Early in January there was a dress rehearsal of the Trial Scene of “The Merchant of Venice”. The Grandee of the neighborhood who owned the great park, Sir W. W. W., some M. P.‘s, notably a Mr. Whalley who had a pretty daughter and lived in the vicinity, and the Vicar and his family were invited, and others whom I did not know; but with the party from the Vicarage came Lucille.
The big schoolroom had been arranged as a sort of theatre and the estrade at one end where the Head–Master used to throne it on official occasions, was converted into a makeshift stage and draped by a big curtain that could be drawn back or forth at will.
The Portia was a very handsome lad of sixteen named Herbert, gentle and kindly, yet redeemed from effeminacy by the fact that he was the fleetest sprinter in the school and could do the hundred yards in eleven and a half seconds. The “Duke” was, of course, Jones and the merchant “Antonio” a big fellow named Vernon, and I had got Edwards the part of “Bassanio” and a pretty boy in the Fourth Form was taken as “Nerissa”. So far as looks went the cast was passable; but the “Duke” recited his lines as if they had been imperfectly learned and so the “Trial Scene” opened badly. But the part of “Shylock” suited me intimately and I had learned how to recite. Now before E and Lucille, I was set on doing better than my best. When my cue came I bowed low before the “Duke” and then bowed again to left and right of him in silence and formally, as if I, the outcast Jew, were saluting the whole court; then in a voice that at first I simply made slow and clear and hard, I began the famous reply: “I have possessed your Grace of what I purpose; And by our Holy Sabbath have I sworn To have the due and forfeit of my bond.”
I don’t except to be believed; but nevertheless I am telling the bare truth when I say that in my impersonation of “Shylock” I brought in the very piece of “business” that made Henry Irving’s “Shylock” fifteen years later, “ever memorable”, according to the papers.
When at the end, baffled and beaten, Shylock gives in:
“I pray you, give me leave to go from hence, I am not well: send the deed after me, And I will sign it”, the Duke says, “Get thee gone, but do it”, and Gratiano insults the Jew — the only occasion, I think, when Shakespeare allows the beaten to be insulted by a gentleman.
On my way to the door as Shylock, I stopped, bent low before the Duke’s dismissal; but at Gratiano’s insult, I turned slowly round, while drawing myself up to my full height and scanning him from head to foot.
Irving used to return all across the stage and folding his arms on his breast look down on him with measureless contempt.
When fifteen years later Irving, at the Garrick Club one night after supper, asked me what I thought of this new “business”; I replied that if Shylock had done what he did, Gratiano would probably have spat in his face and then kicked him off the stage. Shylock complains that the Christians spat upon his gaberdine.
My boyish, romantic reading of the part, however, was essentially the same as Irving’s, and Irving’s reading was cheered in London to the echo because it was a rehabilitation of the Jew, and the Jew rules the roost to day in all the cities of Europe.
At my first words I could feel the younger members of the audience look about as if to see if such reciting as mine was proper and permitted; then one after the other gave in to the flow and flood of passion. When I had finished everyone cheered, Whalley and Lady W . . . enthusiastically, and to my delight, Lucille as well.
After the rehearsal, everyone crowded about me: “Where did you learn?” “Who taught youf” At length Lucille came. “I knew you were someone”, she said in her pretty way, “quelqu’un”, “but it was extraordinary! You’ll be a great actor, I’m sure.”
“And yet you deny me a kiss”, I whispered, taking care no one should hear.
“I deny you nothing”, she replied, turning away, leaving me transfixed with hope and assurance of delight. “Nothing”, I said to myself, “nothing means everything”; a thousand times I said it over to myself in an ecstasy.
That was my first happy night in England. Mr. Whalley congratulated me and introduced me to his daughter who praised me enthusiastically, and best of all the Doctor said, “We must make you Stage Manager, Harris, and I hope you’ll put some of your fire into the other actors.”
To my astonishment my triumph did me harm with the boys. Some sneered, while all agreed that I did it to show off. Jones and the Sixth began the boycott again. I didn’t mind much, for I had heavier disappointments and dearer hopes.
The worst was I found it difficult to see Lucille in the bad weather; indeed I hardly caught a glimpse of her the whole winter. Edwards asked me frequently to the Vicarage; she might have made half a dozen meetings but she would not, and I was sick at heart with disappointment and the regret of unfulfilled desire. It was March or April before I was alone with her in her schoolroom at the Vicarage. I was too cross with her to be more than polite. Suddenly she said, “Vous me boudez”. I shrugged my shoulders.
‘You don’t like me”, I began, “so what’s the use of my caring.”
