Read CHAPTER FOUR - THE PARK of Frank Oldfield Lost and Found , free online book, by T.P. Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

It was a great vexation to Sir Thomas Oldfield that Mrs Barnes would neither keep the “Oldfield Arms” open herself, nor let it as a public-house to any one else.  The “Dun Cow” was quite an inferior place altogether, and nothing but rebuilding it could turn it into anything like a respectable house; but it did very well for the villagers to sot in.  There was a good fire, and plenty of room in its parlour, so the “Dun Cow” kept its name, and reigned alone.  Sir Thomas, indeed, had no wish to see the public-houses multiplied, for he highly disapproved of drunkenness, so there was no encouragement to set up another house in a fresh place.  And, indeed, though there was always custom in abundance for one such establishment, a second would, at the time of the opening of our story, have driven but a poor trade; for the example and appeals of the rector for some seventeen years as a Christian total abstainer, together with the knowledge that all the rectory household were consistent water-drinkers, had been greatly blessed in Waterland.  Many had left their drunkenness; a happy change had taken place in several homes; and a flourishing total abstinence society, which included many members from other parishes and villages, held its monthly meetings in the large temperance room under the presidency of Bernard Oliphant.

Sir Thomas Oldfield hated drunkenness, and was very severe upon drunkards, under ordinary circumstances, when brought before him as a magistrate.  But, on the other hand, he hated total abstinence very cordially also.  He was fond of making sweeping assertions, and knocking timid opponents down with strong asseverations, which passed for excellent arguments at assize dinners, and at parties at Greymoor Park; for it is wonderful what exceedingly loose logic will satisfy even highly-educated people when employed on the side of their appetites or prejudices.  Once, indeed, the squire was very considerably staggered, but he never liked a reference to be made afterwards to the occasion.  He was presiding at a harvest-home given to his own tenants, and had passed from a warm eulogium on temperance and moderation to a vehement harangue against total abstinence and total abstainers.  He was, however, cut short in the midst of his eloquence by a sturdy-looking labourer, who struggled forward, beer-jug in hand, and, tottering at every step, spluttered out,

“Hooray, hooray, Sir Thomas!  Here’s long life to the squire here’s long life to moderation.  Hooray lads, hooray!  Here’s three cheers for the squire and moderation.  Stand fast to your principles, like me; as for them total abstainers, they haven’t got a leg to stand on.”

With that he tumbled forward, and, unable to recover his balance, fell flat on the ground before Sir Thomas, and lay there utterly unable to rise.

As was the squire, so had he brought up his family.

Greymoor Park was a noble property, which had come down to him through a long line of ancestors.  The house stood on a rocky height, and was surrounded, but not encumbered, by noble groups of trees, from the midst of which it looked out over sloping terraced gardens, glowing with flower-beds, which enamelled the smoothest of turf, across the park from which the estate took its name.  The original house was old, but while the fine bay-windows, massive porch, stately gables, and wide staircases, with their carved oak balustrades and pendants, had been preserved untouched, all such modern improvements had been added as would soften off the inconveniences of a less luxurious age.  The park itself was remarkable for the size and grouping of its timber, and was well-stocked with deer.  A fine sheet of water also spread itself out over an open space between the trees, so as to form a delightful variety to the view from the great bay-windows.  Indeed, if the things of the present life could have made a man happy, Sir Thomas had abundant grounds for happiness in this world.  Yes, in this world, but not beyond it.  For Sir Thomas was just simply and thoroughly a man of the world, and a most respectable man of the world too.  No man could place his finger on a blot in his character or conduct.  He lived for the world, and the world applauded him.  He lived to please self, and to a considerable extent he succeeded.

