Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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" You are more to us than any one could be ;
Eustace shall see the thing rightly, and while
you are good enough to make this our home, I
promise you that no one shall be invited here
but as you like."

It was a bold promise, especially as it turned
out that Eustace had been making large invita-
tions to the Arghouse fishing to Dermot Tracy
and some officer friends whom he had found at
Biston, and who seemed to have made them-
selves very pleasant. I bade Harold never mind
about that sort of invitation, as it need not affect
Dora or me, since we could keep out of the way

o



82 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

of it, being unconcerned with gentlemen's parties.
Miss Woolmer said I had done right, and gave
us a general invitation to spend the evening with
her if Eustace wished to entertain his friends,
though she hinted, '' Don^t be too ready to leave
the coast clear. Remember that you are a whole-
some check."



CHAPTER III.

THE "dragon's head."



Harold's right hand healed quickly, and was
free in a few days, but the left had to be kept
for some time in a sling, and be daily attended
to, though he heeded it but little, walking miles to
look at horses and to try them, for he could
manage them perfectly with one hand, and in this
way he saw a good deal of Dermot Tracy, who
exerted himself to find a horse to carry the mighty
frame.

The catastrophe at the fair had gained him two
friends, entirely unlike one another — Dermot, who
thenceforward viewed him with unvarying hero-
worship, and accepted Eustace as his appendage ;
and George YoUand, the very reverse of all
Dermot's high-bred form of Irishism, and careless,
easy self-indulgence.

A rough-hewn, rugged young man, intensely in
earnest, and therefore neither popular nor success-
ful was that young partner of Dr. Kingston. Had



THE ''DRAGON'S HEAD!* ^^

Harold been squire, the resignation of the patient
into his hands would have been less facile ; but as
a mere Australian visitor, he was no prize, and
might follow his own taste if he preferred the
practitioner to whom club, cottage, and union
patients were abandoned.

By him Harold was let into those secrets of
the lower stratum of society he had longed to
understand. Attention to the poor boy who had
been torn by the lion brought him into the great
village of workmen's huts, that had risen up round
the Hydriot clay works on the Lerne.

These had been set up by a company about
eighteen years before, much against all our wills.
With Lord Erymanth at our head, we had opposed
with all our might the breaking up of the beautiful
moorland that ran right down into Mycening, and
the defilement of our pure and rapid Lerne ; but
modern progress had been too strong for us.
Huge brick inclosures with unpleasant smoky
chimneys had arisen, and around them a whole
colony of bare, ugly little houses, filled with
squalid women and children, little the better for
the men's wages when they were high, and now
that the Company was in a languishing state,
miserable beyond description. We county people
had simply viewed ourselves as the injured parties
by this importation, bemoaned the ugliness of the
erections, were furious at the interruptions to our
country walks, prophesied the total collapse of the
Company, and never suspected that we had any
duties towards the potters. The works were lin-
gering on, only just not perishing; the wages that



84 MV YOUNG ALCIDES,

the men did get, such as they were, went in drink ;
the town in that quarter was really unsafe in the
evening ; and the most ardent hope of all the
neighbourhood was, that the total ruin constantly
expected would lead to the migration of all the
wretched population.

Mr. Yolland, who attended most of their
sicknesses, used to tell fearful things of the
misery, vice, and hardness, and did acts of
almost heroic kindness among them, which did
not seem consistent with what, to my grief and
dismay, was reported of this chosen companion
of Harold — that physical science had conducted
him into materialism. The chief comfort I had
was that Miss Woolmer liked him and opened
her house to him. She was one of the large-
hearted women who can see the good through
the evil, and was interested by contact with all
phases of thought ; and, moreover, the lad should
not be lost for want of the entree to something
like a home, because the upper crust of Mycening
considered him as " only Dr. Kingston's partner,"
and the Kingstons themselves had the sort of
sense that he was too much for them which
makes a spider dislike to have a bluebottle in
his web.

She was interested, too, rather sadly in the
crusade without the cross that the two young men
were trying to undertake against the wretched-
ness of those potters.

It was much in their favour that the land-
lord, who was also the owner of the " Dragon's
Head," was invited to join a brother in America



THE '' DRAGON'S HEADr 85

without loss of time, and was ready to sell and
give immediate possession ; so that Harry actually
owned it in a fortnight from first hearing of the
offer, having, of course, given a heavy price
for it.

