Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 10.

Lady Ascot’s Little Nap.

There was a very dull dinner at Ranford that day. Lord Ascot scarcely spoke a word; he was kind and polite — he always was that — but he was very different from his usual self. The party missed his jokes; which, though feeble and sometimes possibly “rather close to the wind,” served their purpose, served to show that the maker of them was desirous to make himself agreeable to the best of his ability. He never laughed once during dinner, which was very unusual. It was evident that Lord Saltire had performed his commission, and Charles was afraid that he was furiously angry with Welter; but, on one occasion, when the latter looked up suddenly and asked him some question, his father answered him kindly in his usual tone of voice, and spoke to him so for some time.

Lady Ascot was a host in herself. With a noble self-sacrifice, she, at the risk of being laughed at, resolved to attract attention by airing some of her most remarkable opinions. She accordingly attacked Lord Saltire on the subject of the end of the world, putting its total destruction by fire at about nine months from that time. Lord Saltire had no opinion to offer on the probability of Dr. Going’s theory, but sincerely hoped that it might last his time, and that he might he allowed to get out of the way in the ordinary manner. He did not for a moment doubt the correctness of her calculations; but he put it to her as a woman of the world, whether or no such an occurrence as she described would not be in the last degree awkward and disconcerting?

Adelaide said she didn’t believe a word of it, and nothing should induce her to do so until it took place. This brought the old lady’s wrath down upon her and helped the nagging conversation on a little. But, after dinner, it got so dull in spite of every one’s efforts, that Lord Sal tire confided to his young friend, as they went upstairs, that he had an idea that something was wrong; but at all events, that the house was getting so insufferably dull that he must rat, pardieu, for he couldn’t stand it. He should rat into Devon to his friend Lord Begur.

Welter took occasion to tell Charles that Lord Ascot had sent for him, and told him that he knew all about what had happened, and his debts. That he did not wish the subject mentioned (as if I were likely to talk about it!); that his debts should, if possible, be paid. That he had then gone on to say, that he did not wish to say anything harsh to Welter on the subject — that he doubted whether he retained the right of reproving his son. That they both needed forgiveness one from the other, and that he hoped in what was to follow they would display that courtesy and mutual forbearance to ne another which gentlemen should. “And what the deuce does he mean, eh? He never spoke like this before. Is he going to marry again? Ay, that’s what it is, depend upon it,” said this penetrating young gentleman; “ that will be rather a shame of 1dm, you know, particularly if he has two or three cubs to cut into my fortune;” and so from that time Lord Welter began to treat his father with a slight coolness, and an air of injured innocence most amusing, though painful, to Charles and Adelaide, who knew the truth.

As for Adelaide, she seemed to treat Charles like a brother once more. She kept no secret from him; she walked with him, rode with him, just as of old. She did not seem to like Lord Welter’s society, though she was very kind to him; and he seemed too much taken up with his dogs and horses to care much for her. So Charles and she were thrown together, and Charles’s love for her grew stronger day by day, until that studied indifferent air which he had assumed on his arrival became almost impossible to sustain. He sustained it, nevertheless, treating Adelaide almost with rudeness, and flinging about his words so carelessly, that sometimes she would look suddenly up indignant, and make some passionate reply, and sometimes she would rise and leave the room — for aught I know, in tears.

It was a sad house to stay in; and his heart began to yearn for his western home in spite of Adelaide. After a short time came a long letter from his father, a scolding loving letter, in which Densil showed plainly that he as trying to be angry, and could not, for joy at having his son home with him — and concluded by saying that he should never allude to the circumstance again, and by praying him to come back at once from that wicked, cock-fighting, horse-racing, Ranford. There was an inclosure for Lord Saltire, the reading of which caused his lordship to take a great deal of snuff, in which he begged him, for old friendship’s sake, to send his boy home to him, as he had once sent him home to his father. And so Lord Saltire appeared in Charles’s dressing-room before dinner one day, and, sitting down, said that he was come to take a great liberty, and, in fact, was rather presuming on his being an old man, but he hoped that his young friend would not take it amiss from a man old enough to be his grandfather, if he recommended him to leave that house, and go home to his father’s. Ranford was a most desirable house in every way; but, at the same time, it was what he believed the young men of the day called a fast house; and he would not conceal from his young friend that his father had requested him to use his influence to make him return home; and he did beg his old friend’s son to believe that he was actuated by the best of motives.

