Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 43.

A Meeting.

There was ruin in the Ascot family, we know. And Lord Ascot, crippled with paralysis at six-and-forty, was lying in South Audley Street, nursed by Lady Ascot. The boxes, which we saw packed ready for their foreign tour at the London Bridge Hotel, were still there — not gone abroad yet, for the simple reason that Herodias had won the Oaks, and that Lord Welter had won, some said seven, others said seventy thousand pounds. (He had really won nine.) So the boxes might stay where they were a few days, and he might pursue Ms usual avocations in peace, all his debts of honour being satisfied.

He had barely saved himself from being posted. Fortunately for him, he had, on the Derby, betted chiefly with a few friends, one of whom was Hornby; and they waited and said nothing till after the Oaks, when they were paid, and Welter could hold up his head again. He was indebted to the generosity of Hornby and Sir Charles Ferrers for his honour — the very men whom he would have swindled. But he laughed and ate his dinner, and said they were good fellows, and thought no more of it.

The bailiffs were at Ranford. The servants were gone, and the horses were advertised at Tattersall’s ah’eady. It was reported in the county that an aged Jew, being in possession, and prowling about the premises, had come into the poultry yard, and had surreptitiously slain, cooked, and essayed to eat, the famous cock “Sampson,” the champion bird of England, since his match with “Young Countryman.” On being-informed by the old keeper that my lord had refused sixty guineas for him a few weeks before, he had (so said the county) fled out of the house, tearing his hair, and knocked old Lady Hainault, who had also come prowling over in her pony-carriage, down the steps, flat on her back. Miss Hicks, who was behind with her shawls, had picked her up, they said, and “caught it.”

If Adelaide was beautiful everywhere, surely she was more beautiful on horseback than anywhere else, and no one knew it better than herself She was one of the first who appeared in the park in a low-crowned hat — a “wide-awake.” They are not de rigueur even yet, I believe; but Adelaide was never very particular so long as she could look well. She had found out how splendid her perfect mask looked imder the careless, irregular curves of such a head-dress, and how bright her banded hair shone in contrast with a black ostrich feather which drooped on her shoulder. And so she had taken to wear one since she had been Lady Welter, and had appeared in the park in it twice.

Lord Welter bethought himself once in these times — hat is, just after the Oaks — that he would like to take his handsome wife out and show her in the park. His Hornby speculation had turned out ill; in fact, Hornby had altogether made rather a handsome sum out of him, and he must look for some one else. The some one else, a young Austrian, Pscechenyi by name, a young fellow of wealth, had received his advances somewhat coldly, and it became necessary to hang out Adelaide as a lure.

Lord Welter was aware that, if he had asked Adelaide to come and ride with him, on the ground of giving her an afternoon’s amusement, and tried to persuade her to it by fair-spoken commonplaces, she would probably not have come; and so he did nothing of the kind. He and his wife thoroughly understood one another. There was perfect confidence between them in everything. Towards one another they were perfectly sincere, and this very sincerity begot a feeling of trust between them, which ultimately ripened into something better. They began life together without any professions of affection; but out of use, and a similarity of character, there grew a liking in the end. She knew everything about Lord Welter, save one thing, which she was to know immediately, and which was of no importance; and she was always ready to help him, provided, as she told him, “he didn’t humbug,” which his lordship, as we know, was not inclined to do, without her caution.

Lord Welter went into her dressing-room in the morning, and said —

“Here’s a note from Pscechenyi. He won’t come tonight.”

“Indeed!” said Adelaide, brushing her hair. “I did not igive him credit for so much sense. Really, you know, he can’t be such a fool as he looks.”

“We must have him,” said Lord Welter.

“Of course we must,” said Adelaide. “I really cannot allow such a fat goose to run about with a knife and fork in him any longer. Heigh ho! Let’s see. He affects Lady Brittlejug, don’t he? I am going to her party tonight, and I’ll capture him for you, and bring him home to you from under her very nose. Now do try and make a better hand of him than you did of Hornby, or we shall all be in the workhouse together.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Lord Welter, laughing. “But look here. I don’t think you’ll catch him so, you know. She looks as well as you by candlelight, but she can’t ride a hang. Come out in the park this afternoon. He will be there.”

“Very well,” said Adelaide; “I suppose you know best. I shall be glad of a ride. Half-past two, then.”

So at the time appointed these two innocent lambkins rode forth to take the air. Lord Welter, big, burly, red-faced, good humoured, perfectly dressed, and sitting on his horse as few others could sit, the model of a frank English nobleman. Adelaide, beautiful and fragile beyond description, perfect in dress and caniage, riding trustingly and lovingly in the shadow of her lord, the happy, timid bride all over. They had no groom.

What should a poor simple couple like them want with a groom? It was a beautiful sight, and many turned to look at them.

But Lord Saltire, who was looking out of the drawingroom window of Lord Ascot’s house in South Audley Street, as they passed, turned to Marston, and said very emphatically —

“Now, I do really wonder what infernal mischief those two are after. There is an air of pastoral simplicity about their whole get-up, which forebodes some very great — very great “— here he paused, took snuff, and looked Marston straight in the face — “obliquity of moral purpose.”

