Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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so abruptly, especially as they had brought a little
sister.

It was gratifying to see that Harold was
uneasy till the note was sent off and the car-
riage dismissed. "You are not going?" he said,
as persuasively as if he were speaking to Dora,
and I strove to make a wise and prudent answer,
about remaining for the next few days, and
settling the rest when he had made his plans.

Then I proposed to take Dora up to bed, but
though manifestly very weary, the child refused,
and when her brother tried to order her, she ran
between Harold's knees, and there tossed her
head and glared at me. He lifted her on his,
lap, and she drew his arm round her in defence.
Eustace said he spoilt her, but he still held her,
and, as she dropped asleep against his breast,
Eustace related, almost in a tone of complaint,
that she had cared for no one else ever since the
time she had been lost in the Bush, and Harold
had found her, after three days, in the last stage
of exhaustion, since which time she had had



i6 MY YOUNG ALCIDES,

neither eyes, ears, nor allegiance for any other
creature, but that she must be taught something,
and made into a lady.

Harold gazed down on her with his strange,
soft, melancholy smile, somehow seeming to vex
Eustace, who accused him of not caring how
rough and uncultivated she was, nor himself
either.

" We leave the polish to you," said Harold.

" Why, yes," said Eustace, simpering, " my
uncle Smith gave me the first advantages in
Sydney, and everyone knew my father was * a
gentleman.' "

Harold bit the hair that hung over his lip,
and I guessed, what I afterwards found to be
the truth, that his stepfather was no small trial
to him ; being, in fact, an unprosperous tutor and
hanger-on on some nobleman's family, finally sent
out by his patrons in despair, to keep school in
Sydney.

Poor Ambrose had died of lock-jaw from
a cut from an axe very soon after his eman-
cipation, just as his energy was getting the farm
into order, and making things look well with the
family, and, after a year or two, Alice, deceived
by the man's air and manners, and hoping to
secure education for her son, had married, and
the effect had been that, while Harold was pro-
voked into fierce insubordination, Eustace became
imbued with a tuft-hunting spirit, a great con-
trast to what might have been expected from
his antecedents.

I cannot tell whether I found this out the first



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. i/

evening, or only gradually discovered it, with much
besides. I only remember that when at last
Harold carried Dora upstairs fast asleep, and my
maid Colman and I had undressed her and put
her into a little bed in a room opening out of
mine, I went to rest, feeling rejoiced that the
suspense was over and I knew the worst. I felt
rather as if I had a magnificent wild beast in the
house; and yet there was a wonderful attraction,
partly from the drawing of kindred blood, and
partly from the strength and sweetness of Harold's
own face, and, aunt like, I could not help feeling
proud of having such a grand creature belonging
to me, though there might be a little dread of
what he would do next.

In the morning all seemed like a dream, for
Dora had vanished, leaving no trace but her
black bag ; but while I was dressing a tremen-
dous cackling among my bantams caused me to
look out, when I beheld them scurrying right and
left at sight of the kangaroo leaping after the
three strangers, and my cat on the top of the
garden wall on tiptoe, with arched back, bristling
tail, and glassy eyes, viewing the beast as the
vengeful apotheosis of all the rats and mice she
had slaughtered in her time.

From the stairs I heard Dora scouting her
brother's orders to tidy herself for breakfast,
adding that Harry never did, to which he merely
replied, " I shall now. Come."

There was a sound of hoisting, that gave me
warning rather fortunately, for he came striding
upstairs with that great well-grown girl of eight

c



i8 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

perched on his shoulder as if she had been a
baby, and would have run me down if I had
not avoided into the nook on the landing.

All that day and the next those three were
out ; I never saw them but at meals, when they
came in full of eager questions and comments
on their discoveries in farming and other matters.
These were the early bright days of spring,
and they were out till after dark, only returning
to eat and go to bed. I found the fascination
of Harold's presence was on all the servants and
dependents, except perhaps our bailiff Bullock,
who disliked him from the first. All the others
declared that they had no doubt about staying
on, now that they saw what the young squire
really was. It made a great impression on them
that, when in some farmyard arrangements there
was a moment's danger of a faggot pile falling,
he put his shoulder against it and propped the
whole weight without effort. His manhood,
strength, and knowledge of work delighted them,
and they declared already that he would be a
good friend to the poor.

I confess that here lay what alarmed me. He
was always given to few words, but I could see
that he was shocked at the contrast between our
poor and the Australian settlers, where food and
space were plenty and the wages high. I was
somewhat hurt at his way of viewing what had
always seemed to me perfection, at least all that
could be reasonably expected for the poor — our
pet school, our old women, our civil dependents
in tidy cottages, our picturesque lodges ; and I



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 19



did not half like his trenchant questions, which
seemed to imply censure on all that I had hitherto
thought unquestionable, and perhaps I told him
somewhat impatiently that, when he had been a
little longer here, he would understand our ways
and fall naturally into them.

" That's just what I don't want," he said.

" Not want "i " I exclaimed.

" Yes ; I want to see clearly before I get used
to things."

And as, perhaps, I seemed to wonder at this
way of beginning, he opened a little, and said,
" It is my father. He told me that if ever I
came here I was to mind and do his work."

" What kind of work } " I asked, anxiously.

" Doing what he meant to have done," returned
Harold, *' for the poor. He said I should find
out about it."

*' You must have been too young to understand
much of what he meant then," I said. " Did he
not regret anything .? "

** Yes, he said he had begun at the wrong
end, when they were not ripe for it, and that the
failure had ruined him for trying again."

" Then he did see things differently at last 1 "
I said, hoping to find that the sentiments I had
always heard condemned had not been per-
petuated.

" Oh yes ! " cried Eustace. " They were just
brutes, you know, that nobody could do any good
to, and were only bent on destroying, and had
no gratitude nor sense ; and that was the ruin
of him and of my father too."



20 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

" They were ignorant, and easily maddened,"
said Harold, gravely. " He did not know how
little they could be controlled. I must find out
the true state of things. Prometesky said I
must read it up."

" Prometesky!" I cried in despair. "Oh, Harold,
you have not been influenced by that old fire-
brand } "

" He taught me almost all I know," was the
answer, still much to my dismay ; but I showed
Harold to the library, and directed him to some
old books of my father s, which I fancied might
enlighten him on the subjects on which he needed
information, though I feared they might be rather
out of date ; and whenever he was not out of
doors, he was reading them, sometimes running his
fingers through his yellow hair, or pulling his beard,
and growling to himself when he was puzzled
or met with what he did not like. Eustace's
favourite study, meanwhile, was " Burke's Peerage,"
and his questions nearly drove me wild by their
absurdity ; and Dora rolled on the floor with my
Spitz dog, for she loathed the doll I gave her,
and made me more afraid of her than of either
of the others.

Harold was all might and gentleness ; Eustace
viewed me as a glass of fashion and directory of
English life and manners ; but I saw they both
looked to me not only to make their home, but
to tame their little wild cat of a child ; and that
was enough to make her hate and distrust me.
Moreover, she had a gleam of jealousy not far
from fierce in her wild blue eyes if she saw



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 21

Harold turn affectionately to me, and she always
protested sullenly against the " next week," when
I was to begin her education.

She could only read words of four letters,
and could not, or would not, work a stitch.
Harold had done all her mending. On the
second day I passed by the open door of his
room, and saw him at work on a great rect-
angular rent in her frock. I could not help
stopping to suggest that Colman or I might save
him that trouble, whereupon Dora slammed the
door in my face.

Harold opened it again at once, saying, " You
ought to beg Aunt Lucy's pardon ;" and when no
apology could be extracted from her, and with
thanks he handed over the little dress to me, she
gave a shriek of anger (she hardly ever shed
tears) and snatched it from me again.

"Well, well," said Harold, patting her curly
head ; " I'll finish this time, but not again, Dora.
Next time. Aunt Lucy will be so good as to see
to it. After old Betty's eyes grew bad we had
to do our own needling."

I confess it was a w^onderful performance —
quite as neat as Colman could have made it ;
and I suspect that Harold did not refrain from
producing needle and thread from his fat mis-
cellaneous pocket-book, and repairing her many
disasters before they reached the domestic eye ;
for there was a chronic feud between Dora and
Colman, and the attempts of the latter to make
the child more like a young lady were passionately
repelled, though she would better endure those of



2 2 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

a rough little under-housemaid, whose civilisation
was, I suppose, not quite so far removed from
her own.

On Sunday, she and Harold disappeared as
soon as breakfast was over, and only Eustace
remained, spruce beyond all imagination, and
giving himself childlike credit for not being with
them ; but when at church I can't say much for
his behaviour. He stared unblushingly, whispered
remarks and inquiries, could not find the places
in his book, and appeared incapable of kneel-
ing. Our little church at Arghouse was then a
chapelry, with merely Sunday morning service
by a curate from Mycening, and the congregation
a village one, to the disgust of Eustace, who
had expected to review his neighbours, and
thought his get-up thrown away.

" No one at all to see," he observed with dis-
content over our luncheon, Harold and Dora
having returned from roaming over Kalydon
Moor.

" I go to afternoon service at Mycening,
Harold," I said. "Will not you come with me .''"

'* There will be somebody there V asked Eus-
tace ; to which I replied in the affirmative, but
with some protest against his view of the object,
and inviting the others again, but Dora defiantly
answered that Harold was going to swing her
on the ash tree.

" You ought to appear at church, Harry,"
said Eustace. " It is expected of an English
squire. You see everybody, and everybody sees
you."



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 23



"Well, then, go," said Harold.

"And won't you?" I entreated.

"Tve promised to swing Dora," he answered,
strolling out of the room, much to my concern ;
and though Eustace did accompany me, it was
so evidently for the sake of staring that there
was little comfort in that ; and it was only by
very severe looks that I could keep him. from
asking everyone's name. I hoped to make every
one understand that he was not the squire,
but no one came across us as we went out of
church, and I had to reply to his torrent of
inquiries all the way home.

It was a wet evening, and we all stayed in
the house. Harold brought in one of his poli-
tical economy studies from the library^ and I
tried to wile Dora to look at the pictures in a
curious big old Dutch Scripture history, the
Sunday delight of our youth.

Eustace came too, as if he wanted the amuse-
ment and yet was ashamed to take it, when he
exclaimed, " I say, Harry ; isn't this the book
father used to tell us about — that they used to
look over?"

Harold came, and stood towering above us
with his hands in his pockets ; but when we
came to the Temptation of Eve, Dora broke out
into an exclamation that excited my curiosity too
much not to be pursued, though it was hardly
edifying.

"Was that such a snake as Harold killed?"
" I have killed a good many snakes," he
answered.



24 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

"Yes, but I meant the ones you killed when
you were a little tiny boy."

" I don't remember," he said, as if to stop
the subject, hating, as he always did, to talk
about himself.

" No, I know you don't," said Dora ; " but
it is quite true, isn't it, Eustace V

'' Hardly true that Harold ever was a little
tiny boy," I could not help saying.

" No, he never was littlel' said Eustace.
" But it is quite true about the snakes. I seem
to remember it now, and I've often heard my
mother and my Aunt Alice tell of it. It was
at the first place where we were in New
South Wales. I came running out screaming, I
believe — I was old enough to know the danger
— and when they went in there was Harry
sitting on the floor, holding a snake tight by
the neck and enjoying its contortions like a new
toy."

" Of course," said Harold, " if it were poi-
sonous, which I doubt, the danger would have
been when I let go. My mother quietly bade
me hold him tight, which I suppose I had just
sense enough to do, and in another moment
she had snatched up the bill-hook they had
been cutting wood with, and had his head off.
She had the pluck."

I could but gasp with horror, and ask how
old he was. About two ! That was clear to
their minds from the place where it happened
which Harold could not recollect, though Eustace
could.



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE.



** But, Harold, you surely are the eldest," I
said.

" Oh no ; I am six months the eldest," said
Eustace, proud of his advantage.

We were to hear more of that by-and-by.

Monday afternoon brought Mr. Prosser, who
was closeted with Harold, while Eustace and I
devoted our faculties to pacifying Dora under her
exclusion, and preventing her from climbing up
to the window-sill to gaze into the librar},^ from
without. She scorned submission to either of
us, so Eustace kept guard by lying on the grass
below, and I coaxed her by gathering primroses,
sowing seeds, and using all inducements I could
think of, but my resources were nearly exhausted
when Harold's head appeared at the window, and
he called, " Eustace ! Lucy ! here ! "

We came at once, Dora before us.

" Come in," said Harold, admitting us at the
glass door. " It is all a mistake. I am not the
man. It is Eustace. Eu, I wish you joy, old
chap "

Mr. Prosser was at the table with a great
will lying spread out on it. " I am afraid Mr.
Alison is right, Miss Alison," he said. " The
property is bequeathed to the eldest of the
late Mr. Alison's grandsons born here, not speci-
fying by which father. If I had copied the terms
of the will I might have prevented disappoint-
ment, but I had no conception of what he tells
me.

" But Ambrose was Harold's father," I ex-
claimed in bewilderment, " and he was the eldest."



26 Ml YOUNG ALCIDES.

"The seniority was not considered as certain,"
said Mr. Prosser, "and therefore the late Mr.
AHson left the property to the eldest child born
at home. * Let us at least have an English-born
heir,' I remember he said to me."

"And that is just what I am not," said Harold.

" I cannot understand ! I have heard Miss
Woolmer talk of poor Ambrose's beautiful child,
several months older than Eustace's, and his
name was Harold."

" Yes," said Harold, " but that one died on
the voyage out, an hour or two before I was
born. He was Harold Stanislas. I have no
second name."

" And I always was the eldest," reiterated
Eustace, hardly yet understanding what it in-
volved.

All the needful documents had been preserved
and brought home. There was the extract from
the captain's log recording the burial at sea of
Harold Stanislas Alison, aged fifteen months, and
the certificate of baptism by a colonial clergyman
of Harold, son of Ambrose and Alice Alison, while
Eustace was entered in the Northchester register,
having been born in lodgings, as Mr. Prosser well
recollected, while his poor young father lay under
sentence of death.

It burst on him at last. " Do you mean
that I have got it, and not you .'' ^^

"That's about it," said Harold. ** Never
mind, Eu, it will all come to the same thing in
the end."

"You have none of it.^"



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 27



" Not an acre. It all goes together ; but don't
look at me in that way. There's Boola Boola,
you know."

"You're not going back there to leave me.'*"
exclaimed Eustace, with a real sound of dismay,
laying hold of his arm.

"Not just yet, at any rate," said Harold.
** No, no ; nor at all," reiterated Eustace,
and then, satisfied by the absence of contra-
diction, which did, in fact, mean a good deal
from the silent Harold, he began to discover his
own accession of dignity. "Then it all belongs
to me. I am master. I am squire — Eustace
Alison, Esquire, of Arghouse. How well it
sounds. Doesn't it, Harry, doesn't it, Lucy.?
Uncle Smith always said I was the one cut out
for high life. Besides, I've been presented, and
have been to a ball at Government House."

I saw that Mr. Prosser was a little overcome
with amusement, and I wanted to make my
retreat and carry off Dora, but she had perched
on her favourite post — Harold's knee — and I
was also needed to witness Eustace's signatures,
as well as on some matters connected with my
own property. So I stayed, and saw that he did
indeed seem lost without his cousin's help.
Neither knew anything about business of this
kind, but Harold readily understood what made
Eustace so confused, that he was quite helpless
without Harold's explanations, and rather rough
directions what he was to do. How like them-
selves their writing was ! Eustace's neat and
clerkly, but weak and illegible ; and Plarold's as



28 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

distinct, and almost as large, as a schoolboy's
copy, but with square-turned joints and strength
of limb unlike any boy's writing.

The dressing-bell broke up the council, and
Harold snatched up his hat to rush out and
stretch his legs, but I could not help detaining
him to say :

" Oh, Harry, I am so sorry ! "
" Why ? " he said.

" What does it leave you, Harry ? "
" Half the capital stock farm, twelve thousand
sheep, and a tidy sum in the Sydney bank,"
said Harold readily.

" Then I am afraid we shall lose you."
"That depends. I shall set Eustace in the
way of doing what our fathers meant ; and
there's Prometesky — I shall not go till I have
done his business."

I hardly knew what this meant, and could
not keep Harold, whose long legs were eager
for a rush in the fresh air; and the next person
I met was Eustace.

"Aunt Lucy," he said, "that old fellow says
you are going away. You can't be } "

I answered, truly enough, that I had not
thought what to do, and he persisted that I had
promised to stay.

" But that was with Harry," I said.
"I don't see why you should not stay as
much with me," he said. " I'm your nephew all
the same, and Dora is your niece ; and she must
be made a proper sister for me, who have been,
&c."



