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   Chapter 3 No.3

Across the Plains, with Other Memories and Essays By Robert Louis Stevenson Characters: 44979

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Archie did not often come into contact with Miss Schwarz, his sisters' governess; she was not a person to be lightly encountered. Sometimes, if Blessington was busy, he and Jeannie went out for their walk with his eldest sister and Miss Schwarz, and on these occasions Miss Schwarz and Marjorie would talk together in an unknown guttural tongue, very ugly to hear, which Archie vaguely understood was German, and the sort of thing that everybody spoke in the country to which Miss Schwarz went for her holiday at Midsummer and Christmas. That uncouth jargon, full of such noises as you made when you cleared your throat, was quite unintelligible, and it seemed odd that Marjorie should converse in it when she could speak ordinary English; but it somehow seemed to suit Miss Schwarz, who had a sallow face, prominent teeth, and cold grey eyes. Otherwise he did not often meet her, for she led an odd secret existence in his sisters' school-room, breakfasting and having lunch downstairs in the dining-room, but eating her evening meal all by herself in the school-room. She had a black, unrustling dress for the day, and a black rustling dress for the evening, and a necklace of onyx beads which she used to finger with her dry thin hands, which reminded Archie of the claws of a bird. His mother had told him that, after Christmas, he would do his lessons with Miss Schwarz, and this prospect rather terrified him. He supposed that Miss Schwarz would probably teach him in the guttural language that Jeannie was beginning to understand too, and he had moments of secret terror when he pictured Miss Schwarz, enraged at his not comprehending her, striking at him with those claw-like hands.

He was coming upstairs one evening, rather later than usual, for his father had been showing him the contents of a cabinet of butterflies, and Archie, enraptured with the gorgeous, brilliant creatures, had begged to be allowed to wait till the gong rang for dinner. On his way upstairs he remembered that he had lent Jeannie the pen that wrote without being dipped, with which to write her German exercise. She had gone to bed early that night with a bad cold, and Archie, recognizing the impossibility of going to sleep without the precious pen in his possession again, ran along the passage to the school-room, where he was likely to find it. This might entail a momentary encounter with Miss Schwarz, but the recovery of the pen was essential, and he entered.

Miss Schwarz had finished her dinner, and was sitting by the fire on which steamed a kettle. She held a big glass in her hand, and was pouring something into it from a bottle. There was a high colour in her usually sallow face, and as she saw Archie she made one of those guttural exclamations.

"What do you want?" she said, and though she spoke English, Archie noticed that she spoke it in the same thick, guttural manner as German.

Archie froze with terror. This was quite a new Miss Schwarz, a gleaming, eager Miss Schwarz.

"Oh, I lent Jeannie my pen," he stammered. "I came to look for it, but it doesn't matter."

"Nonsense! That is not why!" said Miss Schwarz angrily. Then she suddenly seemed to take hold of herself. "Ach, that sweet little pen. You will find it on the table, my dear. Luke, and find it. And then say good-night to poor Miss Schwarz. Ach, I am so ill this evening. Such a heartburn, and I was just about to take the medicine vat makes it better. Do not tell any one, dear Archie, that poor Miss Schwarz is ill. I wish to troble nobody. Poor Miss Schwarz naiver geeve troble if she can 'elp. Ach, you have your pen! Good-night, my deear."

Archie fled down the passage to the nursery with terror giving wings to his heels. This Miss Schwarz angry one moment, and affectionate and effusive the next, was a new and a more awful person than the one he was acquainted with, and he felt sure she must be very ill indeed. It would be a terrible affair if Miss Schwarz was found dead in her bed, in spite of her medicine, just because he had not told anybody that she was ill, and so a doctor had not been fetched. There would be a burden on his conscience for ever if he did not tell somebody. He burst into the nursery with a wild look behind him, to make sure that Miss Schwarz was not following him in her evening rustling dress.

"Oh Blessington," he cried, "Miss Schwarz is ill; do go and see what is the matter. I went to the school-room for my pen, and she was sitting by the fire, all red, and angry, and then polite, mixing her medicine."

Blessington got up from her rocking-chair.

"Eh, I'll go and see," she said.

"Don't tell her I told you," said Archie.

"Nay, of course I won't. Now you begin your undressing, and I'll be back very soon."

Excited and frightened and yet hugely interested, Archie stood at the door of his room listening. Suddenly he heard the sound of Miss Schwarz's voice raised almost to a scream. Then there came the crash of a glass, and the ringing of a bell, while still Miss Schwarz's voice gabbled on, shrill and guttural. Trembling, and yet unable to resist the call of his curiosity, he stole to the corner of the nursery passage, and saw William come upstairs and go along to the school-room. Then Blessington came out, and, instead of coming back to the nursery, she went downstairs, and presently his father came up again with her. He, too, went along the school-room passage, and suddenly, as if a tap had been turned off, the shrill voice ceased. Once, for a moment, it broke out again, and as suddenly stopped, and then came the very odd sight of Miss Schwarz being led along the landing to her room by his father and Blessington. Blessington and Miss Schwarz entered together, his father went downstairs after a moment's conversation with William, and presently William came along the landing towards the nursery.

"Oh, William, what's happened?" said Archie. "Is Miss Schwarz very ill?"

"Well, she ain't very well," said William. "Lumme!"

"What does that mean?" asked Archie.

"It don't mean anything particular, Master Archie."

"Will Miss Schwarz be better in the morning?" asked Archie.

"Lord, yes. They're always better in the morning, though they don't feel so. Now Blessington won't be back yet awhile, so I'm to look after you, and see you safe to bed."

Suddenly the thought of lying helpless in bed, with no Blessington next door, and the possibility of Miss Schwarz guessing that Archie had told of her illness, filled him with awful apprehension. She might come screaming down the passage, with her claw-like hands starving for Archie's face.

"Oh, William, don't leave me till Blessington comes back," he entreated.

"No, sir, of course I won't. There, let me undo your shoes for you.

You've got the laces in a knot."

"And she won't hurt Blessington either?" asked Archie.

"Bless you, no sir," said William. "And there's your night-shirt. Now jump into bed, and I'll open the windows."

William put out the light, and Archie, with a delicious sense of security seeing him seated by the fire, dozed off. Once, just before he got fairly to sleep, an awful vision of Miss Schwarz's red face came across the field of his closed eyelids, and he started up. But in a moment William was by him.

"It's all right, sir," he said. "I'm on the look out."

* * * * *

There was a decided air of mystery concerning Miss Schwarz next morning. She was better, but she remained unseen, and nobody would answer any questions about her. But in the afternoon Archie met Walter and the odd man carrying her luggage downstairs, and he gleaned the information that she was going away, and again, later in the day, Archie saw a housemaid coming out of her bedroom with a basket full of her medicine-bottles, and he drew the conclusion that she must have been ill a long time without anybody knowing. Not a syllable of news could he obtain from anybody, and, as the image of Miss Schwarz faded now that her dark, ill-omened presence was withdrawn, there was left in Archie's mind no more than a general sense of some connection between screaming voices, red faces, indistinct utterance, and the drinking of yellow medicine out of a large glass, instead of the usual small one.

There was a pleasant holiday sense for a few days after the departure of Miss Schwarz, for Marjorie took Jeannie's and Archie's lessons, which made a perfect festival of learning; but immediately almost came the ominous news that a new governess was coming next day. Archie believed that Miss Schwarz was a typical specimen of the genus governess, who were all probably in league together, and that some colleague of Miss Schwarz's, bent on avenging her, would render his own security a very precarious matter. It was, indeed, some consolation to know that Miss Bampton was a personal friend of his mother's and was not a "regular" governess at all but was just going to stay at Lacebury and teach lessons; yet Archie wondered, when he went downstairs on the morning after her arrival, whether he would not detect, under the guise of his mother's friend, some secret agent of Miss Schwarz.

Jeannie had lately been promoted to have breakfast with the rest of the family, and as Archie opened the door he heard a burst of laughter. There was Miss Schwarz's secret agent sitting next his father, and she it must have been who had made them all laugh, for she was not laughing herself, and Archie already knew that a joke was laughed at most by the people who hadn't made it. She was a little roundabout person, with blue eyes and a short nose and pincenez, and she got up as he entered.

"And is this Archie?" she said. "Why, I always thought of Archie as a baby. And here's an able-bodied seaman! How are you, Archie?"

Archie stared a moment. He reviewed his suspicion about governesses in general, but certainly if this plump, genial female was a secret colleague of Miss Schwarz her disguise was of the most ingenious kind. But it was as well to be careful.

"I'm quite well, thank you," he said, and, perceiving that a kiss had been intended, presented a sideways cheek. Miss Bampton made a sucking sound against it, and sat down again.

"Well, as I was saying," she went on, "the only plan of teaching is the co-operative principle. There are such heaps of jolly things to learn, that if the girls and I have a meeting, as I suggested, after breakfast, I'm sure we can find plenty of subjects between us. So I summon the meeting for a quarter past ten in the school-room."

Archie suddenly felt he was being left out. A meeting to discuss what you were going to learn sounded most promising in the way of lessons. He ran round to his mother's side.

"Oh, mummy, may I go to the meeting?" he said.

"You must ask Miss Bampton," said she.

Archie stifled his sense of distrust, for he wanted tremendously to go to a meeting where you settled what you were going to learn. He hated lessons, in the ordinary acceptation of that term, with their tiresome copy-books, in which he had to write the same moral maxim all down the page, and the stupid exercise-called French lesson-in which he had to address himself to a cat, and say in French "of a cat," "to a cat," "with the female cat," "with the male cat," and a thing called geography, which was a brown book with lists of countries and capital towns in it. But co-operative lessons, though he had no idea what co-operation meant, sounded far more attractive.

"May I come to the meeting, Miss Bampton?" he said.

"Yes, my dear, of course," said Miss Bampton, "if your mother will let you."

Thereupon there dawned for Archie a great light. Hitherto his lessons had been conducted by his mother, with occasional tuition from his father, and they had always made the impression that they were tasks, not difficult in themselves, but dull. He had learned the various modes of access in French to male and female cats, he had grasped the fact that Rome and not Berlin was the capital of Italy, and Paris not Vienna the capital of France. But these pieces of information were mere disconnected formulae, lessons, in other words, which had to be learned, and which, if imperfectly learned, caused him to be called lazy or inattentive. In the same way, the fact that he had to write in a laborious round hand all down the page "To be good is to be happy" meant nothing more than the necessity of filling the page without a plethora of blots or erasures. But from the date of this exciting meeting on co-operative learning, a whole new horizon dawned on him. It was settled at once that he was to do his lessons with Miss Bampton, and from that moment they ceased to be lessons at all. Instead of the lists of countries and capitals to be learned by heart, there was provided a jig-saw puzzle of the map of Europe, and Italy became a leg and foot, perpetually kicking Sicily, and Rome the button through which Italy's bootlace passed. And, instead of the dreary copy-book maxims heading each page, Miss Bampton, in a hand quite as perfect as Mr. Darnell's, wrote the most stimulating sentiments on the top of each blank leaf. "He would not sit down, so we bit him" was one, and Archie, with the tip of his tongue at the corner of his mouth, an attitude which is almost indispensable to round-hand orthography, was filled with delightful conjectures as to who the person was who would not sit down, and who were those tigerish people who bit him in consequence. And then Miss Bampton had the most delightful plans of where lessons might be done. One day, when it was snowing hard, she conceived the brilliant plan of doing lessons in the motor in the garage, which gave the most extraordinary stimulus to the proceedings, for early English history was the lesson that morning, and so she and Archie and Jeannie were royal Anglo-Saxons, specially invited to come in their coach to the coronation of William the Conqueror (1066), and it would never do if, at the Coronation banquet afterwards, he asked them questions about their ancestors and they didn't know. Another day, when the sun shone frostily, and the lawn was covered with hoar-frost they wrapped themselves up in furs, and worked at geography, as Laplanders, in the summer-house. Marjorie was too old to need such spurs to industry, but Miss Bampton had enticing schemes for her also, giving her verse translations of Heine and Goethe, and encouraging her to see how near she got to the original when she translated them back into their native tongue.

The Christmas holidays, looked forward to with such eager expectation in the baleful reign of Miss Schwarz, drew near; but now, instead of counting the hours till the moment when Miss Schwarz, safe in the motor, would blow claw-fingered kisses to them, the children got up a Round Robin (or rather, a triangular Robin, which Marjorie translated into German), begging Miss Bampton to stop with them for the holidays. For she was as admirable in play-time as she was over their lessons: she told them enchanting stories on their walks, and painted for them in real smelly oil-paints the most lovely snow-scenes, pine-woods laden with whiteness, and cottages with red blinds lit from within. Never had any one such a repertory of games to be played in the long dark hours between tea and bed-time, and it was during one of these that Archie made a curious discovery.

The game in question was "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" One of them thought of anything in heaven or earth or in the waters under the earth, and the rest, by questions answered only by "Yes" or "No," had to arrive at it. On this occasion Miss Bampton had thought: it was known to be Animal and not in the house.

Archie was sitting on the floor in the school-room leaning against Miss Bampton's knee. He had been staring at the coals, holding Miss Bampton's hand in his, when suddenly there came over him precisely the same sensation that he remembered feeling one night, years ago, when he woke and imagined himself and the night-nursery expanding and extending till they embraced all that existed. That sensation throbbed and thrilled through him now, and he said:

"Oh, Miss Bampton, how easy! Why, it's the longest tail-feather of the thrush that Cyrus killed."

"Oh, Archie, don't guess," said Jeannie. "It's no use just guessing."

