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There & Back - Chapter 11. Alice Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :783

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There & Back - Chapter 11. Alice


Soon after his visit to Mortgrange, the young bookbinder went home, recalled at last by his parents. John Tuke was shocked with the hardness and blackness of his hands, and called his wife's attention to them. She, however, perhaps from nearer alliance with the smithy, professed to regard their condition as by no means a serious matter. She could not, nevertheless, quite conceal her regret, for she was proud of her boy's hands.

Richard supposed of course that his father's annoyance came only from the fear that his touch would be no longer sufficiently delicate for certain parts of his work; and certainly, when he looked at them, he thought the points of his fingers were broader than before, and was a little anxious lest they should have lost something of their cunning. He did not know that mechanical faculty, for fine work as well as rough, goes in general with square-pointed fingers. Delicately tapered fingers, whatever they may indicate in the way of artistic invention, are not the fingers of the painter or the sculptor. The finest fingers of the tapering kind I have ever seen, were those of a distinguished chemist of the last generation. Eager to satisfy both his father and himself, that the hands of the bookmender had not degenerated more than his skill could counteract, Richard selected, from a few that were waiting his return, the book worthiest of his labour, set to work, and by a thorough success quickly effected his purpose.

He was now, however, anxious, before doing anything else, to learn all that was known for the restoration and repair of the insides of books. In this an old-bookseller, a friend of his father, was able to give him no little help, putting him up to wrinkles not a few. Richard was surprised to see how, with a penknife, on a bit of glass, he would pare the edge of a scrap of paper to half the thickness, in order to place two such edges together, and join them without a scar. He taught him how to clean letterpress and engravings from ferruginous, fungous, and other kinds of spots. He made him acquainted with a process which considerably strengthened paper that had become weak in its cohesion; and when Richard would make further experiment, he supplied him with valueless letterpress to work upon. His time was thus more than ever occupied. For many weeks he scarcely even read.

It was not long, however, before he bethought him that he must see Arthur. He went the same evening to call on him, but found other people in the house, who could tell him nothing about the family that had left. His aunt said she had seen Alice once, and knew they were going, but did not know where they were gone. Richard would have inquired at the house in the City where Arthur was employed, but he did not know even the name of the firm. Once, from the top of an omnibus, he saw him--in the same shabby old comforter, looking feebler and paler and more depressed than ever; but when he got down, he had lost sight of him, and though he ran hither and thither, looking up this street and that, he recovered no glimpse of him. The selfish mother and the wasting children came back to him vividly as he walked sadly home.

He had counted Alice the nicest girl he had ever seen, but since going to the country had not thought much about her; and now, since seeing the fairy-like lady with the big brown mare, he had a higher idea of the feminine. But although therefore he would not have thought the pale, sweet-faced dressmaker quite so pleasing as before, he would, because of the sad look into which her countenance always settled, have felt her quite as interesting.

Richard had not yet arrived at any readiness to fall in love. It is well when this readiness is delayed until the individuality is sufficiently developed to have its own demands. I venture to think one cause of unhappiness in marriages is, that each person's peculiar self, was not, at the time of engagement, sufficiently grown for a natural selection of the suitable, that is, the _correspondent; and that the development which follows is in most cases the development of what is reciprocally non-correspondent, and works for separation and not approximation. The only thing to overcome this or any other disjunctive power, is development in the highest sense, that is, development of the highest and deepest in us--which can come only by doing right. The man who is growing to be one with his own nature, that is, one with God who is the _naturing nature, is coming nearer and nearer to every one of his fellow-beings. This may seem a long way round to love, but it is the only road by which we can arrive at true love of any kind; and he who does not walk in it, will one day find himself on the verge of a gulf of hate.

Individuality, forestalled by indifference, had no chance of keeping sir Wilton and lady Ann apart, but certainly had done nothing to bring them together. Where all is selfishness on both sides, what other correspondences may exist will hardly come into play. The loss of the unloved heir had perhaps done a little to approximate them; but they speedily ceased to hold any communication of ideas on the matter. As they did nothing to recover him, so they seemed to take almost no thought as to his existence or non-existence. If he were alive, neither father nor stepmother had the least desire to discover him. Answering honestly, each would have chosen that he should remain unheard of. As to the possibility of his dying in want, or being brought up in wickedness, that did not trouble either of them. His stepmother did not think the more tenderly of another woman's child that she cared for her own children only because they were hers. If you could have got the idea into the pinched soul of lady Ann, that the human race is one family, it would but have enhanced her general dislike, her feeble enmity to humanity. When she did or said anything to displease him, sir Wilton would sometimes hint at a new advertisement, but she did not much heed the threat. On the whole, however, they had got on better than might have been expected, partly in virtue of her sharp tongue and her thick skin, which combination of the offensive and defensive put sir Wilton at a disadvantage: however sharp his retort might be, she never felt it, but went on; and harping does not always mean such pleasant music, that you want to keep the harper awake. She had brought him four children--Arthur, the one whose acquaintance Richard had made, a younger brother who promised foully, and two girls--the elder common in feature and slow in wits, but with eyes and a heart; the younger clever and malicious.

