Charlotte Mary Yonge.

My young Alcides : a faded photograph online

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in my estimation of these young men." I almost
jumped for joy as I cried out that I knew he
would think so when he came to know them.

" Yes, I am grateful to the accident that has
given me the opportunity of judging for myself,"
quoth Lord Erymanth, and with a magnanimity
which I was then too inexperienced to perceive,
he added, " I can better estimate the motives
which made you decide on fixing your residence
with your nephews, and I have no reluctance in
declaring them natural and praiseworthy." I
showed my satisfaction in my old friend's forgive-
ness, but he still went on : " Still, my dear, you
must allow me to represent that your residence


here, though it is self-innocent, exposes you to
unpleasant complications. I cannot think it well
that a young lady of your age should live
entirely with two youths without female society,
and be constantly associating with such friends
as they may collect round them."

I remember now how the unshed tears burnt
in my eyes as I said the female society had left
me to myself, and begged to know with whom
I had associated. In return I heard something
that filled me with indignation about his nephew,
Dermot Tracy, not being exactly the companion
for an unchaperoned young lady, far less his
sporting friends, or that young man who had been
Dr. Kingston's partner. He was very sorry for
me, as he saw my cheeks flaming, but he felt it
rieht that I should be aware. I told him how I
had guarded myself — never once come across
the sportsmen, and only seen Mr. Yolland pro-
fessionally when he showed me how to dress
Harold's hand, besides the time Avhen he went
over the pottery with us. Nay, Dermot himself
had only twice come into my company — once
about his sister, and once to inquire after Harold
after the adventure with the lion.

There I found I had alluded to what made
Lord Erymanth doubly convinced that I must be
blinded ; my sight must be amiably obscured, as
to the unfitness — he might say, the impropriety
of such companions for me. He regretted all
the more where his nephew was concerned, but
it was due to me to warn, to admonish, me of
the true facts of the case.


I did not see how I could want any admo-
nition of the true facts I had seen with my own

He was intensely astonished, and did not
know how to believe that I had actually seen
the lion overpowered ; whereupon I begged to
know what he had heard. He was very unwilling
to tell me, but it came out at last that Dermot
and Harold — being, he feared, in an improperly
excited condition — had insisted on going to the
den with the keeper, and had irritated the animal
by wanton mischief, and he was convinced that
this could not have taken place in my pre-

I was indignant beyond measure. Had not
Dermot told him the true story } He shook his
head, and was much concerned at having to say
so, but he had so entirely ceased to put any con-
fidence in Dermot^s statements that he preferred
not listening to them. And I knew it was vain
to try to show him the difference between deli-
berate falsehood, which was abhorrent to Dermot,
and the exaggerations and mystifications to which
his uncle^s solemnity always prompted him. 1
appealed to the county paper ; but he had been
abroad at the time, and had, moreover, been told
that the facts had been hushed up.

Happily, he had some trust in my veracity,
and let me prove my perfect alibi for Harold
as well as for Dermot. When I represented how
those two were the only men among some hun-
dreds who had shown either courage or coolness,
he granted it with the words, " True, true. Of


course, of course. Thaf s the way good blood
shows itself. Hereditary qualities are sure to
manifest themselves.''^

Then he let me exonerate Harold from the
charge of intemperance, pointing out that not
even after the injury and operation, nor after
yesterday's cold and fatigue, had he touched any
liquor ; but I don't think the notion of teetotalism
was gratifying, even when I called it a private,
individual vow. Nor could I make out whether
his Australian life was known, and I was afraid
to speak of it, lest I should be betraying what
need never be mentioned. Of Viola^s adventure,
to my surprise, her uncle did not make much,
but he had heard of that from the fountain-head,
unpolluted by Stympson gossip ; and, moreover,
Lady Diana had been so disproportionately angry
as to produce a reaction in him. Viola was his
darling, and he had taken her part when he had
found that she knew her brother was at hand.
He allowed, too, that she might fairly be inspired
with confidence by the voice and countenance of
her captor, whom he seemed to view as a good-
natured giant. But even this was an advance on
*' the prize-fighter,^^ as Lady Diana and the
Stympsons called him.

