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stood on the other side of the garden fence, and regarded me gravely as
I came down the road. Then she said, “Hi-o!”
I responded, “Hullo!”
and pulled up somewhat nervously.
To tell the
truth, the encounter was not entirely unexpected on my part. The
previous Sunday I had seen her in church, and after service it had
transpired who she was, this new-corner, and what aunt she was staying
with. That morning a volunteer had been called for, to take a note to
the Parsonage, and rather to my own surprise I had found myself
stepping forward with alacrity, while the others had become suddenly
absorbed in various pursuits, or had sneaked unobtrusively out of view.
Certainly I had not yet formed any deliberate plan of action yet I
suppose I recollected that the road to the Parsonage led past her
She began the
conversation, while I hopped backwards and forwards over the ditch,
feigning a careless ease.
you in church on Sunday,” she said; “only you
looked different then. All dressed up, and your hair quite smooth, and
brushed up at the sides, and oh, so shiny! What do they put on it to
make it shine like that? Don’t you hate having your hair
brushed?” she ran on, without waiting for an answer.
“How your boots squeaked when you came down the aisle! When
mine squeak, I walk in all the puddles till they stop. Think
I’ll get over the fence.”
proceeded to do in a businesslike way, while, with my hands deep in my
pockets, I regarded her movements with silent interest, as those of
some strange new animal.
been gardening,” she explained, when she had joined me,
“but I didn’t like it. There’s so many
worms about to-day. I hate worms. Wish they’d keep out of the
way when I’m digging.”
I like worms when I’m digging,” I replied heartily,
“seem to make things more lively, don’t they?
reflected. “Shouldn’t mind ‘em so much if
they were warm and dry,”
she said, “but
— ” here she shivered, and somehow I liked her for
it, though if it had been my own flesh and blood hoots of derision
would have instantly assailed her.
From worms we
passed, naturally enough, to frogs, and thence to pigs, aunts,
gardeners, rocking-horses, and other fellow-citizens of our common
kingdom. In five minutes we had each other’s confidences, and
I seemed to have known her for a lifetime. Somehow, on the subject of
one’s self it was easier to be frank and communicative with
her than with one’s female kin. It must be, I suppose,
because she was less familiar with one’s faulty, tattered
was watching you as you came along the road,” she said
presently, “and you had your head down and your hands in your
pockets, and you waren’t throwing stones at anything, or
whistling, or jumping over things; and I thought perhaps
you’d bin scolded, or got a stomach-ache.”
“No,” I answered shyly, “it wasn’t that. Fact is, I was — I often — but it’s a secret."
There I made
an error in tactics. That enkindling word set her dancing round me,
half beseeching, half imperious. “Oh,
do tell it me!”
she cried. "You must!
I’ll never tell anyone else at ally I vow and declare I
frame wriggled with emotion, and with imploring eyes she jigged
impatiently just in front of me. Her hair was tumbled bewitchingly on
her shoulders, and even the loss of a front tooth — a loss
incidental to her age — seemed but to add a piquancy to her
won’t care to hear about it,” I said, wavering.
“Besides, I can’t explain exactly. I think I
won’t tell you.” But all the time I knew I should
I do care,” she
wailed plaintively. “I didn’t think you’d
be so unkind!”
This would never do. That little downward tug at either corner of the mouth — I knew the symptom only too well.
like this,” I began stammeringly. “This bit of road
here — up as far as that corner — you know
it’s a horrid dull bit of road. I’m always having
to go up and down it, and I know it so well, and I’m so sick
of it. So whenever I get to that corner, I just —
I go right off to another place!”
sort of a place?” she asked, looking round her gravely.
course it’s just a place I imagine,” I went on
hurriedly and rather shamefacedly : “but it’s an
awfully nice place — the nicest place you ever saw. And
I always go off there in church, or during joggraphy lessons.”
sure it’s not nicer than my home,” she cried
patriotically. “Oh, you ought to see my home —
it’s lovely! We’ve got — ”
it is, ever so much nicer,” I interrupted. “I mean
“ — I went on apologetically —
” of course I know your home’s beautiful and all
that. But this must
be nicer, ‘cos if you
want anything at all, you’ve only got to
want it, and you
jolly,” she murmured.
me more about it, please. Tell me how you get there, first.”
— don’t — quite — know
“I just go. But generally it begins by — well,
you’re going up a broad, clear river in a sort of a boat.
