had assembled in the class room, for his moment. It was a
somewhat piteous spectacle. Comber and some half a dozen friends in the
middle of the room, and forty boys ranging in years from eight to twelve,
waiting with white faces and propitiatory smiles, eager to assist in the
Torture if they only might themselves be spared.
"Now you chaps," this from Comber--"we'll have a Gauntlet. I votes we make
young Beech run first."
"Rather! Come on, Beech--you've jolly well got to."
"Buck up, you funk!" from those relieved that they were themselves, for the
Peter was sitting on a bench at the back of the room--he stood on the bench
and shouted, "You're a beast. Comber."
There was immediate silence--every one turned first to Comber, and then
back to Peter. Comber paused in the preparation of the string whip that he
was making, and his face was crimson.
"Oh, it's you, you young skunk, is it? Bring him here some of you fellows."
Eager movements were made in his direction, but Peter, still standing on
his bench, shouted: "I claim a fight."
There was silence again--a silence now of incredulity and amazement. But
there was nothing to be done; if any one claimed a fight, by all the rules
and traditions of Dawson's he must have it. But that Westcott, a new boy
and in the bottom form should challenge Comber! Slowly, and as it were
against their will, hearts beat a little faster, faces brightened. Of
course Westcott would be most hopelessly beaten, but might not this prove
the beginning of the end of their tyrant?
Meanwhile, Comber between his teeth: "All right, you young devil, I'll give
you such a hiding as you damned well won't forget. Then we'll treat you
A ring was made, and there was silence, so that the prefects might not
be attracted, because fighting in the Lower School was forbidden. Coats
were taken off and Peter faced Comber with the sensation of attacking a
mountain. Peter knew nothing about fighting at all, but Comber had long
subsisted on an easy reputation and he was a coward at heart. There swung
into Peter's brain the picture of The Bending Mule, the crowding faces, the
swinging lamp, Stephen with the sledge-hammer blow...it was the first time
for weeks that he had thought of Treliss.
He was indifferent--he did not care; things could not be worse, and he did
not mind what happened to him, and Comber minded very much indeed, and he
had not been hit in the face for a long time. His arms went round like
windmills, and the things that he would like to have done were to pull
Peter's hair from its roots and to bite him on the arm. As the fight
proceeded and he knew that his face was bleeding and that the end of
his nose had no sensation in it at all he kicked with his feet and was
conscious of cries that he was not playing the game. Infuriated that his
recent supporters should so easily desert him, he now flung himself upon
Peter, who at once gave way beneath the bigger boy's weight. Comber then
began to bite and tear and scratch, uttering shrill screams of rage and
kicking on the floor with his feet. He was at once pulled away, assured
by those dearest friends who had so recently and merrily assisted him in
his "rags" that he was not playing the game and was no sportsman. He was
moreover a ludicrous sight, his trousers being torn, one blue-black eye
staring from a confused outline of dust and blood, his hair amazingly on
There were also many cries of "Shame, Comber," "Dirty game," and even "Well
played young Westcott!"
He knew as he wept bitter tears into his blood-stained hands that his reign
was at an end.
There were indeed, for the time at any rate, no more "rags," and Peter
might, an he would, have reigned magnificently over the Lower School. But
he was as silent and aloof as ever, and was considered "a sidey devil, but
jolly plucky, by Gad."
And for himself he got at any rate the more continued companionship of
Cards, who languidly, and, perhaps a younger Sir Willoughby Patterne "with
a leg," admired his muscle.
Finally, towards the end of the term, Peter and Bobby Galleon may be seen
sitting on a high hill. It is a Sunday afternoon in spring, and far away
there is a thin line of faintly blue hills. Nearer to view there are grey
heights more sharply outlined and rough, like drawing paper--painted with
a green wood, a red-roofed farm, a black church spire, and a brown ploughed
field. Immediately below them a green hedge hanging over a running stream
that has caught the blue of the sky. Above them vast swollen clouds
flooding slowly with the faint yellow of the coming sunset, hanging
stationary above the stream and seeming to have flung to earth some patches
of their colour in the first primroses below the hedge. A rabbit watches,
his head out of his hole.
The boys' voices cut the air.
"I say, Bobby, don't you ever wonder about things--you never seem to want
to ask questions."
"No, I don't suppose I do. I'm awfully stupid. Father says so."
"It's funny your being stupid when your father's so clever."
"Do you mind my being stupid?"
"No--only I'd like you to want to know things--things like what people are
like inside--their thinking part I mean, not their real insides. People
like Mother Gill and old Binns and Prester Ma: and then what one's going to
do when one's grown up--you never want to know that."
"No, it'll just come I suppose. Of course, I shan't be clever like the
"No, I don't think you will."
Once again: "Do you mind my being so stupid, Peter?"
"No--I'm awfully stupid too. But I like to wonder about things. There was
once a man I met at home with rings and things who lived in London...."
Peter stops, Galleon wouldn't be interested in that.
"Anyhow, you know, you've got Cards--he's an awfully clever chap."
"Yes, he's wonderful," Peter sighs, "and he's seen such a lot of things."
"Yes, but you know I don't think Cards really cares for you as much as I
do." This is an approach to sentiment, and Peter brushes it hastily aside:
"I like you both awfully. But I say, won't it be splendid to be grown up in
"I don't know--lots of fellows don't like it."
"That's nothing," Peter says slowly, "to do with its not being splendid!"
And the rabbit, tired of listening to such tiresome stuff, thinks that they
must be very young boys indeed.
A LOOKING-GLASS, A SILVER MATCH-BOX, A GLASS OF WHISKY, AND--VOX POPULI
Peter, thirteen to sixteen!--and left, so it appears, very much the same,
as far as actual possessions go, at the end of it as at the poverty-struck
commencement. Friendship, Honour, Glory--how these things came and went
with him during these years might have a book to themselves were it not
that our business is with a wider stage and more lasting issues--and there
is but little room for a full-fledged chronicle. Though Dawson's--and to
take the history of Miss Gill only--of her love affair with the curate, of
her final desperate appeal to him and of his ultimate confession that he
was married already--provides a story quite sufficient for three excellent
volumes. Or there is the history of Benbow, that bucolic gentleman into
whose study we led Peter a chapter or two ago, Head for this year or two of
Dawson's--soon to be head of nothing but the dung-heap and there to crow
only dismally--with a childlike Mrs. Benbow, led unwittingly to Dawson's
as a lamb to the slaughter-house--later to flee, crying, back to her
hearth and home, her life smashed to the tiniest pieces and no brain nor
strength to put it together again. Or there is the natural and interesting
progression, on the part of any child, behind whose back those iron gates
of Dawson's have swung, from innocence to knowledge, from knowledge to
practice, from practice to miserable Submission, Concealment, and a merry
prospective Hell--this is a diverting study with which it would be easy to
fill these pages....
But the theme is Peter's education, and Dawson's is only an incident to
that history--an incident that may be taken by the percipient reader, for
a most admirable Symbol--even an early rehearsal of a Comedy entitled
"How to Learn to be a Man, or The World as a Prancing Ground."...
But with Peter, if you take him from that first asking Mrs. Trussit
(swinging his short legs from the table and diving into the mixed biscuit
tin). "Is it, Mrs. Trussit, like David Copperfield?"... to his meeting
of her again, he still rather short-legged but no longer caring over
much for mixed biscuits, in his sixteenth year, with Dawson's over and
done with--"No, Mrs. Trussit, not in the least like," and grimly said in
addition, the changes, alterations and general growing-up Development may
be said to be inside him rather than out, and there they are vital enough.
With those three and a half years it is a case of Things sticking out, like
hillocks in a flat country, and it is retrospection rather than impressions
at the time that show what mattered and what did not. But, on the whole,
the vital things at Dawson's are pretty plain to the eye and must be
squeezed into a chapter as best they can.
Treliss, as it appeared in the holidays, seemed to Peter to change very
little. His relations with his father were curiously passive during this
time, and suggested, in their hint of future developments, something
ominous and uneasy. They scarcely ever spoke to one another, and it was
Peter's object to avoid the house as often as possible, but in his father's
silence now (Peter himself being older and intuitively sharper as to the
reason of things) he saw active dislike, and even, at times, a suggested
fear. Outwardly they--his father, his grandfather, his aunt, Mrs.
