Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 11.

Gives us an insight into Charles’s domestic relations, and shows how the Great Conspirator soliloquized to the Grand Chandelier.

It may be readily conceived that a considerable amount of familiarity existed between Charles and his servant and foster-brother William. But, to the honour of both of them be it said, there was more than this — a most sincere and hearty affection; a feeling for one another which, we shall see, lasted through everything. Till Charles went to Shrewsbury he had never had another playfellow. He and William had been allowed to paddle about on the sand, or ride together on the moor, as they would, till a boy’s friendship had arisen, sufficiently strong to obliterate all considerations of rank between them. This had grown with age, till William had become his confidential agent at home during his absence, and Charles had come to depend very much on his account of the state of things at headquarters. He had also another confidential agent, to whom we shall be immediately introduced. She, however, was of another sex and rank.

William’s office was barely a pleasant one. His affection for his master led him most faithfully to attend to his interests; and, as a Catholic, he was often rought into collision with Father Mackworth, who took a laudable interest in Charles’s affairs, and considered himself injured on two or three occasions by the docked refusal of “William to communicate the substance and result of a message forwarded through William, from Shrewsbury, to Densil, which seemed to cause the old gentleman some thought and anxiety. William’s religious opinions, however, had got to be somewhat loose, and to sit somewhat easily upon him, more particularly since his sojourn at Oxford. He had not very long ago confided to Charles, in a private sitting, that the conviction which was strong on his mind was that Father Mackworth was not to be trusted, God forgive him for saying so; and, on being pressed by Charles to state why, he point-blank refused to give any reason whatever, but repeated his opinion with redoubled emphasis. Charles had a great confidence in William’s shrewdness, and forbore to press him, but saw that something had occurred which had impressed the above conviction on William’s mind most strongly.

He had been sent from Oxford to see how the land lay at home, and had met Charles at the Rose and Crown, at Stonnington, with saddle horses. No sooner were they clear of the town than William, without waiting for Charles’s leave, put spurs to his horse and rode up alongside of him.

“What is your news, William?”

“Nothing very great. Master looks bothered and worn.”

“About this business of mine.”

“The priest goes on talking about it, and plaguing him with it, when he wants to forget it.”

“The deuce take him! He talks about me a goo deal.”

“Yes; he has begun about you again. Master wouldn’t stand it the other day. and told him to hold his tongue, just like his own self. Tom heard him. They made it up afterwards, though.”

“What did Cuthbert say?”

“Master Cuthbert spoke up for you, and said he hoped there wasn’t going to be a scene, and that you weren’t coming to — live in disgrace, for that would be punishing every one in the house for you.”

“How’s Mary?”

“She’s well. Master don’t trust her out of his sight much. They will never set him against you while she is there. I wish you would marry her, “Master Charles, if you can give up the other one.”

Charles laughed and told him he wasn’t going to do anything of the sort. Then he asked, “Any visitors?”

“Ay; one. Father Tiernay, a stranger.”

“What sort of man?”

“A real good one. I don’t think our man likes him, though.”

They had now come to the moor’s edge, and were looking down on the amphitheatre which formed the domain of Ravenshoe. Far and wide the tranquil sea, vast, dim, and grey, flooded bay and headland, cave and slet. Beneath their feet slept the winter woodlands; from whose brown bosom rose the old house, many-gabled, throwing aloft from its chimneys hospitable columns of smoke, which hung in the still autumn air, and made a hazy cloud on the hill-side. Everything was so quiet that they could hear the gentle whisper of the ground-swell, and the voices of the children at play upon the beach, and the dogs barking in the kennels.

“How calm and quiet old home looks, William,” said Charles; “I like to get back here after Oxford.”

“No wine parties here. No steeple-chases. No bloomer balls,” said William.

“No! and no chapels and lectures, and being sent for by the Dean,” said Charles.

“And none of they dratted bones, neither,” said William, with emphasis.

“Ahem! why, no! Suppose we ride on.”

So they rode down the road through the woodland to the lodge, and so through the park — sloping steeply up on their left, with many a clump of oak and holly, and many a broad patch of crimson fern. The deer stood about in graceful groups, while the bucks belled and rattled noisily, making the thorn-thickets echo with the clatter of their horns. The rabbits scudded rapidly across the road; and the blackbird fled screaming from the mountain ash tree, now all afire with golden fruit. So they passed on until a sudden sweep brought them upon the terrace between the old grey house and the murmuring sea.

