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Leaves in the Wind
A. G. Gardiner
A FELLOW TRAVELLER
ON A FAMOUS SERMON
ON POCKETS AND THINGS
ON A COUNTRY PLATFORM
ON A DISTANT VIEW OF A PIG
IN DEFENCE OF IGNORANCE
ON A SHINY NIGHT
ON GIVING UP TOBACCO
THE GREAT GOD GUN
ON A LEGEND OF THE WAR
ON TALK AND TALKERS
ON A VISION OF EDEN
ON A COMIC GENIUS
ON A VANISHED GARDEN
ALL ABOUT A DOG
ON THE AMERICAN SOLDIER
ON BEING CALLED THOMPSON
ON THINKING FOR ONE'S SELF
ON SAWING WOOD
VARIATIONS ON AN OLD THEME
THE DUEL THAT FAILED
ON EARLY RISING
ON BEING KNOWN
ON A MAP OF THE OBERLAND
ON A TALK IN A BUS
ON VIRTUES THAT DON'T COUNT
ON HATE AND THE SOLDIER
ON TAKING THE CALL
A DITHYRAMB ON A DOG
ON HAPPY FACES IN THE STRAND
ODIN GROWN OLD
ON A SMILE IN A SHAVING GLASS
ON THE RULE OF THE ROAD
ON THE INDIFFERENCE OF NATURE
IF JEREMY CAME BACK
ON SLEEP AND THOUGHT
"There under some spreading oak or beech."
This collection of essays, now republished in the "Wayfarers' Library," were written during the war, and first appeared in book form during the war. Like the preceding volume, Pebbles on the Shore, they were the literary diversions of a time of great public anxiety and heavy personal tasks. The writing of them was a happy distraction from unhappy things, and now that the great wind has passed it is a pleasure to find the leaves it blew down gathered between the companionable covers of the "Wayfarer." I leave them as they fell.
I do not know which of us got into the carriage first. Indeed I did not know he was in the carriage at all for some time. It was the last train from London to a Midland town—a stopping train, an infinitely leisurely train, one of those trains which give you an understanding of eternity. It was tolerably full when it started, but as we stopped at the suburban stations the travellers alighted in ones and twos, and by the time we had left the outer ring of London behind I was alone—or, rather, I thought I was alone.
There is a pleasant sense of freedom about being alone in a carriage that is jolting noisily through the night. It is liberty and unrestraint in a very agreeable form. You can do anything you like. You can talk to yourself as loud as you please and no one will hear you. You can have that argument out with Jones and roll him triumphantly in the dust without fear of a counter-stroke. You can stand on your head and no one will see you. You can sing, or dance a two-step, or practise a golf stroke, or play marbles on the floor without let or hindrance. You can open the window or shut it without provoking a protest. You can open both windows or shut both. Indeed, you can go on opening them and shutting them as a sort of festival of freedom. You can have any corner you choose and try all of them in turn. You can lie at full length on the cushions and enjoy the luxury of breaking the regulations and possibly the heart of D.O.R.A. herself. Only D.O.R.A. will not know that her heart is broken. You have escaped even D.O.R.A.
On this night I did not do any of these things. They did not happen to occur to me. What I did was much more ordinary. When the last of my fellow-passengers had gone I put down my paper, stretched my arms and my legs, stood up and looked out of the window on the calm summer night through which I was journeying, noting the pale reminiscence of day that still lingered in the northern sky; crossed the carriage and looked out of the other window; lit a cigarette, sat down and began to read again. It was then that I became aware of my fellow traveller. He came and sat on my nose.... He was one of those wingy, nippy, intrepid insects that we call, vaguely, mosquitoes. I flicked him off my nose, and he made a tour of the compartment, investigated its three dimensions, visited each window, fluttered round the light, decided that there was nothing so interesting as that large animal in the corner, came and had a look at my neck.
