Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 59.

Lord Ascot’s Crowning Act of Folly.

Lord Ascot, with his umbrella over his shoulder, swung on down the street, south-westward. The town was pleasant in the higher parts, and so he felt inclined to prolong his walk. He turned to the right into Park Lane.

He was a remarkable-looking man. So tall, so broad, with such a mighty chest, and such a great, red, hairless, cruel face above it, that people, when he paused to look about him, as he did at each street comer, turned to look at him. He did not notice it; he was used to it. And, besides, as he walked there were two or three words ringing yet in his ears which made him look less keenly than usual after the handsome horses and pretty faces which he met in his walk.

“Oh, Ascot, Ascot! will nothing save you from the terrible hereafter?”

“Confound those old women, more particularly when hey take to religion. Always croaking. And grandma Ascot, too, as plucky and good an old soul as any in England — as good a judge of a horse as William Day — taking to that sort of thing. Hang it! it was unendurable. It was bad taste, you know, putting such ideas into a fellow’s head. London was dull enough after Paris, without that.”

So thought Lord Ascot, as he stood in front of Dudley House, and looked southward. The winter sun was feebly shining where he was, but to the south there was a sea of fog, out of which rose the Wellington statue, looking more exasperating than ever, and the two great houses at the Albert Gate.

“This London is a beastly hole,” said he. “I have got to go down into that cursed fog. I wish Tattersalls’ was anywhere else.” But he shouldered his umbrella again, and on he went.

Opposite St. George’s Hospital there were a number of medical students. Two of them, regardless of the order which should always be kept on her Majesty’s highway, were wrestling. Lord Ascot paused for a moment to look at them. He heard one of the students who were looking on say to another, evidently about himself:

“By Gad! what preparations that fellow would cut up into.”

“All!” said another, “and wouldn’t he cuss and d —— under operation neither.”

“I know who that is,” said a third. “That’s Lord Ascot; the most infernal, headlong, gambling savage in the three kingdoms.”

So Lord Ascot, in the odour of sanctity, passed down into Tattersalls’ yard. There was no one in the rooms. He went out into the yard again.

“Hullo, you sir! Have you seen Mr. Sloane?”

“Mr. Sloane was here not ten minutes ago, my lord. He thought your lordship was not coming. He is gone down to the Groom’s Arms.”

“Where the deuce is that?”

“In Chapel Street, at the corner of the mews, my lord. Fust turning on the right, my lord.”

Lord Ascot had business with our old acquaintance Mr. Sloane, and went on. When he came to the public-house mentioned (the very same one in which the Servants’ Club was held, to which Charles belonged), he went into the bar, and asked of a feeble-minded girl, left accidentally in charge of the bar — “Where was Mr. Sloane?” And she said, “Upstairs, in the club-room.”

Lord Ascot walked up to the club-room, and looked in at the glass door. And there he saw Sloane. He was standing up, with his hand on a man’s shoulder. ho had a map before Mm. Eight and left of these two men were two other men, an old one and a young one, and the four faces were close together; and while he watched them, the man with the map before him looked up, and Lord Ascot saw Charles Ravenshoe, pale and wan, looking like death itself, but still Charles Ravenshoe in the body.

He did not open the door. He turned away, went down into the street, and set his face northward.

So he was alive, and — There were more things to follow that “and ” than he had time to think of at first He had a cunning brain. Lord Ascot, but he could not get at his position at first. The whole business was too unexpected — he had not time to realize it.

The afternoon was darkening as he turned his steps northwards, and began to walk rapidly, with scowling face and compressed lips. One or two of the students still lingered on the steps of the hospital. The one who had mentioned him by name before said to his fellows, “Look at that Lord Ascot. What a devil he looks. He has lost some money. Gad! there’ll be murder done tonight. They oughtn’t to let such fellows go loose!”

Charles Ravenshoe alive. And Lord Saltire’s will. Half a million of money. And Charley Ravenshoe, the best old cock in the three kingdoms. Of all his villanies — and, God forgive him, they were many — the one that weighed heaviest on his heart was his treatment of Charles. And now —

The people turned and looked after him as he hurled along. Why did his wayward feet carry him to the corner of Curzon Street? That was not his route to St. John’s Wood. The people stared at the great red-faced giant, who paused against the lamp-post irresolute, biting his upper lip till the blood came. How would they have stared if they had seen what I see.*

* Perhaps a reference to “The Wild Huntsman ” will stop all criticism at this point. A further reference to “Faust” will also show that I am in good company.

There were two angels in the street that wretched winter afternoon, who had followed Lord Ascot in his headlong course, and paused here. He could see them but dimly, or only guess at their existence, but I can see them plainly enough.

One was a white angel, beautiful to look at, who stood a little way off, beckoning to him, and pointing towards Lord Saltire’s house; and the other was black, with its face hid in a hood, who was close beside him, and kept saying in his ear, “Half a million! half a million!”

