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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: 8


"Rather isn't the word," the driver said; "they are particular, and no mistake. I don't believe as the master would notice whether the carriage was dirty or clean; but if there is a speck of dirt about they are sure to spot it. Not that they are bad mistresses; but they look about all right, I can tell you, pretty sharp. I don't say that it ain't as well as they do, for the master never seems to care one way or the other, and lets things go anyhow. A nice gentleman he is, but I don't see much of him; and he don't drive in the carriage not once a month, and only then when he is going to the board of magistrates. He just walks about the garden morning and evening, and all the rest of the time he is shut up in the library with his books. It's a pity he don't go out more."

"Are there any families about with boys?" Ralph asked.

"Not as I knows of. None of then that ever comes to the Hall, anyhow. It's a pity there ain't some young ones there; it would wake the place up and make it lively. It would give us a lot more work to do, I don't doubt; but we shouldn't mind that. I have heard it used to be different in the old squire's time, but it has always been so as long as I can remember. I don't live at the house, but down at the village. Jones he lives over the stables; and there ain't no occasion to have more than one there, for there's only the two carriage-horses and this."

"How far is the sea from the house?"

"It's about half a mile to the top of the cliff, and a precious long climb down to the water; but going round by Swanage—which is about three miles—you can drive down close to the sea, for there are no cliffs there."

There was little more said during the drive. From time to time the man pointed out the various villages and country seats, and Ralph wondered to himself how he should manage to pass the next three weeks. It seemed that there would be nothing to do and no one to talk to. He had always been accustomed to the companionship of lots of boys of his own age, and during the holidays there was plenty of sailing and fishing, so that time had never hung on his hands; the present prospect therefore almost appalled him. However, he had promised his mother that he would try to make the best of things; and he tried to assure himself that after all three weeks or a month would be over at last. After an hour and a half's drive they passed through a lodge gate into a park, and in a few minutes drew up at the entrance to Penfold Hall. An old servant came out.

"Will you come with me into the library, sir? Mr. Penfold is expecting you. Your box will be taken up into your room."

Ralph felt extremely uncomfortable as he followed his conductor across a noble hall, floored with dark polished oak, and paneled with the same material. A door opened, and a servant announced "Master Conway." A gentleman rose from his chair and held out his hand.

"I am glad to see you, Ralph Conway; and I hope your journey has been a pretty comfortable one. It is very good of you to come such a long distance to pay me a visit."

"Mother wanted me to, sir," Ralph said honestly. "I don't think—" and he stopped.

"You don't think you would have come of your own accord, Ralph? No, that is natural enough, my boy. At your age I am sure I should not have cared to give up my holidays and spend them in a quiet house among strangers. However, I wanted to see you, and I am very glad you have come. I am an old friend of your mother's, you know, and so desired to make the acquaintance of her son. I think you are like her," he said, putting his hand on Ralph's shoulder and taking him to the window and looking steadily at him.

"Other people have said so, sir; but I am sure I can't see how I can be like her a bit. Mother is so pretty, and I am sure I am not the least bit in the world; and I don't think it's nice for a boy to be like a woman."

This was rather a sore point with Ralph, who had a smooth soft face with large eyes and long eyelashes, and who had, in consequence, been nicknamed "Sally" by his schoolfellows. The name had stuck to him in spite of several desperate fights, and the fact that in point of strength and activity he was fully a match for any boy of his own age; but as there was nothing like derision conveyed by it, and it was indeed a term of affection rather, than of contempt, Ralph had at last ceased to struggle against it. But he longed for the time when the sprouting of whiskers would obliterate the obnoxious smoothness of his face. Mr. Penfold had smiled at his remark.

"I do not like girlish boys, Ralph; but a boy can have a girlish face and yet be a true boy all over. I fancy that's your case.

"I hope so, sir. I think I can swim or run or fight any of the chaps of my own age in the school; but I know I do look girlish about the face. I have done everything I could to make my face rough. I have sat in the sun, and wetted it with sea-water every five minutes, but it's no use."

"I should not trouble about it. Your face will get manly enough in time, you may be sure; and I like you all the better for it, my boy, because you are certainly very like your mother. And now, Ralph, I want you to enjoy yourself as much as you can while you are here. The house itself is dull, but I suppose you will be a good deal out of doors. I have hired a pony, which will be here to-day from Poole, and I have arranged with Watson, a fisherman at Swanage, that you can go out with him in his fishing-boat whenever you are disposed. It is three miles from here, but you can ride over on your pony and leave it at the little inn there till you come back. I am sorry to say I do not know any boys about here; but Mabel Withers, the daughter of my neighbor and friend the clergyman of Bilston, the village just outside the lodge, has a pony, and is a capital rider, and I am sure she will show you over the country. I suppose you have not had much to do with girls?" he added with a smile at seeing a slight expression of dismay on Ralph's face, which had expressed unmixed satisfaction at the first items of the programme.

"No, sir; not much," Ralph said. "Of course some of my schoolfellows have sisters, but one does not see much of them."

"I think you will get on very well together. She is a year or two younger than you are, and I am afraid she is considered rather a tomboy. She has been caught at the top of a tall tree examining the eggs in a nest, and in many similar ungirl-like positions; so you won't find her a dull companion. She is a great pet of mine, and though she may not be as good a companion as a boy would be for you, I am sure when you once get to know her you will find her a very good substitute. You see, not having had much to do with boys, I am not very good at devising amusement for you. I can only say that if there is anything you would like to do while you are here you have only to tell me, and if it be possible I will put you in the way of it."

"Thank you very much, sir. You are extremely kind," Ralph said heartily; for with a pony and a boat it did seem that his visit would not be nearly so dull as he had anticipated. "I am sure I shall get on capitally."

Just at his moment there was a knock at the door. It opened, and a girl entered.

"You have just come at the right moment, Mabel," Mr. Penfold said as she came in. "This is Ralph Conway, of whom I was speaking to you. Ralph, this is Mabel Withers. I asked her to come in early this morning so as to act as your guide round the place."

The boy and girl shook hands with each other. She was the first to speak.

"So you are Ralph. I have been wondering what you would be like. Uncle has been telling me you were coming. I like your looks, and I think you are nice."

Ralph was taken rather aback. This was not the way in which his schoolfellows' sisters had generally addressed him.

"I think you look jolly," he said; "and that's better than looking nice."

"I think they mean the same thing," she replied; "except that a girl says 'nice' and a boy says