Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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So in some ways that was to me at least a
gladsome Sunday, though not half so much at
the time as it has become in remembrance, and
I could not guess how much of conscious peace or
joy Harold felt, as, for the first and only time, he
and I knelt together on the chancel step.

He said nothing, but he had quite recovered
his usual countenance and manner, only looking
more kind and majestic than ever, as I, his fond
aunt, thought, when we went among the children
after the school service, to give them the little


dainties they had missed in his absence ; and
he smiled when they came round him with their
odd little bits of chatter.

We sat over the fire in the evening, and talked
a little of surface things, but that died away, and
after a quarter of an hour or so, he looked up at
me and said, "And what next ?"

"What are we to do, do you mean ?" I said, for
I had been thinking how all his schemes of life
had given way. We spoke of it together. " Old
Eu did not want him," as he said, and though
there was much for him to do at the Hydriot
Works and the Mission Chapel, the Reading
Room, the Association for Savings, and all the
rest which needed his eye, yet for Viola's peace
he thought he ought not to stay, and the same
cause hindered the schemes he had once shared
with Dermot ; he had cut himself loose from
Australia, and there seemed nothing before him,
"There were the City Missions," he said, wearily,
for he did not love the City, and yet he felt
more than ever the force of his dying father's
commission to carry out his longings for the true
good of the people.

I said we could make a London home and see
Dora sometimes, trying to make him understand
that he might reckon on me as his sister friend,
but the answer was, " I don't count on that."
" You don't want to cast me off } "
" No, indeed, but there is another to be thought

Then he told me how, over my letters to him in
New South Wales, there had come out Dermot's


account of the early liking that everyone nipped,
till my good-girlish submission wounded and
affronted him, and he forgot or disliked me for
years ; how old feelings had revived, when we
came in contact once more ; but how he was with-
held from their manifestation, by the miserable
state of his affairs, as well as by my own cold-
ness and indifference.

I made some sound which made Harold say,
" You told me to keep him away."

" I knew I ought," I remember saying faintly.

" Oh — h — !" a prolonged sound, that began a
little triumphantly, but ended in a sigh, and then
he earnestly said, " You do not think you ought
to discourage him now } Your mother did not
forbid it for ever."

" Oh no, no ; it never came to that."

" And you know what he is now "i "

" I know he is changed," was all I could say.

" And you will help him forward a little when
he comes back. You and he will be happy."

There might be a great surging wave of joy in
my heart, but it would not let me say anything
but, " And leave you alone, Harold .? "

" I must learn to be alone," he said. " I can
stay here this winter, and see to the things in hand,
and then I suppose something will turn up."

" As a call .? " I said.

" Yes," he answered. " I told God to-day that
I had nothing to do but His service, and I suppose
He will find it for me."

There was something in the steadfast, yet
wistful look of his eyes, that made me take down


the legend of St. Christopher and read it aloud.
Reading generally sent him into a doze, but even
that would be a respite to the heartache he so
patiently bore, and I took the chance, but he
sat with his chin on his hand and his eyes fixed
attentively on mine all the time, then held out
his hand for the book, and pondered, as was his
thorough way in such matters. At last he said,
"Well, I'll wait by the stream. Some day He
will send me some one to carry over,"

We little thought what stream was very



Tuesday morning brought a strange little untidy
packet, tied with blue ribbon, understamped, and
directed to Harold Alison, Esquire, in the worst
form of poor Dora's always bad handwriting.
Within was a single knitted muffatee, and a long
lock of the stiffly curling yellow hair peculiar to
Dora's head. In blotted, sloping roundhand was
written : —

"My dear Harry, —

" Good-bye, I do fele so very ill, I can't do
any more. Don't forget I allwaies was your

" I am your affex., • D. A.'*


We looked at each other in wonder and
dismay, sure that the child must be very ill, and
indignant that we had not been told. Harold
talked of going up to town to find out ; I was
rather for going, or sending, to Therford for
tidings, and all the time, alas ! alas ! he was
smoothing and caressing the yellow tress between
his fingers, pitying the child and fancying she
was being moped to death in the school-room.

