Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 52.

What Lord Saltire and Father Mackworth said when they looked out of the window.

“And how do you do, my dear sir?” said Lord Saltire.

“I enjoy the same perfect health as ever, I thank you, my lord,” said Father Mackworth. “And allow me to say, that I am glad to see your lordship looking just the same as ever. You may have forgotten that you were the greatest benefactor that I ever had. I have not.”

“Nay, nay,” said Lord Saltire. “Let bygones be bygones, my dear sir. By-the-by, Mr. Mackworth — Lord Hainault.”

“I am delighted to see you at Casterton, Mr. Mackworth,” said Lord Hainault. “We are such rabid Protestants here, that the mere presence of a Catholic ecclesiastic of any kind is a source of pleasurable excitement to us. When, however, we get among us a man like you — a man of whose talents we have heard so much, and a man personally endeared to us, through the love he bore to one of us who is dead, we give him a threefold welcome.”

Lord Saltire used, in his tete-a-tetes with Lady Ascot, to wish to Gad that Hainault would cure himself of making speeches. He was one of the best fellows in the world, but he would always talk as if he was in the House of Lords. This was very true about Lord Hainault; but, although he might be a little stilted in his speech, he meant every word he said, and was an affectionate, good-hearted man, and withal, a clever one.

Father Mackworth bowed, and was pleased with the compliment. His nerve was in perfect order, and he was glad to find that Lord Hainault was well inclined towards him, though just at this time the Most Noble the Marquis of Hainault was of less importance to him than one of the grooms in the stable. What he required of himself just now was to act and look in a particular way, and to do it naturally and without effort. His genius rose to the situation. He puzzled Lord Saltire.”

“This is a sad business,” said Lord Saltire.

“A bitter business,” said Mackworth. “I loved that man, my lord.”

He looked suddenly up as he said it, and Lord Saltire saw that he was in earnest. He waited for him to go on, atching Min intently with his eyelids half dropped over his grey eagle eyes.

“That is not of much consequence, though,” said Father Mackworth. “Speaking to a man of the world, what is more to the purpose is, to hear what is the reason of your lordship’s having sought this interview? I am very anxious to know that, and so, if I appear rude, I must crave forgiveness.”

Lord Saltire looked at him minutely and steadily. How Mackworth looked was of more importance to Lord Saltire than what he said. On the other hand, Mackworth every now and then calmly and steadily raised his eyes to Lord Saltire’s, and kept them fixed there while he spoke to him.

“Not at all, my dear sir,” said Lord Saltire. “If you will have business first, however, which is possibly the best plan, we will have it, and improve our acquaintance afterwards. I asked you to come to me to speak of family matters. You have seen our advertisement?”

“I have, indeed,” said Mackworth, looking up with a smile. “I was utterly taken by surprise. Do you think that you can be right about this marriage?”

“Oh! I am sure of it,” said Lord Saltire.

“I cannot believe it,” said Mackworth. “And I’ll tell you why. If it ever took place, I must have heard of it. Father Clifford, my predecessor, was Petre Ravenshoe’s confessor. I need not tell you that he must have been in possession of the fact. Your knowledge of the world will tell you how impossible it is that, in a house so utterly priest-ridden as the House of Ravenshoe, an affair of such moment could be kept from the knowledge of the father-confessor. Especially when the delinquent, if I may so express myself, was the most foolishly bigoted, and cowardly representative of that house which had appeared for many generations. I assure you, upon my honour, that Clifford must have known it. And, if he had known of it, he must have communicated it to me.!N“o priest could possibly have died without leaving such a secret to his successor; a secret which would make the owner of it — that is, the priest — so completely the master of Ravenshoe and all in it. I confessed that man on his deathbed, my lord,” said Mackworth, looking quietly at Lord Saltire, with a smile, “and I can only tell you, if you can bring yourself to believe a priest, that there was not one word said about his marriage.”

“No?” said Lord Saltire, pensively looking out of the window. “And yet Lady Ascot seems so positive.”

“I sincerely hope,” said Mackworth, “that she may be wrong. It would be a sad thing for me. I am comfortable and happy at Ravenshoe. Poor dear Cuthbert as secured my position there during my lifetime. The present Mr. Ravenshoe is not so tractable as his brother, but I can get on well enough with him. But, in case of this story being true, and Mr. Charles Horton coming back, my position would be untenable, and Ravenshoe would be in Protestant hands for the first time in history. I should lose my home, and the Church would lose one of its best houses in the west. The best, in fact. I had sooner be at Ravenshoe than at Segur. I am very much pleased at your lordship’s having sought this conference. It shows you have some trust in me, to consult me upon a matter in which my own interests are all on one side.”

