It is March, 1856. The short autumn day is rapidly giving place to night; and darkness, and the horror of a great tempest is settling down upon the desolate grey sea, which heaves and seethes for ever around Cape Horn.
A great clipper ship, the noblest and swiftest of her class, is hurling along her vast length before the terrible west wind. Hour by hour through the short and gloomy day, sail after sail has gone fluttering in; till now, at night-fall, she reels and rolls before the storm under a single close reefed maintopsail.
There is a humming, and a roaring, and a rushing of great waters, so that they who are clinging to the bulwarks, and watching awe-struck this great work of the Lord’s, cannot hear one another though they shout. Now there is a grey mountain which chases the ship, overtakes her, pours cataracts of water over her rounded stern, and goes hissing and booming past her. And now a roll more frantic than usual, nigh dips her mainyard, and sends the water spouting wildly over her bulwarks.
(“Oh, you very miserable ass,” said Captain Brentwood; “to sit down and try to describe the indescribable. Do you think that because you can see all the scene before you now, because your flesh creeps, and your blood moves as you call it to mind, do you think, I say, that you can describe it? Do you think that you can give a man, in black and white, with ink, and on paper, any real notion of that most tremendous spectacle, a sharp bowed ship running before a gale of wind through the ice in the great South Sea, where every wave rolls round the world? Go to — read Tom Cringle, who has given up his whole soul to descriptions, and see how many pictures dwell in your mind’s eye, after reading his books. Two, or at most three, and they, probably, quite different from what he intended you to see, lovely as they are; — leave describing things, man, and give us some more facts.”
Said Major Buckley, “Go on, Hamlyn, and do the best you can. Don’t mind him.” And so I go on accordingly.)
61 degrees 30 minutes South. The Horn, storm-beaten, desolate, four hundred miles to the North, and barely forty miles to the South, that cruel, gleaming, ice barrier, which we saw today when the weather lifted at noon, and which we know is there yet, though we dare not think about it. There comes to us, though, in spite of ourselves, a vision of what may happen any hour. A wild cry from the foretop. A mass, grey, indistinct, horrible, rising from the wild waters, scarce a hundred yards from her bowsprit. A mad hurrying to and fro. A crash. A great ruin of masts and spars, and then utter, hopeless destruction. That is the way the poor old Madagascar must have gone. The Lord send us safe through the ice.
Stunned, drenched to the skin, half-frightened, but wildly excited and determined to see out, what a landsman has but seldom a chance of seeing, a great gale of wind at sea, I clung tight to the starboard bulwarks of Mr. Richard Green’s new clipper, Sultan, Captain Sneezer, about an hour after dark, as she was rounding the Horn, watching much such a scene as I have attempted to give you a notion of above. And as I held on there, wishing that the directors of my insurance office could see me at that moment, the first mate, coming from forward, warping himself from one belayingpin to another, roared in my ear, “that he thought it was going to blow.”
“Man! man!” I said, “do you mean to tell me it is not blowing now?”
“A bit of a breeze,” he roared; but his roar came to me like a whisper. However, I pretty soon found out that this was something quite out of the common; for, crawling up, along the gangway which runs between the poophouse and the bulwarks, I came with great difficulty to the stern; and there I saw the two best men in the larboard watch (let us immortalize them, they were Deaf Bob, and Harry the digger), lashed to the wheel, and the Skipper himself, steadfast and anxious, alongside of them, lashed to a cleat on the afterpart of the deck-house. So thinks I, if these men are made fast, this is no place for me to be loose in, and crawled down to my old place in the waist, at the after end of the spare topsail-yard, which was made fast to the starboard-bulwarks, and which extended a little abaft of the main shrouds.
If any gentleman can detect a nautical error in that last sentence, I shall feel obliged by his mentioning it.
Somebody who came forth from the confusion, and was gone again, informed me that “He was going to lay her to, and that I’d better hold on.” I comforted myself with the reflection that I was doing exactly the right thing, holding on like grim death.
Then something happened, and I am sorry to say I don’t exactly know what. I find in my notes, taken shortly afterwards, from the dictation of an intelligent midshipman, “that the fore royal-yard got jammed with the spanker-boom, and carried away the larboard quarter boat.” Nautical friends have since pointed out to me that this involves an impossibility. I daresay it does. I know it involved an impossibility of turning in without subjecting yourself to a hydropathic remedy of violent nature, by going to bed in wet blankets, and of getting anything for breakfast besides wet biscuit and cold tea. Let it go; something went wrong, and the consequences were these.
