ЭЛЕКТРОННАЯ БИБЛИОТЕКА КОАПП
Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.



The Golden Age By Kenneth Grahame


"'T IS OPPORTUNE TO LOOK BACK UPON OLD TIMES, AND
CONTEMPLATE OUR FOREFATHERS.  GREAT EXAMPLES GROW
THIN, AND TO BE FETCHED FROM THE PASSED WORLD.
SIMPLICITY FLIES AWAY, AND INIQUITY COMES AT LONG
STRIDES UPON US.

SIR THOMAS BROWNE



Contents

PROLOGUE--THE OLYMPIANS
A HOLIDAY
A WHITE-WASHED UNCLE
ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS
THE FINDING OF THE PRINCESS
SAWDUST AND SIN
"YOUNG ADAM CUPID"
THE BURGLARS
A HARVESTING
SNOWBOUND
WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT
THE ARGONAUTS
THE ROMAN ROAD
THE SECRET DRAWER
"EXIT TYRANNUS"
THE BLUE ROOM
A FALLING OUT
"LUSISTI SATIS"




PROLOGUE: THE OLYMPIANS

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?




A HOLIDAY.

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.



A WHITE-WASHED UNCLE

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.



ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS

"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.



THE FINDING OF THE
PRINCESS.

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.



SAWDUST AND SIN

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.



"YOUNG ADAM CUPID"

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. . . !



THE BURGLARS

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.



A HARVESTING

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>



SNOWBOUND

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--"

"But how can you learn anything," persisted Charlotte, "from what
doesn't exist?"  And she left the table defiant, howbeit
depressed.

"Don't you mind HER," I said, consolingly; "how can she know
anything about it?  Why, she can't even throw a stone properly!"

"Edward says they're all rot, too," replied Charlotte,
doubtfully.

Edward says everything's rot," I explained, "now he thinks he's
going into the Army.  If a thing's in a book it MUST be true,
so that settles it!"

Charlotte looked almost reassured.  The room was quieter now, for
Edward had got the dragon down and was boring holes in him with a
purring sound Harold was ascending the steps of the Athenaeum
with a jaunty air--suggestive rather of the Junior Carlton.
Outside, the tall elm-tops were hardly to be seen through the
feathery storm.  "The sky's a-falling," quoted Charlotte, softly;
"I must go and tell the king."  The quotation suggested a fairy
story, and I offered to read to her, reaching out for the
book.  But the Wee Folk were under a cloud; sceptical hints had
embittered the chalice.  So I was fain to fetch Arthur--second
favourite with Charlotte for his dames riding errant, and an easy
first with us boys for his spear-splintering crash of tourney and
hurtle against hopeless odds.  Here again, however, I proved
unfortunate,--what ill-luck made the book open at the sorrowful
history of Balin and Balan?  "And he vanished anon," I read: "and
so he heard an horne blow, as it had been the death of a beast.
`That blast,' said Balin, `is blowen for me, for I am the prize,
and yet am I not dead.'" Charlotte began to cry: she knew the
rest too well.  I shut the book in despair.  Harold emerged from
behind the arm-chair.  He was sucking his thumb (a thing which
members of the Reform are seldom seen to do), and he stared wide-
eyed at his tear stained sister.  Edward put off his histrionics,
and rushed up to her as the consoler--a new part for him.

"I know a jolly story," he began.  "Aunt Eliza told it me.  It
was when she was somewhere over in that beastly abroad"--(he had
once spent a black month of misery at Dinan)--"and there was
a fellow there who had got two storks.  And one stork died--it
was the she-stork."  ("What did it die of?" put in Harold.)  "And
the other stork was quite sorry, and moped, and went on, and got
very miserable.  So they looked about and found a duck, and
introduced it to the stork.  The duck was a drake, but the stork
didn't mind, and they loved each other and were as jolly as could
be.  By and by another duck came along,--a real she-duck this
time,--and when the drake saw her he fell in love, and left the
stork, and went and proposed to the duck: for she was very
beautiful.  But the poor stork who was left, he said nothing at
all to anybody, but just pined and pined and pined away, till one
morning he was found quite dead!  But the ducks lived happily
ever afterwards!"

This was Edward's idea of a jolly story!  Down again went the
corners of poor Charlotte's mouth.  Really Edward's stupid
inability to see the real point in anything was TOO annoying!
It was always so.  Years before, it being necessary to prepare
his youthful mind for a domestic event that might lead to awkward
questionings at a time when there was little leisure to invent
appropriate answers, it was delicately inquired of him
whether he would like to have a little brother, or perhaps a
little sister?  He considered the matter carefully in all its
bearings, and finally declared for a Newfoundland pup.  Any boy
more "gleg at the uptak" would have met his parents half-way, and
eased their burden.  As it was, the matter had to be approached
all over again from a fresh standpoint.  And now, while Charlotte
turned away sniffingly, with a hiccough that told of an
overwrought soul, Edward, unconscious (like Sir Isaac's Diamond)
of the mischief he had done, wheeled round on Harold with a
shout.

"I want a live dragon," he announced: "you've got to be my
dragon!"

"Leave me go, will you?" squealed Harold, struggling stoutly.
"I'm playin' at something else.  How can I be a dragon and belong
to all the clubs?"

"But wouldn't you like to be a nice scaly dragon, all green,"
said Edward, trying persuasion, "with a curly tail and red eyes,
and breathing real smoke and fire?"

Harold wavered an instant:  Pall-Mall was still strong in him.
The next he was grovelling on the floor.  No saurian ever
swung a tail so scaly and so curly as his.  Clubland was a
thousand years away.  With horrific pants he emitted smokiest
smoke and fiercest fire.

"Now I want a Princess," cried Edward, clutching Charlotte
ecstatically; "and YOU can be the doctor, and heal me from the
dragon's deadly wound."

Of all professions I held the sacred art of healing in worst
horror and contempt.  Cataclysmal memories of purge and draught
crowded thick on me, and with Charlotte--who courted no barren
honours--I made a break for the door.  Edward did likewise, and
the hostile forces clashed together on the mat, and for a brief
space things were mixed and chaotic and Arthurian.  The silvery
sound of the luncheon-bell restored an instant peace, even in the
teeth of clenched antagonisms like ours.  The Holy Grail itself,
"sliding athwart a sunbeam," never so effectually stilled a riot
of warring passions into sweet and quiet accord.



WHAT THEY TALKED ABOUT

Edward was standing ginger-beer like a gentleman, happening, as
the one that had last passed under the dentist's hands, to be the
capitalist of the flying hour.  As in all well-regulated
families, the usual tariff obtained in ours,--half-a-crown a
tooth; one shilling only if the molar were a loose one.  This
one, unfortunately--in spite of Edward's interested affectation
of agony--had been shaky undisguised; but the event was good
enough to run to ginger-beer.  As financier, however, Edward had
claimed exemption from any servile duties of procurement, and had
swaggered about the garden while I fetched from the village post-
office, and Harold stole a tumbler from the pantry.  Our
preparations complete, we were sprawling on the lawn; the
staidest and most self respecting of the rabbits had been let
loose to grace the feast, and was lopping demurely about the
grass, selecting the juiciest plantains; while Selina, as
the eldest lady present, was toying, in her affected feminine
way, with the first full tumbler, daintily fishing for bits of
broken cork.

"Hurry up, can't you?" growled our host; "what are you girls
always so beastly particular for?"

"Martha says," explained Harold (thirsty too, but still just),
"that if you swallow a bit of cork, it swells, and it swells, and
it swells inside you, till you--"

"O bosh!" said Edward, draining the glass with a fine pretence of
indifference to consequences, but all the same (as I noticed)
dodging the floating cork-fragments with skill and judgment.

"O, it's all very well to say bosh," replied Harold, nettled;
"but every one knows it's true but you.  Why, when Uncle Thomas
was here last, and they got up a bottle of wine for him, he took
just one tiny sip out of his glass, and then he said, `Poo, my
goodness, that's corked!'  And he wouldn't touch it.  And they
had to get a fresh bottle up.  The funny part was, though, I
looked in his glass afterwards, when it was brought out into the
passage, and there wasn't any cork in it at all!  So I drank
it all off, and it was very good!"

"You'd better be careful, young man!" said his elder brother,
regarding him severely.  "D' you remember that night when the
Mummers were here, and they had mulled port, and you went round
and emptied all the glasses after they had gone away?"

"Ow! I did feel funny that night," chuckled Harold.  "Thought the
house was comin' down, it jumped about so; and Martha had to
carry me up to bed, 'cos the stairs was goin' all waggity!"

We gazed searchingly at our graceless junior; but it was clear
that he viewed the matter in the light of a phenomenon rather
than of a delinquency.

A third bottle was by this time circling; and Selina, who had
evidently waited for it to reach her, took a most unfairly long
pull, and then jumping up and shaking out her frock, announced
that she was going for a walk.  Then she fled like a hare; for it
was the custom of our Family to meet with physical coercion any
independence of action in individuals.

"She's off with those Vicarage girls again," said Edward,
regarding Selina's long black legs twinkling down the path.  "She
goes out with them every day now; and as soon as ever they start,
all their heads go together and they chatter, chatter, chatter
the whole blessed time!  I can't make out what they find to talk
about.  They never stop; it's gabble, gabble, gabble right along,
like a nest of young rooks!"

"P'raps they talk about birds'-eggs," I suggested sleepily (the
sun was hot, the turf soft, the ginger-beer potent); "and about
ships, and buffaloes, and desert islands; and why rabbits have
white tails; and whether they'd sooner have a schooner or a
cutter; and what they'll be when they're men--at least, I mean
there's lots of things to talk about, if you WANT to talk."

"Yes; but they don't talk about those sort of things at all,"
persisted Edward.  "How CAN they?  They don't KNOW
anything; they can't DO anything--except play the piano, and
nobody would want to talk about THAT; and they don't care
about anything--anything sensible, I mean.  So what DO they
talk about?"

"I asked Martha once," put in Harold; "and she said, `Never
YOU mind; young ladies has lots of things to talk about
that young gentlemen can't understand.'"

"I don't believe it," Edward growled.

"Well, that's what she SAID, anyway," rejoined Harold,
indifferently.  The subject did not seem to him of first-class
importance, and it was hindering the circulation of the ginger-
beer.

We heard the click of the front-gate.  Through a gap in the hedge
we could see the party setting off down the road.  Selina was in
the middle: a Vicarage girl had her by either arm; their heads
were together, as Edward had described; and the clack of their
tongues came down the breeze like the busy pipe of starlings on a
bright March morning.

"What DO they talk about, Charlotte?" I inquired, wishing to
pacify Edward.  "You go out with them sometimes."

"I don't know," said poor Charlotte, dolefully.  "They make me
walk behind, 'cos they say I'm too little, and mustn't hear.  And
I DO want to so," she added.

"When any lady comes to see Aunt Eliza," said Harold, "they both
talk at once all the time.  And yet each of 'em seems to hear
what the other one's saying.  I can't make out how they do
it.  Grown-up people are so clever!"

