In Splendid Glory
In Splendid Glory
Bardolph Beaumont Chambers. His name was the only remarkable thing about him. He spent his days as a clerk in a lawyer's office but ironically both hated and was terrified by the mention of any kind of court action. He believed in tradition, democracy and the efficacy of black molasses for purifying the blood. He had lost all ambition long ago. When he had been a young man he had been anxious to become a lawyer; but, not being able to complete his degree, he had married instead, acquired a little black car and a washing machine and settled down in a suburban house where he had lived ever since. For twenty-two years he had been married to a wife as mild and unassuming as himself and although there had been no children they had enjoyed a moderately happy married life. Mr. Chambers was too mild to have any sins; apart from the common sins of everyday - polite lies on the telephone, stealing a few pencils now and then and sometimes cheating at whist - his life was quite exemplary. Once, he had nearly been involved in an affair with a blonde waitress but she ran away with a baker who had divorced his wife. He used to dream about the waitress in later life and, had adultery not been so difficult, he might have tried someone else.
His fellow travellers on the five twenty-five saw him as a thin little man with slightly bowed legs. Always he looked very spruce in his grey suit and often, at the office, some of the younger clerks who dressed too gaily were exhorted to be like Mr. Chambers, to be respectable. He was unimaginative and in unusual circumstances he became quite bewildered; often, indeed, he became quite lost. However, for most things he was dependable - 'a good man' his friends called him. Bardolph Beaumont Chambers never thought of himself as 'a good man': he never thought of himself at all. He was just an ordinary man.
He walked home from the station one night, humming softly, thinking about the potatoes and chops which would be waiting for him. He smiled to himself. On the road, four or five boys about eight to ten years old were playing page 22football so he went across to the other side of the street to be out of their way. At home, he ate his chops and potatoes with relish, read the newspaper then, after a short chat with his wife, fell asleep.
Three days later when he was again coming home, he noticed that the boys had changed their game to cricket. 'Summer coming in', he thought, and remembered rather sentimentally, as he stepped over a boy's nary blue jacket on the pavement, the days of his own youth.
'Out!' a boy shouted. The soap box which they were using for wickets fell over on its side.
Mr. Chambers could not resist calling out genially 'Well bowled!' But the boys stared at him so strangely that he began to feel he had done something wrong. He hurried on his way.
The boys stood looking after him. 'Gosh! Doesn't that guy walk funny?' said one.
'Yes, doesn't he!' Another boy rolled along the road, imitating Mr. Chambers.
The boy who had been bowled said, 'He's bow-legged, that's what he is. That's why he walks funny.'
They all laughed and began to walk all over the road with legs bent in imitation of Mr. Chambers, grinning to each other while a red haired boy mouthed in a voice resembling that of Mr. Chambers, 'Well bowled! Well bowled!'
The next evening, Mr. Chambers passed them again but did not venture to say anything. He felt a slight twinge of embarrassment and as he turned the corner he heard a boy shouting, 'Hiya Shorty!' He scuttled on homewards.
'Wonder what his name is?' asked one boy, laughing.
'Yeah, I wonder.'
'Let's follow him home and see if we can find out!'page 23
They all crept round the corner, keeping up against the thick green hedge, watching Mr. Chambers who was walking briskly about two hundred yards ahead of them. At last, a few streets further on, he turned in at his own gate. The boys waited cautiously for some time then stole up and read the brass nameplate on the gates B.B. Chambers.
'So that's his name!' Mr. Chambers. B.B. Chambers. B.B.C. British Broadcasting Corporation. Huh! Wait till we see him again!'
For a few nights after this Mr. Chambers kept his head averted and tried to stop his ears as he walked past the boys playing cricket. Then on the third night he heard a voice calling out, "Hi! Mr. Chambers! Mr. China Chambers! How's the B.B.C?' He started and looked round to find the boys all standing laughing at him. They stopped jeering when he looked round but as he turned away again he heard them calling, 'Hi Shorty!'
Once round the corner, he looked apprehensively in all directions to see if anyone else had heard. Fortunately there was no one in sight. He sighed. Should he tell his wife? No. She would think he was making something out of nothing. The boys would soon forget it anyway. Over his ham and egg he forgot it himself.
'Mrs. Batcock came up today to see if I would be secretary of the women's sewing club,' his wife said.
His thoughts reverted to the boys. 'Oh! And what did you tell her?' He could not conceive how they had learned his name.
