Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 20.

Ranford Again.

Charles, though no genius, had a certain amount of common sense, and, indeed, more of that commodity than most people gave him credit for. Therefore he did not pursue the subject with William. Firstly, because he did not think he could get any more out of him (for William had a certain amount of sturdy obstinacy in his composition); and secondly, because he knew William was, in the main, a sensible fellow, and loved the ground he stood on. Charles would never believe that William would serve him falsely; and he was right.

He told Marston of the curious words which William had used, and Marston had said —

“I don’t understand it. The devil is abroad. Are you coming into any money at your father’s death?”

“I am to have £180 a year.”

“I wouldn’t give £50 a year for your chance of it. What is this property worth?”

“£9,000 a year. The governor has lived very extravagantly. The stable establishment is fit for a duke now; and, then, look at the servants!”

“He is not living up to ten thousand a year now, I should say.”

“No; but it is only the other day he gave up the hounds. They cost him two thousand a year; and, while he had them, the house was carried on very extravagantly. The governor has a wonderful talent for muddling away money; and, what is more, I believe he was bit with the railways. You know, I believe, the estate is involved.”

“Bathershin. But still, Cuthbert won’t marry, and his life is a bad one, and you are a heretic, my poor little innocent.”

“And then?”

“Heaven only knows what then. I am sure I don’t. At what time does the worthy and intellectual Welter arrive?”

“He will be here about six.”

“Two hours more rational existence for one, then. After that a smell as of ten thousand stables and fifty stale copies of Bell’s Life in one’s nose, till his lordship takes his departure. I don’t like your cousin, Charles.”

“What an astounding piece of news! He says you are a conceited prig, and ‘jive yourself airs.”

“He never said a wiser or truer thing in his life. I am exactly that; and he is a fifth-class steeplechase rider, with a title.”

“How you and he will fight!; ’

“So I expect. That is, if he has the courage for battle, which I rather doubt. He is terribly afraid of me.”

“I think you are hard on poor Welter,” said Charles; “I do, indeed. He is a generous, good-hearted fellow.”

“Oh! we are all generous, good-hearted fellows,” said Marston, “as long as we have plenty of money and good digestions. You are right, though, Charley. He is what you say, as far as I know; but the reason I hate him is this: — You are the dearest friend I have, and I am jealous of him. He is in eternal antagonism to me. I am always trying to lead you right, and he is equally diligent in leading you into wrong.”

H Well, he sha’n’t lead me into any more, I promise you now. Do be civil to him.”

“Of course I will, you gaby. Did you think 1 was going to show fight in your house?”

When Marston came down to dinner, there was Lord Welter sitting beside old Densil, and kindly amusing him with all sorts of gossip — stable and other.

“How do, Marston?” said he, rising and coming forward.

“How d’ye do, Lord Welter?” said Marston.

“I am very glad to meet you here,” said Lord Welter, with a good-humoured smile, “although I am ashamed to look you in the face. Marston, my dear Mr. Ravenshoe, is Charles’s good genius, and I am his evil one; I am always getting Charles into mischief, and he is always trying to keep him out of it. Hitherto, however, I have been completely successful, and he has made a dead failure.”

Old Densil laughed “You are doing yourself injustice, Welter,” he said. “Is he not doing himself an injustice, Mr. Marston?”

“Not in the least, sir,” said Marston. And the two young men shook hands more cordially than they had ever done before.

That’evening Lord Welter fulfilled Mary’s prophecy, that he would smoke in his bedroom, and not only smoked there himself, but induced Charles to come and do so also. Marston was not in the humour for the style of conversation he knew he should have there, and so he retired to bed, and left the other two to themselves.

“Well, Charles,” said Welter. “Oh, by-the-bye, I have got a letter for you from that mysterious madcap, Adelaide. She couldn’t send it by post; that would not have been mysterious and underhand enough for her. Catch hold.”

Charles caught hold, and read his letter. Welter watched him curiously from under the heavy eyebrows, and, when he had finished, said —

“Come put that away, and talk That sort of thing is pretty much the same in all cases, I take it. As far as my own experience goes, it is always the same. Scold and whine and whimper; whimper, whine, and scold. How’s that old keeper of yours?”

“He has lost his wife.”

“Poor fellow! I remember his wife — a handsome Irish woman.”

“My nurse?”

“Ay, ay. And the pretty girl, Ellen; how is she?”

“Poor Ellen! She has run away, Welter; gone to the had, I fear.”

Lord Welter sat in just the same position, gazing on the fire. He then said, in a very deliberate voice:—

“The deuce she is! I am very sorry to hear that. I was in hopes of renewing our acquaintance.”

