HORNBY was lying ou his back on the sofa in the window, and looking out. He had sent for Charles, and Charles was standing beside him; but he had not noticed him yet. In a minute Charles said, “You sent for me, sir.”
Hornby turned sharply round. “By Jove, yes,” he said, looking straight at him; “Lord Welter is married.”
Charles did not move a muscle, and Hornby looked disappointed. Charles only said —
“May I ask who she is, sir?”
“She is a Miss Summers. Do you know anything of her?”
Charles knew Miss Summers quite well by sight — had attended her while riding, in fact. A statement which, though strictly true, misled Hornby more than fifty lies.
“Remarkably so. Probably the handsomest” (he was going to say “girl,” but said “lady”) “I ever saw in my life.”
“H’m!” and he sat silent a moment, and gave
Charles time to think. “I am glad he has married her, and before tomorrow, too.”
“Well,” said Hornby again, “we shall go down in the drag tomorrow. Fen’ers will drive, he says. I suppose he had better; he drives better than I. Make the other two lads come in livery, but come in 1)lack trousers yourself. Wear your red waistcoat; you can button your coat over it, if it is necessary.” “Shall I wear my cockade, sir?” “Yes; that won’t matter. Can you fight?” Charles said to himself, “I suppose we shall be in Queer-street tomorrow, then;” but he rather liked the idea. “I used to like it,” said he aloud. “I don’t think I care about it now. Last year, at Oxford, I and three other University men, three Pauls and a Brazenose, had a noble stramash on Follybridge. That is the last fighting I have seen.”
“What College were you at?” said Hornby, looking out of the window; “Brazenose?”
“Paul’s,” said Charles, without thinking. “Then you are the man Welter was telling me about — Charles Ravenshoe.”
Charles saw it was no good to fence, and said, “Yes.” “By Jove,” said Hornby, “yours is a sad story. You must have ridden out with Lady Welter more than once, I take it.”
“Are you going to say anything to Lord Welter, sir?” “Not I. I like you too well to lose you. You will stick by me, won’t you?”
“I will,” said Charles, “to the death. But oh, Hornby, for any sake mind those d — d bones!”
“I will. But don’t be an ass: I don’t play half as much as you think.”
“You are playing with Welter now, sir; are you not?”
“You are a pretty dutiful sort of groom, I don’t think,” said Hornby, looking round and laughing good-naturedly. “ What the dickens do you mean by cross-questioning me like that? Yes, I am. There — and for a noble purpose too.”
Charles said no more, but was well pleased enough. If Hornby had only given him a little more of his confidence!
“I suppose,” said Hornby, “if Haphazard don’t win tomorrow, Lord Ascot will be a beggar.”
“They say,” said Charles, “that he has backed his own horse through thick and thin, sir. It is inconceivable folly; but things could not be worse at Ranford, and he stands to win some sum on the horse, as they say, which would put everything right; and the horse is favourite.”
“Favourites never win,” said Hornby; “and I don’t think that Lord Ascot has so much on him as they say.”
So, the next day, they went to the Derby. Sir Robert Ferrers of the (ruards drove (this is Inkerman Bob, and he has got a patent cork leg now, and a “Victoria Cross, and goes a-shooting on a grey cob); and there was Red Maclean, on furlough from India; and there was Lord Swansea, youngest of existing
Guardsmen, who blew a horn, and didn’t blow it at all well; and there were two of Lieutenant Hornby’s brother-officers, besides the Lieutenant: and behind, with Hornby’s two grooms and our own Charles, dressed in sober black, was little Dick Ferrers, of the Home Office, who carried a peashooter, and pea-shot the noses of the leading horses of a dragful of Plungers, which followed them — which thing, had he been in the army, he wouldn’t have dared to do. And the Plungers swore, and the dust flew, and the mnd blew, and Sir Ptobert drove, and Charles laughed, and Lord Swansea gave them a little music, and away they went to the Derby.
When they came on the course, Charles and his fellow-servants had enough to do to get the horses out and see after them. After nearly an hour’s absence he got back to the drag, and began to look about him.
The Plungers had drawn up behind them, and were lolling about Before them was a family party — a fine elderly gentleman, a noble elderly lady, and two uncommonly pretty girls; and they were enjoying themselves. They were too well bred to make a noise; but there was a subdued babbling sound of laughter in that carriage, which was better music than that of a little impish German who, catching Charles’s eye, played the accordion and waltzed before him, as did Salome before Herod, but with a different effect.
The carriage beyond that was a very handsome one, and in it sat a lady most beautifully dressed, alone. By the step of the carriage were a crowd of men — Hornby,
Hornby’s brother-officers, Sir Robert Ferrers, and even little Dick Ferrers. Nay, there was a Plunger there; and they were all talking and laughing at the top of their voices.
Charles, goose as he was, used to be very fond of Dickens’s novels. He used to say that almost everywhere in those novels you came across a sketch, may be unconnected with the story, as bold and true and beautiful as those chalk sketches of Eaphael in the Taylor — scratches which, when once seen, you could never forget any more. And, as he looked at that lady in the carriage, he was reminded of one of Dickens’s masterpieces in that way, out of the “Old Curiosity Shop “— of a lady sitting in a carriage all alone at the races, who bought Nell’s poor flowers, and bade her go home and stay there, for God’s sake.
Her back was towards him, of course; yet he guessed she was beautiful. “She is a fast woman, God help her 1 ” said he; and he determined to go and look at her.
He sauntered past the carriage, and turned to look at her. It was Adelaide.
