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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 16. Barbara And Richard
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There & Back - Chapter 16. Barbara And Richard Post by :stillgreen Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2718

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There & Back - Chapter 16. Barbara And Richard

CHAPTER XVI. BARBARA AND RICHARD

Hardly had Lestrange left the room, when Barbara entered, noiseless as a moth, which creature she somehow resembled at times: one observant friend came to see that she resembled all swift, gay, and gentle creatures in turn. She was in the same green dress which had favoured her concealment in the beech, and in which Richard had seen her afterward at the breakfast-table, but of which he had not since caught a glimmer. Her blue eyes--at times they seemed black, but they were blue--settled upon Richard the moment she entered, and resting on him seemed to lead her up to the table where he was at work.

"What have you done to make Arthur so angry?" she said, her manner as if they had known each other all their lives.

"What I am doing now, miss--making this book last a hundred years longer."

"Why should you, if he doesn't want you to do it? The book is his!"

"He will be pleased enough by and by. It's only that he thinks I can't, and is afraid I shall ruin it."

"Hadn't you better leave it then?"

"That would be to ruin it. I have gone too far for that."

"Why should you want to make it last so long? They are always printing books over again, and a new book is much nicer than an old one."

"So some people think; but others would much rather read a book in its first shape. And then books get so changed by printers and editors, that it is absolutely necessary to have copies of them as they were at first. You see this little book, miss? It don't look much, does it?"

"It looks miserable--and so dirty!"

"By the time I have done with it, it will be worth fifty, perhaps a hundred pounds--I don't know exactly. It is a play of Shakespeare's us published in his lifetime."

"But they print better and more correctly now, don't they?"

"Yes; but us I said, they often change things."

"How is that?"

"Sometimes they will change a word, thinking it ought to be another; sometimes they will alter a passage because they do not understand it, putting it all wrong, and throwing aside a great meaning for a small one: the change of a letter may alter the whole idea. But they often do it just by blundering. Shall I tell you an instance that came to my knowledge yesterday? It is but a trifle, yet is worth telling.--Of course you know the _Idylls of the King_?"

"No, I don't Why do you say 'of course'?"

"Because I thought every English lady read Tennyson."

"Ah, but I was born in New Zealand!--Tell me the blunder, though."

"There was one thing in _The Pausing of Arthur_--that's the name of one of the Idylls--which I never could understand:--how sir Bedivere could throw a sword with both hands, and make it go in the way Tennyson says it went."

"But who was sir Bedivere?"

"You must read the poem to know that, miss. He was one of the knights of king Arthur's Round Table." "I don't know anything about king Arthur."

"I will repeat us much of the poem as is necessary to make you understand about the misprint."

"_Do--please_."


"Then quickly rose sir Bedivere, and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush beds, and clutch'd the sword,
And strongly wheeled and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl'd in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flashed and fell the brand Excalibur."


"What does _the brand Excalibur_--is that it?--what does it mean? They put a brand on the cattle in the bush."

"_Brand means a sword, and _Excalibur was the name of this sword. They seem to have baptized their swords in those days!"

"There's nothing about _both hands_!"

"True; that comes a little lower down, where sir Bedivere tells king Arthur what he has done. He says--

"'Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him'.

"--Now do you think anybody could do that, and make it go flashing round and round in an arch?"

Barbara thought for a moment, then said--

"No, certainly not. To make it go like that, you would have to take it in one hand, and swing it round your head--and then you couldn't without a string tied to it. Or perhaps it was a sabre, and he was so strong he could send it like a boomerang!"

"No; it was a straight, big, heavy sword.--How then do you think Tennyson came to describe the thing so?"

"Because he didn't know better--or didn't think enough about it."

"There is more than that in it, I fancy: he was misled by a printer's blunder, I suspect. Some months ago I found the passage which Tennyson seems to follow, in a cheap reprint of sir Thomas Malory's History of King Arthur--then just out, and could not make sense of it. Yesterday I found here this long little book, evidently the edition from which the other was printed--and printed correctly too. In both issues, this is what the knight is made to say:

"'Then sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up and went to the water's side, and there he bound the girdle about the belts. And then he threw the sword into the water as far as he might.'"

