Frederic William Farrar
Part 6 out of 6
him down tenderly into his hammock, and wrapped him up in a clean
blanket, and sat by him till the swoon should be over.
It lasted very long, and the sailor began to fear that his words had
"How is the young varmint?" shouted the skipper, looking into the
"You've killed him, I think."
The only answer was a volley of oaths; but the fellow was sufficiently
frightened to order Roberts to do all he could for his patient.
At last Eric woke with a moan. To think was too painful, but the raw
state of his back, ulcerated with the cruelty he had undergone, reminded
him too bitterly of his situation. Roberts did for him all that could be
done, but for a week Eric lay in that dark and fetid place, in the
languishing of absolute despair. Often and often the unbidden tears
flowed from very weakness from his eyes, and in the sickness of his
heart, and the torment of his wounded body, he thought that he
But youth is very strong, and it wrestled with despair, and agony, and
death, and, after a time, Eric could rise from his comfortless hammock.
The news that land was in sight first roused him, and with the help of
Roberts, he was carried on deck, thankful, with childlike gratitude,
that God suffered him to breathe once more the pure air of heaven, and
sit under the canopy of its gold-pervaded blue. The breeze and the
sunlight refreshed him, as they might a broken flower; and, with eyes
upraised, he poured from his heart a prayer of deep unspeakable
thankfulness to a Father in Heaven.
Yes! at last he had remembered his Father's home. There, in the dark
berth, where every move caused irritation, and the unclean atmosphere
brooded over his senses like lead; when his forehead burned, and his
heart melted within him, and he had felt almost inclined to curse his
life, or even to end it by crawling up and committing himself to the
deep cold water which, he heard rippling on the vessel's side; then,
even then, in that valley of the shadow of death, a Voice had come to
him--a still small Voice--at whose holy and healing utterance Eric had
bowed his head, and listened to the messages of God, and learnt his
will; and now, in humble resignation, in touching penitence with solemn
self-devotion, he had cast himself at the feet of Jesus, and prayed to
be helped, and guided, and forgiven. One little star of hope rose in the
darkness of his solitude, and its rays grew brighter and brighter, till
they were glorious now. Yes, for Jesus' sake he was washed, he was
cleansed, he was sanctified, he was justified; he would fear no evil,
for God was with him and underneath were the everlasting arms.
And while he sat there, undisturbed at last, and unmolested by harsh
word or savage blow, recovering health with every breath of the sea
wind, the skipper came up to him, and muttered something half-like
The sight of him, and the sound of his voice, made Eric shudder again,
but he listened meekly, and, with no flash of scorn or horror, put out
his hand to the man to shake. There was something touching and noble in
the gesture, and, thoroughly ashamed of himself for once, the fellow
shook the proffered hand, and slunk away.
They entered the broad river at Southpool.
"I must leave the ship when we get to port, Roberts," said Eric.
"I doubt whether you'll let you," answered Roberts, jerking his finger
towards the skipper's cabin.
"He'll be afeard you might take the law on him."
"He needn't fear."
Roberts only shook his head.
"Then I must run away somehow. Will you help me?"
"Yes, that I will."
That very evening Eric escaped from the Stormy Petrel, unknown to all
but Roberts. They were in the dock, and he dropped into the water in the
evening, and swam to the pier, which was only a yard or two distant; but
the effort almost exhausted his strength, for his knee was still
painful, and he was very weak.
Wet and penniless, he knew not where to go, but spent the sleepless
night under an arch. Early the next morning he went to a pawnbroker's,
and raised L2:10s. on his watch, with which money he walked straight to
the railway station.
It was July, and the Roslyn summer holidays had commenced. As Eric
dragged his slow way to the station, he suddenly saw Wildney on the
other side of the street. His first impulse was to spring to meet him,
as he would have done in old times. His whole heart yearned towards him.
It was six weeks now since Eric had seen one loving face, and during all
that time he had hardly heard one kindly word. And now he saw before him
the boy whom he loved so fondly, with whom he had spent so many happy
hours of school-boy friendship, with whom he had gone through so many
schoolboy adventures, and who, he believed, loved him fondly still.
Forgetful for the moment of his condition, Eric moved across the street.
