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- Not that it Matters - 20/26 -


suppose, because it is your birthday. On your arrival you find that you have lost your ticket. Now, doubtless there is some sort of recognized business to be gone through which relieves you of the necessity of paying again. You produce an affidavit of a terribly affirmative nature, together with your card and a testimonial from a beneficed member of the Church of England. Or you conduct a genial correspondence with the traffic manager which spreads itself over six months. To save yourself this bother you simply tell the collector that you haven't a ticket and have come from Charing Cross. Is it necessary to add "first- class"?

Of course one has a strong feeling that one ought to, but I think a still stronger feeling that one isn't defrauding the railway company if one doesn't. (I will try not to get so many "ones" into my next sentence.) For you may argue fairly that you established your right to travel first-class when you stepped into the carriage with your ticket--and, it may be, had it examined therein by an inspector. All that you want to do now is to establish your right to leave the Wimbledon platform for the purer air of the common. And you can do this perfectly easily with a third-class ticket.

However, this is a problem which will only arise if you are careless with your property. But however careful you are, it may happen to you at any moment that you become suddenly the owner of a shilling with a hole in it.

I am such an owner. I entered into possession a week ago--Heaven knows who played the thing off on me. As soon as I made the discovery I went into a tobacconist's and bought a box of matches.

"This," he said, looking at me reproachfully, "is a shilling with a hole in it."

"I know," I said, "but it's all right, thanks. I don't want to wear it any longer. The fact is, Joanna has thrown me--However, I needn't go into that." He passed it back to me.

"I am afraid I can't take it," he said.

"Why not? I managed to."

However, I had to give him one without a hole before he would let me out of his shop. Next time I was more thoughtful. I handed three to the cashier at my restaurant in payment of lunch, and the ventilated one was in the middle. He saw the joke of it just as I was escaping down the stairs.

"Hi!" he said, "this shilling has a hole in it."

I went back and looked at it. Sure enough it had.

"Well, that's funny," I said. "Did you drop it, or what?"

He handed the keepsake back to me. He also had something of reproach in his eye.

"Thanks, very much," I said. "I wouldn't have lost it for worlds; Emily--But I mustn't bore you with the story. Good day to you." And I gave him a more solid coin and went.

Well, that's how we are at present. A more unscrupulous person than myself would have palmed it off long ago. He would have told himself with hateful casuistry that the coin was none the worse for the air-hole in it, and that, if everybody who came into possession of it pressed it on to the next man, nobody would be injured by its circulation. But I cannot argue like this. It pleases me to give my shilling a run with the others sometimes. I like to put it down on a counter with one or two more, preferably in the middle of them where the draught cannot blow through it; but I should indeed be surprised--I mean sorry--if it did not come back to me at once.

There is one thing, anyhow, that I will not do. I will not give it to a waiter or a taxi-driver or to anybody else as a tip. If you estimate the market value of a shilling with a hole in it at anything from ninepence to fourpence according to the owner's chances of getting rid of it, then it might be considered possibly a handsome, anyhow an adequate, tip for a driver; but somehow the idea does not appeal to me at all. For if the recipient did not see the hole, you would feel that you had been unnecessarily generous to him, and that one last effort to have got it off on to a shopkeeper would have been wiser; while if he did see it--well, we know what cabmen are. He couldn't legally object, it is a voluntary gift on your part, and even regarded as a contribution to his watch chain worthy of thanks, but--Well, I don't like it. I don't think it's sportsmanlike.

However, I have an idea at last. I know a small boy who owns some lead soldiers. I propose to borrow one of these--a corporal or perhaps a serjeant--and boil him down, and then fill up the hole in the shilling with lead. Shillings, you know, are not solid silver; oh no, they have alloy in them. This one will have a little more than usual perhaps. One cannot tie oneself down to an ounce or two.

We set out, I believe, to discuss the morals of the question. It is a most interesting subject.

