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One of the 28th A Tale of Waterloo online

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if I remember right, and you don't look thirty. I am forty, and look
at the very least ten years older."

Mrs. Conway did not contradict him, for she could not have done so
with truth.

"You are changed, Herbert; a great deal changed," she said sadly,
"although I should have know you anywhere. You are so much thinner
than when I saw you last; but your eyes have not changed, nor your
smile. Of course your hair having got gray makes a difference,
and - and - " and she stopped.

"I am changed altogether, Mary. I was a headstrong, impetuous young
fellow then. I am a fragile and broken man now. But I am happy to meet
you again. Very happy in the thought that I can benefit your son. I
have an interest in life now that I wanted before; and in spite of my
being anxious about Ralph while he was away, have been happier for the
last six months than I have been for seventeen years past." Mrs.
Conway turned away to conceal the tears that stood in her eyes, and a
moment later said:

"I am a most forgetful hostess, Mabel. I have not even asked you to
take off your things. Please come along and let me show you your room.
Supper will be ready in a minute or two, and here are we stopping and
forgetting that you and Mr. Penfold must be almost famished."

As soon as they had sat down to supper, Mr. Penfold said, "By the way,
Ralph, I have a piece of news for you. We stopped a couple of days,
you know, in town, and I saw my friend at the Horse Guards, and had a
chat about you. He seemed to think that you would be better if you
were a few months older; but as he acknowledged that many commissions
had been given to lads under sixteen, and as you had just arrived at
that age, and as I told him you have had no end of experience with
pirates and buccaneers, and all that sort of thing, he was silenced,
and your commission will appear in the next _Gazette_."

"Oh, Mr. Penfold!" Ralph exclaimed as he leaped from his seat in
delight. "I am obliged to you. That is glorious. I hardly even hoped I
could get a commission for some months to come. Don't look sad,
mother," he said, running round and kissing her. "I shan't be going
out of England yet, you know; and now the war is over you need have no
fear of my getting killed, and a few months sooner or later cannot
make much difference."

"I shall bear it in time, Ralph," his mother said, trying to smile
through her tears. "But it comes as a shock just at first."

The sight of his mother's tears sobered Ralph for a time, and during
supper the conversation was chiefly supported by Mr. Penfold, who
joked Ralph about his coming back in a few years a general without
arms or legs; and was, indeed, so cheerful and lively that Mabel could
scarcely believe her ears, so wholly unlike was he to the quiet friend
she had known as long as she could remember. The next fortnight was a
delightful one to Mabel, and indeed to all the party. Every day they
went driving-excursions through the country round. Ramsgate and Deal
and Folkestone were visited, and they drove over to Canterbury and
spent a night there visiting the grand cathedral and the old walls.

The weather was too cold for the water, for Christmas was close at
hand; but everything that could be done was done to make the time pass
happily. Mrs. Conway exerted herself to lay aside her regrets at
Ralph's approaching departure, and to enter into the happiness which
Mr. Penfold so evidently felt. The day before their departure for town
an official letter arrived for Ralph, announcing that he was gazetted
into his majesty's 28th Regiment of foot, and that he was in one
month's date from that of his appointment to join his regiment at
Cork.

"Now, Miss Mabel," Mr. Penfold said gayly, after the first talk over
the commission was concluded, "you will have for the future to treat
Mr. Ralph Conway with the respect due to an officer in his majesty's
service."

"I don't see any change in him at present," the girl said, examining
Ralph gravely.

The boy burst into a laugh.

"Wait till you see him in uniform, Mabel," Mr. Penfold went on. "I am
afraid that respect is one of the moral qualities in which you are
deficient. Still I think that when you see Ralph in his uniform, you
will be struck with awe."

"I don't think so," Mabel said, shaking her head. "I don't think he
will frighten me, and I feel almost sure that he won't frighten the
Frenchmen."

"My dear child," Mr. Penfold said gravely, "you don't know what Ralph
is going to turn out yet. When you see him come back from the wars
seven or eight inches taller than he is now, with great whiskers, and
perhaps three or four ornamental scars on his face, you will be quite
shocked when you reflect that you once treated this warrior as a
playfellow."

