Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 24.

The First Glimpse of the New World.

In the long dark old room with the mullioned windows looking ont on the ocean, in the room that had been Charles’s bedroom, study, and play-room, since he was a boy, there sat Charles Ravenshoe, musing, stricken down with grief, and forlorn.

There were the fishing rods and the guns, there were the books and the homely pictures in which his soul had delighted. There was “The Sanctuary and the Challenge,” and Bob Coombes in his outrigger. All were there. But Charles Ravenshoe was not there. There was another man in his place, bearing his likeness, who sat and brooded with his head on his hands.

Where was the soul which was gone? Was he an infant in a new cycle of existence? or was he still connected with the scenes and people he had known and loved so long? Was he present? Could he tell at last the deep love that one poor foolish heart had borne for him? Could he know now the deep, deep grief that tore that poor silly heart, because its owner had not been by to see the last faint smile of intelligence flutter over features that he was to see no more?”

“Father! Father 1 Where are you. Don’t leave me ll alone, father.” No answer! only the ceaseless heating of the surf upon the shore.

He opened the window, and looked out. The terrace, the woods, the village, and beyond the great unmeasureable ocean ! What beyond that?

What was this death, which suddenly made that which we loved so well, so worthless? Could they none of them tell us? One there was who triumphed over death and the grave, and was caught up in His earthly body. Who is this Death that he should triumph over us? Alas, poor Charles! There are evils worse than death. There are times when death seems to a man like going to bed. Wait!

There was a picture of Mary’s, of which he bethought himself. One we all know. Of a soul being carried away by angels to heaven. They call it St. Catherine, though it had nothing particular to do with St. Catherine, that I know of; and he thought he would go see it. But, as he turned, there stood Mary herself before him.

He held out his hands towards her, and she came and sat beside him, and put her arm round his neck. He kissed her! Why not? They were as brother and sister.

He asked her why she had come.

“I knew you wanted me,” she said.

Then she, still with her arm round his neck, talked to him about what had just happened. “He asked for you soon after he was taken on the first day, and told Father Mackworth to send off for you. Cuthbert had ent two hours before, and he said he was glad, and hoped that Oxford would win the race ”

“Charles,” said Mary again, “do you know that old James has had a fit, and is not expected to live?”

“No.”

“Yes, as soon as he heard of our dear one’s death he was taken. It has killed him.”

“Poor old James!”

They sat there some time, hand in hand, in sorrowful communion, and then Charles said suddenly —

“The future, Mary? The future, my love?”

“We discussed that before, Charles, dear. There is only one line of life open to me.”

“Ah!”

“I shall write to Lady Ascot tomorrow. I heard from Adelaide the other day, and she tells me that young Lady Hainault is going to take charge of poor Lord Charles’s children in a short time; and she will want a nursery governess; and I will go.”

“I would sooner you were there than here, Mary. I am very glad of this. She is a very good woman. I will go and see you there very often.”

“Are you going back to Oxford, Charles?”

“I think not”

“Do you owe much money there?”

“Very little, now. He paid it almost all for me.”

“What shall you do 1 ”

“I have not the remotest idea. I cannot possibly con’ ceive. I must consult Marston.”

There passed a weary week — a week of long brooding days and sleepless nights, while outside the darkened house the bright spring sun flooded all earth with light and life, and the full spring wind sang pleasantly through the musical woods, and swept away inland over heather and crag.

Strange sounds began to reach Charles in his solitary chamber; sounds which at first made him fancy he was dreaming, they were so mysterious and inexplicable. The first day they assumed the forms of solitary notes of music, some almost harsh, and some exquisitely soft and melodious. As the day went on they began to arrange themselves into chords, and sound slightly louder, though still a long way off. At last, near midnight, they seemed to take form, and flow off into a wild, mournful piece of music, the like of which Charles had never heard before; and then all was still.

Charles went to bed, believing either that the sounds were supernatural or that they arose from noises in his head. He came to the latter conclusion, and thought sleep would put an end to them; but, next morning, when he had half opened the shutters, and let in the blessed sunlight, there came the sound again — a wild, rich, triumphant melody, played by some hand, whether earthly or unearthly, that knew its work well.

“What is that, William?”

“Music.”

“Where does it come from?”

“Out of the air. The rjixies make such music at imes. Maybe it’s the saints in glory with their golden harps, welcoming Master and Father.”

“Father!”

“He died this morning at daybreak; not long after his old master, eh? He was very faithful to him. He was in prison with him once, I’ve heard tell. I’ll be as faithful to you, Charles, when the time comes.”

And another day wore on in the darkened house, and still the angelic music rose and fell at intervals, and moved the hearts of those that heard it strangely.

“Surely,” said Charles to himself, “that music must sound louder in one place than another.”, And then he felt himself smiling at the idea that he half believed it to be supernatural.

He rose and passed on through corridor and gallery, still listening as he went. The music had ceased, and all was still.

