Release date: April 30, 2017
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
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The Holy Terror
“It’s a Holy Terror,” said Betsy Barnacle, the monthly nurse. “I never heard such a baby. Scream and scream it does. And its little fists!”
“There ain’t nothing wrong with it?” asked cook.
“Only it’s a little Turk,” said Betsy. “Goes stiff it does and if you tried to stop it, there’d be convulsions. Hark at it now! You’d think it would rupture itself.”
The two women listened judicially. Their eyes met in a common wonder.
“I shouldn’t have thought its father had it in him,” said cook.
The baby grew into an incessantly active, bilious little boy with a large white face, a slight scowl and the devil of a temper. He was a natural born kicker; he went straight for the shins. He was also a wrist-twister, but he bit very little. On the other hand he was a great smasher of the cherished possessions of those who annoyed him, and particularly the possessions of his brothers Samuel and Alf. He seemed to have been born with the idea of “serving people out.” He wept very little, but when he wept he howled aloud, and jabbered wild abuse, threats and recriminations through the wet torrent of his howling. The neighbours heard him. Old gentlemen stopped and turned round to look at him in the street.
By the time he was seven or eight quite a number of people had asked: “What can you do with a boy like that?” Nobody had found a satisfactory solution to the problem. Many suggestions were made, from “Knock his little block off,” to “Give him more love.”
Nowadays many people deny that the unpleasantness of unpleasant children comes naturally. They say they are love-starved. His Aunt Julia, for example, did. “You think so,” said his mother, and did not argue about it, because at times she was very doubtful indeed whether she did love him. She was for a mother unusually clear-headed. She was affectionate but she was critical. And what to do with him she did not know.
His name was Rudolf, not perhaps the wisest name to give a child, which shortened naturally into Rudie, but which after he had heard of the existence and world-wide fame of Mr. Kipling he insisted upon shortening further and improperly—since it altered the vowel sound—into “Rud.” He was also called Young Whitlow, Whitlow Tertius, Wittles and Drink, Wittles and Stink, Grub and simply The Stink. He objected strenuously to the last and always attempted the murder of anyone not too obviously an outsize who used it. It referred to some early accident in his career which he desired to have forgotten.
His relations with his brothers were strained. Samuel was inclined to mock and tease him—a perilous joy. He threw a dinner-knife across the table at Samuel and nicked a bit off the top of his ear. Samuel had either taken an overdose of mustard or, as Rud declared, twisted his nose in such a way as to imply “Stink.” The subsequent enquiry never settled this. The ear bled copiously into Mrs. Whitlow’s handkerchief and nobody could imagine what would have happened if the knife had gone four inches straighter. “Might have blinded me,” accused Samuel, from under Mother’s arm. “Might have cut my eye clean out.” It was a tremendous scene and Mr. Whitlow, who disliked the job extremely, took little Rudie upstairs and spanked him, calling him “You little Devil!” between each smack, and left him in the bedroom.
Thither presently came Mother.
“Why did you do it, Rudie?” she asked.
“He’s always teasing me. He drives me wild,” said Rudie.
“But to throw a knife!”
“He won’t do it again,” said Rudie, smearing his wet, dirty, woeful face and nose with the back of his dirty little hand. “Your own brother!”
Later he threw a large, wooden toy-horse at Alf and missed him and smashed the parlour window. “Your father will beat you again!” cried mother in distress. “Say you were playing catch with him, Alfie!”
“I didn’t catch the horse,” brother Alf prevaricated stoutly to Father, and the beating was averted.
But little Rudie never thanked Alfred for that. He never thought very much of Alfred.
He stole his brothers’ things, he played with their things and broke them and they had no remedy—for you cannot sneak on a younger brother and they were forbidden to take the law into their own hands. All three of the boys drew and painted. Alf’s work was the more delicate and he copied meticulously, but Rudie’s had a sort of splashing originality. When Alf took a bright and careful bit of illumination to school the drawing master praised it in front of the whole classroom, and he had never once had a word of praise for Rudie’s frequent and hasty performances. So Rudie got hold of and tore up Alf’s masterpiece and, when the master wanted to exhibit it again, the story came out and Rudie was reproached by the master before everybody. He went home with a bursting heart and scribbled all over a number of pages in Alf’s favourite book.
