Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > For the Allinson Honor > CHAPTER I THE TENANT AT THE FIRS
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 It was a hot autumn afternoon. Mrs. Olcott, a young and attractive woman, reclined in a canvas chair beside a tea-table on the lawn in front of the cottage she had lately taken in the country. Her thin white dress displayed a slender and rather girlish form; her dark hair emphasized the delicate coloring of her face, which wore a nervous look. As a matter of fact, she felt disturbed. Clare Olcott needed somebody to take care of her; but she had few friends, and her husband held a government appointment in West Africa. His pay was moderate and he had no private means. His relatives justified1 their neglect of his wife by the reflection that he had married beneath him; and this was why he had commended her, with confidence, to the protection of a friend.  
Andrew Allinson, who had made Olcott's acquaintance when serving as lieutenant2 of yeomanry during the Boer campaign, sat on a grassy3 bank near by with a teacup in his hand. He was strongly built and negligently4 dressed, in knickerbockers and shooting jacket. The bicycle he had just ridden leaned against the hedge. Andrew had lately reached his twenty-ninth year. He had large blue eyes that met you with a[Pg 2] direct glance, a broad forehead, and a strong jaw5. On the whole, he was a good-looking man, but his characteristic expression was one of rather heavy good-humor. Though by no means stupid, he had never done anything remarkable6, and most of the Allinsons thought him slow.
Raising himself a little, he looked slowly round. Beyond the hedge the white highroad climbed a bold ridge7 of moor8 that blazed in the strong sunshine with regal purple; farther back, smooth-topped hills faded into an ethereal haziness9 through varying shades of gray. The head of the deep valley near the house was steeped in blue shadow, but lower down oatfields gleamed with ocher and cadmium among broad squares of green. There were flowers in the borders about the tiny lawn, and creepers draped the front of the house. The still air was filled with the drone of bees; all was eminently10 peaceful.
"How do you like the place?" he asked. "It's nicer than London in weather like this, and you're looking better than you did when I saw you there."
Mrs. Olcott gave him a grateful smile.
"I haven't regretted leaving town. I was miserable11 and scarcely saw anybody after Tom sailed. Our small flat was too far from the few people I knew; and even if it had been nearer, I couldn't entertain. I was feeling very downhearted the day you called."
Andrew remembered having found her looking very forlorn in a dingy12 and shabbily furnished room. She was sitting at a writing-table with a pile of bills before her, about which she had made a naive13 confession14.
"I'm glad you find things pleasant here; I thought you would," he said.
"It's so fresh and green. In the morning and at[Pg 3] sunset the moorland air's like wine. Then the house is very pretty and remarkably15 cheap."
She looked at him sharply, for he had found the house for her; but he answered with heavy calm.
"I don't think it's dear."
After that there was a few moments' silence, during which they heard the soft splash of a stream falling into the valley. Then he turned to her with a resolute16 air.
"And now, about those bills? You have put me off once or twice, but I want to see them."
Mrs. Olcott colored and hesitated, but she opened a drawer in the table and took out a bundle of papers, which she handed to him. To her surprise and consternation17, he counted them before he put them into his pocket.
"These are not all. Give me the others."
"I can manage about the rest," she protested.
"Let me have them; you can't begin here in difficulties."
Mrs. Olcott rose and he watched her enter the house with quiet pity. She was not a capable woman, and he was thankful that she had not got into worse embarrassments18. She came back, still somewhat flushed, and gave him a few more papers.
"I'm afraid I'm a wretchedly bad manager," she confessed. "As soon as my next remittance19 comes, I will send you a check."
"When it suits you," he said, and added thoughtfully: "One of us should tell your husband about this; perhaps it had better be you."
She smiled, for he was now and then boyishly ingenuous20. He sat directly opposite the gate, where all passers-by could see him, and he had somehow an unfortunate air of being at home in the place.
[Pg 4]"Yes," she said, "I will write by the first mail. I feel less embarrassed because Tom told me that if I was ever in any difficulty I might consult you. He described you as the right sort—and I have found it true."
"I suppose you know that I owe a good deal to your husband," Andrew answered awkwardly.
"He told me that you and he were in the field hospital together for a time, and before then he helped you in some way when you were wounded, but he never said much about it. What did he do? You may smoke while you tell me."
"I think you ought to know, because it will show the claim Tom has on me."
Andrew lighted a cigarette and began in a disjointed manner, for he was not a fluent speaker:
"It was a dazzlingly bright morning and getting very hot—our side had been badly cut up in the dark, and we were getting back, a mixed crowd of stragglers, a few miles behind the brigade. Tom and Sergeant21 Carnally, the Canadian, had no proper business with the wreck22 of my squadron, but there they were. Anyhow, only half of us were mounted, and when we found ourselves cut off we tried to hold a kopje—the horses back in a hollow, except mine, which was shot as I dismounted. I was fond of the poor faithful brute23, and I suppose that made me savage24, for I felt that I must get the fellow who killed it."
He paused and his face hardened.
"There we were, lying among the stones, with the sun blazing down on us; faint puffs25 of smoke on the opposite rise, spirts of sand jumping up where the Mauser bullets struck. Now and then a man dropped his rifle and the rest of us set our teeth. It wasn't a[Pg 5] spectacular fight, and we kept it up in a very informal way; two or three commissioned officers, dismounted troopers, and a few lost line Tommies, firing as they got a chance. The man I wanted had gone to earth beside a big flat stone, and I dropped the bullets close about it; a hundred yards I made it and the light good. I suppose I was so keen on my shooting that I didn't pay much attention when somebody said they were flanking us; and the next thing I knew a Boer had put a bullet in my leg. Anyhow, I couldn't get up, and when I looked round there was no one about. Then I must have shouted, for Tom came running back, with the sand spirting all round. Carnally was behind him. It looked like certain death, but Tom got hold of me, and dragged me a few yards before Carnally came up. Then we all dropped behind a big stone, and I'm not clear about the rest. Somebody had heard the firing and detached a squadron with a gun. But I can still picture Tom, running with his face set through the spirting sand—one doesn't forget things like that."
The blood crept into Clare Olcott's pale cheeks and her eyes shone. No one could have doubted that she admired and loved her absent husband.
"Were you not with Carnally when he broke out of the prison camp?" she asked presently.
"I was. Our guard was friendly and careless, and we picked up a hint of a movement we thought our army ought to know about. We were caged in behind a very awkward fence, but I'd found a wire-nipper in the sand—they were used to cut defense26 entanglements27. Then we held a council and decided28 that somebody must break out with the news, but while two men might do so, more would have no chance to dodge29 the guard. Carnally and I were picked, and after waiting[Pg 6] for a dark night we cut the wire and crawled out, close behind a sentry30 we hadn't seen. Of course, knowing what we did about the Boers' intentions, we couldn't give up our plan."
Mrs. Olcott recognized that Andrew Allinson was not the man to abandon a duty, though he was unarmed and the sentry carried a magazine rifle.
"Well," he resumed, "I crept up and seized the fellow by the leg. He dropped his rifle, and Carnally slipped away. We'd arranged that if we got out one was not to stop for the other."
"But what happened to you? Did the Boer pick up his rifle?"
"No," said Andrew quietly; "I got it first."
"But——" said Mrs. Olcott, and stopped.
Andrew smiled.
"You see, he had called out when I grabbed him and several of his friends were running up. I didn't think he'd noticed Carnally, who had got clear off, and there was a chance of its being some time before they missed him. Then the fellow had shown us one or two small favors—given me some tobacco, among other things he might have got into trouble for."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Olcott expressively31. "So you let them take you back to prison. But what about the Canadian?"
"He got through safely and they made a fuss over him. Offered him a commission, which he was too sensible to take."
"Tom came home promoted and got his West African appointment; Carnally could have had a commission; and you went back to prison. Though of course they deserved it, didn't it strike you that the rewards were not very fairly shared out?"
[Pg 7]"I believe my people were disappointed when I returned as undistinguished as I went out, though I don't know that they were surprised. So far as I was concerned, it was an inglorious campaign—twice in a hospital, and some months in a prison camp. And yet, I'll admit that I left England determined32 on doing something brilliant."
Mrs. Olcott made no remark. He did not seem to attach much importance to the incident that had secured his comrade's escape. His conduct was not of the kind that catches the public eye, but her husband, whose opinion was worth having, believed in Allinson.
"Well," he resumed, "I've stayed some time. Are you sure you're quite comfortable here? There's nothing you feel short of?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I ought to be happy. It's perhaps a trifle quiet: nobody has called on me yet."
"I dare say that can be altered," he replied; and though she did not suppose her solitude33 was likely to be enlivened at his request, she gave him her hand gratefully and let him go.
Picking up his bicycle, he wheeled it up the road, which wound between yellow harvest fields and dark-green clover to the long ascent34 of the moor. Here the gray stone walls broke off and the open heath ran up, steeped in strong color: the glowing crimson35 of the ling checkered36 with the purple of the heather, mossy patches showing lemon and brightest green, while the gaps from which peat was dug made blotches37 of rich chocolate-brown. Andrew noticed it all with quiet appreciation38, though he was thinking hard as he slowly climbed the hill. He had made Mrs. Olcott a promise, and he meant to keep it, but the thing was beginning to look more difficult than he had imagined. His sisters[Pg 8] might have helped him by recognizing the lonely woman, but they had shown some prejudice against her, and this was unfortunate, for their attitude would have its effect on their neighbors.
The Allinsons were people of importance in the countryside and the history of the family was not without romance. Long ago an Andrew Allinson had become possessed39, by violence most probably, of a strong stone peel, half fortress40, half farmstead, that commanded a fertile dale up which the Scots moss-troopers often rode to the foray. Little was known of his descendants, except that they held the peel for several generations and were buried with a coat of arms roughly cut upon their tombstones in a moorland kirkyard. Then had come a break, when they were perhaps driven out by economic changes, for the family vanished from the dale and next appeared as London goldsmiths in Queen Anne's reign41. Later, Andrew's grandfather, retiring from his banking42 business, resumed the coat of arms, bought back the peel and built a commodious43 house about it. On his death it was discovered that his property had shrunk in value owing to changing times, and his shrewd north-country widow gave up the hall and coat of arms and made her son reopen the family business. He had prospered44 and maintained the best traditions of the ancient firm, for Allinson & Son was noted45 for caution, decorum and strict probity46. The firm was eminently sound and carried on its business in an old-fashioned, austere47 way.
To its head's keen disappointment, his only son, Andrew, showed no aptitude48 for commerce, and after two years in the counting-house was allowed to follow his own devices. Then on the marriage of Andrew's sister to a clever young business man, the latter was[Pg 9] made a partner. Soon after this Andrew's father died, leaving him a large share of his money, which was, however, to remain in the business, over which his brother-in-law, Leonard Hathersage, now had control.
When the gradient grew easier Andrew mounted, but got down again with a frown a few minutes later. The Boer's nicked bullet had badly torn the muscles of his thigh49, and now and then the old wound troubled him. Though he loved horses, he could no longer ride far with pleasure, and, being of active temperament50, had taken to the bicycle.
He had not gone far before he saw a girl ride out from behind a grove51 of gnarled spruce firs and he joined her when she pulled up her horse to wait for him. Ethel Hillyard looked well in the saddle: tall and rather largely built, she was nevertheless graceful52 and generally characterized by an air of dignified53 repose54. Now, however, there was amusement in the fine gray eyes she fixed55 on Andrew.
"You look moody56, and that's not usual," she said.
They were old friends, and Andrew answered her confidentially57.
"I've been thinking and, for another thing, I found I couldn't get up this bit of a hill. I suppose it oughtn't to worry me, but it does. You see, a lameness58 that comes on when I least expect it is all I brought back from South Africa."
Ethel gave him a sympathetic nod as she started her horse.
"It's a pity, but you might have suffered worse; and, after all, distinction is sometimes cheaply gained."
"You don't win it by keeping people busy curing you and seeing that you don't break out of prison camps," Andrew retorted grimly.
[Pg 10]"But what else were you thinking of that disturbed you?"
"My thoughts were, so to speak, all of a piece—one led to another. I did nothing in South Africa, and it has struck me lately that I haven't done much anywhere else, except to catch salmon59 in Norway and shoot a few Canadian deer. Now there's Leonard, who's not an Allinson, making money for all of us and managing the firm."
"Leonard got money and the opportunity for making more from Allinson's."
"That's true, but it doesn't excuse me. I ought to be a power in the firm, and I don't suppose I could even keep one of its books properly."
He walked on in silence for the next minute or two and his companion watched him with interest. His brows were knit, his brown face looked strong as well as thoughtful, and Ethel did not agree with his relatives, who thought him a bit of a fool. She was inclined to believe that Leonard had spread that impression and the others had adopted it without consideration. Andrew had been idle, but that was his worst fault, and he might change. There was, however, nothing significant in his taking her into his confidence; he had often done so, though she realized with half regretful acquiescence60 that it was only as a confidante that he thought of her. He could not have chosen a better one, for Ethel Hillyard was a girl of unusual character, and she now determined to exert her influence for his benefit.
"Isn't Allinson's rather branching out of late?" she asked.
"It is. The West African goldfield was a new kind of venture, though it's paying handsomely; and we're[Pg 11] now taking up a mine in Canada. Of course, the old private banking business has gone under and one must move with the times; but, in a sense, it's a pity."
Ethel understood him. Her father had dealt with Allinson's and she knew the firm had hitherto been dignified and conservative, while Leonard was essentially61 modern in his methods and what is known as pushing. She foresaw disagreements if Andrew ever took an active part in the business, which he had a right to do.
"Perhaps it isn't necessary that you should be good at bookkeeping," she said. "Is there no place for you in these new foreign schemes? You have traveled in the Canadian bush to shoot deer, and you seemed to like it; wouldn't it be as interesting if you went there to look for minerals or manage a mine? You would have the free life in the wilds, but with an object."
"There's something in that," Andrew replied thoughtfully. "I happen to know the country where the mine is and it's unusually rough. It's curious that you have made a hazy62 idea I've had a little clearer. I'll think over the thing."
Ethel knew that she had said enough. She would miss the man if he went away, but it would be better for him and she knew that she would never have more than his liking63.
"Where is the mine?" she asked.
"It's among the rocks some distance back from the Lake of Shadows in western Ontario."
"The Lake of Shadows!" Ethel exclaimed. "A friend I made in London used to go there with her father for fishing and shooting; but that's not important."
"Well," said Andrew, "I've talked enough about[Pg 12] myself. There's a favor I want to ask. Will you call on Mrs. Olcott?"
Ethel started. Mrs. Olcott was young and pretty; nobody knew anything about her husband; Andrew's visits had already excited comment.
"Why should I call?" she inquired.
He gave her the best reasons he could think of for befriending the lonely woman, and she pondered them for a moment or two. Then she asked bluntly:
"How was it that Mrs. Olcott chose this neighborhood, where she knows nobody?"
"I suggested it," said Andrew, simply. "The Firs was empty, and she has few friends anywhere."
Though she had attached no importance to the remarks that had been made about him, Ethel found his unembarrassed candor64 reassuring65. He had, however, asked her to do something that was harder than he imagined, and she hesitated.
"Very well," she said; "I will call."
"Thanks. I knew I could count on you."
They had now reached the top of the hill, and Ethel took a crossroad while Andrew mounted his bicycle, but she turned her head, and watched him ride across the moor. Andrew, however, did not look back at her, and by and by she urged her horse to a trot66.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved