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HOSTAGES TO FORTUNE
BY THE AUTHOR OF LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET,' ETC.
'Full many a lady
I have eyed with best regard; and many a time
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed,
ROFOUND excitement prevails in Llandrysak this sunny August morning. Dog-carts dash wildly down the fragment of inchoate street, whose chief feature is the post-office; phaetons and pony-carriages unknown to Llandrysak wind gaily across the common, and appear on the railway-bridge. The station disgorges a crowd of smartly-dressed young women and their attendant swains, who swarm over the little settlement, and forthwith make for the one establishment which provides refreshment of a light and unintoxicating character; for the people who come to Llandrysak are, as a rule, temperate in the extreme, and hardly know the meaning of a public-house.
Mr. Cates the purveyor of things in general, from butcher's meat and bacon to tea, sugar, confectionery, and fancy biscuits; from bread, butter, and eggs to greenstuff and fish-has been labouring all night in the sweat of his brow to prepare adequately for this peaceful invasion. Monster hams await the sacrificial knife; quartern loaves wall-in one side of the well-used counter; all the interior accommodation available in Mr. Cates's private abode has been thrown open for the reception of visitors; and tea and coffee are in perpetual preparation. But the most Mr. Cates can do in this way falls short of his patrons' demands.
THIRD SERIES, VO V. F.S. VOL. XXV.
They storm his passage, they swarm upon his stairs, and throng his rooms, even trying to invade the sanctity of his bedchamber, and wax loud and savage in their demands for accommodation and refreshment, until Mr. Cates-although feeling that he is making money as fast as he can drop it into his till-wishes that his customers were less numerous or less importunate; or, in his own words, wishes that he had known beforehand that there would be so many;' though what he would have done had he been so informed, seeing that his house has no power of expansion, and that he has no yard or garden available for the erection of a tent, must ever remain a mystery. Whatever power of expansion his business premises possess has been exercised to the uttermost; for he has absorbed as much of the roadway as he can venture to encumber without detriment to the public. The space before his busy little shop is spread with trays of tarts and buns, hot and hot from the oven, promptly renewed as the hungry visitors consume them.
And wherefore this inroad of the surrounding neighbourhood into quiet little Llandrysak, famous only for its saline and sulphur springs, and in its normal condition the tranquil resort of healthseekers and water-drinkers? Question easily answered. For the last fortnight placards have adorned the public places of Llandrysak -the gates of the market-hall, the portal of the post-office, and the railway-station-setting forth that on this third of August an Eisteddfod would be holden at Llandrysak, and numerous prizes-ranging from ten pounds to five shillings-would be awarded to successful competitors in the art of music and dramatic recitation. A monster tent has been brought from a distant city-Llandrysak is a good forty miles from any large town-and erected behind the pretty little modern Gothic church on the common yonder; and after braving the breeze for a day or two, has ignominiously collapsed on Sunday afternoon, to be reërected with increased stability on Monday. Today is Tuesday, and the tent still stands bravely. The warm summer sky and soft west wind promise a glorious noontide, and at. half-past nine o'clock the inhabitants of surrounding villages are pouring into Llandrysak as fast as the single line of rail can bring them.
Perhaps of all the quiet out-of-the way places in this sea-bound isle, there is none more tranquil, more utterly remote from the busy world, than Llandrysak. It is certainly not a town, it is hardly to be called a village. Two large and prosperous hotels, and three or four smaller hostelries-which are rather public boarding-houses than inns-have sprung up around the mineral springs. Three or four shops and about half a dozen lodging-houses have been built on the edge of an undulating stretch of heathy common; and the new church, erected by public subscription, looks down upon the little settlement from its elevation on the aforesaid common.
Llandrysak is situated on a plateau seven hundred feet above the sea-level, and all around it rise the green Cambrian hills; not mighty peaks, like Snowdon or Penmaenmawr, but lovable hills, grassy and ferny; hills that tempt the pedestrian, and seem to cry aloud, even to the idlest lounger : 'Come, climb our gentle breasts, and breathe the purer ether that circles round our heads.'
Quiet and remote though Llandrysak is, it is eminently popular in its way. The hotels and lodging-houses are full to plethora in the season, and guests are billeted at outlying farmhouses, to an alarming extent, considering the number of the lodgers in relation to the space available for their accommodation. In sheltered nooks upon the hill-side, in rustic lanes, you come upon lowly homesteads, which to the stranger's eye appear in no wise too spacious for a farmer's household, and which yet afford board and lodgment to fifteen or twenty water-drinkers in time of need.
Of the two hotels, the Cambria is select and aristocratic, judiciously dividing its guests into two sections, known as Lords and Commons; and the Spring House popular and easy-going. Wondrous stories are told of the chaff and practical joking which obtains at the latter hostelry, and the matrimonial engagements apt to result from a week's residence therein. Pianos are heard long after midnight; amateur concerts and Christy minstrelsy diversify the monotony of social intercourse. Picnics and excursions of all kinds are of daily occurrence; and the click of croquet-balls without and billiard-balls within may be heard from morn till midnight. The more quiet Cambria has its croquet-lawn also, sheltered by surrounding groves of spice-breathing pine, and its spacious billiard-room over the stony chamber where the unsavoury waters are dealt out by complacent maidens, across a pewter-covered bar, suggestive of Spiers and Pond-awful chamber, pervaded ever by the odour of innumerable rotten eggs, which odour is the delightful characteristic of a sulphur-spring in perfection.
This pump-room stands cheek-by-jowl with the more aristocratic wing of the Cambria, and gives upon the croquet-lawn and piny groves, and a broad space of gravel before the house. An avenue leads from the hotel down to a little bit of road that crosses the common and joins the high-road-for the Cambria stands in a genteel seclusion, about half a mile from the settlement that has grown up in the neighbourhood of the railway-station.
From the pump-room, on this sunny August morning, emerges a gentleman, who wipes his lips with a cambric handkerchief, and wears a disgusted expression of countenance.
Upon my word, Dewrance, I can't stand much more of it,' he exclaims. 'Faugh! assafœtida would be ambrosial in comparison.' Mr. Dewrance, in clerical costume-faultless black and Roman collar-is lounging on a bench outside, smoking an after-breakfast