Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 55.

Archer’s Proposal.

Six weeks had passed since the date of Captain Archer’s letter before he presented himself in person at Casterton. They were weary weeks enough to Mary, Lord Saltire, and Lady Ascot. Lady Ascot was staying on at Casterton, as if permanently, at the earnest request of Lord and Lady Hainault; and she stayed on the more willingly that she and Mary might mingle their tears about Charles Ravenshoe, whom they were never to see again. The “previous marriage affair” had apparently fallen through utterly. All the advertisements, were they worded never so frantically, failed to raise to the surface the particular parish-clerk required; and Lady Ascot, after having propounded a grand scheme for personally inspecting ‘every register in the United Kingdom, which was pooh-poohed by Lord Saltire, now gave up the matter as a bad job; and Lord Saltire himself began to be puzzled and neasy, and once more to wonder whether or no Maria was not mistaken after all. Mackworth was still very ill, thongh slowly recovering. The younger Tiernay, who was nursing him, reported that his head seemed entirely gone, although he began to eat voraciously, and, if encouraged, would take exercise. He would now walk far and fast, in silence, with the kind priest toiling after him. But his wilful feet always led him to the same spot. Whether they rambled in the park, whether they climbed the granite tors of the moor, or whether they followed the stream up through the woods, they always ended their walk at the same place — at the pool among the tumbled boulders, under the dark western headland, where Cuthbert’s body had been found. And here the priest would sit looking seaward, as if his life and his intellect had come to a full stop here, and he was waiting patiently till a gleam of light should come from beyond.

William was at Ravenshoe, in full possession of the property. He had been born a gamekeeper’s son, and brought up as a groom. He had now £10,000 a year; and was going to marry the fisherman’s daughter, his own true love; as beautiful, as sweet-tempered a girl as any in the three kingdoms. It was one of the moet extraordinary rises in life that had ever taken place.

Youth, health, and wealth — they must produce happiness. Why no, not exactly in this case. He believed Charles was dead, and he knew, if that was the case, that the property was his; but he was not happy. He could not help thinking about Charles. He knew he was dead and buried, of course; but still he could not help wishing that he would come back, and that things might be again as they had been before. It is not very easy to analyse the processes of the mind of a man brought up as William was. Let us suppose that, having been taught to love and admire Charles above all earthly persons, his mind was not strong enough to disabuse himself of the illusion. I suppose that your African gets fond of his fetish. I take it that, if you stole his miserable old wooden idol in the night, though it might be badly carved, and split all up the back by the sun, and put in its place an Old Chelsea shepherdess, he would lament his graven image, and probably break the fifty guineas’ worth of china with his club. I know this, however, that William would have given up his ten thousand a year, and have trusted to his brother’s generosity, if he could have seen him back again. In barbarous, out-of-the-way places, like the west of Devonshire, the feudal feeling between foster-brothers is still absurdly strong. It is very ridiculous, of course. Nothing can be more ridiculous or unnecessary than the lightning coming down the dining-room chimney and sending the fire-irons flying about the cat’s ears. But there it is, and you must make the best of it.

We are now posted up well enough in the six weeks which preceded the arival of his mysterious Archer. He deferred his arrival till his honeymoon was completed. His mysterious letter to Mary partly alluded to his approaching marriage with Jane Blockstrop — daughter of Lieutenant Blockstrop of the coast guard, and niece of Rear–Admiral Blockstrop, who, as Captain Blockstrop, had the Tartar on the Australian station — and partly to something else. We shall see what directly. For, when Mary came down to see him in the drawingroom, there was with him, besides his wife, whom he introduced at once, a very tall and handsome young man, whom he presented to her as her cousin, George Corby.

Did Charles turn in his pallet at Scutari? Did he turn over and stare at the man in the next bed, who lay so deadly still, and who was gone when he woke on the weary morrow?