"Well," said Barbara, "you have not made me any wiser! You said the new one was printed correctly from that old one!"

"But I did not say the old one, as you call it, was itself printed correctly from the much older one! Look here now," continued Richard--and mounting the library-steps, he took down another small volume, very like the former, "--here is another edition, of nearly the same date: let me read what is printed there:--

"'Then sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the water side, and there he bound the girdle about the hilt. And then he threw the sword into the water as far as he might.'

"Now, most likely the copy from which both of these editions were printed, had the word _hilts_, for then they always spoke of the _hilts_, not _hilt of a sword; and the one printer modernized it into _hilt_, and the other, perhaps mistaking the dim print, for _hilts printed _belts_. To tie the girdle about the _belts must simply be nonsense. But to tie the girdle to the hilts of the sword, would just give the knight what you said he would want--something long to swing it round his head with, and throw it like a stone, and the sling with it."

"I understand."

"You see then how the printer's blunder, which might not appear to matter much, has come to matter a great deal, for it has, it seems to me, caused a fault-spot in the loveliest poem!"

During this conversation Richard's work had scarcely relaxed; but now that a pause came it seemed to gather diligence.

"Why do you spend your time patching up books?" said Barbara.

"Because they are worth patching up; and because I earn my bread by patching them."

"But you seem to care most for what is inside them!"

"If I did not, I should never have taken to mending, I should have been content with binding them. New covers make more show, and are much easier put on than patches."

Another pause followed.

"What a lot you know!" said Barbara.

"Very little," answered Richard.

"Then where am I!" she returned.

"Perhaps ladies don't need books! I don't know about ladies."

"I think they don't care about them. I never hear them talk as you do--as if books were their friends. But why should they? Books are only books!"

"You would not say that if once you knew them!"

"I wish you would make me know them, then!"

"There are books, and you can read, miss!"

"Ah, but I can't read as you read! I understand that much! I was born where there ain't any books. I can shoot and fish and run and ride and swim, and all that kind of thing. I never had to fight. I think I could shoe a horse, if any one would give me a lesson or two."

"I will, with pleasure, miss."

"Oh, thank you. That will be jolly! But how is it you can do everything?"

"I can only do one or two things. I can shoe a horse, but I never had the chance of riding one."

"Teach me to shoe Miss Brown, and I will teach you to ride her. How is your hand?"

"Quite well, thank you."

"I would rather learn to read, though--the right way, I mean--the way that makes one book talk to another."

"That would be better than shoeing Miss Brown; but I will teach you both, if you care to learn."

"Thank you indeed! When shall we begin?"

"When you please."

"Now?"

"I cannot before six o'clock. I must do first what I am paid to do!--What kind of reading do you like best?"

"I don't know any best. I used to read the papers to papa, but now I don't even do that. I hope I never may."

"Where do you live, miss, when you're at home?" asked Richard, all the time busy with the quarto.

"Don't you know?"

"I don't even know who you are, miss!"

"I am Barbara Wylder. I live at Wylder Hall, a few miles from here.--I don't know the distance exactly, because I always go across country: that way reminds me a little of home. My father was the third son, and never expected to have the Hall. He went out to New Zealand, and married my mother, and made a fortune--at least people say so: he never tells me anything. They don't care much for me: I'm not a boy!"

"Have you any brothers?"

"I have one," she answered sadly. "I had two, but my mother's favourite is gone, and my father's is left, and mamma can't get over it. They were twins, but they did not love each other. How could they? My father and mother don't love each other, so each loved one of the twins and hated the other."

She mentioned the dismal fact with a strange nonchalance--as if the thing could no more be helped, and needed no more be wondered at, than a rainy day. Yet the sigh she gave indicated trouble because of it.

Richard held his peace, rather astonished, both that a lady should talk to him in such an easy way, and that she should tell him the saddest family secrets. But she seemed quite unaware of doing anything strange, and after a brief pause resumed.

"Yes, they had long been tired of each other," she said, us if she had been reflecting anew on the matter, "but the quarrelling came all of taking sides about the twins! At least I do not remember any of it before that. They were both fine children, and they could not agree which was the finer, but, as the boys grew, quarrelled more and more about them. They would be at it whole evenings, each asserting the merits of one of the twins, and neither listening to a word about the other. Each was determined not to be convinced, and each called the other obstinate."

