Timberdale was a small place on the other side of Crabb Ravine. Its Rector was the Reverend Jacob Lewis. Timberdale called him Parson Lewis when not on ceremony. He had married a widow, Mrs. Tanerton: she had a good deal of money and two boys, and the parish thought the new lady might be above them. But she proved kind and good; and her boys did not ride roughshod over the land or break down the farmers’ fences. She died in three or four years, after a long illness.
Timberdale talked about her will, deeming it a foolish one. She left all she possessed to the Rector, “in affectionate confidence,” as the will worded it, “knowing he would do what was right and just by her sons.” As Parson Lewis was an upright man with a conscience of his own, it was supposed he would do so; but Timberdale considered that for the boys’ sake she should have made it sure herself. It was eight-hundred a year, good measure.
Parson Lewis had a sister, Mrs. Dean, a widow also, who lived near Liverpool. She was not left well-off at all; could but just make a living of it. She used to come on long visits to the Parsonage, which saved her cupboard at home; but it was said that Mrs. Lewis did not like her, thinking her deceitful, and they did not get on very well together. Parson Lewis, the meekest man in the world and the most easily led, admitted to his wife that Rebecca had always been a little given to scheming, but he thought her true at heart.
When poor Mrs. Lewis was out of the way for good in Timberdale churchyard, Aunt Dean had the field to herself, and came and stayed as long as she pleased, with her child, Alice. She was a little woman with a mild face and fair skin, and had a sort of purring manner with her. Scarcely speaking above her breath, and saying “dear” and “love” at every sentence, and caressing people to their faces, the rule was to fall in love with her at once. The boys, Herbert and Jack, had taken to her without question from the first, and called her “Aunt.” Though she was of course no relation whatever to them.
Both the boys made much of Alice — a bright-eyed, pretty little girl with brown curls and timid, winsome ways. Herbert, who was very studious himself, helped her with her lessons: Jack, who was nearer her age, but a few months older, took her out on expeditions, haymaking and blackberrying and the like, and would bring her home with her frock torn and her knees damaged. He told her that brave little girls never cried with him; and the child would ignore the smart of the grazed knees and show herself as brave as a martyr. Jack was so brave and fearless himself and made so little of hurts, that she felt a sort of shame at giving way to her natural timidity when with him. What Alice liked best was to sit indoors by Herbert’s side while he was at his lessons, and read story books and fairy tales. Jack was the opposite of all that, and a regular renegade in all kinds of study. He would have liked to pitch the books into the fire, and did not even care for fairy tales. They came often enough to Crabb Cot when we were there, and to our neighbours the Coneys, with whom the Parsonage was intimate. I was only a little fellow at the time, years younger than they were, but I remember I liked Jack better than Herbert. As Tod did also for the matter of that. Herbert was too clever for us, and he was to be a parson besides. He chose the calling himself. More than once he was caught muffled in the parson’s white surplice, preaching to Jack and Alice a sermon of his own composition.
Aunt Dean had her plans and her plots. One great plot was always at work. She made it into a dream, and peeped into it night and day, as if it were a kaleidoscope of rich and many colours. Herbert Tanerton was to marry her daughter and succeed to his mother’s property as eldest son: Jack must go adrift, and earn his own living. She considered it was already three parts as good as accomplished. To see Herbert and Alice poring over books together side by side and to know that they had the same tastes, was welcome to her as the sight of gold. As to Jack, with his roving propensities, his climbing and his daring, she thought it little matter if he came down a tree head-foremost some day, or pitched head over heels into the depths of Crabb Ravine, and so threw his life away. Not that she really wished any cruel fate for the boy; but she did not care for him; and he might be terribly in the way, when her foolish brother, the parson, came to apportion the money. And he was foolish in some things; soft, in fact: she often said so.
One summer day, when the fruit was ripe and the sun shining, Mr. Lewis had gone into his study to write his next Sunday’s sermon. He did not get on very quickly, for Aunt Dean was in there also, and it disturbed him a little. She was of restless habits, everlastingly dusting books, and putting things in their places without rhyme or reason.
“Do you wish to keep out all three of these inkstands, Jacob? It is not necessary, I should think. Shall I put one up?”
The parson took his eyes off his sermon to answer. “I don’t see that they do any harm there, Rebecca. The children use two sometimes. Do as you like, however.”
Mrs. Dean put one of the inkstands into the book-case, and then looked round the room to see what else she could do. A letter caught her eye.
“Jacob, I do believe you have never answered the note old Mullet brought this morning! There it is on the mantelpiece.”
The parson sighed. To be interrupted in this way he took quite as a matter of course, but it teased him a little.
“I must see the churchwardens, Rebecca, before answering it. I want to know, you see, what would be approved of by the parish.”
“Just like you, Jacob,” she caressingly said. “The parish must approve of what you approve.”
“Yes, yes,” he said hastily; “but I like to live at peace with every one.”
