“I shall close five beer-houses at Christmas,” said Eustace. “I look on it as my duty, as landlord and man of property.”
“Quite right. I am glad you see the matter in its right light. Beer-shops were a well-meaning experiment started some twenty years ago. I well remember the debate, &c.”
Harold tried with all his might to listen, though I saw his chest heave with many a suppressed yawn, and his hand under his beard, tweaking it hard; but substance could be sifted out of what Lord Erymanth said, for he had real experience, and his own parish was in admirable order.
Where there was no power of expulsion, as he said, there would always be some degraded beings whose sole amusement was intoxication; but good dwelling-houses capable of being made cheerful, gardens, innocent recreations, and instruction had, he could testify from experience, no small effect in preventing such habits from being formed in the younger population, backed, as he was sure (good old man) that he need not tell his young friends, by an active and efficient clergyman, who would place the motives for good conduct on the truest and highest footing, without which all reformation would only be surface work. I was glad Harold should hear this from the lips of a layman, but I am afraid he shirked it as a bit of prosing, and went back to the cottages.
“They are in a shameful state,” he said.
“They are to be improved,” exclaimed Eustace, eagerly. “As I told Bullock, I am quite determined that mine shall be a model parish. I am ready to make any sacrifices to do my duty as a landlord, though Bullock says that no outlay on cottages ever pays, and that the test of their being habitable is their being let, and that the people are so ungrateful that they do not deserve to have anything done for them.”
“You are not led away by such selfish arguments?” said Lord Erymanth.
“No, assuredly not,” said Eustace, decidedly; “though I do wish Harold would not disagree so much with Bullock. He is a very civil man, and much in earnest in promoting my interests.”
“That’s not all,” put in Harold.
“And I can’t bear Bullock,” I said. “‘Our interest’ has been always his cry, whenever the least thing has been proposed for the cottage people; and I know how much worse he let things get than we ever supposed.”
On which Lord Erymanth spoke out his distinct advice to get rid of Bullock, telling us how he had been a servant’s orphan whom my father had intended to apprentice, but, being placed with our old bailiff for a time, had made himself necessary, and ingratiated himself with my father so as to succeed to the situation; and it had been the universal belief, ever since my mother’s widowhood, that he had taken advantage of her seclusion and want of knowledge of business to deal harshly by the tenants, especially the poor, and to feather his own nest.
It was only what Harold had already found out for himself, but it disposed of his scruples about old adherents, and it was well for Eustace to hear it from such oracular lips as might neutralise the effect of Bullock’s flattery, for it had become quite plain to my opened eyes that he was trying to gain the squire’s ear, and was very jealous of Harold,
I knew, too, that to listen to his advice was the way to Lord Erymanth’s heart, and rejoiced to hear Harold begging for the names of recent books on drainage, and consulting our friend upon the means of dealing with a certain small farm in a tiny inclosed valley, on an outlying part of the property, where the yard and outhouses were in a permanent state of horrors; but interference was alike resented by Bullock and the farmer, though the wife and family were piteous spectacles of ague and rheumatism, and low fever smouldered every autumn in the hamlet.
Very sound advice was given and accepted with pertinent questions, such as I thought must convince anyone of Harold’s superiority, when he must needs produce a long blue envelope, and beg Lord Erymanth to look at it and tell him how to get it presented to the Secretary of State.
It was graciously received, but no sooner did the name of Stanislas Prometesky strike the earl’s eyes than he exclaimed, “That rascally old demagogue! The author of all the mischief. It was the greatest error and weakness not to have had him executed.”
“You have not seen my father’s statement?”
“Statement, sir! I read statements till I was sick of them, absolutely disgusted with their reiteration, and what could they say but that he was a Pole? A Pole!” (the word uttered with infinite loathing). “As if the very name were not a sufficient conviction of whatever is seditious and treasonable, only that people are sentimental about it, forsooth!”
Certainly it was droll to suspect sentiment in the great broad giant, who indignantly made reply, “The Poles have been infamously treated.”
“No more than they deserved,” said Lord Erymanth, startled for once into brevity. “A nation who could never govern themselves decently, and since they have been broken up, as they richly deserved, though I do not justify the manner–ever since, I say, have been acting the incendiary in every country where they have set foot. I would as soon hear of an infernal machine in the country as a Pole!”
“Poles deserve justice as well as other men,” said Harold, perhaps the more doggedly because Eustace laid a restraining hand on his arm.
“Do you ntean to tell me, sir, that every man has not received justice at the tribunal of this country?” exclaimed Lord Erymanth.
Perhaps he recollected that he was speaking to the son of a convict, for there was a moment’s pause, into which I launched myself. “Dear Lord Erymanth,” I said, “we all know that my poor brothers did offend against the laws and were sentenced according to them. They said so themselves, and that they were mistaken, did they not, Harold?”
Harold bent his head.
“And owing to whom?” demanded Lord Elymanth. “I never thought of blaming those two poor lads as I did that fellow who led them astray. I did all I could to save their lives; if they were alive this moment I would wish nothing better than to bring them home, but as to asking me to forward a petition in favour of the hoary old rebel that perverted them, I should think it a crime.”
“But,” I said, “if you would only read this, you would see that what they wanted to explain was that the man who turned king’s evidence did not show how Count Prometesky tried to withhold them.”
“Count, indeed! Just like all women. All those Poles are Counts! All Thaddeuses of Warsaw!”
“That’s hard,” I said. “I only called him Count because it would have shocked you if I had given him no prefix. Will you not see what poor Ambrose wanted to say for him?”
“Ah!” said Lord Erymanth, after a pause, in which he had really glanced over the paper. “Poor boys! It goes to my heart to think what fine fellows were lost there, but compassion for them cannot soften me towards the man who practised on their generous, unsuspecting youth. I am quite aware that Prometesky saved life at the fire, and his punishment was commuted on that account, contrary to my judgment, for it is a well-known axiom, that the author of a riot is responsible for all the outrages committed in it, and it is undeniable that the whole insurrection was his work. I am quite aware that the man had amiable, even fascinating qualities, and great enthusiasm, but here lay the great danger and seduction to young minds, and though I can perfectly understand the warm sympathy and generous sentiment that actuates my young friends, and though I much regret the being obliged to deny the first request of one to whom, I may say, I owe my life, I must distinctly refuse to take any part in relieving Count Stanislas Prometesky from the penalty he has incurred.”
Harold’s countenance had become very gloomy during this peroration. He made no attempt at reply, but gathered up his papers, and, gnawing his fringe of moustache, walked out of the room, while Eustace provoked me by volunteering explanations that Prometesky was no friend of his, only of Harold’s. His lordship declared himself satisfied, provided no dangerous opinions had been imbibed, and truly Eustace might honestly acquit himself of having any opinions at all.
That afternoon he drove Lord Erymanth to Mycening, whence the railway was now open. Harold could nowhere be found, and kind messages were left for him, for which he was scarcely grateful when he came in late in the evening, calling Lord Erymanth intolerably vindictive, to bear malice for five-and-twenty years.
I could not get him to see that it was entirely judicial indignation, and desire for the good of the country, not in the least personal feeling; but Harold had not yet the perception of the legislative sentiment that actuates men of station in England. His strong inclination was not to go near the old man or his house again, but this was no small distress to Eustace, who, in spite of all his vaunting, dreaded new scenes without a protector, and I set myself to persuade him that it was due to his cousin not to hide himself, and avoid society so as to give a colour to evil report.
“It might be best to separate myself from him altogether and go back.” On this, Eustace cried out with horror and dismay, and Harold answered, “Never fear, old chap; I’m not going yet. Not till I have seen you in good hands.”
“And you’ll accept the invitation,” said Eustace, taking up one of the coroneted notes that invited us each for two nights to the castle.
“And you’ll come up to town, and have a proper suit.”
“As you please.”
Eustace went off to the library to find some crested paper and envelopes worthy to bear the acceptance, and Harold stood musing. “A good agent and a good wife would set him on his feet to go alone,” he said.
“Meantime he cannot do without you.”
“Not in some ways.”
“And even this acquaintance is your achievement, not his.”
“Such as it is.”
I pointed out that though Lord Erymanth refused to assist Prometesky, his introduction might lead to those who might do so, while isolation was a sort of helplessness. To this he agreed, saying, “I must free him before I go back.”
“And do you really want to go back?” said I, fearing he was growing restless.
His face worked, and he said, “When I feel like a stone round Eustace’s neck.”
“Why should you feel so? You are a lever to lift him.”
“Am I? The longer I live with you, the more true it seems to me that I had no business to come into a world with such people in it as you and Miss Tracy.”
Eustace came back, fidgeting to get a pen mended, an operation beyond him, but patiently performed by the stronger fingers. We said no more, but I had had a glimpse which made me hope that the pilgrim was beginning to feel the burthen on his back.
Not that he had much time for thought. He was out all day, looking after the potteries, where orders were coming in fast, and workmen increasing, and likewise toiling in the fields at Ogden’s farm, making measurements and experiments on the substrata and the waterfall, on which to base his plans for drainage according to the books Lord Erymanth had lent him.
After the second day he came home half-laughing. Farmer Ogden had warned him off and refused to listen to any explanation, though he must have known whom he was expelling–yes, like a very village Hampden, he had thrust the unwelcome surveyor out at his gate with such a trembling, testy, rheumatic arm, that Harold had felt obliged to obey it.
Eustace, angered at the treatment of his cousin, volunteered to come and “tell the ass, Ogden, to mind what he was about,” and Harold added, “If you would come, Lucy, you might help to make his wife understand.”
I came, as I was desired, where I had never been before, for we had always rested in the belief that the Alfy Valley was a nasty, damp, unhealthy place, with “something always about,” and had contented ourselves with sending broth to the cottages whenever we heard of any unusual amount of disease. If we had ever been there!
