Read PROLOGUE - HUGH SEYMOUR of The Golden Scarecrow, free online book, by Hugh Walpole, on ReadCentral.com.

I

When Hugh Seymour was nine years of age he was sent from Ceylon, where his parents lived, to be educated in England.  His relations having, for the most part, settled in foreign countries, he spent his holidays as a very minute and pale-faced “paying guest” in various houses where other children were of more importance than he, or where children as a race were of no importance at all.  It was in this way that he became during certain months of 1889 and 1890 and ’91 a resident in the family of the Rev. William Lasher, Vicar of Clinton St. Mary, that large rambling village on the edge of Roche St. Mary Moor in South Glebeshire.

He spent there the two Christmases of 1890 and 1891 (when he was ten and eleven years of age), and it is with the second of these that the following incident, and indeed the whole of this book, has to do.  Hugh Seymour could not, at the period of which I write, be called an attractive child; he was not even “interesting” or “unusual.”  He was very minutely made, with bones so brittle that it seemed that, at any moment, he might crack and splinter into sharp little pieces; and I am afraid that no one would have minded very greatly had this occurred.  But although, he was so thin his face had a white and overhanging appearance, his cheeks being pale and puffy and his under-lip jutted forward in front of projecting teeth he was known as the “White Rabbit” by his schoolfellows.  He was not, however, so ugly as this appearance would apparently convey, for his large, grey eyes, soft and even, at times agreeably humorous, were pleasant and cheerful.

During these years when he knew Mr. Lasher he was undoubtedly unfortunate.  He was shortsighted, but no one had, as yet, discovered this, and he was, therefore, blamed for much clumsiness that he could not prevent and for a good deal of sensitiveness that came quite simply from his eagerness to do what he was told and his inability to see his way to do it.  He was not, at this time, easy with strangers and seemed to them both conceited and awkward.  Conceit was far from him he was, in fact, amazed at so feeble a creature as himself! but awkward he was, and very often greedy, selfish, impetuous, untruthful and even cruel:  he was nearly always dirty, and attributed this to the evil wishes of some malign fairy who flung mud upon him, dropped him into puddles and covered him with ink simply for the fun of the thing!

He did not, at this time, care very greatly for reading; he told himself stories long stories with enormous families in them, trains of elephants, ropes and ropes of pearls, towers of ivory, peacocks, and strange meals of saffron buns, roast chicken, and gingerbread.  His active, everyday concern, however, was to become a sportsman; he wished to be the best cricketer, the best footballer, the fastest runner of his school, and he had not even then faintly he knew it the remotest chance of doing any of these things even moderately well.  He was bullied at school until his appointment as his dormitory’s story-teller gave him a certain status, but his efforts at cricket and football were mocked with jeers and insults.  He could not throw a cricket-ball, he could not see to catch one after it was thrown to him, did he try to kick a football he missed it, and when he had run for five minutes he saw purple skies and silver stars and has cramp in his legs.  He had, however, during these years at Mr. Lasher’s, this great over mastering ambition.

In his sleep, at any rate, he was a hero; in the wide-awake world he was, in the opinion of almost every one, a fool.  He was exactly the type of boy whom the Rev. William Lasher could least easily understand.  Mr. Lasher was tall and thin (his knees often cracked with a terrifying noise), blue-black about the cheeks hooked as to the nose, bald and shining as to the head, genial as to the manner, and practical to the shining tips of his fingers.  He has not, at Cambridge, obtained a rowing blue, but “had it not been for a most unfortunate attack of scarlet fever-----” He was President of the Clinton St. Mary Cricket Club, 1890 (matches played, six; lost, five; drawn, one) knew how to slash the ball across the net at a tennis garden party, always read the prayers in church as though he were imploring God to keep a straighter bat and improve His cut to leg, and had a passion for knocking nails into walls, screwing locks into doors, and making chicken runs.  He was, he often thanked his stars, a practical Realist, and his wife, who was fat, stupid, and in a state of perpetual wonder, used to say of him, “If Will hadn’t been a clergyman he would have made such an engineer.  If God had blessed us with a boy, I’m sure he would have been something scientific.  Will’s no dreamer.”  Mr. Lasher was kindly of heart so long as you allowed him to maintain that the world was made for one type of humanity only.  He was as breezy as a west wind, loved to bathe in the garden pond on Christmas Day ("had to break the ice that morning"), and at penny readings at the village schoolroom would read extracts from “Pickwick,” and would laugh so heartily himself that he would have to stop and wipe his eyes.  “If you must read novels,” he would say, “read Dickens.  Nothing to offend the youngest among us fine breezy stuff with an optimism that does you good and people you get to know and be fond of.  By Jove, I can still cry over Little Nell and am not ashamed of it.”

