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The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton

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Produced by Tom Harris

THE GHOST-SHIP

by Richard Middleton

Thanks are due to the Editors of _The Century_,
_English Review_, _Vanity Fair_, and _The Academy_, for
permission to reproduce most of the stories in this volume.

Preface

The other day I said to a friend, "I have just been reading in proof
a volume of short stories by an author named Richard Middleton. He is
dead. It is an extraordinary book, and all the work in it is full of
a quite curious and distinctive quality. In my opinion it is very
fine work indeed."

It would be so simple if the business of the introducer or
preface-writer were limited to such a straightforward, honest, and
direct expression of opinion; unfortunately that is not so. For most
of us, the happier ones of the world, it is enough to say "I like
it," or "I don't like it," and there is an end: the critic has to
answer the everlasting "Why?" And so, I suppose, it is my office,
in this present instance, to say why I like the collection of tales
that follows.

I think that I have found a hint as to the right answer in two of
these stories. One is called "The Story of a Book," the other "The
Biography of a Superman." Each is rather an essay than a tale, though
the form of each is narrative. The first relates the sad bewilderment
of a successful novelist who feels that, after all, his great work
was something less than nothing.

He could not help noticing that London had discovered the
secret which made his intellectual life a torment. The
streets were more than a mere assemblage of houses,
London herself was more than a tangled skein of streets,
and overhead heaven was more than a meeting-place of
individual stars. What was this secret that made words
into a book, houses into cities, and restless and
measurable stars into an unchanging and immeasurable
universe?

Then from "The Biography of a Superman" I select this very striking
passage:--

Possessed of an intellect of great analytic and
destructive force, he was almost entirely lacking
in imagination, and he was therefore unable
to raise his work to a plane in which the mutually
combative elements of his nature might have been
reconciled. His light moments of envy, anger, and
vanity passed into the crucible to come forth
unchanged. He lacked the magic wand, and his work
never took wings above his conception.

Now compare the two places; "the streets were more than a mere
assemblage of houses;" . . . "his light moments . . . passed into the
crucible to come forth unchanged. He lacked the magic wand." I think
these two passages indicate the answer to the "why" that I am forced
to resolve; show something of the secret of the strange charm which
"The Ghost-Ship" possesses.

It delights because it is significant, because it is no mere
assemblage of words and facts and observations and incidents, it
delights because its matter has not passed through the crucible
unchanged. On the contrary, the jumble of experiences and impressions
which fell to the lot of the author as to us all had assuredly been
placed in the athanor of art, in that furnace of the sages which is
said to be governed with wisdom. Lead entered the burning of the
fire, gold came forth from it.

This analogy of the process of alchemy which Richard Middleton has
himself suggested is one of the finest and the fittest for our
purpose; but there are many others. The "magic wand" analogy comes to
much the same thing; there is the like notion of something ugly and
insignificant changed to something beautiful and significant.
Something ugly; shall we not say rather something formless transmuted
into form! After all, the Latin Dictionary declares solemnly that
"beauty" is one of the meanings of "forma" And here we are away from
alchemy and the magic wand ideas, and pass to the thought of the
first place that I have quoted: "the streets were more than a mere
assemblage of houses," The puzzle is solved; the jig-saw--I think
they call it--has been successfully fitted together, There in a box
lay all the jagged, irregular pieces, each in itself crazy and
meaningless and irritating by its very lack of meaning: now we see
each part adapted to the other and the whole is one picture and one
purpose.

But the first thing necessary to this achievement is the recognition
of the fact that there is a puzzle. There are many people who go
through life persuaded that there isn't a puzzle at all; that it was
only the infancy and rude childhood of the world which dreamed a vain
dream of a picture to be made out of the jagged bits of wood, There
never has been a picture, these persons say, and there never will be
a picture, all we have to do is to take the bits out of the box, look
at them, and put them back again. Or, returning to Richard
Middleton's excellent example: there is no such thing as London,
there are only houses. No man has seen London at any time; the very
word (meaning "the fort on the lake") is nonsensical; no human eye
has ever beheld aught else but a number of houses; it is clear that
this "London" is as mythical and monstrous and irrational a concept
as many others of the same class. Well, people who talk like that are
doubtless sent into the world for some useful but mysterious process;
but they can't write real books. Richard Middleton knew that there
was a puzzle; in other words, that the universe is a great mystery;
and this consciousness of his is the source of the charm of "The
Ghost Ship."

I have compared this orthodox view of life and the
universe and the fine art that results from this view to the solving
of a puzzle; but the analogy is not an absolutely perfect one. For if
you buy a jig-saw in a box in the Haymarket, you take it home with
you and begin to put the pieces together, and sooner or later the
toil is over and the difficulties are overcome: the picture is clear
before you. Yes, the toil is over, but so is the fun; it is but poor
sport to do the trick all over again. And here is the vast
inferiority of the things they sell in the shops to the universe: our
great puzzle is never perfectly solved. We come across marvellous
hints, we join line to line and our hearts beat with the rapture of a
great surmise; we follow a certain track and know by sure signs and
signals that we are not mistaken, that we are on the right road; we
are furnished with certain charts which tell us "here there be
water-pools," "here is a waste place," "here a high hill riseth," and
we find as we journey that so it is. But, happily, by the very nature
of the case, we can never put the whole of the picture together, we
can never recover the perfect utterance of the Lost Word, we can
never say "here is the end of all the journey." Man is so made that
all his true delight arises from the contemplation of mystery, and
save by his own frantic and invincible folly, mystery is never taken
from him; it rises within his soul, a well of joy unending.

Hence it is that the consciousness of this mystery, resolved into the
form of art, expresses itself usually (or always) by symbols, by the
part put for the whole. Now and then, as in the case of Dante, as it
was with the great romance-cycle of the Holy Graal, we have a sense
of completeness. With the vision of the Angelic Rose and the sentence
concerning that Love which moves the sun and the other stars there is
the shadow of a catholic survey of all things; and so in a less
degree it is as we read of the translation of Galahad. Still, the
Rose and the Graal are but symbols of the eternal verities, not those
verities themselves in their essences; and in these later days when
we have become clever--with the cleverness of the Performing Pig--it
is a great thing to find the most obscure and broken indications of
the things which really are. There is the true enchantment of true
romance in the Don Quixote--for those who can understand--but it is
delivered in the mode of parody and burlesque; and so it is with the
extraordinary fantasy, "The Ghost-Ship," which gives its name to this
collection of tales. Take this story to bits, as it were; analyse it;
you will be astonished at its frantic absurdity: the ghostly galleon
blown in by a great tempest to a turnip-patch in Fairfield, a little
village lying near the Portsmouth Road about half-way between London
and the sea; the farmer grumbling at the loss of so many turnips; the
captain of the weird vessel acknowledging the justice of the claim
and tossing a great gold brooch to the landlord by way of satisfying
the debt; the deplorable fact that all the decent village ghosts
learned to riot with Captain Bartholomew Roberts; the visit of the
parson and his godly admonitions to the Captain on the evil work he
was doing; mere craziness, you will say?

Yes; but the strange thing is that as, in spite of all jocose tricks
and low-comedy misadventures, Don Quixote departs from us with a
great light shining upon him; so this ghost-ship of Richard
Middleton's, somehow or other, sails and anchors and re-sails in an
unearthly glow; and Captain Bartholomew's rum that was like hot oil
and honey and fire in the veins of the mortals who drank of it, has
become for me one of the _nobilium poculorum_ of story. And thus did
the ship put forth from the village and sail away in a great tempest
of wind--to what unimaginable seas of the spirit!

The wind that had been howling outside
like an outrageous dog had all of a sudden
turned as melodious as the carol-boys of a
Christmas Eve.

We went to the door, and the wind burst it
open so that the handle was driven clean into
the plaster of the wall. But we didn't think
much of that at the time; for over our heads,
sailing very comfortably through the windy
stars, was the ship that had passed the
summer in landlord's field. Her portholes
and her bay-window were blazing with lights,
and there was a noise of singing and fiddling
on her decks. "He's gone," shouted landlord
above the storm, "and he's taken half the
village with him!" I could only nod in
answer, not having lungs like bellows of
leather.

I declare I would not exchange this short, crazy, enchanting fantasy
for a whole wilderness of seemly novels, proclaiming in decorous
accents the undoubted truth that there are milestones on the
Portsmouth Road.

Arthur Machen.

The Ghost-Ship

Fairfield is a little village lying near the Portsmouth Road about
half-way between London and the sea. Strangers who find it by
accident now and then, call it a pretty, old-fashioned place; we who
live in it and call it home don't find anything very pretty about it,
but we should be sorry to live anywhere else. Our minds have taken
the shape of the inn and the church and the green, I suppose. At all
events we never feel comfortable out of Fairfield.

Of course the Cockneys, with their vasty houses and noise-ridden
streets, can call us rustics if they choose, but for all that
Fairfield is a better place to live in than London. Doctor says that
when he goes to London his mind is bruised with the weight of the
houses, and he was a Cockney born. He had to live there himself when
he was a little chap, but he knows better now. You gentlemen may
laugh--perhaps some of you come from London way--but it seems to me
that a witness like that is worth a gallon of arguments.

Dull? Well, you might find it dull, but I assure you that I've
listened to all the London yarns you have spun tonight, and they're
absolutely nothing to the things that happen at Fairfield. It's
because of our way of thinking and minding our own business. If one
of your Londoners were set down on the green of a Saturday night when
the ghosts of the lads who died in the war keep tryst with the lasses
who lie in the church-yard, he couldn't help being curious and
interfering, and then the ghosts would go somewhere where it was
quieter. But we just let them come and go and don't make any fuss,
and in consequence Fairfield is the ghostiest place in all England.
Why, I've seen a headless man sitting on the edge of the well in
broad daylight, and the children playing about his feet as if he were
their father. Take my word for it, spirits know when they are well
off as much as human beings.

Still, I must admit that the thing I'm going to tell you about was
queer even for our part of the world, where three packs of
ghost-hounds hunt regularly during the season, and blacksmith's
great-grandfather is busy all night shoeing the dead gentlemen's
horses. Now that's a thing that wouldn't happen in London, because of
their interfering ways, but blacksmith he lies up aloft and sleeps as
quiet as a lamb. Once when he had a bad head he shouted down to them
not to make so much noise, and in the morning he found an old guinea
left on the anvil as an apology. He wears it on his watch-chain now.
But I must get on with my story; if I start telling you about the
queer happenings at Fairfield I'll never stop.

It all came of the great storm in the spring of '97, the year that we
had two great storms. This was the first one, and I remember it very
well, because I found in the morning that it had lifted the thatch of
my pigsty into the widow's garden as clean as a boy's kite. When I
looked over the hedge, widow--Tom Lamport's widow that was--was
prodding for her nasturtiums with a daisy-grubber. After I had
watched her for a little I went down to the "Fox and Grapes" to tell
landlord what she had said to me. Landlord he laughed, being a
married man and at ease with the sex. "Come to that," he said, "the
tempest has blowed something into my field. A kind of a ship I
think it would be."

I was surprised at that until he explained that it was only a
ghost-ship and would do no hurt to the turnips. We argued that
it had been blown up from the sea at Portsmouth, and then we
talked of something else. There were two slates down at the
parsonage and a big tree in Lumley's meadow. It was a rare
storm.

