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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 46. Richard's Dilemma
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There & Back - Chapter 46. Richard's Dilemma Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1421

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There & Back - Chapter 46. Richard's Dilemma

CHAPTER XLVI. RICHARD'S DILEMMA

He turned and walked home--but with a heart how different! The world was folded in winter and night, but in his heart the sun was shining, and it made a wonder and a warmth at the heart of every crystal of the frost that spangled and feathered and jewel-crusted rail and tree! The misty moon was dreaming of spring, and almond blossoms, and nightingales.--But did Barbara know about him? Had Alice told the terrible secret! If she knew, and did not withdraw her friendship, he could bear anything--almost anything! But he would be happy now, would keep happy as long as he could, and try to be happy when he could not! She was with him all the way home. Every step was a delight. Foot lingered behind foot as he came; now each was eager to pass the other.

He slept a happy sleep, and in the morning was better than for many a day--so much better that his mother, who had been watching him with uneasiness, and wondering whether she ought not to bring matters to a crisis, began to feel at rest about him. She had not a suspicion of what now troubled him the most! A little knowledge is not, but the largest half-knowledge is a dangerous thing! He knew who was his father, but he did not know who was not his mother; and from this half-knowledge rose the thickest of the cloud that yet overshadowed him. He had been proud that he came of such good people as his father and mother, but it was not the notion of shame to himself that greatly troubled him; it was the new feeling about his mother. He did not think of her as one to be blamed, but as one too trusting, and so deceived; he never felt unready to stand up for her. What troubled him was that she must always know that unspoken-of something between her and her son, that his mother must feel shame before him. He could not bear to think of it. If only she would say something to him, that he might tell her she was his own precious mother, whatever had befallen her! that for her sake he could spurn the father that begot him! Already had come this good of Mrs. Manson's lie, that Richard felt far more the goodness of his mother to him, and loved her the better that he believed himself her shame. It is true that his love increased upon a false idea, but the growth gained by his character could not be lost, and so his love would not grow less--for no love, that is loved, gave God's, can clothe warm enough the being around whom it gathers. And when he learned the facts of the story, he would not find that he had given his aunt more love than she deserved at his heart.

As soon as the next day's work was over, Richard sat down to write to Barbara. But he had no sooner taken the pen in his fingers, than he became doubtful: what was he to say? He could not open his heart about any of the things that troubled him most! Putting aside the recurrent dread of her own marriage, how could he mention his mother's wrong and his own shame to a girl so young? She must be aware that such things were, but how was he, a huge common fellow, to draw near her loveliness with such a tale in his mouth! It would be a wrong to his own class, to his own education! for would it not show the tradesman, or the artisan, whichever they called him, as coarse, and unlit for the company of his social superiors? It would go to prove that in no sense could one of his nurture be regarded as a gentleman! And were there no such reason against it, how could he, even to Barbara, speak of his mother's hidden pain, of his mother's humiliation! It would be treachery! He would be as a spy that had hid himself in a holy place! The thing she could not tell him, how could he tell anyone! On the other hand, if he did not let her know the sad fact, would he not be receiving and cherishing Barbara's friendship on false pretences? He was not what he now seemed to her--and to be other to Barbara than he seemed, was too terrible! Still and again, he was bound to do her the justice of believing that she would not regard him differently because of what he could not help, and would justify his silence for his mother's sake. She would, in her great righteousness, be the first to cry out upon the social rule that visited the sins of the fathers on the mothers and children, and not on the fathers themselves! If then disclosure would make no difference to Barbara, he might, he concluded, let the thing rest--for the time at least--assured of her sisterly sympathy. And with that he bethought him that she had asked news of Alice, and it seemed to him strange. For Alice had not told him that, unable to keep the money she sent from falling into the hands of her mother and going in drink, unwilling to expose her mother, and incapable of letting Barbara spend her money so, she had contrived to have her remittances returned, as if they had changed their dwelling, and their new address was unknown.

He wrote therefore what he thought would set her at ease about them; and then, after thinking and thinking, yielded to the dread lest his heart should make him say things he ought not, and ended with a little poem that had come to him a night or two before.


This was the poem:

If there lie a still, pure sorrow
At the heart of everything,
If never shall dawn a morrow
With healing upon its wing,
Then down I kneel to my sorrow,
And say, Thou art my king!
From old pale joy I borrow
A withered song to sing!
And with heart entire and thorough,
To a calm despair I cling,
And, freedman of old king Sorrow,
Away Hope's fetters fling!


That was all--and not much, either as poetry, or as consolation to one that loved him; but sometimes, like that ghastly shroud of Icelandic fable, the poem will rise and wrap itself around the poet.

As Richard closed his envelope, he remembered, with a pang of self-reproach, that the hour of his usual meeting with Alice was past, and that Arthur too was in danger of going to bed hungry, for his custom was to put her brother's supper in Alice's handbag. He set out at once for Clerkenwell--on foot notwithstanding his haste, for he was hoarding every penny to get new clothes for Arthur, who was not only much in want of them for warmth, but in risk of losing his situation because of his shabby appearance.

His anxiety to reach the house before the mother came in, spurred him to his best speed. He halted two minutes on the way to buy some slices of ham and some rolls, and ran on again. It was a frosty night, but by the time he reached Everilda-street, he was far from cold. He was rewarded by finding his brother and sister at home, alone, and not too hungry.

He had just time to empty his pockets, and receive a kiss from Alice in return, when they heard the uncertain step of their mother coming up the stair, stopping now and then, and again resuming the ascent. Alice went to watch which door she would turn to when she reached the top, that Richard might go out by the other, for the two rooms communicated. But just as she was entering Arthur's room, Mrs. Manson changed her mind, and turned to the other door, so that Richard was caught in the very act of making his exit. She flew at him, seized him by the hair, and began to pull and cuff him, abusing him as the true son of his father, who did everything on the sly, and never looked an honest woman in the face. Richard said never a word, but let her tug and revile till there was no more strength in her, when she let him go, and dropped into a chair.

The three went half-way down the stair together.

"Don't mind her," said Alice with a great sob. "I hope she didn't hurt you much, Richard!"

"Not a bit," answered Richard.

"Poor mother!" sighed Arthur; "she's not in her right mind! We're in constant terror lest she drop down dead!"

"She's not a very good mother to you!" said Richard.

"No, but that has nothing to do with loving her," answered Alice; "and to think of her dying like that, and going straight to the bad place! Oh, Richard, what _shall I do! It turns me crazy to think of it!"

The door above them opened, and the fierce voice of the mother fell upon them; but it was broken by a fit of hiccupping, and she went in again, slamming the door behind her.

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