“Dear Lord Saltire,” said Charles, taking the old man’s hand; “I am going home tomorrow; and you don’t know how heartily I thank you for the interest you always take in me.”

“I know nothing,” said Lord Saltire, “more pleasing to a battered old fellow like myself than to contemplate he ingenuousness of youth, and you must allow me to gay that your ingenuousness sits uncommonly well upon you — in fact, is very becoming. I conceived a considerable interest in you the first time I saw you, on that very account. I should like to have had a son like you, but it was not to be. I had a son, who was all that could be desired by the most fastidious person, brought up in a far better school than mine; but he got shot in his first duel, at one-and-twenty. I remember to have been considerably annoyed at the time,” continued the old gentleman, taking a pinch of snuff, and looking steadily at Charles without moving a muscle, “but I flare say it was all for the best; he might have run in debt, or married a woman with red hair, or fifty things. Well, I wish you good day, and beg your forgiveness once more for the liberty I have taken.”

Charles slipped away from the dinner-table early that evening, and, while Lady Ascot was having her after-dinner nap, had a long conversation with Adelaide in the dark, which was very pleasant to one of the parties concerned, at any rate.

“Adelaide, I am going home tomorrow.”

“Are you really? Are you going so suddenly?”

“I am, positively. I got a letter from home today. Are you very sorry or very glad?”

“I am very sorry, Charles. You are the only friend I have in the world to whom I can speak as I like. Make me a promise.” “Well?”

“This is the last night we shall he together. Promise that you won’t be rude and sarcastic as you are sometimes — almost always, now, to poor me — but talk kindly, as we used to do.”

“Very well,” said Charles. “And you promise you won’t he taking such a black view of the state of affairs as you do in general. Do you remember the conversation we had the day the colt was tried?”

“I remember.”

“Well, don’t talk like that, you know.”

“I won’t promise that. The time will come very soon when we shall have no more pleasant talks together.”

“When will that be?”

“When I am gone out for a governess.”

“What wages will you get? You will not get so much as some girls, because you are so pretty and so wilful, and you will lead them such a deuce of a life.”

“Charles, you said you wouldn’t be rude.”

“I choose to be rude. I have been drinking wine, and we are in the dark, and aunt is asleep and snoring, and I shall say just what I like.”

“I’ll wake her.”

“I should like to see you. What shall we talk about? What an old Roman Lord Saltire is. He talked about his son who was killed, to me today, just as I should talk about a pointer dog.”

“Then he thought he had been showing some signs of weakness. He always speaks of his son like that when he thinks he has been betraying some feeling.”

“I admire him for it,” said Charles. — “So you are going to be a governess, eh?”

“I suppose so.”

“Why don’t you try being barmaid at a public-house? Welter would get you a place directly; he has great influence in the licensed victualling way. You might come to many a commercial traveller, for anything you know.”

“I would not have believed this,” she said, in a fierce, low voice. “You have turned against me and insult me, because Unkind, unjust, ungentlemanlike.”

He heard her passionately sobbing in the dark, and the next moment he had her in his arms, and was covering her face with kisses.

“Lie there, my love,” he said; “that is your place . All the world can’t harm or insult my Adelaide while she is there. Why did you fly from me and repulse me my darling, when I told you I was your own true love?”

“Oh, let me go, Charles,” she said, trying, ever so feebly, to repulse him. “Dear Charles, pray do; I am frightened.”

“Not till you tell me you love me, false one.”

H I love you more than all the world.”

“Traitress! And why did you repulse me and laugh at me?”

“I did not think you were in earnest.”

“Another kiss for that wicked, wicked falsehood. Do you know that this rustication business has all come from the despair consequent on your wicked behaviour the other day?”

“You said Welter caused it, Charles. But oh, please let me go.”

“Will you go as a governess now?”

“I will do nothing but what you tell me.”

“Then give me one, your own, own self, and I will let you go.”

