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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 52. Uncle-Father And Aunt-Mother
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There & Back - Chapter 52. Uncle-Father And Aunt-Mother Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2745

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There & Back - Chapter 52. Uncle-Father And Aunt-Mother

CHAPTER LII. UNCLE-FATHER AND AUNT-MOTHER

When Richard reached London, he went straight to Clerkenwell. There he found Arthur, in bed and unattended, but covered up warm. Except one number of _The Family Herald_, he had nothing to read. The room was tidy, but very dreary. Richard asked him why he did not move into the front room. Arthur did not explain, but Richard understood that the mother had left so many phantasms behind her that he preferred his own dark chamber. When Richard told him what he had done and the success he had had, he thanked him with such a shining face that Richard saw in it the birth of saving hope.

"And now, Arthur," he said, "you must get better as fast as you can; and the first minute you are able to be moved, we'll ship you off to my grandfather's, where Alice was."

"Away from Alice?"

"Yes; but you must remember there will be so much more for her to eat, and so much more money to get things comfortable with by the time you come back. Besides, you will grow well faster, and then perhaps we shall find some fitter work for you than that hideous clerking!"

The flush of joy on Arthur's cheek was a divine reward to Richard for what he had done and suffered and sacrificed for the sake of his brother. He made a fire, and having set on the kettle, went to buy some things, that he might have a nice supper ready for Alice when she came home. Next he found two clean towels, and covered the little table, forgetting all his troubles in the gladness of ministration, and the new life that hope gives. If only we believed in God, how we should hope! And what would not hope do to reveal the new heavens and the new earth--that is, to show us the real, true, and gracious aspect of those heavens and that earth in which we now live so sadly, and are not at home, because we do not see them as they are, do not recognize in them the beginning of the inheritance we long for!

When Alice came in, she heard Arthur cough, and hurried up; but before she reached the top of the second stair, she heard a laugh which, though feeble, was of such merry enjoyment, that it filled her with wonder and gladness. Had the fairy god-mother appeared at last? What could have come to make Arthur laugh like that? She opened the door, and all was explained: there sat the one joy of their life, their brother Richard, looking much like himself again! What a healer, what a strength-giver is joy! Will not holy joy at last drive out every disease in the world? Will it not be the elixir of life, and drive out death? She sprang upon him, and burst out weeping.

"Come and have supper," he said. "I've been out to buy it, and haven't much time to help you eat it. My father and mother don't know where I am."

Then he told her what he had been about. It was with a happy heart he made his way home, for he left happy hearts behind him. He wondered that his mother was not surprised to see him--wondered too why she looked so troubled.

"What does this telegram mean?" she asked.

"I don't know, mother," he replied. "Won't you give me a kiss first?"

She threw her arms about him. "You won't give up saying _mother to me, will you?" she pleaded, fighting with her emotion.

"It will be a bad day for me when I do!" he answered. "My mother you are and shall be. But I don't understand it!"

The telegram let him know that sir Wilton and his grandfather had been in communication, and gave him hope that things might be accommodated between him and his father.

"You've got your real father now, Richard!" said his mother.

But she saw an expression on his face that made her add,--

"You must respect your father, Richard--now you know him for your father."

"I can't respect him, mother. He is not a good man. I can only love him."

"You have no right to find fault with him. He was not to blame that I carried you away when your mother died! I was terrified at your stepmother!"

"I don't wonder at that, mother!--Ah, now I begin to understand it all!--But, mother, if my father had been a good man, I don't believe you would hare carried me away from him!"

"Very likely not, my boy--though he did make me that angry by calling you ugly! And I don't believe I should have taken you at all, if that woman hadn't sent me away for no reason but to have a nurse of her choosing. How could I leave my sister's child in the power of such a woman! Day and night, Richard, was I haunted with the sight of her cold face hanging over you. I was certain the devil might have his way with her when he chose: there was no love in her to prevent him. In my dreams I saw her giving you poison, or with a pen-knife in her hand, and her eyes shining like ice. I could _not bear it. I should have gone mad to leave you there. I knew I was committing a crime in the eyes of the law; but I felt a stronger law compelling me; and I said to myself, 'I will be hanged for my child, rather than my child should be murdered! I will _not leave him with that woman!' So I took you, Richard!"

