John walked eight miles over the cliffs to the nearest town in order to buy tobacco. He came back to the farmhouse with no tobacco and the news that he had met some friends in the town who had invited us to dinner and Bridge the next evening.
“But that’s no reason why you should have forgotten the tobacco,” I said.
“One can’t remember everything. I accepted for both of us. We needn’t dress. Put on that nice blue flannel suit of yours–“
“And that nice pair of climbing boots with the nails–“
“Is that all you’ve got?”
“All I’m going to walk eight miles in on a muddy path.”
“Then we shall have to take a bag with us. And we can put in pyjamas and stay the night at an hotel; it will save us walking back in the dark. We don’t want to lose you over the cliff.”
I took out a cigar.
“This is the last,” I said. “If, instead of wandering about and collecting invitations, you had only remembered–Shall we cut it up or smoke half each?”
“Call,” said John, bringing out a penny. “Heads it is. You begin.”
I struck a match and began.
. . . . .
Next day, after lunch, John brought out his little brown bag.
“It won’t be very heavy,” he said, “and we can carry it in turns. An hour each.”
“I don’t think that’s quite fair,” I said. “After all, it’s YOUR bag. If you take it for an hour and a half, I don’t mind taking the other half.”
“Your shoes are heavier than mine, anyhow.”
“My pyjamas weigh less. Such a light blue as they are.”
“Ah, but my tooth-brush has lost seven bristles. That makes a difference.”
“What I say is, let every man carry his own bag. This is a rotten business, John. I don’t wish to be anything but polite, but for a silly ass commend me to the owner of that brown thing.”
John took no notice and went on packing.
“I shall buy a collar in the town,” he said.
“Better let me do it for you. You would only go getting an invitation to a garden-party from the haberdasher. And that would mean another eight miles with a portmanteau.”
“There we are,” said John, as he closed the bag, “quite small and light. Now, who’ll take the first hour?”
“We’d better toss, if you’re quite sure you won’t carry it all the way. Tails. Just my luck.”
John looked out of the window and then at his watch.
“They say two to three is the hottest hour of the day,” he said. “It will be cooler later on. I shall put you in.”
I led the way up the cliffs with that wretched bag. I insisted upon that condition anyhow–that the man with the bag should lead the way. I wasn’t going to have John dashing off at six miles an hour, and leaving himself only two miles at the end.
“But you can come and talk to me,” I said to him after ten minutes of it. “I only meant that I was going to set the pace.”
“No, no, I like watching you. You do it so gracefully. This is my man,” he explained to some children who were blackberrying. “He is just carrying my bag over the cliffs for me. No, he is not very strong.”
“You wait,” I growled.
John laughed. “Fifty minutes more,” he said. And then after a little silence, “I think the bag-carrying profession is overrated. What made you take it up, my lad? The drink? Ah, just so. Dear, dear, what a lesson to all of us.”
“There’s a good time coming,” I murmured to myself, and changed hands for the eighth time.
“I don’t care what people say,” said John, argumentatively; “brown and blue DO go together. If you wouldn’t mind–“
For the tenth time I rammed the sharp corner of the bag into the back of my knee.
“There, that’s what I mean. You see it perfectly like that–the brown against the blue of the flannel. Thank you very much.”
I stumbled up a steep little bit of slippery grass, and told myself that in three-quarters of an hour I would get some of my own back again. He little knew how heavy that bag could become.
“They say,” said John to the heavens, “that if you have weights in your hands you can jump these little eminences much more easily. I suppose one hand alone doesn’t do. What a pity he didn’t tell me before–I would have lent him another bag with pleasure.”
“Nobody likes blackberries more than I do,” said John. “But even I would hesitate to come out here on a hot afternoon and fill a great brown bag with blackberries, and then carry them eight miles home. Besides, it looks rather greedy…. I beg your pardon, my lad, I didn’t understand. You are taking them home to your aged mother? Of course, of course. Very commendable. If I had a penny, I would lend it to you. No, I only have a sixpence on me, and I have to give that to the little fellow who is carrying my bag over the cliffs for me…. Yes, I picked him up about a couple of miles back. He has mud all up his trousers, I know.”
“Half an hour more,” I told myself, and went on doggedly, my right shoulder on fire.
“Dear, dear,” he said solicitously, “how lopsided the youth of to-day is getting. Too much lawn-tennis, I suppose. How much better the simply healthy exercises of our forefathers; the weightlifting after lunch, the–“
He was silent for ten minutes, and then broke out rapturously once more.
“What a heavenly day! I AM glad we didn’t bring a bag–it would have spoilt it altogether. We can easily borrow some slippers, and it will be jolly walking back by moonlight. Now, if you had had your way–“
“One minute more,” I said joyfully; “and oh, my boy, how glad I am we brought a bag. What a splendid idea of yours! By the way, you haven’t said much lately. A little tired by the walk?”
“I make it TWO minutes,” said John.
“Half a minute now…. There! And may I never carry the confounded thing another yard.”
I threw the bag down and fell upon the grass. The bag rolled a yard or two away. Then it rolled another yard, slipped over the edge, and started bouncing down the cliff. Finally it leapt away from the earth altogether, and dropped two hundred feet into the sea.
“MY bag,” said John stupidly.
And that did for me altogether.
“I don’t care a hang about your bag,” I cried. “And I don’t care a hang if I’ve lost my pyjamas and my best shoes and my only razor. And I’ve been through an hour’s torture for nothing, and I don’t mind that. But oh!–to think that you aren’t going to have YOUR hour–“
“By Jove, neither I am,” said John, and he sat down and roared with laughter.