Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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to speak to Harold, and as soon as Alice knew
of his presence (there was a mere partition of
slab between her bed and the shop), she eagerly
and nervously bade him stay and keep watch
that no one should come near to see or hear.
Then, when certain that she was alone with her
son, she produced from hiding-places about her
person what appeared to be three balls of worsted
— her eyes gleaming, and her whole person start-
ing at every sound. She laid her skeleton fingers
over them with a start of terror, as Harold,
puzzled at first, would have unwound ^one ; but
made him weigh them, parted the covering with
her nail, and showed for one instant a yellow
gleam. Each held a nugget of unusual size !


Her urgency and her terror were excessive till
they were out of sight in his pockets, though he
protested that this was but to satisfy her for the
moment ; he could not keep them. She laid her
head so close to his that she could whisper, and
told him they were not meant for him. They
were payment for the ;^200 of which her hus-
band had defrauded the elder Eustace, and which
had been a heavy weight ever since on her high-
spirited pride. By one of the strange chances
that often befell in the early days of the gold-
fields, she, going to draw water at a little stream
soon after her first arrival, had seen these lying
close together in the bed of the shallow rivulet —
three lumps of gold formed by a freak of nature
into the likeness of the golden pippins her father
used to be so proud of, and the gathering of
which had been the crisis of the courtship of the
two handsome lads from Arghouse.

With the secretiveness that tyranny had taught
her, Alice hid her treasure ; and with the inborn
honest pride which had, under Smith's dominion,
cost her so much suffering, she swore to herself
that they should go to Eustace to wipe out the
fraud against his father. She had sought oppor-
tunities ever since, and believed that she should
have to send for some man in authority when
she was dying, and no one could gainsay her,
and commit them to him, little guessing that it
was in her own son's hands that she should
place them.

As little did she reckon on what Harold chose
to do. He said that for him to conceal them,


and take them away without her husband's know-
ledge, would be mere robbery ; but that he would
show them to Smith, and sign a receipt for them,
*' for Eustace Alison," in payment of the sum of
£200 due from James Smith to his father. Mr.
Tracy and his friend, the pohceman, should be
witnesses, and the nuggets themselves should be
placed in charge of the police, when their weight
and value would be ascertained, and any over-
plus returned to Smith. The poor woman trem-
bled exceedingly — Dermot heard the rustling as
he stood outside ; and he also heard Harold's
voice soothing her, and assuring her that she
should not be left to the revenge of young Dick
Smith. No, she feared not that ; she was past
the dread of Dick for herself, but not for Harold.
He laughed, and said that they durst not touch him.

For his mother's relief, and for Dermot's
safety, he, however, waited to say anything till
the assistance of the gentleman of the police
force had been secured, so that there might be no
delay to allow Dick Smith to gather his fellows
for revenge or recovery of the gold.

And with these precautions all went well.
Harold, in the grave, authoritative way that had
grown on him, reminded Mr. Smith of a heavy
debt due to his uncle ; and when the wretched
man began half to deny and half to entreat in
the same breath, Harold said that he had received
from his mother a deposit in payment thereof,
and that he had prepared a receipt, which he
requested Mr. Smith to see him sign in presence
of the two witnesses now waiting-.


Smith's resentment and disappointment at the
sight of the treasure his wife had hidden from
him were unspeakable. He was not an out-
wardly passionate man, and he was in mortal
fear, not only of the giant who seemed to fill up
all his little room, but also of anything that could
compromise him with the police. So he sup-
pressed his passion, aware that resistance would
bring out stories that could not bear the light.
Harold signed, and the golden apples were car-
ried away to the office, where Mr. Smith was
invited to come the next day and see them

That night Harold kept watch over his
mother ; and Dermot, who was thought to be
at his friend's shanty, kept watch near the door :
but Dick Smith, hating Harold's presence, had
gone on an excursion lasting some days, and
before his father went in quest of him in the
morning, Harold had a proposal ready — namely,
to continue to pay Smith what he already
allowed his mother, with an addition, provided
he were allowed to take her with him to Dunedin,
and, if possible, home.

