Desiree’s Baby

As the day was pleasant, Madame Valmonde drove over to L’Abri to see Desiree and the baby.

It made her laugh to think of Desiree with a baby. Why, it seemed but yesterday that Desiree was little more than a baby herself; when Monsieur in riding through the gateway of Valmonde had found her lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar.

The little one awoke in his arms and began to cry for “Dada.” That was as much as she could do or say. Some people thought she might have strayed there of her own accord, for she was of the toddling age. The prevailing belief was that she had been purposely left by a party of Texans, whose canvas-covered wagon, late in the day, had crossed the ferry that Coton Mais kept, just below the plantation. In time Madame Valmonde abandoned every speculation but the one that Desiree had been sent to her by a beneficent Providence to be the child of her affection, seeing that she was without child of the flesh. For the girl grew to be beautiful and gentle, affectionate and sincere,–the idol of Valmonde.

It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing her there, had fallen in love with her. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot. The wonder was that he had not loved her before; for he had known her since his father brought him home from Paris, a boy of eight, after his mother died there. The passion that awoke in him that day, when he saw her at the gate, swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like anything that drives headlong over all obstacles.

Monsieur Valmonde grew practical and wanted things well considered: that is, the girl’s obscure origin. Armand looked into her eyes and did not care. He was reminded that she was nameless. What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana? He ordered the corbeille from Paris, and contained himself with what patience he could until it arrived; then they were married.

Madame Valmonde had not seen Desiree and the baby for four weeks. When she reached L’Abri she shuddered at the first sight of it, as she always did. It was a sad looking place, which for many years had not known the gentle presence of a mistress, old Monsieur Aubigny having married and buried his wife in France, and she having loved her own land too well ever to leave it. The roof came down steep and black like a cowl, reaching out beyond the wide galleries that encircled the yellow stuccoed house. Big, solemn oaks grew close to it, and their thick-leaved, far-reaching branches shadowed it like a pall. Young Aubigny’s rule was a strict one, too, and under it his negroes had forgotten how to be gay, as they had been during the old master’s easy-going and indulgent lifetime.

The young mother was recovering slowly, and lay full length, in her soft white muslins and laces, upon a couch. The baby was beside her, upon her arm, where he had fallen asleep, at her breast. The yellow nurse woman sat beside a window fanning herself.

Madame Valmonde bent her portly figure over Desiree and kissed her, holding her an instant tenderly in her arms. Then she turned to the child.

“This is not the baby!” she exclaimed, in startled tones. French was the language spoken at Valmonde in those days.

“I knew you would be astonished,” laughed Desiree, “at the way he has grown. The little cochon de lait! Look at his legs, mamma, and his hands and fingernails,–real finger-nails. Zandrine had to cut them this morning. Isn’t it true, Zandrine?”

The woman bowed her turbaned head majestically, “Mais si, Madame.”

“And the way he cries,” went on Desiree, “is deafening. Armand heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche’s cabin.”

Madame Valmonde had never removed her eyes from the child. She lifted it and walked with it over to the window that was lightest. She scanned the baby narrowly, then looked as searchingly at Zandrine, whose face was turned to gaze across the fields.

“Yes, the child has grown, has changed,” said Madame Valmonde, slowly, as she replaced it beside its mother. “What does Armand say?”

Desiree’s face became suffused with a glow that was happiness itself.

“Oh, Armand is the proudest father in the parish, I believe, chiefly because it is a boy, to bear his name; though he says not,–that he would have loved a girl as well. But I know it isn’t true. I know he says that to please me. And mamma,” she added, drawing Madame Valmonde’s head down to her, and speaking in a whisper, “he hasn’t punished one of them–not one of them–since baby is born. Even Negrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work–he only laughed, and said Negrillon was a great scamp. oh, mamma, I’m so happy; it frightens me.”

What Desiree said was true. Marriage, and later the birth of his son had softened Armand Aubigny’s imperious and exacting nature greatly. This was what made the gentle Desiree so happy, for she loved him desperately. When he frowned she trembled, but loved him. When he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God. But Armand’s dark, handsome face had not often been disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love with her.

When the baby was about three months old, Desiree awoke one day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only been a disquieting suggestion; an air of mystery among the blacks; unexpected visits from far-off neighbors who could hardly account for their coming. Then a strange, an awful change in her husband’s manner, which she dared not ask him to explain. When he spoke to her, it was with averted eyes, from which the old love-light seemed to have gone out. He absented himself from home; and when there, avoided her presence and that of her child, without excuse. And the very spirit of Satan seemed suddenly to take hold of him in his dealings with the slaves. Desiree was miserable enough to die.

She sat in her room, one hot afternoon, in her peignoir, listlessly drawing through her fingers the strands of her long, silky brown hair that hung about her shoulders. The baby, half naked, lay asleep upon her own great mahogany bed, that was like a sumptuous throne, with its satin-lined half-canopy. One of La Blanche’s little quadroon boys–half naked too–stood fanning the child slowly with a fan of peacock feathers. Desiree’s eyes had been fixed absently and sadly upon the baby, while she was striving to penetrate the threatening mist that she felt closing about her. She looked from her child to the boy who stood beside him, and back again; over and over. “Ah!” It was a cry that she could not help; which she was not conscious of having uttered. The blood turned like ice in her veins, and a clammy moisture gathered upon her face.

She tried to speak to the little quadroon boy; but no sound would come, at first. When he heard his name uttered, he looked up, and his mistress was pointing to the door. He laid aside the great, soft fan, and obediently stole away, over the polished floor, on his bare tiptoes.

She stayed motionless, with gaze riveted upon her child, and her face the picture of fright.

Presently her husband entered the room, and without noticing her, went to a table and began to search among some papers which covered it.

“Armand,” she called to him, in a voice which must have stabbed him, if he was human. But he did not notice. “Armand,” she said again. Then she rose and tottered towards him. “Armand,” she panted once more, clutching his arm, “look at our child. What does it mean? tell me.”

He coldly but gently loosened her fingers from about his arm and thrust the hand away from him. “Tell me what it means!” she cried despairingly.

“It means,” he answered lightly, “that the child is not white; it means that you are not white.”

A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her nerved her with unwonted courage to deny it. “It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair,” seizing his wrist. “Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,” she laughed hysterically.

“As white as La Blanche’s,” he returned cruelly; and went away leaving her alone with their child.

When she could hold a pen in her hand, she sent a despairing letter to Madame Valmonde.

“My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand has told me I am not white. For God’s sake tell them it is not true. You must know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live.”

The answer that came was brief:

“My own Desiree: Come home to Valmonde; back to your mother who loves you. Come with your child.”

When the letter reached Desiree she went with it to her husband’s study, and laid it open upon the desk before which he sat. She was like a stone image: silent, white, motionless after she placed it there.

In silence he ran his cold eyes over the written words.

He said nothing. “Shall I go, Armand?” she asked in tones sharp with agonized suspense.

“Yes, go.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“Yes, I want you to go.”

He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name.

She turned away like one stunned by a blow, and walked slowly towards the door, hoping he would call her back.

“Good-by, Armand,” she moaned.

He did not answer her. That was his last blow at fate.

Desiree went in search of her child. Zandrine was pacing the sombre gallery with it. She took the little one from the nurse’s arms with no word of explanation, and descending the steps, walked away, under the live-oak branches.

It was an October afternoon; the sun was just sinking. Out in the still fields the negroes were picking cotton.

Desiree had not changed the thin white garment nor the slippers which she wore. Her hair was uncovered and the sun’s rays brought a golden gleam from its brown meshes. She did not take the broad, beaten road which led to the far-off plantation of Valmonde. She walked across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds.

She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.


Some weeks later there was a curious scene enacted at L’Abri. In the centre of the smoothly swept back yard was a great bonfire. Armand Aubigny sat in the wide hallway that commanded a view of the spectacle; and it was he who dealt out to a half dozen negroes the material which kept this fire ablaze.

A graceful cradle of willow, with all its dainty furbishings, was laid upon the pyre, which had already been fed with the richness of a priceless layette. Then there were silk gowns, and velvet and satin ones added to these; laces, too, and embroideries; bonnets and gloves; for the corbeille had been of rare quality.

The last thing to go was a tiny bundle of letters; innocent little scribblings that Desiree had sent to him during the days of their espousal. There was the remnant of one back in the drawer from which he took them. But it was not Desiree’s; it was part of an old letter from his mother to his father. He read it. She was thanking God for the blessing of her husband’s love:–

“But above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”


THE bell rang furiously and, when Miss Parker went to the tube, a furious voice called out in a piercing North of Ireland accent:

“Send Farrington here!”

Miss Parker returned to her machine, saying to a man who was writing at a desk:

“Mr. Alleyne wants you upstairs.”

The man muttered “Blast him!” under his breath and pushed back his chair to stand up. When he stood up he was tall and of great bulk. He had a hanging face, dark wine-coloured, with fair eyebrows and moustache: his eyes bulged forward slightly and the whites of them were dirty. He lifted up the counter and, passing by the clients, went out of the office with a heavy step.

He went heavily upstairs until he came to the second landing, where a door bore a brass plate with the inscription Mr. Alleyne. Here he halted, puffing with labour and vexation, and knocked. The shrill voice cried:

“Come in!”

The man entered Mr. Alleyne’s room. Simultaneously Mr. Alleyne, a little man wearing gold-rimmed glasses on a cleanshaven face, shot his head up over a pile of documents. The head itself was so pink and hairless it seemed like a large egg reposing on the papers. Mr. Alleyne did not lose a moment:

“Farrington? What is the meaning of this? Why have I always to complain of you? May I ask you why you haven’t made a copy of that contract between Bodley and Kirwan? I told you it must be ready by four o’clock.”

“But Mr. Shelley said, sir—-”

“Mr. Shelley said, sir …. Kindly attend to what I say and not to what Mr. Shelley says, sir. You have always some excuse or another for shirking work. Let me tell you that if the contract is not copied before this evening I’ll lay the matter before Mr. Crosbie…. Do you hear me now?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you hear me now?… Ay and another little matter! I might as well be talking to the wall as talking to you. Understand once for all that you get a half an hour for your lunch and not an hour and a half. How many courses do you want, I’d like to know…. Do you mind me now?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. Alleyne bent his head again upon his pile of papers. The man stared fixedly at the polished skull which directed the affairs of Crosbie & Alleyne, gauging its fragility. A spasm of rage gripped his throat for a few moments and then passed, leaving after it a sharp sensation of thirst. The man recognised the sensation and felt that he must have a good night’s drinking. The middle of the month was passed and, if he could get the copy done in time, Mr. Alleyne might give him an order on the cashier. He stood still, gazing fixedly at the head upon the pile of papers. Suddenly Mr. Alleyne began to upset all the papers, searching for something. Then, as if he had been unaware of the man’s presence till that moment, he shot up his head again, saying:

“Eh? Are you going to stand there all day? Upon my word, Farrington, you take things easy!”

“I was waiting to see…”

“Very good, you needn’t wait to see. Go downstairs and do your work.”

The man walked heavily towards the door and, as he went out of the room, he heard Mr. Alleyne cry after him that if the contract was not copied by evening Mr. Crosbie would hear of the matter.

He returned to his desk in the lower office and counted the sheets which remained to be copied. He took up his pen and dipped it in the ink but he continued to stare stupidly at the last words he had written: In no case shall the said Bernard Bodley be… The evening was falling and in a few minutes they would be lighting the gas: then he could write. He felt that he must slake the thirst in his throat. He stood up from his desk and, lifting the counter as before, passed out of the office. As he was passing out the chief clerk looked at him inquiringly.

“It’s all right, Mr. Shelley,” said the man, pointing with his finger to indicate the objective of his journey.

The chief clerk glanced at the hat-rack, but, seeing the row complete, offered no remark. As soon as he was on the landing the man pulled a shepherd’s plaid cap out of his pocket, put it on his head and ran quickly down the rickety stairs. From the street door he walked on furtively on the inner side of the path towards the corner and all at once dived into a doorway. He was now safe in the dark snug of O’Neill’s shop, and filling up the little window that looked into the bar with his inflamed face, the colour of dark wine or dark meat, he called out:

“Here, Pat, give us a g.p.. like a good fellow.”

The curate brought him a glass of plain porter. The man drank it at a gulp and asked for a caraway seed. He put his penny on the counter and, leaving the curate to grope for it in the gloom, retreated out of the snug as furtively as he had entered it.

Darkness, accompanied by a thick fog, was gaining upon the dusk of February and the lamps in Eustace Street had been lit. The man went up by the houses until he reached the door of the office, wondering whether he could finish his copy in time. On the stairs a moist pungent odour of perfumes saluted his nose: evidently Miss Delacour had come while he was out in O’Neill’s. He crammed his cap back again into his pocket and re-entered the office, assuming an air of absentmindedness.

“Mr. Alleyne has been calling for you,” said the chief clerk severely. “Where were you?”

The man glanced at the two clients who were standing at the counter as if to intimate that their presence prevented him from answering. As the clients were both male the chief clerk allowed himself a laugh.

“I know that game,” he said. “Five times in one day is a little bit… Well, you better look sharp and get a copy of our correspondence in the Delacour case for Mr. Alleyne.”

This address in the presence of the public, his run upstairs and the porter he had gulped down so hastily confused the man and, as he sat down at his desk to get what was required, he realised how hopeless was the task of finishing his copy of the contract before half past five. The dark damp night was coming and he longed to spend it in the bars, drinking with his friends amid the glare of gas and the clatter of glasses. He got out the Delacour correspondence and passed out of the office. He hoped Mr. Alleyne would not discover that the last two letters were missing.

The moist pungent perfume lay all the way up to Mr. Alleyne’s room. Miss Delacour was a middle-aged woman of Jewish appearance. Mr. Alleyne was said to be sweet on her or on her money. She came to the office often and stayed a long time when she came. She was sitting beside his desk now in an aroma of perfumes, smoothing the handle of her umbrella and nodding the great black feather in her hat. Mr. Alleyne had swivelled his chair round to face her and thrown his right foot jauntily upon his left knee. The man put the correspondence on the desk and bowed respectfully but neither Mr. Alleyne nor Miss Delacour took any notice of his bow. Mr. Alleyne tapped a finger on the correspondence and then flicked it towards him as if to say: “That’s all right: you can go.”

The man returned to the lower office and sat down again at his desk. He stared intently at the incomplete phrase: In no case shall the said Bernard Bodley be… and thought how strange it was that the last three words began with the same letter. The chief clerk began to hurry Miss Parker, saying she would never have the letters typed in time for post. The man listened to the clicking of the machine for a few minutes and then set to work to finish his copy. But his head was not clear and his mind wandered away to the glare and rattle of the public-house. It was a night for hot punches. He struggled on with his copy, but when the clock struck five he had still fourteen pages to write. Blast it! He couldn’t finish it in time. He longed to execrate aloud, to bring his fist down on something violently. He was so enraged that he wrote Bernard Bernard instead of Bernard Bodley and had to begin again on a clean sheet.

He felt strong enough to clear out the whole office singlehanded. His body ached to do something, to rush out and revel in violence. All the indignities of his life enraged him…. Could he ask the cashier privately for an advance? No, the cashier was no good, no damn good: he wouldn’t give an advance…. He knew where he would meet the boys: Leonard and O’Halloran and Nosey Flynn. The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot.

His imagination had so abstracted him that his name was called twice before he answered. Mr. Alleyne and Miss Delacour were standing outside the counter and all the clerks had turn round in anticipation of something. The man got up from his desk. Mr. Alleyne began a tirade of abuse, saying that two letters were missing. The man answered that he knew nothing about them, that he had made a faithful copy. The tirade continued: it was so bitter and violent that the man could hardly restrain his fist from descending upon the head of the manikin before him:

“I know nothing about any other two letters,” he said stupidly.

“You–know–nothing. Of course you know nothing,” said Mr. Alleyne. “Tell me,” he added, glancing first for approval to the lady beside him, “do you take me for a fool? Do you think me an utter fool?”

The man glanced from the lady’s face to the little egg-shaped head and back again; and, almost before he was aware of it, his tongue had found a felicitous moment:

“I don’t think, sir,” he said, “that that’s a fair question to put to me.”

There was a pause in the very breathing of the clerks. Everyone was astounded (the author of the witticism no less than his neighbours) and Miss Delacour, who was a stout amiable person, began to smile broadly. Mr. Alleyne flushed to the hue of a wild rose and his mouth twitched with a dwarf s passion. He shook his fist in the man’s face till it seemed to vibrate like the knob of some electric machine:

“You impertinent ruffian! You impertinent ruffian! I’ll make short work of you! Wait till you see! You’ll apologise to me for your impertinence or you’ll quit the office instanter! You’ll quit this, I’m telling you, or you’ll apologise to me!”


He stood in a doorway opposite the office watching to see if the cashier would come out alone. All the clerks passed out and finally the cashier came out with the chief clerk. It was no use trying to say a word to him when he was with the chief clerk. The man felt that his position was bad enough. He had been obliged to offer an abject apology to Mr. Alleyne for his impertinence but he knew what a hornet’s nest the office would be for him. He could remember the way in which Mr. Alleyne had hounded little Peake out of the office in order to make room for his own nephew. He felt savage and thirsty and revengeful, annoyed with himself and with everyone else. Mr. Alleyne would never give him an hour’s rest; his life would be a hell to him. He had made a proper fool of himself this time. Could he not keep his tongue in his cheek? But they had never pulled together from the first, he and Mr. Alleyne, ever since the day Mr. Alleyne had overheard him mimicking his North of Ireland accent to amuse Higgins and Miss Parker: that had been the beginning of it. He might have tried Higgins for the money, but sure Higgins never had anything for himself. A man with two establishments to keep up, of course he couldn’t….

He felt his great body again aching for the comfort of the public-house. The fog had begun to chill him and he wondered could he touch Pat in O’Neill’s. He could not touch him for more than a bob — and a bob was no use. Yet he must get money somewhere or other: he had spent his last penny for the g.p. and soon it would be too late for getting money anywhere. Suddenly, as he was fingering his watch-chain, he thought of Terry Kelly’s pawn-office in Fleet Street. That was the dart! Why didn’t he think of it sooner?

