Read PART I : CHAPTER XI of The Soul of a Child, free online book, by Edwin Bjorkman, on ReadCentral.com.

Hardly any memory left behind by Keith’s childhood was more acute than the image of Granny seated in the centre of the kitchen, her stolid, yet pleasant old face bent over some household task, and her whole figure instinct with a passive protest against her enforced dependency or, maybe against life’s arbitrariness in general. One moment she seemed to be brooding deeply, and the next she looked as if there was not a thought in her head. For one reason or another, her anomalous position and peculiar attitude occupied Keith’s mind a great deal, and many of the questions with which he plied his mother were concerned with Granny. They were fairly discreet as a rule, but on the morning after the scene just described, some impulse of which he had no clear understanding made him perplex his mother with the abrupt question:

“Why does Granny drink?”

They were alone in the living-room at the time, she seated in her big easy chair by the window and he, as usual, kneeling on the hassock at her feet.

She looked up at him with as much surprise as if he had hit her viciously. A deeper red flowed into her cheeks that kept their soft pinkness even when she was thought at death’s door and lost it only under the pressure of extreme anger.

At the same time a look came into her eyes that gave Keith a momentary scare. It was only a flash, however, and changed quickly into something like the helplessness that used to characterize her glance in moments of heavy depression. Her voice trembled a little as she spoke:

“Because Granny’s life has been very hard, and not very happy.”

“Tell me about it,” urged the boy.

There was a long pause during which he watched his mother’s face closely. Gradually its expression changed into one of resignation, and then into determination, as if she had made up her mind to be done once for all with a task that could not be avoided indefinitely. It was a long story she told, at first hesitatingly, then with an eagerness that betrayed an awakening purpose. Everything she said stuck deeply in the boy’s mind, and whenever he thought of Granny’s life afterwards, he had the impression of having learned all about it at that one time, although the likelihood is that many details were picked up by degrees and dovetailed into the memory of that first narrative as integral parts of it.

“Your grandmother was not born to be a servant,” his mother began. “She was a rich man’s daughter, and there was not a thing her father didn’t want to do for her. Yet he left her in the hands of strangers who cheated her of her rights and treated her as if she had been a beggar....”

“Why did they do it,” the boy asked, quite unable to grasp the idea of such a thing.

“Because they could make a little more money that way, and because they cared for nothing but money. Promise me, Keith, that whatever happens to you, and whatever the temptation be, you will never put money above everything else.”

Keith shook his head earnestly, meaning it to be sign of assent. He was a highly impressible child, and when his mother spoke to him like that, he used literally to choke with a feeling that he could never, never do anything but what she asked, but when another rush of feeling swept over him, the old promises were also likely to be swept out of his mind.

“Those people did the worst thing any one can do to anybody else. They twisted Granny’s life so that it could never be set right again. And so she became what you see her now....”

“You mean she just couldn’t help herself,” Keith put in.

“Yes, that’s what I mean,” she agreed. Then she stopped as if struck by another thought, and said very slowly:

“Although, if she had been really strong....”

Once more she stopped and returned abruptly to her story:

“Your great-grandfather made and sold hats, and he earned a lot of money, and they made him a City Councillor....”

“Where,” Keith broke in again.

“In Skara,” his mother explained, “which is a city that lies a long way from here, and when you begin to learn geography, you will know where it is.... Everybody liked your great-grandfather....”

“What was his name,” Keith couldn’t help asking.

“Lack,” she said, “and now you mustn’t interrupt me any more if you want me to go on.”

“Please,” Keith pleaded. “I won’t!”

“The reason they liked him,” she resumed, “was that he was so good-hearted that he couldn’t say no to anybody or anything. He didn’t seem to care for money at all, and he used to say: ’What’s money between friends?’ Everybody wanted to be friends with him in those days, and everybody borrowed from him, until he didn’t have enough left for his business, and then they laughed at him. He tried in his turn to borrow, but no one could spare a penny, and when things went entirely wrong with him, one of those who had got most from him made a funny saying about him: ‘Now Lack lacks everything because everybody has what Lack lacks.’ So, you see, you mustn’t think too little of money either, but learn to be careful and keep what you have.”

Keith nodded dutifully, but where the right road lay, he could not see.

“The worst thing was,” the mother went on, “that your great-grandmother died when Granny was only nine. There were brothers and sisters, too, and she was the youngest. And it was then that her father got the idea to send her to some farmer people he knew, quite some distance from where he lived. He did it partly for the sake of Granny’s health, and partly because he was too worried about other things to look after her properly himself. And he paid a lot of money for her board, and sent her fine clothes, and arranged that she was to be taught by the pastor of the parish, and he sent friends to ask about her, but he never came himself. The people who were to take care of Granny kept the money and the clothes, and put her to work as if she had been a servant, and didn’t let her get the least bit of schooling. And when her father’s friends came and asked about her, they told all sorts of tales about how well she was doing, but she was so shy, they said, that she always ran away when any visitor came to the place.”

“Did she,” asked Keith.

“Yes, she really did,” the mother admitted. “She was ashamed of the way she looked and was dressed, and yet she was quite pretty, and she had the most wonderful hair that reached to her feet when she let it down.”

“But, why didn’t she tell somebody?” Keith insisted, his blood running hot with wrath at the injustice to which Granny had been submitted.

“Oh, because ...” said his mother wearily, “because your grandmother has always been peculiar in that way when she knew she was being wronged. ‘What is the use?’ she says. And then word came that her father had gone bankrupt and had died soon after. No one seemed to pay the least attention to her. She stayed where she was, and she couldn’t work any harder than she had done all the time. But when she was to be confirmed, and had to go to church every week with all the other children of her own age, she was the poorest of them all, both in fact and in appearance, she didn’t have one person in the world to whom she could turn. She has told me that she used to lie awake nights crying and thinking of running away, but she couldn’t make up her mind to that either.”

She stopped, and Keith waited in vain for the rest of the story.

“And then,” he urged.

“Oh, then she came to Stockholm and married your grandfather my papa, you know. And now Lena is waiting for me to tell her what we are to have for dinner.”

Keith went back to his own corner for a while. Then he made a dash for the kitchen, where he found Granny seated in her usual place peeling potatoes. Having placed a smaller foot-stool beside the large one in which she was seated, he got up on it so that he could put both arms about her neck. Pressing his own soft cheek against hers, he asked brokenly:

“Are you very unhappy, Granny?”

“No,” she answered placidly, “not when you are willing to give me a kiss.”

“All right,” he said without enthusiasm as he complied with her request. At the same time he recalled suddenly that he had not played a single game with his tin soldiers that whole morning.