WELL, mother, one thing is certain – something has got to be done. It is no use crying over spilt milk, that I can see. It is a horribly bad business, but grieving over it won't make it any better. What one has got to do is to decide on some plan or other, and then set to work to carry it out."
The speaker, Wilfrid Renshaw, was a boy between fifteen and sixteen years old. He was standing with his back to an empty fireplace, his feet well apart, his hands deep in his pockets. He was rather short for his age, but very squarely built. His hair was dark, cut rather short, and so ruffled over his head that there were no signs of a parting; his eyebrows were heavy, his eyes bright but rather deeply set; his chin was square and his jaw heavy; his nose was a little upturned, and this together with his eyes gave a merry expression to a face that would otherwise have been heavy and stern.
At school Wilfrid Renshaw had been regarded as rather a queer fellow. He was full of quiet fun, and saw a humorous side in everything. He did not take a very leading part in the various school sports, though there was a general idea that if Renshaw only chose to exert himself he could excel in any of them. In point of actual strength, although there were several boys in the school older than himself, it was generally admitted that he was by far the strongest there. But he always went his own way and always knew his own mind, and when he had once given his decision every one knew that it was of no use attempting to alter it; indeed, his reputation for obstinacy was so great that when he had once said "I won't" or "I will," no one ever attempted to argue with him.
He was given to long walks and to collecting insects or flowers. He could never be persuaded to make one of the cricket eleven; but in winter, when there was little scope for his favourite pursuit, he threw himself into football; and although he absolutely refused to accept the captaincy when unanimously elected to that honour, he was considered by far the most valuable member of the team. He was scarcely popular among the boys of his own age; for although his fun and general good temper were appreciated by them, his determination to go his own way, and his entire disregard for the opinion of others, caused him to be considered an unsociable sort of fellow, an impression increased by the fact that he had no particular chums.
Among the smaller boys he was greatly liked. He would never allow any bullying when he was present; and although his interference was often resented by some of the elders, his reputation for strength and obstinacy was so great that he had never been called upon to take active measures to support his decisively expressed opinions. His father lived in a pretty house a quarter of a mile outside Reading; and as Wilfrid attended the grammar-school there, he was much more free to indulge his own tastes and go his own way than if he had been in a boarding-school. His chief companion in his rambles was his only sister Marion, who was a year his senior, although strangers would not have taken her to be so, either from her appearance or manner. She had an active lithe figure, and was able to keep up with him even during his longest excursions. They were in fact great chums and allies, and Marion would have indignantly scouted the idea had anyone suggested to her that her brother was either obstinate or unsociable.
Mr. Renshaw had been intended for the bar, and had indeed been called to that profession; but shortly afterwards he came into a fortune at the death of his father, and at once abandoned all idea of practising. After travelling for a few years on the Continent and in the East, he married and settled down near Reading. His time was for the most part devoted to archæology. He had a rare collection of ancient British, Saxon, and Norman arms, ornaments, and remains of all sorts; had written several books on the antiquities of Berkshire and Oxfordshire; was an authority upon tumuli and stone weapons; and was regarded by his acquaintances as a man of much learning.
The management of the house and children, and indeed of all affairs unconnected with his favourite hobby, he left to his wife, who was, fortunately for him, a clear-headed and sensible woman. Mr. Renshaw was, in fact, an eminently impractical man, weak and easy in disposition, averse to exertion of any kind, and without a shadow of the decision of character that distinguished his son. Except when away upon antiquarian excursions he passed his time entirely in his own study, engaged upon a work which, he anticipated, would gain for him a very high position among the antiquarians of the country, the subject being the exact spot at which Julius Cæsar landed in Britain.
He made his appearance only at meal-times, and then paid but little attention to what was going on around him, although he was kind to his children in a gentle indifferent sort of way. For many years he had been engaged in making up his mind as to the school to which Wilfrid should be sent; and the boy had at first only been sent to the grammar-school at the suggestion of his mother as a temporary measure until the important decision should be arrived at. This had been six years before, and Mr. Renshaw had postponed his decision until it was too late for Wilfrid to enter at any of the great public schools.
Knowing from long experience what would be the result were he consulted as to Marion's education, Mrs. Renshaw had, when the girl was nine years old, engaged a governess for her without any previous consultation with her husband, simply telling him of the arrangement after it was concluded, saying: "I know, Alfred, that you have not yet decided whether an education at home or at school is best for a girl, and I have consequently arranged with a young lady to come as governess until you can come to a conclusion upon the point."
Wilfrid Renshaw was extremely fond of his mother. His father he regarded with a somewhat contemptuous kind of affection. He did not doubt that he was a very learned man, but he had small patience with his inability to make up his mind, his total want of energy, and his habit of leaving everything for his wife to decide upon and carry out.
"It would do father an immense deal of good if something were to happen that would wake him up a bit and get him to take an interest in things," he had said over and over again to Marion. "I cannot understand a man having no opinion of his own about anything."
"I do not think you ought to speak in that sort of way, Wil, about father."
"Oh, that is all nonsense, Marion. One cannot be blind about a person even if he is one's own father. Of course he is very kind and very indulgent, but it would be very much pleasanter if he were so because he wished to give us pleasure, instead of because it is the easiest thing to do. I should be downright pleased if sometimes when I ask him for anything he would say positively I could not have it."
Now the something that Wilfrid had hoped might occur to rouse his father had taken place, and had come in a form very unpleasantly violent and unexpected. The papers a week before had brought the news of the failure of the bank in which the greater portion of Mr. Renshaw's property was invested, and a letter had the following morning been received from a brother of Mrs. Renshaw, who was also a shareholder in the bank, saying that the liabilities were very large, and that the shareholders would undoubtedly be called upon to pay even their last penny to make up the deficiency. This news had been confirmed, and there could be no doubt absolute ruin had fallen upon them.
Mr. Renshaw had been completely overwhelmed by the tidings, and had taken to his bed. Wilfrid's holidays had begun a few days before, and his mother at once acquainted him with the misfortune that had befallen them, and she now told him that the calls that would be made upon the shares would more than swallow up the rest of their fortune.
"There will be absolutely nothing remaining, Wilfrid, except a thousand pounds that I had at my marriage, and which were fortunately settled upon me. This cannot be touched. Everything else will have to go."
"Well, it's a bad business, mother. I will go for a walk and think it over. Marion, put on your hat and come out with me."
They had been for their walk – a long one, and he was now expressing the result at which they had arrived.
"One thing is certain – something has got to be done."
"Yes," Mrs. Renshaw replied with a faint smile. "The question is, What is it?"
"Well, mother, it is quite certain that we four cannot live on the interest of a thousand pounds unless we go into a hovel and live on bread and water."
"I quite see that, Wilfrid; but I am sure I do not see how we are to earn money. It is far too late for your father to go back to the bar now, and it might be years before he got a brief. At any rate, we could not afford to live in London till he does so. I have been thinking I might open a little school somewhere."
"No, mother, you are not going to take us all on to your shoulders. You have got to look after father; that will be a full share of the work, I am sure. Marion and I have been talking it over, and the only possible thing we can see is for us to emigrate."
"To emigrate!" Mrs. Renshaw repeated in astonishment. "Why, my dear boy, what should we be fit for in the colonies more than here?"
"A good deal, mother. A thousand pounds is nothing here, and it would be a good deal out there. It would be horrible to come down to live in a little cottage like working people here, after living like this; but it would be nothing out there. We could buy land for next to nothing in New Zealand, and could employ a couple of men to work with me to clear it and cultivate it; and get a few cows and sheep to start with, and still have a little money in hand. You and Marion could look after things indoors; I should look after things out of doors."
"You don't seem to count your father at all," Mrs. Renshaw said a little reproachfully.
"No, mother, I don't," Wilfrid said bluntly. "You know as well as I do that father would be of no use to speak of in a life like that. Still, I think he could make himself happy out there as well as here. He could take all his books with him, and could inquire into the manners and customs of the natives, who are every bit as good as the ancient Britons; better, I should say. But whatever we do, mother, whether it is here or anywhere else, we must settle upon it and do it. Of course we must consult him; but we must quite make up our minds before we do so. If you wait a few weeks for father to make up his mind what we had better do, we shall wait till this thousand pounds is spent and there is nothing to do but to go into the workhouse.
"I am sure that my plan is the best for us. I am as strong as a great many men; and anyhow, out there, there ought to be no fear about our keeping ourselves. I have no doubt that when we get out there father will be able to help in many ways, though I do not know at present what they are. Anyhow, we shall have a house to live in, even if it is only a log hut, and I have no doubt have plenty to eat and drink; and that is more than we shall do if we stay here. I could not earn anything to speak of here: the most I could expect to get would be ten shillings a week as an office-boy. And as to your idea of a school, you might be years before you got pupils; and, besides, when there are two men in a family it would be shameful to depend upon a woman to keep them."
"Why do you think of New Zealand more than Canada, Wil?"
"Because, in the first place, the climate is a great deal pleasanter, and, in the second place, I believe that as the passage-money is higher the emigrants are of a better class, and we are likely to have more pleasant neighbours – people that you and father can associate with – than we should have if we went to a backwood clearing in Canada. Tom Fairfax has an uncle in New Zealand, and I have heard him say there are lots of officers in the army and people of that sort who have settled there. Of course I know it is going to be hard work, and that it will be very rough for you and father when we land at first, but I expect it will be better after a time; and anyhow, mother, I do not think we can starve there, and I feel sure that it will come to that if we stop here. At any rate, you had better think it over.
На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «Maori and Settler: A Story of The New Zealand War», автора George Henty. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанрам: «Зарубежные детские книги», «Зарубежная классика».. Книга «Maori and Settler: A Story of The New Zealand War» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!