Part 3 out of 5
The Captain, during these weeks, seemed to be everywhere. Never was
there an afternoon that Jeremy walked out with Miss Jones and his
sisters that he did not appear. It was not very difficult to snatch
a conversation with him. Because the beauty of the spring weather
continued, the children went every day for a walk in the Meads, and
on at least three separate occasions Jeremy and the Captain enjoyed
quite long conversations together. These were, none of them, so good
as that first one had been. The Captain was not so genial, nor so
light-hearted; it seemed that he had something on his mind.
Sometimes he put his hand on Jeremy's shoulder, and the heavy
pressure of his great fingers made Jeremy tremble, partly with
terror, partly with pleasure. His face, also, was scarcely so
agreeable as it had seemed at first sight. His tremendous nose
seemed to burn down upon Jeremy like a malignant fire. His eyes were
so small that sometimes they disappeared under his fat cheeks
altogether, or only gleamed like little sharp points of light from
under his heavy, shaggy eyebrows. Then, although he tried to make
his voice pleasant, Jeremy felt that that complaisant friendliness
was not his natural tone. Sometimes there would be a sharp, barking
note that made Jeremy jump and his cheek pale. The Captain told him
no more fascinating stories, and when Jeremy wanted to know about
the ship with the diamonds and rubies and the little sea village
where she lay hid and the Caribbees natives, and the chances of
becoming a cabin boy, and the further exploitation of the tatooes--
all these things the Captain brushed aside as though they no longer
interested him in the least. He, on the other hand, wanted now to
know exactly where Jeremy lived, what the house was like, where the
back doors were, how the windows opened, where Jeremy slept, and so
on. Jeremy, pleased at this interest in his daily life, told him as
many things as he could, hoping to pass on afterwards to more
exciting topics; how, for instance, the kitchen windows were
fastened always last thing at night, but you could undo them from
the garden if you liked with your knife, and Jeremy knew this
because Uncle Samuel had done it once on a Sunday afternoon when the
maids were all out and he'd forgotten his door key. He would have
told the Captain all about the schoolroom and the toy village and
the Jampot and the fun they had had teasing Miss Jones had not, the
Captain fiercely told him that these things did not interest him,
and that he had better just answer the questions that were put to
him. It was indeed strange to see how, with every interview, the
Captain grew fiercer and fiercer and sharper and sharper. He made no
allusions now to "'is little nipper," said nothing about that holy
soul his mother, and never mentioned his liking for Jeremy. There
was evidently something on his mind, and if he had seemed mysterious
at their first meeting it was nothing to the secrecy that he
And yet, in spite of all this, his hold over Jeremy grew and grew.
That dream of the bending white road was always with Jeremy. He
could think of nothing but the Captain, and while he was certainly
afraid and would jump at the slightest sound, he was also certainly
excited beyond all earlier experience. He longed, as he lay awake at
night, to see the Captain. He seemed to have always in front of his
eyes the great wall of a chest with the blue ship on it, and the
bolster legs, and the gigantic hands. Strangest of all was the sense
of evil that came with the attraction.
He longed to be in the man's company as he longed to do something
that he had been always told not to do, and when he caught sight of
him a sudden, hot, choking hand was pressed upon his heart, and he
was terrified, delighted, frightened, ashamed, all in one. The
Captain always alluded to the things that he would tell him, would
show him one day--"When you come to my little place I'll teach yer a
thing or two"--and Jeremy would wonder for hours what this little
place would be like and what the Captain would teach him. Meanwhile,
he saw him everywhere, even when he was not there--behind lamp-
posts, at street corners, behind the old woman's umbrella in the
market-place, peering round the statues in the Cathedral, jerking up
his head from behind chimney pots, looking through the nursery
windows just when dusk was coming on, in the passages, under stairs,
out in the dark garden--and always behind him that horrid dream of
the dead- white road and the shingly Cove. . . Yes, poor Jeremy was
That Miss Jones suspected nothing of these meetings must be
attributed partly to that lady's habit of wrapping herself in her
own thoughts on her walks abroad, and partly to her natural short-
sightedness. Once Mary said that she had noticed "a horrid man with
a red face" staring at them; but Miss Jones, although she was not a
vain woman, thought it nevertheless quite natural that men should
stare, and fancied more frequently that they did so than was
strictly the truth.
Jeremy, meanwhile, was occupied now with the thought as to what he
would do did the Captain really want him to go away with him. He
discussed it with himself, but he did not doubt what he would do; he
would go. And he would go, he knew, with fear and dread, and with a
longing to stay, and be warm in the schoolroom, and have jam for
tea, and half an hour before bedtime downstairs, and Yorkshire
pudding on Sundays. But the Captain could make him do anything. . .
Yes, the Captain could make him do anything. . .
His afternoon walks now were prolonged agonies. He would turn his
head at every moment, would stare into dark corners, would start at
the sound of steps. His sleep now was broken with horrid dreams, and
he would jump up and cry out; and one night he actually dreamt of
his dead-white road and the sounds that came up from below the hill,
the bell and the sea, and the distant rattle of the little carts.
Then the Captain drew near to the very house itself. He haunted
Orange Street, could be seen lounging against a lamp-post opposite
the High School, looked once into the very garden of the Coles,
Jeremy watching him with beating heart from the schoolroom window.
It was incredible to Jeremy that no one else of the house perceived
him; but no one ever mentioned him, and this made it appear all the
more a dream, as though the Captain were invisible to everyone save
himself. He began to hate him even more than he feared him, and yet
with that hatred the pleasure and excitement remained. I remember
how, years ago in Polchester, when I could not have been more than
six years old, I myself was haunted with exactly that same mixture
of pleasure and horror by the figure of a hunch-backed pedlar who
used to come to our town. Many years after I heard that he had been
hung for the murder of some wretched woman who had accompanied him
on some of his journeys. I was not surprised; but when I heard the
story I felt then again the old thrill of mingled pleasure and fear.
One windy afternoon, near dusk, when they were returning from their
walk, Jeremy suddenly heard the voice in his ear:
"I may be coming to visit yer one o' these nights. Keep yer eyes
open and yer tongue quiet if I do."
Jeremy saw the figures of Miss Jones and his sisters pass round the
corner of the road.
"What for?" he gasped.
The Captain's figure seemed to swell gigantic against the white
light of the fading sky. The wind whistled about their ears.
"Just to visit yer, that's all. 'Cause I've taken a fancy to yer."
The Captain chuckled and had vanished. . .
Jeremy flung one glance at the grey desolate road behind him, then
ran for his life to join the others.
What, after that, did he expect? He did not know. Only the Captain
was drawing closer, and closer, and closer.
He could feel now always his hot breath upon his ear. Two days after
the whispered dialogue in the road, that first promise of spring
broke down into a tempest of wind and rain. The Coles' house in
Orange Street, although it looked, with its stout, white stone,
strong enough, was old and shaky. Now, in the storm, it shook and
wheezed and rattled in every one of its joints. Jeremy, at ordinary
times, loved the sound of the wind about the house, when he himself
was safe and warm and cosy; but this was now another affair. Lying
in his bed he could hear the screams down the chimney, then the tug
at his window-pane, the rattling clutch upon the wood, then the
sweep under the bed and the rush up the wallpaper, until at last,
from behind some badly defended spot where the paper was thin, there
would come a wailing, whistling screech as though someone were being
murdered in the next room. On other days Jeremy, when he heard this
screech, shivered with a cosy, creeping thrill; but now he put his
head under the bedclothes, shut his eyes very tight, and tried not
to see the Captain with his ugly nose and tiny gimlet eyes.
He would be half asleep.
"Come," said the Captain from the window, "the boat is waiting! You
promised, you know. Come just as you are--no time to dress," and
poor Jeremy would feel the great, heavy hand upon his shoulder and
wake shivering and shaking from head to foot.
On the third day following his last interview with the Captain he
went to bed a little reassured and comforted. Perhaps the Captain
had gone away. For three days he had seen and heard nothing of him
That was a night of rain--rain that slashed and whipped the house as
though it would batter it to the ground. The rain would come with a
wild fury upon the panes, trembling with its excited anger, would
crash against the glass, then fall back and hang waiting for a
further attack; next the results of the first attack would slip and
slide like the crawling of a thousand snakes, then fall and drop
slowly and heavily as though every drop were foretelling some awful
peril. Jeremy lay and listened; but he resolved that to-night he
would not be frightened, would not think of the Captain.
He said the Lord's Prayer five times, then counted sheep jumping
over the gate, a safe solution for sleepless hours. He saw the
sheep--first one a very fat one, then one a very thin one; but the
gate stood at the bottom of a little hill, so that it was very
difficult for the poor creatures, who jumped and slipped back on the
incline. Then a lot of sheep insisted on jumping together, and he
could hardly count them--forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, forty-
eight. . . . He was asleep.
After a long, long time of soundlessness, of lying upon a sea that
was like a bed of down, and looking up, happily into clear blue
light, he was once more conscious of the rain. Yes, there it was
with its sweeping rush, its smash upon the pane, its withdrawal, its
trickling patter and heavy drops as though it were striking time.
Yes, that was the rain and that--What was that?
He was wide awake, lying back against his pillow, but his eyes
staring in front of them till they burnt. The house was absolutely
dark, absolutely silent, but between the attacks of the rain there
was a wound, something that had not to do with the house nor with
the weather. He strained with his ears, sitting up in bed, his hands
clutching the bed clothes. He heard it quite clearly now. Someone
was moving in the nursery.
With that the whole of his brain was awake and he knew quite
clearly, beyond a shadow of any doubt, what had happened; the
Captain had come to fetch him. With that knowledge an icy despair
gripped him. He did not want to go. Oh, he did not want to go! He
was trembling from head to foot so that the bed shook beneath him,
his breath came in little hot gasping pants, and his eyes were wide
with terror. He was helpless. The Captain would only say "Come," and
go he must, leave his warm house and his parents whom he loved and
Mary and Helen and Hamlet, yes, and even Miss Jones. He would be
dragged down the long white road, through the lighted village, out
on to the shiny beach, in a boat out to the dark ship--and then he
would be alone with the Captain, alone in the dark ship, with the
Captain's heavy hand upon his shoulder, his mouth smiling, his great
legs drawing him in as a spider draws a fly into its web, and
everyone asleep, only the stars and the dark water. He tried to say
the Lord's Prayer again, but the words would not come. The sweat
began to trickle down his nose. . .
Then he heard in the next room some movement against a piece of
furniture and a voice muttering. That decided him: better to go and
face it than to wait there, so as though he were moving in his
sleep, he got out of bed, crossed the floor and entered the
The first sound that he heard was the ticking of the old nursery
clock, a strange familiar voice in this awful world, then suddenly,
although the room was in black darkness, he himself was staring into
He started back and uttered a little cry, but even as he did so that
well-remembered hand was upon his shoulder and the well-known voice
in his ear:
"Move an inch, utter a sound, and I blow yer brains out, yer--" the
voice, very low, faded into, the dark. He was staring into a
lantern, and above the lantern was the dark body of the Captain.
Then as he looked up he was indeed near his last moment, for had he
not been a brave boy, old for his years, and determined, he would
have cried out with a scream that would have raised the house.
The Captain had no face. . . The Captain had no face. . . Only out
of a deep darkness those little eyes glittered like candle-points.
Jeremy uttered no sound. Then catching the Captain's coat because he
trembled so, he said: "I'm coming at once--but don't wake Mary and
Helen. They'd be frightened. May I get a coat, because it raining?"
"Coming!" whispered the Captain, his voice coming from that space in
the air where were his eyes. "You move one inch from 'ere or utter
one sound and I do yer in, yer--I'm watchin' yer, mind!"
The lantern light suddenly vanished. The room was black. There was
no sound but the ticking of the clock, and now the rain, which had
seemed to stop during this terrible dialogue, beat with friendly
comfort once more upon the pane. Jeremy stood there, his body held
together as though in an iron case, scarcely breathing. There was no
more sound at all. Quite clearly now Mary's snores could be heard
coming from her room.
Jeremy had only one thought--only one thought in all the world. The
Captain did not want him. The Captain had gone and not taken him
with him. He was safe; he was freed; the terror was over and he was
At last he moved back to his room. He got into bed again. He was
terribly cold, and little spasms of shivers seized him, but he did
not care. The Captain was gone, and he had not taken him with
him. . .
He was not aware whether he slept or no, but suddenly sunlight was
in the room, the bath-water was running, the canary was singing and
Hamlet was scratching upon his door. He jumped out of bed and let
the dog in. Then he heard Rose's voice from the next room:
". . . and 'e's taken everything, 'e 'as. All the silver
candlesticks and the plate what was give to master by the Temp'rance
Society, and Master Jeremy's mug what he 'ad at 'is christening and
all the knives and forks--'e 'as--and the gold clock out o' the
drorin'-room, and the mess! Why, I says to Cook 'e couldn't 'ave
made more mess, I say, not if 'e'd come to do nothin' else. Grease
everywhere, you never see nothin' like it, and all the drawers open
and the papers scattered about. Thank 'Eaven 'e never found Cook's
earrings. Real gold they was, ever so many carat and give to Cook
ever so many years ago by 'er John. Poor woman! She'd 'ave been in a
terrible takin' if she'd lost 'em. . . And so quiet too--not a sound
and everyone sleepin' all round 'im. Wonderful 'ow they does it! I
thank the Lord I didn't 'ear 'im; I'd 'ave died of fright-shouldn't
like! Why, Cook says she knew a 'ouse once . . ."
But Jeremy did not listen, he did not care. As Hamlet sprang about
him and licked his hand he thought of one thing alone.
The Captain was gone! The Captain was gone! He was free! The Captain
had not taken him, and he was free at last!
I am afraid that too great a part of this book is about old maids,
but it is hard for anyone who knows only the thriving bustling world
of today to realise how largely we children were hemmed in and
surrounded by a proper phalanx of elderly single ladies and
clergymen. I don't believe that we were any the worse for that, and
to such heroines as Miss Jane Maple, Miss Mary Trefusis and old Miss
Jessamin Trenchard, I here publicly acknowledge deep and lasting
debt-but it did make our life a little monotonous, a little
unadventurous, a little circumscribed -and because T am determined
to give the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the year of
Jeremy's life that I am describing, this book will also, I am
afraid, be a little circumscribed, a little unadventurous.
The elderly lady who most thoroughly circumscribed Jeremy was, of
course--putting Miss Jones, who was a governess and therefore did
not count, aside--Aunt Amy.
Now Aunt Amy was probably the most conceited woman in Polchester.
There is of course ordinary human conceit, of which every living
being has his or her share. I am not speaking of that; Miss Amy
Trefusis might be said to be fanatically conceited.
Although she was now a really plain elderly woman it is possible
that when she was a little girl she was pretty. In any case, it is
certain that she was spoiled when she was a little girl, and because
she was delicate and selfish she received a good deal more attention
and obedience from weak and vacillating elders than she deserved.
After her growing up she had a year or two of moderate looks and she
received, during this period, several proposals; these she refused
because they were not good enough and something better must be
coming very shortly, but what really came very shortly was middle-
age, and it came of course entirely unperceived by the lady. She
dressed and behaved as though she were still twenty, although her
brother Samuel tried to laugh her out of such absurdities. But no
sister ever pays attention to a brother on such matters, and Aunt
Amy wore coloured ribbons and went to balls and made eyes behind her
fan for season after season. Then as time passed she was compelled
by her mirror to realise that she was not quite so young as she had
once been, so she hurriedly invented a thrilling past history for
herself, alluding to affair after affair that had come to nothing
only because she herself had ruthlessly slain them, and dressing
herself more reasonably, but with little signs and hints, in the
shape of chains and coloured bows and rings, that she could still be
young if she so pleased, and that she was open to offers, although
she could not promise them much encouragement. She liked the society
of Canons, and was to be seen a great deal with old Canon Borlase,
who was as great a flirt as he was an egotist, so that it did not
matter to him in the least with whom he flirted, and sat at the feet
of old Canon Morpheu, who was so crazy about the discoveries that he
had made in the life of Ezekiel that it was quite immaterial to him
to whom he explained them.
She descended from these clerical flights into the bosom of family
life with some natural discontent. Her brother Samuel she had always
disliked because he laughed at her; her sister she did not care for
because she was very innocently, poor lady, flaunting her superior
married state; and her brother-in-law she did not like because he
always behaved as though she were one of a vast public of elderly
ladies who were useful for helping in clerical displays, but were
otherwise non-existent. Then she hated children, so that she really
often wondered why she continued to live with her brother-in-law,
but it was cheap, comfortable and safe, and although she assured
herself and everyone else that there were countless homes wildly
eager to receive her, it was perhaps just as well not to put their
eagerness too abruptly to the test.
There had been war between her and Jeremy since Jeremy's birth, but
it had been war of a rather mild and inoffensive character,
consisting largely in Jeremy on his side putting out his tongue at
her when she could not see him, and she on her side sending him to
wash his ears when they really did not require to be washed. She had
felt always in Jeremy an obstinate dislike of her, and as he had
seemed to her neither a very clever nor intelligent child she had
consoled herself very easily with the thought that he did not like
her simply because he was stupid. So it had been until this year,
and then suddenly they had been flung into sharper opposition. It
was hard to say what had brought this about, but it was perhaps that
Jeremy had sprung suddenly from the unconscious indifference of a
young child into the active participation of a growing boy. Whatever
the truth might have been, the coming of Hamlet had drawn their
attitudes into positive conflict.
Aunt Amy had felt from the first that Hamlet laughed at her. Had you
asked her to state, as a part of her general experience, that she
really believed that dogs could laugh at human beings she would
indignantly have repudiated any idea so fantastic, nevertheless,
unanalysed and unconfronted, that was her conviction. The dog
laughed at her, he insulted her by walking into her bedroom with his
muddy feet and then pretending that he hadn't known that it was her
bedroom, regarding her through his hair with an ironical and
malicious glance, barking suddenly when she made some statement as
though he enjoyed immensely an excellent joke, but, above all,
despising her, she felt, so that the wall of illusion that she had
built around herself had been pulled down by at least one creature,
more human, she knew, in spite of herself, than many human beings.
Therefore, she hated Hamlet, and scarcely a day passed that she did
not try to have him flung from the house, or at least kept in the
Hamlet had, however, won the hearts of the family; it was, indeed,
Aunt Amy alone to whom he had not thought it worth while to pay
court. To her alone he would not come when she called, by her alone
he would not be cajoled, even though she offered him sugary tea, his
deadliest temptation. No, he sat and looked at her through his hair,
his fiery eye glinting, his peaked beard ironically humorous, his
leg stuck out from his body, a pointing signal of derision.
She resolved to wait for an opportunity when she might conquer
Hamlet and Jeremy together, but her power in the house was slight,
so long as Mr. and Mrs. Cole were there. "If I only had the children
to myself," she would say, "I would improve their manners in many
ways. Poor Alice--!" Then suddenly she did have them. At the
beginning of May Mr. Cole was summoned to take a mission to the
seamen of Drymouth, and Mrs. Cole, who had relations in Drymouth,
accompanied him. They would be absent from Pelchester a whole week.
"Oh, won't Aunt Amy be a nuisance," said Jeremy, realising the
situation. Then turning to Mary he added: "We'll pretend to do what
she tells us and not do it really. That's much the easiest."
A week is a short time, especially at the beginning of a shining and
burning May, but Aunt Amy did her best not only with the children
but with the servants, and even old Jordan, the gardener, who had
been with the Cole family for twenty years. During that short week
the cook, the parlourmaid, Rose, the housemaid, and the bootboy all
gave notice, and Mrs. Cole was only able to keep them (on her
return) by raising the wages of all of them. Jordan, who was an old
man with a long white beard, said to her when she advised him to
plant pinks where he had planted tulips and tulips where he had
planted pinks, and further inquired why the cauliflower that he sent
in was so poor and the cabbages so small: "Leave things alone, Miss,
Nature's wiser than we be, not but what you mayn't mean well, but
fussin's never done any good where Nature's concerned, nor never
will"; and when she said that he was very rude to her, he shook his
head and answered:
"Maybe yes, and maybe no. What's rude to one ain't rude to another"-
-out of which answer she could make nothing at all.
In the schoolroom she sustained complete defeat. At the very outset
she was baffled by Miss Jones. She had always despised Miss Jones as
a poor unfortunate female who was forced to teach children in her
old age because she must earn her living--a stupid, sentimental,
cowed, old woman at whom the children laughed. She found now that
the children instead of laughing at her laughed with her, formed a
phalanx of protection around her and refused to be disobedient. Miss
Jones herself was discovered to have a dry, rather caustic, sense of
humour that Aunt Amy felt to be impertinence, but could not
"And is that really how you teach them history, Miss Jones? Not
quite the simplest way, surely. . . I remember an excellent
governess whom we once had--"
"Perhaps," said Miss Jones, gently, "you would give them a history
lesson yourself, Miss Trefusis. I would be so glad to pick up any
"I have, of course, no time," said Aunt Amy hurriedly, "but,
speaking generally, I am afraid I can't approve altogether of your
"It isn't very good, I'm afraid," said Miss Jones weakly. "The
children would be glad, I know, to have a few hints from you if you
could spare a moment--"
Jeremy, who was listening, giggled, tried to turn the giggle into a
sneeze and choked.
