The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame

Looking back to those days of old, ere the gate shut behind me, I can see now that to children with a proper equipment of parents these things would have worn a different aspect.
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  • 1895
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Looking back to those days of old, ere the gate shut behind me, I can see now that to children with a proper equipment of parents these things would have worn a different aspect. But to those whose nearest were aunts and uncles, a special attitude of mind may be allowed. They treated us, indeed, with kindness enough as to the needs of the flesh, but after that with indifference (an indifference, as I recognise, the result of a certain stupidity), and therewith the commonplace conviction that your child is merely animal. At a very early age I remember realising in a quite impersonal and kindly way the existence of that stupidity, and its tremendous influence in the world; while there grew up in me, as in the parallel case of Caliban upon Setebos, a vague sense of a ruling power, wilful and freakish, and prone to the practice of vagaries–“just choosing so:” as, for instance, the giving of authority over us to these hopeless and incapable creatures, when it might far more reasonably have been given to ourselves over them. These elders, our betters by a trick of chance, commanded no respect, but only a certain blend of envy– of their good luck–and pity–for their inability to make use of it. Indeed, it was one of the most hopeless features in their character (when we troubled ourselves to waste a thought on them: which wasn’t often) that, having absolute licence to indulge in the pleasures of life, they could get no good of it. They might dabble in the pond all day, hunt the chickens, climb trees in the most uncompromising Sunday clothes; they were free to issue forth and buy gunpowder in the full eye of the sun–free to fire cannons and explode mines on the lawn: yet they never did any one of these things. No irresistible Energy haled them to church o’ Sundays; yet they went there regularly of their own accord, though they betrayed no greater delight in the experience than ourselves.

On the whole, the existence of these Olympians seemed to be entirely void of interests, even as their movements were confined and slow, and their habits stereotyped and senseless. To anything but appearances they were blind. For them the orchard (a place elf-haunted, wonderful!) simply produced so many apples and cherries: or it didn’t, when the failures of Nature were not infrequently ascribed to us. They never set foot within fir-wood or hazel-copse, nor dreamt of the marvels hid therein. The mysterious sources–sources as of old Nile–that fed the duck-pond had no magic for them. They were unaware of Indians, nor recked they anything of bisons or of pirates (with pistols!), though the whole place swarmed with such portents. They cared not about exploring for robbers’ caves, nor digging for hidden treasure. Perhaps, indeed, it was one of their best qualities that they spent the greater part of their time stuffily indoors.

To be sure, there was an exception in the curate, who would receive unblenching the information that the meadow beyond the orchard was a prairie studded with herds of buffalo, which it was our delight, moccasined and tomahawked, to ride down with those whoops that announce the scenting of blood. He neither laughed nor sneered, as the Olympians would have done; but possessed of a serious idiosyncrasy, he would contribute such lots of valuable suggestion as to the pursuit of this particular sort of big game that, as it seemed to us, his mature age and eminent position could scarce have been attained without a practical knowledge of the creature in its native lair. Then, too, he was always ready to constitute himself a hostile army or a band of marauding Indians on the shortest possible notice: in brief, a distinctly able man, with talents, so far as we could judge, immensely above the majority. I trust he is a bishop by this time,–he had all the necessary qualifications, as we knew.

These strange folk had visitors sometimes,–stiff and colourless Olympians like themselves, equally without vital interests and intelligent pursuits: emerging out of the clouds, and passing away again to drag on an aimless existence somewhere out of our ken. Then brute force was pitilessly applied. We were captured, washed, and forced into clean collars: silently submitting, as was our wont, with more contempt than anger. Anon, with unctuous hair and faces stiffened in a conventional grin, we sat and listened to the usual platitudes. How could reasonable people spend their precious time so? That was ever our wonder as we bounded forth at last–to the old clay-pit to make pots, or to hunt bears among the hazels.

It was incessant matter for amazement how these Olympians would talk over our heads–during meals, for instance–of this or the other social or political inanity, under the delusion that these pale phantasms of reality were among the importances of life. We illuminati, eating silently, our heads full of plans and conspiracies, could have told them what real life was. We had just left it outside, and were all on fire to get back to it. Of course we didn’t waste the revelation on them; the futility of imparting our ideas had long been demonstrated. One in thought and purpose, linked by the necessity of combating one hostile fate, a power antagonistic ever,–a power we lived to evade,–we had no confidants save ourselves. This strange anaemic order of beings was further removed from us, in fact, than the kindly beasts who shared our natural existence in the sun. The estrangement was fortified by an abiding sense of injustice, arising from the refusal of the Olympians ever to defend, retract, or admit themselves in the wrong, or to accept similar concessions on our part. For instance, whenI flung the cat out of an upper window (though I did it from no ill-feeling, and it didn’t hurt the cat), I was ready, after a moment’s reflection, to own I was wrong, as a gentleman should. But was the matter allowed to end there? I trow not. Again, when Harold was locked up in his room all day, for assault and battery upon a neighbour’s pig,–an action he would have scorned, being indeed on the friendliest terms with the porker in question,–there was no handsome expression of regret on the discovery of the real culprit. What Harold had felt was not so much the imprisonment,–indeed he had very soon escaped by the window, with assistance from his allies, and had only gone back in time for his release,–as the Olympian habit. A word would have set all right; but of course that word was never spoken.

Well! The Olympians are all past and gone. Somehow the sun does not seem to shine so brightly as it used; the trackless meadows of old time have shrunk and dwindled away to a few poor acres. A saddening doubt, a dull suspicion, creeps over me. Et in Arcadia ego,–I certainly did once inhabit Arcady. Can it be I too have become an Olympian?


The masterful wind was up and out, shouting and chasing, the lord of the morning. Poplars swayed and tossed with a roaring swish; dead leaves sprang aloft, and whirled into space; and all the clear-swept heaven seemed to thrill with sound like a great harp.

It was one of the first awakenings of the year. The earth stretched herself, smiling in her sleep; and everything leapt and pulsed to the stir of the giant’s movement. With us it was a whole holiday; the occasion a birthday–it matters not whose. Some one of us had had presents, and pretty conventional speeches, and had glowed with that sense of heroism which is no less sweet that nothing has been done to deserve it. But the holiday was for all, the rapture of awakening Nature for all, the various outdoor joys of puddles and sun and hedge-breaking for all. Colt-like I ran through the meadows, frisking happy heels in the face of Nature laughing responsive. Above, the sky was bluest of the blue; wide pools left by the winter’s floods flashed the colour back, true and brilliant; and the soft air thrilled with the germinating touch that seemed to kindle something in my own small person as well as in the rash primrose already lurking in sheltered haunts. Out into the brimming sun- bathed world I sped, free of lessons, free of discipline and correction, for one day at least. My legs ran of themselves, and though I heard my name called faint and shrill behind, there was no stopping for me. It was only Harold, I concluded, and his legs, though shorter than mine, were good for a longer spurt than this. Then I heard it called again, but this time more faintly, with a pathetic break in the middle; and I pulled up short, recognising Charlotte’s plaintive note.

She panted up anon, and dropped on the turf beside me. Neither had any desire for talk; the glow and the glory of existing on this perfect morning were satisfaction full and sufficient.

“Where’s Harold;” I asked presently.

“Oh, he’s just playin’ muffin-man, as usual,” said Charlotte with petulance. “Fancy wanting to be a muffin-man on a whole holiday!”

It was a strange craze, certainly; but Harold, who invented his own games and played them without assistance, always stuck staunchly to a new fad, till he had worn it quite out. Just at present he was a muffin-man, and day and night he went through passages and up and down staircases, ringing a noiseless bell and offering phantom muffins to invisible wayfarers. It sounds a poor sort of sport; and yet–to pass along busy streets of your own building, for ever ringing an imaginary bell and offering airy muffins of your own make to a bustling thronging crowd of your own creation–there were points about the game, it cannot be denied, though it seemed scarce in harmony with this radiant wind-swept morning!

“And Edward, where is he?” I questioned again.

“He’s coming along by the road,” said Charlotte. “He’ll be crouching in the ditch when we get there, and he’s going to be a grizzly bear and spring out on us, only you mustn’t say I told you, ‘cos it’s to be a surprise.”

“All right,” I said magnanimously. “Come on and let’s be surprised.” But I could not help feeling that on this day of days even a grizzly felt misplaced and common.

Sure enough an undeniable bear sprang out on us as we dropped into the road; then ensued shrieks, growlings, revolver-shots, and unrecorded heroisms, till Edward condescended at last to roll over and die, bulking large and grim, an unmitigated grizzly. It was an understood thing, that whoever took upon himself to be a bear must eventually die, sooner or later, even if he were the eldest born; else, life would have been all strife and carnage, and the Age of Acorns have displaced our hard-won civilisation. This little affair concluded with satisfaction to all parties concerned, we rambled along the road, picking up the defaulting Harold by the way, muffinless now and in his right and social mind.

“What would you do?” asked Charlotte presently,–the book of the moment always dominating her thoughts until it was sucked dry and cast aside,–“what would you do if you saw two lions in the road, one on each side, and you didn’t know if they was loose or if they was chained up?”

“Do?” shouted Edward, valiantly, “I should–I should–I should–”

His boastful accents died away into a mumble: “Dunno what I should do.”

“Shouldn’t do anything,” I observed after consideration; and really it would be difficult to arrive at a wiser conclusion.

“If it came to DOING,” remarked Harold, reflectively, “the lions would do all the doing there was to do, wouldn’t they?”

“But if they was GOOD lions,” rejoined Charlotte, “they would do as they would be done by.”

“Ah, but how are you to know a good lion from a bad one?” said Edward. “The books don’t tell you at all, and the lions ain’t marked any different.”

“Why, there aren’t any good lions,” said Harold, hastily.

“Oh yes, there are, heaps and heaps,” contradicted Edward. “Nearly all the lions in the story-books are good lions. There was Androcles’ lion, and St. Jerome’s lion, and–and–the Lion and the Unicorn–”

“He beat the Unicorn,” observed Harold, dubiously, “all round the town.”

“That PROVES he was a good lion,” cried Edwards triumphantly. “But the question is, how are you to tell ’em when you see ’em?”

“_I_ should ask Martha,” said Harold of the simple creed.

Edward snorted contemptuously, then turned to Charlotte. “Look here,” he said; “let’s play at lions, anyhow, and I’ll run on to that corner and be a lion,–I’ll be two lions, one on each side of the road,–and you’ll come along, and you won’t know whether I’m chained up or not, and that’ll be the fun!”