The evening it came into his possession he
went down, and, standing at the door, tried to
explain why he had closed it, and why he could
not bear to see its frequenters spending their
wages on degrading themselves and making their
homes miserable. In no mood for a temperance
harangue, the men drowned, or would have drowned
aught but his short incisive sentences, in clamours
for their beer, and one big bully pushed forward
to attack him. His left hand was still in the
sling, but with the other he caught hold of the
fellow by the collar, and swung him over the side
of the stone steps as helpless as a puppy dog,
shaking him till his teeth chattered ere setting
him on his feet. " If you wish for any more,^''
he said, " we^ll have it out as soon as this hand
is well.^'

That made them cheer him, and the fellow
slunk away ; while Harold, having gained a hear-
ing, told them that he meant to make the
former " Dragon^s Head ^^ a place where they
might smoke, read the papers, play games, and
have any refreshment such as coffee, tea, or
ginger-beer, at which they hissed, and only one
or two observed, " I am sure you wishes us
well, sir."

It was a good-sized house, and he meant to
put in a steady couple to keep it, giving up



86 JlfV YOUNG ALCIDES.



two upper rooms to make a laboratory for Mr.
Yolland, whose soul was much set on experi-
ments for which his lodgings gave him no space ;
but the very day when Harold opened his coffee-
rooms, as he went down the street, an " Original
Dragon's Head'' and a ''Genuine Dragon's Head"
grinned defiance at him, in the full glory of
teeth, fiery breath, and gilded scales, on the
other side of the way. I believe they had been
beershops before ; but, be that as it may, they
devoured quite as many as their predecessor,
and though newspapers and draught-boards lay
all about the place, they attracted only two
clients !

And the intended closing of all the beer-
houses on the Arghouse property, except the
time-honoured "Blue Boar" on the villasre grreen.
seemed likely to have the same effect ; for the
notices to their holders, grimly resisted by Bullock,
seemed only to cause dozens of householders to
represent the absolute need of such houses when-
ever they did not belong to us.

"To destroy one is to produce two," sighed
Harold.

" There's nothing to be done but to strike
at the root," I said.

''What's that.?" said Harold.

" Man's evil propensities," I said.

*' Humph," said Harold. " If I could manage
the works now! They say the shares are to be
had for an old song."

"Oh, Harry, doiit have anything to do with
them," I entreated. " They have ruined every



THE "DRAGON'S HEAD:' 87

creature who has meddled with them, and done
unmitigated mischief."

Harold made no answer, but the next day he
was greatly stimulated by a letter from Prometesky,
part of which he read to me, in its perfect
English, yet foreign idiom.

" I long to hear of the field of combat we
had to quit, because one party was too stolid,
the other too ardent. I see it all before me with
the two new champions freshly girded for the
strife, but a peaceful strife, my friend. Let
our experience be at least profitable to you,
and let it be a peaceful contention of emulation
such as is alone suited to that insular nation
which finds its strongest stimulus in domestic
comfort and wealth. Apropos, has some one
pursued a small discovery of mine, that, had I
not been a stranger of a proscribed nation, and
had not your English earl and the esquires been
hostile to all save the hereditary plough, might
have found employment for thousands and pre-
vented the history of your fathers and of myself?
That bed of argillaceous deposit around the
course of your Lerne, which I found to be of the
same quality as the porcelain clay of Meissen,
does it still merely bear a few scanty blades of
corn, or is its value appreciated, and is it occupy-
ing hundreds of those who starved and were
discontented, to the great surprise of their respect-
able landlords } I wonder whether a few little
figures that I modelled in the clay for specimens,
and baked in my hostess's oven, are still in
existence. The forms of clay were there. Alas !



88 MY YOUNG ALCIBES.

I asked in vain of your English magnates for the
fire from heaven to animate the earth, or rather
I would have brought it, and I suffered."

It was amusing to see how much delighted
honest Harold was with this letter, and how
much honoured he seemed by his dear old Pro-
metesky having spent so much time and thought
upon writing to him. It fired him with doubled
ardour to investigate the Hydriot Company, and
he could hardly wait till a reasonable hour the
next day. Then he took Eustace down with
him and returned quite talkative (for him) with
the discoveries he had made, from one of the
oldest workmen who had become disabled from
the damp of working in the clay.

The Company had been set up by a clever
speculating young attorney, but the old man
remembered that "that there foreign gentlemar»,
the same as was sent to foreign parts with the
poor young squires," was " always a-puddling
about in it ; and they did say as how he tried
to get my lord, and Squire Horsman, and Squire
Stympson to see to setting up summut there ;
but they wasn't never for 'speriments, and there
was no more talk of it not till that there young
Crabbe got hold, they say, of some little images
as he had made, and never rested till he had
got up the Company, and begun the works, having
drawn in by his enthusiasm half the tradesmen
and a few of the gentlemen of the place."

Three years of success ; then came a bad
manager ; young Crabbe struggled in vain to
set things right, broke down, and died of the



THE ''DRAGON'S HEAD:' 8q

struggle ; and ever since the unhappy affair had
hngered on, starving its workmen, and just keep,
ing alive by making common garden pots and
pans and drain-tiles. Most people who could had
sold out of it, thanking the Limited Liabilities
for its doing them no further harm ; and the
small remnant only hung on because no one
could be found to give them even the absurdly
small amount that was still said to be the value
of their shares.

That they would find now Harold had fallen
in with young Yolland, who had been singing
the old song, first of Prometesky, then of Crabbe,
and had made him listen to it. Five pounds
would now buy a share that used to be worth a
hundred, and that with thanks from the seller
that he got anything from what had long ceased
to pay the ghost of a dividend. And loose cash
was not scarce with Harold ; he was able to buy
up an amount which perfectly terrified me, and
made me augur that the Hydriot would swallow
all Boola Boola, and more too ; and as to Mr.
Yolland's promises of improvements, no one, after
past experience, could believe in them.

"Now, Harold, you know nothing of all this
intricate business ; and as to these chemical
agencies, I am sure you know nothing about
them."

" I shall learn."

"You will only be taken in," I went on in
my character as good aunt, "and utterly
ruined."

"No matter if I am."



90 3fV YOUNG ALCIDES.

" Only please, at least, don't drag in Eustace
and Arghouse."

" Eustace will only have five shares standing
in his name to enable him to be chairman."

" Five too many ! Harold ! I cannot see
why you involve yourself in all this. You are
well off! You don't care for these foolish hopes
of gain."

" I can't see things go so stupidly to
wrack."

The truth was that he saw in it a continua-
tion of Prometesky's work and his father's, so ex-
postulations were vain. He had been thoroughly
bitten, and was the more excited at finding that
Dermot and Viola Tracy were both shareholders.
Their father had been a believer in Crabbe, and
had taken a good many shares, and these had
been divided between them at his death. They
could not be sold till they were of age, and by
the time Dermot was twenty-one, no one would
buy them ; and now, when they were recalled
to his mind, he would gladly have made Harold
a present of them, but Harold would not even
buy them ; he declared that he wanted Dermot^s
vote, as a shareholder, to help in the majority;
and, m fact, the effective male shareholders on
the spot were only just sufficient to furnish
directors. Mr. Yolland bought two shares that
he might have a voice ; Eustace was voted into
the chair, and the minority was left to consist
of the greatly-soured representative of the original
Crabbe, and one other tradesman, who held on
for the sake, as it seemed, of maintaining ad-



THE "DRAGON'S HEAD." 91



herence to the red pots and pans, as, at any rate,
risking nothing.

Of course I hated and dreaded it all, and it
was only by that power which made it so hard
to say nay to Harold, that he got me down to
look at the very lair of the Hydriot Company.
It was a melancholy place ; the buildings were
so much larger, and the apparatus so much
more elaborate than there was any use for ; and
there were so few workmen, and those so un-
healthy and sinister-looking.

I remember the great red central chimney with
underground furnaces all round, which opened like
the fiery graves where Dante placed the bad
Popes ; and how dreadfully afraid I was that Dora
would tumble into one of them, so that I was glad
to see her held fast by the fascination of the never-
superseded potter and his wheel fashioning the
clay, while Mr. YoUand discoursed and Harold
muttered assents to some wonderful scheme that
was to economise fuel — the rock on which' this
furnace had split.

It has been explained to me over and over
asrain, and I never did more than understand it
for one moment, and if I did recollect all about
it, like a scientific dialogue, nobody would thank
me for putting it in here, so it will be enough
to say that it sounded to me very bewildering
and horribly dangerous, not so much to the body
as to the pocket, and I thought the Hydriot bade
fair to devour Boola Boola and Harold, if not
Arghouse and Eustace into the bargain.

They meant to have a Staftordshire man



92 MY YOUNG ALCIDES,



down to act as foreman and put things on a
better footing.

"I'll write to my brother to send one," said
Mr. YoUand. " He's a curate in the Potteries ; has
a wonderful turn for this sort of thing."

" Have you a brother a clergyman 1 " I said,
rather surprised, and to fill up Harold's silence.

"Yes, my brother Ben. It's his first curacy,
and his two years are all but up. I don't know
if he will stay on. He's a right down jolly
good fellow is Ben, and I wish he would come
down here."

Neither of us echoed the wish. Harold had
no turn for clergymen after the specimen of Mr.
Smith ; and Mr. Yolland, though I could specify
nothincf asrainst him but that he was rough and
easy, had offended me by joining us, when I
wanted Harold all to myself. Besides, was he
not deluding my nephews into this horrid Hy-
driot Company, of which they would be the
certain victims }

The Staffordshire man came, and the former
workmen looked very bitter on him. After a
meeting, in which the minority made many vehe-
ment objections, Eustace addressed the workmen
in the yards — that is to say, he thought he did ;
but Harold and Mr. Yolland made his meaning
more apparent. A venture in finer workmanship,
imitating Etruscan ware, was to be made, and, if
successful, would much increase trade and profits,
and a rise in wages was offered to such as could
undertake the workmanship. Moreover, it was
held out to them that they might become the



THE ''DRAGON'S HEADP 93



purchasers of shares or half shares at the market
price, and thus have an interest in the concern,
whereat they sneered as at some new dodge of
the Company for taking them in. It did not seem
to me that much Avas done, save making Harry
pore over books and accounts, and run his hands
through his hair, till his thick curls stood up in
all directions.

And Miss Woolmer herself was sorry. She
remembered the old story — nay, she had one of
Prometesky's own figures modelled in terra cotta,
defective, of course, as a Avork of art, but with
that fire that genius can breathe into the imper-
fect. She believed it had been meant for the
Hope of Poland. Alas ! the very name reminded
one of the old word for despair, *' Wanhope."
But Harold admired it greatly, and both he
and George Yolland seemed to find inspiration
in it.

But one summer evening, when the young
men were walking up and down the garden,
smoking, we heard something that caused us to
look round for a thunder-cloud, though none could
be seen in the clear sky, and some quarter of an
hour after, Richardson hurried out to us with the
tidings, " I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a
person come up to say there has been an explo-
sion at the Hydriot works."

"Impossible!" said Harold. "There's nothing
to explode ! "

" I beg your pardon, sir, but it is Mr. Yolland
they say has blowed himself up with his experi-
ments, and all the old "Dragon's Head" in Lerne



94 MV YOUNG ALCIDES,

Street, and he is buried under the ruins. It is all
one mass of ruin, sir, and he under it."

Harold rushed off, without further word or
query, and Eustace after him, and I had almost
to fight to hold back Dora, and should hardly
have succeeded if the two had not disappeared
so swiftly that she could not hope to come up
with them.

I let her put on her things and come down
with me to the lodge-gate to watch. I was afraid
to go any farther, and there we waited, without
even the relief of a report, till we had heard the
great clock strike quarter after quarter, and were
expecting it to strike eleven, when steps came near
at last, and Eustace opened the gate. We threw
ourselves upon him, and he cried out with surprise,
then said, '' He is alive ! "

'' Who ! Harold .? "

" Harold ! Nonsense. What should be the
matter with Harold } But he is going to stay
with him — YoUand I mean — for the night ! It
was all his confounded experiments. It was very
well that I went down — nothing was being done
without a head to direct, but they always know
what to be at when / come among them."

