Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Harold, nothing can be done."

" I do not see that," said Harold, in his quiet

" You do not mean to do anything ? "

"Yes, I do."

** But what — what t What can you do } "

** I do not yet know."

" You see it is of no use. We shall only get
into a scrape with all the gentlemen of the

" Never mind now, Eustace," said Harold,
briefly. But I knew the expression of his face
by this time quite well enough to be certain
that nothing would make him abandon the cause
of his father's old friend ; and that his silence
was full of the strongest determination. I think
it fascinated me, and though in my cooler senses
I reverted to my old notion of Prometesky as
a dangerous firebrand, I could not help feeling
for and with the youth whose soul was set on
delivering his friend from exile.

My turn came the next morning, before Mr.
Prosser went away. He had much to say against
my making Arghouse my home, telling me that
I had a full independence and could live where


I pleased ; but that I knew already, and had
decided on the amount I ought to pay towards
the housekeeping.

Then he wanted me to understand how the
young men were looked upon, and the dread
all the neighbourhood had of them. I said I
had shared this dread, but on better acquaintance
I found it quite undeserved, and this being the
case it was incumbent on. their only relation to
stand by them, and not shun them as \{ they
had brought the leprosy.

This he allowed, calling it a generous feeling,
if they were worthy of it. But what greatly
amazed me was his rejoicing that Eustace had
proved to be the heir, since nothing was known
against him, and when the other young man
was gone there was hope that any little distrusts
might be allayed, and that he might ultimately
take his place in the county.

The other young man ! Why should there be
any distrust of Harold .'' I grew hot and indig-
nant, and insisted on knowing what was meant ;
but Mr. Prosser declared that he knew nothing,
only there were vague reports which made him
rejoice that Mr. Harold Alison was not called to
be the manager of the property, and would make
him question whether a young lady would find it
expedient to be long an inmate of the same house.

What reports could he mean } No — I could
get no more out of him ; he was too cautious
to commit himself, and seemed to be satisfied by
observing that if I changed my mind, I could at
any time leave my nephews.


" Her nephews," I heard him mutter to him-
self; "yes, her nephews. No one has any right
to object, and she can but judge for herself-^
there's no harm done/'

I shall always believe, however, that he set
on my friends to remonstrate, for letters began
coming in, in all the senses of the imperative
mood, commanding and entreating me to leave
Arghouse. There was one such as only Lord
Erymanth could write. He was an old man,
and never could make short work of anything.
They say that his chief political value was to
be set on when anyone was wanted to speak
against time. I know he was very dreadful at
all the platforms in the county ; but he was very
good and conscientious, and everyone looked up
to him as a sort of father of the country.

But oh ! that letter ! Such a battery of heavy
arguments against my unprecedented step in
taking up my residence with these unfortunate
young men, who, though they had not themselves
openly transgressed the law of the land, yet were
the offspring of unhallowed unions with the
children of a felon. I cannot go through it all, but
it hinted that besides their origin, there was some
terrible stain on Harold, and that society could
not admit them ; so that if I persisted in casting in
my lot with them, I should share the ban. In-
deed, he would have thought my own good sense
and love of decorum would have taught me that
the abode of two such youths would be no fit
place for the daughter of such respected parents,
and there was a good deal more that I could not


understand about interceding with his sister, and
her overlooking my offence in consideration of my
inexperience and impulsiveness.

On my first impulse I wrote to thank my old
friend, but to say I could see no harm in an aunt's
being with her nephews, and that I was sure he
had only to know them to lay aside all doubts of
their being thorough gentlemen and associates for
anybody. My little niece required my care, and I
should stay and give it to her till some other
arrangement was made. If Lady Diana were dis-
pleased with me, I was very sorry, but I could see
no reason for it.

When I looked over the old Earl^s letter, before
closing mine, some expressions wound out of the
mist that made me uncomfortable, especially when
I recollected that though it was a week since their
arrival, no one had attempted to call but Mr.
Crosse, the vicar of Mycening, a very "good man
in the pulpit," as the servants said, and active in
the parish, but underbred and no companion.