Lady Oldfield wished to be something higher.  She knew the emptiness of the world, at least in theory.  She wished to be a Christian, but was not.  The glow of a pure gospel faith, caught by intercourse with true Christians, might be often found in her words, but it went no farther; as the pavement on which the rich hues of a stained glass window fall, is but a cold colourless pavement after all, so was her heart cold, worldly, colourless for God.  She was careful to have her children taught religiously the Bible lesson, the catechism, were learnt both regularly and perfectly.  No child might omit its prayers night or morning, nor be absent from the daily family worship.  No household was more strict in its attendance at church; and nothing brought down more speedily and severely her ladyship’s displeasure than negligence to go to God’s house, or irreverence or inattention during the service.  Thomas, the eldest son, and heir to the baronetcy, was at present abroad with his regiment; the second son, Frank, was just one-and-twenty; the rest of the children were daughters.

Ever since the coming of Bernard Oliphant to Waterland, there had been free intercourse between the two families at the hall and the rectory; for Mr Oliphant was a distant relation of the Oldfields, and it was through Sir Thomas that he had been presented to the living.  So the young people grew up together, though there was, strictly speaking, more intimacy than friendship between them, especially as the total abstinence principles of the rectory were a bar to any great cordiality on the part of the squire and his lady.  On this point the baronet and his wife were entirely agreed.  She was less openly severe, yet quite as determined and bitter in her opposition as he.  So the two families met, and were civil, and exchanged calls, and the Oliphants dined at the hall occasionally, and the children of both houses had little gatherings and feastings together from time to time.  Thus had things gone on for some years after Mr Oliphant had first shown his colours as a total abstainer; Lady Oldfield jealously watching her children, lest any of them should be corrupted by the absurd notions, as she counted them, of the rector and his wife on this subject of total abstinence.  She had, however, nothing to fear on this score, as regarded her eldest son.  He had never taken much to the Oliphants as a boy, and his absence from home at school and the university had kept him out of the reach of their influence till he left England with his regiment.  It was otherwise with the second son, Frank, who was specially his mother’s idol, and indeed almost every one else’s too.  From his earliest boyhood he took people’s hearts by storm, and kept them.  No one could see him and not love that open, generous, handsome face, with its laughing blue eyes, and setting of rich brown curling hair.  No one could hear his joyous, confiding voice, and the expressions of unaffected and earnest interest with which he threw himself into every subject which fairly engaged his attention or affections, without feeling drawn with all the cords of the heart to the noble boy.  There was such a thorough openness and freedom in all that he did and said, yet without recklessness and without indifference to the feelings of others.  And when, through thoughtlessness or forgetfulness, as was not unfrequently the case, he happened to find himself in some awkward scrape or perplexity, he would toss back his waving hair with a half-vexed half-comical expression, which would disarm at once his mother’s anger, spite of herself, and turn her severe rebuke into a mild remonstrance.  Alas, that sin should ever mar such a lovely work of God!  Frank loved the look of nature that lay open all around him, but not his own books.  He abhorred study, and only submitted to it from a sense of duty.  His father, at Lady Oldfield’s urgent request, kept him at home, and engaged a private tutor for him, whose office would have been a sinecure but for the concern it gave him to find his pupil so hard to drag along the most level paths of learning.  Dog’s-ears disfigured Frank’s books, the result simply of restless fingers; and dog’s heads; executed in a masterly style, were the subjects of his pen.  He loved roaming about, and there was not an old ruin within many miles round of which he did not know every crevice, nor any birds of song or prey with whose haunts and habits he was not intimately acquainted.  In fishing, riding, swimming, he was an early adept, and every outdoor sport was his delight.  All the dogs in the neighbourhood rejoiced in him, and every cottager’s wife blessed him when he flung his bright smiles around him as he passed along.  At no place was he more welcome than at the rectory, nor was there any house in which he felt so happy, not even excepting his own home.  With all his wildness he felt the most sincere love and respect for Mr and Mrs Oliphant, and rejoiced in a day spent with their children.  And there was one of these towards whom he was drawn with feelings of peculiar tenderness.  He was not conscious of it, and would have laughed at the idea had it been suggested to him; yet it was true that when he was but just sixteen Mary Oliphant had begun to wind herself around his heart with those numberless invisible cords which would by degrees enchain him in bonds which no power on earth could break.  Mary, of course, mere child as she then was, and brought up by her parents as a child should be, obedient, gentle, unobtrusive, delighted in the companionship of the lively, open-hearted boy, without a thought beyond, and heartily enjoyed many a happy ramble with him and her brothers among the woods and meadows.  Frank Oldfield could not but be struck by the love and harmony which reigned in the Oliphant family.  He saw the power of a religion which made itself felt without thrusting itself forward into notice.  He could not but reflect sometimes, and then even his sunny brow was clouded, that he wanted a something which the children at the rectory possessed; that he wanted a great reality, without which he could not be fully happy.  He saw also the bright side of total abstinence when he spent a day with the rector’s family.  At home there was always abundance of beer and wine upon the table, and he drank it, like others; and not only drank it, but thirsted for it, and felt as if he could not do without it.  It was not so when he dined at the rectory, at their simple one o’clock meal, for he enjoyed his food, and seemed scarcely to miss the stimulant.