No one there knew the cause of the accident,
except that it had taken place in Mr. Yolland's
laboratory, where he had been trying experiments.
The house itself had been violently shattered, and
those nearest had suffered considerably. Happily,
it stood in a yard of its own, so that none adjoined
it, and though the fronts of the two opposite
" Dragon's Heads " had broken windows and torn



THE ''DRAGON'S HEADr 95

doors, no person within them had been more than
stunned and bruised. But the former "Dragon's
Head " itself had become a mere pile of stones,
bricks, and timbers. The old couple in charge
had happily been out, and stood in dismay over
the heap, which Harold and a few of the men
were trying to remove, in the dismal search for
Mr. Yolland and the boy he employed to assist
him. The boy was found first, fearfully burnt
about the face and hands, but protected from being
crushed by the boards which had fallen slant-
wise over him. And under another beam, which
guarded his head, but rested on his leg, lay young
Yolland.

Harold's strenerth had raised the beam, and he
was drawn out. He revived as the night air
blew on his face, looked up as Harold lifted him,
said, " I have it,'' and fainted the next moment.
They had taken him to his lodgings, where Dr.
Kingston had set the broken leg and bound the
damaged rib, but could not yet pronounce on the
other injuries, and Harold had taken on himself
the watch for the night.

The explanation that we all held by was, that
the damage was caused by an officious act of
the assistant, who, perceiving that it was growing
dark, fired a match, and began to light the gas at
the critical moment of the experiment, by which
the means of obtaining the utmost heat at the
smallest expense of fuel was to be attained. It
was one of those senseless acts that no one would
have thought of forbidding ; and though the boy,
on recovering his senses, owned that the last thing



96 MY YOUNG ALCIDES.

he remembered was getting- the matches and Mr.
Yolland shouting to stop him, there were many
who never would beheve anything but that it
was blundering of his, and that he was a dan-
gerous and mischievous person to have in the
town.

Harold came home for a little while just as
we were having breakfast, to bring a report that
his patient had had a much quieter night than
he expected, and to say that he had telegraphed
for the brother and wanted Eustace to meet him
at the station. The landlady was sitting with
the patient now, and Harold had come home
for ice, strawberries, and, above all, to ask for
help in nursing, for the landlady could not, and
would not, do much. I mentioned a motherly
woman as, perhaps, likely to be useful, but
Harold said, "I could do best with Dora.^"*

He had so far learnt that it was not the
Bush as not to expect me to offer, and was
quite unprepared for the fire that Eustace and
I opened on him as to the impossibility of his
request. " Miss Alison, 7ny sister,^^ as Eustace
said, "going down to a little, common, general
practitioner to wait on him ; " while I confined
myself to " It won^t do at all, Harold,^' and pro-
mised to hunt up the woman and to send her
to his aid. But when I had seen her, arranged
my housekeeping affairs, and called Dora to
lessons, she was nowhere to be found.

" Then she has gone after Harold ! " indig-
nantly exclaimed Eustace. *' It is too bad ! I
declare I will put a stop to it ! To have my



THE ''DRAGON'S HEADr 97

sister demeaning herself to put herself in such
a situation for a little Union doctor ! "

I laughed, and observed that no great harm
was done with so small a person, only I could
not think what use Harold could make of her;
at which Eustace was no less surprised, for a
girl of eight or nine was of no small value in
the Bush, and he said Dora had been most
helpful in the care of her father. But his dignity
was so much outraged that he talked big of
going to bring her home — only he did not go. I
was a little wounded at Harold havinsf taken her
in the face of my opposition, but I found that
that had not been the case, for Eustace had
walked to the lodge with him, and she had
rushed after and joined him after he was in the
town. And at luncheon Eustace fell on me with
entreaties that I would come with him and help
him meet '* this parson," whom he seemed to
dread unreasonably, as, in fact, he always did
shrink from doing anything alone when he could
get a helper. I thought this would be, at least,
as queer as Dora's nursing of the other brother ;
but it seemed so hard for the poor man, coming
down in his anxiety, to be met by Eustace either
in his vague or his supercilious mood, that I
consented at last, so that he might have someone
of common sense, and walked down with him.

We could not doubt which was the right
passenger, when a young clergyman, almost as
rough-looking as his brother, and as much bearded,
but black where he was yellow, sprang out of a
second-class with anxious looks. It was I who



98 MV YOUNG ALCIDES.

said at one breath, " There he is ! Speak to him,
Eustace ! Mr. YoUand — he is better — he will ao
well "

"Thank — thank you " And the hat was

pushed back, with a long breath ; then, as he
only had a little black bag to look after, we
all walked together to the lodgings, while the



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 6 of 24)