Our neighbourhood was what is called very
clannish. There were two families, the Horsmans
and the Stympsons, who seemed to make up all
the society. The sons either had the good livings,
or had retired from their professions into cottages
round and about, and the first question after any
party was, how many of each. The outsiders, not
decidedly of inferior rank, were almost driven into
making a little clique — if so it might be called — of
their own, and hanging together the more closely.
Lord Erymanth of course predominated ; but he
was a widower of many years standing, and his


heir lived in a distant county. His sister, Lady
Diana, had been married to an Irish Mr. Tracy,
who had been murdered after a few years by his
tenants, upon which she had come with her three
children to live at Arked House. I never could
guess how she came to marry an Irish landlord,
and I always thought she must have exasperated
his people. She was viewed as the perfection of a
Lady Bountiful and pattern of excellence ; but, I
confess, that I always thought of her when I heard
of the devout and honourable women who were
stirred up against St. Paul. She was a person
who was admired more than she was liked, and
who was greatly praised and honoured, but some-
how did not proportionably endear herself on
closer acquaintance, doing a great deal of good,
but all to large masses rather than individuals.
However, all the neighbourhood had a pride in
her, and it was a distinction to be considered a fit
companion for Diana and Viola Tracy. I never
cared for Di, who was her mother over again, and
used to set us to rights with all her might ; but she
had married early, a very rich man — and Viola
and I had always been exceedingly fond of one
another, so that I could not bear to be cut off from
her, however I might be disposed to defy her

The upshot of my perplexities was that I set
off to Mycening to lay them before Miss Wool-
mer, another of the few belonging to neither
clan, to know what all this meant, as well as to
be interested in my nephews.

Mycening is one of the prettiest country towns


I know, at least it was twenty years ago. There
is a very wide street, unpaved, but with a broad
smooth gravelled way, slightly sloping down to-
wards the little clean stone-edged gutters that
border the carriage road along the centre, which
is planted on each side with limes cut into arches.
The houses are of all sorts, some old timbered
gable-ended ones with projecting upper stories,
like our own, others of the handsome old Queen
Anne type with big sash windows, and others
quite modern. Some have their gardens in front,
some stand flush with the road, and the better
sort are mixed with the shops and cottages.

Miss Woolmer lived in a tiny low one, close
to the road, where, from her upstairs floor, she
saw all that came and went, and, intellectual
woman as she certainly was, she thoroughly
enjoyed watching her neighbours, as by judiciously-
arranged looking-glasses, she could do all up and
down the street. I believe she had been a pretty
woman, though on a small scale, and now she
had bright eyes, and a very sweet bright look,
though in complexion she had faded into the
worn pallor that belongs to permanent ill health.
She dressed nicely, and if she had been well,
might, at her age, scarcely above forty, have been
as much a young lady as Philippa Horsman ;
but I fancy the great crush of her life had taken
away her girlhood and left her no spring of con-
stitution to resist illness, so that she had sunk
into a regular crippled invalid before I could
remember, though her mind was full of activity.
"You are come to tell me about them, my


dear," was her greeting. " I've seen them. No,
I don't mean that they have been to see me. You'll
bring them some day, won't you } I'm sure
Ambrose's boy would come to see a sick woman.
I watched one of them yesterday pick up old
Molly's oranges for her in the street, when her
basket got upset by a cart, and he then paid her
for them, and gave them among the children
round. It did my heart good, I'd not seen such
a sight since the boys were sent away."

" Harold would do anything kind," I said,
" or to see an old friend of his father. The worst
of it is that there seem to be so few who wish
to see him, or can even forgive me for staying
with him."

I showed her Lord Erymanth's letter, and told
her of the others, asking her what it meant. " Oh,
as to Lady Diana," she said, " there is no doubt
about that. She was greatly offended at your
having sent away her carriage and not having
taken her advice, and she goes about saying she
is disappointed in you."

