Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

. (page 10 of 24)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 10 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

but this was no small distress to Eustace, who,
in spite of all his vaunting, dreaded new scenes
without a protector, and I set myself to persuade
him that it was due to his cousin not to hide
himself, and avoid society so as to give a colour
to evil report.

" It might be best to separate myself from
him altogether and go back.''^ On this, Eustace
cried out with horror and dismay, and Harold
answered, " Never fear, old chap ; Em not going
yet. Not till I have seen you in good hands.^^

"And you'll accept the invitation,^^ said Eus-
tace, taking up one of the coroneted notes that
invited us each for two nights to the castle.

"Very well.''

"And you'll come up to town, and have a
proper suit.''

"As you please."

Eustace went off to the library to find seme
crested paper and envelopes worthy to bear the
acceptance, and Harold stood musing. "A food
agent and a good wife would set him on his
feet to go alone," he said.

"Meantime he cannot do without you/'


"Not in some ways/'

"And even this acquaintance is your achieve-
ment, not his."

" Such as it is."

I pointed out that though Lord Erymanth
refused to assist Prometesky, his introduction
might lead to those who might do so, while
isolation was a sort of helplessness. To this he
agreed, saying, " I must free him before I go back."

"And do you really want to go back?" said
I, fearing he was growing restless.

His face worked, and he said, "When I feel
like a stone round Eustace's neck."

"Why should you feel so? You are a lever
to lift him."

" Am I ? The longer I live with you, the
more true it seems to me that I had no business
to come into a world with such people in it as
you and Miss Tracy."

Eustace came back, fidgeting to get a pen
mended, an operation beyond him, but patiently
performed by the stronger fingers. We said no
more, but I had had a glimpse which made me
hope that the pilgrim was beginning to feel the
burthen on his back.

Not that he had much time for thought.
He was out all day, looking after the potteries,
where orders were coming in fast, and workmen
increasing, and likewise toiling in the fields at
Ogden's farm, making measurements and experi-
ments on the substrata and the waterfall, on
which to base his plans for drainage according
to the books Lord Erymanth had lent him.


After the second day he came home half-
laughing. Farmer Ogden had warned him off
and refused to Hsten to any explanation, though
he must have known whom he was expelling —
yes, like a very village Hampden, he had thrust
the unwelcome surveyor out at his gate with such
a trembling, testy, rheumatic arm, that Harold
had felt obliged to obey it.

Eustace, angered at the treatment of his cousin,
volunteered to come and '' tell the ass, Ogden, to
mind what he was about," and Harold added,
"If you would come, Lucy, you might help to
make his wife understand."

I came, as I was desired, where I had never
been before, for v/e had always rested in the belief
that the Alfy Valley was a nasty, damp, un-
healthy place, with "something always about,"
and had contented ourselves with sending broth
to the cottages whenever we heard of any un-
usual amount of disease. If we had ever been
there !

We rode the two miles, as I do not think Dora
and I would ever have floundered throucrh the
mud and torrents that ran down the lanes. It was
just as if the farm had been built in the lower
circle, and the cottages in Malebolge itself, where
the poor little Alfy, so pure when it started from
Kalydon Moor, brought down to them all the
leakage of that farmyard. Oh ! that yard, I never
beheld, imagined, or made my way through the
like, though there was a little causeway near the
boundary wall, where it was possible to creep
along on the stones, rousing up a sleeping pig


or a dreamy donkey here and there, and barked
at in volleys by dogs stationed on all the higher
islets in the unsavoury lake. If Dora had not
been a colonial child, and if I could have feared
for myself with Harold by my side, I don't think
we should ever have arrived, but Farmer Ogden
and his son came out, and a man and boy or
two ; and when Eustace was recognised, they
made what way they could for us, and we were
landed at last in a scrupulously clean kitchen with
peat fire and a limeash floor, where, alas ! we
were not suffered to remain, but were taken into
a horrid little parlour, with a newly-lighted,
smoking fire, a big Bible, and a ploughing-
cup. Mrs. Ogden was a dissenter, so we had
really no acquaintance, and, poor thing, had
long been unable to go anywhere. She was
a pale trembling creature, most neat and clean,
but with the dreadful sallow complexion given by
perpetual ague. She was very civil, and gave us
cake and wine, to the former of which Dora did
ample justice; but oh! the impracticability of
those people !

The men had it all out of doors, but when I
tried my eloquence on Mrs. Ogden I found her
firmly persuaded not only that her own ill health
and the sickness in the hamlet were " the will of
the Lord," but in her religious fatalism, that it
was absolutely profane to think that cleansing and
drainage would amend them ; and she adduced
texts which poor uninstructed I was unable to
answer, even while I knew they were a perversion ;
and, provoked as I was, I felt that her meek


patience and resignation might be higher virtues
than any to which I had yet attained.

Her husband, who, I should explain, was but
one remove above a smock-frock farmer, took a
different line. He had unsavoury proverbs in
which he put deep faith. '' Muck was the mother
of money," and also "Muck was the farmer's
nosegay.'^ He viewed it as an absolute effemi-
nacy to object to its odorous savours ; and as to
the poor people, " they were an ungrateful lot,
and had a great deal too much done for them,''
tlie small farmer's usual creed. Mr. Alison could
do as he liked, of course, but his lease had five
years yet to run, and he would not consent to
pay no more rent, not for what he didn't ask for,
nor didn't want, and Mr. Bullock didn't approve
of— that he would not, not if Mr. Alison took the
law of him.

His landlord do it at his own expense t That
made him look knowing. He was evidently cer-
tain that it was a trick for raising the rent at the
end of the lease, if not before, upon him, w^hose
fathers had been tenants of Alfy Vale even before
the Alisons came to Arghouse ; and, with the rude
obstinacy of his race, he was as uncivil to Harold
as he durst in Eustace's presence. "He had no
mind to have his fields cut up just to sell the
young gentleman's drain-pipes, as wouldn't go off
at them potteries."

" Well, but all this stuff would be doing much
more good upon your fields than here," Eustace
said. *' I — I really must insist on this farmyard
being cleansed."


" You'll not find that in the covenant, sir," said
the farmer with a grin.

" But, father," began the son, a more intelHgent-
looking man, though with the prevailing sickly

" Hold your tongue, Phil," said Ogden. " It's
easy to talk of cleaning out the yard ; I'd like to
see the gentleman set about it, or you either, for
that matter."

"Would you r said Harold. "Then you shall."
Farmer Ogden gaped. " I won't have no
strange labourers about the place."

" No more you shall," said Harold. " If your
son and I clean out this place with our own hands
in the course of a couple of days, putting the
manure in any field you may appoint, will you
let the drainage plans be carried out without
opposition } "

''It ain't a bet.?" said the farmer; "for my
missus's conscience is against bets."
" No, certainly not."

"Nor a trick.?" he said, looking from one to

"No. It is to be honest work. I am a
farmer, and know what work is, and have done
it too."

Farmer Ogden, to a certain extent, gave in,
and we departed. His son held the gate open
for us, with a keen look at Harold, full of wonder
and inquiry.

"You'll stand by me.?" said Harold, lingerino-
with him.

"Yes, sir," said Phil Ogden; "but I doubt if


we can do it. Father says it is a week's work
for five men, if you could get them to do it."

" Never fear," said Harold. " We'll save your
mother's life yet against her will, and make you
all as healthy as if you'd been born in New South

This was Friday, and Phil had an engagement
on the Monday, so that Tuesday was fixed, much
to Eustace's displeasure, for he did not like
Harold's condescending to work which labourers
would hardly undertake; and besides, he would
make his hands, if not himself, absolutely unfit
for the entertainment on Thursday. On which
Harold asked if there were no such thing as water.
Eustace implored him. to give it up and send
half-a-dozen unemployed men, but to this he
answered, " I should be ashamed."

And when we went home he rode on into
Mycening, to see about his equipment, he said,
setting Eustace despairing, lest he, after all, meant
to avoid the London tailor, and to patronise
Mycening ; but the equipment turned out to be a
great smock-frock. And something very difi"erent
came home with him — namely, a little dainty
flower-pot and pan, with an Etruscan pattern, the
very best things that had been turned out of the
pottery, adorned with a design in black and white,
representing a charming little Greek nymph water-
ing her flowers.

" Don't you think, Lucy, Miss Tracy being a
shareholder, and it being her birthday, the chair-
man might present this V he inquired.

I agreed heartily, but Eustace, with a twist of


his cat's-whisker moustache, opined that they were
scarcely elegant enough for Miss Tracy; and on
the Monday, Avhe.i he did drag Harold up to the
tailor's, he brought down a fragile little bouquet
of porcelain violets, very Parisian, and in the
latest fashion, which he flattered himself was the
newest thing extant, and a much more appropriate
offering. The violets could be made by a pinch
below to squirt out perfume !

"Nevermind, Harold,'' I said, "you can give
your flower-pot all the same/'

"You may," said Harold.

" Why should not you ?"

He shook his head. " I've no business," he
said ; " Eustace is chairman."

I said no more, and I hardly saw Harold the
two following days, for he was gone in the twilight
of the January morning and worked as long as
light would allow, and fortunately the moon was
in a favourable quarter ; and Phil, to whom the
lighter part of the task was allotted, confided to
his companion that he had been wishing to get
father to see things in this light for a long time,
but he was ^'//^Z slow to move; and since Harold
had been looking about, Mr. Bullock had advised
him not to give in, for it would be sure to end
in the raising of his rent, and young gentlemen
had new-fangled notions that only led to expense
and nonsense, and it was safest in the long run
to trust to the agent.

However, the sight of genuine, unflinching
toil, with nothing of the amateur about it, had
an eloquence of its own. Farmer Ogden looked


on grimly and ironically for the first two hours,
having only been surprised into consent in the
belief that any man, let alone a gentleman, must
find out the impracticability of the undertaking,
and be absolutely sickened. Then he brought
out some bread and cheese and cider, and was
inclined to be huffy when Harold declined the
latter, and looked satirical when he repaired to
wash his hands at the pump before touching the
former. When he saw two more hours go by
in work of which he could judge, his furrowed
old brow grew less puckered, and he came out
again to request Mr. Harold to partake of the
mid-day meal. I fancy Harold's going up to
Phil's room, to make himself respectable for Mrs.
Ogden^s society, was as strange to the farmer
as were to the Australian the good wife's excuses
for making him sit down with the family in the
kitchen ; but I believe that during the meal he
showed himself practical farmer enough to win
their respect ; and when he worked harder than
ever all the afternoon, even till the last moment
it was possible to see, and came back with the
light the next morning, he had won his cause ;
above all, when the hunt swept by without dis-
turbing the labour.

The farmer not only turned in his scanty sup-
ply of men to help to finish off the labour, and
seconded contrivances which the day before he
would have scouted, but he gave his own bowed
back to the work. A pavement of the court which
had not seen the day for forty years was brought
to light ; and by a series of drain tiles, for which


a messenger was dispatched to the potter>% streams
were conducted from the river to wash these up ;
and at last, when Harold appeared, after Eus-
tace had insisted on waiting no longer for dmner,
he replied to our eager questions, "Yes, it is


"And Ogden?"

"He thanked me, shook hands with me, and

said I was a man."

Which we knew meant infinitely more than a

gentleman. .

Harold wanted to spend Thursday m banking
up the pond in the centre of the yard, but the
idea seemed to drive Eustace to distraction. Such
work before going to that sublime region at Ery-
manth ' He laid hold of Harold's hands— shapely
hands, and with that look of latent strength one
sees in some animals, but scarred with many a
seam, and horny within the fingers— and com-
pared them with those he had nursed into dainty
delicacy of whiteness, till Harold could not help
saying, " I wouldn't have a lady's fingers."

"I would not have a clown's," said Eustace.
" Keep your gloves on, Harold, and do not make
them any worse. If you go out to that place
to-day, they won't even be as presentable as they


" I shall wash them."

"Wash! As if oceans of Eau-de-Cologne
would make them fit for society ! " said Eustace,
with infinite disgust, only equalled by the "Faugh! "
with which Harold heard of the perfume. In fact,
Eustace was dreadfully afraid the other hunters


seen and recognised those shoulders, even under
the smock-frock, as plainly as he did, and he
had been wretched about it ever since.

"You talk of not wanting to do me harm,"
he said, " and then you go and grub in such
work as any decent labourer would despise."

So miserable was he, that Harold, who never
saw the foolery in Eustace that he would have
derided in others, yielded to him so far as only
to give directions to Bullock for sending down
the materials wanted for the pond, and likewise
for mending the roof of a cottage where a rheu-
matic old woman was habitually obliged to sleep
under a crazy umbrella.



