“I tell you it is,” repeated Tod. “One cannot mistake Temple, even at a distance.”
“But this man looks so much older than he. And he has whiskers. Temple had none.”
“And has not Temple grown older, do you suppose; and don’t whiskers sprout and grow? You are always a muff, Johnny. That is Slingsby Temple.”
We had gone by rail to Whitney Hall, and were walking up from the station. The Squire sent us to ask after Sir John’s gout. It was a broiling hot day in the middle of summer. On the lawn before the house, with some of the Whitneys, stood a stranger; a little man, young, dark, and upright.
Tod was right, and I was wrong. It was Slingsby Temple. But I thought him much altered: older-looking than his years, which numbered close upon twenty-five, and more sedate and haughty than ever. We had neither seen nor heard of him since quitting Oxford.
“Oh, he’s regularly in for it this time,” said Bill Whitney, in answer to inquiries about his father, as they shook hands with us. “He has hardly ever had such a bout; can only lie in bed and groan. Temple, don’t you remember Todhetley and Johnny Ludlow?”
“Yes, I do,” answered Temple, holding out his hand to me first, and passing by Tod to do it. But that was Slingsby Temple’s way. I was of no account, and therefore it did not touch his pride to notice me.
“I am glad to see you again,” he said to Tod, cordially enough, as he turned to him; which was quite a gracious acknowledgment for Temple.
But it surprised us to see him there. The Whitneys had no acquaintance with the Temples; neither had he and Bill been special friends at college. Whitney explained it after luncheon, when we were sitting outside the windows in the shade, and Temple was pacing the shrubbery with Helen.
“I fancy it’s a gone case,” said Bill, nodding towards them.
“Oh, William, you should not say it,” struck in Anna, in tones of remonstrance, and with her pretty blush. “It is not sure — and not right to Mr. Temple.”
“Not say it to Tod and Johnny! Rubbish! Why, they are like ourselves, Anna. I say I think it is going to be a case.”
“Helen with another beau!” cried free Tod. “How has it all come about?”
“The mother and Helen have been staying at Malvern, you know,” said Whitney. “Temple turned up at the same hotel, the Foley Arms, and they struck up an intimacy. I went over for the last week, and was surprised to see how thick he was with them. The mother, who is more unsuspicious than a goose, told Temple, in her hospitable way, when they were saying good-bye, that she should be glad to see him if ever he found himself in these benighted parts: and I’ll be shot if at the end of five days he was not here! If Helen’s not the magnet, I don’t know what else it can be.”
“He appears to like her; but it may be only a temporary fancy that will pass away; it ought not to be talked about,” reiterated Anna. “It may come to nothing.”
“It may, or may not,” persisted Bill.
“Will she consent to have him?” I asked.
“She’d be simple if she didn’t,” said Bill. “Temple would be a jolly fine match for any girl. Good in all ways. His property is large, and he himself is as sober and steady as any parson. Always has been.”
I was not thinking of Temple’s eligibility — that was undeniable; but of Helen’s inclinations. Some time before she had gone in for a love affair, which would not do at any price, caused some stir at the Hall, and came to signal grief: though I have not time to tell of it here. Whitney caught the drift of my thoughts.
“That’s over and done with, Johnny. She’d never let its recollection spoil other prospects. You may trust Helen Whitney for that. She is as shallow-hearted as ——”
“For shame, William!” remonstrated Anna.
“It’s true,” said he. “I didn’t say you were. Helen would have twenty sweethearts to your one, and think nothing of it.”
Tod looked at Anna, and laughed gently. Her cheeks turned the colour of the rose she was holding.
“What’s this about a boating tour?” he inquired of Whitney. It had been alluded to at lunch-time.
“Temple’s going in for one with some more fellows,” was the reply. “He has asked me to join them. We mean to do some of the larger rivers; take our tent, and encamp on the bank at night.”
“What a jolly spree!” cried Tod, his face flushing with delight. “How I should like it!”
“I wish to goodness you were coming. But Temple has made up his party. It is his affair, you know. He talks of staying out a month.”
“One get’s no chance in this slow place,” cried Tod, fiercely. “I’ll emigrate, I think, and go tiger-hunting. Is it a secret, this boating affair?”
“A secret! No.”
“What made you kick me under the table, then, when I would have asked particulars at luncheon?”
“Because the mother was present. She has taken all sorts of queer notions into her head — mothers always have them — that the boat will be found bottom upwards some day, and we under it. Failing that, we are to catch colds and fevers and agues from the night encampments. So we say as little about it as possible before her.”
“I see,” nodded Tod. “Look here, Bill, I should like to get up a boating party myself; it sounds glorious. How do you set about it? — and where can you get a boat?”
“Temple knows,” said Bill, “I don’t. Let us go and ask him.”
They went across the grass, leaving me alone with Anna. She and I were the best of friends, as the reader may remember, and exchanged many a little confidence with one another that the world knew nothing of.
“Should you like it for Helen?” I asked, indicating her sister and Slingsby Temple.
“Yes, I think I should,” she answered. “But William had no warrant for speaking as he did. Mr. Temple will only be here a few days longer: when he leaves, we may never see him again.”