"The Curate's the funniest man," I remarked.  "He's always saying
things that have no sense in them at all, and then laughing at
them as if they were jokes.  Yesterday, when they asked him if
he'd have some more tea he said `Once more unto the breach, dear
friends, once more,' and then sniggered all over.  I didn't see
anything funny in that.  And then somebody asked him about his
button-hole and he said `'Tis but a little faded flower,' and
exploded again.  I thought it very stupid."

"O HIM," said Edward contemptuously: "he can't help it, you
know; it's a sort of way he's got.  But it's these girls I can't
make out.  If they've anything really sensible to talk about, how
is it nobody knows what it is?  And if they haven't--and we know
they CAN'T have, naturally--why don't they shut up their jaw?
This old rabbit here--HE doesn't want to talk.  He's got
something better to do."  And Edward aimed a ginger-beer cork at
the unruffled beast, who never budged.

"O but rabbits DO talk," interposed Harold.  "I've
watched them often in their hutch.  They put their heads together
and their noses go up and down, just like Selina's and the
Vicarage girls'.  Only of course I can t hear what they're
saying."

"Well, if they do," said Edward, unwillingly, "I'll bet they
don't talk such rot as those girls do!"--which was ungenerous, as
well as unfair; for it had not yet transpired--nor has it to this
day--WHAT Selina and her friends talked about.



THE ARGONAUTS

The advent of strangers, of whatever sort, into our circle, had
always been a matter of grave dubiety and suspicion; indeed, it
was generally a signal for retreat into caves and fastnesses of
the earth, into unthreaded copses or remote outlying cowsheds,
whence we were only to be extricated by wily nursemaids, rendered
familiar by experience with our secret runs and refuges.  It was
not surprising therefore that the heroes of classic legend, when
first we made their acquaintance, failed to win our entire
sympathy at once.  "Confidence," says somebody, "is a plant of
slow growth;" and these stately dark-haired demi-gods, with names
hard to master and strange accoutrements, had to win a citadel
already strongly garrisoned with a more familiar soldiery.  Their
chill foreign goddesses had no such direct appeal for us as the
mocking malicious fairies and witches of the North; we missed the
pleasant alliance of the animal--the fox who spread the
bushiest of tails to convey us to the enchanted castle, the frog
in the well, the raven who croaked advice from the tree; and--to
Harold especially--it seemed entirely wrong that the hero should
ever be other than the youngest brother of three.  This belief,
indeed, in the special fortune that ever awaited the youngest
brother, as such,--the "Borough-English" of Faery,--had been of
baleful effect on Harold, producing a certain self-conceit and
perkiness that called for physical correction.  But even in our
admonishment we were on his side; and as we distrustfully eyed
these new arrivals, old Saturn himself seemed something of a
parvenu.
   Even strangers, however, if they be good fellows at heart,
may develop into sworn comrades; and these gay swordsmen, after
all, were of the right stuff.  Perseus, with his cap of darkness
and his wonderful sandals, was not long in winging his way to our
hearts; Apollo knocked at Admetus' gate in something of the right
fairy fashion; Psyche brought with her an orthodox palace of
magic, as well as helpful birds and friendly ants.  Ulysses, with
his captivating shifts and strategies, broke down the final
barrier, and hence forth the band was adopted and admitted
into our freemasonry.
   I had been engaged in chasing Farmer Larkin's calves--his
special pride--round the field, just to show the man we hadn't
forgotten him, and was returning through the kitchen-garden with
a conscience at peace with all men, when I happened upon Edward,
grubbing for worms in the dung-heap.  Edward put his worms into
his hat, and we strolled along together, discussing high matters
of state.  As we reached the tool-shed, strange noises arrested
our steps; looking in, we perceived Harold, alone, rapt,
absorbed, immersed in the special game of the moment.  He was
squatting in an old pig-trough that had been brought in to be
tinkered; and as he rhapsodised, anon he waved a shovel over his
head, anon dug it into the ground with the action of those who
would urge Canadian canoes.  Edward strode in upon him.
   "What rot are you playing at now?" he demanded sternly.
   Harold flushed up, but stuck to his pig-trough like a man.
"I'm Jason," he replied, defiantly; "and this is the Argo.  The
other fellows are here too, only you can't see them; and
we're just going through the Hellespont, so don't you come
bothering."  And once more he plied the wine-dark sea.

Edward kicked the pig-trough contemptuously.

"Pretty sort of Argo you've got!" said he.

Harold began to get annoyed.  "I can't help it," he replied.
"It's the best sort of Argo I can manage, and it's all right if
you only pretend enough; but YOU never could pretend one bit."

Edward reflected.  "Look here," he said presently; "why shouldn't
we get hold of Farmer Larkin's boat, and go right away up the
river in a real Argo, and look for Medea, and the Golden Fleece,
and everything?  And I'll tell you what, I don't mind your being
Jason, as you thought of it first."

Harold tumbled out of the trough in the excess of his emotion.
"But we aren't allowed to go on the water by ourselves," he
cried.

"No," said Edward, with fine scorn: "we aren't allowed; and Jason
wasn't allowed either, I daresay--but he WENT!"

Harold's protest had been merely conventional: he only
wanted to be convinced by sound argument.  The next question was,
How about the girls?  Selina was distinctly handy in a boat: the
difficulty about her was, that if she disapproved of the
expedition--and, morally considered, it was not exactly a
Pilgrim's Progress--she might go and tell; she having just
reached that disagreeable age when one begins to develop a
conscience.  Charlotte, for her part, had a habit of day-dreams,
and was as likely as not to fall overboard in one of her rapt
musings.  To be sure, she would dissolve in tears when she found
herself left out; but even that was better than a watery tomb.
In fine, the public voice--and rightly, perhaps--was against the
admission of the skirted animal: spite the precedent of Atalanta,
who was one of the original crew.

"And now," said Edward, "who's to ask Farmer Larkin?  I can't;
last time I saw him he said when he caught me again he'd smack my
head.  YOU'LL have to."

I hesitated, for good reasons.  "You know those precious calves
of his?" I began.

Edward understood at once.  "All right," he said; "then we won't
ask him at all.  It doesn't much matter.  He'd only be
annoyed, and that would be a pity.  Now let's set off."

We made our way down to the stream, and captured the farmer's
boat without let or hindrance, the enemy being engaged in the
hayfields.  This "river," so called, could never be discovered by
us in any atlas; indeed our Argo could hardly turn in it without
risk of shipwreck.  But to us 't was Orinoco, and the cities of
the world dotted its shores.  We put the Argo's head up stream,
since that led away from the Larkin province; Harold was
faithfully permitted to be Jason, and we shared the rest of the
heroes among us.  Then launching forth from Thessaly, we threaded
the Hellespont with shouts, breathlessly dodged the Clashing
Rocks, and coasted under the lee of the Siren-haunted isles.
Lemnos was fringed with meadow-sweet, dog-roses dotted the Mysian
shore, and the cheery call of the haymaking folk sounded along
the coast of Thrace.

After some hour or two's seafaring, the prow of the Argo embedded
itself in the mud of a landing-place, plashy with the tread of
cows and giving on to a lane that led towards the smoke of human
habitations.  Edward jumped ashore, alert for exploration, and
strode off without waiting to see if we followed; but I
lingered behind, having caught sight of a moss-grown water-gate
hard by, leading into a garden that from the brooding quiet
lapping it round, appeared to portend magical possibilities.

Indeed the very air within seemed stiller, as we circumspectly
passed through the gate; and Harold hung back shamefaced, as if
we were crossing the threshold of some private chamber, and
ghosts of old days were hustling past us.  Flowers there were,
everywhere; but they drooped and sprawled in an overgrowth
hinting at indifference; the scent of heliotrope possessed the
place, as if actually hung in solid festoons from tall untrimmed
hedge to hedge.  No basket-chairs, shawls, or novels dotted the
lawn with colour; and on the garden-front of the house behind,
the blinds were mostly drawn.  A grey old sun-dial dominated the
central sward, and we moved towards it instinctively, as the most
human thing visible.  An antique motto ran round it, and with
eyes and fingers we struggled at the decipherment.

"TIME: TRYETH: TROTHE:" spelt out Harold at last.  "I wonder what
that means?"

I could not enlighten him, nor meet his further questions as to
the inner mechanism of the thing, and where you wound it up.

I had seen these instruments before, of course, but had never
fully understood their manner of working.

We were still puzzling our heads over the contrivance, when I
became aware that Medea herself was moving down the path from the
house.  Dark-haired, supple, of a figure lightly poised and
swayed, but pale and listless--I knew her at once, and having
come out to find her, naturally felt no surprise at all.  But
Harold, who was trying to climb on the top of the sun-dial,
having a cat-like fondness for the summit of things, started and
fell prone, barking his chin and filling the pleasance with
lamentation.

Medea skimmed the ground swallow-like, and in a moment was on her
knees comforting him,--wiping the dirt out of his chin with her
own dainty handkerchief,--and vocal with soft murmur of
consolation.

"You needn't take on so about him," I observed, politely.  "He'll
cry for just one minute, and then he'll be all right."

My estimate was justified.  At the end of his regulation time
Harold stopped crying suddenly, like a clock that had struck its
hour; and with a serene and cheerful countenance wriggled
out of Medea's embrace, and ran for a stone to throw at an
intrusive blackbird.

"O you boys!" cried Medea, throwing wide her arms with
abandonment.  "Where have you dropped from?  How dirty you are!
I've been shut up here for a thousand years, and all that time
I've never seen any one under a hundred and fifty!  Let's play at
something, at once!"

"Rounders is a good game," I suggested.  "Girls can play at
rounders.  And we could serve up to the sun-dial here.  But you
want a bat and a ball, and some more people."

She struck her hands together tragically.  "I haven't a bat," she
cried, "or a ball, or more people, or anything sensible whatever.
Never mind; let's play at hide-and-seek in the kitchen garden.
And we'll race there, up to that walnut-tree; I haven't run for a
century!"

She was so easy a victor, nevertheless, that I began to doubt, as
I panted behind, whether she had not exaggerated her age by a
year or two.  She flung herself into hide-and-seek with all the
gusto and abandonment of the true artist, and as she flitted
away and reappeared, flushed and laughing divinely, the pale
witch-maiden seemed to fall away from her, and she moved rather
as that other girl I had read about, snatched from fields of
daffodil to reign in shadow below, yet permitted once again to
visit earth, and light, and the frank, caressing air.

Tired at last, we strolled back to the old sundial, and Harold,
who never relinquished a problem unsolved, began afresh, rubbing
his finger along the faint incisions, "Time tryeth trothe.
Please, I want to know what that means."

Medea's face drooped low over the sun-dial, till it was almost
hidden in her fingers.  "That's what I'm here for," she said
presently, in quite a changed, low voice.  "They shut me up
here--they think I'll forget--but I never will--never, never!
And he, too--but I don't know--it is so long--I don't know!"

