From Eliza by Barry Pain
I led up to it, saying to Eliza, not at all in a complaining way, “Does it not seem to you a pity to let these long winter evenings run to waste?”
“Yes, dear,” she replied; “I think you ought to do something.”
“And you, too. Is it not so, darling?”
“There’s generally some sewing, or the accounts.”
“Yes; but these things do not exercise the mind.”
“Not in the way I mean.” I had now reached my point. “How would it be if I were to read aloud to you? I don’t think you have ever heard me read aloud. You are fond of the theatre, and we cannot often afford to go. This would make up for it. There are many men who would tell you that they would sooner have a play read aloud to them than see it acted in the finest theatre in the world.”
“Would they? Well–perhaps–if I were only sewing it wouldn’t interrupt me much.”
I said, “That is not very graciously put, Eliza. There is a certain art in reading aloud. Some have it, and some have not. I do not know if I have ever told you, but when I was a boy of twelve I won a prize for recitation, though several older boys were competing against me.”
She said that I had told her before several times.
I continued: “And I suppose that I have developed since then. A man in our office once told me that he thought I should have done well on the stage. I don’t know whether I ever mentioned it.”
She said that I had mentioned it once or twice.
“I should have thought that you would have been glad of a little
pleasure–innocent, profitable, and entertaining. However, if you think I am not capable of—-”
“What do you want to read?”
“What would you like me to read?”
“Miss Sakers lent me this.” She handed me a paper-covered volume, entitled, “The Murglow Mystery; or, The Stain on the Staircase.”
“Trash like this is not literature,” I said. However, to please her, I glanced at the first page. Half an hour later I said that I should be very sorry to read a book of that stamp out loud.
“Then why do you go on reading it to yourself?”
“Strictly speaking, I am not reading it. I am glancing at it.”
When Eliza got up to go to bed, an hour afterward, she asked me if I was still glancing. I kept my temper.
“Try not to be so infernally unreasonable,” I said. “If Miss Sakers lends us a book, it is discourteous not to look at it.”
On the following night Eliza said that she hoped I was not going to sit up until three in the morning, wasting the gas and ruining my health, over a book that I myself had said–
“And who pays for the gas?”
“Nobody’s paid last quarter’s yet. Mother can’t do everything, and—-”
“Well, we can talk about that some other time. To-night I am going to read aloud to you a play of Shakespeare’s. I wonder if you even know who Shakespeare was?”
“Of course I do.”
“Could you honestly say that you have ever read one–only one–of his tragedies?”
“No. Could you?”
“I am going to read ‘Macbeth’ to you, trying to indicate by changes in my voice which character is speaking.” I opened the book.
Eliza said that she couldn’t think who it was took her scissors.
“I can’t begin till you keep quiet,” I said.
“It’s the second pair that’s gone this week.”
“Very well, then,” I said, shutting up the book with a bang, “I will not read aloud to you to-night at all. You may get along as you can without it.”
“You’re sure you didn’t take those scissors for anything?” she replied, meditatively.
* * * * *
“Now then,” I said, on the next night, “I am ready to begin. The tragedy is entitled ‘Macbeth.’ This is the first scene.”
“What is the first scene?”
“A blasted heath.”
“Well, I think you might give a civil answer to a civil question. There was no occasion to use that word.”
“You did. I heard it distinctly.”
“Do let me explain. It’s Shakespeare uses the word. I was only quoting it. It merely means—-”
“Oh, if it’s Shakespeare I suppose it’s all right. Nobody seems to mind what he says. You can go on.”
I read for some time. Eliza, in reply to my question, owned that she had enjoyed it, but she went to bed before her usual time.
* * * * *
When I was preparing to read aloud on the following evening, I was unable to find our copy of Shakespeare. This was very annoying, as it had been a wedding-present. Eliza said that she had found her scissors, and very likely I should find the Shakespeare some other night.
But I never did. I have half thought of buying another copy, or I dare say Eliza’s mother would like to give us it. Eliza thinks not.