A large party is assembled to celebrate the feast of St. Partridge at Ravelstoke Hall, an old country house about two miles distant from the north-west coast of Devon. The various branches of English society are very fairly represented by its component parts. There are two peers, three members of the lower house, some Guardsmen, some undergraduates, a clergyman, and a lieutenant in the navy. But our hero is not a representative man: yet he belongs to a class which, called into existence by the accumulated wealth of the nineteenth century, is ever on the increase.
Frederick Tyrawley resembles Sir Charles Coldstream, inasmuch as he has been everywhere and done everything; but he is by no means used up, and can still take an interest in whatever his hand finds to do. Nor is his everything everybody else’s everything. It is not bounded by Jerusalem and the pyramids.
Mr. Tyrawley has fought in more than one state of South America, and has wandered for more than two years from isle to isle of the Pacific. A mysterious reputation hovers round him. He is supposed to have done many things, but no one is very clear what they are; and it is not likely that much information on the point will be obtained from him, for he seldom talks much, and never speaks of himself. His present mission appears to be to kill partridges, play cricket, and dress himself. Not that it must be supposed that he has ever been in the habit of wearing less clothing than the custom of the country in which he may have been located required; but only that at the present time he devoted much attention to buff waistcoats and gauze neck-ties, braided coats, and curled mustachios.
Such as he is, however, he is an object of interest to the feminine portion of the party at Ravelstoke Hall; for he is rich and handsome, as well as mysterious, and he cannot he more than two-and-thirty. And the ladies at Ravelstoke outnumber the men : for although it is still rare for the fair sex to participate actively in the saturnalia of the partridge-god, they will always be found hovering in considerable numbers on the outskirts of the feast: and the varieties of the British lady are fairly represented.
There are some mammas with daughters to marry, and there are some daughters with a mamma to prevent marrying again, which is, perhaps, the most difficult thing of the two, as she has an income in her own right. There are blondes and brunettes, and pretty, brown-haired, brown eyed girls who hover between the two orders, and combine the most dangerous characteristics of both, who can wear both blue and pink, and who look prettier in the one colour than they do in the other; but who always command your suffrage in favour of that which they are wearing when you look at them.
And there is Constance Baynton with grey eyes and black hair. And the nicest critic of feminine appearance might be defied to state what she had worn, half an hour after he left her; for no one can ever look at anything except her face.
Yet Constance is three-and-twenty, and still unmarried. Alas, what cowards men are! The fact is that Constance is very clever; but as Mrs. Mellish (the widow) says, “not clever enough to hide it.”
Is she a little vexed at her present condition? Certainly she does not exhibit any tendency to carry out Mrs. Mellish’s suggestion, if it has ever been repeated to her. The young men are more afraid of her than ever; and certainly she does say very sharp things, sometimes. Especially she is severe upon idlers, the butterflies of fashionable existence. She appears to consider that she has a special mission to arouse them; but they do not appear to like being lectured.
With the young ladies she is a great favourite, for she is very affectionate ; and though so beautiful and distinguished, she has proved herself to be not so dangerous a rival as might have been expected. Indeed, it has happened, more than once, that male admiration, rebounding from the hard surface of her manner, has found more yielding metal in the bosoms of her particular friends. Besides, she is always ready to lead the van in the general attack upon the male sex, when the ladies retire to the drawing-room. Not that she ever says anything behind their backs she would not be ready to repeat to their faces; but in that course probably she would not meet with such general support.
In Mr. Tyrawley she affected to disbelieve. She stated as her opinion to her intimate friends, that she did not believe he ever had done, or ever would do anything worth doing; but that he plumed himself on a cheap reputation, which, as all were ignorant of its foundation, no one could possibly impugn.
There is reason to believe that in this instance Miss Constance was not as conscientious as usual; but that she really entertained a higher opinion of the gentleman than she chose to confess. He certainly was not afraid of her, and had even dared to contradict her favourite theory of the general worthlessness of English gentlemen of the nineteenth century.
It was one wet morning when she had been reading Scott to three or four of her particular friends — and it must be confessed that she read remarkably well — that she began to lament the decline of chivalry. Tyrawley was sitting half in and half out of range. Perhaps she talked a little at him. At any rate he chose to accept the challenge.
“I cannot agree with you, Miss Baynton,” he said. “It is true we no longer wear ladies’ gloves in our helmets, nor do we compel harmless individuals, who possibly may have sweethearts of their own, to admit the superiority of our lady love at the point of the lance; but of all that was good in chivalry, of courage, truth, honour, enterprise, self-sacrifice, you will find as much in the nineteenth century as in the twelfth.”