"Jeremy!" said Aunt Amy severely.
"Oh, do look, Aunt Amy!" cried Mary, always Jeremy's faithful ally,
"all your hairpins are dropping out!"
She devoted herself then to Jeremy and worried him in every possible
way, and after two days of this he hated her with a deep and bitter
hatred, very different from that earlier teasing of Miss Jones. That
had sprung from a sudden delicious discovery of power, and had been
directed against no one. This was a real personal hatred that
children of a less solid and tenacious temperament than Jeremy would
have been incapable of feeling.
He did not laugh at her, he did not tease her, he no longer put out
his tongue at her. He was older than that now--he was simply
reserved and silent, watching her with his large eyes, his square
body set, and resolved as though he knew that his moment would come.
Her experience with him was baffling. She punished him, petted him,
she ignored him, she stormed at him; it seemed that she would do
anything could she only win from him an acknowledgment of her power,
her capability. But she could not. He only said: "Yes, Aunt Amy."
"No, Aunt Amy."
She burst out: "You're a sullen, wicked little boy, Jeremy. Do you
know what happens to little boys who sulk?"
"No, Aunt Amy."
"They grow into cross, bad-tempered men whom nobody likes and nobody
trusts. Do you want to be like that when you're a man ?"
"I don't care."
"You know what happened to 'Don't Care.' I shall have to punish you
if you're rude to me."
"What have I done that's rude?"
"You mustn't speak to me like that. Is that the way you speak to
"No, Aunt Amy."
"Well, then, if you don't speak to your mother like that, you
mustn't speak to me like that, either."
"No, Aunt Amy."
"Well, then . . ."
This hatred was quite new to him. He had once, years ago, hated a
black-faced doll that had been given to him. He had not known why he
hated it, but there it had been. He had thrown it out of the window,
and the gardener had found it and brought it into the house again,
battered and bruised, but still alive, with its horrid red smile,
and this had terrified him. . . He had begun to burn it, and the
nurse had caught him and slapped him. He had begun to cut it with
scissors, and when the sawdust flowed he was more terrified than
ever. But that doll was quite different from Aunt Amy. He was not
terrified of her at all. He hated her. Hated the fringe of her black
hair, the heavy eyelashes, the thin down on her upper lip, the way
that the gold cross fell up and down on her breast, her thin, blue-
veined hands, her black shoes. She was his first enemy, and he
waited, as an ambush hides and watches, for his opportunity. . .
One of our nicest old maids, Miss Maddison, gave every year what she
called her "early summer party." This was different from all our
other parties, because it occurred neither in the summer nor in the
winter, but always during those wonderful days when the spring first
began to fade into the high bright colours, the dry warmth, the deep
green shadows of the heat of the year. It was early in May that Miss
Maddison had her party, and we played games on her little sloping
green lawn, and peered over her pink- brick wall down on to the
brown roofs of the houses below the Close, and had a tremendous tea
of every kind of cake and every kind of jam in her wainscoted
dining-room that looked out through its tall open windows on to the
garden. Those old houses that run in a half-moon round the Close,
and face the green sward and the great western door of the
Cathedral, are the very heart of Polchester. Walking down the
cobbled street, one may still to-day look through the open door,
down the dusky line of the little hall, out into the swimming colour
of the garden beyond. In these little gardens, what did not grow?
Hollyhocks, pinks, tulips, nasturtiums, pansies, lilies of the
valley, roses, honeysuckle, sweet-williams, stocks--I remember them
all at their different seasons in that muddled, absurd profusion. I
can smell them now, can see them in their fluttering colours, the
great grey wall of the Cathedral, with its high carved door and
watching saints behind me, the sun beating on to the cobbles, the
muffled beat of the summer day, the sleepy noises of the town, the
pigeons cutting the thin, papery blue into arcs and curves and
circles, the little lattice-windowed houses, with crooked chimneys
and shining doors, smiling down upon me. I can smell, too, that
especial smell that belonged to those summer hours, a smell of dried
blotting-paper, of corn and poppies from the fields, of cobble-
stones and new-baked bread and lemonade; and behind the warmth and
colour the cool note of the Cathedral bell echoed through the town,
down the High Street, over the meads, across the river, out into the
heart of the dark woods and the long spaces of the summer fields. I
can see myself, too, toiling up the High Street, my cap on the back
of my head, little beads of perspiration on my forehead, and my eyes
always gazing into the air, so that I stumbled over the cobbles and
knocked against doorsteps. All these things had to do with Miss
Maddison's parly, and it was always her party that marked the
beginning of them for us; she waited for the fine weather, and so
soon as it came the invitations were sent out, the flower-beds were
trimmed, the little green wooden seats under the mulberry tree were
cleaned, and Poupee, the black poodle, was clipped.
It happened this year that Miss Maddison gave her party during the
very week that Mr. and Mrs. Cole went to Drymouth. She sent out her
invitations only three days before the great event, because the
summer had come with so fine a rush. "Master Jeremy and the Misses
Cole. . . Would they give Miss Maddison the pleasure . . . ?" Yes,
of course they would. Aunt Amy would take them.
On the morning of the great day Jeremy poured the contents of his
watering-can upon Aunt Amy's head. It was a most unfortunate
accident, arranged obviously by a malignant fate. Jeremy had been
presented with a pot of pinks, and these, every morning, he most
faithfully watered. He had a bright-red watering-can, bought with
his own money, and, because it held more water than the pinks
needed, he was in the daily habit of emptying the remnant in a
glittering shower out of the pantry window on to the bed nearest the
garden wall. Upon this morning someone called him; he turned his
head; the water still flowed, and Aunt Amy, hatless and defenceless,
received it as it tumbled with that sudden rush which always seizes
a watering-can at its last gasp. Jeremy was banished into his
bedroom, where he employed the sunny morning in drawing pictures of
Aunt Amy as a witch upon the wallpaper. For doing this he was caned
by Aunt Amy herself with a ruler, and at the end of the operation he
laughed and said she hadn't hurt him at all. In return for this
impertinence he was robbed, at luncheon, of his pudding--which was,
of course, on that very day, marmalade pudding--and then, Mary
being discovered putting some of hers into a piece of paper, to be
delivered to him in due course, they were both stood in different
corners of the room "until you say you're sorry."
When the jingle arrived at three o'clock they had still not made
this acknowledgment, and Jeremy said he never would, "not if he
lived till he was ninety-nine." At quarter past three Jeremy might
have been seen sitting up very straight in the jingle, his face
crimson from washing and temper. He was wearing his new sailor suit,
which tickled him and was hot and sticky; he sat there devoting the
whole of his energies to the business of hating Aunt Amy.
As I have said, he had never hated anyone before, and he was
surprised at the glow of virtuous triumph that this new emotion
spread over his body. He positively loved to hate Aunt Amy, and as
Parkes, the pony, slowly toiled up the hill to the Cathedral, he sat
stiff and proud with an almost humorous anger. Then, as they turned
over the hot shining cobbles into the Close and saw the green trees
swimming in the sun, he turned his mind to the party. What games
would they play? Who would be there? What would there be for tea ?
He felt creeping over him the stiff shyness that always comes when
one is approaching a party, and he wished that the first handshaking
and the first plunge into the stares of the critical guests might be
over. But he did not really care. His hatred of Aunt Amy braced him
up; when one was capable of so fine and manly an emotion as this
hatred, one need not bother about fellow-guests. Then the jingle
stopped outside a house immediately opposite the great west-end door
of the Cathedral; in the little hall Miss Maddison was standing, and
from the glittering garden behind her the sun struck through the
house into the shadowed street.
Jeremy's public manners were, when he pleased, quite beautiful--"the
true, old-fashioned courtesy," gushing friends of the Cole family
used to say. He was preparing to be very polite now, when suddenly
the voice of the Dean's Ernest ordering people about in the garden
struck upon his ear. He had not seen the Dean's Ernest for nearly
three months, for the very good reason that that gentleman had been
experiencing his first term at his private school. Last year young
Ernest and Jeremy had been, on the whole, friendly, although Ernest,
who was nine, and strong for his age, had always patronised. And
now? Jeremy longed to inform his friend that he also shortly would
proceed to school, that in another six months' time there would be
practically no difference between them. Nevertheless, at the present
moment there was a difference. . . Ernest had a whole term to his
New arrivals gently insinuated the Cole family into the garden.
Helen, proud and cold, Mary, blinking and nervous, stood pressed
close together whilst other little girls stared and giggled, moved
forward and then backward again, until suddenly Canon Lasker's
Emily, who was fifteen and had such long legs that she was known as
"the Giraffe," came up and said: "Isn't it hot! Do you play croquet?
Please-do! I'll have--the--blue ball. . ." And the Coles were
Meanwhile, Aunt Amy had said: "Now, Jeremy, dear, run about and make
friends." Which so deeply infuriated him that he choked. Oh!
supposing the Dean's Ernest had heard her! . . .
And he had! A mocking voice behind him said: "Now, Jeremy, dear--"
Jeremy turned round and beheld the Dean's Ernest mockingly waiting
his retort. And he could not retort. No words would come, and he
could only stand there, his cheeks flushed, aware that Ernest had
grown and grown during those three months, that he wore a straw hat
with a black-and-red ribbon upon it, that round his long ugly neck
was a stiff white collar, and across his waistcoat a thick silver
"Hallo!" said Jeremy.
"Hallo!" said the new Ernest scornfully.
A long pause.
Then Ernest, turning on his heel, said to someone behind him: "Let's
get away from all these girls!" The tears burnt in Jeremy's eyes,
hot and salt. He clenched his fists and gazed upon a garden that
swam in a mist of tears and sunlight. He felt a sudden strange
impulse of family affection. He would like to have gathered behind
him his father and mother, Mary, Helen, Hamlet, Uncle Samuel--yes,
and even Aunt Amy, arid to have advanced not only upon Ernest, but
upon the whole Dean's family. It would have given him great pleasure
to have set his teeth into the fat legs of the Dean himself; he
would gladly have torn the hat from the head of Mrs. Dean. . . Upon
Ernest there was no torture he would not employ.
He would get even; he resolved that before he left that house he
would have his revenge.
Kind Miss Maddison, tripping along and seeing him as a pathetic
little boy in a sailor suit without guile or malice, swept him into
an "I spy" party composed for the most part of small girls who fell
down and cried and said they would go home.
Jeremy, hiding behind a tree, watched the thin back of Ernest as it
lifted itself autocratically above two small boys who looked up to
him with saucer-eyes. Ernest was obviously talking about his school.
Jeremy, lost in the contemplation of his vengeance, forgot his game,
and was taken prisoner with the greatest of ease. He did not care.