We rode the two miles, as I do not think Dora and I would ever have floundered through the mud and torrents that ran down the lanes. It was just as if the farm had been built in the lower circle, and the cottages in Malebolge itself, where the poor little Alfy, so pure when it started from Kalydon Moor, brought down to them all the leakage of that farmyard. Oh! that yard, I never beheld, imagined, or made my way through the like, though there was a little causeway near the boundary wall, where it was possible to creep along on the stones, rousing up a sleeping pig or a dreamy donkey here and there, and barked at in volleys by dogs stationed on all the higher islets in the unsavoury lake. If Dora had not been a colonial child, and if I could have feared for myself with Harold by my side, I don’t think we should ever have arrived, but Farmer Ogden and his son came out, and a man and boy or two; and when Eustace was recognised, they made what way they could for us, and we were landed at last in a scrupulously clean kitchen with peat fire and a limeash floor, where, alas! we were not suffered to remain, but were taken into a horrid little parlour, with a newly-lighted, smoking fire, a big Bible, and a ploughing-cup. Mrs. Ogden was a dissenter, so we had really no acquaintance, and, poor thing, had long been unable to go anywhere. She was a pale trembling creature, most neat and clean, but with the dreadful sallow complexion given by perpetual ague. She was very civil, and gave us cake and wine, to the former of which Dora did ample justice, but oh! the impracticability of those people!
The men had it all out of doors, but when I tried my eloquence on Mrs. Ogden I found her firmly persuaded not only that her own ill health and the sickness in the hamlet were “the will of the Lord,” but in her religious fatalism, that it was absolutely profane to think that cleansing and drainage would amend them; and she adduced texts which poor uninstructed I was unable to answer, even while I knew they were a perversion; and, provoked as I was, I felt that her meek patience and resignation might be higher virtues than any to which I had yet attained.
Her husband, who, I should explain, was but one remove above a smock- frock farmer, took a different line. He had unsavoury proverbs in which he put deep faith. “Muck was the mother of money,” and also “Muck was the farmer’s nosegay.” He viewed it as an absolute effeminacy to object to its odorous savours; and as to the poor people, “they were an ungrateful lot, and had a great deal too much done for them,” the small farmer’s usual creed. Mr. Alison could do as he liked, of course, but his lease had five years yet to run, and he would not consent to pay no more rent, not for what he didn’t ask for, nor didn’t want, and Mr. Bullock didn’t approve of–that he would not, not if Mr. Alison took the law of him.
His landlord do it at his own expense? That made him look knowing. He was evidently certain that it was a trick for raising the rent at the end of the lease, if not before, upon him, whose fathers had been tenants of Alfy Vale even before the Alisons came to Arghouse; and, with the rude obstinacy of his race, he was as uncivil to Harold as he durst in Eustace’s presence. “He had no mind to have his fields cut up just to sell the young gentleman’s drain-pipes, as wouldn’t go off at them potteries.”
“Well, but all this stuff would be doing much more good upon your fields than here,” Eustace said. “I–I really must insist on this farmyard being cleansed.”
“You’ll not find that in the covenant, sir,” said the farmer with a grin.
“But, father,” began the son, a more intelligent-looking man, though with the prevailing sickly tint.
“Hold your tongue, Phil,” said Ogden. “It’s easy to talk of cleaning out the yard; I’d like to see the gentleman set about it, or you either, for that matter.”
“Would you?” said Harold. “Then you shall.”
Farmer Ogden gaped. “I won’t have no strange labourers about the place.”
“No more you shall,” said Harold. “If your son and I clean out this place with our own hands in the course of a couple of days, putting the manure in any field you may appoint, will you let the drainage plans be carried out without opposition ?”
“It ain’t a bet?” said the farmer; “for my missus’s conscience is against bets.”
“No, certainly not.”
“Nor a trick?” he said, looking from one to another.
“No. It is to be honest work. I am a farmer, and know what work is, and have done it too.”
Farmer Ogden, to a certain extent, gave in, and we departed. His son held the gate open for us, with a keen look at Harold, full of wonder and inquiry.
“You’ll stand by me?” said Harold, lingering with him.
“Yes, sir,” said Phil Ogden; “but I doubt if we can do it. Father says it is a week’s work for five men, if you could get them to do it.”
“Never fear,” said Harold. “We’ll save your mother’s life yet against her will, and make you all as healthy as if you’d been born in New South Wales.”
This was Friday, and Phil had an engagement on the Monday, so that Tuesday was fixed, much to Eustace’s displeasure, for he did not like Harold’s condescending to work which labourers would hardly undertake; and besides, he would make his hands, if not himself, absolutely unfit for the entertainment on Thursday. On which Harold asked if there were no such thing as water. Eustace implored him to give it up and send half-a-dozen unemployed men, but to this he answered, “I should be ashamed.”
And when we went home he rode on into Mycening, to see about his equipment, he said, setting Eustace despairing, lest he, after all, meant to avoid the London tailor, and to patronise Mycening; but the equipment turned out to be a great smock-frock. And something very different came home with him–namely, a little dainty flower-pot and pan, with an Etruscan pattern, the very best things that had been turned out of the pottery, adorned with a design in black and white, representing a charming little Greek nymph watering her flowers.
“Don’t you think, Lucy, Miss Tracy being a shareholder, and it being her birthday, the chairman might present this?” he inquired.
I agreed heartily, but Eustace, with a twist of his cat’s-whisker moustache, opined that they were scarcely elegant enough for Miss Tracy; and on the Monday, when he did drag Harold up to the tailor’s, he brought down a fragile little bouquet of porcelain violets, very Parisian, and in the latest fashion, which he flattered himself was the newest thing extant, and a much more appropriate offering. The violets could be made by a pinch below to squirt out perfume!
“Never mind, Harold,” I said, “you can give your flower-pot all the same.”
“You may,” said Harold.
“Why should not you?”
He shook his head. “I’ve no business,” he said; “Eustace is chairman.”
I said no more, and I hardly saw Harold the two following days, for he was gone in the twilight of the January morning and worked as long as light would allow, and fortunately the moon was in a favourable quarter; and Phil, to whom the lighter part of the task was allotted, confided to his companion that he had been wishing to get father to see things in this light for a long time, but he was that slow to move; and since Harold had been looking about, Mr. Bullock had advised him not to give in, for it would be sure to end in the raising of his rent, and young gentlemen had new-fangled notions that only led to expense and nonsense, and it was safest in the long run to trust to the agent.
However, the sight of genuine, unflinching toil, with nothing of the amateur about it, had an eloquence of its own. Farmer Ogden looked on grimly and ironically for the first two hours, having only been surprised into consent in the belief that any man, let alone a gentleman, must find out the impracticability of the undertaking, and be absolutely sickened. Then he brought out some bread and cheese and cider, and was inclined to be huffy when Harold declined the latter, and looked satirical when he repaired to wash his hands at the pump before touching the former. When he saw two more hours go by in work of which he could judge, his furrowed old brow grew less puckered, and he came out again to request Mr. Harold to partake of the mid-day meal. I fancy Harold’s going up to Phil’s room, to make himself respectable for Mrs. Ogden’s society, was as strange to the farmer as were to the Australian the good wife’s excuses for making him sit down with the family in the kitchen; but I believe that during the meal he showed himself practical farmer enough to win their respect; and when he worked harder than ever all the afternoon, even till the last moment it was possible to see, and came back with the light the next morning, he had won his cause; above all, when the hunt swept by without disturbing the labour.
The farmer not only turned in his scanty supply of men to help to finish off the labour, and seconded contrivances which the day before he would have scouted, but he gave his own bowed back to the work. A pavement of the court which had not seen the day for forty years was brought to light; and by a series of drain tiles, for which a messenger was dispatched to the pottery, streams were conducted from the river to wash these up; and at last, when Harold appeared, after Eustace had insisted on waiting no longer for dinner, he replied to our eager questions, “Yes, it is done.”
“He thanked me, shook hands with me, and said I was a man.”
Which we knew meant infinitely more than a gentleman.
Harold wanted to spend Thursday in banking up the pond in the centre of the yard, but the idea seemed to drive Eustace to distraction. Such work before going to that sublime region at Erymanth! He laid hold of Harold’s hands–shapely hands, and with that look of latent strength one sees in some animals, but scarred with many a seam, and horny within the fingers–and compared them with those he had nursed into dainty delicacy of whiteness, till Harold could not help saying, “I wouldn’t have a lady’s fingers.”
“I would not have a clown’s,” said Eustace.
“Keep your gloves on, Harold, and do not make them any worse. If you go out to that place to-day, they won’t even be as presentable as they are.”
“I shall wash them.”
“Wash! As if oceans of Eau-de-Cologne would make them fit for society!” said Eustace, with infinite disgust, only equalled by the “Faugh!” with which Harold heard of the perfume. In fact, Eustace was dreadfully afraid the other hunters had seen and recognised those shoulders, even under the smock-frock, as plainly as he did, and he had been wretched about it ever since.
“You talk of not wanting to do me harm,” he said, “and then you go and grub in such work as any decent labourer would despise.”
So miserable was he, that Harold, who never saw the foolery in Eustace that he would have derided in others, yielded to him so far as only to give directions to Bullock for sending down the materials wanted for the pond, and likewise for mending the roof of a cottage where a rheumatic old woman was habitually obliged to sleep under a crazy umbrella.
CHAPTER VII. THE BIRDS OF ILL OMEN.
Nothing stands out to me more distinctly, with its pleasures and pains, than the visit to Erymanth Castle–from our arrival in the dark–the lighted hall–the servants meeting us–the Australians’ bewilderment at being ushered up to our rooms without a greeting from the host–my lingering to give a last injunction in Eustace’s ear, “Now, Eustace, _I won’t_ have Harold’s hair greased; and put as little stuff as you can persuade yourself to do on your pocket- handkerchief–orders I had kept to the last to make them more emphatic; then dashing after the housekeeper, leaving them to work– my great room, where it was a perfect journey from the fire to the toilet-table–my black lace dress, and the silver ornaments those dear nephews had brought me from London–and in the midst of my hair- doing dear little Viola’s running in to me in one of her ecstacies, hugging me, to the detriment of Colman’s fabric and her own, and then dancing round and round me in her pretty white cloudy tulle, looped up with snowdrops. The one thing that had been wanting to her was that her dear, darling, delightful Lucy should be at her own ball– her birthday ball; and just as she had despaired, it had all come right, owing to that glorious old giant of ours; and she went off into a series of rapturous little laughs over Dermot’s account of her uncle’s arrival pick-a-back. It was of no use to look cautious, and sign at Colman; Viola had no notion of restraint; and I was thankful when my dress was complete, and we were left alone, so that I could listen without compunction to the story of Lord Erymanth’s arrival at Arked House, and solemn assurance that he had been most hospitably received, and that his own observation and inquiry had convinced him that Mr. Alison was a highly estimable young man, in spite of all disadvantages, unassuming, well-mannered, and grateful for good advice. Dermot had shown his discernment in making him his friend, and Lucy had, in truth, acted with much courage, as well as good judgment, in remaining with him; “and that so horrified mamma,” said Viola, “that she turned me out of the room, so I don’t know how they fought it out; but mamma must have given in at last, though she has never said one word to me about it, not even that you were all to be here. What a good thing it is to have a brother! I should never have known but for Dermot. And, do you know, he says that my uncle’s pet is the cousin, after all–the deferential fool of a–cousin, he says.”
“Hush, hush, Viola!”
“I didn’t say so–it was Dermot!” said the naughty child, with a little arch pout; “he says it is just like my uncle to be taken with a little worship from–well, he is your nephew, Lucy, so I will be politer than Dermot, who does rage because he says Mr. Alison has not even sense to see that he is dressed in his cousin’s plumes.”
“He is very fond of Harold, Viola, and they both of them do it in simplicity; Harold does the things for Eustace, and never even sees that the credit is taken from him. It is what he does it for.”
“Then he is a regular stupid old jolly giant,” said Viola. “Oh, Lucy, what delicious thing _is_ this?”
It was the little flower-pot, in which I had planted a spray of lemon-scented verbena, which Viola had long coveted. I explained how Harold had presided over it as an offering from the Hydriot Company to its youngest shareholder, and her delight was extreme. She said she would keep it for ever in her own room; it was just what she wanted, the prettiest thing she had had–so kind of him; but those great, grand giants never thought anything too little for them. And then she went into one of her despairs. She had prepared a number of Christmas presents for the people about the castle to whom she had always been like the child of the house, and her maid had forgotten to bring the box she had packed, nor was there any means of getting them, unless she could persuade her brother to send early the next morning.
“Is Dermot staying here?”
“Oh yes–all night; and nobody else, except ourselves and Piggy. Poor Piggy, he moves about in more awful awe of my uncle than ever– and so stiff! I am always expecting to see him bristle!”
There came a message that my lady was ready, and was asking for Miss Tracy to go down with her. Viola fluttered away, and I waited till they should have had time to descend before making my own appearance, finding all the rooms in the cleared state incidental to ball preparations–all the chairs and tables shrunk up to the walls; and even the drawing-room, where the chaperons were to sit, looking some degrees more desolate than the drawing-room of a ladyless house generally does look.
Full in the midst of an immense blue damask sofa sat Lady Diana, in grey brocade. She was rather a small woman in reality, but dignity made a great deal more of her. Eustace, with a splendid red camellia in his coat, was standing by her, blushing, and she was graciously permitting the presentation of the squirting violet. “Since it was a birthday, and it was a kind attention,” &c., but I could see that she did not much like it; and Viola, sitting on the end of the sofa with her eyes downcast, was very evidently much less delighted than encumbered with the fragile china thing.
Lord Erymanth met me, and led me up to his sister, who gave me a cold kiss, and we had a little commonplace talk, during which I could see Viola spring up to Harold, who was standing beside her brother, and the colour rising in his bronzed face at her eager acknowledgments of the flower-pot; after which she applied herself to begging her brother to let his horse and groom go over early the next morning for the Christmas gifts she had left behind, but Dermot did not seem propitious, not liking to trust the man he had with him with the precious Jack o’Lantern over hills slippery with frost; and Viola, as one properly instructed in the precariousness of equine knees, subsided disappointed; while I had leisure to look up at the two gentlemen standing there, and I must say that Harold looked one of Nature’s nobles even beside Dermot, and Dermot a fine, manly fellow even beside Harold, though only reaching to his shoulder.
I was the greatest stranger, and went in to the dining-room with his lordship, which spared me the sight of Eustace’s supreme satisfaction in presenting his arm to Lady Diana, after she had carefully paired off Viola with her cousin Piggy–i.e., Pigou St. Glear, the eldest son of the heir-presumptive, a stiff, shy youth in the Erymanth atmosphere, whatever he might be out of it, and not at all happy with Viola, who was wont to tease and laugh at him.
It was a save-trouble dinner, as informal as the St. Glear nature and servants permitted. Lord Erymanth carved, and took care that Harold should not starve, and he was evidently trying to turn the talk into such a direction as to show his sister what his guests were; but Eustace’s tongue was, of course, the ready one, and answered glibly about closed beershops, projected cottages, and the complete drainage of the Alfy–nay, that as to Bullock and Ogden hearing reason, he had only to go over in person and the thing was done; the farmyard was actually set to rights, and no difficulty at all was made as to the further improvements now that the landlord had once shown himself concerned. That was all that was wanting. And the funny part of it was that he actually believed it.
Dermot could not help saying to Harold, “Didn’t I see you applying a few practical arguments?”
Harold made a sign with his head, with a deprecatory twinkle in his eye, recollecting how infra dig Eustace thought his exploit. The party was too small for more than one conversation, so that when the earl began to relate his experiences of the difficulties of dealing with farmers and cottagers, all had to listen in silence, and I saw the misery of restless sleepiness produced by the continuous sound of his voice setting in upon Harold, and under it I had to leave him, on my departure with Lady Diana and her daughter, quaking in my satin shoes at the splendid graciousness I saw in preparation for me; but I was kept all the time on the outer surface; Lady Diana did not choose to be intimate enough even to give good advice, so that I was very glad when the carriages were heard and the gentlemen joined us, Harold hastily handing to Viola the squirting violets which she had left behind her on the dining-table, and which he had carefully concealed from Eustace, but, alas! only to have them forgotten again, or, maybe, with a little malice, deposited in the keeping of the brazen satyr on the ante-room chimney-piece.
Dermot had already claimed my first dance, causing a strange thrill of pain, as I missed the glance which always used to regret without forbidding my becoming his partner. Viola was asked in due form by Eustace, and accepted him with alacrity, which he did not know to be due to her desire to escape from Piggy. Most solicitously did our good old host present Eustace to every one, and it was curious to watch the demeanour of the different classes–the Horsmans mostly cordial, Hippa and Pippa demonstratively so; but the Stympsons held aloof with the stiffest of bows, not one of them but good-natured Captain George Stympson would shake hands even with me, and Miss Avice Stympson, of Lake House, made as if Harold were an object invisible to the naked eye, while the kind old earl was doing his best that he should not feel neglected. Eustace had learnt dancing for that noted ball at Government House, but Harold had disavowed the possibility. He had only danced once in his life, he said, when Dermot pressed him, “and that counted for nothing.” To me the pain on the bent brow made it plain that it had been at the poor fellow’s wedding.
However, he stood watching, and when at the end of our quadrille Dermot said, “Here lies the hulk of the Great Harry,” there was an amused air about him, and at the further question, “Come, Alison, what do you think of our big corroborees?” he deliberately replied, “I never saw such a pretty sight!” And on some leading exclamation from one of us, “It beats the cockatoos on a cornfield; besides, one has got to kill them!”
“Mr. Alison looks at our little diversion in the benevolent spirit of the giant whose daughter brought home ploughman, oxen, and all in her apron for playthings,” said Viola, who with Eustace had found her way to us, but we were all divided again, Viola being carried off by some grandee, Eustace having to search for some noble damsel to whom he had been introduced, and I falling to the lot of young Mr. Horsman, a nice person in himself, but unable to surmount the overcrowing of the elder sisters, who called him Baby Jack, and publicly ordered him about. Even at the end of our dance, at the sound of Hippa’s authoritative summons, he dropped me suddenly, and I found myself gravitating towards Harold like a sort of chaperon. I was amazed by his observing, “I think I could do it now. Would you try me, Lucy?”
After all, he was but five-and-twenty, and could hardly look on anything requiring agility or dexterity without attempting it, so I consented, with a renewal of the sensations I remembered when, as a child, I had danced with grown-up men, only with alarm at the responsibility of what Dermot called “the steerage of the Great Harry,” since collision with such momentum as ours might soon be would be serious; but I soon found my anxiety groundless; he was too well made and elastic to be clumsy, and had perfect power over his own weight and strength, so that he could dance as lightly and safely as Dermot with his Irish litheness.
“Do you think I might ask Miss Tracy?” he said, in return for my compliments.
“Of course; why not?”
When he did ask, her reply was, “Oh, will you indeed? Thank you.” Which naivete actually raised her mother’s colour with annoyance. But if she had a rod laid up, Viola did not feel it then; she looked radiant, and though I don’t believe three words passed between the partners, that waltz was the glory of the evening to her.
She must have made him take her to the tea-room for some ice, and there it was that, while I was standing with my partner a little way off, we heard Miss Avice Stympson’s peculiarly penetrating attempt at a whisper, observing, “Yes, it is melancholy! I thought we were safe here, or I never should have brought my dear little Birdie…. What, don’t you know? There’s no doubt of it–the glaze on the pottery is dead men’s bones. They have an arrangement with the hospitals in London, you understand. I can’t think how Lord Erymanth can be so deceived. But you see the trick was a perfect success. Yes, the blocking up the railway. A mercy no lives were lost; but that would have been nothing to him after the way he has gone on in Australia.– Oh, Lord Erymanth, I did not know you were there.”
“And as I could not avoid overhearing you,” said that old gentleman, “let me remind you that I regard courtesy to the guest as due respect to the host, and that I have good reason to expect that my visitors should have some confidence in my discrimination of the persons I invite them to meet.”
Therewith both he and Miss Stympson had become aware of the head that was above them all, and the crimson that dyed the cheeks and brow; while Viola, trembling with passion, and both hands clasped over Harold’s arm, exclaimed, in a panting whisper, “Tell them it is a wicked falsehood–tell them it is no such thing!”
“I will speak to your uncle to-morrow. I am obliged to him.”
Everybody heard that, and all who had either feeling or manners knew that no more ought to be said. Only Lord Erymanth made his way to Harold to say, “I am very sorry this has happened.”
Harold bent his head with a murmur of thanks, and was moving out of the supper-room, when Dermot hastily laid a hand on him with, “Keep the field, Harry; don’t go.”
“I’m not going.”
“That’s right. Face it out before the hags. Whom shall I introduce you–There’s Birdie Stympson–come.”
“No, no; I don’t mean to dance again.”
“Why not? Beard the harpies like a man. Dancing would refute them all.”
“Would it?” gravely said Harold.
