The Things That Matter by A. A. Milne

Ronald, surveying the world from his taxi–that pleasant corner of the world, St. James’s Park–gave a sigh of happiness. The blue sky, the lawn of daffodils, the mist of green upon the trees, were but a promise of the better things which the country held for him. Beautiful as he thought the daffodils, he found for the moment an even greater beauty in the Gladstone bags at his feet. His eyes wandered from one to the other, and his heart sang to him, “I’m going away, I’m going away, I’m going away.”

The train was advertised to go at 2.22, and at 2.20 Ronald joined the Easter holiday crowd upon the platform. A porter put down his luggage and was then swallowed up in a sea of perambulators and flustered parents. Ronald never saw him again. At 2.40, amidst some applause, the train came in.

Ronald seized a lost porter.

“Just put these in for me,” he said. “A first smoker.”

“All this lot yours, Sir?”

“The three bags–not the milk-cans,” said Ronald.

It had been a beautiful day before, but when a family of sixteen which joined Ronald in his carriage was ruthlessly hauled out by the guard, the sun seemed to shine with a warmth more caressing than ever. Even when the train moved out of the station and the children who had been mislaid emerged from their hiding-places and were bundled in anywhere by the married porters, Ronald still remained splendidly alone. And the sky took on yet a deeper shade of blue.

He lay back in his corner, thinking. For a time his mind was occupied with the thoughts common to most of us when we go away–thoughts of all the things we have forgotten to pack. I don’t think you could fairly have called Ronald over-anxious about clothes. He recognised that it was the inner virtues which counted; that a well-dressed exterior was nothing without some graces of mind or body. But at the same time he did feel strongly that, if you are going to stay at a house where you have never visited before, and if you are particularly anxious to make a good impression, it is a pity that an accident of packing should force you to appear at dinner in green knickerbockers and somebody else’s velvet smoking-jacket.

See also  Pussy Dean’s Beacon Fire by Sarah J Prichard

Ronald couldn’t help feeling that he had forgotten something. It wasn’t the spare sponge; it wasn’t the extra shaving-brush; it wasn’t the second pair of bedroom slippers. Just for a moment the sun went behind a cloud as he wondered if he had included the reserve razor-strop; but no, he distinctly remembered packing that.

The reason for his vague feeling of unrest was this. He had been interrupted while getting ready that afternoon; and, as he left whatever he had been doing in order to speak to his housekeeper, he had said to himself, “If you’re not careful, you’ll forget about that when you come back.” And now he could not remember what it was he had been doing, nor whether he had in the end forgotten to go on with it. Was he selecting his ties, or brushing his hair, or—-

The country was appearing field by field; the train rushed through cuttings gay with spring flowers; blue was the sky between the baby clouds … but it all missed Ronald. What could he have forgotten?

He went over the days that were coming; he went through all the changes of toilet that the hours might bring. He had packed this and this and this and this–he was all right for the evening. Supposing they played golf?… He was all right for golf. He might want to ride…. He would be able to ride. It was too early for lawn tennis, but … well, anyhow, he had put in flannels.

As he considered all the possible clothes that he might want, it really seemed that he had provided for everything. If he liked he could go to church on Friday morning; hunt otters from twelve to one on Saturday; toboggan or dig for badgers on Monday. He had the different suits necessary for those who attend a water-polo meeting, who play chess, or who go out after moths with a pot of treacle. And even, in the last resort, he could go to bed.

See also  A Cold Greeting

Yes, he was all right. He had packed everything; moreover, his hair was brushed and he had no smut upon his face. With a sigh of relief he lowered the window and his soul drank in the beautiful afternoon. “We are going away–we are going away–we are going away,” sang the train.

At the prettiest of wayside stations the train stopped and Ronald got out. There were horses to meet him. “Better than a car,” thought Ronald, “on an afternoon like this.” The luggage was collected. “Nothing left out,” he chuckled to himself, and was seized with an insane desire to tell the coachman so; and then they drove off through the fresh green hedgerows, Ronald trying hard not to cheer.

His host was at the door as they arrived. Ronald, as happy as a child, jumped out and shook him warmly by the hand, and told him what a heavenly day it was; receiving with smiles of pleasure the news in return that it was almost like summer.

“You’re just in time for tea. Really, we might have it in the garden.”

“By Jove, we might,” said Ronald, beaming.

However, they had it in the hall, with the doors wide open. Ronald, sitting lazily with his legs stretched out and a cup of tea in his hands, and feeling already on the friendliest terms with everybody, wondered again at the difference which the weather could make to one’s happiness.

“You know,” he said to the girl on his right, “on a day like this, nothing seems to matter.”

See also  A Marvellous Invention by Eugene Field

And then suddenly he knew that he was wrong, for he had discovered what it was which he had told himself not to forget … what it was which he had indeed forgotten.

And suddenly the birds stopped singing and there was a bitter chill in the air.

And the sun went violently out.

* * * * *

He was wearing only half-a-pair of spats.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *