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Chapter IV: Harold at Normanstand


Two years afterwards a great blow fell upon Harold.  His father, who
had been suffering from repeated attacks of influenza, was, when in
the low condition following this, seized with pneumonia, to which in
a few days he succumbed.  Harold was heart-broken.  The affection
which had been between him and his father had been so consistent that
he had never known a time when it was not.
When Squire Norman had returned to the house with him after the
funeral, he sat in silence holding the boy's hand till he had wept
his heart out.  By this time the two were old friends, and the boy
was not afraid or too shy to break down before him.  There was
sufficient of the love of the old generation to begin with trust in
the new.
Presently, when the storm was past and Harold had become his own man
again, Norman said:
'And now, Harold, I want you to listen to me.  You know, my dear boy,
that I am your father's oldest friend, and right sure I am that he
would approve of what I say.  You must come home with me to live.  I
know that in his last hours the great concern of your dear father's
heart would have been for the future of his boy.  And I know, too,
that it was a comfort to him to feel that you and I are such friends,
and that the son of my dearest old friend would be as a son to me.
We have been friends, you and I, a long time, Harold; and we have
learned to trust, and I hope to love, one another.  And you and my
little Stephen are such friends already that your coming into the
house will be a joy to us all.  Why, long ago, when first you came,
she said to me the night you went away:  "Daddy, wouldn't it be nice
if Harold could come here altogether?"'
And so Harold An Wolf came back with the Squire to Normanstand, and
from that day on became a member of his house, and as a son to him.
Stephen's delight at his coming was of course largely qualified by
her sympathy with his grief; but it would have been hard to give him
more comfort than she did in her own pretty way.  Putting her lips to
his she kissed him, and holding his big hand in both of her little
ones, she whispered softly:
'Poor Harold!  You and I should love each other, for we have both
lost our mother.  And now you have lost your father.  But you must
let my dear daddy be yours too!'
At this time Harold was between fourteen and fifteen years old.  He
was well educated in so far as private teaching went.  His father had
devoted much care to him, so that he was well grounded in all the
Academic branches of learning.  He was also, for his years, an expert
in most manly exercises.  He could ride anything, shoot straight,
fence, run, jump or swim with any boy more than his age and size.
In Normanstand his education was continued by the rector.  The Squire
used often to take him with him when he went to ride, or fish, or
shoot; frankly telling him that as his daughter was, as yet, too
young to be his companion in these matters, he would act as her locum
tenens.  His living in the house and his helping as he did in
Stephen's studies made familiarity perpetual.  He was just enough her
senior to command her childish obedience; and there were certain
qualities in his nature which were eminently calculated to win and
keep the respect of women as well as of men.  He was the very
incarnation of sincerity, and had now and again, in certain ways, a
sublime self-negation which, at times, seemed in startling contrast
to a manifestly militant nature.  When at school he had often been
involved in fights which were nearly always on matters of principle,
and by a sort of unconscious chivalry he was generally found fighting
on the weaker side.  Harold's father had been very proud of his
ancestry, which was Gothic through the Dutch, as the manifestly
corrupted prefix of the original name implied, and he had gathered
from a constant study of the Sagas something of the philosophy which
lay behind the ideas of the Vikings.
This new stage of Harold's life made for quicker development than any
which had gone before.  Hitherto he had not the same sense of
responsibility.  To obey is in itself a relief; and as it is an
actual consolation to weak natures, so it is only a retarding of the
strong.  Now he had another individuality to think of.  There was in
his own nature a vein of anxiety of which the subconsciousness of his
own strength threw up the outcrop.
Little Stephen with the instinct of her sex discovered before long
this weakness.  For it is a weakness when any quality can be assailed
or used.  The using of a man's weakness is not always coquetry; but
it is something very like it.  Many a time the little girl, who
looked up to and admired the big boy who could compel her to anything
when he was so minded, would, for her own ends, work on his sense of
responsibility, taking an elfin delight in his discomfiture.
The result of Stephen's harmless little coquetries was that Harold
had occasionally either to thwart some little plan of daring, or else
cover up its results.  In either case her confidence in him grew, so
that before long he became an established fact in her life, a being
in whose power and discretion and loyalty she had absolute, blind
faith.  And this feeling seemed to grow with her own growth.  Indeed
at one time it came to be more than an ordinary faith.  It happened
The old Church of St. Stephen, which was the parish church of
Normanstand, had a peculiar interest for the Norman family.  There,
either within the existing walls or those which had preceded them
when the church was rebuilt by that Sir Stephen who was standard-
bearer to Henry VI., were buried all the direct members of the line.
It was an unbroken record of the inheritors since the first Sir
Stephen, who had his place in the Domesday Book.  Without, in the
churchyard close to the church, were buried all such of the
collaterals as had died within hail of Norcester.  Some there were of
course who, having achieved distinction in various walks of life,
were further honoured by a resting-place within the chancel.  The
whole interior was full of records of the family.  Squire Norman was
fond of coming to the place; and often from the very beginning had
taken Stephen with him.  One of her earliest recollections was
kneeling down with her father, who held her hand in his, whilst with
the other he wiped the tears from his eyes, before a tomb sculptured
beautifully in snowy marble.  She never forgot the words he had said
to her:
'You will always remember, darling, that your dear mother rests in
this sacred place.  When I am gone, if you are ever in any trouble
come here.  Come alone and open out your heart.  You need never fear
to ask God for help at the grave of your mother!'  The child had been
impressed, as had been many and many another of her race.  For seven
hundred years each child of the house of Norman had been brought
alone by either parent and had heard some such words.  The custom had
come to be almost a family ritual, and it never failed to leave its
impress in greater or lesser degree.
Whenever Harold had in the early days paid a visit to Normanstand,
the church had generally been an objective of their excursions.  He
was always delighted to go.  His love for his own ancestry made him
admire and respect that of others; so that Stephen's enthusiasm in
the matter was but another cord to bind him to her.
In one of their excursions they found the door into the crypt open;
and nothing would do Stephen but that they should enter it.  To-day,
however, they had no light; but they arranged that on the morrow they
would bring candles with them and explore the place thoroughly.  The
afternoon of the next day saw them at the door of the crypt with a
candle, which Harold proceeded to light.  Stephen looked on
admiringly, and said in a half-conscious way, the half-consciousness
being shown in the implication:
'You are not afraid of the crypt?'
'Not a bit!  In my father's church there was a crypt, and I was in it
several times.'  As he spoke the memory of the last time he had been
there swept over him.  He seemed to see again the many lights, held
in hands that were never still, making a grim gloom where the black
shadows were not; to hear again the stamp and hurried shuffle of the
many feet, as the great oak coffin was borne by the struggling mass
of men down the steep stairway and in through the narrow door ...
And then the hush when voices faded away; and the silence seemed a
real thing, as for a while he stood alone close to the dead father
who had been all in all to him.  And once again he seemed to feel the
recall to the living world of sorrow and of light, when his inert
hand was taken in the strong loving one of Squire Norman.
He paused and drew back.
'Why don't you go on?' she asked, surprised.
He did not like to tell her then.  Somehow, it seemed out of place.
He had often spoken to her of his father, and she had always been a
sympathetic listener; but here, at the entrance of the grim vault, he
did not wish to pain her with his own thoughts of sorrow and all the
terrible memories which the similarity of the place evoked.  And even
whilst he hesitated there came to him a thought so laden with pain
and fear that he rejoiced at the pause which gave it to him in time.
It was in that very crypt that Stephen's mother had been buried, and
had they two gone in, as they had intended, the girl might have seen
her mother's coffin as he had seen his father's, but under
circumstances which made him shiver.  He had been, as he said, often
in the crypt at Carstone; and well he knew the sordidness of the
chamber of death.  His imagination was alive as well as his memory;
he shuddered, not for himself, but for Stephen.  How could he allow
the girl to suffer in such a way as she might, as she infallibly
would, if it were made apparent to her in such a brutal way?  How
pitiful, how meanly pitiful, is the aftermath of death.  Well he
remembered how many a night he woke in an agony, thinking of how his
father lay in that cold, silent, dust-strewn vault, in the silence
and the dark, with never a ray of light or hope or love!  Gone,
abandoned, forgotten by all, save perhaps one heart which bled ...
He would save little Stephen, if he could, from such a memory.  He
would not give any reason for refusing to go in.
He blew out the candle, and turned the key in the lock, took it out,
and put it in his pocket.
'Come, Stephen!' he said, 'let us go somewhere else.  We will not go
into the crypt to-day!'
'Why not?'  The lips that spoke were pouted mutinously and the face
was flushed.  The imperious little lady was not at all satisfied to
give up the cherished project.  For a whole day and night she had,
whilst waking, thought of the coming adventure; the thrill of it was
not now to be turned to cold disappointment without even an
explanation.  She did not think that Harold was afraid; that would be
ridiculous.  But she wondered; and mysteries always annoyed her.  She
did not like to be at fault, more especially when other people knew.
All the pride in her revolted.
'Why not?' she repeated more imperiously still.
Harold said kindly:
'Because, Stephen, there is really a good reason.  Don't ask me, for
I can't tell you.  You must take it from me that I am right.  You
know, dear, that I wouldn't willingly disappoint you; and I know that
you had set your heart on this.  But indeed, indeed I have a good
Stephen was really angry now.  She was amenable to reason, though she
did not consciously know what reason was; but to accept some one
else's reason blindfold was repugnant to her nature, even at her then
age.  She was about to speak angrily, but looking up she saw that
Harold's mouth was set with marble firmness.  So, after her manner,
she acquiesced in the inevitable and said:
'All right!  Harold.'
But in the inner recesses of her firm-set mind was a distinct
intention to visit the vault when more favourable circumstances would