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My Young Alcides by Charlotte M. Yonge

Part 6 out of 6

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The village of St. Clement's, a small fishing-place, was half-a-mile
off, through lanes a foot deep in mud, and with a good old sleepy
rector of the old school, not remarkable for his performances in
Church. I was entering the little shop serving as the post-office,
where I went every day in the unreasonable expectation of letters,
when I heard a voice that made me start, "Did you say turn to the

And there, among the piles of cheeses, stood a figure I knew full
well, though it had grown very thin, and had a very red and mottled
face at the top.

We held out our hands to one another in silence, and walked at once
out of hearing. Dermot said he was well, and had been as kindly
looked after as possible, and now he had been let out as safe
company, but his family and friends would hardly believe it, so he
had come down to see whether he could share our quarantine.

Happily a few cottages of the better sort had accommodation for
lodgers, and one of them--for a consideration--accepted "the
gentleman's" bill of health. He walked on by my side, both of us
feeling the blessing of having someone to speak to. He, poor fellow,
had seen no being who had ever heard of Harold, except George
Yolland, who came when he was too ill to talk, and we went on with
the conversation that had been broken off weeks before, with such
comfort as it could give us in such a loss as ours.

He walked all the way back with me, and I was frightened to see how
tired he looked. I took him to Mrs. Long for the refreshment she
loved to give, and begged for the pony for him to ride home on, and a
boy to fetch it back.

It was wonderful how much more blue there was in the sea the next
day, how the evergreens glistened, and how beautiful and picturesque
the old house grew; and when I went out in the morning sunshine, for
once, inclined to admit some beauty in the staggering black-legged
and visaged lambs, and meditating a walk to the village, I saw Dermot
coming across the yard, so wearily and breathlessly, that I could
only say, "How could you?"

He looked up piteously. "You don't forbid me?" he said.

I almost cried as I told him it was only his fatigue that I objected
to; and indeed he was glad enough to take Dora's now vacated place on
the great sofa, while we talked of Viola. Writing to her had been,
of course, impossible for him, and he had only had two short notes
from her, so meaningless that I thought she wrote them fearing to
disturb him while he was ill; but he muttered an ominous line from
Locksley Hall, vituperated Piggy, and confessed that his ground for
doing so was that his mother reported Viola as pleased with foreign
life, and happy with her cousins. I said it was his mother's way,
and he replied, "Exactly so; and a girl may be worried into
anything." A slight dispute on that score cheered him a little, for
he showed himself greatly depressed. He was going--as soon as he had
gathered a little strength--back to the duties he had promised to
fulfil on his own property, but he hated the thought, was down-
hearted as to the chances of success, and distrustful of himself
among discouragements, and the old associations he had made for
himself. "It is a different thing without Alison to look to and
keep one up," he said.

"There are higher motives," was my stupid speech.

"It is precious hard on a poor fellow to be left alone with his
higher motives, as you call them, before he has well begun to act on
his lower."

And then, I don't know how, he began talking drearily, almost as if I
was not there, of his having once begun to fancy he could do
something creditable enough to make me some day look on him as I used
to do in the good old times. My heart gave a great bound, and
remembering how Harold said I discouraged him, out came, "How do you
know that I don't?"

How he sprang up! And--no, I can't tell what we said, only we found
it was no new beginning, only taking up an old, old precious thread--
something brought it all out. He had talked it all over with Harold
when he came back from Florence, and had taken home a little hope
which he said had helped him through the solitary hours of his
recovery. So it was Harold who, after all, gave us to one another.

Outspoken Dora informed us, before the day was much older, that the
Longs had asked whether that was her brother, or my young man. So we
took them into our confidence, and even borrowed "the trap" for one
of the roughest and the sweetest drives that ever we had, through
those splashing lanes, dropping Dermot at his lodgings to write his
letters, while the harvest moon made a path over the sea, no longer
leaden, but full of silvery glittering light. There had something
come back into the air which made us feel that life was worth living,
after all!

Next morning the good people, who were much excited about our
affairs, sent the pony for him, and he came in full force with that
flattering Irish tongue of his, bent on persuading me that, old
lovers as we were, with no more to find out about one another, there
was nothing to wait for. 'How could he go back by himself (what a
brogue he put on! yet the tears were in his eyes) to his great
desolate castle, with not a living man in it at all at all, barring
the Banshee and a ghost or two; and as I had nothing to do, and
nowhere to go, why not be married then and there without more ado?
If I refused, he should think it was all my pride, and that I
couldn't take that "ornary object," as he had overheard himself
described that day. (As if I did not love him the better for that
marred complexion!) His mother? His uncle? They had long ago
repented of having come between us ten years ago, and were ready to
go down on their knees to any dacent young woman who would take him,
let alone a bit of an heiress, who, though not to compete with the
sixty-thousand pounder, could provide something better than praties
and buttermilk for herself at Killy Marey.'

I could not help thinking dear Harold might have remembered Killy
Marey's needs when he gave me that half of his means. And as to
going back to Mount Eaton, ghosts of past times would meet me there,
whose pain was then too recent to have turned into the treasure these
recollections are to me.

There would be just time, Dermot declared, if he put up our banns the
very next Sunday, to go through with it before the time Pippa had
appointed for receiving Dora, and it would save all the trouble of
hunting up a surrogate and startling him with his lovely face.

However, he did startle the poor old parish clergyman effectually by
calling on him to publish the banns of marriage between Dermot Edward
St. Glear Tracy and Lucy Percy Alison, both residing in this parish.
He evidently thought we were in hiding from someone who knew of some
just cause or impediment; but whereas we certainly did full justice
to our ages twenty-eight and twenty-six, he could only try to examine
us individually very politely, but betraying how uncomfortable he

It was most amusing to see how his face cleared up when, two days
later, he met us on the beach with a dignified old white-haired
gentleman, though Dermot declared that the imposing title mentioned
on the introduction made him suspect us of having hired a benignant
stage father for the occasion.

The dear old uncle Ery had actually come down to chaperone us, and
really act as much as possible as a father to me; and as I had
likewise sent for Colman and a white silk dress, the St. Clement's
minds were free to be pleasantly excited about us. Lord Erymanth had
intended to have carried us off to be married from his castle, but we
begged off, and when he saw Dermot, he allowed that it was not the
time to make a public spectacle of what (Dermot was pleased to say)
would have the pleasing pre-eminence of being "the ugliest of
weddings," both as to bridegroom and bridesmaid. For he and Dora
used to make daily fun of their respective beauties, which were much
on a par, since, though she had three weeks' start of him, the
complaint having been unmitigated in her, had left much more
permanent-looking traces. Those two chose to keep each other up to
the most mirthful nonsense-pitch, and yet I am sure none of us felt
so light of spirit as we must have appeared, though, perhaps, the
being on the edge of such a great shadow made the sunshine seem

We had considered of beginning with a flying visit to see how poor
Viola really was, but the Italian letters prevented this. Lady Diana
accepted me cordially and kindly as a daughter, and said all that was
proper; but she actually forestalled us by desiring her son not to
come out to her, for she thought it much better for Viola not to have
painful recollections revived, and Viola herself wrote in a way that
disappointed us--loving indeed, but with a strain of something
between lightness and bitterness, and absolutely congratulating her
brother that there was no one on my side to bring up bygones against
him. One half of her letter was a mere guide-book to the Roman
antiquities, and was broken off short for some carnival gaiety. Lord
Erymanth clearly liked his letters as little as we did. In the
abstract, in spite of the first cousinship, I am afraid he would
rather have given Viola to Pigou St. Glear than to Harold Alison, but
he had thought better of his niece than to think she could forget
such a man so soon.

However, the day came. Dora slept with me, and that last night when
I came to bed, I found the true self had made a reassertion in one of
those frightful fits of dumb hysteria. Half the night Colman and I
were attending to her, but still she never opened to me, more than by
clinging frantically round my neck in the intervals. She fell asleep
at last, and slept till we actually pulled her out of bed to be
dressed for the wedding; but we agreed that we could not expose our
uncle (who was to escort her to Northchester station) to being left
alone with her in one of these attacks, and, as our programme had
never been quite fixed, we altered it so far as to pass through
Northchester and see her safe into Baby Horsman's hands.

She was altogether herself by day, gave no sign of emotion, and was
as merry as possible throughout the journey, calling out to Dermot
airily from the platform that she should send him a present of sour
krout from Baden. Poor child, it was five years before we saw her

We had scarcely had time to settle in at Killy Marey before Lady
Diana implored us to meet her in London, without explaining what was
the matter. When we came to Lord Erymanth's house, we were met by
Viola, very thin, but with a bright red colour on her usually pale
cheeks, and a strange gleaming light in her eyes, making them larger
than ever; and oh, how she did talk! Chatter, chatter, about all
they had seen or done, and all the absurdities of the people they had
met; mimicking them and making fun, and all the time her mother
became paler and graver, looking as if she had grown ten years older.
It went on so all dinner-time. She talked instead of eating, and all
the evening those bright eyes of hers seemed to be keeping jealous
watch that no one should exchange any words in private.

Nor could we till poor Lady Diana, with a fagged miserable face, came
to my room at night, and I called Dermot in. And then she told us
how the child had "seemed to bear everything most beautifully," and
had never given way. I believe it was from that grain of perversity
in Viola's high-spirited nature, as well as the having grown up
without confidence towards her mother, which forbade her to mourn
visibly among unsympathising watchers; and when her hope was gone led
her in her dull despair to do as they pleased, try to distract her
thoughts, let herself be hunted hither and thither, and laugh at and
play with Pigou St. Glear quite enough to pass for an encouraging
flirtation, and to lead all around her to think their engagement
immediately coming on. The only thing she refused to do was to go to
the Farnese Palace, where was the statue to which there had more than
once been comparisons made. At last, one day, when they were going
over the Vatican Galleries, everyone was startled by a strange peal
of laughter, and before a frieze of the Labours of Hercules stood
Pigou, looking pale and frightened, and trying to get Viola away, as
she stood pointing to the carrying home of the Erymanthian boar, and
laughing in this wild forced way. They got her away at last, but
Piggy told his father that he would have no more to do with her, even
if their uncle left her half his property, though he never would tell
what she had said to him.

Since that time she had gone on in this excited state, apparently
scarcely eating or sleeping, talking incessantly, not irrationally,
but altogether at random, mockingly and in contradiction to everyone;
caring chiefly to do the very thing her mother did not wish, never
resting, and apparently with untiring vigour, though her cheeks and
hands were burning, and she was wasting away from day to day.

Lady Diana really thought her mind was going, and by this time would
have given all she had in the world to have been able to call Harold
back to her. Diana Enderby tried reproofs for her flightiness, but
only made her worse; with Dermot she would only make ridiculous
nonsense, and utter those heartrending laughs; and when I tried to
soothe her, and speak low and quietly, she started away from me,
showed me her foreign purchases, or sang snatches of comic songs.

Dermot went at last to consult the same doctor to whom, half a year
before, he had taken Harold; and it was contrived that he should see
and hear her at a dinner-party without her knowledge. He consoled us
very much by saying that her mind was not touched, and that it was a
fever on the nerves, produced by the never having succumbed to the
unhappiness and the shock which, when he heard in what manner she had
lost Harold, he considered quite adequate to produce such effects.
Indeed, he had been so much struck with Harold himself, that he was
quite startled to hear of his death, and seemed to think an excess of
grief only his due. He bade us take her to her home, give her no
external excitement, and leave her as much as possible to go her own
way, and let her feel herself unwatched, and, if we could, find her
some new yet calming, engrossing occupation.

We took the advice, and poor Lady Diana besought us to remain with
her for the present; nor, indeed, could we have left her. Our chief
care was to hinder her oppressing her daughter with her anxiety; for
we found that Viola was so jealous of being watched that she would
hardly have tolerated us, but that I had real business in packing up
my properties at Mount Eaton. For the first week she took up her old
occupations in the same violent and fitful way, never sitting long to
anything, but rushing out to dash round the garden, and taking long
walks in all weathers, rejecting companionship.

>From various causes, chiefly Lady Diana's wretchedness and anxiety,
Dermot and I had to wait a week before we could have the pony-chaise
and go together to Harold's grave. The great, massive, Irish granite
cross was not ready then, and there was only the long, very long,
green mound, at my mother's feet. There lay two wreaths on it. One
was a poor thorn garland--for his own Hydriot children had, we heard,
never left it untended all the winter--the other was of a great
white-flowered rhododendron that was peculiar to the Arked garden.

Was it disloyal to Harry that we thought more of Viola than we did of
him that first time we stood by his grave? It was an immense walk
from Arked to Arghouse Church, over four miles even by the shortest
way, which lay through rough cart-tracks which we had avoided in
coming, but now felt we had better take.

Nearly half way home, under a great, old pollard ash, we saw a little
brown figure. It was Viola, crouched together with her head on her
knees, sitting on the bank. She started up and tried to say
something petulantly joking about our always dogging her, but she
broke down in a flood of tears to which sheer weariness conduced.
She was tired out at last, footsore, and hardly able to move a limb,
when Dermot almost lifted her into the carriage, the dreadful, hard
self-control all over now, when, in those long lanes, with the
Maybushes meeting overhead, she leant against me and sobbed with
long-pent anguish, while her brother walked at the pony's head.

She had quite broken down now, and her natural self was come back to
us. When we came home, I got her up to her own room and Dermot went
to his mother. She had a long, quiet sleep, lying on her bed, and
when she woke it was growing dark on the May evening. She looked at
me a little while without speaking, and her eyes were soft again.

"Lucy," she said, "I think I have been very naughty, but they made me

I said, as I kissed her, that I thought "they" had done so.

"_He_ would not have let anybody make him so," she said. "I was the
bad one. I was almost unfaithful. I told him so to-day."

"Not unfaithful, dearest, only harassed and miserable beyond all

"Nothing is beyond bearing. I said so to myself over and over again.
That was why I would let no one see that I minded."

"You tried to bear it proudly, all by yourself," I said; "that was
what made it so dreadful."

"He said it was God's will," said poor Viola, "but I knew it was
mamma's. I did what he told me, Lucy; I did not get so wrong as long
as he lived, but after that I did not care what became of me, and yet
I did love him as much as ever."

She seemed to look on me as his representative, and was now ready to
take any persuasion of mine as coming from him. She admitted her
mother, was gentle and natural with her, ate and drank at her
bidding, and went to bed pale and worn down, but not ill. She never
gave in or professed indisposition, but for more than ten days she
"went softly," was very tired, and equal to nothing but lying on the
sofa and sitting in the garden; and it was in those days that
sometimes with her brother, sometimes with me, she went over all that
we could tell her, or she tell us, of him who had been so dear to us
all. The first time she was alone with Dermot, she kissed every
remaining mark she could find in his face, and said she had ached to
do it every time she saw him. All those wells of deeper thought that
had been so long choked by the stony hardness of a proudly-borne
sorrow seemed suddenly to open, when she gave herself up to the
thought of Harold. She even arrived at sorrow for the way she had
treated her mother; when he had given up his own hope rather than
make her disobedient. She asked Lady Diana's pardon. She had never
done so voluntarily in her whole life. She was met by tears and
humility that softened and humiliated her in her sorrow more than
aught else. Her precious flower-pot was in her window with its
fragrant verbena, and I gave her the crystal cross again, telling her
where I had found it, and she held it a moment and said, "Some day it
will be buried with me. But I must do something to feel as if I
deserved it. You know it comes to me like a token out of the sea of
glass like unto crystal, where they stand that overcome! I think
I'll only wear it at night when I think I have done something, or
conquered a bit of my perverseness with mamma."

A sudden idea came over me. Mr. Benjamin Yolland was in dire want of
a lady as reference to a parish woman for his Hydriots. I had begun,
but had been called away. Miss Woolmer had tried, but was not well
enough, and there was no one else whom he thought capable. I was to
stay at Arked for six weeks more; should I put Viola in the way? It
would be work for him.

