Herman Ludolphus Prior.

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h's, said to Chicliester. He had him up for read-
ing fast in chapel. He needn't have done it either,
for it was the headmaster's look-out."

"I wonder if you are ever serious, Mr. Charles?"

" Awfully often, Miss Secretan. I really am
though. I will be serious about slang, if you like.
Of course, it's a bad look-out if you can talk nothing
else ; you'd be shut up on all kinds of topics. But I
don't like even a girl to be so awfully on the highs
that she can't understand a slang word or two when
she hears it. Of course, she needn't make it her
mother-tongue ; perhaps that's the worst of the two.
But . . . Hullo ! I say ; look out. That's cool, too! "

We had descended High Street, and were enter-
ing George Street, which joins it at right angles.
As Charles spoke, a gig drove rapidly past us, the
wheel just grazing Louisa's shoulder, who was
walking in the road. The driver was of the " heavy
swell" order, as Charles would have called it; a
vulgar, over-dressed man, with chains dangling about
him, and his fat cheeks puffed out with a cigar.
He offered no apology for the alarm his rudeness
had caused us, but kept on at the same pace.

A few yards down the street was a fine Newfound-


land dog, directly in the way of the gig, which it
seemed not to have heard. The driver, on his part,
evidently perceived the animal ; but instead of pulling
up, or passing it one side, he brought the gig full
upon it, giving the dog, as its only chance of escape,
a cut with his whip. This was of course too late ;
the wheel was over it ; and in a few seconds the
poor brute was writhing in agony in the road, the
gig continuing its pace down the street.

There was a loud cry of " Shame " from the
bystanders. From all, except Charles. As the
ruffian drove off, our companion broke away from us
like a pebble out of a child's catapult, and gave
chase ; he had been on the point of doing so at the
outrage to ourselves. Charles was a fast runner, but
the street was level here, and the gig had a consider-
able start. If the fellow could have cleared the
street, and emerged into the open esplanade beyond,
he would probably have got off. As it was, there
was an opportune block at this outlet, one side of the
road being up for repairs, and the other in temporary
possession of some fish-carts. Charles saw his
advantage. A few seconds brought him to the
horse's head, where he held a tight grip on the rein.


" Come, young 'un, get out of that," exclaimed
the driver, and shifting his cigar to one side of his
mouth. He seemed a little uneasy, notwithstanding.

" I beg your pardon, sir," said Charles. " I
shall not get out . of it, nor will you either, until I
have your card. You're a thorough blackguard."

" What's he been and done, Master ? " asked the
proprietor of the fish-carts.

" Done ! Why he's killed a Newfoundland
behind there ; drove straight over the dog. He nearly
knocked down one of our little girls just before."

" Dogs and little girls must look out for them-
selves," said the driver, still smoking ; " and so
must you, my fine fellow. Now, you just let that
horse go, or I'll leave a mark of my whip upon you
which your Mamma won't wash out in a hurry."

" And if you do," said Charles, " I shall back
you dead into the lamp-post, there." And seeing the
whip raised, be began to suit the action to the word.

" Don't do that, young Master," said the fish-
man, " or maybe it'll be deaderer work than you'd
care for. He shan't get off, I'se warrant him.
Come, sir," he continued, addressing the driver,
" you'd best give the young gentleman what he asks."


" What does lie want my card for, then ? It
wasn't his dog."

"No, it was not," said Charles. "But I intend
to find out whose dog it was. And when I do, the
owner shall know who and what you are."

" Oh ! I knows him well enough," said a voice
from the crowd, which had now closed up behind,
effectually blocking all egress that way. " He's a
stock-broking swell, or something of that sort,
lodging in the Crescent here. 'Tain't the first time
he's been at this game. He nearly took off our
guvinor's wheel with that 'oss of his last week.
I'd like to put a pain in his skull, I know ;
and hang me if I don't go and do it in another

The driver of the gig, coward no less than bully,
saw that matters were becoming critical, and handed
Charles the required card. " Mr. Jarvis Jones ;
"Warnford Court." He was then allowed to depart,
not without some murmurs from the bystanders. It
was probably fortunate for him that a heap of stones,
which the road-menders had recently placed on the
es} lauade, were not deposited on the George Street
side instead.