“But he is evidently taken with Helen. He shows that he is. And when a man of Slingsby Temple’s disposition allows himself to betray anything of the kind, rely upon it he means something.”
“Did you like him at Oxford, Johnny?”
“Well — I did and did not,” was my hesitating answer. “He was reserved, close, proud, and unsociable; and no man displaying those qualities can be very much liked. On the other hand, he was exemplary in conduct, deserving respect from all, and receiving it.”
“I think he is religious,” said Anna, her voice taking a lower tone.
“Yes, I always thought him that. I fancy their mother brought them up to be so. But Temple is the last man in the world to display it.”
“What with papa’s taking up two rooms to himself now he has the gout, and all of us being at home, mamma was a little at fault what chamber to give Mr. Temple. There was no time for much arrangement, for he came without notice; so she just turned Harry out of his room, which used to be poor John’s, you know, and put Mr. Temple there. That night Harry chanced to go up to bed later than the rest of us. He forgot his room had been changed, and went straight into his own. Mr. Temple was kneeling down in prayer, and a Bible lay open on the table. Mamma says it is not all young men who say their prayers and read their Bible nowadays.”
“Not by a good many, Anna. Yes, Temple is good, and I hope Helen will get him. She will have position, too, as his wife, and a large income.”
“He comes into his estate this year, he told us; in September. He will be five-and-twenty then. But, Johnny, I don’t like one thing: William says there was a report at Oxford that the Temples never live to be even middle-aged men.”
“Some of them have died young, I believe. But, Anna, that’s no reason why they all should.”
“And — there’s a superstition attaching to the family, is there not?” continued Anna. “A ghost that appears; or something of that sort?”
I hardly knew what to answer. How vividly the words brought back poor Fred Temple’s communication to me on the subject, and his subsequent death.
“You don’t speak,” said she. “Won’t you tell me what it is?”
“It is this, Anna: but I dare say it’s all nonsense — all fancy. When one of the Temples is going to die, the spirit of the head of the family who last died is said to appear and beckon to him; a warning that his own death is near. Down in their neighbourhood people call it the Temple superstition.”
“I don’t quite understand,” cried Anna, looking earnestly at me. “Who is it that is said to appear?”
“I’ll give you an instance. When the late Mr. Temple, Slingsby’s father, was walking home from shooting with his gamekeeper one September day, he thought he saw his father in the wood at a little distance: that is, his father’s spirit, for he had been dead some years. It scared him very much at the moment, as the keeper testified. Well, Anna, in a day or two he, Mr. Temple, was dead — killed by an accident.”
“I am glad I am not a Temple; I should be always fearing I might see the sight,” observed Anna, a sad, thoughtful look on her gentle face.
“Oh no, you wouldn’t, Anna. The Temples themselves don’t think of it, and don’t believe in it. Slingsby does not, at any rate. His brother Fred told me at Oxford that no one must presume to allude to it in Slingsby’s presence.”
“Fred? He died at Oxford, did he not?”
“Yes, he died there, poor fellow. Thrown from his horse. I saw it happen, Anna.”
But I said nothing to her of that curious scene to which I had been a witness a night or two before the accident — when poor Fred, to Slingsby’s intense indignation, fancied he saw his father on the college staircase; fancied his father beckoned to him. It was not a thing to talk of. After that time Slingsby had seemed to regard me with rather a special favour; I wondered whether it was because I had not talked of it.
The afternoon passed. We went up to see Sir John in his gouty room, and then said good-bye to them all, including Temple, and started for home again. Tod was surly and cross. He had come out in a temper and he was going back in one.
Tod liked his own way. No one in the world resented interference more than he: and just now he and the Squire were at war. Some twelve months before, Tod had dropped into a five-hundred-pound legacy from a distant relative. It was now ready to be paid to him. The Squire wished it paid over to himself, that he might take care of it; Tod wanted to be grand, and open a banking account of his own. For the past two days the argument had held out on both sides, and this morning Tod had lost his temper. Lost it was again now, but on another score.
“Slingsby Temple might as well have invited me to join the boating lot!” he broke out to me, as we drew near home. “He knows I am an old hand at it.”
“But if his party is made up, Tod? Whitney said it was.”
“Rubbish, Johnny. Made up! They could as well make room for another. And much good some of them are, I dare say! I can’t remember that Slingsby ever took an oar in his hand at Oxford. All he went in for was star-gazing — and chapels — and lectures. And look at Bill Whitney! He hates rowing.”
“Did you tell Temple you would like to join them?”
“He could see it. I didn’t say in so many words, Will you have me? Of all things, I should enjoy a boating tour! It would be the most jolly thing on earth.”
That night, after we got in, the subject of the money grievance cropped up again. The Squire was smoking his long churchwarden pipe at the open window; Mrs. Todhetley sat by the centre table and the lamp, hemming a strip of muslin. Tod, open as the day on all subjects, abused Temple’s “churlishness” for not inviting him to make one of the boating party, and declared he would organize one of his own, which he could readily do, now he was not tied for money. That remark set the Squire on.
“Ay, that’s just where it would be, Joe,” said he. “Let you keep the money in your own fingers, and we should soon see what it would end in.”