One day, when he was sitting at the rectory table, he said to Mr Oliphant, looking up with one of his bright smiles,

“I wish I was a total abstainer.”

“Well,” said Mr Oliphant in reply, with a smile, “I wish you were; but why do you wish it just now, my dear boy?”

“Oh, I’ve been thinking a good deal about it lately.  I see you smile, Hubert, but I really have been thinking yes, thinking I’ve been thinking that I should like to do as you all do; you’re just as happy without beer and wine, and just as well too.”

“And is that your only reason, dear Frank?” asked Mrs Oliphant.

“Oh no! that’s not all; the plain truth is this, I can’t help thinking that if I keep getting fonder and fonder of beer and wine, as I’m doing now, I shall get too fond of it by-and-by.”

Mr Oliphant sighed, and poor Mary exclaimed,

“Oh, Frank, don’t say that.”

“Ay, but it’s true; don’t you think, Mr Oliphant, that I should be better and safer without it?”

“I do, most sincerely, my dear boy,” answered the rector; “yes, both better and safer; and specially the latter.”

“I know,” said Frank, “that papa and mamma are not fond of total abstinence; but then, I cannot think that they have really looked into the matter as you have.”

“No, Frank, your father and mother do not see the matter in the same light as myself and I have no right to blame them, for, when I first came to Waterland, I thought nearly the same as they do.  Perhaps they will take my view by-and-by.”

Frank shook his head, and then went on,

“But you do think it the best thing for young people, as well as grown-up people, to be abstainers?”

“Yes, assuredly; and I will tell you why.  I will give you a little illustration.  There is a beautiful picture representing what is called the `Lorelei,’ a spirit fabled to haunt some high rocks that overlook the Rhine.  This spirit is represented in the picture as a beautiful female, with a sweet but melancholy expression of countenance.  She kneels on the top of the rock, and is singing to a harp, which she strikes with her graceful fingers.  Below is a boat with two men in it, the one old, and the other young.  The boat is rapidly nearing the rocks, but both the men are utterly unconscious of their danger the old man has ceased to hold the helm, the young man has dropped the oars, and both are fondly stretching out their hands towards the deceiving spirit, wholly entranced with her song a few moments more and their boat will be a wreck.  Now, it is because the drink is such an enticing thing, like the Lorelei spirit; because it seems to sing pleasantly to us, and makes us forget where we are; because it lures on old and young to their ruin, by robbing them of their self-control; it is for these reasons that I think it such a happy thing to put every safeguard between ourselves and its snares.”

“Yes,” said Frank thoughtfully; “I know the drink is becoming a snare to me, or may become so.  What shall I do?  Ought I to give it up altogether?”

“It is a very difficult thing to answer that question,” replied the rector.  “I could hardly urge you to give up beer and wine altogether, if your father and mother positively forbid your doing so; there is no sin, of course, in the simple taking of fermented liquors, and therefore I could not advise you to go directly contrary to your parents’ orders in this matter.”