Her face was quite hidden now.  There was silence again in the
old garden.  I felt clumsily helpless and awkward; beyond a vague
idea of kicking Harold, nothing remedial seemed to suggest
itself.

None of us had noticed the approach of another she-creature--one
of the angular and rigid class--how different from our dear
comrade!  The years Medea had claimed might well have belonged to
her; she wore mittens, too--a trick I detested in woman.  "Lucy!"
she said, sharply, in a tone with AUNT writ large over it; and
Medea started up guiltily.

"You've been crying," said the newcomer, grimly regarding her
through spectacles.  "And pray who are these exceedingly dirty
little boys?"

"Friends of mine, aunt," said Medea, promptly, with forced
cheerfulness.  "I--I've known them a long time.  I asked them to
come."

The aunt sniffed suspiciously.  "You must come indoors, dear,"
she said, "and lie down.  The sun will give you a headache.  And
you little boys had better run away home to your tea.  Remember,
you should not come to pay visits without your nursemaid."

Harold had been tugging nervously at my jacket for some time, and
I only waited till Medea turned and kissed a white hand to us as
she was led away.  Then I ran.  We gained the boat in safety; and
"What an old dragon!" said Harold.

"Wasn't she a beast!" I replied.  "Fancy the sun giving any one a
headache!  But Medea was a real brick.  Couldn't we carry her
off?"

"We could if Edward was here," said Harold, confidently.

The question was, What had become of that defaulting hero?  We
were not left long in doubt.  First, there came down the lane the
shrill and wrathful clamour of a female tongue, then Edward,
running his best, and then an excited woman hard on his heel.
Edward tumbled into the bottom of the boat, gasping, "Shove her
off!"  And shove her off we did, mightily, while the dame abused
us from the bank in the self same accents in which Alfred hurled
defiance at the marauding Dane.

"That was just like a bit out of Westward Ho!" I remarked
approvingly, as we sculled down the stream.  "But what had you
been doing to her?"

"Hadn't been doing anything," panted Edward, still breathless.
"I went up into the village and explored, and it was a very nice
one, and the people were very polite.  And there was a
blacksmith's forge there, and they were shoeing horses, and
the hoofs fizzled and smoked, and smelt so jolly!  I stayed there
quite a long time.  Then I got thirsty, so I asked that old woman
for some water, and while she was getting it her cat came out of
the cottage, and looked at me in a nasty sort of way, and said
something I didn't like.  So I went up to it just to--to teach it
manners, and somehow or other, next minute it was up an apple-
tree, spitting, and I was running down the lane with that old
thing after me."

Edward was so full of his personal injuries that there was no
interesting him in Medea at all.  Moreover, the evening was
closing in, and it was evident that this cutting-out expedition
must be kept for another day.  As we neared home, it gradually
occurred to us that perhaps the greatest danger was yet to come;
for the farmer must have missed his boat ere now, and would
probably be lying in wait for us near the landing-place.  There
was no other spot admitting of debarcation on the home side; if
we got out on the other, and made for the bridge, we should
certainly be seen and cut off.  Then it was that I blessed my
stars that our elder brother<149> was with us that day,--he might
be little good at pretending, but in grappling with the stern
facts of life he had no equal.  Enjoining silence, he waited till
we were but a little way from the fated landing-place, and then
brought us in to the opposite bank.  We scrambled out
noiselessly, and--the gathering darkness favouring us--crouched
behind a willow, while Edward pushed off the empty boat with his
foot.  The old Argo, borne down by the gentle current, slid and
grazed along the rushy bank; and when she came opposite the
suspected ambush, a stream of imprecation told us that our
precaution had not been wasted.  We wondered, as we listened,
where Farmer Larkin, who was bucolically bred and reared, had
acquired such range and wealth of vocabulary.  Fully realising at
last that his boat was derelict, abandoned, at the mercy of wind
and wave,--as well as out of his reach,--he strode away to the
bridge, about a quarter of a mile further down; and as soon as we
heard his boots clumping on the planks, we nipped out, recovered
the craft, pulled across, and made the faithful vessel fast to
her proper moorings.  Edward was anxious to wait and exchange
cour<150>tesies and compliments with the disappointed farmer,
when he should confront us on the opposite bank; but wiser
counsels prevailed.  It was possible that the piracy was not yet
laid at our particular door: Ulysses, I reminded him, had reason
to regret a similar act of bravado, and--were he here--would
certainly advise a timely retreat.  Edward held but a low opinion
of me as a counsellor; but he had a very solid respect for
Ulysses.



THE ROMAN ROAD

ALL the roads of our neighbourhood were cheerful and friendly,
having each of them pleasant qualities of their own; but this one
seemed different from the others in its masterful suggestion of a
serious purpose, speeding you along with a strange uplifting of
the heart.  The others tempted chiefly with their treasures of
hedge and ditch; the rapt surprise of the first lords-and-ladies,
the rustle of a field-mouse, splash of a frog; while cool noses
of brother-beasts were pushed at you through gate or gap.  A
loiterer you had need to be, did you choose one of them,--so many
were the tiny hands thrust out to detain you, from this side and
that.  But this other was of a sterner sort, and even in its
shedding off of bank and hedgerow as it marched straight and full
for the open downs, it seemed to declare its contempt for
adventitious trappings to catch the shallow-pated.  When the
sense of injustice or disappointment was heavy on me, and
things were very black within, as on this particular day, the
road of character was my choice for that solitary ramble, when I
turned my back for an afternoon on a world that had unaccountably
declared itself against me.

"The Knights' Road," we children had named it, from a sort of
feeling that, if from any quarter at all, it would be down this
track we might some day see Lancelot and his peers come pacing on
their great war-horses,--supposing that any of the stout band
still survived, in nooks and unexplored places.  Grown-up people
sometimes spoke of it as the "Pilgrims' Way"; but I didn't know
much about pilgrims,--except Walter in the Horselberg story.  Him
I sometimes saw, breaking with haggard eyes out of yonder copse,
and calling to the pilgrims as they hurried along on their
desperate march to the Holy City, where peace and pardon were
awaiting them.  "All roads lead to Rome," I had once heard
somebody say; and I had taken the remark very seriously, of
course, and puzzled over it many days.  There must have been some
mistake, I concluded at last; but of one road at least I
intuitively felt it to be true.  And my belief was clinched
by something that fell from Miss Smedley during a history lesson,
about a strange road that ran right down the middle of England
till it reached the coast, and then began again in France, just
opposite, and so on undeviating, through city and vineyard, right
from the misty Highlands to the Eternal City.  Uncorroborated,
any statement of Miss Smedley's usually fell on incredulous ears;
but here, with the road itself in evidence, she seemed, once, in
a way, to have strayed into truth.

Rome!  It was fascinating to think that it lay at the other end
of this white ribbon that rolled itself off from my feet over the
distant downs.  I was not quite so uninstructed as to imagine l
could reach it that afternoon; but some day, I thought, if things
went on being as unpleasant as they were now,--some day, when
Aunt Eliza had gone on a visit,--we would see.

I tried to imagine what it would be like when I got there.  The
Coliseum I knew, of course, from a woodcut in the history-book:
so to begin with I plumped that down in the middle.  The rest had
to be patched up from the little grey market-town where twice a
year we went to have our hair cut; hence, in the result,
Vespasian's amphitheatre was approached by muddy little streets,
wherein the Red Lion and the Blue Boar, with Somebody's Entire
along their front, and "Commercial Room" on their windows; the
doctor's house, of substantial red-brick; and the facade of the
New Wesleyan Chapel, which we thought very fine, were the chief
architectural ornaments: while the Roman populace pottered about
in smocks and corduroys, twisting the tails of Roman calves and
inviting each other to beer in musical Wessex.  From Rome I
drifted on to other cities, dimly heard of--Damascus, Brighton
(Aunt Eliza's ideal), Athens, and Glasgow, whose glories the
gardener sang; but there was a certain sameness in my conception
of all of them: that Wesleyan chapel would keep cropping up
everywhere.  It was easier to go a-building among those dream-
cities where no limitations were imposed, and one was sole
architect, with a free hand.  Down a delectable street of cloud-
built palaces I was mentally pacing, when I happened upon the
Artist.

He was seated at work by the roadside, at a point whence the cool
large spaces of the downs, juniper-studded, swept grandly
westwards.  His attributes proclaimed him of the artist tribe:
besides, he wore knickerbockers like myself,--a garb confined, I
was aware, to boys and artists.  I knew I was not to bother him
with questions, nor look over his shoulder and breathe in his
ear--they didn't like it, this genus irritabile; but there was
nothing about staring in my code of instructions, the point
having somehow been overlooked: so, squatting down on the grass,
I devoted myself to a passionate absorbing of every detail.  At
the end of five minutes there was not a button on him that I
could not have passed an examination in; and the wearer himself
of that homespun suit was probably less familiar with its pattern
and texture than I was.  Once he looked up, nodded, half held out
his tobacco pouch,--mechanically, as it were,--then, returning it
to his pocket, resumed his work, and I my mental photography.

After another five minutes or so had passed he remarked, without
looking my way:  "Fine afternoon we're having: going far to-day?"

"No, I'm not going any farther than this," I replied; "I WAS
thinking of going on to Rome but I've put it off."

"Pleasant place, Rome," he murmured; "you'll like it."  It was
some minutes later that he added:  "But I wouldn't go just now,
if I were you,--too jolly hot."

"YOU haven't been to Rome, have you?" I inquired.

"Rather," he replied, briefly; "I live there."

This was too much, and my jaw dropped as I struggled to grasp the
fact that I was sitting there talking to a fellow who lived in
Rome.  Speech was out of the question: besides, I had other
things to do.  Ten solid minutes had I already spent in an
examination of him as a mere stranger and artist; and now the
whole thing had to be done over again, from the changed point of
view.  So I began afresh, at the crown of his soft hat, and
worked down to his solid British shoes, this time investing
everything with the new Roman halo; and at last I managed to get
out:  "But you don't really live there, do you?" never doubting
the fact, but wanting to hear it repeated.

"Well," he said, good-naturedly overlooking the slight rudeness
of my query, "I live there as much as l live anywhere,--about
half the year sometimes.  I've got a sort of a shanty there.
You must come and see it some day."

"But do you live anywhere else as well?" I went on, feeling the
forbidden tide of questions surging up within me.

"O yes, all over the place," was his vague reply.  "And I've got
a diggings somewhere off Piccadilly."

"Where's that?" I inquired.

"Where's what?" said he.  "Oh, Piccadilly! It's in London."

"Have you a large garden?" I asked; "and how many pigs have you
got?"

"I've no garden at all," he replied, sadly, "and they don't allow
me to keep pigs, though I'd like to, awfully.  It's very hard."

"But what do you do all day, then," I cried, "and where do you go
and play, without any garden, or pigs, or things?"