Upon the following day the party went up to London, and were joined
next morning by Mr. and Mrs. Withers. Mabel declared that she did not
think any people ever could have enjoyed themselves so much as they
all did. They went to Exeter 'Change to see the animals and to the
theater at Drury Lane, to the Tower and Ranelagh Gardens, to
Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's, and they went down by coach to
Hampton Court and to Greenwich, and they saw his majesty the king
review the Guards in Hyde Park. Altogether it was a glorious
fortnight. Mr. Penfold was the life and soul of the party, and had he
had his way they would have seen far more than they did. But Mr. and
Mrs. Withers and Mrs. Conway all said that they wanted to enjoy
themselves and not to be worn out, and several times they stayed at
home when Mr. Penfold and the two young people went to see sights, or
to wander about the streets and look at the shops, which was as great
a treat as any thing. Mr. Penfold went with Ralph to a military tailor
and ordered his outfit, and to other shops, where he purchased such a
stock of other garments that Mrs. Conway declared Ralph would require
nothing for years. On the last day of the fortnight the uniforms and
trunks and clothes all arrived at the hotel, and of course Ralph had
to dress up and buckle on his sword for the first time. Mrs. Conway
shed a few tears, and would have shed more had not Mr. Penfold made
every one laugh so; and Mabel was seized with a fit of shyness for the
first time in her life when Mr. Penfold insisted that the ladies
should all kiss the young officer in honor of the occasion. And the
next morning the whole party went down to the wharf below London
Bridge to see Ralph on board the packet for Cork. Before leaving the
hotel Mr. Penfold slipped an envelope with ten crisp five pound notes
in it into Ralph's hand.

"I have paid in, my boy, two hundred pounds to the regimental agents,
and in future shall make you an allowance of the same amount every
year. You will see what other officers spend. My advice to you is: do
not spend more than others, and do not spend less. Money will keep
very well, you know, and a little reserve may always come in useful.
When you once go on foreign service you will not find much occasion
for money. I want you just to hold your own with others. I consider
that it is quite as unfortunate for a young man to spend more than
those around him as it is for him to be unable to spend as much. No, I
don't want any thanks at all. I told your mother I should look after
you, and I am going to, and it has given a vast pleasure to me to have
such an interest. Write to me occasionally, my boy; your letters will
give me great pleasure. And should you get into any scrape, tell me
frankly all about it."

The evening before Mrs. Conway had had a long talk with Ralph. "I do
not think I need to give you much advice, my boy. You have already
been out in the world on your own account, and have shown that you can
make your way. You are going into a life, Ralph, that has many
temptations. Do not give way to them, my boy. Above all, set your face
against what is the curse of our times: over-indulgence in wine. It is
the ruin of thousands. Do not think it is manly to be vicious because
you see others are. Always live, if you can, so that if you kept a
true diary you could hand it to me to read without a blush on your
cheek; and always bear in mind, that though I shall not be there to
see you, a higher and purer eye will be upon you. You will try; won't
you, Ralph?"

"I will indeed, mother."

Mr. Penfold did his best to keep up the spirits of all of the party
when they parted on board the packet; but Mrs. Conway quite broke down
at last. Mabel cried unrestrainedly, and his own eyes had a suspicious
moisture in them as he shook hands with Ralph. Fortunately they had
arrived a little late at the wharf, and the partings were consequently
cut short. The bell rang, and all the visitors were hurried ashore;
then the hawsers were thrown off and the sails hoisted. As long as the
party remained in sight Ralph stood on the stern waving his
handkerchief to them; then, having removed the traces of tears from
his cheeks, he turned to look at what was going on around him.

The packet was a brig of about two hundred tons, and she carried about
twenty passengers, of whom fully half Ralph judged by their appearance
to be military men. Before they had reached the mouth of the river he
found that one among them Captain O'Connor, belonged to his own
regiment, as did another young fellow about his own age named
Stapleton, who had been gazetted on the same day as himself. Captain
O'Connor, who was a cheery Irishman, full of life and spirits, at once
took Ralph in hand, and was not long in drawing from him the story of
his adventures with the privateers.