He went on through parts of the house he had not been in since a boy. This part of the house was very much deserted ; some of the rooms he looked into were occupied as inferior servants’ bedrooms; some were empty, and all were dark. Here was where he, Cuthbert, and William would play hide-and-seek on wet days; and well he remembered each nook and lair. A window was open in one empty room, and it looked into the courtyard They were carrying things into the chapel, and he walked that way.

In the dark entrance to the dim chapel a black figure stood aside to let him pass; he bowed, and did so, but as barely in the building when a voice he knew said, “It is Charles,” and the next moment he was clasped by both hands, and the kind face of Father Tiernay was beaming before him.

“I’m so glad to see you, Father Tiernay. It is so kind of you to come.”

“You look pale and worn,” said the good man; “you have been fretting. I won’t have that, now that I am come. I will have you out in the air and sunshine, my boy, along the shore “’

The music again! Not faint and distant as heretofore, but close overhead, crashing out into a mighty jubilate, which broke itself against rafter and window in a thousand sweet echoes. Then, as the noble echoes began to sink, there arose a soft flute-like note, which grew more intense until the air was filled with passionate sound; and it trilled and ran, and paused, and ran on, and died you knew not where.

“I can’t stand much of that, Father Tiernay,” said Charles. “They have been mending the organ, I see. That accounts for the music I have heard I suppose there will — be music at the funeral, then.”

“My brother Murtagh,” said Father Tiernay, “came over yesterday morning from Lord Segur’s. He is organist there, and he mended it. Bedad he is a sweet musician. Hear what Sir Henry Bishop says of him.”

There came towards them, from the organ-loft, a young man, wearing a long black coat and black bands with white edges, and having of his own one of the sweetest, indliest faces eye ever rested on. Father Tiernay looked on him with pride and affection, and said —

“Murty, me dear brother, this is Mr. Charles Ravenshoe, me very good friend, I hope you’ll become acquaintances, for the reason that two good fellows should know one another.”

“I am almost afraid,” said the young man, with a frank smile, “that Charles Ravenshoe has already a prejudice against me for the disagreeable sounds I was making all day yesterday in bringing the old organ into work again.”

“Nay, I was only wondering where such noble bursts of melody came from,” said Charles. “If you had made all the evil noises in Pandemonium, they would have been forgiven for that last piece of music. Do you know that I had no idea the old organ could be played on. Years ago, when we were boys, Cuthbert and I tried to play on it; I blew for him, and he sounded two or three notes, but it frightened us, and we ran away, and never went near it again.”

“It is a beautiful old instrument,” said young Tiernay; “will you stand just here, and listen to it?”

Charles stood in one of the windows, and Father Tiernay beside him. He leant his head on his arm, and looked forth eastward and northward, over the rolling woods, the cliffs, and the bright blue sea.

The music began with a movement soft, low, melodious, beyond expression, and yet strong, firm, and regular as of a thousand armed men marching to victory.

It grew in volume and power till it was irresistible, yet still harmonious and perfect. Charles understood it. It was the life of a just man growing towards perfection and honour.

It wavered and fluttered, and threw itself into sparkling sprays and eddies. It leapt and laughed with joy unutterable, yet still through all the solemn measure went on. Love had come to gladden the perfect life, and had adorned without disturbing it.

Then began discords and wild sweeping storms of sound, harsh always, but never unmelodious; fainter and fainter grew the melody, till it was almost lost. Misfortunes had come upon the just man, and he was bending under them.

No. More majestic, more grand, more solemn than ever the melody reasserted itself: and again, as though purified by a furnace, marched solemnly on with a clearness and sweetness greater that at first. The just man had emerged from his sea of troubles ennobled. Charles felt a hand on his shoulder. He thought it had been Father Tiernay. Father Tiernay was gone. It was Cuthbert.

“Cuthbert! I am so glad you have come to see me. I was not surprised because you would not see me before. You didn’t think I was offended, brother, did you? I know you. I know you!”

Charles smoothed his hair and smiled pleasantly upon him. Cuthbert stood quite still and said nothing.

“Cuthbert,” said Charles, “you are in pain. In bodily pain I mean.”

“I am. I spent last night on these stones praying, and the cold has got into my very bones.”

“Yon pray for the dead, I know,” said Charles. “But why destroy the health God has given you because a good man has gone to sleep?”

“I was not praying for him so much as for you.”

“God knows I want it, dear Cuthbert. But can you benefit me by killing yourself?”

“Who knows? I may try. How long is it since we were boys together, Charles?”

“How long? Let me see. Why, it is nineteen years at least since I can first remember you.”,

“I have been sarcastic and distant with you sometimes, Charles, but I have never been unkind.”

“Cuthbert! I never had an unkind word or action from you. Why do you say this?”

“Because Charles, do you remember the night he Warren Hastings came ashore?”

“Ay,” said Charles wonderingly.

“In future, when you call me to mind, will you try to think of me as I was then, not as I have been lately. We slept together, you remember, through the storm, and he sat on the bed. God has tried me very hard. Let us hope that heaven will be worth the winning. After this you will see me no more in private. Goodbye!” Charles thought he knew what he meant, and had expected it. He would not let him go for a time.

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