The road from Ranford to Casterton, which is the name of Lord Hainault’s place, runs through about three miles of the most beautiful scenery. Although it may barely come up to Cookham or Cliefden, yet it surpasses the piece from Wargrave to Henley, and beats Pangbourne hollow. Leaving Ranford Park, the road passes through the pretty village of Ranford. And in the street of Ranford, which is a regular street, the principal inn is the White Hart, kept by Mrs. Foley.
Here, in summer, all through the long glorious days, which seem so hard to believe in in winter time, come anglers, and live. Here they order their meals at impossible hours, and drive the landlady mad by not coming home to them. Here, too, they plan mad expeditions with the fishermen, who are now in all their glory, wearing bright-patterned shirts, scornful of half-crowns, and in a general state of obfuscation, in consequence of being plied with strange liquors by their patrons, out of flasks, when they are out fishing. Here, too, come artists, with beards as long as your arm, and pass the day under white umbrellas, in pleasant places by the waterside, painting.
The dark old porch of the inn stands ont in the street, but the back of the ouse goes down to the river. At this porch there is generally a group of idlers, or an old man sunning himself, or a man on horseback drinking. On this present occasion there were all three of these things, and also Lord Ascot’s head-keeper with a brace of setters.
As Charles rode very slowly towards the group, the keeper and the groom on horseback left off talking. Charles fancied they had been talking about him, and I, who know every thing, also know that they had. When Charles was nearly opposite him, the keeper came forward and said —
H I should like to show you the first trout of the season, sir. Jim, show Mr. Ravenshoe that trout.”
A beautiful ten-pounder was immediately laid on the stones.
“He would have looked handsomer in another month, Jackson,” said Charles.
“Perhaps he would, sir. My lady generally likes to get one as soon as she can.”
At this stage the groom, who had been standing apart, came up, and touching his hat, put into Charles’s hand a note.j
It was in Adelaide’s handwriting. The groom knew it, the keeper knew it, they all knew it, and Charles knew they knew it; but what cared he — all the world might know it. But they knew and had been talking of something else before he came up, which
Charles did not know. If anything is going wrong, all the country side knows it before the person principally concerned. And all the country side knew that there had been a great and scandalous quarrel between Adelaide and Lady Ascot — all, except Charles.
He put the note in his pocket without opening it; he gave the groom half-a-crown; he bade goodbye to the keeper; he touched his hat to the loiterers; and then he rode on his way toward Casterton, down the village street. He passed the church among the leaf-less walnut-trees, beneath the towering elms, now noisy with building rooks; and then, in the broad road under the lofty chalk downs, with the elms on his left, and glimpses of the flashing river between their stems, there he pulled up his horse, and read his love-letter.
“Dear Charles, —
“Ain’t you very cross at my having been away when you came? I don’t believe you are, for you are never cross. I couldn’t help it, Charles, dear. Aunt wanted me to go.
“Aunt is very cross and tiresome. She don’t like me as well as she used. You mus’n’t believe all she says, you know. It ain’t one word of it true. It is only her fancy.
“Do come over and see me. Lord Hainault” (this, I must tell you, reader, is the son, not the husband, of Lady Ascot’s most cherished old enemy) “is going to be married, and there will be a great wedding. She is hat long Burton girl, whom you may remember. I have always had a great dislike for her; but she has asked me to be bridesmaid, and, of course, one can’t refuse. Lady Emily Montfort is ‘with me’ as the lawyers say, and, of course, she will have her mother’s pearls in her ugly red hair.” —
Charles couldn’t agree as to Lady Emily’s hair being red. He had thought it the most beautiful hair he had ever seen in his life. —
“Pour mot, I shall wear a camelia, if the gardener will give me one. How I wish I had jewels to beat hers! She can’t wear the Cleveland diamonds as a bridesmaid; that is a comfort. Come over and see me. I am in agony about what aunt may have said to you.
The reader may see more in this letter than Charles did. The reader may see a certain amount of selfishness and vanity in it: Charles did not. He took up his reins, and rode on; and, as he rode, said, “By Jove, Cuthbert shall lend me the emeralds!”