Have the reader’s feelings of horror, indignation, astonishment, outraged modesty, or ridicule, given him time to remember that all this went on in the dark, within six feet of an unconscious old lady? Such, however, was the case. And scarcely had Adelaide determined that it was time to wake her, and barely had she bent over her for that purpose, when the door was thrown open, and — enter attendants with lights. Now, if the reader will reflect a moment, he will see what an awful escape they had; for the chances were about a thousand to one in favour of two things having happened: 1st, the groom of the chambers might have come into the room half a minute sooner; and 2d, they might have sat as they were half a minute longer; in either of which cases, Charles would have been discovered with his arm round Adelaide’s waist, and a fearful scandal would have been the consequence. And I mention this as a caution to young persons in general, and to remind them that, if they happen to be sitting hand in hand, it is no use to jump apart and look very ed just as the door opens, because the incomer can see what they have been about as plain as if he had been there. On this occasion, also, Charles and Adelaide set down as usual to their own sagacity what was the result of pure accident.

Adelaide was very glad to get away after tea, for she felt rather guilty and confused. On Charles’s offering to go, however, Lady Ascot, who had been very silent and glum all tea-time, requested him to stay, as she had something serious to say to him. Which set that young gentleman speculating whether she could possibly have been awake before the advent of candles, and caused him to await her pleasure with no small amount of trepidation.

Her ladyship began, by remarking that digitalis was invaluable for palpitation, and that she had also found camomile, combined with gentle purgatives, efficient for the same thing, when suspected to proceed from stomach. She opined that, if this weather continued, there would be heavy running for the Cambridgeshire, and Commissioner would probably stand as well as any horse. And then, having, like a pigeon, taken a few airy circles through stable-management, theology, and agriculture, she descended on her subject, and frightened Charles out of his five wits, by asking him if he didn’t think Adelaide a very nice girl.

Charles decidedly thought she was a very nice girl; but he rather hesitated, and said — “Yes, that she was charming.”

“Now, tell me, my dear,” said Lady Ascot, manoeuvring a great old fan, “for young eyes are quicker than old ones. Did you ever remark anything between her and Welter?”

Charles caught up one of his legs, and exclaimed, “The devil!”

“What a shocking expression, my dear! Well, I agree with you. I fancy I have noticed that they entertained a decided preference for one another. Of course, Welter will be throwing himself away, and all that sort of thing, but he is pretty sure to do that. I expect every time he comes home, that he will bring a wife from behind the bar of a public-house. Now, Adelaide —”

“Aunt! Lady Ascot! Surely you are under a mistake. I never saw anything between them.”

“Hm.”

“I assure you I never did. I never heard Welter speak of her in that sort of way, and I don’t think she cares for him.”

“What reason have you for thinking that?”

“Well — why, you know it’s hard to say. The fa< I have rather a partiality for Adelaide myself, and I have watched her in the presence of other men.”

“Oho! Do you think she cares for you? Do you know she won’t have a sixpence?”

“We shall have enough to last till next year, aunt; and then the world is to come to an end, you know, and we shan’t want anything.”

“Never you mind about the world, sir. Don’t you be flippant and impertinent, sir. Don’t evade my question, sir. Do you think Adelaide cares for you, sir?”

Charles looked steadily and defiantly at his aunt, and asked her whether she didn’t think it was very difficult to find out what a girl’s mind really was — whereby we may conclude that he was profiting by Lord Saltire’s lesson on the command of feature.

“This is too bad, Charles,” broke out Lady Ascot, “to put me off like this, after your infamous and audacious conduct of this evening — after kissing and hugging that girl under my very nose — ”

“I thought it!” said Charles, with a shout of laughter. “I thought it you were awake all the time!” “I was not awake all the time, sir — ” “You were awake quite long enough, it appears, aunty. Now, what do you think of it?”

At first Lady Ascot would think nothing of it, but that the iniquity of Charles’s conduct was only to be equalled by the baseness and ingratitude of Adelaide’s; but by degrees she was brought to think that it was possible that some good might come of an engagement; and, at length, becoming garrulous on this point, it leaked out by degrees, that she had set her heart on it for years, that she had noticed for some time Charles’s partiality for her with the greatest pleasure, and recently had feared that something had disturbed it. In short, that it was her pet scheme, and that she had been coming to an explanation that very night, but had been anticipated.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/henry/ravenshoe/chapter10.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44