Read CHAPTER VII. - GEORGE. of The Ship of Stars, free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

It appeared that Honoria and Taffy were to do lessons together, and Mr. Raymond was to teach them.  This had been the meaning of his visit to Tredinnis House.  They began the very next day in the library at Tredinnis ­a deserted room carpeted with badgers’ skins, and lined with undusted books ­works on farriery, veterinary surgery, and sporting subjects, long rows of the Annual Register, the Arminian Magazine.

Taffy began by counting the badgers’ skins.  There were eighteen, and the moths had got into them, so that the draught under the door puffed little drifts of hair over the polished boards.  Then he settled down to the first Latin declension ­Musa, a muse; vocative, Musa, O muse!; genitive, Musae, of a muse.  Honoria began upon the ABC.

Mr. Raymond brought a pile of his own books, and worked at them, scribbling notes in the margin or on long slips of paper, while the children learnt.  A servant came in with a message from Squire Moyle, and he left them for a while.

“I call this nonsense,” said Honoria.  “How am I to get these silly letters into my head?”

Taffy was glad of the chance to show off.  “Oh, that’s easy.  You make up a tale about them.  See here.  A is the end of a house; it’s just like one with a beam across.  B is a cat with his tail curled under him ­watch me drawing it.  C is an old woman stooping; and D is another cat, only his back is more rounded.  Once upon a time, there lived in a cottage an old woman who went about with two cats, one on each side of her ­that’s how you go on.”

“But I can’t go on.  You must do it for me.”

“Well, each of these cats had a comb, and was combed every Saturday night.  One was a good cat, and kept his comb properly ­like E, you see.  But the other had broken a tooth out of his ­that’s F ­”

“I expect he was a fulmart,” said Honoria.

Taffy agreed.  He didn’t know what a fulmart was, but he was not going to confess it.  So he went on hurriedly, and Honoria thought him a wonder.  They came to W.

“So they got into a ship (I’ll show you how to make one out of paper, exactly like W), and sailed up into the sky, for the ship was a Ship of Stars ­you make X’s for stars; but that’s a witch-ship; so it stuck fast in Y, which is a cleft ash-stick, and then came a stroke of lightning, Z, and burnt them all up!” He stopped, out of breath.

“I don’t understand the ending at all,” said Honoria.  “What is a Ship of Stars?”

“Haven’t you ever seen one?”

“No.”

“I have.  There’s a story about it ­”

“Tell me about it.”

“I’ll tell you lots of stories afterwards; about the Frog-king and Aladdin and Man Friday and The Girl who trod on a Loaf.”

“And the Ship of Stars?”

“N ­no.”  Taffy felt himself blushing.  “That’s one of the stories that won’t come ­and they’re the loveliest of all,” he added, in a burst of confidence.

Honoria thought for a moment, but did not understand in the least.  All she said was, “what funny words you use!” She went back to her alphabet ­A, house; B, cat.  It came more easily now.

After lessons she made him tell her a story; and Taffy, who wished to be amusing, told her about the “Valiant Tailor who killed Seven at a Blow.”  To his disgust, it scarcely made her smile.  But after this she was always asking for stories, and always listened solemnly, with her dark eyes fixed on his face.  She never seemed to admire him at all for his gift, but treated it with a kind of indulgent wonder, as if he were some queer animal with uncommon tricks.  This dashed Taffy a bit, for he liked to be thought a fine fellow.  But he went on telling his stories, and sometimes invented new ones for her.  George Vyell was much more appreciative.  Sir Harry had heard of the lessons, and wrote to beg that his son might join the class.  So George rode over three times a week to learn Latin, which he did with uncommon slowness.  But he thought Taffy’s stories stunning, and admired him without a shade of envy.  The two boys liked each other; and when they were alone Taffy stood an inch or two higher in self-conceit than when Honoria happened to be by.  But he took more pains with his stories if she was listening.  As for her lessons, Honoria got through them by honest plodding.  She never quite saw the use of them, but she liked Mr. Raymond.  She learnt more steadily than either of the boys.

One day George rode over with two pairs of boxing-gloves dangling from his saddle.  After lessons he and Taffy had a try with them, in a clearing behind the shrubberies where the gardener had heaped his sweepings of dry leaves to rot down for manure.

“But, look here,” said George, after the first round; “you’ll never learn if you hit so wild as that.  You must keep your head up, and watch my eyes and feint.”

Taffy couldn’t help it.  As soon as ever he struck out, he forgot that it was not real fighting.  And he felt ashamed to look George straight in the face, for his own eyes were full of tears of excitement.  At the end of the bout, when George said, “Now we must shake hands; it’s the proper thing to do,” he looked bewildered for a moment.  It made George laugh in his easy way, and then Taffy laughed too.

After this they had a bout almost every day; and he was soon able to hold his own and treat it as sport.  But somehow he always felt a passion behind it, whispering to him to put some nastiness into his blows, especially when Honoria came to look on.  And yet he liked George far better than he liked Honoria.  Indeed, he adored George, and the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings when George appeared were the bright spots in his week.  Lessons were over at twelve o’clock; by one o’clock Taffy had to be home for dinner.  Loneliness filled the afternoons, but the child peopled them with extravagant fancies.  He and George were crusaders sworn to defend the Holy Sepulchre, and bound by an oath of brotherhood, though George was a Red Cross Knight and he a plain squire; and after the most surprising adventures Taffy received the barbed and poisoned arrow intended for his master, and died most impressively, with George and Honoria, and Richard Coeur de Lion, and most of the characters from “Ivanhoe,” sobbing round his bed.  There was a Blondel variant too, with George imprisoned in a high tower; and a monstrous conglomerate tale in which most of the heroes of history and romance played second fiddle to George, whose pre-eminence, though occasionally challenged by Achilles, Sir Lancelot, or the Black Prince, was regularly vindicated by Taffy’s timely help.

This tale, with endless variations, actually lasted him for two good years.  The scene of it never lay among the towans, but round about his old home or the well-remembered meadow at Tewkesbury.  That was his plain of Troy, his Field of Cressy, his lists of Ashby de la Zouche.  The high road at the back of the towans crossed a stream, by a ford and a footbridge; and the travelling postman, if he had any letters for the Parsonage, would stop by the footbridge and blow a horn.  He little guessed what challenges it sounded to the small boy who came running for the post.

The postman came by, as a rule, at two o’clock or thereabouts.  One afternoon in early spring Mr. Raymond happened to be starting for a walk when the horn was blown, and he and Taffy went to meet the post together.  There were three or four letters which the Vicar opened; and one for Humility, which he put in his pocket.  In the midst of his reading, he looked up, smiled over his spectacles, and said: 

“Oxford has won the boat-race.”

Taffy had been deep in the Fifth Aeneid for some weeks, and boat-racing ran much in his mind.

“Who is Oxford?” he asked.

Mr. Raymond took off his spectacles and wiped them.  It came on him suddenly that this child, whom he loved, was shut out from many of his dearest thoughts.

“Oxford is a city,” he answered; and added, “the most beautiful city in the world.”

“Shall I ever go there?” Taffy asked.

Mr. Raymond walked off without seeming to hear the question.  But that evening after supper he told the most wonderful tales of Oxford, while Taffy listened and hoped his mother would forget his bedtime; and Humility listened too, bending over her guipure.  The love with which he looked back to Oxford was the second passion of Samuel Raymond’s life; and Humility was proud of it, not jealous at all.  He forgot all the struggle, all the slights, all the grip of poverty.  To him those years had become an heroic age, and men Homeric men.  And so he made them appear to Taffy, to whom it was wonderful that his father should have moved among such giants.

“And shall I go there too?”

Humility glanced up quickly, and met her husband’s eyes.

“Some day, please God!” she said.  Mr. Raymond stared at the embers of wreck-wood on the hearth.

From that night Oxford became the main scene of Taffy’s imaginings; a wholly fictitious Oxford, pieced together of odds and ends from picture-books, and peopled with all the old heroes.  And so, with contests on the models of the Fifth Aeneid, the story went forward gallantly for many months.

But the afternoons were long; and at times the interminable sand-hills and everlasting roar of the sea oppressed the child with a sense of loneliness beyond words.  The rabbits and gulls would not make friends with him, and he ached for companionship.  Of that ache was born his half-crazy adoration of George Vyell.  There were hours when he lay in some nook of the towans, peering into the ground, seeing pictures in the sand ­pictures of men and regiments and battles, shifting with the restless drift; until, unable to bear it, he flung out his hands to efface them, and hid his face in the sand, sobbing, “George!  George!”

At night he would creep out of bed to watch the lighthouse winking away in the north-east.  George lived somewhere beyond.  And again it would be “George!  George!”

And when the happy mornings came, and George with them, Taffy was as shy as a lover.  So George never guessed.  It might have surprised that very careless young gentleman, when he looked up from his verbs which govern the dative, and caught Taffy’s eye, could he have seen himself in his halo there.