Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 25.

Father Mackworth Brings Lord Saltire to Bay, and what came of it.

Old James was to be buried side by side with his old master in the vault under the altar. The funeral was to be on the grandest scale, and all the Catholic gently of the neighbourhood, and most of the Protestant, were coming. Father Mackworth, it may be conceived, was very busy, and seldom alone. All day he and the two Tiernays were arranging and ordering. When thoroughly tired out, late at night, he would retire to his room and take a frugal supper (Mackworth was no glutton) and sit before the fire musing.

One night, towards the middle of the week, he was sitting thus before the fire when the door opened, and some one came in; thinking it was the servant, he did not look round; but, when the supposed servant came up to the fireplace and stood still, he cast his eyes suddenly up, and they fell upon the cadaverous face of Outhbert.

He looked deadly pale and wan as he stood with his face turned to the nickering fire, and Mackworth felt deep pity for him. He held an open letter towards Mackworth, and said —

“This is from Lord Saltire. He proposes to come here the night before the funeral and go away in Lord Segur’s carriage with Mm after it is over. Will you kindly see after his rooms, and so on? Here is the letter.”

“I will,” said Mackworth. “My dear boy, you look deadly ill.”

“I wish I were dead.”

“So do all who hope for heaven,” said Mackworth.

“Who would not look worn and ill with such a scene hanging over their heads?”

“Go away and avoid it.”

“Not I. A Ravenshoe is not a coward. Besides, I want to see him again. How cruel you have been! Why did you let him gain my heart? I have little enough to love.”

There was a long pause — so long that a bright-eyed little mouse ran out from the wainscot and watched. Both their eyes were bent on the fire, and Father Mackworth listened with painful intentness for what was to come.

“He shall speak first,” he thought, “How I wonder ”

At last Cuthbert spoke slowly, without raising his eyes —

“Will nothing induce you to forego your purpose?”

“How can I forego it, Cuthbert, with common honesty? I have foregone it long enough.”

“Listen now,” said Cuthbert unheedingly; “I have een reckoning up what I can afford, and I find that I can give you five thousand pounds down for that paper, and five thousand more in bills of six, eight, and twelve months. Will that content you?”

Father Mackworth would have given a finger to have answered promptly “No,” but he could not. The offer was so astounding, so unexpected, that he hesitated long enough to make Cuthbert look round, and say —

“Ten thousand pounds is a large sum of money, Father.”

It was, indeed; and Lord Saltire coming next week! Let us do the man justice; he acted with a certain amount of honour. When you have read this book to the end you will see that ten thousand pounds was only part of what was offered to him. He gave up it all because he would not lower himself in the eyes of Cuthbert, who had believed in him so long.

“I paused,” said he, “from astonishment, that a gentleman could have insulted me by such a proposition.”

“Your pause,” said Cuthbert, “arose from hesitation, not from astonishment. I saw your eyes blaze when I made you the offer. Think of ten thousand pounds. You might appear in the world as an English Roman Catholic of fortune. Good heavens! with your talent, you might aspire to the cardinal’s chair!”

“No, no, no!” said Mackworth, fiercely. “I did hesitate, and I have lied to you; but I hesitate no onger. I won’t haye the subject mentioned to me again, sir. What sort of a gentleman are you to come to men’s rooms in the dead of night,, with your father lying dead in the house, and tempt men to felony? I will not.”

“God knows,” said Cuthbert, as he passed out, “whether I have lost heaven by trying to save him.”

Mackworth heard the door close behind him, and then looked eagerly towards it. He heard Cuthbert’s footsteps die along the corridor, and then, rising up, he opened it and looked out. The corridor was empty. He walked hurriedly back to the fireplace.

“Shall I call him back?” he said. “It is not too late. Ten thousand pounds! A greater stake than I played for; and now, when it is at my feet, I am throwing it away. And for what? For honour, after I have acted the “(he could not say the word). “After I have gone so far. I must be a gentleman. A common rogue would have jumped at the offer. By heaven! there are some things better than money. If I were to take his offer he would know me for a rogue. And I love the lad. No, no! let the fool go to his prayers. I will keep the respect of one man at least.

