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Chapter 1 A Hero and His Worshipper.

  • Once upon a time—only once, observe, she did not do it twice—a widow of th_ame of Maylands went, in a fit of moderate insanity, and took up her abode i_ lonely, tumble-down cottage in the west of Ireland.
  • Mrs Maylands was very poor. She was the widow of an English clergyman, who ha_eft her with a small family and the smallest income that was compatible wit_hat family’s maintenance. Hence the migration to Ireland, where she had bee_orn, and where she hoped to live economically.
  • The tumble-down cottage was near the sea, not far from a little bay name_owlin Cove. Though little it was a tremendous bay, with mighty cliff_andward, and jutting ledges on either side, and forbidding rocks at th_ntrance, which waged continual warfare with the great Atlantic billows tha_olled into it. The whole place suggested shipwreck and smugglers.
  • The small family of Mrs Maylands consisted of three babes—so their mothe_tyled them. The eldest babe, Mary—better known as May—was seventeen years o_ge, and dwelt in London, to which great city she had been tempted by a_lderly English cousin, Miss Sarah Lillycrop, who held out as baits a possibl_ituation and a hearty welcome.
  • The second babe, Philip, was verging on fifteen. Having kicked, crashed, an_mashed his way though an uproarious infancy and a stormy childhood, he ha_ecome a sedate, earnest, energetic boy, with a slight dash of humour in hi_pirit, and more than a dash of determination.
  • The third babe was still a baby. As it plays little or no part in our tale w_ismiss it with the remark that it was of the male sex, and was at once th_ope, fear, joy and anxiety of its distracted mother. So, too, we may dismis_iss Madge Stevens, a poor relation, who was worth her weight in gold to th_idow, inasmuch as she acted the part of general servant, nurse, mender of th_ousehold garments, and recipient of joys and sorrows, all of which duties sh_ulfilled for love, and for just shelter and sustenance sufficient to keep he_ffectionate spirit within her rather thin but well-favoured body.
  • Phil Maylands was a hero-worshipper. At the time when our tale opens h_orshipped a youth—the son of a retired naval officer,—who possessed at leas_ome of the qualities that are occasionally found in a hero. George Aspel wa_aring, genial, enthusiastic, tall, broad-shouldered, active, and young—abou_wenty. But George had a tendency to dissipation.
  • His father, who had recently died, had been addicted to what he styled good- fellowship and grog. Knowing his so-called weakness, Captain Aspel had sen_is boy to be brought up in the family of the Reverend James Maylands, bu_ome time before the death of that gentleman he had called him home to help t_anage the small farm with which he amused his declining years. George and hi_ather amused themselves with it to such an extent that they became bankrup_bout the time of the father’s death, and thus the son was left with the worl_efore him and nothing whatever in his pocket except a tobacco-pipe and _orkscrew.
  • One day Phil met George Aspel taking a ramble and joined him. These two live_ear to each other. Indeed, Mrs Maylands had been partly influenced in he_hoice of a residence by her desire to be near George.
  • It was a bitterly cold December afternoon. As the friends reached the summi_f the grey cliffs, a squall, fresh from the Arctic regions, came sweepin_ver the angry sea, cutting the foam in flecks from the waves, and whistling, as if in baffled fury, among the opposing crags.
  • “Isn’t it a grand sight?” said Phil, as they sought shelter under the lee of _rojecting rock.
  • “Glorious! I never look upon that sight,” said Aspel, with flashing eyes, “without wishing that I had lived in the days of the old Vikings.”
  • The youth traced his descent from the sea-kings of Norway—those tremendou_ellows who were wont in days of yore to ravage the shores of the known an_nknown world, east and west, north and south, leaving their indelible mar_like on the hot sands of Africa and the icebound rocks of Greenland. As Phi_aylands knew nothing of his own lineage further back than his grandfather, h_as free to admire the immense antiquity of his friend’s genealogical tree.
  • Phil was not, however, so completely under the fascination of his hero as t_e utterly blind to his faults; but he loved him, and that sufficed to cove_hem up.
  • “Sure, they were a wild lot, after all?” he said in a questioning tone, as h_ooked up at the glowing countenance of his friend, who, with his bold mien, bulky frame, blue eyes, and fair curls, would have made a very creditabl_iking indeed, had he lived in the tenth century.
  • “Of course they were, Phil,” he replied, looking down at his admirer with _mile. “Men could not well be otherwise than wild and warlike in those days; but it was not all ravage and plunder with them. Why, it is to them and t_heir wise laws that we owe much of the freedom, coupled with the order, tha_revails in our happy land; and didn’t they cross the Atlantic Ocean in thing_ittle better than herring-boats, without chart or compass, and discove_merica long before Columbus was born?”
  • “You don’t mean that?” said Phil, with increased admiration; for the boy wa_ot only smitten by his friend’s physical powers, but by his suppose_ntellectual attainments.
  • “Yes, I do mean that,” returned Aspel. “If the Norsemen of old did mischief, as no one can deny, they were undoubtedly grand old scoundrels, and it i_ertain that they did much good to the world, whether they meant it or not.”
  • Phil Maylands made no reply, but continued to look meditatively at his friend, until the latter laughed, and asked what he was thinking about.
  • “It’s thinking I am, what I wouldn’t give if my legs were only as long a_ours, George.”
  • “That they will soon be,” returned George, “if they go on at the rate they’v_een growing of late.”
  • “That’s a true word, anyhow; but as men’s legs don’t go on growing at the sam_ate for ever, it’s not much hope I have of mine. No, George, it’s kind of yo_o encourage me, but the Maylands have ever been a short-legged and long- bodied race. So it’s said. However, it’s some comfort to know that short me_re often long-headed, and that many of them get on in the world pretty well.”
  • “Of course they do,” returned Aspel, “and though they can’t grow long, the_ever stop short in the race of life. Why, look at Nelson—he was short; an_ellington wasn’t long, and Bonny himself was small in every way except in hi_ntellect—who’s that coming up the hill?”
  • “It’s Mike Kenny, the postman, I think. I wonder if he has brought a lette_rom sister May. Mother expects one, I know.”
  • The man who had attracted their attention was ascending towards them with th_low, steady gait of a practised mountaineer. He was the post-runner of th_istrict. Being a thinly-peopled and remote region, the “runner’s walk” was _retty extensive one, embracing many a mile of moorland, vale and mountain. H_ad completed most of his walk at that time, having only one mountain shoulde_ow between him and the little village of Howlin Cove, where his labours wer_o terminate for that day.
  • “Good-evening, Mike,” said George Aspel, as the man approached. “Any letter_or me to-night?”
  • “No, sur, not wan,” answered Mike, with something of a twinkle in his eye; “but I’ve left wan at Rocky Cottage,” he added, turning to Philip Maylands.
  • “Was it May’s handwriting?” asked the boy eagerly.
  • “Sure I don’t know for sartin whose hand it is i’ the inside, but it’s no_iss May’s on the cover. Niver a wan in these parts could write lik_er—copperplate, no less.”
  • “Come, George, let’s go back,” said Phil, quickly, “we’ve been looking out fo_ letter for some days past.”
  • “It’s not exactly a letter, Master Phil,” said the post-runner slowly.
  • “Ah, then, she’d never put us off with a newspaper,” said Phil.
  • “No, it’s a telegram,” returned Mike.
  • Phil Maylands looked thoughtfully at the ground. “A telegram,” he said, “that’s strange. Are ye sure, Mike?”
  • “Troth am I.”
  • Without another word the boy started off at a quick walk, followed by hi_riend and the post-runner. The latter had to diverge at that place to leave _etter at the house of a man named Patrick Grady. Hence, for a short distance, they followed the same road.
  • Young Maylands would have passed the house, but as Grady was an intimat_riend of George Aspel, he agreed to stop just to shake hands.
  • Patrick Grady was the soul of hospitality. He was not to be put off with _ere shake of the hand, not he—telegrams meant nothing now-a-days, he said, everybody sent them. No cause for alarm. They must stop and have a glass o_ountain dew.
  • Aspel was resolute, however; he would not sit down, though he had no objectio_o the mountain dew. Accordingly, the bottle was produced, and a full glas_as poured out for Aspel, who quaffed off the pure spirit with a free-and-eas_oss and smack of the lips, that might have rendered one of the beery old sea- kings envious.
  • “No, sur, I thank ye,” said Mike, when a similar glass was offered to him.
  • “What! ye haven’t taken the pledge, have ye?” said Grady.
  • “No, sur; but I’ve had three glasses already on me walk, an’ that’s as much a_ can rightly carry.”
  • “Nonsense, Mike. You’ve a stiff climb before you—here, take it off.”
  • The facile postman did take it off without further remonstrance.
  • “Have a dhrop, Phil?”
  • “No, thank ee,” said Phil, firmly, but without giving a reason for declining.
  • Being a boy, he was not pressed to drink, and the party left the house. _hort distance farther on the road forked, and here the post-runner turned of_o the right, taking the path which led towards the hill whose rugged shoulde_e had yet to scale.
  • Mike Kenny breasted it not only with the energy of youth and strength, bu_ith the additional and artificial energy infused by the spirits, so that, much to his own surprise, his powers began to fail prematurely. Just then _torm of wind and sleet came down from the heights above, and broke wit_itter fury in his face. He struggled against it vigorously for a time till h_ained a point whence he saw the dark blue sea lashing on the cliffs below. H_ooked up at the pass which was almost hid by the driving sleet. A feeling o_egret and self-condemnation at having so readily given in to Grady wa_ingled with a strong sense of the duty that he had to discharge as he onc_ore breasted the steep. The bitter cold began to tell on his exhausted frame.
  • In such circumstances a small matter causes a man to stumble. Kenny’s foo_aught on something—a root it might be—and he fell headlong into a ditch an_as stunned. The cold did its work, and from that ditch he never rose again.
  • Meanwhile Mr Grady looked out from the window of his cottage upon th_athering storm, expressed some satisfaction that it did not fall to his lo_o climb hills on such a day, and comforted himself—though he did not appea_o stand in need of special comfort—with another glass of whisky.
  • George Aspel and Philip Maylands, with their backs to the storm, hurrie_omewards; the former exulting in the grand—though somewha_isconnected—thoughts infused into his fiery soul by the fire-water he ha_mbibed, and dreaming of what he would have dared and done had he only been _ea-king of the olden time; the latter meditating somewhat anxiously on th_robable nature of his sister’s telegram.