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Chapter One

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« on: July 28, 2023, 06:20:36 am »

ONE summer, several years before the war began, a young boy of fifteen was staying with his father and two elder brothers at a hotel near the Thames in Surrey. The hotel had once been a country house, and before that a royal palace. But now the central courtyard was glassed over to make a huge tea-lounge; there was a glistening range of downstairs cloakrooms, and a whole new wing with ballroom, and little box bedrooms above.

The hotel still stood in charming parkland, with terraced gardens and lawns sloping down to a little artificial lake almost entirely surrounded by huge overgrown brambles. Only the lake and its banks were neglected; the rest of the grounds, with the fountain, the grotto, the cottage orné, and the elaborate pets’ cemetery, were kept in very trim order.

The young boy, whose name was Orvil Pym, wandered out into these trim gardens on his first night at the hotel. He and his father had arrived that afternoon in one of those large black polished Daimlers which the suspicious always imagine have been hired.

Mr. Pym, home from the East for six months, had gone up to the Midlands to fetch Orvil from school. Orvil had been ill for the last few days of term. Being already very uneasy and anxious about life, he was one of the first to show signs of food-poisoning; but soon two wards in the Sanatorium were full of other boys from his House showing the same signs. A little fever, a little sickness, a little diarrhoea, that was all. The boys were merry and bright, rolling the white china pos along the boards, swearing and telling stories and abusing one another in the stillness of the night.

The poisoning upset the Housemaster’s wife far more than it upset its victims. The food was good in her house, the boys knew it, everyone knew it. She did not scrimp or save to put money in her husband’s pocket for their retirement. Why, only last Sunday there had been salmon and cucumber, and trifle with real cream!

She went about ashamed, turning red suddenly for no outward reason. She hated to think of the things the other Housemasters’ wives were saying. The mean ones would be delighting that she, who gave good food generously, should poison half her boys; and the kind ones would be pitying her. Both the imagined exulting and the pity gave the poor Housemaster’s wife a great deal of pain.

What could it have been? she kept asking herself. Could it have been the potted meat at tea?

Orvil was delighted and relieved when he knew that he was physically ill at last. His first year at a public school had been so alarming and disintegrating that he found himself longing, all the time, for a very quiet room where he could go to sleep.

At first the Sanatorium had been quiet, and he had enjoyed himself; but then the other boys had begun to arrive and the place was turned quickly into a bear-garden.

One evening Orvil could stand no more. His face and arms had become bluish, with ugly spreading red blotches. This condition was due to three things: the poisoning, his anxiety, and the large amount of a drug, like aspirin only stronger, which the nurse had given him. He got out of bed, seemingly in a trance; then he hopped on all fours round his bed, croaking, “I’m a frog, I’m a frog, a huge white frog.”

There was a silence for a moment in the ward; then a large boy, with black hair just beginning to sprout in his nose, shouted out in a frightened voice, “Nurse, nurse, come quickly; Pym has gone queer and is hopping round the floor saying he’s a frog.”

The nurse ran in and raised Orvil up in her arms. Although she was so small, her body was very strong and hard, and she held Orvil’s weight against her with ease. She was laughing quietly to herself as she led him back to bed.

“Fancy thinking you’re a frog!” she said, trying to smooth back his thick coarse curly hair, and doing up the top button of his pyjama jacket which he always left undone. She bustled away to get water and towels for a tepid rub-down.

Orvil still pretended to be in a dreamlike state. When she returned, he heard the boys whispering, “Pym’s delirious, he’s seeing things!”

The nurse took off his jacket and began to sponge his chest and arms with the tepid water. He kept his eyes closed; he did not like to see her looking at his chest. She held up one of his hands gently, and let the water trickle down till it tickled his armpit. He gave a little shiver and she laughed.

“You’ll be better after this,” she said, “you’ll feel cooler.”

When she had dried the top half of his body she popped on his jacket and pulled down his trousers almost in one movement; then she flung a towel expertly across him and began to wash under it, between his legs. Orvil was hot and sticky there, and the cool spongings made him tremble, but he did not mind her quick hands darting about under the towel. He felt safe with his jacket on.

‘I wonder if Florence Nightingale taught this way of doing things. Isn’t it peculiar!’ he thought.