We determined on riding to Therford, and
Harold had hastened to the office to despatch
some business first, when Mr. Horsman himself
came in — on his way to the Petty Sessions — to
explain matters.

Mrs. Randall Horsman had arrived with her
children at Therford the day before, flying from
the infection of smallpox, for which the doctor had
declared Dora to be sickening. The whole family
had been spending the autumn months at the
seaside. Nessy Horsman had been with them
and had taken Dora about with him much more
than had been approved. In one of these expe-
ditions he had taken her into the shop of a village
ratcatcher, where, it had since been ascertained,
two children were ill of smallpox. She had
been ailing ever since the party had returned to
London ; the doctor had been called in on Monday,
and had not only pronounced the dreadful name of
the disease, but, seeking in vain for the marks of
vaccination on her arms, he greatly apprehended
that she would have it in full and unmitigated

Mrs. Randall Horsman had herself and her


children vaccinated without loss of time and fled
to the country. Her husband would spend all day
in his chambers, and only sleep at home on the
ground-floor with every precaution, and Dora had
been left in the charge of a young under-house-
maid, whose marked face proved her safety, until
the doctor could send in a regular nurse. It
was this wretched little stupid maid who was igno-
rant enough to assist the poor child in sending off
her unhappy packet, all unknowing of the seeds of
destruction it conveyed.

I had had a slight attack of undoubted small-
pox when a young child, and I immediately resolved
on going to nurse my poor Dora, secure that she
would now be left to me, and unable to bear the
thought of her being among strangers. I went at
once to the office to tell Harry, and Baby Jack
walked with me as far as our roads lay together,
asking me on the way if it wxre true that Harold
Alison was engaged to Miss Tracy, and on my
denial, saying that Mrs. Randall had come down
full of the report ; that Nessy had heard of it,
and, on Sunday afternoon, had teased Dora about
it to such a degree that she had leaped up from
the sofa and actually boxed his ears, after which
she had gone into such a paroxysm of tears and
sobs that she had been sent to bed, and in the
morning the family mind began to perceive she
was really ill. The poor child's passionate
jealousy had no doubt prompted her letter, as
well as her desire to take leave of the object of
her love ; and knowing her strange character as
I did, I was sure the idea was adding tenfold to


the misery of the dreadful illness that was coming
on her.

I had to pursue Harold to the potteries, where
one of the workmen directed me to him, as he
was helping to put in order some machine for
hoisting that was out of gear. "Bless you, ma'am,"
said the man, " he is as strong as any four of

When I found him, his consternation was great,
and he quite agreed with me that I had better go
up that very afternoon and take charge of Dora,
since Baby Jack answered for it that Randall
Horsman would be most grateful and thankful.

Harold found out the hours for the trains, and
did everything to expedite me. He made it cer-
tain that poor little Dora had not been vaccinated.
When she was born, no doctor lived within sixty
miles of Boola Boola, and nobody had ever thought
of such a thing.

" And you, Harry 1 " I asked, with a sudden
thrill of alarm.

" Do you expect me to remember } " he asked
with a smile.

I begged him to look for the moons upon his
arm, and at any rate to undergo the operation
again, since, even if it had been done in his infancy,
the effect might have worn out, and it was only too
probable that in the case of a child born on board
a sailing vessel, without a doctor, it had been for-
gotten. He gave in to my solicitude so far as to
say that he would see about it, but reminded me
that it w^as not he who was going into the infection.
Yes, I said, but there was that lock of hair and the


worsted cuff. Such things did carry contagion,
and he ought to burn them at once.

" Poor Dora ! " he said, rather indignantly.
Oh that I had seen them burnt ! Oh that I
had taken him to Dr. Kingston's for vaccination
before I went away, instead of contenting myself
with the unmeaning, half-incredulous promise to
**see about it!'' by which, of course, he meant
to mention it when George Yolland came home.
Yet it might have made no difference, for he had
been fondling and smoothing that fatal curl all
the time we were talking over the letter.

