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On the Advantages of Living in a Poor Neighbourhood
The Curate's Last Half-Crown
In the Hammock
The Omen of the Leaf
What is thy Dream?
A SUMMER HOLIDAY.
ONE lovely morning in July, before the Americans had assumed the control of English and Norwegian weather, I presented myself at Burlington House to undergo the ordeal by ink, by which the capacity of candidates for the army is tested. On two former occasions I had failed, and this was my last chance, as in another month Time. would have pushed me past the boundary of years. I had gone through the usual course of education at a private school I learnt a little, and won a prize; at a public school I forgot what I had learnt before, but was taught how to be a real boy, though not how to spell, or where the Elburz Mountains were. Suddenly there was a panic at home: my masters were found to have left so many gaps and chinks and crannies, and even gulfs, in my mind unfilled; I spelt so phonetically; I spent so much time in heroic but disastrous attempts to render Virgil and Xenophon into intelligible English, that at the end of the Easter holidays one year, just when I
it, I was told that I was to be taken away immediately and sent to a crammer's. For me no more boating on the river, no more cricket on the Lower Fields, no more stolen visits to the Pool in the evening, to bathe by moonlight and ruffle the face of the silent stream, no more chocolate and jam! In a moment I found myself too old to be a boy, too young to be a man, and just at the age when it is so difficult not to write poetry.
He who was chosen to force the few little seeds of knowledge I possessed was a man of wide but not deep learning. Engaged in a perpetual contest with all the examiners in the kingdom, he spent almost more time in studying their whims and styles than in teaching his pupils. He boasted that he would give you nothing to do that would not pay, and that if only he could know beforehand by what examiner each paper would be set, and could see a few questions that had been set by him already, no dunce was too dense for him. No scholiast ever pored more eagerly over old manuscripts than he did over Cam
s looking forward with delight bridge Little Go papers and the to the glorious
summer term that
last part of the Civil Service He professed to teach
would be my last in the school, Report.
preparing to thoroughly enjoy you the leading facts of Roman VOL. XXXVIII. NO. CCXXIII.
history in ten minutes, after you had mastered a mnemonic system of his own which was much harder to remember than the history, and a book of Euclid in a summer's afternoon. You learnt so much science in one morning, and were taken over so many branches of it, that you were apt to go away at the end of it all with the belief that dewdrops when crystallised by the action of evaporation on a carboniferous soil became diamonds in hot climates-or
some other strange medley of the ologies. These things were too great for me; and so I only learnt how to smoke and make whiskypunch, and how to answer a few arithmetical conundrums about gallons, and troy weight, and the decimals that went on like the brook for ever, and the grocer who mixed two kinds of tea together.
With hopes that were founded mainly upon the luck of odd numbers, I attended for the third time the Civil Service Commissioners' levée at Burlington House. A feverish attempt the evening before to atone for the idleness and the wasted hours of the days that were no more, by reading up all the books relating to the two subjects of the first day's examination, was soon abandoned for Offenbach and the Alhambra. They made me spell words whose etymology I could not conceal by a judicious blot or by a vague formation of the letters. They made me wander forth in search of cities and lands and watersheds and volcanoes, all unknown to me, and to which I had to be my own Columbus. I told them that Poland was in Siberia, not knowing the mournful significance of my mistake. I counted up gold and silver by thousands, and played with spices and decimals and carats; but all the figures mocked me. Then came algebra,
and I was mocked again by the recollection that it had been called the poetry of numbers. Enter Juliet upon the scene, and then they bothered me, only wishful to be food for powder, about the last theory of her character; and then out of pure cussedness asked me for a short account of the complex plot of the Comedy of Errors. How fast the other six hundred went on writing! the stores of their knowledge seemed to be inexhaustible!
So after wondering for nine days what is the lowest standard of ignorance which does not disqualify for the army, and hoping that mine was above it, I finished my work, trusting that my sword, if ever I wore one, would be mightier than my pen. Time passes slowly enough when an ounce of knowledge has to be spread twice a day over an acre of paper; but the examination had come to an end at last, and I walked down Piccadilly with feelings that must have resembled those of a rabbit when vivisection without anæsthetics is over. There was my goal before me in the distance, the noble profession of arms, but how faintly now it loomed in the mist! and my enthusiasm for it even increased, while it seemed to take itself away from me. I stopped to watch a battalion of the Guards marching up St. James's-street. How glorious they seemed to me ! every private was a nobler man than I. Two officers in mufti standing near me took off their hats to the colours as they passed, and one of them I found was an uncle of mine, who, with an old brother-officer, was watching the troops with the enthusiasm of recollection and of bygone years of service, as mine was the enthusiasm of anticipation.
He was a wastrel and irreclaim
able general of the old school, who would have attacked an army under Moltke in close order and without breech-loaders. He had been kind to me at school, and had often tipped me and made me ill at a pastry-cook's. I dined with him that night at the Rag. He told me his grievance about his pension, and gave me good advice-which is the worst vice of all; but this time it was worldly and useful.
