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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: 9

'jolly.' I like the word 'jolly' best, only I get scolded when I use it. Shall we go into the garden?"

Altogether Ralph Conway had a very much pleasanter time than he had anticipated. Except at meals he saw little of the Miss Penfolds. His opinion as to these ladies, expressed confidentially to Mabel Withers, was the reverse of flattering.

"I think," he said, "that they are the two most disagreeable old cats I have ever met. They hardly ever open their lips, and when they do it is only to answer some question of their brother. I remember in a fairy story there was a girl who whenever she spoke let fall pearls and diamonds from her lips; whenever those women open their mouths I expect icicles and daggers to drop out."

"They are not so bad as that," Mabel laughed. "I generally get on with them very well, and they are very kind in the parish; and altogether they are really not bad."

"Then their looks belie them horribly," Ralph said. "I suppose they don't like me; and that would be all well enough if I had done anything to offend them, but it was just as bad the first day I came. I am sure Mr. Penfold does not like it. I can see him fidget on his chair; and he talks away with me pretty well all the time we are at table, so as to make it less awkward, I suppose. Well, I am stopping with him, and not with them, that's one thing; and it doesn't make much difference to me if they do choose to be disagreeable. I like him immensely. He is wonderfully kind; but it would be awfully stupid work if it weren't for you, Mabel. I don't think I could stand it if it were not for our rides together."

The young people had indeed got on capitally from the first. Every day they took long rides together, generally alone, although sometimes Mr. Penfold rode with them. Ralph had already confided to the latter, upon his asking him how he liked Mabel, that she was the jolliest girl that he had ever met.

"She has no nonsensical girl's ways about her, Mr. Penfold; but is almost as good as a boy to be with. The girls I have seen before have been quite different from that. Some of them always giggle when you speak to them, others have not got a word to say for themselves; and it is awfully hard work talking to them even for a single dance. Still, I like them better than the giggling ones."

"You see, Ralph, girls brought up in a town are naturally different to one like Mabel. They go to school, and are taught to sit upright and to behave discreetly, and to be general unnatural. Mabel has been brought up at home and allowed to do as she liked, and she has consequently grown up what nature intended her to be. Perhaps some day all girls will be allowed the same chance of being natural that boys have, and backboards and other contrivances for stiffening them and turning them into little wooden figures will be unknown. It will be a good thing, in my opinion, when that time arrives."

Ralph was often down at the Rectory, where he was always made welcome, Mr. Withers and his wife being anxious to learn as much of his disposition as they could. They were well satisfied with the result.

"I fancy I know what is in Penfold's mind," the rector had said to his wife a few days after Ralph came down. "I believe he has already quite settled it in his mind that some day Mabel and this lad shall make a match of it."

"How absurd, John. Why, Mabel is only a child."

"Quite so, my dear; but in another three or four years she will be a young woman. I don't mean that Penfold has any idea that they are going to take a fancy to each other at present—only that they will do so in the future. You know he has said that he intends to leave a slice of his fortune to her, and I have no doubt that this lad will get the main bulk of his property. I have often told you about his engagement to the lad's mother, and how the breaking it off has affected his whole life. It is natural that a lonely man as he is should plan for others. He has no future of his own to look forward to, so he looks forward to some one else's. He has had no interest in life for a great many years, and I think he is making a new one for himself in the future of our girl and this lad.

"As far as I have seen of the boy I like him. He is evidently a straightforward, manly lad. I don't mean to say that he has any exceptional amount of brains, or is likely to set the Thames on fire; but if he comes into the Penfold property that will not be of much importance. He seems bright, good-tempered, and a gentleman. That is quite good enough to begin with. At any rate, there is nothing for us to trouble about. If some day the young people get to like each other the prospect is a good one for the child; if not, there's no harm done. At present there can be no objection to our yielding to Penfold's request and letting them ride about the country together. Mabel is, as you say, little more than a child, and it is evident that the lad regards her rather in the light of a boy companion than as a girl.

"She is a bit of a tomboy, you know, Mary, and has very few girlish notions or ideas. They evidently get on capitally together, and we need not trouble our heads about them but let things go their own way with a clear conscience."

At the end of the time agreed upon Ralph returned home.

"And so, Ralph, you have found it better than you expected?" his mother said to him at the conclusion of his first meal at home.

"Much better, mother. Mr. Penfold is awfully kind, and lets one do just what one likes. His sisters are hateful women, and if I had not been staying in the house I should certainly have played them some trick or other just to pay them out. I wonder why they disliked me so much. I could see it directly I arrived; but, after all, it didn't matter much, except just at meals and in the evening. But though Mr. Penfold was so kind, it would have been very stupid if it had not been for Mabel Withers. We used to ride out or go for walks together every day. She was a capital walker, and very jolly—almost as good as a boy. She said several times that she wished she had been a boy, and I wished so too. Still, of course, mother, I am very glad I am back. There is no place like home, you know; and then there are the fellows at school, and the games, and the sea, and all sorts of things; and it's a horrid nuisance to think that I have got to go down there regularly for my holidays. Still, of course, as you wish it, I will do so; and now that I know what it is like it won't be so bad another time. Anyhow, I am glad I have got another ten days before school begins."

The following morning Ralph went down to the beach. "Why, Master Conway," an old fisherman said, "you are a downright stranger. I have missed you rarely."

"I told you I was going away, Joe, and that I shouldn't get back until the holidays were nearly over."

"I know you did," the fisherman replied. "Still it does seem strange without you. Every time as I goes out I says to Bill, 'If Master Conway was at home he would be with us to-day, Bill. It don't seem no ways natural without him.' And there's been good fishing, too, this season, first rate; and the weather has been just what it should be."

"Well, I am back now, Joe, anyhow; and I have got ten days before school begins again, and I mean to make the most of it. Are you going out to-day?"

"At four o'clock," the fisherman said. "Daylight fishing ain't much good just now; we take twice as many at night."

"No trouble with the Frenchies?"

"Lord bless you I ain't seen a French sail for months. Our cruisers are too sharp for them; though they say a good many privateers run in and out of their ports in spite of all we can do, and a lot of our ships get snapped up. But we don't trouble about them. Why, bless your heart, if one of them was to run across us they would only just take our fish, and as likely as not pay us for them with a cask or two of spirits. Fish is a treat to them Frenchies; for their fishing boats have to keep so close over to their own shores that they can't take much.