“What a curious jumble and puzzle it all is, to be sure. Am I any worse than my neighbours? I have made a desperate attempt at power, for a name, and an ambition; and then, because the ball comes suddenly at my feet, from a quarter I did not expect, I dare not strike it because I fear the contempt of one single pair of eyes from which I have been used to receive nothing but love and reverence.

“Yet, he cannot trust me, as I thought he did, or he would not have made the offer to me. And then he made it in such a confident way that he must have thought I was going to accept it. That is strange. He has never rebelled lately. Am I throwing away substance for shadow? I have been bound to the Church body and soul from my boyhood, and I must go on. I have refused a cardinal’s chair this night. But who will ever know it?

“I must go about with my lord Saltire. I could go at him with more confidence if I had ten thousand pounds in the bank though, in case of a failure. I am less afraid of that terrible old heretic than I am of those great eyes of Cuthbert’s turned on me in scom. I have lived so long among gentlemen that I believe myself to be one. He knows, and he shall tell.

“And, if all fails, I have served the Church, and the Church shall serve me. What fools the best of us are! Why did I ever allow that straightforward idiot Tiernay into the house? He hates me, I know. I rather like the fool. He will take the younger one’s part on Monday; but I don’t think my gentleman will dare to say too much.”

After this soliloquy, the key to which will appear very shortly, Father Mackworth took off his clothes and got into bed.

The day before the funeral, Cuthbert sent a nies-sage to Charles, to beg that he would be kind enough to receive Lord Saltire; and, as the old man was expected at a certain hour, Charles, about ten minutes before the time, went down to the bottom of the hall-steps on to the terrace, to be ready for him when he came.

Oh the glorious wild freshness of the sea and sky-after the darkened house! The two old capes right and left; the mile-long stretch of sand between them; and the short crisp waves rolling in before the westerly wind of spring! Life and useful action in the rolling water; budding promise in the darkening woods; young love in every bird’s note!

William stood beside him before he had observed him. Charles turned to him, and took Iris arm in his.

“Look at this,” he said.

“I am looking at it.”

“Does it make you glad and wild?” said Charles. “Does it make the last week in the dark house look like twenty years? Are the two good souls which are gone looking at it now, and rejoicing that earth should still have some pleasure left for us?”

“I hope not,” said William, turning to Charles.

“And why?” said Charles, wondering rather what William would say.

“I wouldn’t,” said William, “have neither of their hearts broke with seeing what is to come.”

“Their hearts broke!” said Charles, turning full round on his foster-brother. “Let them see how we ehave under it, William. That will never break their hearts, my boy.”

“Charles,” said William, earnestly, “do you know what is coming?”

“No; nor care.”

“It is something terrible for you, I fear,” said William.

“Have you any idea what it is?” said Charles.

“Not the least. But look here. Last night, near twelve, I went down to the chapel, thinking to say an ave before the coffin, and there lay Master Cuthbert on the stones. So I kept quiet and said my prayer. And of a sudden he burst out and said, ' I have risked my soul and my fortune to save him: Lord, remember it!’”

“Did he say that, William?”

“The very words.”

“Then he could not have been speaking of me,” said Charles. “It is possible that by some means I may not come into the property I have been led to expect; but that could not have referred to me. Suppose I was to leave the house, penniless, tomorrow morning, William, should I go alone? I am very strong, and very patient, and soon learn anything. Cuthbert would take care of me. Would you come with me, or let me go alone?”

“You know. Why should I answer?”

“We might go to Canada and settle. And then Adelaide would come over when the house was ready; and you would marry the girl of your choice; and our boys would grow up to be such friends as you and I re. And then my boy should many your girl, and ”

Poor, dreaming Charles, all unprepared for what was to come!

A carriage drove on to the terrace at this moment, with Lord Saltire’s solemn servant on the box.