There was no mystery about George Corby’s appearance. When Mary’s father. Captain Corby, had gone to India, his younger brother, George’s father, had gone to Australia. This younger brother was a somewhat eevish, selfisli man, and was not on the best of terms with Captain Corby. He heard, of course, of the wreck of the Wairen Hastings, and the loss of his brother. He also informed himself that his niece was saved, and was the protected favourite of the Ravenshoes. He had then said to himself, “I am needy. I have a rising family. She is better off than I can make her. Let her stay there.” And so let her stay there, keeping himself, however, to do him justice, pretty well informed of her position. He had made the acquaintance of Captain Archer, at Melbourne, on his first voyage to that port, in the end of 1852; laid the whole matter before him, and begged him not to break it to her at present. Captain Archer had readily promised to say nothing, for he saw Mary the lady of a great house, with every prospect, as he thought, of marrying the heir. But when he saw Mary, after the break-up, in Grosvenor Square, a nursery governess, he felt that he ought to speak, and set sail from the port of London with a full determination of giving a piece of his mind to her uncle, should he hesitate to acknowledge her. He had no need to say much. Mr. Corby, though a selfish, was not an unkind man, by any means. And, besides, he was now very wealthy, and perfectly able to provide for his niece. So, when Archer had finished his story, he merely aid, “I suppose I had better send over George to see if he will fall in love with her. That will be the best thing, I take it. She must not be a governess to those swells. They might slight or insult her. Take George over for me, will you, my dear soul, and see how it is likely to go. At all events, bring her. back to me. Possibly I may not have done my duty by her.”

George was called in from the rocking-chair in the verandah to receive instructions. He was, so his father told him, to go to Europe with Captain Archer, and, as Captain Archer was going to get married and miss a voyage, he might stay till he came back. First and foremost, he was to avail himself of his letters of introduction, and get into the good society that his father was able to command for him. Under this head of instruction he was to dance as much as possible, and to ride to the fox-hounds, taking care not to get too near to the hounds, or to rush at his fences like a madman, as all Australians did. Secondly, he was, if possible, to fall in love with his cousin Mary Corby, marry her, bring her back, and reside pro tem, at Toorallooralyballycoome-foozleah, which station should be swept and garnished for his reception, until the new house at the Juggeruga-hugjug crossing-place was finished. Thirdly, he might run across to the Saxony ram sales, and, if he saw anything reasonable, buy, but be careful of pink ears, for they wouldn’t stand the Grampian frosts. Fourthly, he was not to smoke without changing his coat, or to eat the sugar when any one was looking. Fifthly, he was to look out for a stud horse, and might go as far as five hundred. Such a horse as Allow Me, Ask Mamma, or Pam’s Mixture would do.* And so on, like the directions of the Aulic Council to the Archduke. He was not to go expressly to Durham; but, if he found himself in that part of the world, he might get a short-horned bull. He need not go to Scotland unless he liked; but, if he did, he might buy a couple of collies, &c. &c.

* These names actually occur, side by side, in my newspaper (The Field) to which I referred for three names. They are in training by Henry Hall, at Hambleton, in Yorkshire. Surely men could find better names for their horses than such senseless ones as these. I would that was all one had to complain of. I hope the noble old sport is not on its last legs. But one trembles to think what will become of it, when the comparatively few high-minded men who are keeping things straight are gone.

George attended the ram sales in Saxony, and just ran on to Vienna, thinking, with the philosophy of an Australian, that, if he did fall in love with his cousin, he might not care to travel far from her, and that therefore she might “keep.” However, he came at last, when Archer had finished his honeymoon; and there he was in the drawingroom at Casterton.

Mary was not very much surprised when it was all put before her. She had said to Charles, in old times, “I know I have relations somewhere; when I am rich they will acknowledge me; “and, just for one instant, the suspicion crossed her mind that her relations might have heard of the fortune Lord Saltire had left her. It was unjust and impossible, and in an instant she felt it to be so. Possibly the consciousness of her injustice made her reception of her cousin somewhat warmer.

He was certainly very handsome and very charming. He had been brought up by his father the most punctilious dandy in the southern hemisphere, and thrown from a boy among the best society in the colony; so he was quite able to make himself at home everyivhere. If there was a fault in his manner, it was that there was just a shade too much lazy ease in the presence of ladies. One has seen that lately, however, in other young gentlemen, not educated in the bush, to a greater extent; so we must not be hard upon him. When Lady Hainault and Lady Ascot heard that a cousin of Mary’s had just turned up from the wilds of Australia, they looked at one another in astonishment, and agreed that he must be a wild man. But, when they had gone down and sat on him, as a committee of two, for an hour, they both pronounced him charming. And so he was.

Lord Hainault, on receiving this report, could do no less than ask him to stay a day or two. And so his luggage was sent for to Twyford, and the good Archer left, leaving him in possession.

Lord Saltire had been travelling round to all his estates. He had taken it into his head, about a month before this, that it was time that he should get into one of his great houses, and die there. He told Lady Ascot so, and advised her to come with him; but she still held on by Lord Charles Herries’ children and Mary, and said she would wait. So he had gone away, with no one but his confidential servant. He had gone to Cottingdean first, which stands on the bank of the Wannet, at the foot of the North Hampshire mountains.