"Were the twins older or younger than you, miss?" asked Richard.

"They were three years younger than me. But when I look back it seems as if I had been born into the bickering. It always looked as natural as the grassy slopes outside the door. I thought it was a consequence of twins, that all parents with twins went on so. When my father's next older brother fell ill, and there seemed a possibility of his succeeding to the property, the thing grew worse; now it was which of them should be heir to it. Waking in the middle of the night, I would hear them going on at it. Then which was the elder, no one could tell. My mother had again and again, before they began to quarrel, confessed she did not know. I don't think I ever saw either of my parents do a kindness to the other, or to the child favoured by the other. So from the first the boys understood that they were enemies, and acted accordingly. Each always wanted everything for himself. They scowled at each other long before they could talk. Their games, always games of rivalry and strife, would for a minute or two make them a little less hostile, but the moment the game ceased, they began to scowl again. They were both kind to me, and I loved them both, and naturally tried to make them love each other; but it was of no use. It seemed their calling to rival and obstruct one another. When they came to blows, as they frequently did, my father and mother would almost come to blows too, each at once taking the usual side. I would run away then, put a piece of bread in my pocket, and get on a horse. Nobody ever missed me."

"Did you never lose your way?" asked Richard: he must say something, he felt so embarrassed.

"My horse always knew the way home. I have often been out all night, though; and how peaceful it was to be alone with Widow Wind, as I used to call the night I--I don't know why now; I suppose I once knew."

Something in this way she ran on with her story, but I fail to approach the charm of her telling. Her narrative was almost childish in its utterance, but childlike in its insight. What could have moved her so to confide in a stranger and a workman? In truth, she needed little moving; her nature was to trust everybody; but there were not many to whom she could talk. Miss Brown helped her with no response; to her parents she had no impulse to speak; the young people she met stared at the least allusion to the wild ways of her past life, making her feel she was not one of them. Even Arthur Lestrange had more than once looked awkward at a remark she happened to make! So, instead of confiding in any of them, that is, letting her heart go in search of theirs, she had taken to amusing them, and in this succeeded so thoroughly as to be an immense favourite--which, however, did not make her happy, did not light up the world within her. Hence it was no great wonder that, being such as she was, she should feel drawn to Richard. He was the first man she had even begun to respect. In her humility she found him every way her superior. It was wonderful to her that he should know so much about books, the way people made them, what they meant, and how mistakes got into them, and went from one generation to another: they were his very friends! She thought it was his love for books that had made him a bookbinder, as indeed it was his love for them that had made him a book-mender. Her heart and mind were free from many social prejudices. She knew that people looked down upon men who did things with their hands; but she had done so many things herself with her hands, and been so much obliged to others who could do things with their hands better than she, that she felt the superiority of such whose hands were their own perfect servants, and ready to help others as well.

One of the things by which she wounded the sense of propriety in those about her was, that she would talk of some things that, in their judgment, ought to be kept secret. Now Barbara could understand keeping a great joy secret, but a misery was not a nice thing to cuddle up and hide; of a misery she must get rid, and if talking about it was any relief, why not talk? She soon found, however, that it was no relief to talk to Arthur or his sister; and from the commonplace governess, she recoiled. The bookbinder was different; he was a man; he was not what people called a gentleman; he was a man like the men in the Bible, who spoke out what they meant! The others were empty; Richard was full of man! As regarded her father and mother, she could betray no secret of theirs; everybody about them knew the things she talked of; and had they been secrets, neither would have cared a pin what a working man might know or think of them! Did they not quarrel in the presence of the very cat! Then Richard was such a gentlemanly workman! Of course he could not be a gentleman in England, but there must be, certainly there ought to be somewhere the place in which Richard, just as he was, would be a gentleman! She was sure he would not laugh at her behind her back, and she was not sure that Arthur, or Theodora even, would not. More than all, he was ready to open for her the door into the rich chamber of his own knowledge! Must a man be a workman to know about books? What then if a workman was a better and greater kind of man than a gentleman? In her own country, it did not matter so much about books, for there one had so many friends! Why read about the beauties of Nature, where she was at home with her always! What did any one want with poetry who could be out as long as she pleased with the old night, and the stars gray with glory, and the wind wandering everywhere and knowing all things! Here it was different! Here she could not do without books! Where the things themselves were not, she wanted help to think about them! And that help was in books, and Richard could teach her how to get at it!

