Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 37.

Lord Welter’s Menage.

There was a time, a time we have seen, when Lord Welter was a merry, humorous, thoughtless boy. A boy, one would have said, with as little real mischief in him as mifjht be. He might have made a decent member of society, who knows? But, to do him justice, he had had everything against him from his earliest childhood. He had never known what a mother was, or a sister. His earliest companions were grooms and gamekeepers; and his religious instruction was got mostly from his grandmother, whose old-fashioned Sunday-morning lectures and collect learnings, so rigidly pursued that he dreaded Sunday of all days in the week, were succeeded by cock-fighting in the Croft with his father in the afternoon, and lounging away the evening among the stable-boys. As Lord Saltire once said, in a former part of this story, “Ranford was what the young men of the day called an uncommon fast house.”

Fast enough, in truth. “All downhill and no drag on.” Welter soon defied his grandmother. For his father he cared nothing. Lord Ascot was so foolishly fond of the boy that he never contradicted him in anything, and sed even to laugh when he was impudent to his grandmother, whom, to do Lord Ascot justice, he respected more than any living woman. Tutors were tried, of whom Welter, by a happy combination of obstinacy and recklessness, managed to vanquish three, in as many months. It was hopeless. Lord Ascot would not hear of his going to school. He was his only boy, his darling. He could not part with him; and, when Lady Ascot pressed the matter, he grew obstinate, as he could at times, and said he would not. The boy would do well enough; he had been just like him at his age, and look at him now!

Lord Ascot was mistaken. He had not been quite like Lord Welter at his age. He had been a very quiet sort of boy indeed. Lord Ascot was a great stickler for blood in horses, and understood such things. I wonder he could not have seen the difference between the sweet, loving face of his mother, capable of violent, furious passion though it was, and that of his coarse, stupid, handsome, gipsy-looking wife, and judged accordingly. He had engrafted a new strain of blood on the old Staunton stock, and was to reap the consequences.

What was to become of Lord Welter was a great problem, still unsolved; when, one night, shortly before Charles paid his first visit to Ranford, vice Cuthbert, disapproved of. Lord Ascot came up, as his custom was, into his mother’s dressing-room, to have half-an-hour’s chat with her before she went to bed.

“I wonder, mother dear,” he said, “whether I ought to ask old Saltire again, or not? He wouldn’t come last time, you know. If I thought he wouldn’t come, I’d ask him.”

“You must ask him,” said Lady Ascot, brushing her grey hair, “and he will come.”

“Very well,” said Lord Ascot. “It’s a bore; but you must have some one to flirt with, I suppose.”

Lady Ascot laughed. In fact, she had written before, and told him that he must come, for she wanted him; and come he did.

“Now, Maria,” said Lord Saltire, on the first night, as soon as he and Lady Ascot were seated together on a quiet sofa, “what is it? Why have you brought me down to meet this mob of jockeys and gamekeepers? A fortnight here, and not a soul to speak to, but Mainwaring and yourself. After I was here last time, dear old Lady Hainault croaked out in a large crowd that some one smelt of the stable.

“Dear old soul,” said Lady Ascot. “What a charming, delicate wit she has. You will have to come here again, though. Every year, mind.”

“Kismet,” said Lord Saltire. “But what is the matter?”

“What do you think of Ascot's boy?”

“Oh, Lord!” said Lord Saltire. “So I have been brought all this way to be consulted about a schoolboy. Well, I think he looks an atrocious young cub, as like his dear mamma as he can be. I always used to expect that she would call me a pretty gentleman, and want to tell my fortune.”

Lady Ascot smiled: she knew her man. She knew he would have died for her and hers.

“He is getting very troublesome,” said Lady Ascot. “What would you reco — ”

“Send him to Eton,” said Lord Saltire.

“But he is very high-spirited, James, and — ”

Send him to Eton. Do you hear, Maria?”

“But Ascot won’t let him go,” said Lady Ascot.

“Oh, he won’t, won’t he?” said Lord Saltire. “Now, let us hear no more of the cub, but have our picquet in peace.”

The next morning Lord Saltire had an interview with Lord Ascot, and two hours afterwards it was known that Lord Welter was to go to Eton at once.

And so, when Lord Welter met Charles at Twyford, he told him of it.

At Eton, he had rapidly found other boys brought up with the same tastes as himself, and with these he consorted. A rapid interchange of experiences went on among these young gentlemen; which ended in Lord Welter, at all events, being irreclaimably vicious.

Lord Welter had fallen in love with Charles, as boys do, and their friendship had lasted on, waning as it went, till they permanently met again at Oxford. There, though their intimacy was as close as ever, the old love died out, for a time, amidst riot and debauchery. Charles had some sort of a creed about women; Lord Welter had none. Charles drew a line at a certain point, low down it might be, which he never passed; Welter set no bounds anywhere. What Lord Hainault said of him at Tattersall’s was true. One day, when they had been arguing on this point rather sharply, Charles said —

“If you mean what you say, you are not fit to come into a gentleman’s house. But you don’t mean it, old cock; so don’t be an ass.”

He did mean it, and Charles was right. Alas! that ever he should have come to Ravenshoe!

Lord Welter had lived so long in the house with Adelaide that he never thought of making love to her. They used to quarrel, like Benedict and Beatrice. What happened was her fault. She was worthless. Worthless. Let us have done with it. I can expand over Lord Saltire and Lady Ascot, and such good people, but I cannot over her, more than is necessary.

Two things Lord Welter was very fond of — brawling and dicing. He was an arrant bully; very strong, and perfect in the use of his fists, and of such courage and tenacity that, having once begun a brawl, no one had ever made him leave it, save as an unqualified victor. This was getting well known now. Since he had left Oxford and had been living in London, he had been engaged in two or three personal encounters in the terribly fast society to which he had betaken himself, and men were getting afraid of him. Another thing was, that, drink as he would, he never played the worse for it. He was a lucky player. Sometimes, after winning money of a man, he would ask him home to have his revenge. That man generally went again and again to Lord Welter’s house in St. John’s Wood, and did not find himself any the richer. It was the most beautiful little gambling den in London, and it was presided over by one of the most beautiful, witty, fascinating women ever seen. A woman with whom all the men fell in love; so staid, so respectable, and charmingly behaved. Lord Welter always used to call her Lady Welter; so they all called her Lady Welter too, and treated her as though she were.

But this Lady Welter was soon to be dethroned to make room for Adelaide. A day or two before they went off together, this poor woman got a note from Welter to tell her to prepare for a new mistress. It was no blow to her. He had prepared her for it for some time. There might have been tears, wild tears, in private; but what cared he for the tears of such an one? When Lord Welter and Adelaide came home, and Adelaide came with him into the hall, she advanced towards her, dressed as a waiting-woman, and said quietly,

“You are welcome home, madam.”

It was Ellen, and Lord Welter was the delinquent, as you have guessed already. When she fled from Ravenshoe, she was flying from the anger of her supposed brother William; for he thought he knew all about it; and, when Charles and Marston saw her passing roimd the cliff, she was making her weary way on foot towards Exeter to join him in London. After she was missed, William had written to Lord Welter, earnestly begging him to tell him if he had heard of her. And Welter had written back to him that he knew nothing, on his honour. Alas for Welter’s honour, and William’s folly in believing him!

Poor Ellen! Lord Welter had thought that she would have left the house, and had good reason for thinking so. But, when he got home, there she was. All her finery cast away, dressed plainly and quietly. And there she stayed, waiting on Adelaide, demure and quiet as a waiting-woman should be. Adelaide had never been to Ravenshoe, and did not know her. Lord Welter had calculated on her going; but she stayed on. Why?

You must bear with me, indeed you must, at such times as these. I touch as lightly as I can; but I have undertaken to tell a story, and I must tell it. These things are going on about us, and we try to ignore them, till they are thnist rudely upon us, as they are twenty times a year. No English story about young men could lie complete without bringing in subjects which some may think best left alone. Let us comfort ourselves with one great, undeniable fact, — the immense improvement in morals which has taken place in the last ten years. The very outcry which is now raised against such relations shows plainly one thing at least — that undeniable facts are being winked at no longer, and that some reform is coming. Every younger son who can command £200 a year ought to be allowed to marry in his own rank in life, whatever that may be. They will bo uncomfortable, and have to save and push; and very good thing for them. They won’t lose caste. There are some things worse than mere discomfort. Let lis look at bare facts, which no one dare deny. There is in the great world, and the upper middle-class world too, a crowd of cadets; younger sons, clerks, officers in the army, and so on; non-marrying men, as the slang goes, who are asked out to dine and dance with girls who are their equals in rank, and who have every opportunity of falling in love with them. And yet if one of this numerous crowd were to dare to fall in love with, and to propose to, one of these girls, he would be denied the house. It is the fathers and mothers who are to blame, to a great extent, for the very connexions they denounce so loudly. But yet the very outcry they are raising against these connexions is a hopeful sign.