He hardly liked asking for them; but he could not bear the idea of Lady Emily shining superior to Adelaide in consequence of her pearls. Had he been a wise man (which I suppose you have, by this time, found out that he is decidedly not. Allow me to recommend this last sentence in a grammatical point of view), he would have seen that, with two such glorious creatures as Adelaide and Lady Emily, no one would have seen whether they ere clothed in purple and fine linen, or in sackcloth and ashes. But Charles was a fool. He was in love, and he was riding out to see his love.
The Scotchman tells us about Spey leaping out a’ glorious giant from among the everlasting hills; the Irishman tells you of Shannon rambling on past castle, and mountain, gathering new beauty as he goes; the Canadian tells you of the great river which streams over the cliff between Erie and Ontario; and the Australian tells you of Snowy pouring eternally from his great curtain of dolomite, seen forty miles away by the lonely traveller on the dull grey plains; but the Englishman tells you of the Thames, whose valley is the cradle of Freedom, and the possessors of which are the arbiters of the world.
And along the Thames valley rode Charles. At first the road ran along beneath some pleasant sunny heights; but, as it gradually rose, the ground grew more abrupt, and, on the right, a considerable down, with patches of gorse and juniper, hung over the road; while, on the left, the broad valley stretched away to where a distant cloud of grey smoke showed where lay the good old town of Casterton. Now the road entered a dark beech wood beneath lofty banks, where the squirrels, merry fellows, ran across the road and rattled up the trees, and the air was faint with the scent of last year’s leaves. Then came a break in the wood to the right, and a vista up a long-drawn valley, which ended in a chalk cliff. Then a break in the wood to the left, and a lance at the flat meadows, the gleaming river, and the dim grey distance. Then the wood again, denser and darker than ever. Then a sound, at first faint and indistinct, but growing gradually upon the ear until it could be plainly heard above the horse’s footfall. Then suddenly the end of the wood, and broad open sunlight. Below, the weirs of Casterton, spouting by a hundred channels, through the bucks and under the mills. Hard by, Casterton town, lying, a tumbled mass of red brick and grey flint, beneath a faint soft haze of smoke, against the vast roll in the land called Marldown. On the right, Casterton Park, a great wooded promontory, so steep that one can barely walk along it, clothed with beech and oak from base to summit, save in one place, where a bold lawn of short grass, five hundred feet high, stoops suddenly down towards the meadows, fringed at the edges with broom and fern, and topped with three tall pines — the landmark for ten miles along the river.
A lodge, the white gate of which is swung open by a pretty maiden; a dark oak wood again, with a long vista, ended by the noble precipitous lull on which the house stands; a more open park, with groups of deer lying about and feeding; another dark wood, the road now rising rapidly; rabbits, and a pot-valiant cock-pheasant standing in the middle of the way, and "currucking,” under the impression that Charles is in possession of all his domestic arrangements, and has come to disturb them; then the smooth gravel road, getting teeper and steeper; then the summit; one glimpse of a glorious panorama; then the front door and footmen.
Charles sent his card in, and would be glad to know if Lady Hainault could see him. While he waited for an answer, his horse rubbed its nose against its knee, and yawned, while the footmen on the steps looked at the rooks. They knew all about it too. (The footmen I mean, not the rooks); though I wouldn’t swear against a rook’s knowing anything, mind you.
Lady Hainault would see Mr. Ravenshoe — which was lucky, because, if she wouldn’t have done so, Charles would have been obliged to ask for Adelaide. So Charles’s horse was led to the stable, and Charles was led by the butler through the hall, and shown into a cool and empty library, to purge himself of earthly passions, before he was admitted to The Presence.
Charles sat himself down in the easiest chair he could find, and got hold of “Euskin’s Modern Painters.” That is a very nice book: it is printed on thick paper, with large print; the reading is very good, full of the most beautful sentiments ever you heard; and there are also capital plates in it. Charles looked through the pictures: he didn’t look at the letterpress, I know — for, if he had, he would have been so deeply enchained with it that he wouldn’t have done what he did — get up, and look out of the window. The window looked into the flower-garden. There he saw a young Scotch gardener, looking after his rose-trees. His child, a toddling bit of a thing, four years old (it must have been his first, for he was a very oung man), was holding the slips of matting for him; and glancing up between whiles at the great facade of the house, as though wondering what great people were inside, and whether they were looking at him. This was a pretty sight to a good whole-hearted fellow like Charles; but he got tired of looking at that even, after a time; for he was anxious, and not well at ease. And so, after his watch had told him that he had waited half an hour, he rang the bell.