“No, thank you,” said Charlotte, firmly; “you’ll be chained up till I’m quite close to you, and then you’ll be loose, and you’ll tear me in pieces, and make my frock all dirty, and p’raps you’ll hurt me as well. _I_ know your lions!”

“No, I won’t; I swear I won’t,” protested Edward. “I’ll be quite a new lion this time,–something you can’t even imagine.” And he raced off to his post. Charlotte hesitated; then she went timidly on, at each step growing less Charlotte, the mummer of a minute, and more the anxious Pilgrim of all time. The lion’s wrath waxed terrible at her approach; his roaring filled the startled air. I waited until they were both thoroughly absorbed, and then I slipped through the hedge out of the trodden highway, into the vacant meadow spaces. It was not that I was unsociable, nor that I knew Edward’s lions to the point of satiety; but the passion and the call of the divine morning were high in my blood.

Earth to earth! That was the frank note, the joyous summons of the day; and they could not but jar and seem artificial, these human discussions and pretences, when boon Nature, reticent no more, was singing that full-throated song of hers that thrills and claims control of every fibre. The air was wine; the moist earth-smell, wine; the lark’s song, the wafts from the cow-shed at top of the field, the pant and smoke of a distant train,–all were wine,–or song, was it? or odour, this unity they all blended into? I had no words then to describe it, that earth- effluence of which I was so conscious; nor, indeed, have I found words since. I ran sideways, shouting; I dug glad heels into the squelching soil; I splashed diamond showers from puddles with a stick; I hurled clods skywards at random, and presently I somehow found myself singing. The words were mere nonsense,– irresponsible babble; the tune was an improvisation, a weary, unrhythmic thing of rise and fall: and yet it seemed to me a genuine utterance, and just at that moment the one thing fitting and right and perfect. Humanity would have rejected it with scorn, Nature, everywhere singing in the same key, recognised and accepted it without a flicker of dissent.

All the time the hearty wind was calling to me companionably from where he swung and bellowed in the tree-tops. “Take me for guide to-day,” he seemed to plead. “Other holidays you have tramped it in the track of the stolid, unswerving sun; a belated truant, you have dragged a weary foot homeward with only a pale, expressionless moon for company. To-day why not I, the trickster, the hypocrite? I, who whip round corners and bluster, relapse and evade, then rally and pursue! I can lead you the best and rarest dance of any; for I am the strong capricious one, the lord of misrule, and I alone am irresponsible and unprincipled, and obey no law.” And for me, I was ready enough to fall in with the fellow’s humour; was not this a whole holiday? So we sheered off together, arm-in-arm, so to speak; and with fullest confidence I took the jigging, thwartwise course my chainless pilot laid for me.

A whimsical comrade I found him, ere he had done with me. Was it in jest, or with some serious purpose of his own, that he brought me plump upon a pair of lovers, silent, face to face o’er a discreet unwinking stile? As a rule this sort of thing struck me as the most pitiful tomfoolery. Two calves rubbing noses through a gate were natural and right and within the order of things; but that human beings, with salient interests and active pursuits beckoning them on from every side, could thus–! Well, it was a thing to hurry past, shamed of face, and think on no more. But this morning everything I met seemed to be accounted for and set in tune by that same magical touch in the air; and it was with a certain surprise that I found myself regarding these fatuous ones with kindliness instead of contempt, as I rambled by, unheeded of them. There was indeed some reconciling influence abroad, which could bring the like antics into harmony with bud and growth and the frolic air.

A puff on the right cheek from my wilful companion sent me off at a fresh angle, and presently I came in sight of the village church, sitting solitary within its circle of elms. From forth the vestry window projected two small legs, gyrating, hungry for foothold, with larceny–not to say sacrilege–in their every wriggle: a godless sight for a supporter of the Establishment. Though the rest was hidden, I knew the legs well enough; they were usually attached to the body of Bill Saunders, the peerless bad boy of the village. Bill’s coveted booty, too, I could easily guess at that; it came from the Vicar’s store of biscuits, kept (as I knew) in a cupboard along with his official trappings.

For a moment I hesitated; then I passed on my way. I protest I was not on Bill’s side; but then, neither was I on the Vicar’s, and there was something in this immoral morning which seemed to say that perhaps, after all, Bill had as much right to the biscuits as the Vicar, and would certainly enjoy them better; and anyhow it was a disputable point, and no business of mine. Nature, who had accepted me for ally, cared little who had the world’s biscuits, and assuredly was not going to let any friend of hers waste his time in playing policeman for Society.

He was tugging at me anew, my insistent guide; and I felt sure, as I rambled off in his wake, that he had more holiday matter to show me. And so, indeed, he had; and all of it was to the same lawless tune. Like a black pirate flag on the blue ocean of air, a hawk hung ominous; then, plummet-wise, dropped to the hedgerow, whence there rose, thin and shrill, a piteous voice of squealing.

By the time I got there a whisk of feathers on the turf–like scattered playbills–was all that remained to tell of the tragedy just enacted. Yet Nature smiled and sang on, pitiless, gay, impartial. To her, who took no sides, there was every bit as much to be said for the hawk as for the chaffinch. Both were her children, and she would show no preferences.

Further on, a hedgehog lay dead athwart the path–nay, more than dead; decadent, distinctly; a sorry sight for one that had known the fellow in more bustling circumstances. Nature might at least have paused to shed one tear over this rough jacketed little son of hers, for his wasted aims, his cancelled ambitions, his whole career of usefulness cut suddenly short. But not a bit of it! Jubilant as ever, her song went bubbling on, and “Death-in- Life,” and again, “Life-in-Death,” were its alternate burdens. And looking round, and seeing the sheep-nibbled heels of turnips that dotted the ground, their hearts eaten out of them in frost- bound days now over and done, I seemed to discern, faintly, a something of the stern meaning in her valorous chant.

My invisible companion was singing also, and seemed at times to be chuckling softly to himself, doubtless at thought of the strange new lessons he was teaching me; perhaps, too, at a special bit of waggishness he had still in store. For when at last he grew weary of such insignificant earthbound company, he deserted me at a certain spot I knew; then dropped, subsided, and slunk away into nothingness. I raised my eyes, and before me, grim and lichened, stood the ancient whipping-post of the village; its sides fretted with the initials of a generation that scorned its mute lesson, but still clipped by the stout rusty shackles that had tethered the wrists of such of that generation’s ancestors as had dared to mock at order and law. Had I been an infant Sterne, here was a grand chance for sentimental output! As things were, I could only hurry homewards, my moral tail well between my legs, with an uneasy feeling, as I glanced back over my shoulder, that there was more in this chance than met the eye.

And outside our gate I found Charlotte, alone and crying. Edward, it seemed, had persuaded her to hide, in the full expectation of being duly found and ecstatically pounced upon; then he had caught sight of the butcher’s cart, and, forgetting his obligations, had rushed off for a ride. Harold, it further appeared, greatly coveting tadpoles, and top-heavy with the eagerness of possession, had fallen into the pond. This, in itself, was nothing; but on attempting to sneak in by the back- door, he had rendered up his duckweed-bedabbled person into the hands of an aunt, and had been promptly sent off to bed; and this, on a holiday, was very much. The moral of the whipping- post was working itself out; and I was not in the least surprised when, on reaching home, I was seized upon and accused of doing something I had never even thought of. And my frame of mind was such, that I could only wish most heartily that I had done it.


In our small lives that day was eventful when another uncle was to come down from town, and submit his character and qualifications (albeit unconsciously) to our careful criticism. Previous uncles had been weighed in the balance, and–alas!– found grievously wanting. There was Uncle Thomas–a failure from the first. Not that his disposition was malevolent, nor were his habits such as to unfit him for decent society; but his rooted conviction seemed to be that the reason of a child’s existence was to serve as a butt for senseless adult jokes,–or what, from the accompanying guffaws of laughter, appeared to be intended for jokes. Now, we were anxious that he should have a perfectly fair trial; so in the tool-house, between breakfast and lessons, we discussed and examined all his witticisms, one by one, calmly, critically, dispassionately. It was no good; we could not discover any salt in them. And as only a genuine gift of humour could have saved Uncle Thomas,–for he pretended to naught besides,–he was reluctantly writ down a hopeless impostor.

Uncle George–the youngest–was distinctly more promising. He accompanied us cheerily round the establishment,–suffered himself to be introduced to each of the cows, held out the right hand of fellowship to the pig, and even hinted that a pair of pink-eyed Himalayan rabbits might arrive–unexpectedly–from town some day. We were just considering whether in this fertile soil an apparently accidental remark on the solid qualities of guinea- pigs or ferrets might haply blossom and bring forth fruit, when our governess appeared on the scene. Uncle George’s manner at once underwent a complete and contemptible change. His interest in rational topics seemed, “like a fountain’s sickening pulse,” to flag and ebb away; and though Miss Smedley’s ostensible purpose was to take Selina for her usual walk, I can vouch for it that Selina spent her morning ratting, along with the keeper’s boy and me; while, if Miss Smedley walked with any one, it would appear to have been with Uncle George.

But despicable as his conduct had been, he underwent no hasty condemnation. The defection was discussed in all its bearings, but it seemed sadly clear at last that this uncle must possess some innate badness of character and fondness for low company. We who from daily experience knew Miss Smedley like a book–were we not only too well aware that she had neither accomplishments nor charms, no characteristic, in fact, but an inbred viciousness of temper and disposition? True, she knew the dates of the English kings by heart; but how could that profit Uncle George, who, having passed into the army, had ascended beyond the need of useful information? Our bows and arrows, on the other hand, had been freely placed at his disposal; and a soldier should not have hesitated in his choice a moment. No: Uncle George had fallen from grace, and was unanimously damned. And the non-arrival of the Himalayan rabbits was only another nail in his coffin. Uncles, therefore, were just then a heavy and lifeless market, and there was little inclination to deal. Still it was agreed that Uncle William, who had just returned from India, should have as fair a trial as the others; more especially as romantic possibilities might well be embodied in one who had held the gorgeous East in fee.

Selina had kicked my shins–like the girl she is!–during a scuffle in the passage, and I was still rubbing them with one hand when I found that the uncle-on-approbation was half- heartedly shaking the other. A florid, elderly man, and unmistakably nervous, he dropped our grimy paws in succession, and, turning very red, with an awkward simulation of heartiness, “Well, h’ are y’ all?” he said, “Glad to see me, eh?” As we could hardly, in justice, be expected to have formed an opinion on him at that early stage, we could but look at each other in silence; which scarce served to relieve the tension of the situation. Indeed, the cloud never really lifted during his stay. In talking it over later, some one put forward the suggestion that he must at some time or other have committed a stupendous crime; but I could not bring myself to believe that the man, though evidently unhappy, was really guilty of anything; and I caught him once or twice looking at us with evident kindliness, though seeing himself observed, he blushed and turned away his head.