I reckon the wind had blown our ghosts all over England.
They were coming back for days afterwards with foundered horses
and as footsore as possible, and they were so glad to get back
to Fairfield that some of them walked up the street crying like
little children. Squire said that his great-grandfather's
great-grandfather hadn't looked so dead-beat since the battle
of Naseby, and he's an educated man.

What with one thing and another, I should think it was a week before
we got straight again, and then one afternoon I met the landlord on
the green and he had a worried face. "I wish you'd come and have a
look at that ship in my field," he said to me; "it seems to me it's
leaning real hard on the turnips. I can't bear thinking what the
missus will say when she sees it."

I walked down the lane with him, and sure enough there was a
ship in the middle of his field, but such a ship as no man had
seen on the water for three hundred years, let alone in the
middle of a turnip-field. It was all painted black and covered
with carvings, and there was a great bay window in the stern
for all the world like the Squire's drawing-room. There was a
crowd of little black cannon on deck and looking out of her
port-holes, and she was anchored at each end to the hard
ground. I have seen the wonders of the world on picture-postcards,
but I have never seen anything to equal that.

"She seems very solid for a ghost-ship," I said, seeing the landlord
was bothered.

"I should say it's a betwixt and between," he answered, puzzling it
over, "but it's going to spoil a matter of fifty turnips, and missus
she'll want it moved." We went up to her and touched the side, and it
was as hard as a real ship. "Now there's folks in England would call
that very curious," he said.

Now I don't know much about ships, but I should think that that
ghost-ship weighed a solid two hundred tons, and it seemed to me
that she had come to stay, so that I felt sorry for landlord, who was
a married man. "All the horses in Fairfield won't move her out of my
turnips," he said, frowning at her.

Just then we heard a noise on her deck, and we looked up and saw that
a man had come out of her front cabin and was looking down at us very
peaceably. He was dressed in a black uniform set out with rusty gold
lace, and he had a great cutlass by his side in a brass sheath. "I'm
Captain Bartholomew Roberts," he said, in a gentleman's voice, "put
in for recruits. I seem to have brought her rather far up the
harbour."

"Harbour!" cried landlord; "why, you're fifty miles from the sea."

Captain Roberts didn't turn a hair. "So much as that, is it?" he said
coolly. "Well, it's of no consequence."

Landlord was a bit upset at this. "I don't want to be unneighbourly,"
he said, "but I wish you hadn't brought your ship into my field. You
see, my wife sets great store on these turnips."

The captain took a pinch of snuff out of a fine gold box that he
pulled out of his pocket, and dusted his fingers with a silk
handkerchief in a very genteel fashion. "I'm only here for a few
months," he said; "but if a testimony of my esteem would pacify your
good lady I should be content," and with the words he loosed a great
gold brooch from the neck of his coat and tossed it down to landlord.

Landlord blushed as red as a strawberry. "I'm not denying she's fond
of jewellery," he said, "but it's too much for half a sackful of
turnips." And indeed it was a handsome brooch.

The captain laughed. "Tut, man," he said, "it's a forced sale, and
you deserve a good price. Say no more about it;" and nodding good-day
to us, he turned on his heel and went into the cabin. Landlord walked
back up the lane like a man with a weight off his mind. "That tempest
has blowed me a bit of luck," he said; "the missus will be much
pleased with that brooch. It's better than blacksmith's guinea, any
day."

Ninety-seven was Jubilee year, the year of the second Jubilee, you
remember, and we had great doings at Fairfield, so that we hadn't
much time to bother about the ghost-ship though anyhow it isn't our
way to meddle in things that don't concern us. Landlord, he saw his
tenant once or twice when he was hoeing his turnips and passed the
time of day, and landlord's wife wore her new brooch to church every
Sunday. But we didn't mix much with the ghosts at any time, all
except an idiot lad there was in the village, and he didn't know the
difference between a man and a ghost, poor innocent! On Jubilee Day,
however, somebody told Captain Roberts why the church bells were
ringing, and he hoisted a flag and fired off his guns like a loyal
Englishman. 'Tis true the guns were shotted, and one of the round
shot knocked a hole in Farmer Johnstone's barn, but nobody thought
much of that in such a season of rejoicing.

It wasn't till our celebrations were over that we noticed that
anything was wrong in Fairfield. 'Twas shoemaker who told me first
about it one morning at the "Fox and Grapes." "You know my great
great-uncle?" he said to me.

"You mean Joshua, the quiet lad," I answered, knowing him well.

"Quiet!" said shoemaker indignantly. "Quiet you call him, coming home
at three o'clock every morning as drunk as a magistrate and waking up
the whole house with his noise."

"Why, it can't be Joshua!" I said, for I knew him for one of the most
respectable young ghosts in the village.

"Joshua it is," said shoemaker; "and one of these nights he'll find
himself out in the street if he isn't careful."

This kind of talk shocked me, I can tell you, for I don't like to
hear a man abusing his own family, and I could hardly believe that a
steady youngster like Joshua had taken to drink. But just then in
came butcher Aylwin in such a temper that he could hardly drink his
beer. "The young puppy! the young puppy!" he kept on saying; and it
was some time before shoemaker and I found out that he was talking
about his ancestor that fell at Senlac.

"Drink?" said shoemaker hopefully, for we all like company in our
misfortunes, and butcher nodded grimly.

"The young noodle," he said, emptying his tankard.

Well, after that I kept my ears open, and it was the same story all
over the village. There was hardly a young man among all the ghosts
of Fairfield who didn't roll home in the small hours of the morning
the worse for liquor. I used to wake up in the night and hear them
stumble past my house, singing outrageous songs. The worst of it was
that we couldn't keep the scandal to ourselves and the folk at
Greenhill began to talk of "sodden Fairfield" and taught their
children to sing a song about us:

"Sodden Fairfield, sodden Fairfield, has no use for bread-and-butter,
Rum for breakfast, rum for dinner, rum for tea, and rum for supper!"

We are easy-going in our village, but we didn't like that.

Of course we soon found out where the young fellows went to get the
drink, and landlord was terribly cut up that his tenant should have
turned out so badly, but his wife wouldn't hear of parting with the
brooch, so that he couldn't give the Captain notice to quit. But as
time went on, things grew from bad to worse, and at all hours of the
day you would see those young reprobates sleeping it off on the
village green. Nearly every afternoon a ghost-wagon used to jolt down
to the ship with a lading of rum, and though the older ghosts seemed
inclined to give the Captain's hospitality the go-by, the youngsters
were neither to hold nor to bind.

So one afternoon when I was taking my nap I heard a knock at the
door, and there was parson looking very serious, like a man with a
job before him that he didn't altogether relish. "I'm going down to
talk to the Captain about all this drunkenness in the village, and I
want you to come with me," he said straight out.

I can't say that I fancied the visit much, myself, and I tried to
hint to parson that as, after all, they were only a lot of ghosts it
didn't very much matter.

"Dead or alive, I'm responsible for the good conduct," he said, "and
I'm going to do my duty and put a stop to this continued disorder.
And you are coming with me John Simmons." So I went, parson being a
persuasive kind of man.

We went down to the ship, and as we approached her I could see the
Captain tasting the air on deck. When he saw parson he took off his
hat very politely and I can tell you that I was relieved to find that
he had a proper respect for the cloth. Parson acknowledged his salute
and spoke out stoutly enough. "Sir, I should be glad to have a word
with you."

"Come on board, sir; come on board," said the Captain, and I could
tell by his voice that he knew why we were there. Parson and I
climbed up an uneasy kind of ladder, and the Captain took us into the
great cabin at the back of the ship, where the bay-window was. It was
the most wonderful place you ever saw in your life, all full of gold
and silver plate, swords with jewelled scabbards, carved oak chairs,
and great chests that look as though they were bursting with guineas.
Even parson was surprised, and he did not shake his head very hard
when the Captain took down some silver cups and poured us out a drink
of rum. I tasted mine, and I don't mind saying that it changed my
view of things entirely. There was nothing betwixt and between about
that rum, and I felt that it was ridiculous to blame the lads for
drinking too much of stuff like that. It seemed to fill my veins with
honey and fire.

Parson put the case squarely to the Captain, but I didn't listen much
to what he said; I was busy sipping my drink and looking through the
window at the fishes swimming to and fro over landlord's turnips.
Just then it seemed the most natural thing in the world that they
should be there, though afterwards, of course, I could see that that
proved it was a ghost-ship.

But even then I thought it was queer when I saw a drowned sailor
float by in the thin air with his hair and beard all full of bubbles.
It was the first time I had seen anything quite like that at
Fairfield.

All the time I was regarding the wonders of the deep parson was
telling Captain Roberts how there was no peace or rest in the village
owing to the curse of drunkenness, and what a bad example the
youngsters were setting to the older ghosts. The Captain listened
very attentively, and only put in a word now and then about boys
being boys and young men sowing their wild oats. But when parson had
finished his speech he filled up our silver cups and said to parson,
with a flourish, "I should be sorry to cause trouble anywhere where I
have been made welcome, and you will be glad to hear that I put to
sea tomorrow night. And now you must drink me a prosperous voyage."
So we all stood up and drank the toast with honour, and that noble
rum was like hot oil in my veins.

After that Captain showed us some of the curiosities he had brought
back from foreign parts, and we were greatly amazed, though
afterwards I couldn't clearly remember what they were. And then I
found myself walking across the turnips with parson, and I was
telling him of the glories of the deep that I had seen through the
window of the ship. He turned on me severely. "If I were you, John
Simmons," he said, "I should go straight home to bed." He has a way
of putting things that wouldn't occur to an ordinary man, has parson,
and I did as he told me.

Well, next day it came on to blow, and it blew harder and harder,
till about eight o'clock at night I heard a noise and looked out into
the garden. I dare say you won't believe me, it seems a bit tall even
to me, but the wind had lifted the thatch of my pigsty into the
widow's garden a second time. I thought I wouldn't wait to hear what
widow had to say about it, so I went across the green to the "Fox and
Grapes", and the wind was so strong that I danced along on tiptoe
like a girl at the fair. When I got to the inn landlord had to help
me shut the door; it seemed as though a dozen goats were pushing
against it to come in out of the storm.

"It's a powerful tempest," he said, drawing the beer. "I hear there's
a chimney down at Dickory End."

"It's a funny thing how these sailors know about the weather," I
answered. "When Captain said he was going tonight, I was thinking it
would take a capful of wind to carry the ship back to sea, but now
here's more than a capful."

"Ah, yes," said landlord, "it's tonight he goes true enough, and,
mind you, though he treated me handsome over the rent, I'm not sure
it's a loss to the village. I don't hold with gentrice who fetch
their drink from London instead of helping local traders to get their
living."

"But you haven't got any rum like his," I said, to draw him out.

His neck grew red above his collar, and I was afraid I'd gone too
far; but after a while he got his breath with a grunt.

"John Simmons," he said, "if you've come down here this windy night
to talk a lot of fool's talk, you've wasted a journey."

Well, of course, then I had to smooth him down with praising his rum,
and Heaven forgive me for swearing it was better than Captain's. For
the like of that rum no living lips have tasted save mine and
parson's. But somehow or other I brought landlord round, and
presently we must have a glass of his best to prove its quality.

