Passing out of the park, Charles set down his burden at the door of a small farmhouse at the further end of the village, and knocked. For some time he stood waiting for an answer, and heard no sound save the cows and horses moving about in the warm straw-yard. The beasts were in their home. No terrible new morrow for them. He was without in the street; his home irrevocable miles behind him; still not a thought of flinching or turning back. He knocked again.
The door was unbarred. An old man looked out, and recognised him with wild astonishment.
“Mr. Charles! Good lord-a-mercy! My dear tender heart, what be doing out at this time a-night? With his portmantle, too, and his carpet bag! Come in, my dear soul, come in. An, so pale and wild! Why, you’m overlooked. Master Charles.”
“No, Master Lee, I ain’t overlooked. At least not that I know of ”
The old man shook his head, and reserved his opinion.
“But I want your gig to go into Stonnington,”
“Ay, tonight. The coach goes at eight in the morning; I want to be there before that.”
“Why do’ee start so soon? They’ll be all abed in the Chichester Arms.”
“I know. I shall get into the stable. I don’t know where I shall get. I must go. There is trouble at the Hall.”
“Ay! ay! I thought as much, and you’m going away into the world?”
The old man said, “Ay! ay!” again, and turned to go upstairs. Then he held his candle over his head, and looked at Charles; and then went upstairs muttering to himself.
Presently was aroused from sleep a young Devonshire giant, half Hercules, half Antinolis, who lumbered down the stairs, and into the room, and made his obeisance to Charles with an air of wonder in his great sleepy black eyes, and departed to get the gig.
Of course his first point was Ranford. He got there in the afternoon. He had in his mind at this time, he thinks (for he does not remember it all very distinctly), the idea of going to Australia. He had an idea, too, of being eminently practical and business-like; and so he did a thing which may appear to be trifling, but which was important — one cannot say how much so. He asked for Lord Ascot instead of Lady Ascot.
Lord Ascot was in the library. Charles was shown in to him. He was sitting before the fire, reading a ovel. He looked very worn and anxious, and jumped up nervously when Charles was announced. He dropped his book on the floor, and came forward to him, holding out his right hand.
“Charles,” he said, “you will forgive me any participation in this. I swear to you ”
Charles thought that by some means the news of what had happened at Ravenshoe had come before him, and that Lord Ascot knew all about Father Mackworth’s discovery. Lord Ascot was thinking about Adelaide’s flight; so they were at cross purposes.
“Dear Lord Ascot,” said Charles, “how could I think of blaming you, my kind old friend?”
“It is devilish gentlemanly of you to speak so, Charles,” said Lord Ascot. “I am worn to death about that horse, Haphazard, and other things; and this has finished me. I have been reading a novel to distract my mind. I must win the Derby, you know; by Gad, I must.”
“Whom have you got. Lord Ascot?”
“You couldn’t do better, I suppose?”
“I suppose not. You don’t know — I’d rather not talk any more about it, Charles.”
“Lord Ascot, this is, as you may well guess, the last time I shall ever see you. I want you to do me a favour.”
“I will do it, my dear Charles, with the greatest pleasure. Any reparation —”
“Hush, my lord! I only want a certificate. Will you read this which I have written in pencil, and, if you conscientiously can, copy in your own hand, and sign it. Also, if I send to you a reference, will you confirm it?”
Lord Ascot read what Charles had written, and said —
“Yes, certainly. You are going to change your name, then?”
“I must bear that name, now; I am going abroad.”
Lord Ascot wrote —
“The undermentioned Charles Horton I have known ever since he was a boy. His character is beyond praise in every way. He is a singularly bold and dexterous rider, and is thoroughly up to the management of horses.
“You have improved upon my text. Lord Ascot,” said Charles. “It is like your kindheartedness. The mouse may offer to help the lion, my lord; and, although the lion may know how little likely it is that he should require help, yet he may take it as a sign of good will on the part of the poor mouse. Now, goodbye, my lord; I must see Lady Ascot, and then be off.”
Lord Ascot wished him kindly goodbye, and took up his novel again. Charles went alone up to Lady Ascot’s room.
He knocked at the door, and received no answer; so he went in. Lady Ascot was there, although she had not answered him. She was sitting upright by the fire, taring at the door, with her hands folded on her lap. A line brave-looking old lady at all times, but just now, Charles thought, with that sweet look of pity showing itself principally about the corners of the gentle old mouth, more noblelooking than ever!
“May I come in, Lady Ascot?” said Charles.
“My dearest own boy! You must come in and sit down. You must be very quiet over it. Try not to make a scene, my dear. I am not strong enough. It has shaken me so terribly. I heard you had come, and were with Ascot. And I have been trembling in every limb. Not from terror so much of you in your anger, as because my conscience is not clear. I may have hidden things from you, Charles, which you ought to have known.” And Lady Ascot began crying silently.
Charles felt the blood going from his cheeks to his heart. His interview with Lord Ascot had made him suspect something further was wrong than what he knew of, and his suspicions were getting stronger every moment. He sat down quite quietly, looking at Lady Ascot, and spoke not one word. Lady Ascot wiping her eyes, went on; and Charles’s heart began to beat with a dull heavy pulsation, like the feet of those who carry a coffin.
“I ought to have told you what was going on between them before she went to old Lady Hainault. I ought to have told you of what went on before Lord Hainault was married. I can never forgive myself, Charles. You may upbraid me, and I will sit here and make not one excuse. But I must say that I never for one moment thought that she was anything more than light-headed. I, — oh Lord! I never dreamt it would have come to this.”
“Are you speaking of Adelaide, Lady Ascot?” said Charles.
“Of course I am,” she said, almost peevishly. “If I had ever ”
“Lady Ascot,” said Charles, quietly, “you are evidently speaking of something of which I have not heard. What has Adelaide done?”
The old lady clasped her hands above her head. “Oh, weary, weary day! And I thought that he had heard it all, and that the blow was broken. The cowards! they have left it to a poor old woman to tell him at last.”
“Dear Lady Ascot, you evidently have not heard of what a terrible fate has befallen me. I am a ruined man, and I am very patient. I had one hope left in the world, and I fear that you are going to cut it away from me. I am very quiet, and will make no scene; only tell me what has happened.”
“Adelaide! — be proud, Charles, be angry, furious — you Ravenshoes can! — be a man, but don’t look like that. Adelaide, dead to honour and good fame, has gone off with Welter!”
Charles walked towards the door.
“Tliat is enough. Please let me go. I can’t stand any more at present. You have been very kind to me and to her, and I thank you and bless you for it. The on of a bastard blesses you for it. Let me go — let me go.”
Lady Ascot had stepped actively to the door, and had laid one hand on the door, and one on his breast, “You shall not go,” she said, “till you have told me what you mean.”
“How? I cannot stand any more at present.”
“What do you mean by being the son of a bastard?”
“I am the son of James, Mr. Ravenshoe’s keeper. He was the illegitimate son of Mr. Petre Ravenshoe.”
“Who told you this?” said Lady Ascot.
“How did he know it?”
Charles told her all.
“So the priest has found that out, eh?” said Lady Ascot. “It seems true; ” and, as she said so, she moved back from the door. “Go to your old bedroom, Charles. It will always be ready for you while this house is a house; and come down to me presently. Where is Lord Saltire?”
“At Lord Segur’s.”
Charles went out of the room, and out of the house, and was seen no more. Lady Ascot sat down by the fire again.
“The one blow has softened the other,” she said. “I will never keep another secret after this. It was for Alicia’s sake and for Petre’s that I did it, and now see what has become of it, I shall send for Lord Saltire. The boy must have his rights, and shall, too.”
So the brave old woman sat down and wrote to Lord Saltire. We shall see what she — svrote to him in the proper place. Not now. She sat calmly and methodically writing, with her kind old face wreathing into a smile as she went on. And Charles, the madman, left the house, and posted off to London, only intent on seeking to lose himself among the sordid crowd, so that no man he had ever called a friend should set eyes on him again.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52