Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 35.

In which an Entirely New, And, as Will Be Seen Hereafter, a Most Important Character is Introduced.

The servants, I mean the stable-servants, who lived in the mews where Charles did, had a club; and, a night or two after he had seen Mary in the square, he was elected a member of it. The duke’s coachman, a wiry, grey, stern-looking, elderly man, waited upon him and informed him of the fact. He said that such a course was very unusual — in fact, without precedent. Men, he said, were seldom elected to the club until they were known to have been in good service for some years; but he (coachman) had the ear of the club pretty much, and had brought him in triumphant. He added that he could see through a brick wall as well as most men, and that, when he see a gentleman dressed in a livery, moping and brooding about the mews, he had said to himself that he wanted a little company, such as it was, to cheer him up, and so he had requested the club, &c.; and the club had done as he told them,

“Now, this is confoundedly kind of you,” said Charles; “but I am not a gentleman; I am a game-keeper’s son.”

“I suppose you can read Greek, now, can’t you?” said the coachman.

Charles was obliged to confess he could.

“Of course,” said the coachman; “all gamekeepers’ sons is forced to learn Greek, in order as they may slang the poachers in an unknown tongue. Fiddle-de-dee! I know all about it; leastwise, guess. Come along with me; why, I’ve got sous as old as you. Come along.”

“Are they in service?” said Charles, by way of something to say.

“Two of ’em are, but one’s in the army.”

“Indeed!” said Charles, with more interest.

“Ay; he is in your governor’s regiment.”

“Does he like it?” said Charles. “I should like to know him.”

“Like it? — don’t he?” said the coachman. “See what society he gets into. I suppose there ain’t no gentlemen’s sons troopers in that regiment, eh? Oh dear no. Don’t for a moment suppose it, young man. Not at all.”

Charles was very much interested by this news. He made up his mind there and then that he would enlist immediately. But he didn’t; he only thought about it.

Charles found that the club was composed of about a dozen coachmen and superior pad-grooms. They were very civil to him, and to one another. There was nothing to laugh at. There was nothing that could be tortured into ridicule. They talked about their horses and their business quite naturally. There was an air of kindly fellowship, and a desire for mutual assistance among them, which, at times, Charles had not noticed at the university. One man sang a song, and sang it very prettily too, about stag-hunting. He had got as far as —

“As every breath with sobs he drew,

The labouring buck strained full in view,”

when the door opened, and an oldish groom came in.

The song was not much attended to now. When the singer had finished, the others applauded him, but impatiently; and then there was a general exclamation of “Well?”

“I’ve just come down from the corner. There has been a regular run against Haphazard, and no one knows why. Something wrong with the horse, I suppose, because there’s been no run on any other in particular, only against him.”

“Was Lord Ascot there?” said some one.

-’ Ah, that he was. Wouldn’t bet, though, even at the long odds. Said he’d got every sixpence he was worth on the horse, and would stand where he was; and that’s true, they say. And master says, likewise, that Lord Welter would have taken ’em, but that his father stopped him.”

“That looks queerish,” said some one else.

“Ay, and wasn’t there a jolly row, too?”

“Who with?” asked several.

“Lord Welter and Lord Hainault. It happened outside, close to me. Lord Hainault was walking across the yard, and Lord Welter came up to him and said, ‘How d’ye do, Hainault?’ and Lord Hainault turned round and said, quite quiet, ‘Welter, you are a scoundrel! ‘ And Lord Welter said, ‘ Hainault, you are out of your senses; ‘ but he turned pale, too, and he looked — Lord! I shouldn’t like to have been before him — and Lord Hainault says, ‘ You know what I mean; ’ and Lord Welter says, ‘ No, I don’t; but, by Gad, you shall tell me; ‘ and then the other says, as steady as a rock, ‘ I’ll tell you. You are a man that one daren’t leave a woman alone with. Where’s that Casterton girl? Where’s Adelaide Summers? Neither a friend’s house, nor your own father’s house, is any protection for a woman against you.’ ‘Gad,’ says Lord Welter, ‘ You were pretty sweet on the last-named yourself, once on a time.’ ”

“Well!” said some one, “and what did Lord Hainault say?”