He went through the narrow alley of Temple Bar quickly, muttering to himself that they could all go to hell because he was going to have a good night of it. The clerk in Terry Kelly’s said A crown! but the consignor held out for six shillings; and in the end the six shillings was allowed him literally. He came out of the pawn-office joyfully, making a little cylinder, of the coins between his thumb and fingers. In Westmoreland Street the footpaths were crowded with young men and women returning from business and ragged urchins ran here and there yelling out the names of the evening editions. The man passed through the crowd, looking on the spectacle generally with proud satisfaction and staring masterfully at the office-girls. His head was full of the noises of tram- gongs and swishing trolleys and his nose already sniffed the curling fumes punch. As he walked on he preconsidered the terms in which he would narrate the incident to the boys:

“So, I just looked at him — coolly, you know, and looked at her. Then I looked back at him again — taking my time, you know. ‘I don’t think that that’s a fair question to put to me,’ says I.”

Nosey Flynn was sitting up in his usual corner of Davy Byrne’s and, when he heard the story, he stood Farrington a half-one, saying it was as smart a thing as ever he heard. Farrington stood a drink in his turn. After a while O’Halloran and Paddy Leonard came in and the story was repeated to them. O’Halloran stood tailors of malt, hot, all round and told the story of the retort he had made to the chief clerk when he was in Callan’s of Fownes’s Street; but, as the retort was after the manner of the liberal shepherds in the eclogues, he had to admit that it was not as clever as Farrington’s retort. At this Farrington told the boys to polish off that and have another.

Just as they were naming their poisons who should come in but Higgins! Of course he had to join in with the others. The men asked him to give his version of it, and he did so with great vivacity for the sight of five small hot whiskies was very exhilarating. Everyone roared laughing when he showed the way in which Mr. Alleyne shook his fist in Farrington’s face. Then he imitated Farrington, saying, “And here was my nabs, as cool as you please,” while Farrington looked at the company out of his heavy dirty eyes, smiling and at times drawing forth stray drops of liquor from his moustache with the aid of his lower lip.

When that round was over there was a pause. O’Halloran had money but neither of the other two seemed to have any; so the whole party left the shop somewhat regretfully. At the corner of Duke Street Higgins and Nosey Flynn bevelled off to the left while the other three turned back towards the city. Rain was drizzling down on the cold streets and, when they reached the Ballast Office, Farrington suggested the Scotch House. The bar was full of men and loud with the noise of tongues and glasses. The three men pushed past the whining matchsellers at the door and formed a little party at the corner of the counter. They began to exchange stories. Leonard introduced them to a young fellow named Weathers who was performing at the Tivoli as an acrobat and knockabout artiste. Farrington stood a drink all round. Weathers said he would take a small Irish and Apollinaris. Farrington, who had definite notions of what was what, asked the boys would they have an Apollinaris too; but the boys told Tim to make theirs hot. The talk became theatrical. O’Halloran stood a round and then Farrington stood another round, Weathers protesting that the hospitality was too Irish. He promised to get them in behind the scenes and introduce them to some nice girls. O’Halloran said that he and Leonard would go, but that Farrington wouldn’t go because he was a married man; and Farrington’s heavy dirty eyes leered at the company in token that he understood he was being chaffed. Weathers made them all have just one little tincture at his expense and promised to meet them later on at Mulligan’s in Poolbeg Street.

When the Scotch House closed they went round to Mulligan’s. They went into the parlour at the back and O’Halloran ordered small hot specials all round. They were all beginning to feel mellow. Farrington was just standing another round when Weathers came back. Much to Farrington’s relief he drank a glass of bitter this time. Funds were getting low but they had enough to keep them going. Presently two young women with big hats and a young man in a check suit came in and sat at a table close by. Weathers saluted them and told the company that they were out of the Tivoli. Farrington’s eyes wandered at every moment in the direction of one of the young women. There was something striking in her appearance. An immense scarf of peacock-blue muslin was wound round her hat and knotted in a great bow under her chin; and she wore bright yellow gloves, reaching to the elbow. Farrington gazed admiringly at the plump arm which she moved very often and with much grace; and when, after a little time, she answered his gaze he admired still more her large dark brown eyes. The oblique staring expression in them fascinated him. She glanced at him once or twice and, when the party was leaving the room, she brushed against his chair and said “O, pardon!” in a London accent. He watched her leave the room in the hope that she would look back at him, but he was disappointed. He cursed his want of money and cursed all the rounds he had stood, particularly all the whiskies and Apolinaris which he had stood to Weathers. If there was one thing that he hated it was a sponge. He was so angry that he lost count of the conversation of his friends.

When Paddy Leonard called him he found that they were talking about feats of strength. Weathers was showing his biceps muscle to the company and boasting so much that the other two had called on Farrington to uphold the national honour. Farrington pulled up his sleeve accordingly and showed his biceps muscle to the company. The two arms were examined and compared and finally it was agreed to have a trial of strength. The table was cleared and the two men rested their elbows on it, clasping hands. When Paddy Leonard said “Go!” each was to try to bring down the other’s hand on to the table. Farrington looked very serious and determined.

The trial began. After about thirty seconds Weathers brought his opponent’s hand slowly down on to the table. Farrington’s dark wine-coloured face flushed darker still with anger and humiliation at having been defeated by such a stripling.

“You’re not to put the weight of your body behind it. Play fair,” he said.

“Who’s not playing fair?” said the other.

“Come on again. The two best out of three.”

The trial began again. The veins stood out on Farrington’s forehead, and the pallor of Weathers’ complexion changed to peony. Their hands and arms trembled under the stress. After a long struggle Weathers again brought his opponent’s hand slowly on to the table. There was a murmur of applause from the spectators. The curate, who was standing beside the table, nodded his red head towards the victor and said with stupid familiarity:

“Ah! that’s the knack!”

“What the hell do you know about it?” said Farrington fiercely, turning on the man. “What do you put in your gab for?”

“Sh, sh!” said O’Halloran, observing the violent expression of Farrington’s face. “Pony up, boys. We’ll have just one little smahan more and then we’ll be off.”


A very sullen-faced man stood at the corner of O’Connell Bridge waiting for the little Sandymount tram to take him home. He was full of smouldering anger and revengefulness. He felt humiliated and discontented; he did not even feel drunk; and he had only twopence in his pocket. He cursed everything. He had done for himself in the office, pawned his watch, spent all his money; and he had not even got drunk. He began to feel thirsty again and he longed to be back again in the hot reeking public-house. He had lost his reputation as a strong man, having been defeated twice by a mere boy. His heart swelled with fury and, when he thought of the woman in the big hat who had brushed against him and said Pardon! his fury nearly choked him.

His tram let him down at Shelbourne Road and he steered his great body along in the shadow of the wall of the barracks. He loathed returning to his home. When he went in by the side- door he found the kitchen empty and the kitchen fire nearly out. He bawled upstairs:

“Ada! Ada!”

His wife was a little sharp-faced woman who bullied her husband when he was sober and was bullied by him when he was drunk. They had five children. A little boy came running down the stairs.

“Who is that?” said the man, peering through the darkness.

“Me, pa.”

“Who are you? Charlie?”

“No, pa. Tom.”

“Where’s your mother?”

“She’s out at the chapel.”

“That’s right…. Did she think of leaving any dinner for me?”

“Yes, pa. I –”

“Light the lamp. What do you mean by having the place in darkness? Are the other children in bed?”

The man sat down heavily on one of the chairs while the little boy lit the lamp. He began to mimic his son’s flat accent, saying half to himself: “At the chapel. At the chapel, if you please!” When the lamp was lit he banged his fist on the table and shouted:

“What’s for my dinner?”

“I’m going… to cook it, pa,” said the little boy.

The man jumped up furiously and pointed to the fire.

“On that fire! You let the fire out! By God, I’ll teach you to do that again!”

He took a step to the door and seized the walking-stick which was standing behind it.

“I’ll teach you to let the fire out!” he said, rolling up his sleeve in order to give his arm free play.

The little boy cried “O, pa!” and ran whimpering round the table, but the man followed him and caught him by the coat. The little boy looked about him wildly but, seeing no way of escape, fell upon his knees.

“Now, you’ll let the fire out the next time!” said the man striking at him vigorously with the stick. “Take that, you little whelp!”

The boy uttered a squeal of pain as the stick cut his thigh. He clasped his hands together in the air and his voice shook with fright.

“O, pa!” he cried. “Don’t beat me, pa! And I’ll… I’ll say a Hail Mary for you…. I’ll say a Hail Mary for you, pa, if you don’t beat me…. I’ll say a Hail Mary….”


SHE sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children. Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it — not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs. The children of the avenue used to play together in that field — the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming. Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.

Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:

“He is in Melbourne now.”

She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. O course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.

“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”

“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”

She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.

But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that. Then she would be married — she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence. She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother’s sake. And no she had nobody to protect her. Ernest was dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages — seven shillings — and Harry always sent up what he could but the trouble was to get any money from her father. He said she used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn’t going to give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night. In the end he would give her the money and ask her had she any intention of buying Sunday’s dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather purse tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to hr charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work — a hard life — but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very kind, manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the night-boat to be his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres where he had a home waiting for her. How well she remembered the first time she had seen him; he was lodging in a house on the main road where she used to visit. It seemed a few weeks ago. He was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on his head and his hair tumbled forward over a face of bronze. Then they had come to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores every evening and see her home. He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre with him. He was awfully fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a deck boy at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to Canada. He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a holiday. Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say to him.

“I know these sailor chaps,” he said.

One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to meet her lover secretly.

The evening deepened in the avenue. The white of two letters in her lap grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her father. Ernest had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.

Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing. She knew the air Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy. The organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying:

“Damned Italians! coming over here!”

As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being — that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:

“Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:


All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.


No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

“Eveline! Evvy!”

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

The Jade Peony

When Grandmama died at 83 our whole household held its breath. She had promised us a sign her leaving, final proof that her present life had ended well. My parents knew that without any clear sign, our own family fortunes could be altered, threatened. My stepmother looked endlessly into the small cluttered room the ancient lady had occupied. Nothing was touched; nothing changed. My father, thinking that a sign should appear in Grandmama’s garden, looked at the frost-killed shoots and cringed: no, that could not be it.

My two older teenage brothers and my sister, Liang, age 14, were embarrassed by my parents’ behavior. What would all the white people in Vancouver think of us? We were Canadians now, Chinese-Canadians,a hyphenated reality that my parents could never accept. So it seemed, for different reasons, we all held our breath waiting for something.

I was eight when she died. For days she had resisted going into the hospital . . . a cold, just a cold . . . and instead gave constant instruction to my stepmother and sister on the boiling of ginseng roots mixed with bitter extract. At night, between wracking coughs and deadly silences, Grandmama had her back and chest rubbed with heated camphor oil and sipped a bluish decoction of an herb called Peacock’s Tail. When all these failed to abate her fever, she began to arrange the details of her will. This she did with my father, confessing finally: “I am too stubborn. The only cure for old age is to die.”

My father wept to hear this. I stood beside her bed; she turned to me. Her round face looked darker, and the gentleness of her eyes, the thin, arching eyebrows, seemed weary. I brushed the few strands of gray, brittle hair from her face; she managed to smile at me. Being the youngest, I had spent nearly all my time with her and could not imagine that we would ever be parted. Yet when she spoke, and her voice hesitated, cracked, the sombre shadows of her room chilled me. Her wrinkled brow grew wet with fever, and her small body seemed even more diminutive.

“I – I am going to the hospital, Grandson.” Her hand reached out for mine. “You know, Little Son, whatever happens I will never leave you.” Her palm felt plush and warm, the slender, old fingers bony and firm, so magically strong was her grip that I could not imagine how she could ever part from me. Ever.

Her hands were magical. My most vivid memories are of her hands: long, elegant fingers, with impeccable nails, a skein of fine, barely-seen veins, and wrinkled skin like light pine. Those hands were quick when she taught me, at six, simple tricks of juggling, learnt when she was a village girl in Southern Canton; a troupe of actors had stayed on her father’s farm. One of  them, “tall and pale as the whiteness of petals,” fell in love with her, promising to return. In her last years his image came back like a third being in our two lives. He had been magician, acrobat, juggler, and some of the things he taught her she had absorbed and passed on to me through her stories and games. But above all, without realizing it then, her hands conveyed to me the quality of their love.

Most marvellous for me was the quick-witted skill her hands revealed in making windchimes for our birthdays: windchimes in the likeness of her lost friend’s only present to her, made of bits of string and scraps, in the centre of which once hung a precious jade peony. This wondrous gift to her broke apart years ago, in China, but Grandmama kept the jade pendant in a tiny red silk envelope, and kept it always in her pocket, until her death.

These were not ordinary, carelessly made chimes, such as those you now find in our Chinatown stores, whose rattling noises drive you mad. But making her special ones caused dissension in our family, and some shame. Each one that she made was created from a treasure trove of glass fragments and castaway costume jewellery, in the same way that her first windchime had been made. The problem for the rest of the family was in the fact that Grandmama looked for these treasures wandering the back alleys of Keefer and Pender Streets, peering into our neighbors’ garbage cans, chasing away hungry, nervous cats and shouting curses at them.

“All our friends are laughing at us!”  Older Brother Jung said at last to my father, when Grandmama was away  having tea at Mrs. Lim’s.

“We are not poor,” Oldest Brother Kiam declared, “yet she and Sek-Lung poke through those awful things as if -” he shoved me in frustration and I stumbled against my sister, “- they were beggars!”

“She will make Little Brother crazy!” Sister Liang said. Without warning, she punched me sharply in the back; I jumped. “You see, look how nervous he is!”

I lifted my foot slightly, enough to swing it back and kick Liang in the shin. She yelled and pulled back her fist to punch me again. Jung made a menacing move towards me.

“Stop this, all of you!” My father shook his head in exasperation. How could he dare tell the Grand Old One, his aging mother, that what was somehow appropriate in a poor village in China, was an abomination here. How could he prevent me, his youngest, from accompanying her? If she went walking into those alleyways alone she could well be attacked by hoodlums. “She is not a beggar looking for food. She is searching fo-r for ….”

My stepmother attempted to speak, then fell silent. She, too, seemed perplexed and somewhat ashamed. They all loved Grandmama, but she was inconvenient, unsettling.

As for our neighbors, most understood Grandmama to be harmlessly crazy, others that she did indeed make lovely toys but for what purpose? Why? they asked, and the stories she told me, of the juggler who smiled at her, flashed in my head.

Finally, by their cutting remarks, the family did exert enough pressure so that Grandmama and I no longer openly announced our expeditions. Instead, she took me with her on “shopping trips,” ostensibly for clothes or groceries, while in fact we spent most of our time exploring stranger and more distant neighborhoods, searching for splendid junk: jangling pieces of a vase, cranberry glass fragments embossed with leaves, discarded glass beads from Woolworth necklaces …. We would sneak them all home in brown rice sacks, folded into small parcels, and put them under her bed. During the day when the family was away at school or work, we brought them out and washed every item in a large black pot of boiling lye and water, dried them quickly, carefully, and returned them, sparkling, under her bed.

Our greatest excitement occurred when a fire gutted the large Chinese Presbyterian Church, three blocks from our house. Over the still-smoking ruins the next day, Grandmama and I rushed precariously over the blackened beams to pick out the stained glass that glittered in the sunlight. Small figure bent over, wrapped against the autumn cold in a dark blue quilted coat, happily gathering each piece like gold, she became my spiritual playmate:“There’s a good one! There!”

Hours later, soot-covered and smelling of smoke, we came home with a Safeway carton full of delicate fragments, still early enough to steal them all into the house and put the small box under her bed. “These are special pieces,” she said, giving the box a last push, “because they come from a sacred place.” She slowly got up and I saw, for the first time, her hand begin to shake. But then, in her joy, she embraced me. Both of our hearts were racing, as if  we were two dreamers.  I buried my face in her blue quilt, and for a moment, the whole world seemed silent.

“My juggler,” she said, “he never came back to me from Honan . . . perhaps the famine . . . .” Her voice began to quake. “But I shall have my sacred windchime . . . I shall have it again.”

One evening, when the family was gathered in their usual places in the parlor, Grandmama gave me her secret nod: a slight wink of her eye and a flaring of her nostrils. There was trouble in the air. Supper had gone badly, school examinations were due, father had failed to meet an editorial deadline at the Vancouver Chinese Times. A huge sigh came from Sister Liang.

“But it is useless this Chinese they teach you!” she lamented, turning to Stepmother for support. Silence. Liang frowned, dejected, and went back to her Chinese book, bending the covers back.

“Father,” Oldest Brother Kiam began, waving his bamboo brush in the air, “you must realize that this Mandarin only confuses us. We are Cantonese speakers…”

“And you do not complain about Latin, French or German in your English school?” Father rattled his newspaper, a signal that his patience was ending.

“But, Father, those languages are scientific,” Kiam jabbed his brush in the air. “We are now in a scientific, logical world.”

Father was silent. We could all hear Grandmama’s rocker.

“What about Sek-Lung?” Older Brother Jung pointed angrily at me. “He was sick last year, but this year he should have at least started Chinese school, instead of picking over garbage cans!”

“He starts next year,” Father said, in a hard tone that immediately warned everyone to be silent. Liang slammed her book.

Grandmama went on rocking quietly in her chair. She complimented my mother on her knitting, made a remark about the “strong beauty” of Kiam’s brushstrokes which, in spite of himself, immensely pleased him. All this babbling noise was her family torn and confused in a strange land: everything here was so very foreign and scientific.

The truth was, I was sorry not to have started school the year before. In my innocence I had imagined going to school meant certain privileges worthy of all my brothers’ and sister’s complaints. The fact that my lung infection in my fifth and sixth years, mistakenly diagnosed as TB, earned me some reprieve, only made me long for school the more. Each member of the family took turns on Sunday, teaching me or annoying me. But it was the countless hours I spent with Grandmama that were my real education. Tapping me on my head she would say, “Come, Sek-Lung, we have our work,” and we would walk up the stairs to her small crowded room. There, in the midst of her antique shawls, the old ancestral calligraphy and multi-colored embroidered hangings, beneath the mysterious shelves of sweet herbs and bitter potions, we would continue doing what we had started that morning: the elaborate windchime for her death.

“I can’t last forever,” she declared, when she let me in on the secret of this one. “It will sing and dance and glitter,” her long fingers stretched into the air, pantomiming the waving motion of her ghost chimes; “My spirit will hear its sounds and see its light and return to this house and say goodbye to you.”

Deftly she reached into the Safeway carton she had placed on the chair beside me. She picked out a fish-shape amber piece, and with a long needle-like tool and a steel ruler, she scored it. Pressing the blade of a cleaver against the line, with the fingers of her other hand, she lifted me up the glass until it cleanly snapped into the exact shape she required. Her hand began to tremble, the tips of her fingers to shiver, like rippling water.

“You see that, Little One?” She held her hand up. “That is my body fighting with Death. He is in this room now.”