The butler came, almost directly.
“Did you tell Lady Hainault that I was here?” said Charles.
“My lady was told, sir.”
“Tell her again, will you?” said Charles, and yawned.
Charles had time for another look at Euskin, and another look at the gardener and his boy, before the butler came back and said, “My lady is disengaged, sir.”
Charles was dying to see Adelaide, and was getting very impatient; but he was, as you have seen, a very contented sort of fellow: and, as he had fully made up his mind not to leave the house without a good half-hour with her, he could afford to wait. He crossed the hall behind the butler, and then went up the great staircase, and through the picture-gallery. Here he was struck by seeing the original of one of the prints he had seen downstairs, in the book, hanging on the wall among others. He stopped the butler, and asked, “What picture is that?”
“That, sir,” said the butler, hesitatingly, “that, sir — that is the great Turner, sir. Yes, sir,” he repeated, after a glance at a Francia on the one side, and a Rembrandt on the other, “yes, sir, that is the great Turner, sir.”
Charles was shown into a boudoir on the south side of the house, where sat Lady Hainault, an old and not singularly agreeable looking woman, who was doing crochet-work, and her companion, a strong-minded and vixenish-looking old maid, who was also doing crochet-work. They looked so very like two of the Fates, weaving woe, that Charles looked round for the third sister, and found her not.
“How d’ye do, Mr. Ravenshoe?” said Lady Hainault. “I hope you haven’t been kept waiting?”
“Not at all,” said Charles; and if that was not a deliberate lie, I want to know what is.
If there was any one person in the world for whom Charles bore a cherished feeling of dislike, it was this virtuous old lady. Charles loved Lady Ascot dearly, and Lady Hainault was her bitterest enemy. That would have been enough; but she had a horrid trick of sharpening her wit upon young men, and saying things to them in public which gave them a justifiable desire to knock her down and jump on her, as the Irish reapers do to their wives; and she had exercised this talent on Charles once at Eanfurd, and he hated her as much as he could hate any one, and that was not much. Lord Saltire used to say, that he must give her the credit of being the most infernally disagreeable woman in Europe.
Charles thought, by the twitching of her long fingers over her work, that she was going to be disagreeable now, and he was prepared. But, to Charles’s great astonishment, the old lady was singularly gracious.”
“And how,” she said, “is dear Lady Ascot? I have been coming, and coming, for a long time, but I never have gone so far this winter.”
“Lucky for aunt!” thought Charles. Then there was a pause, and a very awkward one.
Charles said, very quietly, “Lady Hainault, may I see Miss Summers?”
“Surely! I wonder where she is. Miss Hicks, ring the bell.”
Charles stepped forward and rang; and Miss Hicks, as Clotho, who had half-risen, sat down again, and wove her web grimly.
Atropos appeared, after an interval, looking as beautiful as the dawn. So Charles was looking too intently at her to notice the quick, eager glances that the old women threw at her as she came into the room. His heart leapt up as he went forward to meet her; and he took her hand and pressed it, and would have done so if all the furies in Pandemonium were there to prevent him.
It did not please her ladyship to see this; and so Charles did it once more, and then they sat down together in a window.
“And how am I looking?” said Adelaide, gazing at him full in the face. “Not a single pretty compliment for me after so long? I require compliments; I am used to them. Lady Hainault paid me some this morning.”
Lady Hainault, as Lachcsis, laughed and woved, Charles thought, “I suppose she and Adelaide have been having a shindy. She and aunt fall out sometimes.”
Adelaide and Charles had a good deal of quiet conversation in the window; but what two lovers could talk with Clotho and Lachesis looking on, weaving? I, of course, know perfectly well what they talked of, but it is hardly worth setting down here. I find that lovers’ conversations are not always interesting to the general public. After a decent time, Charles rose to go, and Adelaide went out by a side door.
