Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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my poor mother 1 "

" We won't talk of him ; but, indeed, the

Misses Stympson are grateful to you, and are

sorry. Won't you go to them on Monday ? "
'' No ! I don't like scandal-mongers.''
" But you have quite conquered them.'^
" What do you mean } If we are the brutes

they tell those who would have been our friends,

we are not less so because I pulled a dog out of

the river."

The hard look was on his face, and to my
faint plea, "The poor dog V

" The dog will do very well." He went
decisively out of the way of further persuasions,
and when a formal note of invitation arrived, he
said Eustace and I might go, but he should not.
He had something to do at the potteries ; and
as to the dog, the less it was meddled with the


''• I know you hate black dogs,'' said Eustace ;
** I only wonder you ever touched it."

Harold's brow lowered at this, and afterwards
I asked Eustace to account for the strange dis-
like. He told me that the dogs at the store
had run yelping after the buggy on that fatal
drive, and this and the melancholy howl of the
dingoes had always been supposed to be the cause


of the special form of delirious fancy that had
haunted Harold during the illness following — •
that he was pursued and dragged down by
a pack of black hounds, and that the idea had
so far followed him that he still had a sort of
alienation from dogs, though he subdued it with a
high hand.

He would still not go with us to Lake House,
for go we did. An invitation was stimulating to
Eustace, and though I much disliked the women,
I knew we could not afford to reject an advance
if we were not to continue out of humanity^s reach.

So I went, and we were made much of in
spite of the disappointment.

Had not Mr. Harold Alison been so kind as
to come over both Sunday and Monday morning
and see to poor Nep in his kennel before they
were down } Oh, yes, they had heard of it from
the stable-boy, and had charged him to take care
the gentleman came in to breakfast, but he could
not persuade him. Such a pity he was too busy
to come to-day !

Eustace gave learned and elaborate opinions
on Nep, and gained the hearts of the ladies, who
thenceforth proclaimed that Mr. Alison was a
wonderfully finished gentleman, considering his
opportunities ; but Mr. Harold was at the best a
rough diamond, so that once more his conquest
had been for Eustace rather than for himself.
They showed me, in self-justification, letters from
their relations in Melbourne, speaking of the noto-
rious Harry Alison as a huge bearded ruffian,
and telling horrid stories of his excesses in no


measured terms. Of course we denied them, and
represented that some other man must have borne
the same name, and gratitude made them agree ;
but the imputation lay there, ready to revive at
any time. And there had been something in the
whole affair that had not a happy effect on Harold.
He was more blunt, more gruff, less tolerant or
ready to be pleased ; Eustace's folly was no longer
incapable of provoking him ; and even his gentle-
ness towards Dora and me was with a greater
effort, and he was plainly in an irritable state
of suppressed suffering of mind or temper, which
only the strong force he put upon himself kept
in check. My poor Harold, would he see that
there were moral achievements higher than his
physical ones, and would he learn that even his
strength was not equal to them, unaided?


bullock's chastisement.

The next frosty day Dora and I set forth for a
visit to the double cottage, where, on one side,
dwelt a family with a newly-arrived baby; on the
other was Dame Jennings\ with the dilapidated
roof and chimney. I was glad to see Dora so
happily and eagerly interested over the baby as
to be more girl-like than I had yet seen her,
though, comparing her to what she had been on
her arrival, she was certainly a good deal softened


and tamed. " Domesticated '' would really not have
been so inappropriate a word in her case as it is
in advertisements of companions.

We had come to the door, only divided from
Mrs. Jennings^s by a low fence and a few bushes,
when voices struck on our ears, and we saw
Bullock^s big, sturdy, John Bull form planted in a
defiant attitude in the garden-path before the door,
where the old woman stood courtesying, and ming-
ling entreating protestations against an additional
sixpence a week on her rent with petitions that
at least the chimney might be made sound and the
roof water-tight.

There is no denying that I did stand within
the doorway to listen, for not only did I not
wish to encounter Bullock, but it seemed quite
justifiable to ascertain whether the current whis-
pers of his dealings with the poor were true ;
indeed, there was no time to move before he
replied with a volley of such abuse, as I never
heard before or since, at her impudence in making
such a demand.

