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THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME

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THE house which Lucy Newcome remembered as her home,
the only home she ever had, was a small house, hardly more
than a cottage, with a little, neat garden in front of it, and a
large, untidy garden at the back. There was a low wooden
palisade cutting it off from the road, which, in that remote
suburb of the great town, had almost the appearance of a
road in the country. The house had two windows, one on each side of the
door, and above that three more windows, and attics above that. The windows
on each side of the door were the windows of the two sitting-rooms ; the
kitchen, with its stone floor, its shining rows of brass things around the walls.
its great dresser, was at the back. It was through the kitchen that you found
your way into the big garden, where the grass was always long and weedy and
ill-kept, and so all the pleasanter for lying on ; and where there were a few
alder-trees, a pear-tree on which the pears never seemed to thrive, for it was
quite close to Lucy’s bedroom window, a flower-bed along the wall, and a
great, old sun-dial, which Lucy used to ponder over when the shadows came
and stretched out their long fingers across it. The garden, when she thinks
of it now, comes to her often as she saw it one warm Sunday evening, walking
to and fro there beside her mother, who was saying how good it was to be
well again, or better : this was not long before she died ; and Lucy had said
to herself, what a dear little mother I have, and how young, and small, and
pretty she looks in that lilac bodice with the bright belt round the waist !
Lucy had been as tall as her mother when she was ten, and at twelve she
could look down on her quite protectingly.

Her father she but rarely saw ; but it was her father whom she
worshipped, whom she was taught to worship. The whole house, she, her
mother, and Linda, the servant, who was more friend than servant (for she took
no wages, and when she wanted anything, asked for it), all existed for the sake
of that wonderful, impracticable father of hers ; it was for him they starved, it

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was to him they looked for the great future which they believed in so
implicitly, but scarcely knew in what shape to look for. She knew that he
had come of gentlefolk, in another county, that he had been meant for the
Church, and, after some vague misfortune at Cambridge, had married her
mother, who was but seventeen, and of a class beneath him, against the will of
his relations, who had cast him off, just as, at twenty-one, he had come into a
meagre allowance from the will of his grandfather. He had been the last of
eleven children, born when his mother was fifty years of age, and he had
inherited the listless temperament of a dwindling stock. He had never been
able to do anything seriously, or even to make up his mind quite what great
thing he was going to do. First he had found a small clerkship, then he had
dropped casually upon the post which he was to hold almost to the time of
his death, as secretary to some Assurance Society, whose money it was his
business to collect He did the work mechanically ; at first, competently
enough ; but his heart was in other things. Lucy was never sure whether it
was the great picture he was engaged upon, or the great book, that was to
make all the difference in their fortunes. She never doubted his power to do
anything he liked ; and it was one of her privileges sometimes to be allowed
to sit in his room (the sitting-room on the left of the door, where it was always
warmer and more comfortable than anywhere else in the house), watching him
at his paints or his manuscripts, with great serious eyes that sometimes
seemed to disquiet him a little ; and then she would be told to run away and
not worry mother.

The little mother, too, she saw less of than children mostly see of their
mothers ; for her mother was never quite well, and she would so often be
told : “You must be quiet now, and not go into your mother’s room, for she
has one of her headaches,” that she gradually accustomed herself to do without
anybody’s company, and then she would sit all alone, or with her doll, who
was called Arabella, to whom she would chatter for hours together, in a low
and familiar voice, making all manner of confidences to her, and telling her all
manner of stories. Sometimes she would talk to Linda instead, sitting on the
corner of the kitchen fender ; but Linda was not so good a listener, and she
had a way of going into the scullery, and turning on a noisy stream of water,
just at what ought to have been the most absorbing moment of the narrative.

Lucy was a curious child, one of those children of whom nurses are
accustomed to say that they will not make old bones. She was always a little
pale, and she would walk in her sleep ; and would spend whole hours almost
without moving, looking vaguely and fixedly into the air : children ought not

    THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME                      53

to dream like that ! She did not know herself, very often, what she was dream-
ing about ; it seemed to her natural to sit for hours doing nothing.

