I was not permitted to go forth and trade with this old person, but sometimes our servant-maid did, thereby making me feel that if I did not hold the rose of merchandise, I was very near it. My experiences with my cousins at Clifton had given me the habit of looking out into the world-- even though it was only into the pale world of our quiet street.
My Father and I were now great friends. I do not doubt that he felt his responsibility to fill as far as might be the gap which the death of my Mother had made in my existence. I spent a large portion of my time in his study while he was writing or drawing, and though very little conversation passed between us, I think that each enjoyed the companionship of the other. Them were two, and sometimes three aquaria in the room, tanks of sea-water, with glass sides, inside which all sorts of creatures crawled and swam; these were sources of endless pleasure to me, and at this time began to be laid upon me the occasional task of watching and afterwards reporting the habits of animals.
At other times, I dragged a folio volume of the Penny Cyclopaedia up to the study with me, and sat there reading successive articles on such subjects as Parrots, Parthians, Passion-flowers, Passover and Pastry, without any invidious preferences, all information being equally welcome, and equally fugitive. That something of all this loose stream of knowledge clung to odd cells of the back of my brain seems to be shown by the fact that to this day, I occasionally find myself aware of some stray useless fact about peonies or pemmican or pepper, which I can only trace back to the Penny Cyclopaedia of my infancy.
It will be asked what the attitude of my Father's mind was to me, and of mine to his, as regards religion, at this time, when we were thrown together alone so much. It is difficult to reply with exactitude. But so far as the former is concerned, I thinly that the extreme violence of the spiritual emotions to which my Father had been subjected, had now been followed by a certain reaction. He had not changed his views in any respect, and he was prepared to work out the results of them with greater zeal than ever, but just at present his religious nature, like his physical nature, was tired out with anxiety and sorrow. Ho accepted the supposition that I was entirely with him in all respects, so far, that is to say, as a being so rudimentary and feeble as a little child could be. My Mother, in her last hours, had dwelt on our unity in God; we were drawn together, she said, elect from the world, in a triplicity of faith and joy. She had constantly repeated the words: 'We shall be one family, one song. One song! one family!' My Father, I think, accepted this as a prophecy, he felt no doubt of our triple unity; my Mother had now merely passed before us, through a door, into a world of light, where we should presently join her, where all things would be radiant and blissful, but where we three would, in some unknown way, be particularly drawn together in a tie of inexpressible beatitude. He fretted at the delay; he would have taken me by the hand, and have joined her in the realms of holiness and light, at once, without this dreary dalliance with earthly cares.
He held this confidence and vision steadily before him, but nothing availed against the melancholy of his natural state. He was conscious of his dull and solitary condition, and he saw, too, that it enveloped me. I think his heart was, at this time, drawn out towards me in an immense tenderness. Sometimes, when the early twilight descended upon us in the study, and he could no longer peer with advantage into the depths of his microscope, he would beckon me to him silently, and fold me closely in his arms. I used to turn my face up to his, patiently and wonderingly, while the large, unwilling tears gathered in the corners of his eyelids. My training had given me a preternatural faculty of stillness, and we would stay so, without a word or a movement, until the darkness filled the room. And then, with my little hand in his, we would walk sedately downstairs to the parlour, where we would find that the lamp was lighted, and that our melancholy vigil was ended. I do not think that at any part of our lives my Father and I were drawn so close to one another as we were in that summer of 1857. Yet we seldom spoke of what lay so warm and fragrant between us, the flower-like thought of our Departed.
The visit to my cousins had made one considerable change in me. Under the old solitary discipline, my intelligence had grown at the expense of my sentiment. I was innocent, but inhuman. The long suffering and the death of my Mother had awakened my heart, had taught me what pain was, but had left me savage and morose. I had still no idea of the relations of human beings to one another; I had learned no word of that philosophy which comes to the children of the poor in the struggle of the street and to the children of the well-to-do in the clash of the nursery. In other words, I had no humanity; I had been carefully shielded from the chance of 'catching' it, as though it were the most dangerous of microbes. But now that I had enjoyed a little of the common experience of childhood, a great change had come upon me. Before I went to Clifton, my mental life was all interior, a rack of baseless dream upon dream. But, now, I was eager to look out of the window, to go out in the streets; I was taken with a curiosity about human life. Even from my vantage of the window- pane, I watched boys and girls go by with an interest which began to be almost wistful.
Still I continued to have no young companions. But on summer evenings I used to drag my Father out, taking the initiative myself, stamping in playful impatience at his irresolution, fetching his hat and stick, and waiting. We used to sally forth at last together, hand in hand, descending the Caledonian Road, with all its shops, as far as Mother Shipton, or else winding among the semi-genteel squares and terraces westward by Copenhagen Street, or, best of all, mounting to the Regent's Canal, where we paused to lean over the bridge and watch flotillas of ducks steer under us, or little white dogs dash, impotently furious, from stem to stern of the great, lazy barges painted in a crude vehemence of vermilion and azure. These were happy hours, when the spectre of Religion ceased to overshadow us for a little while, when my Father forgot the Apocalypse and dropped his austere phraseology, and when our bass and treble voices used to ring out together over some foolish little jest or some mirthful recollection of his past experiences. Little soft oases these, in the hard desert of our sandy spiritual life at home.
There was an unbending, too, when we used to sing together, in my case very tunelessly. I had inherited a plentiful lack of musical genius from my Mother, who had neither ear nor voice, and who had said, in the course of her last illness, 'I shall sing His praise, at length, in strains I never could master here below'. My Father, on the other hand, had some knowledge of the principles of vocal music, although not, I am afraid, much taste. He had at least great fondness for singing hymns, in the manner then popular with the Evangelicals, very loudly, and so slowly that I used to count how many words I could read silently, between one syllable of the singing and another. My lack of skill did not prevent me from being zealous at these vocal exercises, and my Father and I used to sing lustily together. The Wesleys, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am, without one plea'), and James Montgomery ('Forever with the Lord') represented his predilection in hymnology. I acquiesced, although that would not have been my independent choice. These represented the devotional verse which made its direct appeal to the evangelical mind, and served in those 'Puseyite' days to counteract the High Church poetry founded on The Christian Year. Of that famous volume I never met with a copy until I was grown up, and equally unknown in our circle were the hymns of Newman, Faber and Neale.