When at last the atmosphere was clear of this depressing influence, we met despondently in the potato-cellar–all of us, that is, but Harold, who had been told off to accompany his relative to the station; and the feeling was unanimous, that, at an uncle, William could not be allowed to pass. Selina roundly declared him a beast, pointing out that he had not even got us a half-holiday; and, indeed, there seemed little to do but to pass sentence. We were about to put it, when Harold appeared on the scene; his red face, round eyes, and mysterious demeanour, hinting at awful portents. Speechless he stood a space: then, slowly drawing his hand from the pocket of his knickerbockers, he displayed on a dirty palm one–two–three–four half-crowns! We could but gaze–tranced, breathless, mute; never had any of us seen, in the aggregate, so much bullion before. Then Harold told his tale.

“I took the old fellow to the station,” he said, “and as we went along I told him all about the station-master’s family, and how I had seen the porter kissing our housemaid, and what a nice fellow he was, with no airs, or affectation about him, and anything I thought would be of interest.; but he didn’t seem to pay much attention, but walked along puffing his cigar, and once I thought–I’m not certain, but I THOUGHT–I heard him say, `Well, thank God, that’s over!’ When we got to the station he stopped suddenly, and said, `Hold on a minute!’ Then he shoved these into my hand in a frightened sort of way; and said, `Look here, youngster! These are for you and the other kids. Buy what you like–make little beasts of yourselves–only don’t tell the old people, mind! Now cut away home!’ So I cut.”

A solemn hush fell on the assembly, broken first by the small Charlotte. “I didn’t know,” she observed dreamily, “that there were such good men anywhere in the world. I hope he’ll die to- night, for then he’ll go straight to heaven!” But the repentant Selina bewailed herself with tears and sobs, refusing to be comforted; for that in her haste she had called this white-souled relative a beast.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” said Edward, the master-mind, rising–as he always did–to the situation: “We’ll christen the piebald pig after him–the one that hasn’t got a name yet. And that’ll show we’re sorry for our mistake!”

“I–I christened that pig this morning,” Harold guiltily confessed; “I christened it after the curate. I’m very sorry– but he came and bow’ed to me last night, after you others had all been sent to bed early–and somehow I felt I HAD to do it!”

“Oh, but that doesn’t count,” said Edward hastily; “because we weren’t all there. We’ll take that christening off, and call it Uncle William. And you can save up the curate for the next litter!”

And the motion being agreed to without a division, the House went into Committee of Supply.


“Let’s pretend,” suggested Harold, “that we’re Cavaliers and Roundheads; and YOU be a Roundhead!”

“O bother,” I replied drowsily, “we pretended that yesterday; and it’s not my turn to be a Roundhead, anyhow.” The fact is, I was lazy, and the call to arms fell on indifferent ears. We three younger ones were stretched at length in the orchard. The sun was hot, the season merry June, and never (I thought) had there been such wealth and riot of buttercups throughout the lush grass. Green-and-gold was the dominant key that day. Instead of active “pretence” with its shouts and perspiration, how much better–I held–to lie at ease and pretend to one’s self, in green and golden fancies, slipping the husk and passing, a careless lounger, through a sleepy imaginary world all gold and green! But the persistent Harold was not to be fobbed of.

“Well, then,” he began afresh, “let’s pretend we’re Knights of the Round Table; and (with a rush) _I’ll_ be Lancelot!”

“I won’t play unless I’m Lancelot,” I said. I didn’t mean it really, but the game of Knights always began with this particular contest.

“O PLEASE,” implored Harold. “You know when Edward’s here I never get a chance of being Lancelot. I haven’t been Lancelot for weeks!”

Then I yielded gracefully. “All right,” I said. “I’ll be Tristram.”

“O, but you can’t,” cried Harold again.

“Charlotte has always been Tristram. She won’t play unless she’s allowed to be Tristram! Be somebody else this time.”

Charlotte said nothing, but breathed hard, looking straight before her. The peerless hunter and harper was her special hero of romance, and rather than see the part in less appreciative hands, she would even have returned sadly to the stuffy schoolroom.

“I don’t care,” I said: “I’ll be anything. I’ll be Sir Kay. Come on!”

Then once more in this country’s story the mail-clad knights paced through the greenwood shaw, questing adventure, redressing wrong; and bandits, five to one, broke and fled discomfited to their caves. Once again were damsels rescued, dragons disembowelled, and giants, in every corner of the orchard, deprived of their already superfluous number of heads; while Palamides the Saracen waited for us by the well, and Sir Breuse Saunce Pite vanished in craven flight before the skilled spear that was his terror and his bane. Once more the lists were dight in Camelot, and all was gay with shimmer of silk and gold; the earth shook with thunder of horses, ash-staves flew in splinters; and the firmament rang to the clash of sword on helm. The varying fortune of the day swung doubtful–now on this side, now on that; till at last Lancelot, grim and great, thrusting through the press, unhorsed Sir Tristram (an easy task), and bestrode her, threatening doom; while the Cornish knight, forgetting hard- won fame of old, cried piteously, “You’re hurting me, I tell you! and you’re tearing my frock!” Then it happed that Sir Kay, hurtling to the rescue, stopped short in his stride, catching sight suddenly, through apple-boughs, of a gleam of scarlet afar off; while the confused tramp of many horses, mingled with talk and laughter, was borne to our ears.

“What is it?” inquired Tristram, sitting up and shaking out her curls; while Lancelot forsook the clanging lists and trotted nimbly to the hedge.

I stood spell-bound for a moment longer, and then, with a cry of “Soldiers!” I was off to the hedge, Charlotte picking herself up and scurrying after.

Down the road they came, two and two, at an easy walk; scarlet flamed in the eye, bits jingled and saddles squeaked delightfully; while the men, in a halo of dust, smoked their short clays like the heroes they were. In a swirl of intoxicating glory the troop clinked and clattered by, while we shouted and waved, jumping up and down, and the big jolly horsemen acknowledged the salute with easy condescension. The moment they were past we were through the hedge and after them. Soldiers were not the common stuff of everyday life. There had been nothing like this since the winter before last, when on a certain afternoon–bare of leaf and monochrome in its hue of sodden fallow and frost-nipt copse–suddenly the hounds had burst through the fence with their mellow cry, and all the paddock was for the minute reverberant of thudding hoof and dotted with glancing red. But this was better, since it could only mean that blows and bloodshed were in the air.

“Is there going to be a battle?” panted Harold, hardly able to keep up for excitement.

“Of course there is,” I replied. “We’re just in time. Come on!”

Perhaps I ought to have known better; and yet– The pigs and poultry, with whom we chiefly consorted, could instruct us little concerning the peace that in these latter days lapped this sea- girt realm. In the schoolroom we were just now dallying with the Wars of the Roses; and did not legends of the country-side inform us how Cavaliers had once galloped up and down these very lanes from their quarters in the village? Here, now, were soldiers unmistakable; and if their business was not fighting, what was it? Sniffing the joy of battle, we followed hard on their tracks.

“Won’t Edward be sorry,” puffed Harold, “that he’s begun that beastly Latin?”

It did, indeed, seem hard. Edward, the most martial spirit of us all, was drearily conjugating AMO (of all verbs) between four walls; while Selina, who ever thrilled ecstatic to a red coat, was struggling with the uncouth German tongue. “Age,” I reflected, “carries its penalties.”

It was a grievous disappointment to us that the troop passed through the village unmolested. Every cottage, I pointed out to my companions, ought to have been loopholed, and strongly held. But no opposition was offered to the soldiers, who, indeed, conducted themselves with a recklessness and a want of precaution that seemed simply criminal.

At the last cottage a transitory gleam of common sense flickered across me, and, turning on Charlotte, I sternly ordered her back.

The small maiden, docile but exceedingly dolorous, dragged reluctant feet homewards, heavy at heart that she was to behold no stout fellows slain that day; but Harold and I held steadily on, expecting every instant to see the environing hedges crackle and spit forth the leaden death.

“Will they be Indians?” inquired my brother (meaning the enemy); “or Roundheads, or what?”

I reflected. Harold always required direct, straightforward answers–not faltering suppositions.

“They won’t be Indians,” I replied at last; “nor yet Roundheads. There haven’t been any Roundheads seen about here for a long time. They’ll be Frenchmen.”

Harold’s face fell. “All right,” he said; “Frenchmen’ll do; but I did hope they’d be Indians.”

“If they were going to be Indians,” I explained, “I–I don’t think I’d go on. Because when Indians take you prisoner they scalp you first, and then burn you at a stake. But Frenchmen don’t do that sort of thing.”

“Are you quite sure?” asked Harold doubtfully.

“Quite,” I replied. “Frenchmen only shut you up in a thing called the Bastille; and then you get a file sent in to you in a loaf of bread, and saw the bars through, and slide down a rope, and they all fire at you–but they don’t hit you–and you run down to the seashore as hard as you can, and swim off to a British frigate, and there you are!”

Harold brightened up again. The programme was rather attractive.

“If they try to take us prisoner,” he said, “we–we won’t run, will we?”

Meanwhile, the craven foe was a long time showing himself; and we were reaching strange outland country, uncivilised, wherein lions might be expected to prowl at nightfall. I had a stitch in my side, and both Harold’s stockings had come down. Just as I was beginning to have gloomy doubts of the proverbial courage of Frenchmen, the officer called out something, the men closed up, and, breaking into a trot, the troops–already far ahead– vanished out of our sight. With a sinking at the heart, I began to suspect we had been fooled.

“Are they charging?” cried Harold, weary, but rallying gamely.

“I think not,” I replied doubtfully. “When there’s going to be a charge, the officer always makes a speech, and then they draw their swords and the trumpets blow, and–but let’s try a short cut. We may catch them up yet.”

So we struck across the fields and into another road, and pounded down that, and then over more fields, panting, down-hearted, yet hoping for the best. The sun went in, and a thin drizzle began to fall; we were muddy, breathless, almost dead beat; but we blundered on, till at last we struck a road more brutally, more callously unfamiliar than any road I ever looked upon. Not a hint nor a sign of friendly direction or assistance on the dogged white face of it. There was no longer any disguising it– we were hopelessly lost. The small rain continued steadily, the evening began to come on. Really there are moments when a fellow is justified in crying; and I would have cried too, if Harold had not been there. That right-minded child regarded an elder brother as a veritable god; and I could see that he felt himself as secure as if a whole Brigade of Guards hedged him round with protecting bayonets. But I dreaded sore lest he should begin again with his questions.

