Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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" My dear Lucy," said Harold, "you had better
go in here for shelter."

" Not if you leave me ! You must come with
me," I said, still dreading that he would leave me
in church, send a fly, and fall a victim at the
" Boar ; " and, indeed, I was shaking so, that he


would not withdraw his arm, and said, soothingly,
" I'm coming."

Oh ! that blessed hailstorm that drove us in !
I drew Harold into a seat by the door, keeping
between him and that, that he might not escape.
But I need not have feared.

Ben Yolland's voice was just beginning the
Confession. It had so rarely been heard by
Harold that repetition had not blunted his ears
to the sound, and presently I heard a short, low,
sobbing gasp, and looked round. Harold was on
his knees, his hands over his face, and his breath
coming short and thick as those old words spoke
out that very dumb inarticulate shame, grief, and
agony, that had been swelling and bursting in his
heart without utterance or form — " We have erred
and strayed — there is no health in us — "

We were far behind everyone else — almost in
the dark. I don't think anyone knew we were
there, and Harold did not stand up throughout
the whole service, but kept his hands locked over
his brow, and knelt on. Perhaps he heard little
more, from the ringing of those words in his ears,
for he moved no more, nor looked up, through
prayers or psalms, or anything else, until the brief
ceremony was entirely over, and I touched him ;
and then he looked up, and his eyes were swim-
ming and streaming with tears.

We came to the door as if he was in a dream,
and there a bitterly cold blast met us, though the
rain had ceased. I was not clad for a night walk.
Harold again proposed fetching a carriage from
the " Boar," but I cried out against that — " I would


much, much rather walk with him. It was fine

So we went the length of the street, and just
then down came the blast on us ; oh ! such a
hurricane, bringing another hailstorm on its
wings, and sweeping along, so that I could hardly
have stood but for Harold's arm ; and after a
minute or two of labouring on, he lifted me up
in his arms, and bore me along as if I had been
a baby. Oh ! I remember nothing so comfortable
as that sensation after the breathless encounter
with the storm. It always comes back to me when
I hear the words, "A man shall be as a hiding-
place from the tempest, a covert from the wind.^''

He did not set me down till wx were at the
front door. We were both wet through, cold, and
spent, and it was past nine, so long as it had taken
him to labour on in the tempest. Eustace came
out grumbling in his petulant way at our absence
from dinner. I don't think either of us could
bear it just then : Harold went up to his room
without a word ; I stayed to tell that he had seen
me home from church, and say a little about the
fearful weather, and then ran up myself, to give
orders, as Air. Yolland had advised me, that some
strong hot coffee should be taken at once to
Harold^s room.

I thought it would be besetting him to go and
see after him myself, but I let Dora knock at his
door, and heard he had gone to bed. To me it
was a long night of tossing and half-sleep, hearing
the wild stormy wind, and dreaming of strange
things, praying all the time that the noble soul


might be won for God at last, and almost feeling,
like the Icelander during the conversion of his
country, the struggle between the dark spirits
and the white.

I had caught a heavy cold, and should have
stayed in bed had I not been far too anxious ; and
I am glad I did not, for I had not been many
minutes in my sitting-room before there was a
knock at the door, and Harold came in, and what
he said was, " Lucy, how does one pray ? "

Poor boys ! Their mothers, in the revulsion
from all that had seemed like a system of bond-
age, had held lightly by their faith, and in the
cares and troubles of their life had heeded little of
their children's devotions, so that the practical
heathenism of their home at Boola Boola had
been unrelieved save by Eustace the elder, when
his piety was reckoned as part of his weak, gentle-
manly refinement. The dull hopeless wretched-
ness was no longer in Harold''s face, but there
was a wistful, gentle weariness, and yet rest in it,
which was very touching, as he came to me with
his strange sad question, " How does one pray?''

I don't know exactly how I answered it. I
hardly could speak for crying, as I told him the
very same things one tells the little children, and
tried to find him some book to help ; but my
books no more suited him than my clothes would
have done, till he said, " I want what they said
in church yesterday."

And as we knelt together, and I said it, the
51st Psalm came to my mind, and I went through
it, oh ! how differently from when I had said it


the day before. "Ah!" he said at the end,
"thank you."

And then he stood and looked at the picture
which was as his child's to him, turned and said,
" Well for him that he is out of all this ! "

Presently, when I had marked a Prayer Book
for him, he said, "And may I ask that the—
the craving I told you of may not come on
so intolerably ? "

"'Ask, and it shall be given/" I said. "It
may not go at once, dear Harold. Temptation
does come, but only to be conquered ; and you
will conquer now."

We went down to breakfast, where Eustace
appeared in full hunting trim, but Harold in the
rough coat and long gaiters that meant farming
work ; and to Eustace's invitations to the run,
he replied by saying he heard that Phil Ogden
had been to ask him about some difficulty in the
trenching work, and he was going to see to it.
So he spent the daylight hours in one of those
digging and toiling tasks of his " that three day-
labourers could not end." I saw him coming
home at six o'clock, clay up to the eyes, and
having achieved wholesome hunger and whole-
some sleepiness.

Eustace had come in cross. He had been
chaffed about Harold's shirking, and being a
dutiful nephew, and he did not like it at all.
He thought Harold ought to have come out
for his sake, and to show they did not care. " I
do care," said Harold. And when Eustace, with
his usual taste, mentioned that they had laughed


at the poor fellow led meekly home by his aunt,
Harold laid a kind hand on mine, which spoke
more than words. I had reason to think that
his struggle lasted some time longer, and that
the enemy he had reawakened was slow of being
laid to rest, so that he was for weeks undergoing
the dire conflict ; but he gave as little sign as
possible, and he certainly conquered.

And from that time there certainly was a
change. He was not a man without God any
longer. He had learnt that he could not keep
himself straight, and had enough of the child-
like nature to believe there was One who could*
I don't mean that he came at once to be all I
could have wished or figured to myself as a
religious man. He went to church on Sunday
morning now, chiefly, I do believe, for love of
the Confession, which was the one voice for his
needs ; and partly, too, because I had pressed
for that outward token, thinking that it would
lead him on to more ; but it generally seemed
more weariness than profit, and he never could
sit still five minutes without falling asleep, so
that he missed even those sermons of Mr. Ben
YoUand's that I thought must do him good.

I tried once, when, feeling how small my
powers were beside his, to get him to talk to
this same Mr. Yolland, whose work among the
pottery people he tried to second, but he recoiled
with a tone half scorn, half reserve, which showed
that he would bear no pressure in that direction.
Only he came to my sitting-room every morning,
as if kneeling with me a few moments, and read-


ing a few short verses, were to be his safeguard
for the day, and sometimes he would ask me a
question. Much did I long for counsel in dealing
with him, but I durst seek none, except once,
when something Mr. Ben Yolland said about
his having expressed strong affection for me,
made me say, '* If only I were fitter to deal
with him," the answer was, "Go on as you are
doing; that is better for him as yet than any-
thing else."


THE champion's BELT.

After all, the fates sent us a chaperon. A letter
came addressed to my mother, and proved to be
from the clergyman of a village in the remotest
corner of Devonshire, where a cousin of my father
had once been vicar. His widow, the daughter
of his predecessor, had lived on there, but, owing
to the misdoings of her son and the failure of a
bank, she was in much distress. All intercourse
with the family had dropped since my father's
death, but the present vicar, casting about for
means of helping her, had elicited that the Arg-
house family were the only relations she knew of,
and had written to ask assistance for her.

" I will go and see about her," said Harold. So
he shouldered his bag, walked into Mycening, and


started in the tender, the only place where he
could endure railway travelling. Four days later
came this note :

** Thursday.

'* My dear Lucy, — Send the carriage to meet
Mrs. Alison at 4.40 on Saturday. Your affec-

" H. A."

I handed the note to Eustace in amazement,
but I perceived that he, like his cousin, thought
it quite simple that the home of the head of the
family should be a refuge for all its waifs and
strays, and as I was one myself, I felt rebuked.

I went to Mycening in the carriage, and beheld
Harold emerge from a first-class, extracting there-
from one basket after another, two bird-cages, a
bundle, an umbrella, a parcel, a cloak, and, finally,
a little panting apple-cheeked old lady. " Here's
Lucy ! that's right." And as both his hands were
full, he honoured me with a hasty kiss on the fore-
head. " She'll take care of you, while I get the
rest of it."

" But, oh ! — my dear man — my pussy — and —
and your wadded cloak — and, oh — my sable muff
— your poor papa's present, I would not lose it for
a thousand pounds V

I found the muff,, which could not easily be
overlooked, for it was as big as a portmanteau,
and stuffed full of sundries. " Oh dear yes, my
dear, thank you, so it is ; but the cat — my poor
pussy. No, my dear, that^'s the bantams — very


choice. My poor little Henry had them given to
him when he was six years old — the old ones I
mean — and IVe never parted with them. *Take
them all,' he said — so good ; but, oh dear. Tit !
Tit ! Tittie ! He was playing with her just now.
Has anyone seen a tabby cat t Bless me, there it
goes ! So dreadful ! It takes one's breath away,
and all my things. Oh ! where is he ? "

" All right," said Harold. " There are your
boxes, and here's your cat," showing a striped
head under his coat. " Now say what you w^ant
to-night, and I'll send for the rest."

She looked wildly about, uttering an incoherent
inventory, which Harold cut short by handing
over articles to the porter according to his own
judgment, and sweeping her into the carriage,
returning as I was picking up the odds and
ends that had been shed on the way. " You
have had a considerable charge," said I, between
amusement and dismay.

" Poor old thing, comfort her ! She never saw
a train before, and is regularly overset."

He put me into the carriage, emptied his
pockets of the cat and other trifles, and vanished
in the twilight, the old lady gaspingly calling
after him, and I soothing her by explaining
that he always liked walking home to stretch
his legs, while she hoped I was sure, and that
it was not want of room. Truly a man of
his size could not well have been squeezed in
with her paraphernalia, but I did my best to
console the old lady for the absence of her
protector, and I began at last to learn, as best


I could fcom her bewildered and entangled
speech, how he had arrived, taken the whole
management of her affairs, and insisted on carry-
ing her off; but her gratitude was strangely
confused with her new railway experiences and
her anxieties about her parcels. I felt as if I
had drifted a little bit farther from old times,
when we held our heads rather fastidiously high
above " odd people."

But old Mrs. Samuel Alison was a lady, as
even Lady Diana allowed, but of a kind nearly
extinct. She had only visited London and Bath
once, on her wedding tour, in the days of stage-
coaches; there was provincialism in her speech,
and the little she had ever been taught she had
forgotten, and she was the most puzzle-headed
"v^oman I ever encountered. I do not think she
ever realised that it was at Harold's own expense
that her rent and other little accounts had been
paid up, nor that Eustace was maintaining her.
She thought herself only on a long visit, and
trusted the assurances that Harold was settling
everything for ever. The ^30 income which
remained to her out of one of ;£'200 served for
her pocket-money, and all else was provided for
her, without her precisely understanding how ;
nor did she seem equal to the complications of
her new home. She knew our history in a
certain sort of way, but she spoke of one of us
to the other as "your brother," or "your sister,"
and the late Mr. Sam always figured as "your
poor papa." We tried at first to correct her, but
nevei got her farther than " your poor uncle,"


and at last we all acquiesced except Eustace,
who tried explanations with greater perseverance
than effect. Her excuse always was that Harold
was so exactly like her poor dear little Henry,
except for his beard, that she could almost think
she was speaking to him ! She was somewhat deaf,
and did not like to avow it, which accounted for
some of her blunders. One thing she could never
understand, namely, why Harold and Eustace had
never met her "poor little Henry" in Australia,
which she always seemed to think about as big as
the Isle of Wight. He had been last heard of at
Melbourne ; and we might tell her a hundred times
that she might as well wonder we had not met
a man at Edinburgh ; she always recurred to " I do
so wish you had seen my poor dear little Henry ! '
till Harold arrived at a promise to seek out the
said Henry, who, by all appearances, was an
unmitigated scamp, whenever he should return

to Australia.

On the whole, her presence was very good
for us, if only by infusing the element of age.
She liked to potter about in the morning, at-
tending to her birds and bantams, and talking
to the gardening men, weeding women, and all the
people in the adjacent hamlet; and, afterwards,
the fireside, with her knitting and a newspaper,
sufficed her. Not the daily papers— they were far
too much for her ; but the weekly paper from her
own town, which lasted her till a new one came,
as she spelled it through, and communicated the
facts and facetiae as she thought them suited to
our capacity. She was a better walker than I,


and would seldom come out in the carnage, for she
always caught cold when she did so. A long nap
after dinner ended in her resuming her knitting
quite contentedly in silence. She wanted no more,
though she was pleased if any one said a few kindly
words to her. Nothing could be more inoffensive,
and she gave us a centre and something needing
consideration. I feared Dora might be saucy to
her, but perhaps motherliness was what the wild
child needed, for she drew towards her, and was
softened, and even submitted to learn to knit, for
the sake of the mighty labour of making a pair
of socks for Harold.

The respectability her presence gave in our
pew, and by our hearth, was a great comfort to
our friends of all degrees. She was a very pretty
old lady, with dark eyes, cheeks still rosy, lovely
loose waves of short snowy curls, and a neat, active
little figure, which looked well in the good black
silks in which I contrived to invest her.

Good old woman, she thought us all shockingly
full of worldliness, little guessing how much gaiety
was due to her meek presence among us. We even
gave dinner-parties in state, and what Richardson
and I underwent from Eustace in preparation, no
tongue can tell, nor Eustace's complacence in
handing down Lady Diana !

The embargo on intercourse with Arked House
was over before Viola was taken to London to be
introduced. Eustace wanted much to follow them, be
at the levee, and spend the season in town. Had he
not been presented at Government House, and was
it not due to the Queen ? Dora more practically


offered to follow the example of the Siberian exile,
and lay a petition for Prometesky's release at her
Majesty's feet, but Harold uttered his ponderous
" No " alike to both, proving, in his capacity as
agent, that Eustace had nothing like the amount
this year which could enable him to spend two or
three months even as a single man in London
society. The requisite amount, which he had
ascertained, was startling, even had Eustace been
likely to be frugal ; nor could this year's income
justify it, in spite of Boola Boola. The expense
of coming into the estate, together with all the
repairs and improvements, had been such that the
Australian property had been needed to supple-
ment the new. Eustace was very angry and dis-
appointed, and grumbled vehemently. It was all
Harry's fault for making him spend hundreds on
his own maggots, that nobody wanted and nobody
cared about, and would be the ruin of him. Poor
Bullock would have raised the sum fast enoueh.
and thought nothing of it.

Harry never said how much of his own funds
from Boola Boola had supplemented Eustace's
outlay ; he did not even say how much better
it was to be a good landlord than a man about
town ; all he did was to growl forth to his
spoilt child, " There'll be more forthcoming next

Eustace protested that he did not believe it,
and Harold replied, "No legacy duty — no stock
to purchase — Hydriots' dividend — "

It did not check the murmur, and Eustace
sulked all the rest of the day; indeed, this has



always seemed to me to have been the first
little rift in his adherence to his cousin, but at
that time his dependence was so absolute, and
his power of separate action so small, that he
submitted to the decree even while he grumbled ;
and when he found that Lord Erymanth viewed
it as very undesirable for a young man to come
up to London without either home or business,
or political views, took to himself great credit
for the wise decision.

Indeed, Lord Erymanth did invite us all for
a fortnight to his great old mansion in Piccadilly
to see the Exhibition, and, as he solemnly told
me, " to observe enough of our institutions as
may prepare my young friends for future life."
Even Dora was asked, by special entreaty from
Viola, who undertook to look after her — rather
too boldly, considering that Di — i.e., Mrs. En-
derby — was mistress of Viola's movements, and
did not leave her much time to waste upon us.

In fact, Mrs. Enderby, though perfectly civil,
was evidently hostile to us, and tried to keep
her sister out of our way as much as she could,
thickening engagements upon her, at which Viola
made all the comical murmurs her Irish blood
could prompt, but of course in vain. Eustace's
great ambition was to follow her to her parties,
and Lady Diana favoured him when she could ;
but Harold would have nothing to do with such
penances. He never missed a chance of seeing
Viola come down attired for them, but, as he
once said, "that was enough for him." He did
not want to see her handec' about and grimaced


at by a lot of fine gentlemen who did not seem
to think anything worth the trouble ; and as to
the crowd and the stifling, they made him feel
ready to strike out and knock everyone down.

So much Eustace and I elicited in short
sentences one day, when we were rather foolishly
urging on him to let himself be taken with us
to an evening party. No, he went his own way
and took Dora with him, and I was quite sure
that they were safe together, and that after his
year's experience he was to be trusted to know
where it was fitting to take her. They saw a
good deal that was more entertaining than we
could venture on; and, moreover, Harold improved
his mind considerably in the matters of pottery,
porcelain, and model lodging-houses.

Dermot was in London too, not staying with
uncle or sister, for both of whom he was much
too erratic, though he generally presented him-
self at such times as were fittest for ascertaining
our movements for the day, when it generally
ended in his attaching himself to some of us,
for Harold seemed to have passed an act of
oblivion on the doings of that last unhappy meet-
ing, and allowed himself to be taken once or twice
with Eustace into Dermot's own world ; but not
only was he on his guard there, but he could not
be roused to interest even where horseflesh was
concerned. Some one said he was too great a
barbarian, and so he was. His sports and revel-
ries had been on a wilder, ruder, more violent
scale, such as made these seem tame. He did not
understand mere trifling for amusement's sake, still


less how money could be thrown away fcr it and
for fashion, when it was so cruelly -wanted by real
needs ; and even Dermot was made uncomfortable
by his thorough earnestness. " It won't do in
* the village ' in the nineteenth century," said he
to me. " It is like — who was that old fellow it was
said of — a lion stalking about in a sheepfold."

"Sheep!" said I, indignantly. "I am afraid
some are wolves in sheep's clothing."

Dermot shrugged his shoulders and said, *' How
is one to help oneself if one has been born some
two thousand years too late, or not in the new
half-baked hemisphere where demigods still walk
the earth in their simplicity V^

"I want you not to spoil the demigod when
he has walked in among you.^^

" I envy him too much to do that,'^ said
Dermot with a sigh.

" I believe you, Dermot, but don^t take him
among those who want to do so/^

" That^s your faith in your demigod/^ said
Dermot, not able to resist a little teasing ; but
seeing I was really pained, he added : " No, Lucy,
ni 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 bar-
barian," 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

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 13 of 24)