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you, and we seldom have strangers here; and then you look — at least you are not quite the same as the people we generally see."
Sir Stephen smiled.
"May I venture to ask," he said, " whom I have the honour of addressing?"
"My name is Hero Carthew. I am Captain Carthew's daughter, of Sharrows, round Combe Point ; " and she pointed in the direction where the house lay.
"Sharrows! I think Mr. Truscott has spoken to me of Sharrows — is it not the next place to this?"'
"Yes, we are neighbours, though not very near ones. Papa will be so pleased to see you. We heard that it was likely you would come, but no one expected you to-day, or you would have had a proper reception. How did you get here?"
"I came by train from Garston to Dockmouth, and took a carriage on to this place. The old housekeeper seemed perfectly aghast at seeing me. She kept on insisting that she expected I should have written. I told her that I had written once. But this was of no use, she kept repeating that she expected I should have written again."
"So we all thought," said Hero. "You know you only said in your letter that she was to get the rooms ready, as it was probable you might run down while you were in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Tucker brought it for me to read the morning she got it, and I believe almost every day since; she was so afraid there might be some mistake. How vexed the poor old soul will be, that everything is not in apple-pie order! Of course, nothing was ready."
"Ready !" echoed Sir Stephen. "In all your life, you never saw such scrubbing and cleaning as was going on there; only that the horse would have been dead beat, I should have returned to Dockmouth without delay."
"Oh, that would have been too bad," exclaimed Hero energetically ; "you must not think of such a thing. You have no idea how every one has been looking forward to your visit. We have talked of nothing else."
"Very nattering, and all that kind of thing," replied Sir Stephen, laughing; "but practically, I know of nothing more disagreeable than to arrive where you fancy you are expected, and find no rooms ready, and no chance of dinner — an event which this sea air makes exceedingly important to me just at present. I really think it would have been better to
have gone back to the hotel at Dockmouth," he added reflectively.
But Hero shook her head at this. While he had been speaking, she had been rapidly running over in her mind the contents of the home larder. Of course, she decided that she must ask Sir Stephen to return with her. Her father would be very vexed if she did otherwise; for Captain Carthew's principles of hospitality consisted in offering freely what he had, not in withholding his invitation because he had not that which his liberal heart desired to place before his guest. Turning, she said —
"Papa went to Dockmouth this morning, but by this time he must be back again. I hope you will not stand upon ceremony with us, but return with me, and at least give us the satisfaction of knowing that you are not alone the first evening of your arrival."
"Really, you are very kind, Miss Carthew; but "and as he hesitated,
"You will only be saving papa a walk, for I know he would set off to fefch you the instant I told him that you were all by yourself."
"I should be sorry to give him that trouble ; so perhaps, as I wish very much to make his acquaintance, you will permit me to accompany you back."
"Shall we go by the cliff path?" asked Hero. "Perhaps you will not care to go through the village."
"Hardly, if it can be avoided. I do not fancy that at present my appearance is calculated to inspire the authority I am supposed to possess."
"I don't think any one would see it unless they were told," said Hero, colouring, as she glanced at the unfortunate hat. "It was too bad of me, and at our first meeting."
"Oh no, it has but made us better friends," replied Sir Stephen. "A little contre-temps is often most successful in putting people at their ease. Don't you think so?"
Hero shook her head.
"I was in an awful state of fright," she said, "when I began to suspect who you were."
Sir Stephen laughed.
"It is evident I ought not to have come here. I shall never be able to keep up the character to which distance lent enchantment."
"Oh yes, you will; and if we can only make you like the place, and come and live here sometimes, the people will be ready to do anything for you, as they are for papa."
"Ah! Mr. Truscott told me that Captain Carthew has immense influence among the villagers."
"Yes, papa understands them. Mr. Truscott does not; one must live among them."
"Rather a heavy penalty to pay, though," said Sir Stephen. "In winter it must be fearfully dull."
"Oh, no! it is not; though perhaps you would feel it so; I am forgetting that I have never lived in any other place."
"And vou are quite content here?"
"Perfectly. Of course, I am longing to go to a hundred places, and see all one hears about, but I know I shall never find another Mallett."
Here a bend in the path brought them to a cottage, at the door of which a freshcoloured middle-aged woman was standing.
"Well, Lois," said Miss Carthew, with a friendly smile, "has Osee come home yet?"
"Yes, miss, and the Cap'en, he said, corned back with 'em."
"Oh, that is all right;" then, turning towards Sir Stephen, she said —
"Lois, this is Sir Stephen Prescott."
