عضو فعال جداً
عدد المساهمات : 1827
تاريخ التسجيل : 07/02/2010
|موضوع: A SCHOOL STORY الجمعة 11 أكتوبر 2013, 19:22|| |
A SCHOOL STORY
by M. R. James
Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. "At our
school," said A., "we had a ghost's footmark on the staircase. "
" What was it like?"
"Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I
remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about
the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn't somebody
invent one, I wonder?"
"You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own.
There's a subject for you, by the way - "The Folklore of Private Schools."
"Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to
investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at
private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be
highly-compressed versions of stories out of books."
"Nowadays the Strand and Pearson's, and so on, would be extensively drawn
"No doubt: they weren't born or thought of in my time. Let's see. I
wonder if I can remember the staple ones that I was told. First, there was
the house with a room in which a series of people insisted on passing a
night; and each of them in the morning was found kneeling in a corner, and
had just time to say, 'I've seen it,' and died."
"Wasn't that the house in Berkeley Square?"
"I dare say it was. Then there was the man who heard a noise in the
passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards him on
all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was besides, let me
think - Yes! the room where a man was found dead in bed with a horseshoe
mark on his forehead, and the floor under the bed was covered with marks of
horseshoes also; I don't know why. Also there was the lady who, on locking
her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the
bed-curtains say, 'Now we're shut in for the night.' None of those had any
explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still, those stories."
"Oh, likely enough - with additions from the magazines, as I said. You
never heard, did you, of a real ghost at a private school? I thought not,
nobody has that ever I came across."
"From the way in which you said that, I gather that you have."
"I really don't know, but this is what was in my mind. It happened at my
private school thirty odd years ago, and I haven't any explanation of it.
"The school I mean was near London. It was established in a large and
fairly old house - a great white building with very fine grounds about it;
there were large cedars in the garden, as there are in so many of the older
gardens in the Thames valley, and ancient elms in the three or four fields
which we used for our games. I think probably it was quite an attractive
place, but boys seldom allow that their schools possess any tolerable
"I came to the school in a September, soon after the year 1870; and among
the boys who arrived on the same day was one whom I took to: a Highland boy,
whom I will call McLeod. I needn't spend time in describing him: the main
thing is that I got to know him very well. He was not an exceptional boy in
any way - not particularly good at books or games - but he suited me.
"The school was a large one: there must have been from 120 to 130 boys
there as a rule, and so a considerable staff of masters was required, and
there were rather frequent changes among them.
"One term - perhaps it was my third or fourth - a new master made his
appearance. His name was Sampson. He was a tallish, stoutish, pale,
black-bearded man. I think we liked him: he had travelled a good deal, and
had stories which amused us on our school walks, so that there was some
competition among us to get within earshot of him. I remember too - dear me,
I have hardly thought of it since then - that he had a charm on his
watch-chain that attracted my attention one day, and he let me examine it.
It was, I now suppose, a gold Byzantine coin; there was an effigy of some
absurd emperor on one side; the other side had been worn practically smooth,
and he had had cut on it - rather barbarously - his own initials, G.W.S.,
and a date, 24 July, 1865. Yes, I can see it now: he told me he had picked
it up in Constantinople: it was about the size of a florin, perhaps rather
"Well, the first odd thing that happened was this. Sampson was doing
Latin grammar with us. One of his favourite methods - perhaps it is rather a
good one - was to make us construct sentences out of our own heads to
illustrate the rules he was trying to make us learn. Of course that is a
thing which gives a silly boy a chance of being impertinent: there are lots
of school stories in which that happens - or any-how there might be. But
Sampson was too good a disciplinarian for us to think of trying that on with
him. Now, on this occasion he was telling us how to express remembering in
Latin: and he ordered us each to make a sentence bringing in the verb
memini, 'I remember.' Well, most of us made up some ordinary sentence such
as 'I remember my father,' or 'He remembers his book,' or something equally
uninteresting: and I dare say a good many put down memino librum meum, and
so forth: but the boy I mentioned - McLeod - was evidently thinking of
something more elaborate than that. The rest of us wanted to have our
sentences passed, and get on to something else, so some kicked him under the
desk, and I, who was next to him, poked him and whispered to him to look
sharp. But he didn't seem to attend. I looked at his paper and saw he had
put down nothing at all. So I jogged him again harder than before and
upbraided him sharply for keeping us all waiting. That did have some effect.
He started and seemed to wake up, and then very quickly he scribbled about a
couple of lines on his paper, and showed it up with the rest. As it was the
last, or nearly the last, to come in, and as Sampson had a good deal to say
to the boys who had written meminiscimus patri meo and the rest of it, it
turned out that the clock struck twelve before he had got to McLeod, and
McLeod had to wait afterwards to have his sentence corrected. There was
nothing much going on outside when I got out, so I waited for him to come.
He came very slowly when he did arrive, and I guessed there had been some
sort of trouble. 'Well,' I said, 'what did you get?' 'Oh, I don't know,'
said McLeod, 'nothing much: but I think Sampson's rather sick with me.'