'I told her I'd think it over and see what you said.'
'Mmm. How could they have -?'
'What was that, Bardolph?'page 24
'Oh, nothing, nothing. My thoughts were wandering.'
He wondered if he should tell her. Yes, he might as well.
'I was think -'
'Oh! I forgot to tell you,' his wife interrupted excitedly, 'Miss Horriblow's cat had five kittens in the bath and...'
Mr. Chambers decided not to tell her after all.
The weekend gave him some respite from the taunts of the boys but on Monday evening, as the train drew into his station, he began to feel afraid. He walked down the street slowly, not sure whether to go with the crowd in the hope that the boys would be too frightened to shout at him, or whether to wait, in case they did shout at him when he was with the crowd and humiliate him. For a moment, he thought they were not there but as he entered the street he saw that they had only moved their soap box further along the road. He was alone.
'Ha! Here comes the B.B.C?' One boy leaned on the bat, another on the soap box, ready to run.
'Just come here and say that!' Mr. Chambers muttered.
'Just come here and say that!' echoed the red haired boy who had imitated him before. The others burst into laughter.
'I'll smack your back-side you cheeky young imp!' threatened Mr. Chambers.
'I'll snack your back-side you cheeky young imp!' came the echo.
Mr. Chambers walked on, upset and uneasy and as he reached the corner a few stones fell on the pavement beside him. He increased his pace and walked home frowning.
On Tuesday morning at the office, Mr. Stibbs, one of the partners in the firm, came up to him and slapped his page 25shoulder. "Well Bardolph, old chap,' he said smiling broadly, 'and whose backside are you going to smack?'
Mr. Chambers flushed deeply.
"I was using your telephone and I couldn't help seeing that your blotter's covered with the phrase "smack your backside." What does it mean, old boy?'
Mr. Chambers sighed with relief and laughed nervously. 'Oh, nothing ! Just a bad dream. My mind must have been wandering.'
'Not feeling too well, perhaps? More seriously, Mr. Chambers, there have been one or two mistakes in accounts and things coming from your section lately,' Mr. Stibbs continued. 'Now I know we can't always be perfect but I do - you know - I hope you'll be able to - well - keep your mind on the - mm - job. Perhaps you need a holiday?'
'No, I'm sorry, I've been a bit worried recently by a few details but I'll try to be more careful.'
'Oh, quite all right, old chap! Come to me if I can be of any assistance, you know!' Mr. Stibbs nodded and went out.
Mr. Chambers groaned to himself. The thing was beginning to get beyond him. Perhaps he could go home another way, he reflected. But he did not want to do that. Or perhaps he could rush into one of the houses in the street and demand that the parents take action. But that might lead to the police court. He grimaced in distaste.
All afternoon he forced himself to do his work thoroughly. Nevertheless, every time he signed his name or his initials, his thoughts became confused with soap boxes and nicknames and cricket and the British Broadcasting Corporation. As it approached five o 'clock he felt himself becoming unpleasantly tense and began to search his mind for some kind of excuse to go home later. He would go down to the pub. No, he wouldn't. He hadn't been in a hotel for years. No other business? No, Well, they might not be there anyway.page 26
On the train he travelled with a young schoolteacher whom he knew and chatted nervously with him. The young man noticed his uneasiness but did not remark upon it. They alighted at the same station. However, since the young man lived on the other side of the railway, they had to part, but they stood on the platform and talked for about ten minutes until the young man said cheerfully, 'Well, I'll have to be -'
Mr. Chambers interrupted him and talked loudly and quickly about some intricate legal procedure, carefully avoiding all reference to the court.
The young man was rather surprised. Five minutes later, he repeated, 'Well, I must be -'
But Mr. Chambers raised his voice and kept on talking somewhat incoherently.
The young man looked at him anxiously and thought he detected signs of fear in his eyes. He realised too that Mr. Chambers was clinging a little desperately to his presence. A feeling of repulsion seized him. 'I must go, ' he said curtly. 'Goodbye, Mr. Chambers!'
Mr. Chambers gazed after him then set off home, filled with dread. The wretched boys were playing cricket again. He saw them whisper together when he came into the street and as he came nearer he could see the mockery and hostility in their small faces. As he walked past they were silent and for one happy instant he thought they were going to leave him.
Then a voice whispered, 'One, two, three.'