It was an amusing thing to hear the old earl
moralising on the fortunate conjunction of circum-
stances, which had brought the property, contrary
to all expectation, to the most suitable individual.
Much did I long for Harold to return and show
what he was, but only his lordship^s servant,
letters, and portmanteau came on an improvised


sleigh. He had an immense political, county,
and benevolent correspondence, and was busied
with it all the rest of the day. Eustace hovered
about reverentially and obligingly, and secured
the good opinion which had been already partly
gained by the statement of the police at the
Quarter Sessions, whence Lord Erymanth had
been returning, that they never had had so few
cases from the Hydriot potteries as during this
last quarter. Who could be complimented upon
this happy state of things save the chairman ?
And who could appropriate the compliment more
readily or with greater delight } Even I felt that
it would be cruel high treason to demonstrate
which was the mere chess king.

Poor Eustace ! Harold had infected me enough
with care for him to like to see him in such glory,
though somewhat restless as to the appearances of
this first state dinner of ours, and at Harold's
absence ; but, happily, the well-known step was in
the hall before our guest came downstairs, and
Eus(-.ce dashed out to superintend the toilette
that was to be as worthy of meeting with an
earl as nature and garments would permit. " Fit
to be seen .? " I heard Harold growl. " Of course
I do when I dine with Lucy, and this is only an
old man." %-

Eustace and Richardson had disinterred and
brushed up Harold^s only black suit (ordered as
mourning for his wife, and never worn but at
his uncle's funeral) ; but three years' expansion of
chest and shoulder had made it pinion him so as
to lessen the air of perfect ease which, without


being what is called grace, was goodly to look
upon. Eustace's studs were in his shirt, and the
unnatural shine on his tawny hair too plainly re-
vealed the perfumeries that crowded the young
squire's dressing-table. With the purest intentions
of kindness Eustace had done his best to disguise
a demigod as a lout.

We had a diner a la Riisse, to satisfy Eustace's
aspirations as to the suitable. I had been seeking
resources for it all the afternoon and building up
erections with Richardson and Colman ; and when
poor Harold, who had been out in the snow with
nothing to eat since breakfast, beheld it, he ex-
claimed, " Lucy, why did you not tell me ? I
could have gone over to Mycening and brought
you home a leg of mutton."

" Don't expose what a cub you are ! " muttered
the despairing Eustace. '' It is a deena a la

" I thought the Russians ate blubber," ob-
served Harold, somewhat unfeelingly, though I
don't think he saw the joke ; but I managed to
reassure him, sotto voce, as to there being some-
thing solid in the background. He was really
ravenous, and it was a little comedy to see the
despairing contempt with which he regarded the
dainty little mouthfuls that the cook viewed
with triumph, and Eustace in equal misery at his
savage appetite ; while Lord Erymanth, far too
real a gentleman to be shocked at a man's eating
when he was hungry, was quite insensible of the
by-play until Harold, reduced to extremity at
sight of one delicate shaving of turkey's breast,


burst out, " I say, Richardson, I must have some
food. Cut me its leg, please, at once ! "

" Harry," faintly groaned Eustace, while Lord
Erymanth observed, " Ah ! there is no such
receipt for an appetite as shooting in the snow.
I remember when a turkey's leg would have
been nothing to me, after being out duck-shooting
in Kalydon Bog. Have you been there to-day ?
There would be good sport."

"No," said Harold, contented at last with
the great leg, which seemed in the same pro-
portion to him as a chicken's to other men. " I
have been getting sheep out of the snow."

I elicited from him that he had, in making
his way to Erymanth, heard the barking of a
dog, and found that a shepherd and his flock
had taken refuge in a hollow of the moor, which
had partly protected them from the snow,
but whence they could not escape. The
shepherd, a drover who did not know the
locality, had tried with morning light to find
his way to help, but, spent and exhausted, would
soon have perished, had not Harold been
attracted by the dog. After dragging him to
the nearest farm, Harold left the man to be
restored by food and fire, while performing his
own commission at the castle, and then returned
to spend the remainder of the daylight hours
in helping to extricate the sheep, and convey
them to the farmyard, so that only five had been

" An excellent, not to say a noble, manner
of spending a winter's day," quoth the earl.