He had the heartiest contempt for “wasters” and “failures,” and he was afraid there were a great many in the world.  “Give me a man who is a man,” he would say, “a man who can hit a ball for six, run ten miles before breakfast and take his knocks with the best of them.  Wasn’t it Browning who said,

  “’God’s in His heaven,
  All’s right with the world.’

Browning was a great teacher after Tennyson, one of our greatest.  Where are such men to-day!”

He was, therefore, in spite of his love for outdoor pursuits, a cultured man.

It was natural, perhaps, that he should find Hugh Seymour “a pity.”  Nearly everything that he said about Hugh Seymour began with the words

“It’s a pity that ”

“It’s a pity that you can’t get some red into your cheeks, my boy.”

“It’s a pity you don’t care about porridge.  You must learn to like it.”

“It’s a pity you can’t even make a little progress with your mathematics.”

“It’s a pity you told me a lie because ”

“It’s a pity you were rude to Mrs. Lasher.  No gentleman ”

“It’s a pity you weren’t attending when ”

Mr. Lasher was, very earnestly, determined to do his best for the boy, and, as he said, “You see, Hugh, if we do our best for you, you must do your best for us.  Now I can’t, I’m afraid, call this your best.”

Hugh would have liked to say that it was the best that he could do in that particular direction (very probably Euclid), but if only he might be allowed to try his hand in quite another direction, he might do something very fine indeed.  He never, of course, had a chance of saying this, nor would such a declaration have greatly benefited him, because, for Mr. Lasher, there was only one way for every one and the sooner (if you were a small boy) you followed it the better.

“Don’t dream, Hugh,” said Mr. Lasher, “remember that no man ever did good-work by dreaming.  The goal is to the strong.  Remember that.”

Hugh, did remember it and would have liked very much to be as strong as possible, but whenever he tried feats of strength he failed and looked foolish.

“My dear boy, that’s not the way to do it,” said Mr. Lasher; “it’s a pity that you don’t listen to what I tell you.”

II

A very remarkable fact about Mr. Lasher was this that he paid no attention whatever to the county in which he lived.  Now there are certain counties in England where it is possible to say, “I am in England,” and to leave it at that; their quality is simply English with no more individual personality.  But Glebeshire has such an individuality, whether for good or evil, that it forces comment from the most sluggish and inattentive of human beings.  Mr. Lasher was perhaps the only soul, living or dead, who succeeded in living in it during forty years (he is still there, he is a Canon now in Polchester) and never saying anything about it.  When on his visits to London people inquired his opinion of Glebeshire, he would say:  “Ah well!...  I’m afraid Methodism and intemperance are very strong ... all the same, we’re fighting ’em, fighting ’em!”

This was the more remarkable in that Mr. Lasher lived upon the very edge of Roche St. Mary Moor, a stretch of moor and sand.  Roche St. Mary Moor, that runs to the sea, contains the ruins of St. Arthe Church (buried until lately in the sand, but recently excavated through the kind generosity of Sir John Porthcullis, of Borhaze, and shown to visitors, 6d. a head, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons free), and in one of the most romantic, mist-laden, moon-silvered, tempest-driven spots in the whole of Great Britain.

The road that ran from Clinton St. Mary to Borhaze across the moor was certainly a wild, rambling, beautiful affair, and when the sea-mists swept across it and the wind carried the cry of the Bell of Trezent Rock in and out above and below, you had a strange and moving experience.  Mr. Lasher was certainly compelled to ride on his bicycle from Clinton St. Mary to Borhaze and back again, and never thought it either strange or moving.  “Only ten at the Bible meeting to-night.  Borhaze wants waking up.  We’ll see what open-air services can do.”  What the moor thought about Mr. Lasher it is impossible to know!

Hugh Seymour thought about the moor continually, but he was afraid to mention his ideas of it in public.  There was a legend in the village that several hundred years ago some pirates, driven by storm into Borhaze, found their way on to the moor and, caught by the mist, perished there; they are to be seen, says the village, in powdered wigs, red coats, gold lace, and swords, haunting the sand-dunes.  God help the poor soul who may fall into their hands!  This was a very pleasant story, and Hugh Seymour’s thoughts often crept around and about it.  He would like to find a pirate, to bring him to the vicarage, and present him to Mr. Lasher.  He knew that Mrs. Lasher would say, “Fancy, a pirate.  Well! now, fancy!  Well, here’s a pirate!” And that Mr. Lasher would say, “It’s a pity, Hugh, that you don’t choose your company more carefully.  Look at the man’s nose!”

Hugh, although he was only eleven, knew this.  Hugh did on one occasion mention the pirates.  “Dreaming again, Hugh!  Pity they fill your head with such nonsense!  If they read their Bibles more!”

Nevertheless, Hugh continued his dreaming.  He dreamt of the moor, of the pirates, of the cobbled street in Borhaze, of the cry of the Trezent Bell, of the deep lanes and the smell of the flowers in them, of making five hundred not out at cricket, of doing a problem in Euclid to Mr. Lasher’s satisfaction, of having a collar at the end of the week as clean as it had been at the beginning, of discovering the way to make a straight parting in the hair, of not wriggling in bed when Mrs. Lasher kissed him at night, of many, many other things.

He was at this time a very lonely boy.  Until Mr. Pidgen paid his visit he was most remarkably lonely.  After that visit he was never lonely again.

III

Mr. Pidgen came on a visit to the vicarage three days before Christmas.  Hugh Seymour saw him first from the garden.  Mr. Pidgen was standing at the window of Mr. Lasher’s study; he was staring in front of him at the sheets of light that flashed and darkened and flashed again across the lawn, at the green cluster of holly-berries by the drive-gate, at the few flakes of snow that fell, lazily, carelessly, as though they were trying to decide whether they would make a grand affair of it or not, and perhaps at the small, grubby boy who was looking at him with one eye and trying to learn the Collect for the day (it was Sunday) with the other.  Hugh had never before seen any one in the least like Mr. Pidgen.  He was short and round, and his head was covered with tight little curls.  His cheeks were chubby and red and his nose small, his mouth also very small.  He had no chin.  He was wearing a bright blue velvet waistcoat with brass buttons, and over his black shoes there shone white spats.

Hugh had never seen white spats before.  Mr. Pidgen shone with cleanliness, and he had supremely the air of having been exactly as he was, all in one piece, years ago.  He was like one of the china ornaments in Mrs. Lasher’s drawing-room that the housemaid is told to be so careful about, and concerning whose destruction Hugh heard her on at least one occasion declaring, in a voice half tears, half defiance, “Please, ma’am, it wasn’t me.  It just slipped of itself!” Mr. Pidgen would break very completely were he dropped.

The first thing about him that struck Hugh was his amazing difference from Mr. Lasher.  It seemed strange that any two people so different could be in the same house.  Mr. Lasher never gleamed or shone, he would not break with however violent an action you dropped him, he would certainly never wear white spats.

