MoboReader > Literature > The Fortunate Youth

   Chapter 8 No.8

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 18000

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


MISS URSULA WINWOOD, hatless, but with a cotton sunshade swinging over her shoulder, and with a lean, shiny, mahogany-coloured Sussex spaniel trailing behind, walked in her calm, deliberate way down the long carriage drive of Drane's Court. She was stout and florid, and had no scruples as to the avowal of her age, which was forty-three. She had clear blue eyes which looked steadily upon a complicated world of affairs, and a square, heavy chin which showed her capacity for dealing with it. Miss Ursula Winwood knew herself to be a notable person, and the knowledge did not make her vain or crotchety or imperious. She took her notability for granted, as she took her mature good looks and her independent fortune. For some years she had kept house for her widowed brother, Colonel Winwood, Conservative Member for the Division of the county in which they resided, and helped him efficiently in his political work. The little township of Morebury-half a mile from the great gates of Drane's Court-felt Miss Winwood's control in diverse ways. Another town, a little further off, with five or six millions of inhabitants, was also, through its newspapers, aware of Miss Winwood. Many leagues, societies, associations, claimed her as President, Vice-President, or Member of Council. She had sat on Royal Commissions. Her name under an appeal for charity guaranteed the deserts of the beneficiaries. What she did not know about housing problems, factory acts, female prisons, hospitals, asylums for the blind, decayed gentlewomen, sweated trades, dogs' homes and Friendly Societies could not be considered in the light of knowledge. She sat on platforms with Royal princesses, Archbishops welcomed her as a colleague, and Cabinet Ministers sought her counsel.

For some distance from the porch of the red-brick, creeper-covered Queen-Anne house the gravel drive between the lawns blazed in the afternoon sun. For this reason, the sunshade. But after a while came an avenue of beech and plane and oak casting delectable shade on the drive and its double edging of grass, and the far-stretching riot of flowers beneath the trees, foxgloves and canterbury bells and campanulas and delphiniums, all blues and purples and whites, with here and there the pink of dog-roses and gorgeous yellow splashes of celandine. On entering the stately coolness, Miss Winwood closed her sunshade and looked at her watch, a solid timepiece harboured in her belt. A knitted brow betrayed mathematical calculation. It would take her five minutes to reach the lodge gate. The train bringing her venerable uncle, Archdeacon Winwood, for a week's visit would not arrive at the station for another three minutes, and the two fat horses would take ten minutes to drag from the station the landau which she had sent to meet him. She had, therefore, eight minutes to spare. A rustic bench invited repose. Graciously she accepted the invitation.

Now, it must be observed that it was not Miss Winwood's habit to waste time. Her appointments were kept to the minute, and her appointment (self-made on this occasion) was the welcoming of her uncle, the Archdeacon, on the threshold of Drane's Court. But Miss Winwood was making holiday and allowed herself certain relaxations. Her brother's health having broken down, he had paired for the rest of the session and gone to Contrexeville for a cure. She had therefore shut up her London house in Portland Place, Colonel Winwood's home while Parliament sat, and had come to her brother's house, Drane's Court, her home when her presence was not needed in London. She was tired; Drane's Court, where she had been born and had lived all her girlhood's life, was restful; and the seat in the shade of the great beech was cunningly curved. The shiny, mahogany-coloured spaniel, prescient of siesta, leaped to her side and lay down with his chin on her lap and blinked his yellow eyes.

She lay back on the seat, her hand on the dog's head, looking contentedly at the opposite wilderness of bloom and the glimpses, through the screen of trees and shrubs, of the sunlit stretches of park beyond. She loved Drane's Court. Save for the three years of her brother's short married life, it had been part of herself. A Winwood, a very younger son of the Family-the Family being that of which the Earl of Harpenden is Head (these things can only be written of in capital letters)-had acquired wealth in the dark political days of Queen Anne, and had bought the land and built the house, and the property had never passed into alien hands. As for the name, he had used that of his wife, Viscountess Drane in her own right,-a notorious beauty of whom, so History recounts, he was senilely enamoured and on whose naughty account he was eventually run through the body by a young Mohawk of a paramour. They fought one spring dawn in the park-the traditional spot could be seen from where Ursula Winwood was sitting.