Wildney was walking with his cousin, a beautiful girl, some four years
older than himself, whom he was evidently patronising immensely. They
were talking very merrily, and Eric overheard the word Roslyn. Like a
lightning-flash the memory of the theft, the memory of his ruin came
upon him; he looked down at his dress--it was a coarse blue shirt, which
Roberts had given him in place of his old one, and the back of it was
stained and saturated with blood from his unhealed wounds; his trousers
were dirty, tarred, and ragged, and his shoes, full of holes, barely
covered his feet. He remembered too that for weeks he had not been able
to wash, and that very morning, as he saw himself in a looking-glass at
a shop-window, he had been deeply shocked at his own appearance. His
face was white as a sheet, the fair hair matted and tangled, the eyes
sunken and surrounded with a dark color, and dead and lustreless. No! he
could not meet Wildney as a sick and ragged sailor-boy; perhaps even he
might not be recognised if he did. He drew back, and hid himself till
the merry-hearted pair had passed, and it was almost with a pang of
jealousy that he saw how happy Wildney could be, while _he_ was thus;
but he cast aside the unworthy thought at once. "After all, how is poor
Charlie to know what has happened to me?"
HOME AT LAST
"I will arise and go to my father."
"Ach! ein Schicksal droht,
Und es droht nicht lange!
Auf der holden Wange
Brennt ein boeses Roth!"--TIEDGE.
Eric Williams pursued his disconsolate way to the station, and found
that his money only just sufficed to get him something to eat during the
day, and carry him third class by the parliamentary train to
Charlesbury, the little station where he had to take the branch line
He got into the carriage, and sat in the far corner, hiding himself from
notice as well as he could. The weary train--(it carried poor people for
the most part, so, of course it could matter but little how tedious or
slow it was!)--the weary train, stopping at every station, and often
waiting on the rail until it had been passed by trains that started four
or five hours after it,--dragged its slow course through the fair
counties of England. Many people got in and out of the carriage, which
was generally full, and some of them tried occasionally to enter into
conversation with him. But poor Eric was too sick and tired, and his
heart was too full to talk much, and he contented himself with civil
answers to the questions put to him, dropping the conversation as soon
as he could.
At six in the evening the train stopped at Charlesbury, and he got down.
"Ticket," said the station-man.
Eric gave it, turning his head away, for the man knew him well from
having often seen him there. It was no use; the man looked hard at him,
and then, opening his eyes wide, exclaimed,
"Well, I never! what, Master Williams of Fairholm, can that be you?"
"Hush, John, hush! yes, I am Eric Williams. But don't say a word, that's
a good fellow; I'm going on to Ayrton this evening."
"Well, sir, I _am_, hurt like to see you looking so ragged and poorly.
Let me give you a bed to-night, and send you on by first train
"O no, thank you, John. I've got no money, and--"
"Tut, tut, sir; I thought you'd know me better nor that. Proud I'd be
any day to do anything for Mrs. Trevor's nephew, let alone a young
gentleman like you. Well, then, let me drive yon, sir, in my little cart
"No, thank you, John, never mind; you are very, very good, but," he
said, and the tears were in his eyes, "I want to walk in alone
"Well, God keep and bless you, sir," said the man, "for you look to need
it;" and touching his cap, he watched the boy's painful walk across some
fields to the main road.
"Who'd ha' thought it, Jenny?" he said to his wife. "There's that young
Master Williams, whom we've always thought so noble like, just been
here as ragged as ragged, and with a face the color o' my white
"Lawks!" said the woman; "well, well! poor young gentleman, I'm afeard
he's been doing something bad."
Balmily and beautiful the evening fell, as Eric, not without toil, made
his way along the road towards Ayrton, which was ten miles off. The road
wound through the valley, across the low hills that encircled it,
sometimes spanning or running parallel to the bright stream that had
been the delight of Eric's innocent childhood. There was something
enjoyable at first to the poor boy's eyes, so long accustomed to the
barren sea, in resting once more on the soft undulating green of the
summer fields, which were intertissued with white and yellow flowers,
like a broidery of pearls and gold. The whole scene was bathed in the
exquisite light, and rich with the delicate perfumes of a glorious
evening, which filled the sky over his head with every perfect gradation
of rose and amber and amethyst, and breathed over the quiet landscape a
sensation of unbroken peace. But peace did not remain long in Eric's
heart; each well-remembered landmark filled his soul with recollections
of the days when he had returned from school, oh! how differently; and
of the last time when he had come home with Vernon by his side. "Oh
Verny, Verny, noble little Verny, would to God that I were with you now.
But you are resting, Verny, in the green grave by Russell's side, and
I--oh God, be merciful to me now!"
It was evening, and the stars came out and shone by hundreds, and Eric
walked on by the moonlight. But the exertion had brought on the pain in
his knee, and he had to sit down a long time by the road-side to rest.
He reached Ayrton at ten o'clock, but even then he could not summon up
courage to pass through the town where he was so well known, lest any
straggler should recognise him,--and he took a detour in order to get to
Fairholm. He did not arrive there till eleven o'clock; and then he could
not venture into the grounds, for he saw through the trees of the
shrubbery that there was no light in any of the windows, and it was
clear that they were all gone to bed.
What was he to do? He durst not disturb them so late at night. He
remembered that they would not have heard a syllable of or from him
since he had run away from Roslyn, and he feared the effect of so sudden
an emotion as his appearance at that hour might excite.
So under the star-light he lay down to sleep on a cold bank beside the
gate, determining to enter early in the morning. It was long before he
slept, but at last weary nature demanded her privilege with importunity,
and gentle sleep floated over him like a dark dewy cloud, and the sun
was high in heaven before he woke.
It was about half-past nine in the morning, and Mrs. Trevor, with Fanny,
was starting to visit some of her poor neighbors, an occupation full of
holy pleasure to her kind heart, and in which she had found more than
usual consolation during the heavy trials which she had recently
suffered; for she had loved Eric and Vernon as a mother does her own
children, and now Vernon, the little cherished jewel of her heart, was
dead--Vernon was dead, and Eric, she feared, not dead but worse than
dead, guilty, stained, dishonored. Often had she thought to herself, in
deep anguish of heart, "Our darling little Vernon dead--and Eric fallen
"Look at that poor fellow asleep on the grass," said Fanny, pointing to
a sailor boy, who lay coiled up on the bank beside the gate. "He has had
a rough bed, mother, if he has spent the night there, as I fear."
Mrs. Trevor had grasped her arm. "What is Flo' doing?" she said,
stopping, as the pretty little spaniel trotted up to the boy's reclining
figure, and began snuffing about it, and then broke into a quick short
bark of pleasure, and fawned and frisked about him, and leapt upon him,
joyously wagging his tail.
The boy rose with the dew wet from the flowers upon his hair; he saw the
dog, and at once began playfully to fondle it, and hold its little
silken head between his hands; but as yet he had not caught sight of
"It is--oh, good heavens! it is Eric," cried Mrs. Trevor, as she flew
towards him. Another moment and he was in her arms, silent, speechless,
with long arrears of pent-up emotion.
"O my Eric, our poor, lost, wandering Eric--come home; you are forgiven,
more than forgiven, my own darling boy. Yes, I knew that my prayers
would be answered; this is as though we received you from the dead." And
the noble lady wept upon his neck, and Eric, his heart shaken with
accumulated feelings, clung to her and wept.
Deeply did that loving household rejoice to receive back their lost
child. At once they procured him a proper dress, and a warm bath, and
tended him with every gentle office of female ministering hands. And in
the evening, when he told them his story in a broken voice of penitence
and remorse, their love came to him like a sweet balsam, and he rested
by them, "seated, and clothed, and in his right mind."
The pretty little room, fragrant with sweet flowers from the greenhouse,
was decorated with all the refinement of womanly taste, and its glass
doors opened on the pleasant garden. It was long, long since Eric had
ever seen anything like it, and he had never hoped to see it again. "Oh
dearest aunty," he murmured, as he rested his weary head upon her lap,
while he sat on a low stool at her feet, "Oh aunty, you will never know
how different this is from the foul, horrible hold of the 'Stormy
Petrel,' and its detestable inmates."
