G.A. Henty.

One of the 28th A Tale of Waterloo online

. (page 3 of 27)
Online LibraryG.A. HentyOne of the 28th A Tale of Waterloo → online text (page 3 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

does not like trusting himself in a pair-wheel trap."

"How far is it?"

"A matter of fifteen miles. It would be a lot shorter if you had got
off last night at the nearest point the coach goes to; but the master
told the coachman that he thought it would be pleasanter for you to
come on here than to arrive there tired and sleepy after dark."

"Yes, it will much more pleasant," Ralph said. "The road was very
dirty, and I should not like to arrive at a strange house with my
clothes all covered with dust, and so sleepy that I could hardly keep
my eyes open, especially as I hear that Mr. Penfold's sisters are
rather particular."

"Rather isn't the word," the driver said; "they are particular, and no
mistake. I don't believe as the master would notice whether the
carriage was dirty or clean; but if there is a speck of dirt about
they are sure to spot it. Not that they are bad mistresses; but they
look about all right, I can tell you, pretty sharp. I don't say that
it ain't as well as they do, for the master never seems to care one
way or the other, and lets things go anyhow. A nice gentleman he is,
but I don't see much of him; and he don't drive in the carriage not
once a month, and only then when he is going to the board of
magistrates. He just walks about the garden morning and evening, and
all the rest of the time he is shut up in the library with his books.
It's a pity he don't go out more."

"Are there any families about with boys?" Ralph asked.

"Not as I knows of. None of then that ever comes to the Hall, anyhow.
It's a pity there ain't some young ones there; it would wake the place
up and make it lively. It would give us a lot more work to do, I don't
doubt; but we shouldn't mind that. I have heard it used to be
different in the old squire's time, but it has always been so as long
as I can remember. I don't live at the house, but down at the village.
Jones he lives over the stables; and there ain't no occasion to have
more than one there, for there's only the two carriage-horses and

"How far is the sea from the house?"

"It's about half a mile to the top of the cliff, and a precious long
climb down to the water; but going round by Swanage - which is about
three miles - you can drive down close to the sea, for there are no
cliffs there."

There was little more said during the drive. From time to time the man
pointed out the various villages and country seats, and Ralph wondered
to himself how he should manage to pass the next three weeks. It
seemed that there would be nothing to do and no one to talk to. He had
always been accustomed to the companionship of lots of boys of his own
age, and during the holidays there was plenty of sailing and fishing,
so that time had never hung on his hands; the present prospect
therefore almost appalled him. However, he had promised his mother
that he would try to make the best of things; and he tried to assure
himself that after all three weeks or a month would be over at last.
After an hour and a half's drive they passed through a lodge gate into
a park, and in a few minutes drew up at the entrance to Penfold Hall.
An old servant came out.

"Will you come with me into the library, sir? Mr. Penfold is expecting
you. Your box will be taken up into your room."

Ralph felt extremely uncomfortable as he followed his conductor across
a noble hall, floored with dark polished oak, and paneled with the
same material. A door opened, and a servant announced "Master Conway."
A gentleman rose from his chair and held out his hand.

"I am glad to see you, Ralph Conway; and I hope your journey has been
a pretty comfortable one. It is very good of you to come such a long
distance to pay me a visit."

"Mother wanted me to, sir," Ralph said honestly. "I don't think - " and
he stopped.

"You don't think you would have come of your own accord, Ralph? No,
that is natural enough, my boy. At your age I am sure I should not
have cared to give up my holidays and spend them in a quiet house
among strangers. However, I wanted to see you, and I am very glad you
have come. I am an old friend of your mother's, you know, and so
desired to make the acquaintance of her son. I think you are like
her," he said, putting his hand on Ralph's shoulder and taking him to
the window and looking steadily at him.

"Other people have said so, sir; but I am sure I can't see how I
can be like her a bit. Mother is so pretty, and I am sure I am not
the least bit in the world; and I don't think it's nice for a boy to
be like a woman."

This was rather a sore point with Ralph, who had a smooth soft face
with large eyes and long eyelashes, and who had, in consequence, been
nicknamed "Sally" by his schoolfellows. The name had stuck to him in
spite of several desperate fights, and the fact that in point of
strength and activity he was fully a match for any boy of his own age;
but as there was nothing like derision conveyed by it, and it was
indeed a term of affection rather, than of contempt, Ralph had at last
ceased to struggle against it. But he longed for the time when the
sprouting of whiskers would obliterate the obnoxious smoothness of his
face. Mr. Penfold had smiled at his remark.

"I do not like girlish boys, Ralph; but a boy can have a girlish face
and yet be a true boy all over. I fancy that's your case.

"I hope so, sir. I think I can swim or run or fight any of the chaps
of my own age in the school; but I know I do look girlish about the
face. I have done everything I could to make my face rough. I have sat
in the sun, and wetted it with sea-water every five minutes, but it's
no use."

"I should not trouble about it. Your face will get manly enough in
time, you may be sure; and I like you all the better for it, my boy,
because you are certainly very like your mother. And now, Ralph, I
want you to enjoy yourself as much as you can while you are here. The
house itself is dull, but I suppose you will be a good deal out of
doors. I have hired a pony, which will be here to-day from Poole, and
I have arranged with Watson, a fisherman at Swanage, that you can go
out with him in his fishing-boat whenever you are disposed. It is
three miles from here, but you can ride over on your pony and leave it
at the little inn there till you come back. I am sorry to say I do not
know any boys about here; but Mabel Withers, the daughter of my
neighbor and friend the clergyman of Bilston, the village just outside
the lodge, has a pony, and is a capital rider, and I am sure she will
show you over the country. I suppose you have not had much to do with
girls?" he added with a smile at seeing a slight expression of dismay
on Ralph's face, which had expressed unmixed satisfaction at the first
items of the programme.

"No, sir; not much," Ralph said. "Of course some of my schoolfellows
have sisters, but one does not see much of them."

"I think you will get on very well together. She is a year or two
younger than you are, and I am afraid she is considered rather a
tomboy. She has been caught at the top of a tall tree examining the
eggs in a nest, and in many similar ungirl-like positions; so you
won't find her a dull companion. She is a great pet of mine, and
though she may not be as good a companion as a boy would be for you, I
am sure when you once get to know her you will find her a very good
substitute. You see, not having had much to do with boys, I am not
very good at devising amusement for you. I can only say that if there
is anything you would like to do while you are here you have only to
tell me, and if it be possible I will put you in the way of it."

"Thank you very much, sir. You are extremely kind," Ralph said
heartily; for with a pony and a boat it did seem that his visit would
not be nearly so dull as he had anticipated. "I am sure I shall get on

Just at his moment there was a knock at the door. It opened, and a
girl entered.

"You have just come at the right moment, Mabel," Mr. Penfold said as
she came in. "This is Ralph Conway, of whom I was speaking to you.
Ralph, this is Mabel Withers. I asked her to come in early this
morning so as to act as your guide round the place."

The boy and girl shook hands with each other. She was the first to

"So you are Ralph. I have been wondering what you would be like. Uncle
has been telling me you were coming. I like your looks, and I think
you are nice."

Ralph was taken rather aback. This was not the way in which his
schoolfellows' sisters had generally addressed him.

"I think you look jolly," he said; "and that's better than looking

"I think they mean the same thing," she replied; "except that a girl
says 'nice' and a boy says 'jolly.' I like the word 'jolly' best, only
I get scolded when I use it. Shall we go into the garden?"

Altogether Ralph Conway had a very much pleasanter time than he had
anticipated. Except at meals he saw little of the Miss Penfolds. His
opinion as to these ladies, expressed confidentially to Mabel Withers,
was the reverse of flattering.

"I think," he said, "that they are the two most disagreeable old cats
I have ever met. They hardly ever open their lips, and when they do it
is only to answer some question of their brother. I remember in a
fairy story there was a girl who whenever she spoke let fall pearls
and diamonds from her lips; whenever those women open their mouths I
expect icicles and daggers to drop out."

"They are not so bad as that," Mabel laughed. "I generally get on with
them very well, and they are very kind in the parish; and altogether
they are really not bad."

"Then their looks belie them horribly," Ralph said. "I suppose they
don't like me; and that would be all well enough if I had done
anything to offend them, but it was just as bad the first day I came.
I am sure Mr. Penfold does not like it. I can see him fidget on his
chair; and he talks away with me pretty well all the time we are at
table, so as to make it less awkward, I suppose. Well, I am stopping
with him, and not with them, that's one thing; and it doesn't make
much difference to me if they do choose to be disagreeable. I like him
immensely. He is wonderfully kind; but it would be awfully stupid work
if it weren't for you, Mabel. I don't think I could stand it if it
were not for our rides together."

The young people had indeed got on capitally from the first. Every day
they took long rides together, generally alone, although sometimes Mr.
Penfold rode with them. Ralph had already confided to the latter, upon
his asking him how he liked Mabel, that she was the jolliest girl that
he had ever met.

"She has no nonsensical girl's ways about her, Mr. Penfold; but is
almost as good as a boy to be with. The girls I have seen before have
been quite different from that. Some of them always giggle when you
speak to them, others have not got a word to say for themselves; and
it is awfully hard work talking to them even for a single dance.
Still, I like them better than the giggling ones."

"You see, Ralph, girls brought up in a town are naturally different to
one like Mabel. They go to school, and are taught to sit upright and
to behave discreetly, and to be general unnatural. Mabel has been
brought up at home and allowed to do as she liked, and she has
consequently grown up what nature intended her to be. Perhaps some day
all girls will be allowed the same chance of being natural that boys
have, and backboards and other contrivances for stiffening them and
turning them into little wooden figures will be unknown. It will be a
good thing, in my opinion, when that time arrives."

Ralph was often down at the Rectory, where he was always made welcome,
Mr. Withers and his wife being anxious to learn as much of his
disposition as they could. They were well satisfied with the result.

"I fancy I know what is in Penfold's mind," the rector had said to his
wife a few days after Ralph came down. "I believe he has already quite
settled it in his mind that some day Mabel and this lad shall make a
match of it."

"How absurd, John. Why, Mabel is only a child."

"Quite so, my dear; but in another three or four years she will be a
young woman. I don't mean that Penfold has any idea that they are
going to take a fancy to each other at present - only that they will do
so in the future. You know he has said that he intends to leave a
slice of his fortune to her, and I have no doubt that this lad will
get the main bulk of his property. I have often told you about his
engagement to the lad's mother, and how the breaking it off has
affected his whole life. It is natural that a lonely man as _he_ is
should plan for others. He has no future of his own to look forward
to, so he looks forward to some one else's. He has had no interest in
life for a great many years, and I think he is making a new one for
himself in the future of our girl and this lad.

"As far as I have seen of the boy I like him. He is evidently a
straightforward, manly lad. I don't mean to say that he has any
exceptional amount of brains, or is likely to set the Thames on fire;
but if he comes into the Penfold property that will not be of much
importance. He seems bright, good-tempered, and a gentleman. That is
quite good enough to begin with. At any rate, there is nothing for us
to trouble about. If some day the young people get to like each other
the prospect is a good one for the child; if not, there's no harm
done. At present there can be no objection to our yielding to
Penfold's request and letting them ride about the country together.
Mabel is, as you say, little more than a child, and it is evident that
the lad regards her rather in the light of a boy companion than as a

"She is a bit of a tomboy, you know, Mary, and has very few girlish
notions or ideas. They evidently get on capitally together, and we
need not trouble our heads about them but let things go their own way
with a clear conscience."

At the end of the time agreed upon Ralph returned home.

"And so, Ralph, you have found it better than you expected?" his
mother said to him at the conclusion of his first meal at home.

"Much better, mother. Mr. Penfold is awfully kind, and lets one do
just what one likes. His sisters are hateful women, and if I had not
been staying in the house I should certainly have played them some
trick or other just to pay them out. I wonder why they disliked me so
much. I could see it directly I arrived; but, after all, it didn't
matter much, except just at meals and in the evening. But though Mr.
Penfold was so kind, it would have been very stupid if it had not been
for Mabel Withers. We used to ride out or go for walks together every
day. She was a capital walker, and very jolly - almost as good as a
boy. She said several times that she wished she had been a boy, and I
wished so too. Still, of course, mother, I am very glad I am back.
There is no place like home, you know; and then there are the fellows
at school, and the games, and the sea, and all sorts of things; and
it's a horrid nuisance to think that I have got to go down there
regularly for my holidays. Still, of course, as you wish it, I will do
so; and now that I know what it is like it won't be so bad another
time. Anyhow, I am glad I have got another ten days before school

The following morning Ralph went down to the beach. "Why, Master
Conway," an old fisherman said, "you are a downright stranger. I have
missed you rarely."

"I told you I was going away, Joe, and that I shouldn't get back until
the holidays were nearly over."

"I know you did," the fisherman replied. "Still it does seem strange
without you. Every time as I goes out I says to Bill, 'If Master Conway
was at home he would be with us to-day, Bill. It don't seem no ways
natural without him.' And there's been good fishing, too, this season,
first rate; and the weather has been just what it should be."

"Well, I am back now, Joe, anyhow; and I have got ten days before
school begins again, and I mean to make the most of it. Are you going
out to-day?"

"At four o'clock," the fisherman said. "Daylight fishing ain't much
good just now; we take twice as many at night."

"No trouble with the Frenchies?"

"Lord bless you I ain't seen a French sail for months. Our cruisers
are too sharp for them; though they say a good many privateers run in
and out of their ports in spite of all we can do, and a lot of our
ships get snapped up. But we don't trouble about them. Why, bless your
heart, if one of them was to run across us they would only just take
our fish, and as likely as not pay us for them with a cask or two of
spirits. Fish is a treat to them Frenchies; for their fishing boats
have to keep so close over to their own shores that they can't take
much. Besides, all their best fishermen are away in the privateers,
and the lads have to go to fight Boney's battles with the Austrians or
Russians, or Spanish or our chaps, or else to go on board their ships
of war and spend all their time cooped up in harbor, for they scarce
show now beyond the range of the guns in their forts. Well, will you
come this evening?"

"Yes, I think so, Joe. My mother doesn't much care about my being out
at night, you know; but as I have been away all this time to please
her, I expect she will let me do what I like for the rest of the

"Don't you come if your mother don't like it, Master Conway; there is
never no good comes of boys vexing their mothers. I have known
misfortune to follow it over and over again. Boys think as they know
best what's good for them; but they don't, and sooner or later they
are sure to own it to themselves."

"I shouldn't do it if I knew she really didn't like it, Joe; but I
don't think she does mind my going out with you at any time. She knows
she can trust you. Beside, what harm could come of it? You never go
out in very rough weather."

"Pretty roughish sometimes, Master Conway."

"Oh, yes, pretty rough; but not in a gale, you know. Beside, the
Heartsease could stand a goodish gale. She is not very fast, you know,
but she is as safe as a house."

"She is fast enough," the old fisherman said in an injured tone. "But
you young gentlemen is never content unless a boat is heeling over,
gunnel under, and passing everything she comes across. What's the good
of that ere to a fisherman? He goes out to catch fish, not to strain
his craft all over by running races against another. Now an hour
faster or slower makes no difference, and the Heartsease is fast
enough for me, anyhow."

"No, she isn't, Joe. I have heard you use bad language enough when
anything overhauls and passes her on the way back to port."

"Ay, that may be," the fisherman admitted; "and on the way home I
grant you that a little more speed might be an advantage, for the
first comer is sure to get the best market. No, the Heartsease ain't
very fast, I own up to that; but she is safe and steady, and she has
plenty of storage room and a good roomy cabin as you can stand upright
in, and needn't break your back by stooping as you have to do on board
some craft I could name."

"That's true enough, Joe," the boy said.

"But what's more, she's a lucky boat; for it's seldom that she goes
out without getting a good catch."

"I think that's more judgment than luck, Joe; though there may be some
luck in it too."

"I don't know about that, Master Conway. Of course one wants a sharp
eye to see where the shoals are moving; but I believes in luck. Well,
sir, shall I see you again before the afternoon?"

"I don't much expect so, Joe. I have got to call at some other places,
and I don't suppose I shall have time to get down before. If I am
coming I shall be sure to be punctual; so if I am not here by four, go
off without me."

