Part 3 out of 10
"Mother, I know. I know because I know father and I know myself. I'm like
him--I've just found it out. I've got those same things in me, and they'll
do for me if I don't get the better of them. Grandfather told me--he was
the same. All the Westcotts--"
He bent over the bed and took her hand and kissed it.
"Mother, dear--I know--father has been frightening you all this
time--terrifying you. And you were all alone. If only I had been there--if
only there had been some one--"
Her voice was very faint. "Yes ... he has frightened me all these years. At
first I used to think that he didn't mean it. I was a bright, merry sort of
a girl then--careless and knowing nothing about the world. And then I began
to see--that he liked it--that it gave him pleasure to have something there
that he could hurt. And then I began to be frightened. It was very lonely
here for a girl who had had a gay time, and he usen't to like my going to
Truro--and at last he even stopped my seeing people in Treliss. And then I
began to be really frightened--and used to wake in the night and see him
standing by the door watching me. Then I thought that when you were born
that would draw us together, but it didn't, and I was always ill after
that. He would do things--Oh!" her hand pressed her mouth. "Peter, dear,
you mustn't think about it, only when I am dead I don't want you to think
that I was quite a fool--if they tell you so. I don't want you to think
it was all his fault either because it wasn't--I was silly and didn't
understand sometimes ... but it's killed me, that dreadful waiting for
him to do something, I never knew what it would be, and sometimes it
was nothing ... but I knew that he liked to hurt ... and it was the
In that white room, now flaming with the fires of the setting sun, Peter
caught his mother to his breast and held her there and her white hands
clutched his knees.
Then his eyes, softened and he turned to her and arranged her head on the
pillow and drew the sheets closely about her.
"I must go now. It has been bad for you this talking, but it had to be. I'm
never, never going to leave you again--you shall not be alone any more--"
"Oh, Peter! I'm so happy! I have never been so happy... but it all comes
of being a coward. If I had only been brave--never be afraid of anybody or
anything. Promise me, Peter--"
"Except of myself," he answered, kissing her.
"Kiss me again.... And again..."
"To-morrow..." he looked back at her, smiling. He saw her, for an instant,
as he left the room, with her cheek against the pillow and her black hair
like a cloud about her; the twilight was already in the room.
An hour later, as he stood in the dining-room, the door opened and his
father came in.
"You have been with your mother?"
"You have done her much harm. She is dying."
"I know everything," Peter answered, looking him in the face.
He would never, until his own end had come, forget that evening. The golden
sunset gave place to a cold and windy night, and the dark clouds rolled up
along the grey sky, hiding and then revealing the thin and pallid moon.
Peter stayed there in the dining-room, waiting. His grandfather slept in
his chair. Once his aunt came crying into the room and wandered aimlessly
"Aunt, how is she?"
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! Whatever shall I do? She is going ... she is going....
I can do nothing!"
Her thin body in the dusk flitted like a ghost about the room and then she
was gone. The doctor's pony cart came rattling up to the door. The fussy
little man got out and stamped in the hall, and then disappeared upstairs.
There was a long pause during which there was no sound.
Then the door was opened and his aunt was there.
"You must come at once ... she wants you."
The doctor, his father, and Mrs. Trussit were there in the room, but he was
only conscious of the great white bed with the candles about it and the
white vases, like eyes, watching him.
As he entered the room there was a faint cry, "Peter." He had crossed to
her, and her arms were about his shoulders and her mouth was pressed
against his; she fell back, with a little sigh, dead.
In the darkened dining-room, later, his father stood in the doorway with a
candle in his hand, and above it his white face and short black hair shone
as though carved from marble.
Peter came from the window towards him. His father said: "You killed her by
going to her."
Peter answered: "All these years you have been killing her!"
THE THREE WESTCOTTS
The day crept, strangely and mysteriously, to its close. Peter, dulled by
misery, sat opposite his grandfather in the dining-room without moving,
conscious of the heavy twilight that the dark blinds flung about the room,
feeling the silence that was only accentuated by the old man's uneasy
"clack-clack" in his sleep and the clock's regular ticking. The unhappiness
that had been gradually growing about him since his last term at Dawson's,
was now all about him with the strength and horrible appearance of some
unholy giant. It was indeed with some consciousness of Things that were
flinging their shadows on the horizon and were not as yet fully visible
to him that he sat there. That evening at Stephen's farm, realised only
faintly at the time, hung before him now as a vivid induction or prologue
to the later terrors. He was doomed--so he felt in that darkened and
mysterious room--to a terrible time and horrors were creeping upon him from
every side. "Clack-clack" went his grandfather beneath the rugs, as the
cactus plant rattled in the window and the silence through the stairs and
passages of the house crept in folds about the room.
Peter shivered; the coals fell from a dull gold into grey and crumbling
ashes. He shut everything in the surrounding world from his mind and
thought of his dead mother. There indeed there was strangeness enough, for
it seemed now that that wonderful afternoon had filled also all the earlier
years of his life. It seemed to him now that there had never been a time
when he had not known her and talked with her, and yet with this was also
a consciousness of all the joys that he had missed because he had not
known her before. As he thought of it the hard irretrievable fact of
those earlier empty years struck him physically with a sharp agonising
pain--toothache, and no possible way of healing it. The irony of her
proximity, of her desire for him as he, all unwittingly, had in reality
desired her, hit him like a blow. The picture of her waiting, told that
he did not wish to come, looking so sadly and lonely in that white room,
whilst he, on the other side of that door, had not the courage to burst
through those others and go to her, broke suddenly the hard dry passivity
that had held him during so many weeks.
He was very young, he was very tired, he was very lonely. He sobbed with
his hands pressed against his eyes.
Then his tears were quickly dried. There was this other thing to be
considered--his father. He hated his father. He was terrified, as he sat
there, at the fury with which he hated him. The sudden assurance of his
hatred reminded him of the thing that his grandfather had said about the
Westcotts ... was that true? and was this intensity of emotion that filled
all the veins in his body a sign that he too was a Westcott? and were his
father and grandfather mirrors of his own future years?... He did not know.
That was another question....
He wondered what they were about in the room where his mother lay and
it was curious that the house could remain silent during so many long
hours. It seemed held by the command of some strong power, and his mind,
overstrained and abnormal, waited for some outbreak of noise--many noises,
clattering, banging, whistling through the house. But his grandfather slept
on, no step was on the stairs, the room was very dark and evening fell
beyond the long windows and over the sea.
His youth made of a day eternity--there was no end nor term to his love,
to his hatred, to his loneliness, to his utter misery ... and also he was
afraid. He would have given his world for Stephen, but Stephen was already
off on his travels.
Very softly and stealthily the door opened and, holding a quivering
candle, with her finger to her mouth, there appeared his aunt. He looked
at her coldly as she came across the room towards him. He had never felt
any affection for her because she had always seemed to him weak and
useless--a frightened, miserable, vacillating, negative person--even when
he had been a very small boy he had despised her. Her eyes were red and
swollen with crying, her grey and scanty hair had fallen about her collar,
her old black blouse was unbuttoned at the top showing her bony neck and
her thin crooked hands were trembling in the candle-light. Her eyes were
large and frightened and her back was bent as though she was cowering from
a blow. She had never taken very much notice of her nephew--of late she had
been afraid of him; he was surprised now that she should come to speak to
"Peter," she said in a whisper, looking back over her shoulder at the door.
"Yes," he answered, staring at her.
"Oh, Peter!" she said again and began to cry--a whimpering noise and her
hands shaking so that the candle rocked in its stick.
"Well," he said more softly, "you'd better put that candle down."
She put it on the table and then stood beside him, crying pitifully,
jerking out little sentences--"I can't bear it.... I don't know what to
do.... I can't bear it."
He got up from his chair and made her sit down on it and then he stood
by her and waited until she should recover a little. He felt suddenly
strangely tender towards her; she was his mother's sister, she had known
his mother all her life and perhaps in her weak silly way she had loved
"No, aunt, don't cry.... It will be all right. I too am very unhappy. I
have missed so much. If I had only known earlier--"
The poor woman flung little distracted glances at the old man asleep on the
other side of the fire-place--
"Oh, dear, I had to come and talk to some one.... I was so frightened
upstairs. Your father's there with your mother. He sits looking at her ...
and she was always so quiet and good and never did him any harm or indeed
any one ... and now he sits looking at her--but she's happy now--he will be
coming downstairs at any moment and I am afraid of what he'll do if he sees
me talking to you like this. But I feel as though I must talk a little ...
it's so quiet."
"It's all right, aunt. There's no one to be frightened of. I am very
unhappy too. I'd like to talk about her to you."
"No, no--your poor mother--I mustn't say anything. They'll be down upon me
if I say anything. They're very sharp. He's sitting up with her now."
Peter drew another chair up close to her and took her thin hand in his. She
allowed him to do what he would and seemed to have no active knowledge of
"We'll talk about her," he said, "often. You shall tell me all about her
early life. I want to know everything."
"Oh, no. I'm going away. Directly after the funeral. Directly after the
funeral I'm going away."
Suddenly this frightened him. Was he to be left here entirely alone with
his father and grandfather?
"You're going away?" he said.
"Oh, yes--your Uncle Jeremy will come for the funeral. I shall go away with
him afterwards. I don't like your Aunt Agatha, but they always said I could
come to them when your mother died. I don't like your Aunt Agatha but she
means to be kind. Oh! I couldn't stay here after all that has happened. I
was only staying for your mother's sake and I'm sure I've never gone to bed
without wondering what would happen before the morning--Oh, yes, your Uncle
Jeremy's coming and I shall go away with him after the funeral. I don't
like your Aunt Agatha but I couldn't stay after all that has happened."
All this was said in a hurried frightened whisper. The poor lady shook
from head to foot and the little bracelets on her trembling wrists jangled
"Then I shall be all alone here," Peter said suddenly, staring at the
candle that was guttering in the breeze that came from behind the heavy
"Oh, dear," said his aunt, "I'm sure Uncle Jeremy will be kind if you have
to leave here, you know."
"Why should I have to leave here?" asked Peter.
His aunt sunk her voice very low indeed--so low that it seemed to come from
the heart of the cactus plant by the window.
"He hasn't got your mother now, you know. He'll want to have somebody...."
