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Title: The Heart of a Grand-father
Author: Katharine Tynan
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000561h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2010
Date most recently updated: October 2010

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The Heart of A Grand-father

by

Katharine Tynan


Published in The Queenslander, Saturday 25 March, 1905


"Let me hear no more of this folly, Rupert," the Judge had said. "I will never give my consent. Let there be an end of it!"

It was a good many years ago, eight at least, since the words had been spoken. The Judge had been in his dressing-room, making ready for a dinner party. He was a very busy man, and the son who was proud of him had snatched at the minutes of the day when they might be together. During the season the Judge dined out most evenings of the week. If, as it happened that evening, his only son's social engagements lay in another direction, Rupert was sure to be found in the Judge's dressing-room, talking over the events of the day, while the Judge tied his white tie and got into a swallow-tail, usually in a violent hurry because he had sat so late. Between the shaving and the brushing and the donning of evening clothes—that evening the services of a valet were dispensed with—Rupert's love affair was put out of court by his father.

"Let me hear no more of it," he had said; and the ivory pallor of his face had no accession of colour, the lines of his handsome mouth closed till the lips were hardly visible, the curiously-piercing bright gray eyes were inflexible to the boy to whom he had never refused anything from his cradle.

During the day knowledge of Rupert's infatuation for the poor daughter of a country vicar had come to his father. He was not angry with Rupert. Lads would have their follies, he thought, with fond contemptuousness. Only—it must go no farther; there must be an end of it. He never doubted that he would be obeyed. When had he and Rupert not seen things from the same standpoint?

If he had noticed the set look of the young face that was so startlingly like his own—as he might have noticed it in the glass—his opinion regarding the finality of his decision would, perhaps, have undergone a change. But he had always been accustomed to imposing his will upon more than his immediate circle. Fortunately he was too big a man to be a tyrant, and the will was generally for the good of those concerned. And, to be sure, he and Rupert had always seen eye to eye. There had never been a more devoted father and son. They didn't talk much about it; but the Judge knew his son's pride in any love for him as the son knew his father's satisfaction in him.

That matter of Miss Conyers in time passed from the Judge's mind. At the moment it had startled him; but then he had taken the reasonable view. Hot-headed, generous lads like Rupert must have their impracticable follies. He didn't want twenty-three to have the wisdom of fifty. And the boy had not protested. There had not been another word about it. After all, Rupert had seen that his father knew best for him. What was the attraction between girl and boy, the mere passing folly, as compared with the love which had been father's and mother's love to Rupert all his days?

However, as the years passed, the Judge had one cause of dissatisfaction with his otherwise wholly satisfactory son. Rupert showed himself curiously indifferent, or at best merely friendly, to all women. The Judge did not like it. He had made his way from the comparatively humble position of the son of a country solicitor to almost the top of the tree. As the years passed his honours and eminence grew with them. He had accepted a title. He was now Lord Lethwayt. In course of time the title would come to Rupert. The Judge had an oddly human desire—or it would have seemed oddly human to those who called him a man of steel and adamant—to hold his grandson in his arms before he died. He wanted to know that the title he had created and made greatly significant was going to be handed on. Beyond that he had an unexpected fondness for children. To children, and to dogs and horses, the Judge ceased to be a terrible person.

Rupert had shown no leaning for the profession of the law. He was a soldier, in a smart cavalry regiment which had its quarters between London and Windsor. He had done very decently in his profession, and had won his company in the ordinary way; but he had seen little service. There had been piping times of peace for so long that people had forgotten what war was like.

The Judge had been saving for his only son. When Rupert succeeded to the title he would have plenty of money to keep it up with. Sandridge Park, the Judge's seat, was one of the prettiest places of its size in England. There was also the house in Portman-square. All those years mothers and daughters alike had been ready to smile on Rupert Lethwayt; but, so far as the father could, see, he never so much as flirted. It was very disappointing for the founder of his own fame, who desired a grandson to carry on the glories of the name he had made honourable.

Then came a little cloud from the dark places of the earth, which was to grow till it lay over England like a shadow. Calamity followed calamity, till it seemed as though every soldier the country possessed must be put into the fighting line. But the hot days of summer had come before Rupert's regiment was ordered to the seat of war.

For some time the regiment had been awaiting orders. It was a glorious June. The weather had come that makes men think of the sea with longing.

On the west coast of England there is a little cove which the tripper has not yet discovered. There the Judge and his son had spent many a happy vacation while Rupert was a small boy. But of late years the Judge had not revisited Haworth Cove; he was getting on in years now, and took the cure at a German spa year after year with assiduity.

This summer he was not so well. He would not have acknowledged for worlds how his son's regiment being ordered out weighed on his mind. Why, if Rupert were killed—so many eldest and only sons were being killed every day, and Rupert was sure to be found in the fighting line—if Rupert were killed it would be an end of everything. He would be a lonely, heart-broken old man, the first and the last Baron Lethwayt.

The papers mentioned that Lord Lethwayt was absent from the Bench owing to indisposition. Lord Lethwayt, in his library at Portman-square, was writing a letter to his son:—

"My Dear Boy,—I'm off work and liverish. I am running down for a few days to Haworth, and propose that you shall join me there. You will have no difficulty in getting a week's leave. It will be like the old days.—Your affectionate father, LETHWAYT."

"P.S.—I go by the 10 train from Paddington to-morrow morning."

The letter did not reach Captain the Hon. Rupert Lethwayt, for the excellent reason that he had already left his quarters for a week's leave. Nor did he see that paragraph in the papers about his father's indisposition, else he would have been disquieted.

When the Judge had finished the letter and affixed his big, old-fashioned seal he sat staring at it for a moment, during which he looked oddly unhappy for a man of steel and adamant. His old grievance of Rupert's aversion to matrimony came into his mind, and following the train of thought he remembered Rupert's one love affair, the love affair which he had nipped in the bud so remorselessly nearly a decade of years ago. For the first time in his life he wondered if he had been right to act as he did. He might have seen the girl, at all events. And she was well-born, the eldest daughter of a poor scholar with a houseful of children. He might have seen her. To be sure, he had had other views for Rupert. But then Rupert had set them at naught. The Lady Floras and Lady Hildas of those days whom he had thought of as worthy mates for his boy, and certain, one or the other, to please his fancy, had become wives of other men and mothers of their children. If Rupert had married Agnes Conyers she might have given him half-a-dozen children by this time, grandchildren for the Judge.

"It is a bad thing to have all your eggs in one basket," the Judge said, drearily, aloud, in the splendid dim room.

He caught the 10 train at Paddington next day. As he bustled along the platform, where people stared and pointed him out to each other—the illustrated papers had made has face well known—he looked about him for Rupert with a chill sense of disappointment. Rupert had always been punctual when it was a question of their meeting. Supposing he had not been able to get leave! There had been no answer to the letter. Then their few days' holiday together must be given up, and there might never again be a chance; their times together might be over in this world.

The Judge sighed impatiently as he followed his manservant along the line of carriages. Then for an instant be smiled. It was at the sight of a first-class carriage filled to overflowing, it seemed, with babies and nurses. There were really five children and two nurses, but there were innumerable small packages, and spades and pails, and luncheon-baskets and picture-books, and a small yelping dog. The children were crowding over each other to look out of the carriage windows. A small, bullet-headed boy about 6 years old caught the Judge's eye. His face was like a small dark peach. He had a remarkably sturdy air, as though he viewed the world as a thing for his delight, and he smiled and waved his hand to the Judge. The Judge smiled back at him.

"We're going to the sea," said the boy. "Don't you wish you were going too?"

"Don t be so forward, Master Jim." said the prim head nurse, pulling him back.

The Judge would have pursued the acquaintance if he had not caught sight of his son in the next carriage.

"So glad you were able to come, my boy," he called out, exuberantly glad that he was not going to be disappointed of those few days after all; he only realised as his heart bounded up how great the disappointment would have been. "I was afraid you couldn't get leave after all when I didn't meet you at the booking office. Hot, isn't it? It will be good at Haworth these days."