“He said, ‘You are a liar and a scoundrel, Welter.’ And then Lord Welter came at him; but Lord Ascot came between them, shaking like anything, and says he, ‘Hainault, go away, for God’s sake; you don’t know what you are saying. — Welter, be silent.’ But they made no more of he than —” (here our friend as at a loss for a simile).

“But how did it end?” asked Charles.

“Well,” said the speaker, “General Mainwaring came up, and laid his hand on Lord Welter’s shoulder, and took him off pretty quiet. And that’s all I know about it.”

It was clearly all. Charles rose to go, and walked hy himself from street to street, thinking.

Suppose he was to be thrown against Lord Welter, how should he act? what should he say? Truly it was a puzzling question. The anomaly of his position was never put before him more strikingly than now. What could he say? what could he do?

After the first shock, the thought of Adelaide’s unfaithfulness was not so terrible as on the first day or two; many little unamiable traits of character, vanity, selfishness, and so on, unnoticed before, began to come forth in somewhat startling relief., Anger, indignation, and love, all three jumbled up together, each one by turns in the ascendant, were the frames of mind in which Charles found himself when he began thinking about her. One moment he was saying to himself, “How beautiful she was!” and the next, “She was as treacherous as a tiger; she never could have cared for me.” But, when he came to think of Welter, his anger overmastered everything, and he would clench his teeth as he walked along, and for a few moments feel the blood rushing to his head and singing in his ears. Let us hope that Lord Welter will not come across him while he is in that mood, or there will be mischief

But his anger was soon over. He had just had one of these fits of anger as he walked along; and he was, like a good fellow, trying to conquer it, by thinking of Lord Welter as he was as a boy, and before he was a villain, when he came before St. Peter’s Church, in Eaton Square, and stopped to look at some fine horses which were coming out of Salter’s.

At the east end of St. Peter’s Church there is a piece of bare white wall in a corner, and in front of the wall was a little shoeblack.

He was not one of the regular brigade, with a red shirt, but an “Arab” of the first water. He might have been seven or eight years old, but was small. His whole dress consisted of two garments; a ragged shirt, with no buttons, and half of one sleeve gone, and a ragged pair of trousers, which, small as he was, were too small for him, and barely reached below his knees. His feet and head were bare: and under a vivid, tangled shock of hair looked a pretty, dirty, roguish face, with a pair of grey, twinkling eyes, which was amazingly comical. Charles stopped, watching him, and, as he did so, felt what we have most of us felt, I dare say — that, at certain times of vexation and anger, the company and conversation of children is the best thing for us.

The little man was playing at fives against the bare wall, with such tremendous energy — that he did not notice that Charles had stopped and was looking at him. Every nerve in his wiry lean little body was braced up to the game; his heart and soul were as eeply enlisted in it, as though he were captain of the eleven, or stroke of the eight.

He had no ball to play with, but he played with a brass button. The button flew hither and thither, being so irregular in shape, and the boy dashed after it like lightning. At last, after he had kept up five-and-twenty or so, the button flew over his head and lighted at Charles’s feet.

As the boy turned to get it, his eyes met Charles’s, and he stopped, parting the long hair from his forehead, and gazing on him till the beautiful little face, beautiful through dirt and ignorance and neglect, lit up with a smile, as Charles looked at him, with the kind, honest old expression. And so began their acquaintance, almost comically at first.

Charles don’t care to talk much about that boy now. If he ever does, it is to recall his comical humorous sayings and doings in the first part of their strange friendship. He never speaks of the end, even to me.

The boy stood smiling at him, as I said, holding his long hair out of his eyes; and Charles looked on him and laughed, and forgot all about Welter and the rest of them at once.

“I want my boots cleaned,” he said.