You’re not rowing or anything — you’re
just moving along. And there’s beautiful grass meadows on
both sides, and the river’s very full, quite up to the level
of the grass. And you glide along by the edge. And the people are
haymaking there, and playing games, and walking about; and they shout
to you, and you shout back to them, and they bring you things to eat
out of their baskets, and let you drink out of their bottles; and some
of ’em are the nice people you read about in books. And so at
last you come to the Palace steps — great broad marble steps,
reaching right down to the water. And there at the steps you find every
sort of boat you can imagine — schooners, and punts, and
row-boats, and little men-of-war. And
you have any sort of boating you want to — rowing, or
sailing, or shoving about in a punt!”
go sailing,” she said decidedly “and I’d
steer. No, you’d have
to steer, and I’d sit about on the deck. No, I
wouldn’t though; I’d row — at least
I’d make you row, and I’d steer. And then
Oh, no! I’ll tell
you what we’d do! We’d just sit in a punt and
course we’ll do just what you like,” I said
hospitably; but already I was beginning to feel my liberty of action
somewhat curtailed by this exigent
had so rashly admitted into my sanctum.
don’t think we’d boat at all,” she
finally decided. “It’s always so wobbly.
Where do you
come to next?”
“You go up the steps,” I continued, “and in at the door, and the very first place you come to is the Chocolate-room!”
brightened up at this, and I heard her murmur with gusto,
got every sort of chocolate you can think of,” I went on:
“soft chocolate, with sticky stuff inside, white and pink,
what girls like; and hard shiny chocolate, that cracks when you bite
it, and takes such a nice long time to suck!”
like the soft stuff best,” she said: “cos you can
eat such a lot more of it!” This
was to me a new aspect of the
question, and I regarded her with interest and some respect. With us,
chocolate was none too common a thing, and, whenever we happened to
come by any, we resorted to the quaintest devices in order to make it
last out. Still, legends had reached us of children who actually had,
from time to time, as much chocolate as they could possibly eat; and
here, apparently, was one of them.
can have all the creams,” I said magnanimously,
“and I’ll eat the hard sticks, ‘cos I
like ‘em best.”
but you mustn’t!” she cried impetuously.
“You must eat the same as I do! It isn’t nice to
want to eat different. I’ll tell you what — you
must give me all
the chocolate, and then I’ll give you
give you what you ought to
all right,” I said, in a subdued sort of way. It seemed a
little hard to be put under a sentimental restriction like this in
one’s own Chocolate-room.
the next room you come to,” I proceeded,
“there’s fizzy drinks There’s a
marble-slab business all round the room, and little silver taps; and
you just turn the right tap, and have any kind of fizzy drink you
fizzy drinks are there?” she inquired.
sorts,” I answered hastily, hurrying on. (She might restrict
my eatables, but I’d be hanged if I was going to have her
meddle with my drinks.) “Then you go down the corridor, and
at the back of the palace there’s a great big park
— the finest park you ever saw. And there’s ponies
to ride on, and carriages and carts; and a little railway, all
complete, engine and guard’s van and all; and you work it
yourself, and you can go first-class, or in the van, or on the engine,
just whichever you choose.”
“I’d go on the engine,” she murmured dreamily. “No, I wouldn’t, I’d — ”
there’s all the soldiers,” I struck in. Really the
line had to be drawn somewhere, and I could not have my railway system
disorganised and turned upside down by a mere girl.
“There’s any quantity of ‘em, fine big
soldiers, and they all belong to me. And a row of brass cannons all
along the terrace! And every now and then I give the order, and they
fire off all the guns!”
they don’t,” she interrupted hastily. “I
won’t have ‘em fire off any guns! You must tell
‘em not to. I hate guns, and as soon as they begin firing I
shall run right away!”
— but that’s what they’re there for,” I
don’t care,” she insisted. “They
mustn’t do it. They can walk about behind me if they like,
and talk tome, and carry things. But they mustn’t fire off
I was sadly
conscious by this time that in this brave palace of mine, wherein I Was
wont to swagger daily, irresponsible and unquestioned, I was rapidly
becoming — so to speak — a mere lodger. The idea of
my fine big soldiers being told off to “carry
things”! I was not inclined to tell her any more, though
there still remained plenty more to tell.
other boys there?” she asked presently, in a casual sort of
yes,” I unguardedly replied. “Nice chaps, too.
We’ll have great — ” Then I recollected
myself. “We’ll play with them, of
course,” I went on. “But you are going to be my
aren’t you? And you’ll come in my boat,
and we’ll travel in the guard’s van together, and
I’ll stop the soldiers firing off their guns!”
looked mischievously away, and
what I would — I could not get her to promise.