Lieutenant Hornby, walking up and down the earth to see what mischief he could get into, had done a smart stroke of business in that way, by making the acquaintance of Lord Welter at a gambling-house. Hornby was a very good fellow. He had two great pleasures in life. One, I am happy to say, was soldiering, at which he worked like a horse, and the other, I am very sorry to say, was gambling, at which he worked a great deal harder than he should. He was a marked man among professional players. Every one knew how awfully rich he was, and every one in succession had a “shy ” at him. He was not at all particular. He would accept a battle with any one. Gaming men did all sorts of dirty things to get introduced to him, and play with him. The greater number of them had their wicked will; but the worst of it was, that he always won. Sometimes, at a game of chance, he might lose enough to encourage his enemies to go on; but at games of skill no one could touch him. His billiard playing was simply masterly. And Dick Ferrers will tell you, that he and Hornby, being once, I am very sorry to say, together at G— n — ch r — r, were accosted in the park by a skittle-sharper, and that Hornby (who would, like Faust, have played chess with Old Gooseberry) allowed himself to be taken into a skittle-ground, from which he came out in half an hour victorious over the skittle-sharper, beating him easily.

In the heyday of his fame, Lord Welter was told of him, and saying, “Give me the daggers,” got introduced to him. They had a tournament at ecarte, or billiards, or something or another of that sort, it don’t matter; and Lord Welter asked him up to St. John’s Wood, where he saw Ellen.

He lost that night liberally, as he could afford to; and, with very little persuasion, was induced to come there the next. He lost liberally again. He had fallen in love with Ellen.

Lord Welter saw it, and made use of it as a bait to draw on Hornby to play. Ellen’s presence was, of course, a great attraction to him, and he came and played; but unluckily for Lord Welter, after a few nights his luck changed, or he took more care, and he began to

Win again; so much so that, about the time when Adelaide came home, my Lord Welter had had nearly enough of Lieutenant Hornby, and was in hopes that he should have got rid of Ellen and him together; for his lordship was no fool about some tilings, and saw plainly this — that Hornby was passionately fond of Ellen, and, moreover, that poor Ellen had fallen deeply in love with Hornby.

So, when he came home, he was surprised and angry to find her there. She would not go. She would stay and wait on Adelaide. She had been asked to go; but had refused sharply the man she loved. Poor girl, she had her reasons; and we shall see what they were. Now you know what I meant when I wondered whether or no Charles would have burnt Hornby’s house down if he had known all. But you will be rather inclined to forgive Hornby presently, as Charles did when he came to know everything.

But the consequence of Ellen’s staying on as servant to Adelaide brought this with it, that Hornby determined that he would have the entree of the house in St. John’s Wood, at any price. Lord Welter guessed this, and guessed that Hornby would be inclined to lose a little money in order to gain it. When he brushed Charles’s knee in Piccadilly he was deliberating whether or no he should ask him back there again. As he stood unconsciously, almost touching Charles, he came to the determination that he would try what bargain he could make with the honour of Charles’s sister, whom he had so shamefully injured lready. And Charles saw them make the appointment together in the balcony. How little he guessed for what!

Lord Hainault was right. Welter was a scoundrel. But Hornby was not, as we shall see.

Hornby loved play for play’s sake. And, extravagant dandy though he was, the attorney blood of his father came out sometimes so strong in him that, although he would have paid any price to be near, and speak to Ellen, yet he could not help winning, to Lord Welter’s great disgust, and his own great amusement. Their game, I believe, was generally picquet or ecarte, and at both these he was Lord Welter’s master. What with his luck and his superior play, it was very hard to lose decently sometimes; and sometimes, as I said, he would cast his plans to the winds, and win terribly. But he always repented when he saw Lord Welter get savage, and lost dutifully, though at times he could barely keep his countenance. Nevertheless the balance he allowed to Lord Welter made a very important item in that gentleman’s somewhat precarious income.

