THE STORY OF THE WHITE-ROCK COVE.
LONDON: T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW; EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK. 1871.
I. LONG AGO AT BRAYCOMBE
II. ALECK'S WELCOME
III. A WHOLE HOLIDAY
IV. THE RIDE TO STAVEMOOR
VI. THE SCHOONER-YACHT
VII. THE MISSING SHIP
VIII. ANOTHER SEARCH
IX. SORROWFUL DAYS
X. SUNDAY EVENING
XI. THE WHITE-ROCK COVE AGAIN
THE STORY OF THE WHITE-ROCK COVE.
LONG AGO AT BRAYCOMBE.
The Story of the White-Rock Cove—"to be written down all from the very beginning"—is urgently required by certain youthful petitioners, whose importunity is hard to resist; and the request is sealed by a rosy pair of lips from the little face nestling at my side, in a manner that admits of no denial.
* * * * *
"From the beginning;"—that very beginning carries me back to my own old school-room, in the dear home at Braycombe, when, as a little boy between nine and ten years old, I sat there doing my lessons.
It was on a Thursday morning, and, consequently, I was my mother's pupil. For whereas my tutor, a certain Mr. Glengelly, from our nearest town of Elmworth, used to come over on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the carrying forward of my education; my studies were, on the other days of the week, which I consequently liked much better, conducted under the gentle superintendence of my mother.
On this particular morning I was working with energy at a rule-of-three sum, being engaged in a sort of exciting race with the clock, of which the result was still doubtful. When, however, the little click, which meant, as I well knew, five minutes to twelve, sounded, I had attained my quotient in plain figures; a few moments more, and the process of fours into, twelves into, twenties into, had been accomplished; and just as the clock struck twelve I was able to hand up my slate triumphantly with my task completed.
"A drawn game, mamma!" I exclaimed, "between me and the clock;" and then with eager eyes I followed hers, as she rapidly ran over the figures which had cost me so much trouble, and from time to time relieved my mind by a quiet commentary: "Quite right so far;—No mistakes yet;—You have worked it out well."
Frisk, the intelligent, the affectionate, the well-beloved companion of my sports, and the recipient of many of my confidences, woke up from his nap, stretched himself, came and placed his fore-paws upon my knees, and, looking up in my face, spoke as plainly as if endowed with the capacity of expressing himself in human language, to this effect:—"I'm very glad you have finished your lessons; and glad, too, that I was able to sleep on a mat in the window, where the warm sunshine has made me extremely comfortable. But now your lessons are done, I hope you'll lose no time, but come out to play at once. I'm ready when you are."
And Frisk's tail wagged faster and faster when my mother's inspection of my sum was concluded, so that I could not help thinking he must have understood her when she said,—"There are no mistakes, Willie; you have been a good, industrious little boy this morning; you may go out to play with a light heart."
I did not need twice telling, but very soon put away all my books and maps, and the slate, with its right side carefully turned down, that it might not get rubbed, wiped the pens, placed my copy-book in the drawer, and presented myself for that final kiss with which my mother was wont to terminate our proceedings, and which was on this occasion accompanied by the remonstrance that I was getting quite too big a boy for such nonsense.
Then at a bound I disappeared through the window, which opened on the lawn, and let off my pent-up steam in the circumnavigation of the garden, with Frisk barking at my heels; clearing the geranium-bed with a flying leap, and taking the low wire-fence by the shrubbery twice over, to the humiliation of my canine companion, who had to dip under where I went over.
The conclusion of these performances brought me once again in front of the school-room window, where my mother stood beckoning to me. She had my straw hat with its sailor's blue ribbons in one hand, and a slice of seed-cake in the other.
"Here, Willie," she said, "put on your hat, for the sun is hot although there is a fresh breeze; and—but perhaps I may have been mistaken—I thought perhaps some people of my acquaintance were fond of seed-cake for luncheon."
"No indeed, dear mamma," I made answer speedily, "you are not at all mistaken: some people—that is, Frisk and I—do like it very much; don't we Frisk, old fellow?"
"And now," continued my mother,—who must certainly have forgotten at the moment her opinion expressed just five minutes before as to the propriety of kisses, for, smoothing back my hair, she stooped down to press her lips upon my forehead before putting my hat on,—"and now you are to take your troublesome self off for a long hour, indeed, almost an hour and a half: away with you to your play."
"May I take my troublesome self to old George's, mamma?" I petitioned.
"If you like," she answered; "only be careful in going down the Zig-zag; I don't want to find you a little heap of broken bones at the bottom of the cliff."
I confess myself to being entirely incapable of conveying on paper to my young readers the charms, the manifold delights, of that Zig-zag walk, which was our shortest way down to the lodge.
You started from the garden, then through the shrubbery, and from the shrubbery by a little wire gate you entered the natural wood which clothed the upper part of our hill-side. The path descended rapidly from this point, being very steep in parts, and emerging every here and there so as to command an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Braycombe Bay, which on this bright summer morning was all dancing and sparkling in the sunshine. Lower down, the wood gave place to rock and turf, until you reached the top of the shingle which the path skirted for a little distance; and, finally, crossing an undulating meadow, you gained the lodge, the abode of my friend old George, mentioned above.
It was not its picturesque beauty alone which endeared the Zig-zag walk to me, although, child that I was, I feel sure the loveliness of the outer world had the effect, unconsciously to myself, of brightening my little inner world; but over and above all this must be ranked my keen enjoyment of a scramble, and of the sense of difficulty and danger attendant upon certain steep parts of the descent. It was one of my great amusements to be trusted occasionally to guide my parents' visitors down by this path, for the sake of the view, whilst their carriages would be sent the long way by the drive to meet them at the lodge. There were precipitous places, where even grave and stately grown-up people would give up walking and take to running; and then again little perilous points, where ladies especially would utter faint cries of fright, and would require gentle persuasion to induce them to step down from stone to stone; whilst I, fearless from long practice, would triumphantly perform the feat two or three times, to show that I was not in the least afraid, devising, moreover, short cuts for myself even steeper than those of the recognized path.
I question whether the birth-day which conferred on me the privilege of going alone up and down the Zig-zag was the greatest boon to myself or to my nurse; the exertion involved in scaling the hill-side being to the full as wearisome to her as it was enchanting to myself. The emancipation, however, came early in my career, since my friend, old George, by my father's consent, assumed a sort of out-of-door charge of me at a period when most little boys are exclusively under nursery discipline. For my father reposed the utmost confidence in the old man's principles, and did not hesitate to let me be for hours under his care, saying, often in my hearing, that he would rather have me out on the water learning from him how to manage the boats, or climbing the rocks and exploring the caves under his safe guardianship, than learning from a woman only how to keep off the rocks and avoid tumbling into the water. He was an old seaman, united by strong ties of friendship and gratitude to our family. In earlier years he had served on board the same ship in which my father had been a young midshipman; and on one occasion, when my father fell overboard, at a time when the vessel was at full speed, had thrown himself into the water, and held my father's head up when he was too exhausted to swim, until the boat put out for the rescue had time to come up and save both lives, which the delay had placed in great peril. When, some years later, on my grandfather's death, my father came to live at Braycombe, he insisted upon Groves, who was just about to be pensioned off through some failure in health, coming to settle with his wife at the lodge, promising him the charge of our boats, so that he might have a taste of his old occupation. His daughter-in-law, widow of his only son, who had been drowned, obtained the situation of schoolmistress, and lived near to the old couple with Ralph, her only son, a lad some few years my senior, who was employed about the place under his grandfather's supervision, and helped in rowing when we went out upon the water.
A friendship firm and tender had grown up between myself and the old seaman, I accepting him as a grown-up play-fellow, and revealing to him in detail all the many plans continually suggesting themselves to my fertile imagination, and finding in him an ever ready sympathy, and, when possible, active co-operation in my schemes.
From which digression, explanatory of the relationship subsisting between old George—as he had taught me from infancy to call him, Mr. Groves, as he was more properly designated by the neighbourhood—and myself, I must return to the bright June morning upon which, after my usual fashion, I descended the Zig-zag, running, scrambling, sliding, with Frisk scampering and capering at my side, making wild snaps at pieces of cake which I broke off for him from time to time, and held up as high as I could reach, that he might have to jump for them.
We were not long in gaining the lodge, which, by the carriage drive, was nearly three-quarters of a mile from the house. I produced a series of knocks upon the door, like those of a London postman, though, as old George was wont to remark,—
"What's the use, Master Willie, of knocking like that; you never stop to hear me say 'Come in,' but just burst open the door and drive in like a gust of wind promiscuous." But, in self-defence, I must explain that my defective manners in this particular were entirely due to my old friend himself, who, from earliest infancy, had trained me in all manner of impertinent familiarities. It was traditional that I cried to go to him whilst I was still in arms; that I made attacks of an aggravated character upon his brass buttons before I could walk alone; and I could just remember experiments upon his white beard, as trying doubtless to him as they were interesting to myself, conducted with philosophical determination on my part, in order to ascertain whether it came off by pulling or not! In all of which proceedings my friend greatly encouraged me, so that the blame of my failure in the laws of etiquette lay at his door.