He dipped his pen into the ink, and wrote a line of his sermon. The open window looked on to the kitchen-garden. Herbert Tanerton had his back against the walnut-tree, doing nothing. Alice sat near on a stool, her head buried in a book that by its canvas cover Mrs. Dean knew to be “Robinson Crusoe.” Just then Jack came out of the raspberry bushes with a handful of fruit, which he held out to Alice. “Robinson Crusoe” fell to the ground.
“Oh, Jack, how good they are!” said Alice. And the words came distinctly to Aunt Dean’s ears in the still day.
“They are as good again when you pick them off the trees for yourself,” cried Jack. “Come along and get some, Alice.”
With the taste of the raspberries in her mouth, the temptation was not to be resisted; and she ran after Jack. Aunt Dean put her head out at the window.
“Alice, my love, I cannot have you go amongst those raspberry bushes; you would stain and tear your frock.”
“I’ll take care of her frock, aunt,” Jack called back.
“My darling Jack, it cannot be. That is her new muslin frock, and she must not go where she might injure it.”
So Alice sat down again to “Robinson Crusoe,” and Jack went his way amongst the raspberry bushes, or whither he would.
“Jacob, have you begun to think of what John is to be?” resumed Aunt Dean, as she shut down the window.
The parson pushed his sermon from him in a sort of patient hopelessness, and turned round on his chair. “To be? — In what way, Rebecca?”
“By profession,” she answered. “I fancy it is time it was thought of.”
“Do you? I’m sure I don’t know. The other day when something was being mentioned about it, Jack said he did not care what he was to be, provided he had no books to trouble him.”
“I only hope you will not have trouble with him, Jacob, dear,” observed Mrs. Dean, in ominous tones, that plainly intimated she thought the parson would.
“He has a good heart, though he is not so studious as his brother. Why have you shut the window, Rebecca? It is very warm.”
Mrs. Dean did not say why. Perhaps she wished to guard against the conversation being heard. When any question not quite convenient to answer was put to her, she had a way of passing it over in silence; and the parson was too yielding or too inert to ask again.
“Of course, Brother Jacob, you will make Herbert the heir.”
The parson looked surprised. “Why should you suppose that, Rebecca? I think the two boys ought to share and share alike.”
“My dear Jacob, how can you think so? Your dead wife left you in charge, remember.”
“That’s what I do remember, Rebecca. She never gave me the slightest hint that she should wish any difference to be made: she was as fond of one boy as of the other.”
“Jacob, you must do your duty by the boys,” returned Mrs. Dean, with affectionate solemnity. “Herbert must be his mother’s heir; it is right and proper it should be so: Jack must be trained to earn his own livelihood. Jack — dear fellow! — is, I fear, of a roving, random disposition: were you to leave any portion of the money to him, he would squander it in a year.”
“Dear me, I hope not! But as to leaving all to his brother — or even a larger portion than to Jack — I don’t know that it would be right. A heavy responsibility lies on me in this charge, don’t you see, Rebecca?”
“No doubt it does. It is full eight-hundred a year. And you must be putting something by, Jacob.”
“Not much. I draw the money yearly, but expenses seem to swallow it up. What with the ponies kept for the boys, and the cost of the masters from Worcester, and a hundred a year out of it that my wife desired the poor old nurse should have till she died, there’s not a great deal left. My living is a poor one, you know, and I like to help the poor freely. When the boys go to the university it will be all wanted.”
Help the poor freely! — just like him! thought Aunt Dean.
“It would be waste of time and money to send Jack to college. You should try and get him some appointment abroad, Jacob. In India, say.”
The clergyman opened his eyes at this, and said he should not like to see Jack go out of his own country. Jack’s mother had not had any opinion of foreign places. Jack himself interrupted the conversation. He came flying up the path, put down a cabbage leaf full of raspberries on the window-sill, and flung open the window with his stained fingers.
“Aunt Dean, I’ve picked these for you,” he said, introducing the leaf, his handsome face and good-natured eyes bright and sparkling. “They’ve never been so good as they are this year. Father, just taste them.”
Aunt Dean smiled sweetly, and called him her darling, and Mr. Lewis tasted the raspberries.
“We were just talking of you, Jack,” cried the unsophisticated man — and Mrs. Dean slightly knitted her brows. “Your aunt says it is time you began to think of some profession.”
“What, yet awhile?” returned Jack.
“That you may be suitably educated for it, my boy.”
“I should like to be something that won’t want education,” cried Jack, leaning his arms on the window-sill, and jumping up and down. “I think I’d rather be a farmer than anything, father.”
The parson drew a long face. This had never entered into his calculations.
“I fear that would not do, Jack. I should like you to choose something higher than that; some profession by which you may rise in the world. Herbert will go into the Church: what should you say to the Bar?”
Jack’s jumping ceased all at once. “What, be a barrister, father? Like those bewigged fellows that come on circuit twice a year to Worcester?”
“Like that, Jack.”
“But they have to study all their lives for it, father; and read up millions of books before they can pass! I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t indeed.”
“What do you think of being a first-class lawyer, then? I might place you with some good firm, such as ——”
“Don’t, there’s a dear father!” interrupted Jack, all the sunshine leaving his face. “I’m afraid if I were at a desk I should kick it over without knowing it: I must be running out and about. — Are they all gone, Aunt Dean? Give me the leaf, and I’ll pick you some more.”
The years went on. Jack was fifteen: Herbert eighteen and at Oxford: the advanced scholar had gone to college early. Aunt Dean spent quite half her time at Timberdale, from Easter till autumn, and the parson never rose up against it. She let her house during her absence: it was situated on the banks of the river a little way from Liverpool, near the place they call New Brighton now. It might have been called New Brighton then for all I know. One family always took the house for the summer months, glad to get out of hot Liverpool.
As to Jack, nothing had been decided in regard to his future, for opinions about it differed. A little Latin and a little history and a great deal of geography (for he liked that) had been drilled into him: and there his education ended. But he was the best climber and walker and leaper, and withal the best-hearted young fellow that Timberdale could boast: and he knew about land thoroughly, and possessed a great stock of general and useful and practical information. Many a day when some of the poorer farmers were in a desperate hurry to get in their hay or carry their wheat on account of threatening weather, had Jack Tanerton turned out to help, and toiled as hard and as long as any of the labourers. He was hail-fellow-well-met with everyone, rich and poor.
Mrs. Dean had worked on always to accomplish her ends. Slowly and imperceptibly, but surely; Herbert must be the heir; John must shift for himself. The parson had had this dinned into him so often now, in her apparently frank and reasoning way, that he began to lend an ear to it. What with his strict sense of justice, and his habit of yielding to his sister’s views, he felt for the most part in a kind of dilemma. But Mrs. Dean had come over this time determined to get something settled, one way or the other.
She arrived before Easter this year. The interminable Jack (as she often called him in her heart) was at home; Herbert was not. Jack and Alice did not seem to miss him, but went out on their rambles together as they did when children. The morning before Herbert was expected, a letter came from him to his stepfather, saying he had been invited by a fellow-student to spend the Easter holidays at his home near London and had accepted it.
Mr. Lewis took it as a matter of course in his easy way; but it disagreed with Aunt Dean. She said all manner of things to the parson, and incited him to write for Herbert to return at once. Herbert’s answer to this was a courteous intimation that he could not alter his plans; and he hoped his father, on consideration, would fail to see any good reason why he should do so. Herbert Tanerton had a will of his own.
“Neither do I see any reason, good or bad, why he should not pay the visit, Rebecca,” confessed the Rector. “I’m afraid it was foolish of me to object at all. Perhaps I have not the right to deny him, either, if I wished it. He is getting on for nineteen, and I am not his own father.”
So Aunt Dean had to make the best and the worst of it; but she felt as cross as two sticks.
One day when the parson was abroad on parish matters, and the Rectory empty, she went out for a stroll, and reached the high steep bank where the primroses and violets grew. Looking over, she saw Jack and Alice seated below; Jack’s arm round her waist.
“You are to be my wife, you know, Alice, when we are grown up. Mind that.”
There was no answer, but Aunt Dean certainly thought she heard the sound of a kiss. Peeping over again, she saw Jack taking another.
“And if you don’t object to my being a farmer, Alice, I should like it best of all. We’ll keep two jolly ponies and ride about together. Won’t it be good?”
“I don’t object to farming, Jack. Anything you like. A successful farmer’s home is a very pleasant one.”
Aunt Dean drew away with noiseless steps. She was too calm and callous a woman to turn white; but she did turn angry, and registered a vow in her heart. That presuming, upstart Jack! They were only two little fools, it’s true; no better than children; but the nonsense must be stopped in time.
Herbert went back to Oxford without coming home. Alice, to her own infinite astonishment, was despatched to school until midsummer. The parson and his sister and Jack were left alone; and Aunt Dean, with her soft smooth manner and her false expressions of endearment, ruled all things; her brother’s better nature amidst the rest.
Jack was asked what he would be. A farmer, he answered. But Aunt Dean had somehow caught up the most bitter notions possible against farming in general; and Mr. Lewis, not much liking the thing himself, and yielding to the undercurrent ever gently flowing, told Jack he must fix on something else.
“There’s nothing I shall do so well at as farming, father,” remonstrated Jack. “You can put me for three or four years to some good agriculturist, and I’ll be bound at the end of the time I should be fit to manage the largest and best farm in the country. Why, I am a better farmer now than some of them are.”
“Jack, my boy, you must not be self-willed. I cannot let you be a farmer.”
“Then send me to sea, father, and make a sailor of me,” returned Jack, with undisturbed good humour.
But this startled the parson. He liked Jack, and he had a horror of the sea. “Not that, Jack, my boy. Anything but that.”