He brightened up as he spoke, and it was quite evident that he believed what he said, a circumstance which always gives an advantage to a disputant. More than one pair of bright eyes smiled approval, and Miss Constance saw a probability of a defection from her ranks. She changed her tactics.
“You are too moderate in your claims for your contemporaries, Mr. Tyrawley. If I remember right, modesty has always been considered a qualification of a true knight.”
“I am not ashamed to speak the truth,” he replied; “your theory would have been more tenable before the days of the Crimean war and the Indian mutiny; but the men who lit their cigars in the trenches of the Redan, and who carried the gate of Delhi, may bear comparison with Bayard, or Coeur de Lion.”
“Oh! I do not allude to our soldiers,” said she, “of course, I know they are brave; but,” —and here she hesitated a moment, till possibly piqued because her usual success had not attended her in the passage of arms, she concluded — “but to our idle gentlemen, who seem to have no heart for anything.”
“Possibly you may judge too much by the outside,” he said. “l am inclined to fancy that some of those whom you are pleased to call idle gentlemen would be found to have heart enough for anything that honour, or duty, or even chivalry, could find for them to do.”
“I hope you are right,” said Miss Constance, with a slightly perceptible curl of her upper lip, which implied that she did not think so.
Tyrawley bowed, and the conversation terminated a few minutes afterwards; when he had left the room, the conversation of the young ladies was interrupted by Master George Baynton, aged fourteen, who suddenly attacked his sister.
“I think you are wrong, you know, when you call Tyrawley a humbug.”
“My dear,” said Constance, with a start, “I never said anything so ru—.”
“Well, you implied it, you know, in your girl’s words, and I think you make a mistake; for he can shoot like one o’clock, never misses a thing, and I hear he can ride no end. He was rather out of practice in his cricket when he came down; but he is improving every day. You should have seen the hit he made yesterday — right up to the cedars.”
“Do you think there is nothing else for a man to do, but ride, and shoot, and play cricket?”
“Oh! that’s all very well; but you should hear what Merton, our second master says; and a great brick he is, too. ‘Whatever you do, do it as well as you can, whether it’s cricket or verses.’ And I believe if Tyrawley had to fight, he’d go in and win, and no mistake.”
“Ah!” said Constance, with a sigh, “he has evidently — what is it you boys call it? — tipped you. Isn’t it?”
Indignant at this insult, George walked off to find his friend, and have a lesson in billiards.
The day lingered on, after the usual fashion of wet days in September in full country houses. There was a little dancing after dinner; but all retired early in hopes of a finer day on the morrow.
Tyrawley had some letters to write, so that it was past two before he thought of going to bed. He always slept with his window open, and as he threw up the sash, a fierce gust of wind blew out his candles, and blew down the looking-glass.
“Pleasant, by Jove!” he soliloquised. “I wonder whether it’s smashed — unlucky to break a looking-glass — I’m hanged if I know where the matches are; never mind; I can find my way to bed in the dark. What a night,” as a flash of lightning illumined the room for a moment, and he bent out of the window. “The wind must be about nor-nor-west. Cheerful for anything coming up to Bristol from the southward. I wonder what a storm is like on this coast. I have a great mind to go and see. I shall never be able to get that hall-door open without waking them up; what a nuisance! Stay, capital idea! I’ll go by the window.”
Before starting upon his expedition, he changed the remains of his evening dress (for he had been writing in his dressing-gown) for a flannel shirt and trousers, whilst a short pea-jacket and glazed hat completed his array. His room was on the first floor, and he had intended to drop from the window-sill; but the branch of an elm came so near, he found that unnecessary, as springing to it he was on the ground, like a cat, in an instant. He soon found his way across country “like a bird,” to the edge of the cliff. The sea for miles seemed one sheet of foam.
But a flash of lightning discovered a group of figures about a quarter of a mile distant; and he distinguished shouts in the intervals of the storm. He was soon amongst them, and he found that all eyes were turned on a vessel which had struck on a rock within two hundred yards of £he cliff. It was evident that she would go to pieces under their very eyes.
“Is there no way of opening communication with her,” he asked of an old coast-guard man.
“Why ye see, sir, we have sent to Bilford for Manby’s rockets; but she must break up before they come.”
“How far is it to Bilford?”
“Better than seven mile, your honour.”
“If we could get a rope to them, we might save the crew.”
“Every one of them, your honour; but it ain’t possible.”
“I think a man might swim out.”