Well, Cottingdean did seem at first sight a noble lair for an old lion to crawl away to, and die in. There was a great mile-long elm avenue, carried, utterly regardless of economy, over the flat valley, across the innumerable branches of the river; and at the last the trees ran up over the first great heave of the chalk hill: and above the topmost boughs of those which stood in the valley, above the highest spire of the tallest poplar in the water-meadow, the old grey house hung aloft, a long irregular fa9ade of stone. Behind were dark woods, and above all a pearl-green line of down.

But Cottingdean wouldn’t do. His Lordship’s man Simpson knew it wouldn’t do from the first. There were draughts in Cottingdean, and doors that slammed in the night, and the armour in the great gallery used suddenly to go “clank ” at all hours, in a terrible way. And the lady ancestress of the seventeenth century, who carried her head in a plate before her, used to stump upstairs and downstairs, from twelve o’clock to one, when she was punctually relieved from duty by the wicked old ancestor of the sixteenth century, who opened the cellar door and came rattling his sword against the banisters up all the staircase till he got to the northeast tower, into which he went and slammed the door ; and, when he had transacted his business, came clanking down again: when he in turn was relieved by an ol iroWol of ghosts, who walked till cockcrow. Simpson couldn’t stand it. No more could Lord Saltire, though possibly for different reasons than Simpson’s.

The first night at Cottingdean Lord Saltire had his writing-desk unpacked, and took therefrom a rusty key. He said to Simpson, “You know where I am going. If I am not back in half an hour, come after me.” Simpson knew where he was going. Lord Barkham had been staying here at Cottingdean just before he went up to town, and was killed in that unhappy duel. The old servants remembered that, when Lord Barkham went way that morning, he had taken the key of his room with him, and had said, in his merry way, that no one was to go in there till he came back the next week, for he had left all his love-letters about. Lord Saltire had got the key, and was going to open the room the first time for forty years.

What did the poor old man find there? Probably nothing more than poor Barkham had said — some love-letters lying about. When the room was opened afterwards, by the new master of Cottingdean, we found only a boy’s room, with fishing-rods and guns lying about. In one corner were a pair of muddy top-boots kicked off in a hurry, and an old groom remembered that Lord Barkham had been riding out the very morning he started for London. But, amidst the dust of forty years, we could plainly trace that some one had, comparatively recently, moved a chair up to the fireplace: and on the cold hearth there was a heap of the ashes of burnt paper.

Lord Saltire came back to Simpson just as his half-hour was over, and told him in confidence that the room he had been in was devilish draughty, and that he had caught cold in his ear. Cottingdean would not do after this. They departed next morning. They must try Marksworth.

Marksworth, Lord Saltire’s north country place, is in

Cumberland. If you are on the top of the coach, going northward, between Hiltonsbridge and Copley Beck, you can see it all the way for three miles or more, over the stone walls. The mountains are on your left; to the right are endless unbroken level woodlands; and, rising out of them, two miles off, is a great mass of gray building, from the centre of which rises a square Norman keep, ninety feet high, a beacon for miles even in that mountainous country. The Hilton and Copley Beck join in the park, which is twelve miles in circumference, and nearly all thick woodland. Beyond the great tower, between it and the further mountains, you catch a gleam of water. This is Marksmere, in which there are charr.

The draughts at Marksworth were colder and keener than the draughts at Cottingdean. Lord Saltire always hated the place; for the truth is this, that although Marksworth looked as if it had stood for eight hundred years, every stone in it had been set up by his father, when he. Lord Saltire, was quite a big boy. It was beautifully done; it was splendidly and solidly built — probably the best-executed humbug in England; but it was not comfortable to live in. A nobleman of the nineteenth century, stricken in years, finds it difficult to accommodate himself in a house the windows ‘ of which are calculated to resist arrows. At the time of the Eglinton tournament, Lord Saltire challenged the whole Tory world in arms, to attack Marksworth in the ante-gunpowder style of warfare; his Lordship to provide eatables and liquor to besiegers and besieged; probably hoping that he might get it burnt down over his head, and have a decent excuse for rebuilding it in a more sensible style. The challenge was not accepted. “The trouble,” said certain Tory noblemen, of getting up the old tactics correctly would be very great; and the expense of having the old engines of war constructed would be enormous. Besides, it might come on to rain again, and spoil the whole affair.”

Marksworth wouldn’t do. And then Simpson suggested his lordship’s town house in Curzon Street, and Lord Saltire said “Hey?” and Simpson repeated his suggestion, and Lord Saltire said “Hah!” As Charles’s luck would have it, he liked the suggestion, and turned south, coming to Casterton on his way to London. He arrived at Casterton a few days after George Corby. When he alighted at the door. Lord Hainault ran down the steps to greet him, for this pair were very fond of one another. Lord Hainault, who was accused by some people of “priggishness,” was certainly not priggish before Lord Saltire. He was genial and hearty. There was a slight crust on Lord Hainault. Because he had held his own among the clever commoners at the university, he fancied himself a little cleverer than he was. He in his heart thought more of his second, than Marston did of his double first, and possibly showed it among his equals. But before an acknowledged superior, like Lord Saltire, this never showed. When Lord Saltire talked wisely and shrewdly (and who could do so better than he?), he listened; when Lord Saltire was cross, he laughed. On this occasion Lord Saltire was cross. He never was cross to any one but Lady Ascot, Lord Hainault, and Marston. He knew they liked it.

“Good Ged, Hainault,” he began, “don’t stand grinning there, and looking so abominably healthy and happy, or I will drive away again and go on to London. Nothing can be in worse taste than ‘to look like that at a man whom you see is tired, and cold, and peevish. You have been out shooting, too. Don’t deny it; you smell of gunpowder.”

“Did you never shoot?” said Lord Hainault, laughing.

“I shot as long as I could walk, and therefore I have a right to nourish envy and all uncharitableness against those who can still do so. I wish you would be cross, Hainault. It is wretched manners not to be cross when you see a man is trying to put you out of temper.”

“And how are you, my dear lad?” continued Lord Saltire, when he had got hold of his arm. “How is Lady Ascot? and whom have you got here?”

“We are all very well,” said Lord Hainault; “and we have got nobody.”

“Well done,” said Lord Saltire. “I thought I should have found the house smelling like a poulterer’s shop on Guy Fawkes’s day, in consequence of your having got together all the hawbucks in the country for pheasant-shooting. I’ll go upstairs, my dear boy, and change, and then come down to the library fire.”

And so he did. There was no one there, and he sank into a comfortable chair with a contented “humph 1” in front of the fire, beside a big round table. He had read the paper in the train; so he looked for a book. There was a book on the table beside him — Euskin’s “Modern Painters,” which had pictures in it; so he took out his great gold glasses, and began turning it over.

A man’s card fell from it. He picked it up and read it. “Mr. Charles Ravenshoe.” Poor Charles! Tliat spring, you remember, he had come over to see Adelaide, and, while waiting to see old Lady Hainault, had held his card in his hand. It had got into the book. Lord Saltire put the book away, put up his glasses, and walked to the window.

And Charles lay in his bed at Scutari and watched the flies upon the wall.

“I’ll send Tip for little Mary,” said Lord Saltire. “I want to see the little bird. Poor Charles!”

He looked ont over the landscape. It was dull and foggy. He wandered into the convservatory, and idly looked out of the glass door at the end. Then, as he looked, he said, suddenly, “Gadzooks!” and then, still more briskly, “The deuce!”

There was a splendid show of chrysanthemums in the flower-garden, but they were not what his lordship exclaimed at. In the middle of the walk was Mary Corby, leaning on the arm of a very handsome young man. He was telling some very animated story, and she was looking up into his face with sparkling eyes.

“Othello and Desdemona! Death and confusion I ” said Lord Saltire. “Here’s a pretty kettle of fish! Maria must be mad!”

He went back into the library. Lord Hainault was there. “Hainault,” said he, quietly, “who is that young gentleman, walking with Mary Corby in the garden!”

“Oh! her cousin. I have not had time to tell you about it.” Which he did.

“And what sort of fellow is he?” said Lord Saltire. “A Yahoo, I suppose.”

“Not at all. He is a capital fellow — a perfect gentleman. There will be a matcli, I believe, unless you put a stop to it. You know best. We will talk it over. It seems to me to offer a good many advantages. I think it will come off in time. It is best for the poor little thing to forget poor Ravenshoe, if she can.”

“Yes, it will be best for her to forget poor Ravenshoe, if she can,” repeated Lord Saltire. “I wish her to do so. I must make the young fellow’s acquaintance. By-the-by, what time does your post go out?”

“At five.”

“Have you no morning post?”

“Yes. We can send to Henley before nine.”

“Then I shall not plague myself with writing my letter now. I should like to see this young fellow, Hainault.”