“Stop shaking, do!” said the nurse, smacking his thighs playfully; for by now his knees were pressing together and then parting, and his whole body was giving little convulsive movements forward.

Orvil tried to control the twitchings of his body, and then his teeth began to chatter. They clicked together like loose false teeth, and once he bit his tongue and gave a grunt of pain.

“What are you now? A little porker?” suggested the nurse unsympathetically. She did not know what had happened. She finished drying his legs, tied the plaited cord a little too tightly round his waist, and tucked the bedclothes round him again.

“Now you’ll feel fine,” she said; and she gave him two more of the tablets which had helped to make him so blotchy. Once more she tried to comb her fingers through his hair, but she gave it up, laughing. “It’s like a terrier dog’s coat, or the best thatch, guaranteed to keep the rain out for a hundred years.” Then she added more softly, “Good night, lad,” and left him.

‘“Lad” is queer,’ Orvil thought; ‘it’s full of sex.’ And he went on thinking of words and the different feelings they gave him, until at last he fell asleep.

. . .

Orvil was thrilled to see his father in the big black car, waiting at the front door of the Sanatorium. The sight was so unexpected that it seemed like a direct and magic answer to his craving.

‘I did not need so large a car for my Escape,’ he thought; ‘but Magic would never niggle, never send a Baby Austin.’ He ran out into the sun; his head began to swim and he felt a maddening tickle in one of his ears.

“Hullo, Daddy,” he cried out, holding open the door of the car for his father. Orvil only saw his father once in every three years, and Mr. Pym hardly meant more to him than black cars and exciting restaurant meals. They had very little to talk about, because the one subject of deep interest to them both was quite banned. Orvil’s mother had died three years ago; and he knew that if he even so much as mentioned her, his father’s face would freeze and harden, and his voice become abrupt and cruel and contemptuous. She was never to be thought of or considered again---because she had been loved so much. It was disgusting to show that you knew such a woman had ever existed. She was so unmentionable that it was necessary to use elaborate circumlocutions in speaking about the past.

“Hullo, Microbe,” said Mr. Pym. He had always called Orvil this, because he was his youngest and smallest child. Sometimes it was Maggot, but generally Microbe.

“Are you better?” he went on. “You look a bit patchy still.”

“Oh, I’m quite all right again. Shall we go quickly, now?” said Orvil, looking urgently at his father. He hurried away to get his bag, and did not feel safe until the village, and all the school buildings, had been left far behind.

The chauffeur’s driving was expert and smooth. For two moments Orvil was filled with joy in his freedom; then he began to worry, for already the holidays had started, and each second brought the next term nearer.

Mr. Pym suggested that they should spend the night at Oxford on their way down to the South. If they did this they would be able to find out if Charles, the eldest son, were still at his lodgings or not. Charles was of so independent a nature that he refused to tell his plans or ever to write any letters. Mr. Pym had to find out about his son as best he could.

Charles was not there. When they enquired at his lodgings, the landlady said that he had left at the end of the term with two other gentlemen. “They drove away in that snorting blue car of his,” she said contemptuously. Orvil hated his brother’s blue Bugatti almost as much as the landlady seemed to do. The leather straps across its swollen bonnet, the obscene exhaust-pipe, so like a greedy vacuum-cleaner, these parts particularly filled him with dislike.

Orvil and his father went back to the Mitre and sat in basket chairs under the glass roof. Mr. Pym ordered gin and French Vermouth for himself and оrangе juice for Orvil. He did not talk but began to look at the magazines lying on the table. A gloom spread over Orvil. His father looked up, then took the cherry from his cocktail and held it out, just as he used to do when Orvil was a very small boy. Orvil took the violent pink fruit between his teeth, while his father still held the other end of the wooden toothpick. The wicked taste of scent and alcohol and syrup struck against the roof of his mouth; and in a moment he was eight years old and back again by the library fire in his pyjamas, drinking his hot milk, while his father sipped his cocktail and read to him until the clock chimed twice for half-past seven.

‘How many cherries soaked in gin did I eat before I was ten?’ he wondered.

“Let’s go in to dinner,” said Mr. Pym, standing up after his third gin and French. He made his son precede him on their way into the dining-room. This pleased Orvil.

He stood in some confusion in the middle of the room, looking at all the coloured shields round the walls, waiting for his father to choose a table. By the time he had found the shield of his brother’s college, his father had decided on the table near an old lady who seemed to be eating nothing but boiled eggs. Two shells were already before her on the white table-cloth. She was snapping her nutcracker lips together and saying something vicious to the young waiter who bent over her. Once her hand darted up to her mouth, and Orvil saw that the skin fitted over the bones like a translucent sheet of gelatine. On one of her fingers she wore a half-hoop of very large diamonds; the sort of ring that harmonizes with white suites of bedroom furniture, wreaths of composition roses, inset panels of cane-work, silver shoe-homs and button-hooks, and Reynolds’s angel faces on the oxidized lids of powder-pots.

Orvil watched her through most of the meal, but this did not stop him from also paying attention to his food. First he had tomato soup and ate plenty of Melba toast with it; then he went on to roast duck and orange salad with mashed potato and creamed spinach. Spinach done in this way always reminded Orvil of something. He could not help it; although he tried to rid his mind of the image, it sprang up again with each new sight of the dish. Once in a field full of buttercups he had trodden in a cow-pat.

Now, as the waiter put the soft spoonfuls on his plate, the image was with him again. ‘I’m eating cow-pat, I’m eating cow-pat!’ he said to himself as he dug his fork in.

“What would you like afterwards?” his father asked. He was a man who got pleasure from watching other people eat. He himself was only having juicy black mushrooms on toast. The mushrooms, with their flattened damaged gills radiating from a centre, looked like shrunken scalps of coarse Oriental hair.

Orvil read the menu.

“I want pêche Melba,” he said.

“It won’t be a fresh peach,” his father warned him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had pêche Melba with a fresh peach,” Orvil mused; “it’s always been a big yellow tinned peach.”

“I know; that’s just the trouble. They never do it properly. They oughtn’t to make it at all if they don’t make it with fresh peaches.” Mr. Pym seemed quite angry; although Orvil knew that nothing on earth would ever persuade his father to eat a pêche Melba himself.

“But in England sometimes the fresh peaches are half a crown or more each,” Orvil said, still defending pêche Melba made with a tinned peach.

His father said nothing in answer but went on drinking whisky-and-soda in delicate gulps.

The pêche Melba arrived with its dripping veil of thick red Escoffier sauce. The two slices had been joined together so that the buttock-like shape of the fruit was again apparent.

‘It’s like a celluloid cupid doll’s behind,’ said Orvil to himself.

Orvil put some of the metallic-tasting red sauce on his tongue. His father watched him indulgently and carefully until the last bit of peach had disappeared, then they both got up and went back to the basket chairs under the glass roof.

“You pour out,” his father said, when the coffee was brought. This again, like the walking in front into the dining-room, gave Orvil a peculiar pleasure. He felt important.

His father had his coffee black, with three lumps of sugar in the tiny cup; then quietly and gently he fell asleep. Orvil watched the delicate puce veins on his father’s nose and cheeks. They appeared to him as minute purple hands and fingers reaching out to one another. Orvil wondered if his father had been smoking opium again. Knowing nothing about the drug, he always imagined this when his father fell asleep suddenly. He knew that his father did smoke it sometimes; for he had once said in rather too jovial and conversational a tone, “A fellow in Java suggested that we should each try a pipe one night; but the stuff did nothing to me, except make me sick, so I’ve never touched it again.”

Always, after this sentence, Orvil was waiting and watching to catch the smell of opium round his father. He knew the smell, because when he was nine his aunt, knowing that he loved bijouterie and toys, gave him an old Chinese opium-box. It was made of ivory which had been stained by the drug to the colour of a chestnut horse. When Orvil first lifted the lid, an unmistakable, quite novel odour had escaped. Sticky brown opium still clung to the sides and the bottom of the ivory box. Every holidays, whenever he returned to his cupboard of small treasures, he would take off the lid and sniff the strange opium smell again.

He looked at his father once more. Orvil wanted to go up to bed, and he wondered whether to wake his father or not. For his own part he would rather have left him sleeping, but he was afraid that if he did this his father might disgrace himself in some way, under the glass roof in the hotel lounge. He might belch in his sleep, or snore, or swear, or give away terrible family secrets in that specially alarming sleep-talker’s voice.

