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Mansfield's Short Stories

Bank Holiday
A stout man with a pink face wears dingy white flannel trousers, a blue coat with a pink
handkerchief showing, and a straw hat much too small for him, perched at the back of his
head. He plays the guitar. A little chap in white canvas shoes, his face hidden under a felt
hat like a broken wing, breathes into a flute; and a tall thin fellow, with bursting over-ripe
button boots, draws ribbons--long, twisted, streaming ribbons--of tune out of a fiddle.
They stand, unsmiling, but not serious, in the broad sunlight opposite the fruit-shop; the
pink spider of a hand beats the guitar, the little squat hand, with a brass-and-turquoise
ring, forces the reluctant flute, and the fiddler's arm tries to saw the fiddle in two.
A crowd collects, eating oranges and bananas, tearing off the skins, dividing, sharing.
One young girl has even a basket of strawberries, but she does not eat them. "Aren't they
dear!" She stares at the tiny pointed fruits as if she were afraid of them. The Australian
soldier laughs. "Here, go on, there's not more than a mouthful." But he doesn't want her
to eat them, either. He likes to watch her little frightened face, and her puzzled eyes lifted
to his: "Aren't they a price!" He pushes out his chest and grins. Old fat women in velvet
bodices--old dusty pin-cushions-- lean old hags like worn umbrellas with a quivering
bonnet on top; young women, in muslins, with hats that might have grown on hedges, and
high pointed shoes; men in khaki, sailors, shabby clerks, young Jews in fine cloth suits
with padded shoulders and wide trousers, "hospital boys" in blue--the sun discovers
them--the loud, bold music holds them together in one big knot for a moment. The young
ones are larking, pushing each other on and off the pavement, dodging, nudging; the old
ones are talking: "So I said to 'im, if you wants the doctor to yourself, fetch 'im, says I."
"An' by the time they was cooked there wasn't so much as you could put in the palm of
me 'and!"
The only ones who are quiet are the ragged children. They stand, as close up to the
musicians as they can get, their hands behind their backs, their eyes big. Occasionally a
leg hops, an arm wags. A tiny staggerer, overcome, turns round twice, sits down solemn,
and then gets up again.
"Ain't it lovely?" whispers a small girl behind her hand.
And the music breaks into bright pieces, and joins together again, and again breaks, and
is dissolved, and the crowd scatters, moving slowly up the hill.
At the corner of the road the stalls begin.
"Ticklers! Tuppence a tickler! 'Ool 'ave a tickler? Tickle 'em up, boys." Little soft brooms
on wire handles. They are eagerly bought by the soldiers.
"Buy a golliwog! Tuppence a golliwog!"
 
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