Read CHAPTER IV - BIM ROCHESTER of The Golden Scarecrow, free online book, by Hugh Walpole, on ReadCentral.com.

I

This is the story of Bim Rochester’s first Odyssey.  It is a story that has Bim himself for the only proof of its veracity, but he has never, by a shadow of a word, faltered in his account of it, and has remained so unamazed at some of the strange aspects in it that it seems almost an impertinence that we ourselves should show any wonder.  Benjamin (Bim) Rochester was probably the happiest little boy in March Square, and he was happy in spite of quite a number of disadvantages.

A word about the Rochester family is here necessary.  They inhabited the largest house in March Square the large grey one at the corner by Lent Street and yet it could not be said to be large enough for them.  Mrs. Rochester was a black-haired woman with flaming cheeks and a most untidy appearance.  Her mother had been a Spaniard, and her father an English artist, and she was very much the child of both of them.  Her hair was always coming down, her dress unfastened, her shoes untied, her boots unbuttoned.  She rushed through life with an amazing shattering vigour, bearing children, flinging them into an already overcrowded nursery, rushing out to parties, filling the house with crowds of friends, acquaintances, strangers, laughing, chattering, singing, never out of temper, never serious, never, for a moment, to be depended on.  Her husband, a grave, ball-faced man, spent most of his days in the City and at his club, but was fond of his wife, and admired what he called her “energy.”  “My wife’s splendid,” he would say to his friends, “knows the whole of London, I believe.  The people we have in our house!” He would watch, sometimes, the strange, noisy parties, and then would retire to bridge at his club with a little sigh of pride.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the nursery there were children of all ages, and two nurses did their best to grapple with them.  The nurses came and went, and always, after the first day or two, the new nurse would give in to the conditions, and would lead, at first with amusement and a rather excited sense of adventure, afterwards with a growing feeling of dirt and discomfort, a tangled and helter-skelter existence.  Some of the children were now at school, but Lucy, a girl ten years of age, was a supercilious child who rebelled against the conditions of her life, but was too idle and superior to attempt any alteration of them.  After her there were Roger, Dorothy, and Robert.  Then came Bim, four years of age a fortnight ago, and, last of all, Timothy, an infant of nine months.  With the exception of Lucy and Bim they were exceedingly noisy children.  Lucy should have passed her days in the schoolroom under the care of Miss Agg, a melancholy and hope-abandoned spinster, and, during lesson hours, there indeed she was.  But in the schoolroom she had no one to impress with her amazing wisdom and dignity.  “Poor mummy,” as she always thought of her mother, was quite unaware of her habits or movements, and Miss Agg was unable to restrain either the one or the other, so Lucy spent most of her time in the nursery, where she sat, calm and collected, in the midst of confusion that could have “given old Babel points and won easy.”  She was reverenced by all the younger children for her sedate security, but by none of them so surely and so magnificently as Bim.  Bim, because he was quieter than the other children, claimed for his opinions and movements the stronger interest.

His nurses called him “deep,” “although for a deep child I must say he’s ’appy.”

Both his depth and his happiness were at Lucy’s complete disposal.  The people who saw him in the Square called him “a jolly little boy,” and, indeed, his appearance of gravity was undermined by the curl of his upper lip and a dimple in the middle of his left cheek, so that he seemed to be always at the crisis of a prolonged chuckle.  One very rarely heard him laugh out loud, and his sturdy, rather fat body was carried rather gravely, and he walked contemplatively as though he were thinking something out.  He would look at you, too, very earnestly when you spoke to him, and would wait a little before he answered you, and then would speak slowly as though he were choosing his words with care.  And yet he was, in spite of these things, really a “jolly little boy.”  His “jolliness” was there in point of view, in the astounding interest he found in anything and everything, in his refusal to be upset by any sort of thing whatever.