“What can you do with a boy like that?” asked Mr. Whitlow in the bar parlour of the Bell.
“He’s got spirit,” said Mr. Cramble, the grocer. “An evil spirit,” said Mr. Whitlow.
“He’ll change as he grows up,” said Lozanda, the vet. “Adolescence. They often do.”
“If he doesn’t,” said Mr. Whitlow, “he’ll face a jury one of these days. I tell him that. But does he mind me? Not him.”
“Spare the rod,” hinted Mr. Cramble.
“His mother don’t like his being touched,” said Mr. Whitlow, “and I don’t much like it either. I suppose I’m a bit modern.”
“You see,” said Mr. Whitlow after reflection, “he’s not over-strong. He has these headaches and bilious fits. And he seems to be able to make himself look pale when he wants to. I used to think his brothers would keep him in order a bit. But he kicks them, he does, and they can’t very well kick back, him being delicate. Their mother’d never forgive them if they left a bruise on him. All they seem able to do with him is to get him upstairs in their bedroom and suffocate him with pillows. He certainly don’t like that. But he’s got artful about it. He used to kick and try to yell and so they knew he was all right. Now he goes limp right away as soon as they’ve got hold of him. And naturally they take off the pillows to look at him and see they’ve done him no harm and he sort of comes-to very slowly. Last time they did it, he got away down the passage and then went back and buzzed an old croquet ball at young Alf and raised a lump—so big.”
“Sort of Problem Child,” said Skindles, the watch-maker.
“What’s going to become of him?” said Whitlow and straightway abandoned further enquiry.
Mrs. Whitlow was a woman of some intelligence and she had had a good modern education, which had confused her .mind considerably. Nevertheless she kept up her reading.
She thought that women were the race and men merely incidents, and that every great man in the world owed nearly everything to his mother. She thought that if Adam had had a mother things might have been very different, and that the story of Ruth and Naomi was the most beautiful story in the world. And she thought that after Sam and Alf she ought to have had a daughter, and when Rudolf came squalling into her life she repined gently.
Once or twice she said to him, wistfully but unwisely, “If only you had been a dear little girl,” and so sowed the seeds of an enduring misogyny. The sex-war was all alight in him from the age of six onward.
The first girl he hit was his cousin Rachel, who had recited:
“Sugar and spice and all things nice That’s what little girls are made of Slugs and snails and little dogs’ tails And that’s what little boys are made of,” to him. He hit her, and all she did was to slap back—just a stinging slap—and then he got her by her long hair. Whereupon she pinched—so painfully it made him yell with surprise—and then got hold of his wrists in a strong sort of grip that immobilised him and then she put out her tongue at him. “Yaaaa!” she said. He couldn’t get free of her. Not for the moment. Of course he would have won all right, in spite of the fact that she was nearly a year older, but just at this point the mothers came in.
Her mother completely misunderstood the situation. “Rachel!” she cried, “what are you doing to that poor little boy?”
(Jimini! What wasn’t he just going to do to her!)
He brooded on this affair afterwards. It left an uneasiness and an aversion. There was something queer about these girls; they were like insects; you didn’t know what they might do to you next. And their shins were difficult to get at. They weren’t as soft as they ought to be, not nearly.
What properly ought he to have done? Jerked his wrists free of course, and then?
“He’s not a gentle child,” said his mother to Rachel’s mother. “He’s not gentle.”
“Love him all the more,” said Aunt Julia who was also present.
But after one or two attempts to take him to her bosom and sit him on her lap and reason with him gently or talk to him beautifully about the child Jesus, about whose entirely undocumented youth she invented the most unwarrantable stories, she realised her sister-in-law’s difficulties better. Rudie fought her love like a wild cat.
