THE LONG SHADOW
By John Hampson
THE LONG SHADOW, by John Hampson, in Michael Roberts’ New Country, pp. 97-100.
John Hampson, whose real name is John Hampson Simpson, is another of the new generation of writers. He has written several books, of which Saturday Night at the Greyhound（1931）is his first.
What can I do? she wondered. Slow tears kept welling in her eyes, then rolling gently down her cheeks, gathering into large drops at her chin before they fell unheeded to her lap as the child’s voice went on:
“. . . didn’t know! It was dreadful. We never were real friends, but because she lived near us, we often walked home together. It seemed such a silly thing to quarrel over. I didn’t break the point of her pencil on purpose, but she said that I did. We said horrid things, both of us. At last I told her, ‘I shan’t walk with you any more.’ ‘Who wants you to, anyway? ‘ she said, ‘besides, my brother isn’t a thief.’ I was furious and shouted at her, ‘You liar, ‘ then she laughed, shrugging her shoulders, saying, ‘Ask anybody! They’ll tell you. Anybody! Ask your mother! ‘ Sylvia is horrid, I couldn’t ever speak to her again. I started to cry and ran away from her as fast as I could. She called after me, ‘Prison! Prison; they put him in prison! ‘
“When I got home I crept upstairs to bathe my eyes, they were so red. I could not believe that what she said was true. Mother, how dreadful! Don’t cry, dear. Don’t cry! Don’t! That’s why I couldn’t eat. I did try but when the food was in my mouth, it choked me. I kept looking at Tom. I did not want to, but I kept looking at him. Things came back to me then; I remembered the time he went away, and how you were sad, and wouldn’t talk about him. Then Florrie left and you did not have a maid for ever such a long time.
“I was only a little girl, wasn’t I, mother? And then Tom came back home again. He didn’t go to business for a long time, did he? When people came to see us, he used to jump up and go to his bedroom.
“I kept remembering things like that. Even then I could not believe what Sylvia had told me was true. It was too horrible to believe, so I got up from the table and rushed out of the room so that you would not see I was crying. When you followed me upstairs, I couldn’t tell you. I wanted to.
“I knew Sylvia would tell everyone. So I had to go to school this afternoon, it was no good trying to put it off, it would have been horrible waiting for to-morrow. It’s over now. That’s why I told Daddy, when he wanted me to stay away from school, that I mustn’t miss any marks for being absent. You see why I had to go, don’t you, Mother, dear? It’s not fair. I never did anything. Why should they look down at me? Or be sorry for me? I don’t want their pity. Oh, Mother! Mother! She was standing by the school porch, Sylvia was, I mean. She stared at me, but I hurried by; my head up. I did not speak to her, but I hoped she would not tell. Hope and hoped. In the lobby I said ‘Our Father which art in Heaven’ as I took my hat and coat off, but all the time . . . I knew . . . she’d tell. . . . I walked into the classroom with my head in the air, speaking to no one. Inside I felt cold and sick though I kept hoping. . . . Sylvia sat the other side of the room; I watched her, though. For a long time she worked at the essay. It was about Irish Peasant Customs; between the words I wrote I looked up to see what she was doing. Soon she had finished; and catching my eye when next I looked she nodded. Her eyes were queer. I felt cold again as I saw her write something on a scrap of paper, which she rolled into a ball slowly, then she passed it to Dora Green. Holding the paper ball under her desk, Dora unscrewed it, reading it with her head bent forward, then she looked across at me. My face was hot, I turned my head away. It was no use watching any more, I knew that soon they would all be staring at me.
“I wrote on and on; anything. I don’t think I shall get any marks for the essay. Then I heard Miss Neal ask crossly, ‘Doris Lowe, what has Betty Sharp just handed to you? ‘ Doris held up the little piece of paper, and said, her voice faltering, ‘This note, Miss Neal.’ She had to take it out to the desk. I watched Miss Neal’s face flush as she read the paper. She frowned at Doris and asked angrily: ‘Who wrote this? ‘ Doris did not know, she stood first on one foot and then on the other, while Miss Neal went from desk to desk, asking each girl: ‘Did you write this note that I have just taken from Doris? ’
“Suddenly, Sylvia stood up. It was nearly her turn to answer. She said, ‘I wrote it, Miss Neal. It’s true.’ Miss Neal said, ‘I do not wish to know anything about that. Please go to Miss Wade. Tell her that I sent you, and say that I shall come along to see her in a few moments.’ As Sylvia got slowly to her feet, Miss Neal came over to me. I put my head down on the desk and cried and cried. Miss Neal said, ‘Come along to the rest room, my dear, ‘ and I stood up. I couldn’t see very well, things were misty. Miss Neal put her arms round my shoulders, guiding me. I did not know she was so decent . . . so kind. She nursed me for a while, like you used to Mother, stroking my hair. I couldn’t stop crying though, not for a long while. At last she patted my head and left me. Then Miss Wade came. She knew about Tom. I mustn’t worry about it she said. Then she suggested I would be better at home for the rest of this afternoon, and so I came.
“Fancy Sylvia telling them like that, Mother. How could she? I shall be glad when I leave school, I shall be glad then! I did not know Tommy had been in prison! I did not know. . . .”
Tears trickled steadily down the woman’s cheeks. She kept wondering “What can I do? What can I do?” the child’s voice broke through to her consciousness again: “didn’t know! I only broke her pencil. . . .”
Sylvia, the girl with whom she had quarreled.
him in prison, her brother Tom.
lobby, a passageway, especially when used also as a waiting room.
“Our Father which art in Heaven, ” the opening sentence of the Lord’s prayer （The Christian Bible, the New Testament, Matthew, Chapter VI, 9-13）.
Miss Neal, the classroom teacher.
Miss Wade, the principal of the school.
things were misty, because tears were coming into her eyes.
fancy, imagine; think of.
the woman’s, the mother’s.
- What is the shadow? On whom did it fall?
- In similar cases, what is the usual attitude of society, Sylvia’s or the teachers’.