Trussit--had changed not at all; his grandfather the same old creature of
grey hairs and cushions and rugs, his father broad and square and white in
the face with his black hair carefully brushed, his aunt with her mittens
and trembling hands and silly voice, Mrs. Trussit with her black silk gown
and stout prosperous face--Oh! they were all there, but he fancied--and
this might easily be imagination--that they, like the portraits of the old
Westcotts about the walls, watched him, as he grew, knowing that ever, as
the months passed, the day came nearer when father and son must come to
terms. And beyond this he had, even at this early time, a consciousness
that it was round his mother's room that the whole matter hung--his mother
whom he saw once or twice a week for a very little time in the morning,
when that old terror of the white silent room would creep upon him and hold
And yet, with it all, he knew, as every holiday came, more clearly, that
again and again they, his mother and himself, were on the verge of speech
or action. He could see it in her eyes, her beautiful grey eyes that moved
him so curiously. There were days when he was on the edge of a rush of
questions, and then something held him back--perhaps the unconscious
certainty that his mother's answers would precipitate his relations with
his father--and he was not, as yet, ready.
Anyhow a grim place, Scaw House, grimmer with every return to it, and
not a brightly coloured interlude to Dawson's, grim enough in its own
conditions. The silence that was gradually growing with Peter--the fixed
assurance, whether at home or at school, that life was easier if one said
nothing--might have found an outlet in Stephen's company, but here again
there was no cheerful chronicle.
Each holiday showed Peter less of Stephen than the last had done, and he
was afraid to ask himself why this was. Perhaps in reality he did not know,
but at any rate he was sure that the change was in Stephen. He cared for
Stephen as devotedly as ever, and, indeed, in that perhaps he needed him
more than ever and saw him so little, his affection was even stronger than
it had been. But Stephen had changed, not, Peter knew, in any affection
towards himself, but in his own habits and person. Burstead--his old
enemy--had taken a farm near his own farm, in order, so they said at The
Bending Mule, that he might flaunt Mrs. Burstead (once Stephen's
sweetheart) in Stephen's face.
They also said that Burstead beat his wife and ill-used her horribly, and
that she would give all her soul now that she was Stephen Brant's wife, but
that she was a weak, silly young woman, poor thing. They said that Stephen
knew all this, and that he could hear her crying at nights, and that it was
sending him off his head--and that he was drinking. And they shook their
heads, down at The Bending Mule, and foreboded ill. Moreover, that old
lady, Mrs. Brant, had died during Peter's first year at Dawson's, and
Stephen was alone now. He had changed in his appearance, his beard tangled
and untidy, his clothes unbrushed and his eyes wild and bloodshot, and once
Peter had ventured up to Stephen's farm and had climbed the stairs and
had opened the door and had seen Stephen (although it was early evening)
sitting all naked on his bed, very drunk and shouting wildly--and he had
not recognised Peter. But the boy knew when he met him again, sober this
time, by the sad look in his eyes, that Stephen must go his way alone now,
lead him where it would.... A boy of fifteen could not help.
And so those holidays were more and more lonely, as the days passed and
Peter's heart was very heavy. He did not go often to The Bending Mule now
because Stephen was not there. He went once or twice to Zachary Tan's shop,
but he did not see Mr. Zanti again nor any one who spoke of London. He had
not, however, forgotten Mr. Zanti's talk of looking-glasses. As he grew and
his mind distinguished more clearly between fact and fancy, he saw that it
was foolish to suppose that one saw anything in looking-glasses but the
immediate view. Tables and chairs, walls and windows, dust and fire-places,
there was the furniture of a looking-glass. Nevertheless during his first
year at school he had, on occasions, climbed to his dormitory, seen that he
was alone and then gazed into his glass and thought of London ... London
in his young brain, being a place of romantic fog, pantomime, oranges,
fat, chivalrous old gentlemen, Queen Victoria and Punch and Judy. Nothing
had happened--of course nothing had happened--it was only very cold and
unpleasant up there all alone, and, at the end of it, a silly thing to do.
And then one night something did happen. He woke suddenly and heard in the
distance beyond the deep breathing of twenty-four sleepers, a clock strike
three. He turned and lay on his back; he was very sleepy and he did not
know why he had wakened. The long high room was dark, but directly opposite
him beyond the end of his bed, the light seemed to shine full on to the
face of his looking-glass. As he sat up in bed and looked at it seemed
to stand out like a sheet of silver.
He gripped the sides of the bed and stared. He rubbed his eyes. He could
see no reflection in the glass at all but only this shining expanse, and
then, as he looked at it, that too seemed to pass away, and in its place
at first confusedly, like smoke across the face of the glass, and then,
settling into shape and form, there appeared the interior of a room--a
small low-roofed dark room. There was a large fire burning, and in front
of it, kneeling on the floor, with their backs to Peter, were two men, and
they were thrusting papers into the fire. The glass seemed to stretch and
broaden out so that the whole of the room was visible, and suddenly Peter
saw a little window high in the top of the wall, and behind that window was
a face that watched the two men.
He wanted to warn them--he suddenly cried out aloud "Look out!" and with
that he was wide awake and saw that his glass could be only dimly discerned
in the grey of the advancing morning--and yet he had heard that clock
strike three!... So much for confusing dreams, and so vivid was it that in
the morning he remembered the face at the window and knew that he would
recognise it again if he saw it.
But out of the three years there stand his relations with Cards and young
Galleon, a symbol of so much that was to come to him later. As he grew in
position in the school Cards saw him continually. Cards undoubtedly admired
his stocky, determined strength, his grey eyes, his brusque speech, his
ability at games. He did not pretend also that he was not flattered by
Peter's attentions. Curiously, for so young a boy, he had a satirical
irony that showed him the world very much in the light that he was always
afterwards to see it. To Cards the world was a show, a Vanity Fair--a place
where manner, _savoir-faire_, dignity, humour and ease, mattered
everything; he saw also that there was nothing by which people are so
Peter had none of these things; he would always be rough, he would never be
elegant, and afterwards, in life, Cards did not suppose that he would see
very much of Peter, their lives would be along different paths; but now,
more genuinely perhaps than ever again, Cards was to admire that honest
bedrock of feeling, of sentiment, of criticism, of love and anger, that
gave Peter his immense value.
"There is a fellow here," wrote Cards to his mother, "whom I like very
much. He's got a most awful lot of stuff in him although he doesn't say
much and he looks like nothing on earth sometimes. He's very good at
football, although he's only been here a year. His name is Westcott--Peter
Westcott. I expect I'll bring him back one holiday."
But, of course, he never did. Peter, when it came to actuality, wouldn't
look right at home. It was during Peter's second year that these things
were happening, and, all this time, Peter was climbing slowly to a very
real popularity. Cards was leaving at the end of this second year--had he
stayed until the end of the third his superficialities would have been most
To him Peter gave all that whole-hearted love and devotion that only
Stephen had known before. He gave it with a very considerable sense of
humour and with no sentiment at all. He saw Cards quite clearly, he watched
his poses and his elaborate pretences, and he laughed at him sometimes and
called him names.
Cards' pride was, on several occasions, distinctly hurt by this laughter,
but his certain conviction of his own superiority always comforted him.
Nor was Peter ever sentimental in his attitude. He never told Cards that
he cared for him, and he even hung back a little when Cards was in a
demonstrative mood and wanted to be told that he was "wonderful." Cards
sometimes wondered whether Peter cared for him at all and whether he wasn't
really fonder of that "stupid ass Galleon" who never had a word to say
for himself. Peter's grey eyes would have told Cards a great deal if
he had cared to examine them, but he did not know anything about eyes.
Peter noticed, a little against his will, that as he advanced up the
school so Cards cared increasingly about him. He grasped this discovery
philosophically; after all, there were many fellows who took their colour
from the world's opinion, and it was natural enough that they should.
He himself regarded his growing popularity as a thing of no importance
whatever; it did not touch him anywhere at all because he despised and
hated the place. "When the time does come," he said once to Cards, "and
one is allowed to do things, I'll stop a lot of this filth."
"You'll have your work cut out," Cards told him. "What does it all matter
to us? Let 'em wallow--and they'll only hate you."
Cards added this because he knew that Peter had a curious passion for being
liked. Cards wanted to be admired, but to be liked!... what was the gain?
