“I’ll share in making it good to him,” said Harold.
“You? You are the last to do so. If you had only been let alone, the beast would have been captured unhurt. No, no! I settled all that, as it was I who meddled in the matter when, I believe, you could have settled him yourself.”
“I don’t know that,” said Harold. “I was glad enough to see your rifle at his ear. But I should like to have his skin, if they would sell it.”
Dermot explained that he had been bargaining for the skin, and hoped Mr. Alison would accept it from him, but here Harold’s resolution won the day, much as Dermot evidently longed to lay the trophy at his feet. Poor Dermot, I could see hero-worship growing in his eyes, as they talked about horses, endlessly as men can and do talk of them, and diligent inquiries elicited from Harold what things he had done with the unbroken animal in Australia.
I went off the scene at once, but when I returned to luncheon they were at it still. And Eustace’s return with two steeds for Harold’s judgment renewed the subject with double vigour. Dermot gave his counsel, and did not leave Arghouse without reiterating an invitation to the cousins to come to-morrow to his cottage at Biston, to be introduced to his stables, let doctors say what they might, and Eustace was in raptures at the distinguished acquaintance he fancied he had made for himself. He had learnt something of Mr. Tracy’s sporting renown, and saw himself introduced to all the hunting world of the county, not to say of England.
It gave me a great deal to consider, knowing, as I did full well, that poor Dermot’s acquaintance was not likely to bring him into favour with society, even if it were not dangerous in itself. And my poor mother would not have been delighted at my day, a thing I had totally forgotten in the pleasantness of having someone to talk to; for it was six weeks since I had spoken to anyone beyond the family, except Miss Woolmer. Besides, it was Dermot! And that was enough to move me in itself.
I think I have said that his father was an Irish landlord, who was shot at his own hall-door in his children’s infancy. Lady Diana brought them back to her old neighbourhood, and there reigned over one of her brother’s villages, with the greatest respect and admiration from all, and viewed as a pattern matron, widow, and parent. My mother was, I fancy, a little bit afraid of her, and never entirely at ease with her. I know I was not, but she was so “particular” about her children, that it was a great distinction to be allowed to be intimate with them, and my mother was proud of my being their licensed playfellow, when Horsmans and Stympsons were held aloof. But even in those days, when I heard the little Tracys spoken of as pattern children, I used to have an odd feeling of what it was to be behind the scenes, and know how much of their fame rested on Di. I gloried in the knowledge how much more charming the other two were than anyone guessed, who thought them models of propriety.
In truth, Dermot did not keep that reputation much longer than his petticoats. Ere long he was a pickle of the first order, equalling the sublime naughtiness of Holiday House, and was continually being sent home by private tutors, who could not manage him. All the time I had a secret conviction that, if he had been my own mother’s son, she could have managed him, and he would never have even wished to do what she disapproved; but Lady Diana had no sympathy or warmth in her, and while she loved her children she fretted them, and never thawed nor unbent; and when she called in her brother’s support, Dermot’s nerves were driven frantic by the long harangues, and his relief was in antics which of course redoubled his offence. After he had put crackers into his uncle’s boots, peppered the coachman’s wig, inserted a live toad in the centre of a fortification of clear jelly at a great luncheon, and had one Christmas painted the two stone wild boars that guard the iron gates of Erymanth Castle into startling resemblance of the porkers as displayed in butchers’ shops, with a little tin pail at the snout of each, labelling each sevenpence- ha’penny per pound, his uncle had little more hope of him.
Dreading his father’s fate for him, Lady Diana put him into the Guards, to prevent him from living in Ireland, and there he fell into all the usual temptations of his kind, so that everybody came to look on him as a black sheep, and all the time I knew that, if any one had taken him in the right way, he might have been kept out of it. Why there was one talk that he and I had at a picnic on Kalydon Moor, which showed me how hopeless he was of ever really pleasing or satisfying his mother without being, what he could never be, like his uncle in his youth, and how knowing that I cared really might make a difference to him. But mamma and Lady Diana were both very much vexed about that talk; mamma was angry with me; and when Dermot, in a poetical game a little after, sent me some verses–well, with a little more blarney and tenderness than the case required–there was a real uproar about them. Di showed them to her mother, who apologised in her lofty way for my having been insulted. Oh! how angry it did make me; and mamma absolutely cried about it. It seems foolish to say so, but if they would have let us alone I could have done something towards inducing him to keep straight, whereas the way he was treated by his mother and Di only made him worse. Poor mamma! I don’t wonder at her, when even his own mother and uncle would not stand up for him; but I knew, whenever we met afterwards at ball or party, that it was pain and grief to her for me to speak a word to him, and that she thought me wrong to exchange anything beyond bare civility. He was vexed, too, and did not try; and we heard worse and worse of him, especially when he went over to his place in Ireland.
Then came the Crimean war, and all the chances of showing what I knew he really was; but at the Alma he was wounded, not very dangerously, but just touching his lungs, and after a long illness in London, the doctors said he must not go back to Sebastopol, for to serve in the trenches would be certain death to him. He wanted to go back all the same, and had an instinct that it would be better for him, but his mother and uncle prevented him and made him sell out, and after that, when he had nothing to do–oh! there’s no need to think of it.
In the course of this last year he had taken the shooting of Kalydon Moor, and a house with it, with immense stables, which one of the Horsmans had made for his hunters, and had ruined himself and died. He had not quarrelled with his mother–indeed nobody could quarrel with Dermot–and he used to go over to see her, but he would not live at home, and since he had been at Biston I had never once met him till I saw him run up to attack the lion, the only man in all the fair except Harold who had courage to do so! I could not help my heart bounding at the thought, and afterwards enjoying the talk with him that I could not help. But then it made me feel undutiful to my dear mother, and then there was the further difficulty to be faced. It would have been all very well to live with my nephews if we had been in a desert island, but I could not expect them not to make friends of their own; and if mine chose to drop me, how would it be for me, at my age, all alone in the house?
Harold was forced to confess that he had done too much that first day. His hand was inflamed, and pain and weariness forbade all thought of spending a long day from home; and, besides, there arrived letters by the morning’s post which left grave lines on his brow.
So Eustace drove off alone, a good deal elated at such an expedition, and I took Harold to my own little sitting-room, so despised by Dora, for the convenience of bathing the flesh wounds on the right hand, which, though really the least injured, was a much greater torment than the broken fingers, and had allowed him very little sleep.
It was the first time he had been in the room, and on the chimney- piece stood open a miniature-case containing a portrait, by Thorburn, of my little brother Percy, in loose brown holland. Harold started as he came in, and exclaimed, “Where did that come from?” I told him, and he exclaimed, “Shut it up, please,” and sat down with his back to it, resigning his hand to me, and thanking me warmly when the fomentation brought some relief, and when I asked if I could do any more for him he seemed undecided, extracted some letters from his pocket with his two-fifths of a hand, and sent Dora to his room for his writing-case. I offered to write anything for him, but he said, “Let me try,” and then endeavoured; but he found that not only did the effort hurt him unbearably, but that he could not guide the pen for more than a word or two; so he consented to make use of me, saying, however, “Dora, it is no use your staying in; you had better go out.”
Dora, of course, wanted to stay; but I devised that she should go, under the escort of one of the maids, to carry some broth to the wounded boy, an expedition which would last her some time, and which Harold enforced with all his might as a personal favour, till she complied.
“Thank you,” said Harold; “you see this must be done at once, or we shall have them coming over here.”
He gave me the sheet he had begun with “Dear Mother,” and went on dictating. It was not at all after Julius Caesar’s fashion of dictating. He sat with his eyes on his own letter, and uttered one brief but ponderous sentence after another, each complete in all its parts, and quite unhesitating, though slowly uttered. I gathered it up, wrote it down, said “Well,” and waited for more in silence, till, after I had looked at him once or twice to see whether he were asleep or in a reverie, another such sentence followed, and I began to know him very much better.
After saying “My hands have been lamed for a few days, and my aunt is so good as to write for me,” he went on to say, in forcible and not very affectionate terms, that “Smith must not think of coming home; Eustace could do nothing for him there, but as long as the family remained at Nelson their allowance should be increased by one hundred pounds a year.” I filled up an order, which he signed on a Sydney bank for the first quarter. “It must not be more,” he said, as he told me the sum, “or they will be taking their passage with it.”
“No more?” I asked, when he prepared to conclude this short letter.
“No. Smith reads all her letters.”
“That is very hard on you.”
“She meant to do well for me, but it was a great mistake. If Smith comes home to prey upon Eustace, it will be a bad business.”
“But he has no claim on Eustace, whatever he may think he has on you.”
“He is more likely to come now. He knows he can get nothing out of me–” Then, as I looked at the order, he added, “Beyond my mother’s rights. Poor mother!”
I found that the schoolmaster had been induced to marry Alice Alison in the expectation that her share in the proceeds of Boola Boola would be much larger than it proved to be. He had fawned on the two Eustaces, and obtained all he could from the elder, but, going too far at last, had been detected by the Sydney bank in what amounted to an embezzlement. Prosecution was waived, and he was assisted to leave Australia and make a fresh start in New Zealand, whence he had never ceased to endeavour to gain whatever he could from Boola Boola. He could twist Eustace round his finger, and Harold, though loathing and despising him, would do anything for his mother, but was resolved, for Eustace’s sake, to keep them at a distance, as could only be done by never allowing them a sufficient sum at once to obtain a passage home, and he knew the habits of Smith and his sons too well to expect them to save it. In fact, the letter before him, which he ended by giving me to read, had been written by the poor woman at her husband’s dictation, in the belief that Harold was the heir, to demand their passage-money from him, and that there was a sad little postscript put in afterwards, unknown to her tyrant. “My boy, don’t do it. It will be much better for you not;” and, brave woman as she was, she added no entreaty that his refusal might be softened. I asked if she had had any more children. “No, happily,” was Harold’s answer. “If I might only wring that fellow’s neck, I could take care of her.” In fact, I should think, when he wanted to come within Harold’s grasp, he hardly knew what he asked.
This finished, it appeared that Harold wanted to have a letter finished to Prometesky which he had begun some days before. This astonished me more, both by the questions Prometesky had been asking, and the answers Harold was returning, as to the state of the country and the condition of the people. They did much to relieve my mind of the fears I had sometimes entertained of Harold’s being a ferocious demagogue incited thereto by his friend.
Who would have thought there was so much depth in his brain? He ended by saying, “Eustace takes kindly to his new position, and is gone today to see Mr. Tracy, nephew to Lord Erymanth, but who does not appear disposed to carry on the same hostility to us.”
