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- Absalom's Hair - 6/22 -

near which they were living.

Rafael had suffered greatly at being torn away from England just as he had come down from his high horse and had put himself on a par with his companions, but not the least notice was taken of his trouble; it had only annoyed his mother.

To be absolutely debarred from the books he was so fond of had been hard; but up to this time, being in a foreign land, amid foreign speech, he had always fallen back upon her. Now he openly defied her. He went straight off to the hotel and sought out Madame Mery and her daughter as though nothing had occurred. This he did every day when he had finished his lessons. Lucie had now become his sole romance; he gave all his leisure time to her, and not only that (for it no longer sufficed to see her at her mother's), they met on the quay! At times a maid-servant walked with them for appearance sake, at others she kept in the background. Sometimes they would go on board a Norwegian ship, sometimes they wandered about or strolled beneath some great trees. When he saw her in her short frock come out of the door, saw her quick movements, and her lively signals to him with parasol or hat or flowers, the quay, the ships, the bales, the barrels, the air, the noise, the crowd, all seemed to play and sing,

"Enfant! si j'etais roi je donerais l'empire, Et mon char, et mon septre, et mon peuple a genoux,"

and he ran to meet her.

He never dared to do more than to take both her chubby brown hands, nor to say more than "You are very sweet, you are very very good." And she never went further than to look at him, walk with him, laugh with him, and say to him, "You are not like the others." What experiences there had been in the life of this girl of thirteen goodness alone knows. He never asked her, he was too sure of her.

He learned French from her as one bird feeds from another's bill, or as one who looks at his image in a fountain, as be drinks from it.

One day, as mother and son were at breakfast, she glanced quietly across at him. "I heard of an excellent preparatory school of mechanics at Rouen," she said, "so I wrote to inquire about it, and here is the answer. I approve of it in all respects, as you will do when you read it. I think that we shall go to Rouen; what do you say to it?"

He grew first red, then white; then put down his bread, his table napkin; got up and left the room. Later in the day she asked him whether he would not read the letter; he left her without answering. At last, just as he was going to meet Lucie on the quay, she said, and this time with determination, that they were to leave in the course of an hour. She had already packed up; as they stood there the man came to fetch the luggage. At that moment he felt that he could thoroughly understand why his father had beaten her.

As they sat in the carriage which took them to the station he suffered keenly. It could not nave been worse, he thought, if his mother had stabbed him with a knife. He did not sit beside her in the railway carriage.

During the first days at Rouen he would not answer when she spoke to him, nor ask a single question. He had adopted her own tactics; he carried them through with a cruelty of which he was not aware.

For a long time he had been disposed to criticise her; now that this criticism was extended to all that she said or did, the spirit of accusation tinctured her whole life; their joint past seemed altered and debased.

His father's bent form, in the log chair on the hairless skin, malodorous and dirty, rose up before him, in vivid contrast with his mother in her well appointed, airy, perfumed rooms!

When Rafael stood by his father's body he had felt the same thing- -that the old man had been badly treated. He himself had been encouraged to neglect his father, to shun him, to evade his orders. At that time he had laid the blame on the people on the estate; now he put it all down to his mother's account. His father had certainly adored her once, and this feeling had changed into wild self-consuming hatred. What had happened? He did not know; but he could not but admit that his mother would have tried the patience of Job.

He pictured to himself how Lucie would come running with her flowers, search for him over the whole quay, farther and farther every time, standing still at last. He could not think of it without tears, and without a feeling of bitterness.

But a child is a child. It was not a life-long grief. As the place was new and historically interesting, and as lessons had now begun and his mother was always with him, this feeling wore off, but the mutual restraint was still there. The critical spirit which had first been roused in England never afterwards left Rafael.

The hours of study which they passed together produced good results. Beginning as her pupil, he had ended by becoming her teacher. She was anxious to keep up with him, and this was an advantage to him, on account of her almost too minute accuracy, but still more from her intelligent questions. Apart from study they passed many pleasant hours together, but they both knew that something was missing in their conversation which could never be there again.

At longer or shorter intervals a shy silence interrupted this intercourse. Sometimes it was he, sometimes she, who, for some cause or other, often a most trivial one, elected not to reply, not to ask a question, not to see. When they were good friends he appreciated the best side of her character, the self-sacrificing life which she led for him. When they were not friends it was exactly the opposite. When they were friends, he, as a rule, did whatever she wished. He tried to atone for the past. He was in the land of courtesy and influenced by its teaching. When he was not friends with her he behaved as badly as possible. He early got among bad companions and into dissipated habits; he was the very child of Rebellion. At times he had qualms of conscience on account of it.

She guessed this, and wished him to guess that she guessed it.

"I perceive a strange atmosphere here, fie! Some one has mixed their atmosphere with yours, fie!" And she sprinkled him with scent.

He turned as red as fire and, in his shame and misery, did not know which way to look. But if he attempted to speak she became as stiff as a poker, and, raising her small hand, "Taisez-vous des egards, sil vous plait."

It must be said in her excuse that, notwithstanding the daring books which she had written, she had had no experience of real life; she knew no form of words for such an occasion. It came at last to this pass, that she, who had at one time wished to control his whole life and every thought in it, and who would not share him with any one, not even with a book, gradually became unwilling to have any relations with him outside his studies.

The French language especially lends itself to formal intercourse and diplomacy. They grasped this fact from the first. It may, indeed, have contributed to form their mutual life. It was more equitable and caused fewer collisions. At the slightest disagreement it was at once "Monsieur mon fils" or simply "Monsieur," or "Madame ma mere," or "Madame."

At one time his health seemed likely to suffer: his rapid growth and the studies, to which she kept him very closely, were too much for his strength.

But just then something remarkable occurred. At the time when Rafael was nineteen he was one day in a French chemical factory, and, as it were in a flash, saw how half the power used in the machinery might be saved. The son of the owner who had brought him there was a fellow-student. To him he confided his discovery. They worked it out together with feverish excitement to the most minute details. It was very complex, for it was the working of the factory itself which was involved. The scheme was carefully gone into by the owner, his son, and their assistants together, and it was decided to try it. It was entirely successful; LESS than half the motive power now sufficed.

Rafael was away at the time that it was inaugurated; he had gone down a mine. His mother was not with him; he never took her down mines with him. As soon as ever he returned home he hurried off with her to see the result of his work. They saw everything, and they both blushed at the respect shown to them by the workmen. They were quite touched when, the owner being called, they heard his expressions of boundless delight. Champagne flowed for them, accompanied by the warmest thanks. The mother received a beautiful bouquet. Excited by the wine and the congratulations, proud of his recognition as a genius, Rafael left the place with his mother on his arm. It seemed to him as though he were on one side, and all the rest of the world on the other. His mother walked happily beside him, with her bouquet in her hand. Rafael wore a new overcoat--one after his own heart, very long and faced with silk, and of which he was excessively proud. It was a clear winter's day; the sun shone on the silk, and on something more as well.

"There is not a speck on the sky, mother," he said.

"Nor one on your coat either," she retorted; for there had been a great many on his old one, and each had had its history.

He was too big now to be turned to ridicule, and too happy as well. She heard him humming to himself: it was the Norwegian national air. They came back to the town again as from Elysium. All the passers-by looked at them: people quickly detect happiness. Besides Rafael was a head taller than most of them and fairer in complexion. He walked quickly along beside his elegant mother, and looked across the Boulevard as though from a sunny height.

"There are days on which one feels oneself a different person," he said.

"There are days on which one receives so much," she answered, pressing his arm.

Absalom's Hair - 6/22

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