Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 40.

A Dinner Party Among Some Old Friends.

Lady Hainault (nee Burton, not the Dowager) had asked some one to dinner, and the question had been whom to ask to meet him. Mary had been called into consultation, as she generally was on most occasions, and she and Lady Hainault had made up a list together. Every one had accepted, and was coming; and here were Mary and Lady Hainault, dressed for dinner, alone in the drawingroom with the children.

“We could not have done better for him, Mary, I think. You must go in to dinner with him.”

“Is Mary going to stop down to dinner?” said the youngest boy; “what a shame! I sha’n’t say my prayers tonight if she don’t come up.”

The straightforward Gus let his brother know what would be the consequences of such neglect hereafter, in a plain-spoken way peculiarly his own.

“Gus! Gus I don’t say such things,” said Lady Hainault.

“The hymn-book says so, aunt,” said Gus, triumphantly; and he quoted a charming little verse of Dr. Watts’s, beginning, “There is a dreadful Hell”

Lady Hainault might have been puzzled what to say, and Mary would not have helped her, for they had had an argument about that same hymn-book (Mary contending that one or two of the hymns were as well left alone at first), when Flora struck in and saved her aunt, by remarking,

“I shall save up my money and buy some jewels for Mary like aunt’s, so that when she stays down to dinner some of the men may fall in love with her, and marry her.”

“Pooh! you silly goose,” said Gus, “those jewels cost sixty million thousand pounds a-piece. I don’t want her to be married till I grow up, and then I shall marry her myself. Till then I shall buy her a yellow wig, like grandma Hainault’s, and then nobody will want to marry her.”

“Be quiet, Gus,” said Lady Hainault.

It was one thing to say “be quiet, Gus,” and it was another thing to make him hold his tongue. But, to do Gus justice, he was a good fellow, and never acted “enfant terrible ” but to the most select and private audience. Now he had begun: “I wish some one would marry grandma,” when the door was thrown open, the first guest was announced, and Gus was dumb.

“General Mainwaring.” The general sat down between Lady Hainault and Mary, and, while talking to them, reached out his broad brown hand and lifted the youngest boy on his knee, who played with his ribands, and cried out that he would have the orange and blue ne, if he pleased; while Gus and Flora came and stood at his knee.

He talked to them both sadly in a low voice about the ruin which had come on Lord Ascot. There was worse than mere ruin, he feared. He feared there was disgrace. He had been with him that morning. He was a wreck. One side of his face was sadly pulled down, and he stammered in his speech. He would get over it. He was only three-and-forty. But he would not show again in society, he feared. Here was somebody else; they would change the subject.

Lord Saltire. They were so glad to see him. Every one’s face had a kind smile on it as the old man came and sat down among them. His own smile was not the least pleasant of the lot, I warrant you.

“So you are talking about poor Ascot, eh?” he said. “I don’t know whether you were or not; but, if you were, let us talk about something else. You see, my dear Miss Corby, that my prophecy to you on the terrace at Ravenshoe is falsified. I said they would not fight, and lo, they are as good as at it.”

They talked about the coming war, and Lord Hainault came in and j(jined them. Soon after another guest was announced.

Lady Ascot. She was dressed in dark grey silk, with her white hair simply parted under a plain lace cap. She looked so calm, so brave, so kind, so beautiful, as she came with firm strong step in at the door, that they one and all rose and came towards her. She ad always been loved by them all; how much more deeply was she loved now, when her bitter troubles had made her doubly sacred.

Lord Saltire gave her his arm, and she came and sat down among them with her hands calmly folded before her.

“I was determined to come and see you tonight, my dear,” she said. “I should break down if I couldn’t see some that I loved. And tonight, in particular” (she looked earnestly at Lord Saltire). “Is he come yet?”

“Not yet, dear grandma,” said Mary.

“No one is coming besides, I suppose?” asked Lady Ascot.

“No one; we are waiting for him.”

The door was opened once more, and they all looked curiously round. This time the servant announced, perhaps in a somewhat louder tone than usual, as if he were aware that they were more interested,

“Mr. Ravenshoe.”

A well-dressed, gentlemanly-looking man came into the room, bearing such a wonderful likeness to Charles Ravenshoe, that Lady Hainault and General Mainwaring, the only two who had never seen him before, started, and thought they saw Charles himself It was not Charles, though; it was our old friend, William, whilom pad-groom to Charles Ravenshoe, Esquire, now himself “William Ravenshoe, Esquire, of Ravenshoe.

He was the guest of the evening. He would be heir to Ravenshoe himself some day; for they had made up their minds that Cuthbert would never marry. Ravenshoe, as Cuthbert was managing it now, would be worth ten or twelve thousand a year, and, if these new tin lodes came to anything, perhaps twenty. He had been a stable-helper, said old Lady Hainault — the companion of the drunken riots of his foster-brother impostor, and that quiet gentlemanly creature Welter. If he entered the house, she left it. To which young Lady Hainault had replied that some one must ask him to dinner in common decency, if it was only for the sake of that dear Charles, who had been loved by every one who knew him. That she intended to ask him to dinner, and that, if her dear mother-in-law objected to meet him, why the remedy lay with herself. Somebody must introduce him to some sort of society; and Lord Hainault and herself had made up their minds to do it, so that further argimient on the subject would be wasted breath. To which the Dowager replied that she really wished, after all, that Hainault had married that pretty chit of a thing, Adelaide Summers, as he was thinking of doing ; as she, the Dowager, could not have been treated with greater insolence even by her, bold as she was. With which Parthian piece of spite she had departed to Casterton with. Miss Hicks, and had so goaded and snapped at that unfortunate reduced gentlewoman by the Nvay, that at last Hicks, as her wont was, had turned upon her and given her as good as she brought. If the Dowager could have heard Lady Hainault telling her lord the whole business that night, and joking with him about his alleged penchant for Adelaide and heard the jolly laugh that those two good souls had about it, her ladyship would have been more spiteful still.

But, nevertheless, Lady Hainault was very nervous about William. When Mary was consulted, she promptly went bail for his good behaviour, and pled his cause so warmly that the tears stood in her eyes. Her old friend William! What innocent plots she and he had hatched together against the priest in old times. What a bond there was between them in their mutual love for him who was lost to them.

But Lady Hainault would be on the safe side; and so only the party named above were asked. All old friends of the family.

Before dinner was announced they were all at their ease about him. He was shy certainly, but not awkward. He evidently knew that he was asked there on trial, and he accepted his position. But he was so handsome (handsomer than poor Charles), he was so gentle and modest, and — perhaps, too, not least — had such a well modulated voice, that before the evening was over he had won every one in the room. If he knew anything of a subject he helped the conversation quietly, as well as he could; if he had to confess ignorance (which was seldom, for he was among well-bred people) he did so frankly, but unobtrusively. He was a great success.

One thing puzzled him, and pleased him. He knew that he was a person of importance, and that he was the guest of the evening. But he soon found that there was another cause for his being interesting to them all, more powerful than his curious position, or his prospective wealth; and that was his connexion with Charles Ravenshoe, now Horton. He was the hero of the evening. Half William’s light was borrowed from him. He quickly became aware of it, and it made him happy.

How strange it is that some men have the power of winning such love from all they meet. I knew one, gone from us now by a glorious death, who had that faculty. Only a few knew his great worth and goodness; and yet, as his biographer most truly says, those who once saw his face never forgot it. Charles Ravenshoe had that faculty also, though, alas, his value, both in worth and utility, was far inferior to that of the man to whom I have alluded above.* But he had the same infinite kindness towards everything created; which is part of the secret.

* I mean C. M.

The first hint that William had, as to how deeply important a person Charles was among the present company, was given him at dinner. Various subjects had been talked of indifferently, and William had listened, till Lord Hainault said to William,

“What a strange price people are giving for cobs! I saw one sold to day at Tattersall’s for ninety guineas.”

William answered, “Good cobs are very hard to get, Lord Hainault. I could get you ten good horses over fifteen, for one good cob.”