Only Mrs. Groves was in the cottage when I rushed in eagerly upon the morning in question. She was busy in culinary mysteries, but assured me her master would be soon in, and, in the meantime, I was to make myself at home; which I did at once.
"And your dear ma, how's she?" inquired the good lady presently, settling a cover on a saucepan in a decisive manner, and sitting down during a pause in her operations. "I saw her drive by yesterday; and Susan told me she'd been at the school. A blessed time children have of it these days, going to school; it's very different to what it was in my time."
"Then you didn't go to school?" I asked, being privately of opinion that she was rather fortunate as a child.
"Oh yes, sir, I went to school, but not like the schooling children has now-a-days, with a high-born lady like your ma going herself to see them;—our old dame, she teached us all she knew—to read, and mark, and learn,—"
"And inwardly digest?" I suggested, as Mrs. Groves hesitated in her enumeration of accomplishments.
But there was not time to satisfy me concerning this branch of her education, for old George appearing at the moment, I flew to meet him, and we strolled down to the water's edge together.
"I've been longing to see you," I exclaimed. "It's about Aleck, my cousin Aleck, I wanted to tell you. He's coming, and uncle and aunt Gordon, on Thursday week; that's only just a fortnight, you know."
Aleck was my only boy cousin, and ever since there had been a notion of his coming to Braycombe, I had been thinking and dreaming of him incessantly. My aunt Gordon had been in very delicate health, and the doctors ordered foreign air and constant change for the summer months, and a winter in some warm climate. There had been some hesitation as to how my cousin, their only child, should be disposed of. He was not very strong, and school life, it was feared, might be too great an ordeal for another year; so my parents had written, offering that he should spend that time at Braycombe, and share my tutor's instructions. The decisive answer from my uncle had only just arrived, and I was in a tumult of joy and excitement that it was in favour of my cousin's coming to stay with us, and that the actual day of our visitors' arrival had been fixed.
George listened with every appearance of interest to my communication.
"I'm glad your cousin's coming, Master Willie, as you're pleased," he said.
"But aren't you glad, too, for your own sake?" I asked. "It will be so nice having him to play with us."
"Oh, I'll be pleased to see him, never fear for that," responded George. "I knew his father when he was but a little fellow like yourself."
"Mamma calls me her big boy," I threw in, disapprovingly. "But what do you think Aleck will be like?"
"Well, sir, I should expect very much such another young craft as yourself; or, now I come to think of it, perhaps a year older or so."
"Not a year," I replied; "ten months and a half. I asked mamma his birth-day. Do you think he'll be as tall as me? because papa and mamma say I'm tall for my age."
"His father stood six feet one the day he came of age. I daresay his son will take after him," said George.
"And be as tall as that?" I inquired, feeling rather anxious, until reassured, at the transformation of my cousin in prospect into a young giant.
I suppose that few children had ever seen less of other children than I had up to this time. There were but three gentlemen's houses in our neighbourhood: the Rectory, where lived the elderly clergyman and his wife, who had never had a family; the Elms, a country seat, where Sir John and Lady Cosington and two grown-up daughters resided; and Willowbank, another country place, occupied by a young married couple, with one little baby. Elmworth, our nearest town, was seven miles off; and this distance almost entirely precluded intercourse with any of the families there.
In consequence of this, I had been completely without companions of my own age up to this time. In books I had read much of children's amusements with their companions; and although the perfect happiness of my own home left nothing really to be wished for, if ever a wish did occur to me for anything I had not, it was for a play-fellow and companion somewhere about my own age; and now, when this wish of mine was really on the eve of being realized, I was filled with vague dreams and anticipations of all the delight which it was to bring to me. When George and I had mutually agreed that my cousin Aleck—allowing for the difference of age—might be reasonably expected to be somewhat taller than myself, we sat down on the beach, and began to discuss certain plans of mine for giving him a suitable welcome.
Dim ideas, the result of "Illustrated London News'" pictures, were floating in my mind—bouquets, triumphal arches, addresses, and so forth—even although I wound up by saying—
"Of course, not like that exactly; only something—something rather grand."
Old George, however, kindly and wisely pulled my schemes down, and laid them affectionately in the dust:—
"You see, Master Willie, anything written, even in your best hand, wouldn't come up to what you will say in the first five minutes by word of mouth; and then the school banners, though very suitable for a feast—and I'm sure my Susan would be right pleased to look them up for you—would be no ways suitable. 'A merry Christmas and happy New Year,' or, 'Braycombe Schools, founded 1830,' would look odd-like flying in the avenue at this time of year. And though I'd be glad to do anything to give you pleasure, I'd rather be opening the gate to your uncle and aunt and cousin, as they drive up, than firing off a gun, which might disturb their nerves, not to say frighten the horses."
All of which was perfectly unanswerable. But as old George put on his spectacles in conclusion, I knew he meant to consider the subject with attention; and I therefore remained quietly at his side, sending flat stones skimming along the water, or throwing in a stick for Frisk to fetch out again, until, as I expected, he signified to me that he had thought of what would do.
He said that the light arch which supported the central lamp over the gate might be very easily decked with evergreens for the occasion, and the word welcome, traced in flowers, put up so as to appear very pretty with the green background; whilst the flag-staff at the top of the hill, just by the shrubbery, should display all the flags that our establishment could boast of.
Groves' scheme, though not quite so extensive as those which had floated through my childish imagination, was sufficiently attractive to be very welcome; and I eagerly insisted upon our immediately returning to the lodge, where George took certain measurements of the arch which impressed me wonderfully with a sense of his superiority, and wisdom.
By which time Mrs. Groves looked out to say that her husband's dinner would be spoiled by waiting, or eaten by the dog, "which there was no driving off." And I, thus reminded of the time, settled the difficulty about Frisk by taking him up bodily in my arms, and, hurrying off, reached home only just in time to get ready for dinner before the gong sounded.
It is almost unnecessary to remark that the fortnight preceding my cousin's arrival was one of the longest I had ever spent—even longer than those preceding birth-days or Christmas. However, the long looked-for Thursday came at last.
I pleaded hard for a whole holiday, but my mother would not be persuaded; so I had to do my morning lessons as usual, and confessed, after they were over, that the hours had passed much faster than I at all expected.
In consideration of the travellers having, in all probability, had but little time for refreshment, dinner was to be rather earlier than usual; and Aleck and I were to have it, for once, with the elders of the party. Luncheon was also early; and not having the time to go down to the lodge before it, I went out into the garden with my mother to help in gathering a nosegay for my aunt's room.
How fresh and beautiful everything looked that morning, as we stood there amongst the flowers, my mother selecting the materials for the nosegay, and I holding the basket, and handing her the scissors as she wanted them, or executing at intervals little by-plays with Frisk. I remember feeling a kind of intense thrill of happiness, which to this day is vividly recalled by the scent of those particular roses and geraniums; and also a sort of dim wonder about the unhappiness which I had heard and read of as the fate of some—pondering in my own mind how it felt to be so very unhappy, and whether people couldn't help it if they would only go out into the fresh air and warm sunshine, and enjoy themselves as I did. From which speculations I was recalled by my mother saying,—
"I think we have enough flowers, Willie; perhaps just one creeper for the outside of the vase. There—we shall do now."
Then we went in by the school-room window, and I fetched the large vase from the east bed-room, and stood by my mother whilst tastefully and daintily she arranged the flowers as I thought none but she could arrange them. She had nearly completed her task when my father came into the school-room.
"I am sending the carriage early, dear," he said to her; "for although I think they cannot arrive until the 4.50 train, there is just the chance of their catching the one before. Have you any messages for Rickson?"
"None, dear," answered my mother. "But you must stay for a moment and look at my flowers. Are they not sweet and pretty?"
"Very sweet and very pretty," replied my father. But I thought he looked at her more than at the flowers when he said so; and she laughed, although, after all, there was nothing to laugh at.
"Willie and I have been gathering them," she said; "and now we are going to put them in Bessie's room."
"I know who remembers everything that can give pleasure to others," observed my father, whose hand was on my shoulder by this time. "Willie, I hope you will grow up like your mamma."
Not quite seeing the force of this observation, I replied that, being a boy, I thought I had better grow up like him. And both my parents laughed; but my mother said she quite agreed with me, it would be far better.
Then we carried the vase up, and placed it on the table in the window of the east bed-room; and my mother flitted about, putting little finishing touches here and there to complete the arrangements for the comfort of her visitors, whilst I received a commission to inspect portfolios, envelope-cases, and ink-bottles, and to see that all were freshly replenished.
These matters being finally disposed of, I persuaded my mother to ascend to the more remote part of the house, where a room next to my own had, at my earnest request, been prepared for my cousin, and in the decoration of which I felt peculiar interest. There was a twin bedstead to my own, and various other pieces of furniture corresponding; moreover, in an impulse of generosity I had transferred certain of my own possessions into Aleck's apartment, with a noble determination to be extremely liberal.
My mother noticed these at once, but I was a little disappointed that she did not commend my liberality.
"You see, mamma," I explained, "there's my own green boat with the union-jack, and the bat I liked best before papa gave me my last new one, and the dissected map of the queens of England."
"Yes, I see, Willie," replied my mother; proceeding in the meantime to certain readjustments urgently called for, by the critical position of the bat standing on the drawers against the wall, and the boat nearly falling from the mantelpiece.