Often, however, she knew quite well what she was dreaming about ; and
first of all she was dreaming about herself. Really, she would explain if you
asked her, she did not belong to her parents at all ; she belonged to the fairies ;
she was a princess ; there was another, a great mother, who would come some
day and claim her. And this consciousness of being really a princess was
one of the joys of her imagination. She had composed all the circumstances
of her state, many times over, indeed, and always in a different way. It was
the heightening she gave to what her mother had taught her : that she was
of a better stock than the other children who lived in the other small houses
all round, and must not play with them, or accept them as equals. That was
to be her consolation if she had to do without many of the things she wanted,
and to be shabbily dressed (out of old things of her mother’s, turned and cut
and pieced together), while perhaps some of those other children, who were
not her equals, had new dresses.

And then she would make up stories about the people she knew, the ladies
to whom she paid a very shifting devotion, very sincere while it lasted. One
of her odd fancies was to go into the graveyard which surrounded the church,
and to play about in the grass there, or, more often, gather flowers and leaves,
and carry them to a low tomb, and sit there, weaving them into garlands.
These garlands she used to offer to the ladies whose faces she liked, as they
passed in and out of the church. The strange little girl who sat among the
graves, weaving garlands, and who would run up to them so shyly, and with
so serious a smile, offering them her flowers, seemed to these ladies rather a
disquieting little person, as if she, like her flowers, had a churchyard air about
her.

Blonde, tall, slim, delicately-complexioned, with blue eyes and a wavering,
somewhat sensuous mouth, the child took after her father ; and he used to say
of her sometimes, half whimsically, that she was bound to be like him alto-
gether, bound to go to the bad. The big, brilliant man, who had made so
winning a failure of life, so popular always, and the centre of a little ring of
intellectual people, used sometimes to let her stay in the room of an evening,
while he and his friends drank their ale and smoked pipes and talked their
atheistical philosophy. These friends of her father used to pet her, because
she was pretty ; and it was one of them who paid her the first compliment she
ever had, comparing her face to a face in a picture. She had never heard of
the picture, but she was immensely flattered ; for she did not think a painter

54                              THE SAVOY

would ever paint any one who was not very pretty. She listened to their con-
versation, much of which she could not understand, as if she understood every
word of it ; and she wondered very much at some of the things they said.
Her mother was a Catholic, and, though religion was rarely referred to, had
taught her some little prayers ; and it puzzled her that all this could be true,
and yet that clever people should have doubts of it She had always learnt
that cleverness (book-learning, or any disinterested journeying of the intellect)
was the one important thing in the world. Her father was clever : that was
why everything must bow to him. There must be something in it, then, if
these clever people, if her father himself, doubted of God, of heaven and hell,
of the good ordering of this world. And she announced one day to the pious
servant, who had told her that God sees everything, that when she was older
she meant to get the better of God, by building a room all walls and no
windows, within which she would be good or bad as she pleased, without his
seeing her.

Lucy was never sent to school, like most children ; that was partly
because they were very poor, but more because her father had always intended
to teach her himself, on a new and liberal scheme of education, which seemed
to him better than the education you get in schools. And sometimes, for as
much as a few weeks together, he would set her lessons day by day, and be
excessively severe with her, not permitting her to make a single slip in
anything he had given her to learn. He would even punish her sometimes, if
she still failed to learn some lesson perfectly ; and that seemed to her a
mortal indignity ; so that one day she rushed out into the garden, and climbed
up into a tree, and then called out, tremulously but triumphantly : “If you
promise not to punish me, I’ll come down ; but if you don’t, I’ll throw myself
down !”

She always disliked learning lessons, and those fits of scrupulousness on
his part were her great dread. They did not occur often ; and between whiles
he was very lenient, ready to get out of the trouble of teaching her on the
slightest excuse : only too glad if she did not bother him by coming to say
her lessons. Both were quite happy then ; she to be allowed to sit in his room
with her lesson-book on her knees, dreaming ; he not to be hindered in the
new sketch he was making, or the notes he was preparing for that great book
of the future, perhaps out of one of those old, calf-covered books which he
used to bring back from secondhand shops in the town, and which Lucy used
to admire for their ancient raggedness, as they stood in shelves round the
room, brown and broken-backed.

    THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME                      55

And then if she had not her geography to learn by heart ; those lists
of capes and rivers and the population of countries, which she could indeed
learn by heart, but which represented nothing to her of the actual world itself;
she had of course all the more time for her own reading. When she had out-
grown that old fancy about the fairies, and about being a princess, she cared
nothing for stories of adventure ; but little for the material wonders of the
“Arabian Nights;” somewhat more for the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” in which
she always lingered over that passage of the good people through the bright
follies of Vanity Fair ; but most of all for certain quiet stories of lovers,
in which there was no improbable incident, and no too fantastical extravagance
of passion ; but a quite probable fidelity, plenty of troubles, and of course
a wedding at the end. One book, “Young Mrs. Jardine,” she was never
tired of reading ; it was partly the name of the heroine, Silence Jardine,
that fascinated her. Then there was a little book of poetical selections ;
she never could remember the name of it, afterwards ; and there were the
songs of Thomas Moore, and, above all, there was Mrs. Hemans. Those
gentle and lady-like poems “of the affections,” with their nice sentiments, the
faded ribbons of their secondhand romance, seemed to the child like a beautiful
glimpse into the real, tender, not too passionate world, where men and women
loved magnanimously, and had heroic sufferings, and died, perhaps, but for
a great love, or a great cause, and always nobly. She thought that the ways
of the world blossomed naturally into Casabiancas and Gertrudes and Imeldas
who were faithful to death, and came into their inheritance of love or glory
beyond the grave. She used to wonder if she, too, like Costanza, had a “pale
Madonna brow ;” and she wished nothing more fervently than to be like those
saintly and affectionate creatures, always so beautiful, and so often (what did
it matter?) unfortunate, who took poison from the lips of their lovers, and
served God in prison, and came back afterwards, spirits, out of the angelical
rapture of heaven, to be as some rare music, or subtle perfume, in the souls of
those who had loved them. Many of these poems were about death, and
it seemed natural to her, at that time, to think much about death, which she
conceived as a quite peaceful thing, coming to you invisibly out of the sky,
and which she never associated with the pale faces and more difficult breathing
of those about her. She had never known her mother to be quite well ; and
when, on her twelfth birthday, her mother called her into her room, where
she lay in bed now so often, and talked to her more solemnly than she
had ever talked before, saying that if she became very ill, too ill to get up at
all, Lucy was to look after her father as carefully as she herself had looked

56                              THE SAVOY

after him, always to look after him, and never let him want for anything,
for anything ; even then it did not seem to the child that this meant more
than a little more illness ; and it was so natural for people to be ill.

And so, after all, the end came almost suddenly ; and the first great event
of her childhood took her by surprise. The gentle, suffering woman had been
failing for many months, and when, one afternoon in early March, the doctor
ordered her to take to her bed at once, life seemed to ebb out of her daily, with
an almost visible haste to be gone. Whenever she was allowed to come in,
Lucy would curl herself up on the foot of the bed, never taking her eyes off the
face of the dying woman, who was for the most part unconscious, muttering
unintelligible words sometimes, in a hoarse voice broken by coughs, and
breathing, all the time, in great, heavy breaths, which made a rattle in
her throat. When she was in the next room, Lucy could hear this
monotonous sound going on, almost as plainly as in the room itself. It was
this sound that frightened her, more than anything ; for, when she was
sitting on the bed, watching the face lying among the pillows (drawn, and
glazed with a curious flush, as it was) it seemed, after all, only as if her mother
was very, very ill, and as if she might get better, for the lips were still red, and
sucked in readily all the spoonfuls of calvesfoot jelly, and brandy and water,
which were really just keeping her alive from hour to hour. On Friday night,
in the middle of the night, as Lucy was sleeping quietly, she felt, in her dream,
as it seemed to her, two lips touch her cheek, and, starting awake, saw
her father standing by the bedside. He told her to get up, put on some
of her things, and come quietly into the next room. She crept in, huddled up
in a shawl, very pale and trembling, and it seemed to her that her mother must
be a little better, for she drew her breath more slowly and not quite so loudly.
One arm was lying outside the clothes, and every now and then this arm would
raise itself up, and the hand would reach out, blindly, until the nurse, or her
father, took it and laid it back gently in its place. They told her to kiss her
mother, and she kissed her, crying very much, but her mother did not kiss her,
or open her eyes ; and as she touched her hair, which was coming out from
under her cap, she felt that it was all damp, but the lips were quite dry and
warm. Then they told her to go back to bed, but she clung to the foot of the
bed, and refused to go, and the nurse said, “I think she may stay.” The tears
were running down both her cheeks, but she did not move, or take her eyes off
the face on the pillow. It was very white now, and once or twice the mouth
opened, with a slight gasp ; once the face twitched, and half turned on the
pillow ; she had to wait before the next breath came ; then it paused again ;

    THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME                      57

then, with an effort, there was another breath ; then a long pause, a very slow
breath, and no more. She was led round to kiss her mother again on the fore-
head, which was quite warm ; but she knew that her mother was dead, and she
sobbed wildly, inconsolably, as they led her back to her own room, where, after
they had left her, and she could hear them moving quietly about the house, she
lay in bed trying to think, trying not to think, wondering what it was that had
really happened, and if things would all be different now.

And with her mother’s death it seemed as if her own dream-life had come
suddenly to an end, and a new, more desolate, more practical life had begun,
out of which she could not look any great distance. After the black darkness
of those first few days : the coming of the undertakers, the hammering down
of the coffin, the slow drive to the graveside, the wreath of white flowers which
she shed, white flower by white flower, upon the shining case of wood lying at
the bottom of a great pit, in which her mother was to be covered up to stay
there for ever ; after those first days of merely dull misery, broken by a few
wild outbursts of tears, she accepted this new life into which she had come, as
she accepted the black clothes which Linda, the servant, now more a friend than
ever, had had made for her. Her father could no longer bear to sleep in the
room in which his wife had died, so Lucy gave up her own room to him, and
moved into the room that had been her mother’s ; and it seemed to bring her
closer to her mother to sleep there. She thought of her mother very often, and
very sadly, but the remembrance of those almost last words to her, those
solemn words on her twelfth birthday, that she was to look after her father as
her mother had looked after him, and never let him want for anything, helped
her to meet every day bravely, because every day brought some definite thing
for her to do. She felt years and years older, and quietly ready for whatever
was now likely to happen.

For a little while she saw more of her father, for they had their mid-day
meal together now, and she used to come and sit at the table when he was
having his nine o’clock meat supper, with which he had always indulged
himself, even when there was very little in the house for the others. He still
took it, and his claret with it, which the doctor had ordered him to take ; but
he took it with scantier and scantier appetite ; talking less over his wine, and
falling into a strange brooding listlessness. During his wife’s illness he had
let his affairs drift ; and the society of which he was the secretary had over-
looked it, as far as they could, on account of his trouble. But now he
attended to his duties less than ever ; and he was reminded, a little sharply,
that things could not go on like this much longer. He took no heed of the

58                              THE SAVOY

warning, though the duns were beginning to gather about him. When there
was a ring at the door, Lucy used to squeeze up against the window to see
who it was ; and if it was one of those troublesome people whom she soon got
to know by sight, she would go to the door herself, and tell them that they
could not see her father, and explain to them, in her grave, childish way, that
it was no use coming to her father for money, because he had no money just
then, but he would have some at quarter-day, and they might call again then.
Sometimes the men tried to push past her into the hall, but she would never
let them ; her father was not in, or he was very unwell, and no one could see
him ; and she spoke so calmly and so decidedly that they always finished by
going away. If they swore at her, or said horrid things about her father, she
did not mind much. It did not surprise her that such dreadful people used
dreadful language.

