How I Went To Pym To Write A Book
Part of: MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE WONDER
From: The Wonder
The circumstance that had intrigued me for so long was determined with
an abruptness only less remarkable than the surprise of the onset. Two
deaths within six months brought to me, the first, a competence, the
second, release from gall and bitterness. For the first time in my life
I was a free man. At forty one can still look forward, and I put the
past behind me and made plans for the future. There was that book of
mine still waiting to be written.
It was wonderful how the detail of it all came back to me--the plan of
it, the thread of development, even the very phrases that I had toyed
with. The thought of the book brought back a train of associations.
There was a phrase I had coined as I had walked out from Ailesworth to
Stoke-Underhill; a chapter I had roughed out the day I went to see
Ginger Stott at Pym. It seemed to me that the whole conception of the
book was associated in some way with that neighbourhood. I remembered at
last that I had first thought of writing it after my return from
America, on the day that I had had that curious experience with the
child in the train. It occurred to me that by a reversal of the process,
I might regain many more of my original thoughts; that by going to live,
temporarily perhaps, in the neighbourhood of Ailesworth, I might revive
The picture of Pym presented itself to me very clearly. I remembered
that I had once thought that Pym was a place to which I might retire one
day in order to write the things I wished to write. I decided to make
the dream a reality, and I wrote to Mrs. Berridge at the Wood Farm,
asking her if she could let me have her rooms for the spring, summer,
I was all aglow with excitement on the morning that I set out for the
Hampden Hills. This was change, I thought, freedom, adventure. This was
the beginning of life, my real entry into the joy of living.
The world was alight with the fire of growth. May had come with a clear
sky and a torrent of green was flowing over field, hedge, and wood. I
remember that I thanked "whatever gods there be," that one could live so
richly in the enjoyment of these things.
Farmer Bates met me at Great Hittenden Station. His was the only
available horse and cart at Pym, for the Berridges were in a very small
way, and it is doubtful if they could have made both ends meet if Mrs.
Berridge had not done so well by letting her two spare rooms.
I have a great admiration for Farmer Bates and Mrs. Berridge. I regret
intensely that they should both have been unhappily married. If they had
married each other they would undoubtedly have made a success of life.
Bates was a Cockney by birth, but always he had had an ambition to take
a farm, and after twenty years of work as a skilled mechanic he had
thrown up a well-paid job, and dared the uncertainties which beset the
English farmer. That venture was a constant bone of strife between him
and his wife. Mrs. Bates preferred the town. It has always seemed to me
that there was something fine about Bates and his love for the land.
"Good growing weather, Mr. Bates," I said, as I climbed up into the
"Shouldn't be sorry to see some more rain," replied Bates, and damped my
ardour for a moment.
Just before we turned into the lane that leads up the long hill to Pym,
we passed a ramshackle cart, piled up with a curious miscellany of
ruinous furniture. A man was driving, and beside him sat a slatternly
woman and a repulsive-looking boy of ten or twelve years old, with a
great swollen head and an open, slobbering mouth.
I was startled. I jumped to the conclusion that this was the child I had
seen in the train, the son of Ginger Stott.
As we slowed down to the ascent of the long hill, I said to Bates: "Is
that Stott's boy?"
Bates looked at me curiously. "Why, no," he said. "Them's the 'Arrisons.
'Arrison's dead now; he was a wrong 'un, couldn't make a job of it,
nohow. They used to live 'ere, five or six year ago, and now 'er
'usband's dead, Mrs. 'Arrison's coming back with the boy to live. Worse
luck. We thought we was shut of 'em."
"Oh!" I said. "The boy's an idiot, I suppose."
"'Orrible," replied Bates, shaking his head, "'orrible; can't speak nor
nothing; goes about bleating and baa-ing like an old sheep."
I looked round, but the ramshackle cart was hidden by the turn of the
road. "Does Stott still live at Pym?" I asked.
"Not Ginger," replied Bates. "He lives at Ailesworth. Mrs. Stott and 'er
son lives here."
"The boy's still alive then?" I asked.
"Yes," said Bates.
"Intelligent child?" I asked.
"They say," replied Bates. "Book-learnin' and such. They say 'e's read
every book in Mr. Challis's librairy."
"Does he go to school?"
"No. They let 'im off. Leastways Mr. Challis did. They say the Reverend
Crashaw, down at Stoke, was fair put out about it."
I thought that Bates emphasised the "on dit" nature of his information
rather markedly. "What do you think of him?" I asked.
"Me?" said Bates. "I don't worry my 'ead about him. I've got too much to
do." And he went off into technicalities concerning the abundance of
charlock on the arable land of Pym. He called it "garlic." I saw that it
was typical of Bates that he should have too much to do. I reflected
that his was the calling which begot civilisation.
The best and surest route from Pym to the Wood Farm is, appropriately,
by way of the wood; but in wet weather the alternative of various cart
tracks that wind among the bracken and shrub of the Common, is
preferable in many ways. May had been very dry that year, however, and
Farmer Bates chose the wood. The leaves were still light on the beeches.
I remember that as I tried to pierce the vista of stems that dipped over
the steep fall of the hill, I promised myself many a romantic
exploration of the unknown mysteries beyond.
Everything was so bright that afternoon that nothing, I believe, could
have depressed me. When I had reached the farm and looked round the low,
dark room with its one window, a foot from the ground and two from the
ceiling, I only thought that I should be out-of-doors all the time. It
amused me that I could touch the ceiling with my head by standing on
tiptoe, and I laughed at the framed "presentation plates" from old
Christmas numbers on the walls. These things are merely curious when the
sun is shining and it is high May, and one is free to do the desired
work after twenty years in a galley.
At a quarter to eight that evening I saw the sun set behind the hills.
As I wandered reflectively down the lane that goes towards Challis
Court, a blackbird was singing ecstatically in a high elm; here and
there a rabbit popped out and sat up, the picture of precocious
curiosity. Nature seemed to be standing in her doorway for a careless
half-hour's gossip, before putting up the shutters to bar the robbers
who would soon be about their work of the night.
It was still quite light as I strolled back over the Common, and I chose
a path that took me through a little spinney of ash, oak, and beech,
treading carefully to avoid crushing the tender crosiers of bracken that
were just beginning to break their way through the soil.
As I emerged from the little clump of wood, I saw two figures going away
from me in the direction of Pym.
One was that of a boy wearing a cricket-cap; he was walking
deliberately, his hands hanging at his sides; the other figure was a
taller boy, and he threw out his legs in a curious, undisciplined way,
as though he had little control over them. At first sight I thought he
was not sober.
The two passed out of sight behind a clump of hawthorn, but once I saw
the smaller figure turn and face the other, and once he made a repelling
gesture with his hands.
It occurred to me that the smaller boy was trying to avoid his
companion; that he was, in one sense, running away from him, that he
walked as one might walk away from some threatening animal,
deliberately--to simulate the appearance of courage.
I fancied the bigger boy was the idiot Harrison I had seen that
afternoon, and Farmer Bates's "We hoped we were shut of him" recurred to
me. I wondered if the idiot were dangerous or only a nuisance.
I took the smaller boy to be one of the villagers' children. I noticed
that his cricket-cap had a dark patch as though it had been mended with
some other material.
The impression which I received from this trivial affair was one of
disappointment. The wood and the Common had been so deserted by
humanity, so given up to nature, that I felt the presence of the idiot
to be a most distasteful intrusion. "If that horrible thing is going to
haunt the Common there will be no peace or decency," was the idea that
presented itself. "I must send him off, the brute," was the corollary.
But I disliked the thought of being obliged to drive him away.
The next morning I did not go on the Common; I was anxious to avoid a
meeting with the Harrison idiot. I had been debating whether I should
drive him away if I met him. Obviously I had no more right on the Common
than he had--on the other hand, he was a nuisance, and I did not see why
I should allow him to spoil all my pleasure in that ideal stretch of
wild land which pressed on three sides of the Wood Farm. It was a stupid
quandary of my own making; but I am afraid it was rather typical of my
mental attitude. I am prone to set myself tasks, such as this eviction
of the idiot from common ground, and equally prone to avoid them by a
process of procrastination.
By way of evasion I walked over to Deane Hill and surveyed the wonderful
panorama of neat country that fills the basin between the Hampden and
the Quainton Hills. Seen from that height, it has something the effect
of a Dutch landscape, it all looks so amazingly tidy. Away to the left I
looked over Stoke-Underhill. Ailesworth was a blur in the hollow, but I
could distinguish the high fence of the County Ground.
I sat all the morning on Deane Hill, musing and smoking, thinking of
such things as Ginger Stott, and the match with Surrey. I decided that I
must certainly go and see Stott's queer son, the phenomenon who had,
they say, read all the books in Mr. Challis's library. I wondered what
sort of a library this Challis had, and who he was. I had never heard of
him before. I think I must have gone to sleep for a time.
When Mrs. Berridge came to clear away my dinner--I dined, without shame,
at half-past twelve--I detained her with conversation. Presently I asked
about little Stott.
"He's a queer one, that's what he is," said Mrs. Berridge. She was a
neat, comely little woman, rather superior to her station, and it seemed
to me, certainly superior to her clod of a husband.
"A great reader, Farmer Bates tells me," I said.
Mrs. Berridge passed that by. "His mother's in trouble about him this
morning," she said. "She's such a nice, respectable woman, and has all
her milk and eggs and butter off of us. She was here this morning while
you were out, sir, and, what I could make of it that 'Arrison boy had
been chasing her boy on the Common last night."
"Oh!" I said with sudden enlightenment. "I believe I saw them." At the
back of my mind I was struggling desperately with a vague remembrance.
It may sound incredible, but I had only the dimmest memory of my later
experience of the child. The train incident was still fresh in my mind,
but I could not remember what Stott had told me when I talked with him
by the pond. I seemed to have an impression that the child had some
strange power of keeping people at a distance; or was I mixing up
reality with some Scandinavian fairy tale?
"Very likely, sir," Mrs. Berridge went on. "What upset Mrs. Stott was
that her boy's never upset by anything--he has a curious way of looking
at you, sir, that makes you wish you wasn't there; but from what Mrs.
Stott says, this 'Arrison boy wasn't to be drove off, anyhow, and her
son came in quite flurried like. Mrs. Stott seemed quite put out about
Doubtless I might have had more information from my landlady, but I was
struggling to reconstruct that old experience which had slipped away
from me, and I nodded and turned back to the book I had been pretending
to read. Mrs. Berridge was one of those unusual women--for her station
in life--who know when to be silent, and she finished her clearing away
without initiating any further remarks.
When she had finished I went out onto the Common and looked for the pond
where I had talked with Ginger Stott.
I found it after a time, and then I began to gather up the threads I had
It all came back to me, little by little. I remembered that talk I had
had with him, his very gestures; I remembered how he had spoken of
habits, or the necessity for the lack of them, and that took me back to
the scene in the British Museum Reading Room, and to my theory. I was
suddenly alive to that old interest again.
I got up and walked eagerly in the direction of Mrs. Stott's cottage.
Next: The Incipience Of My Subjection To The Wonder