"You hold your head mighty high, to be sure, since you've had the run of his lordship's yacht."
"If you are impertinent, sir, you will repent it. I shall take care to inform his lordship of this conversation."
"My dear Thurnall," said Headley, as Tardrew withdrew, muttering curses, "the old fellow is certainly right on one point."
"That you have wonderfully changed your tone. Who was to eat any amount of dirt, if he could but save his influence thereby?"
"I have altered my plans. I shan't stay here long: I shall just see this cholera over, and then vanish."
"Yes. I cannot sit here quietly, listening to the war-news. It makes me mad to be up and doing. I must eastward-ho, and see if trumps will not turn up for me at last. Why, I know the whole country, half-a-dozen of the languages,—oh, if I could get some secret-service work! Go I must. At worst I can turn my hand to doctoring Bashi-bazouks."
"My dear Tom, when will you settle down like other men?" cries Claude.
"I would now, if there was an opening at Whitbury, and low as life would be, I'd face it for my father's sake. But here I cannot stay."
Both Claude and Headley saw that Tom had reasons which he did not choose to reveal. However, Claude was taken into his confidence that very afternoon.
"I shall make a fool of myself with that schoolmistress. I have been near enough to it a dozen times already; and this magnificent conduct of hers about the cholera has given the finishing stroke to my brains. If I stay on here, I shall marry her: I know I shall! and I won't—I'd go to-morrow, if it were not that I'm bound, for my own credit, to see the cholera safe into the town, and out again."
Tom did not hint a word of the lost money, or of the month's delay which Grace had asked of him. The month was drawing fast to a close now, however: but no sign of the belt. Still, Tom had honour enough in him to be silent on the point, even to Claude.
"By the by, have you heard from the wanderers this week?"
"I heard from Sabina this morning. Marie is very poorly, I fear. They have been at Kissingen, bathing; and are going to Bertrich: somebody has recommended the baths there."
"Bertrich! Where's Bertrich?"
"The most delicious little nest of a place, half way up the Moselle, among the volcano craters."
"Don't know it. Have they found that Yankee?"
"Why, I thought Sabina had a whole detective force of pets and proteges, from Boulogne to Rome."
"Well, she has at least heard of him at Baden; and then again at Stuttgard: but he has escaped them as yet."
"And poor Marie is breaking her heart all the while? I'll tell you what, Claude, it will be well for him if he escapes me as well as them."
"What do you mean?"
"I certainly shan't go to the East without shaking hands once more with Marie and Sabina; and if in so doing I pass that fellow, it's a pity if I don't have a snap shot at him."
"Tom! Tom! I had hoped your duelling days were over."
"They will be, over, when one can get the law to punish such puppies; but not till then. Hang the fellow! What business had he with her at all, if he didn't intend to marry her?"
"I tell you, as I told you before, it is she who will not marry him."
"And yet she's breaking her heart for him. I can see it all plain enough, Claude. She has found him out only too late. I know him— luxurious, selfish, blaze; would give a thousand dollars to-morrow, I believe, like the old Roman, for a new pleasure: and then amuses himself with her till he breaks her heart! Of course she won't many him: because she knows that if he found out her Quadroon blood—ah, that's it! I'll lay my life he has found it out already, and that is why he has bolted!"
Claude had no answer to give. That talk at the Exhibition made it only too probable.
"You think so yourself, I see! Very well. You know that whatever I have been to others, that girl has nothing against me."
"Nothing against you? Why, she owes you honour, life, everything."
"Never mind that. Only when I take a fancy to begin, I'll carry it through. I took to that girl, for poor Wyse's sake; and I'll behave by her to the last as he would wish; and he who insults her, insults me. I won't go out of my way to find Stangrave: but if I do, I'll have it out!"
"Then you will certainly fight. My dearest Tom, do look into your own heart, and see whether you have not a grain or two of spite against him left. I assure you you judge him too harshly."
"Hum—that must take its chance. At least, if we fight, we fight fairly and equally. He is a brave man—I will do him that justice—and a cool one; and used to be a sweet shot. So he has just as good a chance of shooting me, if I am in the wrong, as I have of shooting him, if he is."
"But your father?"
"I know. That is very disagreeable; and all the more so because I am going to insure my life—a pretty premium they will make me pay!—and if I'm killed in a duel, it will be forfeited. However, the only answer to that is, that either I shan't fight, or if I do, I shan't be killed. You know I don't believe in being killed, Claude."
"Tom! Tom! The same as ever!" said Claude sadly.
"Well, old man, and what else would you have me? Nobody could ever alter me, you know; and why should I alter myself? Here I am, after all, alive and jolly; and there is old daddy, as comfortable as he ever can be on earth: and so it will be to the end of the chapter. There! let's talk of something else."
COME AT LAST.
Now, as if in all things Tom Thurnall and John Briggs were fated to take opposite sides, Campbell lost ground with Elsley as fast as he gained it with Thurnall. Elsley had never forgiven himself for his passion that first morning. He had shown Campbell his weak side, and feared and disliked him accordingly. Beside, what might not Thurnall have told Campbell about him? And what use might not the Major make of his secret? Besides, Elsley's dread and suspicion increased rapidly when he discovered that Campbell was one of those men who live on terms of peculiar intimacy with many women; whether for his own good or not, still for the good of the women concerned. For only by honest purity, and moral courage superior to that of the many, is that dangerous post earned; and women will listen to the man who will tell them the truth, however sternly; and will bow, as before a guardian angel, to the strong insight of him whom they have once learned to trust. But it is a dangerous office, after all, for layman as well as for priest, that of father-confessor. The experience of centuries has shown that they must needs exist, wherever fathers neglect their daughters, husbands their wives; wherever the average of the women cannot respect the average of the men. But the experience of centuries should likewise have taught men, that the said father-confessors are no objects of envy; that their temptations to become spiritual coxcombs (the worst species of all coxcombs), if not intriguers, bullies, and worse, are so extreme, that the soul which is proof against them must be either very great, or very small indeed. Whether Campbell was altogether proof, will be seen hereafter. But one day Elsley found out that such was Campbell's influence, and did not love him the more for the discovery.
They were walking round the garden after dinner; Scoutbush was licking his foolish lips over some commonplace tale of scandal.
"I tell you, my dear fellow, she's booked; and Mellot knows it as well as I. He saw her that night at Lady A's."
"We saw the third act of the comi-tragedy. The fourth is playing out now. We shall see the fifth before the winter."
"Non sine sanguine!" said the Major.
"Serve the wretched stick right, at least," said Scoutbush. "What right had he to marry such a pretty woman?"
"What right had they to marry her up to him?" said Claude. "I don't blame poor January. I suppose none of us, gentlemen, would have refused such a pretty toy, if we could have afforded it as he could."
"Whom do you blame then?" asked Elsley.
"Fathers and mothers who prate hypocritically about keeping their daughters' minds pure; and then abuse a girl's ignorance, in order to sell her to ruin. Let them keep her mind pure, in heaven's name; but let them consider themselves all the more bound in honour to use on her behalf the experience in which she must not share."
"Well," drawled Scoutbush, "I don't complain of her bolting; she's a very sweet creature, and always was: but, as Longreach says,—and a very witty fellow he is, though you laugh at him,—'If she'd kept to us, I shouldn't have minded: but as Guardsmen, we must throw her over. It's an insult to the whole Guards, my dear fellow, after refusing two of us, to marry an attorney, and after all to bolt with a plunger.'"
What bolting with a plunger might signify, Elsley knew not: but ere he could ask, the Major rejoined, in an abstracted voice—
"God help us all! And this is the girl I recollect, two years ago, singing there in Cavendish Square, as innocent as a nestling thrush!"
"Poor child!" said Mellot, "sold at first—perhaps sold again now. The plunger has bills out, and she has ready money. I know her settlements."
"She shan't do it," said the Major quietly: "I'll write to her to-night."
Elsley looked at him keenly. "You think, then, sir, that you can, by simply writing, stop this intrigue?"
The Major did not answer. He was deep in thought.
"I shouldn't wonder if he did," said Scoutbush; "two to one on his baulking the plunger!"
"She is at Lord ——'s now, at those silly private theatricals. Is he there?"
"No," said Mellot; "he tried hard for an invitation—stooped to work me and Sabina. I believe she told him that she would sooner see him in the Morgue than help him; and he is gone to the moors now, I believe."
"There is time then: I will write to her to-night;" and Campbell took up his hat and went home to do it.
"Ah," said Scoutbush, taking his cigar meditatively from his mouth, "I wonder how he does it! It's a gift, I always say, a wonderful gift! Before he has been a week in a house, he'll have the confidence of every woman in it,—and 'gad, he does it by saying the rudest things!—and the confidence of all the youngsters the week after."
"A somewhat dangerous gift," said Elsley, drily.
"Ah, yes; he might play tricks if he chose: but there's the wonder, that he don't. I'd answer for him with my own sister. I do every day of my life—for I believe he knows how many pins she puts into her dress—and yet there he is. As I said once in the mess-room—there was a youngster there who took on himself to be witty, and talked about the still sow supping the milk—the snob! You recollect him, Mellot? the attorney's son from Brompton, who sold out;—we shaved his mustachios, put a bear in his bed, and sent him home to his ma—And he said that Major Campbell might be very pious, and all that: but he'd warrant—they were the fellow's own words,—that he took his lark on the sly, like other men— the snob! so I told him, I was no better than the rest, and no more I am; but if any man dared to say that the Major was not as honest as his own sister, I was his man at fifteen paces. And so I am, Claude!"
All which did not increase Elsley's love to the Major, conscious as he was that Lucia's confidence was a thing which he had not wholly; and which it would be very dangerous to him for any other man to have at all.
Into the drawing-room they went. Frank Headley had been asked up to tea; and he stood at the piano, listening to Valencia's singing.