"There, my child," she said; "the bat will do better in the comer, and the ship upon the drawers. And now the puzzle: why, Willie, this is the very one of which I heard you say there were three pieces missing; and then Mrs. Barbauld you think childish for yourself!"
My countenance fell, for I had been indulging in the cheap generosity of giving away second-bests, and I could see my mother did not admire such liberality. Indeed, after a moment's consideration, I was ashamed of it myself, and hastened with alacrity to hide Mrs. Barbauld, and the Queens of England, and one or two other trifles, in the obscurity of my own room; whilst my mother decided upon the best position for a couple of prettily-framed pictures which she had had brought up, and fastened an illuminated text, similar to one in my own room, opposite the bed—"The things which are seen are temporal; the things which are unseen are eternal"—and placed a little statuette of a guardian angel, with the scroll underneath, "He shall give His angels charge over thee," over the bed-head.
"What a good thought, mamma," I said, when she had finished her arrangements; "that looks exactly like mine."
"Just what I want it to look, Willie. You and Aleck are to be as like brothers to each other as may be. You have never had brother or sister of your own, Willie—not that you can remember [there had been one infant sister, whose death, when about a month old, had been my parents' greatest sorrow]—but now that your cousin is likely to stay a long time with us, I hope that you and he will be as much as possible like brothers to each other."
Then my mother, who was sitting at the foot of the bed, drew me towards her, and quietly talked to me about some of the new duties as well as temptations which would come with new pleasures, bidding me remember that I was to try never to think first of myself, but to be willing to consider others before myself. We had been reading the 13th of First Corinthians that morning together, and her observations seemed to me as if drawn straight from that source; indeed, before long she reminded me of it, bidding me remember it supplied the standard we ought to aim at, and telling me that strength would be always given, if I sought it, to help me to be what I wanted to be; it was only those who did not heartily strive who got beaten in the conflict.
It is not to be supposed that this was all uttered in a set speech; I am giving the substance only of a few minutes' quiet talk which we had up there in the bed-room together that morning before luncheon, and which I confess to having felt at the time rather superfluous, my delight in the anticipation of my cousin's arrival convincing me that there would be no fear of my finding anything but happiness in my intercourse with him.
My mother, on the contrary, as I afterwards had reason to know, was by no means without anxiety. She knew that hitherto I had been completely shielded from every possible trial. The darling of herself and my father, and, as the only child, a favourite amongst the attached members of our household, my wants had been all anticipated, and every pleasure suited to my age had been planned for me so ingeniously, that I had never had the chance of showing myself selfish or ill-tempered. She feared that when for the first time I found myself not first considered in all arrangements, I might fail in those particular points of conduct in which she was most anxious I should triumph.
My mother's gentle admonitions, to which I at the time paid little heed, were interrupted by the luncheon gong.
"When will the wonderful preparations at the gate be ready?" asked my father whilst we were at table.
"Oh, there's nothing left to do but to fasten up the flowers. Old George says it won't take an hour," I replied.
"Then if I come down at three o'clock the show will be ready?"
"Quite ready," I said. "And mamma will come too?"
"Of course mamma's coming too; unless, indeed, you mean to charge so high a price for the exhibition," said my father comically, "that I cannot afford it. But even then," he added, "mamma shall see it; I'll give it up for her."
I was off from the luncheon-table as soon as possible, but found nurse lying in wait to capture me and enforce upon my mind the first duty of returning by four o'clock, to be dressed properly before the arrival of our visitors, whose impression of me, she conceived, would be most unfavourable were they to find me in what she was pleased to call "this trumpery," referring to a little sailor's suit of white and blue in which I was very generally attired, and which nurse chose to disapprove. She wound up her admonition by a sort of lament over my light-mindedness as to my best clothes; a spirit which, she remarked, was apt to cling to people to their graves—sometimes afterwards; which I scarcely thought possible.
Frisk and I darted down the Zig-zag at our usual pace, so soon as I was released from nurse's kind offices, and joined old George, who was on the look-out for us.
Very pleased we were with the result of our exertions when the really pretty triumphal arch was completed; the letters of the word Welcome in conspicuously gay flowers forming a pretty contrast to the leafy background, and eliciting what we felt to be a well-merited admiration from my parents and a select committee of servants, who came severally to inspect our handiwork in the course of the afternoon.
"It's fit for Her Majesty," said my father in his playful way, "and far too fine for a little stranger boy! In fact, it seems scarcely proper that a humble individual like myself should pass under it!"
"You're not a humble individual, papa!" I exclaimed vehemently.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" sighed my father, "that it should come to such a pass as this; my only son tells me I am wanting in humility—not a humble person!"
"An individual!" I said, feeling that made a great difference. "But now, papa, you're only in fun; you know I didn't mean that."
"One thing I do mean very distinctly, Willie, which is, that I must not stay chattering here with you any longer, or my letters will never be ready before post-time. You may stay a little longer with George if you like."
I stayed accordingly, determining to be home by the Zig-zag at the appointed hour.
But my parents had scarcely had the time necessary for walking up to the house, when the sharp sound of horses' trot suddenly aroused my attention, and in another moment our carriage, with the travellers inside, was rounding the curve of the road, and had drawn up before the gate.
My confusion and shyness at thus being surprised were indescribable; and a latent desire to take to immediate flight and get home the short way might probably have prevailed, had not my uncle's quick eye caught sight of me as I drew back under the shelter of old George.
"Why, surely there must be Willie!" he exclaimed; and in another moment Groves had hoisted my unwilling self on to the step of the carriage, and was introducing me to my relations, regardless of my shy desire to stand upon the ground, and make geological researches with my eyes under the wheels.
"Yes, sir, this is Master Willie; he's been uncommon taken up with the other young master coming, and it's his thought having a bit of something [To think of old George designating our beautiful arch as a bit of something!] put up at the gate to bid him welcome."
"There's for you, Aleck," said my uncle to a fair-haired boy sitting in the furthest corner of the carriage opposite to my aunt, whom I just mustered courage to look at. "You'll have to make your best bow and a very grand speech, to return thanks for such an honour."
"Master didn't expect you so soon, sir," proceeded George; "he thought you'd be coming by the next train; that's how it is that Master Willie was down here."
"Then I think the best thing we can do with Master Willie is to carry him up to the house with us," said my uncle. And accordingly I was lifted over from my step into the midst of the party in the carriage, and seated down between my uncle and aunt.
The coachman was compelled to rein in the horses a minute longer, whilst they all looked at and admired the arch, and then we bowled off rapidly up the avenue. I sometimes think we remember our life in pictures: certainly the very frontispiece of my acquaintance with my cousin Aleck always is, and will be, a distinct mind's eye picture of that party in the carriage, with myself in their midst.
Uncle Gordon sitting in the right hand corner with his arm round me, keeping me very close to himself, so that I might not crowd my aunt, who was leaning back on the other side of me, as though weary with the long journey. Opposite my uncle my aunt's maid, with a green bonnet decorated with a bow of red velvet of angular construction in the centre of the front, to which the parting of her hair seemed to lead up like a broad white road; she was grasping, as though her life depended upon her keeping them safely, a sort of family fagot of umbrellas in one hand, whilst with the other she kept a leather-covered dressing-case steady on her lap. In the fourth corner was my cousin, in full Highland kilt, such as I had hitherto seen only in toy-books of the costumes of all nations or other pictures, and which inspired me with a wonderful amount of curiosity. Lastly, myself in blue and white sailor's dress, looking, no doubt, as if I had been captured from a man-of-war; conscious of tumbled hair, and doubtful hands, and retribution in store for me in the shape of a talking-to from nurse, who had still unlimited jurisdiction over my wardrobe, for having been surprised in a state she would designate as "not fit to be seen."
Aleck and I found our eyes wandering to each other momentarily as we drove along. When they met, we took them off again, and pretended to look out at opposite sides of the carriage; but this happened so often, that at last we both laughed, and—the ice broke. I was quite on chatty terms before we reached the house.
"There are papa and mamma!" I exclaimed, as we came in sight of the entrance. They had heard the carriage, and were at the door to welcome their guests.
"See, I have brought you two boys instead of one," said my uncle, lifting me out first, and then proceeding to help out my aunt, as if she were a delicate piece of china, and "With care" labelled outside her.
When the greetings were over, my mother declared a rest on the sofa in her room and a cup of tea indispensable for my aunt's refreshment. My uncle took my father's arm and disappeared into the study; and we two boys were left to take care of each other until dinner-time.
I proposed going round the garden, and Frisk being of the party, proceeded to show off his accomplishments. This led to an animated description of my cousin's dog, Caesar, and a comparison of the ways and habits of Caesar the Big with those of Frisk the Little, on the strength of which we became very intimate.
Afterwards we returned to the house, and having shown Aleck his room, I took him into mine, where we were found seated on the floor surrounded by "my things," which I had been exhibiting in detail to my cousin, when nurse came, a little before six o'clock, to see that we were ready for dinner.
"Aleck, tell me one thing," I had just said to my cousin; "are they really your knees or leather?"
Aleck stared, "Leather! why, of course not; what made you think such an odd question?"
