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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 54. Mother And Son
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 54. Mother And Son Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2850

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 54. Mother And Son

CHAPTER LIV. MOTHER AND SON

In the meantime Cornelius kept his bed. The moment her husband was gone, his mother rose and hastened to her son! Here again was a discord! for the first time since their marriage, a jarring action: the wife was glad the husband was gone that she might do what was right without annoying him: with all her strength of principle, she felt too weak to go openly against him, though she never dreamt of concealing what she did. She tottered across his floor, threw herself on the bed beside him, and took him to her bosom.

With his mother Corney had never pretended to the same degree as with other people, and his behaviour to her was now more genuine than to any but his wife. He clung to her as he had never clung since his infancy; and felt that, let his father behave to him as he might, he had yet a home. All the morning he had been fretting, in the midst of Hester's kindest attentions, that he had not his wife to do things for him as he liked them done;--and in all such things as required for their well-doing a fitting of self to the notions of another, Amy was indeed before Hester--partly, perhaps, in virtue of having been a little while married. But now that Cornelius had his mother, he was more content, or rather less discontented--more agreeable in truth than she had known him since first he went to business. She felt greatly consoled, and he so happy with her that he began to wish that he had not a secret from her--for the first time in his life to be sorry that he was in possession of one. He grew even anxious that she should know it, but none the less anxious that he should not have to tell it.

A great part of the time when her husband supposed her asleep, she had been lying wide awake, thinking of the Corney she had lost, and the Corney that had come home to her instead: she was miserable over the altered looks of her disfigured child. The truest of mothers, with all her love for the real and indifference to outsides, can hardly be expected to reconcile herself with ease to a new face on her child: she has loved him in one shape, and now has to love him in another! It was almost as if she had received again another child--her own indeed, but taken from her the instant he was born and never seen by her since--whom, now she saw him, she had to learn to love in a shape different from that in which she had been accustomed to imagine him. His sad, pock-marked face had a torturing fascination for her. It was almost pure pain, yet she could not turn her eyes from it. She reproached herself that it gave her pain, yet was almost indignant with the face she saw for usurping the place of her boy's beauty: through that mask she must force her way to the real beneath it! At the same time very pity made her love with a new and deeper tenderness the poor spoilt visage, pathetic in its ugliness. Not a word did she utter of reproach: his father would do--was doing enough for both in that way! Every few minutes she would gaze intently in his face for a moment, and then clasp him to her heart as if seeking a shorter way to his presence than through the ruined door of his countenance.

Hester, who had never received from her half so much show of tenderness, could not help, like the elder brother in the divine tale, a little choking at the sight, but she soon consoled herself that the less poor Corney deserved it the more he needed it. The worst of it to Hester was that she could not with any confidence look on the prodigal as a repentant one; and if he was not, all this tenderness, she feared and with reason, would do him harm, causing him to think less of his crime, and blinding him to his low moral condition. But she thought also that God would do what he could to keep the love of such a mother from hurting; and it was not long before she was encouraged by a softness in Corney's look, and a humid expression in his eyes which she had never seen before. Doubtless had he been as in former days, he would have turned from such over flow of love as womanish gush; but disgraced, worn out, and even to his own eyes an unpleasant object, he was not so much inclined to repel the love of the only one knowing his story who did not feel for him more or less contempt. Sometimes in those terrible half-dreams in the dark of early morn when suddenly waked by conscience to hold a _tete-a-tete with her, he would imagine himself walking into the bank, and encountering the eyes of all the men on his way to his uncle, whom next to his father he feared--then find himself running for refuge to the bosom of his mother. She was true to him yet! he would say: yes, he used the word! he said _true! Slowly, slowly, something was working on him--now in the imagined judgment of others, now in the thought of his wife, now in the devotion of his mother. Little result was there for earthly eye, but the mother's perceived or imagined a difference in him. If only she could descry something plain to tell her husband! If the ice that froze up the spring of his love would but begin to melt! For to whom are we to go for refuge from ourselves if not to those through whom we were born into the world, and who are to blame for more or less of our unfitness for a true life?--"His father _must forgive him!" she said to herself. She would go down on her knees to him. Their boy should _not be left out in the cold! If he had been guilty, what was that to the cruel world so ready to punish, so ready to do worse! The mother still carried in her soul the child born of her body, preparing for him the new and better, the all-lovely birth of repentance unto life.

Hester had not yet said a word about her own affairs. No one but the major knew that her engagement to lord Gartley was broken. She was not willing to add yet an element of perturbance to the overcharged atmosphere; she would not add disappointment to grief.

In the afternoon the major, who had retired to the village, two miles off, the moment his night-watch was relieved, made his appearance, in the hope of being of use. He saw only Hester, who could give him but a few minutes. No sooner did he learn of Mark's condition, than he insisted on taking charge of him. He would let her know at once if he wanted to see her or any one: she might trust him to his care!

"I am quite as good at nursing--I don't say as you, cousin Hester, or your mother, but as any ordinary woman. You will see I am! I know most of the newest wrinkles, and will carry them out."

Hester could not be other than pleased with the proposal; for having both her mother and Corney to look after, and Miss Dasomma or Amy to write to every day, she had feared the patient Mark might run some risk of being neglected. To be sure Saffy had a great notion of nursing, but her ideas were in some respects, to say the least, a little peculiar; and though at times she was a great gain in the sick room, she could hardly be intrusted with entire management of the same. So the major took the position of head-nurse, with Saffy for aid, and one of the servants for orderly.

Hester's mind was almost constantly occupied with thinking how she was to let her father and mother know what they must know soon, and ought to know as soon as possible. She would tell her father first; her mother should not know till he did: she must not have the anxiety of how he would take it! But she could not see how to set about it. She had no light, and seemed to have no leading--felt altogether at a standstill, without impulse or energy.

She waited, therefore, as she ought; for much harm comes of the impatience that outstrips guidance. People are too ready to think _something must be done, and forget that the time for action may not have arrived, that there is seldom more than one thing fit to be done, and that the wrong thing must in any case be worse than nothing.

Cornelius grew gradually better, and at last was able to go down stairs. But the weather continued so far unfavourable that he could not go out. He had not yet seen his father, and his dread of seeing him grew to a terror. He never went down until he knew he was not in the house, and then would in general sit at some window that commanded the door by which he was most likely to enter. He enticed Saffy from attendance on Mark to be his scout, and bring him word in what direction his father went. This did the child incalculable injury. The father was just as anxious to avoid him, fully intending, if he met him, to turn his back upon him. But it was a rambling and roomy old house, and there was plenty of space for both. A whole week passed and they had not met--to the disappointment of Hester, who cherished some hope in a chance encounter.

She had just one consolation: ever since she had Cornelius safe under her wing, the mother had been manifestly improving. But even this was a source of dissatisfaction to the brooding selfishness of the unhealthy-minded father. He thought with himself--"Here have I been heart and soul nursing her through the illness he caused her, and all in vain till she gets the rascal back, and then she begins at once to improve! She would be perfectly happy with him if she and I never saw each other again!"

The two brothers had not yet met. For one thing, Corney disliked the major, and for another, the major objected to an interview. He felt certain the disfigurement of Corney would distress Mark too much, and retard the possible recovery of which he was already in great doubt.

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