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:
“You’ll go to Hell.”
Kraus replied with an obscene jingle which they had often chanted together, and offered to call for Bennett that night.
“I don’t ever want to see you again,” said Bennett, and he washed his hands of Kraus. Thereafter for the short remaining period of his term at school he avoided the Jewish quarter and took the high road through the most respectable-seeming middle-class streets.
The hours of the school were five, three in the morning and two in the afternoon, with three-quarters of an hour for lunch. This was not provided eatably in the school-building, and as, for most of the boys, the mid-day meal was the most serious of the day, they went, according to their means, to the various restaurants in the locality. Bennett was allowed sixpence a day, and used to repair to one of three or four cheap eating-houses, all in cellars. Here he saw men and youths of the type with which his future life would be spent—warehousemen and clerks, [Pg 216]all scraping as much off their food allowance as they could to pay for beer and betting and billiards and tobacco. They were all dull and timid and white-faced, foul-mouthed very many of them, and the conditions under which their food was placed before them were so uninviting that they hurried through their meals as quickly as possible. On the whole Bennett envied them because they were not at school and were independent and doing work for which they were paid. . . Very often he felt too timid or too listless to eat, and he saved the sixpence for his own purposes. When he did that he found it very hard to keep awake during the two hours in the afternoon, and very often he had his homework increased by a long imposition.