“The first wave would dash him to pieces against the cliff.”
“What depth of water below?”
“The cliff goes down like a wall, forty fathom, at least.”
“The deeper the better. What distance to the water?”
“A good fifty feet.”
“Well, I have dived off the main yard of the Chesapeake. Now listen to me. Have you got some light, strong rope?”
“As much as you like.”
“Well, take a double coil round my chest, and do you take care to pay it out fast enough as I draw upon it.”
“You won’t draw much after the first plunge; it will be the same thing as suicide, every bit.”
“Well, we shall see. There’s no time to be lost: lend me a knife.”
And in an instant he whipped off his hat, boots, and pea-jacket, then with the knife he cut off its sleeves and passed the rope through them, that it might chafe him less.
The eyes of the old boatman brightened. There was evidently a method in his madness.
“You are a very good swimmer, I suppose, sir?”
“I have dived through the surf at Nukuheva a few times.”
“I never knew a white man that could do that.”
“But whatever you do,” he said, “mind and let me have plenty of rope. Now out of the way, my friends, and let me have a clear start.”
He walked slowly to the edge of the cliff, looked over to see how much the rock shelved outwards; then returned, looked to see that there was plenty of rope for him to carry out, then took a short run, and leaped as if from the springing board of a plunging-bath. He touched the water full five-and-twenty feet from the edge of the cliff. Down into its dark depth he went, like a plummet, but soon to rise again.
As he reached the surface he saw the crest of a mighty wave a few yards in front of him —the wave that he had been told was to dash him lifeless against the cliff. But now his old experience of the Pacific stands him in good stead. For two moments he draws breath, then, ere it reaches him, he dives below its centre. The water dashes against the cliff, but the swimmer rises far beyond it. A faint cheer rises from the shore as they feel him draw upon the rope. The waves follow in succession, and he dives again and again, rising like an otter to take breath, making very steadily onward, though more below the Water than above it.
We must now turn to the ship. The waves have made a clean breach over her bows. The crew are crowded upon the stern. They hold on to the bulwarks, and await the end, for no boat can live in such a sea. Suddenly she is hailed from the waters. “Ship a-hoy!” shouts a loud clear voice, which makes itself heard above the storm. “Throw me a rope or a buoy!” The life-buoy was still hanging in its accustomed place by the main mast. The captain almost mechanically takes it down, and with well-directed aim throws it within a yard or two of the swimmer. In a moment it is under his arms, and in half a minute he is on board.
“Come on board, sir,” he says to the captain, pulling one of his wet curls professionally.
The captain appeared to be regarding him as a visitor from the lower world; so, turning to the crew, he lifted up the rope he had brought from the shore. Then for the first time the object of his mission flashed upon their minds, and a desperate cheer broke forth from all hands, instantly reechoed from the shore. Then a strong cable is attached to the small rope and drawn on board — then a second — and the communication is complete.
But no time is to be lost, for the stern shows signs of breaking-up, and there is a lady passenger. Whilst the captain is planning a sort of chair in which she might be moved, Tyrawley lifts her up on his left arm, steadies himself with his right by the upper rope, and walks along the lower as if he had been a dancer. He is the first on shore, for no sailor would leave till the lady was safe. But they soon follow, and in five minutes the ship is clear — five minutes more, and no trace of her is left.
Ravelstoke Hall has been aroused by the news of the wreck, and Mr. Ravelstoke has just arrived with brandy and blankets. Him Tyrawley avoids; and, thinking he can be of no further use, he betakes himself across the country once more, and by the aid of the friendly elm regains his chamber without observation.
The lady, whom Tyrawley had deposited in a cottage, with a strong recommendation that she should go to sleep immediately, was soon carried off in triumph by Mr. Ravelstoke to the Hall, and welcomed by Lady Grace at half-past three in the morning. There were very few of the guests who slept undisturbed that night. The unusual noise in the house aroused everybody, and many excursions were made in unfinished costume to endeavour to ascertain what was going on.
The excitement culminated when the miscellaneous assemblage who had conducted the captain and some of the crew to the Hall, after being well supplied with ale and stronger liquids, conceived that it would be the correct thing to give three cheers at the hour of half-past five.
It was then that Lord Todmulton, an Irish peer, labouring under an erroneous impression that the house was attacked, was discovered on the landing-place, in array consisting principally of a short dressing-gown, flannel-waistcoat, and a fowling-piece.