As they came in, the maid came in also. "Mr. Thurnall wished to speak to Major Campbell."
Campbell went out, and returned in two minutes somewhat hurriedly.
"Mr. Thurnall wishes Lord Scoutbush to be informed at once, and I think it is better that you should all know it—that—it is a painful surprise:—but there is a man ill in the street, whose symptoms he does not like, he says."
"Cholera?" said Elsley.
"Call him in," said Scoutbush.
"He had rather not come in, he says."
"What! is it infectious?"
"Certainly not, if it be cholera, but—"
"He don't wish to frighten people, quite right:" (with a half glance at Elsley;) "but is it cholera, honestly?"
"I fear so."
"Oh, my children!" said poor Mrs. Vavasour.
"Will five pounds help the poor fellow?" said Scoutbush.
"How far off is it?" asked Elsley.
"Unpleasantly near. I was going to advise you to move at once."
"You hear what they are saying?" asked Valencia of Frank.
"Yes, I hear it," said Frank, in a quiet meaning tone.
Valencia thought that he was half pleased with the news. Then she thought him afraid; for he did not stir.
"You will go instantly, of course?"
"Of course I shall. Good-bye! Do not be afraid. It is not infectious."
"Afraid? And a soldier's sister?" said Valencia, with a toss of her beautiful head, by way of giving force to her somewhat weak logic.
Frank left the room instantly, and met Thurnall in the passage.
"Well, Headley, it's here before we sent for it, as bad luck usually is."
"I know. Let me go! Where is it? Whose house?" asked Frank in an excited tone.
"Humph!" said Thurnall, looking intently at him, "that is just what I shall not tell you."
"Not tell me?"
"No, you are too pale, Headley. Go back and get two or three glasses of wine, and then we will talk of it."
"What do you mean? I must go instantly! It is my duty,—my parishioner!"
"Look here, Headley! Are you and I to work together in this business, or are we not?"
"Why not, in heaven's name?"
"Then I want you, not for cure, but for prevention. You can do them no good when they have once got it. You may prevent dozens from having it in the next four-and-twenty hours, if you will be guided by me."
"But my business is with their souls, Thurnall."
"Exactly;—to give them the consolations of religion, as they call it. You will give them to the people who have not taken it. You may bring them safe through it by simply keeping up their spirits; while if you waste your time on poor dying wretches—"
"Thurnall, you must not talk so! I will do all you ask: but my place is at the death-bed, as well as elsewhere. These perishing souls are in my care."
"And how do you know, pray, that they are perishing?" answered Tom, with something very like a sneer. "And if they were, do you honestly believe that any talk of yours can change in five minutes a character which has been forming for years, or prevent a man's going where he ought to go,— which, I suppose, is the place to which he deserves to go?"
"I do," said Frank, firmly.
"Well. It is a charitable and hopeful creed. My great dread was, lest you should kill the poor wretches before their time, by adding to the fear of cholera the fear of hell. I caught the Methodist parson at that work an hour ago, took him by the shoulders and shot him out into the street. But, my dear Headley" (and Tom lowered his voice to a whisper), "wherever poor Tom Beer deserved to go to, he is gone to it already. He has been dead this twenty minutes."
"Tom Beer dead? One of the finest fellows in the town! And I never sent for?"
"Don't speak so loud, or they will hear you. I had no time to send for you; and if I had, I should not have sent, for he was past attending to you from the first. He brought it with him, I suppose, from C——. Had had warnings for a week, and neglected them. Now listen to me: that man was but two hours ill; as sharp a case as I ever saw, even in the West Indies. You must summon up all your good sense, and play the man for a fortnight; for it's coming on the poor souls like hell!" said Tom between his teeth, and stamped his foot upon the ground. Frank had never seen him show so much feeling; he fancied he could see tears glistening in his eyes.
"I will, so help me God!" said Frank.
Tom held out his hand, and grasped Frank's.
"I know you will. You're all right at heart. Only mind three things: don't frighten them; don't tire yourself; don't go about on an empty stomach; and then we can face the worst like men. And now go in, and say nothing to these people. If they take a panic we shall have some of them down to-night as sure as fate. Go in, keep quiet, persuade them to bolt anywhere on earth by daylight to-morrow. Then go home, eat a good supper, and come across to me; and if I'm out, I'll leave word where."
Frank went back again; he found Campbell, who had had his cue from Tom, urging immediate removal as strongly as he could, without declaring the extent of the danger. Valencia was for sending instantly for a fly to the nearest town, and going to stay at a watering-place some forty miles off. Elsley was willing enough at heart, but hesitated; he knew not, at the moment, poor fellow, where to find the money. His wife knew that she could borrow of Valencia; but she, too, was against the place. The cholera would be in the air for miles round. The journey in the hot sun would make the children sick and ill; and watering-place lodgings were such horrid holes, never ventilated, and full of smells—people caught fevers at them so often. Valencia was inclined to treat this as "mother's nonsense;" but Major Campbell said gravely, that Mrs. Vavasour was perfectly right as to fact, and her arguments full of sound reason; whereon Valencia said that "of course if Lucia thought it, Major Campbell would prove it; and there was no arguing with such Solons as he—"
Which Elsley heard, and ground his teeth. Whereon little Scoutbush cried joyfully,—
"I have it; why not go by sea? Take the yacht, and go! Where? Of course I have it again. 'Pon my word I'm growing clever, Valencia, in spite of all your prophecies. Go up the Welsh coast. Nothing so healthy and airy as a sea-voyage: sea as smooth as a mill-pond, too, and likely to be. And then land, if you like, at Port Madoc, as I meant to do; and there are my rooms at Beddgelert lying empty. Engaged them a week ago, thinking I should be there by now; so you may as well keep them aired for me. Come, Valencia, pack up your millinery! Lucia, get the cradles ready, and we'll have them all on board by twelve. Capital plan, Vavasour, isn't if? and, by Jove, what stunning poetry you will write there under Snowdon!"
"But will you not want your rooms yourself, Lord Scoutbush?" said Elsley.
"My dear fellow, never mind me. I shall go across the country, I think, see an old friend, and get some otter-hunting. Don't think of me, till you're there, and then send the yacht back for me. She must be doing something, you know; and the men are only getting drunk every day here. Come—no arguing about it, or I shall turn you all out of doors into the lane, eh?"
And the little fellow laughed so good-naturedly, that Elsley could not help liking him: and feeling that he would be both a fool, and cruel to his family, if he refused so good an offer, he gave in to the scheme, and went out to arrange matters: while Scoutbush went out into the hall with Campbell, and scrambled into his pea-jacket, to go off to the yacht that moment.
"You'll see to them, there's a good fellow," as they lighted their cigars at the door. "That Vavasour is greener than grass, you know, tant pis for my poor sister."
"I am not going."
"Certainly not; so my rooms will be at their service; and you had much better escort them yourself. It will be much less disagreeable for Vavasour, who knows nothing of commanding sailors," or himself, thought the Major, "than finding himself master of your yacht in your absence, and you will get your fishing as you intended."
"But why are you going to stay?"
"Oh, I have not half done with the sea-beasts here. I found too new ones yesterday."
"Quaint old beetle-hunter you are, for a man who has fought in half-a-dozen battles!" and Scoutbush walked on silently for five minutes.
Suddenly he broke out—
"I cannot! By George, I cannot; and what's more, I won't!"
"Run away. It will look so—so cowardly, and there's the truth of it, before those fine fellows down there: and just as I am come among them, too! The commander-in-chief to turn tail at the first shot! Though I can't be of any use, I know, and I should have liked a fortnight's fishing so," said he in a dolorous voice, "before going to be eaten up with flies at Varna—for this Crimean expedition is all moonshine."
"Don't be too sure of that," said Campbell. "We shall go; and some of us who go will never come back, Freddy. I know those Russians better than many, and I have been talking them over lately with Thurnall, who has been in their service."
"Has he been at Sevastopol?"
"No. Almost the only place on earth where he has not been: but from all he says, and from all I know, we are undervaluing our foes, as usual, and shall smart for it!"
"We'll lick them, never fear!"
"Yes; but not at the first round. Scoutbush, your life has been child's play as yet. You are going now to see life in earnest,—the sort of life which average people have been living, in every age and country, since Adam's fall; a life of sorrow and danger, tears and blood, mistake, confusion, and perplexity; and you will find it a very new sensation; and, at first, a very ugly one. All the more reason for doing what good deeds you can before you go; for you may have no time left to do any on the other side of the sea."
Scoutbush was silent awhile.
"Well; I'm afraid of nothing, I hope: only I wish one could meet this cholera face to face, as one will those Russians, with a good sword in one's hand, and a good horse between one's knees; and have a chance of giving him what he brings, instead of being kicked off by the cowardly Rockite, no one knows how; and not even from behind a turf dyke, but out of the very clouds."
"So we all say, in every battle, Scoutbush. Who ever sees the man who sent the bullet through him? And yet we fight on. Do you not think the greatest terror, the only real terror, in any battle, is the chance shot? which come from no one knows where, and hit no man can guess whom? If you go to the Crimea, as you will, you will feel what I felt at the Cape, and Cabul, and the Punjab, twenty times,—the fear of dying like a dog, one knew not how."
"And yet I'll fight, Campbell!"
"Of course you will, and take your chance. Do so now!"
"By Jove, Campbell—I always say it—you're the most sensible man I ever met; and, by Jove, the doctor comes the next. My sister shall have the yacht, and I'll go up to Penalva."
"You will do two good deeds at once, then," said the Major. "You will do what is right, and you will give heart to many a poor wretch here. Believe me, Scoutbush, you will never repent of this."