The above scene hardly occupied two minutes,
and Charles hurried back to the dog. The poor
animal was cruelly cut in the head ; and it seemed
suffering from some internal injury as well.

" Does any one know whose it is ? " asked

" Ralph Scriven's," said a half dozen voices.

" Where does he live ? "

" Next nigh the Row," was answered in the same
way. "Just beyond the first cottages on the beach,
sir," added another voice, respectfully. "You turn
down by the lamp-post, and it's about two hundred
yards or the like ; not fur along."

The house indicated lay in the fishing quarter of
Hastings, between the end of George Street and the
East Hill. Charles lifted the moaning dog tenderly
and gently, and carried it to the door, which was
opened by Ralph himself; a weather-beaten, hale
fisherman, of fifty-five or thereabouts. He seemed
not to have heard of the accident.

" Be that your piece of work, Master ? " he asked,
fiercely enough.

"No, Ralph, not mine ; 'though I'm as sorry for
it as if it were. I've got the scoundrel's name for


you, though ; but that'll do afterwards. Where shall
I put him, Ralph ? "

" Thankee, sir, here on our bed. The old woman
won't mind ; will ye, Missus ? "

"Lor' bless ye, sir," said the wife, who was
seated by the fire, "the creature's been like a bairn
to us both, ever sin' we lost our own. Haven't it,
Ralph ? How were it dooed, sir ? "

" A blackguard fellow in a gig, drove straight
upon it. The horse knocked it down, I expect, and
then it got crushed under the wheel ; and I'm afraid
that's the worst of the two. But we shall know when
the dog-doctor comes : I've sent for him. He's in
awful pain somewhere ; ain't ye, poor old boy ?
What's his name, Ralph?"

" Ben, sir. Same as our little boy's that were."

"I suppose we'd best wait till Purvis comes; he
can't be many minutes. So h, Ben, I know it's
very bad for you, poor fellow." Here Ben made a
feeble attempt at licking the hand that was caressing

" He be 'most a Christian, I do think, sir," said
the wife. "Do you remember when Sally sent the
two childer down "


" Tliat's my younkerer sister, sir, as is married
hard by," interposed Kalph.

" Sally was took sudden like one evening, after
baby was born, and there were nobody to send down
but the two ween bits of things. They come down,
hand in hand ; but when they get to the head of the
passage there were the dog outside our door, and
they were afeard to come down. At last the dog
sees 'em ; and then he don't bark or nothing, but
taps at the door with his paw, just as if he were
sensible. So th' master gets up' and finds the
childer there, and brings them indoors."

" You'd be living in Hastings, sir," asked Ralph
of Charles. " I don't take mind of your look though,

" I'm only at home in the holidays. We live up
on the cliff here ; Mr. Armitage's. Ah ! here is
Mr. Purvis."

The doctor came in, but saw at a glance there
was nothing to be done. " The animal was dying,"
he said. "Probably, a rib was broken, and had
pierced some vital part ; but the evident extreme
tenderness would make it impossible to examine.
Any operation would be mere useless torture."


" It might be better to shoot him," Charles said.
"But I suppose you wouldn't have the heart to do
it, Ralph ? "

"It's hardly necessary," said Mr. Purvis. "He
can't last more than half-an-hour or so, and the
suffering is not so much now. It would ease the
pain a little if you removed the hair on the side and

Ralph's wife was a cripple, fixed to her chair with
rheumatism. It was arranged accordingly that the
two girls should return home, while Charles and myself
remained to give the poor animal such relief as we
could. Ralph was as helpless as a baby. He sat
at the head of the bed, with two great drops gather-
ing from time to time under his eyelids. As they
rose to the lids, he dashed them out with his hard
knuckles. The dog seemed to try and catch his
master's eye ; when he did so, he wagged his tail
feebly enough now in token of recognition.

Meanwhile Charles took the scissors ; he preferred
using them himself. The hair was thick, and in
parts clotted with blood, and it was a somewhat
difficult task removing it ; but Charles did it deftly
and well, almost with a woman's lightness of touch.

VOL. i. 7


It was sad pain, but Ben never shrunk from it.
When it was done, the tail moved again, and a
strangely human look came into the rough honest
face. It would not have been a great stretch of fancy
to call it a smile.

And so all through the fomenting. I held the
basin with boiling water, while Charles wrung out
the flannels blistering his own hands with the
heat and kept laying them on the wounded side.
And as often as he did so, the dog would give one of
his grateful looks again. About twenty minutes went
on in this way, none of us speaking. The silence
was then broken by Ralph's wife ; who could see from
her chair all that passed. She was crying bitterly,
and I found it hard not to do the same. I should,
if Charles had not been there. The woman addressed
the latter :

" Mr. Armitage, sir, I think you said your name

"Yes, Mrs. Scriven."
" And, may be, ye're a scholar like, sir ? "
" Not so much of that as I ought to be, I'm afraid."
" Ye'll know though, whether it's said anywhere
that dumb creatures ain't no good after they die.


Lor', sir, I couldn't bide to think as he wouldn't meet
our little boy again ! They was allus such play-
fellows together ; and when the boy rin, the dog would
run too, and when he'd stand still, the dog'd stand.
And when he were took, sir that is, our Ben he
'ad his arm round the -dog's neck ; and now it's his
own turn come, poor fellow. Do you think, sir, I
mightn't say just a text, or summit in that way, to
him ? Look in his eyes, sir ; you can't say he don't
understand us."

" Hush, woman," said Ralph. " He haven't fur
to go now." As he spoke, poor Ben again wagged
his tail. But it was very, very feebly this time. And
a film now spread over his eyes, which till then had
been speakingly bright and intelligent.

"Give us a paw then, Ben," said Ralph, and
took one of the limp paws in his own huge palms.
Once more there was a slight, hardly perceptible
movement of the tail ; the extreme end just stirred.
A minute after, a shudder passed through the body.
Then it was all over.

Ralph rose and stood some time without speaking.
He then turned to Charles. " Now, sir, if you please,
you'll give me that man's name."


" For shame, Ralph," said the wife. " I can see
by yer eyne what ye're a-going to .do. Doan't ye give
him the name, sir; leastways, not till he's cool.
He'd half- throttle the man now, sir, if he came
across him. Ye didn't ought to have them thoughts,
Ralph ; with him lying afore you so peaceful and

" Don't let me see him no more then," said
Ralph, seizing his hat. "Put him away somewhere.
I shan't come back till it's done."

One of the neighbours helped, and Charles, with
his assistance, buried poor 'Ben in a garden behind
the house. The October sunset glinted over the
grave ; and when I revisited the spot a few Jays
afterwards, a rose-tree had been planted there,
covering it with a shower of crimson blossoms.

"Would you mind going down by the sea for a
few minutes," said Charles, as we left the cottage.
" It was rather close in there; besides ... I know
I'm a great fool, Miss Secretan, but I could cry like
a baby. Look what a splendid evening."

The sumet which had brightened poor Ben's
obsequies was even more beautiful now. From the
terrace-walk, or esplanr.cle, above the beach, a rippling



sea stretched to Beachy Head ; above this the clouds
were piled, Alp on Alp, with a heading of gold along
their edge, sharp and denned as an actual snow-line.
Through the rents and gaps of this mountain chain
was seen the sky-tinting behind ; shot with colours
like the inner plumage of a bird's wing.

" It's very awful," said Charles, after we had
taken some turns in silence.

" What is ? " I asked.

" Seeing anything die," Charles answered. " I
never did till just now."

"Were you not at home when " I paused,

fearing to awaken some painful memory.

" When our Mamma died, you were going to aay ?
No. I was sent for, but could not get home in time.
There was a boy died at Harrow, but I did not see
him. Oh ! Miss Secretan, I hope I shall not be a
coward. It looks so very awful, even in a poor
brute like that ; it is like the finger writing on the
King's Avail. What must it be for oneself ! It
makes everything so terribly real."

" But it is morbid to think of it in that way,
Mr. Charles. No doubt the time will come to each
of us. But we are not intended to realize it so



vividly beforehand. It would darken all life's enjoy-
ments to do so."

" It has done that already," said Charles, in a
low voice.

" How do you mean ? "

Charles made no answer for a minute or two.
There was a wooden capstan at the end of the walk,
where we were standing ; and on this he leant, keeping
his head bent down on his arms. At last he looked

"I will tell you, Miss Secretan ; I don't mind
your knowing. ' The time will come to each of us/
you have just said. So it will. But it will come to
me very soon indeed."

