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mother has often related to me; changed in every way, my nose gradually becoming perfectly Grecian in outline, and my black hair curling sharp and crisply all over my round well-shaped head.
“ You were soon pretty enough for your father to make a fuss about you, though cross and peevish in the extreme. I shall never forget when I travelled with you from Southtown, all those miles by the coach to Elmsfield ; I believe you cried all the way, all those three or four hundred miles, whatever the distance was."
“I must have known what a miserable place we were journeying to,” said I, pushing my hands into a pair of short velvet trousers, and frowning contempt upon Elmsfield from the mature height of seven summers.
"Perhaps you did. I only wish I had never seen Elmsfield, or your father either, for the matter of that,” said
“ To be married at eighteen, and taken away from your parents, never to se them again, it is enough to make any one wretched.” “Have you never seen them since ?” I remember asking.
No, and never shall, and your father that proud and independent it makes one unable to sit easy in one's chair to think of it. My father, that is your grandfather, Mills, would have sent us all the way in his own waggon, and with a good load of furniture and linen ; but your father said, “No, I married her for love, and I will not have a penny in one way or another.' The best of it was we had not a ten pound note between us at the time, and if it had not been for a little purse of gold which my poor mother slipped into my hands just before the coach started, I really don't know what we should have done. And I coming away alone, and to travel all those miles, and the snow falling so heavily that the whole country was covered with it. Your father had gone on a week before to get lodgings for us, and what with your crying and the cold, and feeling lonely, I never spent two such unhappy days in all my life.”
The room in which we were talking was a semi-kitchen, semiparlour, of a respectable old-fashioned kind of middle-class house. The furniture consisted of a heavy deal table and dresser to match ; a woolly, fluffy, chintz covered sofa, two arm chairs, a piece of carpet covering the centre of the room, a shining black-leaded fire-place, and a baby's cot, completely furnished with baby and pillows, which said cot my mother rocked with her foot as she talked ; whilst I, her son and heir, sat close by the fire on a little stool, and watched the firelight dancing up the chimney. It was a snug, homely room. Shining tins, of all kinds, hung upon the wall, and a few odd books filled a small shelf at one side of the fire-place. I remember the shining tins, because there
was a long spit amongst them which served me for a sword, while the great saucepan lid furnished me with a shield, and enabled me to suit the action to the word, the word to the action, when I recited, for the special edification of occasional tea parties, the grandiloquent address of Norval, in reference to his shrewd parent of the Grampian Hills. The bookshelf also stands out in my early remembrances, because of sundry pictorial representations of “Pickwick,” “the Arabian Nights," and Joseph in Egypt. The first of these works was my father's especial favourite, and he would sit over his tea and laugh loud and long to himself without reference to my mother or me, which more than once was the cause of unpleasant bickerings between my respected parents. A cozy little room, I say; and so it was, clean and neat and shiny, with a door leading into the parlour where we sat on Sundays, and another conducting us up into the bedrooms.
“ And how old was I when you brought me to Elmsfield, mother?”
“Twelve months," said my mother, looking up at the little clock over the mantel-piece.
“And what made you come to Elmsfield ?"
“Ah, you may well ask that, child, when we had a good house at Southtown, where your father was doing well, and your grandfather never missed a day without sending us something or another. What is it that makes people rush upon their own destruction, I wonder ? It was getting to be from a journeyman to an overseer, I suppose, that made your father come here; and when he arrived he found it was all through a strike, and they called him names and wrote verses upon him, and in the song they said something about our burning a pig up the chimney; for you see your father he is so obstinate, he will insist upon doing things here as they do them at Southtown. They cure their bacon there by smoking it over a wood fire, and your father had a flitch put up the kitchen chimney to smoke it, but the thing caught fire and nearly burnt the house down; and so they put it in a song, and I could have cried my eyes out when some one threw a copy into the house, and the neighbours made remarks about it when I went out."
“ Are we rich, mother?"
“ Your father says so; but I very much doubt it. I never heard of a Newbolde who was rich yet. Your father talks of their having as good blood in their veins as anybody in Elmsfield; though what the good of that is I never could make out.”
A comely, dark little woman, with a low forehead and sharp, black eyes, I can see my mother now, rocking my sister Alice in the wooden cradle, very much like the show cradles you see in old halls; for what was only good enough for common sort of people forty years ago, was good enough for princes in the old days. Our ancestral mothers never dreamed of anything so handsome and soft and silken and lace-bedecked as the modern cot which you encounter now and then in Dives' drawing-room, when Mrs. Dives is inclined to be particularly domesticated for ten minutes, and wishes to show her darling to an especial friend. It was a good old-fashioned cradle, that in which I was rocked, and in my manhood Dame Fortune has not favoured me with any particularly soft rugs or cushions. But I am none the worse for that physically ; indeed, I think I am all the better, seeing how sickly and white and weak certain swells are who have been lying on swans' down all their lives, and watching every change of wind, that they might not be surprised with clothing too thick or too thin for the weather.