Breakfast that morning was a desultory meal. People finished, and talked about the wreck, and began again. It seemed quite impossible to obtain anything like an accurate account of what had taken place. At last the captain appeared, and though almost overwhelmed by the multiplicity of questions, nevertheless between the intervals of broiled ham and coffee, he managed to elucidate matters a little.
Then came the question, Who was it who swam out to the vessel. Tyrawley had only been at Ravelstoke a few days, and was a stranger in the neighbourhood. None of the servants had reached the coast till it was all over, so there had been no one to recognise him.
“I scarcely saw him,” said the captain, “but he was a dark tallish man, with a great deal of beard.”
“Was he a gentleman?” asked Miss Constance Baynton, who had been taking a deep interest in the whole affair.
“Well, d’ye see, Miss, I can’t exactly say, for he hadn’t much on; but, if he isn’t, he’d make a good one, that I’ll go bail for. He’s the coolest hand I ever saw. Stay, now I think of it, I shouldn’t wonder if he was a naval man, for he pulled his fore-lock, half-laughing-like, and said, ‘Come on board, sir,’ to me, when we pulled him up.”
“Perhaps it was Rutherford,” said Mr. Ravelstoke, naming the lieutenant in the navy, “he is tall and dark.”
“And he has been letting his moustache grow since he came on shore,” observed a young lady.
“Where is he?”
But Mr. Rutherford was gone down to the cliff to inspect the scene of the disaster.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” said the butler, ”it could not have been any gentleman stopping in the house, for the door was fastened till the people came down to tell you of the wreck.”
At this moment — half-past ten, a.m .— Mr. Tyrawley walked into the breakfast-room. He was got up, if possible, more elaborately than usual.
“Now, here’s a gentleman, captain, Mr. Tyrawley, who has been all over the world, and met with some strange adventures. I’ll be bound he never saw anything to equal the affair of last night.”
“You’d a nearish thing of it, captain?” inquired Tyrawley, speaking very slowly. His manner and appearance quite disarmed any suspicion the captain might have had of his identity.
“Five minutes more, sir, and Davy Jones’s locker would have held us all. Begging your pardon, Miss,” apologising to Constance.
The captain had already repeated the story a reasonable number of times, and was anxious to finish his breakfast. So Miss Constance gave it all for the benefit of Mr. Tyrawley, dressed in her own glowing periods. Tyrawley made no observation upon her recital, but took a third egg.
“Well, Mr. Tyrawley,” said she at last, “what do you think of the man who swam out to the wreck?”
“Why, I think, Miss Baynton — I think,” said he hesitating, “that he must have got very wet. And I sincerely hope he won’t catch cold.”
There was a general laugh at this, in which the captain joined; but it is to be feared that Miss Constance stamped her pretty little foot under the table.
Tyrawley turned, and began to talk to Miss Mellish, who was sitting on his right. As he was speaking the door on his left opened, and Lady Grace Ravelstoke entered with the lady passenger. The lady heard him speak, and there are some voices which a woman never forgets, and the dangerous journey over the rope had not passed in silence.
She laid her hand upon his arm, and said, “Oh, sir, how can I thank you?”
Tyrawley rose as in duty bound, saying, “Do not speak of it, I did not know when I came off, that I was to have the pleasure of assisting you.”
But the astonishment of the captain was beautiful to behold.
“Why you don’t mean to say Well, I never; — dash my wig — well I’m Here, shake hands, sir, will you.” And he stretched across the table a brawny hand, not much smaller than a shoulder of mutton.
The grip with which Tyrawley met his, seemed to do a great deal more to convince him of his identity, than the lady’s recognition of their preserver.
The day was as wet as the preceding. Half-an hour after breakfast, Mr. Tyrawley lounged into the back drawing-room. There sat Miss Constance Baynton, and, by the singular coincidence which favours lovers or historians, she sat alone.
Now Constance had made up her mind that she was bound to apologise to Mr. Tyrawley for her rude speeches of yesterday; she had also decided that she would compliment him on his gallant conduct.
She had, in fact, arranged a neat, quiet, cold, formal, appropriate form of words in which she would give her views expression. And how do you think she delivered them? She got up, said, “O Mr. Tyrawley!” and burst into tears.
If a proud woman’s pride is a shield to thee, O man, as well as to her, against the arrows of love, remember, that if ever she throws it away — after she has compelled you to acknowledge its value — you are both left utterly defenceless.
Frederick Tyrawley capitulated at once. They are to be married this month. And if Mr. Tyrawley does not, at some future time, achieve a reputation which no mystery shall cloud, it will not be Mrs. Tyrawley’s fault.
Author: Herbert Vaughan.