The afternoon was spoilt for him. He was not even hungry. Why could
he not go to school to-morrow, and then challenge Ernest to combat?
But he might challenge Ernest without going to school. . . He had
never fought a real fight, but the sight of his enemy's thin, peaky
body was encouraging.
"Now, Jeremy, dear," said Miss Maddison, "it's your turn to
hide. . ."
Soon they all went in to tea. Everyone was thoroughly at home by
this time, and screamed and shouted quite in the most natural manner
in the world. The long table stretched down the whole room, almost
from wall to wall; the sunlight played in pools and splashes upon
the carpet and the flowers and the pictures. There was every sort of
thing to eat--thin bread-and-butter rolled up into little curly
sandwiches, little cakes and big cakes, seed cakes and sugar cakes,
and, of course, saffron buns, jam in little shining dishes, and hot
buttered toast so buttery that, it dripped on to your fingers.
Jeremy sat next to Mary, and behind him hovered Aunt Amy. Only half
an hour ago how this would have angered him! To have her interfering
with him, saying: "Not two at a time, Jeremy," or "Pass the little
girl the sugar, Jeremy--remember your manners." or "Not so big a
piece, Jeremy." But now--he did not know. . . She was one of the
family, and he felt as though the Dean's Ernest had scorned her as
well as himself. Also Mary. He felt kind to Mary, and when she
whispered "Are you enjoying it, Jeremy?" he answered "Yes; are you?"
Not because he was really enjoying it, but because he knew that she
wanted him to say that.
He could see Ernest from where he sat, and he knew that Ernest was
laughing at him. He remembered that he had given Ernest three
splendid marbles, just before his departure to school, as a
keepsake. How he wished that he had kept them! He would never give
Ernest anything again except blows. Mary might be tiresome
sometimes, but she was his sister, and he greatly preferred her as a
girl to Ernest's sisters. He could see them now, greedy, ugly
things. . .
"Now, Jeremy, wipe your mouth," said Aunt Amy.
He obeyed at once.
Tea over, they all trooped out into the garden again. The evening
light now painted upon the little green lawn strange trembling
shadows of purple and grey; the old red garden wall seemed to have
crept forwards, as though it would protect the house and the garden
from the night; and a sky of the faintest blue seemed, with gentle
approval, to bless the quiet town fading into dusk beneath it. Over
the centre of the lawn the sun was still shining, and there it was
warm and light. But from every side the shadows stealthily crept
forward. A group of children played against the golden colour, their
white dresses patterns that formed figures and broke and formed
again. The Cathedral bell was ringing for evensong, and its notes
stole about the garden, and in and out amongst the children, as
though some guardian spirit watching over their safety counted their
Jeremy, feeling rather neglected and miserable, stood in the shadow
near the oak on the farther side of the lawn. He did not want to
play with those little girls, and yet he was hurt because he had not
been asked. The party had been a most miserable failure, and a year
ago it would have been such a success. He did not know that he was
standing now, in the middle of his eighth year, at the parting of
the ways; that only yesterday he had been a baby, and that he would
never be a baby again. He did not feel his independence--he felt
only inclined to tears and a longing, that he would never, never
confess, even to himself, that someone should come and comfort him!
Nevertheless, even at this very moment, although he did not know it,
he, a free, independent man, was facing the world for the first time
on his own legs. His mother might have realised it had she been
there--but she was not. Mary, however, was there, and in the very
middle of her game, searching for him, as she was always doing, she
found him desolate under the shadow of the oak. She slipped away,
and, coming up to him with the shyness and fear that she always had
when she approached him, because she loved him so much and he could
so easily hurt her, said:
"Aren't you coming to play, Jeremy?"
"I don't care," he answered gruffly.
"It isn't any fun without you." She paused, and added: "Would you
mind if I stayed here too?"
"I'd rather you played," he said; and yet he was comforted by her,
determined, as he was, that she should never know it!
"I'd rather stay," she said, and then gazed, with that melancholy
stare through her large spectacles that always irritated Jeremy, out
across the garden.
"I'm all right," he said again; "only my stocking tickles, and I
can't get at it--it's the back of my leg. I say, Mary, don't you
hate the Dean's Ernest?"
"Yes, I do," she answered fervently, although she had not thought
about him at all--enough for her that Jeremy should hate him! Then
she gasped: "Here he comes--"
He was walking towards them with a swagger of his long yellow neck
and his thin leggy body that Jeremy found especially offensive.
Jeremy "bristled," and Mary was conscious of that bristling.
"Hallo!" said Ernest.
"Hallo!" said Jeremy.
"What rot these silly games are!" said Ernest. "Why can't they have
something decent, like cricket?"
Jeremy had never played cricket, so he said nothing. "At our
school," said Ernest, "we're very good at cricket. We win all our
"I don't care about your school," said Jeremy, breathing through his
The Dean's Ernest was obviously surprised by this; he had not
expected it. His pale neck began to flush.
"Look here, young Cole," he said, "none of your cheek."
This was a new dialect to Jeremy, who had no friends who went to
school. All he said, however, breathing more fiercely than before,
was: "I don't care--"
"Oh, don't you?" said Ernest. "Now, look here--" Then he paused,
apparently uncertain, for a moment, of his courage. The sight of
Mary's timorous anxiety, however, reassured him, and he continued:
"It's all right for you, this sort of thing. You ought to be in the
nursery with your old podge-faced nurse. Kids like you oughtn't to
be allowed out of their prams."
"I don't care," said Jeremy again, seeing in front of him the whole
family of the Reverend Dean. "Your school isn't much anyway, I
expect, and I'm going to school in September, and I'll wear just the
same things as you do and--"
He wanted to comment upon the plain features of Ernest's sisters,
but his gentlemanly courtesy restrained him. He paused for breath,
and Ernest seized his advantage.
"You have to have an old aunt to look after you anyway--an ugly old
aunt. I wouldn't have an old aunt always hanging over me--'Now,
Jeremy dear--' 'Blow your nose, Jeremy dear--' 'Wipe your feet,
Jeremy dear.' Look at the things she wears and the way she walks. If
I did have to have an aunt always I'd have a decent one, not an old
What happened to Jeremy at the moment? Did he recollect that only a
few hours before he had been hating Aunt Amy with a fine frenzy of
hatred? For nearly a week he had been chafing under her restraint,
combating her commands, defying her orders. He had been seeing her
as everything that the Dean's Ernest had but now been calling her.
Now he only saw her as someone to be defended, someone who was his,
someone even who depended on him for support. He would have
challenged a whole world of Deans in her defence.
He said something, but no one could hear his words; then he sprang
upon the startled Ernest.
It was not a very distinguished combat; it was Jeremy's first
battle, and he knew at that time nothing of the science of fighting.
The Dean's Ernest, in spite of his term at school, also knew
nothing--and the Dean's Ernest was a coward. . .
It lasted but a short while, for Mary, after the first pause of
horrified amazement (aware only that Ernest was twice as big as her
Jeremy), ran to appeal to authority. Jeremy himself was aware
neither of time nor prudence. He realised immediately that Ernest
was a coward, and this realisation filled him with joy and
happiness. He had seized Ernest by his long yellow neck, and, with
his other hand, he struck at eyes and cheeks and nose. He did not
secure much purchase for his blows because their bodies were very
close against one another, but he felt the soft flesh yield and
suddenly something wet against his hand which must, he knew, be
blood. And all the time he was thinking to himself: "I'll teach him
to say things about Aunt Amy! Aunt Amy's mine! I'll teach him! He
shan't touch Aunt Amy! He shan't touch Aunt Amy! . . ."
Ernest meanwhile kicked and kicked hard; he also tried to bite
Jeremy's hand and also to pull his hair. But his own terror
handicapped him; every inch of his body was alarmed, and that alarm
prevented the freedom of his limbs. Then when he felt the blood from
his nose trickle on to his cheek his resistance was at an end; panic
flooded over him like water. He broke away and flung himself howling
on to the ground, kicking his legs and screaming:
"It isn't fair! He's bitten me! Take him away! Take him away!"
Jeremy himself was no beautiful sight. His hair was wild, his white
navy collar crumpled and soiled, the buttons of his tunic torn, his
stocking down, and his legs already displaying purple bruises. But
he did not care; he was well now; he was no longer unhappy.
He had beaten Ernest and he was a man; he had risen victorious from
his first fight, and Authority might storm as it pleased. Authority
soon arrived, and there were, of course, many cries and
exclamations. Ernest was led away still howling; Jeremy, stubborn,
obstinate, and silent, was also led away. . .. A disgraceful
Aunt Amy, of course, was disgusted. Couldn't leave the boy alone one
minute but he must misbehave himself, upset the party, be the little
ruffian that he always was. She had always said that his mother
spoiled him, and here were the fruits of that foolishness. How could
she ever say enough to Miss Maddison? Her delightful party
completely ruined!. . . Shocking!. . . Shocking!. . . Too terrible!.
. . And Ernest, such a quiet, well-behaved little boy as a rule. It
must have been Jeremy who. . .
While they were waiting in the decent dusk of Miss Maddison's
sitting-room for a cleaned and chastened Jeremy, Mary touched her
aunt's arm and whispered in her nervous voice:
"Aunt Amy--Jeremy hit Ernest because he said rude things about you."
"About me! Nonsense, child."
"No, but it was, really. Ernest said horrid things about you, and
then Jeremy hit him."
"About me? What things?"
"That you were ugly," eagerly continued Mary--never a tactful child,
and intent now only upon Jeremy's reputation--"and wore ugly
clothes and horrid things. He did really. I heard it all."
Aunt Amy was deeply moved. Her conceit, her abnormal all-embracing
conceit was wounded--yes, even by so insignificant a creature as the
Dean's Ernest; but she was also unexpectedly touched. She would have
greatly preferred not to be touched, but there it was, she could not
help herself. She did not know that, in all her life before, anyone
had ever fought for her, and that now of all champions in the world
fate should have chosen Jeremy, who was, she had supposed, her
enemy--never her defender!
And that horrid child of the Dean--she had always disliked him, with
his long yellow neck and watery eyes! How dared he say such things
about her! He had always been rude to her. She remembered once--
Jeremy arrived, washed, brushed, and obstinate. He would, of course,
be scolded to within an inch of his life, and he did not care. He
had seen the Dean's Ernest howling and kicking on the ground; he had
soiled his straw hat for him, dirtied his stiff white collar for
him, and made his nose bleed. He glared at his aunt (one eye was
rapidly disappearing beneath a blue bruise), and he was proud,
triumphant, and very tired.
Farewells were made--again many apologies--"Nothing, I assure you,
nothing. Boys will be boys, I know," from Miss Maddison.