'Don't fall in love, even with a married woman; keep on good terms with your colonel and your tailor, and remember that only rich men can afford to dress badly; don't swagger, and don't talk army shop. Don't borrow money, and don't play whist till you are. a field officer, which at the present rate of promotion will be when you are about sixty-five; and if ever you are on the staff, don't make speeches at public dinners about your chief. As much zeal as you like, but never let it be too conspicuous. There is nothing more I can think of at present to tell you. Your name shall be put down here as soon as you are eligible. Have as little to do with the War Office as you can. They behaved scandalously to me. My pension,' &c.
On a railway so sensitive to public opinion that, when a cow is run over, its shares fall threeeighths per cent next day, there is a seaside town called Varnestone; and to it I went to pass the time that elapsed before the result of the examination was published.
All the smoking carriages were full, and so the longing for tobacco, which the small hours of the afternoon bring, could not be appeased except by paying a fee of forty shillings; but it was the cause of my making three new friends-Jack, aged ten; Bessie,
aged nine; and Miss Mortimer, whom they called aunt Aline. The journey was half over; the children, who had hitherto been absorbed in books, began to ask questions and to fidget about; and I, who, when I could unobserved, watched her calm sweet gentle face, was beginning to regret that, when a few minutes were over, I should probably never again have it before my eyes, when she happened to mention a name to the children so well known to me, and evidently to them also, that I introduced myself to her, and I found that Jack and Bessie were connections of mine, and that they were also going to Varnestone.
'Jack and Bessie have been ill,' she said, 'and so we are going to the sea for a few weeks. They will be delighted at having discovered a new cousin.'
'And we're to do no lessons at all,' said Jack. Mamma said so.'
'Except Catechism on Sundays,' quoth the accurate Bessie.
And we may go on to the beach and get wet and have shrimps for tea, and I may buy a boat and take off my shoes and stockings and paddle, and you know you mustn't, Bessie.'
'And are you going to Varnestone too?' Miss Mortimer asked
'Yes, I shall probably be there till I know my fate. I have just been in for the army exam.'
How shall I describe her? She was much more than merely pretty, she seemed so sweet and spirituelle, so kind and gentle and loving to the children, that I, who had only known her for a few minutes, felt quite relieved to find that, when the end of the journey came, this fair vision would not pass away from me as quickly as it had appeared. To
a chance word I owed my acquaintance with Miss Mortimerhow Fortune does amuse herself with us poor mortals!
All that could be said in favour of Varnestone by those who are merely seekers after pleasure is, that sometimes a faint glow of the gaiety and light-heartedness of a foreign seaside town is reflected upon it. Its chief amusement is watching the victims of the waves when the French steamer comes in. As in all popular entertainments, the best places are reserved; but the price of admission to the pier is low, and for a penny you may get near enough to sympathise verbally with the grim and haggard travellers as they pass from the landing-stage to the train. That same British instinct which makes men in the country say, 'What a fine day! Let us go out and kill something,' likewise makes the people of Varnestone say, 'What a rough sea! Let us go down and see the people land from the steamer ;' and an impetuous crowd rushes to the pier to welcome the new arrivals.
Next morning, when the people were marching up and down along the edge of the cliff to the music of two bands, I met Smith, who had been a big boy just leaving school when I went to it. He was now at Varnestone as tutor to two wild and volatile boys. Though supposed to be clever by his relations, he had throughout been a failure, having neither the instincts of success in him, nor the power of making friends who might have helped him on. An invincible shyness concealed the few sparks of geniality that were in him; in general conversation he was impracticable, breaking an uneasy silence by a platitude or mild question. With few acquaint
ances and fewer friends, shrinking with a sorrowful instinct from those whose gaiety and companionableness he envied, but never was able to imitate, he relapsed into solitary egotism, and dwelt apart in a life of his own. Whatever might have been his earlier dreams of ambition, at thirty he found himself, through the want of all those talents which cut ways through the world, in the insignificant position of tutor to a rich man's sons, with the prospect of some day becoming usher in a school. Poor Smith! Perhaps it was because I looked sufficiently ingenuous, or because he was some years older, but the chill barrier of shy reserve did not arise between us so long as we were alone together. We went to one of the benches near the steps down the face of the cliff, and spent the greater part of a morning in talking over our old schooldays.
It is getting hot here,' he said, as the sun blazed out from behind a cloud. Shall we go back to the terrace? It is rather amusing to watch the people. There is the pioneer of fashion in Varnestone,' he went on, as two ladies approached, one looking thoughtful and quiet, the other erect and well dressed, and with an air of 'Don't I look wonderfully young?' on her face. She is pleasant, though rather too maniérée. Her own sex pick her to pieces sometimes, but atone for it by the sincerest form of flattery.'
'And is that her sister with her? They are very like each other.'
No, that is her daughter, who is just out, and for whom, greatly to her delight, she is often mistaken. She is one of the few girls who can be pleasant without being flippant, and is well informed without a suspicion of being blue. She is so calm and unexcitable by