Depend upon it there is nothing like hard fare to make a man strong and active and wise, nothing like a career of hardship and trial, a perpetual fight with adverse circumstances, and his own way to make in the world as I had; though, mind you, I should be sorry for a son of mine to be launched upon the great tide of life compassless and rudderless as I was ; for you can readily judge that my mother was not the sort of woman to fortify her son with moral armour, and as for my father-well, he had enough to do to keep the pot boiling, as he used to say, without bothering his head about the future so much. But if you would make a man of your son, send him out into the world early; let him rely upon his own resources; help him judiciously when he is in trouble, and cheer him on when he deserves it. I had all the first advantages of this forcing system, and none of the latter; so you will the more easily understand my difficulties, and forgive my shortcomings.
But to go back to that conversation with my mother. I remember that we were just discussing the point about our material wealth, and I was wondering whether there were really any good fairies who visited people and gave them sundry wishes, when the door was suddenly opened, and in rolled a hat.
“Ah, there he is again,” said my mother; "twice this fortnight.”
“Whoever shall this hat displace, must meet Bombastes face to face,'
,!” said a tipsy voice in the door-way, and in due course there entered my respected father, smiling cheerfully, and in dumb show inviting sundry opponents to come on and displace that said hat,
which rolled playfully up to the fireplace, and there lay covered with the firelight. My little sister Alice woke up and cried lustily, my mother took the child again to her arms, my father tried to kiss the twain, in a mock show of affection, my mother angrily repulsed him, and I shrank away behind the sofa, half afraid, half amused.
“Won't you speak, my petsy-wetsy ?—won't um speak to um's hubby-bubby?” said my father, and then he spied me, and was evidently ashamed of this undignified parental exhibition in my presence.
“Why is not Georgy in bed ?” he said, the smile leaving his face.
“Because he is not," said my mother, sharply. “ Left hours and hours by myself like this, I may surely have the companionship of my own child ?”
“ Hours and hours; what do you mean by hours and hours ?” asked my father.
“What do I mean? You ought to be ashamed of yourself !”
“So he is, so he is,” said a gentleman whom I had never seen before, stepping in at the half open door-way ; for it was not yet ten o'clock; “but it was my fault this time. The truth is, he has been dining with me, we have been settling some important business, and the wine excited him. I walked home with him, and should have come in, but I was startled by his sudden bit of theatrical business.”
“Come in now, then,” said my father. “Sit down, and don't apologise for me. How I came home is my affair, sir, not yours.”
He was quite a gentleman, this stranger to me; for that matter, my father was a gentleman, but he was not dressed so well as his companion, nor was there such a tone of authority in his voice. My mother moved quite courteously to the gentleman, and my father offered him a chair.
“Georgy,” said my father, putting his hand gently on my shoulder. “Yes, father," I said, looking up at him. “ Go to bed." “Yes, father,” I said, hurrying to the staircase.
“Good night, father."
“Good night ;” and then all of a sudden my father's voice changed, as if he was going to weep, when he said again, "good night, my boy."
My mother followed me upstairs, but she did not come into my little room. The single domestic who sometimes undressed me and heard me say my prayers, never came near me, and hurrying off my things, I crept into bed, hid my face in the pillow, and felt-oh! so
wretched, so very miserable, and I knew not why. The moon, shining in at one corner of the window, sent a pale ray of light across the room, falling upon a chest of drawers, and mounting upwards in a long column, like a ghost. I could hear the murmur of voices in the room below, and my mother hushing Alice to sleep in the next room. I thought all about that journey in the coach, and my grandfather and his waggon, wondered what Southtown was like, and if I should ever see it, prayed for my father and mother and little Alice, drew the sheets more tightly round me as that column of moonlight gradually moved along the wall nearer the bed, and at last fell asleep and dreamed of some strange land beyond the hills that overlooked the shabby little town called Elmsfield, in the rich midland county of Rothershire.
Why do I dwell upon all these little details ? Ask the criminal who is condemned to die why he thinks of the days of his innocence? Ask the parched traveller in the desert why he dreams of springs and green-fringed rivers ? Ask the bankrupt why his mind wanders back to the well-filled coffers of the past ? Ask the dying man why he thinks of those early days when he sat by his mother's knee and listened to the sweet music of her loving voice? Ask the rich man in the burning pit why he looks up at Lazarus in heaven?
Whirling wheels and bobbins, flashing wheels, and great black straps winding and twining about the wheels like snakes; clatter and clash and bang of machinery ; a soft, oily, smoky kind of atmosphere ; girls and men singing at their work : this was the factory where my father was manager.
It stood by a river that came tumbling over those distant hills, gliding through the meadows on its way, by woods, under bridges, and at length flowing smoothly past the Elmsfield net factory, which at quiet eventide threw a great red reflection into the water. It was a wonderful place to me, and I have often sat by the river catching the minnows which swam about in the warm water that came down in a little artificial fall from the engine-house of the factory. I have also sat by the net-spinners amidst those whirling wheels, and found the straps and spindles and wheels mixed up in my thoughts, pounding and tearing and tattering those wonderful, weird, strange lands in the great fairy book into tatters, scattering the princes, and twisting and twirling all my notions thereon into crude, queer shapes. And the engine, with its great cranks plunging up and down, and its ponderous wheel revolving with a quiet, easy motion, like that of a tiger in a cage: these have plunged and revolved in my infantile mind until reason has almost