Charles made his adieux to Clotho and Lachesis, and departed at the other end of the room. The door had barely closed on him, when Lady Hainault, eagerly thrusting her face towards Miss Hicks, hissed out —
“Did I give her time enough? Were her eyes red? Does he suspect anything?”
“You gave her time enough, I should say,” said Miss Hicks, deliberately. “I didn’t see that her eyes were reel But he must certainly suspect that you and she are not on the best of terms, from what she said.”
“Do you think he knows that Hainault is at home? Did he ask for Hainault?”
“I don’t know,” said Miss Hicks.
“She shall not stop in the house. She shall go back to Lady Ascot. I won’t have her in the house,” said the old lady, furiously.
“Why did you have her here, Lady Hainault?”
“You know perfectly well, Hicks. You know I only had her to spite old Ascot. But she shall stay here no longer.”
“She must stay for the wedding now,” said Miss Hicks.
“I suppose she must,” said Lady Hainault; “but, after that, she shall pack. If the Burton people only knew what was going on, the match would be broken off.”
“I don’t believe anything is going on,” said Miss Hicks; “at least, not on his side. You are putting yourself in a passion for nothing, and you will be ill after it .”
“I am not putting myself in a passion, and I won’t be ill, Hicks! And you are impudent to me, as you always are. I tell you that she must be got rid of, and she must marry that young booby, or we are all undone. I say that Hainault is smitten with her.”
“I say he is not, Lady Hainault. I say that what there is is all on her side.”
“She shall go back to Ranford after the wedding. I was a fool to have such a beautiful vixen in the house at all.”
We shall not see much more of Lady Hainault. Her son is about to marry the beautiful Miss Burton, and make her Lady Hainault, We shall see something of her by-and-bye.
The wedding came off the next week. A few days previously Charles rode over to Casterton and saw Adelaide. He had with him a note and jewel-case. The note was from Cuthbert, in which he spoke of her as his future sister, and begged her to accept the loan of “these few poor jewels.” She was graciously pleased to do so; and Charles took his leave very soon, for the house was turned out of the windows, and the next day but one “the long Burton girl ” became Lady Hainault, and Lady Ascot’s friend became Dowager. Lady Emily did not wear pearls at the wedding. She wore her own splendid golden hair, which hung round her lovely face like a glory. None who saw the two could say which was the most beautiful of these two celebrated blondes — Adelaide, the imperial, or Lady Emily, the gentle and the winning.
But, when Lady Ascot heard that Adelaide had appeared at the wedding with the emeralds, she was furious. “She has gone,” said that deeply injured lady — “she, a penniless girl, has actually gone, and, without my consent or knowledge, borrowed the Ravenshoe emeralds, and flaunted in them at a wedding. That girl would dance over my grave, Brooks.”
“Miss Adelaide,” said Brooks, “must have looked very well in them, my lady!” for Brooks was good-natured, and wished to turn away her ladyship’s wrath.
Lady Ascot turned upon her and withered her. She only said, “Emeralds upon pink! Heugh!” But Brooks was withered nevertheless.
I cannot give you any idea as to how Lady Ascot said “Heugh!” as I have written it above. We don’t know how the Greeks pronounced the amazing interjections in the Greek plays. We can only write them down.
“Perhaps the jewels were not remarked, my lady said the maid, making a second and worse shot.
“Not remarked, you foolish woman!” said the angry old lady. “Not remark a thousand pounds’ worth of emeralds upon a girl who is very well known to he a pensioner of mine. And I daren’t speak to her, or we shall have a scene with Charles. I am glad of one thing, though; it shows that Charles is thoroughly in earnest. Now let me get to bed, that’s a good soul; and don’t be angry with me if I am short tempered, for heaven knows I have enough to try me! Send one of the footmen across to the stable to know if Mahratta has had her nitre. Say that I insist on a categorical answer. Has Lord Ascot come home?” “Yes, my lady.”
“He might have come and given me some news about the horse. But there, poor boy, I can forgive him.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10