But she said nothing more--only gazed at the old man opposite her with
staring eyes, and cried in a little desolate whimper and jangled her
bracelets until at last Peter crept softly, miserably to bed.
The day of the funeral was a day of high wind and a furious sea. The
Westcotts lived in the parish of the strange wild clergyman whose church
looked over the sea; strange and wild in the eyes of Treliss because he was
a giant in size and had a long flowing beard, because he kept a perfect
menagerie of animals in his little house by the church, and because he
talked in such an odd wild way about God being in the sea and the earth
rather than in the hearts of the Treliss citizens--all these things odd
enough and sometimes, early in the morning, he might be seen, mother-naked,
going down the path to the sea to bathe, which was hardly decent
considering his great size and the immediate neighbourhood of the high
road. To those who remonstrated he had said that he was not ashamed of his
body and that God was worshipped the better for there being no clothing
to keep the wind away ... all mad enough, and there were never many
parishioners in the little hill church of a Sunday. However, it was in the
little windy churchyard that Mrs. Westcott was buried and it was up the
steep and stony road to the little church that the hearse and its nodding
plumes, followed by the two old and decrepit hackney carriages, slowly
Peter's impressions of the day were vague and uncertain. There were things
that always remained in his memory but strangely his general conviction was
that his mother had had nothing to do with it. The black coffin conveyed
nothing to him of her presence: he saw her as he had seen her on that day
when he had talked to her, and now she was, as Stephen was, somewhere away.
That was his impression, that she had escaped....
Putting on his black clothes in the morning brought Dawson's back to his
mind, and especially Bobby Galleon and Cards. He had not thought of them
since the day of his return--first Stephen and then his mother had driven
them from his mind. But now, with the old school black clothing upon him,
he stood for a long time by his window, wondering, sorrowfully enough,
where they were and what they were doing, whether they had forgotten him,
whether he would ever see them again. He seemed to be surrounded by a
wall of loneliness--some one was cutting everything off from him ... from
maliciousness! For pleasure!... Oh! if one only knew about that God!
Meanwhile Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Agatha had arrived the night before. Uncle
Jeremy was big and stout and he wore clothes that were very black and
extremely bright. His face was crimson in colour and his eyes, large and
bulging, wore a look of perpetual surprise. He was bald and an enormous
gold watch chain crossed his stomach like a bridge. He had obviously never
cared for either of his sisters and he always shouted when he spoke. Aunt
Agatha was round and fat and comfortable, wore gold-rimmed spectacles and a
black silk dress, and obviously considered that Uncle Jeremy had made the
Peter watched his father's attitude to these visitors. He realised that
he had never seen his father with any stranger or visitor--no one came to
the house and he had never been into the town with his father. With this
realisation came a knowledge of other things--of things half heard at the
office, of half looks in the street, of a deliberate avoidance of his
father's name--the Westcotts of Scaw House! There were clouds about the
But his father, in contact with Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Agatha, was strangely
impressive. His square, thick-set body clothed in black--his dark eyes, his
short stiff hair, his high white forehead, his long beautiful hands--this
was no ordinary man, moving so silently with a reserve that seemed nobly
fitting on this sad occasion. The dark figure filled the house, touching in
its restrained grief, admirable in its dignity, a fine spirit against the
common clay of Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Agatha.
Mr. Westcott was courteous but sparing of words--a strong man, you would
say, bowed down with a grief that demanded, in its intensity, silence.
Uncle Jeremy hated and feared his brother-in-law. His hatred he concealed
with difficulty but his fear was betrayed by his loud and nervous laugh. He
was obviously interested in Peter and stared at him, throughout breakfast,
with his large, surprised eyes. Peter felt that this interest was a
speculation as to his future and it made him uncomfortable ... he hated his
uncle but the black suit that the stout gentleman wore on the day of the
funeral was so black, so tight and so shiny that he was an occasion for
laughter rather than hatred.
The black coffin was brought down the long stairs, through the hall
and into the desolate garden. The sight of it roused no emotion in
Peter--_that_ was not his mother. The two aunts, Uncle Jeremy and his
father rode in the first carriage; Peter and Mrs. Trussit in the second.
Mrs. Trussit's bonnet and black silk dress were very fine and she wept
bitterly throughout the journey.
Peter only dismally wished that he could arrange his knees so that they
would not rub against her black silk. He did not think of his mother at all
but only of the great age of the cab, of the furious wind that whistled
about the road, and the roar that the sea, grey and furious far below them,
flung against their windows.
He would have liked to talk to her but her sobbing seemed to surround her
with a barrier. It was all inexpressibly dreary with the driving wind, the
rustling of the black silk dress, the jolting and clattering of the old
carriage. But he had no desire to cry--he was too miserable for that.
On the hill in the little churchyard, a tempest of wind swept across the
graves. From the bending ground the cliff fell sheer to the sea and behold!
it was a tossing, furious carpet of white and grey. The wind blew the spray
up to the graveyard and stung the faces of the mourners and in the roar of
the waves it was hard to hear the voice of the preacher. It was a picture
that they made out there in the graveyard. Poor Aunt Jessie, trembling and
shaking, Mrs. Trussit, stout and stiff with her handkerchief to her eyes,
Uncle Jeremy with his legs apart, his face redder than ever, obviously
wishing the thing over, Aunt Agatha concerned for her clothes in the
streaming wind, Mr. Westcott unmoved by the storm, cold, stern, of a piece
with the grey stone at the gravehead--all these figures interesting enough.
But towering above them and dominating the scene was the clergyman--his
great beard streaming, his surplice blowing behind him in a cloud, his
great voice dominating the tumult, to Peter he was a part of the day--the
storm, the earth, the flying, scudding clouds. All big things there, and
somewhere sailing with those clouds, on the storm, the spirit of his mother
... that little black coffin standing, surely, for nothing that mattered.
But, strangely enough, when the black box had been lowered, at the sharp
rattling of the sods upon the lid, his sorrow leapt to his eyes. Suddenly
the sense of his loss drove down upon him. The place, the people were swept
away--he could hear her voice again, see her thin white hands ... he wanted
her so badly ... if he could only have his chance again ... he could have
flung himself there upon the coffin, not caring whether he lived or died...
his whole being, soul and body, ached for her....
He knew that it was all over; he broke away from them all and he never,
afterwards, could tell where it was that he wandered during the rest of
that day. At last, when it was dark, he crept back to the house, utterly,
absolutely exhausted in every part of his body ... worn out.
On the following day Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Agatha departed and took Aunt
Jessie with them. She had the air of being led away into captivity and
seemed to be fastened to the buttons of Uncle Jeremy's tight black suit.
She said nothing further to Peter and showed no sense of having, at any
time, been confidential--she avoided him, he thought.
He of course returned to his office and tried to bury himself in the
work that he found there--but his attention wandered; he was overstrung,
excited abnormally, so that the whole world stood to him as a strange,
unnatural picture, something seen dimly and in exaggerated shapes through
coloured glass. That evening with Stephen shone upon him now with all
the vigour of colour of a real fact in a multitude of vague shadows. The
reality of that night was now of the utmost value.
Meanwhile there were changes at Scaw House. Mrs. Trussit had vanished a few
days after the funeral, no one said anything about her departure and Peter
did not see her go. He was vaguely sorry because she represented in his
memory all the earlier years, and because her absence left the house even
darker and more gloomy than it had been before. The cook, a stout and
slatternly person, given, Peter thought, to excessive drinking, shared,
with a small and noisy maid, the duties of the house--they were most
But, with this clearing of the platform, the hatred between Peter and his
father became a definite and terrible thing. It expressed itself silently.
At present they very rarely spoke and except on Sundays met only at
breakfast and in the evening. But the air was charged with the violence of
their relationship; the boy, growing in body so strangely like the man,
expressed a sullen and dogged defiance in his every movement ... the man
watched him as a snake might watch the bird held by its power. They stood,
as wrestlers stand before the moment for their meeting has arrived. The
house, always too large for their needs, seemed now to stretch into an
infinity of echoing passages and empty rooms; the many windows gathered the
dust thick upon their sills. The old grandfather stayed in his chair by the
fire--only at night he was wheeled out into his dreary bedroom by the cook
who, now, washed and tidied him with a vigour that called forth shrill
screams and oaths from her victim. He hated this woman with the most bitter
loathing and sometimes frightened her with the violence of his curses.
Christmas came and went and there followed a number of those wonderful
crisp and shining days that a Cornish winter gives to its worshippers.
Treliss sparkled and glittered--the stones of the market-place held the
heat of the sun as though it had been midsummer and the Grey Tower lifted
its old head proudly to the blue sky--the sea was so warm that bathing was
possible and in the heart of the brown fields there was a whisper of early
But all of this touched Scaw House not at all. Grey and hard in its
bundle of dark trees it stood apart and refused the sun. Peter, in spite
of himself, rejoiced in this brave weather. As the days slipped past,
curiously aloof and reserved though he was, making no friends and seeking
for none, nevertheless he began to look about him and considered the
All this had in it the element of suspense, of preparation. During
these weeks one day slipped into another. No incidents marked their
preparation--but up at Scaw House they were marching to no mean
climax--every hour hurried the issue--and Peter, meanwhile, as February
came whistling and storming upon the world, grew, with every chiming of the
town clock, more morose, more sullen, more silent ... there were times when
he thought of ending it all. An instant and he would be free of all his
troubles--but after all that was the weakling's way; he had not altogether
forgotten those words spoken so long ago by old Moses.... So much for
the pause. Suddenly, one dark February afternoon the curtain was rung up
outside Zachary Tan's shop and Peter was whirled into the centre of the
Peter had not seen Zachary Tan for a long time. He had grown into a morbid
way of avoiding everybody and would slink up side streets or go round on
leaving the office by the sea road. When he did meet people who had once
been kind to him he said as little as possible to them and left them
But on this afternoon Zachary was not to be denied. He was standing at the
door of his shop and shouted to Peter:
"Come away in, Mr. Peter. I haven't see you this long time. There's an old
acquaintance of yours inside and a cup of tea for you."
The wind was whistling up the street, the first drops of a rain storm
starred the pavement, and there was a pleasant glow behind Mr. Tan's
window-panes. But there was something stronger yet that drove Peter into
the shop. He knew with some strange knowledge who that old acquaintance was
... he felt no surprise when he saw in the little back room, laughing with
all his white teeth shining in a row, the stout and cheerful figure of Mr.
