Charles Ravenshoe had committed suicide — committed suicide as deliberately as any maddened wretch had done that day in all the wide miserable world. He knew it well, and was determined to go on with it. He had not hung himself, or drowned himself, but he had committed deliberate suicide, and he knew — knew well — that his obstinacy would carry him through to the end.
What is suicide nine cases out of ten? Any one can tell you. It is the act of a mad, proud coward, who flies, by his own deed, not from humiliation or disgrace, but, as he fancies, from feeling the consequences of them — who flies to unknown, doubtful evils, sooner than bear positive, present, undoubted ones. All this had Charles done, buoying him up with this excuse and that excuse, and fancying that he was behaving, the cur, like Bayard, or Lieutenant Willoughby — a greater than Bayard — all the time.
The above is Charles’s idea of the matter himself, put in the third person for form’s sake. I don’t agree with all he says about himself I don’t deny that he did very foolish thing, but I incline to believe that there was something noble and self-reliant in his doing it. Think a moment. He had only two courses open to him — the one (I put it coarsely) to eat humble pie, to go back to Cuthbert and Mackworth and accept their ofiers; the other to do as he had done — to go alone into the world, and stand by himself. He did the latter, as we shall see. He could not face Ravenshoe, or any connected with it, again. It had been proved that he was an unwilling impostor, of base, low blood, and his sister — ah, one more pang, poor heart — his sister Ellen, what was she?
Little doubt — little doubt! Better for both of them if they had never been born! He was going to London, and, perhaps, might meet her there! All the vice and misery of the country got thrown into that cesspool When anything had got too foul for the pure country air, men said, Away with it; throw it into the great dunghill, and let it rot there. Was he not going there himself? It was fit she should be there before him! They would meet for certain!
How would they meet? Would she be in silks and satins, or in rags? flaunting in her carriage, or shivering in an archway? What matter? was not shame the heritage of the “lower orders?” The pleasures of the rich must be ministered to by the “lower orders,” or what was the use of money or rank? He was one of the lower orders now. He must learn his lesson; learn to cringe and whine like the rest of them. It would be hard, but it must be learnt. The dogs rose against it sometimes, but it never paid.
The devil was pretty busy with poor Charles in his despair, you see. This was all he had left after three and twenty years of careless idleness and luxury. His creed had been, “I am a Ravenshoe,” and lo! one morning, he was a Ravenshoe no longer. A poor crow, that had been fancying himself an eagle. A crow! “by heavens,” he thought “he was not even that.” A non-entity, turned into the world to find his own value! What were honour, honesty, virtue to him? Why, nothing — words! He must truckle and pander for his living. Why not go back and truckle to Father Mackworth? There was time yet,
Why not? Was it pride only? We have no right to say what it was. If it was only pride, it was better than nothing. Better to have that straw only to cling to, than to be all alone in the great sea with nothing. We have seen that he has done nothing good, with circumstances all in his favour; let us see if he can in any way hold his own, with circumstances all against him.
“America?” he thought once. “They are all gentlemen there. If I could only find her, and tear her jewels off, we would go there together. But she must be found — she must be found. I will never leave England till she goes with me. We shall be brought together. We shall see one another. I love her as I never loved her before. What a sweet, gentle little love she was! My arling! And, when 1 have kissed her, I never dreamed she was my sister. My pretty love! Ellen, Ellen, I am coming to you. Where are you, my love?”
He was alone, in a railway carriage, leaning out to catch the fresh wind, as he said this. He said it once again, this time aloud. “Where are you, my sister?”
Where was she? Could he have only seen! We may be allowed to see, though he could not. Come forward into the great Babylon with me, while he is speeding on towards it; we will rejoin him in an instant.