"When I want to play," he said, gravely, "I have to go and play
in the street; but it's poor fun, I grant you.  There's a goat,
though, not far off, and sometimes I talk to him when I'm feeling
lonely; but he's very proud."

"Goats ARE proud,"  I admitted.  "There's one lives near
here, and if you say anything to him at all, he hits you in the
wind with his head.  You know what it feels like when a fellow
hits you in the wind?"

"I do, well," he replied, in a tone of proper melancholy, and
painted on.

"And have you been to any other places," I began again,
presently, "besides Rome and Piccy-what's-his-name?"

"Heaps," he said.  "I'm a sort of Ulysses--seen men and cities,
you know.  In fact, about the only place I never got to was the
Fortunate Island."

I began to like this man.  He answered your questions briefly and
to the point, and never tried to be funny.  I felt I could be
confidential with him.

"Wouldn't you like," I inquired, "to find a city without any
people in it at all?"

He looked puzzled.  "I'm afraid I don't quite understand," said
he.

"I mean," I went on eagerly, "a city where you walk in at the
gates, and the shops are all full of beautiful things, and the
houses furnished as grand as can be, and there isn't anybody
there whatever!  And you go into the shops, and take
anything you want--chocolates and magic lanterns and injirubber
balls--and there's nothing to pay; and you choose your own house
and live there and do just as you like, and never go to bed
unless you want to!"

The artist laid down his brush.  "That WOULD be a nice city,"
he said.  "Better than Rome.  You can't do that sort of thing in
Rome,--or in Piccadilly either.  But I fear it's one of the
places I've never been to."

"And you'd ask your friends," I went on, warming to my subject,--
"only those you really like, of course,--and they'd each have a
house to themselves,--there'd be lots of houses,--and no
relations at all, unless they promised they'd be pleasant, and if
they weren't they'd have to go."

"So you wouldn't have any relations?" said the artist.  "Well,
perhaps you're right.  We have tastes in common, I see."

"I'd have Harold," I said, reflectively, "and Charlotte.  They'd
like it awfully.  The others are getting too old.  Oh, and
Martha--I'd have Martha, to cook and wash up and do things.
You'd like Martha.  She's ever so much nicer than Aunt
Eliza.  She's my idea of a real lady."

"Then I'm sure I should like her," he replied, heartily, "and
when I come to--what do you call this city of yours? Nephelo--
something, did you say?"

"I--I don't know," I replied, timidly.  "I'm afraid it hasn't got
a name--yet."

The artist gazed out over the downs.  "`The poet says, dear city
of Cecrops;'" he said, softly, to himself, "`and wilt not thou
say, dear city of Zeus?'  That's from Marcus Aurelius," he went
on, turning again to his work.  "You don't know him, I suppose;
you will some day."

"Who's he?" I inquired.

"Oh, just another fellow who lived in Rome," he replied, dabbing
away.

"O dear!" I cried, disconsolately.  "What a lot of people seem to
live at Rome, and I've never even been there!  But I think I'd
like MY city best."

"And so would I," he replied with unction.  "But Marcus Aurelius
wouldn't, you know."

"Then we won't invite him," I said, "will we?"

"_I_ won't if you won't," said he.  And that point being
settled, we were silent for a while.

"Do you know," he said, presently, "I've met one or two fellows
from time to time who have been to a city like yours,--perhaps it
was the same one.  They won't talk much about it--only broken
hints, now and then; but they've been there sure enough.  They
don't seem to care about anything in particular--and every
thing's the same to them, rough or smooth; and sooner or later
they slip off and disappear; and you never see them again.  Gone
back, I suppose."

"Of course," said I.  "Don't see what they ever came away for;
_I_ wouldn't,--to be told you've broken things when you haven't,
and stopped having tea with the servants in the kitchen, and not
allowed to have a dog to sleep with you.  But _I've_ known
people, too, who've gone there."

The artist stared, but without incivility.

"Well, there's Lancelot," I went on.  "The book says he died, but
it never seemed to read right, somehow.  He just went away, like
Arthur.  And Crusoe, when he got tired of wearing clothes
and being respectable.  And all the nice men in the stones who
don't marry the Princess, 'cos only one man ever gets married in
a book, you know.  They'll be there!"

"And the men who never come off," he said, "who try like the
rest, but get knocked out, or somehow miss,--or break down or get
bowled over in the melee,--and get no Princess, nor even a
second-class kingdom,--some of them'll be there, I hope?"

"Yes, if you like," I replied, not quite understanding him; "if
they're friends of yours, we'll ask 'em, of course."

"What a time we shall have!" said the artist, reflectively; "and
how shocked old Marcus Aurelius will be!"

The shadows had lengthened uncannily, a tide of golden haze was
flooding the grey-green surface of the downs, and the artist
began to put his traps together, preparatory to a move.  I felt
very low; we would have to part, it seemed, just as we were
getting on so well together.  Then he stood up, and he was very
straight and tall, and the sunset was in his hair and beard as he
stood there, high over me.  He took my hand like an equal.
"I've enjoyed our conversation very much," he said.  "That was an
interesting subject you started, and we haven't half exhausted
it.  We shall meet again, I hope."

"Of course we shall," I replied, surprised that there should be
any doubt about it.

"In Rome, perhaps?" said he.

"Yes, in Rome," I answered, "or Piccy-the-other-place, or
somewhere."

"Or else," said he, "in that other city,--when we've found the
way there.  And I'll look out for you, and you'll sing out as
soon as you see me.  And we'll go down the street arm-in-arm, and
into all the shops, and then I'll choose my house, and you'll
choose your house, and we'll live there like princes and good
fellows."

"Oh, but you'll stay in my house, won't you?" I cried; "wouldn't
ask everybody; but I'll ask YOU."

He affected to consider a moment; then "Right!" he said:  "I
believe you mean it, and I WILL come and stay with you.  I
won't go to anybody else, if they ask me ever so much.  And I'll
stay quite a long time, too, and I won't be any trouble."

Upon this compact we parted, and I went down-heartedly from the
man who understood me, back to the house where I never could do
anything right.  How was it that everything seemed natural and
sensible to him, which these uncles, vicars, and other grown-up
men took for the merest tomfoolery?  Well, he would explain this,
and many another thing, when we met again.  The Knights' Road!
How it always brought consolation!  Was he possibly one of those
vanished knights I had been looking for so long?  Perhaps he
would be in armour next time,--why not?  He would look well in
armour, I thought.  And I would take care to get there first, and
see the sunlight flash and play on his helmet and shield, as he
rode up the High Street of the Golden City.

Meantime, there only remained the finding it,--an easy
matter.



THE SECRET DRAWER

IT must surely have served as a boudoir for the ladies of old
time, this little used, rarely entered chamber where the
neglected old bureau stood.  There was something very feminine in
the faint hues of its faded brocades, in the rose and blue of
such bits of china as yet remained, and in the delicate old-world
fragrance of pot-pourri from the great bowl--blue and white, with
funny holes in its cover--that stood on the bureau's flat top.
Modern aunts disdained this out-of-the-way, back-water, upstairs
room, preferring to do their accounts and grapple with their
correspondence in some central position more in the whirl of
things, whence one eye could be kept on the carriage drive, while
the other was alert for malingering servants and marauding
children.  Those aunts of a former generation--I sometimes felt--
would have suited our habits better.  But even by us children, to
whom few places were private or reserved, the room was
visited but rarely.  To be sure, there was nothing particular in
it that we coveted or required,--only a few spindle-legged gilt-
backed chairs; an old harp, on which, so the legend ran, Aunt
Eliza herself used once to play, in years remote, unchronicled; a
corner-cupboard with a few pieces of china; and the old bureau.
But one other thing the room possessed, peculiar to itself; a
certain sense of privacy,--a power of making the intruder feel
that he WAS intruding,--perhaps even a faculty of hinting that
some one might have been sitting on those chairs, writing at the
bureau, or fingering the china, just a second before one entered.

No such violent word as "haunted" could possibly apply to this
pleasant old-fashioned chamber, which indeed we all rather liked;
but there was no doubt it was reserved and stand-offish, keeping
itself to itself.

Uncle Thomas was the first to draw my attention to the
possibilities of the old bureau.  He was pottering about the
house one afternoon, having ordered me to keep at his heels for
company,--he was a man who hated to be left one minute alone,--
when his eye fell on it.  H'm! Sheraton!" he remarked.  (He had
a smattering of most things, this uncle, especially the
vocabularies.)  Then he let down the flap, and examined the empty
pigeon-holes and dusty panelling.  "Fine bit of inlay," he went
on: "good work, all of it.  I know the sort.  There's a secret
drawer in there somewhere."  Then, as I breathlessly drew near,
he suddenly exclaimed:  "By Jove, I do want to smoke!" and
wheeling round he abruptly fled for the garden, leaving me with
the cup dashed from my lips.  What a strange thing, I mused, was
this smoking, that takes a man suddenly, be he in the court, the
camp, or the grove, grips him like an Afreet, and whirls him off
to do its imperious behests!  Would it be even so with myself, I
wondered, in those unknown grown-up years to come?

But I had no time to waste in vain speculations.  My whole being
was still vibrating to those magic syllables, "secret drawer;"
and that particular chord had been touched that never fails to
thrill responsive to such words as CAVE, TRAP-DOOR, SLIDING-
PANEL, BULLION, INGOTS, or SPANISH DOLLARS.  For, besides its
own special bliss, who ever heard of a secret drawer with nothing
in it?  And oh, I did want money so badly! I mentally ran
over the list of demands which were pressing me the most
imperiously.

First, there was the pipe I wanted to give George Jannaway.
George, who was Martha's young man, was a shepherd, and a great
ally of mine; and the last fair he was at, when he bought his
sweetheart fairings, as a right-minded shepherd should, he had
purchased a lovely snake expressly for me; one of the wooden
sort, with joints, waggling deliciously in the hand; with yellow
spots on a green ground, sticky and strong-smelling, as a fresh-
painted snake ought to be; and with a red-flannel tongue, pasted
cunningly into its jaws.  I loved it much, and took it to bed
with me every night, till what time its spinal cord was loosed
and it fell apart, and went the way of all mortal joys.  I
thought it so nice of George to think of me at the fair, and
that's why I wanted to give him a pipe.  When the young year was
chill and lambing-time was on, George inhabited a little wooden
house on wheels, far out on the wintry downs, and saw no faces
but such as were sheepish and woolly and mute; ant when he and
Martha were married, she was going to carry his dinner out
to him every day, two miles; and after it, perhaps he would smoke
my pipe.  It seemed an idyllic sort of existence, for both the
parties concerned; but a pipe of quality, a pipe fitted to be
part of a life such as this, could not be procured (so Martha
informed me) for a less sum than eighteen pence.  And meantime--!

Then there was the fourpence I owed Edward; not that he was
bothering me for it, but I knew he was in need of it himself, to
pay back Selina, who wanted it to make up a sum of two shillings,
to buy Harold an ironclad for his approaching birthday,--H. M. S.
Majestic, now lying uselessly careened in the toyshop window,
just when her country had such sore need of her.