" I am a sheep farmer myself," was the

Lord Erymanth really wanted to draw him
out, and began to ask about Australian stock-
farming, but Harold's slowness of speech left
Eustace to reply to everything, and when once
the rage of hunger was appeased, the harangues
in a warm room after twenty miles' walk in the
snow, and the carrying some hundreds of sheep
one by one in his arms, produced certain nods
and snores which were no favourable contrast with
Eustace's rapt attention.

For, honestly, Eustace thought these speeches
the finest things he had ever heard, and though
he seldom presumed to understand them, he
listened earnestly, and even imitated them in a
sort of disjointed way. Now Lord Erymanth, if
one could manage to follow him, was always
coherent. His sentences would parse, and went
on uniform principles — namely, the repeating every
phrase in finer words, with all possible quali-
fications ; whereas Eustace never accomplished
more than catching up some sonorous period ;
but as his manners were at their best when he
was overawed, and nine months in England had
so far improved his taste that he did not once
refer to his presentation at Government House,
he made such an excellent impression that Lord
Erymanth announced that he was going to give
a ball to introduce his niece, Miss Tracy, on her
seventeenth birthday, in January, and invited us
all thereto.

Eustace's ecstacy was unbounded. He tried


to wake Harold to share it, but only produced
some murmurs about half-inch bullets : only when
the " Good-night'^ came did Harold rouse up, and
then, of course, he was wide awake ; and while
Eustace was escorting the distinguished guest to
his apartment, we stood over the hall fire, enjoying
his delight, and the prospect of his being righted
with the county.

" And you will have your friends again, Lucy/'
added Harold.

" Yes, I don^t suppose Lady Diana will hold
out against him. He will prepare the way.''^

'* And,^^ said Eustace, coming downstairs, " it
is absolutely necessary that you go and be mea-
sured for a dress suit, Harry.'"

" I will certainly never get into this again,"
he said, with a thwarted sigh ; " it^s all I can
do to help splitting it down the back. You must
get it off as you got it on."*^

" Not here ! ^^ entreated Eustace, alarmed at
his gesture. " Remember the servant. Oh Harold,
if you could but be more the gentleman ! Why
cannot you take example by me, instead of over-
throwing all the advantageous impressions that
such — such a service has created. I really think
there^s nothing he would not do for me. Don^t
you think so, Lucy } ''

" Could he do anything for Prometesky ? *'
asked Harold.

" He could, more than anyone,'^ I said ; " but
I don't know if he would.^'

" rU see about that.''

"Now, Harold,'"' cried Eustace in dismay,


"don't spoil everything by ofifending him. Just
suppose he should not send us the invitation ! ''

"No great harm done/'

Eustace was incoherent in his wrath and
horror, and Harold, too much used to his childish
selfishness to feel the annoyance, answered, " I
am not you."

" But if you offend him t "

" Never fear, Eu, I'll take care you don't fare
the worse."

And as he lighted his candle he added to
poor Eustace's discomfiture by the shocking utter-
ance under his beard :

" You are welcome to him for me, if you can
stand such an old bore."



When I came downstairs the next morning, I
found Lord Erymanth at the hall window, watch-
ing the advance of a great waggon of coal which
had stuck fast in the snow half way up the hill
on which the house stood. Harold, a much more
comfortable figure in his natural costume than he
had been when made up by Eustace, was truly put-
ting his shoulder to the wheel, with a great lever,
so that every effort aided the struggling horses,
and brought the whole nearer to its destination.


" A grand exhibition of strength," said his
lordship, as the waggon was at last over its diffi-
culties, and Harold disappeared with it into the
back-yard ; " a magnificent physical development.
I never before saw extraordinary height with
proportionate size and strength/^

I asked if he had ever seen anyone as tall.

" I have seen one or two men who looked
equally tall, but they stooped and were not well-
proportioned, whereas your nephew has a wonder-
fully fine natural carriage. What is his measure ? "
he added, turning to Eustace.

" Well, really, my lord, I cannot tell ; mine
is six feet two and five-sixteenths, and I much
prefer it to anything so out of the way as his,
poor fellow."

The danger that he would go on to repeat his
tailor's verdict " that it was distinguished without
being excessive," was averted by Harold's entrance,
and Dora interrupted the greetings by the query
to her cousin, how high he really stood ; but he
could not tell, and when she unfraternally pressed
to know whether it was not nice to be so much
taller than Eustace, he replied, *' Not on board
ship," and then he gave the intelligence that it
seemed about to thaw.

Lord Erymanth said that if so, he should try
to make his way to Mycening, and he then paid
his renewed compliments on the freedom of the
calendar at the Quarter Sessions from the usual
proportion of evils at Mycening. He understood
that Mr. Alison was making most praiseworthy


efforts to impede the fatal habits of intoxication
that were only too prevalent.

" I shall close five beer-houses at Christmas,"
said Eustace. " I look on it as my duty, as land-
lord and man of property."

"Quite right. I am glad you see the matter
in its right light. Beer-shops were a well-meaning
experiment started some twenty years ago. I well
remember the debate, &c."

Harold tried with all his might to listen,
though I saw his chest heave with many a sup-
pressed yawn, and his hand under his beard,
tweaking it hard ; but substance could be sifted
out of what Lord Erymanth said, for he had
real experience, and his own parish was in admir-
able order.

Where there was no power of expulsion, as
he said, there would always be some degraded
beings whose sole amusement was intoxication ;
but good dwelling-houses capable of being made
cheerful, gardens, innocent recreations, and in-
struction had, he could testify from experience,
no small effect in preventing such habits from
being formed in the younger population, backed,
as he was sure (good old man) that he need
not tell his young friends, by an active and
efficient clergyman, who would place the motives
for good conduct on the truest and highest foot-
ing, without which all reformation would only be
surface work. I was glad Harold should hear
this from the lips of a layman, but I am afraid
he shirked it as a bit of prosing, and went back
to the cottages.


" They are in a shameful state," he said.

" They are to be improved," exclaimed Eustace,
eagerly. "As I told Bullock, I am quite deter-
mined that mine shall be a model parish. I am
ready to make any sacrifices to do my duty as
a landlord, though Bullock says that no outlay
on cottages ever pays, and that the test of their
being habitable is their being let, and that the
people are so ungrateful that they do not deserve
to have anything done for them."

" You are not led away by such selfish argu-
ments } " said Lord Erymanth.

" No, assuredly not," said Eustace, decidedly ;
"though I do wish Harold would not disagree so
much with Bullock. He is a very civil man,
and much in earnest in promoting my inte-

" That's not all," put in Harold.

"And I can't bear Bullock," I said. "*Our
interest ' has been always his cry, whenever the
least thing has been proposed for the cottage
people ; and I know how much worse he let
things get than we ever supposed."

On which Lord Erymanth spoke out his dis-
tinct advice to get rid of Bullock, telling us how
he had been a servant's orphan whom my father
had intended to apprentice, but, being placed with
our old bailiff for a time, had made himself neces-
sary, and ingratiated himself with my father so
as to succeed to the situation ; and it had been
the universal belief, ever since my mother's widow-
hood, that he had taken advantage of her seclusion
and want of knowledge of business to deal harshly


by the tenants, especially the poor, and to feather
his own nest.

It was only what Harold had already found
out for himself, but it disposed of his scruples
about old adherents, and it was well for Eustace
to hear it from such oracular lips as might neu-
tralise the effect of Bullock's flattery, for it had
become quite plain to my opened eyes that he
was trying to gain the squire's ear, and was very
jealous of Harold.

I knew, too, that to listen to his advice was
the way to Lord Erymanth's heart, and rejoiced
to hear Harold begging for the names of recent
books on drainage, and consulting our friend upon
the means of dealing with a certain small farm
in a tiny inclosed valley, on an outlying part of
the property, where the yard^and outhouses were
in a permanent state of horrors ; but interference
was alike resented by Bullock and the farmer,
though the wife and family were piteous spectacles
of ague and rheumatism, and low fever smouldered
every autumn in the hamlet.

Very sound advice was given and accepted

with pertinent questions, such as I thought must

convince anyone of Harold's superiority, when he

must needs produce a long blue envelope, and

beg Lord Erymanth to look at it and tell him

how to get it presented to the Secretary of


It was graciously received, but no sooner did

the name of Stanislas Prometesky strike the earl's
eyes than he exclaimed, " That rascally old dema-
gogue ! The author of all the mischief. It was


the greatest error and weakness not to have had
him executed."