A wall of water, looming high above her mainyard, came rushing and booming along, dark, terrible, opaque. For a moment I saw it curling overhead, and would have cried out, I believe, had there been time; but a midshipman, a mere child, slipped up before me, and caught hold of my legs, while I tried to catch his collar. Then I heard the skipper roar out, in that hoarse throaty voice that seamen use when excited. “Hold on, the sea’s aboard,” and then a stunning, blinding rush of water buried us altogether. The Sultan was on her beamends, and what was more, seemed inclined to stay there, so that I, holding on by the bulwarks, saw the sea seething and boiling almost beneath my feet, which were swinging clear off the deck.
But the midshipman sung out that she was righting again, which she did rather quicker than was desirable, bringing every loose article on deck down to our side again with a rush. A useless, thundering, four-pounder gun, of which terrible implements of war we carried six, came plunging across from the other side of the deck, and went crashing through the bulwarks, out into the sea, within two feet of my legs.
“I think,” I said, trying to persuade myself that I was not frightened, “I think I shall go into the cuddy.”
That was not very easy to do. I reached the door, and got hold of the handle, and, watching my opportunity, slipped dexterously in, and making a plunge, came against the surgeon, who, seated on a camp-stool, was playing piquette, and overthrew him into a corner.
“Repique, by jingo,” shouted Sam Buckley, who was the surgeon’s opponent. “See what a capital thing it is to have an old friend like Hamlyn, to come in and knock your opponent down just at the right moment.”
“And papa was losing, too, Uncle Jeff,” added a handsome lad, about fifteen, who was leaning over Sam’s shoulder.
“What are they doing to you, Doctor?” said Alice Buckley, NEE Brentwood, coming out of a cabin, and supporting herself to a seat by her husband and son.
“Why,” replied the surgeon, “Hamlyn knocked me down just in a moment of victory, but his nefarious project has failed, for I have kept possession of my cards. Play, Buckley.”
Let us give a glance at the group which is assembled beneath the swing lamp in the reeling cabin. The wife and son are both leaning over the father’s shoulder, and the three faces are together. Sam is about forty. There is not a wrinkle in that honest forehead, and the eyes beam upon you as kindly and pleasantly as ever they did; and when, after playing to the surgeon, he looks up and laughs, one sees that he is just the same old Sam that used to lie, as a lad, dreaming in the verandah at Garoopna. No trouble has left its shadow there. Alice, whose face is pressed against his, is now a calm, young matron of three or four-and-thirty, if it were possible, more beautiful than ever, only she has grown from a Hebe into a Juno. The boy, the son and heir, is much such a stripling as I can remember his father at the same age, but handsomer. And while we look, another face comes peering over his shoulder; the laughing face of a lovely girl, with bright sunny hair, and soft blue eyes; the face of Maud Buckley, Sam’s daughter.
They are going home to England. Sam — what between his New England runs, where there are now, under Tom Troubridge’s care, 118,000 sheep, and his land speculations at Melbourne, which have turned him out somewhere about 1,000 per cent. since the gold discovery — Sam, I say, is one of the richest of her Majesty’s subjects in the Southern hemisphere. I would give 200,000L. for Sam, and make a large fortune in the surplus. “And so,” I suppose you say, “he is going home to buy Clere.” Not at all, my dear sir. Clere is bought, and Sam is going home to take possession. “Marry, how?” Thus —
Does any one of my readers remember that our dear old friend, Agnes Buckley’s maiden name was Talbot, and that her father owned the property adjoining Clere? “We do not remember,” you say; “or at least, if we do, we are not bound to; you have not mentioned the circumstance since the very beginning of this excessively wearisome book, forty years ago.” Allow me to say, that I have purposely avoided mentioning them all along, in order that, at this very point, I might come down on you like a thunderbolt with this piece of information; namely:— That Talbot of Beaulieu Castle, the towers of which were visible from Clere Terrace, had died without male issue. That Marian and Gertrude Talbot, the two pretty girls, Agnes Buckley’s eldest sisters, who used to come in and see old Marmaduke when James was campaigning, had never married. That Marian was dead. That Gertrude, a broken old maid, was sole owner of Beaulieu Castle, with eight thousand a-year; and, that Agnes Buckley, her sister, and consequently, Sam as next in succession, was her heir.
All the negotiations for the purchase of Clere had been carried on through Miss Gertrude and her steward. The Brewer died, the property was sold, and Sam, by his agents, bought old Clere back, eight months before this, for 48,000L.
“Then, why on earth,” says Mrs. Councillor Wattlegum (our colonial Mrs. Grundy), “didn’t they go home overland? How could people with such wealth as you describe, demean themselves by going home round the Horn, like a parcel of diggers?”
“Because, my dear Madam, the young folks were very anxious to see an iceberg. Come, let us get on.”
The gale has lasted three days, and in that time we have run before it on our course 970 miles. The fourth morning breaks gloriously bright, with the shadows of a few fleecy clouds flying across the bright blue heaving sea. The ship, with all canvas crowded on her, alow and aloft, is racing on, fifteen knots an hour, with a brisk cold wind full on her quarter, heeling over till the water comes rushing and spouting through her leeward ports, and no man can stand without holding on, but all are merry and happy to see the water fly past like blue champagne, and to watch the seething wake that the good ship leaves behind her. Ah! what is this, that all are crowding down to leeward to look at? Is this the Crystal Palace, of which we have read, come out to sea to meet us? No! the young folks are going to be gratified. It is a great iceberg, and we shall pass about a mile to windward.
Certainly worth seeing. Much more tremendous than I had expected, though my imagination had rather run riot in expectation. Just a great floating cluster of shining splintered crystals, about a mile long and 300 feet high, with the cold hungry sea leaping and gnawing at its base — that is all. Send up those German musicians here, and let us hear the echo of one of Strauss’ Waltzes come ringing back from the chill green caverns. Then away, her head in northward again now, we may sight the Falklands the day after tomorrow.
Hardly worth telling you much more about that happy voyage, I think, and really I remember but few things more of note. A great American ship in 45 degrees, steaming in the teeth of the wind, heaving her long gleaming sides through the roll of the South Atlantic. The Royal Charter passing us like a phantom ship through the hot haze, when we were becalmed on the line, waking the silence of the heaving glassy sea with her throbbing propeller. A valiant vainglorious little gun-boat going out all the way to China by herself, giving herself the airs of a seventy-four, requiring boats to be sent on board her, as if we couldn’t have stowed her, guns and all, on our poop, and never crowded ourselves. A noble transport, with 53 painted on her bows, swarming with soldiers for India, to whom we gave three times three. All these things have faded from my recollection in favour of a bright spring morning in April.
A morning which, beyond all others in my life, stands out clear and distinct, as the most memorable. Jim Buckley shoved aside my cabin door when I was dressing, and says he — “Uncle Jeff, my Dad wants you immediately; he is standing by the davits of the larboard quarterboat.”
And so I ran up to Sam, and he took my arm and pointed northward. Over the gleaming morning sea rose a purple mountain, shadowed here and there by travelling clouds, and a little red-sailed boat was diving and plunging towards us, with a red flag fluttering on her mast.
“What!” I said — but I could say no more.
But I could not see it now for a blinding haze, and I bent down my head upon the bulwarks — Bah! I am but a fool after all. What could there have been to cry at in a Cornish moor, and a Falmouth pilot boat? I am not quite so young as I was, and my nerves are probably failing. That must have been it. “When I saw the steeple,” says M. Tapley, “I thought it would have choked me.” Let me say the same of Eddystone Lighthouse, which we saw that afternoon; and have done with sentiment for good. If my memory serves me rightly, we have had a good deal of that sort of thing in the preceding pages.
I left the ship at Plymouth, and Sam went on in her to London. I satisfied my soul with amazement at the men of war, and the breakwater; and, having bought a horse, I struck boldly across the moor for Drumston, revisiting on my way many a well-known snipe-ground, and old trout haunt; and so, on the third morning, I reached Drumston once more, and stabled my horse at a little public-house near the church.
It was about eight o’clock on a Tuesday morning; nevertheless, the church-bell was going, and the door was open as if for prayer. I was a little surprised at this, but having visited the grave where my father and mother lay, and then passed on to the simple headstone which marked the resting place of John Thornton and his wife, I brushed through the docks and nettles, towards the lychgate, in the shadow of which stood the clergyman, a gentlemanly looking young man, talking to a very aged woman in a red cloak.
He saluted me courteously, and passed on, talking earnestly and kindly to his aged companion, and so the remarkable couple went into the church, and the bell stopped.
I looked around. Close to me, leaning against the gate, was a coarse looking woman about fifty, who had just set down a red earthen pitcher to rest herself, and seemed not disinclined for a gossip. And at the same moment I saw a fat man, about my own age, with breeches, unbuttoned at the knee, grey worsted stockings and slippers, and looking altogether as if he was just out of bed, having had too much to drink the night before; such a man, I say, I saw coming across the road, towards us, with his hands in his pockets.
“Good morning,” I said to the woman. “Pray what is the clergyman’s name?”
“Mr. Montague,” she answered, with a curtsey.
“Does he have prayers every morning?”
“Every marnin’ of his life,” she said. “He’s a Papister.”
“You’m a fool, Cis Jewell,” said the man, who had by this time arrived. “You’m leading the gentleman wrong, he’s a Pussyite.”
“And there bain’t much difference, I’m thinking, James Gosford,” said Cis Jewell.
I started. James Gosford had been one of my favourite old comrades in times gone by, and here he was. Could it be he? Could this fat red-faced man of sixty-one, be the handsome hard-riding young dandy of forty years ago? It was he, doubtless, and in another moment I should have declared myself, but a new interruption occurred.
The bell began again, and service was over. The old woman came out of the porch and slowly down the pathway towards us.
“Is that all his congregation?” I asked.
“That’s all, sir,” said Gosford. “Sometimes some of they young villains of boys gets in, and our old clerk, Jerry, hunts ’em round and round all prayer time; but there’s none goes regular except the old ‘ooman.”
“And she had need to pray a little more than other folks,” said Cis Jewell, folding her arms, and balancing herself in a conversational attitude. “My poor old grandfather ——”
Further conversation was stopped by the near approach of the old woman herself, and I looked up at her with some little curiosity. A very old woman she was surely; and while I seemed struggling with some sort of recollection, she fixed her eyes upon me, and we knew one another.
“Geoffry Hamlyn,” she said, without a sign of surprise. “You are welcome back to your native village. When your old comrade did not know you, I, whose eyes are dim with the sorrow of eighty years, recognised you at once. They may well call me the wise woman.”
“Good God!” was all I could say. “Can this be Madge?”
“This is Madge,” she said, “who has lived long enough to see and to bless the man who saw and comforted her poor lost boy in prison, when all beside fell off from him. The Lord reward you for it.”
“How did you know that, Madge?”
“Ask a witch where she gets her information!” laughed she. “God forgive me. I’ll tell you how it was. One of the turnkeys in that very prison was a Cooper, a Hampshire gipsy, and he, knowing my boy to be half-blooded, passed all the facts on through the tribes to me, who am a mother among them! Did you see him die?” she added, eagerly putting her great bony hand upon my arm, and looking up in my face.
“No! no! mother,” I answered: “I hadn’t courage for that.”
“I heard he died grim,” she continued, half to herself. “He should a done. There was a deal of wild blood in him from both sides. Are you going up to the woodlands, to see the old place? ’Tis all in ruins now; and the choughs and stares are building and brooding in the chimney nook where I nursed him. I shall not have much longer to wait; I only stayed for this. Goodbye.”
And she was gone; and Gosford, relieved by her departure, was affectionately lugging me off to his house. Oh, the mixture of wealth and discomfort that house exhibited! Oh, the warm-hearted jollity of every one there! Oh, to see those three pretty, well-educated girls taking their father off by force, and making him clean himself in honour of my arrival! Oh, the merry evening we had! What, though the cider disagreed with me? What, though I knew it would disagree with me at the time I drank it? That noisy, jolly night in the old Devonshire grange was one of the pleasantest of my life.
And, to my great surprise, the Vicar came in in the middle of it, and made himself very agreeable to me. He told me that old Madge, as far as he could see, was a thoroughly converted and orderly person, having thrown aside all pretence of witchcraft. That she lived on some trifle of hoarded money of her own, and a small parish allowance that she had; and that she had only come back to the parish some six years since, after wandering about as a gipsy in almost every part of England. He was so good as to undertake the delivery of a small sum to her weekly from me, quite sufficient to enable her to refuse the parish allowance, and live comfortably (he wrote to me a few months afterwards, and told me that it was required no longer, for that Madge was gone to rest at last); and a good deal more news he gave me, very little of which is interesting here.
He told me that Lord C— — John Thornton’s friend, was dead; that he never thoroughly got over the great Reform debate, in which he over-exerted himself; and that, after the passing of the Bill, he had walked joyfully home and had a fit, which prevented his ever taking any part in politics afterwards, though he lived above ten years. That his son was not so popular as his father, in consequence of his politics, which were too conservative for the new class of tenants his father had brought in; and his religious opinions, which, said the clergyman, were those of a sound Churchman; by which he meant, I rather suspect, that he was a pretty smart Tractarian. I was getting won with this young gentleman, in spite of religious difference, when he chose to say that the parish had never been right since Maberly had had it, and that the Dissenters always raved about him to this day; whereby, he concluded, that Frank Maberly was far from orthodox. I took occasion to say that Frank was the man of all others in this world whom I admired most, and that, considering he had sealed his faith with his life, I thought that he ought to be very reverently spoken of. After this there arose a little coolness, and he went home.
I went up to town by the Great Western, and, for the first time, knew what was meant by railway travelling. True, I had seen and travelled on that monument of human industry, the Hobson’s Bay Railroad, but that stupendous work hardly prepared me for the Great Western. And on this journey I began to understand, for the first time in my life, what a marvellous country this England of ours was. I wondered at the wealth and traffic I saw, even in comparatively unimportant towns. I wondered at the beauty and solidity of the railway works; at the vast crowds of people which I saw at every station; at the manly, independent bearing of the men of the working classes, which combined so well with their civility and intelligence; and I thought, with a laugh, of the fate of any eighty thousand men who might shove their noses into this bee-hive, while there was such material to draw upon. Such were the thoughts of an Englishman landing in England, from whom the evils produced by dense population were as yet hidden.
But when I got into the whirl of London, I was completely overwhelmed and stupified. I did not enjoy anything. The eternal roar was so different to what I had been used to; and I had stayed there a couple of months before I had got a distinct impression of anything, save and except the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.
It was during this visit to London that I heard of the fall of Von Landstein’s (Dr. Mulhaus’) Ministry, which had happened a year or two before. And now, also, I read the speech he made on his resignation, which, for biting sarcasm and bitter truth rudely told, is unequalled by any speech I ever read. A more witty, more insolent, more audacious tirade, was never hurled at a successful opposition by a fallen minister. The K—— party sat furious, as one by one were seized on by our ruthless friend, held up to ridicule, and thrown aside. They, however, meditated vengeance.
Our friend, in the heat of debate, used the word “Dummerkopf,” which answers, I believe, to our “wooden head.” He applied it to no one in particular; but a certain young nobleman (Bow-wow Von Azelsberg was his name) found the epithet so applicable to his own case, that he took umbrage at it; and, being egged on by his comrades, challenged Von Landstein to mortal combat. Von Landstein received his fire without suffering, adjusted his spectacles, and shot the young gentleman in the knee, stopping HIS waltzing for ever and a day. He then departed for his castle, where he is at this present speaking (having just gone there after a visit to Clere) busy at his great book, “The History of Fanatics and Fanaticism, from Mahomet to Joe Smith.” Beloved by all who come in contact with him; happy, honoured, and prosperous, as he so well deserves to be.
But I used to go and see everything that was to be seen, though, having no companion (for Sam was down at Clere, putting his house in order), it was very wretched work. I DID, in fact, all the public amusements in London, and, as a matter of course, found myself one night, about eleven o’clock, at Evans’s, in Covent Garden.
The place was crowded to suffocation, but I got a place at a table about half-way up, opposite an old gentleman who had been drinking a good deal of brandy and water, and was wanting some more. Next me was an honest-looking young fellow enough, and opposite him his friend. These two looked like shop-lads, out for a “spree.”
A tall old gentleman made me buy some cigars, with such an air of condescending goodwill, that I was encouraged to stop a waiter and humbly ask for a glass of whisky and water. He was kind enough to bring it for me; so I felt more at ease, and prepared to enjoy myself.
A very gentlemanly-looking man sang us a song, so unutterably funny that we were dissolved in inextinguishable laughter; and then, from behind a curtain, began to come boys in black, one after another, as the imps in a pantomime come from a place I dare not mention, to chase the clown to his destruction. I counted twelve of them and grew dizzy. They ranged themselves in a row, with their hands behind them, and began screeching Tennyson’s “Miller’s Daughter” with such a maximum of shrillness, and such a minimum of expression, that I began to think that tailing wild cattle on the mountains, at midnight, in a thunderstorm, with my boots full of water, was a far preferable situation to my present one.
They finished. Thank goodness. Ah! delusive hope. The drunken old miscreant opposite me got up an encore with the bottom of his tumbler, and we had it all over again. Who can tell my delight when he broke his glass applauding, and the waiter came down on him sharp, and made him pay for it. I gave that waiter sixpence on the spot.
Then came some capital singing, which I really enjoyed; and then came a remarkable adventure; “an adventure!” you say; “and at Evans’s!” My dear sir, do you suppose that, at a moment like this, when I am pressed for space, and just coming to the end of my story; — do you suppose that, at a moment like this, I would waste your time at a singing-house for nothing?
A tall, upright looking man passed up the lane between the tables, and almost touched me as he passed. I did not catch his face, but there was something so DISTINGUE about him that I watched him. He had his hat off, and was smoothing down his close-cropped hair, and appeared to be looking for a seat. As he was just opposite to us, one of the young clerks leant over to the other, and said —
“That is ——.” I did not catch what he said.
“By George,” said the other lad. “Is it now?”
“That’s HIM, sir,” said the first one.
The new comer was walking slowly up the room, and there began to arise a little breeze of applause, and then some one called out, “Three cheers for the Inkerman pet,” and then there was a stamping of feet, and a little laughter, and cheering in various parts of the room, but the new comer made one bow and walked on.
“Pray, sir,” said I, bending over to one of those who had spoken before, “who is that gentleman?”
He had no need to tell me. The man we spoke of reached the orchestra and turned round. It was Jim Brentwood!
There was a great white seam down his face, and he wore a pair of light curling moustachios, but I knew him in a moment; and, when he faced round to the company, I noticed that his person seemed known to the public, for there was not a little applause with the bottoms of tumblers, not unlike what one remembers at certain banquets I have been at, with certain brethren, Sons of Apollo.
In one moment we were standing face to face, shaking one another by both hands; in another, we were arm in arm, walking through the quiet streets towards Jim’s lodgings. He had been in Ireland with his regiment, as I knew, which accounted for my not having seen him. And that night, Major Brentwood recounted to me all his part in the last great campaign, from the first fierce rush up the hill at the Alma, down to the time when our Lady pinned a certain bit of gun metal on to his coat in St. James’s Park.
A few days after this, Jim and I were standing together on the platform of the Wildmoor station, on the South–Western Railway, and a couple of porters were carrying our portmanteaus towards a pair-horse phaeton, in which stood Sam Buckley, shouting to us to come on, for the horses wouldn’t stand. So, in a moment, I was alongside of Sam in the front seat, with Jim standing up behind, between the grooms, and leaning over between us, to see after Sam’s driving; and away we went along a splendid road, across a heath, at what seemed to me a rather dangerous pace.
“Let them go, my child,” said Jim to Sam, “you’ve got a fair mile before. You sit at your work in capital style. Give me time and I’ll teach you to drive, Sam. How do you like this, Uncle Jeff?”
I said, “That’s more than I can tell you, Master Jim. I know so little of your wheeled vehicles that I am rather alarmed.”
“Ah!” said Jim, “you should have been in Calcutta when the O’Rourke and little Charley Badminton tried to drive a pair of fresh imported Australians tandem through the town. Red Maclean and I looked out of the billiard-room, and we saw the two horses go by with a bit of a shaft banging about the wheeler’s hocks. So we ran down and found Charley, with his head broke, standing in the middle of the street, mopping the blood off his forehead. ‘Charley,’ says I, ‘how the deuce did this happen?’ ‘We met an elephant,’ says he, in a faint voice.”
“Have you heard anything of the Mayfords lately?” said Jim.
“You know Ellen is married?” said Sam.
“No! Is she?” I said. “And pray to whom?”
“The Squire of Monkspool,” he answered. “A very fine young fellow, and clever withal.”
“Did old Mrs. Mayford,” asked Jim, “ever recover her reason before she died?”
“Never, poor soul,” said Sam. “To the last, she refused to see my mother, believing that the rivalry between Cecil and myself in some way led to his death. She was never sane after that dreadful morning.”
And so with much pleasant talk we beguiled the way, till I saw, across a deep valley on our right, a line of noble heights, well timbered, but broken into open grassy glades, and smooth sheets of bright green lawn. Between us and these hills flowed a gleaming river, from which a broad avenue led up to the eye of the picture, a noble grey stone mansion, a mass of turrets, gables, and chimneys, which the afternoon sun was lighting up right pleasantly.
“That is the finest seat I have seen yet, Sam,” I said. “Whose is that?”
“That,” said Sam, “is Clere. My house and your home, old friend.”
Swiftly up under the shadow of the elm avenue, past the herds of dappled deer, up to the broad graveled terrace which ran along in front of the brave old house. And there, beneath the dark wild porch, above the group of servants that stood upon the steps to receive their master, was Alice, with her son and daughter beside her, waiting to welcome us, with the happy sunlight on her face.
I bought a sweet cottage, barely a mile from Clere, with forty acres of grass-land round it, and every convenience suited for an old bachelor of my moderate though comfortable means.
I took to fishing and to the breeding of horses on a small scale, and finding that I could make myself enormously busy with these occupations, and as much hunting as I wanted, I became very comfortable, and considered myself settled.
I had plenty of society, the best in the land. Above all men I was the honoured guest at Clere, and as the county had rallied round Sam with acclamation, I saw and enjoyed to the fullest extent that charming English country-life, the like of which, I take it, no other country can show.
I was a great favourite, too, with old Miss Gertrude Talbot at the castle. Her admiration and love for Sam and his wife was almost equal to mine. So we never bored one another, and so, by degrees, gaining the old lady’s entire confidence, I got entrusted with a special mission of a somewhat peculiar character.
The leading desire of this good old woman’s life was, that her sister Agnes should come back with her husband, the Major, and take possession of the castle. Again, Alice could not be content, unless her father could be induced to come back and take up his residence at Clere. And letters having failed to produce the desired effect in both instances, the Major, saying that he was quite comfortable where he was, and the Captain urging that the English winters would be too vigorous for his constitution; under these circumstances, I say, I, the CONFIDANT of the family, within fifteen months of landing at Plymouth, found myself in a hot omnibus with a Mahomedan driver, jolting and bumping over the desert of Suez on my way back to Australia, charged to bring the old folks home, or never show my face again.
And it was after this journey that the scene described in the first chapter of this book took place; when I read aloud to them from the roll of manuscript mentioned there, my recollections of all that had happened to us during so many years, But since I have come back to England, these “Recollections” have been very much enlarged and improved by the assistance of Major Buckley, Agnes, and Captain Brentwood.
For I succeeded in my object, and brought them back in triumph through the Red Sea, across the Isthmus of Suez, and so by way of the Mediterranean, the Bay of Biscay, the English Channel, Southampton Water, the South–Western railway, and Alice’s new dark-blue barouche, safe and sound to Clere and the castle, where they all are at this present speaking, unless some of them are gone out a walking.
As for Tom Troubridge and Mary, they are so exceedingly happy and prosperous, that they are not worth talking about. They will come either by the Swiftsure or the Norfolk, and we have got their rooms ready for them. They say that their second child, the boy, is one of the finest riders in the colony.
“You have forgotten some one after all,” says the reader, after due examination. “A man we took some little interest in. It is not much matter though, we shall be glad when you have done.”
Is this the man you mean?
I am sitting in Sam’s “den” at Clere. He is engaged in receiving the “afterdavy” of a man who got his head broke by a tinker at the cricket-match in the park (for Sam is in the commission, and sits on the bench once a month “a perfect Midas,” as Mrs. Wattlegum would say). I am busy rigging up one of these wonderful new Yankee spoons with a view to killing a villanous pike, who has got into the troutwater. I have just tied on the thirty-ninth hook, and have got the fortieth ready in my fingers, when a footman opens the door, and says to me —
“If you please, sir, your stud-groom would be glad to see you.”
I keep two horses of all work and a grey pony, so that the word “stud” before the word groom in the last sentence must be taken to refer to my little farm, on which I rear a few colts annually.
“May he come in, Sam?” I ask.
“Of course! uncle Jeff,” says he.
And so there comes in a little old man, dressed in the extreme of that peculiar dandyism which is affected by retired jockeys and trainers, and which I have seen since attempted, with indifferent success, by a few young gentlemen at our great universities. He stands in the door and says —
“Mr. Plowden has offered forty pound for the dark chestnut colt, sir.”
“Dick,” I say (mark that, if you please) “Dick, I think he may have the brute.”
And so, my dear reader, I must at last bid you heartily farewell. I am not entirely without hope that we may meet again.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10