Lord Saltire bowed. “There is another way to look at the matter, too, my dear sir. If we prove our case, which is possible, and in case of our poor dear Charles dying or getting killed, which is probable, why then William comes in for the estate again. Suppose, now, such a possibility as his dying without heirs; why, then. Miss Ravenshoe is the greatest heiress in the west of England. Have you any idea where Miss Ravenshoe is?”

Both Lord Saltire and Lord Hainault turned on him as the former said this. For an instant Mackworth looked inquiringly from one to the other, with his lips slightly parted, and said, “Miss Ravenshoe?” Then he ave a half-smile of intelligence, and said, “All! yes; I was puzzled for a moment. Yes, in that case poor Ellen would be Miss Ravenshoe. Yes, and the estate would remain in Catholic hands. What a prospect for the Church! A penitent heiress! The management of £12,000 a year! Forgive my being carried away for a moment. You know I am an enthusiastic Church-man. I have been bound, body and soul, to the Church from a child, and such a prospect, even in such remote perspective, has dazzled me. But I am afraid I shall see rather a large family of Ravenshoes between me and such a consummation. William is going to marry.”

“Then you do not know where poor Ellen is?” said Lord Saltire.

“I do not,” said Mackworth; “but I certainly shall try to discover, and most certainly I shall succeed. William might die on this very expedition. You might prove your case. If anything were to happen to William, I most certainly hope you may, and will give you every assistance. For half a loaf is better than no bread. And beside, Charles also might be killed, or die of cholera. As it is, I shall not move in the matter. I shall not help you to bring a Protestant to Ravenshoe. Now don’t think me a heartless man for talking like this; I am nothing of the kind. But I am talking to wo very shrewd men of the world, and 1 talk as a man of the world; that is all.”

At this point, Lord Hainault said, “What — is that?” and left the room. Lord Saltire and Mackworth were alone together.

“Now, my dear sir,” said Lord Saltire, “I am glad you have spoken merely as a man of the world. It makes matters so much easier. You could help us if you would.”

Mackworth laughed. “Of course I could, my lord. I could bring the whole force of the Catholic Church, at my back, to give assistance. With our powers of organization, we could discover all about the marriage in no time (if it ever took place, which I don’t choose to believe just now). Why it would pay us to search minutely every register in England, if it were to keep such a house in the hands of the Church. But the Catholic Church, in my poor person, politely declines to move all its vast machinery, to give away one of its best houses to a Protestant.”

“I never supposed that the dear old lady would do anything of the kind. But, as for Mr. Mackworth, will nothing induce him to move his vast machinery in our cause?”

“I am all attention, my lord.”

“In case of our finding Charles, then?”

“Yes,” said Mackworth, calmly.

“Twenty thousand?”

“No,” said Mackworth. “It wouldn’t do. Twenty million wouldn’t do. You see there is a difference between a soldier disguising himself, and going into the enemy’s camp, to lie, and it may be, murder, to gain information for his own side, and the same soldier deserting to the enemy, and giving information. The one is a hero, and the other a rogue. I am a hero. You must forgive me putting matters so coarsely, but you distrust me so entirely that I am forced to do so.”

“I do not think you have put it so coarsely,” said Lord Saltire. “I have to ask your forgiveness for this offer of money, which you have so nobly refused. They say, every man has his price. If this is the case, yours is a very high one, and you should be valued accordingly.”

“Now, my lord, before we conclude this interview, let me tell you two things, which may be of advantage to you. The first is, that you cannot buy a Jesuit.”

“A Jesuit!”

“Ay. And the next thing is this. This marriage of Petre Ravenshoe is all a fiction of Lady Ascot’s brain. I wish you good morning, my lord.”

There are two sides to every door. You grant that. A man cannot be in two places at once. You grant that, without the exception made by the Irish member. Very well then. I am going to describe what took place on both sides of the library door at the conclusion of this interview. Which side shall I describe first?

That is entirely as I choose, and I choose to describe the outside first. The side where Father Mackworth was. This paragraph and the last are written in imitation of the Shandean–Southey-Doctorian style. The imitation is a bad one, I find, and approaches nearer to the lower style known among critics as Swivellerism; which consists in saying the first thing that comes into your head. Any style would be quite allowable, merely as a rest to one’s aching brain, after the dreadfully keen encounter between Lord Saltire and Father Mackworth, recorded above.

