a little teasing; but seeing I was really pained, he added: “No, Lucy, I’ll never take him again to meet Malvoisin and Nessy Horsman. In the first place, I don’t know how he might treat them; and in the next, I would die sooner than give them another chance, even if he would. I thought the men would have been struck with him as I was; but no, it is not in them to be struck with anyone. All they think of is how to make him like themselves.”
“Comus’ crew!” said I. “Oh! Dermot, how can you see it and be one of them?”
“I’m not happy enough to be an outer barbarian,” he said, and went his way.
There was a loan exhibition of curious old objects in plate and jewellery, to which Lady Diana took me, and where, among other things, we found a long belt crusted thickly with scales of gold, and with a sort of medal at the clasp.
“Just look here, mamma,” said Viola; “I do believe this is the archery prize.”
And sure enough on the ticket was, “Belt, supposed to be of Peruvian workmanship. Taken in the Spanish Armada, 1588. Champion belt at the Northchester Archery Club. Lent by Miss Hippolyta Horsman.”
Lady Diana came to look with some interest. She had never had an opportunity of examining it closely before, and she now said, “I am much inclined to believe that this is the belt that used to be an heirloom in the Jerfield family, and which ought to be in yours, Lucy.”
My father’s first wife had been the last of the Jerfields, and I asked eager questions. Lady Diana believed that “those unhappy young men” had made away with all their mother’s jewels, but she could tell no more, as our catastrophe had taken place while she was living at Killy Marey. Her brother, she said, could tell us more; and so he did, enough to set Eustace on fire.
Yes, the belt had been well known. It was not taken in the Armada, but in a galleon of the Peruvian plunder by an old Jerfield, who had been one of the race of Westward Ho! heroes. The Jerfields had not been prosperous, and curious family jewels had been nearly all the portion of the lady who had married my father. The sons had claimed them, and they were divided between them, and given to the two wives; and in the time of distress, when far too proud to accept aid from the father, as well as rather pleased at mortifying him by disposing of his family treasures, Alice and Dorothy Alison had gradually sold them off. And, once in the hands of local jewellers, it was easy for the belt to pass into becoming the prize held by the winner in the Archery Club every year. Lord Erymanth would go with Eustace the next morning to identify it; but what would be the use of that? Eustace at first fancied he could claim it, but soon he saw that his proposal was viewed as so foolish that he devoured it, and talked of giving an equivalent; but, as Lord Erymanth observed, it would be very difficult to arrange this with an article of family and antiquarian value, in the hands of an archery club–an impersonal body.
“The thing would be to win it,” said Viola. “Could not some of us?”
“Well done, little Miss Tell,” returned Dermot. “Hippo has won that same belt these four years, to my certain knowledge, except once, when Laurie Stympson scored two more.”
“I’ll practise every day; won’t you, Lucy? And then, between us, there will be two chances.”
“I am sure I am very much nattered by Miss Tracy’s kindness,” put in Eustace; “but is the match solely between ladies?”
No, for the last two years, after a match between ladies and between gentlemen, there had a final one taken place between the two winners, male and female, in which Hippo had hitherto always carried off the glory and the belt. So Eustace intimated his full intention of trying for himself, endeavouring to be very polite to Viola and me, but implying that he thought himself a far surer card, boasting of his feats as a marksman in the Bush, until Dora broke in, “Why, Eustace, that was Harry; wasn’t it, Harry?”
“Comme a l’ordinaire,” muttered Dermot. Eustace made a little stammering about the thing being so near that no one could tell, and Dora referred again to Harold, who put her down with a muttered “Never mind” under his beard.
What was to be done with it if it were won? “Get a fac-simile made, and an appropriate inscription,” recommended Lord Erymanth. “Probably they would take that willingly.”
“But what would you do with it?” asked Harold. “You can’t wear it.”
“I tell you it is an heirloom,” quoth Eustace. “Have you no feeling for an heirloom? I am sure it was your mother who sold it away from me.”
The sight of the belt, with Lord Erymanth’s lecture on it, inflamed Eustace’s ardour all the more, and we made extensive purchases of bows and arrows; that is to say, Eustace and I did, for Lady Diana would not permit Viola to join in the contest. She did not like the archery set, disapproved of public matches for young ladies, and did not choose her daughter to come forward in the cause. I did not fancy the matches either, and was certain that my mere home pastime had no chance with Hippo and Pippa, who had studied archery scientifically for years, and aimed at being the best lady shots in England; but Eustace would never have forgiven me if I had not done my best. So we subscribed to the Archery Club as soon as we went home; and Eustace would have had me practise with him morning, noon, and night, till I rebelled, and declared that if he knocked me up my prowess would be in vain, and that I neither could nor would shoot more than an hour and a half a day.
His ardour, however, soon turned into vituperations of the stupid sport. How could mortal man endure it? If it had been pistol or rifle-shooting now, it would have been tolerable, and he should have been sure to excel; but a great long, senseless, useless thing like an arrow was only fit for women or black fellows; the string hurt one’s fingers too–always slipping off the tabs.
“No wonder, as you hold it,” said Harold, who had just turned aside to watch on his way down to the potteries, and came in time to see an arrow fly into the bank a yard from the target. “Don’t you see how Lucy takes it?”
I had already tried to show him, but he had pronounced mine to be the ladies’ way, and preferred to act by the light of nature. Harry looked, asked a question or two, took the bow in his own hands, and with “This way, Eustace; don’t you see?” had an arrow in the outer white.
“Yes,” said Eustace, “of course, stupid thing, anybody can do it without any trouble.”
“It is pretty work,” said Harry, taking up the third arrow, and sending it into the inner white.
“Much too easy for men,” was Eustace’s opinion, and he continued to despise it until, being capable of perseverance of a certain kind, and being tutored by Harold, he began to succeed in occasionally piercing the target, upon which his mind changed, and he was continually singing the praises of archery in the tone (whispered Viola) of the sparrow who killed Cock Robin with his bow and arrow!
We used to practise for an hour every afternoon, and the fascination of the sport gained upon Harold so much that he sent for a bow and arrows, and shot with us whenever he was not too busy, as, between the agency and the potteries, he often was. He did not join the club, nor come to the weekly meetings at Northchester with Eustace and me, until, after having seen a little of the shooting there, I privately hinted to him that there was not the smallest chance of the champion belt changing hands unless he took up the family cause. Whereupon, rather than that Eustace should be disappointed, he did ask to be admitted, and came once with us to the meeting, when, to tell the truth, he did not shoot as well as usual, for–as afterwards appeared–in riding into Northchester he had stopped to help to lift up a great tree that was insecure on its timber waggon, and even his hands shook a little from the exertion. Besides, Eustace had discovered that Harold’s new bow shot better than his, and had insisted on changing, and Harold had not so proved the powers of Eustace’s as to cure it of its inferiority.
Eustace really came to shooting so tolerably as to make him look on the sport with complacency, and like the people he met there. All this hardly seems worth telling, but events we little thought of sprang from those archery practices. For the present we found them a great means of getting acquainted with the neighbours. I bowed now to many more people than ever I had done before, and we had come into great favour since the Hydriots had astonished the county by announcing a dividend. It was only three per cent., but that was an immense advance upon nothing, and the promise of the future was great; the shares had gone up nearly to their original value in the most sanguine days; and the workmen–between prosperity, good management, the lecture-room at the “Dragon’s Head,” and the work among them done by the clerical, as well as the secular, Yolland– were, not models by any means, but far from the disorderly set they had been. They did take some pride in decent houses and well-dressed children, and Harold’s plans for the improvement of their condition were accepted as they never would have been from one whose kindly sympathy and strength of will did not take them, as it were, captive. “Among those workmen you feel that he is a born king of men,” said Ben Yolland.
And as Bullock had been bailiff as well as agent, Harry had all the home-farming matters on his hands, and attended to them like any farmer, so that it was no wonder that he gave little time to the meetings for archery practice, which involved the five miles expedition, and even to our own domestic practice, answering carelessly, when Eustace scolded him about letting a chance go by, and his heedlessness of the honour of the family, “Oh, I take a shot or two every morning as I go out, to keep my hand in.”
“You’ll get your arrows spoilt in the dew,” said Eustace.
“They don’t go into the dew,” said Harold. And as he was always out with the lark, even Dora seldom saw this practice; but there were always new holes very near the centre of the target, which Eustace said proved how true was his own aim.
Harvest came, and in the middle of it the great archery match of the year, which was held in the beautiful grounds of Mr. Vernon, the member for Northchester, a little way from the town.
“I suppose Harry may as well go,” said Eustace; “but he has not practised at all, so it will be of little avail. Now if I had not grazed my hand, I should have scored quite as much as Miss Horsman last week. It all lies in caring about it.”
And severe was his lecture to Harold against foolishly walking in and making his hand unsteady. Yet, after all, when the carriage came to the door, Harold was not to be found, though his bow and arrows were laid ready with ours to be taken. He endured no other apparatus. The inside of his fingers was like leather, and he declared that tabs and guard only hampered him. Lady Diana had yielded to her daughter’s entreaties, and brought her to see the contest, though only as a spectator. As I stood shy and far from sanguine among the lady archers, I felt out of my natural place, and glad she was under her mother’s wing, she looked so fair and innocent in her delicate blue and white, and was free for such sweet ardour in our cause, all the prettier and more arch because its demonstrations were kept down with the strong hand of her mother.
Hippolyta and Philippa Horsman were in tightly-made short-skirted dresses, pork-pie hats, and strong boots, all black picked out with scarlet, like Hippo’s own complexion. She was tall, with a good active figure, and handsome, but she had reached the age when the colouring loses its pure incarnadine and becomes hard and fixed, and she had a certain likeness to all those creatures whose names are compounded of tiger. But she was a good-natured being, and of late I had begun to understand better her aspirations towards doing and becoming something more than the mere domestic furniture kind of young lady.
Her aberrations against good taste and reticence were, I began to understand, misdirected outbreaks of the desire to be up and doing. Even now, as we ladies drew for our turn, she was saying, half sadly, “I’m tired of it all. What good comes of getting this belt over and over again? If it were rifle or pistol shooting it might be of use, but one could hardly organise a regiment of volunteers with the long bows when the invasion comes off.”
Wit about the Amazonian regiment with the long bow was current all the time we ladies were shooting, and Eustace was worrying me to such a degree, that nervousness made me perform ten degrees worse than usual, but that mattered little, for Hippolyta, with another of her cui bono sighs, carried off the Roman mosaic that was the ladies’ prize, telling Pippa that it should be hers when the belt was won.