They tried to soften his nature by giving him pets. But they had to take the white mice away from him again because he wanted to teach them to swim and submerge themselves in the bath at the word of command and was inclined to be punitive when they failed to realise what was expected of them. Dogs he regarded with suspicion and had a way of picking up stones when he saw them. The suspicion was mutual. His white rabbits died either of eccentric and irregular dietary or by being dropped suddenly as a punishment for squirming about and kicking in sudden disconcerting jerks. For a time he seemed really to like a gay little kitten that pursued a rabbit’s foot on a piece of string with the most ridiculous nimbleness and waggery. Then something happened. A great running and banging-about upstairs was heard. The kitten came headlong down the staircase incredibly scared. Rudie followed in pursuit—armed with his little cricket bat.
“She won’t play with me any longer,” he bellowed. “She’s got to. Where’s she gone?”
What can you do with a boy like that?
Aunt Julia’s earliest attempts at changing Rudie’s heart by love had not been very successful, but she was a persistent woman and full of ideas of the most diverse sort about the bringing up of children and the lamentable foolishness with which people in general set about that business. People marry for passion, a most improper motive, and their children take them by surprise. They don’t deserve them. Maybe in a more scientific world only spinsters will have children. She knew she was on the right track—or tracks—in disapproving of whatever had been done, was being done or was ever likely to be done with Rudie. Children are right, and parents and pedagogues never understand them. That is the privilege and compensation of the observant spinster. Very likely she had been a little precipitate with Rudie, but she felt she should try again.
She had a nice long talk one evening with Mrs. Whitlow. “You ought to have him psycho-analysed,” she said. “It lies too deep for us untrained observers. Very likely that Oedipus complex. But what we have to remember always is that, like every child, he is intrinsically good.”
“At times,” said Mrs. Whitlow, “that is very hard to believe.”
“I copied some bits of wisdom out of a book by Mr. Neill,” said Aunt Julia. “Listen, dear: ‘I cannot say the truth is, but I can declare my strong conviction that the boy is never in the wrong.’ What do you think of that? And ‘the self that God made’—isn’t that beautifully put—‘the self that God made is in conflict with all our silly teaching and interference.’ And this! —what a comfort it is in these times of war and trouble!—‘Human beings are good, they want to do good; they want to love and be loved.’ When one thinks of all those poor love-starved young aviators bombing—what was the name of that place in India—yesterday? Just unsatisfied love-hunger. And then this again: ‘Criminality,’ he says, my dear, ‘springs from lack of love.’”
“On the part of the criminal—
“Oh, no, dear! No. No! NO! On the part of the people who make the laws. And so you see what we have to do, is just to find out the complex that is tying poor little Rudie down to all his naughtiness. When he broke the leg of his rabbit when he was playing with it the other day, that was really a protest —a symbol.”
“It wasn’t a nice symbol for the rabbit.”
“We have to discover his complex—that is the next thing.” “He keeps so quiet about that.”
“Naturally. We have to discover it. Now tell me—do you and George, do you ever quarrel in front of Rudie?” “My dear!”
“Does he ever see you caressing or making love?” “Julia, darling!”
“Does he—is he disposed to avoid his father?”
“He keeps out of his way—especially when he is up to mischief.”
“A pure Oedipus,” said Julia, nodding her head several times. “Probably a chemically pure Oedipus. Now tell me: When you and he are together and his father comes in, does he seem to want to get close to you—edge between you, so to speak? As if to protect you?”
“It’s generally the other way about. He wants to be protected. Not that his father ever ill-treats him. But the boy has that sort of conscience. He always feels his father may have found out something.”
“Exactly. And now tell me—tell me—do you think—has he any particular feeling—any sort of aversion,”—Julia became very red in the face but her eyes were bright and resolute—“Steeples?”
Mrs. Whitlow thought. “He certainly hates going to church for the children’s service,” she said. “If you mean that.”
“Exactly. Transfers it to the church—where dear Mr. Woolley presides. And no doubt to Mr. Woolley. The Oedipus in perfection. The radiating father-hate. But don’t trust my untrained judgment, dear. Go to a proper psychoanalyst and have all this cleared up. Then you will know…”
Thus Aunt Julia.
