I loathe the stench of horses. Mary Lamb walked over to the window, and
touched very lightly the faded lace fringe of her dress. It was a dress of the
former period that she wore unembarrassed, as if it were of no consequence how
she chose to cover herself. The city is a great jakes. There was no one in the
drawing-room with her, so she put her face upwards, towards the sun. Her skin
was marked by the scars of smallpox, suffered by her six years before; so she
held her face to the light, and imagined it to be the pitted moon.
I have found it, dear. It was hiding in Alls Well. Charles Lamb rushed
into the room with a thin green volume in his hand.
She turned round, smiling. She did not resist her brothers enthusiasm; it
cleared her head of the moon. And is it?
Is it what, dear?
Alls well that ends well?
I very much hope so. The top buttons of his linen shirt were undone, and his
stock only loosely knotted. May I read it to you? He dropped into an armchair,
and swiftly crossed his legs. It was a rapid and economical movement, to which
his sister had become accustomed. He held out the volume at arms length, and
recited a passage. They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical
persons to make things supernatural and causeless seem modern and familiar.
Hence is it that we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves into seeming
knowledge when we should submit ourselves to an unknown fear. Lafew to Parolles.
That is exactly the thought of Hobbes.
Mary generally read what her brother read, but she did so more slowly. She was
more thoroughly absorbed; she would sit by the window, where the light had
touched her a few moments before, and contemplate the sensations that her
reading had aroused in her. She felt then, as she had told her brother, part of
the worlds spirit. She read so that she might keep up these conversations with
Charles which had become the great solace of her life. They talked on those
evenings when he returned, sober, from the East India House. They confided in
each other, seeing the same soul shining in each others face.
What was that phrase, seeming knowledge? You enunciate so well, Charles. I
would be glad to have your gift. She admired her brother precisely to the
extent that she did not admire herself.
Words, words, words.
But would that apply to the people whom we know? she asked him.
Would what, dear?
Seeming knowledge and unknown fear?
I seem to know Pa, but should I submit to an unknown fear concerning him?
Their parents, on this Sunday morning, were returning from the Dissenters
chapel on the corner of Lincolns Inn Lane and Spanish Street. They were only a
hundred yards from the house, and Mary watched as her mother and father crossed
slowly from lane to lane. Mr Lamb was in the first stages of senile decay, but
Mrs Lamb held him upright with her powerful right arm.
And then there is Selwyn Onions, Mary added. He was one of Charless clerkly
colleagues in Leadenhall Street. I seem to know his pranks and jokes, but
should I submit to an unknown fear concerning his malevolent spirit?
Onions? He is a good enough fellow.
I dare say.
You look too deep, dear.
It was a day in late autumn, and the brickwork of the houses opposite was
stained red with the declining sun. The street itself was littered with orange
peel, scraps of newspaper and fallen leaves. An old woman, draped in a
voluminous shawl, was clutching the pump on the corner.
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