For my mother's sake, and my little Viola,
and Auld Lang Syne besides, I was much hurt,
and defended myself in a tone of pique which
made Miss VVoolmer smile and say she was far
from blaming me, but that she thought I ought
to count the cost of my remaining at Arghouse.
And then she told me that the whole county was
up in arms against the new comers, not only from
old association of their name with revolutionary
notions, but because the old Miss Stympsons, of
Lake Side, who had connections in New South


Wales, had set it abroad that the poor boys were
ruffians, companions of the double-dyed villain
Prometesky, and that Harold in especial was a
marked man, who had caused the death of his
own wife in a frenzy of intoxication.

At this I fairly laughed. Harold, at his age,
who never touched liquor, and had lived a sort
of hermit life in the Bush, to be saddled with
a w^ife only to have destroyed her ! The story
contradicted itself by its own absurdity ; and
those two Miss Stympsons were well - known
scandal - mongers. Miss Woolmer never believed
a story of theirs without sifting, but she had
been in a manner commissioned to let me know
that society was determined not to accept Eustace
and Harold Alison, and was irate at my doing
so. Mothers declared that they should be very
sorry to give poor Lucy Alison up, but that they
could not have their children brought into con-
tact with young men little better than convicts,
and whom they woiddy besides, call my cousins,
instead of my nephews. " I began to suspect it,"
I said, "when nobody left cards but I\Ir. Lawless
and Peter Parsons."

" And that is the society they are to be left
to ? "

"But I shall not leave them," I cried. ''Why
should I, to please Miss Stympson and Lord
Erymanth ? I shall stand by my own brothers'
sons against all the world."

"And if they be worthy, Lucy, your doing
so is the best chance of their weathering- the
storm. See ! is not that one of them ? The


grand-looking giant one, who moves like a king
of men. He is Ambrose's son, is he not ? What
a pity he is not the squire ! "

Harold was, in effect, issuing from the toy-
shop, carrying an immense kite on his arm, like
a shield, while Dora frisked round in admiration*
and a train of humbler admirers flocked in the

I hurried down into the street to tell
Harold of my old friend's wish to see them, and
he followed me at once, with that manner which
was not courtesy, because, without being polished,
it was so much more. Dora was much displeased,
being ardent on the kite's tail, and followed with
sullen looks, while Harold had to stoop low to
get into the room, and brushed the low ceiling
with his curly hair as he stood upright, Miss
Woolmer gazing up to the very top of him. I
think she was rather disappointed that he had
not taken more after his father ; and she told
him that he was like his uncle Lewthwayte, look-
ing keenly to see whether he shrunk from the
comparison to a man who had died a felon's
death ; but he merely answered, " So I have been

Then she asked for his mother, and he briefly
replied that she was well and in New Zealand.
There was an attempt at noticing Dora, to which
she responded like the wild opossum that she
was, and her fidgeting carried the day. Harold
only made answer to one or two more observa-
tions, and then could not but take leave, promising
on the entreaty of the old lady, to come and see


her again. I outstayed them, being curious to
hear her opinion.

"A superb being," she said, with a long breath;
*' there's the easy strength of a Greek demi-god
in every tread."

" He seems to me more Hke Thor in Nifel-
heim," I said, *' being, no doubt, half a Viking to
begin with."

" They are all the same, as people tell us
now," she said, smiling. " Any way, he looks as if
he was a waif from the heroic age. But, my
dear, did not I hear him call you Lucy } "

" They generally do."

" I would not let them. Cling to your aunt-
ship ; it explains your being with them. A grand
creature ! I feel like the people who had had a
visit from the gods of old."

'' And you understand how impossible it would
be to run away," I said.

She smiled, but added, " Lucy, my dear, that
looked very like a wedding-ring!"

I could not think it possible. Why, he was
scarcely five-and-twenty ! And yet the sug-
gestion haunted me, whenever my eyes fell on
his countenance in repose, and noted the habitual
sadness of expression which certainly did not
match with the fine open face that seemed fitted
to express the joy of strength. It came on me
too when, at the lodge, a child who had been
left alone too long and had fallen into an unmiti-
gated agony of screaming, Harry had actually,
instead of fleeing from the sound, gone in, taken
the screamer in his arms, and so hushed and


pacified it, that on the mother's return she found
it at perfect rest.

" One would think the gentleman was a father
himself, ma'am," she had said to me ; and there-
upon Harold had coloured, and turned hastily
aside, so that the woman fancied she had offended
him and apologised, so that he had been forced
to look back again and say, " Never mind," and
** No harm done," with a half laugh, which, as
it now struck me, had a ring of pain in it, and
was not merely the laugh of a shy young man
under an impossible imputation. True, I knew
he was not a religious man, but to believe actual
ill of him seemed to me impossible.

He had set himself to survey the Arghouse
estate, so as to see how those dying wishes of
his father could best be carried out, and he was
making himself thoroughly acquainted with every
man, woman, child, and building, to the intense
jealousy of Bullock, who had been agent all
through my mother's time, and had it all his
own way. He could not think why " Mr. Harold "
should be always hovering about the farms and
cottages, sometimes using his own ready colonial
hand to repair deficiencies, and sometimes his
purse, and making the people take fancies into
their heads that were never there before, and
which would make Mr. Alison lose hundreds a
year if they were attended to. And as Mr.
Alison always did attend to his cousin, and
gave orders accordingly, the much - aggrieved
Bullock had no choice but in delaying their
execution and demonstrating their impractica-


bility, whereas, of course, Harold did not believe
in impossibilities.

It was quite true, as he had once said, that
though he could not bring about improvements
as readily as if he had been landlord, yet he
could get at the people much better, and learn
their own point of view of what was good for
them. They were beginning to idolise him ; for,
indeed, there was a fascination about him which
no one could resist. I sometimes wondered
what it was, considering that he was so slow
of speech, and had so little sunshine of mirth
about him.

I never did enforce my title of Aunt, in
spite of Miss Woolmer's advice. It sounded too
ridiculous, and would have hindered the sisterly
feeling that held us together.

Eustace was restless and vexed at not being
called upon, and anxious to show himself on any
occasion, and I was almost equally anxious to
keep him back, out of reach of mortification.
Both he and Harold went to London on business,
leaving Dora with me. The charge was less
severe than I expected. My first attempts at
teaching her had been frustrated by her scorn
of me, and by Harold's baffling indulgence ; but
one day, when they had been visiting one of the
farms, the children had been made to exhibit
their acquirements, which were quite sufficient
to manifest Dora's ignorance. Eustace had long
declared that if she would not learn of me she
must either have a governess or go to school,
and I knew she was fit for neither. Harold, I


believe, now enforced the threat, and when he
went away, left her a black silk necktie to be
hemmed for him, and a toy book with flaming
illustrations, with an assurance that on her read-
ing it to him on his return, depended his giving
her a toy steam-engine,

Dora knew that Harold kept his word, even
with her. I think she had a great mind to get
no one's assistance but the kitchenmaid's, but
this friendship was abruptly terminated by Dora's
arraying the kangaroo in Sarah's best bonnet
and cloak, and launching it upon a stolen inter-
view between her and her sweetheart. The
screams brought all the house together, and, as
the hero was an undesirable party who had been
forbidden the house, Sarah viewed it as treachery
on Miss Dora's part, and sulked enough to
alienate her.

Dora could make out more to herself in a
book than she could read aloud, and one day
I saw her spelling over the table of degrees of
marriage in a great folio Prayer-Book, which
she had taken down in quest of pictures. Some
time later in the day, she said, " Lucy, are you
Harry^s father's sister ? " and when I said yes,
she added, with a look of discovery, "A man
cannot marry his father's sister."

It was no time to protest against the marriage
of first cousins. I was glad enough that from
that time the strange child laid aside her jealousy
of me ; and that thenceforth her resistance was
simply the repugnance of a wild creature to be
taught and tamed. Ultimately she let me into


the recesses of that passionate heart, and, as I
think, loved me better than anybody else, except
Harold ; but even so, at an infinite distance from
that which seemed the chief part of her whole



The work was done. The sixteen pages of
large -type story book were stumbled through ;
and there was a triumphant exhibition when
the cousins came home — Eustace delighted ;
Harold, half-stifled by London, insisting on walk-
ing home from the station to stretch his legs,
and going all the way round over Kalydon Moor
for a whiff of air !

If we had not had a few moors and heaths
where he could breathe, I don't know whether
he could have stayed in England ; and as for
London, the din, the dinginess, the squalor of
houses and people, sat like a weight on his

"They told me a great deal had been done
for England. It is just nothing," he said, and
hardly anything else that whole evening ; while
Eustace, accoutred point - device by a London
tailor, poured forth volumes of what he had
seen and done. Mr. Prosser made up a dinner
party for them, and had taken them to an


evening" party or two — at least, Eustace ; for
after the first Harold had declined, and had
spent his time in wandering about London by
gas-light, and standing on the bridges, or trying
how far it was on each side to green fields,
and how much misery lay between.

Eustace had evidently been made much of,
and had enjoyed himself greatly. It grieved me
that his first entrance into society should be
under no better auspices than those of the
family solicitor ; but he did not yet perceive
this, and was much elated. " I flatter myself
it was rather a success," was the phrase he had
brought home, a propos to everything he had
worn or done, from his tie to his shoe-buckles.
He told me the price of everything, all the dis-
cussions with his tradesmen, and all the gazes
fixed on him, with such simplicity that I could
not help caring ; and there sat Harold in his
corner, apparently asleep, but his eye now and
then showing that he was thinking deeply.

" Lucy," he said, as we bade one another
good-night, "is nothing being done?''

"About what.?" I asked.

"For all that wretchedness."

" Oh yes, there are all sorts of attempts," and
I told him of model cottages, ragged schools,
and the like, and promised to find him the
accounts ; but he gave one of his low growls,
as if this were but a mockery of the direful

He had got his statement of Prometesky's
case properly drawn up, and had sent up a


copy, but in vain ; and had again been told that
some influential person must push it to give it
any chance. Mr. Prosser's acquaintance lay in
no such line ; or, at least, were most unlikely
to promote the pardon of an old incendiary.

"What will you do.?" I asked. "Must you
give it up .'' "

" Never ! I will make a way at last."

Meantime, he was necessary to Eustace in
accomplishing all the details of taking possession.
Horses were wanted by both, used to riding as
they had always been, and there was an old-
fashioned fair on Neme Heath, just beyond
Mycening, rather famous for its good show of
horses, where there was a chance of finding even
so rare an article as a hunter up to Harold's
weight, also a pony for Dora.

An excellent show of wild beasts was also
there. Harold had been on the heath when it
w^as being arranged in the earliest morning hours,
and had fraternised with the keepers, and came
home loquacious far more than usual on the
wonders he had seen. I remember that, instead
of being disappointed in the size of the lions and
tigers, he dwelt with special admiration on their
supple and terrible strength of spine and paw.

He wanted to take Dora at once to the mena-
gerie, but I represented the inexpedience of their
taking her about with them to the horse-fair after-
wards, and made Eustace perceive that it would
not do for Miss Alison ; and as Harold backed my
authority, she did not look like thunder for more
than ten minutes when she found we were to drive


to Neme Heath, and that she was to go home with
me after seeing the animals. Eustace was un-
certain about his dignity, and hesitated about not
caring and not intending, and not Hking me to go
alone, but made up his mind that since he had to
be at the fair, he would drive us.

So we had out the barouche, and Eustace held
the reins with infinite elation, while Harold endured
the interior to reconcile Dora to it, and was as
much diverted as she was at the humours of the
scene, exclaiming at every stall of gilt gingerbread,
every see-saw, and merry-go-round, that lined the
suburbs of Mycening, and I strongly suspect medi-
tating a private expedition to partake of their
delights. Harold was thoroughly the great child
nature meant him for, while poor Eustace sat aloft
enfolded in his dignity, not daring to look right or
left, or utter a word of surprise, lest he should
compromise himself in the eyes of the coachman
by his side.

The fair was upon the heath, out to which the
new part of the town was stretching itself, and
lone streets of white booths extended themselves


in their regular order. We drove on noiselessly
over the much-trodden turf, until we were checked
by the backward rush of a frightened crowd, and

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 3 of 24)