Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 26.

The Grand Crash.

The funeral was over. Charles had waited with poor weeping Mary to see the coffin carried away tinder the dark grim archway of the vault, and had tried to comfort her who would not be comforted. And, when the last wild wail of the organ had died away, and all the dark figures but they two had withdrawn from the chapel, there stood those two poor orphans alone together.

It was all over, and they began for the first time to realize it; they began to feel what they lost. King Densil was dead and King Cuthbert reigned. When a prime minister dies the world is shaken; when a county member dies the county is agitated, and the opposition electors, till lately insignificant, rise suddenly into importance, and the possible new members are suddenly great men. So, when a mere country gentleman dies, the head of a great family dies, relations are changed entirely between some score or so of persons. The dog of today is not the dog of yesterday. Servants are agitated, and remember themselves of old impertinences, and tremble. Farmers wonder what the new Squire’s first move will be. Perhaps, even the old hound wonders whether he is to keep his old place by the fire or no, and younger brothers bite their nails and wonder too, about many things.

Charles wondered profoundly in his own room that afternoon, whither he retired after having dismissed Mary at her door with a kiss. In spite of his grief he wondered what was coming, and tried to persuade himself that he didn’t care. From this state of mind he was aroused by William, who told him that Lord Segur was going and Lord Saltire with him, and that the latter wanted to speak to him.

Lord Saltire had his foot on the step of the carriage. “Charles, my dear boy,” he said, “the moment things are settled come to me at Segur Castle. Lord Segur wants you to come and stay there while I am there.”

Lord Segur from the carriage hoped Charles would come and see them at once.

“And mind, you know,” said Lord Saltire, “that you don’t do anything without consulting me. Let the little bird pack off to Lady Ascot’s and help to blow up the grooms. Don’t let her stay moping here. Now, goodbye, my dear boy. I shall see you in a day or so.”

And so the old man was gone. And, as Charles watched the carriage, he saw the sleek grey head thrast from the window and the great white hand waved to him. He never forgot that glimpse of the grey head and the white hand, and he never will.

A servant came up to him, and asked him, Would he see Mr. Ravenshoe in the library? Charles answered Yes, but was in no hurry to go. So he stood a little longer on the terrace, watching the bright sea, and the gulls, and the distant island. Then he turned into the arkened house again, and walked slowly towards the library door.

Some one else stood in the passage — it was William, with his hand on the handle of the door.

“I waited for you, Master Charles,” he said; “they have sent for me too. Now you will hear something to your advantage.

“I care not,” said Charles, and they went in.

Once, in lands far away, there was a sailor lad, a good-humoured, good-looking, thoughtless fellow, who lived alongside of me, and with whom I was always joking. We had a great liking for one another. I left him at the shaft’s mouth at two o’clock one summer’s day, roaring with laughter at a story I had told him; and at half-past five I was helping to wind up the shattered corpse, which when alive had borne his name. A flake of gravel had come down from the roof of the drive and killed him, and his laughing and story-telling were over for ever. How terrible these true stories are! Why do I tell this one? Because, whenever I think of this poor lad’s death, I find myself not thinking of the ghastly thing that came swinging up out of the darkness into the summer air, but of the poor fellow as he was the morning before. I try to think how he looked, as leaning against the windlass with the forest behind and the mountains beyond, and if, in word or look, he gave any sign of his coming fate before he went gaily down into his tomb.

So it was with Charles Ravenshoe. He remembers art of the scene that followed perfectly well; but he tries more than all to recall how Cuthbert looked, and how Mackworth looked before the terrible words were spoken. After it was all over he remembers, he tells me, every trifling incident well. But his memory is a little gone about the first few minutes which elapsed after ‘he and William came into the room. He says that Cuthbert was sitting at the table very pale, with his hands clasped on . the table before him, looking steadily at him without expression on his face; and that Mackworth leant against the chimney-piece, and looked keenly and curiously at him.

Charles went up silently and kissed his brother on the forehead. Cuthbert neither moved nor spoke. Charles greeted Mackworth civilly, and then leant against the chimney-piece by the side of him, and said what a glorious day it was. William stood at a little distance, looking uneasily from one to another.

Cuthbert broke silence. “I sent for you,” he said.

“I am glad to come to you, Cuthbert, though I think you sent for me on business, which I am not very well up to today.”

“On business,” said Cuthbert; “business which must be gone through with today, though I expect it will kill me.”

Charles, by some instinct (who knows what ( it was Dothing reasonable, he says) moved rapidly towards William, and laid his hand on his shoulder. I take it that it arose from that curious gregarious feeling that en have in times of terror. He could not have done better than to move towards his truest friend, whatever it was.

“I should like to prepare you for what is to come,” continued Cuthbert, speaking calmly, with the most curious distinctness; “but that would be useless. The blow would be equally severe whether you expect it or not. You two who stand there were nursed at the same breast. That groom, on whose shoulder you have your hand now, is my real brother. You are no relation to me; you are the son of the faithful old servant whom we buried today with my father.”

