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 OF THE PASSING OF THE SHADOW. Better is little, than treasure and trouble therewith. Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and therewith. None but a great man would have dared to utter such a glaring commonplace as that. Not only on Sundays now, but all the week, came the hot to table, and on every day there was pudding, till a body grew indifferent to pudding; thus a joy-giving luxury of life being lost and but another item added to the long list of uninteresting needs. Now we could eat and drink without . No need now to for the morrow's hash. No need now to cut one's bread instead of breaking it, thinking of Saturday's bread pudding. But there the saying fails, for never now were we merry. A silent unseen guest sat with us at the board, so that no longer we laughed and teased as over the half pound of sausages or the two sweet-scented herrings; but talked of empty things that lay outside us.
Easy enough would it have been for us to move to Guilford Street. Occasionally in the spiritless tones in which they now on all subjects save the one, my mother and father would discuss the project; but always into the conversation would fall, sooner or later, some loosened thought to stir it to anger, and so the aching months went by, and the cloud grew.
Then one day the news came that old Teidelmann had died suddenly in his counting house.
“You are going to her?” said my mother.
“I have been sent for,” said my father; “I must—it may mean business.”
My mother laughed bitterly; why, at the time, I could not understand; and my father flung out of the house. During the many hours that he was away my mother remained locked in her room, and, stealing sometimes to the door, I was sure I heard her crying; and that she should grieve so at old Teidelmann's death puzzled me.
She came oftener to our house after that. Her mourning added, I think, to her beauty, softening—or seeming to soften—the hardness of her eyes. Always she was very sweet to my mother, who by contrast beside her appeared witless and ungracious; and to me, whatever her , she was kindness itself; hardly ever arriving without some gift or plan for affording me some childish treat. By instinct she understood exactly what I desired and liked, the books that would appeal to me as those my mother gave me never did, the pleasures that did please me as opposed to the pleasures that should have pleased me. Often my mother, talking to me, would chill me with the of the life that lay before me: a narrow, viewless way between twin endless walls of “Must” and “Must not.” This soft-voiced lady set me dreaming of life as of sunny fields through which one wandered laughing, along the path of Will; so that, although as I have said, there at the bottom of my thoughts a fear of her; yet something within me I seemed unable to control went out to her, by her subtle sympathy and understanding of it.
“Has he ever seen a pantomime?” she asked of my father one morning, looking at me the while with a whimsical screwing of her mouth.
My heart leaped within me. My father raised his : “What would your mother say, do you think?” he asked. My heart sank.
“She thinks,” I replied, “that theatres are very wicked places.” It was the first time that any doubt as to the correctness of my mother's had ever crossed my mind.
Mrs. Teidelmann's smile strengthened my doubt. “Dear me,” she said, “I am afraid I must be very wicked. I have always regarded a pantomime as quite a moral entertainment. All the bad people go down so very straight to—well, to the fit and proper place for them. And we could promise to leave before the Clown stole the sausages, couldn't we, Paul?”
My mother was called and came; and I could not help thinking how she looked with her pale face and plain dark frock, stiffly beside this shining lady in her clothes.
“You will let him come, Mrs. Kelver,” she pleaded in her soft tones; “it's Dick Whittington, you know—such an excellent moral.”
My mother had stood silent, clasping and unclasping her hands, a childish trick she had when troubled; and her lips were trembling. Important as the matter before my own eyes, I wondered at her .
“I am very sorry,” said my mother, “it is very kind of you. But I would rather he did not go.”
“Just this once,” persisted Mrs. Teidelmann. “It is holiday time.”
A ray of sunlight fell into the room, upon her face, making where my mother stood seem shadow.
“I would rather he did not go,” repeated my mother, and her voice sounded harsh and grating. “When he is older others must judge for him, but for the present he must be guided by me—alone.”
“I really don't think there could be any harm, Maggie,” urged my father. “Things have changed since we were young.”
“That may be,” answered my mother, still in the same harsh voice; “it is long ago since then.”
“I didn't intend it that way,” said my father with a short laugh.
“I merely meant that I may be wrong,” answered my mother. “I seem so old among you all—so out of place. I have tried to change, but I cannot.”