But his really unusual quality was his mixture of stolid English matter-of-fact with an absolutely unbridled imagination.  He would pursue, day by day, week after week, games, invented games of his own, that owed nothing, either for their inception or their execution, to any one else.  They had their origin for the most part in stray sentences that he had overheard from his elders, but they also arose from his own private and personal experiences experiences which were as real to him as going to the dentist or going to the pantomime were to his brothers and sisters.  There was, for instance, a gentleman of whom he always spoke of as Mr. Jack.  This friend no one had ever seen, but Bim quoted him frequently.  He did not, apparently, see him very often now, but at one time when he had been quite a baby Mr. Jack had been always there.  Bim explained, to any one who cared to listen, that Mr. Jack belonged to all the Other Time which he was now in very serious danger of forgetting, and when, at that point, he was asked with condescending indulgence, “I suppose you mean fairies, dear!” he always shook his head scornfully and said he meant nothing of the kind, Mr. Jack was as real as mother, and, indeed, a great deal “realer,” because Mrs. Rochester was, in the course of her energetic career, able to devote only “whirlwind” visits to her “dear, darling” children.

When the afternoon was spent in the gardens in the middle of the Square, Bim would detach himself from his family and would be found absorbed in some business of his own which he generally described as “waiting for Mr. Jack.”

“Not the sort of child,” said Miss Agg, who had strong views about children being educated according to practical and common-sense ideas, “not the sort of child that one would expect nonsense from.”  It may be quite safely asserted that never, in her very earliest years, had Miss Agg been guilty of any nonsense of the sort.

But it was not Miss Agg’s contempt for his experiences that worried Bim.  He always regarded that lady with an amused indifference.  “She bothers so,” he said once to Lucy.  “Do you think she’s happy with us, Lucy?”

“P’r’aps.  I’m sure it doesn’t matter.”

“I suppose she’d go away if she wasn’t,” he concluded, and thought no more about her.

No, the real grief in his heart was that Lucy, the adored, the wonderful Lucy, treated his assertions with contempt.

“But, Bim, don’t be such a silly baby.  You know you can’t have seen him.  Nurse was there and a lot of us, and we didn’t.”

“I did though.”

“But, Bim ”

“Can’t help it.  He used to come lots and lots.”

“You are a silly!  You’re getting too old now ”

“I’m not a silly!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I’m not!”

“Oh, well, of course, if you’re going to be a naughty baby.”

Bim was nearer tears on these occasions than on any other in all his mortal life.  His adoration of Lucy was the foundation-stone of his existence, and she accepted it with a lofty assumption of indifference; but very sharply would she have missed it had it been taken from her, and in long after years she was to look back upon that love of his and wonder that she could have accepted it so lightly; Bim found in her gravity and assurance all that he demanded of his elders.  Lucy was never at a loss for an answer to any question, and Bim believed all that she told him.

“Where’s China, Lucy?”

“Oh, don’t bother, Bim.”

“No, but where is it?”

“What a nuisance you are!  It’s near Africa.”

“Where Uncle Alfred is?”

“Yes, just there.”

“But is Uncle Alfred in China?”

“No, silly, of course not.”

“Well, then ”

“I didn’t say China was in Africa.  I said it was near.”

“Oh!  I see.  Uncle Alfred could just go in the train?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Oh!  I see.  P’r’aps he will.”

But, for the most part, Bim, realising that Lucy “didn’t want to be bothered,” pursued his life alone.  Through all the turmoil and disorder of that tempestuous nursery he gravely went his way, at one moment fighting lions and tigers, at another being nurse on her afternoon out (this was a truly astonishing adventure composed of scraps flung to him from nurse’s conversational table and including many incidents that were far indeed from any nurse’s experience), or again, he would be his mother giving a party, and, in the course of this, a great deal of food would be eaten, his favourite dishes, treacle pudding and cottage pie, being always included.

With the exception of his enthusiasm for Lucy he was no sentimentalist.  He hated being kissed, he did not care very greatly for Roger and Dorothy and Robert, and regarded them as nothing but nuisances when they interfered with his games or compelled him to join in theirs.

And now this is the story of his Odyssey.