In a small luxuriously furnished hall, there stands a beautiful woman, dressed modestly in the garb of a servant. She is standing with her arms folded, and a cold, stern, curious look on her face. She is looking towards the hall-door, which is held open by a footman. She is waiting for some one who is coming in; and two travellers enter, a man and a woman. She goes up to the woman, and says, quietly, “I bid you welcome, madam.” Who are these people? Is that waiting-woman Ellen? and these travellers, are they Lord Welter and Adelaide? Let us get back to poor Charles: better be with him than here!
We must follow him closely. We must see why, in his despair, he took the extraordinary resolution that he did. Not that I shall take any particular pains to follow the exact process of his mind in arriving at his determination. If the story has hitherto been told well it will appear nothing extraordinary, and, if otherwise, an intelligent reader would very soon detect any attempt at bolstering up ill-told facts by elaborate, soul-analyzing theories.
He could have wished the train would have run on for ever; but he was aroused by the lights growing thicker and more brilliant, and he felt that they were nearing London, and that the time for action was come.
The great plunge was taken, and he was alone in the cold street — alone, save for the man who carried his baggage. He stood for a moment or so, confused with the rush of carriages of all sorts which were taking the people from the train, till he was aroused by the man asking him where he was to go to.
Charles said, without thmking, “The Warwick Hotel,” and thither they went. For a moment he regretted that he had said so, but the next moment he said, aloud, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
The man turned round, and begged his pardon. Charles did not answer him; and the man went on, wondering what sort of young gentleman he had got hold of.
The good landlord was glad to see him. Would he have dinner? — a bit of fish and a lamb chop, for instance? Then it suddenly struck Charles that he was hungry — ravenous. He laughed aloud at the idea; and the landlord laughed too, and rubbed his hands. Should it be whiting or smelts now? he asked.
“Anything,” said Charles, “so long as you feed me uick. And give me wine, will you, of some sort; I want to drink. Give me sherry, will you? And I say, let me taste some now, and then I can see if I like it. I am very particular about my wine, you must know.”
In a few minutes a waiter brought in a glass of wine, and waited to know how Charles liked it. He told the man he could go, and he would tell him at dinnertime. When the man was gone, he looked at the wine with a smile. Then he took it up, and poured it into the coal-scuttle.
“Not yet,” he said, “not yet! I’ll try something else before I try to drink my troubles away.” And then he plunged into the Times.
He had no sooner convinced himself that Lord Aberdeen was tampering with the honour of the country by not declaring war, than he found himself profoundly considering what had caused that great statesman to elope with Adelaide, and whether, in case of a Paissian war, Lady Ascot would possibly convict Father Mackworth of having caused it. Then Lady Ascot came into the room with a large bottle of medicine and a Testament, announcing that she was going to attend a sick gunboat. And then, just as he began to see that he was getting sleepy, to sleep he went, fast as a top.
Half an hour’s sleep restored him, and dinner made things look different. “After all,” he said, as he sipped his wine, “here is only the world on the one side and I
Oil the other. I am utterly reckless, and can sink no further. I will get all the pleasure out of life that I can, honestly; for I am an honest man still, and mean to be. I love you, Madame Adelaide, and you have used me worse than a hound, and made me desperate. If he marries you, I will come forward some day, and disgrace you. If you had only waited till you knew everything, I could have forgiven you. I’ll get a place as a footman, and talk about you in the sen-ants’ hall. All London shall know you were engaged to me.”
“Poor dear, pretty Adelaide; as if I would ever hurt a hair of your head, my sweet love! Silly ”
The landlord came in. There was most excellent company in the smoking-room. Would he condescend to join them?
Company and tobacco! Charles would certainly join them; so he had his wine carried in.
There was a fat gentleman, with a snub nose, who was a Conservative. There was a tall gentleman, with a long nose, who was Liberal. There was a short gentleman, with no particular kind of nose, who was Eadical. There was a handsome gentleman, with big whiskers, who was commercial; and there was a gentleman with bandy legs, who was horsy.
I strongly object to using a slang adjective, if any other can be got to supply its place; but by doing so sometimes one avoids a periphrasis, and does not spoil one’s period. Thus, I know of no predicate for a gentleman with a particular sort of hair, complexion. ress, whiskers, and legs, except the one I have used above, and so it must stand.
As Providence would have it, Charles sat down between the landlord and the horsy man, away from the others. He smoked his cigar, and listened to the conversation.
The Conservative gentleman coalesced with the Liberal gentleman on the subject of Lord Aberdeen’s having sold the country to the Paissians; the Ptadical gentleman also came over to them on that subject; and for a time the opposition seemed to hold an overwhelming majority, and to be merely allowing Aberdeen’s Government to hold place longer, that they might commit themselves deeper. In fact, things seemed to be going all one way, as is often the case in coalition ministries just before a grand crash, when the Eadical gentleman caused a violent split in the cabinet, by saying that the whole complication had been brought about by the machinations of the aristocracy — which assertion caused the Conservative gentleman to retort in uimieasured language; and then the Liberal gentleman, trying to trim, found himself distrusted and despised by both parties. Charles listened to them, amused for the time to hear them quoting, quite unconsciously, whole sentences out of their respective leading papers, and then was distracted by the horsy man saying to him —
“Dam politics. What horse will win the Derby, sir?”
“Haphazard,” said Charles, promptly. This, please to remember, was Lord Ascot’s horse, which we have seen before.
The landlord immediately drew closer up.
The horsy man looked at Charles, and said, “H’m; and what has made my lord scratch him for the Two Thousand, sir?”
And so on. We have something to do with Haphazard’s winning the Derby, as we shall see; and we have still more to do with the result of Charles’s-conversation with the “horsy man.” But we have certainly nothing to do with a wordy discussion about the various horses which stood well for the great race (wicked, lovely darlings, how many souls of heroes have they sent to Hades!), and so we will spare the reader. The conclusion of their conversation was the only important part of it.
Charles said to the horsy man on the stairs, “Now you know everything. I am penniless, friendless, and nameless. Can you put me in the way of earning my living honestly?”
And he said, “I can, and I will. This gentleman is a fast man, but he is rich. You’ll have your own way. Maybe, you’ll see some queer things, but what odds?”
“None to me,” said Charles; “I can always leave him.”
“And go back to your friends, like a wise young gentleman, eh?” said the other, kindly.
“I am not a gentleman,” said Charles. “I told you.
SO before. I am a gamekeeper’s son; I swear to you I am. I have been petted and pampered till I look like one, but I am not.”
“You are a deuced good imitation,” said the other. “Good night; come to me at nine, mind.”
At this time, Lady Ascot had despatched her letter to Lord Saltire, and had asked for Charles. The groom of the chambers said that Mr. Ravenshoe had left the house immediately after his interview with her ladyship, three hours before.
She started up. “Gone! — Whither?”
“To Twyford, my lady.”
“Send after him, you idiot! Send the grooms after him on all my lord’s horses. Send a lad on Haphazard, and let him race the train to London. Send the police! He has stolen my purse, with ten thousand gold guineas in it! — I swear he has. Have him bound hand and foot, and bring him back, on your life. If you stay there I will kill you!”
The violent old animal nature, dammed up so long by creeds and formulas, had broken out at last. The decorous Lady Ascot was transformed in one instant into a terrible, grey-headed, magnificent old Alecto, hurling her awful words abroad in a sharp, snarling voice, that made the hair of him that heard it to creep upon his head. The man fled, and shut Lady Ascot in alone.
She walked across the room, and beat her withered old hands against the wall. “Oh, miserable, wicked old woman!” she cried aloud. “How surely have your sins found you out! After concealing a crime for so many years, to find the judgment fall on such an innocent and beloved head! Alicia, Alicia, I did this for your sake. Charles, Charles, come back to the old woman before she dies, and tell her you forgive her.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10