Nor could he be persuaded, save once at his host’s bidding, but showed no signs of being abashed or distressed, and most of the male Stympsons came and spoke to him. The whole broke up at three, and we repaired to our rooms, conscious that family prayers would take place as the clock struck nine as punctually as if nothing had happened, and that our characters depended on our punctuality. Viola was in time, and so was Eustace; I sneaked in late and ashamed; and the moment the servants had filed out Viola sprang to Eustace with vehement acknowledgments; and it appeared that just before she came down her missing box of gifts had been brought to her room, and she was told that Mr. Alison had sent for them. Eustace smirked, and Lady Diana apologised for her little daughter’s giddy, exaggerated expressions, by which she had given far more trouble than she ever intended.
“No trouble,” said Eustace. “Harold always wants to work off his steam.”
“What, it was he?” said Viola.
“Yes, of course; he always does those things,” said Eustace, speaking with a tone of proprietorship, as if Harold had been a splendid self- acting steam-engine. “I am very glad to have gratified you, Miss Tracy–“
“Only he did, and not you,” said Viola, boldly, luckily without being heard by her mother, while Eustace murmured out, rather bewildered, “It is all the same.”
Viola evidently did not think so when Harold came in with beads of wet fringing his whiskers, though he had divested himself of the chief evidences of the rivers of muddy lane through which he had walked to Arked House, full four miles off.
Viola’s profuse thanks were crossed by Lady Diana’s curt apologies; and as poor Piggy, who had genuinely overslept himself, entered with his apologies–poor fellow–in a voice very much as if he was trying to say “Grumph, grumph,” while he could only say “Wee, wee,” they were received solemnly by his uncle with, “The antipodes are a rebuke to you, Pigou. I am afraid the young men of this hemisphere have no disposition to emulate either such chivalrous attentions or exertions as have been Mr. Harold Alison’s excuse.”
When so much was said about it, Harold probably wished he had let the whole matter alone, and was thankful to be allowed to sit down in peace to his well-earned breakfast, which was finished before Dermot lounged in–not waited for by his uncle, who offered an exhibition of his model-farm-buildings, machines, cattle, &c. Fain would Viola and I have gone in the train of the gentlemen, but the weather, though not bad enough to daunt a tolerably hardy man, was too damp for me, and we had to sit down to our work in the drawing-room, while Piggy, always happier without his great-uncle, meandered about until Lady Diana ordered off Viola to play at billiards with him, but kept me, for, as I perceived, the awful moment was come, and the only consolation was that it might be an opportunity of pleading Harold’s cause.
With great censure of the Stympsons’ ill-breeding and discourtesy to her brother (which seemed to affect her far more than the direct injury to Harold), and strong disclaimers of belief in them, still my mother’s old friend must inquire into the character of these young men and my position with regard to them. If she had been tender instead of inquisitorial, I should have answered far more freely, and most likely the air of defiance and defence into which she nettled me had a partisan look; but it was impossible not to remember that Miss Woolmer had always said that, however she might censure the scandal of the Stympsons, they only required to dish it up with sauce piquant to make her enjoy it heartily.
And really and truly it did seem as if there was nothing in the whole lives of those poor youths on which those women had not contrived to cast some horrid stain; working backwards from the dead men’s bones in the pottery (Dermot had told her they used nothing but live men’s bones), through imputations on Mr. George Yolland’s character, and the cause of the catastrophe at the “Dragon’s Head;” stories of my associating with all the low, undesirable friends they picked up at Mycening, or in the hunting-field; and as to the Australian part of the history, she would hardly mention to me all she had heard, even to have it confuted.
I was not sure how far she did believe my assurances, or thought me deceived, when I strenuously denied all evil intent from Harold towards his poor wife, and explained that he had merely driven over a precipice in the dark, and had a brain fever afterwards; all I could see was that, though not perfectly satisfied or convinced, she found that her brother would not allow the separation to be kept up, and therefore she resumed her favourite office of adviser. She examined me on the religious habits of my nephews and niece, impressing on me that it was for the sake of the latter that my presence at Arghouse was excusable; but insisting that it was incumbent on me to provide her with an elderly governess, both for her sake and my own. I was much afraid of having the governess at once thrust upon me; but, luckily, she did not happen to have one of a chaperon kind of age on her list, so she contented herself with much advice on what I was teaching Dora, so that perhaps I grew restive and was disposed to think it no concern of hers, nor did I tell her that much of the direction of Dora’s lessons was with a view to Harold; but she could not have been wholly displeased, since she ended by telling me that mine was a vast opportunity, and that the propriety of my residence at Arghouse entirely depended on the influence I exerted, since any acquiescence in lax and irreligious habits would render my stay hurtful to all parties. She worried me into an inclination to drop all my poor little endeavours, since certainly to have tried to follow out all the details of her counsel would have alienated all three at once.
Never was I more glad than when the luncheon-bell put a stop to the conversation, and the sun struggling out dispensed me from further endurance, and set me free to go with Viola to bestow her gifts, disposing on the way of the overflow of talk that had been pent up for months past. In the twilight, near the lodge of a favourite old nurse of Dermot’s, we encountered all the younger gentlemen, and not only did Viola drag her brother in but Harold also, to show to whom was owing the arrival of her wonderful tea-pot cozy.
The good woman was just going to make her tea. Viola insisted on showing the use of her cozy, and making everybody stay to nurse’s impromptu kettledrum, and herself put in the pinches of tea. Dermot chaffed all and sundry; Viola bustled about; Harold sat on the dresser, with his blue eyes gleaming in the firelight with silent amusement and perfect satisfaction, the cat sitting on his shoulder; and nurse, who was firmly persuaded that he had rescued her dear Master Dermot from the fangs of the lion, was delighted to do her best for his entertainment. Viola insisted on displaying all the curiosities–the puzzle-cup that could not be used, the horrid frog that sprang to your lips in the tankard, the rolling-pin covered with sentimental poetry, and her extraordinary French pictures on the walls. Dermot kept us full of merriment, and we laughed on till the sound of the dressing-bell sent us racing up to the castle in joyous guilt. That kettledrum at the lodge is one of the brightest spots in my memory.
We were very merry all the evening in a suppressed way over the piano, Viola, Dermot, and I singing, Harold looking on, and Eustace being left a willing victim to the good counsel lavished by my lord and my lady, who advised him nearly out of his senses and into their own best graces.
But we had not yet done with the amenities of the Stympsons. The morning’s post brought letters to Lady Diana and Lord Erymanth, which were swallowed by the lady with only a flush on her brow, but which provoked from the gentleman a sharp interjection.
“Scandalous, libellous hags!”
“The rara Avis?” inquired Dermot.
And in spite of Lady Diana’s warning, “Not now,” Lord Erymanth declared, “Avice, yes! A bird whose quills are quills of iron dipped in venom, and her beak a brazen one, distilling gall on all around. I shall inform her that she has made herself liable to an action for libel. A very fit lesson to her.”
“What steps shall I take, my lord?” said Eustace, with much importance. “I shall be most happy to be guided by you.”
“It is not you,” said Lord Erymanth.
“Oh! if it is only _he_, it does not signify so much.”
“Certainly not,” observed Dermot. “What sinks some floats others.”
Lady Diana here succeeded in hushing up the subject, Harold having said nothing all the time; but, after we broke up from breakfast, I had a private view of Lady Diana’s letter, which was spiteful beyond description as far as we were concerned; making all manner of accusations on the authority of the Australian relations; the old stories exaggerated into horrible blackness, besides others for which I could by no means account. Gambling among the gold-diggers, horrid frays in Victoria, and even cattle-stealing, were so impossible in a man who had always been a rich sheep farmer, that I laughed; yet they were told by the cousins with strange circumstantiality. Then came later tales–about our ways at Arghouse–all as a warning against permitting any intercourse of the sweet child’s, which might be abused. Lady Diana was angered and vexed, but she was not a woman who rose above the opinion of the world. Her daughter, Di Enderby, was a friend of Birdie Stympson, and would be shocked; and she actually told me that I must perceive that, while such things were said, it was not possible–for her own Viola’s sake–to keep up the intimacy she would have wished.
For my part it seemed to me that, in Lady Diana’s position, unjust accusations against a poor young girl were the very reason for befriending her openly; but her ladyship spoke in a grand, authoritative, regretful way, and habitual submission prevented me from making any protest beyond saying coldly, “I am very sorry, but I cannot give up my nephews.”
Viola was not present. It was supposed to be so shocking that she could know nothing about it, but she flew into my room and raged like a little fury at the cruel wickedness of the Stympsons in trying to turn everyone’s friends against them, and trumping up stories, and mamma giving up as if she believed them. She wished she was Dermot– she wished she was uncle Erymanth–she wished she was anybody, to stand up and do battle with those horrid women!–anybody but a poor little girl, who must obey orders and be separated from her friends. And she cried, and made such violent assurances that I had to soothe and silence her, and remind her of her first duty, &c.
Lord Erymanth was a nobler being than his sister, and had reached up to clap Harold on the shoulder, while declaring that these assertions made no difference to him, and that he did not care the value of a straw for what Avice Stympson might say, though Harold had no defence but his own denial of half the stories, and was forced to own that there was truth in some of the others. He was deeply wounded. “Why cannot the women let us keep our friends?” he said, as I found him in the great hall.
“It is very hard,” I said, with grief and anger.
“Very hard on the innocent,” he answered.
Then I saw he was preparing to set off to walk home, twelve miles, and remonstrated, since Lake Valley would probably be flooded.
“I must,” he said; “I must work it out with myself, whether I do Eustace most harm or good by staying here.”
And off he went, with the long swift stride that was his way of walking off vexation. I did not see him again till I was going up to dress, when I found him just inside the front door, struggling to get off his boots, which were perfectly sodden; while his whole dress, nay, even his hair and beard, was soaked and drenched, so that I taxed him with having been in the water.
“Yes, I went in after a dog,” he said, and as he gave a shiver, and had just pulled off his second boot, I asked no more questions, but hunted him upstairs to put on dry clothes without loss of time; and when we met at dinner, Eustace was so full of our doings at the castle, and Dora of hers with Miss Woolmer, that his bath was entirely driven out of my head.
But the next day, as I was preparing for my afternoon’s walk, the unwonted sound of our door-bell was heard. “Is our introduction working already?” thought I, little expecting the announcement– “The Misses Stympson.”
However, there were Stympsons and Stympsons, so that even this did not prepare me for being rushed at by all three from Lake House–two aunts and one niece–Avice, Henny, and Birdie, with “How is he?” “Where is he? He would not take anything. I hope he went to bed and had something hot.” “Is he in the house? No cold, I hope. We have brought the poor dear fellow for him to see. He seems in pain to- day; we thought he would see him.”