II

It happened on a wet April afternoon.  The morning had been fine, a golden morning with the scent in the air of the showers that had fallen during the night.  Then, suddenly, after midday, the rain came down, splashing on to the shining pavements as it fell, beating on to the windows and then running, in little lines, on to the ledges and falling from there in slow, heavy drops.  The sky was black, the statues in the garden dejected, the almond tree beaten, all the little paths running with water, and on the garden seats the rain danced like a live thing.

The children Lucy, Roger, Dorothy, Robert, Bim, and Timothy were, of course, in the nursery.  The nurse was toasting her toes on the fender and enjoying immensely that story by Mrs. Henry Wood, entitled “The Shadow of Ashlydyat.”  It is entirely impossible to present any adequate idea of the confusion and bizarrerie of that nursery.  One must think of the most confused aspect of human life that one has ever known say, a Suffrage attack upon the Houses of Parliament, or a Channel steamer on a Thursday morning, and then of the next most confused aspect.  Then one must place them together and confess defeat.  Mrs. Rochester was not, as I have said, very frequently to be found in her children’s nursery, but she managed, nevertheless, to pervade the house, from cellar to garret, with her spirit.  Toys were everywhere dolls and trains and soldiers, bricks and puzzles and animals, cardboard boxes, articles of feminine attire, a zinc bath, two cats, a cage with white mice, a pile of books resting in a dazzling pyramid on the very edge of the table, two glass jars containing minute fish of the new variety, and a bowl with goldfish.  There were many other things, forgotten by me.

Lucy, her pigtails neatly arranged, sat near the window and pretended to be reading that fascinating story, “The Pillars of the House.”  I say pretending, because Lucy did not care about reading at any time, and especially disliked the works of Charlotte Mary Yonge, but she thought that it looked well that she and nurse should be engaged upon literature whilst the rest of the world rioted and gambolled their time away.  There was no one who at the moment could watch and admire her fine spirit, but you never knew who might come in.

The rioting and gambolling consisted in the attempts of Robert, Dorothy, and Roger, to give a realistic presentation to an audience of one, namely, the infant Timothy, of the life of the Red Indians and their Squaws.  Underneath the nursery table, with a tablecloth, some chairs and a concertina, they were presenting an admirable and entirely engrossing performance.

Bim, under the window and quite close to Lucy, was giving a party.  He had possessed himself of some of Dorothy’s dolls’ tea things, he had begged a sponge cake from nurse, and could be heard breaking from time to time into such sentences as, “Do have a little more tweacle pudding, Mrs. Smith.  It’s the best tweacle,” and, “It’s a nice day, isn’t it!” but he was sorely interrupted by the noisy festivities of the Indians who broke, frequently, into realistic cries of “Oh!  Roger, you’re pulling my hair,” or “I won’t play if you don’t look out!”

It may be that these interruptions disturbed the actuality of Bim’s festivities, or it may be that the rattling of the rain upon the window panes diverted his attention.  Once he broke into a chuckle.  “Isn’t they banging on the window, Lucy?” he said, but she was, it appeared, too deeply engaged to answer him.  He found that, in a moment of abstraction, he had eaten the whole of the sponge cake, so that it was obvious that the party was over.  “Good-bye, Mrs. Smith.  It was really nice of you to come.  Good-bye, dear, Mrs. I think the wain almost isn’t coming now.”

He said farewell to them all and climbed upon the window seat.  Here, gazing down into the Square, he saw that the rain was stopping, and, on the farther side, above the roofs of the houses, a little splash of gold had crept into the grey.  He watched the gold, heard the rain coming more slowly; at first, “spatter-spatter-spatter,” then, “spatter spatter.”  Then one drop very slowly after another drop.  Then he saw that the sun from somewhere far away had found out the wet paths in the garden, and was now stealing, very secretly, along them.  Soon it would strike the seat, and then the statue of the funny fat man in all his clothes, and then, perhaps, the fountain.  He was unhappy a little, and he did not know why:  he was conscious, perhaps, of the untidy, noisy room behind him, of his sister Dorothy who, now a Squaw of a quite genuine and realistic kind, was crying at the top of her voice:  “I don’t care.  I will have it if I want to.  You’re not to, Roger,” and of Timothy, his baby brother, who, moved by his sister’s cries, howled monotonously, persistently, hopelessly.