Suddently, they all began chanting, 'B.B.C B.B.C Bum Boy Chambers B.B.C B.B.C B.B.C Bum Boy Chambers B.B.C...'
As he reached the corner, a lump in his throat, a stone hit him on the back of his leg. He winced but did not look round.
'I shall be home later tomorrow night, dear,' he told his wife. 'I have some business to do in town.'page 27
'Yes, all right. One of Miss Hornblow's kittens has died - I mean one of her cat's kittens. She's heartbroken. I think she's going to keep the other four. That'll be seven cats she has. Isn't it dreadful?'
Mr. Chambers smiled wearily, 'Isn't it!' He was thinking about something else.
On Wednesday, Mr. Stibbs again complained of mistakes in his work. He invited Mr. Chambers into his office, bade him sit down, talked to him and offered him cigarettes. 'Now my dear chap', he concluded, 'this just can't go on. As I said, the firm lost thirty seven pounds as a result of one of these errors and we can't afford it. I'm afraid something must be worrying you. We've never had anything like this from you before; you've always been very dependable. Now Bardolph, old boy, I don't want to be personal or anything like that, but for the sake of the firm is - er - is your private life all right? No domestic worries? No financial worries? I mean - well - I'll be only too glad to help you.'
Mr. Chambers shook his head. He frowned inwardly; he could not possibly tell Mr. Stibbs about the boys. 'No nothing like that. I'm afraid, Mr. Stibbs, I don't know what it is. My nerves have gone. Perhaps I'd better do as you suggested and take a holiday.'
'Yes, I think so. And the sooner, the better. We'll waive formalities and you can have a couple of weeks from tonight.'
At lunch time, Mr. Chambers wandered dismally through the crowded city streets. He was worried by the thought of losing two weeks' wages but even that was overshadowed by the thought that he would have to face the boys again that night. He remembered the stone hitting his leg. He reached down and rubbed the spot; it was still sore. In his stomach there was a faintly empty feeling which sent short spasms of fear through him. Ugh! He would go down to the pub and forget those little ruffians in a few whiskies. It was a long, long time since he had tasted whisky and the thought of the glowing barley flavour running down his throat and smoking between his temples cheered him a little.page 28
Five o'clock struck. He cleared his tray and locked the safe. In the hotel bar he saw some fellow clerks and joined them in the middle of a heated conversation about juvenile delinquency.
'I don't think the kids now are any worse than they've ever been,' asserted one man with a plastic raincoat.
Mr. Chambers sipped his whisky and muttered darkly, 'You don't know them'.
Another man, wearing a battered tweed hat and a pale purple tie, said, 'What the kids of today need is less books for education for their brains and more sticks for application to their posteriors. That's my view. Less ruddy psychology and more whippings. That's what they need.'
'Yes, that's the idea,' said Mr. Chambers, finishing his fourth whisky.
When he came off the train he felt quite exultant. 'Ah life is a most excellent things' he exclaimed to a genteel looking matron. 'Madam, life is divine! Manifested in lowly fashion, in the body of a cat it shines forth in unsurpassable magnificence, in splendid glory from the spirit of man. Sweeter than nectar and more bitter than the poison of asps, its essence is uncertainty, its purposes contradictions and its end is the grave. Your Majesty -'
The sober lady looked alarmed. 'Ow! Ow yes indeed!' She hurried away from him.
He forgot about the boys but as he turned into the street they stopped their game. One boy lay down on the road and yelled, 'Yah! Bandy ! I can see the sky through your legs Mr. B.B.C. ' The other boys rolled along the street. 'Yah! Bandy Bum Boy's drunk! Old China Chamber is full up! Ha! B.B.C. is drunk! Yahoo! '
Mr. Chambers laughed to himself. His fear was forgotten. He rushed on one of the boys and cracked his hand across his face. The boy fell over and the soap box fell on top of his legs. Mr. Chambers laughed. He jumped up and down on the box which broke into splinters. The boy lay on the road screaming.page 29
And the magistrate said, 'Guilty.' He collected his papers. 'Mr. Chambers, there will be no sentences; you will be on probation for twelve months. But let me give you a friendly warnings: anything like a repetition will automatically call for the maximum penalty for this kind of offence - twelve months'imprisonment. I still don't understand the affair properly. I know you've explained but - but your behaviour was so peculiar and your rage so... so uncalled for...!