Charles jumped off, and William led the horses round to the stable. A young lady in a straw hat and brown gloves, with a pair of scissors and a basket, standing half-way up the steps, came down to meet him, dropping the basket, and holding out the brown gloves before her. This young lady he took in his arms, and kissed; and she, so far from resenting the liberty, after she was set on her feet again, held him by both hands, and put up a sweet dark face towards his, as if she wouldn’t care if he kissed her again. Which he immediately did.

It was not a very pretty face, but oh! such a calm, quiet, pleasant one. There was scarcely a good feature in it, and yet the whole was so gentle and pleasing, and withal so shrewd and espiègle, that to look at it once was to think about it till you looked again; and to look again was to look as often as you had a chance, and to like the face the more each time you looked. I said there was not a good feature in the face. Well, I misled you; there was a pair of calm, honest, black eyes, a very good feature indeed, and which, once seen, you were not likely to forget. And also, when I tell you that this face and eyes belonged to the neatest, trimmest little figure imaginable, I hope I have done my work sufficiently well to make you envy that lucky rogue Charles, who, as we know, cares for no woman in the world but Adelaide, and who, between you and me, seems to be much too partial to this sort of thing.

“A thousand welcomes home, Charley,” said the pleasant little voice which belonged to this pleasant little personage. “Oh! I am so glad you’re come.”

“You’ll soon wish me away again. I’ll plague you.”

“I like to be plagued by you, Charley. How is Adelaide?”

“Adelaide is all that the fondest lover could desire ” (for they had no secrets, these two), “and either sent her love, or meant to do so.”

“Charles, dearest,” she said eagerly, “come and see him now! come and see him with me!”

“Where is he?”

“In the shrubbery, with Flying Guilders.”

“Is he alone?”

“All alone, except the dog.”

“Where are they?”

“They are gone out coursing. Come on; they will be back in an hour, and the Book never leaves him. Come, come.”

It will be seen that these young folks had a tolerably good understanding with one another, and could carry on a conversation about “third parties ” without even mentioning their names. We shall see how this came about presently; but, for the present, let us follow these wicked conspirators, and see in what deep plot they are engaged.

They passed rapidly along the terrace, and turned the corner of the house to the left, where the west front overhung the river glen, and the broad terraced garden went down step by step towards the brawling stream.

This they passed, and, opening an iron gate, came suddenly into a gloomy maze of shrubbery that stretched its long vistas up the valley.

Down one dark alley after another they hurried. The yellow leaves rustled beneath their feet, and all nature was pervaded with the smell of decay. It was hard to believe that these bare damp woods were the same as those they had passed through but four months ago, decked out with their summer bravery — an orchestra to a myriad birds. Here and there a bright berry shone out among the dull-coloured twigs, and a solitary robin quavered his soft melancholy song alone. The flowers were dead, the birds were flown or mute, and brave, green leaves were stamped under foot; everywhere decay, decay.

In the dampest, darkest walk of them all, in a far-off path, hedged with holly and yew, they found a bent and grey old man walking with a toothless, grey, old hound for his silent companion. And, as Charles moved forward with rapid elastic step, the old man looked up, and tottered to meet him, showing as he did so, the face of Densil Ravenshoe.

“Now, the Virgin be praised,” he said, “for putting it in your head to come so quick, my darling. Whenever you go away now, I am in terror lest I should die and never see you again. I might be struck with paralysis, ami not know you, my boy. Don’t go away from me again.”

“I like never to leave you any more, father ear. See how well you get on with my arm. Let us come out into the sun; why do you walk in this dismal wood?”

“Why?” said the old man, with sudden animation, his grey eye kindling as he stopped. “Why? I come here because I can catch sight of a woodcock, lad! I sprang one by that holly just before you came up. Flip flap, and away through the hollies like a ghost! Cuthbert and the priest are away coursing. Now you are come, surely I can get on the grey pony, and go up to see a hare killed. You’ll lead him for me, won’t you? I don’t like to trouble them”

“We can go tomorrow, dad, after lunch, you and I, and William. We’ll have Leopard and Blue-ruin — by George, it will be like old times again.”

“And we’ll take our little quiet bird on her pony, won’t we?” said Densil, turning to Mary. “She’s such a good little bird, Charley. We sit and talk of you many an hour. Charley, can’t you get me down on the shore, and let me sit there? I got Cuthbert to take me down once; but Father Mackworth came and talked about the Immaculate Conception through his nose all the time. I didn’t want to hear him talk; I wanted to hear the surf on the shore. Good man! he thought he interested me, I dare say.”

“I hope he is very kind to you, father i r

“Kind! I assure you, my dear boy, he is the kindest creature; he never lets me out of his sight; and so attentive !”

“He’ll have to be a little less attentive in future, confound him!” muttered Charles. “There he is; talk of the devil! Mary, my dear,” he added aloud, “go and amuse the Rooks for a little, and let us have Cuthbert to ourselves.”

The old man looked curious at the idea of Mary talking to the rooks; but his mind was drawn off by Charles having led him into a warm, southern corner, and set him down in the sun.

Mary did her errand well; for, in a few moments, Cuthbert advanced rapidly towards them. Coming up, he took Charles’s hand, and shook it with a faint, kindly smile.

He had grown to be a tall and somewhat handsome young man — certainly handsomer than Charles. His face, even now he was warmed by exercise, was very pale, though the complexion was clear and healthy. His hair was slightly gone from his forehead, and he looked much older than he really was. The moment that the smile was gone his face resumed the expression of passionless calm that it had borne before; and, sitting down by his brother, he asked him how he did.

“I am as well, Cuthbert,” said Charles, “as youth, health, a conscience of brass, and a whole world full of friends can make me. Fm all right, bless you. But you look very peaking and pale. Do you take exercise enough?”

“I? Oh, dear, yes. But 1 am very glad to see you, Charles. Our father misses you. Don’t you, father?”

“Very much, Cuthbert.”

“Yes. I bore him. I do, indeed. I don’t take interest in the things he does; I can’t; it’s not my nature. You and he will be as happy as kings talking about salmon, and puppies, and colts.”

“I know, Cuthbert; I know. You never cared about those things as we do.”

“No, never, brother; and now less than ever. I hope you will stay with me — with us. You are my own brother. I will have you stay here,” he continued, in a slightly raised voice; “and I desire that any opposition or impertinence you may meet with may be immediately reported to me.”

“It will be immediately reported to those who use it, and in a way they won’t like, Cuthbert. Don’t you be afraid; I shan’t quarrel. Tell me something about yourself, old boy.”

“I can tell you but little to interest you, Charles. You are of this world, and rejoice in being so. I, day by day, wean myself more and more from it, knowing-its worthlessness. Leave me to my books and my religious exercises, and go on your way. The time will come when your pursuits and pleasures will turn to bitter dust in your mouth, as mine never can. “When the world is like a howling wilderness to you, as it will be soon, then come to me and I will show you where to find happiness. At present you will not listen to me.”

“Not I,” said Charles. “Youth, health, talent, like yours — are these gifts to despise?”

“They are clogs to keep me from higher things. Study, meditation, life in the past with those good men who have walked the glorious road before us — in these consist happiness. Ambition! I have one earthly ambition — to purge myself from earthly affections, so that, when I hear the cloister-gate close behind me for ever, my heart may leap with joy, and I may feel that I am in the antechamber of heaven.”

Charles was deeply affected, and bent clown his head. “Youth, love, friends, joy in this beautiful world — all to be buried between four dull white walls, my brother!”

“This beautiful earth, which is beautiful indeed — alas! how I love it still! shall become a burden to us in a few years. Love! the greater the love, the greater the bitterness. Charles, remember that, one day, will you, when your heart is torn to shreds? I shall have ceased to love you then more than any other fellow-creature; but remember my words. You are leading a life which can only end in misery, as even the teachers of the false and corrupt religion which you profess would tell you. If you were systematically to lead the life you do now, it were better almost that there were no future. You are not angry, Charles?”

There was such a spice of truth in what Cuthbert said that it would have made nine men in ten angry. I am pleased to record of my favourite Charles that he was not; he kept his head bent down, and groaned.

“Don’t be hard on our boy, Cuthbert,” said Densil;

“lie is a good boy, though he is not like you. It has always been so in our family — one a devotee and the other a sportsman. Let us go in, boys; it gets chill.”

Charles rose up, and, throwing his arm round his brother’s neck, boisterously gave him a kiss on the cheek; then he began laughing and talking at the top of his voice, making the nooks and angles in the grey old facade echo with his jubilant voice.

Under the dark porch they found a group of three — Mackworth; a jolly-looking, round-faced, Irish priest, by name Tiernay; and Mary. Mackworth received Charles with a pleasant smile, and they joined in conversation together heartily. Few men could be more agreeable than Mackworth, and he chose to be agreeable now. Charles was insensibly carried away by the charm of his frank, hearty manner, and for a time forgot who was talking to him.

Mackworth and Charles were enemies. If we reflect a moment, we shall see that it could hardly be otherwise.

Charles’s existence, holding, as he did, the obnoxious religion, was an offence to him. He had been prejudiced against him from the first; and, children not being very slow to find out who are well disposed towards them, or the contrary, Charles had early begun to regard the priest with distrust and dislike. So a distant, sarcastic line of treatment on the one hand, and childish insolence and defiance on the other, had grown at last into omething very like hatred on both sides. Every soul in the house adored Charles but the priest; and, on the other hand, the priest’s authority and dignity were questioned by none but Charles. And, all these small matters being taken into consideration, it is not wonderful, I say, that Charles and the priest were not good friends even before anything had occurred to bring about an open rupture.

Charles and Mackworth seldom met of late years without a “sparring match; ” on this day, however — partly owing, perhaps, to the presence of a jolly good-humoured Irish priest — they got through dinner pretty well. Charles was as brave as a lion, and, though by far the priest’s inferior in scientific “sparring,” had a rough, strong, effective method of fighting, which was by no means to be despised. His great strength lay in his being always ready for battle. As he used to tell his crony William, he would as soon fight as not; and often, when rebuked by Cuthbert for what he called insolence to the priest, he would exclaim, “I don’t care; what did he begin at me for? If he lets me alone, I’ll let him alone.” And, seeing that he had been at continual war with the reverend gentleman for sixteen years or more, I think it speaks highly for the courage of both parties that neither had hitherto yielded. When Charles afterwards came to know what a terrible card the man had held in his hand, he was struck with amazement at his self-possession in not playing it, despite his interest.

Mackworth was hardly so civil after dinner as he was before; but Cuthbert was hoping that Charles and he would get on without a battle-royal, when a slight accident brought on a general engagement, and threw all his hopes to the ground. Densil and Mary had gone up to the drawingroom, and Charles, having taken as much wine as he cared for, rose from the table and sauntered towards the door, when Cuthbert quite innocently asked him where he was going.

Charles said also in perfect good faith that he was going to smoke a cigar, and talk to William.

Cuthbert asked him, Would he get William or one of them to give the grey colt a warm mash with some nitre in it; and Charles said he’d see it done for him himself; when, without warning or apparent cause, Father Mackworth said to Father Tiernay,

“This William is one of the grooms. A renegade, I fancy! I believe the fellow is a Protestant at heart. He and Mr. Charles Ravenshoe are very intimate; they keep up a constant correspondence when apart, I assure you.”

Charles faced round instantly, and confronted his enemy with a smile on his lips; but he said not a word, trying to force Mackworth to continue.

“Why don’t you leave him alone?” said Cuthbert.

“My dear Cuthbert,” said Charles, “pray don’t humiliate me by interceding; I assure you I am greatly amused. You see he doesn’t speak to me’; he addressed himself to Mr. Tiernay.”

“I wished,” said Mackworth, “to call Father Tiernay’s attention, as a stranger to this part of the world, to the fact of a young gentleman’s corresponding with an illiterate groom in preference to any member of his family.”

“The reason I do it,” said Charles, speaking to Tiernay, but steadily watching Mackworth to see if any of his shafts hit, “is to gain information. I like to know what goes on in my absence. Cuthbert here is buried in his books, and does not know everything.”

No signs of flinching there. Mackworth sat with a scornful smile on his pale face, without moving a muscle.

“He likes to get information,” said Mackworth, “about his village amours, I suppose. But, dear me, he can’t know anything that the whole parish don’t know. I could have told him that that poor deluded fool of an underkeeper was going to marry Mary Lee, after all that had happened. He will be dowering a wife for his precious favourite some day.”

“My precious favourite, Father Tiernay,” said Charles, still closely watching Mackworth, “is my foster-brother. He used to be a great favourite with our reverend friend; his pretty sister Ellen is so still, I believe.”

This was as random an arrow as ever was shot, and yet it went home to the feather. Charles saw Mackworth give a start and bite his lip, and knew that he had smote him deep; he burst out laughing.

“With regard to the rest, Father Tiernay, any man who says that there was anything wrong between me nd Mary Leo tells, saving your presence, a lie. It’s infernally hard if a man mayn’t play at love-making with the whole village for a confidant, and the whole matter a merry joke, but one must be accused of all sorts of villainy. Isn’t ours a pleasant household, Mr. Tiernay?”

Father Tiernay shook his honest sides with a wondering laugh, and said, “Faix it is. But I hope ye’ll allow me to put matters right betune you two. Father Mackworth begun on the young man; he was going out to his dudeen as peaceful as an honest young gentleman should. And some of the best quality are accustomed to converse their grooms in the evening over their cigar. I myself can instance Lord Mountdown whose hospitality I have partook frequent. And I’m hardly aware of any act of parliament,brother, whereby a young man shouldn’t kiss a pretty girl in the way of fun, as I’ve done myself, sure. Whist now, both on ye! I’ll come with ye, ye heretic, and smoke a cigar meself.”

“I call you to witness that he insulted me,” said Mackworth, turning round from the window.

“I wish you had let him alone, Father,” said Cuthbert peevishly; “we were getting on very happily till you began. Do go, Charles, and smoke your cigar with Father Tiernay.”

“I am waiting to see if he wants any more,” said Charles, with a laugh. “Come on, Father Tiernay, and I’ll show you the miscreant, and his pretty sister, too, if you like.”

“I wish he hadn’t come home,” said Cuthbert, as soon as he and Mackworth were alone together. “Why do you and he fight like cat and dog? You make me perfectly miserable. I know he is going to the devil, in a worldly point of view, and that his portion will be hell necessarily as a heretic; but I don’t see why you should “worry him to death, and make the house miserable to him.”

“It is for his good,”

“Nonsense,” rejoined Cuthbert. “You make him hate you; and I don’t think you ought to treat a son of this house in the way you treat him. You are under obligations to this house. Yes, you are. I won’t be contradicted now. I will have my say when I am in this temper, and you know it. The devil is not dead yet by a long way, you see. “Why do you rouse him?”

“Go on, go on.”

“Yes, I will go on. I’m in my own house, I believe. By the eleven thousand virgins, more or less, of the holy St. Ursula, virgin and martyr, that brother of mine is a brave fellow. Why, he cares as much for you as for a little dog barking at him. And you’re a noble enemy for any man. You’d better let him alone, I think; you won’t get much out of him. Adieu.”

“What queer wild blood there is in these Ravenshoes,” said Mackworth to himself, when he was alone. “A younger hand than myself would have been surprised at Cuthbert’s kicking after so much schooling. Not I. I shall never quite tame him, though he is roken in enough for all practical purposes. He will be on his knees tomorrow for this. I like to make him kick; I shall do it sometimes for my amusement; he is so much easier managed after one of these tantrums. By Jove! I love the man better every day; he is one after my own heart. As for Charles, I hate him, and yet I like him after a sort. I like to break a pointless lance with that boy, and let him fancy he is my equal. It amuses me.

“I almost fancy that I could have fallen in love with that girl Ellen. I was uncommon near it. I must be very careful. What a wild hawk she is! What a magnificent move that was of hers, risking a prosecution for felony on one single throw, and winning. How could she have guessed that there was anything there? She couldn’t have guessed it. It was an effort of genius. It was a splendid move.

“How nearly that pigheaded fool of a young nobleman has gone to upset my calculations. His namesake the chessplayer could not have done more mischief by his talents than his friend had by stupidity. I wish Lord Ascot would get ruined as quickly as possible, and then my friend would be safe out of the way. But he won’t.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56