George Corby was introduced. Lord Saltire seemed to take a great fancy to him. He kept near him all the evening, and listened with great pleasure to his Australian stories. George Corby was, of course, very much flattered by such attention from such a famous man. Possibly he might have preferred to be near Mary; but old men, he thought, are exacting, and it is the duty of gentlemen to bear with them. So he stayed by him with good grace. After a time. Lord Saltire seemed to see that he had an intelligent listener. And hen the others were astonished to hear Lord Saltire do what he but seldom did for them — use his utmost powers of conversation; use an art almost forgotten, that of talking. To this young man, who was clever and well educated, and, like most “squatters,” perhaps a trifle fond of hearing of great people, Lord Saltire opened the storehouse of his memory, of a memory extending over seventy years; and in a clear, well modulated voice, gave him his recollection of his interviews with great people — conversations with Sieyes, Talleyrand, with Madame de Stael, with Robespierre, with Egalite, with Alexander, and a dozen others. George was intensely eager to hear about Marat. Lord Saltire and his snuff-box had not penetrated into the lair of that filthy wolf, but he had heard much of him from many friends, and told it well. When the ladies rose to go to bed, George Corby was astonished; he had forgotten Mary, had never been near her the whole evening, and he had made an engagement to drive Lord Saltire the next morning up to Wargrave in a pony-chaise, to look at Barrymore House, and the place where the theatre stood, and where the game of high jinks had been played so bravely fifty years before. And, moreover, he and Lord Saltire were, the day after, to make an excursion down the river and see Medmenham, where once Jack Wilkes and the devil had held court.

Mary would not see much of him at this rate for a day or two.

It was a great shame of this veteran to make such a fool of the innocent young bushman. There ought to be fair play in love or war. His acquaintance Talleyrand, could not have been more crafty. I am so angry with him that I will give the letter he wrote that night in extenso, and show the world what a wicked old man he was. When he went to his room, he said to Simpson, “I have got to write a letter before I go to bed. I want it to go to the post at Henley before nine. I don’t want it to lie in the letterbox in the hall. I don’t want them to see the direction. What an appetite you would have for your breakfast, Simpson, if you were to walk to Henley.” And Simpson said, “Very good, my Lord.” And Lord Saltire wrote as follows:—

“My dear Lad, — I have been travelling to my places, looking for a place to die in. They are all cold and draughty, and won’t do. I have come back to Casterton. I must stay here at present on your account, and I am in mortal fear of dying here. Nothing, remember, can be more unmannerly or rude than falling ill, and dying, in another man’s house. I know that I should resent such a proceeding myself as a deliberate affront, and I therefore would not do it for the world.

“You must come here to me instantly; do you hear? I am keeping the breach for you at all sacrifices. Until you come, I am to be trundled about this foggy valley in pony carriages through the day, and talk myself hoarse all the evening, all for your sake. A cousin of Mary Corby’s has come from Australia. He is very handsome, clever, and gentlemanly, and I am afraid she is getting very fond of him.

“This must not be, my dear boy. Now our dear Charles is gone, you must, if possible, marry her. It is insufferable that we should have another disappointment from an interloper. I don’t blame you for not having come before. You were quite right, but don’t lose a moment now. Leave these boys of yours. The dirty little rogues must get on for a time without you. Don’t think that I sneer at the noble work that you and your uncle are doing: God Almighty forbid; but you must leave it for a time, and come here.

“Don’t argue or procrastinate, but come. I cannot go on being driven all over the country in November to keep him out of the way. Besides, if you don’t come soon, I shall have finished all my true stories, and have to do what I have never done yet — to lie. So make haste, my dear boy.

“Yours affectionately,

“Saltire.”

On the second day from this Lord Saltire was driven to Medmenham by George Corby, and prophesied to him about it. When they neared home, Lord Saltire grew distraught for the first time, and looked eagerly towards the terrace. As they drove up, John Marston ran down the steps to meet them. Lord Saltire said, “Thank God!” and walked up to the hall-door between the two young men.

“Are you staying in London?” said George Corby.

“Yes. I am living in London,” said John Marston. “An uncle of mine, a Moravian missionary from Australia, is working at a large ragged school in the Borough, and I am helping him.”

“You don’t surely mean James Smith?” said Corby.

“Indeed I do.”

“Your uncle? Well, that is very strange. I know him very well. My father fought his battle for him when he was at variance with the squatters about . . . . He is one of the best fellows in the world. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.”

Lord Saltire said to Lord Hainault, when they were alone together, — “You see what a liberty I have taken, having my private secretary down in this unceremonious way. Do ask him to stay.”

“You know how welcome he is for his own sake. Do you think you are right?”

“I think so.”

“I am afraid you are a little too late,” said Lord Hainault.

Alas! poor Charles.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/henry/ravenshoe/chapter55.html

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