"Beat that if you can!" he cried, and we both raised our glasses to
our mouths, only to stop half-way and look at each other in amaze.
For the wind that had been howling outside like an outrageous dog had
all of a sudden turned as melodious as the carol-boys of a Christmas
Eve.

"Surely that's not my Martha," whispered landlord; Martha being his
great-aunt that lived in the loft overhead.

We went to the door, and the wind burst it open so that the handle
was driven clean into the plaster of the wall. But we didn't think
about that at the time; for over our heads, sailing very comfortably
through the windy stars, was the ship that had passed the summer in
landlord's field. Her portholes and her bay-window were blazing with
lights, and there was a noise of singing and fiddling on her decks.
"He's gone," shouted landlord above the storm, "and he's taken half
the village with him!" I could only nod in answer, not having lungs
like bellows of leather.

In the morning we were able to measure the strength of the storm, and
over and above my pigsty there was damage enough wrought in the
village to keep us busy. True it is that the children had to break
down no branches for the firing that autumn, since the wind had
strewn the woods with more than they could carry away. Many of our
ghosts were scattered abroad, but this time very few came back, all
the young men having sailed with Captain; and not only ghosts, for a
poor half-witted lad was missing, and we reckoned that he had stowed
himself away or perhaps shipped as cabin-boy, not knowing any better.

What with the lamentations of the ghost-girls and the grumbling of
families who had lost an ancestor, the village was upset for a while,
and the funny thing was that it was the folk who had complained most
of the carryings-on of the youngsters, who made most noise now that
they were gone. I hadn't any sympathy with shoemaker or butcher, who
ran about saying how much they missed their lads, but it made me
grieve to hear the poor bereaved girls calling their lovers by name
on the village green at nightfall. It didn't seem fair to me that
they should have lost their men a second time, after giving up life
in order to join them, as like as not. Still, not even a spirit can
be sorry for ever, and after a few months we made up our mind that
the folk who had sailed in the ship were never coming back, and we
didn't talk about it any more.

And then one day, I dare say it would be a couple of years after,
when the whole business was quite forgotten, who should come
trapesing along the road from Portsmouth but the daft lad who had
gone away with the ship, without waiting till he was dead to become a
ghost. You never saw such a boy as that in all your life. He had a
great rusty cutlass hanging to a string at his waist, and he was
tattooed all over in fine colours, so that even his face looked like
a girl's sampler. He had a handkerchief in his hand full of foreign
shells and old-fashioned pieces of small money, very curious, and he
walked up to the well outside his mother's house and drew himself a
drink as if he had been nowhere in particular.

The worst of it was that he had come back as soft-headed as he went,
and try as we might we couldn't get anything reasonable out of him.
He talked a lot of gibberish about keel-hauling and walking the
plank and crimson murders--things which a decent sailor should know
nothing about, so that it seemed to me that for all his manners
Captain had been more of a pirate than a gentleman mariner. But to
draw sense out of that boy was as hard as picking cherries off a
crab-tree. One silly tale he had that he kept on drifting back to,
and to hear him you would have thought that it was the only thing
that happened to him in his life. "We was at anchor," he would say,
"off an island called the Basket of Flowers, and the sailors had
caught a lot of parrots and we were teaching them to swear. Up and
down the decks, up and down the decks, and the language they used
was dreadful. Then we looked up and saw the masts of the Spanish
ship outside the harbour. Outside the harbour they were, so we threw
the parrots into the sea and sailed out to fight. And all the
parrots were drownded in the sea and the language they used was
dreadful." That's the sort of boy he was, nothing but silly talk of
parrots when we asked him about the fighting. And we never had a
chance of teaching him better, for two days after he ran away again,
and hasn't been seen since.

That's my story, and I assure you that things like that are happening
at Fairfield all the time. The ship has never come back, but somehow
as people grow older they seem to think that one of these windy
nights she'll come sailing in over the hedges with all the lost
ghosts on board. Well, when she comes, she'll be welcome. There's one
ghost-lass that has never grown tired of waiting for her lad to
return. Every night you'll see her out on the green, straining her
poor eyes with looking for the mast-lights among the stars. A
faithful lass you'd call her, and I'm thinking you'd be right.

Landlord's field wasn't a penny the worse for the visit, but they do
say that since then the turnips that have been grown in it have
tasted of rum.

A Drama Of Youth

I

For some days school had seemed to me even more tedious than usual.
The long train journey in the morning, the walk through Farringdon
Meat Market, which aesthetic butchers made hideous with mosaics of the
intestines of animals, as if the horror of suety pavements and bloody
sawdust did not suffice, the weariness of inventing lies that no one
believed to account for my lateness and neglected homework, and the
monotonous lessons that held me from my dreams without ever for a
single instant capturing my interest--all these things made me ill
with repulsion. Worst of all was the society of my cheerful,
contented comrades, to avoid which I was compelled to mope in
deserted corridors, the prey of a sorrow that could not be enjoyed, a
hatred that was in no way stimulating. At the best of times the
atmosphere of the place disgusted me. Desks, windows, and floors, and
even the grass in the quadrangle, were greasy with London soot, and
there was nowhere any clean air to breathe or smell. I hated the
gritty asphalt that gave no peace to my feet and cut my knees when my
clumsiness made me fall. I hated the long stone corridors whose
echoes seemed to me to mock my hesitating footsteps when I passed
from one dull class to another. I hated the stuffy malodorous
classrooms, with their whistling gas-jets and noise of inharmonious
life. I would have hated the yellow fogs had they not sometimes
shortened the hours of my bondage. That five hundred boys shared this
horrible environment with me did not abate my sufferings a jot; for
it was clear that they did not find it distasteful, and they
therefore became as unsympathetic for me as the smell and noise and
rotting stones of the school itself.

The masters moved as it were in another world, and, as the classes
were large, they understood me as little as I understood them. They
knew that I was idle and untruthful, and they could not know that I
was as full of nerves as a girl, and that the mere task of getting to
school every morning made me physically sick. They punished me
repeatedly and in vain, for I found every hour I passed within the
walls of the school an overwhelming punishment in itself, and nothing
I made any difference to me. I lied to them because they expected it,
and because I had no words in which to express the truth if I knew
it, which is doubtful. For some reason I could not tell them at home
why I got on so badly at school, or no doubt they would have taken me
away and sent me to a country school, as they did afterwards. Nearly
all the real sorrows of childhood are due to this dumbness of the
emotions; we teach children to convey facts by means of words, but we
do not teach them how to make their feelings intelligible.
Unfortunately, perhaps, I was very happy at night with my story-books
and my dreams, so that the real misery of my days escaped the
attention of the grown-up people. Of course I never even thought of
doing my homework, and the labour of inventing new lies every day to
account for my negligence became so wearisome that once or twice I
told the truth and simply said I had not done it; but the masters
held that this frankness aggravated the offence, and I had to take up
anew my tiresome tale of improbable calamities. Sometimes my stories
were so wild that the whole class would laugh, and I would have to
laugh myself; yet on the strength of this elaborate politeness to
authority I came to believe myself that I was untruthful by nature.

The boys disliked me because I was not sociable, but after a time
they grew tired of bullying me and left me alone. I detested them
because they were all so much alike that their numbers filled me with
horror. I remember that the first day I went to school I walked round
and round the quadrangle in the luncheon-hour, and every boy who
passed stopped me and asked me my name and what my father was. When I
said he was an engineer every one of the boys replied, "Oh! the man
who drives the engine." The reiteration of this childish joke made me
hate them from the first, and afterwards I discovered that they were
equally unimaginative in everything they did. Sometimes I would stand
in the midst of them, and wonder what was the matter with me that I
should be so different from all the rest. When they teased me,
repeating the same questions over and over again, I cried easily,
like a girl, without quite knowing why, for their stupidities could
not hurt my reason; but when they bullied me I did not cry, because
the pain made me forget the sadness of my heart. Perhaps it was
because of this that they thought I was a little mad.

Grey day followed grey day, and I might in time have abandoned
all efforts to be faithful to my dreams, and achieved a kind of
beast-like submission that was all the authorities expected of
notorious dunces. I might have taught my senses to accept the
evil conditions of life in that unclean place; I might even have
succeeded in making myself one with the army of shadows that
thronged in the quadrangle and filled the air with meaningless
noise.

But one evening when I reached home I saw by the faces of the
grown-up people that something had upset their elaborate
precautions for an ordered life, and I discovered that my brother,
who had stayed at home with a cold, was ill in bed with the
measles. For a while the significance of the news escaped me;
then, with a sudden movement of my heart, which made me feel ill,
I realised that probably I would have to stay away from school
because of the infection. My feet tapped on the floor with joy,
though I tried to appear unconcerned. Then, as I nursed my sudden
hope of freedom, a little fearfully lest it should prove an
illusion, a new and enchanting idea came to me. I slipped from the
room, ran upstairs to my bedroom and, standing by the side of my
bed, tore open my waistcoat and shirt with clumsy, trembling
fingers. One, two, three, four, five! I counted the spots in a
triumphant voice, and then with a sudden revulsion sat down on the
bed to give the world an opportunity to settle back in its place.
I had the measles, and therefore I should not have to go back to
school! I shut my eyes for a minute and opened them again, but
still I had the measles. The cup of happiness was at my lips, but
I sipped delicately because it was full to the brim, and I would
not spill a drop.

This mood did not last long. I had to run down the house and tell
the world the good news. The grown-up people rebuked my joyousness,
while admitting that it might be as well that I should have the
measles then as later on. In spite of their air of resignation I
could hardly sit still for excitement. I wanted to go into the
kitchen and show my measles to the servants, but I was told to stay
where I was in front of the fire while my bed was moved into my
brother's room. So I stared at the glowing coals till my eyes
smarted, and dreamed long dreams. I would be in bed for days, all
warm from head to foot, and no one would interrupt my pleasant
excursions in the world I preferred to this. If I had heard of the
beneficent microbe to which lowed my happiness, I would have
mentioned it in my prayers.

Late that night, I called over to my brother to ask how long measles
lasted. He told me to go to sleep, so that I knew he did not know the
answer to my question. I lay at ease tranquilly turning the problem
over in my mind. Four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks; why, if I was
lucky, it would carry me through to the holidays! At all events,
school was already very far away, like a nightmare remembered at
noon. I said good-night to my brother, and received an irritated
grunt in reply. I did not mind his surliness; tomorrow when I woke
up, I would begin my dreams.

II

When I found myself in bed in the morning, already sick at heart
because even while I slept I could not forget the long torment of my
life at school, I would lie still for a minute or two and try to
concentrate my shuddering mind on something pleasant, some little
detail of the moment that seemed to justify hope. Perhaps I had some
money to spend or a holiday to look forward to; though often enough I
would find nothing to save me from realising with childish intensity
the greyness of the world in which it was my fate to move. I did not
want to go out into life; it was dull and gruel and greasy with soot.
I only wanted to stop at home in any little quiet corner out of
everybody's way and think my long, heroic thoughts. But even while I
mumbled my hasty breakfast and ran to the station to catch my train
the atmosphere of the school was all about me, and my dreamer's
courage trembled and vanished.