Emilio Zanti. Peter was a very different person now from that little boy
who had once followed Stephen's broad figure into that little green room
and stared at Mr. Zanti's cheerful countenance, but it all seemed a very
little time ago. Outside in the shop there was the same suit of armour--on
the shelves, the silver candlesticks, the old coins, the little Indian
images, the pieces of tapestry--within the little room the same sense of
mystery, the same intimate seclusion from the outer world.... On the other
occasion of seeing him Mr. Zanti had been dimmed by a small boy's wonder.
Now Peter was old enough to see him very clearly indeed.
Mr. Zanti seemed fat only because his clothes were so tight. He was bigly
made and his legs and arms were round, bolster fashion--huge thighs and
small ankles, thick arms and slender wrists. His clothes were so tight that
they seemed in a jolly kind of way to protest. "Oh! come now, must you
really put us on to anything quite so big? We shall burst in a minute--we
The face was large and flat and shining like a sun, with a small nose
like a door knocker and a large mouth, the very essence of good-humoured
surprise. The cheeks and the chin were soft and rounded and looked as
though they might be very fat one day--a double chin just peeped round the
He was a little bald on the top of his head and round this bald patch his
black hair clustered protectingly. He gave you the impression that every
part of his body was anxious that every other part of his body should have
a good time. His suit was a very bright blue and his waistcoat had little
brass buttons that met a friend with all the twinkling geniality of good
wishes and numberless little hospitalities.
He had in his blue silk tie a pearl so large and so white that
sophisticated citizens might have doubted that it was a pearl at all--but
Peter swallowed Mr. Zanti whole, pearl and suit and all.
"Oh! it is ze little friend--my friend--'ow are you, young gentleman? It is
a real delight to be with you again."
Mr. Zanti swung Peter's hand up and down as he would a pump handle and
laughed as though it were all the best joke in the world. Curiously enough
Peter did not resent this rapturous greeting. It moved him strongly. It
was such a long time now since any one had shown any interest in him or
expressed any pleasure at the sight of him that he was foolishly moved by
Mr. Zanti's warmth.
He blushed and stammered something but his eyes were shining and his lip
Mr. Zanti fixed his gaze on the boy. "Oh! but you have grown--yes, indeed.
You were a little slip before--but now--not so 'igh no--not 'igh--but
broad, strong. Oh! ze arms and legs--there's a back!"
Zachary interrupted his enthusiasm with some general remark, and they had
a pleasant little tea-party. Every now and again the shop bell tinkled and
Zachary went out to attend to it, and then Mr. Zanti drew near to Peter as
though he were going to confide in him but he never said anything, only
Once he mentioned Stephen.
"You know where he is?" Peter broke in with an eager whisper.
"Ah, ha--that would be telling," and Mr. Zanti winked his eye.
Peter's heart warmed under the friendliness of it all. There was very much
of the boy still in him and he began to look back upon the days that he had
spent with no other company than his own thoughts as cold and friendless.
Zachary Tan had been always ready to receive him warmly. Why had he passed
him so churlishly by and refused his outstretched hand? But there was
more in it than that. Mr. Zanti attracted him most compellingly. The
gaily-dressed genial man spoke to him of all the glitter and adventure of
the outside world. Back, crowding upon him, came all those adventurous
thoughts and desires that he had known before in Mr. Zanti's company--but
tinged now by that grey threatening background of Scaw House and its
melancholy inhabitants! What would he not give to escape? Perhaps Mr.
Zanti!... The little green room began to extend its narrow walls and
to include in its boundaries flashing rivers, shining cities, wide and
bounteous plains. Beyond the shop--dark now with its treasures mysteriously
gleaming--the steep little street held up its lamps to be transformed into
yellow flame, and at its foot by the wooden jetty, as the night fell, the
sea crept ever more secretly with its white fingers gleaming below the
shingles of the beach.
Here was wonder and glory enough with the wind tearing and beating outside
the windows, blowing the young flowers of the lamps up and down inside
their glass houses and screaming down the chimneys for sheer zest of
life.... But here it all had its centre in this little room "with Mr.
Emilio Zanti's chuckling for no reason at all and spreading his broad fat
hand over Peter Westcott's knee.
"Well, Mr. Peter, and 'ave you been to London in all these years? Or
perhaps you 'ave forgotten that you ever wanted to go there?"
No, Peter was still of the same mind but Treliss and a few miles up and
down the road were as much of the world as he'd had the pleasure of
seeing--except for school in Devonshire--
"And you'd still go, my leetle friend?"
"Yes--I want to go--I hate being in an office here."
"And what is it zat you will do when you are there?"
Suddenly, in a flash, illuminating the little room, shining over the whole
world, Peter knew what it was that he would do.
"I will write."
With that word muttered, his head hanging, his cheeks flushing, as though
it were something of which he was most mightily ashamed, he knew what it
was he had been wanting all these months. The desire had been there, the
impulse had been there ... now with the spoken word the blind faltering
impulse was changed into definite certainty.
Mr. Zanti thought it a tremendous joke. He roared, shouted with riotous
laughter. "Oh, ze boy--he will be the death of me--'I will write
stories'--Oh yes, so easy, so very simple. 'I will write stories'--Oh yes."
But Peter was very solemn. He did not like his great intention to be
"I mean it," he said rather gruffly.
"Oh yes, that's of course--but that is enough. Oh dear, yes ... well, my
friend, I like you. You are very strong, you are brave I can see--you have
a fine spirit. One thing you lack--with all you English it is the same."
He paused interrogatively but Peter did not seem to wish to know what this
"Yes, it is ze Humour--you do not see how funny life is--always--always
funny. Death, murder, robberies, violences--always funny--you are. Oh!
so solemn and per'aps you will be annoyed, think it tiresome, because I
"No," said Peter gravely, "I like your laughing."
"Ah! That is well." Suddenly he jerked his body forward and stared into
"Well!... Will you come?"
Peter hung back, his face white. He was only conscious that Zachary, quiet
and smiling in the background, watched him intently.
"What!... with you ... to London!"
"Yes ... wiz me--what of your father? Will he be furious, hey?"
"He won't like it--" Peter continued slowly. "But I don't care. I'll leave
him--But I should have no money--nothing!"
"An', no matter--I will take you to London for nothing and then--if you
like it--you may work for me. Two pounds a week--you would be useful."
"What should I do?"
"I have a bookshop--you would look after ze books and also ze customers."
This seemed to amuse Mr. Zanti very much. "Two pounds a week is a lot of
money for ze work--and you will have time--ho yes--much time for your
Peter's eyes burned. London--a bookshop--freedom. Oh! wonderful world! His
heart was beating so that words would not come.
"Oh!" he murmured. "Oh!"
"Ah, that's well!" Mr. Zanti clapped him on the shoulder. "There is no need
for you to say now. On ze Wednesday in Easter week I go--before then you
will tell me. We shall get on together, I know it. If you will 'ave a
leetle more of ze Humour you will be a very pleasant boy--and useful--Ho,
To Peter then the shop was not visible--a mist hung about his eyes. "Much
time for your stories"... said Mr. Zanti, and he shouted with laughter as
his big form hung before Peter. The large white hand with the flashing
rings enclosed Peter's.
For a moment the hands were on his shoulders and in his nostrils was the
pungent scent of the hair-oil that Mr. Zanti affected--afterwards silence.
Peter said farewell to Zachary and promised to come soon and see him again.
The little bell tinkled behind him and he was in the street. The great wind
caught him and blew him along the cobbles. The flying mountains of cloud
swept like galleons across the moor, and in Peter's heart was overwhelming
triumph ... the lights of London lit the black darkness of the high sea
The doors of Scaw House clanged behind him and at once he was aware that
his father had to be faced. Supper was eaten in silence. Peter watched his
father and his grandfather. Here were the three of them alone. What his
grandfather was his father would one day be, what his father was, he ...
yes, he must escape. He stared at the room's dreary furniture, he listened
to the driving rain and he was conscious that, from the other side of the
table, his father's eyes were upon him.
"Father," he said, "I want to go away." His heart was thumping.
Mr. Westcott got up from his place at the table and stood, with his legs a
little apart, looking down at his son.
"I'm doing no good here. That office is no use to me. I shall never be a
solicitor. I'm nearly eighteen and I shall never get on here. I remember
things... my mother..." his voice choked.
His father smiled. "And where do you want to go?"
"Oh! and what will you do there?"
"I have a friend--he has a bookshop there. He will give me two pounds a
week at first so that I should be quite independent--"
"All very nice," Mr. Westcott was grave again. "And so you are tired of
"Not only Treliss--this house--everything. I hate it."
"You have no regret at leaving me?"
Peter rose suddenly from the table--they faced one another.
"I want you to let me go. You have never cared in the least for me and you
do not want me here. I shall go mad if I stay in this place. I must go."
"Oh, you must go? Well, that's plain enough at any rate--and when do you
propose leaving us?"
"After Easter--the Wednesday after Easter," he said. "Oh, father, please.
Give me a chance. I can do things in London--I feel it. Here I shall never
Peter raised his eyes to his father's and then dropped them. Mr. Westcott
senior was not pleasant to look at.
"Let us have no more of this--you will stay here because I wish it. I like
to have you here--father and son--father and son."
He placed his hand on the boy's shoulder--"Never mention this again for
your own sake--you will stay here until I wish you to go."
But Peter broke free.
"I _will_ go," he shouted--"I _will_ go--you _shall_ not keep me here. I
have a right to my freedom--what have you ever done for me that I should
obey you? I want to leave you and never see you again. I ..." And then his
eyes fell--his legs were shaking. His father was watching him, no movement
in his short thick body--Peter's voice faltered--"I _will_ go," he said
sullenly, his eyes on the ground.
His grandfather stirred in his sleep. "Oh, what a noise," he muttered,
"with the rain and all."
But Mr. Westcott removed with a careful hand the melodrama that his young
son had flung about the room.
