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قراءة كتاب One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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‏اللغة: English
One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

One of the 28th: A Tale of Waterloo

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4


Had she been alone in the world she would have declined to accept this aid from an unknown benefactor, but for her son's sake she felt that it would be wrong to do so. The idea that the money might come from Herbert Penfold had once or twice occurred to her, only to be at once dismissed, for had she really believed that it came from him she could not, even for Ralph's sake, have accepted it. He had, as she believed, quarreled with her altogether without cause, her letters had been unanswered, and she considered the quarrel to have been simply a pretext upon the part of Herbert to break off an engagement of which he was tired. Words dropped, apparently by accident, by Herbert's sisters had, before the misunderstanding commenced, favored this idea, and although she had really loved him her disposition was too spirited to allow her to take the steps she otherwise might have done to set herself right with him.

At any rate she had no ground whatever for believing that Herbert, after the breach of the engagement, entertained any such feelings toward her as would have led him to come forward to assist her in any way after she had become the wife of another; and so for twelve years she had continued to receive her quarterly income. She had established herself in a pretty little house near Dover, where several old friends of her father resided, and where she had plenty of pleasant society among the officers of the regiments stationed there. Although far from rivaling Portsmouth or Plymouth in life and bustle, Dover was a busy town during the time of the great war. The garrison was a large one, the channel cruisers often anchored under the guns of the castle, and from the top of the hills upon a clear day for months a keen lookout was kept for the appearance from the port of Boulogne of the expedition Napoleon had gathered there for the invasion of England.

The white sails of the English cruisers as they sailed up or down the channel were clearly visible, and occasionally a privateer could be seen making its way westward with a prize it had picked up off Texel. Military and naval matters were the sole topics of conversation, and by the time he was fifteen Ralph had fully determined to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and to become a soldier. Having passed almost all her life among military men Mrs. Conway had offered no objections to his wishes, and as several of her father's old friends had promised to use their influence on his behalf, there was little doubt that he would be enabled to procure a commission as soon as he reached the regulation age.

It was not often that the postman called at Mrs. Conway's with letters; for postage was expensive, and the people in those days only wrote when they had something particular to say. Mrs. Conway had just made breakfast when Ralph came in with a letter in his hand.

"Here is a letter for you, mother; but please don't open it until you have given me my breakfast. I am very late now, and shall barely have time to get through with it and be there before the gates close."

"Your porridge is quite ready for you, Ralph; so if you are late it will be your own fault not mine. The eggs will be in before you have eaten it. However, I won't open the letter until you have gone, because you will only waste time by asking questions about it."

Ralph began his bread and milk, and Mrs. Conway, stretching out her hand, took the letter he had laid beside his plate, and turning it over glanced at the direction to ascertain from which of her few correspondents it came. For a moment she looked puzzled, then, with a little start, she laid it down by the side of her plate. She had recognized the handwriting once so familiar to her.

"What is it, mother? You look quite startled. Who is it from?"

"It is from no one you know, Ralph. I think it is from a person I have not heard from for some years. At any rate it will keep until you are off to school."

"It's nothing unpleasant, I hope, mother. Your color has quite gone, and you look downright pale."

"What should be the matter, you silly boy?" Mrs. Conway said, with an attempt to smile. "What could there be unpleasant in a letter from a person I have not heard from for years? There, go on with your breakfast. I expect you will hear some news when you get down into the town, for the guns in the castle have been firing, and I suppose there is news of a victory. They said yesterday that a great battle was expected to be fought against Napoleon somewhere near Leipzig."

"Yes; I heard the guns, mother, and I expect there has been a victory. I hope not."

"Why do you hope not, Ralph?"

"Why, of course, mother, I don't want the French to be beaten—not regularly beaten, till I am old enough to have a share in it. Just fancy what a nuisance it would be if peace was made just as I get my commission."

"There will be plenty of time for you, Ralph," his mother said smiling. "Peace has been patched up once or twice, but it never lasts long; and after fighting for the last twenty years it is hardly probable that the world is going to grow peaceful all at once. But there, it is time for you to be off; it only wants ten minutes to nine and you will have to run fast all the way to be in time."

When Mrs. Conway was alone she took up the letter, and turned it over several times before opening it.

What could Herbert Penfold have written about after all these years? Mrs. Conway was but thirty-six years old now, and was still a pretty woman, and a sudden thought sent a flush of color to her face. "Never!" she said decidedly. "After the way in which he treated me he cannot suppose that now—" and then she stopped. "I know I did love him once, dearly, and it nearly broke my heart; but that was years and years ago. Well, let us see what he says for himself," and she broke open the letter. She glanced through it quickly, and then read it again more carefully. She was very pale now, and her lips trembled as she laid down the letter.

"So," she said to herself in a low tone, "it is to him after all I owe all this," and she looked round her pretty room; "and I never once really suspected it. I am glad now," she went on after a pause, "that I did not; for, of course, it would have been impossible to have taken it, and how different the last twelve years of my life would have been. Poor Herbert! And so he really suffered too, and he has thought of me all this time."

For fully half an hour she sat without moving, her thoughts busy with the past, then she again took up the letter and reread it several times. Its contents were as follows:

"Dear Mrs. Conway: You will be doubtless surprised at seeing my handwriting, and your first impulse will naturally be to put this letter into the fire. I am not writing to ask you to forgive my conduct in the old days. I am but too well aware how completely I have forfeited all right to your esteem or consideration. Believe me that I have suffered for my fault, and that my life has been a ruined one. I attempt to make no excuses. I am conscious that while others were to blame I was most of all, and that it is to my own weakness of will and lack of energy that the breach between us was due. However, all this is of the past and can now interest you but little. You have had your own sorrows and trials, at which, believe me, I sincerely grieved. And now to my object in writing to you. Although still comparatively a young man, I have not many years to live. When last in London I consulted two of the first physicians, and they agreed that, as I had already suspected, I was suffering from heart disease, or rather, perhaps, from an enfeebled state of my heart, which may at any moment cease to do its work.

"Naturally then, I have turned my thoughts as to whom I should leave my property. My sisters are amply provided for. I have no other near relatives, and therefore consider myself free to leave it as I choose. I have long fixed my thoughts upon the daughter of a dear friend, the rector of Bilston; she is now