"By Jove, it always does one good to hear you talk in that way, Campbell! One feels—I don't know—so much of a man when one is with you; not that I shan't take uncommonly good care of myself, old fellow; that is but fair: but as for running away, as I said, why—why—why I can't, and so I won't!"
"By the by," said the Major, "there is one thing which I have forgotten, and which they will never recollect. Is the yacht victualled—with fresh meat and green stuff, I mean?"
"I will go back, borrow a lantern, and forage in the garden, like an old campaigner. I have cut a salad with my sword before now."
"And made it in your helmet, with macassar sauce?" And the two went their ways.
Meanwhile, before they had left the room, a notable conversation had been going on between Valencia and Headley.
Headley had re-entered the room so much paler than he went out, that everybody noticed his altered looks. Valencia chose to attribute them to fear.
"So! Are you returned from the sick man already, Mr. Headley?" asked she, in a marked tone.
"I have been forbidden by the doctor to go near him at present, Miss St. Just," said he quietly, but in a sort of under-voice, which hinted that he wished her to ask no more questions. A shade passed over her forehead, and she began chatting rather noisily to the rest of the party, till Elsley, her brother, and Campbell went out.
Valencia looked up at him, expecting him to go too. Mrs. Vavasour began bustling about the room, collecting little valuables, and looking over her shoulders at the now unwelcome guest. But Frank leaned back in a cosy arm-chair, and did not stir. His hands were clasped on his knees; he seemed lost in thought; very pale: but there was a firm set look about his lips which attracted Valencia's attention. Once he looked up in Valencia's face, and saw that she was looking at him. A flush came over his cheeks for a moment, and then he seemed as impassive as ever. What could he want there! How very gauche and rude of him; so unlike him, too! And she said, civilly enough, to him, "I fear, Mr. Headley, we must begin packing up now."
"I fear you must, indeed," answered he, as if starting from a dream. He spoke in a tone, and with a look, which made both the women start; for what they meant it was impossible to doubt.
"I fear you must. I have foreseen it a long time; and so, I fear (and he rose from his seat), must I, unless I mean to be very rude. You will at least take away with you the knowledge, that you have given to one person's existence, at least for a few weeks, pleasure more intense than he thought earth could hold."
"I trust that pretty compliment was meant for me," said Lucia, half playful, half reproving.
"I am sure that it ought not to have been meant for me," said Valencia, more downright than her sister. Both could see for whom it was meant, by the look of passionate worship which Frank fixed on a face which, after all, seemed made to be worshipped.
"I trust that neither of you," answered he, quietly, "think me impertinent enough to pretend to make love, as it is called, to Miss St. Just. I know who she is, and who I am. Gentleman as I am, and the descendant of gentlemen" (and Frank looked a little proud, as he spoke, and very handsome), "I see clearly enough the great gulf fixed between us; and I like it; for it enables me to say truth which I otherwise dare not have spoken; as a brother might say to a sister, or a subject to a queen. Either analogy will do equally well and equally ill."
Frank, without the least intending it, had taken up the very strongest military position. Let a man once make a woman understand, or fancy, that he knows that he is nothing to her; and confess boldly that there is a great gulf fixed between them, which he has no mind to bridge over: and then there is little that he may not see or do, for good or for evil.
And therefore it was that Lucia answered gently, "I am sure you are not well, Mr. Headley. The excitement of the night has been too much for you."
"Do I look excited, my dear madam?" he answered quietly. "I assure you that I am as calm as a man must be who believes that he has but a few days to live, and trusts, too, that when he dies, he will be infinitely happier than he ever has been on earth, and lay down an office which he has never discharged otherwise than ill; which has been to him a constant source of shame and sorrow."
"Do not speak so!" said Valencia, with her Irish impetuous generosity; "you are unjust to yourself. We have watched you, felt for you, honoured you, even when we differed from you"—What more she would have said, I know not, but at that moment Elsley's peevish voice was heard calling over the stairs, "Lucia! Lucia?"
"Oh dear! He will wake the children!" cried Lucia, looking at her sister, as much as to say, "How can I leave you!"
"Run, run, my dear creature!" said Valencia, with a self-confident smile: and the two were left alone.
The moment that Mrs. Vavasour left the room, there vanished from Frank's face that intense look of admiration which had made even Valencia uneasy. He dropped his eyes, and his voice faltered as he spoke again. He acknowledged the change in their position, and Valencia saw that he did so, and liked him the better for it.
"I shall not repeat, Miss St. Just, now that we are alone, what I said just now of the pleasure which I have had during the last month. I am not poetical, or given to string metaphors together; and I could only go over the same dull words once more. But I could ask, if I were not asking too much, leave to prolong at least a shadow of that pleasure to the last moment. That I shall die shortly, and of this cholera, is with me a fixed idea, which nothing can remove. No, madam—it is useless to combat it! But had I anything, by which to the last moment I could bring back to my fancy what has been its sunlight for so long; even if it were a scrap of the hem of your garment, aye, a grain of dust off your feet— God forgive me! He and His mercy ought to be enough to keep me up: but one's weakness may be excused for clinging to such slight floating straws of comfort."
Valencia paused, startled, and yet affected. How she had played with this deep pure heart! And yet, was it pure? Did he wish, by exciting her pity, to trick her into giving him what he might choose to consider a token of affection?
And she answered coldly enough—
"I should be sorry, after what you have just said, to chance hurting you by refusing. I put it to your own good feeling—have you not asked somewhat too much?"
"Certainly too much, madam, in any common case," said he, quite unmoved. "Certainly too much, if I asked you for it, as I do not, as the token of an affection which I know well you do not, cannot feel. But—take my words as they stand—were you to—It would be returned if I die, in a few weeks; and returned still sooner if I live. And, madam," said he lowering his voice, "I vow to you, before Him who sees us both, that, as far as I am concerned, no human being shall ever know of the fact."
Frank had at last touched the wrong chord.
"What, Mr. Headley? Can you think that I am to have secrets in common with you, or with any other man? No, sir! If I granted your request, I should avow it as openly as I shall refuse it."
And she turned sharply toward the door.
Frank Headley was naturally a shy man: but extreme need sometimes bestows on shyness a miraculous readiness—(else why, in the long run, do the shy men win the best wives? which is a fact, and may be proved by statistics, at least as well as anything else can) so he quietly stepped to Valencia's side, and said in a low voice—
"You cannot avow the refusal half as proudly as I shall avow the request, if you will but wait till your sister's return. Both are unnecessary, I think: but it will only be an honour to me to confess, that, poor curate as I am—"
"Hush!" and Valencia walked quietly up to the table, and began turning over the leaves of a book, to gain time for her softened heart and puzzled brain.
In five minutes Frank was beside her again. The book was Tennyson's "Princess." She had wandered—who can tell why?—to that last exquisite scene, which all know; and as Valencia read, Frank quietly laid a finger on the book, and arrested her eyes at last—
"If you be, what I think you, some sweet dream. Stoop down, and seem to kiss me ere I die!"
Valencia shut the book up hurriedly and angrily. A moment after she had made up her mind what to do, and with the slightest gesture in the world, motioned Frank proudly and coldly to follow her back into the window. Had she been a country girl, she would have avoided the ugly matter; but she was a woman of the world enough to see that she must, for her own sake and his, talk it out reasonably.
"What do you mean, Mr. Headley? I must ask! You told me just now that you had no intention of making love to me."
"I told you the truth," said he, in his quiet impassive voice. "I fixed on these lines as a pis aller; and they have done all and more than I wished, by bringing you back here for at least a moment."
"And do you suppose—you speak like a rational man, therefore, I must treat you as one—that I can grant your request?"
"Why not? It is an uncommon one. If I have guessed your character aright, you are able to do uncommon things. Had I thought you enslaved by etiquette, and by the fear of a world which you can make bow at your feet if you will, I should not have asked you. But,"—and here his voice took a tone of deepest earnestness—"grant it—only grant it, and you shall never repent it. Never, never, never will I cast one shadow over a light which has been so glorious, so life-giving; which I watched with delight, and yet lose without regret. Go your way, and God be with you! I go mine; grant me but a fortnight's happiness, and then, let what will come!"
He had conquered. The quiet earnestness of the voice, the child-like simplicity of the manner, of which every word conveyed the most delicate flattery—yet, she could see, without intending to flatter, without an after-thought—all these had won the impulsive Irish nature. For all the dukes and marquises in Belgravia she would not have done it; for they would have meant more than they said, even when they spoke more clumsily: but for the plain country curate she hesitated, and asked herself, "What shall I give him?"
The rose from her bosom? No. That was too significant at once, and too commonplace; besides, it might wither, and he find an excuse for not restoring it. It must be something valuable, stately, formal, which he must needs return. And she drew off a diamond hoop, and put it quietly into his hand.
"You promise to return if?"
"I promised long ago."
He took it, and lifted it—she thought that he was going to press it to his lips. Instead, he put it to his forehead, bowing forward and moved it slightly. She saw that he made with it the sign of the Cross.
"I thank you," he said, with a look of quiet gratitude. "I expected as much, when you came to understand my request. Again, thank you!" and he drew back humbly, and left her there alone; while her heart smote her bitterly for all the foolish encouragement which she had given to one so tender and humble, and delicate and true.
And so did Frank Headley get what he wanted; by that plain earnest simplicity, which has more power (let worldlings pride themselves as they will on their knowledge of women) than all the cunning wiles of the most experienced rake; and only by aping which, after all, can the rake conquer. It was a strange thing for Valencia to do, no doubt: but the strange things which are done in the world (which are some millions daily) are just what keep the world alive.
The next day there were three cholera cases: the day after there were thirteen.
He had come at last, Baalzebub, God of flies, and of what flies are bred from; to visit his self-blinded worshippers, and bestow on them his own Cross of the Legion of Dishonour. He had come suddenly, capriciously, sportively, as he sometimes comes; as he had come to Newcastle the summer before, while yet the rest of England was untouched. He had wandered all but harmless about the West country that summer; as if his maw had been full glutted five years before, when he sat for many a week upon the Dartmoor hills, amid the dull brown haze, and sun-burnt bents, and dried-up watercourses of white dusty granite, looking far and wide over the plague-struck land, and listening to the dead-bell booming all day long in Tavistock churchyard. But he was come at last, with appetite more fierce than ever, and had darted aside to seize on Aberalva, and not to let it go till he had sucked his fill.
And all men moved about the streets slowly, fearfully; conscious of some awful unseen presence, which might spring on them from round every corner; some dreadful inevitable spell, which lay upon them like a nightmare weight; and walked to and fro warily, looking anxiously into each other's faces, not to ask, "How are you?" but "How am I?" "Do I look as if—?" and glanced up ever and anon restlessly, as if they expected to see, like the Greeks, in their tainted camp, by Troy, the pitiless Sun-god shooting his keen arrows down on beast and man.
All night long the curdled cloud lay low upon the hills, wrapping in its hot blanket the sweltering breathless town; and rolled off sullenly when the sun rose high, to let him pour down his glare, and quicken into evil life all evil things. For Baalzebub is a sunny fiend; and loves not storm and tempest, thunder, and lashing rains; but the broad bright sun, and broad blue sky, under which he can take his pastime merrily, and laugh at all the shame and agony below; and, as he did at his great banquet in New Orleans once, madden all hearts the more by the contrast between the pure heaven above and the foul hell below.
And up and down the town the foul fiend sported, now here now there; snapping daintily at unexpected victims, as if to make confusion worse confounded: to belie Thurnall's theories and prognostics, and harden the hearts of fools by fresh excuses for believing that he had nothing to do with drains and water; that he was "only"—such an only!—"the Visitation of God."
He has taken old Beer's second son; and now he clutches at the old man himself; then across the street to Gentleman Jan, his eldest: but he is driven out from both houses by chloride of lime and peat dust, and the colony of the Beers has peace awhile.
Alas! there are victims enough and to spare beside them, too ready for the sacrifice, and up the main street he goes unabashed, springing in at one door and at another, on either side of the street, but fondest of the western side, where the hill slopes steeply down to the house-backs.
He fleshes his teeth on every kind of prey. The drunken cobbler dies, of course: but spotless cleanliness and sobriety does not save the mother of seven children, who has been soaking her brick floor daily with water from a poisoned well, defiling where she meant to clean. Youth does not save the buxom lass, who has been filling herself, as girls will do, with unripe fruit: nor innocence the two fair children who were sailing their feather-boats yesterday in the quay-pools, as they have sailed them for three years past, and found no hurt; piety does not save the bed-ridden old dame, bed-ridden in the lean-to garret, who moans, "It is the Lord!" and dies. It is "the Lord" to her, though Baalzebub himself be the angel of release.
And yet all the while sots and fools escape where wise men fall; weakly women, living amid all wretchedness, nurse, unharmed, strong men who have breathed fresh air all day. Of one word of Scripture at least Baalzebub is mindful; for "one is taken and another left."
Still, there is a method in his seeming madness. His eye falls on a blind alley, running back from the main street, backed at the upper end by a high wall of rock. There is a God-send for him—a devil's-send, rather, to speak plain truth: and in he dashes; and never leaves that court, let brave Tom wrestle with him as he may, till he has taken one from every house.
That court belonged to Treluddra, the old fish-jowder. He must do something. Thurnall attacks him; Major Campbell, Headley; the neighbours join in the cry; for there is no mistaking cause and effect there, and no one bears a great love to him; besides, terrified and conscience-stricken men are glad of a scapegoat; and some of those who were his stoutest backers in the vestry are now, in their terror, the loudest against him, ready to impute the whole cholera to him. Indeed, old Beer is ready to declare that it was Treluddra's fish-heaps which poisoned him and his: so, all but mobbed, the old sinner goes up—to set the houses to rights? No; to curse the whole lot for a set of pigs, and order them to clean the place out themselves, or he will turn them into the street. He is one of those base natures, whom fact only lashes into greater fury,—a Pharaoh whose heart the Lord himself can only harden; such men there are, and women, too, grown grey in lies, to reap at last the fruit of lies. But he carries back with him to his fish-heaps a little invisible somewhat which he did not bring; and ere nightfall he is dead hideously; he, his wife, his son:—and now the Beers are down again, and the whole neighbourhood of Treluddra's house is wild with disgusting agony.
Now the fiend is hovering round the fish-curing houses: but turns back, disgusted with the pure scent of the tan-yard, where not hides, but nets are barked; skips on board of a brig in the quay-pool; and a poor collier's 'prentice dies, and goes to his own place. What harm has he done? Is it his sin that, ill-fed and well-beaten daily, he has been left to sleep on board, just opposite the sewer's mouth, in a berth some four feet long by two feet high and broad?
Or is it that poor girl's sin who was just now in Heale's shop, talking to Miss Heale safe and sound, that she is carried back into it, in half-an-hour's time, fainting, shrieking? One must draw a veil over the too hideous details.
No, not her fault: but there, at least, the curse has not come without a cause. For she is Tardrew's daughter.
But whither have we got? How long has the cholera been in Aberalva? Five days, five minutes, or five years? How many suns have risen and set since Frank Headley put into his bosom Valencia's pledge!
It would be hard for him to tell; and hard for many more: for all the days have passed as in a fever dream. To cowards the time has seemed endless; and every moment, ere their term shall come, an age of terror, of self-reproach, of superstitious prayers, and cries, which are not repentance. And to some cowards, too, the days have seemed but as a moment; for they have been drunk day and night.
Strange and hideous, yet true.
It has now become a mere commonplace, the strange power which great crises, pestilences, famines, revolutions, invasions, have to call out in their highest power, for evil and for good alike, the passions and virtues of man; how, during their stay, the most desperate recklessness, the most ferocious crime, side by side with the most heroic and unexpected virtue, are followed generally by a collapse and a moral death, alike of virtue and of vice. We should explain this now-a-days, and not ill, by saying that these crises put the human mind into a state of exaltation: but the truest explanation, after all, lies in the old Bible belief, that in these times there goes abroad the unquenchable fire of God, literally kindling up all men's hearts to the highest activity, and showing, by the light of their own strange deeds, the inmost recesses of their spirits, till those spirits burn down again, self-consumed, while the chaff and stubble are left as ashes, not valueless after all, as manure for some future crop; and the pure gold, if gold there be, alone remains behind.
Even so it was in Aberalva during that fearful week. The drunkards drank more; the swearers swore more than ever; the unjust shopkeeper clutched more greedily than ever at the last few scraps of mean gain which remained for him this side the grave; the selfish wrapped themselves up more brutally than ever in selfishness; the shameless woman mingled desperate debauchery with fits of frantic superstition; and all base souls cried out together, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!"
But many a brave man and many a weary woman possessed their souls in patience, and worked on, and found that as their day their strength should be. And to them the days seemed short indeed; for there was too much to be done in them for any note of time.
Headley and Campbell, Grace and old Willis, and last, but not least, Tom Thurnall,—these and three or four brave women, organised themselves into a right-gallant and well-disciplined band, and commenced at once a visitation from house to house, saving thereby, doubtless, many a life: but ere eight-and-forty hours were passed, the house visitation languished. It was as much as they could do to attend to the acute cases.
And little Scoutbush? He could not nurse, nor doctor: but what he could, he did. He bought, and fetched all that money could procure. He galloped over to the justices, and obtained such summary powers as he could; and then, like a true Irishman, exceeded them recklessly, breaking into premises right and left, in an utterly burglarious fashion; he organised his fatigue-party, as he called them, of scavengers, and paid the cowardly clods five shillings a day each to work at removing all removable nuisances; he walked up and down the streets for hours, giving the sailors cigars from his own case, just to show them that he was not afraid, and therefore they need not be: and if it was somewhat his fault that the horse was stolen, he at least did his best after the event to shut the stable-door. The five real workers toiled on, meanwhile, in perfect harmony and implicit obedience to the all-knowing Tom, but with the most different inward feelings. Four of them seemed to forget death and danger; but each remembered them in his own fashion.
Major Campbell longed to die, and courted death. Frank believed that he should die, and was ready for death. Grace longed to die, but knew that she should not die till she had found Tom's belt, and was content to wait. Willis was of opinion that an "old man must die some day, and somehow,—as good one way as another;" and all his concern was to run about after his maid, seeing that she did not tire herself, and obeying all her orders with sailor-like precision and cleverness.
And Tom? He just thought nothing about death and danger at-all. Always smiling, always cheerful, always busy, yet never in a hurry, he went up and down, seemingly ubiquitous. Sleep he got when he could, and food as often as he could; into the sea he leapt, morning and night, and came out fresher every time; the only person in the town who seemed to grow healthier, and actually happier, as the work went on.
"You really must be careful of yourself," said Campbell, at last. "You carry no charmed life."
"My dear sir, I am the most cautious and selfish man in the town. I am living by rule; I have got—and what greater pleasure?—a good stand-up fight with an old enemy; and be sure I shall keep myself in condition for it. I have written off for help to the Board of Health, and I shall not be shoved against the ropes till the Government man comes down."
"I shall go to bed and sleep for a month. Never mind me; but mind yourself: and mind that curate; he's a noble brick;—if all parsons in England were like him, I'd—What's here now?"
Miss Heale came shrieking down the street.
"Oh, Mr. Thurnall! Miss Tardrew! Miss Tardrew!"
"Screaming will only make you ill, too, Miss. Where is Miss Tardrew?"
"In the surgery,—and my mother!"
"I expected this," said Tom. "The old man will go next."
He went into the surgery. The poor girl was in collapse already. Mrs. Heale was lying on the sofa, stricken. The old man hanging over her, brandy bottle in hand.
"Put away that trash!" cried Tom; "you've had too much already."
"Oh, Mr. Thurnall, she's dying, and I shall die too!"
"You! you were all right this morning."
"But I shall die; I know I shall, and go to hell!"
"You'll go where you ought; and if you give way to this miserable cowardice, you'll go soon enough. Walk out, sir! Make yourself of some use, and forget your fear! Leave Mrs. Heale to me."
The wretched old man obeyed him, utterly cowed, and went out: but not to be of use: he had been hopelessly boozy from the first—half to fortify his body against infection, half to fortify his heart against conscience. Tom had never reproached him for his share in the public folly. Indeed, Tom had never reproached a single soul. Poor wretches who had insulted him had sent for him, with abject shrieks. "Oh, doctor, doctor, save me! Oh, forgive me! oh, if I'd minded what you said! Oh, don't think of what I said!" And Tom had answered cheerfully, "Tut-tut; never mind what might have been; let's feel your pulse."
But though Tom did not reproach Heale, Heale reproached himself. He had just conscience enough left to feel the whole weight of his abused responsibility, exaggerated and defiled by superstitious horror; and maudlin tipsy, he wandered about the street, moaning that he had murdered his wife, and all the town, and asking pardon of every one he met; till seeing one of the meeting-houses open, he staggered in, in the vain hope of comfort which he knew he did not deserve.
In half-an-hour Tom was down the street again to Headley's. "Where is Miss Harvey?"
"At the Beers'."
"She must go up to Heale's instantly. The mother will die. Those cases of panic seldom recover. And Miss Heale may very likely follow her. She has shrieked and sobbed herself into it, poor fool! and Grace must go to her at once; she may bring her to common sense and courage, and that is the only chance."
Grace went, and literally talked and prayed Miss Heale into life again.
"You are an angel," said Tom to her that very evening, when he found the girl past danger.
"Mr. Thurnall!" said Grace, in a tone of sad and most meaning reproof.
"But you are! And these owls are not worthy of you."
"This is no time for such language, sir! After all, what am I doing more than you?" And Grace went upstairs again, with a cold hard countenance which belied utterly the heart within.
That was the critical night of all. The disease seemed to have done its worst in the likeliest spots: but cases of panic increased all the afternoon; and the gross number was greater than ever.
Tom did not delay inquiring into the cause: and he discovered it. Headley, coming out the next morning, after two hours' fitful sleep, met him at the gate: his usual business-like trot was exchanged for a fierce and hurried stamp. When he saw Frank, he stopped short, and burst out into a story which was hardly intelligible, so interlarded was it with oaths.
"For Heaven's sake! Thurnall, calm yourself, and do not swear so frightfully; it is so unlike you! What can have upset you thus?"
"Why should I not curse and swear in the street," gasped he, "while every fellow who calls himself a preacher is allowed to do it in the pulpit with impunity! Fine him five shillings for every curse, as you might if people had courage and common sense, and then complain of me! I am a fool, I know, though. But I cannot stand it! To have all my work undone by a brutal ignorant fanatic!—It is too much! Here, if you will believe it, are those preaching fellows getting up a revival, or some such invention, just to make money out of the cholera! They have got down a great gun from the county town. Twice a-day they are preaching at them, telling them that it is all God's wrath against their sins; that it is impious to interfere, and that I am fighting against God, and the end of the world is coming, and they and the devil only know what. If I meet one of them, I'll wring his neck, and be hanged for it! Oh, you parsons! you parsons!" and Tom ground his teeth with rage.
"Is it possible? How did you find this out?"
"Mrs. Heale had been in, listening to their howling, just before she was taken. Heale went in when I turned him out of doors; came home raving mad, and is all but blue now. Three cases of women have I had this morning, all frightened into cholera, by their own confession, by last night's tomfoolery.—Came home howling, fainted, and were taken before morning. One is dead, the other two will die. You must stop it, or I shall have half-a-dozen more to-night. Go into the meeting, and curse the cur to his face!"
"I cannot," cried Frank, with a gesture of despair, "I cannot!"
"Ah, your cloth forbids you, I suppose, to enter the non-conformist opposition shop."
"You are unjust, Thurnall! What are such rules at a moment like this? I'd break them, and the bishop would hold me guiltless. But I cannot speak to these people. I have no eloquence—no readiness—they do not trust me—would not believe me—God help me!" and Frank covered his face with his hands, and burst into tears.
"Not that, for Heaven's sake!" said Tom, "or we shall have you blue next, my good fellow. I'd go myself, but they'd not hear me, for certain; I am no Christian, I suppose: at least, I can't talk their slang:—but I know who can! We'll send Campbell!"
Frank hailed the suggestion with rapture, and away they went: but they had an hour's good search from sufferer to sufferer before they found the Major.
He heard them quietly. A severe gloom settled over his face. "I will go," said he.
At six o'clock that evening, the meeting-house was filling with terrified women, and half-curious, half-sneering, men; and among them the tall figure of Major Campbell, in his undress uniform (which he had put on, wisely, to give a certain dignity to his mission), stalked in, and took his seat in the back benches.
The sermon was what he expected. There is no need to transcribe it. Such discourses may be heard often enough in churches as well as chapels. The preacher's object seemed to be—for some purpose or other which we have no right to judge—to excite in his hearers the utmost intensity of selfish fear, by language which certainly, as Tom had said, came under the law against profane cursing and swearing. He described the next world in language which seemed a strange jumble of Virgil's Aeneid, the Koran, the dreams of those rabbis who crucified our Lord, and of those mediaeval inquisitors who tried to convert sinners (and on their own ground, neither illogically nor over-harshly) by making this world for a few hours as like as possible to what, so they held, God was going to make the world to come for ever.
At last he stopped suddenly, when he saw that the animal excitement was at the very highest; and called on all who felt "convinced" to come forward and confess their sins.
In another minute there would have been (as there have been ere now) four or five young girls raving and tossing upon the floor, in mad terror and excitement; or, possibly, half the congregation might have rushed out (as a congregation has rushed out ere now) headed by the preacher himself, and ran headlong down to the quay-pool, with shrieks and shouts, declaring that they had cast the devil out of Betsey Pennington, and were hunting him into the sea: but Campbell saw that the madness must be stopped at once; and rising, he thundered, in a voice which brought all to their senses in a moment—
"Stop! I, too, have a sermon to preach to you; I trust I am a Christian man, and that not of last year's making, or the year before. Follow me outside, if you be rational beings, and let me tell you the truth—God's truth! Men!" he said, with an emphasis on the word, "you at least, will give me a fair hearing, and you too, modest married women! Leave that fellow with the shameless hussies who like to go into fits at his feet."
The appeal was not in vain. The soberer majority followed him out; the insane minority soon followed, in the mere hope of fresh excitement; while the preacher was fain to come also, to guard his flock from the wolf. Campbell sprang upon a large block of stone, and taking off his cap, opened his mouth, and spake unto them.
* * * * *
Readers will doubtless desire to hear what Major Campbell said: but they will be disappointed; and perhaps it is better for them that they should be. Let each of them, if they think it worth while, write for themselves a discourse fitting for a Christian man, who loved and honoured his Bible too much to find in a few scattered texts, all misinterpreted, and some mistranslated, excuses for denying fact, reason, common justice, the voice of God in his own moral sense, and the whole remainder of the Bible from beginning to end.
Whatsoever words he spoke they came home to those wild hearts with power. And when he paused, and looked intently into the faces of his auditory, to see what effect he was producing, a murmur of assent and admiration rose from the crowd, which had now swelled to half the population of the town. And no wonder; no wonder that, as the men were enchained by the matter, so were the women by the manner. The grand head, like a grey granite peak against the clear blue sky; the tall figure, with all its martial stateliness and ease; the gesture of his long arm, so graceful, and yet so self-restrained; the tones of his voice which poured from beneath that proud moustache, now tender as a girl's, now ringing like a trumpet over roof and sea. There were old men there, old beyond the years of man, who said they had never seen nor heard the like: but it must be like what their fathers had told them of, when John Wesley, on the cliffs of St. Ives, out-thundered the thunder of the gale. To Grace he seemed one of the old Scotch Covenanters of whom she had read, risen from the dead to preach there from his rock beneath the great temple of God's air, a wider and a juster creed than theirs. Frank drew Thurnall's arm through his, and whispered, "I shall thank you for this to my dying day:" but Thurnall held down his head. He seemed deeply moved. At last, half to himself,—
"Humph! I believe that between this man and that girl, you will make a Christian even of me some day!"
But the lull was only for a moment. For Major Campbell, looking round, discerned among the crowd the preacher, whispering and scowling amid a knot of women; and a sudden fit of righteous wrath came over him.
"Stand out there, sir, you preacher, and look me in the face, if you can!" thundered he. "We are here on common ground as free men, beneath God's heaven and God's eye. Stand out, sir! and answer me if you can; or be for ever silent!"
Half in unconscious obedience to the soldier-like word of command, half in jealous rage, the preacher stepped forward, gasping for breath,— "Don't listen to him! He is a messenger of Satan, sent to damn you—a lying prophet! Let the Lord judge between me and him! Stop your ears—a messenger of Satan—a Jesuit in disguise!"
"You lie, and you know that you lie!" answered Campbell, twirling slowly his long moustache, as he always did when choking down indignation. "But you have called on the Lord to judge; so do I. Listen to me, sir! Dare you, in the presence of God, answer for the words which you have spoken this day?"
A strange smile came over the preacher's face.
"I read my title clear, sir, to mansions in the skies. Well for you if you could do the same."
Was it only the setting sun, or was it some inner light from the depths of that great spirit, which shone out in all his countenance, and filled his eyes with awful inspiration, as he spoke, in a voice calm and sweet, sad and regretful, and yet terrible from the slow distinctness of every vowel and consonant?
"Mansions in the skies? You need not wait till then, sir, for the presence of God. Now, here, you and I are before God's judgment-seat. Now, here, I call on you to answer to Him for the innocent lives which you have endangered and destroyed, for the innocent souls to whom you have slandered their heavenly Father by your devil's doctrines this day! You have said it. Let the Lord judge between you and me. He knows best how to make His judgment manifest."
He bowed his head awhile, as if overcome by the awful words which he had uttered, almost in spite of himself, and then stepped slowly down from the stone, and passed through the crowd, which reverently made way for him; while many voices cried, "Thank you, sir! Thank you!" and old Captain Willis, stepping forward, held out his hand to him, a quiet pride in his grey eye.
"You will not refuse an old fighting man's thanks, sir? This has been like Elijah's day with Baal's priests on Carmel."
Campbell shook his hand in silence: but turned suddenly, for another and a coarser voice caught his ear. It was Jones, the Lieutenant's.
"And now, my lads, take the Methodist Parson, neck and heels, and heave him into the quay pool, to think over his summons!"
Campbell went back instantly. "No, my dear sir, let me entreat you for my sake. What has passed has been too terrible to me already; if it has done any good, do not let us break it by spoiling the law."
"I believe you're right, sir: but my blood is up, and no wonder. Why, where is the preacher?"
He had stood quite still for several minutes after Campbell's adjuration. He had, often perhaps, himself hurled forth such words in the excitement of preaching; but never before had he heard them pronounced in spirit and in truth. And as he stood, Thurnall, who had his doctor's eye on him, saw him turn paler and more pale. Suddenly he clenched his teeth, and stooped slightly forwards for a moment, drawing his breath. Thurnall walked quickly and steadily up to him.
Gentleman Jan and two other riotous fellows had already laid hold of him, more with the intention of frightening, than of really ducking him.
"Don't! don't!" cried he, looking round with eyes wild—but not with terror.
"Hands off, my good lads," said Tom quietly. "This is my business now, not yours, I can tell you."
And passing the preacher's arm through his own, with a serious face, Tom led him off into the house at the back of the chapel.
In two hours more he was blue; in four he was a corpse. The judgment, as usual, had needed no miracle to enforce it.
Tom went to Campbell that night, and apprised him of the fact. "Those words of yours went through him, sir, like a Minie bullet. I was afraid of what would happen when I heard them."
"So was I, the moment after they were spoken. But, sir, I felt a power upon me,—you may think it a fancy,—that there was no resisting."
"I dare impute no fancies, when I hear such truth and reason as you spoke upon that stone, sir."
"Then you do not blame me?" asked Campbell, with a subdued, almost deprecatory voice, such as Thurnall had never heard in him before.
"The man deserved to die, and he died, sir. It is well that there are some means left on earth of punishing offenders whom the law cannot touch."
"It is an awful responsibility."
"Not more awful than killing a man in battle, which we both have done, sir, and yet have felt no sting of conscience."
"An awful responsibility still. Yet what else is life made up of, from morn to night, but of deeds which may earn heaven or hell?... Well, as he did to others, so was it done to him. God forgive him! At least, our cause will be soon tried and judged: there is little fear of my not meeting him again—soon enough." And Campbell, with a sad smile, lay back in his chair and was silent.
"My dear sir," said Tom, "allow me to remind you, after this excitement comes a collapse; and that is not to be trifled with just now. Medicine I dare not give you. Food I must."
Campbell shook his head.
"You must go now, my dear fellow. It is now half-past ten, and I will be at Pennington's at one o'clock, to see how he goes on; so you need not go there. And, meanwhile, I must take a little medicine."
"Major, you are not going to doctor yourself?" cried Tom.
"There is a certain medicine called prayer, Mr. Thurnall—an old specific for the heart-ache, as you will find one day—which I have been neglecting much of late, and which I must return to in earnest before midnight. Good-bye, God bless and keep you!" And the Major retired to his bed-room, and did not stir off his knees for two full hours. After which he went to Pennington's, and thence somewhere else; and Tom met him at four o'clock that morning musing amid unspeakable horrors, quiet, genial, almost cheerful.
"You are a man," said Tom to himself; "and I fancy at times something more than a man; more than me at least."
Tom was right in his fear that after excitement would come collapse; but wrong as to the person to whom it would come. When he arrived at the surgery door, Headley stood waiting for him.
"Anything fresh? Have you seen the Heales?"
"I have been praying with them. Don't be frightened. I am not likely to forget the lesson of this afternoon."
"Then go to bed. It is full twelve o'clock."
"Not yet, I fear. I want you to see old Willis. All is not right."
"Ah! I thought the poor dear old man would kill himself. He has been working too hard, and presuming on his sailor's power of tumbling in and taking a dog's nap whenever he chose."
"I have warned him again and again: but he was working so magnificently, that one had hardly heart to stop him. And beside, nothing would part him from his maid."
"I don't wonder at that:" quoth Tom to himself. "Is she with him?"
"No: he found himself ill; slipped home on some pretence; and will not hear of our telling her."
"Noble old fellow! Caring for every one but himself to the last." And they went in.
It was one of those rare cases, fatal, yet merciful withal, in which the poison seems to seize the very centre of the life, and to preclude the chance of lingering torture, by one deadening blow.
The old man lay paralysed, cold, pulseless, but quite collected and cheerful. Tom looked, inquired, shook his head, and called for a hot bath of salt and water.
"Warmth we must have, somehow. Anything to keep the fire alight."
"Why so, sir?" asked the old man "The fire's been flickering down this many a year. Why not let it go out quietly, at three-score years and ten? You're sure my maid don't know?"
They put him into his bath, and he revived a little.
"No; I am not going to get well; so don't you waste your time on me, sirs! I'm taken while doing my duty, as I hoped to be. And I've lived to see my maid do hers, as I knew she would, when the Lord called on her. I have,—but don't tell her, she's well employed, and has sorrows enough already, some that you'll know of some day—"
"You must not talk," quoth Tom, who guessed his meaning, and wished to avoid the subject.
"Yes, but I must, sir. I've no time to lose. If you'd but go and see after those poor Heales, and come again. I'd like to have one word with Mr. Headley; and my time runs short."
"A hundred, if you will," said Frank.
"And now, sir," when they were alone, "only one thing, if you'll excuse an old sailor," and Willis tried vainly to make his usual salutation; but the cramped hand refused to obey,—"and a dying one too."
"What is it?"
"Only don't be hard on the people, sir; the people here. They're good-hearted souls, with all their sins, if you'll only take them as you find them, and consider that they've had no chance."
"Willis, Willis, don't talk of that! I shall be a wiser man henceforth, I trust. At least I shall not trouble Aberalva long."
"Oh, sir, don't talk so; and you just getting a hold of them!"
"Yes, you, sir. They've found you out at last, thank God. I always knew what you were and said it. They've found you out in the last week; and there's not a man in the town but what would die for you, I believe."
This announcement staggered Frank. Some men it would have only hardened in their pedantry, and have emboldened them to say: "Ah! then these men see that a High Churchman can work like any one else, when there is a practical sacrifice to be made. Now I have a standing ground which no one can dispute from which to go on, and enforce my idea of what he ought to be."
But, rightly or wrongly, no such thought crossed Frank's mind. He was just as good a Churchman as ever—why not? Just as fond of his own ideal of what a parish and a Church Service ought to be—why not? But the only thought which did rise in his mind was one of utter self-abasement.
"Oh, how blind I have been! How I have wasted my time in laying down the law to these people: fancying myself infallible, as if God were not as near to them as He is to me—certainly nearer than to any book on my shelves—offending their little prejudices, little superstitions, in my own cruel self-conceit and self-will! And now, the first time that I forget my own rules; the first time that I forget almost that I am a priest, even a Christian at all! that moment they acknowledge me as a priest, as a Christian. The moment I meet them upon the commonest human ground, helping them as one heathen would help another, simply because he was his own flesh and blood, that moment they soften to me and show me how much I might have done with them twelve months ago, had I had but common sense!"
He knelt down and prayed by the old man, for him and for himself.
"Would it be troubling you, sir?" said the old man at last. "But I'd like to take the Sacrament before I go."
"Of course. Whom shall I ask in?"
The old man paused awhile. "I fear it's selfish: but it seems to me I would not ask it, but that I know I'm going. I should like to take it with my maid, once more before I die."
"I'll go for her," said Frank, "the moment Thurnall comes back to watch you."
"What need to go yourself, sir? Old Sarah will go, and willing."
Thurnall came in at that moment.
"I am going to fetch Miss Harvey. Where is she, Captain?"
"At Janey Headon's, along with her two poor children."
"Stay," said Tom, "that's a bad quarter, just at the fish-house back. Have some brandy before you start?"
"No! no Dutch courage!" and Frank was gone. He had a word to say to Grace Harvey, and it must be said at once.
He turned down the silent street, and turned up over stone stairs, through quaint stone galleries and balconies such as are often huddled together on the cliff sides in fishing towns; into a stifling cottage, the door of which had been set wide open in the vain hope of fresh air. A woman met him, and clasped both his hands, with tears of joy.
"They're mending, sir! They're mending, else I'd have sent to tell you. I never looked for you so late."
There was a gentle voice in the next room. It was Grace's.
"Ah, she's praying by them now. She'm giving them all their medicines all along! Whatever I should have done without her?—and in and out all day long, too; till one fancies at whiles the Lord must have changed her into five or six at once, to be everywhere to the same minute."