"That's enough noise," he said, "you will _not_ go to London--nor indeed
anywhere else--and for your own peace of mind I should advise you not to
mention the subject again. The hour is a little early but I recommend your
Peter went. He was trembling from head to foot. Why? He undressed and
prepared himself for battle. Battle it was to be, for the Wednesday in
Easter week would find him in the London train--of that there was to be no
Meanwhile, with the candle blown out, and no moon across the floor, it was
quite certain that courage would be necessary. He was fighting more than
He woke suddenly. A little wind, blowing through the open door flickered
the light of a candle that flung a dim circle about the floor. Within the
circle was his father--black clothes and white face, he was looking with
the candle held high, across the room to the bed.
He drew back the candle and closed the door softly behind him. His feet
made no sound as they passed away down the passage.
Peter lay quaking, wide eyed in his bed, until full morning and time for
The opening, certainly, of a campaign.
SUNLIGHT, LIMELIGHT, DAYLIGHT
Easter fell early that year; the last days of March held its festival and
the winds and rains of that blustering month attended the birth of its
Young Peter spent his days in preparation for the swift coming of Easter
Wednesday and in varying moods of exultation, terror, industry and
idleness. He did not see Mr. Zanti during this period--that gentleman was,
he was informed, away on business--and it was characteristic of him that
he asked Zachary Tan no questions whether of the mysterious bookshop,
of London generally, or of any possible news about Stephen, the latter
a secret that he was convinced the dark little curiosity shop somewhere
But he had an amazing number of things to think about and the solicitor's
office was the barest background for his chasing thoughts. He spoke to no
one of his approaching freedom--but the thought of it hung in rich and
burning colour ever at the back of his thoughts.
Meanwhile the changing developments at Scaw House were of a nature to
frighten any boy who was compelled to share in them. It could not be denied
that Mr. Westcott had altered very strangely since his wife's death.
The grim place with its deserted garden had never seen many callers nor
friendly faces but the man with the milk, the boy with the butcher's meat,
the old postman with the letters stayed now as brief a time over their
business as might be and hurried down the grass-grown paths with eager
haste. Since the departure of the invaluable Mrs. Trussit a new order
reigned--red-faced Mrs. Pascoe, her dress unfastened, her hair astray, her
shoes at heel, her speech thick and uncertain, was queen of the kitchen,
and indeed of other things had they but known all. But to Peter there was
more in this than the arrival of Mrs. Pascoe. With every day his father was
changing--changing so swiftly that when Peter's mother had been buried only
a month, that earlier Mr. Westcott, cold, stern, reserved, terrible, seemed
incredible; he was terrible now but with how different a terror.
To Peter this new figure was a thing of the utmost horror. He had known
how to brace himself for that other authority--there had, at any rate,
been consistency and even a kind of chiselled magnificence in that stiff
brutality--now there was degradation, crawling devilry, things
This new terror broke upon him at supper two nights after he had first
spoken about London. The meal had not been passed, as usual, in silence.
His father had talked strangely to himself--his voice was thick, and
uncertain--his hand shook as he cut the bread. Mrs. Pascoe had come, in
the middle of the meal, to give food to the old grandfather who displayed
his usual trembling greed. She stood with arms akimbo, watching them as
they sat at table and smiling, her coarse face flushed.
"Pudding," said Mr. Westcott.
"Ye'll be 'aving the pudding when it's ready," says she.
"Damn" from Mr. Westcott but he sits still looking at the table-cloth and
his hand shaking.
To Peter this new thing was beyond all possibility horrible. This new
"I didn't kill her, you know, Peter," Mr. Westcott says quite smoothly,
when the cloth had been cleared and they are alone. And then suddenly,
"Stay where you are--I have stories to tell you."
Peter, white to the lips, was held in his place. He could not move or
speak. Then during the following two hours, his father, without moving from
his place, poured forth a stream of stories--foul, filthy, horrible beyond
all telling. He related them with no joy or humour or bestial gloating over
their obscenities--only with a staring eye and his fingers twisting and
untwisting on the table-cloth. At last Peter, his head hanging, his cheeks
flaming, crept to his attic.
At breakfast his father was again that other man--stern, immovable, a
rock-where was that trembling shadow of the night before?
And Mrs. Pascoe--once more in her red-faced way, submissive--in her place.
The most abiding impression with Peter, thinking of it afterwards in the
dark lanes that run towards the sea, when the evening was creeping along
the hill, was of a fiery eye gleaming from old grandfather Westcott's pile
of rugs. Was it imagined or was there indeed a triumph there--a triumph
that no age nor weakness could obscure?
And from the induction of that first terrible evening Peter stepped into a
blind terror that gave the promised deliverance of that approaching Easter
Wednesday an air of blind necessity. Also about the house the dust and
neglect crept and increased as though it had been, in its menace and evil
omen, a veritable beast of prey. Doors were off their hinges, windows
screamed to their clanging shutters, the grime lay, like sand, about the
sills and corners of the rooms. At night the house was astir with sound but
with no human voices.
But it was only at night that Terror crept from its cupboard and leapt
on to Peter's shoulders. He defied it even then with set lips and the
beginning of a conception of the duties that Courage demands of its
worshippers. He would fight it, let it develop as it would--but, during
these weeks, in the sunlight, he thought nothing of it at all, but only
with eager eyes watched his father.
His reading had, in these latter years, been slender enough. It was seldom
that he had any money, there was no circulating library in Treliss at that
time and he knew no one who could lend him books. He fell back, perforce,
on the few that he had and especially on the three "Henry Galleons." But
he had in his head--and he had known it without putting it into words,
for a very long time--"The Thousand and One Nights of Peter Westcott,
Esq."--stories that would go on night after night before he went to sleep,
stories that were concerned with enormous families whose genealogies had
to be worked out on paper (here was incipient Realism)--or again, stories
concerning Treasure and Masses of it--banks of diamonds, mountains of
pearls, columns of rubies, white marble temples, processions of white
elephants, cloth of gold (here was incipient Romance). Never, be it
noticed, at this time, incipient Humour; life had been too heavy a thing
But these stories, formerly racing through his brain because they must,
because indeed they were there against his own will or any one else's, had
now a most definite place and purpose in their existence. They were there
now because they were to be trained, to be educated, to be developed, until
they were fit to appear in public. He had, even in these early days, no
false idea of the agonies and tortures of this gift of his. Was it not in
"Henry Lessingham"?... "and so with this task before him he knew that words
were of many orders and regiments and armies, and those that were hard of
purchase and difficult of discipline were the possessions of value, for
nothing that is light and easy in its production is of any duration or
And so, during these weeks, when he should have attended to the duties of
a solicitor his mind was hunting far away in those forests where very many
had hunted before him. And, behold, he was out for Fame....
Spring was blown across the country by the wildest storms that the
sea-coast had known for very many years. For days the seas rose against the
rocks in a cursing fury--the battle of rock and wave gave pretty spectacle
to the surrounding country and suddenly the warriors, having proved the
mettle of their hardihood, turned once again to good fellowship. But the
wind and the rain had done their work. In the week before Easter, with the
first broadening sweep of the sun across the rich brown earth and down into
the depths of the twisting lanes the spring was there--there in the sweet
smell of the roots as they stirred towards the light, there in the watery
gleam of the grass as it caught diamonds from the sun, but there, above
all, in the primrose clump hidden in the clefts of the little Cornish
woods--so with a cry of delight Spring had leapt from the shoulders of
that roaring wind and danced across the Cornish hills.
On Good Friday there was an incident. Peter was free of the office for the
day and had walked towards Truro. There was a little hill that stood above
the town. It was marked by a tree clump black against the blue sky--at its
side was a chalk pit, naked white--beyond was Truro huddled, with the Fal a
silver ribbon in the sun. Peter stood and watched and sat down because he
liked the view. He had walked a very long way and was tired and it was an
afternoon as hot as Summer.
Suddenly there was a cry: "Help, please--oh--help to get Crumpet."
He looked up and saw standing in front of him a little girl in a black hat
and a short black frock--she had red hair that the sun was transforming
into gold. Her face was white with terror, and tears were making muddy
marks on it and her hands were black with dirt. She was a very little girl.
She appealed to him between her sobs, and he understood that Crumpet was a
dog, that it had fallen some way down the chalk-pit and that "Miss Jackson
was reading her Bible under a tree."
He jumped up immediately and went to find Crumpet. A little way down the
chalk-pit a fox-terrier puppy was balancing its fat body on a ledge of
chalk and looking piteously up and down. Peter clambered down, caught the
little struggling animal in his arms, and restored it to its mistress. And
now followed an immense deal of kissing and embracing. The dog was buried
in red hair and only once and again a wriggling paw might be observed--also
these exclamations--"Oh, the umpty-rumpty--was it nearly falling down
the great horrid pit, the darling--oh, the little darling, and was it
scratched, the pet? But it was a wicked little dog--yes, it was, to go down
that nasty place when it was told not to"--more murmurings, and then the
back was straightened, the red, gold hair flung back, and a flushed face
turned to the rather awkward Peter who stood at attention.
"Thank you--thanks, most awfully--oh, you darling" (this to the puppy).
"You see, Miss Jackson was reading her Bible aloud to herself, and I can't
stand that, neither can Crumpet, and she always forgets all about us, and
so we go away by ourselves--and reading the Bible makes her sleep--she's
asleep now--and then Crumpet wouldn't stay at heel although I was telling
him ever so hard, and he would go over the cliff--and if you hadn't
been there..." at the thought of the awful disaster the puppy was again
embraced. Apparently Crumpet was no sentimentalist, and had had enough of
feminine emotion--he wriggled out of his mistress' arms, flopped to the
ground, shook himself, and, advancing to Peter, smelt his boots.
"He likes you. I'm so glad--he only does that to people he likes, and he's
very particular." The small girl flung her hair back, smiled at Peter, and
sat down on the grass.
"It may be rather damp," Peter said, feeling very old and cautious and
thinking that she really was the oddest child he'd even seen in his life.
"It's only March you know."
"It's nothing to do with months, it's whether it's rained or not--and it
hasn't--sit down with me. Old Jackson won't be here for ages."
Peter sat down. The puppy was a charming specimen of its kind--it had
enormous ears, huge flat feet, and a round fat body like a very small
barrel. It was very fond of Peter, and licked his cheek and his hands, and
finally dragged off his cap, imagined it a rabbit, and bit it with a great
deal of savagery and good-humour.
There followed conversation.
"I like you most awfully. I like your neck and your eyes and your
hair--it's stiff, like my father's. My name is Clare Elizabeth Rossiter.
