Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 65.

Father Mackworth puts the finishing touch on his great piece of embroidery.

And so we went. At Ravenshoe were assembled General Mainwaring, Lady Ascot, Mary, Gus, Elora, Archy, and nurse, William, Charles, Father Tiernay and Father Murtagh Tiernay, John Marston, and Tommy Cruse from Clovelly, a little fisherboy, cousin of Jane Evans’s — Jane Evans who was to be Mrs. Ravenshoe.

It became necessary that Jane Evans should be presented to Lady Ascot. She was only a fisherman’s daughter, but she was wonderfully beautiful, and gentle, and good. William brought her into the hall one evening, when every one was sitting round the fire; and he said, “My dear madam, this is my wife that is to be.” Nothing more.

And the dear old woman rose and kissed her, and said, ” My love, how wonderfully pretty you are. You must learn to love me, you know, and you must make aste about it, because I am a very old woman, and I sha’n’t live very long.”

So Jane sat down by Mary, and was at borne, tbougb a little nervous. And General Mainwaring came and sat beside ber, and made bimseif as agreeable as very few men beside him know bow to. And tbe fisherboy got next to William, and stared about with his great black eyes, like a deer in a flower-garden. (You caught that face capitally, Mr. Hook, if you will allow me to say so — best painter of the day!)

Jane Evans was an immense success. She had been to school six months at Exeter, and had possibly been drilled in a few little matters: such as how to ask a gentleman to hold her fan; how to sit down to the piano when asked to sing (which she couldn’t do); how to marshal her company to dinner; how to step into the car of a balloon; and so on. Things absolutely necessary to know, of course, but which had nothing to do with her success in this case; for she was so beautiful, gentle, and winning, that she might have done anything short of eating with her knife, and would have been considered nice.

Had she a slight Devonshire accent? “Well, well! Do you know, I rather like it. I consider it aqually so good with the Scotch, my dear.

I could linger and linger on about this pleasant pring at old Ravenshoe, but I must not. You have been my companion so long that I am right loth to part with you. But the end is very near.

Charles had his revenge upon the trout. The first day after he had recovered from his journey, he and William went out and did most terrible things. William would not carry a rod, but gave his to the servant, and took the landing-net. That Ravenshoe stream carries the heaviest fish in Devonshire. Charles worked up to the waterfall, and got nineteen, weighing fourteen pounds. Then they walked down to the weir above the bridge, and then Charles’ evil genius prompted him to say, “William, have you got a salmon fly in your book?” And William told him that he had, but solemnly warned him of what would happen.

Charles was reckless and foolish. He, with a twelve foot trout rod, and thirty yards of line, threw a small salmon fly under the weir above the bridge. There was a flash on the water. Charles’ poor little reel began screaming, and the next moment the line came “flick ” home across his face, and he said, “By gosh, what a fool I was,” and then he looked up to the bridge, and there was Father Mackworth looking at him.

“How d’ye do, my dear sir?” said Charles. “Glad to see you out. I have been trying to kill a salmon with trout tackle, and have done quite the other thing.”

Father Mackworth looked at him, but did not speak a word. Then he looked round, and young Murtagh Tiernay came up and led him away; and Charles got up on the road and watched the pair going home. And as he saw the tall narrow figure of Father Mackworth creeping slowly along, dragging his heels as he went, he said, “Poor old fellow, I hope he will live to forgive me.”

Father Mackworth, poor fellow, dragged his heels homeward; and when he got into his room in the priests’ tower, Murtagh Tiernay said to him, “My dear friend, you are not angry with me? I did not tell you that he was come back, I thought it would agitate you.”

And Father Mackworth said slowly, for all his old decisive utterance was gone, “The Virgin bless you, you are a good man.”

And Father Mackworth spoke truth. Both the Tiernays were good fellows, though papists.

“Let me help you off with your coat,” said Murtagh, for Mackworth was standing in deep thought.

“Thank you,” said Mackworth. “Now, while I sit here, go and fetch your brother.”

Murtagh Tiernay did as he was told. In a few inutes our good jolly old Irish friend was leaning over Mackworth’s chair.

“Ye’re not angry that we didn’t tell ye there was company?” he said.

“No, no,” said Mackworth. “Don’t speak to me, that’s a good man. Don’t confuse me. I am going. You had better send Murtagh out of the room.”

Father Murtagh disappeared.

“I am going,” said Mackworth. “Tiernay, we were not always good friends, were we?”

