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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 22. John Recalls And Remembers
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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 22. John Recalls And Remembers Post by :victor1930d Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1729

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The Flight Of The Shadow - Chapter 22. John Recalls And Remembers


What a weight was off my heart! It seemed as if nothing more could go wrong. But, though John was plainly happy, he was not quite comfortable: he worried himself with trying to remember how he had come to us. The last thing he could definitely recall before finding himself with us, was his mother looking at him through a night that seemed made of blackness so solid that he marvelled she could move in it. She brought him something to drink, but he fancied it blood, and would not touch it. He remembered now that there was a red tumbler in his room. He could recall nothing after, except a cold wind, and a sense of utter weariness but absolute compulsion: he must keep on and on till he found the gate of heaven, to which he seemed only for ever coming nearer. His conclusion was, that he knew what he was about every individual moment, but had no memory; each thing he did was immediately forgotten, while the knowledge of what he had to do next remained with him. It was, he thought, a mental condition analogous with walking, in which every step is a frustrated fall. I set this down here, because, when I told my uncle what John had been saying, myself not sure that I perceived what he meant, he declared the boy a philosopher of the finest grain. But he warned me not to encourage his talking, and especially not to ask him to explain. There was nothing, he said, worse for a weak brain, than to set a strong will to work it.

I tried to obey him, but it grew harder as the days went on. There were not many of them, however; he recovered rapidly. When at length my uncle talked not only to but with him, I regarded it as a virtual withdrawal of his prohibition, and after that spoke to John of whatever came into his or my head.

It was then he told me all he could remember since the moment he left me with his supper in his hand. A great part of his recollection was the vision of my uncle on the moor, and afterward in the park. We did not know what to make of it. I should at once have concluded it caused by prelusive illness, but for my remembrance of what both my uncle and myself had seen, so long before, in the thunderstorm; while John, willing enough to attribute its recurrence to that cause, found it impossible to concede that he was anything but well when crossing the moor. I thought, however, that excitement, fatigue, and lack of food, might have something to do with it, and with his illness too; while, if he was in a state to see anything phantasmal, what shape more likely to appear than that of my uncle!

He would not hear of my mentioning the thing to my uncle. I would for my own part have gone to him with it immediately; but could not with John's prayer in my ears. I resolved, however, to gain his consent if I could.

He had by this time as great a respect for my uncle as I had myself, but could not feel at home with him as I did. Whether the vision was only a vision, or indeed my uncle's double, whatever a double may be, the tale of it could hardly be an agreeable one to him; and naturally John shrank from the risk of causing him the least annoyance.

The question of course came up, what he was to do when able to leave us. He had spoken very plainly to my uncle concerning his relations with his mother--had told him indeed that he could not help suspecting he owed his illness to her.

I was nearly always present when they talked, but remember in especial a part of what passed on one occasion.

"I believe I understand my mother," said John, "--but only after much thinking. I loved her when a child; and if she had not left me for the sake of liberty and influence--that at least is how I account for her doing so--I might at this moment be struggling for personal freedom, instead of having that over."

"There are women," returned my uncle, "some of them of the most admired, who are slaves to a demoniacal love of power. The very pleasure of their consciousness consists in the knowledge that they have power--not power to do things, but power to make other people do things. It is an insanity, but a devilishly immoral and hateful insanity.--I do not say the lady in question is one of such, for I do not know her; I only say I have known such a one."

John replied that certainly the love of power was his mother's special weakness. She was spoiled when a child, he had been told; had her every wish regarded, her every whim respected. This ruinous treatment sprang, he said, from the self-same ambition, in another form, on the part of her mother--the longing, namely, to secure her child's supreme affection--with the natural consequence that they came to hate one another. His father and she had been married but fifteen months, when he died of a fall, following the hounds. Within six months she was engaged, but the engagement was broken off, and she went abroad, leaving him behind her. She married lord Cairnedge in Venice, and returned to England when John was nearly four, and seemed to have lost all memory of her. His stepfather was good to him, but died when he was about eight. His mother was very severe. Her object plainly was to plant her authority so in his very nature, that he should never think of disputing her will.

"But," said John, "she killed my love, and so I grew able to cast off her yoke."

"The world would fare worse, I fancy," remarked my uncle, "if violent women bore patient children. The evil would become irremediable. The children might not be ruined, but they would bring no discipline to the mother!"

