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- JEREMY - 48/48 -


afternoon with unnecessary stupid affairs to cover his deep discomfort. He whistled carelessly and out of tune, he poked the fire and walked about. He was increasingly aware of Hamlet and Mary. Mary was determined so hard that she would show no emotion at all that she was a painful sight to witness. She scarcely spoke to him, and only answered in monosyllables if he asked her something.

And Hamlet had suddenly discovered that the atmosphere of the house was unusual. He had expected, in the first place, to be taken for a walk that afternoon; then his master was very busy doing nothing, which was most unusual. Then at tea time his worst suspicions were confirmed. Jeremy suddenly made a fuss of him, pouring his tea into his saucer, giving him a piece of bread and jam and an extra lump of sugar. Hamlet drank his tea and ate his bread and jam thoughtfully. They were very nice, but what was the matter?

He looked up through his hair and discovered that his master's eyes were restless and unhappy, and that he was thinking of things that disturbed him. He went away to the fire and, sitting on his haunches, gazing in his metaphysical way at the flames, considered the matter. Jeremy came over to him and, drawing him back to him, laid his head upon his knee and so held him. Hamlet did not move, save occasionally to sigh, and, once or twice, to snap in a sudden way that he had at an imaginary fly. He thought that in all probability his master had been punished for something, and in this he was deeply sympathetic, never seeing why his master need be punished for anything and resenting the stupidity of human beings with their eternal desire to be, in some way or other, asserting their authority.

Gradually, in front of the hot fire, both boy and dog fell asleep. Jeremy's dreams were confused, bewildered, distressing; he was struggling to find something, was always climbing higher and higher to discover it, only to be told that, in the end, he was in the place where he had begun.

Hamlet's dream was of an enormous succulent bone that was pulled away from him so soon as he snapped at it. They both awoke with a start to find that it was time for high tea.

III

Throughout the evening Jeremy was more and more lonely. He had never before felt so deep an affection for the family and never been so utterly unable to express it. It was as though, during the whole year he had, by his own will, been slipping away from them, and now they had gone too far for him to call them back.

He sat on the floor at his mother's feet whilst she read "Midshipman Easy." It was all so cosy, the room was so comfortable with all the familiar pictures and photographs and books, and Helen and Mary diligently sewing, and Hamlet stretched out in front of the fire, his nose on his paws--six months ago Jeremy would have felt utterly and absolutely part of it. Now he was outside it and, at the same time, was inside nothing else. It might be that in a week's time he would be so familiar with his new world that he would be as happy as a cricket--he did not know. He only knew that at this moment he would have given all that he had to fling his arms round his mother's neck, to be hugged and kissed and nursed by her, and that, at the same time, he would have died rather than do such a thing.

The evening came to an end. The girls got up and said good-night. His mother kissed him, holding him perhaps for a moment longer than usual, but at that same instant she said:

"Oh, I must remind Ella about the half-past seven breakfast again, she always has to be told everything twice."

The girls went on ahead, Jeremy and Hamlet following close behind. Jeremy found himself alone in the schoolroom, where the fire was very low, giving only little spurts and flashes that ran like golden snakes suddenly through the darkness.

Moved by an impulse, he went to the toy-cupboard and, opening it, put his hand quite by chance on the toy village. The toy village! He laid it out and spread it on the floor. He could not see, but he knew every piece by heart, and he laid it all out, the church and the flower garden, and the Noah's house and the village street, the animals and the Noahs. What centuries ago that birthday was, what worlds away! How excited he had been, and now--!

With a sudden impatient gesture he tumbled the pieces over on to their sides, then quickly, as though he were afraid of the dark, went into his bedroom and began to undress.

IV

In the morning events moved too quickly for thought. He had still the same lonely pain at his heart, but now he simply was not given time to consider it.

His father called him into the study. He gave him ten shillings and a new prayer-book. Jeremy knew that he was trying to come close to him and be a friend of a new kind to him.

He heard in a distance such words as: ". . . a new world, full of trial and temptation. God sees us. . . Work at your Latin . . . cricket and football . . . prayers every night. . ." But he could feel no emotion nothing but terror lest some sudden stupid emotional scene should occur. Nothing occurred. He kissed his father and went.

Then, quite suddenly, just as he came down in his hat and coat and heard that the cab was there, his restraint melted; he was free and impulsive and natural. He kissed Mary, telling her:

"You may have my toy village. I'd like you to--Yes, rather. I mean it."

He kissed Helen and Barbara, and then held to his mother, not caring whether all the world was there to see. The old life was going with him! He was not leaving it after all. The town and the house, and all the things to which he had thought that he had said good-bye, were going with him.

Hamlet! He found the dog struggling to get into the cab. That was more than he could stand. He was not going to make a fool of himself, but the only way to be secure was to get into the cab and hide there. He caught Hamlet's head, gave it a kiss, then jumped in, catching a last glimpse of the family grouped at the door, the servants at the window, the old garden with the dead leaves gathered upon it, Hamlet held, struggling, in Mary's arms.

He choked down his sobs, felt the ten shillings in his pocket, then with a mighty resolve, to which it seemed that the labours of Hercules were as nothing, leaned out and waved his hand.

The cab rolled off.

Hamlet lay down upon the mat just inside the hall-door. Someone tried to pull him away. He growled, showing his teeth. His master had gone out. He would wait for his return--and no one should move him.


JEREMY - 48/48

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