Hugh liked Mr. Pidgen at once.  They spoke for the first time at the mid-day meal, when Mr. Lasher said, “More Yorkshire pudding, Pidgen?” and Mr. Pidgen said, “I adore it.”

Now Yorkshire pudding happened to be one of Hugh’s special passions just then, particularly when it was very brown and crinkly, so he said quite spontaneously and without taking thought, as he was always told to do,

“So do I!”

“My dear Hugh!” said Mrs. Lasher; “how very greedy!  Fancy!  After all you’ve been told!  Well, well!  Manners, manners!”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Pidgen (his mouth was full).  “I said it first, and I’m older than he is.  I should know better....  I like boys to be greedy, it’s a good sign a good sign.  Besides.  Sunday after a sermon one naturally feels a bit peckish.  Good enough sermon, Lasher, but a bit long.”

Mr. Lasher of course did not like this, and, indeed, it was evident to any one (even to a small boy) that the two gentlemen would have different opinions upon every possible subject.  However, Hugh loved Mr. Pidgen there and then, and decided that he would put him into the story then running (appearing in nightly numbers from the moment of his departure to bed to the instant of slumber say ten minutes); he would also, in the imaginary cricket matches that he worked out on paper, give Mr. Pidgen an innings of two hundred not out and make him captain of Kent.  He now observed the vision very carefully and discovered several strange items in his general behaviour.  Mr. Pidgen was fond of whistling and humming to himself; he was restless and would walk up and down a room with his head in the air and his hands behind his broad back, humming (out of tune) “Sally in our Alley,” or “Drink to me only.”  Of course this amazed Mr. Lasher.

He would quite suddenly stop, stand like a top spinning, balanced on his toes, and cry, “Ah!  Now I’ve got it!  No, I haven’t!  Yes, I have.  By God, it’s gone again!”

To this also Mr. Lasher strongly objected, and Hugh heard him say, “Really, Pidgen, think of the boy!  Think of the boy!” and Mr. Pidgen exclaimed, “By God, so I should!...  Beg pardon, Lasher!  Won’t do it again!  Lord save me, I’m a careless old drunkard!” He had any number of strange phrases that were new and brilliant and exciting to the boy, who listened to him.  He would say, “by the martyrs of Ephesus!” or “Sunshine and thunder!” or “God stir your slumbers!” when he thought any one very stupid.  He said this last one day to Mrs. Lasher, and of course she was very much astonished.  She did not from the first like him at all.  Mr. Pidgen and Mr. Lasher had been friends at Cambridge and had not met one another since, and every one knows that that is a dangerous basis for the renewal of friendship.  They had a little dispute on the very afternoon of Mr. Pidgen’s arrival, when Mr. Lasher asked his guest whether he played golf.

“God preserve my soul!  No!” said Mr. Pidgen.  Mr. Lasher then explained that playing golf made one thin, hungry and self-restrained.  Mr. Pidgen said that he did not wish to be the first or last of these, and that he was always the second, and that golf was turning the fair places of England into troughs for the moneyed pigs of the Stock Exchange to swill in.

“My dear Pidgen!” cried Mr. Lasher, “I’m afraid no one could call me a moneyed pig with any justice more’s the pity and a game of golf to me is ”

“Ah! you’re a parson, Lasher,” said his guest.

In fact, by the evening of the second day of the visit it was obvious that Clinton St. Mary Vicarage might, very possibly, witness a disturbed Christmas.  It was all very tiresome for poor Mrs. Lasher.  On the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, Hugh heard the stormy conversation that follows a conversation that altered the colour and texture of his after-life as such things may, when one is still a child.

IV

Christmas Eve was always, to Hugh, a day with glamour.  He did not any longer hang up his stocking (although he would greatly have liked to do so), but, all day, his heart beat thickly at the thought of the morrow, at the thought of something more than the giving and receiving of presents, something more than the eating of food, something more than singing hymns that were delightfully familiar, something more than putting holly over the pictures and hanging mistletoe on to the lamp in the hall.  Something there was in the day like going home, like meeting people again whom one had loved once, and not seen for many years, something as warm and romantic and lightly coloured and as comforting as the most inspired and impossible story that one could ever, lying in bed and waiting for sleep, invent.