And then there was that boy in the village who had caught a young
squirrel, and I had never yet possessed one, and he wanted a
shilling for it, but I knew that for ninepence in cash--but what
was the good of these sorry, threadbare reflections?  I had wants
enough to exhaust any possible find of bullion, even if it
amounted to half a sovereign.  My only hope now lay in the magic
drawer, and here I was standing and letting the precious
minutes slip by.  Whether "findings" of this sort could, morally
speaking, be considered "keepings," was a point that did not
occur to me.

The room was very still as I approached the bureau,--possessed,
it seemed to be, by a sort of hush of expectation.  The faint
odour of orris-root that floated forth as I let down the flap,
seemed to identify itself with the yellows and browns of the old
wood, till hue and scent were of one quality and interchangeable.

Even so, ere this, the pot-pourri had mixed itself with the tints
of the old brocade, and brocade and pot-pourri had long been one.

With expectant fingers I explored the empty pigeon-holes and
sounded the depths of the softly-sliding drawers.  No books that
I knew of gave any general recipe for a quest like this; but the
glory, should I succeed unaided, would be all the greater.

To him who is destined to arrive, the fates never fail to afford,
on the way, their small encouragements; in less than two minutes,
I had come across a rusty button-hook.  This was truly
magnificent.  In the nursery there existed, indeed, a general
button-hook, common to either sex; but none of us possessed
a private and special button-hook, to lend or refuse as suited
the high humour of the moment.  I pocketed the treasure carefully
and proceeded.  At the back of another drawer, three old foreign
stamps told me I was surely on the highroad to fortune.

Following on these bracing incentives, came a dull blank period
of unrewarded search.  In vain I removed all the drawers and felt
over every inch of the smooth surfaces, from front to back.
Never a knob, spring or projection met the thrilling finger-tips;
unyielding the old bureau stood, stoutly guarding its secret, if
secret it really had.  I began to grow weary and disheartened.
This was not the first time that Uncle Thomas had proved shallow,
uninformed, a guide into blind alleys where the echoes mocked
you.  Was it any good persisting longer?  Was anything any good
whatever?  In my mind I began to review past disappointments, and
life seemed one long record of failure and of non-arriral.
Disillusioned and depressed, I left my work and went to the
window.  The light was ebbing from the room, and outside seemed
to be collecting itself on the horizon for its concentrated
effort of sunset.  Far down the garden, Uncle Thomas was holding
Edward in the air reversed, and smacking him.  Edward, gurgling
hysterically, was striking blind fists in the direction where he
judged his uncle's stomach should rightly be; the contents of his
pockets--a motley show--were strewing the lawn.  Somehow, though
I had been put through a similar performance an hour or two ago,
myself, it all seemed very far away and cut off from me.

Westwards the clouds were massing themselves in a low violet
bank; below them, to north and south, as far round as eye could
reach, a narrow streak of gold ran out and stretched away,
straight along the horizon.  Somewhere very far off, a horn was
being blown, clear and thin; it sounded like the golden streak
grown audible, while the gold seemed the visible sound.  It
pricked my ebbing courage, this blended strain of music and
colour, and I turned for a last effort; and Fortune thereupon, as
if half-ashamed of the unworthy game she had been playing with
me, relented, opening her clenched fist.  Hardly had I put my
hand once more to the obdurate wood, when with a sort of
small sigh, almost a sob--as it were--of relief, the secret
drawer sprang open.

I drew it out and carried it to the window, to examine it in the
failing light.  Too hopeless had I gradually grown, in my
dispiriting search, to expect very much; and yet at a glance I
saw that my basket of glass lay in fragments at my feet.  No
ingots or dollars were here, to crown me the little Monte Cristo
of a week.  Outside, the distant horn had ceased its gnat-song,
the gold was paling to primrose, and everything was lonely and
still.  Within, my confident little castles were tumbling down
like card-houses, leaving me stripped of estate, both real and
personal, and dominated by the depressing reaction.

And yet,--as I looked again at the small collection that lay
within that drawer of disillusions, some warmth crept back to my
heart as I recognised that a kindred spirit to my own had been at
the making of it.  Two tarnished gilt buttons,--naval,
apparently,--a portrait of a monarch unknown to me, cut from some
antique print and deftly coloured by hand in just my own bold
style of brush-work,--some foreign copper coins, thicker and
clumsier of make than those I hoarded myself,--and a list of
birds' eggs, with names of the places where they had been found.
Also, a ferret's muzzle, and a twist of tarry string, still
faintly aromatic.  It was a real boy's hoard, then, that I had
happened upon.  He too had found out the secret drawer, this
happy starred young person; and here he had stowed away his
treasures, one by one, and had cherished them secretly awhile;
and then--what?  Well, one would never know now the reason why
these priceless possessions still lay here unreclaimed; but
across the void stretch of years I seemed to touch hands a moment
with my little comrade of seasons long since dead.

I restored the drawer, with its contents, to the trusty bureau,
and heard the spring click with a certain satisfaction.  Some
other boy, perhaps, would some day release that spring again.  I
trusted he would be equally appreciative.  As I opened the door
to go, I could hear from the nursery at the end of the passage
shouts and yells, telling that the hunt was up.  Bears,
apparently, or bandits, were on the evening bill of fare, judging
by the character of the noises.  In another minute I would be in
the thick of it, in all the warmth and light and laughter.
And yet--what a long way off it all seemed, both in space and
time, to me yet lingering on the threshold of that old-world
chamber!



"EXIT TYRANNUS"

The eventful day had arrived at last, the day which, when first
named, had seemed--like all golden dates that promise anything
definite--so immeasurably remote.  When it was first announced, a
fortnight before, that Miss Smedley was really going, the
resultant ecstasies had occupied a full week, during which we
blindly revelled in the contemplation and discussion of her past
tyrannies, crimes, malignities; in recalling to each other this
or that insult, dishonour, or physical assault, sullenly endured
at a time when deliverance was not even a small star on the
horizon; and in mapping out the golden days to come, with special
new troubles of their own, no doubt, since this is but a work-a-
day world, but at least free from one familiar scourge.  The time
that remained had been taken up by the planning of practical
expressions of the popular sentiment.  Under Edward's masterly
direction, arrangements had been made for a flag to be run
up over the hen-house at the very moment when the fly, with Miss
Smedley's boxes on top and the grim oppressor herself inside,
began to move off down the drive.  Three brass cannons, set on
the brow of the sunk-fence, were to proclaim our deathless
sentiments in the ears of the retreating foe: the dogs were to
wear ribbons, and later--but this depended on our powers of
evasiveness and dissimulation--there might be a small bonfire,
with a cracker or two, if the public funds could bear the
unwonted strain.

I was awakened by Harold digging me in the ribs, and "She's going
to-day!" was the morning hymn that scattered the clouds of sleep.

Strange to say, it was with no corresponding jubilation of
spirits that I slowly realised the momentous fact.  Indeed, as I
dressed, a dull disagreeable feeling that I could not define grew
within me--something like a physical bruise.  Harold was
evidently feeling it too, for after repeating "She's going to-
day!" in a tone more befitting the Litany, he looked hard in my
face for direction as to how the situation was to be taken.  But
I crossly bade him look sharp and say his prayers and not
bother me.  What could this gloom portend, that on a day of days
like the present seemed to hang my heavens with black?

Down at last and out in the sun, we found Edward before us,
swinging on a gate, and chanting a farm-yard ditty in which all
the beasts appear in due order, jargoning in their several
tongues, and every verse begins with the couplet--

           "Now, my lads, come with me,
            Out in the morning early!"

The fateful exodus of the day had evidently slipped his memory
entirely.  I touched him on the shoulder.  "She's going to-day!"
I said.  Edward's carol subsided like a water-tap turned off.
"So she is!" he replied, and got down at once off the gate: and
we returned to the house without another word.

At breakfast Miss Smedley behaved in a most mean and uncalled-for
manner.  The right divine of governesses to govern wrong includes
no right to cry.  In thus usurping the prerogative of their
victims, they ignore the rules of the ring, and hit below
the belt.  Charlotte was crying, of course; but that counted for
nothing.  Charlotte even cried when the pigs' noses were ringed
in due season; thereby evoking the cheery contempt of the
operators, who asserted they liked it, and doubtless knew.  But
when the cloud-compeller, her bolts laid aside, resorted to
tears, mutinous humanity had a right to feel aggrieved, and
placed in a false and difficult position.  What would the Romans
have done, supposing Hannibal had cried?  History has not even
considered the possibility.  Rules and precedents should be
strictly observed on both sides; when they are violated, the
other party is justified in feeling injured.

There were no lessons that morning, naturally--another grievance!

The fitness of things required that we should have struggled to
the last in a confused medley of moods and tenses, and parted for
ever, flushed with hatred, over the dismembered corpse of the
multiplication table.  But this thing was not to be; and I was
free to stroll by myself through the garden, and combat, as best
I might, this growing feeling of depression.  It was a wrong
system altogether, I thought, this going of people one had
got used to.  Things ought always to continue as they had been.
Change there must be, of course; pigs, for instance, came and
went with disturbing frequency--

       "Fired their ringing shot and passed,
        Hotly charged and sank at last,"--

but Nature had ordered it so, and in requital had provided for
rapid successors.  Did you come to love a pig, and he was taken
from you, grief was quickly assuaged in the delight of selection
from the new litter.  But now, when it was no question of a
peerless pig, but only of a governess, Nature seemed helpless,
and the future held no litter of oblivion.  Things might be
better, or they might be worse, but they would never be the same;
and the innate conservatism of youth asks neither poverty nor
riches, but only immunity from change.

Edward slouched up alongside of me presently, with a hang-dog
look on him, as if he had been caught stealing jam.  "What a lark
it'll be when she's really gone!" he observed, with a swagger
obviously assumed.

"Grand fun!" I replied, dolorously; and conversation flagged.

We reached the hen-house, and contemplated the banner of freedom
lying ready to flaunt the breezes at the supreme moment.

"Shall you run it up," I asked, "when the fly starts, or--or wait
a little till it's out of sight?"

Edward gazed around him dubiously.  "We're going to have some
rain, I think," he said; "and--and it's a new flag.  It would be
a pity to spoil it.  P'raps I won't run it up at all."

Harold came round the corner like a bison pursued by Indians.
"I've polished up the cannons," he cried, "and they look grand!
Mayn't I load 'em now?"

"You leave 'em alone," said Edward, severely, "or you'll be
blowing yourself up" (consideration for others was not usually
Edward's strong point).  "Don't touch the gunpowder till you're
told, or you'll get your head smacked."

Harold fell behind, limp, squashed, obedient.  "She wants me to
write to her," he began, presently.  "Says she doesn't mind the
spelling, it I'll only write.  Fancy her saying that!"

"Oh, shut up, will you?" said Edward, savagely; and once
more we were silent, with only our thoughts for sorry company.