My eyes darted in panic, but Grandmama remained calm, undisturbed, and went on with her work. Then I remembered the glue and uncorked the jar for her. Soon the graceful ritual movements of her hand returned to her, and I became lost in the magic of her task: she dabbed a cabalistic mixture of glue on one end and skillfully dropped the braided end of a silk thread into it. This part always amazed me: the braiding would slowly, very slowly, unknot, fanning out like a prized fishtail. In a few seconds the clear, homemade glue began to harden as I blew lightly over it, welding to itself each separate silk strand.

Each jam-sized pot of glue was precious; each large cork had been wrapped with a fragment of pink silk. I remember this part vividly, because each cork was treated to a special rite. First we went shopping in the best silk stores in Chinatown for the perfect square of silk she required. It had to be a deep pink, a shade of color blushing toward red. And the tone had to match – as closely as possible – her precious jade carving, the small peony of white and light-red jade, her most lucky possession.  In the centre  of this semi-translucent carving, no more than an inch wide, was a pool of pink light, its veins swirling out into the petals of the flower.

“This color is the color of my spirit,” she said, holding it up to the window so I could see the delicate pastel against the broad strokes of sunlight. She dropped her voice, and I held my breath at the wonder of the color. “This was given to me by the young actor who taught me how to juggle. He had four of them, and each one had a centre of this rare color, the color of Good Fortune.” The pendant seemed to pulse as she turned it: “Oh, Sek-Lung! He had white hair and white skin to his toes!It’s true, I saw him bathing.”She laughed and blushed, her eyes softened at the memory. The silk had to match the pink heart of her pendant: the color was magical for her, to hold the unravelling strands of her memory.. . .

It was just six months before she died that we really began to work on her last windchime. Three thin bamboo sticks were steamed and bent into circlets; 30 exact lengths of silk thread, the strongest kind, were cut and braided at both ends and glued to stained glass. Her hands worked on their own command, each hand racing with a life of its own: cutting, snapping, braiding, knotting.. . . Sometimes she breathed heavily and her small body, growing thinner, sagged against me. Death,I thought, He is in this room, and I would work harder alongside her. For months Grandmama and I did this every other evening, a half dozen pieces each time. The shaking in her hand grew worse, but we said nothing. Finally, after discarding hundreds, she told me she had the necessary 30 pieces. But this time, because it was a sacred chime, I would not be permitted to help her  ie it up or have the joy of raising it. “Once tied,” she said, holding me against my disappointment, “not even I can raise it. Not a sound must it make until I have died.”

“What will happen?” “Your father will then take the centre braided strand and raise it. He  will hang it against my bedroom window so that my ghost may see it, and hear it, and return. I must say goodbye to this world properly or wander in this foreign devil’s land forever.”

“You can take the streetcar!” I blurted, suddenly shocked that she actually meant to leave me. I thought I could hear the clear-chromatic chimes, see the shimmering colors on the wall: I fell against her and cried, and there in my crying I knew that she would die. I can still remember the touch of her hand on my head, and the smell of her thick woolen sweater pressed against my face. “I will always be with you, Little Sek-Lung, but in a different way . . . you’ll see.”

Months went by, and nothing happened. Then one late September evening, when I had just come home from Chinese School, Grandmama was preparing supper when she looked out our kitchen window and saw a cat – a long, lean white cat – jump into our garbage pail and knock it over. She ran out to chase it away, shouting curses at it. She did not have her thick sweater on and when she came back into the house, a chill gripped her. She leaned against the door: “That was not a cat,” she said, and the odd tone of her voice caused my father to look with alarm at her. “I can not take back my curses. It is too late.” She took hold of my father’s arm: “It was all white and had pink eyes like sacred fire.”

My father started at this, and they both looked pale. My brothers and sister, clearing the table, froze in their gestures.

“The fog has confused you,” Stepmother said. “It was just a cat.” But Grandmama shook her head, for she knew it was a sign. “I will not live forever,” she said.  “I am prepared.”

The next morning she was confined to her bed with a severe cold. Sitting by her, playing with some of my toys, I asked her about the cat: “Why did father jump at the cat with the pink eyes? He didn’t see it,  you did.”

“But he and your mother know what it means.”


“My friend, the juggler, the magician, was as pale as white jade and he had pink eyes.” I thought she would begin to tell me one of her stories, a tale of enchantment or of a wondrous adventure, but she only paused to swallow; her eyes glittered, lost in memory. She took my hand, gently opening and closing her fingers over it. “Sek-Lung,” she sighed,“he has come back to me.”

Then Grandmama sank back into her pillow and the embroidered flowers lifted to frame her wrinkled face. I saw  her hand over my own, and my own began to tremble. I fell fitfully asleep by her side. When I woke up it was dark and her bed was empty. She had been taken to the hospital and I was not permitted to visit.

A few days after that she died of the complications of pneumonia. Immediately after her death my father came home and said nothing to us, but walked up the stairs to her room, pulled  aside the drawn lace curtains of her window and lifted the windchimes to the sky.

I began to cry and quickly put my hand in my pocket for a handkerchief. Instead, caught between my fingers, was the small, round firmness of the jade peony. In my mind’s eye I saw Grandmama smile and heard, softly, the pink centre beat like a beautiful, cramped heart.

Supertoys Last All Summer Long

In Mrs. Swinton’s garden, it was always summer. The lovely almond trees stood about it in perpetual leaf. Monica Swinton plucked a saffron-colored rose and showed it to David.

“Isn’t it lovely?” she said.

David looked up at her and grinned without replying. Seizing the flower, he ran with it across the lawn and disappeared behind the kennel where the mowervator crouched, ready to cut or sweep or roll when the moment dictated. She stood alone on her impeccable plastic gravel path.

She had tried to love him.

When she made up her mind to follow the boy, she found him in the courtyard floating the rose in his paddling pool. He stood in the pool engrossed, still wearing his sandals.

“David, darling, do you have to be so awful? Come in at once and change your shoes and socks.”

He went with her without protest into the house, his dark head bobbing at the level of her waist. At the age of three, he showed no fear of the ultrasonic dryer in the kitchen. But before his mother could reach for a pair of slippers, he wriggled away and was gone into the silence of the house.

He would probably be looking for Teddy.

Monica Swinton, twenty-nine, of graceful shape and lambent eye, went and sat in her living room, arranging her limbs with taste. She began by sitting and thinking; soon she was just sitting. Time waited on her shoulder with the maniac slowth it reserves for children, the insane, and wives whose husbands are away improving the world. Almost by reflex, she reached out and changed the wavelength of her windows. The garden faded; in its place, the city center rose by her left hand, full of crowding people, blowboats, and buildings (but she kept the sound down). She remained alone. An overcrowded world is the ideal place in which to be lonely.


The directors of Synthank were eating an enormous luncheon to celebrate the launching of their new product. Some of them wore the plastic face-masks popular at the time. All were elegantly slender, despite the rich food and drink they were putting away. Their wives were elegantly slender, despite the food and drink they too were putting away. An earlier and less sophisticated generation would have regarded them as beautiful people, apart from their eyes.

Henry Swinton, Managing Director of Synthank, was about to make a speech.

“I’m sorry your wife couldn’t be with us to hear you,” his neighbor said.

“Monica prefers to stay at home thinking beautiful thoughts,” said Swinton, maintaining a smile.

“One would expect such a beautiful woman to have beautiful thoughts,” said the neighbor.

Take your mind off my wife, you bastard, thought Swinton, still smiling.

He rose to make his speech amid applause.

After a couple of jokes, he said, “Today marks a real breakthrough for the company. It is now almost ten years since we put our first synthetic life-forms on the world market. You all know what a success they have been, particularly the miniature dinosaurs. But none of them had intelligence.

“It seems like a paradox that in this day and age we can create life but not intelligence. Our first selling line, the Crosswell Tape, sells best of all, and is the most stupid of all.” Everyone laughed.

“Though three-quarters of the overcrowded world are starving, we are lucky here to have more than enough, thanks to population control. Obesity’s our problem, not malnutrition. I guess there’s nobody round this table who doesn’t have a Crosswell working for him in the small intestine, a perfectly safe parasite tape-worm that enables its host to eat up to fifty percent more food and still keep his or her figure. Right?” General nods of agreement.

“Our miniature dinosaurs are almost equally stupid. Today, we launch an intelligent synthetic life-form — a full-size serving-man.

“Not only does he have intelligence, he has a controlled amount of intelligence. We believe people would be afraid of a being with a human brain. Our serving-man has a small computer in his cranium.

“There have been mechanicals on the market with mini-computers for brains — plastic things without life, super-toys — but we have at last found a way to link computer circuitry with synthetic flesh.”


David sat by the long window of his nursery, wrestling with paper and pencil. Finally, he stopped writing and began to roll the pencil up and down the slope of the desk-lid.

“Teddy!” he said.

Teddy lay on the bed against the wall, under a book with moving pictures and a giant plastic soldier. The speech-pattern of his master’s voice activated him and he sat up.

“Teddy, I can’t think what to say!”

Climbing off the bed, the bear walked stiffly over to cling to the boy’s leg. David lifted him and set him on the desk.

“What have you said so far?”

“I’ve said –” He picked up his letter and stared hard at it. “I’ve said, ‘Dear Mummy, I hope you’re well just now. I love you….’”

There was a long silence, until the bear said, “That sounds fine. Go downstairs and give it to her.”

Another long silence.

“It isn’t quite right. She won’t understand.”

Inside the bear, a small computer worked through its program of possibilities. “Why not do it again in crayon?”

When David did not answer, the bear repeated his suggestion. “Why not do it again in crayon?”

David was staring out of the window. “Teddy, you know what I was thinking? How do you tell what are real things from what aren’t real things?”

The bear shuffled its alternatives. “Real things are good.”

“I wonder if time is good. I don’t think Mummy likes time very much. The other day, lots of days ago, she said that time went by her. Is time real, Teddy?”

“Clocks tell the time. Clocks are real. Mummy has clocks so she must like them. She has a clock on her wrist next to her dial.”

David started to draw a jumbo jet on the back of his letter. “You and I are real, Teddy, aren’t we?”

The bear’s eyes regarded the boy unflinchingly. “You and I are real David.” It specialized in comfort.


Monica walked slowly about the house. It was almost time for the afternoon post to come over the wire. She punched the Post Office number on the dial on her wrist, but nothing came through. A few minutes more.

She could take up her painting. Or she could dial her friends. Or she could wait till Henry came home. Or she could go up and play with David….

She walked out into the hall and to the bottom of the stairs.


No answer. She called again and a third time.

“Teddy!” she called, in sharper tones.

“Yes, Mummy!” After a moment’s pause, Teddy’s head of golden fur appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Is David in his room,Teddy?”

“David went into the garden, Mummy.”

“Come down here, Teddy!”

She stood impassively, watching the little furry figure as it climbed down from step to step on its stubby limbs. When it reached the bottom, she picked it up and carried it into the living room. It lay unmoving in her arms, staring up at her. She could feel just the slightest vibration from its motor.

“Stand there, Teddy. I want to talk to you.” She set him down on a tabletop, and he stood as she requested, arms set forward and open in the eternal gesture of embrace.

“Teddy, did David tell you to tell me he had gone into the garden?”

The circuits of the bear’s brain were too simple for artifice. “Yes, Mummy.”

“So you lied to me.”

“Yes. Mummy.”

“Stop calling me Mummy! Why is David avoiding me? He’s not afraid of me, is he?”

“No. He loves you.”

“Why can’t we communicate?”

“David’s upstairs.”

The answer stopped her dead. Why waste time talking to this machine? Why not simply go upstairs and scoop David into her arms and talk to him, as a loving mother should to a loving son? She heard the sheer weight of silence in the house, with a different quality of silence pouring out of every room. On the upper landing, something was moving very silently — David, trying to hide away from her….


He was nearing the end of his speech now. The guests were attentive; so was the Press, lining two walls of the banqueting chamber, recording Henry’s words and occasionally photographing him.

“Our serving-man will be, in many senses, a product of the computer. Without computers, we could never have worked through the sophisticated biochemics that go into synthetic flesh. The serving-man will also be an extension of the computer–for he will contain a computer in his own head, a microminiaturized computer capable of dealing with almost any situation he may encounter in the home. With reservations, of course.” Laughter at this; many of those present knew the heated debate that had engulfed the Synthank boardroom before the decision had finally been taken to leave the serving-man neuter under his flawless uniform.

“Amid all the triumphs of our civilization — yes, and amid the crushing problems of overpopulation too — it is sad to reflect how many millions of people suffer from increasing loneliness and isolation. Our serving-man will be a boon to them: he will always answer, and the most vapid conversation cannot bore him.

“For the future, we plan more models, male and female–some of them without the limitations of this first one, I promise you! — of more advanced design, true bio-electronic beings.

“Not only will they possess their own computer, capable of individual programming; they will be linked to the World Data Network. Thus everyone will be able to enjoy the equivalent of an Einstein in their own homes. Personal isolation will then be banished forever!”

He sat down to enthusiastic applause. Even the synthetic serving-man, sitting at the table dressed in an unostentatious suit, applauded with gusto.


Dragging his satchel, David crept round the side of the house. He climbed on to the ornamental seat under the living-room window and peeped cautiously in.

His mother stood in the middle of the room. Her face was blank, its lack of expression scared him. He watched fascinated. He did not move; she did not move. Time might have stopped, as it had stopped in the garden.

At last she turned and left the room. After waiting a moment, David tapped on the window. Teddy looked round, saw him, tumbled off the table, and came over to the window. Fumbling with his paws, he eventually got it open.

They looked at each other.

“I’m no good, Teddy. Let’s run away!”

“You’re a very good boy. Your Mummy loves you.”

Slowly, he shook his head. “If she loved me, then why can’t I talk to her?”

“You’re being silly, David. Mummy’s lonely. That’s why she had you.”

“She’s got Daddy. I’ve got nobody ‘cept you, and I’m lonely.”

Teddy gave him a friendly cuff over the head. “If you feel so bad, you’d better go to the psychiatrist again.”

“I hate that old psychiatrist — he makes me feel I’m not real.” He started to run across the lawn. The bear toppled out of the window and followed as fast as its stubby legs would allow.

Monica Swinton was up in the nursery. She called to her son once and then stood there, undecided. All was silent.

Crayons lay on his desk. Obeying a sudden impulse, she went over to the desk and opened it. Dozens of pieces of paper lay inside. Many of them were written in crayon in David’s clumsy writing, with each letter picked out in a color different from the letter preceding it. None of the messages was finished.

“My dear Mummy, How are you really, do you love me as much –”

“Dear Mummy, I love you and Daddy and the sun is shining –”

“Dear dear Mummy, Teddy’s helping me write to you. I love you and Teddy –”

“Darling Mummy, I’m your one and only son and I love you so much that some times –”

“Dear Mummy, you’re really my Mummy and I hate Teddy –”

“Darling Mummy, guess how much I love –”

“Dear Mummy, I’m your little boy not Teddy and I love you but Teddy –”

“Dear Mummy, this is a letter to you just to say how much how ever so much –”

Monica dropped the pieces of paper and burst out crying. In their gay inaccurate colors, the letters fanned out and settled on the floor.


Henry Swinton caught the express home in high spirits, and occasionally said a word to the synthetic serving-man he was taking home with him. The serving-man answered politely and punctually, although his answers were not always entirely relevant by human standards.

The Swintons lived in one of the ritziest city-blocks, half a kilometer above the ground. Embedded in other apartments, their apartment had no windows to the outside; nobody wanted to see the overcrowded external world. Henry unlocked the door with his retina pattern-scanner and walked in, followed by the serving-man.

At once, Henry was surrounded by the friendly illusion of gardens set in eternal summer. It was amazing what Whologram could do to create huge mirages in small spaces. Behind its roses and wisteria stood their house; the deception was complete: a Georgian mansion appeared to welcome him.

“How do you like it?” he asked the serving-man.

“Roses occasionally suffer from black spot.”

“These roses are guaranteed free from any imperfections.”

“It is always advisable to purchase goods with guarantees, even if they cost slightly more.”

“Thanks for the information,” Henry said dryly. Synthetic lifeforms were less than ten years old, the old android mechanicals less than sixteen; the faults of their systems were still being ironed out, year by year.

He opened the door and called to Monica.

She came out of the sitting-room immediately and flung her arms round him, kissing him ardently on cheek and lips. Henry was amazed.

Pulling back to look at her face, he saw how she seemed to generate light and beauty. It was months since he had seen her so excited. Instinctively, he clasped her tighter.

“Darling, what’s happened?”

“Henry, Henry — oh, my darling, I was in despair … but I’ve just dialed the afternoon post and — you’ll never believe it! Oh, it’s wonderful!”

“For heaven’s sake, woman, what’s wonderful?”

He caught a glimpse of the heading on the photostat in her hand, still moist from the wall-receiver: Ministry of Population. He felt the color drain from his face in sudden shock and hope.

“Monica … oh … Don’t tell me our number’s come up!”

“Yes, my darling, yes, we’ve won this week’s parenthood lottery! We can go ahead and conceive a child at once!”

He let out a yell of joy. They danced round the room. Pressure of population was such that reproduction had to be strict, controlled. Childbirth required government permission. For this moment, they had waited four years. Incoherently they cried their delight.

They paused at last, gasping and stood in the middle of the room to laugh at each other’s happiness. When she had come down from the nursery, Monica had de-opaqued the windows so that they now revealed the vista of garden beyond. Artificial sunlight was growing long and golden across the lawn — and David and Teddy were staring through the window at them.

Seeing their faces, Henry and his wife grew serious.

“What do we do about them?” Henry asked.

“Teddy’s no trouble. He works well.”

“Is David malfunctioning?”

“His verbal communication center is still giving trouble. I think he’ll have to go back to the factory again.”

“Okay. We’ll see how he does before the baby’s born. Which reminds me–I have a surprise for you: help just when help is needed! Come into the hall and see what I’ve got.”

As the two adults disappeared from the room, boy and bear sat down beneath the standard roses.

“Teddy — I suppose Mummy and Daddy are real, aren’t they?”

Teddy said, “You ask such silly questions, David. Nobody knows what real really means. Let’s go indoors.”

“First I’m going to have another rose!” Plucking a bright pink flower, he carried it with him into the house. It could lie on the pillow as he went to sleep. Its beauty and softness reminded him of Mummy.


AUGUST 30TH. We are alone on the island now, Barney and I. It was something of a jolt to have to sack Tayloe after all these years, but I had no alternative. The petty vandalisms I could have forgiven, but when he tried to poison Barney out of simple malice, he was standing in the way of scientific progress. That I cannot condone.