Charles and William assisted Lord Saltire to alight. His lordship said that he was getting devilish stiff and old, and had been confoundedly cut up by his old friend’s death, and had felt bound to come down to show Iris respect to the memory of one of the best and honestest men it had ever been his lot to meet in a tolerably large experience. And then, standing on the steps, went on —

“It is very pleasant to me to be greeted by a face I like as yours, Charles. I was gratified at seeing your name in the Times as being one of the winners of that great boat-race — the other clay. My man pointed it out to me. That sort of thing is very honourable to a young fellow, if it does not lead to a neglect of other duties, in which case it becomes very mischievous; in yours it has not. That young man is, I believe, your foster-brother. Will he be good enough to go and find Miss Corby, and tell her that Lord Saltire wants her to come and walk with him on the terrace? Give me your shoulder.” William ran right willingly on his errand.

“Your position here, Charles,” continued Lord Saltire, “will be a difficult one.”

“It will, indeed, my Lord.”

“I intend you to spend most of your time with me in future. I want some one to take care of me. In ret urn for boring you all day, I shall get you the run of all the best houses, and make a man of you. Hush! not a word now! Here conies our Robin Redbreast I am glad I have tempted her out into the air and the sunshine. How peaked you look, my dear! How are you?”

Poor Mary looked pale and wan, indeed, but brightened up at the sight of her old friend. They three walked and talked in the fresh spring morning an hour or more.

That afternoon came a servant to Lord Saltire with a note from Father Mackworth, requesting the honour of ten minutes’ conversation with Lord Saltire in private.

“I suppose I must see the fellow,”’ said the old man to himself.

“My compliments to Mr. Mackworth, and I am alone in the library. The fool,” continued he, when the man had left the room, “why doesn’t he let well alone? I hate the fellow. I believe he is as treacherous as his mother. If he broaches the subject, he shall have the whole truth.”

Meanwhile, Father Mackworth was advancing towards him through the dark corridors, and walking slower, and yet more slow, as he neared the room where sat the grim old man. He knew that there would be a fencing match; and of all the men in broad England he feared his lordship most. His determination held, however; though, up to the very last, he had almost determined to speak only about comparatively indifferent subjects, and not about that nearest to his heart.

“How do you do, my good sir?” said Lord Saltire, as he came in; “I have to condole with you on the loss of our dear old friend. We shall neither of us ever have a better one, sir.”

Mackworth uttered some commonplaces; to which Lord Saltire bowed, without speaking, and then sat with his elbows on the arms of his chair, making a triangle of his two fore fingers and thumbs, staring at Father Mackworth.

“I am going, Lord Saltire, to trouble you with some of my early reminiscences as a boy.”

Lord Saltire bowed, and settled himself easily in his chair, as one does who expects a good story. Mackworth went on —

“One of my earliest recollections, my lord, is of being at a French lycee.”

“The fault of those establishments,” said Lord Saltire, pensively, “is the great range of subjects which are superficially taught. I ask pardon for interrupting you. Do you take snuff?”

Mackworth declined, with great politeness, and continued —

“I was taken to that school by a footman in livery.”

“Upon my honour, then, I owe you an apology. I thought, of course, that the butler had gone with you. But, in a large house, one never really knows what one’s people are about.”

Father Mackworth did not exactly like this. It was perfectly evident to him, not only that Lord Saltire knew all about his birth and parentage, but also was willing to tell.

“Lord Saltire,” he said, "I have never had a parent’s care, or any name but one I believe to be fictitious. You can give me a name — give me, perhaps, a parent — possibly, a brother. Will you do this for me?”

“I can do neither the one thing nor the other, my good sir. I entreat you, for your own sake, to inquire no further.”

There was a troubled expression in the old man’s face as he answered. Mackworth thought he was gaining his point, and pressed on.

“Lord Saltire, as you are a gentleman, tell me who my parents were; ” and, as he said this, he rose up and stood before him, folding his arms.

