Read CHAPTER XX. - TAFFY GIVES A PROMISE. of The Ship of Stars, free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

The postman halted by the foot-bridge and blew his horn.  The sound sent the rabbits scampering into their burrows; and just as they began to pop out again, Taffy came charging across the slope.  Whereupon they drew back their noses in disgust, and to avoid the sand scattered by his toes.

The postman held up a blue envelope and waved it.  “Here, ’tis come, at last!”

“It may not be good news,” said Taffy, clutching it, and then turning it over in his hand.

“Well, that’s true.  And till you open it, it won’t be any news at all.”

“I wanted mother to be first to know.”

“Oh, very well ­only, as you say, it mightn’t be good news.”

“If it’s bad news, I want to be alone.  But why should they trouble to write?”

“True again.  I s’pose now you’re sure it is from them?”

“I can tell by the seal.”

“Take it home, then,” said the postman.  “Only if you think ’tis for the sake of a twiddling sixteen shilling a week that I traipse all these miles every day ­”

Taffy fingered the seal.  “If you would really like to know ­”

“Don’t ’ee mention it.  Not on any account.”  He waved his hand magnanimously and trudged off toward Tredinnis.

Taffy waited until he disappeared behind the first sand-hill, and broke the seal.  A slip of parchment lay inside the envelope.

This is to certify ­”

He had passed!  He pulled off his cap and waved it round his head.  And once more the rabbits popped back into their burrows.

Toot ­toot ­toot! ­It was that diabolical postman.  He had fetched a circuit round the sand-hill, and was peeping round the north side of it and grinning as he blew his horn.

Taffy set off running, and never stopped until he reached the Parsonage and burst into the kitchen.  “Mother ­It’s all right!  I’ve passed!”

Somebody was knocking at the door.  Taffy jumped up from his knees, and Humility made the lap of her apron smooth.

“May I come in?” asked Honoria, and pushed the door open.  She stepped into the middle of the kitchen and dropped Taffy an elaborate courtesy.

A thousand congratulations, sir!”

“Why, how did you know?”

“Well, I met the postman; and I looked in through the window before knocking.”

Taffy bit his lip.  “People seem to be taking a deal of interest in us all of a sudden,” he said to his mother.

Humility looked distressed, uncomfortable.  Honoria ignored the snub.  “I am starting for Carwithiel to-day,” she said, “for a week’s visit, and thought I would look in ­after hearing what the postman told me ­ and pay my compliments.”

She talked for a minute or two on matters of no importance, asked after old Mrs. Venning’s health, and left, turning at the door and giving Humility a cheerful little nod.

“Taffy, you ought not to have spoken so.”  Humility’s eyes were tearful.

Taffy’s conscience was already accusing him.  He snatched up his cap and ran out.

“Miss Honoria!”

She did not turn.

“Miss Honoria ­I am sorry!” He overtook her, but she turned her face away.  “Forgive me!”

She halted, and after a moment looked him in the eyes.  He saw then that she had been crying.

“The first time I came to see you he whipped me,” she said slowly.

“I am sorry; indeed I am.”

“Taffy ­”

“Miss Honoria.”

“I said ­Taffy.”

“Honoria, then.”

“Do you know what it is to feel lonely here?”

Taffy remembered the afternoons when he had roamed the sand-hills longing for George’s company.  “Why, yes,” said he; “it used to be always lonely.”

“I think we have been the loneliest children in the whole world ­you and I and George ­only George didn’t feel it the same way.  And now it’s coming to an end with you.  You are going up to Oxford, and soon you will have heaps of friends.  Can you not understand?  Suppose there were two prisoners, alone in the same prison, but shut in different cells, and one heard that the other’s release had come.  He would feel ­would he not? ­that now he was going to be lonelier than ever.  And yet he might be glad of the other’s liberty, and if the chance were given, might be the happier for shaking hands with the other and wishing him joy.”

Taffy had never heard her speak at all like this.

“But you are going to Carwithiel, and George is famous company.”

“I am going over to Carwithiel because I hate Tredinnis.  I hate every stone of it, and will sell the place as soon as ever I come of age.  And George is the best fellow in the world.  Some day I shall marry him (oh, it is all arranged!), and we shall live at Carwithiel and be quite happy; for I like him, and he likes people to be happy.  And we shall talk of you.  Being out of the world ourselves, we shall talk of you, and the great things you are going to do, and the great things you are doing.  We shall say to each other, ’It’s all very well for the world to be proud of him, but we have the best right, for we grew up with him and know the stories he used to tell us; and when the time came for his going, it was we who waved from the door ­”

“Honoria ­”

“But there is one thing you haven’t told, and you shall now, if you care to ­about your examination and what you did at Oxford.”

So he sat down beside her on a sand-hill and told her:  about the long low-ceiled room in the quadrangle of the Bodleian, the old marbles which lined the walls, the examiner at the blue baize table, and the little deal tables (all scribbled over with names and dates and verses and ribald remarks) at which the candidates wrote; also of the viva voce examination in the antechamber of the Convocation House, He told it all as if it were the great event he honestly felt it to be.

“And the others,” said she, “those who were writing around you, and the examiner ­how did you feel towards them?”

Taffy stared at her.  “I don’t know that I thought much about them.”

“Didn’t you feel as if it was a battle and you wanted to beat them all?”

He broke out laughing.  “Why, the examiner was an old man, as dry as a stick!  And I hardly remember what the others were like ­except one, a white-headed boy with a pimply face.  I couldn’t help noticing him, because whenever I looked up there he was at the next table, staring at me and chewing a quill.”

“I can’t understand,” she confessed.  “Often and often I have tried to think myself a man ­a man with ambition.  And to me that has always meant fighting.  I see myself a man, and the people between me and the prize have all to be knocked down or pushed out of the way.  But you don’t even see them ­all you see is a pimply-faced boy sucking a quill.  Taffy ­”

“Yes?”

“I wish you would write to me when you get to Oxford. 
Write regularly.  Tell me all you do.”

“You will like to hear?”

“Of course I shall.  So will George.  But it’s not only that.  You have such an easy way of going forward; you take it for granted you’re going to be a great man ­”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.  You think it just lies with yourself, and it is nobody’s business to interfere with you.  You don’t even notice those who are on the same path.  Now a woman would notice every one, and find out all about them.”

“Who said I wanted to be a great man?”

“Don’t be silly, that’s a good boy!  There’s your father coming out of the church porch, and you haven’t told him yet.  Run to him, but promise first.”

“What?”

“That you will write.”

“I promise.”