These were all stories that made bedtime sweet, stories to remember and brood upon gratefully in the darkness of the night when he lay awake and when, alas, other stories less pleasant to recall would obtrude themselves.
Mark was not brought up luxuriously in the Lima Street Mission House, and the scarcity of toys stimulated his imagination. All his toys were old and broken, because he was only allowed to have the toys left over at the annual Christmas Tree in the Mission Hall; and since even the best of toys on that tree were the cast-offs of rich little children whose parents performed a vicarious act of charity in presenting them to the poor, it may be understood that Mark’s share of these was not calculated to spoil him. His most conspicuous toy was a box of mutilated grenadiers, whose stands had been melted by their former owner in the first rapture of discovering that lead melts in fire and who in consequence were only able to stand up uncertainly when stuck into sliced corks.
Luckily Mark had better armies of his own in the coloured lines that crossed the blankets of his bed. There marched the crimson army of St. George, the blue army of St. Andrew, the green army of St. Patrick, the yellow army of St. David, the rich sunset-hued army of St. Denis, the striped armies of St. Anthony and St. James. When he lay awake in the golden light of the morning, as golden in Lima Street as anywhere else, he felt ineffably protected by the Seven Champions of Christendom; and sometimes even at night he was able to think that with their bright battalions they were still marching past. He used to lie awake, listening to the sparrows and wondering what the country was like and most of all the sea. His father would not let him go into the country until he was considered old enough to go with one of the annual school treats. His mother told him that the country in Cornwall was infinitely more beautiful than Kensington Gardens, and that compared with the sea the Serpentine was nothing at all. The sea! He had heard it once in a prickly shell, and it had sounded beautiful. As for the country he had read a story by Mrs. Ewing called Our Field, and if the country was the tiniest part as wonderful as that, well . . . meanwhile Dora brought him back from the greengrocer’s a pot of musk, which Mark used to sniff so enthusiastically that Dora said he would sniff it right away if he wasn’t careful. Later on when Lima Street was fetid in the August sun he gave this pot of musk to a little girl with a broken leg, and when she died in September her mother put it on her grave.
HUSBAND AND WIFE