Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 53.

Captain Archer Turns up.

“Do not betray me, my lord,” said Mary, from out of the gloom.

“I will declare your malpractices to the four winds of heaven, Miss Corby, as soon as I know what they are. Why, why do you come rustling into the room like a mouse in the dark? Tell me at once what this hole-and-corner work means.”

“I will not, unless you promise not to betray me, Lord Saltire.”

“Now just think how foolish you are. How can I possibly make myself particeps, of what is evidently a most dark and nefarious business, without knowing beforehand what benefit I am to receive? You offer me no share of booty; you offer me no advantage, direct or indirect, in exchange for my silence, except that of being put in possession of facts which it is probably dangerous to know anything about. How can you expect to buy me on such terms as these?”

“Well, then, I will throw myself on your generosity. I want Blackwood. If I can find Blackwood now, I shall get a full hour at it to myself while you are all at dinner. Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” said Lord Saltire.

“Do tell me, please. I do so want to finish a story in it. Please to tell me where it is.”

“I won’t.”

“Why not? How very unkind. We have been friends eight months now, and you are just beginning to be cross to me. You see how familiarity breeds contempt; you used to be so polite.”

“I shan’t tell you where Blackwood is,” said Lord Saltire, “because I don’t choose. I don’t want you to have it. I want you to sit here in the dark and talk to me, instead of reading it.”

“I will sit and talk to you in the dark; only you must not tell ghost stories.”

“I want you to sit in the dark,” said Lord Saltire, “because I want to be ‘ vox et prceterea nihil. You will see why, directly. My dear Mary Corby, I want to have some very serious talk with you. Let us joke no more.”

Mary settled herself at once into the armchair opposite Lord Saltire, and, resting her cheek on her hand, turned her face towards the empty fireplace. “Now, my dear Lord Saltire,” she said, “go on. I think I can anticipate what you are going to say.”

“You mean about Charles.”

“Yes.”

“Ah, that is only a part of what I have to say. I want to consult you there, certainly; but that is but a small part of the business.”

“Then I am curious.”

“Do you know, then, I am between eighty and ninety years old?”

“I have heard so, my lord.”

“Well then, I think that the voice to which you are now listening will soon be silent for ever; and do not take offence; consider it as a dead man’s voice, if you will.”

“I will listen to it as the voice of a kind living friend,” said Mary. “A friend who has always treated me as a reasonable being and an equal.”

“That is true, Mary; you are so gentle and so clever, that is no wonder. See here; you have no jorivate fortune.”

“I have my profession,” said Mary, laughing.

“Yes, but your profession is one in which it is difficult to rise,” said Lord Saltire, “and so I have thought it necessary to provide for you in my will. For I must make a new one.”

Poor Mary gave a start. The announcement was so utterly unexpected. She did not know what to say, or what to think. She had had long night thoughts about poverty, old age, a life in a garret as a needlewoman, and so on; and had many a good cry over them, and had never found any remedy for them except saying her prayers, which she always found a perfect specific. And here, all of a sudden, was the question solved 1 She would have liked to thank Lord Sal tire. She would have liked to kiss his hand; but words were rather deficient. She tried to keep her tears back, and she in a way succeeded; then in the honesty of her soul she spoke.

“I will thank you more heartily, my lord, than if I went down on my knees and kissed your feet. All my present has been darkened by a great cloud of old age and poverty in the distance. You have swept that cloud away. Can I say more?”

“On your life, not another word. I could have over-burdened you with wealth, but I have chosen not to do so. Twenty thousand pounds will enable you to live as you have been brought up. Believe an old man when he says that more would be a plague to you.”

“Twenty thousand pounds!”

“Yes. That will bring you in, you will find, about six hundred a year. Take my word for it, it is quite enough. You will be able to keep your brougham, and ll that sort of thing. Believe me, you would not be so happy with more.”

“More!” said Mary quietly. “My lord, look here, and see what you have done. When the children are going to sleep, I sit, and sew, and sing, and, when they are gone to sleep, I still sit, and sew, and think. Then I build my Spanish castles; but the highest tower of my castle has risen to this — that in my old age I shoidd have ten shillings a week left me by some one, and be able to keep a canary bird, and have some old woman as pensioner. And now — now — now. Oh! I’ll be quiet in a moment. Don’t speak to me for a moment. God is very good.”

I hope Lord Saltire enjoyed his snuff. I think that, if he did not, he deserved to. After a pause Mary began again.

“Have I left on you the impression that I am selfish? I am almost afraid I have. Is it not so? I have one favour to ask of you. Will you grant it?”

“Certainly I will.”

“On your honour, my lord.”

“On my honour.”

“Reduce the sum you have mentioned to one-fourth. I have bound you by your honour. Oh, don’t make me a great heiress ; I am not fit for it.”

Lord Saltire said, “Pish! If you say another word,

I will leave you ten thousand more. To the deuce with my honour; don’t talk nonsense.”

“You said you were going to be quiet in a moment,” he resumed presently. “Are you quiet now?”

“Yes, my lord; quiet and happy.”

“Are you glad I spoke to you in the dark?”

“Yes.”

“You will be more glad that it was in the dark directly. Is Charles Ravenshoe quite the same to you as other men 1 ”

“No,” said Mary; “that he most certainly is not. I could have answered that question to you in the brightest daylight.”

“Humph 1 ” said Lord Saltire. “I wish I could see him and you comfortably married, do you know? I hope I speak plain enough. If I don’t, perhaps you will be so good as to mention it, and I’ll try to speak a little plainer.”

“Nay; I quite understand you. I wonder if you will understand me, when I say that such a thing is utterly and totally out of the question.”

“I was afraid so. You are a pair of simpletons. My dear daughter (you must let me call you so), you must contemplate the contingency I have hinted at in the dark. I know that the best way to get a man rejected, is to recommend him; I, therefore, only say, that John

Marston loves you with his whole heart and soul, and that he is 2i protege of mine.”

“I am speaking to you as I would to my own father. John Marston asked me to be his wife last Christmas, and I refused him.”

“Oh, yes. I knew all about that the same evening. It was the evening after they were nearly drowned out fishing. Then there is no hope of a reconsideration there?”

“Not the least,” said Mary. “My lord, I will never marry.”

“I have not distressed you?”

“Certainly not. You have a right to speak as you have. I am not a silly hysterical girl either, that I cannot talk on such subjects without affectation. But I will never marry; I will be an old maid. I will write novels, or something of that sort. I will not even marry Captain Archer, charm he never so wisely.”

“Captain Archer! Who on earth is Captain Archer?”

“Don’t you know Captain Archer, my lord?” replied Mary, laughing heartily, but ending her laugh with a short sob. “Avast heaving! Bear a hand, my hearties, and let us light this taper. I think you ought to read his letter. He is the man who swam with me out of the cruel sea, when the Warren Hastings went down. That's who he is, Lord Saltire.” And at this point, little Mary, thoroughly unhinged by this strange conversation, broke down, and began crying her eyes out, and, putting a letter into his hand, rose to leave the room.

He held the door open for her. “My dear Mary,” he said, “if I have been coarse or rude, you must try to forgive me.”

“Your straightforward kindness,” she said, “is less confusing than the most delicate finesse.” And so she went.

Captain Archer is one of the very best men I know. If you and I, reader, continue our acquaintance, you will soon know more of him than you have been able to gather from the pages of Ravenshoe. He was in person perhaps the grandest and handsomest fellow you ever saw. He was gentle, brave, and courteous. In short, the best example I have ever seen of the best class of sailor. By birth he was a gentleman, and he had carefully made himself a gentleman in manners. Neither from his dress, which was always scrupulously neat and in good taste, nor from his conversation, would you guess that he was a sailor, unless in a very select circle, where he would, if he thought it pleased or amused, talk salt water by the yard. The reason why he had written to Mary in the following style was, that he knew she loved it, and he wished to make her laugh. Lord

Saltire set him down for a mad seaman, and nothing more. You will see that he had so thoroughly obscured what he meant to say, that he left Mary with the very natural impression that he was going to propose to her.

He had done it, he said, from Port Philip Heads, in sixty-four days, at last, in consequence of one of his young gentlemen (merchant midshipmen) having stole a black cat in Flinder’s-lane, and brought her aboard. He had caught the westerly wind off the Leuwin and carried it down to 62, through the ice, and round the Horn, where he had met a cyclone, by special appointment, and carried the outside edge of it past the Auroras. That during this time it had blown so hard, that it was necessary for three midshipmen to be on deck with him night and day, to hold his hair on. That, getting too near the centre, he had found it necessary to lay her to, which he had successfully done, by tying one of his false collars in the fore weather-rigging. And so on. Giving an absurd account of his whole voyage, evidently with the intention of making her laugh.

