[from Hall Caine Drink]
AT Euston station at 9 pm. on Sunday, the twenty-third of December, 18__, I leaned out of the window of a carriage of the Scotch train, and Sir George Chute shook hands with me from the platform.
"Good-bye., Robert," said Sir George. " Mind you come to me the very moment of your return. I shall be anxious to hear everything. Our good friends at Cleator are half strangers to both of us, you know--well, to me, at all events. My kind regards to Miss Clousedale-to Mrs. Hill, too Good-bye! Good-bye!"
I waved my hand to him as the train slid away from the platform. He had dined with me that night in my rooms at the Temple, and had come to Euston to see me off. Sir George was five-and-twenty years my senior, but nevertheless my closest friend. In earlier life he had been the friend of my father. Forty years before they were fellow clerks in the office of a country attorney. Their courses then fell apart. Sir George Chute had become the most prosperous solicitor in London, and my father, Sir Robert Harcourt, was an Indian judge. But though separated by half the world, their friendship had been maintained. I was born in India., and when at fourteen I was sent to England to begin my education at a public school, it was Sir George who established me at Harrow. In due time he sent me on to Oxford, and afterwards opened up -to me 'my career,at the Bar. I had been five years a junior, and my success was due in great part to Sir George. He was more than any friend-he was my foster-father.
But the debt I owed him included a claim that touched me closer than any material obligations. He had been the means by which I had come to know Lucy Clousedale. Lucy had come up to London from her hone in Cumberland to consult him as a solicitor in relation to the mining estate which was her inheritance. She was two -and - twenty, and both her parents were long dead. Her only companion throughout life had been an old nurse, who was a maiden lady, but was always addressed as Mrs. Hill. The frlendlessness of the orphan girl had touched Sir George, and he had invited her to his house in Cheyne Walk. It was there that I had met her. To meet her was to admire her, for surely no lovelier woman ever lived. Her health, her sweetness, her simplicity, her natural- ness, her freshness had made a deep impression. This was early in May, and during the next month or two she had been invited everywhere. Lucy spoke with a slight northern accent, and sang old English songs, Everything was new to her, and everything was wonderful. It will not wrong the truth to say that her freshness and naivetÚ had made her the success of the hour.
I was a happy man, for our acquaintance had ripened into friendship, and our friendship into love. Before she left London at the end of June, Lucy had promised to be my wife. We were not to be married until the following spring, but I was to visit her at her home at Christmas. Her last evening in London we spent together at Sir George Chute's. It was a sweet and happy time. The soft glow of a London sunset lay along the sleepy Thames as we sat in the balcony and looked towards the Old Battersea Bridge. Before the lamps were lit she sang "Sally in Our Alley." I had one pang only - the thought of our six months' separation.
But that was over at length. The long tale of my duties at the courts was at an end for the present. Christmas was near, and I was in the train for Cumberland. I lay back in my seat and be- gulled the first hour of any journey with a packet of old letters from my breast-pocket. Most of them were from Lucy-the daintiest little things, in the neatest penmanship. I noticed for the second time that in this regard two of the letters were unlike the rest. The handwriting was irregular, and the sentences were jerky and inconsequent. Sir George had chanced to see one of the two as it lay on the table at my chambers. " Not so well, eh ? " said Sir George. He fancied himself as an expert in that direction. And he was right. Temporary indisposition had been the explanation. Lucy herself had said so.
The only letters in my old packet that were not Lucy's were from my father. I had written to tell him of my forthcoming marriage, and he had answered with as much cordiality as I had a right to expect. He trusted that my determination was wise, that my action was not premature, that I saw my course clear before me. The only significant passage was of the nature of a warning: "Above all, my dear boy, let me hope and trust that the woman who is to be your wife and my daughter comes of a good and healthy stock. Living in this country, where natural selection in marriage is hampered by consideration of caste, I see more plainly than ever how terrible are the consequences of heredity, not only in actual physical taint, but also in the countless forms of bad habits which are equivalent to disease."
I left the Scotch mail at Penrith at three in the morning, but Lucy's home was in the iron district of Cleator Moor, and I had to change at a second junction before reaching the last stage of my journey. This junction was in the heart of the Cumberland hills. Day had not yet dawned when I got there; thick snow lay on the ground, the morning was cold, and I had half an hour to wait for the local train. With the help of a porter I found my way into the waiting-room of the 'little wooden station-house. A brisk fire was burning there, and a group of miners were sitting on the forms about it, smoking their clay pipes, with their elbows on their knees, and their lamps hanging from their wrists. They made room for me at the fire, but went on with their talk without regard to my presence. I asked if they were going by the train to Cleator. They answered " Yes," and that they worked in the Clousedale. mines in the pit known as " Owd Boney." I learned that " Owd Boney " meant "old bone of contention," and that popular nickname had reference to the pit's history. Also I gathered that the men lived at the neighbouring town of Cockermouth, and were that morning starting afresh on their fortnightly " shift."
