A growing anxiety began to take possession of Charles shortly before Christmas, arising from the state of his father’s health. Densil was failing. His memory was getting defective, and his sense dulled. His eye always was searching for Charles, and he was uneasy at his absence. So it was with a vague sense of impending misfortune that he got a letter from the dean of his college, summoning him back after the Christmas vacation.
Mr. Dean said, “That Mr. Ravenshoe’s case had been reconsidered, and that, at the warm, and, he thought, misguided, intercession of the Bursar, a determination had been come to, to allow Mr. Ravenshoe to come into residence again for the Lent term. He trusted that this would be a warning, and that, while there was time, he would arrest himself in that miserable career of vice and folly which could only have one termination — utter ruin in this world, and in the next.”
A college “Don ” by long practice, acquires a power of hurting a young man’s feelings, utterly beyond competition, save by a police magistrate. Charles winced nder this letter; but the same day Mary, coming singing down stairs as was her wont, was alarmed by the descent of a large opaque body of considerable weight down the well of the staircase, which lodged in the wood basket at the bottom, and which, on examining, she found to be a Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon. At which she rejoiced; for she concluded that Charles had taken to reading again, though why he should begin by throwing his books down stairs she could not well understand, until he joined her and explained that he had been dusting it on the landing, and that it had slipped out of his hand.
“What a crack it came down,” added he; “I wish Father Mackworth’s head had been underneath it.”
“I have no doubt of it, young gentleman,” said the priest quietly from behind; and there he was with his hand on the library door, and in he went and shut it behind him.
Mary and Charles were both awfully disconcerted. Mary felt horribly guilty; in fact, if the priest had remained quiet one moment more, he would undoubtedly have heard one or two candid, and far from complimentary remarks about himself from that young lady, which would have made his ears tingle.
“Confound him,” said Charles; “how he glides about! He learned that trick, and a few others, at that precious Jesuit College of his. They teach them that sort of thing as the old Jews teach the young pick-pockets. The old father inquisitor puts the door ajar ith a bell against it, and they all have to come in one after another. The one who rings it gets dropped on to like blazes.”
Mary was going to ask what exact amount of personal suffering being dropped on to like blazes involved; but Charles stopped her, and took her hand.
“Mary dear,” he said, “do you ever think of the future?”
“Night and day, Charles, — night and day.”
“If he dies, Mary? When he dies?”
“Night and day, brother,” she answered, taking one of his great brown hands between her two white little palms. “I dream in my sleep of the new regime which is to come, and I see only trouble, and again trouble.”
“There is a God in heaven, Charles.”
“Ay, but, Mary, what will you do?”
“I?” and she laughed the merriest little laugh ever you heard. “Little me? Why, go for a governess to be sure. Charles, they shall love me so that this life shall be a paradise. I will go into a family where there are two beautiful girls; and, when I am old and withered, there shall be two nurseries in which I shall be often welcome, where the children shall come babbling to my knee, the darlings, and shall tell me how they love me, almost as well as their mother. There is my future. Would you change it?”
Charles was leaning against the oak banister; and, when he saw her there before him, when he saw that valiant true-hearted face, in the light which streamed from the old window above, he was rebuked, and bent down his head on the rail. The Dean’s letter of that morning had done something; but the sight of that brave little woman, so fearless with all the world before her, did more. She weak, friendless, moneyless, and so courageous! He with the strong arm, so cowardly! It taught him a lesson indeed, a lesson he never forgot. But oh! for that terrible word — too late!
Ah! too late! What word is so terrible as that? You will see what I mean soon. That is the cry which one writer puts in the mouths of the lost spirits in hell. God’s mercy is infinite, and it is yet a question whether it were better for Charles to have fallen into the groove of ordinary life, or to have gone through those humiliating scenes through which we must follow him. "Charley dear,” said Mary, laying her hand on his shoulder, “it is not about myself I am thinking; it is about you. What are you going to do when he is gone? are you going into the Church?”
“Oh, no!” said Charles, “I couldn’t bear the idea of that.”
“Then, why are you at Oxford?”
“To get an education, I suppose.”
“But what use will a university education be to you, Charles? Have you no plans?”
“I give you my word, my dear Mary, that I am as much in the dark about the future as a five days old puppy.”
“Has he made any provision for you?”
“Oh, yes! I am to have six thousand.”
“Do you know that the estate is involved, Charles?”
“I believe it is. There has been a great deal of state kept up here, and I believe it is the case.”
“Cuthbert would soon bring that round.”
“I tremble to think of the future, Charles. Are your debts at Oxford heavy?”