I flicked him off again. He skipped away, took another jaunt round the compartment, returned, and seated himself impudently on the back of my hand. It is enough, I said; magnanimity has its limits. Twice you have been warned that I am someone in particular, that my august person resents the tickling impertinences of strangers. I assume the black cap. I condemn you to death. Justice demands it, and the court awards it. The counts against you are many. You are a vagrant; you are a public nuisance; you are travelling without a ticket; you have no meat coupon. For these and many other misdemeanours you are about to die. I struck a swift, lethal blow with my right hand. He dodged the attack with an insolent ease that humiliated me. My personal vanity was aroused. I lunged at him with my hand, with my paper; I jumped on the seat and pursued him round the lamp; I adopted tactics of feline cunning, waiting till he had alighted, approaching with a horrible stealthiness, striking with a sudden and terrible swiftness.
It was all in vain. He played with me, openly and ostentatiously, like a skilful matador finessing round an infuriated bull. It was obvious that he was enjoying himself, that it was for this that he had disturbed my repose. He wanted a little sport, and what sport like being chased by this huge, lumbering windmill of a creature, who tasted so good and seemed so helpless and so stupid? I began to enter into the spirit of the fellow. He was no longer a mere insect. He was developing into a personality, an intelligence that challenged the possession of this compartment with me on equal terms. I felt my heart warming towards him and the sense of superiority fading. How could I feel superior to a creature who was so manifestly my master in the only competition in which we had ever engaged? Why not be magnanimous again? Magnanimity and mercy were the noblest attributes of man. In the exercise of these high qualities I could recover my prestige. At present I was a ridiculous figure, a thing for laughter and derision. By being merciful I could reassert the moral dignity of man and go back to my corner with honour. I withdraw the sentence of death, I said, returning to my seat. I cannot kill you, but I can reprieve you. I do it.
I took up my paper and he came and sat on it. Foolish fellow, I said, you have delivered yourself into my hands. I have but to give this respectable weekly organ of opinion a smack on both covers and you are a corpse, neatly sandwiched between an article on "Peace Traps" and another on "The Modesty of Mr. Hughes." But I shall not do it. I have reprieved you, and I will satisfy you that when this large animal says a thing he means it. Moreover, I no longer desire to kill you. Through knowing you better I have come to feel—shall I say?—a sort of affection for you. I fancy that St. Francis would have called you "little brother." I cannot go so far as that in Christian charity and civility. But I recognise a more distant relationship. Fortune has made us fellow travellers on this summer night. I have interested you and you have entertained me. The obligation is mutual and it is founded on the fundamental fact that we are fellow mortals. The miracle of life is ours in common and its mystery too. I suppose you don't know anything about your journey. I'm not sure that I know much about mine. We are really, when you come to think of it, a good deal alike—just apparitions that are and then are not, coming out of the night into the lighted carriage, fluttering about the lamp for a while and going out into the night again. Perhaps...
"Going on to-night, sir?" said a voice at the window. It was a friendly porter giving me a hint that this was my station. I thanked him and said I must have been dozing. And seizing my hat and stick I went out into the cool summer night. As I closed the door of the compartment I saw my fellow traveller fluttering round the lamp....
I see that Queen Alexandra has made a further distribution among charities of the profits from the sale of the late Canon Fleming's sermon, "On Recognition in Eternity." The sermon was preached on the occasion of the death of the Duke of Clarence, and judging from its popularity I have no doubt it is a good sermon. But I am tempted to write on the subject by a mischievous thought suggested by the authorship of this famous sermon. There is no idea which makes so universal an appeal to the deepest instincts of humanity as the idea that when we awake from the dream of life we shall pass into the companionship of those who have shared and lightened our pilgrimage here. The intellect may dismiss the idea as unscientific, but, as Newman says, the finite can tell us nothing about the infinite Creator, and the Quaker poet's serene assurance—
Yet love will hope and faith will trust (Since He Who knows our needs is just) That somehow, somewhere, meet we must—
defies all the buffetings of reason.
Even Shelley, for all his aggressive Atheism, could not, as Francis Thompson points out, escape the instinct of personal immortality. In his glorious elegy on Keats he implicitly assumes the personal immortality which the poem explicitly denies, as when, to greet the dead youth,
The inheritors of unfulfilled renown Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought Far in the unapparent.
And it is on the same note that the poem reaches its sublime and prophetic close:—
I am borne darkly, fearfully afar; Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of heaven, The soul of Adonais like a star Beacons from the abode where the eternal are.