"But it is!" said Archie. "I'm not guessing. I know. Isn't it, Miss


It certainly was, and so, by the rules of the game, since it had been guessed in under five minutes, Miss Bampton had to think again. But now Archie tried in vain to recapture the mood that made Miss Bampton's mind so transparently clear to him. He knew what that mood felt like, that falling away of the limitations of consciousness, that expansion and extension of himself; but he could not feel it; it would not come by effort on his part; it came, he must suppose, as it chose, like a sneeze…

As Christmas drew near another amazing talent of Miss Bampton's showed itself. Marjorie had been up to London one day, to combine the pains of the dentist with the pleasure of a play, and came back with a comforted tooth and the strong desire to act. Instantly Miss Bampton rose to the occasion.

"Let's get up a play to act to your father and mother on New Year's night," she said.

"Oh, it would be fun," said Marjorie. "But what play could we act?"

"I'll write you one," said Miss Bampton. And write it she did, with a speed and a lavishness of plot that would have astonished more deliberate dramatists. There was a villain, a usurper king (Miss Bampton); there was a fairy (Marjorie); there was the rightful and youthful king (Archie); who lived (Act I) in painful squalor in a dungeon, attended only by the jailer's daughter (Jeannie) who knew his identity and loved him, whether he was in a dungeon or on a throne. Luckily, he loved her too, anywhere, and they were kind to a beggar-woman, who turned out to be the fairy, and did the rest. Miss Bampton was consigned to the lowest dungeon, and everybody else lived happily ever afterwards.

Then came the question of dresses, and Marjorie rather thoughtlessly exclaimed:

"I'm sure mother will let me have her Abracadabra clothes for the fairy.

Oh-I forgot," she added, remembering that Archie was present.

There was an attempt (feeble, so Archie thought it) on the part of Miss Bampton to explain this away. She said that Abracadabra kept a suit of birthday clothes in every house she visited. Archie received the information quite politely, said, "Oh, I see," and remained wholly incredulous. His faith in the Abracadabra myth had tottered before; this was the blow that finally and completely compassed its ruin, and it disappeared in the limbo of discredited imaginings, like the glassy sea between the rugs in the hall, and the snarl of the tigers at his enemies. Never again would the combined crash of the servant's dinner-bell and the Chinese gong make him wonder at the magnificence of Abracadabra's sneezings, and when the play arrived at the stage of dress-rehearsal it was no shock to see Marjorie in Abracadabra's poke-bonnet and bediamonded bodice.

But it must not be supposed that, with the disappearance of those childish illusions, the world became in any way duller or less highly coloured to Archie; it grew, on the contrary, more and more fairy-like. The outburst of spring that year filled him with an ecstasy that could best be expressed by running fast and jumping in the air with shouts of joy. The unfolding of gummy buds on the horse-chestnut by the lake filled him with a rapture all the keener because he could not comprehend it; presently, the sight of pale green five-fingered leaves, weak as new-dropped lambs, made him race round and round Blessington till she got giddy. There was a smell of damp earth in the air, of young varnished grass-blades pushing up among the discoloured and faded foliage of the lawn, and, for the hard bright skies or the sullen clouds of winter, a new and tender blue was poured over the heavens, and clouds white as washed fleeces pursued one another aloft, even as their shadows bowled over the earth beneath. Birds began to sing again, and sparrows, chattering in the ivy, pulled straws and twigs about, practising for the nest-building time which would soon be upon them. A purplish mist hung over the birch-trees, and soon it changed to a mist of green as the buds expanded. Violets hidden behind their leaves bedecked the lane-sides, and one morning the first primrose appeared. Last year, no doubt, and in all preceding springs the same things had happened; but now for the first time they were significant, and penetrated further than the mere field of vision. They filled Archie with an unreasoning joy.

Anything in the shape of natural history received strong encouragement from Lord Davidstow, as well as anything (Archie did not fully grasp this) that tended to keep him out of doors when his short lessons were done, and he and Jeannie started this year a series of joint collections. Certain rules had to be observed: flowers that they picked must be duly pressed and mounted on sheets of cartridge paper, and their names must be ascertained. One bird's egg might be taken in the absence of the mother-bird from any nest which contained four, and must be blown and put in its labelled cell in the egg-cabinet; but when three specimens of any sort had been collected, no more must be acquired. That, perhaps, was the collection Archie liked best, though the joys of the aquarium ran it close. The aquarium was a big bread-bowl lined at the bottom with spa and crystals, and in it lived caddis-worms and water-snails and a dace-probably weak in the head, for he had allowed himself to be caught in the landing-net without the least effort to get out of the way. He had an inordinate passion for small bread-pills, in pursuit of which he was so violently active that he often hit his nose against the side of the aquarium so hard that you could positively hear the stunning blow. When satiated he would still continue to rush after bread-pills, but, after holding them in his mouth a moment, he would expel them again with such force that he resembled some submarine discharging torpedoes.

