Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 14.

Lord Saltire’s Visit, and Some of His Opinions.

There followed on the events above narrated two or three quiet months — a time well remembered by Charles, as one of the quietest and most peaceful in his life, in all the times which followed. Every fine day there was a ramble with his father through the kennels and stables, and down through the wood, or over the farm. Charles, who at Oxford thought no day complete, after riding with the drag, or Drakes, or rowing to Sandford; without banquier, vingt-et-un, or loo, till three o’clock in the morning, now found, greatly to his astonishment, that he got more pleasure by leaning over a gate with his father, and looking at fat beasts and pigs, chewing a straw the while. A noisy wine party, where he met the same men he had met the night before, who sang the same songs, and told the same silly stories, was well enough; but he began to find that supper in the oak dining-room, sitting between Mary and his father, and talking of the merest trifles, was a great deal pleasanter. Another noticeable fact was, that Father Mackworth’s sarcasms were turned off with a good-natured laugh, and that battle was on all occasions refused to the worthy priest. In short, Charles, away from company and issipation, was himself. The good, worthy fellow, whom I learnt to like years ago. The man whose history I am proud to write.

Lord Saltire had arrived meanwhile; he had written to Densil, to say that he was horribly bored; that he wished, as an ethical study, to settle, once for all, the amount of boredom a man could stand without dying under it; that, having looked carefully about him, to select a spot and a society where that object could be obtained, he had selected Ravenshoe, as being the most eligible; that he should wish his room to have a south aspect; and that his man would arrive with his things three days after date. To this Densil had written an appropriate reply, begging his kind old friend to come and make his house his home; and Lord Saltire had arrived one evening, when every one was out of the way but Mary, who received him in the hall.

She was in some little trepidation. She had read and heard enough of “the wild prince and Poyns,” and of Lord Saltire’s powers of sarcasm, to be thoroughly frightened at her awful position. She had pictured to herself a terrible old man, with overhanging eyebrows, and cruel gleaming eyes beneath them. Therefore she was astonished to see a gentleman, old it is true, but upright as a young oak, of such remarkable personal beauty, and such a pleasant expression of countenance as she had never seen before.

She was astonished, I said; but, mind you, Mary was too much of a lady to show too much of it. She sailed owards him through the gloom of the old hall with a frank smile, and just that amount of admiration in her sweet eyes which paid Lord Saltire the truest compliment he had had for many a day.

“Mr. Ravenshoe will be sorry to have missed receiving you, my lord,” she said.

“If Mr. Ravenshoe is sorry,” he said, “I certainly am not. Mr. Ravenshoe has done me the honour to show me the most beautiful thing in his house first. I rather think that is a pretty compliment, Miss Corby, unless I am getting out of practice.”

“That is a very pretty compliment, indeed,” she answered, laughing. “I most heartily thank you for it. I know nothing in life so pleasant as being flattered. May I introduce Father Mackworth?”

Lord Saltire would be delighted. Father Mackworth came forward, and Mary saw them look at one another. She saw at a glance that either they had met before, or there was some secret which both of them knew. She never forgot Mackworth’s defiant look, or Lord Saltire’s calm considerate glance, which said as plain as words, “This fellow knows it.”

This fellow knew it — had known it for years. The footman who had left Mackworth at the lodge of the French Lye£e, the nameless domestic, who formed the last link with his former life — this man had worn Lord Saltire’s livery, and he remembered it.

“I see,” said Lord Saltire, “that Miss Corby is prepared for walking. I guess that she is going to meet Mr. Ravenshoe, and, if my surmise is correct, I beg to be allowed to accompany her.”

“You are wonderfully correct, my lord. Cuthbert and Charles are shooting pheasants in the wood, and Mr. Ravenshoe is with them on his pony. If you will walk with me, we shall meet them.”

So the grand old eagle and the pretty sweet-voiced robin passed out on to the terrace, and stood looking together, under the dull December sky, at the whispering surges. Eight and left the misty headlands seemed to float on the quiet grey sea, which broke in sighs at their feet, as the long majestic groundswell rolled in from the ocean; and these two stood there for a minute or more without speaking.

“The new school of men,” said Lord Saltire at last, looking out to sea, “have perhaps done wisely, in thinking more of scenery and the mere externals of nature than we did. We lived the life of clubs and crowds, and we are going to our places one after another. There are but few left now. These Stephensons and Taxtons are fine men enough. They are fighting inert matter, but we fought the armies of the Philistine. We had no time for botany and that sort of thing; which was unfortunate. You young folks shouldn’t laugh at us though.”

“I laugh at you!” she said suddenly and rapidly; “laugh at the giants who warred with the gods. My lord, the men of our time have not shown themselves equal to their fathers.”

Lord Saltire laughed.

“No, not yet,” she continued; “when the time comes they will. The time has not come yet.”

