Jeremy and Hamlet - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Jeremy and Hamlet ebook

Hugh Walpole

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This is a horror book, but prone to human psychology. The book begins: between the kitchen and the pantry there was a certain window, which was a favorite for Hamlet. Thirty years ago – these chronicles of 1894 – the basements of houses in provincial English cities, even large houses owned by wealthy people, were dark, cold, odorous caves sizzling with bad gas and smelling of poorly prepared cabbage. The basement of Coles’ house in Polchester was the same bad, like any other, but this small window between the kitchen and the pantry was higher in the wall than other basement windows.

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Liczba stron: 334

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Contents

CHAPTER I. COME OUT OF THE KITCHEN...

CHAPTER II. CONSCIENCE MONEY

CHAPTER III. THE DANCE

CHAPTER IV. SALADIN AND THE BLACK BISHOP

CHAPTER V. POODLE

CHAPTER VI. THE NIGHT RAIDERS

CHAPTER VII. YOUNG BALTIMORE

CHAPTER VIII. THE RUFFIANS

CHAPTER IX. THE PICTURE-BOOK

CHAPTER X. UNCLE PERCY

CHAPTER XI. THE RUNAWAYS

CHAPTER XII. A FINE DAY

CHAPTER I. COME OUT OF THE KITCHEN...

I

There was a certain window between the kitchen and the pantry that was Hamlet’s favourite. Thirty years ago–these chronicles are of the year 1894–the basements of houses in provincial English towns, even of large houses owned by rich people, were dark, chill, odourful caverns hissing with ill-burning gas and smelling of ill-cooked cabbage. The basement of the Coles’ house in Polchester was as bad as any other, but this little window between the kitchen and the pantry was higher in the wall than the other basement windows, almost on a level with the iron railings beyond it, and offering a view down over Orange Street and, obliquely, sharp to the right and past the Polchester High School, a glimpse of the Cathedral Towers themselves.

Inside the window was a shelf, and on this shelf Hamlet would sit for hours, his peaked beard interrogatively a-tilt, his leg sticking out from his square body as though it were a joint-leg and worked like the limb of a wooden toy, his eyes, sad and mysterious, staring into Life....

It was not, of course, of Life that he was thinking; only very high-bred and in-bred dogs are conscious philosophers.

His ears were stretched for a sound of the movements of Mrs. Hounslow the cook, his nostrils distended for a whiff of the food that she was manipulating, but his eyes were fixed upon the passing show, the pageantry, the rough-and-tumble of the world, and every once and again the twitch of his Christmas-tree tail would show that something was occurring in this life beyond the window that could supervene, for a moment at any rate, over the lust of the stomach and the lure of the clattering pan.

He was an older dog than he had been on that snowy occasion of his first meeting with the Cole family–two years older in fact. Older and fatter. He had now a round belly. His hair hung as wildly as ever it had done around his eyes, but beneath the peaked and aristocratic beard there was a sad suspicion of a double chin.

He had sold his soul to the cook.

When we sell our souls we are ourselves, of course, in the main responsible. But others have often had more to do with our catastrophe than the world in general can know. Had Jeremy, his master, not gone to school, Hamlet’s soul would yet have been his own; Jeremy gone, Hamlet’s spiritual life was nobody’s concern. He fell down, deep down, into the very heart of the basement, and nobody minded.

He himself did not mind; he was very glad. He loved the basement.

It had happened that during the last holidays Jeremy had gone into the country to stay with the parents of a school friend–Hamlet had had therefore nearly nine months’ freedom from his master’s influence. Mr. and Mrs. Cole did not care for him very deeply. Helen hated him. Mary loved him but was so jealous of Jeremy’s affection for him that she was not sorry to see him banished, and Barbara, only two and a half, had as yet very tenuous ideas on this subject.

Mrs. Hounslow, a very fat, sentimental woman, liked to have something or someone at her side to give her rich but transient emotions–emotions evoked by a passing band, the reading of an accident in the newspaper, or some account of an event in the Royal family. The kitchen-maid, a girl of no home and very tender years, longed for affection from somebody, but Mrs. Hounslow disliked all kitchen-maids on principle–therefore Hamlet received what the kitchen-maid needed, and that is the way of the world.

Did there run through Hamlet’s brain earlier stories of an emotion purer than the lust for bones, of a devotion higher and more ardent than the attachment to a dripping saucepan?

Did he sometimes, as he sat reflectively beside the kitchen fire, see pictures of his master’s small nose, of woods when, at his master’s side, he sniffed for rabbits, of days when he raced along shining sands after a stone that he had no real intention of finding? Did he still feel his master’s hand upon his head and that sudden twitch as that hand caught a tuft of hair and twisted it?...

No one can tell of what he was thinking as he sat on the shelf staring out of his window at old Miss Mulready, burdened with parcels, climbing Orange Street, at the lamplighter hurrying with his flame from post to post, of old Grinder’s war-worn cab stumbling across the cobbles past the High School, the old horse faltering at every step, at the green evening sky slipping into dusk, the silver-pointed stars, the crooked roofs blackening into shadow, the lights of the town below the hill jumping like gold jack-in-the-boxes into the shadowy air.

No one could tell of what he was thinking.

II

He was aware that in the upper regions something was preparing. He was aware of this in general by a certain stir that there was, of agitated voices and hurrying footsteps and urgent cries; but he was aware more immediately because of the attentions of Mary, Jeremy’s younger sister.

He had always hated Mary. Are dogs, in their preferences and avoidances, guided at all by physical beauty or ugliness? Was Helen of Troy adored by the dogs of that town and did Sappho command the worship of the hounds of Greece? We are told nothing of it and, on the other hand, we know that Lancelot Gobbo had a devoted dog and that Charon, who cannot have been a handsome fellow, was most faithfully dog-attended. I do not think that Hamlet minded poor Mary’s plainness, her large spectacles, her sallow complexion, colourless hair and bony body. His dislike arose more probably from the certainty that she would always stroke him the wrong way, would poke her fingers into his defenceless eyes, would try to drag him on to her sharp, razor-edged knees and would talk to him in that meaningless sing-song especially invented by the sentimental of heart and slow of brain for the enchantment of babies and animals.

She was talking to him in just that fashion now. He had slipped upstairs, attracted by a smell in the dining-room. Watching for the moment when he would be undetected, he had crept round the dining-room door and had stood, his nose in air, surrounded by a sea of worn green carpet, sniffing. Suddenly he felt a hand on his collar and there followed that voice that of all others he most detested. “Why, here’s Hamlet! Helen, here’s Hamlet!... We can get him ready now, Helen; there’s only two hours left anyway, and Jeremy will care much more about that than anything. I’d like to leave him downstairs, but Jeremy will be sure to ask where he is. Which colour shall I use for the ribbon, Helen? I’ve got blue and red and orange.”

A pause. Then again:

“Which shall I use? Do say.”

Then from a great distance:

“Oh, don’t bother, Mary. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

A heavy sigh. “Oh, well, you might. Never mind. I think the blue’s best.” All this time Hamlet was desperately wriggling, but the hand, with knuckles that pressed into the flesh and hurt, had firm hold.

“Oh, do keep still, Hamlet. Can’t you see that your master’s coming home and you’ve got to be made nice? Oh, bother! I’ve gone and cut the piece too short.... Helen, have you got another piece of blue?”

A pause. Then again: “Oh, Helen, you might say. I’ve cut the piece too short. Haven’t you got another bit of blue?”

Then again from a long distance:

“Don’t bother, Mary. Can’t you see that I’m so busy?”

“Oh, very well, then.” A terribly deep sigh that made Hamlet shiver with discomfort. “Come here, Hamlet. On to my lap, where I can tie it better. There, that’s right. Oh, do keep your head still–and how fat you are now!”

Insult upon insult heaped. He raised his eyes to heaven, partly in indignation, partly because the entrancing smell could be caught more securely now from the elevation of Mary’s lap! But the discomfort of that lap, the hard boniness, the sudden precipitate valley, the shortness of its surface so that one was for ever slipping two legs over, the moist warmth of the surrounding hand, the iron hardness of the fingers at the neck! He played his best game of wriggle, slipping, sliding, lying suddenly inert, jerking first with his paws, then with his hind legs, digging his head beneath his captor’s arm as the flamingo did in “Alice.”

Mary, as so often occurred, lost her patience. “Oh, do keep still, Hamlet! How tiresome you are, when I’ve got such a little time too! Don’t you like to have a ribbon? And you’ll have to be brushed too. Helen, where’s the brush that we used to have for Hamlet?”

No answer.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.