Then there was the butterfly and moth collection, which was of short duration, and was abandoned on account of a terrible happening. The insects were emptied into the killing-bottle, and when dead transfi

xed with a pin, and set. But one morning Archie, examining the setting-board to see if they were stiff and ready to be transferred into the cork-lined boxes, found, to his horror, that, so far from being stiff, two butterflies, a tortoiseshell and a brimstone, were alive still, with waving antennae and twitching bodies. That dreadful incident poisoned the joy of that collection; he felt himself guiltier of a worse outrage than Cyrus, and all Blessington's well-meant consolations that insects hardly felt anything at all would not induce him to run the risk of committing further atrocities. For a day and a night the two had writhed under their crucifixion, and that day the caterpillars were released from their breeding-cage (even including that piece of preciousness, the caterpillar of the convolvulus hawk with a horn on his tail), and the killing-bottle was relegated to the attic.

The Sunday church-goings for which an intermission had been ordained in consequence of Archie's infant remarks about the amusingness of the man with the wagging beard, had long ago been resumed again, and this year he had a sudden attack of spurious and sentimental religion that caused his mother some little anxiety. He developed a dreadful conscience, and came to her with a serious face and confessed trivial wrong-doings. (This phase, she comforted herself to think, occurred in the autumn of this year, at a time when there was nothing much to be done in the way of collecting.) One morning Archie came to her with a crime that sorely oppressed him. Nearly two years ago, somebody had sent her a painted Easter egg, an ostrich's egg, adorned with gilt designs of a cross and a crown and some rays, which Archie had been forbidden to touch.

"I touched it," he said. "I wetted my finger and rubbed it on the crown, and some of it came off."

"Well, dear, of course you shouldn't have done it, if I had told you not to," she said. "But don't bother about it any more. What made you come and tell me so long after?"

Archie grew more solemn still.

"I was leaning out of the nursery-window," he said, "and I heard Charles singing 'A few more years shall roll.' So I came and told you before I 'was asleep within the tomb.'"

His mother laughed, quite as if she was amused.

"We'll hope there'll be more than a few years before that, darling," she said.

"And shall I be forgiven now I've told you?" asked Archie.

"Yes, of course. Don't think anything more about it."

Archie would have preferred a more sentimental treatment of his offence, and rather wished his mother bore a stronger resemblance to Mrs. Montgomery, in the Wide, Wide World, whose edifying tears fell so fast and frequently, and after this he tended to keep his misdeeds more to himself and repent of them in secret. Simultaneously also the copy of the Wide, Wide World, which he had discovered in a passage book-case, mysteriously vanished, and no one appeared to have the slightest idea where it had gone. So, unable to stuff himself further with that brand of mawkishness, the desire that his mother should be more like Mrs. Montgomery faded somewhat, and there seemed but little pleasure in repentance at all, if your confessions were received in so unsentimental a manner, and it was no fun really keeping them to oneself. But for some weeks Sunday morning service in church (he had expressed a wish to go to evening church as well, but his mother had told him that once was as much as was good for him) became the emotional centre of his life, though his religion was strangely mixed up with a far more mundane attraction. There was a particular choir-boy there with blue eyes, pink cheeks, and a crop of yellow curls who sang solos, and thrilled Archie with a secret and perfectly sexless emotion. Only last Sunday he had sung "Oh, for the wings of a dove," and religion and childish adoration together had brought Archie to the verge of tears. He longed to be good, to live, until a few more years should roll (for he felt that he was going to die young), a noble and beautiful life; he longed also to fly away and be at rest with the choir-boy. He made up pathetic scenes in which he should be lying on his death-bed, with his weeping family round him, and the choir-boy would sing to him as he died, and they would smile at each other. When this vision proved almost too painful for contemplation he would console himself by picturing an alternative scheme, in which there were to be no death-beds at all, but instead he would get into the church choir, and sit next the choir-boy, and they would sing duets together before a rapt congregation. But, adorable though his idol was, he did not really want to know him, or even find out who he was. The idol existed for him in some remote sphere, becoming incarnate just for an hour on Sunday morning, a golden-haired surpliced voice, that suggested the vanished thrills of the Wide, Wide World. He pronounced certain words rather oddly, and had a slight lisp which Archie tried to copy, until one day his father told him never to say "Yeth" again, or he should write out "Yes" a hundred times.

