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The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame

Part 3 out of 3

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a civility scarce canny, began to pervade the air. In those
latter hours Edward himself was frequently heard to say "Please,
and also "Would you mind fetchin' that ball?" while Harold
and I would sometimes actually find ourselves trying to
anticipate his wishes. As for the girls, they simply grovelled.
The Olympians, too, in their uncouth way, by gift of carnal
delicacies and such-like indulgence, seemed anxious to
demonstrate that they had hitherto misjudged this one of us.
Altogether the situation grew strained and false, and I think a
general relief was felt when the end came.

We all trooped down to the station, of course; it is only in
later years that the farce of "seeing people off" is seen in its
true colours. Edward was the life and soul of the party; and if
his gaiety struck one at times as being a trifle overdone, it was
not a moment to be critical. As we tramped along, I promised him
I would ask Farmer Larkin not to kill any more pigs till he came
back for the holidays, and he said he would send me a proper
catapult,--the real lethal article, not a kid's plaything. Then
suddenly, when we were about half-way down, one of the girls fell

The happy few who dare to laugh at the woes of sea-sickness will
perhaps remember how, on occasion, the sudden collapse of a
fellow-voyager before their very eyes has caused them
hastily to revise their self-confidence and resolve to walk more
humbly for the future. Even so it was with Edward, who turned
his head aside, feigning an interest in the landscape. It was
but for a moment; then he recollected the hat he was wearing,--a
hard bowler, the first of that sort he had ever owned. He took
it off, examined it, and felt it over. Something about it seemed
to give him strength, and he was a man once more.

At the station, Edward's first care was to dispose his boxes on
the platform so that every one might see the labels and the
lettering thereon. One did not go to school for the first time
every day! Then he read both sides of his ticket carefully;
shifted it to every one of his pockets in turn; and finally fell
to chinking of his money, to keep his courage up. We were all
dry of conversation by this time, and could only stand round and
stare in silence at the victim decked for the altar. And, as I
looked at Edward, in new clothes of a manly cut, with a hard hat
upon his head, a railway ticket in one pocket and money of his
own in the other,--money to spend as he liked and no
questions asked!--I began to feel dimly how great was the gulf
already yawning betwixt us. Fortunately I was not old enough to
realise, further, that here on this little platform the old order
lay at its last gasp, and that Edward might come back to us, but
it would not be the Edward of yore, nor could things ever be the
same again.

When the train steamed up at last, we all boarded it impetuously
with the view of selecting the one peerless carriage to which
Edward might be intrusted with the greatest comfort and honour;
and as each one found the ideal compartment at the same moment,
and vociferously maintained its merits, he stood some chance for
a time of being left behind. A porter settled the matter by
heaving him through the nearest door; and as the train moved off,
Edward's head was thrust out of the window, wearing on it an
unmistakable first-quality grin that he had been saving up
somewhere for the supreme moment. Very small and white his face
looked, on the long side of the retreating train. But the grin
was visible, undeniable, stoutly maintained; till a curve swept
him from our sight, and he was borne away in the dying
rumble, out of our placid backwater, out into the busy world of
rubs and knocks and competition, out into the New Life.

When a crab has lost a leg, his gait is still more awkward than
his wont, till Time and healing Nature make him totus teres
atque rotundus once more. We straggled back from the station
disjointedly; Harold, who was very silent, sticking close to me,
his last slender props while the girls in front, their heads
together, were already reckoning up the weeks to the holidays.
Home at last, Harold suggested one or two occupations of a spicy
and contraband flavour, but though we did our manful best there
was no knocking any interest out of them. Then I suggested
others, with the same want of success. Finally we found
ourselves sitting silent on an upturned wheelbarrow, our chins on
our fists, staring haggardly into the raw new conditions of our
changed life, the ruins of a past behind our backs.

And all the while Selina and Charlotte were busy stuffing
Edward's rabbits with unwonted forage, bilious and green;
polishing up the cage of his mice till the occupants raved and
swore like householders in spring-time; and collecting
materials for new bows and arrows, whips, boats, guns, and four-
in-hand harness, against the return of Ulysses. Little did they
dream that the hero, once back from Troy and all its onsets,
would scornfully condemn their clumsy but laborious armoury as
rot and humbug and only fit for kids! This, with many another
like awakening, was mercifully hidden from them. Could the veil
have been lifted, and the girls permitted to see Edward as he
would appear a short three months hence, ragged of attire and
lawless of tongue, a scorner of tradition and an adept in strange
new physical tortures, one who would in the same half-hour
dismember a doll and shatter a hallowed belief,--in fine, a sort
of swaggering Captain, fresh from the Spanish Main,--could they
have had the least hint of this, well, then perhaps--. But which
of us is of mental fibre to stand the test of a glimpse into
futurity? Let us only hope that, even with certain
disillusionment ahead, the girls would have acted precisely as
they did.

And perhaps we have reason to be very grateful that, both as
children and long afterwards, we are never allowed to guess how
the absorbing pursuit of the moment will appear, not only to
others, but to ourselves, a very short time hence. So we pass,
with a gusto and a heartiness that to an onlooker would seem
almost pathetic, from one droll devotion to another misshapen
passion; and who shall care to play Rhadamanthus, to appraise the
record, and to decide how much of it is solid achievement, and
how much the merest child's play?

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