When Ralph had gone off to school again Mrs. Conway sat down to answer the letter—by no means an easy task—and she sat with the paper before her for a long time before she began. At last, with an air of desperation, she dipped her pen into the ink and began:
"MY DEAR HERBERT PENFOLD: It is difficult to answer such a letter as yours—to say all one feels without saying too much; to express the gratitude with which one is full, but of which one feels that you do not desire the expression. First, a word as to the past. Now that it is irreparable, why should I not speak freely? We were the victims of a mistake! You were misled respecting me. I foolishly resented the line you took, failed to make sufficient allowances for your surroundings, and even doubted a love that seemed to me to be so easily shaken. Thus my pride was, perhaps, as much responsible for what happened as your too easy credence of tales to my disadvantage. At any rate, believe me that I have cherished no such feelings as those with which you credit me toward you. Now that I know the truth, I can only regret that your life has been, as you say, spoiled, by what can but be called a fatal misunderstanding.
"Next, I must thank you, although you make no allusion to it in your letter, for your kindness during past years. Of these, believe me, I never suspected that you were the author; and I need hardly say how deeply I have been touched at finding that the hand to which I and my boy owe so much is that of Herbert Penfold. Of this I will say no more. I leave you to picture my feelings and my gratitude. Also, most warmly I thank you for your intentions regarding my boy. He will be ready to come to you on Friday week. I suppose his best way will be to go by coach to London and then down to you, or he could take passage perhaps in a coaster. He is very fond of the sea.
"We had settled that he should enter the army; but of course I consider that nothing will be decided on this or any other point as to his future until I know your wishes on the matter. Lastly, dear Herbert, believe me that the news that you have given me concerning your state of health has caused me deep sorrow, and I earnestly hope and trust that the doctors may be mistaken in your case, that you may have a long life before you, and that life may be happier in the future than it has been in the past.
"Your grateful and affectionate
A fortnight later Ralph Conway took his place on the outside of the coach for London. As to the visit to this unknown friend of his mother, he anticipated no pleasure from it whatever; but at the same time the journey itself was delightful to him. He had never during his remembrance been further away from Dover than Canterbury; and the trip before him was in those days a more important one than a journey half over Europe would be at the present time. In his pocket he carried a piece of paper, on which his mother had carefully written down the instructions contained in the letter she had received in answer to her own from Herbert Penfold. Sewn up in the lining of his waistcoat were five guineas, so that in case the coach was stopped by highwaymen, or any other misfortune happened, he would still be provided with funds for continuing his journey.
Under the seat was a small basket filled with sandwiches, and his head ought to have been equally well filled with the advice his mother had given him as to his behavior at Penfold Hall. As his place had been booked some days before, he had the advantage of an outside seat. Next to him was a fat woman, who was going up to town, as she speedily informed her fellow-passengers, to meet her husband, who was captain of a whaler.
"I see in the Gazette of to-day," she said, "as his ship was signaled off Deal yesterday, and with this ere wind he will be up at the docks to-morrow; so off I goes. He's been away nigh eighteen months; and I know what men is. Why, bless you, if I wasn't there to meet him when he steps ashore, as likely as not he would meet with friends and go on the spree, and I shouldn't hear of him for a week; and a nice hole that would make in his earnings. Young man, you are scrouging me dreadful! Can't you get a little further along."
"It seems to me, ma'am, that it is you who are scrouging me," Ralph replied. "This rail is almost cutting into my side now."
"Well, we must live and let live!" the woman said philosophically. "You may thank your stars nature hasn't made you as big as I am. Little people have their advantages. But we can't have everything our own way. That's what I tells my Jim; he is always a-wanting to have his own way. That comes from being a captain; but, as I tells him, it's only reasonable as he is captain on board his ship I should be captain in my house. I suppose you are going to school?"
"No, I am not. My school is just over."
"Going all the way up to London?"
"That's a mercy," the woman said. "I was afraid you might be only going as far as Canterbury, and then I might have got some big chap up here who would squeeze me as flat as a pancake. Men is so unthoughtful, and seems to think as women can stow themselves away anywheres. I wish you would feel and get your hand in my pocket, young man. I can't do it nohow, and I ain't sure that I have got my keys with me; and that girl Eliza will be getting at the bottles and a-having men in, and then there will be a nice to-do with the lodgers. Can't you find it? It is in the folds somewhere."
"With much difficulty Ralph found the pocket-hole, and thrusting his hand in was able to reassure his neighbor by feeling among a mass of odds and ends a bunch of keys.
"That's a comfort," the woman said. "If one's mind isn't at ease one can't enjoy traveling."
"I wish my body was at ease," Ralph said. "Don't you think you could squeeze them a little on the other side and give me an inch or two more room?"
"I will try," the woman said; "as you seem a civil sort of boy."
Whereupon she gave two or three heaves, which relieved Ralph greatly, but involved her in an altercation with her neighbor on the other side, which lasted till the towers of Canterbury came in sight. Here they changed horses at the Fountain Inn.
"Look here, my boy," the woman said to Ralph. "If you feel underneath my feet you will find a basket, and at the top there is an empty bottle. There will be just time for you to jump down and get it filled for me. A shilling's worth of brandy, and filled up with water. That girl Eliza flustered me so much with her worritting and questions before I started that I had not time to fill it."
Ralph jumped down and procured the desired refreshment, and was just in time to clamber up to his seat again when the coach started. He enjoyed the rapid motion and changing scene much, but he was not sorry when—as evening was coming on—he saw ahead of him a dull mist, which his fellow-passenger told him was the smoke of London.
It was nine in the evening when the coach drove into the courtyard of the Bull Inn. The guard, who had received instructions from Mrs. Conway, at once gave Ralph and his box into the charge of one of the porters awaiting the arrival of the coach, and told him to take the box to the inn from which the coach for Weymouth started in the morning. Cramped by his fourteen hours' journey Ralph had at first some difficulty in following his conductor through the crowded street, but the stiffness soon wore off, and after ten minutes walking he arrived at the inn.
The guard had already paid the porter, having received the money for that purpose from Mrs. Conway; and the latter setting down the box in the passage at once went off. Ralph felt a little forlorn, and wondered what he was to do next. But a minute later the landlady came out from the bar.
"Do you want a bed?" she asked. "The porter should have rung the bell. I am afraid we are full, unless it has been taken beforehand. However, I will see if I can make shift somehow."
"I should be very much obliged if you can," Ralph said; "for I don't know anything about London, and am going on by the Weymouth coach in the morning."
"Oh, might your name be Conway?"
"Yes, that is my name," Ralph said, surprised.
"Ah, then there is a bedroom taken for you. A gentleman came three days ago and took it, saying it was for a young gent who is going through to Weymouth. Tom," she called, "take this box up to number 12. Supper is ready for you, sir. I dare say you would like a wash first?"
"That I should," Ralph replied, following the boots upstairs.
In a few minutes he returned, and a waiter directed him to the coffee-room. In a short time a supper consisting of fish, a steak, and tea was placed before him. Ralph fell to vigorously, and the care that had been bestowed by Mr. Penfold in securing a bedroom and ordering supper for him greatly raised him in the boy's estimation; and he looked forward with warmer anticipations than he had hitherto done to his visit to him. As goon as he had finished he went off to bed, and in a few minutes was sound asleep. At half-past six he was called, and after a hearty breakfast took his seat on the outside of the Weymouth coach.
Sitting beside him were four sailors, belonging, as he soon learned, to a privateer lying at Weymouth. They had had a long trip, and had been some months at sea; and as their ship was to lie for a fortnight at Weymouth while some repairs were being done to her, they had obtained a week's leave and had ran up to London for a spree. Weymouth during the war did a brisk trade, and was a favorite rendezvous of privateers, who preferred it greatly to Portsmouth or Plymouth, where the risk of their men being pressed to make up the quota of some man-of-war just fitted out was very great.
The sailors were rather silent and sulky, at first at the cruise on land being nearly over, but after getting off the coach where it changed horses they recovered their spirits, and amused Ralph greatly with their talk about the various prizes they had taken, and one or two sharp brashes with French privateers. Toward evening they became rather hilarious, but for the last two hours dozed quietly; the man sitting next to Ralph lurching against him heavily in his sleep, and swearing loudly when the boy stuck his elbow into his ribs to relieve himself of the weight. Ralph was not sorry, therefore, when at ten o'clock at night the coach arrived at Weymouth. The landlord and servants came out with lanterns to help the passengers to alight, and the former, as Ralph climbed down the side into the circle of light, asked:
"Are you Master Conway?"
"That's my name," Ralph replied.
"A bed has been taken for you, sir, and a trap will be over here at nine o'clock in the morning to take you to Penfold Hall."
Supper was already prepared for such passengers as were going to sleep in the hotel; but Ralph was too sleepy to want to eat, and had made a good meal when the coach stopped at six o'clock for twenty minutes to allow the passengers time for refreshments. At eight o'clock next morning he breakfasted. When he had finished the waiter told him that the trap had arrived a few minutes before, and that the horse had been taken out to have a feed, but would be ready to start by nine. Ralph took a stroll for half an hour by the sea and then returned. The trap was at the door, and his trunk had already been placed in it. The driver, a man of twenty-three or twenty-four, was, as he presently told Ralph, stable-helper at Penfold Hall.
"I generally drive this trap when it is wanted," he said. "The coachman is pretty old now. He has been in the family well-nigh fifty years. He is all right behind the carriage-horses, he says, but he does not like trusting himself in a pair-wheel trap."
"How far is it?"
"A matter of fifteen miles. It would be a lot shorter if you had got off last night at the nearest point the coach goes to; but the master told the coachman that he thought it would be pleasanter for you to come on here than to arrive there tired and sleepy after dark."
"Yes, it will much more pleasant," Ralph said. "The road was very dirty, and I should not like to arrive at a strange house with my clothes all covered with dust, and so sleepy that I could hardly keep my eyes open, especially as I hear that Mr. Penfold's sisters are rather particular."
"Rather isn't the word," the driver said; "they are particular, and no mistake. I don't believe as the master would notice whether the carriage was dirty or clean; but if there is a speck of dirt about they are sure to spot it. Not that they are bad mistresses; but they look about all right, I can tell you, pretty sharp. I don't say that it ain't as well as they do, for the master never seems to care one way or the other, and lets things go anyhow. A nice gentleman he is, but I don't see much of him; and he don't drive in the carriage not once a month, and only then when he is going to the board of magistrates. He just walks about the garden morning and evening, and all the rest of the time he is shut up in the library with his books. It's a pity he don't go out more."
"Are there any families about with boys?" Ralph asked.
"Not as I knows of. None of then that ever comes to the Hall, anyhow. It's a pity there ain't some young ones there; it would wake the place up and make it lively. It would give us a lot more work to do, I don't doubt; but we shouldn't mind that. I have heard it used to be different in the old squire's time, but it has always been so as long as I can remember. I don't live at the house, but down at the village. Jones he lives over the stables; and there ain't no occasion to have more than one there, for there's only the two carriage-horses and this."
"How far is the sea from the house?"
"It's about half a mile to the top of the cliff, and a precious long climb down to the water; but going round by Swanage—which is about three miles—you can drive down close to the sea, for there are no cliffs there."
There was little more said during the drive. From time to time the man pointed out the various villages and country seats, and Ralph wondered to himself how he should manage to pass the next three weeks. It seemed that there would be nothing to do and no one to talk to. He had always been accustomed to the companionship of lots of boys of his own age, and during the holidays there was plenty of sailing and fishing, so that time had never hung on his hands; the present prospect therefore almost appalled him. However, he had promised his mother that he would try to make the best of things; and he tried to assure himself that after all three weeks or a month would be over at last. After an hour and a half's drive they passed through a lodge gate into a park, and in a few minutes drew up at the entrance to Penfold Hall. An old servant came out.
"Will you come with me into the library, sir? Mr. Penfold is expecting you. Your box will be taken up into your room."
Ralph felt extremely uncomfortable as he followed his conductor across a noble hall, floored with dark polished oak, and paneled with the same material. A door opened, and a servant announced "Master Conway." A gentleman rose from his chair and held out his hand.
"I am glad to see you, Ralph Conway; and I hope your journey has been a pretty comfortable one. It is very good of you to come such a long distance to pay me a visit."
"Mother wanted me to, sir," Ralph said honestly. "I don't think—" and he stopped.
"You don't think you would have come of your own accord, Ralph? No, that is natural enough, my boy. At your, age I am sure I should not have cared to give up my holidays and spend them in a quiet house among strangers. However, I wanted to see you, and I am very glad you have come. I am an old friend of your mother's, you know, and so desired to make the acquaintance of her son. I think you are like her," he said, putting his hand on Ralph's shoulder and taking him to the window and looking steadily at him.
"Other people have said so, sir; but I am sure I can't [illegible words] be like her a bit. Mother is so pretty, and I am sure I am not the least bit in the world; and I don't think it's nice for a boy to be like a woman."
This was rather a sore point with Ralph, who had a smooth soft face with large eyes and long eyelashes, and who had, in consequence, been nicknamed "Sally" by his schoolfellows. The name had stuck to him in spite of several desperate fights, and the fact that in point of strength and activity he was fully a match for any boy of his own age; but as there was nothing like derision conveyed by it, and it was indeed a term of affection rather, than of contempt, Ralph had at last ceased to struggle against it. But he longed for the time when the sprouting of whiskers would obliterate the obnoxious smoothness of his face. Mr. Penfold had smiled at his remark.
"I do not like girlish boys, Ralph; but a boy can have a girlish face and yet be a true boy all over. I fancy that's your case.
"I hope so, sir. I think I can swim or run or fight any of the chaps of my own age in the school; but I know I do look girlish about the face. I have done everything I could to make my face rough. I have sat in the sun, and wetted it with sea-water every five minutes, but it's no use."
"I should not trouble about it. Your face will get manly enough in time, you may be sure; and I like you all the better for it, my boy, because you are certainly very like your mother. And now, Ralph, I want you to enjoy yourself as much as you can while you are here. The house itself is dull, but I suppose you will be a good deal out of doors. I have hired a pony, which will be here to-day from Poole, and I have arranged with Watson, a fisherman at Swanage, that you can go out with him in his fishing-boat whenever you are disposed. It is three miles from here, but you can ride over on your pony and leave it at the little inn there till you come back. I am sorry to say I do not know any boys about here; but Mabel Withers, the daughter of my neighbor and friend the clergyman of Bilston, the village just outside the lodge, has a pony, and is a capital rider, and I am sure she will show you over the country. I suppose you have not had much to do with girls?" he added with a smile at seeing a slight expression of dismay on Ralph's face, which had expressed unmixed satisfaction at the first items of the programme.
"No, sir; not much," Ralph said. "Of course some of my schoolfellows have sisters, but one does not see much of them."
"I think you will get on very well together. She is a year or two younger than you are, and I am afraid she is considered rather a tomboy. She has been caught at the top of a tall tree examining the eggs in a nest, and in many similar ungirl-like positions; so you won't find her a dull companion. She is a great pet of mine, and though she may not be as good a companion as a boy would be for you, I am sure when you once get to know her you will find her a very good substitute. You see, not having had much to do with boys, I am not very good at devising amusement for you. I can only say that if there is anything you would like to do while you are here you have only to tell me, and if it be possible I will put you in the way of it."
"Thank you very much, sir. You are extremely kind," Ralph said heartily; for with a pony and a boat it did seem that his visit would not be nearly so dull as he had anticipated. "I am sure I shall get on capitally."
Just at his moment there was a knock at the door. It opened, and a girl entered.
"You have just come at the right moment, Mabel," Mr. Penfold said as she came in. "This is Ralph Conway, of whom I was speaking to you. Ralph, this is Mabel Withers. I asked her to come in early this morning so as to act as your guide round the place."
The boy and girl shook hands with each other. She was the first to speak.
"So you are Ralph. I have been wondering what you would be like. Uncle has been telling me you were coming. I like your looks, and I think you are nice."
Ralph was taken rather aback. This was not the way in which his schoolfellows' sisters had generally addressed him.
"I think you look jolly," he said; "and that's better than looking nice."
"I think they mean the same thing," she replied; "except that a girl says 'nice' and a boy says 'jolly.' I like the word 'jolly' best, only I get scolded when I use it. Shall we go into the garden?"
Altogether Ralph Conway had a very much pleasanter time than he had anticipated. Except at meals he saw little of the Miss Penfolds. His opinion as to these ladies, expressed confidentially to Mabel Withers, was the reverse of flattering.
"I think," he said, "that they are the two most disagreeable old cats I have ever met. They hardly ever open their lips, and when they do it is only to answer some question of their brother. I remember in a fairy story there was a girl who whenever she spoke let fall pearls and diamonds from her lips; whenever those women open their mouths I expect icicles and daggers to drop out."
"They are not so bad as that," Mabel laughed. "I generally get on with them very well, and they are very kind in the parish; and altogether they are really not bad."
"Then their looks belie them horribly," Ralph said. "I suppose they don't like me; and that would be all well enough if I had done anything to offend them, but it was just as bad the first day I came. I am sure Mr. Penfold does not like it. I can see him fidget on his chair; and he talks away with me pretty well all the time we are at table, so as to make it less awkward, I suppose. Well, I am stopping with him, and not with them, that's one thing; and it doesn't make much difference to me if they do choose to be disagreeable. I like him immensely. He is wonderfully kind; but it would be awfully stupid work if it weren't for you, Mabel. I don't think I could stand it if it were not for our rides together."
The young people had indeed got on capitally from the first. Every day they took long rides together, generally alone, although sometimes Mr. Penfold rode with them. Ralph had already confided to the latter, upon his asking him how he liked Mabel, that she was the jolliest girl that he had ever met.
"She has no nonsensical girl's ways about her, Mr. Penfold; but is almost as good as a boy to be with. The girls I have seen before have been quite different from that. Some of them always giggle when you speak to them, others have not got a word to say for themselves; and it is awfully hard work talking to them even for a single dance. Still, I like them better than the giggling ones."
"You see, Ralph, girls brought up in a town are naturally different to one like Mabel. They go to school, and are taught to sit upright and to behave discreetly, and to be general unnatural. Mabel has been brought up at home and allowed to do as she liked, and she has consequently grown up what nature intended her to be. Perhaps some day all girls will be allowed the same chance of being natural that boys have, and backboards and other contrivances for stiffening them and turning them into little wooden figures will be unknown. It will be a good thing, in my opinion, when that time arrives."
Ralph was often down at the Rectory, where he was always made welcome, Mr. Withers and his wife being anxious to learn as much of his disposition as they could. They were well satisfied with the result.
"I fancy I know what is in Penfold's mind," the rector had said to his wife a few days after Ralph came down. "I believe he has already quite settled it in his mind that some day Mabel and this lad shall make a match of it."
"How absurd, John. Why, Mabel is only a child."
"Quite so, my dear; but in another three or four years she will be a young woman. I don't mean that Penfold has any idea that they are going to take a fancy to each other at present—only that they will do so in the future. You know he has said that he intends to leave a slice of his fortune to her, and I have no doubt that this lad will get the main bulk of his property. I have often told you about his engagement to the lad's mother, and how the breaking it off has affected his whole life. It is natural that a lonely man as he is should plan for others. He has no future of his own to look forward to, so he looks forward to some one else's. He has had no interest in life for a great many years, and I think he is making a new one for himself in the future of our girl and this lad.
"As far as I have seen of the boy I like him. He is evidently a straightforward, manly lad. I don't mean to say that he has any exceptional amount of brains, or is likely to set the Thames on fire; but if he comes into the Penfold property that will not be of much importance. He seems bright, good-tempered, and a gentleman. That is quite good enough to begin with. At any rate, there is nothing for us to trouble about. If some day the young people get to like each other the prospect is a good one for the child; if not, there's no harm done. At present there can be no objection to our yielding to Penfold's request and letting them ride about the country together. Mabel is, as you say, little more than a child, and it is evident that the lad regards her rather in the light of a boy companion than as a girl.
"She is a bit of a tomboy, you know, Mary, and has very few girlish notions or ideas. They evidently get on capitally together, and we need not trouble our heads about them but let things go their own way with a clear conscience."
At the end of the time agreed upon Ralph returned home.
"And so, Ralph, you have found it better than you expected?" his mother said to him at the conclusion of his first meal at home.
"Much better, mother. Mr. Penfold is awfully kind, and lets one do just what one likes. His sisters are hateful women, and if I had not been staying in the house I should certainly have played them some trick or other just to pay them out. I wonder why they disliked me so much. I could see it directly I arrived; but, after all, it didn't matter much, except just at meals and in the evening. But though Mr. Penfold was so kind, it would have been very stupid if it had not been for Mabel Withers. We used to ride out or go for walks together every day. She was a capital walker, and very jolly—almost as good as a boy. She said several times that she wished she had been a boy, and I wished so too. Still, of course, mother, I am very glad I am back. There is no place like home, you know; and then there are the fellows at school, and the games, and the sea, and all sorts of things; and it's a horrid nuisance to think that I have got to go down there regularly for my holidays. Still, of course, as you wish it, I will do so; and now that I know what it is like it won't be so bad another time. Anyhow, I am glad I have got another ten days before school begins."
The following morning Ralph went down to the beach. "Why, Master Conway," an old fisherman said, "you are a downright stranger. I have missed you rarely."
"I told you I was going away, Joe, and that I shouldn't get back until the holidays were nearly over."
"I know you did," the fisherman replied. "Still it does seem strange without you. Every time as I goes out I says to Bill if Master Conway was at home he would be with us to-day, Bill. It don't seem no ways natural without him.' And there's been good fishing, too, this season, first rate; and the weather has been just what it should be."
"Well, I am back now, Joe, anyhow; and I have got ten days before school begins again, and I mean to make the most of it. Are you going out to-day?"
"At four o'clock," the fisherman said. "Daylight fishing ain't much good just now; we take twice as many at night."
"No trouble with the Frenchies?"
"Lord bless you I ain't seen a French sail for months. Our cruisers are too sharp for them; though they say a good many privateers run in and out of their ports in spite of all we can do, and a lot of our ships get snapped up. But we don't trouble about them. Why, bless your heart, if one of them was to run across us they would only just take our fish, and as likely as not pay us for them with a cask or two of spirits. Fish is a treat to them Frenchies; for their fishing boats have to keep so close over to their own shores that they can't take much. Besides, all their best fishermen are away in the privateers, and the lads have to go to fight Boney's battles with the Austrians or Russians, or Spanish or our chaps, or else to go on board their ships of war and spend all their time cooped up in harbor, for they scarce show now beyond the range of the guns in their forts. Well, will you come this evening?"
"Yes, I think so, Joe. My mother doesn't much care about my being out at night, you know; but as I have been away all this time to please her, I expect she will let me do what I like for the rest of the holidays."
"Don't you come if your mother don't like it, Master Conway; there is never no good comes of boys vexing their mothers. I have known misfortune to follow it over and over again. Boys think as they know best what's good for them; but they don't, and sooner or later they are sure to own it to themselves."
"I shouldn't do it if I knew she really didn't like it, Joe; but I don't think she does mind my going out with you at any time. She knows she can trust you. Beside, what harm could come of it? You never go out in very rough weather."
"Pretty roughish sometimes, Master Conway."
"Oh, yes, pretty rough; but not in a gale, you know. Beside, the Heartsease could stand a goodish gale. She is not very fast, you know, but she is as safe as a house."
"She is fast enough," the old fisherman said in an injured tone. "But you young gentlemen is never content unless a boat is heeling over, gunnel under, and passing everything she comes across. What's the good of that ere to a fisherman? He goes out to catch fish, not to strain his craft all over by running races against another. Now an hour faster or slower makes no difference, and the Heartsease is fast enough for me, anyhow."
"No, she isn't, Joe. I have heard you use bad language enough when anything overhauls and passes her on the way back to port."
"Ay, that may be," the fisherman admitted; "and on the way home I grant you that a little more speed might be an advantage, for the first comer is sure to get the best market. No, the Heartsease ain't very fast, I own up to that; but she is safe and steady, and she has plenty of storage room and a good roomy cabin as you can stand upright in, and needn't break your back by stooping as you have to do on board some craft I could name."
"That's true enough, Joe," the boy said.
"But what's more, she's a lucky boat; for it's seldom that she goes out without getting a good catch."
"I think that's more judgment than luck, Joe; though there may be some luck in it too."
"I don't know about that, Master Conway. Of course one wants a sharp eye to see where the shoals are moving; but I believes in luck. Well, sir, shall I see you again before the afternoon?"
"I don't much expect so, Joe. I have got to call at some other places, and I don't suppose I shall have time to get down before. If I am coming I shall be sure to be punctual; so if I am not here by four, go off without me."
Mrs. Conway made no objection when Ralph proffered his request. He had sacrificed the greater part of his holidays to carrying out her wishes, and paying a visit to Mr. Penfold; and although she did not like his being out all night fishing, she could not refuse his request; and, indeed, as she knew that Joe Knight was a steady man and not fond of the bottle, there was no good reason why she should object. She, therefore, cheerfully assented, saying at the same time, "I will pack a basket for you before you start, Ralph. There is a nice piece of cold meat in the house, and I will have that and a loaf of bread and some cheese put up for you. I know what these fishing excursions are; you intend to be back at a certain time, and then the wind falls, or the tide turns, or something of that sort, and you can't make the harbor. You know what a fright you gave me the very first time you went out fishing with Joe Knight. You were to have been back at five o'clock in the afternoon, and you did not get in until three o'clock the next morning."
"I remember, mother; and there you were on the quay when we came in. I was awfully sorry about it."
"Well, I have learned better since, Ralph; and I know now that there is not necessarily any danger, even if you don't come back by the time I expect you. And of course each time I have fidgeted and you have come back safe, I have learned a certain amount of sea-knowledge, and have come to know that sailors and fishermen are not accountable for time; and that if the wind drops or tide turns they are helpless in the matter, and have only to wait till a breeze comes up again."
"I think, mother, you ought to like my going out at night better than in the daytime."
"Because, mother, if I go out in the daytime and don't get back until after dark, you worry yourself, and having no one to talk to, sit here wondering and wondering until you fancy all sorts of things. Now, if I go out in the evening, and I don't come back in the morning at the hour you expect, you see that it is fine and bright, and that there is nothing to make you uneasy; or if you do feel fidgety, you can walk down to the beach and talk to the boatmen and fishermen, and of course they can tell you at once that there's nothing to worry about, and very likely point the boat out to you in the distance."
"Well, Ralph, perhaps that is so, although I own I never looked at it in that light before."