At last I got in a question edgeways as to the antecedents, as the trio kept on answering one another in chorus, “Poor dear Nep–your cousin–nephew, I mean–the bravest–“
Then it flashed on me. “Do you mean that it was for your dog that Harold went into the water yesterday!”
“Oh, the bravest, most generous, the most forgiving. So tender- handed! It must be all a calumny. I wish we had never believed it. He could never lift a hand against anyone. We will contradict all rumours. Report is so scandalous. Is he within?”
Harold had been at the Hydriot works ever since breakfast, but on my first question the chorus struck up again, and I might well quail at the story. “Lake Mill; you know the place, Miss Alison?”
Indeed I did. The lake, otherwise quiet to sluggishness, here was fed by the rapid little stream, and at the junction was a great mill, into which the water was guided by a sharp descent, which made it sweep down with tremendous force, and, as I had seen from the train, the river was swelled by the thaw and spread far beyond its banks. “The mill-race!” I cried in horror.
“Just observe. Dear Nep has such a passion for the water, and Birdie thoughtlessly threw a stick some way above the weir. I never shall forget what I felt when I saw him carried along. He struggled with his white paws, and moaned to us, but we could do nothing, and we thought to have seen him dashed to pieces before our eyes, when, somehow, his own struggles I fancy–he is so sagacious–brought him up in a lot of weeds and stuff against the post of the flood-gates, and that checked him. But we saw it could not last, and his strength was exhausted. Poor Birdie rushed down to beg them to stop the mill, but that could never have been done in time, and the dear dog was on the point of being sucked in by the ruthless stream, moaning and looking appealingly to us for help, when, behold! that superb figure, like some divinity descending, was with us, and with one brief inquiry he was in the water. We called out to him that the current was frightfully strong–we knew a man’s life ought not to be perilled; but he just smiled, took up the great pole that lay near, and waded in. I cannot describe the horror of seeing him breasting that stream, expecting, as we did, to see him borne down by it into the wheel. The miller shouted to him that it was madness, but he kept his footing like a rock. He reached the place where the poor dog was, and the fury of the stream was a little broken by the post, took up poor Nep and put him over his shoulder. Nep was so good–lay like a lamb–while Mr. Alison fought his way back, and it was harder still, being upwards. The miller and his men came out and cheered, thinking at least he would come out spent and want help; but no, he came out only panting a little, put down the dog, and when it moaned and seemed hurt he felt it all over so tenderly, found its leg was broken, took it into the miller’s kitchen, and set it like any surgeon. He would take nothing but a cup of tea, whatever they said, and would not change his clothes–indeed, the miller is a small man, so I don’t see how he could–but I hope he took no harm. He walked away before we could thank him. But, oh dear! what a wicked thing scandal is! I will never believe anything report says again.”
To the end of their days the Misses Stympson believed that it was the convenient impersonal rumour which had maligned Harold–not themselves.
I was just parting with them when Harold appeared, and they surrounded him, with an inextricable confusion of thanks–hopes that he had not caught cold, and entreaties that he would look at his patient, whom they had brought on the back seat of the barouche to have his leg examined. Harold said that his was self-taught surgery, but was assured that the dog would bear it better from him than any one, and could not but consent.
I noticed, however, that when he had to touch the great black Newfoundland dog, a strong shudder ran through his whole frame, and he had to put a strong force on himself, though he spoke to it kindly, and it wagged its tail, and showed all the grateful, wistful affection of its kind, as he attended to it with a tender skill in which his former distaste was lost; and the party drove away entreating him to come and renew the treatment on the Monday, and asking us all to luncheon, but not receiving a distinct answer in Eustace’s absence, for he was very tenacious of his rights as master of the house.
I was quite touched with the dog’s parting caress to his preserver. “So you have conquered the birds with iron quills!” I cried, triumphantly.
“Who were they?” asked Harold, astonished.
“Surely you know them? I never thought of introducing you.”
“You don’t mean that they were those women?”
“Of course they were. I thought you knew you were performing an act of heroic forgiveness.”
Harold’s unfailing politeness towards me hindered him from saying “heroic fiddlesticks,” but he could not suppress a “Faugh!” which meant as much, and that mortified me considerably.
“Come now, Harry,” I said, “you don’t mean that you would not have done it if you had known?”
“I should not have let the poor beast drown because his mistresses were spiteful hags.” And there was a look on his face that made me cry out in pain, “Don’t, Harry!”
“Don’t be unforgiving. Say you forgive them.”
“I can’t. I could as soon pardon Smith.”
“But you ought to pardon both. It would be generous. It would be Christian.”
I was sorry I had said that, for he looked contemptuously and said, “So they teach you. I call it weakness.”
“Oh, Harry! dear Harry, no! The highest strength!”
“I don’t understand that kind of talk,” he said. “You don’t know what that Smith is to my poor mother!”
“We won’t talk of him; but, indeed, the Misses Stympson are grateful to you, and are sorry. Won’t you go to them on Monday?”
“No! I don’t like scandal-mongers.”
“But you have quite conquered them.”
“What do you mean? If we are the brutes they tell those who would have been our friends, we are not less so because I pulled a dog out of the river.”
The hard look was on his face, and to my faint plea, “The poor dog!”
“The dog will do very well.” He went decisively out of the way of further persuasions, and when a formal note of invitation arrived, he said Eustace and I might go, but he should not. He had something to do at the potteries; and as to the dog, the less it was meddled with the better.
“I know you hate black dogs,” said Eustace; “I only wonder you ever touched it.”
Harold’s brow lowered at this, and afterwards I asked Eustace to account for the strange dislike. He told me that the dogs at the store had run yelping after the buggy on that fatal drive, and this and the melancholy howl of the dingoes had always been supposed to be the cause of the special form of delirious fancy that had haunted Harold during the illness following–that he was pursued and dragged down by a pack of black hounds, and that the idea had so far followed him that he still had a sort of alienation from dogs, though he subdued it with a high hand.
He would still not go with us to Lake House, for go we did. An invitation was stimulating to Eustace, and though I much disliked the women, I knew we could not afford to reject an advance if we were not to continue out of humanity’s reach.
So I went, and we were made much of in spite of the disappointment.
Had not Mr. Harold Alison been so kind as to come over both Sunday and Monday morning and see to poor Nep in his kennel before they were down? Oh, yes, they had heard of it from the stable-boy, and had charged him to take care the gentleman came in to breakfast, but he could not persuade him. Such a pity he was too busy to come to-day!
Eustace gave learned and elaborate opinions on Nep, and gained the hearts of the ladies, who thenceforth proclaimed that Mr. Alison was a wonderfully finished gentleman, considering his opportunities; but Mr. Harold was at the best a rough diamond, so that once more his conquest had been for Eustace rather than for himself. They showed me, in self-justification, letters from their relations in Melbourne, speaking of the notorious Harry Alison as a huge bearded ruffian, and telling horrid stories of his excesses in no measured terms. Of course we denied them, and represented that some other man must have borne the same name, and gratitude made them agree; but the imputation lay there, ready to revive at any time. And there had been something in the whole affair that had not a happy effect on Harold. He was more blunt, more gruff, less tolerant or ready to be pleased; Eustace’s folly was no longer incapable of provoking him; and even his gentleness towards Dora and me was with a greater effort, and he was plainly in an irritable state of suppressed suffering of mind or temper, which only the strong force he put upon himself kept in check. My poor Harold, would he see that there were moral achievements higher than his physical ones, and would he learn that even his strength was not equal to them, unaided?
CHAPTER VIII. BULLOCK’S CHASTISEMENT.
The next frosty day Dora and I set forth for a visit to the double cottage, where, on one side, dwelt a family with a newly-arrived baby; on the other was Dame Jennings’, with the dilapidated roof and chimney. I was glad to see Dora so happily and eagerly interested over the baby as to be more girl-like than I had yet seen her, though, comparing her to what she had been on her arrival, she was certainly a good deal softened and tamed. “Domesticated” would really not have been so inappropriate a word in her case as it is in advertisements of companions.
We had come to the door, only divided from Mrs. Jennings’s by a low fence and a few bushes, when voices struck on our ears, and we saw Bullock’s big, sturdy, John Bull form planted in a defiant attitude in the garden-path before the door, where the old woman stood courtesying, and mingling entreating protestations against an additional sixpence a week on her rent with petitions that at least the chimney might be made sound and the roof water-tight.
There is no denying that I did stand within the doorway to listen, for not only did I not wish to encounter Bullock, but it seemed quite justifiable to ascertain whether the current whispers of his dealings with the poor were true; indeed, there was no time to move before he replied with a volley of such abuse, as I never heard before or since, at her impudence in making such a demand.
I was so much shocked that I stood transfixed, forgetting even to draw Dora away from the sound, while the old woman pleaded that “Mr. Herod” had made the promise, and said nothing of increasing her rent. Probably Bullock had been irritated by the works set on foot at Ogden’s farm, for he brought out another torrent of horrid imprecations upon “the meddling convict fellow,” the least intolerable of the names he used, and of her for currying favour, threatening her with instant expulsion if she uttered a word of complaint, or mentioned the increase of her rent, and on her hesitation actually lifting his large heavy stick.
We both cried out and sprang forward, though I scarcely suppose that he would have actually struck her. But much more efficient help was at hand. Bullock’s broad back was to the gate, and he little knew that at the moment he raised his stick Harold, attracted by his loud railing voice, leaped over the gate, and with one bound was upon the fellow, wresting the stick from his hand and laying it about his shoulders with furious energy. We all screamed out. Dora, it was suspected, bade him go on and give it to him well, and perhaps my wrath with the man made me simply shriek; but the sense of our presence did (whatever we wished) check Harold’s violence so far that he ceased his blows, throwing the man from him with such force that he fell prone into the poor dame’s gooseberry-bush, and had to pick himself up through numerous scratches, just as we had hurried round through the garden.
He had regained his feet, and was slinking up to the gate as we met him, and passionately exclaimed: “Miss Alison, you have seen this; I shall call on you as my witness.”
