Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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breathless voices called out to Eustace, " Stop, sir ;
turn, for Heaven's sake. The lion ! He's loose ! "

Turning was impossible, for the crowd was
rushing back on us, blocking us up ; and Eustace
dropped the reins, turning round with a cry of
*' Harry ! Harry ! I see him. Take us away ! "

Harold sprang on the back seat as the coach-



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 49

man jumped down to run to the horses' heads.
He saw over the people's heads, and after that
glance made one bound out of the carriage. I
saw then what I shall never forget, across the
wide open space round which the principal shows
were arranged, and which was now entirely bare
of people. On the other side, between the shafts
of a waggon, too low for him to creep under, lay
the great yellow lion, waving the tufted end of
his tail as a cat does, when otherwise still, showing
the glassy glare of his eyes now and then, growl-
ing with a horrible display of fangs, and holding
between those huge paws a senseless boy as a
sort of hostage. From all the lanes between
the booths the people were looking in terror,
ready for a rush on the beast's least movement,
shrieking calls to someone to save the boy, fetch
a gun, bring the keeper, &c.

That moment, with the great thick carriage-
rug on his arm, Harold darted forward, knocking
down a gun which some foolish person had
brought from a shooting-gallery, and shouting,
" Don't ! It will only make him kill the boy ! " he
gathered himself up for a rush ; while I believe
we all called to him to stop : I am sure of
Eustace's " Harry ! don't ! What shall I do } "

Before the words were spoken, Harold had
darted to the side of the terrible creature, and
with a bound, vaulted across its neck as it lay,
dealincr it a tremendous blow over the nose with
that sledg-e-hammer fist, and throwing the rug
over its head. Horrible roaring growls, like snarl-
ing thunder, were heard for a second or two,



50 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

and one man dashed out of the frightened throng,
rifle in hand, just in time to receive the child,
whom Harold flung to him, snatched from the
lion's grasp ; and again we saw a wrestling, strug-
gling, heaving mass, Harry still uppermost, pinning
the beast down with his weight and the mighty
strength against which it struggled furiously.
Having got free of the boy, his one ally was
again aiming his rifle at the lion's ear, when two
keepers, with nets and an iron bar, came on
the scene, one shouting not to shoot, and the
other holding up the bar and using some word
of command, at which the lion cowered and
crouched. The people broke into a loud cheer
after their breathless silence, and it roused the
already half-subdued lion. There was another
fierce and desperate struggle, lasting only a
moment, and ended by the report of the rifle.

In fact, the whole passed almost like a flash
of lightning from the moment of our first halt,
till the crowd closed in, so that I could only see
one bare yellow head, towering above the hats,
and finally cleaving a way towards us, closely
followed by Dermot Tracy, carrying the rifle
and almost beside himself with enthusiasm and
excitement. "Lucy — is it you? What, he is
your cousin ! I never saw anything like it ! He
mastered it alone, quite alone ! "

And then we heard Harry bidding those
around not touch him, and Dora screamed with
dismay, and I saw he had wrapped both hands
in his handkerchief. To my frightened question^
whether he was hurt, he answered, " Only my



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 51

hands, but I fancy the brute has done for some
of my fingers. If those fellows could but have
held their tongues ! "

He climbed into the carnage to rid himself
of the crowd, who were offering all sorts of aid,
commiseration, and advice, and Dermot begged
to come too, "in case he should be faint,'^ which
made Harry smile, though he was in much pain,
frowning and biting his lip while the coachman
took the reins, and turned us round amid the
deafening cheers of the people, for Eustace was
quite unnerved, and Dora broke into sobs as she
saw the blood soaking through the handkerchiefs
— all that we could contribute. He called her a
little goose, and said it was nothing ; but the great
drops stood on his brow, he panted and moved
restlessly, as if sitting still were unbearable, and
he could hardly help stamping out the bottom
of the carriage. He shouted to Eustace to let
him walk, but Dermot showed him how he would
thus have the crowd about him in a moment. It
was the last struggle that had done the mischief,
when the lion, startled by the shout of the crowd,
had turned on him again, and there had been a
most narrow escape of a dying bite, such as would
probably have crushed his hand itself beyond all
remedy ; and, as it was, one could not but fear
he was dreadfully hurt, when the pain came in
accesses of violence several times in the short
distance to Dr. Kingston's door.

