« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Erema; or, My Father's Sin.
N telling that sad tale my faithful and softhearted nurse had often proved her own mistake in saying, as she did, that tears can ever be exhausted. And I, for my part, though I could scarcely cry for eager listening, was worse off perhaps than if I had wetted each sad fact as it went by. At any rate, be it this way or that, a heavy and sore heart was left me, too distracted for asking questions, and almost too depressed to grieve.
In the morning Mrs.
Strouss was bustling here and there, and everywhere, and to look at her nice Welsh cheeks and aprons, and to hear how she scolded the butcher's boy, nobody would for a moment believe that her heart was deeper than her skin, as the saying of the west country is. Major
Hockin had been to see me last night, for he never forgot a promise, and had left me in good hands, and now he came again in the morning. According to his usual way of taking up an opinion, he would not see how distracted I was, and full of what I had heard overnight, but insisted on dragging me off to the Bank, that being in his opinion of more importance than old stories. I longed to ask Betsy some questions which had been crowding into my mind as she spoke, and while I lay awake at night; however, I was obliged to yield to the business of the morning, and the good Major's zeal and keen knowledge of the world; and he really gave me no time to think.
"Yes, I understand all that well as if I had heard every word of it," he said, when he had led me helpless into the Hansom cab he came in, and had slammed down the floodgates in front of us. "You must never think twice of what old women say" (Mrs. Strouss was some twenty years younger than himself), "they always go prating, and finding mare's-nests, and then they always cry. Now, did she cry, Erema?"
I would have given a hundred dollars to be able to say, "No, not one drop," but the truth was against me, and I said, "How could she help it?"
"Exactly!" the Major exclaimed, so loudly that the cabman thought he was ordered to stop; "no, go on, cabby, if your horse can do it. My dear, I beg your pardon, but you are so very simple! You have not been among the eye-openers of the west. This comes of the obsolete Uncle Sam."
"I would rather be simple than 'cute!'" I replied, "and my own Uncle Sam will be never obsolete."
Silly as I was, I could never speak of the true Uncle Sam in this far country without the bright shame of a glimmer in my eyes, and with this, which I cared not to hide, I took my companion's hand, and stood upon the footway of a narrow and crowded lane.
"Move on, move on!" cried a man, with a high-crowned hat japanned at intervals, and, wondering at his rudeness to a lady, I looked at him. But he only said, "Now, move on, will you?" without any wrath, and as if he were vexed at our littleness of mind in standing still. Nobody heeded him any more than if he had said, “I am starving," but it seemed a rude thing among ladies. Before I had time to think more about this--for I always like to think of things-I was led through a pair of narrow swinging doors, and down a close alley between two counters full of people paying and receiving money. The Major, who always knew how to get on, found a white-haired gentleman in a very dingy corner, and whispered to him in a confidential way, though neither had ever seen the other before, and the white-haired gentleman gazed at me as sternly as if I were a bank-note for at least a thousand pounds; and then he said, "Step this way, young lady. Major Hockin, step this way, sir."
The young lady "stepped that way" in wonder as to what English English is, and then we were shown into a sacred little room, where the
daylight had glass reflectors for it, if it ever came to use them. But as it cared very little to do this, from angular disabilities, three bright gaslights were burning in soft covers, and fed the little room with a rich, sweet glow. And here shone one of the partners of the bank, a very pleasant-looking gentleman, and very nicely dressed.
"Major Hockin," he said, after looking at the card, "will you kindly sit down, while I make one memorandum? I had the pleasure of knowing your uncle well; at least, I believe that the late Sir Rufus was your uncle?"
"Not so," replied the Major, well-pleased, however. "I fear that I am too old to have had any uncle lately. Sir Rufus Hockin was my first-cousin."
Oh, indeed! To be sure, I should have known it, but Sir Rufus being much your senior, the mistake was only natural. Now what can I do to serve you, or perhaps this young lady-Miss Hockin, I presume?"
