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The Disillusionment Of Ginger Stott






Part of: THE CHILDHOOD OF THE WONDER
From: The Wonder

I

Stott maintained an obstinate silence as we walked together up to the
Common, a stretch of comparatively open ground on the plateau of the
hill. He walked with his hands in his pockets and his head down, as he
had walked out from Ailesworth with me nearly three years before, but
his mood was changed. I was conscious that he was gloomy, depressed,
perhaps a little unstrung. I was burning with curiosity. Now that I was
released from the thrall of the child's presence, I was eager to hear
all there was to tell of its history.

Presently we sat down under an ash-tree, one of three that guarded a
shallow, muddy pond skimmed with weed. Stott accepted my offer of a
cigarette, but seemed disinclined to break the silence.

I found nothing better to say than a repetition of the old phrase.
"That's a very remarkable baby of yours, Stott," I said.

"Ah!" he replied, his usual substitute for "yes," and he picked up a
piece of dead wood and threw it into the little pond.

"How old is he?" I asked.

"Nearly two year."

"Can he ..." I paused; my imagination was reconstructing the scene of
the railway carriage, and I felt a reflex of the hesitation shown by the
rubicund man when he had asked the same question. "Can he ... can he
talk?" It seemed so absurd a question to ask, yet it was essentially a
natural question in the circumstances.

"He can, but he won't."

This was startling enough, and I pressed my enquiry.

"How do you know? Are you sure he can?"

"Ah!" Only that irritating, monosyllabic assent.

"Look here, Stott," I said, "don't you want to talk about the child?"

He shrugged his shoulders and threw more wood into the pond with a
strained attentiveness as though he were peculiarly anxious to hit some
particular wafer of the vivid, floating weed. For a full five minutes we
maintained silence. I was trying to subdue my impatience and my temper.
I knew Stott well enough to know that if I displayed signs of either, I
should get no information from him. My self-control was rewarded at
last.

"I've 'eard 'im speak," he said, "speak proper, too, not like a baby."

He paused, and I grunted to show that I was listening, but as he
volunteered no further remark, I said: "What did you hear him say?"

"I dunno," replied Stott, "somethin' about learnin' and talkin'. I
didn't get the rights of it, but the missus near fainted--she thinks
'e's Gawd A'mighty or suthing."

"But why don't you make him speak?" I asked deliberately.

"Make 'im!" said Stott, with a curl of his lip, "make 'im! You try it
on!"

I knew I was acting a part, but I wanted to provoke more information.
"Well! Why not?" I said.

"'Cos 'e'd look at you--that's why not," replied Stott, "and you can't
no more face 'im than a dog can face a man. I shan't stand it much
longer."

"Curious," I said, "very curious."

"Oh! he's a blarsted freak, that's what 'e is," said Stott, getting to
his feet and beginning to pace moodily up and down.

I did not interrupt him. I was thinking of this man who had drawn huge
crowds from every part of England, who had been a national hero, and
who, now, was unable to face his own child. Presently Stott broke out
again.

"To think of all the trouble I took when 'e was comin'," he said,
stopping in front of me. "There was nothin' the missus fancied as I
wouldn't get. We was livin' in Stoke then." He made a movement of his
head in the direction of Ailesworth. "Not as she was difficult," he went
on thoughtfully. "She used to say 'I mussent get 'abits, George.' Caught
that from me; I was always on about that--then. You know, thinkin' of
learnin' 'im bowlin'. Things was different then; afore 'e came." He
paused again, evidently thinking of his troubles.

Sympathetically, I was wondering how far the child had separated husband
and wife. There was the making of a tragedy here, I thought; but when
Stott, after another period of pacing up and down, began to speak again
I found that his tragedy was of another kind.

"Learn 'im bowling!" he said, and laughed a mirthless laugh. "My Gawd!
it 'ud take something. No fear; that little game's off. And I could a'
done it if he'd been a decent or'nery child, 'stead of a blarsted freak.
There won't never be another, neither. This one pretty near killed the
missus. Doctor said it'd be 'er last.... With an 'ead like that, whacher
expect?"

"Can he walk?" I asked.

"Ah! Gets about easy enough for all 'is body and legs is so small. When
the missus tries to stop 'im--she's afraid 'e'll go over--'e just looks
at 'er and she 'as to let 'im 'ave 'is own way."


II

Later, I reverted to that speech of the child's, that intelligent,
illuminating speech that seemed to prove that there was indeed a
powerful, thoughtful mind behind those profoundly speculative eyes.

"That time he spoke, Stott," I said, "was he alone?"

"Ah!" assented Stott. "In the garden, practisin' walkin' all by
'imself."

"Was that the only time?"

"Only time I've 'eard 'im."

"Was it lately?"

"'Bout six weeks ago."

"And he has never made a sound otherwise, cried, laughed?"

"'Ardly. 'E gives a sort o' grunt sometimes, when 'e wants anything--and
points."

"He's very intelligent."

"Worse than that, 'e's a freak, I tell you."

With the repetition of this damning description, Stott fell back into
his moody pacing, and this time I failed to rouse him from his gloom.
"Oh! forget it," he broke out once, when I asked him another question,
and I saw that he was not likely to give me any more information that
day.

We walked back together, and I said good-bye to him at the end of the
lane which led up to his cottage.

"Not comin' up?" he asked, with a nod of his head towards his home.

"Well! I have to catch that train ..." I prevaricated, looking at my
watch. I did not wish to see that child again; my distaste was even
stronger than my curiosity.

