Autobiography of a Child
of a Child
Dodd, Mead & Company
By Dodd, Mead and Company
|III.||My Brother Stevie||17|
|IV.||The Last Days of Happiness||33|
|VII.||Profiles of Childhood||60|
|IX.||My Friend Mary Ann||89|
|X.||The Great News||98|
|XI.||Preparing to Face the World||107|
|XII.||An Exile from Erin||113|
|XIV.||The White Lady of Lysterby||129|
|XV.||An Exile in Revolt||136|
|XVI.||My First Confession||143|
|XVII.||The Christmas Hampers||154|
|XVIII.||Mr. Parker the Dancing-Master||160|
|XX.||Home for the Holidays||182|
|XXII.||A Princess of Legend||201|
|XXIII.||My First Taste of Freedom||207|
|XXIV.||My Eldest Sister||212|
|XXVII.||A Dismal End of Holidays||238|
|XXVIII.||My First Communion||246|
|XXIX.||The Last of Lysterby and Childhood||253|
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A CHILD
Chapter I. LOOKING BACKWARD.
The picture is clear before me of the day I first walked. My mother, ahandsome, cold-eyed woman, who did not love me, had driven out from townto nurse's cottage. I shut my eyes, and I am back in the little parlourwith its spindle chairs, an old-fashioned piano with green silk front,its pink-flowered wall-paper, and the two wonderful black-and-white dogson the mantelpiece. There were two pictures I loved to gaze upon—RobertEmmett in the dock, and Mary Stuart saying farewell to France. I do notremember my mother's coming or going. Memory begins to work from themoment nurse put me on a pair of unsteady legs. There were chairs placedfor me to clutch, and I was coaxingly bidden to toddle along, "over to[Pg 2]mamma." It was very exciting. First one chair had to be reached, thenanother fallen over, till a third tumbled me at my mother's feet. Iburst into a passion of tears, not because of the fall, but from terrorat finding myself so near my mother. Nurse gathered me into her arms andbegan to coo over me, and here the picture fades from my mind.
My nurse loved me devotedly, and of course spoiled me. Most of thevillagers helped her in this good work, so that the first seven years ofmy childhood, in spite of baby-face unblest by mother's kiss, were itshappiest period. Women who do not love their children do well to putthem out to nurse. The contrast of my life at home and the years spentwith these rustic strangers is very shocking. The one petted, cherished,and untroubled; the other full of dark terrors and hate, and aloneliness such as grown humanity cannot understand without experienceof that bitterest of all tragedies—unloved and ill-treated childhood.But I was only reminded of my sorrow at nurse's on the rare occasion ofmy mother's visits, or when nurse once a month put me into my bestclothes, after washing my face with blue mottled soap—a thing Idetested—and carried me off on the mail-car to[Pg 3] town to report myhealth and growth. This was a terrible hour for me. From a queen I fellto the position of an outcast. My stepfather alone inspired me withconfidence. He was a big handsome man with a pleasant voice, and he wasalways kind to me in a genial, thoughtless way. He would give mepresents which my mother would angrily seize from me and give to herother children, not from love, for she was hardly kinder to them than tome, but from an implacable passion to wound, to strike the smile fromthe little faces around her, to silence a child's laughter with terrorof herself. She was a curious woman, my mother. Children seemed toinspire her with a vindictive animosity, with a fury for beating andbanging them, against walls, against chairs, upon the ground, in a waythat seems miraculous to me now how they were saved from the grave andshe from the dock.
She had a troop of pretty engaging children, mostly girls, only one ofwhom she was ever known to kiss or caress, and to the others she wasworse than the traditional stepmother of fairy tale. It was onlyafterwards I learned that those proud creatures I, in my abjectsolitude, hated and envied, lived in the same deadly fear[Pg 4] of her withwhich her cold blue eyes and thin cruel lips inspired me with.
But there were, thank God! many bright hours for me, untroubled by hershadow. I was a little sovereign lady in my nurse's kindly village,admired and never thwarted. I toddled imperiously among a small world incorduroy breeches and linsey skirts, roaming unwatched the fields andlanes from daylight until dark. We sat upon green banks and made daisychains, and dabbled delightedly with the sand of the pond edges, whilewe gurgled and chattered and screamed at the swans.
The setting of that nursery biography is vague. It seemed to me that theearth was made up of field beyond field, and lanes that ran from thisworld to the next, with daisies that never could be gathered, they wereso many; and an ocean since has impressed me less with the notion ofimmensity of liquid surface than the modest sheet of water we called thePond. Years afterwards I walked out from town to that village, and howsmall the pond was, how short the lanes, what little patches for fieldsso sparsely sprinkled with daisies! A more miserable disillusionment Ihave not known.
I have always marvelled at the roll of [Pg 5]reminiscences and experiences ofchildhood told consecutively and with coherence. Children live more inpictures, in broken effects, in unaccountable impulses that lend anunmeasured significance to odd trifles to the exclusion of momentousfacts, than in story. This alone prevents the harmonious fluency ofbiography in an honest account of our childhood. Memory is a randomvagabond, and plays queer tricks with proportion. It dwells on picturesof relative unimportance, and revives incidents of no practical value inthe shaping of our lives. Its industry is that of the idler's, wasteful,undocumentary, and untrained. For vividness without detail, its effectsmay be compared with a canvas upon which a hasty dauber paints abackground of every obscure tint in an inextricable confusion, andrelieves it with sharply defined strokes of bright colour.
Jim Cochrane, my everyday papa, as I called him, was a sallow-faced manwith bright black eyes, which he winked at me over the brim of hisporter-measure, as he refreshed himself at the kitchen fire after a hardday's work. He was an engine-driver, and once took me on the engine withhim to the nearest station, he and a comrade holding me tight betweenthem, while[Pg 6] I shrieked and chattered in all the bliss of a firstadventure.
This is a memory of sensation, not of sight. I recall the rush throughthe air, the sting, like needle-points against my cheeks and eyelids, ofthe bits of coal that flew downward from the roll of smoke, the shoutingmen laughing and telling me not to be afraid, the red glare of thefurnace whenever they slid back the grate opening, the whiff of frightand delight that thrilled me, and, above all, the confidence I had thatI was safe with nurse's kind husband.
Poor Jim! His was the second dead face I looked upon withoutunderstanding death. The ruthless disease of the Irish peasant wasconsuming him then, and he died before he had lived half his life through.
Chapter II. MARY JANE.
Mary Jane was my first subject and my dearest friend. She lived in alittle cottage at the top of the village that caught a tail-end view ofthe pond and the green from the back windows.
It is doubtful if I ever knew what calling her father followed, and Ihave forgotten his name. But Mary Jane I well remember, and the viewfrom those back windows. She was older than I, and was a very wiselittle woman, without my outbursts of high spirits and inexplicablereveries. She had oiled black curls, the pinkest of cheeks, and blackeyes with a direct and resolute look in them, and she read stories thatdid not amuse or interest me greatly, because they were chieflyconcerned with good everyday boys and girls. She tried to still a beliefin fairies by transforming them into angels, but she made splendid daisychains, and she could balance herself like a bird upon the branches thatoverhung the pond.
Here she would swing up and down in fascinating peril, her black curlsnow threatening confusion with the upper branches, her feet thenskimming the surface of the water. It was a horrible joy to watch herand calculate the moment when the water would close over branch andboots and curls.
My first attempt to imitate her resulted in my own immersion, and acrowd to the rescue from the nearest public-house. After the shock andthe pleasant discovery that I was not drowned, and was really nothingthe worse for my bath, I think I enjoyed the sensation of beingtemporarily regarded in