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- JEREMY - 30/48 -


"I'm not!" cried Jeremy, taking it and trying to squeeze it down between three walnuts and the toy pistol.

"Oh, Jeremy clear, that's not the way to treat your Bible. I'll give you some paper to wrap it up in, and you'd better take the things out again and put it in at the bottom of the box." Yes, obviously he would not be ready in time.

The matter of Hamlet and the "lead" was also very exhausting. Hamlet had never, in all his days, been tied to anyone or anything. Of course no one could tell what had been his history before he came strolling on to the Cole horizon, and it may be that once as a very small puppy he had been tied on to something. On the whole, that is probable, his protests on this occasion being of a kind so vehement as to argue some reminiscences behind them. Mrs. Cole had bought a beautiful "lead" of black leather; of course be had already a collar studded with little silver nails, and the point was very simply to fasten the "lead" on to the collar. Jeremy had been promised that he should conduct Hamlet, and it had seemed, when the promise had been made, as though it would be a very simple thing to carry out. Hamlet no sooner saw the cord than he began his ingenious protests, sitting up and smiing at it, suddenly darting at the recumbent Miss Noah and rushing round the room with her, finally catching the "lead" itself in his teeth and hiding with it under Miss Jones's skirt.

The result was that Tom Collins's bus arrived when no one in the schoolroom was in the least prepared for it. Then what confusion there was! Mrs. Cole, looking strange in her hat and veil, as though she were dressed up for a play, came urging them to hurry, "because Father was waiting." Then Hamlet tied himself and his "lead" round the leg of the table; then Mary said in her most tiresome manner, apropos of nothing at all, "You do love me, Jeremy, don't you?" just at the moment when he was trying to unlace Hamlet, and her lip began to tremble when he said, "Oh, don't bother," so that he was compelled to add "Of course I do"; then Father came running up the stairs with "Really, this is too disgraceful. We shall miss that train!"

Then Uncle Samuel appeared, looking so queer that Jeremy was compelled to stare at him. Jeremy had seen very little of Uncle Samuel during these last months. He had hoped, after that wonderful adventure of the Christmas Pantomime, that they were going to be friends, but it had not been so. He had been away somewhere, in some strange place, painting, and then, on his return, he had hid himself and his odd affairs away in some corner of the house where no one saw him. He had had his life and Jeremy had had his.

Nevertheless Jeremy was delighted to see him. It would be fun to have him at Cow Farm with his squashy brown hat, his fat cheeks, his blue painting smock, and his short legs with huge boots. He was different, in some way, from all the rest of the world, and Jeremy, even at that early stage of his education, already perceived that he could learn more from Uncle Samuel than from any other member of the family.

Now he put his head in through the door and said: "Well, you kids, aren't you ready? It's time!" Then, seeing Miss Jones, he said: "Good morning," and bolted like a rabbit. Even then Jeremy noticed that he had paint on his fingers, and that two of his waistcoat buttons were unfastened.

Then down in the hall what confusion there was! Boxes here, there and everywhere. Mother, Father, Aunt Amy, Uncle Samuel, and, most interesting of all, Barbara and the new nurse. The new nurse was called Mrs. Pateham, and she was stout, red-cheeked, and smiling. The bundle in white called Barbara was, most happily, sleeping; but Hamlet barked at Mrs. Pateham, and that woke Barbara, who began to cry. Then Collins came in with his coat off, and the muscles swelling on his shoulders, and handled the boxes as though they were paper, and the cook, and Rose, and William, the handy-boy, and old Jordan, the gardener, and Mrs. Preston, a lady from two doors down, who sometimes came in to help, all began to bob and smile, and Father said: "Now, my dear. Now, my dear," and Hamlet wound himself and his lead round everything that he could see, and Helen fussed and said: "Now, Jeremy," and Miss Jones said: "Now, children," and last of all Collins said: "Now, mum; now, sir," and then they all were bundled into the bus, with the cart and the luggage coming along behind.

The drive through the streets was, of course, as lovely as it could be; not in the least because anyone could see anything--that was hindered by the fact that the windows of the bus were so old that they were crusted with a kind of glassy mildew, and no amount of rubbing on the window- panes provided one with a view--but because the inside of the bus was inevitably connected with adventure-- partly through its motion, partly through its noise, and partly through its lovely smell. These were, of course, Jeremy's views, and it can't definitely be asserted that all grown-up people shared them. But whenever Jeremy had ridden in that bus he had always been on his way to something delightful. The motion, therefore, rejoiced his heart, although the violence of it was such that everyone was thrown against everyone else, so that Uncle Samuel was suddenly hurled against the bonnet of Miss Jones, and Helen struck Aunt Amy in the chest, and Jeremy himself dived into his sister Barbara. As to the smell, it was that lovely well-known one that has in it mice and straw, wet umbrellas and whisky, goloshes and candle-grease, dust and green paint! Jeremy loved it, and sniffed on this occasion so often that Miss Jones told him to blow his nose. As to the noise, who is there who does not remember that rattle and clatter, that sudden, deafening report as of the firing of a hundred firearms, the sudden pause when every bolt and bar and hinge sighs and moans like the wind or a stormy sea, and then that sudden scream of the clattering windows, when it is as though a frenzied cook, having received notice to leave, was breaking every scrap of china in the kitchen? "Who does not know that last maddened roar as the vehicle stumbles across the last piece of cobbled road--a roar that drowns, with a savage and determined triumph, all those last directions not to forget this, that, and the other; all those inquiries as to whether this, that, and the other had been remembered? Cobbles are gone now, and old buses sleep in deserted courts, and Collins, alas, is not. His youngest son has a motor-garage, and Polchester has asphalt--sic transit gloria, mundi.