The ink of that immortal strain was hardly dry upon the page when the vision was fulfilled, for only a few months elapsed between the death of Keats and the drowning of Shelley, and in the interval the great monody had been written.
I refuse, for the sake of the feelings of Mr. J. M. Robertson and Mr. Foote and the other stern old dogmatists of Rationalism, to deny myself the pleasure of imagining the meeting of Shelley and Keats in the Elysian Fields. If Shelley, "borne darkly, fearfully afar" beyond the confines of reason, could feel that grand assurance, why should I, who dislike the dogmatists of Rationalism as much as the dogmatists of Orthodoxy, deny myself that beautiful solace? I like to think of those passionate spirits in eternal comradeship, pausing in their eager talk to salute deep-browed Homer as, perchance, he passes in grave discourse with the "mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies." I like to think of Dante meeting Beatrice by some crystal stream, of Lincoln wandering side by side with Lee, of poor Mary Lamb reunited to the mother she loved and whom she slew in one of her fits of insanity, and of an innumerable host of humbler recognitions no less sweet.
But Canon Fleming's name reminds me that all the recognitions will not be agreeable. I cannot imagine that eminent Court preacher showing any eagerness to recognise or be recognised by that other eminent preacher, Dr. Talmage. For it was Talmage's sermon on the wickedness of great cities that Fleming so unblushingly preached and published as his own, simply altering the names of American cities to those of European cities. Some cruel editor printed the two sermons side by side, I think in the old St. James's Gazette, and the poor Canon's excuse only made matters rather worse. The incident did not prevent him securing preferment, and his sermon on "Recognition in Eternity" still goes on selling. But he will not be comfortable when he sees Talmage coming his way across the Elysian Fields. I do not think he will offer him the very unconvincing explanation he offered to the British public. He will make a frank confession and Talmage will no doubt give him absolution. There will be many such awkward meetings. With what emotions of shame, for example, will Charles I. see Strafford approaching. "Not a hair of your head shall be touched by Parliament" was his promise to that instrument of his despotic rule, but when Parliament demanded the head itself he endorsed the verdict that sent Strafford to the scaffold. And I can imagine there will be a little coldness between Cromwell and Charles when they pass, though in the larger understanding of that world Charles, I fancy, will see that he was quite impossible, and that he left the grim old Puritan no other way.
It is this thought of the larger understanding that will come when we have put off the coarse vesture of things that makes this speculation reasonable. That admirable woman, Mrs. Berry, in "Richard Feverel," had the recognitions of eternity in her mind when she declared that widows ought not to remarry. "And to think," she said, "o' two (husbands) claimin' o' me then, it makes me hot all over." Mrs. Berry's mistake was in thinking of Elysium in the terms of earth. It is precisely because we shall have escaped from the encumbering flesh and all the bewilderments of this clumsy world that we cannot merely tolerate the idea, but can find in it a promised explanation of the inexplicable.
It is the same mistake that I find in Mr. Belloc, who, I see from yesterday's paper, has been denouncing the "tomfoolery" of spiritualism, and describing the miracles of Lourdes as "a special providential act designed to convert, change, upset, and disintegrate the materialism of the nineteenth century." I want to see the materialism of the nineteenth century converted, changed, upset and disintegrated, as much as Mr. Belloc does, but I have as little regard for the instrument he trusts in as for the "tomfoolery" of spiritualism. And when he goes on to denounce a Miss Posthlethwaite, a Catholic spiritualist, for having declared that in the next world she found people of all religions and did not find that Mohammedans suffered more than others, I feel that he is as materialistic as Mrs. Berry. He sees heaven in the terms of the troublesome little sectarianisms of the earth, with an ascendancy party in possession, and no non-alcoholic Puritans, Jews, or Mohammedans visible to his august eye. They will all be in another place, and very uncomfortable indeed. He really has not advanced beyond that infantile partisanship satirised, I think, by Swift:—
We are God's chosen few, All others will be damned. There is no place in heaven for you, We can't have heaven crammed.