Dora called out something so vituperative that my energies went in silencing her, nor do I think I answered Bullock, though at least it was a relief to see that, having a great sou’-wester over all his other clothes, the force of the blows had been so broken that he could not have any really serious injury to complain of. It was not unfortunate, however, that he was so shaken and battered that he went first to exhibit himself to Dr. Kingston’s new partner, and obtain a formidable scientific account of his sprains and bruises; so that Eustace had heard an account of the affray in the first place, and Dora, with a child’s innate satisfaction in repeating personalities, had not spared the epithets with which Bullock had mentioned the “fool of a squire.” The said squire, touched to the quick, went out invulnerable to his interview, declaring that the agent had been rightly served, only wishing he had had more, and indignantly refusing Bullock’s offer to abstain from prosecuting Mr. Harold Alison on receiving a handsome compensation, and a promise never to be interfered with again. Eustace replied–too much, I fear, in his own coin–with orders to send in his accounts immediately and to consider himself dismissed from his agency from that hour; and then came back to us like a conquering hero, exulting in his own magnanimous firmness, which “had shown he was not to be trifled with.”
But he did not like it at all when Richardson came in trying to look quite impassive, and said to Harold, “Some one wants to speak to you sir.”
Harold went, and returned without a word, except, “You are wanted too, Lucy,” and I was not equally silent when I found it was to serve on me an order to appear as witness before the magistrates the next day, as to the assault upon Bullock.
Eustace was very much annoyed, and said it was disgraceful, and that Harold was always getting into scrapes, and would ruin him with all the county people, just as he was beginning to make way with them–a petulant kind of ingratitude which we had all learnt to tolerate as “old Eu’s way,” and Dora announced that if he was put in prison, she should go too.
It was only a Petty Sessions case, heard in the justice-room at Mycening, and on the way the prisoner was chiefly occupied in assuring the witness that there was nothing to be nervous about; and the squire, that it would hurt nobody but himself; and, for his part, fine him as they would, he would willingly pay twenty times as much to rid the place of Bullock.
The bench–who sat at the upper end of a table–were three or four Horsmans and Stympsons, with Lord Erymanth in the chair par excellence, for they all sat on chairs, and they gave the like to Eustace and me while we waited, poor Harold having put himself, in the custody of a policeman, behind the rail which served as bar.
When our turn came, Harold pleaded “Guilty” at once, not only for truth’s sake, but as meaning to spare me the interrogation; and Crabbe, who was there on Bullock’s behalf, looked greatly baffled and disappointed; but the magistrates did not let it rest there, since the amount of the fine of course would depend on the degree of violence, &c., so both Mrs. Jennings and I, and the doctor, were examined as witnesses.
I came first; and at first I did not find the inquiries half so alarming as I expected, since my neighbours spoke to me quite in a natural way, and it was soon clear that my account of the matter was the best possible defence of Harold in their eyes. The unpleasant part was when Crabbe not only insisted on my declaring on oath that I did not think Bullock meant to strike the old woman, but on my actually repeating the very words he had said, which he probably thought I should flinch from doing; but he thereby made it the worse for himself. No doubt he and Crabbe had reckoned on our general unpopularity, and had not judged it so as to discover the reaction that had set in. An endeavour to show that we were acting as spies on the trustworthy old servant, in order to undermine him with his master, totally failed, and, at last, the heavy fine of one shilling was imposed upon Harold–as near an equivalent as possible to dismissing the case altogether. Lord Erymanth himself observed to Eustace, “that he felt, if he might say so, to a certain degree implicated, since he had advised the dismissal of Bullock, but scarcely after this fashion.” However, he said he hoped to have Eustace among them soon in another capacity, and this elevated him immensely.
The case had taken wind among the workmen at the potteries; and as we came out at their dinner-hour, there was a great assemblage, loudly cheering, “Alison, the poor man’s friend!”
Eustace stood smiling and fingering his hat, till Captain Stympson, who came out with us, hinted, as he stood between the two young men, that it had better be stopped as soon as possible. “One may soon have too much of such things,” and then Eustace turned round on Harold, and declared it was “just his way to bring all the Mycening mob after them.” Whereat Harold, without further answer, observed, “You’ll see Lucy home then,” and plunged down among the men, who, as if nothing had been wanting to give them a fellow-feeling for him but his having been up before the magistrates, stretched out hands to shake; and as he marched down between a lane of them, turned and followed the lofty standard of his head towards their precincts.
Bullock, in great wrath and indignation, sent in his accounts that night with a heavy balance due to him from Eustace, which Harold saw strong cause to dispute. But that battle, in which, of course, Crabbe was Bullock’s adviser, and did all he could to annoy us, was a matter of many months, and did not affect our life very closely. Harold was in effect Eustace’s agent, and being a very good accountant, as well as having the confidence of the tenants, all was put in good train in that quarter, and Mr. Alison was in the way to be respected as an excellent landlord and improver. People were calling on us, and we were evidently being taken into our proper place. Lady Diana no longer withheld her countenance, and though she only called on me in state she allowed Viola to write plenty of notes to me.
But I must go on to that day when Harold and Eustace were to have a hunting day with the Foling hounds, and dine afterwards with some of the members of the hunt at the Fox Hotel at Foling, a favourite meet. They were to sleep at Biston, and I saw nothing of them the next day till Eustace came home alone, only just in time for a late dinner, and growled out rather crossly that Harold had chosen to walk home, and not to be waited for. Eustace himself was out of sorts and tired, eating little and hardly vouchsafing a word, except to grumble at us and the food, and though we heard Harold come in about nine o’clock, he did not come in, but went up to his room.
Eustace was himself again the next morning, but Harold was gone out. However, as, since he had been agent, he had often been out and busy long before breakfast, this would not have been remarkable, but that Eustace was ill at ease, and at last said, “The fact is, Lucy, he has been ‘screwed’ again, and has not got over it.”
I was so innocent that only Dora’s passion with her brother revealed to me his meaning, and then I was inexpressibly horrified and angry, for I did not think Harold could have broken his own word or the faith on which I had taken up my abode with them, and the disappointment in him, embittered, I fear, by the sense of personal injury, was almost unbearable.
Eustace muttered something in excuse which I could not understand, and I thought was only laxity on his part. I told him that, if such things were to happen, his house was no home for me. And he began, “Come now, Lucy, I say, that’s hard, when ’twas Harold, and not me, and all those fellows–“
“Oh, Malvoisin and Nessy Horsman, you know.”
I knew they were the evil geniuses of Dermot’s life. Lord Malvoisin had been his first tempter as boys at their tutor’s, and again in the Guards; and Ernest, or Nessy, Horsman was the mauvais sujet of the family, who never was heard of without some disgraceful story. And Dermot had led my boys among these. All that had brightened life so much to me had suddenly vanished.
It was Ash Wednesday, and I am afraid I went through my Lenten services in the spirit of the elder son, nursing my virtuous indignation, and dwelling chiefly on what would become of me if Arghouse were to be made uninhabitable, as I foresaw.
I was ashamed to consult Miss Woolmer, and spent the afternoon in restless attempts to settle to something, but feeling as if nothing were worth while, not even attending to Dora, since my faith in Harold had given way, and he had broken his word and returned to his vice.
Should I go to church again, and spare myself the meeting him at dinner? I was just considering, when Mr. George Yolland came limping up the drive, and the sight was the first shock to the selfish side of my grief. “Is anything the matter?” I asked, trying to speak sternly, but my heart thumping terribly.
“No–yes–not exactly,” he said hastily; “but can you come, Miss Alison? I believe you are the only person who can be of use.”
“Then is he ill?” I asked, still coldly, not being quite sure whether I ought to forgive.
“Not bodily, but his despair over what has taken place is beyond us all. He sits silent over the accounts in his room at the office; will talk to none of us. Mr. Alison has tried–I have–Ben and all of us. He never looks up but to call for soda-water. If he yields again, it will soon be acute dipsomania, and then–” he shrugged his shoulders.
“But what do you mean? What can I do?” said I, walking on by his side all the time.
“Take him home. Give him hope and motive. Get him away, at any rate, before those fellows come. Mr. Tracy was over at Mycening this morning, and said they talked of coming to sleep at the ‘Boar,’ for the meet to-morrow, and looking him up.”
“Lord Malvoisin?” I asked.
And as I walked on, Mr. Yolland told me what I had not understood from Eustace, that there had been an outcry among the more reckless of the Foling Hunt that so good a fellow should be a teetotaller. Dermot Tracy had been defied into betting upon the resolute abstinence of his hero–nay, perhaps the truth was that these men had felt that their victim was being attracted from their grasp, and a Satanic instinct made them strive to degrade his idol in his eyes.
So advantage was taken of the Australian’s ignorance of the names of liqueurs. Perhaps the wine in the soup had already caused some excitement in the head–unaccustomed to any stimulant ever since the accident and illness which had rendered it inflammable to a degree no one suspected. When once the first glass was swallowed, the dreadful work was easy, resolution and judgment were obscured, and the old habits and cravings of the days when poor Harold had been a hard drinker had been revived in full force. Uproarious mirth and wild feats of strength seemed to have been the consequence, ending by provoking the interference of the police, who had locked up till the morning such of the party as could not escape. Happily, the stupefied stage had so far set in that Harold had made it no worse by offering resistance, and Dermot had managed to get the matter hushed up by the authorities at Foling. This was what he had come to say, but Harold had been very brief and harsh with him; though he was thoroughly angered and disgusted at the conduct of his friends, and repeated, hotly, that he had been treated with treachery such as he could never forgive.
So we came to the former “Dragon’s Head,” where Harold had fitted up a sort of office for himself. Mr. Yolland bade me go up alone, and persuade him to come home with me. I was in the greater fright, because of the selfishness which had mingled with the morning’s indignation, but I had just presence of mind enough for an inarticulate prayer through the throbbings of my heart ere knocking, and at once entering the room where, under a jet of gas, Harold sat at a desk, loaded with papers and ledgers, on which he had laid down his head. I went up to him, and laid my hand as near his brow as his position would let me. Oh, how it burnt!
He looked up with a face half haggard, half sullen with misery, and hoarsely said, “Lucy, how came you here?”
“I came in to get you to walk home with me.”
“I’ll get a fly for you.”
(This would be going to the “Boar,” the very place to meet these men.)
“Oh no! please don’t. I should like the walk with you.”
“I can’t go home yet. I have something to do. I must make up these books.”
“But why? There can’t be any haste.”
“Yes. I shall put them into Yolland’s hands and go by the next mail.”
“Harold! You promised to stay till Eustace was in good hands.”
He laughed harshly. “You have learnt what my promise is worth!”
“Oh Harold! don’t. You were cheated and betrayed. They took a wicked advantage of you.”
“I knew what I was about,” he said, with the same grim laugh at my folly. “What is a man worth who has lost his self-command?”
“He may regain it,” I gasped out, for his look and manner frightened me dreadfully.