Frank went in, and listened to her prayer. Her face was as pale and calm as the pale, calm faces of the two worn-out babes, whose heads lay on the pillow close to hers: but her eyes were lit up with an intense glory, which seemed to fill the room with love and light.
Frank listened: but would not break the spell.
At last she rose, looked round and blushed.
"I beg your pardon, sir, for taking the liberty. If I had known that you were about, I would have sent: but hearing that you were gone home, I thought you would not be offended, if I gave thanks for them myself. They are my own, sir, as it were—"
"Oh, Miss Harvey, do not talk so! While you can pray as you were praying then, he who would silence you might be silencing unawares the Lord himself!"
She made no answer, though the change in Frank's tone moved her; and when he told her his errand, that thought also passed from her mind.
At last, "Happy, happy man!" she said calmly; and putting on her bonnet, followed Frank out of the house.
"Miss Harvey," said Frank, as they hurried up the street, "I must say one word to you, before we take that Sacrament together."
"It is well to confess all sins before the Eucharist, and I will confess mine. I have been unjust to you. I know that you hate to be praised; so I will not tell you what has altered my opinion. But Heaven forbid that I should ever do so base a thing, as to take the school away from one who is far more fit to rule in it than ever I shall be!"
Grace burst into tears.
"Thank God! And I thank you, sir! Oh, there's never a storm but what some gleam breaks through it! And now, sir, I would not have told you it before, lest you should fancy that I changed for the sake of gain— though, perhaps, that is pride, as too much else has been. But you will never hear of me inside either of those chapels again."
"What has altered your opinion of them, then?"
"It would take long to tell, sir: but what happened this morning filled the cup. I begin to think, sir, that their God and mine are not the same. Though why should I judge them, who worshipped that other God myself till no such long time since; and never knew, poor fool, that the Lord's name was Love?"
"I have found out that, too, in these last days. More shame to me than to you that I did not know it before."
"Well for us both that we do know it now, sir. For if we believed Him now, sir, to be aught but perfect Love, how could we look round here to-night, and not go mad?"
"Amen!" said Frank.
And how had the pestilence, of all things on earth, revealed to those two noble souls that God is Love?
Let the reader, if he have supplied Campbell's sermon, answer the question for himself.
They went in, and upstairs to Willis.
Grace bent over the old man, tenderly, but with no sign of sorrow. Dry-eyed, she kissed the old man's forehead; arranged his bed-clothes, woman-like, before she knelt down; and then the three received the Sacrament together.
"Don't turn me out," whispered Tom. "It's no concern of mine, of course; but you are all good creatures, and, somehow, I should like to be with you."
So Tom stayed; and what thoughts passed through his heart are no concern of ours.
Frank put the cup to the old man's lips; the lips closed, sipped,—then opened ... the jaw had fallen.
"Gone," said Grace quietly.
Frank paused, awe-struck.
"Go on, sir," said she, in a low voice. "He hears it all more clearly than he ever did before." And by the dead man's side Frank finished the Communion Service.
Grace rose when it was over, kissed the calm forehead, and went out without a word.
"Tom," said Frank, in a whisper, "come into the next room with me."
Tom hardly heard the tone in which the words were spoken, or he would perhaps have answered otherwise than he did.
"My father takes the Communion," said he, half to himself. "At least, it is a beautiful old—"
Howsoever the sentence would have been finished, Tom stopped short—
"Hey?—What does that mean?"
"At last?" gasped Frank, gently enough. "Excuse me!" He was bowed almost double, crushing Thurnall's arm in the fierce gripe of pain. "Pish!— Hang it!—Impossible!—There, you are all right now!"
"For the time. I can understand many things now. Curious sensation it is, though. Can you conceive a sword put in on one side of the waist, just above the hip-bone, and drawn through, handle and all, till it passes out at the opposite point?"
"I have felt it twice; and therefore you will be pleased to hold your tongue and go to bed. Have you had any warnings?"
"Yes,—no,—that is—this morning: but I forgot. Never mind!—What matter a hundred years hence I There it is again!—God help me!"
"Humph!" growled Thurnall to himself. "I'd sooner have lost a dozen of these herring-hogs, whom nobody misses, and who are well out of their life-scrape: but the parson, just as he was making a man!"
There is no use in complaints. In half an hour Frank is screaming like a woman, though he has bitten his tongue half through to stop his screams.
THE BLACK HOUND.
Pah! Let us escape anywhere for a breath of fresh air, for even the scent of a clean turf. We have been watching saints and martyrs—perhaps not long enough for the good of our souls, but surely too long for the comfort of our bodies. Let us away up the valley, where we shall find, it not indeed a fresh healthful breeze (for the drought lasts on), at least a cool refreshing down-draught from Carcarrow Moor before the sun gets up. It is just half-past four o'clock, on a glorious August morning. We shall have three hours at least before the heavens become one great Dutch-oven again.
We shall have good company, too, in our walk; for here comes Campbell fresh from his morning's swim, swinging up the silent street toward Frank Headley's lodging.
He stops, and tosses a pebble against the window-pane. In a minute or two Thurnall opens the street-door and slips out to him.
"Ah, Major! Overslept myself at last; that sofa is wonderfully comfortable. No time to go down and bathe. Ill get my header somewhere up the stream."
"How is he?"
"He? sleeping like a babe, and getting well as fast as his soul will allow his body. He has something on his mind. Nothing to be ashamed of, though, I will warrant; for a purer, nobler fellow I never met."
"When can we move him?"
"Oh, to-morrow, if he will agree. You may all depart and leave me and the Government man to make out the returns of killed and wounded. We shall have no more cholera. Eight days without a new case. We shall do now. I'm glad you are coming up with us."
"I will just see the hounds throw off, and then go back and get Headley's breakfast."
"No, no! you mustn't, sir: you want a day's play."
"Not half as much as you. And I am in no hunting mood just now. Do you take your fill of the woods and the streams, and let me see our patient. I suppose you will be back by noon?"
"Certainly." And the two swing up the street, and out of the town, along the vale toward Trebooze.
For Trebooze of Trebooze has invited them, and Lord Scoutbush, and certain others, to come out otter-hunting; and otter-hunting they will go.
Trebooze has been sorely exercised, during the last fortnight, between fear of the cholera and desire of calling upon Lord Scoutbush—"as I ought to do, of course, as one of the gentry round; he's a Whig, of course, and no more to me than anybody else; but one don't like to let politics interfere;" by which Trebooze glosses over to himself and friends the deep Hunkeydom with which he lusteth after a live lord's acquaintance, and one especially in whom he hopes to find even such a one as himself.... "Good fellow, I hear he is, too,—good sportsman, smokes like a chimney," and so forth.
So at last, when the cholera has all but disappeared, he comes down to Penalva, and introduces himself, half swaggering, half servile; begins by a string of apologies for not having called before,—"Mrs. Trebooze so afraid of infection, you see, my lord,"—which is a lie: then blunders out a few fulsome compliments to Scoutbush's courage in staying; then takes heart at a little joke of Scoutbush's, and tries the free and easy style; fingers his lordship's high-priced Hudsons, and gives a broad hint that he would like to smoke one on the spot; which hint is not taken, any more than the bet of a "pony" which he offers five minutes afterwards, that he will jump his Irish mare in and out of Aberalva pound; is utterly "thrown on his haunches" (as he informs his friend Mr. Creed afterwards) by Scoutbush's praise of Tom Thurnall, as an "invaluable man, a treasure in such an out-of-the-way place, and really better company than ninety-nine men out of a hundred;" recovers himself again when Scoutbush asks after his otter-hounds, of which he has heard much praise from Tardrew; and launches out once more into sporting conversation of that graceful and lofty stamp which may be perused and perpended in the pages of "Handley Cross," and "Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour," books painfully true to that uglier and baser side of sporting life, which their clever author has chosen so wilfully to portray.
So, at least, said Scoutbush to himself, when his visitor had departed.
"He's just like a page out of Sponge's Tour, though he's not half as good a fellow as Sponge himself; for Sponge knew he was a snob, and lived up to his calling honestly: but this fellow wants all the while to play at being a gentleman; and—Ugh! how the fellow smelt of brandy, and worse! His hand, too, shook as if he had the palsy, and he chattered and fidgetted like a man with St. Vitus's dance."
"Did he, my lord?" quoth Tom Thurnall, when he heard the same, in a very meaning tone.
And Trebooze, "for his part, couldn't make out that lord—uncommonly agreeable, and easy, and all that: but shoves a fellow off, and sets him down somehow, and in such a —— civil way, that you don't know where to have him."
However, Trebooze departed in high spirits; for Lord Scoutbush has deigned to say that he will be delighted to see the otter-hounds work any morning that Trebooze likes, and anyhow—no time too early for him. "He will bring his friend Major Campbell?"
"By all means."
"Expect two or three sporting gentlemen from the neighbourhood, too. Regular good ones, my lord—though they are county bucks—very much honoured to make your lordship's acquaintance."
Scoutbush expresses himself equally honoured by making their acquaintance, in a tone of bland simplicity, which utterly puzzles Trebooze, who goes a step further.
"Your lordship'll honour us by taking pot luck afterwards. Can't show you French cookery, you know, and your souffleys and glacys, and all that. Honest saddle o' mutton, and the grounds of old port.—My father laid it down, and I take it up, eh?" And Trebooze gave a wink and a nudge of his elbow, meaning to be witty.
His lordship was exceedingly sorry; it was the most unfortunate accident: but he had the most particular engagement that very afternoon, and must return early from the otter-hunt, and probably sail the next day for Wales. "But," says the little man, who knows all about Trebooze's household, "I shall not fail to do myself the honour of calling on Mrs. Trebooze, and expressing my regret," etc.