"No," said his visitor, "not Miss Hockin. I ought to have introduced her, but for having to make my own introduction. Mr. Shovelin, this lady is Miss Erema Castlewood, the only surviving child of the late Captain George Castlewood-properly speaking, Lord Castlewood."
Mr. Shovelin had been looking at me with as much curiosity as good manners and his own particular courtesy allowed. And I fancied that he felt that I could not be a Hockin.
"Oh dear, dear me!" was all he said, though he wanted to say, "God bless me !" or something more sudden and stronger. "Lord Castlewood's daughter-poor George Castlewood! My dear young lady, is it possible?"
Yes, I am my father's child," I said, "and I am proud to hear that I am like him."
"That you well may be," he answered, putting on his spectacles. "You are astonished at my freedom, perhaps; you will allow for it, or, at least, you will not be angry with me when you know that your father was my dearest friend at Harrow; and that when his great trouble fell upon him--'
Here Mr. Shovelin stopped, as behoves a man who begins to outrun himself. He could not tell me that it was himself who had found all the money for my father's escape, which cost much cash as well as much good feeling. Neither did I, at the time, suspect it, being all in the dark upon such points. Not knowing what to say, I looked from the Banker to the Major, and back again.
"Can you tell me the exact time?" the latter asked. "I am due in the Temple at 12.30, and I never am a minute late, whatever happens.” "You will want a swift horse," Mr. Shovelin answered, "or else this will be an exception to your rule. It is twenty-one minutes past twelve now."
"May I leave my charge to you then, for a while? She will be very quiet; she is always so. Erema, will you wait for me?"
I was not quick enough then to see that this was arranged between them. Major Hockin perceived that Mr. Shovelin wished to have a talk with me about dearer matters than money, having children of his own, and being (as his eyes and forehead showed) a man of peculiar views perhaps, but clearly of general good will.
"In an hour, in an hour, in less than an hour," the Major intensified his intentions always, "in three-quarters of an hour I shall be back.. Meanwhile, my dear, you will sit upon a stool, and not say a word, nor make any attempt to do anything everybody is not used to."
This vexed me, as if I were a savage here; and I only replied with a very gentle bow, being glad to see his departure; for Major Hockin was one of those people so often to be met with, whom any one likes or dislikes, according to the changes of their behaviour. But Mr. Shovelin was different from that.
"Miss Castlewood, take this chair," he said; "a hard one, but better than a stool perhaps. Now, how am I to talk to you; as an inquirer upon business matters, or as the daughter of my old friend? Your smile is enough. Well, and you must talk to me in the same unreasonable manner. That being clearly established between us, let us proceed to the next point. Your father, my old friend, wandered from the track, and unfortunately lost his life in a desolate part of America."
"No; oh no. It was nothing like that. He might have been alive, and here at this moment, if I had not drunk and eaten every bit and drop of his."
"Now don't, my dear child, don't be so romantic-I mean, look at things more soberly. You did as you were ordered, I have no doubt; George Castlewood always would have that. He was a most commanding mar.. You do not quite resemble him in that respect, I think." Oh, but did he do it, did he do it?" I cried out. "You were at school with him, and knew his nature. Was it possible for him to do
“As possible as it is for me to go down to Sevenoaks and shoot my dear old father, who is spending a green and agreeable old age there. Not that your grandfather, if I may say it without causing pain to you, was either green or agreeable. He was an uncommonly sharp old man, I might even say a hard one. As you never saw him, you will not think mne rude in saying that much. Your love, of course, is for your father; and if your father had had a father of larger spirit about money, he might have been talking to me pleasantly now, instead of-instead of all these sad things.
"Please not to slip away from me," I said bluntly, having so often met with that; "you believe, as every good person does, that my father was wholly innocent? But do tell me who could have done it instead. Somebody must have done it; that seems clear."
"Yes," replied Mr. Shovelin, with a look of calm consideration; "somebody did it, undoubtedly; and that makes the difficulty of the