When William left Charles in his room at Ravenshoe, the latter sat down in his chair and began thiriking.
The smart of the blow, which had fallen so heavily at first, had become less painful. He knew by intuition that it would be worse on the morrow, and on many morrows; but at present it was alleviated. He began to dread sleeping, for fear of the waking.
He dreaded the night and dreams; and, more than all, the morrow and the departure. He felt that he ought to see Cuthbert again, and he dreaded that. He dreaded the servants seeing him go. He had a horror of parting from all he had known so long, formally. It was natural It would be so much pain to all concerned; were it not better avoided? He thought of all these things, and tried to persuade himself that these were the reasons which made him do what he had as good as determined to do an hour or two before, what he had in his mind when he called William back in the corridor — to go nway alone, and hide and mope Like a wounded stag for a little time.
It was his instinct to do so. Perhaps it would have been the best thing for him. At all events, he determined on it, and packed up a portmanteau and carpet-bag, and then sat down again, waiting.
“Yes,” he said to himself, “it will be better to do this. I must get away from William, poor lad. He must not follow my fortunes, for many reasons.”
His dog had been watching him, looking, with his bright loving eyes, first at him and then at his baggage, wondering what journey they were going on now. When Charles had done packing, and had sat down again in his chair before the fire, the dog leapt up in his lap unbidden, and laid his head upon his breast
“Grip, Grip!” said Charles, “I am going away to leave you for ever, Grip. Dogs don’t live so long as men, my boy; you will be quietly under the turf and at rest, when I shall have forty long years more to go through with.”
The dog wagged his tail, and pawed his waistcoat He wanted some biscuit. Charles got him some, and then went on talking.
“I am going to London, old dog. I am going to see what the world is like. I sha’n’t come back before you are dead. Grip, I expect. I have got to win money and a name for the sake of one who is worth “svinning it for. Very likely I shall go abroad, to the land where the stuff comes from they make sovereigns of, and try my luck at getting some of the yellow rubbish. And she will wait in the old house at Ranford.”
He paused here. The thought came upon him, “Would it not be more honourable to absolve Adelaide rom her engagement? Was he acting generously iu demanding of her to waste the best part of her life in waiting till a mined man had won fortune and means?”
The answer came. “She loves me. If I can wait why not she?”
“I have wronged her by such a thought, Grip. Haven’t I, my boy?” — and so on. I needn’t continue telling you the nonsense Charles talked to his dog. Men will talk nonsense to their dogs and friends when they are in love; and such nonsense is but poor reading at any time. To us who know what had happened, and how worthless and false Adelaide was, it would be merely painful and humiliating to hear any more of it. I only gave you so much to show you how completely Charles was in the dark, poor fool, with regard to Adelaide’s character, and to render less surprising the folly of his behaviour after he heard the news at Ranford.
Charles judged eyevy one by his own standard She had told him that she loved him; and perhaps she did, for a time. He believed her. As for vanity, selfishness, fickleness, calculation, coming in and conquering love, he knew it was impossible in his own case, and so he conceived it impossible in hers. I think I have been very careful to impress on you that Charles was not wise. At all events, if I have softened matters so far hitherto as to leave you in doubt, his actions, which we shall have to chronicle immediately, will leave not the slightest doubt of it. I love the man. I love his very faults in a way. He is a reality to me, though I ay not have the art to make him so to you. His mad, impulsive way of forming a resolution, and his honourable obstinacy in sticking to that resolution afterwards, even to the death, are very great faults; but they are, more or less, the faults of many men who have made a very great figure in the world, or I have read history wrong. Men with Charles Ravenshoe’s character, and power of patience and application superadded, turn out very brilliant characters for the most part. Charles had not been drilled into habits of application early enough. Densil’s unthinking indulgence had done him much harm, and he was just the sort of boy to be spoilt at school — a favourite among the masters and the boys; always just up to his work, and no more. It is possible that Eton in one way, or Eugby in another, might have done for him what Shrewsbury certainly did not. At Eton, thrown at once into a great, free republic, he might have been forced to fight his way up to his proper place, which, I believe, would not have been a low one. At Eugby he would have had his place to win all the same; but to help him he would have had all the traditionary school policy which a great man has left behind him as an immortal legacy. It was not to be. He was sent to a good and manly school enough, but one where there was for him too little of competition. Shrewsbury is, in most respects, the third of the old schools in England; but it was, unluckily, not the school for him. He was too great a man there.