She caught at it. Lady Diana bridled a little as she thought of the
two young men who managed the Hydriots, but the doctor's prescription
recurred to her mind, and she consented.

Need I tell you how dear Aunt Viola's soul and spirit have gone forth
with those Hydriot people, how from going once a week to meet the
parish woman at Miss Woolmer's, she soon came to presiding at the
mothers' meetings, to knowing everybody, and giving more and more of
her time, her thoughts, her very self to them and being loved by them
enormously. The spirit, fun, and enterprise that were in her fitted
her, as they began to revive, for dealing with the lads, who were
sure to be devoted to anything so pretty and refined. When she
began, the whisper that she was the love of their hero, gave them a
romantic interest, and though with the younger generation this is
only a tradition, yet "our lady" has won ground of her own, and is
still fair and sweet enough to be looked on by those youths as a sort
of flower of the whole world, yet their own peculiar property. For
is she not a Hydriot shareholder, and does she not like to know that
it was to Harold's revival of those shares that she chiefly owes her
present means? Since her mother's death she has lived among them at
the house that was old Miss Woolmer's, and is tranquilly happy in
finding happiness for other people, and always being ready when any
one needs her, as our dear old uncle does very often, though I think
her Hydriot boys have the most of her.

Hippolyta made Eustace a good wife, and watched over him well; but
there was no preventing his deficiency from increasing; it became
acknowledged disease of the brain, and he did not survive his cousin
six years. Happily none of his feebleness of intellect seems to have
descended to Eustace the third, who is growing up a steady, sensible
lad under his mother's management; and perhaps it is not the worse
for Arghouse to have become a Horsman dependency.

It was the year before Eustace's death that the conductress of the
school at Baden wrote to Mrs. Alison about Dora. The sad state of
her brother had prevented her coming home or being visited, and
though I exchanged letters with her periodically, we had not
sufficient knowledge of one another for any freedom of expression
after she had conquered the difficulties of writing.

When she was a little more than sixteen, came a letter to tell that
she was wasting away in either atrophy or consumption, and that the
doctors said the only hope for her was home and native air. Poor
child! what home was there for her, with her sister-in-law absorbed
in the care of her brother, whose imbecility was no spectacle for one
in a critical state of health and failing spirits? We were at Arked
at the time, and offered to go and fetch her (it was Dermot's kind
thought), leaving the children to Viola's care.

Poor dear, what a sight she was! Tall in proportion to the giant
breed she came of, but thin to the most painful degree, and bending
like a fishing-rod, or a plant brought up in the dark, which, by-the-
by, she most resembled, with her white face and thin yellow hair.
Her complexion had recovered, but her hair never had, nor, as it
proved, her health, for she had been more or less ailing ever since
she came, and the regimen of the frugal Germans had not supported the
fast-growing English girl's frame, any more than the strict and
thorough-going round of accurate education had suited the untrained,
desultory intellect, unused to method or application. Nor did the
company of the good, plodding, sentimental maedchens give any
pleasure to the vehement creature, whose playfellow from babyhood had
been a man--and such a man! Use did no good, but rather, as the
childish activity and power of play and the sense of novelty passed,
the growth of the womanly soul made the heart-hunger and solitude
worse, and spirit and health came yearly to a lower level.

She was too languid to be more than indifferent when she saw us, and
the first sign of warmth that she gave was her kiss, when I went back
to visit her after putting her to bed at the hotel. She looked up,
put her arms round my neck, and said, "This is like the old days."

We brought her by slow stages to London, where Hippolyta came up to
see her for one day, and was terribly shocked. The doctors were not
hopeful, but said she might go where she pleased, and do what she
liked, and as her one wish was to be with us, my dear husband laughed
to scorn the notion that, whatever had been dear to Harold, should
not be his sacred charge, and so we took her back.