“Don’t be too sure.”
“Bosh! There’s no one here who can handle a bow but Charlie Stympson. One Alison is a spoon, and the other is a giant made to be conquered. When he shot before, his arrows went right over the grounds, and stuck into a jackdaw’s nest on the church tower! I can’t think why he came.”
“To make a feather in your cap.”
“What a substantial one!”
There I escaped to a seat by Lady Diana, where Viola could expend her enthusiasm in clutches and squeezes of my hand. Eustace was by this time wrought up to such a state that he hardly knew what he was doing, and his first arrow wavered and went feebly aside. Two or three more shot, and then the tall figure came to the front; one moment, and the cry was “Gold,” while Viola’s clap of the hands brought on her a frown from her mother, who thought demonstrativeness improper. She had to content herself with pinching my fingers every time one of those shafts went home to the heart of the target, and Harold stood, only too facile princeps, while Eustace sauntered up to us with the old story about the sun or the damp, I forget which, only it was something that had spoilt his archery.
Hippolyta was undaunted. The small target and longer range had thrown out many a competitor before now, and her not very low-pitched tone was heard observing that no dumb giant should beat her at her own tools.
Whatever had been her weariness of her successes before, it was gone now, and she shot splendidly. Never had such shooting been known in the annals of the club, and scarcely a word passed as the two went pacing between the two little targets, Harold with his calm, easy movement, business-like but without effort, and Hippolyta with excitement beginning to tell on her. Each time she passed us we saw her step more impetuous, the glow on her cheeks deeper, and at last that her eyes were full of tears; and after that, one arrow went into the outer white, and the last even into the green; while Harry’s final shot was into that one great confluent hole that the centre of the target had become.
“Heard ye the arrow hurtle through the sky? Heard ye the dragon monster’s deathful cry?”
whispered Viola. “Mamma won’t let me cheer, and I must have it out somehow.”
And as I sprang up and hurried to Harold, she came with me, taking care to cast no look behind, for fear of detaining glances; and she put out both hands to shake his, as he stood with the smile lighting up his face as he saw the pleasure he had given; though Eustace never came forward, unable to rejoice where he had been so palpably and publicly excelled.
Hippolyta behaved well. She came up holding out her hand, and saying, “Well, Mr. Alison, if one is to fall, it is a pleasure to have so mighty a victor. But why did you never let me see before what a Palnatoke (if I must not say Tell) I had to deal with?”
“I had no time for the practices,” said Harold, puzzled as to who Palnatoke was.
“Worse and worse! You don’t mean that you shoot like this without practice?”
“Lucy taught me a little.”
“Well, if heaven-born archers come down on one, there’s nothing for it but submitting. Robin Hood must prevail,” said Hippolyta, as the belt was handed over to Harold, with a sigh that made him say in excuse, “I would not have done it, but that Eustace wanted to have it in his hands, for family reasons.”
“Then let him look to it; I mean to get it again next year. And, I say, Mr. Alison, I have a right to some compensation. All you archers are coming to lunch at Therford on Thursday, if the sun shines, to be photographed, you know. Now you must come to breakfast, and bring your lion’s skin and your bow–to be done alone. It is all the consolation I ask. Make him, Lucy. Bring him.”
There was no refusing; and that was the way the photograph came to be taken. We were reminded by a note after we went home, including in the invitation Eustace, who, after being a little sulky, had made up his mind that a long range was easier to shoot at than a short one, and so that he should have won the prize if he had had the chance; and the notion of being photographed was, of course, delightful to him.
“In what character shall you take me?” he asked of Miss Horsman, when we were going out on the lawn, and it dawned on him that Harry was to be a Hercules.
“Oh! as Adonis, of course,” said Hippo.
“Or Eurystheus,” whispered her sister.
Eustace did not understand, and looked pleased, saying something about a truly classical get up; but Harold muttered to me, “Aren’t they making game of him?”
“They will take care not to vex him,” I said.
But Harold could not overlook it, and took a dislike to the Horsmans on the spot, which all Hippolyta’s genuine admiration of him could not overcome. She knew what the work of his eighteen months in England had been, and revered him with such enthusiasm for what she called his magnificent manhood and beneficence, as was ready on the least encouragement to have become something a good deal warmer; but whatever she did served to make her distasteful to him. First, she hastily shuffled over Eustace’s portrait, because, as she allowed us to hear, “he would give her no peace till he was disposed of.” And then she not only tormented her passive victim a good deal in trying to arrange him as Hercules, but she forgot the woman in the artist, and tried to make him bare his neck and shoulder in a way that made him blush while he uttered his emphatic “No, no!” and Baby Jack supported him by telling her she “would only make a prize-fighter of him.” Moreover, he would have stood more at ease if the whole of Therford had not been overrun with dogs. He scorned to complain, and I knew him too well to do so for him; but it was a strain on his self-command to have them all smelling about his legs, and wanting to mumble the lion skin, especially Hippo’s great bloodhound, Kirby, as big as a calf, who did once make him start by thrusting his long cold nose into his hand. Hippo laughed, but Harold could do nothing but force out a smile.
And I always saw the disgusted and bored expression most prominently in her performance, which at the best could never have given the grandeur of the pose she made him take, with the lion skin over his shoulder, and the arrows and bow in his hand. He muttered that a rifle would be more rational, and that he could hold it better, but withdrew the protest when he found that Hippo was ready to implore him to teach her to shoot with pistol, rifle–anything.
“Your brother can show you. You’ve only to fire at a mark,” was all that could be got out of him.
Nor would he be entrapped into a beneficent talk. His great talent for silence served him well, and though I told him afterwards that he had not done Hippo justice–for she honestly wanted an opening for being useful–he was not mollified. “I don’t like tongue,” was all he further said of her.
But whatever Hippo was, or whatever she did, I shall always be grateful to her for that photograph.
CHAPTER X. DERMOT’S MARE.
All this time Dermot Tracy had been from home. He had not come back after the season, but had been staying with friends and going to various races, in which, as usual, he had heavy stakes. He persuaded my two nephews to meet him at Doncaster, where he ran one of the horses bred on his Irish estate, and afterwards to go and make him a visit at Killy Marey, County Kildare, where he used to stay about once a year, shooting or hunting, as the season might be, and always looking after his horses and entertaining all the squires and squireens of the neighbourhood, and many of the officers from the Curragh. The benefit of those visits was very doubtful both as to morals and purses, and Lord Erymanth pointedly said he was sorry when he heard that Harold and Eustace were of the party.
I do not know whether Lady Diana viewed them as bad companions for her son, or her son as a bad companion for them; but she was very severe about it, and when I thought of the hunt dinner at Foling, my heart sank, even while I was indignant at any notion of distrusting Harold; and it did indeed seem to me that he had learnt where to look for strength and self-command, and that he had a real hatred and contempt of evil. Yet I should have been more entirely happy about him if he had not still held aloof from all those innermost ordinances, of which he somehow did not feel the need, or understand the full drift. Nor would he bow himself to give to any man the confidence or the influence over him he had given to an incapable girl like me. And if I should have feared for the best brought up, most religious of young men, in such scenes as I was told were apt to take place at Killy Marey, how could I not be anxious for my nephews? But nothing ever turns out as one expects.
I was at Arked one day, and Lady Diana was telling me of the great rambling house at Killy Marey, and how, when she arrived as a bride, none of the doors would shut except two that would not open, behind one of which lived the family ghost; how the paper hung in festoons on the walls, and the chairs were of the loveliest primrose-coloured brocade; and how the green of the meadows was so wonderful, that she was always remembering it was the Emerald Isle; but how hopeless and impossible it was to get anything properly done, and how no good could be done where the Romish priests had interfered. All the old story of course. In the midst, a telegraph paper was brought to her; she turned deadly white, and bade me open it, for she could not. I knew she thought her son had met his father’s fate, and expected to astonish her with the tidings that he was coming home by the next steamer, or that he had sent some game, or the like. Alas! no; the mother’s foreboding had been too near the truth. The telegram was from Eustace: “Tracy has had a bad horse accident. The doctor wishes for you.”
There was nothing for it but to speed the mother and daughter on their hurried start to catch the Holyhead packet and cross that night. I went home to await in terror and trembling the despatch I might receive, and to be enlivened by Mrs. Sam Alison’s cheering accounts of all the accidents she could recollect. “Horses are dangerous creatures to meddle with, and your poor papa never would let me take the reins when we kept a gig–which was when he was living, you know, my dear. ‘You never can trust their heels,’ he used to say; and it was only last week little Cocker was kicked off, but that was a donkey, and they were using him shamefully,” &c. &c. &c. I felt as if a swarm of bees were humming in my ears, and walked about to make the suspense more tolerable, but I absolutely had no news at all till Viola’s letter came. It was a long one, for she could be of no service as yet, and to write letters was at once her use and her solace.
Among the horses which Dermot’s Irish agent had been buying for training purposes was a mare, own sister to Harold’s hunter–a splendid creature of three years old, of wonderful beauty, power, and speed, but with the like indomitable temper. She would suffer no living thing to approach her but one little stable-boy, and her own peculiar cat, which slept on her back, and took all sorts of liberties with her. Her value would be great if she could be trained, but the training was the problem. Harold, who, partly from early familiarity, partly from the gentleness of fearless strength, had a matchless power over horses, had made acquaintance with her one evening, had been suffered in her box, had fed her, caressed her cat, and led her round the stable-yard as a first stage in the conquest of horse by man.
In the early morning, Dermot, quite as fearless, and unwilling that anyone should do or dare more than himself, had gone alone to make the same attempt, but no sooner did the mare find him beside her, than she seized him by the shoulder with her teeth, threw him down, and kicked and trampled on him. None of the grooms could succeed in rescuing him, and it was only when Eustace’s cry had summoned Harold, that, grasping the mare’s halter and forcing her back with his arm of iron, he made it possible for Eustace and a groom to drag out poor Dermot’s senseless form, in a state that at first appeared to be death itself. For several days his condition was so extremely precarious, that Harold never once left him till his mother arrived, and even after that was his most effective nurse. He sent me a message, in Viola’s letter, that he had not had a moment to write, and hoped I had not been too anxious.
After this, Viola wrote every day, and told of gradual improvement in her brother, and at last how he had been lifted to the sofa, and mamma hoped in a fortnight or three weeks he might be able to be taken home. By the next post came a note from Harold, saying he could be spared, and was coming home, and that very evening he walked into the house, and was welcomed by Dora with shrieks of ecstatic joy.
He said Dermot was better, but he looked worn, and had the indefinable expression of pain which made me sure that something had gone wrong, and presently I found out that the bite in the shoulder was a very bad business, still causing much suffering, but that the most serious matter was, that a kick in the side had renewed the damage left by the old Alma bullet, and that great care would be needed all the winter. But Harold seemed more reluctant to open his mouth than ever, and only, by most diligent pumping, did Mrs. Alison get out of him what doctors they had called in, and whether they had used all the recipes for wounds and bruises that she had entrusted to me to be sent, and which had for the most part remained in my blotting-book.
The next morning, to my grief and distress, he did not come to my room, but I found he had been up and out long before it was light, and he made his appearance at eleven o’clock, saying he had promised to go and give Lord Erymanth an account of his nephew, and wanted me to come with him “to do the talking, or he should never stand it.” If I did not object to the dog-cart and Daniel O’Rourke immediately, we should be there by luncheon time. I objected to nothing that Harry drove, but all the way to Erymanth not ten words passed, and those were matters of necessity. I had come to the perception that when he did not want to speak it was better to let him take his own time.
Lord Erymanth was anxious, not only about Dermot’s health, and his sister’s strength and spirits, but he wanted to hear what Harold thought of the place and of the tone of the country; and, after our meal, when he grew more confidential, he elicited short plain answers full of information in short compass, and not very palatable. The estate was “not going on well.” “Did Harold think well of the agent?” “He had been spoilt.” “How?” “By calls for supplies.” “Were the people attached to Dermot?” “To a certain degree.” “Would it be safe for him to live there?” “He ought.”
Lord Erymanth entirely assented to this, and we found that he had all along held that his sister had been in error for not having remained at Killy Marey, and brought up her son to his duties as a landlord, whatever the danger; though of course she, poor thing, could hardly be expected to see it in that light. He evidently viewed this absenteeism as the cause of the wreck of Dermot’s youth, and those desultory habits of self-indulgence and dissipation which were overcoming that which was good and noble in him; and the good old man showed that he blamed himself for what he had conceded to his sister in the first shock of her misfortune. Harold had told him of the warm feeling shown by the tenantry when Dermot was lying in danger of his life, and their rejoicing when he turned the corner and began to recover, and he asked anxiously whether all this affection might not awaken a responsive chord, and draw him to “what was undoubtedly his proper sphere.”
“It will,” said Harold.
“You think so? And there is little doubt but that your cousin’s influence at such a critical period may have great effect in turning the scale?”
“More especially as, from the intelligence I have received, I have little doubt that the connection will be drawn a good deal closer before long,” said Lord Erymanth with a benignant smile at us both. “I suppose we must not begin to congratulate one another yet, for I may conclude that nothing had actually taken place when you came away.”
“When my sister became conscious of the condition of affairs and wrote to consult me, I had no hesitation in replying that, though Viola’s connections might warrant greater expectations in a worldly point of view, yet I thought that there was every reason for promoting an attachment to a gentleman of family equal to her own on one side at least, and whose noble exertions during the past two years for the welfare of all concerned with him, not only obliterate all recollection of past disadvantages, but in every way promise honour and happiness to all connected with him.”
I was not a little excited, but one of the worst fits of restlessness under Lord Erymanth’s harangues had come upon Harold. He only sat it out by pulling so many hairs out of his beard that they made an audible frizzle in the fire when he brushed them off his knee, and stood up, saying gruffly, “You are very good; he deserves it. But I must get Lucy home in good time. May I go and speak to your coachman? Tracy gave me a message for him.”
Harold was off, and Lord Erymanth observed, “A very fine young man that. It is much to be regretted that he did not employ the advantages he enjoyed at Sydney as his cousin Eustace did, and left himself so rugged and unpolished.”
“You must learn to like him, dear Lord Erymanth,” I said. “He is all a very dear brother could be to me.”
And allegiance to him kept back every word of that infinite superiority, which was never more shown than by the opinion of Eustace, which his great unselfish devotion continued, without the least deceit, to impress on most people. Lord Erymanth rejoiced, and we agreed that it was very lucky for me that I preferred Harold, since I should have had to yield up my possession of Eustace. The old gentleman was most kind and genial, and much delighted that the old breach with the Alisons should be healed, and that his niece should make a marriage which he greatly preferred to her sister’s, and together we sung the praises of our dear Viola, where we had no difference of opinion.
Harold only came back when the carriage came round, and no sooner had we driven off than I broke out–“Harry, I had no notion matters had gone so far. Fancy, Lady Diana consulting her brother! It must be very near a crisis. I can’t think why you did not stay to see it.”
“Because I am a fool.”
The horse flew on till we were nearly out at the park-gates, and a bewildered sense of his meaning was coming before me. “You wished it,” said I rather foolishly.
“I did. I do. Only I don’t want to see it.”
“My poor dear Harold!”
“Pshaw!”–the sound was like a wild beast’s, and made the horse plunge–“I shall get over it.”
Then, presently, in a more natural voice, “I must go out again in the spring. There are things to be looked to at Boola Boola for both of us. I shall only wait till Tracy is well enough to go with me.”
“He! Dermot Tracy?”
“Yes. It will be the best way to break out of the old lines.”
“I can fancy that. Oh, Harold! are you going to save him? That will be the most blessed work of all!” I cried, for somehow a feeling like an air of hope and joy came over me.
“I don’t know about that,” said he, in a smothered tone; but it was getting dark enough to loose his tongue, and when I asked, “Was it his illness that made him wish it?” he answered, “It was coming before. Lucy, those horses have done worse for him than that wound in his shoulder. They had almost eaten the very heart out of him!”
“His substance I know they have,” I said; “but not his good warm heart.”
“You would say so if you saw the poor wretches on his property,” said Harold. “The hovels in the Alfy Valley were palaces compared with the cabins. Such misery I never saw. They say it is better since the famine. What must it have been then? And he thinking only how much his agent could squeeze from them!”
I could only say he had been bred up in neglect of them, and to think them impracticable, priest-ridden traitors and murderers. Yes, Lady Diana had said some of this to Harold already, It was true that they had shot Mr. Tracy, but Harold had learnt that after a wild, reckless, spendthrift youth, he had become a Protestant and a violent Orangeman in the hottest days of party strife, so that he had incurred a special hatred, which, as far as Harold could see, was not extended to the son, little as he did for his tenants but show them his careless, gracious countenance from time to time.
Yet peril for the sake of duty would, as all saw now, have been far better for Dermot than the alienation from all such calls in which his mother had brought him up. When her religious influence failed with him, there was no other restraint. Since he had left the army, he had been drawn, by those evil geniuses of his, deep into speculations in training horses for the turf, and his affairs had come into a frightful state of entanglement, his venture at Doncaster had been unsuccessful, and plunged him deeper into his difficulties, and then (as I came to know) Harold’s absolute startled amazement how any living man could screw and starve men, women, and children for the sake of horseflesh, and his utter contempt for such diversions as he had been shown at the races, compared with the pleasure of making human beings happy and improving one’s land, had opened Dermot’s eyes with very few words.
The thought was not new when the danger of death made him look back on those wasted years; and resolution began with the dawning of convalescence, that if he could only free himself from his entanglements–and terrible complications they were–he would begin a new life, worthy of having been given back to him. In many a midnight watch he had spoken of these things, and Harold had soothed him by a promise to use that accountant’s head of his in seeing how to free him as soon as he was well enough. Biston and the horses would be sold, and he could turn his mind to his Irish tenants, who, as he already saw, loved him far better than he deserved. He caught eagerly at the idea of going out to Australia with Harold, and it did indeed seem that my brave-hearted nephew was effecting a far greater deliverance for him than that from the teeth and hoofs of wicked Sheelah.
“But you will not stay, Harold? You will come home?” I said.
“I mean it,” he answered.
“Then I don’t so much mind,” said I, with infinite relief; and he added, thinking that I wanted further reassurance, that he should never give up trying to get Prometesky’s pardon; and that this was only a journey for supplies, and to see his old friend, and perhaps to try whether anything could be done about that other unhappy Harry. I pressed him to promise me that he would return and settle here, but though he said he would come back, to settling at home he answered, “That depends;” and though I could not see, I knew he was biting his moustache, and guessed, poor dear fellow, that it depended on how far he should be able to endure the sight of Eustace and Viola married. I saw now that I had been blind not to perceive before that his heart had been going out to Viola all this time, while he thought he was courting her for Eustace, and I also had my thoughts about Viola, which made it no very great surprise to me, when, in a few days more, intelligence came that Eustace might be expected at home, and he made his appearance in a petulant though still conceited mood, that made me suspect his wooing had not been prosperous, though I knew nothing till Harold told me that he was not out of heart, though Viola had cut him short and refused to listen to him, for her mother said she was a mere child who was taken by surprise, and that if he were patient and returned to the charge she would know her own mind better.
Harold was certainly more exhilarated than he chose to avow to himself on this discovery, and the next week came a letter from Lady Diana, and a short note from Dermot himself, both saying he had not been so well, and begging Harold to come and assist in the removal, since Dermot protested that otherwise he could not bear the journey, and his mother declared that she should be afraid to think of it for him.
Viola’s hitherto constant correspondence had ceased; I drew my own auguries, but I had to keep them to myself, for Harold started off the next day in renewed spirits, and I had Eustace on my hands in a very strange state, not choosing or deigning to suppose himself rejected, and yet exceedingly, angry with all young ladies for their silliness and caprices, while he lauded Lady Diana up to the skies, and abused Dermot, who, I think, had laughed at him visibly enough to be at least suspected by himself. And, oddly enough, Dora was equally cross, and had a fit of untowardness unequalled since the combats at her first arrival, till I was almost provoked into acquiescence in Eustace’s threat of sending her to school.
The journey was at last accomplished; Harold only parted with the Tracys at Arked House, after having helped to carry Dermot to the room that had been prepared for him on the ground-floor.
I rode over the next afternoon to inquire, and was delighted to meet Viola close within the gate. We sent away my horse, and she drew me into her favourite path while answering my questions that Dermot had had a good night and was getting up; I should find him in the drawing-room if I waited a little while. She could have me all to herself, for mamma was closeted with Uncle Ery, talking over things– and on some word or sound of mine betraying that I guessed what things, it broke out.