“I’m not sure but I should like the sea better than farming,” went on Jack, the idea full in his head. “Aunt Dean lent me ‘Peter Simple’ one day. I know I should make a first-rate sailor.”
“Jack, don’t talk so. Your poor mother would not have liked it, and I don’t like it; and I shall never let you go.”
“Some fellows run away to sea,” said Jack, laughing.
The parson felt as though a bucket of cold water had been thrown down his back. Did Jack mean that as a threat?
“John,” said he, in as solemn a way as he had ever spoken, “disobedience to parents sometimes brings a curse with it. You must promise me that you will never go to sea.”
“I’ll not promise that, off-hand,” said Jack. “But I will promise never to go without your consent. Think it well over, father; there’s no hurry.”
It was on the tip of Mr. Lewis’s tongue to withdraw his objection to the farming scheme then and there: in comparison with the other it looked quite fair and bright. But he thought he might compromise his judgment to yield thus instantly: and, as easy Jack said, there was no hurry.
So Jack went rushing out of doors again to the uttermost bounds of the parish, and the parson was left to Aunt Dean. When he told her he meant to let Jack be a farmer, she laughed till the tears came into her eyes, and begged him to leave matters to her. She knew how to manage boys, without appearing directly to cross them: there was this kind of trouble with most boys, she had observed, before they settled satisfactorily in life, but it all came right in the end.
So the parson said no more about farming: but Jack talked a great deal about the sea. Mr. Lewis went over in his gig to Worcester, and bought a book he had heard of, “Two Years before the Mast.” He wrote Jack’s name in it and gave it him, hoping its contents might serve to sicken him of the sea.
The next morning the book was missing. Jack looked high and low for it, but it was gone. He had left it on the sitting-room table when he went up to bed, and it mysteriously disappeared during the night. The servants had not seen it, and declared it was not on the table in the morning.
“It could not — I suppose — have been the cat,” observed Aunt Dean, in a doubtful manner, her eyes full of wonder as to where the book could have got to. “I have heard of cats doing strange things.”
“I don’t think the cat would make away with a book of that size, Rebecca,” said the parson. And if he had not been the least suspicious parson in all the Worcester Diocese, he might have asked his sister whether she had been the cat, and secured the book lest it should dissipate Jack’s fancy for the sea.
The next thing she did was to carry Jack off to Liverpool. The parson objected at first: Liverpool was a seaport town, and might put Jack more in mind of the sea than ever. Aunt Dean replied that she meant him to see the worst sides of sea life, the dirty boats in the Mersey, the wretchedness of the crews, and the real discomfort and misery of a sailor’s existence. That would cure him, she said: what he had in his head now was the romance picked up from books. The parson thought there was reason in this, and yielded. He was dreadfully anxious about Jack.
She went straight to her house near New Brighton, Jack with her, and a substantial sum in her pocket from the Rector to pay for Jack’s keep. The old servant, Peggy, who took care of it, was thunderstruck to see her mistress come in. It was not yet occupied by the Liverpool people, and Mrs. Dean sent them word they could not have it this year: at least not for the present. While she put matters straight, she supplied Jack with all Captain Marryat’s novels to read. The house looked on the river, and Jack would watch the fine vessels starting on their long voyages, their white sails trim and fair in the sunshine, or hear the joyous shouts from the sailors of a homeward-bound ship as Liverpool hove in view; and he grew to think there was no sight so pleasant to the eye as these wonderful ships; no fate so desirable as to sail in them.
But Aunt Dean had changed her tactics. Instead of sending Jack on to the dirtiest and worst managed boats in the docks, where the living was hard and the sailors were discontented, she allowed him to roam at will on the finest ships, and make acquaintance with their enthusiastic young officers, especially with those who were going to sea for the first time with just such notions as Jack’s. Before Midsummer came, Jack Tanerton had grown to think that he could never be happy on land.
There was a new ship just launched, the Rose of Delhi; a magnificent vessel. Jack took rare interest in her. He was for ever on board; was for ever saying to her owners — friends of Aunt Dean’s, to whom she had introduced him — how much he should like to sail in her. The owners thought it would be an advantageous thing to get so active, open, and ready a lad into their service, although he was somewhat old for entering, and they offered to article him for four years, as “midshipman” on the Rose of Delhi. Jack went home with his tale, his eyes glowing; and Aunt Dean neither checked him nor helped him.
Not then. Later, when the ship was all but ready to sail, she told Jack she washed her hands of it, and recommended him to write and ask his stepfather whether he might sail in her, or not.
Now Jack was no letter writer; neither, truth to tell, was the parson. He had not once written home; but had contented himself with sending affectionate messages in Aunt Dean’s letters. Consequently, Mr. Lewis only knew what Aunt Dean had chosen to tell him, and had no idea that Jack was getting the real sea fever upon him. But at her suggestion Jack sat down now and wrote a long letter.