I can only believe the attempt was made while under the influence of alcohol, it was so clumsy. The poison container was overturned and a trail of powder led to Barney’s dish. Tayloe’s defence was of the flimsiest. He denied it. Who else then?

SEPTEMBER 2ND. I am taking a calmer view of the Tayloe affair. The monastic life here must have become too much for him. That, and the abandonment of his precious guinea pigs. He insisted to the last that they were better-suited than Barney to my experiments. They were more his speed, I’m afraid. He was an earnest and willing worker, but something of a clod, poor fellow.

At last I have complete freedom to carry on my work without the mute reproaches of Tayloe. I can only ascribe his violent antagonism toward Barney to jealousy. And now that he has gone, how much happier Barney appears to be! I have given him complete run of the place, and what sport it is to observe how his newly awakened Intellectual curiosity carries him about. After only two weeks of glutamic acid treatments, he has become interested in my library, dragging the books from the shelves, and going over them page by page. I am certain he knows there is some knowledge to be gained from them had he but the key.

SEPTEMBER 8TH. For the past two days I have had to keep Barney confined, and how he hates it. I am afraid that when my experiments are completed I shall have to do away with Barney. Ridiculous as it may sound there is still the possibility that he might be able to communicate his intelligence to others of his kind. However small the chance may be, the risk is too great to ignore. Fortunately there is, in the basement, a vault built with the idea of keeping vermin out, and it will serve equally well to keep Barney in.

SEPTEMBER 9TH. Apparently I have spoken too soon. This morning I let him out to frisk around a bit before commencing a new series of tests. After a quick survey of the room he returned to his cage, sprang up on the door handle, removed the key with his teeth, and before I could stop him, he was out the window. By the time I reached the yard I spied him on the coping of the well, and I arrived on the spot only in time to hear the key splash into the water below.

I own I am somewhat embarrassed. It is the only key. The door is locked. Some valuable papers are in separate compartments inside the vault. Fortunately, although the well is over forty feet deep, there are only a few feet of water in the bottom, so the retrieving of the key does not present an insurmountable obstacle. But I must admit Barney has won the first round.

SEPTEMBER 10TH. I have had a rather shaking experience, and once more in a minor clash with Barney. I have come off second-best. In this instance I will admit he played the hero’s role and may even have saved my life.

In order to facilitate my descent into the well I knotted a length of three- quarter-inch rope at one-foot intervals to make a rude ladder. I reached the bottom easily enough, but after only a few minutes of groping for the key, my flashlight gave out and I returned to the surface. A few feet from the top I heard excited squeaks from Barney, and upon obtaining ground level I observed that the rope was almost completely severed. Apparently it had chafed against the edge of the masonry and the little fellow, perceiving my plight, had been doing his utmost to warn me.

I have now replaced that section or rope and arranged some old sacking beneath it to prevent recurrence of the accident. I have replenished the batteries in my flashlight and am now prepared for the final descent. These few moments I have taken off to give myself a breathing spell and to bring my journal up to date. Perhaps I should fix myself a sandwich as I may be down there longer than seems likely at the moment.

SEPTEMBER 11TH. Poor Barney is dead and soon I shell be the same. He was a wonderful ratt and life without him is knot worth livving. If anybody reeds this please do not disturb anything on the island but leeve it like it is as a shryn to Barney, espechilly the old well. Do not look for my body as I will caste myself into the see. You mite bring a couple of young ratts and leeve them as a living memorial to Barney. Females-no males. I sprayned my wrist is why this is written so bad. This is my laste will. Do what I say an don’t come back or disturb anything after you bring the young ratts like I said. Just females.


The Veldt

"George, I wish you'd look at the nursery."
     "What's wrong with it?"
     "I don't know."
     "Well, then."
     "I  just want you  to look at it, is all, or call a  psychologist in to
look at it."
     "What would a psychologist want with a nursery?"
     "You know very well what he'd want." His  wife  paused in the middle of
the kitchen and  watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for
     "It's just that the nursery is different now than it was."
     "All right, let's have a look."
     They  walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife  Home, which
had  cost them thirty thousand  dollars  installed, this house which clothed
and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang  and was good to  them.
Their approach sensitized  a switch somewhere and the nursery  light flicked
on when  they  came within ten  feet  of it. Similarly, behind them, in  the
halls,  lights  went  on  and off  as they  left  them  behind, with a  soft
     "Well," said George Hadley.

     They  stood  on the  thatched floor of the nursery. It  was  forty feet
across by forty  feet long and thirty feet high;  it had cost half  again as
much as the rest  of the house. "But nothing's  too good for  our children,"
George had said.
     The nursery was  silent. It was  empty  as a jungle  glade at  hot high
noon. The  walls  were blank  and two dimensional.  Now, as George and Lydia
Hadley stood in  the center of the room, the walls  began to purr and recede
into  crystalline  distance,  it  seemed, and  presently  an  African  veldt
appeared, in three  dimensions, on  all  sides, in color  reproduced to  the
final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with
a hot yellow sun.
     George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.
     "Let's get out of this sun," he said. "This is a little too real. But I
don't see anything wrong."
     "Wait a moment, you'll see," said his wife.
     Now  the  hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind  of odor at
the two people in the  middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of
lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden  water  hole, the great rusty
smell of animals, the  smell of dust like a red paprika in the  hot air. And
now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery
rustling of vultures. A shadow  passed through the sky. The shadow flickered
on George Hadley's upturned, sweating face.
     "Filthy creatures," he heard his wife say.
     "The vultures."
     "You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they're on their
way to the water hole. They've just been eating," said Lydia. "I  don't know
     "Some animal." George Hadley put his hand up to shield  off the burning
light from his squinted eyes. "A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe."
     "Are you sure?" His wife sounded peculiarly tense.
     "No, it's a little late to be  sure,"  be  said, amused.  "Nothing over
there I  can  see but cleaned  bone, and  the vultures dropping  for  what's
     "Did you bear that scream?" she asked.
     "About a minute ago?"
     "Sorry, no."
     The  lions  were  coming.  And  again George  Hadley  was  filled  with
admiration for the mechanical  genius who had conceived this room. A miracle
of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one.
Oh,  occasionally  they  frightened  you with their clinical accuracy,  they
startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone,
not only  your own  son and daughter, but for  yourself when you felt like a
quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery. Well, here it was!
     And here were the lions now, fifteen  feet away, so real, so feverishly
and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and
your  mouth was stuffed  with the dusty upholstery  smell  of  their  heated
pelts, and  the  yellow  of  them  was in your  eyes like the yellow  of  an
exquisite French  tapestry, the yellows of  lions and  summer grass, and the
sound  of  the matted lion lungs  exhaling on  the silent noontide,  and the
smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.
     The lions  stood  looking  at  George  and Lydia  Hadley with  terrible
green-yellow eyes.
     "Watch out!" screamed Lydia.
     The lions came running at them.
     Lydia bolted and ran. Instinctively,  George sprang after her. Outside,
in the hall, with the door slammed he was laughing  and she was crying,  and
they both stood appalled at the other's reaction.
     "Lydia! Oh, my dear poor sweet Lydia!"
     "They almost got us!"
     "Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal  walls, that's all they are. Oh,  they
look real,  I must admit - Africa in your parlor - but it's all dimensional,
superreactionary,  supersensitive  color  film and  mental  tape film behind
glass  screens.  It's  all  odorophonics  and   sonics,   Lydia.  Here's  my

     "I'm afraid." She  came to him  and put  her body against him and cried
steadily. "Did you see? Did you feel? It's too real."
     "Now, Lydia..."
     "You've got to tell Wendy and Peter not to read any more on Africa."
     "Of course - of course." He patted her.
     "And lock the nursery for a few days until I get my nerves settled."
     "You  know  how difficult  Peter is  about that. When  I punished him a
month  ago  by locking  the  nursery for even  a few hours - the tantrum  be
threw! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery."
     "It's got to be locked, that's all there is to it."
     "All right." Reluctantly  he locked the huge door. "You've been working
too hard. You need a rest."
     "I don't know - I don't know," she said, blowing her nose, sitting down
in a  chair that immediately began to rock and comfort  her. "Maybe  I don't
have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think  too  much. Why  don't we shut
the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?"
     "You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?"
     "Yes." She nodded.
     "And dam my socks?"
     "Yes." A frantic, watery-eyed nodding.
     "And sweep the house?"
     "Yes, yes - oh, yes!''
     "But I thought that's why  we bought this house, so we wouldn't have to
do anything?"
     "That's just it. I feel like I don't belong here. The house is wife and
mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a
bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub
bath can?  I  cannot.  And it isn't just me. It's you. You've  been  awfully
nervous lately."
     "I suppose I have been smoking too much."
     "You look as if you didn't know what to do with yourself in this house,
either. You smoke a little more every morning and drink a  little more every
afternoon and  need a  little more sedative every night. You're beginning to
feel unnecessary too."
     "Am I?" He paused and tried to feel into himself to see what was really
     "Oh, George!"  She looked beyond him, at the nursery door. "Those lions
can't get out of there, can they?"
     He  looked at the  door  and saw it tremble as if something  had jumped
against it from the other side.
     "Of course not," he said.

     At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic
carnival  across town and bad televised  home to say  they'd be  late, to go
ahead eating. So George  Hadley, bemused, sat watching the dining-room table
produce warm dishes of food from its mechanical interior.
     "We forgot the ketchup," he said.
     "Sorry," said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.
     As  for the nursery,  thought  George  Hadley,  it won't  hurt for  the
children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything  isn't good for
anyone. And  it was clearly indicated that the  children had been spending a
little too  much time on  Africa.  That sun. He could feel  it on  his neck,
still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how
the nursery  caught the telepathic emanations  of the  children's minds  and
created  life to  fill their  every desire. The children thought  lions, and
there were lions. The children thought  zebras, and there were zebras. Sun -
sun. Giraffes - giraffes. Death and death.
     That last. He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table bad cut for
him. Death thoughts.  They  were awfully young, Wendy and  Peter, for  death
thoughts.  Or,  no, you were never too young, really.  Long before  you knew
what death was you were wishing it on someone else. When  you were two years
old you were shooting people with cap pistols.
     But this - the long, hot African veldt-the awful death in the jaws of a
lion. And repeated again and again.
     "Where are you going?"
     He  didn't answer Lydia. Preoccupied,  be let the lights glow softly on
ahead of him, extinguish behind  him as he  padded  to the nursery  door. He
listened against it. Far away, a lion roared.
     He unlocked  the door and opened it. Just before he stepped inside,  he
heard a faraway scream. And then another roar from the lions, which subsided
     He stepped into Africa. How  many  times in the last year had he opened
this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock  Turtle, or  Aladdin and his
Magical  Lamp,  or Jack  Pumpkinhead of Oz,  or  Dr. Doolittle,  or  the cow
jumping over a very real-appearing moon-all the delightful contraptions of a
make-believe world. How often had he seen Pegasus flying in the sky ceiling,
or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard  angel voices singing. But now,
is yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with  murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia
was right. Perhaps  they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was
growing a  bit  too  real for ten-year-old  children.  It  was  all right to
exercise one's mind with gymnastic fantasies, but when the lively child mind
settled  on one  pattern...  ? It seemed  that, at a  distance, for the past
month, he had heard lions roaring, and smelled their strong  odor seeping as
far away as his study door. But, being busy, he had paid it no attention.
     George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up
from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open
door  through which  he could see his wife, far down the dark  hall, like  a
framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.
     "Go away," he said to the lions.
     They did not go.
     He knew the principle of the room exactly.  You sent out your thoughts.
Whatever you thought would appear.  "Let's  have Aladdin  and  his lamp," he
snapped. The veldtland remained; the lions remained.
     "Come on, room! I demand Aladin!" he said.
     Nothing happened. The lions mumbled in their baked pelts.
     He  went back  to  dinner. "The fool room's out of order," he said. "It
won't respond."
     "Or what?"
     "Or  it can't  respond," said Lydia, "because the children have thought
about Africa and lions and killing so many days that the room's in a rut."
     "Could be."
     "Or Peter's set it to remain that way."
     "Set it?"
     "He may have got into the machinery and fixed something."
     "Peter doesn't know machinery."
     "He's a wise one for ten. That I.Q. of his -"
     "Nevertheless -"
     "Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad."
     The  Hadleys  turned. Wendy and Peter  were coming  in the front  door,
cheeks like  peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles,  a smell
of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.
     "You're just in time for supper," said both parents.
     "We're full of strawberry  ice cream and  hot dogs," said the children,
holding hands. "But we'll sit and watch."
     "Yes, come tell us about the nursery," said George Hadley.
     The  brother  and  sister  blinked  at  him  and then  at  each  other.
     "All  about  Africa  and  everything,"  said  the   father  with  false
     "I don't understand," said Peter.
     "Your  mother and  I were  just traveling through Africa  with rod  and
reel; Tom Swift and his Electric Lion," said George Hadley.
     "There's no Africa in the nursery," said Peter simply.
     "Oh, come now, Peter. We know better."
     "I don't remember any Africa," said Peter to Wendy. "Do you?"
     "Run see and come tell."
     She obeyed
     "Wendy,  come  back here!"  said George Hadley,  but she was gone.  The
house lights followed her like a  flock of fireflies.  Too late, he realized
he had forgotten to lock the nursery door after his last inspection.
     "Wendy'll look and come tell us," said Peter.
     "She doesn't have to tell me. I've seen it."
     "I'm sure you're mistaken, Father."
     "I'm not, Peter. Come along now."
     But Wendy was back. "It's not Africa," she said breathlessly.
     "We'll  see about this," said George  Hadley, and they all  walked down
the hall together and opened the nursery door.
     There  was  a green, lovely forest, a lovely river, a purple  mountain,
high voices  singing, and  Rima, lovely and mysterious, lurking in the trees
with  colorful flights of butterflies, like animated bouquets,  lingering in
her  long  hair. The African veldtland  was gone. The lions were  gone. Only
Rima was here now, singing a song so beautiful that it brought tears to your
     George Hadley  looked in at the changed scene. "Go to bed," he said  to
the children.
     They opened their mouths.
     "You heard me," he said.
     They  went off to the  air  closet, where a wind sucked them like brown
leaves up the flue to their slumber rooms.
     George Hadley walked  through the singing glade and picked up something
that lay in  the comer near where the  lions had been. He walked slowly back
to his wife.
     "What is that?" she asked.
     "An old wallet of mine," he said.
     He showed it to her. The smell  of hot grass was on it and the smell of
a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it bad been chewed, and there were
blood smears on both sides.
     He closed the nursery door and locked it, tight.

     In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew  his wife was
awake. "Do you think Wendy changed it?" she said at last, in the dark room.
     "Of course."
     "Made it from  a  veldt into a forest  and put  Rima  there instead  of
     "I don't know. But it's staying locked until I find out."
     "How did your wallet get there?"
     "I don't  know  anything,"  he said, "except that I'm  beginning  to be
sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all,
a room like that -"
     "It's  supposed to help them work  off  their  neuroses in a  healthful
     "I'm starting to wonder." He stared at the ceiling.
     "We've  given  the children everything they ever  wanted. Is  this  our
reward-secrecy, disobedience?"
     "Who was it  said,  'Children are  carpets,  they should be  stepped on
occasionally'? We've never lifted a hand. They're insufferable - let's admit
it. They  come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring.
They're spoiled and we're spoiled."
     "They've been  acting funny ever since you  forbade them  to  take  the
rocket to New York a few months ago."
     "They're not old enough to do that alone, I explained."
     "Nevertheless,  I've  noticed  they've been  decidedly  cool toward  us
     "I think I'll have  David McClean come tomorrow morning to have  a look
at Africa."
     "But it's not Africa now, it's Green Mansions country and Rima."
     "I have a feeling it'll be Africa again before then."
     A moment later they heard the screams.
     Two screams. Two people screaming from  downstairs. And then  a roar of
     "Wendy and Peter aren't in their rooms," said his wife.
     He lay  in  his bed  with his beating  heart. "No," he  said.  "They've
broken into the nursery."
     "Those screams - they sound familiar."
     "Do they?"
     "Yes, awfully."
     And although  their beds tried very  bard, the two  adults  couldn't be
rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.

     "Father?" said Peter.
     Peter looked at his shoes. He never looked  at his father any more, nor
at his mother. "You aren't going to lock up the nursery for good, are you?"
     "That all depends."
     "On what?" snapped Peter.
     "On you and your sister. If you  intersperse this  Africa with a little
variety - oh, Sweden perhaps, or Denmark or China -"
     "I thought we were free to play as we wished."
     "You are, within reasonable bounds."
     "What's wrong with Africa, Father?"
     "Oh, so now you admit you have been conjuring up Africa, do you?"
     "I wouldn't want the nursery locked up," said Peter coldly. "Ever."
     "Matter  of  fact, we're thinking of  turning  the whole house  off for
about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence."
     "That  sounds  dreadful! Would I have  to tie my own shoes  instead  of
letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and  comb  my  hair  and
give myself a bath?"
     "It would be fun for a change, don't you think?"
     "No, it would be horrid. I didn't like it when you took out the picture
painter last month."
     "That's because I wanted you to learn to paint all by yourself, son."
     "I don't want to do anything but look and listen and  smell;  what else
is there to do?"
     "All right, go play in Africa."
     "Will you shut off the house sometime soon?"
     "We're considering it."
     "I don't think you'd better consider it any more, Father."
     "I won't have any threats from my son!"
     "Very well." And Peter strolled off to the nursery.