Nothing stands out to me more distinctly, with
its pleasures and pains, than the visit to Erymanth
Castle — from our arrival in the dark — the lighted
hall — the servants meeting us — the Australians'
bewilderment at being ushered up to our rooms
without a greeting from the host — my lingering
to give a last injunction in Eustace's ear, " Now,
Eustace, / ivon^t have Harold's hair greased ;
and put as little stuff as you can persuade your-
self to do on your pocket-handkerchief" — orders
I had kept to the last to make them more
emphatic ; then dashing after the housekeeper,


leaving them to work — my great room, where it
was a perfect journey from the fire to the toilet-
table — my black lace dress, and the silver
ornaments those dear nephews had brought me
from London — and in the midst of my hair-doing
dear little Viola^s running in to me in one oi
her ecstacies, hugging me, to the detriment of
Colman^s fabric and her own, and then dancing
round and round me in her pretty white cloudy
tulle, looped up with snowdrops. The one thing
that had been wanting to her was that her dear,
darhng, delightful Lucy should be at her own
ball — her birthday ball ; and just as she had
despaired, it had all come right, owing to that
glorious old giant of ours ; and she went off into
a series of rapturous little laughs over Dermot^s
account of her uncle's arrival pick-a-back. It
was of no use to look cautious, and sign at
Colman ; Viola had no notion of restraint ; and
I was thankful when my dress was complete,
and we were left alone, so that I could listen
without compunction to the story of Lord
Erymanth^s arrival at Arked House, and solemn
assurance that he had been most hospitably re-
ceived, and that his own observation and
inquiry had convinced him that Mr. Alison was
a highly estimable young man, in spite of all
disadvantages, unassuming, well-mannered, and
grateful for good advice. Dermot had shown
his discernment in making him his friend, and
Lucy had, in truth, acted with much courage, as
well as good judgment, in remaining with him ;
** and that so horrified mamma,^^ said Viola,


"that she turned me out of the room, so I don't
know how they fought it out; but mamma must
have given in at last, though she has never said
one word to me about it, not even that you
were all to be here. What a good thing it is to
have a brother ! I should never have known but
for Dermot. And, do you know, he says that
my uncle's pet is the cousin, after all — the
deferential fool of a cousin, he says/'

" Hush, hush, Viola ! ''

" I didn't say so — it was Dermot ! '^ said
the naughty child, with a little arch pout ; " he
says it is just like my uncle to be taken with a
little worship from — well, he is your nephew,
Lucy, so I will be politer than Dermot, who does
rage because he says Mr. Alison has not even sense
to see that he is dressed in his cousin's plumes."

''He is very fond of Harold, Viola, and they
both of them do it in simplicity; Harold does
the things for Eustace, and never even sees that
the credit is taken from him. It is what he does
it for."

" Then he is a regular stupid old jolly giant,"
said Viola. "Oh, Lucy, what delicious thing is

It was the little flower-pot, in which I had
planted a spray of lemon-scented verbena, which
Viola had long coveted. I explained how Harold
had presided over it as an offering from the
Hydriot Company to its youngest shareholder,
and her delight was extreme. She said she
would keep it for ever in her own room ; it was
just what she wanted, the prettiest thing she


had had — so kind of him ; but those great,
grand giants never thought anything too httle for
them. And then she went into one of her
despairs. She had prepared a number of Christ-
mas presents for the people about the castle to
whom she had always been like the child of the
house, and her maid had forgotten to bring the
box she had packed, nor was there any means
of getting them, unless she could persuade her
brother to send early the next morning.
" Is Dermot staying here "^ "
"Oh yes — all night; and nobody else, ex-
cept ourselves and Piggy. Poor Piggy, he moves
about in more awful awe of my uncle than ever
— and so stiff! I am always expecting to see
him bristle ! '^

There came a message that my lady was
ready, and was asking for Miss Tracy to go
down with her. Viola fluttered away, and I
waited till they should have had time to descend
before making my own appearance, finding all
the rooms in the cleared state incidental to ball
preparations — all the chairs and tables shrunk up
to the walls ; and even the drawing-room, where
the chaperons were to sit, looking some degrees
more desolate than the drawing-room of a lady-
less house generally does look.

Full in the midst of an immense blue damask
sofa sat Lady Diana, in grey brocade. She was
rather a small woman in reality, but dignity made
a great deal more of her. Eustace, with a splen-
did red camellia in his coat, was standing by her,
blushing, and she was graciously permitting the



presentation of the squirting violet. "Since it
was a birthday, and it was a kind attention," &c.,
but I could see that she did not much like it ;
and Viola, sitting on the end of the sofa with
her eyes downcast, was very evidently much less
delighted than encumbered with the fragile china

Lord Erymanth met me, and led me up to
his sister, who gave me a cold kiss, and we had
a little commonplace talk, during which I could
see Viola spring up to Harold, who was standing
beside her brother, and the colour rising in his
bronzed face at her eager acknowledgments of
the flower-pot ; after which she applied herself
to begging her brother to let his horse and groom
go over early the next morning for the Christmas
gifts she had left behind, but Dermot did not
seem propitious, not liking to trust the man he
had with him with the precious Jack o'Lantern
over hills slippery with frost ; and Viola, as one
properly instructed in the precariousness of equine
knees, subsided disappointed ; while I had leisure
to look up at the two gentlemen standing there,
and I must say that Harold looked one of
Nature's nobles even beside Dermot, and Dermot
a fine, manly fellow even beside Harold, though
only reaching to his shoulder.

I was the greatest stranger, and went in to
the dining-room with his lordship, which spared
me the sight of Eustace's supreme satisfaction in
presenting his arm to Lady Diana, after she had
carefully paired off Viola with her cousin Piggy — ■
i.e., Pigou St. Clear, the eldest son of the heir-


presumptive, a stiff, shy youth in the Erymanth
atmosphere, whatever he might be out of it, and
not at all happy with Viola, who was wont to
tease and laugh at him.

It was a save-trouble dinner, as informal as
the St. Glear nature and servants permitted.
Lord Erymanth carved, and took care that Harold
should not starve, and he was evidently trying to
turn the talk into such a direction as to show
his sister what his guests were ; but Eustace's
tongue was, of course, the ready one, and answered
glibly about closed beershops, projected cottages,
and the complete drainage of the Alfy — nay,
that as to Bullock and Ogden hearing reason, he
had only to go over in person and the thing was
done ; the farmyard was actually set to rights,
and no difficulty at all was made as to the further
improvements now that the landlord had once
shown himself concerned. That was all that was
wanting. And the funny part of it was that he
actually believed it.

Dermot could not help saying to Harold,
"Didn't I see you applying a few practical argu-
ments 1 "

Harold made a sign with his head, with a
deprecatory twinkle in his eye, recollecting how
infi'a dig. Eustace thought his exploit. The party
was too small for more than one conversation, so
that when the earl began to relate his expe-
riences of the difficulties of dealing with farmers
and cottagers, all had to listen in silence, and I
saw the misery of restless sleepiness produced by
the continuous sound of his voice setting in upon


Harold, and under it I had to leave him, on my
departure with Lady Diana and her daughter,
quaking in my satin shoes at the splendid gra-
ciousness I saw in preparation for me ; but I
was kept all the time on the outer surface ; Lady
Diana did not choose to be intimate enough even
to give good advice, so that I was very glad when
the carriages were heard and the gentlemen joined
us, Harold hastily handing to Viola the squirting
violets which she had left behind her on the
dining-table, and which he had carefully con-
cealed from Eustace, but, alas ! only to have them
forgotten again, or, maybe, with a little malice,
deposited in the keeping of the brazen satyr on
the ante-room chimney-piece.

Dermot had already claimed my first dance,
causing a strange thrill of pain, as I missed the
glance w4iich always used to regret without for-
bidding my becoming his partner. Viola was
asked in due form by Eustace, and accepted him
with alacrity, which he did not know to be due to
her desire to escape from Piggy. Most solicitously
did our good old host present Eustace to every
one, and it was curious to watch the demeanour of
the different classes — the Horsmans mostly cordial,
Hippa and Pippa demonstratively so ; but the
Stympsons held aloof with the stififest of bows,
not one of them but good-natured Captain George
Stympson would shake hands even with me, and
Miss Avice Stympson, of Lake House, made as if
Harold were an object invisible to the naked eye,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 10 of 24)