Just then the
striking of the village clock awoke within me another clamorous
timepiece, reminding me of mid-day mutton a good half-mile away, and of
penalties and curtailments attaching to a late appearance. We took a
hurried farewell of each other, and before we parted I got from her an
admission that she might be gardening again that afternoon, if only the
worms would be less aggressive and give her a chance.
I said as I turned to go,
“you mustn’t tell anybody about what I’ve
been telling you!”
to hesitate, swinging one leg to and fro while she regarded me sideways
with half-shut eyes.
a dead secret,” I said artfully. “A secret between
us two, and nobody knows it except
Then she promised, nodding violently, big-eyed, her mouth pursed up small. The delight of revelation, and the bliss of possessing a secret, run each other very close. But the latter generally wins — for a time.
I had passed
the mutton stage and was weltering in warm rice pudding, before I found
leisure to pause and take in things generally; and then a glance in the
direction of the window told me, to my dismay, that it was raining
hard. This was annoying in every way, for, even if it cleared up later,
the worms —
I knew well from experience
— would be offensively numerous and frisky. Sulkily I said
grace and accompanied the others upstairs to the schoolroom; where I
got out my paint-box and resolved to devote myself seriously to Art,
which of late I had much neglected. Harold got hold of a sheet of paper
and a pencil, retired to a table in the corner, squared his elbows, and
protruded his tongue. Literature had always been his form
of artistic expression.
Selina had a
fit of the fidgets, bred of the unpromising weather, and, instead of
settling down to something on her own account, must needs walk round
and annoy us artists, intent on embodying our conceptions of the ideal.
She had been looking over my shoulder some minutes before I knew of it;
or I would have had a word or two to say upon the subject.
“ I suppose
you call that thing a ship,” she remarked contemptuously.
“Who ever heard of a pink ship? Hoo-hoo!”
I stifled my
wrath, knowing that in order to score properly it was necessary to keep
a cool head.
is a pink ship,” I observed with forced calmness,
“lying in the toy-shop window now. You Can go and look at it
if you like. D’you suppose you know more about ships than the
fellows who make ‘em?”
baffled for the moment, returned to the charge presently.
are funny things, too,” she observed.
“S’pose they’re meant to be trees. But
I replied with severity; “and they are blue.
to be blue, ‘cos you
stole my gamboge last week, so I can’t mix up any
gamboge,” declared Selina, haughtily, edging away, however,
in the direction of Harold. “And I wouldn’t tell
lies, either, if I was you, about a dirty little bit of
I preserved a
discreet silence. After all, I knew she knew
she stole my gamboge.
Harold became conscious of Selina’s stealthy approach, he
dropped his pencil and flung himself flat upon the table, protecting
thus his literary efforts from chilling criticism by the interposed
thickness of. his person.
somewhere in his interior proceeded a heart-rending compound of squeal
whistle, as of escaping steam — long-drawn, ear-piercing,
unvarying in note.
only just want to see,” protested Selina, struggling to
uproot his small body
from the scrawl it guarded. But Harold clung limpet-like to the table
his shrill protest continued to deafen humanity and to threaten even
serenities of Olympus. The time seemed come for a demonstration in
Personally I cared little what soul-outpourings of Harold were pirated
— she was pretty sure to get hold of them sooner or later
— and indeed I
rather welcomed the diversion as favourable to the undisturbed pursuit
But the clannishness of sex has its unwritten laws. Boys, as such, are
sufficiently put upon, maltreated, trodden under, as it is. Should they
hang together in perilous times, what disasters, what ignominies, may
looked for? Possibly even an extinction of the tribe. I dropped my
and sailed shouting into the fray.
result for a short space hung dubious. There is a period of life when
difference of a year or two in age far outweighs the minor advantage of
Then the gathers of Selina’s frock came away with a sound
like the rattle of
distant musketry; and this calamity it was, rather than mere brute
that quelled her indomitable spirit.
female tongue is mightier than the sword, as I soon had good reason to
when Selina, her riven garment held out at length, avenged her
the Greek-fire of personalities and abuse. Every black incident in my
not stainless, career — every error, every folly, every
suffered — were paraded before me as in a magic-lantern show.
however, was not particularly new to me, and the effect was staled by
rehearsals. Besides, a victory remains a victory, whatever the moral
of the triumphant general.
