Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 27

The Coup De Grace.

In the long watches of the winter night, when one has awoke from some evil dream, and lies sleepless and terrified mth the solemn pall of darkness around one — on one of those deadly, still dark nights, when the window only shows a murky patch of positive gloom in contrast with the nothingness of the walls, when the howling of a tempest round chimney and roof would be welcomed as a boisterous companion — in such still dead times only, lying as in the silence of the tomb, one realizes that some day we shall lie in that bed and not think at all: that the time will come soon when we must die.

Our preachers remind us of this often enough, but we cannot realize it in a pew in broad daylight. You must wake in the middle of the night to do that, and face the thought like a man, that it will come, and pome to inety-nine in a hundred of us, not in a maddening clatter of musquetry as the day is won; or in carrying a line to a stranded ship, or in such like glorious times, when the soul is in mastery over the body, but in bed, by slow degrees. It is in darkness and silence only that we realize this; and then let us hope that we humbly remember that death has been conquered for us, and that in spite of our unworthiness we may defy him. And after that sometimes will come the thought, “Are there no evils worse even than death?”

I have made these few remarks (I have made very few in this story, for I want to suggest thought, not to supply it ready-made) because Charles Ravenshoe has said to me in his wild way, that he did not fear death, for he had died once already.

I did not say anything, but waited for him to go on.

“For what,” he continued, “do you make out death even at the worst? A terror, then a pang, more or less severe; then a total severance of all ties on earth, an entire and permanent loss of everything one has loved. After that remorse, and useless regret, and the horrible torture of missed opportunities without number thrust continually before one. The monotonous song of the fiends, ‘Too late! too late!’ I have suffered all these things! I have known what very few men have known and lived — despair; but perhaps the most terrible agony for a time was the feeling of loss of identity — that I was not myself; that my whole existence from babyhood had been a lie. This at times, at times only, mind you, washed away from me the only spar to which I could cling — the feeling that I was a gentleman. When the deluge came, that was the only creed I had, and I was left alone as it were on the midnight ocean, out of sight of land, swimming with failing strength.”

I have made Charles speak for himself In this I know that I am right. Now we must go on with him through the gathering darkness without flinching; in terror, perhaps, but not in despair as yet.

It never for one moment entered into his head to doubt the truth of what Father [Mackworth had set up. If he had had doubts even to the last, he had none after Mackworth had looked him compassionately in the face, and said, “God judge between us if this paper be not true I “Though he distrusted Mackworth, he felt that no man, be he never so profound an actor, could have looked so and spoken so if he were not telling what he believed to be the truth. And that he and Norah were mistaken he justly felt to be an impossibility. ‘No. He was the child of Petre Ravenshoe’s bastard son by an Irish peasant girl. He who but half an hour before had been heir to the proud old name, to the noble old house, the pride of the west country, to hundreds of acres of rolling woodland, to mile beyond mile of sweeping moorland, to twenty thriving farms, deep in happy valleys, or perched high up on the side of lofty downs, was now just this — a peasant, an impostor.

The tenantry, the fishermeu, the servants, they ould come to know all this. Had he died (ah! how much better than this), they would have mourned for him, but what would they say or think now? That he, the patron, the intercessor, the condescending young prince, should be the child of a waiting woman and a gamekeeper. Ah! mother, mother, God forgive you!

Adelaide: what would she think of this? He determined that he must go and see her, and tell her the whole miserable story. She was ambitious, but she loved him. Oh yes, she loved him. She could wait. There were lands beyond the sea, where a man could win a fortune in a few years, perhaps in one. There were Canada, and Australia, and India, where a man needed nothing but energy. He never would take one farthing from the Ravenshoes, save the twenty pounds he had. That was a determination nothing could alter. But why need he? There was gold to be won, and forest to be cleared, in happier lands.

Alas, poor Charles! He has never yet set foot out of England, and perhaps never will. He never thought seriously about it but this once. He never had it put before him strongly by any one. Men only emigrate from idleness, restlessness, or necessity; with the two first of these he was not troubled, and the last had not come yet. It would, perhaps, have been better for him to have gone to the backwoods or the diggings; but, as he says, the reason why he didn’t was that he didn’t. But at this sad crisis of his life it gave him comfort for little to think about; only for a little, then thought and terror came sweeping back again.