No, Dr. Kingston was not at home ; nor would
be in for some time ; but while we were thinking
what to do, a young man came hastily up, saying,



52 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.



** I am Dr. Kingston's partner ; can I do any-
thing ? "

Harold sprang out on this, forbidding Eustace
to follow him, but permitting Dermot ; and Mrs.
Kingston, an old acquaintance of mine, came and
invited us all to her drawing-room, lamenting
greatly her husband's absence, and hoping that
Mr. YoUand, his new partner, would be able to
supply his place. The young man had very high
testimonials and an excellent education. She was
evidently exercised between her own distrust of
the assistant and fear of disparaging him. Seeing
how much shaken we were, she sent for wine, and
I was surprised to see Eustace take some almost
furtively, but his little sister, though still sobbing,
glared out from behind the knuckles she was
rubbing into her eyes, and exclaimed, " Eustace,
I shall tell Harry."

'' Hold your tongue," said Eustace, petulantly ;
" Harry has nothing to do with it."

Mrs. Kingston looked amazed. I set to work
to talk them both down, and must have given
a very wild, nervous account of the disaster. At
last Dermot opened the door for Harry, who
came in, looking very pale, with one hand en-
tirely covered and in a sling, the other bound
up all but the thumb and forefinger. To our
anxious inquiries, he replied that the pain was
much better now, and he should soon be all
right ; and then, on being further pressed, admitted
that the little finger had been so much crushed
that it had been taken off from the first joint,
the other three fingers had been broken and were



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 53

in splints, and the right hand was only torn and
scratched. Mrs. Kingston exclaimed at this that
Mr. YoUand should have waited for the doctor
to venture on such an operation, but both Dermot
and Harold assured her that he could not have
waited, and also that it could not have been
more skilfully done, both of which assurances
she must have heard with doubts as to the com-
petence of the judges, and she much regretted
that she could not promise a visit from her doctor
that evening, as he was likely to be detained all
night.

Dermot came downstairs with us, and we
found Mr. Yolland waiting at the door to extract
a final promise that Harold would go to bed at
once on coming home. It seemed that he had
laughed at the recommendation, so that the
young surgeon felt bound to enforce it before
all of us, adding that it was a kind of hurt that
no one could safely neglect. There was some-
thing in his frank, brusque manner that pleased
Harold, and he promised with half a smile,
thanking the doctor hastily as he did so, while
Dermot Tracy whispered to me, " Good luck
getting him ; twice as ready as the old one ; "
and then vehemently shaking all our hands, to
make up for Harold's not being fit to touch, he
promised to come and see him on the morrow.
The moment we were all in the carriage — Eustace
still too much shaken to drive home — his first
question was, who tJiat was }

"Mr. Tracy," I answered; and Eustace added,
"I thought you called him Dermont.?"



54 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

"Dermot — Dermot Tracy. I have known him
all our Hves."

" I saw he was a gentleman by his boots/'
quoth Eustace with deliberation, holding out his
own foot as a standard. " I saw they were
London made."

" How fortunate that you had not on your
Sydney ones," I could not help saying in mis-
chief

" I took care of that," was the complacent
answer. " I told Richardson to take them all
away."

I don't think Harold saw the fun. They had
neither of them any humour ; even Harold was
much too simple and serious.

Eustace next treated us to a piece of his well-
conned manual, and demonstrated that Dermot
St. Clear Tracy, Esquire, of Killy Marey, County
Cavan, Ireland, was grandson to an English peer,
great grandson to an Irish peer, and nephew to
the existing Edward St. Clear, 6th Earl of Ery-
manth. " And a very fashionable young man,"
he went on, " distinguished in the sporting world."

"An excellent good fellow, with plenty of
pluck," said Harold warmly. " Is he not brother
to the pretty little girl who was with you when
we came .'* "

I answered as briefly as I could ; I did not want
to talk of the Tracys. My heart was very sore
about them, and I was almost relieved when
Dora broke in with a grave accusing tone: " Harry,
Eustace drank a glass of wine, and I said I would
tell you 1"



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 55

" Eustace has no reason to prevent him," was
Harold's quiet answer.

" And, really, I think, in my position, it is
ridiculous, you see," Eustace began stammering,
but was wearily cut short by Harold with, " As
you please."

Eustace could never be silent long, and broke
forth again : " Harold, your ring."

By way of answer Harold, with his available
thumb and finger, showed the ring for a moment
from his waistcoat pocket. Instantly Dora sprang
at it, snatched it from his finger before he was
aware, and with all her might flung it into the
river, for we were crossing the bridge.

There was strength in that thumb and finger
to give her a sharp fierce shake, and the low voice
that said " Dora " was like the lion's growl.

" It's Meg's ring, and I hate her !" she cried.

** For shame, Dorothy."

The child burst into a flood of tears and
sobbed piteously, but it was some minutes before
he would relent and look towards her. Eustace
scolded her for making such a noise, and vexing
Harold when he was hurt, but that only made
her cry the more. I told her to say she was sorry,
and perhaps Harold would forgive her; but she
shook her head violently at this.

Harold relented, unable to bear the sight of
distress. " Don't tease her," he said, shortly, to
us both. " Hush, Dora ; there's an end of it."

This seemed to be an amnesty, for she leant
against his knee again.

** Dora, how could you ? " I said, when we



56 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.



were out of the carriage, and the two young
men had gone upstairs together.

" It was Meg's ring, and I hate her," answered
Dora, with the fierce wild gleam in her eyes.

" You should not hate anyone," was, of
course, my answer.

" But she's dead ! " said Dora, triumphantly
as a little tigress.

''So much the worse it is to hate her. Who
was she 1 "

'' His wife," said Dora.

I durst not ask the child any more questions.
*' Eustace, who is Meg.?"

I could not but ask that question as we sat
tete-a-tete after dinner, Dora having gone to carry
Harold some fruit, and being sure to stay with
him as long as he permitted.

Eustace looked round with a startled, cautious
eye, as if afraid of being overheard, and said,
as Dora had done, " His wife,"
"Not alive!''

" Oh, no — thank goodness/'
"At his age!''

" He was but twenty when he married her.
A bad business ! I knew it could not be other-
wise. She was a storekeeper's daughter."

Then I learnt, in Eustace's incoherent style,
the sad story I understood better afterwards.

This miserable marriage had been the outcome
of the desolate state of the family after the loss
of all the higher spirits of the elder generation.
For the first few years after my brothers had won
their liberation, and could hold property, they



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 57

had been very happy, and the foundations of
their prosperity at Boola Boola had been laid.
Had Ambrose hved he would, no doubt, have
become a leading man in the colony, where he
bad heartily embraced his lot and shaped his
career.

Poor Eustace was, however, meant by nature
for a quiet, refined English gentleman, living
in his affections. He would never have trans-
gressed ordinary bounds save for his brother's
overmastering influence. He drooped from the
time of Ambrose's untimely death, suffered much
from the loss of several children, and gradually
became a prey to heart complaint. But his wife
was full of sense and energy, and Ambrose's
plans were efficiently carried on, so that all went
well till Alice's marriage ; and, a year or two later
on, Dorothy's death, in giving birth to her little
girl, no woman was left at the farm but a rough
though kind-hearted old convict, who did her
best for the motherless child.

Harold, then sixteen, and master of his
father's half of the property, was already its chief
manager. He was, of course, utterly unrestrained,
doing all kinds of daring and desperate things
in the exuberance of his growing strength, and,
though kind to his feeble uncle, under no au-
thority, and a thorough young barbarian of the
woods ; the foremost of all the young men in
every kind of exploit, as marksman, rider, hunter,
and what-not, and wanting also to be foremost
in the good graces of Meg Cree, the handsome
daughter of the keeper of the wayside store on



5S MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

the road to Sydney, where young stock-farmers
were wont to meet, with the price of their wool
fresh in their hands. It was the rendezvous for
all that was collectively done in the district ; and
many were the orgies and revelries in which
Harold had shared when a mere boy in all but
strength and stature, and ungovernable in pro-
portion to the growing forces within him.

Of course she accepted him, with his grand
physical advantages and his good property. There
was rivalry enough to excite him, her beauty
was sufficient to fire his boyish fancy ; and oppo-
sition only maddened his headstrong will. A
loud, boisterous, self-willed boy, with already
strength, courage, and power beyond those of
most grown men ; his inclination light and un-
formed, as the attachments of his age usually
are, was so backed that he succeeded where failure
would have been a blessing.

