The blue room
by Kenneth Grahame
(Note: Kenneth Grahame's mother, Elizabeth, died in 1864 before
the future author of The Wind in the Willows was five years
old. Afterwards his father, Cunningham Grahame, abandoned his
four children--Helen, Thomas, Kenneth, and Roland--leaving them
in the care of their formidable maternal grandmother, Granny
Ingles, who lived in a rambling old house called The Mount, at
Cookham Dene in Berkshire. It was here that Kenneth learned to
love nature, distrust the "Olympians" as he called the adults in
his life (numerous aunts and uncles), and unknowingly pile up the
experiences that would later form the basis for the stories in
his collection, The Golden Age. The Golden Age concerns a
group of orphaned children in much the same circumstances as the
young Grahames. The stories are loosely connected and easily
stand on their own. They are told by an unnamed Narrator,
obviously Grahame's alter ego, who looks back on his boyhood
years with amusement, affection, and a certain sadness that, as
Grahame put it, "the gate had been shut" to the garden of
THAT nature has her moments
of sympathy with man has been noted
often enough,--and generally as a new discovery; to us, who had
never known any other condition of things, it seemed entirely
right and fitting that the wind sang and sobbed in the poplar
tops, and in the lulls of it, sudden spirts of rain spattered the
already dusty roads, on that blusterous March day when Edward and
I awaited, on the station platform, the arrival of the new tutor.
Needless to say, this arrangement had been planned by an aunt,
from some fond idea that our shy, innocent natures would unfold
themselves during the walk from the station, and that on the
revelation of each other's more solid qualities that must then
inevitably ensue, an enduring friendship springing from mutual
respect might be firmly based. A pretty dream,--nothing more.
For Edward, who foresaw that the brunt of tutorial oppression
would have to be borne by him, was sulky, monosyllabic, and
determined to be as negatively disagreeable as good manners would
permit. It was therefore evident that I would have to be
spokesman and purveyor of hollow civilities, and I was none the
more amicable on that account; all courtesies, welcomes,
explanations, and other court-chamberlain kind of business, being
my special aversion. There was much of the tempestuous March
weather in the hearts of both of us, as we sullenly glowered
along the carriage-windows of the slackening train.
One is apt, however, to misjudge the special difficulties of a
situation; and the reception proved, after all, an easy and
informal matter. In a trainful so uniformly bucolic, a tutor was
readily recognizable; and his portmanteau had been consigned to
the luggage-cart, and his person conveyed into the lane, before I
had discharged one of my carefully considered sentences. I
breathed more easily, and, looking up at our new friend as we
stepped out together, remembered that we had been counting on
something altogether more arid, scholastic, and severe. A boyish
eager face and a petulant pince nez,--untidy hair,--a head of
constant quick turns like a robin's, and voice that kept breaking
into alto,--these were all very strange and new, but not in the
He proceeded jerkily through the village, with glances on this
side and that; and "Charming," he broke out presently; "quite too
charming and delightful!"
I had not counted on this sort of thing, and glanced for help
to Edward, who, hands in pockets, looked grimly down his nose.
He had taken his line, and meant to stick to it.
Meantime our friend had made an imaginary spy-glass out of his
fist, and was squinting through it at something I could not
perceive. "What an exquisite bit!" he burst out; "fifteenth
century,--no,--yes, it is!"
I began to feel puzzled, not to say alarmed. It reminded me
of the butcher in the Arabian Nights, whose common joints,
displayed on the shop-front, took to a started public the
appearance of dismembered humanity. This man seemed to see the
strangest things in our dull, familiar surroundings.
"Ah!" he broke out again, as we jogged on between hedgerows:
"and that field now--backed by the downs--with the rain-cloud
brooding over it,--that's all David Cox--every bit of it!"
"That field belongs to Farmer Larkin," I explained politely,
for of course he could not be expected to know. "I'll take you
over to Farmer Cox's tomorrow, if he's a friend of yours; but
there's nothing there to see."