He touched him on the shoulder lightly and said, “I’m going up to bed, Daddy.”

Mr. Pym opened his eyes and looked at him quite blankly for a moment, then his eyes focused, losing their resemblance to boiled cod’s eyes, and he replied, “Good night, Microbe. Sleep tight. Don’t let the fleas bite.”

. . .

Orvil had had the strangest night. The temptation to do something bad had come many times, but he had withstood it, and had felt very powerful and good, as if God were on his side. His dreams had been even more terrifying and wonderful than usual. In one dream, grotesquely enlarged diamonds waved about on long gold wires. They were contrived to look like sunflowers in a garden bed. Orvil was a very small child lost under the artificial leaves of these flowers. The wind blew; the diamonds rocked madly, backwards and forwards, banging their cruel facets against Orvil’s face. Like glittering, vicious footballs of ice, the huge diamonds struck his head.

He awoke singing the love-song of Thais. At least that is what he called it. He had heard it last term on a master’sgramophone. Triumphant sounds of pain flowed out of him. He was singing loudly now, trying to fill in the various instruments of the orchestra below and above the theme. He felt in his heart that it should be quite possible to sing three parts at once, just as it is possible to hear them.

When he had first heard the Thais gramophone record, he had not given it much attention, but the rather frightening eccentric master, in his two pairs of tinted glasses, had impressed it on him by walking up and down the room talking about it, and then by playing it again.

The occasion for the gramophone recital had been a strange tea-party given by the master to his French class. Orvil remembered with pleasure the low dining-room in the desolate house, the house-boy dressed in Boy Scout’s uniform, the huge lard-sodden doughnuts encrusted with sugar, the kitchen cups large as babies’ chambers, and the thin delicate old spoons quite lost in their rude saucers.

Orvil remembered the spoons particularly, for they were beautiful early-Victorian ones with bowls shaped like scallop-shells and crests on the handles. How he wanted one of the spoons! But he had not the strength of mind to steal the one which lay so near in his saucer . . .

Orv il jumped out of bed and went to look at his face in the mirror. He was afraid that now, at fifteen, he was beginning to lose his good looks. “O God, never let my voice break, or a beard grow on my face,” he had prayed. But God had not heard, and both things had begun to happen. As he sang, his voice had cracked on the high notes, and now that he looked at his face in the glass, he saw the golden hairs just sprouting again along his upper lip. He had secretly shaved them off a month before, with a razor found in his aunt’s attic. She was a parson’s wife, and people were always bringing her their rubbish for her next jumble sale. Whenever Orvil went to stay with her, he climbed up to the attic, where this stuff was stored, and helped himself. His aunt knew nothing about it; he always hid the things he took.

On his last visit he had found the old-fashioned cut-throat razor, and one of those boxes which cricketers wear for protection. He wondered that anyone should send such a thing to a jumble sale; then he guessed that the person was a woman and that she had not known what it was, just as he had not known until he had asked a master at his preparatory school.

He had picked the two things up and run down with them to his room. There, he had strapped on the much too large box. The kid-leather, blackened and polished with sweat, felt like a hard human hand against the tender skin on the inside of his legs. He stood like this in front of the glass and started to shave his lip with the old razor.

Afterwards, he went downstairs, still with the box on underneath his clothes. As he talked to his aunt and his cousins, he had an inner glow of excitement and satisfaction. He felt very safe.

He had taken the razor back to school last term and had used it twice, secretly. He had locked himself into the upstairs lavatory (the only one with a door), and then, standing on the seat, had dipped the razor into the tank, knocking it against the ball-cock. He had shaved without a mirror, feeling very sensitively along his wet lip, with one finger, before he laid the razor on it . . .

Now, as Orvil gazed at himself in the mirror, he wondered if he should use the razor again. He was afraid of making the hairs grow stronger and thicker by constant shaving; but on the other hand, he enjoyed scraping them off. He decided to do nothing this morning, telling himself that nobody else would notice the slight golden down.

He also tried to persuade himself that nobody else would notice the rings under his eyes. They seemed to jump out at him from the glass; he could not see his face for them. This was because other boys at school had sometimes laughed and said meaningly, “Pym, you do look shagged this morning. What have you been up to?”