The days flew by, and, as you know, there came no news from Ellen. The household had been much saddened by her disappearance and by Nora’s death, though not one of the number ever guessed what had passed between Mary and Marston. They were not a very cheerful household; scarce one of them but had some secret trouble. Father Tiernay came back after a week or so; and, if good-natured kindly chatter could have cheered them at all, he would have done it. But there was a settled gloom on the party which nothing could overcome. Even Lord Welter, boisterous as his spirits usually were, seemed often anxious and distraught; and, as for poor Cuthbert, he would, at any time, within the knowledge of man, have acted as a “damper” on the liveliest party. His affection for Charles seemed, for some reason, to increase day by day, but it was sometimes very hard to keep the peace between Welter and him. If there was one man beyond another that Cuthbert hated, it was Lord Welter; and sometimes, after dinner, such a scene as this would take place.

You will, perhaps, have remarked that I have never yet represented Cuthbert as speaking to Mary. The real fact is, that he never did speak to her, or to any oman, anything beyond the meresl common places — a circumstance which made Charles very much doubt the truth of Ellen’s statement — that the priest had caught them talking together in the wood. However, Cuthbert was, in his way, fond enough of the bonny little soul (I swear I am in love with her myself, over head and ears); and so, one day, when she came crying in, and told him — as being the first person she met — that her little bantam-cock had been killed by the dorking, Cuthbert comforted her, bottled up his wrath, till his father had gone into the drawingroom with her after dinner, and the others were sitting at their wine. Then he said, suddenly: —

“Welter, did you have any cock-fighting today?”

“Oh, yes, by-the-bye, a splendid turnup. There was a noble little bantam in an inclosed yard challenging a great dorking, and they both seemed so very anxious for sport that I thought it would be a pity to baulk them; so I just let the bantam out. I give you my word, it is my belief that the bantam would have been the best man, but that he was too old. His attack was splendid; but he met the fate of the brave.”

“You should not have done that, Welter,” said Charles; “that was Mary’s favourite bantam.”

“I don’t allow any cock-fighting at Ravenshoe. Welter,’” said Cuthbert.

“You don’t allow it!” said Lord Welter, scornfully.

“No, by heaven,” said Cuthbert, “I don’t allow it!”

“Don’t you?” said Welter; “you are not master ere, nor ever will be. No Ravenshoe was ever master of his own house yet.”

“I am absolute master here,” said Cuthbert, with a rising colour. “There is no appeal against me here.”

“Only to the priest,” said Welter. (I must do him justice to say that neither Mackworth nor Tiemay was iu the room, or he would not have said it.)

“You are insolent, Welter, and brutal. It is your nature to be so,” said Cuthbert, fiercely.

Marston, who had been watching Welter all this time, saw a flash come from his eyes, and, for one moment, a terrible savage setting of the teeth. “Ha, ha! my friend,” thought he, “I thought that stupid face was capable of some such expression as that. I am obliged to you, my friend, for giving me one little glimpse of the devil inside.”

“By gad, Cuthbert,” said Lord Welter, “if you hadn’t been at your own table, you shouldn’t have said that, cousin or no cousin, twice.”

“Stop now,” said Charles; “don’t turn the place into a bear-pit. Cuthbert, do be moderate. Welter, you shouldn’t have set the cocks fighting. Now don’t begin quarrelling again, you two, for heaven’s sake!”

And so the peace was made: but Charles was very glad when the time came for the party to break up; and he went away to Ranford with Welter, preparatory to his going back to Oxford.

His father was quite his own old self again, and seemed to have rallied amazingly; so Charles left him ithout much anxiety; and there were reasons we know of why his heart should hound when he heard the word Ranford mentioned, and why the raging speed of the Great Western Eailway express seemed all too slow for him. Lord Ascot’s horses were fast, the mail-phaeton was a good one, and Lord Welter’s worst enemies could not accuse him of driving slow; yet the way from Didcot to Ranford seemed so interminably long that he said:—

“By Jove, I wish we had come by a slower train, and gone on to Twyford!”

“Why so?”

“I don’t know. I think it is pleasanter driving through Waigrave and Henley.”

Lord Welter laughed, and Charles wondered why. There were no visitors at Ranford; and, when they arrived, Welter of course adjourned to the stables, while Charles ran upstairs and knocked at Lady Ascot’s door.

He was bidden to come in, by the old lady’s voice. Her black and tan terrier, who was now so old that his teeth and voice were alike gone, rose from the hearth, and went through the motion and outward semblance of barking furiously at Charles, though without producing any audible sound. Lady Ascot rose up and welcomed him kindly.