“Pretty well. Five hundred would clear me.”
“Don’t get any more in debt, that’s a dear.”
“No, Mary dear, I won’t. I don’t care for the future. I shall have £180. a year. That will be enough for William and me. Then I shall go to the bar and make a deuce of a lot of money, and marry Adelaide. Then you will come to live with us, and we shall have such jolly times of it. — Take that, you villain!”
This last elegant apostrophe was addressed to William (who at that moment had come in by the side door), and was accompanied by the dexterous delivery of the Liddell and Scott, in the manner of a cricket ball. Our friend William stood to catch it in a style worthy of Box, with his knees a yard apart, and one palm over the other; but, as luck would have it, he missed it, and it alighted full on the shins of Father Mackworth, who had selected that time for coming out of the library; and so it lay sillily open at λαυ, γεμ, at his feet.
Mackworth really thought that it was intentional, and was furious. He went back into the library; and Charles, seeing what must come, followed him, while Mary fled upstairs. There was no one in the room but Cuthbert and Father Tiernay.
“I will be protected from insult in this house,” began Mackworth; “twice today I have been insulted by Mr. Charles Ravenshoe, and I demand protection.”
“What have you been doing, Charley?” said Cuthbert, “I thought you two had given, up quarrelling. You will wear my life out. Sometimes, what with one thing and another, I wish I were dead. Oh! if the great problem were solved! Surely my brother may avoid brawling with a priest, a man sacred by his office, though of another faith. Surely my brother has taste enough to see the propriety of that.”
“Your brother has no taste or sense, sir,” said Father Mackworth. “He has no decency. He has no gentlemanly feeling. Within ten minutes he has dropped a book downstairs, and lamented, to my face, that it hadn’t fallen on my head; and just now he has thrown the same book at me, and hit me with it.”
“I thank God, Charles,” said poor weary Cuthbert, “that our father is spared this. It would kill him. Brother, brother, why do you vex me like this? I have always stood on your side, Charley. Don’t let me be killed with these ceaseless brawls.”
“They will soon cease, sir,” said Father Mackworth; “I leave this house tomorrow.”
“Cuthbert, hear me now. I never intended to insult him.”
“Why did you throw your book at him, Charley? It is not decorous. You must know when you wound him you wound me. And I have fought such battles for you, Charley.”
“Cuthbert! brother! do hear me. And let him hear me. And let Father Tiernay hear me. Cuthbert, you know I love you. Father Tiernay, you are a good and honest man; hear what I have to say. You Mackworth, you are a scoundrel. You are a double-dyed villain What were you doing with that girl in the wood, the day you hunted the black hare a month ago? Cuthbert, tell me, like an honest gentleman, did you ever walk in the wood with Ellen?”
“I?” said Cuthbert, scared; “I never walked with Ellen there. I have walked with Mary there, brother. Why should I not?”
“There, look at the lie that this man has put into her mouth. She told me that he had found you and her walking together there.”
“I am not answerable for any young woman’s lies,” said Father Mackworth, “I decline to continue this discussion. It is humiliating. As for you. yon poor little moth,” he said, turning to Charles, “when tho time comes, I will crush you with my thumb against the wall My liking for your father prevents my doing my duty as yet. In that I err. Wait.”
Charles had been in a passion before this; but, seeing danger, and real danger abroad, he got cool, and said —
And they both waited, and we shall see who waited the longest.
“I have done it now, Mary dear,” said Charles, returning upstairs with the unlucky lexicon. “It is all over now.”
“Has there been a scene?”
“A terrible scene. I swore at him, and called him a villain.”
“Why did you do that, Charles? Why are you so violent? You are not yourself, Charles, when you give way to your temper like that.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, my Robin. He is a villain.”
“I don’t think so, Charles. I believe he is a high-minded man.”
“I know he is not, birdie. At least, I believe he is not.”
“I believe him to be so, Charles.”
“I know him to be otherwise; at least, I think so.”
“Are you doing him justice, Charley dear? Are you sure you are doing him justice?”
“I think so.”
“I cannot tell you, Mary. When the end of all things comes, and you and I are thrown abroad like two corks on the great sea, you will know. But I cannot tell you.”
“I believe, dear, that you are so honest that you ould not do injustice even to him. But, oh! be sure that you are right. Hush! Change the subject. What were you going to read when that unlucky book fell downstairs?”
“Let me come in and sit with you, Charley dear, and look out the words; you don’t know how clever I am. Is it the “De Corona”?
Charles took her hand and kissed it; and so they two poor fools went on with their Demosthenes.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56