The Spike or Victoria College Review October 1929
My Dear Mary,—
Here is the story I promised to tell you on the occasion of your being a good girl. It was related to a number of us as we journeyed by train through the heathery moors of Dorset between places which Thomas Hardy would have indicated by the names of Budmouth and Knollsea (Weymouth and Swanage), and the narrator was a young lady known to her intimates as " Lemon." As far as my memory serves, the tale—it is true—ran as follows:—
Immediately to the south of London and somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bromley, Shortlands and Beckenham, there once dwelt, and for aught I know still dwells, a maiden lady of undetermined age and character, but still—a maiden lady. And in the process of time it came to her knowledge (how are we to account for these things?) that if one were diligent enough to collect a sufficient number of used-up bus-tickets, and lucky enough to convey them to the right authorities, the latter would be willing to perform some act of charity—in the case of which, she had heard, to provide a lame man with a pair of crutches. The lady was quite as charitably disposed as any bus company, and it just happened that she knew of a case where such a concession would come as a great boon—the case, in fact, of an ex-soldier who stood in need of a pair of crutches, for the simple reason, I suppose, that he couldn't stand without them. She unhesitatingly set to work, not merely saving her own bus-tickets but prevailing on all her acquaintances to help too; with such success that before long fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and cousins, nephews and nieces, old and young, rich and poor alike, were faithfully and regularly bringing along, in large quantities or small, their contributions of disused bus-tickets. It was most encouraging, most gratifying, and the maiden lady began to think, with anticipated pleasure, of the joy it would be to come so helpfully to the rescue of the man who stood in need of crutches.
At the same time it meant a little sacrifice. The tickets had to be counted out into bundles of a hundred, and sometimes, when the work was a little behindhand, she was obliged to arranged a sort of working-bee among her friends in order to catch up; and, besides that, there was the question of storage. Bus-tickets in large quantities take up room. Chocolate boxes had long since become useless, biscuit tins and hat boxes were called into commission, and even various trunks were found necessary.
Finally it began to appear that the collection had grown sufficiently large—it now included many, many thousands—but the lady was of a determined nature, did not wish to run any risks, and decided to allow the process to continue for just a few more weeks. These passed usefully by, and the philanthropist then addressed herself to the pleasant task of informing the bus company of her action and of the hopes which she entertained as a result of it.
The answer was staggering. It amounted in fact to a complete denial of responsibility, and at first the lady could scarcely believe her senses. With page 39 reflection, however, her confidence began to return. Mere clerks are often cavalier in their treatment of unusual claims, and was she not armed with an undeniable precedent? She would try again—and so began, my dear Dabchick, a period of most heartbreaking petition, first to one official, then to another, by whom she now was now buoyed up with hope, now plunged into something very like despair.
And all this time the bus-tickets continued to roll in and had to be taken care of. It would have been manifestly foolish to stop receiving them when all the time she was probably just on the point of final success, and, of course, the more she received the surer she made her case. But the whole affair, highly undertaken and eagerly prosecuted, now began to prove somewhat of a burden. The harvester found that she could no longer garner all her sheaves, and was forced to seek accommodation for them in a neighbouring cellar. Bus-tickets began to haunt her mind. She dreamed of them; she was continually handling them; she ate them; could always see before her eyes their provokingly simple make-up—No. 86391, No. 004519, No. 3261083, etc.; ld., 3½d., 5d.; "Not transferable"; "Please destroy on alighting"; " London General Omnibus Company"; Bromley, Shortlands, Beckenham, Croydon, Hampstead Heath, Maida Vale, Willesden, Hammersmith, Clapham Common, Acton Vale, Swiss Cottage, Elephant and Castle, Chelsea, Barking, etc., etc., until she was heartily sick of numbers, prices, rules, destinations and colours. In any case, hope deferred does, you know, make the heart sick. Finally, when she had tried in vain every expedient she could think of, when her collection was hovering somewhere about the quarter-million mark, when, as she knew, she was becoming something of a joke to her heartless neighbours, when she began to wish she had never heard of bus-tickets or crutches; when, in short, she had reached a state of perfect desperation, what should come to her door but a business-like telegram informing her that an aged friend had just died, and, hearing that she was interested in bus-tickets, had bequeathed her her own private collection of half-a-million!—and stating further that the bequest was even now on the road, the tickets having been loaded on to a motor-lorry which would arrive at any moment!
If the unhappy woman had been desperate before, she was now frantic. The miserable feelings in which she had been indulging came on her with tenfold force and terror, and became murderous as far as others were concerned and with regard to herself suicidal. Yet even now—and this should, I think, excite your genuine admiration—even now all her self-possession did not desert her, and after a period of tumultuous vituperation of others and violent self-reproach she recovered herself sufficiently to go off and find lodging for her ridiculous legacy in an empty schoolroom.
She had returned and was congratulating herself, on this move when, lo! once more the luckless creature was stricken to earth. The same afternoon another telegram was delivered and gave her to understand that the motor-lorry had broken down—the tickets had been too much for it—but that they would somehow be conveyed to their destination later on.
Rich comfort indeed!—particularly for one no longer in a state of mind to reason clearly. Not merely were the hateful things coming, but here she page 40 was incurring all sorts of terrifying expenses for cartage and damages—more than enough, probably, to buy any number of pairs of crutches. It was all too much, the accumulated anxiety of months came upon her with all its weight of suffering, and her spirit found relief in floods of tears. She had a good cry.
And now, Mary, that we have reached a sort of climax in the story it devolves on me to unravel the knot by exposing the heartless cruelty of some people. It is an ungrateful task. To put it bluntly, the legacy never arrived, for the simple reason that it had never set out. Some villainous fellow like your Uncle Bob had made up the whole story of the half-million tickets and the motor-lorry and had sent the telegrams merely in order, can you credit it? to perpetuate a vile joke. I refrain from comment. There is still the original batch of two hundred and fifty thousand tickets to dispose of, and as it happens I can now speedily bring the story to a close. When last heard of, the lady had stopped receiving more tickets and was using those she had as fuel, burning some herself and selling others to her friends at 2d. a bundle. The history does not say whether in this fashion she has been able to raise enough money to satisfy the laudable desires of her truly benevolent heart—that surely would be the only fitting conclusion to the tale!