He knew what they were hinting at, and this made him tremble with righteous indignation; for he could not help the lines under his eyes. They were due to the anxiety and excitement which often kept him awake at night, and to the nature of his eyes, which so quickly grew tired.

He hoped that other people, if they saw the rings, would realize this. He was terrified that they would not---that they would be lewd and superstitious like the boys at school.

Orvil took up his towel and went to the bathroom. Outside the door was a slot-machine stocked with various medicines: Aspirin, Quinine, Cascara Sagrada. Orvil had money now; for the day before, his father had suddenly slipped all his small change into his son’s pocket as they sat close together in the car. Orvil, made drowsy by the motion of the car, had jerked away nervously, uncertain of his father’s sudden movement; then he had felt the hard half-crowns and pennies digging into his thigh.

He went back to his room to collect three sixpences. He put one into each of the slots and took the three small packets with him into the bathroom. He read all the directions while the room filled with steam from the water. Lying back in his bath, he swallowed one tablet from each phial. He felt much better after that---quite peaceful and soothed.

After breakfast, Orvil lost himself on the way back to his room. A maid found him wandering along the dark crooked passages. She was a nice intelligent girl, very female. “You lost yourself, sir?” she asked sympathetically. The ‘sir’ gave Orvil a pleasant thrill, then it made him feel ashamed. “Yes,” he said, “I must have taken the wrong turning.”

The maid looked at him with eyes that were not a bit unfriendly.

“This old place is a proper Chinese puzzle, isn’t it!”she laughed. It seemed a very smart, gay sentence to Orvil. He had never heard the expression ‘a Chinese puzzle’ before . . . Then suddenly he saw the hotel as a terrifying labyrinth, with the Minotaur waiting for him somewhere in the dark.

. . .

That day they drove to Salisbury. Mr. Pym’s second son, Ben, was in camp near there with the school Officers’ Training Corps.

After leaving their bags at the hotel, Orvil and his father drove out on to the Plain. Mr. Pym had told the chauffeur to drive until he saw white tents glistening. Orvil was the first to catch sight of the gleaming cones. The chauffeur made towards them, but found that he had to leave the car some distance away, on the main road; for the track which led up to the camp was a bog of soft creamy mud.

Mr. Pym and Orvil got out of the car and started to wade through the mud. Both were silent. They both felt guilty yet pleased that they were not made to suffer this camp life; but something in them longed for it too.

Suddenly they came upon Ben, looking very sweaty and handsome and sulky. He was evidently on fatigue, for he wore filthy, grease-stiff dungarees and was carrying two brimming latrine buckets which he slopped viciously at each step. When he saw his father and young brother, he dumped the buckets down on the ground and stood aghast for a moment; then he laughed out loud, and the situation was saved.

Mr. Pym settled with Ben that he was to come into Salisbury when his fatigue was over; and that night, after dinner together, they would all go to the Searchlight Tattoo.

Orvil looked back once at his dear brother, so charming and white and clean in spite of the outer shell of filth. He dwelt angrily on his brother’s handsomeness, to wipe out the picture of him carrying the buckets.

Back in his room at the hotel, Orvil lay down on the bed and tried to sleep. The cascara sagrada had begun to work inside him, and he was also filled with spiritual misery. If only he could die! he thought. Or if he could be free, quite free, with adult rights fully protected; with a little money, a little room, and work he loved to do. If only his fascinating sunburnt mother could rise out of the grave and come back to him in her curious ugly red-and-green tartan dress with the shiny belt---the one she had bought at the fashionable friend’s shop. If he could put her rings on for her once again, and make her eyebrows up at night, just as he used to do so cleverly, with the tiny black brush.

In a half-dream he saw it all happen---his mother rising up from the grave. But she did not wear her red-and-green dress; she was in a tousled peach nightgown, her eyes were shut, her golden toast-coloured hair matted and pressed down with earth. The earth crumbled out of her eye-sockets; Orvil saw a piece roll down and disappear between her breasts. Her nose had rotted away!

“O darling, О darling!” he cried out, not knowing how to bear the horror of this ever recurring dream. He always saw her struggling out of the earth---until he remembered that she had been cremated; then the picture of her half-burnt body in the furnace seemed to scream at him.