The boy said, “I can’t clean they dratted top-boots. I cleaned a groom’s boots a Toosday, and he punched my block because I blacked the tops. Where did that button go?”

And Charles said, ” You can clean the lower part of my boots, and do no harm. Your button is here against the lamp-post.”

The boy picked it up, and got his apparatus ready. But, before he began, he looked up in Charles’s face, as if he was going to speak; then he began vigorously, but in half a minute looked up again and stopped.

Charles saw that the boy liked him, and wanted to talk to him; so he began, severely, —

“How came you to be playing fives with a brass button, eh?”

The boy struck work at once, and answered, “I ain’t got no ball.”

“If you begin knocking stamped pieces of metal about in the street,” continued Charles, “you will come to chuck-farthing; and from chuck-farthing to the gallows is a very short step indeed, I can assure you.”

The boy did not seem to know whether Charles was joking or not. He cast a quick glance up at his face; but, seeing no sign of a smile there, he spat on one of his brushes, and said, —

“Not if you don’t cheat, it ain’t.”

Charles suffered the penalty, which usually follows on talking nonsense, of finding himself in a dilemma. So he said imperiously, —

“I shall buy you a ball tomorrow; I am not going to have you knocking buttons about against people’s walls in broad daylight, like that.”

It was the first time that the boy had ever heard nonsense talked in his life. It was a new sensation. He ave a sharp look up into Charles’s face again, and then went on with his work.

“Where do you live, my little mannikin?” said Charles directly, in that quiet pleasant voice I know so well.

The boy did not look up this time. It was not very often, possibly, that he got spoken to so kindly by his patrons; he worked away, and answered that he lived in Marquis Court, in Southwark.

”Why do you come so far then? “asked Charles.

The boy told him why he plodded so wearily, day after day, over here in the West-end. It was for family reasons, into which I must not go too closely. Somebody, it appeared, still came home, now and then, just once in a way, to see her mother, and to visit the den where she was bred; and there was still left one who would wait for her week after week — still one pair of childish feet, bare and dirty, that would patter back beside her — still one childish voice that would prattle with her on the way to her hideous home, and call her sister.

“Have you any brothers?”

Five altogether. Jim was gone for a sojer, it appeared; and Nipper was sent over the water. Harry was on the cross —

“On the cross?” said Charles.

“Ah!” the boy said, “he goes out cly-faking and such. He’s a prig, and a smart one, too. He’s fly, is Harry.”

“But what is cly-faking?” said Charles.

“Why a-prigging of wipes, and sneeze-boxes, and ridicules, and such.”

Charles was not so ignorant of slang as not to understand what his little friend meant now. He said —

“But you are not a thief, are you?”

The boy looked up at him frankly and honestly, and said —

“Lord bless you, no! I shouldn’t make no hand of that. I ain’t brave enough for that!”

He gave the boy twopence, and gave orders that one penny was to be spent in a ball. And then he sauntered listlessly away — every day more listless, and not three weeks gone yet.

His mind returned to this child very often. He found himself thinking more about the little rogue than he could explain. The strange babble of the child, prattling so innocently, and, as he thought, so prettily, about vice, and crime, and misery; about one brother transported, one a thief — and you see he could love his sister even to the very end of it all. Strange babble indeed from a child’s lips.

He thought of it again and agam, and then, dressing himself plainly, he went up to Grosvenor Square, where Mary would be walking with Lord Charles Herries’s children. He wanted to hear them talk.

He was right in his calculations; the children were there. All three of them this time; and Hary was there too. They were close to the rails, and he leant his back on them, and heard every word.

“Miss Corby,” said Gus, “if Lady Ascot is such a good woman, she will go to heaven when she dies 1 ”

“Yes, indeed, my dear,” said Mary.

“And, when grandma dies, will she go to heaven, too 1 ” said the artful Gus, knowing as well as possible that old Lady Hainault and Lady Ascot were deadly enemies.

“I hope so, my dear,” said Mary.

