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A Falling Out

HAROLD told me the main facts of this episode, some time
later—in bits, and with reluctance. It was not a recollec-
tion he cared to talk about. The crude blank misery of a moment
is apt to leave a dull bruise which is slow to depart, if indeed it ever
does so entirely ; and Harold confesses to a twinge or two, still, at
times, like the veteran who brings home a bullet inside him from
martial plains over sea.

He knew he was a brute the moment after he had done it ; Selina
had not meant to worry, only to comfort and assist. But his
soul was one raw sore within him, when he found himself shut up
in the schoolroom after hours, merely for insisting that 7 times 7
amounted to 47. The injustice of it seemed so flagrant. Why
not 47 as much as 49 ? One number was no prettier than the
other to look at, and it was evidently only a matter of arbitrary
taste and preference, and, anyhow, it had always been 47 to him,
and would be to the end of time. So when Selina came in out of
the sun, leaving the Trappers of the Far West behind her, and
putting off the glory of being an Apache squaw in order to hear
him his tables and win his release, Harold turned on her venom-
ously, rejected her kindly overtures, and even drove his elbow into
her sympathetic ribs, in his determination to be left alone in the


The Yellow Book.—Vol. IV. M

                        196 A Falling Out

glory of sulks. The fit passed directly, his eyes were opened, and
his soul sat in the dust as he sorrowfully began to cast about for
some atonement heroic enough to salve the wrong.

Needless to say, Selina demanded no sacrifice nor heroics what-
ever ; she didn’t even want him to say he was sorry. If he
would only make it up, she would have done the apologising part
herself. But that was not a boy’s way. Something solid, Harold
felt, was due from him ; and until that was achieved, making up
must not be thought of, in order that the final effect might not be
spoilt. Accordingly, when his release came, and poor Selina hung
about, trying to catch his eye, Harold, possessed by the demon of
a distorted motive, avoided her steadily—though he was bleeding
inwardly at every minute of delay—and came to me instead.

Of course I approved his plan highly; it was so much better
than just going and making it up tamely, which any one could do ;
and a girl who had been jobbed in the ribs by a hostile elbow
could not be expected for a moment to overlook it, without the
liniment of an offering to soothe her injured feelings.

” I know what she wants most,” said Harold. ” She wants that
set of tea-things in the toy-shop window, with the red and blue
flowers on ’em ; she’s wanted it for months, ‘cos her dolls are
getting big enough to have real afternoon tea ; and she wants it
so badly that she won’t walk that side of the street when we go
into the town. But it costs five shillings ! ”

Then we set to work seriously, and devoted the afternoon to a
realisation of assets and the composition of a Budget that might
have been dated without shame from Whitehall. The result
worked out as follows :


                        By Kenneth Grahame 197

            s. d.

By one uncle, unspent through having been lost for nearly
    a week—turned up at last in the straw of the dog-
    kennel . . . . . . . . 2 6

By advance from me on security of next uncle, and failing
    that, to be called in at Christmas . . . . 1 0

By shaken out of missionary-box with the help of a knife-
    blade. (They were our own pennies and a forced
    levy) . . . . . . . . . 4

By bet due from Edward, for walking across the field where
    Farmer Larkin’s bull was, and Edward bet him
    twopence he wouldn’t—called in with difficulty . 2

By advance from Martha, on no security at all, only you
    mustn’t tell your aunt . . . . . 1 0


            Total 5 0

and at last we breathed again.

The rest promised to be easy. Selina had a tea-party at five on
the morrow, with the chipped old wooden tea-things that had
served her successive dolls from babyhood. Harold would slip
off directly after dinner, going alone, so as not to arouse
suspicion, as we were not allowed to go into the town by our-
selves. It was nearly two miles to our small metropolis, but
there would be plenty of time for him to go and return, even
laden with the olive-branch neatly packed in shavings ; besides, he
might meet the butcher, who was his friend and would give him
a lift. Then, finally, at five, the rapture of the new tea-service,
descended from the skies ; and then, retribution made, making
up at last, without loss of dignity. With the event before us,
we thought it a small thing that twenty-four hours more of
alienation and pretended sulks must be kept up on Harold’s part ;
but Selina, who naturally knew nothing of the treat in store for


                        198 A Falling Out

her, moped for the rest of the evening, and took a very heavy
heart to bed.

When next day the hour for action arrived, Harold evaded
Olympian attention with an easy modesty born of long practice,
and made off for the front gate. Selina, who had been keeping
her eye upon him, thought he was going down to the pond to catch
frogs, a joy they had planned to share together, and slipped out
after him ; but Harold, though he heard her footsteps, continued
sternly on his high mission, without even looking back ; and
Selina was left to wander disconsolately among flower-beds that
had lost—for her—all scent and colour. I saw it all, and, although
cold reason approved our line of action, instinct told me we were