“I like you a great deal”, she said, “but — ”
“No, no”, I said, shaking my head, “if you liked me, you wouldn’t avoid me and — ”
“Perhaps it’s because I like you too much — ”
“Then you’d make me happy”, I broke in.
“Happy”, she repeated, “How can If “By letting me kiss you, and — ”
“Yes, and — “ she repeated significantly.
“What harm does it do youf” I asked.
“What harm”, she repeated, “Don’t you know it’s wrong? One should only do that with one’s husband; you know that.”
“I don’t know anything of the sort”, I cried, “That’s all silly. We don’t believe that today.”
“I believe it”, she said gravely.
“But if you didn’t, you’d let me”, I cried, “say that, Lucille, that would be almost as good, for it would show you liked me a little.”
“You know I like you a great deal”, she replied.
“Kiss me then”, I said, “there’s no harm in that”, and when she kissed me I put my hand over her breasts; they thrilled me they were so elastic-firm, and in a moment my hand slid down her body, but she drew away at once quietly but with resolve.
“No, no”, she said, half smiling.
“Please!” I begged.
“I can’t”, she said, shaking her head, “I mustn’t. Let us talk of other things — How is the play getting on?” But I could not talk of the play as she stood there before me. For the first time I divined through her clothes nearly all the beauties of her form. The bold curves of hip and breast tantalized me and her face was expressive and defiant.
How was it I had never noticed all the details before? Had I been blind? or did Lucille dress to show off her figure? Certainly her dresses were arranged to display the form more than English dresses, but I too had become more curious, more observant. Would life go on showing me new beauties I had not even imagined!
My experience with E . . . . and Lucille made the routine of school life almost intolerable to me. I could only force myself to study by reminding myself of the necessity of winning the second prize in the Mathematical Scholarship, which would give me ten pounds, and ten pounds would take me to America.
Soon after the Christmas holidays I had taken the decisive step. The examination in winter was not nearly so important as the one that ended the summer term, but it had been epoch-making to me. My punishments having compelled me to learn two or three books of Vergil by heart and whole chapters of Caesar and Livy, I had come to some knowledge of Latin: in the examination I had beaten not only all my class, but thanks to trigonometry and Latin and history, all the two next classes as well. As soon as the school reassembled I was put in the Upper Fifth. All the boys were from two to three years older than I was, and they all made cutting remarks about me to each other and avoided speaking to “Pat”. All this strengthened my resolution to get to America as soon as I could.
Meanwhile I worked as I had never worked: at Latin and Greek as well as Mathematics; but chiefly at Greek, for there I was backward: by Easter I had mastered the grammar — irregular verbs and all — and was about the first in the class. My mind, too, through my religious doubts and gropings and through the reading of the thinkers had grown astonishingly: one morning I construed a piece of Latin that had puzzled the best in the class and the Doctor nodded at me approvingly. Then came the step I spoke of as decisive.
The morning prayers were hardly over one bitter morning when the Doctor rose and gave out the terms of the scholarship Exam at Midsummer; the winner to get eighty pounds a year for three years at Cambridge, and the second ten pounds with which to buy books. “All boys”, he added, “who wish to go in for this scholarship will now stand up and give their names.” I thought only Gordon would stand up, but when I saw Johnson get up and Fawcett and two or three others I too got up A sort of derisive
growl went through the school; but Stackpole smiled at me and nodded his head as much as to say, “they’ll see”, and I took heart of grace and gave my name very distinctly. Somehow I felt that the step was decisive.
I liked Stackpole and this term he encouraged me to come to his rooms to talk whenever I felt in clined, and as I had made up my mind to use all the half-holidays for study, this association did me a lot of good and his help was invaluable.
One day when he had just come into his room, I shot a question at him and he stopped, came over to me and put his arm on my shoulder as he answered. I don’t know how I knew; but by some instinct I felt a caress in the apparently innocent action. I didn’t like to draw away or show him that I objected; but I buried myself feverishly in the Trigonometry and he soon moved away.
When I thought of it afterwards, I recalled the fact that his marked liking for me began after my fight with Jones. I had often been on the point of confessing to him my love-passages; but now I was glad I had kept them strenuously to myself, for day by day I noticed that his liking for me grew or rather his compliments and flatteries increased. I hardly knew what to do: working with him and in his room was a godsend to me; yet at the same time I didn’t like him much or admire him really.
In some ways he was curiously dense; he spoke of the school life as the happiest of all and the healthiest; a good moral tone here, he would say, no lying, cheating or scandal, much better than life outside. I used to find it difficult not to laugh in his face. Moral tone indeed! when the Doctor came down out of temper, it was usually accepted among the boys that he had had his wife in the night and was therefore a little below par physically.