“There is no harm, however, in my trying to give up beer and wine, if my father and mother will allow me?”

“Certainly not, my dear boy; and may God make your way plain, and remove or overcome your difficulties.”

The day after this conversation, Frank was sitting in his place at the dinner-table of the hall.  The butler brought him a glass of beer.  “No, thank you,” he said.  A little while after he filled a tumbler with water, and began to drink it.

“Frank, my boy,” said his father, “are not you well?  Why don’t you take your beer as usual?”

“I’m quite well, thank you, papa; but I’d rather have the water.”

“Well, put some port wine in it, at any rate, if you don’t fancy the beer to-day.”

“I’d rather have neither beer nor wine, thank you, papa.”

By this time Lady Oldfield’s attention was drawn to what was passing between her husband and son.

“Dear Frank,” she said, “I shall not allow you to do anything so foolish as to drink water.  James, hand the beer again to Master Frank.”

“Indeed, dear mamma,” he urged, “I mean what I say; I really should rather have water.”

“Absurd!” exclaimed her ladyship angrily; “what folly has possessed you now?  You know that the medical men all say that wine and beer are necessary for your health.”

“I’m sure, mamma, the medical men needn’t trouble themselves about my health.  I’m always very well when I have plenty of air and exercise.  If ever I feel unwell, it is when I’ve had more wine or beer than usual.”

“And who, pray, has been putting these foolish notions into your head?  I see how it is; I always feared it; the Oliphants have been filling your head with their extravagant notions about total abstinence.  Really, my dear,” she added, turning to Sir Thomas, “we must forbid Frank’s going to the rectory, if they are to make our own child fly in the face of our wishes.”

“Mamma,” cried Frank, all on fire with excitement and indignation, “you’re quite mistaken about the Oliphants; they have none of them been trying to talk me over to their own views.  I began the subject myself, and asked Mr Oliphant’s advice, and he told me expressly that I ought not to do what you would disapprove of.”

“And why should you ask Mr Oliphant’s advice?  Cannot you trust your own father and mother?  I am not saying a word against Mr Oliphant as a clergyman or a Christian; he preaches the gospel fully and faithfully, and works hard in his parish, but on this subject of total abstinence he holds views which neither your father nor I approve of; and, really, I must not have you tampered with in this matter.”

“Well, dear mamma, I’ve done; I’ll do as you wish.  Farewell water welcome beer and wine; James, a glass of ale.”

It was two years after this that a merry company from the hall and rectory set out to explore a remarkable ruin about five miles distant from Waterland.  Frank was leader of the party; he had never given his parents any more anxiety on the score of total abstinence on the contrary, he had learned to take so freely of wine and beer, that his mother felt at times a little alarmed lest he should seriously overpass the bounds of moderation.  When at the rectory, he never again alluded to the subject, but rather seemed eager to turn the conversation when any remark fell from Mr or Mrs Oliphant on the evils arising from intemperance.  And now to-day he was in the highest spirits, as he rode on a sprightly little pony by the side of Mary Oliphant, who was mounted on another pony, and was looking the picture of peaceful beauty.  Other young people followed, also on horseback.  The day was most lovely, and an inspiriting canter along lane and over moor soon brought them to the ruin.  It was a stately moss-embroidered fabric, more picturesque in its decay than it ever could have been in its completeness.  Its shattered columns, solitary mullions, and pendent fragments of tracery hoary with age, and in parts half concealed by the negligent profusion of ivy, entranced the mind by their suggestive and melancholy beauty; while the huge remnant of a massive tower seemed to plead with mute dignity against the violence which had rent and marred it, and against the encroaching vegetation, which was climbing higher and higher, and enveloping its giant stones in a fantastic clothing of shrub and bramble.