"Thank you, mother, a thousand times! I am sure it was right, and every way best for me! Oh, how much I owe you and my--uncle! I must call you _mother still, but I'm afraid I shall have to call my father _uncle_!"

"It won't hurt him, Richard; he has been a good uncle to you, but I don't think he would have taught you the things he did, if you had been his very own child!"

"He has done me no harm, mother,--nothing but good," said Richard. "--And so you are my own mother's sister?"

"Yes, and a good mother she would have been to you! You must not think of her as a grim old woman like me! She was but six and twenty when you were born and she died! She was the most beautiful woman _I ever saw, Richard!--Never another woman's hand has touched your body but hers and mine, Richard!"

He took her hand and kissed it. Jane Tuke had never had her hand kissed before, and would have drawn it away. The lady within was ashamed of her rough gloves, not knowing they had won her her ladyhood. In the real world, there are no ladies but true women. Also they only are beautiful. All there show what they are, and the others are all more or less deformed. Oh, what lovely ladies will walk into the next world out of the rough cocoon of their hard-wrought bodies--not because they have been working women, but because they have been true women. Among working women as among countesses, there are last that shall be first, and first that shall be last. _What kind of woman will be the question. Alas for those, whether high or low or in the middle, whose business in life has been to be ladies! What poor, mean, draggled, unangelic things will come crawling out of the husk they are leaving behind them, which yet, perhaps, will show a glimmer, in the whiteness of death, of what they were meant to be, if only they had lived, had _been_, had put forth the power that was in them as their birthright! Not a few I know will crawl out such, except they awake from the dead, and cry for life. Perhaps one and another in the next world will say to me, "You meant me! I know now why you were always saying such things!" For I suspect the next world will more plainly be a going on with this than most people think--only it will be much better for some, and much worse for others, as the Lord has taught us in the parable of the rich man and the beggar.

"No, Richard," resumed his aunt, "your father was not a good man, but he may be better now, and perhaps you will help him to be better still."

"It's doubtful if ever I have the chance," returned Richard. "We've had a pretty fair quarrel already!"

"He can't take your birthright from you!" she cried.

"That may be--but what _is my birthright? He told me the land was not entailed; he can leave it to anybody he likes. But I'm not going to do what he would have me do--that is if it be wrong," added Richard, not willing to start the question about the Mansons. "To be a sneak would be a fine beginning! If that's to be a gentleman, I will be no gentleman!"

"Right you are, my son!" said Tuke, who that moment came in.

"Oh uncle!" cried Richard, starting to his feet.

"_Uncle_!--Ho! ho! What's up now?"

"Nothing's up, but all's out, father!" answered Richard, putting his hand in that of the bookbinder. "You knew, and now I know! How shall I ever thank you for what you have done for me, and been to me, and given me!"

"Precious little anyway, my boy! I wish it had been a great deal more."

"Shall I tell you what you have done for me I--You made a man of me first of all, by giving me a trade, and making me independent. Then again, by that trade you taught me to love the very shape of a book. Baronet or no baronet,--"

"What do you mean?"

"My father threatens to disown me."

"He can't take your rank from you. We'll have you sir Richard anyhow!--An' I'd let 'em see that a true baronet--"

"--is just a true man, uncle." interposed Richard; "and that you've helped to make me. It's being independent and helping others, not being a baronet, that will make a gentleman of me! That's how it goes in the true world anyhow!"

"The _true world! Where's that?" rejoined Tuke, with what would have been a sneer had there been ill-nature in it.

"And that reminds me of another precious thing you've given me," Richard went on: "You've taught me to think for myself!"

"Think for yourself indeed, and talk of any world but the world we've got!"

"If you hadn't taught me," returned Richard, "to think for myself, I should have thought just as you did. But I've been thinking for myself a great deal, and I say now, that, if there be no more of it after we die, then the whole thing is such a sell as even the dumb, deaf, blind, heartless, headless God you seem to believe in, could not have been guilty of!"