“Oh, give over, do, Miss Dorothy!” said the nurse, raising her eye for a moment from her book.  “Why can’t you be quiet?”

Outside the world was beginning to shine and glitter, inside it was all horrid and noisy.  He sighed a little, he wanted to express in some way his feelings.  He looked at Lucy and drew closer to her.  She had beside her a painted china mug which one of her uncles had brought her from Russia; she had stolen some daffodils from her mother’s room downstairs and now was arranging them.  This painted mug was one of her most valued possessions, and Bim himself thought it, with its strange red and brown figures running round it, the finest thing in all the world.

“Lucy,” he said.  “Do you s’pose if you was going to jump all the way down to the street and wasn’t afraid that p’r’aps your legs wouldn’t get broken?”

He was not, in reality, greatly interested in the answer to his question, but the important thing always with Lucy was first to enchain her attention.  He had learnt, long ago, that to tell her that he loved her, to invite tenderness from her in return, was to ask for certain rebuff he always began his advances then in this roundabout manner.

What do you think, Lucy?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  How can I tell?  Don’t bother.”

It was then that Bim felt what was, for him, a very rare sensation.  He was irritated.

“I don’t bovver,” he said, with a cross look in the direction of his brother and sister Rochesters.  “No, but, Lucy, s’pose some one nurse, s’pose did fall down into the street and broke all her legs and arms, she wouldn’t be dead, would she?”

“You silly little boy, of course not.”

He looked at Lucy, saw the frown upon her forehead, and felt suddenly that all his devotion to her was wasted, that she didn’t want him, that nobody wanted him now when the sun was making the garden glitter like a jewel and the fountain to shine like a sword.

He felt in his throat a hard, choking lump.  He came closer to his sister.

“You might pay ’tention, Lucy,” he said plaintively.

Lucy broke a daffodil stalk viciously.  “Go and talk to the others,” she said.  “I haven’t time for you.”

The tears were hot in his eyes and anger was in his heart anger bred of the rain, of the noise, of the confusion.

“You are howwid,” he said slowly.

“Well, go away, then, if I’m horrid,” she pushed with her hand at his knee.  “I didn’t ask you to come here.”

Her touch infuriated him; he kicked and caught a very tender part of her calf.

“Oh!  You little beast!” She came to him, leant for a moment across him, then slapped his cheek.

The pain, the indignity, and, above all, a strange confused love for his sister that was near to passionate rage, let loose all the devils that owned Bim for their habitation.

He did three things:  He screamed aloud, he bent forward and bit Lucy’s hand hard, he seized Lucy’s wonderful Russian mug and dashed it to the ground.  He then stood staring at the shattered fragments.

III

There followed, of course, confusion.  Nurse started up.  “The Shadow of Ashlydyat” descended into the ashes, the children rushed eagerly from beneath the table to the centre of hostilities.

But there were no hostilities.  Lucy and Bim were, both of them, utterly astonished, Lucy, as she looked at the scattered mug, was, indeed, sobbing, but absent-mindedly her thoughts were elsewhere.  Her thoughts, in fact, were with Bim.  She realised suddenly that never before had he lost his temper with her; she was aware that his affection had been all this time of value to her, of much more value, indeed, than the stupid old mug.  She bent down still absent-mindedly sobbing and began to pick up the pieces.  She was really astonished being a dry and rather hard little girl at her affection for Bim.

