Copyright
J. D. (John Davys) Beresford.

The Hampdenshire Wonder online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryJ. D. (John Davys) BeresfordThe Hampdenshire Wonder → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE HAMPDENSHIRE WONDER ***




Produced by Jeroen Hellingman and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net/ for Project
Gutenberg (This file was produced from images generously
made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)









THE HAMPDENSHIRE WONDER

BY

J. D. BERESFORD
AUTHOR OF "THE EARLY HISTORY OF JACOB STAHL"



LONDON
SIDGWICK & JACKSON, Ltd.
3 ADAM STREET, ADELPHI
1911







To

MY FRIEND AND CRITIC

ARTHUR SCOTT CRAVEN







CONTENTS


PART I

MY EARLY ASSOCIATIONS WITH GINGER STOTT

CHAP. PAGE

I. THE MOTIVE 3
II. NOTES FOR A BIOGRAPHY OF GINGER STOTT 14
III. THE DISILLUSIONMENT OF GINGER STOTT 52


PART II

THE CHILDHOOD OF THE WONDER

IV. THE MANNER OF HIS BIRTH 65
V. HIS DEPARTURE FROM STOKE-UNDERHILL 86
VI. HIS FATHER'S DESERTION 101
VII. HIS DEBT TO HENRY CHALLIS 113
VIII. HIS FIRST VISIT TO CHALLIS COURT 139


INTERLUDE 145


PART II (continued)

THE WONDER AMONG BOOKS

IX. HIS PASSAGE THROUGH THE PRISON OF
KNOWLEDGE 151
X. HIS PASTORS AND MASTERS 175
XI. HIS EXAMINATION 189
XII. FUGITIVE 213


PART III

MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE WONDER

XIII. HOW I WENT TO PYM TO WRITE A BOOK 219
XIV. THE INCIPIENCE OF MY SUBJECTION TO
THE WONDER 230
XV. THE PROGRESS AND RELAXATION OF MY
SUBJECTION 251
XVI. RELEASE 268
XVII. IMPLICATIONS 283


EPILOGUE: THE USES OF MYSTERY 289







PART I

MY EARLY ASSOCIATIONS WITH GINGER STOTT


CHAPTER I

THE MOTIVE


I

I could not say at which station the woman and her baby entered
the train.

Since we had left London I had been engrossed in Henri Bergson's
"Time and Free Will," as it is called in the English translation. I
had been conscious of various stoppages and changes of passengers,
but my attention had been held by Bergson's argument. I agreed with
his conclusion in advance, but I wished to master his reasoning.

I looked up when the woman entered my compartment, though I did not
notice the name of the station. I caught sight of the baby she was
carrying, and turned back to my book. I thought the child was a freak,
an abnormality; and such things disgust me.

I returned to the study of my Bergson and read: "It is at the great
and solemn crisis, decisive of our reputation with others, that we
choose in defiance of what is conventionally called a motive, and
this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking the deeper
our freedom goes."

I kept my eyes on the book - the train had started again - but the next
passage conveyed no meaning to my mind, and as I attempted to re-read
it an impression was interposed between me and the work I was studying.

I saw projected on the page before me an image which I mistook at first
for the likeness of Richard Owen. It was the conformation of the head
that gave rise to the mistake, a head domed and massive, white and
smooth - it was a head that had always interested me. But as I looked,
my mind already searching for the reason of this hallucination, I saw
that the lower part of the face was that of an infant. My eyes wandered
from the book, and my gaze fluttered along the four persons seated
opposite to me, till they rested on the reality of my vision. Even
as these acts were being performed, I found myself foolishly saying,
"I don't call this freedom."

For several seconds the eyes of the infant held mine. Its gaze was
steady and clear as that of a normal child, but what differentiated
it was the impression one received of calm intelligence. The head
was completely bald, and there was no trace of eyebrows, but the eyes
themselves were protected by thick, short lashes.

The child turned its head, and I felt my muscles relax. Until then
I had not been conscious that they had been stiffened. My gaze was
released, pushed aside as it were, and I found myself watching the
object of the child's next scrutiny.

This object was a man of forty or so, inclined to corpulence,
and untidy. He bore the evidences of failure in the process of
becoming. He wore a beard that was scanty and ragged, there were
bare patches of skin on the jaw; one inferred that he wore that beard
only to save the trouble of shaving. He was sitting next to me, the
middle passenger of the three on my side of the carriage, and he was
absorbed in the pages of a half-penny paper - I think he was reading
the Police News - which was interposed between him and the child in
the corner diagonally opposite to that which I occupied.

The man was hunched up, slouching, his legs crossed, his elbows seeking
support against his body; he held with both hands his paper, unfolded,
close to his eyes. He had the appearance of being very myopic, but
he did not wear glasses.

As I watched him, he began to fidget. He uncrossed his legs and hunched
his body deeper into the back of his seat. Presently his eyes began
to creep up the paper in front of him. When they reached the top,
he hesitated a moment, making a survey under cover, then he dropped
his hands and stared stupidly at the infant in the corner, his mouth
slightly open, his feet pulled in under the seat of the carriage.

As the child let him go, his head drooped, and then he turned and
looked at me with a silly, vacuous smile. I looked away hurriedly;
this was not a man with whom I cared to share experience.

The process was repeated. The next victim was a big, rubicund,
healthy-looking man, clean shaved, with light-blue eyes that were
slightly magnified by the glasses of his gold-mounted spectacles. He,
too, had been reading a newspaper - the Evening Standard - until the
child's gaze claimed his attention, and he, too, was held motionless by
that strange, appraising stare. But when he was released, his surprise
found vent in words. "This," I thought, "is the man accustomed to act."

"A very remarkable child, ma'am" he said, addressing the thin,
ascetic-looking mother.



II

The mother's appearance did not convey the impression of poverty. She
was, indeed, warmly, decently, and becomingly clad. She wore a long
black coat, braided and frogged; it had the air of belonging to an
older fashion, but the material of it was new. And her bonnet, trimmed
with jet ornaments growing on stalks that waved tremulously - that,
also, was a modern replica of an older mode. On her hands were black
thread gloves, somewhat ill-fitting.

Her face was not that of a country woman. The thin, high-bridged
nose, the fallen cheeks, the shadows under eyes gloomy and
retrospective - these were marks of the town; above all, perhaps,
that sallow greyness of the skin which speaks of confinement....

The child looked healthy enough. Its great bald head shone
resplendently like a globe of alabaster.

"A very remarkable child, ma'am," said the rubicund man who sat facing
the woman.

The woman twitched her untidy-looking black eyebrows, her head trembled
slightly and set the jet fruit of her bonnet dancing and nodding.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"Very remarkable," said the man, adjusting his spectacles and leaning
forward. His action had an air of deliberate courage; he was justifying
his fortitude after that temporary aberration.

I watched him a little nervously. I remembered my feelings when,
as a child, I had seen some magnificent enter the lion's den in a
travelling circus. The failure on my right was, also, absorbed in
the spectacle; he stared, open-mouthed, his eyes blinking and shifting.

The other three occupants of the compartment, sitting on the same side
as the woman, back to the engine, dropped papers and magazines and
turned their heads, all interest. None of these three had, so far as
I had observed, fallen under the spell of inspection by the infant,
but I noticed that the man - an artisan apparently - who sat next to
the woman had edged away from her, and that the three passengers
opposite to me were huddled towards my end of the compartment.

The child had abstracted its gaze, which was now directed down the
aisle of the carriage, indefinitely focussed on some point outside the
window. It seemed remote, entirely unconcerned with any human being.

I speak of it asexually. I was still uncertain as to its sex. It is
true that all babies look alike to me; but I should have known that
this child was male, the conformation of the skull alone should have
told me that. It was its dress that gave me cause to hesitate. It
was dressed absurdly, not in "long-clothes," but in a long frock that
hid its feet and was bunched about its body.



III

"Er - does it - er - can it - talk?" hesitated the rubicund man, and I
grew hot at his boldness. There seemed to be something disrespectful
in speaking before the child in this impersonal way.

"No, sir, he's never made a sound," replied the woman, twitching and
vibrating. Her heavy, dark eyebrows jerked spasmodically, nervously.

"Never cried?" persisted the interrogator.

"Never once, sir."

"Dumb, eh?" He said it as an aside, half under his breath.

"'E's never spoke, sir."

"Hm!" The man cleared his throat and braced himself with a deliberate
and obvious effort. "Is it - he - not water on the brain - what?"

