Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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lion's skin. It had been left in the room during
his illness, and must have been condemned, and it
made his fit pall when they took it to be buried
with him. It was before daybreak that, with good
old Richardson's help, they carried him down to a
large cart belonging to the potteries, drawn by the
two big horses he used to pet, and driven by
George YoUand himself. They took him to our
own family burial-place in Arghouse churchyard,
where the grave had been dug at night. They
meant no one to be there, but behold ! there v/as
a multitude of heads gathered round, two or three
hundred at least, and when the faithful four
seemed to need aid in carrying that great weight
the few steps from the gate, there was a rush
forward, in spite of the peril, and disappointmenc
when no help was accepted.

Ben YoUand read the service over the grave,
and therewith there was the low voice of many,
many weepers, as they closed it in, and left him
there among his forefathers, under his lion's skin ;
and even at that moment a great, golden, glorious
sun broke out above the horizon, and bathed them
all over with light, while going forth as a giant to
run his course, conquering the night mists.

Then they turned back to the town, and
Dermot came by the next train to town to tell me.

But of all this I at first gathered but little,
for his words were broken and his voice faint
and choked, not only with grief, but with utter
exhaustion ; and I was so slow to realise all,
that I hardly knew more than the absolute fact.



346 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

before a message came hurriedly down that Dora
was worse, and I must come instantly. Dermot,
who had talked himself into a kind of dull com-
posure, stood up and said he would come again
on the morrow, when he was a little rested, for,
indeed, he had not lain down since Saturday, and
was quite worn out.

I went up, with heart quailing at the thought
of letting that passionately loving creature guess
what had befallen her, and yet how could I com-
mand myself with her ? But that perplexity was
spared me. The tidings had, through the Hors-
man family, reached the house, and, in my absence,
that same foolish housemaid had actually told
Dora of them point-blank. She said nothing, but
presently the girl found her with her teeth locked
and eyes fixed in what looked like a convulsion,
but was in reality such suppressed hysteria as she
had had before.

She soon came out of that attack, but was
exceedingly ill all that night and the next day,
her recovery being altogether thrown back by
feverishness and loss of appetite ; but, strange
child that she was, she never named Harold, nor
let me speak of him. I think she instinctively
shrank from her own emotion, and had a kind of
dread and jealous horror of seeing anyone else
grieve for him.

Dermot did not come the next day, but a
note was brought me, left, the servant said, by
the gentleman in a cab. It told me that he
felt so ill that he thought it wisest to go at
once to the smallpox hospital, and find out



THE FATAL TOKEN. 34^

whether it were the disease, or only vaccination
and fatigue. It was a brave unselfish resolve, full
of the spirit he had imbibed, and it was wise,
for the illness was upon him already, the more
severe from his exhausted state and the shock he
had undergone. Mr. Randall Horsman, who was
very kind, managed that I should hear of him, and
I knew he was going on fairly well, and not in any
special danger.

But oh ! that time seems to me the most
wretched that ever I passed, up in those great
London attic nurseries, where Dora and I were
prisoners — all ^vinter fogginess, with the gas from
below sending up its light on the ceiling, and
Dora never letting me sit still to grieve. She
could not bear the association or memor>% I be-
lieve, and with the imperious power of recovery
used to keep me reading Mayne Reid^s stor>'-
books to her incessantly, or else playing at back-
gammon. I hate the sound of dice to this hour,
and when I heard that unhappy French criminals,
the night before their execution, are apt to send
for Fenimore Cooper's novels, it seemed to reveal
Dora's state of mind.

After two or three days, George Yolland came
up to see me. He had been to see Dermot, and
gave me comfort as to his condition and the care
taken of him ; but the chief cause of the visit
was that they wanted my authority for the needful
destruction of whatever had been in that room, and
could not be passed through fire. IMr. Yolland had
brought me my Harold^'s big, well-worn pocket-
book, which he said must undergo the same doom.



348 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.



for though I was contagion proof, yet harm might
be laid up for others, and only what was absolutely
necessary must be saved.