"My clear life !" exclaimed the woman, dropping a succession of curtseys. "Well, I never did. I'm sure, sir, you'll be as welcome as the flowers o' May to Mallett. Why, Osee!" she called, "do 'ee come out here then. He will be took aback sure enuf," she added, as a square-built, weather-beaten, sea-faring man made his appearance, and was duly pushed forward by his wife with the introduction, "This is my man, Osee Triggs, sir, and at your sen-ice by night or by day. 'Tis Sir Stephen Prescott, Osee," she wound up with.
Osee's astonished face beamed again, as with several touches at an imaginary cap he said —
"I'm proud and happy, sir, as you be come among us at last, as Miss Hero will tell ye, 'tis what we've all hoped for for ever so long, 'till some of us thought 'twas never to be ; but the Cap'en he stuck to his colours; says he, he'll come yet, never you fear that, he says; and you may always take yer Davy to what the Cap'en says; he never hauls his colours down, he don't."
"Sir Stephen has not seen papa yet," said Hero, nodding her adieux. "So good-bye."
"Good evening," said Sir Stephen.
"Good evening, sir, and thankee for coming."
"And thank you, too, Miss Hero," called out Osee. "I shall just ha' somethin'," he added, "to tell my mates, as I was the first as clapped eyes on un."
"These people seem very odd to me," said Sir Stephen, as he and Hero walked away, laughing over his first welcome.
"Odd! echoed Hero, who was not quite certain of his meaning.
"Yes," he answered, "they are so completely different from the general class of villagers. They have none of the chronic shyness with which most country people seem oppressed."
"Oh, no; they are not shy; but they have nothing to be shy about."
"Neither have my other tenants; but they would never think of telling me that they were glad to see me, or of entering into any conversation with me."
"No? Well, they are odd then, if you like; but prepare yourself to answer all sorts of questions here; for Mallett people ask anything they want to know."
"So I find," said Sir Stephen. "My driver, and the pedestrians we met and passed, kept up a running fire of ' Why, where ever be you going, John Hicks?' 'To Combe, to be sure.'"
"And then," laughed Hero, "I know came —' Why, what be goin' to do there?"'
"Oh yes, and then the answer was given by a turn of the whip, and a jerk of the head towards me, accompanied on selected occasions by the advice to ask Mary somebody at the pike, her'll tell'ee."
"I don't think you imagined that we were quite so primitive as you have found us," said Hero, "although I don't consider that we are regular country folks; we are too near Dockmouth for that. There is our house; you just catch sight of it round that corner. We have only to go up this hill and we shall be there."
"We have done nothing else but go up hill," said Sir Stephen, a little out of breath, while Hero's pace never slackened, neither did her voice falter. He could not but look admiringly at her lithe figure and elastic step, showing perfect health and no small amount of bodily strength.
"I must induce my mother to come here in the summer," he said; "she is somewhat of an invalid, and the air seems to be delicious."
"Oh, I am sure it would do her good. It is always said that a doctor cannot live nor die at Mallett. People are never ill here."
"I shall tell her that as a certain inducement."
"Yes, do," she said, stopping half way down the lane before a black painted wooden gate. "Here we are. This is Sharrows, and there is papa," and she pointed to a rather stout-looking figure in a short jacket and broad Panama hat.
"Papa! papa! He doesn't hear me — he is a little deaf; but I'll soon make him look up," and, to Sir Stephen's great amusement, she put her two fingers into her mouth and gave a long shrill whistle.
"Shocking," she said turning to her companion, with a little shrug at herself, "but he sees us now ;" and, waving her hand, they descended the path towards which Captain Carthew had turned to meet them. As soon as they were within speaking distance Hero called out —
"Papa, who do you think I have brought to see you? This is Sir Stephen Prescott."
"Sir Stephen! God bless my heart, you don't say so!" and Captain Carthew, hurrying forward, seized the long-expected visitor by both hands, giving them a grip they were totally unaccustomed to, as he said heartily —
"Welcome, very welcome. So you've found your way to Mallett at last. Well, I'm very glad to see you. Why, you've regularly stolen a march upon us. When did you come?"
"And," broke in Hero, "he was going back to Dockmouth, because nothing was ready at Combe. Mrs. Tucker expected that he intended writing again, as we all did."
"Now," said the Captain, " didn't I tell you she had best set to and get everything square at once. I expected from the first that you'd come and catch us all napping; but these women folk make as much fuss over setting their chairs and tables straight, and getting their sheets out of lavender as we should in rigging out a ' seventy-four.' But there, there; it's an ill wind that blows nobody good, and since we've got you down here I won't say any more. Run round to Betsey, Hero, and say she must give us the best dinner she can. Get her steam up," he added, with his hand to his mouth and a jerk of his head towards Sir Stephen, " by telling her who's going to eat it."
