The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936
From the top of the silver birch the thrush kept on singing, and in the corner of the shrubbery the man went on hoeing. If the man moved out from the acacia tree the bird would see him, so he remained hidden and worked over the same piece of ground several times. Finally, when not a trace of a weed was to be seen, he stopped hoeing, and placing his curved and grimy hands on the top of the upright handle, rested with body slightly bent. It was not habitual for him to confine himself to one spot like this merely to avoid disturbing a bird, but this evening he was not conscious of any incongruity in the action. On the contrary he felt immeasurably peaceful, aware only of the stillness and calm intensified by the thrush's notes. As he listened he turned to look again at a cumulus cloud lying above the eastern horizon. It had remained there all afternoon, and he had watched the splendour of its changing shapes. It was piled higher now, and had turned from white to cream, and as he watched the cream became a shining gold. Was it because of the beauty of the cloud that he seemed to be realising for the first time the glory of the bird's song? Never before had he been aware of the sense of fluidity in the notes. There was an impression of smoothness, ease and freedom that reminded him of flowing water. What human voice or human instrument could compare with them? They were as unapproachable as the unexplored hills and valleys of the cloud. So soft the cloud, so soft the notes, he though that . . .
The thrush flew. Wondering, the man turned to see a small boy on a tricycle appear through the pergola. The child tore down the concrete path, his legs a pair of racing pistons. He let out a shrill whistle, and swayed round the corner. With a loud bump his tricycle came to rest against a piece of timber stretched across the path.
The man stepped out.
"You young devil," he roared, "how many times have I told you to keep away from that wet concrete! God blast my soul, I only waste my breath, for every time I turn my back you are round here again." He brandished the hoe above the boy's head. "Well, just let me catch you again, my lad, and I'll lay this hoe about your shoulders. What d'you mean by it?"
The child hung his head, and tried to speak without crying. "I was only playing trains," he said. Two big tears began to trickle down his face. The man saw them, and felt his heart contract. Heavens, he had lost his temper, and with Bruce of all people! What had he done it for? There was no reason for it. He had put that post there when the concrete was wet, so that the boy could run into it without doing any damage. And anyway, the concrete was dry now. He pushed his fingers up under his cap and through his hair. Why, then, had he stormed like that? Surely not because the boy had disturbed the bird? Good Lord, no! Because he was getting old? Yes, old and crabby, that was it; and he remembered how stiff he was feeling. But even so, why let Bruce have the benefit of it? Don't say the boy would never try to help him again—towing the lawnmower with his tricycle, gathering the leaves for burning in the autumn. He tried to see the boy's face to reassure himself, but his head was turned away.
"Never mind, Bruce, to-morrow you will be able to bike over the new path, and then you can go right down to the tennis court. Won't that be fine! And you'll be able to have a non-stop express all the way from the front gate."
The boy glanced up at him with reddened eyes. The man realised that he was standing in front of the tricycle, and but for that the boy would have pedalled sorrowfully away. Endeavouring to arouse the boy's interests, he said with enforced enthusiasm, "Will you help me take the sacks off to-morrow morning, Bruce, and see what the new path is like? I'm coming back specially to do it." The boy nodded his head casually. "In fact, I might take them off this evening," he added. "How would you like that?" The boy looked at him steadily, but made no reply. "Yes, I think I will. Come and help me now!"page 11
The boy solemnly wheeled his tricycle to the side and tugged at the nearest sacks. When the last sack had been removed at the farther end, the man turned round and surveyed the length of patchy dark grey.
"Now that looks all right now, doesn't it? I'll just go back and take that post away, and you'll be able to bike right along it."
He walked along the new path, but at each step he left the shallow imprints of his hobnailed boots on the surface. The boy saw them and danced with excitement. He should call out, but he was too fascinated to speak; and besides he could not forgo the joy of seeing more impressions being made at each step. He clenched his fists and waved his arms with glee. At last he burst out—
"Oooh Mr. Bassett, look!"
"S'help me!" the man exclaimed, and stood still. After a moment's hesitation he sprang off the path. At the absurdity of the action the boy burst out laughing. "Goodness, that won't do," the man said despondently. His pained expression made the boy laugh more. The man suddenly realised that the boy had not only forgotten his scolding, but was laughing; and with a sense of relief, the man began to laugh too. "Well, what we've got to do now is to cover it all over again. To-morrow I will have to make a fresh mix and patch it up."
Happy again, the boy boisterously began to pull the sacks back on to the path. When it had been covered he followed the man to the gate and watched him go down the road.
It was now dusk, and any minute Bruce expected to be called inside. The thought suddenly occurred to him that perhaps the footprints would disappear like those he had seen in the sand at the beach. Alarmed, he pedalled furiously round to see. He lifted up the corner of one sack. It was getting dark, and the marks hardly seemed as plain as they were before. "They will all be gone in the morning," he reflected, as he made his way towards the house pensively.
* * *
In the morning, before breakfast, he sneaked out in his slippers to see if there were any marks left at all. To his surprise they were as distinct as when they were made. Singing, he skipped back to the house before anyone missed him.
After breakfast he expected to find that Mr. Bassett had removed the sacks, but there was no sign of him. Bruce took another peep under the corner of the end sack: yes, they were the most beautiful little holes, so small and round and even. They were so close together, too, in their neat curved lines. Bruce ran the tips of his fingers over them. He lifted up some of the other sacks to make sure that they were all there. He desperately wanted to see them all again to know how far they stretched, and he wished Mr. Bassett would come. Yet when Mr. Bassett did come, he would cover them up for ever, and that would be the end of them. He had begun to wish that Mr. Bassett would not come, when he was called into the house again.
When he came out ten minutes later he walked down the path with slow steps until within a few feet of his tricycle. Then he climbed on to it suddenly, and hanging his head over the handlebars, began to weep bitterly. When he had gone inside his mother seemed very quiet and sad. Then she told him that Mr. Bassett was not coming back any more, and he had asked why. He had been told that Mr. Bassett had gone right away, he had gone to heaven. Bruce did not know what to say, for nobody else he had known had ever gone to heaven, and he had been told that heaven was a beautiful place. Mr. Bassett had told him that one day. So he had asked his mother if she was sorry that Mr. Bassett had gone away, and she said she was very sorry, for she had known Mr. Bassett since she was a little girl; and then she had started to cry.
And now Bruce was crying because he felt lonely, very lonely with no one to talk to and no one to wait for. Then as he saw the sacks through blurred eyes he remembered why he had been waiting. He slid off his tricycle and stooped to see that the holes were still there. At first he could not see them. Everything danced up and down, but after wiping his eyes he saw them. Then he realised that if Mr. Bassett never came back, those marks would always be there. He jumped on his tricycle, and with a whoop he dashed gleefully round the corner of the shrubbery and through the pergola.