When I woke from sleep the morning after my good fortune, I did not
at first realise the extent of my happiness; I only knew that deep in
my heart I was conscious of some great cause for joy. Then my eyes,
still dim with sleep, discovered that I was in my brother's bedroom,
and in a flash the joyful truth was revealed to me. I sat up and
hastily examined my body to make sure that the rash had not
disappeared, and then my spirit sang a song of thanksgiving of which
the refrain was, "I have the measles!" I lay back in bed and enjoyed
the exquisite luxury of thinking of the evils that I had escaped. For
once my morbid sense of atmosphere was a desirable possession and
helpful to my happiness. It was delightful to pull the bedclothes
over my shoulders and conceive the feelings of a small boy who should
ride to town in a jolting train, walk through a hundred kinds of dirt
and a hundred disgusting smells to win to prison at last, where he
should perform meaningless tasks in the distressing society of five
hundred mocking apes. It was pleasant to see the morning sun and feel
no sickness in my stomach, no sense of depression in my tired brain.
Across the room my brother gurgled and choked in his sleep, and in
some subtle way contributed to my ecstasy of tranquillity. I was no
longer concerned for the duration of my happiness. I felt that this
peace that I had desired so long must surely last for ever.

To the grown-up folk who came to see us during the day--the
doctor, certain germ-proof unmarried aunts, truculently maternal,
and the family itself--my brother's case was far more interesting
than mine because he had caught the measles really badly. I just
had them comfortably; enough to be infectious, but not enough to
feel ill, so I was left in pleasant solitude while the women
competed for the honour of smoothing my brother's pillow and
tiptoeing in a fidgeting manner round his bed. I lay on my back
and looked with placid interest at the cracks in the ceiling. They
were like the main roads in a map, and I amused myself by building
little houses beside them--houses full of books and warm
hearthrugs, and with a nice pond lively with tadpoles in the
garden of each. From the windows of the houses you could watch all
the traffic that went along the road, men and women and horses,
and best of all, the boys going to school in the morning--boys who
had not done their homework and who would be late for prayers.
When I talked about the cracks to my brother he said that perhaps
the ceiling would give way and fall on our heads. I thought about
this too, and found it quite easy to picture myself lying in the
bed with a smashed head, and blood all over the pillow. Then it
occurred to me that the plaster might smash me all over, and my
impressions of Farringdon Meat Market added a gruesome vividness
to my conception of the consequences. I always found it pleasant
to imagine horrible things; it was only the reality that made me
sick.

Towards nightfall I became a little feverish, and I heard the
grown-ups say that they would give me some medicine later on.
Medicine for me signified the nauseous powders of Dr. Gregory,
so I pretended to be asleep every time anyone came into the
room, in order to escape my destiny, until at last some one
stood by my bedside so long that I became cramped and had to
pretend to wake up. Then I was given the medicine, and found to
my surprise that it was delicious and tasted of oranges. I felt
that there had been a mistake somewhere, but my head sat a
little heavily on my shoulders, and I would not trouble to fix
the responsibility. This time I fell asleep in earnest, and woke
in the middle of the night to find my brother standing by my
bed, making noises with his mouth. I thought that he had gone
mad, and would kill me perhaps, but after a time he went back to
bed saying all the bad words he knew. The excitement had made me
wide awake, and I tossed about thinking of the cracked ceiling
above my head. The room was quite dark, and I could see nothing,
so that it might be bulging over me without my knowing it. I
stood up in bed and stretched up my arm, but I could not reach
the ceiling; yet when I lay down again I felt as though it had
sunk so far, that it was touching my hair, and I found it
difficult to breathe in such a small space. I was afraid to move
for fear of bringing it down upon me, and in a short while the
pressure upon my body became unbearable, and I shrieked out for
help. Some one came in and lit the gas, and found me looking
very foolish and my brother delirious. I fell asleep almost
immediately, but was conscious through my dreams that the gas
was still alight and that they were watching by my brother's
bedside.

In the morning he was very ill and I was no longer feverish, so it
was decided to move me back into my own bedroom. I was wrapped up in
the bedclothes and told to sit still while the bed was moved. I sat
in an armchair, feeling like a bundle of old clothes, and looking at
the cracks in the ceiling which seemed to me like roads. I knew that
I had already lost all importance as an invalid, but I was very
happy nevertheless. For from the window of one of my little houses I
was watching the boys going to school, and my heart was warm with
the knowledge of my own emancipation. As my legs hung down from the
chair I found it hard to keep my slippers on my stockingless feet.

III

There followed for me a period of deep and unbroken
satisfaction. I was soon considered well enough to get up, and I
lived pleasantly between the sofa and the fireside waiting on my
brother's convalescence, for it had been settled that I should
go away with him to the country for a change of air. I read
Dickens and Dumas in English, and made up long stories in which
I myself played important but not always heroic parts. By means
of intellectual exercises of this kind I achieved a tranquillity
like that of an old man, fearing nothing, desiring nothing,
regretting nothing. I no longer reckoned the days or the hours,
I content to enjoy a passionless condition of being that asked
no questions and sought none of me, nor did I trouble to number
my journeys in the world of infinite shadows. But in that long
hour of peace I realised that in some inexplicable way I was
interested in the body of a little boy, whose hands obeyed my
unspoken wishes, whose legs sprawled before me on the sofa. I
knew that before I met him, this boy, whose littleness surprised
me, had suffered ill dreams in a nameless world, and now, worn
out with tears and humiliation and dread of life, he slept, and
while he slept I watched him dispassionately, as I would have
looked at a crippled daddy-long-legs. To have felt compassion
for him would have disturbed the tranquillity that was a
necessary condition of my existence, so I contented myself with
noticing his presence and giving him a small part in the pageant
of my dreams. He was not so beautiful as I wished all my
comrades to be, and he was besides very small; but shadows are
amiable play-friends, and they did not blame him because he
cried when he was teased and did not cry when he was beaten, or
because the wild unreason of his sorrow made him find cause for
tears in the very fullness of his rare enjoyment. For the first
time in my life it seems to me I saw this little boy as he was,
squat-bodied, big-headed, thick-lipped, and with a face swept
clean of all emotions save where his two great eyes glowed with
a sulky fire under exaggerated eyebrows. I noticed his grimy
nails, his soiled collar, his unbrushed clothes, the patent
signs of defeat changing to utter rout, and from the heights of
my great peace I was not sorry for him. He was like that, other
boys were different, that was all.

And then on a day fear returned to my heart, and my newly discovered
Utopia was no more. I do not know what chance word of the grown-up
people or what random thought of mine did the mischief; but of a
sudden I realised that for all my dreaming I was only separated by a
measurable number of days from the horror of school. Already I was
sick with fear, and in place of my dreams I distressed myself by
visualising the scenes of the life I dreaded--the Meat Market, the
dusty shadows of the gymnasium, the sombre reticence of the great
hall. All that my lost tranquillity had given me was a keener sense
of my own being; my smallness, my ugliness, my helplessness in the
face of the great cruel world. Before I had sometimes been able to
dull my emotions in unpleasant circumstances and thus achieve a
dogged calm; now I was horribly conscious of my physical sensations,
and, above all, of that deadly sinking in my stomach called fear. I
clenched my hands, telling myself that I was happy, and trying to
force my mind to pleasant thoughts; but though my head swam with the
effort, I continued to be conscious that I was afraid. In the midst
of my mental struggles I discovered that even if I succeeded in
thinking happy things I should still have to go back to school after
all, and the knowledge that thought could not avert calamity was
like a bruise on my mind. I pinched my arms and legs, with the idea
that immediate pain would make me forget my fears for the future;
but I was not brave enough to pinch them really hard, and I could
not forget the motive for my action. I lay back on the sofa and
kicked the cushions with my feet in a kind of forlorn anger. Thought
was no use, nothing was any use, and my stomach was sick, sick with
fear. And suddenly I became aware of an immense fatigue that
overwhelmed my mind and my body, and made me feel as helpless as a
little child. The tears that were always near my eyes streamed down
my face, making my cheek sore against the wet cushion, and my breath
came in painful, ridiculous gulps. For a moment I made an effort to
control my grief; and then I gave way utterly, crying with my whole
body like a little child, until, like a little child, I fell asleep.

When I awoke the room was grey with dusk, and I sat up with a
swaying head, glad to hide the shame of my foolish swollen face
amongst the shadows. My mouth was still salt with tears, and I was
very thirsty, but I was always anxious to hide my weakness from
other people, and I was afraid that if I asked for something to
drink they would see that I had been crying. The fire had gone out
while I slept, and I felt cold and stiff, but my abandonment of
restraint had relieved me, and my fear was now no more than a vague
unrest. My mind thought slowly but very clearly. I saw that it was a
pity that I had not been more ill than I was, for then, like my
brother, I should have gone away for a month instead of a fortnight.
As it was, everybody laughed at me because I looked so well, and
said they did not believe that I had been ill at all. If I had
thought of it earlier I might have been able to make myself worse
somehow or other, but now it was too late. When the maid came in and
lit the gas for tea she blamed me for letting the fire out, and told
me that I had a dirty face. I was glad of the chance to slip away
and wash my burning cheeks in cold water. When I had finished and
dried my face on the rough towel I looked at myself in the glass. I
looked as if I had been to the seaside for a holiday, my cheeks were
so red!

That night as I lay sleepless in my bed, seeking for a cool place
between the sheets in which to rest my hot feet, the sickness of fear
returned to me, and I knew that I was lost. I shut my eyes tightly,
but I could not shut out the vivid pictures of school life that my
memory had stored up for my torment; I beat my head against the
pillow, but I could not change my thoughts. I recalled all the
possible events that might interfere with my return to school, a new
illness, a railway accident, even suicide, but my reason would not
accept these romantic issues. I was helpless before my destiny, and
my destiny made me I afraid.

And then, perhaps I was half asleep or fond with fear, I leapt out of
bed and stood in the middle of the room to meet life and fight it.
The hem of my nightshirt tickled my shin and my feet grew cold on the
carpet; but though I stood ready with my fists clenched I could see
no adversary among the friendly shadows, I could hear no sound but
the I drumming of the blood against the walls of my head. I got back
into bed and pulled the bedclothes about my chilled body. It seemed
that life would not fight fair, and being only a little boy and not
wise like the grown-up people, I could find no way in which to outwit
it.

IV

My growing panic in the face of my imminent return to school spoilt
my holiday, and I watched my brother's careless delight in the Surrey
pine-woods with keen envy. It seemed to me that it was easy for him
to enjoy himself with his month to squander; and in any case he was a
healthy, cheerful boy who liked school well enough when he was there,
though of course he liked holidays better. He had scant patience with
my moods, and secretly I too thought they were wicked. We had been
taught to believe that we alone were responsible for our sins, and it
did not occur to me that the causes of my wickedness might lie beyond
my control. The beauty of the scented pines and the new green of the
bracken took my breath and filled my heart with a joy that changed
immediately to overwhelming grief; for I could not help contrasting
this glorious kind of life with the squalid existence to which I must
return so soon. I realised so fiercely the force of the contrast that
I was afraid to make friends with the pines and admire the palm-like
beauty of the bracken lest I should increase my subsequent anguish;
and I hid myself in dark corners of the woods to fight the growing
sickness of my body with the feeble weapons of my panic-stricken
mind. There followed moments of bitter sorrow, when I blamed myself
for not taking advantage of my hours of freedom, and I hurried along
the sandy lanes in a desolate effort to enjoy myself before it was
too late.

In spite of the miserable manner in which I spent my days, the
fortnight seemed to pass with extraordinary rapidity. As the end
approached, the people around me made it difficult for me to conceal
my emotions, the grown-ups deducing from my melancholy that I was
tired of holidays and would be glad to get back to school, and my
brother burdening me with idle messages to the other boys-messages
that shattered my hardly formed hope that school did not really
exist. I stood ever on the verge of tears, and I dreaded meal-times,
when I had to leave my solitude, lest some turn of the conversation
should set me weeping before them all, and I should hear once more
what I knew very well myself, that it was a shameful thing for a boy
of my age to cry like a little girl. Yet the tears were there and the
hard lump in my throat, and I could not master them, though I stood
in the woods while the sun set with a splendour that chilled my
heart, and tried to drain my eyes dry of their rebellious, bitter
waters. I would choke over my tea and be rebuked for bad manners.

When the last day came that I had feared most of all, I succeeded in
saying goodbye to the people at the house where I had stopped, and in
making the mournful train journey home without disgracing myself. It
seemed as though a merciful stupor had dulled my senses to a mute
acceptance of my purgatory. I slept in the train, and arrived home so
sleepy that I was allowed to go straight to bed without comment. For
once my body dominated my mind, and I slipped between the sheets in
an ecstasy of fatigue and fell asleep immediately.

Something of this rare mood lingered with me in the morning, and it
was not until I reached the Meat Market that I realised the extent of
my misfortune. I saw the greasy, red-faced men with their hands and
aprons stained with blood. I saw the hideous carcases of animals, the
masses of entrails, the heaps of repulsive hides; but most clearly of
all I saw an ugly sad little boy with a satchel of books on his back
set down in the midst of an enormous and hostile world. The windows;
and stones of the houses were black with soot, and before me there
lay school, the place that had never brought me anything but sorrow
and humiliation. I went on, but as I slid on the cobbles, my mind
caught an echo of peace, the peace of pine-woods and heather, the
peace of the library at home, and, my body trembling with revulsion,
I leant against a lamp-post, deadly sick. Then I turned on my heels
and walked away from the Meat Market and the school for ever. As I
went I cried, sometimes openly before all men, sometimes furtively
before shop-windows, dabbing my eyes with a wet pocket-handkerchief,
and gasping for breath. I did not care where my feet led me, I would
go back to school no more.

I had played truant for three days before the grown-ups discovered
that I had not returned to school. They treated me with that
extraordinary consideration that they always extended to our great
crimes and never to our little sins of thoughtlessness or high
spirits. The doctor saw me. I was told that I would be sent to a
country school after the next holidays, and meanwhile I was allowed
to return to my sofa and my dreams. I lay there and read Dickens and
was very happy. As a rule the cat kept me company, and I was pleased
with his placid society, though he made my legs cramped. I thought
that I too would like to be a cat.

The New Boy

I

When I left home to go to boarding-school for the first time I did
not cry like the little boys in the story-books, though I had never
been away from home before except to spend holidays with relatives.
This was not due to any extraordinary self-control on my part, for I
was always ready to shed tears on the most trivial occasion. But as a
fact I had other things to think about, and did not in the least
realise the significance of my journey. I had lots of new clothes and
more money in my pocket than I had ever had before, and in the
guard's van at the back of the train there was a large box that I had
packed myself with jam and potted meat and cake. In this, as in other
matters, I had been aided by the expert advice of a brother who was
himself at a school in the North, and it was perhaps natural that in
the comfortable security of the holidays he should have given me an
almost lyrical account of the joys of life at a boarding-school.
Moreover, my existence as a day-boy in London had been so unhappy;
that I was prepared to welcome any change, so at most I felt only a
vague unease as to the future.

After I had glanced at my papers, I sat back and stared at my eldest
brother, who had been told off to see me safely to school. At that
time I did not like him because he seemed to me unduly insistent on
his rights and I could not help wondering at the tactlessness of the
grown-up people in choosing him as my travelling companion. With any
one else this journey might have been a joyous affair but there were
incidents between us that neither of us would forget, so that I
could find nothing better than an awkward politeness with which to
meet his strained amiability. He feigned an intense interest in his
magazine while I looked out of window, with one finger in my
waistcoat pocket, scratching the comfortable milled edges of my
money. When I saw little farm-houses, forgotten in the green dimples
of the Kentish hills, I thought that it would be nice to live there
with a room full of story-books, away from the discomforts and
difficulties of life. Like a cat, I wanted to dream somewhere where
I would not be trodden on, somewhere where I would be neglected by
friends and foes alike. This was my normal desire, but side by side
with my craving for peace I was aware of a new and interesting
emotion that suggested the possibility of a life even more
agreeable. The excitement of packing my box with provender like a
sailor who was going on a long voyage, the unwonted thrill of having
a large sum of money concealed about my person, and above all the
imaginative yarns of my elder brother, had fired me with the thought
of adventure. His stories had been filled with an utter contempt for
lessons and a superb defiance of the authorities, and had ranged
from desperate rabbit-shooting parties on the Yorkshire Wolds to
illicit feasts of Eccles cakes and tinned lobster in moonlit
dormitories. I thought that it would be pleasant to experience this
romantic kind of life before settling down for good with my dreams.

The train wandered on and my eldest brother and I looked at each
other constrainedly. He had already asked me twice whether I had my
ticket, and I realised that he could not think of any other neutral
remark that fitted the occasion. It occurred to me to say that the
train was slow, but I remembered with a glow of anger how he had once
rubbed a strawberry in my face because I had taken the liberty of
offering it to one of his friends, and I held my peace. I had prayed
for his death every night for three weeks after that, and though he
was still alive the knowledge of my unconfessed and unrepented
wickedness prevented me from being more than conveniently polite, he
thought I was a cheeky little toad and I thought he was a bully, so
we looked at each other and did not speak. We were both glad,
therefore, when the train pulled up at the station that bore the name
of my new school.

My first emotion was a keen regret that my parents had not sent me
to a place where the sun shone. As we sat in the little omnibus
that carried us from the station to the town, with my precious
boxes safely stored on the roof, we passed between grey fields
whose featureless expanses melted changelessly into the grey sky
overhead. The prospect alarmed me, for it seemed to me that this
was not a likely world for adventures; nor was I reassured by the
sight of the town, whose one long street of low, old-fashioned
houses struck me as being mean and sordid. I was conscious that
the place had an unpleasant smell, and I was already driven to
thinking of my pocket-money and my play-box--agreeable thoughts
which I had made up my mind in the train to reserve carefully for
possible hours of unhappiness. But the low roof of the omnibus was
like a limit to my imagination, and my body was troubled by the
displeasing contact of the velvet cushions. I was still wondering
why this made my wrists ache, when the omnibus lurched from the
cobbles on to a gravel drive, and I saw the school buildings
towering all about me like the walls of a prison. I jumped out and
stretched my legs while the driver climbed down to collect the
fares. He looked at me without a jot of interest, and I knew that
he must have driven a great many boys from the station to the
school in the course of his life.

A man appeared in shirt-sleeves of grey flannel and wheeled my boxes
away on a little truck, and after a while a master came down and
showed us, in a perfunctory manner, over the more presentable
quarters of the school. My brother was anxious to get away, because
he had not been emancipated long enough to find the atmosphere of
dormitories and class-rooms agreeable. I was naturally interested,
in my new environment, but the presence of the master constrained
me, and I was afraid to speak in front of this unknown man whom it
was my lot to obey, so we were all relieved when our hurried
inspection was over. He told me that I was at liberty to do what I
pleased till seven o'clock, so I went for a walk through the town
with my brother.

The day was drawing to a chill grey close, and the town was filled
with a clammy mist tainted with the odour of sewage, due, I
afterwards discovered, to the popular abuse of the little stream
that gave the place its name. Even my brother could not entirely
escape the melancholy influence of the hour and the place, and he
was glad to take me into a baker's shop and have tea. By now the
illusion of adventure that had reconciled me to leaving home was in
a desperate state, and I drank my tea and consumed my cakes without
enjoyment. If life was always going to be the same--if in fleeing
one misfortune I had merely brought on myself the pain of becoming
accustomed to another--I felt sure that my meagre stoicism would not
suffice to carry me through with credit. I had failed once, I would
fail again. I looked forward with a sinking heart to a tearful and
uncomfortable future.

There was only a very poor train service, so my brother had plenty of
time to walk back to the station, and it was settled that I should go
part of the way with him. As we walked along the white road, that
stretched between uniform hedgerows of a shadowy greyness, I saw that
he had something on his mind. In this hour of my trial I was willing
to forget the past for the sake of talking for a few minutes with
some human being whom I knew, but he returned only vague answers to
my eager questions. At last he stopped in the middle of the road, and
said I had better turn back. I would liked to have walked farther
with him, but I was above all things anxious to keep up appearances,
so I said goodbye in as composed a voice as I could find. My brother
hesitated for a minute; then with a timid glance at heaven he put his
hand in his pocket, pulled out half a crown which he gave me, and
walked rapidly away. I saw in a flash that for him, too, it had been
an important moment; he had tipped his first schoolboy, and
henceforth he was beyond all question grown up.

I did not like him, but I watched him disappear in the dusk with a
desolate heart. At that moment he stood for a great many things that
seemed valuable to me, and I would have given much to have been
walking by his side with my face towards home and my back turned to
the grey and unsavoury town to which I had to bear my despondent
loneliness. Nevertheless I stepped out staunchly enough, in order
that my mind should take courage from the example of my body. I
thought strenuously of my brother's stories, of my play-box packed
for a voyage, of the money in my pocket increased now by my eldest
brother's unexpected generosity; and by dint of these violent mental
exercises I had reduced my mind to a comfortable stupor by the time I
reached the school gates. There I was overcome by shyness, and
although I saw lights in the form-rooms and heard the voices of boys,
I stood awkwardly in the playground, not knowing where I ought to go.
The mist in the air surrounded the lights with a halo, and my
nostrils were filled with the acrid smell of burning leaves.

I had stood there a quarter of an hour perhaps, when a boy came up
and spoke to me, and the sound of his voice gave me a shock. I think
it was the first time in my life a boy had spoken kindly to me. He
asked me my name, and told me that it would be supper-time in five
minutes, so that I could go and sit in the dining-hall and wait.
"You'll be all right, you know," he said, as he passed on; "they're
not a bad lot of chaps." The revulsion nearly brought on a
catastrophe, for the tears rose to my eyes and I gazed after him with
a swimming head. I had prepared myself to receive blows and insults
with a calm brow, but I had no armour with which to oppose the noble
weapons of sympathy and good fellowship. They overcame the stubborn
hatred with which I was accustomed to meet life, and left me
defenceless. I felt as if I had been face to face with the hero of a
dream.

As I sat at supper before a long table decorated with plates of
bread-and-butter and cheese I saw my friend sitting at the other end
of the room, so I asked the boy next to me to tell me his name. "Oh,"
he said, looking curiously at my blushes, "you mean old mother F----.
He's pious, you know; reads the Bible and funks at games and all
that."

There are some things which no self-respecting schoolboy can afford
to forgive. I had made up my mind that it was not pleasant to be an
Ishmael, that as far as possible I would try to be an ordinary boy at
my new school. My experiences in London had taught me caution, and I
was anxious not to compromise my position at the outset by making an
unpopular friend. So I nodded my head sagely in reply, and looked at
my new-discovered hero with an air of profound contempt.