First of all, indeed, lay in their crumpled paper
poor Dora's fatal gifts, treasured, no doubt, as
probably her last ; and there, in a deep leathern
pocket, was another little parcel with Viola's
crystal cross, which her mother had made her
return. She might have that now, it would bear
disinfecting; but the Irish heath-bells that. told
of autumn days at Killey Marey must go, and
that brief note to me that had been treasured
up — yes, and the quaint old housewife, with
D. L. (his aunt's maiden initials), whence his
needles and thread used to come for his mend-
ing work. An old, worn pencil-case kept for
his mother's sake — for Alice was on the seal —
was the only thing I could rescue ; but next there
came an envelope with " My will " scrawled on
it. Mr. Yolland thought I ought to open it, to
see who had authority to act, and it proved that
we alone had, for he was made executor, with
;£i,000. A favourite rifle was bequeathed to
Eustace, an annuity of ;^50 to Smith, and all the
rest of the property was to be shared between
Dora and me. It was in the fewest words, not at
all in form, but all right, and fully witnessed. It
was in the dear handwriting, and was dated on the
sad lonely Saturday when he felt himself sicken-
ing. The other things were accounts and all my
letters, most of which could follow the fate of all
that he had touched in those last days. However,
the visit was a comfort to me. George Yolland



THE FATAL TOKEN, 349

answered my questions, and told me much more
than poor Dermot could do in his stupefaction
from grief, fatigue, and illness, even if I then
could have understood.

He told me of the grief shown by all My-
cening and Arghouse, and of the sobbing and
weeping of mothers and children, who went in a
broken pilgrimage on Sunday afternoon to the
grave at Arghouse, of the throngs at the church
and the hush, like a sob held back, when the
text was given out : " Thanks be to Him who
giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our
Lord."

Yet on the Saturday evening there was some-
t'ing more noted still. The men stood about
when they had come up for their wages to the
office, where, but a week before, Harold had paid
them, with a sore struggle to see and to count
aright, as some even then had observed ; and at
last their spokesman had explained their great
desire to do something themselves in memory of
"the best friend they ever had," as they truly
called him. Some of them had seen memorial-
windows, and they wanted Mr. Yolland to take
from each a small weekly subscription throughout
the winter, to adorn the new chapel with win-
dows. "With the history of Samson a killin' of
the lion," called out a gruff voice. It was the
voice of the father of the boy whom Harold had
rescued on Neme Heath.

" So," said George Yolland, as he told me,
"the poor fellows' hearty way was almost more
than one could bear, but I knew Alison would have



350



MY YOUNG ALCIDES,



me try to turn it to some sort of good to
themselves ; so I stood up and said Fd take it on
one condition only. They knew very well what
vexed Mr. Alison most in themselves, and the
example he had set — how he had striven to make
them give up making beasts of themselves.
Wouldn't they think with me it was insulting
him to let a drunkard have a hand in doing a
thing to his memory.? So I would manage their
collection on condition they agreed that whoever
took more than his decent pint a day — or what-
ever else sober men among them chose to fix it
at — should have his money returned on the spot.
Poor fellows, they cheered and said I was in the
right, but whether they will keep to it is another
thing."

They did keep to it. All that winter, while
the chapel was building, there were only five cases
in which the money had to be returned, and two
of those took the pledge, pleaded hard, and were
restored. Indeed, I believe it was only the
habitually sober who ventured on the tolerated
pint. Of course there were some who never
came into the thing at all, and continued in their
usual course ; but these were the dregs, sure to be
found everywhere, and the main body of the
Hydriot potters kept their word so staunchly, that
the demon of intoxication among them was slain
by those Samson windows, as Harold had never
slain it during his life.

Beautiful bright windows they are, glowing
with Samson in his typical might, slaying his
lion, out of the strong finding sweetness, drink-



THE FATAL TOKEN. 351



ing water after the fight, bearing away the gates,
and slaying his foes in his death. But Samson
is not there alone. As the more thoughtful
remarked, Samson was scarce a worthy likeness
for one who had had grace to triumph. No,
Samson, whose life always seems like a great
type in shattered fragments, must be set in juxta-
position with the great Antitype. His conflict
with Satan, His Last Supper, His pointing out
the Water of Life, His Death and His victory
over death, shine forth, giving their own lesson
of Who hath won the victory.

We ventured to add two little windows w^ith
St. George and St. Christopher, to show how
Christ's soldiers may follow in the conquest,
treading down the dragon, and bending to the
yoke of the Little Child who leads them out of
many waters.

That winter of temperance proved the fulcrum
that had been wanting to the lever of improve-
ment. Schools of art, concerts, lectures, choir pre-
paration, recreation, occupation, and interests of
all sorts were vigorously devised by the two Yol-
lands ; and, moreover, the " New Dragon's Head "
and the " Genuine Dragon's Head," with sundry
of their congeners, died a natural death by inani-
tion ; so that when the winter was over, habits
had been formed, and a standard of respect-
ability set up, which has never entirely fallen,
and a spirit which has withstood the temptation
of strikes. Of course, the world has much to do
with the tone of many. What amount of true
and real religion there may be, can only be tested



352 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.



by trial, and there are many who do not show
any signs of being influenced by anything more
than public opinion, some who fall below that ;
but, as everyone knows, the Hydriot works have
come to be not only noted for the beauty and
excellence of their execution, and the orderliness,
intelligence, and sobriety of their artisans, but
for their large congregations, ample offertories,
and numerous communicants.

Of course all this would never have kept up
but for the YoUands. The Hydriots are wife,
children, everything to him who is now called
Vicar of St. Christopher's, Mycening. He has
refused better preferment, for he has grown noted
now, since the work that Harold had begun is
still the task he feels his charge.

And whatever is good is led by the manager
of the works, whose influence over the workmen's
minds has never failed. Even when he talked to
me on that day, I thought there was a change
in his tone. He had never sneered (at least in
my hearing) nor questioned other men's faith, but
when he told me of Harold his manner had some-
thing of awe, as well as of sorrow and admiration,
and I could not but think that a sense had dawned
out that the spiritual was a reality, and an absolute
power over the material.

The great simple nature that had gradually
and truly undergone that influence had been
watched and studied by him, and had had its
effect. The supernatural had made itself felt,
and thenceforth he made it his study, in a quiet,
unobtrusive manner, scarcely known even to his



CONCLUSION. 353



brother, but gradually resulting in heart-whole
acceptance of faith, and therewith in full devotion
of heart and soul.

Did Harold rejoice in that victory, which to
him would have been one of the dearest of all ?



CHAPTER XVI.

CONCLUSION.



I MUST finish my story, though it seems hardly
worth telling, since my nephew, my tower of
strength and trust, had suddenly sunk away from
me in the prime of his manhood.

The light seemed gone out of the whole
world, and my heart felt dull and dead, as if I
could never heed or care for anything again.
Even Dermot^s illness did not seem capable of
stirring me to active anxiety in this crushed, stupid
state, with no one to speak to of what lay heavy
on my heart, no one even to write to ; for who
would venture to read my letters ? nay, I had not
energy even to write to poor Miss Woolmer. We
got into a way of going on day after day with
Dora's Httle meals, the backgammon, and the
Mayne Reid, till sometimes it felt as if it had
always been thus with us from all time, and always
would be ; and at others it would seem as if it
were a dream, and that if I could but wake, I
should be making tea for Harold in our cheerful
little drawing-room at Mount Eaton. At last I



2 A



354 ^^y YOUNG ALCIDES,

had almost a morbid dread of breaking up this
monotonous life, and having to think what to
do or where to go. The Randall Horsmans must
long for our departure, and my own house was
in a state of purification, and uninhabitable.

The doctor said that Dora must be moved
as soon as it could be managed, for in that
London attic she could have no impulse towards
recovery ; and while it still seemed a fearful risk,
he sent us off to St. Clement^s, a little village on
the south coast, where he knew of rooms in a
great old manor-house which had sunk to farmer's
use, and had a master and mistress proof against
infection.

When I brought my tired, worn-out, fretting
charge in through the great draughty porch, and
was led up the old shallow oak stairs to a big
panelled room, clean and scantily furnished, where
the rats ran about behind the wainscot, and a rain-
laden branch of monthly rose went tap, tap against
the window, and a dog howled all night long,
I thought we had come to a miserable place at
the end of the earth. I thought so still the next
morning, when the mist lay in white rolls and
curls round the house ; and the sea, when we
had a peep of it, was as lead-coloured as the
sky, while the kind pity of the good wife for
Dora's weak limbs and disfigured face irritated
me so that I could hardly be civil.