“How could you let him do it, Lucy? You, at least, must have known better.”
“My dear, how could I have stopped him, with all St. George’s Channel between us?”
“Well, at any rate, you might persuade them all to have a little sense, and not treat me as if I was one of the elegant females in ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ who only refuse for fun! Is not that enough to drive one frantic, Lucy? Can’t you at least persuade the man himself?”
“Only one person can do that, Viola.”
“But I can’t! That’s the horrid part of it. I can’t get rid of it. Mamma says I am a foolish child. I could tell her of other people more foolish than I am. I can see the difference between sham and reality, if they can’t.”
“I don’t think he means to be sham,” I rambled into defence of Eustace.
“Means it! No, he hasn’t the sense. I believe he really thinks it was he who saved Dermot’s life as entirely as mamma does.”
“No. Now do they really?”
“Of course, as they do with everything. It’s always ‘The page slew the boar, the peer had the gloire.'”
“It’s the page’s own fault,” I said. “He only wants the peer to have the gloire.”
“And very disagreeable and deceitful it is of him,” cried Viola; “only he hasn’t got a scrap of deceit in him, and that’s the reason he does it so naturally. No, you may tell them that borrowed plumes won’t always serve, and there are things that can’t be done by deputy.”
And therewith Viola, perhaps perceiving what she had betrayed, turned more crimson than ever, and hid her face against me with a sob in her breath, and then I was quite sure of what I did not dare to express, further than by saying, while I caressed her, “I believe they honestly think it is all the same.”
“But it isn’t,” said Viola, recovering, and trying to talk and laugh off her confusion. “I don’t think so, and poor Dermot did not find it so when the wrong one was left to lift him, and just ran his great stupid arm into the tenderest place in his side, and always stepped on all the boards that creak, and upset the table of physic bottles, and then said it was Harold’s way of propping them up! And that’s the creature they expect me to believe in!”
We turned at the moment and saw a handkerchief beckoning to us from the window; and going in, found Dermot established on a couch under it, and Harold packing him up in rugs, a sight that amazed both of us; but Dermot said, “Yes, he treats me like Miss Stympson’s dog, you see. Comes over by stealth when I want him.”
Dermot did look very ill and pain-worn, and his left arm lay useless across him, but there was a kind of light about his eyes that I had not seen for a long time, as he made Harold set a chair for me close to him, and he and Viola told the adventures of their journey, with mirth in their own style, and Harold stood leaning against the shutter with his look of perfect present content, as if basking in sunshine while it lasted.
When the mother and uncle came in, it was manifestly time for us to convey ourselves away. Harold had come on foot from Mycening, but I was only too glad to walk my pony along the lanes, and have his company in the gathering winter twilight.
“You have spoken to her?” he said.
“Yes. Harold, it is of no use. She will never have him.”
“Her mother thinks she will.”
“Her mother knows what is in Viola no more than she knows what is in that star. Has Dermot never said anything–“
“Lady Diana made everyone promise not to say a word to him.”
“But, Lucy, what hinders it? There’s nothing else in the way, is there?”
I did not speak the word, but made a gesture of assent.
“May I know who it is,” said Harold in a voice of pain. “Our poor fellow shall never hear.”
“Harold,” said I, “are you really so ridiculous as to think any girl could care for Eustace while you are by?”
“Don’t!” cried Harold, with a sound as of far more pain than gladness.
“But why not, Harry? You asked me.”
“Don’t light up what I have been struggling to quench ever since I knew it.”
“Why?” I went on. “You need not hold back on Eustace’s account. I am quite sure nothing would make her accept him, and I am equally convinced–“
“Hush, Lucy!” he said in a scarcely audible voice. “It is profanation. Remember–“
“But all that is over,” I said. “Things that happened when you were a mere boy, and knew no better, do not seem to belong to you now.”
“Sometimes they do not,” he said sadly; but–“
“What is repented,” I began, but he interrupted.
“The fact is not changed. It is not fit that the purest, gentlest, brightest creature made by Heaven should be named in the same day with one stained with blood–aye, and deeds I could not speak of to you.”
I could not keep from crying as I said, “If I love you the more, Harry, would not she?”
“See here, Lucy,” said Harry, standing still with his hand on my rein; “you don’t know what you do in trying to inflame what I can hardly keep down. The sweet little thing may have a fancy for me because I’m the biggest fellow she knows, and have done a thing or two; but what I am she knows less than even you do; and would it not be a wicked shame either to gain the tender heart in ignorance, or to thrust on it the knowledge and the pain of such a past as mine?” And his groan was very heavy, so that I cried out:
“Oh, Harry! this is dreadful. Do you give up all hope and joy for ever because of what you did as an ungovernable boy left to yourself?”
We went on for some time in silence; then he said in an indescribable tone, between wonder, disgust, and pity, “And I thought I loved Meg Cree!”
“You knew no one else,” I said, feeling as if, when Dora threw away that ring, the wild, passionate animal man had been exorcised; but all the answer I had was another groan, as from the burthened breast, as if he felt it almost an outrage to one whom he so reverenced to transfer to her the heart that had once beat for Meg Cree. There was no more speech for a long time, during which I feared that I had merely made him unhappy by communicating my conjecture, but just as we were reaching our own grounds he said, “You will say nothing, Lucy?”
“I thought it was all over, and for ever,” he said, pausing; “it ought to have been. But the gates of a new world were opened to me when I saw her and you walking in the garden! If it had only been five or six years sooner!”
He could not say any more, for Dora, who had been watching, here burst on us with cries of welcome, and it was long before there was any renewal of the conversation, so that I could not tell whether he really persuaded himself that he had no hopes, or was waiting to see how matters should turn out.
It was never easy to detect expressions of feeling or spirits on his massive face, and he could hardly be more silent than usual; but it was noticeable that he never fell asleep after his former wont when sitting still. Indeed, he seldom was still, for he had a great deal of business both for the estate and the potteries on his hands, and stayed up late at night over them; and not only over them, for my room was next to his, and I heard the regular tramp, tramp of his feet, and the turn at the end of the room, as he walked up and down for at least an hour when the rest of the house were asleep, or the closing of the door when he returned from wandering on the moor at night. And in the early morning, long before light, he always walked or rode over to Arked House, bestowed on Dermot’s hurts the cares which both had come to look on as essential, and stayed with him till the family were nearly ready to appear at their nine o’clock breakfast, not seeing Viola at all, unless any special cause led to a meeting later in the day, and then his eyes glowed, and he would do her devoted, unobserved service–no, not unobserved by her, whom it made blush and sparkle–and utter little words of thanks, not so gay as of old, but deeper, as if for a great honour and delight. And then he would bow his head, colour, and draw into the background, where, with folded arms, he could watch her.
Once, when Dora, in her old way, claimed to be his wife, Harold told her with some impatience that she was growing too old for that nonsense. The child looked at him with bent brows and questioning eyes for a moment, then turned and fled. An hour later, after a long search, I found her crouched up in the corner of the kangaroo’s stall among the straw, having cried herself to sleep, with her head on the creature’s soft back.
As soon as Dermot was able to bear any strain on mind or attention, he gave his keys to Harold. All his long and unhappy accumulation of bills and bonds were routed out from their receptacles at Biston, and brought over by Harold to his office, where he sorted them, and made them intelligible, before harassing his friend with the questions he alone could explain. An hour a day was then spent over them–hours that cost poor Dermot more than he was equal to; but his mind was made up, as he told me, “to face anything rather than go on in the old miserable way.” It was much that he had learnt to think it miserable.
Lady Diana was not much obliged to Harold. She could not think why her patient was so often left out of spirits, and with a headache after those visits, while he was in a feverish state of anxiety about them, that made it worse to put them off than to go through with them; and then, when she had found out the cause, the family pride much disliked letting an outsider into his involvments, and she thought their solicitor would have done the thing much better.
Poor woman, it was hard that, when she thought illness was bringing her son back to her, she found his confidence absorbed by the “bush- ranger,” whom she never liked nor trusted, and his reformation, if reformation it were to prove, not at all conducted on her views of visible repentance and conversion. Dermot was responsive to her awakened tenderness, but he was perversely reticent as to whether repentance or expedience prompted him. She required so much religious demonstration, that she made him shrink from manifesting his real feelings as “humbug,” and Viola knew far more that his repentance was real than she did. Those proofs of true repentance– confession and restitution–I am sure he gave, and that most bravely, when, after weeks of weary and sorrowful work on Harold’s part and his, the whole was sufficiently disentangled to make a lucid statement of his affairs.
He made up his mind to make an arrangement with his creditors, giving up Biston, all his horses–everything, in fact, but Killy Marey, which was entailed on his Tracy cousins. And this second year of George Yolland’s management had made the shares in the Hydriot Company of so much value, that the sale of them would complete the clearance of his obligations. The full schedule of his debts, without reserve, and the estimate of his means of paying them off, was then given by Dermot to his mother, and sent to his uncle, who went over them with his solicitor.
Lady Diana writhed under the notion of selling Biston. It seemed to her to be the means of keeping her son from the place in Ireland, which she disliked more than ever, and she hoped her brother would advance enough to prevent this from being needful; but for this Lord Erymanth was far too wise. He said, as Dermot felt, that Biston had never been anything but an unjustifiable and pernicious luxury and temptation; but he did voluntarily, since it joined his property, propose to purchase it himself, and at such a sum as secured the possibility of a real payment of the debts when the other sales should have been effected.
And they were carried out. It was well for Dermot that, as a convalescent in his mother’s house, he was sheltered from all counter influences, such as his easy good nature might not have withstood; and under that shelter it was his purpose to abide until the voyage which would take him out of reach for a time, and bring him home ready for his fresh start.
Of course Lady Diana hated the notion of the voyage, and though her brother advised her not to oppose it, yet to the last I think she entertained hopes that it would end in Harold’s going alone.
When Harold came in and told me that Dermot Tracy’s horses, English and Irish, were all sold, and named the sum that they had realised, my spirits leaped up, and I was certain, after such a voluntary sacrifice, the dear old companion of my childhood would be a joy and exultation to us all, instead of a sorrow and a grief.
CHAPTER XI. THE RED VALLEY CATTLE STEALERS.
In the Easter recess our Northchester member had his house full, and among his guests was one of the most influential men of the day, who, though not a cabinet minister himself, was known to have immense influence with Government and in Parliament, from his great weight and character.
