Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 41.

Charles’s Second Expedition to St. John’s Wood.

What a happy place a man’s bed is — probably the best place in which he ever finds himself. Very few people will like to deny that, I think; that is to say, as a general rule. After a long day’s shooting in cold weather, for instance; or half a night on deck among the ice, when the fog has lifted, and the ghastly cold walls are safe in sight ; or after a fifty mile ride in the bush, under a pouring rain; or after a pleasant ball, when you have to pull down the blind, that the impudent sun may not roast you awake in two hours; for in all these cases, and a hundred more, bed is very pleasant; but you know as well as I do, that there are times when you would sooner be on a frozen deck, or in the wildest bush in the worst weather, or waltzing in the hall of Eblis with Vathek’s mama, or almost in your very grave, than in bed, and awake.

Oh, the weary watches! when the soul, which in sleep would leave the tortured body to rest and ramble off in dreams, holds on by a mere thread, yet a thread strong enough to keep every nerve in tense agony. When one’s waking dreams of the past are as vivid as those of sleep, and there is always present, through all, the dreadful lurking thought that one is awake, and that it is all real. When, looking back, every kindly impulsive action, every heartily spoken word, makes you fancy that you have only earned contempt where you merit kindness. Where the past looks like a hell of missed opportunities, and the future like another black hopeless hell of uncertainty and imminent misfortune of all kinds! Oh, weary watches. Let us be at such times on the bleakest hill-side, in the coldest night that ever blew, rather than in the warmest bed that money will buy.

When you are going to have a night of this kind, you seldom know it beforehand, for certain. Sometimes, if you have had much experience in the sort of thing — if you have lost money, or gone in debt, or if your sweetheart has cut you very often — you may at last guess, before you get your boots off, that you are going to have a night of it; in which case, read yourself to sleep in bed. Never mind burning the house down (that would be rather desirable as a distraction from thought); but don’t read till you are sleepy with your clothes on, and then undress, because, if you do, you will find, by the time you have undressed yourself, that you are terribly wide awake, and, when the candle is blown out, you will be all ready for a regular Walpurgis night.

Charles, poor lad, had not as yet had much experience of Walpurgis nights. Before his catastrophe he had never had one. He had been used to tumble tired into his bed, and sleep a heavy dreamless sleep till an hour before aking. Then, indeed, he might begin to dream of his horses, and his dogs, and so on, and then gradually wake into a state more sweet than the sweetest dream — that state in. which sense is awake to all outward objects, but in which the soul is taking its few last airy flutters round its home, before coming to rest for the day. But, even since then, he had not had experience enough to make him dread the night. The night he came home from St. John’s Wood, he thought he would go to bed and sleep it off. Poor fellow!

A fellow-servant slept in the same room with him — the younger and better-tempered of the two (though Charles had no complaint against either of them). The lad was asleep; and, before Charles put out the light, he looked at him. His cheek was laid on his arm, and he seemed so cahn and happy that Charles knew he was not there, but far away. He was right. As he looked, the lad smiled, and babbled of something in his dream. Strange! the soul had still sufficient connexion with the body to make it smile.

“I wonder if Miss Martineau or Mr. Atkinson ever watched the face of one who slept and dreamt,” said Charles, rambling on as soon as he had got into bed. “Pish! why that fellow’s body is the mere tool of his soul. His soul is out a-walking, and his body is only a log. Hey, that won’t do; that’s as bad as Miss Martineau. I should have said that his body is only a fine piece of clockwork. That clockwork don’t smile of itself. My dear Madam, and Mr. Atkinson, I am going to leave my body hehind, and be off at Ravenshoe in five minutes. That is to say, I am going to sleep.”

He was, was he? Why no, not just at present. If he had meant to do so, he had, perhaps, better not have bothered himself about “Letters on the laws of man’s nature; ” for, when he had done his profound cogitations about them, as above, he thought that he had got a well, say a pulex, in his bed. There was no more a pulex than there was a scorpion ; but he had an exciting chase after an imaginary one, like our old friend Mr. Sponge after an imaginary fox at Laverick Wells. After this, he had an irritation where he couldn’t reach, that is to say, in the middle of his back; then he had the same complaint where he could reach, and used a certain remedy (which is a pretty way of saying that he scratched himself); then he had the cramp in his right leg; then he had the cramp in his left leg; then he grew hot all over, and threw the clothes off; then he grew cold all over, and pulled them on again; then he had the cramp in his left leg again; then he had another flea hunt, cramp, irritation in back, heat, cold, and so on, all over; and then, after half an hour, finding himself in a state of feverish despondency, he fell into a cheerful train of thought, and was quite inclined to look at his already pleasant prospects from a hopeful point of view.

Poor dear fellow! You may say that it is heartless to make fun of him just now, when everything is going so terribly wrong. But really my story is so very sad, hat we must try to make a little feeble fun where we can, or it would be unreadable.

He tried to face the future, manfully. But lo, there was no future to face — it was all such a dead, hopeless blank. Ellen must come away from that house, and he must support her; but how? It would be dishonourable for him to come upon the Ravenshoes for a farthing, and it would be dishonourable for her to marry that foolish Hornby. And these two courses, being dishonourable, were impossible. And there he was brought up short.

But would either course be dishonourable? Yes, yes, was the answer each weary time he put the question to himself; and there the matter ended. Was there one soul in the wide world he could consult? Not one. All alone in the weary world, he and she. Not one friend for either of them. They had made their beds, and must lie on them. When would the end of it all come? What would the end be?

There was a noise in the street. A noise of a woman scolding, whose voice got louder and louder, till it rose into a scream. A noise of a man cursing and abusing her; then a louder scream, and a sound of blows. One, two; then a heavy fall, and silence. A drunken, homeless couple had fallen out in the street, and the man had knocked the woman down. That was all. It was very common. Probably the woman was not much hurt. That sort of woman got used to it. The police would come and take them to the station. There they were.

The man and woman were being taken off l)y two constables, scolding and swearing. Well, well!

Was it to come to that? There were bridges in London, and under them runs the river. Charles had come over one once, after midnight. He wished he had never seen the cursed place. He remembered a fluttering figure which had come and begged a halfpenny of him to pay the toll, and get home. He had given her money, and then, by a sudden impulse, followed her till she was safe off the bridge. Ugly thoughts, Charles! ugly thoughts! Will the dawn never come? Why, the night is not half over yet.

God in his mercy sets a limit to human misery in many ways. I do not believe that the condemned man, waiting through the weary night for the gallows, thinks all night through of his fate. We read generally in those accounts of the terrible last night (which are so rightly published in the newspapers — they are the most terrifying part of the punishment), that they conversed cheerfully, or slept, or did something, showing that they half forgot for a time what was coming. And so, before the little window grew to a lighter grey, poor Charles had found some relief from his misery. He was between sleep and waking, and he had fulfilled his challenge to Miss Martineau, though later than he intended. He had gone to Ravenshoe.

There it was, all before him. The dawn behind the eastern headland had flooded the amphitheatre of hills, till the crags behind the house had turned from grey to old, and the vane upon the priest’s tower shone like a star. The sea had changed from black to purple, and the fishing boats were stealing lazily homewards, over the gentle rolling groundswell. The surf was whispering to the sand of their coming. As window after window blazed out before the sun, and as woodland and hill-side, stream and park, village and lonely farm in the distant valley, waked before the coming day, Charles watched, in his mind’s eye, the dark old porch, till there came out a figure in black, and stood solitary in the terrace gazing seawards. And as he said, “Cuthbert,” he fell into a dreamless, happy sleep.

He determined that he would not go to see Ellen till the afternoon. Hornby was on duty in the morning, and never saw Charles all day; he avoided him as though on purpose. Charles, on his part, did not want to meet him till he had made some definite arrangement, and so was glad of it. But, towards two o’clock, it came across his mind that he would saunter round to St. Peter’s Church, and see the comical little imp of a boy who was generally to be found there, and beguile a quarter of an hour by listening to his prattle.

He had given up reading. He had hardly opened a book since his misfortune. This may seem an odd thing to have to record about a gentleman, and to a certain extent a scholar; but so it was. He wanted to lower himself, and he was beginning to succeed. There was an essential honesty in him, which made him hate to appear what he was not; and this feeling, carried to an absurd extent, prevented his taking refuge in the most obvious remedy for all troubles except hunger: books. He did not know, as I do, that determined reading: reading of anything, even the advertisements in a newspaper; will stop all cravings except those of the stomach, and will even soften them; but he guessed it, nevertheless. “Why should I read it?” said he. “I must learn to do as the rest of them.” And so he did as the rest of them, and “rather loafed away his time than otherwise.”

And he was more inclined to ” loaf “than usual this day, because he very much dreaded what was to come. And so he dawdled round to St. Peter’s Church, and came upon his young friend, playing at fives with the ball he had given him, as energetically as he had before played with the brass button. Shoeblacks are compelled to a great deal of unavoidable “loafing; ” but certainly this one loafed rather energetically, for he was hot and frantic in his play.

He was very glad to see Charles. He parted his matted hair from his face, and looking at him admiringly with a pleasant smile; then he suddenly said —

“You was drunk last night, worn’t you?”

Charles said, No — that he never got drunk.

“Worn’t you really, though?” said the boy; “you look as tho’ you had a been. You looks wild about the eyes,” and then he hazarded another theory to account for Charles’s appearance, which Charles also negatived emphatically.

“I give a halpenny for this one,” said the boy, showing him the ball, “and I spent the other halpenny.” Here he paused, expecting a rebuke, apparently; but Charles nodded kindly at him, and he was encouraged to go on, and to communicate a piece of intelligence with the air of one who assumes that his hearer is aufait with all the movements of the great world, and will be interested.

“Old Biddy Flanigan’s dead.”

“No! is she?” said Charles, who, of course, had not the wildest idea who she was, but guessed her to be an aged, and probably dissipated Irishwoman.

“Ah! I believe you,” said the boy. “And they was a — waking on her last night, down in our court (he said, ‘daone in aour cawt'). They waked me sharp enough; but, as for she! she’s fast.”

“What did she die of?” asked Charles.

“Well, she died mostly along of Mr. Malone’s bumble foot, I fancy. Him and old Biddy was both drunk a-fighting on the stairs, and she was a step below he; and he being drunk, and bumble-footed too, lost his balance, and down they come together, and the back of her head come against the door scraper, and there she was. Wake she! “he added with scorn, “not if all the Irish and Rooshans in France was to put stones in their stockings, and howl a week on end, they wouldn’t wake her.”

“Did they put stones in their stockings?” asked Charles, thinking that it was some papist form of penance.

“Miss Ophelia Flanigan, she put half a brick in her stocking end, so she did, and come at Mr. Malone for to break his head with it, and there were a hole in the stocking, and the brick flew out, and hit old Denny Moriarty in the jaw, and broke it. And he worn’t a doing nothink, he worn’t; but was sitting in a corner decent and quiet, blind drunk, a singing to his self; and they took he to Guy’s orspital. And the pleece come in, and got gallus well kicked about the head, and then they took they to Guy’s orspital; and then Miss Flanigan fell out of winder into the airy, and then they took she to Guy’s orspital; and there they is, the whole bilin of ’em in bed together, with their heads broke, a-eating of jelly and a-drinking of sherry wind; and then in comes a mob from Rosemary-lane, and then they all begins to get a bit noisy and want to fight, and so I hooked it.”

“Then there are a good many Irish in your court?” said Charles.

“Irish! ah! I believe you. They’re all Irish there except we and Billy Jones’s lot. The Emperor of Rooshar is a nigger; but his lot is mostly Irish, but another bilin of Irish from Mr. Malone’s lot. And one on ’em plays the bagpipes, with a bellus, against the water-butt of a Sunday evening, when they’re off the lay. And Mr. Malone’s lot heaves crockery and broken vegetables at him out of winder, by reason of their being costermongers, and having such things handy; so there’s mostly a shine of a Sunday evening.”

“But who are Mr. Malone, and Billy Jones, and the Emperor of Russia?”

“They keeps lodging houses,” said the boy. “Miss Ophelia Flanigan is married on Mr. Malone, but she keeps her own name, because her family’s a better one nor his’n, and she’s ashamed of him. They gets on very well when they’re sober, but since they’ve been a making money they mostly gets drunk in bed of a morning, so they ain’t so happy together as they was.”

“Does she often attack him with a brick in the foot of a stocking?” asked Charles.

“No,” said the boy; “she said her papa had taught her that little game. She used to fist hold of the poker, but he got up to that, and spouted it. So now they pokes the fire with a mopstick, which am’t so handy to hit with, and softer.”

Charles walked away northward, and thought what a charming sort of person Miss Ophelia Flanigan must be, and how he would rather like to know her for curiosity’s sake. The picture he drew of her in his mind was not exactly like the original, as we shall see.

It was very pleasant summer weather — weather in which an idle man would be inclined to dawdle, under any circumstances; and Charles was the more inclined to dawdle, because he very much disliked the errand on which he went. He could loiter at street corners now with the best of them, and talk to any one who happened to be loitering there too. He was getting on.

So he loitered at street corners, and talked. And he found out something today for the first time. He had been so absorbed in his own troubles that all rumours had been to him like the buzzing of bees; but today he began to appreciate that this rumour of war was no longer a mere rumour, but likely to grow into an awful reality.

If he were only free, he said to himself If he could only provide for poor Ellen. “Gad, if they could get up a regiment of fellows in the same state of mind as I am!”

He went into a public-house, and drank a glass of ale. They were talking of it there. “Sir Charles Napier is to have the fleet,” said one man, “and if he don’t bring Cronstadt about their ears in two hours, I am a Dutchman. As for Odnssa — ”

A man in seedy black, who (let us hope) had seen better days, suggested Sebastopol.

The first man had not heard of Sebastopol. It could not be a place of much importance, or he must have heard of it. Talk to him about Petersburg and Moscow, and he would listen to you.

This sort of talk, heard everywhere on his slow walk, excited Charles; and thinking over it, he came to the door of Lord Welter’s house and rang.

The door was barely opened, when he saw Lord Welter himself in the hall, who called to him by his Christian name, and bade him come in. Charles followed Lord Welter into a room, and, when the atter turned round, Charles saw that he was disturbed and anxious.

“Charles,” he said, “Ellen is gone 1 ”

Charles said “Wliere?” for he hardly understood him.

“Where? God knows! She must have left the house soon after you saw her last night. She left this note for me. Take it and read it. You see I am free from blame in this matter.”

Charles took it and read it.

“My Lord,

“I should have consented to accept the shelter of your roof for a longer period, were it not that, by doing so, I should be continually tempted to the commission of a dishonourable action — an action which would bring speedy punishment on myself, by ruining too surely the man whom, of all others in the world, I love and respect.

“Lieutenant Hornby has proposed marriage to me. Your lordship’s fine sense of honour will show you at once how impossible it is for me to consent to ruin his prospects by a union with such a one as myself Distrusting my own resolution, I have fled, and henceforth I am dead to him and to you.

“Ah! Welter, Welter! you yourself might have been loved as he is, once; but that time is gone by for ever. I should have made you a better wife than Adelaide. I might have loved you myself once, but I fell more through anger and vanity than through love.

“My brother, he whom we call Charles Ravenshoe, is in this weary world somewhere. I have an idea that you will meet him. You used to love one another. Don’t let him quarrel with you for such a worthless straw as I am. Tell him I always loved him as a brother. It is better that we should not meet yet. Tell him that he must make his own place in the world before we meet, and then I have something to say to him.

“Mary, the Mother of God, and the blessed saints before the throne, bless you and him, here and hereafter!”

Charles had nothing to say to Lord Welter, not one word. He saw that the letter was genuine. He understood that Welter had had no time to tell her of his coming, and that she was gone; neither Welter nor he knew where, or were likely to know; that was all He only bid him goodbye, and walked home again.

When you know the whole story, you will think that Charles’s run of ill luck at this time is almost incredible; but I should call you to witness that it is not so. This was the first stroke of real ill luck that he had had. All his other misfortunes came from his mad determination of alienating himself from all his friends. If he had even left Lord Welter free to have mentioned that he had been seen, all might have gone well, but he made him promise secrecy; and now, after having, so to speak, made ill luck for himself, and lamented over it. ere was a real stroke of it with a vengeance, and he did not know it. He was not anxious about Ellen’s future; he felt sure at once that she was going into some Roman Catholic refuge, where she would be quiet and happy. In fact, with a new fancy he had in his head, he was almost content to have missed her. And Ellen, meanwhile, never dreamt either of his position or state of mind, or she would have searched him out at the end of the world. She thought he was just as he always had been, or, perhaps, turning his attention to some useful career, with Cuthbert’s assistance; and she thought she would wait, and wait she did; and they went apart, not to meet till the valley of the shadow of death had been passed, and life was not so well worth having as it had been.

But as for our old friend, Father Mackworth. As I said once before, “It’s no use wondering, but I do wonder,” whether Father Mackworth, had he known how near Ellen and Charles had been to meeting the night before, would not have whistled “Lillibulero,” as Uncle Toby did in times of dismay; that is, if he had known the tune.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/henry/ravenshoe/chapter41.html

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