But, in spite of all his sacrifices, he but rarely got even a glimpse of Ellen. And, to complicate matters, Adelaide, who sat by and watched the play, and saw Hornby purposely losing at times, got it into her silly head that he was in love with her. She liked the man; who did not? But she had honour enough left to be mde to him. Hornby saw all this, and was amused. I often think that it must have been a fine spectacle, to see the honoumble man playing with the scoundrel, and iving him just as much line as he chose. And, when I call Hornby an honourable man I mean what I say, as you will see.

This was the state of things when the Derby crash came. At half-past five on that day the Viscountess Welter dashed up to her elegant residence in St. John’s Wood, in a splendid barouche, drawn by four horses, and when “her people ” came and opened the door and let down the steps, lazily descended, and, followed by her footman bearing her fal-lals, lounged up the steps as if life were really too ennuyant to be born any longer. Three hours afterwards, a fierce eager woman, plainly dressed, with a dark veil, was taking apartments in the Bridge Hotel, London Bridge, for Mr. and Mrs. Staunton, who were going abroad in a few days; and was overseeing, with her confidential servant, a staid man in black, the safe stowage of numerous hasped oak boxes, the most remarkable thing about which, was their great weight. The lady was Lady Welter, and the man was Lord Welter’s confidential scoundrel. The landlord thought they had robbed Hunt and Roskell’s, and were off with the plunder, till he overheard the man say, “I think that is all, my lady’; ” after which he was quite satisfied. The fact was that all the Ascot race plate, gold salvers and epergnes, silver cups rough with designs of the chase, and possibly also some of the Ascot family jewels, were so disgusted with the state of things in England, that they were thinking of going for a little trip on the Continent. What should a dutiful wife do but see to their safe stowage? If any enterprising burglar had taken it into his head to “crack ” that particular “crib ” known as the Bridge Hotel, and got clear off with the “swag,” he might have retired on the hard-earned fruits of a well-spent life, into happier lands — might have been “run ” for M,L.C., or possibly for Congress in a year or two. Who can tell?

And, also, if Lord Welter’s confidential scoundrel had taken it into his head to waylay and rob his lordship’s noble consort on her way home — which he was quite capable of doing — and if he also had got clear off, he would have found himself a better man by seven hundred and ninety-four pounds, three half-crowns, and a — threepenny piece; that is, if he had done it before her ladyship had paid the cabman. But both the burglars and the valet missed the tide, and the latter regrets it to this day.

At eleven o’clock that night Lady Welter was lolling leisurely on her drawingroom sofa, quite bored to death. When Lord Welter, and Hornby, and Sir Robert Ferrers, and some Dragoons came in, she was yawning, as if life was really too much of a plague to be endured. Would she play loo? Oh, yes; anything after such a wretched, lonely evening. That was the game where you had three cards, wasn’t it, and you needn’t go on unless you liked? Would Welter or some one lend her some money? She had got a threepenny piece and a shilling somewhere or another, but that would not be enough, she supposed, where was Sir Robert’s little brother?

Gone to bed? How tiresome; she had fallen in love with him, and had set her heart on seeing him tonight; and so on.

Lord Welter gave her a key, and told her there was some money in his dressing-case. As she left the room, Hornby, who was watching them, saw a quick look of intelligence pass between them, and laughed in his sleeve.

I have been given to understand that guinea unlimited loo is a charming pursuit, soothing to the feelings, and highly improving to the moral tone. I speak from hearsay, as circumstances over which I have no control have prevented my ever trying it. But this I know — that, if Lord Welter’s valet had robbed his master and mistress when they went to bed that night; instead of netting seven hundred and ninety-four, seven, nine, he would have netted eleven hundred and forty-six, eight, six; leaving out the threepenny-piece. But he didn’t do it; and Lord and Lady Welter slept that sleep which is the peculiar reward of a quiet conscience, undisturbed.

But, next morning, when Charles waited on Hornby in his dressing-room, the latter said —

“I shall want you tonight, lad. I thought I might have last night; but, seeing the other fellows went, I left you at home. Be ready at half-past six. I lost a hundred and twenty pounds last night I don’t mean to afford it any longer. I shall stop it.”

“Where are we to go to, sir?”

“To St. John’s Wood. We shall be up late. Leave the servant’s hall, and come up and lie in the hall as if you were asleep. Don’t let yourself be seen. ‘No one win notice you.”

Charles little thought where he was going.

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