Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 42.

Ravenshoe Hall, During All this.

The villagers at Ravenshoe, who loved Charles, were very much puzzled and put out by his sudden disappearance. Although they had little or no idea of the real cause of his absence, yet it was understood to be a truth, not to be gainsayed, that it was permanent. And as it was a heavily-felt misfortune to them, and as they really had no idea why he was gone, or where he was gone to, it became necessary that they should comfort themselves by a formula. At which time. Master Lee, up to Slarrow, erected the theory, that Master Charles was gone to the Indies — which was found to be a doctrine so comfortable to the souls of those that adopted it, as being hazy and vague, and as leaving his return an open question, that it was unanimously adopted; and those who ventured to doubt it, were treated as heretics and heathens.

It was an additional puzzle to them to find that William had turned out to be a gentleman, and a Ravenshoe; a fact which could not, of course, be concealed from them, though the other facts of the case were carefully hushed up — not a very difficult matter in a simple feudal village, like Ravenshoe. But, when William ppeared, after a short absence, lie suffered greatly in popularity, from the belief that he had allowed Charles to go to the Indies by himself. Old Master James Lee, of Tor Head, old Master James Lee, of Withycombe Barton, and old Master James Lee, up to Slarrow, the three great quidnuncs of the village, were sunning themselves one day under the wall which divides part of the village from the shore, when by there came, talking earnestly together, William, and John Marston.

The three old men raised their hats, courteously. They were in no distinguishable relation to one other, but, from similarity of name and age, always hunted in a leash. (Sporting men will notice a confusion here about the word “ leash,” but let it pass.) When no one was by, I have heard them fall out and squabble together about dates, or such like; but, when others were present, they would, so to speak, trump one another’s tricks to any amount. And if, on these occasions, any one of the three took up an untenable position, the other two would lie him out of it like Jesuits, and only fall foul of him when they were alone together — which, to say the least of it, was neighbourly and decent.

“God save you, gentlemen,” said old Master Lee up to Slarrow, who was allowed to commit himself by the other two, who were waiting to be “down on him ” in private. “Any news from the Indies lately?”

William and Marston stopped, and William said —

“No, Master Lee, we have not heard from Captain Archer for seven months, or more.”

“I ask your pardon,” said Lee up to Slarrow; “I .warn’t a speaking of he. I was speaking of our ovm darling boy, Master Charles. “When be he a-coming back to see we?”

“When, indeed!” said William. “I wish I knew, Master Lee.”

“They Indies,” said the old man, “is well enough; but what’s he there no more than any other gentleman? Why don’t he come home to his own? Who’s a-keeping on him away?”

William and John Marston walked on without answering. And then the two other Master Lees fell on to Master Lee up to Slarrow, and verbally ill treated him — partly because he had go. no information out of William, and partly because, having both sat quiet and given him plenty of rope, he had not hanged himself. Master Lee up to Slarrow had evil times of it that blessed spring afternoon, and ended by “dratting ” both his companions, for a couple of old fools. After which, they adjourned to the public-house and hard cider, sent them to drink for their sins.

“They’ll never make a scholar of me, Marston,” said William; “I will go on at it for a year, but no more. I shall away soon to hunt up Charles. Is there any police in America?”

Marston answered absently, “Yes; he believed so; ” but was evidently thinking of something else.

They had gone sauntering out for a walk together. Marston had come down from Oxford the day before

(after an examination for an Exeter fellowship, I believe) for change of air; and he thought he would like to walk with William up to the top of the lofty promontory, which bounded Ravenshoe-bay on the west, and catch the pleasant summer breeze coming in from the Atlantic.

On the loftiest point of all, with the whispering blue sea on three sides of them, four hundred feet below, there they sat down on the short sheep-eaten turf, and looked westward.

Cape after cape stretched away under the afternoon sun, till the last seemed only a dark cloud floating on the sea. Beyond that cape there was nothing but water for three thousand weary miles. The scene was beautiful enough, but very melancholy; a long coastline, trending away into dim distance, on a quiet sunny afternoon, is very melancholy. Indeed, far more melancholy than the same place in a howling gale: when the nearest promontory only, is dimly visible, a black wall, echoing the thunder of bursting waves, and when sea, air, and sky, like the three furies, are rushing on with mad, destructive unanimity.

They lay, these two, on the short turf, looking westward; and, after a time, John Marston broke silence. He spoke very low and quietly, and without looking at William.

“I have something very heavy on my mind, William. I am not a fool, with a morbid conscience, but I have been very wrong. I have done what I never can undo. I loved that fellow, William: ”

William said “Ay.”