To-day there was no snow but a frost, and there was a long bar of saffron below the cold sky and a round red ball of a sun.  Hugh was sitting in a corner of Mr. Lasher’s study, looking at Doré’s “Don Quixote,” when the two gentlemen came in.  He was sitting in a dark corner and they, because they were angry with one another, did not recognise any one except themselves.  Mr. Lasher pulled furiously at his pipe and Mr. Pidgen stood up by the fire with his short fat legs spread wide and his mouth smiling, but his eyes vexed and rather indignant.

“My dear Pidgen,” said Mr. Lasher, “you misunderstand me, you do indeed!  It may be (I would be the first to admit that, like most men, I have my weakness) that I lay too much stress upon the healthy, physical, normal life, upon seeing things as they are and not as one would like to see them to be.  I don’t believe that dreaming ever did any good to any man!”

“It’s only produced some of the finest literature the world has ever known,” said Mr. Pidgen.

“Ah!  Genius!  If you or I were geniuses, Pidgen, that would be another affair.  But we’re not; we’re plain, common-place humdrum human beings with souls to be saved and work to do work to do!”

There was a little pause after that, and Hugh, looking at Mr. Pidgen, saw the hurt look in his eyes deepen.

“Come now, Lasher,” he said at last.  “Let’s be honest one with another; that’s your line, and you say it ought to be mine.  Come now, as man to man, you think me a damnable failure now beg pardon complete failure don’t you?  Don’t be afraid of hurting me.  I want to know!”

Mr. Lasher was really a kindly man, and when his eyes beheld things there were of course many things that they never beheld he would do his best to help anybody.  He wanted to help Mr. Pidgen now; but he was also a truthful man.

“My dear Pidgen!  Ha, ha!  What a question!  I’m sure many, many people enjoy your books immensely.  I’m sure they do, oh, yes!”

“Come, now, Lasher, the truth.  You won’t hurt my feelings.  If you were discussing me with a third person you’d say, wouldn’t you?  ’Ah, poor Pidgen might have done something if he hadn’t let his fancy run away with him.  I was with him at Cambridge.  He promised well, but I’m afraid one must admit that he’s failed he would never stick to anything.’”

Now this was so exactly what Mr. Lasher had, on several occasions, said about his friend that he was really for the moment at a loss.  He pulled at his pipe, looked very grave, and then said: 

“My dear Pidgen, you must remember our lives have followed such different courses.  I can only give you my point of view.  I don’t myself care greatly for romances fairy tales and so on.  It seems to me that for a grown-up man....  However, I don’t pretend to be a literary fellow; I have other work, other duties, picturesque, but nevertheless necessary.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Pidgen, who, considering that he had invited his host’s honest opinion, should not have become irritated because he had obtained it; “that’s just it.  You people all think only you know what is necessary.  Why shouldn’t a fairy story be as necessary as a sermon?  A lot more necessary, I dare say.  You think you’re the only people who can know anything about it.  You people never use your imaginations.”

“Nevertheless,” said Mr. Lasher, very bitterly (for he had always said, “If one does not bring one’s imagination into one’s work one’s work is of no value"), “writers of idle tales are not the only people who use their imaginations.  And, if you will allow me, without offence, to say so, Pidgen, your books, even amongst other things of the same sort, have not been the most successful.”

This remark seemed to pour water upon all the anger in Mr. Pidgen’s heart.  His eyes expressed scorn, but not now for Mr. Lasher for himself.  His whole figure drooped and was bowed like a robin in a thunderstorm.