"You will do, my lad. I can see you have got the roughness rubbed off
you already, and will get on capitally with the regiment. I can't say
as much for that young fellow Stapleton. He seems to be completely
puffed up with the sense of his own importance, and to be an unlicked
sort of cub altogether. However, I have known more unlikely subjects
than he is turn out decent fellows after a course of instruction from
the boys; but he will have rather a rough time of it at first I
expect. You will be doing him a kindness if you take an opportunity to
tell him that a newly-joined ensign is not regarded in the same light
as a commander-in-chief. It is like a new boy going to school, you
know. If fellows find out he is a decent sort of boy, they soon let
him alone; but if he is an ass, especially a conceited ass, he has
rather a rough time of it. As you are in the same cabin with him, and
have had the advantage of having knocked about the world a bit, you
might gently hint this to him."

"I have been chatting with him a bit," Ralph said. "He has never been
to school, but has been brought up at home, and I think from what he
said he is the heir to an estate. He seemed rather to look down upon
schools."

"So much the worse for him," Captain O'Connor said. "There is nothing
like a school for bringing a fellow to his level, unless it is a
regiment; and the earlier in life the process takes place the less
painful it is."

"I don't think he will turn out a bad sort of fellow," Ralph said. "He
is, as you say, rather an ass at present. I will do what I can to give
him a hint; but as I should say he is at least a year older than I am,
I do not suppose it will be of much use."

The voyage was a pleasant one, and Ralph was quite sorry when they
entered the Cove of Cork and dropped anchor. The next morning the ship
sailed up the river, and the following day the party disembarked.
Captain O'Connor's servant came on board as soon as the vessel reached
the quay, and his master charged him to pick out his luggage and that
of the two young officers; he then at once proceeded with them to the
barracks. Ralph felt extremely pleased that Captain O'Connor was with
them, as he felt none of the shyness and unpleasantness he would
otherwise have experienced in joining a set of entire strangers.

Captain O'Connor was evidently a favorite in the regiment, for his
arrival was heartily greeted. He at once introduced the two lads to
their future comrades, took them to the colonel, looked after their
quarters, and made them at home. In their absence he spoke warmly in
favor of Ralph. "You will find Conway a first-rate young fellow. He
has seen something of the world, has been carried out to the West
Indies by a French privateersman, and has gone through a lot of
adventures. He is a bright, pleasant, good-tempered fellow. The other
is as green as grass, and has never been away from his mother's
apron-string. However, I do not think you will find him a bad sort of
fellow when he has got rid of his rawness. Don't be too hard upon him,
you boys. Remember easy does it, and don't be pushing your jokes too
far. He is not a fool and will come round in time."




CHAPTER VIII.

STARTLING NEWS.


Three weeks after Ralph's departure to join his regiment Mrs. Conway
received a letter which gave her a great shook. It was from Mrs.
Withers, and was as follows:

"MY DEAR MRS. CONWAY: I have very sad news to tell you. An event
has happened which will, I know, be as afflicting to you as it has
been to us. Our dear friend Mr. Penfold, who but three weeks ago
was so bright and happy with us in London, has passed away
suddenly. Up to the day before yesterday he seemed in his usual
health; but yesterday morning he did not appear at breakfast, and
the servant on going up to his room, found him sitting in a chair
by his bedside dead. The bed had not been slept in, and it appears
as if before commencing to undress he had been seized with a
sudden faintness and had sunk into the chair and died without
being able to summon assistance.

"His death is a terrible shock to us, as it will be to you. My
husband and myself have long been aware that our dear friend
suffered from disease of the heart, and that the doctor he
consulted in London had told him that his death might take place
at any moment. At the same time, he had been so bright and
cheerful in London, as indeed with us he was at all times, that
his death comes almost with as great a surprise to us as if we had
not known that he was in danger. Mr. Tallboys, the solicitor of
Weymouth who managed Mr. Penfold's affairs, called here last
night. The funeral is to take place on Thursday, and had Ralph
been in England he said that he should have written to him to come
down to it, which he could have done in time had he started
immediately he received the letter announcing the event; but as he
is over in Ireland, of course nothing can be done.

"He said that had Ralph come he should have suggested that you
also should be present at the reading of the will, but that as
matters stand he did not think there was any occasion to trouble
you. I should tell you that Mr. Tallboys appeared a good deal
worried, and one of his reasons for calling was to ask my husband
whether he knew where Mr. Penfold was in the habit of keeping his
papers. It seems that upon the day after his return from London
Mr. Penfold called upon him and took away his will, saying that he
wanted to look over it, as he had two or three slight alterations
that he wanted to make, and he would bring it back in the course
of a day or two and get him to make the changes required. From
that time Mr. Penfold had not been in Weymouth, and, indeed, had
scarcely left the house except to come down here; for, as he said
to my husband, he did not feel quite himself, and supposed it was
a reaction after his late dissipations.

"Mr. Tallboys, who is one of the executors named in the will, had
searched for it in the afternoon among Mr. Penfold's papers; but
found that it and several other documents - leases and so on - of
importance were all missing. He had asked Miss Penfold if she knew
where her brother was in the habit of keeping important papers;
but she replied shortly that she knew nothing whatever of her
brother's business matters. He had, therefore, driven over to ask
my husband, knowing how intimate he had been with poor Herbert. He
knew, it seems, that Mr. Penfold had some secure place for such
papers, because he had one day spoken to him upon the subject,
saying it would be more prudent for him to leave the leases in the
strong-box in his office at Weymouth. But Herbert replied that
they were stowed away in a far safer place, and that he had not
the least fear in the world of their being stolen.

"Now, this is just what my husband knew also. Once when they were
chatting together Herbert mentioned that the house like many other
old mansions contained a secret chamber. He said: 'I can't tell
you where it is, Withers; for although it is never likely to be
used again, the knowledge of this hiding-place has been passed
down from generation to generation as a family secret. I gave a
solemn promise never to reveal it when I was first informed of its
existence; and although in these days there is no occasion to hide
priests or conspirators, I do not consider myself released from
the promise I gave. Possibly some day the hiding-place may prove
of value again. There may be a price set on the head of a Penfold,
who can tell? Anyhow it is likely to remain a secret as long as
the old house stands; and in the meantime I find it a useful place
for keeping things that I do not want lying about.' Mr. Tallboys
appeared very vexed at hearing what my husband said.

"'It is very strange.' he said, 'that sensible men will do such
foolish things. It is probable enough that Herbert Penfold has
placed this will in the hiding-place you speak of, and in that
case I foresee that we shall have no end of trouble. I know you
are both aware of the nature of Mr. Penfold's will, and you may be
sure that if those sisters of his also know of it - whether they do
or not I can't say - they will bitterly resent it. I know enough of
the family history to know that. It was evident by Miss Penfold's
answer to me to-day that either she does not know the secret of
this hiding-place - which is of course possible - or that if she
does know she does not mean to say. I should imagine myself that
she does know.

"'Had Herbert Penfold been of age when his father died it is
likely enough that he only as head of the family would have been
told by his father of its existence; but you see he was but a lad
at that time, while the Miss Penfolds were women, and were
therefore probably informed of the secret. It is very awkward,
extremely awkward. Of course the will may turn up between this and
the funeral; but if not I hardly know what steps had best be
taken. If those Penfold women have made up their minds that this
will shall not see the light they are likely to carry it through
to the end. My husband quite agreed with Mr. Tallboys about that,
and so do I. I have never been able to abide them, though, as my
husband says, they are good women in many respects, and always
ready to help in parish matters. Still I can't abide them, nor I
am sure have you any reason to do so; for when I and my husband
first came here we learned a good deal of the part they had played
in a certain matter, and that of course set me altogether against
them.

"Of course, my dear Mrs. Conway, I do not wish to alarm you about
the will; still you ought to know how things stand, and my husband
this morning asked me to tell you all there was to tell. I hope in
a few days to be able to write and give you better news. Things
may not be as they fear."

Mrs. Conway sat for a long time with this letter before her. She had
not read it straight through, but after glancing at the first few
lines that told of the death of Herbert Penfold she had laid it aside,
and it was a long time before she took it up again. He had been the
love of her youth; and although he had seemingly gone for so many
years out of her life, she knew that when she had found how he had all
this time watched over her and so delicately aided her, and that for
her sake he was going to make Ralph his heir, her old feeling had been
revived. Not that she had any thought that the past would ever return.
His letters indeed had shown that he regarded his life as approaching
its end; but since the receipt of that letter she had always thought
of him with a tender affection as one who might have been her husband
had not either evil fate or malice stepped in to prevent it.

The fortnight they had spent in London had brought them very close
together. He had assumed the footing of a brother, but she had felt
that pleasant and kind as he was to all the rest of the party it was
for her sake alone that this festivity had been arranged. They had had
but one talk together alone, and she had then said that she hoped the
expressions he had used in his letter to her with reference to his
health were not altogether justified, for he seemed so bright and
well. He had shaken his head quietly and said:

"It is just as well that you should know, Mary. I have seen my
physician since I came up to town, and I don't think it will last much
longer. A little time ago I did not wish it to last, now I should be
glad to go on until I can see my little scheme realized; but I am
quite sure that it is not to be. Anyhow I am ready to go when I am
summoned, and am happy in the thought that the few people I care for
are all in a fair way to be happy. Don't cry, dear. I don't want a
single cloud to hang over our memories of this time. I am happier than
I have ever been in my life, and I want you and all of them to be very
happy too. I have set my mind upon that, and if I see a cloud on your
face it will spoil it all."

Still in spite of this she had hoped the doctor might have taken too
gloomy a view of the case, and that Herbert Penfold's death might yet
be a distant event.

And now it was all over. Herbert Penfold was dead. The heart that had
beat so kindly for her was silenced forever. It was then a long time
before Mrs. Conway recovered sufficiently from her emotion to take up
the letter again. She did so with an air almost of indifference. She
had learned the news, and doubtless all this long epistle contained
many details of comparatively little interest. But as she read her air
of languid grief gave way to an expression of keen interest, and she
skimmed through the last page or two with anxious haste. Then she
reread it more slowly and carefully, and then throwing it on the table
stood up and walked up and down the little room.

So these women, who had as she believed ruined her life and Herbert's,
were now going to attack her son and rob him of his rights. They
should not do it if she could help it. Never! Mary Vernon had been a
high-spirited girl, and, although those who had only known her through
her widowhood would have taken her for a gentle and quiet woman, whose
thoughts were entirely wrapped up in her boy, the old spirit was alive
yet, as with head thrown back, and an angry flush on her cheeks, she
declared to herself that she would defend Ralph's rights to the last.
How or in what manner she did not ask; she only knew that those who
would defraud him were her old enemies.

Had it been otherwise the fact that they were Herbert's sisters would
have softened her toward them; now that fact only added to the
hostility she bore them. They, his nearest relations of blood, had
ruined his life; now they would defeat his dying wishes. It should not
be if she could help it. She would fight against it to the last day of
her life. There was of course nothing to be done yet. Nothing until
she heard again. Nothing until she knew that the discovery of the will
was given up as hopeless. Then it would be time for her to do
something.

The thought barely occurred to her that the loss of this will might
make material difference in her own circumstances, and that the
allowance Herbert Penfold had made her, and which he had doubtless
intended she should continue to receive, would cease. That was so
secondary a consideration that it at present gave her no trouble. It
was of Ralph she thought. Of Ralph and Herbert. Were the plans that
the latter had made - the plans that had given happiness to the last
year of the life of him who had known so little happiness - to be
shattered? This to her mind was even more than the loss that Ralph
would suffer.

"They may have destroyed the will," she said at last; "but if not I


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