So to the otter-hunt is Scoutbush gone, and Campbell and Thurnall after him; for Trebooze has said to himself, "Must ask that blackguard of a doctor—hang him! I wish he were an otter himself; but if he's so thick with his lordship it won't do to quarrel." For, indeed, Thurnall might tell tales. So Trebooze swallows his spite and shame,—as do many folk who call themselves his betters, when they have to deal with a great man's hanger-on,—and sends down a note to Tom:
"Mr. Trebooze requests the pleasure of Mr. Thurnall's company with his hounds at——"
And Tom accepts—why not? and chats with Campbell, as they go, on many things; and among other things on this,—
"By the by," said he, "I got an hour's shore-work yesterday afternoon, and refreshing enough it was. And I got a prize, too. The sucking barnacle which you asked for: I was certain I should get one or two, if I could have a look at the pools this week. Jolly little dog! he was paddling and spinning about last night, and enjoying himself, 'ere age with creeping'—What is it?—'hath clawed him in his clutch.' That fellow's destiny is not a hopeful analogy for you, sir, who believe that we shall rise after we die into some higher and freer state."
"Why, which is better off, the free swimming larva, or the perfect cirrhipod, rooted for ever motionless to the rock?"
"Which is better off, the roving young fellow who is sowing his wild oats, or the man who has settled down, and become a respectable landowner with a good house over his head?"
"And begun to propagate his species? Well, you have me there, sir, as far as this life is concerned; but you will confess that the barnacle's history proves that all crawling grubs don't turn into butterflies."
"I daresay the barnacle turns into what is best for him; at all events, what he deserves. That rule of yours will apply to him, to whomsoever it will not."
"And so does penance for the sins of his youth, as some of us are to do in the next world?"
"Perhaps yes; perhaps no; perhaps neither."
"Do you speak of us, or the barnacle?"
"I am glad of that; for on the popular notion of our being punished a million years hence for what we did when we were lads, I never could see anything but a misery and injustice in our having come into the world at all."
"I can," said the Major quietly.
"Of course I meant nothing rude: but I had to buy my experience, and paid for it dearly enough in folly."
"So had I to buy mine."
"Then why be punished over and above? Why have to pay for the folly, which was itself only the necessary price of experience'?"
"For being, perhaps, so foolish as not to use the experience after it has cost you so dear."
"And will punishment cure me of the foolishness?"
"That depends on yourself. If it does, it must needs be so much the better for you. But perhaps you will not be punished, but forgiven."
"Let off? That would be a very bad thing for me, unless I become a very different man from what I have been as yet. I am always right glad now to get a fall whenever I make a stumble. I should have gone to sleep in my tracks long ago else, as one to do in the back woods on a long elk hunt."
"Perhaps you may become a very different man."
"I should be sorry for that, even if it were possible."
"Why? Do you consider yourself perfect?"
"No.... But somehow, Thomas Thurnall is an old friend of mine, the first I ever had; and I should be sorry to lose his company."
"I don't think you need fear doing so. You have seen an insect go through strange metamorphoses, and yet remain the same individual; why should not you and I do so likewise?"
"Well—There are some points about you, I suppose, which you would not be sorry to have altered?"
"A few," quoth Tom, laughing. "I do not consider myself quite perfect yet."
"What if those points were not really any part of your character, but mere excrescences of disease: or if that be too degrading a notion, mere scars of old wounds, and of the wear and tear of life; and what if, in some future life, all those disappeared, and the true Mr. Thomas Thurnall, pure and simple, were alone left?"
"It is a very hopeful notion. Only, my dear sir, one is quite self-conceited enough in this imperfect state. What intolerable coxcombs we should all be if we were perfect, and could sit admiring ourselves for ever and ever!"
"But what if that self-conceit and self-dependence were the very root of all the disease, the cause of all the scars, the very thing which will have to be got rid of, before our true character and true manhood can be developed?"
"Yes, I understand. Faith and humility.... You will forgive me, Major Campbell. I shall learn to respect those virtues when good people have defined them a little more exactly, and can show me somewhat more clearly in what faith differs from superstition, and humility from hypocrisy."
"I do not think any man will ever define them for you. But you may go through a course of experiences, more severe, probably, than pleasant, which may enable you at last to define them for yourself."
"Have you defined them?" asked Tom, bluntly, glancing round at his companion.
"Faith?—Yes, I trust. Humility?—No, I fear."
"I should like to hear your definition of the former, at least."
"Did I not say that you must discover it for yourself?"
"Yes. Well. When the lesson comes, if it does come, I suppose it will come in some learnable shape; and till then, I must shift for myself— and if self-dependence he a punishable sin, I shall, at all events, have plenty of company whithersoever I go. There is Lord Scoutbush and Trebooze!"
Why did not Campbell speak his mind more clearly to Thurnall?
Because he knew that with such men words are of little avail. The disease was entrenched too strongly in the very centre of the man's being. It seemed at moments as if all his strange adventures and hairbreadth escapes had been sent to do him harm, and not good; to pamper and harden his self-confidence, not to crush it. Therefore Campbell seldom argued with him: but he prayed for him often; for he had begun, as all did who saw much of Tom Thurnall, to admire and respect him, in spite of all his faults.
And now, turning through a woodland path, they descend toward the river, till they can hear voices below them; Scoutbush laughing quietly, Trebooze laying down the law at the top of his voice.
"How noisy the fellow is, and how he is hopping about!" says Campbell.
"No wonder: he has been soaking, I hear, for the last fortnight, with some worthy compeers, by way of keeping off cholera. I must have my eye on him to-day."
Scrambling down through the brushwood, they found themselves in such a scene as Creswick alone knows how to paint: though one element of beauty, which Creswick uses full well, was wanting; and the whole place was seen, not by slant sun-rays, gleaming through the boughs, and dappling all the pebbles with a lacework of leaf shadows, but in the uniform and sober grey of dawn.
A broad bed of shingle, looking just now more like an ill-made turnpike road than the bed of Alva stream; above it, a long shallow pool, which showed every stone through the transparent water; on the right, a craggy bank, bedded with deep wood sedge and orange-tipped king ferns, clustering beneath sallow and maple bushes already tinged with gold; on the left, a long bar of gravel, covered with giant "butter-bur" leaves; in and out of which the hounds are brushing—beautiful black-and-tan dogs, of which poor Trebooze may be pardonably proud; while round the burleaf-bed dances a rough white Irish terrier, seeming, by his frantic self-importance, to consider himself the master of the hounds.
Scoutbush is standing with Trebooze beyond the bar, upon a little lawn set thick with alders. Trebooze is fussing and fidgetting about, wiping his forehead perpetually; telling everybody to get out of the way, and not to interfere; then catching hold of Scoutbush's button to chatter in his face; then, starting aside to put some part of his dress to rights. His usual lazy drawl is exchanged for foolish excitement. Two or three more gentlemen, tired of Trebooze's absurdities, are scrambling over the rocks above, in search of spraints. Old Tardrew waddles stooping along the line where grass and shingle meet, his bulldog visage bent to his very knees.
"Tardrew out hunting?" says Campbell. "Why, it is but a week since his daughter was buried!"
"And why not? I like him better for it. Would he bring her back again by throwing away a good day's sport? Better turn out, as he has done, and forget his feelings, if he has any."
"He has feelings enough, don't doubt. But you are right. There is something very characteristic in the way in which the English countryman never shows grief, never lets it interfere with business, even with pleasure."
"Hillo! Mr. Trebooze!" says the old fellow, looking up. "Here it is!"
"Spraint?—Spraint?—Spraint?—Where? Eh—what?" cries Trebooze.
"No; but what's as good: here on this alder stump, not an hour old. I thought they beauties starns weren't flemishing for nowt."
"Here! Here! Here! Here! Musical, Musical! Sweetlips! Get out of the way!"—and Trebooze runs down.
Musical examines, throws her nose into the air, and answers by the rich bell-like note of the true otter hound; and all the woodlands ring as the pack dashes down the shingle to her call.
"Over!" shouts Tom. "Here's the fresh spraint our side!"
Through the water splash squire, viscount, steward, and hounds, to the horror of a shoal of par, the only visible tenants of a pool, which, after a shower of rain, would be alive with trout. Where those trout are in the meanwhile is a mystery yet unsolved.
Over dances the little terrier, yapping furiously, and expending his superfluous energy by snapping right and left at the par.
"Hark to Musical! hark to Sweetlips! Down the stream?—No! the old girl has it; right up the bank!"
"How do, Doctor? How do, Major Campbell? Forward!—Forward!—Forward!" shouts Trebooze, glad to escape a longer parley, as with his spear in his left hand, he clutches at the overhanging boughs with his right, and swings himself up, with Peter, the huntsman, after him. Tom follows him; and why?
Because he does not like his looks. That bull-eye is red, and almost bursting; his cheeks are flushed, his lips blue, his hand shakes; and Tom's quick eye has already remarked, from a distance, over and above his new fussiness, a sudden shudder, a quick half-frightened glance behind him; and perceived, too, that the moment Musical gave tongue, he put the spirit-flask to his mouth.
Away go the hounds at score through tangled cover, their merry peal ringing from brake and brier, clashing against the rocks, moaning musically away through distant glens aloft.
Scoutbush and Tardrew "take down" the riverbed, followed by Campbell. It is in his way home; and though the Major has stuck many a pig, shot many a gaur, rhinoceros, and elephant, he disdains not, like a true sportsman, the less dangerous but more scientific excitement of an otter-hunt.
"Hark to the merry merry Christchurch bells! She's up by this time;— that don't sound like a drag now!" cries Tom, bursting desperately, with elbow-guarded visage, through the tangled scrub.
"What's the matter, Trebooze? No, thanks! 'Modest quenchers' won't improve the wind just now."
For Trebooze has halted, panting and bathed in perspiration; has been at the brandy flask again; and now offers Tom a "quencher," as he calls it.