One stormy winter night, as Richard was returning from a house in Park Crescent, to which he had carried home a valuable book restored to strength and some degree of aged beauty, from one of the narrow openings on the east side of Regent Street, came a girl, fighting with the wind and a weak-ribbed umbrella, and ran buffeted against him, notwithstanding his endeavour to leave her room. The collision was very slight, but she looked up and begged his pardon. It was Alice. Before he could speak, she gave a cry, and went from him in blind haste as fast as she could go; but with the fierce wind, her perturbation, and the unruliness of the umbrella, which she was vainly trying to close that she might run the better, she struck full against a lamp-post, and stood like one stunned and on the point of falling. Richard, however, was close behind her, and put an arm round her. She did not resist; she was indeed but half-conscious. The same moment he saw a cab and hailed it. The man heard and came. Richard lifted her into it, and got in after her. But Alice came to herself, got up, and leaning out of the cab on the street side, tried to open the door. Richard caught her, drew her back, and made her sit down again.

"Richard! Richard!" she cried, as she yielded to his superior strength, and burst into tears, "where are you taking me?"

"Wherever you like, Alice. You shall tell the cabman yourself. What is the matter with you? Don't be angry with me. It is not my fault that I have not been to see you and Arthur. You went away, and nobody could tell me where to find you! Give the cabman your address, Alice."

"I'm not going home," sobbed Alice.

"Where are you going, then? I will go with you. You're not fit to go anywhere alone! I'm afraid you're badly hurt!"

"No, no! Do let me out. Indeed, indeed, you must!"

"Well, then, I won't! You'll drop down and be left to the police! It's horrible to think of you out in such a night! Come home with me. If you are in any trouble, my mother will help you."

Here Alice, who had yielded to the pressure with which Richard held her, broke from him, and pushed him away. Richard put his other arm across, and laid hold of the door of the cab, telling the man to get up on his box, and have a little patience. He obeyed, and Richard turned again to Alice.

"Richard," she said, "your mother would kill me!"

"Nonsense!" he rejoined; "what a fancy! My mother!"

"I've seen her since you went. She made me promise--"

But there Alice stopped, and Richard could get from her nothing but entreaties to be let out.

"If you don't," she said at last, growing desperate, "I will scream."

"Let me take you at least, then, a little nearer where you want to go," pleaded Richard.

"No! no I set me down."

"Tell me where you live."

"I daren't."

"I must see my old friend, Arthur! and why shouldn't I see his sister? My father and mother ain't tyrants! They know what that would make of me! They let me go where I please, or give a good reason why I should not."

"Oh, they'll do that fast enough!" returned Alice, in a tone of mingled despair and scorn. "But," she added immediately, "the worst of it is, they'll be in the right. Let me out, Richard, or I shall hate you!"

But with the word she dropped her head on his shoulder, and sobbed as if her heart would sob its last.

He made repeated attempts to soothe her, but, as he made them, he felt them foolish, for he saw that nothing would alter her determination to be set down.

"Must I leave you, then, on this very spot?" he said.

"Yes, yes! here--here!" she answered, and rose with apparent eagerness to get away from him.

He got out, and turned to her, but she did not accept his offered help.

"Won't you shake hands with me?" he said. "I did not mean to offend you!"

She answered nothing, but hurried away a step or two, then turned and lifted her arms as if to embrace him, but turned again instantly, and fled away among the shadows of the wildly flickering lamps. By the time he had paid the cabman, he saw it would be useless to follow, for she was out of sight.

The wide street was almost deserted; its lamps shuddered flaring and streaming and darkening in the fierce gusts of the wind. A vague army of evil things seemed to start up and come crowding between him and Alice. He turned homeward, with a sense of loss and a great sadness at his heart, unable even to speculate as to the cause of Alice's behaviour. All he knew was, that his mother had something to do with it. For the first time since childhood, he felt angry with his mother.

