A. A. Milne

Bruce: A short study of a great life

Originally published in Punch – August 28, 1907

Bruce is a cricket. When I am lying awake o’ nights, thinking of all the wonderful things I am going to do on the morrow, Bruce is on his back, somewhere behind the boiler, singing to himself.

Looking back on the days when I first knew him, it seems strange to reflect that there was a time when I almost wanted to kill him. That was before I understood that he was really quite out of reach behind the boiler. The first night (how absurd it sounds now) I got out of bed with a slipper, tracked him three times round the room, and returned to bed very cold and mystified. The next day I spoke to the housekeeper about it, and learnt that I should never be able to get the slipper on to him properly.

On that night he sang more loudly than ever; the way he kept the note was wonderful. I decided to call him Bruce and, as he and the boiler were fixtures, to make the best of him. Even so I did not love him. The intrinsic merits of his song were few—the position from which he gave it argued a want of confidence in his powers.

And then I made a wonderful discovery. I was told by a man who knew a little more about crickets than I did that Bruce did not sing in the ordinary sense of the word, but that the chirping noise characteristic of him he made by rubbing his knees together. And the same with grasshoppers.

Now I invite you to consider what this really means. There is a heroism about this that is truly wonderful. Picture to yourself a hot August night on the one hand, myself in bed dropping comfortably off into a peaceful slumber—on the other hand, Bruce behind the boiler vigorously rubbing his knees together. The contract is a terrible one. I don’t know, but I should think that Bruce must be a Socialist by now.

Of course I want to know two things. First, how did Bruce get behind the boiler; secondly, why does he rub his knees together? There are seventy-two steps up to my rooms; if he came by the stairs it was a long and tiring journey for him, and there was always the chance of finding me out. Perhaps he came straight up the hot-water pipe—Excelsior!

I like the picture of him coming up the hot-water pipe. Probably he had others with him. They would take up position on the first three floors.

“Hallo, wherever are you off to?” they would say to Bruce, as they sat down and began to rosin their knees.

“How do you know there isn’t another floor?” Bruce would answer. “Anyhow I’m going to see.”

“Don’t be an ass. It’s warm enough here for anybody.”

“No, I think I’ll just go on a bit. There’s a chap up here who’s never heard Bluebell.’”

Perhaps, though, Bruce was born behind the broiler. I should be sorry to think that. I don’t like the idea of him taking advantage of the accidents of birth in this way. I prefer to regard him as a self-made cricket.

My knowledge of Bruce is contemptible. I don’t even know why he wants to rub his knees together so violently. Is it merely a nervous spasmodic twitching? Oh no, it cannot be that. It may be with the others, but now with Bruce. But if he does it deliberately, does he never get tired? Do his knees never wear out? When does he take nourishment?

That brings me to another point. What does Bruce eat? He might possibly tap the boiler for hot water now and then, but how does he manage for food? Is his diet animal, vegetable, or mineral? Mineral, it would appear …

It is twelve o’clock. I have a hard day’s work, and I am tired. There is no noise save from the direction of the boiler. As I lie awake, my thoughts are with Bruce. He has abandoned his whole soul to his song. For one moment, it is true, I am tempted to say, “Confound the beast, why won’t he let me go to sleep?” But then I think of his noble unselfish life. I think of his unceasing labor and of his love for music. And I recall, too, how in the face of disappointments which would have soured and embittered the life of another, he has remained cheerful. For while hustlers have sung hymns in praise of the bee, and have recommended the sluggard to the ant, no one has yet done justice to the tireless life of the cricket…

Bruce, I raise the water-bottle to you. More power to your knees!

(1907)

MLA Citation

Milne, A. A.. “Bruce: A short study of a great life.” 1907. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 6 Nov 2007. 29 Jun 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/milne/bruce_a_short_study_of_a_great/>.

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