Though a really good mathematical scholar and a firstrate teacher, patient and painstaking, with a gift of clear exposition, Stackpole seemed to me stupid and hidebound and I soon found that by laughing at his compliments I could balk his desire to lavish on me his unwelcome caresses.
Once he kissed me, but my amused smile made him blush while he muttered shamefacedly, “You’re a queer lad!” At the same time I knew quite well that if I encouraged him, he would take further liberties.
One day he talked of Jones and Henry H . . . . He had evidently heard something of what had taken place in our bedroom; but I pretended not to know what he meant and when he asked me whether none of the big boys had made up to me, I ignored big Fawcett’s smutty excursions and said “No” adding that I was interested in girls and not in dirty boys. For some reason or other Stackpole seemed to me younger than I was and not twelve years older, and I had no real difficulty in keeping him within the bounds of propriety till the Math Exam.
I was asked once whether I thought that “Shaddy”, as we called the House-master, had ever had a woman. The idea of “Shaddy” as a virgin filled us with laughter; but when one spoke of him as a lover, it was funnier still. He was a man about forty, tall and fairly strong: he had a degree from some college in Manchester, but to us little snobs he was a bounder because he had not been to either Oxford or Cambridge. He was fairly capable, however.
But for some reason or other he had a down on me and I grew to hate him, and was always thinking of how I might hurt him. My new habit of forcing myself to watch and observe everything came to my aid. There were five or six polished oak-steps up to the big bedroom where fourteen of us slept. “Shaddy” used to give us half an hour to get into bed and then would come up, and standing just inside the door under the gas-light would ask us, “Have you all said your prayers’?” We all answered: “Yes, sir”, then would come his “Goodnight, boys”, and our stereotyped reply: “Good night, Sir.”
He would then turn out the light and go down-stairs to his room. The oak-steps outside were worn in the middle and I had noticed that as one goes downstairs one treads on the very edge of each step.
One day “Shaddy” had maddened me by giving me one hundred lines of Vergil to learn by heart for some trifling peccadillo. That night, having provided myself with a cake of brown Windsor soap, I ran upstairs before the other boys and rubbed the soap freely on the edge of the two top steps, and then went on to undress.
When “Shaddy” put out the light and stepped down to the second step, there was a slip and then a great thud as he half slid, half fell to the bottom. In a moment, for my bed was nearest the door, I had sprung up, opened the door and made incoherent exclamations of sympathy as I helped him to get up.
“I’ve hurt my hip”, he said, putting his hand on it. He couldn’t account for his fall.
Grinning to myself as I went back, I rubbed the soap off the top step with my handkerchief and got into bed again, where I chuckled over the success of my stratagem. He had only got what he richly deserved, I said to myself.
At length the long term wore to its end; the Exam was held and after consulting Stackpole I was very sure of the second prize. “I believe”, he said one day, “that you’d rather have the second prize than the first.” “Indeed I would”, I replied without thinking.
“Why?” he asked, “why?” I only just restrained myself in time or I’d have given him the true reason. “You’ll come much nearer winning the Scholarship”, he said at length, “than any of them guesses.”
After the “Exams” came the athletic games, much more interesting than the beastly lessons. I won two first prizes and Jones four, but I gained fifteen “seconds”, a record, I believe, for according to my age I was still in the Lower School.
I was fully aware of the secret of my success and strange to say, it did not increase but rather diminished my conceit. I won, not through natural advantages but by will-power and practice. I should have been much prouder had I succeeded through natural gifts. For instance, there was a boy named Reggie Miller, who at sixteen was five feet ten in height, while I was still under five feet: do what I would, he could jump higher than I could, though he only jumped up to his chin while I could jump the bar above my head. I believed that Reggie could easily practice and then outjump me still more. I had yet to learn in life that the resolved will to succeed was more than any natural advantage. But this lesson only came to me later. From the beginning I was taking the highway to success in everything by strengthening my will even more than my body. Thus, every handicap in natural deficiency turns out to be an advantage in life to the brave soul, whereas every natural gift is surely a handicap. Demosthenes had a difficulty in his speech, practising to overcome this, made him the greatest of orators.
The last day came at length and at eleven o’clock all the school and a goodly company of guests and friends gathered in the school-room to hear the results of the examinations and especially the award of the scholarships. Though most of the boys were early at the great blackboard where the official figures were displayed, I didn’t even go near it till one little boy told me shyly: “You’re head of your Form and sure of your remove”.
I found this to be true, but wasn’t even elated. A Cambridge professor, it appeared, had come down in person to announce the result of the “Math” Scholarship.
He made a rather long talk, telling us that the difficulty of deciding had been unusually great, for there was practical equality between two boys: indeed he might have awarded the scholarship to No. 9 (my number) and not to No. 1, on the sheer merit of the work, but when he found that the one boy was under fifteen while the other was eighteen and ready for the University, he felt it only right to take the view of the Head–Master and give the Scholarship to the older boy, for the younger one was very sure to win it next year and even next year he would still be too young for University life. He therefore gave the Scholarship to Gordon and the second prize of ten pounds to Harris. Gordon stood up and bowed his thanks while the whole school cheered and cheered again: then the Examiner called on me. I had taken in the whole situation. I wanted to get away with all the money I could and as soon as I could. My cue was to make myself unpleasant: accordingly, I got up and thanked the Examiner, saying that I had no doubt of his wish to be fair, “but”, I added, “had I known the issue was to be determined by age, I should not have entered. Now I can only say that I will never enter again”, and I sat down.
The sensation caused by my little speech was a thousand times greater than I had expected. There was a breathless silence and mute expectancy. The Cambridge Professor turned to the Head of the school and talked with him very earnestly, with visible annoyance, indeed, and then rose again.
“I must say”, he began, “I have to say”, repeating himself, “that I feel the greatest sympathy with Harris. I was never in so embarrassing a position. I— I must leave the whole responsibility with the Head–Master. I can’t do anything else, unfortunately!” and he sat down, evidently annoyed.
The Doctor got up and made a long hypocritical speech: It was one of those difficult decisions one is forced sometimes to make in life: he was sure that everyone would agree that he had tried to act fairly, and so far as he could make it up to the younger boy, he certainly would: he hoped next year to award him the Scholarship with as good a heart as he now gave him his cheque; and he fluttered it in the air.
The Masters all called me and I went up to the platform and accepted the cheque, smiling with delight, and when the Cambridge Professor shook hands with me and would have further excused himself, I whispered shyly, “it’s all right, Sir, I’m glad that you decided as you did”. He laughed aloud with pleasure, put his arm round my shoulder and said:
“I’m obliged to you, you’re certainly a good loser, or winner perhaps I ought to have said, and altogether a remarkable boy. Are you really under sixteen?” I nodded smiling, and the rest of the prize-giving went off without further incident, save that when I appeared on the platform to get the Form prize of books, he smiled pleasantly at me and led the cheering. I’ve described the whole incident, for it illustrates to me the English desire to be fair: it is really a guiding impulse in them, on which one may reckon, and so far as my experience goes, it is perhaps stronger in them than in any other race. If it were not for their religious hypocrisies, childish conventions and above all, their incredible snobbishness, their love of fair play alone would make them the worthiest leaders of humanity. All this I felt then as a boy as clearly as I see it to day.
I knew that the way of my desire was open to me.
Next morning I asked to see the Head; be was very amiable; but I pretended to be injured and disappointed. “My father”, I said, “reckons, I think, on my success and I’d like to see him before he hears the bad news from anyone else. Would you please give me the money for my journey and let me go today? It isn’t very pleasant for me to be here now.”
“I’m sorry”, said the Doctor (and I think he was sorry), “of course I’ll do anything I can to lighten your disappointment. It’s very unfortunate but you must not be down-hearted: Professor S says that your papers ensure your success next year, and I— well, I’ll do anything in my power to help you.”
I bowed: “Thank you, Sir. Could I go today! There’s a train to Liverpool at noon?”
“Certainly, certainly, if you wish it”, he said, “I’ll give orders immediately” and he cashed the cheque for ten pounds as well, with only a word that it was nominally to be used to buy books with, but he supposed it did not matter seriously.
By noon I was in the train for Liverpool with fifteen pounds in my pocket, five pounds being for my fare to Ireland. I was trembling with excitement and delight; at length I was going to enter the real world and live as I wished to live. I had no regrets, no sorrows, I was filled with lively hopes and happy presentiments.
As soon as I got to Liverpool, I drove to the Adelphi Hotel and looked out the steamers and soon found one that charged only four pounds for a steerage passage to New York, and to my delight this steamer was starting next day about two o’ clock. By four o’ clock I had booked my passage and paid for it. The Clerk said something or other about bedding; but I paid no attention. For just on entering his office I had seen an advertisement of “The Two Roses”, a “romantic drama” to be played that night, and I was determined to get a seat and see it. Do you know what courage that act required? More than was needed to cut loose from everyone I loved and go to America. For my father was a Puritan of the Puritans and had often spoken of the theatre as the “open door to Hell”.
I had lost all belief in Hell or Heaven, but a cold shiver went through me as I bought my ticket and time and again in the next four hours I was on the point of forfeiting it without seeing the play. What if my father was right? I couldn’t help the fear that came over me like a vapour.
I was in my seat as the curtain rose and sat for three hours enraptured; it was just a romantic love-story but the heroine was lovely and affectionate and true and I was in love with her at first sight. When the play was over I went into the street, resolved to keep myself pure for some girl like the heroine: no moral lesson I have received before or since can compare with that given me by that first night in a theatre. The effect lasted for many a month and made self-abuse practically impossible to me ever afterwards. The preachers may digest this fact at their leisure.
The next morning I had a good breakfast at the Adelphi Hotel and before ten was on board the steamer, had stowed away my trunk and taken my station by my sleeping place traced in chalk on the deck. About noon the Doctor came round, a yonng man of good height with a nonchalant manner, reddish hair, roman nose and easy, unconventional w.iys “Whose is this berth?” he asked, pointing to mine.
“Mine, Sir” I replied.
‘Tell your father or mother”, he said curtly, “that <<m.
you must have a mattress like this”, and he pointed to one, “and two blankets”, he added.
“Thank you, Sir”, I said and shrugged my shoulders at his interference. In another hour he eame round again.
“Why is there no mattress here and no blanket!” he asked.
“Because I don’t need ’em”, I replied.
“You must have them”, he barked, “it’s the rule, d’ye understand?” and he hurried on with his inspection. In half an hour he was back again.
“You haven’t the mattress yet”, he snarled.
“I don’t want a mattress”, I replied.
“Where’s your father or mother”, he asked.
“Haven’t got any”, I retorted.
“Do they let children like you go to America” he cried, “What age are you?”
I was furious with him for exposing my youth there in public before everyone. “How does it matter to you?” I asked disdainfully. “You’re not responsible for me, thank God!”
“I am though”, he said, “to a certain degree at least. Are you really going to America on your own!”
“I am”, I rejoined casually and rudely.
“What to do!” was his next query.
“Anything I can get” I replied.
“Hum”, he muttered, “I must see to this”.
Ten minutes later he returned again. “Come with me”, he said, and I followed him to his cabin — a comfortable stateroom with a good berth on the right of the door as you entered, and a good sofa opposite.
“Are you really alone?” he asked.
I nodded, for I was a little afraid he might have the power to forbid me to go and I resolved to say as little as possible.
“What age are you?” was his next question.
“Sixteen”, I lied boldly.
“Sixteen!”, he repeated, “you don’t look it but yon speak as if you had been well educated”. I smiled; I had already measured the crass ignorance of the “peasants in the steerage.
“Have you any friends in America!” he asked.
“What do you want to question me for?” I demanded, “I’ve paid for my passage and I’m doing no harm”.
“I want to help y;u”, ne said, “will you stay here until we draw out and I get a little timet”
“Certainly”, I said, “I’d rather be here than with those louts and if I might read your books — ”
I had noticed that there were two little oak book-cases, one on eaoh side of the washing-stand, and smaller books and pictures scattered about.
“Of course you may”, he rejoined and threw open the door of the bookcase. There was a Macau lay staring at me.
“I know his poetry”, I said, seeing that the book contained his “Essays” and was written in prose. “I’d like to read this”.
“Go ahead”, he said smiling, “in a couple of hours I’ll be back.” When he returned he found me curled upon his sofa, lost in fairyland. I had just come to the end of the essay on Olive and was breathless. “You like it?” he asked. “I should just think I did”, I replied, “it’s better even than his poetry”, and suddenly I closed the book and began to recite:
“With all his faults, and they were neither few nor small, only one cemetery was” worthy to contain his remains. In the Great Abbey — ”
The Doctor took the book from me where I held it.
“Are you reciting from Olive?” he asked.
“Yes”, I said, “but the essay on Warren Hastings its just as good”, and I began again:
“He looked like a great man, and not like a bad one. A person small and emaciated, yet deriving dignity from a carriage which, while it indicated deference to the Court, indicated also habitual self-possession and self-respect. A high and intellectual forehead; a brow pensive but not gloomy, a mouth of inflexible decision, a face on which was written as legibly as under the great picture in the Council Chamber of Calcutta, Mens aequo, in arduis: such w:< the aspect with which the great proconsul presented himself to his judges.”
“Have you learned all this by heart!” cried the Doctor laughing.
“I don’t have to learn stuff like that”, I replie; . “one reading is enough”. He stared at me.
“I was surely right in bringing you down here”, he began, “I wanted to get you a bertli in the Intermediate; but there’s no room: if you could put up with that sofa, I’d have the steward make up a bed for you on it”.
“Oh, would you!” I cried, “how kind of you, ar.d you’ll let me read your books?” “Everyone of ’em”, he replied, adding, “I only wish I could make as good use of them”.
The upshot of it was that in an hour he had drawn some of my story from me and we were great friends. His name was Keogh. “Of course he’s Irish”, I said to myself, as I w I ent to sleep that night: “no one else would have been so kind”.
The ordinary man will think I am bragging here about my memory. He’s mistaken. Swinburne’s memory especially for poetry was far, far better than mine, and I have always regretted the fact that a good memory often prevents one thinking for oneself. I shall come back to this belief of mine when I later explain how want of books gave me whatever originality I possess. A good memory and books at command are two of the greatest dangers of youth and form by themselves a terrible handicap, but like all gifts a good memory is apt to make yon friends among the unthinking, especially when you are very young.
As a matter of fact, Doctor Keogh went about bragging of my memory and power of reciting, until some of the Cabin passengers became interested in the extraordinary schoolboy. The outcome was that I was asked to recite one evening in the First Cabin and afterwards a collection was taken up for me and a first-class passage paid and about twenty dollars over and above was given to me. Besides, an old gentleman offered to adopt me and play second father to me. but I had not got rid of one father to take on another. so I kept as far away from him as I decently could.
I am again, however, running ahead of my story. The second evening of the voyage, the sea got up a little and there was a great deal of sickness. Doctor Keogh was called out of his cabin and while he was away, someone knocked at the door. I opened it and found a pretty girl.
“Where’s the Doctor?” she asked. I told her he had been called to a cabin passenger.
“Please tell him”, she said, “when he returns, that Jessie Kerr, the chief Engineer’s daughter, would like to see him”.
“I’ll go after him now if you wish, Miss Jessie”. I said. “I know where he is”.
“It isn’t important”, she rejoined, “but I feel giddy and he told me he could cure it”.
“Coming up on deck is the best cure”. I declared:
“the fresh air will soon blow the sick feeling away. You’ll sleep like a top and tomorrow morning you’ll be alright. Will you come?” She consented readily and in ten minutes admitted that the slight nausea had disappeared in the sharp breeze. As we walked up and down the dimly lighted deck I had now and then to support her, for the ship was rolling a little under a souwester. Jessie told me something about herself; how she was going to New York to spend some months with an elder married sister and how strict her father was. In return she had my whole story and could hardly believe I was only sixteen. Why she was over sixteen, and she could never have stood up and recited piece after piece as I did in the Cabin: she thought it “wonderful”.
Before she went down, I told her she was the prettiest girl on board and she kissed me and promised to come up the next evening and have another walk. “If you’ve nothing better to do,” she said at parting, “you might come forward to the little Promenade Deck of the Second Cabin and I’ll get one of the men to arrange a seat in one of the boats for us”. “Of course”, I promised gladly and spent the next afternoon with Jessie in the stern-sheets of the great launch where we were out of sight of everyone, and out of hearing as well.
There we were, tucked in with two rugs and cradled, so to speak, between sea and sky, while the keen air whistling past increased our sense of solitude. Jessie, though rather short, was a very pretty girl with large hazel eyes and fair complexion.
I soon got my arm round her and kept kissing her till she told me she had never known a man so greedy of kisses as I was. It was delicious flattery to me to speak of me as a man and in return I raved about her eyes and mouth and form; caressing her left breast I told her I could divine the rest and knew she had a lovely body. But when I put my hand up her clothes, she stopped me when I got just above her knee and said:
“We’d have to be engaged before I could let you do that. Do you really love mef Of course I swore I did, but when she said she’d have to tell her father that we were engaged to be married, cold shivers went down my back.
“I can’t marry for a long time yet”, I said, “I’ll have to make a living first and I’m not very sure where I’ll begin”. But she had heard that an old man wished to adopt me and everyone said that he was very rich, and even her father admitted that I’d be “well fixed”.
Meanwhile my right hand was busy: I had got my fingers to her warm flesh between the stockings and the drawers and was wild with desire; soon mouth on mouth I touched her sex.
What a gorgeous afternoon we had! I had learned enough now to go slow and obey what seemed to be her moods. Gently, gently I caressed her sex with my finger till it opened and she leaned against me and kissed me of her own will, while her eyes turned up and her whole being was lost in thrills of ecstasy. When she asked me to stop and take my hand away, I did her bidding at once and was rewarded by being told that I was a “dear boy” and “a sweet” and soon the embracing and caressing began again. She moved now in response to my lascivious touchings and when the ecstasy came on her, she clasped me close and kissed me passionately with hot lips and afterwards in my arms wept a little and then pouted that she was cross with me for being so naughty. But her eyes gave themselves to me even while she tried to scold.
FROM SCHOOL TO AMERICA. So The dinner bell rang and she said she’d have to go, and we made a meeting for afterwards on the top deck; but as she was getting up, she yielded again to my hand with a little sigh and I found her sex all wet, wet!
She got down out of the boat by the main rigging and I waited a few moments before following her. At first our caution seemed likely to be rewarded, chiefly, I have thought since, because everyone believed me to be too young and too small to be taken seriously. But everything is quickly known on seaboard at least by the sailors.
I went down to Dr. Keogh’s cabin, once more joyful and grateful as I had been with E . . . . My fingers were like eyes gratifying my curiosity, and the curiosity was insatiable. Jessie’s thighs were smooth and firm and round: I took delight in recalling the touch of them, and her bottom was firm like warm marble. I wanted to see her naked and study her beauties one after the other. Her sex too was wonderful, fuller even than Lucille’s and her eyes were finer. Oh, Life was a thousand times better than school. I thrilled with joy and passionate wild hopes — perhaps Jessie would let me, perhaps — I was breathless.
Our walk on deck that evening was not so satisfactory: the wind had gone down and there were many other couples and the men all seemed to know Jessie, and it was Miss Kerr here, and Miss Kerr there, till I was cross and disappointed; I couldn’t get her to myself, save at moments, but then I had to admit she was as sweet as ever and her Aberdeen accent even was quaint and charming to me.
I got some long kisses at odd moments and just before we went down I drew her behind a boat in the davits and was able to caress her little breasts and.
when she turned her back to me to go, I threw my arms round her hips and drew them against me and felt her sex and she leant her head back over her shoulder and gave me her mouth with dying eyes. The darling! Jessie was apt at all Love’s lessons.
The next day was cloudy and rain threatened, but we were safely ensconced in the boat by two o’clock, as soon as lunch was over, and we hoped no one had seen us. An hour passed in caressings and fondlings, in love’s words and love’s promises: I had won Jessie to touch my sex and her eyes seemed to deepen as she caressed it.
“I love you, Jessie, won’t you let it touch yours V’
She shook her head. “Not here, not in the open”, she whispered and then, “wait a little till we get to New York, dear”, and our mouths sealed the compact.
Then I asked her about New York and her sister’s house, and we were discussing where we should meet, when a big head and beard showed above the gunwale of the boat and a deep Scotch voice said: “I want ye, Jessie, I’ve been luiking everywhere for ye”.
“Awright, father”, she said, “I’ll be down in a minute”.
“Come quick”, said the voice as the head disappeared.
“I’ll tell him we love each other and he won’t be angry for long”, whispered Jessie; but I was doubtful. As she got up to go my naughty hand went up her dress behind and felt her warm, smooth buttocks. Ah, the poignancy of the ineffable sensations; her eyes smiled over her shoulder at me and she was gone — and the sunlight with her.
I still remember the sick disappointment as I sat in the boat alone. Life then like school had its chagrins, and as the pleasures were keener, the balks and blights were bitterer. For the first time in my life vague misgivings came over me, a heartshaking suspicion that everything delightful and joyous in life had to be paid for — I wouldn’t harbor the fear. If I had to pay, I’d pay; after all, the memory of the ecstasy could never be taken away while the sorrow was fleeting. And that faith I still hold.
Next day the Chief Steward allotted me a berth in a cabin with an English midshipman of seventeen going out to join his ship in the West Indies. William Ponsonby was not a bad sort, but he talked of nothing but girls from morning till night and insisted that negresses were better than white girls: they were far more passionate, he said.
He showed me his sex; excited himself before me, while assuring me he meant to have a Miss LeBreton, a governess who was going out to take up a position in Pittsburg.
“But suppose you put her in the family way?” I asked.
“That’s not my funeral”, was his answer, and seeing that the cynicism shocked me, he went on to say there was no danger if you withdrew in time. Ponsonby never opened a book and was astoundingiy ignorant: he didn’t seem to care to learn anything that hadn’t to do with sex. He introduced me to Miss LeBreton the same evening. She was rather tall, with fair hair and blue eyes, and she praised my reciting. To my wonder she was a woman and pretty, and I could see by the way she looked at Ponsonby that she was more than a little in love with him. He was above middle height, strong and good-tempered, and that was all I could see in him.
Miss Jessie kept away the whole evening and when I saw her father on the “upper deck”, he glowered at me and went past without a word. That night I told Ponsonby my story, or part of it, and he declared he would find a sailor to carry a note to Jessie next morning if I’d write it.
Besides, he proposed we should occupy the cabin alternate afternoons; for example, he’d take it next day and I mustn’t come near it, and if at any time one of us found the door locked, he was to respect his chum’s privacy. I agreed to it all with enthusiasm and went to sleep in a fever of hope. Would Jessie risk her father’s anger and come to me? Perhaps she would: at any rate I’d write and ask her and I did. In one hour the same sailor came back with her reply. It ran like this: “Dear love, father is mad, we shall have to take great care for two or three days: as soon as it’s safe, I’ll come — your loving Jess”, with a dozen crosses for kisses.
That afternoon, without thinking of my compact with Ponsonby, I went to our cabin and found the door locked: at once our compact came into my head and I went quietly away. Had he succeeded so quickly? and was she with him in bed? The half certainty made my heart beat.
That evening Ponsonby could not conceal his success but as he used it partly to praise his mistress. I forgave him.
“She has the prettiest figure you ever saw”, he declared, “and is really a dear. We had just finished when you came to the door. I said it was some mistake and she believed me. She wants me to marry her but I can’t marry. If I were rich I’d marry quick enough. It’s better than risking some foul disease”, and he went on to tell about one of his colleagues, John Lawrence, who got Black Pox, as he called syphilis, caught from a negress.
“He didn’t notice it for three months”, Ponsonby went on, “and it got into his system; his nose got bad and he was invalided home, poor devil. Those black girls are foul”, he continued, “they give everyone the clap and that’s bad enough, I can tell you; they’re dirty devils”. His ruttish sorrows didn’t interest me much, for I had made up my mind never at any time to go with any prostitute.
I came to several such uncommon resolutions on board that ship, and I may set down the chief of them here very briefly. First of all, I resolved that I would do every piece of work given to me as well as I could, so that no one coming after me could do it better. I had found out at school in the last term that if you gave your whole mind and heart to anything, you learned it very quickly and thoroughly. I was sure even before the trial that my first job would lead me straight to fortune. I had seen men at work and knew it would be easy to beat any of them. I was only eager for the trial.
I remember one evening I had waited for Jessie and she never came and just before going to bed, I went up into the bow of the ship where one was alone with the sea and sky, and swore to myself this great oath, as I called it in my romantic fancy: whatever I undertook to do, I would do it to the uttermost in me.
If I have had any success in life or done any good work, it is due in great part to that resolution.
I could not keep my thoughts from Jessie; if I tried to put her out of my head, I’d either get a little note from her, or Ponsonby would come begging me to leave him the cabin the whole day: at length in despair I begged her for her address in New York, for I feared to lose her forever in that maelstrom. I added that I would alwavs be in my cabin and alone from one to half past if she could ever come.
That day she didn’t come, and the old gentleman who said he would adopt me, got hold of me, told me he was a banker and would send me to Harvard, the University near Boston; from what the Doctor had said of me, he hoped I would do great things. He was really kind and tried to be sympathetic, but he had no idea that what I wanted chiefly was to prove myself, to justify my own high opinion of my powers in the open fight of life. I didn’t want help and I absolutely resented his protective airs.
Next day in the cabin came a touch on the door and Jessie all flustered was in my arms. “I can only stay a minute”, she cried, “Father is dreadful, says you are only a child and won’t have me engage myself and he watches me from morning to night. I could only get away now because he had to go down to the machine-room.”
Before she had finished, I had locked the cabin door.
“Oh, I must go”, she cried, “I must really: I only came to give you my address in New York, here it is”, and she handed me the paper that I put at once in my pocket. And then I put both my arms under her clothes and my hands were on her warm hips, and I was speechless with delight; in a moment my right hand came round in front and as I touched her sex our lips clung together and her sex opened at once, and my finger began to caress her and we kissed and kissed again. Suddenly her lips got hot and while I was still wondering why, her sex got wet and her eyes began to flutter and turn up. A moment or two later she tried to get out of my embrace.
“Really, dear, I’m frightened: he might come and make a noise and I’d die; please let me go now: we’ll have lots of time in New York” — but I could not bear to let her go. “He’d never come here where there are two men”, I said, “never, he might find the wrong one”, and I drew her to me, but seeing’ she was only half reassured, I said while lifting her dress, “Let mine just touch yours, and I’ll let you go” and the next moment my sex was against hers and almost in spite of herself she yielded to the throbbing warmth of it; but when I pushed in, she drew away and down on it a little and I saw anxiety in her eyes that had grown very dear to me.
At once I stopped and put away my sex and let her clothes drop. “You’re such a sweet, Jess”, I said, “who could deny you anything; in New York then, but now one long kiss.”
She gave me her mouth at once and her lips were hot. I learned that morning that when a girl’s lips grow hot, her sex is hot first and she is ready to give herself and ripe for the embrace.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09