I had just dismounted before the rather imposing main entrance to Delamere Hall, situate close to the west Dorset coast, and had handed over my horse to Tom Biddlecome, the groom who had accompanied me in my before-breakfast ride down to the beach for my morning dip, when my father appeared in the portico.
“Good morning, Dick,” he greeted me. “I suppose you have been for your swim, as usual. How did you find the water?”
“Grand, sir,” I replied; “just the right temperature to put new life into one. Another week, at this rate, ought to see me as well as ever I was.”
“Well, your present appearance is scarcely that of an invalid, I must confess,” he remarked laughingly. “If you were called upon to submit to a medical examination, I fancy the verdict would be that there is not very much the matter with you. And I am very glad that it is so; for I have just received a letter from my friend Vavassour, in which he informs me that he has been posted to the new frigate Europa, launched last week at Portsmouth and now fitting-out; that he has entered your name on her books; and that, if you feel sufficiently recovered to resume duty, he would very strongly advise you to proceed to Portsmouth at once and assist in the operation of fitting-out, as he is of opinion that by doing so you will gain a considerable amount of knowledge that will be of the utmost value to you when you come to sit for your examination. Now, what is your opinion? Do you think you are sufficiently recovered to do as Vavassour suggests; or should I write and ask him to—”
“By no means, my dear father,” I interrupted hastily. “I am quite well, and perfectly fit for duty in every respect; indeed, I feel sure that, having advanced so far along the road to recovery, a return to a life of greater activity than that which I have been living of late will be positively beneficial to me. Of course I shall be very sorry to leave you again to a life of solitude.”
“Do not think of that, Dick,” interrupted my father in his turn. “I assure you that my life here is not nearly so lonely as you seem to imagine. True, there are not many neighbours, but what there are, are eminently satisfactory; also I have my horses, my dogs, my gun, and my rod for outdoor companions, and books to exorcise the loneliness of my evenings; so that you see I am not at all badly off. No doubt I shall miss you after you are gone, my son; but this is not the time to study one’s own feelings. Britain just now needs every one of her sons who can strike a blow in her defence; and when I look at your empty chair I shall at least have the pride and satisfaction of knowing that, wherever you may be, you are upholding the honour of your country and your name. Well, well,” he sighed, “let us get indoors and to breakfast. There is a letter also for you from Vavassour, and you will be curious to learn what he has to say to you.”
Whereupon, linked arm in arm, my father and I entered and made our way to the breakfast room, where we seated ourselves, and were soon busy with the viands placed before us....