He concluded thus: “And now, my dear Mary, I am going to surprise you. I am getting rich, and I am thinking of getting married. Have you ever thought of such a thing? Your present dependence must be irksome. Begin to contemplate a change to a happier and reer mode of life. I will explain more fully when I come to yon. I shall have much to tell you which will surprise you; but you know I love you, and only study your happiness. When the first pang of breaking off old associations is over, the new life, to such a quiet spirit as yours, becomes at first bearable, then happy. A past is soon created. Think of what I have said, before I come to you. Your future, my dear, is not a very bright one. It is a source of great anxiety to me, who love you so dearly — you little know how dearly.”

I appeal to any young lady to say whether or no dear Mary was to blame if she thought good, blundering Archer, was going to propose to her. If they give it against her, and declare that there is nothing in the above letter leading to such a conclusion, I can only say that Lord Saltire went with her and with me, and regarded the letter as written preparatory to a proposal. Archer’s dismay, when we afterwards let him know this, was delightful to behold. His wife was put in possession of the fact, by some one who shall be nameless, and I have heard that jolly soul use her information against him in the most telling manner on critical occasions.

But, before Captain Archer came, there came a letter from William, from Varna, announcing Charles’s death of cholera. There are melancholy scenes, more than enough, in this book, and alas! one more to come; so

I may spare you the description of their woe at the intelligence, which we know to be false. The letter was closely followed by William himself, who showed them the grass from his grave. This helped to confirm their impression of its truth, however unreasonable. Lord Saltire had a correspondence with the Horse Guards, long and windy, which resulted, after months, in discovering that no man had enlisted in the 140th under the name of Horton. This proved nothing, for Charles might have enlisted under a false name, and yet might have been known by his real name to an intimate comrade.

Lord Saltire wrote to General Mainwaring. But, by the time his letter reached him, that had happened which made it easy for a fool to count on his fingers the number of men left in the 140th. Among the dead or among the living, no signs of Charles Ravenshoe.

General Mainwaring was, as we all know, wounded on Cathcart’s Hill, and came home. The news which he brought about the doings of the 140th we shall have from first hand. But he gave them no hope about Charles.

Lord Saltire and General Mainwaring had a long interview, and a long consultation. Lord Hainault and the General witnessed his will. There were some legacies to servants; twenty thousand pounds to Miss Corby; *** thousand to John Marston; fifty thousand pounds to Lady Ascot; and the rest, amounting in one way or another, to nearly five hundred thousand pounds, was left to Lord Ascot (our old acquaintance, Lord Welter) and his heirs for ever.

There was another clause in the will, carefully worded — carefully guarded about by every legal fence which could be erected by law, and by money to buy that law — to the effect that, if Charles should reappear, he was to come into a fortune of eighty thousand pounds, funded property.

Now please to mark this. Lord Ascot was informed by General Mainwaring that, the death of Charles Ravenshoe being determined on as being a fact, Lord Saltire had made his will in his (Lord Ascot’s) favour. I pray you to remember this. Lord Ascot knew no particulars, only that the will was in his favour. If you do not keep this in mind, it would be just as well if there had been no Lord Welter at all in the story.

Ravenshoe and its poor twelve thousand a year begin to sink into insignificance, you see. But still we must attend to it. How did Charles’s death affect Mackworth? Eather favourably. The property could not come into the hands of a Protestant now. William was a staunch Catholic, though rebellious and disagreeable. Tf anything happened to him, why, then there was Ellen to be produced. Things might have been better, certainly, but they were certainly improved by that young cub’s death, and by the cessation of all search for the marriage register. And so on. If you care to waste time on it, you may think it all through for yourselves, as did not Father Mackworth.

And I’ll tell you why. Father Mackworth had had a stroke of paralysis, as men will have, who lead, as he did, a life of worry and excitement, without taking proper nourishment; and he was lying, half idiotic, in the priest’s tower at Ravenshoe.

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