Read CHAPTER SIX of Shifting Winds A Tough Yarn , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

KENNETH INDULGES IN SUSPICIONS AND SURMISES.

“Will you walk or ride?” said Kenneth Stuart as he and Gildart issued from Seaside Villa, and sauntered down the avenue that led to the principal gate.

“Ride, by all means,” said Gildart, “if you have a respectable horse.  I love to ride, not only on the `bursting tide,’ but on the back of a thoroughbred, if he’s not too tough in the mouth, and don’t incline to shy.”

Kenneth replied that he had a mount to give him, which, although not quite thoroughbred, was nevertheless a good animal, and not addicted to the bad qualities objected to.

As he spoke Daniel Horsey walked up, and, touching his hat, asked if the horses would be required.

“Yes, Dan.  Is Bucephalus none the worse of last night’s work?”

“Niver a taste, sur.  He’s like a lark this mornin’.”

“Well, saddle him, and also the brown horse.  Bring them both over to Captain Bingley’s as soon as you can.”

“Yis, sur.”  Dan touched his cap, and walked smartly away.

“Why to my father’s?” asked Gildart.

“Because, after your father and Miss Gordon were exposed to such unwonted fatigue, I wish to inquire for them personally.”

“Humph! you’re not satisfied with my assurance that they are well?”

“Not quite, my boy,” said Kenneth, with a smile; “I wish to have the assurance from the lips of your sweet cousin.”

“Whew! in love!” exclaimed Gildart.

“No; not in love yet,” replied the other; “but, to change the subject, did you observe the manner in which my father received the news of the arrival of the `Hawk?’”

“Well, it did not require a fellow to have his weather eye very wide-open to perceive that your father has a decided objection to his son-in-law, and does not seem over anxious to meet with him or his wife or child.  What have they been up to, Kennie - eloped, eh?”

“No, they did not exactly elope, but they married without my father’s consent, or rather against his wishes, and were discarded in consequence.  You must not think my father is an unkind man, but he was deeply disappointed at poor Emma’s choice; for, to say truth, her husband was a wild harum-scarum sort of fellow, fond of steeple-chasing -

“Like you,” interpolated Gildart.

“Like me,” assented Kenneth, with a nod, “and also of yachting and boating, like you.”

“Like me,” assented the middy.

“Nevertheless,” resumed Kenneth, “a good-hearted fellow in the main, who, I am certain, would have acted his part in life well if he had been better trained.  But he was spoiled by his father and mother, and I must admit that poor Tom Graham was not over fond of work.”

“Ha!” ejaculated Gildart.

“Hum!” responded his friend, “do either of us, I wonder, perceive in ourselves any resemblance to him in this latter point?  I suppose it would require a third party to answer that question truly.  But, to continue - My father gave Emma, (for he would not consent to see Tom), a thousand pounds, and dismissed her from his presence, as he said, `for ever,’ but I am convinced that he did not mean what he said, for he paced about his bedroom the whole of the night after his last interview with poor Emma, and I heard him groan frequently, although the partition that separates our rooms is so thick that sounds are seldom heard through it.  Do you know, Gildart, I think we sometimes judge men harshly.  Knowing my father as I do, I am convinced that he is not the cold, unfeeling man that people give him credit for.  He acted, I believe, under a strong conviction that the course he adopted was that of duty; he hoped, no doubt, that it would result in good to his child, and that in the course of time he should be reconciled to her.  I cannot conceive it possible that any one would cast off his child deliberately and for ever.  Why, the man who could do so were worse than the beasts that perish.”

“I agree with you.  But what came of Tom and Emma?” asked Gildart.

“They went to Australia.  Tom got into business there.  I never could make out the exact nature of it, but he undoubtedly succeeded for a time, for Emma’s letters to me were cheerful.  Latterly, however, they got into difficulties, and poor Emma’s letters were sad, and came less frequently.  For a year past she has scarcely written to me at all.  Tom has never written.  He was a high-spirited fellow, and turned his back on us all when my father cast him and Emma off.”

“Humph!” ejaculated Gildart, “nevertheless his high spirit did not induce him to refuse the thousand pounds, it would seem.”

“You wrong him, Gildart; Emma knew him well, and she told me that she had placed the money in a bank in her own name, without telling him of it.  Any success that attended him at first was the result of his own unaided energy and application to business.  It is many years now since they went away.  Some time ago we heard that they, with their only daughter, little Emma, were coming back to England, whether in wealth or in poverty I cannot tell.  The vessel in which they were to sail is named the `Hawk,’ and that is the ship that my father has heard of as having been seen yesterday.”

“How comes it, Kenneth, that you have never opened your lips to me on this subject during our long acquaintance?  I did not know even that you had a sister.”