As I gazed in dumb appeal on the face of unresponsive nature, the sound of nearing wheels sent a pulse of hope through my being; increasing to rapture as I recognised in the approaching vehicle the familiar carriage of the old doctor. If ever a god emerged from a machine, it was when this heaven-sent friend, recognising us, stopped and jumped out with a cheery hail. Harold rushed up to him at once. “Have you been there?” he cried. “Was it a jolly fight? who beat? were there many people killed?”

The doctor appeared puzzled. I briefly explained the situation.

“I see,” said the doctor, looking grave and twisting his face this way and that. “Well, the fact is, there isn’t going to be any battle to-day. It’s been put off, on account of the change in the weather. You will have due notice of the renewal of hostilities. And now you’d better jump in and I’ll drive you home. You’ve been running a fine rig! Why, you might have both been taken and shot as spies!”

This special danger had never even occurred to us. The thrill of it accentuated the cosey homelike feeling of the cushions we nestled into as we rolled homewards. The doctor beguiled the journey with blood-curdling narratives of personal adventure in the tented field, he having followed the profession of arms (so it seemed) in every quarter of the globe. Time, the destroyer of all things beautiful, subsequently revealed the baselessness of these legends; but what of that? There are higher things than truth; and we were almost reconciled, by the time we were dropped at our gate, to the fact that the battle had been postponed.


It was the day I was promoted to a tooth-brush. The girls, irrespective of age, had been thus distinguished some time before; why, we boys could never rightly understand, except that it was part and parcel of a system of studied favouritism on behalf of creatures both physically inferior and (as was shown by a fondness for tale-bearing) of weaker mental fibre. It was not that we yearned after these strange instruments in themselves; Edward, indeed, applied his to the scrubbing-out of his squirrel’s cage, and for personal use, when a superior eye was grim on him, borrowed Harold’s or mine, indifferently; but the nimbus of distinction that clung to them–that we coveted exceedingly. What more, indeed, was there to ascend to, before the remote, but still possible, razor and strop?

Perhaps the exaltation had mounted to my head; or nature and the perfect morning joined to him at disaffection; anyhow, having breakfasted, and triumphantly repeated the collect I had broken down in the last Sunday–’twas one without rhythm or alliteration: a most objectionable collect–having achieved thus much, the small natural man in me rebelled, and I vowed, as I straddled and spat about the stable-yard in feeble imitation of the coachman, that lessons might go to the Inventor of them. It was only geography that morning, any way: and the practical thing was worth any quantity of bookish theoretic; as for me, I was going on my travels, and imports and exports, populations and capitals, might very well wait while I explored the breathing, coloured world outside.

True, a fellow-rebel was wanted; and Harold might, as a rule, have been counted on with certainty. But just then Harold was very proud. The week before he had “gone into tables,” and had been endowed with a new slate, having a miniature sponge attached, wherewith we washed the faces of Charlotte’s dolls, thereby producing an unhealthy pallor which struck terror into the child’s heart, always timorous regarding epidemic visitations. As to “tables,” nobody knew exactly what they were, least of all Harold; but it was a step over the heads of the rest, and therefore a subject for self-adulation and– generally speaking–airs; so that Harold, hugging his slate and his chains, was out of the question now. In such a matter, girls were worse than useless, as wanting the necessary tenacity of will and contempt for self-constituted authority. So eventually I slipped through the hedge a solitary protestant, and issued forth on the lane what time the rest of the civilised world was sitting down to lessons.

The scene was familiar enough; and yet, this morning, how different it all seemed! The act, with its daring, tinted everything with new, strange hues; affecting the individual with a sort of bruised feeling just below the pit of the stomach, that was intensified whenever his thoughts flew back to the ink- stained, smelly schoolroom. And could this be really me? or was I only contemplating, from the schoolroom aforesaid, some other jolly young mutineer, faring forth under the genial sun? Anyhow, here was the friendly well, in its old place, half way up the lane. Hither the yoke-shouldering village-folk were wont to come to fill their clinking buckets; when the drippings made worms of wet in the thick dust of the road. They had flat wooden crosses inside each pail, which floated on the top and (we were instructed) served to prevent the water from slopping over. We used to wonder by what magic this strange principle worked, and who first invented the crosses, and whether he got a peerage for it. But indeed the well was a centre of mystery, for a hornet’s nest was somewhere hard by, and the very thought was fearsome. Wasps we knew well and disdained, storming them in their fastnesses. But these great Beasts, vestured in angry orange, three stings from which–so ‘t was averred–would kill a horse, these were of a different kidney, and their warning drone suggested prudence and retreat. At this time neither villagers nor hornets encroached on the stillness: lessons, apparently, pervaded all Nature. So, after dabbling awhile in the well–what boy has ever passed a bit of water without messing in it?–I scrambled through the hedge, avoiding the hornet-haunted side, and struck into the silence of the copse.

If the lane had been deserted, this was loneliness become personal. Here mystery lurked and peeped; here brambles caught and held with a purpose of their own, and saplings whipped the face with human spite. The copse, too, proved vaster in extent, more direfully drawn out, than one would ever have guessed from its frontage on the lane: and I was really glad when at last the wood opened and sloped down to a streamlet brawling forth into the sunlight. By this cheery companion I wandered along, conscious of little but that Nature, in providing store of water-rats, had thoughtfully furnished provender of right-sized stones. Rapids, also, there were, telling of canoes and portages–crinkling bays and inlets–caves for pirates and hidden treasures–the wise Dame had forgotten nothing–till at last, after what lapse of time I know not, my further course, though not the stream’s, was barred by some six feet of stout wire netting, stretched from side to side, just where a thick hedge, arching till it touched, forbade all further view.

The excitement of the thing was becoming thrilling. A Black Flag must surely be fluttering close by. Here was evidently a malignant contrivance of the Pirates, designed to baffle our gun- boats when we dashed up-stream to shell them from their lair. A gun-boat, indeed, might well have hesitated, so stout was the netting, so close the hedge: but I spied where a rabbit was wont to pass, close down by the water’s edge; where a rabbit could go a boy could follow, albeit stomach-wise and with one leg in the stream; so the passage was achieved, and I stood inside, safe but breathless at the sight.

Gone was the brambled waste, gone the flickering tangle of woodland. Instead, terrace after terrace of shaven sward, stone- edged, urn-cornered, stepped delicately down to where the stream, now tamed and educated, passed from one to another marble basin, in which on occasion gleams of red hinted at gold-fish in among the spreading water-lilies. The scene lay silent and slumbrous in the brooding noonday sun: the drowsing peacock squatted humped on the lawn, no fish leapt in the pools, nor bird declared himself from the environing hedges. Self-confessed it was here, then, at last the Garden of Sleep!

Two things, in those old days, I held in especial distrust: gamekeepers and gardeners. Seeing, however, no baleful apparitions of either nature, I pursued my way between rich flower-beds, in search of the necessary Princess. Conditions de<56>clared her presence patently as trumpets; without this centre such surroundings could not exist. A pavilion, gold topped, wreathed with lush jessamine, beckoned with a special significance over close-set shrubs. There, if anywhere, She should be enshrined. Instinct, and some knowledge of the habits of princesses, triumphed; for (indeed) there She was! In no tranced repose, however, but laughingly, struggling to disengage her hand from the grasp of a grown-up man who occupied the marble bench with her. (As to age, I suppose now that the two swung in respective scales that pivoted on twenty. But children heed no minor distinctions; to them, the inhabited world is composed of the two main divisions: children and upgrown people; the latter being in no way superior to the former–only hopelessly different. These two, then, belonged to the grown-up section.) I paused, thinking it strange they should prefer seclusion when there were fish to be caught, and butterflies to hunt in the sun outside; and as I cogitated thus, the grown-up man caught sight of me.

“Hallo, sprat!” he said, with some abruptness, “where do you spring from?”

“I came up the stream,” I explained politely and comprehensively, “and I was only looking for the Princess.”

“Then you are a water-baby,” he replied. “And what do you think of the Princess, now you’ve found her?”

“I think she is lovely,” I said (and doubtless I was right, having never learned to flatter). “But she’s wide-awake, so I suppose somebody has kissed her!”

This very natural deduction moved the grown-up man to laughter; but the Princess, turning red and jumping up, declared that it was time for lunch.

“Come along, then,” said the grown-up man; “and you too, Water- baby; come and have something solid. You must want it.”

I accompanied them, without any feeling of false delicacy. The world, as known to me, was spread with food each several mid-day, and the particular table one sat at seemed a matter of no importance. The palace was very sumptuous and beautiful, just what a palace ought to be; and we were met by a stately lady, rather more grownup than the Princess–apparently her mother.

My friend the Man was very kind, and introduced me as the Captain, saying I had just run down from Aldershot. I didn’t know where Aldershot was, but had no manner of doubt that he was perfectly right. As a rule, indeed, grown-up people are fairly correct on matters of fact; it is in the higher gift of imagination that they are so sadly to seek.

The lunch was excellent and varied. Another gentleman in beautiful clothes–a lord, presumably–lifted me into a high carved chair, and stood behind it, brooding over me like a Providence. I endeavoured to explain who I was and where I had come from, and to impress the company with my own tooth-brush and Harold’s tables; but either they were stupid–or is it a characteristic of Fairyland that every one laughs at the most ordinary remarks? My friend the Man said good-naturedly, “All right, Water-baby; you came up the stream, and that’s good enough for us.” The lord–a reserved sort of man, I thought–took no share in the conversation.

After lunch I walked on the terrace with the Princess and my friend the Man, and was very proud. And I told him what I was going to be, and he told me what he was going to be; and then I remarked, “I suppose you two are going to get married?” He only laughed, after the Fairy fashion. “Because if you aren’t,” I added, “you really ought to”: meaning only that a man who discovered a Princess, living in the right sort of Palace like this, and didn’t marry her there and then, was false to all recognised tradition.

They laughed again, and my friend suggested I should go down to the pond and look at the gold-fish, while they went for a stroll.

I was sleepy, and assented; but before they left me, the grown-up man put two half-crowns in my hand, for the purpose, he explained, of treating the other water-babies. I was so touched by this crowning mark of friendship that I nearly cried; and thought much more of his generosity than of the fact that the Princess; ere she moved away, stooped down and kissed me.