Ursula and her brother were proud of the romantic episode, and would relate it to guests and point out the scene of the duel. Happy and illusory days of Romance now dead and gone! It is not conceivable that, generations hence, the head of a family will exhibit with pride the stained newspaper cuttings containing the unsavoury details of the divorce case of his great-great-grandmother.

This aspect of family history seldom presented itself to Ursula Winwood. It did not do so this mellow and contented afternoon. Starlings mindful of a second brood chattered in the old walnut trees far away on the lawn; thrushes sang their deep-throated bugle-calls; finches twittered. A light breeze creeping up the avenue rustled the full foliage languorously. Ursula Winwood closed her eyes. A bumble-bee droned between visits to foxglove bells near by. She loved bumble-bees. They reminded her of a summer long ago when she sat, not on this seat-as a matter of fact it was in the old walled garden a quarter of a mile away-with a gallant young fellow's arms about her and her head on his shoulder. A bumble-bee had droned round her while they kissed. She could never hear a bumble-bee without thinking of it. But the gallant young fellow had been killed in the Soudan in eighteen eighty-five, and Ursula Winwood's heart had been buried in his sandy grave. That was the beginning and end of her sentimental history. She had recovered from the pain of it all and now she loved the bumble-bee for invoking the exquisite memory. The lithe Sussex spaniel crept farther on her lap and her hand caressed his polished coat. Drowsiness disintegrated the exquisite memories. Miss Ursula Winwood fell asleep.

The sudden plunging of strong young paws into her body and a series of sharp barks and growls awakened her with a start, and, for a second, still dazed by the drowsy invocation of the bumble-bee, she saw approaching her the gallant fellow who had been pierced through the heart by a Soudanese spear in eighteen eighty-five. He was dark and handsome, and, by a trick of coincidence, was dressed in loose knickerbocker suit, just as he was when he had walked up that very avenue to say his last good-bye. She remained for a moment tense, passively awaiting co-ordination of her faculties. Then clear awake, and sending scudding the dear ghosts of the past, she sat up, and catching the indignant spaniel by the collar, looked with a queer, sudden interest at the newcomer. He was young, extraordinarily beautiful; but he staggered and reeled like a drunken man. The spaniel barked his respectable disapproval. In his long life of eighteen months he had seen many people, postmen and butcher boys and casual diggers in kitchen gardens, whose apparent permit to exist in Drane's Court had been an insoluble puzzle; but never had he seen so outrageous a trespasser. With unparalleled moral courage he told him exactly what he thought of him. But the trespasser did not hear. He kept on advancing. Miss Winwood rose, disgusted, and drew herself up. The young man threw out his hands towards her, tripped over the three-inch-high border of grass, and fell in a sprawling heap at her feet.

He lay very still. Ursula Winwood looked down upon him. The shiny brown spaniel took up a strategic position three yards away and growled, his chin between his paws. But the more Miss Winwood looked, and her blue eyes were trained to penetrate, the more was she convinced that both she and the dog were wrong in their diagnosis. The young man's face was deadly white, his cheeks gaunt. It was evidently a grave matter. For a moment or so she had a qualm of fear lest he might be dead. She bent down, took him in her capable grip and composed his inert body decently, and placed the knapsack he was wearing beneath his head. The faintly beating heart proved him to be alive, but her touch on his brow discovered fever. Kneeling by his side, she wiped his lips with her handkerchief, and gave herself up to the fraction of a minute's contemplation of the most beautiful youth she had ever seen. So t

here he lay, a new Endymion, while the most modern of Dianas hung over him, stricken with great wonderment at his perfection.