Then they were seated in the jingle, Jeremy next to Aunt Amy,
awaiting his scolding. It did not come. Aunt Amy tried; she knew
what she should say. She should be very angry, disgusted, ashamed.
She could not be any of these things. That horrid boy had insulted
her. She was touched and proud as she had never been touched and
proud in her life before.
Jeremy waited, and then as nothing came his weariness grew upon him.
As the old fat pony jogged along, as the evening colours of street
and sky danced before him, sleep came nearer and nearer.
He nodded, recovered, nodded and nodded again. His body pressed
closer to Aunt Amy's, leaned against her. His head rested upon her
After a moment's pause she put her arm round him--so, holding him,
she stared, defiantly and crossly, upon the world.
Always in after years Jeremy remembered that party of Miss
Maddison's, not because it had been there that he had won his first
fight, but for the deeper reason that from that day his life
received a new colour, woven into the texture of it; even now when
he thinks of those hours that followed Miss Maddison's party he
catches his breath and glances around him to see whether everything
is safe. The children, on arriving home that evening, found that
their father and mother had already returned from Drymouth. Jeremy,
sleepy though he was, rushed to his mother, held her hand, explained
his black eye, and then suddenly, in a way that he had, fell asleep,
there as he was, and had to be carried up to bed.
When he awoke next morning his first thought was of his mother. He
did not know why; she was so definitely part of the background of
his daily life that he felt too sure of her continual and abiding
presence to need deliberate thought of her. But this morning he
wanted to get up quickly and find her. Perhaps her absence had made
him feel more insecure, but there had also been something that
night, something in her face, something in the touch of her hand.
And the other thing that he realised was that summer had truly come.
He knew at once that hot smell that pressed even through the closed
window-panes of his room; the bars and squares of light on the floor
when he jumped out of bed and stood upon them seemed to burn the
soles of his feet, and the rays of light on the ceiling quivered as
only summer sunlight can quiver. The two windows of his bedroom
looked back behind Polchester over fields and hedges to a dim purple
line of wood. A tiny stream ran through the first two fields, and
this little river was shining now with a white hot light that had
yet the breeze of the morning ruffling it. He ran to his window and
opened it. Beyond the wall that bordered their house was a little
brown path, and down this path, even as he watched, a company of
cows were slowly wandering along. Already they were flapping their
ears lazily in anticipation of the flies, and the boy who was
driving them was whistling as one only whistles on a summer morning.
He could see the buttercups, too, in the nearest field; they seemed
to have sprung to life in the space of a night. Someone was pulling
the rope of a well somewhere and someone else was pouring water out
upon some stone court. Even as he watched, a bee came blundering up
to his window, hesitated for a moment, and then went whirring off
again, and through all the sun and glitter and the sparkle of the
little river there was a scent of pinks, and mignonette, and even,
although it could not really be so, of the gorse. The sky was a pale
white blue, so pale that it was scarcely any colour at all and a few
puffs of clouds, dead white like the purest smoke, hovered in
dancing procession, above the purple wood. The sun burnt upon his
bare feet and his head and his hands.
This coming of summer meant so much more to him than merely the
immediate joy of it--it meant Rafiel and Cow Farm and the Cove and
green pools with crabs in them, and shrimping and paddling and
riding home in the evening on haycarts, and drinking milk out of tin
cans, and cows and small pigs, and peeling sticks and apples, and
collecting shells, and fishermen's nets, and sandwiches, and saffron
buns mixed with sand, and hot ginger beer, and one's ears peeling
with the sun, and church on Sunday with the Rafiel sheep cropping
the grass just outside the church door, and Dick Marriott, the
fisherman, and slipping along over the green water, trailing one's
fingers in the water, in his boat, and fishy smells by the sea-wall,
and red masses of dog-fish on the pier, and the still cool feel of
the farmhouse sheets just after getting into bed--all these things
and a thousand more the coming of summer meant to Jeremy.
But this morning he did not feel his customary joy. Closing his
window and dressing slowly, he wondered what was the matter. What
could it be? It was not his eye--certainly it was a funny colour
this morning and it hurt when you touched it, but he was proud of
that. No, it was not his eye. And it was not the dog, who came into
his room, after scratching on the door, and made his usual morning
pretence of having come for any other purpose than to see his friend
and master, first looking under the bed, then going up to the window
pretending to gaze out of it (which he could not do), barking, then
rolling on a square of sunlit carpet, and, after that, lying on his
back, his legs out stiff, his ridiculous "Imperial" pointed and
ironical, then suddenly turning, with a twist on his legs, rushing
at last up to Jeremy, barking at him, laughing at him, licking him,
and even biting his stockings--last of all seizing a bedroom
slipper and rushing wildly into the schoolroom with it.
No, there was nothing the matter with Hamlet. Nor was there anything
the matter with Miss Jones, free, happily, from her customary
neuralgia, and delighted with the new number of the Church Times.
Nor was it the breakfast, which to-day included bacon and strawberry
jam. Nor, finally, was it Mary or Helen, who, pleased with the
summer weather (and Mary additionally pleased with the virtues of
Lance as minutely recorded in the second volume of "The Pillars of
the House"), were both in the most amiable of tempers. No, it must
be something inside Jeremy himself.
He waited until the end of breakfast to ask his question:
"Can I go and see Mother, Miss Jones?"
Mary and Helen looked across at him inquisitively.
"What do you want to see your mother for now, Jeremy? You always see
her at twelve o'clock." Miss Jones pushed her spectacles lower upon
her nose and continued her reading.
"I want to."
"Well, you can't now."
"Because I say not--that's enough."
But Jeremy was gentle to-day. He got off his chair, went round to
Miss Jones's chair, and, looking up at her out of his bruised eye,
said in the most touching voice:
"But, please, Miss Jones, I want to. I really do."
Then she said what he had known all the time was coming:
"I'm afraid you won't see your mother to-day, dear. She's not well.
She's in bed."
"Why? Is she ill?"
"She's tired after her journey yesterday, I expect."
He said no more.
He tried during the whole of that day not to think of his mother,
and he found that, for the first time in his life, he could do
nothing else but think of her. During the morning he sat very
silently over his lessons, did all that he was told, did not once
kick Mary under the table, nor ask Miss Jones to sharpen his pencil,
nor make faces at Hamlet. Once or twice, in a way that he had, he
leaned his head on his hand as though he were an ancient professor
with a whole library of great works behind him, and when Miss Jones
asked him whether he had a headache he said: "No, thank you,"
instead of seizing on the wonderful opportunity of release that such
a question offered him. When they all went for a walk in the
afternoon, he sprang for a moment into something of his natural
vivacity. They came upon a thin, ill-shaven tramp dressed as a
sailor, with a patch over one eye, producing terrible discordance
from a fiddle. This individual held in one hand a black tin cup, and
at his side crouched a mongrel terrier, whose beaten and dishevelled
appearance created at once hopes in the breast of the flamboyant
Hamlet. This couple were posted just outside Mr. Poole's second-hand
bookshop, close to the "2d." box, and for a moment Jeremy was
enthralled. He wanted to give the hero his week's penny, and upon
finding that his week's penny was not, owing to sweet purchases on
the previous day, he began elaborate bargainings with Miss Jones as
to the forestalling of future pennies. Meanwhile, Hamlet leapt, with
every sign of joyful expectation, upon the pauper dog; the blind
sailor began to hit wildly about with his stick, Mr. Poole's "2d."
box was upset, and the sailor's black patch fell off, revealing him
as the possessor of two beautiful eyes, just like any other
gentleman, and a fine, vigorous stock of the best Glebeshire
profanities. Mr. Poole, an irascible old man, himself came out, a
policeman approached, two old ladies from the Close, well known to
Jeremy, were shocked by the tramp, and the Cathedral bell, as though
it had just awoken up to its real responsibilities, suddenly began
All this was, of course, delightful to Jeremy, and offered so many
possible veins of interest that he could have stayed there for
hours. He wanted very badly to ask the sailor why he covered up a
perfectly wholesome eye with a black patch, and he would have liked
to see what Hamlet could do in the direction of eating up the
scattered remnants of Mr. Poole's "2d." box; but he was dragged away
by the agitated hand of Miss Jones, having to console himself
finally with a wink from the august policeman, who, known throughout
Polchester as Tom Noddy, was a kindly soul and liked gentlemanly
little boys, but persecuted the street sort.
For a moment this exciting adventure carried him away, and he even
listened for a minute or two to Mary, who, seizing her opportunity,
began hurriedly: "Once upon a time there lived a sailor, very thin,
and he never washed, and he had a dog and a violin--" But soon he
remembered, and sighed and said: "Oh, bother, Mary!" and then walked
on by himself. And still, all through that hot afternoon, when even
the Rope Walk did not offer any shade, and when the Pol was of so
clear a colour that you could see trout and emerald stones and
golden sand as under glass, and when Hamlet was compelled to run
ahead and find a piece of shade and lie there stretched, panting,
with his tongue out, until they came up to him--even all these signs
of a true and marvellous summer did not relieve Jeremy of his
burden. Something horrible was going to happen. He knew it with such
certainty that he wondered how Mary and Helen could be so gaily
light- hearted, and despised them for their carelessness. This was
connected in some way with the hot weather; he felt as though, were
a cold breeze suddenly to come, and rain to fall, he would be happy
again. There had been once a boy, older than he, called Jimmy Bain,
a fat, plump boy, who had lived next door to the Coles. Whenever he
had the opportunity he bullied Jeremy, pinching his arms, putting
pins into his legs, and shouting suddenly into his ears. Jeremy, who
had feared Johnny Bain, had always "felt" the stout youth's arrival
before he appeared. The sky had seemed to darken, the air to
thicken, the birds to gather in the "rooky" wood.
He had trembled and shaken, his teeth had chattered and his throat
grown dry for no reason at all. As he had once felt about Johnny
Bain so now he felt about life in general. Something horrible was
going to happen. . .. Something to do with Mother. . .. As he came
up the road to their house his heart beat so that he could not hear
his own steps.
They entered the house, and at once even Mary, preoccupied as she
was with her story about the sailor, noticed that something was
"Rose! Rose!" she called out loudly.
"Hush!" said Miss Jones. "You must be quiet, dear."
"Why?" said Mary. "I want Rose to--"
"Your mother isn't at all well, dear. I--"
And she was interrupted by Rose, who, coming suddenly downstairs,
with a face very different from her usual cheerful one, said
something to Miss Jones in a low voice.
Miss Jones gave a little cry: "So soon? . . . A girl. . . ." And
then added: "How is she ?"
Then Rose said something more, which the children could not catch,
"Very quietly, children," said Miss Jones, in a voice that trembled;
"and you mustn't leave the schoolroom till I tell you. Your mother--
" She broke off as though she were afraid of showing emotion.