     "Am I on time?" said David McClean.
     "Breakfast?" asked George Hadley.
     "Thanks, had some. What's the trouble?"
     "David, you're a psychologist."
     "I should hope so."
     "Well, then, have a look at our nursery. You saw it a year ago when you
dropped by; did you notice anything peculiar about it then?"
     "Can't  say  I did;  the  usual violences, a  tendency toward  a slight
paranoia  here or there, usual in children  because they feel  persecuted by
parents constantly, but, oh, really nothing."
     They walked down the  ball.  "I  locked the nursery  up," explained the
father, "and  the children broke back  into it during  the night. I let them
stay so they could form the patterns for you to see."
     There was a terrible screaming from the nursery.
     "There it is," said George Hadley. "See what you make of it."
     They walked in on the children without rapping.
     The screams had faded. The lions were feeding.
     "Run outside a moment, children," said George Hadley. "No, don't change
the mental combination. Leave the walls as they are. Get!"
     With the children gone, the two men stood  studying the lions clustered
at a distance, eating with great relish whatever it was they had caught.
     "I wish I  knew  what  it was," said  George  Hadley.  "Sometimes I can
almost see. Do you think if I brought high-powered binoculars here and -"
     David  McClean  laughed dryly.  "Hardly." He turned to study  all  four
walls. "How long has this been going on?"
     "A little over a month."
     "It certainly doesn't feel good."
     "I want facts, not feelings."
     "My dear George, a psychologist never  saw a fact in  his life. He only
hears  about  feelings; vague  things.  This doesn't feel good, I  tell you.
Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad.  This is
very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your
children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment."
     "Is it that bad?"
     "I'm afraid so. One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that
we could study the patterns left on the  walls by the child's mind, study at
our leisure, and  help the child. In this case, however, the room has become
a channel toward-destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them."
     "Didn't you sense this before?"
     "I sensed  only that you bad spoiled your children more  than most. And
now you're letting them down in some way. What way?"
     "I wouldn't let them go to New York."
     "What else?"
     "I've taken a few machines from the house and  threatened them, a month
ago, with closing up the nursery unless they did their homework. I did close
it for a few days to show I meant business."
     "Ah, ha!"
     "Does that mean anything?"
     "Everything.  Where  before  they  had  a Santa Claus now they  have  a
Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You've let this room and this house replace
you  and your wife in  your children's affections. This room is their mother
and  father, far more important in their lives than their  real parents. And
now you come along  and want to shut it off. No wonder there's hatred  here.
You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you'll have to
change  your life.  Like too  many others,  you've built it  around creature
comforts.  Why,  you'd starve  tomorrow  if  something  went  wrong in  your
kitchen. You wouldn't know  bow to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything
off. Start new. It'll take time. But we'll make good children out of bad  in
a year, wait and see."
     "But won't the shock be too much for the children, shutting the room up
abruptly, for good?"
     "I don't want them going any deeper into this, that's all."
     The lions were finished with their red feast.
     The lions were standing on the edge of  the  clearing watching the  two
     "Now I'm feeling persecuted,"  said McClean. "Let's  get out of here. I
never have cared for these damned rooms. Make me nervous."
     "The  lions look real, don't they?" said George Hadley. I don't suppose
there's any way -"
     "- that they could become real?"
     "Not that I know."
     "Some flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?"
     They went to the door.
     "I don't imagine the room will like being turned off," said the father.
     "Nothing ever likes to die - even a room."
     "I wonder if it hates me for wanting to switch it off?"
     "Paranoia  is thick around  here  today,"  said David McClean. "You can
follow it like a spoor. Hello." He bent  and picked up a bloody scarf. "This
     "No." George Hadley's face was rigid. "It belongs to Lydia."
     They went to the fuse box together and threw the switch that killed the

     The two children were in hysterics. They screamed and pranced and threw
things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.
     "You can't do that to the nursery, you can't!''
     "Now, children."
     The children flung themselves onto a couch, weeping.
     "George,"  said  Lydia  Hadley,  "turn  on the nursery, just for a  few
moments. You can't be so abrupt."
     "You can't be so cruel..."
     "Lydia, it's off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of
here and now. The more I see of the mess we've put ourselves in, the more it
sickens me.  We've been contemplating  our mechanical, electronic navels for
too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!"
     And he  marched  about  the house turning  off the  voice  clocks,  the
stoves,  the heaters, the shoe  shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers
and  swabbers and massagers, and  every other machine be could put  his hand
     The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical
cemetery. So silent. None of the  humming hidden energy  of machines waiting
to function at the tap of a button.
     "Don't let  them  do  it!" wailed Peter  at  the ceiling,  as if he was
talking to  the house, the nursery. "Don't  let Father kill  everything." He
turned to his father. "Oh, I hate you!"
     "Insults won't get you anywhere."
     "I wish you were dead!"
     "We were, for  a  long while. Now  we're going to really  start living.
Instead of being handled and massaged, we're going to live."
     Wendy was still crying and Peter joined her again. "Just a moment, just
one moment, just another moment of nursery," they wailed.
     "Oh, George," said the wife, "it can't hurt."
     "All right - all  right, if they'll just shut up. One minute, mind you,
and then off forever."
     "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" sang the children, smiling with wet faces.
     "And then  we're going on a  vacation. David McClean  is coming back in
half an hour to help us move out and get to the airport. I'm going to dress.
You turn the nursery on for a minute, Lydia, just a minute, mind you."
     And  the  three of  them  went  babbling  off while he  let  himself be
vacuumed upstairs through the air  flue  and set about  dressing himself.  A
minute later Lydia appeared.
     "I'll be glad when we get away," she sighed.
     "Did you leave them in the nursery?"
     "I wanted  to dress  too. Oh,  that horrid Africa. What can they see in
     "Well, in five minutes we'll be on our way  to  Iowa.  Lord, how did we
ever get in this house? What prompted us to buy a nightmare?"
     "Pride, money, foolishness."
     "I  think  we'd  better  get downstairs before those kids get engrossed
with those damned beasts again."
     Just then they heard the children calling, "Daddy,  Mommy, come quick -
     They  went  downstairs  in the  air  flue and  ran down  the  hall. The
children were nowhere in sight. "Wendy? Peter!"
     They ran into the nursery. The  veldtland was empty  save for the lions
waiting, looking at them. "Peter, Wendy?"
     The door slammed.
     "Wendy, Peter!"
     George Hadley and his wife whirled and ran back to the door.
     "Open the door!" cried George Hadley, trying  the knob.  "Why,  they've
locked it from the outside! Peter!" He beat at the door. "Open up!"
     He heard Peter's voice outside, against the door.
     "Don't let them switch off the nursery and the house," he was saying.
     Mr. and Mrs. George Hadley beat at the door. "Now, don't be ridiculous,
children. It's time to go. Mr. McClean'll be here in a minute and..."
     And then they heard the sounds.
     The lions on three  sides  of them, in  the yellow veldt grass, padding
through the dry straw, rumbling and roaring in their throats.
     The lions.
     Mr. Hadley looked at his  wife and  they turned  and looked back at the
beasts edging slowly forward crouching, tails stiff.
     Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.
     And  suddenly  they  realized  why  those  other  screams  bad  sounded

     "Well, here I  am,"  said David  McClean in the  nursery  doorway, "Oh,
hello." He stared at the two children seated in the center of the open glade
eating a little picnic lunch. Beyond them  was the water hole and the yellow
veldtland; above  was the hot sun. He  began to  perspire.  "Where  are your
father and mother?"
     The children looked up and smiled. "Oh, they'll be here directly."
     "Good,  we  must get  going."  At a distance  Mr. McClean saw the lions
fighting  and clawing and  then quieting  down to  feed in silence under the
shady trees.
     He squinted at the lions with his hand tip to his eyes.
     Now the lions were done feeding. They moved to the water hole to drink.
     A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean's hot face. Many shadows flickered.
The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.
     "A cup of tea?" asked Wendy in the silence.

Passing of the Third Floor Back

The neighbourhood of Bloomsbury Square towards four o’clock of a November afternoon is not so crowded as to secure to the stranger, of appearance anything out of the common, immunity from observation. Tibb’s boy, screaming at the top of his voice that she was his honey, stopped suddenly, stepped backwards on to the toes of a voluble young lady wheeling a perambulator, and remained deaf, apparently, to the somewhat personal remarks of the voluble young lady. Not until he had reached the next corner—and then more as a soliloquy than as information to the street—did Tibb’s boy recover sufficient interest in his own affairs to remark that he was her bee. The voluble young lady herself, following some half-a-dozen yards behind, forgot her wrongs in contemplation of the stranger’s back. There was this that was peculiar about the stranger’s back: that instead of being flat it presented a decided curve. “It ain’t a ‘ump, and it don’t look like kervitcher of the spine,” observed the voluble young lady to herself. “Blimy if I don’t believe ‘e’s taking ‘ome ‘is washing up his back.”

The constable at the corner, trying to seem busy doing nothing, noticed the stranger’s approach with gathering interest. “That’s an odd sort of a walk of yours, young man,” thought the constable. “You take care you don’t fall down and tumble over yourself.”

“Thought he was a young man,” murmured the constable, the stranger having passed him. “He had a young face right enough.”

The daylight was fading. The stranger, finding it impossible to read the name of the street upon the corner house, turned back.

“Why, ’tis a young man,” the constable told himself; “a mere boy.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the stranger; “but would you mind telling me my way to Bloomsbury Square.”

“This is Bloomsbury Square,” explained the constable; “leastways round the corner is. What number might you be wanting?”

The stranger took from the ticket pocket of his tightly buttoned overcoat a piece of paper, unfolded it and read it out: “Mrs. Pennycherry. Number Forty-eight.”

“Round to the left,” instructed him the constable; “fourth house. Been recommended there?”

“By—by a friend,” replied the stranger. “Thank you very much.”

“Ah,” muttered the constable to himself; “guess you won’t be calling him that by the end of the week, young—”

“Funny,” added the constable, gazing after the retreating figure of the stranger. “Seen plenty of the other sex as looked young behind and old in front. This cove looks young in front and old behind. Guess he’ll look old all round if he stops long at mother Pennycherry’s: stingy old cat.”

Constables whose beat included Bloomsbury Square had their reasons for not liking Mrs. Pennycherry. Indeed it might have been difficult to discover any human being with reasons for liking that sharp-featured lady. Maybe the keeping of second-rate boarding houses in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury does not tend to develop the virtues of generosity and amiability.

Meanwhile the stranger, proceeding upon his way, had rung the bell of Number Forty-eight. Mrs. Pennycherry, peeping from the area and catching a glimpse, above the railings, of a handsome if somewhat effeminate masculine face, hastened to readjust her widow’s cap before the looking-glass while directing Mary Jane to show the stranger, should he prove a problematical boarder, into the dining-room, and to light the gas.

“And don’t stop gossiping, and don’t you take it upon yourself to answer questions. Say I’ll be up in a minute,” were Mrs. Pennycherry’s further instructions, “and mind you hide your hands as much as you can.”


“What are you grinning at?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry, a couple of minutes later, of the dingy Mary Jane.

“Wasn’t grinning,” explained the meek Mary Jane, “was only smiling to myself.”

“What at?”

“Dunno,” admitted Mary Jane. But still she went on smiling.

“What’s he like then?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry.

“‘E ain’t the usual sort,” was Mary Jane’s opinion.

“Thank God for that,” ejaculated Mrs. Pennycherry piously.

“Says ‘e’s been recommended, by a friend.”

“By whom?”

“By a friend. ‘E didn’t say no name.” Mrs. Pennycherry pondered. “He’s not the funny sort, is he?”

Not that sort at all. Mary Jane was sure of it.

Mrs. Pennycherry ascended the stairs still pondering. As she entered the room the stranger rose and bowed. Nothing could have been simpler than the stranger’s bow, yet there came with it to Mrs. Pennycherry a rush of old sensations long forgotten. For one brief moment Mrs. Pennycherry saw herself an amiable well-bred lady, widow of a solicitor: a visitor had called to see her. It was but a momentary fancy. The next instant Reality reasserted itself. Mrs. Pennycherry, a lodging-house keeper, existing precariously upon a daily round of petty meannesses, was prepared for contest with a possible new boarder, who fortunately looked an inexperienced young gentleman.

“Someone has recommended me to you,” began Mrs. Pennycherry; “may I ask who?”

But the stranger waved the question aside as immaterial.

“You might not remember—him,” he smiled. “He thought that I should do well to pass the few months I am given—that I have to be in London, here. You can take me in?”

Mrs. Pennycherry thought that she would be able to take the stranger in.

“A room to sleep in,” explained the stranger, “—any room will do—with food and drink sufficient for a man, is all that I require.”

“For breakfast,” began Mrs. Pennycherry, “I always give—”

“What is right and proper, I am convinced,” interrupted the stranger. “Pray do not trouble to go into detail, Mrs. Pennycherry. With whatever it is I shall be content.”

Mrs. Pennycherry, puzzled, shot a quick glance at the stranger, but his face, though the gentle eyes were smiling, was frank and serious.

“At all events you will see the room,” suggested Mrs. Pennycherry, “before we discuss terms.”

“Certainly,” agreed the stranger. “I am a little tired and shall be glad to rest there.”

Mrs. Pennycherry led the way upward; on the landing of the third floor, paused a moment undecided, then opened the door of the back bedroom.

“It is very comfortable,” commented the stranger.

“For this room,” stated Mrs. Pennycherry, “together with full board, consisting of—”

“Of everything needful. It goes without saying,” again interrupted the stranger with his quiet grave smile.

“I have generally asked,” continued Mrs. Pennycherry, “four pounds a week. To you—” Mrs. Pennycherry’s voice, unknown to her, took to itself the note of aggressive generosity—”seeing you have been recommended here, say three pounds ten.”

“Dear lady,” said the stranger, “that is kind of you. As you have divined, I am not a rich man. If it be not imposing upon you I accept your reduction with gratitude.”

Again Mrs. Pennycherry, familiar with the satirical method, shot a suspicious glance upon the stranger, but not a line was there, upon that smooth fair face, to which a sneer could for a moment have clung. Clearly he was as simple as he looked.

“Gas, of course, extra.”

“Of course,” agreed the Stranger.


“We shall not quarrel,” for a third time the stranger interrupted. “You have been very considerate to me as it is. I feel, Mrs. Pennycherry, I can leave myself entirely in your hands.”

The stranger appeared anxious to be alone. Mrs. Pennycherry, having put a match to the stranger’s fire, turned to depart. And at this point it was that Mrs. Pennycherry, the holder hitherto of an unbroken record for sanity, behaved in a manner she herself, five minutes earlier in her career, would have deemed impossible—that no living soul who had ever known her would have believed, even had Mrs. Pennycherry gone down upon her knees and sworn it to them.

“Did I say three pound ten?” demanded Mrs. Pennycherry of the stranger, her hand upon the door. She spoke crossly. She was feeling cross, with the stranger, with herself—particularly with herself.

“You were kind enough to reduce it to that amount,” replied the stranger; “but if upon reflection you find yourself unable—”

“I was making a mistake,” said Mrs. Pennycherry, “it should have been two pound ten.”

“I cannot—I will not accept such sacrifice,” exclaimed the stranger; “the three pound ten I can well afford.”

“Two pound ten are my terms,” snapped Mrs. Pennycherry. “If you are bent on paying more, you can go elsewhere. You’ll find plenty to oblige you.”

Her vehemence must have impressed the stranger. “We will not contend further,” he smiled. “I was merely afraid that in the goodness of your heart—”

“Oh, it isn’t as good as all that,” growled Mrs. Pennycherry.

“I am not so sure,” returned the stranger. “I am somewhat suspicious of you. But wilful woman must, I suppose, have her way.”

The stranger held out his hand, and to Mrs. Pennycherry, at that moment, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take it as if it had been the hand of an old friend and to end the interview with a pleasant laugh—though laughing was an exercise not often indulged in by Mrs. Pennycherry.

Mary Jane was standing by the window, her hands folded in front of her, when Mrs. Pennycherry re-entered the kitchen. By standing close to the window one caught a glimpse of the trees in Bloomsbury Square and through their bare branches of the sky beyond.

“There’s nothing much to do for the next half hour, till Cook comes back. I’ll see to the door if you’d like a run out?” suggested Mrs. Pennycherry.

“It would be nice,” agreed the girl so soon as she had recovered power of speech; “it’s just the time of day I like.”

“Don’t be longer than the half hour,” added Mrs. Pennycherry.

Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, assembled after dinner in the drawing-room, discussed the stranger with that freedom and frankness characteristic of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, towards the absent.

“Not what I call a smart young man,” was the opinion of Augustus Longcord, who was something in the City.

“Thpeaking for mythelf,” commented his partner Isidore, “hav’n’th any uthe for the thmart young man. Too many of him, ath it ith.”

“Must be pretty smart if he’s one too many for you,” laughed his partner.

There was this to be said for the repartee of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square: it was simple of construction and easy of comprehension.

“Well it made me feel good just looking at him,” declared Miss Kite, the highly coloured. “It was his clothes, I suppose—made me think of Noah and the ark—all that sort of thing.”

“It would be clothes that would make you think—if anything,” drawled the languid Miss Devine. She was a tall, handsome girl, engaged at the moment in futile efforts to recline with elegance and comfort combined upon a horsehair sofa. Miss Kite, by reason of having secured the only easy-chair, was unpopular that evening; so that Miss Devine’s remark received from the rest of the company more approbation than perhaps it merited.

“Is that intended to be clever, dear, or only rude?” Miss Kite requested to be informed.

“Both,” claimed Miss Devine.

“Myself? I must confess,” shouted the tall young lady’s father, commonly called the Colonel, “I found him a fool.”

“I noticed you seemed to be getting on very well together,” purred his wife, a plump, smiling little lady.

“Possibly we were,” retorted the Colonel. “Fate has accustomed me to the society of fools.”

“Isn’t it a pity to start quarrelling immediately after dinner, you two,” suggested their thoughtful daughter from the sofa, “you’ll have nothing left to amuse you for the rest of the evening.”

“He didn’t strike me as a conversationalist,” said the lady who was cousin to a baronet; “but he did pass the vegetables before he helped himself. A little thing like that shows breeding.”

“Or that he didn’t know you and thought maybe you’d leave him half a spoonful,” laughed Augustus the wit.

“What I can’t make out about him—” shouted the Colonel.

The stranger entered the room.

The Colonel, securing the evening paper, retired into a corner. The highly coloured Kite, reaching down from the mantelpiece a paper fan, held it coyly before her face. Miss Devine sat upright on the horse-hair sofa, and rearranged her skirts.

“Know anything?” demanded Augustus of the stranger, breaking the somewhat remarkable silence.

The stranger evidently did not understand. It was necessary for Augustus, the witty, to advance further into that odd silence.

“What’s going to pull off the Lincoln handicap? Tell me, and I’ll go out straight and put my shirt upon it.”

“I think you would act unwisely,” smiled the stranger; “I am not an authority upon the subject.”

“Not! Why they told me you were Captain Spy of the Sporting Life—in disguise.”

It would have been difficult for a joke to fall more flat. Nobody laughed, though why Mr. Augustus Longcord could not understand, and maybe none of his audience could have told him, for at Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square Mr. Augustus Longcord passed as a humorist. The stranger himself appeared unaware that he was being made fun of.

“You have been misinformed,” assured him the stranger.

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Augustus Longcord.

“It is nothing,” replied the stranger in his sweet low voice, and passed on.

“Well what about this theatre,” demanded Mr. Longcord of his friend and partner; “do you want to go or don’t you?” Mr. Longcord was feeling irritable.