“We are good friends, any way now, brother,” said Tiernay.

“Ay, ay, you are a good man. I have done a wrong. I did it for the sake of the Church, partly, and partly — well. I was very fond of Cuthbert. I loved that boy, Tiernay. And I spun a web. But it has all got confused. It is on this left side, which feels so heavy. They shouldn’t make one’s brain in two halves, should they?”

“Begorra no. It’s a burnin’ shame,” said Father Tiernay, determining, like a true Irishman, to agree with every word said, and find out what was coming.

“That being the case, my dear friend,” said poor Mackworth, “give me the portfolio and ink, and we will let our dear brother Butler know, de profandis clamavi, that the time is come.”

Father Tiernay said, “That will be the proper course,” and got him pen and ink, fully assured that another fit was coming on, and that he was wandering in his mind; but still watching to see whether he would let out anything. A true Irishman.

Mackworth let out nothing. He wrote as steadily as he could, a letter of two lines, and put it in an envelope. Then he wrote another letter of about three lines, and inclosed the whole in a larger envelope, and closed it. Then he said to Father Tiernay, “Direct it to Butler, will you, my dear friend; you quite agree that I have done right?”

Father Tiernay said that he had done quite right; but wondered what the dickens it was all about. We soon found out. But we walked, and rode, and fished, and chatted, and played billiards, and got up charades with Lady Ascot for an audience; not often thinking of the poor paralytic priest in the lonely tower, and little dreaming of the mine which he was going to spring under our feet.

The rows (there is no other expression) that used to go on between Father Tiernay and Lady Ascot were as amusing as anything I ever heard. I must do Tiernay the justice to say that he was always perfectly well bred, and also, that Lady Ascot began it. Her good temper, her humour, and her shrewdness were like herself; I can ay no more. Tiernay dodged, and shuffled, and went from pillar to post, and was as witty and good-humoured as an Irishman can be; but I, as a staunch Protestant, am of opinion that Lady Ascot, though nearly ninety, had the best of it. I daresay good Father Tiernay don’t agree with me.

The younger Tiernay was always in close attendance on Mackworth. Every one got very fond of this young priest. We used to wait until Father Mackworth was reported to be in bed, and then he was sent for. And generally we used to make an excuse to go into the chapel, and Lady Ascot would come, defiant of rheumatism, and we would get him to the organ.

And then — Oh, Lord! how he would make that organ speak, and plead, and pray, till the prayer was won. And then, how he would send aggregated armies of notes, marching in vast battalions one after another, out into space, to die in confused melody; and then, how he would sound the trumpet to recal them, and get no answer but the echo of the roof Ah ! well. I hope you are fond of music, reader.

But one night we sent for him, and he could not come. And later we sent again, but he did not come; and the man we had sent, being asked, looked uneasy, and said he did not know why. By this time the ladies had gone to bed. General Mainwaring, Charles, William,

John Marston, and myself, were sitting over the fire in the hall, smoking, and little Tommy Cruse was standing between William’s knees.

The candles and the fire were low. There was light outside from a clouded moon, so that one could see the gleam of the sea out of the mullioned windows. Charles was stooping down, describing the battle of the Alma on the hearthrug, and William was bending over, watching him, holding the boy between his knees, as I said. General Mainwaring was puffing his cigar, and saying, “Yes, yes; that’s right enough; ” and Marston and I were, like William, looking at Charles.

Suddenly the boy gave a loud cry, and hid his face in William’s bosom. I thought he had been taken with a fit. I looked up over General Mainwaring’s head, and I cried out, “My God! what is this?”

We were all on our legs in a moment, looking the same way. At the long low mullioned window which had been behind General Mainwaring. The clouded moonlight outside showed us the shape of it. But between us and it there stood three black figures, and as we looked at them, we drew one towards the other, for we were frightened. The general took two steps forward.

One of the figures advanced noiselessly. It was dressed in black, and its face was shrouded in a black ood. In that light, with that silent even way of approaching, it was the most awful figure I ever saw. And from under its hood came a woman’s voice, the sound of which made the blood of more than one to stand still, and then go madly on again. It said:—

“I am Ellen Ravenshoe. My sins and my repentance are known to some here. I have been to the war, in the hospitals, till my health gave way, and I came home but yesterday, as it were, and I have been summoned here. Charles, I was beautiful once. Look at this.”