"Do you live here?"
"No--a good long way away--by the sea."
"Oh, I'm staying at Kenwyn--my uncle lives at Kenwyn, but I live in London
with father and mother and Aunt Grace--it's nice here. I think you're such
a nice boy. Will you come and see father and mother in London?"
Peter smiled. It would not be the thing for some one in a bookshop to
go and call on the parents of any one who could afford Crumpet and Miss
Jackson, but the thought of London, the very name of it, sent his blood
tingling to his face.
"Perhaps we shall meet," he said. "I'm going to London soon."
"Oh! are you? Oh! How nice! Then, of course, you will come to tea. Every
one comes to tea."
Crumpet, tired of the rabbit, worn out with adventure and peril, struggled
into Peter's lap and slumbered with one ear lying back across his eyes. The
sun slipped down upon the town and touched the black cathedral with flame,
and turned the silver of the river into burning gold. On the bend of the
hill against the sky came a black gaunt figure.
"Miss Jackson!" Clare Elizabeth Rossiter leapt to her feet, clutched
Crumpet, held him upside down, and turned to go.
But for an instant she stayed, and Peter was rewarded with a very wonderful
"I am so glad you were here--she generally sleeps longer, but perhaps it
was New Testament to-day, and that's more exciting. It is a pity, because
there were such lots of things--I like you most awfully."
She gave him a very dirty hand, and then her black stockings vanished over
Peter turned, through a flaming sunset, towards his home ... the end of the
But he came home, on that Good Friday evening with an idea that that
afternoon on the hill had given him. It was an idea that came to him from
the little piece of superstition that he carried about with him--every
Cornishman carries it. Treliss was always a place of many customs, and,
although now these ceremonies drag themselves along with all the mercenary
self-consciousness that America and cheap trips from Manchester have given
to the place, at this stage of Peter's history they were genuine and honest
enough. To see from the top of the Grey Hill, the rising of the sun on
Easter morning was one of them--a charm that brought the most infallible
good luck until next Easter Day came round again, and, good for you, if you
could watch that sunrise with the lad or lass of your choice, for to pass
round the Giant's Finger as the beams caught the stone made the success
of your union beyond all question. There was risk about it, for if mists
veiled the light or if clouds dimmed the rising then were your prospects
but gloomy--but a fine Easter morning had decided many a wedding in
Peter had known of this for many years, but, in earlier times, he had not
been at liberty, and of late there had been other things to think about.
But here was a fine chance! Was he not flinging himself into the world
under the very hazardous patronage of Mr. Zanti on Easter Wednesday, and
would he not therefore need every blessing that he could get? And who knew,
after all, whether these things were such nonsense? They were old enough,
these customs, and many wise people believed in them. Moreover, one had not
been brought up in the company of Frosted Moses and Dicky the Fool without
catching some of their fever! "There was a little star rolling down hill
like a button," says Dicky, with his eyes staring....' Well, and why not?
And indeed here was Peter at this stage of things, a mad I bundle of
contradictions--old as a judge when up against the Realities, young as
Crumpet the puppy when staring at Romance. Give him bread and you have
him of cast-iron--stern, cold, hard of muscle, grim frown, stiff back,
no smiles. Give him jam and you have credulity, simplicity, longing for
friendship, tenderness, devotion to a small girl in a black frock, a heart
big as the world. See him on Good Friday afternoon, laughing, eagerly
questioning, a boy--see him on Good Friday night, grim, legs stiff, eyes
cold as stones, a man--no easy thing for Mrs. Pascoe's blowzy thunderings
to conquer, but something vastly amusing apparently to grandfather Westcott
He discovered that the sun rose about six o'clock, and therefore five
o'clock on Easter morning found him shivering, in the desolate garden with
his nose pressed to the little wooden gate. The High Road crossed the moor
at no great distance from him, but the faint grey light that hung like
gauze about him was not yet strong enough to reveal it. He would hear them
as they passed and they must all go up that road on the way to the hill.
In the garden there was darkness, and beyond it in the high shadow of the
house and the surrounding trees, blackness. He could smell the soil, and
his cheeks were wet with beads of moisture; very faintly the recurrent
boom of the sea came through the mist, dimmed as though by thick folds of
Suddenly the dark trees by the house, moved by a secret wind, would
shudder. The little black gate slowly revealed its bars against the sky as
the grey shadows lightened. Then there were voices, coming through the dark
shut off, like the sea, by the mist--strange voices, not human, but sharing
with the soil and the trees the mysterious quality of the night. The voices
passed up the road--silence and then more voices.
Peter unlatched the gate and stole out to the road, stumbling over the
rough moorland path and clambering across the ditch to safer ground.
Figures were moving like shadows and voices fell echoing and re-echoing
like notes of music--this was dissociated from all human feeling, and the
mists curled up like smoke and faded into the air. Peter, in silence,
followed these shadows and knew that there were other shadows behind him.
It would not take long to climb the Grey Hill--they would be at the top by
There was a voice in his ear:
"Hallo! You--Westcott! Why, who would have thought it?"
He turned round and found at his side the peaked face of Willie Daffoll,
now a young man of eighteen, with an affection for bright ties and socks,
once the small child who had fought with Peter at old Parlow's years ago.
Peter had not seen very much of him during those years. They had met in
the streets of Treliss, had spoken a word or two, but no friendship or
intimacy. But this early hour, this mysterious dawn, bred confidence, and
Peter having grown, under the approaching glitter of London, more human,
during the last few weeks than he had been in all his life before, was glad
to talk to him.
"Oh, I've often wanted to go," he said. "It brings good luck, you know."
"Well, fancy your believing that. I never thought you'd believe in rot like
"Why are you going, then?"
The young man of ties and waistcoats dropped his voice. "Oh--a girl. She's
here somewhere--she said she'd come--thinks there's something in it. Anyhow
she wants it--she's stunning...."
A girl! Peter's mind flew absurdly back to a small child in a short black
frock. "Oh! Crumpet!" ... A girl! Young Daffoll had spoken as though it
were indeed something to get up at four in the morning for! Peter wanted to
hear more. Young Daffoll was quite ready to tell him. No names, of course,
but they were going to be married one day. His governor would be furious,
of course, and they might have to run away, but she was game for anything.
No, he'd only known her a fortnight, but it had been a matter of love at
first sight--extraordinary thing--he'd thought he'd been head over ears
before, but never anything like this--yes, as a matter of fact she was in a
flower-shop--Trunter's in the High Street--her people had come down in the
world--and so the golden picture unfolded as the gauze curtains were drawn
back from the world, and the shoulder of the Grey Hill rose, like a cloud,
Peter's heart beat faster as he listened to this story. Here was one of his
dreams translated into actual fact. Would he one day also have some one for
whom he would be ready to run to the end of the world, if furious parents
demanded it? She would have, he was sure, red-gold hair and a wonderful
They climbed the Grey Hill. There was with them now quite a company of
persons--still shadow-shapes, for the mists were thick about the road, but
soon all the butchers and bakers of the world--and, let it be remembered,
all the lovers, would be revealed. Now, as they climbed the hill, silence
fell--even young Daffoll was quiet; that, too, it seemed, was part of the
The hill top was swiftly gained. The Giant's Finger, black and straight,
like a needle, stood through the shadows. Beyond there would be the sea,
and that was where the sun would rise, at present darkness. They all sat
down on the stones that covered the summit--on either side of Peter there
were figures, but Daffoll had vanished--it seemed that he had discovered
Peter, sitting meditating on the story that he had heard and feeling,
suddenly, lonely and deserted, was conscious of a small shoe that touched
his boot. It was, beyond argument, a friendly shoe--he could feel that in
the inviting tap that it gave to him. He was aware also that his shoulder
was touching another shoulder, and that that shoulder was soft and warm.
Finally his hand touched another hand--fingers were intertwined.
There was much conversation out of the mist:
"Law, chrisy! Well, it's the last Easter morning for me--thiccy sun hides
himself right enough--it's poor trade sitting shivering your toes."
"Not that I care for the woman, mind ye, Mr. Tregothan, sir--with her
haverings talking--all I'm saying is that if she's to come wastin' my
"Thiccy man sitting there stormin' like an old owl in a tree."
"Oh, get along with ye--No, I won't be sitting by ye--There's--"
Now the sea, like a young web stretched at the foot of the hill, stole out
of the darkness. On the horizon a thin line of dull yellow--wouldn't it be
a fine sunrise?--the figures on the hill were gathering shape and form, and
many of them now were standing, their bodies sharp against the grey sky.
Peter had not turned; his eyes were staring out to sea, but his body was
pressed closely against the girl at his side. He did not turn nor look at
her--she was staring at him with wonder in her eyes and a smile on her
lips. She was a very common girl with black hair and over-red cheeks, and
she was one of the dairymaids from Tregothan Farm. She did not know whom
this strange young man might be, and it was not yet light enough to see.
She did not care--such things had happened often enough before, and she
leant her fat body against his shoulder. She could feel his heart thumping
and his hands were very hot, but she thought that it was strange that he
did not turn and look at her....
There was a stir and murmur among the crowd on the hill for behold it would
be a fine sunrise! The dull yellow had brightened to gold and was speeding
like a herald across the grey. Black on the hill, gold on the sky, a
trembling whispering blue across the sea--in a moment there would be the
sun! What gods were there hiding, at that instant, on the hill, watching,
with scornful eyes this crowd of moderns? Hidden there behind the stones,
what mysteries? Screening with their delicate bodies the faint colours of
the true dawn, playing on their pipes tunes that these citizens with their
coarse voices and dull hearing could not understand, what ancient watchers
of the hill pass and repass!
Behold the butchers and bakers! Behold Mr. Winneren, hosier and outfitter,
young Robert Trefusis, farmer, Miss Bessie Waddell from the sweet-shop!...
These others fade away as the sun rises--the grey mists pass with them.
The sun is about to leap above the rim of the sea. Peter turns and crushes
the poor dairymaid in his arms and stifles the little scream with the first
kiss of his life. His whole body burns in that kiss--and then, as the sun
streams across the sea he has sprung to his feet and vanishes over the brow
of the hill.
The dairymaid wipes her lips with the back of her hand. They have joined
hands and are already dancing round the Giant's Finger. It is black now,
but in a moment the flames of the sun will leap upon it, and good omens
will send them all singing down the hill.