“Goth the ticketh—may ath well,” thought Isidore.

“Damn stupid piece, I’m told.”

“Motht of them thupid, more or leth. Pity to wathte the ticketh,” argued Isidore, and the pair went out.

“Are you staying long in London?” asked Miss Kite, raising her practised eyes towards the stranger.

“Not long,” answered the stranger. “At least I do not know. It depends.”

An unusual quiet had invaded the drawing-room of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, generally noisy with strident voices about this hour. The Colonel remained engrossed in his paper. Mrs. Devine sat with her plump white hands folded on her lap, whether asleep or not it was impossible to say. The lady who was cousin to a baronet had shifted her chair beneath the gasolier, her eyes bent on her everlasting crochet work. The languid Miss Devine had crossed to the piano, where she sat fingering softly the tuneless keys, her back to the cold barely-furnished room.

“Sit down!” commanded saucily Miss Kite, indicating with her fan the vacant seat beside her. “Tell me about yourself. You interest me.” Miss Kite adopted a pretty authoritative air towards all youthful-looking members of the opposite sex. It harmonised with the peach complexion and the golden hair, and fitted her about as well.

“I am glad of that,” answered the stranger, taking the chair suggested. “I so wish to interest you.”

“You’re a very bold boy.” Miss Kite lowered her fan, for the purpose of glancing archly over the edge of it, and for the first time encountered the eyes of the stranger looking into hers. And then it was that Miss Kite experienced precisely the same curious sensation that an hour or so ago had troubled Mrs. Pennycherry when the stranger had first bowed to her. It seemed to Miss Kite that she was no longer the Miss Kite that, had she risen and looked into it, the fly-blown mirror over the marble mantelpiece would, she knew, have presented to her view; but quite another Miss Kite—a cheerful, bright-eyed lady verging on middle age, yet still good-looking in spite of her faded complexion and somewhat thin brown locks. Miss Kite felt a pang of jealousy shoot through her; this middle-aged Miss Kite seemed, on the whole, a more attractive lady. There was a wholesomeness, a broadmindedness about her that instinctively drew one towards her. Not hampered, as Miss Kite herself was, by the necessity of appearing to be somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two, this other Miss Kite could talk sensibly, even brilliantly: one felt it. A thoroughly “nice” woman this other Miss Kite; the real Miss Kite, though envious, was bound to admit it. Miss Kite wished to goodness she had never seen the woman. The glimpse of her had rendered Miss Kite dissatisfied with herself.

“I am not a boy,” explained the stranger; “and I had no intention of being bold.”

“I know,” replied Miss Kite. “It was a silly remark. Whatever induced me to make it, I can’t think. Getting foolish in my old age, I suppose.”

The stranger laughed. “Surely you are not old.”

“I’m thirty-nine,” snapped out Miss Kite. “You don’t call it young?”

“I think it a beautiful age,” insisted the stranger; “young enough not to have lost the joy of youth, old enough to have learnt sympathy.”

“Oh, I daresay,” returned Miss Kite, “any age you’d think beautiful. I’m going to bed.” Miss Kite rose. The paper fan had somehow got itself broken. She threw the fragments into the fire.

“It is early yet,” pleaded the stranger, “I was looking forward to a talk with you.”

“Well, you’ll be able to look forward to it,” retorted Miss Kite. “Good-night.”

The truth was, Miss Kite was impatient to have a look at herself in the glass, in her own room with the door shut. The vision of that other Miss Kite—the clean-looking lady of the pale face and the brown hair had been so vivid, Miss Kite wondered whether temporary forgetfulness might not have fallen upon her while dressing for dinner that evening.

The stranger, left to his own devices, strolled towards the loo table, seeking something to read.

“You seem to have frightened away Miss Kite,” remarked the lady who was cousin to a baronet.

“It seems so,” admitted the stranger.

“My cousin, Sir William Bosster,” observed the crocheting lady, “who married old Lord Egham’s niece—you never met the Eghams?”

“Hitherto,” replied the stranger, “I have not had that pleasure.”

“A charming family. Cannot understand—my cousin Sir William, I mean, cannot understand my remaining here. ‘My dear Emily’—he says the same thing every time he sees me: ‘My dear Emily, how can you exist among the sort of people one meets with in a boarding-house.’ But they amuse me.”

A sense of humour, agreed the stranger, was always of advantage.

“Our family on my mother’s side,” continued Sir William’s cousin in her placid monotone, “was connected with the Tatton-Joneses, who when King George the Fourth—” Sir William’s cousin, needing another reel of cotton, glanced up, and met the stranger’s gaze.

“I’m sure I don’t know why I’m telling you all this,” said Sir William’s cousin in an irritable tone. “It can’t possibly interest you.”

“Everything connected with you interests me,” gravely the stranger assured her.

“It is very kind of you to say so,” sighed Sir William’s cousin, but without conviction; “I am afraid sometimes I bore people.”

The polite stranger refrained from contradiction.

“You see,” continued the poor lady, “I really am of good family.”

“Dear lady,” said the stranger, “your gentle face, your gentle voice, your gentle bearing, all proclaim it.”

She looked without flinching into the stranger’s eyes, and gradually a smile banished the reigning dulness of her features.

“How foolish of me.” She spoke rather to herself than to the stranger. “Why, of course, people—people whose opinion is worth troubling about—judge of you by what you are, not by what you go about saying you are.”

The stranger remained silent.

“I am the widow of a provincial doctor, with an income of just two hundred and thirty pounds per annum,” she argued. “The sensible thing for me to do is to make the best of it, and to worry myself about these high and mighty relations of mine as little as they have ever worried themselves about me.”

The stranger appeared unable to think of anything worth saying.

“I have other connections,” remembered Sir William’s cousin; “those of my poor husband, to whom instead of being the ‘poor relation’ I could be the fairy god-mama. They are my people—or would be,” added Sir William’s cousin tartly, “if I wasn’t a vulgar snob.”

She flushed the instant she had said the words and, rising, commenced preparations for a hurried departure.

“Now it seems I am driving you away,” sighed the stranger.

“Having been called a ‘vulgar snob,'” retorted the lady with some heat, “I think it about time I went.”

“The words were your own,” the stranger reminded her.

“Whatever I may have thought,” remarked the indignant dame, “no lady—least of all in the presence of a total stranger—would have called herself—” The poor dame paused, bewildered. “There is something very curious the matter with me this evening, that I cannot understand,” she explained, “I seem quite unable to avoid insulting myself.”

Still surrounded by bewilderment, she wished the stranger good-night, hoping that when next they met she would be more herself. The stranger, hoping so also, opened the door and closed it again behind her.

“Tell me,” laughed Miss Devine, who by sheer force of talent was contriving to wring harmony from the reluctant piano, “how did you manage to do it? I should like to know.”

“How did I do what?” inquired the stranger.

“Contrive to get rid so quickly of those two old frumps?”

“How well you play!” observed the stranger. “I knew you had genius for music the moment I saw you.”

“How could you tell?”

“It is written so clearly in your face.”

The girl laughed, well pleased. “You seem to have lost no time in studying my face.”

“It is a beautiful and interesting face,” observed the stranger.

She swung round sharply on the stool and their eyes met.

“You can read faces?”


“Tell me, what else do you read in mine?”

“Frankness, courage—”

“Ah, yes, all the virtues. Perhaps. We will take them for granted.” It was odd how serious the girl had suddenly become. “Tell me the reverse side.”

“I see no reverse side,” replied the stranger. “I see but a fair girl, bursting into noble womanhood.”

“And nothing else? You read no trace of greed, of vanity, of sordidness, of—” An angry laugh escaped her lips. “And you are a reader of faces!”

“A reader of faces.” The stranger smiled. “Do you know what is written upon yours at this very moment? A love of truth that is almost fierce, scorn of lies, scorn of hypocrisy, the desire for all things pure, contempt of all things that are contemptible—especially of such things as are contemptible in woman. Tell me, do I not read aright?”

I wonder, thought the girl, is that why those two others both hurried from the room? Does everyone feel ashamed of the littleness that is in them when looked at by those clear, believing eyes of yours?

The idea occurred to her: “Papa seemed to have a good deal to say to you during dinner. Tell me, what were you talking about?”

“The military looking gentleman upon my left? We talked about your mother principally.”

“I am sorry,” returned the girl, wishful now she had not asked the question. “I was hoping he might have chosen another topic for the first evening!”

“He did try one or two,” admitted the stranger; “but I have been about the world so little, I was glad when he talked to me about himself. I feel we shall be friends. He spoke so nicely, too, about Mrs. Devine.”

“Indeed,” commented the girl.

“He told me he had been married for twenty years and had never regretted it but once!”

Her black eyes flashed upon him, but meeting his, the suspicion died from them. She turned aside to hide her smile.

“So he regretted it—once.”

“Only once,” explained the stranger, “in a passing irritable mood. It was so frank of him to admit it. He told me—I think he has taken a liking to me. Indeed he hinted as much. He said he did not often get an opportunity of talking to a man like myself—he told me that he and your mother, when they travel together, are always mistaken for a honeymoon couple. Some of the experiences he related to me were really quite amusing.” The stranger laughed at recollection of them—”that even here, in this place, they are generally referred to as ‘Darby and Joan.'”

“Yes,” said the girl, “that is true. Mr. Longcord gave them that name, the second evening after our arrival. It was considered clever—but rather obvious I thought myself.”

“Nothing—so it seems to me,” said the stranger, “is more beautiful than the love that has weathered the storms of life. The sweet, tender blossom that flowers in the heart of the young—in hearts such as yours—that, too, is beautiful. The love of the young for the young, that is the beginning of life. But the love of the old for the old, that is the beginning of—of things longer.”

“You seem to find all things beautiful,” the girl grumbled.

“But are not all things beautiful?” demanded the stranger.

The Colonel had finished his paper. “You two are engaged in a very absorbing conversation,” observed the Colonel, approaching them.

“We were discussing Darbies and Joans,” explained his daughter. “How beautiful is the love that has weathered the storms of life!”

“Ah!” smiled the Colonel, “that is hardly fair. My friend has been repeating to cynical youth the confessions of an amorous husband’s affection for his middle-aged and somewhat—” The Colonel in playful mood laid his hand upon the stranger’s shoulder, an action that necessitated his looking straight into the stranger’s eyes. The Colonel drew himself up stiffly and turned scarlet.

Somebody was calling the Colonel a cad. Not only that, but was explaining quite clearly, so that the Colonel could see it for himself, why he was a cad.

“That you and your wife lead a cat and dog existence is a disgrace to both of you. At least you might have the decency to try and hide it from the world—not make a jest of your shame to every passing stranger. You are a cad, sir, a cad!”

Who was daring to say these things? Not the stranger, his lips had not moved. Besides, it was not his voice. Indeed it sounded much more like the voice of the Colonel himself. The Colonel looked from the stranger to his daughter, from his daughter back to the stranger. Clearly they had not heard the voice—a mere hallucination. The Colonel breathed again.

Yet the impression remaining was not to be shaken off. Undoubtedly it was bad taste to have joked to the stranger upon such a subject. No gentleman would have done so.

But then no gentleman would have permitted such a jest to be possible. No gentleman would be forever wrangling with his wife—certainly never in public. However irritating the woman, a gentleman would have exercised self-control.

Mrs. Devine had risen, was coming slowly across the room. Fear laid hold of the Colonel. She was going to address some aggravating remark to him—he could see it in her eye—which would irritate him into savage retort.

Even this prize idiot of a stranger would understand why boarding-house wits had dubbed them “Darby and Joan,” would grasp the fact that the gallant Colonel had thought it amusing, in conversation with a table acquaintance, to hold his own wife up to ridicule.

“My dear,” cried the Colonel, hurrying to speak first, “does not this room strike you as cold? Let me fetch you a shawl.”

It was useless: the Colonel felt it. It had been too long the custom of both of them to preface with politeness their deadliest insults to each other. She came on, thinking of a suitable reply: suitable from her point of view, that is. In another moment the truth would be out. A wild, fantastic possibility flashed through the Colonel’s brain: If to him, why not to her?

“Letitia,” cried the Colonel, and the tone of his voice surprised her into silence, “I want you to look closely at our friend. Does he not remind you of someone?”

Mrs. Devine, so urged, looked at the stranger long and hard. “Yes,” she murmured, turning to her husband, “he does, who is it?”

“I cannot fix it,” replied the Colonel; “I thought that maybe you would remember.”

“It will come to me,” mused Mrs. Devine. “It is someone—years ago, when I was a girl—in Devonshire. Thank you, if it isn’t troubling you, Harry. I left it in the dining-room.”

It was, as Mr. Augustus Longcord explained to his partner Isidore, the colossal foolishness of the stranger that was the cause of all the trouble. “Give me a man, who can take care of himself—or thinks he can,” declared Augustus Longcord, “and I am prepared to give a good account of myself. But when a helpless baby refuses even to look at what you call your figures, tells you that your mere word is sufficient for him, and hands you over his cheque-book to fill up for yourself—well, it isn’t playing the game.”

“Auguthuth,” was the curt comment of his partner, “you’re a fool.”

“All right, my boy, you try,” suggested Augustus.

“Jutht what I mean to do,” asserted his partner.

“Well,” demanded Augustus one evening later, meeting Isidore ascending the stairs after a long talk with the stranger in the dining-room with the door shut.

“Oh, don’t arth me,” retorted Isidore, “thilly ath, thath what he ith.”

“What did he say?”

“What did he thay! talked about the Jewth: what a grand rathe they were—how people mithjudged them: all that thort of rot.

“Thaid thome of the motht honorable men he had ever met had been Jewth. Thought I wath one of ’em!”

“Well, did you get anything out of him?”

“Get anything out of him. Of courthe not. Couldn’t very well thell the whole rathe, ath it were, for a couple of hundred poundth, after that. Didn’t theem worth it.”

There were many things Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square came gradually to the conclusion were not worth the doing:—Snatching at the gravy; pouncing out of one’s turn upon the vegetables and helping oneself to more than one’s fair share; manoeuvering for the easy-chair; sitting on the evening paper while pretending not to have seen it—all such-like tiresome bits of business. For the little one made out of it, really it was not worth the bother. Grumbling everlastingly at one’s food; grumbling everlastingly at most things; abusing Pennycherry behind her back; abusing, for a change, one’s fellow-boarders; squabbling with one’s fellow-boarders about nothing in particular; sneering at one’s fellow-boarders; talking scandal of one’s fellow-boarders; making senseless jokes about one’s fellow-boarders; talking big about oneself, nobody believing one—all such-like vulgarities. Other boarding-houses might indulge in them: Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square had its dignity to consider.

The truth is, Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square was coming to a very good opinion of itself: for the which not Bloomsbury Square so much as the stranger must be blamed. The stranger had arrived at Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square with the preconceived idea—where obtained from Heaven knows—that its seemingly commonplace, mean-minded, coarse-fibred occupants were in reality ladies and gentlemen of the first water; and time and observation had apparently only strengthened this absurd idea. The natural result was, Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square was coming round to the stranger’s opinion of itself.

Mrs. Pennycherry, the stranger would persist in regarding as a lady born and bred, compelled by circumstances over which she had no control to fill an arduous but honorable position of middle-class society—a sort of foster-mother, to whom were due the thanks and gratitude of her promiscuous family; and this view of herself Mrs. Pennycherry now clung to with obstinate conviction. There were disadvantages attaching, but these Mrs. Pennycherry appeared prepared to suffer cheerfully. A lady born and bred cannot charge other ladies and gentlemen for coals and candles they have never burnt; a foster-mother cannot palm off upon her children New Zealand mutton for Southdown. A mere lodging-house-keeper can play these tricks, and pocket the profits. But a lady feels she cannot: Mrs. Pennycherry felt she no longer could.

To the stranger Miss Kite was a witty and delightful conversationalist of most attractive personality. Miss Kite had one failing: it was lack of vanity. She was unaware of her own delicate and refined beauty. If Miss Kite could only see herself with his, the stranger’s eyes, the modesty that rendered her distrustful of her natural charms would fall from her. The stranger was so sure of it Miss Kite determined to put it to the test. One evening, an hour before dinner, there entered the drawing-room, when the stranger only was there and before the gas was lighted, a pleasant, good-looking lady, somewhat pale, with neatly-arranged brown hair, who demanded of the stranger if he knew her. All her body was trembling, and her voice seemed inclined to run away from her and become a sob. But when the stranger, looking straight into her eyes, told her that from the likeness he thought she must be Miss Kite’s younger sister, but much prettier, it became a laugh instead: and that evening the golden-haired Miss Kite disappeared never to show her high-coloured face again; and what perhaps, more than all else, might have impressed some former habitue of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square with awe, it was that no one in the house made even a passing inquiry concerning her.

Sir William’s cousin the stranger thought an acquisition to any boarding-house. A lady of high-class family! There was nothing outward or visible perhaps to tell you that she was of high-class family. She herself, naturally, would not mention the fact, yet somehow you felt it. Unconsciously she set a high-class tone, diffused an atmosphere of gentle manners. Not that the stranger had said this in so many words; Sir William’s cousin gathered that he thought it, and felt herself in agreement with him.

For Mr. Longcord and his partner, as representatives of the best type of business men, the stranger had a great respect. With what unfortunate results to themselves has been noted. The curious thing is that the Firm appeared content with the price they had paid for the stranger’s good opinion—had even, it was rumoured, acquired a taste for honest men’s respect—that in the long run was likely to cost them dear. But we all have our pet extravagance.

The Colonel and Mrs. Devine both suffered a good deal at first from the necessity imposed upon them of learning, somewhat late in life, new tricks. In the privacy of their own apartment they condoled with one another.

“Tomfool nonsense,” grumbled the Colonel, “you and I starting billing and cooing at our age!”

“What I object to,” said Mrs. Devine, “is the feeling that somehow I am being made to do it.”

“The idea that a man and his wife cannot have their little joke together for fear of what some impertinent jackanapes may think of them! it’s damn ridiculous,” the Colonel exploded.

“Even when he isn’t there,” said Mrs. Devine, “I seem to see him looking at me with those vexing eyes of his. Really the man quite haunts me.”

“I have met him somewhere,” mused the Colonel, “I’ll swear I’ve met him somewhere. I wish to goodness he would go.”

A hundred things a day the Colonel wanted to say to Mrs. Devine, a hundred things a day Mrs. Devine would have liked to observe to the Colonel. But by the time the opportunity occurred—when nobody else was by to hear—all interest in saying them was gone.

“Women will be women,” was the sentiment with which the Colonel consoled himself. “A man must bear with them—must never forget that he is a gentleman.”

