Oddjob stood to attention. This time there was a gleam of triumph in his flat eyes as he looked at the three-inch jagged bite the edge of his foot had taken out of the mantelpiece.
423. Now you're ready. Close your eyes and picture a time inyour life when you felt the attitude you have chosen.
'I will have a respectful, prompt, and ready bearing towards myself,' he continued, 'and towards Jane Murdstone, and towards your mother. I will not have this room shunned as if it were infected, at the pleasure of a child. Sit down.'
She frowned. "I'm always telling them to find me a man with a wooden leg. Well, have you got any hobbies or anything? Any ideas about where you're going to carry the stones?"
Early in 1851 I was sent upon a job of special official work, which for two years so completely absorbed my time that I was able to write nothing. A plan was formed for extending the rural delivery of letters, and for adjusting the work, which up to that time had been done in a very irregular manner. A country letter-carrier would be sent in one direction in which there were but few letters to be delivered, the arrangement having originated probably at the request of some influential person, while in another direction there was no letter-carrier because no influential person had exerted himself. It was intended to set this right throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland; and I quickly did the work in the Irish district to which I was attached. I was then invited to do the same in a portion of England, and I spent two of the happiest years of my life at the task. I began in Devonshire; and visited, I think I may say, every nook in that county, in Cornwall, Somersetshire, the greater part of Dorsetshire, the Channel Islands, part of Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, and the six southern Welsh counties. In this way I had an opportunity of seeing a considerable portion of Great Britain, with a minuteness which few have enjoyed. And I did my business after a fashion in which no other official man has worked at least for many years. I went almost everywhere on horseback. I had two hunters of my own, and here and there, where I could, I hired a third horse. I had an Irish groom with me — an old man, who has now been in my service for thirty-five years; and in this manner I saw almost every house — I think I may say every house of importance — in this large district. The object was to create a postal network which should catch all recipients of letters. In France it was, and I suppose still is, the practice to deliver every letter. Wherever the man may live to whom a letter is addressed, it is the duty of some letter-carrier to take that letter to his house, sooner or later. But this, of course, must be done slowly. With us a delivery much delayed was thought to be worse than none at all. In some places we did establish posts three times a week, and perhaps occasionally twice a week; but such halting arrangements were considered to be objectionable, and we were bound down by a salutary law as to expense, which came from our masters at the Treasury. We were not allowed to establish any messenger’s walk on which a sufficient number of letters would not be delivered to pay the man’s wages, counted at a halfpenny a letter. But then the counting was in our own hands, and an enterprising official might be sanguine in his figures. I think I was sanguine. I did not prepare false accounts; but I fear that the postmasters and clerks who absolutely had the country to do became aware that I was anxious for good results. It is amusing to watch how a passion will grow upon a man. During those two years it was the ambition of my life to cover the country with rural letter-carriers. I do not remember that in any case a rural post proposed by me was negatived by the authorities; but I fear that some of them broke down afterwards as being too poor, or because, in my anxiety to include this house and that, I had sent the men too far afield. Our law was that a man should not be required to walk more than sixteen miles a day. Had the work to be done been all on a measured road, there would have been no need for doubt as to the distances. But my letter-carriers went here and there across the fields. It was my special delight to take them by all short cuts; and as I measured on horseback the short cuts which they would have to make on foot, perhaps I was sometimes a little unjust to them.
Mary Goodnight closed her book with a snap. She shook her head. The golden hair danced angrily. "Well really, James! Are you sure you don't want to sleep on it? I knew you were in a bad mood today. You may have changed your mind by tomorrow. Don't you want to go to Buckingham Palace and see the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and kneel and have your shoulder touched with a sword and the Queen to say 'Arise, Sir Knight' or whatever it is she does say?"
Asked whether he actually did make an obscene gesture, the short, stocky comedian with the broad New York Jewish accent shakes his curly head. "The truth is that I didn't — because I wouldn't be ashamed to tell you if I did. There's nothing wrong with it today. But the truth is that I was making with my fingers — I have a very visual act, you know — and Sullivan got panicky because President Johnson had just cut into the program, and when the camera came back on me, it looked like I was giving him some kind of message. The next day, I became headlines all over the world. … I maintained enough success and enough imagery to be able to do all the other shows as a guest, but the sponsors were afraid to be associated with me as the star."
Many people would say that we were two fools to encounter such poverty together. I can only reply that since that day I have never been without money in my pocket, and that I soon acquired the means of paying what I owed. Nevertheless, more than twelve years had to pass over our heads before I received any payment for any literary work which afforded an appreciable increase to our income.
"Ah, yes." Mr. Snowman's clear brow furrowed anxiously. "No trouble about it I hope?"
1 "Can I Help You?"
Being now released from any active concern in temporary politics, and from any literary occupation involving personal communication with contributors and others, I was enabled to indulge the inclination, natural to thinking persons when the age of boyish vanity is once past, for limiting my own society to a very few persons. General society, as now carried on in England, is so insipid an affair, even to the persons who make it what it is, that it is kept up for any reason rather than the pleasure it affords. All serious discussion on matters on which opinions differ, being considered ill-bred, and the national deficiency in liveliness and sociability having prevented the cultivation of the art of talking agreeably on trifles, in which the French of the last century so much excelled, the sole attraction of what is called society to those who are not at the top of the tree, is the hope of being aided to climb a little higher in it; while to those who are already at the top, it is chiefly a compliance with custom, and with the supposed requirements of their station. To a person of any but a very common order in thought or feeling, such society, unless he has personal objects to serve by it, must be supremely unattractive: and most people, in the present day, of any really high class of intellect, make their contact with it so slight, and at such long intervals, as to be almost considered as retiring from it altogether. Those persons of any mental superiority who do otherwise, are, almost without exception, greatly deteriorated by it. Not to mention loss of time, the tone of their feelings is lowered: they become less in earnest about those of their opinions respecting which they must remain silent in the society they frequent: they come to look upon their most elevated objects as unpractical, or, at least, too remote from realization to be more than a vision, or a theory. and if, more fortunate than most, they retain their higher principles unimpaired, yet with respect to the persons and affairs of their own day they insensibly adopt the modes of feeling and judgment in which they can hope for sympathy from the company they keep. A person of high intellect should never go into unintellectual society unless he can enter it as an apostle; yet he is the only person with high objects who can safely enter it at all. Persons even of intellectual aspirations had much better, if they can, make their habitual associates of at least their equals, and, as far as possible, their superiors, in knowledge, intellect, and elevation of sentiment. Moreover, if the character is formed, and the mind made up, on the few cardinal points of human opinion, agreement of conviction and feeling on these, has been felt in all times to be an essential requisite of anything worthy the name of friendship, in a really earnest mind. All these circumstances united, made the number very small of those whose society, and still more whose intimacy, I now voluntarily sought.
'I own about twenty million pounds' worth, about as much as a small country. It is now all in New York. I keep it where I need it. My treasure of gold is like a compost heap. I move it here and there over the face of the earth and, wherever I choose to spread it, that corner blossoms and blooms. I reap the harvest and move on. At this moment I am proposing to encourage, to force, a certain American enterprise with my golden compost. Therefore the gold bars are in New York.'
The world was a chrysalis world, but the chrysalis was damaged. Under the stress of science and mechanization the old order had become effete, the old patterns of life could no longer be healthily lived; yet the new order and the new mentality could not be born. The swarms of human creatures whose minds had been moulded to the old patterns were plunged from security into insecurity and bewilderment. Creatures specialized by circumstance to knit themselves into the existing but disintegrating social texture found themselves adrift in dreadful chaos, their talents useless, their minds out-moded, their values falsified. And so, like bees in a queenless hive, they floundered into primitive ways. They became marauding gangsters, or clamoured for some new, strong, ruthless and barbaric tribal order, into which they might once more themselves. In this nadir of civilization, this wide-craving for the savage and the stark, this night of spirit, there rose to power the basest and hitherto most despised of human types, the hooligan and the gun-man, who recognized no values but personal dominance, whose vengeful aim was to trample the civilization that spurned them, and to rule for brigandage alone a new gangster society.
The previous day a feast was given in Mr. Baring鈥檚 honour, the boys 鈥榮ubscribing to buy the little dainties鈥橕 and 鈥榮peeches of love and gratitude鈥 being made. Then, in the early morning, long before dawn, Miss Tucker felt her way down the dark staircase, to see the traveller off. 鈥楾he babies,鈥 as she called some of the tinier brown boys, were there also; one small orphan looking 鈥榮ad and thoughtful鈥 over the farewell. Bigger boys also came down, and they waited in the Chapel till the Principal appeared. Shakings of hands were followed by cheers, as Mr. Baring drove away in the dak-gari,鈥斺€榩robably with mingled feelings,鈥 writes Miss Tucker. One is disposed to wonder what her feelings were, as she turned back into the palace; alone among her companions; the only European in that Eastern city! Yet no signs of heart-quailing can be seen in the letter to her sister, written on the same day.