“I know what you would say. You would say, that every one who ever knew Charles loved him; and you are right. He was so utterly unselfish, so entirely given up to trying to win others, that every one loved him, and could not help it. The cleverest man in England, with all his cleverness, could not gain so many friends as Charles.”

William seemed to think this such a self-evident proposition, that he did not think it worth while to say anything.

“And Charles was not clever. And what makes me mad with myself is this. I had influence over him, and I abused it. I was not gentle enough with him. I used to make fun of him, and be flippant, and priggish, and dictatorial, with him. God help me! And now he has taken some desperate step, and, in fear of my ridicule, has not told me of it. I felt sure he would come to me, but I have lost hope now. May God forgive me — God forgive me!”

In a few moments, William said, “If you pause to think, Marston, you will see how unjust you are to yourself. He could not be afraid of me, and yet he has never come near me.”

“Of course not,” said Marston. “You seem hardly to know him so well as I. He fears that you would make him take money, and that he would be a burthen on you. I never expected that he would come back to you. He knows that you would never leave him. He nows, as well as you know yourself, that you would sacrifice all your time and your opportunities of education to him. And, by being dependent on you, he would be dependent on Father Mackworth — the only man in the world he dislikes and distrusts.

William uttered a form of speech concerning the good father, which is considered by foreigners to be merely a harmless nsitionsl facon de parler — sometimes, perhaps, intensive, when the participle is used, but in general no more than expletive. In this case, the speaker was, I fear, in earnest, and meant what he said most heartily.

Marston never swore, but he certainly did not correct William for swearing, in this case, as he should have done. There was a silence for a time. After a little, William laid his hand on Marston’s shoulder, and said —

“He never had a truer friend than you. Don’t you blame yourself.”

“I do; and shall, until I find him.”

“Marston,” said William, “what has he done with himself? Where the deuce is he gone?”

“Lord Saltire and I were over the same problem for two hours the other night, and we could make nothing of it, but that he was gone to America or Australia. He hardly took money enough with him to keep him till now. I can make nothing of it. Do you think he would be likely to seek out Welter?”

“If he were going to do so, he would have done so by now, and we must have heard of it. No,” said William.

“He was capable of doing very odd things,” said Marston. “Do you remember that Easter vacation, when he and Lord Welter and Mowbray went away together?”

“Remember!” said William. “Why I was with them; and glorious fun it was. Rather fast fun though — too fast by half. We went up and lived On the Severn and Avon Canal, among the bargemen, dressing accordingly. Charles had nothing to do with that folly, beyond joining in it, and spending the day in laughing. Tliat was Lord Welter’s doing. The bargees nicknamed Lord Welter “the sweep,” and said he was a good fellow, but a terrible blackguard. And so he was — for that time, at all events.

Marston laughed, and, after a time, said, “Did he ever seem to care about soldiering? Do you think he was likely to enlist?”

“It is possible,” said William; “it is quite possible. Yes, he has often talked to me about soldiering. I mind — I remember, I should say — that he once was hot about going into the army, but he gave it up because it would have taken him away from Mr. Ravenshoe too much.”

They turned and walked homewards, without speaking a word all the way. On the bridge they paused and leant upon the coping, looking into the stream. All of a sudden, William laid his hand on Marston’s arm, and looking in his face, said —

“Every day we lose, I feel he is getting farther from us. I don’t know what may happen. I shall go and seek him, I will get educated at my leisure. Only think of what may be happening now! I was a fool to have given it up so soon, and to have tried waiting till he came to us. He will never come. I must go and fetch him. Here is Cuthbert, too, good fellow, fretting himself to death about it. Let us go and talk to him.”

And John Marston said, “Eight, true heart; let us o.”

Of all their acquaintances, there was only one who could have given them any information — Lord Welter; and he, of all others, was the very last they dreamt of going to. You begin to see, I dare say, that, when Charles is found, my story will nearly be at an end. But my story is not near finished yet, I assure you.

Standing where they were on the bridge, they could look along the village street. It was as neat a street as one ever sees in a fishing village; that is to say, rather an untidy one, for, of all human employments, fishing involves more lumber and mess than any other. Everything past use was “hit,” as they say in Berkshire, out into the street; and of the inorganic part of this refuse, that is to say, tiles, bricks, potsherds, and so on, the children built themselves shops and bazaars, and sold one another the organic orts, that is to say, cabbage-stalks, fish-bones, and orangepeel, which were paid for-in mussel-shells. And, as Marston and William looked long this street, as one may say, at high market time, they saw Cuthbert come, slowly riding along among the children, and the dogs, and the pigs, and the herring-bones, and brickbats.

He was riding a noble horse, and was dressed with his usual faultless neatness and good taste, as clean as a new pin from top to toe. As he came along, picking his way gently among the children, the fishermen and their wives came out right and left from their doors, and greeted Mm kindly. In older times they would not have done this, but it had got about that he was pining for the loss of his brother, and their hearts had warmed to him. It did not take much to make their hearts warm to a Ravenshoe; though they were sturdy, independent rogues enough at times. I am a very great admirer of the old feudal feeling, when it is not abused by either party. In parts of Australia, where it, or something near akin to it, is very strong indeed, I have seen it act on high and low most beneficially; giving to the one side a sense of responsibility, and to the other a feeling of trust and reliance. “Here’s ‘ Captain Dash,’ or ‘ Colonel Blank,’ or ‘ Mr. So-and-so,’ and he won’t see me wronged, I know. I have served him and his father for forty year, and he’s a gentleman, and so were his father before him.” Tliat is the sort of thing you will hear often enough in Australia. And even on the diggings, with all the leaven of Americanism and European Eadicalism one finds there, it is much easier for a warden to get on with the diggers if he comes of a nown colonial family, than if he is an unknown man. The old colonial diggers, the people of the greatest real weight, talk of them, and the others listen and mark. All people, prate as they may, like a guarantee for respectability. In the colonies, such a guarantee is given by a man’s being tolerably well off, and “come of decent people.” In England, it is given, in cases, by a man and a man’s forefathers having been good landlords and honest men. Such a guarantee is given by such people as the Ravenshoes, but that is not the whole secret of their influence. That comes more from association — a feeling strong enough, as one sees, to make educated and clever men use their talents and eloquence towards keeping a school in a crowded, unhealthy neighbourhood, instead of moving it into the country; merely because, as far as one can gather from their speeches, they were educated at it themselves, twenty years ago. Hereby visiting the sins of the fathers on the children, with a vengeance!

“Somewhat too much of this.” It would be stretching a point to say that Cuthbert was a handsome man, though he was very near being so, indeed. He was tall, but not too slender, for he had developed in chest somewhat since we first knew him. His face was rather pale, but his complexion perfectly clear; save that he had a black mark roimd his eyes. His features were decidedly marked, but not so strongly as Charles’s; and there was an air of stately repose about him, showing itself in his way of carrying his head perfectly upright, nd the firm, but not harsh, settling of Ids mouth, with the lower lip slightly pouting, which was very attractive. He was a consummate horseman, too, and, as I said, perfectly dressed; and, as he came towards them, looking apparently at nothing, both William and Marston thought they had never seen a finer specimen of a gentleman.

He had strangely altered in two months. As great a change had come over him as comes over a rustic when the drill-sergeant gets him and makes a soldier of him. There is the same body, the same features, the same hair and eyes. Bill Jones is Bill Jones, if you are to believe his mother. But Bill Jones the soldier is not Bill Jones the ploughboy. He is quite a different person. So, since the night when Charles departed, Cuthbert had not been the Cuthbert of former times. He was no longer wayward and irritable; he was as silent as ever, but he had grown so staid, so studiously courteous to every one, so exceedingly humble-minded and patient with every one, that all save one or two wondered at the change in him.

He had been passionately fond of Charles, though he had seldom shown it, and was terribly cut up at his loss. He had greatly humiliated himself to himself by what was certainly his felonious offer to Father Mackworth; and he had found the estate somewhat involved, and had determined to set to work and bring it to rights. These three causes had made Cuthbert Ravenshoe a humbler and better man than he had ever been before.

“William,” he said, smiling kindly on him, “I have boon seeing after your estate for you. It does me good to have some one to work for. You will die a rich man.”

William said nothing. One of Cuthbert’s fixed notions was that he would die young and childless. He claimed to have a heart-complaint, though it really appeared without any foundation. It was a fancy which William had combated at first, but now acquiesced in, because he found it useless to do otherwise.

He dismounted and walked with them. “Cuthbert,” said William, “we have been thinking about Charles.”

“I am always thinking about him,” said Cuthbert; “is there no way of finding him?”

“I am going. I want you to give me some money and let me go.”

“You had better go at once, William. You had better try if the police can help you. We are pretty sure that he is gone to America, unless he has enlisted. In either case, it is very possible we may find him. Aunt Ascot would have succeeded, if she had not lost her temper. Don’t you think I am right, my dear Marston?”

“I do, indeed, Ravenshoe,” said Marston. “Don’t you think now, Mt. Mackworth, that, if a real push is made, and with judgment, we may find Charles again?”

They had reached the terrace, and Father Mackworth was standing in front of the porch. He said he believed it was perfectly possible. “Nay,” he said, “possible! I'm as sure of seeing Charles Horton back here again, as I am that I shall eat my dinner today.”

