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- Not that it Matters - 5/26 -
it is), ants' eggs were given him to quell his spirit; and just as a man, if he has sufficient colds, can get up a passion even for ammoniated quinine, so the goldfish has grown in captivity to welcome the once-hated omelette.
Let us consider now the case of the goldfish in the house. His diet is the same, but how different his surroundings! If his bowl is placed on a table in the middle of the floor, he has but to flash his tail once and he has been all round the drawing-room. The drawing-room may not seem much to you, but to him this impressionist picture through the curved glass must be amazing. Let not the outdoor goldfish boast of his freedom. What does he, in his little world of water-lily roots, know of the vista upon vista which opens to his more happy brother as he passes jauntily from china dog to ottoman and from ottoman to Henry's father? Ah, here is life! It may be that in the course of years he will get used to it, even bored by it; indeed, for that reason I always advocate giving him a glance at the dining-room or the bedrooms on Wednesdays and Saturdays; but his first day in the bowl must be the opening of an undreamt of heaven to him.
Again, what an adventurous life is his. At any moment a cat may climb up and fetch him out, a child may upset him, grown-ups may neglect to feed him or to change his water. The temptation to take him up and massage him must be irresistible to outsiders. All these dangers the goldfish in the pond avoids; he lives a sheltered and unexciting life, and when he wants to die he dies unnoticed, unregretted, but for his brother the tears and the solemn funeral.
Yes; now that I have thought it out, I can see that I was wrong in calling the indoor goldfish a symbol of mid-Victorian futility. An article of this sort is no good if it does not teach the writer something as well as his readers. I recognize him now as the symbol of enterprise and endurance, of restlessness and Post-Impressionism. He is not mid-Victorian, he is Fifth Georgian.
Which is all I want to say about goldfish.
Saturday to Monday
The happy man would have happy faces round him; a sad face is a reproach to him for his happiness. So when I escape by the 2.10 on Saturday I distribute largesse with a liberal hand. The cabman, feeling that an effort is required of him, mentions that I am the first gentleman he has met that day; he penetrates my mufti and calls me captain, leaving it open whether he regards me as a Salvation Army captain or the captain of a barge. The porters hasten to the door of my cab; there is a little struggle between them as to who shall have the honour of waiting upon me. ...
Inside the station things go on as happily. The booking-office clerk gives me a pleasant smile; he seems to approve of the station I am taking. "Some do go to Brighton," he implies, "but for a gentleman like you--" He pauses to point out that with this ticket I can come back on the Tuesday if I like (as, between ourselves, I hope to do). In exchange for his courtesies I push him my paper through the pigeon hole. A dirty little boy thrust it into my cab; I didn't want it, but as we are all being happy to- day he had his penny.
I follow my porter to the platform. "On the left," says the ticket collector. He has said it mechanically to a hundred persons, but he becomes human and kindly as he says it to me. I feel that he really wishes me to get into the right train, to have a pleasant journey down, to be welcomed heartily by my friends when I arrive. It is not as to one of a mob but to an individual that he speaks.
The porter has found me an empty carriage. He is full of ideas for my comfort; he tells me which way the train will start, where we stop, and when we may be expected to arrive. Am I sure I wouldn't like my bag in the van? Can he get me any papers? No; no, thanks. I don't want to read. I give him sixpence, and there is another one of us happy.
Presently the guard. He also seems pleased that I have selected this one particular station from among so many. Pleased, but not astonished; he expected it of me. It is a very good run down in his train, and he shouldn't be surprised if we had a fine week- end. ...
I stand at the door of ray carriage feeling very happy. It is good to get out of London. Come to think of it, we are all getting out of London, and none of us is going to do any work to- morrow. How jolly! Oh, but what about my porter? Bother! I wish now I'd given him more than sixpence. Still, he may have a sweetheart and be happy that way.
We are off. I have nothing to read, but then I want to think. It is the ideal place in which to think, a railway carriage; the ideal place in which to be happy. I wonder if I shall be in good form this week-end at cricket and tennis, and croquet and billiards, and all the other jolly games I mean to play. Look at those children trying to play cricket in that dirty backyard. Poor little beggars! Fancy living in one of those horrible squalid houses. But you cannot spoil to- day for me, little backyards. On Tuesday perhaps, when I am coming again to the ugly town, your misery will make me miserable; I shall ask myself hopelessly what it all means; but just now I am too happy for pity. After all, why should I assume that you envy me, you two children swinging on a gate and waving to me? You are happy, aren't you? Of course; we are all happy to-day. See, I am waving back to you.
My eyes wander round the carriage and rest on my bag. Have I put everything in? Of course I have. Then why this uneasy feeling that I have left something very important out? Well, I can soon settle the question. Let's start with to-night. Evening clothes-- they're in, I know. Shirts, collars ...
I go through the whole programme for the week-end, allotting myself in my mind suitable clothes for each occasion. Yes; I seem to have brought everything that I can possibly want. But what a very jolly programme I am drawing up for myself! Will it really be as delightful as that? Well, it was last time, and the time before; that is why I am so happy.
The train draws up at its only halt in the glow of a September mid-afternoon. There is a little pleasant bustle; nice people get out and nice people meet them; everybody seems very cheery and contented. Then we are off again ... and now the next station is mine.
We are there. A porter takes my things with a kindly smile and a "Nice day." I see Brant outside with the wagonette, not the trap; then I am not the only guest coming by this train. Who are the others, I wonder. Anybody I know? ... Why, yes, it's Bob and Mrs. Bob, and--hallo!--Cynthia! And isn't that old Anderby? How splendid! I must get that shilling back from Bob that I lost to him at billiards last time. And if Cynthia really thinks that she can play croquet ...
We greet each other happily and climb into the wagonette. Never has the country looked so lovely. "No; no rain at all," says Brant, "and the glass is going up." The porter puts our luggage in the cart and comes round with a smile. It is a rotten life being a porter, and I do so want everybody to enjoy this afternoon. Besides, I haven't any coppers.
I slip half a crown into his palm. Now we are all very, very happy.
My friend Aldenham's pond stands at a convenient distance from the house, and is reached by a well-drained gravel path; so that in any weather one may walk, alone or in company, dry shod to its brink, and estimate roughly how many inches of rain have fallen in the night. The ribald call it the hippopotamus pond, tracing a resemblance between it and the bath of the hippopotamus at the Zoo, beneath the waters of which, if you particularly desire to point the hippopotamus out to somebody, he always lies hidden. To the rest of us it is known simply as "the pond"--a designation which ignores the existence of several neighbouring ponds, the gifts of nature, and gives the whole credit to the handiwork of man. For "the pond" is just a small artificial affair of cement, entirely unpretentious.
There are seven steps to the bottom of the pond, and each step is 10 in. high. Thus the steps help to make the pond a convenient rain- gauge; for obviously when only three steps are left uncovered, as was the case last Monday, you know that there have been 40 in. of rain since last month, when the pond began to fill. To strangers this may seem surprising, and it is only fair to tell them the great secret, which is that much of the surrounding land drains secretly into the pond too. This seems to me to give a much fairer indication of the rain that has fallen than do the official figures in the newspapers. For when your whole day's cricket has been spoilt, it is perfectly absurd to be told that .026 of an inch of rain has done the damage; the soul yearns for something more startling than that The record of the pond, that there has been another 5 in., soothes us, where the record of the ordinary pedantic rain-gauge would leave us infuriated. It speaks much for my friend Aldenham's breadth of view that he understood this, and planned the pond accordingly.
A most necessary thing in a country house is that there should be a recognized meeting-place, where the people who have been writing a few letters after breakfast may, when they have finished, meet those who have no intention of writing any, and arrange plans with them for the morning. I am one of those who cannot write letters in another man's house, and when my pipe is well alight I say to Miss Robinson--or whoever it may be--"Let's go and look at the pond." "Right oh," she says willingly enough, having spent the last quarter of an hour with The Times Financial
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