"I didn't think they could be leather after the first minute," I replied, doubtfully; "but I couldn't know—"
A WHOLE HOLIDAY.
To what boy or girl does not the promise of a whole holiday convey a sort of Fortunatus' purse of anticipated enjoyment! I used to wonder—I remember wondering that very day after Aleck's arrival, when I had the most enjoyable whole holiday I ever spent—why grown-up people who always had them should seem so indifferent to their privileges, writing it down upon the secret tablets of my resolve, that when I grew up things should be very different with me.
My cousin and I sat side by side at the breakfast-table in a vehement impulse of boyish affection, so completely taken up with each other that I for one never remember noticing any one else during the progress of the meal, except when once I caught a wistful look from my aunt, and heard her saying, in a rather sorrowful low voice, to my mother,—
"I am very thankful to see our boys take to each other; it is quite a load off my mind that Aleck should be with you instead of being left at school."
"Won't Aleck come too?" I asked my mother, when she summoned me to our usual Bible-reading after breakfast.
"Not whilst his own mamma is here," was the answer; and I was obliged to rest content. But the moment I had put away my Bible, I flew off in search of him, eagerly explaining that we were to do what we liked for the whole of the morning, and sketching out a plan for our amusement such as I thought would be pleasant to him:—
"First, we must go over the whole house—you've only seen a little bit of it yet—and the kitchen-garden and the stables, and then down the Zig-zag to old George's, and we'll get him to go out with us in the boat. It's smooth enough to sail the 'Fair Alice'—that's a little yacht of mine that old George gave me."
Aleck's face brightened. "May you go out in a boat when you like?" he asked, eagerly. "Oh, how de-light-ful!"
How we careered over the house that morning, visiting every nook and corner of it, from the "leads" on the roof; accessible only by a ladder and trap-door, to the most hidden repositories in the housekeeper's domain! The servants good naturedly remarked I had gone crazy. Presently I bade Aleck shut his eyes, and submit to my guidance blindfold, whilst I led him to the only room he had not been in. We passed through several passages, and then I went forward, tapped at a door, and finding I might come in, fetched Aleck, still with eyes shut.
"There now, you may look," I exclaimed, watching in a satisfied manner the astonishment with which he opened his eyes to find himself in the study, and his confusion on seeing my father seated at the library table near the window, surrounded by books and papers.
"Oh, uncle," he exclaimed, "I did not know I was in your room!"
"And are very much startled at finding yourself there," said my father, finishing his sentence for him. "What shall we do with the culprit, Willie? Prosecute him according to the utmost rigour of the law, and sentence him to a year's imprisonment at Braycombe, with hard labour, under Mr. Glengelly and old George!"
"I think that would be a very good punishment," I answered, "only I should like it to be more than a year."
"See what a cruel fellow your cousin is," said my father, getting up from his chair, and proceeding to take Aleck round the room, showing him various curiosities with which I was familiar; then he sat down again, and keeping Aleck at his side, told him that so long as he remained at Braycombe he was to feel as much at home, and as welcome to the study as I was, and that he was to try and trust him as he could his own father, until we all had the joy of welcoming his parents home again.
"Famous chats we get here sometimes, eh, Willie?" he concluded, appealing to me.
"Rather!" I answered emphatically, seating myself on the arm of his chair, and looking over his shoulder. "Papa, shall you have time to play with us this afternoon. It's a whole holiday. I want you to very much."
"I fear not, Willie. I must be away all the morning. Peter the Great will be at the door to carry me off in another minute, and I must keep the afternoon for your uncle and aunt. To-morrow afternoon I will give you an hour, only I stipulate you must have mercy upon your old father, and not expect him to climb trees like a squirrel, or run like a hare."
"You know you're not an old father, papa," I said; "and, Aleck, papa can run quite fast—faster than anybody else I ever saw, and he climbs better than anybody else. He's been up the tree I showed you in the avenue."
"Whatever papa's qualifications may be," my father observed, "the end of the matter just at present is, that Rickson is coming round with the horses, and I cannot keep his imperial majesty waiting."
"What does uncle do?" inquired my cousin after we had been to the door and had seen my father mount and ride away on Peter the Great.
"Papa! oh, he does quantities of things," I replied, somewhat vaguely.
"What kind of things?"
I proceeded to enumerate them promiscuously:—
"Why, he's a magistrate, and tries cases at Elmworth, and sends people to prison; and he goes to a hospital twice every week at Elmworth, and he goes to see poor people—we often have some from the hospital down here; and he always has quantities of letters; and he reads to mamma; and, do you know, he once wrote a book—"
I paused, not so much because I had exhausted the list of my father's employments, as because I had named that achievement which of all others filled me with the deepest awe and reverence. I could remember how, when I was four years old, my mother had lifted me up to see a volume on the counter of the great bookseller's shop at Elmworth, and had let me spell through the name "Grant" on the title-page. I felt as if I had risen in life, and looked upon books in general with a feeling of personal friendship, as from one behind the scenes, from that day; whilst, personally, I was much elated by the thought of what a very wonderful and extraordinary man my father was. I was rather glad when Aleck told me that he did not think his papa had ever written a book;—it made me feel a little bit superior to him.
After going to the stables to see my pony, we proceeded to the Zig-zag, chattering fast the whole way. I was full of plans and projects, and anxious at once to interest my cousin in every one of them.
"You see," I explained, "there are quantities of things that we haven't been able to do, because there's been only George and me; and he's always had it to say that there were only us two, and that he was old and I young, but he can't say that now."
"He doesn't seem so very old," remarked Aleck.
"I don't think he is," I answered, "but he's taught me to call him old George since I have been a baby; everybody else calls him Groves or Mr. Groves. Now there's one thing I want very much to begin, and that is digging a hole right through the earth to come out at the other side, where, you know, we should find ourselves standing on our heads! George has always kept putting off beginning. But haven't you heard of many people beginning to do something great when they were boys?"
"Yes," answered Aleck, musingly; "I have a book about wonderful boys, and one of them cut out a lion in butter, and another drew a picture upon a stump of a tree; but I don't think we should be able to dig so very far down—we should have to stop at last."
This unprejudiced opinion of my cousin's, adverse as it was to my favourite scheme, was rather disappointing, but we were now engaged in the excitement of descending the Zig-zag, so I had not leisure to think much about it.
"Isn't it a jolly way down?" I exclaimed. "Papa says it's two hundred feet to that piece of rock down below."
"It's not steeper than our hills at home," said Aleck; "only we have not the sea near us—oh, how I wish we had!"
Aleck was quite as good a scrambler as I was, so we were not long in reaching the lodge, where old George seemed to be on the watch for us, and welcomed us both with his wonted heartiness.
"Master told me you'd be coming down, young gentlemen, as he rode by, and that you were to go out as much as you liked in the boat; and so I've been telling my good wife she must keep the look-out for the gate. Ralph's coming along presently, and will be down at the Cove most as soon as we shall."
George wanted Aleck to go into the lodge and see certain objects of interest, which, to use his own words, he "set great store by." But I was too eager to allow of this, and insisted upon our setting out at once for the Cove. "I want to show him the greatest treasure I have of all my treasures," I exclaimed.
"Is that the 'Fair Alice' you were telling me of?" asked Aleck.
"Yes; you'll see her presently," I replied; "and you won't wonder that I like her better than all my other things."
I led the way at once by a footpath from the lodge across the sloping green meadow, then through a little tangled copse, and finally a short rocky descent to what was at Braycombe always styled the Cove. Not but that there were many coves on our beautiful indented coast, but this one was the most accessible on our grounds. The boat-house and the bathing-box were both here; and here, too, as being within easy reach, I had from earliest years climbed and scrambled and explored, until every stone was almost as familiar as the letters of my alphabet; and I could tell at what state of the tide certain rocks would be uncovered, and knew at a glance whether it would be safe to cross from one part to another on stepping-stones, or whether, to reach a given spot, we must go round by the side of the hill. How I loved, and do love, every foot of the ground, every stone, every rock, every silvery ripple of that the most charming of all possible play-grounds!
Thither, then, I led the way, Aleck following me closely, and George more slowly behind.
"There now," I cried, drawing up breathlessly as we gained our destination, "see, that's my boat-house." It was an exact miniature of the real boat-house, and Aleck stood transfixed with admiration looking at it; for of all things calculated for the amusement of children, nothing, I think, succeeds so well as real miniatures—imitations in proportion—of things which belong to the grown-up world. But the true kernel of the nut—the jewel of the case—was the elegant little model yacht, which I presently drew forth from her moorings within.
"Now that's the 'Fair Alice,'" I continued; "isn't she lovely?"
"Awfully jolly," Aleck replied, after gazing for a moment in speechless admiration. "I never saw anything half so nice before! Oh, if only we were small enough to get into it! Just look how beautifully the deck is made—I can see all the little timbers; and the mast, it's nearly as high as I am; and those little pulleys—oh, how perfect they are!"
"You must see her with all her sails set, a-scudding before the breeze, Master Gordon," said George, overtaking us. "I reckon there's not a craft of her size that would beat her for speed."
"Can you do the sails?" my cousin asked me, regardless of nautical phraseology.
"Master Willie! he knows as much as a sailor born about reefing and unreefing the sails," said George, answering for me.
"Then please do let us sail her at once. I do long to see her on the water," begged Aleck.
And accordingly we two sat down, overlooked by George, who, from a delicate desire to show off my capacity to manage the sails alone, abstained from offering any help; and, drawing the boat up between us on the beach, set the sails, and then proceeded to launch her upon the clear deep water of the Cove.
"This way now," I said to my cousin, when we saw that the breeze was filling the sails, and the "Fair Alice" was making her way out towards the mouth of the Cove. "Come and see my harbour bar;" and springing quickly from rock to rock, and running where there was sand, I guided my cousin to the entrance of the Cove, which was very narrow in proportion to the width and extent of the inlet. On each side of it there was a low stake strongly fastened into the rock, and from stake to stake a rope was stretched: it was long enough to lie along the bottom of the ground, and so offer no impediment to the boats; but when I was sailing my vessel in the Cove, and the tide was in, it was always stretched more tightly, so as to prevent the possibility of my little ship escaping from me into the wide sea.
"See," I said, "I have only to slip this ring over the stake, and then I can feel quite sure the 'Fair Alice' is safe. She can't get past my harbour bar."
In the meantime the little yacht had kept her course nearly to the entrance of the Cove, but a sudden shifting of the wind landed her on the opposite side, and I had to make my way all round to get her off again. Aleck remained on his side of the Cove, and we amused ourselves for some time in contriving to get the little boat to sail backwards and forwards, tacking gradually down to the boat-house.
My cousin was so absorbed in the enjoyment of sailing the "Fair Alice," that he was less eager about getting into our own boat for a sail than at first. But by-and-by, when we were dancing over the waves outside the Cove, he became quite wild with delight, and enjoyed himself, I verily believe, as much as is possible for a free, happy, eager boy; and that is saying a great deal. Of course I caught the infection from him, finding a fresh delight in my ordinary amusements through having a companion to share them; and, truly, a merrier boat's crew than we made on that whole holiday morning could not have been found.
Aleck's love for the sea was an absorbing passion; and it quite amused me to hear all the questions he kept putting to old George—as, for instance, how old he was when he went to sea; how long before he went up the mast; how they reefed the top-sails in his vessel, and which of the ship's company did it in a gale; together with many other inquiries, showing a degree of technical knowledge that perfectly overwhelmed me, and which, he explained to us, was extracted from "The Cadet's Manual," and a big book on "The Art of Navigation" which they had at home.
I almost wished my cousin did not know quite so much; it made me feel as though the ten months were a longer and more important period than I had admitted to myself. But it was a relief, when the oars were called into action on our way in, to find that he could not row, whereas I had handled an oar almost as soon as I gave up a rattle; and, as I showed off my best feathering, I felt we were equal again.
"How is it you can't row, sir, when you know so much about it?" asked Groves.
"Why, there are only streams and the river at my home in Scotland," explained Aleck. "We're up amongst the hills, you know. I have often fished, but I've scarcely ever been in a boat before, except when we've been travelling; and then it was going out to the steamer, and I mightn't do anything but sit still. It was famous, though, in the steamer," continued Aleck, kindling with the recollection of his journey. "I went down, and saw how the engine worked; and helped the man at the wheel; and learned about the compass—at least, I knew the points before, but it was different seeing how to steer by it. Only I liked the stoker the best. I had just gone down again with him to the engine-room, to see the engine stopped, and pulled off my jacket because it was so hot; and then the steam was let off, and made such a noise! Just when there was all the noise of the steam, I heard somebody shouting my name, and calling so loudly to me that I ran up to the deck at once. I had quite forgotten about not having my jacket on, and I believe my face had got blacked—it was, I know, when we got on shore. Everybody laughed at me; only mamma was poorly and frightened—she thought I had tumbled overboard. I suppose I oughtn't to have gone down just then, for that was the place where we were to go on shore," Aleck added, somewhat thoughtfully, remembering how very white was the face to which his own blackened one had been pressed.
By this time we were re-entering the Cove.
"You'll only be just in time for your dinner, young gentlemen," said George, as we drew in towards the landing-place; "I reckon it won't come a minute before you're ready for it."
"You'll teach me to row, will you not, as soon as possible?" said my cousin, as we parted. "I should like to begin at once, please."
"So soon as you like, sir. Master Willie, you mustn't be long in bringing down your cousin."
Thus saying, Groves took his way to the lodge, and Aleck and I clambered quickly up the Zig-zag, reaching home in time to appear, with smooth hair, and rosy cheeks, and keen appetites, at the luncheon-table.
Aleck was in wild spirits, and confided to me that he didn't think he had ever enjoyed himself so much before.
THE RIDE TO STAVEMOOR.
A month after Aleck's arrival at Braycombe, it seemed so perfectly natural to have him with us—he had fitted so completely into the position of companion, play-fellow, school-fellow, brother—that I could scarcely fancy how it felt before he came.
My uncle and aunt had left us after a fortnight's visit, and were now on the Continent. The parting was hard work—harder, I fancy, to them than to him, for boys soon get over trouble, whereas it was plain to see in my aunt's wistful eyes that it was a sore trial to her to leave her child behind. I believe that she did not anticipate, in as sanguine a spirit as did her husband, the happy meeting again that was talked of for the spring, after a winter in Madeira.
It was a subject of great thankfulness, to both my uncle and aunt, that Aleck and I had formed such a friendship for each other. They had scarcely driven from the door, and Aleck's eyes were still wet with tears, when he told me that he did not think he could be so happy anywhere away from his papa and mamma as at Braycombe, with me for his companion; and I answered by assuring him I should never be happy again if he were to go away from me.
We soon settled down into our school-room occupations together. Mr. Glengelly, who used to come three times in the week, now came daily, staying for the whole morning, and leaving us always lessons to prepare for the next day. Aleck and I spent almost the whole of our play-time down at the Cove; his passionate enjoyment of everything connected with the sea continuing in full force, whilst two or three times every week we had walks, rides, or drives with one or both of my parents.
Aleck could ride beautifully, having been accustomed to it at his own home, and I was delighted to lend him my pony from time to time—more ready at first, if the truth is to be told, than afterwards. He also learned to row, though not so quickly nor so easily as I should have expected; and feathering remained an impossible mystery to him, being, as he said, more than could be expected from his clumsy fingers.
In this one point—that of being unskilful in the use of his hands—Aleck was below the mark; in lessons he was far my superior, being, as I soon found, more than his year ahead of me. But, oddly enough, as it seemed to me, it was always in matters requiring skilled fingers that he was anxious to excel. He was never tired of playing at sailing the "Fair Alice," but would daily, before we launched her, examine afresh all the different parts of the little vessel, and sigh over the neatness of their workmanship, and ask himself and myself whether it were possible he should ever be able to make a ship like it. Various abortive attempts were to be seen in our play-room—pieces of wood cut, and shaped, and thrown away in disgust; but as yet he made no progress towards anything like skill in carpentry. The old play-boat of mine which I had given, to him afforded very little pleasure: it was not like a real vessel. Having seen the "Fair Alice," anything that fell short of it gave him no satisfaction. It added greatly to the pleasure which I had always felt in this possession, to see how ardently my cousin admired it, and how much he thought of the title of captain, which, as owner, had been playfully adjudged to me.
I scarcely know when it was that the feeling first began to steal over me that I was not always quite so glad as I had been at first that my cousin was living with us. It was an unworthy feeling, and I felt ashamed to confess it to myself; but there it was, and I discovered it at last.
Perhaps it was because of his quickness at lessons; perhaps because, from time to time in his turn, enjoyments which could not be shared by both were permitted to him—I had only the half, where before I should have had the whole; perhaps it was all this together, combined with the secret evils I had not hitherto found out in my own heart and disposition; but the result was, that I had now and then such miserable moments of being angry, and provoked, and unhappy, not because my cousin had done anything unkind, but simply because he had, in some unintentional manner, interfered with my pleasure, that I was ready to wish I had never had a cousin, or that he had never come to Braycombe.
It is not to be supposed that this was my settled, constant state of mind. Far from it. In general, we two boys were as frisky, and merry, and happy with each other, as boys could be; but these dark feelings came and went, and came and went, until I began to be less surprised at them than when I first found them out. For some time my mother had no idea of their existence. To all outward appearance we were just as we had been in the early days of our friendship; and if I did not so often enlarge upon the happiness of having Aleck to live with me, I know now that she only put it down to the novelty of the companionship wearing off. I remember quite distinctly the first time that she noticed some little indication of the secret mischief that was going on. It was the time of afternoon preparation of lessons for the following morning, and I was sitting with my books before me at the school-room table, writing a Latin exercise; or perhaps it would be more correct to say, not writing my Latin exercise, for my pen had stopped half-way to the ink-bottle, and my chin was resting on my left hand and my elbow on the table, and I was indulging uninterruptedly in my own reflections, when the door opened, and my mother entered the room.
"Where's Aleck?" was her first inquiry, as she looked round and saw that I was alone.
"He's been gone five minutes," I replied, without raising my eyes, and in a tone which I meant to convey—and, I am aware, did convey—that I was in no pleasant mood.