“What would it end in?” demanded Tod.
“Ducks and drakes.”
Tod tossed his head. “You think I am a child still, I believe, father.”
“You are no better, where the spending of money’s concerned,” said the Squire, taking a long whiff. “Few young men are. Their fathers know that, and keep it from them as long as they can. And that’s why so many are not let come into possession of their estates before they are five-and-twenty. This young Temple, it seems, does not come into his; Johnny, here, does not.”
“I should like to know what more harm it would do for the money to lie in my name in the Old Bank than if it lay in yours?” argued Tod. “Should I be drawing cheques on purpose to get rid of it? That’s what you seem to suppose, father.”
“You’d be drawing them to spend,” said the pater.
“No, I shouldn’t. It’s my own money, after all. Being my own, I should take good care of it.”
Old Thomas came in with some glasses, and the argument dropped. Tod began again as we were going upstairs together.
“You see, Johnny,” he said, stepping inside my room on his way, and shutting the door for fear of eavesdroppers, “there’s that hundred pounds I owe Brandon. The old fellow has been very good, never so much as hinting that he remembers it, and I shall pay him back the first thing. To do this, I must have absolute possession of the money. A fine bobbery the pater would make if he got to know of it. Besides, a man come to my age likes to have a banking account — if he can. Good-night, lad.”
Tod carried his point. He turned so restive and obstinate over it as to surprise and vex the Squire, who of course knew nothing about the long-standing debt to Mr. Brandon. The Squire had no legal power to keep the money, if Tod insisted upon having it. And he did insist. The Squire put it down to boyish folly, self-assumption; and groaned and grumbled all the way to Worcester, when Tod was taking the five-hundred-pound cheque, paid to him free of duty, to the Old Bank.
“We shall have youngsters in their teens wanting to open a banking account next!” said the pater to Mr. Isaac, as Tod was writing his signature in the book. “The world’s coming to something.”
“I dare say young Mr. Todhetley will be prudent, and not squander it,” observed Mr. Isaac, with one of his pleasant smiles.
“Oh, will he, though! You’ll see. Look here,” went on the Squire, tapping the banker on the arm, “couldn’t you, if he draws too large a cheque at any time, refuse to cash it?”
“I fear we could not do that,” laughed Mr. Isaac. “So long as he does not overdraw his account, we are bound to honour his cheques.”
“And if you do overdraw it, Joe, I hope the bank will prosecute you! — I would, I know,” was the Squire’s last threat, as we left the bank and turned towards the Cross, Tod with a cheque-book in his pocket.
But Mr. Brandon could not be paid then. On going over to his house a day or two afterwards, we found him from home. The housekeeper thought he was on his way to one of the “water-cure establishments” in Yorkshire, she said, but he had not yet written to give his address.
“So it must wait,” remarked Tod to me, as we went home. “I’m not sorry. How the bank would have stared at having to pay a hundred pounds down on the nail! Conclude, no doubt, that I was going to the deuce headlong.”
“By Jove!” cried Tod, taking a leap in the air.
About a week had elapsed since the journey to the Old Bank, and Tod was opening a letter that had come addressed to him by the morning post.
“Johnny! will you believe it, lad? Temple asks me to be of the boating lot, after all.”
It was even so. The letter was from Slingsby Temple, written from Templemore. It stated that he had been disappointed by some of those who were to have made up the number, and if Todhetley and Ludlow would supply their places, he should be glad.
Tod turned wild. You might have thought, as Mrs. Todhetley remarked, that he had been invited to Eden.
“The idea of Temple’s asking you, Johnny!” he said. “You are of no good in a boat.”
“Perhaps I had better decline?”
“No, don’t do that, Johnny. It might upset the party altogether, perhaps. You must do your best.”
“I have no boating-suit.”
“I will treat you to one,” said Tod, munificently. “We’ll get it at Evesham. Pity but my things would fit you.”
So it was, for he had loads of them.
The Squire, for a wonder, did not oppose the scheme. Mrs. Todhetley (like Lady Whitney) did, in her mild way. As Bill said, all mothers were alike — always foreseeing danger. And though she was not Tod’s true mother, or mine either, she was just as anxious for us; and she looked upon it as nearly certain that one of us would come home drowned and the other with the ague.
“They won’t sleep on the bare ground, of course,” said Duffham, who chanced to call that morning, while Tod was writing his letter of acceptance to Slingsby Temple.
“Of course we shall,” fired Tod, resenting the remark. “What harm could it do us?”
“Give some of you rheumatic-fever,” said Duffham.
“Then why doesn’t it give it to the gipsies?” retorted Tod.
“The gipsies are used to it — born to it, as one may say. You young men must have a waterproof sheet to lie upon, or a tarpaulin, or something of the sort.”
Tod tossed his head, disdaining an answer, and wrote on.
“You will have plenty of rugs and great-coats with you, of course,” went on Duffham. “And I’ll give you a packet of quinine powders. It is as well to be prepared for contingencies. If you find any symptoms of unusual cold, or shivering, just take one or two of them.”