“But does Lady Ascot hope so? Do you think grandma would be happy if — ”

It became high time to stop master Gus, who was getting on too fast. Mary having bowled him out, Miss Flora had an innings.

“When I grow up,” said Flora, “I shall wear knee-breeches and top-boots, and a white bulldog, and a long clay pipe, and I shall drive into Henley on a market-day and put up at the Catherine Wheel”

Mary had breath enough left to ask her why.

“Because Farmer Thompson at Casterton dresses like that, and he is such a dear old darling. He gives us strawberries and cream; and in his garden are gooseberries and peacocks; and the peacocks’ wives don’t spread out their tails like their husbands do, — the foolish things. Now, when I am married — ”

Gus was rude enough to interrupt her here. He remarked —

“When Archy goes to heaven, he’ll want the cat to come to bed with him; and, if he can’t get her, there’ll be a pretty noise.”

“My dears,” said Mary, “you must not talk any more nonsense; I can’t permit it.”

“But, my dear Miss Corby,” said Flora, “we haven’t been talking nonsense, have we? I told you the tnith about Farmer Thompson.”

“I know what she means,” said Gus; “we have been saying what came into our heads, and it vexes her. It is all nonsense, you know, about you wearing breeches and spreading out your tail like a peacock; we mustn’t vex her.”

Flora didn’t answer Gus, but answered Mary by climbing on her knee and kissing her. “Tell us a story, dear,” said Gus.

“What shall I tell?” said Mary.

“Tell us about Ravenshoe,” said Flora; “tell us about the fishermen, and the priest that walked about like a ghost in the dark passages; and about Cuthbert Ptavenshoe, who was always saying his prayers; and about the other one who won the boat race.”

“Which one?” said silly Mary.

“Why, the other; the one you like best. What was his name?”

“Charles!”

How quietly and softly she said it! The word left her lips like a deep sigh. One who heard it was a gentleman still. He had heard enough, perhaps too much, and walked away towards the stable and the public-house, leaving her in the gathering gloom of the summer's evening under the red hawthorns, and laburnums, among the children. And, as he walked away, he thought of the night he left Ravenshoe, when the little figure was standing in the hall all alone. “ She might have loved me, and I her,” he said, “if the world were not out of joint; God grant it may not be so!” And, although he said, “God grant she may not,” he really wished it had been so; and from this very time Mary began to take Adelaide’s place in his heart.

Not that he was capable of falling in love with any woman at this time. He says he was crazy, and I believe him to a certain extent. It was a remarkably lucky thing for him that he had so diligently neglected his education. If he had not, and had found himself in his present position, with three or four times more of intellectual cravings to be satisfied, he would have gone mad, or taken to drinking. I, who write, have seen the thing happen.

But, before the crash came, I have seen Charles patiently spending the morning cutting gun-wads from an old hat, in preference to going to his books. It was this interest in trifles which saved him just now. He could think at times, and had had education enough to think logically; but his brain was not so active but that he could cut gun-wads for an hour or so; though his friend William could cut one-third more gun-wads out of an old hat than he.

He was thinking now, in his way, about these children — about Gus and Flora on the one hand, and the little shoeblack on the other. Both so innocent and retty, and yet so different. He had taken himself from the one world and thrown himself into the other. There were two worlds and two standards — gentlemen and non-gentlemen. The “lower orders “did not seem to be so particular about the character of their immediate relations as the upper. That, was well, for he belonged to the former now, and had a sister. If one of Lord Charles Herries’s children had gone wrong, Gus and Flora would never have talked of him or her to a stranger. He must learn the secret of this armour which made the poor so invulnerable. He must go and talk to the little shoeblack.

He thought that was the reason why he went to look after the little rogue next day; but that was not the real reason. The reason was, that he had found a friend in a lower grade than himself, who would admire him and look up to him. The first friend of that sort he had made since his fall. What that friend accidentally saved him from, we shall see.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/henry/ravenshoe/chapter35.html

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