Smith haggled, lamented, and pretended to
hesitate, but accepted the terms at last, and then
showed considerable haste in setting the party
off on their journey before his son should come
home, fearing, perhaps, some deadly deed if Dick
should discover what a prey the poor woman
had concealed from him, while she was within
his reach ; and as the worth of the apples was
estimated at about twenty pounds beyond the


debt, Harold paid this to him at once, and they
left him in the meek, plausible, tearful stage of
intoxication, piteously taking leave of his'^wife
as if she were the very darling of his heart, and
making fine speeches about his resolution to con-
sign her to her son for the sake of her health.
So contemptible had the poor creature become,
that Harold found it easier to pity than to hate him!

Besides, Harold had little thought then to
spare from the eager filial and maternal affection
that had been in abeyance all the years since
poor Alice's unhappy marriage. For a little
while the mother and son were all in all to
each other. The much-enduring woman, used to
neglected physical suffering, bore the journey
apparently well, ^^-hen watched over and guarded
with a tender kindness recalling that of the
husband of her youth ; and Harold wrote to
me from Dunedin full of hope and gladness,
aware that his mother could never be well again,'
but trusting that we might yet give her such
peace and rest as she had never yet tasted.

Again came bitter vexation in Eustace's way
of receiving the intelligence. "I hope he does
not mean to bring her here. It would be so
extremely inconvenient — not a vridow even ! It
would just confirm all the scandals / have sur-

"I thought she had been almost as much a
mother to you as your own t "

"Oh, that was when I was at school, and
they were paid for it. Besides, what a deceitful
fellow Smith was, and how he defrauded me."


**And how she has restored it!"

"I hope Harold will not go and get those
nuggets changed into specie. They would make
splendid ornaments — so distingue with such a story
attached to them."

I could only again tell myself that my first
impression had been right, and that he must be
underwitted to be so absolutely impervious to
gratitude. How Harold must have bolstered
him up to make him so tolerable as he had


He need not have feared. Alice's improve-
ment was but a last flash of the expiring flame.
She grew worse the very day after Harold wrote
to me, and did not live three weeks after he
brought her into the town, though surrounded
by such cares as she had never known before.
She died, they said, more from being worn out
than from the disease. She had done nothing
her whole hfetime but toil for others ; and if
unselfishness and silent slavery can be religion in
a woman, poor Alice had it. But !

Harold once asked her the saddest question
that perhaps a son could ask : " Mother, why did
you never teach me to say my prayers.?"

She stared at him with her great, su,
uncomplaining eyes, and said, "I hadn't time;"
and as he gave some involuntary groan, she said,
*' You see we never got religion, not Dorothy and
me, while we were girls ; and when our troubles
came, I'm sure we'd no time for such things
as that. When your father lay a-dying, he did
say, 'Alice, take care the boy gets to know his


God better than we have done ;' but you were
a great big boy by that time, and I thought I
would take care you was taught by marrying a
parson and a schoolmaster ; but there, I ought
to have remembered there was none so hard on
us as the parsons !"

Nor would she see a clergyman. She had
had enough of that sort, she said, with the only
petulance she ever showed to Harold when
he pressed it. She did not object to his
reading to her some of those passages in the
Bible and Prayer- Book which had become most
dear to him, but she seemed rather to view it
as one of the wonderful performances of her
boy — a part of his having become " as good an
English gentleman as ever his poor father was,
and able to hold up his head with any of them."
She was too ill to be argued with ; she said
" she trusted in God," whatever she meant by
that ; and so she died, holding Harold's hand as
long as her fingers could clasp, and gazing at
him as long as her eyes could see.

He wrote to me all out of his overflowing
heart, as he could never have spoken by word
of mouth, on his voyage between New Zealand
and Australia ; and on his arrival there, finding
our letters just before the mail went out, he added
the characteristic line to the one he had written
to Eustace, ''AH right, old chap, I wish you joy;"
and to me he wrote, that since I asked what he
wished, he thought I had better take a house by
the year in, or near, Mycening, and see how things
would turn out. He hoped I should keep Dora.