Frank and his party first shut up their horses in the old refectory, closing the entrance with a hurdle, and then dispersed over the ruins.  Mary had brought her drawing-pad, that she might sketch a magnificent pillar, and the remains of a transept arch which rose gracefully behind it, crowned with drooping ivy, and disclosing in the back ground, through a shattered window, the dreamy blue of the distant hills.  She sat on the mutilated chapiter of a column, and was soon so wholly absorbed in her work, that she never turned her eyes to notice Frank Oldfield, who, leaning against a low archway, was busily engaged in a vigorous sketch, of which herself was the prominent object.  And who could blame him? for certainly a lovelier picture, or one more full of harmonious contrast, could hardly have been found, than that presented by the sweet and graceful figure of the rector’s daughter, with its surroundings of massive masonry and majestic decay.  She all life, a creature of the present, and yet still more of the future, as bright with the sunshine of a hope that could never die; and they, those mouldering stones, that broken tracery, those mossy arches, sad in the desolation of the present, sadder still in the memories of an unenlightened past.  Frank finished his sketch, and, holding it behind him, stole gently up to the side of Mary Oliphant.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “a most lovely little bit; and yet, I have the vanity to think that my choice of a subject has been better than your own.”

“The drawing is, no doubt,” she answered; “but I hardly think you can find such a picturesque group as this in any other part of the ruins.”

“Let us compare, then,” he said, and placed his own sketch by the side of hers.

“Oh, Frank,” she cried, “how can you be so foolish?”

At the same time the colour which flushed her face, and the bright smile which lighted it, showed that the folly was not very reprehensible in her eyes.

“Is it so very foolish?” he asked, half seriously, half playfully.  “Well; I wish I had shown the same kind of folly in my choice of some other things as I have in the choice of a subject.”

She was about to reply, when suddenly, without any warning, a savage-looking dog dashed into the open space before them, and, making a fierce rush at Mary, caught her by the dress.

“Down, you brute, down!” shouted Frank; but the dog still retained his hold, and growled and tossed himself about savagely.  Frank had no stick nor weapon of any kind in his hands, but he darted to a heap of loose stones, and snatching one up turned towards the dog.  In the meantime, Mary, in extreme terror, had dropped her drawing-pad, and plucking her dress from the fierce creature’s mouth, fled with all her speed across the pavement, and sprang up the projecting stones of an old archway.  The dog, with a loud yell, followed her, and easily overtook her, as the ascent up which she had climbed presented a broad footing.  Utterly terrified, and unconscious of what she was doing, the poor girl clambered higher and higher to escape her enemy.  Frank had now turned upon the dog, and hurled one huge stone at him; it passed near, but did not touch him.  Mary’s terror only excited the furious animal to follow, and as she saw him close upon her again, with a wild cry she leaped right across to an old fragment of a turret which stood out by itself in an angle of the wall.  The dog hesitated, but, before it could decide to follow her, another stone from Frank had struck it full in the side.  With a tremendous howl it tumbled down into the court and fled.  Poor Mary! she gasped for breath, and could not for a long time recover her self-possession.  When at last she became more calm, soothed and encouraged by the kind voice and earnest entreaties of Frank, it was only to awake to the extreme danger of her present position.  Fear had made her take a leap which she could never have dared to attempt in her calm senses.  She looked across the chasm over which she had sprung, and shuddered.  Could she try the leap back again?  No; she dared not.  In the meantime, the stones to which she was clinging began to loosen beneath her weight.  She looked down, and became giddy.

“Oh, save me save me I shall fall!” she cried.  She clutched at a strong stem of ivy which was climbing up the wall close by, and so supported herself; but it was evident that she could not long retain her hold in that constrained position, even if the stonework did not give way beneath her feet.  All the party had now gathered in the open space below, and some began to climb the path by which she had mounted.  Frank, in the meanwhile, was making desperate efforts to reach the poor girl.

“Hold on hold on dear Mary!” he cried; “a few moments, and I shall be with you; don’t lose courage keep a firm grasp on the ivy; there I’ve got a landing on the top of this old arch; now, I’m only a few feet off steady, steady don’t stir for your life only a few moments more and I shall be at your side.”