He came to the station with me, gave me the
kindest messages for Dora, arranged for my tele-
graphing reports of her every day — took care of
me as men will do when they seem to think their
womankind incapable without them, making all
the more of me because I did not venture to
take Colman, whom I sent to visit her home.
He insisted on Mr. Ben Yolland, who had been
detained a day behind his brother, going in a
first-class carriage with me. I leant out at the
window for the parting kiss, and the last sight I
had of my dear Harold, as the train steamed out
of the station, was bearing on his shoulder a
fat child — a potter's — who had just arrived by
the train, and had been screaming to liis mother
to carry him, regardless of the younger baby and
baskets in her arms. It might well make my
last sight of him remind me of St. Christopher.

That journey with the curate was comfortable
in itself, and a great comfort to me afterwards.
We could not but rejoice together over that


Sunday, and Ben Yolland showed himself deeply
struck with the simplicity and depth that had
been revealed to him, the reality of whatever
Harold said, and his manner of taking his dire
disappointment as the just and natural outcome
of his former life. Many men would have
been soured and driven back to evil by such a
rejection. Harold had made it the occasion of
his most difficult victory and sharpest struggle ;
yet all the time he was unconscious how great a
victory it was. And so thorough was the peni-
tence, so great the need of refreshment after the
keen struggle for self-mastery, and so needful the
pledge of pardon, that though he had never been
confirmed, there was no doubt as to making him
welcome at once to the Heavenly Feast. Well
that it was so !

The "What next" concerned Mr. Yolland as
much as it did me. He could not bear to think
of relinquishing one who — all unknown to himself
— did more to guide and win the hearts of those
Hydriots than teaching or sermons could ever do,
and yet no one could advise Harold to remain
after this winter. In the reprieve, however, we
both rejoiced, and Ben then added, " For my
brother's sake, especially."

"Do you think the example tells on him.?" I
ventured on asking.

" I can hardly say it does," was the answer.
" George used to point to Harold Alison as a
specimen of a vigorous physical development so
perfectly balanced as to be in a manner self-
adjusting, without need of what he called imagi-


native influences. I always thought he was a
little staggered that evening that he had to
summon you, Miss Alison, to his help ; but he
had some theory of sentiment to account for it,
and managed, as people do, to put it aside.
Lately, however, he has been looking on, he sa}-s,
with curiosity— I believe with something more.
You see he reveres Alison for what he is, not
for what he knows."

" Of course not ; your brother mu£'. know far
more than Harold."

*'But the strength of character and will
impresses him. The bending of such a nature
to faith, the acceptance of things spiritual, by
one real, unimaginative and unsophisticated, and,
above all, the self conquest, just where a great
Greek hero would have failed, have certainly
told on George, so that I see more hope than
I have ever done before."

So careful of me was :\Ir. Yolland, that he
only parted with me at Randall Horsman's door,
where I was gladly welcomed by the master
of the house, and found my poor little niece
a grievous spectacle, and so miserable with the
horrible illness, that she only showed her pleasure
in my coming by fretting whenever anyone else
touched her.

She had it badly in the natural form, but
never was in immediate danger, and began in
due time to recover. I had ceased my daily
telegrams, and had not been alarmed by some
days' intermission of Harold's letters, for I knew
that Dermot was at Arkcd alone, and that by


this time the Yollands would be returned and
my nephew would have less time to spend on me.

One dismal wintry afternoon, however, when I
was sitting in the dark, telling- Dora stories, a card
was brought up to me by the little housemaid.
The gentleman begged to see mc. " Mr. Tracy "
was on the card, and the very sight startled me
with the certainty that something was amiss.

I left the girl in charge and hurried down
to the room, v/here Dermot was leaning over
the mantel-shelf, with his head against his arms,
in a sorrowful attitude, as if he could not bear
to turn round and face me, I flew up to him,
crying out that I knew he was come to fetch
me to Harold ; Dora was so much better that I
could leave her.

He turned up to me a white haggard face,
and eyes with dismay, pity, and grief in them,
such as even now it wrings my heart to recall,
and hoarsely said in a sunken voice, " No, Lucy,
I am not come to fetch you 1 " and he took my
hand and grasped it convulsively.

"But he has caught it.?" Dermot bent his
head. " I must go to him, even if he bids me
not. I know he wants me."