Meanwhile, the unconscious innocents sauntered on into the park, under the Marble Arch, and down towards Rotten-row. When they got into the Row they had a canter. There was Pscechenyi riding with Hornby and Miss Buckjumper, but they gave them the “go by,” and went softly on towards Kensington-gate. “Who is the woman in the hat and feathers?” said everybody who didn’t know. “Lady Welter,” said everybody who did; and, whatever else they said of her, they all agreed that she was wonderfully beautiful, and rode divinely. When they came slowly back, they found Hornby and the Austrian were standing against the rail talking to some ladies. They drew close up, and entered into conversation. And Adelaide found herself beside Miss Buckjumper, now Lady Handly cross.

Adelaide was somewhat pleased to find herself at the ide of this famous horsewoman and beauty. She was so sure tliat comparisons would be favourable to herself. And they were. If ever an exquisitely formed nose was, so to speak, put out of joint, that nose was in the middle of Miss Buckjumper’s face that day. Nevertheless, she did not show anything. She had rather a respect for Adelaide, as being a successful woman. Was not she herself cantering for a coronet? There was very soon a group round them, and Lord Welter’s hoarse jolly laugh was heard continually. People, who were walking in the park to see the great people, paused outside the circle to look at her, and repassed again. Mr. Pelagius J. Bottom, of New York, whose father emigrated to Athens, and made a great fortune at the weaving business in the time of King Theseus, got on a bench, and looked at her through a double-barrelled opera-glass. There never was such a success. The Austrian thought no more of Hornby’s cautions, thought no more of Miss Buckjumper or Lady Brittlejug. He was desperately in love, and was dying for some excuse to withdraw his refusal of this morning. Pelagius Jas. Bottom would have come, and mortgaged the paternal weaving business at the dice, but unfortunately his letters of introduction, being all addressed to respectable people, did not include one to Lord and Lady Welter. All the young fellows would have come and played all night, till church-time next morning, for her sake. As Lord Welter candidly told her that night, she was the best investment he had ever made.

They did not want all the young fellows though. Too many cooks spoil the broth. They only wanted the young Austrian, and so Lord Welter said, after a time, “I was in hopes of seeing you at my house tonight.” Tliat was quite enough. Fifty Hornbys would not have stopped him now.

Still they stood there talking. Adelaide was almost happy. Which of these staid women had such power as she? There was a look of pride and admiration even on Lord Welter’s stupid face. Yes, it was a great success. Suddenly all people began to look one way and come towards the rails, and a buzz arose, “The Queen — the Queen!”

Adelaide turned just as the outriders were opposite to her. She saw the dark claret-coloured carriage, fifty yards off, and she knew that Lady Emily Montford, who had been her sister-bridesmaid at Lady Hainault’s wedding, was in waiting that day. Hornby declares the whole thing was done on purpose. Let us be more charitable, and suppose that her horse was startled at the scarlet coats of the outriders; however it was, the brute took fright, stood on its hind legs, and bolted straight towards [the royal carriage. She reined it up within ten feet of the carriage step, plunging furiously. Raising her whip hand to push her hat more firmly on, she knocked it (5ff, and sat there bareheaded, with one loop of her hair fallen down, a sight which no man who saw it ever forgot. She saw a look of amazed admiration in the Queen’s face. She saw Lady Emily’s look of entle pity. She saw her Majesty lean forward, and ask who it was. She saw her name pass Lady Emily’s lips, and then she saw the Queen turn with a frown, and looking steadily the other way.

Wrath and rage were in her heart, and showed themselves one instant in her face. A groom had run out and picked up her hat. She bent down to take it from him, and saw that it was Charles Ravenshoe.

Her face grew soft again directly. Poor thing! she must have had a kind heart after all, crusted over as it was with vanity, pride, and selfishness. Now, in her anger and shame, she could have cried to see her old love so degraded. There was no time for crying, or for saying more than a few sharp words, for they were coming towards her.

“What nonesense is this, Charles?” she said. “What is this masquerade? Are you come to double my shame? Go home and take that dress off and burn it. Is your pride dead, that you disgrace yourself like this in public? If you are desperate, as you seem, why are you not at the war? They want desperate men there. Oh! if I was a man!”

They parted then; no one but Lord Welter and Hornby knew who Charles was. The former saw that Adelaide had recognised him, and, as they rode simply home together, said —

“I knew poor Charles was a groom. He saw his sister the other night at our house. I didn’t tell you; I hardly know why. I really believe, do you know, hat the truth of the matter is, Adelaide, that I did not want to vex yon. Now! ”

He looked at her as if he thought she would disbelieve him, but she said —

“Nay, I do believe you, Welter. You are not an ill-natured man, but you are selfish and unprincipled. So am I, perhaps to a greater extent than you. At what time is that fool of a German coming?”

“At half-past eleven.”

“I must go to that woman Brittlejug’s party. I must show there, to keep friends with her. She has such a terrible tongue. I will be back by twelve or so.”

“I wish you could stay at home.”

“I really dare not, my dear Welter. I must go. I will be back in good time.”

“Of course you will please yourself about it,” said Lord Welter, a thought sulkily. And, when he was by himself, he said —

“She is going to see Charles Ravenshoe. Well, perhaps she ought. She treated him d — d bad! And so did I.”

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