Lord Saltire said, “My cob is the best I ever had; and a sweet-tempered creature. Our dear boy broke it for me at Ravenshoe.”

“Dear Charles,” said Lady Ascot. “What a splendid rider he was! Dear boy! He got Ascot to write him a certificate about that sort of thing before he went away. Ah, dear!”

“I never thought,” said Lord Saltire, quietly, “that I ever should have cared half as much for anybody as I do for that lad. Do you remember, Mainwaring,” he con« tinned, speaking still lower, while they all sat hushed, “the first night I ever saw him, when he marked for you and me at billiards, at Ranford? I don’t know why, but I loved the boy from the first moment I saw him. Both there and ever afterwards, he reminded me so strongly of Barkham. He had just the same gentle, winning way with him that Barkham had. Barkham was a little taller, though, I fancy,” he went on, looking straight at Lady Ascot, and taking snuff. “Don’t you think so, Maria?”

No one spoke for a moment

Lord Barkham had been Lord Saltire’s only son. He had been killed in a duel at nineteen, as I have mentioned before. Lord Saltire very rarely spoke of him, and, when he did, generally in a cynical manner. But General Mainwaring and Lady Ascot knew that the memory of that poor boy was. as fresh in the true ld heart after forty years, as it was on the morning when he came out from his dressing-room, and met them carrying his corpse upstairs.

“He was a good fellow,” said Lord Hainault, alluding to Charles. “He was a very good fellow.”

“This great disappointment which I have had about him,” said Lord Saltire, in his old dry tone, “is a just judgment on me for doing a good-natured and virtuous action many years ago. When his poor father Densil was in prison, I went to see him, and reconciled him with his family. Poor Densil was so grateful for this act of folly on my part, that I grew personally attached to him; and hence all this misery. Disinterested actions are great mistakes, Maria, depend upon it.”

When the ladies were gone upstairs, William found Lord Saltire beside him. He talked to him a little time, and then finished by saying —

“You are modest and gentlemanly, and the love you bear for your foster-brother is very pleasing to me indeed. I am going to put it to the test. You must come and see me tomorrow morning. I have a great deal to say to you.”

“About him, my lord? Have you heard of him?”

“Not a word. I fear he has gone to America or Australia. He told Lord Ascot he should do so.”

“I’ll hunt him to the world’s end, my lord,” said true William. “And Cuthbert shall pray for me the while. I fear you are right. But we shall find him soon.”

When they went up into the drawingroom, Mary was sitting on a sofa by herself. She looked up to William, and he went and sat down by her. They were quite away from the rest, together.

“Dear William,” said Mary, looking frankly at him, and laying her hand on his.

“I am so glad,” said William, “to see your sweet face again. I was down at Ravenshoe last week. How they love you there! An idea prevails among old and young that dear Cuthbert is to die, and that I am to marry you, and that we are to rule Ravenshoe triumphantly. It was useless to represent to them that Cuthbert would not die, and that you and I most certainly never would marry one another. My dearest Jane Evans was treated as a thing of nought. You were elected mistress of Ravenshoe imanimously.”

“How is Jane?”

“Pining, poor dear, at her school. She don’t like it.”

“I should think not,” said Mary. “Give my dear love to her. She will make you a good wife. How is Cuthbert?”

“Very well in health. No more signs of his heart complaint, which never existed. But he is peaking at getting no tidings from Charles. Ah, how he loved him! May I call you ‘Mary?’ ”

“You must not dare to call me anything else. No tidings of him yet?”

“None. I feel sure he is gone to America. We will get him back, Mary. Never fear.”

They talked till she was cheerful, and at last she said —

“William, you were always so well-mannered; but how — how — have you got to be so gentlemanly in so short a time? ”

“By playing at it,” said William, laughing. “The stud-groom at Ravenshoe used always to say I was too much of a gentleman for him. In twenty years’ time I shall pass muster in a crowd. Good night.”

And Charles was playing at being something other than a gentleman all the time. We shall see who did best in the end.

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