A strange apparition in Curzon Street, at four o’clock on a January afternoon! Gibbon lays great stress on no contemporary historian having noticed the darkness at the Crucifixion. If you search the files of the papers at this period, you will find no notice of any remarkable atmospheric phenomena in Curzon Street that afternoon. But two angels were there nevertheless, and Lord Ascot had a dim suspicion of it.

A dim suspicion of it! How could it be otherwise, when he heard a voice in one ear repeating Lady Ascot’s last words, “What can save you from the terrible hereafter?” and in the other the stealthy whisper of the fiend, “Half a million! half a million!”

He paused only for a moment, and then headed northward again. The black angel was at his ear, but the white one was close to him — so close, that when his own door opened, the three passed in together. Adelaide, standing under the chandelier in the hall, saw nothing of the two spirits; only her husband, scowling fiercely.

She was going upstairs to dress, but she paused. As soon as Lord Ascot’s “confidential scoundrel,” before mentioned, had left the hall, she came up to him, and in a whisper, for she knew the man was listening, said:

“What is the matter. Welter?”

He looked as if he would have pushed her out of the way. But he did not. He said:— “I have seen Charles Ravenshoe.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

“Good God! Then it is almost a matter of time itli us,” said Adelaide. “I had a dim suspicion of this. Ascot. It is horrible. We are ruined.”

“Not yet,” said Lord Ascot.

“There is time — time. He is obstinate and mad. Lord Saltire might die — ”

“Well?”

“Either of them,” she hissed out. “Is there no — ”

“No what?”

“There is a half a million of money,” said Adelaide.

“Well?”

“All sorts of things happen to people.”

Lord Ascot looked at her for an instant, and snarled out a curse at her.

John Marston was perfectly right. He was a savage, untameable blackguard. He went upstairs into his bedroom. The two angels were with him. They are with all of us at such times as these. There is no plagiarism here. The fact is too old for that.

Up and down, up and down. The bedroom was not long enough; so he opened the door of the dressing-room; and that was not long enough; and so he opened the door of what had been the nursery in a happier household than his, and walked up and down through them all And Adelaide sat below, before a single candle, with pale face and clenched lips, listening to his footfall on the floor above.

She knew as well as if an angel had told her what was passing in his mind as he walked up and down. She had foreseen this crisis plainly — yon may laugh at me, but she had. She had seen that if, by any wild conjunction of circumstances, Charles Ravenshoe were alive, and if he were to come across him before Lord Saltire’s death, events would arrange themselves exactly as they were doing on this terrible evening. There was something awfully strange in the realization of her morbid suspicions.

Yes, she had seen thus far, and had laughed at herself for entertaining such mad fancies. But she had seen no further. What the upshot would be was hidden from her like a dark veil. Black and impenetrable as the fog which was hanging over Waterloo Bridge at that moment, which made the squalid figure of a young, desperate girl show like a pale, fluttering ghost, leading a man whom we know well, a man who followed her, on the road to — what?

The rest, though, seemed to be, in some sort, in her own hands. “Wealth, position in the world, the power of driving her chariot over the necks of those who had scorned her — the only things for which her worthless heart cared — were all at stake. “He will murder me,” she said, “hut he shall hear 7we.”

Still, up and down, over head, his heavy footfall went to and fro.

Seldom, in any man’s life, comes such a trial as his this night. A good man might have been hard tried in such circumstances. What hope can we have of a desperate blackguard like Lord Ascot? He knew Lord Saltire hated him; he knew that Lord Saltire had only left his property to him because he thought Charles Ravenshoe was dead; and yet he hesitated whether or no he should tell Lord Saltire that he had seen Charles, and ruin himself utterly.

Was he such an utter rascal as John Marston made him outi Would such a rascal have hesitated long? What could make a man without a character, without principle, without a care about the world’s opinion, hesitate at such a time like this? I cannot tell you.

He was not used to think about things logically or calmly; and so, as he paced up and down, it was some time before he actually arranged his thoughts. Then he came to this conclusion, and put it fairly before him — that, if he let Lord Saltire know that Charles Ravenshoe was alive, he was ruined; and that, if he did not, he was a villain.

Let us give the poor profligate wretch credit for getting even so far as this. There was no attempt to gloss over the facts and deceive himself He put the whole matter honestly before him.

He would be a fool if he told Lord Saltire. He would be worse than a fool, a madman — there was no doubt about that. It was not to be thought about.

But Charles Ravenshoe!

How pale the dear old lad looked. What a kind, gentle old face it was. How well he could remember the first time he ever saw him. At Twyford, yes; and, that very same visit, how he ran across the billiard-room, and asked him who Lord Saltire was. Yes. What jolly times there were down in Devonshire, too. Those Claycomb hounds wanted pace, but they were full fast enough for the country. And what a pottering old rascal Charley was among the stone walls. Rode through. Yes. And how he’d mow over a woodcock. Fire slap through a holly bush. Ha!