The nurse seized on the unresisting villain of the piece and shook him.  “You naughty little boy!  To go and break your sister’s beautiful mug.  It’s your horrid temper that’ll be the ruin of you, mark my words, as I’m always telling you.” (Bim had never been known to lose his temper before.) “Yes, it will.  You see, you naughty boy.  And all the other children as good as gold and quiet as lambs, and you’ve got to go and do this.  You shall stand in the corner all tea-time, and not a bite shall you have.”  Here Bim began, in a breathless, frightened way, to sob.  “Yes, well you may.  Never mind, Miss Lucy, I dare say your uncle will bring you another.”  Here she became conscious of an attentive and deeply interested audience.  “Now, children, time to get ready for tea.  Run along, Miss Dorothy, now.  What a nuisance you all are, to be sure.”

They were removed from the scene.  Bim was placed in the corner with his face to the wall.  He was aghast; no words can give, at all, any idea of how dumbly aghast he was.  What possessed him?  What, in an instant of time, had leapt down from the clouds, had sprung up from the Square and seized him?  Between his amazed thoughts came little surprised sobs.  But he had not abandoned himself to grief he was too sternly set upon the problem of reparation.  Something must be done, and that quickly.

The great thought in his mind was that he must replace the mug.  He had not been very often in the streets beyond the Square, but upon certain occasions he had seen their glories, and he knew that there had been shops and shops and shops.  Quite close to him, upon a shelf, was his money-box, a squat, ugly affair of red tin, into whose large mouth he had been compelled to force those gifts that kind relations had bestowed.  There must be now quite a fortune there enough to buy many mugs.  He could not himself open it, but he did not doubt that the man in the shop would do that for him.

Not for many more moments would he be left alone.  His hat was lying on the table; he seized that and his money-box, and was out on the landing.

The rest is his story.  I cannot, as I have already said, vouch for the truth of it.  At first, fortune was on his side.  There seemed to be no one about the house.  He went down the wide staircase without making any sound; in the hall he stopped for a moment because he heard voices, but no one came.  Then with both hands, and standing on tiptoe, he turned the lock of the door, and was outside.

The Square was bathed in golden sun, a sun, the stronger for his concealment, but tempered, too, with the fine gleam that the rain had left.  Never before had Bim been outside that door alone; he was aware that this was a very tremendous adventure.  The sky was a washed and delicate purple, and behold! on the high railings, a row of sparrows were chattering.  Voices were cold and clear, echoing, as it seemed, against the straight, grey walls of the houses, and all the trees in the garden glistened with their wet leaves shining with gold; there seemed to be, too, a dim veil of smoke that was homely and comfortable.

It is not usual to see a small boy of four alone in a London square, but Bim met, at first, no one except a messenger boy, who stopped and looked after him.  At the corner of the Square just out of the Square so that it might not shame its grandeur was a fruit and flower shop, and this shop was the entrance to a street that had much life and bustle about it.  Here Bim paused with his money-box clasped very tightly to him.  Then he made a step or two and was instantly engulfed, it seemed, in a perfect whirl of men and women, of carts and bicycles, of voices and cries and screams; there were lights of every colour, and especially one far above his head that came and disappeared and came again with terrifying wizardry.

He was, quite suddenly, and as it were, by the agency of some outside person, desperately frightened.  It was a new terror, different from anything that he had known before.  It was as though a huge giant had suddenly lifted him up by the seat of his breeches, or a witch had transplanted him on to her broomstick and carried him off.  It was as unusual as that.

His under lip began to quiver, and he knew that presently he would be crying.  Then, as he always did, when something unusual occurred to him, he thought of “Mr. Jack.”  At this point, when you ask him what happened, he always says:  “Oh!  He came, you know came walking along like he always did.”

“Was he just like other people, Bim?”

“Yes, just.  With a beard, you know just like he always was.”

“Yes, but what sort of things did he wear?” “Oh, just ord’nary things, like you.”  There was no sense of excitement or wonder to be got out of him.  It was true that Mr. Jack hadn’t shown himself for quite a long time, but that, Bim felt, was natural enough.  “He’ll come less and seldomer and seldomer as you get big, you know.  It was just at first, when one was very little and didn’t know one’s way about just to help babies not to be frightened.  Timothy would tell you only he won’t.  Then he comes only a little just at special times like this was.”

