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"What's mumma's naughty boy doing out of bed? Shall I beat him?" And
the other hand was laid against my other cheek, and I could feel the soft
curls mingling with my own.
"Only looking at the ghosts, ma," I answered. "There's such a lot of 'em
down there." Then I added, musingly, "I wonder what it feels like to be
My mother said nothing, but took me up in her arms, and carried me back
to bed, and then, sitting down beside me, and holding my hand in
hers--there was not so very much difference in the size--began to sing in
that low, caressing voice of hers that always made me feel, for the time
being, that I wanted to be a good boy, a song she often used to sing to
me, and that I have never heard any one else sing since, and should not
But while she sang, something fell on my hand that caused me to sit up
and insist on examining her eyes. She laughed; rather a strange, broken
little laugh, I thought, and said it was nothing, and told me to lie
still and go to sleep. So I wriggled down again and shut my eyes tight,
but I could not understand what had made her cry.
Poor little mother, she had a notion, founded evidently upon inborn
belief rather than upon observation, that all children were angels, and
that, in consequence, an altogether exceptional demand existed for them
in a certain other place, where there are more openings for angels,
rendering their retention in this world difficult and undependable. My
talk about ghosts must have made that foolishly fond heart ache with a
vague dread that night, and for many a night onward, I fear.
For some time after this I would often look up to find my mother's eyes
fixed upon me. Especially closely did she watch me at feeding times, and
on these occasions, as the meal progressed, her face would acquire an
expression of satisfaction and relief.
Once, during dinner, I heard her whisper to my father (for children are
not quite so deaf as their elders think), "He seems to eat all right."
"Eat!" replied my father in the same penetrating undertone; "if he dies
of anything, it will be of eating."
So my little mother grew less troubled, and, as the days went by, saw
reason to think that my brother angels might consent to do without me for
yet a while longer; and I, putting away the child with his ghostly
fancies, became, in course of time, a grown-up person, and ceased to
believe in ghosts, together with many other things that, perhaps, it were
better for a man if he did believe in.
But the memory of that dingy graveyard, and of the shadows that dwelt
therein, came back to me very vividly the other day, for it seemed to me
as though I were a ghost myself, gliding through the silent streets where
once I had passed swiftly, full of life.
Diving into a long unopened drawer, I had, by chance, drawn forth a dusty
volume of manuscript, labelled upon its torn brown paper cover, NOVEL
NOTES. The scent of dead days clung to its dogs'-eared pages; and, as it
lay open before me, my memory wandered back to the summer evenings--not
so very long ago, perhaps, if one but adds up the years, but a long, long
while ago if one measures Time by feeling--when four friends had sat
together making it, who would never sit together any more. With each
crumpled leaf I turned, the uncomfortable conviction that I was only a
ghost, grew stronger. The handwriting was my own, but the words were the
words of a stranger, so that as I read I wondered to myself, saying: did
I ever think this? did I really hope that? did I plan to do this? did I
resolve to be such? does life, then, look so to the eyes of a young man?
not knowing whether to smile or sigh.
The book was a compilation, half diary, half memoranda. In it lay the
record of many musings, of many talks, and out of it--selecting what
seemed suitable, adding, altering, and arranging--I have shaped the
chapters that hereafter follow.
That I have a right to do so I have fully satisfied my own conscience, an
exceptionally fussy one. Of the four joint authors, he whom I call
"MacShaughnassy" has laid aside his title to all things beyond six feet
of sun-scorched ground in the African veldt; while from him I have
designated "Brown" I have borrowed but little, and that little I may
fairly claim to have made my own by reason of the artistic merit with
which I have embellished it. Indeed, in thus taking a few of his bald
ideas and shaping them into readable form, am I not doing him a kindness,
and thereby returning good for evil? For has he not, slipping from the
high ambition of his youth, sunk ever downward step by step, until he has
become a critic, and, therefore, my natural enemy? Does he not, in the
columns of a certain journal of large pretension but small circulation,
call me "'Arry" (without an "H," the satirical rogue), and is not his
contempt for the English-speaking people based chiefly upon the fact that
some of them read my books? But in the days of Bloomsbury lodgings and
first-night pits we thought each other clever.
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