He woke up and remembered the time when she had tried to beat him with the ivory hair-brush. She had chased him round her glistening bathroom, caught him at last behind the pale blue basin, and had there begun to belabour him fiercely. She was so angry that she forgot which side of the brush to use. She struck at him blindly and he felt all the bristles stinging his flesh. She did it again and he tried to smack back at her. Suddenly they were circling round in the middle of the room, clinging together and aiming furious blows at each other.

They both wanted to laugh now; but they would not.— That night when they had forgiven each other and she had come to see him in his bath, he lay flat on his back and would not turn over, so that she should not see the fierce purple pricks which the stiff bristles had printed all over his behind . . .

The door opened softly and Ben came in. Orvil in his half-asleep state thought for one moment that some fine-looking stranger had opened the wrong bedroom door, for Ben was dressed all in uniform with shining buttons, and his bleached hair was as white and fine and glistening as isinglass.

Ben came and lay down on the bed beside Orvil and started talking. In the courtyard outside, a drop of water kept falling from a choked gutter to the flagstones far below. Orvil heard and waited for each flute-like plop, while he listened to his brother’s stories about life at the camp.

Ben told of the hundreds of sardines which had been left to go bad in their opened tins before being offered for supper---of the boy who was taken up for dead after his tent had been let down on him---of the people with smelly feet who snored all night---of the exciting night-operations, when people lay together for hours in dark ditches. The last story was of a poor youth who had been hit on the head with a mallet until bright green phlegm gushed out of his mouth.

Ben chortled, thoroughly delighting in the stories. He was a kind person, but one who could only show gaiety when talking of violence.

He held up his hand above his head. The cuticle round one of the nails was torn.

“What can I do about this?” he asked, “it pulls and hurts each time I use that finger.”

Orvil looked at the torn cuticle. It seemed a very little thing to him.

“We’d better ask Daddy what to do,” he said perfunctorily.

They got up and went down to a late tea; and afterwards Mr. Pym took them to a chemist’s shop, where he bought women’s cuticle cream for Ben’s finger.

Orvil was feeling sick and rather other-worldly from sleeping all the afternoon; and when a lipstick rolled from the tray of bright cosmetics on this women’s counter he stooped down in a flash, picked it up and thrust it in his pockct, almost before he knew what he was doing.

“What fell down?” his father asked. Orvil was able to answer quite easily: “I’m not sure, I think it was a lipstick, but it’s rolled right under the counter.”

The girl got down on her hands and knees, and they left the shop.

As they went back into the hotel, a wiry beak-nosed man looked up from his paper, then came forward holding out his hand.

“Hullo, Pym, this is a pleasant surprise!” he said.

Mr. Pym recognized him as someone he had once known in the Far East. They had never been particularly friendly, and had not met for several years, but now they shook hands very affably.

The man was also in Salisbury because his son was at the O.T.C. camp.

He seemed quite silly for love of this son. He kept telling little anecdotes excitedly. His eyes danced and he showed his nice white false teeth. He described his son’s dare-devilry and his very attractive appearance. He ended up by saying in a humorous cockney voice which yet was quite serious underneath, “Though I say it as shouldn’t, Jim is an amazing fine lad.”

Orvil was very surprised by this display. He had never believed fathers capable of showing anything but cool tolerance or annoyance towards their sons. He was suddenly envious of this unknown Jim, and to get rid of the feeling he told himself that the father’s obsession made both of them look very ridiculous.

They left the man to go in to dinner, and at the door of the dining-room the thing that Orvil had been waiting for happened. The man turned back to his father and said hurriedly, “I say, I was so awfully sorry to hear about your----”

Mr. Pym cut him short brutally before the final word.

“It was much the best thing,” he said with satisfaction. “If she’d lived, she would have been an invalid, and you can guess how she would have liked that!” It was a most curious, leering, hideous voice. The man melted away, looking very red, wishing that he had not made himself say what he had not wanted to say.

A very old-fashioned waiter with flat feet, wispy remains of hair, and greasy napkin on his arm, led them to a table. Orvil looked at him as at an interesting relic. He did not like to think of him as human, for this would have spoilt the meal. The vast unhappiness of the waiter came out to him in waves, and he beat them back, trying to concentrate on the menu.

