“Then, hey for
boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away!
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.”—C. KINGSLEY.
Moses Benson was as good as his word in the matter of books of adventure. Dirty books, some without backs, and some with very greasy ones (for which, if I bought them, I seldom paid more than half-price), but full of dangers and discoveries, the mightiness of manhood, and the wonders of the world. I read them at odd moments of my working hours, and dreamed of them when I went home to bed. And it was more fascinating still to look out, with Charlie’s help, in the Penny Numbers, for the foreign places, and people, and creatures mentioned in the tales, and to find that the truth was often stranger than the fiction.
To live a fancy-life of adventure in my own head, was not merely an amusement to me at this time—it was a refuge. Matters did not really improve between me and my father, though I had obeyed his wishes. It was by his arrangement that I spent so much of my time at home with the Woods, and yet it remained a grievance that I liked to do so. Whether my dear mother had given up all hopes of my becoming a genius I do not know, but my father’s contempt for my absorption in a book was unabated. I felt this if he came suddenly upon me with my head in my hands and my nose in a tattered volume; and if I went on with my reading it was with a sense of being in the wrong, whilst if I shut up the book and tried to throw myself into outside interests, my father’s manner showed me that my efforts had only discredited my candour.
As is commonly the case, it was chiefly little things that pulled the wrong way of the stuff of life between us, but they pulled it very much askew. I was selfishly absorbed in my own dreams, and I think my dear father made a mistake which is a too common bit of tyranny between people who love each other and live together. He was not satisfied with my doing what he liked, he expected me to be what he liked, that is, to be another person instead of myself. Wives and daughters seem now and then to respond to this expectation as to the call of duty, and to become inconsistent echoes, odd mixtures of severity and hesitancy, hypocrites on the highest grounds; but sons are not often so self-effacing, and it was not the case with me. It was so much the case with my dear mother, that she never was of the slightest use (which she might have been) when my father and I misunderstood each other. By my father’s views of the moment she always hastily set her own, whether they were fair or unfair to me; and she made up for it by indulging me at every point that did not cross an expressed wish of my father’s, or that could not annoy him because he was not there. She never held the scales between us.