Lord Saltire? He would be told of this by others. It would be Charles’s duty not to see Lord Saltire again. With his present position in society, as a servant’s son, there was nothing to prevent his asking Lord Saltire to provide for him, except — what was it? Pride? Well, hardly pride. He was humble enough, God knows; but he felt as if he had gained his goodwill, as it were, by false pretences, and that duty would forbid his presuming on that goodwill any longer. And vs’onld Lord Saltire be the same to a lady’s-maid’s son, as he would to the heir-presumptive of Ravenshoe? No; there must be no humiliation before those stern grey eyes. Now he — began to see that he loved the owner of those eyes more deeply than he had thought; and there was a gleam of pleasure in thinking that, when Lord Saltire heard of his fighting bravely unassisted with the world, he would say, “That lad was a brave fellow; a gentleman after all.”

Marston? Would this terrible business, which was so new and terrible as to be as yet only half appreciated — would it make any difference to him? Perhaps it might. But, whether or no, he would humble himself there, and take from him just reproaches for idleness and missed opportunities, however bitter they might be.

And Mary? Poor little Mary! Ah! she would be safe with that good Lady Hainault. That was all. Ah, Charles 1 what pale little sprite was that outside your oor now, listening, dry-eyed, terrified, till you should move? Who saw you come up with your hands clutched in your hair, like a madman, an hour ago, and heard you throw yourself upon the floor, and has waited patiently ever since to see if she could comfort you, were it never so little? All, Charles! Foolish fellow!

Thinking, thinking — now with anger, now with tears, and now with terror — till his head was hot and his hands dry, his thoughts began to run into one channel. He saw that action was necessary, and he came to a great and noble resolution, worthy of himself. All the world was on one side, and he alone on the other. He would meet the world humbly and bravely, and conquer it. He would begin at the beginning, and find his own value in the world, and then, if he found himself worthy, would claim once more the love and respect of those who had been his friends hitherto.

How he would begin he knew not, nor cared, but it must be from the beginning. And, when he had come to this resolution, he rose up and faced the light of day once more.

There was a still figure sitting in his chair, watching him. It was William.

“William! How long have you been here?”

“Nigh on an hour. I came in just after you, and you have been lying on the hearthrug ever since, moaning.”

“An hour? Is it only an hour?”

“A short hour.”

“It seemed like a year. Why, it is not dark yet. The sun still shines does it?”

He went to the window and looked out. “Spring,” he said, “early spring. Fifty more of them between me and rest most likely. Do I look older, William?”

“You look pale and wild, but not older. I am mazed and stunned. I want you to look like yourself and help me, Charles. We must get away together out of this house.”

“You must stay here, William; you are heir to the name and the house. You must stay here and learn your duty; I must go forth and dree my weary weird alone.”

“You must go forth, I know; but I must go with you.”

“William, that is impossible.”

“To the world’s end, Charles; I swear it by the holy Mother of God.”

“Hush! You don’t know what you are sajing. Think of your duties.”

“I know my duty. My duty is with you.”

“William, look at the matter in another point of view. Will Cuthbert let you come with me?”

“I don’t care. I am coming.”

William was sitting where he had been in Charles’s chair, and Charles was standing beside him. If William had been looking at Charles, he would have seen a troubled thoughtful expression on his face for one moment, followed by a sudden look of determination. He laid his hand on William’s shoulder, and said, —

“We must talk this over again. I must go to Ranford and see Adelaide at once, before this news gets there from other mouths. Will you meet me at the old hotel in Covent Garden, four days from this time?”

“Why there?” said William. “Why not at Henley?”

“Why not at London, rather?” replied Charles. “I must go to London. I mean to go to London. I don’t want to delay about Ranford. No; say London.”

William looked in his face for a moment, and then said, —

“I’d rather travel with you. You can leave me at Wargrave, which is only just over the water from Ranford, or at Didcot, while you go on to Ranford. You must let me do that, Charles.”

“We will do that, William, if you like.”

“Yes, yes!” said William. “It must be so. Now you must come downstairs.”

“Why?”

“To eat. Dinner is ready. I am going to tea in the servants’ hall.”

“Will Mary be at dinner, William?”

“Of course she will.”

“Will you let me go for the last time? I should like to see the dear little face again. Only this once.”

“Charles! Don’t talk like that. All that this house contains is yours, and will be as long as Cuthbert and I re here. Of course you must go. This must not get out for a long while yet — we must keep up appearances.”

So Charles went down into the drawingroom. It was nearly dark; and at first he thought there was no one there, but, as he advanced towards the fireplace, he made out a tall, dark figure, and saw that it was Mackworth.

“I am come, sir,” he said, “to dinner in the old room for the last time for ever.”

“God forbid!” said Mackworth. “Sir, you have behaved like a brave man today, and I earnestly hope that, as long as I stay in this house, you will be its honoured guest. It would be simply nonsensical to make any excuses to you for the part I have taken. Even if you had not systematically opposed your interest to mine in this house, I had no other course open. You must see that.”

“I believe I owe you my thanks for your forbearance so long,” said Charles; “though that was for the sake of my father more than myself. Will you tell me, sir, now we are alone, how long have you known this?”

“Nearly eighteen months,” said Father Mackworth promptly.

Mackworth was not an ill-natured man when he was not opposed, and, being a brave man himself, could well appreciate bravery in others. He had knowledge enough of men to know that the revelation of today had been a bitter blow to a passionate, sensitive man like Charles, as he could well endure and live. And he new that Charles distrusted him, and that all out-of-the-way expressions of condolence would be thrown away; and so, departing from his usual rule of conduct, he spoke for once in a way naturally and sincerely, and said: “I am very, very sorry. I would have done much to avoid this.”

Then Mary came in and the Tiernays. Cuthbert did not come down. There was a long, dull dinner, at which Charles forced himself to eat, having a resolution before him. Mary sat scared at the head of the table, and scarcely spoke a word, and, when she rose to go into the drawingroom again, Charles followed her.

She saw that he was coming, and waited for him in the hall. When he shut the dining-room door after him she ran back, and, putting her two hands on his shoulders, said, —

“Charles! Charles! what is the matter?”

“Nothing, dear; only I have lost my fortune; I am penniless.”

“Is it all gone, Charles?”

“All. You will hear how, soon. I just came out to wish my bird goodbye. I am going to London tomorrow.”

“Can’t you come and talk to me, Charles, a little?”

“No; not tonight. Not tonight.”

“You will come and see me at Lady Hainault’s in town, Charles?”

“Yes, my love; yes.”

“Won’t you tell me any more, Charles?”

“No more, my robin. It is goodbye. You will hear all about it soon enough.”

“Goodbye.”

A kiss, and he was gone up the old staircase towards his own room. When he gained the first landing, he turned and looked at her once more, standing alone in the centre of the old hall in the light of a solitary lamp. A lonely, beautiful little figure, with her arms drooping at her sides, and the quiet, dark eyes turned towards him, so lovingly ! And there, in his ruin and desolation, he began to see, for the first time, what others, keener-eyed, had seen long ago. Something that might have been, but could not be now! And so, saying, “I must not see her again,” he went up to his own room, and shut the door on his misery.

Once again he was seen that night. William invaded the stillroom, and got some coffee, which he carried up to him. He found him packing his portmanteau, and he asked William to see to this and to that for him, if he should sleep too long. William made him sit down and take coffee and smoke a cigar, and sat on the footstool at his feet, before the fire, complaining of cold. They sat an hour or two, smoking, talking of old times, of horses and dogs, and birds and trout, as lads do, till Charles said he would go to bed, and William left him.

He had hardly got to the end of the passage, when Charles called him back, and he came.

“I want to look at you again,” said Charles; and he put his two hands on William’s shoulders, and looked at him again. Then he said, “Good night,” and went in.

“William went slowly away, and, passing to a lower story, came to the door of a room immediately over the main entrance, above the hall. This room was in the turret above the porch. It was Cuthbert’s room.

He knocked softly, and there was no answer; again, and louder. A voice cried querulously, “Come in,” and he opened the door.

Cuthbert was sitting before the fire with a lamp beside him and a book on his knee. He looked up and saw a groom before him, and said angrily, —

“I can give no orders tonight. I will not be disturbed tonight.”

“It’s me, sir,” said William.

Cuthbert rose at once. “Come here, brother,” he said, “and let me look at you. They told me just now that you were with our brother Charles.”

“I stayed with him till he went to bed, and then I came to you.”

“How is he?”

“Very quiet — too quiet.”

“Is he going away?”

“He is going in the morning.”

“You must go with him, William,” said Cuthbert, eagerly.

“I came to tell you that I must go with him, and to ask you for some money.”

“God bless you. Don’t leave him. Write to me every day. Watch and see what he is inclined to settle to, and then let me know. You must get some education too. You will get it with him as well as anywhere. He must be our first care.”