In telling the duns that her father was very unwell, she was not always
inventing. For a long time there had been something vague the matter with
him, and ever since her mother’s death he had sickened visibly, and nothing
would rouse him from his pale and cheerless decrepitude. He would lie in
bed till four, and then come downstairs and sit by the fireplace, smoking his
pipe in silence, doing nothing, neither reading, nor writing, nor sketching.
All his interests in life seemed to have gone out together ; his very hopes had
been taken from him, and without those fantastic hopes he was but the shadow
of himself. It scarcely roused him when the directors of his society wrote to
him that they would require his services no longer. When they sent a man to
unscrew the brass plate on the door, on which there were the name of the
society and the amount of its capital, he went outside and stood in the garden
while it was being done. Then he gave the man a shilling for his trouble.

Soon after that, he refused to eat or get up, and a great terror came over
Lucy lest he, too, should die ; and now there was no money in the house, and
the duns still knocked at the door. She begged him to let her write to his
relatives, but he refused flatly, saying that they would not receive her mother,
and he would never see them, or take a penny of their money as long as he
lived. One day a cab drove up to the door, and a hard-featured woman got
out of it. Lucy, looking out of the bedroom window, recognized her aunt.
Miss Marsden, her mother’s eldest sister, whom she had only seen at the
funeral, and to whose grim face and rigid figure she had already taken a
dislike. It appeared that Linda, unknown to them, had written to tell her
into what desperate straits they had fallen ; and her severe sense of duty had
brought her to their help.

    THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME                      59

And the aunt was certainly good to them in her stern, unkindly way.
The first thing she did was to send for a doctor, who shook his head very
gravely when he had examined the patient ; and spoke of foreign travel, and
other impossible, expensive remedies. That was the first time that Lucy ever
began to long for money, or to realize exactly what money meant. It might
mean life or death, she saw now.

Her father now lay mostly in bed, very weak and quiet, and mostly in silence ;
and whether his eyes were closed or open, he seemed to be thinking, always
thinking. He liked Lucy to come and sit by him ; but if she chattered much
he would stop her, after a while, and say that he was tired, and she must be
quiet. And then sometimes he would talk to her, in his vague, disconnected
way, about her mother, and of how they had met, and had found hard times
together a great happiness ; and he would look at her with an almost im-
personal scrutiny, and say : “I think you will live happily, not with the
happiness that we had, for you will never love as we loved, but you will find it
easy to like people, and many people will find it easy to like you ; and if you
have troubles they will weigh on you lightly, for you will live always in the
day that is, without too much memory of the day that was, or too much
thought of the day that will be to-morrow.” And once he said : “I hardly
know why it is I feel so little anxiety about your future. I seem somehow to
know that you will always find people to look after you. I don’t know why
they should, I don’t know why they should.” And then he added, after a
pause, looking at her a little sadly : “You will never love nor be loved pas-
sionately, but you have a face that will seem to many, the first time they see
you, like the face of an old and dear friend.”

Sometimes, when he felt a little better, the sick man would come down-
stairs, and at times he would walk about in the garden, stooping under his
great-coat and leaning upon his stick. One very bright day in early February
he seemed better than he had been since his illness had come upon him, and
as he stood at the window looking at the white road shining under the pale
sun, he said suddenly : “I feel quite well to-day, I shall go for a little walk.”
His eyes were bright, there was a slight flush on his cheek, and he seemed to
move a little more easily than usual. “Lucy,” he said, “I think I should like
some claret with my supper to-night, like old times. You must go into the
town, and get me some : I suppose there is none in the house.” Lucy took
the money gladly, for she thought : he is beginning to be better. “Get it
from Allen’s,” he called after her, as she went to put on her hat and jacket ;
“it won’t take so very much longer to go there and back, and it will be better

60                              THE SAVOY

there.” When she came downstairs, her aunt was helping him to put on his
coat. “Don’t wait for me,” he said, smiling, and tapping her cheek with his
thin, chilly fingers ; “I shall have to walk slowly.” She went out, and turning,
as she came to the bend in the road, saw him come out of the gate, leaning on
his stick, and begin to walk slowly along in the middle of the road. He did
not look up, and she hurried on.