Dora mended from that day, devoted herself
to the hideous little lambs that were brought in
to be nursed by the fire ; ate and drank like a
little cormorant, and soon began to rush about



CONCLUSION. 355



after Mr. and Mrs. Long, whether in house or
farm-yard, like a thing in its native element, while
they were enchanted with her colonial farm ex-
perience, and could not make enough of " Little
Missy."

I had a respite from Mayne Reid, and could
wander as far as I pleased alone on the shingle, or
sit and think as I had so often longed to do ; but
the thoughts only resulted in a sense of dreariness
and of almost indifference as to my fate, since the
one person in all the world who had needed me
was gone, and I had heard nothing whatever of
Dermot Tracy. He might be gone out to his
mother and sister, or back to Ireland. Our paths
would never come together again, for he thought I
did not care for him. Nay, was I even sure of
his recovery.? His constitution had been much
tried! He was in a strange place, among mere
professional nurses! Who could tell how it had
been with him }

Everything went from me that had loved me.
Even Dora was to leave me as soon as people
ceased to be afraid of her.

Letters had found out the married pair on their
return from the cataracts of the Nile. Eustace had
immediately been vaccinated fourteen times, but
he was shocked and appalled, and the spirit of his

letter was —

O while my brother with me stayed,
Would I had loved him more,

and I forgave him much.

Hippolyta likewise wrote with feeling, but it
rather stung me to be thanked for my care of " her



356 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

poor little sister," as if Dora were not my child
before she was hers. As soon as it was considered
safe, Dora was to be returned to Horsman
keeping, and as the Randall party declined to
receive her again, Philippa would convey her to a
school at Baden-Baden.

And Dora declared she was glad ! There
was none of the angry resistance with which
she had left me in the spring ; when I had done
nothing for her compared with what I had gone
through for her now ; but I believe I was dull
company, and showed myself displeased at her
hardness and wild outbreaks of spirits, and that
the poor child longed to escape from all that
reminded her of the unbearable sorrow at the
bottom of her heart. But it was a grievance to
a grievance-making temper, such as I feel mine
was.

The most wholesome thing I received was
a letter from Prometesky, to whom I had written
the tidings that Harold would never need his
comfort more. The old man was where the per-
sonal loss was not felt, and he knew more deeply
than anyone the pain which that strong fervent
heart suffered in its self-conquests, so that he
did not grieve for Harold himself; but he gave
me that sympathy of entire appreciation of my
loss which is far better than compassion. For
himself, he said his last link with the world was
gone, he found the peace, and the expression of
penitence, his soul required, in the course he was
about to embrace, and I might look on this as
a voice from the grave. I should never hear of



CONCLUSION. 357



him more, but I should know that, as long as
Hfe was left him, it would be spent in prayers
for those whose souls he had wrecked in his
overboiling youth. He ended with thanks to
all of us, who he said had sent him to his retreat
with more kindly and charitable recollections than
he should otherwise have carried thither. I never
did hear of him again ; Dermot went to the con-
vent some years later, and tried to ascertain if
he lived, but the monks do not know each others'
names, and it failed.

The village of St. Clement's, a small fishing-
place, was half-a-mile off, through lanes a foot
deep in mud, and with a good old sleepy rector
of the old school, not remarkable for his per-
formances in Church. I was entering the little
shop serving as the post-office, where I went every
day in the unreasonable expectation of letters,
when I heard a voice that made me start, " Did
you say turn to the right } "

And there, among the piles of cheeses, stood
a figure I knew full well, though it had grown very
thin, and had a very red and mottled face at the
top.

We held out our hands to one another in silence,
and walked at once out of hearing. Dermot said
he was well, and had been as kindly looked after
as possible, and now he had been let out as safe
company, but his family and friends would hardly
believe it, so he had come down to see whether he
could share our quarantine.

