JUDKIN OF THE PARCELS

A figure in an indefinite tweed suit, carrying brown-paper

parcels. That is what we met suddenly, at the bend of a

muddy Dorsetshire lane, and the roan mare stared and

obviously thought of a curtsy. The mare is road-shy, with

intervals of stolidity, and there is no telling what she

will pass and what she won’t. We call her Redford. That

was my first meeting with Judkin, and the next time the

circumstances were the same; the same muddy lane, the same

rather apologetic figure in the tweed suit, the same—or

very similar—parcels. Only this time the roan looked

straight in front of her.

Whether I asked the groom or whether he advanced the

information, I forget; but someway I gradually reconstructed

the life-history of this trudger of the lanes. It was much

the same, no doubt, as that of many others who are from time

to time pointed out to one as having been aforetime in crack

cavalry regiments and noted performers in the saddle; men

who have breathed into their lungs the wonder of the East,

have romped through life as through a cotillon, have had a

thrust perhaps at the Viceroy’s Cup, and done fantastic

horsefleshy things around the Gulf of Aden. And then a

golden stream has dried up, the sunlight has faded suddenly

out of things, and the gods have nodded “Go.” And they

have not gone. They have turned instead to the muddy lanes

and cheap villas and the marked-down ills of life, to watch

pear trees growing and to encourage hens for their eggs.

And Judkin was even as these others; the wine had been

suddenly spilt from his cup of life, and he had stayed to

suck at the dregs which the wise throw away. In the days of

his scorn for most things he would have stared the roan mare

and her turn-out out of all pretension to smartness, as he

would have frozen a cheap claret behind its cork, or a plain

woman behind her veil; and now he was walking stoically

through the mud, in a tweed suit that would eventually go on

to the gardener’s boy, and would perhaps fit him. The dear

gods, who know the end before the beginning, were perhaps

growing a gardener’s boy somewhere to fit the garments, and

Judkin was only a caretaker, inhabiting a portion of them.

That is what I like to think, and I am probably wrong. And

Judkin, whose clothes had been to him once more than a

religion, scarcely less sacred than a family quarrel, would

carry those parcels back to his villa and to the wife who

awaited him and them—a wife who may, for all we know to

the contrary, have had a figure once, and perhaps has yet a

heart of gold—of nine-carat gold, let us say at the

least—but assuredly a soul of tape. And he that has

fetched and carried will explain how it had fared with him

in his dealings, and if he has brought the wrong sort of

sugar or thread he will wheedle away the displeasure from

that leaden face as a pastrycook girl will drive bluebottles

off a stale bun. And that man has known what it was to coax

the fret of a thoroughbred, to soothe its toss and sweat as

it danced beneath him in the glee and chafe of its pulses

and the glory of its thews. He has been in the raw places

of the earth, where the desert beasts have whimpered their

unthinkable psalmody, and their eyes have shone back the

reflex of the midnight stars—and he can immerse himself in

the tending of an incubator. It is horrible and wrong, and

yet when I have met him in the lanes his face has worn a

look of tedious cheerfulness that might pass for happiness.

Has Judkin of the Parcels found something in the lees of

life that I have missed in going to and fro over many

waters? Is there more wisdom in his perverseness than in the

madness of the wise? The dear gods know.

I don’t think I saw Judkin more than three times all told,

and always the lane was our point of contact; but as the

roan mare was taking me to the station one heavy,

cloud-smeared day, I passed a dull-looking villa that the

groom, or instinct, told me was Judkin’s home. From beyond

a hedge of ragged elder-bushes could be heard the thud, thud

of a spade, with an occasional clink and pause, as if some

one had picked out a stone and thrown it to a distance, and

I knew that he was doing nameless things to the roots of a

pear tree. Near by him, I felt sure, would be lying a large

and late vegetable marrow, and its largeness and lateness

would be a theme of conversation at luncheon. It would be

suggested that it should grace the harvest thanksgiving

service; the harvest having been so generally

unsatisfactory, it would be unfair to let the fanners supply

all the material for rejoicing.

And while I was speeding townwards along the rails Judkin

would be plodding his way to the vicarage bearing a

vegetable marrow and a basketful of dahlias. The basket to

be returned.