It was the last time she ever saw him. The house, when she returned to
it, after her journey into town, had an air of ominous quiet, and she saw with
surprise that her father’s hat and coat were lying in a heap across the chair in
the hall, instead of hanging neatly upon the hat-pegs. As she closed the door
behind her, she heard the bedroom-door opened, and her aunt came quickly
downstairs with a strange look on her face. She began to tremble, she knew
not why, and mechanically she put the bottle of wine on the floor by the side
of the chair ; and her aunt, though she would always have everything put in
its proper place, did not seem to notice it ; but took her into the sitting-room,
and said : “There has been an accident ; no, you must not go upstairs ;” and
she said to herself, seeming to hear her own words at the back of her brain,
where there was a dull ache that was like the coming-to of one who has been
stunned : “He is dead, he is dead.” She felt that her aunt was shaking her,
and wondered why she shook her, and why everything looked so dim, and her
aunt’s face seemed to be fading away from her, and she caught at her ; and
then she heard her aunt say (she could hear her quite well now), “I thought
you were going to faint : I’ll have no fainting, if you please ; I must go up to
him again.” So he was not dead, after all ; and she listened, with a relief which
was almost joy, while her aunt told her rapidly what had happened : how the
mail-cart had turned a corner at full speed, just as he was walking along the
road, more tired than he had thought, and he had not had the strength to pull
himself out of the way in time, and had been knocked down, and the wheel
had just missed him, but he had been terribly shaken, and one of the horse’s
hoofs had struck him on the face. They hoped it was nothing serious ; he
seemed to feel little pain ; but he had said : “Don’t let Lucy come in ; she
mustn’t see me like this.”

Lucy had been so used to obey her father, his commands had always
been so capricious, that she obeyed now without a murmur. She understood
him ; the fastidiousness which was part of his affection, and which made him
refuse to be seen, by those he loved, under a disfigurement which time would
probably heal, was one of the things for which she loved him, for it was part of
her pride in him.

    THE CHILDHOOD OF LUCY NEWCOME                      61

The doctor had come and gone ; he had been very serious, she had seen
his grave face, and had overheard one or two of his words to her aunt ; she
had heard him say : “Of course, it is a question of time.” Night came on,
and she sat in the unlighted room alone, and looking into the fire, in which the
last dreams of her childhood seemed to flicker in little wavering tongues of
flame, which throbbed, and went out, one after another, in smoke or ashes.
She cried a little, quietly, and did not wipe away the tears ; but sat on, look-
ing into the fire, and thinking. She was crying when her aunt came down-
stairs, and told her that she must go to bed : he was resting quietly, and they
hoped he would be better in the morning.

She slept heavily, without dreams ; and the hour seemed to her late when
she awoke in the morning. It was Linda, not her aunt, who came into the
room, and took her in her arms, and cried over her, and did not need to tell
her that she had no father. He had died suddenly in his sleep, and just before
he turned over on his side for that last rest, he had said to her (she thought,
drowsily) : “I am very tired ; if anything happens, cover my face.” When
Lucy crept into the room, on tip-toe, his face was covered. It was a white,
shrouded thing that lay there, not her father. The terror of the dead seized
hold upon her, and she shrieked, and Linda caught her up in her arms, and
carried her back to her room, and soothed her, as if she had been a little,
wailing child.

At the funeral she saw, for the first time, her father’s relatives, the rich
relatives who had cast him off; and she hated them for being there, for speak-
ing to her kindly, for offering to look after her. She was rude to them, and
she wished to be rude. “My father would never touch your money,” she said,
“and I am sure he wouldn’t like me to, and I don’t want it. I don’t want to
have anything to do with you.” She clung to the severe aunt who had been
good to her father ; and she tried to smile on her other uncle and aunt, and on
her cousin, who was not many years older than she was : he had seemed to
her so kind, and so ready to be her friend. “I will go with my aunt,” she
said. The rich relatives acquiesced, not unwillingly. They did not linger in
the desolate house, where this unreasonable child, as they thought her, stood
away from them on the other side of the room. She seemed to herself to be
doing the right thing, and what her father would have wished ; and she saw
them go with relief, not giving a thought to the future, only knowing that she
had buried her childhood, on that day of the funeral, in the grave with her
father.

                                                                        ARTHUR SYMONS.


MLA citation:

Arthur Symons. “The Childhood of Lucy Newcome.” The Savoy vol. 8, December 1896, pp. 51-61. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv8-symons-childhood/