I exclaimed at his having said nothing of the lion either to his mother or his friend, and asked leave to add it, which he did not refuse, though saying there was no use in it, and that he wanted me to do one thing more for him–namely, to write to his agent in Sydney an order which he signed for the transmission of some money to England. He had learnt from Mr. Yolland that morning that the “Dragon’s Head” and some adjoining houses at Mycening were for sale, and that the purchaser could have immediate possession.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Shut it up.”
“You can’t do much good by shutting up one public-house.”
“Eustace will do the same with those on his property.”
“I am very much afraid your crusade will not succeed, unless you can put something better into people’s minds.”
“I shall see about that,” he answered, thinking, I believe, that I was going to suggest religion, from all mention of which he shrank, as if it touched a wound. “Smith talked of religion,” he once said, with a shudder. Besides, he was a creature in the superabundance of all human faculties to whom their exercise seemed for a time all- sufficient, and the dark shade of horror and remorse in the depths of his heart made him unwilling to look back or think. At any rate, he silenced me on that head; but, thinking, perhaps, that he had been unkindly blunt, he resumed, “There is no risk for Eustace in this acquaintance?”
In spite of the pang that smote me, I felt that this was the only time I might have for that word of warning which seemed incumbent on me. “I do not think there is danger in his going to-day, but it does seem right to tell you that poor Dermot Tracy is said to be very extravagant, and to lead a wild life. And Harold, though I have known him all my life, I have been thinking that it will not do for me to be here, if this should become a resort of the set of people he has made friends of.”
Harold answered in his steady, grave way, “I see. But, Lucy, I suppose none of them have been so bad as I have been?”–rather as if he were wondering over the matter.
“But you belong to me,” I answered, and I saw a look of real pleasure meet my smile.
“I wish I knew what was best for Eustace,” he said, after a few more moments’ thought. “Is it doing him harm for me to be here? I could go back to New South Wales at once, only in some ways I don’t think the old fellow could get on without me, till he is more used to it all, and in safe hands.”
I had no hesitation in answering that Eustace would be much worse off without his cousin, and that the treatment we were receiving was chiefly on account of the fathers of both, not personal to Harold.
“Then you think it would not help him for me to leave him?”
“I think he is far more likely to live it down with you to help him.”
“But, Lucy, are you being given up by all your friends for our sakes? We did not know it meant that when we asked you to stay with us!”
“No more did I. But don’t be uneasy about that, Harold dear. Don’t you think one’s own flesh and blood is more than all such friends?”
“I should not have thought two fellows like us could have been worth much to you,” said Harold, gravely pondering. “That pretty little thing who was with you the night we came; she has never been here again. Don’t you miss her?”
“It is not her fault,” I said. “Besides, nothing is like the tie of blood.”
I shall never forget the look that was in Harold’s eyes. I was standing over him, putting some fresh warm water on his hand. He put back his head and looked up earnestly in my face, as if to see whether I meant it, then said, “We are very thankful to you for thinking so.”
I could not help bending and touching his forehead with my lips. His eyes glistened and twinkled, but he said nothing for a little space, and then it was, “If any one like you had been out there–“
I don’t think I ever had a compliment that gave me more pleasure, for there was somehow an infinite sense of meaning in whatever Harold said, however short it might be, as if his words had as much force in them as his muscles.
After a good deal more of silent sponging and some knitting of his brows, either from thought or from pain, he said, “Then, as I understand, you cast in your lot with us, and give us the blessing of your presence and care of poor little Dora, to help to set Eustace in his proper place in society. I see then that it is your due that we should bring no one here of whom you do not fully approve.”
“It is not only a matter of approval,” I explained. “There are many with whom I could freely associate in general society, or if I had any lady with me, whom I ought not to have constantly here with only you two.”
“England is different from the Bush,” he answered, and meditated for ten minutes more, for no doubt it was the Australian practice to offer free quarters to all comers without Mrs. Grundy, who had hardly yet had her free passage. My heart smote me lest I were acting unkindly for her sake, but then surely I was saving my allegiance to my dead mother, and while I was still thinking it over, Harold said:
“You are more to us than any one could be; Eustace shall see the thing rightly, and while you are good enough to make this our home, I promise you that no one shall be invited here but as you like.”
It was a bold promise, especially as it turned out that Eustace had been making large invitations to the Arghouse fishing to Dermot Tracy and some officer friends whom he had found at Biston, and who seemed to have made themselves very pleasant. I bade Harold never mind about that sort of invitation, as it need not affect Dora or me, since we could keep out of the way of it, being unconcerned with gentlemen’s parties. Miss Woolmer said I had done right, and gave us a general invitation to spend the evening with her if Eustace wished to entertain his friends, though she hinted, “Don’t be too ready to leave the coast clear. Remember that you are a wholesome check.”
CHAPTER III. THE “DRAGON’S HEAD.”
Harold’s right hand healed quickly, and was free in a few days, but the left had to be kept for some time in a sling, and be daily attended to, though he heeded it but little, walking miles to look at horses and to try them, for he could manage them perfectly with one hand, and in this way he saw a good deal of Dermot Tracy, who exerted himself to find a horse to carry the mighty frame.
The catastrophe at the fair had gained him two friends, entirely unlike one another–Dermot, who thenceforward viewed him with unvarying hero-worship, and accepted Eustace as his appendage; and George Yolland, the very reverse of all Dermot’s high-bred form of Irishism, and careless, easy self-indulgence.
A rough-hewn, rugged young man, intensely in earnest, and therefore neither popular nor successful was that young partner of Dr. Kingston. Had Harold been squire, the resignation of the patient into his hands would have been less facile; but as a mere Australian visitor, he was no prize, and might follow his own taste if he preferred the practitioner to whom club, cottage, and union patients were abandoned.
By him Harold was let into those secrets of the lower stratum of society he had longed to understand. Attention to the poor boy who had been torn by the lion brought him into the great village of workmen’s huts, that had risen up round the Hydriot clay works on the Lerne.
These had been set up by a company about eighteen years before, much against all our wills. With Lord Erymanth at our head, we had opposed with all our might the breaking up of the beautiful moorland that ran right down into Mycening, and the defilement of our pure and rapid Lerne; but modern progress had been too strong for us. Huge brick inclosures with unpleasant smoky chimneys had arisen, and around them a whole colony of bare, ugly little houses, filled with squalid women and children, little the better for the men’s wages when they were high, and now that the Company was in a languishing state, miserable beyond description. We county people had simply viewed ourselves as the injured parties by this importation, bemoaned the ugliness of the erections, were furious at the interruptions to our country walks, prophesied the total collapse of the Company, and never suspected that we had any duties towards the potters. The works were lingering on, only just not perishing; the wages that the men did get, such as they were, went in drink; the town in that quarter was really unsafe in the evening; and the most ardent hope of all the neighbourhood was, that the total ruin constantly expected would lead to the migration of all the wretched population.
Mr. Yolland, who attended most of their sicknesses, used to tell fearful things of the misery, vice, and hardness, and did acts of almost heroic kindness among them, which did not seem consistent with what, to my grief and dismay, was reported of this chosen companion of Harold–that physical science had conducted him into materialism. The chief comfort I had was that Miss Woolmer liked him and opened her house to him. She was one of the large-hearted women who can see the good through the evil, and was interested by contact with all phases of thought; and, moreover, the lad should not be lost for want of the entree to something like a home, because the upper crust of Mycening considered him as “only Dr. Kingston’s partner,” and the Kingstons themselves had the sort of sense that he was too much for them which makes a spider dislike to have a bluebottle in his web.
She was interested, too, rather sadly in the crusade without the cross that the two young men were trying to undertake against the wretchedness of those potters.
It was much in their favour that the landlord, who was also the owner of the “Dragon’s Head,” was invited to join a brother in America without loss of time, and was ready to sell and give immediate possession; so that Harry actually owned it in a fortnight from first hearing of the offer, having, of course, given a heavy price for it.
The evening it came into his possession he went down, and, standing at the door, tried to explain why he had closed it, and why he could not bear to see its frequenters spending their wages on degrading themselves and making their homes miserable. In no mood for a temperance harangue, the men drowned, or would have drowned aught but his short incisive sentences, in clamours for their beer, and one big bully pushed forward to attack him. His left hand was still in the sling, but with the other he caught hold of the fellow by the collar, and swung him over the side of the stone steps as helpless as a puppy dog, shaking him till his teeth chattered ere setting him on his feet. “If you wish for any more,” he said, “we’ll have it out as soon as this hand is well.”
That made them cheer him, and the fellow slunk away; while Harold, having gained a hearing, told them that he meant to make the former “Dragon’s Head” a place where they might smoke, read the papers, play games, and have any refreshment such as coffee, tea, or ginger-beer, at which they hissed, and only one or two observed, “I am sure you wishes us well, sir.”
It was a good-sized house, and he meant to put in a steady couple to keep it, giving up two upper rooms to make a laboratory for Mr. Yolland, whose soul was much set on experiments for which his lodgings gave him no space; but the very day when Harold opened his coffee-rooms, as he went down the street, an “Original Dragon’s Head” and a “Genuine Dragon’s Head” grinned defiance at him, in the full glory of teeth, fiery breath, and gilded scales, on the other side of the way. I believe they had been beershops before; but, be that as it may, they devoured quite as many as their predecessor, and though newspapers and draught-boards lay all about the place, they attracted only two clients!
And the intended closing of all the beer-houses on the Arghouse property, except the time-honoured “Blue Boar” on the village green, seemed likely to have the same effect; for the notices to their holders, grimly resisted by Bullock, seemed only to cause dozens of householders to represent the absolute need of such houses whenever they did not belong to us.
“To destroy one is to produce two,” sighed Harold.
“There’s nothing to be done but to strike at the root,” I said.
“What’s that?” said Harold.
“Man’s evil propensities,” I said.
“Humph,” said Harold. “If I could manage the works now! They say the shares are to be had for an old song.”
“Oh, Harry, don’t have anything to do with them,” I entreated. “They have ruined every creature who has meddled with them, and done unmitigated mischief.”
Harold made no answer, but the next day he was greatly stimulated by a letter from Prometesky, part of which he read to me, in its perfect English, yet foreign idiom.