I watched them disappear down the path–how naturally arms seem to go round waists in Fairyland!–and then, my cheek on the cool marble, lulled by the trickle of water, I slipped into dreamland out of real and magic world alike. When I woke, the sun had gone in, a chill wind set all the leaves a-whispering, and the peacock on the lawn was harshly calling up the rain. A wild unreasoning panic possessed me, and I sped out of the garden like a guilty thing, wriggled through the rabbit-run, and threaded my doubtful way homewards, hounded by nameless terrors. The half- crowns happily remained solid and real to the touch; but could I hope to bear such treasure safely through the brigand-haunted wood? It was a dirty, weary little object that entered its home, at nightfall, by the unassuming aid of the scullery-window: and only to be sent tealess to bed seemed infinite mercy to him. Officially tealess, that is; for, as was usual after such escapades, a sympathetic housemaid, coming delicately by backstairs, stayed him with chunks of cold pudding and condolence, till his small skin was tight as any drum. Then, nature asserting herself, I passed into the comforting kingdom of sleep, where, a golden carp of fattest build, I oared it in translucent waters with a new half-crown snug under right fin and left; and thrust up a nose through water-lily leaves to be kissed by a rose-flushed Princess.


A belt of rhododendrons grew close down to one side of our pond; and along the edge of it many things flourished rankly. If you crept through the undergrowth and crouched by the water’s rim, it was easy–if your imagination were in healthy working order–to transport yourself in a trice to the heart of a tropical forest. Overhead the monkeys chattered, parrots flashed from bough to bough, strange large blossoms shone around you, and the push and rustle of great beasts moving unseen thrilled you deliciously. And if you lay down with your nose an inch or two from the water, it was not long ere the old sense of proportion vanished clean away. The glittering insects that darted to and fro on its surface became sea-monsters dire, the gnats that hung above them swelled to albatrosses, and the pond itself stretched out into a vast inland sea, whereon a navy might ride secure, and whence at any moment the hairy scalp of a sea serpent might be seen to emerge.

It is impossible, however, to play at tropical forests properly, when homely accents of the human voice intrude; and all my hopes of seeing a tiger seized by a crocodile while drinking (vide picture-books, passim) vanished abruptly, and earth resumed her old dimensions, when the sound of Charlotte’s prattle somewhere hard by broke in on my primeval seclusion. Looking out from the bushes, I saw her trotting towards an open space of lawn the other side the pond, chattering to herself in her accustomed fashion, a doll tucked under either arm, and her brow knit with care. Propping up her double burden against a friendly stump, she sat down in front of them, as full of worry and anxiety as a Chancellor on a Budget night.

Her victims, who stared resignedly in front of them, were recognisable as Jerry and Rosa. Jerry hailed from far Japan: his hair was straight and black; his one garment cotton, of a simple blue; and his reputation was distinctly bad. Jerome was his proper name, from his supposed likeness to the holy man who hung in a print on the staircase; though a shaven crown was the only thing in common ‘twixt Western saint and Eastern sinner. Rosa was typical British, from her flaxen poll to the stout calves she displayed so liberally, and in character she was of the blameless order of those who have not yet been found out.

I suspected Jerry from the first; there was a latent devilry in his slant eyes as he sat there moodily, and knowing what he was capable of I scented trouble in store for Charlotte. Rosa I was not so sure about; she sat demurely and upright, and looked far away into the tree-tops in a visionary, world-forgetting sort of way; yet the prim purse of her mouth was somewhat overdone, and her eyes glittered unnaturally.

“Now, I’m going to begin where I left off,” said Charlotte, regardless of stops, and thumping the turf with her fist excitedly: “and you must pay attention, ‘cos this is a treat, to have a story told you before you’re put to bed. Well, so the White Rabbit scuttled off down the passage and Alice hoped he’d come back ‘cos he had a waistcoat on and her flamingo flew up a tree–but we haven’t got to that part yet–you must wait a minute, and–where had I got to?”

Jerry only remained passive until Charlotte had got well under way, and then began to heel over quietly in Rosa’s direction. His head fell on her plump shoulder, causing her to start nervously.

Charlotte seized and shook him with vigour, “O Jerry,” she cried piteously, “if you’re not going to be good, how ever shall I tell you my story?”

Jerry’s face was injured innocence itself. “Blame if you like, Madam,” he seemed to say, “the eternal laws of gravitation, but not a helpless puppet, who is also an orphan and a stranger in the land.”

“Now we’ll go on,” began Charlotte once more. “So she got into the garden at last–I’ve left out a lot, but you won’t care, I’ll tell you some other time–and they were all playing croquet, and that’s where the flamingo comes in, and the Queen shouted out, `Off with her head!'”

At this point Jerry collapsed forward, suddenly and completely, his bald pate between his knees. Charlotte was not very angry this time. The sudden development of tragedy in the story had evidently been too much for the poor fellow. She straightened him out, wiped his nose, and, after trying him in various positions, to which he refused to adapt himself, she propped him against the shoulder of the (apparently) unconscious Rosa. Then my eyes were opened, and the full measure of Jerry’s infamy became apparent. This, then, was what he had been playing up for. The fellow had designs. I resolved to keep him under close observation.

“If you’d been in the garden,” went on Charlotte, reproachfully, “and flopped down like that when the Queen said `Off with his head!’ she’d have offed with your head; but Alice wasn’t that sort of girl at all. She just said, `I’m not afraid of you, you’re nothing but a pack of cards’–oh, dear! I’ve got to the end already, and I hadn’t begun hardly! I never can make my stories last out! Never mind, I’ll tell you another one.”

Jerry didn’t seem to care, now he had gained his end, whether the stories lasted out or not. He was nestling against Rosa’s plump form with a look of satisfaction that was simply idiotic; and one arm had disappeared from view–was it round her waist? Rosa’s natural blush seemed deeper than usual, her head inclined shyly– it must have been round her waist.

“If it wasn’t so near your bedtime,” continued Charlotte, reflectively, “I’d tell you a nice story with a bogy in it. But you’d be frightened, and you’d dream of bogies all night. So I’ll tell you one about a White Bear, only you mustn’t scream when the bear says `Wow,’ like I used to, ‘cos he’s a good bear really–”

Here Rosa fell flat on her back in the deadest of faints. Her limbs were rigid, her eyes glassy; what had Jerry been doing? It must have been something very bad, for her to take on like that. I scrutinised him carefully, while Charlotte ran to comfort the damsel. He appeared to be whistling a tune and regarding the scenery. If I only possessed Jerry’s command of feature, I thought to myself, half regretfully, I would never be found out in anything.

“It’s all your fault, Jerry,” said Charlotte, reproachfully, when the lady had been restored to consciousness: “Rosa’s as good as gold, except when you make her wicked. I’d put you in the corner, only a stump hasn’t got a corner–wonder why that is? Thought everything had corners. Never mind, you’ll have to sit with your face to the wall–SO. Now you can sulk if you like!”

Jerry seemed to hesitate a moment between the bliss of indulgence in sulks with a sense of injury, and the imperious summons of beauty waiting to be wooed at his elbow; then, carried away by his passion, he fell sideways across Rosa’s lap. One arm stuck stiffly upwards, as in passionate protestation; his amorous countenance was full of entreaty. Rosa hesitated–wavered–and yielded, crushing his slight frame under the weight of her full- bodied surrender.

Charlotte had stood a good deal, but it was possible to abuse even her patience. Snatching Jerry from his lawless embraces, she reversed him across her knee, and then–the outrage offered to the whole superior sex in Jerry’s hapless person was too painful to witness; but though I turned my head away, the sound of brisk slaps continued to reach my tingling ears. When I looked again, Jerry was sitting up as before; his garment, somewhat crumpled, was restored to its original position; but his pallid countenance was set hard. Knowing as I did, only too well, what a volcano of passion and shame must be seething under that impassive exterior, for the moment I felt sorry for him.

Rosa’s face was still buried in her frock; it might have been shame, it might have been grief for Jerry’s sufferings. But the callous Japanese never even looked her way. His heart was exceeding bitter within him. In merely following up his natural impulses he had run his head against convention, and learnt how hard a thing it was; and the sunshiny world was all black to him.

Even Charlotte softened somewhat at the sight of his rigid misery. “If you’ll say you’re sorry. Jerome,” she said, “I’ll say I’m sorry, too.”

Jerry only dropped his shoulders against the stump and stared out in the direction of his dear native Japan, where love was no sin, and smacking had not been introduced. Why had he ever left it? He would go back to-morrow–and yet there were obstacles: another grievance. Nature, in endowing Jerry with every grace of form and feature, along with a sensitive soul, had somehow forgotten the gift of locomotion.

There was a crackling in the bushes behind me, with sharp short pants as of a small steam-engine, and Rollo, the black retriever, just released from his chain by some friendly hand, burst through the underwood, seeking congenial company. I joyfully hailed him to stop and be a panther; but he sped away round the pond, upset Charlotte with a boisterous caress, and seizing Jerry by the middle, disappeared with him down the drive. Charlotte raved, panting behind the swift-footed avenger of crime; Rosa lay dishevelled, bereft of consciousness; Jerry himself spread helpless arms to heaven, and I almost thought I heard a cry for mercy, a tardy promise of amendment; but it was too late. The Black Man had got Jerry at last; and though the tear of sensibility might moisten the eye, no one who really knew him could deny the justice of his fate.


NO one would have suspected Edward of being in love, but that after breakfast, with an over-acted carelessness, “Anybody who likes,” he said, “can feed my rabbits,” and he disappeared, with a jauntiness that deceived nobody, in the direction of the orchard. Now, kingdoms might totter and reel, and convulsions change the map of Europe; but the iron unwritten law prevailed, that each boy severely fed his own rabbits. There was good ground, then, for suspicion and alarm; and while the lettuce- leaves were being drawn through the wires, Harold and I conferred seriously on the situation.