William said yes. He must be their first care. He had suffered a terrible wrong.

“We must get to be as brothers to one another, William,” said Cuthbert. “That will come in time. We have one great object in common — Charles; and that will bring us together. The time was, when I was a fool, that I thought of being a saint, without human affections. I am wiser now. People near death see many things which are hidden in health and youth.”

“Near death, Cuthbert!” said William, calling him so for the first time. “I shall live, please God, to take your children on my knee.”

“It is right that you should know, brother, that in a few short years you will be master of Ravenshoe. My heart is gone. I have had an attack tonight.”

“But people who are ill don’t always die,” said William. “Holy Virgin! you must not go and leave me all abroad in the world like a lost sheep.”

“I like to hear you speak like that, William. Two days ago, I was moving heaven and earth to rob you of your just inheritance.”

“I like you the better for that. Never think of that again. Does Mackworth know of your illness?”

“He knows everything.”

“If Charles had been a Catholic, would he have concealed this?”

“No; I think not. I offered him ten thousand pounds to hush it up.”

” I wish he had taken it. I don’t want to be a great man. I should have been far happier as it was. I was half a gentleman, and had everything I wanted. Shall you oppose my manying when Charles is settled?”

“You must marry, brother. I can never marry, and would not if I could. You must marry, certainly. The estate is a little involved; but we can soon bring it right. Till you marry, you must be contented with four hundred a year.”

William laughed. “I will be content and obedient enough, I warrant you. But, when I speak of marrying, I mean marrying my present sweetheart.”

Cuthbert looked up suddenly. ”I did not think of that. “Who is she?”

“Master Evan’s daughter, Jane.”

“A fisherman’s daughter,” said Cuthbert. “William, the mistress of Ravenshoe ought to be a lady.”

“The master of Ravenshoe ought to be a gentleman,” was William’s reply. “And, after your death (which I don’t believe in, mind you), he won’t be. The master of Ravenshoe then will be only a groom; and what sort of a fine lady would he buy with his money, think you? A woman who would despise him and be ashamed of him. No, by St. George and the dragon, I will marry my old sweetheart or be single!”

“Perhaps you are right, William,” said Cuthbert; “and, if you are not, I am not one who has a right to speak about it. Let us in future be honest and straightforward, and have no more miserable esclandres, in God’s name. What sort of girl is she?”

“She is handsome enough for a duchess, and she is very quiet and shy.”

“All the better. I shall offer not the slightest opposition. She had better know what is in store for her.”

“She shall; and the blessing of all the holy saints be on you! I must go now. I must be up at dawn.”

“Don’t go yet, William. Think of the long night that is before me. Sit mth me, and let me get used to your voice. Tell me about the horses, or an3rthuig — only don’t leave me alone yet.”

William sat down with him. They sat long and late. When at last William rose to go, Cuthbert said, —

“You will make a good landlord, William. You have been always a patient, faithful servant, and you will make a good master. Our people will get to love you better than ever they would have loved me. Cling to the old faith. It has served us well so many himdred years. It seems as if God willed that Ravenshoe should not pass from the hands of the faithful. And now, one thing more; I must see Charles before he goes. When you go to wake him in the morning, call me, and I will go with you. Good night!”

In the morning they went up together to wake him

His window was open, and the fresh spring air was blowing in. His books, his clothes, his guns, and rods, were piled about in their usual confusion. His dog was lying on the hearthrug, and stretched himself as he came to greet them. The dog had a glove at his feet, and they wondered at it. The curtains of his bed were drawn close. Cuthbert went softly to them and drew them aside. He was not there. The bed was smooth.

“Gone! gone!” cried Cuthbert. “I had feared it: Fly, William, for God’s sake, to Lord Ascot’s, to Ranford; catch him there, and never leave him again. Come and get some money and begone. You may be in time. If we should lose him after all — after all!”

William needed no second bidding. In an hour he was at Stonnington. Mr. Charles Ravenshoe had arrived there at daybreak, and had gone on in the coach which started at eight. William posted to Exeter, and at eight o’clock ia the evening saw Lady Ascot at Ranford. Charles Ravenshoe had been there that afternoon, but was gone. And then Lady Ascot, weeping wildly, told him such news as made him break from the room with an oath, and dash through the scared servants in the hall and out into the darkness, to try to overtake the carriage he had discharged, and reach London.

The morning before, Adelaide had eloped with Lord Welter.

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