“I long to hear of the field of combat we had to quit, because one party was too stolid, the other too ardent. I see it all before me with the two new champions freshly girded for the strife, but a peaceful strife, my friend. Let our experience be at least profitable to you, and let it be a peaceful contention of emulation such as is alone suited to that insular nation which finds its strongest stimulus in domestic comfort and wealth. Apropos, has some one pursued a small discovery of mine, that, had I not been a stranger of a proscribed nation, and had not your English earl and the esquires been hostile to all save the hereditary plough, might have found employment for thousands and prevented the history of your fathers and of myself? That bed of argillaceous deposit around the course of your Lerne, which I found to be of the same quality as the porcelain clay of Meissen, does it still merely bear a few scanty blades of corn, or is its value appreciated, and is it occupying hundreds of those who starved and were discontented, to the great surprise of their respectable landlords? I wonder whether a few little figures that I modelled in the clay for specimens, and baked in my hostess’s oven, are still in existence. The forms of clay were there. Alas! I asked in vain of your English magnates for the fire from heaven to animate the earth, or rather I would have brought it, and I suffered.”
It was amusing to see how much delighted honest Harold was with this letter, and how much honoured he seemed by his dear old Prometesky having spent so much time and thought upon writing to him. It fired him with doubled ardour to investigate the Hydriot Company, and he could hardly wait till a reasonable hour the next day. Then he took Eustace down with him and returned quite talkative (for him) with the discoveries he had made, from one of the oldest workmen who had become disabled from the damp of working in the clay.
The Company had been set up by a clever speculating young attorney, but the old man remembered that “that there foreign gentleman, the same as was sent to foreign parts with the poor young squires,” was “always a-puddling about in it; and they did say as how he tried to get my lord, and Squire Horsman, and Squire Stympson to see to setting up summut there; but they wasn’t never for ‘speriments, and there was no more talk of it not till that there young Crabbe got hold, they say, of some little images as he had made, and never rested till he had got up the Company, and begun the works, having drawn in by his enthusiasm half the tradesmen and a few of the gentlemen of the place.”
Three years of success; then came a bad manager; young Crabbe struggled in vain to set things right, broke down, and died of the struggle; and ever since the unhappy affair had lingered on, starving its workmen, and just keeping alive by making common garden pots and pans and drain-tiles. Most people who could had sold out of it, thanking the Limited Liabilities for its doing them no further harm; and the small remnant only hung on because no one could be found to give them even the absurdly small amount that was still said to be the value of their shares.
That they would find now Harold had fallen in with young Yolland, who had been singing the old song, first of Prometesky, then of Crabbe, and had made him listen to it. Five pounds would now buy a share that used to be worth a hundred, and that with thanks from the seller that he got anything from what had long ceased to pay the ghost of a dividend. And loose cash was not scarce with Harold; he was able to buy up an amount which perfectly terrified me, and made me augur that the Hydriot would swallow all Boola Boola, and more too; and as to Mr. Yolland’s promises of improvements, no one, after past experience, could believe in them.
“Now, Harold, you know nothing of all this intricate business; and as to these chemical agencies, I am sure you know nothing about them.”
“I shall learn.”
“You will only be taken in,” I went on in my character as good aunt, “and utterly ruined.”
“No matter if I am.”
“Only please, at least, don’t drag in Eustace and Arghouse.”
“Eustace will only have five shares standing in his name to enable him to be chairman.”
“Five too many! Harold! I cannot see why you involve yourself in all this. You are well off! You don’t care for these foolish hopes of gain.”
“I can’t see things go so stupidly to wrack.”
The truth was that he saw in it a continuation of Prometesky’s work and his father’s, so expostulations were vain. He had been thoroughly bitten, and was the more excited at finding that Dermot and Viola Tracy were both shareholders. Their father had been a believer in Crabbe, and had taken a good many shares, and these had been divided between them at his death. They could not be sold till they were of age, and by the time Dermot was twenty-one, no one would buy them; and now, when they were recalled to his mind, he would gladly have made Harold a present of them, but Harold would not even buy them; he declared that he wanted Dermot’s vote, as a shareholder, to help in the majority; and, in fact, the effective male shareholders on the spot were only just sufficient to furnish directors. Mr. Yolland bought two shares that he might have a voice; Eustace was voted into the chair, and the minority was left to consist of the greatly-soured representative of the original Crabbe, and one other tradesman, who held on for the sake, as it seemed, of maintaining adherence to the red pots and pans, as, at any rate, risking nothing.
Of course I hated and dreaded it all, and it was only by that power which made it so hard to say nay to Harold, that he got me down to look at the very lair of the Hydriot Company. It was a melancholy place; the buildings were so much larger, and the apparatus so much more elaborate than there was any use for; and there were so few workmen, and those so unhealthy and sinister-looking.
I remember the great red central chimney with underground furnaces all round, which opened like the fiery graves where Dante placed the bad Popes; and how dreadfully afraid I was that Dora would tumble into one of them, so that I was glad to see her held fast by the fascination of the never-superseded potter and his wheel fashioning the clay, while Mr. Yolland discoursed and Harold muttered assents to some wonderful scheme that was to economise fuel–the rock on which this furnace had split.
It has been explained to me over and over again, and I never did more than understand it for one moment, and if I did recollect all about it, like a scientific dialogue, nobody would thank me for putting it in here, so it will be enough to say that it sounded to me very bewildering and horribly dangerous, not so much to the body as to the pocket, and I thought the Hydriot bade fair to devour Boola Boola and Harold, if not Arghouse and Eustace into the bargain.
They meant to have a Staffordshire man down to act as foreman and put things on a better footing.
“I’ll write to my brother to send one,” said Mr. Yolland. “He’s a curate in the potteries; has a wonderful turn for this sort of thing.”
“Have you a brother a clergyman?” I said, rather surprised, and to fill up Harold’s silence.
“Yes, my brother Ben. It’s his first curacy, and his two years are all but up. I don’t know if he will stay on. He’s a right down jolly good fellow is Ben, and I wish he would come down here.”
Neither of us echoed the wish. Harold had no turn for clergymen after the specimen of Mr. Smith; and Mr. Yolland, though I could specify nothing against him but that he was rough and easy, had offended me by joining us, when I wanted Harold all to myself. Besides, was he not deluding my nephews into this horrid Hydriot Company, of which they would be the certain victims?
The Staffordshire man came, and the former workmen looked very bitter on him. After a meeting, in which the minority made many vehement objections, Eustace addressed the workmen in the yards–that is to say, he thought he did; but Harold and Mr. Yolland made his meaning more apparent. A venture in finer workmanship, imitating Etruscan ware, was to be made, and, if successful, would much increase trade and profits, and a rise in wages was offered to such as could undertake the workmanship. Moreover, it was held out to them that they might become the purchasers of shares or half shares at the market price, and thus have an interest in the concern, whereat they sneered as at some new dodge of the Company for taking them in. It did not seem to me that much was done, save making Harry pore over books and accounts, and run his hands through his hair, till his thick curls stood up in all directions.
And Miss Woolmer herself was sorry. She remembered the old story– nay, she had one of Prometesky’s own figures modelled in terra cotta, defective, of course, as a work of art, but with that fire that genius can breathe into the imperfect. She believed it had been meant for the Hope of Poland. Alas! the very name reminded one of the old word for despair, “Wanhope.” But Harold admired it greatly, and both he and George Yolland seemed to find inspiration in it.
But one summer evening, when the young men were walking up and down the garden, smoking, we heard something that caused us to look round for a thunder-cloud, though none could be seen in the clear sky, and some quarter of an hour after, Richardson hurried out to us with the tidings, “I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a person come up to say there has been an explosion at the Hydriot works.”
“Impossible!” said Harold. “There’s nothing to explode!”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but it is Mr. Yolland they say has blowed himself up with his experiments, and all the old ‘Dragon’s Head’ in Lerne Street, and he is buried under the ruins. It is all one mass of ruin, sir, and he under it.”
Harold rushed off, without further word or query, and Eustace after him, and I had almost to fight to hold back Dora, and should hardly have succeeded if the two had not disappeared so swiftly that she could not hope to come up with them.
I let her put on her things and come down with me to the lodge-gate to watch. I was afraid to go any farther, and there we waited, without even the relief of a report, till we had heard the great clock strike quarter after quarter, and were expecting it to strike eleven, when steps came near at last, and Eustace opened the gate. We threw ourselves upon him, and he cried out with surprise, then said, “He is alive!”
“Harold! Nonsense. What should be the matter with Harold? But he is going to stay with him–Yolland I mean–for the night! It was all his confounded experiments. It was very well that I went down– nothing was being done without a head to direct, but they always know what to be at when _I_ come among them.”
No one there knew the cause of the accident, except that it had taken place in Mr. Yolland’s laboratory, where he had been trying experiments. The house itself had been violently shattered, and those nearest had suffered considerably. Happily, it stood in a yard of its own, so that none adjoined it, and though the fronts of the two opposite “Dragon’s Heads” had broken windows and torn doors, no person within them had been more than stunned and bruised. But the former “Dragon’s Head” itself had become a mere pile of stones, bricks, and timbers. The old couple in charge had happily been out, and stood in dismay over the heap, which Harold and a few of the men were trying to remove, in the dismal search for Mr. Yolland and the boy he employed to assist him. The boy was found first, fearfully burnt about the face and hands, but protected from being crushed by the boards which had fallen slantwise over him. And under another beam, which guarded his head, but rested on his leg, lay young Yolland.
Harold’s strength had raised the beam, and he was drawn out. He revived as the night air blew on his face, looked up as Harold lifted him, said, “I have it,” and fainted the next moment. They had taken him to his lodgings, where Dr. Kingston had set the broken leg and bound the damaged rib, but could not yet pronounce on the other injuries, and Harold had taken on himself the watch for the night.
The explanation that we all held by was, that the damage was caused by an officious act of the assistant, who, perceiving that it was growing dark, fired a match, and began to light the gas at the critical moment of the experiment, by which the means of obtaining the utmost heat at the smallest expense of fuel was to be attained. It was one of those senseless acts that no one would have thought of forbidding; and though the boy, on recovering his senses, owned that the last thing he remembered was getting the matches and Mr. Yolland shouting to stop him, there were many who never would believe anything but that it was blundering of his, and that he was a dangerous and mischievous person to have in the town.
Harold came home for a little while just as we were having breakfast, to bring a report that his patient had had a much quieter night than he expected, and to say that he had telegraphed for the brother and wanted Eustace to meet him at the station. The landlady was sitting with the patient now, and Harold had come home for ice, strawberries, and, above all, to ask for help in nursing, for the landlady could not, and would not, do much. I mentioned a motherly woman as, perhaps, likely to be useful, but Harold said, “I could do best with Dora.”
He had so far learnt that it was not the Bush as not to expect me to offer, and was quite unprepared for the fire that Eustace and I opened on him as to the impossibility of his request. “Miss Alison, _my_ sister,” as Eustace said, “going down to a little, common, general practitioner to wait on him;” while I confined myself to “It won’t do at all, Harold,” and promised to hunt up the woman and to send her to his aid. But when I had seen her, arranged my housekeeping affairs, and called Dora to lessons, she was nowhere to be found.
“Then she has gone after Harold!” indignantly exclaimed Eustace. “It is too bad! I declare I will put a stop to it! To have _my_ sister demeaning herself to put herself in such a situation for a little Union doctor!”
I laughed, and observed that no great harm was done with so small a person, only I could not think what use Harold could make of her; at which Eustace was no less surprised, for a girl of eight or nine was of no small value in the Bush, and he said Dora had been most helpful in the care of her father. But his dignity was so much outraged that he talked big of going to bring her home–only he did not go. I was a little wounded at Harold having taken her in the face of my opposition, but I found that that had not been the case, for Eustace had walked to the lodge with him, and she had rushed after and joined him after he was in the town. And at luncheon Eustace fell on me with entreaties that I would come with him and help him meet “this parson,” whom he seemed to dread unreasonably, as, in fact, he always did shrink from doing anything alone when he could get a helper. I thought this would be, at least, as queer as Dora’s nursing of the other brother; but it seemed so hard for the poor man, coming down in his anxiety, to be met by Eustace either in his vague or his supercilious mood, that I consented at last, so that he might have someone of common sense, and walked down with him.
We could not doubt which was the right passenger, when a young clergyman, almost as rough-looking as his brother, and as much bearded, but black where he was yellow, sprang out of a second-class with anxious looks. It was I who said at one breath, “There he is! Speak to him, Eustace! Mr. Yolland–he is better–he will do well–“
“Thank–thank you–” And the hat was pushed back, with a long breath; then, as he only had a little black bag to look after, we all walked together to the lodgings, while the poor man looked bewildered and unrealising under Eustace’s incoherent history of the accident–a far more conjectural and confused story than it became afterwards.
I waited till Harold came down with Dora; and to my “How could you?” and Eustace’s more severe and angry blame, she replied, “He wanted me; so of course I went.”
Harold said not a word in defence of her or of himself; but when I asked whether she had been of any use, he said, smiling affectionately at her, “Wasn’t she?”
Then we went and looked at the shattered houses, and Harold showed us where he had drawn out his poor friend, answering the aggrieved owners opposite that there would be an inquiry, and means would be found for compensation.
And when I said, “It is a bad beginning for the Hydriot plans!” he answered, “I don’t know that,” and stood looking at the ruins of his “Dragon’s Head” in a sort of brown study, till we grew impatient, and dragged him home.
CHAPTER IV. THE WRATH OF DIANA.
Harold did not like clergymen. “Smith was a clergyman,” he said, with an expressive look; and while George Yolland had his brother and the nurse I had sent, he merely made daily inquiries, and sometimes sat an hour with his friend.
Mr. Crosse’s curate had kindred in Staffordshire, and offered to exchange a couple of Sundays with Mr. Benjamin Yolland, and this resulted in the visitor being discovered to have a fine voice and a great power of preaching, and as he was just leaving his present parish, this ended in Mr. Crosse begging him to remain permanently, not much to Harold’s gratification; but the two brothers were all left of their family, and, different as their opinions were, they were all in all to each other.
The agreement with Mr. Crosse would hardly have been made, had the brothers known all that was coming. George Yolland was in a strange stupefied state for the first day or two, owing, it was thought, to the effects of the gas; but he revived into the irritable state of crankiness which could not submit in prudent patience to Dr. Kingston’s dicta, but argued, and insisted on his own treatment of himself, and his own theory of the accident, till he as good as told the doctor that he was an old woman. Whether it were in consequence or not, I don’t know, but as soon as Dr. Kingston could persuade himself that a shock would do no harm, he wrote a polite letter explaining that the unfortunate occurrence from which Mr. Yolland was suffering had so destroyed the confidence of his patients, that he felt it due to them to take steps to dissolve the partnership.
Perhaps it was no wonder. Such things were told and believed, that those who had never yet been attended by George Yolland believed him a wild and destructive theorist. Miss Avice Stympson asked Miss Woolmer how she could sleep in her bed when she knew he was in the town, and the most astonishing stories of his practice were current, of which I think the mildest was, that he had pulled out all a poor girl’s teeth for the sake of selling them to a London dentist, and that, when in a state of intoxication, he had cut off a man’s hand, because he had a splinter in his finger.
However, the effect was, that Harold summoned a special meeting of the shareholders, the same being nearly identical with the Directors of the Hydriot Company, and these contrived to get George Yolland, Esquire, appointed chemist and manager of the works, with a salary of 70 pounds per annum, to be increased by a percentage on the sales! Crabbe objected vehemently, but was in the minority. The greater number were thoroughly believers in the discovery made on that unlucky night, or else were led away by that force of Harold’s, which was almost as irresistible by mind, as by matter. But the tidings were received with horror by the town. Three nervous old ladies who lived near the Lerne gave notice to quit, and many declared that it was an indictable offence.
Small as the salary was, it was more than young Yolland was clearing by his connection with Dr. Kingston; and as he would have to spare himself during the next few months, and could not without danger undertake the exertions of a wide field of Union practice, the offer was quite worth his acceptance. Moreover, he had the enthusiasm of a practical chemist, and would willingly have starved to see his invention carried out, so he received the appointment with the gruff gratitude that best suited Harold; and he and his brother were to have rooms in the late “Dragon’s Head,” so soon as it should have been rebuilt on improved principles, with a workman’s hall below, and a great court for the children to play in by day and the lads in the evening.
Of the clerical Yolland we saw and heard very little. Harold was much relieved to find that even before his brother could move beyond the sofa, he was always out all day, for though he had never spoken a word that sounded official, Harold had an irrational antipathy to his black attire. Nor did I hear him preach, except by accident, for Arghouse chapelry was in the beat of the other curate, and in the afternoon, when I went to Mycening old church, he had persuaded Mr. Crosse to let him begin what was then a great innovation–a children’s service, with open doors, in the National School-room. Miss Woolmer advised me to try the effect of this upon Dora, whose Sundays were a constant perplexity and reproach to me, since she always ran away into the plantations or went with Harold to see the horses; and if we did succeed in dragging her to church, there behaved in the most unedifying manner.
“I don’t like the principle of cutting religion down for children,” said my old friend. “They ought to be taught to think it a favour to be admitted to grown-up people’s services, and learn to follow them, instead of having everything made to please them. It is the sugar- plum system, and so I told Mr. Ben, but he says you must catch wild heathens with sugar; and as I am afraid your poor child is not much better, you had better try the experiment.”
I did try it, and the metrical litany and the hymns happily took Dora’s fancy, so that she submitted to accompany me whenever Harold was to sit with George Yolland, and would not take her.
One afternoon, when I was not well, I was going to send her with Colman, and Harold coming in upon her tempest of resistance, and trying to hush it, she declared that she would only go if he did, and to my amazement he yielded and she led him off in her chains.
He made no comment, but on the next Sunday I found him pocketing an immense parcel of sweets. He walked into the town with us, and when I expected him to turn off to his friend’s lodging, he said, “Lucy, if you prefer the old church, I’ll take Dora to the school. I like the little monkeys.”
He went, and he went again and again, towering among the pigmies in the great room, kneeling when they knelt, adding his deep bass to the curate’s in their songs, responding with them, picking up the sleepy and fretful to sit on his knee during the little discourse and the catechising; and then, outside the door, solacing himself and them with a grand distribution of ginger-bread and all other dainty cakes, especially presenting solid plum buns, and even mutton pies, where there were pinched looks and pale faces.
It was delightful, I have been told, to see him sitting on the low wall with as many children as possible scrambling over him, or sometimes standing up, holding a prize above his head, to be scrambled for by the lesser urchins. It had the effect of rendering this a highly popular service, and the curate was wise enough not to interfere with this anomalous conclusion to the service, but to perceive that it might both bless him that gave and those that took.
In the early part of the autumn, one of the little members of the congregation died, and was buried just after the school service. Harold did not know of it, or I do not think he would have been present, for he shrank from whatever renewed the terrible agony of that dark time in Australia.
But the devotions in the school were full of the thought, the metrical litany was one specially adapted to the occasion, so was the brief address, which dwelt vividly, in what some might have called too realising a strain, upon the glories and the joys of innocents in Paradise. And, above all, the hymns had been chosen with special purpose, to tell of those who–
For ever and for ever
Are clad in robes of white.
I knew nothing of all this, but when I came home from my own church, and went to my own sitting-room, I was startled to find Harold there, leaning over the table, with that miniature of little Percy, which, two months before, he had bidden me shut up, open before him, and the tears streaming down his face.
In great confusion he muttered, “I beg your pardon,” and fled away, dashing his handkerchief over his face. I asked Dora about it, but she would tell nothing; I believe she was half ashamed, half jealous, but it came round through Miss Woolmer, how throughout the address Harold had sat with his eyes fixed on the preacher, and one tear after another gathering in his eyes. And when the concluding hymn was sung–one specially on the joys of Paradise–he leant his forehead against the wall, and could hardly suppress his sobs. When all was over, he handed his bag of sweets to one of the Sunday-school teachers, muttering “Give them,” and strode home.
>From that time I believe there never was a day that he did not come to my sitting-room to gaze at little Percy. He chose the time when I was least likely to be there, and I knew it well enough to take care that the coast should be left clear for him. I do believe that, ill- taught and unheeding as the poor dear fellow had been, that service was the first thing that had borne in upon him any sense that his children were actually existing, and in joy and bliss; and that when he had once thus hearkened to the idea, that load of anguish, which made him wince at the least recollection of them, was taken off. It was not his nature to speak in the freshness of emotion, and, after a time, there was a seal upon his feelings; but there was an intermediate period when he sometimes came for sympathy, but that was so new a thing to him that he did not quite know how to seek it.
It was the next Sunday evening that I came into my room at a time I did not expect him to be there, just as it was getting dark, that he seemed to feel some explanation due. “This picture,” he said, “it is so like my poor little chap.”
Then he asked me how old Percy had been when it was taken; and then I found myself listening, as he leant against the mantelpiece, to a minute description of poor little Ambrose, all the words he could say, his baby plays, and his ways of welcoming and clinging to his father, even to the very last, when he moaned if anyone tried to take him out of Harold’s arms. It seemed as though the dark shadow and the keen sting had somehow been taken away by the assurance that the child might be thought of full of enjoyment; and certainly, from that time, the peculiar sadness of Harold’s countenance diminished. It was always grave, but the air of oppression went away.
I said something about meeting the child again, to which Harold replied, “You will, may be.”
“And you, Harold.” And as he shook his head, and said something about good people, I added, “It would break my heart to think you would not.”
That made him half smile in his strange, sad way, and say, “Thank you, Lucy;” then add, “But it’s no use thinking about it; I’m not that sort.”
“But you are, but you are, Harold!” I remember crying out with tears. “God has made you to be nobler, and greater, and better than any of us, if you only would–“
“Too late,” he said. “After all I have been, and all I have done–“
“Too late! Harry–with a whole lifetime before you to do God real, strong service in?”
“It won’t ever cancel that–“
I tried to tell him what had cancelled all; but perhaps I did not do it well enough, for he did not seem to enter into it. It was a terrible disadvantage in all this that I had been so lightly taught. I had been a fairly good girl, I believe, and my dear mother had her sweet, quiet, devotional habits; but religion had always sat, as it were, outside my daily life. I should have talked of “performing my religious duties” as if they were a sort of toll or custom to be paid to God, not as if one’s whole life ought to be one religious duty. That sudden loss, which left me alone in the world, made me, as it were, realise who and what my Heavenly Father was to me; and I had in my loneliness thought more of these things, and was learning more every day as I taught Dora; but it was dreadfully shallow, untried knowledge, and, unfortunately, I was the only person to whom Harold would talk. Mr. Smith’s having been a clergyman had given him a distaste and mistrust of all clergy; nor do I think he was quite kindly treated by those around us, for they held aloof, and treated him as a formidable stranger with an unknown ill repute, whose very efforts in the cause of good were untrustworthy.
I thought of that mighty man of Israel whom God had endowed with strength to save His people, and how all was made of little avail because his heart was not whole with God, and his doings were self- pleasing and fitful. Oh! that it might not be thus with my Harold? Might not that little child, who had for a moment opened the gates to him, yet draw him upwards where naught else would have availed?
As to talking to me, he did it very seldom, but he had a fashion of lingering to hear me teach Dora, and I found that, if he were absent, he always made her tell him what she had learnt; nor did he shun the meeting me over Percy’s picture in my sitting-room in the twilight Sunday hour. Now and then he asked me to find him some passage in the Bible which had struck him in the brief instruction to the children at the service, but what was going on in his mind was entirely out of my reach or scope; but that great strength and alertness, and keen, vivid interest in the world around, still made the present everything to him. I think his powerfulness, and habit of doing impossible things, made the thought of prayer and dependence–nay, even of redemption–more alien to him, as if weakness were involved in it; and though to a certain extent he had, with Prometesky beside him, made his choice between virtue and vice beside his uncle’s death-bed; yet it was as yet but the Stoic virtue of the old Polish patriot that he had embraced.
And yet he was not the Stoic. He had far more of the little child, the Christian model in his simplicity, his truth, his tender heart, and that grand modesty of character which, though natural, is the step to Christian humility. How one longed for the voice to say to him, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.”
And so time went on, and we were still in solitude. People came and went, had their season in London and returned, but it made no difference to us. Dermot Tracy shot grouse, came home and shot partridges, and Eustace and Harold shared their sport with him, though Harold found it dull cramped work, and thought English gentlemen in sad lack of amusement to call that sport. Lady Diana and Viola went to the seaside, and came back, and what would have been so much to me once was nothing now. Pheasant shooting had begun and I had much ado to prevent Dora from joining the shooting parties, not only when her brother and cousin were alone, but when they were going to meet Mr. Tracy and some of the officers to whom he had introduced them.
On one of these October days, when I was trying to satisfy my discontented Dora by a game at ball upon the steps, to my extreme astonishment I beheld a white pony, led by Harold, and seated on the same pony, no other than my dear little friend, unseen for four months, Viola Tracy!
I rushed, thinking some accident had happened, but Harold called out in a tone of exultation, “Here she is! Now you are to keep her an hour,” and she held out her arms with “Lucy, Lucy, dear old Lucy!” and jumped down into mine.
“But Viola, your mother–“
“I could not help it,” she said with a laughing light in her eyes. “No, indeed, I could not. I was riding along the lane by Lade Wood, on my white palfrey, when in the great dark glade there stood one, two, three great men with guns, and when one took hold of the damsel’s bridle and told her to come with him, what could she do?”
I think I said something feeble about “Harold, how could you?” but he first shook his head, and led off the pony to the stable, observing, “I’ll come for you in an hour,” and Dora rushing after him.
And when I would have declared that it was very wrong, and that Lady Diana would be very angry, the child stopped my mouth with, “Never mind, I’ve got my darling Lucy for an hour, and I can’t have it spoilt.”
Have I never described my Viola? She was not tall, but she had a way of looking so, and she was not pretty, yet she always looked prettier than the prettiest person I ever saw. It was partly the way in which she held her head and long neck, just like a deer, especially when she was surprised, and looked out of those great dark eyes, whose colour was like that of the lakes of which each drop is clear and limpid, and yet, when you look down into the water, it is of a wonderful clear deep grey.
Those eyes were her most remarkable feature; her hair was light, her face went off suddenly into rather too short a chin, her cheeks wanted fulness, and were generally rather pale. So people said, but plump cheeks would have spoilt my Viola’s air, of a wild, half-tamed fawn, and lessened the wonderful play of her lips, which used often to express far more than ever came out of them in words. Lady Diana had done her utmost to suppress demonstrativeness, but unless she could have made those eyes less transparent, the corners of that mouth less flexible, and hindered the colour from mantling in those cheeks, she could not have kept Viola’s feelings from being patent to all who knew her.
And now the child was really lovely, with the sweet carnation in her cheeks, and eyes dancing with the fear and pretence at alarm, and the delight of a stolen interview with me.
“Forth stepped the giant! Fee! fo! fum!” said she; “took me by the bridle, and said, ‘Why haven’t you been to see my Aunt Lucy?'”
“I must not,” she said.
“And I say you must,” he answered. “Do you know she is wearying to see you?”
Then I fancy how Viola’s tears would swim in her eyes as she said, “It’s not me; it’s mamma.”
And he answered, “Now, it is not you, but I, that is taking you to see her.”
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot!” was whistled out of the wood; and the whistle Viola knew quite well enough to disarm me when I came to the argument what was to become of her if she let such things be done with her; and she had quite enough of Dermot’s composition in her to delight in a “little bit of naughtiness that wasn’t too bad,” and when once she had resigned herself into the hands of her captor she enjoyed it, and twittered like a little bird; and I believe Harold really did it, just as he would have caught a rare bird or wild fawn, to please me.
“Then you were not frightened?” I said.
“Frightened? No. It was such fun! Besides, we heard how he mastered the lion to save that poor little boy, and how he has looked after him ever since, and is going to bind him apprentice. Oh, mind you show me his skin–the lion’s, I mean. Don’t be tiresome, Lucy. And how he goes on after the children’s service with the dear little things. I should think him the last person to be afraid of.”
“I wish your mother saw it so.”
Viola put on a comically wise look, and shook her head, as she said, “You didn’t go the right way to work. If you had come back in the carriage, and consulted her, and said it was a mission–yes, a mission–for you to stand, with a lily in your hand, and reform your two bush-ranger nephews, and that you wanted her consent and advice, then she would have let you go back and be good aunt, and what-not. Oh, I wish you had, Lucy! That was the way Dermot managed about getting the lodge at Biston. He says he could consult her into going out hunting.”
“For shame, Viola! O fie! O Vi!” said I, according to an old formula of reproof.
“Really, I wanted to tell you. It might not be too late if you took to consulting her now; and I can’t bear being shut up from you. Everything is grown so stupid. When one goes to a garden-party there are nothing but Horsmans and Stympsons, and they all get into sets of themselves and each other, and now and then coalesce, especially the Stympsons, to pity poor Miss Alison, wonder at her not taking mamma’s advice, and say how horrid it is of her to live with her cousins. I’ve corrected that so often that I take about with me the word ‘nephews’ written in large text, to confute them, and I’ve actually taught Cocky to say, ‘Nephews aren’t Cousins.’ Dermot is the only rational person in the neighbourhood. I’m always trying to get him to tell me about you, but he says he can’t come up here much without giving a handle to the harpies.”
I had scarcely said how good it was in Dermot, when he sauntered in. “There you are, Vi; I’m come to your rescue, you know,” he said, in his lazy way, and disposed himself on the bear-skin as we sat on the sofa. I tried again to utter a protest. “Oh Dermot, it was all your doing.”
“That’s rather too bad. As if I could control your domestic lion- tamer.”
“You abetted him. You could have prevented him.”
“Such being your wish.”
“I am thinking of your mother.”
“Eh, Viola, is the meeting worth the reckoning?”
“You should not teach her your own bad ways,” said I, resisting her embrace.
“Come, we had better be off, Dermot,” she said, pouting; “we did not come here to be scolded.”
“I thought you did not come of your own free will at all,” I said, and then I found I had hurt her, and I had to explain that it was the disobedience that troubled me; whereupon they both argued seriously that people were not bound to submit to a cruel and unreasonable prejudice, which had set the country in arms against us. “Monstrous,” Dermot said, “that two fellows should suffer for their fathers’ sins, and such fellows, and you too for not being unnatural to your own flesh and blood.”
“But that does not make it right for Viola to disobey her mother.”
“And how is it to be, Lucy?” asked Viola. “Are we always to go on in this dreadful way?”
By this time Eustace could no longer be withheld from paying his respects to the lady guest, and Harold and Dora came with him, bringing the kangaroo, for which Viola had entreated; and she also made him fetch the lion-skin, which had been dressed and lined and made into a beautiful carriage-rug; and to Dora she owed the exhibition of the great scar across Harold’s left palm, which, though now no inconvenience, he would carry through life. It was but for a moment, for as soon as he perceived that Dora meant anything more than her usual play with his fingers, he coloured and thrust his hand into his pocket.
We all walked through the grounds with Viola, and when we parted she hung about my neck and assured me that now she had seen me she should not grieve half so much, and, let mamma say what she would, she could not be sorry; and I had no time to fight over the battle of the sorrow being for wrongdoing, not for reproof, for the pony would bear no more last words.
Eustace had behaved all along with much politeness; in fact, he was always seen to most advantage with strangers, for his manners had some training, and a little constraint was good for him by repressing some of his sayings. His first remark, when the brother and sister were out of hearing, was, “A very sweet, lively young lady. I never saw her surpassed in Sydney!”