Then came the most exciting discovery: this vocal angel proved to be the son of the head-keeper, and it was therefore perfectly easy to make his acquaintance. The notion of meeting him face to face, of exchanging a "good-morning" with him was almost overpowering, and yet Archie instinctively shrank from bringing the idol into contact with actual life. He began to choose for his walk the rather dank and gloomy path that led past the keeper's cottage, and yet, when that abode where the idol lived came within sight, Archie, with beating heart would avert his eyes, for fear he should see him. Then one day, as they got opposite the gate, a small boy in corduroy knickerbockers with a rather greasy scarf round his neck and a snuffling nose came out, and touched his cap. There could be no doubt about his identity, and Archie suffered the first real disillusionment of his life. The fading of Abracadabra was nothing to this: that had been a gradual disillusionment, whereas this was sudden as a lightning-stroke. He was a shattered idol, and from that moment Archie could hardly recall what it had been about, or recapture the faintest sense of the emotion which had filled him before that encounter in the wood which caused it to reel and totter and fall prone from its unsubstantial pedestal. This blow, on the top of the robust reception of his confession, did much to restore Archie to the ways of normal boyhood, and it was really rather a relief to his mother, when his expanding experimenting nature took a very different turn, and he became for a time obstreperously naughty. She thought, quite rightly, that this evinced a greater vigour. That it undoubtedly did, and the imagination contained in some of Archie's exploits rivalled the more visionary power that constructed death-bed scenes for himself and the idealization (cruelly shattered) of the choir-boy.

One very dreary November afternoon, shortly after his seventh birthday, he was sitting alone in his mother's room. All day the sullen heavens had poured their oblique deluge on the earth, and sheets of water were being flung against the windows by the cold south-easterly gale. Archie was suffering from a slight cold, and had not been out of doors for a couple of days, and this unusual detention in the house had caused him to be very cross, and also had dammed up within him a store of energy which could not disperse itself innocuously in violent movement. Jeannie had gone for a motor-drive with his mother, Marjorie and Miss Bampton were closely engaged over their rotten German, and Archie that morning had been stingingly rebuked by his father for sliding down the banisters in the hall, a mode of progress strictly forbidden. Blessington had not been less stinging, for an hour ago Archie had been extremely rude to her, and, with a dignity that he both respected and resented, she had said, "Then I've nothing more to say to you, Master Archie, till you've remembered your manners again." And had thereupon continued her sewing.

Archie knew he had been rude, but his sense of that was not yet strong enough to enable him to apologize, though of sufficient energy to make him feel woebegone and neglected. He had been allowed by his mother to sit in her room that afternoon, when she went out with Jeannie, and to investigate what was known as her "work-box," which contained her "treasures." In earlier days these had been a source of deep delight: there was a minute china elephant with a silk palanquin on his back; there was a porcupine's quill, there was a set of dolls' tea-things, a pink umbrella, the ferrule of which was a pencil, a chain of amber. Once these had held magic for Archie: they were "mummy's treasures," and could only be seen on wet afternoons or in hours of toothache. But to-day they appeared to him perfectly rubbishy; not a gleam of glamour remained; they were as dull as the leaden skies of this interminable afternoon.

Archie lay in the window-seat, and wondered that his sailor-trousers only a year ago had given him so complete a sense of happiness. He rubbed one leg against the other, trying to recollect how it was that that rough serge against his bare calf felt so manly. He tried to interest himself in Alice in Wonderland, and marvelled that he could have cared about an adventure with a pack of cards. He longed to throw the book at the foolish Dresden shepherdess that stood on the mantelpiece. He supposed there would be trouble if he did, that his mother would be vexed, but trouble was better than this nothing-at-all. Probably it would rain again to-morrow, and he would have another day indoors, and the thought of Nothing Happening either to-day or to-morrow seemed the same as the thought of nothing happening for ever and ever.

There was a bright fire in the hearth and beyond the steel fender a thick hearthrug of long white sheep's wool. Suddenly Archie remembered the odour that diffused itself when, one day, a fragment of hot coal flew out of the fire, and lodged in this same hearthrug. There was a fatty, burning smell, most curious, and simultaneously the wild, irresistible desire of doing something positively wicked enthralled him. Instantly he knew what he was going to do, and with set, determined face, he took the fire-shovel in one hand and the tongs in the other, and heaped the shovel high with burning coals. He emptied them on the hearthrug.