Its purport was this. That he was longing and hoping to go to sea; was sure he should never like anything else in the world so well; that the Rose of Delhi, Captain Druce, was the most magnificent ship ever launched; that the owners bore the best character in Liverpool for liberality, and Captain Druce for kindness to his middies; and that he hoped, oh he hoped, his father would let him go; but that if he still refused, he (Jack) would do his best to be content to stay on shore, for he did not forget his promise of never sailing without his consent.
“Would you like to see the letter, Aunt Dean, before I close it?” he asked.
Aunt Dean, who had been sitting by, took the letter, and privately thought it was as good a letter and as much to the purpose as the best scribe in the land could have written. She disliked it, for all that.
“Jack, dear, I think you had better put a postscript,” she said. “Your father detests writing, as you know. Tell him that if he consents he need not write any answer: you will know what it means — that you may go — and it will save him trouble.”
“But, Aunt Dean, I should like him to wish me good-bye and God speed.”
“He will be sure to do the one in his heart and the other in his prayers, my boy. Write your postscript.”
Jack did as he was bid: he was as docile as his stepfather. Exactly as Mrs. Dean suggested, wrote he: and he added that if no answer arrived within two posts, he should take it for granted that he was to go, and should see about his outfit. There was no time to lose, for the ship would sail in three or four days.
“I will post it for you, Jack,” she said, when it was ready. “I am going out.”
“Thank you, Aunt Dean, but I can post it myself. I’d rather: and then I shall know it’s off. Oh, shan’t I be on thorns till the time for an answer comes and goes!”
He snatched his cap and vaulted off with the letter before he could be stopped. Aunt Dean had a curious look on her face, and sat biting her lips. She had not intended the letter to go.
The first post that could possibly bring an answer brought one. Jack was not at home. Aunt Dean had sent him out on an early commission, watched for the postman, and hastened to the door herself to receive what he might bring. He brought two letters — as it chanced. One from the Rector of Timberdale; one from Alice Dean. Mrs. Dean locked up the one in her private drawer upstairs: the other she left on the breakfast-table.
“Peggy says the postman has been here, aunt!” cried the boy, all excitement, as he ran in.
“Yes, dear. He brought a letter from Alice.”
“And nothing from Timberdale?”
“Well, I don’t know that you could quite expect it by this post, Jack. Your father might like to take a little time for consideration. You may read Alice’s letter, my boy: she comes home this day week for the summer holidays.”
“Not till this day week!” cried Jack, frightfully disappointed. “Why, I shall have sailed then, if I go, Aunt Dean! I shall not see her.”
“Well, dear, you will see her when you come home again.”
Aunt Dean had no more commissions for Jack after that, and each time the postman was expected, he placed himself outside the door to wait for him. The man brought no other letter. The reasonable time for an answer went by, and none came.
“Aunt Dean, I suppose I may get my outfit now,” said Jack, only half satisfied. “But I wish I had told him to write in any case: just a line.”
“According to what you said, you know, Jack, silence must be taken for consent.”
“Yes, I know. I’d rather have had a word, though, and made certain. I wish there was time for me just to run over to Timberdale and see him!”
“But there’s not, Jack, more’s the pity: you would lose the ship. Get a piece of paper and make out a list of the articles the second mate told you you would want.”
The Rose of Delhi sailed out of port for Calcutta, and John Tanerton with her, having signed articles to serve in her for four years. The night before his departure he wrote a short letter of farewell to his stepfather, thanking him for his tacit consent, and promising to do his best to get on, concluding it with love to himself and to Herbert, and to the Rectory servants. Which letter somehow got put into Aunt Dean’s kitchen fire, and never reached Timberdale.
Aunt Dean watched the Rose of Delhi sail by; Jack, in his bran-new uniform, waving his last farewell to her with his gold-banded cap. The sigh of relief she heaved when the fine vessel was out of sight seemed to do her good. Then she bolted herself into her chamber, and opened Mr. Lewis’s letter, which had lain untouched till then. As she expected, it contained a positive interdiction, written half sternly, half lovingly, for John to sail in the Rose of Delhi, or to think more of the sea. Moreover, it commanded him to come home at once, and it contained a promise that he should be placed to learn the farming without delay. Aunt Dean tripped down to Peggy’s fire and burnt that too.
There was a dreadful fuss when Jack’s departure became known at Timberdale. It fell upon the parson like a thunderbolt. He came striding through the ravine to Crabb Cot, and actually burst out crying while telling the news to the Squire. He feared he had failed somehow in bringing John up, he said, or he never would have repaid him with this base disobedience and ingratitude. For, you see, the poor man thought Jack had received his letter, and gone off in defiance of it. The Squire agreed with him that Jack deserved the cat-o’-nine tails, as did all other boys who traitorously decamped to sea.
Before the hay was all in, Aunt Dean was back at Timberdale, bringing Alice with her and the bills for the outfit. She let the parson think what he would about Jack, ignoring all knowledge of the letter, and affecting to believe that Jack could not have had it. But the parson argued that Jack must have had it, and did have it, or it would have come back to him. The only one to say a good word for Jack was Alice. She persisted in an opinion that Jack could not be either disobedient or ungrateful, and that there must have been some strange mistake somewhere.