When Mackworth had closed the library door behind him, he looked at it for a moment, as if to see it was safe, and then his whole face underwent a change. It grew haggard and anxious, and, as he parted his lips to moisten them, the lower one trembled. His eyes seemed to grow more prominent, and a leaden ring began to settle round them; he paused in a window, and raised his hand towards his head. When he had aised it half way he looked at it; it was shaking violently.

“I am not the man I was,” he said. “These great field-days upset me. My nerve is going, God help me. It is lucky that I was really puzzled by his calling her Miss Ravenshoe. If I had not been all abroad, I could never have done so well. I must be very careful. My nerve ought not to go like this. I have lived a temperate life in every way. Possibly a little too temperate. I won’t go through another interview of this kind without wine. It is not safe.

“The chances are ten to one in favour of one never hearing of Charles again. Shot and steel and cholera. Then William only to think of. In that case I am afraid I should like to bring in the elder branch of the family, to that young gentleman’s detriment. I wish my nerve was better; this irritability increases on me in spite of all my care. I wish I could stand wine.

“Ravenshoe, with Ellen for its mistress, and Mackworth living there as her master! A penitential devotee, and a clever man for confessor! And twelve thousand a year! If we Jesuits were such villains as the Protestants try to make us out. Master William would be unwise to live in the house with me.

“I wonder if Lord Saltire guesses that I hold the clue in my hand. I can’t remember the interview, or what I said. My memory begins to go. They should put a younger man in such a place. But I would not yield to another man. No. The stakes are too high. I wish I could remember what I said.

“Does William dream that, in case of Charles’s death, he is standing between me and the light? At all events, Lord Saltire sees it. I wonder if I committed myself. I remember I was very honest and straightforward. What was it I said at last? I have an imeasy feeling about that, but I can’t remember.

“I hope that Butler will keep the girl well in hand. If I was to get ill, it would all rest with him. God! I hope I shall not get ill.”

Now we will go to the other side of the door. Lord Saltire sat quietly upright in his chair until the door was safely closed. Then he took a pinch of snuff. He did not speak aloud, but he looked cunningly at the door, and said to himself —

“Odd!”

Another pinch of snuff. Then he said aloud, “Uncommon curious, by Ged.”

“What is curious?” said Lord Hainault, who had come into the room.

“Why, that fellow. He took me in to the last moment. I thought he was going to be simply honest; but he betrayed himself by over-eagerness at the end.

His look of frank honesty was assumed; the real man came out in the last sentence. You should have seen how his face changed, when he turned sharply on me, after fancying he had lulled suspicion to sleep, and told me that the marriage was a fiction. He forgot his manners for the first time, and laid his hand upon my knee.”

Lord Hainault said, “Do you think that he knows about the marriage?”

“I am sure he does. And he knows where Ellen is.”

“Why?”

“Because I am sure of it.”

“That is hardly a reason, my dear Lord Saltire. Don’t you think, eh?”

“Think what?”

“Think that you are — well,” said Lord Hainault, in a sort of desperation, “are not you, my dear lord, to put it very mildly, generalizing from an insufficient number of facts? I speak with all humility before one of the shrewdest men in Europe; but don’t you think so?”

“No, I don’t,” said Lord Saltire.

“I bow,” said Lord Hainault. “The chances are ten to one that you are right, and I am wrong. Did you make the offer?”

“Yes.”

“And did he accept it?”

“Of course, he didn’t. I told you he wouldn’t,”

“That is strange, is it not?”

“‘No” said Lord Saltire.

Lord Hainault laughed, and then Lord Saltire looked up and laughed too. “I like being rude to you, Hainault. You are so solemn.”

“Well,” said Lord Hainault, with another hearty laugh. “And what are we to do now?”

“Why, wait till William comes back,” said Lord Saltire. “We can do nothing till then, my dear boy. God bless you, Hainault. You are a good fellow.”

