Part 5 out of 5
She slept from utter exhaustion, and was so found, when the room was
quite dark and only shadows moved in it, by her mother.
"Why, Mary!" said Mrs. Cole. "What are you doing here? We couldn't
think where you were. And where's Jeremy?"
"Jeremy!" She started up, remembering everything.
"Hasn't he come back? Oh, he's lost and he'll be killed, and it will
be all my fault!" She burst into another fit of wild hysterical
Her mother took her arm. "Mary, explain--What have you done?"
Mary explained, her teeth chattering, her head aching so that she
could not see.
"And you shut him up like that? Whatever--Oh, Mary, you wicked girl!
And Jeremy--He's been away two hours now--"
She turned off, leaving Mary alone in the black room.
Mary was left to every terror that can beset a lonely, hysterical
child--terror of Jeremy's fate, terror of Hamlet's loss, terror of
her own crimes, above all, terror of the lonely room, the waving
elms and the gathering dark. She could not move; she could not even
close the door of the wardrobe, into whose shelter she had again
crept. She stared at the white sheet of the window, with its black
bars like railings and its ghostly hinting of a moon that would soon
be up above the trees. Every noise frightened her, the working of
the "separator" in a distant part of the farm, the whistling of some
farm-hand out in the yard, the voice of some boy, "coo-ee"-ing
faintly, the lingering echo of the vanished day--all these seemed to
accuse her, to point fingers at her, to warn her of some awful
impending punishment. "Ah! you're the little girl," they seemed to
say, "who lost Jeremy's dog and broke Jeremy's heart." She was sure
that someone was beneath her bed. That old terror haunted her with
an almost humorous persistency every night before she went to sleep,
but to-night there was a ghastly certainty and imminence about it
that froze her blood. She crouched up against the hanging skirts,
gazing at the black line between the floor and the white sheets,
expecting at every second to see a protruding black mask, bloodshot
eyes, a coarse hand. The memory of the burglary that they had had in
the spring came upon her with redoubled force. Ah! surely, surely
someone was there! She heard a movement, a scraping of a boot upon
the floor, the thick hurried breathing of some desperate
villain. . .
Then these fears gave way to something worse than them all, the
certainty that Jeremy was dead. Ridiculous pictures passed before
her, of Jeremy hanging from a tree, Jeremy lying frozen in the wood,
the faithful Hamlet dead at his side, Jeremy stung by an adder and
succumbing to his horrible tortures, Jeremy surrounded by violent
men, who snatched Hamlet from him, beat him on the head and left him
for dead on the ground.
She passed what seemed to her hours of torture under these horrible
imaginings, tired out, almost out of her mind with the hysteria of
her loneliness, her imagination and her conscience; she passed into
a kind of apathy of unhappiness, thinking now only of Jeremy,
longing for him, beseeching him to come back, telling the empty
moonlit room that she never meant it; that she would do everything
he wanted if only he came back to her; that she was a wicked girl;
that she would never be wicked again. . . . And she took her
After endless ages of darkness and terror and misery she heard
voices--then HIS voice! She jumped out of the wardrobe and listened.
Yes; it WAS his voice. She pushed back the door, crept down the
passage, and came suddenly upon a little group, with Jeremy in its
midst, crowded together at the top of the stairs. Jeremy was wrapped
up in his father's heavy coat, and looked very small and impish as
he peered from out of it. He was greatly excited, his eyes shining,
his mouth smiling, his cheeks flushed.
His audience consisted of Helen, Mrs. Cole, Miss Jones, and Aunt
Amy. He described to them how he had run along the road "for miles
and miles and miles," how at last he had found the farm, had rung
the bell, and inquired, and discovered Hamlet licking up sugary tea
in the farm kitchen; there had then been a rapturous meeting, and he
had boldly declared that he could find his way home again without
aid. "They wanted me to be driven home in their trap, but I wasn't
going to have that. They'd been at the fair all day, and didn't want
to go out again. I could see that." So he and Hamlet started gaily
on their walk home, and then, in some way or another, he took the
wrong turn, and suddenly they were in Mellot Wood. "It was dark as
anything, you know, although there was going to be a moon. We
couldn't see a thing, and then I got loster and loster. At last we
just sat under a tree. There was nothing more to do!" Then,
apparently, Jeremy had slept, and had, finally, been found in the
proper romantic manner by Jim and his father.
"Well, all's well that ends well," said Aunt Amy, with a sniff. In
spite of that momentary softness over the defeat of the Dean's
Ernest she liked her young nephew no better than of old. She had
desired that he should be punished for this, but as she looked at
the melting eyes of Mrs. Cole and Miss Jones she had very little
Mary was forgotten; no one noticed her.
"Bed," said Mrs. Cole.
"Really, what a terrible affair," said Miss Jones. "And I can't help
feeling that it was my fault."
"What Mary--" began Mrs. Cole. And then she stopped. She had perhaps
some sense that Mary had already received sufficient punishment.
Mary waited, standing against the passage wall. Jeremy, who had not
seen her, vanished into his room. She waited, then plucking up all
her courage with the desperate suffocating sense of a prisoner
laying himself beneath the guillotine, she knocked timidly on his
He said: "Come in," and entering, she saw him, in his braces,
standing on a chair trying to put the picture entitled "Daddy's
Christmas" straight upon its nail. The sight of this familiar task--
the picture would never hang straight, although every day Jeremy,
who, strangely enough, had an eye to such matters, tried to correct
it--cheered her a little.
"Won't it go straight?" she said feebly.
"No, it won't," he began, and then, suddenly realising the whole
"I'm sorry, Jeremy," she muttered, hanging her head down.
"Oh, that's all right," he answered, turning away from her and
pulling at the string. "It was a beastly thing to do all the same,"
"Will you forgive me?" she asked.
"Oh, there isn't any forgiveness about it. Girls are queer, I
suppose. I don't understand them myself. There, that's better. . . I
say, it was simply beastly under that tree--"
"Beastly! There was something howling somewhere--a cat or
"You do forgive me, don't you?"
"Yes, yes. . . I say, is that right now? Oh, it won't stay there.
It's the wall or something."
He came down from the chair yawning.
"Jim's nice," he confided to her. "He's going to take me ratting one
"I'm going," Mary said again, and waited.
Jeremy coloured, looked as though he would say something, then, in
silence, presented a very grimy cheek. "Good-night," he said, with
an air of intense relief.
"Good-night," she said, kissing him.
She closed the door behind her. She knew that the worst had
happened. He had passed away, utterly beyond her company, her world,
her interests. She crept along to her room, and there, with a
determination and a strength rare in a child so young and so
undisciplined, faced her loneliness.
The holidays were over. The Coles were once more back in Polchester,
and the most exciting period of Jeremy's life had begun. So at any
rate he felt it. It might be that in later years there would be new
exciting events, lion-hunting, for instance, or a war, or the
tracking of niggers in the heart of Africa--he would be ready for
them when they came--but these last weeks before his first departure
for school offered him the prospect of the first real independence
of his life. There could never be anything quite like that again.
Nevertheless, school seemed still a long way distant. It was only
his manliness that he was realising and a certain impatience and
restlessness that underlay everything that he did.
September and October are often very lovely months in Polchester;
autumn seems to come there with a greater warmth and richness than
it does elsewhere. Along all the reaches of the Pol, right down to
the sea, the leaves of the woods hung with a riotous magnificence
that is glorious in its recklessness. The waters of that silent
river are so still, so glassy, that the banks of gold and flaming
red are reflected in all their richest colour down into the very
heart of the stream, and it is only when a fish jumps or a twig
falls from the overhanging trees that the mirror is broken and the
colours flash into ripples and shadows of white and grey. The utter
silence of all this world makes the Cathedral town sleepy, sluggish,
forgotten of all men. As the autumn comes it seems to drowse away
into winter to the tune of its Cathedral bells, to the scent of its
burning leaves and the soft steps of its Canons and clergy. There is
every autumn here a clerical conference, and long before the
appointed week begins, and long after it is lawfully concluded,
clergymen, strange clergymen with soft black hats, take the town for
their own, gaze into Martin the pastry-cook's, sit in the dusk of
the Cathedral listening to the organ; walk, their heads in air,
their arms folded behind their backs, straight up Orange Street as
though they were scaling Heaven itself; stop little children, pat
their heads, and give them pennies; stand outside Poole's bookshop
and delve in the 2d. box for thumb-marked sermons; stand gazing in
learned fashion at the great West Door, investigating the saints and
apostles portrayed thereon; hurry in their best hats and coats along
the Close to some ladies' tea-party, or pass with solemn and anxious
mien into the palace of the Bishop himself.