We need not write again, for he should leave
Sydney before our letters could arrive.

I found a little house called Mount Eaton,
on the Neme Heath side of Mycening, with a
green field between it and flie town, and the
heath stretching out "beyond, where Harold
might rush out and shake his mane instead
of feeling cribbed and confined. It wanted a
great deal of painting and papering, which
I set in hand at once, but of -course it was a
more lingering business than I expected. All
the furniture and books that had belonged to my
own mother had been left to me, and it had
been settled by the valuation, when I knew little
about it, what these were ; and all that re-
mained was to face Eustace's disgust at finding
how many of " the best things " it comprised.
Hippolyta showed to advantage there. I believe
she was rather glad to get rid of them, and to
have the opportunity of getting newer and more
fashionable ones ; but, at any rate, she did it
with a good grace, and made me welcome not
only to my own property, but to remain at
Arghouse till my new abode should be habitable,
which I hoped would be a day or two after the

The great grievance was, however, that I had
put myself and Dora into mourning, feeling it
very sad that this last of the four exiles should be
the only one of whose death I even knew. Eustace
thought the whole connection ought to be for-
gotten, and that, whatever I might choose to do,
it was intolerable that his sister, the present Miss


Alison of Arghouse, should put on mourning
for the wife of a disgraced fellow, a runaway
parson turned sharper !

I am afraid I was not as patient or tolerant
as I ought to have been, and it ended in the
time of reprieve being put an end to, and Dora
being carried off by the Horsmans to her new
schoolroom in London, her resistance, and the
home-truths she told her brother, only making
him the more inexorable. Poor little girl ! I do
not like to think of the day I put her into Hip-
polyta's hands.



It was a broiling evening in early June, very
beautiful, but so hot that I dreaded the fatigue
and all the adjuncts of the morrow's wedding,
when I was to be a bridesmaid, and should see
my poor little Dora again. I was alone, for
Eustace was sleeping at Therford Vicarage,
but I had not time for sentiment over the old
home and old gardens. I was turning out the
old Indian cabinets, which were none of mine,
though they had always been called so, and put-
ting into cotton wool and paper all my treasures
there, ready for transport, when a shadow fell on
me from the open window. I looked up, and
there stood Harold I


Oh, how unlike it was from the way in which
we had met three years before as bewildered
strangers ! I do not think that sister could ever
have met brother with more entire feeling that
home, and trust, and staff, and stay were come
back to her, than when I found Harold's arm
round me, his head bending down to me. I was
off my own mind !

When our greeting was over, Harold turned
and said, "Here he is."

I saw a fine-looking old man, with a certain
majesty of air that one could not define. He
was pale, wrinkled, and had deep furrows of
suffering on cheek and brow, but his dark
eyes, under a shaggy white penthouse, were full
of keen fire and even ardour. His bald fore-
head was very fine, and his mouth — fully visible,
for he was closely shaven — had an ineffable,
melancholy sweetness about it, so that the won-
derful power of leading all with whom he came
in contact was no longer a mystery to me ; for,
fierce patriot and desperate republican as he
might have been, nothing could destroy the
inborn noble, and instinctively I bent to him
with respect as I took his hand in welcome.

After the hasty inquiries, "Where's Dora.-*"
" Where's Eustace t " " Where's Dermot Tracy } "
had been answered, and I had learnt that this
last had gone on to London, where his family
were, Harold hurried out to see about sendine
for the luggage, and Prometesky, turning to me,
almost took my breath away by saying, " Madam,
I revere you. You have done for the youth so


dear to me what I could never have done, and
have transformed him from a noble savage to
that far higher being— the Christian hero."

I did not take this magnificent compliment
as if I had been of the courtly continental blood
of him who made it : it made me hot and
sheepish, yet even now I still feel warm at
the heart when I remember it ; for I know he
really meant it, little as I deserved it, for the
truth was what I faltered out : " It was all in


"It was all in him. That is true; but it
needed to be evoked, so as not to be any longer
stifled and perverted by the vehemence of his
physical nature. When he left me, after the great
catastrophe which changed him from the mere
exaggerated child, gratifying every passion with
violence, I knew it depended on what hands he
would fall into, whether the spiritual or the
animal would have the mastery. Madam, it
was into your hands that he fell, and I thank
God for it, even more than for the deliverance
that my dear pupil has gained for me."