"Her servants," continued John, "obey her implicitly, except when they are sure she will never know. She treats them so imperiously, that they admire her, and are proud to have such a mistress. But she is convinced at last, I believe, that she will never get me to do as she pleases; and therefore hates me so heartily, that she can hardly keep her ladylike hands off me. I do not think I have been unreasonable; I have not found it difficult to obey others that were set over me; but when I found almost her every requirement part of a system for reducing me to a slavish obedience, I began to lay down lines of my own. I resolved to do at once whatever she asked me, whether pleasant to me or not, so long as I saw no reason why it should not be done. Then I was surprised to find how seldom I had to make a stand against her wishes. At the same time, the mode in which she conveyed her pleasure, was invariably such as to make a pretty strong effort of the will necessary for compliance with it. But the effort to overcome the difficulty caused by her manner, helped to develop in me the strength to resist where it was not right to yield. By far the most serious difference we had yet had, arose about six months ago, when she insisted I should make myself agreeable to a certain lady, whom I by no means disliked. She had planned our marriage, I believe, as one of her parallels in the siege of the lady's noble father, then a widower of a year. I told her I would not lay myself out to please any lady, except I wanted to marry her. 'And why, pray, should you not marry her?' she returned. I answered that I did not love her, and would not marry until I saw the woman I could not be happy without, and she accepted me. She went into a terrible passion, but I found myself quite unmoved by it: it is a wonderful heartener to know yourself not merely standing up for a right, but for the right to do the right thing! 'You wouldn't surely have me marry a woman I didn't care a straw for!' I said. 'Quench my soul!' she cried--I have often wondered where she learned the oath--'what would that matter? She wouldn't care a straw for you in a month!'--'Why should I marry her then?'--'Because your mother wishes it,' she replied, and turned to march from the room as if that settled the thing. But I could not leave it so. The sooner she understood the better! 'Mother!' I cried, 'I will not marry the lady. I will not pay her the least attention that could be mistaken to mean the possibility of it.' She turned upon me. I have just respect enough left for her, not to say what her face suggested to me. She was pale as a corpse; her very lips were colourless; her eyes--but I will not go on. 'Your father all over!' she snarled--yes, snarled, with an inarticulate cry of fiercest loathing, and turned again and went. If I do not quite think my mother, _at present_, would murder me, I do think she would do anything short of murder to gain her ends with me. But do not be afraid; I am sufficiently afraid to be on my guard.

"My father was a rich man, and left my mother more than enough; there was no occasion for her to marry again, except she loved, and I am sure she did not love lord Cairnedge. I wish, for my sake, not for his, he were alive now. But the moment, I am one and twenty, I shall be my own master, and hope, sir, you will not count me unworthy to be the more Belorba's servant. One thing I am determined upon: my mother shall not cross my threshold but at my wife's invitation; and I shall never ask my wife to invite her. She is too dangerous.

"We had another altercation about Miss Miles, an hour or two before I first saw Orba. They were far from worthy feelings that possessed me up to the moment when I caught sight of her over the wall. It was a leap out of hell into paradise. The glimpse of such a face, without shadow of scheme or plan or selfish end, was salvation to me. I thank God!"

Perhaps I ought not to let those words about myself stand, but he said them.

He had talked too long. He fell back in his chair, and the tears began to gather in his eyes. My uncle rose, put his arm about me, and led me to the study.

"Let him rest a bit, little one," he said as we entered. "It is long since we had a good talk!"

He seated himself in his think-chair--a name which, when a child, I had given it, and I slid to the floor at his feet.

"I cannot help thinking, little one," he began, "that you are going to be a happy woman! I do believe that is a man to be trusted. As for the mother, there is no occasion to think of her, beyond being on your guard against her. You will have no trouble with her after you are married."

"I cannot help fearing she will do us a mischief, uncle," I returned.

"Sir Philip Sidney says--'Since a man is bound no further to himself than to do wisely, chance is only to trouble them that stand upon chance.' That is, we are responsible only for our actions, not for their results. Trust first in God, then in John Day."

"I was sure you would like him, uncle!" I cried, with a flutter of loving triumph.

"I was nearly as sure myself--such confidence had I in the instinct of my little one. I think that I, of the two of us, may, in this instance, claim the greater faith!"

"You are always before me, uncle!" I said. "I only follow where you lead. But what do you think the woman will do next?"

"I don't think. It is no use. We shall hear of her before long. If all mothers were like her, the world would hardly be saved!"

"It would not be worth saving, uncle."

"Whatever can be saved, must be worth saving, my child."

"Yes, uncle; I shouldn't have said that," I replied.

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