Friday, 24 January 2014

A WET DAY by Richard Middleton

As we grow older it becomes more and more  apparent that our moments are the ghosts  of old moments, our days but pale repetitions  of days that we have known in the past.  It might almost be said that after a certain age  we never meet a stranger or win to a new  place. The palace of our soul, grown larger  let us hope with the years, is haunted by little  memories that creep out of corners to peep  at us wistfully when we are most sure that  we are alone. Sometimes we cannot hear  the voice of the present for the whisperings  of the past ; sometimes the room is so full  of ghosts that we can hardly breathe. And  yet it is often difficult to find the significance  of these dead days, restored to us to disturb  our sense of passing time. Why have our  minds kept secret these trivial records so  many years to give them to us at last when they have no apparent consequence ? Perhaps  it is only that we are not clever enough to  read the riddle ; perhaps these trifles that we  have remembered unconsciously year after  year are in truth the tremendous forces that  have made our lives what they are.

Standing at the window this morning and  watching the rain, I suddenly became conscious of a wet morning long ago when I  stood as I stood now and saw the drops  sliding one after another down the steamy  panes. I was a boy of eight years old,  dressed in a sailor suit, and with my hair  clipped quite short like a French boy's, and  my right knee was stiff with a half-healed  cut where I had fallen on the gravel path  under the schoolroom window. It was a  really wet, grey day. I could hear the rain  dripping from the fir-trees on to the scullery  roof, and every now and then a gust of wind  drove the rain down on the soaked lawn  with a noise like breaking surf. I could hear  the water gurgling in the pipe that was  hidden by the ivy, and I saw with interest  that one of the paths was flooded, so that  a canal ran between the standard rose bushes  and recalled pictures of Venice. I thought  it would be nice if it rained truly hard and  flooded the house, so that we should all have  to starve for three weeks, and then be rescued  excitingly in boats ; but I had not really any  hope. Behind me in the schoolroom my  two brothers were playing chess, but had not  yet started quarrelling, and in a corner my  little sister was patiently beating a doll.  There was a fire in the grate, but it was  one of those sombre, smoky fires in which  it is impossible to take any interest. The  clock on the mantelpiece ticked very slowly,  and I realised that an eternity of these long  seconds separated me from dinner-time. I  thought 1 would like to go out.

The enterprise presented certain difficulties and dangers, but none that could not be  surpassed. I would have to steal down to  the hall and get my boots and waterproof  on unobserved. I would have to open the  front door without making too much noise,  for the other doors were well guarded by  underlings, and I would have to run down  the front drive under the eyes of many  windows. Once beyond the gate I would  be safe, for the wetness of the day would  secure me from dangerous encounters.  Walking in the rain would be pleasanter  than staying in the dull schoolroom, where  life remained unchanged for a quarter of  an hour at a time ; and I remembered that  there was a little wood near our house in  which I had never been when it was raining  hard. Perhaps I would meet the magician  for whom I had looked so often in vain  on sunny days, for it was quite likely that  he preferred walking in bad weather when  no one else was about. It would be nice  to hear the drops of rain falling on the roof  of the trees, and to be quite warm and dry  underneath. (Perhaps the magician would  give me a magic wand, and I would do  things like the conjurer last Christmas.)

Certainly I would be punished when I  got home, for even if I were not missed  they would see that my boots were muddy  and that my waterproof was wet. I would  have no pudding for dinner and be sent to  bed in the afternoon : but these things had  happened to me before, and though I had  not liked them at the time, they did not seem  very terrible in retrospect. And life was so  dull in the schoolroom that wet morning  when I was eight years old!

And yet I did not go out, but stood  hesitating at the window, while with every  gust earth seemed to fling back its curls  of rain from its shining forehead. To stand  on the brink of adventure is interesting in  itself, and now that I could think over the  details of my expedition I was no longer  bored. So I stayed dreaming till the golden  moment for action was passed, and a violent  exclamation from one of the chess-players  called me back to a prosaic world. In a  second the board was overturned and the  players were locked in battle. My little  sister, who had already the feminine craving  for tidiness, crept out of her corner and  meekly gathered the chessmen from under  the feet of the combatants. I had seen it  all before, and while I led my forces to the  aid of the brother with whom at the moment  I had some sort of alliance, I reflected that  I would have done better to dare the  adventure and set forth into the rainy  world.

And this morning when I stood at my  window, and my memory a little cruelly  restored to me this vision of a day long  dead, I was still of the same opinion. Oh !  I should have put on my boots and my waterproof and gone down to the little wood to  meet the enchanter ! He would have given  me the cap of invisibility, the purse of Fortunatus, and a pair of seven-league boots. He  would have taught me to conquer worlds,  and to leave the easy triumphs of dreamers  to madmen, philosophers, and poets. He  would have made me a man of action, a  statesman, a soldier, a founder of cities or  a digger of graves. For there are two kinds  of men in the world when we have put aside  the minor distinctions of shape and colour.  There are the men who do things and the  men who dream about them. No man can  be both a dreamer and a man of action, and  we are called upon to determine what role  we shall play in life when we are too young  to know what we do.
I do not believe that it was a mere wantonness of memory that preserved the image  of that one hour with such affectionate detail,

where so many brighter and more eventful  hours have disappeared for ever. It seems  to me likely enough that that moment of  hesitation before the schoolroom window  determined a habit of mind that has kept  me dreaming ever since. For all my life  I have preferred thought to action; I have  never run to the little wood; I have never  met the enchanter. And so this morning,  when Fate played me this trick and my  dream was chilled for an instant by the icy  breath of the past, I did not rush out into  the streets of life and lay about me with  a flaming sword. No ; I picked up my pen  and wrote some words on a piece of paper,  and lulled my shocked senses with the tranquillity of the idlest dream of all.

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