Aunt Dean’s work was not all done. She took the poor parson under her wing, and proved to him that he had no resource now but to disinherit Jack, and made Herbert the heir. To leave money to Jack would be wanton waste, she urged, for he would be sure to squander it: better bequeath all to Herbert, who would of course look after his brother in later life, and help him if he needed help. So Mr. Hill, one of the Worcester solicitors, was sent for to Timberdale to receive instructions for making the parson’s will in Herbert’s favour, and to cut Jack off with a shilling.
That night, after Mr. Hill had gone back again, was one of the worst the parson had ever spent. He was a just man and a kind one, and he felt racked with fear lest he had taken too severe a measure, and one that his late wife, the true owner of the money and John’s mother, would never have sanctioned. His bed was fevered, his pillow a torment; up he got, and walked the room in his night-shirt.
“My Lord and God knoweth that I would do what is right,” he groaned. “I am sorely troubled. Youth is vain and desperately thoughtless; perhaps the boy, in his love of adventure, never looked at the step in the light of ingratitude. I cannot cut him quite off; I should never again find peace of mind if I did it. He shall have a little; and perhaps if he grows into a steady fellow and comes back what he ought to be, I may alter the will later and leave them equal inheritors.”
The next day the parson wrote privately to Mr. Hill, saying he had reconsidered his determination and would let Jack inherit to the extent of a hundred and fifty pounds a year.
Herbert came home for the long vacation; and he and Alice were together as they had been before that upstart Jack stepped in. They often came to the Squire’s and oftener to the Coneys’. Grace Coney, a niece of old Coney, had come to live at the farm; she was a nice girl, and she and Alice liked each other. You might see them with Herbert strolling about the fields any hour in the day. At home Alice and Herbert seemed never to care to separate. Mrs. Dean watched them quietly, and thought how beautifully her plans had worked.
Aunt Dean did not go home till October. After she left, the parson had a stroke of paralysis. Charles Ashton, then just ordained to priest’s orders, took the duty. Mrs. Dean came back again for Christmas. As if she would let Alice stay away from the Parsonage when Herbert was at home!
The Rose of Delhi did not come back for nearly two years. She was what is called a free ship, and took charters for any place she could make money by. One day Alice Dean was leaning out of the windows of her mother’s house, gazing wistfully on the sparkling sea, when a grand and stately vessel came sailing homewards, and some brown-faced young fellow on the quarter deck set on to swing his cap violently by way of hailing her. She looked to the flag which happened to be flying, and read the name there, “The Rose of Delhi.” It must be Jack who was saluting. Alice burst into tears of emotion.
He came up from the docks the same day. A great, brown, handsome fellow with the old single-hearted, open manners. And he clasped Alice in his arms and kissed her ever so many times before she could get free. Being a grown-up young lady now, she did not approve of unceremonious kissing, and told Jack so. Aunt Dean was not present, or she might have told him so more to the purpose.
Jack had given satisfaction, and was getting on. He told Alice privately that he did not like the sea so much as he anticipated, and could not believe how any other fellow did like it; but as he had chosen it as his calling, he meant to stand by it. He went to Timberdale, in spite of Aunt Dean’s advice and efforts to keep him away. Herbert was absent, she said; the Rector ill and childish. Jack found it all too true. Mr. Lewis’s mind had failed and his health was breaking. He knew Jack and was very affectionate with him, but seemed not to remember anything of the past. So never a word did Jack hear of his own disobedience, or of any missing letters.
One person alone questioned him; and that was Alice. It was after he got back from Timberdale. She asked him to tell her the history of his sailing in the Rose of Delhi, and he gave it in detail, without reserve. When he spoke of the postscript that Aunt Dean had bade him add to his letter, arranging that silence should be taken for consent, and that as no answer had come, he of course had so taken it, the girl turned sick and faint. She saw the treachery that had been at work and where it had lain; but for her mother’s sake she hushed it up and let the matter pass. Alice had not lived with her mother so many years without detecting her propensity for deceit.
Some years passed by. Jack got on well. He served as third mate on the Rose of Delhi long before he could pass, by law, for second. He was made second mate as soon as he had passed for it. The Rose of Delhi came in and went out, and Jack stayed by her, and passed for first mate in course of time. He was not sent back in any of his examinations, as most young sailors are, and the board once went the length of complimenting him on his answers. The fact was, Jack held to his word of doing his best; he got into no mischief and was the smartest sailor afloat. He was in consequence a favourite with the owners, and Captain Druce took pains with him and brought him on in seamanship and navigation, and showed him how to take observations, and all the rest of it. There’s no end of difference in merchant-captains in this respect: some teach their junior officers nothing. Jack finally passed triumphantly for master, and hoped his time would come to receive a command. Meanwhile he went out again as first mate on the Rose of Delhi.
