William Morris Archive


He ran straight upstairs to his brother's room when he got in, and found him alone, with the candles just lighted, and looking so particularly happy that he said:

'Hilloa, Arthur, what's happened, old fellow? How pleased you look!'

'Why, I was just going to say the same thing to you,' he said. 'But I say, father's just been up, and he said as I was getting on all right, and he was out of anxiety about me, he was going up to town, and he thought he shouldn't be back till the holidays were over, and that he would come and see us at Hamington, and tip us. And then he left £5 for the two of us. And so he's gone.' Then presently he said:

'I wonder what people would say if they heard us two talking about Father? For after all, you know, he isn't unkind to us.'

'I don't care,' quoth John. 'But I know we're right, when all's said. Once for all, I will have no more to do with him than I can help. He don't care a bit for us—Mrs Hadow is a good deal more like our mother, than he is our father. I am a precious deal more pleased to see Mrs Hadow and little Dr Stoneman when I come home; meantime when we sit with him he has nothing to say to us except "Don't do that"—and hang it all, I think we're old enough to be talked to now. And do you know, old chap, when I hear him preaching in church with that beastly put-on voice, I feel, not ashamed of myself—for I don't feel as if I belonged to him at all—but in such a rage. Blast his sermons.'

'I say, John,' said Arthur, raising himself a little. 'What's the matter now? Are you in a rage with me? Why, do you know, your voice got something like Father's in a rage.'

'O, I didn't mean anything,' he said. 'Only sometimes I feel a little cooped-up here. We see nobody, and go nowhere like other boys do. I intend next summer to ask him let you and I go somewhere—to the Continent, or somewhere.  I don't think he'd say no.'

'How queer'' said Arthur. 'That was just what I was thinking of when you came in, and how jolly it would be! But, I say, I shall be on my legs again in a week. Couldn't you knock up going to some place or other with Clara to-morrow?  For of course you'll go and see her?'
'Well, queer again,' said John, 'for I was thinking of that.' Therewith he began to busy himself with the fishing-tackle, and presently the two were deep in talk about bait, and fish, and chances had and lost, in this, that, and the other water. For all the countryside was good for boys' fishing, a lazy little stream that ran into the river threading big ponds here and there, especially in one place, where a great old house had stood, long ago pulled down except for its flowery iron gates.
At last the housekeeper came in and drove John out on behalf of the sick boy, who, indeed, soon fell asleep. John went down to supper with his father, who looked particularly glum, John thought, and was, if possible, even shorter in his words than usual. Yet as the lad looked furtively at him from time to time, he began to think that his father must have been weeping lately, and surprised a strange feeling in his own heart at the discovery, about which he could only tell that it was painful, and yet something like pleasure. But if he could have known it, he would have found surprise and pity there, tempering what was really hatred, yet mixed with a kind of rage, and the cruelty of young and happy people against suffering they cannot understand.

His father seemed to feel his eyes upon him, for presently he said impatiently:

‘Jack, just put out one of those candles. I can’t stand the light—I’ve got a cold, I think. Fancy having a cold in the middle of summer!”

So the evening passed. Father and son read at first. But presently the rector got up and walked out of the room, and John could hear him pacing the drawing-room up and down; and with a vague fear that something bad was brewing, let his eyes wander from his book, and his mind stray into many strange ways of thought, and was so deep in them that he started when his father came into the room again, though he only sat down and took up his book again. However, he had something to say, and said it presently, though it was nothing very terrible.


'Yes, father.'

'Let's see—how old are you?'

'Seventeen last February, father.'

'Well, you see, next year you might have gone to Oxford. But as you won't, why, you're quite old enough to turn to business; so look here, I have got two openings for you; you can take which you please of them. One is to go to my brother’s solicitor, Mr Jackson, and be articled to him, and he will shove you, and you will be a partner if you work one of these days. The other is a place in a Russian merchant's house—Woollaston & Co. Mr Godby talked to me about it the other day, and it's a good enough opening for a young fellow like you. Now, that's all I've got to offer you. There isn't a third course for you, except to loaf about on a small allowance, which, in any case, I shall give you; but even that I won't say no to, as far as giving you houseroom goes. But I don't think you would like it and I am sure I shouldn't. So I give you till I see you again some two months hence, to consider.’

'Thanks, father,' said John. 'It's very kind of you.' And he spoke as if he really thought it so; for there was something either about his father's tone, or else it came from thoughts in his own heart, that rather softened him; and he began to build up a romance for his father in his own mind, partly a history of what he imagined might have been, and partly of what he imagined might be—he himself playing a large part in this latter for sentiment and greatheartedness.

His father said nothing for a while, and they both seemed to be at their books again. But after a while he looked up, and said:
'Jack, don't you be too close friends with that woman at Leaser Farm and her brat. They will serve you a turn one of these days ... don't you hear me, eh?'

For John sat now with his dream gone, and with something like a scowl mingling with the flush on his face.

Both sat silent a while, till the rector said:

'Well, a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse, and I know that whatever I do or say, you will be always over there when I'm gone. How many pretty stories of me did you hear last time you saw the widow Mason?'

'O, father,' said Jack. 'You don't suppose they talk to me about things about you?' And he got very confused at the emphasis he had laid on the me.

Risley laughed grimly, and said:

'They'd have given people something to talk about, I dare say, if they'd been as unhappy as I've been. Children, and happy people, oughtn't to be so ready with their hard words and thoughts about those who are down, and don't know where to turn for something pleasant to think of ... Why, what's the matter with me tonight—as if you cared whether I live or die—or anybody!' he said with a groan, as he got up and strode out of the room, leaving John with a wretched feeling of having been unjust upon him, and a strange interest growing up in him, and mingling with the real disgust he had of his father.

The rector didn't come back, and after John had sat a while trying in vain to arrange the confused whirl of thought that swept through his head, he stole up to his room in a guilty manner; hoping principally, it must be confessed, that he should not think of his father the next day, and spoil thereby the pleasure of more than one kind he was looking forward to.

Continue to Chapter 8

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