" Well, Mr. Charles," I replied, " I will be frank
with you in turn. Your sister has already told me
of this : of something you have seen, or fancied,
which has taken a considerable hold of you. Now
observe, I do not invite your confidence. If you give
it me, I will not laugh, and will hear you patiently.
But expect nothing beyond this ; no sympathies, no
sentiment. I can sympathize with our friends in the
Row there ; for they have a real grief, although a
humble one. But I cannot get up any feeling of the


looked : the sea, and the cliffs, and the old castle,
with the town under it, and this pretty Hastings
country behind. It was all so full of life ; that was
its great charm. There were lots of fishing-boats
coming in ; and people on the beach, and on the
cliffs, and everywhere ; and there were the bells
ringing, and the water sparkling, and a riding-party
just starting out from Breed Place ; everything
seemed alive and joyous, and myself most of all.
And then, in one minute, there came such a dark
heavy shadow over the whole. The sun, I knew,
shone, and the water sparkled as brightly as before ;
but that shadow blotted them all out. Miss Secretan,
it was the shadow of the vale of death !

" I had never thought of dying before. I don't
know that I have been more careless, or worse than
other fellows, about religion and things. But I had
never thought of my own dying as a real thing : a
fellow never does. But I did then."

" That some strong impression was made upon
you, I have no doubt," I said. " But still, even
admitting such to be the case, I do not see why it
should suggest anything so close at hand as you


" One cannot account for such presentiments, Miss
Secretan. As certainly as I was then brought face to
face with death, so certainly was the conviction
forced upon me that it would not be long in coming.
I do not believe that such vivid impressions can be
made upon one for nothing. How or when the end
will be I know not ; but something tells me that it is
not far distant."

"And in what way do you connect my name with
all this?" I asked.

"Oh! that is more easy of explanation. The
sort of shadow I have described seemed to pass away
after a few minutes ; but it left me with a feeling of
utter weariness and oppression. I don't think I have
ever before slept in the day-time ; but I did then .
My eyes closed in spite of myself, and I became
wholly unconscious. .It was not fainting or that sort
of thing, only a very deep sleep ; almost like what I
have read of people being in a trance. After some
little time, I actually began to dream.

" As I dreamt, I fancied that I was being driven
rapidly through some town : one that I have never
seen. The streets were thronged with people, and
there was a confused murmur of -voices. Soon these


kind for you. Here you are, strong and active, with
life opening before you ; yet you allow your imagina-
tion to play you tricks, and then come home with
this story of I know not what. For you seem to
have left even your sister considerably in the dark.
I did not even gather from her when this revelation
occurred. Was it since I have been at Hastings ? "

" No," he answered, " some weeks before you
came here. The revelation, as you call it, is nothing
very wonderful in itself; and, most certainly, you had
no connection with it. That is to say ... at
least . . . Good Heavens ! " Charles stopped short,
and became deadly pale.

" You must really go on now, Mr. Charles," I
said. "You have roused my curiosity on personal

It was some time before Charles answered.
"Whose brooch is that? "he then asked suddenly.

" This one I have on ?"

" Yes. I never saw you with it before."

" Probably not. I do not very often wear it.
But I can assure you it is honestly my own property."

" That is not your name braided in the hair inside
the brooch ? "


"Maria? Yes, it is. My own name, and my
own hair. My mother had it set there when I was a
baby, I believe, and wore it as long as she lived.
Since her death, I have used it occasionally. But
what has my poor brooch to do with what we were
talking about ? "

" The brooch ? Nothing at all. But the name has."

" Why, surely you knew that was my name ? "

" Never. I never heard it before. I did not even

know your initials. But I beg your pardon. Miss

Secretan," Charles added, more calmly. " You must

think me not only strange, but rude. Of course, you

have nothing really to do with it, but I was startled

for a moment by the coincidence. Pray forgive me."

" By all means, on condition you will not keep

my curiosity longer in suspense."