But that second year was, in spite of it all, the best time that Peter had
ever had. There was warmth of a kind in their appreciation of him. He was
only fifteen and small for his age, but his uncompromising attitude about
things, his silence, his football, gave him a surprising importance--but
even now it was respect rather than popularity. He was growing more like a
bull-dog than ever, his hair was stiff and short, rather shaggy eyebrows, a
square jaw, his short legs rather far apart, a broad back and thick strong
Now that Stephen had slipped so sadly into the background he built up his
life about Cards. He put everything into that room--not the old room that
had held Stephen, but a new shining place that gained some added brilliance
from the fact that its guest realised so little the honour that was done
him. He would lie awake at night and think about Cards, of the things that
he would do for him, of the way that he would serve him, of the guardian
that he would be.
And then, as that summer term, at the end of the second year, wore on the
pain of Cards' departure grew daily more terrible. He didn't know, as the
days advanced, how he would be able to bear that place without Cards. There
would be no life, no interest, and all the disorganisation, the immorality,
the cruelty would oppress him as they had never oppressed him before.
Besides next year he would be a person of some importance--he would
probably be Captain of the Football and a Monitor...everything would be
terribly hard. Of course there was old Bobby Galleon, who was a very good
chap and really fond of Peter, but there was no excitement about _that_
relationship. Bobby was quite ready to play servant to Peter's master, and
Peter could never respect any one very much who did that. Beside Cards, so
brilliant, so handsome, with such an "air," old Bobby really didn't come
off very well.
Bobby also at times was inclined to be a little sentimental. He used to ask
Peter whether he liked him--whether he would miss him if he died--and he
used to tell Peter that he would very gladly die for him. There were things
that one didn't--if one had self-respect--say.
That year the summer was of a blazing heat. Every morning saw a sky of
steely blue, the corn stood like a golden band about the hills, and little
clouds like the softest feathers were blown by the Gods about the world. A
mist clung about the distant hills and clothed them in purple grey. As the
term grew to its close Peter felt that the world was a prison of coloured
steel, and that Dawson's was a true Hell...he would escape from it with
Cards. And then when he saw that such an escape would be running away and
a confession of defeat--he turned back and held his will in command.
Cards looked upon his approaching departure as a great deliverance. He was
to be a man immediately; not for him that absurdly dilatory condition of
pimples and hobbledehoy boots that mark a transition period. Dawson's had
been the most insignificant sojourn in the tent of the enemy, and the
world, it was implied, had lamented his enforced absence. But, as the end
of term flung its shadows in front of it in the form of examinations, and
that especial quality of excited expectancy hovering about the corridors,
Cards felt, for the first time in his existence, a genuine emotion. He
minded, curiously, leaving Peter. He felt, although in this he wrongly
anticipated the gods, that he would never see him again, and he calculated
perhaps at the little piece of real affection and friendship that stood out
from the Continental Tour that he wished Life to be, like a palm tree on
the limitless desert. And yet it was characteristic of them both that on
the last day when, seated under a hedge at the top of the playing fields,
the school buildings a grey mist below them and the air tensely rigid with
heat, they said good-bye to one another, it was Cards who found all the
Peter had nothing to say at all; he only clutched at tufts of grass, lugged
them from the earth and flung them before him. But Cards, as usual, rose to
"You know, Peter, it's been most splendid knowing you here. I don't think
I'd ever have got through Dawson's if it hadn't been for you. It's a hell
of a place and I suppose if the mater hadn't been abroad so much I should
never have stayed on. But it's no use making a fuss. Besides, it's only for
a little while--one will have forgotten all about it in a year's time."
Peter smiled. "You will, I shan't."
"Why, of course you will. And you must come and stay with us often. My
mother's most awfully anxious to know you. Won't it be splendid going out
to join her in Italy? It'll be a bit hot this time of year I expect."
Peter seemed to struggle with his words. "I say--Cards--you
"Forget you! Why, good Lord, I'll be always writing. I'll have such lots to
tell you. I've never liked any one in all my life (this said with a great
sense of age) as I've liked you!"
He stood up and fumbled in his coat. Peter always remembered him, his dark
slim body against the sky, his hair tumbled about his forehead, the grace
and ease with which his body was balanced, the trick that he had of swaying
a little from the hips. He felt in his pocket.
"I say--I've got something for you. I bought it down in the town the other
day and I made them put your name on it." He produced it, wrapped in tissue
paper, out of his pocket, and Peter took it without a word. It was a silver
match-box with "Peter Westcott from his friend Cardillac," and the month
and the year printed on it.
"Thanks most awfully," Peter said gruffly. "Jolly decent of you. Good-bye
They shook hands and avoided each other's eyes, and Cardillac had a sudden
desire to fling the Grand Tour and the rest of it to the dogs and to come
back for another year to Dawson's.
"Well, I must get back, got to be in library at four," he said.
"I'm going to stop here a bit," said Peter.
He watched Cards walk slowly down the hill and then he flung himself on his
face and pursued with a vacant eye the efforts of an ant to climb a swaying
blade of grass ... he was there for a long time.
And so he entered into his third year at Dawson's with a dogged
determination to get through with it as well as possible and not to miss
Cards more than he could help. He did, as an actual fact, miss Cards
terribly. There were so many places, so many things that were connected
with him, but he found, as a kind of reward, that Bobby Galleon was more of
a friend than before. Now that Cards had departed Galleon came a little out
of his shell. He anticipated, obviously with very considerable enjoyment,
that year when he would have Peter all to himself. Bobby Galleon's virtue
was, at any rate, that one was not conscious of him, and during the time of
Peter's popularity he was useful without being in the very least evident.
When that year was over and he had seen the last shining twinkle of Cards'
charms and fascinations he looked at Peter a little wistfully, "Peter,
old man, next year will be topping...." and Peter, the pleasant warmth
of popularity about him, felt that there was a great deal to be said for
Galleon after all.
* * * * *
But with the first week of that third year trouble began. Things lifted
between the terms, into so different an air; at the end of the summer with
Peter's authority in prospect and his splendid popularity (confined by no
jailer-like insistence on rules) around him that immediate year seemed
simple enough. But in the holidays that preceded the autumn term something
had occurred; Peter returned in the mists and damp of September with every
eye upon him. Although only fifteen and a half he was a Monitor and Captain
of the Football ... far too young for both these posts, with fellows
of a great size and a greater age in the school, but Barbour (his nose
providing, daily, a more lively guide to his festal evenings) was seized
by Peter's silence and imperturbability in the midst of danger, "That
kid's got guts" (this a vinous confidence amongst friends) "and will
pull the place up--gettin' a bit slack, yer know--Young? Lord bless yer,
no--wonderful for his age and Captain of the Football--that's always
So upon Peter the burden of "pulling things up" descended. How far Cards
might have helped him here it is difficult to say. Cards had, in his
apparently casual contempt of that school world, a remarkably competent
sense of the direction in which straws were blowing. That most certainly
Peter had not, being inclined, at this stage of things, to go straight for
the thing that he saw and to leave the outskirts of the subject to look
after themselves. And here Bobby Galleon was of no use to him, being
as blundering and near-sighted and simple as a boy could very well be.
Moreover his implicit trust in the perfection of that hero, Peter, did not
help clarity of vision. He was never aware of the causes of things and only
dimly noticed effects, but he was unflinchingly faithful.
"The primrose path" was, of course, open to Peter. He was popular enough,
at the beginning of that Autumn term, to do anything, and, had he followed
the "closed-eyes" policy of his predecessor, smiling pleasantly upon all
crime and even gently with his own authority "lending a hand," all would
have been well. There were boys with strangely simple names, simple
for such criminals--Barton, Jerrard, Watson, West, Underbill--who were
old-established hands at their own especial games, and they saw no reason
at all for disturbance. "Young Westcott had better not come meddling
here," they muttered darkly, having discerned already a tendency on his
part to show disapproval. Nothing happened during the first term--no
concrete incident--but Peter had stepped, by the end of it, from an
exultant popularity to an actual distrust and suspicion. The football
season had not been very successful and Peter had not the graces and charm
of a leader. He distrusted the revelation of enthusiasm because he was
himself so enthusiastic and his silence was mistaken for coldness. He hated
the criminals with the simple names and showed them that he hated them and
they in their turn, skilfully and with some very genuine humour, persuaded
the school that he cut a very poor figure.