“We will say no more about it,” said Mrs. Teidelmann, sweetly. “I merely thought it would give him pleasure; and he has worked so hard this last term, his father tells me.”
She laid her hand on my shoulder, drawing me a little closer to her; and it remained there.
“It was very kind of you,” said my mother, “I would do anything to give him pleasure, anything—I could. He knows that. He understands.”
My mother's hand, I knew, was seeking mine, but I was angry and would not see; and without another word she left the room.
My mother did not again to the subject; but the very next afternoon she took me herself to a hall in the neighbourhood, where we saw a magic-lantern, followed by a conjurer. She had dressed herself in a prettier frock than she had worn for many a long day, and was brighter and gayer in herself than had lately been her , laughing and talking merrily. But I, nursing my wrongs, remained and sulky. At any other time such rare amusement would have overjoyed me; but the wonders of the great theatre that from other boys I had heard so much of, that from gaudy-coloured posters I had built up for myself, were floating vague and undefined before me in the air; and neither the open-mouthed , swallowing his endless chain of rats; nor even the live rabbit found in the old gentleman's hat—the last sort of person in whose hat one would have expected to find such a thing—could draw away my mind from the joy I had caught a glimpse of only to lose.
So we walked home through the muddy, darkening streets, speaking but little; and that night, waking—or rather half waking, as children do—I thought I saw a figure in white at the foot of my bed. I must have gone to sleep again; and later, though I cannot say whether the intervening time was short or long, I opened my eyes to see it still there; and frightened, I cried out; and my mother rose from her knees.
She laughed, a curious broken laugh, in answer to my questions. “It was a silly dream I had,” she explained “I must have been thinking of the conjurer we saw. I dreamt that a wicked Magician had spirited you away from me. I could not find you and was all alone in the world.”
She put her arms around me, so tight as almost to hurt me. And thus we remained until again I must have fallen asleep.
It was towards the close of these same holidays that my mother and I called upon Mrs. Teidelmann in her great stone-built house at Clapton. She had sent a note round that morning, saying she was suffering from terrible headaches that quite took her senses away, so that she was unable to come out. She would be leaving England in a few days to travel. Would my mother come and see her, she would like to say good-bye to her before she went. My mother handed the letter across the table to my father.
“Of course you will go,” said my father. “Poor girl, I wonder what the cause can be. She used to be so free from everything of the kind.”
“Do you think it well for me to go?” said my mother. “What can she have to say to me?”
“Oh, just to say good-bye,” answered my father. “It would look so not to go.”
It was a dull, sombre house without, but one entered through its commonplace door as through the weed-grown rock into Aladdin's cave. Old Teidelmann had been a great collector all his life, and his treasures, now through a dozen galleries, were then heaped there in curious confusion. Pictures filled every inch of wall, stood against the wonderful old furniture, were even stretched unframed across the ceilings. Statues gleamed from every corner (a few of the statues were, I remember, the only things out of the entire collection that Mrs. Teidelmann kept for herself), , , priceless china, miniatures framed in , missals and gorgeously bound books crowded the room. The ugly little thick-lipped man had surrounded himself with the beauty of every age, brought from every land. He himself must have been the only thing cheap and uninteresting to be found within his own walls; and now he lay shrivelled up in his , under a monument by means of which an unknown became quite famous.
Instructions had been given that my mother was to be shown up into Mrs. Teidelmann's boudoir. She was lying on a sofa near the fire when we entered, asleep, dressed in a loose lace robe that fell away, showing her thin but snow-white arms, her rich dark hair falling loose about her. In sleep she looked less beautiful: harder and with a suggestion of coarseness about the face, of which at other times it showed no trace. My mother said she would wait, perhaps Mrs. Teidelmann would awake; and the servant, closing the door softly, left us alone with her.
An old French clock standing on the mantelpiece, a heart supported by Cupids, ticked with a , sound. My mother, choosing a chair by the window, sat with her eyes on the sleeping woman's face, and it seemed to me—though this may have been but my fancy born of after-thought—that a faint smile relaxed for a moment the sleeping woman's pained, pressed lips. Neither I nor my mother spoke, the only sound in the room being the hushed ticking of the great clock. Until the other woman after a few slight movements of unrest began to talk in her sleep.
