Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 34.

In which Fresh Mischief is Brewed.

Charles’s duties were light enough; he often wished they had been heavier. There were such long idle periods left for thinking and brooding. He rather wondered at first why he was not more employed. He never was in attendance on the lieutenant, save in the daytime. One of the young men under him drove the brougham, and was out all night and in bed all day; and the other was a mere stable-lad from the country. Charles’s duty consisted almost entirely in dressing himself about two o’clock, and loitering about town after his master; and, after he had been at this work about a fortnight, it seemed to him as if he had been at it a year or more.

Charles soon found out all he cared to know about the Lieutenant. He was the only son and heir of an eminent solicitor, lately deceased, who had put him into the splendid regiment to which he belonged, in order to get him into good society. The young fellow had done well enough in that way. He was amazingly rich, amazingly handsome, and passionately fond of his profession, at which he really worked hard; but he was terribly fast. Charles soon found that out; and the irst object which he placed before himself, when he began to awaken from the first dead torpor which came on him after his fall; was to gain influence with him and save him from ruin.

“He is burning the candle at both ends,” said Charles. “He is too good to go to the deuce. In time, if I am careful, he may listen to me.”

And, indeed, it seemed probable. From the very first, Hornby had treated Charles with great respect and consideration. Hornby knew he was a gentleman. One morning, before Charles had been many days with him, the brougham had not come into the mews till seven o’clock; and Charles, going to his lodgings at eight, had found him in uniform, bolting a cup of coffee before going on duty. There was a great pile of money, sovereigns and notes, on the dressing-table, and he caught Charles looking at it.

Hornby laughed. “What are you looking at with that solemn face of yours?” said he.

“Nothing, sir,” said Charles.

“You are looking at that money,” said Hornby; “and you are thinking that it would be as well if I didn’t stay out all night playing — eh?”

“I might have thought so, sir,” said Charles. “I did think so.”

“Quite right, too. Some day I will leave off, perhaps.”

And then he rattled out of the room, and Charles watched him riding down the street, all blue, and carlet, and gold, a brave figure, with the world at his feet.

“There is time yet,” said Charles.

The first time Charles made his appearance in livery in the street he felt horribly guilty. He was in continual terror lest he should meet some one he knew; but, after a time, when he found that day after day he could walk about and see never a familiar face, he grew bolder. He wished sometimes he could see some one he knew from a distance, so as not to be recognised — it was so terribly lonely.

Day after day he saw the crowds pass him in the street, and recognised no one. In old times, when he used to come to London on a raid from Oxford, he fancied he used to recognise an acquaintance at every step; but, now, day after day went on, and he saw no one he knew. The world had become to him like a long uneasy dream of strange faces.

After a very few days of his new life, there began to grow on him a desire to hear of those he had left so abruptly ; a desire which was at first mere curiosity, but which soon developed into a yearning regret. At first, after a week or so, he began idly wondering where they all were, and what they thought of his disappearance; and at this time, perhaps, he may have felt a little conceited in thinking how he occupied their thoughts, and of what importance he had made himself by his sudden disappearance. But his curiosity and vanity soon wore away, and were succeeded by a deep gnawing desire to ear something of them all — to catch hold of some little thread, however thin, which should connect him with his past life, and with those he had loved so well. He would have died in his obstinacy sooner than move one inch towards his object; but every day, as he rode about town, dressed in the livery of servitude, which he tried to think was his heritage, and yet of which he was ashamed, he stared hither and thither at the passing faces, trying to find one, were it only that of the meanest servant, which should connect him with the past.

At last, and before long, he saw some one.

One afternoon he was under orders to attend his master, on horseback, as usual. After lunch, Hornby came out, beautifully dressed, handsome and happy, and rode up Grosvenor Place into the park. At the entrance to Rotten Row he joined an old gentleman and his two daughters, and they rode together, chatting pleasantly. Charles rode behind with the other groom, who talked to him about the coming Derby, and would have betted against Haphazard at the current odds. They rode up and down the Row twice, and then Hornby, calhng Charles, gave him his horse and walked about by the Serpentine, talking to every one, and getting a kindly welcome from great and small; for the son of a great attorney, with wealth, manners, and person, may get into very good society, if he is worth it; or, quite possibly, if he isn’t.