When Eric was dressed once more as a gentleman, and once more fed on
nourishing and wholesome food, and was able to move once more about the
garden by Fanny's side, he began to recover his old appearance, and the
soft bloom came back to his cheek again, and the light to his blue eye.
But still his health gave most serious cause for apprehension; weeks of
semi-starvation, bad air, sickness, and neglect, followed by two nights
of exposure and wet, had at last undermined the remarkable strength of
his constitution, and the Trevors soon became aware of the painful fact
that he was sinking to the grave, and had come home only to die.
Above all, there seemed to be some great load at his heart which he
could not remove; a sense of shame, the memory of his disgrace at
Roslyn, and of the dark suspicion that rested on his name. He avoided
the subject, and they were too kind to force it on him, especially as he
had taken away the bitterest part of their trial in remembering it, by
explaining to them that he was far from being so wicked in the matter of
the theft as they had at first been (how slowly and reluctantly!) almost
forced to believe.
"Have you ever heard--oh, how shall I put it?--have you ever heard,
aunty, how things went on at Roslyn after I ran away?" he asked, one
evening, with evident effort.
"No, love, I have not. After they had sent home your things, I heard no
more; only two most kind and excellent letters--one from Dr. Rowlands,
and one from your friend, Mr. Rose--informed me of what had happened
"O, have they sent home my things?" he asked, eagerly. "There are very
few among them that I care about, but there is just one----"
"I guessed it, my Eric, and, but that I feared to agitate you, should
have given it you before;" and she drew out of a drawer the little
likeness of Vernon's sweet childish face.
Eric gazed at it till the sobs shook him, and tears blinded his eyes.
"Do not weep, my boy," said Mrs. Trevor, kissing his forehead. "Dear
little Verny, remember, is in a land where God himself wipes away all
tears from off all eyes."
"Is there anything else you would like?" asked Fanny, to divert his
painful thoughts. "I will get you anything in a moment."
"Yes, Fanny, dear, there is the medal I got for saving Russell's life,
and one or two things which he gave me;--ah, poor Edwin, you never
He told her what to fetch, and when she brought them it seemed to give
him great pleasure to recall his friends to mind by name, and speak of
them--especially of Montagu and Wildney.
"I have a plan to please you, Eric," said Mrs. Tremor. "Shall I ask
Montagu and Wildney here? we have plenty of room for them."
"O, thank you," he said, with the utmost eagerness. "Thank you, dearest
aunt." Then suddenly his countenance fell. "Stop--shall we?--yes, yes, I
am going to die soon, I know; let me see them before I die."
The Trevors did not know that he was aware of the precarious tenure of
his life, but they listened to him in silence, and did not contradict
him; and Mrs. Trevor wrote to both the boys (whose directions Eric
knew), telling them what had happened, and begging them, simply for his
sake, to come and stay with her for a time. She hinted clearly that it
might be the last opportunity they would ever have of seeing him.
Wildney and Montagu accepted the invitation; and they arrived together
at Fairholm on one of the early autumn evenings. They both greeted Eric
with the utmost affection; and he seemed never tired of pressing their
hands, and looking at them again. Yet every now and then a memory of
sadness would pass over his face, like a dark ripple on the clear
surface of a lake.
"Tell me, Monty," he said one evening, "all about what happened after I
"Gladly, Eric; now that your name is cleared, there is--"
"My name cleared!" said Eric, leaning forward eagerly. "Did you say
"Yes, Eric. Didn't you know, then, that the thief had been discovered?"
"No," he murmured faintly, leaning back; "O thank God, thank God! Do
tell me all about it, Monty."
"Well, Eric, I will tell you all from the beginning. You may guess how
utterly astonished we were in the morning, when we heard that you had
run away. Wildney here was the first to discover it, for he went early
to your bed-room----"
"Dear little Sunbeam," interrupted Eric, resting his hand against
Wildney's cheek; but Wildney shook his fist at him when he heard the
"He found the door locked," continued Montagu, "and called to you, but
there came no answer; this made us suspect the truth, and we were
certain, of it when some one caught sight of the pendent sheet. The
masters soon heard the report, and sent Carter to make inquiries, but
they did not succeed in discovering anything definite about you. Then,
of course, everybody assumed as a certainty that you were guilty, and I
fear that my bare assertion on the other side had little weight."
Eric's eyes glistened as he drank in his friend's story.
"But, about a fortnight after, _more_ money and several other articles
disappeared from the studies, and all suspicion as to the perpetrator
was baffled; only now the boys began to admit that, after all, they had
been premature in condemning you. It was a miserable time; for every one
was full of distrust, and the more nervous boys were always afraid lest
any one should on some slight grounds suspect _them. Still_, things kept
"We found out at length that the time when the robberies were effected
must be between twelve and one, and it was secretly agreed that some one
should be concealed in the studies for a day or two during those hours.
Carter undertook the office, and was ensconced in one of the big
cupboards in a study which had not yet been touched. On the third day he
heard some one stealthily mount the stairs. The fellows were more
careful now, and used to keep their doors shut, but the person was
provided with keys, and opened the study in which Carter was. He moved
about for a little time--Carter watching him through the key-hole, and
prepared to spring on him before he could make his escape. Not getting
much, the man at last opened the cup-board door, where Carter had just
time to conceal himself behind a great-coat. The great-coat took the
plunderer's fancy; he took it down off the peg, and there stood Carter
before him! Billy--for it was he--stood absolutely confounded, as though
a ghost had suddenly appeared; and Carter, after enjoying his
unconcealed terror, collared him, and hauled him off to the police
station. He was tried soon after, and finally confessed that it was he
who had taken the cricket-money too; for which offences he was sentenced
to transportation. So Eric, dear Eric, at last your name was cleared."
"As I always knew it would be, dear old boy," said Wildney.
Montagu and Wildney found plenty to make them happy at Fairholm, and
were never tired of Eric's society, and of his stories about all that
befell him on board the "Stormy Petrel." They perceived a marvellous
change in him. Every trace of recklessness and arrogance had passed
away; every stain of passion had been removed; every particle of
hardness had been calcined in the flame of trial. All was gentleness,
love, and dependence, in the once bright, impetuous, self-willed boy; it
seemed as though the lightning of God's anger had shattered and swept
away all that was evil in his heart and life, and left all his true
excellence, all the royal prerogatives of his character, pure and
unscathed Eric, even in his worst days, was, as I well remember, a
lovable and noble boy; but at this period there must have been something
about him for which to thank God, something unspeakably winning, and
irresistibly attractive. During the day, as Eric was too weak to walk
with them, Montagu and Wildney used to take boating and fishing
excursions by themselves, but in the evening the whole party would sit
out reading and talking in the garden till twilight fell. The two
visitors began to hope that Mrs. Trevor had been mistaken, and that
Eric's health would still recover; but Mrs. Trevor would not deceive
herself with a vain hope, and the boy himself shook his head when they
called him convalescent.
Their hopes were never higher than one evening about a week after their
arrival, when they were all seated, as usual, in the open air, under a
lime-tree on the lawn. The sun was beginning to set, and the rain of
golden sunlight fell over them through the green ambrosial foliage of
the tree whose pale blossoms were still murmurous with bees. Eric was
leaning back in an easy chair, with Wildney sitting on the grass,
cross-legged at his feet, while Montagu, resting on one of the mossy
roots, read to them the "Midsummer Night's Dream," and the ladies were
busy with their work.
"There--stop now," said Eric, "and let's sit out and talk until we see
some of 'the fiery a'es and o'es of light' which he talks of."
"I'd no idea Shakspeare was such immensely jolly reading," remarked
Wildney naively. "I shall take to reading him through when I get home."
"Do you remember, Eric," said Montagu, "how Rose used to chaff us in old
days for our ignorance of literature, and how indignant we used to be
when he asked if we'd ever heard of an obscure person called William
"Yes, very well," answered Eric, laughing heartily. And in this strain
they continued to chat merrily, while the ladies enjoyed listening to
their school-boy mirth.
"What a perfectly delicious evening. It's almost enough to make me wish
to live," said Eric.
He did not often speak thus; and it made them sad. But Eric half sang,
half murmured to himself, a hymn with which his mother's sweet voice had
made him familiar in their cottage-home at Ellan:--
"There is a calm for those who weep,
A rest for weary pilgrims found;
They softly lie, and sweetly sleep,
Low in the ground.
"The storm that wrecks the winter sky,
No more disturbs their deep repose,
Than summer evening's latest sigh
That shuts the rose."
The two last lines lingered pleasantly in his fancy and he murmured to
himself again, in low tones--
"Than summer evening's latest sigh
That shuts the rose."
"Oh hush, hush, Eric!" said Wildney, laying his hand upon his friend's
lips; "don't let's spoil to-night by forebodings."
It seemed, indeed, a shame to do so, for it was almost an awful thing to
be breathing the splendor of the transparent air, as the sun broadened
and fell, and a faint violet glow floated over soft meadow and silver
stream. One might have fancied that the last rays of sunshine loved to
linger over Eric's face, now flushed with a hectic tinge of pleasure,
and to light up sudden glories in his bright hair, which the wind just
fanned off his forehead as he leaned back and inhaled the luxury of
evening perfume, which the flowers of the garden poured on the gentle
breeze. Ah, how sad that such scenes should be so rare and so
"Hark--tirra-la-lirra-lirra!" said Wildney; "there goes the postman's
horn! Shall I run and get the letter-bag as he passes the gate?"
"Yes, do," they all cried; and the boy bounded off full of fun, greeting
the postman with such a burst of merry apostrophe, that the man shook
with laughing at him.
"Here it is at last," said Wildney. "Now, then, for the key. Here's a
letter for me, hurrah!--two for you, Miss Trevor--_what_ people you
young ladies are for writing to each other! None for you, Monty--Oh,
yes! I'm wrong, here's one; but none for Eric."
"I expected none," said Eric sighing; but his eye was fixed earnestly
on one of Mrs. Trevor's letters. He saw that it was from India, and
directed in his father's hand.
Mrs. Trevor caught his look. "Shall I read it aloud to you, dear I Do
you think you can stand it? Remember it will be in answer to ours,
telling them of--"
"Oh, yes, yes," he said, eagerly, "do let me hear it."
With instinctive delicacy Montagu and Wildney rose, but Eric pressed
them to stay. "It will help me to bear what mother says, if I see you by
me," he pleaded.
God forbid that I should transcribe that letter. It was written from the
depths of such sorrow as He only can fully sympathise with, who for
thirty years pitched his tent in the valley of human misery. By the
former mail Mrs. Williams had heard of Verny's melancholy death; by the
next she had been told that her only other child, Eric, was not dead
indeed, but a wandering outcast, marked with the brand of terrible
suspicion. Let her agony be sacred; it was God who sent it, and he only
enabled her to endure it. With bent head, and streaming eyes, and a
breast that heaved involuntarily with fitful sobs, Eric listened as
though to his mother's voice, and only now and then he murmured low to
himself, "O mother, mother, mother--but I am forgiven now. O mother, God
and man have forgiven me, and we shall be at peace again once more."
Mrs. Trevor's eyes grew too dim with weeping, to read it all, and Fanny
finished it. "Here is a little note from your father, Eric, which
dropped out when we opened dear aunt's letter. Shall I read it, too?"
"Perhaps not now, love," said Mrs. Trevor. "Poor Eric is too tired and
"Well, then, let me glance it myself, aunty," he said. He opened it,
read a line or two, and then, with a scream, fell back swooning, while
it dropped out of his hands.
Terrified, they picked up the fallen paper; it told briefly, in a few
heartrending words, that, after writing the letter, Mrs. Williams had
been taken ill; that her life was absolutely despaired of, and that,
before the letter reached England, she would, in all human probability,
be dead. It conveyed the impression of a soul resigned indeed, and
humble, but crushed down to the very earth with the load of mysterious
bereavement, and irretrievable sorrow.
"Oh, I have killed her, I have killed my mother!" said Eric, in a hollow
voice, when he came to himself. "O God, forgive me, forgive me!"
They gathered round him; they soothed, and comforted, and prayed for
him; but his soul refused comfort, and all his strength appeared to have
been broken down at once like a feeble reed. At last a momentary energy
returned; his eyes were lifted to the gloaming heaven where a few stars
had already begun to shine, and a bright look illuminated his
countenance. They listened deeply--"Yes, mother," he murmured, in broken
tones, "forgiven now, for Christ's dear sake. O thou merciful God! Yes,
there they are, and we shall meet again. Verny--oh, happy, happy at
The sounds died away, and his head fell back; for a transient moment
more the smile and the brightness played over his fair features like a
lambent flame. It passed away, and Eric was with those he dearliest
loved, in the land where there is no more curse.
"Yes, dearest Eric, forgiven and happy now," sobbed Mrs. Trevor; and her
tears fell fast upon the dead boy's face, as she pressed upon it a long,
"And hath that early hope been blessed with truth?
Hath he fulfilled the promise of his youth?
And borne unscathed through danger's stormy field
Honor's white wreath and virtue's stainless shield?"
HARROW. A Prize Poem.
The other day I was staying with Montagu. He has succeeded to his
father's estate, and is the best-loved landlord for miles around. He
intends to stand for the county at the next general election, and I
haven't the shadow of a doubt that he will succeed. If he does,
Parliament will have gained a worthy addition. Montagu has the very soul
of honor, and he can set off the conclusions of his vigorous judgment,
and the treasures of his cultivated taste, with an eloquence that rises
to extraordinary grandeur when he is fulminating his scorn at any
species of tyranny or meanness.
It was very pleasant to talk with him about our old school days in his
charming home. We sate by the open window (which looks over his grounds,
and then across one of the richest plains in England) one long summer
evening, recalling all the vanished scenes and figures of the past,
until we almost felt ourselves boys again.
"I have just been staying at Trinity," said I, "and Owen, as I suppose
you know, is doing brilliantly. He has taken a high first class, and
they have already elected him fellow and assistant tutor."
"Is he liked?"
"Yes, very much. He always used to strike me at school as one of those
fellows who are much more likely to be happy and successful as men, than
they had ever any chance of being as boys. I hope the _greatest_ things
of him; but have you heard anything of Duncan lately?"
"Yes, he's just been gazetted as lieutenant. I had a letter from him the
other day. He's met two old Roslyn fellows, Wildney and Upton, the
latter of whom is now Captain Upton; he says that there are not two
finer or manlier officers in the whole service, and Wildney, as you may
easily guess, is the favorite of the mess-room. You know, I suppose,
that Graham is making a great start at the bar."
"Is he? I'm delighted to hear it."
"Yes. He had a 'mauvais sujet' to defend the other day, in the person of
our old enemy, Brigson, who, having been at last disowned by his
relations, is at present a policeman in London."
"On the principle, I suppose, of 'Set a thief to catch a thief,'" said
Montagu, with a smile.
"Yes; but he exemplifies the truth 'chassez le naturel, il revient au
galop' for he was charged with abetting a street fight between two boys,
which very nearly ended fatally. However, he was penitent, and Graham
got him off with wonderful cleverness."
"Ah!" said Montagu, sighing, "there was _one_ who would have been the
pride of Roslyn had he lived Poor, poor Eric!"
We talked long of our loved friend; his bright face, his winning words,
his merry smile, came back to us with the memory of his melancholy fate,
and a deep sadness fell over us.
"Poor boy, he is at peace now," said Montagu; and he told me once more
the sorrowful particulars of his death. "Shall I read you some verses?"
he asked, "which he must have composed, poor fellow, on board the
'Stormy Petrel,' though he probably wrote them at Fairholm afterwards."
And Montagu, in his pleasant musical voice, read me, with much feeling,
these lines, written in Eric's boyish hand, and signed with his name.
ALONE, YET NOT ALONE.
Alone, alone! ah, weary soul,
In all the world alone I stand,
With none to wed their hearts to mine,
Or link in mine a loving hand.
Ah! I tell me not that I have those
Who owe the ties of blood and name,
Or pitying friends who love me well,
And dear returns of friendship claim.
I have, I have! but none can heal,
And none shall see my inward woe,
And the deep thoughts within me veiled
No other heart but mine shall know.
And yet amid my sins and shames
The shield of God is o'er me thrown
And, 'neath its awful shade I feel
Alone,--yet, ah, not all alone!
Not all alone! and though my life
Be dragged along the stained earth,
O God! I feel thee near me still,
And thank thee for my birth!
Montagu gave me the paper, and I cherish it as my dearest memorial of my
erring but noble schoolboy friend.
Knowing how strong an interest Mr. Rose always took in Eric, I gave him
a copy of these verses when last I visited him at his pleasant vicarage
of Seaford, to which he was presented a year or two ago by Dr. Rowlands,
now Bishop of Roslyn, who has also appointed him examining chaplain. I
sat and watched Mr. Rose while he read them. A mournful interest was
depicted on his face, his hand trembled a little, and I fancied that he
bent his grey hair over the paper to hide a tear. We always knew at
school that Eric was one of his greatest favorites, as indeed he and
Vernon were with all of us; and when the unhappy boy had run away
without even having the opportunity for bidding any one farewell, Mr.
Rose displayed such real grief, that for weeks he was like a man who
went mourning for a son. After those summer holidays, when we returned
to school, Montagu and Wildney brought back with them the intelligence
of Eric's return to Fairholm, and of his death. The news plunged many of
us in sorrow, and when, on the first Sunday in chapel, Mr. Rose alluded
to this sad tale, there were few dry eyes among those who listened to
him. I shall never forget that Sunday afternoon. A deep hush brooded
over us, and before the sermon was over, many a face was hidden to
conceal the emotion which could not be suppressed.
"I speak," said Mr. Rose, "to a congregation of mourners, for one who
but a few weeks back was sitting among you as one of yourselves. But,
for myself, I do _not_ mourn over his death. Many a time have I mourned
for him in past days, when I marked how widely he went astray,--but I do
not mourn now; for after his fiery trials he died penitent and happy,
and at last his sorrows are over for ever, and the dreams of ambition
have vanished, and the fires of passion have been quenched, and for all
eternity the young soul is in the presence of its God. Let none of you
think that his life has been wasted. Possibly, had it pleased heaven to
spare him, he might have found great works to do among his fellow-men,
and he would have done them as few else could. But do not let us fancy
that our work must cease of necessity with our lives. Not so; far rather
must we believe that it will continue for ever; seeing that we are all
partakers of God's unspeakable blessing, the common mystery of
immortality. Perhaps it may be the glorious destiny of very many here to
recognise that truth, more fully when we meet and converse with our dear
departed brother in a holier and happier world."
I have preserved some faint echo of the words he used, but I can give no
conception of the dignity and earnestness of his manner, or the intense
pathos of his tones.
The scene passed before me again as I looked at him, while he lingered
over Eric's verses, and seemed lost in a reverie of thought.
At last he looked up and sighed. "Poor Eric!--But no, I will not call
him poor; after all he is happier now than we. You loved him well," he
continued; "why do you not try and preserve some records of his life?"
The suggestion took me by surprise, but I thought over it, and at once
began to accomplish it. My own reminiscences of Eric were numerous and
vivid, and several of my old schoolfellows and friends gladly supplied
me with other particulars, especially the Bishop of Roslyn, Mr. Rose,
Montagu, and Wildney. So the story of Eric's ruin has been told, and
told as he would have wished it done, with simple truth. Noble Eric! I
do not fear that I have wronged your memory, and you I know would
rejoice to think how sorrowful hours have lost something of their
sorrow, as I wrote the scenes in so many of which we were engaged
together in our school-boy days.
I visited Roslyn a short time ago, and walked for hours along the sands,
picturing in my memory the pleasant faces, and recalling the joyous
tones of the many whom I had known and loved. Other boys were playing by
the sea-side, who were strangers to me and I to them; and as I marked
how wave after wave rolled up the shore, with its murmur and its foam,
each sweeping farther than the other, each effacing the traces of the
last, I saw an emblem of the passing generations, and was content to
find that my place knew me no more.
Ah me the golden time!--
But its hours have passed away,
With the pure and bracing clime,
And the bright and merry day.
And the sea still laughs to the rosy shells ashore,
And the shore still shines in the lustre of the wave;
But the joyaunce and the beauty of the boyish days is o'er,
And many of the beautiful lie quiet in the grave;--
And he who comes again
Wears a brow of toil and pain,
And wanders sad and silent by the melancholy main.
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