Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 8.

John Marston

Charles returned to his room, a little easier in his mind than when he left it. There still remained one dreadful business to get over — the worst of all; that of letting his father know. Non–University men sneer at rustication; they can’t see any particular punishment in having to absent yourself from your studies for a term or two. But do they think that the Dons don’t know what they are about? Why, nine spirited young fellows out of ten would snap their fingers at rustication, if it wasn’t for the home business. It is breaking the matter to the father, his just anger, and his mother’s still more bitter reproaches. It must all come out, the why and the wherefore, without concealment or palliation. The college write a letter to justify themselves, and then a mine of deceit is sprung under the parents’ feet, and their eyes are opened to things they little dreamt of. This, it appears, is not the first offence. The college has been long-suffering, and has pardoned when it should have punished repeatedly. The lad who was thought to be doing so well, has been leading a dissipated, riotous life, and deceiving them all. This is the bitterest blow they have ever had. How can they ever trust him gain? — And so the wound takes long to heal, and sometimes is never healed at all. That is the meaning of rustication.

A majority of young fellows at the University deceive their parents, especially if they come of serious houses. It is almost forced upon them sometimes, and in all cases the temptation is strong. It is very unwise to ask too many questions. Home questions are, in some cases, unpardonable. A son can’t tell a father, as one man can tell another, to mind his own business. No. The father asks the question suddenly, and the son lies, perhaps, for the first time in his life. If he told the truth his father would knock him down.

Now Charles was a little better off than most young fellows in this respect. He knew his father would scold about the rustication, and still more at his being in debt. He wasn’t much afraid of his father’s anger. They two had always been too familiar to be much afraid of one another. He was much more afraid of the sarcasms of Mackworth, and he not a little dreaded his brother; but with regard to his father he felt but slight uneasiness.

He found his scout and his servant William trying to get the room into some order, but it was hopeless. William looked up with a blank face as he came in, and said —

“We can’t do no good, sir; I’d better go for Herbert’s man, I suppose?”

“You may go, William,” said Charles, “to the stables, nd prepare my horses fur a journey. Ward, you may pack up my things, as I go down tomorrow. I am rusticated.”

They both looked very blank, especially William, who, after a long pause, said —

“I was afraid of something happening yesterday after Hall, when I see my lord — ” here William paused abruptly, and, looking up, touched his head to some one who stood in the doorway.

It was a well-dressed, well-looking young man of about Charles’s age, with a handsome, hairless, florid face, and short, light hair. Handsome though his face was, it was hardly pleasing in consequence of a certain lowering of the eyebrow’s which he indulged in every moment — as often, indeed, as he looked at any one — and also of a slight cynical curl at the corners of the mouth. There was nothing else noticeable about Lord Welter except his appearance of great personal strength, for which he was somewhat famous.

“Hallo, Welter!” shouted Charles, “yesterday was an era in the annals of intoxication. Nobody ever was so drunk as you. I did all I could for you, more fool I, for things couldn’t be worse than they are, and might be better. If I had gone to bed instead of looking after you I shouldn’t have been rusticated.”

“I’m deuced sorry, Charley, I am, ‘pon my soul. It is all my confounded folly, and I shall write to your father and say so. You are coming home with me, of course?”

“By Jove, I never thought of it. That wouldn’t be a bad plan, eh? I might write from Ranford, you know. Yes, I think I’ll say yes. William, you can take the horses over tomorrow. That is a splendid idea of yours. I was thinking of going to London.”

“Hang London in the hunting season,” said Lord Welter. “By George, how the governor will blow up. I wonder what my grandmother will say. Somebody has told her the world is coming to an end next year. I hope there’ll be another Derby. She has cut homoeopathy and taken to vegetable practice. She has deuced near slaughtered her maid with an overdose of Linum Cathartieum, as she calls it. She goes digging about in waste places like a witch, with a big footman to carry the spade. She is a good old body though; hanged if she ain’t.”’

“What does Adelaide think of the change in Lady Ascot’s opinions, medical and religious?”

“She don’t care, bless you. She laughs about the world coming to an end, and, as for the physic, she won’t stand that. She has pretty much her own way with the old lady, I can tell you, and with every one else, as far as that goes. She is an imperious little body; I’m afraid of her. — How do, Marston?”

This was said to a small, neatly-dressed, quiet-looking man, with a shrewd, pleasant face, who appeared at this moment looking very grave. He returned “Welter’s salutation, and that gentleman sauntered out of the room after having engaged Charles to dinner at the Cross at six. The new comer then sat down by Charles, and looked sorrowfully in his face.

“So it has come to this, my poor boy,” said he, “and only two days after our good resolutions. Charley, do you know what Issachar was like?”

“No.”

“He was like a strong ass stooping between two burdens,” replied the other, laughing. “I know somebody who is, oh, so very like him. I know a fellow who could do capitally in the schools and in the world, who is now always either lolling about reading novels, or else flying off in the opposite extreme, and running, or riding, or rowing like a madman. Those are his two burdens, and he is a dear old ass also, whom it is very hard to scold, even when one is furiously angry with him.”

“It’s all true,. Marston; it’s all true as Gospel,” said Charles.

“Look how well you did at Shrewsbury,” continued Marston, “when you were forced to work. And now, you haven’t opened a book for a year. Why don’t you have some object in life, old fellow? Try to be captain of the University Eight or the Eleven; get a good degree; anything. Think of last Easter vacation, Charley. Well, then, 1 won’t Be sure that pot-house work won’t do. What earthly pleasure can there be in herding with men of that class, your inferiors in everything except strength? and you who can talk quite well enough for any society?”

“It ain’t my fault,” broke in Charles, pitcously. “It’s a good deal more the fault of the men I’m with. That Easter vacation business was planned by Welter. He wore a velveteen shooting — coat and knee-breeches, and called himself — ”

“That will do, Charley; I don’t want to hear any of that gentleman’s performances. I entertain the strongest personal dislike for him. He leads you into all your mischief. You often quarrel; why don’t you break with him?”

“I can’t.”

“Because he is a distant relation? Nonsense. Your brother never speaks to him.”

“It isn’t that.”

“Do you owe him money?”

“No, it’s the other way, by Jove! I can’t break with that man. I can’t lose the run of Banford. I must be here. There’s a girl there I care about more than all the world beside; if I don’t see her I shall go mad.”

Marston looked very thoughtful. “You never told me of this,” he said; and she has she has refused you, I suppose?”

“Ay! how did you guess that?”

“By my mother wit. I didn’t suppose that Charles Ravenshoe would have gone on as he has, under other circumstances.”

“I fell in love with her,” said Charley, rocking himself to and fro, “when she was a child. I have never had another love but her; and the last time I left Ranford I asked her — you know — and she laughed in my face, and said we were getting too old for that sort of nonsense. And, when I swore I was in earnest, she only laughed the more. And I’m a desperate beggar, by Jove, and I’ll go and enlist, by Jove.”

“What a brillant idea!” said Marston. “Don’t be a fool, Charley. Is this girl a great lady?”

“Great lady! Lord bless you, no; she’s a dependant, without a sixpence.”

“Begin all over again with her. Let her alone a little. Perhaps you took too much for granted, and offended her. Very likely she has got tired of you. By your own confession you have been making love to her for ten years; that must be a great bore for a girl, you know. I suppose you are thinking of going to Ranford, now?”

“Yes. I am going for a time.”

“The worst place you could go to: much better go home to your father. Yours is a quiet, staid, wholesome house, not such a bear-garden as the other place — but, let us change the subject, I am sent after you.”

“By whom?” Musgrave. The University Eight is going down, and he wants you to row four. The match with Cambridge is made up.”

“Oh, hang it!” said poor Charles; “I can’t show after this business. Get a waterman; do, Marston. They will know all about it by this time.”

“Nay, I want you to come; do come, Charles. I want ou to contrast these men with the fellows you were with last night, and to see what an effect three such gentlemen and scholars as Dixon, Hunt, and Smith have in raising the tone of the men they are thrown among.”

On the barge Charles met the others of the Eight — quiet, staid, gentlemanly men, every one of whom knew what had happened, and was more than usually polite in consequence. Musgrave, the captain, received him with manly courtesy. He was sorry to hear Ravenshoe was going down — had hoped to have had him in the Eight at Easter; however, it couldn’t be helped; hoped to get him at Henley; and so on. The others were very courteous too, and Charles soon began to find that he himself was talking in a different tone of voice, and using different language from that which he would have been using in his cousin’s rooms; and he confessed this to Marston that night.

Meanwhile the University Eight, with the little blue flag at her bows, went rushing down the river on her splendid course. Past heavy barges and fairy skiffs; past men in dingys, who ran high and dry on the bank, to get out of the way; and groups of dandys, who ran with them for a time. And before any man was warm — Iffley. Then across the broad mill-pool, and through the deep crooks, out into the broads, and past the withered beds of reeds which told of coming winter. Bridges, and a rushing lasher — Sandford. No rest here. Out of the dripping well-like lock. Get your oars out and way again, past the yellowing willows, past the long wild grey meadows, swept by the singing autumn wind. Through the swirling curves and eddies, onward under the westering sun towards the woods of Nunenham.

It was so late when they got back, that those few who had waited for them, those faithful few who would wait till midnight to see the Eight come in, could not see them, but heard afar off the measured throb and rush of eight oars as one, as they came with rapid stroke up the darkening reach. Charles and Marston walked home together.

“By George,” said Charles, “I should like to do that and nothing else all my life. What a splendid stroke Musgrave gives you, so marked, and so long, and yet so lively. Oh, I should like to be forced to row every day like the watermen.”

“In six or seven years you would probably row as well as a waterman. At least, I mean, as well as some of the second-rate ones. I have set my brains to learn steering, being a small weak man; but I shall never steer as well as little Tims, who is ten years old. Don’t mistake a means for an end — ”

Charles wouldn’t always stand his friend’s good advice, and he thought he had had too much of it today. So he broke out into sudden and furious rebellion, much to Marston’s amusement, who treasured up every word he said in his anger, and used them afterwards with fearful effect against him.

“I don’t care for you,” bawled Charles; “you’re a greater fool than I am, and be hanged to you. You’re going to spend the best years of your life, and ruin your health, to get a first, A first! A first! Why that miserable little beast, Lock, got a first A fellow who is, take him all in all, the most despicable little wretch I know! If you are very diligent you may raise yourself to Ms level! And, when you have got your precious first, you will find yourself utterly unfit for any trade or profession whatever (except the Church, which you don’t mean to enter). What do you know about modern languages or modern history? If you go into the law, you have got to begin all over again. They won’t take you in the army; they are not such muffs. And this is what you get for your fifteen hundred pounds!”

Charles paused, and Marston clapped his hands and said, “hear! hear!” which made him more angry still.

“I shouldn’t care if I was a waterman. I’m sick of all this pretension and humbug; I’d sooner be anything than what I am, with my debts, and my rustication, and keeping up appearances. I wish I was a billiard marker; I wish I was a jockey; I wish I was Alick Reed’s Novice; I wish I was one of Barclay and Perkins’s draymen. Hang it, I wish I was a cabman! Queen Elizabeth was a wise woman, and she was of my opinion.”

“Did Queen Elizabeth wish she was a cabman?” said Marston gravely.

“No, she didn’t,” said Charles, very tartly. “She ished she was a milkmaid, and I think she was quite right. Now, then!”

“So you would like to be a milkmaid?” said the inexorable Marston. “You had better try another Easter vacation with Welter. Mrs. Sherrat will get you a suit of cast-off clothes from some of the lads. Here’s the ‘ Cross,’ where you dine. Bye, bye!”

John Marston knew, and knew well, nearly every one worth knowing in the University. He did not appear particularly rich; he was not handsome; he was not brilliant in conversation; he did not dress well, though he was always neat; he was not a cricketer, a rower, or a rider; he never spoke at the Union; he never gave large parties; no one knew anything about his family; he never betted; and yet he was in the best set in the University.

There was, of course, some reason for this; in fact, there were three good and sufficient reasons, although above I may seem to have exhausted the means of approach to good University society. First, He had been to Eton as a town boy, and had been popular there. Second, He had got one of the great open scholarships. And third, his behaviour had always been most correct and gentlemanly.

A year before this he had met Charles as a freshman in Lord Welter’s rooms, and had conceived a great liking for him. Charles had just come up with a capital name from Shrewsbury, and Marston hoped that he would have done something ; but no. Charles took up with riding, rowing, driving, &c. &c, not to mention the giving and receiving of parties, with all the zest of a young fellow with a noble constitution, enough money, agreeable manners, and the faculty of excelling to a certain extent in every sport he took in hand.

He very soon got to like and respect Marston. He used to allow him to blow him up, and give him good advice when he wouldn’t take it from any one else. The night before he went down Marston came to his rooms, and tried to persuade him to go home, and not to “the training stables,” as he irreverently called Banford; but Charles had laughed and laughed, and joked, and given indirect answers, and Marston saw that he was determined, and discontinued pressing him.

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