I felt that a rigour of breathless suspense held every occupant of
the compartment. I wanted, and I know that every other person there
wanted, to say, "Look out! Don't go too far." The child, however,
seemed unconscious of the insult: he still stared out through the
window, lost in profound contemplation.

"No, sir, oh no!" replied the woman. "'E's got more sense than a
ordinary child." She held the infant as if it were some priceless
piece of earthenware, not nursing it as a woman nurses a baby, but
balancing it with supreme attention in her lap.

"How old is he?"

We had been awaiting this question.

"A year and nine munse, sir."

"Ought to have spoken before that, oughtn't he?"

"Never even cried, sir," said the woman. She regarded the child
with a look into which I read something of apprehension. If it were
apprehension it was a feeling that we all shared. But the rubicund
man was magnificent, though, like the lion tamer of my youthful
experience, he was doubtless conscious of the aspect his temerity
wore in the eyes of beholders. He must have been showing off.

"Have you taken opinion?" he asked; and then, seeing the woman's lack
of comprehension, he translated the question - badly, for he conveyed
a different meaning - thus,

"I mean, have you had a doctor for him?"

The train was slackening speed.

"Oh! yes, sir."

"And what do they say?"

The child turned its head and looked the rubicund man full in the
eyes. Never in the face of any man or woman have I seen such an
expression of sublime pity and contempt....

I remembered a small urchin I had once seen at the Zoological
Gardens. Urged on by a band of other urchins, he was throwing pebbles
at a great lion that lolled, finely indifferent, on the floor of its
playground. Closer crept the urchin; he grew splendidly bold; he threw
larger and larger pebbles, until the lion rose suddenly with a roar,
and dashed fiercely down to the bars of its cage.

I thought of that urchin's scared, shrieking face now, as the rubicund
man leant quickly back into his corner.

Yet that was not all, for the infant, satisfied, perhaps, with its
victim's ignominy, turned and looked at me with a cynical smile. I was,
as it were, taken into its confidence. I felt flattered, undeservedly
yet enormously flattered. I blushed, I may have simpered.

The train drew up in Great Hittenden station.

The woman gathered her priceless possession carefully into her arms,
and the rubicund man adroitly opened the door for her.

"Good day, sir," she said, as she got out.

"Good day," echoed the rubicund man with relief, and we all drew
a deep breath of relief with him in concert, as though we had just
witnessed the safe descent of some over-daring aviator.



IV

As the train moved on, we six, who had been fellow-passengers for some
thirty or forty minutes before the woman had entered our compartment,
we who had not till then exchanged a word, broke suddenly into general
conversation.

"Water on the brain; I don't care what any one says," asserted the
rubicund man.

"My sister had one very similar", put in the failure, who was
sitting next to me. "It died," he added, by way of giving point to
his instance.

"Ought not to exhibit freaks like that in public," said an old man
opposite to me.

"You're right, sir," was the verdict of the artisan, and he spat
carefully and scraped his boot on the floor; "them things ought to
be kep' private."

"Mad, of course, that's to say imbecile", repeated the rubicund man.

"Horrid head he'd got," said the failure, and shivered histrionically.

They continued to demonstrate their contempt for the infant by many
asseverations. The reaction grew. They were all bold now and all
wanted to speak. They spoke as the survivors from some common peril;
they were increasingly anxious to demonstrate that they had never
suffered intimidation and in their relief they were anxious to laugh
at the thing which had for a time subdued them. But they never named
it as a cause for fear. Their speech was merely innuendo.

At the last, however, I caught an echo of the true feeling.

It was the rubicund man, who, most daring during the crisis was now
bold enough to admit curiosity.

"What's your opinion, sir?" he said to me. The train was running
into Wenderby; he was preparing to get out; and he leaned forward,
his fingers on the handle of the door.

I was embarrassed. Why had I been singled out by the child? I had
taken no part in the recent interjectory conversation. Was this a
consequence of the notice that had been paid to me?

"I?" I stammered and then reverted to the rubicund man's original
phrase, "It - it was certainly a very remarkable child," I said.

The rubicund man nodded and pursed his lips. "Very," he muttered as
he alighted, "Very remarkable. Well, good day to you."

I returned to my book and was surprised to find that my index finger
was still marking the place at which I had been interrupted some
fifteen minutes before. My arm felt stiff and cramped.

I read "... this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking
the deeper our freedom goes."







CHAPTER II

NOTES FOR A BIOGRAPHY OF GINGER STOTT


I

Ginger Stott is a name that was once as well known as any in
England. Stott has been the subject of leading articles in every daily
paper; his life has been written by an able journalist who interviewed
Stott himself, during ten crowded minutes, and filled three hundred
pages with details, seventy per cent. of which were taken from the
journals, and the remainder supplied by a brilliant imagination. Ten
years ago Ginger Stott was on a pinnacle, there was a Stott vogue. You
found his name at the bottom of signed articles written by members of
the editorial staff; you bought Stott collars, although Stott himself
did not wear collars; there was a Stott waltz which is occasionally
hummed by clerks, and whistled by errand-boys to this day; there was a
periodical which lived for ten months, entitled Ginger Stott's Weekly;
in brief, during one summer there was a Stott apotheosis.

But that was ten years ago, and the rising generation has almost
forgotten the once well-known name. One rarely sees him mentioned in
the morning paper now, and then it is but the briefest reference; some
such note as this "Pickering was at the top of his form, recalling
the finest achievements of Ginger Stott at his best," or "Flack is
a magnificent find for Kent: he promises to completely surpass the
historic feats of Ginger Stott." These journalistic superlatives
only irritate those who remember the performances referred to. We who
watched the man's career know that Pickering and Flack are but tyros
compared to Stott; we know that none of his successors has challenged
comparison with him. He was a meteor that blazed across the sky,
and if he ever has a true successor, such stars as Pickering and
Flack will shine pale and dim in comparison.

It makes one feel suddenly old to recall that great matinée at
the Lyceum, given for Ginger Stott's benefit after he met with his
accident. In ten years so many great figures in that world have died
or fallen into obscurity. I can count on my fingers the number of
those who were then, and are still, in the forefront of popularity. Of
the others poor Captain Wallis, for instance, is dead - and no modern
writer, in my opinion, can equal the brilliant descriptiveness of
Wallis's articles in the Daily Post. Bobby Maisefield, again, Stott's
colleague, is a martyr to rheumatism, and keeps a shop in Ailesworth,
the scene of so many of his triumphs. What a list one might make, but
how uselessly. It is enough to note how many names have dropped out,
how many others are the names of those we now speak of as veterans. In
ten years! It certainly makes one feel old.



II

No apology is needed for telling again the story of Stott's
career. Certain details will still be familiar, it is true, the
historic details that can never be forgotten while cricket holds
place as our national game. But there are many facts of Stott's life
familiar to me, which have never been made public property. If I
must repeat that which is known, I can give the known a new setting;
perhaps a new value.

He came of mixed races. His mother was pure Welsh, his father a
Yorkshire collier; but when Ginger was nine years old his father died,
and Mrs. Stott came to live in Ailesworth where she had immigrant
relations, and it was there that she set up the little paper-shop,
the business by which she maintained herself and her boy. That shop
is still in existence, and the name has not been altered. You may
find it in the little street that runs off the market place, going
down towards the Borstal Institution.

There are many people alive in Ailesworth today who can remember
the sturdy, freckled, sandy-haired boy who used to go round with the
morning and evening papers; the boy who was to change the fortunes
of a county.

Ginger was phenomenally thorough in all he undertook. It was one of
the secrets of his success. It was this thoroughness that kept him
engaged in his mother's little business until he was seventeen. Up to
that age he never found time for cricket - he certainly had remarkable
and very unusual qualities.

It was sheer chance, apparently, that determined his choice of
a career.

He had walked into Stoke-Underhill to deliver a parcel, and on his way
back his attention was arrested by the sight of a line of vehicles
drawn up to the boarded fencing that encloses the Ailesworth County
Ground. The occupants of these vehicles were standing up, struggling
to catch a sight of the match that was being played behind the screen
erected to shut out non-paying sightseers. Among the horses' feet,
squirming between the spokes of wheels, utterly regardless of all
injury, small boys glued their eyes to knot-holes in the fence, while
others climbed surreptitiously, and for the most part unobserved,
on to the backs of tradesmen's carts. All these individuals were in
a state of tremendous excitement, and even the policeman whose duty
it was to move them on, was so engrossed in watching the game that
he had disappeared inside the turnstile, and had given the outside
spectators full opportunity for eleemosynary enjoyment.