“Look here, Mr. Duffham,” said Tod, dashing his pen down on the table. “Don’t you think you had better attend us yourself with a medicine-chest? Put up a cargo of rhubarb — and magnesia — and castor oil — and family pills. A few quarts of senna-tea might not come in amiss. My patience! I believe you take us for delicate infants.”
“And I should recommend you to carry a small keg of whisky amongst the boat stores,” continued Duffham, not in the least put out. “You’ll want it. Take a nip of it neat when you first get up from the ground in the morning. It is necessary you should, and it will ward off some evils that might otherwise arise. Johnny Ludlow, I’ll put the quinine into your charge: mind you don’t forget it.”
“Of all the old women!” muttered Tod to me. “Had the pater been in the room, this might have set him against our going.”
On the following day we went over to Whitney Hall, intending to take Evesham on our way back, and buy what was wanted. Surprise the first. Bill Whitney was not at home, and was not to be of the boating party.
“You never saw any one in such a way in your life,” cried Helen, who could devote some time to us, now Temple was gone. “I must say it was too bad of papa. He never made any objection while Mr. Temple was here, but let poor William anticipate all the pleasure; and then he went and turned round afterwards.”
“Did he get afraid for him?” cried Tod, in wonder. “I wouldn’t have thought it of Sir John.”
“Afraid! no,” returned Helen, opening her eyes. “What he got was a fit of the gout. A relapse.”
“What has the gout to do with Bill?”
“Why, old Featherston ordered papa to Buxton, and papa said he could not do without William to see to him there: mamma was laid up in bed with one of her bad colds — and she is not out of it yet. So papa went off, taking William — and you should just see how savage he was.”
For William Whitney to be “savage” was something new. He had about the easiest temper in the world. I laughed, and said so.
“Savage for him, I mean,” corrected Helen, who was given to talking at random. “Nothing puts him out. Some cross fellows would not have consented, and have told their fathers so to their faces. It is a shame.”
“I don’t suppose Bill cares much; he is no hand at rowing,” remarked Tod. “Did he write to Temple and decline?”
“Of course he did,” was Helen’s resentfully spoken answer; and she seemed, to say the least, quite as much put out as Bill could have been. “What else could he do?”
“Well. I am sorry for this,” said Tod. “Temple has asked me now. Johnny also.”
“Has he!” exclaimed Helen, her eyes sparkling. “I hope you will go.”
“Of course we shall go,” said Tod. “Where’s Anna?”
“Anna? Oh, sitting up with mamma. She likes a sick-room. I don’t.”
“You’d like a boat better — if Temple were in it,” remarked Tod, with a saucy laugh.
“Just you be quiet,” retorted Helen.
From Whitney Hall we went to Evesham, and hastily procured what we wanted. The next day but one was that fixed for our departure, and when it at last dawned, bright and hot, we started amidst the good wishes of all the house. Tod with a fishing-rod and line, in case the expedition should afford an opportunity for fishing, and I with Duffham’s quinine powders in my pocket.
Templemore, the seat of the Temples, was on the Welsh borders. We were not going there, but to a place called Sanbury, which lay within a few miles of the mansion. Slingsby Temple and his brother Rupert were already there, with the boat and the tent and all the rest of the apparatus, making ready for our departure on the morrow. Our head-quarters, until the start, was at the Ship, a good, old-fashioned inn, and we found that we were expected to be Temple’s guests there.
“I would have asked you to Templemore to dine and sleep,” he observed, in cordial tones, “and my mother said she should have been pleased to see you; but to get down here in the morning would have been inconvenient. At least, it would take up the time that ought to be devoted to getting away. Will you come and see the boat?”
It was lying in a locked-up shed near the river. A tub-pair, large of its kind. Three of them were enough for it: and I saw that, in point of fact, I was not wanted for the working; but Temple either did not like to ask Tod without me, or else would not leave me out. The Temples might have more than their share of pride, but it was accompanied by an equal share of refined and considerate feeling.
“We shall make you useful, never fear,” said he to me, with a smile. “And it will be capital boating experience for you.”
“I am sure I shall like it,” I answered. And I liked him better than I ever had in my life.
Numerous articles were lying ready with the boat. Temple seemed to have thought of every needful thing. A pot to boil water in, a pan for frying, a saucepan for potatoes, a mop and towing-rope, stone jugs for beer, milk, and fresh water, tins to hold our grog, and the like.
Amongst the stores were tea, sugar, candles, cheese, butter, a ham, some tinned provisions, a big jar of beer, and (Duffham should have seen it) a two-gallon keg of whisky.
“A doctor up with us said we ought to have whisky,” remarked Tod. “He is nothing but an old woman. He put some quinine powders in Johnny’s pocket, and talked of a waterproof sheet to sleep on.”
“Quite right,” said Temple. “There it lies.”
And there it did lie, wrapped round the folded tent. A large waterproof tarpaulin to cover the ground, at night, and keep the damp from our limbs.
“Did you ever make a boating tour before, Temple?” asked Tod.
“Oh yes. I like it. I don’t know any pleasure equal to that of camping out at night on a huge plain, where you may study all the stars in the heavens.”
As Temple spoke, he glanced towards a small parcel in a corner. I guessed it was one of his night telescopes.