At the absurd concert that closed the Autumn term (Mr. Barbour, red-nosed
and bulging shirt-front, hilariously in the chair) Peter knew that he had
lost his throne. He had Bobby--there was no one else--and in a sudden
bitterness and scorn at the fickle colour of that esteem that he had valued
so highly he almost wished that he were altogether alone.... Bobby only
Nothing to go home to--nothing to come back to. The Christmas holidays over
he returned to the Easter term with an eager determination to improve
It was geniality that he lacked: he knew that that was the matter with him,
and he felt a kind of despair about it because he seemed to return at the
end of every holiday from Cornwall with that old conviction in his head
that the easiest way to get through the world was to stand with your back
to the wall and say nothing ... and if these fellows, who thought him so
pleasant last year, thought him pleasant no longer, well, then he must put
up with it. He had not changed--there he was, as ever.
But the Easter term was a chronicle of mistakes. He could not be genial to
people who defied and mocked him; he found, dangerously, that they could
all be afraid of him. When his face was white and his voice very quiet and
his whole body tense like a bow, then they feared him--the biggest and
strongest of those criminals obeyed. He was sixteen now and he could when
he liked rule them all, and gradually, as the term advanced, he used his
strength more and more and was more and more alone. Days would come when he
would hate his loneliness and would rush out of it with friendly advances
and always he would be beaten back into his reserve again. Had only Cards
been there!... But what side would Cards have taken? Perhaps Peter was
fortunate in that the test was not demanded. Poor Bobby simply did not
understand it at all. Peter! the most splendid fellow in the world! What
were they all up to? But that point of view did not help matters. No other
monitor spoke to Peter now if he could help it, and even the masters,
judging that where there was smoke there must be fire, passed him coldly.
That Easter term, in the late winds and rains of March, closed hideously.
The Easter holidays, although perhaps he did not realise it, were a
deliberate backing for the ordeal that was, he knew, to come.
He faced it on his return almost humorously, prepared, with a
self-consciousness that was unusual in him, for all the worst things, and
it is true enough that they were as bad as they could be. Bobby Galleon
shared in it all, of course, but he had never been a popular person and he
did not miss anything so long as there was Peter. Once he said, as Cards
had said before:
"Leave 'em alone, Peter. After all, we can't do anything. They're too many
for us, and, most important thing of all, they aren't worth it."
"Not much," said Peter, "things have got to be different."
Things were not different. They _were_ too many for him, but he struggled
on. The more open bullying he stopped, and there were other things that he
drove into dark corners. But they remained there--in those corners. There
were so many dark places at Dawson's, and it began to get on his brain so
that he heard whispers and suspicions and marked the trail of the beast at
every minute of the day. He could find nothing now in the open--they were
too clever for him. The Captain of the Citadel--Ellershaw--was as he knew
the worst fellow in the school, but there was nothing to be done, nothing
unless something were caught in the open. As the term advanced the whispers
grew and he felt that there were plots in the air. He was obeyed, Ellershaw
and some of the others were politer than they had ever been, and for many
weeks now there had been no disturbance--then suddenly the storm broke.
One hot afternoon he was sitting in his study alone, trying to read. Things
seemed to him that day at their very worst, there was no place to which he
might turn. People were playing cricket beyond his window. Some fly buzzed
on his window pane, the sunlight was golden about his room and little
ladders of dust twisted and curved against the glare--the house was very
still. Then suddenly, from a neighbouring study, there were sounds. At
first they did not penetrate his day dream, then they caught his ear and he
put his book down and listened. The sounds were muffled; there was laughter
and then some one cried out.
He knew that it was Jerrard's study and he hated Jerrard more than any one
in the school. The fellow was a huge stupid oaf, low down in the middle
fourth, but the best bowler that the school had; yes, he hated him. He
opened his study door and listened. The passage was deserted, and, for a
moment, there was no sound save some one shouting down in the cricket field
and the buzzing of the fly on the pane. Then he heard voices from behind
"No, I say--Jerrard--don't give me any more--please ... please don't."
"There I say--hold his mouth open; that's right, pour it down. We'll have
him singing in a moment."
"Oh I say--" there were sounds of a struggle and then silence again. At
last there began the most horrible laughter that Peter had ever known;
weak, silly, giggling, and little excited cries.
Then Jerrard's voice: "There, that will do; he's merry enough now."
Peter waited for no more, but strode across the passage and flung open the
door. Some chairs were overturned; Jerrard and a friend, hearing the door
open, had turned round. Leaning against the table, very flushed, his eyes
shining, his hair covered with dust, waving his arms and singing in a
quivering voice, was a small boy, very drunk. A glass and a whisky bottle
were on the table.
"You damned hound!" Peter was trembling from head to foot. "You shall get
kicked out for this."
Peter closed the door quietly behind him, and went back to his study. Here
at last was the moment for which he had been waiting. Jerrard should be
expelled if he, Peter, died in the attempt. Jerrard was the school's best
bowler; he was immensely popular ... it would, indeed, be a matter of life
and death. On that same evening he called a meeting of the Monitors; they
were bound to meet if one of their number had anything of sufficient
importance to declare, but they came reluctantly and showed Peter that they
resented his action. When they heard what Peter had to say their attitude
was even more mutinous. Jerrard, the school's best bowler, was their one
thought. The end of the term was at hand, and the great match of the
year against Radford, a neighbouring school, approached. Without Jerrard
Dawson's would be hopelessly defeated. If Barbour heard of the incident
Jerrard would be expelled; Barbour might be reluctant to act, but act he
must. They were not, by an absurd and ancient rule, allowed to punish any
grave offence without reporting it to the head-master. If, therefore, they
took any action at all, it must be reported, Jerrard would be expelled, a
boon companion and the great cricket match of the year, would be lost. And
all this through that interfering prig of a Westcott! Any ordinary fellow
would have shut his eyes to the whole affair. After all what is there to
make a fuss about in having a rag with a kid? What are kids for? Thus the
conclave sourly regarding Peter who watched them in turn, and sat sternly,
ominously militant. They approached him with courtesy; Ellershaw showed him
what this might mean to the school were it persisted in. After all, Jerrard
was, in all probability, sorry enough ... it was a rotten thing to do--he
should apologise to them. No, Peter would have none of it, they must 'act;
it must be reported to the Head. He would, if necessary, report it himself.
Then they turned and cursed him, asking him whom he thought that he was,
warned him about the way that the school would take his interference when
the school knew, advised him for his own good to drop the matter; Peter was
Barbour was informed; Jerrard was expelled--the school was beaten in the
cricket match by an innings.
Then the storm broke. Peter moved, with Bobby Galleon, through a cloud of
enemies. It was a hostility that cut like a knife, silent, motionless, but
so bitter that every boy from Ellershaw to the tiniest infant at the bottom
of the first took it as the _motif_ of his day. That beast Westcott was the
song that rang through the last fortnight.
Bobby Galleon was cowed by it; he did not mind his own ostracism, and
he was proud that he could give practical effect to his devotion for
his friend, but deep down in his loyalty, there was an unconfessed
suspicion as to whether Peter, after all, hadn't been a little unwise and
interfering--what was the good of making all this trouble? He even wondered
whether Peter didn't rather enjoy it?
And Peter, for the first time in his school life, was happy. There was
something after all in being up against all these people. He was a general
fighting against tremendous odds. He would show them next year that they
On the last afternoon of the term he sat alone in his study. Bobby was with
the matron, packing. He was conscious, as he sat there, of the sound of
many feet shuffling. There were many whispers beyond his door, and yet a
He waited for a little, and then he opened his door and looked out. As he
did so the bell for roll-call rang through the building, and he knew that
it was his roll.
Afternoon roll-call was always taken in the gymnasium, a large empty room
beyond the study passage, and it was the custom for boys to come up as
their name was about to be called and thus to pass on.
But to-day he saw that the whole of the school was gathered there, along
the dusky passage and packed, in a silent motionless throng, into the
He knew that they were all there with a purpose, and suddenly as he
realised the insult that they intended, that spirit of exultation came upon
him again. Ah! it was worth while, this battle!
They made way in silence as he passed quietly to the other end of the
gymnasium and stood, a little above them, on the steps that led to the
gallery. He started the roll-call with the head of the school and the sixth
form ... there was no answer to any name; only perfect silence and every
eye fixed upon him. For a wild moment he wished to burst out upon them, to
crash their heads together, to hurt--then his self-control returned. Very
quietly and clearly he read through the school list, a faint smile on his
lips. Bobby Galleon was the only boy, out of three hundred, who answered.
