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- JEREMY - 4/48 -


he with his village. He walked swollen with pride. He arrived at the first Island of Circe, namely, the window of Mr. Thompson, the jeweller in Market Street, pressed his nose to the pane, and refused to listen when the Jampot suggested that he should move forward.

He could see the diamonds like drops of water in the sun, and the pearls like drops of milk, and the rubies like drops of blood, but it was not of diamonds, pearls or rubies that he was thinking--he thought only of his village. He would ring the church bell, and then all the Noah family should start out of the door, down the garden, up the village street. . . It did not matter if one of the younger Noahs should be lazy and wish to stay at home beneath the flowering trees of the orchard. She would not be allowed. . . He was as God. . . He was as God. . . The butcher should go (if he was not stuck to his shop), and even some of his cows might go. . . . He was as God. . .

He heard Mary's voice in his ear.

"And after that they all ate chocolates with white cream and red cream, and they sucked it off pins, and there were hard bits and soft bits, and the Princess (she was a frog now. You remember, don't you, Jeremy? The witch turned her) hotted the oven like cook has, with black doors, and hotted it and hotted it, but suddenly there was a noise--"

And, on the other side, the Jampot's voice: "You naughty boy, stoppin' 'ere for everyone to see, just because it's your birthday, which I wish there wasn't no birthdays, nor there wouldn't be if I had my way."

Jeremy turned from Mr. Thompson's window, a scornful smile on his face:

"I'm bigger'n you, Nurse," he said. "If I said out loud, 'I won't go,' I wouldn't go, and no one could make me."

"Well, come along, then," said Nurse.

"Don't be so stupid, Jerry," said Helen calmly. "If a policeman came and said you had to go home you'd have to go."

"No I wouldn't," said Jeremy.

"Then they'd put you in prison."

"They could."

"They'd hang you, perhaps."

"They could," replied Jeremy.

Farther than this argument cannot go, so Helen shrugged her shoulders and said: "You are silly."

And they all moved forward.

He found then that this new sense or God-like power detracted a little from the excitements of the Market Place, although the flower-stall was dazzling with flowers; there was a new kind of pig that lifted its tail and lowered it again on the toy stall, and the apple-woman was as fat as ever and had thick clumps of yellow bananas hanging most richly around her head. They ascended the High Street and reached the Close. It was half-past three, and the Cathedral bells had begun to ring for evensong. All the houses in the Close were painted with a pale yellow light; across the long green Cathedral lawn thin black shadows like the fingers of giants pointed to the Cathedral door. All was so silent here that the bells danced against the houses and back again, the echoes lingering in the high elms and mingling with the placid cooing of the rooks.

"There's Mrs. Sampson," said Jeremy. "Aunt Amy says she's a wicked woman. Do you think she's a wicked woman, Nurse?" He gazed at the stout figure with interest. If he were truly God he would turn her into a rabbit. This thought amused him, and he began to laugh.

"You naughty boy; now come along, do," said the Jampot, who distrusted laughter in Jerry.

"I'll ring the bells when I grow up," he said, "and I'll ring them in the middle of the night, so that everyone will have to go to church when they don't want to. I'll be able to do what I like when I grow up."

"No, you won't," said Helen. "Father and Mother can't do what they like."

"Yes they can," said Jeremy.

"No they can't," answered Helen, "or they would."

"So they do," said Jeremy--"silly."

"Silly yourself," said Helen very calmly, because she knew very well that she was not silly.

"Now, children, stop it, do," said the Jampot.

Jeremy's sense of newly received power reached its climax when they walked round the Close and reached the back of the Cathedral. I know that now, both for Jeremy and me, that prospect has dwindled into its proper grown- up proportions, but how can a man, be he come to threescore and ten and more, ever forget the size, the splendour, the stupendous extravagance of that early vision?

Jeremy saw that day the old fragment of castle wall, the green expanse falling like a sheeted waterfall from the Cathedral heights, the blue line of river flashing in the evening sun between the bare- boughed trees, the long spaces of black shadow spreading slowly over the colour, as though it were all being rolled up and laid away for another day; the brown frosty path of the Rope Walk, the farther bank climbing into fields and hedges, ending in the ridge of wood, black against the golden sky. And all so still! As the children stood there they could catch nestlings' faint cries, stirrings of dead leaves and twigs, as birds and beasts moved to their homes; the cooing of the rooks about the black branches seemed to promise that this world should be for ever tranquil, for ever cloistered and removed; the sun, red and flaming above the dark wood, flung white mists hither and thither to veil its departure. The silence deepened, the last light flamed on the river and died upon the hill.

"Now, children, come along do," said the Jampot who had been held in spite of herself, and would pay for it, she knew, in rheumatism to- morrow. It was then that Jeremy's God-flung sense of power, born from that moment early in the day when he had sat in the wicker chair, reached its climax. He stood there, his legs apart, looking upon the darkening world and felt that he could do anything-- anything. . .

At any rate, there was one thing that he could do, disobey the Jampot.

"I'm not coming," he said, "till I choose."

"You wicked boy!" she cried, her temper rising with the evening chills, her desire for a cup of hot tea, and an aching longing for a comfortable chair. "When everyone's been so good to you to-day and the things you've been given and all--why, it's a wicked shame."

The Jampot, who was a woman happily without imagination, saw a naughty small boy spoiled and needing the slipper.

A rook, taking a last look at the world before retiring to rest, watching from his leafless bough, saw a mortal spirit defying the universe, and sympathised with it.

"I shall tell your mother," said the Jampot. "Now come, Master Jeremy, be a good boy."

"Oh, don't bother, Nurse," he answered impatiently. "You're such a fuss."

She realised in that moment that he was suddenly beyond her power, that he would never be within it again. She had nursed him for eight years, she had loved him in her own way; she, dull perhaps in the ways of the world, but wise in the ways of nurses, ways that are built up of surrender and surrender, gave him, then and there, to the larger life. . .

"You may behave as you like, Master Jeremy," she said. "It won't be for long that I'll have the dealing with you, praise be. You'll be going to school next September, and then we'll see what'll happen to your wicked pride."

"School!" he turned upon her, his eyes wide and staring.

"School!" he stared at them all.

The world tumbled from him. In his soul was a confusion of triumph and dismay, of excitement and loneliness, of the sudden falling from him of all old standards, old horizons, of pride and humility. . . How little now was the Village to him. He looked at them to see whether they could understand. They could not.

Very quietly he followed them home. His birthday had achieved its climax. . .

CHAPTER II

THE FAMILY DOG

I

That winter of Jeremy's eighth birthday was famous for its snow. Glebeshire has never yielded to the wishes of its children in the matter of snowy Christmases, and Polchester has the reputation of muggy warmth and foggy mists, but here was a year when traditions were fulfilled in the most reckless manner, and all the 1892 babies were treated to a present of snow on so fine a scale that certainly for the rest of their days they will go about saying: "Ah, you should see the winters we used to have when we were children. . ."

The snow began on the very day after Jeremy's birthday, coming down doubtfully, slowly, little grey flakes against a grey sky, then sparkling white, then vanishing flashes of moisture on a wet,


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