He had tears in his eyes as he took my hand
and kissed it, and very much overpowered I was.
I had somewhat dreaded finding him a free-
thinker, but there was something in both speeches
that consoled me, and he afterwards said to me :
"Madam, in our youth intellectual Catholics are
apt to reject what our reason will not accept.
We love not authority. In age we gain sympathy
with authority, and experience has taught us
that there can be a Wisdom surpassing our own.


We have proved for ourselves that love cannot
live without faith."

And Harold told me on the evening of their
return, with much concern, that the old man had
made up his mind that, so soon as his health
should be sufficiently restored, he would make a
retreat among the monks of La Trappe experi-
mentally, and should probably take the vows.
" I don't see that his pardon has done much
good," he said, and did not greatly accept my
representation of the marvellous difference it must
make to a Roman Catholic to be no longer isolated
from the offices of religion. He had made up his
mind to come into Sydney to die, but he was
too poor to have lived anywhere but under the
Boola Boola rock.

It was a very quietly glad evening, as we
three sat round the open window, and asked and
answered questions. Harold said he would come
to the wedding with me the next day ; he must
see old Eu married ; and, besides, he wanted to
give up to him the three nuggets, which had been
rather a serious charge. Harold, Prometesky,
and Dermot had each carried one, in case of any
disaster, that there might be three chances ; but
now they were all three laid in my lap — wonderful
things, one a little larger than the others, but all
curiously, apple-like in form, such gifts as a bride
has seldom had.

There was the account of the sale of Boola
Boola to be rendered up too ; and the place had
risen so much in value that it had brought in
far more than Harold had expected when


leaving England, so that he and Eustace
were much richer men than he had reckoned
on being.

Mrs. Sam AHson had arrived safely, but rather
surprised not to find people walking on their
heads, as she had been told everything was
upside down. Her son had so far recovered that
he could undertake such employment in writing
as it was possible to procure. The mother and
son were very happy together, but Harold winced
as if a sore were touched when he spoke of
their meeting.

I was anxious that he should hear of nothing
to vex him that night, for there was more than
enough to annoy him another day, and I talked
on eagerly about the arrangements for the wed-
ding. Hippolyta had insisted on making it a
mingled archery and hunt-wedding. She was to
wear the famous belt. The bridegroom, her
brothers, and most of the gentlemen were to be
in their pink ; we bridesmaids had scarlet ribbons,
and the favours had miniature fox brushes fastened
with arrows in the centre ; even our lockets, with
their elaborate cypher of E's, A's, and H's, de-
pended from the head of a fox.

Prometesky looked amazed, as well he might
" Your ladies are changed," he said. " It would
formerly scarcely have been t'hought feminine to
show such ardour for the chase."

" Perhaps it is not now," I said.

"Or is it in honour of the lady's name.^ Hip-
polyta should have a Midsummer wedding, and
*love the musick of her hounds,'" continued the old


gentleman, whom I found to have Shakespeare
almost by heart, as one of the chief companions
of his solitude.

As soon as Harold heard his boxes arriving",
he went to work to disinter the wedding present
he had provided — a pretty bracelet of New
Zealand green jade set in gold. There was a little
parcel for me, too, which he gave me, leading me
aside. It was also a locket, and bore a cypher,
but how unlike the other ! It was a simple A ;
and within was a lock of silver hair. There was
no need to tell me whose it was. " She said she
wished she had anything to send you," were
Harold's words, " and I cut off this bit of her
hair;" and when I wondered over her having
taken thought of me, he said, " She blessed you
for your kindness to me. If I could only have
brought her to you "

I secured then, as the completion of his gift,
one of his thick curls of yellow-brown hair. He
showed me the chain he had brought for Dora,
and gave me one glance at a clear, pure, crystal
cross, from spar found in New Zealand, near the
gold-fields. Would he ever be able to give it ?
I answered the question in his eyes by telling
him a certain Etruscan flower-pot had stood ir
a certain window at Arked House all the winter,
and was gone to London now.