“Oh, well, I suppose they’re all alike,” laughed Mrs. Devine to herself, having arrived at that stage of despair when one seeks refuge in cheerfulness. “What’s the use of putting oneself out—it does no good, and only upsets one.” There is a certain satisfaction in feeling you are bearing with heroic resignation the irritating follies of others. Colonel and Mrs. Devine came to enjoy the luxury of much self-approbation.

But the person seriously annoyed by the stranger’s bigoted belief in the innate goodness of everyone he came across was the languid, handsome Miss Devine. The stranger would have it that Miss Devine was a noble-souled, high-minded young woman, something midway between a Flora Macdonald and a Joan of Arc. Miss Devine, on the contrary, knew herself to be a sleek, luxury-loving animal, quite willing to sell herself to the bidder who could offer her the finest clothes, the richest foods, the most sumptuous surroundings. Such a bidder was to hand in the person of a retired bookmaker, a somewhat greasy old gentleman, but exceedingly rich and undoubtedly fond of her.

Miss Devine, having made up her mind that the thing had got to be done, was anxious that it should be done quickly. And here it was that the stranger’s ridiculous opinion of her not only irritated but inconvenienced her. Under the very eyes of a person—however foolish—convinced that you are possessed of all the highest attributes of your sex, it is difficult to behave as though actuated by only the basest motives. A dozen times had Miss Devine determined to end the matter by formal acceptance of her elderly admirer’s large and flabby hand, and a dozen times—the vision intervening of the stranger’s grave, believing eyes—had Miss Devine refused decided answer. The stranger would one day depart. Indeed, he had told her himself, he was but a passing traveller. When he was gone it would be easier. So she thought at the time.

One afternoon the stranger entered the room where she was standing by the window, looking out upon the bare branches of the trees in Bloomsbury Square. She remembered afterwards, it was just such another foggy afternoon as the afternoon of the stranger’s arrival three months before. No one else was in the room. The stranger closed the door, and came towards her with that curious, quick-leaping step of his. His long coat was tightly buttoned, and in his hands he carried his old felt hat and the massive knotted stick that was almost a staff.

“I have come to say good-bye,” explained the stranger. “I am going.”

“I shall not see you again?” asked the girl.

“I cannot say,” replied the stranger. “But you will think of me?”

“Yes,” she answered with a smile, “I can promise that.”

“And I shall always remember you,” promised the stranger, “and I wish you every joy—the joy of love, the joy of a happy marriage.”

The girl winced. “Love and marriage are not always the same thing,” she said.

“Not always,” agreed the stranger, “but in your case they will be one.”

She looked at him.

“Do you think I have not noticed?” smiled the stranger, “a gallant, handsome lad, and clever. You love him and he loves you. I could not have gone away without knowing it was well with you.”

Her gaze wandered towards the fading light.

“Ah, yes, I love him,” she answered petulantly. “Your eyes can see clearly enough, when they want to. But one does not live on love, in our world. I will tell you the man I am going to marry if you care to know.” She would not meet his eyes. She kept her gaze still fixed upon the dingy trees, the mist beyond, and spoke rapidly and vehemently: “The man who can give me all my soul’s desire—money and the things that money can buy. You think me a woman, I’m only a pig. He is moist, and breathes like a porpoise; with cunning in place of a brain, and the rest of him mere stomach. But he is good enough for me.”

She hoped this would shock the stranger and that now, perhaps, he would go. It irritated her to hear him only laugh.

“No,” he said, “you will not marry him.”

“Who will stop me?” she cried angrily.

“Your Better Self.”

His voice had a strange ring of authority, compelling her to turn and look upon his face. Yes, it was true, the fancy that from the very first had haunted her. She had met him, talked to him—in silent country roads, in crowded city streets, where was it? And always in talking with him her spirit had been lifted up: she had been—what he had always thought her.

“There are those,” continued the stranger (and for the first time she saw that he was of a noble presence, that his gentle, child-like eyes could also command), “whose Better Self lies slain by their own hand and troubles them no more. But yours, my child, you have let grow too strong; it will ever be your master. You must obey. Flee from it and it will follow you; you cannot escape it. Insult it and it will chastise you with burning shame, with stinging self-reproach from day to day.” The sternness faded from the beautiful face, the tenderness crept back. He laid his hand upon the young girl’s shoulder. “You will marry your lover,” he smiled. “With him you will walk the way of sunlight and of shadow.”

And the girl, looking up into the strong, calm face, knew that it would be so, that the power of resisting her Better Self had passed away from her for ever.

“Now,” said the stranger, “come to the door with me. Leave-takings are but wasted sadness. Let me pass out quietly. Close the door softly behind me.”

She thought that perhaps he would turn his face again, but she saw no more of him than the odd roundness of his back under the tightly buttoned coat, before he faded into the gathering fog.

Then softly she closed the door.

The Story Of The Bad Little Boy

Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim – though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true that this one was called Jim.
He didn’t have any sick mother either – a sick mother who was pious and had the consumption, and would be glad to lie down in the grave and be at rest but for the strong love she bore her boy, and the anxiety she felt that the world might be harsh and cold towards him when she was gone. Most bad boys in the Sunday-books are named James, and have sick mothers, who teach them to say, “Now, I lay me down,” etc. and sing them to sleep with sweet, plaintive voices, and then kiss them good-night, and kneel down by the bedside and weep. But it was different with this fellow. He was named Jim, and there wasn’t anything the matter with his mother – no consumption, nor anything of that kind. She was rather stout than otherwise, and she was not pious; moreover, she was not anxious on Jim’s account. She said if he were to break his neck it wouldn’t be much loss. She always spanked Jim to sleep, and she never kissed him good-night; on the contrary, she boxed his ears when she was ready to leave him.
Once this little bad boy stole the key of the pantry, and slipped in there and helped himself to some jam, and filled up the vessel with tar, so that his mother would never know the difference; but all at once a terrible feeling didn’t come over him, and something didn’t seem to whisper to him, “Is it right to disobey my mother? Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise never to be wicked any more, and rise up with a light, happy heart, and go and tell his mother all about it, and beg her forgiveness, and be blessed by her with tears of pride and thankfulness in her eyes. No; that is the way with all other bad boys in the books; but it happened otherwise with this Jim, strangely enough. He ate that jam, and said it was bully, in his sinful, vulgar way; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully also, and laughed, and observed “that the old woman would get up and snort” when she found it out; and when she did find it out, he denied knowing anything about it, and she whipped him severely, and he did the crying himself. Everything about this boy was curious – everything turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad James in the books.
Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh! no; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him. It was very strange – nothing like it ever happened in those mild little books with marbled backs, and with pictures in them of men with swallow-tailed coats and bell-crowned hats, and pantaloons that are short in the legs, and women with the waists of their dresses under their arms, and no hoops on. Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books.
Once he stole the teacher’s pen-knife, and, when he was afraid it would be found out and he would get whipped, he slipped it into George Wilson’s cap – poor Widow Wilson’s son, the moral boy, the good little boy of the village, who always obeyed his mother, and never told an untruth, and was fond of his lessons, and infatuated with Sunday-school. And when the knife dropped from the cap, and poor George hung his head and blushed, as if in conscious guilt, and the grieved teacher charged the theft upon him, and was just in the very act of bringing the switch down upon his trembling shoulders, a white-haired improbable justice of the peace did not suddenly appear in their midst, and strike an attitude and say, “Spare this noble boy – there stands the cowering culprit! I was passing the school-door at recess, and unseen myself, I saw the theft committed!” And then Jim didn’t get whaled, and the venerable justice didn’t read the tearful school a homily and take George by the hand and say such a boy deserved to be exalted, and then tell him to come and make his home with him, and sweep out the office, and make fires, and run errands, and chop wood, and study law, and help his wife to do household labors, and have all the balance of the time to play, and get forty cents a month, and be happy. No; it would have happened that way in the books, but it didn’t happen that way to Jim. No meddling old clam of a justice dropped in to make trouble, and so the model boy George got thrashed, and Jim was glad of it because, you know, Jim hated moral boys. Jim said he was “down on them milk-sops.” Such was the coarse language of this bad, neglected boy.
But the strangest thing that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday, and didn’t get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn’t get struck by lighting. Why, you might look, and look, all through the Sunday-school books from now till next Christmas, and you would never come across anything like this. Oh no; you would find that all the bad boys who go boating on Sunday invariably get drowned; and all the bad boys who get caught out in storms when they are fishing on Sunday infallibly get struck by lightning. Boats with bad boys in them always upset on Sunday, and it always storms when bad boys go fishing on the Sabbath. How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me.
This Jim bore a charmed life – that must have been the way of it. Nothing could hurt him. He even gave the elephant in the menagerie a plug of tobacco, and the elephant didn’t knock the top of his head off with his trunk. He browsed around the cupboard after essence of peppermint, and didn’t make a mistake and drink aqua fortis. He stole his father’s gun and went hunting on the Sabbath, and didn’t shoot three or four of his fingers off. He struck his little sister on the temple with his fist when he was angry, and she didn’t linger in pain through long summer days, and die with sweet words of forgiveness upon her lips that redoubled the anguish of his breaking heart. No; she got over it. He ran off and went to sea at last, and didn’t come back and find himself sad and alone in the world, his loved ones sleeping in the quiet churchyard, and the vine-embowered home of his boyhood tumbled down and gone to decay. Ah! no; he came home as drunk as a piper, and got into the station-house the first thing.
And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.
So you see there never was a bad James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life.

The Story Of The Good Little Boy
By Mark Twain, 1875

Once there was a good little boy by the name of Jacob Blivens. He always obeyed his parents, no matter how absurd and unreasonable their demands were; and he always learned his book, and never was late at Sabbath-school. He would not play hookey, even when Hi_ bober judgment told him it was the most profitable thing he could do. None of the other boys could ever make that boy out, he acted so strangely. He wouldn’t lie, no matter how convenient it was. He just said it was wrong to lie, and that was sufficient for him. And he was so honest that he was simply ridiculous. The curious ways that that Jacob had, surpassed everything. He wouldn’t play marbles on Sunday, he wouldn’t rob birds’ nests, he wouldn’t give hot pennies to organ-grinders’ monkeys; he didn’t seem to take any interest in any kind of rational amusement. So the other boys used to try to reason it out and come to an understanding of him, but they couldn’t arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. As I said before, they could only figure out a sort of vague idea that he was “afflicted,” and so they took him under their protection, and never allowed any harm to come to him.
This good little boy read all the Sunday-school books; they were his greatest delight. This was the whole secret of it. He believed in the good little boys they put in the Sunday-school books; he had every confidence in them. He longed to come across one of them alive, once; but he never did. They all died before his time, maybe. Whenever he read about a particularly good one he turned over quickly to the end to see what became of him, because he wanted to travel thousands of miles and gaze on him; but it wasn’t any use; that good little boy always died in the last chapter, and there was a picture of the funeral, with all his relatives and the Sunday-school children standing around the grave in pantaloons that were too short, and bonnets that were too large, and everybody crying into handkerchiefs that had as much as a yard and a half of stuff in them. He was always headed off in this way. He never could see one of those good little boys on account of his always dying in the last chapter.
Jacob had a noble ambition to be put in a Sunday-school book. He wanted to be put in, with pictures representing him gloriously declining to lie to his mother, and her weeping for joy about it; and pictures representing him standing on the doorstep giving a penny to a poor beggar-woman with six children, and telling her to spend it freely, but not to be extravagant, because extravagance is a sin; and pictures of him magnanimously refusing to tell on the bad boy who always lay in wait for him around the corner as he came from school, and welted him over the head with a lath, and then chased him home, saying, “Hi! hi!” as he proceeded. This was the ambition of young Jacob Blivens. He wished to be put in a Sunday-school book. It made him feel a little uncomfortable sometimes when he reflected that the good little boys always died. He loved to live, you know, and this was the most unpleasant feature about being a Sunday-school-book boy. He knew it was not healthy to be good. He knew it was more fatal than consumption to be so supernaturally good as the boys in the books were; he knew that none of them had been able to stand it long, and it pained him to think that if they put him in a book he wouldn’t ever see it, or even if they did get the book out before he died it wouldn’t be popular without any picture of his funeral in the back part of it. It couldn’t be much of a Sunday-school book that couldn’t tell about the advice he gave to the community when he was dying. So at last, of course, he had to make up his mind to do the best he could under the circumstances – to live right, and hang on as long as he could, and have his dying speech all ready when his time came.
But somehow nothing ever went right with this good little boy; nothing ever turned out with him the way it turned out with the good little boys in the books. They always had a good time, and the bad boys had the broken legs; but in his case there was a screw loose somewhere; and it all happened just the other way. When he found Jim Blake stealing apples, and went under the tree to read to him about the bad little boy who fell out of a neighbor’s apple-tree and broke his arm, Jim fell out of the tree too, but he fell on him, and broke his arm, and Jim wasn’t hurt at all. Jacob couldn’t understand that. There wasn’t anything in the books like it.
And once, when some bad boys pushed a blind man over in the mud, and Jacob ran to help him up and receive his blessing, the blind man did not give him any blessing at all, but whacked him over the head with his stick and said he would like to catch him shoving him again, and then pretending to help him up. This was not in accordance with any of the books. Jacob looked them all over to see.
One thing that Jacob wanted to do was to find a lame dog that hadn’t any place to stay, and was hungry and persecuted, and bring him home and pet him and have that dog’s imperishable gratitude. And at last he found one and was happy; and he brought him home and fed him, but when he was going to pet him the dog flew at him and tore all the clothes off him except those that were in front, and made a spectacle of him that was astonishing. He examined authorities, but he could not understand the matter. It was of the same breed of dogs that was in the books, but it acted very differently. Whatever this boy did he got into trouble. The very things the boys in the books got rewarded for turned out to be about the most unprofitable things he could invest in.
Once, when he was on his way to Sunday-school, he saw some bad boys starting off pleasuring in a sailboat. He was filled with consternation, because he knew from his reading that boys who went sailing on Sunday invariably got drowned. So he ran out on a raft to warn them, but a log turned with him and slid him into the river. A man got him out pretty soon, and the doctor pumped the water out of him, and gave him a fresh start with his bellows, but he caught cold and lay sick a-bed nine weeks. But the most unaccountable thing about it was that the bad boys in the boat had a good time all day, and then reached home alive and well in the most surprising manner. Jacob Blivens said there was nothing like these things in the books. He was perfectly dumb-founded.
When he got well he was a little discouraged, but he resolved to keep on trying anyhow. He knew that so far his experience wouldn’t do to go in a book, but he hadn’t yet reached the allotted term of life for good little boys, and he hoped to be able to make a record yet if he could hold on till his time was fully up. If everything else failed he had his dying speech to fall back on.
He examined his authorities, and found that it was now time for him to go to sea as a cabin-boy. He called on a ship captain and made his application, and when the captain asked for his recommendations he proudly drew out a tract and pointed to the words. “To Jacob Blivens, from his affectionate teacher.” But the captain was a coarse, vulgar man, and he said, “Oh, that be blowed! that wasn’t any proof that he know how to wash dishes or handle a slush-bucket, and he guessed he didn’t want him.” This was altogether the most extraordinary thing that ever happened to Jacob in all his life. A compliment from a teacher, on a tract, had never failed to move the tenderest emotions of ship captains, and open the way to all offices of honor and profit in their gift – it never had in any book that ever he had read. He could hardly believe his senses.
This boy always had a hard time of it. Nothing over came out according to the authorities with him. At last, one day, when he was around hunting up bad little boys to admonish, he found a lot of them in the old iron foundry fixing up a little joke on fourteen or fifteen dogs, which they had tied together in long procession, and were going to ornament with empty nitro-glycerine cans made fast one him), and he took hold of the foremost dog by the collar, and turned his reproving eye upon wicked Tom Jones. But just at that moment Alderman McWelter full of wrath, stepped in. All the bad boys ran away, but Jacob Blivens rose in conscious innocence and began one of those stately little Sunday-school-book speeches which always commence with “Oh, sir!” in dead opposition to the fact that no boy, good or bad, ever starts a remark with “Oh, sir.” But the alderman never waited to hear the rest. He took Jacob Blivens by the ear and turned him around, and hit him a whack in the rear with the flat of his hand; and in an instant that good little boy shot out through the roof and soared away towards the sun, with the fragments of those fifteen dogs stringing after him like the tail of a kite. And there wasn’t a sign of that alderman or that old iron foundry left on the face of the earth; and, as for young Jacob Blivens, he never got a chance to make his last dying speech after all his trouble fixing it up, unless he made it to the birds; because, although the bulk of him came down all right in a tree-top in an adjoining county, the rest of him was apportioned around among four townships, and so they had to hold five inquests on him to find out whether he was dead or not, and how it occurred. You never saw a boy scattered so. ^*

[Footnote *: This glycerine catastrophe is borrowed from a floating newspaper item, whose author’s name I would give if I knew it. – [M.T.]]
Thus perished the good little boy who did the best he could, but didn’t come out according to the books. Every boy who ever did as he did prospered except him. His case is truly remarkable. It will probably never be accounted for.