Charles said, Ho! like a great sigh. William put his arm round him, and, raising his finger, and looking inta his face with his calm honest eyes, said with a smile —

“This was it, then. We know it all now.”

Charles burst out into a wild laugh, and said, “Father Mackworth’s ace of trumps! He has inherited a talent for melodrama from his blessed mother. Stop. I beg your pardon, sir, for saying that; I said it in a hurry. It was blackguardly. Let’s have the proofs of this, and all that sort of thing, and witnesses too, if you please. Father Mackworth, there have been such things as prosecutions for conspiracy. I have Lord Saltire and Lord Ascot at my back. You have made a desperate cast, sir. My astonishment is that you have allowed your hatred for me to outrun your discretion so far. This matter will cost some money before it is settled.”

Father Mackworth smiled, and Charles passed him, and rang the bell. Then he went back to William and took his arm.

“Fetch the Fathers Tiernay here immediately,” said Charles to the servant who answered the bell

In a few minutes the worthy priests were in the room. The group was not altered. Father Mackworth still leant against the mantelpiece, Charles and William stood together, and Cuthbert sat pale and calm with his hands clasped together.

Father Tiernay looked at the disturbed group and became uneasy. “Would it not be better to defer the settlement of any family disagreements to another day? On such a solemn occasion ”

“The ice is broken, Father Tiernay,” said Charles. “Cuthbert, tell him what you have told me.”

Cuthbert, clasping his hands together, did so, in a low, quiet voice.

“There,” said Charles, turning to Father Tiernay, “what do you think of that? M

“I am so astounded and shocked that I don’t know what to say,” said Father Tiernay; “your mind must be abused, my dear sir. The likeness between yourself and Mr. Charles is so great that I cannot believe it. Mackworth, what have you to say to this?”

“Look at William, who is standing beside Charles,” said the priest, quietly, “and tell me which of those two is most like Cuthbert.”

“Charles and William are very much alike, certainly,” said Tiernay; but —

“Do you remember James Horton, Tiernay?” said Mackworth.

“Surely.”

“Did you ever notice the likeness between him and Densil Pavenshoe?”

“I have noticed it, certainly; especially one night. One night I went to his cottage last autuma Yes — well?”

“James Horton was Densil Ravenshoe’s half-brother. He was the illegitimate son of Petre.”

“Good God!”

“And the man whom you call Charles Ravenshoe, whom I call Charles Horton, is his son.”

Charles was looking eagerly from one to the other, bewildered.

“Ask him, Father Tiernay,” he said, “what proofs he has. Perhaps he will tell us.”

“You hear what Mr. Charles says, Mackworth. I address you because you have spoken last. You must surely have strong proofs for such an astounding statement.”

“I have his mother’s handwriting,” said Father Mack worth.

“My mother’s, sir,” said Charles, flushing up, and advancing a pace towards him.

“You forget who your mother was,” said Mackworth.

“Your mother was Norah, James Horton’s wife. She confessed the wicked fraud she practised to me, and has committed that confession to paper. I hold it. You have not a point of ground to stand on. Fifty Lord Saltires could not help you one jot. You must submit. You have been living in luxury and receiving an expensive education when you should have been cleaning out the stable. So far from being overwhelmed by this, you should consider how terribly the balance is against you.”

He spoke with such awful convincing calmness that Charles’s heart died away within him. He knew the man.

“Cuthbert,” he said, “you are a gentleman. Is this true?”

“God knows how terribly true it is,” said Cuthbert, quietly. Then there was a silence, broken by Charles in a strange thick voice, the like of which none there had heard before.

“I want to sit down somewhere. I want some drink.

Will, my own boy, take this d — d thing from round my neck! I can’t see; where is there a chair! Oh, God!”

He fell heavily against William, looking deadly white, without sense or power. And Cuthbert looked up at the priest, and said, in a low voice —

“You have killed him.”

Little by little he came round again, and rose on his feet, looking round him as a buck or stag looks when run to soil, and is watching to see which dog will come, ith a piteous wild look, despairing and yet defiant. There was a dead silence.

“Are we to be allowed to see this paper?” said Charles, at length.

Father Mackworth immediately handed it to him, and he read it. It was completely conclusive. He saw that there was not a loophole to creep out of. The two Tiernays read it, and shook their heads. William read it and turned pale. And then they all stood staring blankly at one another.

“You see, sir,” said Father Mackworth, “that there are two courses open to you. Either on the one hand, to acquiesce in the truth of this paper; or, on the other, to accuse me in a court of justice of conspiracy and fraud. If you were to be successful in the latter course, I should be transported out of your way, and the matter would end so. But any practical man would tell you, and you would see in your calmer moments, that no lawyer would undertake your case. What say you, Father Tiernay?”

“I cannot see what case he has, poor dear,” said Father Tiernay. “Mackworth,” he added, suddenly.

Father Mackworth met his eye with a steady stare, and Tiernay saw there was no hope of explanation there.