Bim told you this with a slightly bored air, as though it were silly of you not to know, and really his air of certainty made an incredulous challenge a difficult thing.  On the present occasion Mr. Jack was just there, in the middle of the crowd, smiling and friendly.  He took Bim’s hand, and, “Of course,” Bim said, “there didn’t have to be any ’splaining. He knew what I wanted.”  True or not, I like to think of them, in the evening air, serenely safe and comfortable, and in any case, it was surely strange that if, as one’s common sense compels one to suppose, Bim were all alone in that crowd, no one wondered or stopped him nor asked him where his home was.  At any rate, I have no opinions on the subject.  Bim says that, at once, they found themselves out of the crowd in a quiet, little “dinky” street, as he called it, a street that, in his description of it, answered to nothing that I can remember in this part of the world.  His account of it seems to present a dark, rather narrow place, with overhanging roofs and swinging signs, and nobody, he says, at all about, but a church with a bell, and outside one shop a row of bright-coloured clothes hanging.  At any rate, here Bim found the place that he wanted.  There was a little shop with steps down into it and a tinkling bell which made a tremendous noise when you pushed the old oak door.  Inside there was every sort of thing.  Bim lost himself here in the ecstasy of his description, lacking also names for many of the things that he saw.  But there was a whole suit of shining armour, and there were jewels, and old brass trays, and carpets, and a crocodile, which Bim called a “crodocile.”  There was also a friendly old man with a white beard, and over everything a lovely smell, which Bim said was like “roast potatoes” and “the stuff mother has in a bottle in her bedwoom.”

Bim could, of course, have stayed there for ever, but Mr. Jack reminded him of a possibly anxious family.  “There, is that what you’re after?” he said, and, sure enough, there on a shelf, smiling and eager to be bought, was a mug exactly like the one that Bim had broken.

There was then the business of paying for it, the money-box was produced and opened by the old man with “a shining knife,” and Bim was gravely informed that the money found in the box was exactly the right amount.  Bim had been, for a moment, in an agony of agitation lest he should have too little, but as he told us, “There was all Uncle Alfred’s Christmas money, and what mother gave me for the tooth, and that silly lady with the green dress who would kiss me.”  So, you see, there must have been an awful amount.

Then they went, Bim clasping his money-box in one hand and the mug in the other.  The mug was wrapped in beautiful blue paper that smelt, as we were all afterwards to testify, of dates and spices.  The crocodile flapped against the wall, the bell tinkled, and the shop was left behind them.  “Most at once,” Bim said they were by the fruit shop again; he knew that Mr. Jack was going, and he had a sudden most urgent longing to go with him, to stay with him, to be with him always.  He wanted to cry; he felt dreadfully unhappy, but all of his thanks, his strange desires, that he could bring out was, in a quavering voice, trying hard, you understand, not to cry, “Mr. Jack.  Oh!  Mr. ” and his friend was gone.

IV

He trotted home; with every step his pride increased.  What would Lucy say?  And dim, unrealised, but forming, nevertheless, the basis for the whole of his triumph, was his consciousness that she who had scoffed, derided, at his “Mr. Jack,” should now so absolutely benefit by him.  This was bringing together, at last, the two of them.

His nurse, in a fine frenzy of agitation, met him.  Her relief at his safety swallowed her anger.  She could only gasp at him.  “Well, Master Bim, and a nice state Oh, dear! to think; wherever ”

On the doorstep he forced his nurse to pause, and, turning, looked at the gardens now in shadow of spun gold, with the fountain blue as the sky.  He nodded his head with satisfaction.  It had been a splendid time.  It would be a very long while, he knew, before he was allowed out again like that.  Yes.  He clasped the mug tightly, and the door closed behind him.

I don’t know that there is anything more to say.  There were the empty money-box and the mug.  There was Bim’s unhesitating and unchangeable story.  There is a shop, just behind the Square, where they have some Russian crockery.  But Bim alone!

I don’t know.