That tarred fence has since been raised some six feet, and now
encloses a wider sweep of ground - alterations that may be classed
among the minor revolutions effected by the genius of that thick-set,
fair-haired youth of seventeen, who paused on that early September
afternoon to wonder what all the fuss was about. The Ailesworth County
Ground was not famous in those days; not then was accommodation needed
for thirty thousand spectators, drawn from every county in England
to witness the unparalleled.

Ginger stopped. The interest of the spectacle pierced his absorption
in the business he had in hand. Such a thing was almost unprecedented.

"What's up?" he asked of Puggy Phillips.

Puggy Phillips - hazarding his life by standing on the
shiny, slightly curved top of his butcher's cart - made
no appropriate answer. "Yah - ah - AH!" he screamed in
ecstasy. "Oh! played! Pla-a-a-ayed!!"

Ginger wasted no more breath, but laid hold of the little brass rail
that encircled Puggy's platform, and with a sudden hoist that lifted
the shafts and startled the pony, raised himself to the level of
a spectator.

"'Ere!" shouted the swaying, tottering Puggy, "What the ... are yer
rup to?"

The well-drilled pony, however, settled down again quietly to maintain
his end of the see-saw, and, finding himself still able to preserve
his equilibrium, Puggy instantly forgot the presence of the intruder.

"What's up?" asked Ginger again.

"Oh! Well 'it, WELL 'IT!" yelled Puggy. "Oh! Gow on, gow on agen! Run
it aht. Run it AH-T."

Ginger gave it up, and turned his attention to the match.

It was not any famous struggle that was being fought out on the old
Ailesworth Ground; it was only second-class cricket, the deciding match
of the Minor Counties championship. Hampdenshire and Oxfordshire,
old rivals, had been neck-and-neck all through the season, and, as
luck would have it, the engagement between them had been the last
fixture on the card.

When Ginger rose to the level of spectator, the match was anybody's
game. Bobby Maisefield was batting. He was then a promising young
colt who had not earned a fixed place in the Eleven. Ginger knew
him socially, but they were not friends, they had no interests in
common. Bobby had made twenty-seven. He was partnered by old Trigson,
the bowler, (he has been dead these eight years,) whose characteristic
score of "Not out ... O," is sufficiently representative of his
methods.

It was the fourth innings, and Hampdenshire with only one more
wicket to fall, still required nineteen runs to win. Trigson could
be relied upon to keep his wicket up, but not to score. The hopes
of Ailesworth centred in the ability of that almost untried colt
Bobby Maisefield - and he seemed likely to justify the trust reposed
in him. A beautiful late cut that eluded third man and hit the fence
with a resounding bang, nearly drove Puggy wild with delight.

"Only fifteen more," he shouted. "Oh! Played; pla-a-a-yed!"

But as the score crept up, the tensity grew. As each ball was
delivered, a chill, rigid silence held the onlookers in its grip. When
Trigson, with the field collected round him, almost to be covered
with a sheet, stonewalled the most tempting lob, the click of the
ball on his bat was an intrusion on the stillness. And always it
was followed by a deep breath of relief that sighed round the ring
like a faint wind through a plantation of larches. When Bobby scored,
the tumult broke out like a crash of thunder; but it subsided again,
echoless, to that intense silence so soon as the ball was "dead."

Curiously, it was not Bobby who made the winning hit but Trigson. "One
to tie, two to win," breathed Puggy as the field changed over,
and it was Trigson who had to face the bowling. The suspense was
torture. Oxford had put on their fast bowler again, and Trigson,
intimidated, perhaps, did not play him with quite so straight a bat
as he had opposed to the lob-bowler. The ball hit Trigson's bat and
glanced through the slips. The field was very close to the wicket,
and the ball was travelling fast. No one seemed to make any attempt to
stop it. For a moment the significance of the thing was not realised;
for a moment only, then followed uproar, deafening, stupendous.

Puggy was stamping fiercely on the top of his cart; the tears were


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryJ. D. (John Davys) BeresfordThe Hampdenshire Wonder → online text (page 1 of 14)