On Tuesday evening Peter slipped for a moment into Zachary Tan's shop
and told Mr. Zanti that he would be on the station platform at half-past
seven on the following morning. He could scarcely speak for excitement. He
was also filled with a penetrating sadness. Above all, he wished only to
exchange the briefest word with his future master. He did not understand
altogether but it was perhaps because Mr. Zanti and all his world belonged
to to-morrow.... Mr. Zanti's fat, jolly body, his laugh, his huge soft
hands ... Peter could not do more to this gentleman than remember that
he meant so much that he would be overwhelmed by him if he did not leave
him alone. So he darted in and gave his message and darted out again. The
little street was shining in the sun and the gentlest waves were lapping
the wooden jetty--Oh, this dear town! These houses, these cobbles--all the
smells and colours of the place--he was leaving it all so easily on so
perilous an adventure. Poor Peter was moved by so many things that he could
only gulp the tears back and hurry home. There was at any rate work to be
done there about which there could be no uncertain intention.
His father had been drinking all the afternoon. Mrs. Pascoe with red arms
akimbo, watched them as they ate their supper.
When the meal was finished Peter, standing by his father, his face very
"I am going to London to-morrow."
Mr. Westcott had aged a great deal during the last month. His hair was
touched with grey, there were dark lines under his eyes, his cheeks were
sunken, his lip trembled. He was looking moodily at the cloth, crumbling
his bread. He did not hear Peter's remark, but continued his argument with
"It wasn't cooked, I tell you--you're growing as slack as Hell."
"Your precious son 'as got something as 'e would like to say to yer,"
remarked that pleasant woman grimly.
Peter repeated his remark. His father grasped it but slowly--at last he
"Damn you, what are you talking about?"
"I'm leaving here and going to London to-morrow."
Mr. Westcott turned his bloodshot eyes in the direction of the
fire-place--"Curse it, I can't see straight. You young devil--I'll do for
you--" all this said rather sullenly and as though he were speaking to
Peter, having delivered his news, passed Mrs. Pascoe's broad body, and
moved to the doorway. He turned with his hand on the door.
"I'm glad I'm going," he said, "you've always bullied me, and I've always
hated you. You killed my mother and she was a good woman. You can have
this house to yourself--you and grandfather--and that woman--" he nodded
contemptuously at Mrs. Pascoe, who was staring at him fiercely. His
grandfather was fast asleep beneath the cushions.
"Damn you," said Mr. Westcott very quietly. "You've always been
ungrateful--I didn't kill your mother, but she was always a tiresome,
He stopped crumbling the bread and suddenly picked up a table knife and
hurled it at Peter. His hand was trembling, and the knife quivering, was
fastened to the door.
Mrs. Pascoe gasped, "Gawd 'elp us!"
Peter quietly closed the door behind him and went up to his room.
He was in no way disturbed by this interview. His relations with his
father were not of the things that now mattered. They had mattered before
his mother died. They had mattered whilst his father had been somebody
strong and terrible. Even at the funeral how splendid he had seemed! But
this trembling creature who drank whisky with the cook was some one who
concerned Peter not at all--something like the house, to be left behind.
There was an old black bag that had held his things in the Dawson's
days--it held his things now. Not a vast number--only the black suit beside
the blue serge one that he was going to wear, some under-linen, a sponge,
and a toothbrush, the books and an old faded photograph of his mother as a
girl. Nothing like that white face that he had seen, this photograph, old,
yellow, and faded, but a girl laughing and beautiful--after all, his most
Then, when the bag was packed, he sat on the bed, swung his legs, and
thought about everything. He was nearly eighteen, nearly a man, and as hard
as rock. He could feel the muscles swelling, there was no fat about him, he
was sound all over.
He looked back and saw the things that stood out like hills above the
plain--that night, years ago, when he was whipped, the day that he first
met Mr. Zanti, the first day at school, the day when he said good-bye to
Cards, the hour, at the end of it all, when they hissed him, that last
evening with Stephen, the day with his mother ... and then, quite lately,
that afternoon when Mr. Zanti asked him to go to London, the little girl
with the black frock on the hill ... last of all, that kiss (never mind
with whom) on Easter morning--all these things had made him what he
was--yes, and all the people--Frosted Moses, Stephen, his father, his
mother, Bobby Galleon, Cards, Mr. Zanti, the little girl. As he swung his
legs he knew that everything that he did afterwards would be, in some way,
attached to these earlier things and these earlier people.
He had brave hopes and brave ambitions and a warm heart as he flung himself
into bed; it speaks well for him that, on the night before he set out on
his adventure, he slept like the child that he really was.
But he knew that he would wake at six o'clock. He had determined that
it should be so, and the clocks were striking as he opened his eyes. It
was very dark and the cocks crowed beyond his open window, and the misty
morning swept in and blew his lighted candle up and down. He dressed in
the blue serge suit with a blue tie fastened in a sailor's knot. He leaned
out of his window and tried to imagine, out of the darkness, the beloved
moor--then he took his black bag and crept downstairs; it was striking
half-past six as he came softly into the hall.
There he saw that the gas was flaring and that his father was standing in
"I think I'm in front of you," he said, smiling.
"Let me go, father," Peter said, very white, and putting down the bag.
"Be damned to you," said his father. "You don't get through this door."
It was all so ludicrous, so utterly absurd, that his father should be
standing, in his night-shirt, on this very cold morning, under the flaring
gas. It occurred to Peter that as he wanted to laugh at this Mr. Zanti
could not have been right about his lack of humour. Peter walked up to his
father, and his father caught him by the throat. Mr. Westcott was still, in
spite of recent excesses, sufficiently strong.
"I very much want to choke you," he said.
Peter, however, was stronger.
His father dropped the hold of his throat, and had him, by the waist, but
his hands slipped amongst his clothes. For a moment they swayed together,
and Peter could feel the heat of his father's body beneath the night-shirt
and the violent beating of his heart. It was immensely ludicrous; moreover
there now appeared on the stairs Mrs. Pascoe, in a flannel jacket over a
night-gown, and untidy hair about her ample shoulders.
"The Lord be kind!" she cried, and stood, staring. Mr. Westcott was
breathing very heavily in Peter's face, and their eyes were so close
together that Peter could notice how bloodshot his father's were.
"God damn you!" said his father and slipped, and they came down on to
the wood floor together. Peter rose, but his father lay there, breathing
"God damn you," he said again, but he did not move.
"You'd better look after him," Peter said, turning to the astounded Mrs.
Pascoe. As he moved he saw a surprising sight, his grandfather's door was
opened and his grandfather (who had not been on his feet for a great many
years) was standing in the middle of it, cackling with laughter, dressed
in a very ugly yellow dressing-gown, his old knotted hands clutching the
sides of the door, his shrivelled body shaking, and his feet in large red
"Dear me, that was a nasty knock," he chattered.
And so Peter left them.
The high road was cool and fresh and dark. The sea sung somewhere below
amongst the rocks, and Peter immediately was aware that he was leaving
Now he had no other thought. The streets of the town were deserted, clean,
smelling of the fields, hay-carts, and primroses, with the darkness broken
by dim lamps, and a very slender moon. His heart was full, his throat
burning. He crossed the market-place and suddenly bent down and kissed the
worn stones of the Tower. There was no one to see.
He was in the station at twenty minutes past seven. The platform was long
and cold and deserted, but in the waiting-room was Mr. Zanti enveloped in
an enormous black coat.
"Ah, my dear boy, this is indeed splendid. And 'ave you said farewell to
"Yes, I've said good-bye to every one," he answered slowly. Suddenly he
would have given all the wide world and his prospects in it not to be
going. The terrors of Scaw House were as nothing beside that little grey
town with the waves breaking on the jetty, the Grey Hill above it, the
twisted cobbled streets.
The morning wind blew up the platform, the train rolled in; there were
porters, but Mr. Zanti had only a big brown bag which he kept with him.
Soon they were in corners facing one another. As the train swept past the
Tower the grey dawn was breaking into blue over the houses that rose, tier
by tier, to the sky over the grey rolling breakers, over the hills beyond
Poor Peter stared with passionate eyes as the vision passed.
"London soon," said Mr. Zanti, gaily.
ALL KINDS OF FOG IN THE CHARING CROSS ROAD
Towards the middle of the dim afternoon as the first straight pale houses
began to close in upon the train, a lady and gentleman on the opposite
side to Peter were discovered by him, as he awoke from a long sleep, to be
"Well, my dear Lucy, how we are ever to get on if you want to do these
absurd things I don't know. In London one must do as London does. In the
country of course..."
He was short, breathless and a little bald. The lady was young and very
"But, Henry, what does it matter?"
"What does it matter? My dear Lucy, in London everything matters--"
She was excited. "In Kensington perhaps, but in London--"
"Allow me, my dear Lucy, to decide for you. When you are my age--"
Peter went to sleep again.
The vast iron-girdled station was very dark and Mr. Zanti explained that
this was because, outside, there was a Fog--
"The Fog," he added, as though it had been a huge and ferocious animal, "is
very yellow and has eaten up London. It will take us a very long time to
find our home."
To Peter, short and square, in his rough suit shouldering his bag, this
was all as the infernal regions. The vast place towered high, into misty
distances above him. Trains, like huge beasts, stretched their limbs into
infinity; screams, piercing and angry, broke suddenly the voices and busy
movement that flooded the place with sounds. He was jostled and pushed
aside and people turned and swore at him and a heated porter ran a truck
into his legs. And through it and above it all the yellow fog came twisting
in coils from the dark street beyond and every one coughed and choked and
Mr. Zanti, after five minutes' angry pursuit, caught a reluctant and very
shabby four-wheeler, and they both climbed into its cavernous depths and
Peter's nose was filled with something that had leather and oranges and
paper bags and whisky in it; he felt exactly as though Mr. Zanti (looking
very like an ogre in the mysterious yellow light with his bowler on the
back of his head and mopping his face with a huge crimson handkerchief)
were decoying him away to some terrible fastness where it was always dark
And indeed that first vision of London, seen through the grimy windows of
the cab, was terrible enough. The cab moved a little, stopped, moved again;
it seemed that they would be there for ever and they exchanged no word.