When he had finished he called out as was the custom, "Roll is over," then
for a brief instant, with the list in his hand, smiling, he faced them all.
Every eye was upon him--Ellershaw, West, Barton smiling a little, some
faces nervous, some excited, all bitterly, intensely hostile ... and he
must return next year!
He came down from the steps and walked very slowly to the door, and then as
his fingers touched the handle there was a sound--a whisper, very soft and
then louder; it grew about his ear like a shot ... the whole school,
motionless as before, was hissing him.
There was no word spoken, and he closed the door behind him.
That same night he walked, before chapel, with Bobby to the top of the
playing fields. The night was dark and heavy, with no moon nor stars--but
there was a cool wind that touched his cheek.
"Well, I've been a pretty good failure, Bobby. You've stuck to me like a
brick. I shall never forget it.... But you know never in all my life have I
been as happy as I was this afternoon. The devils! I'll have 'em under next
"That's not the way--" Bobby tried timorously to explain.
"Oh, yes, it is.... Anyhow it's my way. I wonder what there is about me
that makes people hate me so."
"Yes, they do. At home, here--it's all the same. I'm always having to fight
about something, always coming up against things."
"I suppose it's your destiny," said Bobby. "You always say it's to teach
"That's what an old chap I knew in Cornwall said. But why can't I be let
alone? How I loved that bit last year when the fellows liked me--only the
decent things never last."
"It'll be all right later," Bobby answered, thinking that he had never seen
anything finer than the way Peter had taken that afternoon. "In a way," he
went on, "you fellows are lucky to get a chance of standing up against that
sort of thing; it's damned good practice. Nobody ever thinks I'm worth
"Well," said Peter, throwing a clod of dark, scented earth into the air
and losing sight of it in the black wall about him--"Here's to next year's
PRIDE OF LIFE
Peter never saw Dawson's again. When the summer holidays had run some three
weeks a letter arrived stating, quite simply and tersely that, owing to
the non-payment by evading parents of bills long overdue and to many other
depressing and unavoidable circumstances Mr. Barbour and that House of
Cards, his school, had fallen to pieces. There at any rate was an end
to that disastrous accumulation of brick and mortar, and the harm that,
living, it had wrought upon the souls and bodies of its victims its dying
could not excuse. No tears were shed for Dawson's.
Peter, at the news, knew that now his battle never could be won. That
battle at any rate must be left behind him with his defeat written large
upon the plain of it, and this made in some unrealised way the penalty of
the future months harder to bear. He had, behind him, defeat. Look at it
as he might, he had been a failure at Dawson's--he had not done the things
that he had been put there to do--and yet through the disaster he knew
that in so far as he had refused to bend to the storm so far there had
been victory; of that at any rate he was sure.
So he turned resolutely from the past and faced the future. It was
as though suddenly Dawson's had never existed--a dream, a fantasy, a
delirium--something that had left no external things behind it and had only
in the effect that it had worked upon himself spiritually made its mark. He
faced his House....
Scaw House had seemed to him, during these last three years, merely an
interlude at Dawson's. There had been hurried holidays that had been spent
in recovering from and preparing for the term and the House had scarcely,
and only very quietly, raised its head to disturb him. He had not been
disturbed--he had had other things to think about--and now he was very
greatly disturbed indeed; that was the first difference that he consciously
realised. The disturbance lay, of course, partly in the presence of his
father and in the sense that he had had growing upon him, during the last
two years, that their relationship, the one to the other, would, suddenly,
one fine day, spring into acute emotion. They were approaching one another
gradually as in a room whose walls were slowly closing. "Face to face--and
then body to body--at last, soul to soul!"
He did not, he thought, actively hate his father; his father did not
actively hate him, but hate might spring up at any moment between them, and
Peter, although he was only sixteen, was no longer a child. But the feeling
of apprehension that Scaw House gave him was caused by wider influences
than his father. Three years at Dawson's had given Peter an acute sense of
expecting things, it might be defined as "the glance over the shoulder to
see who followed"--some one was always following at Scaw House. He saw
in this how closely life was bound together, because every little moment
at Dawson's contributed to his present active fear. Dawson's explained
Scaw House to Peter. And yet this was all morbidity and Peter, square,
broad-shouldered, had no scrap of morbidity in his clean body. He did not
await the future with the shaking candle of the suddenly awakened coward,
but rather with the planted feet and the bared teeth of the bull-dog....
He watched the faces of his father, his aunt and Mrs. Trussit. He observed
the frightened dreams of his grandfather, the way that old Curtis the
gardener would suddenly cease his fugitive digging and glance with furtive
eyes at the windows of the house; about them were the dark shadows of the
long passages, the sharp note of some banging door in a distant room, the
wail of that endless wind beyond the walls. He felt too that Mrs. Trussit
and his aunt were furtively watching him. He never caught them in anything
tangible but he knew that, when his back was turned, their eyes followed
Something must be done or he could not answer for his control. If he were
not to return to Dawson's, what then?
It was his seventeenth birthday one hot day towards the end of August, and
at breakfast his father, without looking up from his paper, said:
"I have made arrangements for you with Mr. Aitchinson to enter his office
next week. You'll have to work--you've been idling long enough."
The windows were wide open, the lawn was burning in the sun, bees carried
the scent of the flowers with them into the air that hung like shining
metal about the earth, a cart rattled as though it were a giant clattering
his pleasure at the day down the road. It was a wonderful day and somewhere
streams were flowing under dark protecting trees, and the grass was thick
in cool hollows and the woods were so dense that no blue sky reached the
moss, but only the softest twilight ... and old Aitchinson, the town's
solicitor, with his nutcracker face, his snuffling nose, his false
teeth--and the tightly-closed office, the piles of paper, the ink, the
silly view from the dusty windows of Treliss High Street--and life always
in the future to be like that until he died.
But Peter showed no emotion.
"Very well, father--What day do I go?"
Nothing more was said. At any rate Aitchinson and his red tape and his
moral dust would fill the day--no time then to dwell on these dark passages
and Mrs. Trussit's frightened eyes and the startled jump of the marble
clock in the dining-room just before it struck the hour....
And so for weeks it proved. Aitchinson demanded no serious consideration.
He was a hideous little man with eyes like pins, shaggy eyebrows, a nose
that swelled at the end and was pinched by the sharpest of pince-nez,
cheeks that hung white and loose except when he was hungry or angry, and
then they were tight and red, a little body rather dandily dressed with
a flowered waistcoat, a white stock, a skirted coat and pepper-and-salt
trousers--and last of all, tiny feet, of which he was inordinately proud
and with which, like Agag, he always walked delicately. He had a high
falsetto voice, fingers that were always picking, like eager hens, at the
buttons on his waistcoat or the little waxed moustache above his mouth, and
hair that occupied its time in covering a bald patch that always escaped
every design upon it. So much for Mr. Aitchinson. Let him be flattered
sufficiently and Peter saw that his way would be easy. The wizened little
creature had, moreover, a certain admiration for Peter's strength and
broad shoulders and used sometimes in the middle of the morning's work
to ask Peter how much he weighed, whether he'd ever considered taking up
prize-fighting as a profession, and how much he measured across the chest.
There were two other youths, articled like Peter, stupid sons of honest
Treliss householders, with high collars, faces that shone with soap and
hair that glistened with oil, languid voices and a perpetual fund of small
talk about the ladies of the town, moral and otherwise. Peter did not
like them and they did not like Peter. One day, because he was tired and
unhappy, he knocked their heads together, and they plotted to destroy him,
but they were afraid, and secretly admired what they called his coarse
The Summer stole away and Autumn crept into its place, and at the end of
October something occurred. Something suddenly happened at Scaw House that
made action imperative, and filled his brain all day so that Aitchinson's
office and his work there was only a dream and the people in it were
shadows. He had heard his mother crying from behind her closed door....
He had been coming, on a wet autumnal afternoon, down the dark stairs from
his attic and suddenly at the other end of the long passage there had been
this sound, so sudden and so pitiful coming upon that dreary stillness that
he had stopped with his hands clenched and his face white and his heart
beating like a knock on a door. Instantly all those many little moments
that he had had in that white room with that heavy-scented air crowded
upon him and he remembered the smile that she had always given him and the
way that her hair lay so tragically about the pillow. He had always been
frightened and eager to escape; he felt suddenly so deeply ashamed that
the crimson flooded his face there in the dark passage. She had wanted him
all these years and he had allowed those other people to prevent him from
going to her. What had been happening to her in that room? The sound of her
crying came to him as though beseeching him to come and help her. He put
his hands to his ears and went desperately into the dark wet garden. He
knew now when he thought of it, that his behaviour to his mother had been,
during these months since he had left Dawson's, an unconscious cowardice.