"How's that?" rejoined my mother, taking no notice of my manner. "Aleck was told not to leave the school-room until his lessons were finished. He knows my rule, and is not generally disobedient. I must go and see about him. Where is he?"
"In his room, I suppose"—still in my former sulky manner; and, without further words, my mother left the room, and went in search of my cousin. I presently heard her voice calling to him at the foot of the stair-case leading to our rooms, and Aleck's voice more distantly replying to her. As, however, he did not immediately appear, I heard afterwards that she had gone up-stairs, and found him pulling down his sleeves and shaking off pieces of wood, and generally endeavouring to render his appearance respectable; which was made the more difficult as, in the course of his operations, he had dipped his elbow in the glue-pot, and was considerably embarrassed by the fringe of shavings which he was unable to detach.
"I'm coming as fast as I can, auntie," he said, pulling at the shavings, and giving himself a rub with a duster in hopes that would make him right.
"But, Aleck, how is it you're not in the school-room?" said my mother. "I have just seen Willie there alone. You know the rule about not leaving until lessons are finished. I fear that you have been tempted away too soon by your ship-building tastes."
"Did not Willie tell you I had finished my lessons?" said Aleck, quickly. "Oh, auntie, I would not have left before."
"Really finished, Aleck? Take care to be quite honest with yourself, for indeed you've had but short time."
"Really and truly, auntie. I tried to be very quick to-day, because I do so want to get on with this last ship I've begun. It seems coming more like than the others. See, the stern is very like a real one."
My mother carefully inspected the unshapely block upon which my cousin was at work, gave him a word or two of advice upon the subject, and came down-stairs again to me; having decided in her own mind, as she afterwards told me, to be present the next morning when Mr. Glengelly came, and notice whether Aleck's work had been thoroughly prepared.
"How soon shall you have finished, my child?" she said, laying her hand softly on my shoulder, and bending down to inspect my writing. "Let me see what there is to be done."
"This exercise, and the verb to be learned, and my sum"—very grumpily.
"And how much have you done already?"
"Part of the exercise—not quite half; and I'm doing the verb now; and the sum is finished, all but the proving."
My lip was quivering as I completed the list of what I had achieved, and I was as nearly bursting into tears as possible.
My mother's loving, pleasant way staved off the sulky fit, however.
"These lessons begun, and not one of them finished off!" she exclaimed. "Let us see how long they will take you. First the exercise, we will allow a quarter of an hour for that; five minutes will prove your sum; and the verb, an old one you say and very nearly perfect, two minutes for that: less than twenty-five minutes, Willie, and you will be so perfectly prepared that you will be longing for ten o'clock to-morrow, and Mr. Glengelly to come, all the rest of the evening."
I could not help laughing at the notion of my pining for Mr. Glengelly's arrival, and a laugh is an excellent stepping-stone out of the sulks. My mother put her watch on the table, and stayed in the room, helping me by quiet sympathizing superintendence, and I set to work with such earnestness that I had completed my tasks in twenty minutes, and was off to the play-room without a trace of my wrong temper, as eager to join my cousin in the carpentry as if nothing had gone wrong between us, and only rejoicing that my lessons were over at last, without troubling myself to remember that the trial of Aleck's being so much quicker than myself at his studies was sure to recur again and again, and that, unless my dislike to his superiority could be conquered and stamped out, I should soon find every-day trouble in my every-day work.
And in truth the conquering and stamping out of such feelings as these is no easy task. It is unquestionably a real trial to find that work which takes you an hour's hard labour can be accomplished by your companion in not much more than half the time; that even though the lessons are apportioned so as to give him the heavier burden, he can always dispose of the heavier more readily than you can of the lighter. In my own case, Aleck was often very good-natured, and would linger in his work to give me a help in mine; or purposely keep pace with me, so that we might go out to play together. But this was not always the way; when he was very eagerly engaged in any play-time occupation, he would bend all his energies to getting his tasks finished off quickly, and then hurry away, without appearing in the least troubled that I could not accompany him. Upon which occasions I thought him selfish and unfeeling, and was inclined not a little to regret that he had ever come to Braycombe.
The worst of it was, that though I knew I was wrong, I could not muster courage to speak to either of my parents about it; no, not even in that moment of deepest confidence when my mother looked in to wish me good-night before I went to sleep, and sat, as she was wont to do, upon my bed talking to me about the various things which had happened during the day.
Many a time, on such occasions, I thought of telling her my troubles, but was afraid lest she should think me very naughty; so I tried at last to persuade myself there was not much to tell after all.
Half an hour spent with us in the school-room the next morning convinced my mother that Aleck's work had been well done. I fancy that she watched me a little closely for a few days, but I happened to be specially prosperous in my lessons, and nothing occurred to disturb my serenity, so that she dismissed after a time the anxiety which had begun to arise in her mind concerning me.
As for Aleck, he had no notion of the real state of things. I am sure he must have thought me selfish and cross very often, but almost as often he would win me into good temper again; and his own temperament was naturally so bright and sunshiny, that trouble never seemed to remain long with him.
It was about a fortnight later that I was sitting, after breakfast, in my father's study doing my arithmetic. Our school-room adjoined the study, and it was not an unfrequent arrangement, that whilst Aleck did his construing with Mr. Glengelly, I should take in my slate to my father's room and do my sums. I fancy he liked to have me with him; for whenever he was at home he would look up with quite a pleased expression when, after knocking at the door, I appeared with my slate and made the usual inquiry whether I should disturb him if I came in just then; and would tell me that I never disturbed him, and bid me show him my sum before I returned to the school-room, when he had always some pleasant remark to make upon it.
I then was sitting on my favourite seat in the window working at compound division, when my mother came into the room.
"I've been thinking," she said to my father, "that it's a pity both the boys should not go with you to Stavemoor: if you could manage without Rickson, or let him ride one of the carriage horses, I think you might trust Aleck on the gray."
I listened to every word, my pencil going slowly and more slowly, whilst I put down three times nine, twenty-seven—two, carry seven; and was hopelessly wrong afterwards in consequence. This ride to Stavemoor was a special pleasure in prospect. Both Aleck and I had wanted to go; but the pony being mine, I had taken it as a matter of course that I should be the one chosen, and my cousin had not thought of questioning my rights. But now to hear my mother quietly proposing, not only that Aleck should go, but that he should ride the gray—it was a sore trial to my feelings: that gray had for months been the object of my ambition, but I had not been thought a good enough rider to be trusted, and now that my cousin should be thus promoted was hard to bear.
The colour mounted to my face when I heard the proposition, and then my father's answer:—
"I am not sure about it; and yet the boy is at home in the saddle, and has a firm seat. I'll speak to Rickson. Aleck's been looking pale of late, and I think more rides than he can get when there's only the pony between the two boys, would do him good."
"Papa," I said, with quivering lip and reproachful voice, "you've never let me ride the gray. It's always Aleck now—he gets everything, it doesn't seem to matter about me."
My father gave one quick glance of surprise and consternation at my mother, and then turned to me:—
"Willie! my own little Willie!" he said, pausing as if for an explanation, and putting out his hand in a manner that meant I was to come to his side, which I did rather slowly.
"I've so often asked you to let me ride the gray, papa, and you've never allowed it, and now you're going to let Aleck. I don't want to go to Stavemoor—Aleck may have the pony; I wish I had said so at first; I don't want to ride the pony, and have him on the gray." And thereupon, almost frightened by the evident distress my sentiments had occasioned, I burst into a passionate fit of crying, which permitted only a few more broken words to the effect that I wished Aleck had never come to Braycombe; I hated his being there; and that my parents were very unkind to care for him more than they did for me.
My father held me there at his side whilst I sobbed and cried as if some tremendous calamity had overtaken me. I knew without looking up, which I was ashamed to do, that his eyes were resting upon me with an expression of sad surprise; and the silence became perfectly unbearable. He spoke at last:—
"My poor little Willie," he said, "what sad feelings you have allowed to creep into your heart! how unhappy they will make you! You have said very wrong words, my child, and I cannot tell you how much pain you have caused to me and your mamma. I hope that you will be very sorry by-and-by; but you know, Willie, being sorry will not undo your fault, nor take away the envious feelings which you have allowed to spring up within you; and unless such feelings as these are conquered you will be an unhappy little boy, and grow up to be an unhappy man. Willie," he added, after another pause only interrupted by my struggling sobs at longer intervals than at first, "you know, my child, whose strength you will need to help you in the battle: you are but a weak little boy, and cannot help yourself; you must pray for the help of God's Holy Spirit, or else you will never conquer these wrong feelings."
I hung my head, and remained silent.
"I trust Aleck knows nothing of all this," resumed my father. "We have promised to care for him as though he belonged to us. I will not allow him to feel that he is disliked by the boy who promised to love him."
"No, papa," I put in, for my temper had well-nigh expended itself; "I do like him still—rather—only not always. I like him very much sometimes: I think now I'm very glad he came—only I don't like his having things that I mayn't have."
"That, Willie," answered my father, "must be left to me to decide. I shall miss my little boy very much this afternoon; but I cannot allow you to come to Stavemoor with me to-day, after all that has passed."
There was just this ray of comfort in the announcement, that at least Aleck would not on this particular occasion gain the object of my ambition.