“That’s true enough.  Bless my soul, Lasher, that’s true enough.  They hardly sell at all.  I’ve written a dozen of them now, ’The Blue Pouncet Box,’ ‘The Three-tailed Griffin,’ ‘The Tree without any Branches,’ but you won’t want to be bothered with the names of them.  ‘The Griffin’ went into two editions, but it was only because the pictures were rather sentimental.  I’ve often said to myself, ’If a thing doesn’t sell in these days it must be good,’ but I’ve not really convinced myself.  I’d like them to have sold.  Always, until now, I’ve had hopes of the next one, and thought that it would turn out better, like a woman with her babies.  I seem to have given up expecting that now.  It isn’t, you know, being always hard-up that I mind so much, although that, mind you, isn’t pleasant, no, by Jehoshaphat, it isn’t.  But we would like now and again to find that other people have enjoyed what one hoped they would enjoy.  But I don’t know, they always seem too old for children and too young for grown-ups my stories, I mean.”

It was one of the hardest traits in Mr. Lasher’s character, as Hugh well realised, “to rub it in” over a fallen foe.  He considered this his duty; it was also, I am afraid, a pleasure.  “It’s a pity,” he said, “that things should not have gone better; but there are so many writers to-day that I wonder any one writes at all.  We live in a practical, realistic age.  The leaders amongst us have decided that every man must gird his loins and go out to fight his battles with real weapons in a real cause, not sit dreaming at his windows looking down upon the busy market-place.” (Mr. Lasher loved what he called “images.”  There were many in his sermons.) “But, my dear Pidgen, it is in no way too late.  Give up your fairy stories now that they have been proved a failure.”

Here Mr. Pidgen, in the most astonishing way, was suddenly in a terrible temper.  “They’re not!” he almost screamed.  “Not at all.  Failures, from the worldly point of view, yes; but there are some who understand.  I would not have done anything else if I could.  You, Lasher, with your soup-tickets and your choir-treats, think there’s no room for me and my fairy stories.  I tell you, you may find yourself jolly well mistaken one of these days.  Yes, by Cæsar, you may.  How do you know what’s best worth doing?  If you’d listened a little more to the things you were told when you were a baby, you’d be a more intelligent man now.”

“When I was a baby,” said Mr. Lasher, incredulously, as though that were a thing that he never possibly could have been, “my dear Pidgen!”

“Ah, you think it absurd,” said the other, a little cooler again.  “But how do you know who watched over your early years and wanted you to be a dreamy, fairy tale kind of person instead of the cayenne pepper sort of man you are.  There’s always some one there, I tell you, and you can have your choice, whether you’ll believe more than you see all your life or less than you see.  Every baby knows about it; then, as they grow older, it fades and, with many people, goes altogether.  He’s never left me, St. Christopher, you know, and that’s one thing.  Of course, the ideal thing is somewhere between the two; recognise St. Christopher and see the real world as well.  I’m afraid neither you nor I is the ideal man, Lasher.  Why, I tell you, any baby of three knows more than you do!  You’re proud of never seeing beyond your nose.  I’m proud of never seeing my nose at all:  we’re both wrong.  But I am ready to admit your uses.  You never will admit mine; and it isn’t any use your denying my Friend.  He stayed with you a bit when you just arrived, but I expect he soon left you.  You’re jolly glad he did.”

“My dear Pidgen,” said Mr. Lasher, “I haven’t understood a word.”

Pidgen shook his head.  “You’re right.  That’s just what’s the matter with me.  I can’t even put what I see plainly.”  He sighed deeply.  “I’ve failed.  There’s no doubt about it.  But, although I know that, I’ve had a happy life.  That’s the funny part of it.  I’ve enjoyed it more than you ever will, Lasher.  At least, I’m never lonely.  I like my food, too, and one’s head’s always full of jolly ideas, if only they seemed jolly to other people.”

“Upon my word, Pidgen,” said Mr. Lasher.  At this moment Mrs. Lasher opened the door.

“Well, well.  Fancy!  Sitting over the fire talking!  Oh, you men!  Tea! tea!  Tea, Will!  Fancy talking all the afternoon!  Well!”

