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Robin Linnet

Robin Linnet
Title: Robin Linnet
Release Date: 2018-09-10
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 77
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::       ::   By   E.   F.   Benson    ::       ::

::   ::  Author of “Dodo,” “Up and Down,” etc.  ::   ::


::  ::  PATERNOSTER ROW  ::   ::







DAMON and Pythias, collegiately and colloquially known as Day and Pie,were seated in Damon’s room in the great quadrangle, on two chairs, sideby side, with a candle on the table that guttered in the draught, and acopy of “Socrates’s Apology” (in the original Greek) between them.Between them also, propped up against the candle, was a firmly literaltranslation of what they were reading, to which they both constantlyreferred. Underneath the candlestick in a far less accessible position,since they desired to consult it much less frequently, was a Greeklexicon. First one of them translated a few lines, with an eye fixed onthe English equivalent, and then the other. That was a more sociable wayof working than to sit separate and borrow the crib from each other.Besides, there was only one candle, stolen from another fellow’s room,as the electric light had, half an hour ago, got tired and gone tosleep. The books, therefore, had to be centrally situated in this smallfield of imperfect illumination.

They had got to the point where Socrates, having been warned to preparefor the administration of the{6} cup of hemlock at sundown, had sent forhis wife, Xantippe, and his children. But she had made sounphilosophical a howling and feminine outcry that he had sent hisfamily away, and proceeded to spend his last hour in the company of hisfriends.

Damon paused—he was translating at the moment—and lit a pipe, whilePythias relaxed his attitude of polite attention.

“I vote we stop,” he said. “Socrates was evidently jolly sick of it alland wanted to stop, too. It wouldn’t do to fly in the face of Socrates.Whisky?”

Pythias shut the translation up in the original text.

“I’m not by way of drinking whisky,” he said, “but if you’ve got someice and soda-water——”

“Which you ordered for me, and put down to my account——” continuedDamon.

“So I did. In that case I don’t mind for once: I think I should ratherlike it. It tastes beastly, but on the other hand, I drink it not forwhat it is, but for what it does. And I’m talking like Socrates. Inother words, I drink it not for drinky but for drunky. It makes gay.Lord, what a candle! By the grace of God, or probably without it, Icould light a better candle than that. I could light such a candle, asan Archbishop said just before they lit him. When do you suppose theelectric light will cease being funny?”

Bout morning.”

Damon took the guttering candle away, in order to get Pythias therefreshment that apparently he didn’t want from his gyp-cupboard, andleft him in the dark. Upon which it seemed good to Pythias to scream forhis nurse and his mother in shrill falsetto. Damon couldn’t find the iceat once, for it had been put, wrapped up in a cloth, in hiswashing-basin, in order not to drip,{7} and Pythias, with the exuberanceof youth, continued screaming....

Damon was the elder of the two by the space of an entire year, which,when the one is twenty and the other only nineteen, is the equivalent ofa decade or so later on. People of fifty and sixty, in the eyes ofyouth, are of about the same age, just as people of nineteen and twentyin the eyes of the more mature are contemporaries. But the view of youthis probably the more correct, for when a man has passed some fifty yearsin this puzzling world, he has solved any problem of interest that he islikely to solve, has seen all that he is really capable of observing,and has assimilated all that his mental and moral digestion is able totackle. Consequently, it matters very little how much older than fiftyhe is....

But there are wonderful things dawning every day on those of the sunnierage; fresh horizons expand to their climbings, new stars swim intolarger heavens, virgin and undiscovered slopes mount upwards for eagerfootsteps. Eventually the table-land is reached, and given that nonational crisis or peril comes along to make everybody look upwardsagain to toppling precipices of ice, or menace of volcanic flame, themore elderly trot quietly thereafter, to the eyes of youth, along a mildand level road. They have married and begotten children, or they haveremained single with Pekinese dogs and knitting or the club bow-windowwith the evening papers, to distract them gently as they move slowly on,and to the young it all seems very remote and staid and uninteresting.The exciting, the experimental age, when everything is worth trying, andalmost everything worth doing, has been left behind; youth, with itscauseless anticipations, and even more causeless disillusionments, itsinsatiable{8} curiosity, its stainless “seeing what things are like,” hassunk gently below the horizon, and the desire even for experiment hasfailed.

Our happy heroes, however, one screaming in the dark, the otherexploring a cupboard, had no idea what most things were like, exceptthat, without discrimination, they found that most things were jolly. Atpresent their best actual achievement was to have found each other, andon that point, despite the discrepancy of their ages, their discoverieswere of pretty equal merit. They had been at Eton together, and theintense friendship formed there had, rather unusually, renewed itselfand burned with a brighter flame when they came together again, not yeta year ago, at St. Stephen’s College, Cambridge. They shared thewidening horizon, and yet kept their smaller horizon—the freshexcitements and licences of the University had not obliterated the old.To people like tutors and godfathers, Damon was known as Jim Lethbridge,Pythias as Robin Linnet. It was inevitable, therefore, that he should bemore widely and intimately known as “Birds,” for how could there be anamalgamation in one set of human limbs of a Robin and Linnet without“Birds” being the natural formula for the owner?

It was a very hot night at the beginning of May, and, returning latefrom an idle afternoon of paddling and bathing on the upper river, theyhad neither of them gone into dinner in Hall, which would have impliedchanging from shirt and flannel trousers and nothing much besides into amore formal attire. So Birds had ordered in a loaf of bread, a cold duckand a pot of jam to his own account, and some ice and soda-water and abottle of whisky to Jim’s, which seemed about fair. The remains of thismeal, about enough for a small cat, lay on the table in the window.{9}Then the electric light had ceased to be, and a single stolen candle hadguttered over a half-hour’s Plato....

So Jim returned with preventives against thirst, and in putting down theguttering candle, spilt some hot wax over Robin’s brown hand. So hestopped screaming, and began obscenely swearing. The obscenity meantnothing whatever, nor did the amazing oaths: he talked like that justbecause he was a boy, and there was only a boy to listen to him. Butpeace returned with the long iced drink, and his mind went back toSocrates and Xantippe.

“Of course he sent her and the kids away,” he said. “Being a female, shedidn’t understand him and his friends. He wanted to have a littlesensible conversation before dying. I’m sure I should. Do come and seeme when I’m dying, Jim. I’ll have you and my mother, because she’sfrightfully decent.”

“She can’t have much in common with you then,” said Jim. “Better havethe girl who sang about the oysters.”

“Oysters on the pier, I remember. That was at Easter, wasn’t it? You andI went together, and waited at the stage-door. And she was with anotherchap. Wonder who he was. Wonder....”

“What do you wonder?”

“Oh, nothing. It was only a rag. But I suppose girls cease to be a ragsome time. People go and marry them and live with them happily everafterwards. I should be awfully uncomfortable if I thought I was goingto live with one girl for ever. Buxom: they get buxom. There’s thatJackson girl: she’s buxom already. Lord!”

“That Jackson girl,” said Jim, “told Badders you had the most beautifulmouth she ever saw. Didn’t I tell you?{10}

“No. She wants to kiss me, and I don’t want to kiss her: that’s where weare. She’s like a fat ferret, though most of them are lean. Marryingnow! I don’t want to marry anybody. I shouldn’t sleep a wink withsomebody snorting and breathing all night long. And if you have aseparate room they divorce you, don’t they?”


“Well, the sooner I’m divorced the better,” said Robin.

“You’ve got to marry first.”

Robin took a long draught from his whisky and soda.

“I should like to be divorced first,” he said, “and marry afterwards.And yet some fellows think about nothing but girls the whole blessedday. Badders does. Pure waste of time. Give me a girl for ten minutes,and then let me come back to my own little room. There’s a time foreverything under the sun, and, thank God, it’s not time to marry yet!”

Birds had lit a couple of cigarettes by mistake as he gave utterance tothese misogynistic expressions, and put one in each corner of hisbeautiful mouth, and tried to drink his whisky and soda with the sectionof mouth that lay in between them. That was not a very great success,because one cigarette fell into his glass and the other gotwhisky-logged. So he had to have some more ice and whisky andsoda-water. Jim, at the moment, was bending over the candle as he lithis pipe, and there was a convenient cavity between his neck and thecollar of his shirt. And with the force and suddenness of conviction orconversion, it was borne in upon Birds that a small lump of his ice mustbe instantly inserted in that opening. This feat was accomplished withmasterly precision.

Jim gave one gasp of surprise and shock as the ice{11} slid down his spine,and turned the siphon full into Birds’ face. This half blinded him for amoment, then he seized Jim round the waist and closed with him. Thesiphon got wedged between their chests, and Jim’s iron finger neverrelaxed till it was empty, though he received his due share of thecontents himself. A chair crashed to the ground, the table toppled andoverturned, the candle went out, and from the darkness came squeaks andpants from the entangled wrestlers. Birds’ dripping shirt was split fromshoulder to waist by the nozzle of the siphon, but eventually hewriggled from under the superincumbent Jim, sat firmly on his chest, andgrasped the pit of his stomach.

“Well?” he said, very much out of breath.

“All right: that’ll do. Whatever we are, let’s be calm. Anddignified.... Dignified.... And calm.... Besides, that lump of ice won’tmelt, and it’s hurting me.”

“Are you sorry? Damned sorry?” asked Birds.

“Yes! Oh, get up, you foul pig!”

The door opened, and Badders, who was Badsley, looked in. At thatprecise moment the electric light was restored, and shone on theupheaval.

“I thought I heard a cuckoo singing,” he remarked, “or some other bird.”

Jim advanced stealthily on him.

“That is very interesting,” he said. “You thought you heard a cuckoo,did you? Birds, get between him and the door.”

The ill-starred Badders was a moment too late in his retreat. Birdstripped him up, and Jim laid him flat on the floor. “The only questionis what to do with him,” he said. “Shall we bind the sacrifice withcords? Cuckoo, indeed! That’s an insult to you, Birds. You shallchoose.{12}

So Badders was tied up, trussed like a fowl and set in the corner, andthe others threw paper darts at his face. He was obliged under threat oftorture to open

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