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Sinister Street (Complete)

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
From a world of daisies as big as moons and of mountainous green hillocks Michael Fane came by some unrealized method of transport to the thin red house, that as yet for his mind could not claim an individual existence amid the uniformity of a long line of fellows. His arrival coincided with a confusion of furniture, with the tramp of men backwards and forwards from a cavernous vehicle very dry and dusty. He found himself continually being lifted out of the way of washstands and skeleton chests of drawers. He was invited to sit down and keep quiet, and almost in the same breath to walk about and avoid hindrance. Finally, Nurse led him up many resonant stairs to the night-nursery which at present consisted of two square cots that with japanned iron bars stood gauntly in a wilderness of oilcloth surrounded by four walls patterned with a prolific vegetation. Michael was dumped down upon a grey pillow and invited to see how well his sister Stella was behaving. Nurse’s observation was true enough: Stella was rosily asleep in an undulation of blankets, and Michael, threatened by many whispers and bony finger-shakes, was not at all inclined to wake her up. Nurse retired in an aura of importance, and Michael set out to establish an intimacy with the various iron bars of his cage. For a grown-up person these would certainly have seemed much more alike than even the houses of Carlington Road, West Kensington: for Michael each bar possessed a personality. Minute scratches unnoticed by the heedless adult world lent variety of expression: slight irregularities infused certain groups with an air of deliberate consultation. From the four corners royal bars, crowned with brass, dominated their subjects. Passions, intrigues, rumours, ambitions, revenges were perceived by Michael to be seething below the rigid exterior of these iron bars: even military operations were sometimes discernible. This cot was guarded by a romantic population, with one or two of whose units Michael could willingly have dispensed: one bar in particular, set very much askew, seemed sly and malignant. Michael disliked being looked at by anybody or anything, and this bar had a persistent inquisitiveness which already worried him. ‘Why does he look at me?’ Michael would presently ask, and ‘Nobody wants to look at such an ugly little boy,’ Nurse would presently reply. So one more intolerable question would overshadow his peace of mind. Meanwhile, far below, the tramp of men continued, until suddenly an immense roar filled the room. Some of the bars shivered and clinked, and Michael’s heart nearly stopped. The roar died away only to be succeeded by another roar from the opposite direction. Stella woke up crying. Michael was too deeply frightened so to soothe himself, as he sat clutching the pointed ears of the grey pillow. Stella, feeling that the fretful tears of a sudden awakening were insufficient, set up a bellow of dismay. Michael was motionless, only aware of a gigantic heart that shook him horribly. At last the footsteps of Nurse could be heard, and over them, the quick ‘tut-tut-tuts’ that voiced her irritation.