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- Absalom's Hair - 5/22 -
clasping his head between his hands. It felt like a bristly stubble.
When he looked up again his mother was gone.
A child sleeps in spite of everything. He came down the next morning in a contrite mood and thoroughly shamefaced. His mother was not up; she was unwell, for she had not slept a wink. He heard this before he went to her. He opened her door timidly. There she lay, the picture of wretchedness.
On the toilet-table, in a white silk handkerchief, was his hair, smoothed and combed.
She lay there in her lace-trimmed nightgown, great tears rolling down her cheeks. He had come, intending to throw himself into her arms and beg her pardon a thousand times. But he had a strong feeling that he had better not do so, or was he afraid to? She was in the clouds, far, far away. She seemed in a trance: something, at once painful and sacred, held her enchained. She was both pathetic and sublime,
The boy stepped quietly from the room and hurried off to school.
She remained in bed that day and the next, and made him sit with the servant in order that she might be alone. When she was in trouble she always behaved thus, and that he should cross her in this way was the greatest trial that she had ever known. It came upon her, too, like a deluge of rain from a clear sky. NOW it seemed to her that she could foresee his future--and her own.
She laid the blame of all this on his paternal ancestry. She could not see that incessant artistic fuss and too much intellectual training had, perhaps, aroused in him a desire for independence.
The first time that she saw him again with his cropped head, which grew more and more like his father's in shape, her tears flowed quietly.
When he wished to come to her side, she waived him back with her shapely hand, nor would she talk to him; when he talked she hardly looked at him; till at last he burst into tears. For he suffered as one can suffer but once, when the childish penitence is fresh and therefore boundless, and when the yearning for love has received its first rebuff.
But when, on the fifth day, she met him coming up the stairs, she stood still in dismay at his appearance: pale, thin, timid; the effect perhaps heightened by the loss of his hair. He, too, stood still, looking forlorn and abject, with disconsolate eyes. Then hers filled; she stretched out her arms. He was once more in his Paradise, but they both cried as though they must wade through an ocean of tears before they could talk to each other again.
"Tell me about it now," she whispered. This was in her own room. They had spoken the first fond words and kissed each other over and over again. "How could this have happened, Rafael?" she whispered again, with her head pressed to his; she did not wish to look at him while she spoke.
"Mother," he answered, "it is worse to cut down the woods at home, at Hellebergene, than that I--"
She raised her head and looked at him. She had taken off her hat and gloves, but now she put them quickly on again.
"Rafael, dear," she said, "shall we go for a walk together in the park, under the grand old trees?"
She had felt his retort to be ingenious.
After this episode, however, England, and more especially her son's schoolfellows, became distasteful to her, and she constantly made plans to keep him away from the latter out of school hours.
She found this very easy; sometimes she went over his studies with him, at others they visited all the Manufactories and "Works" for miles round.
She liked to see for herself and awakened the same taste in him.
Factories which, as a rule, were closed to visitors, were readily opened to the pretty elegant lady and her handsome boy, "who after all knew nothing at all about it;" and they were able to see almost all that they wished. It was a less congenial task to use her influence to turn his thoughts to higher things, but it was rarely, nevertheless, that she failed. She struggled hard over what she did not understand and sought for help. To explain these things to Rafael in the most attractive manner possible became a new occupation for her.
His natural disposition inclined him to such studies; but to a boy of thirteen, who was thus kept from his comrades and their sports, it soon became a nuisance.
No sooner had Fru Kaas noticed this than she took active steps. They left England and crossed to France.
The strange speech threw him back on her; no one shared him with her. They settled in Calais. A few days after their arrival she cut her hair short; she hoped that it would touch him to see that as he would not look like her, she tried to look like him--to be a. boy like him. She bought a smart new hat, she composed a jaunty costume, new from top to toe, for EVERYTHING must be altered with the hair. But when she stood before him, looking like a girl of twenty-five, merry, almost boisterous, he was simply dismayed-- nay, it was some time before he could altogether comprehend what had happened. As long as he could remember his mother, her eyes had always looked forth from beneath a crown; more solemn, more beautiful.
"Mother," he said, "where are you?"
She grew pale and grave, and stammered something about its being more comfortable--about red hair not looking well when it began to lose its colour--and went into her room. There she sat with his hair before her and her own beside it; she wept.
"Mother, where are you?" She might have answered, "Rafael, where are you?"
She went about with him everywhere. In France two handsome, stylishly dressed people are always certain to be noticed, a thing which she thoroughly appreciated.
During their different expeditions she always spoke French; he begged her to talk Norse at least now and then, but all in vain.
Here, too, they visited every possible and impossible factory. Unpractical and reserved as she was on ordinary occasions, she could be full of artifice and coquetry whenever she wished to gain access to a steam bakery and particular as she generally was about her toilette, she would come away again sooty and grimy if thereby she could procure for Rafael some insight into mechanics. She shrank from foul air as from the cholera, yet inhaled sulphuric acid gas as though it had been ozone for his sake.
"Seeing for yourself, Rafael, is the substance, other methods are its shadow;" or "Seeing for yourself, Rafael, is meat and drink, the other is but literature."
He was not quite of the same opinion: he thought that Notre Dame de Paris, from which he was daily dragged away, was the richest banquet that he had yet enjoyed, while from the factory of Mayel et fils there issued the most deadly odours.
His reading--she had encouraged him in it for the sake of the language and had herself helped him; now she was jealous of it and could not be persuaded to get him new books; but he got them nevertheless.
They had been in Calais for several months; he had masters and was beginning to feel himself at home, when there arrived at the pension a widow from one of the colonies, accompanied by her daughter, a girl of thirteen.
The new comers had not appeared at meals for more than two days before the young gentleman began to pay his court to the young lady. From the first moment it was a plain case. Very soon every one in the pension was highly amused to notice how fluent his French was becoming; his choice of words at times was even elegant! The girl taught him it without a trace of grammar, by charm, sprightliness, a little nonsense; a pair of confiding eyes and a youthful voice were sufficient. It was from her that he got, by stealth, one novel after another. By stealth it had to be; by stealth Lucie had procured them; by stealth she gave them to him; by stealth they were read; by stealth she took them back again. This reading made him a little absent-minded, but otherwise nothing betrayed his flights into literature: to be sure, they were not very wonderful.
Fru Kaas noticed her son's flirtation, and smiled with the rest over his progress in French. She had less objection to this friendship, in which, to a great extent, she shared, than to those in England, from which she had been quite excluded. In the evenings she would take the mother and daughter out for short excursions; and these she greatly enjoyed. But the novel reading which the young people carried on secretly had resulted in conversations of a "grown up" type. They talked of love with the deep experience which is proper to their age, they talked with still greater discretion as to when their wedding should take place; on this point they indirectly said much which caused them many a delightful tremor. As they were accustomed to talk about themselves before others, to describe their feelings in a veiled form, it often happened when there were many people near that they carried this amusement further, and before they were themselves aware of it, they were in the full tide of a symbolic language and played "catch" with each other.
Fru Kaas noticed one evening that the word "rose" was drawn out to a greater length than it was possible for any rose to attain to; at the same time she saw the languishing look in their eyes, and broke in with the question, "What do you mean about the rose, child?"
If any one had peeped behind a rose-bush and caught them kissing one another, a thing they had never done, they could not have blushed more.
The next day Fru Kaas found new rooms, a long way from the quay
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