Edward, who was hanging sullenly behind, made a face at me, as
if to say, "What sort of lunatic have we got here?"
"It has the true pastoral character, this country of yours,"
went on our enthusiast: "with just that added touch in cottage
and farmstead, relics of a bygone art, which makes our English
landscape so divine, so unique!"
Really this grasshopper was becoming a burden. These familiar
fields and farms, of which we knew every blade and stick, had
done nothing that I knew of to be bespattered with adjectives in
this way. I had never thought of them as divine, unique, or
anything else. They were--well, they were just themselves, and
there was an end of it. Despairingly I jogged Edward in the
ribs, as a sign to start rational conversation, but he only
grinned and continued obdurate.
You can see the house now," I remarked presently; "and that's
Selina, chasing the donkey in the paddock,--or is it the donkey
chasing Selina? I can't quite make out; but it's them,
Needless to say, he exploded with a full charge of adjectives.
"Exquisite!" he rapped out; "so mellow and harmonious! and so
entirely in keeping!" (I could see from Edward's face that he was
thinking who ought to be in keeping.) "Such possibilities of
romance, now, in those old gables!"
"If you mean the garrets," I said, "there's a lot of old
furniture in them; and one is generally full of apples; and the
bats get in sometimes, under the eaves, and flop about till we go
up with hair-brushes and things and drive 'em out; but there's
nothing else in them that I know of."
"Oh, but there must be more than bats," he cried. "Don't tell
me there are no ghosts. I shall be deeply disappointed if there
aren't any ghosts."
I did not think it worth while to reply, feeling really
unequal to this sort of conversation; besides, we were nearing
the house, when my task would be ended. Aunt Eliza met us at the
door, and in the cross-fire of adjectives that ensued--both of
them talking at once, as grown-up folk have a habit of doing--we
two slipped round to the back of the house, and speedily put
several solid acres between us and civilization, for fear of
being ordered in to tea in the drawing-room. By the time we
returned, our new importation had gone up to dress for dinner, so
till the morrow at least we were free of him.
Meanwhile the March wind, after dropping a while at sundown,
had been steadily increasing in volume; and althought I fell
asleep at my usual hour, about midnight I was wakened by the
stress and cry of it. In the bright moonlight, wind-swung
branches tossed and swayed eerily across the blinds; there was
rumbling in the chimneys, whistling in the keyholes, and
everywhere a clamour and a call. Sleep was out of the question,
and, sitting up in bed, I looked round. Edward sat up too. "I
was wondering when you were going to wake," he said. "It's no
good trying to sleep through this. I vote we get up and do
"I'm game," I replied. "Let's play at being in a ship at sea"
(the plaint of the old house under the buffeting wind suggested
this, naturally); "and we can be wrecked on an island, or left on
a raft, whichever you choose; but I like an island best myself,
because there's more things on it."
Edward on reflection negatived the idea. "It would make too
much noise," he pointed out. "There's no fun playing at ships,
unless you can make a jolly good row."
The door creaked, and a small figure in white slipped
cautiously in. "Thought I heard you talking," said Charlotte.
"We don't like it; we're afraid--Selina too. She'll be here in a
minute. She's putting on her new dressing-gown she's so proud
His arms round his knees, Edward cogitated deeply until Selina
appeared, barefooted, and looking slim and tall in the new
dressing-gown. Then, "Look here," he exclaimed: "now we're all
together, I vote we go and explore."
"You're always wanting to explore," I said. "What's there to
explore for in this house?"
"Biscuits!" said the inspired Edward.
"Hooray! Come on!" chimed in Harold, sitting up suddenly. He
had been awake all the time, but had been shamming sleep, lest he
should be fagged to do anything.
It was indeed a fact, as Edward had remembered, that our
thoughtless elders occasionally left the biscuits out, a prize
for the night-walking adventurer with nerves of steel.
Edward tumbled out of bed, and pulled a baggy old pair of
knickerbockers over his bare shanks. Then he girt himself with a
belt, into which he thrust, on the one side a large wooden
pistol, on the other an old single-stick; and finally he donned a
big slouch-hat--once an uncle's--that we used for playing Guy
Fawkes and Charles-the-Second-up-a-tree in. Whatever the
audience, Edward, if possible always dressed for his parts with
care and conscientiousness; while Harold and I, true
Elizabethans, cared little about the mounting of a piece, so long
as the real dramatic heart of it beat sound.
Our commander now enjoined on us a silence deep as the grave,
reminding us that Aunt Eliza usually slept with an open door,
past which we had to file.
"But we'll take the short cut through the Blue Room," said the
"Of course," said Edward, approvingly. "I forgot about that.
Now then! You lead the way!"
The Blue Room had in prehistoric times been added to by taking
in a superfluous passage, and so not only had the advantage of
two doors, but enabled us to get to the head of the stairs
without passing the chamber wherein our dragon-aunt lay couched.
It was rarely occupied, except when a casual uncle came down for
the night. We entered in noiseless file, the room being plunged
in darkness, except for a bright strip of moonlight on the floor,
across which we must pass for our exit. On this our leading lady
chose to pause, seizing the opportunity to study the hang of her
new dressing-gown. Greatly satisfied thereat, she proceeded,
after the feminine fashion, to peacock and pose, pacing a minuet
down the moonlit patch with an imaginary partner. This was too
much for Edward's histrionic instincts and after a moment's pause
he drew his single-stick, and with flourishes meet for the
occasion, strode onto the stage. A struggle ensued on approved
lines, at the end of which Selina was stabbed slowly and with
unction, and her corpse borne from the chamber by the ruthless
cavalier. The rest of us rushed after in a clump, with capers
and gesticulations of delight; the special charm of the
performance lying in the necessity for its being carried out with
the dumbest of dumb shows.
Once out on the dark landing, the noise of the storm without
told us that we had exaggerated the necessity for silence; so,
grasping the tails of each other's nightgowns, even as Alpine
climbers rope themselves together in perilous places, we fared
stoutly down the stair-case moraine, and across the grim glacier
of the hall, to where a faint glimmer from the half-open door of
the drawing-room beckoned to us like friendly hostel-lights.
Entering, we found that our thriftless seniors had left the sound
red heart of a fire, easily coaxed into a cheerful blaze; and
biscuits--a plateful--smiled at us in an encouraging sort of way,
together with the halves of a lemon, already once squeezed, but
still suckable. The biscuits were righteously shared, the lemon
segments passed from mouth to mouth; and as we squatted round the
fire, its genial warmth consoling our unclad limbs, we realized
that so many nocturnal perils had not been braved in vain.
"It's a funny thing," said Edward, as we chatted, "how I hate
this room in the daytime. It always means having your face
washed, and your hair brushed, and talking silly company talk.
But to-night it's really quite jolly. Looks different, somehow."
"I never can make out," I said, "what people come here to tea
for. They can have their own tea at home if they like,--they're
not poor people,--with jam and things, and drink out of their
saucer, and suck their fingers and enjoy themselves; but they
come here from a long way off, and sit up straight with their
feet off the bars of their chairs, and have one cup, and talk the
same sort of stuff every time."
Selina sniffed disdainfully. "You don't know anything about
it," she said. "In society you have to call on each other. It's
the proper thing to do."
"Pooh! you're not in society," said Edward, politely; "and,
what's more, you never will be."
"Yes, I shall, some day," retorted Selina; "but I shan't ask
you to come and see me, so there!"
"Wouldn't come if you did," growled Edward.
"Well, you won't get the chance," rejoined our sister,
claiming her right of the last word. There was no heat about
these little amenities, which made up--as we understood it--the
art of polite conversation.
