Chapter I – The Old Wreck
Mr. Stedman spoke.
“I do not wish to be too hard on you; but I will not, I cannot consent to Ellen’s marrying you till you have sufficient means to keep her in comfort. I know too well what poverty is. I saw her poor mother droop and pine away till she died, and all from poverty. No, no, Ellen must be spared that sorrow at all events.”
“But, sir, we are young. You say you have always earned your living. I can do the same and I thought” – this with a flush – “I thought that if I might be so happy as to win Ellen’s love that you might help us.”
“And so I would, my dear boy; but what help could I give? I find it hard to keep the pot boiling as it is, and there is only Ellen and myself to feed. No, no, I must have some certainty for Ellen before I let her leave me. Just suppose anything should happen to me” –
“Then, sir, what could be better than to have some one to look after Ellen – some one with a heart to love her as she should be loved, and a pair of hands to be worked to the bone for her sake.”
“True, boy; true. But still it cannot be. I must be certain of Ellen’s future before I trust her out of my own care. Come now, let me see you with a hundred pounds of your own, and I shall not refuse to let you speak to her. But mind, I shall trust to your honour not to forestall that time.”
“It is cruel, sir, although you mean it in kindness. I could as easily learn to fly as raise a hundred pounds with my present opportunities. Just think of my circumstances, sir. If my poor father had lived all would have been different; but you know that sad story.”
“No, I do not. Tell it to me.”
“He left the Gold Coast after spending half his life there toiling for my poor mother and me. We knew from his letter that he was about to start for home, and that he was coming in a small sailing vessel, taking all his savings with him. But from that time to this he has never been heard of.”
“Did you make inquiries?”
“We tried every means, or rather poor mother did, for I was too young, and we could find out nothing.”
“Poor boy. From my heart I pity you; still I cannot change my opinion. I have always hoped that Ellen would marry happily. I have worked for her, early and late, since she was born, and it would be mistaken kindness to let her marry without sufficient provisions for her welfare.”
Robert Hamilton left Mr. Stedman’s cottage in great dejection. He had entered it with much misgiving, but with a hope so strong that it brightened the prospect of success. He went slowly along the streets till he got to his office, and when once there he had so much work to do that little time was left him for reflection until his work for the day was over. That night he lay awake, trying with all the intentness of his nature to conceive some plan by which he might make the necessary sum to entitle him to seek the hand of Ellen Stedman: but all in vain. Scheme after scheme rose up before him, but each one, though born of hope, quickly perished in succession. Gradually his imagination grew in force as the real world seemed to fade away; he built bright castles in the air and installed Ellen as their queen. He thought of all the vast sums of money made each year by chances, of old treasures found after centuries, new treasures dug from mines, and turned from mills and commerce. But all these required capital – except the old treasures – and this source of wealth being a possibility, to it his thoughts clung as a man lost in mid-ocean clings to a spar – clung as he often conceived that his poor father had clung when lost with all his treasure far at sea.
“Vigo Bay, the Schelde, already giving up their long-buried spoil,” so thought he. “All round our coasts lie millions lost, hidden but for a time. Other men have benefited by them – why should not I have a chance also?” And then, as he sunk to sleep the possibility seemed to become reality, and as he slept he found treasure after treasure, and all was real to him, for he knew not that he dreamt.
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Buried Treasures at bramstoker.org