In this romantic attitude was she surprised, first by the coachman of the landau and pair as he swung round the bend of the drive, and then by the Archdeacon, who leaned over the door of the carriage. Miss Winwood sprang to her feet; the coachman pulled up, and the Archdeacon alighted.

"My dear Uncle Edward"-she wrung his hand-"I'm so glad to see you. Do help me grapple with an extraordinary situation."

The Archdeacon smiled humorously. He was a spare man of seventy, with thin, pointed, clean-shaven face, and clear blue eyes like Miss Winwood's. "If there's a situation, my dear Ursula, with which you can't grapple," said he, "it must indeed be extraordinary."

She narrated what had occurred, and together they bent over the unconscious youth. "I would suggest," said she, "that we put him into the carriage, drive him up to the house, and send for Dr. Fuller."

"I can only support your suggestion," said the Archdeacon.

So the coachman came down from his box and helped them to lift the young man into the landau; and his body swayed helplessly between Miss Winwood and the Archdeacon, whose breeches and gaiters were smeared with dust from his heavy boots. A few moments afterwards he was carried into the library and laid upon a sofa, and Miss Winwood administered restoratives. The deep stupor seemed to pass, and he began to moan.

Miss Winwood and the housekeeper stood by his side. The Archdeacon, his hands behind his back, paced the noiseless Turkey carpet. "I hope," said he, "your doctor will not be long in coming."

"It looks like a sunstroke," the housekeeper remarked, as her mistress scrutinized the clinical thermometer.

"It doesn't," said Miss Winwood bluntly. "In sunstroke the face is either congested or clammy. I know that much. He has a temperature of 103."

"Poor fellow!" said the Archdeacon.

"I wonder who he is," said Miss Winwood.

"Perhaps this may tell us," said the Archdeacon.

From the knapsack, carelessly handled by the servant who had brought it in, had escaped a book, and the servant had laid the book on the top of the knapsack. The Archdeacon took it up.

"Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Urn Burial. On the flyleaf, 'Paul Savelli.' An undergraduate, I should say, on a walking tour."

Miss Winwood took the book from his hands-a little cheap reprint. "I'm glad," she said.

"Why, my dear Ursula?"

"I'm very fond of Sir Thomas Browne, myself," she replied.

Presently the doctor came and made his examination. He shook a grave head. "Pneumonia. And he has got it bad. Perhaps a touch of the sun as well." The housekeeper smiled discreetly. "Looks half-starved, too. I'll send up the ambulance at once and get him to the cottage hospital."

Miss Winwood, a practical woman, was aware that the doctor gave wise counsel. But she looked at Paul and hesitated. Paul's destiny, though none knew it, hung in the balance. "I disapprove altogether of the cottage hospital," she said.

"Eh?" said the doctor.

The Archdeacon raised his eyebrows. "My dear Ursula, I thought you had made the Morebury Cottage Hospital the model of its kind."

"Its kind is not for people who carry about Sir Thomas Browne in their pocket," retorted the disingenuous lady. "If I turned him out of my house, doctor, and anything happened to him, I should have to reckon with his people. He stays here. You'll kindly arrange for nurses. The red room, Wilkins,-no, the green-the one with the small oak bed. You can't nurse people properly in four-posters. It has a south-east aspect"-she turned to the doctor-"and so gets the sun most of the day. That's quite right, isn't it?"

"Ideal. But I warn you, Miss Winwood, you may be letting yourself in for a perfectly avoidable lot of trouble."

"I like trouble," said Miss Winwood.

"You're certainly looking for it," replied the doctor glancing at Paul and stuffing his stethoscope into his pocket. "And in this case, I can promise you worry beyond dreams of anxiety."

The word of Ursula Winwood was law for miles around. Dr. Fuller, rosy, fat and fifty, obeyed, like everyone else; but during the process of law-making he had often, before now, played the part of an urbane and gently satirical leader of the opposition.

She flashed round on him, with a foolish pain through her heart that caused her to catch her breath. "Is he as bad as that?" she asked quickly.