“Yes, it is,” he assented; “but only a small one. The boat won’t stretch, and we can only load it according to its limits.”
Rupert Temple came up as we were leaving the shed. I had never seen him before. He was the only brother left, and Slingsby’s heir presumptive. Why, I know not, but I had pictured Rupert as being like poor Fred — tall, fair, bright-looking as a man can be. But there existed not a grain of resemblance. Rupert was just a second edition of Slingsby: little, dark, plain, and proud. It was not an offensive pride — quite the contrary: and with those they knew well they were cordial and free.
Those originally invited by Temple were his cousin Arthur Slingsby; Lord Cracroft’s son; Whitney; and a young Welshman named Pryce–Hughes. All had accepted, and intended to keep the engagement, knowing then of nothing to prevent them. But, curious to say, each one in succession wrote to decline it later. Whitney had to go elsewhere with his father; Pryce–Hughes hurt his arm, which disabled him from rowing: and Arthur Slingsby went off without ceremony in somebody’s yacht to Malta. As the last of the letters came, which was Whitney’s, Mrs. Temple seemed struck with the coincidence of all refusing, or being compelled to refuse. “Slingsby, my dear,” she said to her son, “it looks just as though you were not to go.” “But I will go,” answered Temple, who did not like to be baulked in a project more than anybody else likes it; “if these can’t come, I’ll get others who can.” And he forthwith told his brother Rupert that there’d be room for him in the boat — he had refused him before; and wrote to Tod. After that, came another letter from Pryce–Hughes, saying his arm was better, and he could join the party at Bridgenorth or Bewdley. But it was too late: the boat was filled up. Temple meant to do the Severn, the Wye, and the Avon, with a forced interlude of canals, and to be out a month, taking it easily, and resting on Sundays.
“Catch Slingsby missing Sunday service if he can help it!” said Rupert aside to me.
We started in our flannel suits and red caps, and started well, but not until the afternoon, Temple steering, his brother and Tod taking the sculls. The water was very shallow: and by-and-by we ran aground. The stern of the boat swung round, and away went our tarpaulin; and it was carried off by the current before we could save it.
Well, that first afternoon there were difficulties to contend with, and one or other of the three was often in the water; but we made altogether some five or six miles. It was the hottest day I ever felt; and about seven o’clock, on coming to a convenient meadow, nearly level with the river, none of us were sorry to step ashore. Making fast the boat for the night, we landed the tent and other things, and looked about us. A coppice bounded the field on the left; right across, in a second field, stood a substantial farm-house, surrounded by its barns and ricks. Temple produced one of his cards, which was to be taken to the house, and the farmer’s leave asked to encamp on the meadow. Rupert Temple and Tod made themselves decent to go on the errand.
“We shall want a bundle or two of straw,” said Temple; “it won’t do to lie on the bare ground. And some milk. You must ask if they will accommodate us, and pay what they charge.”
They went off, carrying also the jar to beg for fresh water. Temple and I began to unfurl the tent, and to busy ourselves amongst the things generally.
“Halloa! what’s to do here?”
We turned, and saw a stout, comely man, in white shirt-sleeves, an open waistcoat, knee-breeches and top-boots; no doubt the farmer himself. Temple explained. He and some friends were on a boating tour, and had landed there to encamp for the night.
“But who gave you leave to do it?” asked the farmer. “You are trespassing. This is my ground.”
“I supposed it might be necessary to ask leave,” said Temple, haughtily courteous; “and I have sent to yonder house — which I presume is yours — to solicit it. If you will kindly accord the permission, I shall feel obliged.”
That Temple looked disreputable enough, there could be no denying. No shoes on, no stockings, trousers tucked up above the knee: for he had been several times in the water, and, as yet, had done nothing to himself. But two of our college-caps chanced to be lying exposed on the boat: and perhaps, Temple’s tone and address had made their due impression. The farmer looked hard at him, as if trying to remember his face.
“It’s not one of the young Mr. Temples, is it?” said he. “Of Templemore.”
“I am Mr. Temple, of Templemore. I have sent my card to your house.”
“Dash me!” cried the farmer, heartily. “Shake hands, sir. I fancied I knew the face. I’ve seen you out shooting, sir — and at Sanbury. I knew your father. I’m sure you are more than welcome to camp alongside here, and to any other accommodation I can give you. Will you shake hands, young gentleman?” giving his hand to me as he released Temple’s.
“My brother and another of our party are gone to your house to beg some fresh water and buy some milk,” said Temple, who did not seem at all to resent the farmer’s familiarity, but rather to like it. “And we shall be glad of a truss or two of fresh straw, if you can either sell it to us or give it. We have had the misfortune to lose our waterproof sheet.”
“Sell be hanged!” cried the farmer, with a jovial laugh. “Sell you a truss or two of straw! Sell you milk! Not if I know it, Mr. Temple. You’re welcome, sir, to as much as ever you want of both. One of my men shall bring the straw down.”
“You are very good.”
“And anything else you please to think of. Don’t scruple to ask, sir. Will you all come and take supper at my house? We’ve a rare round o’ beef in cut, and I saw the missis making pigeon-pies this morning.”