"What is it?" said Jeremy in a voice that seemed new to them all--
older, more resolute, strangely challenging for so small a boy.
"Your mother's very ill, Jeremy, dear. You must be a very good boy,
and help your sisters."
"Mightn't I go for just a minute?"
"No, certainly not."
They all went upstairs. Then, in the schoolroom, Miss Jones said an
amazing thing. She said:
"I must tell you all, children, that you've got a new little
"A new sister!" screamed Mary.
Helen said: "Oh, Miss Jones!"
Jeremy said: "What did she come for just now, when Mother is ill?"
"God wanted her to come, dear," said Miss Jones. "You must all be
very kind to her, and do all you can--"
She was interrupted by a torrent of questions from the two girls.
What was she like? What was her name? Could she walk? Where did she
come from? Did Father and Mother find her in Drymouth? And so on.
Jeremy was silent. At last he said: "We don't want any more girls
"Better than having another boy," said Helen.
But he would not take up the challenge. He sat on his favourite seat
on the window-ledge, dragged up a reluctant Hamlet to sit with him,
and gazed out down into the garden that was misty now in the evening
golden light, the trees and the soil black beneath the gold, the
rooks slowly swinging across the sty above the farther side of the
road. Hamlet wriggled. He always detested that he should be cuddled,
and he would press first with one leg, then with another, against
Jeremy's coat; then he would lie dead for a moment, suddenly
springing, with his head up, in the hope that the surprise would
free him; then he would turn into a snake, twisting his body under
Jeremy's arm, and dropping with a flop on to the floor. All these
manoeuvres to-day availed him nothing; Jeremy held his neck in a
vice, and dug his fingers well into the skin. Hamlet whined, then
lay still, and, in the midst of indignant reflections against the
imbecile tyrannies of man, fell, to his own surprise, asleep.
Jeremy sat there whilst the dusk fell and all the beautiful lights
were drawn from the sky and the rooks went to bed. Rose came to draw
the curtains, and then he left his window-seat, dragged out his toy
village and pretended to play with it. He looked at his sisters.
They seemed quite tranquil. Helen was sewing, and Mary deep in "The
Pillars of the House." The clock ticked. Hamlet, lost in sleep,
snored and sputtered; the whole world pursued its ordinary way. Only
in himself something was changed; he was unhappy, and he could not
account for his unhappiness. It should have been because his mother
was ill, and yet she had been ill before, and he had been only
disturbed for a moment. After all, grown-up people always got well.
There had been Aunt Amy, who had had measles, and the wife of the
Dean, who had had something, and even the Bishop once. . . But now
he was frightened. There was some perception, coming to him now for
the first time in his life, that this world was not absolutely
stable--that people left it, people came into it, that there was
change and danger and something stronger. . . . Gradually this
perception was approaching him as though it had been some dark
figure who had entered the house, and now, with muffled step and
veiled face, was slowly climbing the stairs towards him. He only
knew that his mother could not go; she could not go. She was part of
his life, and she would always be so. Why, now, when he thought of
it, he could do nothing without his mother; every day he must tell
her what he had done and what he was going to do, must show her what
he had acquired and must explain to her what he had lost, must go to
her when he was hurt and when he was frightened and when he was
glad. . . And of all these things he had never even thought until
As he sat there the house seemed to grow ever quieter and quieter
about him. He felt as though he would have liked to have gone to the
schoolroom door and listened. It was terrible imagining the house
behind the door--quite silent--so that the clocks had stopped, and
no one walked upon the stairs and no one laughed down in the pantry.
He wished that they would make more noise in the schoolroom. He
upset the church and the orchard and Mrs. Noah.
But the silence after the noise was worse than ever.
Soon Miss Jones took the two girls away to her room to fit on some
clothes, an operation which Helen adored and Mary hated. Jeremy was
left alone, and he was, at once, terribly frightened. He knew that
it was of no use to be frightened, and he tried to go on with his
game, putting the church with the apple trees around it and the Noah
family all sleeping under the trees, but at every moment something
compelled him to raise his head and see that no one was there, and
he felt so small and so lonely that he would like to have hidden
Then when he thought of his mother all alone and the house so quiet
around her and no one able to go to her he felt so miserable that he
turned round from his village and stared desolately into the
fireplace. The thought of his new sister came to him, but was
dismissed impatiently. He did not want a new sister--Mary and Helen
were trouble enough as it was--and he felt, with an old weary air,
that it was time, indeed, that he was off to school. Nothing was the
same. Always new people. Never any peace.
He was startled by the sound of the opening door, and, turning, saw
his father. His father and he were never very easy together. Mr.
Cole had very little time for the individual, being engaged in
saving souls in the mass, and his cheery, good-tempered Christianity
had a strange, startling fashion of proving unavailing before some
single human case.
He did not understand children except when they were placed in
masses before him. His own children, having been named, on their
arrival, "Gifts from God," had kept much of that incorporeal
atmosphere throughout their growing years.
But to-night he was a different man. As he looked at his small son
across the schoolroom floor there was terror in his eyes. Nothing
could have been easier or more simple than his lifelong assumption
that, because God was in His heaven all was right with the world. He
had given thanks every evening for the blessings that he had
received and every morning for the blessings that he was going to
receive, and he had had no reason to complain. He had the wife, the
children, the work that he deserved, and his life had been so hemmed
in with security that he had had no difficulty in assuring his
congregation on every possible occasion that God was good and far-
seeing, and that "not one sparrow . . ."
And now lie was threatened--threatened most desperately. Mrs. Cole
was so ill that it was doubtful whether she would live through the
night. He was completely helpless. He had turned from one side to
another, simply demanding an assurance from someone or something
that she could not be taken from him. No one could give him that
assurance. Life without her would be impossible; he would not know
what to do about the simplest matter. Life without her. . .oh! but
it was incredible!
Like a blind man he had groped his way up to the schoolroom. He did
not want to see the children, nor Miss Jones, but he must be moving,
must be doing something that would break in upon that terrible
ominous pause that the whole world seemed to him, at this moment, to
Then he saw Jeremy. He said:
"Oh! Where's Miss Jones?"
"She's in the next room," said Jeremy, looking at his father.
"Oh!" He began to walk up and down the schoolroom. Jeremy left his
toy village and stood up.
"Is Mother better, Father?"
He stopped in his walk and looked at the boy as though he were
trying to recollect who he was.
"No. . . No--that is--No, my boy, I'm afraid not."
"Is she very bad, Father--like the Dean's wife when she had fever?"
His father didn't answer. He walked to the end of the room, then
turned suddenly as though he had seen something there that terrified
him, and hurried from the room.
Jeremy, suddenly left alone, had a desperate impulse to scream that
someone must come, that he was frightened, that something horrible
was in the house. He stood up, staring at the closed door, his face
white, his eyes large and full of fear. Then he flung himself down
by Hamlet and, taking him by the neck, whispered:
"I'm frightened! I'm frightened! Bark or something! . . . There's
Next morning Mrs. Cole was still alive. There had been no change
during the night; to-day, the doctor said, would be the critical
day. To-day was Sunday, and Mr. Cole took his morning service at his
church as usual. He had been up all night; he looked haggard and
pale, still wearing that expression as of a man lost in a world that
he had always trusted. But he would not fail in his duty. "When two
or three are gathered together in my name. . .." Perhaps God would
It was a day of wonderful heat for May. No one had ever remembered
so hot a day at so early a time of year. The windows of the church
were open, but no breeze blew through the aisles. The relentless
blazing blue of the sky penetrated into the cool shadows of the
church, and it was as though the congregation sat there under
shimmering glass. The waves of light shifted, rose and fell above
the bonnets and hats and bare heads, and all the little choir boys
fell asleep during the sermon.
The Cole family did not fall asleep. They sat with pale faces and
stiff backs staring at their father and thinking about their mother.
Mary and Helen were frightened; the house was so strange, everyone
spoke in whispers, and, on the way into church, many ladies had
asked them how their mother was.
They felt important as well as sad. But Jeremy did not feel
important. He had not heard the ladies and their questions--he would
not have cared if he had. People had always called him "a queer
little boy," simply because he was independent and thought more than
he spoke. Nevertheless, he had always in reality been normal enough
until now. To-day he was really "queer," was conscious for the first
time of the existence of a world whose adjacence to the real world
was, in after days, to trouble him so often and to complicate life
for him so grievously. The terror that had come down upon him when
his father had left him seemed to-day utterly to soak through into
the very heart of him. His mother was going to die unless something
or somebody saved her. What was dying? Going away, he had always
been told, with a golden harp, to sing hymns in a foreign country.
But to-day the picture would not form so easily. There was silence
and darkness and confusion about this Death. His mother was going,
against her will, and no one could tell him whither she was going.
If he could only stop her dying, force God to leave her alone, to
leave her with them all as she had been before. . .
He fixed his eyes upon his father, who climbed slowly into his
pulpit and gave out the text of his sermon. To-day he would talk
about the sacrifice of Isaac. "Abraham, as his hearers would
remember . . ." and so on.
Jeremy listened, and gradually there grew before his eyes the figure
of a strange and terrible God. This was no new figure. He had never
thought directly about God, but for a very long time now he had had
Him in the background of his life as Polchester Town Hall was in the
background. But now he definitely and actively figured to himself
this God, this God Who was taking his mother away and was intending
apparently to put her into some dark place where she would know
nobody. It must be some horrible place, because his father looked so
frightened, which he would not look if his mother was simply going,
with a golden harp, to sing hymns. Jeremy had always heard that this
God was loving and kind and tender, but the figure whom his father
was now drawing for the benefit of the congregation was none of
Mr. Cole spoke of a God just and terrible, but a God Who apparently
for the merest fancy put His faithful servant to terrible anguish
and distress, and then for another fancy, as light as the first,
spared him his sorrow. Mr. Cole emphasised the necessity for
obedience, the need for a willing surrender of anything that may be
dear to us, "because the love of God must be greater than anything
that holds us here on earth." But Jeremy did not listen to these
remarks; his mind was filled with this picture of a vast shadowy
figure, seated in the sky, his white beard flowing beneath eyes that
frowned from dark rocky eyebrows out upon people like Jeremy who,
although doing their best, were nevertheless at the mercy of any
whim that He might have. This terrible figure was the author of the
hot day, author of the silent house and the shimmering darkened
church, author of the decision to take his mother away from all that
she loved and put her somewhere where she would be alone and cold
and silent--"simply because He wishes. . ."
"From this beautiful passage," concluded Mr. Cole, "we learn that
God is just and merciful, but that He demands our obedience. We must
be ready at any instant to give up what we love most and best. . .."
Afterwards they all trooped out into the splendid sunshine.
