Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

fusion. It was so sweet to me, so inexpressibly sweet to hear these praises of my dear dead father; this unexpected testimony to his excellence was infinitely gratifying; I could not suppress the fervid “thank you " which rose to my lips.

“Thanks for what?" inquired my guest.

“I really think you must, after all, be my dear captain's son. People do take another name sometimes for family reasons. I have myself a cousin, né Hyde, who, to please a rich godfather, has taken the less euphonious name of Jackson. Such a likeness could scarcely be accidental.

“Captain Hyde," I said, “ will you forgive me if I ask you to pursue this conversation no further—at present ? I confess that I am in a difficulty, which I am not sure that I have a right to explain to you, an utter stranger. And yet you were my-Captain Vassall's friend, so I may not call you stranger, though certainly you and I never met before to-day; also, young as I am, I know that I am speaking with a gentleman. I come, captain, to summon you to dinner; the snack you had in old Peter's cottage will scarcely have impaired your appetite."

“By all means,” he replied; “I own that I shall be glad to dine. I think you said you were quite alone; otherwise, I am scarcely in dinner-table trim."

“Had I not, fortunately for myself, though unfortunately for you, captain, had you for my guest, my Christmas dinner must have been eaten in solitary state."

We did ample justice to Rebecca's good cheer, but when the repast was over, we were both so tired and dead beat that we fell asleep without any regard to conventionalities. I begged the captain, as soon as I saw him nodding, .in spite of himself, to take the sofa, while I reposed myself in dear Margery's chair, and was speedily dreaming over again, though in sundry fantastic disguise, all the exciting adventures of the morning. Once more the lifeboat was being manned; once more I was tossing on the surging billows with the salt spray in my face: then the scene changed, and I was sailing on the Lake of Como, with Lady Olive, in a little cockleshell of a boat made of mother-of-pearl, with silken sails, and silver oars set with diamonds. Suddenly a storm broke! the wind raved; it blew; it rained; it thundered; and a horrible darkness came down from the mountains and gathered round us, only a pale phosphorescent glimmer lay in our wake, and just about our bark. And then we struck on a rock, and the black water poured over the sides of the fairy boat, and the silken sails were rent to pieces, and we were both struggling in just such giant-waves as I had battled with a few hours back off the Tarbutt Rock. And as I snatched at Lady Olive's long black hair, she shrieked and turned

into a dreadful scaly sea-monster. And awful peals of thunder echoed from the mountains round.

I awoke with a start to find I had been asleep nearly two hours, and that the thunder was the noise of an avalanche of coals and wood, with which Rebecca had just replenished the slowly dying fire. My guest was still in a sound slumber, and, as I still felt drowsy, I dozed off again, and slept tranquilly, without any particular dreams or nightmares, till Rebecca awoke me once more, purposely, I believe, by clattering the fire-irons.

“Dear me, Rebecca, what time is it?" I asked, feeling suddenly wide awake.

“Why, it's getting on for ten o'clock, Master Hugh ; at least it's full half-past nine. Will you have tea or supper when the strange gentleman wakes? He has had more than four hours of it, and he has been as fast as a church, though I don't think it is particularly complimentary to any church to make such a comparison."

“We'll have tea-supper, Rebecca—a sort of high-tea,' you know. We'll try the mince-pies that we did not touch at dinner-time, chiefly because we got stalled on your pudding, which Captain Hyde declares is the best he ever tasted. But I am afraid you

have been very lonely all this while, “biding your lane,' as dear granny would have said.”

“Well, Master Hugh,” said Rebecca, turning very pink, “I was Rot to say alone. A friend came to see me-Jem Flower, you know, one of the under-gardeners. It was he that Mrs. Miller sent with the fruit and the sweet things this morning; she knows we are friends like, and Jem promised to come down this evening and cheer me up a bit, for I do feel dull, thinking of them who are gone, and a house must feel eerie-like the day after two corpses have been borne out of it. So he bas been sitting with me ever since I carried your dinner out; I thought you would not mind."

The last sentence was added abruptly, as if the maiden had just recollected that I was now the person in authority at the Gatehouse.

“ Mind! No. I am right glad you had such good company. Jem Flower is a nice fellow ; I've had many a talk with him about standard roses and bulbs, and I was surprised to find how much he knew."

Jem's knowledgeable, that's what he is,” said Rebecca with emphasis. “See ! the captain is waking up, Mr. Hugh; I'll make some coffee at once."

The captain, indeed, was awaking with many yawns, at the first not being able to make out where he was. Of course he offered no end of apologies for what he called his ill-manners in falling asleep in such unsocial fashion. I hastened to assure him that I had slept as long and as soundly as himself, and to beg that while he honoured me with his company he would do exactly as he liked, and make himself comfortable without hesitation or ceremony.

He promised me that he would, and soon afterwards Rebecca came in with her fragrant coffee and the rest of the “high-tea,” in which I had proposed that we should indulge ; and we settled ourselves once more at the table, neither of us feeling at all like going early to bed. I told Rebecca to fasten up the house as soon as Jem went away, and to leave us the kettle and a scuttle full of coals, and go to bed as soon as she liked, for we could wait on ourselves very well for the rest of the evening. Nothing loth, Rebecca bade us good-night, and my guest and I were left to ourselves.

CHAPTER XXVIII.—CAPTAIN HYDE'S REVELATIONS. “ Should you mind telling me all you know about Captain Vassall ?” I asked, when my new friend and I had finished our repast, and I had furnished him with the requisites for “a smoke," which I felt sure must be essential to his comfort.

All I know? Well, I could hardly do that to-night, unless we sat up till morning, and then something would be left untold. But I can answer any questions you wish to ask.”