Whilst he had been yet at school those little five minutes' visits to his
mother's room might have been excused, but during these last months there
had been, with regard to her, in his conscience, if he had cared to examine
it, sharp accusation.
The defence that she did not really want to see him, that his presence
might bring on some bad attack, might excite her, was no real defence. He
had postponed an interview with her from day to day because he realised
that that interview would strike into flame all the slumbering relations
that that household held. It would fling them all, as though from a
preconcerted signal, into war....
But now there could be only one thought in his mind. He must see his
mother--if he could still help her he must be at her service. There was no
one whom he could ask about her. Mrs. Trussit now never spoke to him (and
indeed never spoke to any one if she could help it), and went up and down
the stairs in her rustling black and flat white face and jingling keys as
though she was no human being at all but only a walking automaton that you
wound up in the morning and put away in the cupboard at night--Mrs. Trussit
was of no use.
There remained Stephen, and this decided Peter to break through that
barrier that there was between them and to find out why it had ever
existed. He had not seen Stephen that summer at all--no one saw
Stephen--only at The Bending Mule they shook their heads over him and spoke
of the wild devil that had come upon him because the woman he loved was
being tortured to death by her husband only a mile away. He was drinking,
they said, and his farm was going to ruin, and he would speak to
nobody--and they shook their heads. It was not through cowardice that Peter
had avoided him, but since those three years at Dawson's he had been lonely
and silent himself, and Stephen had never sent for him as he would have
done, Peter thought, if he had wanted him. Now the time had come when he
could stand alone no longer....
He slipped away one night after supper, leaving that quiet room with his
aunt playing Patience at the table, his old grandfather mumbling in his
sleep, his father like a stone, staring at his paper but not, Peter was
sure, reading any of it.
Mrs. Trussit, silent before the fire in her room, his aunt not seeing the
cards that she laid upon the table, his father not reading his paper--for
what were they all listening?
It was a fierce night and the wind rushed up the high road as though it
would tear Peter off his feet and fling him into the sea, but he walked
sturdily, no cap on his head and the wind streaming through his hair. Some
way along the road he found a child crying in a ditch. He loved children,
and, picking the small boy up, he found that he had been sent for beer to
the Cap and Feathers, at the turn of the road, and been blown by the wind
into the ditch and was almost dead with terror. At first at the sight of
Peter the child had cried out, but at the touch of his warm hand and at the
sound of his laugh he had been suddenly comforted, and trotted down the
road with his hand in Peter's and his tears dried.
Peter's way with the children of the place was sharp and entirely lacking
in sentiment--"Little idiot, to fall into the ditch like that--not much of
the man about you, young Thomas."
"Isn't Thomas," said the small boy with a chuckle, "I be Jan Proteroe, and
I beant afeart only gert beast come out of hedge down along with eyes and a
He would have told Peter a great deal more but he was suddenly frightened
again by the dark hedges and began to whimper, so Peter picked him up and
carried him to his cottage at the end of the road and kissed him and pushed
him in at the lighted door. He was cheered by the little incident and felt
less lonely. At the thought of making Stephen once more his friend his
heart warmed. Stephen had been wanting him, perhaps, all this time to come
to him but had been afraid that he might be interfering if he asked
him--and how glad they would be to see one another!
After all, they needed one another. They had both had hard times, they were
both lonely and no distance nor circumstances could lessen that early bond
that there had been between them. Happier than he had been for many weeks,
he struck off the road and started across the fields, stumbling over the
rough soil and plunging sometimes into ditches and pools of water. The rain
had begun to fall and the whispering hiss that it made as it struck the
earth drowned the more distant noise of the sea that solemnly broke beyond
the bending fields. Stephen's farm stood away from all other houses, and
Peter as he pressed forward seemed to be leaving all civilisation behind
him. He was cold and his boots were heavy with thick wet mud and his hair
Beyond the fields was a wood through which he must pass before he reached
Stephen's farm, and as the trees closed about him and he heard the rain
driving through the bare branches the world seemed to be full of chattering
noises. The confidence that he had had in Stephen's reception of him
suddenly deserted him and a cold miserable unhappiness crept about him in
this wet, heaving world of wind and rain and bare naked trees. Like a great
cry there seemed to come suddenly to him through the wood his mother's
voice appealing for help, so that he nearly turned, running back. It was a
hard, cruel place this world--and all the little ditches and hollows of the
wood were running with brown, stealthy water.
He broke through it at last and saw at the bottom of the hill Stephen's
house, and he saw that there were no lights in the windows. He stood on the
breast of the little hill for a moment and thought that he would turn back,
but it was raining now with great heaviness and the wind at his back seemed
to beat him down the hill. Suddenly seized with terror at the wood behind
him, he ran stumbling down the slope. He undid the gate and pitched into
the yard, plunging into great pools of water and seeing on every side of
him the uncertain shapes of the barns and sheds and opposite him the great
dark front of the house, so black in its unfriendliness, sharing in the
night's rough hostility.
He shouted "Stephen," but his voice was drowned by the storm and the gate
behind him, creaking on its hinges, answered him with shrill cries. He
found the little wicket that led into the garden, and, stepping over the
heavy wet grass, he banged loudly with the knocker on the door and called
again "Stephen." The noise echoed through the house and then the silence
seemed to be redoubled. Then pushing the great knocker, he found to his
surprise that the door was unfastened and swung back before him. He felt
his way into the dark hall and struck a match. He shouted "Stephen" once
more and his voice came echoing back to him. The place seemed to be
entirely deserted--the walls were wet with damp, there were no carpets
on the floor, a window at the end of the passage showed its uncurtained
He passed into the kitchen, and here he found two candles and lighted
them. Here also he found signs of life. On the bare deal table was a
half-finished meal--a loaf of bread, cheese, butter, an empty whisky bottle
lying on its side. Near these things there was a table, and on the floor,
beside an overturned chair, there was a gun. Peter picked it up and saw
that it was unloaded. There was something terribly desolate about these
things; the room was very bare, a grandfather clock ticked solemnly in the
corner, there were a few plates and cups on the dresser, an old calendar
hung from a dusty nail and, blown by the wind from the cracked window,
tip-tapped like a stealthy footstep against the wall. But Peter felt
curiously certain that Stephen was going to return; something held him in
his chair and he sat there, with his hands on the deal table, facing the
clock and listening. The wind howled beyond the house, the rain lashed the
panes, and suddenly--so suddenly that his heart leapt to his mouth--there
was a scratching on the door. He went to the door and opened it and found
outside a wretched sheep-dog, so starved that the bones showed through the
skin, and so weak that he could scarcely drag himself along. Peter let
him in and the animal came up to him and looked up in his eyes and, very
faintly, wagged his tail. Peter gave him the bread, which the dog devoured,
and then they both remained silent, without moving, the dog's head between
The boy must have slept, because he woke suddenly to all the clocks in the
house striking midnight, and in the silence the house seemed to be full of
clocks. They came running down the stairs and up and down the passages and
then, with a whir and a clatter, ceased as instantly as they had begun.
The house was silent again--the storm had died down--and then the dog that
had been sleeping suddenly raised its head and barked. Somewhere in the
distance a door was banged to, and then Peter heard a voice, a tremendous
There were heavy steps along the passage, then the kitchen door was banged
open and Stephen stood in the doorway. Stephen's shirt was open at the
neck, his hair waved wildly over his forehead, he stood, enormous, with his
legs apart, his eyes shining, blood coming from a cut in his cheek, and
in one of his hands was a thick cudgel. Standing there in the doorway, he
might have been some ancient Hercules, some mighty Achilles.
He saw Peter, recognised him, but continued a kind of triumphal hymn that
he was singing.
"Ho, Master Peter, I've beat him! I've battered his bloody carcass! I came
along and I looked in at the winder and I saw 'im a ill-treatin' of 'er.
