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A Prisoner in Fairyland

Chapter 3
And what if All of animated nature
Be but as Instruments diversely framed
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
One infinite and intellectual Breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?
The AEolian Harp, S. T. COLERIDGE.
In the train, even before St. John's was passed, a touch of inevitable reaction had
set in, and Rogers asked himself why he was going. For a sentimental journey
was hardly in his line, it seemed. But no satisfactory answer was forthcoming--
none, at least, that a Board or a Shareholders' Meeting would have considered
satisfactory.
There was an answer in him somewhere, but he couldn't quite get down to it. The
spring glory had enticed him back to childhood. The journey was symbolical of
escape. That was the truth. But the part of him that knew it had lain so long in
abeyance that only a whisper flitted across his mind as he sat looking out of the
carriage window at the fields round Lee and Eltham. The landscape seemed
hauntingly familiar, but what surprised him was the number of known faces that
rose and smiled at him. A kind of dream confusion blurred his outer sight;
At Bexley, as he hurried past, he caught dimly a glimpse of an old nurse whom
he remembered trying to break into bits with a hop-pole he could barely lift; and,
most singular thing, on the Sidcup platform, a group of noisy schoolboys, with
smudged faces and ridiculously small caps stuck on the back of their heads, had
scrambled viciously to get into his compartment. They carried brown canvas
satchels full of crumpled books and papers, and though the names had mostly
escaped him, he remembered every single face. There was Barlow--big, bony
chap who stammered, bringing his words out with a kind of whistling sneeze.
Barlow had given him his first thrashing for copying his stammer. There was
young Watson, who funked at football and sneaked to a master about a midnight
supper. He stole pocket-money, too, and was expelled. Then he caught a
glimpse of another fellow with sly face and laughing eyes; the name had
vanished, but he was the boy who put jalap in the music-master's coffee, and
received a penny from five or six others who thus escaped a lesson. All waved
their hands to him as the train hurried away, and the last thing he saw was the
station lamp where he had lit the cigar that made three of them, himself included,
deadly sick. Familiar woods and a little blue-eyed stream then hid the vision ...
and a moment later he was standing on the platform of his childhood's station,
giving up his first-class ticket (secretly ashamed that it was not third) to a station-
master-ticket-collector person who simply was not real at all.
For he had no beard. He was small, too, and insignificant. The way he had
dwindled, with the enormous station that used to be a mile or so in length, was
severely disappointing. That STATION-MASTER with the beard ought to have
lived for ever. His niche in the Temple of Fame was sure. One evening he had
 
 
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