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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall(chapter28)

2006-07-13 20:59

  CHAPTER 28

  Parental Feelings

  DECEMBER 25th.——Last Christmas I was a bride, with a heart overflowing with present bliss, and full of ardent hopes for the future——though not unmingled with foreboding fears. Now I am a wife: my bliss is sobered, but not destroyed; my hopes diminished, but not departed; my fears increased, but not yet thoroughly confirmed;——and, thank Heaven, I am a mother too. God has sent me a soul to educate for heaven, and given me a new and calmer bliss, and stronger hopes to comfort me. But where hope rises fear must lurk behind, and when I clasp my little darling to my breast, or hang over his slumbers with unutterable delight, and a world of hope within my heart, one of two thoughts is ever at hand to check my swelling bliss; the one: `He may be taken from me'; the other: `He may live to curse his own existence.' in the first, I have this consolation: that the bud, though plucked, would not be withered, only transplanted to a fitter soil to ripen and blow be neath a brighter sun; and though I might not cherish and watch my child's unfolding intellect, he would be snatched away from all the suffering and sins of earth; and my understanding tells me this would be no great evil; but my heart shrinks from the contemplation of such a possibility, and whispers I could not bear to see him die, and relinquish to the cold and cruel grave this cherished form, now warm with tender life, flesh of my flesh and shrine of that pure spark which it should be my life's sweet labour to keep unsullied from the world,——and ardently implores that Heaven would spare him still, to be my comfort and my joy, and me to be his shield, instructor, friend——to guide him along the perilous path of youth, and train him to be God's servant while on earth, a blessed and honoured saint in heaven. But in the other case, if he should live to disappoint my hopes, and frustrate all my efforts——to be a slave of sin, the victim of vice and misery, a curse to others and himself——Eternal Father, if Thou beholdest such a life before him, tear him from me now in spite of all my anguish, and take him from my bosom to thine own, while he is yet a guileless, unpolluted lamb!

  My little Arthur! there you lie in sweet, unconscious slumber, the tiny epitome of your father, but stainless yet as that pure snow, new-fallen from heaven——God shield thee from his errors! How will I watch and toil to guard thee from them! He wakes; his tiny arms are stretched towards me; his eyes unclose; they meet my gaze, but will not answer it. Little angel! you do not know me; you cannot think of me or love me yet; and yet how fervently my heart is knit to yours; how grateful I am for all the joy you give me! Would that your father could share it with me——that he could feel my love, my hope, and take an equal part in my resolves and projects for the future——nay, if he could but sympathize in half my views, and share one half my feelings, it would be indeed a blessing to both himself and me: it would elevate and purity his mind, and bind him closer to his home and me.

  Perhaps he will feel awakening interest and affection for his child as it grows older. At present, he is pleased with the acquisition, and hopes it will become a fine boy and a worthy heir; and that is nearly all I can say. At first, it was a thing to wonder and laugh at, not to touch: now, it is an object almost of indifference, except when his impatience is roused by its `utter helplessness' and `imperturbable stupidity' (as he calls it), or my too close attention to its wants. He frequently comes and sits beside me while I am busied with my maternal cares. I hoped at first it was for the pleasure of contemplating our priceless treasure; but I soon found it was only to enjoy my company, or escape the pains of solitude. He is kindly welcome of course, but the best compliment to a mother is to appreciate her little one. He shocked me very much on one occasion: it was about a fortnight after the birth of our son, and he was with me in the nursery. We had neither of us spoken for some time: I was lost in the contemplation of my nursling, and I thought he was similarly occupied——as far, at least, as I thought about him at all. But suddenly he startled me from my reverie by impatiently exclaiming,——

  `Helen, I shall positively hate that little wretch, if you worship it so madly! You are absolutely infatuated about it.'

  I looked up in astonishment, to see if he could be in earnest.

  `You have not a thought to spare for anything else,' he continued, in the same strain: `I may go or come, be present or absent, cheerful or sad; it's all the same to you. As long as you have that ugly little creature to dote upon, you care not a farthing what becomes of me.'

  `It is false, Arthur; when you enter the room, it always doubles my happiness; when you are near me, the sense of your presence delights me, though I don't look at you; and when I think about our child, I please myself with the idea that you share my thoughts and feelings, though I don't speak them.'

  `How the devil can I waste my thoughts and feelings on a little worthless idiot like that?'

  `It is your own son, Arthur,——or, If that consideration has no weight with you, it is mine; and you ought to respect my feelings.'

  `Well, don't be cross; it was only a slip of the tongue,' pleaded he. `The little fellow is well enough, only I can't worship him as you do.'

  `You shall nurse him for me, as a punishment,' said I, rising to put my baby in its father's arms.

  `No, don't, Helen——don't!' cried he, in real disquietude.

  `I will: you'll love him better, when you feel the little creature in your arms.'

  I deposited the precious burden in his hands, and retreated to the other side of the room, laughing at the ludicrous, half-embarrassed air with which he sat, holding it at arm's length, and looking upon it as if it were some curious being of quite a different species to himself.

  `Come, take it, Helen; take it,' he cried, at length. `I shall drop it, If you don't.'

  Compassionating his distress——or rather the child's unsafe position, I relieved him of the charge.

  `Kiss it, Arthur; do——you've never kissed it yet!' said I, kneeling and presenting it before him.

  `I would rather kiss its mother,' replied he, embracIng me. `There now; won't that do as well?'

  I resumed my seat in the easy chair, and gave my little one a shower of gentle kisses to make up for its other parent's refusal.

  `There goes!' cried the jealous father, `That's more, in one minute, lavished on that little senseless, thankless, oyster, than you have given me these three weeks past.'

  `Come here then, you insatiable monopolist, and you shall have as many as you like, incorrigible and undeserving as you are.——There now, won't that suffice? I have a good mind never to give you another till you have learned to love my baby as a father should.'

  `I like the little devil——'

  `Arthur!'

  `Well, the little angel——well enough,' and he pinched its delicate little nose to prove his affection, `only I can't love it——what is there to love? It can't love me——or you either; it can't understand a single word you say to it, or feel one spark of gratitude for all your kindness. Wait till it can show some little affection for me, and then I'll see about loving it. At present it is nothing more than a little selfish, senseless, sensualist, and if you see anything adorable in it, it's all very well——I only wonder how you can.'

  `If you were less selfish yourself, Arthur, you would not regard it in that light.'

  `Possibly not, my love; but so it is: there's no help for it.'

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