II

The days that followed were not so uncomfortable as my first grey
impression of the place had led me to expect. I proved to my own
intense astonishment to be rather good at lessons, so that I got on
well with the masters, and the boys were kind enough in their
careless way. I had plenty of pocket-money, and though I did not
shine at Association football, for in London I had only watched the
big boys playing Rugby, I was not afraid of being knocked about,
which was all that was expected of a new boy. Most of my
embarrassments were due to the sensitiveness that made me dislike
asking questions--a weakness that was always placing me in false
positions. But my efforts to make myself agreeable to the boys were
not unsuccessful, and while I looked in vain for anything like the
romantic adventures of which my brother had spoken, I sometimes found
myself almost enjoying my new life.

And then, as the children say in the streets of London, I woke
up, and discovered that I was desperately home-sick. Partly no
doubt this was due to a natural reaction, but there were other
more obvious causes. For one thing my lavish hospitality had
exhausted my pocket-money in the first three weeks, and I was
ashamed to write home for more so soon. This speedy end to my
apparent wealth certainly made it easier for the boys to find
out that I was not one of themselves, and they began to look at
me askance and leave me out of their conversations. I was made
to feel once more that I had been born under a malignant star
that did not allow me to speak or act as they did. I had not
their common sense, their blunt cheerfulness, their complete
lack of sensibility, and while they resented my queerness they
could not know how anxious I was to be an ordinary boy. When I
saw that they mistrusted me I was too proud to accept the crumbs
of their society like poor mother F----, and I withdrew myself into
a solitude that gave me far too much time in which to examine my
emotions. I found out all the remote corners of the school in
which it was possible to be alone, and when the other boys went
for walks in the fields, I stayed in the churchyard close to the
school, disturbing the sheep in their meditations among the
tomb-stones, and thinking what a long time it would be before I
was old enough to die.

Now that the first freshness of my new environment had worn off, I
was able to see my life as a series of grey pictures that repeated
themselves day by day. In my mind these pictures were marked off
from each other by a sound of bells. I woke in the morning in a bed
that was like all the other beds, and lay on my back listening to
the soft noises of sleep that filled the air with rumours of healthy
boys. The bell would ring and the dormitory would break into an
uproar, splashing of water, dropping of hair-brushes and shouts of
laughter, for these super-boys could laugh before breakfast. Then we
all trooped downstairs and I forced myself to drink bad coffee in a
room that smelt of herrings. The next bell called us to chapel, and
at intervals during the morning other bells called us from one class
to another. Dinner was the one square meal we had during the day,
and as it was always very good, and there was nothing morbid about
my appetite, I looked forward to it with interest. After dinner we
played football. I liked the game well enough, but the atmosphere of
mud and forlorn grey fields made me shudder, and as I kept goal I
spent my leisure moments in hardening my aeesthetic impressions. I
never see the word football today without recalling the curious
sensation caused by the mud drying on my bare knees. After football
were other classes, classes in which it was sometimes very hard to
keep awake, for the school was old, and the badly ventilated
class-rooms were stuffy after the fresh air. Then the bell summoned
us to evening chapel and tea--a meal which we were allowed to
improve with sardines and eggs and jam, if we had money to buy them
or a hamper from home. After tea we had about two hours to ourselves
and then came preparation, and supper and bed. Everything was
heralded by a bell, and now and again even in the midst of lessons
I would hear the church-bell tolling for a funeral.

I think my hatred of bells dated back to my early childhood, when the
village church, having only three bells, played the first bar of
"Three Blind Mice" a million times every Sunday evening, till I could
have cried for monotony and the vexation of the thwarted tune. But at
school I had to pay the penalty for my prejudice every hour of the
day. Especially I suffered at night during preparation, when they
rang the curfew on the church bells at intolerable length, for these
were tranquil hours to which I looked forward eagerly. We prepared
our lessons for the morrow in the Great Hall, and I would spread my
books out on the desk and let my legs dangle from the form in a
spirit of contentment for the troubled day happily past. Over my head
the gas stars burned quietly, and all about me I heard the restrained
breathing of comrades, like a noise of fluttering moths. And then,
suddenly, the first stroke of the curfew would snarl through the air,
filling the roof with nasal echoes, and troubling the quietude of my
mind with insistent vibrations. I derived small satisfaction from
cursing William the Conqueror, who, the history book told me, was
responsible for this ingenious tyranny. The long pauses between the
strokes held me in a state of strained expectancy until I wanted to
howl. I would look about me for sympathy and see the boys at their
lessons, and the master on duty reading quietly at his table. The
curfew rang every night, and they did not notice it at all.

The only bell I liked to hear was the last bell that called us to our
brief supper and to bed, for once the light was out and my body was
between the sheets I was free to do what I would, free to think or to
dream or to cry. There was no real difference between being in bed at
school or anywhere else; and sometimes I would fill the shadows of
the dormitory with the familiar furniture of my little bedroom at
home, and pretend that I was happy. But as a rule I came to bed
brimming over with the day's tears, and I would pull the bedclothes
over my head so that the other boys should not know that I was
homesick, and cry until I was sticky with tears and perspiration.

The discipline at school did not make us good boys, but it made us
civilised; it taught us to conceal our crimes. And as home-sickness
was justly regarded as a crime of ingratitude to the authorities and
to society in general, I had to restrain my physical weakness during
the day, and the reaction from this restraint made my tears at night
almost a luxury. My longing for home was founded on trifles, but it
was not the less passionate. I hated this life spent in walking on
bare boards, and the blank walls and polished forms of the school
appeared to me to be sordid. When now and again I went into one of
the master's studies and felt a carpet under my feet, and saw a
pleasant litter of pipes and novels lying on the table, it seemed to
me that I was in a holy place, and I looked at the hearthrug, the
wallpaper, and the upholstered chairs with a kind of desolate love
for things that were nice to see and touch. I suppose that if we had
been in a workhouse, a prison, or a lunatic asylum, our aeesthetic
environment would have been very much the same as it was at school;
and afterwards when I went with the cricket and football teams to
other grammar schools they all gave me the same impression of clean
ugliness. It is not surprising that few boys emerge from their school
life with that feeling for colour and form which is common to nearly
all children.

There was something very unpleasant to me in the fact that we all
washed with the same kind of soap, drank out of the same kind of cup,
and in general did the same things at the same time. The school
timetable robbed life of all those accidental variations that make it
interesting. Our meals, our games, even our hours of freedom seemed
only like subtle lessons. We had to eat at a certain hour whether we
were hungry or not, we had to play at a certain hour when perhaps we
wanted to sit still and be quiet. The whole school discipline tended
to the formation of habits at the expense of our reasoning faculties.
Yet the astonishing thing to me was that the boys themselves set up
standards of conduct that still further narrowed the possibilities of
our life. It was bad form to read too much, to write home except on
Sundays, to work outside the appointed hours, to talk to the day-boys,
to cultivate social relationships with the masters, to be Cambridge
in the boat-race, and in fine to hold any opinion or follow any
pursuit that was not approved by the majority. It was only by hiding
myself away in corners that I could enjoy any liberty of spirit, and
though my thoughts were often cheerless when I remembered the
relative freedom of home life, I preferred to linger with them rather
than to weary myself in breaking the little laws of a society for
which I was in no way fitted.

These were black days, rendered blacker by my morbid fear of the
physical weakness that made me liable to cry at any moment, sometimes
even without in the least knowing why. I was often on the brink of
disaster, but my fear of the boys' ridicule prevented me from
publicly disgracing myself. Once the headmaster called a boy into
his study, and he came out afterwards with red eyelids and a puffed
face. When they heard that his mother had died suddenly in India, all
the boys thought that these manifestations of sorrow were very
creditable, and in the best of taste, especially as he did not let
anybody see him crying. For my part I looked at him with a kind of
envy, this boy who could flaunt his woe where he would. I, too, had
my unassuageable sorrow for the home that was dead to me those
forlorn days; but I could only express it among the tombs in the
churchyard, or at night, muffled between the blankets, when the
silent dormitory seemed to listen with suspicious ears.

III

A consoling scrap of wisdom which unfortunately children do not find
written large in their copybooks is that sorrow is as transitory as
happiness. Although my childhood was strewn with the memorial wreaths
of dead miseries, I always had a morbid sense that my present
discomforts were immortal. So I had quite made up my mind that I
would continue to be unhappy at school, when the intervention of two
beings whom I had thought utterly remote from me, gave me a new
philosophy and reconciled me to life. The first was a master, who
found me grieving in one of my oubliettes and took me into his study
and tried to draw me out. Kindness always made me ineloquent, and
as I sat in his big basket chair and sniffed the delightful odour of
his pipe, I expressed myself chiefly in woe-begone monosyllables and
hiccoughs. Nevertheless he seemed to understand me very well, and
though he did not say much, I felt by the way in which he puffed out
great, generous clouds of smoke, that he sympathised with me. He told
me to come and see him twice a week, and that I was at liberty to
read any of his books, and in general gave me a sense that I was
unfortunate rather than criminal. This did me good, because a large
part of my unhappiness was due to the fact that constant suppression
by majorities had robbed me of my self-respect. It is better for a
boy to be conceited than to be ashamed of his own nature, and to
shudder when he sees his face reflected in a glass.

My second benefactor was nominally a boy, though in reality he was
nearly as old as the master, and was leaving at the end of the term
to go up to Oxford. He took me by the shoulder one evening in the
dusk, and walked me round and round the big clump of rhododendrons
that stood in the drive in front of the school. I did not understand
half he said, but to my great astonishment I heard him confessing
that he had always been unhappy at school, although at the end he
was captain in lessons, in games, in everything. I was, of course,
highly flattered that this giant should speak to me as an equal, and
admit me to his confidences. But I was even more delighted with the
encouraging light he threw on school life. "You're only here for a
little spell, you know; you'll be surprised how short it is. And
don't be miserable just because you're different. I'm different; it's
a jolly good thing to be different." I was not used, to people who
took this wide view of circumstance, and his voice in the shadows
sounded like some one speaking in a story-book. Yet although his
monologue gave me an entirely new conception of life, no more of it
lingers in my mind, save his last reflective criticism. "All the
same, I don't see why you should always have dirty nails." He never
confided in me again, and I would have died rather than have reminded
him of his kindly indiscretion; but when he passed me in the
playground he seemed to look at me with a kind of reticent interest,
and it occurred to me that after all my queerness might not be such a
bad thing, might even be something to be proud of.

The value of this discovery to me can hardly be exaggerated. Hitherto
in my relationships with the boys I had fought nothing but losing
battles, for I had taken it for granted that they were right and I
was wrong. But now that I had hit on the astonishing theory that the
individual has the right to think for himself, I saw quite clearly
that most of their standards of conduct sprang from their sheep-like
stupidity. They moved in flocks because they had not the courage to
choose a line for themselves. The material result of this new theory
of life was to make me enormously conceited, and I moved among my
comrades with a mysterious confidence, and gave myself the airs of a
Byron in knickerbockers. My unpopularity increased by leaps and
bounds, but so did my moral courage, and I accepted the belated
efforts of my school-fellows to knock the intelligence out of me as
so many tributes to the force of my individuality. I no longer cried
in my bed at night, but lay awake enraptured at the profundity of my
thoughts. After years of unquestioning humility I enjoyed a prolonged
debauch of intellectual pride, and I marvelled at the little boy of
yesterday who had wept because he could not be an imbecile. It was
the apotheosis of the ugly duckling, and I saw my swan's plumage
reflected in the placid faces of the boys around me, as in the vacant
waters of a pool. As yet I did not dream of a moulting season, still
less that a day would come when I should envy the ducks their
domestic ease and the unthinking tranquillity of their lives. A
little boy may be excused for not realising that Hans Andersen's
story is only the prelude to a sadder story that he had not the heart
to write.