Our home breakfast had to be very early, to
give time for the drive to Therford, but Harold
had been already into Mycening, had exchanged
countless hearty greetings, roused up an unfor-
tunate hair-cutter, to trim his locks, bought a


hat, and with considerable difficulty found a
pair of gloves that he could put on — not kid,
but thick riding-gloves ; white, at least — and so
he hoped that they would pass in the crowd,
and Eustace would not feel himself disgraced.
He had not put on the red coat, but had tried
to make himself look as satisfactory to Eustace
as possible in black, and (from a rather comical
sense of duty) he made me look him over to see
if he were worthy of the occasion. He certainly
was in splendid looks, his rich, profuse beard and
hair were well arranged, and his fine bronzed face
had not lost its grave expression Avhen at rest,
but had acquired a certain loftiness of countenance,
which gave him more than ever the air, I was
going to say, of a demigod ; but he had now
an expression no heathen Greek could give ; it
was more like that of the heads by Michael
Angelo, where Christian yearning is added to
classic might and beauty.

Prometesky preferred staying at home. He
seemed suffering and weary, and said that
perhaps he should wander about and renew his
acquaintance with the country ; and so Harold
and I set off together on the drive, which, as
I well knew, would be the most agreeable part of
the day.

Very lovely it was as we passed in the morn-
ing freshness of the glowing summer day through
lanes wreathed with dog-roses and white with
May, looking over grass-fields with silvery ripples
in the breeze into woods all golden and olive-
green above with young foliage, and pink below


with campion flowers, while the moorland beyond
was in its glory of gorse near at hand, and purple
hills closing the distance. I remember the drive
especially, because Harold looked at the wealth
of gay colouring so lovingly, comparing it with the
frequently parched uniformity of the Bush, regret-
ting somewhat the limited range, but owning
there were better things than unbounded liberty.
When we reached Therford he would not go
to the house with me, nor seek to see Eustace
before the wedding, saying he should wait in the
churchyard and join us afterwards. So in I went
into the scene of waiting, interspersed with bustle,
that always precedes a wedding, and was handed
into the bed-room where the bridesmaids were
secluded till the bride was ready, all save Pippa
and the most favoured cousin, who were arraying
her. There were a dozen, and all were Horsmans
except Dora and me. The child made one great
leap at me, and squeezed me, to such detriment
of our flimsy draperies that she was instantly
called to order. Her lip pouted, and her brow
lowered ; but I whispered two words in her ear,
and with a glance in her eye, and an intent look
on her face, she stood, a being strangely changed
from the listless, sullen, defiant creature she had
been a minute before.

Therford was one of those old places where
the church is as near as possible to the manor-
house, standing on a little elevation above it, and
with a long avenue of Lombardy poplars leading
from the soulh porch, the family entrance, to the
front door of the house, so this was that pretty


thing, a walking, instead of a carriage, wedding.
As one of the procession, I could not see, but
the red and white must have made it very pretty,
and the Northchester paper was "quite poetical
in its raptures.

All this was, however, forgotten in the terrible
adventure that immediately followed. The general
entrance was by' the west door, and close to this
I perceived Harold following his usual practice
of getting into the rear and looking over people's
heads. When the service was over, and we
waited for the signing of the registers, most of
the spectators, and he among them, went out
by this western door, and waited in the church-
yard to see the procession come out.

Forth it came, headed by the bride and bride-
groom, both looking their very handsomest, and
we bridesmaids in six couples behind, when, just
as we were clear of the porch, and school-children
were strewing flowers before the pair, there was
a strange shuddering cry, and the great blood-
hound, Kirby, with broken chain and foaming
jaws — all the dreadful tokens ot madness about
him — came rushing up the avenue with the speed
of the wind, making full for his mistress, the bride.
There was not a moment for her to do more than
give a sort of shrieking, despairing command,
" Down, Kirby ! " when, just as the beast was
springing on her, his throat was seized by the
powerful hands that alone could have grappled

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 18 of 24)