But Temple declined the invitation most decisively; and the farmer, perhaps noting that, did not press it. It was rare weather for the water, he observed.
“We could do with less heat,” replied Temple.
“Ay,” said the farmer, “I never felt it worse. But it’s good for the corn.”
And, with that, he left us. The other two came back with water and oceans of milk. Sticks were soon gathered from the coppice, and the fire made; the round pot, filled with water, was put on to boil for tea, and the tent was set up.
Often and often in my later life have I looked back to that evening. The meal over — and a jolly good one we made — we sat round the camp fire, then smouldering down to red embers, and watched the setting sun, Rupert Temple and Tod smoking. It was a glorious sunset, the west lighted up with gold and purple and crimson; the sky above us clear and dark-blue.
But oh, how hot it was! The moon came up as the sun went down, and the one, to our fancy, seemed to give out as much heat as the other. There we sat on, sipping our grog, and talking in the bright moonlight, Temple with his elbows on the grass, his face turned up towards the sky and the few stars that came out. The colours in the west gave place to a beautiful opal, stretching northwards.
It was singular — I shall always think so — that the conversation should turn on MacRae, the Scotchman who used to make our skin creep at Oxford with his tales of second-sight. We were not talking of Oxford, and I don’t know how MacRae came up. Temple had been talking of astronomy; from that we got to astrology; so perhaps it was in that way. Up he came, however, he and his weird beliefs; and Rupert Temple, who had not enjoyed the honour of Mac’s acquaintance, and had probably never heard his name before, got me to relate one or two of Mac’s choice experiences.
“Was the man a fool?” asked Rupert.
“Not a bit of it.”
“I’m sure I should say so. Making out that he could foresee people’s funerals before they were dead, or likely to die.”
“Poor Fred was three-parts of a believer in them,” put in Temple, in a dreamy voice, as though his thoughts were buried in that past time.
“Fred was!” exclaimed Rupert, taking his brother up sharply. “Believer in what?”
Temple made no rejoinder. In his eye, which chanced to catch mine at the moment, there sat a singular expression. I wondered whether he was recalling that other superstition of Fred’s, that little episode a night or two before he died.
“We had better be turning in,” said Temple, getting up. “It won’t do to sit here too long; and we must be up betimes in the morning.”
So we got to bed at last — if you can call it bed. The farmer’s good straw was strewed thickly underneath us in the tent; we had our rugs; and the tent was fastened back at the entrance to admit air. But there was no air to admit, not a whiff of it; nothing came in but the moonlight. None of us remembered a lighter night, or a hotter one. I and Tod lay in the middle, the Temples on either side, Slingsby nearest the opening.
“I wonder who’s got our sheet?” began Tod, breaking a silence that ensued when we had wished each other good-night.
No one answered.
“I say,” struck in Rupert, by-and-by, “I’ve heard one ought not to go to sleep in the moonlight: it turns people luny. Do any of your faces catch it, outside there?”
“Go to sleep and don’t talk,” said Temple.
It might have been from the novelty of the situation, but the night was well on before any of us got to sleep. Tod and Rupert Temple went off first, and next (I thought) Temple did. I did not.
I dare say you’ve never slept four in a bed — and, that, one of littered straw. It’s all very well to lie awake when you’ve a good wide mattress to yourself, and can toss and turn at will; but in the close quarters of a tent you can’t do it for fear of disturbing the others. However, the longest watch has its ending; and I was just dropping off, when Temple, next to whom I lay, started hurriedly, and it aroused me.
“What’s that?” he cried, in a half-whisper.
I lifted my head, startled. He was sitting up, his eyes fixed on the opening we had left in the tent.
“Who’s there? — who is it?” he said again; and his low voice had a slow, queer sound, as though he spoke in fear.
“What is it, Temple?” I asked.
“There, standing just outside the tent, right in the moonlight,” whispered he. “Don’t you see?”
I could see nothing. The stir awoke Rupert. He called out to know what ailed us; and that aroused Tod.
“Some man looking in at us,” explained Temple, in the same queer tone, half of abstraction, half of fear, his gaze still strained on the aperture. “He is gone now.”
Up jumped Tod, and dashed outside the tent. Rupert struck a match and lighted the lantern. No one was to be seen but ourselves; and the only odd thing to be remarked was the white hue Temple’s face had taken. Tod was marching round the tent, looking about him far and near, and calling out to all intruders to show themselves. But all that met his eye was the level plain we were encamped upon, lying pale and white under the moonlight, and all the sound he heard was the croaking of the frogs.
“What could have made you fancy it?” he asked of Temple.
“Don’t think it was fancy,” responded Temple. “Never saw any man plainer in my life.”
“You were dreaming, Slingsby,” said Rupert. “Let us get to sleep again.”
Which we did. At least, I can answer for myself.
The first beams of the glorious sun awoke us, and we rose to the beginning of another day, and to the cold, shivery feeling that, in spite of the heat of the past night and of the coming day, attends the situation. I could understand now why the nip of whisky, as Duffham called it, was necessary. Tod served it out. Lighting the fire of sticks to boil our tea-kettle — or the round pot that served for a kettle — we began to get things in order to embark again, when breakfast should be over.