The smoke of singeing, burning wool arose, and he took several more lumps of glowing coal from the fire-place and deposited them on the rug. Then a panic seized him, and he tried to stamp the conflagration out. But he only stamped the glowing coals more firmly in, and, though amazed at his audacity, he did not really want to extinguish it. He wanted something to happen. Quite deliberately, though with cheeks burning with excitement, he walked out of the room, leaving the door open, and simultaneously heard the crunch of the gravel under the wheels of his mother's returning motor. He did not wish to see her, and went straight to the night-nursery (now his exclusive bedroom) and locked himself in. But he was not in the least sorry for what he had done: if anything he wished he had put more coals there. Nor was he frightened at the thought of possible consequences. Merely, he did not care what happened, so long as something happened. That, he reflected, it was pretty certain to do. But he made no plans.

Before very long he heard some one turning the handle of his door, and he kept quite still. Then his father's voice said:

"Are you there, Archie?" And still he said nothing.

The voice grew louder and the handle rattled.

"Archie, open your door immediately," said his father.

Not in the least knowing why, Archie proceeded to do so. He still felt absolutely defiant and desperate, but for some instinctive reason he obeyed.

Enormous and terrible, his father stood before him.

"Did you put those coals on your mother's hearthrug?" asked Lord


"No," said Archie.

"Then how did you know they were there?" asked his father.

Archie had something of the joy of the desperate adventurer.

"Because I put them there," he said.

"Then you have lied to me as well."

"Yes," said Archie.

Lord Davidstow pointed to the door.

"Go downstairs at once," he said, "and wait in my study."

Archie obeyed, still not knowing why. At the top of the stairs was standing his mother, who took a step forward towards him.

"Archie, my darling-" she began.

"Leave the boy to me," said his father, who was following him. Archie marched downstairs, still without a tremor. It occurred to him that his father was going to kill him, as Cyrus killed the thrush. There was a whispered conversation between his mother and father and he heard his mother say, "No, don't, don't," and he felt sure that this referred to his being killed. But he was quite certain that, whatever happened, he was not going to say he was sorry.

He went into his father's study and shut the door. On the table he noticed that there was standing one of Miss Schwarz's medicine-bottles, and a syphon beside it, and wondered whether Miss Schwarz had come back. But there was no other sign of her.

In another moment his father entered.

"Now, you thoroughly deserve a good whipping, Archie," he said. "You might have burned the house down, and if you were a poor boy you'd have been put into prison for this. But your mother has been pleading for you, and, if you'll say you are sorry, and beg her pardon for burning her hearthrug, I'll let you off just this time."

Well, he was not going to be killed, but he was going to be whipped. Archie felt his heart beating small and fast with apprehension; but he was not sorry, and did not intend to say he was.

"Well?" said his father.

"I'm not sorry," said Archie.

"I'll give you one more chance," said his father, moving towards a cupboard above one of the bookcases.

"I'm not sorry," said Archie again.

His father opened the cupboard.

"Lock the door," he said.

But, before he could lock it, it was opened from without, and his mother entered. His father had already a cane in his hand, and he turned round as she came in. She looked at him and then at Miss Schwarz's medicine-bottle on the table.

"Go away, Marion," he said. "I'm going to give the boy a lesson."

She pointed at the bottle.

"You had better learn yours first," she said.

"Never mind that. Archie says he's not sorry. It is my duty to teach him."

Suddenly Archie felt tremendously interested. He had no idea what all this was about, or what his father's lesson was, but he felt he was in the presence of some drama apart from his own. It was with a sense of the interruption of this that he saw his mother turn to him.

"Archie, my dear," she said. "You have vexed and grieved me very much. Supposing I had felt wicked and had burned you stylograph pen, shouldn't I be sorry for having injured you? And aren't you sorry for having burned my hearthrug? What had I done to deserve that? Hadn't I given you leave to sit in my room, and look at my treasures? Why did you hurt me?"

Immediately the whole affair wore a different aspect. Instead of anger and justice, there was the sound of love. His heart melted, and he ran to her.

"Oh mummy, I didn't mean to vex you," he cried. "I didn't think of that.

You hadn't done anything beastly to me."

He burst into tears.

"Oh, mummy, forgive me," he said. "I don't mind being whipped, at least not much; but I'm sorry; I beg your pardon. Please stop my allowance till I've paid for it."

"Yes, dear, it's only right that you should pay some of it. You shall have no more allowance for three weeks. Now go straight upstairs, and go to bed till I come to you and tell you that you may get up. And Blessington tells me you have been rude to her. Go and beg her pardon first."

* * * * *

The effect of this episode on Archie's mind was that his mother understood, and his father didn't. The prospect of a whipping had not made him falter in his resolve not to say he was sorry, so long as he wasn't sorry, but the moment his mother had put his misdeeds in a sensible light he saw them sensibly, and would not have minded being whipped if by that drastic method he could have borne witness to the reality of his sorrow. But only three days later he received six smart cuts with that horrible cane for climbing on to the unparapetted roof of the house out of his bedroom window, which he had been expressly forbidden to do. But then there was no question of being sorry or not-as a matter of fact he was not-summary justice was executed for mere disobedience, and, before doing the same thing again, he added up the pleasure of going on the roof, and balanced it against the pain inflicted on the tight seat of his sailor-trousers as he bent over a chair, and found it wanting.

It was during this same month which saw his seven completed years that he did a very strange and unintelligible thing, though he suffered it rather than committed it. He did it, that is to say, quite involuntarily, and did not know he was doing it till it was done. This was the manner of it.

Miss Bampton had set him one of her delightful exercises in handwriting in his copy-book. "Never brush your teeth with the housemaid's broom" she had written in her beautiful copper-plate hand at the top of the page, and Archie was sitting with his tongue out copying this remarkable maxim, and amusing himself with conjectures as to what other strange habits such people as were likely to brush their teeth with the housemaid's broom might be supposed to have-perhaps they would lace their boots with the tongs, or write their letters with a poker… He had got about half-way down the page when suddenly there came over him that sensation with which he was beginning to become familiar, that feeling of extension and expansion within himself, that falling away of the limitations of consciousness which opened some new interior world to him.

His pen paused, and then in the wrist of his right hand and in the fingers that still held his pen he felt a curious imperative kind of twitching, and knew that they wanted to write of their own volition, as it were, though it was not his copy that they were concerned with. Under this sensation of absolute compulsion, he took a sheet of paper that lay at his elbow, and let his pen rest on it, watching with the intensest curiosity what it would do. He had no idea what would happen, but he felt that something had to be written. For a couple of minutes perhaps his pen traced random lines on the paper, moving from left to right with a much greater speed than it was wont to go, and the letters began to form themselves with a rapidity and certainty unknown to his careful, halting calligraphy, and in firm upright characters. He saw his own name traced on the paper followed by a sentence, and then his pen (still apparently obedient to some unknown impulse from his fingers) gave a great dash and stopped altogether. And this is what he read:

"Archie, do let me talk to you sometimes.


The queer sensation had ceased altogether, and Archie stared blankly at the words that he knew his hand had written. But what they meant, he had no notion, nor did he know who Martin was. The whole thing was quite unintelligible to him, both the impulse that made him write, and that which he had written.

Miss Bampton had left the room on some errand, when she had set Archie his copy, and came back at this moment expecting to find the copy finished. She looked over his shoulder to see how he was getting on.

"My dear, haven't you got further than that?" she said. "I thought you would have finished it by this time."

She saw the other piece of paper half-concealed by Archie's left hand.

"Why, you've been writing something else," she said. "That's why you haven't got on further. Let me look."

"Please not," said Archie. "It's private."

Miss Bampton remembered that, a week ago, Archie had been seized with a strong desire for literary composition, and had composed a very remarkable short story, which may be given in full.


"There was once a merderer with yellow eyes, and his wife said to him,

"'If you merder me you will be hung.'

"And he was hung on Tuesday next.


When Archie had brought this yarn to her she had laughed so uncontrollably that he was hurt. So, in the hope of finding another such (though Archie had no business to write stories in lesson-time) she said:

"My dear, do show me; I won't laugh."

Archie hesitated; he felt shy about disclosing this sentence he had written, but, on the other hand, Miss Bampton, who appeared to know everything, might help him towards the interpretation.

"Well, it's not a story," he said. "It's just this. I wrote it without knowing. Oh, Miss Bampton, what does it mean, and who is Martin?"

If it was Archie who hesitated before, it was Miss Bampton who hesitated now. Suddenly she had a clever thought.

"My dear, you've been thinking about the Martins that built in the sandpit last spring," she said. "Don't you remember how you and Jeannie made up a story about them?"

This was true enough, but it failed to satisfy Archie. Also he had a notion that Miss Bampton had made a call on her ingenuity in offering this explanation.

"But isn't there any other Martin?" he asked.

"None that you ever knew, Archie," she said. "I think it's one of those in the sandpit. Now get on with your copy, and we'll walk there before your dinner."

The incident passed into the medley of impressions that were crowding so quickly into the storehouse of Archie's consciousness, but it did not lie there quite unconnected with others. He laid it on the same shelf, so to speak, as that which held the memory of his waking vision one night in remote days, and held also the fact of his knowing what Miss Bampton had thought of in the guessing game. But those were among the secret things of which he spoke to nobody. One more impression for secret pondering, though of different sort from those, he had lately added to his store, and that was when a whipping seemed imminent, and he saw one of Miss Schwarz's medicine-bottles standing on his father's table.

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