“On the other hand,” continued Father Mackworth, “if this new state of things, is quietly submitted to (as it must be ultimately, whether quietly or otherwise you ourself will decide), I am authorized to say that the very handsomest provision will be made for you, and that, to all intents and purposes, your prospects in the world will not suffer in the least degree. I am right in saying so, I believe, Mr. Ravenshoe?”

“You are perfectly right, sir,” said Cuthbert, in a quiet, passionless voice. “My intention is to make a provision of three hundred a year for this gentleman, whom, till the last few days, I believed to be my brother. Less than four and twenty hours ago, Charles, I offered Father Mackworth ten thousand pounds for this paper, with a view to destroy it. I would, for your sake, Charles, have committed an act of villany which would have entailed a life’s remorse, and have robbed William, my own brother, of his succession. You see what a poor weak rogue I am, and what a criminal I might become with a little temptation. Father Mackworth did his duty, and refused me. I tell you this to show you that he is, at all events, sincere enough in his conviction of the truth of tins.”

“You acted like yourself, Cuthbert. Like one who would risk body and soul for one you loved.”

He paused; but they waited for him to speak again. And very calmly, in a very low voice, he continued —

“It is time that this scene should end. No one’s interest will be served by continuing it. I want to say a very few words, and I want them to be considered as the words, as it were, of a dying man; for no one here resent will see me again till the day when I come back to claim a right to the name I have been bearing so long — and that day will be never.”

Another pause. He moistened his lips, which were dry and cracked, and then went on —

“Here is the paper, Father Mackworth; and may the Lord of Heaven be judge between us if that paper be not true 1 ”

Father Mackworth took it, and, looking him steadily in the face, repeated his words, and Charles’s heart sank lower yet as he watched him, and felt that hope was dead.

“May the Lord of Heaven be judge between us two, Charles, if that paper be not true! Amen.”

“I utterly refuse,” Charles continued, "the assistance which Mr. Ravenshoe has so nobly offered. I go forth alone into the world to make my own way, or to be forgotten. Cuthbert and William, you will be sorry for a time, but not for long. You will think of me sometimes of dark winter nights when the wind blows, won’t you? I shall never write to you, and shall never return here any more. Worse things than this have happened to men, and they have not died.”

All this was said with perfect self-possession, and without a failure in the voice. It was magnificent despair. Father Tiernay, looking at William’s face, saw there a sort of sarcastic smile, which puzzled him amazingly.

“I had better,” said Charles, “make my will. I should like William to ride my horse Monte. He has thrown a curb, sir, as you know,” he said, turning to William; “but he will serve you well, and I know you will be gentle with him.”

William gave a short, dry laugh.

“I should have liked to take my terrier away with me, but I think I had better not. I want to have nothing with me to remind me of this place. My greyhound and the pointers I know you will take care of. It would please me to think that William had moved into my room, and had taken possession of all my guns, and fishing-rods, and so on. There is a double-barrelled gun left at Venables’, in St. Aldate’s, at Oxford, for repairs. It ought to be fetched away.”

“Now, sir,” he said, turning to Cuthbert, ° I should like to say a few words about money matters. I owe about 150?. at Oxford. It was a great deal more at one time, but I have been more careful lately. I have the bills upstairs. If that could be paid ”

“To the utmost farthing, my dear Charles,” said Cuthbert; “but ”

“Hush!” said Charles, “I have five and twenty pounds by me. May I keep that?”

“I will write you a check for five hundred. I shall move your resolution, Charles,” said Cuthbert.

“Never, so help me God!” said Charles; “it only remains to say goodbye. I leave this room without a ard thought towards any one in it. I am at peace with all the world. Father Mackworth, I beg your forgiveness. I have been often rude and brutal to you. I suppose that you always meant kindly to me. Goodbye.”

He shook hands with Mackworth, then with the Tiernays; then he offered his hand to William, who took it smiling; and, lastly, he went up to Cuthbert, and kissed him on the cheek, and then walked out of the door into the hall.

William, as he was going, turned as though to speak-to Cuthbert, but Cuthbert had risen, and he paused a moment.

Cuthbert had risen, and stood looking wildly about him, then he said, “Oh, my God, he is gone!” And then he broke through them, and ran out into the hall, crying, “Charles, Charles, come back. Only one more word, Charles.” And then they saw Charles pause, and Cuthbert kneel down before him, calling him his own dear brother, and saying he would die for him. And then Father Tiernay hastily shut the library door, and left those two wild hearts out in the old hall together alone.

Father Tiernay came back to William, and took both his hands. “What are you going to do?” he said.

“I am going to follow him wherever he goes,” said William. “I am never going to leave him again. If he goes to the world’s end, I will be with him.”

“Brave fellow!” said Tiernay. “If he goes from here, and is lost sight of, we may never see him again. If you go with him, you may change his resolution.”

“That I shall never do,” said William; “I know him too well. But I’ll save him from what I am frightened to think of. I will go to him now. I shall see you again directly; but I must go to him.”

He passed out into the hall. Cuthbert was standing alone, and Charles was gone.

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