"There is not much to gratify it, after all. It
was, as I said, some weeks before you came to Has-
tings. I was out boating in the morning, a warm
beautiful day, at the end of May. There was hardly
any wind, and I kept the boat just lying off the shore.
I don't know that I have much notion of picturesque-
ness, or scenery, as Helen calls it ; but that morning
I couldn't help thinking how beautiful everything


became loud cries ; the faces round me looked angry
and menacing, and I fancied that I was the object at
which these looks were directed. What passed imme-
diately afterwards I do not know ; either there was
some rapid change in my dream, or I had forgotten
that part of it on awaking. What I next did recollect
was a feeling of horrible pressure on the head. Some-
thing was crushing it in like a vice. By degrees, I
saw what this was. I was lying on a bed, with
several persons round me, and a woman standing
immediately over me, squeezing my skull together
with hands which seemed sheathed in iron. I could
not see her face, in the position in which I lay ; and
the other persons there seemed not to see her at all.
But strangely enough, I knew her name ; ' Maria ; '
it seemed written up somewhere. At any rate, I
knew that was the name ; and that if I could only
pronounce it, those people would see her, and drive
her off. I knew that she was a murderess ; that she
was then killing me. My brain got on fire with the
pressure, and the blood boiled in my ears ; and yet,
do what I would, I could not speak the word which
would have saved me.

"At last, the agony of this became so intense


that it woke me up. I felt rather confused, and the
impression made upon me by what had preceded my
dream was as strong as it has continued ever since ;
hut otherwise I was much as usual. I saw that, while I
had been asleep, the boat had drifted with the current,
and I altered the sail to set her head right again.
As I did so, I discovered the explanation of one part
of my dream. The boat's name was painted on the
stern inside, ' The Maria.' I had not particularly
noticed this before, but it had doubtless been present
to my mind in some way during my sleep, and had
suggested ths word I was endeavouring to pronounce.
The rest of it was the heat, I expect.

" So that is the whole story, Miss Secretan ; and,
us I said before, I must apologize for having been
startled out of my propriety by the sight of your
name. You can understand that it recalled what I
then felt rather vividly ; although, if you were to try
your worst, you could never squeeze half so tight as
that young female was doing. I can assure you it
was horrible."

"No doubt of it," I said. "And now, Mr.
Charles, we ought to have been home long since.
I am glad to see you put a cheerful face on the


matter again. I have no doubt that say, six months
hence you will he enjoying a good laugh over all
your dreams and visions. Come, let us make an
entry of it. What is to-day ? Eleventh of October.
Very well." And I wrote accordingly on the fly-
leaf of a memorandum-book which I had with me,
"11 Oct. 18 . . See what Mr. Charles Armitage
thinks of his dream, this day six months."

110 "six MONTH'S HENCE.'


ON the day following the incidents of the last
chapter, I received my first, and only, scolding from
Mrs. Armitage. Prohably the reader may think I
had fairly earned it. At any rate, it was not so
objectionable as it might have been, considering who
administered it. The fact is, it was not directed
against myself.

Lessons were going on, and I had descended to
the sick-room ; as usual, in quest of some school
properties still remaining in the apartment of which
we had been dispossessed. It was a matter of
obvious prudence for these journeys downstairs to
be made by myself, rather than by my pupils. With
the latter, the errand had a tendency to lapse into
a quarter of an hour's talk.

On the present occasion, Mr. Fortescue was not


at his usual post. Helen, on the other hand, was
in the room ; also contrary to usage. She was not
acting as nurse or companion, but appeared to have
come in for some accidental purpose and been
detained. The persons formally in charge of the
invalid were Mrs. Armitage and the woman Burgess.
For the latter I had the same cordial and well-merited
aversion which seemed to be entertained for her by
every one else at Harcourt Villa.

I had unearthed the required volume of grammar,
or dictionary, or whatever it might be, and was
leaving the room, when I was detained by Mrs.
Armitage. I had not seen her since the occur-
rences of the day before. I did not always join the
family in the evening, and the schoolroom breakfast
was a separate institution.

" I am much concerned, Miss Secretan," said
my mistress, " at having to speak to you with some
displeasure. Pray sit down."

I complied, and wondered what was coming.

"I am greatly surprised to find," continued the
lady, " that you have been taking the children into
low company. You accompanied them into one of
the fishermen's cottages yesterday."


In justification, I explained briefly the cause of
our visit to poor Ralph.

" I do not at all see what you had to do with it,"
replied the careful parent. " The children are not
to be risked in such places, with fevers, and dirty
people, and bad language and all kinds of things,
merely because a dog gets run over."

" It did seem to me, Mem," interposed Burgess,

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Online LibraryHerman Ludolphus PriorSix months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 15)