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- Absalom's Hair - 4/22 -
This vision, which he never mentioned to a soul, he could not get rid of. To be left hanging there by his hair--what a strange punishment for rebelling against his father!
Certainly he already knew the history, but till now he had paid no special heed to it.
It was on a Friday that this great impression had been made on him, and on the following Thursday morning he awoke to see his mother standing over him with her most wondering expression. Her hair still as she had plaited it for the night; one plait had touched him on the nose and awoke him before she spoke. She stood bending over him, in her long white nightgown with its dainty lace trimming, and with bare feet. She would never have come in like that if something terrible had not happened. Why did she not speak? only look and look--or was she really frightened?
"Mother!" he cried, sitting up.
Then she bent close down to him. "THE MAN IS DEAD," she whispered. It was his father whom she called "the man," she never spoke of him otherwise.
Rafael did not comprehend what she said, or perhaps it paralysed him. She repeated it again louder and louder, "The man is dead, the man is dead."
Then she stood upright, and putting out her bare feet from under her nightgown, she began to dance--only a few steps; and then she slipped away through the door which stood half open. He jumped up and ran after her; there she lay on the sofa, sobbing. She felt that he was behind her, she raised herself quickly, and, still sobbing, pressed him to her heart.
Even when they stood together beside the body, the hand which he had in his shook so that he threw his arms round her, thinking that she would fall.
Later in life, when he recalled this, he understood what she had silently endured, what an unbending will she had brought to the struggle, but also what it had cost her.
At the time he did not in the least comprehend it. He imagined that she suffered from the horror of the moment as he himself did.
There lay the giant, in wretchedness and squalor! He who had once boasted of his cleanliness, and expected the like in others, lay there, dirty and unshaven, under dirty bed clothes, in linen so ragged and filthy that no workman on the estate had worse. The clothes which he had worn the day before lay on a chair beside the bed, miserably threadbare, foul with dirt, sweat, and tobacco, and stinking like everything else. His mouth was distorted, his hands tightly clenched; he had died of a stroke.
And how forlorn and desolate was all around him! Why had his son never noticed this before? Why had he never felt that his father was lonely and forsaken? To how great an extent no words could express.
Rafael burst into tears; louder and louder grew his sobbing, until it sounded through all the rooms. The people from the estate came in one by one. They wished to satisfy their curiosity.
The boy's crying, unconsciously to himself, influenced them all: they saw everything in a new light. How unfortunate, how desolate, how helpless had he been who now lay there. Lord, have mercy on us all!
When the corpse of Harald Kaas had been laid out, the face shaved, and the eyes closed, the distortion was less apparent. They could trace signs of suffering, but the expression was still virile. It seemed a handsome face to them now
Within a few days of the funeral mother and son were in England.
Rafael was now to enter upon a long course of study, for which, by his earlier education, his mother had prepared him, and for which, by painful privations, she had saved up sufficient money.
The property was to the last degree impoverished, and burdened with mortgages, and the timber only fit for fuel.
Their neighbour the Dean, a clear-headed and practical man, took upon himself the management of affairs; as money was needed the work of devastation must begin at once. The mother and son did not wish to witness it.
They came to England like two fugitives who, after many and great trials, for affection's sake seek a new home and a new country.
Rafael was then twelve years old.
They were inseparable, and in the shiftless life that they led in their new surroundings they became, if possible, more closely attached to each other.
Yet not long afterwards they had their first disagreement.
He had gone to school, had begun to learn the language and to make friends, and had developed a great desire to show off.
He was very tall and slender and was anxious to be athletic. He took an active part in the play-ground, but here he achieved no great success. On the other hand, thanks to his mother, he was better informed than his comrades, and he contrived to obtain prominence by this. This prominence must be maintained, and nothing answered so well as boasting about Norway and his father's exploits. His statements were somewhat exaggerated, but that was not altogether his fault, He knew English fairly well, but had not mastered its niceties. He made use of superlatives, which always come the most readily. It was true that he had inherited from his father twenty guns, a large sailing-boat, and several smaller ones; but how magnificent these boats and guns had become!
He intended to go to the North Pole, he said, as his father had done, to shoot white bears, and invited them all to come with him.
He made a greater impression on his hearers than he himself was aware of; but something more was wanted, for it was impossible to foretell from day to day what might be expected of him. He had to study hard in order to meet the demand.
As an outcome of this, he betook himself one evening to the hairdresser's, with some of his schoolfellows, and, without more ado, requested him to cut his hair quite close. That ought to satisfy them for a long time.
The other boys had teased him about his hair, and it got in the way when he was playing--he hated it. Besides, ever since the story of Absalom's rebellion and punishment, it had remained a secret terror to him, but it had never before occurred to him to have it cut off.
His schoolfellows were dismayed, and the hairdresser looked on it as a work of wilful destruction.
Rafael felt his heart begin to sink, but the very audacity of the thing gave him courage They should see what he dare do. The hairdresser hesitated to act without Fru Kaas's knowledge, but at length he ceased to make objections.
Rafael's heart sank lower and lower, but he must go through with it now. "Off with it," he said, and remained immovable in the chair.
"I have never seen more splendid hair," said the hairdresser diffidently, taking up the scissors but still hesitating.
Rafael saw that his companions were on the tiptoe of expectation. "Off with it," he said again with assumed indifference.
The hairdresser cut the hair into his hand and laid it carefully in paper.
The boys followed every snip of the scissors with their eyes, Rafael with his ears; he could not see in the glass.
When the hairdresser had finished and had brushed his clothes for him, he offered him the hair. "What do I want with it?" said Rafael. He dusted his elbows and knees a little, paid, and left the shop, followed by his companions. They, however, exhibited no particular admiration. He caught a glimpse of himself in the glass as he went out, and thought that he looked frightful.
He would have given all that he possessed (which was not much), he would have endured any imaginable suffering, he thought, to have his hair back again.
His mother's wondering eyes rose up before him with every shade of expression; his misery pursued him, his vanity mocked him. The end of it all was that he stole up to his room and went to bed without his supper.
But when his mother had vainly waited for him, and some one suggested that he might be in the house, she went to his room.
He heard her on the stairs; he felt that she was at the door. When she entered he had hidden his head beneath the bedclothes. She dragged them back; and at the first sight of her dismay he was reduced to such despair that the tears which were beginning to flow ceased at once.
White and horror-struck she stood there; indeed she thought at first that some one had done it maliciously; but when she could not extract a word of enlightenment, she suspected mischief.
He felt that she was waiting for an explanation, an excuse, a prayer for forgiveness, but he could not, for the life of him, get out a word.
What, indeed, could he say? He did not understand it himself. But now he began to cry violently. He huddled himself together,
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