One spring morning there came news to Mrs. Dean from Timberdale. The Rector had had another stroke and was thought to be near his end. She started off at once, with Alice. Charles Ashton had had a living given to him; and Herbert Tanerton was now his stepfather’s curate. Herbert had passed as shiningly in mods and divinity and all the rest of it as Jack had passed before the Marine Board. He was a steady, thoughtful, serious young man, did his duty well in the parish, and preached better sermons than ever the Rector had. Mrs. Dean, who looked upon him as Alice’s husband as surely as though they were married, was as proud of his success as though it had been her own.
The Rector was very ill and unable to leave his bed. His intellect was quite gone now. Mrs. Dean sat with him most of the day, leaving Alice to be taken care of by Herbert. They went about together just as always, and were on the best of confidential terms; and came over to the Coneys’, and to us when we were at Crabb Cot.
“Herbert,” said Mrs. Dean one evening when she had all her soft, sugary manner upon her and was making the young parson believe she had no one’s interest at heart in the world but his: “my darling boy, is it not almost time you began to think of marriage? None know the happiness and comfort brought by a good wife, dear, until they experience it.”
Herbert looked taken aback. He turned as red as a school-girl, and glanced half-a-moment at Alice, like a detected thief.
“I must wait until I have a living to think of that, Aunt Dean.”
“Is it necessary, Herbert? I should have thought you might bring a wife home to the Rectory here.”
Herbert turned the subject with a jesting word or two, and got out of his redness. Aunt Dean was eminently satisfied; his confusion and his hasty glance at Alice had told tales; and she knew it was only a question of time.
The Rector died. When the grass was long and the May-flowers were in bloom and the cuckoo was singing in the trees, he passed peacefully to his Rest. Just before death he recovered speech and consciousness; but the chief thing he said was that he left his love to Jack.
After the funeral the will was opened. It had not been touched since that long past year when Jack had gone away to sea. Out of the eight-hundred a year descended from their mother, Jack had a hundred and fifty; Herbert the rest. Aunt Dean made a hideous frown for once in her life; a hundred and fifty pounds a year for Jack, was only, as she looked upon it, so much robbery on Herbert and Alice. Out of the little money saved by the Rector, five hundred pounds were left to his sister, Rebecca Dean; the rest was to be divided equally between Herbert and Jack; and his furniture and effects went to Herbert. On the whole, Aunt Dean was tolerably satisfied.
She was a woman who liked strictly to keep up appearances, and she made a move to leave the young parson at the end of a week or two’s time, and go back to Liverpool. Herbert did not detain her. His own course was uncertain until a fresh Rector should be appointed. The living was in the gift of a neighbouring baronet, and it was fancied by some that he might give it to Herbert. One thing did surprise Mrs. Dean; angered her too: that Herbert had not made his offer to Alice before their departure. Now that he had his own fortune at command, there was no necessity to wait for a living.
News greeted them on their arrival. The Rose of Delhi was on her way home once more, with John Tanerton in command. Captain Druce had been left behind at Calcutta, dangerously ill. Alice’s colour came and went. She looked out for the homeward-bound vessels passing upwards, and felt quite sick with anxiety lest Jack should fail in any way, and never bring home the ship at all.
“The Rose of Delhi, Captain Tanerton.” Alice Dean cast her eyes on the shipping news in the morning paper, and read the announcement amidst the arrivals. Just for an instant her sight left her.
“Mamma,” she presently said, quietly passing over the newspaper, “the Rose of Delhi is in.”
“The Rose of Delhi, Captain Tanerton,” read Mrs. Dean. “The idea of their sticking in Jack’s name as captain! He will have to go down again as soon as Captain Druce returns. A fine captain I dare say he has made!”
“At least he has brought the ship home safely and quickly,” Alice ventured to say. “It must have passed after dark last night.”
“Why after dark?”
Alice did not reply — Because I was watching till daylight faded — which would have been the truth. “Had it passed before, some of us might have seen it, mamma.”
The day was waning before Jack came up. Captain Tanerton. Jack was never to go back again to his chief-mateship, as Aunt Dean had surmised, for the owners had given him permanent command of the Rose of Delhi. The last mail had brought news from Captain Druce that he should never be well enough for the command again, and the owners were only too glad to give it to the younger and more active man. Officers and crew alike reported that never a better master sailed than Jack had proved himself on this homeward voyage.
“Don’t you think I have been very lucky on the whole, Aunt Dean? Fancy a young fellow like me getting such a beautiful ship as that!”
“Oh, very lucky,” returned Aunt Dean.
Jack looked like a captain too. He was broad and manly, with an intelligent, honest, handsome face, and the quick keen eye of a sailor. Jack was particular in his attire too: and some sailors are not so: he dressed as a gentleman when on shore.
“Only a hundred and fifty left to me!” cried Jack, when he was told the news. “Well, perhaps Herbert may require more than I, poor fellow,” he added in his good nature; “he may not get a good living, and then he’ll be glad of it. I shall be sure to do well now I’ve got the ship.”