I was so much shocked that I stood transfixed,
forgetting even to draw Dora away from the
sound, while the old wonian pleaded that " Mr.
Herod " had made the promise, and said nothing
of increasing her rent. Probably Bullock had
been irritated by the works set on foot at Ogden^s
farm, for he brought out another torrent of horrid
imprecations upon " the meddling convict fellow,^'
the least intolerable of the names he used, and of
her for currying favour, threatening her with instant
expulsion if she uttered a word of complaint, or


mentioned the increase of her rent, and on her
hesitation actually lifting his large heavy stick.

We both cried out and sprang forward, though
I scarcely suppose that he would have actually
struck her. But much more efficient help was at
hand. BuUock^s broad back was to the gate, and
he little knew that at the moment he raised his
stick Harold, attracted by his loud railing voice,
leaped over the gate, and with one bound was upon
the fellow, wresting the stick from his hand and
laying it about his shoulders with furious energy.
We all screamed out. Dora, it was suspected, bade
him go on and give it to him well, and perhaps
my wrath with the man made me simply shriek ;
but the sense of our presence did (whatever we
wished) check Harold^'s violence so far that he
ceased his blows, throwing the man from him with
such force that he fell prone into the poor dame^s
gooseberry-bush, and had to pick himself up
through numerous scratches, just as we had hurried
round through the garden.

He had regained his feet, and was slinking up
to the gate as we met him, and passionately ex-
claimed : " Miss Alison, you have seen this; I shall
call on you as my witness.^^

Dora called out something so vituperative that
my energies went in silencing her, nor do I think
I answered Bullock, though at least it was a relief
to see that, having a great sou^-wester over all his
other clothes, the force of the blows had been so
broken that he could not have any really serious
injury to complain of It was not unfortunate,
however, that he was so shaken and battered that


he went first to exhibit himself to Dr. Kingston's
new partner, and obtain a formidable scientific
account of his sprains and bruises ; so that Eustace
had heard an account of the affray in the first
place, and Dora, with a child's innate satisfaction
in repeating personalities, had not spared the
epithets with which Bullock had mentioned the
"fool of a squire/' The said squire, touched to
the quick, went out invulnerable to his interview,
declaring that the agent had been rightly served,
only wishing he had had more, and indignantly
refusing Bullock's offer to abstain from prosecuting
Mr. Harold Alison on receiving a handsome com-
pensation, and a promise never to be interfered
with again. Eustace replied — too much, I fear, in
his own coin — with orders to send in his accounts
immediately and to consider himself dismissed from
his agency from that hour ; and then came back
to us like a conquering hero, exulting in his own
mao-nanimous firmness, which "had shown he was
not to be trifled with."

But he did not like it at all when Richardson
came in trying to look quite impassive, and said
to Harold, "Some one wants to speak to you.


Harold went, and returned without a word,
except, "You are wanted too, Lucy;" and I was
not equally silent when I found it was to serve
on me an order to appear as witness before the
magistrates the next day, as to the assault upon


Eustace was very much annoyed, and said
it was disgraceful, and that Harold was always


getting into scrapes, and would ruin him with
all the county people, just as he was beginning
to make way with them — a petulant kind of
ingratitude which we had all learnt to tolerate
as "old Eu's way," and Dora announced that
if he was put in prison, she should go too.

It was only a Petty Sessions case, heard in
the justice-room at Mycening, and on the way
the prisoner was chiefly occupied in assuring
the witness that there was nothing to be nervous
about; and the squire, that it would hurt nobody
but himself; and, for his part, fine him as they
would, he would willingly pay twenty times as
much to rid the place of Bullock.

The bench — who sat at the upper end of
a table — were three or four Horsmans and
Stympsons, with Lord Erymanth in the chair
par excellence, for they all sat on chairs, and
they gave the like to Eustace and me while we
waited, poor Harold having put himself, in the
custody of a policeman, behind the rail which
served as bar.

When our turn came, Harold pleaded "Guilty"
at once, not only for truth's sake, but as meaning
to spare me the interrogation ; and Crabbe,
who was there on Bullock's behalf, looked greatly
baffled and disappointed; but the magistrates
did not let it rest there, since the amount of
the fine of course would depend on the deoree
of violence, &c., so both Mrs. Jennings and I,
and the doctor, were examined as witnesses.