" No ! " again said Dermot, as if his tongue re-
fused to move. " Oh, Lucy, Lucy, I cannot tell you !"

And he burst into a flood of tears, shaking,
choking even rending him.

I stood, feeling as if turned to stone, and
presently the words came out in a sob, "Oh,
Lucy, he is dead!" and, sinking on the nearest
seat, his tempest of grief was for the moment


more frightful than the tidings, which I could
not take in, so impossible did the sudden quench-
ing of that glorious vitality seem. I began in
some foolish way to try to console him, as if it
were a mere fancy. I brought him a glass of
water from the sideboard, and implored him to
compose himself, and tell me what made him
say such terrible things, but he wrung my hand
and leant his head against me, as he groaned,
** I tell you, it is true. We buried him this
morning. The noblest, dearest friend that
ever "

" And you never told me ! You never fetched
me; I might have saved him," was my cry; then,
"Oh! why did you not.?"

Then he told me that there had been no
time, and how useless my presence would have
been. We sat on the sofa, and he gasped out
something of the sad story, though not by any
means all that I afterwards learnt from himself
and from the Yollands, but enough to make me
feel the reality of the terrible loss. And I will
tell the whole here.

Left to himself, the dear fellow had no doubt
forgotten all about vaccination, or any peril to
himself, for he never mentioned it to Dermot,
who only thought him anxious about Dora. On
the Saturday they were to have had a day's
shooting, and then to have dined at Erymanth,
but Harold sent over in the morning to say he
had a headache and could not come, so Dermot
went alone. When the Yollands came home at
nine at night a message was given that Mr. Alison


would like to see Mr. George as soon as he came
in ; but as the train had been an hour late, and
the message had not been delivered immediately
on their coming in, George thought it could not
concern that night, so he waited till morning ;
but he was awaked in the winter twilight by-
Harold at his door, saying, " Doctor, I'm not
quite right. I wish you would come up presently
and see after me."

He was gone again, while he was being called
to wait ; and, dressing as fast as possible, George
Yolland went out after him into the dark, cold,
frosty, foggy morning, and overtook him, leaning
on the gate of a field, shivering, panting, and so
dizzy, that it was with difficulty he was helped to
the house. He made known that he had felt very
unwell all the day before, and had had a miserable
night, in which all the warnings about infection
had returned on him. The desire to keep clear
of all whom he might endanger, as well as a
fevered — perhaps already half-delirious — longing
for cool air, had sent him forth himself to summon
George Yolland. And already strong shivering
fits and increased distress showed what fatal mis-
chief that cold walk had done. All he cared now
to say was that he trusted to his doctor to keep
everybody out of the house ; that I was not to
be called away from Dora, and that it was all his
own fault.

One person could not be kept away, and that
was Dermot Tracy. He came over to spend the
Sunday with his friend, and finding the door closed,
and Richardson giving warning of smallpox, only


made him the more eagerly run upstairs. George
could by that time ill dispense with a strong man's
help, and after vaccinating him, admitted him to
the room, where the checking of the eruption had
already produced terrible fever and violent raving.

It was a very remarkable delirium, as the three
faithful watchers described it. The mind and
senses seemed astray, only not the will. It was
as if all the vices of his past life came in turn
to assail him, and he was writhing and struggling
under their attacks, yet not surrendering himself.
When — the Sunday duties over — Ben Yolland
came in, he found him apparently acting over some
of the wild scenes of his early youth, with shreds
of the dreadful mirth, and evil words of profane
revelry ; and yet, as if they struck his ears, he
would catch himself up and strike his fist on his
mouth, and when Ben entered, he stretched out
his arms and said, " Don't let me." Prayer soothed
him for a short interval, but just as they hoped
that sleep might come, the fierce struggle with
oppression brought back the old habits of violent
language, and then the distressed endeavour to
check himself, and the clutch at the clergyman's
aid. Ben Yolland saw, standing in the room, a
great rough wooden cross which Harold had made
for some decorating plan of mine. He held it over
him, put it into his hand, and bade him repeat
after him, " Christ has conquered. By Thy Cross
and Passion ; by Thy precious Death and Burial,
good Lord deliver us."

