Rooum, by Oliver Onions
For all I ever knew to the contrary, it was his own name; and something
about him, name or man or both, always put me in mind, I can't tell you
how, of negroes. As regards the name, I dare say it was something
huggermugger in the mere sound—something that I classed, for no
particular reason, with the dark and ignorant sort of words, such as
"Obi" and "Hoodoo." I only know that after I learned that his name was
Rooum, I couldn't for the life of me have thought of him as being called
The first impression that you got of his head was that it was a patchwork
of black and white—black bushy hair and short white beard, or else the
other way about. As a matter of fact, both hair and beard were piebald,
so that if you saw him in the gloom a dim patch of white showed down one
side of his head, and dark tufts cropped up here and there in his beard.
His eyebrows alone were entirely black, with a little sprouting of hair
almost joining them. And perhaps his skin helped to make me think of
negroes, for it was very dark, of the dark brown that always seems to
have more than a hint of green behind it. His forehead was low, and
scored across with deep horizontal furrows.
We never knew when he was going to turn up on a job. We might not have
seen him for weeks, but his face was always as likely as not to appear
over the edge of a crane-platform just when that marvellous mechanical
intuition of his was badly needed. He wasn't certificated. He wasn't even
trained, as the rest of us understood training; and he scoffed at the
drawing-office, and laughed outright at logarithms and our laborious
methods of getting out quantities. But he could set sheers and tackle in
a way that made the rest of us look silly. I remember once how, through
the parting of a chain, a sixty-foot girder had come down and lay under
a ruck of other stuff, as the bottom chip lies under a pile of
spellikins—a hopeless-looking smash. Myself, I'm certificated twice or
three times over; but I can only assure you that I wanted to kick myself
when, after I'd spent a day and a sleepless night over the job, I saw the
game of tit-tat-toe that Rooum made of it in an hour or two. Certificated
or not, a man isn't a fool who can do that sort of thing. And he was
one of these fellows, too, who can "find water"—tell you where water is
and what amount of getting it is likely to take, by just walking over the
place. We aren't certificated up to that yet.
He was offered good money to stick to us—to stick to our firm—but he
always shook his black-and-white piebald head. He'd never be able to keep
the bargain if he were to make it, he told us quite fairly. I know there
are these chaps who can't endure to be clocked to their work with a
patent time-clock in the morning and released of an evening with a
whistle—and it's one of the things no master can ever understand. So
Rooum came and went erratically, showing up maybe in Leeds or Liverpool,
perhaps next on Plymouth breakwater, and once he turned up in an
out-of-the-way place in Glamorganshire just when I was wondering what had
become of him.
The way I got to know him (got to know him, I mean, more than just to
nod) was that he tacked himself on to me one night down Vauxhall way,
where we were setting up some small plant or other. We had knocked off
for the day, and I was walking in the direction of the bridge when he
came up. We walked along together; and we had not gone far before it
appeared that his reason for joining me was that he wanted to know "what
a molecule was."
I stared at him a bit.
"What do you want to know that for?" I said. "What does a chap like you,
who can do it all backwards, want with molecules?"
Oh, he just wanted to know, he said.
So, on the way across the bridge, I gave it him more or less from the
book—molecular theory and all the rest of it. But, from the childish
questions he put, it was plain that he hadn't got the hang of it at all.
"Did the molecular theory allow things to pass through one another?" he
wanted to know; "Could things pass through one another?" and a lot of
ridiculous things like that. I gave it up.
"You're a genius in your own way, Rooum," I said finally; "you know these
things without the books we plodders have to depend on. If I'd luck like
that, I think I should be content with it."
But he didn't seem satisfied, though he dropped the matter for that time.
But I had his acquaintance, which was more than most of us had. He
asked me, rather timidly, if I'd lend him a book or two. I did so, but
they didn't seem to contain what he wanted to know, and he soon returned
them, without remark.
Now you'd expect a fellow to be specially sensitive, one way or another,
who can tell when there's water a hundred feet beneath him; and as you
know, the big men are squabbling yet about this water-finding business.
But, somehow, the water-finding puzzled me less than it did that Rooum
should be extraordinarily sensitive to something far commoner and easier
to understand—ordinary echoes. He couldn't stand echoes. He'd go a
mile round rather than pass a place that he knew had an echo; and if he
came on one by chance, sometimes he'd hurry through as quick as he
could, and sometimes he'd loiter and listen very intently. I rather joked
about this at first, till I found it really distressed him; then, of
course, I pretended not to notice. We're all cranky somewhere, and for
that matter, I can't touch a spider myself.