At Oxford, too, he hardly had a fair chance. Lord
“Welter was there before him, and had got just such a set about him as one would expect from that young gentleman’s character and bringing up. These men were Charles’s first and only acquaintances at the University. What chance was there among them for correcting and disciplining himself? None. The wonder was that he came out from among them without being greatly deteriorated. The only friend Charles ever had who could guide hitn on the way to being a man was John Marston. But John Marston, to say the truth, was sometimes too hard and didactic, and very often roused Charles’s obstinacy through want of tact. Marston loved Charles, and thought him better than the ninety and nine who need no repentance; but it did not fall to Marston’s lot to make a man of Charles. Some one took that in hand who never fails.
This is the place for my poor apology for Charles’s folly. If I had inserted it before, you would not have attended to it, or would have forgotten it. If I have done my work right, it is merely a statement of the very conclusion you must have come to. In the humiliating scenes which are to follow, I only beg you to remember that Charles Horton was Charles Ravenshoe once; and that, while he was a gentleman, the people loved him well.
Once, about twelve o’clock, he left his room and passed through the house to see if all was quiet. He heard the grooms and footmen talking in the servants’ hall. He stole back again to his room and sat before the fire.
In half an hour he rose again, and put his portmanteau and carpet-bag outside his room door. Then he took his hat, and rose to go.
One more look round the old room! The last for ever! The present overmastered the past, and he looked round almost without recognition. I doubt whether at great crises men have much time for recollecting old associations. I looked once into a room, which had been my home, ever since I was six years old, for five-and-twenty-years, knowing I should never see it again. But it was to see that I had left nothing behind me. The coach was at the door, and they were calling for me. Now I could draw you a correct map of all the blotches and cracks in the ceiling, as I used to see them when I lay in bed of a morning. But, then, I only shut the door and ran down the passage, without even saying “goodbye, old bedroom.” Charles Ravenshoe looked round the room thoughtlessly, and then blew out the candle, went out, and shut the door.
The dog whined and scratched to come after him; so he went back again. The old room bathed in a flood of moonlight, and, seen through the open window, the busy chafing sea, calling to him to hasten.
He took a glove from the table, and, laying it on the hearthrug, told the dog to mind it. The dog looked wistfully at him and lay down. The next moment he was outside the door again.
Through long moonlit corridors, down the moonlit hall, through dark passages, which led among the sleeping household, to the door in the priest’s tower. The household slept, old men and young men, maids and matrons, quietly, and dreamt of this and of that. And he, who was yesterday nigh master of all, passed out from among them, and stood alone in the world, outside the dark old house, which he had called his home.
Then he felt the deed was done. Was it only the night-wind from the north that laid such a chill hand on his heart? Busy waves upon the shore talking eternally, — “We have come in from the Atlantic, hearing messages; we have come over foundered ships and the bones of drowned sailors, and we tell our messages and die upon the shore.”
Shadows that came sweeping from the sea, over lawn and flower-bed, and wrapped the old mansion like a pall for one moment, and then left it shining again in the moonlight, clear, pitiless. Within, warm rooms, warm beds, and the bated breath of sleepers, lying secure in the lap of wealth and order. Without, hard, cold stone. The great world around awaiting to devour one more atom. The bright unsympathizing stars, and the sea, babbling of the men it had rolled over, whose names should never be known.
Now the park, with herds of ghostly startled deer, and the sweet scent of growing fern; then the rush of the brook, the bridge, and the vista of woodland above; and then the sleeping village.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56