Only confused escaped her at first, and then I heard her whisper my father's name. Very low—hardly more than breathed—were the words, but upon the silence each struck clear and distinct: “Ah no, we must not. Luke, my darling.”
My mother rose swiftly from her chair, but she spoke in quite matter-of-fact tones.
“Go, Paul,” she said, “wait for me downstairs;” and noiselessly opening the door, she pushed me gently out, and closed it again behind me.
It was half an hour or more before she came down, and at once we left the house, letting ourselves out. All the way home my mother never once spoke, but walked as one in a dream with eyes that saw not. With her hand upon the lock of our gate she came back to life.
“You must say nothing, Paul, do you understand?” she said. “When people are they use strange words that have no meaning. Do you understand, Paul; you must never breathe a word—never.”
I promised, and we entered the house; and from that day my mother's whole manner changed. Not another angry word ever again escaped her lips, never an angry flash lighted up again her eyes. Mrs. Teidelmann remained away three months. My father, of course, wrote to her often, for he was managing all her affairs. But my mother wrote to her also—though this my father, I do not think, knew—long letters that she would go away by herself to pen, writing them always in the , close to the window.
“Why do you choose this time, just when it's getting dark, to write your letters,” my father would expostulate, when by chance he happened to look into the room. “Let me ring for the lamp, you will strain your eyes.” But my mother would always excuse herself, saying she had only a few lines to finish.
“I can think better in this light,” she would explain.
And when Mrs. Teidelmann returned, it was my mother who was the first to call upon her; before even my father knew that she was back. And from thence one might have thought them the closest of friends, my mother visiting her often, speaking of her to all in terms of praise and .
In this way peace returned unto the house, and my father was tender again in all his words and actions towards my mother, and my mother thoughtful as before of all his wants and , her voice soft and low, the sweet smile ever around her lips as in the old days before this evil thing had come to dwell among us; and I might have forgotten it had ever cast its upon our life but that every day my mother grew feebler, the little ways that had seemed a part of her gone from her.
The summer came and went—that time in towns of panting days and nights, when through the open window crawls to one's face the hot air, heavy with odours drawn from a thousand streets; when lying awake one seems to hear the fitful breathing of the mass around, as of some over-laboured beast too tired to even rest; and my mother moved about the house ever more listlessly.
“There's nothing really the matter with her,” said Dr. Hal, “only weakness. It is the place. Cannot you get her away from it?”
“I cannot leave myself,” said my father, “just yet; but there is no reason why you and the boy should not take a holiday. This year I can afford it, and later I might possibly join you.”
My mother consented, as she did to all things now, and so it came about that again of afternoons we climbed—though more slowly and with many pauses—the steep path to the ruined tower old Jacob in his happy foolishness had built upon the headland, rested once again upon its topmost platform, sheltered from the wind that ever blew about its walls, saw once more the distant mountains, faint like spectres, and the silent ships that came and vanished, and about our feet the pleasant farm lands, and the grave, sweet river.
We had taken in the village: smaller now it seemed than ; but wonderful its sunny calm, after the of the fierce dark streets. Mrs. Fursey was there still, but quite another than the Mrs. Fursey of my remembrance, a still angular but cheery , no longer on suppressing me, but rather on drawing me out before admiring neighbours, as one saying: “The material was unpromising, as you know. There were times when I almost despaired. But with patience, and—may I say, a natural gift that way—you see what can be !” And Anna, now a wife and mother, with an uncontrollable desire to fall upon and kiss me at most unexpected moments, a never sleeping on my part, and a choosing of positions affording means of ready retreat. And old Chumbley, still cobbling shoes in his tiny cave. On the bench before him in a row they sat and watched him while he tapped and tapped and hammered: pert little shoes piping “Be quick, be quick, we want to be . You seem to have no idea, my good man, how much toddling there is to be done.” Dapper boots, sighing: “Oh, please make haste, we are waiting to dance and to . walks in the lane, Jill waits by the gate. Oh, deary, how slowly he taps.” Stout sober boots, saying: “As soon as you can, old friend. Remember we've work to do.” Flat-footed old boots, and limp, : “We have............
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