The Hint of an Explanation

A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY on a late December evening, in this new version of peace, is a dreary experience. I suppose that my fellow traveller and I could consider ourselves lucky to have a compartment to ourselves, even though the heating apparatus was not working, even though the lights went out entirely in the frequent Pennine tunnels and were too dim anyway for us to read our books without straining our eyes, and though there was no restaurant car to give at least a change of scene. It was when we were trying simultaneously to chew the same kind of dry bun bought at the same station buffet that my companion and I came together. Before that we had sat at opposite ends of the carriage, both muffled to the chin in overcoats, both bent low over type we could barely make out, but as I threw the remains of my cake under the seat our eyes met, and he laid his book down.
By the time we were half-way to Bedwell Junction we had found an enormous range of subjects for discussion; starting with buns and the weather, we had gone on to politics, the government, foreign affairs, the atom bomb, and, by an inevitable progression, God. We had not, however, become either shrill or acid. My companion, who now sat opposite me, leaning a little forward, so that our knees nearly touched, gave such an impression of serenity that it would have been impossible to quarrel with him, however much our views differed, and differ they did profoundly.
I had soon realized I was speaking to a Catholic, to someone who believed–how do they put it?–in an omnipotent and omniscient Deity, while I was what is loosely called an Agnostic. I have a certain intuition (which I do not trust, founded as it may well be on childish experiences and needs) that a God exists, and I am surprised occasionally into belief by the extraordinary coincidences that beset our path like the traps set for leopards in the jungle, but intellectually I am revolted at the whole notion of such a God who can so abandon his creatures to the enormities of Free Will. I found myself expressing this view to my companion, who listened quietly and with respect. He made no attempt to interrupt: he showed none of the impatience or the intellectual arrogance I have grown to expect from Catholics; when the lights of a wayside station flashed across his face that had escaped hitherto the rays of the one globe working in the compartment, I caught a glimpse suddenly of–what? I stopped speaking, so strong was the impression. I was carried back ten years, to the other side of the great useless conflict, to a small town, Gisors in Normandy. I was again, for a moment, walking on the ancient battlements and looking down across the grey roofs, until my eyes for some reason lit on one grey stony “back” out of the many, where the face of a middle-aged man was pressed against a windowpane (I suppose that face has ceased to exist now, just as I believe the whole town with its medieval memories has been reduced to rubble). I remembered saying to myself with astonishment, “That man is happy–completely happy.” I looked across the compartment at my fellow traveller, but his face was already again in shadow. I said weakly, “When you think what God–if there is a God–allows. It’s not merely the physical agonies, but think of the corruption, even of children. . . .”
He said, “Our view is so limited,” and I was disappointed at the conventionality of his reply. He must have been aware of my disappointment (it was as though our thoughts were huddled as closely as ourselves for warmth), for he went on, “Of course there is no answer here. We catch hints . . .” and then the train roared into another tunnel and the lights again went out. It was the longest tunnel yet; we went rocking down it, and the cold seemed to become more intense with the darkness like an icy fog (perhaps when one sense–of sight–is robbed of sensation, the others grow more sensitive). When we emerged into the mere grey of night and the globe lit up once more, I could see that my companion was leaning back on his seat.
I repeated his last words as a question, “Hints?”
“Oh, they mean very little in cold print–or cold speech,” he said, shivering in his overcoat. “And they mean nothing at all to a human being other than the man who catches them. They are not scientific evidence–or evidence at all for that matter. Events that don’t, somehow, turn out as they were intended–by the human actors I mean, or by the thing behind the human actors.”
“The thing?”
“The word Satan is so anthropomorphic.”
I had to lean forward now: I wanted to hear what he had to say. I am–I really am, God knows–open to conviction.
He said, “One’s words are so crude, but I sometimes feel pity for that thing. It is so continually finding the right weapon to use against its Enemy and the weapon breaks in its own breast. It sometimes seems to me so–powerless. You said something just now about the corruption of children. It reminded me of something in my own childhood. You are the first person–except for one–that I have thought of telling it to, perhaps because you are anonymous. It’s not a very long story, and in a way it’s relevant.”
I said, “I’d like to hear it.”
“You mustn’t expect too much meaning. But to me there seems to be a hint. That’s all. A hint.”
He went slowly on, turning his face to the pane, though he could have seen nothing real in the whirling world outside except an occasional signal lamp, a light in a window, a small country station torn backwards by our rush, picking his words with precision. He said, “When I was a child they taught me to serve at Mass. The church was a small one, for there were very few Catholics where I lived. It was a market town in East Anglia, surrounded by flat, chalky fields and ditches–so many ditches. I don’t suppose there were fifty Catholics all told, and for some reason there was a tradition of hostility to us. Perhaps it went back to the burning of a Protestant martyr in the sixteenth century–there was a stone marking the place near where the meat stalls stood on Wednesdays. I was only half aware of the enmity, though I knew that my school nickname of Popey Martin had something to do with my religion, and I had heard that my father was nearly excluded from the Constitutional Club when he first came to the town.
“Every Sunday I had to dress up in my surplice and serve Mass. I hated it–I have always hated dressing up in any way (which is funny when you come to think of it), and I never ceased to be afraid of losing my place in the service and doing something which would put me to ridicule. Our services were at a different hour from the Anglican, and as our small, far-from-select band trudged out of the hideous chapel the whole of the townsfolk seemed to be on the way past to the proper church–I always thought of it as the proper church. We had to pass the parade of their eyes, indifferent, supercilious, mocking; you can’t imagine how seriously religion can be taken in a small town, if only for social reasons.
“There was one man in particular; he was one of the two bakers in the town, the one my family did not patronize. I don’t think any of the Catholics patronized him because he was called a free-thinker –an odd title, for, poor man, no one’s thoughts were less free than his. He was hemmed in by his hatred–his hatred of us. He was very ugly to look at, with one wall-eye and a head the shape of a turnip, with the hair gone on the crown, and he was unmarried. He had no interests, apparently, but his baking and his hatred, though now that I am older I begin to see other sides to his nature –it did contain, perhaps, a certain furtive love. One would come across him suddenly sometimes on a country walk, especially if one were alone and it was Sunday. It was as if he rose from the ditches, and the smear of chalk on his clothes reminded one of the flour on his working overalls. He would have a stick in his hand and stab at the hedges, and if his mood were very black he would call out after one strange abrupt words like a foreign tongue–I know the meaning of those words, of course, now. Once the police went to his house because of what a boy said he’d seen, but nothing came of it except that the hate shackled him closer. His name was Blacker and he terrified me.
“I think he had a particular hatred of my father–I don’t know why. My father was manager of the Midland Bank, and it’s possible that at some time Blacker may have had unsatisfactory dealings with the bank; my father was a very cautious man who suffered all his life from anxiety about money–his own and other people’s. If I try and picture Blacker now I see him walking along a narrowing path between high windowless walls, and at the end of the path stands a small boy of ten–me. I don’t know whether it’s a symbolic picture or the memory of one of our encounters–our encounters somehow got more and more frequent. You talked just now about the corruption of children. That poor man was preparing to revenge himself on everything he hated–my father, the Catholics, the God whom people persisted in crediting–and that by corrupting me. He had evolved a horrible and ingenious plan.
“I remember the first time I had a friendly word from him. I was passing his shop as rapidly as I could when I heard his voice call out with a kind of sly subservience as though he were an under servant. ‘Master David,’ he called, ‘Master David,’ and I hurried on. But the next time I passed that way he was at his door (he must have seen me coming) with one of those curly cakes in his hand that we called Chelsea buns. I didn’t want to take it, but he made me, and then I couldn’t be other than polite when he asked me to come into his parlour behind the shop and see something very special.
“It was a small electric railway–a rare sight in those days, and he insisted on showing me how it worked. He made me turn the switches and stop and start it, and he told me that I could come in any morning and have a game with it. He used the word ‘game’ as though it were something secret, and it’s true that I never told my family of this invitation and of how, perhaps twice a week those holidays, the desire to control that little railway become overpowering, and looking up and down the street to see if I were observed, I would dive into the shop.”
Our larger, dirtier, adult train drove into a tunnel and the light went out. We sat in darkness and silence, with the noise of the train blocking our ears like wax. When we were though we didn’t speak at once and I had to prick him into continuing.
“An elaborate seduction,” I said.
“Don’t think his plans were as simple as that,” my companion said, “or as crude. There was much more hate than love, poor man, in his make-up. Can you hate something you don’t believe in? And yet he called himself a free-thinker. What an impossible paradox, to be free and to be so obsessed. Day by day all through those holidays his obsession must have grown, but he kept a grip; he bided his time. Perhaps that thing I spoke of gave him the strength and the wisdom. It was only a week from the end of the holidays that he spoke to me on what concerned him so deeply.
“I heard him behind me as I knelt on the floor, coupling two coaches. He said, ‘You won’t be able to do this, Master David, when school starts.’ It wasn’t a sentence that needed any comment from me any more than the one that followed. ‘You ought to have it for your own, you ought,’ but how skilfully and unemphatically he had sowed the longing, the idea of a possibility. . . . I was coming to his parlour every day now; you see, I had to cram every opportunity in before the hated term started again, and I suppose I was becoming accustomed to Blacker, to that wall-eye, that turnip head, that nauseating subservience. The Pope, you know, describes himself as ‘the servant of the servants of God,’ and Blacker–I sometimes think that Blacker was ‘the servant of the servants of . . . ,’ well, let it be.
“The very next day, standing in the doorway watching me play, he began to talk to me about religion. He said, with what untruth even I recognized, how much he admired the Catholics; he wished he could believe like that, but how could a baker believe? He accented ‘a baker’ as one might say a biologist, and the tiny train spun round the gauge 0 track. He said, ‘I can bake the things you eat just as well as any Catholic can,’ and disappeared into his shop. I hadn’t the faintest idea what he meant. Presently he emerged again, holding in his hand a little wafer. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘eat that and tell me. . . .’ When I put it in my mouth I could tell that it was made in the same way as our wafers for communion–he had got the shape a little wrong, that was all–and I felt guilty and irrationally scared. ‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘what’s the difference?’
“‘Difference?’ I asked.
“‘Isn’t that just the same as you eat in church?’
“I said smugly, ‘It hasn’t been consecrated.’
“He said, ‘Do you think, if I put the two of them under a microscope, you could tell the difference?’
“But even at ten I had the answer to that question. ‘No,’ I said, ‘the–accidents don’t change,’ stumbling a little on the word ‘accidents’ which had suddenly conveyed to me the idea of death and wounds.
“Blacker said with sudden intensity, ‘How I’d like to get one of your ones in my mouth–just to see. . . .’
“It may seem odd to you, but this was the first time that the idea of transsubstantiation really lodged in my mind. I had learned it all by rote; I had grown up with the idea. The Mass was as lifeless to me as the sentences in De Bello Gallico; communion a routine like drill in the school-yard, but here suddenly I was in the presence of a man who took it seriously, as seriously as the priest whom naturally one didn’t count–it was his job. I felt more scared than ever.
“He said, ‘It’s all nonsense, but I’d just like to have it in my mouth.’
“‘You could if you were a Catholic,’ I said naïvely.
“He gazed at me with his one good eye, like a Cyclops. He said, ‘You serve at Mass, don’t you? It would be easy for you to get at one of those things. I tell you what I’d do–I’d swap this electric train for one of your wafers–consecrated, mind. It’s got to be consecrated.’
“‘I could get you one out of the box,’ I said. I think I still imagined that his interest was a baker’s interest–to see how they were made.
“‘Oh, no,’ he said, ‘I want to see what your God tastes like.’
“‘I couldn’t do that.’
“‘Not for a whole electric train, just for yourself? You wouldn’t have any trouble at home. I’d pack it up and put a label inside that your dad could see: “For my bank manager’s little boy from a grateful client.” He’d be pleased as punch with that.’
“Now that we are grown men it seems a trivial temptation, doesn’t it? But try to think back to your own childhood. There was a whole circuit of rails there on the floor at our feet, straight rails and curved, and a little station with porters and passengers, a tunnel, a foot-bridge, a level crossing, two signals, buffers, of course –and, above all, a turntable. The tears of longing came into my eyes when I looked at the turntable. It was my favorite piece–it looked so ugly and practical and true. I said weakly, ‘I wouldn’t know how.’
“How carefully he had been studying the ground! He must have slipped several times into Mass at the back of the church. It would have been no good, you understand, in a little town like that, presenting himself for communion. Everybody there knew him for what he was. He said to me, ‘When you’ve been given communion you could just put it under your tongue a moment. He serves you and the other boy first, and I saw you once go out behind the curtain straight afterwards. You’d forgotten one of those little bottles.’
“‘The cruet,’ I said.
“‘Pepper and salt.’ He grinned at me jovially, and I–well, I looked at the little railway which I could no longer come and play with when term started. I said, ‘You’d just swallow it, wouldn’t you?’
“‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I’d just swallow it.’
“Somehow I didn’t want to play with the train any more that day. I got up and made for the door, but he detained me, gripping my lapel. He said, ‘This will be a secret between you and me. Tomorrow’s Sunday. You come along here in the afternoon. Put it in an envelope and post it me. Monday morning the train will be delivered bright and early.’
“‘Not tomorrow,’ I implored him.
“‘I’m not interested in any other Sunday,’ he said. ‘It’s your only chance! He shook me gently backwards and forwards. ‘It will always have to be a secret between you and me,’ he said. ‘Why, if anyone knew they’d take away the train and there’d be me to reckon with. I’d bleed you something awful. You know how I’m always about on Sunday walks. You can’t avoid a man like me. I crop up. You wouldn’t ever be safe in your own house. I know ways to get into houses when people are asleep.’ He pulled me into the shop after him and opened a drawer. In the drawer was an odd looking key and a cut-throat razor. He said, ‘That’s a master key that opens all locks and that–that’s what I bleed people with.’ Then he patted my cheek with his plump floury fingers and said, ‘Forget it. You and me are friends.’
“That Sunday Mass stays in my head, every detail of it, as though it had happened only a week ago. From the moment of the Confession to the moment of Consecration it had a terrible importance; only one other Mass has ever been so important to me–perhaps not even one, for this was a solitary Mass which would never happen again. It seemed as final as the last Sacrament when the priest bent down and put the wafer in my mouth where I knelt before the altar with my fellow server.
“I suppose I had made up my mind to commit this awful act-for, you know, to us it must always seem an awful act–from the moment when I saw Blacker watching from the back of the church. He had put on his best black Sunday clothes and, as though he could never quite escape the smear of his profession, he had a dab of dried talcum on his cheek, which he had presumably applied after using that cut-throat of his. He was watching me closely all the time, and I think it was fear–fear of that terrible undefined thing called bleeding–as much as covetousness that drove me to carry out my instructions.
“My fellow server got briskly up and, taking the paten, preceded Father Carey to the altar rail where the other communicants knelt. I had the Host lodged under my tongue: it felt like a blister. I got up and made for the curtain to get the cruet that I had purposely left in the sacristy. When I was there I looked quickly round for a hiding place and saw an old copy of the Universe lying on a chair. I took the Host from my mouth and inserted it between two sheets –a little damp mess of pulp. Then I thought: perhaps Father Carey has put out the paper for a particular purpose and he will find the Host before I have time to remove it, and the enormity of my act began to come home to me when I tried to imagine what punishment I should incur. Murder is sufficiently trivial to have its appropriate punishment, but for this act the mind boggled at the thought of any retribution at all. I tried to remove the Host, but it stuck clammily between the pages, and in desperation I tore out a piece of the newspaper and, screwing the whole thing up, stuck it in my trousers pocket. When I came back through the curtain carrying the cruet my eyes met Blacker’s. He gave me a grin of encouragement and unhappiness–yes, I am sure, unhappiness. Was it perhaps that the poor man was all the time seeking something incorruptible?
“I can remember little more of that day. I think my mind was shocked and stunned, and I was caught up too in the family bustle of Sunday. Sunday in a provincial town is the day for relations. All the family are at home, and unfamiliar cousins and uncles are apt to arrive, packed in the back seats of other people’s cars. I remember that some crowd of the kind descended on us and pushed Blacker temporarily out of the foreground of my mind. There was somebody called Aunt Lucy, with a loud hollow laugh that filled the house with mechanical merriment like the sound of recorded laughter from inside a hall of mirrors, and I had no opportunity to go out alone even if I had wished to. When six o’clock came and Aunt Lucy and the cousins departed and peace returned, it was too late to go to Blacker’s, and at eight it was my own bed-time.
“I think I had half forgotten what I had in my pocket. As I emptied my pocket the little screw of newspaper brought quickly back the Mass, the priest bending over me, Blacker’s grin. I laid the packet on the chair by my bed and tried to go to sleep, but I was haunted by the shadows on the wall where the curtains blew, the squeak of furniture, the rustle in the chimney, haunted by the presence of God there on the chair. The Host had always been to me–well, the Host. I knew theoretically, as I have said, what I had to believe, but suddenly, as someone whistled in the road outside, whistled secretively, knowingly, to me, I knew that this which I had beside my bed was something of infinite value–something a man would pay for with his whole peace of mind, something that was so hated one could love it as one loves an outcast or a bullied child. These are adult words, and it was a child of ten who lay scared in bed, listening to the whistle from the road, Blacker’s whistle, but I think he felt fairly clearly what I am describing now. That is what I meant when I said this Thing, whatever it is, that seizes every possible weapon against God, is always, everywhere, disappointed at the moment of success. It must have felt as certain of me as Blacker did. It must have felt certain too of Blacker. But I wonder, if one knew what happened later to that poor man, whether one would not find again that the weapon had been turned against its own breast.
“At last I couldn’t bear that whistle any more and got out of bed. I opened the curtains a little way, and there right under my window, the moonlight on his face, was Blacker. If I had stretched my hand down, his fingers reaching up could almost have touched mine. He looked up at me, flashing the one good eye, with hunger-I realize now that near-success must have developed his obsession almost to the point of madness. Desperation had driven him to the house. He whispered up at me. ‘David, where is it?’
“I jerked my head back at the room. ‘Give it me,’ he said. ‘Quick. You shall have the train in the morning.’
“I shook my head. He said, ‘I’ve got the bleeder here, and the key. You’d better toss it down.’
“‘Go away,’ I said, but I could hardly speak for fear.
“‘I’ll bleed you first and then I’ll have it just the same.’
“‘Oh, no, you won’t,’ I said. I went to the chair and picked it-Him–up. There was only one place where He was safe. I couldn’t separate the Host from the paper, so I swallowed both. The newsprint stuck like a prune skin to the back of my throat, but I rinsed it down with water from the ewer. Then I went back to the window and looked down at Blacker. He began to wheedle me. ‘What have you done with it, David? What’s the fuss? It’s only a bit of bread,’ looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much.
“‘I swallowed it,’ I said.
“‘Swallowed it?’
“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Go away.’
“Then something happened which seems to me now more terrible than his desire to corrupt or my thoughtless act: he began to weep –the tears ran lopsidedly out of the one good eye and his shoulders shook. I only saw his face for a moment before he bent his head and strode off, the bald turnip head shaking, into the dark. When I think of it now, it’s almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears through one of Blacker’s eyes.”
The black furnaces of Bedwell Junction gathered around the line. The points switched and we were tossed from one set of rails to another. A spray of sparks, a signal light changing to red, tall chimneys jetting into the grey night sky, the fumes of steam from stationary engines–half the cold journey was over, and now remained the long wait for the slow cross-country train. I said, “It’s an interesting story. I think I should have given Blacker what he wanted. I wonder what he would have done with it.”
“I really believe,” my companion said, “that he would first of all have put it under his microscope–before he did all the other things I expect he had planned.”
“And the hints,” I said. “I don’t quite see what you mean by that.”
“Oh, well,” he said vaguely, “you know for me it was an odd beginning, that affair, when you come to think of it,” but I never should have known what he meant had not his coat, when he rose to take his bag from the rack, come open and disclosed the collar of a priest.
I said, “I suppose you think you owe a lot to Blacker.”
“Yes,” he said, “you see, I am a very happy man.”