And she threw her hood back, and we looked at her in the dim light. Beautiful once! Ay, but never so beautiful as now. The complexion was deadly pale, and the features were pinched, but she was more beautiful than ever. I declare I believe that if we had seen a ring of glory round her head at that moment none of us would have been surprised. Just then, her beauty, her nun’s dress, and the darkness of the hall, assisted the illusion, probably; but there was really something saint-like and romantic about her, for an instant or so, which made us all stand silent. Alas! there was no ring of glory round her head. Poor Ellen was only bearing the cross, she had not won the crown.

Charles was the first who spoke or moved; he went up to her, and kissed her, and said, “My sweet sister, I new that if I ever saw you again I should see you in these weeds. My dear love, I am so glad to see you. And oh, my sister, how much more happy to see you dressed like that — ”

(Of course he did not use exactly those words, but words to that effect, only more passionate and even less grammatical. I am not a shorthand writer. I only give you the substance of conversations in the best prose I can command.)

“Charles,” she said, “I do right to wear weeds, for I am the widow of — (Never mind what she said; that sort of thing very properly jars on Protestant ears.) I am a sister of the Society of Mercy of St. Bridget, and I have been to the East, as I told you: and more than once I must have been into the room where you lay, to borrow things, or talk with English Catholic ladies, and never guessed you were there. After Hornby had found me at Hackney, I got leave from Father Butler to join an Irish sisterhood; for our mother was Irish in speech and in heart, you remember, though not by birth. I have something to say — something very important. Father Mackworth, will you come here? Are all here intimate friends of the family? Will you ask any of them to leave the hall, Charles?”

“Not one,” said Charles. “Is one of those dark figures which have frightened us so much, Father Mackworth? My dear sir, I am so sorry. Come to the fire; and who is the other?”

“Only Murtagh Tiernay,” said a soft voice.

“Why did you stand out there these few minutes? Father Mackworth, your arm.”

William and Charles helped him in towards the fire. He looked terribly ill and ghastly. The dear old general took him from them, and sat him down in his own chair by the fire; and there he sat looking curiously around him, with the light of the wood fire and the candles strong on his face, while Ellen stood behind him, with her hood thrown back, and her white hands folded on her bosom. If you have ever seen a stranger group than we were, I should be glad to hear of it.

Poor Mackworth seemed to think that it was expected of him to speak. He looked up to General Mainwaring, and he said —

“I hope you are the better of your wound, sir. I have had a sharp stroke of paralysis, and I have another coming on, sir, and my memory is going. When you meet my Lord Saltire, whom I am surprised to find absent tonight, will you tell him that I presented my compliments, and thought that he had used me very well on the whole. Had she not better begin, sir? or it may be too late ) unless you would like to wait for Lord Saltire.” ather Murtagh Tiernay knelt down and whispered to him.

“Ay! ay!” he said, “Dead — ay! so he is, I had forgotten. We shall all he dead soon. Some of us will to hell, General, and some to heaven, and all to purgatory. I am a priest, sir. I have been bound body and soul to the Church from a child, and I have done things which the Church will disapprove of when they are told, though not while they are kept secret; and I tell them because the eyes of a dead man, of a man who was drowned bathing in the bay, haunt me day and night, and say, speak out! — Murtagh!”

Little Tiernay was kneeling beside him, and called his attention to him.

“You had better give me the wine; for the end is getting very near. Tell her to begin.”

And while poor Mackworth was taking some wine (poor fellow, it was little enough he had taken in his life-time), Ellen began to speak. I had some notion that we should know everything now. We had guessed the truth for a long while. We had guessed everything about Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage. We believed in it. We seemed to know all about it, from Lady Ascot. No link was wanting in the chain of proof, save one, the name of the place in which that marriage took place-That had puzzled every one. Lady Ascot declared it as a place in the north of Hampshire, as you will remember, but every register had been searched there, without result. So conceive how we all stared at poor Ellen, when she began to speak, wondering whether she knew as much as ourselves, or even more.

“I am Miss Ravenshoe,” she said quietly. “My brother Charles there is heir to this estate; and I have come here tonight to tell you so.”

There was nothing new here. We knew all about that. I stood up and put my arm through Charles Ravenshoe’s, and William came and laid his hand upon my shoulder. The general stood before the fire, and Ellen went on.

“Petre Ravenshoe was married in 1778 to Maria Dawson, and his son was James Ravenshoe, my father, who was called Horton, and was Densil Ravenshoe’s gamekeeper. I have proof of this.”