There were no buildings to be seen; a vast wall of darkness surrounded him
and ever and again, out of the heart of it, a great cauldron of fire flamed
and by the side of it there were wild, agitated faces--and again darkness.
On every side of the stumbling cab there was noise--voices shouting, women
screaming, the rumbling of wheels, the plunging of horses' hoofs; sometimes
things brushed against their cab--once Peter thought that they were down
because they were jerked right forward against the opposite seats. And then
suddenly, in the most wonderful way, they would plunge into silence, a
silence so deep and cavernous that it was more fearful than those other
noises had been, and the yellow darkness seemed to crowd upon them with a
closer eagerness and it was as though they were driving over the edge of
the world. Then the noises returned, for a moment the fog lifted showing
houses, rising like rocks from the sea sheer about them on every side, then
darkness again and the cab stopped with a jerk.
"Ah, good," said Mr. Zanti, rolling his red handkerchief into a ball. "'Ere
we are, my young friend--Mr. Peter, after you, please."
Before him a light faintly glimmered and towards this, after stumbling on
the slippery pavement, he made his way. He found himself in a bookshop
lighted with gas that hissed and spit like an angry cat; the shop was low
and stuffy but its walls were covered with books that stretched into misty
fog near the ceiling. Behind a dingy counter a man was sitting. This man
struck Peter's attention at once because of the enormous size of his head
and the amount of hair that covered it--starting out of the mist and
obscurity of the shop, this head looked like some strange fungus, and from
the heart of it there glittered two very bright eyes.
Peter, standing awkwardly in the middle of the shop, gazed at this head and
Outside, Mr. Zanti could be heard disputing with the cabman.
"You can go and be damned--ze bags were not on ze outside--Zat is plenty
for your pay and you be damned--"
The shop door closed with a bang shutting out the fog and Mr. Zanti filled
the little bookshop. He seemed taller and larger than he had been in
Cornwall and his voice was sharper. The head removed itself from the
counter and Peter saw that it belonged to a small man with a hump who came
forward to Mr. Zanti very humbly.
"Ah, Gottfried," said Zanti, "you well?"
"Very, sir," answered the little man, bowing a little and smiling; his
voice was guttural with a very slight accent.
"This is Mr. Peter Westcott. 'E will work here and 'elp you with ze books.
'E is a friend of mine and you will be kind to him. Mr. Peter, zis is Herr
Gottfried Hanz--I owe 'im much--ver' clever man."
They shook hands and Peter liked the pair of eyes that gazed into his.
Then Mr. Zanti said, "Come, I will show you ze rest of ze place. It is not
a mansion, you will find."
Indeed it was not. Behind the shop there was a room, brown and green, with
two windows that looked on to a yard, so Mr. Zanti said. There was no
furniture in it save a table and some chairs; a woman was spreading a cloth
on the table as they came in. This woman had grey hair that escaped its
pins and fell untidily about her shoulders. She was very pale, tall and
thin and her most striking features were her piercing black eyes and with
these she stared at Peter.
"Zis is Mrs. Dantzig," said Mr. Zanti, "an old friend--Mr. Peter Westcott,
Mrs. Dantzig. 'E will work wiz us."
The woman said nothing but nodded her head and continued her work. They
passed out of the room. Stairs ran both up and down.
"What is down there?" asked Peter.
"Ah, zat is ze kitchen," said Mr. Zanti, laughing. Upstairs there was a
clean and neat bedroom with a large bed in it, an old sofa and two chairs.
"Zis is where I sleep," said Mr. Zanti. "For a night or two until you 'ave
discovered a lodging you shall sleep on zat sofa. Zay will make it whilst
we 'ave supper."
It was now late and Peter was very very tired. Downstairs there was much
bread and butter and bacon and eggs, and beer. The woman waited upon them
but they were all very silent and Peter was too sleepy to be hungry.
The table was cleared and Mr. Zanti sat smoking his pipe and talking to the
woman. Peter sat there, nodding, and he thought that their conversation was
in a foreign tongue and he thought that they looked at him and that the
woman was angry about something--but the sleep always gained upon him--he
could not keep it away.
At last a hand was upon his shoulder and he was led up to bed.
He tumbled out of his clothes and his last impression was of Mr. Zanti
standing in front of him, looking vast and very solemn in a blue cotton
"Peter," Mr. Zanti seemed to be saying, "you see in me, one, two, a hundred
men.... All my life I seek adventure--fun--and I find it--but there 'as not
been room for ze affections. Then I find you--I love you as my son and I
say 'Come to my bookshop'--But only ze bookshop mind you--you are there for
ze books and because I care for you--I care for you ver' much, Peter, and
zere 'as not been room in my life for ze affections ... but I will be a
ver' good friend to you--and you shall only be in ze shop--with ze books--I
will be a good friend--"
Then it seemed that Mr. Zanti kissed Peter on both cheeks, blew out the
candle, and climbed into his huge bed; soon he was snoring.
But Peter could not be sure of these things because he was so very tired
that he did not know whether he were standing on his head or his heels and
he was asleep on his sofa and dreaming about the strangest and most
confused events in less than no time at all.
And then how wonderful to discover, on waking up the next morning, that it
was a beautiful day, as beautiful a day as any that Cornwall could give
him. It was indeed odd, after the great darkness of the afternoon before
to find now a burning blue sky, bright shining pavements and the pieces of
iron and metal on the cabs glittering as they rolled along. The streets
were doubtless delightful but Peter was not, on this day at any rate, to
see very much of them; he was handed over to the care of Herr Gottfried
Hanz, who had obviously not brushed his hair when he got up in the morning;
he also wore large blue slippers that were too big for his feet and
clattered behind him as he walked. Whatever light there might be in the
street outside only chinks of it found their way into the shop and the
gas-jet hissed and flared as it had done on the day before. The books
seemed mistier and dustier than ever and Peter wondered, in a kind of
despair, how in the world if any one did come in and ask for anything he
was going to tell them whether it were there or not.
But here Herr Gottfried came to the rescue. "See you," he said with an air
of pride, "it is thus that they are arranged. Here you have the
Novel--Bronte, Bulwer, Bunyan ("The Pilgrim's Progress," that is not a
novel but it is near enough). Here you have History, and here the Poets,
and here Philosophy and here Travel--it will all be simple in time--"
Peter's eyes spun dizzily to the heights.
"There is a little ladder," said Herr Gottfried.
"And," at last said Peter timidly, "May I--read--when there is no one
Herr Gottfried looked at him with a new interest. "You like reading?"
"Like!" Peter's voice was an ecstasy.
"Why of course, often." Herr Gottfried smiled. "And then see! (he opened
the shop door) there is a small boy, James, who is supposed to look after
these (these were the 1_d_., 2_d_. and 3_d_. boxes outside the window, on
the pavement) but he is an idle boy and often enough he is not there and
then we must have the door open and you must watch them. Often enough (this
seemed a favourite phrase of his) these gentlemen (this with great scorn)
will turn the books over and over and they will look up the street once and
they will look down the street once, and then into the pocket a book will
go--often enough," he added, looking beyond the door savagely at a very
tired and tattered lady who was turning the 1_d_. lot over and over.
Then, this introductory lesson concluded, Herr Gottfried suddenly withdrew
into the tangles of his hair and retreated behind his counter. Through the
open door there came the most entrancing sound and the bustle of the street
was loud and startling--bells ringing, boys shouting, wheels rattling, and
beyond these immediate notes a steady hum like the murmur of an orchestra
heard through closed doors. All this was wonderful enough but it was
nothing at all to the superlative fascination of that multitude of books.
Peter found a hard little chair in a dark corner and sat down upon it. Here
he was in the very heart of his kingdom! He could never read all the books
in this place if he lived for two hundred years... and so he had better not
try. He made a blind dash at the volumes nearest him (quietly lest he
should disturb Herr Gottfried who seemed very busy at his counter) and
secured something and read it as well as he could, for the light was very
bad. It was called "The True and Faithful Experiences of the Reverend James
Scott in the Other World Being a Veracious History of his Experiences of
the Life after Death"--the dust rose from its pages in little clouds and
tempted him to sneeze but he bit his lip and counted forty and saved the
Herr Gottfried dealt with the customers that morning and Peter stood
nervously watching him. The customers were not very many--an old lady who
"wanted something to read" caused many volumes to be laid before her, and
finally left the shop without buying anything--a young man with spectacles
purchased some tattered science and a clergyman some Sermons. A thin and
very hungry looking man entered, clutching a badly-tied paper parcel. These
were books he wanted to sell. They were obviously treasured possessions
because he touched them, when they were laid upon the counter, with a
"They are very good books," he said plaintively.
"Three shillings," said Herr Gottfried.
The hungry man sighed.
"Five shillings," he said, "they are worth more."
"Three shillings for the lot," said Herr Gottfried.
"It is very little," said the hungry man, but he took the money and went
Once their came a magnificent gentleman--that is, he looked magnificent in
the distance away from the gas jet. He was tall with a high hat, a fine
moustache and a tailcoat; he had melancholy eyes and a languid air. Peter
was sorry to observe on a closer view that his tail-coat was frayed and his
collar not very clean.
He gave Herr Gottfried a languid bow and passed through the shop into the
"Guten Tag, Herr Signer," said Herr Gottfried with deference, but the
gentleman had already disappeared.
Then, after a time, one o'clock struck and Peter understood that if he
would place himself under Herr Gottfried's protection he should be led to
an establishment where for a small sum meat-pies were to be had... all
this very novel and delightful, and Peter laid down "The Experiences of
the Reverend James Scott," which were not at present very thrilling and
followed his guide into the street. Peter was still wondering where Herr
Gottfried had put his blue slippers and whence had come the large flat
boots and the brown and faded squash hat when he was suddenly in a little
dark street with the houses hanging forward as though they were listening
and any number of clothes dangling from the window sills and waving about
as though their owners were still inside them and kicking vigorously.
Although the street was dark it was full of noise, and a blaze of light at
the other end of it proclaimed more civilised quarters (Trafalgar Square in
fact) at no great distance.
"Gerade aus," said Herr Gottfried and pushed open a swinging door. Peter
followed him into the most amazing babel of voices, a confusion and a
roaring, an atmosphere thick with smoke and steam and a scent in the air as
though ten thousand meat-pies were cooking there before his eyes. By the
door a neat stout little woman, hung all over with lockets and medallions
as though she were wearing all the prizes that the famous meat-pies had
ever won, was sitting in a little box with a glass front to it.