Happily a few cottages of the better sort had
accommodation for lodgers, and one of them — for



OD



8 A/y YOUNG ALCIDES.



a consideration — accepted "the gentleman's" bill
of health. He walked on by my side, both of us
feeling the blessing of having someone to speak to.
He, poor fellow, had seen no being who had ever
heard of Harold, except George YoUand, who
came when he was too ill to talk, and we went on
with the conversation that had been broken off
weeks before, with such comfort as it could give
us in such a loss as ours.

He walked all the way back with me, and I
was frightened to see how tired he looked. I took
him to Mrs. Lonsf for the refreshment she loved
to give, and begged for the pony for him to ride
home on, and a boy to fetch it back.

It was wonderful how much more blue there
was in the sea the next day, how the evergreens
glistened, and how beautiful and picturesque the
old house grew ; and when I went out in the
morning sunshine, for once, inclined to admit some
beauty in the staggering black-legged and visaged
lambs, and meditating a walk to the village, I saw
Dermot coming across the yard, so wearily and
breathlessly, that I could only say, " How could
you } "

He looked up piteously. "You don't forbid
me ? " he said.

I almost cried as I told him it was only his
fatigue that I objected to; and indeed he was glad
enough to take Dora's now vacated place on the
great sofa, while we talked of Viola. Writing to
her had been, of course, impossible for him, and
he had only had two short notes from her, so
meaningless that I thought she wrote them fearing



CONCLUSION. 359



to disturb him while he was ill ; but he muttered
an ominous line from Locksley Hall, vituperated
i^iggy» ^^d confessed that his ground for doing
so was that his mother reported Viola as pleased
with foreign life, and happy with her cousins.
I said it was his mother's way, and he replied,
** Exactly so; and a girl may be worried into
anything." A slight dispute on that score cheered
him a little, for he showed himself greatly de-
pressed. He was going — as soon as he had
gathered a little strength — back to the duties he
had promised to fulfil on his own property, but
he hated the thought, was down-hearted as to
the chances of success, and distrustful of himself
among discouragements, and the old associations
he had made for himself. " It is a different thing
without Alison to look to and keep one up," he said.

" There are higher motives," was my stupid
speech.

" It is precious hard on a poor fellow to be
left alone with his higher motives, as you call
them, before he has well begun to act on his
lower."

And then, I don't know how, he began talking
drearily, almost as if I was not there, of his having
once begun to fancy he could do something credit-
able enough to make me some day look on him as
I used to do in the good old times. My heart
gave a great bound, and remembering how Harold
said I discouraged him, out came, " How do you
know that I don't t "

How he sprang up ! And — no, I can't tell what
we said, only we found it was no new beginning,



36o MV YOUNG ALCIDES,



only taking up an old, old precious thread — some-
thing brought it all out. He had talked it all over
with Harold when he came back from Florence,
and had taken home a little hope which he said
had helped him through the solitary hours of his
recovery. So it was Harold who, after all, gave us
to one another.

Outspoken Dora informed us, before the day
was much older, that the Longs had asked
whether that was her brother, or my young
man. So we took them into our confidencCj
and even borrowed " the trap " for one of the
roughest and the sweetest drives that ever we had,
through those splashing lanes, dropping Dermot
at his lodgings to write his letters, while the
harvest moon made a path over the sea, no
longer leaden, but full of silvery glittering light.
There had something come back into the air
which made us feel that life was worth living,
after all !

Next morning the good people, who were
much excited about our affairs, sent the pony
for him, and he came in full force with that
flattering Irish tongue of his, bent on persuading
me that, old lovers as we were, with no more to
find out about one another, there was nothing
to wait for. ' How could he go back by himself
(what a brogue he put on ! yet the tears were in
his eyes) to his great desolate castle, with not
a living man in it at all at all, barring the Banshee
and a ghost or two ; and as I had nothing to
do, and nowhere to go, why not be married
then and there without more ado .''. If I refused,



CONCLUSION, 361



he should think it was all my pride, and that
I couldn't take that " ornary object," as he had
overheard himself described that day. (As if I
did not love him the better for that marred
complexion !) His mother ? His uncle ? They
had long ago repented of having come between
us ten years ago, and were ready to go down
on their knees to any dacent young woman who
would take him, let alone a bit of an heiress,
who, though not to compete with the sixty-thou-


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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 22 of 24)