Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed]
[ocr errors][merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


and but seldom overflowed its deep banks. CHAPTER 1.-HERFORD COURT.

The bay where it emptied itself had a small HERFORD; was one of the little sea: ridge of pebbly beach, beyond which lay a

board parishes which encircle England; tract of firm, bright sand, stretching in a each one containing its small, grey, storm- narrow belt for miles under the cliffs when beaten church, perched on a crag over the tide was out. Almost every man in the grown with ivy and moss, or built low down village owned some small boat of his own, for on the shore, with the moan of the sea sound- the railway was as far off as Lowborough, ing incessantly round the graves of the dead. and the inhabitants of Herford preferred The village of Herford consisted of a strag. launching their rude, safe fishing craft, and gling street of fishermen's houses, stretching running round with the tide, to travelling in a single line from the shore inland, with along the dusty, hot highway, whenever they scattered cottages and humble farmsteads had any of the produce of their fields or their dotted about the slopes on each side of the nets to dispose of. deep valley running down to the sea. There The whole parish, almost to a single field, was no pier, and there were no lodging- was the property of one landowner, old houses. The nearest post town was five Richard Herford, of Herford Court, whose miles off by the nearest road—a rough and ancestors had dwelt there for many generawind-swept path over the cliffs—and seven tions, gradually rising from the position of full miles if you traversed the whole length farmer to that of gentleman, and as gradually of the valley in order to reach the highway. adding field to field, until the whole of the

In every season of the year hedgerow parish, with the small living attached to it, flowers were to be found in bloom in Her- had come into their hands. The old man ford, for the valley lay open to the south, and now in possession was past eighty. He had the soft mist-laden south wind alone could been cast in a somewhat rougher mould than breathe freely along it. There was neither his immediate forefathers, and, instead of biting cold in winter, nor scorching heat in taking any part in the affairs of the county, summer; and the noisy, narrow rivulet, had led a homely, rustic life, fishing in his which sang and played all down its winding own boat, farming his own fields, and ruling curves, was never parched up by drought, his tenants, both farmers and fishermen, with



a high hand. He had not married till late But the change was attended with many adin life, and when his only son and heir was vantages to him. Old Richard Herford was born he was already sixty years of age-a not unkind to the fatherless boy, and in a strong-willed, selfish man, neither able nor rough fashion of his own he tried to make a willing to learn any lesson disagreeable to his man of him. He succeeded in training the egotism. He idolized his boy, the son of town-bred lad into a capital sailor, and a still his old age, but he did not suffer this idolatry better farmer. The quiet, beautiful country to interfere with the supreme worship of him life won all Justin's affections, which had so self. He could not have more perfectly suc- little else to cling to. The bright, changeful ceeded in ruining his son by indulgence if sea, never bearing the same aspect long; the he had set that end before him as a definite dangerous cliffs, which he soon learned to aim. · Master Dick, as he was called by all the scale with the most venturesome of the village village, grew up wild, ignorant, and reckless; urchins; the wild slopes of the deep valley, a torment to the men, and a terror to the with their elegant birch-trees and ferns and women of the place. He would not go to flowers, that lived all the winter through; school, and the tutors provided for him at the large, well-stocked farmstead adjoining home found him unmanageable and incor- the Court; the Court itself, with its low, rigible; but were laughed at or scorned by wainscotted rooms, and long, dark lobbies, his father if they made any complaint against and high-roofed attics set in the gables-all him. “ The boy can always be managed by these took almost the place of human friendme," he said.

ships, and awoke in his heart the strong, deep Mrs. Herford, who was more than thirty love which no one about him cared to cherish. years younger than her husband, had been a It was a heart-breaking trial to Justin when widow with one child when she married a he was banished from Herford to a school in second time. Until this marriage her life London. had been spent in large towns, chiefly in But the boy distinguished himself at school, London, amid the constant bustle and stir of having one object before him—that of quickly a populous community. She had been fas- learning all he had to learn, so as to get back cinated by the seclusion and quiet of Her- to his beloved Herford. He won prize after ford, and fancied a perpetual peace must prize, bringing them home at each holiday, reign there. Moreover, she was a penniless with a secret sense that nobody really cared widow, dependent upon relations who kept for his success. His master urgently repreher grudgingly; and her young son was a sented to his step-father that he merited a heavy burden to her. She was not fit to university education, and old Richard Hermaintain herself, or at least thought so. She ford consented to it, reflecting that the present had never been willing to work steadily, or vicar of Herford was an old man, and that to do anything that might be at the moment the living was in his gift. It would probably irksome to her. When old Richard Herford be the cheapest and best way of providing had unexpectedly asked her to become his for his wife's son. Justin cared for nothing wife, she had consented with alacrity, believ- so much as coming back to Herford. The ing that henceforth she would have her own old vicar died opportunely, and he succeeded way in everything. “Better be an old man's him, having a few months before married the darling than a young man's slave," she had daughter of one of his former masters. Thus, said to herself. But as soon as her child was at twenty-four years of age, he settled down born she was set on one side, and treated, for life as vicar of Herford-on-the-Sea. even with regard to his training, as a com- There had been no great love between the plete cypher; being hardly more than the half-brothers. Each regarded the other with housekeeper of Herford Court, which from contempt ; Justin aster a quiet fashion, that epoch became the kingdom of the son Richard after an ostentatious one. The old and heir of Herford.

man was roughly good-natured to his stepJustin Webb, her elder boy, was ten years son, but he idolized his heir. Mrs. Herford of age when his half-brother was born. He favoured sometimes one, and sometimes the was already a thoughtful, advanced lad, pre-other, according to the caprice of the moment; maturely wise from knocking about in the but her whims were of no weight with any of world during the homeless years of his the three men belonging to her, over whom mother's widowhood. He was old enough her shallow and fickle nature had no into feel a sharp pang of resentment at her fluence. The parishioners, with the excepsecond marriage ; a step which throughout tion of four or five scampish young men, sushis whole after life he never fully forgave. pected of poaching, petty larcenies, and

a will

with me.

similar misdemeanours, were all strongly attached to Master Justin, the quiet, pleasant

CHAPTER II.--OLD RICHARD HERFORD. lad who had grown up among them, and who If it were possible for us to take our last was now their own young, friendly parson, journey as we take other journeys, half the not over strict, and not too long in his terror of it would be gone. We shrink more, sermons. Master Richard had grown up perhaps, from going alone than from entering among them also, but he was headstrong into an utterly unknown state of existence. and domineering, and there was a secret Could we only say to one or two of our dread of his succession to the estates, dearest, most familiar friends, " Come, I will which could not be very far off now, bid good-bye to this world next week if you and which was looked forward to as


Let us hasten to that better great though inevitable calamity to the land, of which we have so often spoken, and whole parish.

so often heard, in our hours of sorrow," then As might have been foreseen, as soon as we might set about our preparations for that Richard was but little more than a boy, his great migration with an unusual courage and strong, uncurbed will came into frequent cheerfulness, as if we were merely flitting to collision with the strong, uncurbed will of some new home across the seas. But we are his aged father. Old Richard Herford grew called to pass singly to that far-off, mysterious more obstinate and tyrannical as he ad- shore in darkness and silence, hearing nothing, vanced in years, and began to sink under the seeing nothing, knowing nothing. Against infirmities of his great age. His increasing our will we are stripped of all our customary deafness and dimness of sight made him surroundings, even of the outer self, so much increasingly suspicious and unreasonable. better known to most of us than the hidden, On the other hand, his son could not submit lonely, living soul, which alone has to pass to any control, and it was enough for him to the unseen boundary. It is not change that know that his father had forbidden a thing daunts us; it is the utter, absolute strangeto cause him ardently to desire to do it. ness of that future world, and of our place Time after time violent quarrels arose, in and bearing in it. which Justin played the part of peacemaker, The extreme age of old Richard Herford, the old man being always more readily paci- standing on the brink of the grave one Janfied than his son. But there could be no uary night, did not make the strangeness of lasting peace between them. Threats were the change less painful to him. He had constantly bandied to and fro; on the one lived so long in this life that the brief, fleethand of disinheritance, on the other of run-ing visions one catches now and then of ning away, and never more being heard of. another world must long since have ceased At length young Richard put his threat into to visit him, if, indeed, they had ever visited execution. When he was little over eighteen him at all. The curtain had become darker he disappeared suddenly and completely, and and more closely drawn between him and the no inquiry or search availed to procure a world to come. He was clinging with fierce solitary trace of him. Some of the fishermen tenacity to the worn-out, half paralyzed whispered that he must have been seized frame which had been his tenement so long. with cramp whilst bathing, and been carried If he might have his will, he would rather away by the tide; but there was no evidence remain thus, bed-ridden and barely alive, to support this suggestion, and it did not re- than venture into the thick darkness he was ceive a moment's credence at the Court. about to enter. His white head tossed to Old Richard Herford knew, though he never and fro on his pillow, and he groaned imbetrayed the secret, that a large sum of money patiently. How poor and short a time it had disappeared from the cabinet in his was since he was a boy! It did not seem bedroom at the same time as his hopeful long since he was a lad scrambling up Halson.

stone Cliff, and hanging by strong young Two other events had chequered the some hands to any jutting crag or root of ivy, what monotonous life of the young vicar of whilst the tide roared far below him against Herford—the birth of a little daughter, and the rocks. He had been dreaming a good the death, a few months later, of his wife, deal of his boyhood of late, going back to who was some years older than himself, and the smallest memories of childish trifles. who might be said to have chosen and mar- Was it a token that his worn-out, sickly spirit ried him rather than he her. Both of these was about to enter into some new youth? events took place three or four years before There was no trace of youth in his withered, Richard's disappearance.

yellow face, or in the hands, with their hooked

« PreviousContinue »