"Is Aleck to ride my pony, then?" I inquired, half ashamed of myself for asking.
The quick, decided manner, in which my father withdrew the arm he held around me, and answered,—
"Certainly not, unless I find Rickson thinks the gray would be unsafe," made me feel more unhappy than ever; and it was with a sorrowful heart that I obeyed a summons to the school-room brought in at that moment by my cousin, and showed up my incorrect and unfinished sum to Mr. Glengelly.
I suppose that he saw something had gone wrong with me, by my appearance; he was certainly more merciful than usual over my shortcomings in arithmetic, and the lesson-time went by so pleasantly that I was quite in good humour by the time it ended, and went out in restored spirits for the half hour's exercise which preceded our dinner, determining that, the first moment I could see my father, I would tell him I was sorry, revoke what I had said about Aleck, and ride my pony to Stavemoor.
In furtherance of these views, I ran round by the stables, and finding that only Peter the Great and the gray had been ordered, told Rickson in confidence that I had said to my father in the morning I would rather not ride; but, having changed my mind since then, he was to be sure and be ready to send round the pony as well.
Aleck, in the meantime, heard of the treat in store for him, and was greatly elated, chattering briskly during dinner about the expedition, without any idea that I was likely to be left behind.
My father was not a great luncheon eater, and when very busy, would often only have a glass of wine and a biscuit sent into the study, instead of joining us at table. Finding this was to be the case on the present occasion, I asked leave to carry in the tray, and was permitted to do so after I had finished my own dinner.
My father was at his writing, and looked up when he saw me, making a place amongst his papers at the same time for the tray.
"Papa," I said, when I had put it down, "I'm sorry for what I said this morning. I don't mind Aleck's riding the gray; and please I should like to ride my own pony. I saw Rickson before dinner, and told him I had changed my mind, and that very likely the pony would be wanted."
My father answered, in a quiet, grave voice: "You might have spared yourself the trouble, Willie, of speaking to Rickson, for, though I'm sorry to leave you behind, I cannot allow you the pleasure of the ride to Stavemoor this afternoon."
"But, papa," I pleaded, "you always forgive me when I say I am sorry."
"And I do not say now that I will not forgive the wrong things you said this morning," he answered; "but I cannot let your conduct pass without punishment. You must remember, my child," he added, drawing me towards him, "that forgiving and not punishing are very different things. Do you remember when God forgave David his sin, yet He punished him by the death of his son. And it would be contrary to His commands if Christian parents were to allow their children's faults to be unpunished, although it is a Christian duty to exercise a forgiving spirit."
The practical result of this statement was what I thought of most; it was clear to my mind that the ride to Stavemoor had to be given up, and my brow grew cloudy.
"Then, papa," I said, poutingly, "I mayn't go with you this afternoon?"
"Certainly not, Willie," very decidedly; "you will spend one hour, from the time we start, in your own room; and I trust that you will remember during that time—if you are really sorry—that mine is not the only forgiveness you have to seek."
"No, not Aleck's; I hope he will never have an idea of all the wrong feelings you have entertained towards him."
"You mean God's forgiveness," I said, more seriously; for that was a name never to be pronounced without deep reverence.
"Yes, Willie; don't forget, my child, that the youngest as well as the oldest of us has need to seek the Fountain opened for all uncleanness. No repentance will wash us clean. You must ask, through the Lord Jesus, not only that your sins may be forgiven, but that you may also have strength to do better for the future. You may go now. Remember what I said about the hour in your own room."
I departed accordingly, passing Aleck in the passage all ready and equipped for his ride. Brushing past him, without giving an answer to his inquiry whether I was going to get ready, I ran quickly up-stairs to my own room, shut the door, and burst into tears.
By-and-by I heard the horses coming round; then I wiped my eyes, and kneeling upon a chair at the window, where I could not be seen, watched all the proceedings.
Rickson, faithful to my interests, had, I perceived, brought up the pony ready saddled. I almost hoped that Aleck would have had it after all. But no; I saw him in another moment mounted upon the gray, which, apparently conscious of a lighter weight than usual, began shaking its head, and showing off its mettle. Rickson held it firmly. "So-ho! so-ho!" I heard him saying. "Ease her a bit, Master Gordon; ease her mouth; there—there—so-ho!"
Aleck held the reins firmly, and his ringing voice came up cheerily through the air.
"I'm not a bit afraid, thank you, Uncle Grant."
My father in the meantime mounted Peter the Great; and before starting I saw the stable-boy give him a leading rein, which he put into his pocket, for future use I mentally decided, in case Aleck should have difficulty in managing the gray. But no such difficulty occurred within the range of my observation. When Rickson removed his hand from the bridle she bounded off rather friskily; but in another moment Aleck had reined her in, and was displaying such ready ease in the management of his steed, that it was clear my father's confidence in his horsemanship was justified.
As I turned round from the window I heard my mother's soft footstep in the passage, and in another moment she had entered my room. She had her walking things on, and a little basket in her hand, well known to me as invariably containing jellies, puddings, or packets of tea for some of the many invalids to whom my mother was as an angel of mercy. She stopped only for two or three minutes, to tell me how thankful she was to know I had felt sorry for my behaviour in the morning, and how grieved to have to leave me at home when she would have liked me to have been out riding with my father, or walking with her; and then, after some further words of monition, she left me to my solitary hour's watch, and I could see her taking her way down the drive, and turning off through the wood, until the last flutter of her blue ribbons was lost in the distance. Then I bethought me of seeing how much longer I had to spend in my own room, and, looking at the clock-tower over the stables, found it was scarcely more than three o'clock. I could not feel free until a quarter to four, and the time began to feel very long and wearisome.
In general, I was a boy of manifold resources, and every moment of my leisure time seemed too short for the many purposes to which I would willingly have applied it. But on this particular afternoon I seemed to weary of everything. Even my last new book of fairy stories failed to interest me. I felt as if, instead of fancying myself the hero of the tale, I was perpetually being compared, by my own conscience, to the unamiable characters—Cinderella's sisters, for instance, or the elder of the two princes who lived in a country long ago and nowhere in particular; elder brothers being in fairy tales, as all true connoisseurs are aware, jealous, cruel, and sure to come to a bad end; whilst the younger brothers are persecuted, forgiving, and finally triumphant, marrying disenchanted princesses, and living happy ever after. I threw aside my fairy book, and sought for some other means of amusement in a repository of odds and ends, established in a corner of the room by the housemaid, whose efforts to observe order in disorder were most praiseworthy. There I was glad to discover a piece of willow-bough stripped of its twigs, and in course of preparation for the manufacture of a bow. Immediately I set myself to adjusting a piece of string to it, and completing its construction. This occupation was far more engrossing than the reading had proved; and almost sooner than I had expected, the three-quarters chime of the clock proclaimed my liberation. I seized my garden hat, ran down-stairs, and sped out upon the lawn, determined to feel very merry, and to enjoy trying my newly-made bow as much as possible. It was annoying that Frisk had gone with the horses—it made me feel more lonely not to have him to play with; but still, my hour's imprisonment being over, I thought I could find plenty of amusement. So I began firing away certain home-made arrows, to which my mother's loving fingers had carefully fastened feathers; putting up a flower-pot on a stand as a mark, and trying to hit it. But the arrows did not go very far after all, and I leant down upon the bow and tightened the string, and then tightened it again, until there was a sudden snap, and a collapse—it had broken in two pieces! I threw the bow aside in disgust, and went off into the shrubbery, and then down the carriage drive, hoping to meet my mother; but she happened to be detained that afternoon at one of the cottages where she was visiting, and missed her usual time for returning. Feeling very dreary and disconsolate, I finally wandered back again into the house, and hung about in the different rooms in a listless, dissatisfied mood, until, at about half past five, I could hear the rapid tread of horses' feet, and in another moment my father and Aleck cantered up to the door. Frisk was flourishing about in his usual style, and found me out in a moment, jumping up upon my shoulders, and licking my hands, and expressing in perfectly comprehensible language his regret that I had not been of the party, and his pleasure in seeing me again.
Aleck was in a high state of spirits, triumphant at having proved himself sufficient of a horseman to manage the gray, and delighted with all the incidents of the expedition. He did not know the reason of my having stayed at home; but told me how sorry he was I had not been with them, and tumultuously recounted the various pleasures he had enjoyed.
"See, I've got lots of shells," he said, "and several beautiful madrepores. You must have some of them. They'd had a wedding, too, and we had to eat some of the bride-cake, and drink their health, and—"
But Aleck's enumeration did not proceed further, for I think my father perceived how keenly I was feeling the contrast between his joyous excitement and my own very dreary heaviness of heart, and called to me to come to the study with him, and put away his riding whip. So I gladly turned away from my cousin, and followed my father to his room.
To some children, the study, library, or whatever other room is consecrated to the use of the head of the family, is a sort of dreadful and solemn place, generally closed to them, but opening from time to time as a court of justice, to which they are brought when their misdemeanours have exceeded usual bounds, and are considered to require severer measures than are within the province of the lesser authorities. Very alarming, in consequence, is the summons when it comes.