My new freedom of spirit gave me courage to re-examine the emotional
and aeesthetic values of my environment. I could not persuade myself
that I liked the sound of bells, and the greyness of the country in
winter-time still revolted me, as though I had not yet forgotten the
cheerful reds and greens and blues of the picture-books that filled
my mind as a child with dreams of a delightful world. But now that I
was wise enough to make the best of my unboyish emotionalism, I began
to take pleasure in certain phases of school-life. Though I was
devoid of any recognisable religious sense I liked the wide words in
the Psalms that we read at night in the school chapel. This was not
due to any precocious recognition of their poetry, but to the fact
that their intense imagery conjured up all sorts of precious visions
in my mind, I could see the hart panting after the water-brooks, in
the valleys of Exmoor, where I had once spent an enchanted holiday. I
could see the men going down to the sea in ships, and the stormy
waves, and the staggering, fearful mariners, for I had witnessed a
great tempest off Flamborough Head. Even such vague phrases as "the
hills" gave me an intense joy. I could see them so clearly, those
hills, chalky hills covered with wild pansies, and with an all-blue
sky overhead, like the lid of a chocolate-box. I liked, too, the
services in the old church on Sunday nights, when the lights were
lowered for the sermon, and I would put my hands over my ears and
hear the voice of the preacher like the drone of a distant bee. After
church the choral society used to practise in the Great Hall, and as
I walked round the school buildings, snatches of their singing would
beat against my face like sudden gusts of wind. When I listened at
the doors of my form-room I heard the boys talking about football
matches, or indulging their tireless passion for unimaginative
personalities; I would stand on the mat outside wondering whether I
would be allowed to read if I went in.

I looked forward to Tuesday night, which was my bath-night,
almost as much as to Sunday. The school sanitary arrangements
were primitive, and all the water had to be fetched in pails,
and I used to like to see the man tipping the hot water into the
bath and flinging his great body back to avoid the steam that
made his grey flannel shirt-sleeves cling to his hairy arms.
Most of the boys added a lot of cold water, but I liked to boil
myself because the subsequent languor was so pleasant. The
matron would bring our own bath towels warm from the fire, and I
would press mine against my face because it smelt of childhood
and of home. I always thought my body looked pretty after a
really hot bath; its rosiness enabled me to forgive myself for
being fat.

One very strong impression was connected with the only master in the
school whom I did not like. He was a German, and as is the case with
others of his nationality, a spray of saliva flew from his lips when
he was angry, and seeing this, I would edge away from him in alarm.
Perhaps it was on this account that he treated me with systematic
unfairness and set himself the unnecessary task of making me
ridiculous in the eyes of the other boys. One night I was wandering
in the playground and heard him playing the violin in his study. My
taste in music was barbarian; I liked comic songs, which I used to
sing to myself in a lugubrious voice, and in London the plaintive
clamour of the street-organs had helped to make my sorrows
rhythmical. But now, perhaps for the first time, I became aware of
the illimitable melancholy that lies at the heart of all great
music. It seemed to me that the German master, the man whom I hated,
had shut himself up alone in his study, and was crying aloud. I knew
that if he was unhappy, it must be because he too was an Ishmael, a
personality, one of the different ones. A great sympathy woke within
me, and I peeped through the window and saw him playing with his
face all shiny with perspiration and a silk handkerchief tucked
under his chin. I would have liked to have knocked at his door and
told him that I knew all about these things, but I was afraid that
he would think me cheeky and splutter in my face.

The next day in his class, I looked at him hopefully, in the light
of my new understanding, but it did not seem to make any difference.
He only told me to get on with my work.

The term drew to a close, and most of the boys in my form-room
ticked off the days on lists, in which the Sundays were written in
red ink to show that they did not really count. As time went on they
grew more and more boisterous, and wherever I went I heard them
telling one another how they were going to spend their holidays. It
was surprising to me that these boys who were so ordinary during
term-time should lead such adventurous lives in the holidays, and I
felt a little envious of their good fortune. They talked of visiting
the theatre and foreign travel in a matter-of-fact way that made me
think that perhaps after all my home-life was incomplete. I had
never been out of England, and my dramatic knowledge was limited to
pantomimes, for which these enthusiastic students of musical comedy
expressed a large contempt. Some of them were allowed to shoot with
real guns in the holidays, which reminded me of the worst excesses
of my brother in Yorkshire. Examining my own life, I had often come
to the conclusion that adventures did not exist outside books. But
the boys shook this comforting theory with their boastful
prophecies, and I thought once more that perhaps it was my
misfortune that they did not happen to me. I began to fear that I
would find the holidays tame.

There were other considerations that made me look forward to the end
of the term with misgiving. Since it had been made plain to me that I
was a remarkable boy, I had rather enjoyed my life at school. I had
conceived myself as strutting with a measured dignity before a
background of the other boys--a background that moved and did not
change, like a wind-swept tapestry; but I was quite sure that I would
not be allowed to give myself airs at home. It seemed to me that a
youngest brother's portion of freedom would compare but poorly with
the measure of intellectual liberty that I had secured for myself at
school. My brothers were all very well in their way, but I would be
expected to take my place in the background and do what I was told. I
should miss my sense of being superior to my environment, and my
intensely emotional Sundays would no longer divide time into weeks.
The more I thought of it, the more I realised that I did not want to
go home.

On the last night of the term, when the dormitory had at length
become quiet, I considered the whole case dispassionately in my bed.
The labour of packing my play-box and writing labels for my luggage
had given me a momentary thrill, but for the rest I had moved among
my insurgent comrades with a chilled heart. I knew now that I was
too greedy of life, that I always thought of the pleasant side of
things when they were no longer within my grasp; but at the I same
time my discontent was not wholly unreasonable. I had learnt more
of myself in three months than I had in all my life before, and from
being a nervous, hysterical boy I had arrived at a complete
understanding of my emotions, which I studied with an almost adult
calmness of mind. I knew that in returning to the society of my
healthy, boyish brothers, I was going back to a kind of life for
which I was no longer fitted. I had changed, but I had the sense to
see that it was a change that would not appeal to them, and that in
consequence I would have another and harder battle to fight before I
was allowed to go my own way.

I saw further still. I saw that after a month at home I would
not want to come back to school, and that I should have to
endure another period of despondency. I saw that my whole school
life would be punctuated by these violent uprootings, that the
alternation of term-time and holidays would make it impossible
for me to change life into a comfortable habit, and that even to
the end of my school-days it would be necessary for me to
preserve my new-found courage.

As I lay thinking in the dark I was proud of the clarity of my
mind, and glad that I had at last outwitted the tears that had made
my childhood so unhappy. I heard, the boys breathing softly around
me--those wonderful boys who could sleep even when they were
excited--and I felt that I was getting the better of them in thinking
while they slept. I remembered the prefect who had told me that we
were there only for a spell, but I did not speculate as to what
would follow afterwards. All that I had to do was to watch myself
ceaselessly, and be able to explain to myself everything that I felt
I and did. In that way I should always be strong I enough to guard
my weaknesses from the eyes of the jealous world in which I moved.

The church bells chimed the hour, and I turned over and went to
sleep.

On the Brighton Road

Slowly the sun had climbed up the hard white downs, till it broke
with little of the mysterious ritual of dawn upon a sparkling world
of snow. There had been a hard frost during the night, and the birds,
who hopped about here and there with scant tolerance of life, left no
trace of their passage on the silver pavements. In places the
sheltered caverns of the hedges broke the monotony of the whiteness
that had fallen upon the coloured earth, and overhead the sky melted
from orange to deep blue, from deep blue to a blue so pale that it
suggested a thin paper screen rather than illimitable space. Across
the level fields there came a cold, silent wind which blew a fine
dust of snow from the trees, but hardly stirred the crested hedges.
Once above the skyline, the sun seemed to climb more quickly, and as
it rose higher it began to give out a heat that blended with the
keenness of the wind.

It may have been this strange alternation of heat and cold that
disturbed the tramp in his dreams, for he struggled tor a moment with
the snow that covered him, like a man who finds himself twisted
uncomfortably in the bed-clothes, and then sat up with staring,
questioning eyes. "Lord! I thought I was in bed," he said to himself
as he took in the vacant landscape, "and all the while I was out
here." He stretched his limbs, and, rising carefully to his feet,
shook the snow off his body. As he did so the wind set him shivering,
and he knew that his bed had been warm.

"Come, I feel pretty fit," he thought. "I suppose I am lucky to wake
at all in this. Or unlucky--it isn't much of a business to come back
to." He looked up and saw the downs shining against the blue, like
the Alps on a picture-postcard. "That means another forty miles or
so, I suppose," he continued grimly. "Lord knows what I did yesterday.
Walked till I was done, and now I'm only about twelve miles from
Brighton. Damn the snow, damn Brighton, damn everything!" The sun
crept higher and higher, and he started walking patiently along the
road with his back turned to the hills.

"Am I glad or sorry that it was only sleep that took me, glad or
sorry, glad or sorry?" His thoughts seemed to arrange themselves in a
metrical accompaniment to the steady thud of his footsteps, and he
hardly sought an answer to his question. It was good enough to walk
to.

Presently, when three milestones had loitered past, he overtook a
boy who was stooping to light a cigarette. He wore no overcoat, and
looked unspeakably fragile against the snow, "Are you on the road,
guv'nor?" asked the boy huskily as he passed.

"I think I am," the tramp said.

"Oh! then I'll come a bit of the way with you if you don't walk too
fast. It's bit lonesome walking this time of day."

The tramp nodded his head, and the boy started limping along by his
side.

"I'm eighteen," he said casually. "I bet you thought I was younger."

"Fifteen, I'd have said."

"You'd have backed a loser. Eighteen last August, and I've been on
the road six years. I ran away from home five times when I was a
little 'un, and the police took me back each time. Very good to me,
the police was. Now I haven't got a home to run away from."

"Nor have I," the tramp said calmly.

"Oh, I can see what you are," the boy panted; "you're a gentleman
come down. It's harder for you than for me." The tramp glanced at the
limping, feeble figure and lessened his pace.

"I haven't been at it as long as you have," he admitted.

"No, I could tell that by the way you walk. You haven't got tired
yet. Perhaps you expect something at the other end?"

The tramp reflected for a moment. "I don't know," he said bitterly,
"I'm always expecting things."

"You'll grow out of that;" the boy commented. "It's warmer in London,
but it's harder to come by grub. There isn't much in it really."

"Still, there's the chance of meeting somebody there who will
understand--"

"Country people are better," the boy interrupted. "Last night I took
a lease of a barn for nothing and slept with the cows, and this
morning the farmer routed me out and gave me tea and toke because I
was so little. Of course, I score there; but in London, soup on the
Embankment at night, and all the rest of the time coppers moving you
on."

