HITHERTO I have been able to follow Charles right on without leaving him for one instant: now, however, that he is reduced to sitting on a wheelbarrow in a stable-yard, we must see a little less of him. He is, of course, our principal object; but he has removed himself from the immediate sphere of all our other acquaintances, and so we must look up some of them, and see how far they, though absent, are acting on his destiny — nay, we must look up every one of them sooner or later, for there is not one who is not in some way concerned in his adventures past and future.
By reason of her age, her sex,, and her rank, my Lady Ascot claims our attention first. We left the dear old woman in a terrible taking, on finding that Charles had suddenly left the house and disappeared. Her wrath gave way to tears, and her tears to memory. Bitterly she blamed herself now for what seemed, years ago, such a harmless deceit. It was not too late. Charles might be found; would come back, surely — would come back to his poor old aunt! He would never — hush! it won’t do to think of that!
Lady Ascot thought of a brilliant plan, and put it into immediate execution. She communicated with Mr. Scotland Yard, the eminent exdetective officer, forwarding a close description of Charles, and a request that he might be found, alive or dead, immediately. Her efforts were crowned with immediate and unlooked-for success. In a week’s time the detective had discovered, not one Charles Ravenshoe, but three, from which her ladyship might take her choice. But the worst of it was that neither of the three was Charles Ravenshoe. There was a remarkable point of similarity between Charles and them, certainly; and that point was, that they were all three young gentlemen under a cloud, and had all three dark hair and prominent features. Here the similarity ended.
The first of the cases placed so promptly before her ladyship by Inspector Yard presented some startling features of similarity mth that of Charles. The young gentleman was from the West of England, had been at college somewhere, had been extravagant (“God bless him, poor dear! when lived a Ravenshoe that wasn’t?” thought Lady Ascot), had been crossed in love, the inspector believed (Lady Ascot thought she had got her fish), and was now in the Coldbath Fields Prison, doing two years’ hard labour for swindling, of which two months were yet to run. The inspector would let her ladyship know the day of his release.
This could not be Charles: and the next young gentleman offered to her notice was a worse shot than the other. He also was dark-haired; but here at once all resemblance ceased. This one had started in life with an ensigncy in the line. He had embezzled the mess-funds, had been to California, had enlisted, deserted, and sold his kit, been a billiard-marker, had come into some property, had spent it, had enlisted again, had been imprisoned for a year and discharged — here Lady Ascot would read no more, but laid down the letter, saving, “Pish!”
But the inspector’s cup was not yet full. The unhappy man was acting from uncertain information, he says. He affirmed, throughout all the long and acrimonious discussion which followed, that his only instructions were to find a young gentleman with dark hair and a hook nose. If this be the case, he may possibly be excused for catching a curly-headed little Jew of sixteen, who was drinking himself to death in a public-house off Regent Street, and producing him as Charles Ravenshoe. His name was Cohen, and he had stolen some money from his father and gone to the races. This was so utterly the wrong article, that Lady Ascot wrote a violent letter to the exinspector, of such an extreme character, that he replied by informing her ladyship that he had sent her letter to his lawyer. A very pretty quarrel followed, which I have not time to describe.
No tidings of Charles! He had hidden himself too effectually. So the old woman wept and watched — watched for her darling who came not, and for the ruin hat slie saw settling down upon her house like a dark cloud, that grew evermore darker.
And little Mary had packed up her boxes and passed out of the old house, with the hard, bitter world before her. Father Mackworth had met her in the hall, and had shaken hands with her in silence. He loved her, in his way, so much, that he cared not to say anything. Cuthbert was outside, waiting to hand her to her carriage. When she was seated he said, “I shall write to you, Mary, for I can’t say all I would.” And then he opened the door and kissed her affectionately; then the carriage went on, and before it entered the wood, she had a glimpse of the grey old house, and Cuthbert on the steps before the porch, bareheaded, waving his hand; then it was among the trees, and she had seen the last of him for ever; then she buried her face in her hands, and knew, for the first time, perhaps, how well she had loved him.
She was going, as we know, to be nursery-governess to the orphan children of Lord Hainault’s brother. She went straight to London to assume her charge. It was very late when she got to Paddington. One of Lord Hainault’s carriages was waiting for her, and she was whirled through “the season ” to Grosvenor Square. Then she had to walk alone into the great lighted hall, with the servants standing right and left, and looking at nothing, as well-bred servants are bound to do. She wished for a moment that the poor little governess had been allowed to come in a cab.
The groom of the chambers informed her that her ladyship had gone out, and would not be home till late; that his lordship was dressing; and that dinner was ready in Miss Corby’s room whenever she pleased.
So she went up. She did not eat much dinner; the steward’s-room boy in attendance had his foolish heart moved to pity by seeing how poor an appetite she had, when he thought what he could have done in that line too.
Presently she asked the lad where was the nursery. The second door to the right. When all was quiet she opened her door, and thought she would go and see the children asleep. At that moment the nursery-door opened, and a tall, handsome quiet-looking man came out. It was Lord Hainault: she had seen him before.
“I like this,” said she, as she drew back. “It was kind of him to go and see his brother’s children before he went out; “and so she went into the nursery.
An old nurse was sitting by the fire sewing. The two elder children were asleep; but the youngest, an audacious young sinner of three, had refused to do anything of the kind until the cat came to bed with him. The nursery cat being at that time out a-walking on the leads, the nursemaid had been despatched to bon-ow one from the kitchen. At this state of affairs Mary entered. The nurse rose and curtsied, and the rebel clambered on her knee, and took her into his confidence. He told her that that day, while walking in the square, he had seen a chimney-sweep; that he had called to
Gus and Flora to come and look; that Gus had been in time and seen him go round the corner, but that Flora had come too late, and cried, and so Gus had lent her his hoop and she had left off, «Sz;c. &c. After a time he requested to be allowed to say his prayers to her; to which the nurse objected, on the theological ground that he had said them twice akeady that evening, which was once more than was usually allowed. Soon after this the little head lay heavy on Mary’s arm, and the little hand loosed its hold on hers, and the child was asleep.
She left the nursery with a lightened heart; but, nevertheless, she cried herself to sleep. “I wonder, shall I like Lady Hainault; Charles used to. But she is very proud, I believe. I cannot remember much of her. — How those carriages growl and roll, almost like the sea at dear old Piavenshoe.” Then, after a time, she slept.
There was a light in her eyes, not of dawn, which woke her. A tall, handsome woman, in silk and jewels, came and knelt beside her and kissed her; and said that, now her old home was broken up, she must make one there, and be a sister to her, and many other kind words of the same sort. It was Lady Hainaidt (the long Burton girl, as Madam Adelaide called her) come home from her last party; and in such kind keeping I think we may leave little Mary for the present.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10