I came first; and at first I did not find the
inquiries half so alarming as I expected, since


my neighbours spoke to me quite in a natural
way, and it was soon clear that my account of
the matter was the best possible defence of
Harold in their eyes. The unpleasant part was
when Crabbe not only insisted on my declaring
on oath that I did not think Bullock meant to
strike the old woman, but on my actually re-
peating the very words he had said, which he
probably thought I should flinch from doing;
but he thereby made it the worse for himself.
No doubt he and Crabbe had reckoned on our
general unpopularity, and had not judged it so
as to discover the reaction that had set in. An
endeavour to show that w^e were acting as spies
on the trustworthy old servant, in order to un-
dermine him with his master, totally failed, and,
at last, the heavy fine of one shilling was imposed
upon Harold — as near an equivalent as possible
to dismissing the case altogether. Lord Ery-
manth himself observed to Eustace, " that he felt,
if he might say so, to a certain degree implicated,
since he had advised the dismissal of Bullock,
but scarcely after this fashion." However, he
said he hoped to have Eustace among them
soon in another capacity, and this elevated him

The case had taken wind among the work-
men at the potteries ; and as we came out at
their dinner-hour, there was a great assemblage,
loudly cheering, " Ahson, the poor man's friend!"
Eustace stood smiling and fingering his hat, till
Captain Stympson, who came out with us, hinted,
as he stood between the two young men, that it


had better be stopped as soon as possible. " One
may soon have too much of such things ; " and
then Eustace turned round on Harold, and de-
clared it was "just his way to bring all the ]\Iycening
mob after them." Whereat Harold, without fur-
ther answer, observed, " You'll see Lucy home
then," and plunged down among the men, who,
as if nothing had been wanting to give them a
fellow-feeling for him but his having been up
before the magistrates, stretched out hands to
shake ; and as he niarched down between a lane
of them, turned and followed the lofty standard
of his head towards their precincts.

Bullock, in great wrath and indignation, sent
in his accounts that night with a heavy balance
due to him from Eustace, which Harold saw strong
cause to dispute. But that battle, in which, of
course, Crabbe was Bullock's adviser, and did all
he could to annoy us, was a matter of many
months, and did not affect our life very closely.
Harold was in effect Eustace's agent, and being
a very good accountant, as well as having the
confidence of the tenants, all was put in good
train in that quarter, and Mr. Alison was in the
way to be respected as an excellent landlord and
improver. People were calling on us, and we were
evidently being taken into our proper place. Ladv
Diana no longer withheld her countenance, and
though she only called on me in state, she allowed
Viola to write plenty of notes to me.

But I must go on to that day when Harold
and Eustace were to have a hunting day with the
Foling hounds, and dine afterwards with some of


the members of the hunt at the Fox Hotel at
FoHng-, a favourite meet. They were to sleep at
Biston, and I saw nothing of them the next day till
Eustace came home alone, only just in time for a
late dinner, and growled out rather crossly that
Harold had chosen to walk home, and not to be
waited for. Eustace himself was out of sorts and
tired, eating, little and hardly vouchsafing a word,
except to grumble at us and the food, and though
we heard Harold come in about nine o^clock, he
did not come in, but went up to his room.

Eustace was himself again the next morning,
but Harold was gone out. However, as, since he
had been agent, he had often been out and busy
long before breakfast, this would not have been
remarkable, but that Eustace was ill at ease, and
at last said, "The fact is, Lucy, he has been
* screwed ' again, and has not got over it."'

I was so innocent that only Dora's passion with
her brother revealed to me his meaning, and then
I was inexpressibly horrified and angry, for I
did not think Harold could have broken his own
word or the faith on which I had taken up my
abode with them, and the disappointment in him,
embittered, I fear, by the sense of personal injury,
was almost unbearable.

Eustace muttered something in excuse which
I could not understand, and I thought was only
laxity on his part. I told him that, if such things
were to happen, his house was no home for me.
And he began, " Come now, Lucy, I say, that's
hard, when 'twas Harold, and not me, and all
those fellows — '^


"What fellows?"

"Oh, Malvoisin and Nessy Horsman, you


I knew they were the evil geniuses of Der-
mot's life. Lord Malvoisin had been his first
tempter as boys at their tutors, and again in
the Guards; and Ernest, or Nessy, Horsman was
the mauvais siijet of the family, who never was
heard of without some disgraceful story. And
Dermot had led my boys among these. All that
had brightened life so much to me had suddenly


It was Ash Wednesday, and I am afraid I
went through my Lenten services in the spirit
of the elder son, nursing my virtuous indignation,
and dwelling chiefly on what would become of
me if Arghouse were to be made uninhabitable,

as I foresaw.

I was ashamed to consult IMiss Woolmer,
and spent the afternoon in restless attempts to
settle to something, but feeling as if nothing
were worth while, not even attending to Dora,
since my faith in Harold had given way, and
he had broken his word and returned to his


Should I go to church again, and spare my-
self the meeting him at dinner } I w^as just con-
sidering, when Mr. George Yolland came limping
up the drive, and the sight was the first shock
to the selfish side of my grief. "Is anything
the matter.?" I asked, trying to speak sternly,
but my heart thumping terribly.

«]S[o — yes — not exactly," he said hastily;


" but can you come, Miss Alison ? I believe
you are the only person who can be of use."

"Then is he ill?" I asked, still coldly, not
being quite sure whether I ought to forgive.

" Not bodily, but his despair over what has
taken place is beyond us all. He sits silent
over the accounts in his room at the office ; will
talk to none of us. Mr. Alison has tried — I have
— Ben and all of us. He never looks up but to
call for soda-water. If he yields again, it will soon

be acute dipsomania, and then " he shrugged

his shoulders.

"But what do you mean.-* What can I do?"
said I, walking on by his side all the time.

" Take him home. Give him hope and
motive. Get him away, at any rate, before those
fellows come. Mr. Tracy was over at Mycening
this morning, and said they talked of coming
to sleep at the 'Boar,' for the meet to-morrow,
and looking him up."

"Lord Malvoisin ?" I asked.

And as I walked on, Mr. Yolland told me
what I had not understood from Eustace, that
there had been an outcry among the more reck-
less of the Foling Hunt that so good a fellow
should be a teetotaller. Dermot Tracy had been
defied into betting upon the resolute abstinence
of his hero — nay, perhaps the truth was that
these men had felt that their victim was being
attracted from their grasp, and a Satanic instinct
made them strive to degrade his idol in his

So advantage was taken of the Australian's


ignorance of the names of liqueurs. Perhaps the
wine in the soup had already caused some excite-
ment in the head — unaccustomed to any stimulant
ever since the accident and illness which had ren-
dered it inflammable to a degree no one suspected.
When once the first glass was swallowed, the dread-
ful work was easy, resolution and judgment were
obscured, and the old habits and cravings of the
days when poor Harold had been a hard drinker
had been revived in full force. Uproarious mirth and
wild feats of strength seemed to have been the
consequence, ending by provoking the interference
of the police, who had locked up till the morning
such of the party as could not escape. Happily, the
stupefied stage had so far set in that Harold had
made it no worse by offering resistance, and Dermot
had managed to get the matter hushed up by the
authorities at Foling. This was what he had come
to say, but Harold had been very brief and harsh
with him ; though he was thoroughly angered and
disgusted at the conduct of his friends, and re-
peated, hotly, that he had been treated with trea-
chery such as he could never forgive.

So we came to the former " Dragon's Head,"
where Harold had fitted up a sort of office for
himself, Mr. YoUand bade me go up alone, and
persuade him to come home with me. I was in
the greater fright, because of the selfishness which
had mingled with the morning's indignation, but
I had just presence of mind enough for an inar-
ticulate prayer through the throbbings of my heart
ere knocking, and at once entering the room where^
under a jet of gas, Harold sat at a desk, loaded



with papers and ledgers, on which he had laid
down his head. I went up to him, and laid my
hand as near his brow as his position would let
me. Oh, how it burnt !

He looked up with a face half haggard, half
sullen with misery, and hoarsely said, " Lucy, how
came you here } "

" I came in to get you to walk home with

"I'll get a fly for you."

(This would be going to the " Boar," the very
place to meet these men.)

" Oh no ! please don't. I should like the walk
with you."

" I can't go home yet. I have something to do.
I must make up these books."

" But why } There can't be any haste."

"Yes. I shall put them into YoUand's hands
and go by the next mail."

" Harold ! You promised to stay till Eustace
was in good hands."

He laughed harshly. "You have learnt what
my promise is worth!"

"Oh Harold! don't! You were cheated and
betrayed. They took a wicked advantage of

" I knew what I was about," he said, with
the same grim laugh at my folly. " What is a
man worth who has lost his self-command .?"

" He may regain it," I gasped out, for his
look and manner frightened me dreadfully.

He made an inarticulate sound of scorn, but,
seeing perhaps the distress in my face, he added


more gently, " No, Lucy, this is really best ; I
am not fit to be with you. I have broken my
word of honour, and lost all that these months
had gained. I should only drag Eustace down
if I stayed."

" Why } Oh, why ? It was through their
deceit. Oh, Harry ! there is not such harm
done that you cannot retrieve."

" No," he said, emphatically. " Understand
what you. are asking. My safeguard of an un-
broken word is gone ! The longing for that
stuff — accursed though I know it — is awakened.
Nothing but shame at giving way before these
poor fellows that I have preached temperance to
withholds me at this very moment."

" But it does withhold you ! Oh, Harold !
You know you can be strong. You know God
gives strength, if you would only try."
" I know you say so."

" Because I know it. Oh, Harold ! try my
way. Do ask God to give you what you want
to stand up against this."

" If I did, it would not undo the past."
" Something else can do that."
He did not answer, but reached his hat,
saying something again about time, and the
fly. I must make another effort. " Oh, Harold !
give up this ! Do not be so cruel to Dora and
to me. Have you made us love you better
than anybody, only to go away from us in this
dreadful way, knowing it is to give yourself up
to destruction ? Do you want to break our


"Me!" he said, in a dreamy way. "You
don't really care for me?"

" I ? Oh, Harry, when you have grown to be my
brother, when you are all that I have in this world
to lean on and help me, will you take yourself
away ? '*

" It might be better for you,^^ he said.

" But it zuiil not'' I said ; " you will stay and
go on, and God will make your strength perfect
to conquer this dreadful thing too/''

" You shall try it then,^^ he said, and he began
to sweep those accounts into a drawer as if he had
done with them for the night, and as he brought
his head within my reach, I could not but kiss his
forehead as I said, " Thank you, my Harry."

He screwed his lips together, with a strange
half-smile very near tears, emptied the rest of a
bottle of soda-water into a tumbler, gulped it
down, opened the door, turned down the gas, and
came down with me. Mr. Yolland was watching,
I well knew, but he discreetly kept out. of sight,
and we came out into a very cold raw street,
with the stars twinkling overhead, smiling at us
with joy I thought, and the bells were ringing for
evening service.

But our dangers were not over. We had just
emerged into the main street when a dog-cart
came dashing up, the two cigars in it looming red.
It was pulled up. Harold's outline could be re-
cognised in any light, but I was entirely hidden
in his great shadow, and a voice called out:
" Halloo, Alison, how do .? A chop and claret at
the ' Boar ' — eh ? Come along.''


" Thank you/' said Harold, " but I am walking
home with Miss Alison — ^'

The two gentlemen bowed, and I bowed, and
oh ! how I gripped Harold's arm as I heard the
reply; not openly derisive to a lady, but with a
sneer in the voice, " Oh ! ah ! yes ! But you'll
come when you've seen her home. We'll send
on the dog-cart for you."

**No, thank you,'' said Harold. His voice
sounded firm, but I felt the thrill all through the
arm I clung to. " Good night."

He attempted no excuse, but strode on — I had
to run to keep up with him — and they drove on
by our side, and Nessy Horsman said, " A prior
engagement, eh } And Miss Alison will not
release you ? Ladies' claims are sacred, we ail

What possessed me I don't know, nor how I
did it, but it was in the dark and I was wrought
up, and I answered, '' And yours can scarcely be
so ! So we will go on, Harold.''

" A fair hit, Nessy," and there was a laugh
and flourish of the whip. I was trembling, and
a dark cloud had drifted up with a bitter blast,
and the first hailstones were falling. The door of
the church was opened for a moment, showing
bright light from within ; the bells had ceased.

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 12 of 24)