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 29

I don^t know that this form of invitation was
exactly the thing that would have kept me ; but
I had a general feeling that to leave these young
men and my old home would be utter banish-
ment, that there was nothing I so cared for as
seeing how they got on, and that it was worth
anything to me to be wanted anywhere and by
anyone ; so I gave Eustace to understand that
I meant to stay. I rather wished Harold to
have pressed me ; but I believe the dear good
fellow honestly thought everyone must prefer
Eustace to himself; and it was good to see the
pat he gave his cousin's shoulder when that
young gentleman, nothing loath, exultingly settled
down in the master's place.

Before long I found out what Harold meant
about Prometesky's business ; for we had scarcely
begun dinner before he began to consult Mr.
Prosser about the ways and means of obtaining
a pardon for Prometesky. This considerably
startled ]\Ir. Prosser. Some cabinets, he said,
were very lenient to past political offences^ but
Prometesky seemed to him to have exceeded all
bounds of mercy.

" You never knew the true facts, then t " said
Harold.

" I know the facts that satisfied the jury."
** You never saw my father's statement } "
No, Mr. Prosser had been elsewhere, and had
not been employed in my brother's trial ; he had
only inherited the connection with our family
affairs when the matter had passed into com-
parative oblivion.



30 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

My brothers had never ceased to affirm ' that
he had only started for the farm that had been
Lewthwayte's on hearing that an attack was to
be made on it, in hopes of preventing it, and
that the witness, borne against him on the trial
by a fellow who had turned king's evidence, had
been false ; but they had been unheeded, or
rather Prometosky was regarded as the most
truly mischievous of all, as perhaps he really had
been, since he had certainly drawn them into
the affair, and his life had barely been saved in
consideration of his having rescued a child from
the fire at great personal peril.

Ambrose had written again and again about
him to my father, but as soon as the name
occurred the letter had been torn up. On their
liberation from actual servitude they had sent up
their statement to the Government of New South
Wales ; but in the meantime Prometesky had
fared much worse than they had. They had
been placed in hands where their education,
superiority, and good conduct had gained them
trust and respect, and they had quickly obtained
a remission of the severer part of their sen-
tence and become their own masters ; indeed, if
Ambrose had lived, he would soon have risen
to eminence in the colony. But Prometesky had
fallen to the lot of a harsh, rude master, who
hated him as a foreigner, and treated him in a
manner that roused the proud spirit of the noble.
The master had sworn that the convict had
threatened his life, and years of working in
chains on the roads had been the consequence.



THE ARGHOUSE INHERITANCE. 31



It was no time for entertaining a petition on
his account, and before the expiration of this
additional sentence Ambrose was dead.

By that time Eustace, now a rich and prosper-
ous man, would gladly have taken his old tutor to
his home, but Prometesky was still too proud, and
all that he would do was to build a little hut
under a rock on the Boola Boola grounds, where
he lived upon the proceeds of such joiner's and
watchmaker's work as was needed by the settlers
on a large area, when things were much rougher
than even when my nephews came home. No
one cared for education enough to make his gifts
available in that direction, except as concerned
Harold, who had, in fact, learnt of him almost
all he knew in an irregular, voluntary sort of
fashion, and who loved him heartily.

His health was failing now, and to bring him
home was one of Harold's prime objects, sines
London advice might yet restore him. Harold
had made one attempt in his cause at Sydney,
sending in a copy of his father's dying statement,
also signed by his uncle ; but though he was told
that it had been received, he had no encourage^
ment to hope it would be forwarded, and had
been told that to apply direct to the Secretary
of State, backed by persons from our own neigh-
bourhood, would be the best chance, and on this
he consulted Mr. Prosser, but without meeting
much sympathy. Mr. Prosser said many people's
minds had changed with regard to English or
Irish demagogues, and that the Alison Brothers
themselves might very probably have been par-



32 MV YOUNG ALCIDES,

doned, but everyone was tired of Poles, and
popular tradition viewed Prometesky as the ogre
of the past. Mr. Prosser did not seem as if he
would even very willingly assist in the drawing
up in due form a petition in the Pole's favour,
and declared that without some influential person
to introduce it, it would be perfectly useless.

Eustace turned round with, " There, you see,



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 2 of 24)