There was a horrible Sunday dinner when--the silence and the roast
beef and Yorkshire pudding, and the dining- room quivering with
heat, emphasised every minute of the solemn ticking clock--Mary
suddenly burst into tears, choked over a glass of water, and was led
from the room. Jeremy ate his beef and rice pudding in silence,
except that once or twice in a low, hoarse voice whispered: "Pass
the mustard, please," or "Pass the salt, please." Miss Jones,
watching his white face and the tremble of his upper lip, longed to
say something to comfort him, but wisely held her peace.
After dinner Jeremy collected Hamlet and went to the conservatory.
This, like so many other English conservatories, was a desolate and
desperate little place, where boxes of sand, dry corded-looking
bulbs, and an unhappy plant or two languished, forgotten and
forlorn. It had been inherited with the house many years ago, and,
at first, the Coles had had the ambition to make it blaze with
colour, to grow there the most marvellous grapes, the richest
tomatoes, and even--although it was a little out of place in the
house of a clergyman of the Church of England--the most sinister of
orchids. Very quickly the little conservatory had been abandoned;
the heating apparatus had failed, the plants had refused to grow,
the tomatoes never appeared, the bulbs would not burst into colour.
For Jeremy the place had had always an indescribable fascination.
When he was very young there had been absolute trust that things
would grow; that every kind of wonder might spring before one's eyes
at any moment of the day. Then, when no wonder came, there had been
the thrill of the empty boxes of earth; the probing with one's
fingers to see what the funny-looking bulbs would be, and watching
the fronds of the pale vine. Afterwards, there was another
fascination--the fascination of some strange and sinister atmosphere
that he was much too young to define. The place, he knew, was
different from the rest of the house. It projected, conventionally
enough, from the drawing-room; but the heavy door with thick windows
of red glass shut it off from the whole world. Its rather dirty and
obscure windows looked over the same country that Jeremy's bedroom
window commanded. It also caught all the sun, so that in the summer
it was terribly hot. But Jeremy loved the heat. He was discovered
once by the scandalised Jampot quite naked dancing on the wooden
boards, his face and hands black with grime. No one could ever
understand "what he saw in the dirty place," and at one time he had
been forbidden to go there. Then he had cried and stamped and
shouted, so that he had been allowed to return. Amongst the things
that he saw there were the reflections that the outside world made
upon the glass; it would be stained, sometimes, with a strange,
green reflection of the fields beyond the wall; sometimes it would
catch the blue of the sky, or the red and gold of the setting sun;
sometimes it would be grey with waving shadows across its surface,
as though one were under water. Through the dirty windows the
country, on fine days, shone like distant tapestry, and in the glass
that covered the farther side of the place strange reflections were
caught: of cows, horses, walls, and trees--as though in a kind of
Another thing that Jeremy felt there, was that he was in a glass
cage swinging over the whole world. If one shut one's eyes one could
easily fancy that one was swinging out--swinging--swinging, and
that, suddenly perhaps, the cage would be detached from the house
and go sailing, like a magic carpet, to Arabia and Persia, and
anywhere you pleased to command.
To-day the glass burnt like fire, and the green fields came floating
up to bo transfigured there like running water. The house was
utterly still; the red glass door shut off the world. Jeremy sat,
his arms tightly round Hamlet's neck, on the dirty floor, a strange
mixture of misery, weariness, fright, and anger. There was already
in him a strain of impatience, so that he could not bear simply to
sit down and bewail something as, for instance, both his sisters
were doing at this moment. He must act. They could not bo happy
without their mother; he himself wanted her so badly that even now,
there in the flaming conservatory, if he had allowed himself to do
such a thing, he would have sat and cried and cried and cried. But
he was not going to cry. Mary and Helen could cry--they were girls;
he was going to do something.
As he sat there, getting hotter and hotter, there grew, larger and
larger before his eyes, the figure of Terrible God. That image of
Someone of a vast size sitting in the red-hot sky, his white beard
flowing, his eyes frowning, grew ever more and more awful. Jeremy
stared up into the glass, his eyes blinking, the sweat beginning to
pour down his nose, and yet his body shivering with terror. But he
had strung himself up to meet Him. Somehow he was going to save his
mother and hinder her departure. At an instant, inside him, he was
crying: "I want my mother! I want my mother!" like a little boy who
had been left in the street, and at the other, "You shan't have her!
You shan't have her!" as though someone were trying to steal his
Toy-Village or Hamlet away from him. His sleepy, bemused, heated
brain wandered, in dazed fashion, back to his father's sermon of
that morning. Abraham and Isaac! Abraham and Isaac!
Abraham and Isaac! Suddenly, as though through the flaming glass
something had been flung to him, an idea came. Perhaps God, that
huge, ugly God was teasing the Coles just as once He had teased
Abraham. Perhaps He wished to see whether they were truly obedient
as the Jampot had sometimes wished in the old days. He was only, it
might be, pretending. Perhaps He was demanding that one of them
should give up something--something of great value. Even Jeremy,
himself! . . .
If he had to sacrifice something to save his mother, what would be
the hardest sacrifice? Would it be his Toy- Village, or Mary or
Helen, or his soldiers, or his paint- box, or his gold fish that he
had in a bowl, or--No, of course, he had known from the first what
would be hardest--it would, of course, be Hamlet.
At this stage in his thinking he removed his arm from Hamlet's neck
and looked at the animal. At the same moment the light that had
filled the glass-house with a fiery radiance that burnt to the very
heart of the place was clouded. Above, in the sky, black, smoky
clouds, rolling in fold after fold, as though some demon were
flinging them out across the sky as one flings a carpet, piled up
and up, each one darker than the last. The light vanished; the
conservatory was filled with a thick, murky glow, and far across the
fields, from the heart of the black wood, came the low rumble of
thunder. But Jeremy did not hear that; he was busy with his
thoughts. lie stared at the dog, who was lying stretched out on the
dirty floor, his nose between his toes. It cannot truthfully be said
that the resolve that was forming in Jeremy's head had its birth in
any fine, noble idealisms. It was as though some bully, seizing his
best marbles, had said: "I'll give you these back if you hand over
this week's pocket-money!" His attitude to the bully could not
truthfully be described as one of homage or reverence; rather was it
one of anger and impotent rebellion.
He loved Hamlet, and he loved his mother more than Hamlet; but he
was not moved by sentiment. Grimly, his legs apart, his eyes shut
tight, as they were when he said his prayers, he made his challenge.
"I'll give you Hamlet if you don't take Mother--" A pause. "Only I
can't cut Hamlet's throat. But I could lose him, if that would do. .
. Only you must take him now--I couldn't do it to-morrow." His voice
began to tremble. He was frightened. He could feel behind his closed
eyes that the darkness had gathered. The place seemed to be filled
with rolling smoke, and the house was so terribly still!
He said again: "You can take Hamlet. He's my best thing. You can--
There followed then, with the promptitude of a most admirably
managed theatrical climax, a peal of thunder that seemed to strike
the house with the iron hand of a giant. Two more came, and then,
for a second, a silence, more deadly than all the earlier havoc.
Jeremy felt that God had leapt upon him. He opened his eyes, turned
as though to run, and then saw, with a freezing check upon the very
beat of his heart, that Hamlet was gone.
There was no Hamlet!
In that second of frantic unreasoning terror he received a
conviction of God that no rationalistic training in later years was
able to remove.
There was no Hamlet!--only the dusky dirty place with a black
torrent-driven world beyond it. With a rush as of a thousand whips
slashing the air, the rain came down upon the glass. Jeremy turned,
crying "Mother! Mother! I want Mother!" and flung himself at the red
glass doors; fumbling in his terror for the handle, he felt as
though the end of the world had come; such a panic had seized him as
only belongs to the most desperate of nightmares. God had answered
him. Hamlet was gone and in a moment Jeremy himself might be
seized . . .
He felt frantically for the door; he beat upon the glass.
He cried "Mother! Mother! Mother!"
He had found the door, but just as he turned the handle he was aware
of a new sound, heard distantly, through the rain. Looking back he
saw, from behind a rampart of dusty flower-pots, first a head, then
a rough tousled body, then a tail that might be recognised amongst
all the tails of Christendom.
Hamlet (who had trained himself to meet with a fine natural show of
bravery every possible violence save only thunder) crept ashamed,
dirty and smiling towards his master. God had only played His trick-
-Abraham and Isaac after all.
Then with a fine sense of victory and defiance Jeremy turned back,
looked up at the slashing rain, gazed out upon the black country, at
last seized Hamlet and dragging him out by his hind-legs, knelt
there in the dust and suffered himself to be licked until his face
was as though a snail had crossed over it.
The thunder passed. Blue pushed up into the grey. A cool air blew
through the world.
Nevertheless, deep in his heart, the terror remained. In that moment
he had met God face to face; he had delivered his first challenge.
P.S.--To the incredulous and cynical of heart authoritative evidence
can be shown to prove that it was on the evening of that Sunday that
Mrs. Cole turned the corner towards recovery.
TO COW FARM!
This next episode in Jeremy's year has, be it thoroughly understood,
no plot nor climax to it--it is simply the chronicle of an Odyssey.
Nor can it be said to have been anything but a very ordinary Odyssey
to the outside observer who, if he be a parent, will tell you that
going to the seaside with the family is the most bothering thing in
the world, and if he is a bachelor or old maid will tell you that
being in the same carriage with other people's children who are
going to the sea is an abominable business and the Law ought to have
something to say to it.
All through May, June and July Mrs. Cole slowly pulled back to
something like her natural health. The new infant, Barbara by name,
was as strong as a pony, and kicked and screamed and roared so that
the house was quite a new place. Her arrival had done a great deal
for Helen, whose gaze had hitherto been concentrated entirely upon
herself; now she suddenly discovered a new element in life, and it
was found that she was "ideal with a baby" and "a great help to
nurse." This made her more human, and Barbara, realising as babies
always do who understands and who does not, would behave with Helen
when she would behave with no one else. Mary could not be expected
to transfer her allegiance from Jeremy, and then Barbara was
frightened at her spectacles; Jeremy, having Hamlet, did not need a
There came a fine hot morning towards the end of July when Miss
Jones said, suddenly, in the middle of the history lesson: "Saturday
week we go to Rafiel." Jeremy choked, kicked Mary under the table,
and was generally impossible during the rest of the morning. It was
Miss Jones's fault; she should have chosen her occasion more
carefully. Before the evening Jeremy was standing in the corner for
drawing on his bedroom wall-paper enormous figures in the blackest
of black lead. These were to mark the days that remained before
Saturday week, and it was, Jeremy maintained, a perfectly natural
thing to do and didn't hurt the old wall-paper which was dirty
enough anyway, and Mother had said, long ago, he should have a new
Meanwhile, impossible to describe what Jeremy felt about it. Each
year Cow Farm and Rafiel had grown more wonderful; this was now the
fifth that would welcome them there. At first the horizon had been
limited by physical incapacity, then the third year had been rainy,
and the fourth--ah, the fourth! There had been very little the
matter with that! But this would be better yet. For one thing, there
had never been such a summer as this year was providing--a little
rain at night, a little breeze at the hottest hour of the day--
everything arranged on purpose for Jeremy's comfort. And then,
although he did not know it, this was to be truly the wonderful
summer for him, because after this he would be a schoolboy and, as
is well known, schoolboys believe in nothing save what they can see
with their own eyes and are told by other boys physically stronger
Five or six days before the great departure he began to worry
himself about his box. Two years ago he had been given a little
imitation green canvas luggage box exactly like his father's, except
that this one was light enough to carry in one's hand. Jeremy adored
this box and would have taken it out with him, had he been
permitted, on all his walks, but he had a way of filling it with
heavy stones and then asking Miss Jones to carry it for him; it had
therefore been forbidden.
But he would, of course, take it with him to Cow Farm, and it should
contain all the things that he loved best. At first "all the things
that he loved best" had not seemed so very numerous. There would,
first of all, of course, be the Hottentot, a black and battered
clown for whom he had long ceased to feel any affection, but he was
compelled by an irritating sense of loyalty to include it in the
party just as his mother might include some tiresome old maid
"because she had nowhere to go to, poor thing." After the Hottentot
there would be his paint-box, after the paint- box a blue writing-
case, after the writing-case the family photographs (Father, Mother,
Mary and Helen), after the photographs a toy pistol, after the
pistol Hamlet's ball (a worsted affair rendered by now shapeless and
incoherent), after the ball "Alice in Wonderland" (Mary's copy, but
she didn't know), after "Alice," "Herr Baby," after "Herr Baby" the
Prayer Book that Aunt Amy gave him last birthday, after the Prayer
Book some dried flowers which were to be presented to Mrs. Monk, the
lady of Cow Farm (this might be called carrying coals to Newcastle),
after the flowers a Bible, after the Bible four walnuts (very dry
and hard ones), after the walnuts some transfer papers, after the
transfer papers six marbles--the box was full and more than full,
and he had not included the hammer and nails that Uncle Samuel had
once given him, nor the cigarette-case (innocent now of cigarettes,
and transformed first into a home for walking snails, second a grave
for dead butterflies, third a mouse-trap), nor the butterfly net,
nor "Struuwelpeter," nor the picture of Queen Victoria cut from the
chocolate-box, nor--most impossible omission of all--the toy-
village. The toy-village! What must he do about that? Obviously
impossible to take it all--and yet some of it he must have. Mr. and
Mrs. Noah and the church, perhaps--or no, Mrs. Monk would want to
see the garden--it would never do not to show her the orchard with
the apple-trees, and then the youngest Miss Noah! She had always
seemed to Jeremy so attractive with her straight blue gown and hard
red cheeks. He must show her to Mrs. Monk. And the butcher's shop,
and then the sheep, and the dogs and the cows!
He was truly in despair. He sat on the schoolroom floor with his
possessions all around him. Only Helen was in the room, and he knew
that it would be no use to appeal to her--she had become so much
more conceited since Barbara's arrival--and yet he must appeal to
somebody, so he said to her very politely:
"Please, Helen, I've got my box and so many things to put into it
and it's nearly Saturday already--and I want to show the Noahs to
This would have been a difficult sentence for the most clear-headed
person to unravel, and Helen was, at that moment, trying to write a
letter to an aunt whom she had never seen and for whom she had no
sort of affection, so she answered him rather roughly:
"Oh, don't bother with your box, Jeremy. Can't you see I'm busy?"
"You may be busy," said Jeremy, rising indignantly to his feet, "but
I'm busy too, and my business is just as good as yours with your
silly old letter."
"Oh, don't bother!" said Helen, whereupon Jeremy crept behind her
and pinched her stocking. A battle followed, too commonplace in its
details to demand description here. It need only be said that Hamlet
joined in it and ran away with Helen's letter which had blown to the
ground during the struggle, and that he ate it, in his corner, with
great satisfaction. Then, when they were at their angriest, Helen
suddenly began to laugh which she did sometimes, to her own intense
annoyance, when she terribly wanted to be enraged, then Jeremy
laughed too, and Hamlet yielded up fragments of the letter--so that
all was well.
But the problem of the box was not solved--and, in the end, the only
part of the toy village that Mrs. Monk ever saw was the youngest
Miss Noah and one apple-tree for her to sit under.
The ritual of the journey to Cow Farm was, by this time, of course,
firmly established, and the first part of the ritual was that one
should wake up at three in the morning. This year, however, for some
strange mysterious reason Jeremy overslept himself and did not wake
up until eight o'clock, to find then that everyone was already busy
packing and brushing and rushing about, and that all his own most
sacred preparations must be squeezed into no time at all if he were
to be ready. Old Tom Collins's bus came along at twelve o'clock to
catch the one o'clock train, so that Jeremy might he considered to
have the whole morning for his labours, but that was not going to be
enough for him unless he was very careful. Grown-up people had such
a way of suddenly catching on to you and washing your ears, or
making you brush your teeth, or sitting you down in a corner with a
book, that circumnavigating them and outplotting them needed as much
nerve and enterprise as tracking Red Indians. When things were fined
down to the most naked accuracy he had apparently only two "jobs":
one to accustom Hamlet to walking with a "lead," the other to close
the green box; but of course Mary would want advice, and there
would, in all probability, be a dispute or two about property that
would take up the time.
It was indeed an eventful morning. Trouble began with Mary suddenly
discovering that she had lost her copy of "Alice in Wonderland" and
rushing to Jeremy's box and upsetting all Jeremy's things to see
whether it were there. Jeremy objected to this with an indignation
that was scarcely in the sequel justified, because Mary found the
book jammed against the paint-box and a dry walnut nestling in its
centre. She cried and protested and then suddenly, with the
disgusting sentimentality that was so characteristic of her,
abandoned her position altogether and said that Jeremy could have
it, and then cried again because he said he didn't want it.
Then Jeremy had to put everything back into the box again, and in
the middle of this Hamlet ran off with the red-checked Miss Noah
between his teeth and began to lick the blue off her dress, looking
up at the assembled company between every lick with a smile of the
loveliest satisfaction. Then, when the box was almost closed, it was
discovered by a shocked and virtuous Helen that Jeremy had left out
"There'll be one there," said Jeremy in an angry agitated whisper,
hoping to escape the attention of Miss Jones.
"What's that, Jeremy dear?" said Miss Jones.
"Oh, fancy, Miss Jones!" said Helen. "He's taking all his dirty old
toys and even his old clown, and he's leaving out his Bible."
"I'm not!" cried Jeremy, taking it and trying to squeeze it down
between three walnuts and the toy pistol.
"Oh, Jeremy clear, that's not the way to treat your Bible. I'll give
you some paper to wrap it up in, and you'd better take the things
out again and put it in at the bottom of the box." Yes, obviously he
would not be ready in time.
The matter of Hamlet and the "lead" was also very exhausting. Hamlet
had never, in all his days, been tied to anyone or anything. Of
course no one could tell what had been his history before he came
strolling on to the Cole horizon, and it may be that once as a very
small puppy he had been tied on to something. On the whole, that is
probable, his protests on this occasion being of a kind so vehement
as to argue some reminiscences behind them. Mrs. Cole had bought a
beautiful "lead" of black leather; of course be had already a collar
studded with little silver nails, and the point was very simply to
fasten the "lead" on to the collar. Jeremy had been promised that he
should conduct Hamlet, and it had seemed, when the promise had been
made, as though it would be a very simple thing to carry out. Hamlet
no sooner saw the cord than he began his ingenious protests, sitting
up and smiing at it, suddenly darting at the recumbent Miss Noah and
rushing round the room with her, finally catching the "lead" itself
in his teeth and hiding with it under Miss Jones's skirt.
The result was that Tom Collins's bus arrived when no one in the
schoolroom was in the least prepared for it. Then what confusion
there was! Mrs. Cole, looking strange in her hat and veil, as though
she were dressed up for a play, came urging them to hurry, "because
Father was waiting." Then Hamlet tied himself and his "lead" round
the leg of the table; then Mary said in her most tiresome manner,
apropos of nothing at all, "You do love me, Jeremy, don't you?" just
at the moment when he was trying to unlace Hamlet, and her lip began
to tremble when he said, "Oh, don't bother," so that he was
compelled to add "Of course I do"; then Father came running up the
stairs with "Really, this is too disgraceful. We shall miss that
Then Uncle Samuel appeared, looking so queer that Jeremy was
compelled to stare at him. Jeremy had seen very little of Uncle
Samuel during these last months. He had hoped, after that wonderful
adventure of the Christmas Pantomime, that they were going to be
friends, but it had not been so. He had been away somewhere, in some
strange place, painting, and then, on his return, he had hid himself
and his odd affairs away in some corner of the house where no one
saw him. He had had his life and Jeremy had had his.
Nevertheless Jeremy was delighted to see him. It would be fun to
have him at Cow Farm with his squashy brown hat, his fat cheeks, his
blue painting smock, and his short legs with huge boots. He was
different, in some way, from all the rest of the world, and Jeremy,
even at that early stage of his education, already perceived that he
could learn more from Uncle Samuel than from any other member of the
Now he put his head in through the door and said: "Well, you kids,
aren't you ready? It's time!" Then, seeing Miss Jones, he said:
"Good morning," and bolted like a rabbit. Even then Jeremy noticed
that he had paint on his fingers, and that two of his waistcoat
buttons were unfastened.
Then down in the hall what confusion there was! Boxes here, there
and everywhere. Mother, Father, Aunt Amy, Uncle Samuel, and, most
interesting of all, Barbara and the new nurse. The new nurse was
called Mrs. Pateham, and she was stout, red-cheeked, and smiling.
The bundle in white called Barbara was, most happily, sleeping; but
Hamlet barked at Mrs. Pateham, and that woke Barbara, who began to
cry. Then Collins came in with his coat off, and the muscles
swelling on his shoulders, and handled the boxes as though they were
paper, and the cook, and Rose, and William, the handy-boy, and old
Jordan, the gardener, and Mrs. Preston, a lady from two doors down,
who sometimes came in to help, all began to bob and smile, and
Father said: "Now, my dear. Now, my dear," and Hamlet wound himself
and his lead round everything that he could see, and Helen fussed
and said: "Now, Jeremy," and Miss Jones said: "Now, children," and
last of all Collins said: "Now, mum; now, sir," and then they all
were bundled into the bus, with the cart and the luggage coming