For the remarkable thing that overtook Rooum—(that, by the way, is an
odd way to put it, as you'll see presently; but the words came that
way into my head, so let them stand)—for the remarkable thing that
overtook Rooum, I don't think I can begin better than with the first
time, or very soon after the first time, that I noticed this peculiarity
about the echoes.
It was early on a particularly dismal November evening, and this time we
were somewhere out south-east London way, just beyond what they are
pleased to call the building-line—you know these districts of wretched
trees and grimy fields and market-gardens that are about the same to real
country that a slum is to a town. It rained that night; rain was the most
appropriate weather for the brickfields and sewage-farms and yards of old
carts and railway-sleepers we were passing. The rain shone on the black
hand-bag that Rooum always carried; and I sucked at the dottle of a pipe
that it was too much trouble to fill and light again. We were walking in
the direction of Lewisham (I think it would be), and were still a little
way from that eruption of red-brick houses that … but you've doubtless
You know how, when they're laying out new roads, they lay down the
narrow strip of kerb first, with neither setts on the one hand nor
flagstones on the other? We had come upon one of these. (I had noticed
how, as we had come a few minutes before under a tall hollow-ringing
railway arch, Rooum had all at once stopped talking—it was the echo, of
course, that bothered him.) The unmade road to which we had come had
headless lamp-standards at intervals, and ramparts of grey road-metal
ready for use; and save for the strip of kerb, it was a broth of mud
and stiff clay. A red light or two showed where the road-barriers
were—they were laying the mains; a green railway light showed on an
embankment; and the Lewisham lamps made a rusty glare through the rain.
Rooum went first, walking along the narrow strip of kerb.
The lamp-standards were a little difficult to see, and when I heard Rooum
stop suddenly and draw in his breath sharply, I thought he had walked
into one of them.
"Hurt yourself?" I said.
He walked on without replying; but half a dozen yards farther on he
stopped again. He was listening again. He waited for me to come up.
"I say," he said, in an odd sort of voice, "go a yard or two ahead, will
"What's the matter?" I asked, as I passed ahead. He didn't answer.
Well, I hadn't been leading for more than a minute before he wanted to
change again. He was breathing very quick and short.
"Why, what ails you?" I demanded, stopping.
"It's all right…. You're not playing any tricks, are you?…"
I saw him pass his hand over his brow.
"Come, get on," I said shortly; and we didn't speak again till we struck
the pavement with the lighted lamps. Then I happened to glance at him.
"Here," I said brusquely, taking him by the sleeve, "you're not well.
We'll call somewhere and get a drink."
"Yes," he said, again wiping his brow. "I say … did you hear?"
"Ah, you didn't … and, of course, you didn't feel anything…."
"Come, you're shaking."
When presently we came to a brightly lighted public-house or hotel, I saw
that he was shaking even worse than I had thought. The shirt-sleeved
barman noticed it too, and watched us curiously. I made Rooum sit down,
and got him some brandy.
"What was the matter?" I asked, as I held the glass to his lips.
But I could get nothing out of him except that it was "All right—all
right," with his head twitching over his shoulder almost as if he had
touch of the dance. He began to come round a little. He wasn't the kind
of man you'd press for explanations, and presently we set out again.
He walked with me as far as my lodgings, refused to come in, but for all
that lingered at the gate as if loath to leave. I watched him turn the
corner in the rain.
We came home together again the next evening, but by a different way,
quite half a mile longer. He had waited for me a little pertinaciously.
It seemed he wanted to talk about molecules again.
Well, when a man of his age—he'd be near fifty—begins to ask questions,
he's rather worse than a child who wants to know where Heaven is or some
such thing—for you can't put him off as you can the child. Somewhere or
other he'd picked up the word "osmosis," and seemed to have some
glimmering of its meaning. He dropped the molecules, and began to ask me
"It means, doesn't it," he demanded, "that liquids will work their way
into one another—through a bladder or something? Say a thick fluid and a
thin: you'll find some of the thick in the thin, and the thin in the
"Yes. The thick into the thin is ex-osmosis, and the other end-osmosis.
That takes place more quickly. But I don't know a deal about it."
"Does it ever take place with solids?" he next asked.