No one had noticed Hugh.  He, however, had understood Mr. Pidgen better than Mr. Lasher did.

V

This conversation aroused in Hugh, for various reasons, the greatest possible excitement.  He would have liked to have asked Mr. Pidgen many questions.  Christmas Day came, and a beautiful day enthroned it:  a pale blue sky, faint and clear, was a background to misty little clouds that hovered, then fled and disappeared, and from these flakes of snow fell now and then across the shining sunlight.  Early in the winter afternoon a moon like an orange feather sailed into the sky as the lower stretches of blue changed into saffron and gold.  Trees and hills and woods were crystal-clear, and shone with an intensity of outline as though their shapes had been cut by some giant knife against the background.  Although there was no wind the air was so expectant that the ringing of church bells and the echo of voices came as though across still water.  The colour of the sunlight was caught in the cups and runnels of the stiff frozen roads and a horse’s hoofs echoed, sharp and ringing, over fields and hedges.  The ponds were silvered into a sheet of ice, so thin that the water showed dark beneath it.  All the trees were rimmed with hoar-frost.

On Christmas afternoon, when three o’clock had just struck from the church tower, Hugh and Mr. Pidgen met, as though by some conspirator’s agreement, by the garden gate.  They had said nothing to one another and yet there they were; they both glanced anxiously back at the house and then Mr. Pidgen said: 

“Suppose we take a walk.”

“Thank you very much,” said Hugh.  “Tea isn’t till half-past four.”

“Very well, then, suppose you lead the way.”  They walked a little, and then Hugh said:  “I was there yesterday, in the study, when you talked all that about your books, and everything.”  The words came from him in little breathless gusts because he was excited.

Mr. Pidgen stopped and looked upon him.  “Thunder and sunshine!  You don’t say so!  What under heaven were you doing?”

“I was reading, and you came in and then I was interested.”

“Well?”

Hugh dropped his voice.

“I understood all that you meant.  I’d like to read your books if I may.  We haven’t any in the house.”

“Bless my soul!  Here’s some one wants to read my books!” Mr. Pidgen was undoubtedly pleased.  “I’ll send you some.  I’ll send you them all!”

Hugh gasped with pleasure.  “I’ll read them all, however many there are!” he said excitedly.  “Every word.”

“Well,” said Mr. Pidgen, “that’s more than any one else has ever done.”

“I’d rather be with you,” said the boy very confidently, “than Mr. Lasher.  I’d rather write stories than preach sermons that no one wants to listen to.”  Then more timidly he continued:  “I know what you meant about the man who comes when you’re a baby.  I remember him quite well, but I never can say anything because they’d say I was silly.  Sometimes I think he’s still hanging round only he doesn’t come to the vicarage much.  He doesn’t like Mr. Lasher much, I expect.  But I do remember him.  He had a beard and I used to think it funny the nurse didn’t see him.  That was before we went to Ceylon, you know, we used to live in Polchester then.  When it was nearly dark and not quite he’d be there.  I forgot about him in Ceylon, but since I’ve been here I’ve wondered ... it’s sometimes like some one whispering to you and you know if you turn round he won’t be there, but he is there all the same.  I made twenty-five last summer against Porthington Grammar; they’re not much good really, and it was our second eleven, and I was nearly out second ball; anyway I made twenty-five, and afterwards as I was ragging about I suddenly thought of him.  I know he was pleased.  If it had been a little darker I believe I’d have seen him.  And then last night, after I was in bed and was thinking about what you’d said I know he was near the window, only I didn’t look lest he should go away.  But of course Mr. Lasher would say that’s all rot, like the pirates, only I know it isn’t.”  Hugh broke off for lack of breath, nothing else would have stopped him.  When he was encouraged he was a terrible talker.  He suddenly added in a sharp little voice like the report from a pistol:  “So one can’t be lonely or anything, can one, if there’s always some one about?”