"I left the winder, I broke the glass, I was down upon 'im, the dirty
'ound, and"--(chorus)--"I've battered 'is bloody carcass! Praise be the
Lord, I got 'im one between the eyes--"
"Praise be, I 'it him square in the jaw and the blood came a-pourin' out of
his mouth and down 'e went, and--
(Chorus) "I've battered 'is bloody carcass--
"There she was, cryin' in the corner of the room, my lovely girl, and there
'e was, blast 'is bones, with 'is 'and on her lovely 'air, and--
(Chorus) "I've battered 'is bloody carcass.
"I got 'im one on the neck and I got 'im one between 'is lovely eyes and I
got 'im one on 'is lovely nose, and 'e went down straight afore me, and--
(Chorus) "I've battered 'is bloody carcass!"
Peter knew that it must be Mr. Samuel Burstead to whom Stephen was
referring, and he too, as he listened, was suddenly filled with a sense of
glory and exultation. Here after all was a way out of all trouble, all this
half-seen, half-imagined terror of the past weeks. Here too was an end to
all Stephen's morbid condition, sitting alone by himself, drinking, seeing
no one--now that he'd got Burstead between the eyes life would be a
vigorous, decent thing once more.
Stephen stopped his hymn and came and put his arm round Peter's neck.
"Well, boy, to think of you coming round this evening. All these months
I've been sittin' 'ere thinking of you--but I've been in a nasty, black
state, Master Peter, doing nothing but just brood. And the devils got
thicker and thicker about me and I was just going off my head thinking of
my girl in the 'ands of that beast up along. At last to-night I suddenly
says, 'Stephen, my fine feller, you've 'ad enough of this,' I says. 'You go
up and 'ave a good knock at 'im,' I says, 'and to-morrer marnin' you just
go off to another bit o' country and start doin' something different.' Up I
got and I caught hold of this stick here and out up along I walked. Sure
enough there 'e was, through the winder, bullyin' her and she crying. So I
just jumped through the winder and was up on to 'im. Lord, you should 'ave
seen 'im jump.
"'Fair fight, Sam Burstead,' I says.
"'Yer bloody pirate!' says 'e.
"'Pirate, is it?' says I, landing him one--and at that first feel of my
'and along o' 'is cheek all these devils that I've been sufferin' from just
turned tail and fled.
"Lord, I give it 'im! Lord, I give it 'im!
"He's living, I reckon, but that's about all 'e is doing. And then, without
a word to 'er, I come away, and here I am, a free man ... and to-morrer
marning I go out to tramp the world a bit--and to come back one day when
she wants me."
And then in Peter there suddenly leapt to life a sense of battle, of
glorious combat and conflict.
As he stood there in the bare kitchen--he and Stephen there under the light
of the jumping candle--with the rain beating on the panes, the trees of the
wood bending to the wind, he was seized, exalted, transformed with a sense
of the vigour, the adventure, the surprising energy of life.
"Stephen! Stephen!" he cried. "It's glorious! By God! I wish I'd been
Stephen caught him by the arm and held him. The old dog came from under the
table and wagged his tail.
"Bless my soul," said Stephen, looking at him, "all these weeks I've been
forgetting him. I've been in a kind of dream, boy--a kind o' dream. Why
didn't I 'it 'im before? Lord, why didn't I 'it 'im before!"
Peter at the word thought of his mother.
"Yes," he thought, with clenched teeth, "I'll go for them!"
PETER AND HIS MOTHER
He had returned over the heavy fields, singing to a round-faced moon. In
the morning, when he woke after a night of glorious fantastic dreams, and
saw the sun beating very brightly across his carpet and birds singing
beyond his window, he felt still that same exultation.
It seemed to him, as he sat on his bed, with the sun striking his face,
that last night he had been brought into touch with a vigour that
challenged all the mists and vapours by which he had felt himself
surrounded. That was the way that now he would face them.
Looking back afterwards, he was to see that that evening with Stephen flung
him on to all the events that so rapidly followed.
Moreover, above all the sensation of the evening there was also a
triumphant recognition of the fact that Stephen had now been restored to
him. He might never see him again, but they were friends once more, he
could not be lonely now as he had been....
And then, coming out of the town into the dark street and the starlight, he
thought that he recognised a square form walking before him. He puzzled his
brain to recall the connection and then, as he passed Zachary Tan's shop,
the figure turned in and showed, for a moment, his face.
It was that strange man from London, Mr. Emilio Zanti....
It seemed to Peter that now at Scaw House the sense of expectation that had
been with them all during the last weeks was charged with suspense--at
supper that night his aunt burst suddenly into tears and left the room.
Shortly afterwards his father also, without a word, got up from the table
and went upstairs....
Peter was left alone with his grandfather. The old man, sunk beneath his
pile of cushions, his brown skinny hand clenching and unclenching above the
rugs, was muttering to himself. In Peter himself, as he stood there by the
fire, looking down on the old man, there was tremendous pity. He had never
felt so tenderly towards his grandfather before; it was, perhaps, because
he had himself grown up all in a day. Last night had proved that one was
grown up indeed, although one was but seventeen. But it proved to him still
more that the time had come for him to deal with the situation all about
him, to discover the thing that was occupying them all so deeply.
Peter bent down to the cushions.
"Grandfather, what's the matter with the house?"
He could hear, faintly, beneath the rugs something about "hell" and "fire"
and "poor old man."
"Grandfather, what's the matter with the house?" but still only "Poor old
man ... poor old man ... nobody loves him ... nobody loves him ... to hell
with the lot of 'em ... let 'em grizzle in hell fire ... oh! such nasty
pains for a poor old man."
"Grandfather, what's the matter with the house?"
The old brown hand suddenly stopped clenching and unclenching, and out from
the cushions the old brown head with its few hairs and its parchment face
poked like a withered jack-in-the-box.
"Hullo, boy, you here?"
"Grandfather, what's the matter with the house?"
The old man's fingers, sharp like pins, drew Peter close to him.
"Boy, I'm terribly frightened. I've been having such dreams. I thought I
was dead--in a coffin...."
But Peter whispered in his ear:
"Grandfather--tell me--what's the matter with every one here?"
The old man's eyes were suddenly sharp, like needles.
"Ah, he wants to know that, does he? He's found out something at last, has
he? _I_ know what they were about. They've been at it in here, boy, too.
Oh, yes! for weeks and weeks--killing your mother, that's what my son's
been doing ... frightening her to death.... He's cruel, my son. I had the
Devil once, and now he's got hold of me and that's why I'm here. Mind you,
boy," and the old man's ringers clutched him very tightly--"if you don't
get the better of the Devil you'll be just like me one of these days. So'll
he be, my son, one day. Just like me--and then it'll be your turn, my boy.
Oh, they Westcotts!... Oh! my pains! Oh! my pains!... Oh! I'm a poor old
man!--poor old man!"
His head sunk beneath the cushions again and his muttering died away like
a kettle when the lid has been put on to it.
Peter had been kneeling so as to catch his grandfather's words. Now he drew
himself up and with frowning brows faced the room. Had he but known it he
was at that moment exactly like his father.
He went slowly up to his attic.
His little book-case had gained in the last two years--there were now
three of Henry Galleon's novels there. Bobby had given him one, "Henry
Lessingham," shining bravely in its red and gold; he had bought another,
"The Downs," second hand, and it was rather tattered and well thumbed.
Another, "The Roads," was a shilling paper copy. He had read these three
again and again until he knew them by heart, almost word by word. He took
down "Henry Lessingham" now and opened it at a page that was turned down.
It is Book III, chapter VI, and there is this passage:
_But, concerning the Traveller who would enter the House of
Courage there are many lands that must be passed on the road
before he rest there. There is, first, the Land of Lacking All
Things--that is hard to cross. There is, Secondly, the Land of
Having All Things. There is the Traveller's Fortitude most hardly
tested. There is, Thirdly, The Land of Losing All Those Things
that One Hath Possessed. That is a hard country indeed for the
memory of the pleasantness of those earlier joys redoubleth the
agony of lacking them. But at the end there is a Land of ice and
snow that few travellers have compassed, and that is the Land of
Knowing What One Hath Missed.... The Bird was in the hand and one
let it go ... that is the hardest agony of all the journey ... but
if these lands be encountered and surpassed then doth the Traveller
at length possess his soul and is master of it ... this is the
Meaning and Purpose of Life._
Peter read on through those pages where Lessingham, having found these
words in some old book, takes courage after his many misadventures and
starts again life--an old man, seventy years of age, but full of hope ...
and then there is his wonderful death in the Plague City, closing it all
like a Triumph.