"As bad as that," said the doctor, with grave significance. "How he managed to get here is a mystery!" Within a quarter-of-an-hour the unconscious Paul, clad in a suit of Colonel Winwood's silk pyjamas, lay in a fragrant room, hung with green and furnished in old, black oak. Never once, in all his life, had Paul Kegworthy lain in such a room. And for him a great house was in commotion. Messages went forth for nurses and medicines and the paraphernalia of a luxurious sick-chamber, and-the lady of the house being absurdly anxious-for a great London specialist, whose fee, in Dr. Fuller's quiet eyes, would be amusingly fantastic.

"It seems horrible to search the poor boy's pockets," said Miss Winwood, when, after these excursions and alarms the Archdeacon and herself had returned to the library; "but we must try to find out who he is and communicate with his people. Savelli. I've never heard of them. I wonder who they are."

"There is an historical Italian family of that name," said the Archdeacon.

"I was sure of it," said Miss Winwood.

"Of what?"

"That his people-are-well-all right."

"Why are you sure?"

Ursula was very fond of her uncle. He represented to her the fine flower of the Church of England-a gentleman, a scholar, an ideal physical type of the Anglican dignitary, a man of unquestionable piety and Christian charity, a personage who would be recognized for what he was by Hottentots or Esquimaux or attendants of wagon-lits trains or millionaires of the Middle West of America or Parisian Apaches. In him the branch of the family tree had burgeoned into the perfect cleric. Yet sometimes, the play of light beneath the surface of those blue eyes, so like her own, and the delicately intoned challenges of his courtly voice, exasperated her beyond measure. "It's obvious to any idiot, my dear," she replied testily. "Just look at him. It speaks for itself."

The Archdeacon put his thin hand on her plump shoulder, and smiled. The old man had a very sunny smile. "I'm sorry to carry on a conversation so Socratically," said he. "But what is 'it'?"

"I've never seen anything so physically beautiful, save the statues in the Vatican, in all my life. If he's not an aristocrat to the finger tips, I'll give up all my work, turn Catholic, and go into a nunnery-which will distress you exceedingly. And then"-she waved a plump hand-"and then, as I've mentioned before, he reads the Religio Medici. The commonplace, vulgar young man of to-day no more reads Sir Thomas Browne than he reads Tertullian or the Upanishads."

"He also reads," said the Archdeacon, stuffing his hand into Paul's knapsack, against whose canvas the stiff outline of a book revealed itself-"he also reads"-he held up a little fat duodecimo-"the Chansons de Beranger."

"That proves it," cried Miss Winwood.

"Proves what?"

His blue eyes twinkled. Having a sense of humour, she laughed and flung her great arm round his frail shoulders. "It proves, my venerable and otherwise distinguished dear, that I am right and you are wrong."

"My good Ursula," said he, disengaging himself, "I have not advanced one argument either in favour of, or in opposition to, one single proposition the whole of this afternoon."

She shook her head at him pityingly.

The housekeeper entered carrying a double handful of odds and ends which she laid on the library table-a watch and chain and cornelian heart, a cigarette case bearing the initials "P.S.," some keys, a very soiled handkerchief, a sovereign, a shilling and a penny. Dr. Fuller had sent them down with his compliments; they were the entire contents of the young gentleman's pockets.

"Not a card, not a scrap of paper with a name and address on it?" cried Miss Winwood.

"Not a scrap, miss. The doctor and I searched most thoroughly."

"Perhaps the knapsack will tell us more," said the Archdeacon.

The knapsack, however, revealed nothing but a few toilet necessaries, a hunk of stale bread and a depressing morsel of cheese, and a pair of stockings and a shirt declared by the housekeeper to be wet through. As the Beranger, like the Sir Thomas Browne, was inscribed "Paul Savelli," which corresponded with the initials on the cigarette case, they were fairly certain of the young man's name. But that was all they could discover regarding him.

"We'll have to wait until he can tell us himself," said Miss Winwood later to the doctor.

"We'll have to wait a long time," said he.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares