Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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" I am of Mrs. Alison's opinion, that she would
be willing for the sake of seeing her son, and
such a son."

Harold sighed.

"But it could not have been so dreadful
when Eustace lived with them, and was so fond
of the man/'

" He flattered 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 at-
tached, 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 con-
science 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 sur-
rounded 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 Diirer^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 them-
selves 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 ramit
fications, 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 bewil-
dered m 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 ni-ht
before Harold arrived at Boola Boola, upon a flock
pasturing some way off. The shepherds were badly
beaten, and then baled 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 squat-
ters, 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 him.
self, and they came, not to any poetical robber's
cavern, but within sight of a set of shanties, look-
ing 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, fof
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 im.agined. 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 exten-
sive ; two had been shot in the fray, one was
wounded, and one surrendered. Alison, though
not dead, was perfectly helpless, and v/as carried
down the rocky valley on an extemporary litter,
Harold taking his usual share of the labour.
The sheep and cattle on whom were recogrused


the marks of the AHsons 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.



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 dis-
content with Mr. Yolland about the management
of the estate, always grumbling about expenses
and expecting unreasonable returns, and inter-
fering with the improvements Harold had set in
hand, till Mr. Yolland us^d 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 en-
gaged who had been recommended by Mr. Hors-
man, 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 sorrv^ 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 Hippo-
lyta Horsman.

From sheepishness and want of savoir /aire,
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 impru-
dent, 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, w^ho
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 excite-
ment, 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 mxcrely 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 iden-
tification 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 crip-
pled 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 knit-
ting 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 gen-
tleman 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 bro-
ther 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 Prome-
tesky'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. Der-
mot 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 eager-
ness 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 bur-
glars ; and Dora, who was desperately offended,
failed to convince her that she might as well
expect robbers at home. However, the prepara-
tions 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 them-

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 Ahson, 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 Hors-
man family was not, by any means, such a proof
of affection as either Harry or I should relish.

]\Iore 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-ofhce. The Smith family
had left the place, and ]\Ir. 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 gentle-
men, 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

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 w^anted 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, shut-
ting 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

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 17 of 24)