What was he driving at? I thought; but replied: "I believe that what is
commonly called 'adhesion' is something of the sort, under another name."
"A good deal of this bookwork seems to be finding a dozen names for the
same thing," he grunted; and continued to ask his questions.
But what it was he really wanted to know I couldn't for the life of me
Well, he was due any time now to disappear again, having worked quite six
weeks in one place; and he disappeared. He disappeared for a good many
weeks. I think it would be about February before I saw or heard of him
It was February weather, anyway, and in an echoing enough place that I
found him—the subway of one of the Metropolitan stations. He'd probably
forgotten the echoes when he'd taken the train; but, of course, the
railway folk won't let a man who happens to dislike echoes go wandering
across the metals where he likes.
He was twenty yards ahead when I saw him. I recognised him by his patched
head and black hand-bag. I ran along the subway after him.
It was very curious. He'd been walking close to the white-tiled wall,
and I saw him suddenly stop; but he didn't turn. He didn't even turn
when I pulled up, close behind him; he put out one hand to the wall, as
if to steady himself. But, the moment I touched his shoulder, he just
dropped—just dropped, half on his knees against the white tiling. The
face he turned round and up to me was transfixed with fright.
There were half a hundred people about—a train was just in—and it isn't
a difficult matter in London to get a crowd for much less than a man
crouching terrified against a wall, looking over his shoulder as Rooum
looked, at another man almost as terrified. I felt somebody's hand on
my own arm. Evidently somebody thought I'd knocked Rooum down.
The terror went slowly from his face. He stumbled to his feet. I shook
myself free of the man who held me and stepped up to Rooum.
"What the devil's all this about?" I demanded, roughly enough.
"It's all right … it's all right,…" he stammered.
"Heavens, man, you shouldn't play tricks like that!"
"No … no … but for the love of God don't do it again!…"
"We'll not explain here," I said, still in a good deal of a huff; and
the small crowd melted away—disappointed, I dare say, that it wasn't
"Now," I said, when we were outside in the crowded street, "you might let
me know what all this is about, and what it is that for the love of
God I'm not to do again."
He was half apologetic, but at the same time half blustering, as if I had
committed some sort of an outrage.
"A senseless thing like that!" he mumbled to himself. "But there: you
didn't know…. You don't know, do you?… I tell you, d'you hear,
you're not to run at all when I'm about! You're a nice fellow and all
that, and get your quantities somewhere near right, if you do go a long
way round to do it—but I'll not answer for myself if you run, d'you
hear?… Putting your hand on a man's shoulder like that, just when …"
"Certainly I might have spoken," I agreed, a little stiffly.
"Of course, you ought to have spoken! Just you see you don't do it again.
I put a curt question.
"Are you sure you're quite right in your head, Rooum?"
"Ah," he cried, "don't you think I just fancy it, my lad! Nothing so
easy! I thought you guessed that other time, on the new road … it's as
plain as a pikestaff… no, no, no! I shall be telling you something
about molecules one of these days!"
We walked for a time in silence.
Suddenly he asked: "What are you doing now?"
"I myself, do you mean? Oh, the firm. A railway job, past Pinner.
But we've a big contract coming on in the West End soon they might
want you for. They call it 'alterations,' but it's one of these big
"I'll come along."
"Oh, it isn't for a month or two yet."
"I don't mean that. I mean I'll come along to Pinner with you now,
to-night, or whenever you go."
"Oh!" I said.
I don't know that I specially wanted him. It's a little wearing, the
company of a chap like that. You never know what he's going to let you in
for next. But, as this didn't seem to occur to him, I didn't say
anything. If he really liked catching the last train down, a three-mile
walk, and then sharing a double-bedded room at a poor sort of alehouse
(which was my own programme), he was welcome. We walked a little farther;
then I told him the time of the train and left him.
He turned up at Euston, a little after twelve. We went down together. It
was getting on for one when we left the station at the other end, and
then we began the tramp across the Weald to the inn. A little to my
surprise (for I had begun to expect unaccountable behaviour from him) we
reached the inn without Rooum having dodged about changing places with
me, or having fallen cowering under a gorse-bush, or anything of
that kind. Our talk, too, was about work, not molecules and osmosis.
The inn was only a roadside beerhouse—I have forgotten its name—and all
its sleeping accomodation was the one double-bedded room. Over the head
of my own bed the ceiling was cut away, following the roof-line; and the
wallpaper was perfectly shocking—faded bouquets that made V's and A's,
interlacing everywhere. The other bed was made up, and lay across the
I think I only spoke once while we were making ready for bed, and that
was when Rooum took from his black hand-bag a brush and a torn nightgown.
"That's what you always carry about, is it?" I remarked; and Rooum
grunted something: Yes … never knew where you'd be next … no harm,
was it? We tumbled into bed.
But, for all the lateness of the hour, I wasn't sleepy; so from my own
bag I took a book, set the candle on the end of the mantel, and began
to read. Mark you, I don't say I was much better informed for the reading
I did, for I was watching the V's on the wallpaper mostly—that, and
wondering what was wrong with the man in the other bed who had fallen
down at a touch in the subway. He was already asleep.
Now I don't know whether I can make the next clear to you. I'm quite
certain he was sound asleep, so that it wasn't just the fact that he
spoke. Even that is a little unpleasant, I always think, any sort of
sleep-talking; but it's a very queer sort of sensation when a man
actually answers a question that's put to him, knowing nothing whatever
about it in the morning. Perhaps I ought not to have put that question;
having put it, I did the next best thing afterwards, as you'll see in a
moment … but let me tell you.
He'd been asleep perhaps an hour, and I woolgathering about the
wallpaper, when suddenly, in a far more clear and loud voice than he ever
used when awake, he said:
"What the devil is it prevents me seeing him, then?"
That startled me, rather, for the second time that evening; and I really
think I had spoken before I had fully realised what was happening.
"From seeing whom?" I said, sitting up in bed.
"Whom?… You're not attending. The fellow I'm telling you about, who
runs after me," he answered—answered perfectly plainly.
I could see his head there on the pillow, black and white, and his
eyes were closed. He made a slight movement with his arm, but that did
not wake him. Then it came to me, with a sort of start, what was
happening. I slipped half out of bed. Would he—would he?—answer
another question?… I risked it, breathlessly:
"Have you any idea who he is?"
Well, that too he answered.
"Who he is? The Runner?… Don't be silly. Who else should it be?"
With every nerve in me tingling, I tried again.
"What happens, then, when he catches you?"
This time, I really don't know whether his words were an answer or not;
they were these:
"To hear him catching you up … and then padding away ahead again! All
right, all right … but I guess it's weakening him a bit, too…."
Without noticing it, I had got out of bed, and had advanced quite to the
middle of the floor.
"What did you say his name was?" I breathed.
But that was a dead failure. He muttered brokenly for a moment, gave a
deep troubled sigh, and then began to snore loudly and regularly.
I made my way back to bed; but I assure you that before I did so I filled
my basin with water, dipped my face into it, and then set the candlestick
afloat in it, leaving the candle burning. I thought I'd like to have a
light…. It had burned down by morning. Rooum, I remember, remarked on
the silly practice of reading in bed.
Well, it was a pretty kind of obsession for a man to have, wasn't it?
Somebody running after him all the time, and then … running on ahead?
And, of course, on a broad pavement there would be plenty of room for
this running gentleman to run round; but on an eight- or nine-inch kerb,
such as that of the new road out Lewisham way … but perhaps he was a
jumping gentleman too, and could jump over a man's head. You'd think he'd
have to get past some way, wouldn't you?… I remember vaguely wondering
whether the name of that Runner was not Conscience; but Conscience isn't
a matter of molecules and osmosis….
One thing, however, was clear; I'd got to tell Rooum what I'd learned:
for you can't get hold of a fellow's secrets in ways like that. I lost
no time about it. I told him, in fact, soon after we'd left the inn the
next morning—told him how he'd answered in his sleep.
And—what do you think of this?—he seemed to think I ought to have
guessed it! Guessed a monstrous thing like that!
"You're less clever than I thought, with your books and that, if you
didn't," he grunted.
"But … Good God, man!"
"Queer, isn't it? But you don't know the queerest …"
He pondered for a moment, and then suddenly put his lips to my ear.
"I'll tell you," he whispered. "It gets harder every time!… At first,
he just slipped through: a bit of a catch at my heart, like when you nod
off to sleep in a chair and jerk up awake again; and away he went. But
now it's getting grinding, sluggish; and the pain…. You'd notice, that
night on the road, the little check it gave me; that's past long since;
and last night, when I'd just braced myself up stiff to meet it, and you
tapped me on the shoulder …" He passed the back of his hand over his
"I tell you," he continued, "it's an agony each time. I could scream at
the thought of it. It's oftener, too, now, and he's getting stronger. The
end-osmosis is getting to be ex-osmosis—is that right? Just let me tell
you one more thing—"
But I'd had enough. I'd asked questions the night before, but now—well,
I knew quite as much as, and more than, I wanted.
"Stop, please," I said. "You're either off your head, or worse. Let's
call it the first. Don't tell me any more, please."
"Frightened, what? Well, I don't blame you. But what would you do?"
"I should see a doctor; I'm only an engineer," I replied.
"Doctors?… Bah!" he said, and spat.
I hope you see how the matter stood with Rooum. What do you make of it?
Could you have believed it—do you believe it?… He'd made a nearish
guess when he'd said that much of our knowledge is giving names to things
we know nothing about; only rule-of-thumb Physics thinks everything's
explained in the Manual; and you've always got to remember one thing:
You can call it Force or what you like, but it's a certainty that things,
solid things of wood and iron and stone, would explode, just go off in a
puff into space, if it wasn't for something just as inexplicable as that
that Rooum said he felt in his own person. And if you can swallow that,
it's a relatively small matter whether Rooum's light-footed Familiar
slipped through him unperceived, or had to struggle through obstinately.
You see now why I said that "a queer thing overtook Rooum."
More: I saw it. This thing, that outrages reason—I saw it happen. That
is to say, I saw its effects, and it was in broad daylight, on an
ordinary afternoon, in the middle of Oxford Street, of all places. There
wasn't a shadow of doubt about it. People were pressing and jostling
about him, and suddenly I saw him turn his head and listen, as I'd seen
him before. I tell you, an icy creeping ran all over my skin. I fancied I
felt it approaching too, nearer and nearer…. The next moment he had
made a sort of gathering of himself, as if against a gust. He stumbled
and thrust—thrust with his body. He swayed, physically, as a tree sways
in a wind; he clutched my arm and gave a loud scream. Then, after
seconds—minutes—I don't know how long—he was free again.
And for the colour of his face when by-and-by I glanced at it … well, I
once saw a swarthy Italian fall under a sunstroke, and his face was
much the same colour that Rooum's negro face had gone; a cloudy, whitish
"Well—you've seen it—what do you think of it?" he gasped presently,
turning a ghastly grin on me.
But it was night before the full horror of it had soaked into me.
Soon after that he disappeared again. I wasn't sorry.
* * * * *
Our big contract in the West End came on. It was a time-contract, with
all manner of penalty clauses if we didn't get through; and I assure
you that we were busy. I myself was far too busy to think of Rooum.
It's a shop now, the place we were working at, or rather one of these
huge weldings of fifty shops where you can buy anything; and if you'd
seen us there… but perhaps you did see us, for people stood up on the
tops of omnibuses as they passed, to look over the mud-splashed hoarding
into the great excavation we'd made. It was a sight. Staging rose on
staging, tier on tier, with interminable ladders all over the steel
structure. Three or four squat Otis lifts crouched like iron turtles on
top, and a lattice-crane on a towering three-cornered platform rose a
hundred and twenty feet into the air. At one end of the vast quarry
was a demolished house, showing flues and fireplaces and a score of
thicknesses of old wallpaper; and at night—they might well have stood up
on the tops of the buses! A dozen great spluttering violet arc-lights
half-blinded you; down below were the watchmen's fires; overhead, the
riveters had their fire-baskets; and in odd corners naphtha-lights
guttered and flared. And the steel rang with the riveters' hammers, and
the crane-chains rattled and clashed…. There's not much doubt in my
mind, it's the engineers who are the architects nowadays. The chaps who
think they're the architects are only a sort of paperhangers, who hang
brick and terra-cotta on our work and clap a pinnacle or two on top—but
never mind that. There we were, sweating and clanging and navvying, till
the day shift came to relieve us.
And I ought to say that fifty feet above our great gap, and from end to
end across it, there ran a travelling crane on a skeleton line, with
platform, engine, and wooden cab all compact in one.
It happened that they had pitched in as one of the foremen some fellow or
other, a friend of the firm's, a rank duffer, who pestered me incessantly
with his questions. I did half his work and all my own, and it hadn't
improved my temper much. On this night that I'm telling about, he'd been
playing the fool with his questions as if a time-contract was a sort of
summer holiday; and he'd filled me up to that point that I really can't
say just when it was that Rooum put in an appearance again. I think I had
heard somebody mention his name, but I'd paid no attention.