It was perilous work indeed; and all who beheld him held their breath as he made his way towards where the object of their deep anxiety was crouched.  Now he was clinging to a rough projecting stone, now swinging by a rusty bar, now grasping ivy or brambles, and every now and then slipping as the old masonry gave way beneath his feet.  At last, with immense exertion, he gained a ledge a little below where the terrified girl was perched, half lying, half crouching.  Here he had firm standing-ground.  Placing his hand gently upon her, he bade her slide down towards him, assuring her that she would have a firm footing on the ledge.  She obeyed at once, feeling his strong arm bearing her up and guiding her.  Another moment, and she stood beside him.  But now, how were they to descend?  She dared not attempt to leap back to the spot from whence she had sprung in her terror, and there was no regular descent from the slab on which they were perched, but only a few projecting stones down the perpendicular face of the wall, and these at wide intervals.

“There’s no way but a roundabout climb down by the ivy,” said Frank at last.  “Trust to me, dear Mary, and do exactly what I tell you.  I will go first, and do you place hand and foot just as I bid you.  There put your foot in that crevice now take firm hold of that branch; there now the other foot now the next step a little to the right, the good ivy makes a noble ladder now we’re nearly landed; there be careful not to slip on that round stone one step more, and now we’re safe.  Oh, thank God, you’re safe!”

He clasped her to his heart; she knew that heart was hers; she could not resent that loving embrace; it was but for a moment.  He released her, and was turning to the friends who were gathering and pressing round, when a heavy stone, loosened in their descent, fell on his outstretched arm, and struck him to the ground.

Mary sprang towards him with a cry of deep distress.

“Frank, dear Frank you’re hurt you’re dreadfully hurt, I’m sure.”

“No, no; not much, I hope,” he said, springing up, but looking very pale.  “It’s an awkward blow rather, but don’t distress yourself we’ll make the best of our way home at once just one of you see to the horses.”

He spoke with effort, for he was evidently in great pain.  Mary’s heart ached for him, but exhaustion and anxiety quite deprived her of the power of speaking or thinking collectively.

The horses were speedily brought.  Frank held out his uninjured arm to help Mary Oliphant to mount her pony.

“I’m so very, very sorry,” she said, “to have caused this disaster, and spoiled our happy day through my foolish timidity.”

“Nay, nay; you must not blame yourself,” said Frank.  “I am sure we all feel for you.  It was that rascal of a dog that did the mischief, but I gave him such a mark of my respect as I don’t think he’ll part with for a long time.”

Poor Frank, he tried to be cheerful; but it was plain to all that he must be suffering severely.  They were soon on their way home, but a cloud rested on their spirits.  Few words were said till they reached the spot where the roads to the hall and the rectory parted.  Then Frank turned to Mary and said, with a look full of tenderness, rendered doubly touching by his almost ghastly paleness,

“Farewell; I hope you’ll be none the worse, dear Mary, for your fright.  I shall send over to-morrow to inquire how you are.  It was a happy escape.”

“Good-bye, good-bye!” she cried; “a thousand thanks for your noble and timely rescue!  Oh, I hope I hope ”

She could not say more, but burst into tears.

“All right never fear for me!” he cried cheerily as he rode off, leaving Mary and a groom to make their way to Waterland, while himself and the rest of the party hastened on to Greymoor Park.

They had not far to ride, but Frank was evidently anxious to reach home as speedily as possible.  With clenched teeth and knit brow, he urged on his pony to a gallop.  Soon they reached the lodge; a few moments more and they had passed along the drive and gained the grand entrance.  Lady Oldfield had just returned from a drive, and was standing on the top step.

“You’re early home,” she remarked.  “Dear Frank, I hope there’s nothing amiss,” she added, noticing the downcast looks of the whole party.

Her son did not answer, but, dismounting with difficulty, began to walk up the steps.  She observed with dismay that he tottered as he approached her.  Could he have been drinking so freely as to be unable to walk steadily?  Her heart died within her.  The next moment he staggered forward, and fainted in her arms.