Stott grinned. "We don't 'ave many visitors," he said. "Well, I'll come
a bit farther with you."

He came to the bottom of the hill, and after he left me he took the road
that goes over the hill to Wenderby. It would be about seven miles back
to Pym by that road....


III

I spent the next afternoon in the Reading Room of the British Museum. I
was searching for a precedent, and at last I found one in the story of
Christian Heinrich Heinecken,[2] who was born at Lubeck on February 6,
1721. There were marked points of difference between the development of
Heinecken and that of Stott's child. Heinecken was physically feeble; at
the age of three he was still being fed at the breast. The Stott
precocity appeared to be physically strong; his body looked small and
undeveloped, it is true, but this was partly an illusion produced by the
abnormal size of the head. Again Heinecken learned to speak very early;
at ten months old he was asking intelligent questions, at eighteen
months he was studying history, geography, Latin and anatomy; whereas
the Stott child had only once been heard to speak at the age of two
years, and had not, apparently, begun any study at all.

From this comparison it might seem at first that the balance of
precocity lay in the Heinecken scale. I drew another inference. I argued
that the genius of the Stott child far outweighed the genius of
Christian Heinecken.

Little Heinecken in his four years of life suffered the mental
experience--with certain necessary limitations--of a developed brain. He
gathered knowledge as an ordinary child gathers knowledge, the only
difference being that his rate of assimilation was as ten to one.

But little Stott had gathered no knowledge from books. He had been born
of ignorant parents, he was being brought up among uneducated people.
Yet he had wonderful intellectual gifts; surely he must have one above
all others--the gift of reason. His brain must be constructive, logical;
he must have the power of deduction. He must even at an extraordinarily
early age, say six months, have developed some theory of life. He must
be withholding his energy, deliberately; declining to exhibit his
powers, holding his marvellous faculties in reserve. Here was surely a
case of genius which, comparable in some respects to the genius of
Heinecken, yet far exceeded it.

As I developed my theory, my eagerness grew. And then suddenly an
inspiration came to me. In my excitement I spoke aloud and smacked the
desk in front of me with my open hand. "Why, of course!" I said. "That
is the key."

An old man in the next seat scowled fiercely. The attendants in the
central circular desk all looked up. Other readers turned round and
stared at me. I had violated the sacred laws of the Reading Room. I saw
one of the librarians make a sign to an attendant and point to me.

I gathered up my books quickly and returned them at the central desk. My
self-consciousness had returned, and I was anxious to be away from the
observation of the many dilettante readers who found my appearance more
engrossing than the books with which they were dallying on some pretext
or another.

Yet, curiously, when I reached the street, the theory which had come to
me in the Museum with the force and vividness of an illuminating dream
had lost some of its glamour. Nevertheless, I set it out as it then
shaped itself in my mind.

The great restraining force in the evolution of man, so I thought, has
been the restriction imposed by habit. What we call instinct is a
hereditary habit. This is the first guiding principle in the life of the
human infant. Upon this instinct we immediately superimpose the habits
of reason, all the bodily and intellectual conventions that have been
handed down from generation to generation. We learn everything we know
as children by the hereditary, simian habit of imitation. The child of
intellectual, cultured parents, born into savage surroundings, becomes
the slave of this inherited habit--call it tendency, if you will, the
intention is the same. I elaborated the theory by instance and
introspection, and found no flaw in it....

And here, by some freak of nature, was a child born without these
habits. During the period of gestation, one thought had dominated the
minds of both parents--the desire to have a son born without habits. It
does not seriously affect the theory that the desire had a peculiar end
in view; the wish, the urgent, controlling, omnipotent will had been
there, and the result included far more than the specific intention.

Already some of my distaste for the Stott child had vanished. It was
accountable, and therefore no longer fearful. The child was supernormal,
a cause of fear to the normal man, as all truly supernormal things are
to our primitive, animal instincts. This is the fear of the wild thing;
when we can explain and give reasons, the horror vanishes. We are men
again.

I did not quite recover the glow of my first inspiration, but the theory
remained with me; I decided to make a study of the child, to submit
knowledge to his reason. I would stand between him and the delimiting
training of the pedagogue, I thought.

Then I reached home, and my life was changed.

This story is not of my own life, and I have no wish to enter into the
curious and saddening experiences which stood between me and the child
of Ginger Stott for nearly six years. In that time my thoughts strayed
now and again to that cottage in the little hamlet on those wooded
hills. Often I thought "When I have time I will go and see that child
again if he is alive." But as the years passed, the memory of him grew
dim, even the memory of his father was blurred over by a thousand new
impressions. So it chanced that for nearly six years I heard no word of
Stott and his supernormal infant, and then chance again intervened. My
long period of sorrow came to an end almost as suddenly as it had begun,
and by a coincidence I was once more entangled in the strange web of the
abnormal.

In this story of Victor Stott I have bridged these six years in the
pages that follow. In doing this I have been compelled to draw to a
certain extent on my imagination, but the main facts are true. They have
been gathered from first-hand authority only, from Henry Challis, from
Mrs. Stott, and from her husband; though none, I must confess, has been
checked by that soundest of all authorities, Victor Stott himself, who
might have given me every particular in accurate detail, had it not been
for those peculiarities of his which will be explained fully in the
proper place.





Next: The Manner Of His Birth

Previous: Notes For A Biography Of Ginger Stott



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