The Happiest Half-Hours of Life

Yesterday I should have gone back to school, had I been a hundred years younger. My most frequent dream nowadays--or nowanights I suppose I should say--is that I am back at school, and trying to construe difficult passages from Greek authors unknown to me. That they are unknown is my own fault, as will be pointed out to me sternly in a moment. Meanwhile I stand up and gaze blankly at the text, wondering how it is that I can have forgotten to prepare it. "Er--him the--er--him the--the er many-wiled Odysseus--h'r'm--then, him addressing, the many-wiled Odysseus-- er--addressed. Er--er --the er--" And then, sweet relief, I wake up. That is one of my dreams; and another is that I am trying to collect my books for the next school and that an algebra, or whatever you like, is missing. The bell has rung, as it seems hours ago, I am searching my shelves desperately, I am diving under my table, behind the chair ... I shall be late, I shall be late, late, late ...

No doubt I had these bad moments in real life a hundred years ago. Indeed I must have had them pretty often that they should come back to me so regularly now. But it is curious that I should never dream that I am going back to school, for the misery of going back must have left a deeper mark on my mind than all the little accidental troubles of life when there. I was very happy at school; but oh! the utter wretchedness of the last day of the holidays.

One began to be apprehensive on the Monday. Foolish visitors would say sometimes on the Monday, "When are you going back to school?" and make one long to kick them for their tactlessness. As well might they have said to a condemned criminal, "When are you going to be hanged?" or, "What kind of--er--knot do you think they'll use?" Througout Monday and Tuesday we played the usual games, amused ourselves in the usual way, but with heavy hearts. In the excitement of the moment we would forget and be happy, and then suddenly would come the thought, "We're going back on Wednesday."

And on Tuesday evening we would bring a moment's comfort to ourselves by imagining that we were not going back on the morrow. Our favourite dream was that the school was burnt down early on Wednesday morning, and that a telegram arrived at breakfast apologizing for the occurrence, and pointing out that it would be several months before even temporary accommodation could be erected. No Vandal destroyed historic buildings so light- heartedly as we. And on Tuesday night we prayed that, if the lightnings of Heaven failed us, at least a pestilence should be sent in aid. Somehow, SOMEHOW, let the school be uninhabitable!

But the telegram never came. We woke on Wednesday morning as wakes the murderer on his last day. We took a dog or two for a walk; we pretended to play a game of croquet. After lunch we donned the badges of our servitude. The comfortable, careless, dirty flannels were taken off, and the black coats and stiff white collars put on. At 3.30 an early tea was ready for us-- something rather special, a last mockery of holiday. (Dressed crab, I remember, on one occasion, and I travelled with my back to the engine after it--a position I have never dared to assume since.) Then good-byes, tips, kisses, a last look, and--the 4.10 was puffing out of the station. And nothing, nothing had happened. I can remember thinking in the train how unfair it all was. Fifty-two weeks in the year, I said to myself, and only fifteen of them spent at home. A child snatched from his mother at nine, and never again given back to her for more than two months at a time. "Is this Russia?" I said; and, getting no answer, could only comfort myself with the thought, "This day twelve weeks!"

And once the incredible did happen. It was through no intervention of Providence; no, it was entirely our own doing. We got near some measles, and for a fortnight we were kept in quarantine. I can say truthfully that we never spent a duller two weeks. There seemed to be nothing to do at all. The idea that we were working had to be fostered by our remaining shut up in one room most of the day, and within the limits of that room we found very little in the way of amusement. We were bored extremely. And always we carried with us the thought of Smith or Robinson taking our place in the Junior House team and making hundreds of runs. ...

Because, of course, we were very happy at school really. The trouble was that we were so much happier in the holidays. I have had many glorious moments since I left school, but I have no doubt as to what have been the happiest half-hours in my life. They were the half-hours on the last day of term before we started home. We spent them on a lunch of our own ordering. It was the first decent meal we had had for weeks, and when it was over there were all the holidays before us. Life may have better half-hours than that to offer, but I have not met them.


Not that it Matters - 20/26

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