"She fancies," he said to himself, "that I am in love with the girl, and she thinks her not good enough for me! I'm not in love with her; but _any good girl I cared for, I should count good enough! When my mother's turn comes, off she goes to the rest of the social tyrants that look down on a brother because he can do twenty things they can't! If the world went out of gear, would _they make it go! I'll be fair whatever I be! It'll be my mother's own fault if I fall in love with Alice! She has made me pity her with all my heart--the poor, white thing!--so thin and pinched, and such big eyes! It would be just bliss to have a creature like that to trust you, so that you could comfort her! What can my mother have said to her? She has made her awfully miserable, anyhow! Perhaps her mother drinks!--What if she do! Alice don't!"

He was determined to have some explanation from his mother. But she foiled him. The moment she saw what he meant, she turned away, listened in silence, and spoke with a decision that savoured of anger.

"They're not people your father and I will have you know," she said, without looking at him.

"But why, mother?" asked Richard.

"We're not bound to explain everything to you, Richard. It ought to be enough that we _have a good reason."

"If it be a good reason, why shouldn't I know it, mother?" he persisted. "Good things don't require to be hidden."

"That's very true; they do not."

"Then why hide this one?"

"Because it is not good."

"You said it was a good reason!"

"So it is."

"Good and not good! How can that be?" said Richard, with a great lack of logic. By this time he ought to have been able to see that the worst of facts may be the best of reasons.

His mother held her peace, knowing she was right, but not knowing how to answer what she thought his cleverness.

"I mean to go and see them, mother," he said.

"You'll repent it, Richard. The woman is not respectable!"

"She won't bite me!"

"There's worse than biting!"

"I allow," pursued Richard, "she may take a drop too much; her nose does look a little suspicious! But if she ain't what she should be, it's hard lines Arthur and Alice should suffer for the sins of their mother."

"The Bible says the sins of the fathers are visited on the children."

"The Bible! If the Bible says what ain't right, are we to do it?"

"Richard, I'll have no such word spoken again in my house!" exclaimed his mother.

"Are you going to turn me out, mother, because I say we should not do what is wrong, whoever tells us to?"

"No, Richard! You said the Bible said what was wrong; and that's blasphemy!"

"Didn't you say, mother, that the Bible said we ought to visit the sins of the fathers on the children?"

"God forbid!" cried the poor woman, driven almost to distraction; "I said nothing of the kind! That would be awful! What the Bible says is, that God does so."

"Well, if God chooses, we must leave him to do as he chooses--not do likewise!"

"Surely, surely, Richard! If _he does it, he knows what he's about, and we don't."

"All right, mother! Then tell me where Arthur and Alice are gone. I want to go and see them."

"I don't know. In fact, I took care not to know, that I mightn't be able to tell you."

"But why?"

"Never mind why. I don't know where they are, and couldn't tell you if I would."

Richard turned angrily away, and went to his room, weary and annoyed. In the morning his mother said to him--

"Richard, I can't bear there should be any misunderstanding between you and me! The moment you are one and twenty, ask me and I will tell you why I would not have you knowing those people. Believe me, I was right to stop it, for fear of what might follow."

"If you are afraid of my falling in love with a girl you don't think good enough for me, you have taken the wrong way to keep me from thinking about her, mother. You remember the costermonger whose family quarrelled with him for marrying beneath him? If a girl be a good girl, she is good for me, whether she be the daughter of the cats'-meat-man or of a royal duke! I know that's not the way people who call themselves Christians think! They want, of course, to keep up the selfishness of the breed!"

It was horribly rude, and Jane burst into tears. Richard's heart softened. It is well our hearts are sometimes in advance of our consciences--we are so slow to recognize injustice in defence of the right! Richard's wrong to his mother was a lack of faith in her. Where he did not understand and she would not explain, he did not even give her the benefit of the doubt. He treated her just as many of us, calling ourselves Christians, treat the Father--not in words, perhaps, or even in definite thoughts, but in feelings and actions.

"You will be sorry for this one day, Richard!" she sobbed. "Whatever I do is from care over you!"

"To wrong another for my sake, never can be any good to me. If money wrong-got be a curse, so is any good wrong-got."

"You won't trust me, Richard! My own father is a blacksmith: why should I look down upon a dressmaker?"

"That's just what I think, mother!--Why?"

"I don't!" returned Mrs. Tuke--and there she paused: another step might bring her to the edge of the gulf!

Richard looked at her moodily for a moment, then turned away to the workshop; where, after his ill success with his mother, he was hardly less disinclined to challenge his father than before, for he knew him inexpugnable.

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