Ben had beer. He really wanted whisky-and-soda, but his sense of rightness told him that this w’ould look silly and precocious in a boy of seventeen, and he never went against this hard sense of rightness.

When they got into the car after their meal, the chauffeur seemed to be in a fit of sulks. Orvil sat in the front with him, as he sometimes liked to do.

“But don’t you want to see the Searchlight Tattoo yourself?” Orvil asked, trying to thaw him.

“That’s all very well, but I’d got my own arrangements,” the chauffeur said importantly. Hitherto he had had every evening free for drinking in the pubs and for picking up the women in each new town. He liked this quick sampling and moving on, and he mourned for his lost liberty on this particular night. It would mean that the women of Salisbury would remain unsampled by him---unless he found someone at the Tattoo.---Perhaps he would.---He imagined the feel of the rough downland grass on the palms of his hands and on his face.

Orvil looked at him intently and thought of the girls in books who ran away with their father’s chauffeur. He could see the attraction. It lay not so much in the chauffeur himself (this one at least was pink and pig-like) but in the speed; the uniform, as of some mysterious unknown army; the shut-in-together, desert-island feeling; and the melting feeling of escape.

The car stopped, and they had to wander about in the mud and the dark for some time, until they found their seats in the wooden stand.

The tattoo had not begun yet, but a searchlight played on a fat man in white who was leading community singing. He waved his arms and sweated. A weak, genteel answer came from the huge crowd. The fat man swivelled from the hips in a frenzy. Orvil had the fear, when he bent right back and his belly welled forward, that one of the walls might break and rupture. The full wind-skin belly swung dangerously from side to side. Orvil shut his eyes, then opened them again. The fat man’s pectoral muscles were so relaxed and overlaid with fat that they looked like pretty adolescent girl’s breasts. Orvil could see them dancing and bouncing about under the white cotton, and he caught clearer glimpses when the unbuttoned shirt blew wide open.

He wanted to laugh now. They looked so gay and ridiculous; like two little animated castle-puddings.

Suddenly dull drum-beats stopped the singing. Searchlights wheeled round and flooded all their rigid beams into one corner of the field.

At first Orvil could make out nothing, then he saw a white goat emerge from the blackness. It looked almost green in the searchlight beams, and behind its tiny shape came the thick broad river of massed bands.

Orvil thought the sight one of the most wonderful he had ever seen. He could not take his eyes from the proud men throwing silver batons into the air, or from the gladiator-like ones draped in leopard skins, beating scarlet drums as big as the largest cheeses. The tramp and swing of the vast flowing river intoxicated him. And there was the delicate-stepping, wicked little goat, with its beautiful powdered hair blowing freely in the wind, leading all these hundreds of meekly obeying men in arrogant scarlet cloth, gold braid and fur.

Orvil thought of the boys at school who so often joked about goats, nearly always bringing them into their grotesque stories. Now, as he looked at the pageant, he could not rid his mind of the memory of these jokes. He saw the goat being used shamefully by the whole regiment of men. They had all gone mad and were defiling their sacred emblem, until it lay dead at last on the ground.

“Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think,” Orvil told himself desperately, trying to fix his mind on the real scene before him.

The massed bands were passing out of the light now, into the darkness on the other side. The searchlights swung round suddenly and illuminated another region. A mud-coloured city gate and wall jumped out from the blackness. Curious Arabian-looking people flung themselves down from the wall, as if shot. Others advanced and then fell, rolling in agony on the ground. The British troops crept up stealthily in their Victorian helmets. Little puffs of smoke from their rifles hung in the air like white balls. The victors yelled war-cries and cheered. The vanquished grovelled in the dust, begging for mercy.

When it was all over and they had left Ben to go back to his camp, Orvil turned to the chauffeur.

“How did you enjoy it?” he asked.

“Very much indeed, thank you,” came the polite smooth answer.

Orvil looked up at the outline of the chauffeur’s plump face. It seemed placid now. The chauffeur joked with him in a friendly way, saying, “That was a pretty little goat, wasn’t it, Mister Orvil.” The ‘Mister’ surprised Orvil. The chauffeur was so independent and democratic that often, when he was sulking, he refused to call even Mr. Pym ‘sir.’

Orvil sat by him in silence, thinking of the next day, when they would arrive at the hotel where they were to spend the rest of the holidays.

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