“Not yet, Miss Corby. It will come, — mind the words of a very old man; an old fellow who has seen a confounded deal of the world.”

“Are we to have any more wars, Lord Saltire?”

“Wars such as we never dreamt of, young lady.”

“Is all this new inauguration of peace to go for nothing?”

“Only as the inauguration of a new series of wars, more terrible than those which have gone before.”

“France and England combined can give the law to Europe.”

Lord Saltire turned upon her and laughed. “And so you actually believe that France and England can actually combine for anything more important than a raid against Eussia. Not that they will ever fight Eussia you know. There will be no fight. If they threaten loud enough, Eussia will yield. Nicholas knows his weakness, and will give way. If he is fool enough to fight the Western powers, it will end in another duel a Voutrance between France and England. They will never work together for long. If they do, Europe is enslaved, and England lost.”

M But why, Lord Saltire?”

“Well, well; I think so. Allow me to say that I was not prepared to find a deep-thinking, though misguided politician in such an innocent-looking young lady. God defend the clear old land, for every fresh acre I see of it confirms my belief that it is the first country in the world.”

They were crossing the old terraced garden towards the wood, where they heard the guns going rapidly, and both were silent for a minute or so. The leafless wood was before them, and the village at their feet. The church spire rose aloft among the trees. Some fisherman patriarch had gone to his well-earned rest that day, and the bell was tolling for him. Mary looked at the quiet village, at the calm winter’s sea, and then up at the calm stern face of the man who walked beside her, and said —

“Tell me one thing, Lord Saltire; you have travelled in many countries. Is there any land, east or west, that can give us what this dear old England does — settled order, in which each man knows his place and his duties? It is so easy to be good in England.”

“Well, no. It is the first country in the world. A few bad harvests would make a hell of it, though. Has Ravenshoe got many pheasants down here?”

And, so talking, this strange pair wandered on towards the wood, side by side.

Charles was not without news in his retirement, for a few friends kept him pretty well au fait with what was going on in the world. First, there was news from Oxford; one sort of which was communicated by Charles Marston, and another sort by one Marker of Brazenose, otherwise known as “Bodger,” though why, I know not, nor ever could get any one to tell me. He was purveyor of fashionable intelligence, while Charles Marston dealt more in example and advice. About this time the latter wrote as follows:—

“How goes Issachar? Is the ass stronger or weaker than formerly? Has my dearly-beloved ass profited, or otherwise, by his stay at Ranford? How is the other ass, my Lord Welter? He is undoubtedly a fool, but I think an honest one, so long as you keep temptation out of his way. He is shamefully in debt; but I suppose, if their horse wins the Derby, he will pay; otherwise I would sooner be my lord than his tradesmen. How goes the ‘ grand passion,’ — has Chloe relented? She is a great fool if she does. Why, if she refuses you, she may marry Lord Welter, and he may settle his debts on her. A word in your ear. I have an invitation to Ranford. I must go, I suppose. The dear old woman, whose absurdities your honour is pleased to laugh at, has been always kind to me and mine; and I shall go. I shall pay my just tribute of flattery to the noble honest old soul, who is struggling to save a falling house. Don’t you laugh at lady Ascot, you impudent young rascal. I have no doubt that she offers some prominent points for the exercise of your excellency’s wit, but she is unmeasurably superior to you, you young scape-grace.

“Bless your dear old face; how I long to see it again! I am coming to see it. I shall come to you at the beginning of the Christmas vacation. I shall come to you a beaten man, Charley. I shall only get a econd. Never mind; I would sooner come to you and yours and hide my shame, than to any one else.

“Charles, old friend, if I get a third, I shall break my heart. Don’t show this letter to any one. I have lost the trick of Greek prose. Oh, old Charley!. believe this, that the day once lost can never, never come back any more! They preach a future hell; but what hell could be worse than the eternal contemplation of opportunities thrown away — of turning-points in the affairs of a man’s life, when, instead of rising, he has fallen — not by a bold stroke, like Satan, but by laziness and neglect?”

Charles was very sorry, very grieved, and vexed, to find his shrewd old friend brought to this pass by over-reading, and over-anxiety about a subject, which, to a non-university man, does not seem of such vital importance. He carried the letter to his father, in spite of the prohibitation contained in it, and he found his father alone with the good, honest Father Tiernay; to whom, not thinking that thereby he was serving his friend ill, he read it aloud.

“Charley dear,” said his father, half rising from his chair, “he must come to us, my boy; he must come here to us, and stay with us till he forgets his disappointment. He is a noble lad. He has been a good friend to my boy; and, by George, the house is his own.”

“I dout think, dad,” said Charles, looking from Densil to Father Tiernay, “that he is at all justified in he dark view he is taking of matters. The clever fellows used to say that he was safe of his first. You know he is going in for mathematics as well.”