All these things belong to autumn in Polchester, as Jeremy very well
knew, but the event that marks the true beginning of the season, the
only way by which you may surely know that summer is over and autumn
is come is Pauper's Fair.
This famous fair has been, from time immemorial, a noted event in
Glebeshire life. Even now, when fairs have yielded to cinematographs
as attractions for the people, Pauper's Fair gives its annual
excitement. Thirty years ago it was the greatest event of the year
in Polchester. All our fine people, of course, disliked it
extremely. It disturbed the town for days, the town rocked in the
arms of crowds of drunken sailors, the town gave shelter to gipsies
and rogues and scoundrels, the town, the decent, amiable, happy town
actually for a week or so seemed to invite the world of the blazing
fire and the dancing clown. No wonder that our fine people
shuddered. Only the other day--I speak now of these modern times--
the Bishop tried to stop the whole business. He wrote to the
Glebeshire Morning News, urging that Pauper's Fair, in these days of
enlightenment and culture, cannot but be regretted by all those who
have the healthy progress of our dear country at heart. Well, you
would be amazed at the storm that his protest raised. People wrote
from all over the County, and there were ultimately letters from
patriotic Glebeshire citizens in New Zealand and South Africa. And
in Polchester itself! Everyone--even those who had shuddered most at
the fair's iniquities--was indignant. Give up the fair! One of the
few signs left of that jolly Old England whose sentiment is
cherished by us, whose fragments nevertheless we so readily stamp
upon. No, the fair must remain and will remain, I have no doubt,
until the very end of our national chapter.
Nowadays it has shed, very largely, I am afraid, the character that
it gloriously maintained thirty years ago. Then it was really an
invasion by the seafaring element of the County. All the little
country ports and harbours poured out their fishermen and sailors,
who came walking, driving, singing, laughing, swearing; they filled
the streets, and went peering, like the wildest of ancient Picts,
into the mysterious beauties of the Cathedral, and late at night,
when the town should have slept, arm in arm they went roaring past
the dark windows, singing their songs, stamping their feet, and
every once and again ringing a decent door-bell for their amusement.
It was very seldom that any harm was done. Once a serious fire broke
out amongst the old wooden houses down on the river, and some of
them were burnt to the ground, a fate that no one deplored; once a
sailor was murdered in a drunken squabble at "The Dog and Pilchard,"
the wildest of the riverside hostelries; and once a Canon was caught
and stripped and ducked in the waters of the Pol by a mob who
resented his gentle appeals that they should try to prefer lemonade
to gin; but these were the only three catastrophes in all the
history of the fair.
During the fair week the town sniffed of the sea--of lobster and
seaweed and tar and brine--and all the tales of the sea that have
ever been told by man were told during these days in Polchester.
The decent people kept their doors locked, their children at home,
and their valuables in the family safe. No upper class child in
Polchester so much as saw the outside of a gipsy van. The Dean's
Ernest was accustomed to boast that he had once been given a ride by
a gipsy on a donkey, when his nurse was not looking, but no one
credited the story, and the details with which he supported it were
feeble and unconvincing. The Polchester children in general were
told that "they would be stolen by the gipsies if they weren't
careful," and, although some of them in extreme moments of rebellion
and depression felt that the life of adventure thus offered to them,
might, after all, be more agreeable than the dreary realism of their
natural days, the warning may be said to have been effective.
No family in Polchester was guarded more carefully in this matter of
the Pauper's Fair than the Cole family. Mr. Cole had an absolute
horror of the fair. Sailors and gipsies were to him the sign and
seal of utter damnation, and although he tried, as a Christian
clergyman, to believe that they deserved pity because of the
disadvantages under which they had from the first laboured, he
confessed to his intimate friends that he saw very little hope for
them either in this world or the next. Jeremy, Helen and Mary were,
during Fair Week, kept severely within doors; their exercise had to
be taken in the Cole garden, and the farthest that they poked their
noses into the town was their visit to St. John's on Sunday morning.
Except on one famous occasion. The Fair Week of Jeremy's fifth year
saw him writhing under a terrible attack of toothache, which became,
after two agonised nights, such a torment and distress to the whole
household that he had to be conveyed to the house of Mr. Pilter, who
had his torture- chamber at No. 3 Market Square. It is true that
Jeremy was conveyed thither in a cab, and that his pain and his
darkened windows prevented him from seeing very much of the gay
world; nevertheless, in spite of the Jampot, who guarded him like a
dragon, he caught a glimpse of flags, a gleaming brass band and a
Punch and Judy show, and he heard the trumpets and the drum, and the
shouts of excited little boys, and the blowing of the Punch and Judy
pipes, and he smelt roasting chestnuts, bad tobacco, and beer and
gin. He returned, young as he was, and reduced to a corpse-like
condition by the rough but kindly intentioned services of Mr.
Pilter, with the picture of a hysterical, abandoned world clearly
imprinted upon his brain.
"I want to go," he said to the Jampot.
"You can't," said she.
"I will when I'm six," said he.
"You won't," said she.
"I will when I'm seven," said he.
"You won't," said she.
"I will when I'm eight," he answered.
"Oh, give over, do, Master Jeremy," said she. And now he was eight,
very nearly nine, and going to school in a fortnight. There seemed
to be a touch of destiny about his prophecy.
He had no intention of disobedience. Had he been once definitely
told by someone in authority that he was not to go to the fair he
would not have dreamt of going. He had no intention of disobedience-
-but he had returned from the Cow Farm holiday in a strange
condition of mind.
He had found there this summer more freedom than he had been ever
allowed in his life before, and it had been freedom that had come,
not so much from any change of rules, but rather from his own
attitude to the family--simply he had wanted to do certain things,
and he had done them and the family had stood aside. He began to be
aware that he had only to push and things gave way--a dangerous
knowledge, and its coming marks a period in one's life.
He seemed, too, during this summer, to have left his sisters
definitely behind him and to stand much more alone than he had done
before. The only person in his world whom he felt that he would like
to know better was Uncle Samuel, and that argued, on his part, a
certain tendency towards rebellion and individuality. He was no
longer rude to Aunt 'Amy, although he hated her just as he had
always done. She did not seem any longer a question that mattered.
His attitude to his whole family now was independent.
Indeed, he was, in reality, now beginning to live his independent
life. He was perhaps very young to be sent off to school by himself,
although in those days for a boy of eight to be plunged without any
help but a friendly word of warning into the stormy seas of private
school life was common enough--nevertheless, his father, conscious
that the child's life had been hitherto spent almost entirely among
women, sent him every morning during these last weeks at home down
to the Curate of St. Martin's-in- the-Market to learn a few words of
Latin, an easy sum or two, and the rudiments of spelling. This young
curate, the Rev. Wilfred Somerset, recently of Emmanuel College,
Cambridge, had but two ideas in his head--the noble game of cricket
and the jolly qualities of Mr. Surtees's novels. He was stout and
strong, red-faced, and thick in the leg, always smoking a largo
black-looking pipe, and wearing trousers very short and tight. He
did not strike Jeremy with fear, but he was, nevertheless, an
influence. Jeremy, apparently, amused him intensely. He would roar
with laughter at nothing at all, smack his thigh and shout, "Good
for you, young 'un," whatever that might mean, and Jeremy, gazing at
him, at his pipe and his trousers, liking him rather, but not
sufficiently in awe to be really impressed, would ask him questions
that seemed to him perfectly simple and natural, but that,
nevertheless, amused the Rev. Wilfred so fundamentally that he was
unable to give them an intelligible answer.
Undoubtedly this encouraged Jeremy's independence.
He walked to and fro the curate's lodging by himself, and was able
to observe many interesting things on the way. Sometimes, late in
the afternoon, he would have some lesson that he must take to his
master who, as he lodged at the bottom of Orange Street, was a very
safe and steady distance from the Coles.
Of course Aunt Amy objected.
"You allow Jeremy, all by himself, into the street at night, and
he's only eight. Really, you're too strange!"
"Well, in the first place," said Mrs. Cole, mildly, "it isn't
night--it's afternoon; in the second place, it is only just down
the street, and Jeremy's most obedient always, as you know, Amy."
"I'm sure that Mr. Somerset is wild," said Aunt Amy.
"My dear Amy, why'?"
"You've only got to look at his face. It's 'flashy.' That's what I
"Oh, that isn't the sort of man who'll do Jeremy harm," said Mrs.
Cole, with a mother's wisdom.
Certainly, he did Jeremy no harm at all; he taught him nothing, not
even "mensa," and how to spell "receive" and "apple." The only thing
he did was to encourage Jeremy's independence, and this was done, in
the first place, by the walks to and fro.
He had only been going to Mr. Somerset's a day or two when the
announcements of the Fair appeared on the walls of the town. He
could not help but see them; there was a large cue on the boarding
half-way down Orange Street, just opposite the Doctor's; a poster
with a coloured picture of "Wombwell's Circus," a fine affair, with
spangled ladies jumping through hoops, elephants sitting on stools,
tigers prowling, a clown cracking a whip, and, best of all, a
gentleman, with an anxious face and a scanty but elegant costume,
balanced above a gazing multitude on a tight-rope. There was also a
bill of the Fair setting forth that there would be a "Cattle Market,
Races, Roundabout, Swings, Wrestling, Boxing, Fat Women, Dwarfs, and
the Two-Headed Giant from the Caucasus." During a whole week, once a
day, Jeremy read this bill from the top to the bottom; at the end of
the week he could repeat it all by heart.
He asked Mr. Somerset whether he was going.
"Oh, I shall slip along one evening, I've no doubt," replied that
gentleman. "But it's a bore--a whole week of it--upsets one's work."
"It needn't," said Jeremy, "if you stay indoors."
This amused Mr. Somerset immensely. He laughed a great deal.
"We always have to," said Jeremy, rather hurt. "We're not allowed
farther than the garden."
"Ah, but I'm older than you are," said Mr. Somerset. "It was the
same with me once."
"And what did you do? Did you go all the same?"
"You bet, I did," said the red-faced hero, more intent on his
reminiscences than on the effect that this might have on the morals
of his pupil.
Jeremy waited then for the parental command that was always issued.
It was: "Now, children, you must promise me never to go outside the
house this week unless you have asked permission first." And then:
"And on no account to speak to any stranger about anything
whatever." And then: "Don't look out of the back windows, mind."
(From the extreme corners of the bedroom windows you could see a
patch of the meadow whereon the gipsy-vans settled.) These commands
had been as regular as the Fair, and always, of course, the children
had promised obedience. Jeremy told his conscience that if, this
year, he gave his promise, he would certainly keep it. He wondered,
at the same time, whether he might not possibly manage to be out of
the house when the commands were issued. He formed a habit of
suddenly slipping out of the room when he saw his father's mouth
assuming the shape of a "command." He took the utmost care not to be
alone with his father.
But he need not have been alarmed. This year no command appeared.
Perhaps Mr. Cole thought that it was no longer necessary; it was
obvious that the children were not to go, and they were, after all,
old enough now to think for themselves. Or, perhaps, it was that Mr.
Cole had other things on his mind; he was changing curates just
then, and a succession of white-faced, soft-voiced, and loud-booted
young men were appearing at the Coles' hospitable table.
"Here's this tiresome Fair come round again," said Mrs. Cole.
"Wicked!" said Aunt Amy, with an envious shudder. "Satan finds work,
indeed, in this town."
"I don't suppose it's worse than anywhere else," said Mrs. Cole.
On the late afternoon of the day before the opening, Jeremy, on his
way to Mr. Somerset's, caught the tailend of Wombwell's Circus
Procession moving, in misty splendour, across the market.
He could see but little, although he stood on the pedestal of a
lamp-post; but Britannia, rocking high in the air, flashing her
silver sceptre in the evening air, and followed by two enormous and
melancholy elephants, caught his gaze. Strains of a band lingered
about him. He entered Mr. Somerset's in a frenzy of excitement, but
he said nothing. He felt that Mr. Somerset would laugh at him.
He returned to his home that night haunted by Britannia. He ate
Britannia for his supper; he had Britannia for his dreams; and he
greeted Rose as Britannia the next morning when she called him.
Early upon that day there were borne into the heart of the house
strains of the Fair. It was no use whatever to close the windows,
lock the doors, and read Divinity. The strains persisted, a heavenly
murmur, rising at moments into a muffled shriek or a jumbling shout,
hanging about the walls as a romantic echo, dying upon the air a
chastened wail. "No use for Mr. Cole to say:
"We must behave as though the Fair was not."
For a whole week it would be there, and everyone knew it.
Jeremy did not mean to be disobedient, but after that glimpse of
Britannia he knew that he would go.
It had, at first, been thought advisable that Jeremy should not go
to Mr. Somerset's during Fair Week. Perhaps Mr. Somerset could come
to the Coles'. No, he was very sorry. He must be in his rooms at
that particular hour in case parishioners should need his advice or
"Pity for him to miss all this week, especially as there will be
only four days left after that. I am really anxious for him to have
a little grounding in Latin."
Mrs. Cole smiled confidently. "I think Jeremy is to be trusted. He
would never do anything that you wouldn't like."
Mr. Cole was not so sure. "He's not quite so obedient as I should
wish. He shows an independence--"
However, after some hesitation it was decided that Jeremy might be
But even after that he was never put upon his honour. "If I don't
promise, I needn't mind," he said to himself, and waited
breathlessly; but nothing came. Only Aunt Amy said:
"I hope you don't speak to little boys in the street, Jeremy." To
which he replied scornfully: "Of course not."
He investigated his money-box, removing the top with a tin-opener.
He found that he had there 3s. 3 1/2d.; a large sum, and enough to
give him a royal time.
Mary caught him.
"Oh, Jeremy, what are you doing?"
"Just counting my money," he said, with would-be carelessness.
"You're going to the Fair?" she whispered breathlessly.
He frowned. How could she know? She always knew everything.
"Perhaps," he whispered back; "but if you tell anyone I'll--"
"Of course I wouldn't tell," she replied, deeply offended.
This little conversation strengthened his purpose. He had not
admitted to himself that he was really going. Now he knew.
Wednesday would be the night. On Wednesday evenings his father had a
service which prevented him from returning home until half-past
eight. He would go to Somerset's at half-past four, and would he
expected home at half-past six; there would be no real alarm about
him until his father's return from church, and he could, therefore,
be sure of two hours' bliss. For the consequences he did not care at
all. He was going to do no harm to anyone or anything. They would be
angry, perhaps, but that would not hurt him, and, in any case, he
was going to school next week. No one at school would mind whether
he had been to the Fair or no.
He felt aloof and apart, as though no one could touch him. He would
not have minded simply going into them all and saying: "I'm off to
the Fair." The obvious drawback to that would have been that he
would have been shut up in his room, and then they might make him
give his word . . . He would not break any promises.
When Wednesday came it was a lovely day. Out in the field just
behind the Coles' house they were burning a huge bonfire of dead
leaves. At first only a heavy column of grey smoke rose, then flames
broke through; little, thin golden flames like paper; then a sudden
fierce red tongue shot out and went licking up into the air until it
faded like tumbling water against the sunlight. On the outer edge of
the bonfire there was thin grey smoke through which you could see as
through glass. The smell was heavenly, and even through closed
windows the crackling of the burnt leaves could be heard. The sight
of the bonfire excited Jeremy. It seemed to him a signal of
encouragement, a spur to perseverance. All the morning the flames
crackled, and men came with wheelbarrows full of leaves and emptied
them in thick heaps upon the fire. At each emptying the fire would
be for a moment beaten, and only the white, thick, malicious smoke
would come through; then a little spit of flame, another, another;
then a thrust like a golden hand stretching out; then a fine,
towering, quivering splendour.
Under the full noonday sun the fire was pale and so unreal, weak,
and sickly, that one was almost ashamed to look at it. But as the
afternoon passed, it again gathered strength, and with the faint,
dusky evening it was a giant once more.
"You come along," it said to Jeremy. "Come along! Come along!"
"I'm going to Mr. Somerset's, Mother," he said, putting two exercise
books and a very new and shining blue Latin book together.
"Are you, dear? I suppose you're safe?" Mrs. Cole asked, looking
through the drawing-room window.
"Oh, it's all right," said Jeremy
"Well, I think it is," said Mrs. Cole. "The street seems quite
empty. Don't speak to any odd-looking men, will you?"
"Oh, that's all right," he said again.
He walked down Orange Street, his books under his arm, the 3s. 3
1/2d. in his pocket. The street was quite deserted, swimming in a
cold, pale light; the trees, the houses, the church, the garden-
walls, sharp and black; the street, dim and precipitous, tumbling
forward into the blue, whence lights, one, two, three, now a little
bunch together, came pricking out.
The old woman opened the door when he rang Mr. Somerset's bell.
"Master's been called away," she said in her croaking voice. "A
burial. 'E 'adn't time to let you know. 'Tell the little gen'l'man,'
'e said, 'I'm sorry.'"
"All right," said Jeremy; "thank you."
He descended the steps, then stood where he was, in the street,
looking up and down. Who could deny that it was all being arranged
for him? He felt more than ever like God as he looked proudly about
him. Everything served his purpose.
The jingling of the money in his pocket reminded him that he must
waste no more time. He started off.
Even his progress through the town seemed wonderful, quite
unattended at last, as he had always all his life longed to be. So
soon as he left Orange Street and entered the market he was caught
into a great crowd. It was all stirring and humming with a noise
such as the bonfire had all day been making. It was his first
introduction to the world--he had never been in a large crowd
before--and it is not to be denied but that his heart beat thick and
his knees trembled a little. But he pulled himself together. Who was
he to be afraid? But the books under his arm were a nuisance. He
suddenly dropped them in amongst the legs and boots of the people.
There were many interesting sights to be seen in the market-place,
but he could not stay, and he found himself soon, to his own
surprise, slipping through the people as quietly and easily as
though he had done it all his days, only always he kept his hand on
his money lest that should be stolen and his adventure suddenly come
He knew his way very well, and soon he was at the end of Finch
Street which in those days opened straight into fields and hedges.
Even now, so little has Polchester grown in thirty years, the fields
and hedges are not very far away. Here there was a stile with a
large wooden fence on either side of it, and a red-faced man saying:
"Pay your sixpences now! Come along . . . pay your sixpences now."
Crowds of people were passing through the stile, jostling one
another, pressing and pushing, but all apparently in good temper,
for there was a great deal of laughter and merriment. From the other
side of the fence came a torrent of sound, so discordant and so
tumultuous that it was impossible to separate the elements of it one
from another--screams, shrieks, the bellowing of animals, and the
monotonous rise and fall of scraps of tune, several bars of one and
then bars of another, and then everything lost together in the
general babel; and to the right of him Jeremy could see not very far
away quiet fields with cows grazing, and the dark grave wood on the
Would he venture? For a moment his heart failed him--a wave of
something threatening and terribly powerful seemed to come out to
him through the stile, and the people who were passing in looked
large and fierce. Then he saw two small boys, their whole bearing
one of audacious boldness, push through. He was not going to be
beaten. He followed a man with a back like a wall. "One, please," he
"'Come along now . . . pay your sixpences . . . pay your sixpences,"
cried the man. He was through. He stepped at once into something
that had for him all the elements of the most terrifying and
enchanting of fairy tales. He was planted, it seemed, in a giant
world. At first he could see nothing but the high and thick bodies
of the people who moved on every side of him; he peered under
shoulders, he was lost amongst legs and arms, he walked suddenly
into waistcoat buttons and was flung thence on to walking sticks.
But it was, if he had known it, the most magical hour of all for him
to have chosen. It was the moment when the sun, sinking behind the
woods and hills, leaves a faint white crystal sky and a world
transformed in an instant from sharp outlines and material form into
coloured mist and rising vapour. The Fair also was transformed,
putting forward all its lights and becoming, after the glaring
tawdiness of the day, a place of shadow and sudden circles of flame
and dim obscurity.
Lights, even as Jeremy watched, sprang into the air, wavered,
faltered, hesitated, then rocked into a steady glow, only shifting a
little with the haze. On either side of him were rough, wooden
stalls, and these were illuminated with gas, which sizzled and
hissed like angry snakes. The stalls were covered with everything
invented by man; here a sweet stall, with thick, sticky lumps of
white and green and red, glass bottles of bulls' eyes and
peppermints, thick slabs of almond toffee and pink cocoanut icing,
boxes of round chocolate creams and sticks of liquorice, lumps of
gingerbread, with coloured pictures stuck upon them, saffron buns,
plum cakes in glass jars, and chains of little sugary biscuits
hanging on long red strings. There was the old-clothes' stall with
trousers and coats and waistcoats, all shabby and lanky, swinging
beneath the gas, and piles of clothes on the boards, all nondescript
and unhappy and faded; there was the stall with the farm implements,
and the medicine stall, and the flower stall, and the vegetable
stall, and many, many another. Each place had his or her guardian,
vociferous, red-faced, screaming out the wares, lowering the voice
to cajole, raising it again to draw back a retreating customer,
carrying on suddenly an intimate conversation with the next-door
shopkeeper, laughing, quarrelling, arguing.
To Jeremy it was a world of giant heights and depths. Behind the
stalls, beyond the lane down which he moved, was an uncertain glory,
a threatening peril. He fancied that strange animals moved there; he
thought he heard a lion roar and an elephant bellow. The din of the
sellers all about him made it impossible to tell what was happening
beyond there; only the lights and bells, shouts and cries, confusing
smells, and a great roar of distant voices.
He almost wished that he had not come, he felt so very small and
helpless; he wondered whether he could find his way out again, and
looking back, he was for a moment terrified to see that the stream
of people behind him shut him in so that he could not see the stile,
nor the wooden barrier, nor the red-faced man. Pushed forward, he
found himself at the end of the lane and standing in a semi-
circular space surrounded by strange-looking booths with painted
pictures upon them, and in front of them platforms with wooden steps
running up to them. Then, so unexpectedly that he gave a little
scream, a sudden roar burst out behind him. He turned and, indeed,
the world seemed to have gone mad. A moment ago there had been
darkness and dim shadow. Now, suddenly, there was a huge whistling,
tossing circle of light and flame, and from the centre of this a
banging, brazen, cymbal-clashing scream issued-a scream that,
through its strident shrillness, he recognised as a tune that he
knew--a tune often whistled by Jim at Cow Farm. "And her golden hair
was hanging down her back." Whence the tune came he could not tell;
from the very belly of the flaming monster, it seemed; but, as he
watched, he saw that the huge circle whirled ever faster and faster,
and that up and down on the flame of it coloured horses rose and
fell, vanishing from light to darkness, from darkness to light, and
seeming of their own free will and motion to dance to the thundering
It was the most terrific thing that he had ever seen. The most
terrific thing. . . he stood there, his cap on the back of his head,
his legs apart, his mouth open; forgetting utterly the crowd,
thinking nothing of time or danger or punishment--he gazed with his
As his eyes grew more accustomed to the glare of the hissing gas, he
saw that in the centre figures were painted standing on the edge of
a pillar that revolved without pause. There was a woman with flaming
red cheeks, a gold dress and dead white dusty arms, a man with a
golden crown and a purple robe, but a broken nose, and a minstrel
with a harp. The woman and the king moved stiffly their arms up and
down, that they might strike instruments, one a cymbal and the other
a drum. But it was finally the horses that caught Jeremy's heart.
Half of them at least were without riders, and the empty ones went
round pathetically, envying the more successful ones and dancing to
the music as though with an effort. One especially moved Jeremy's
sympathy. He was a fine horse, rather fresher than the others, with
a coal-black mane and great black bulging eyes; his saddle was of
gold and his trappings of red. As he went round he seemed to catch
Jeremy's eye and to beg him to come to him. He rode more securely
than the rest, rising nobly like a horse of fine breeding, falling
again with an implication of restrained force as though he would
say: "I have only to let myself go and there, my word, you would see
where I'd get to." His bold black eyes turned beseechingly to
Jeremy--surely it was not only a trick of the waving gas; the boy
drew closer and closer, never moving his gaze from the horses who
had hitherto been whirling at a bacchanalian pace, but now, as at
some sudden secret command, suddenly slackened, hesitated, fell into
a gentle jog-trot, then scarcely rose, scarcely fell, were suddenly
still. Jeremy saw what it was that you did if you wanted to ride. A
stout dirty man came out amongst the horses and, resting his hands
on their backs as though they were less than nothing to him,
shouted: "Now's your chance, lidies and gents! Now, lidies and
gents! Come along hup! Come along hup! The ride of your life now! A
'alfpenny a time! A 'alfpenny a time, and the finest ride of your
People began to mount the steps that led on to the platform where
the horses stood. A woman, then a man and a boy, then two men, then
two girls giggling together, then a man and a girl.
And the stout fellow shouted: "Come along hup! Come along hup! Now,
lidies and gents! A 'alfpenny a ride! Come along hup!"
Jeremy noticed then that the fine horse with the black mane had
stopped close beside him. Impossible to say whether the horse had
intended it or no! He was staring now in front of him with the
innocent stupid gaze that animals can assume when they do not wish
to give themselves away. But Jeremy could see that he was taking it
for granted that Jeremy understood the affair. "If you're such a
fool as not to understand," he seemed to say, "well, then, I don't
want you." Jeremy gazed, and the reproach in those eyes was more
than he could endure. And at any moment someone else might settle
himself on that beautiful back! There, that stupid fat giggling
girl! No--she had moved elsewhere. . . He could endure it no longer
and, with a thumping heart, clutching a scalding penny in a red-hot
hand, he mounted the steps. "One ride--little gen'elman. 'Ere you
are! 'Old on now! Oh, you wants that one, do yer? Eight yer are--yer
pays yer money and yer takes yer choice." He lifted Jeremy up. "Put
yer arms round 'is neck now--'e won't bite yer!"
Bite him indeed! Jeremy felt, as he clutched the cool head and let
his hand slide over the stiff black mane, that he knew more about
that horse than his owner did. He seemed to feel beneath him the
horse's response to his clutching knees, the head seemed to rise for
a moment and nod to him and the eyes to say: "It's all right. I'll
look after you. I'll give you the best ride of your life!" He felt,
indeed, that the gaze of the whole world was upon him, but he
responded to it proudly, staring boldly around him as though he had
been seated on merry-go- rounds all his days. Perhaps some in the
gaping crowd knew him and were saying: "Why, there's the Rev. Cole's
kid--" Never mind; he was above scandal. From where he was he could
see the Fair lifted up and translated into a fantastic splendour.
Nothing was certain, nothing defined--above him a canopy of evening
sky, with circles and chains of stars mixed with the rosy haze of
the flame of the Fair; opposite him was the Palace of "The Two-
Headed Giant from the Caucasus," a huge man as portrayed in the
picture hanging on his outer walls, a giant naked, save for a
bearskin, with one head black and one yellow, and white protruding
teeth in both mouths. Next to him was the Fortune Teller's, and
outside this a little man with a hump beat a drum. Then there was
"The Theatre of Tragedy and Mirth," with a poster on one side of the
door portraying a lady drowning in the swiftest of rivers, but with
the prospect of being saved by a stout gentleman who leaned over
from the bank and grasped her hair. Then there was the "Chamber of
the Fat Lady and the Six Little Dwarfs," and the entry to this was
guarded by a dirty sour-looking female who gnashed her teeth at a
hesitating public, before whom, with a splendid indifference to
appearance, she consumed, out of a piece of newspaper, her evening
All these things were in Jeremy's immediate vision, and beyond them
was a haze that his eyes could not penetrate. It held, he knew, wild
beasts, because he could hear quite clearly from time to time the
lion and the elephant and the tiger; it held music, because from
somewhere through all the noise and confusion the tune of a band
penetrated; it held buyers and sellers and treasures and riches, and
all the inhabitants of the world--surely all the world must be here
to-night. And then, beyond the haze, there were the silent and
mysterious gipsy caravans. Dark with their little square windows,
and their coloured walls, and their round wheels, and the smell of
wood fires, and the noise of hissing kettles and horses cropping the
grass, and around them the still night world with the thick woods
and the dark river.
He did not see it all as he sat on his horse--he was, as yet, too
young; but he did feel the contrast between the din and glare around
him and the silence and dark beyond, and, afterwards, looking back,
he knew that he had found in that same contrast the very heart of
romance. As it was, he simply clutched his horse's beautiful head
and waited for the ride to begin. . .
They were off! He felt his horse quiver under him, he saw the
mansions of the Two-Headed Giant and the Fat Lady slip to the right,
the light seemed to swing like the skirt of someone's dress, upwards
across the floor, and from the heart of the golden woman and the
king and the minstrel a scream burst forth as though they were
announcing the end of the world. After that he had no clear idea as
to what occurred. He was swung into space, and all the life that had
been so stationary, the booths, the lights, the men and women, the
very stars went swinging with him as though to cheer him on; the
horse under him galloped before, and the faster he galloped the
wilder was the music and the dizzier the world. He was exultant,
omnipotent, supreme. He had long known that this glory was somewhere
if it could only he found, all his days he seemed to have been
searching for it; he beat his horse's neck, he drove his legs
against his sides. "Go on! Go on! Go on!" he cried. "Faster! Faster!
The strangest things seemed to rise to his notice and then fall
again--a peaked policeman's hat, flowers, a sudden flame of gas, the
staring eyes and dead white arms of the golden woman, the flying
forms of the horses in front of him. All the world was on horseback,
all the world was racing higher and higher, faster and faster. He
saw someone near him rise on to his horse's back and stand on it,
waving his arms. He would like to have done that, but he found that
he was part of his horse, as though he had been glued to it. He
shouted, he cried aloud, he was so happy that he thought of no one
and nothing. . . The flame danced about him in a circle, he seemed
to rise so high that there was a sudden stillness, he was in the
very heart of the stars; then came the supreme moment when, as he
had always known, that one day he would be, he was master of the
world. . . Then, like Lucifer, he fell. Slowly the stars receded,
the music slackened, people rocked on to their feet again. . . The
Two-Headed Giant slipped hack once more into his place, he saw the
sinister lady still devouring her supper, women looking up at him
gaped. His horse gave a last little leap and died.
This marvellous experience he repeated four times, and every time
with an ecstasy more complete than the last. He rushed to a height,
he fell, he rushed again, he fell, and at every return to a sober
life his one intention was instantly to be off on his steed once
more. He was about to start on his fifth journey, he had paid his
halfpenny, he was sitting forward with his hands on the black mane,
his eyes, staring, were filled already with the glory that he knew
was coming to him, his cheeks were crimson, his hat on the back of
his head, his hair flying. He heard a voice, quiet and cool, a
little below him, but very near:
"Jeremy. . . Jeremy. Come off that. You've got to go home."
He looked down and saw his Uncle Samuel.
It was all over; he knew at once that it was all over.
As he slipped down from his dear horse he gave the glossy dark mane
one last pat; then, with a little sigh, he found his feet, stumbled
over the wooden steps and was at his uncle's side.
Uncle Samuel looked queer enough with a squashy black hat, a black
cloak flung over his shoulders, and a large cherry-wood pipe in his
mouth. Jeremy looked up at him defiantly.
"Well," said Uncle Samuel sarcastically. "It's nothing to you, I
suppose, that the town-crier is at this moment ringing his bell for
you up and down the Market Place?"
"Does father know?" Jeremy asked quickly.
"He does," answered Uncle Samuel.
Jeremy cast one last look around the place; the merry- go-round was
engaged once more upon its wild course, the horses rising and
falling, the golden woman clashing the cymbals, the minstrel
striking, with his dead eyes fixed upon space, his harp. All about
men were shouting; the noise of the coconut stores, of the circus,
of the band, of the hucksters and the charlatans, the crying of
children, the laughter of women--all the noise of the Fair bathed
Jeremy up to his forehead.
He swam in it for the last time. He tried to catch one last glimpse
of his coal-black charger, then, with a sigh, he said, turning to
his uncle: "I suppose we'd better be going."
"Yes, I suppose we had," said Uncle Samuel.
They threaded their way through the Fair, passed the wooden stile,
and were once again in the streets, dark and ancient under the moon,
with all the noise and glare behind them. Jeremy was thinking to
himself: "It doesn't matter what Father does, or how angry he is,
that was worth it." It was strange how little afraid he was. Only a
year ago to be punished by his father had been a terrible thing.
Now, since his mother's illness in the summer, his father had seemed
to have no influence over him.
"Did they bend you, or did you just come yourself, Uncle?" asked
"I happened to be taking the air in that direction," said Uncle
"I hope you didn't come away before you wanted to," said Jeremy
"I did not," said his uncle.
"Is Father very angry?" asked Jeremy.
"It's more than likely he may be. The Town Crier's expensive."
"I didn't think they'd know," explained Jeremy. "I meant to get back
"Your father didn't go to church," said Uncle Samuel. "So your sins
were quickly discovered."
Jeremy said nothing.
Just as they were climbing Orange Street he said:
"Uncle Samuel, I think I'll be a horse-trainer."
"Oh, will you? . . . Well, before you train horses you've got to
train yourself. Think of others beside yourself. A fine state you've
put your mother into to-night."
Jeremy looked distressed. "She'd know if I was dead, someone would
come and tell her," he said. "But I'll tell Mother I'm sorry. . .
But I won't tell Father," he added.
"Why not?" asked Uncle Samuel.
"Because he'll make such a fuss. And I'm not sorry. He never told me
"No, but you knew you hadn't to."
"I'm very good at obeying," explained Jeremy, "if someone says
something; but if someone doesn't, there isn't anyone to obey,"
Uncle Samuel shook his head. "You'll be a bit of a prig, my son, if
you aren't careful," he said.
"I think it will be splendid to be a horse-trainer," said Jeremy.
"It was a lovely horse to-night. . . And I only spent a shilling. I
had three and threepence halfpenny."
At the door of their house Uncle Samuel stopped and said:
"Look here, young man, they say it's time you went to school, and I
don't think they're far wrong. There are things wiser heads than
yours can understand, and you'd better take their word for it. In
the future, if you want to go running off somewhere, you'd better
content yourself with my studio and make a mess there."
"Oh, may I?" cried Jeremy delighted.
That studio had been always a forbidden place to them, and had,
therefore, its air of enchanting mystery.
"Won't you really mind my coming?" he asked.
"I shall probably hate it," answered his uncle; "but there's nothing
I wouldn't do for the family."
The boy walked to his father's study and knocked on the door. He did
have then, at the sound of that knock, a moment of panic. The house
was so silent, and he knew so well what would follow the opening of
the door. And the worst of it was that he was not sorry in the
least. He seemed to be indifferent and superior, as though no
punishment could touch him.
"Come in!" said his father.
He pushed open the door and entered. The scene that followed was
grave and sad, and yet, in the end, strangely unimpressive. His
father talked too much. As he talked Jeremy's thoughts would fly
back to the coal-black horse and to that moment when he had seemed
to fly into the very heart of the stars.
"Ah, Jeremy, how could you?" said his father. "Is obedience nothing
to you? Do you know how God punishes disobedience? Think what a
terrible thing is a disobedient man!" Then on a lower scale: "I
really don't know what to do with you. You knew that you were not to
go near that wicked place."
"You never said--" interrupted Jeremy.
"Nonsense! You knew well enough. You will break your mother's
"I'll tell her I'm sorry," he interrupted quickly.
"If you are really sorry--" said his father.
"I'm not sorry I went," said Jeremy, "but I'm sorry I hurt Mother."
The end of it was that Jeremy received six strokes on the hand with
a ruler. Mr. Cole was not good at this kind of thing, and twice he
missed Jeremy's hand altogether, and looked very foolish. It was not
an edifying scene. Jeremy left the room, his head high, his spirit
obstinate; and his father remained, puzzled, distressed, at a loss,
anxious to do what was right, but unable to touch his son at all.
Jeremy went up to his room. He opened his window and looked out. He
could smell the burnt leaves of the bonfire. There was no flame now,
but he fancied that he could see a white shadow where it had been.
Then, on the wind, came the music of the Fair.
"Tum--te--Tum . . . Tum--te--Tum . . . Whirr--Whirr--Whirr--Bang--
Somewhere an owl cried, and then another owl answered.
He rubbed his sore hand against his trousers; then, thinking of his
black horse, he smiled.
He was a free man. In a week he would go to school; then he would go
to College; then he would be a horsetrainer.
He was in bed; faintly into the dark room, stole the scent of the
bonfire and the noise of the Fair.
"Tum--te-Tum . . . Tum--te--Tum . . ."
He was asleep, riding on a giant charger across boundless plains.
The last day! Jeremy, suddenly waking, realised this with a
confusion of feeling as though he were sentenced to the dentist's,
but, oddly enough, looked forward to his visit. Going to school, one
had, of course, long ago perceived, was a mixed business; but the
balance was now greatly to the good. It was a step in the right
direction towards liberty and freedom. Thank Heaven!
No one in the family was likely to make a fuss about his departure,
unless it were possibly Mary, and she had, of late, kept very much
to herself and worried him scarcely at all. Indeed, he felt guilty
about Mary. He was fond of her, really . . . Funny kid . . . If only
she didn't make fusses!
Yes, it was unlike his family to make fusses. He realised that very
plainly to-day. Everyone went about his or her daily business with
no implication whatever that something extraordinary was going to
happen tomorrow. Perhaps they were all secretly relieved that he was
off. He had been, he knew, something of a failure during these last
months; one trouble after another; the scandal of his visit to the
Fair as the grand finale. He felt that there was, in some way, some
injustice in all this. He had no desire to be bad or rebellious--on
the contrary he wished to do all that his elders ordered him--but he
could not prevent the rising of his own individuality, which showed
him quite clearly whether he should do a thing or no. It was as
though something inside him pushed him . . . whereas they, all of
them, only checked him.
He loved his mother best, and he was secretly disappointed to find
how ordinary an affair his departure was to her. He realised, with a
perception that was beyond his years, that the infant Barbara was
now rapidly occupying the position, as centre of the family, that he
had held. Barbara, everyone declared, was a charming baby--the house
revolved, to some extent, round Barbara. But, then again, this
isolation was entirely his own fault. During the summer holidays he
had gone his own way, and had wanted no one but Hamlet as his
companion. He had no right to complain.
After breakfast he did not know quite what to do, and it was
obvious, also, that no one knew quite what to do with him.
Mrs. Cole said: "Jeremy, dear, Ponting has never sent that letter
paper and envelopes that he promised, and Father must have them to-
day. Would you go down and bring them back with you? Father will
write a note."
No one seemed to realise what an abysmal change from earlier
conditions this casual sentence marked. That he should go to
Footing's, which was on the farther side of the town, alone and
unattended, seemed to no one peculiar; and yet, only six months ago,
a walk without Miss Jones was undreamt of; and, before her, no more
than nine months back, there was the Jampot! He was delighted to go;
but, of course, he did not show his delight.
All he said was: "Yes, Mother."
He was in his new clothes: stiff black jacket, black knickerbockers,
black stockings, black boots. No more navy suits with white braid
and whistles! Perhaps he would see the Dean's Ernest. It was his
most urgent desire!
He started off, accompanied by a barking, bounding Hamlet, who
showed no perception of the calamity that threatened to tumble upon
him. For Jeremy, leaving Hamlet was a dreadful affair. In three
months a dog can change more swiftly than a human being, and Hamlet,
although not a supremely greedy dog, had shown of late increasing
signs of a love of good food, and a regrettable tendency to fawn
upon the giver of the same, even when it was Aunt Amy. Jeremy had
checked this tendency, and had issued punishments when necessary,
and Hamlet had accepted the same without a murmur. So long as Jeremy
was there Hamlet's character was secure; but now, during this long
absence, anything might happen. There was no one to whom Jeremy
might leave him; no one who had the slightest idea what a dog should
do and what he should not.
These melancholy thoughts filled Jeremy's mind when he started upon
his walk, but soon he was absorbed by his surroundings. He realised
even more drastically than the facts warranted that he was making
his farewell to the town.
He was not making his final farewell; he would not make that until
his death, and, perhaps, not then; but he was making farewell to
some of his sense of his wonder in it, only not, thank God, to the
sense of wonder itself!
As he went he met the daily figures of all his walks, and he could
not help but speculate on their realisation of the great change that
was coming to him. It was absurd to suppose that they were saying to
themselves: "Ah, there's young Jeremy Cole! He's off to school
tomorrow. I wonder what he feels about it! . . ." No, that was
incredible, and yet they must realise something of the adventure.
He, on his part, stared at them with a new interest. They had before
shared in the inevitable background without individuality. But now
that he was leaving them, and they would grow, as it were, without
his permission, he was forced to grant them independence. At the
bottom of Orange Street he met Mr. Dawson, the Cathedral Organist;
he was a little, plump man, in a very neat grey suit, a shiny top
hat, and very small spats. He was always dressed in the same
fashion, and carried a black music-case under his arm. He had an
eternal interest for Jeremy because, whenever he was mentioned, the
phrase was: "Poor little Mr. Dawson!" Why he was to be pitied Jeremy
did not know. He looked spruce and bright enough, and generally
whistled to himself as he walked; but "poor" was an exciting
adjective, and Jeremy, when he passed him, felt a little shudder of
drama run down his spine.
Outside Poole's bookshop there was, of course, Mr. Mockridge. Mr.
Mockridge was the poorest of the Canons; so poor, that it had become
a proverb in the place: "As poor as Mr. Mockridge"; and also another
proverb, I am afraid, from the same source: "As dirty as Mr.
Mockridge." He was a very long, thin man, with a big, pointing nose,
coloured red, not from indigestion, and most certainly not from
drink, but simply, I think, because the wind caught it. His passion
was for books, and he might be seen every afternoon, between three
and four o'clock, bending over Poole's 2d. box, a dirty handkerchief
flying out of the tail of his long, black coat, and a green, bulging
umbrella, pointing outwards, under his arm, to the infinite danger
of all the passers-by. He was so commonplace a figure to Jeremy
that, on ordinary days, he was shrouded by an invisibility of
tradition. But, to-day, he was fresh and strange. "He'll be here to-
morrow poking his nose into that box just the same, and I
Then, on the outskirts of the Market Place, Jeremy paused and looked
about him. There was all the usual business of the place--the wooden
trestles with the flowerpots, the apple-woman under her umbrella,
the empty cattle-pens, where the cows and sheep stood on market
days, and behind them the dark, vaulted arches of the actual market,
now empty and deserted. Bathed in sunlight it lay very quiet and
still; some pigeons pecking at grain, a dog or two, and children
playing round the empty cattle-stalls. From the hill above the
square the Cathedral boomed the hour, and all the pigeons rose in a
flight, hovered, then slowly settled again.
Jeremy sighed, and, with a strange pain at his heart that he could
not analyse, moved up the hill. The High Street is, of course, the
West End of Polchester, and in the morning, between ten and one,
every lady in the town may be seen at her shopping. It had always
been the ambition of the Cole children to be taken for their walk up
High Street in the morning; but it was an ambition very rarely
gratified, because they stopped so often and were always in
everyone's way. And here was Jeremy, at this gay hour, a trolling up
the High Street all by himself he lifted his head, pushed out his
chest, and looked the world in the face. He might meet the Dean's
Ernest at any moment. The first people whom he saw were the Misses
Cragg--always known, of course, as "The Cragg girls." They were,
perhaps, Polchester's most constant and obvious feature. There were
four of them, all as yet unmarried, all with brown-red faces and
hard straw hats, short skirts, and tremendous voices; forerunners,
in fact, of a type now almost universal. They played croquet and
lawn-tennis, were prominent members of the Archery Club, and hunted
when their fathers would let them. They were terrible Dianas to
Jeremy. He had met one of them once at a Children's Dance, and she
had whirled him around until, with a terrified scream, he broke,
howling, from her arms, and hid himself in the large bosom of the
Jampot. He was always ashamed of this memory, and he could never see
them without blushing; but, to-day, he seemed less afraid of them,
and actually, when he passed them, touched his hat and looked them
in the face. They all smiled and nodded to him, and when they had
gone he was so deeply astonished at this adventure that he had to
stop and consider himself. If the Craggs were nothing to him, what
might he not face?
"Come here, Hamlet. How dare you?" he ordered in so sharp and
military a voice that Hamlet, who had merely cast a most innocent
glance at a disdainful and conceited white poodle, looked up at his
master with surprise.
Nevertheless, his new-found hardihood received, in the very midst of
his self-congratulation, its severest test. He stumbled into the
very path of the Dean's wife.
Mrs. Dean could never have seemed to anyone a large woman, but to
Jeremy she had always been a terror. She was thick and hard, like a
wall, and wore the kind of silken clothes, that rustled--like the
whispering of a whole meeting of frightened clergymen's wives--as
she moved. She had a hard, condemnatory voice, and she spoke as
though she were addressing an assembly; but, worst of all, she had
black, beetling eyebrows, and these frightened Jeremy into fits. He
did not, of course, know that the poor lady suffered continually
from nervous headaches. He suddenly heard that voice in his ear:
"Good morning, Jeremy, and where are you off to so early?" Mrs. Dean
was never so awful as when she was jolly, and Jeremy, caught up by
the eyebrows as though they had been hooks and hung thus in mid-air
for all the street to laugh at, nearly lost his command of his
natural tongue. He found his voice just in time:
"To Ponting's," he said.
"All alone? Ah, no, I see you have your little dog. Nice little dog.
And how's your mother?"
"She's quite well, thank you."
"That's right--that's right. We haven't seen you lately. You must
come up to tea with your sisters. I'm afraid you won't find Ernest,
he's gone back to school--but I dare say you're not too big to play
with little girls."
Jeremy felt some triumph at his heart.
"I'm going to school to-morrow," he said. But if he expected Mrs.
Dean to be pitiful at this statement he was greatly mistaken.
"Are you, indeed? Such a pity you couldn't have gone with Ernest--
but he'd be senior to you, of course. . . Good-bye. Good-bye. Give
my love to your mother," and she pounded her way along.
"She's a beastly woman anyway" thought Jeremy. "I wish I'd found
something to say to her. I wonder whether she knows I knocked Ernest
down in the summer and trod on him?"
But the sight of the High Street soon restored his equanimity. On
other occasions he had been pushed through it, either by the Jampot
or Miss Jones, so rapidly that he could gather only the most
fleeting impressions. To-day he could linger and linger; he did. The
two nicest shops were Mannings' the hairdressers and Ponting's the
book-shop, but Rose the grocer's, and Coulter's the confectioner's
were very good. Mr. Manning was an artist. He did not simply put a
simpering bust with an elaborate head of hair in his window and
leave it at that--he did, indeed, place there a smiling lady with a
wonderful jewelled comb and a radiant row of teeth, but around this
he built up a magnificent world of silver brushes, tortoise- shell
combs, essences and perfumes and powders, jars and bottles and
boxes. Manning was the finest artist in the town. Ponting, at the
top of the street just at the corner of the Close, was an artist
too, but in quite another fashion. Ponting was the best established,
most sacred and serious bookseller in the county. In the days when
the new "Waverley" was the sensation of the moment Mr. Ponting,
grandfather of the present Mr. Ponting, had been in quite constant
correspondence with Mr. Southey, and Mr. Coleridge, and had once,
when on a visit to London, spoken to the great Lord Byron himself.
This tradition of aristocracy remained, and the present Mr. Pouting
always advised the Bishop what to read and was consulted by Mrs.
Lamb, our only authoress, on questions of publishers and editions
and such technical points. For all this Jeremy, at his present stage
of interest, would have cared nothing even had he known it, but what
he did care for were the rows of calf-bound books with little ridges
of gold, that made a fine wall across the window with an old print
of the Cathedral and the Close in the middle of them. Inside
Pontings there was a hush as of the study and the church combined.
It was a rather dark shop with rows and rows of books disappearing
into the ceiling, and one grave and unnaturally old young man behind
the counter. Jeremy did not know what he should do about Hamlet, so
he brought him inside, only to discover to his horror that the
fiercest of all the Canons, Canon Waterbury, held the floor of the
shop. Canon Waterbury had a black beard and a biting tongue. He had
once warned Jeremy off the Cathedral grass in a voice of thunder,
and Jeremy had never forgotten it. He glared now and pulled his
beard, but Hamlet fortunately behaved well, and the old young man
discovered Jeremy's notepaper within a very short period.
Then suddenly the Canon spoke.
"Dogs should not be inside shops," He said, as though he were
condemning someone to death.
"I know," said Jeremy frankly. "I wanted to tie him up to something
and there was nothing to tie him up to."
"What did you bring him out for at all?" said the Canon.
"Because he's got to have exercise," said Jeremy, discovering, to
his own delighted surprise, that he was not frightened in the least.
"Oh, has he? I don't know what people keep dogs for."
And then he stamped out of the shop.
Jeremy regarded this in the light of a victory and marched away, his
head more in the air than ever. He should now have hurried home. The
midday chimes had rung out and Jeremy's duties were performed. But
he lingered, listening to the last notes of the chimes, hearing the
cries of the Cathedral choir-boys as they moved across the green to
the choir-school, watching all the people hurry up and down the
street. Ah, there was the Castle carriage! Perhaps the old Countess
was inside it. He had only seen her once, at some service in the
Cathedral to which his mother had taken him, but she had made a
great impression on him with her snow-white hair. He had heard
people speak of her as "a wicked old woman." Perhaps she was inside
the carriage . . . but he only saw the Castle coachman and footman
and the coronet on the door. It rolled slowly up the hill with its
fine air of commanding the whole world--then it disappeared around
the corner of the Close.
Jeremy decided then that he would go home across the green and down
Orchard Lane. He had a wish to enter the Cathedral for a moment;
such a visit would, after all, complete the round of his
experiences. He had never entered the Cathedral alone, and now, as
he saw it facing him, so vast and majestic and quiet, across the
sun-drenched green, he felt a sudden fear and awe. He found a ring
in a stone near the west end through which he might fasten Hamlet's
lead, then, slowly pushing back the heavy door, he passed inside.
The Cathedral was utterly quiet. The vast nave, stained with
reflections of purple and green and ruby, was vague and
unsubstantial, all the little wooden chairs huddled together to the
right and left, leaving a great path that swept up to the High Altar
under shafts of light that fell like searchlights from the windows.
The tombs and the statues peered dimly from the shadow, and the
great east end window, with its deep purple light, seemed to draw
the whole nave up into its heart and hold it there. All was space
and silence, light and dusk; a little doll of a verger moved in the
far distance, an old woman, so quiet that she seemed only a shadow,
passed him, wiping the little chairs with a duster.
It seemed to Jeremy that he had never been in the Cathedral before;
he stood there, breathless, as though in a moment something must
inevitably happen. Although he did not think of it, the moment was
one of a sequence that had come to him during the year--his entry
into the theatre with his uncle, his first conversation with the
sea-captain, the hour when his mother had been so ill, the evening
on the beach when Charlotte had been frightened, the time when
Hamlet had been lost and he had slept with him under a tree. All
these moments had been something more than merely themselves, had
had something behind them or inside them for which simply they stood
as words stand for pictures. He analysed, of course, nothing, being
a perfectly healthy small boy, but if afterwards he looked back
these were the moments that he saw as one sees stations on a
journey. One day he would know for what they stood.
He simply now waited there as though he expected something to
happen. Thoughts slipped through his mind quite casually, whether
Hamlet were behaving well outside, what the old lady did when she
was tired of dusting, who the stone figure lying near him might be,
a figure very fine with his ruff and his peaked beard, his arms
folded, his toes pointing upwards, whether the body were inside the
stone like a mummy, or underneath the ground some- where; how
strangely different the nave looked now from its Sunday show, and
what fun it would be to run races all the way down and see who could
reach the golden angels over the reredos first; he felt no
reverence, and yet a deep reverence, no fear, but, nevertheless,
awe; he was warm and happy and comfortable, and yet suddenly, giving
a little shudder, he slipped out into the sunlight, released Hamlet
and started for home.
Back again in the bosom of his family he felt that they were
beginning to be aware of his departure.
"What shall we do this evening, Jeremy--your last evening?" said his
Everyone looked at him.
"Oh, I don't know," he said uncomfortably. "Just as usual, I
"You're making him feel uncomfortable," said Aunt Amy, who loved to
explain quite obvious things. "You want it to be just an ordinary
evening, dear, don't you?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said again, hating his aunt.
"I don't think that quite the way to speak to your aunt, my son,"
said his father. "We only inquire out of kindness, thinking to
please you. No, Mary, no more. Friday--one helping--"
"Jeremy might have another as it's his last day, I suggest," said
Aunt Amy, who was determined to be pleasant.
"I don't want any, thank you," said Jeremy, although it was treacle
pudding, which he loved.
"Well, I think," said Mrs. Cole, "that we'll have high tea at half-
past seven, and the children shall stay up afterwards and we'll have
Jeremy loved his mother intensely at that moment. How did she know
so exactly what was right? She made so little disturbance, was so
quiet and was never angry, and yet she was always right when the
others were always wrong. She knew that above all things he loved
high tea--fish pie and boiled eggs and tea and jam and cake--a
horrible meal that his later judgment would utterly condemn, but
nevertheless something so cosy and so comfortable that no later meal
would ever be able to rival it in those qualities.
"Oh, that will be lovely!" he said, his face shining all over.
Nevertheless, as the afternoon advanced a strange new sense of
insecurity, unhappiness and forlornness crept increasingly upon him.
He realised that he had that morning said good-bye to the town, and
now he felt as though he had, in some way, hurt or insulted it. And,
all the afternoon, he was saying farewell to the house. He did not
wander from room to room, but rather sat up in the schoolroom
pretending to mend a fishing rod which Mr. Monk had given him that
summer. He did not really care about the rod--he was not even
thinking of it. He heard all the sounds of the house as he sat
there. He could tell all the clocks, that one booming softly the
half hours was in his mother's bedroom, there was a rattle and a
whirr and there came the cuckoo-clock on the stairs, there was the
fast, cheap careless chatter of the little clock on the schoolroom
mantelpiece, there was the whisper of Miss Jones's watch which she
had put out on the table to mark the time of Mary's sewing by. There
were all the regular sounds of the house. The distant closing of
doors, deep down in the heart of the house someone was using a
sewing machine somewhere, voices came up out of the void and faded
again, someone whistled, someone sang. His gloom increased. He was
exchanging a world he knew for a world that he did not know, and he
could not escape the feeling that he was, in some way, insulting
this world that he was leaving. He bothered himself all the
afternoon with unnecessary stupid affairs to cover his deep
discomfort. He whistled carelessly and out of tune, he poked the
fire and walked about. He was increasingly aware of Hamlet and Mary.
Mary was determined so hard that she would show no emotion at all
that she was a painful sight to witness. She scarcely spoke to him,
and only answered in monosyllables if he asked her something.
And Hamlet had suddenly discovered that the atmosphere of the house
was unusual. He had expected, in the first place, to be taken for a
walk that afternoon; then his master was very busy doing nothing,
which was most unusual. Then at tea time his worst suspicions were
confirmed. Jeremy suddenly made a fuss of him, pouring his tea into
his saucer, giving him a piece of bread and jam and an extra lump of
sugar. Hamlet drank his tea and ate his bread and jam thoughtfully.
They were very nice, but what was the matter?
He looked up through his hair and discovered that his master's eyes
were restless and unhappy, and that he was thinking of things that
disturbed him. He went away to the fire and, sitting on his
haunches, gazing in his metaphysical way at the flames, considered
the matter. Jeremy came over to him and, drawing him back to him,
laid his head upon his knee and so held him. Hamlet did not move,
save occasionally to sigh, and, once or twice, to snap in a sudden
way that he had at an imaginary fly. He thought that in all
probability his master had been punished for something, and in this
he was deeply sympathetic, never seeing why his master need be
punished for anything and resenting the stupidity of human beings
with their eternal desire to be, in some way or other, asserting
Gradually, in front of the hot fire, both boy and dog fell asleep.
Jeremy's dreams were confused, bewildered, distressing; he was
struggling to find something, was always climbing higher and higher
to discover it, only to be told that, in the end, he was in the
place where he had begun.
Hamlet's dream was of an enormous succulent bone that was pulled
away from him so soon as he snapped at it. They both awoke with a
start to find that it was time for high tea.
Throughout the evening Jeremy was more and more lonely. He had never
before felt so deep an affection for the family and never been so
utterly unable to express it. It was as though, during the whole
year he had, by his own will, been slipping away from them, and now
they had gone too far for him to call them back.
He sat on the floor at his mother's feet whilst she read "Midshipman
Easy." It was all so cosy, the room was so comfortable with all the
familiar pictures and photographs and books, and Helen and Mary
diligently sewing, and Hamlet stretched out in front of the fire,
his nose on his paws--six months ago Jeremy would have felt utterly
and absolutely part of it. Now he was outside it and, at the same
time, was inside nothing else. It might be that in a week's time he
would be so familiar with his new world that he would be as happy as
a cricket--he did not know. He only knew that at this moment he
would have given all that he had to fling his arms round his
mother's neck, to be hugged and kissed and nursed by her, and that,
at the same time, he would have died rather than do such a thing.
The evening came to an end. The girls got up and said good-night.
His mother kissed him, holding him perhaps for a moment longer than
usual, but at that same instant she said:
"Oh, I must remind Ella about the half-past seven breakfast again,
she always has to be told everything twice."
The girls went on ahead, Jeremy and Hamlet following close behind.
Jeremy found himself alone in the schoolroom, where the fire was
very low, giving only little spurts and flashes that ran like golden
snakes suddenly through the darkness.
Moved by an impulse, he went to the toy-cupboard and, opening it,
put his hand quite by chance on the toy village. The toy village! He
laid it out and spread it on the floor. He could not see, but he
knew every piece by heart, and he laid it all out, the church and
the flower garden, and the Noah's house and the village street, the
animals and the Noahs. What centuries ago that birthday was, what
worlds away! How excited he had been, and now--!
With a sudden impatient gesture he tumbled the pieces over on to
their sides, then quickly, as though he were afraid of the dark,
went into his bedroom and began to undress.
In the morning events moved too quickly for thought. He had still
the same lonely pain at his heart, but now he simply was not given
time to consider it.
His father called him into the study. He gave him ten shillings and
a new prayer-book. Jeremy knew that he was trying to come close to
him and be a friend of a new kind to him.
He heard in a distance such words as: ". . . a new world, full of
trial and temptation. God sees us. . . Work at your Latin . . .
cricket and football . . . prayers every night. . ." But he could
feel no emotion nothing but terror lest some sudden stupid emotional
scene should occur. Nothing occurred. He kissed his father and went.
Then, quite suddenly, just as he came down in his hat and coat and
heard that the cab was there, his restraint melted; he was free and
impulsive and natural. He kissed Mary, telling her:
"You may have my toy village. I'd like you to--Yes, rather. I mean
He kissed Helen and Barbara, and then held to his mother, not caring
whether all the world was there to see. The old life was going with
him! He was not leaving it after all. The town and the house, and
all the things to which he had thought that he had said good-bye,
were going with him.
Hamlet! He found the dog struggling to get into the cab. That was
more than he could stand. He was not going to make a fool of
himself, but the only way to be secure was to get into the cab and
hide there. He caught Hamlet's head, gave it a kiss, then jumped in,
catching a last glimpse of the family grouped at the door, the
servants at the window, the old garden with the dead leaves gathered
upon it, Hamlet held, struggling, in Mary's arms.
He choked down his sobs, felt the ten shillings in his pocket, then
with a mighty resolve, to which it seemed that the labours of
Hercules were as nothing, leaned out and waved his hand.
The cab rolled off.
Hamlet lay down upon the mat just inside the hall-door. Someone
tried to pull him away. He growled, showing his teeth. His master
had gone out. He would wait for his return--and no one should move him.