Hero ran off by some shorter way, and the Captain, putting his arm in Sir Stephen's, the two proceeded towards the flat upon which the house stood.
Sir Stephen had intended making an elaborate apology for the unceremonious way in which he had accepted Hero's invitation; but somehow he quite forgot about it, and before an hour had elapsed he found himself chatting away to Captain Carthew as if he had known him all his life. When he casually spoke of leaving Mallett the next day the Captain would not hear of it.
"No, no," he said, "now you are here don't run away directly. I want you to take an interest in the place and the people, and you'll never do that until you've seen a little of them. Why, there are no such sailors in the world as the Mallett men — fine, hardy fellows, true to the backbone, rough and ready to shed their last drop of blood for those they're bound to. Then the place; I've been half over the world, but I never saw anything to touch Mallett. Talk about foreign scenery, pshaw! stuff and nonsense! Look at Winkle; go to Silver Sands. Why, when you've been here a month you won't know yourself for the same man. Except of old age people can't die at Mallett; when thev come here they get a fresh lease of their lives. So don't talk of running away — and what's the use of going back to Combe? No, no; I shall send for your traps, and you just take up your quarters here, and then I can lay an embargo upon you whenever I see any signs of weighing anchor."
And so finally the matter was settled. Sir Stephen demurred at first, and put forward several feeble objections, which — as he was nothing loth to remain — he was not sorry to have overruled. The end was that he consented to remain, and owned himself very much obliged to Captain Carthew and his daughter for asking him.
By the morning of the next day there was not a man, woman, or child, in all Mallett but knew that Sir Stephen had come, and was staying with " the Cap'en" at Sharrows. Ann House had been up with some whiting pout which her man had caught the night before. Ned Wallis had picked out the finest of the shrimps that he was taking to Dockmouth market, and left them with his duty. Mrs. Carne would be bound that Betsey was put to it for butter, and sent her boy Johnny up with a fresh pound and pot of cream. The general thought was how they could assist the "Cap'en " in duly entertaining his distinguished guest. Nor was it in the village alone that this feeling existed. Mrs. Thompson remembered that Hero had said some days before that their stock of jam was nearly exhausted, so she must supply that default. Miss Stevens routed out some choice ginger that her brother the chaplain had brought from China. Old Mr. Jamteson, the paymaster, thought he'd take down a bottle of his old Constantia (he'd only four or five left) that the Captain might give Sir Stephen a taste of something he did not get every day. And so all through the small community each drew on his or her little store of dainties, trying to assist their neighbour in setting Defore his guest those things which his hospitality would prompt, but his resources they knew would not supply.
"there is one thing which must be done," said Hero, as Sir Stephen, on the second morning after his arrival stood waiting for Captain Carthew to accompany him to Combe; "so it is of no use talking about your going away. Stay you must,' for it is your duty to.'"
"And, pray, what is my duty?"
"Well, your duty to your neighbour, in this instance, is that you remain, and I invite all Mallett and its environs to tea, and to meet Sir Stephen Prescott."
Sir Stephen laughed outright. The whole thing was to him so irresistibly comic; in fact, during the last few days, his life had been so entirely altered from its usual routine, that, after the fashion of the ancient dame who fell asleep on the king's highway, he had asked himself, over and over again, "Can this be I?"
A man accustomed to a certain amount of luxury, amusement, and society, found himself suddenly domesticated among comparative strangers, who, though they did their best to entertain him, could offer him nothing beyond the simple enjoyments of their homely life.
Hero's light-hearted face and merry gossip, Captain Carthew's quaint stories, the primitive, out-spoken village folk whom they met on their rambling investigations— all combined to amuse him wonderfully, and somehow the days had seemed very short. But when he called up some of the queer-looking old men and antiquated ladies who had been pointed out to him as of Mallett gentry,
and pictured himself doing the agreeable to them at a tea party, the idea tickled him more than he would have cared for his present friends to see.
"It is of no use laughing," said Hero, trying to look grave. "I really mean what I say; they would be so disappointed if they were not properly introduced to you, just as we should have been, if you had stayed somewhere else, and had gone away without our seeing anything of you. People have so looked forward to your visit, and they are really all so good and kind-hearted that I fear if you went away and did not meet them, they would feel hurt, and fancy you took no interest in the place. If you think you can stay, you would be granting me a favour by doing so."
"My dear Miss Carthew, say no more. I would do a great deal more than that to please you ; beside which you and your father are so good to me, that, unless I was absolutely obliged to get back to London, I doubt very much whether you would not experience considerable difficulty in getting rid of me."
"Then you really will stay?"
"Of course I will."
"That is kind of you — thank you so much. I shall invite all I can for to-morrow evening. They know my heart is good to ask everybody, but as papa says, our stowage is not large enough."