So had we. We knew all this. What did she know more 1 It was intolerable that she was to stop just here, and leave the one awful point unanswered. I forgot my good manners utterly; I clutched Charles’s arm tighter, and I cried out —

“We know about the marriage, Miss Ravenshoe; we have known of it a long while. But where did it take place, my dear young lady? Where V

She turned on me and answered, wondering at my agerness. I had bronglit out the decisive words at last, the words that we had been dying to hear for six months; she said —

“At Finchampstead, in Berkshire; I have a copy of the certificate with me.”

I let go of Charles’s arm, and fell back in my chair. My connexion with this story is over (except the trouble of telling it, which I beg you won’t mention, for it has given me as much pleasure as it has you; and that, if you look at it in a proper point of view, is quite just, for very few men have a friend who has met with such adventures as Charles Ravenshoe, who will tell them all about it afterwards). I fell back in my chair, and stared at poor Father Mackworth as if he were a copper disk, and I was trying to get into a sufficiently idiotic state to be electrobiologized.

“I have very little more to tell,” said Ellen. “I was not aware that you knew so much. From Mr. William Marston’s agitation, I conclude that I have supplied the only link which was missing. I think that Father Mackworth wishes to explain to you why he sent for me to come here tonight. If he feels himself able to do so now, I shall be glad to be dismissed.”

Father Mackworth sat up in his chair, and spoke at once. He had gathered himself up for the effort, and ent through it well, though with halting and difficult speech.

“I knew of Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage from Father Clifford, with all the particulars. It had been confessed to him. He told it to me the day Mrs. Ravenshoe died, after Densil Ravenshoe had told me that his second son was to be brought up to the Protestant faith. I went to him in a furious passion, and he told me about this previous marriage which had been confessed to him, to quiet me. It showed me, that if the worst were to happen, and Cuthbert were to die, and Ravenshoe go to a Protestant, I could still bring in a Catholic as a last resource. For if Cuthbert had died, and Norah had not confessed about the changing of the children, I should have brought in James, and after him William, both Catholics, believing him to be the son of James and Norah. Do you understand?

“Why did I not? I loved that boy Cuthbert. And it was told under seal of confession, and must not be used save in deadly extremity, and William was a turbulent boy. Which would have been the greater crime at that time? It was only a choice of evils, for the Church is very dear to me.

“Then Norah confessed to me about the change of children, and then I saw, that by speaking of Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage, I should only bring in a Protestant heir. But I saw, also, that by using her confession only, I could prove Charles Ravenshoe to be merely a gamekeeper’s son, and turn him out into the world, and so I used it, sir. You used to irritate and insult me, sir,” he said, turning to Charles, “and I was not so near death then as now. If you can forgive me, in God’s name say so.”

Charles went over to him, and put his arm round him. “Forgive you?” he said; “dear Mackworth, can you forgive me?”

“Well, well!” he continued, “what have I to forgive, Charles? At one time, I thought if I spoke that it would be better, because Ellen, the only daughter of the house, would have had a great dower, as Ravenshoe girls have. But I loved Cuthbert too well And Lord Welter stopped my even thinking of doing so, by coming to Ravenshoe. And — and — we are all gentlemen here. The day that you hunted the black hare, I had been scolding her for writing to him. And William and I made her mad between us, and she ran away to him. And she is with the army now, Charles. I should not fetch her back, Charles. She is doing very good work there.”

By this time she had drawn the black hood over her face, and was standing behind him, motionless.

“I will answer any more questions you like tomorrow. Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage took place at rinchampstead, remember. Charles, my dear boy, would you mind kissing me? I think I always loved you, Charles. Murtagh Tiernay, take me to my room.”

And so he went tottering away through the darkness. Charles opened the door for him. Ellen stood with her hood over her face, motionless.

“I can speak like this with my face hidden,” she said. “It is easy for one who has been through what I have, to speak. What I have been you know, what I am now is — (she used one of those Roman Catholic forms of expression, which are best not repeated too often). I have a little to add to this statement. William was cruel to me. You know you were. You were wrong. I will not go on. You were awfully unjust — you were horribly unjust. The man who has just left the room had some slight right to upbraid me. You had none. You were utterly wrong. Mackworth, in one way, is a very high-minded honourable man. You made me hate you, William. God forgive me. I have forgiven you now.”

“Yes; I was wrong,” said William, “I was wrong. But Ellen, Ellen! before old friends, only with regard to the person.”

