A SHORT SHORT STORY
About 1,250 words
The July afternoon dragged itself along, the sunlight creeping at a laggard's pace across the classroom floor. The motes of dust floated all but motionless in its still beams.
The drone of the schoolmaster's voice threaded a tedious course through the maze of the Latin tongue, echoed by the mumbling of a stray bee as it bumped its way across the window panes, seeking a way back through this strange element to a more familiar world.
In sympathy with the bee's repeated efforts to escape, the boy followed its progress from pane to pane, willing it towards the goal and glad when at last it was achieved. He watched the idle, swinging flight as long as he could. Who knows? He thought. It might be from one of Father's hives.
Suddenly he saw with startling clarity the garden at home.....
His mother was there with Joan, his sister, freed from the tyranny of lessons by a childish illness and no doubt enjoying every moment of her freedom.
''Now you keep away from those hives!" his mother was saying. Joan crossed the lawn towards the flower-beds and his mother followed. Bending over the snapdragons, she began to pick off the withered flower heads, dropping them into her spread apron.
Then she straightened her back with a grimace and surveyed the garden, her small kingdom. She must speak to Giles about cutting the grass or John would be complaining again. Her husband liked the garden to resemble his accounts, neat and ordered. She herself was all for a riot of colour.
Strange that she and her husband should differ in this, just as the two boys differed. The younger boy, Gil, was his father all over again, steady, methodical, perhaps at times the least bit dull. The other boy? He favoured his mother's side. He went by the feel of things rather than by the light of cold reason. For him the whole would always be more than the sum of the parts. He hadn't liked grammar school from the first day, but he was a good boy, even if he was a dreamer, as his schoolmaster never ceased to remind her. Yet she knew that one day he would be a credit to her, despite the schoolmaster's forebodings.
The scene faded, and the boy returned with a guilty start to the classroom. He was always getting into trouble, he knew, and all because of this habit of dreaming. Her really had tried, for his father's sake, to overcome it but it didn't seem to be any use.
The trouble was that no one seemed to be able to understand how vivid and enthralling these dreams could be. It seemed almost as if he could get right inside people. It was as if all his senses came alive inside his head. He could see, and hear, and feel, and taste, and smell within his mind almost as sharply as in real life. Indeed, it sometimes seemed that what went on inside his head was the stuff of real life, and all the rest insubstantial.
At first he had tried to show how it felt in his school work, but old Leeky Jenkins was deaf and blind to such things. He seemed to have died himself along with the Roman Empire. Language for him was a pattern that conformed to rules.
The boy suspected that his native tongue would not easily bear such fetters, but in front of the schoolmaster he stammered and felt foolish. Yet he knew that these dreams of his could be made to live and move if only he could find the way.
It seemed a shame that school should be so dull, set in such an exciting world. This talk of some kind of union with the Continent, for ex amp le. He had heard members of the Town Council, his father among them, heatedly discussing it. It seemed to the boy that there were almost as many points of view as there were people. He wondered idly how the Queen felt about it all ......
He was standing on London Bridge, saying goodbye to the Thames, and the ships, and the whole seething cauldron that was London. It was time to go home, but he promised himself that he would be back. He felt strangely at one with the life and bustle, the cries of the street traders, the strange coarse tongue of the costers and the porters, another world away from the quiet country town which was home.
It had been an unforgettable holiday. He had been to see the Queen reviewing her troops. He could see the soldiers again, resplendent in their bright uniform, a magnificent and a moving sight. He heard again the insistent throb of the drums, and the distorted shouts of command.
But for him that slight figure, side-saddle on the splendid horse, outshone all the rest of the pageantry. He had vowed there and then with a boy's ingenuous devotion that one day he would do something for her, something for England.
Who knows? Perhaps he would go to sea and serve her there. He had been down the river and seen the great ships returning from the far corners of the earth. He could hear again the squeal and clank of the anchor chains, and the colourful oaths of the crew as they swung ashore at the end of another long voyage.
All through that holiday he had felt that his father was on tenterhooks. He disliked London. He despised foreigners. He was sorry to see honest Englishmen aping inferior races such as the Italians in their dress. What on earth was wrong with English clothes? Or good plain English food, for that matter? He would be glad to get back to the quiet and the security of the countryside, to the gossip of his neighbours, and the familiar business of the Town Council. He detested the get-rich-quick attitude of the Londoner, his often-expressed belief that anything could be acquired in ten easy lessons, his too-frequent addiction to gambling, his all-too-evident lack of morals.
It worried him that the boy so plainly was draw to this alien world. But he had promised to show him the sights, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, and the rest. Above all, the boy had insisted that they must climb St. Paul's, so that he could see the whole of that restless, immoral city spread out beneath him.
The boy came to himself again, uneasily. But it was all right. Old Jenkins was droning on, lost in his world of Cicero, Virgil and Horace. How could anyone find joy in the wretched stuff? Not that the stories were all that bad, though. Rather good yarns, in fact, but why, oh why read them in Latin? For a moment he wondered how they might sound in strong, lusty, country English.
Surely it couldn't be long now. He knew what he would do as soon as release came. Into his satchel with his books, out of the school door, along Church Street, down the Old Tom past Trinity Church.
And there would be the river, slipping gently past the reed-beds, the trees, the cattle standing knee-deep in the shallows, and over all the lovely, sleepy haze of the English afternoon ......
"At it again! Bless my soul, I do believe the boy spends all his time dreaming!''
Old Leeky was coming down the aisle. At any moment, the boy knew, he would be grasped by the hair and dragged out. You had to go with him; the pain was exquisite.
He knew, too, what was coming. It had all happened so often before.
''Now you come with me, my lad. Come along
Come along ! Out into the hall with you! Now then, what do you see on that wall ? Speak up, boy, speak up! That's right, that's right! Now those are the boys who were a credit to the school! A credit to me, and the masters before me!
But you, boy, you ! Dreaming all the time, wasting the precious days of school in dreaming ! What do you suppose was ever made of dreams, boy ?
Ex nihilo, nihil fit! Remember that! Nothing can come from nothing .'
Now go back to your desk, boy, and stop that snivelling! And remember this, the next time you're tempted to dream. You'll get nowhere by dreaming, Master Will Shakespeare !"
(With acknowledgements to the researches of the American scholar, Miss Marchette Chute.)