Eustace and I were invited to meet him, also Lady Diana and her daughter and son, who was called well now, though far from strong. When the gentlemen came out of the dining-room, Eustace and Dermot came up to us, the former much excited, and saying, “Lucy, you must make preparations. They are all coming to luncheon to-morrow at Arghouse.”
“Yes, Sir James (the great man himself), and Mr. Vernon, and the General, and all the party. I asked them all. Sir James has heard of the potteries, and of my system, and of the reformation I have effected, and there being no strikes, and no nothing deleterious– undesirable I mean–and the mechanics having an interest, he wants to see for himself–to inspect personally–that he may name it in Parliament in illustration of a scheme he is about to propose. So Mr. Vernon will bring him over to see the Hydriot works to-morrow, and I have asked them to luncheon. Only think–named in Parliament! Don’t you think now it might lead to a baronetcy, Tracy?”
“Or a peerage,” quoth naughty Viola, out of reach of mother or Harold. “My Lord Hardbake would be a sweet title.”
“I should revive the old honours of the family,” said Eustace, not catching the bit of wickedness. “Calldron of Arghouse was an old barony. Lord Calldron of Arghouse! Should you object, Miss Tracy?”
“Earthen pot or copper kettle? Which?” laughed Viola. “Ah! there’s Miss Vernon going to sing. I want to hear her,” and she jumped up.
“Sit down, Dermot, in my place; you are not to stand.”
She threaded her way to the piano, followed by Eustace, who still viewed himself as her suitor.
“Poor little Vi!” said Dermot, who by this time was aware of the courtship, and regarded it with little favour.
“She will rub him off more easily among numbers,” I said, as he settled down by me. “But is this really so, Dermot?”
“What, is she to be my Lady Calldron? I am afraid my hopes of that elevation are not high. But as to the luncheon, you will really have to slaughter your turkeys, and declare war on your surviving cocks and hens. He has been inviting right and left. And tell Harold from me that if he votes the thing a bore, and keeps out of the way for fear of having to open his mouth, he’ll be doing serious damage. If respect to the future baronetcy makes him get into the background, tell him, with my compliments, the whole thing will be a muddle, and I’ll never speak a good word for him again.”
“Then you have been speaking good words?”
“When Sir James began to inquire about the Hydriots, Mr. Alison was called on to answer him, and you are aware that, except to certain constitutions of intellect, as my uncle would say, certain animals cannot open their mouths without proclaiming themselves. The most sensible thing he said was the invite to come and see. Really, he made such mulls with the details that even I had to set him right, and that led to Sir James talking it out with me, when I had the opportunity of mentioning that a certain person, not the smallest of mankind, had been entirely overlooked. Yes I did, Lucy. I up and told him how our friend came over as heir; and when he was done out of it, set to work as agent and manager and improver-general, without a notion of jealousy or anything but being a backbone to this cousin of his, and I could not say what besides to all that came in his way; but I flatter myself there’s one man in the room who has some notion of the difference there is between the greater and the less.”
“Harold would not thank you,” I said.
“Not he. So much the more reason that you should take care he comes to the front.”
Dermot did Eustace a little injustice in fancying he wanted to suppress Harold. He never did. He was far too well satisfied with his own great personality to think that anyone could interfere with it; and having asked everyone in the room, ladies and all, to the inspection and the luncheon, discoursed to me about it all the way home, and would almost have made me and all the servants stay up all night to prepare. Harold, who was still up when we came home, received the tidings equably, only saying he would go down to Yolland the first thing in the morning and get things made tidy. “And don’t bother Lucy,” he added, as we went upstairs.
Well, the supplies were contrived, and the table laid without anyone being quite distracted. From Richardson downwards, we all had learnt to take our own way, while the master talked, and Mrs. Alison was really very happy, making delicate biscuits after a receipt of her own. Things came to a point where I was sure they would finish themselves off more happily without either of us, and though one idle female more might not be desirable, I thought at least I might prevent Harold’s effacement, and went down to Mycening with Eustace to receive the guests.
Sure enough, Harold was not in the entrance yard, nor the superintendent’s office. Mr. Yolland was there, looking grim and bored, and on inquiry being made, said that Mr. Harold had insisted on his being on the spot, but was himself helping the men to clear the space whence it would be easiest to see the action of the machinery. I made a rush after him, and found him all over dust, dragging a huge crate into a corner, and to my entreaty he merely replied, pushing back his straw hat, “I must see to this, or we shall have everything smashed.”
The carriages were coming, and I could only pick my way back by the shortest route, through stacks of drain-tiles and columns of garden- pots, to Eustace, who, becoming afraid it would seem as if he were keeping shop, was squeezing down the fingers of his left-hand glove, while impressing on Mr. Yolland and me that everyone must understand he was only there as chairman of the directors.
The people came, and were conducted round, and peeped about and made all sorts of remarks, wise and foolish. Eustace was somewhat perplexed between the needful attentions to Mrs. Vernon and to Sir James, who, being much more interested in the men than the manufacture, was examining Mr. Yolland on their welfare, spirit, content, &c.; and George Yolland might be trusted for making Mr. Harold Alison the prominent figure in his replies, till at last he could say, “But here is Mr. Harold Alison, Sir James. He can reply better than I.” (Which was not strictly true, for George Yolland had by far the readiest tongue.) But he had managed to catch Harold in the great court, moving back one of his biggest barrels of heavy ingredients, with face some degrees redder and garments some degrees dustier than when I had seen him ten minutes before. It really was not on purpose, or from any wish to hide, but the place needed clearing, there was little time, and his strength could not be spared.
I am sorry to say that a chattering young lady, who stood close to Eustace, exclaimed, “Dear me, what a handsome young foreman!” making Eustace blush to the eyes, and say, “It is my cousin–he is so very eccentric–you’ll excuse him.”
Sir James, meantime, had heartily shaken the hand which, though begrimed at the moment, Harold held out to him, and plunged into inquiries at once, not letting him go again; for Harold, with the intuition that nothing was idly asked, and that each observation told, answered to the point as no man could do better, or in fewer words. When the round was over, and Eustace was prepared with the carriage to drive the grandees the mile up to Arghouse, Sir James returned his thanks, but he was going to walk up with Mr. Harold Alison, who was going to show him his workmen’s reading-room, cottages, &c. Eustace looked about for someone to whom to resign the reins, but in vain, and we all had to set off, my housewifely mind regretting that time and Eustace had combined to make the luncheon a hot instead of a cold one.
We found the Tracys when we arrived at home. Dermot was not equal to standing about at the pottery, but Lady Diana had promised to come and help me entertain the party, and very kindly she did so during the very trying hungry hour to which we had to submit, inasmuch as, when Sir James at last appeared, it turned out that he never ate luncheon, and was in perfect ignorance that we were waiting for him.
He offered me his arm and we went to the long-deferred luncheon. I listened to his great satisfaction with what he had seen, and the marvel he thought it; and meanwhile I looked for Harold, and saw him presently come in, in exactly that condition of dress, as he considered due to me, and with the long blue envelope I knew full well in one hand, in the other the little figure of the Hope of Poland which Miss Woolmer had given him; and oh! what a gladness there was in his eyes. He put them both down beside Sir James, and then retreated to a side table, where Dora had been set to entertain a stray school-boy or two.
I longed to hear Sir James’s observations, but his provoking opposite neighbour began to talk, and I got nothing more to myself, and I had to spend the next half-hour in showing our grounds to Mrs. Vernon, who admired as if she were electioneering, and hindered me from knowing what anybody was about, till the people had had their cups of coffee and their carriages had come.
We three found ourselves in the porch together when Eustace had handed in Mrs. Vernon, and Sir James, turning for a last shake of Harold’s hand, said, “I shall expect you this day week.” Then, with most polite thanks to the master of the house, he was driven off, while Harold, beaming down on us, exclaimed, “It is as good as done. I am to go up and see the Secretary of State about it next week.”
I had no doubt what it was, and cried out joyfully to ask how he had done it. “I told him who first discovered the capabilities of the clay, and laid the state of the case before him. He was very much touched, said it was just such a matter as needed severity at the time, but was sure to be pardoned now.”
“Pardoned! What do you mean?” exclaimed Eustace. “You don’t mean that you have not done with that wretched old Prometesky yet? I thought at least, when you took up Sir James all to yourself, spoiling the luncheon and keeping everyone waiting, you were doing something for the benefit of the family.”
As Harold seemed dumb with amazement, I asked what he could possibly have been expected to do for the good of the family, and Eustace mumbled out something about that supposed Calldron barony, which seemed to have turned his head, and I answered sharply that Sir James had nothing at all to do with reviving peerages; besides, if this one had ever existed, it would have been Harold’s. I had much better have held my tongue. Eustace never recovered that allegation. That day, too, was the very first in which it had been impossible for Harold to avoid receiving marked preference, and the jealousy hitherto averted by Eustace’s incredible vanity had begun to awaken. Moreover, that there had been some marked rebuff from Viola was also plain, for, as the Arked carriage was seen coming round, and I said we must go in to the Tracys, Eustace muttered, “Nasty little stuck-up thing; catch me making up to her again!”
It was just as well that Harold did not hear, having, at sight of the carriage, gone off to fetch a favourite cup, the mending of which he had contrived for Viola at the potteries. When we came into the drawing-room, I found Lady Diana and Mrs. Alison with their heads very close together over some samples of Welsh wool, and Dermot lying on the sofa, his hands clasped behind his head, and his sister hanging over him, with her cheeks of the colour that made her beautiful.
The two elder ladies closed on Eustace directly to congratulate him on the success of his arrangements, and Dermot jumped up from the sofa, while Viola caught hold of my hand, and we all made for the window which opened on the terrace. “Tell her,” said Viola to her brother, as we stood outside.
Dermot smiled, saying, “Only that Sir James thinks he has to-day seen one of the most remarkable men he ever met in his life.”
“And he has promised to help him to Prometesky’s pardon,” I said; while Viola, instead of speaking, leaped up and kissed me for joy. “He is to go to London about it.”
“Yes,” Dermot said. “Sir James wants him to meet some friends, who will be glad to pick his brains about New South Wales. Hallo, Harry! I congratulate you. You’ve achieved greatness.”
“You’ve achieved a better thing,” said Viola, with her eyes beaming upon him.
“I hope so,” he said in an under tone.
“I am so glad,” with a whole heart in the four words.
“Thank you,” he said. “This was all that was wanting.”
The words must have come out in spite of himself, for he coloured up to the roots of his hair as they ended. And Viola not only coloured too, but the moisture sprang into her fawn-like eyes. Dermot and I looked at each other, both knowing what it meant.
That instant Lady Diana called, and Dermot, the first of all, stooped under the window to give his sister time, and in the little bustle to which he amiably submitted about wraps and a glass of wine, Lady Diana failed to look at her daughter’s cheeks and eyes. Viola never even thanked Harold for the cup, which he put into her lap after she was seated beside Dermot’s feet on the back seat of the carriage. She only bent her head under her broad hat, and there was a clasp of the two hands.
I turned to go up to my sitting-room. Harold came after me and shut the door.
“Lucy,” he said, “may one give thanks for such things?”
The words of the 107th Psalm came to my lips: “Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for His goodness, and declare the wonders that He doeth for the children of men.”
He put his hands over his face, and said presently, in a smothered voice, “I had just begun to pray for the old man.”
I could not say any more for happy tears, less for “the captive exile” than for my own Harry.
Soon he looked up again, and said with a smile, “I shan’t fight against it any longer.”
“I don’t think it is of any use,” was my answer, as if pretending to condole; and where another man would have uttered a fervent rhapsody, he exclaimed, “Lovely little darling!”
But after another interval he said, “I don’t mean to speak of it till I come back.” And on my question, “From London?” “No, from Boola Boola.”
He had evidently debated the whole matter during his midnight tramps, and had made up his mind, as he explained, that it would be cruel to Viola to touch the chord which would disclose her feelings to herself. She was a mere child, and if her fancy were touched, as he scarcely allowed himself to believe, it was hard to lay fully before her those dark pages in his history which she must know before she could be allowed to give herself to him. Besides, her mother and uncle would, even if there were nothing else amiss, be sure to oppose a match with one who had nothing in England but his cousin’s agency and a few shares in the potteries; and though Harold had plenty of wealth at Boola Boola, it was certain that he should not have a moment’s audience from the elders unless he could show its amount in property in England. If things went well, he would buy a piece of Neme Heath, reclaim it, and build a house on it; or, perhaps, an estate in Ireland, near Killy Marey, where the people had gained his heart. Till, however, he could show that he had handsome means in a form tangible to Lady Diana, to express his affection would only be exposing Viola to displeasure and persecution. Moreover, he added, his character was not cleared up as much as was even possible. He had told Lord Erymanth the entire truth, and had been believed, but it was quite probable that even that truth might divide for ever between him and Viola, and those other stories of the Stympsons both cousins had, of course, flatly denied, but had never been able otherwise to confute.
I asked whether it had ever struck him that it was possible that the deeds of Henry Alison might have been charged on his head. “Yes,” he said, and he thought that if he could trace this out, with Dermot as a witness, the authorities might be satisfied so far as to take him for what he was, instead of for what he had never been. But the perception of the storm of opposition which speaking at present would provoke, made me allow that he was as wise as generous in sparing Viola till his return, since I knew her too well to fear that her heart would be given away in the meantime. Still I did hint, “Might not she feel your going away without saying anything?”
“Not at all likely,” said Harold. “Besides, she would probably be a happier woman if she forgot all about me.”
In which, of course, there was no agreeing; but he had made up his mind, and it was plain it was the nobler part–nay, the only honest part, since it was plainly of no use to speak openly. I wondered a little that his love was so self-restrained. It was an intense glow, but not an outbreak; but I think that having gone through all the whirlwind of tempestuous passion for a mere animal like poor Meg made him the more delicately reverent and considerate for the real love of the higher nature which had now developed in him. He said himself that the allowing himself to hope, and ceasing to crush his feelings, was so great a change as to be happiness enough for him; and I guarded carefully against being forced into any promise of silence, being quite determined that, if I saw Viola unhappy, or fancying herself forgotten, I would, whether it could be called wise or foolish, give her a hint of the true state of things.
Nothing was to be said to Eustace. He would have the field to himself, and it was better that he should convince himself and Lady Diana that there was no hope for him. Harold thought he could safely be commended to George Yolland and me for his affairs and his home life; and, to our surprise, he did not seem half so reluctant to part with his cousin as we had expected. He had gone his own way a good deal more this winter and spring, as Harold seldom had time to hunt, and did not often drive out, and he had grown much more independent. His share of Boola Boola was likewise to be sold, for neither cousin felt any desire to keep up the connection with the country where they had never had a happy home; and he gave Harold full authority to transact the sale.
Perhaps we all had shared more or less in Dora’s expectation that Harold would come home from London with Prometesky’s pardon in his pocket; though I laughed at her, and Eustace was furious when we found she thought he was to kneel before the Queen, present his petition, and not only receive the pardon, but rise up Sir Harold Alison! It did fall flat when he came back, having had very satisfactory interviews, but only with the Secretaries of State, and having been assured that Prometesky would be certainly pardoned, but that, as a matter of form, some certificates of conduct and recommendations must be obtained from New South Wales before the pardon could be issued.
This precipitated Harold’s departure. Dermot was just well enough to be likely to be the better for a voyage, and the first week in May was fixed for their setting forth. A great box appeared in my sitting-room, where Harold began to stow all manner of presents of various descriptions for friends and their children, but chiefly for the shepherds’ families at Boola Boola; and in the midst, Mrs. Alison, poor thing, brought a whole box of beautifully-knitted worsted stockings, which she implored Harold to carry to her dear Henry; and he actually let her pack them up, and promised that, if he ever found Henry, they should be given. “And this little Bible,” said the good old lady; “maybe he has lost his own. Tell him it is his poor papa’s, and I know he will bring it back to me.”
“He shall if I can make him,” said Harold.
“And Harold, my dear,” said Mrs. Alison, with her hand on his shoulder, as he knelt by his box, “you’ll go to see your own poor mamma?”
Harold started and winced. “My mother is in New Zealand,” he said.
“Yes, my dear,” said the old lady triumphantly; “but that’s only the other side of the way, for I looked in Lucy’s map.”
“And she has a husband,” added Harold between his teeth, ignoring what the other side of the way might mean.
“Yes, my dear, I know he is not a nice man, but you are her only one, aren’t you?”
“And I know what that is–not that I ever married anyone but your poor uncle, nor ever would, not if the new rector had asked me, which many expected and even paid their compliments to me on, but I always said ‘No, no.’ But you’ll go and see her, my dear, and comfort her poor heart, which, you may depend, is longing and craving after you, my dear; and all the more if her new gentleman isn’t quite as he should be.”
Harold could not persuade himself to bring out any answer but “I’ll see about it;” and when we were alone, he said with a sigh, “If I should be any comfort to her poor heart.”
“I should think there was no doubt of that.”
“I am afraid of committing murder,” answered Harold, almost under his breath, over the trunk.
“Oh, Harold! Not now.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You have not seen him for ten years. He may be altered as much as you.”
“And for the worse. I could almost say I dare not.”
“There’s nothing you don’t dare, God helping you,” I said.
“I shall think. If it is my duty, I suppose God will help me. Hitherto, I have thought my rage against the brutes made it worse for her, and that I do best for her by keeping out of the way.”
“I think they would respect you now too much to do anything very bad before you.”
“She would fare the worse for it afterwards.”
“I am of Mrs. Alison’s opinion, that she would be willing for the sake of seeing her son, and such a son.”
“But it could not have been so dreadful when Eustace lived with them, and was so fond of the man.”
“He nattered Eustace to curry favour with him and his father. He has sunk much lower. Then he lived like a decent clergyman. He has thrown all that off in New Zealand, and fallen entirely under the dominion of that son. I could wish I had quite throttled that Dick when I so nearly did so at school.”
“If you say such things, I shall think you ought not to trust yourself there.”
“That is it–I am afraid. I have crimes enough already.”
It was too great a responsibility to persuade him to put himself into temptation, even now that he knew what prayer was. I longed to have seen him come yet nearer, and taken the means of strengthening and refreshing. But he said, “I cannot; I have not time to make fit preparation.” And when I pleaded that I could not bear to think of his encountering danger without fulfilling that to which the promise of Everlasting Life is attached, I struck the wrong key. What he was not ready to do for love, he would not do for fear, or hurry preparation beyond what his conscience approved, that he might have what I was representing as the passport of salvation. Whether he were right or wrong I know not even now, but it was probably through the error of the very insufficient adviser the poor fellow had chosen in me. It may seem strange, but I had never thought of his irreligion as an obstacle with Viola, for, first, I knew him to be a sincere learner, as far as he went; and next, her sister’s husband had none of the goodness that Lady Diana’s professions would have led one to expect in her chosen son-in-law.
We all met and parted at the railway-station, whither Viola came with her brother. Dora had been only allowed to come upon solemn promises of quietness, and at the last our attention was more taken up with her than anyone else, for she was very white, and shook from head to foot with the effort at self-restraint, not speaking a word, but clinging to Harold with a tight grip of his hand, and, when that was not attainable, of his coat. Fortunately the train was punctual, and the ordeal did not last long. Harold put in all his goods and Dermot’s, and finally he lifted the poor child up in his arms, held her close, and then, as her hands locked convulsively round his neck, Eustace unclasped them, and Harold put her down on my lap as I sat down on the bench, left a kiss on my brow, wrung Eustace’s hand, pressed Viola’s, saying, “I’ll take care of your brother,” and then, with one final impulse, carried the hand to his lips and kissed it, before springing into the carriage, which was already in motion. Poor Dora was actually faint, and never having experienced the feeling before, was frightened, and gasped out, “Hasn’t it killed me, Lucy?”
The laugh that was unavoidable did us all good, and I sent Eustace for some restorative from the refreshment-room. The child had to be carried to the carriage, and was thoroughly out of order for several days. Poor little girl, we neither of us knew that it was the beginning of her darker days!
Of Harold’s doings in Australia I can tell less than of those at home. He kept his promise, dear fellow, and wrote regularly. But, alas! his letters are all gone, and I can only speak from memory of them, and from what Dermot told me.
Making no stay in Sydney, they pushed on to Boola Boola, avoiding a halt at Cree’s Station, but making at once for Prometesky’s cottage, a wonderful hermitage, as Dermot described it, almost entirely the work of the old man’s ingenious hands. There he lived, like a philosopher of old, with the most sternly plain and scanty materials for comfort–a mat, a table, and a chair; but surrounded by beautiful artistic figures and intricate mathematical diagrams traced on his floor and wall, reams of essays and poems where he had tried to work out his thought; fragments of machines, the toys of his constructive brain, among which the travellers found him sitting like a masculine version of Albert Durer’s Melancholia, his laughing jackass adding tones of mockery to the scene, perched on the bough, looking down, as his master below took to pieces some squatter’s crazy clock.