" You have not seen my father's statement ? "

" Statement, sir ! I read statements till I was
sick of them, absolutely disgusted with their re-
iteration, and what could they say but that he
was a Pole ? A Pole ! " (the word uttered with
infinite loathing). " As if the very name were not
a sufficient conviction of whatever is seditious and
treasonable, only that people are sentimental about
it, forsooth ! ^^

Certainly it was droll to suspect sentiment in
the great broad giant, who indignantly made
reply, " The Poles have been infamously treated/'

" No more than they deserved,''^ said Lord
Erymanth, startled for once into brevity. *' A
nation who could never govern themselves de-
cently, and since they have been broken up, as
they richly deserved, though I do not justify the
manner — ever since, I say, have been acting the
incendiary in every country where they have set
foot. I would as soon hear of an infernal machine
in the country as a Pole!"

" Poles deserve justice as well as other men,"
said Harold, perhaps the more doggedly because
Eustace laid a restraining hand on his arm.

" Do you mean to tell me, sir, that every
man has not received justice at the tribunal of
this country ? " exclaimed Lord Erymanth.

Perhaps he recollected that he was speaking
to the son of a convict, for there was a moment's
pause, into which I launched myself '* Dear Lord
Erymanth," I said, "we all know that my poor



brothers did offend against the laws and were
sentenced according to them. They said so them-
selves, and that they were mistaken, did they
not, Harold ? "

Harold bent his head.

" And owing to whom } '* demanded Lord
Erymanth. " I never thought of blaming those
two poor lads as I did that fellow who led them
astray. I did all I could to save their lives ; if
they were alive this moment I would wish nothing
better than to bring them home, but as to asking
me to forward a petition in favour of the hoary
old rebel that perverted them, I should think it
a crime.^'

" But,'' I said, " if you would only read this,
you would see that what they wanted to explain
was that the man who turned king's evidence
did not show how Count Prometesky tried to
withhold them."

" Count, indeed ! Just like all women. All
those Poles are Counts ! All Thaddeuses of
Warsaw ! "

"That's hard," I said. "I only called him
Count because it would have shocked you if I
had given him no prefix. Will you not see what
poor Ambrose wanted to say for him 1 "

"Ah!" said Lord Erymanth, after a pause, in
which he had really glanced over the paper.
" Poor boys ! It goes to my heart to think
what fine fellows were lost there, but compassion
for them cannot soften me towards the man who
practised on their generous, unsuspecting youth.
I am quite aware that Prometesky saved life at


the fire, and his punishment was commuted on
that account, contrary to my judgment, for it is
a well-known axiom, that the author of a riot is
responsible for all the outrages committed in it,
and it is undeniable that the whole insurrection
was his work. I am quite aware that the man
had amiable, even fascinating qualities, and great
enthusiasm, but here lay the great danger and
seduction to young minds ; and though I can
perfectly understand the warm sympathy and
generous sentiment that actuates my young
friends, and though I much regret the being
obliged to deny the first request of one to whom,
I may say, I owe my life, I must distinctly refuse
to take any part in relieving Count Stanislas
Prometesky from the penalty he has incurred."

Harold's countenance had become very gloomy
during this peroration. He made no attempt
at reply, but gathered up his papers, and, gnaw-
ing his fringe of moustache, walked out of the
room, while Eustace provoked me by volunteer-
ing explanations that Prometesky was no friend
of his, only of Harold's. His lordship declared
himself satisfied, provided no dangerous opinions
had been imbibed, and truly Eustace might
honestly acquit himself of having any opinions
at all.

That afternoon he drove Lord Erymanth to
Mycening, whence the railway was now open.
Harold could nowhere be found, and kind
messages were left for him, for which he was
scarcely grateful when he came in late in the
evening, calling Lord Erymanth intolerably vin-


dictive, to bear malice for five-and-twenty

I could not get him to see that it was
entirely judicial indignation, and desire for the
good of the country, not in the least personal
feeling ; but Harold had not yet the perception
of the legislative sentiment that actuates men of
station in England. His strong inclination was
not to go near the old man or his house again,

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMy young Alcides : a faded photograph → online text (page 9 of 24)