"Ho! ho!--that's the good my teaching has done you? Well, we'll have it out by and by! In the meantime, tell us how it all came about--how you came to know, I mean. You're a good sort, whatever you believe or don't believe, and I wish you were ours in reality!"

"It's just in reality that I am yours!" protested Richard; but his mother broke in.

"Would you dare, John," she cried, "to wish him ours to his loss?"

"No, no, Jane! You know me! It was but a touch of what you call the old Adam--and I the old John! We've got to take care of each other! We're all agreed about that!"

"And you do it, father, and that's before any agreeing about it!"

"Come and let's have our tea!" said the mother; "and Richard shall tell us how it worked round that the old gentleman knew him. I remember him young enough to be no bad match for your mother, and that's enough to say for any man--as to looks, I mean only. There wasn't a more beautiful woman than my sister Robina in all England--and I'm bold to say it--not that it wants much boldness to say the truth!"

"It wants nearly as much at this moment as I have got," returned Richard; for his narrative required, as an essential part of it, that he should tell what had made him go to his father.

He had but begun when a black cloud rose on his mother's face, and she almost started from her seat.

"I told you, Richard, you were to have nothing to do with those creatures!" she cried.

"Mother," answered Richard, "was it God or the devil told me I must be neighbour to my own brother and sister? Hasn't my father done them wrong enough that you should side with him and want me to carry on the wrong? I heard the same voice that made you run away with me. You were ready to be hanged for me; I was ready to lose my father for them. He too said I must have done with them, and I told him I wouldn't. That was why I got you to put me on journeyman's wages, uncle. They were starving, and I had nothing to give them. What am I in the world for, if not to set right, so far as I may, what my father has set wrong? You see I _have learned something of you, uncle!"

"I don't see what," returned Tuke.

He had been listening with a grave face, for he had his pride, and did not relish his nephew's being hand and glove with his base-born brother and sister.

"Don't you, father? Where's your socialism? I'm only trying to carry it out."

"Out and away, my boy, as Samson did the gates in my mother's old bible!" answered John.

"If a man's socialism don't apply to his own flesh and blood," resumed Richard, "where on earth is it to begin? Must you hate your own flesh, and go to Russia or China for somebody to be fair to? Ain't your own got as good a right to fair play as any, and ain't they the readiest to begin with? Is it selfish to help your own? It ain't the way you've done by me, uncle!"

"You mustn't forget," said John, "that a grave wrong is done the nation when marriage is treated with disrespect."

"It was my father did that! Was it Alice and Arthur that broke the marriage-law by being born out of wedlock?"

"If you treat them like other people, you slight that law."

"If sir Wilton Lestrange were to come into the room this minute, you would offer him a chair; his children you would order out of the house!"

"I wouldn't do that," said Mrs. Tuke.

"Mother, you turned them out of the house!--I beg your pardon, mother, but you know it was the same thing! You visited the sins of the father on the children!"

"Bravo!" cried his uncle; "I thought you couldn't mean the rot!"

"What rot, father?"

"That rot about God you flung at me first thing."

"Father, it would take the life out of me to believe there was no God; but the God I hope in is a very different person from the God my mother's clergy have taught her to believe in. Father, do you know Jesus Christ!"

"I know the person you mean, my boy."

"I know what _kind of person he is, and he said God was just like him, and in the God like him, if I can find him, I will believe with all my heart and soul--and so would you, father, if you knew him. You will say, perhaps, he ain't nowhere to know! but you haven't a right to say that until you've been everywhere to look; for such a God is no absurdity; it's nothing ridiculous to look for him. I beg your pardon, both of you, but I'm bound to speak. Jesus Christ said we must leave father and mother for him, because he is true; and I must speak for him what is true, even if my own father and mother should think me rude."

He had spoken eagerly; and man or woman who does not put truth first, may think he ought to have held his tongue. But neither father nor mother took offence. The mother, unspeakably relieved by what had taken place, was even ready to allow that her favourite preacher might "perhaps dwell too much upon the terrors of the law."

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