“He is a good young man, any way,” said Father Tiernay; “his sentiments do honour to him; and none the worst of them is his admiration for my heretic young friend here, which does him most honour of all. Mr. Ravenshoe, I’ll take three to one against his double first; pity he ‘aint a Catholic. What the diwle do ye Prothestants mean by absorbing (to use no worse language) the rints and revenues left by Catholic testators for the good of the hooly Church, for the edication of heretics? Tell me that, now.”

The other letter from Oxford was of a very different tenor. Mr. Marker, of Brazenose, began by remarking that —

“He didn’t know what was come over the place; it was getting confoundedly slow, somehow. They had had another Bloomer ball at Abingdon, but the thing was a dead failure, sir. Jemmy Dane, of University, had driven two of them home in a cart, by way of Nunenham. He had past the Pro’s at Magdalen turnpike, and they never thought of stopping him, by George. Their weak intellects were not capable of conceiving such glorious audacity. Both the Proctors were down at Coldharbour turnpike, stopping every man who came from Abingdon way. Toreker, of Exeter, was coming home on George Simmond’s Darius, and, seeing the Proctors in the light of the turnpike-gate, had put his orse at the fence (Charles would remember it, a stubbed hedge and a ditch), had got over the back water by the White House, and so home by the Castle. Above forty men had been rusticated over this business, and some good fellows too.” (Here followed a list of names, which I could produce, if necessary; but seeing that some names on the list are now rising at the bar or in the Church, think it better not.) “Pembroke had won the fours, very much in consequence of Exeter having gone round the flag, and, on being made to row again, of fouling them in the gut. The water was out heavily, and had spoilt the boating. The Christchurch grind had been slow, but the best that year. L— n was going down, and they said was going to take the Pychley. C— n was pretty safe of his first — so reading men said. Martin of Trinity had got his testamur, at which event astonishment, not unmixed with awe, had fallen on the University generally. That he himself was in for his viva voce two days after date, and he wished himself out of the hands of his enemies.”

There was a postscript, which interested Charles as much as all the rest of the letter put together. It ran thus:—

“By-the-bye, Welter has muckered; you know that by this time. But, worse than that, they say that Charles Marston’s classical first is fishy. The old cock has overworked himself, they say.”

Lord Saltire never went to bed without having Charles up into his drawing-room for a chat. “Not having,” as is lordship most truly said, “any wig to take off, or any false teeth to come out. I cannot see why I should deny myself the pleasure of my young friend’s company at night. Every evening, young gentleman, we are one day older, and one day wiser. I myself have got so confoundedly wise with my many years that I have nothing left to learn. But it amuses me to hear your exceedingly naive remarks on tilings in general, and it also natters and soothes me to contrast my own consummate wisdom with your folly. Therefore, I will trouble you to come up to my dressing-room every night, and give me your crude reflections on the events of the day.”

So Charles came up one night, with Mr. Marker’s letter, which he read to Lord Saltire, while his valet was brushing his hair; and then Charles, by way of an easily answered question, asked Lord Saltire, What did he think of his friend’s chances?

“I must really remark,” said Lord Saltire, “even if I use unparliamentary language, which I should be very sorry to do; that that is one of the silliest questions I ever had put to me. When I held certain seals, I used to have some very foolish questions put to me (which, by the way, I never answered), but I don’t know that I ever had such a foolish question put to me as that. Why, how on earth can I have any idea of what your friend’s chances are 1 Do be reasonable.”

“Dear Lord Saltire, don’t be angry with me. Tell me, as far as your experience can. how far a man who nows iris work, by George, as well as a man can know it, is likely to fail through nervousness. You have seen the same thing in Parliament You know how much mischief nervousness may do. Now, do give me your opinion.”

“Well, you are putting your question in a slightly more reasonable form; but it is a very silly one yet. I have seen a long sort of man, with black hair and a hook nose, like long Montague, for instance, who has been devilishly nervous till he got on his legs, and then has astonished every one, and no one more than myself, not so much by his power of declamation, as by the extraordinary logical tenacity with which he clung to his subject. Yes, I don’t know but what I have heard more telling and logical speeches from unprepared men than I ever have from one of the law lords. But I am a bad man to ask. I never was in the lower house. About your friend’s chance; — well, I would not give twopence for it; in after life he may succeed. But, from what you have told me, I should prepare myself for a disappointment.”

Very shortly after this, good Lord Saltire had to retire for a time in the upper chambers; he had a severe attack of gout.

There had been no more quarrelling between Father Mackworth and Charles; Peace was proclaimed, — an armed truce; and Charles was watching, watching in silence. Never since he met her in the wood had he had an opportunity of speaking to Ellen. She always voided him. William, being asked confidentially by Charles what he thought was the matter, said that Ellen had been “carrin on ” with some one, and he had been blowing her up; which was all the explanation he offered. In the mean time, Charles lived under the comforting assurance that there was mischief brewing, and that Mackworth was at the bottom of it.

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