My poor brother Eustace ! what must not
Harold's marriage have been to him ! Into the
common home, hitherto peaceful if mournful, was
brought this coarse, violent, uneducated woman,
jealous of him and his family, unmeasured in
rudeness, contemning all the refinements to which
he clung, and which even then were second nature
to the youths, boasting over him for being a con-
vict, whereas her father was a free settler, and
furious at any act of kindness or respect to him
from her husband.

She m^ust have had a sort of animal jealousy,
for the birth of her first child rendered her so
savagely intolerant of poor Dora's fondness for



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 59

Harold, that the offer of a clergyman's wife to
take charge of the little girl was thankfully ac-
cepted by her father, though it separated him
from his darling by more than fifty miles.

The woman's plan seemed to be to persecute
the two Eustaces out of her house, since she
could not persuade Harold that it was not as
much theirs as his own. They clung on, as
weak men do, for want of energy to make a
change, and Eustace said his father would never
complain ; but Harold never guessed how much
she made him suffer. Home had become a
wretched place to all, and Harold was more
alienated from it, making long expeditions, stay-
ing out as long and as late as he could
whenever business or pleasure called him away,
and becoming, alas, more headlong and reckless
in the pursuit of amusement. There were fierce
hot words when he came home, and though a
tender respect for his uncle was the one thing in
which he never failed, the whole grand creature
was being wrecked and ruined by the wild courses
to which home misery was driving him.

After about three years of this kind of life,
Meg, much against his will, went to her father's
station for the birth of her second child ; lingered
in the congenial atmosphere there far longer than
was necessary after her recovery, and roused
Harold's jealousy to a violent pitch by her de-
meanour towards a fellow of her own rank, whom
she probably would have married but for Harold's
unfortunate advantages, and whom she now most
perilously preferred.



6o MY YOUNG ALCIDES.



The jollification after the poor child's long-
deferred christening ended in furious language on
both sides, Meg insisting that she would not go
home while " the old man " remained at Boola
Boola, Harold swearing that she should come at
once, and finally forcing her into his buggy, silenc-
ing by sheer terror her parents' endeavours to keep
them at least till morning, rather than drive in his
half-intoxicated condition across the uncleared
country in the moonlight.

In the early morning Harold stood at their
door dazed and bleeding, with his eldest child
crushed and moaning in his arms. Almost with-
out a word he gave it to the grandmother, and
then guided the men at hand, striding on silently
before them, to the precipitous bank of a deep
gulley some twelve miles off. In the bottom lay
the carriage broken to pieces, and beside it, where
Harold had dragged them out, Meg and her
baby both quite dead — where he had driven
headlong down in the darkness.

The sun was burning hot when they brought
her back in the cart, Harold walking behind with
the little one in his arms, and when he had laid
it down at home, the elder one wailed till he
took it. It w^as a fine boy of two years old, the
thing he loved best in the world ; but with a
broken spine there was no hope for it, and for
a whole day and night he held it, pacing the
room, and calling it, speaking to and noticing
no one else, and touching no food, only slaking
his thirst with the liquor that stood at hand,
until the poor little thing died in convulsions.



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 61

Unhappily, he had scarcely laid it down be-
side its mother and brother, when he saw his
rival in the outer room of the store, and with
one deadly imprecation, and a face which Eustace
could not think of without horror, challenged him
to fight, and in a second or two had struck him
down, wdth a fractured skull. But the deed was
done in undoubted brain fever. That was quite
established, and for ten days after he was des-
perately ill and in the wildest delirium, probably
from some injury to the head in the fall, aggra-
vated by all that followed.

Neither magistrate nor doctor was called
in, but Prometesky came to their help, and
when he grew calmer, brought him home,
where his strength rallied, but his mind was for
some time astray. For weeks he alternated be-
tween moods of speechless apathy and hours of
frenzy, which, from his great strength, must have
been fatal to someone if he had not always
known his gentle, feeble old uncle, and obeyed
his entreaties, even when Prometesky lost power
with him.