chuckled and crowed as he dropped from the table, revealing the
which so many gathers had sighed their short lives out. “you
can read it if you
like,” he said to me gratefully. “It’s
only a death
had never been possible to say what Harold’s particular
amusement of the hour
might turn out to be. One thing only was certain, that it would be
improbable, unguessable, not to be foretold. Who, for instance, in
relaxation, would ever dream of choosing the drawing-up of a
disposition of property? Yet this was the form taken by
Harold’s latest craze;
and in justice this much had to be said for him, that in the
christening of his
amusement he had gone right to the heart of the matter. The words
“testament.” have various meanings and uses; but
about the signification of
“ death-letter” there can be no manner of doubt. I
smoothed out the crumpled
paper and read. In actual form it deviated, considerably from that
adopted by family solicitors of standing, the only resemblance, indeed,
the absence of punctuation.
dear edward (it ran) when I die I leave all my muny. to you my walkin
wips my crop my sord and gun bricks forts and all things i have goodbye
charlotte when i die I leave you my wach and cumpus and pencel case. my
and camperdown my picteres and evthing goodbye your loving brother
armen my dear
Martha I love you very much i leave you my garden my mice and rabets my
in pots when I die please take care of them my dear —
you’re not leaving me
indignantly. “You’re a regular mean little boy, and
I’ll take back the
last birthday present I gave you!”
don’t care,” said Harold, repossessing himself of
the document. “I was
going to leave you something,
but I shan’t now, ‘cos you tried to read
my death-letter before I was dead!”
I’ll write a death — letter myself,”
retorted Selina, scenting an artistic
vengeance : “and I shan’t leave you a single
thing!” And she went off in
search of a pencil.
tempest within-doors had kept my attention off the condition of things
But now a glance through the window told me that the rain had entirely
and that everything was bathed instead in a radiant glow of sunlight,
golden than any gamboge of mine could possibly depict. Leaving Selina
to settle their feud by a mutual disinheritance, I slipped from the
escaped into the open air, eager to pick up the loose end of my new
just where I had dropped it that morning. In the glorious reaction of
sunshine after the downpour, with its moist warm smells, bespanglement
greenery, and inspiritsing touch of rain-washed air, the parks and
the imagination glowed with a livelier iris, and their blurred beauties
out again with fresh blush and palpitation. As I sped along to the
I accompanied my new comrade along the corridors of my pet palace into
had so hastily introduced her; and on reflection I began to see that it
wouldn’t work properly. I had made a mistake, and those were
surroundings in which she was most fitted to shine. However, it really
matter much; I had other palaces to place at her disposal —
plenty of ‘em;
and on a further acquaintance with and knowledge of her tastes, no
doubt I could
find something to suit her.
was a real Arabian one, for instance, which I visited but rarely
only just when I was in the
fine Oriental mood for it;. a wonder of silk
hangings, fountains of rosewater, pavilions, and minarets. Hundreds of
trained slaves thronged
the stairs and alleys of this establishment, ready to fetch and carry
all day, if she wished it; and my brave soldiers would be spared the
Also there were processions through the bazaar at odd moments
with camels, elephants, and palanquins. Yes, she was more suited for
this imperious young person; and I determined that thither she should
personally conducted as soon as ever might be.
reached the fence and climbed up two bars of it, and leaning over I
way and that for my twin-souled partner of the morning. It was not long
caught sight of her, only a short distance away. Her back was towards
me and —
well, one can never foresee exactly how one will find things
— she was talking
to a Boy.
course there are boys and boys, and Lord knows I was never narrow. But
the parson’s son from an adjoining village, a red-headed boy
and as common a
little beast as ever stepped. He cultivated ferrets — his
only good point; and
it was evidently through the medium of this art that he was basely
me, for her head was bent absorbedly over something he carried in his
With some trepidation I called out, “Hi! “ But
answer there was none. Then
again I called, “ Hi! “ but this time with a
sickening sense of failure and
of doom. She replied only by a complex gesture, decisive in import if
described. A petulant toss of the head, a jerk of the left shoulder,
backward kick of the left foot, all delivered at once —
that was all, and that was
enough. The red-headed boy never even
condescended to glance my way. Why, indeed, should he? I dropped from
without another effort, and took my way homewards along the weary road.
Little inclination was left to me, at first, for any solitary visit to my accustomed palace, the pleasures of which I had so recently tasted in company; and yet after a minute or two I found myself from habit, sneaking off there much as usual. Presently I became aware of a certain solace and consolation in my newly-recovered independence of action. Quit of all female whims and fanciful restrictions, I rowed, sailed, or punted, just as I pleased; in the Chocolate-room I cracked and nibbled the hard sticks, with a certain contempt for those who preferred the soft, veneered article; and I mixed and quaffed countless fizzy drinks without dread of any prohibitionist. Finally, I swaggered into the park, paraded all my soldiers on the terrace, and, bidding them take the time from me, gave the order to fire off all the guns.