NEWS FROM THE PACIFIC.
My home was a quaint, three-storeyed, ivy-clad farmhouse in a Midland county. It lay in a hollow, nestled close up against Rothland Wood, the dark, close-growing trees of which formed a picturesque background to the worn greystone whereof it was fashioned.
In front, just across the road, was the boundary-wall of Ravenor Park, with its black fir spinneys, huge masses of lichen-covered rock, clear fish-ponds, and breezy hills, from the summits of which were visible the sombre grey towers of Ravenor Castle, standing out with grim, rugged boldness against the sky.
Forbidden ground though it was, there was not a yard of the park up to the inner boundary fence which I did not know; not a spinney where I had not searched for birds’ nests or raided in quest of the first primrose; not a hill on which I had not spent some part of a summer afternoon.
I was a trespasser, of course; but I was the son of Farmer Morton, an old tenant on the estate, and much in favour with the keepers, by reason of a famous brew which he was ever ready to offer a thirsty man, or to drink himself. So “Morton’s young ’un” was unmolested; and, save for an occasional good-humoured warning from Crooks, the head-gamekeeper, during breeding-time, I had the run of the place.
Moreover, the great estates of which Ravenor Park was the centre knew at that time no other master than a lawyer of non-sporting proclivities, so the preserves were only looked after as a matter of form.
I was eight years old, and an unusually hot summer was at its height. It was past midday, and I had just come out from the house, with the intention of settling down for an afternoon’s reading in a shady corner of the orchard. I had reached the stack-yard gate when I stopped short, my hand upon the fastening.
A most unusual sound was floating across the meadows, through the breathless air. The church-bells of Rothland, the village on the other side of the wood, had suddenly burst out into a wild, clashing peal of joy.
In a country district everybody knows everyone else’s business; and, child though I was, I knew that no marriage was taking place anywhere near.
I stood listening in wonderment, for I had never heard such a thing before; and, while I was lingering, the bells from Annerley, a village a little farther away, and the grand, mellow-sounding chimes from the chapel at Ravenor Castle, breaking the silence of many years, took up the peal, and the lazy summer day seemed all of a sudden to wake up into a state of unaccountable delight.
I ran back towards the house and met my mother standing in the cool stone porch. The men about the farm were all grouped together, wondering. No one had the least idea of what had happened.
And then Jim Harrison, the waggoner, who had just come in from the home meadow, called out quickly, pointing with his finger; and far away, along the white, dusty road, we could see the figure of a man on horseback riding towards us at a furious gallop.
“It be the master!” he cried, excitedly. “It be the master, for sure! There bean’t no mistaking Brown Bess’s gallop. Lord-a-mercy! how ’e be a-riding her!”
We all trooped out on to the road to meet my father, eager to hear the news. In a few moments he reached us, and brought Brown Bess to a standstill, bathed in sweat and dust, and quivering in every limb.
“Hurrah, lads!” he shouted, waving his whip above his head. “Hurrah! There never was such a bit o’ news as I’ve got for you! All Mellborough be gone crazy about it!”
“What is it, George? Why don’t you tell us?” my mother asked quickly. And, to my surprise, her hand, in which mine was resting, was as cold as ice, notwithstanding the August heat.
He raised himself in his stirrups and shouted so that all might hear:
“Squire Ravenor be come to life again! They ’a’ found him on an island in the Pacific, close against the coral reef where his yacht went down six years ago! He’s on his way home again, lads. Think of that! Sal, lass, bring us up a gallon of ale and another after it. We’ll drink to his homecoming, lads!”
There was a burst of applause and many exclamations of wonder. My mother’s hand had moved, as though unconsciously, to my shoulder, and she was leaning heavily upon me.
“Where did you hear this, George?” she asked, in a subdued tone.
“Why, it be in all the London papers this morning,” he answered, taking off his hat and wiping his forehead. “The steamer that’s bringing him home ’a’ sent a message from some foreign port, and Lawyer Cox he’s got one, and it’s all written up large on the walls of the Corn Exchange. I reckon it’ll make those deuced lawyers sit up!” chuckled my father, as he slowly dismounted.
“Lord-a-mercy! Only to think on it! Six year on a little bit o’ an island, and not a living soul to speak a word to! And now he’s on his way home again. It beats all story-telling I ever heerd on. Why, Alice, lass, it ’a’ quite upset you,” he added, looking anxiously at my mother. “You’re all white and scared-like. Dost feel badly?”
She was standing with her back to us and when she turned round it seemed to me that a change had crept into her face.
“It is the heat and excitement,” she said quietly. “This is strange news. I think that I will go in and rest.”
“All right, lass! Get thee indoors and lie down for a bit. Now, then, lads. Hurrah for the squire and long life to him! Pour it out, Jim—pour it out! Don’t be afraid on it. Such news as this don’t coom every day.”
And, with the vision of my stalwart yeoman father, the centre of a little group of farm-labourers, holding his foaming glass high above his head, and his honest face ruddy with heat and excitement, my memories of this scene grow dim and fade away.
Categories: English Literature