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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 14. Mother And Uncle
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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 14. Mother And Uncle Post by :bigmista Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2758

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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 14. Mother And Uncle

CHAPTER XIV. MOTHER AND UNCLE

I was glad enough to sink on a clump of white clover. He stretched himself on the heather, a little way from me. Silence followed. He was giving me time to recover myself. As soon, therefore, as I was able, it was my part to speak.

"Where is your horse?" I asked. The first word is generally one hardly worth saying.

"I left him at a little farmhouse, about a mile from here. I was afraid to bring him farther, lest my mother should learn where I had been. She takes pains to know."

"Then will she not find out?"

"I don't know."

"Will she not ask you where you were?"

"Perhaps. There's no knowing."

"You will tell her, of course, if she does?"

"I think not."

"Oughtn't you?"

"No."

"You are sure?"

"Yes."

"You don't mean you will tell her a story?"

"Certainly not."

"What will you do then?"

"I will tell her that I will not tell her."

"Would that be right?"

Through the dusk I could see the light of his smile as he answered,

"I think so. I shall not tell her."

"But," I began.

He interrupted me.

My heart was sinking within me. Not only had I wanted him to help me to tell my uncle, but I shuddered at the idea of having with any man a secret from his mother.

"It must look strange to you," he said; "but you do not know my mother!"

"I think I do know your mother," I rejoined. "She saved my poor little life once.--I am not sure it was your mother, but I think it was."

"How was that?" he said, much surprised. "When was it?"

"Many years ago--I cannot tell how many," I answered. "But I remember all about it well enough. I cannot have been more than eight, I imagine."

"Could she have been at the manor then?" he said, putting the question to himself, not me. "How was it? Tell me," he went on, rising to his feet, and looking at me with almost a frightened expression.

I told him the incident, and he heard me in absolute silence. When I had done,--

"It _was my mother!" he broke out; "I don't know one other woman who would have let a child walk like that! Any other would have taken you up, or put you on the horse and walked beside you!"

"A gentleman would, I know," I replied. "But it would not be so easy for a lady!"

_"She could have done either well enough. She's as strong as a horse herself, and rides like an Amazon. But I am not in the least surprised: it was just like her! You poor little darling! It nearly makes me cry to think of the tiny feet going tramp, tramp, all that horrible way, and she high up on her big horse! She always rides the biggest horse she can get!--And then never to say a word to you after she brought you home, or see you the next morning!"

"Mr. Day," I returned, "I would not have told you, had I known it would give you occasion to speak so naughtily of your mother. You make me unhappy."

He was silent. I thought he was ashamed of himself, and was sorry for him. But my sympathy was wasted. He broke into a murmuring laugh of merriment.

"When is a mother not a mother?" he said. "--Do you give it up?--When she's a north wind. When she's a Roman emperor. When she's an iceberg. When she's a brass tiger.--There! that'll do. Good-bye, mother, for the present! I mayn't know much, as she's always telling me, but I do know that a noun is not a thing, nor a name a person!"

I would have expostulated.

"For love's sake, dearest," he pleaded, "we will not dispute where only one of us knows! I will tell you all some day--soon, I hope, very soon. I am angry now!--Poor little tramping child!"

I saw I had been behaving presumptuously: I had wanted to argue while yet in absolute ignorance of the thing in hand! Had not my uncle taught me the folly of reasoning from the ideal where I knew nothing of the actual! The ideal must be our guide how to treat the actual, but the actual must be there to treat! One thing more I saw--that there could be no likeness between his mother and my uncle!

"Will you tell me something about yourself, then?" I said.

"That would not be interesting!" he objected.

"Then why are you here?" I returned.

"Can any person without a history be interesting?"

"Yes," he answered: "a person that was going to have a history might be interesting."

"Could a person with a history that was not worth telling, be interesting? But I know yours will interest me in the hearing, therefore it ought to interest you in the telling.

"I see," he rejoined, with his merry laugh, I shall have to be careful! My lady will at once pounce upon the weak points of my logic!"

"I am no logician," I answered; "I only know when I don't know a thing. My uncle has taught me that wisdom lies in that,"

"Yours must be a very unusual kind of uncle!" he returned.

"If God had made many men like my uncle, I think the world wouldn't be the same place."

"I wonder why he didn't!" he said thoughtfully.

"I have wondered much, and cannot tell," I replied.

"What if it wouldn't be good for the world to have many good men in it before it was ready to treat them properly?" he suggested.

The words let me know that at least he could think. Hitherto my uncle had seemed to me the only man that thought. But I had seen very few men.

"Perhaps that is it," I answered. "I will think about it.--Were you brought up at Rising? Have you been there all the time? Were you there that night? I should surely have known had you been in the house!"

He looked at me with a grateful smile.

"I was not brought up there," he answered. "Rising is mine, however--at least it will be when I come of age; it was left me some ten years ago by a great-aunt My father's property will be mine too, of course. My mother's is in Ireland. She ought to be there, not here; but she likes my estates better than her own, and makes the most of being my guardian."

"You would not have her there if she is happier here?"

"All who have land, ought to live on it, or else give it to those who will. What makes it theirs, if their only connection with it is the money it brings them? If I let my horse run wild over the country, how could I claim him, and refuse to pay his damages?"

"I don't quite understand you."

"I only mean there is no bond where both ends are not tied. My mother has no sense of obligation, so far as ever I have been able to see. But do not be afraid: I would as soon take a wife to the house she was in, as I would ask her to creep with me into the den of a hyena."

It was too dreadful! I rose. He sprang to his feet.

"You must excuse me, sir!" I said. "With one who can speak so of his mother, I am where I ought not to be."

"You have a right to know what my mother is," he answered--coldly, I thought; "and I should not be a true man if I spoke of her otherwise than truly."

He would pretend nothing to please me! I saw that I was again in the wrong. Was I so ill read as to imagine that a mother must of necessity be a good woman? Was he to speak of his mother as he did not believe of her, or be unfit for my company? Would untruth be a bond between us?

"I beg your pardon," I said; "I was wrong. But you can hardly wonder I should be shocked to hear a son speak so of his mother--and to one all but a stranger!"

"What!" he returned, with a look of surprise; "do you think of me so? I feel as if I had known you all my life--and before it!"

I felt ashamed, and was silent. If he was such a stranger, why was I there alone with him?

"You must not think I speak so to any one," he went on. "Of those who know my mother, not one has a right to demand of me anything concerning her. But how could I ask you to see me, and hide from you the truth about her? Prudence would tell you to have nothing to do with the son of such a woman: could I be a true man, true to you, and hold my tongue about her? I should be a liar of the worst sort!"

He felt far too strongly, it was plain, to heed a world of commonplaces.

"Forgive me," I said. "May I sit down again?"

He held out his hand. I took it, and reseated myself on the clover-hillock. He laid himself again beside me, and after a little silence began to relate what occurred to him of his external history, while all the time I was watching for hints as to how he had come to be the man he was. It was clear he did not find it easy to talk about himself. But soon I no longer doubted whether I ought to have met him, and loved him a great deal more by the time he had done.

I then told him in return what my life had hitherto been; how I knew nothing of father or mother; how my uncle had been everything to me; how he had taught me all I knew, had helped me to love what was good and hate what was evil, had enabled me to value good books, and turn away from foolish ones. In short, I made him feel that all his mother had not been to him, my uncle had been to me; and that it would take a long time to make me as much indebted to a husband as already I was to my uncle. Then I put the question:

"What would you think of me if I had a secret from an uncle like that?"

"If I had an uncle like that," he answered, "I would sooner cut my throat than keep anything from him!"

"I have not told him," I said, "what happened to-day--or yesterday."

"But you will tell him?"

"The first moment I can. But I hope you understand it is hard to do. My love for my uncle makes it hard. It has the look of turning away from him to love another!"

With that I burst out crying. I could not help it. He let me cry, and did not interfere. I was grateful for that. When at length I raised my head, he spoke.

"It has that look," he said; "but I trust it is only a look. Anyhow, he knows that such things must be; and the more of a good man and a gentleman he is, the less will he be pained that we should love one another!"

"I am sure of that," I replied. "I am only afraid that he may never have been in love himself, and does not know how it feels, and may think I have forsaken him for you."

"Are you with him _always?_"

"No; I am sometimes a good deal alone. I can be alone as much as I like; he always gives me perfect liberty. But I never before wanted to be alone when I could be with him."

"But he _could live without you?"

"Yes, indeed!" I cried. "He would be a poor creature that could not live without another!"

He said nothing, and I added, "He often goes out alone--sometimes in the darkest nights."

"Then be sure he knows what love is.--But, if you would rather, I will tell him."

"I could not have any one, even you, tell my uncle about me."

"You are right. When will you tell him?"

"I cannot be sure. I would go to him to-morrow, but I am afraid they will not let me until he has got a little over this accident," I answered--and told him what had happened. "It is dreadful to think how he must have suffered," I said, "and how much more I should have thought about it but for you! It tears my heart. Why wasn't it made bigger?"

"Perhaps that is just what is now being done with it!" he answered.

"I hope it may be!" I returned. "--But it is time I went in."

"Shall I not see you again to-morrow evening?" he asked.

"No," I answered. "I must not see you again till I have told my uncle everything."

"You do not mean for weeks and weeks--till he is well enough to come home? How _am I to live till then!"

"As I shall have to live. But I hope it will be but for a few days at most. Only, then, it will depend on what my uncle thinks of the thing."

"Will he decide for you what you are to do?"

"Yes--I think so. Perhaps if he were--" I was on the point of saying, "like your mother," but I stopped in time--or hardly, for I think he saw what I just saved myself from. It was but the other morning I made the discovery that, all our life together, John has never once pressed me to complete a sentence I broke off.

He looked so sorrowful that I was driven to add something.

"I don't think there is much good," I said, "in resolving what you will or will not do, before the occasion appears, for it may have something in it you never reckoned on. All I can say is, I will try to do what is right. I cannot promise anything without knowing what my uncle thinks."

We rose; he took me in his arms for just an instant; and we parted with the understanding that I was to write to him as soon as I had spoken with my uncle.

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