With me, however, the case was happily very different; the study was associated with countless hours of happy intercourse with a father whose very countenance was beaming with love. Times of reproof and punishment there had been also, but the returning happiness of forgiveness, the loving words of advice, the kind and constant sympathy, I never failed to find from him, made me look upon an invitation to his room as the best thing that could happen to me, whether I was happy or in trouble.
"My poor little Willie," he said, sitting down almost immediately, and drawing me towards himself; "have you been very sorrowful?"
I hid my face on his shoulder, and sobbed out that I was quite miserable.
"Have you thought what it is that has made your day so sad, Willie?" he asked, kindly.
"Yes, papa," I answered between my sobs; "I wasn't allowed to go to Stavemoor, and I was so unhappy in my own room all alone, and—and—I broke my bow just after I had finished making it—"
"But the beginning of all this unhappiness, Willie—quite the beginning?"
"Aleck's having the gray, papa," I said. "I think that was quite the beginning."
"So do I think so, my child," rejoined my father; "or rather, the wrong feelings to which this gave rise. And now consider, Willie, how wrong and ungrateful you have been, to let this grow up into such a trouble. Just think of all to-day's mercies: your home, your loving papa and mamma, all the comforts that so many little boys are without; and then, besides all these, a pleasant excursion planned to give you special pleasure on your half holiday. And, in the midst of all these blessings, instead of being thankful and happy, you are suddenly overwhelmed, as though by a great misfortune; not because any of your enjoyments are to be diminished, but because another is to have a pleasure which you think greater."
My father paused for a moment, and I could not help feeling that, according to his way of putting it, I certainly had been both naughty and foolish: still, it occurred to me that being happy was not in itself possible at all times; and that, similarly, if I were unhappy, I was unhappy, not by choice, but because it was not in my power to feel otherwise. I thought this, not indeed in words, or in any semblance of coherent argument, but in a sort of confused perplexity, which was only partly represented by my reply to my father:—
"Papa, I couldn't help feeling unhappy when I heard you talking about Aleck's going. I couldn't make myself feel happy."
"Ah, Willie, you've come to the root of the matter now," he answered;—"'couldn't make myself feel happy!' That is just it, Willie; a wrong feeling of envy came into your heart—you know it was a wrong feeling that feeling of dislike that another should be happy, so I need not waste time in proving it to you; and you could not chase the enemy from your own heart, so, without ever remembering that there is One who promises to help all who cry to Him for help, and who is stronger than the strong man armed, you give in at once to the enemy; and as you couldn't help yourself, came out of the battle conquered and vanquished."
I hung my head down, feeling I had been a coward. "I'm so sorry, papa," I whispered.
"I thought you would be ere long, my child," he said. "I hope you used the time in your room partly as I intended."
I knew I hadn't, and felt still more ashamed of myself, but said nothing; I was never required to mention whether I had followed my parents' advice on such occasions, they were so fearful of making me a hypocrite.
"Our heavenly Father will have forgiven you all your fault, if you have sought forgiveness through Jesus Christ; and now your earthly father is quite ready to forgive also, as you seem really sorry."
My father gave me a kiss, and I threw my arms around his neck, and felt the loneliness and sadness of the day all over. My mother came in a few moments later, and joined us in the study, and with her loving, gentle words, completed my happiness in being forgiven and received back again into my usual position.
She did not forget all that had passed, however. I found that out at our Bible readings; for almost the very next day she took for her subject with us boys, the sin of envy and its consequences, and the best means of conquering it. I can remember to this hour the different illustrations—Cain, and Saul, and the blood-thirsty Pharisees on the one side; and Moses, and David, and Jonathan, and Paul, on the other; and the verses we found out in Proverbs and in the Epistles: they perhaps did me some good at the time, but my heart was not really touched. I had not found out, in my own little personal experience, what my father meant by the Fountain opened for all uncleanness, and there were bitter but necessary lessons still in store for me.
My story would grow too long were I to tell of all the employments, amusements, and adventures, which made the months fly rapidly by with us boys that summer and autumn long ago at Braycombe.
My cousin's companionship made me more than usually diligent in my studies, and more than usually eager in my amusements; whilst the watchful care of my parents seemed to screen me from many of the minor trials and temptations which might otherwise have rendered me less happy than I had been in former days.
I can remember now with admiration, how carefully they measured out even-handed justice to my cousin and myself. They never seemed to forget that they had promised Aleck should be as my brother, therefore every arrangement took us equally into account. And although the meanness of envy was held by them to be not only sinful, but contemptible, they were quite alive to the keen sense of justice which is born with most children, and would never violate it by the exercise of a partiality too common amongst those who have the charge of the young, either with the object of giving me as their child some special pleasure, or Aleck as our visitor some special indulgence.
It was not long after the Stavemoor expedition that I was allowed to try my horsemanship by mounting the gray. Rickson was on the alert; but had it not been for his interposition, my equestrian pursuits would have come to a very disastrous ending. I was convinced against my will of the wisdom of my father's decision, that I should for the present be content with my pony; relying, for consolation, on his promise that, before very long, I should learn to manage the more spirited animal. In the meantime I no longer felt it a trouble that my cousin's superior skill in this respect should be recognized.
Aleck seemed to care less about the riding than I did. His passion for the sea—for boats, sea-weeds, stones, caves, and cliffs, everything directly and indirectly belonging to the sea—grew and strengthened upon him. His special ambition was to succeed in constructing a rival to the "Fair Alice;" but although honourable scars on his fingers bore witness to the industry with which he plied his tools, his attempts at ship-building had hitherto proved signal failures. I was more successful in my carpentry than he was, and it was quite a pleasure to me to give him all the help I could. Between us we at last produced something more resembling a ship than all former attempts, and we rushed eagerly down to the Cove one bright September afternoon, impatient for the launch.
Aleck and I had the Cove all to ourselves: old George had not been with us so much as usual for weeks past; there were, indeed, few days we did not see him, but he did not stay with us all through our play-time; he would come and go, and come and go, until we boys would take to teasing him with questions as to what it could be that kept him so much occupied. I had my own private suspicions, and communicated them to Aleck; but old George would throw no light upon the subject.
I had good reason for remembering that the 20th of September, now drawing near, was my parents' wedding-day, my mother's birth-day, and almost the greatest festival in the year to us at Braycombe. Old George, who lay in wait for opportunities of giving me presents, always looked upon this anniversary as one that would admit of no questioning, and more than once the offering to me—by which he meant to show his love to my parents—had been the result of many a long hour's secret work. The "Fair Alice" had been my present on the preceding year, and I had dim suspicions—built upon a certain hasty glance into a little room called the work-shop at the back of the lodge—that something else was even now in course of construction, which I half suspected to be a schooner-yacht with two masts, such as I had more than once expressed a wish to possess. But George was impenetrable, and kept the work-shop closely bolted, so I had to nurse my curiosity until the 20th. It was the day before this great occasion that Aleck and I ran down to launch our boat, as before-mentioned.
Alas! we had scarcely pushed it out upon the water, when, with a roll and lurch, it turned over upon its side, and floated like a wreck, in a helpless and melancholy manner. We drew it up on shore again and set to work; I cheerily and hopefully, feeling perfectly aware that everything that was at all good in the workmanship was mine; Aleck mournfully, knowing that all the faults in its construction were his.
"I wonder at Groves not coming," he said, presently; "I can't help thinking he could tell me how to make it float straight."
"I'll just go and make him come," I replied; "he's been so little with us the last few days, I'm sure he might find time."
Aleck agreed, and I set off to the lodge, leaving him to puzzle on by himself over the manifold difficulties of ship-building. To bring old George to the rescue, however, did not turn out the easy task that I had anticipated. He was in the work-shop, the door safely bolted, and not even the smallest aperture anywhere, through which I might discover the nature of his employment. My persuasions were all carried on at a disadvantage, and the conversation resolved itself into:—
"Please, George, do come and help us; it's very important. Aleck wants you particularly down at the Cove." This from my side of the door.
Then from his side:—"I'm afraid, Master Willie, I can't possibly find the time; I'm very busy."
From my side:—"But Aleck's boat won't sail, and we've tried everything to make it, and unless you come we can't do anything more."
From his side:—"I'll come to-morrow, Master Willie, and then see if we don't get Master Aleck's ship to sail as merrily as the 'Fair Alice' herself."
"Even you will not be able to do so much as that," I rejoined; whereupon a low chuckle of merriment and satisfaction was clearly audible on the other side. I continued:—"It's very well to laugh, but if you could see Aleck's boat all lying on one side, looking not so nice even as the tub-boat in the 'Swiss Family Robinson,' you wouldn't think it so easily made all right."
No answer; but click, click inside.
"At least, do tell me what you're working at," I said, growing impatient, and battering at the door; "do tell me—there's a dear old George."
"Work that can't be hindered by playing with two young gentlemen all the afternoon. There, sir, now I've told you;" and another chuckle followed, and click, click went on as before.
I had no excuse for lingering longer. George was like a besieged garrison within a secure fortress; there was no chance of enticing him out beyond the shelter of his walls. So I could only return discomfited to the Cove.
"There's no use trying," I said to Aleck. "All that old George will promise is to come out to-morrow, and make your boat sail as well as the 'Fair Alice' herself: those are his words."