“I am so glad to see your honest face, my dear boy I have been sitting here all alone so long. Ascot is very kind, and comes and sits with me, and I give him ome advice about his horses, which he never takes. But I am very lonely.”

“But where is Adelaide, aunt dear?”

“She’s gone.”

“Gone! My dear aunt, where to?”

“Gone to stay ten days with Lady Hainault.”

Here was a blow.

“I know you are very disappointed, my poor boy, and I told Welter so expressly to tell you in my last letter. He is so shockingly careless and forgetful!”

“So Welter knew of it,” said Charles to himself.

Ami that is what made him laugh at my hurry. It is very ungentlemanly behaviour.”

But Charles’s anger was like ‘a summer cloud. “I think, aunt,” he said, “that Welter was having a joke with me; that was all. When will she be back?”

“The end of next week.”

“And I shall be gone to Oxford. I shall ride over to Casterton and see her.”

“You knew Hainault at Shrewsbury? Yes. Well, you had better do so, child. Yes, certainly.”

“What made her go, aunt, I wonder?”

“Lady Hainault was ill, and would have her, and I was forced to let her go.”

Oh, Lady Ascot, Lady Ascot, you wicked old fibster! Didn’t you hesitate, stammer, and blush, when you said that? I am very much afraid you didn’t. Hadn’t you had, three days before, a furious fracas with Adelaide about something, and hadn’t it ended by her declaring hat she would claim the protection of Lady Hainault? Hadn’t she ordered out the pony-carriage and driven off with a solitary bandbox, and what I choose to call a crinoline-chest? And hadn’t you and Lady Hainault had a brillant passage-of-arms over her ladyship’s receiving and abetting the recalcitrant Adelaide?

Lady Ascot was perfectly certain of one thing — that Charles would never hear about this from Adelaide; and so she lied boldly and with confidence. Otherwise, she must have made a dead failure, for few people had practised that great and difficult art so little as her ladyship.

That there had been a furious quarrel between Lady Ascot and Adelaide about this time, I well know from the best authority. It had taken place just as I have described it above. I do not know for certain the cause of it, but can guess; and, as I am honestly going to tell you all I know, you will be able to make as good a guess as I hereafter.

Lady Ascot said furthermore, that she was very uneasy in her mind about Ascot’s colt, which she felt certain would not stay over the Derby course. The horse was not so well ribbed up as he should be, and had hardly quarter enough to suit her. Talking of that, her lumbago had set in worse than ever since the frost hod come on, and her doctor had had the impudence to tell her that her liver was deranged, whereas, she knew it proceeded from cold in the small of her back. Talking of the frost, she was told that there had been a very ood sheet of ice on the carp-pond, where Charles might have skated, though she did hope he would never go on the ice till it was quite safe — as, if he were to get drowned, it would only add to her vexation, and surely she had had enough of that, with that audacious chit of a girl, Adelaide, who was enough to turn one’s hair grey; though for that matter it had been grey many years, as all the world might see.

“Has Adelaide been vexing you, aunt dear?” interrupted Charles.

“No, my clear boy, no,” replied the old woman. “She is a little tiresome sometimes, but I dare say it is more my fault than hers.”

“You will not be angry with her, aunt dear? You will be long-suffering with her, for my sake?”

“Dear Charles,” said the good old woman, weeping, “I will forgive her till seventy times seven. Sometimes, dear, she is high-spirited, and tries my temper. And I am very old, dear, and very cross and cruel to her. It is all my fault, Charles, all my fault.”

Afterwards, when Charles knew the truth, he used to bless the memory of this good old woman, recalling this conversation, and knowing on which side the fault lay. At this time, blindly in love as he was with Adelaide, he had sense enough left to do justice.

“Aunt, dear,” he said, “you are old, but you are neither cross nor cruel. You are the kindest and most generous of women. You are the only mother I ever had, aunt. I dare say Adelaide is tiresome sometimes; ear with her for my sake. Tell me some more about the horses. God help ns, they are an important subject enough in this house now!”

Lady Ascot said, having dried her tears and kissed Charles, that she had seen this a very long time: that she had warned Ascot solemnly, as it was a mother’s duty to do, to be careful of Eamoneur blood, and that Ascot would never listen to her; that no horse of that breed had ever been a staying horse; that she believed, if the truth could be got at, that the Pope of Rome had been, indirectly perhaps, but certainly, the inventor of produce stakes, which had done more to ruin the breed of horses, and consequently the country, than fifty reform bills. Then her ladyship wished o know if Charles had read Lord Mount-E's book on the Battle of Armageddon, and, on receiving a negative answer, gave a slight abstract of that most prophetical production, till the gong sounded and Charles went up to dress for dinner.

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