After that he went out into the yard. It was not a large yard, but there were several pits with the skins lying in the tan, and there was a pile of oak bark in one corner. On one side of the yard was a long shed, in which some of the other processes were carried on; on the other side was the stable. The tanner next took out the straw from the cart, which was all saturated with blood, and brought some fresh straw from the stable; this he mixed with it, making it into a pile, and fetching a brand from the fire, set it alight, and watched it until it was entirely consumed; he then scattered the ashes over the yard. Next he carefully washed the cart itself, put fresh straw into the bottom, wheeled it into the shed, and cleaned down the horse which had been out all night; and then, having put everything straight, he saddled the other horse, mounted it, and started for Canterbury.
Robert, in reply, related pretty accurately the whole of his life since he had left London.
The sailor took a particular fancy to young Herbert Harmer, whose ignorance of the world and eager desire to hear something of it, and whose breathless attention to his yarns, amused and gratified him. On many a summer afternoon, then, when Herbert had finished his prescribed course of study, he would slip quietly away to meet Robert Althorpe, and would sit for hours under the trees listening to tales of the world and life of which he knew so little. Robert had in his period of service seen much; for those were stirring times. He had taken part in the victories of Howe and Jervis, and in the capture of the numerous West Indian isles. He had fought, too, under the invincible Nelson at the Nile, in which battle he had lost his arm. He had been stationed for two years out on the Indian coast, and Herbert above all loved to hear of that wonderful country, then the recent scene of the victories of Clive and Hastings.
Here a slight groan from the cart called their attention to it.
"Do you know, Robert, I have been thinking so much about the future, and I think that when we come back from our travels we ought to put aside almost all our money to do good with."
Gerald was by no means so great a favourite as his father; nor, although he earnestly desired to be popular, could he altogether succeed in his object. He could not overcome the listless manner which his long residence in India had rendered part of his nature; he could not acquire an interest in all the chit-chat and gossip of country society, or manifest more than a most languid interest in the agricultural conversations and disquisitions which formed the large staple of the country gentleman's talk. Of the price of corn he knew nothing. Malt and hops were mysteries, into which, beyond drinking the resulting compound, he had no desire to penetrate. And yet he was a sensible, good-hearted young fellow enough. His misfortune was that he had not strength of mind to adapt himself to the life and people he was thrown among.
When the others came down to breakfast at nine o'clock, I proposed that we should return at once to Canterbury; but papa said that this affair would cause so much talk and excitement in the place, that we should be quite overwhelmed with calls from every one, and have to repeat the whole story a dozen times a day, which would be a terrible infliction, and that as he and Harry would be mostly out, I should have to bear the whole brunt of the attack. So it was settled that we should stay there, at any rate a week or ten days longer, until the first stir and excitement were over. So papa and Harry went over every day to Canterbury, and I remained quietly down at Ramsgate. For some days they brought back no news of any importance, but one day towards the end of the week papa came back to dinner alone, and Harry did not arrive until nearly ten o'clock. As he came in he told us that he had had a long chat with his friend Thornton of the telegraph office.
Sophy, of course, attracted much attention throughout the evening, and was constantly the centre of a little group of officers, not a few of whom would have been very willing to have turned their swords into ploughshares for her sake, and to have devoted their lives to the care of her and her possessions.
However, it was willed that her stay with us should be even more brief than our worst fears had whispered. Percy and Ada had not left us much more than a month, when papa said at breakfast one morning: "Agnes, I wrote yesterday to Harry to come home; write to-day to Miss Pilgrim, asking her to send Polly home to-morrow." It did not need for me to look in his face; the quiver of his voice told me his meaning: they were to come home to see mamma before she died. What a dreadful shock it was. I had long known mamma must leave us soon, but she had so long been ill, and she changed so gradually, that, until papa spoke that morning, I had never realized that her time was so near at hand. Yet, when I recovered from that terrible fit of crying, I remembered how I could count back from week to week, and see how the change, gradual as it seemed, had yet been strongly marked, and that the last two months had wrought terrible havoc with her little remaining strength.