The manservant was putting in his small luggage. There was a boy with a tray of papers at the carriage-door. In the bustle of getting in and settling, the Judge did not notice the consternation on his son's face, nor the rapid telegraphy of the eyes that passed between him and a young lady who sat in the corner of the carriage, partly hidden behind a ladies' paper. In this moment of joyous excitement the Judge did not remember that the young lady had been sitting opposite to Rupert when he first caught sight of him. If he had remembered he would have thought it obliging of her to have made room for him so rapidly, getting into the farthest corner of the carriage and gathering her belongings to her as though there was not, according to the railway company's estimate, still three empty seats to be filled.

Certainly the young lady effaced herself as much as possible. She might hardly have existed for all the hindrance she was to Rupert and his father during the four hours' journey. Once the Judge, glancing her way, casually caught sight of a rounded cheek like a peach, not altogether unlike the cheek of his young friend next door. For the moment she had lowered the paper, and there was a dimple playing charmingly in her cheek. The Judge had been talking of the children in the next carriage. Then while he glanced at her in his abrupt way the paper went up again; and the dimple was hidden.

When at last they reached Haworth, Rupert left the carriage so hurriedly as to amaze his father. The Judge having looked after him for a moment with some surprise, waited, and helped the young lady to alight. He was the most punctilious of old-fashioned gentlemen, and fumed a little as he went after his son, having left the young lady amid her belongings on the platform, the centre of the group of children from the next carriage.

"Odd that she should not have travelled with them," he thought to himself. "Their eldest sister, perhaps, or perhaps a young aunt. Hardly their mother. She didn't look as if she couldn't bear the chatter of children either."

For by this time he knew more of his late travelling companion than the dimple. He had a memory of a vivacious and charming face, with beautiful brown eyes and the most lovely brunette colouring. She was really very like the small boy in the next carriage at whom the Judge had looked so enviously.

He grumbled as he met Rupert half-way down the platform, and yielded up his bag to him. Rupert answered something vaguely about having had to send a telegram to some one or other.

"The fly from the Jolly Waggoner is outside," he said with an air of hurry and perturbation. "I have asked old John to collect the luggage. I thought we might walk over the sandhills; I am stiff, being cooped up so long."

The Judge had no objection. He was a believer in regular exercise, and while he was in town might be met any morning of the year in the Row on his chestnut, at hours when other men were turning over sleepily before awaking.

Still he hesitated after he had greeted old John, the coachman from the Waggoner.

"Hadn't we better wait and assist that young lady with the children? I don't see anything here for her. She may be rather stranded."

"Oh, come on, you Quixotic person," cried Rupert, thrusting an arm through his father's. "As a matter of fact you are hindering her. Old John has to leave her at her lodgings as soon as he has done with us."

"Why not leave her first?"

"Very well, sir. Indeed, for the matter of that, if we walk, John can drop our bags as he passed by the Waggoner. John drive the lady and children over; we'll walk. Come along, sir."

The Judge, as a matter of fact, wanted to stay and make better acquaintance with the children, but his son hustled him along just before the shouting and joyous group emerged from the door of the railway station. Master Jim was dancing along with his hand in Gregory the porters hand, and as he came he shouted a greeting to old John. The sound of the exhilarating little voice followed the Judge and his son as they climbed the hill.

"They seem to have been here before," said the Judge.

"Very probably."

"I hope the place hasn't grown much. It must be a good many years since we were here together."

"There is a range of low cottages down by the coastguards', and a couple of bungalows on the cliff. The great world has not yet found out Haworth."

"Ah!" The Judge glanced sharply at his son. "I didn't know you were at Haworth since we were here together, Rupert."

"Last year, when you were at Schwallenbach."

Captain Rupert looked confused. What had come to the boy, the Judge asked wonderingly. He had always been able to read him like a book. No secrets between them ever. Other men's sons might be sealed books to their fathers. Not Rupert. They saw eye to eye: they felt heart to heart.

"I am glad the place is yet unspoilt," the Judge went on after a second's pause. "I am glad we can be here together for these few days in quietness."

They turned to other topics. As they crossed the hill the fly with the lady and children passed them by. The small boy shouted a greeting which the Judge took to be to himself, and raised his hat to the youngster with a delighted eye. As the carriage went on out of sight he sighed, and Rupert looked at him curiously. It was the first time he had heard his father sigh.