It may be thought that the affair was none of our business; and indeed we cared little as individuals. We were only concerned as members of a corporation, for each of whom the mental or physical ailment of one of his fellows might have far-reaching effects. It was thought best that Harold, as least open to suspicion of motive, should be despatched to probe and peer. His instructions were, to proceed by a report on the health of our rabbits in particular; to glide gently into a discussion on rabbits in general, their customs, practices, and vices; to pass thence, by a natural transition, to the female sex, the inherent flaws in its composition, and the reasons for regarding it (speaking broadly) as dirt. He was especially to be very diplomatic, and then to return and report progress. He departed on his mission gaily; but his absence was short, and his return, discomfited and in tears, seemed to betoken some want of parts for diplomacy. He had found Edward, it appeared, pacing the orchard, with the sort of set smile that mountebanks wear in their precarious antics, fixed painfully on his face, as with pins. Harold had opened well, on the rabbit subject, but, with a fatal confusion between the abstract and the concrete, had then gone on to remark that Edward’s lop-eared doe, with her long hindlegs and contemptuous twitch of the nose, always reminded him of Sabina Larkin (a nine- year-old damsel, child of a neighbouring farmer): at which point Edward, it would seem, had turned upon and savagely maltreated him, twisting his arm and punching him in the short ribs. So that Harold returned to the rabbit-hutches preceded by long-drawn wails: anon wishing, with sobs, that he were a man, to kick his love-lorn brother: anon lamenting that ever he had been born.

I was not big enough to stand up to Edward personally, so I had to console the sufferer by allowing him to grease the wheels of the donkey-cart–a luscious treat that had been specially reserved for me, a week past, by the gardener’s boy, for putting in a good word on his behalf with the new kitchen-maid. Harold was soon all smiles and grease; and I was not, on the whole, dissatisfied with the significant hint that had been gained as to the fons at origo mali.

Fortunately, means were at hand for resolving any doubts on the subject, since the morning was Sunday, and already the bells were ringing for church. Lest the connexion may not be evident at first sight, I should explain that the gloomy period of church- time, with its enforced inaction and its lack of real interest– passed, too, within sight of all that the village held of fairest–was just the one when a young man’s fancies lightly turned to thoughts of love. For such trifling the rest of the week afforded no leisure; but in church–well, there was really nothing else to do! True, naughts-and-crosses might be indulged in on fly-leaves of prayer-books while the Litany dragged its slow length along; but what balm or what solace could be found for the sermon? Naturally the eye, wandering here and there among the serried ranks, made bold, untrammelled choice among our fair fellow-supplicants. It was in this way that, some months earlier, under the exceptional strain of the Athanasian Creed, my roving fancy had settled upon the baker’s wife as a fit object for a life-long devotion. Her riper charms had conquered a heart which none of her be-muslined, tittering juniors had been able to subdue; and that she was already wedded had never occurred to me as any bar to my affection. Edward’s general demeanour, then, during morning service, was safe to convict him; but there was also a special test for the particular case. It happened that we sat in a transept, and, the Larkins being behind us, Edward’s only chance of feasting on Sabina’s charms was in the all-too fleeting interval when we swung round eastwards. I was not mistaken. During the singing of the Benedictus the impatient one made several false starts, and at last he slewed fairly round before “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be” was half finished. The evidence was conclusive: a court of law could have desired no better.

The fact being patent, the next thing was to grapple with it; and my mind was fully occupied during the sermon. There was really nothing unfair or unbrotherly in my attitude. A philosophic affection such as mine own, which clashed with nothing, was (I held) permissible; but the volcanic passions in which Edward indulged about once a quarter were a serious interference with business. To make matters worse, next week there was a circus coming to the neighbourhood, to which we had all been strictly forbidden to go; and without Edward no visit in contempt of law and orders could be successfully brought off. I had sounded him as to the circus on our way to church, and he had replied briefly that the very thought of a clown made him sick. Morbidity could no further go. But the sermon came to an end without any line of conduct having suggested itself; and I walked home in some depression, feeling sadly that Venus was in the ascendant and in direful opposition, while Auriga–the circus star–drooped declinant, perilously near the horizon.

By the irony of fate, Aunt Eliza, of all people, turned out to be the Dea ex machina: which thing fell out in this wise. It was that lady’s obnoxious practice to issue forth, of a Sunday afternoon, on a visit of state to such farmers and cottagers as dwelt at hand; on which occasion she was wont to hale a reluctant boy along with her, from the mixed motives of propriety and his soul’s health. Much cudgelling of brains, I suppose, had on that particular day made me torpid and unwary. Anyhow, when a victim came to be sought for, I fell an easy prey, while the others fled scatheless and whooping. Our first visit was to the Larkins. Here ceremonial might be viewed in its finest flower, and we conducted ourselves, like Queen Elizabeth when she trod the measure, “high and disposedly.” In the low, oak-panelled parlour, cake and currant wine were set forth, and after courtesies and compliments exchanged, Aunt Eliza, greatly condescending, talked the fashions with Mrs Larkin; while the farmer and I, perspiring with the unusual effort, exchanged remarks on the mutability of the weather and the steady fall in the price of corn. (Who would have thought, to hear us, that only two short days ago we had confronted each other on either side of a hedge,–I triumphant, provocative, derisive; he flushed, wroth, cracking his whip, and volleying forth profanity?

So powerful is all-subduing ceremony!) Sabina the while, demurely seated with a Pilgrim’s Progress on her knee, and apparently absorbed in a brightly coloured presentment of “Apollyon Straddling Right across the Way,” eyed me at times with shy interest; but repelled all Aunt Eliza’s advances with a frigid politeness for which I could not sufficiently admire her.

“It’s surprising to me,” I heard my aunt remark presently, “how my eldest nephew, Edward, despises little girls. I heard him tell Charlotte the other day that he wished he could exchange her for a pair of Japanese guinea-pigs. It made the poor child cry. Boys are so heartless!” (I saw Sabina stiffen as she sat, and her tip-tilted nose twitched scornfully.) “Now this boy here–” (my soul descended into my very boots. Could the woman have intercepted any of my amorous glances at the baker’s wife?) “Now this boy,” my aunt went on, “is more human altogether. Only yesterday he took his sister to the baker’s shop, and spent his only penny buying her sweets. I thought it showed such a nice disposition. I wish Edward were more like him!”

I breathed again. It was unnecessary to explain my real motives for that visit to the baker’s. Sabina’s face softened, and her contemptuous nose descended from its altitude of scorn; she gave me one shy glance of kindness, and then concentrated her attention upon Mercy knocking at the Wicket Gate. I felt awfully mean as regarded Edward; but what could I do? I was in Gaza, gagged and bound; the Philistines hemmed me in.

The same evening the storm burst, the bolt fell, and–to continue the metaphor–the atmosphere grew serene and clear once more. The evening service was shorter than usual, the vicar, as he ascended the pulpit steps, having dropped two pages out of his sermon-case,–unperceived by any but ourselves, either at the moment or subsequently when the hiatus was reached; so as we joyfully shuffled out I whispered Edward that by racing home at top speed we should make time to assume our bows and arrows (laid aside for the day) and play at Indians and buffaloes with Aunt Eliza’s fowls–already strolling roostwards, regardless of their doom–before that sedately stepping lady could return. Edward hung at the door, wavering; the suggestion had unhallowed charms.

At that moment Sabina issued primly forth, and, seeing Edward, put out her tongue at him in the most exasperating manner conceivable; then passed on her way, her shoulders rigid, her dainty head held high. A man can stand very much in the cause of love: poverty, aunts, rivals, barriers of every sort,–all these only serve to fan the flame. But personal ridicule is a shaft that reaches the very vitals. Edward led the race home at a speed which one of Ballantyne’s heroes might have equalled but never surpassed; and that evening the Indians dispersed Aunt Eliza’s fowls over several square miles of country, so that the tale of them remaineth incomplete unto this day. Edward himself, cheering wildly, pursued the big Cochin-China cock till the bird sank gasping under the drawing-room window, whereat its mistress stood petrified; and after supper, in the shrubbery, smoked a half-consumed cigar he had picked up in the road, and declared to an awe-stricken audience his final, his immitigable, resolve to go into the army.

The crisis was past, and Edward was saved! . . . And yet . . . sunt lachrymae rerem . . . to me watching the cigar- stump alternately pale and glow against the dark background of laurel, a vision of a tip-tilted nose, of a small head poised scornfully, seemed to hover on the gathering gloom–seemed to grow and fade and grow again, like the grin of the Cheshire cat– pathetically, reproachfully even; and the charms of the baker’s wife slipped from my memory like snow-wreaths in thaw. After all, Sabina was nowise to blame: why should the child be punished? To-morrow I would give them the slip, and stroll round by her garden promiscuous-like, at a time when the farmer was safe in the rick-yard. If nothing came of it, there was no harm done; and if on the contrary. . . !


It was much too fine a night to think of going to bed at once, and so, although the witching hour of nine P.M. had struck, Edward and I were still leaning out of the open window in our nightshirts, watching the play of the cedar-branch shadows on the moonlit lawn, and planning schemes of fresh devilry for the sunshiny morrow. From below, strains of the jocund piano declared that the Olympians were enjoying themselves in their listless, impotent way; for the new curate had been bidden to dinner that night, and was at the moment unclerically proclaiming to all the world that he feared no foe. His discordant vociferations doubtless started a train of thought in Edward’s mind, for the youth presently remarked, a propos of nothing that had been said before, “I believe the new curate’s rather gone on Aunt Maria.”

I scouted the notion. “Why, she’s quite old,” I said. (She must have seen some five-and-twenty summers.)

“Of course she is,” replied Edward, scornfully. “It’s not her, it’s her money he’s after, you bet!”

“Didn’t know she had any money,” I observed timidly.

“Sure to have,” said my brother, with confidence. “Heaps and heaps.”

Silence ensued, both our minds being busy with the new situation thus presented,–mine, in wonderment at this flaw that so often declared itself in enviable natures of fullest endowment,–in a grown-up man and a good cricketer, for instance, even as this curate; Edward’s (apparently), in the consideration of how such a state of things, supposing it existed, could be best turned to his own advantage.

“Bobby Ferris told me,” began Edward in due course, “that there was a fellow spooning his sister once–”

“What’s spooning?” I asked meekly.

“Oh, _I_ dunno,” said Edward, indifferently. It’s–it’s–it’s just a thing they do, you know. And he used to carry notes and messages and things between ’em, and he got a shilling almost every time.”

“What, from each of ’em?” I innocently inquired.

Edward looked at me with scornful pity. “Girls never have any money,” he briefly explained. “But she did his exercises and got him out of rows, and told stories for him when he needed it–and much better ones than he could have made up for himself. Girls are useful in some ways. So he was living in clover, when unfortunately they went and quarrelled about something.”

“Don’t see what that’s got to do with it,” I said.

“Nor don’t I,” rejoined Edward. “But anyhow the notes and things stopped, and so did the shillings. Bobby was fairly cornered, for he had bought two ferrets on tick, and promised to pay a shilling a week, thinking the shillings were going on for ever, the silly young ass. So when the week was up, and he was being dunned for the shilling, he went off to the fellow and said, `Your broken-hearted Bella implores you to meet her at sundown,– by the hollow oak, as of old, be it only for a moment. Do not fail!’ He got all that out of some rotten book, of course. The fellow looked puzzled and said,–

“`What hollow oak? I don’t know any hollow oak.’

“`Perhaps it was the Royal Oak?’ said Bobby promptly, ‘cos he saw he had made a slip, through trusting too much to the rotten book; but this didn’t seem to make the fellow any happier.”

“Should think not,” I said, “the Royal Oak’s an awful low sort of pub.”

“I know,” said Edward. “Well, at last the fellow said, `I think I know what she means: the hollow tree in your father’s paddock. It happens to be an elm, but she wouldn’t know the difference. All right: say I’ll be there.’ Bobby hung about a bit, for he hadn’t got his money. `She was crying awfully,’ he said. Then he got his shilling.”

“And wasn’t the fellow riled,” I inquired, “when he got to the place and found nothing?”

“He found Bobby,” said Edward, indignantly. “Young Ferris was a gentleman, every inch of him. He brought the fellow another message from Bella: `I dare not leave the house. My cruel parents immure me closely If you only knew what I suffer. Your broken-hearted Bella.’ Out of the same rotten book. This made the fellow a little suspicious,’cos it was the old Ferrises who had been keen about the thing all through: the fellow, you see, had tin.”

“But what’s that got to–” I began again.

“Oh, _I_ dunno,” said Edward, impatiently. `I’m telling you just what Bobby told me. He got suspicious, anyhow, but he couldn’t exactly call Bella’s brother a liar, so Bobby escaped for the time. But when he was in a hole next week, over a stiff French exercise, and tried the same sort of game on his sister, she was too sharp for him, and he got caught out. Somehow women seem more mistrustful than men. They’re so beastly suspicious by nature, you know.”

“_I_ know,” said I. “But did the two–the fellow and the sister–make it up afterwards?”

“I don’t remember about that,” replied Edward, indifferently; “but Bobby got packed off to school a whole year earlier than his people meant to send him,–which was just what he wanted. So you see it all came right in the end!”

I was trying to puzzle out the moral of this story–it was evidently meant to contain one somewhere–when a flood of golden lamplight mingled with the moon rays on the lawn, and Aunt Maria and the new curate strolled out on the grass below us, and took the direction of a garden seat that was backed by a dense laurel shrubbery reaching round in a half-circle to the house. Edward mediated moodily. “If we only knew what they were talking about,” said he, “you’d soon see whether I was right or not. Look here! Let’s send the kid down by the porch to reconnoitre!”

“Harold’s asleep,” I said; “it seems rather a shame–”

“Oh, rot!” said my brother; “he’s the youngest, and he’s got to do as he’s told!”

So the luckless Harold was hauled out of bed and given his sailing-orders. He was naturally rather vexed at being stood up suddenly on the cold floor, and the job had no particular interest for him; but he was both staunch and well disciplined. The means of exit were simple enough. A porch of iron trellis came up to within easy reach of the window, and was habitually used by all three of us, when modestly anxious to avoid public notice. Harold climbed deftly down the porch like a white rat, and his night gown glimmered a moment on the gravel walk ere he was lost to sight in the darkness of the shrubbery. A brief interval of silence ensued, broken suddenly by a sound of scuffle, and then a shrill, long-drawn squeal, as of metallic surfaces in friction. Our scout had fallen into the hands of the enemy!

Indolence alone had made us devolve the task of investigation on our younger brother. Now that danger had declared itself, there was no hesitation. In a second we were down the side of the porch, and crawling Cherokee-wise through the laurels to the back of the garden-seat. Piteous was the sight that greeted us. Aunt Maria was on the seat, in a white evening frock, looking–for an aunt–really quite nice. On the lawn stood an incensed curate, grasping our small brother by a large ear, which–judging from the row he was making–seemed on the point of parting company with the head it adorned. The gruesome noise he was emitting did not really affect us otherwise than aesthetically. To one who has tried both, the wail of genuine physical anguish is easy distinguishable from the pumped-up ad misericordiam blubber. Harold’s could clearly be recognised as belonging to the latter class. “Now, you young–” (whelp, _I_ think it was, but Edward stoutly maintains it was devil), said the curate, sternly; “tell us what you mean by it!”

“Well, leggo of my ear then!” shrilled Harold, “and I’ll tell you the solemn truth!”

“Very well,” agreed the curate, releasing him; “now go ahead, and don’t lie more than you can help.”

We abode the promised disclosure without the least misgiving; but even we had hardly given Harold due credit for his fertility of resource and powers of imagination.

“I had just finished saying my prayers,” began that young gentleman, slowly, “when I happened to look out of the window, and on the lawn I saw a sight which froze the marrow in my veins!

A burglar was approaching the house with snake-like tread! He had a scowl and a dark lantern, and he was armed to the teeth!”

We listened with interest. The style, though unlike Harold’s native notes, seemed strangely familiar.

“Go on,” said the curate, grimly.

“Pausing in his stealthy career,” continued Harold, “he gave a low whistle. Instantly the signal was responded to, and from the adjacent shadows two more figures glided forth. The miscreants were both armed to the teeth.”

“Excellent,” said the curate; “proceed.”

“The robber chief,” pursued Harold, warming to his work, “joined his nefarious comrades, and conversed with them in silent tones. His expression was truly ferocious, and I ought to have said that he was armed to the t–”

“There, never mind his teeth,” interrupted the curate, rudely; “there’s too much jaw about you altogether. Hurry up and have done.”

“I was in a frightful funk,” continued the narrator, warily guarding his ear with his hand, “but just then the drawing-room window opened, and you and Aunt Maria came out–I mean emerged. The burglars vanished silently into the laurels, with horrid implications!”

The curate looked slightly puzzled. The tale was well sustained, and certainly circumstantial. After all, the boy might have really seen something. How was the poor man to know–though the chaste and lofty diction might have supplied a hint–that the whole yarn was a free adaptation from the last Penny Dreadful lent us by the knife-and-boot boy?

“Why did you not alarm the house?” he asked.

“‘Cos I was afraid,” said Harold, sweetly, “that p’raps they mightn’t believe me!”

“But how did you get down here, you naughty little boy?” put in Aunt Maria.

Harold was hard pressed–by his own flesh and blood, too!

At that moment Edward touched me on the shoulder and glided off through the laurels. When some ten yards away he gave a low whistle. I replied by another. The effect was magical. Aunt Maria started up with a shriek. Harold gave one startled glance around, and then fled like a hare, made straight for the back door, burst in upon the servants at supper, and buried himself in the broad bosom of the cook, his special ally. The curate faced the laurels–hesitatingly. But Aunt Maria flung herself on him. “O Mr. Hodgitts!” I heard her cry, “you are brave! for my sake do not be rash!” He was not rash. When I peeped out a second later, the coast was entirely clear.

By this time there were sounds of a household timidly emerging; and Edward remarked to me that perhaps we had better be off. Retreat was an easy matter. A stunted laurel gave a leg up on to the garden wall, which led in its turn to the roof of an out- house, up which, at a dubious angle, we could crawl to the window of the box-room. This overland route had been revealed to us one day by the domestic cat, when hard pressed in the course of an otter-hunt, in which the cat–somewhat unwillingly–was filling the title role; and it had proved distinctly useful on occasions like the present. We were snug in bed–minus some cuticle from knees and elbows–and Harold, sleepily chewing something sticky, had been carried up in the arms of the friendly cook, ere the clamour of the burglar-hunters had died away.

The curate’s undaunted demeanour, as reported by Aunt Maria, was generally supposed to have terrified the burglars into flight, and much kudos accrued to him thereby. Some days later, however, when he hid dropped in to afternoon tea, and was making a mild curatorial joke about the moral courage required for taking the last piece of bread-and-butter, I felt constrained to remark dreamily, and as it were to the universe at large, “Mr. Hodgitts! you are brave! for my sake, do not be rash!”

Fortunately for me, the vicar was also a caller on that day; and it was always a comparatively easy matter to dodge my long-coated friend in the open.


The year was in its yellowing time, and the face of Nature a study in old gold. “A field or, semee, with garbs of the same:” it may be false Heraldry–Nature’s generally is–but it correctly blazons the display that Edward and I considered from the rickyard gate, Harold was not on in this scene, being stretched upon the couch of pain; the special disorder stomachic, as usual.

The evening before, Edward, in a fit of unwonted amiability, had deigned to carve me out a turnip lantern, an art-and-craft he was peculiarly deft in; and Harold, as the interior of the turnip flew out in scented fragments under the hollowing knife, had eaten largely thereof: regarding all such jetsam as his special perquisite. Now he was dreeing his weird, with such assistance as the chemist could afford. But Edward and I, knowing that this particular field was to be carried to-day, were revelling in the privilege of riding in the empty waggons from the rickyard back to the sheaves, whence we returned toilfully on foot, to career it again over the billowy acres in these great galleys of a stubble sea. It was the nearest approach to sailing that we inland urchins might compass: and hence it ensued, that such stirring scenes as Sir Richard Grenville on the Revenge, the smoke-wreathed Battle of the Nile, and the Death of Nelson, had all been enacted in turn on these dusty quarter decks, as they swayed and bumped afield.

Another waggon had shot its load, and was jolting out through the rickyard gate, as we swung ourselves in, shouting, over its tail.

Edward was the first up, and, as I gained my feet, he clutched me in a death-grapple. I was a privateersman, he proclaimed, and he the captain of the British frigate Terpsichore, of–I forget the precise number of guns. Edward always collared the best parts to himself; but I was holding my own gallantly, when I suddenly discovered that the floor we battled on was swarming with earwigs. Shrieking, I hurled free of him, and rolled over the tail-board on to the stubble. Edward executed a war-dance of triumph on the deck of the retreating galleon; but I cared little for that. I knew HE knew that I wasn’t afraid of him, but that I was–and terribly–of earwigs, “those mortal bugs o’ the field.” So I let him disappear, shouting lustily for all hands to repel boarders, while I strolled inland, down the village.

There was a touch of adventure in the expedition. This was not our own village, but a foreign one, distant at least a mile. One felt that sense of mingled distinction and insecurity which is familiar to the traveller: distinction, in that folk turned the head to note you curiously; insecurity, by reason of the ever- present possibility of missiles on the part of the more juvenile inhabitants, a class eternally conservative. Elated with isolation, I went even more nose-in-air than usual: and “even so,” I mused, “might Mungo Park have threaded the trackless African forest and. . .” Here I plumped against a soft, but resisting body.

Recalled to my senses by the shock, I fell back in the attitude every boy under these circumstances instinctively adopts–both elbows well up over the ears. I found myself facing a tall elderly man, clean-shaven, clad in well-worn black–a clergyman evidently; and I noted at once a far-away look in his eyes, as if they were used to another plane of vision, and could not instantly focus things terrestrial, being suddenly recalled thereto. His figure was bent in apologetic protest: “I ask a thousand pardons, sir,” he said; “I am really so very absent- minded. I trust you will forgive me.”

Now most boys would have suspected chaff under this courtly style of address. I take infinite credit to myself for recognising at once the natural attitude of a man to whom his fellows were gentlemen all, neither Jew nor Gentile, clean nor unclean. Of course, I took the blame on myself; adding, that I was very absent-minded too,–which was indeed the case.

“I perceive,” he said pleasantly, “that we have something in common. I, an old man, dream dreams; you, a young one, see visions. Your lot is the happier. And now–” his hand had been resting all this time on a wicket-gate–“you are hot, it is easily seen; the day is advanced, Virgo is the Zodiacal sign. Perhaps I may offer you some poor refreshment, if your engagements will permit.”

My only engagement that afternoon was an arithmetic lesson, and I had not intended to keep it in any case; so I passed in, while he held the gate open politely, murmuring “Venit Hesperus ite, capellae: come, little kid!” and then apologising abjectly for a familiarity which (he said) was less his than the Roman poet’s. A straight flagged walk led up to the cool-looking old house, and my host, lingering in his progress at this rose-tree and that, forgot all about me at least twice, waking up and apologising humbly after each lapse. During these intervals I put two and two together, and identified him as the Rector: a bachelor, eccentric, learned exceedingly, round whom the crust of legend was already beginning to form; to myself an object of special awe, in that he was alleged to have written a real book. “Heaps o’ books,” Martha, my informant, said; but I knew the exact rate of discount applicable to Martha’s statements.

We passed eventually through a dark hall into a room which struck me at once as the ideal I had dreamed but failed to find. None of your feminine fripperies here! None of your chair-backs and tidies! This man, it was seen, groaned under no aunts. Stout volumes in calf and vellum lined three sides; books sprawled or hunched themselves on chairs and tables; books diffused the pleasant odour of printers’ ink and bindings; topping all, a faint aroma of tobacco cheered and heartened exceedingly, as under foreign skies the flap and rustle over the wayfarer’s head of the Union Jack–the old flag of emancipation! And in one corner, book-piled like the rest of the furniture, stood a piano.

This I hailed with a squeal of delight. “Want to strum?” inquired my friend, as if it was the most natural wish in the world–his eyes were already straying towards another corner, where bits of writing-table peeped out from under a sort of Alpine system of book and foolscap.

“O, but may I?” I asked in doubt. “At home I’m not allowed to– only beastly exercises!”

“Well, you can strum here, at all events,” he replied; and murmuring absently, Age, dic Latinum, barbite, carmen, he made his way, mechanically guided as it seemed, to the irresistible writing-able. In ten seconds he was out of sight and call. A great book open on his knee, another propped up in front, a score or so disposed within easy reach, he read and jotted with an absorption almost passionate. I might have been in Boeotia, for any consciousness he had of me. So with a light heart I turned to and strummed.

Those who painfully and with bleeding feet have scaled the crags of mastery over musical instruments have yet their loss in this,–that the wild joy of strumming has become a vanished sense. Their happiness comes from the concord and the relative value of the notes they handle: the pure, absolute quality and nature of each note in itself are only appreciated by the strummer. For some notes have all the sea in them, and some cathedral bells; others a woodland joyance and a smell of greenery; in some fauns dance to the merry reed, and even the grave centaurs peep out from their caves. Some bring moonlight, and some the deep crimson of a rose’s heart; some are blue, some red, and others will tell of an army with silken standards and march-music. And throughout all the sequence of suggestion, up above the little white men leap and peep, and strive against the imprisoning wires; and all the big rosewood box hums as it were full of hiving bees.

Spent with the rapture, I paused a moment and caught my friend’s eye over the edge of a folio. “But as for these Germans,” he began abruptly, as if we had been in the middle of a discussion, “the scholarship is there, I grant you; but the spark, the fine perception, the happy intuition, where is it? They get it all from us!”

“They get nothing whatever from US,” I said decidedly: the word German only suggesting Bands, to which Aunt Eliza was bitterly hostile.

“You think not?” he rejoined, doubtfully, getting up and walking about the room. “Well, I applaud such fairness and temperance in so young a critic. They are qualities–in youth–as rare as they are pleasing. But just look at Schrumpffius, for instance–how he struggles and wrestles with a simple {GREEK gar} in this very passage here!”

I peeped fearfully through the open door, half-dreading to see some sinuous and snark-like conflict in progress on the mat; but all was still. I saw no trouble at all in the passage, and I said so.

“Precisely,” he cried, delighted. “To you, who possess the natural scholar’s faculty in so happy a degree, there is no difficulty at all. But to this Schrumpffius–” But here, luckily for me, in came the housekeeper, a clean-looking woman of staid aspect.

“Your tea is in the garden,” she said, as if she were correcting a faulty emendation. “I’ve put some cakes and things for the little gentleman; and you’d better drink it before it gets cold.”

He waved her off and continued his stride, brandishing an aorist over my devoted head. The housekeeper waited unmoved till there fell a moment’s break in his descant; and then, “You’d better drink it before it gets cold,” she observed again, impassively. The wretched man cast a deprecating look at me. “Perhaps a little tea would be rather nice,” he observed, feebly; and to my great relief he led the way into the garden. I looked about for the little gentleman, but, failing to discover him, I concluded he was absent-minded too, and attacked the “cakes and things” with no misgivings.

After a most successful and most learned tea a something happened which, small as I was, never quite shook itself out of my memory.

To us at parley in an arbour over the high road, there entered, slouching into view, a dingy tramp, satellited by a frowsy woman and a pariah dog; and, catching sight of us, he set up his professional whine; and I looked at my friend with the heartiest compassion, for I knew well from Martha–it was common talk–that at this time of day he was certainly and surely penniless. Morn by morn he started forth with pockets lined; and each returning evening found him with never a sou. All this he proceeded to explain at length to the tramp, courteously and even shamefacedly, as one who was in the wrong; and at last the gentleman of the road, realising the hopelessness of his case, set to and cursed him with gusto, vocabulary, and abandonment. He reviled his eyes, his features, his limbs, his profession, his relatives and surroundings; and then slouched off, still oozing malice and filth. We watched the party to a turn in the road, where the woman, plainly weary, came to a stop. Her lord, after some conventional expletives demanded of him by his position, relieved her of her bundle, and caused her to hang on his arm with a certain rough kindness of tone, and in action even a dim approach to tenderness; and the dingy dog crept up for one lick at her hand.

“See,” said my friend, bearing somewhat on my shoulder, “how this strange thing, this love of ours, lives and shines out in the unlikeliest of places! You have been in the fields in early morning? Barren acres, all! But only stoop–catch the light thwartwise–and all is a silver network of gossamer! So the fairy filaments of this strange thing underrun and link together the whole world. Yet it is not the old imperious god of the fatal bow–{3 GREEK}not that–nor even the placid respectable {GREEK}–but something still unnamed, perhaps more mysterious, more divine! Only one must stoop to see it, old fellow, one must stoop!”

The dew was falling, the dusk closing, as I trotted briskly homewards down the road. Lonely spaces everywhere, above and around. Only Hesperus hung in the sky, solitary, pure, ineffably far-drawn and remote; yet infinitely heartening, somehow, in his valorous isolation.<113>


Twelfth-night had come and gone, and life next morning seemed a trifle flat and purposeless. But yester-eve and the mummers were here! They had come striding into the old kitchen, powdering the red brick floor with snow from their barbaric bedizenments; and stamping, and crossing, and declaiming, till all was whirl and riot and shout. Harold was frankly afraid: unabashed, he buried himself in the cook’s ample bosom. Edward feigned a manly superiority to illusion, and greeted these awful apparitions familiarly, as Dick and Harry and Joe. As for me, I was too big to run, too rapt to resist the magic and surprise. Whence came these outlanders, breaking in on us with song and ordered masque and a terrible clashing of wooden swords? And after these, what strange visitants might we not look for any quiet night, when the chestnuts popped in the ashes, and the old ghost stories drew the awe-stricken circle close? Old Merlin, perhaps, “all furred in black sheep-skins, and a russet gown, with a bow and arrows, and bearing wild geese in his hand!” Or stately Ogier the Dane, recalled from Faery, asking his way to the land that once had need of him! Or even, on some white night, the Snow- Queen herself, with a chime of sleigh-bells and the patter of reindeers’ feet, with sudden halt at the door flung wide, while aloft the Northern Lights went shaking attendant spears among the quiet stars!

This morning, house-bound by the relentless, indefatigable snow, I was feeling the reaction Edward, on the contrary, being violently stage struck on this his first introduction to the real Drama, was striding up and down the floor, proclaiming “Here be I, King Gearge the Third,” in a strong Berkshire accent. Harold, accustomed, as the youngest, to lonely antics and to sports that asked no sympathy, was absorbed in “clubmen”: a performance consisting in a measured progress round the room arm-in-arm with an imaginary companion of reverend years, with occasional halts at imaginary clubs, where–imaginary steps being leisurely ascended–imaginary papers were glanced at, imaginary scandal was discussed with elderly shakings of the head, and–regrettable to say–imaginary glasses were lifted lipwards. Heaven only knows how the germ of this dreary pastime first found way into his small-boyish being. It was his own invention, and he was proportionately proud of it. Meanwhile, Charlotte and I, crouched in the window-seat, watched, spell-stricken, the whirl and eddy and drive of the innumerable snow-flakes, wrapping our cheery little world in an uncanny uniform, ghastly in line and hue.

Charlotte was sadly out of spirits. Having “countered” Miss Smedley at breakfast, during some argument or other, by an apt quotation from her favourite classic (the Fairy Book) she had been gently but firmly informed that no such things as fairies ever really existed. “Do you mean to say it’s all lies?” asked Charlotte, bluntly. Miss Smedley deprecated the use of any such unladylike words in any connection at all. “These stories had their origin, my dear,” she explained, “in a mistaken anthropomorphism in the interpretation of nature. But though we are now too well informed to fall into similar errors, there are still many beautiful lessons to be learned from these myths–“