Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 39

Charles’s Explanation with Lord Welter.

There is a particular kind of Ghost or Devil, which is represented by an isosceles triangle (more or less correctly drawn) for the body; straight lines turned up at the ends for legs; straight lines divided into five at the ends for arms; a round 0, with arbitrary dots for the features, for a head; with a hat, an umbrella, and a pipe. Drawn like this, it is a sufficiently terrible object. But, if you take an ace of clubs, make the club represent the head, add horns, and fill in the body and limbs as above, in deep black, with the feather end of the pen, it becomes simply appalling, and will strike terror into the stoutest heart.

Is this the place, say you, for talking such nonsense as this? If you must give us balderdash of this sort, could not you do so in a chapter with a less terrible heading than this one has? And I answer, “why not let me tell my story my own way? Something depends even on this nonsense of making devils out of the ace of clubs.

It was rather a favourite amusement of Charles’s and Lord Welter’s, in old times at Ranford. They used, on rainy afternoons, to collect all the old aces of clubs

(and there were always plenty of them to be had in that house, God help it), and make devils out of them, each one worse than the first. And now, when Charles had locked the door, and advanced softly up to Welter, he saw, over his shoulder, that he had got an ace of clubs, and the pen and ink, and was making a devil.

It was a trifling circumstance enough, perhaps; but there was enough of old times in it to alter the tone in which Charles said, “Welter,” as he laid his hand on his shoulder.

Lord Welter was a bully; but he was as brave as a lion, with nerves of steel He neither left off his drawing, nor looked up; he only said — “Charley boy, come and sit down till I have finished this fellow. Get an ace of clubs, and try your own hand. I am out of practice.”

Perhaps even Lord Welter might have started when he heard Charles’s voice, and felt his hand on his shoulder; but he had had one instant — only one instant — of preparation. When he heard the key turn in the door, he had looked in a pier-glass opposite to him, and seen who and what was coming, and then gone on with his employnent. Even allowing for this moment’s preparation, we must give him credit for the nerve of one man in ten thousand; for the apparition of Charles Ravenshoe was as unlooked for as that of any one of Charles Ravenshoe’s remote ancestors.

You see, I call him Charles Ravenshoe still. It is a trick. You must excuse it.

Charles did not sit down and draw devils; he said, in a quiet mournful tone,

“Welter, Welter, why have you been such a villain?”

Lord Welter found that a difficult question to answer. He let it alone, and said nothing.

“I say nothing about Adelaide. You did not use me well there; for, when you persuaded her to go off with you, you had not heard of my ruin.”

“On my soul, Charles, there was not much persuasion wanted there.”

“Very likely. I do not want to speak about that, but about Ellen, my sister. Was anything ever done more shamefully than that?”

Charles expected some furious outbreak when he said that. None came. What was good in Lord Welter came to the surface, when he saw his old friend and playmate there before him, sunk so far below hun in all that tills world considers worth having, but rising so far above him in his fearless honour and manliness. He was humbled, sorry, and ashamed. Bitter as Charles’s words were, he felt they were true, and had manhood enough left to” not resent them. To the sensation of fear, as I have said before. Lord Welter was a total stranger, or he might have been nervous at being locked up in a room alone, mth a desperate man, physically his equal, whom he had so shamefully wronged. He rose and leant against the chimney-piece, looking at Charles.

“I did not know she was your sister, Charles. You must do me that justice.”

“Of course you did not. If — ”

“I know what you are going to say — that I should not have dared. On my soul, Charles, I don’t know; I believe I dare do anything. But I tell you one thing — of all the men who walk this earth, you are the last I would willingly wrong. When I went off with Adelaide, I knew she did not care sixpence for you. I knew she would have made you wretched. I knew better than you, because I never was in love with her, and you were, what a heartless ambitious jade it was! She sold herself to me for the title I gave her, as she had tried to sell herself to that solemn prig, Hainault, before. And I bought her, because a handsome, witty, clever wife is a valuable chattel to a man like me, who has to live by his wits.”

“Ellen was as handsome and as clever as she. Why did not you marry her?” said Charles bitterly.

“If you will have the real truth, Ellen would have been Lady Welter now, but — ”

Lord Welter hesitated. He was a great rascal, and he had a brazen front, but he found a difficulty in going on. It must be, I should fancy, very hard work to tell all the little ins and outs of a piece of villany one has been engaged in, and to tell, as Lord Welter did on this occasion, the exact truth.

“I am waiting,” said Charles, “to hear you tell me why she was not made Lady Welter.”

“What, you will have it then? Well, she was too scrupulous. She was too honourable a woman for this ine of business. She wouldn’t play, or learn to play — d — n it, sir, you have got the whole truth now, if that will content you.”

“I believe what you say, my lord. Do you know that Lieutenant Hornby made her an offer of marriage tonight?”

“I supposed he would,” said Lord Welter.

“And that she has refused him?”

“I guessed that she would. She is your own sister. Shall you try to persuade her?”

“I would see her in her cof&n first.”

“So I suppose.”

“She must come away from here. Lord Welter. I must keep her and do what I can for her. We must pull through it together somehow.”

“She had better go from here. She is too good for this hole. I must make provision for her to live with you.”

“Not one halfpenny, my lord. She has lived too long in dependence and disgrace already. We will pull through together alone.”

Lord Welter said nothing, but he determined that Charles should not have his way in this respect.

Charles continued, “When I came into this room tonight I came to quarrel with you. You have not allowed me to do so, and I thank you for it.” Here he paused, and then went on in a lower voice, “I think you are sorry, Welter; are you not? I am sure you are sorry. I am sure you wouldn’t have done it if you had foreseen the consequences, eh?”

Lord Welter’s coarse imcler-lip shook for half a second, and his big chest heaved once; but he said nothing.

“Only think another time; that is all. Now do nie a favour; make me a promise.”

“I have made it.”

“Don’t tell any human soul you have seen me. If you do, you will only entail a new disguise and a new hiding on me. You have promised.”

“On my honour.”

“If you keep your promise, I can stay where I am. How is — Lady Ascot?”

“Well. Nursing my father.”

“Is he ill?”

“Had a fit the day before yesterday. I heard this morning from them. He is much better, and will get over it.”

“Have you heard anything from Ravenshoe?”

“Not a word Lord Saltire and General Mainwaring are both with my father, in London. Grandma won’t see either me or Adelaide. Do you know that she has been moving heaven and earth to find you?”

“Good soul! I won’t be found, though. Now, good night!”

And he went. If any one had told him three months before that he would have been locked in the same room with a man who had done him such irreparable injury, and have left it at the end of half an hour with a quiet “good night,” he would most likely have beaten hat man there and then. But he was getting tamed very fast. Ay, he was already getting more than tamed; he was in a fair way to get broken-hearted.

“I will not see her tonight, sir,” he said to Hornby, whom he found with his head resting on the table; “I will come tomorrow and prepare her for leaving this house. You are to see her the day after tomorrow; but without hope, remember.”

He roused a groom from above the stable to help him to saddle the horses. “Will it soon be morning?” he asked.

“Morning,” said the lad; “it’s not twelve o’clock yet. It’s a dark night, mate, and no moon. But the nights are short now. The dawn will be on us before we have time to turn in our beds.”

He rode slowly home after Hornby. “The night is dark, but the dawn will be upon us before we can turn in our beds! “Only the idle words of a sleepy groom, yet they echoed in his ears all the way home.’ The night is dark indeed; but it will be darker yet before the dawn, Charles Ravenshoe.

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