"I dropped by the roadside last night and slept where I fell. It's a
wonder I didn't die," the tramp said. The boy looked at him sharply.

"How did you know you didn't?" he said.

"I don't see it," the tramp said, after a pause.

"I tell you," the boy said hoarsely, "people like us can't get away
from this sort of thing if we want to. Always hungry and thirsty and
dog-tired and walking all the while. And yet if anyone offers me a
nice home and work my stomach feels sick. Do I look strong? I know
I'm little for my age, but I've been knocking about like this for six
years, and do you think I'm not dead? I was drowned bathing at
Margate, and I was killed by a gypsy with a spike; he knocked my head
and yet I'm walking along here now, walking to London to walk away
from it again, because I can't help it. Dead! I tell you we can't get
away if we want to."

The boy broke off in a fit of coughing, and the tramp paused while he
recovered.

"You'd better borrow my coat for a bit, Tommy," he said, "your
cough's pretty bad."

"You go to hell!" the boy said fiercely, puffing at his cigarette;
"I'm all right. I was telling you about the road. You haven't got
down to it yet, but you'll find out presently. We're all dead, all of
us who're on it, and we're all tired, yet somehow we can't leave it.
There's nice smells in the summer, dust and hay and the wind smack in
your face on a hot day--and it's nice waking up in the wet grass on a
fine morning. I don't know, I don't know--" he lurched forward
suddenly, and the tramp caught him in his arms.

"I'm sick," the boy whispered--"sick."

The tramp looked up and down the road, but he could see no houses or
any sign of help. Yet even as he supported the boy doubtfully in the
middle of the road a motor car suddenly flashed in the middle
distance, and came smoothly through the snow.

"What's the trouble?" said the driver quietly as he pulled up. "I'm a
doctor." He looked at the boy keenly and listened to his strained
breathing.

"Pneumonia," he commented. "I'll give him a lift to the infirmary,
and you, too, if you like."

The tramp thought of the workhouse and shook his head "I'd rather
walk," he said.

The boy winked faintly as they lifted him into the car.

"I'll meet you beyond Reigate," he murmured to the tramp. "You'll
see." And the car vanished along the white road.

All the morning the tramp splashed through the thawing snow, but at
midday he begged some bread at a cottage door and crept into a lonely
barn to eat it. It was warm in there, and after his meal he fell
asleep among the hay. It was dark when he woke, and started trudging
once more through the slushy roads.

Two miles beyond Reigate a figure, a fragile figure, slipped out of
the darkness to meet him.

"On the road, guv'nor?" said a husky voice. "Then I'll come a bit of
the way with you if you don't walk too fast. It's a bit lonesome
walking this time of day."

"But the pneumonia!" cried the tramp, aghast.

"I died at Crawley this morning," said the boy.

A Tragedy In Little

I

Jack, the postmaster's little son, stood in the bow-window of the
parlour and watched his mother watering the nasturtiums in the front
garden. A certain intensity of purpose was expressed by the manner in
which she handled the water-pot. For though it was a fine afternoon
the carrier's man had called over the hedge to say that there would
be a thunderstorm during the night, and every one knew that he never
made a mistake about the weather. Nevertheless, Jack's mother watered
the plants as if he had not spoken, for it seemed to her that this
meteorological gift smacked a little of sorcery and black magic; but
in spite of herself she felt sure that there would be a thunderstorm
and that her labour was therefore vain, save perhaps as a protest
against idle superstition. It was in the same spirit that she carried
an umbrella on the brightest summer day.

Jack had been sent indoors because he would get his legs in the way
of the watering-pot in order to cool them, so now he had to be
content to look on, with his nose pressed so tightly against the
pane that from outside it looked like the base of a sea-anemone
growing in a glass tank. He could no longer hear the glad chuckle
of the watering-pot when the water ran out, but, on the other hand,
he could write his name on the window with his tongue, which he
could not have done if he had been in the garden. Also he had some
sweets in his pocket, bought with a halfpenny stolen from his own
money-box, and as the window did not taste very nice he slipped one
into his mouth and sucked it with enjoyment. He did not like being
in the parlour, because he had to sit there with his best clothes on
every Sunday afternoon and read the parish magazine to his sleepy
parents. But the front window was lovely, like a picture, and,
indeed, he thought that his mother, with the flowers all about her
and the red sky overhead, was like a lady on one of the beautiful
calendars that the grocer gave away at Christmas. He finished his
sweet and started another; he always meant to suck them right
through to make them last longer, but when the sweet was half
finished he invariably crunched it up. His father had done the same
thing as a boy.

The room behind him was getting dark, but outside the sky seemed to
be growing lighter, and mother still stooped from bed to bed, moving
placidly, like a cow. Sometimes she put the watering-pot down on the
gravel path, and bent to uproot a microscopic weed or to pull the
head off a dead flower. Sometimes she went to the well to get some
more water, and then Jack was sorry that he had been shut indoors,
for he liked letting the pail down with a run and hearing it bump
against the brick sides. Once he tapped upon the window for
permission to come out, but mother shook her head vigorously without
turning round; and yet his stockings were hardly wet at all.

Suddenly mother straightened herself, and Jack looked up and saw his
father leaning over the gate. He seemed to be making grimaces, and
Jack made haste to laugh aloud in the empty room, because he knew
that he was good at seeing his father's jokes. Indeed it was a funny
thing that father should come home early from work and make faces at
mother from the road. Mother, too, was willing to join in the fun,
for she knelt down among the wet flowers, and as her head drooped
lower and lower it looked, for one ecstatic moment, as though she
were going to turn head over heels. But she lay quite still on the
ground, and father came half-way through the gate, and then turned
and ran off down the hill towards the station. Jack stood in the
window, clapping his hands and laughing; it was a strange game, but
not much harder to understand than most of the amusements of the
grown-up people.

And then as nothing happened, as mother did not move and father did
not come back, Jack grew frightened. The garden was queer and the
room was full of darkness, so he beat on the window to change the
game. Then, since mother did not shake her head, he ran out into the
garden, smiling carefully in case he was being silly. First he went
to the gate, but father was quite small far down the road, so he
turned back and pulled the sleeve of his mother's dress, to wake her.
After a dreadful while mother got up off the ground with her skirt
all covered with wet earth. Jack tried to brush it off with his hands
and made a mess of it, but she did not seem to notice, looking across
the garden with such a desolate face, that when he saw it he burst
into tears. For once mother let him cry himself out without seeking
to comfort him; when he sniffed dolefully, his nostrils were full of
the scent of crushed marigolds. He could not help watching her hands
through his tears; it seemed as though they were playing together at
cat's-cradle; they were not still for a moment. But it was her face
that at once frightened and interested him. One minute it looked
smooth and white as if she was very cross, and the next minute it was
gathered up in little folds as if she was going to sneeze. Deep down
in him something chuckled, and he jumped for fear that the cross part
of her had heard it. At intervals during the evening, while mother
was getting him his supper, this chuckle returned to him, between
unnoticed fits of crying. Once she stood holding a plate in the
middle of the room for quite five minutes, and he found it hard to
control his mirth. If father had been there they would have had good
fun together, teasing mother, but by himself he was not sure of his
ground. And father did not come back, and mother did not seem to hear
his questions.

He had some tomatoes and rice-pudding for his supper, and as mother
left him to help himself to brown sugar he enjoyed it very much,
carefully leaving the skin of the rice-pudding to the last, because
that was the part he liked best. After supper he sat nodding at the
open window, looking out over the plum-trees to the sky beyond, where
the black clouds were putting out the stars one by one. The garden
smelt stuffy, but it was nice to be allowed to sit up when you felt
really sleepy. On the whole he felt that it had been a pleasant,
exciting sort of day, though once or twice mother had frightened him
by looking so strange. There had been other mysterious days in his
life, however; perhaps he was going to have another little dead
sister. Presently he discovered that it was delightful to shut your
eyes and nod your head and pretend that you were going to sleep; it
was like being in a swing that went up and up and never came down
again. It was like being in a rowing-boat on the river after a
steamer had gone by. It was like lying in a cradle under a lamplit
ceiling, a cradle that rocked gently to and fro while mother sang
far-away songs.

He was still a baby when he woke up, and he slipped off his chair
and staggered blindly across the room to his mother, with his
knuckles in his eyes like a little, little boy. He climbed into her
lap and settled himself down with a grunt of contentment. There was
a mutter of thunder in his ears, and he felt great warm drops of
rain falling on his face. And into his dreams he carried the dim
consciousness that the thunderstorm had begun.

II

The next morning at breakfast-time father had not come back, and
mother said a lot of things that made Jack feel very uncomfortable.
She herself had taught him that any one who said bad things about
his father was wicked, but now it seemed that she was trying to tell
him something about father that was not nice. She spoke so slowly
that he hardly understood a word she said, though he gathered that
father had stolen something, and would be put in prison if he was
caught. With a guilty pang he remembered his own dealings with his
money-box, and he determined to throw away the rest of the sweets
when, nobody was looking. Then mother made the astounding statement
that he was not to go to school that day, but his sudden joy was
checked a little when she said he was not to go out at all, except
into the back garden. It seemed to Jack that he must be ill, but
when he made this suggestion to mother, she gave up her explanations
with a sigh. Afterwards she kept on saying aloud, "I must think, I
must think!" She said it so often that Jack started keeping count on
his fingers.

The day went slowly enough, for the garden was wet after the
thunderstorm, and mother would not play any games. Just before
tea-time two gentlemen called and talked to mother in the
parlour, and after a while they sent for Jack to answer some
questions about father, though mother was there all the time.
They seemed nice gentlemen, but mother did not ask them to stop
to tea, as Jack expected. He thought that perhaps she was sorry
that she had not done so, for she was very sad all tea-time, and
let him spread his own bread and jam. When tea was over things
were very dull, and at last Jack started crying because there
was nothing else to do. Presently he heard a little noise and
found that mother was crying as well. This seemed to him so
extraordinary that he stopped crying to watch her; the tears ran
down her cheeks very quickly, and she kept on wiping them away
with her handkerchief, but if she held her handkerchief to her
eyes perhaps they would not be able to come out at all. It
occurred to him that possibly she was sorry she had said, wicked
things about father, and to comfort her, for it made him feel
fidgety to see her cry, he whispered to her that he would not
tell. But she stared at him hopelessly through her red eyelids,
and he felt that he had not said the right thing. She called him
her poor boy, and yet it appeared that he was not ill. It was
all very mysterious and uncomfortable, and it would be a good
thing when father came back and everything went on as before,
even though he had to go back to school.

Later on the woman from the mill came in to sit with mother. She
brought Jack some sweets, but instead of playing with him she burst
into tears. She made more noise when she cried than mother; in fact
he was afraid that in a minute he would have to laugh at her
snortings, so he went into the parlour and sat there in the dark,
eating his sweets, and knitting his brow over the complexities of
life. He could see five stars, and there was a light behind the red
curtain of the front bedroom at Arber's farm. It was about twelve
times as large as a star, and a much prettier colour. By nearly
closing his eyes he could see everything double, so that there were
ten stars and two red lights; he was trying to make everything come
treble when the gate clicked and he saw his father's shadow. He was
delighted with this happy end to a tiresome day, and as he ran
through the passage he called out to mother to say that father was
back. Mother did not answer, but he heard a bit of noise in the
kitchen as he opened the front door.

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