When the old man was left alone, he rose and looked out of the window. The bucks were feeding together close under the windows; and, farther off, under the shadow of the mighty cedars, the does and fawns were standing and lying about lazily, shaking their broad ears, and stamping their feet. Out from the great rhododendron thickets, right and left of the house, the pheasants were coming to spend the pleasant evening-tide in running to and fro, and scratching at the anthills. The rabbits too were showing out among the grass, scuttling about busily. The peacock had lit down from the stable roof, and was elegantly picking his way and dragging his sweeping train among the pheasants and the rabbits; and on t!ie topmost, copper-red, cedar-boughs, some guinea fowl were noisily preparing for roost. One hundred yards from the window the park seemed to end, for it dipped suddenly down in a precipitous, almost perpendicular slope of turf, three hundred and fifty feet high, towards the river, which you could see winding on for miles through the richly wooded valley; a broad riband of silver, far below. Beyond, wooded hills: on the left, endless folds of pearl-coloured downs; to the right, the town, a fantastic grey and red heap of buildings, lying along from the river, which brimmed full up to its wharfs and lane ends; and, over it, a lazy cloud of smoke, from which came the gentle booming of golden-toned bells.

Casterton is not a show-place. Lord Hainault has a whim about it. But you may see just such a scene, with variations, of course, from Parkplace, or Hedsor, i or Cljiefden, or fifty other houses on the king of rivets. I wonder when the tour of the Thames will become fashionable. I have never seen anything like it, in its way. And I have seen a great many things.

Lord Saltire looked out on all this which I have roughly described (for a reason). And, as he looked, he spoke to himself, thus, or nearly so —— “And so I am the last of them all; and alone. Hardly one of them left. Hardly one. And their sons are feeding their pheasants, and planting their shrub eries still, as we did. And the tilings tliat were terrible realities for us, are only printed words for them, which they try to realize, but cannot. The thirty mad long years, through which we stood with our backs to the wall, are ticketed as ‘ the revolutionary wars,’ >nd put in a pigeon-hole. I wish they would do us justice. We were right. Hainault’s pheasants prove it They must pay their twenty million a year, and thank us that they have got off so easy.

“I wonder what they would do, in such a pinch as we had. They seem to be as brave as ever; but I am afraid of their getting too much unbrutalized for another struggle like ours. I suppose I am wrong, for I am getting too old to appreciate new ideas, but I am afraid of our getting too soft. It is a bygone prejudice, I am afraid. One comfort is, that such a struggle can never come again. If it did, they might have the will to do all that we did, and more, but have they the power? This extension of the suffrage has played the devil, and now they want to extend it farther, the madmen! They’ll end by having a House full of Whigs. And then — why, then, I suppose, there’ll be nothing but Whigs in the House. That seems to me near about what will happen. Well! well! I was a Whig myself once on a time.

“All gone. Every one of them. And I left on here, in perfect health and preservation, as much an object of wonder to the young ones as a dodo would be to a poultry-fancier. Before the effect of our deeds has been fully felt, our persons have become strange, and out of date. And yet I, strange to say, don’t want to go yet. I want to see that Ravenshoe boy again. Gad! how I love that boy. He has just Barkham’s sweet, gentle, foolish way with him. I determined to make him my heir from the first time I saw him at Ranford, if he turned out well If I had announced it, everything would have gone right. What an endless series of unlucky accidents that poor boy has had.

“Just like Barkham. The same idle, foolish, lovable creature, with anger for nothing; only furious, blind indignation for injustice and wrong. I wish he would come back. I am getting aweary of waiting.

“I wonder if I shall see Barkham again, just to sit with my arm on his shoulder, as I used to on the terrace in old times. Only for one short half-hour — ”

I shall leave off here. I don’t want to follow the kind old heathen through his vague speculations about a future state. You see how he had loved his son. You see why he loved Charles. That is all I wished to show you.

“And if Charles don’t come back? By Gad! I am ery much afraid the chances are against it. Well, I suppose, if the poor lad dies, I must leave the money to Welter and his wife, if it is only for the sake — of poor Ascot, who was a good fellow. I wonder if we shall ever get to the bottom of this matter about the marriage. I fancy not, unless Charles dies, in which case Ellen will be reinstated by the priest.

” I hope William will make haste back with .him. Old fellows like me are apt to go off in a minute. And if he dies, and I have not time to make a will, the whole goes to the Crown, which will be a bore. I would sooner Welter had it than that.”

Lord Saltire stood looking out of the library window, until the river looked like a chain of crimson pools, stretching westward towards the sinking sun. The room behind him grew dark, and the marble pillars, which divided it in unequal portions, stood like ghosts in the gloom. He was hidden by the curtain, and presently he heard the door open, and a light footstep stealthily approaching over the Turkey carpet. There was a rustle of a woman’s dress, and a moving of books on the centre table, by some hand which evidently feared detection. Lord Saltire stepped from behind his curtain, and confronted Mary Corby.

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