“I should think not,” said Harold.
“Well, you know I have been presented and have been to a ball at Government House. There’s an air, a tournure about her, such as uncle Smith says belongs to the real aristocracy; and you saw she was quite at her ease with me. We understand each other in the higher orders. Don’t be afraid, Lucy, we shall yet bring back your friend to you.”
“I’m glad she is gone,” said Dora, true to her jealousy. “I like Dermot; he’s got some sense in him, but she’s not half so nice and pretty as Lucy.”
At which we all laughed, for I had never had any attempt at beauty, except, I believe, good hair and teeth, and a habit of looking good- humoured.
“She’s a tip-topper,” pronounced Eustace, “and no wonder, considering who she is. Has she been presented, Lucy?”
Though she had not yet had that inestimable advantage, Eustace showed himself so much struck with her that, when next Harold found himself alone with me, he built a very remarkable castle in the air–namely, a wedding between Eustace and Viola Tracy. “If I saw him with such happiness as that,” said Harold, “it would be all right. I should have no fears at all for him. Don’t you think it might be, Lucy?”
“I don’t think you took the way to recommend the family to Lady Diana,” I said, laughing.
“I had not thought of it then,” said Harold; “I’m always doing something wrong. I wonder if I had better go back and keep out of his way?”
He guessed what I should answer, I believe, for I was sure that Eustace would fail without Harold, and I told him that his cousin must not be left to himself till he had a good wife. To which Harold replied, “Are all English ladies like that?”
He had an odd sort of answer the next day, when we were all riding together, and met another riding party–namely, the head of the Horsman family and his two sisters, who had been on the Continent when my nephews arrived. Mamma did not like them, and we had never been great friends; but they hailed me quite demonstratively with their eager, ringing voices: “Lucy! Lucy Alison! So glad to see you! Here we are again. Introduce us, pray.”
So I did. Mr. Horsman, Miss Hippolyta, and Miss Philippa Horsman– Baby Jack, Hippo, and Pippa, as they were commonly termed–and we all rode together as long as we were on the Roman road, while they conveyed, rather loudly, information about the Dolomites.
They were five or six years older than I, and the recollection of childish tyranny and compulsion still made me a little afraid of them. They excelled in all kinds of sports in which we younger ones had not had nearly so much practice, and did not much concern themselves whether the sport were masculine or feminine, to the distress of the quiet elder half-sister, who stayed at home, like a hen with ducklings to manage.
They spoke of calling, and while I could not help being grateful, I knew how fallen my poor mother would think me to welcome the notice of Pippa and Hippo.
Most enthusiastic was the latter as she rode behind with me, looking at the proportions of Harry and his horse, some little way on before, with Dora on one side, and Pippa rattling on the other.
“Splendid! Splendiferous! More than I was prepared for, though I heard all about the lion–and that he has been a regular stunner in Australia–eh, Lucy, just like a hero of Whyte-Melville’s, eh?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And, to complete it all, what has he been doing to little Viola Tracy? Oh, what fun! Carrying her off bodily to see you, wasn’t it? Lady Diana is in such a rage as never was–says Dermot is never to be trusted with his sister again, and won’t let her go beyond the garden without her. Oh, the fun of it! I would have gone anywhere to see old Lady Di’s face!”
CHAPTER V. THE CAPTURE IN THE SNOW.
I do not recollect anything happening for a good while. Our chief event was the perfect success of Mr. Yolland’s concentrated fuel, which did not blow up anything or anybody, and the production of some lovely Etruscan vases and tiles, for which I copied the designs out of a book I happily discovered in the library. They were sent up to the porcelain shops in London, and orders began to come in, to the great exultation of Harold and Co., an exultation which I could not help partaking, even while it seemed to me to be plunging him deeper and deeper in the dangerous speculation.
We put the vases into a shop in the town and wondered they did not sell; but happily people at a distance were kinder, and native genius was discovered in a youth, who soon made beautiful designs. But I do not think the revived activity of the unpopular pottery did us at that time any good with our neighbours.
Harold and Eustace sent in their subscriptions to the hunt and were not refused, but there were rumours that some of the Stympsons had threatened to withdraw.
I had half a mind to ride with them to the meet, but I could not tell who would cut me, and I knew the mortification would be so keen to them that I could not tell how they would behave, and I was afraid Eustace’s pride in his scarlet coat might be as manifest to others as to us, and make me blush for him. So I kept Dora and myself at home.
I found that by the management of Dermot Tracy and his friends, the slight had been less apparent than had been intended, when all the other gentlemen had been asked in to Mr. Stympson’s to breakfast, and they had been left out with the farmers; Dermot had so resented this that he had declined going into the house, and ridden to the village inn with them.
To my surprise, Eustace chose to go on hunting, because it asserted his rights and showed he did not care; and, besides, the hard riding was almost a necessity to both the young men, and the Foling hounds, beyond Biston, were less exclusive, and they were welcomed there. I believe their horsemanship extorted admiration from the whole field, and that they were gathering acquaintance, though not among those who were most desirable. The hunting that was esteemed hard exercise here was nothing to them. They felt cramped and confined even when they had had the longest runs, and disdained the inclosures they were forced to respect. I really don’t know what Harold would have done but for Kalydon Moor, where he had a range without inclosures of some twelve miles. I think he rushed up there almost every day, and thus kept himself in health, and able to endure the confinement of our civilised life.
A very hard winter set in unusually early, and with a great deal of snow in December. It was a great novelty to our Australians, and was not much relished by Eustace, who did not enjoy the snow-balling and snow fortification in which Harold and Dora revelled in front of the house all the forenoon. After luncheon, when the snowstorm had come on too thickly for Dora to go out again, Harold insisted on going to see how the world looked from the moor. I entreated him not to go far, telling him how easy it was to lose the way when all outlines were changed in a way that would baffle even a black fellow; but he listened with a smile, took a plaid and a cap and sallied forth. I played at shuttle-cock for a good while with Dora, and then at billiards with Eustace; and when evening had closed darkly in, and the whole outside world was blotted out with the flakes and their mist, I began to grow a little anxious.
The hall was draughty, but there was a huge wood fire in it, and it seemed the best place to watch in, so there we sat together, and Eustace abused the climate and I told stories–dismal ones, I fear– about sheep and shepherds, dogs and snowdrifts, to the tune of that peculiar howl that the wind always makes when the blast is snow- laden; and dinner time came, and I could not make up my mind to go and dress so as to be out of reach of–I don’t know what I expected to happen. Certainly what did happen was far from anything I had pictured to myself.
Battling with the elements and plunging in the snow, and seeing, whenever it slackened, so strange and new a world, was a sort of sport to Harold, and he strode on, making his goal the highest point of the moor, whence, if it cleared a little, he would be able to see to a vast distance. He was curious, too, to look down into the railway cutting. This was a sort of twig from a branch of the main line, chiefly due to Lord Erymanth, who, after fighting off the railway from all points adjacent to his estate, had found it so inconvenient to be without a station within reasonable distance, that a single line had at last been made from Mycening for the benefit of the places in this direction, but not many trains ran on it, for it was not much frequented.
Harold came to the brow of the cutting, and there beheld the funnel of a locomotive engine, locomotive no more, but firmly embedded in the snowdrift into which it had run, with a poor little train of three or four carriages behind it, already half buried. Not a person was to be seen, as Harold scrambled and slid down the descent and lighted on the top of one of the carriages; for, as it proved, the engineer, stoker, and two or three passengers had left the train an hour before, and were struggling along the line to the nearest station. Harold got down on the farther side, which was free of snow, and looked into all the carriages. No one was there, till, in a first-class one, he beheld an old gentleman, well wrapped up indeed, but numb, stiff, and dazed with the sleep out of which he was roused.
“Tickets, eh?” he said, and he dreamily held one out to Harold and tried to get up, but he stumbled, and hardly seemed to understand when Harold told him it was not the station, but that they had run into the snowdrift; he only muttered something about being met, staggered forward, and fell into Harold’s arms. There was a carriage-bag on the seat, but Harold looked in vain there for a flask. The poor old man was hardly sensible. Ours was the nearest house, and Harold saw that the only chance for the poor old gentleman’s life was to carry him home at once. Even for him it was no small effort, for his burthen was a sturdy man with the solidity of years, and nearly helpless, save that the warmth of Harold’s body did give him just life and instinct to hold on, and let himself be bound to him with the long plaid so as least to impede his movements; but only one possessed of Harold’s almost giant strength could have thus clambered the cutting at the nearest point to Arghouse and plodded through the snow. The only wonder is that they were not both lost. Their track was marked as long as that snow lasted by mighty holes.
It was at about a quarter-past seven that all the dogs barked, a fumbling was heard at the door, and a muffled voice, “Let me in.”
Then in stumbled a heap of snow, panting, and amid Spitz’s frantic barks, we saw it was Harold, bent nearly double by the figure tied to him. He sank on his knee, so as to place his burthen on the great couch, gasping, “Untie me,” and as I undid the knot, he rose to his feet, panting heavily, and, in spite of the cold, bathed in perspiration.
“Get something hot for him directly,” he said, falling back into an arm-chair, while we broke out in exclamations. “Who–where did you find him? Some poor old beggar. Not too near the fire–call Richardson–hot brandy-and-water–bed. He’s some poor old beggar,” and such outcries for a moment or two, till Harold, recovering himself in a second, explained, “Snowed up in the train. Here, Lucy, Eustace, rub his hands. Dora, ask Richardson for something hot. Are you better now, sir?” beginning to pull off the boots that he might rub his feet; but this measure roused the traveller, who resisted, crying out, “Don’t, don’t, my good man, I’ll reward you handsomely. I’m a justice of the peace.”
Thick and stifled as it was, the voice was familiar. I looked again, and screamed out, “Lord Erymanth, is it you?”
That roused him, and as I took hold of both hands and bent over him, he looked up, dazzled and muttering, “Lucy, Lucy Alison! Arghouse! How came I here?” and then as the hot cordial came at last, in the hand of Richardson, who had once been in his service, he swallowed it, and then leant back and gazed at me as I went on rubbing his hands. “Thank you, my dear. Is it you? I thought I was snowed up, and I have never signed that codicil about little Viola, or I could die easily. It is not such a severe mode, after all.”
“But you’re not dying, you’re only dreaming. You are at Arghouse. Harold here found you and brought you to us.”
And then we agreed that he had better be put to bed at once in Eustace’s room, as there was already a fire there, and any other would take long in being warmed.
Harold and Eustace got him upstairs between them, and Richardson followed, while I looked out with dismay at the drifting snow, and wondered how to send either for a doctor or for Lady Diana in case of need. He had been a childless widower for many years, and had no one nearer belonging to him. Dora expressed her amazement that I did not go to help, but I knew this would have shocked him dreadfully, and I only sent Colman to see whether she could be of any use.
Harold came out first, and on his way to get rid of his snow-soaked garments, paused to tell me that the old gentleman had pretty well come round, and was being fed with hot soup and wine, while he seemed half asleep. “He is not frost-bitten,” added Harold; “but if he is likely to want the doctor, I’d better go on to Mycening at once, before I change my things.”
But I knew Lord Erymanth to be a hale, strong man of his years, little given to doctors, and as I heard he had said “No, no,” when Eustace proposed to send for one, I was glad to negative the proposal from a man already wet through and tired–“well, just a little.”
Our patient dropped asleep almost as soon as he had had his meal, in the very middle of a ceremonious speech of thanks, which sent Eustace down to dinner more than ever sure that there was nothing like the aristocracy, who all understood one another; and we left Richardson to watch over him, and sleep in the dressing-room in case of such a catastrophe as a rheumatic waking in the night.
We were standing about the fire in the hall, our usual morning waiting-place before breakfast, and had just received Richardson’s report that his lordship had had a good night, seemed none the worse, and would presently appear, but that he desired we would not wait breakfast, when there was a hasty ring at the door, and no sooner was it opened than Dermot Tracy, battered and worn, in a sou’-wester sprinkled with snow and with boots up to his thighs, burst into the hall.
“Alison, you there? All right, I want you,” shaking hands in an agitated way all round, and speaking very fast with much emotion. “I want you to come and search for my poor uncle. He was certainly in the train from Mycening that ran into a drift. Men went to get help; couldn’t get back for three hours. He wasn’t there–never arrived at home. My mother is in a dreadful state. Hogg is setting all the men to dig at the Erymanth end. I’ve got a lot to begin in the Kalydon cutting; but you’ll come, Alison, you’ll be worth a dozen of them. He might be alive still, you see.”
“Thank you, Dermot, I am happy to say that such is the case,” said a voice from the oak staircase, and down it was slowly proceeding Lord Erymanth, as trim, and portly, and well brushed-up as if he had arrived behind his two long-tailed bays.
Dermot, with his eyes full of tears, which he was squeezing and winking away, and his rapid, broken voice, had seen and heard nothing in our faces or exclamations to prepare him. He started violently and sprang forward, meeting Lord Erymanth at the foot of the stairs, and wringing both his hands–nay, I almost thought he would have kissed him, as he broke out into some incoherent cry of scarcely- believing joy, which perhaps surprised and touched the old man. “There, there, Dermot, my boy, your solicitude is–is honourable to you; but restrain–restrain it, my dear boy–we are not alone.” And he advanced, a little rheumatically, to us, holding out his hand with morning greetings.
“I must send to my mother. Joe is here with the sleigh,” said Dermot. “Uncle, how did you come here?” he added, as reflection only made his amazement profounder.
“It is true, as you said just now, that Mr. Harold Alison is equal to a dozen men. I owe my preservation, under Providence, to him,” said Lord Erymanth, who, though not a small man, had to look far up as Harold stood towering above us all. “My most earnest acknowledgments are due to him,” he added, solemnly holding out his hand.
“I might have expected that!” ejaculated Dermot, while Harold took the offered hand with a smile, and a mutter in his beard of “I am very glad.”
“I’ll just send a line to satisfy my mother,” said Dermot, taking a pen from the inkstand on the hall-table. “Joe’s here with the sleigh, and we must telegraph to George St. Glear.”
Lord Erymanth repeated the name in some amazement, for he was not particularly fond of his heir.
“Hogg telegraphed to him this morning,” and as the uncle observed, “Somewhat premature,” he went on: “Poor Hogg was beside himself; he came to Arked at ten o’clock last night to look for you, and, luckily, I was there, so we’ve been hallooing half the night along the line, and then getting men together in readiness for the search as soon as it was light. I must be off to stop them at once. I came in to get the Alisons’ help–never dreamt of such a thing as finding you here. And, after all, I don’t understand–how did you come?”
“I cannot give you a detailed account,” said his lordship. “Mr. Harold Alison roused me from a drowsiness which might soon, very probably, have been fatal, and brought me here. I have no very distinct recollection of the mode, and I fear I must have been a somewhat helpless and encumbering burthen.”
Dora put in her oar. “Harry can carry anything,” she said; “he brought you in so nicely on his back–just as I used to ride.”
“On his back!”
“Yes,” said Dora, who was fond of Mr, Tracy, and glad to impart her information, “on his back, with his boots sticking out on each side, so funnily!”
Lord Erymanth endeavoured to swallow the information suavely by the help of a classical precedent, and said, with a gracious smile, “Then I perceive we must have played the part of AEneas and Anchises–” But before he had got so far, the idea had been quite too much for Dermot, who cried out, “Pick-a-back! With his boots sticking out on both sides! Thank you, Dora. Oh! my uncle, pick-a-back!” and went off in an increasing, uncontrollable roar of laughter, while Harold, with a great tug to his moustache, observed apologetically to Lord Erymanth, “It was the only way I could do it,” which speech had the effect of so prolonging poor Dermot’s mirth, that all the good effect of the feeling he had previously displayed for his uncle was lost, and Lord Erymanth observed, in his most dry and solemn manner, “There are some people who can see nothing but food for senseless ridicule in the dangers of their friends.”
“My dear Lord Erymanth,” I said, almost wild, “do just consider Dermot has been up all night, and has had nothing to eat, and is immensely relieved to find you all safe. He can’t be expected to quite know what he is about when he is so shaken. Come to breakfast, and we shall all be better.”
“That might be a very sufficient excuse for you or for Viola, my dear Lucy,” returned Lord Erymanth, taking, however, the arm I offered. “Young _ladies_ may be very amiably hysterical, but a young man, in my day, who had not trifled away his manliness, would be ashamed of such an excuse.”
There was a certain truth in what he said. Dermot was not then so strong, nor had he the self-command he would have had, if his life had been more regular; but he must always have had a much more sensitive and emotional nature than his uncle could ever understand. The reproach, however, sobered him in a moment, and he followed us gravely into the dining-room, without uttering a word for the next quarter of an hour; neither did Harold, who was genuinely vexed at having made the old man feel himself ridiculous, and was sorry for the displeasure with his friend. Nobody did say much except Eustace, who was delighted at having to play host to such distinguished guests, and Lord Erymanth himself, who was so gracious and sententious as quite to restore Dermot’s usual self by the time breakfast was over, and he saw his servant bringing back his sleigh, in which he offered to convey his uncle either home or to Arked. But it was still fitfully snowing, and Lord Erymanth was evidently not without touches of rheumatism, which made him lend a willing ear to our entreaties to him not to expose himself. Harold then undertook to go in search of his portmanteau either to the scene of the catastrophe or the Hall.
“My dear sir, I could not think of exposing you to a repetition of such inclement weather as you have already encountered. I am well supplied here, my young friend–I think I may use the term, considering that two generations ago, at least, a mutual friendship existed between the houses, which, however obscured for a time–hum– hum–hum–may be said still to exist towards my dear friend’s very amiable young daughter; and although I may have regretted as hasty and premature a decision that, as her oldest and most experienced–I may say paternal–friend, I ventured to question–you will excuse my plain speaking; I am always accustomed to utter my sentiments freely- –yet on better acquaintance–brought about as it was in a manner which, however peculiar, and, I may say, unpleasant–cannot do otherwise than command my perpetual gratitude–I am induced to revoke a verdict, uttered, perhaps, rather with a view to the antecedents than to the individuals, and to express a hope that the ancient family ties may again assert themselves, and that I may again address as such Mr. Alison of Arghouse.”
That speech absolutely cleared the field of Harold and Dermot both. One strode, the other backed, to the door, Dermot hastily said, “Good-bye then, uncle, I shall look you up to-morrow, but I must go and stop George St. Glear,” and Harold made no further ceremony, but departed under his cover.
Probably, Richardson had spoken a word or two in our favour to his former master, for, when Lord Erymanth was relieved from his nephew’s trying presence, he was most gracious, and his harangues, much as they had once fretted me, had now a familiar sound, as proving that we were no longer “at the back of the north wind,” while Eustace listened with rapt attention, both to the long words and to anything coming from one whose name was enrolled in his favourite volume; who likewise discovered in him likenesses to generations past of Alisons, and seemed ready to admit him to all the privileges for which he had been six months pining.
At the first opportunity, Lord Erymanth began to me, “My dear Lucy, it is a confession that to some natures may seem humiliating, but I have so sedulously cultivated candour for my whole term of existence, that I hope I may flatter myself that I am not a novice in the great art of retracting a conclusion arrived at under premises which, though probable, have proved to be illusory. I therefore freely confess that I have allowed probability to weigh too much with me in my estimation of these young men.” I almost jumped for joy as I cried out that I knew he would think so when he came to know them.
“Yes, I am grateful to the accident that has given me the opportunity of judging for myself,” quoth Lord Erymanth, and with a magnanimity which I was then too inexperienced to perceive, he added, “I can better estimate the motives which made you decide on fixing your residence with your nephews, and I have no reluctance in declaring them natural and praiseworthy.” I showed my satisfaction in my old friend’s forgiveness, but he still went on: “Still, my dear, you must allow me to represent that your residence here, though it is self- innocent, exposes you to unpleasant complications. I cannot think it well that a young lady of your age should live entirely with two youths without female society, and be constantly associating with such friends as they may collect round them.”
I remember now how the unshed tears burnt in my eyes as I said the female society had left me to myself, and begged to know with whom I had associated. In return I heard something that filled me with indignation about his nephew, Dermot Tracy, not being exactly the companion for an unchaperoned young lady, far less his sporting friends, or that young man who had been Dr. Kingston’s partner. He was very sorry for me, as he saw my cheeks flaming, but he felt it right that I should be aware. I told him how I had guarded myself– never once come across the sportsmen, and only seen Mr. Yolland professionally when he showed me how to dress Harold’s hand, besides the time when he went over the pottery with us. Nay, Dermot himself had only twice come into my company–once about his sister, and once to inquire after Harold after the adventure with the lion.
There I found I had alluded to what made Lord Erymanth doubly convinced that I must be blinded; my sight must be amiably obscured, as to the unfitness–he might say, the impropriety of such companions for me. He regretted all the more where his nephew was concerned, but it was due to me to warn, to admonish, me of the true facts of the case.
I did not see how I could want any admonition of the true facts I had seen with my own eyes.
He was intensely astonished, and did not know how to believe that I had actually seen the lion overpowered; whereupon I begged to know what he had heard. He was very unwilling to tell me, but it came out at last that Dermot and Harold–being, he feared, in an improperly excited condition–had insisted on going to the den with the keeper, and had irritated the animal by wanton mischief, and he was convinced that this could not have taken place in my presence.
I was indignant beyond measure. Had not Dermot told him the true story? He shook his head, and was much concerned at having to say so, but he had so entirely ceased to put any confidence in Dermot’s statements that he preferred not listening to them. And I knew it was vain to try to show him the difference between deliberate falsehood, which was abhorrent to Dermot, and the exaggerations and mystifications to which his uncle’s solemnity always prompted him. I appealed to the county paper; but he had been abroad at the time, and had, moreover, been told that the facts had been hushed up.
Happily, he had some trust in my veracity, and let me prove my perfect alibi for Harold as well as for Dermot. When I represented how those two were the only men among some hundreds who had shown either courage or coolness, he granted it with the words, “True, true. Of course, of course. That’s the way good blood shows itself. Hereditary qualities are sure to manifest themselves.”
Then he let me exonerate Harold from the charge of intemperance, pointing out that not even after the injury and operation, nor after yesterday’s cold and fatigue, had he touched any liquor; but I don’t think the notion of teetotalism was gratifying, even when I called it a private, individual vow. Nor could I make out whether his Australian life was known, and I was afraid to speak of it, lest I should be betraying what need never be mentioned. Of Viola’s adventure, to my surprise, her uncle did not make much, but he had heard of that from the fountain-head, unpolluted by Stympson gossip; and, moreover, Lady Diana had been so disproportionately angry as to produce a reaction in him. Viola was his darling, and he had taken her part when he had found that she knew her brother was at hand. He allowed, too, that she might fairly be inspired with confidence by the voice and countenance of her captor, whom he seemed to view as a good-natured giant. But even this was an advance on “the prize- fighter,” as Lady Diana and the Stympsons called him.
It was an amusing thing to hear the old earl moralising on the fortunate conjunction of circumstances, which had brought the property, contrary to all expectation, to the most suitable individual. Much did I long for Harold to return and show what he was, but only his lordship’s servant, letters, and portmanteau came on an improvised sleigh. He had an immense political, county, and benevolent correspondence, and was busied with it all the rest of the day. Eustace hovered about reverentially and obligingly, and secured the good opinion which had been already partly gained by the statement of the police at the Quarter Sessions, whence Lord Erymanth had been returning, that they never had had so few cases from the Hydriot potteries as during this last quarter. Who could be complimented upon this happy state of things save the chairman? And who could appropriate the compliment more readily or with greater delight? Even I felt that it would be cruel high treason to demonstrate which was the mere chess king.
Poor Eustace! Harold had infected me enough with care for him to like to see him in such glory, though somewhat restless as to the appearances of this first state dinner of ours, and at Harold’s absence; but, happily, the well-known step was in the hall before our guest came downstairs, and Eustace dashed out to superintend the toilette that was to be as worthy of meeting with an earl as nature and garments would permit. “Fit to be seen?” I heard Harold growl. “Of course I do when I dine with Lucy, and this is only an old man.”
Eustace and Richardson had disinterred and brushed up Harold’s only black suit (ordered as mourning for his wife, and never worn but at his uncle’s funeral); but three years’ expansion of chest and shoulder had made it pinion him so as to lessen the air of perfect ease which, without being what is called grace, was goodly to look upon. Eustace’s studs were in his shirt, and the unnatural shine on his tawny hair too plainly revealed the perfumeries that crowded the young squire’s dressing-table. With the purest intentions of kindness Eustace had done his best to disguise a demigod as a lout.
We had a diner a la Russe, to satisfy Eustace’s aspirations as to the suitable. I had been seeking resources for it all the afternoon and building up erections with Richardson and Colman; and when poor Harold, who had been out in the snow with nothing to eat since breakfast, beheld it, he exclaimed, “Lucy, why did you not tell me? I could have gone over to Mycening and brought you home a leg of mutton.”
“Don’t expose what a cub you are!” muttered the despairing Eustace. “It is a deena a la Roos.”
“I thought the Russians ate blubber,” observed Harold, somewhat unfeelingly, though I don’t think he saw the joke; but I managed to reassure him, sotto voce, as to there being something solid in the background. He was really ravenous, and it was a little comedy to see the despairing contempt with which he regarded the dainty little mouthfuls that the cook viewed with triumph, and Eustace in equal misery at his savage appetite; while Lord Erymanth, far too real a gentleman to be shocked at a man’s eating when he was hungry, was quite insensible of the by-play until Harold, reduced to extremity at sight of one delicate shaving of turkey’s breast, burst out, “I say, Richardson, I must have some food. Cut me its leg, please, at once!”
“Harry,” faintly groaned Eustace, while Lord Erymanth observed, “Ah! there is no such receipt for an appetite as shooting in the snow. I remember when a turkey’s leg would have been nothing to me, after being out duck-shooting in Kalydon Bog. Have you been there to-day? There would be good sport.”
“No,” said Harold, contented at last with the great leg, which seemed in the same proportion to him as a chicken’s to other men. “I have been getting sheep out of the snow.”
I elicited from him that he had, in making his way to Erymanth, heard the barking of a dog, and found that a shepherd and his flock had taken refuge in a hollow of the moor, which had partly protected them from the snow, but whence they could not escape. The shepherd, a drover who did not know the locality, had tried with morning light to find his way to help, but, spent and exhausted, would soon have perished, had not Harold been attracted by the dog. After dragging him to the nearest farm, Harold left the man to be restored by food and fire, while performing his own commission at the castle, and then returned to spend the remainder of the daylight hours in helping to extricate the sheep, and convey them to the farmyard, so that only five had been lost.
“An excellent, not to say a noble, manner of spending a winter’s day,” quoth the earl.
“I am a sheep farmer myself,” was the reply.
Lord Erymanth really wanted to draw him out, and began to ask about Australian stock-farming, but Harold’s slowness of speech left Eustace to reply to everything, and when once the rage of hunger was appeased, the harangues in a warm room after twenty miles’ walk in the snow, and the carrying some hundreds of sheep one by one in his arms, produced certain nods and snores which were no favourable contrast with Eustace’s rapt attention.
For, honestly, Eustace thought these speeches the finest things he had ever heard, and though he seldom presumed to understand them, he listened earnestly, and even imitated them in a sort of disjointed way. Now Lord Erymanth, if one could manage to follow him, was always coherent. His sentences would parse, and went on uniform principles–namely, the repeating every phrase in finer words, with all possible qualifications; whereas Eustace never accomplished more than catching up some sonorous period; but as his manners were at their best when he was overawed, and nine months in England had so far improved his taste that he did not once refer to his presentation at Government House, he made such an excellent impression that Lord Erymanth announced that he was going to give a ball to introduce his niece, Miss Tracy, on her seventeenth birthday, in January, and invited us all thereto.
Eustace’s ecstacy was unbounded. He tried to wake Harold to share it, but only produced some murmurs about half-inch bullets: only when the “Good-night” came did Harold rouse up, and then, of course, he was wide awake; and while Eustace was escorting the distinguished guest to his apartment, we stood over the hall fire, enjoying his delight, and the prospect of his being righted with the county.
“And you will have your friends again, Lucy,” added Harold.
“Yes, I don’t suppose Lady Diana will hold out against him. He will prepare the way.”
“And,” said Eustace, coming downstairs, “it is absolutely necessary that you go and be measured for a dress suit, Harry.”
“I will certainly never get into this again,” he said, with a thwarted sigh; “it’s all I can do to help splitting it down the back. You must get it off as you got it on.”
“Not here!” entreated Eustace, alarmed at his gesture. “Remember the servant. Oh Harold, if you could but be more the gentleman! Why cannot you take example by me, instead of overthrowing all the advantageous impressions that such–such a service has created? I really think there’s nothing he would not do for me. Don’t you think so, Lucy?”
“Could he do anything for Prometesky?” asked Harold.
“He could, more than anyone,” I said; “but I don’t know if he would.”
“I’ll see about that.”
“Now, Harold,” cried Eustace in dismay, “don’t spoil everything by offending him. Just suppose he should not send us the invitation!”
“No great harm done.”
Eustace was incoherent in his wrath and horror, and Harold, too much used to his childish selfishness to feel the annoyance, answered, “I am not you.”
“But if you offend him?”
“Never fear, Eu, I’ll take care you don’t fare the worse.”
And as he lighted his candle he added to poor Eustace’s discomfiture by the shocking utterance under his beard:
“You are welcome to him for me, if you can stand such an old bore.”
CHAPTER VI. OGDEN’S BUILDINGS.
When I came downstairs the next morning, I found Lord Erymanth at the hall window, watching the advance of a great waggon of coal which had stuck fast in the snow half way up the hill on which the house stood. Harold, a much more comfortable figure in his natural costume than he had been when made up by Eustace, was truly putting his shoulder to the wheel, with a great lever, so that every effort aided the struggling horses, and brought the whole nearer to its destination.
“A grand exhibition of strength,” said his lordship, as the waggon was at last over its difficulties, and Harold disappeared with it into the back-yard; “a magnificent physical development. I never before saw extraordinary height with proportionate size and strength.”
I asked if he had ever seen anyone as tall.
“I have seen one or two men who looked equally tall, but they stooped and were not well-proportioned, whereas your nephew has a wonderfully fine natural carriage. What is his measure?” he added, turning to Eustace.
“Well, really, my lord, I cannot tell; mine is six feet two and five- sixteenths, and I much prefer it to anything so out of the way as his, poor fellow.”
The danger that he would go on to repeat his tailor’s verdict “that it was distinguished without being excessive,” was averted by Harold’s entrance, and Dora interrupted the greetings by the query to her cousin, how high he really stood; but he could not tell, and when she unfraternally pressed to know whether it was not nice to be so much taller than Eustace, he replied, “Not on board ship,” and then he gave the intelligence that it seemed about to thaw.
Lord Erymanth said that if so, he should try to make his way to Mycening, and he then paid his renewed compliments on the freedom of the calendar at the Quarter Sessions from the usual proportion of evils at Mycening. He understood that Mr. Alison was making most praiseworthy efforts to impede the fatal habits of intoxication that were only too prevalent.