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- JEREMY - 5/48 -
unsympathetic soil. That day the snow did not lie; and for a week it did not come again; then with a whirl it seized the land, and for two days and nights did not loosen its grip. From the nursery windows the children watched it, their noses making little rings on the window-pane, their delighted eyes snatching fascinating glimpses of figures tossed through the storm, cabs beating their way, the rabbit-skin man, the milkman, the postman, brave adventurers all, fighting, as it seemed, for their very lives.
For two days the children did not leave the house, and the natural result of that was that on the second afternoon tempers were, like so many dogs, straining, tugging, pulling at their chains.
It could not be denied that Jeremy had been tiresome to everyone since the afternoon when he had heard the news of his going to school next September. It had seemed to him a tremendous event, the Beginning of the End. To the others, who lived in the immediate present, it was a crisis so remote as scarcely to count at all. Mary would have liked to be sentimental about it, but from this she was sternly prevented. There was then nothing more to be said. . .
Jeremy was suddenly isolated from them all. His destiny was peculiar. They were girls, he was a boy. They understood neither his fears nor his ambitions; he needed terribly a companion. The snow, shutting them in, laughed at their struggles against monotony. The nursery clock struck three and they realised that two whole hours must pass before the next meal. Mary, her nose red from pressing on the window-pane, her eyes gazing through her huge spectacles wistfully at Jeremy, longed to suggest that she should read aloud to him. She knew that he hated it; she pretended to herself that she did not know.
Jeremy stared desperately at Helen who was sitting, dignified and collected, in the wicker chair hemming a minute handkerchief.
"We might play Pirates," Jeremy said with a little cough, the better to secure her attention. There was no answer.
"Or there's the hut in the wood--if anyone likes it better," he added politely. He did not know what was the matter. Had the Jampot not told him about school he would at this very moment be playing most happily with his village. It spread out there before him on the nursery floor, the Noah family engaged upon tea in the orchard, the butcher staring with fixed gaze from the door of his shop, three cows and a sheep absorbed in the architecture of the church.
He sighed, then said again: "Perhaps Pirates would be better."
Still Helen did not reply. He abandoned the attempted control of his passions.
"It's very rude," he said, "not to answer when gentlemen speak to you."
"I don't see any gentlemen," answered Helen quietly, without raising her eyes, which was, as she knew, a provoking habit.
"Yes, you do," almost screamed Jeremy. "I'm one."
"You're not," continued Helen; "you're only eight. Gentlemen must be over twenty like Father or Mr. Jellybrand."
"I hate Mr. Jellybrand and I hate you," replied Jeremy.
"I don't care," said Helen.
"Yes, you do," said Jeremy, then suddenly, as though even a good quarrel were not worth while on this heavily burdened afternoon, he said gently: "You might play Pirates, Helen. You can be Sir Roger."
"I've got this to finish."
"It's a dirty old thing," continued Jeremy, pursuing an argument, "and it'll be dirtier soon, and the Jampot says you do all the stitches wrong. I wish I was at school."
"I wish you were," said Helen.
There was a pause after this. Jeremy went sadly back to his window- seat. Mary felt that her moment had arrived. Sniffing, as was her habit when she wanted something very badly, she said in a voice that was little more than a whisper:
"It would be fun, wouldn't it, perhaps if I read something, Jeremy?"
Jeremy was a gentleman, although he was only eight. He looked at her and saw behind the spectacles eyes beseeching his permission.
"Well, it wouldn't be much fun," he said, "but it's all beastly this afternoon, anyway."
"Can I sit on the window too?" asked Mary.
"Not too close, because it tickles my ear, but you can if you like."
She hurried across to the bookshelf. "There's 'Stumps' and 'Rags and Tatters,' and 'Engel the Fearless,' and 'Herr Baby' and 'Alice' and- -"
"'Alice' is best," said Jeremy, sighing. "You know it better than the others." He curled himself into a corner of the window-seat. From his position there he had a fine view. Immediately below him was the garden, white and grey under the grey sky, the broken fountain standing up like a snow man in the middle of it. The snow had ceased to fall and a great stillness held the world.
Beyond the little iron gate of the garden that always sneezed "Tishoo" when you closed it, was the top of Orange Street; then down the hill on the right was the tower of his father's church; exactly opposite the gate was the road that led to the Orchards, and on the right of that was the Polchester High School for Young Ladies, held in great contempt by Jeremy, the more that Helen would shortly be a day-boarder there, would scream with the other girls, and, worst of all, would soon be seen walking with her arm round another girl's neck, chattering and eating sweets. . .
The whole world seemed deserted. No colour, no movement, no sound. He sighed once more--"I'd like to eat jam and jam--lots of it," he thought. "It would be fun to be sick."
Mary arrived and swung herself up on to the window-seat.
"It's the 'Looking Glass' one. I hope you don't mind," she said apprehensively.
"Oh, it's all right," he allowed. He flung a glance back to the lighted nursery. It seemed by contrast with that grey world outside to blaze with colour; the red- painted ships on the wallpaper, the bright lights and shadows of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," the salmon fronts of the doll's house, the green and red of the village on the floor with the flowery trees, the blue tablecloth, the shining brass coal-scuttle all alive and sparkling in the flames and shadows of the fire, caught and held by the fine gold of the higher fender. Beyond that dead white--soon it would be dark, the curtains would be drawn, and still there would be nothing to do. He sighed again.
"It's a nice bit about the shop," said Mary. Jeremy said nothing, so she began. She started at a run:
"She looked at the Queen, who seemed to have'"--sniff, sniff-" 'sud- den-ly suddenly wra-wra-w-r-a-p-p-e-d wrapped--'"
"Wrapped?" asked Jeremy.
"I don't know," said Mary, rubbing her nose, "what it means, but perhaps we'll see presently, herself up in w-o-o-l wool. 'Alice rubbed her eyes and looked again she couldn't--'"
"'Looked again she couldn't'?" asked Jeremy. "It should be, 'she couldn't look again.'"
"Oh, there's a stop," said Mary. "I didn't see. After 'again' there's a stop. 'She couldn't make out what had happened at all--'"
"I can't either," said Jeremy crossly. "It would be better perhaps if I read it myself."
"It will be all right in a minute," said Mary confidently. "'Was she in a shop? And was that really--was it really a ship that was sitting on the counter?'" she finished with a run.
"A what?" asked Jeremy.
"A ship! How could it sit on a counter?" he asked.
"Oh no, it's a sheep. How silly I am!" Mary exclaimed.
"You do read badly," he agreed frankly. "I never can understand nothing." And it was at that very moment that he saw the Dog.
He had been staring down into the garden with a gaze half abstracted, half speculative, listening with one ear to Mary, with the other to the stir of the fire, the heavy beat of the clock and the rustlings of Martha the canary.
He watched the snowy expanse of garden, the black gate, the road beyond. A vast wave of pale grey light, the herald of approaching dusk, swept the horizon, the snowy roofs, the streets, and Jeremy felt some contact with the strange air, the mysterious omens that the first snows of the winter spread about the land. He watched as though he were waiting for something to happen.
The creature came up very slowly over the crest of Orange Street. No one else was in sight, no cart, no horse, no weather-beaten wayfarer. At first the dog was only a little black smudge against the snow; then, as he arrived at the Coles' garden-gate, Jeremy could see him very distinctly. He was, it appeared, quite alone; he had been, it was evident, badly beaten by the storm. Intended by nature to be a rough and hairy dog, he now appeared before God and men a shivering battered creature, dripping and wind-tossed, bedraggled and bewildered. And yet, even in that first distant
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Schulers Books Online
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