And there, she did not die. She lay on the sofa day after day,
watched the children at play, and listened dreamily to the family
affairs, rested and was petted by us both, called it very
comfortable, and was patient, but that whole winter seemed to remain
where she was, neither better nor worse. With the spring came a
visit from George Yolland, a prosperous man, as he well deserved to
be, and the foremost layman in all good works in the neighbourhood
since dear old Lord Erymanth had been disabled. In the forenoons,
when I was teaching the children, and Dermot was busy, he was
generally in the drawing-room, talking to Dora, whose blue eyes had a
vivid silent intelligence, like no one but Harold's. From the first
day he had confirmed my conviction that, at any rate, she was not
dying now, and she began to start into strength. She sat up all the
evening, she walked round the garden, she drove out, she came down to
breakfast. The day after that achievement, she came to me sobbing
for joy with something inaudible about "his sake," while George was
assuring Dermot that there was only one woman in the world for him!

So, on a bright summer day, we gave her to the friend Harold had
gained on the same day as Dermot, and she went to be the happy
mistress of Mount Eaton, and reign there, an abrupt woman, not
universally liked, but intensely kind and true, and much beloved by
all who have cared to penetrate through her shell.

There! my work is done, though I fear it is a weaker likeness of my
young Alcides than even the faded photograph by my side, but I could
not brook that you, my children, should grow up unknowing of the
great character to whom your father and I owe one another, and all
besides that is best in our lives. There are things that must
surprise you about your dear father. Remember that he insisted on my
putting them in, and would not have them softened, because, he said,
you ought to have the portrait in full, and that, save at his own
expense, you could not know the full gratitude he feels to the man
who made a new era in our lives. He says he is not afraid either of
the example for you, or that you will respect him less, and I know
you will not, for you will only see his truth and generosity.

L. P. T.

All that your mother has written is true--blessings on her!--every
word of it, except that she never could, and I hope none of you ever
will, understand the depth and blackness of the slough Harold Alison
drew me out of, by just being the man he was; nor will she show you--
for indeed she is blind to it herself--that it was no other than she,
with her quiet, upright sweetness and resolution, that was the making
of him and of both of us. Very odd it is that a woman should set it
all down in black and white, and never perceive it was all her own
doing. But if you see it, young people, what you have to do is to be
thankful for the mother you have got and try to be worthy of her, and
if the drop of Alison blood in you should make one of you even the
tenth part of what Harold was, then you'll be your father's pride,
and much more than he deserves.

D. E. ST. G. T.

Thank you, dear brother, for having let me see this, though I know
Lucy did not intend it for my eyes, or she would not have been so
hard on poor mamma. It shows me how naughty I must have been to let
her get such a notion of our relations with one another, but an
outsider can never judge of such things. For the rest, dear Lucy has
done her best, and in many ways she did know him better than anybody
else did, and he looked up to her more than to anyone. But even she
cannot reach to the inmost depth of the sweetness out of the strong,
nor fully know the wonderful power of tender strength that seemed to
wrap one's mind round and bear one on with him, and that has lasted
me ever since, and well it may, for he was the very glory of my life.

V. T.

I am glad to have read it, because it explains a great deal that I
was too much of a child to understand; but I don't like it. I don't
mean for putting in the fatal thing I did in my ignorant folly. I
knew that, and she has softened my wilfulness. But there's too much
flummery, and he was a hundred times more than all that. I had
rather recollect him for myself, than have such a ladylike, drawing-
room picture; but Lucy means it well, and it is just as he smoothed
and combed himself down for her. Nobody should have done it but
George. He would have made a man of him.

D. Y.

As if George could have done it! A lady must always see a man
somewhat as a carpet knight, and ill would betide both if it were not
so. But, allowing for this, and the want of "more power to her
elbow," I am thankful to Mrs. Tracy for this vivid recall of the man
to whom I and all here owe an unspeakable debt. For my own part, I
can only say that from the day when I marvelled at his fortitude
under the terrible pain of the lion's bites, to that when I saw the
almost unexampled triumph of his will over the promptings of a
disordered brain, he stood before me the grandest specimen of manhood
I ever met, ever a victor, and, above all, over himself.

G. Y.

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