" But Christmas Eve ! " I said-" surely you take holiday at Christmas? " They laughed and answered that all seasons were alike to the miner. " Sunday or Monday, it's all t'same," said one. " Th'engine at t'pit-head doesna stop for t'church service."
"And t'boiler at t'bottom is as thirsty as owd Geordie Clous'al hissel," said another, and then they laughed and puffed and spat in a chuckling, chorus.
The train, steamed up and whistled ; I got into the same carriage with the miners,, and we ran into the mining country. Over the snow-covered dales the day was now dawning. The mountains, were falling behind ¨s, and we were coming on to a broad stretch of moorland. I could see ahead in the increasing grey light the wooden gear of many pit- shafts, and the smoke and flame from the squat chimneys of the sinelting-houses. The snow was thinner at every mile, and the bare ground was red and black, as if with cinders and the refuse of iron ore.
You spoke of old George Clousedale," I said. What is he?"'
" A dead man," said one of the miners. " What was he ? "
"The owner of ` Owd Boiicy,' and half the pits of Cleator."
" Any relative of Miss Clousedale, of Clousedale Hall? " I asked.
" Lucy ? " said several voices together. "Well, yes, ' Lucy,' if you like."
" Thirsty owd - Geordie Clous'al was Lucy's grandfadder."
I was curious but I was vexed. " Men," I said, " it's only right to tell you at once that Miss Clousedale is a friend of mine, and that I'm now on my way to visit her."
They understood me instantly and made amends with manly simplicity. "No disrespect to Miss Lucy, sure. Nobbut goodwill to the young lady, sir. We're eating her bread, and we've nowt agen her." Nothing further was said until we came within a mile of the village, which I had seen lying on the moor-top under a canopy of smoke. Then one of the miners leaned over to the carriage window and pointed to a house which we were rapidly passing. "Yon's Clous',al Hall, sir," he said.
I jumped up and looked out. The house was a large square mansion of modern date and of no particular character, standing deep in its own grounds behind thick clumps of trees which were all leafless., The sun had broken out, and a watery gleam lay along the slate roof and part of the grass on the lawn. Smoke was coming from the chimneys, and just at that moment somebody was raising the white blind of one of the windows. Such was the home of Lucy. As the train passed I noticed that not far from the gate of Clousedale Hall there was a small group of cottages with a little public-house at their nearest corner. The line ran so close that I could read the sign. It was the " Clousedale Arms." We drew up at the station, and I looked around to see if there was anyone to meet me. It was still as early as half-past eight, and the morning was chill, but in spite of reason I had half cherished the hope that Lucy herself would have driven down. At least I thought Mrs. Hill might be there. I saw neither. There was no carriage, no trap, no recognisable servant of any kind. When the miners had trooped away, the platform would have been empty but for myself and the servants of the railway. I hailed the porter.
" Anybody here who can carry my bag to Clousedale Hall?"" I asked.
"Then teebbe you're the gentleman that's ex- peeted," he said, and diving into his jacket pocket he produced a letter.
It was addressed " Robert Harcourt, Esq.," and was not in Lucy's handwriting. The letter was from. Mrs. Hill, and was dated 9 p.m., Sunday, December 23rd.
".DEAR SIR -,-I am sorry to tell you that Luey has suddenly become ill, and that the doctor thinks it necessary that she should have absolute quiet and rest durimig the next few days. 'there is no da:mger of any kind, and therefore I trust you will not feel anxiety, still less alarm. But, under the circumstances, I ain reluctantly compelled to ask you not to come to Clousedale Hall at present. I have taken the liberty of engaging rooms for you at the'Wheatsheaf,' in the village, where I trust you will be comfortable until such time as I can properly and safely give my dear one the great happiness of asking you to remove your quarters to this house.
" With every apology, disappointment, and regret, I am, dear Mr. Harcourt, yours very sincerely,
" MARTHA HILL."
"Take my bag to the 'Wheatsheaf,' Porter," I said.
He took it up and trudged off, and I followed him. I was pained, dazed, and bewildered.