The Best British Short Stories of 1922
By WALTER DE LA MARE
(From The London Mercury)
I had heard rumours of Seaton's Aunt long before I actually encountered her. Seaton, in
the hush of confidence, or at any little show of toleration on our part, would remark, "My
aunt," or "My old aunt, you know," as if his relative might be a kind of cement to an
He had an unusual quantity of pocket-money; or, at any rate, it was bestowed on him in
unusually large amounts; and he spent it freely, though none of us would have described
him as an "awfully generous chap." "Hullo, Seaton," he would say, "the old Begum?" At
the beginning of term, too, he used to bring back surprising and exotic dainties in a box
with a trick padlock that accompanied him from his first appearance at Gummidge's in a
billycock hat to the rather abrupt conclusion of his school-days.
From a boy's point of view he looked distastefully foreign, with his yellow skin, and slow
chocolate-coloured eyes, and lean weak figure. Merely for his looks he was treated by
most of us true-blue Englishmen with condescension, hostility, or contempt. We used to
call him "Pongo," but without any better excuse for the nickname than his skin. He was,
that is, in one sense of the term what he assuredly was not in the other sense, a sport.
Seaton and I were never in any sense intimate at school, our orbits only intersected in
class. I kept instinctively aloof from him. I felt vaguely he was a sneak, and remained
quite unmollified by advances on his side, which, in a boy's barbarous fashion, unless it
suited me to be magnanimous, I haughtily ignored.
We were both of us quick-footed, and at Prisoner's Base used occasionally to hide
together. And so I best remember Seaton--his narrow watchful face in the dusk of
summer evening; his peculiar crouch, and his inarticulate whisperings and mumblings.
Otherwise he played all games slackly and limply; used to stand and feed at his locker
with a crony or two until his "tuck" gave out; or waste his money on some outlandish
fancy or other. He bought, for instance, a silver bangle, which he wore above his left
elbow, until some of the fellows showed their masterly contempt of the practice by
dropping it nearly red-hot down his neck.
It needed, therefore, a rather peculiar taste, a rather rare kind of schoolboy courage and
indifference to criticism, to be much associated with him. And I had neither the taste nor
the courage. None the less, he did make advances, and on one memorable occasion went
to the length of bestowing on me a whole pot of some outlandish mulberry-coloured jelly
that had been duplicated in his term's supplies. In the exuberance of my gratitude I
promised to spend the next half-term holiday with him at his aunt's house.