But Mrs. Whitlow did not go to a psycho-analyst. She had seen only one or two in her life and she had not liked the look of them. But the idea of getting some advice took hold of her and she decided to go to old Doctor Carstall, who was so big and deliberate that you felt you could put the utmost confidence in him. And by making an excuse of Rudie’s bilious attacks, old Doctor Carstall looked him over.
“He’s the most ordinary boy I ever met,” said old Doctor Carstall, “except that he has a certain excess of—go in him, and a lack of self- restraint. He’s fairly intelligent of course—in his way.”
“He’s not an ordinary boy,” said Mrs. Whitlow, defending every mother’s dearest illusion, “not by any means.”
“As you will,” said old Doctor Carstall. “But keep him out of the hands of these faddists and send him to the most conventional school you can find. He’ll probably do as well as most ordinary little boys—get scholarships, play games and all that. He has—well—tenacity. He doesn’t feel scruples if he wants anything. Don’t imagine he’s anything out of the way for naughtiness. It’s just that that curious go of his brings it out…”
“Nasty little kid,” soliloquised old Doctor Carstall, when Mrs. Whitlow had departed. “There’s millions like him—more or less.
“Millions,” he repeated…“Most people forget what nasty children they were themselves. They forget it.
“Just because children are small and pink—or small and sickly like this little beast—they imagine them angelic. If you magnified them, everyone would see plainer what they are.”
He reflected. “Tenacity? That’s no virtue…Though of course it may be an advantage…”
The great lines of Wordsworth floated protestingly through his memory and were ill received.
“But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our Home,” he said and then added irreligiously, vulgarly and outrageously: “I don’t think. His clouds of glory would smell of sulphur all the time.”
Aunt Julia was never able to put her finger exactly on Rudie’s complex —if so be he had one. Whatever it was, presumably it remained unresolved and festering in his soul, and this story can tell no more about it.
Under the influence of old Doctor Carstall, Rudie went to Hooplady House instead of having his subconsciousness explored, cleaned-up and made over in a suitable establishment on soundly psycho-analytical lines. Probably the results would have been very similar. Hooplady House, as an educational institution, never gave a thought to character and the finer shades of conduct—except on Speech Days. Then the headmaster said the boys were a household of young English gentlemen, and the parents and prefects heard him with quiet self-approval.
By way of teaching, the school devoted itself to satisfying the requirements of various respectable examining bodies, and unless your behaviour militated against the attainment of that objective, the school, as an organisation, did not concern itself about what was happening to you inside or outside or between the hours devoted to that purpose. Beyond the lines laid down by these examining bodies it did not adventure. Why should it? If they did not know what arrangement of obligatory and optional subjects constituted a proper education, who did? Most of the boys were day-boys, and by ordinary standards the tone was good. Filth was furtive, and such vice as occurred was inquisitive, elementary, infrequent and obscure. The head boy was a son of Doctor Carstall’s, a taciturn, fair, good-looking boy who seemed to do everything he did well and with a minimum of effort. He won a sort of qualified hero-worship from Rud, quite at the beginning of their acquaintance.
Rud was engaged in an all-in scrap with a boy who had called him “The Stink.” He had been jabbing at his adversary with a penholder with a broken nib. But the fellow had got him by the wrist now, only his left fist was free and he was getting the worst of the punching.
Carstall appeared, tall and calm, standing over them. “Don’t fight with things like that, Whitlow. We don’t do it here.”
“He’s bigger than me.
“Kick his shins if you must, junior’s privilege, but don’t use a filthy thing like that. Might poison his blood. Or jab his eye. What’s the trouble?”
“Well, I say he’s not to be called that. Nicknames ought to be tolerable. And Russell, you; tease someone your own size. Get out of it, both of you.”
There was a splendour, Rud thought, about such authority. “Get out of it, both of you,” he whispered to himself presently and wondered how long it would be before he was head of the school. He’d make ’em get out of it all right. But it seemed hard to him that he wasn’t to use pen-nibs or scissors in warfare. Very hard. He was the sort of scrapper who would have invented knuckle-dusters, if they hadn’t already been invented.
On the whole he was less aggressive during his junior days at school than at home. He was not much of a success at games and he was held to all sorts of rules and customs he had been accustomed to disregard at home with his brothers. He learnt quite early the inadvisability of mowing down the wicket with his little bat when he got out at cricket, or of quitting the game ostentatiously and vindictively directly after he had had his innings, and he grasped the necessity of having the football somewhere near at least, when he desired to hack another player. He ceased to bawl and threaten loudly when annoyed, but on the other hand he acquired a complete set of the recognised English bad words, and he muttered them ferociously whenever exasperated. Brother Sam he saw little of in the school; he was in the upper division; and brother Alf just drifted about him quietly, pursuing ends of his own. There was a lot of smouldering goodness in Alf and a touch of religion. “You didn’t ought to say words like that, Rud,” he protested.
Rud replied with practically the complete vocabulary. Alf put his hands to his ears and said: “You might be struck dead for that, Rud.”
“He’d have to strike pretty near the whole school then,” said Rud, who had a keen sense of justice when he himself was concerned.
He speedily displayed an active, insensitive intelligence beyond his years. His memory was exceptionally good, his reception uncritical. He bolted the feast of knowledge and threw it up again with ease, completely undigested. He was indeed a born examinee, and his progress up the school was exceptionally rapid. He competed for marks vehemently. He was best at English, Geography, History, French and Latin. He found mathematics tricky and problems irritating. He could not ponder. Formulae he could tackle but not problems. He got hot and cross in the face of difficulty. He was all for cutting the Gordian Knot instead of fiddling about with it, and he saw nothing idiotic in the classical story of Columbus and the egg. Downright action was in his nature.
He read voraciously. His imagination was fired particularly by the history of wars, conquests and campaigns. Then forthwith he became Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon or Genghis Khan, whichever Rud it happened to be. He conquered America with all Washington Irving’s Conquistadors, and subjugated Ireland with the sword of Cromwell. He was Clive; he was Gustavus Adolphus. Fiction, generally speaking, he did not like, there were too many of those incalculable girls in it. He had no use for Fenimore Cooper and the noble Indian, and books about big-game hunting merely strengthened his innate distrust and dislike of animals. If ever he had to hunt tigers, he decided, he would do it with explosive bullets from a machan, a good high, strong machan. When he saw the elephants and gorillas in the zoological gardens he thrilled with hostility, and dreamt afterwards about fighting them with machine-guns and catching them in the most horribly spiky pitfalls. And when in his dream they just came closer and closer to him, bleeding, half-blinded, but persistently undying and intent upon him, he screamed and woke up in a frenzy of fear and hate.
Savages, barbarians, “natives,” he “mowed down,” he had no other use for them. Omdurman was his ideal battle.
Since he was a day-boy and not very fond of games, and since he could do his school work very quickly, he was free to take long, solitary walks in which he could let his imagination run riot in anticipatory reverie. To the passing observer he seemed to be a small, rather slovenly boy, with a large, pale, egg-shaped face, big end up, and usually a sniff, but in imagination he rode a magnificent charger, or occupied a powerful car, and his staff and orderlies and messengers buzzed about him, and his embattled hosts stormed the farmhouses and villages of the landscape and swept over the hills, while his pitiless guns searched their recesses. The advance was always victorious, and with the home-coming came the triumph. Usually Hooplady House was involved in that. The prisoners stood before him. That drawing-master, a proven traitor, was shot out of hand. Several of the upper boys shared his fate. The rest of the staff were shot or reproached and insulted according to the mood of the day. Sometimes his father and mother appeared on the scene and were put under protective detention. Cousin Rachel, the pincher, now in a greatly chastened mood, submitted to her fate. Sam and Alf were rarely given roles.
But one figure was very frequent in these dreams. He was sometimes the second in command, sometimes the opposite general surrendering with all the honours of war, sometimes an ambiguous political associate in the revolution, or the counter-revolution, or the war of liberation, or the great conquest, whichever it happened to be. His admiration for the generalissimo was extreme, his loyalty amounted to devotion. This was Carstall. “My trusty Carstall.” Rudie never seemed able to keep Carstall out of the phantasy. He never wanted to do so.
He whistled to himself as he took his imagination on these excursions. He never learnt to whistle normally. It was a sort of acid piping through his teeth and it lacked any consistent tune.