In this remote part of the country no one
interfered ; the Crees, whose presence maddened
him, were afraid to approach, and only Prometesky
sustained the hopes of the two Eustaces by his
conviction that this was not permanent insanity,
but a passing effect of the injury ; and they
weathered that dreadful time till the frantic fits
ceased, and there was only the dull, silent, stoni-
ness of look and manner, lasting on after his
health had entirely returned, and he had begun



62 MY YOUNG ALCIDES,

mechanically to attend to the farm and stock,
and give orders to the men.

The final cure was the message that Dora
was lost in the Bush. Harold had the keen
sagacity of a black fellow, and he followed up
the track with his unwearied strength until, on
the third day, he found her, revived her with
the food he had brought with him, and carried
her home. There was only just nourishment
enough to support her, and he took none himself,
so that when he laid her down beside her father,
he was so spent that, after a mouthful or two,
he slept for twenty hours without moving, as
he had never rested since the accident ; and
when he woke, and Dora ran up and stroked his
face, it was the first time he had been seen to
smile. Ever since he had been himself again,
though changed from the boy of exuberant spirits,
and the youth of ungovernable inclinations, into
a grave, silent man, happier apparently in Dora's
vehement affection than in anything else, and, at
any rate, solaced, and soothed by the child's fond-
ness and dependence upon him. This was two
years ago, and no token of mental malady had
since shown itself

My poor brother Eustace ! My heart yearned
to have been able to comfort him. His tender
nature had been all along the victim of others,
and he was entirely shattered by these last
miseries ; an old man when little more than
forty, and with heart disease so much accelerated
by distress and agitation, that he did not live a



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. (^t,

month after Dora's adventure ; but at least he
had the comfort of seeing Harold's restoration,
and being able to commit the other two to his
charge, being no doubt aware that his son was
at the best a poor weak being, and that Harold's
nature would rise under responsibility which would
call out its generosity.

Harold had never touched liquor since the
day of his child's death, nor spoken of it ; but
when his dying uncle begged him to watch over
his young cousins, he took up the Bible that
lay on the bed, and, unsolicited, took a solemn
oath to taste nothing of the kind for the rest of
his life.

Afterwards the three had lived on together at
Boola Boola. Then had come the tidings of the
inheritance supposed to be Harold's, and with the
relief of one glad to make a new beginning, to
have a work to do, and leave old things behind,
he had taken both the others with him.

So it was true ! My noble-looking Harold
had those dark lines in his spectrum. Wild un-
governable strength had whirled him in mere
boyhood at the beck of his passions, and when
most men are entering freshly upon life, he was
already saddened and sobered by sin and suffering.
The stories whispered of him were more than
true. I remember I cried over them as I sat
alone that evening. Eustace had not told all
with the extenuations that I discovered gradually,
some even then by cross-questioning, and much
by the tuition of that sisterly affection that had



64 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

gone out from me to Harold, and fastened on
him as the one who, to me, represented family
ties.

I never thought of breaking with him. No,
if I had been told he might be insane that very
nig-ht, it would have bound me to him the more.
And when I went to bid him " Good-night " and
take away Dora, and saw the massive features
in their stillness light up into a good-natured
smile of thanks at my inquiries, I could believe
it all the less. He was lying cornerwise across
the bed, with a stool beyond for his feet to rest
on, and laughed a little as he said he always had
to contrive thus, he never found a bed long
enough ; and our merriment over this seemed to
render what Eustace had' told me even more in-
congruous in one so scrupulously gentle.

That gentleness was perhaps reactionary in
one who had had such lessons in keeping back
his strength. He had evidently come forth a
changed man. But that vow of his — was it the
binding of a worse lion than that he had fought
with to-day.? Yet could such things be done
in the might of a merely human will t And what
token was there of the higher aid being invoked >
My poor Harold ! I could only pray for him !
Alas ! did he pray for himself }

I was waked in early morning by Dora's
vociferous despair at the disappearance of her
big patient, and then Eustace's peremptory fretful
tone was heard silencing her by explaining that
Harold's hurts had become so painful that he



THE LION OF NEME HEATH. 65

had walked off to Mycening to have the bandages
loosened.

Indeed, when we met at breakfast, Eustace
seemed to think himself injured by the inter-
ruption of his slumbers by Harold's coming to
him for assistance in putting on his clothes, and



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 4 of 24)