Jeremy, clutching his green box with one hand and Hamlet's lead with the other, was in an ecstasy of happiness. The louder the noise, the rocking motion, the stronger the smell, the better. "Isn't it lovely?" he murmured to Miss Jones during one of the pauses.

It may be that it was at this moment that Uncle Samuel finally made up his mind about Jeremy. In spite of his dislike, even hatred of children, he had been coming slowly, during the last two years, to an affection for, and interest in, his nephew that was something quite new to his cynical, egoistic nature. It had leapt into activity at Christmas time, then had died again. Now as, flung first into his sister's bony arms, then on to the terrified spectacles of his niece Mary, he tried to recover himself, he was caught and held by that picture of his small nephew, seated, solid and square, in his blue sailor suit, his bare knees swinging, his hand clutching his precious box with an energy that defied Fate itself to take it from him, his mouth set, his eyes staring, radiant with joy, in front of him.

On arrival at the station it was found that the one o'clock to Liskane was "just about due," so that there was no time to be lost. They had to rush along under the great iron dome, passing by the main line, disregarding the tempestuous express from Truxe that drew up, as it were disdainfully, just as they passed, and finding the modest side line to Liskane and St. Lowe. Here there was every kind of excitement for Jeremy. Anyone who has any kind of passion for observation must have discovered long ago that a side line has ever so much more charm and appeal about it than a main line. A main line is scornful of the station in whose heart it consents for a moment to linger, its eyes are staring forward towards the vast cities who are impatiently awaiting it; but a side line has its very home here. So much gossip passes from day to day above its rails (and gossip that has for its circumference five green fields, a country road, and a babbling brook), that it knows all its passengers by heart.

To the people who travel on a side line, the train itself is still something of a wonder. How much more was that true thirty years ago. On this especial line there were only two stations-Liskane and St. Lowe, and, of a certainty, these stations would not even now be in existence were it not that St. Lowe was a fishing centre of very great importance. The little district that comprehended St. Lowe, Garth in Roselands, Stoep in Roselands, Lucent- Polwint, Rafiel, and all the smaller hamlets around them, was fed by this line; but, even so, the little train was never crowded. Tourists did not, and even now do not, go to Polwint and St. Lowe because "they smell so fishy," nor to Rafield "because it's too far from the railway," nor to the Roseland valleys "because there's nothing to see there.", May these reasons hold good for many years to come!

Today there were three farmers in brown leggings, with pipes, and thick knotted walking-sticks, two or three women with baskets, and a child or so, and an amiable, absent- minded clergyman in a black cloth so faded that it was now green, reading The Times, and shaking his head over it as he stumbled up and down the platform. One of the farmers had a large, woolly sheep-dog, who, of course, excited Hamlet to a frenzy. Jeremy, therefore, had his time fully occupied in checking this; but he had, nevertheless, the opportunity to observe how one of the farmers puffed the smoke out of his cheeks as though he were an engine; how one of the women, with a back as broad as a wall, had red stockings; and how the clergyman nearly fell on to the railway-line every time he turned round, and only saved himself from disaster by a miracle. The train arriving at last, they all climbed into it, and then had to wait for a hot, grilling half- hour whilst the engine made up its mind that it was worth its while to take all the trouble to start off again.

"An hour late, upon my word," said Mr. Cole angrily, when at last, with a snore and a heave, and a grunt and a scream, they started. "It's really too bad. I shall have to complain," which, as everyone present knew, he had not the slightest intention of doing. In Jeremy's carriage there were his father, his mother, Uncle Samuel, himself, Mary, and, of course, Hamlet. Hamlet had never been, in a train before, and his terror at the way that the ground quivered under him was pitiful to see. He lay first under the seat, trying to hold himself tightly together, then, when that failed, he made startled frenzied leaps on to laps (the lead had been removed for the time), finally he cowered up into the corner behind Uncle Samuel, who seemed to understand his case and sympathised with it. Whenever the train stopped (which, being a Glebeshire train, it did continually), he recovered at once his savoir-faire, asserted his dignity, gazed through the windows at the fields and cows as though he owned them all, and barked with the friendly greeting of comrade to comrade whenever he saw another dog.

The next thing that occupied Jeremy's attention was lunch. Many people despise sandwiches and milk out of beer-bottles and bananas


JEREMY - 30/48

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