“Why, to say truth, the subject was not one on which I felt disposed to be communicative.  I don’t like to talk of family squabbles, even to my most intimate friends.”

“So we may look for some family breezes and squalls ere long, if not gales,” said Gildart with a laugh.

Kenneth shook his head gravely.

“I fear much,” said he, “that the `Hawk’ was exposed to last night’s gale; she must have been so if she did not succeed in making some harbour before it came on; but I cannot shake off the feeling that she is wrecked, for I know the vessel well, and practical men have told me that she was quite unseaworthy.  True, she was examined and passed in the usual way by the inspectors, but every one knows that that does not insure the seaworthiness of vessels.”

“Well, but even suppose they have been wrecked,” suggested Gildart, “it does not follow that they have been drowned.”

“I don’t know,” replied the other in a low voice - “I have a strange, almost a wild suspicion, Gildart.”

“What may that be?”

“That the little girl who was left so mysteriously at our door last night is my sister’s child,” said Kenneth.

“Whew!” whistled the midshipman, as he stopped and gazed at his friend in surprise; “well, that is a wild idea, so wild that I would advise you seriously to dismiss it, Kennie.  But what has put it into your head? - fancied likeness to your sister or Tom, eh?”

“No, not so much that, as the fact that she told Niven last night that her name is Emmie.”

“That’s not Emma,” said Gildart.

“It is what I used to call my sister, however; and besides that there is a seaman named Stephen Gaff, who, I find, has turned up somewhat suddenly and unaccountably last night from Australia.  He says he has been wrecked; but he is mysterious and vague in his answers, and do what I will I cannot get rid of the idea that there is some connexion here.”

“It is anxiety, my boy, that has made you think in this wild fashion,” said Gildart.  “Did I not hear Mrs Niven say that the child gave her name as Emmie Wilson?”

“True, I confess that the name goes against my idea; nevertheless I cannot get rid of it, so I mean to canter to-day down to Cove, where Gaff stays, and have a talk with him.  We can go together by the road along the top of the cliffs, which is an exceedingly beautiful one.  What say you?”

“By all means:  it matters nothing to me what course you steer, so long as we sail in company.  But pray don’t let the fascinating Lizzie detain you too long.  Oh! you need not laugh as if you were invulnerable.  I’ll engage to say that you’ll not come away under an hour if you go into the house without making me a solemn promise to the contrary.”

“Why, Gildart, it strikes me that you must be in love with your fascinating cousin from the way in which you speak.”

“Perhaps I am,” said the middy, with a tremendous sigh; “but come, here we are, and the horses at the door before us; they must have been brought round by the other road.  Now, then, promise that you’ll not stay longer than half an hour.”

Kenneth smiled, and promised.

On entering my residence, which had been named, by Mrs Bingley’s orders, “Bingley Hall,” the young men found my pretty niece coming down the staircase in that most fascinating of all dresses, a riding-habit, which displayed her neat and beautifully rounded figure to perfection.  Lizzie could not be said to blush as she bowed acknowledgment to Kenneth’s salutation, for a blush, unless it were a very deep one, usually lost itself among the blush roses that at all times bloomed on her cheek; but she smiled with great sweetness upon the stalwart youth, and informed him that, having just been told that John Furby was still suffering from the effects of his recent accident, she had ordered out her pony and was about to ride down to Cove to see him.

Kenneth began to remark on the curious coincidence that he too had come out with the intention of riding down to the same place; but the volatile middy burst in with -

“Come, Lizz, that’s jolly, we’re bound for the same port, and can set sail in company; whether we keep together or not depends on circumstances, not to mention wind and weather.  I rather think that if we take to racing, Bucephalus and Kenneth will be there first.”

“Bucephalus is always well behaved in the company of ladies, which is more than I can say of you, Gildart,” retorted his friend, as he opened the door to let Lizzie Gordon pass out.

“And we won’t race, good cousin,” said Lizzie, “for my uncle is to ride with me, and you know he is not fond of going very fast.”

“How d’ye know that, lass?” said I, coming down-stairs at the moment; “not a few of my friends think that I go much too fast for this century - so fast, indeed, that they seem to wonder that I have not ridden ahead of them into the next!  How d’ye do, Kenneth?  Gildart was not long of finding you out, I see.”

Saying this, I mounted my cob and cantered down the avenue of Bingley Hall, followed by the young people, whose fresh and mettlesome steeds curvetted and pranced incessantly.

It may be as well to remark here, good reader, that at the time of which I write I was unacquainted, as a matter of course, with many of the facts which I am now narrating:  they were made known to me piecemeal in the course of after years.  I feel that this explanation is necessary in order to account for my otherwise unaccountable knowledge of things that were said and done when I was not present.