He made an inarticulate sound of scorn, but, seeing perhaps the distress in my face, he added more gently, “No, Lucy, this is really best; I am not fit to be with you. I have broken my word of honour, and lost all that these months had gained. I should only drag Eustace down if I stayed.”
“Why? Oh, why? It was through their deceit. Oh, Harry! there is not such harm done that you cannot retrieve.”
“No,” he said, emphatically. “Understand what you are asking. My safeguard of an unbroken word is gone! The longing for that stuff– accursed though I know it–is awakened. Nothing but shame at giving way before these poor fellows that I have preached temperance to withholds me at this very moment.”
“But it does withhold you! Oh, Harold! You know you can be strong. You know God gives strength, if you would only try.”
“I know you say so.”
“Because I know it. Oh, Harold! try my way. Do ask God to give you what you want to stand up against this.”
“If I did, it would not undo the past.”
“Something else can do that.”
He did not answer, but reached his hat, saying something again about time, and the fly. I must make another effort. “Oh, Harold! give up this! Do not be so cruel to Dora and to me. Have you made us love you better than anybody, only to go away from us in this dreadful way, knowing it is to give yourself up to destruction? Do you want to break our hearts?”
“Me!” he said, in a dreamy way. “You don’t really care for me?”
“I? Oh, Harry, when you have grown to be my brother, when you are all that I have in this world to lean on and help me, will you take yourself away?”
“It might be better for you,” he said.
“But it _will_ not,” I said; “you will stay and go on, and God will make your strength perfect to conquer this dreadful thing too.”
“You shall try it then,” he said, and he began to sweep those accounts into a drawer as if he had done with them for the night, and as he brought his head within my reach, I could not but kiss his forehead as I said, “Thank you, my Harry.”
He screwed his lips together, with a strange half-smile very near tears, emptied the rest of a bottle of soda-water into a tumbler, gulped it down, opened the door, turned down the gas, and came down with me. Mr. Yolland was watching, I well knew, but he discreetly kept out of sight, and we came out into a very cold raw street, with the stars twinkling overhead, smiling at us with joy I thought, and the bells were ringing for evening service.
But our dangers were not over. We had just emerged into the main street when a dog-cart came dashing up, the two cigars in it looming red. It was pulled up. Harold’s outline could be recognised in any light, but I was entirely hidden in his great shadow, and a voice called out:
“Halloo, Alison, how do? A chop and claret at the ‘Boar’–eh? Come along.”
“Thank you,” said Harold, “but I am walking home with Miss Alison–“
The two gentlemen bowed, and I bowed, and oh! how I gripped Harold’s arm as I heard the reply; not openly derisive to a lady, but with a sneer in the voice, “Oh! ah! yes! But you’ll come when you’ve seen her home. We’ll send on the dog-cart for you.”
“No, thank you,” said Harold. His voice sounded firm, but I felt the thrill all through the arm I clung to. “Good night.”
He attempted no excuse, but strode on–I had to run to keep up with him–and they drove on by our side, and Nessy Horsman said, “A prior engagement, eh? And Miss Alison will not release you? Ladies’ claims are sacred, we all know.”
What possessed me I don’t know, nor how I did it, but it was in the dark and I was wrought up, and I answered, “And yours can scarcely be so! So we will go on, Harold.”
“A fair hit, Nessy,” and there was a laugh and flourish of the whip. I was trembling, and a dark cloud had drifted up with a bitter blast, and the first hailstones were falling. The door of the church was opened for a moment, showing bright light from within; the bells had ceased.
“My dear Lucy,” said Harold, “you had better go in here for shelter.”
“Not if you leave me! You must come with me,” I said, still dreading that he would leave me in church, send a fly, and fall a victim at the “Boar;” and, indeed, I was shaking so, that he would not withdraw his arm, and said, soothingly, “I’m coming.”
Oh! that blessed hailstorm that drove us in! I drew Harold into a seat by the door, keeping between him and that, that he might not escape. But I need not have feared.
Ben Yolland’s voice was just beginning the Confession. It had so rarely been heard by Harold that repetition had not blunted his ears to the sound, and presently I heard a short, low, sobbing gasp, and looked round. Harold was on his knees, his hands over his face, and his breath coming short and thick as those old words spoke out that very dumb inarticulate shame, grief, and agony, that had been swelling and bursting in his heart without utterance or form–“We have erred and strayed–there is no health in us–“
We were far behind everyone else–almost in the dark. I don’t think anyone knew we were there, and Harold did not stand up throughout the whole service, but kept his hands locked over his brow, and knelt on. Perhaps he heard little more, from the ringing of those words in his ears, for he moved no more, nor looked up, through prayers or psalms, or anything else, until the brief ceremony was entirely over, and I touched him; and then he looked up, and his eyes were swimming and streaming with tears.
We came to the door as if he was in a dream, and there a bitterly cold blast met us, though the rain had ceased. I was not clad for a night walk. Harold again proposed fetching a carriage from the “Boar,” but I cried out against that–“I would much, much rather walk with him. It was fine now.”
So we went the length of the street, and just then down came the blast on us; oh! such a hurricane, bringing another hailstorm on its wings, and sweeping along, so that I could hardly have stood but for Harold’s arm; and after a minute or two of labouring on, he lifted me up in his arms, and bore me along as if I had been a baby. Oh! I remember nothing so comfortable as that sensation after the breathless encounter with the storm. It always comes back to me when I hear the words, “A man shall be as a hiding-place from the tempest, a covert from the wind.”
He did not set me down till we were at the front door. We were both wet through, cold, and spent, and it was past nine, so long as it had taken him to labour on in the tempest. Eustace came out grumbling in his petulant way at our absence from dinner. I don’t think either of us could bear it just then: Harold went up to his room without a word; I stayed to tell that he had seen me home from church, and say a little about the fearful weather, and then ran up myself, to give orders, as Mr. Yolland had advised me, that some strong hot coffee should be taken at once to Harold’s room.
I thought it would be besetting him to go and see after him myself, but I let Dora knock at his door, and heard he had gone to bed. To me it was a long night of tossing and half-sleep, hearing the wild stormy wind, and dreaming of strange things, praying all the time that the noble soul might be won for God at last, and almost feeling, like the Icelander during the conversion of his country, the struggle between the dark spirits and the white.
I had caught a heavy cold, and should have stayed in bed had I not been far too anxious; and I am glad I did not, for I had not been many minutes in my sitting-room before there was a knock at the door, and Harold came in, and what he said was, “Lucy, how does one pray ?”
Poor boys! Their mothers, in the revulsion from all that had seemed like a system of bondage, had held lightly by their faith, and in the cares and troubles of their life had heeded little of their children’s devotions, so that the practical heathenism of their home at Boola Boola had been unrelieved save by Eustace the elder, when his piety was reckoned as part of his weak, gentlemanly refinement. The dull hopeless wretchedness was no longer in Harold’s face, but there was a wistful, gentle weariness, and yet rest in it, which was very touching, as he came to me with his strange sad question, “How does one pray?”
I don’t know exactly how I answered it. I hardly could speak for crying, as I told him the very same things one tells the little children, and tried to find him some book to help; but my books no more suited him than my clothes would have done, till he said, “I want what they said in church yesterday.”
And as we knelt together, and I said it, the 51st Psalm came to my mind, and I went through it, oh! how differently from when I had said it the day before. “Ah!” he said at the end, “thank you.”
And then he stood and looked at the picture which was as his child’s to him, turned and said, “Well for him that he is out of all this!”
Presently, when I had marked a Prayer Book for him, he said, “And may I ask that the–the craving I told you of may not come on so intolerably?”
“‘Ask, and it shall be given,'” I said. “It may not go at once, dear Harold. Temptation does come, but only to be conquered; and you will conquer now.”
We went down to breakfast, where Eustace appeared in full hunting trim, but Harold in the rough coat and long gaiters that meant farming work; and to Eustace’s invitations to the run, he replied by saying he heard that Phil Ogden had been to ask him about some difficulty in the trenching work, and he was going to see to it. So he spent the daylight hours in one of those digging and toiling tasks of his “that three day-labourers could not end.” I saw him coming home at six o’clock, clay up to the eyes, and having achieved wholesome hunger and wholesome sleepiness.
Eustace had come in cross. He had been chaffed about Harold’s shirking, and being a dutiful nephew, and he did not like it at all. He thought Harold ought to have come out for his sake, and to show they did not care. “I do care,” said Harold. And when Eustace, with his usual taste, mentioned that they had laughed at the poor fellow led meekly home by his aunt, Harold laid a kind hand on mine, which spoke more than words. I had reason to think that his struggle lasted some time longer, and that the enemy he had reawakened was slow of being laid to rest, so that he was for weeks undergoing the dire conflict; but he gave as little sign as possible, and he certainly conquered.
And from that time there certainly was a change. He was not a man without God any longer. He had learnt that he could not keep himself straight, and had enough of the childlike nature to believe there was One who could. I don’t mean that he came at once to be all I could have wished or figured to myself as a religious man. He went to church on Sunday morning now, chiefly, I do believe, for love of the Confession, which was the one voice for his needs; and partly, too, because I had pressed for that outward token, thinking that it would lead him on to more; but it generally seemed more weariness than profit, and he never could sit still five minutes without falling asleep, so that he missed even those sermons of Mr. Ben Yolland’s that I thought must do him good.
I tried once, when, feeling how small my powers were beside his, to get him to talk to this same Mr. Yolland, whose work among the pottery people he tried to second, but he recoiled with a tone half scorn, half reserve, which showed that he would bear no pressure in that direction. Only he came to my sitting-room every morning, as if kneeling with me a few moments, and reading a few short verses, were to be his safeguard for the day, and sometimes he would ask me a question. Much did I long for counsel in dealing with him, but I durst seek none, except once, when something Mr. Ben Yolland said about his having expressed strong affection for me, made me say, “If only I were fitter to deal with him,” the answer was, “Go on as you are doing; that is better for him as yet than anything else.”
CHAPTER IX. THE CHAMPION’S BELT.
After all, the fates sent us a chaperon. A letter came addressed to my mother, and proved to be from the clergyman of a village in the remotest corner of Devonshire, where a cousin of my father had once been vicar. His widow, the daughter of his predecessor, had lived on there, but, owing to the misdoings of her son and the failure of a bank, she was in much distress. All intercourse with the family had dropped since my father’s death, but the present vicar, casting about for means of helping her, had elicited that the Arghouse family were the only relations she knew of, and had written to ask assistance for her.
“I will go and see about her,” said Harold. So he shouldered his bag, walked into Mycening, and started in the tender, the only place where he could endure railway travelling. Four days later came this note:
“My Dear Lucy,–Send the carriage to meet Mrs. Alison at 4.40 on Saturday. Your affectionate
I handed the note to Eustace in amazement, but I perceived that he, like his cousin, thought it quite simple that the home of the head of the family should be a refuge for all its waifs and strays, and as I was one myself, I felt rebuked.
I went to Mycening in the carriage, and beheld Harold emerge from a first-class, extracting therefrom one basket after another, two bird- cages, a bundle, an umbrella, a parcel, a cloak, and, finally, a little panting apple-cheeked old lady. “Here’s Lucy! that’s right.” And as both his hands were full, he honoured me with a hasty kiss on the forehead. “She’ll take care of you, while I get the rest of it.”
“But, oh!–my dear man–my pussy–and–and your wadded cloak–and, oh–my sable muff–your poor papa’s present, I would not lose it for a thousand pounds!”
I found the muff, which could not easily be overlooked, for it was as big as a portmanteau, and stuffed full of sundries. “Oh dear yes, my dear, thank you, so it is; but the cat–my poor pussy. No, my dear, that’s the bantams–very choice. My poor little Henry had them given to him when he was six years old–the old ones I mean–and I’ve never parted with them. ‘Take them all,’ he said–so good; but, oh dear. Tit! Tit! Tittie! He was playing with her just now. Has anyone seen a tabby cat? Bless me, there it goes! So dreadful! It takes one’s breath away, and all my things. Oh! where is he?”
“All right,” said Harold. “There are your boxes, and here’s your cat,” showing a striped head under his coat. “Now say what you want to-night, and I’ll send for the rest.”
She looked wildly about, uttering an incoherent inventory, which Harold cut short by handing over articles to the porter according to his own judgment, and sweeping her into the carriage, returning as I was picking up the odds and ends that had been shed on the way. “You have had a considerable charge,” said I, between amusement and dismay.
“Poor old thing, comfort her! She never saw a train before, and is regularly overset.”
He put me into the carriage, emptied his pockets of the cat and other trifles, and vanished in the twilight, the old lady gaspingly calling after him, and I soothing her by explaining that he always liked walking home to stretch his legs, while she hoped I was sure, and that it was not want of room. Truly a man of his size could not well have been squeezed in with her paraphernalia, but I did my best to console the old lady for the absence of her protector, and I began at last to learn, as best I could from her bewildered and entangled speech, how he had arrived, taken the whole management of her affairs, and insisted on carrying her off; but her gratitude was strangely confused with her new railway experiences and her anxieties about her parcels. I felt as if I had drifted a little bit farther from old times, when we held our heads rather fastidiously high above “odd people.”
But old Mrs. Samuel Alison _was_ a lady, as even Lady Diana allowed; but of a kind nearly extinct. She had only visited London and Bath once, on her wedding tour, in the days of stage-coaches; there was provincialism in her speech, and the little she had ever been taught she had forgotten, and she was the most puzzle-headed woman I ever encountered. I do not think she ever realised that it was at Harold’s own expense that her rent and other little accounts had been paid up, nor that Eustace was maintaining her. She thought herself only on a long visit, and trusted the assurances that Harold was settling everything for ever. The L30 income which remained to her out of one of L200 served for her pocket-money, and all else was provided for her, without her precisely understanding how; nor did she seem equal to the complications of her new home. She knew our history in a certain sort of way, but she spoke of one of us to the other as “your brother,” or “your sister,” and the late Mr. Sam always figured as “your poor papa.” We tried at first to correct her, but never got her farther than “your poor uncle,” and at last we all acquiesced except Eustace, who tried explanations with greater perseverance than effect. Her excuse always was that Harold was so exactly like her poor dear little Henry, except for his beard, that she could almost think she was speaking to him! She was somewhat deaf, and did not like to avow it, which accounted for some of her blunders. One thing she could never understand, namely, why Harold and Eustace had never met her “poor little Henry” in Australia, which she always seemed to think about as big as the Isle of Wight. He had been last heard of at Melbourne; and we might tell her a hundred times that she might as well wonder we had not met a man at Edinburgh; she always recurred to “I do so wish you had seen my poor dear little Henry!” till Harold arrived at a promise to seek out the said Henry, who, by all appearances, was an unmitigated scamp, whenever he should return to Australia.
On the whole, her presence was very good for us, if only by infusing the element of age. She liked to potter about in the morning, attending to her birds and bantams, and talking to the gardening men, weeding women, and all the people in the adjacent hamlet; and, afterwards, the fireside, with her knitting and a newspaper, sufficed her. Not the daily papers–they were far too much for her; but the weekly paper from her own town, which lasted her till a new one came, as she spelled it through, and communicated the facts and facetiae as she thought them suited to our capacity. She was a better walker than I, and would seldom come out in the carriage, for she always caught cold when she did so. A long nap after dinner ended in her resuming her knitting quite contentedly in silence. She wanted no more, though she was pleased if any one said a few kindly words to her. Nothing could be more inoffensive, and she gave us a centre and something needing consideration. I feared Dora might be saucy to her, but perhaps motherliness was what the wild child needed, for she drew towards her, and was softened, and even submitted to learn to knit, for the sake of the mighty labour of making a pair of socks for Harold.
The respectability her presence gave in our pew, and by our hearth, was a great comfort to our friends of all degrees. She was a very pretty old lady, with dark eyes, cheeks still rosy, lovely loose waves of short snowy curls, and a neat, active little figure, which looked well in the good black silks in which I contrived to invest her.
Good old woman, she thought us all shockingly full of worldliness, little guessing how much gaiety was due to her meek presence among us. We even gave dinner-parties in state, and what Richardson and I underwent from Eustace in preparation, no tongue can tell, nor Eustace’s complacence in handing down Lady Diana!
The embargo on intercourse with Arked House was over before Viola was taken to London to be introduced. Eustace wanted much to follow them, be at the levee, and spend the season in town. Had he not been presented at Government House, and was it not due to the Queen? Dora more practically offered to follow the example of the Siberian exile, and lay a petition for Prometesky’s release at her Majesty’s feet, but Harold uttered his ponderous “No” alike to both, proving, in his capacity as agent, that Eustace had nothing like the amount this year which could enable him to spend two or three months even as a single man in London society. The requisite amount, which he had ascertained, was startling, even had Eustace been likely to be frugal; nor could this year’s income justify it, in spite of Boola Boola. The expense of coming into the estate, together with all the repairs and improvements, had been such that the Australian property had been needed to supplement the new. Eustace was very angry and disappointed, and grumbled vehemently. It was all Harry’s fault for making him spend hundreds on his own maggots, that nobody wanted and nobody cared about, and would be the ruin of him. Poor Bullock would have raised the sum fast enough, and thought nothing of it.
Harry never said how much of his own funds from Boola Boola had supplemented Eustace’s outlay; he did not even say how much better it was to be a good landlord than a man about town; all he did was to growl forth to his spoilt child, “There’ll be more forthcoming next year.”
Eustace protested that he did not believe it, and Harold replied, “No legacy duty–no stock to purchase–Hydriots’ dividend–“
It did not check the murmur, and Eustace sulked all the rest of the day; indeed, this has always seemed to me to have been the first little rift in his adherence to his cousin, but at that time his dependence was so absolute, and his power of separate action so small, that he submitted to the decree even while he grumbled; and when he found that Lord Erymanth viewed it as very undesirable for a young man to come up to London without either home or business, or political views, took to himself great credit for the wise decision.
Indeed, Lord Erymanth did invite us all for a fortnight to his great old mansion in Piccadilly to see the Exhibition, and, as he solemnly told me, “to observe enough of our institutions as may prepare my young friends for future life.” Even Dora was asked, by special entreaty from Viola, who undertook to look after her–rather too boldly, considering that Di–i.e. Mrs. Enderby–was mistress of Viola’s movements, and did not leave her much time to waste upon us.
In fact, Mrs. Enderby, though perfectly civil, was evidently hostile to us, and tried to keep her sister out of our way as much as she could, thickening engagements upon her, at which Viola made all the comical murmurs her Irish blood could prompt, but of course in vain. Eustace’s great ambition was to follow her to her parties, and Lady Diana favoured him when she could; but Harold would have nothing to do with such penances. He never missed a chance of seeing Viola come down attired for them, but, as he once said, “that was enough for him.” He did not want to see her handed about and grimaced at by a lot of fine gentlemen who did not seem to think anything worth the trouble; and as to the crowd and the stifling, they made him feel ready to strike out and knock everyone down.
So much Eustace and I elicited in short sentences one day, when we were rather foolishly urging on him to let himself be taken with us to an evening party. No, he went his own way and took Dora with him, and I was quite sure that they were safe together, and that after his year’s experience he was to be trusted to know where it was fitting to take her. They saw a good deal that was more entertaining than we could venture on; and, moreover, Harold improved his mind considerably in the matters of pottery, porcelain, and model lodging- houses.
Dermot was in London too, not staying with uncle or sister, for both of whom he was much too erratic, though he generally presented himself at such times as were fittest for ascertaining our movements for the day, when it generally ended in his attaching himself to some of us, for Harold seemed to have passed an act of oblivion on the doings of that last unhappy meeting, and allowed himself to be taken once or twice with Eustace into Dermot’s own world; but not only was he on his guard there, but he could not be roused to interest even where horseflesh was concerned. Some one said he was too great a barbarian, and so he was. His sports and revelries had been on a wilder, ruder, more violent scale, such as made these seem tame. He did not understand mere trifling for amusement’s sake, still less how money could be thrown away for it and for fashion, when it was so cruelly wanted by real needs; and even Dermot was made uncomfortable by his thorough earnestness. “It won’t do in ‘the village’ in the nineteenth century,” said he to me. “It is like–who was that old fellow it was said of–a lion stalking about in a sheepfold.”
“Sheep!” said I, indignantly. “I am afraid some are wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Dermot shrugged his shoulders and said, “How is one to help oneself if one has been born some two thousand years too late, or not in the new half-baked hemisphere where demigods still walk the earth in their simplicity?”
“I want you not to spoil the demigod when he has walked in among you.”
“I envy him too much to do that,” said Dermot with a sigh.
“I believe you, Dermot, but don’t take him among those who want to do so.”
“That’s your faith in your demigod,” said Dermot, not able to resist