And suppose they proved this previous marriage. Why, then he would be back at Ravenshoe, and all things would be as they were. But suppose they couldn’t —

Lord Ascot did not know that eighty thousand pounds were secured to Charles.

By Gad! it was horrible to think of. That it should be thrown on him, of all men, to stand between old Charley and his due. If it were any other man but him —

Reader, if you do not know that a man will act from “sentiment” long, long years after he has thrown “principle ” to the winds, you had better pack up your portmanteau, and go and live five years or more among Australian convicts and American rowdies, as a friend of mine did. The one long outlives the other. The incarnate devils who beat out poor Price’s brains with their shovels, when they had the gallows before them, consistently perjured themselves in favour of the youngest of the seven, the young fiend who had hounded them on.

Why there never was such a good fellow as that Charley. That Easter vacation — hey! Among the bargees, hang it, what a game it was — I won’t follow out his recollections here any further. Skittle-playing and fighting are all very well; but one may have too much of them.

“I might still do this,” thought Lord Ascot; “I might —”

At this moment he was opposite the dressing-room door. It was opened, and Adelaide stood before him.

Beautiful and terrible, with a look which her husband had, as yet, only seen shadowed dimly — a look which he felt might come there some day, but which he had never seen yet. The light of her solitary candle shone upon her pale face, her gleaming eyes, and her clenched lip; and he saw what was written there, and for one moment quailed.

(“If you were to say to me,” said Lord Hainault once, “that Charles would be unwise to let Ascot’s wife make his gruel for him, I should agree with you.”)

Only for one moment! Then he turned on her and cursed her.

“What, in the name of Hell, do you want here at this moment?”

“You may murder me if you like. Ascot; but, before you have time to do that, you shall hear what I have got to say. I have been listening to your footsteps for a weary hour, and I heard irresolution in every one of them. Ascot, don’t be a madman!”

“I shall be soon, if you come at such a time as this, and look like that. If my face were to take the same expression as yours has now, Lady Ascot, these would be dangerous quarters for you.”

“I know that,” she said. “I knew all that before I came up here tonight. Ascot. Ascot, half a million of money — ”

“Why, all the devils in the pit have been singing that tune for an hour past. Have you only endangered your life to add your little pipe to theirs?”

“I have. Won’t you hear me?”

“m. Go away.”

“Are you going to do it?”

“Most likely not. You had better go away.”

“You might give him a hundred thousand pounds, you know, Ascot. Tour thousand a year. The poor dear fellow would worship you for your generosity. He is a very good fellow, Ascot.”

“You had better go away,” said he, quietly.

“‘Not without a promise, Ascot. Thinks — ”

“Now go away. This is the last warning I give you. Madwoman!”

“But, Ascot —”

“Take care; it will be too late for both of us in another moment.”

She caught his eyes for the first time, and fled for her life. She ran down into the drawingroom, and threw herself into a chair. “God preserve me!” she said, “I have gone too far with him. Oh, this lonely house!”

Every drop of blood in her body seemed to fly to her heart. There were footsteps outside the door. Oh, God! have mercy on her; he was following her.

Where were the two angels now, I wonder?

He opened the door, and came towards her slowly. If mortal agony can atone for sin, she atoned for all her sins in that terrible half-minute. She did not cry out; she dared not; she writhed down among the gau.dy cushions, with her face buried in her hands, and waited — for what?

She heard a voice speaking to her. It was not his oice, but the kind voice of old Lord Ascot, his dead father. It said —

“Adelaide, my poor girl, you must not get frightened when I get in a passion. My poor child, you have home enough for me; I would not hurt a hair of your head.”

He kissed her cheek, and Adelaide burst into a passion of sobs. After a few moments those sobs had ceased, and Lord Ascot left her. He did not know that she had fainted away. She never told him that.

Where were the angels now? Angels! — there was but one of them left. Which one was that, think you?

Hurrah! the good angel. The black fiend with the hood had sneaked away to his torment. And, as Lord Ascot closed the door behind him, and sped away down the foggy street, the good one vanished too; for the work was done. Ten thousand fiends would not turn him from his purpose now. Hurrah!


“Simpson,” said Lord Saltire, as he got into bed that evening, “it won’t last much longer.”

“What will not last, my lord?” said Simpson.

“Why, me,” said Lord Saltire, disregarding grammar. “Don’t set up a greengrocer’s shop, Simpson; nor a butter and egg shop, in Berkeley Street, if you can help t, Simpson. If you must keep a lodging-house, I should say Jermyn Street; but don’t let me influence you. I am not sure that I wouldn’t sooner see you in Brook Street, or Conduit Street. But don’t try Pall Mall, that’s a good fellow; or you’ll be getting fast men, who will demoralize your establishment. A steady connexion among government clerks and that sort of person will pay best in the long run.”

“My dear lord — my good old friend, why should you talk like this tonight?”

“Because I am very ill, Simpson, and it will all come at once; and it may come any time. When they open Lord Barkham’s room, at Cottingdean, I should like you and Mr. Marston to go in first, for I may have left something or another about.”

An hour or two after, his bell rang, and Simpson, who was in the dressing-room, came hurriedly in. He was sitting up in bed, looking just the same as usual.

“My good fellow,” he said, “go down and find out who rung and knocked at the door like that. Did you hear it?”

“I did not notice it, my lord.”

“Butchers, and bakers, and that sort of people, don’t knock and ring like that. The man at the door now brings news, Simpson. There is no mistake about the ing of a man who comes with important intelligence. Go down and see.”

He was not long gone. When he came back again, he said:

“It is Lord Ascot, my lord. He insists on seeing you immediately.”

“Up with him, Simpson — up with him, my good fellow. I told you so. This gets interesting.”

Lord Ascot was already in the doorway. Lord Saltire’s brain was as acute as ever; and, as Lord Ascot approached him, he peered eagerly and curiously at him, in the same way as one scrutinizes the seal of an unopened letter, and wonders what its contents may be. Lord Ascot sat down by the bed, and whispered to the old man; and, when Simpson saw his great, coarse, red, hairless, ruffianly face actually touching that of Lord Saltire, so delicate, so refined, so keen, Simpson began to have a dim suspicion that he was looking on rather a remarkable sight. And so he was.

“Lord Saltire,” said Lord Ascot, “I have seen Charles Ravenshoe tonight.”

“You are quite sure?”

“I am quite sure.”

“Ha! Ring the bell, Simpson.” Before any one had spoken again, a footman was in the room. “Bring the majordomo here instantly,” said Lord Saltire.

“You know what you have done, Ascot,” said Lord Saltire. “You see what you have done. I am going to send for my solicitor, and alter my will.”

“Of course you are,” said Lord Ascot. “Do you dream I did not know that before I came here?”

“And yet you came?”

“Yes; with all the devils out of hell dragging me back.”

“As a matter of curiosity, why?” said Lord Saltire.

“Oh, I couldn’t do it, you know. I’ve done a good many dirty things; but I couldn’t do that, particularly to that man. There are some things a fellow can’t do, you know.”

“Where did you see him?”

“At the Groom’s Arms, Belgrave Mews; he was there not three hours ago. Find a man called Sloane, a horsedealer; he will tell you all about him; for he was sitting with his hand on his shoulder. His address is twenty-seven, New Road.”

At this time the majordomo appeared. “Take a cab at once, and fetch me — you understand when I say fetch — Mr. Brogden, my solicitor. Mr. Compton lives out of town, but he lives over the office in Lincoln’s Inn. If you can get hold of the senior partner, he will do as well. Put either of them in a cab and pack them off here. Then go to Scotland Yard; give my compliments to Inspector Field; tell him a horrible murder has been committed, accompanied by arson, forgery, and regrating, with a strong suspicion of sorning, and that he must come at once.”

That venerable gentleman disappeared, and then. Lord Saltire said:

“Do you repent. Ascot?”

“No,” said he. “D it all, you know, I could not do it when I came to think of it. The money would never have stayed with me, I take it. Good night.”

“Good night,” said Lord Saltire; “come the first thing in the morning.”

And so they parted. Simpson said, “Are you going to alter your will tonight, my lord? Won’t it be a ittle too much for you?”

“It would be if I was going to do so, Simpson; but I am not going to touch a line of it. I am not sure that half a million of money was ever, in the history of the world, given up with better grace or with less reason. He is a noble fellow; I never guessed it; he shall have it — by Jove, he shall have it! I am going to sleep. Apologize to Brogden, and give the information to Field; tell him I expect Charles Ravenshoe here tomorrow morning. Good night.”

Simpson came in to open the shutters next morning; but those shutters were not opened for ten days, for Lord Saltire was dead.

Dead. The delicate waxen right hand, covered with rings, was lying outside on the snow-white sheet, which was unwrinkled by any death agony; and on the pillow was a face, beautiful always, but now more beautiful, more calm, more majestic than ever. If his first love, dead so many years, had met him in the streets but yesterday, she would not have known him; but if she could have looked one moment on the face which lay on that pillow, she would have seen once more the gallant young nobleman who came a-wooing under the lime-trees sixty years agone.

The inspector was rapid and dexterous in his work. He was on Charles Ravenshoe’s trail like a bloodhound, eager to redeem the credit which his coadjutor, Yard, had lost over the same case. But his instructions came to him three hours too late.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/henry/ravenshoe/chapter59.html

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