"I don't like society people," put in Harold from the sofa,
where he was sprawling at full length,--a sight the daylight
hours would have blushed to witness. "There were some of 'em
here this afternoon, when you two had gone off to the station.
Oh, and I found a dead mouse on the lawn, and I wanted to skin
it, but I was n't sure I knew how, by myself; and they came out
into the garden and patted my head,--I wish people would n't do
that,--and one of 'em asked me to pick her a flower. Don't know
why she could n't pick it herself; but I said, `All right, I will
if you hold my mouse.' She screamed and threw it away; and
Augustus (the cat) got it, and ran away with it. I believe it
was really his mouse all the time, 'cos he'd been looking about
as if he had lost something, so I was n't angry with him; but
what did she want to throw away my mouse for?"
"You have to be careful with mice," reflected Edward; "they're
such slippery things. Do you remember we were playing with a
dead mouse once on the piano, and the mouse was Robinson Crusoe,
and the piano was the island, and somehow Crusoe slipped down
inside the island, into its works, and we could n't get him out,
though we tried rakes and all sorts of things, till the tuner
came. And that was n't till a week after, and then--"
Here Charlotte, who had been nodding solemnly, fell over into
the fender; and we realized that the wind had dropped at last,
and the house was lapped in great stillness. Our vacant beds
seemed to be calling to us imperiously; and we were all glad when
Edward gave the signal for retreat. At the top of the staircase
Harold unexpectedly turned mutinous, insisting on his right to
slide down the banisters in a free country. Circumstances did
not allow of argument; I suggested a frog's march instead, and
frog's marched he accordingly was, the procession passing
solemnly across the moonlit Blue Room, with Harold horizontal and
limply submissive. Snug in bed at last, I was just slipping off
into slumber when I heard Edward explode, with chuckle and snort.
"By Jove!" he said; "I forgot all about it. The new tutor's
sleeping in the Blue Room!"
"Lucky he did n't wake up and catch us," I grunted, drowsily;
and both of us, without another thought on the matter, sank into
Next morning we came down to breakfast braced to grapple with
fresh adversity, but were surprised to find our garrulous friend
of the previous day--he was late in making his appearance--
strangely silent and (apparently) preoccupied. Having polished
off our porridge, we ran out to feed the rabbits, explaining to
them that a beast of a tutor would prevent their enjoying so much
of our society as formerly.
On returning to the house at the fated hour appointed for
study, we were thunderstruck to see the station-cart disappearing
down the drive, freighted with our new acquaintance. Aunt Eliza
was brutally uncommunicative; but she was overheard to remark
casually that she thought the man must be a lunatic. In this
theory we were only too ready to concur, dismissing thereafter
the whole matter from our minds.
Some weeks later it happened that Uncle Thomas, while paying
us a flying visit, produced from his pocket a copy of the latest
weekly, Psyche: a Journal of the Unseen; and proceeded
laborously to rid himself of much incomprehensible humour,
apparently at our expense. We bore it patiently, with the forced
grin demanded by convention, anxious to get at the source of
inspiration, which it presently appeared lay in a paragraph
circumstantially describing our modest and humdrum habitation.
"Case III.," it began. "The following particulars were
communicated by a young member of the Society, of undoubted
probity and earnestness, and are a chronicle of actual and recent
experience." A fairly accurate description of the house
followed, with details that were unmistakable; but in this there
succeeded a flood of meaningless drivel about apparitions,
nightly visitants, and the like, writ in a manner betokening a
disordered mind, coupled with a feeble imagination. The fellow
was not even original. All the old material was there,--the
storm at night, the haunted chamber, the white lady, the murder
re-enacted, and so on,--already worn threadbare in many a
Christmas Number. No one was able to make head or tail of the
stuff, or of its connexion with our quiet mansion; and yet
Edward, who had always expected the man, persisted in maintaining
that our tutor of a brief span was, somehow or other, at the
bottom of it.