“I say, Slingsby,” cried Rupert, to his brother, who seemed very sullen, “what on earth took you, that you should disturb us in the night for nothing?”
“It was not for nothing. Some one was there.”
“It must have been a stray sheep.”
“Nonsense, Rupert! Could one mistake a sheep for a man?”
“Some benighted ploughman then, ‘plodding his weary way.’”
“If you could bring forward any ploughman to testify that it was he beyond possibility of doubt, I’d give him a ten-pound note.”
“Look here,” said Tod, after staring a minute at this odd remark of Temple’s, “you may put all idea of ploughmen and every one else away. No one was there. If there had been, I must have seen him: it was not possible he could betake himself out of sight in a moment.”
“Have it as you like,” said Temple; “I am going to take a bath. My head aches.”
Stripping, he plunged into the river, which was very wide just there, and swam towards the middle of it.
“It seems to have put Slingsby out,” observed Rupert, alluding to the night alarm. “Do you notice how thoughtful he is? Just look at that fire!”
The sticks had turned black, and began to smoke and hiss, giving out never a bit of blaze. Down knelt Rupert on one side and I on the other.
“Damp old obstinate things!” he ejaculated. And we set on to blow at them with all our might.
“Where’s Temple?” I exclaimed presently; looking off, and not seeing him. Rupert glanced over the river.
“He must be diving, Johnny. Slingsby’s fond of diving. Keep on blowing, lad, or we shall get no tea today.”
So we kept on. But, I don’t know why, a sort of doubtful feeling came over me, and while I blew I watched the water for Temple to come up. All in a moment he rose to the surface, gave one low, painful cry of distress, and disappeared again.
“Good Heavens!” cried Rupert, leaping up and overturning the kettle.
But Tod was the quickest, and jumped in to the rescue. A first-rate swimmer and diver was he, almost as much at home in the water as out of it. In no time, as it seemed, he was striking back, bearing Temple. It was fortunate for such a crisis that Temple was so small and slight — of no weight to speak of.
By dint of gently rubbing and rolling, we got some life into him and some whisky down his throat. But he remained in the queerest, faintest state possible; no exertion in him, no movement hardly, no strength; alive, and that was about all; and just able to tell us that he had turned faint in the water.
“What is to be done?” cried Rupert. “We must get a doctor to him: and he ought not to lie on the grass here. I wonder if that farmer would let him be taken to the house for an hour or two?”
I got into my boots, and ran off to ask; and met the farmer in the second field. He was coming towards us, curious perhaps to see whether we had started. Telling him what had happened, he showed himself alive with sympathy, called some of his men to carry Temple to the farm, and sent back to prepare his wife. Their name we found was Best: and most hospitable, good-hearted people they turned out to be.
Well, Temple was taken there and a doctor was called in. The doctor shook his head, looked grave, and asked to have another doctor. Then, for the first time, doubts stole over us that it might be more serious than we had thought for. A dreadful feeling of fear took possession of me, and, in spite of all I could do, that scene at Oxford, when poor Fred Temple had been carried into old Mrs. Golding’s to die, would not go out of my mind.
We got into our reserve clothes, as if conscious that the boating flannels were done with for the present, left one of the farmer’s men to watch our boat and things, and stayed with Temple. He continued very faint, and lay almost motionless. The doctors tried some remedies, but they did no good. He did not revive. One of them called it “syncope of the heart;” but the other said hastily, “No, no, that was not the right name.” It struck me that perhaps they did not know what the right name was. At last they said Mrs. Temple had better be sent for.
“I was just thinking so,” cried Rupert. “My mother ought to be here. Who will go for her?”
“Johnny can,” said Tod. “He is of no good here.”
For that matter, none of us were any good, for we could do nothing for Temple.
I did not relish the task: I did not care to tell a mother that her son, whom she believes is well and hearty, is lying in danger. But I had to go: Rupert seemed to take it as a matter of course.
“Don’t alarm her more than you can help, Ludlow,” he said. “Say that Slingsby turned faint in the water this morning, and the medical men seem anxious. But ask her not to lose time.”
Mr. Best started me on his own horse — a fine hunter, iron-grey. The weather was broiling. Templemore lay right across country, about six miles off by road. It was a beautiful place; I could see that much, though I had but little time to look at it; and it stood upon an eminence, the last mile of the road winding gradually up to its gates.
As ill-luck had it, or perhaps good-luck — I don’t know which — Mrs. Temple was at one of the windows, and saw me ride hastily in. Having a good memory of faces, she recollected mine. Knowing that I had started with her sons in the boat, she was seized with a prevision that something was wrong, and came out before I was well off the horse.
“It is Mr. Ludlow, I think,” she said, her plain dark face (so much like Slingsby’s) very pale. “What ill news have you brought?”
I told her in the best manner I was able, just in the words Rupert had suggested, speaking quietly, and not showing any alarm in my own manner.
“Is there danger?” she at once asked.
“I am not sure that there is,” I said, hardly knowing how to frame my answer. “The doctors thought you had better come, in case — in case of danger arising; and Rupert sent me to ask you to do so.”
She rang the bell, and ordered her carriage to be round instantly. “The bay horses,” she added: “they are the fleetest. What will you take, Mr. Ludlow?”
I would not take anything. But a venerable old gentleman in black, with a powdered bald head — the butler, I concluded — suggested some lemonade, after my hot ride: and that I was glad of.
I rode on first, piloting the way for the carriage, which contained Mrs. Temple. She came alone: her daughter was away on a visit — as I had learnt from Rupert.
Slingsby lay in the same state, neither better nor worse: perhaps the breathing was somewhat more difficult. He smiled when he saw his mother, and put out his hand.
The day dragged itself slowly on. We did not know what to do with ourselves; that was a fact. Temple was to be kept quiet, and we might not intrude into his room — one on the ground-floor that faced the east: not even Rupert. Mr. and Mrs. Best entertained us well as far as meals went, but one can’t be eating for ever. Now down in the meadow by the boat — which seemed to have assumed a most forlorn aspect — and now hovering about the farm, waiting for the last report of Temple. In that way the day crept through.
“Is it here that Mr. Temple is lying?”
I was standing under the jessamine-covered porch, sheltering my head from the rays of the setting sun, when a stranger came up and put the question. An extraordinarily tall, thin man, with grey hair, clerical coat, and white neckcloth.
It was the Reverend Mr. Webster, perpetual curate of the parish around Templemore. And I seemed to know him before I heard his name, for he was the very image of his son, Long Webster, who used to be at Oxford.
“I am so grieved not to have been able to get here before,” he said; “but I had just gone out for some hours when Mrs. Temple’s message was brought to the Parsonage. Is he any better?”
“I am afraid not,” I answered. “We don’t know what to make of it; it all seems so sudden and strange.”
“But what is it?” he asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know, sir. The doctors have said something about the heart.”
“I should like to see the doctors before I go in to Mrs. Temple. Are they here?”
“One of them is, I think. They have been going in and out all day.”
I fetched the doctor out to him; and they talked together in low tones in the shaded and quiet porch. Not a ray of hope sat on the medical man’s face: he as good as intimated that Temple was dying.
“Dear me!” cried the dismayed Mr. Webster.
“He seems to know it himself,” continued the doctor. “At least, we fancy so, I and my brother-practitioner. Though we have been most cautious not to alarm him by any hint of the kind.”
“I should like to see him,” said the parson. “I suppose I can?”
He went in, and was shut up for some time alone with Temple. Yes, he said, when he came out again, Temple knew all about it, and was perfectly resigned and prepared.
You may be sure there was no bed for any of us that night. Temple’s breathing grew worse; and at last we went in by turns, one of us at a time, to prop up the pillows behind, and keep them propped; it seemed to make it firmer and easier for him as he lay against them. Towards morning I was called in to replace Rupert. The shaded candle seemed to be burning dim.
“You can lie down, my dear,” Mrs. Temple whispered to Rupert. “Should there be any change, I will call you.”
He nodded, and left the room. Not to lie down. Only to sit over the kitchen fire with Tod, and so pass away the long hours of discomfort.
“Who is this now?” panted Slingsby, as I took my place.
“It is I. Johnny Ludlow. Do you feel any better?”
He made a little sound of dissent in answer.
“Nay, I think you look easier, my dear,” said Mrs. Temple, gently.
“No, no,” he said, just opening his eyes. “Do not grieve, mother. I shall be better off. I shall be with my father and Fred.”
“Oh, my son, my son, don’t lose heart!” she said, with a sob. “That will never do.”
“I saw my father last night,” said Temple.
The words seemed to strike her with a sort of shock. “No!” she exclaimed, perhaps thinking of the Temple superstition, and drawing back a step. “Pray, pray don’t fancy that!”
“The tent was open to give us air,” he said, speaking with difficulty. “I suddenly saw some one standing in the moonlight. I was next the opening; and I had not been able to get to sleep. For a moment I thought it was some man, some intruder passing by; but he took a strange likeness to my father, and I thought he beckoned ——”
“We are not alone, Slingsby,” interrupted Mrs. Temple, remembering me, her voice cold, not to say haughty.
“Ludlow knows. He knew the last time. Fred said he saw him, and I— I ridiculed it. Ludlow heard me. My father came for Fred, mother; he must have come for me.”
“Oh, I can’t — I can’t believe this, Slingsby,” she cried, in some excitement. “It was fancy — nervousness; nothing else. My darling, I cannot lose you! You have ever been dearer to me than my other children.”
“Only for a little while, mother. It is God’s will. That is our true home, you know; and then there will be no more parting. I am quite happy. I seem to be half there now. What is that light?”
Mrs. Temple looked round, and saw a faint streak coming in over the tops of the shutters. “It must be the glimmering of dawn in the east,” she said. “The day is breaking.”
“Ay,” he answered: “my day. Where’s Rupert? I should like to say good-bye to him. Yes, mother, that’s the dawn of heaven.”
And just as the sun rose, he went there.
That was the end of our boating tour. Ridicule has been cast on some of the facts, and will be again. It is a painful subject; and I don’t know that I should have related it, but for its having led to another (and more lively) adventure, which I proceed to tell of.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55