“Confound the impudent, theatrical jackanapes!” thought Lord Saltire. “His mother all over . I will gratify your curiosity, sir,” he said aloud, angrily. “You are the illegitimate son of a French ballet-dancer!”

“But who was my father, my lord? Answer me that, on your honour;’

“Who was your father? Pardieu, that is far more than I can tell. If any one ever knew, it must have been your mother. You are assuming a tone with me, sir, which I don’t intend to put up with. I wished to spare you a certain amount of humiliation. I shall not trouble myself to do so now, for many reasons. Now isten to ine, sir — to the man who saved you from the kennel, sir — and drop that theatrical attitude. Your mother was my brother’s mistress, and a clever woman in her way; and meeting her here and there, in the green-room and where not, and going sometimes to her house with my brother, I had a sort of acquaintance with her, and liked her as one likes a clever brilliant woman of that sort. My brother died. Some time after your mother fell into poverty and disgrace under circumstances into which I should advise you not to inquire, and on her death-bed recommended you to my care as an old acquaintance, praying that. you might be brought up in her own religion. The request was, under the circumstances, almost impudent; but, remembering that I had once liked the woman, and calling to mind the relation she had held towards poor dear John, I complied, and did for you what I have done. You were a little over a twelvemonth old at the time of your mother’s death, and my brother had been dead nearly or quite five years. Your mother had changed her protector thrice during that time. Now, sir!”

Mack worth stood before Lord Saltire all this time as firm as a rock. He had seen from the old man’s eye that every word was terribly true, but he had never flinched — never a nerve in his face had quivered; but he had grown deadly pale. “When Lord Saltire had finished he tried to speak, but found his mouth as dry as dust. He smiled, and, with a bow, reaching past Lord Saltire, took up a glass of lemonade which stood at his elbow and drank it. Then he spoke clearly and well.

“Yon see how you have upset me, my lord. In seeking this interview I had some hopes of having forced a confession from your lordship of my relationship with you, and thereby serving my personal ambition. I have failed. It now remains to me to thank you heartily and frankly for the benefits I have received from you, and to beg you to forgive my indiscretion.”

“You are a brave man, sir,” said Lord Saltire. "I don’t think you are an honest one. But I can respect manliness.”

“You have a great affection for Charles Ravenshoe, my lord.”

“Yes,” said Lord Saltire; “I love Charles Ravenshoe more than any other human being.”

“Perhaps the time may come, my lord, when he will need all your love and protection.”

“Highly possible. I am in possession of the tenor of his father’s will; and those who try to set that will aside, unless they have a very strong case, had better consider that Charles is backed up by an amount of ready money sufficient to ruin the Ravenshoe estate in law.

“No attempt of the kind will be made, my lord. But I very much doubt whether your lordship will continue your protection to that young man. I wish you good afternoon.”

“That fellow,” said Lord Saltire, “has got a card to play which I don’t know of. What matter? I can adopt Charles, and he may defy them. I wish I could give him my title; but that will be extinct, I am glad little Mary is going to Lady Hainault. It will be the best place for her till she marries. I wish that fool of a boy had fallen in love with her. But he wouldn’t.”

Mackworth hurried away to his room; and, as he went, he said, “I have been a fool. A fool. I should have taken Cuthbert’s offer. None but a fool would have done otherwise. A cardinal’s chair thrown to the dogs!”

“I could not do it this morning; but I can do it now. The son of a figurante, and without a father. Perhaps he will offer it again.”

“If he does not, there is one thing certain. That young ruffian Charles is ruined. All, ah! my lord Saltire, I have you there. I should like to see that old man’s face when I play my last card. It will be a finer sight than Charles’s. You’ll make him your heir, will you, my lord? Will you make him your groom? “,

He went to his desk, took out an envelope, and looked at it. He looked at it long, and then put it back. “It will never do to tempt him with it. If he were to refuse his offer of this morning, I should be ruined. Much better to wait and play out the ace boldly. I can keep my hold over him; and William is mine, body and soul, if he dies.”

With which reflections the good Father dressed for dinner.

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