"Let's go off to the copse," I suggested timidly, feeling that
something had to be done to relieve the tension, "and cut more
new bows and arrows."

"She gave me a knife my last birthday," said Edward, moodily,
never budging.  "It wasn't much of a knife--but I wish I hadn't
lost it."

"When my legs used to ache," I said, "she sat up half the night,
rubbing stuff on them.  I forgot all about that till this
morning."

"There's the fly!" cried Harold suddenly.  "I can hear it
scrunching on the gravel."

Then for the first time we turned and stared one another in the
face.


   .       .       .       .       .


The fly and its contents had finally disappeared through the
gate: the rumble of its wheels had died away; and no flag floated
defiantly in the sun, no cannons proclaimed the passing of a
dynasty.  From out the frosted cake of our existence Fate had cut
an irreplaceable segment; turn which way we would, the void was
present.  We sneaked off in different directions, mutually
undesirous of company; and it seemed borne in upon me that I
ought to go and dig my garden right over, from end to end.  It
didn't actually want digging; on the other hand, no amount of
digging could affect it, for good or for evil; so I worked
steadily, strenuously, under the hot sun, stifling thought in
action.  At the end of an hour or so, I was joined by Edward.

"I've been chopping up wood," he explained, in a guilty sort of
way, though nobody had called on him to account for his doings.

"What for?" I inquired, stupidly.  "There's piles and piles of it
chopped up already."

"I know," said Edward; "but there's no harm in having a bit over.

You never can tell what may happen.  But what have you been doing
all this digging for?"

"You said it was going to rain," I explained, hastily; "so I
thought I'd get the digging done before it came.  Good gardeners
always tell you that's the right thing to do."

"It did look like rain at one time," Edward admitted; "but it's
passed off now.  Very queer weather we're having.  I suppose
that's why I've felt so funny all day."

"Yes, I suppose it's the weather," I replied.  "_I've_ been
feeling funny too."

The weather had nothing to do with it, as we well knew.  But we
would both have died rather than have admitted the real
reason.



THE BLUE ROOM

That nature has her moments of sympathy with man has been noted
often enough,--and generally as a new discovery; to us, who had
never known any other condition of things, it seemed entirely
right and fitting that the wind sang and sobbed in the poplar
tops, and in the lulls of it, sudden spirts of rain
spattered the already dusty roads, on that blusterous March day
when Edward and I awaited, on the station platform, the arrival
of the new tutor.  Needless to say, this arrangement had been
planned by an aunt, from some fond idea that our shy, innocent
young natures would unfold themselves during the walk from the
station, and that on the revelation of each other's more solid
qualities that must then inevitably ensue, an enduring friendship
springing from mutual respect might be firmly based.  A pretty
dream,--nothing more.  For Edward, who foresaw that the brunt of
tutorial oppression would have to be borne by him, was
sulky, monosyllabic, and determined to be as negatively
disagreeable as good manners would permit.  It was therefore
evident that I would have to be spokesman and purveyor of hollow
civilities, and I was none the more amiable on that account; all
courtesies, welcomes, explanations, and other court-chamberlain
kind of business, being my special aversion.  There was much of
the tempestuous March weather in the hearts of both of us, as we
sullenly glowered along the carriage-windows of the slackening
train.

One is apt, however, to misjudge the special difficulties of a
situation; and the reception proved, after all, an easy and
informal matter.  In a trainful so uniformly bucolic, a tutor was
readily recognisable; and his portmanteau had been consigned to
the luggage-cart, and his person conveyed into the lane, before I
had discharged one of my carefully considered sentences.  I
breathed more easily, and, looking up at our new friend as we
stepped out together, remembered that we had been counting on
something altogether more arid, scholastic, and severe.  A boyish
eager face and a petulant pince-nez,--untidy hair,--a head
of constant quick turns like a robin's, and a voice that kept
breaking into alto,--these were all very strange and new, but not
in the least terrible.

He proceeded jerkily through the village, with glances on this
side and that; and "Charming," he broke out presently; "quite too
charming and delightful!"

I had not counted on this sort of thing, and glanced for help to
Edward, who, hands in pockets, looked grimly down his nose.  He
had taken his line, and meant to stick to it.

Meantime our friend had made an imaginary spy-glass out of his
fist, and was squinting through it at something I could not
perceive.  "What an exquisite bit!" he burst out; "fifteenth
century,--no,--yes, it is!"

I began to feel puzzled, not to say alarmed.  It reminded me of
the butcher in the Arabian Nights, whose common joints,
displayed on the shop-front, took to a startled public the
appearance of dismembered humanity.  This man seemed to see the
strangest things in our dull, familiar surroundings.

"Ah!" he broke out again, as we jogged on between hedgerows:
"and that field now--backed by the downs--with the rain-cloud
brooding over it,--that's all David Cox--every bit of it!"

"That field belongs to Farmer Larkin," I explained politely, for
of course he could not be expected to know.  "I'll take you over
to Farmer Cox's to-morrow, if he's a friend of yours; but there's
nothing to see there."

Edward, who was hanging sullenly behind, made a face at me, as if
to say, "What sort of lunatic have we got here?"

"It has the true pastoral character, this country of yours," went
on our enthusiast: "with just that added touch in cottage and
farmstead, relics of a bygone art, which makes our English
landscape so divine, so unique!"

Really this grasshopper was becoming a burden.  These familiar
fields and farms, of which we knew every blade and stick, had
done nothing that I knew of to be bespattered with adjectives in
this way.  I had never thought of them as divine, unique, or
anything else.  They were--well, they were just themselves, and
there was an end of it.  Despairingly I jogged Edward in the
ribs, as a sign to start rational conversation, but he only
grinned and continued obdurate.

"You can see the house now," I remarked, presently; "and that's
Selina, chasing the donkey in the paddock,--or is it the donkey
chasing Selina?  I can't quite make out; but it's THEM,
anyhow."

Needless to say, he exploded with a full charge of adjectives.
"Exquisite!" he rapped out; "so mellow and harmonious! and so
entirely in keeping!"  (I could see from Edward's face that he
was thinking who ought to be in keeping.)  "Such possibilities of
romance, now, in those old gables!"

"If you mean the garrets," I said, "there's a lot of old
furniture in them; and one is generally full of apples; and the
bats get in sometimes, under the eaves, and flop about till we go
up with hair-brushes and things and drive 'em out; but there's
nothing else in them that I know of."

"Oh, but there must be more than bats," he cried.  "Don't tell me
there are no ghosts.  I shall be deeply disappointed if there
aren't any ghosts."

I did not think it worth while to reply, feeling really unequal
to this sort of conversation; besides, we were nearing the house,
when my task would be ended.  Aunt Eliza met us at the door, and
in the cross-fire of adjectives that ensued--both of them talking
at once, as grown-up folk have a habit of doing--we two slipped
round to the back of the house, and speedily put several solid
acres between us and civilisation, for fear of being ordered in
to tea in the drawing-room.  By the time we returned, our new
importation had gone up to dress for dinner, so till the morrow
at least we were free of him.

Meanwhile the March wind, after dropping a while at sundown, had
been steadily increasing in volume; and although I fell asleep at
my usual hour, about midnight I was wakened by the stress and cry
of it.  In the bright moonlight, wind-swung branches tossed and
swayed eerily across the blinds; there was rumbling in chimneys,
whistling in keyholes, and everywhere a clamour and a call.
Sleep was out of the question, and, sitting up in bed, I looked
round.  Edward sat up too.  "I was wondering when you were going
to wake," he said.  "It's no good trying to sleep through
this.  I vote we get up and do something."

"I'm game," I replied.  "Let's play at being in a ship at sea"
(the plaint of the old house under the buffeting wind suggested
this, naturally); "and we can be wrecked on an island, or left on
a raft, whichever you choose; but I like an island best myself,
because there's more things on it."

Edward on reflection negatived the idea.  "It would make too much
noise," he pointed out.  "There's no fun playing at ships, unless
you can make a jolly good row."

The door creaked, and a small figure in white slipped cautiously
in.  "Thought I heard you talking," said Charlotte.  "We don't
like it; we're afraid--Selina too.  She'll be here in a minute.
She's putting on her new dressing-gown she's so proud of."

His arms round his knees, Edward cogitated deeply until Selina
appeared, barefooted, and looking slim and tall in the new
dressing-gown.  Then, "Look here," he exclaimed; "now we're all
together, I vote we go and explore!"

"You're always wanting to explore," I said.  "What on earth
is there to explore for in this house?"

"Biscuits!" said the inspired Edward.

"Hooray!  Come on!" chimed in Harold, sitting up suddenly.  He
had been awake all the time, but had been shamming asleep, lest
he should be fagged to do anything.

It was indeed a fact, as Edward had remembered, that our
thoughtless elders occasionally left the biscuits out, a prize
for the night-walking adventurer with nerves of steel.

Edward tumbled out of bed, and pulled a baggy old pair of
knickerbockers over his bare shanks.  Then he girt himself with a
belt, into which he thrust, on the one side a large wooden
pistol, on the other an old single-stick; and finally he donned a
big slouch-hat--once an uncle's--that we used for playing Guy
Fawkes and Charles-the-Second-up-a-tree in.  Whatever the
audience, Edward, if possible, always dressed for his parts with
care and conscientiousness; while Harold and I, true
Elizabethans, cared little about the mounting of the piece, so
long as the real dramatic heart of it beat sound.

Our commander now enjoined on us a silence deep as the
grave, reminding us that Aunt Eliza usually slept with an open
door, past which we had to file.

"But we'll take the short cut through the Blue Room," said the
wary Selina.

"Of course," said Edward, approvingly.  "I forgot about that.
Now then!  You lead the way!"

The Blue Room had in prehistoric times been added to by taking in
a superfluous passage, and so not only had the advantage of two
doors, but enabled us to get to the head of the stairs without
passing the chamber wherein our dragon-aunt lay couched.  It was
rarely occupied, except when a casual uncle came down for the
night.  We entered in noiseless file, the room being plunged in
darkness, except for a bright strip of moonlight on the floor,
across which we must pass for our exit.  On this our leading lady
chose to pause, seizing the opportunity to study the hang of her
new dressing-gown.  Greatly satisfied thereat, she proceeded,
after the feminine fashion, to peacock and to pose, pacing a
minuet down the moonlit patch with an imaginary partner.  This
was too much for Edward's histrionic instincts, and after a
moment's pause he drew his single-stick, and with flourishes meet
for the occasion, strode onto the stage.  A struggle ensued on
approved lines, at the end of which Selina was stabbed slowly and
with unction, and her corpse borne from the chamber by the
ruthless cavalier.  The rest of us rushed after in a clump, with
capers and gesticulations of delight; the special charm of the
performance lying in the necessity for its being carried out with
the dumbest of dumb shows.

Once out on the dark landing, the noise of the storm without told
us that we had exaggerated the necessity for silence; so,
grasping the tails of each other's nightgowns even as Alpine
climbers rope themselves together in perilous places, we fared
stoutly down the staircase-moraine, and across the grim glacier
of the hall, to where a faint glimmer from the half-open door of
the drawing-room beckoned to us like friendly hostel-lights.
Entering, we found that our thriftless seniors had left the sound
red heart of a fire, easily coaxed into a cheerful blaze; and
biscuits--a plateful--smiled at us in an encouraging sort of way,
together with the halves of a lemon, already once squeezed
but still suckable.  The biscuits were righteously shared, the
lemon segments passed from mouth to mouth; and as we squatted
round the fire, its genial warmth consoling our unclad limbs, we
realised that so many nocturnal perils had not been braved in
vain.

"It's a funny thing," said Edward, as we chatted, "how; I hate
this room in the daytime.  It always means having your face
washed, and your hair brushed, and talking silly company talk.
But to-night it's really quite jolly.  Looks different, somehow."

"I never can make out I said, "what people come here to tea for.
They can have their own tea at home if they like,--they're not
poor people,--with jam and things, and drink out of their saucer,
and suck their fingers and enjoy themselves; but they come here
from a long way off, and sit up straight with their feet off the
bars of their chairs, and have one cup, and talk the same sort of
stuff every time."

Selina sniffed disdainfully.  "You don't know anything about it,"
she said.  "In society you have to call on each other.  It's the
proper thing to do."

"Pooh! YOU'RE not in society," said Edward, politely; "and,
what's more, you never will be."

"Yes, I shall, some day," retorted Selina; "but I shan't ask you
to come and see me, so there!"

"Wouldn't come if you did," growled Edward.

"Well, you won't get the chance," rejoined our sister, claiming
her right of the last word.  There was no heat about these little
amenities, which made up--as we understood it--the art of polite
conversation.

"I don 't like society people," put in Harold from the sofa,
where he was sprawling at full length,--a sight the daylight
hours would have blushed to witness.  "There were some of 'em
here this afternoon, when you two had gone off to the station.
Oh, and I found a dead mouse on the lawn, and I wanted to skin
it, but I wasn't sure I knew how, by myself; and they came out
into the garden and patted my head,--I wish people wouldn't do
that,--and one of 'em asked me to pick her a flower.  Don't know
why she couldn't pick it herself; but I said, `All right, I
will if you'll hold my mouse.'  But she screamed, and threw it
away; and Augustus (the cat) got it, and ran away with it.  I
believe it was really his mouse all the time, 'cos he'd been
looking about as if he had lost something, so I wasn't angry with
HIM; but what did SHE want to throw away my mouse for?"

"You have to be careful with mice," reflected Edward; "they're
such slippery things.  Do you remember we were playing with a
dead mouse once on the piano, and the mouse was Robinson Crusoe,
and the piano was the island, and somehow Crusoe slipped down
inside the island, into its works, and we couldn't get him out,
though we tried rakes and all sorts of things, till the tuner
came.  And that wasn't till a week after, and then--"

Here Charlotte, who had been nodding solemnly, fell over into the
fender; and we realised that the wind had dropped at last, and
the house was lapped in a great stillness.  Our vacant beds
seemed to be calling to us imperiously; and we were all glad when
Edward gave the signal for retreat.  At the top of the staircase
Harold unexpectedly turned mutinous, insisting on his right
to slide down the banisters in a free country.  Circumstances did
not allow of argument; I suggested frog's-marching instead, and
frog's-marched he accordingly was, the procession passing
solemnly across the moonlit Blue Room, with Harold horizontal and
limply submissive.  Snug in bed at last, I was just slipping off
into slumber when I heard Edward explode, with chuckle and snort.

"By Jove!" he said; "I forgot all about it.  The new tutor's
sleeping in the Blue Room!"

"Lucky he didn't wake up and catch us," I grunted, drowsily; and
both of us, without another thought on the matter, sank into
well-earned repose.

Next morning we came down to breakfast braced to grapple with
fresh adversity, but were surprised to find our garrulous friend
of the previous day--he was late in making his appearance--
strangely silent and (apparently) preoccupied.  Having polished
off our porridge, we ran out to feed the rabbits, explaining to
them that a beast of a tutor would prevent their enjoying so much
of our society as formerly.

On returning to the house at the fated hour appointed for
study, we were thunderstruck to see the station-cart disappearing
down the drive, freighted with our new acquaintance.  Aunt Eliza
was brutally uncommunicative; but she was overheard to remark
casually that she thought the man must be a lunatic.  In this
theory we were only too ready to concur, dismissing thereafter
the whole matter from our minds.

Some weeks later it happened that Uncle Thomas, while paying us a
flying visit, produced from his pocket a copy of the latest
weekly, Psyche: a Journal of the Unseen; and proceeded
laborously to rid himself of much incomprehensible humour,
apparently at our expense.  We bore it patiently, with the forced
grin demanded by convention, anxious to get at the source of
inspiration, which it presently appeared lay in a paragraph
circumstantially describing our modest and humdrum habitation.
"Case III.," it began.  "The following particulars were
communicated by a young member of the Society, of undoubted
probity and earnestness, and are a chronicle of actual and recent
experience."  A fairly accurate description of the house
followed, with details that were unmistakable; but to this
there succeeded a flood of meaningless drivel about apparitions,
nightly visitants, and the like, writ in a manner betokening a
disordered mind, coupled with a feeble imagination.  The fellow
was not even original.  All the old material was there,--the
storm at night, the haunted chamber, the white lady, the murder
re-enacted, and so on,--already worn threadbare in many a
Christmas Number.  No one was able to make head or tail of the
stuff, or of its connexion with our quiet mansion; and yet
Edward, who had always suspected the man, persisted in
maintaining that our tutor of a brief span was, somehow or other,
at the bottom of it.




A FALLING OUT

Harold told me the main facts of this episode some time later,--
in bits, and with reluctance.  It was not a recollection he cared
to talk about.  The crude blank misery of a moment is apt to
leave a dull bruise which is slow to depart, if it ever does so
entirely; and Harold confesses to a twinge or two, still, at
times, like the veteran who brings home a bullet inside him from
martial plains over sea.

He knew he was a brute the moment he had done it; Selina had not
meant to worry, only to comfort and assist.  But his soul was one
raw sore within him, when he found himself shut up in the
schoolroom after hours, merely for insisting that 7 times 7
amounted to 47.  The injustice of it seemed so flagrant.  Why not
47 as much as 49?  One number was no prettier than the other to
look at, and it was evidently only a matter of arbitrary taste
and preference, and, anyhow, it had always been 47 to him, and
would be to the end of time.  So when Selina came in out of
the sun, leaving the Trappers or the Far West behind her, and
putting off the glory of being an Apache squaw in order to hear
him his tables and win his release, Harold turned on her
venomously, rejected her kindly overtures, and ever drove his
elbow into her sympathetic ribs, in his determination to be left
alone in the glory of sulks.  The fit passed directly, his eyes
were opened, and his soul sat in the dust as he sorrowfully began
to cast about for some atonement heroic enough to salve the
wrong.

Of course poor Selina looked for no sacrifice nor heroics
whatever: she didn't even want him to say he was sorry.  If he
would only make it up, she would have done the apologising part
herself.  But that was not a boy's way.  Something solid, Harold
felt, was due from him; and until that was achieved, making-up
must not be thought of, in order that the final effect might not
be spoilt.  Accordingly, when his release came, and poor Selina
hung about, trying to catch his eye, Harold, possessed by the
demon of a distorted motive, avoided her steadily--though he was
bleeding inwardly at every minute of delay--and came to me
instead.  Needless to say, I approved his plan highly; it
was so much more high-toned than just going and making-up tamely,
which any one could do; and a girl who had been jobbed in the
ribs by a hostile elbow could not be expected for a moment to
overlook it, without the liniment of an offering to soothe her
injured feelings.

"I know what she wants most," said Harold.  "She wants that set
of tea-things in the toy-shop window, with the red and blue
flowers on 'em; she's wanted it for months, 'cos her dolls are
getting big enough to have real afternoon tea; and she wants it
so badly that she won't walk that side of the street when we go
into the town.  But it costs five shillings!"

Then we set to work seriously, and devoted the afternoon to a
realisation of assets and the composition of a Budget that might
have been dated without shame from Whitehall.  The result worked
out as follows:--

                                                 s. d.
By one uncle, unspent through having been
   lost for nearly a week--turned up at last
   in the straw of the dog-kennel .  .  .  .     2  6

                                           ----
                       Carry forward,            2  6


                                                 s. d.
                       Brought forward,          2  6
By advance from me on security of next
   uncle, and failing that, to be called in at
   Christmas .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  1  0
By shaken out of missionary-box with the
   help of a knife-blade.  (They were our
   own pennies and a forced levy) .  .  .  .  .  0  4
By bet due from Edward, for walking across
   the field where Farmer Larkin's bull was,
   and Edward bet him twopence he wouldn't
   --called in with difficulty .  .  .  .  .  .  0  2
By advance from Martha, on no security at
   all, only you mustn't tell your aunt .  .  .  1  0

                                                 ----

                                         Total   5  0


and at last we breathed again.

The rest promised to be easy. Selina had a tea-party at five on
the morrow, with the chipped old wooden tea-things that had
served her successive dolls from babyhood.  Harold would slip off
directly after dinner, going alone, so as not to arouse
suspicion, as we were not allowed to go into the town by
ourselves.  It was nearly two miles to our small metropolis, but
there would be plenty of time for him to go and return, even
laden with the olive-branch neatly packed in shavings; besides,
he might meet the butcher, who was his friend and would give
him a lift.  Then, finally, at five, the rapture of the new tea-
service, descended from the skies; and, retribution made, making-
up at last, without loss of dignity.  With the event before us,
we thought it a small thing that twenty-four hours more of
alienation and pretended sulks must be kept up on Harold's part;
but Selina, who naturally knew nothing of the treat in store for
her, moped for the rest of the evening, and took a very heavy
heart to bed.

When next day the hour for action arrived, Harold evaded Olympian
attention with an easy modesty born of long practice, and made
off for the front gate.  Selina, who had been keeping her eye
upon him, thought he was going down to the pond to catch frogs, a
joy they had planned to share together, and made after him; but
Harold, though he heard her footsteps, continued sternly on his
high mission, without even looking back; and Selina was left to
wander disconsolately among flower-beds that had lost--for her--
all scent and colour.  I saw it all, and although cold reason
approved our line of action, instinct told me we were brutes.

Harold reached the town--so he recounted afterwards--in
record time, having run most of the way for fear the tea-things,
which had reposed six months in the window, should be snapped up
by some other conscience-stricken lacerator of a sister's
feelings; and it seemed hardly credible to find them still there,
and their owner willing to part with them for the price marked on
the ticket.  He paid his money down at once, that there should be
no drawing back from the bargain; and then, as the things had to
be taken out of the window and packed, and the afternoon was yet
young, he thought he might treat himself to a taste of urban joys
and la vie de Boheme.  Shops came first, of course, and he
flattened his nose successively against the window with the
india-rubber balls in it, and the clock-work locomotive; and
against the barber's window, with wigs on blocks, reminding him
of uncles, and shaving-cream that looked so good to eat; and the
grocer's window, displaying more currants than the whole British
population could possibly consume without a special effort; and
the window of the bank, wherein gold was thought so little of
that it was dealt about in shovels.  Next there was the market-
place, with all its clamorous joys; and when a runaway calf came
down the street like a cannon-ball, Harold felt that he had
not lived in vain.  The whole place was so brimful of excitement
that he had quite forgotten the why and the wherefore of his
being there, when a sight of the church clock recalled him to his
better self, and sent him flying out of the town, as he realised
he had only just time enough left to get back in.  If he were
after his appointed hour, he would not only miss his high
triumph, but probably would be detected as a transgressor of
bounds,--a crime before which a private opinion on multiplication
sank to nothingness.  So he jogged along on his homeward way,
thinking of many things, and probably talking to himself a good
deal, as his habit was, and had covered nearly half the distance,
when suddenly--a deadly sinking in the pit of his stomach--a
paralysis of every limb--around him a world extinct of light and
music--a black sun and a reeling sky--he had forgotten the tea-
things!

It was useless, it was hopeless, all was over, and nothing could
now be done; nevertheless he turned and ran back wildly, blindly,
choking with the big sobs that evoked neither pity nor comfort
from a merciless mocking world around; a stitch in his side,
dust in his eyes, and black despair clutching at his heart.  So
he stumbled on, with leaden legs and bursting sides, till--as if
Fate had not yet dealt him her last worst buffet--on turning a
corner in the road he almost ran under the wheels of a dog-cart,
in which, as it pulled up, was apparent the portly form of Farmer
Larkin, the arch-enemy, whose ducks he had been shying stones at
that very morning!

Had Harold been in his right and unclouded senses, he would have
vanished through the hedge some seconds earlier, rather than pain
the farmer by any unpleasant reminiscences which his appearance
might call up; but as things were, he could only stand and
blubber hopelessly, caring, indeed, little now what further ill
might befall him.  The farmer, for his part, surveyed the
desolate figure with some astonishment, calling out in no
unfriendly accents, "Why, Master Harold! whatever be the matter?
Baint runnin' away, be ee?"

Then Harold, with the unnatural courage born of desperation,
flung himself on the step, and climbing into the cart, fell in
the straw at the bottom of it, sobbing out that he wanted to go
back, go back!  The situation had a vagueness; but the
farmer, a man of action rather than words, swung his horse round
smartly, and they were in the town again by the time Harold had
recovered himself sufficiently to furnish some details.  As they
drove up to the shop, the woman was waiting at the door with the
parcel; and hardly a minute seemed to have elapsed since the
black crisis, ere they were bowling along swiftly home, the
precious parcel hugged in a close embrace.

And now the farmer came out in quite a new and unexpected light.
Never a word did he say of broken fences and hurdles, of trampled
crops and harried flocks and herds.  One would have thought the
man had never possessed a head of live stock in his life.
Instead, he was deeply interested in the whole dolorous quest of
the tea-things, and sympathised with Harold on the disputed point
in mathematics as if he had been himself at the same stage of
education.  As they neared home, Harold found himself, to his
surprise, sitting up and chatting to his new friend like man to
man; and before he was dropped at a convenient gap in the garden
hedge, he had promised that when Selina gave her first public
tea-party, little Miss Larkin should be invited to come and
bring ha whole sawdust family along with her; and the farmer
appeared as pleased and proud as if he hat been asked to a
garden-party at Marlborough House.  Really, those Olympians have
certain good points, far down in them.  I shall have to leave off
abusing them some day.

At the hour of five, Selina, having spent the afternoon searching
for Harold in all his accustomed haunts, sat down disconsolately
to tea with her dolls, who ungenerously refused to wait beyond
the appointed hour.  The wooden tea-things seemed more chipped
than usual; and the dolls themselves had more of wax and sawdust,
and less of human colour and intelligence about them, than she
ever remembered before.  It was then that Harold burst in, very
dusty, his stockings at his heels, and the channels ploughed by
tears still showing on his grimy cheeks; and Selina was at last
permitted to know that he had been thinking of her ever since his
ill-judged exhibition of temper, and that his sulks had not been
the genuine article, nor had he gone frogging by himself.  It was
a very happy hostess who dispensed hospitality that evening to a
glassy-eyed stiff-kneed circle; and many a dollish
gaucherie, that would have been severely checked on ordinary
occasions, was as much overlooked as if it had been a birthday.

But Harold and I, in our stupid masculine way, thought all her
happiness sprang from possession of the long-coveted tea-
service.



"LUSISTI SATIS "

Among the many fatuous ideas that possessed the Olympian noddle,
this one was pre-eminent; that, being Olympians, they could talk
quite freely in our presence on subjects of the closest import to
us, so long as names, dates, and other landmarks were ignored.
We were supposed to be denied the faculty for putting two and two
together; and, like the monkeys, who very sensibly refrain from
speech lest they should be set to earn their livings, we were
careful to conceal our capabilities for a simple syllogism.  Thus
we were rarely taken by surprise, and so were considered by our
disappointed elders to be apathetic and to lack the divine
capacity for wonder.

Now the daily output of the letter-bag, with the mysterious
discussions that ensued thereon, had speedily informed us that
Uncle Thomas was intrusted with a mission,--a mission, too,
affecting ourselves.  Uncle Thomas's missions were many and
various; a self-important man, one liking the business while
protesting that he sank under the burden, he was the missionary,
so to speak, of our remote habitation.  The matching a ribbon,
the running down to the stores, the interviewing a cook,--these
and similar duties lent constant colour and variety to his vacant
life in London and helped to keep down his figure.  When the
matter, however, had in our presence to be referred to with nods
and pronouns, with significant hiatuses and interpolations in the
French tongue, then the red flag was flown, the storm-cone
hoisted, and by a studious pretence of inattention we were not
long in plucking out the heart of the mystery.

To clinch our conclusion, we descended suddenly and together on
Martha; proceeding, however, not by simple inquiry as to facts,--
that would never have done,--but by informing her that the air
was full of school and that we knew all about it, and then
challenging denial.  Martha was a trusty soul, but a bad witness
for the defence, and we soon had it all out of her.  The word had
gone forth, the school had been selected; the necessary
sheets were hemming even now; and Edward was the designated and
appointed victim.

It had always been before us as an inevitable bourne, this
strange unknown thing called school; and yet--perhaps I should
say consequently--we had never seriously set ourselves to
consider what it really meant.  But now that the grim spectre
loomed imminent, stretching lean hands for one of our flock, it
behoved us to face the situation, to take soundings in this
uncharted sea and find out whither we were drifting.
Unfortunately, the data in our possession were absolutely
insufficient, and we knew not whither to turn for exact
information.  Uncle Thomas could have told us all about it, of
course; he had been there himself, once, in the dim and misty
past.  But an unfortunate conviction, that Nature had intended
him for a humourist, tainted all his evidence, besides making it
wearisome to hear.  Again, of such among our contemporaries as we
had approached, the trumpets gave forth an uncertain sound.
According to some, it meant larks, revels, emancipation, and a
foretaste of the bliss of manhood.  According to others,--the
majority, alas!--it was a private and peculiar Hades, that
could give the original institution points and a beating.  When
Edward was observed to be swaggering round with a jaunty air and
his chest stuck out, I knew that he was contemplating his future
from the one point of view.  When, on the contrary, he was
subdued and unaggressive, and sought the society of his sisters,
I recognised that the other aspect was in the ascendant.  "You
can always run away, you know," I used to remark consolingly on
these latter occasions; and Edward would brighten up wonderfully
at the suggestion, while Charlotte melted into tears before her
vision of a brother with blistered feet and an empty belly,
passing nights of frost 'neath the lee of windy haystacks.

It was to Edward, of course, that the situation was chiefly
productive of anxiety; and yet the ensuing change in my own
circumstances and position furnished me also with food for grave
reflexion.  Hitherto I had acted mostly to orders.  Even when I
had devised and counselled any particular devilry, it had been
carried out on Edward's approbation, and--as eldest--at his
special risk.  Henceforward I began to be anxious of the
bugbear Responsibility, and to realise what a soul-throttling
thing it is.  True, my new position would have its compensations.

Edward had been masterful exceedingly, imperious, perhaps a
little narrow; impassioned for hard facts, and with scant
sympathy for make-believe.  I should now be free and
untrammelled; in the conception and carrying out of a scheme, I
could accept and reject to better artistic purpose.

It would, moreover, be needless to be a Radical any more.
Radical I never was, really, by nature or by sympathy.  The part
had been thrust on me one day, when Edward proposed to foist the
House of Lords on our small Republic.  The principles of the
thing he set forth learnedly and well, and it all sounded
promising enough, till he went on to explain that, for the
present at least, he proposed to be the House of Lords himself.
We others were to be the Commons.  There would be promotions, of
course, he added, dependent on service and on fitness, and open
to both sexes; and to me in especial he held out hopes of speedy
advancement.  But in its initial stages the thing wouldn't work
properly unless he were first and only Lord.  Then I put my foot
down promptly, and said it was all rot, and I didn't see the
good of any House of Lords at all.  "Then you must be a low
Radical! said Edward, with fine contempt.  The inference seemed
hardly necessary, but what could I do? I accepted the situation,
and said firmly, Yes, I was a low Radical.  In this monstrous
character I had been obliged to masquerade ever since; but now I
could throw it off, and look the world in the face again.

And yet, did this and other gains really out-balance my losses?
Henceforth I should, it was true, be leader and chief; but I
should also be the buffer between the Olympians and my little
clan.  To Edward this had been nothing; he had withstood the
impact of Olympus without flinching, like Teneriffe or Atlas
unremoved.  But was I equal to the task?  And was there not
rather a danger that for the sake of peace and quietness I might
be tempted to compromise, compound, and make terms? sinking thus,
by successive lapses, into the Blameless Prig?  I don't mean, of
course, that I thought out my thoughts to the exact point here
set down.  In those fortunate days of old one was free from the
hard necessity of transmuting the vague idea into the
mechanical inadequate medium of words.  But the feeling was
there, that I might not possess the qualities of character for so
delicate a position.

The unnatural halo round Edward got more pronounced, his own
demeanour more responsible and dignified, with the arrival of his
new clothes.  When his trunk and play-box were sent in, the
approaching cleavage between our brother, who now belonged to the
future, and ourselves, still claimed by the past, was accentuated
indeed.  His name was painted on each of them, in large letters,
and after their arrival their owner used to disappear
mysteriously, and be found eventually wandering round his
luggage, murmuring to himself, "Edward----, in a rapt, remote
sort of way.  It was a weakness, of course, and pointed to a soft
spot in his character; but those who can remember the sensation
of first seeing their names in print will not think hardly of
him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Golden Age



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