And always he got home by twilight. For in the dark the kings and captains departed, the fighting and the conquests died away, and the small boy was left exposed to those bears and tigers and gorillas, which escape so frequently from menageries even in the most settled districts, and to criminals and homicidal maniacs and hedge-bogies and all the shapeless terrors of the night.
As his mind grew and his reading expanded his reveries became more realist and coherent, and darkness less menacing. He began to study maps, particularly maps in which each country and its foreign possessions were done in the same colour; he began to collect pictures and comparative diagrams of armies and navies and air forces. He was particularly keen on air warfare. Dropping high explosive bombs together with printed warnings and proclamations, appealed to him as just the perfect way of making war. He read the newspapers with an avidity uncommon at his tender age. He knew the salutes and symbols of all the dictators in the world and the inner significance of every coloured shirt. And as he grew up towards them, these heroes, these masters of men who marched like lurid torches through the blue haze and reek of contemporary history, seemed continually to come down nearer the level of his understanding and sympathy.
So it was our Holy Terror nourished his imagination and anticipated his career.
His extensive reading fed a natural disposition to accumulate vocabulary. The staff realised that he could write the best examination paper in the school, and told him so. He used long words. Some of the assistants, and particularly the games master, were disposed to discourage this, but the English master applauded. “Nevertheless, take warning from our Hindu brethren,” said the English master, and lent him a facetious book about Babu English. “If the new word sticks out among familiar usage like an unset gem—excise it, delete it. A new word is like a wild animal you have caught. You must learn its ways and break it in before you can use it freely.”
Rud took that to heart. He learnt to write a good, nervous prose. He developed a certain gift for effective phrases.
His early religious experiences did not amount to very much and they played only a small part in his subsequent career. Still, one may say a word or two about them before dismissing them.
He was never God-fearing.
Nowhere in the world in his days was there any atmosphere in which the presence of God was felt. The general behaviour of people everywhere made it plain that whatever they professed when they were questioned, they did not feel any such Power within or about them. For most of them it would have been an entirely paralysing thought to have been living in the presence, in the sight and knowledge of an unseen and silent Deity. With indefinite powers of intervention. The tension would have become unendurable; they would have screamed. They dismissed the thought, therefore, and they dismissed Him, not explicitly, of course, but tacitly and practically. On most of their occasions, even the professional religious people, from popes and archbishops down to confirmation candidates, behaved exactly like atheists—as well but no better.
Young Rudolf indeed heard very little about the supreme immanence. Mrs. Whitlow had a delicacy about mentioning Him except in connection with the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments and similar formalities, and Mr. Whitlow only mentioned Him on occasions of dismay—as for example when he heard that Aunt Julia had come in to see them. Then usually he would exclaim: “Oh, God!”
From the outset young Rudolf put up a considerable God-resistance. He read such portions of the scripture as were chosen for his learning reluctantly and with incredulity and aversion. Father was bad enough without this vaster Father behind him. From all the world around him Rud caught the trick of putting divinity out of his mind in the ordinary affairs of life. But only by degrees. He had some bad times, usually about judgment-day and hell-fire. They were worse to dream about than falling into tigers’ dens. He had called Alf a fool several times. That, he learnt, was a hell-fire business. And there was very little on the other side of the account. He had tried praying—as, for example, at cricket for a score of twenty and then he had got out first ball.
“All right, God,” said little Rudie. “You see.”
Then he heard tell that old Doctor Carstall was an atheist. The schoolfellow who told him that spoke in hushed tones. “What’s a Natheist?” asked Rudie.
“It’s—he don’t believe there’s any God at all. Ain’t it orful?”
“He’ll have to go to hell,” said Rudie.
“He’ll have to go to hell. And him so respected! It’s a frightful pity.”
At his next opportunity Rudie had a good look at Doctor Carstall.
He seemed to be carrying it off all right.
Then Rudie had an impulse to ask young Carstall about it, but he did not dare.
There was something about this sinister idea of Atheism that attracted him. It was frightful. Oh! unspeakable, but it had a magnificence. Suppose really there was no
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