The worst of it was that he had come back as soft-headed as he went, and try as we might we couldn’t get anything reasonable out of him. He talked a lot of gibberish about keel-hauling and walking the plank and crimson murders—things which a decent sailor should know nothing about, so that it seemed to me that for all his manners Captain had been more of a pirate than a gentleman mariner. But to draw sense out of that boy was as hard as picking cherries off a crab-tree. One silly tale he had that he kept on drifting back to, and to hear him you would have thought that it was the only thing that happened to him in his life. “We was at anchor,” he would say, “off an island called the Basket of Flowers, and the sailors had caught a lot of parrots and we were teaching them to swear. Up and down the decks, up and down the decks, and the language they used was dreadful. Then we looked up and saw the masts of the Spanish ship outside the harbour. Outside the harbour they were, so we threw the parrots into the sea and sailed out to fight. And all the parrots were drownded in the sea and the language they used was dreadful.” That’s the sort of boy he was, nothing but silly talk of parrots when we asked him about the fighting. And we never had a chance of teaching him better, for two days after he ran away again, and hasn’t been seen since.
That’s my story, and I assure you that things like that are happening at Fairfield all the time. The ship has never come back, but somehow as people grow older they seem to think that one of these windy nights she’ll come sailing in over the hedges with all the lost ghosts on board. Well, when she comes, she’ll be welcome. There’s one ghost-lass that has never grown tired of waiting for her lad to return. Every night you’ll see her out on the green, straining her poor eyes with looking for the mast-lights among the stars. A faithful lass you’d call her, and I’m thinking you’d be right.
Landlord’s field wasn’t a penny the worse for the visit, but they do say that since then the turnips that have been grown in it have tasted of rum.
For some days school had seemed to me even more tedious than usual. The long train journey in the morning, the walk through Farringdon Meat Market, which aesthetic butchers made hideous with mosaics of the intestines of animals, as if the horror of suety pavements and bloody sawdust did not suffice, the weariness of inventing lies that no one believed to account for my lateness and neglected homework, and the monotonous lessons that held me from my dreams without ever for a single instant capturing my interest—all these things made me ill with repulsion. Worst of all was the society of my cheerful, contented comrades, to avoid which I was compelled to mope in deserted corridors, the prey of a sorrow that could not be enjoyed, a hatred that was in no way stimulating. At the