It was indeed amazing that one who had read so little should have so good, although so imperfect a notion of what books could do. Just so much a few cheap novels had sufficed to reveal to her! But then Barbara was herself a world of uncrystallized poetry. What is feeling but poetry in a gaseous condition? What is fine thought but poetry in a fluid condition? What is thought solidified, but fine prose; thought crystallized, but verse?

"Here," she would say, but later than the period of which I am now writing, "where the weather is often so stupid that it won't do anything, won't be weather at all; will neither blow, nor rain, nor freeze, nor shine, you need books to make a world inside you--to take you away, as by the spell of a magician or on the wings of an eagle, from the walls and the nothingness, into a world where one either finds everything or wants nothing." She had yet to learn that books themselves are but weak ministers, that the spirit dwelling in them must lead back to him who gave it or die; that they are but windows, which, if they look not out on the eternal spaces, will themselves be blotted out by the darkness.

To end her story, she told Richard that, since their coming to this country, her mother's favourite had died. She nearly went mad, she said, and had never been like herself again. For not only had her opposition to her husband deepened into hate, but--here, to Richard's amusement when he found on what the reverential change was attendant, Barbara lowered her voice--she really and actually hated God also. "Isn't it awful?" Barbara said; but meeting no response in the honest eyes of Richard, she dropped hers, and went on.

"I have heard her say the wildest and wickedest things, careless whether any one was near. I think she must at times be out of her mind! One day not long ago I saw her shake her fist as high as she could reach above her head, looking up with an expression of rage and reproach and defiance that was terrible. Had we been in New Zealand, I should not have wondered so much: there are devils going about there. Nobody knows of any here, but it was here they got into my mother, and made her defy God. She does it straight out in church. That is why I always sit in the poor seats, and not in the little gallery that belongs to my father.--Have you ever been to our church, Mr. Tuke?"

Richard told her he never went to church except when his mother wanted him to go with her.

"My mother goes twice every Sunday; but what do you think she is doing all the time? The gallery has curtains about it, but she never allows those in front to be drawn, and anybody in the opposite gallery can see into it quite well, and the clergyman when he is in the pulpit: she lies there on a couch, in a nest of pillows, reading a novel, a yellow French one generally, just as if she were in her own room! She knows the clergyman sees her, and that is why she does it."

"She disapproves of the whole thing!" said Richard.

"She used to like church well enough."

"She must mean to protest, else why should she go? Has she any quarrel with the clergyman?"

"None that I know of."

"What then do you think she means by going and not joining in? Why is she present and not taking part?"

"I believe she does it just to let God know she is not pleased with him. She thinks he has treated her cruelly and tyrannically, and she will not pretend to worship him. She wants to show him how bitterly she feels the way he has turned against her. She used to say prayers to him; she will do so no more! and she goes to church that he may see she won't"

The absurdity of the thing struck Richard sharply, but he feared to hurt the girl and lose her confidence.

"Her behaviour is only a kind of insolent prayer!" he said. "--Has the clergyman ever spoken to her about it?"

"I don't think he has. He spoke to me, but when I said he ought to speak to her, he did not seem to see it. _I should speak to her fast enough if it were _my church!"

"I dare say he thinks her mind is affected, and fears to make her worse," said Richard. "But he might, I think, persuade her that, as she is not on good terms with the person who lives in the church, she ought to stay away."

Barbara looked at him with doubtful inquiry, but Richard went on.

"What sort of a man is the clergyman?" he asked.

"I don't know. He seems always thinking about things, and never finding out. I suppose he is stupid!"

"That does not necessarily follow," said Richard with a smile, reflecting how hard it would be for the man to answer one of a thousand questions he might put to him in connection with his trade. "Your poor mother must be very unhappy!" he added.

"She may well be! I am no comfort to her. She never heeds me; or she tells me to go and amuse myself--she is busy. My father has his twin, and poor mamma has nobody!"

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