“When did you first know Captain Vassall ? "

“It is five-and-twenty years ago and more since I first knew him. I ran away from home and went to sea when I was a lad ; that was how I made his acquaintance. I will tell you how it was if you like.”

“There is nothing I should like better if you are not too tired.”

“No, I am not particularly tired; I should not go to sleep again if I went to bed yet awhile, and I had rather not lie awake, tossing from side to side and brooding over my misfortunes, which I shall do the minute I am left alone. For a man who was actually shipwrecked this morning I think I am wonderfully jolly ; but losing my ship is a serious matter, though, since no lives are lost, I will not complain. The great loss falls upon myself, for which I am devoutly thankful; I was chief proprietor, you see, as well as captain. I meant this to be my last voyage ; now I shall have to turn to with a will again. I am not ruined, but I am all the worse, considerably the worse, through the loss of the Coromandel."

“ Was she insured ?”

“Yes; I am glad to say she was, though not to the full amount. And some of the cargo we landed Bordeaux, and some things may possibly be recovered from the wreck. Things are not so bad but that they might be worse, thank God! Indeed, I have so much to thank Him for that I don't know where to begin.”

“Is there any one who will be anxious about you ?

“My little girl would be anxious enough did she guess what has happened. But she scarcely expected me home so soon, and I shall telegraph to her the first thing to-morrow morning. She will get the message long before there is a chance of her hearing of the wreck.”

“ You are a married man, then?' “I am a widower, with one child. Shall I tell you my story now?” “I am longing to hear it.”

“It is a very simple one, and will scarcely interest you, I fear. Well! I was the eldest son of a man of good family and of good position. My father was also a wealthy man, and his estate was one of the finest in Berkshire-my county. But the entail had been broken in his grandfather's time, and only one small portion of the estate remained unentailed. My mother died when I was quite a child; I can only dimly remember her. After her death my father doated on me. He petted me and indulged me in every whim. I am afraid I was that disagreeable, obnoxious animal-a spoiled child! But the remedy was at hand. My father, who was about forty-five years of age at the time, fell in love with an extremely handsome young lady, whom he met at the house of one of his friends. She fell in love with him too, or with his estate, and she determined to become his wife. She had no fortune of her own. She was the daughter of a very needy and unprincipled exgovernor of some obscure place on the other side the globe ; but she was undeniably beautiful, and her manner was singularly attractive. All this is nothing to you, though; enough to say she compassed her ends, and married my father, who brought home his lovely bride—twenty years his junior-in triumph, and presented her to me as my mother!' Now there are stepmothers of all sorts -good, very good ; bad, very bad; and indifferent! Mine was very bad, unless I do her foul injustice. It was partly my own fault, I know, but she hated me from the first, and I—I repaid the sentiment with compound interest. I had had my father all to myself; my home all to myself ; I had played first fiddle on every occasion. Now, my father was devoted to her. She was naturally mistress of the house and I became a person of less than secondary importance. Perhaps I do her wrong. I know I must have been a most aggravating youth; but we were always daggers-drawn, and at fierce issue on some point or other. I have heard that my father to my mother was a kind but not over-indulgent husband, while on his new wife he lavished such a wealth of affection as astonished those who knew hira best. He had been remarkable for his undemonstrative carriage not only towards his first wife, but towards all his relatives, save myself; now he was singularly tender, and almost foolishly caressing. Indeed, people sneered at him and his wife-as well they might-for the perpetual love-making and spooning carried on between them in the presence of others!

“Her influence over him was unbounded; she could make him think exactly what she chose; and whatever she willed to be done was always done, sooner or later. She was Queen Regnant; he was only Prince Consort, with such powers as it suited her to leave in his hands. When she had children of her own, things grew worse. She hated me for being the elder son, and she was jealous of my position as future head of the family. I confess I did nothing to mend matters, and I intensely disliked the new babies, as they arrived—the usurpers, as I deemed them, of all my rights and prerogatives. I do not believe these children were worse than others of their age; but they grew to be to me insufferable torments, and I got into trouble continually through them. Some charge was always being preferred against me, and I was everlastingly in disgrace and under punishment; and her punishments were somehow of the most humiliating order. When I was nearly twelve, I went to school, where I got on very well, and kept on good terms with both masters and fellow-pupils; but the holidays were seasons of penance, to which I looked forward with a shrinking dread.

“I was about fourteen, and I was at home for the Easter vacation. It was nearly over, and in two more days I should return to school, and to happiness ; when, unfortunately, little Frank came out to me as I lay on the Mound' one morning, reading. The Mound had always been my chosen play-place; and as I grew older, I brought there my favourite books, and read and studied, whenever the weather permitted. It was in a remote part of the grounds; people seldom passed that way, and I had it chiefly to niyself. It was, I should say, from fifteen to eighteen feet in height from the ground; on three sides it sloped gradually, on the fourth it formed a little precipice, and went sheer down to a mossy gravel walk beneath, much overgrown by evergreens and other shrubbery trees. There was a little grotto at the bottom, which had been made to please me, when my wishes were paramount, years before; but it had fallen to decay, and was now nothing more than a heap of stones, and shells, and rubbish.

"Well, I lay there reading in the pleasant April sunshine, when up came my little brother Frank, and began to plague me in his tiresome childish fashion. I told him to go away; he persisted in an noying me, calling me 'Miss Molly,' and daring me to hit him, as I threatened. At last he came close to me, and kicked my

book aray to the bottom of the Mound. In my anger I struck him a violent blow: I did not mean to hurt him, only to frighten him ar d drive him away; but, to my horror, he reeled-I had struck

« ElőzőTovább »