Then Hornby and Charles left the park, and, coming down Grosvenor Place, passed into Pall Mall. Here

Hornby went into a club, and loft Charles waiting in the street with his horse half an hour or more.

Then he mounted again, and rode up St. James’s Street into Piccadilly. He turned to the left; and, at the bottom of the hill, not far from Halfmoon Street, he wont into a private house, and, giving Charles his reins, told him to wait for him; and so Charles waited there in the afternoon sun, watching what went by.

It was a sleepy afternoon, and the horses stood quiet, and Charles was a contented fellow, and he rather liked dozing there and watching the world go by. There is plenty to see in Piccadilly on an afternoon in the season, even for a passer-by; but, sitting on a quiet horse, with nothing to do or think about, one can see it all better. And Charles had some humour in him, and so he was amused at what he saw, and would have sat there an hour or more mthout impatience.

Opposite to him was a great bonnet-shop, and in front of it was an orange-woman. A grand carriage dashed up to the bonnet-shop, so that he had to move his horses, and the orange-woman had to get out of the way. Two young ladies got out of the carriage, went in, and (as he believes) bought bonnets, leaving a third, and older one, sitting in the back seat, who nursed a pug dog, with a blue riband. Neither the coachman nor footman belonging to the carriage seemed to mind this lady. The footman thought he would like some oranges; so he went to the orange-woman. The orange-woman was Irish, for her speech bewrayed her, and the footman as from the county Clare; so those two instantly began comparing notes about those delectable regions, to such purpose, that the two young ladies, having, let us hope, suited themselves in the bonnet way, had to open their own carriage-door and get in, before the footman was recalled to a sense of his duties — after which he shut the door, and they drove away.

Then there came by a blind man. It was not the same blind man that Charles saw fall down the area, because that blind man’s dog was a brown one, with a curly tail, and this one’s dog was black, with, no tail at all. Moreover, the present dog carried a basket, which the other one did not. Otherwise they were so much alike (all blind men are), that Charles might have mistaken one for the other. This blind man met with no such serious accident as the other, either. Only, turning into the public-house at the comer, opposite Mr. Hope’s, the dog lagged behind, and, the swing-doors closing between him and his master, Charles saw him pulled through by his chain and nearly throttled.

Next there came by Lord Palmerston, mth his umbrella on his shoulder, walking airily arm-in-arm with Lord John Russell. They were talking together; and, as they passed, Charles heard Lord Palmerston say that it was much warmer on this side of the street than on the other. With which’ proposition Lord John Russell appeared to agree; and so they passed on westward.

After this there came by three prizefighters, arm-in-arm; each of them had a white hat and a cigar; two ad white bull — clogs, and one a black and tan terrier. They made a left wheel, and looked at Charles and his horses, and then they made a right wheel, and looked into the bonnet-shop; after which they went into the public-house into which the blind man had gone before; and, from the noise which immediately arose from inside, Charles came to the conclusion, that the two white bulldogs and the black and tan terrier had set upon the blind man’s dog, and touzled him.

After the prizefighters came Mr. Gladstone, walking very fast. A large Newfoundland dog with a walking-stick in his mouth, blundered up against him, and nearly threw him down. Before he got under way again, the Irish orange-woman bore down on him, and faced him with three oranges in each hand, offering them for sale. Did she know, with the sagacity of her nation, that he was then on his way to the house, to make a Great Statement, and that he would want oranges? I cannot say. He probably got his oranges at Bellamy’s, for he bought none of her. After him came a quantity of indifferent people; and then Charles’s heart beat high — for here was some one coming whom he knew with a vengeance.

Lord Welter, walking calmly down the street, with his “big chest thrown out, and his broad, stupid face in moody repose. He was thinking. He came so close to Charles that, stepping aside to avoid a passer-by, he whitened the shoulder of his coat against the pipe-clay on Charles’s knee; then he stood stock still within six nches of him, but looking the other way towards the houses.

He pulled off one of his gloves and bit his nails. Though his back was towards Charles, still Charles knew well what expression was on his face as he did that. The old cruel lowering of the eyebrows, and pinching in of the lips was there, he knew. The same expression as that which!Marston remarked the time he quarrelled with Cuthbert once at Ravenshoe — mischief I

He went into the house where Charles’s master, Hornby, was; and Charles sat and wondered.

Presently there came out, on to the balcony above, six or seven well-dressed young men, who lounged with their elbows on the red cushions which were fixed to the railing, and talked, looking at the people in the street.

Lord Welter and Lieutenant Hornby were together at the end. There was no scowl on Welter’s face now; h<’ was making himself agreeable. Charles watched him and Hornby; the conversation between them got eager, and they seemed to make an appointment. After that they parted, and Hornby came down stairs and got on his horse.

They rode very slowly home. Hornby bowed right and left to the people he knew, but seemed absent. When Charles took his horse at the door, he said suddenly to Charles —

“I have been talking to a man who knows something of you, I believe — Lord Welter.”

“Did you mention me to him, sir?” said Charles.

“No; I didn’t think of it.”

“You would do me a great kindness if you would not do so, sir.”

“Why?” said Hornby, looking suddenly up.

“I am sorry I cannot enter into particulars, sir; but, if I thought he would know where I was, I should at once quit your service and try to lose myself once more.”

“Lose yourself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“ETm!” said Hornby, thoughtfully. “Well I know there is something about you which I don’t understand. I ain’t sure it is any lousiness of mine though. I will say nothing. You are not a man to chatter about anything you see. Mind you don’t. You see how I trust you.” And so he went in, and Charles went round to the stable.

“Is the brougham going out tonight?” he asked of his fellow-servant.

“Ordered at ten,” said the man. “Nightwork again, I expect. I wanted to get out too. Consume the darned card-playing. Was you going anywhere tonight?”

“Nowhere,” said Charles.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” said the man. “If you should by chance saunter up toward Grosvenor Square, and could leave a note for me, I should thank you very much; upon my soul, I should.”

I don’t think Charles ever hesitated at doing a good-natured action in his life. A request to him was like a command It came as natural to him now to take a dirty, scrawled love-letter from a groom to a scullery-maid as in old times it did to lend a man fifty pounds. He said at once he would go with great pleasure.

The man (a surly fellow enough at ordinary times) thanked him heartily; and, when Charles had got the letter, he sauntered away in that direction slowly, thinking of many things.

“By Jove,” he said, to himself, “my scheme of hiding does not seem to be very successful. Little more than a fortnight gone, and I am thrown against Welter. What a strange thingj!”

It was still early in the afternoon — seven o’clock, or thereabouts — and he was opposite Tattersall’s. A mail phaeton, with a pair of splendid horses, attracted his attention and diverted his thoughts. He turned down. Two eminent men on the turf walked past him up the nearly empty yard, and he heard one say to the other, —

“Ascot will run to win; that I know. He must. If Haphazard can stay, he is safe.”

To which the other said, “Pish!” and they passed on.

“There they are again,” said Charles, as he turned back. “The very birds of the air are talking about them. It gets interesting, though — if anything could ever be interesting again.”

St. George’s Hospital. At the door was a gaudily dressed, handsome young woman, who was asking the orter could she see some one inside. No. The visiting-hours were over. She stood for a few minutes on the steps, impatiently biting her nails, and then fluttered down the street.

“What made him think of his sister Ellen? She must be found. That was the only object in the world, so to speak. There was nothing to be done, only to wait and watch.

“I shall find her some day, in God’s good time.” The world had just found out that it was hungry, and was beginning to tear about in wheeled vehicles to its neighbours’ houses to dinner. As the carriages passed Charles, he could catch glimpses of handsome girls, all a mass of white muslin, swan’s-down fans, and fal-lals, going to begin their night’s work; of stiff dandies, in white ties, yawning already; of old ladies in jewels, and old gentlemen buttoned up across the chest, going, as one might say, to see fair play among the young people. And then our philosophical Charles pleased himself by picturing how, in two months more, the old gentlemen would be among their turnips, the old ladies among their flowers and their poor folks, the dandies creeping, creeping, weary hours through the heather, till the last maddening moment when the big stag was full in view, sixty yards off; and (prettiest thought of all), how the girls, with their thick shoes on, would be gossiping with old Goody Blake and Harry Gill, or romping with the collage schoolchildren on the lawn. Right, old Charles, with all but the dandies!

For now the apotheosis of dandies was approaching. The time was coming when so many of them should disappear into that black thundercloud to the south, and be seen no more in park or club, in heather or stubble.

But, in that same year, the London season went on much as usual; only folks talked of war, and the French were more popular than they are now. And through the din and hubbub poor Charles passed on like a lost sheep, and left his fellow-servant’s note at an area in Grosvenor Square.

“And which,” said he to the man who took it, with promises of instant delivery, “is my Lord Hainault’s house, now, for instance?”

Lord Hainault’s house was the other side of the square; number something. Charles thanked the man, and went across. When he had made it out, he leant his back against the railings of the square, and watched it.

The carriage was at the door. The coachman, seeing a handsomely-dressed groom leaning against the rails, called to him to come over and alter some strap or another. Charles ran over and helped him. Charles supposed her ladyship was going out to dinner. Yes, her ladyship was now coming out. And, almost before Charles had time to move out of the way, out she came, with her head in the air, more beautiful than ever, and drove away.

He went back to his post from mere idleness. He wondered whether Mary had come there yet or not. He ad half a mind to inquire, but was afraid of being seen. He still leant against the railings of the gate, as I said, in mere idleness, when he heard the sound of children’s voices in the square behind.

“That woman,” said a child’s voice, “was a gipsy-woman. I looked through the rails, and I said, ‘ Hallo, ma’am, what are you doing there 1 ‘ And she asked me for a penny. And I said I couldn’t give her anything, for I had given three halfpence to the Punch and Judy, and I shouldn’t have any more money till next Saturday. “Which was quite true, Flora, as you know.”

“But, Gus,” said another child’s voice, “if she had been a gipsy — woman she would have tried to steal you, and make you beg in the streets; or else she would have told your fortune in coffee-grounds. I don’t think she was a real gipsy.”

“I should like to have my fortune told in the coffee-grounds,” said Gus; “but, if she had tried to steal me, I should have kicked her in her stomach. There is a groom outside there; let us ask him. Grooms go to the races, and see heaps of gipsies! I say, sir.”

Charles turned. A child’s voice was always music to him. He had such a look on his face as he turned to them, that the children had his confidence in an instant. The gipsy question was laid before him instantly, by both Gus and Flora, with immense volubility, and he was just going to give an oracular opinion through the railings, when a voice — a low, gentle voice, which made him start — came from close by.

“Gus and Flora, my clears, the dew is falling. Let us go in.”

“There is Miss Corby,” said Gus. “Let us run to her.”

They raced to Mary. Soon after the three came to the gate, laughing, and passed close to him. The children were clinging to her skirt and talking merrily. They formed a pretty little group as they went across the street, and Mary’s merry little laugh comforted him, “She is happy there,” he said; “best as it is!”

Once, when half-way across the street, she turned and looked towards him, before he had time to turn away. He saw that she did not dream of his being there, and went on. And so Charles sauntered home through the pleasant summer evening, saying to himself, “I think she is happy; I am glad she laughed.”

“Three meetings in one day! I shall be found out, if I don’t mind. I must be very careful.”

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