Mr. Pidgen was greatly touched.  He put his hand upon Hugh’s shoulder.  “My dear boy,” he said, “my dear boy dear me, dear me.  I’m afraid you’re going to have a dreadful time when you grow up.  I really mustn’t encourage you.  And yet, who can help himself?”

“But you said yourself that you’d seen him, that you knew him quite well?”

“And so I do and so I do.  But you’ll find, as you grow older, there are many people who won’t believe you.  And there’s this, too.  The more you live in your head, dreaming and seeing things that aren’t there, the less you’ll see the things that are there.  You’ll always be tumbling over things.  You’ll never get on.  You’ll never be a success.”

“Never mind,” said Hugh, “it doesn’t matter much what you say now, you’re only talking ‘for my good’ like Mr. Lasher.  I don’t care, I heard what you said yesterday, and it’s made all the difference.  I’ll come and stay with you.”

“Well, so you shall,” said Mr. Pidgen.  “I can’t help it.  You shall come as often as you like.  Upon my soul, I’m younger to-day than I’ve felt for a long time.  We’ll go to the pantomime together if you aren’t too old for it.  I’ll manage to ruin you all right.  What’s that shining?” He pointed in front of him.

They had come to a rise in the Polwint Road.  To their right, running to the very foot of their path, was the moor.  It stretched away, like a cloud, vague and indeterminate to the horizon.  To their left a dark brown field rose in an ascending wave to a ridge that cut the sky, now crocus-coloured.  The field was lit with the soft light of the setting sun.  On the ridge of the field something, suspended, it seemed, in midair, was shining like a golden fire.

“What’s that?” said Mr. Pidgen again.  “It’s hanging.  What the devil!”

They stopped for a moment, then started across the field.  When they had gone a little way Mr. Pidgen paused again.

“It’s like a man with a golden helmet.  He’s got legs, he’s coming to us.”

They walked on again.  Then Hugh cried, “Why, it’s only an old Scarecrow.  We might have guessed.”

The sun, at that instant, sank behind the hills and the world was grey.

The Scarecrow, perched on the high ridge, waved its tattered sleeves in the air.  It was an old tin can that had caught the light; the can hanging over the stake that supported it in drunken fashion seemed to wink at them.  The shadows came streaming up from the sea and the dark woods below in the hollow drew closer to them.

The Scarecrow seemed to lament the departure of the light.  “Here, mind,” he said to the two of them, “you saw me in my glory just now and don’t you forget it.  I may be a knight in shining armour after all.  It only depends upon the point of view.”

“So it does,” said Mr. Pidgen, taking his hat off, “you were very fine, I shan’t forget.”

VI

They stood there in silence for a time....

VII

At last they turned back and walked slowly home, the intimacy of their new friendship growing with their silence.  Hugh was happier than he had ever been before.  Behind the quiet evening light he saw wonderful prospects, a new life in which he might dream as he pleased, a new friend to whom he might tell these dreams, a new confidence in his own power....

But it was not to be.

That very night Mr. Pidgen died, very peacefully, in his sleep, from heart failure.  He had had, as he had himself said, a happy life.

VIII

Years passed and Hugh Seymour grew up.  I do not wish here to say much more about him.  It happened that when he was twenty-four his work compelled him to live in that Square in London known as March Square (it will be very carefully described in a minute).  Here he lived for five years, and, during that time, he was happy enough to gain the intimacy and confidence of some of the children who played in the Gardens there.  They trusted him and told him more than they told many people.  He had never forgotten Mr. Pidgen; that walk, that vision of the Scarecrow, stood, as such childish things will, for a landmark in his history.  He came to believe that those experiences that he knew, in his own life, to be true, were true also for some others.  That’s as it may be.  I can only say that Barbara and Angelina, Bim and even Sarah Trefusis were his friends.  I daresay his theory is all wrong.

I can only say that I know that they were his friends; perhaps, after all, the Scarecrow is shining somewhere in golden armour.  Perhaps, after all, one need not be so lonely as one often fancies that one is.