It was one evening during the next spring, and the game of whist was over for the night. The servant had just brought in tumblers with a view to whiskey and water before bed. I was preparing to pay fourteen shillings to Mrs. Buckley, and was rather nervous about meeting my partner, the Major’s eye, when he, tapping the table with his hand, spoke:—
“The most childish play, Hamlyn; the most childish play.”
“I don’t defend the last game,” I said. “I thought you were short of diamonds — at least I calculated on the chance of your being so, having seven myself. But please to remember, Major, that you yourself lost two tricks in hearts, in the first game of the second rubber.”
“And why, sir?” said the Major. “Tell me that, sir. Because you confused me by leading queen, when you had ace, king, queen. The most utterly schoolboy play. I wouldn’t have done such a thing at Eton.”
“I had a flush of them,” I said eagerly. “And I meant to lead ace, and then get trumps out. But I put down queen by mistake.”
“You can make what excuses you like, Hamlyn,” said the Major. “But the fact remains the same. There is one great fault in your character, the greatest fault I know of, and which you ought to study to correct. I tell you of it boldly as an old friend. You are too confoundedly chary in leading out your trumps, and you can’t deny it.”
“Hallo!” said Captain Brentwood, “who comes so late?”
Mary Hawker rose from her chair, and looked eagerly towards the door. “I know who it is,” she said, blushing. “I heard him laugh.”
In another moment the door was thrown open, and in stalked Tom Troubridge.
“By George!” he said. “Don’t all speak to me at once. I feel the queerest wambling in my innards, as we used to say in Devon, at the sight of so many old faces. Somehow, a man can’t make a new home in a hurry. It’s the people make the home, not the house and furniture. My dear old cousin, and how are you?”
“I am very quiet, Tom. I am much happier than I thought to have been. And I am deeply thankful to see you again.”
“How is my boy, Tom?” said the Major.
“And how is my girl, Tom?” said the Captain.
“Sam,” said Tom, “is a sight worth a guinea, and Mrs. Samuel looks charming, but — In point of fact you know I believe she expects —”
“No!” said the Captain. “You don’t say so.”
“Fact, my dear sir.”
“Dear me,” said the Major, drumming on the table. “I hope it will be a b —. By the bye, how go the sheep?”
“You never saw such a country, sir!” said Tom. “We have got nearly five thousand on each run, and there is no one crowding up yet. If we can hold that ground with our produce, and such store-sheep as we can pick up, we shall do wonders.”
By this time Tom was set at supper, and between the business of satisfying a hunger of fifteen hours, began asking after old friends.
“How are the Mayfords?” he asked.
“Poor Mrs. Mayford is better,” said Mrs. Buckley. “She and Ellen are just starting for Europe. They have sold their station, and we have bought it.”
“What are they going to do in England?” asked Tom.
“Going to live with their relations in Hampshire.”
“Ellen will be a fine match for some young English squire,” said Tom. “She will have twenty thousand pounds some day, I suppose.”
And then we went on talking about other matters.
A little scene took place in the garden next morning, which may astonish some of my readers, but which did not surprise me in the least. I knew it would happen, sooner or later, and when I saw Tom’s air, on his arrival the night before, I said to myself, “It is coming,” and so sure enough it did. And I got all the circumstances out of Tom only a few days afterwards.
Mary Hawker was now a very handsome woman, about one and forty. There may have been a grey hair here and there among her long black tresses, but they were few and far between. I used to watch her sometimes of an evening, and wonder to myself how she had come through such troubles, and lived; and yet there she was on the night when Tom arrived, for instance, sitting quite calm and cheerful beside the fire in her half-mourning (she had soon dropped her weeds, perhaps, considering who her husband had been, a piece of good taste), with quite a placid, contented look on her fine black eyes. I think no one was capable of feeling deeper for a time, but her power of resilience was marvellous. I have noticed that before. It may, God forgive me, have given me some slight feeling of contempt for her, because, forsooth, she did not brood over and nurse an old grief as I did myself. I am not the man to judge her. When I look back on my own wasted life; when I see how for one boyish fancy I cut myself off from all the ties of domestic life, to hold my selfish way alone, I sometimes think that she has shown herself a better woman than I have a man. Ah! well, old sweetheart, not much to boast of either of us. Let us get on.
She was walking in the garden, next morning, and Tom came and walked beside her; and after a little he said —
“So you are pretty well contented, cousin?”
“I am as well content,” she said, “as a poor, desolate, old childless widow could hope to be. There is no happiness left for me in this life!”
“Who told you that?” said Tom. “Who told you that the next twenty years of your life might not be happier than any that have gone before?”
“How could that be?” she asked. “What is left for me now, but to go quietly to my grave?”
“Grave!” said Tom. “Who talks of graves for twenty years to come! Mary, my darling, I have waited for you so long and faithfully, you will not disappoint me at last?”
“What do you mean? What can you mean?”
“Mean!” said he; “why, I mean this, cousin: I mean you to be my wife — to come and live with me as my honoured wife, for the next thirty years, please God!”
“You are mad!” she said. “Do you know what you say? Do you know who you are speaking to?”
“To my old sweetheart, Polly Thornton!” he said, with a laugh — “to no one else in the world.”
“You are wrong,” she said; “you may try to forget now, but you will remember afterwards. I am not Mary Thornton. I am an old broken woman, whose husband was transported for coining, and hung for murder and worse!”
“Peace be with him!” said Tom. “I am not asking who your husband was; I have had twenty years to think about that, and at the end of twenty years, I say, my dear old sweetheart, you are free at last: will you marry me?”
“Impossible!” said Mary. “All the country-side knows who I am. Think of the eternal disgrace that clings to me. Oh, never, never!”
“Then you have no objection to me? eh, cousin?”
“To you, my kind, noble old partner? Ah, I love and honour you above all men!”
“Then,” said Tom, putting his arm round her waist, “to the devil with all the nonsense you have just been talking, about eternal disgraces and so forth! I am an honest man and you’re an honest woman, and, therefore, what cause or impediment can there be? Come, Mary, it’s no use resisting; my mind is made up, and you MUST!”
“Oh, think!” she said; “oh, think only once, before it is too late for ever!”
“I have thought,” said Tom, “as I told you before, for twenty years; and I ain’t likely to alter my opinion in ten minutes. Come, Mary. Say, yes!”
And so she said yes.
“Mrs. Buckley,” said Tom, as they came up arm in arm to the house, “it will be a good thing if somebody was to go up to our place, and nurse Mrs. Sam in her confinement.”
“I shall go up myself,” said Mrs. Buckley, “though how I am to get there I hardly know. It must be nearly eight hundred miles, I am afraid.”
“I don’t think you need, my dear madam,” said he. “My wife will make an excellent nurse!”
Tom looked at Mary, who blushed, and Mrs. Buckley came up and kissed her.
“I am so glad, so very glad, my love!” she said. “The very happiest and wisest thing that could be! I have been hoping for it, my love, and I felt sure it would be so, sooner or later. How glad your dear aunt would be if she were alive!”
And, in short, he took her off with him, and they were married, and went up to join Sam and his wife in New England — reducing our party to four. Not very long after they were gone, we heard that there was a new Sam Buckley born, who promised, said the wise women, to be as big a man as his father. Then, at an interval of very little more than two years, Mrs. Buckley got a long letter from Alice, announcing the birth of a little girl to the Troubridges. This letter is still extant, and in my possession, having been lent me, among other family papers, by Agnes Buckley, as soon as she heard that I was bent upon correcting these memoirs to fit them for the press. I will give you some extracts from it:—
. . . “Dear Mary Troubridge has got a little girl, a sweet, quiet, brighteyed little thing, taking, I imagine, after old Miss Thornton. They are going to call it Agnes Alice, after you and I, my dearest mother.
“You cannot imagine how different Mary is grown from what she used to be! Stout, merry, and matronly, quite! She keeps the house alive, and I think I never saw a couple more sincerely attached than are she and her husband. He is a most excellent companion for my Sam. Not to make matters too long, we are just about as happy as four people can be. Some day we may all come to live together again, and then our delight will be perfect.
“I got Jim’s letter which you sent me. . . . Sam and his partner are embarking every sixpence they can spare in buying town and suburban lots at Melbourne. I know every street and alley in that wonderful city (containing near a hundred houses) on the map, but I am not very likely to go there ever. Let us hope that Sam’s speculations will turn out profitable.
“Best love to Mr. Hamlyn.” . . .
I must make a note to this letter. Alice refers to a letter received from Jim, which, as near as I can make the dates agree, must be the one I hold in my hand at this moment. I am not sure, but I think so. This one runs —
“Dear Dad, . . . I have been down among the dead men, and since then up into the seventh heaven, in consequence of being not only gazetted, but promoted. The beggars very nearly did for us. All our fortifications, the prettiest things ever done under the circumstances, executed under Bobby’s own eye, were thrown down by — what do you think? — an earthquake! Perhaps we didn’t swear — Lord forgive us! Akbar had a shy at us immediately, but got a most immortal licking!
“Is not this a most wonderful thing about Halbert? The girl that he was to be married to was supposed to be lost, coming out in the Assam. And now it appears that she wasn’t lost at all (the girl I mean, not the ship), but that she was wrecked on the east coast of Madagascar, and saved, with five and twenty more. She came on to Calcutta, and they were married the week after he got his troop. She is uncommonly handsome and ladylike, but looks rather brown and lean from living on birds’ nests and sea-weed for above six months of her life.”
[Allow me to remark that this must be romance on Jim’s part; birds’ nests and trepang are not found in Madagascar.]
“My wound is nearly all right again. It was only a prick with a spear in my thigh —”
It is the very deuce editing these old letters without anything to guide one. As far as I can make out by myself (Jim being now down at Melton hunting, and not having answered my letter of inquiries), this letter must have come accompanied by an Indian newspaper containing the account of some battle or campaign in which he was engaged. Putting this and that together, I am inclined to believe that it refers to the defence of Jellalabad by Sir Robert Sale, in which I know he was engaged. I form this opinion from the fact of his mentioning that the fortifications were destroyed by an earthquake. And I very much fear that the individual so disrespectfully mentioned above as “Bobby,” was no other than the great Hero himself. In my second (or if that goes off too quick, in my third) edition, I will endeavour to clear this point up in a satisfactory manner.
After this there was a long dull time with no news from him or from any one. Then Sam came down from New England, and paid us a visit, which freshened us up a little. But in spite of this and other episodes, there was little change or excitement for us four. We made common house of it, and never parted from one another more than a day. Always of an evening came the old friendly rubber, I playing with the Major, and Captain Brentwood with Mrs. Buckley. The most remarkable event I have to chronicle during the long period which followed, is, that one day a bushfire came right up to the garden rails, and was beaten out with difficulty; and that same evening I held nine trumps, Ace, Queen, Knave, Nine of hearts, and the rest small. I cannot for the life of me remember what year it was in, somewhere between forty-two and forty-five, I believe, because within a year or two of that time we heard that a large comet had appeared in England, and that Sir Robert Peel was distrusted on the subject of Protection. After all, it is no great consequence, though it is rather provoking, because I never before or since held more than eight trumps. Burnside, the cattle-dealer, claims to have held eleven, but I may state, once for all, that I doubt that man’s statements on this and every other subject on which he speaks. — He knows where I am to be found.
My man Dick, too, somehow or another, constituted himself my groom and valet. And the Major was well contented with the arrangement. So we four, Major and Mrs. Buckley, Captain Brentwood and I, sat there in the old station night after night, playing our whist, till even my head, the youngest of the four, began to be streaked with grey, and sixteen years were past.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10