So it went on hour after hour, evening closing
into night, the long, long night brightening at last


into day, and still the fever raged, and the fits
of delirious agony came on, as though every fiend
that had ever tempted him were assailing him
now. Yet still he had the power to grasp the
Cross when it was held to him, and speak the
words, " Christ has conquered," and his ears were
open to the prayer, " By Thy Cross and Passion,
by Thine Agony and Bloody Sweat, good Lord
deliver us ! " — the prayer that Ben prayed like
Moses at Rephidim. Time came and went, the
Northchester physician came and said he might
be saved, if the eruption could only be brought
out, but he feared that it had been thrown inwards,
so that nothing would avail ; but of all this Harold
knew nothing, he was only in that seething brain,
whose former injury now added to the danger,
living over again all his former life, as those who
knew it could trace in the choked and broken
words. Yet, as the doctors averred, that the con-
science and the will should not be mastered by
the delirium was most unusual, and proved the
extraordinary force of his character and resolution,
even though the conflict was evidently a great
addition to his sufferings.

Worst of all was the deadly strife, when with
darkness came the old horror of being pursued
by hell hounds, driven on by Meg and the rival
he had killed — nay, once it was even by his little
children. Then he turned even from the Cross
in agony. " I cannot ! See there ! They will not
let me!" and he would have thrown himself from
his bed, taking the hands that held him for the
dogs' fangs. And yet even then a command rather


than a prayer from the priest reached his ears. He
wrestled, with choking, stifling breath, as though
with a weight on his chest, grappUng with his
hands as if the dog were at his throat; but at
last he uttered those words once more, " Christ has
conquered ;" then with a gasp, as from a freed
breast, for his strength was going fast, fell back
in a kind of swoon. Yes, he was delivered from
the power of the dog, for after that, when he woke,
it was in a different mood. He knew Ben, but
he thought he had little Ambrose sitting on his
pillow ; held his arm as if his baby were in it,
and talked to them smiling and tenderly, as if
glad they had come to him, and he were enjoy-
ing their caresses, their brightness, and beauty.
Nor did the peace pass away. He was so quiet
that all hoped except George YoUand, who knew
the mischief had become irreparable ; and though
he never was actually sensible, the borderland was
haunted no more with images of evil or of terror,
but with the fair visions fit for "him that over-
cometh." Once they thought he fancied he was
showing his children to Viola or to me. Once,
when Dermot's face came before him, he re-
curred to some of the words used in the struggle
about Viola.

''' I don't deserve her. Good things are not for
me. All will be made pure there."

They thought then that he was himself, and
knew he was dying, but the next moment some
words, evidently addressed to his child, showed
them he was not in our world ; and after that
all the murmurs were about what had last takea


up his mind — the Bread of Heaven, the Fruit of
Everlasting Life.

" To him that overcometh will I give to eat
of the Fruit of the Tree of Life, which is in the
midst of the Paradise of God." That was what
Mr. Yolland ventured now to say over him, and
it woke the last respondent glance of his eyes.
He had tasted of that Feast of Life on the Sun-
day he was alone, and Ben Yolland would even
then have given it to him, but before it could be
arranged, he could no longer swallow, and the
affection of the brain was fast blocking up the
senses, so that blindness and deafness came on,
and passed into that insensibility in which the last
struggles of life are, as they tell us, rather agonis-
ing to the beholder than to the sufferer. It was
at sundown at last that the mightiest and gentlest
spirit I ever knew was set free.

Those three durst not wait to mourn. Their
first duty was to hasten the burial, so as to prevent
the spread of contagion, and they went at once
their different ways to make the preparations. No
form of conventional respect could be used, but
it was the three who so deeply loved him who laid
him in the rough-made coffin, hastily put together
the same evening, with the cross that had served
him in his conflict on his breast, and three camellia
buds from Viola's tree. Dermot had thought of
her and ridden over to fetch them. There had
been no disfigurement. If there had been he might
have lived, but still it was a comfort to know that
the dear face was last seen in more than its own
calm majesty, as of one who lay asleep after d


mighty conquest. Over the coffin they placed the

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 21 of 24)