Mrs. Shadbolt, at the Jolly Waggoner, welcomed them with beaming deference and had an excellent lunch ready for them. When they had finished it the Judge got up and announced his intention of taking a walk on the beach.

"I'll follow you presently, sir," Rupert said. "I've a letter to write."

"Already?"

"A business letter." Rupert looked down.

"Very well, my lad. Only, join me as soon as you can. We must be together as much as possible this time."

The Judge laid a hand in unwonted demonstration on his son's shoulder.

"We have always been every thing to each other," he said, affectionately.

Then he took his Panama hat and sallied forth. Demonstrations were not in his way, and he felt shy over this one.

He had hardly passed out of sight when there was a ragged boy in the doorway with a telegram for the captain. It was addressed to Rose Cottage, but the urchin, who was an old friend of Rupert's, had known that he was at the Waggoner and taken the message there.

Rupert tore the telegram open. It was a message of recall. The regiment had got its marching orders. He must come back as soon as possible.

"It will be a blow to the Judge," he said, aloud. "He was counting on our holiday. I shall have to own up sooner than I thought."

He thrust the telegram into his breast pocket and followed his father. As he came down the little path over the cliffs he was suddenly aware of the Judge as the centre of a merry group. The Judge was positively buried half-way up his chest in sand. The children who had travelled with them in the morning were walling him up, carrying small spadefuls of sand and beating it down about him with great energy. The young lady was sitting under a Japanese umbrella, apparently engaged in needlework. For the moment the nurses had vanished.

The Judge looked up and saw his son, and shook himself free from his grave of sand. He shouted to Rupert cheerfully as he came to meet him. For a moment the small boy capered at his heels till he was recalled by his mother.

"Come and play with the young rascals," said the Judge, shaking the sand out of his well-fitting gray coat and trousers. He was laughing like a boy. "I don't know when I've enjoyed such a game. Why—what's the matter, Rupert?"

"I've something to tell you, sir." Rupert put his hand through his fathers arm and drew him away with him.

The Judge stiffened suddenly; for a second his piercing eye was clouded.

"You've had the recall," he said quietly.

"It's boots and saddle with us, father. We sail next week."

"When must you go?—from here, I mean?"

"I think I can stay till to-morrow."

They walked up the cliff path in silence. The path wound through a little glade of tiny bracken. They were alone, surrounded by the little heights. A skylark hung above them motionless in an ecstasy of song.

"It's hard," said the Judge; and they turned and faced each other. "Deuced hard, my boy. Why didn't you give me a grandson to console me? That little chap down on the beach—he flung his arm about my neck and rubbed his cheek against mine. I felt I'd have given the world if he were my own. If I'd had grandchildren this wouldn't have been so bitter."

Up the path in the little cliff came Master Jim, escaped unnoticed from his mother. As he came on the father and son in the little glade he launched himself upon them with a shout of delight.

"Rascal!" cried the Judge, straddling the path to intercept him.

"Daddy!" said Master Jim, trying to pass him by to reach Rupert.

"That isn't your daddy, boy," shouted the Judge, swinging the glowing small creature to his shoulder. "I wish to heaven it was!"

"Will you ever forgive us, father?" Rupert said. "I have been a married man for eight years. He is your grandson. We called him James after you. It was no use. I should never have married any woman but Agnes; and you would not hear of it."

The Judge stared at him in stupefaction. Then he set down the child between them and looked at him as though he could not believe his own good fortune.

"I ought to have known it, boy," he said, "if only because my heart went out to him. He is like you, and he is like his mother, too. Married all those years! Heavens! I think you and she have something to forgive me, too."

"Come and comfort her," Rupert said. "I leave her and them to you, sir. You will take care of each other."

"My grandson!" the Judge repeated, incredulously, as he looked down at the small boy, who was quiet for the moment wondering over this seriousness of his elders. "And there are two more boys. The name is not likely to die out. Come, lad, let us go to my daughter."

He swung the child once again to his shoulder, where the little brown arm went round his massive head. Then they went back down the cliff path together.


THE END

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