Education, like charity, should begin at home. Bennett had spent eleven years in being educated, but he had been taught nothing at all of the place in which he lived. He had not been told why it was, what it was, nor for what purpose it existed and grew and expanded. He knew nothing of its history except that it had once had a Latin name and had been occupied by the Romans, and that Oliver Cromwell had passed through or near it with his Roundheads. Everything that was told him was presented to him in such a desiccated form that his gorge rose at it and he could swallow it only with an effort. In a city of Puritans it seemed meet and right that education, like religion and life, should be made as unpleasant as possible.
The only real education that Bennett ever got was in his daily walk to and fro over the two miles that separated his home from the school. He could cover the distance in three ways: either he could go through slums and [Pg 214]under factories and engineering shops along the low ground, or he could take the high ground behind the Albert Station and soon come to suburbs and the streets where the middle classes gathered, or he could pass through the Jews’ quarter down by the Assize Courts and the gaol.
Most often he chose the third way. The mysterious, large-headed, thick-featured creatures with their oily, beady eyes exercised a strange fascination over him. He liked their غير مجاز مي باشدher shops, their bills written in weird characters, the women with their hard stiff wigs, the men with their queer gnarled legs and their feet loosely hinged at the ankles. He always looked at their feet, because a boy at school had once pointed out to him how the Jews always wore their boots down on the outside edge of the sole. He never knew why the Jews were there in such large numbers, but they interested him. They were romantic. All the cleverest boys at school were Jews. They seemed to learn everything with an extraordinary facility. . . . Almost his only friend at school was a Jew named Kraus, whose father and mother were in Roumania, and at intervals they would send him over a hamper containing queer fishes and black olives and rose-leaf jam, and then Bennett would go home with Kraus and have an orgy. Once Kraus gave him some unleavened bread, and Bennett kept it as a curiosity, and frightened himself with pretending that the tragedy of the Passover was come again, and that the angels would not mark his house because he was not a Jew and had no right to the bread.
Kraus had an aunt who was a musician and a singer. She sang so sweetly that Bennett was moved to tears and fell violently in love with her, though he would not admit it to himself, for all thought of love disgusted him. It was Kraus who revealed to Bennett the mystery of his birth, and in the filthiest way possible explained to him the process by which he had his being. It took Bennett some time to recover from the despair into which the revelation threw him, but it never occurred to him to doubt the truth of his friend’s statements. The filthiness was in the world and not in Kraus. They became more intimate, and [Pg 215]their talk was almost always dirty, though innocent. It was a swaggering pose, their way of equalising matters with the bawdiness of the world that lay before them.
Bennett had no corrective. No grown person ever held out a hand to save him from his dark thoughts and uneasy desires when they came to him, nor troubled to enquire into what pitfalls he might be tumbling. Instructed by Kraus he went the way of all flesh and lost his peace of mind and the bloom of his boyhood. All around him he saw darkness and ugliness, but never any beauty. The one place in his daily walks that his imagination fastened on was the gaol, and he dreamed of prisoners and policemen and arrestments.
His friendship with Kraus lasted for three years, during which Bennett fell in and out of love (with absurd chivalry and nobility) with his sisters’ friends. The rupture came when one day Kraus filled the whole of their walk home with an account—largely invented—of an adventure with a loose factory girl whom he had encountered in the street seeking whom she might devour. A black abyss yawned at Bennett’s feet, his brain whirled, and he said: