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tottered on the brink of chaos. But never had these things bothered me so much as on the day after that little altercation with my parents. It had dawned upon me that there was something wrong in our household, and that humiliating exhibition of drunkenness had settled down into my mind like a dull, painful feeling, in which there was much sorrow and sympathy for my father. If he had not seemed ashamed, I should have thought the incident rather funny than otherwise ; but I had seen his eye fall on me as mine used to fall, seeking the floor, when convicted of some childish error.
I had noted my mother's angry look, too ; and the words she uttered were so hard and sharp, coupled with her complaints to me before my father came, that I sat and brooded over the business with a long and lasting sorrow.
My father was a kind, genial man ; he could sing an excellent song, and he enjoyed a social glass. I think he neglected his home sometimes, and he occasionally got tipsy; but this was generally when he had been out with that strange gentleman, Mr. Welby, who was one of the proprietors of the factory where my father worked so hard. He was a sleek, soft-spoken, bland gentleman, this. Mr. Welby, and he thought very highly of my father. Indeed, on the day after that disagreeable incident, I heard him tell my mother so when he called in the afternoon. It was a pity, he said, that my father would frequent the Norfolk Hotel. Some people thought Mr. Newbolde went there to see the young ladies ; but this might not be true. My mother shook her head and sighed, and then she told me I had better go and look after my little sister. And, somehow or other, I hated Mr. Welby. I shivered when he patted me on the head, and I threw his sixpences into the gutter. Nothing could have induced me to like Mr. Welby, and my mother was very angry with me when I said he was an ugly, disagreeable person. She said she was a persecuted, unhappy woman, and nobody took her part.
I can see her now, with her dark brown hair falling in curls upon her shoulders, sitting rocking herself to and fro before her pier glass, with little Alice rolling at her feet, and myself sitting by her and wondering at all the mysteries of her toilette. She was a pretty woman; frivolous, dark, piquant. She sat before her glass for hours, and dressed her hair in a dozen ways, and asked me how I liked mamma best, with flowers in her hair or without.
At these times I often fondled and kissed her, but there was no warmth in her embrace. She seemed to receive all my love as a sort of tribute. There were occasions when she would chat with me, and appear to give me her confidence; but her talk was filled
with complaints of my father's neglect : and then a cloud seemed to come upon me, and presentiments of evil. For many days after that night when my father sent me to bed, there was a sort of quiet warfare going on between my unhappy parents. One night, however, the storm burst furiously, and that long after I was abed. I heard my mother say she had been deceived - her husband was a drunkard and a beggar. My father rejoined that his wife was a frivolous, silly woman, who thought more about the fashion of her ribbons than the regulation of her household. Oh, how I prayed to heaven that peace would come to these people, my parents ; how I buried my head in the pillows and sobbed, and longed to throw myself between them and help them to forgive each other.
Several days passed after this, and I regularly accompanied my father to the factory. Sometimes he would sit in his little room for hours, looking vacantly at the drawings that were scattered about ; and I heard him sigh, so sadly. And then the whirling wheels without, would get into my brain, and nearly drive me mad. One day Mr. Welby came in and gave my father a newspaper, which he read, and then handed to me.
“Take that to your mother, George,” he said ; "and say I shall be home presently."
I went home and gave my mother the paper. It recorded the fact that Mr. Newbolde had invented a new system of winding, and had patented other improvements in machinery, which would, no doubt, bring him fame and fortune.
“Oh, yes; I know all about it," my mother said. “Mr. Welby told me of it. Your father ought to be very much obliged to Mr. Welby for his kindness.”
Mr. Welby again! How I hated that man! I, with my infantile instinct, how I disliked this oily, smiling villain-for villain he was. When my mother had gone to market on Saturday morning I used to sit with little Alice on the hearth, playing at building palaces of cards; and I taught her to say “nasty Mr. Welby," until Susan, our nurse (who used to have a policeman in the back kitchen on the sly), said she would tell my mother.
“If you do, I'll tell her about the policeman," I said, on one occasion.
· Do, and he shall lock you up; but you may tell her, if you like. I don't care for your ma, for that matter. She's nothing so wonderful."
Susan said this with an air of confidence and contempt that
irritated me to desperation, and I flung Alice's little shoe at her, just as Mr. Welby called. Susan told him all about it, and he laughed and patted my head, and said I was a brave little fellow. Alice stammered out “nasty Mr. Welby," and this seemed to amuse him mightily. Before he went he whispered to Susan, and gave her something; and it was in my mind to go straight to my father and tell him, though I had not the remotest idea why I should do so, or what the effect of it would be.
How clearly all these little incidents come back to me now! I interpret them with a bitterness which will nauseate my cup of life to the last.
How slowly and wearily the time dragged on it boots not now to say! It was varied in my life by a hard struggle to understand Mr. Birch's views of arithmetic at the day school, and by long lonely rambles in the meadows outside our old fashioned town. I had no companions except now and then such as forced themselves upon my society, and insisted upon doing battle with me occasionally. Through the mists that have long since gathered about those early years I can see myself standing before some giant of a youth (who would fight me, whether or no), and receiving my punishment like a man. There were times when I came off conqueror, and then I remember I almost felt sorry that my adversary was beaten ; for I had a peculiarly soft heart in those days, despite the adamantine character of the district generally.
It was not a desirable place to be brought up in, Elmsfield. The boys were bullies and the men were brutes. At least, that was my boyish experience. The girls were fit companions for the boys; and the women,—well, I did not know very much about the women, thank goodness. And even now I may do the Elmsfielders an injustice generally. If I do, they will forgive me on account of my juvenile prejudices; for as a man I know them not. They never understood me, no more than they understood anyone else who was born with sensibilities. They made game of my long black hair and my clean white stockings (my mother was proud of her son), and they objected to my going about alone, and having pet corners by the brook, and finding out the best places for violets and primroses. And, I fear me, my father did not understand me, though he always treated me kindly; and I loved him more than ever because he was so good to Alice-little toddling Alice, with her merry blue eyes and her rosy dimpled cheeks.
Oh! if my father could only have given up going to that hotel; and if he had not been so angry when my mother upbraided him ;
and if my mother had been more persuasive in her manner and less fierce in her condemnation, perhaps our household would have been a happy one; and I might not have had this story to tell.
Alice was five years old, and I was eleven, when the first really great trouble of my life came upon me.
The misunderstanding between our parents increased to such an extent that hardly a day passed without what Susan used to call a regular row; and a new element of bitterness was the introduction of Mr. Welby's name into the family disputes. Even to a boy of my years it was pretty clear that this kind of perpetual warfare must have some violent ending. Impressed with Sunday school and other advice, I religiously prayed for peace, but peace came not; and when sometimes I went out, which was very seldom, to a neighbour's house where there were no regular rows," and the children were happy and not afraid, the home to which I returned seem to chill all my better feelings and fill my heart with a blank despair, until little Alice trotted up to me, and pulled my hand, and climbed upon my knee, and buried her dear little face in my neck.
At length the end came. One day my mother was specially kind to Susan and myself. There was a circus in the town, and she gave permission for Susan to take me to see the riders. When we were ready to go she took me in her arms and kissed mekissed me so tenderly, so fondly, that it seemed as if an angel had come down specially from heaven with an answer to my prayers.
There were tears in her eyes, too, when we left her, and the expression of her face seemed to steal into my heart and make it ache ; but this soon passed away in the joy of her fervent kiss, and the new sensation of being sent out to be amused and made happy.
In latter days I have been to see the riders, that my memory of dishonour and my title to vengeance might not expire. I have been there to take my turn, as it were, upon the wheel-to be broken on the wheel of my own memory, to suffer and grow strong.
You have sat, no doubt, my friend, and seen the clown tumble, and you have laughed with the little ones as I laughed in my early days; but now, if I were to see that scene again, as I may do, memory would fill my ears with mingled sounds of sobs and laughter.
Oh, that night years ago! Whilst I was clapping my hands together with childish glee at the tricks of Mr. Merryman, Fate was preparing for me such a future as few could have lived through and retained their reason. Don't look at me as though I had not achieved that triumph. They think me mad, I dare say; but I am as sane as
you are, quite as sane ; and you shall have ample proof of that, one day. Better go on with my story? You are right; I will.
When we reached home the house was in disorder, the fires had gone out, the candles were not lighted, and all the place was still as death. I remember taking hold upon Susan's gown and asking her what was the matter. She made no reply; but lighted the candles, went to my mother's room, which was strewn with papers and opened drawers. There was a letter on her dressing-table for my father. I learnt this afterwards.
Little Alice was fast asleep in her cot in the next room.
Whilst her son was enjoying the quips and cranks of the clown, and falling into a passion of juvenile love for the young lady who sprang through paper hoops and leaped over yards of blue silk; whilst little Alice was asleep and dreaming of angels, perhaps, and that wonderland which I tried sometimes to make her comprehend in my simple reading of our fairy books; whilst my father was smoking his pipe and thinking out that great invention of his, which should make his family rich ; whilst the moon was calmly shining upon Elmsfield, my mother was deserting her home, her husband, and her children for ever,-deserting all, perjuring her soul, blackening the innocent names of her children, for a villain.
The whole town rang with the news next day. Mrs. Newbolde had eloped with Mr. Welby.
It was a pitiable sight to see my father, who had alternate fits of rage and sorrow, of weeping and cursing, of sad sobriety and wild drunkenness, which lasted for many days. In the intervals I carried little Alice to that walk by the river, and we sat and looked into the murmuring waters, and listened to the song of the factory. Despite all our troubles and strange griefs, which we hardly understood, the river flowed on as before, the wheels flashed in the factory windows, the birds sang, the sun shone, and the world was not altered in the least, except when we were at home, and here the change was great; not that we had enjoyed any very great happiness there, only that we remembered days of calm and quiet, and some happy times when father was at home and mother pleasant and talkative; we remembered a few sunny hours when the whole household turned out into the fields to gather buttercups and daisies; we remembered a few warm, loving, tender caresses; but after that night at the circus a dull, heavy, indescribable gloom settled upon our house, culminating a few weeks afterwards in a terrible catastrophe.