Charles had always been passionately fond of horses, and of riding. He was a consummate horseman, and was so perfectly accomplished in everything relating to horses, that I really believe that in time he might actually have risen to the dizzy height of being stud-groom to a great gentleman or nobleman. He had been brought up in a great horse-riding house, and had actually gained so much experience, and had so much to say on matters of this kind; that once, at Oxford, a promising young nobleman cast, so to speak, an adverse opinion of Charles’s into George Simmonds’s own face. Mr. Simmonds looked round on the offender mildly and compassionately, and said, “If any undergraduate could know, my lord, that undergraduate’s name would be Ravenshoe of Paul’s. But he is young, my lord. And, in consequence, ignorant.” His lordship didn’t say anything after that.
I have kept this fact in the background rather, hitherto, because it has not been of any great consequence. It becomes of some consequence now, for the first time. I enlarged a little on Charles being a rowing man, because rowing and training had, for good or for evil, a certain effect on his character. (Whether for good or for evil, you must determine for yourselves.) And I now mention the fact of his being a consummate horseman, because a considerable part of the incidents which follow arise from the fact.
Don’t think for one moment that you are going to be bored by stable talk. You will have simply none of it. It only amounts to this — that Charles, being fond of horses, took up with a certain line of life, and in that line of life met with certain adventures which have made his history worth relating.
When he met the “horsy ” man next morning, he was not dressed like a gentleman. In his store he had some old clothes, which he used to wear at Ravenshoe, in the merry old days when he would be up with daylight to exercise the horses on the moor — cord trousers, and so on, which, being now old and worn, made him look uncommonly like a groom out of place. And what contributed to the delusion was, that for the first time in his life he wore no shirt collar, but allowed his blue-spotted neckcloth to border on his honest red face, without one single quarter of an inch of linen. And, if it ever pleases your lordship’s noble excellence to look like a blackguard for any reason, allow me to recommend you to wear a dark necktie and no collar. Your success will be beyond your utmost hopes.
Charles met his new friend in the bar, and touched his hat to him. His friend laughed, and said, that would do, but asked how long he thought he could keep that sort of thing going. Charles said, as long as was necessary; and they went out together.
They walked as far as a street leading out of one of the largest and best squares (I mean B— lg — e Sq — e, but I don’t like to write it at full length), and stopped at the door of a handsome shop. Charles knew enough of London to surmise that the first floor was let to a man of some wealth; and he was right.
The door was opened, and his friend was shown up stairs, while he was told to wait in the hall. Now Charles began to perceive, with considerable amusement, that he was acting a part — that he was playing, so to speak, at being something other than what he really was, and that he was perhaps overdoing it. In this house, which yesterday he would have entered as an equal, he was now playing at being a servant. It was immensely amusing. He wiped his shoes very clean, and sat down on a bench in the hall, with his hat between his knees, as he had seen grooms do. It is no use wondering; one never finds out anything by that. But I do wonder, nevertheless, whether Charles, had he only known in what relation the master of that house stood to himself, would or would not have set the house on fire, or cut its owner’s throat. When he did find out, he did neither the one thing nor the other; but he had been a good deal tamed by that time.
Presently a servant came down, and, eyeing Charles curiously as a prospective fellow-servant, told him civilly to walk up stairs.
He went up. The room was one of a handsome suite, and overlooked the street. Charles saw at a glance that it was the room of a great dandy. A dandy, if not of the first water, most assuredly high up in the second. Two things only jarred on his eye in his hurried glance round the room. There was too much bric-a-brac, and too many flowers. “I wonder if he is a gentleman,” thought Charles. His friend of the night before was standing in a respectful attitude, leaning on the back of a chair, and Charles looked round for the master of the house, eagerly. He had to cast his eyes downward to see him, for he was lying back on an easy chair, half hidden by the breakfast table.
There he was — Charles’s master: the man who was going to buy him. Charles cast one intensely eager glance at him, and was satisfied. “He will do at a pinch,” said he to himself.
There were a great many handsome and splendid things in that room, but the owner of them was by far the handsomest and most splendid thing there.
He was a young man, with very pale and delicate features, and a singularly amiable cast of face, who wore a moustache, with the long whiskers which were just then coming into fashion; and he was dressed in a splendid uniform of blue, gold, and scarlet, for he had been on duty that morning, and had just come in. His sabre was cast upon the floor before him, and his shako was on the table. As Charles looked at him, he passed his hand over his hair. There was one ring on it, but uch a ring! “That’s a high-bred hand enough,” said Charles to himself. “And he hasn’t got too much jewellery on him. I wonder who the deuce he is?”
“This is the young man, sir,” said Charles’s new friend.
Lieutenant Hornby was looking at Charles, and, after a pause, said —
“I take him on your recommendation, Sloane. I have no doubt he will do. He seems a good fellow. You are a good fellow, ain’t you?” he continued, addressing Charles personally, with that happy graceful insolence which is the peculiar property of prosperous and entirely amiable young men, and which charms one in spite of oneself.
Charles replied, “I am quarrelsome sometimes among my equals, but I am always good-tempered among horses.”
“That will do very well. You may punch the other two lads’ heads as much as you like. They don’t mind me; perhaps they may you. You will be over them. You will have the management of everything. You will have unlimited opportunities of robbing and plundering me, with an entire absence of all chance of detection. But you won’t do it. It isn’t your line, I saw at once. Let me look at your hand.”
Charles gave him the great ribbed paw which served him in that capacity. And Hornby said —
“Ha! Gentleman’s hand. No business of mine. Don’t wear that ring, will you? A groom mustn’t wear such rings as that. Any character?”
Charles showed him the letter Lord Ascot had written.
“Lord Ascot, eh? I know Lord Welter, slightly.”
“The deuce you do,” thought Charles.
“Were you in Lord Ascot’s stables?”
“No, sir. I am the son of Squire Ravenshoe’s game-keeper. The Ravenshoes and my Lord Ascot’s family are connected by marriage. Ravenshoe is in the west country, sir, Lord Ascot knows me by repute, sir, and has a good opinion of me.”
“It is perfectly satisfactory. Sloane, will you put him in the way of his duties. Make the other lads understand that he is master, will you? You may go.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56