No, no, Mr. Belloc. The judgments of eternity will not be so vulgar as this, nor the companionship so painfully exclusive. You will not walk the infinite meadows of heaven alone with the sect you adorned on earth. You will find all sorts of people there regardless of the quaint little creeds they professed in the elementary school of life. I am sure you will find Mrs. Berry there, for that simple woman had the root of the true gospel in her. "I think it's al'ays the plan in a dielemma," she said, "to pray God and walk forward." I think it is possible that in the larger atmosphere you will discover that she was a wiser pupil in the elementary school than you were.
I suppose most men felt, as I felt, the reasonableness of Mr. Justice Bray's remarks the other day on the preference of women for bags instead of pockets. A case was before him in which a woman had gone into a shop, had put down her satchel containing her money and valuables, turned to pick it up a little later, found it had been stolen, and thereupon brought an action against the owners of the shop for the recovery of her losses. The jury were unsympathetic, found that in the circumstances the woman was responsible, and gave a verdict against her.
Of course the jury were men, all of them prejudiced on this subject of pockets. At a guess I should say that there were not fewer than 150 pockets in that jury-box, and not one satchel. You, madam, may retort that this is only another instance of the scandal of this man-ridden world. Why were there no women in that jury-box? Why are all the decisions of the courts, from the High Court to the coroner's court, left to the judgment of men? Madam, I share your indignation. I would "comb-out" the jury-box. I would send half the jurymen, if not into the trenches, at least to hoe turnips, and fill their places with a row of women. Women are just as capable as men of forming an opinion about facts, they have at least as much time to spare, and their point of view is as essential to justice. What can there be more ridiculous, for example, than a jury of men sitting for a whole day to decide the question of the cut of a gown without a single woman's expert opinion to guide them, or more unjust than to leave an issue between a man and a woman entirely in the hands of men? Yes, certainly madam, I am with you on the general question.
But when we come to the subject of pockets, I am bound to confess that I am with the jury. If I had been on that jury I should have voted with fervour for making the woman responsible for her own loss. If it were possible for women to put their satchels down on counters, or the seats of buses, or any odd place they thought of, and then to make some innocent person responsible because they were stolen, there would be no security for anybody. It would be a travesty of justice—a premium upon recklessness and even fraud. Moreover, people who won't wear pockets deserve to be punished. They ask for trouble and ought not to complain when they get it.
I have never been able to fathom the obduracy of women in this matter of pockets. It is not the only reflection upon their common-sense which is implicit in their dress. If we were to pass judgment on the relative intelligence of the sexes by their codes of costume, sanity would pronounce overwhelmingly in favour of men. Imagine a man who buttoned his coat and waistcoat down the back, so that he was dependent on someone else to help dress him in the morning and unfasten him at night, or who relied on such abominations as hooks-and-eyes scattered over unattainable places, in order to keep his garments in position. You cannot imagine such a man. Yet women submit to these incredible tyrannies of fashion without a murmur, and talk about them as though it was the hand of fate upon them. I have a good deal of sympathy with the view of a friend of mine who says that no woman ought to have a vote until she has won the enfranchisement of her own buttons.
Or take high-heeled boots. Is there any sight more ludicrous than the spectacle of a woman stumbling along on a pair of high heels, flung out of the perpendicular and painfully struggling to preserve her equilibrium, condemned to take finicking little steps lest she should topple over, all the grace and freedom of movement lost in an ugly acrobatic feat? And when the feet turn in, and the high heels turn over—heavens! I confess I never see high heels without looking for a mindless face, and I rarely look in vain.
But the puzzle about the pockets is that quite sensible women go about in a pocketless condition. I turned to Jane just now—she was sitting by the fire knitting—and asked how many pockets she had when she was fully dressed. "None," she said. "Pockets haven't been worn for years and years, but now they are coming in—in an ornamental way." "In an ornamental way?" said I. "Won't they carry anything?" "Well, you can trust a handkerchief to them." "Not a purse?" "Good gracious, no. It would simply ask to be stolen, and if it wasn't stolen in five minutes it would fall out in ten." The case was stranger than I had thought. Not to have pockets was bad enough; but to have sham pockets! Think of it! We have been at war for three and a half years, and women are now beginning to wear pockets "in an ornamental way," not for use but as a pretty fal-lal, much as they might put on another row of useless buttons to button nothing. And what is the result? Jane (I have full permission to mention her in order to give actuality to this moral discourse) spends hours looking for her glasses, for her keys, for the letter that came this morning, for her purse, for her bag, for all that is hers. And we, the devoted members of the family, spend hours in looking for them too, exploring dark corners, probing the interstices of sofas and chairs, rummaging the dishevelled drawers anew, discovering the thing that disappeared so mysteriously last week or last month and that we no longer want, but rarely the article that is the very hub of the immediate wheel of things.
Now, I am different. I am pockets all over. I am simply agape with pockets. I am like a pillar-box walking about, waiting for the postman to come and collect things. All told, I carry sixteen pockets—none of them ornamental, every one as practical as a time-table—pockets for letters, for watch, for keys, for handkerchiefs, for tickets, for spectacles (two pairs, long and short distance), for loose money, for note-wallet, for diary and pocket-book—why, bless me, you can hardly mention a thing I haven't a pocket for. And I would not do without one of them, madam—not one. Do I ever lose things? Of course I lose things. I lose them in my pockets. You can't possibly have as many pockets as I have got without losing things in them. But then you have them all the time.
That is the splendid thing about losing your property in your own pockets. It always turns up in the end, and that lady's satchel left on the counter will never turn up. And think of the surprises you get when rummaging in your pockets—the letters you haven't answered, the bills you haven't paid, the odd money that has somehow got into the wrong pocket. When I have nothing else to do I just search my pockets—all my pockets, those in the brown suit, and the grey suit, and the serge suit, and my "Sunday best"—there must be fifty pockets in all, and every one of them full of something, of ghosts of engagements I haven't kept, and duties I haven't performed, and friends I have neglected, of pipes that I have mourned as lost, and half packets of cigarettes that by some miracle I have not smoked, and all the litter of a casual and disorderly life. I would not part with these secrecies for all the satchels in Oxford Street. I am my own book of mysteries. I bulge with mysteries. I can surprise myself at any moment I like by simply exploring my pockets. If I avoid exploring them I know I am not very well. I know I am not in a condition to face the things that I might find there. I just leave them there till I am stronger—not lost, madam, as they would be in your satchel, but just forgotten, comfortably forgotten. Why should one always be disturbing the sleeping dogs in the kennels of one's pockets? Why not let them sleep? Are there not enough troubles in life that one must go seeking them in one's own pockets? And I have a precedent, look you. Did not Napoleon say that if you did not look at your letters for a fortnight you generally found that they had answered themselves?
And may I not in this connection recall the practice of Sir Andrew Clarke, the physician of Mr. Gladstone, as recorded in the reminiscences of Mr. Henry Holiday? At dinner one night Sir Andrew was observed to be drinking champagne, and was asked why he allowed himself an indulgence which he so rigorously denied to his patients. "Yes," he said, "but you do not understand my case. When I go from here I shall find a pile of fifty or sixty letters awaiting answers." "But will champagne help you to answer them?" asked the other. "Not at all," said Sir Andrew, "not at all; but it puts you in the frame of mind in which you don't care a damn whether they are answered or not." I do not offer this story for the imitation of youth, but for the solace of the people like myself who have long reached the years of discretion without becoming discreet, and who like to feel that their weaknesses have been shared by the eminent and the wise.
And, to conclude, the wisdom of the pocket habit is not to be judged by its abuse, but by its obvious convenience and safety. I trust that some energetic woman will be moved to inaugurate a crusade for the redemption of her sex from its pocketless condition. A Society for the Propagation of Pockets Among Women (S.P.P.A.W.) is a real need of the time. It should be a part of the great work of after-the-war reconstruction. It should organise opinion, distribute leaflets and hold meetings, with the Mayor in the chair and experts, rich in pockets and the lore of the subject, to light the fire of rebellion throughout the land. Women have won the vote from the tyrant man. Let them win their pockets from the tyrant dressmaker.
The fields lie cheek-by-jowl with the station, and a group of high elms, in which dwells a colony of rooks, throws its ample shade over the "down" platform.
From the cornfield that marches side by side with the station there comes the cheerful music of the reaper and the sound of the voices of the harvesters, old men, some women and more children—for half of the field has been reaped and is being gathered and gleaned. They are so near that the engine-driver of the "local" train exchanges gossip with them in the intervals of oiling his engine. They talk of the crops and the bad weather there has been and the change that has come with September, and the news of boys who are fighting or have fallen....
A dozen youths march, two by two, on to the "up" platform. They are in civilian dress, but behind them walks a sergeant who ejaculates "left—left—left" like the flick of a whip. They are the latest trickle from this countryside to the great whirlpool, most of them mere boys. They have the self-consciousness of obscure country youths who have suddenly been thrust into the public eye and are aware that all glances are turned critically upon their awkward movements. They shamble along with a grotesque caricature of a dare-devil swagger, and laugh loud and vacantly to show how much they are at ease with themselves and the world. It is hollow gaiety and suggests the animation of a trout with a hook in its throat.
The booking-clerk, lounging at the door of the booking-office, passes a half-contemptuous remark upon them to a companion.
"Wait till they come for you, Jimmy," says the other. "You won't find it so funny then."
Jimmy's face falls at the reminder, for he is nearly ripe for the great harvest, and the reaper will soon come his way....
A few people drift in from outside as the time for the departure of the London train approaches. Among them, a young woman, hot and flushed and carrying a country basket, is greeted by an acquaintance with surprise.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm going to London—just as I am—-a telegram from Tom—he's got leave from the front—isn't it glorious—and all so unexpected—couldn't change, or even drop my basket—the messenger met me in the street—hadn't a moment to lose to catch the train." ...
A little group brushes by her with far other emotions. A stalwart soldier, a bronzed, good-looking fellow, with three stripes, who has evidently seen much service, is returning from leave. His wife, neatly dressed and with head down, wheels a perambulator beside him. Inside the perambulator is a child of three years or so. Two other children, of perhaps five and six, walk with the soldier, each clasping a hand. The little procession passes in silence to the end of the platform, full of that misery which seeks to be alone with itself....
Over the wooden bridge that connects the two platforms comes a solitary soldier, laden with his belongings. He has come in from some other village by the local train. He flings himself down on the form and stares gloomily at the elms and the cornfield and the sunshine. A comfortable-looking, elderly man, who has a copy of the London Corn Circular in his hand, turns to him with that amiable desire to be friendly which elderly people have in the presence of soldiers.
"And how long have you been out at the war, sonny?" he asks, much as he might ask how long holiday he had had.
"I'm sick of the bloody war," says the soldier, without even turning his head.
The comfortable, elderly man collapses into silence and the Corn Circular....
A young officer who has been driven up in a dog-cart comes on to the platform accompanied by a dog with tongue lolling from its mouth and with the large, brown, affectionate eyes of the Airedale.
The train thunders in, and the officer opens a carriage door. The dog tries to enter with his master.
"No, no, old chap," says the latter, gently patting him and pulling him back. "Go home. They don't want you where I'm going."
The dog stands for a moment on the platform, panting and gazing at his master as if hoping that he will relent. Then he turns and trots away, throwing occasional glances back on the off-chance of a whistle of recall....
The moment has come for the separation of the little family at the end of the platform. The soldier leans from the carriage window and his wife clings about his neck. The two children stand by the perambulator. They are brave little girls and remember that they have not to cry. The train begins to move and the woman unclasps herself, leaving her husband at the window, smiling his hardest and throwing kisses to the children. The train gathers speed and takes a curve and the soldier has vanished. The mother turns to the perambulator and seeks to hide her face as she hurries with her little charges along the platform and through the gate. The two little girls stifle their sobs in their aprons, but the child in the carriage knows nothing of public behaviour. He knows in that dim way that is the affliction of childhood that something terrible is happening, and as the forlorn little group hurries by to escape into the lane hard by where grief can have its fill he rends the air with his sobs and cries of "Poor dada, poor dada!"
Poor little mite, he is beginning his apprenticeship to this rough, insane world betimes....
And now the platform is empty, and the only sound of life is the whirr of the reaping machine and the voices from the harvest field. Through the meadow that leads to the village the dog is slowly trotting home, still casting occasional glances backwards on the chance....
Yes, I would certainly keep a pig. The idea came to me while I was digging. I find that there is no occupation that stimulates thought more than digging if you choose your soil well. Digging in the London clay does not stimulate thought; it deadens thought. It is good exercise for the body, but it is no exercise for the mind. You can't play with your fancies as you plunge your spade into this stiff and stubborn medium. But in the light, porous soil of my garden on the chalk hills digging goes with a swing and a rhythm that set the thoughts singing like the birds. I feel I could win battles when I'm digging, or write plays or lyrics that would stun the world, or make speeches that would stir a post to action. Ideas seem as plentiful as blackberries in the autumn, and if only I could put down the spade and capture them red-hot I feel that I could make The Star simply blaze with glory.
It was in one of these prolific moments that I thought of the pig. Like all great ideas there was something inevitable about it. The calculations of Le Verrier and Adams proved the existence of Neptune before that orb was discovered. They knew it was there before they found it. My pig was born without my knowledge. In the furnace of my mind he took shape merely by the friction of facts. He was a sort of pig by divine right. It happened thus. In the midst of my digging Jim Squire, passing up the lane, had paused on the other side of the hedge to discuss last night's frost. I straightened my back for a talk, and naturally we talked about potatoes. If you want to get the best out of Jim Squire you must touch him on potatoes. There are some people who find Jim an unresponsive and suspicious yokel. That is because they do not know how to draw him out. Mention potatoes, or carrots, or the best way of dealing with slugs, or the right manure for a hot-bed, or any sensible subject like these, and he simply flows with wisdom and urbanity.
He observed that I should have a tidy few potatoes, what with the garden I was digging, and the piece I'd turned over in the orchard, and that there bit o' waste land on the hillside which he had heard as I was getting Mestur Wistock to plough up for me. Yes, there'd be a niceish lot. And he did hear I was going to set King Edwards and Arran Chiefs. Rare and fine potatoes they were too. He had some King Edwards last year—turned out wonderful, they did. One root he pulled up weighed 12 lb. Yes, Miss Mary weighed 'em for him in the scale at the farm—just for a hobby like as you might say. It was like this. He'd seen a bit in the paper about a man as had 8 lb. on a root, and he (Jim) said to himself, "This root beats that by a long chalk I know." And Miss Mary come by and she said she'd weigh 'em. And she did. And it was 12 lb. full, she said. If anything, she said, 'twas a shade over. She said as they'd have took a prize anywhere—that's what she said.... Well, you couldn't have too many potatoes these days. Wonderful good food they were, for man and pig....
As he went on up the lane my spade took up that word like a refrain. At every rhythmic stroke it seemed to cry "pig" with increasing vehemence.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken.
A pig? Why not?—and I straightened my back again. I felt that something prodigious was taking shape. My eye wandered across the orchard. There were the hives standing in a row—three of them, to be increased to twelve as fast as the expert, who has set up her carpenter's shop in the barn, can get the parts to put together. And beyond the hives three sheds—one for poultry, one for the hot-bed for mushrooms, the third—why, the very thing.... Concrete the floor and it would be a very palace for a pig.
I took a turn up the garden to look this thing squarely in the face, and at the gate I saw the farmer's wife coming down the lane. We stopped, and she talked about her cows and about an order she had got from the Government to plough up more pasture, and then—as if echoing the very thought that was drumming in my head—about the litter of pigs she was expecting and of her wish to get the cottagers to keep pigs. Why, this was a very conspiracy of circumstance, thought I. It seemed as though man and events alike were engaged in a plot to make me keep a pig.
With an air of idle curiosity I encouraged the farmer's wife to talk on the thrilling theme, and she responded with enthusiasm. The pig, I found, was a grossly maligned animal. It had lain uncomplainingly under imputations that were foul slanders on its innocent and lovable character. Yes, lovable. She had had pigs who were as affectionate as any dog—pigs that followed her about in sheer friendliness. And as for the charge of filthiness, who was to blame? We gave them dirty styes and then called them dirty pigs. But the pig was a clean animal, loved cleanliness, thrived on cleanliness. It was man the dirty who kept the pig foul and then called him unclean. And what a profitable animal. She had had a sow which had produced 108 pigs and 102 of them came to maturity. What an example to Shoreditch, I said. Perhaps they don't give them clean styes in Shoreditch, she said. No, I replied, they give them dirty styes....