When Harold’s greeting had aroused him, Dermot said, nothing could be more touching than the meeting with Prometesky, who looked at him as a father might look at a newly-recovered son, and seemed to lose the joy of the prospect of his own freedom in the pride and exultation of his own boy, his Ambrose’s son, having achieved it. The beauty of the place enchanted Dermot, and his first ride round the property made him marvel how man could find it in his heart to give up this free open life of enterprise for the tameness of an old civilised country. But Harold smiled, and said he had found better things in England.
Harold found that there were serious losses in the numbers of the sheep of the common stock, and that all the neighbouring settlers were making the like complaint. Bushranging, properly so called, had been extinguished by the goldfind in Victoria, but as my brothers had located themselves as far as possible from inhabited districts, Boola Boola was still on the extreme border of civilisation, and there was a long, wide mountain valley, called the Red Valley, beyond it, with long gulleys and ravines branching up in endless ramifications, where a gang of runaway shepherds and unsuccessful gold diggers were known to haunt, and were almost certainly the robbers. The settlers and mounted police had made some attempts at tracking them out, but had always become bewildered in the intricacies of the ravines, and the losing one’s way in those eucalyptus forests was too awful a danger to be encountered.
A fresh raid had taken place the very night before Harold arrived at Boola Boola, upon a flock pasturing some way off. The shepherds were badly beaten, and then bailed up, and a couple of hundred sheep were driven off.
Now Harold had, as a lad, explored all the recesses of these ravines, and was determined to put an end to the gang; and when it became known that Harold Alison was at home, and would act as guide, a fully sufficient party of squatters, shepherds, and police rallied for the attack, and Dermot, in great delight, found himself about to see a fight in good earnest.
A very sufficient guide Harold proved himself, and they came, not to any poetical robber’s cavern, but within sight of a set of shanties, looking like any ordinary station of a low character. There a sudden volley of shot from an ambush poured upon them, happily without any serious wounds, and a hand-to-hand battle began, for the robbers having thus taken the initiative, it was hardly needful to display the search warrant with which the party had come armed. And to the amazement of all, the gang was headed by a man who seemed the very counterpart of Harold, not, perhaps, quite so tall, but with much the same complexion and outline, though he was somewhat older, and had the wild, fierce, ruffianly aspect of a bushranger. This man was taking deliberate aim at the magistrate who acted as head of the party, when Harold flung down his own loaded rifle, sprang upon him, and there was the most tremendous wrestling match that Dermot said he could have imagined. Three times Harold’s antagonist touched the earth, three times he sprang from it again with redoubled vigour, until, at last, Harold clasped his arms round him, lifted him in the air, and dashed him to the ground, where he lay senseless. And then, to the general amusement, Harold seemed astonished at his state as he lay prone, observing, “I did not want to hurt him;” and presently told Dermot, “I believe he is old Mrs. Sam Alison’s son.”
And so it proved. He was the Henry or Harry Alison of whose deeds the Stympsons had heard. The gang was, after all, not very extensive; two had been shot in the fray, one was wounded, and one surrendered. Alison, though not dead, was perfectly helpless, and was carried down the rocky valley on an extemporary litter, Harold taking his usual share of the labour. The sheep and cattle on whom were recognised the marks of the Alisons of Boola Boola, and of sundry of their neighbours, were collected, to be driven down and reclaimed by their owners, and the victory was complete.
CHAPTER XII. THE GOLDEN FRUIT.
While all this was passing on the other side the world, Eustace fulfilled his wish for a season in London, was presented by Lord Erymanth, went to a court ball, showed his horses in the Park, lived at a club, and went to Ascot and Epsom. He fulfilled Harold’s boast that he might be trusted not to get into mischief, for he really had no taste for vice, and when left to himself had the suspicious dislike to spending money which is so often found where the intellect is below the average. Vanity and self-consequence were the poor fellow’s leading foibles, and he did not find that they were gratified when among his equals and superiors in station. Sensible men could not make him a companion, and the more dangerous stamp of men, when they could not fleece him, turned him into ridicule, so that he came home discontented.
It was not for my sympathy or company that he came home. He should have had it, for I had grown really fond of him, and was he not a charge left me by Harold? But he did not want me more than as lady of the house when he gave a dinner-party; and after his experiences of club dinners his requirements had become so distracting as to drive our old servants away and me nearly crazy. Also he was constantly in a state of discontent with Mr. Yolland about the management of the estate, always grumbling about expenses and expecting unreasonable returns, and interfering with the improvements Harold had set in hand, till Mr. Yolland used to come and seek private interviews with me, to try to get me to instil the explanations in which he had failed. Once or twice I made peace, but things grew worse and worse. I heard nothing but petulant abuse of George Yolland on one side, and on the other I knew he would have thrown up the agency except for Harold.
When at Michaelmas Eustace informed him that the estate should no longer go on without a regular responsible agent, and that one was engaged who had been recommended by Mr. Horsman, I do not know whether he was most hurt or relieved, though I could hardly forgive the slight to his cousin, far less the reply, when I urged the impropriety. “Harold can’t expect to domineer over everything. He has put me to expense enough already with his fancies.”
In truth Eustace had been resorting all this time to the companionship of the Horsmans. Hunting, during the previous winter, had thrown him with them more than we knew, and when he found me far more of a champion for Harold’s rights than he wished, and, I fear too, much less tolerant of his folly and petulance than when his cousin was present to make the best of them by his loyal love, he deserted home more and more for Therford Hall. Dora and I were hardly sorry, for he was very cross to her, and had almost forgotten his deference to me; but I certainly was not prepared for the announcement of his engagement to Hippolyta Horsman.
>From sheepishness and want of savoir faire, he had not even properly withdrawn his suit from Viola Tracy, thus making Lady Diana and Lord Erymanth very angry, though the damsel herself was delighted. I had ventured to give one little hint of how the land lay with Harold, and she had glowed with a look of intense gladness as of being confirmed in a happy belief. I don’t even now think it was wrong. It might have been imprudent, but it made that year of her life full of a calm bright hope and joy that neither she nor I can ever regret.
As far as could be guessed, Hippolyta’s first and strongest attraction had been towards Harold; but when it had been met by distaste and disregard, she had turned her attention to the squire, who could be easily gained by judicious flattery. In those days, I could see no excuse for Hippolyta, and ascribed no motives to her but fortune-hunting and despair at being a spinster so long; but I have since learnt to think that she had a genuine wish to be in a position of usefulness rather than to continue her aimless life of rattle and excitement, and that she had that impulse to take care of Eustace and protect him which strong-minded women sometimes seem to feel for weak men.
The courtship was conducted at archery meetings, and afterwards at shooting parties, out of my sight and suspicion, though the whole neighbourhood was talking of it, and Miss Avice Stympson had come to Arghouse to inquire about it, and impart her great disapproval of Hippo, long before it was officially announced to me, and Eustace at the same time kindly invited Mrs. Alison and me to remain where I was till after the wedding. I understood that this had been dictated to him, and was an intimation which I scarcely needed, that Arghouse would be our home no longer.
Just as I was thinking what proposal to make to Mrs. Alison came Harold’s letters about his unfortunate Australian double. His first letter to the poor old lady merely told her that he had found her son, and that he was at Sydney, laid up by a bad accident received in a fray with the police. His back was hurt, but there was no cause to fear danger. He sent his love, and Harold would write again. Viola sent me Dermot’s letter with full particulars, but I kept silence through all the mother’s agitations of joy and grief.
The next mail brought me full details of the skirmish, and of what Harold had learnt of Henry Alison’s course. It had been a succession of falls lower and lower, as with each failure habits of drunkenness and dissipation fastened on him, and peculation and dishonesty on that congenial soil grew into ruffianism. Expelled from the gold diggings for some act too mean even for that atmosphere, he had become the leader of a gang of runaway shepherds in the recesses of the Red Valley, and spread increasing terror there until the attack on him in his stronghold, when Harold’s cousinly embrace (really intended to spare his life, as well as that of the magistrate) had absolutely injured his spine, probably for life. He had with great difficulty been carried to Sydney, and there placed in the hospital instead of the jail; since, disabled as he was, no one wished to prosecute the poor wretch, and identification was always a difficulty. Harold had been taking daily care of him, and had found him in his weak and broken state ready to soften, nay, to shed tears, at the thought of his mother; evincing feelings that might be of little service if he had recovered, but if he were crippled for life might be the beginning of better things. Harold had given him the Bible, and the stockings, and had left him alone with them. The Bible was as yet left untouched, as if he were afraid of it, but he had ever since been turning over and fondling the stockings, as though all the love that the poor mother had been knitting into them for years and years, apparently in vain, were exhaling like the heat and colours stored by the sun in ages past in our coals.
Harold was wondering over the question whether a man in his state could or ought to be brought to England, or whether it could be possible to send his mother out to him, when the problem was solved by his falling in with a gentleman whose wife was a confirmed invalid, and who was ready to give almost any salary to a motherly, ladylike woman, beyond danger of marrying, who would take care of her and attend to the household. He would even endure the son, and lodge him in one of the dependencies of his house, which had large grounds looking into beautiful Sydney Bay, provided he could secure such a person.
Even an escort had been arranged, as a brother of the gentleman was in England, and about to return with his wife to Australia; so that I was at once to communicate with them, pack her up, and consign her to them. To Mrs. Alison herself Harold wrote with the offer of the situation, and a representation of her son’s need and longing for her, telling her the poor fellow’s affectionate messages, and promising himself to meet her at Sydney on her arrival.
He must needs await the arrival of Prometesky’s pardon, in answer to the recommendations that had gone by this very mail, and which he had had no difficulty in obtaining. The squatters round Boola Boola would have done anything for the man who had delivered them from the Red Valley gang; and, besides, there was no one who had been long enough in the country to remember anything adverse to the old hermit mechanist, and most of them could hardly believe that he “had not come out at his own expense.” And at Sydney, as a visitor, highly spoken of by letters from the Colonial Secretary, and in company with an English gentleman connected as was Mr. Tracy, Harold found himself in a very different sphere from that of the wild young sheep-farmer, coming down half for business, half for roistering diversion. He emulated Eustace’s grandeur by appearances at Government House, and might have made friends with many of the superior families, if, after putting things in train for the sale of Boola Boola, he had not resolved on spending his waiting time on a journey to New Zealand to see his mother.