Well, our Johnnie Fresh came up to me for the twentieth time that night,
this time wanting to know something about the overhead crane. At that
I fairly lost my temper.
"What ails the crane?" I cried. "It's doing its work, isn't it? Isn't
everybody doing their work except you? Why can't you ask Hopkins? Isn't
"I don't know," he said.
"Then," I snapped, "in that particular I'm as ignorant as you, and I hope
it's the only one."
But he grabbed my arm.
"Look at it now!" he cried, pointing; and I looked up.
Either Hopkins or somebody was dangerously exceeding the speed-limit. The
thing was flying along its thirty yards of rail as fast as a tram, and
the heavy fall-blocks swung like a ponderous kite-tail, thirty feet
below. As I watched, the engine brought up within a yard of the end of
the way, the blocks crashed like a ram into the broken house end,
fetching down plaster and brick, and then the mechanism was reversed. The
crane set off at a tear back.
"Who in Hell …" I began; but it wasn't a time to talk. "Hi!" I
yelled, and made a spring for a ladder.
The others had noticed it, too, for there were shouts all over the place.
By that time I was halfway up the second stage. Again the crane tore
past, with the massive tackle sweeping behind it, and again I heard the
crash at the other end. Whoever had the handling of it was managing
it skilfully, for there was barely a foot to spare when it turned again.
On the fourth platform, at the end of the way, I found Hopkins. He was
white, and seemed to be counting on his fingers.
"What's the matter here?" I cried.
"It's Rooum," he answered. "I hadn't stepped out of the cab, not a
minute, when I heard the lever go. He's running somebody down, he says;
he'll run the whole shoot down in a minute—look!…"
The crane was coming back again. Half out of the cab I could see Rooum's
mottled hair and beard. His brow was ribbed like a gridiron, and as he
ripped past one of the arcs his face shone like porcelain with the sweat
that bathed it.
"Now … you!… Now, damn you!…" he was shouting.
"Get ready to board him when he reverses!" I shouted to Hopkins.
Just how we scrambled on I don't know. I got one arm over the
lifting-gear (which, of course, wasn't going), and heard Hopkins on
the other footplate. Rooum put the brakes down and reversed; again came
the thud of the fall-blocks; and we were speeding back again over the
gulf of misty orange light. The stagings were thronged with gaping men.
"Ready? Now!" I cried to Hopkins; and we sprang into the cab.
Hopkins hit Rooum's wrist with a spanner. Then he seized the lever,
jammed the brake down and tripped Rooum, all, as it seemed, in one
movement. I fell on top of Rooum. The crane came to a standstill
half-way down the line. I held Rooum panting.
But either Rooum was stronger than I, or else he took me very much
unawares. All at once he twisted clear from my grasp and stumbled on his
knees to the rear door of the cab. He threw up one elbow, and staggered
to his feet as I made another clutch at him.
"Keep still, you fool!" I bawled. "Hit him over the head, Hopkins!"
Rooum screamed in a high voice.
"Run him down—cut him up with the wheels—down, you!—down, I say!—Oh,
my God!… Ha!"
He sprang clear out from the crane door, well-nigh taking me with him.
I told you it was a skeleton line, two rails and a tie or two. He'd
actually jumped to the right-hand rail. And he was running along
it—running along that iron tightrope, out over that well of light and
watching men. Hopkins had started the travelling-gear, as if with some
insane idea of catching him; but there was only one possible end to it.
He'd gone fully a dozen yards, while I watched, horribly fascinated; and
then I saw the turn of his head….
He didn't meet it this time; he sprang to the other rail, as if to evade
Even at the take-off he missed. As far as I could see, he made no attempt
to save himself with his hands. He just went down out of the field of
my vision. There was an awful silence; then, from far below …
* * * * *
They weren't the men on the lower stages who moved first. The men above
went a little way down, and then they too stopped. Presently two of them
descended, but by a distant way. They returned, with two bottles of
brandy, and there was a hasty consultation. Two men drank the brandy off
there and then—getting on for a pint of brandy apiece; then they went
I, Hopkins tells me, had got down on my knees in the crane cab, and was
jabbering away cheerfully to myself. When I asked him what I said,
he hesitated, and then said: "Oh, you don't want to know that, sir," and
I haven't asked him since.
What do you make of it?