Something of this rare mood lingered with me in the morning, and it was not until I reached the Meat Market that I realised the extent of my misfortune. I saw the greasy, red-faced men with their hands and aprons stained with blood. I saw the hideous carcases of animals, the masses of entrails, the heaps of repulsive hides; but most clearly of all I saw an ugly sad little boy with a satchel of books on his back set down in the midst of an enormous and hostile world. The windows; and stones of the houses were black with soot, and before me there lay school, the place that had never brought me anything but sorrow and humiliation. I went on, but as I slid on the cobbles, my mind caught an echo of peace, the peace of pine-woods and heather, the peace of the library at home, and, my body trembling with revulsion, I leant against a lamp-post, deadly sick. Then I turned on my heels and walked away from the Meat Market and the school for ever. As I went I cried, sometimes openly before all men, sometimes furtively before shop-windows, dabbing my eyes with a wet pocket-handkerchief, and gasping for breath. I did not care where my feet led me, I would go back to school no more.
I had played truant for three days before the grown-ups discovered that I had not returned to school. They treated me with that extraordinary consideration that they always extended to our great crimes and never to our little sins of thoughtlessness or high spirits. The doctor saw me. I was told that I would be sent to a country school after the next holidays, and meanwhile I was allowed to return to my sofa and my dreams. I lay there and read Dickens and was very happy. As a rule the cat kept me company, and I was pleased with his placid society, though he made my legs cramped. I thought that I too would like to be a cat.
When I left home to go to boarding-school for the first time I did not cry like the little boys in the story-books, though I had never been away from home before except to spend holidays with relatives. This was not due to any extraordinary self-control on my part, for I was always ready to shed tears on the most trivial occasion. But as a fact I had other things to think about, and did not in the least realise the significance of my journey. I had lots of new clothes and more money in my pocket than I had ever had before, and in the guard’s van at the back of the train there was a large box that I had packed myself with jam and potted meat and cake. In this, as in other matters, I had been aided by the expert advice of a brother who was himself at a school in the North, and it was perhaps natural that in the comfortable security of the holidays he should have given me an almost lyrical account of the joys of life at a boarding-school. Moreover, my existence as a day-boy in London had been so unhappy; that I was prepared to welcome any change, so at most I felt only a vague unease as to the future.