The night had come down upon the house. Over the moor some twinkling light
broke the black darkness and his candle blew in the wind. Everything was
very still and as he clutched his book in his hand he knew that he was
frightened. His grandfather's words had filled him with terror. He felt not
only that his father was cruel and had been torturing his mother for many
years because he loved to hurt, but he felt also that it was something in
the blood, and that it would come upon him also, in later years, and that
he might not be able to beat it down. He could understand definite things
when they were tangible before his eyes but here was something that one
could not catch hold of, something....
After all, he was very young--But he remembered, with bated breath, times
at school when he had suddenly wanted to twist arms, to break things, to
hurt, when suddenly a fierce hot pleasure had come upon him, when a boy had
had his leg broken at football.
Dropping the book, shuddering, he fell upon his knees and prayed to what
God he knew not.... "Then doth the Traveller at length possess his soul and
is master of it ... this is the meaning and purpose of life."
At last he rose from his knees, physically tired, as though it had been
some physical struggle. But he was quiet again ... the terror had left him,
but he knew now with what beasts he had got to wrestle....
At supper that night he watched his father. Curiously, after his struggle
of the afternoon, all terror had left him and he felt as though he was of
his father's age and strength.
In the middle of the meal he spoke:
"How is mother to-night, father?"
He had never asked about his mother before, but his voice was quite even
and steady. His aunt dropped her knife clattering on to her plate.
His father answered him:
"Why do you wish to know?"
"It is natural, isn't it? I am afraid that she is not so well."
"She is as well as can be expected."
They said no more, but once his father suddenly looked at him, as though he
had noticed some new note in his voice.
On the next afternoon his father went into Truro. A doctor came
occasionally to the house--a little man like a beaver--but Peter felt that
he was under his father's hand and he despised him.
It was a clear Autumn afternoon with a scent of burning leaves in the air
and heavy massive white clouds were piled in ramparts beyond the brown
hills. It was so still a day that the sea seemed to be murmuring just
beyond the garden-wall. The house was very silent; Mrs. Trussit was in the
housekeeper's room, his grandfather was sleeping in the dining-room. The
voices of some children laughing in the road came to him so clearly that
it seemed to Peter impossible that his father ... and, at that, he knew
instantly that his chance had come. He must see his mother now--there might
not be another opportunity for many weeks.
He left his room and stood at the head of the stairs listening. There was
He stole down very softly and then waited again at the end of the long
passage. The ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall drove him down
the passage. He listened again outside his mother's door--there was no
sound from within and very slowly he turned the handle.
As the door opened his senses were invaded by that air of medicine and
flowers that he had remembered as a very small boy--he seemed to be
surrounded by it and great white vases on the mantelpiece filled his eyes,
and the white curtains at the window blew in the breeze of the opening
His aunt was sitting, with her eternal sewing, by the fire and she rose as
he entered. She gave a little startled cry, like a twittering bird, as she
saw that it was he and she came towards him with her hand out. He did not
look at the bed at all, but bent his eyes gravely upon his aunt.
"Please, aunt--you must leave us--I want to speak to my mother."
"No--Peter--how could you? I daren't--I mustn't--your father--your mother
is asleep," and then, from behind them, there came a very soft voice--
"No--let us be alone--please, Jessie."
Peter did not, even then, turn round to the bed, but fixed his eyes on his
"The doctor--" she gasped, and then, with frightened eyes, she picked up
her sewing and crept out.
Then he turned round and faced the bed, and was suddenly smitten with great
shyness at the sight of that white, tired face, and the black hair about
"Well, mother," he said, stupidly.
But she smiled back at him, and although her voice was very small and
faint, she spoke cheerfully and as though this were an ordinary event.
"Well, you've come to see me at last, Peter," she said.
"I mustn't stay long," he answered, gruffly, as he moved awkwardly towards
"Bring your chair close up to the bed--so--like that. You have never come
to sit in here before. Peter, do you know that?"
"Yes, mother." He turned his eyes away and looked on to the floor.
"You have come in before because you have been told to. To-day you were not
told--why did you come?"
"I don't know.... Father's in Truro."
"Yes, I know." He thought he caught, for an instant, a strange note in her
voice. "But he will not be back yet."
There was a pause--a vast golden cloud hung like some mountain boulder
beyond the window and some of its golden light seemed to steal over the
"Is it bad for you talking to me?" at last he said, gruffly, "ought I to go
Suddenly she clutched his strong brown hand with her thin wasted fingers,
with so convulsive a grasp that his heart began to beat furiously.
"No--don't go--not until it is time for your father to come back. Isn't it
strange that after all these years this is the first time that we should
have a talk. Oh! so many times I've wanted you to come--and when you _did_
come--when you were very little--you were always so frightened that you
would not let me touch you--"
"_They_ frightened me...."
"Yes--I know--but now, at last, we've got a little time
together--and we must talk--quickly. I want you to tell me
everything--everything--everything.... First, let me look at you...."
She took his head between her pale, slender hands and looked at him. "Oh,
you are like him!--your father--wonderfully like." She lay back on the
pillows with a little sigh. "You are very strong."
"Yes, I am going to be strong for you now. I am going to look after you.
They shan't keep us apart any more."
"Oh, Peter, dear," she shook her head almost gaily at him. "It's too late."
"Yes, I'm dying--at last it's come, after all these years when I've wanted
it so much. But now I'm not sorry--now that we've had this talk--at last.
Oh! Peter dear, I've wanted you so dreadfully and I was never strong enough
to say that you must come ... and they said that you were noisy and it
would be bad for me. But I believe if you had come earlier I might have
"But you mustn't die--you mustn't die--I'll see that they have another
doctor from Truro. This silly old fool here doesn't know what he's
about--I'll go myself."
"Oh! how strong your hands are, Peter! How splendidly strong! No, no one
can do anything now. But oh! I am happy at last..." She stroked his cheek
with her hand--the golden light from the great cloud filled the room and
touched the white vases with its colour.
"But quick, quick--tell me. There are so many things and there is so little
time. I want to know everything--your school? Here when you were
little?--all of it--"
But he was gripping the bed with his hands, his chest was heaving. Suddenly
he broke down and burying his head in the bed-clothes began to sob as
though his heart would break. "Oh! now ... after all this time ... you've
wanted me ... and I never came ... and now to find you like this!"
She stroked his hair very softly and waited until the sobs ceased. He sat
up and fiercely brushed his eyes.
"I won't be a fool--any more. It shan't be too late. I'll make you live.
We'll never leave one another again."
"Dear boy, it can't be like that. Think how splendid it is that we have had
this time now. Think what it might have been if I had gone and we had never
known one another. But tell me, Peter, what are you going to do with your
life afterwards--what are you going to be?"
"I want to write books"--he stared at the golden cloud--"to be a novelist.
I daresay I can't--I don't know--but I'd rather do that than anything....
Father wants me to be a solicitor. I'm with Aitchinson now--I shall never
be a good one."
Then he turned almost fiercely away from the window.
"But never mind about me, mother. It's you I want to hear about. I'm going
to take this on now. It's my responsibility. I want to know about you."
"There's nothing to know, dear. I've been ill for a great many years now.
It's more nerves than anything, I suppose. I think I've never had the
courage to stand up against it--a stronger woman would have got the better
of it, I expect. But I wasn't always like this," she added laughing a
little far away ghost of a laugh--"Go and look in that drawer--there,
in that cupboard--amongst my handkerchiefs--there where those old fans
are--you'll find some old programmes there--Those old yellow papers...."
He brought them to her, three old yellow programmes of a "Concert Given at
the Town Hall, Truro." "There, do you see? Miss Minnie Trenowth, In the
Gloaming--There, I sang in those days. Oh! Truro was fun when I was a girl!
There was always something going on! You see I wasn't always on my back!"
He crushed the papers in his hand.
"But, mother! If you were like that then--what's made you like this now?"
"It's nerves, dear--I've been stupid about it."
"And father, how has he treated you these years?"
"Your father has always been very kind."
"Mother, tell me the truth! I _must_ know. Has he been kind to you?"
But her voice was very faint and that look that Peter had noticed before
was again in her eyes.
"Mother--you must tell me. That's not true."
"Yes, Peter. He's done his best. I have been annoying, sometimes--foolish."