“When you treated me so ill, I was as innocent as your mother, sir. Let us go on. This man Mackworth new more than you. We had some terrible scenes together about Lord Welter. One day he lost his temper, and became theatrical. He opened his desk and showed me a bundle of papers, which he waved in the air, and said that they contained my future destiny. The next day, I went to the carpenter’s shop and took a chisel. I broke open his desk, and possessed myself of them. I found the certificate of Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage. I knew that you, William, as I thought, and I were the elder children. But I loved Cuthbert and Charles better than you or myself, and I would not speak. When, afterwards, Father Butler told me, while I was with Lord Welter, before I joined the sisters, of the astounding fact of the change of children, I still held my peace, because I thought Charles would be the better of penance for a year or so, and because I hesitated to throw the power of a house like this into heretic hands, though it were into the hands of my own brother. Mackworth and Butler were to some extent enemies, I think; for Butler seems not to have told Mackworth that I was with him for some time, and I hardly know how he found it out at last. Three days ago I received this letter from Mackworth, and after some hesitation I came. Tor I thought that the Church could not be helped by wrong, and I wanted to see that he concealed nothing. Here it is. I shall say no more.”

And she departed, and I have not seen her since. Perhaps she is best where she is. I got a sight of the letter from Father Mackworth. It ran thus ——

“Come here at once, I order you. I am going to tell the truth. Charles has come back. I will not bear the responsibility any longer.”

Poor Mackworth! He went back to his room, attended by the kind-hearted young priest, who had left his beloved organ at Segur, to come and attend to him. Lord Segur pished and pshawed, and did something more, which we won’t talk about, for which he had to get absolution. But Murtagh Tiernay stayed at Ravenshoe, defying his lordship, and his lordship’s profane oaths, and making the Ravenshoe organ talk to Father Mackworth about quiet churchyards and silent cloisters; and sometimes raging on until the poor paralytic priest began to see the great gates rolled back, and the street of the everlasting city beyond, crowded with glorious angels. Let us leave these two to their music. Before we went to town for the wedding, we were sitting one night, and playing at loo, in the hall. (Not guinea unlimited loo, as they used to play at Lord Welter’s, but penny loo, limited to eighteen pence.) General Mainwaring had been looed in miss four times running, making six shillings (an almost impossible circumstance, but true), and Lady Ascot had been laughing at him so, that she had to take off her spectacles and wipe them, when Murtagh Tiernay came into the hall, and took away Charles, and his brother Father Tiernay.

The game was dropped soon after this. At Ravenshoe there was an old-fashioned custom of having a great supper brought into the hall at ten. A silly old custom, seeing that every one had dined at seven. Supper was brought in, and every one sat down to table. All sorts of things were handed to one by the servants, but no one ate anything. No one ever did. But the head of the table was empty, Charles was absent.

After supper was cleared away, every one drew in a great circle round the fire, in the charming old-fashioned way one sees very seldom now, for a talk before we went to bed. But nobody talked much. Only Lady Ascot said, “I shall not go upstairs till he comes back. General, you may smoke your cigar, but here I sit.”

General Mainwaring would not smoke his cigar, even up the chimney. Almost before he had time to say so, Charles and Father Tiernay came into the room without saying a word, and Charles, passing through the circle, pushed the logs on the hearth together with his foot.

“Charles,” said Lady Ascot, “has anything happened?”

“Yes, aunt.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes, aunt.”

“I thought so,” said Lady Ascot, “I hope he has forgiven me any hard thoughts I had of him. I could have been brought to love that man in time. There were a great many worse men than he, sir,” she added in her old clear ringing tones, turning to Father Tiemay. “There were a great many worse men than he.”

“There were a great many worse men, Lady Ascot,” said Father Tiernay. “There have been many worse men with better opportunities. He was a good man brought up in a bad school. A good man spoilt. General Mainwaring, you who are probably more honoured than any man in England just now, and are worthy of it; you who can’t stop at a street corner without a crowd getting together to hurrah to you; you, the very darling of the nation, are going to Oxford to be made an honorary Doctor of Laws. And when you go into that theatre, and hear the maddening music of those boys’ voices cheering you: then, general, don’t get insane with pride like Herod, but think what you might have been with Mackworth’s opportunities.”

I think we all respected the Irishman for speaking up for his friend, although his speech might be extravagant. But I am sure that no one respected him more sincerely than our valiant, humble, old friend, General Mainwaring.

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