“And I,” said Cuthbert, “am equally sure that we shall see poor Ellen back some day. Poor girl! she shall have a warm welcome.”

Father Mackworth said he hoped it might be so. And the lie did not choke him.

“We are going to send William away again to look after him, father,” said Cuthbert.

“He had much better stay at home and mind his education,” said Mackworth.

William had his back towards them, and was looking out to sea, whistling. When the priest spoke he turned round sharply, and said —

“Hey? what’s that?”

The priest repeated it.

“I suppose,” said William, “that that is more my business than yours, is it not? I don’t intend to go to school again, certainly not to you.”

Cuthbert looked from one to the other of them, and said nothing. A few days before this William and the priest had fallen out; and Mackworth, appealing, had been told with the greatest kindness and politeness by Cuthbert that he could not interfere. That William was heir to Ravenshoe, and that he really had no power over him whatever. Mackworth had said nothing then, but now he had followed Cuthbert into the library, and, when they were alone, said —

“Cuthbert, I did not expect this from you. You ave let him insult me twice, and have not corrected him.”

Cuthbert put his back against the door, and said —

“Now you don’t leave this room till you apologize for these wicked words. My dear old fellow, what a goose you are! Have not you and he always squabbled? Do fight it out with him, and don’t try and force me to take a side. I ain’t going to do it, you know, and so I tell you plainly. Give it to him. Who can do it so well as you? Remember what an altered position he is in. How can you expect me to take your part against him?”

Father Mackworth cleared his brow, and said, laughing, “You are right, Cuthbert. I’ll go about with the rogue. He is inclined to kick over the traces, but I’ll whip him in a little. I have had the whip hand of every Ravenshoe I have had to deal with yet, yourself included, and it’s hard if I am to be beat by this new whipper-snapper.”

Cuthbert said affectionately to him, “I think you love me, Mackworth. Don’t quarrel with him more than you can help. I know you love me.” And so Cuthbert went to seek John Marston.

Love him! Ay, that he did. John Mackworth could be cruel, hard, false, vindictive. He could cheat, and he could lie, if need were. He was heartless and ambitious. But he loved Cuthbert. It was a love which had taken a long time growing, but there it was, and he was half ashamed of it. Even to himself he ould try to make out that it was mere selfishness and ambition — that he was gentle with Cuthbert, because he must keep his place at Ravenshoe. Even now he would try to persuade himself that such was the case — perhaps the more strongly, because he began to see now that there was a soft spot in his heart, and that Cuthbert was master of it. Since the night when Cuthbert had offered him ten thousand pounds, and he had refused it, Cuthbert had never been the same to him. And Mackworth, expecting to find his influence increased, found to his astonishment that from that moment it was gone. Cuthbert’s intensely sensitive and proud nature revolted from the domination of a man before whom he had so lowered himself; and firmly, though humbly now, for he was altered by seeing how nearly he had been a villain, he let him see that he would walk in future in his own strength. Father Mackworth saw soon that Ravenshoe was a comfortable home for him, but that his power was gone. Unless!

And yet he knew that he could exercise a power little dreamt of. It is in the power, possibly, of a condemned man to burn the prison down, and possibly his interest; but he has compimctions. Mackworth tried to persuade himself that the reason he did not use his power was that it would not be advisable. He was a cipher in the house, and knew by instinct that he would never be more. But in reality, I believe, he let his power sleep for Cuthbert’s sake.

“Who could have thought,” he said, “that the very hing which clinched my power, as I thought, should have destroyed it? Are not those people fools, who lay down rules for human action? Why, no. They are possibly right five times out of ten. But as for the other five! Bah!”

“No, I won’t allow that. It was my own fault. I should have known his character better. But there, I could not have helped it, for he did it himself. I was passive.”

And Cuthbert followed Marston into the hall, and said, “You are not going away because William goes, Marston?”

“Do you want me?” said Marston.

“Yes,” said Cuthbert. “You must stay with me. My time is short, and I must know as much of this world as I may. I have much to do; you must help me. I will be like a little child in your hands. I will die in the old faith, but I will learn something new.”

And so Marston stayed with him, and they two grew fast friends. Cuthbert had nothing to learn in this management of his estate; there he was Marston’s master; but all that a shrewd young man of the world could teach a bookworm, so much Cuthbert got from Marston.

Marston one day met the village doctor, the very man whom we saw at the beginning of the book, putting out William (whom we then supposed to be Charles) to nurse, Marston asked him, “Was there any reality in this heart-complaint of Cuthbert’s?”

“Not the very faintest shadow of a reality,” said the doctor. “It is the most tiresome whimsy I ever knew. He has persuaded himself of it, though. He used to be very hypochondriac. He is as likely to live till eighty as you are.”

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