Monday, Sept. 7th, 189-. I am one year old to-day.
I imagine that most people regard their first birthday as something of an event; a harvest-home of innocence, touched with I know not how delicate a bloom of virginal anticipation; of emotion too volatile for analysis, or perhaps eluding analysis by its very simplicity. But whatever point the festival might have had for me was rudely destroyed by my parents, who chose this day for jolting me back to London in a railway-carriage. We have just arrived home from Newquay, Cornwall, where we have been spending the summer holidays for the sake of my health, as papa has not scrupled to blurt out, once or twice, in my presence.
There is a strain of coarseness in papa; or perhaps I should say–for the impression it leaves is primarily negative, as of something manque–an incompleteness in the sensitive equipment. As yet it can hardly be said to embarrass me; though I foresee a time when I shall have to apologise for it to strangers. There is nothing absurd in this. If a man may take pride in his ancestry, why may he not apologise for his papa? My papa will be forgiven, for he is so splendidly virile! He left our compartment at Bristol and did not return again until the train stopped at Swindon for him to eat a bun. In the interval, mamma took me from nurse and endeavoured to hush me by singing–
Father’s gone a-hunting. . . .
Which was untrue, for he had lit a pipe and withdrawn to a smoking compartment. My nurse–an egregious female–had previously remarked, “The dear child do take such notice of the puff-puff!” As a matter of fact, I took no interest in the locomotive; but I had observed it sufficiently to be sure that it offered no facilities for hunting. A few months ago I might have accepted the explanation: for our family has affinity with what is vulgarly termed the upper class, and my father inherits its crude and primitive instincts; among them a passion for the chase. His appearance, as he returned to our compartment, oppressed me for the hundredth time with a sense of its superabundant and even riotous vitality. His cheeks were glowing, and his whiskers sprouted like cabbages on either side of his otherwise clean-shaven face. An indefinable flavour of the sea mingled with the odour of tobacco which he diffused about the carriage. It seemed as if the virile breezes of that shaggy Cornish coast still blew about him; and I felt again that constriction of the chest from which I had suffered during the past month.
After all, it is good to be back in London! Newquay, with its obvious picturesqueness, its violent colouring, its sands, rocks, breakers and by-laws regulating the costume of bathers, merely exasperated my nerves. How far more subtle the appeal of these grey and dun-coloured opacities, these tent-cloths of fog pressed out into uncouth, dumbly pathetic shapes by the struggle for existence that seethes below it always–always! Decidedly I must begin to-morrow to practise walking. It seems a necessary step towards acquainting myself with the inner life of these inchoate millions, which must be well worth knowing. Papa, on arriving at our door, plunged into an altercation with a cab-tout. What a man! And yet sometimes I could find it in my heart to envy his robustness, his buoyancy. A Huntley and Palmer’s Nursery Biscuit in a little hot water has somewhat quieted my nerves, which suffered cruelly during the scene. I believe I shall sleep to-night.
Tuesday, 8th. The beginning of Sturm und Drang; I am learning to walk. Moreover I have surprised in myself, during the day, a tendency to fall in love with my nurse. On the pretence that walking might give me bandy legs she caught me up and pressed me to her bosom. We have no affinities; indeed, beyond cleanliness and a certain unreasoning honesty, she can be said to possess no attributes at all. I am convinced that a serious affection for her could only flourish on an intellectual atrophy; and yet for a while I abandoned myself. We went out into the bright streets together, and it was delicious to be propelled by her strong arms. We halted, on our way to Kensington Gardens, to listen to a German band. The voluptuous waltz-music affected me strangely, and I was sorry that, owing to my position in the vehicle, her face was hidden from me. In the midst of my ecstasy, a square object on wheels came round the street corner. It was painted a bright vermilion and bore the initials of K.V.–“Kytherea Victrix!” I cried in my heart; but as it passed, at a slow pace, it rained a flood of tears upon the dusty road-way. For some time after I sat in a strange calm, but with a sensation in the region of the diaphragm as if I had received a severe blow; and in truth I had. But the shock was salutary, and by the time that nurse and I were seated together by the Round Pond, I was able to listen to her talk without a quiver of the eyelids. Poor soul! What malefic jest of Fate led her to select the story of Georgie-Porgie?