Harold reached the town—so he recounted afterwards—in
record time, having run most of the way for fear lest the tea-
things, which had reposed six months in the window, should be
snapped up by some other conscience-stricken lacerator of a
sister’s feelings ; and it seemed hardly credible to find them still
there, and their owner willing to part with them for the price
marked on the ticket. He paid his money down at once, that
there should be no drawing back from the bargain ; and then, as
the things had to be taken out of the window and packed, and
the afternoon was yet young, he thought he might treat himself
to a taste of urban joys and la vie de Bohème. Shops came first,
of course, and he flattened his nose successively against the
window with the india-rubber balls in it, and the clock-work
locomotive : and against the barber s window, with wigs on
blocks, reminding him of uncles, and shaving-cream that looked
so good to eat ; and the grocer’s window, displaying more currants
than the whole British population could possibly consume with-
out a special effort ; and the window of the bank, wherein gold


                        By Kenneth Grahame 199

was thought so little of that it was dealt about in shovels. Next
there was the market-place, with all its clamorous joys ; and
when a runaway calf came down the street like a cannon-ball,
Harold felt that he had not lived in vain. The whole place was
so brimful of excitement that he had quite forgotten the why and
the wherefore of his being there, when a sight of the church
clock recalled him to his better self, and sent him flying out of
the town, as he realized he had only just time enough left to get
back in. If he were after his appointed hour, he would not only
miss his high triumph, but probably would be detected as a
transgressor of bounds—a crime before which a private opinion on
multiplication sank to nothingness. So he jogged along on his
homeward way, thinking of many things, and probably talking to
himself a good deal, as his habit was. He must have covered nearly
half the distance, when suddenly—a deadly sinking in the pit of the
stomach—a paralysis of every limb—around him a world extinct
of light and music—a black sun and a reeling sky—he had for-
gotten the tea-things !

It was useless, it was hopeless, all was over, and nothing could
now be done ; nevertheless he turned and ran back wildly, blindly,
choking with the big sobs that evoked neither pity nor comfort
from a merciless, mocking world around ; a stitch in his side, dust
in his eyes, and black despair clutching at his heart. So he
stumbled on, with leaden legs and bursting sides, till—as if Fate
had not yet dealt him her last worst buffet—on turning a corner
in the road he almost ran under the wheels of a dog-cart, in which,
as it pulled up, was apparent the portly form of Farmer Larkin,
the arch-enemy whose ducks he had been shying stones at that
very morning !

Had Harold been in his right and unclouded senses, he would
have vanished through the hedge some seconds earlier, rather than


                        200 A Falling Out

pain the farmer by any unpleasant reminiscences which his appear-
ance might call up ; but as things were he could only stand and
blubber hopelessly, caring, indeed, little now what further ill might
befall him. The farmer, for his part, surveyed the desolate figure
with some astonishment, calling out in no unfriendly accents,
” What, Master Harold ! whatever be the matter ? Baint runnin’
away, be ee ? ”

Then Harold, with the unnatural courage born of desperation,
flung himself on the step, and, climbing into the cart, fell in the
straw at the bottom of it, sobbing out that he wanted to go back,
go back ! The situation had a vagueness ; but the farmer, a man
of action rather than words, swung his horse round smartly, and
they were in the town again by the time Harold had recovered
himself sufficiently to furnish some details. As they drove up to
the shop, the woman was waiting at the door with the parcel ;
and hardly a minute seemed to have elapsed since the black crisis,
ere they were bowling along swiftly home, the precious parcel
hugged in a close embrace.

And now the farmer came out in quite a new and unexpected
light. Never a word did he say of broken fences and hurdles,
trampled crops and harried flocks and herds. One would have
thought the man had never possessed a head of live stock in his
life. Instead, he was deeply interested in the whole dolorous
quest of the tea-things, and sympathised with Harold on the
disputed point in mathematics as if he had been himself at the
same stage of education. As they neared home, Harold found
himself, to his surprise, sitting up and chatting to his new friend
like man to man ; and before he was dropped at a convenient gap
in the garden hedge, he had promised that when Selina gave her
first public tea-party, little Miss Larkin should be invited to come
and bring her whole sawdust family along with her, and the


                        By Kenneth Grahame 201

farmer appeared as pleased and proud as if he had been asked to a
garden-party at Marlborough House. Really those Olympians
have certain good points, far down in them. I shall leave off
abusing them some day.

At the hour of five, Selina, having spent the afternoon searching
for Harold in all his accustomed haunts, sat down disconsolately
to tea with her dolls, who ungenerously refused to wait beyond
the appointed hour. The wooden tea-things seemed more chipped
than usual ; and the dolls themselves had more of wax and saw-
dust, and less of human colour and intelligence about them, than
she ever remembered before. It was then that Harold burst in,
very dusty, his stockings at his heels, and the channels ploughed
by tears still showing on his grimy cheeks ; and Selina was at last
permitted to know that he had been thinking of her ever since
his ill-judged exhibition of temper, and that his sulks had not been
the genuine article, nor had he gone frogging by himself. It
was a very happy hostess who dispensed hospitality that evening to
a glassy-eyed stiff-kneed circle ; and many a dollish gaucherie, that
would have been severely checked on ordinary occasions, was as
much overlooked as if it had been a birthday.

But Harold and I, in our stupid masculine way, thought all
her happiness sprang from possession of the long-coveted tea-

MLA citation:

Grahame, Kenneth. “A Falling Out.” The Yellow Book, vol. 4, January 1895, pp. 195-201. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.