"Now I have a brilliant idea," said Sir Stephen, " if you will oblige me by helping to carry it out."
"What is it?"
"Why, this; instead of asking them here, ask them all to Combe-Mallett; the rooms are already dismantled, the people have nothing to do, and I'll send my man off to Dockmouth to order some supper." •
"Why, we could have a dance," exclaimed Hero, twisting round in an imaginary waltz; "what a glorious idea! Everybody can be invited there, can't they r They will be so delighted; oh, thank you, Sir Stephen; I am so much obliged to you. You don't know how kind every one will think it."
"There is really no great kindness in it from me, not one quarter as kind as you were going to be; see to what trouble you intended putting yourself."
"Trouble! oh, I do not call that trouble; you should see us at Christmas time. We always give two parties then; one to our friends, and one to the village; although they nearly all come to each. The whole house is turned upside down, the rooms are decorated with flags and holly, and festooned with bunting; you would not know the place, it looks so gay and pretty."
"And you really enjoy that?" said Sir Stephen, looking rather incredulously at her.
"Enjoy it! why it is the greatest fun in the world. Alice and the Joslyn boys from Winkle always stay here, so I have their help; then Jack Pringle, Jervis Randall, and any of the young men at home or the girls who think they can be of use, come down. Joe Bunce, the carpenter we went to yesterday, nails it all up for us, and papa walks about declaring he does not know where to go or what to do, but really enjoying it twenty times more than any one else. Last year Alice and I were so tired afterwards that we could hardly move. We never sat down all day, and danced all night."
Sir Stephen looked admiringly at the young girl's animated face, and then he said," I wonder if you know how much you are to be envied. I could tell you of dozens of people who would give the half of their fortune to possess your wonderful capacity for enjoyment."
"I don't understand you," said Hero puzzled. ,
"Well, I mean this; most of my acquaintances are people who every night of their lives go to operas, balls, theatres, or have amusement of some kind."
"How delicious !" exclaimed Hero.
"But they do not think so."
"Why do they go then?" , "Just that! They go because they have no pleasure in staying away, although they enjoy nothing by going out. They are mopetl to death if they stay at home, and bored to death by the society they seek."
"Poor things !" said Hero. "Surely they must be ill."
"No, it is not that; they are well enough. Why, do you know," he added, "I am but describing what is very frequently my own condition."
"You, Sir Stephen! Ah, now I know that you are laughing at me."
"Indeed, I am not; you must not think because I have not shown my hoof, that it is my wont to be as cheerful and happy as I have felt since I came here. I cannot make my contented self out, and can only put it down to the influence of the atmosphere by which I am surrounded. You are all so good and happy that you diffuse it to those less fortunately constituted."
"Fancy !" ejaculated Hero. "Do you know, I have been envying you so much. I fancied that people who lived in London, and went to court and into grand society, where they actually saw and heard all the things that we can only read about, could have nothing left to wish for; and yet you mean to say that you are really sometimes dull and unhappy?"
"Very frequently; although I believe I am not tormented half as sorely as many. Whether," he added, smiling at Hero's incredulous face, "it is the curse entailed on riches, or the penalty enforced on those who have the power to supply every wish and want, I cannot tell; but this I can assure you, that I have heard women in satins and jewels envy some poor girl whose merry face they have caught gazing with admiration into their carriage. I have a cousin who, having a large fortune at her command, is regarded by most people with especial envy. She is still young, and by many considered very handsome; yet she is always complaining of low spirits and depression — complaints which I expect you hardly know the meaning of."
Hero shook her head.
"When I was a child," she said, laughing, "I remember feeling cross some days, and inclined to cry about everything, which Betsey, my old nurse, took as a sign that I needed a powder, and, I believe, it generally cured me; but now
Well, if papa is away, I may feel a
little dull sometimes, and then I put on my hat and run up to the Randalls or the Thompsons, and 1 am soon all right. One can never be dull with Mrs. Thompson; she is so full of fun. She has seven children, and only one real servant, and she makes everything they wear, because a captain of marines' pay is so small. I hope she'll be able to come to-morrow."
"I hope she will," replied Sir Stephen, "I should like to make her acquaintance: she must be a wonder."
"Oh, no! she is not. I know several people who do or have done the same."
"And would you be contented with that kind of life, Miss Carthew?"
"Well," laughed Hero, "it is somewhat startling to contemplate just now, but it comes on one by degrees, and — oh, yes, if it was my fate, I should not be very miserable under it; the worst to me would be the partings and the long separations," and she gave a little sigh.
"Yes, that would be exceedingly disagreeable; supposing, of course, that you cared for one another."