Mrs. Conway made no objection when Ralph proffered his request. He had
sacrificed the greater part of his holidays to carrying out her
wishes, and paying a visit to Mr. Penfold; and although she did not
like his being out all night fishing, she could not refuse his
request; and, indeed, as she knew that Joe Knight was a steady man and
not fond of the bottle, there was no good reason why she should
object. She, therefore, cheerfully assented, saying at the same time,
"I will pack a basket for you before you start, Ralph. There is a nice
piece of cold meat in the house, and I will have that and a loaf of
bread and some cheese put up for you. I know what these fishing
excursions are; you intend to be back at a certain time, and then the
wind falls, or the tide turns, or something of that sort, and you
can't make the harbor. You know what a fright you gave me the very
first time you went out fishing with Joe Knight. You were to have been
back at five o'clock in the afternoon, and you did not get in until
three o'clock the next morning."

"I remember, mother; and there you were on the quay when we came in. I
was awfully sorry about it."

"Well, I have learned better since, Ralph; and I know now that there
is not necessarily any danger, even if you don't come back by the time
I expect you. And of course each time I have fidgeted and you have
come back safe, I have learned a certain amount of sea-knowledge, and
have come to know that sailors and fishermen are not accountable for
time; and that if the wind drops or tide turns they are helpless in
the matter, and have only to wait till a breeze comes up again."

"I think, mother, you ought to like my going out at night better than
in the daytime."

"Why, Ralph?"

"Because, mother, if I go out in the daytime and don't get back until
after dark, you worry yourself, and having no one to talk to, sit here
wondering and wondering until you fancy all sorts of things. Now, if I
go out in the evening, and I don't come back in the morning at the
hour you expect, you see that it is fine and bright, and that there is
nothing to make you uneasy; or if you do feel fidgety, you can walk
down to the beach and talk to the boatmen and fishermen, and of course
they can tell you at once that there's nothing to worry about, and
very likely point the boat out to you in the distance."

"Well, Ralph, perhaps that is so, although I own I never looked at it
in that light before."



"There's a nice breeze," Ralph said as he joined the fisherman at the
appointed hour.

"Yes, it's just right; neither too light nor too heavy. It's rather
thick, and I shouldn't be surprised if we get it thicker; but that
again don't matter." For in those days not one ship plowed the waters
of our coast for every fifty that now make their way along it. There
were no steamers, and the fear of collision was not ever in the minds
of those at sea.

"Where's Bill, Joe?"

"The young scamp!" the fisherman said angrily. "Nothing will do for
him but to go a-climbing up the cliffs this morning; and just after
you left us, news comes that the young varmint had fallen down and
twisted his foot, and doctor says it will be a fortnight afore he can
put a boot on. Then the old woman began a-crying over him; while, as I
told her, if any one ought to cry it would be me, who's got to hire
another boy in his place to do his work. A touch of the strap would be
the best thing for him, the young rascal!"

"You are not going to take another boy out to-night are you, Joe?"

"No, Master Conway, I knows you like a-doing things. You have been out
enough with me to know as much about it as Bill, and after all there
ain't a very great deal to do. The trawl ain't a heavy one, and as I
am accustomed to work it with Bill I can do it with you."

The Heartsease was a good-sized half-decked boat of some twenty-six
feet long and eight feet beam. She was very deep, and carried three
tons of stone ballast in her bottom. She drew about six feet of water.
She had a lot of freeboard, and carried two lug-sails and a small

They got in the small boat and rowed off to her.

"There was no call for you to bring that basket, Master Conway. I know
you are fond of a fish fried just when it is taken out of the water;
and I have got bread and a keg of beer, to say nothing of a mouthful
of spirits in case we get wet. Not that it looks likely we shall, for
I doubts if there will be any rain to-night I think there will be more
wind perhaps, and that it will get thicker; that's my view of the

They sailed straight out to sea. Joe had fitted his boat to be worked
with the aid of a boy only. He had a handy winch, by which he hoisted
his heavy lug-sails, and when the weather was rough hauled up his
trawls. Of these he carried two, each fourteen feet long, and fished

Online LibraryG.A. HentyOne of the 28th A Tale of Waterloo → online text (page 3 of 27)