“You’ll be at sea always, Jack, and will have no use for money,” said Mrs. Dean.
“Oh, I don’t know about having no use for it, Aunt. Anyway, my father thought it right to leave it so, and I am content. I wish I could have said farewell to him before he died!”
A few more days, and Aunt Dean was thrown on her beam-ends at a worse angle than ever the Rose of Delhi hoped to be. Jack and Alice discussed matters between themselves, and the result was disclosed to her. They were going to be married.
It was Alice who told her. Jack had just left, and she and her mother were sitting together in the summer twilight. At first Mrs. Dean thought Alice was joking: she was like a mad woman when she found it true. Her great dream had never foreshadowed this.
“How dare you attempt to think of so monstrous a thing, you wicked girl? Marry your own brother-in-law! — it would be no better. It is Herbert that is to be your husband.”
Alice shook her head with a smile. “Herbert would not have me, mamma; nor would I have him. Herbert will marry Grace Coney.”
“Who?” cried Mrs. Dean.
“Grace Coney. They have been in love with each other ever so many years. I have known it all along. He will marry her as soon as his future is settled. I had promised to be one of the bridesmaids, but I suppose I shall not have the chance now.”
“Grace Coney — that beggarly girl!” shrieked Mrs. Dean. “But for her uncle’s giving her shelter she must have turned out in the world when her father died and earned her living how she could. She is not a lady. She is not Herbert’s equal.”
“Oh yes, she is, mamma. She is a very nice girl and will make him a perfect wife. Herbert would not exchange her for the richest lady in the land.”
“If Herbert chooses to make a spectacle of himself, you never shall!” cried poor Mrs. Dean, all her golden visions fast melting into air. “I would see that wicked Jack Tanerton at the bottom of the sea first.”
“Mother, dear, listen to me. Jack and I have cared for each other for years and years, and we should neither of us marry any one else. There is nothing to wait for; Jack is as well off as he will be for years to come: and — and we have settled it so, and I hope you will not oppose it.”
It was a cruel moment for Aunt Dean. Her love for other people had been all pretence, but she did love her daughter. Besides that, she was ambitious for her.
“I can never let you marry a sailor, Alice. Anything but that.”
“It was you who made Jack a sailor, mother, and there’s no help for it,” said Alice, in low tones. “I would rather he had been anything else in the world. I should have liked him to have had land and farmed it. We should have done well. Jack had his four hundred a year clear, you know. At least, he ought to have had it. Oh, mother, don’t you see that while you have been plotting against Jack you have plotted against me?”
Aunt Dean felt sick with memories that were crowding upon her. The mistake she had made was a frightful one.
“You cannot join your fate to Jack’s, Alice,” she repeated, wringing her hands. “A sailor’s wife is too liable to be made a widow.”
“I know it, mother. I shall share his danger, for I am going out in the Rose of Delhi. The owners have consented, and Jack is fitting up a lovely little cabin for me that is to be my own saloon.”
“My daughter sail over the seas in a merchant ship!” gasped Aunt Dean. “Never!”
“I should be no true wife if I could let my husband sail without me. Mother, it is you alone who have carved out our destiny. Better have left it to God.”
In a startled way, her heart full of remorse, she was beginning to see it; and she sat down, half fainting, on a chair.
“It is a miserable prospect, Alice.”
“Mother, we shall get on. There’s the hundred and fifty a year certain, you know. That we shall put by; and, as long as I sail with him, a good deal more besides. Jack’s pay is settled at twenty pounds a month, and he will make more by commission: perhaps as much again. Have no fear for us on that score. Jack has been unjustly deprived of his birthright; and I think sometimes that perhaps as a recompense Heaven will prosper him.”
“But the danger, Alice! The danger of a sea-life!”
“Do you know what Jack says about the danger, mother? He says God is over us on the sea as well as on land and will take care of those who put their trust in Him. In the wildest storm I will try to let that great truth help me to feel peace.”
Alas for Aunt Dean! Arguments slipped away from her hands just as her plans had slipped from them. In her bitter repentance, she lay on the floor of her room that night and asked God to have pity upon her, for her trouble seemed greater than she could bear.
The morning’s post brought news from Herbert. He was made Rector of Timberdale. Aunt Dean wrote back, telling him what had taken place, and asking, nay, almost commanding, that he should restore an equal share of the property to Jack. Herbert replied that he should abide by his stepfather’s will. The living of Timberdale was not a rich one, and he wished Grace, his future wife, to be comfortable. “Herbert was always intensely selfish,” groaned Aunt Dean. Look on which side she would, there was no comfort.
The Rose of Delhi, Captain Tanerton, sailed out of port again, carrying also with her Mrs. Tanerton, the captain’s wife. And Aunt Dean was left to bemoan her fate, and wish she had never tried to shape out other people’s destinies. Better, as Alice said, that she had left that to God.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55