He trusted himself the more from having visited the Crees, and having found he could keep his temper when they sneered at him as a swell and a teetotaller–nay, even wounded him more deeply by the old man’s rejection of his offers of assistance, as if he had wanted to buy the family off from denouncing him as having been the death of their daughter. Often Harold must have felt it well for him that Dermot Tracy knew the worst beforehand–nay, that what he learnt in New South Wales was mild compared with the Stympson version. Dermot himself wrote to his uncle the full account of what he had learnt from Cree and from Prometesky of Harold’s real errors, and what Henry Alison had confessed of those attributed to him, feeling that this was the best mode of clearing the way for those hopes which Harold had not concealed from him. Dermot was thoroughly happy, enchanted with the new world, more enthusiastic about his hero than ever, and eager to see as much as possible; but they renewed their promise to be in Sydney in time to greet poor old Mrs. Alison.
Dear old body, what a state she was in, between joy and grief, love and terror, heart and brain. She never wavered in her maternal eagerness to go to “poor little Henry,” but what did she not imagine as to Botany Bay? She began sewing up sovereigns in chamois-leather bags to be dispersed all over her person against the time when she should have to live among the burglars; and Dora, who was desperately offended, failed to convince her that she might as well expect robbers at home. However, the preparations were complete at last, and I took her myself to the good people who were to have the charge of her. I had no fears in sending her off, since Harold was sure to arrange for her maintenance and comfort, in case of her situation not being a success; and though I had learnt to love her, and lost in her my chaperon, I was glad to be so far unencumbered; and to be freed from the fear that Eustace and Hippolyta might do something harshly inconsiderate by her, in their selfish blindness to all save themselves.
Hippolyta’s fortune was in a complicated state, which made her settlements long in being made out; and as Eustace did not wish to turn me out till the wedding, I had time to wait to ascertain what Harold would like me to do. I hoped that Dora was so inconvenient an appendage that I should be allowed to keep her, but I found that Hippolyta had designs on her–saying, truly enough, that she could neither write nor spell and knew not a word of any language. “Poor Lucy Alison, what could be expected of her!” So Dora was to go to the married cousins in London, who, by thus taking her in, would be enabled to have a superior governess for their own tribe. Poor Dora! how fiercely she showed her love for me all those weeks of reprieve, and how hard I laboured to impress upon her that her intended system of defiance to the whole Horsman family was not, by any means, such a proof of affection as either Harry or I should relish.
More letters from our travellers from New Zealand turned our attention from our own troubles. They had reached Dunedin, and there found Harold’s letter, to announce his coming, waiting at the post- office. The Smith family had left the place, and Mr. Smith only came or sent from time to time when Harold’s regular letters, containing remittances, were due. By inquiry, they were traced to the goldfields; and thither Harold and Dermot repaired, through curious experiences and recognitions of old army and London friends of Dermot’s, now diggers or mounted police. Save for one of these gentlemen, much better educated than Harold, but now far rougher looking, they would never have found the house where “Parson Smith” (a title that most supposed to be entirely unfounded) made a greater profit by selling the necessaries of life to the diggers, than did his son by gold-digging and washing.
Poor Alice, the stately farmhouse beauty of thirty years ago, was a stooping, haggard, broken-down wreck–not a slattern, but an overworked drudge, with a face fitter for seventy than for fifty years old, and a ghastly look of long-continued sickness.
Her husband was out, and she sat, propped up in a chair behind the board that served for a counter, still attending to the shop; and thus it was that her son beheld her when he stooped under the low doorway, with the one word, “Mother.”
Dermot had waited outside, but Harold called him in the next moment. “He will mind the shop, mother. I’ll carry you to your bed. You are not fit to be here a moment.”
And Dermot found himself selling tobacco, tin cups, and knives to very rough-looking customers, some of whom spoke in as refined a voice as he could do, and only asked what green chum the parson could have picked up instead of the sickly missus.
Alice Smith was indeed far gone in illness, the effect of exposure, drudgery, and hard usage. Perhaps her husband might have had mercy on her, but they were both cowed by the pitiless brute of a step-son, whose only view was to goad her into driving their profitable traffic to her last gasp. But there was no outbreak between them and Harold. The father’s nature was to cringe and fawn, and the son estimated those thews and muscles too well to gratify his hatred by open provocation, and was only surly and dogged, keeping himself almost entirely out of the way. Alice wanted nothing but to look at her son–“her beautiful boy,” “her Harry come back to her at last;” and kind and tender to her and loving, as he had never been since his baby days; but he would have moved heaven and earth to obtain comforts and attendance for her. Dermot rode a fabulous distance, and brought back a doctor for a fabulous fee, and loaded his horse with pillows and medicaments; but the doctor could only declare that she had a fatal disease of long standing and must die, though care and comfort might a little while prolong her life. It was welcome news to poor Alice, provided she might only die while her boy was still with her, shutting out all that had so long made her life one ground-down course of hopeless wretchedness.
Smith’s most profitable form of employment was carrying dinners out to the men at work; and for an hour or two at noon the little store was entirely free from customers. The day after the doctor’s visit, Dermot came in at this time to speak to Harold, and as soon as Alice knew of his presence (there was a mere partition of slab between her bed and the shop), she eagerly and nervously bade him stay and keep watch that no one should come near to see or hear. Then, when certain that she was alone with her son, she produced from hiding- places about her person what appeared to be three balls of worsted– her eyes gleaming, and her whole person starting at every sound. She laid her skeleton fingers over them with a start of terror, as Harold, puzzled at first, would have unwound one; but made him weigh them, parted the covering with her nail, and showed for one instant a yellow gleam. Each held a nugget of unusual size! Her urgency and her terror were excessive till they were out of sight in his pockets, though he protested that this was but to satisfy her for the moment; he could not keep them. She laid her head so close to his that she could whisper, and told him they were not meant for him. They were payment for the L200 of which her husband had defrauded the elder Eustace, and which had been a heavy weight ever since on her high- spirited pride. By one of the strange chances that often befell in the early days of the goldfields, she, going to draw water at a little stream soon after her first arrival, had seen these lying close together in the bed of the shallow rivulet–three lumps of gold formed by a freak of nature into the likeness of the golden pippins her father used to be so proud of, and the gathering of which had been the crisis of the courtship of the two handsome lads from Arghouse.
With the secretiveness that tyranny had taught her, Alice hid her treasure; and with the inborn honest pride which had, under Smith’s dominion, cost her so much suffering, she swore to herself that they should go to Eustace to wipe out the fraud against his father. She had sought opportunities ever since, and believed that she should have to send for some man in authority when she was dying, and no one could gainsay her, and commit them to him, little guessing that it was in her own son’s hands that she should place them.
As little did she reckon on what Harold chose to do. He said that for him to conceal them, and take them away without her husband’s knowledge, would be mere robbery; but that he would show them to Smith, and sign a receipt for them, “for Eustace Alison,” in payment of the sum of L200 due from James Smith to his father. Mr. Tracy and his friend, the policeman, should be witnesses, and the nuggets themselves should be placed in charge of the police, when their weight and value would be ascertained, and any overplus returned to Smith. The poor woman trembled exceedingly–Dermot heard the rustling as he stood outside; and he also heard Harold’s voice soothing her, and assuring her that she should not be left to the revenge of young Dick Smith. No, she feared not that; she was past the dread of Dick for herself, but not for Harold. He laughed, and said that they durst not touch him.
For his mother’s relief, and for Dermot’s safety, he, however, waited to say anything till the assistance of the gentleman of the police force had been secured, so that there might be no delay to allow Dick Smith to gather his fellows for revenge or recovery of the gold.
And with these precautions all went well. Harold, in the grave, authoritative way that had grown on him, reminded Mr. Smith of a heavy debt due to his uncle; and when the wretched man began half to deny and half to entreat in the same breath, Harold said that he had received from his mother a deposit in payment thereof, and that he had prepared a receipt, which he requested Mr. Smith to see him sign in presence of the two witnesses now waiting.
Smith’s resentment and disappointment at the sight of the treasure his wife had hidden from him were unspeakable. He was not an outwardly passionate man, and he was in mortal fear, not only of the giant who seemed to fill up all his little room, but also of anything that could compromise him with the police. So he suppressed his passion, aware that resistance would bring out stories that could not bear the light. Harold signed, and the golden apples were carried away to the office, where Mr. Smith was invited to come the next day and see them weighed.
That night Harold kept watch over his mother; and Dermot, who was thought to be at his friend’s shanty, kept watch near the door: but Dick Smith, hating Harold’s presence, had gone on an excursion lasting some days, and before his father went in quest of him in the morning, Harold had a proposal ready–namely, to continue to pay Smith what he already allowed his mother, with an addition, provided he were allowed to take her with him to Dunedin, and, if possible, home.
Smith haggled, lamented, and pretended to hesitate, but accepted the terms at last, and then showed considerable haste in setting the party off on their journey before his son should come home, fearing, perhaps, some deadly deed if Dick should discover what a prey the poor woman had concealed from him, while she was within his reach; and as the worth of the apples was estimated at about twenty pounds beyond the debt, Harold paid this to him at once, and they left him in the meek, plausible, tearful stage of intoxication, piteously taking leave of his wife as if she were the very darling of his heart, and making fine speeches about his resolution to consign her to her son for the sake of her health. So contemptible had the poor creature become, that Harold found it easier to pity than to hate him.
Besides, Harold had little thought then to spare from the eager filial and maternal affection that had been in abeyance all the years since poor Alice’s unhappy marriage. For a little while the mother and son were all in all to each other. The much-enduring woman, used to neglected physical suffering, bore the journey apparently well, when watched over and guarded with a tender kindness recalling that of the husband of her youth; and Harold wrote to me from Dunedin full of hope and gladness, aware that his mother could never be well again, but trusting that we might yet give her such peace and rest as she had never yet tasted.
Again came bitter vexation in Eustace’s way of receiving the intelligence. “I hope he does not mean to bring her here. It would be so extremely inconvenient–not a widow even! It would just confirm all the scandals _I_ have surmounted.”
“I thought she had been almost as much a mother to you as your own?”
“Oh, that was when I was at school, and they were paid for it. Besides, what a deceitful fellow Smith was, and how he defrauded me.”
“And how she has restored it!”
“I hope Harold will not go and get those nuggets changed into specie.