Anthony Goes Blackberrying
A Story by Eleanor Farjeon
Sometimes things were good enough for Anthony, but sometimes they werenít. When they satisfied him, he didnít know it, and just enjoyed them. But when they didnít satisfy him he did know it, and tried with all his might to make them better. He was always trying to make things a little better, and a little more. One of his favourite games was pretending to be electricity in the telegraph wire, after his Father had explained it to him. He would hang messages on a line stretched from tree to tree in the orchard, and run as fast as he could beside it, beating the paper along with his hand, from one end to the other. Fast, fast, faster! he could never be fast enough, he could never get there quick enough. How slow things were!|
And how same things were! "Every day we do the same things. Why are we alive?" he asked one day, when Baa told him to come for a walk. Why did they always have to walk along the road? Why didnít they sometimes walk up in the air like a bird, or down in the ground like a mole?
But it was only sometimes that Anthony was cast down because things were so slow, and so same, and so disappointing. One of the things that never disappointed him was going over to Mrs. Lymeís. Mrs. Lyme lived in Madgwick, down the lane, and up the lane, and then a long, long rise in the lane, and there you were at the house. It was a beautiful grey stone house with gables, like a small manor turned farm-house; it stood high, looking across the valleys rolling so deep below it. The nicest room in it was the big kitchen with the flagged floor. The first time Anthony went there, Mrs. Lyme sat him down at the table and gave him plums and cream, sweet purple plums and thick yellow cream. After that, whenever Anthony went to Madgwick he had a bowl of the beautiful cream and whatever fruit was in season, raspberries or currants or strawberries, apricots, plums, or greengages. He knew this treat at Mrs. Lymeís would never fail him, and would always be as good as he remembered it was, and hoped it would be.
But other things that should have been delightful could be disappointments, Christmas and Birthdays, for instance. He longed for them so ardently, and pictured them so vividly. Most of the days in the Calendar marched quietly towards him in clothes of no special colour; at least, he did not imagine them in special clothes, though afterwards, when they had gone by, he saw what a lovely day such and such a one had been. He had expected nothing of it, and it had come full of delights. The surprise joys of these days could not disappoint him, becaus he had not looked for them. But Christmas and His Birthday he looked for so eagerly, too eagerly. He saw them coming dressed in gold, with their hands full of presents. Sometimes they were all he wanted them to be, or very nearly all; but sometimes the presents were fewer and less rich than his fancy had painted, and the glory which Christmas and his Birthday walked in at a distance seem a little dim near to.
Lesser days, like Guy Fawkes Day, which could also be seen in advance, very seldom disappointed him. Bonfires and fireworks always keep their promises, unless it rains or you have a cold. Even bonfires donít burn up at once, even fireworks that are a little damp, donít really disappoint you. You never stop being full of impatience and expectancy; and any small result lights up you hope; and any big result is a whole success; a half-successful Roman candle is a whole success; a wholly successful rocket is more than success - you have no time to think, only time to feel the pang of ecstacy as it soars and bursts and scatters its golden rain and coloured stars. You are startled into the very pleasure you were expecting.
"Which do you like best, toys or fireworks?" asked Anthony of his nurse.
His Father sent up another rocket in the garden.
"Ow!" Anthony clutched Baaís hand, and his eye ran up the night on the gold track of the soaring fire. It curved over at the top like the spire of a laden flower, and dropped its starry blossoms into the air, a red one, a blue one, a while, and a green. They floated toward him - he held out his tiny hands - oh, to catch one, to hold it and look at it! to have it! But long before they reached him the coloured stars melted out of sight. And the wonder they lit up in Anthonyís heart stayed there unspoiled, never used up.
Anthony looked forward, too. to special seasons as well as to special days. There was the blackberry season, and the season of snow. Snow never disappointed. It came and went unexpectedly, you could not exactly count on it, so you did not depend on it. But while it was there you enjoyed it to the full. The fun of snow never palled, and was a good this winter as last.
But blackberrying disappointed. Anthony depended on the blackberries to be plentiful and splendid. They were sometimes as plentiful, but seldom as splendid as they were last summer. They were not big enough or black enough, he was never picking the very best bush in all Somerset. It was only the best bush in Somerset that Anthony wanted. When he was picking one bush, the best one was the next; when he flew to the next, it was that one farther on -- and this one was not so good, after all, as the one he had just left. Often when Anthony got home, and turned over his harvest, the fruit seemed hardly good enough to give to his Mother. Before he took it to her he fetched the inkpot, and enriched the biggest berries in his basket; laying these at the top, he took his offering to his Motherís room. Shen accepted it admiringly, and, his cheeks and fingers smeared with blackberry juice and ink, he went away, almost satisfied, thinking his Mother really believed in his blackberries. He nearly believed in them himself. He had nearly made them as good as he hoped they would be, and as God had failed to make them.
But his Mother sighed a little and smiled a little, because the world was not guite all that Anthony longed for it to be.
One day Anthony got a black eye. Bertie Dawes gave it to him, and he came home with a headache. Baa was in a regular fuss about it.
Anthonyís Mother came into the room. "Whats the matter, Baa?"
Anthonyís head really ached so much, that after dressing his eye his Mother put him to bed. Anthony liked this. He did not feel at all put out with Bertie. He had made Bertieís nose bleed, and Bertie had made his eye black. Now he could enjoy Baaís indignation and his Motherís gentleness. When they were both with him he lay very still with his head on the pillow, and begged Baa to shade the window, but leave a crack of light so she could read to him. And when he was alone, he kept getting out of bed to look at his eye in the looking-glass. It was a splendid sight, and each time a little more splendid than the last.
The next morning his black eye was really magnificent, but to his suprise his head ached no more, and the eye itself was scarcely tender. How could this be? An eye so like blackberries, ripe and unripe, must hurt; it was unnatural not to. Anthony was convinced he was much worse. When Baa came in he lay very, very still.
"Well then, lazy-bones!"
"Does your head ache still, Tony?"
Breakfast in bed was a great treat. After it Anthony was no better. He begged Baa to close the curtains, and lay down. His Mother looked at him thoughtfully. It seemed unkind to disturb him.
The day went rather slowly. In the afternoon Anthony got a book and hid it under his pillow. The glory of being ill was very great, but when nobody was in the room to be concerned about him, it was a little dull. Still, it was nice not going to school.
Early next morning, before Baa came in, Anthony looked at his eye in the glass, and was dismayed to see that its splendors were fading. A rather interesting saffron was replacing the blackberry patch, but this golden eyelid created no alarm even in himself. He crept to find the inkpot, and with it restored his eye as best he could. If it was not quite as it had been, it was in some ways blacker than before. He was back in bed before his Mother came to him in her grey dressing gown.
"Good morning, darling." She went to the window.
Anthony lay back like one dying; his Mother opened the curtain and looked again. "Well!" she said and touched his eyelid gently. "It isnít as bad as it looks."
Anthony sat up with returning vigour. She brought him the hand-glass. He looked at his fading eye and got out of bed. It was nice to be on his legs again. He dressed, feeling like one snatched from the jaws of death. It had been a near thing, though.
In school he described his eye with great detail to Bertie Dawes, and Bertie told him how many handkerchiefs and garments had been bloodied before his nose was stanched. They were proud of themselves and of each other.
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