"Bon jour, Monsieur Hanz."
"Tag, Meine Gnaedige Frau."
All down the room, by the wall, ran long tables black with age and grime.
Men of every age and nationality were eating, drinking, smoking and
talking. Some of them knew Herr Gottfried, some did not.
"Wie gehts, Gottfried?"
And Herr Gottfried, planting his flat feet like dead weights in front of
him, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair, smiled at
some, spoke to others, and at last found a little corner at the end of the
room, a corner comparatively quiet but most astoundingly smelly.
Peter sat down and recovered his breath. How far away now was Treliss with
its cobbled street, and the Grey Hill with the Giant's Finger pointing
solemnly to the sky.
"I have no money," he said.
"The Master has given me this for you," Herr Gottfried said, handing him
two sovereigns, "he says it is in advance for the week."
The meat-pies, beer and bread were ordered and then for a time they sat in
silence. Peter was turning in his mind a thousand questions that he would
like to ask but he was still afraid of his strange companion and he felt a
little as though he were some human volcano that might at any moment burst
forth and cover him with furious disaster.
Then Herr Gottfried said:
"And so you care for reading?"
"What do you read?"
What had Peter read? He mentioned timidly "David Copperfield," "Don
Quixote," and "Henry Lessingham."
"Ah, that's the way--novels, novels, novels--always sugar ... Greek,
"No, just a little at school."
"Ah, yes, your schools. I know them. Homer?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"Ah, well you shall read Homer. He is the greatest, he is the Master. There
is Pope for a beginning. I will teach you Greek.... Goethe?"
"I--beg your pardon."
"Goethe, Goethe, Goethe--he has never heard of him--never. Ah, these
schools--I know them. Teach them nonsense--often enough--but any
"I'm very sorry--" said Peter humbly.
"I've had no opportunity--"
"But you would love it? Yes, I see that you would love it--it is in your
eyes. Beethoven? No--later perhaps--then often enough--but Schubert! Ah,
Schubert!" (Here the meat-pies arrived but Herr Gottfried did not see
them). "Ah, the Unfinished! He shall hear that and he will have a new
soul--And the songs! Gott in Himmel, the songs! There is a man I know,
he will sing them to you. Die Mullerlieder. It is always water, the
Flowers, the Sun and all the roses in the world ... ach! 'Dir Spinnerin'
'Meersstille' ... 'Meersstille'--yah, Homer, Schubert--meat and
drink--Homer the meat-pie, Schubert the beer, but not this beer--no,
Helles, beautiful Helles with the sun in it...."
He had forgotten Peter and Peter did not understand anything that he said,
but he sat there with his eyes wide open and felt assured that it was all
very useful to him and very important. The inferno continued around them,
the air grew thicker with smoke, a barrel-organ began to play at the door,
draughts and dominoes rattled against the long wooden tables....
Ah! this was, indeed, London.
Peter was so greatly moved that his hunger left him and it was with
difficulty that the meat-pie was finished.
During the three days that followed Peter learnt a very great deal about
the bookshop. At night he still slept in Mr. Zanti's bedroom, but it was
only a temporary pitching of tents during these days whilst he was a
stranger and baffled by the noise and confusion.
Already his immediate surroundings had ceased to be a mystery. He had as
it were taken them to himself and seated himself in the midst of them with
surprising ease. Treliss, Scaw House, his father, had slipped back into an
unintelligible distance. He felt that they still mattered to him and that
the time would most certainly come when they would matter to him even more,
but they were not of immediate concern. The memory of his mother was closer
But in this discovery of London he was amazingly happy--happier than he had
ever been in all his life, and younger too. There were a great many things
that he wished to know, a great many questions that he wished to ask--but
for the moment he was content to rest and to grasp what he could see.
In a day he seemed to understand the way that the books went, and not only
that but even the places where the individual books were lodged. He did
not, of course, know anything about the contents of the books, but their
titles gave them, in his mind, human existence so that he thought of
them as actual persons living in different parts of the shop. There was,
for instance, the triumph of "Lady Audley's Secret." An old lady with a
trembling voice and a very sharp pair of eyes wished for a secondhand copy.
"I've very sorry, Madame," began Herr Gottfried, "but I'm afraid we
"I think--" said Peter timidly, and he climbed the little ladder and
brought the book down from a misty corner. Herr Gottfried was indeed amazed
at him--he said very little but he was certainly amazed. Indeed, with the
exception of the "meat-pie" interval he scarcely spoke throughout the day.
Peter began to look forward to one o'clock for then the German, in the
midst of the babel and the smoke, continued the educating progress, and
even read Goethe's poetry aloud (translating it into the strangest English)
and developed Peter's conception of Homer into an alluring and fascinating
Of London itself during these days Peter saw nothing. At eight o'clock
in the evening the shutters were put up by the disobedient James and the
shop retired for the night. Herr Gottfried shuffled away to some hidden
resting-place of his own and Peter found supper waiting for him in the room
at the back. He ate this alone, for Mr. Zanti was not there and during
these three days he was hardly visible at all. He was up in the morning
before Peter was and he came to bed when Peter was already asleep. The boy
was not, however, certain that his master was always away when he seemed
to be. He appeared suddenly at the most surprising moments, smiling and
cheerful as ever and with no sign of hurry about him. He always gave Peter
a nod and a kind word and asked him how the books were going and patted him
on the shoulder, but he was away almost as soon as he was there.
One strange thing was the number of people that came into the bookshop with
no intention whatever of having anything to do with the books. Indeed they
paid no heed to the bookshop, and after flinging a word at Herr Gottfried,
they would pass straight into the room beyond and as far as Peter could
see, never came out again.
The magnificently-dressed gentleman, called by Herr Gottfried "Herr
Signor," was one of these persons.
However, Peter, happy enough in the excitement of the present, asking no
questions and only at night, before he fell asleep, lying on his sofa,
listening to the sounds in the street below him, watching the reflections
of the gas light flung up by the street lamps on to the walls of his room,
he would wonder ... and, so wondering, he was asleep.
And then, on the fourth day, something happened.
It was growing late, and Peter underneath the gas jet was buried in Mr.
Pope's Homer. A knock on the door and the postman entered with the letters.
As a rule Herr Gottfried took them, but on this afternoon he had left the
shop in Peter's hands for half an hour whilst he went out to see a friend.
Peter took the letters and immediately the letter on the top of the pile
(Mr. Zanti's post was always a large one) set his heart thumping. The
handwriting was the handwriting of Stephen. There could be no doubt about
it, no possible doubt. Peter had seen that writing many times and he had
always kept the letter that Stephen had written to him when he first went
to Dawson's. To other eyes it might seem an ordinary enough hand--rough and
uneducated and sprawling--anybody's hand, but Peter knew that there could
be no mistake.
The sight of the letter as it lay there on the counter swept away the shop,
the books, London--he sat looking at it with a longing, stronger than any
longing that he had ever known, to see the writer again. He lived once more
through that night on the farm--perhaps at that moment he felt suddenly his
loneliness, here in this huge and tempestuous London, here in this dark
bookshop with so many people going in or out. He rubbed the sleeves of his
blue serge suit because they made him feel like Treliss, and he sat, with
eyes staring into the dark, thinking of Stephen.
That evening, just as he was going up to bed, Mr. Zanti came in and greeted
him with his accustomed cheerfulness.
"Going to bed, Peter? Ah, good boy."
Peter stopped, hesitating, by the door.
"Oh, I wonder--" he said and stopped.
"Yes?" said Mr. Zanti, looking at him.
"Oh--well--it's nothing--" Then he blurted out--"I saw a letter--I couldn't
help it--a letter from Stephen this afternoon. They came when Herr
Gottfried was out--and I wanted--I want dreadfully--to hear about him--if
you could tell me--"
For an instant Mr. Zanti's large eyes closed until they seemed to be no
larger than pin-points--then they opened again.
"Stephen--Stephen? Stephen what? What is it that the boy talks of?"
"You know--Stephen Brant--the man who first brought me to see you when I
was quite a kid. I was--I always have been very fond of him. I should be so
"Surely the boy is mad--what has come to you? Stephen Brant--yes I remember
the man--but I have heard nothing for years and years--no, nothing. See,
here are my afternoon's letters."
He took a bundle of letters out of his pocket and showed them to Peter. The
boy found the one in Stephen's handwriting.
"You may read it," said Mr. Zanti smiling. Peter read it. He could not
understand it and it was signed "John Simmons" ... but it was certainly in
"Thank you," said Peter in rather a quivering voice and he turned away,
gulping down his disappointment.
Mr. Zanti patted him on the shoulder.
"That's right, my boy. Ah, I expect you miss your friend. You will be
lonely here, yes? Well--see--now that you have been here a few days perhaps
it is time for you to find a place to live--and I have talked wiz a friend
of mine, a ver' good friend who 'as lived for many years in a 'ouse where
'e says there is a room that will just do for you--cheap, pleasant people
... yes? To-morrow 'e will show you the place. There you will 'ave
Peter smiled, thanked Mr. Zanti and went to bed. But his dreams were
confused that night. It seemed to him that London was a huge room with
closing walls, and that ever they came closer and closer and that he
screamed for Stephen and they would not let Stephen come to him.
And bells were ringing, and Mr. Zanti, with a lighted candle in his hands,
was creeping down those dark stairs that led to the kitchen, and he might
have stopped those closing walls but he would not. Then suddenly Peter
was running down the Sea Road above Treliss and the waves were sounding
furiously below him--his father was there waiting for him sternly, at the
road's end and Herr Gottfried with a Homer in one hand and his blue shoes
in the other sat watching them out of his bright eyes. His father was
waiting to kill him and Mrs. Pascoe was at his elbow. Peter screamed, the
sweat was pouring off his forehead, his throat was tight with agony when
suddenly by his side was old Frosted Moses, with his flowing beard. "It
isn't life that matters," he was whispering in his old cracked voice, "but
the courage that you bring to it."
The figures faded, the light grew broader and broader, and Peter woke to
find Mr. Zanti, by the aid of a candle, climbing into bed.
But some time passed before he had courage to fall asleep again.