As faultlessly beautiful as ever, but ah — how changed! The winning petulance, so charming in other days, was gone from that face for ever. Hard, stern, proud, defiant, she sat there upright, alone. Fallen from the society of all women of her own rank, she knew — who better? — that not one of those men chattering around her would have borne to see her in the company of his ister, viscountess though she were, countess and mother of earls as she would be. They laughed, and lounged, and joked before her; and she tolerated them, and cast her gibes hither and thither among them, bitterly and contemptuously. It was her first appearance in the world. She had been married three days, Not a woman would speak to her: Lord Welter had coarsely told her so that morning; and bitterness and hatred were in her heart. It was for this she had bartered honour and good fame. She had got’ her title, flung to her as a bone to a dog by Welter; but her social power, for which she had sold herself, was lower, far lower, than when she was poor Adelaide Summers.
It is right that it should be so, as a rule; in her case it was doubly right.
Charles knew all this well enough., And at the first glance at her face he knew that “the iron had entered into her soul” (I know no better expression), and he was revenged. He had ceased to love her, but revenge is sweet — to some.
Not to him. When he looked at her, he would havi? given his life that she might smile again, though she was no more to him what she had been. He turned for fear of being seen, saying to himself, —
“Poor girl! Poor dear Adelaide! She must lie on the bed she has made. God help her!”
Haphazard was the first favourite — facile princeps. He was at two and a half to one. Bill Sykes, at three and a half, was a very dangerous horse. Then came Carnarvon, Lablache, Lickpitcher, Ivanhoe, Ben Gaunt, Bathbun, Hamlet, Allfours, and Colonel Sibthorp. The last of these was at twenty to one. Ben Gaunt was to make the running for Haphazard, so they said; and Colonel Sibthorp for Bill Sykes.
So he heard the men talking round Lady Welter’s carriage. Hornby’s voice was as loud as any one s, and a pleasant voice it was; but they none of them talked very low. Charles could hear every word.
“I am afraid Lady Welter will never forgive me,” said Hornby, “but I have bet against the favourite.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Adelaide.
“I have bet against your horse, Lady Welter.”
“My horse?” said Adelaide, coolly and scornfully. “My horses are all post-horses, hired for the day to bring me here. I hope none of them are engaged in the races, as I shall have to go home with a pair only, and then I shall be disgraced for ever.”
“I mean Haphazard.”
“Oh, that horse?” said Adelaide; “that is Lord Ascot’s horse, not mine. I hope you may win. You ought to win something, oughtn’t you? Welter has won a great deal from you, I believe.”
The facts were the other way. But Hornby said no more to her. She was glad of this, though she liked him well enough, for she hoped that she had offended him l)y her insolent manner. But they were at cross-purposes.
Presently Lord Welter came swinging in among hem; he looked terribly savage and wild, and Charles thought he had heen drinking. Knowing what he was in this mood, and knowing also the mood Adelaide was in, he dreaded some scene. “ But they cannot quarrel so soon,” he thought.
“How d’ye do?” said Lord Welter to the knot of men round his wife’s carriage. “Lady Welter, have your people got any champagne, or anything of that sort?”
“I suppose so; you had better ask them.”
She had not forgotten what he said to her that morning so brutally. She saw he was madly angry, and would have liked to make him commit himself before these men. She had fawned, and wheedled, and flattered for a month; but now she was Lady Welter, and he should feel it.
Lord Welter looked still more savage, but said nothing. A man brought him some wine; and, as he gave it to him, Adelaide said, as quietly as though she were telling him that there was some dust on his coat, —
“You had better not take too much of it; you seem to have had enough already. Sir Robert Ferrers here is very taciturn in his cups, I am told; but you make such a terrible to-do when you are drunk.”
They should feel her tongue, these fellows! They might come and dangle about her carriage — door, and joke to one another, and look on her beauty as if she were a doll; but they should feel her tongue! Charles’s heart sank within him as he heard her. Only a month gone, and she desperate.
But of all the mischievous things done on that racecourse that day — and they were many — the most mischievous and uncalled-for was Adelaide’s attack upon Sir Robert Ferrer, who, though very young, was as sober, clever, and discreet a young man as any in the Guards, or in England. But Adelaide had heard a story about him. To wit, that, going to dinner at Greenwich with a number of friends, and havino; taken two glasses or so of wine at his dinner, he got it into Ms head that he was getting tipsy; and refused to speak another word all the evening for fear of committing himself.
The other men laughed at Ferrers. And Lord Welter chose to laugh too; he was determined that his wife should not make a fool of him. But now every one began to draw off and take their places for the race. Little Dick Ferrers, whose whole life was one long effort of good nature, stayed by Lady Welter, though horribly afraid of her, because he did not like to see her left alone. Charles forced himself into a front position against the rails, with his friend Mr. Sloane, and held on thereby, intensely interested. He was passionately fond of horse-racing; and he forgot everything, even his poor, kind old friend Lord Ascot, in scrutinising every horse as it canie by from the Warren, and guessing which was to win. ”
Haphazard was the horse, there could be no doubt. A cheer ran all along the line, as he came walking majestically down, as though he knew he was the hero of the day. Bill Sykes and Carnarvon were as good as ood could be; but Haphazard was better. Charles remembered Lady Ascot’s tearful warning about his not being able to stay; but he laughed it to scorn. The horse had furnished so since then! Here he came, flying past them like a whirlwind, shaking the earth, and making men’s ears tingle with the glorious music of his feet on the turf. Haphazard, ridden by “Wells, must win! Hurrah for Wells!
As the horse came slowly past again, he looked up to see the calm, stern face; but it was not there. There were Lord Ascot’s colours, dark blue and white sash; but where was Wells? The jockey was a smooth-faced young man, with very white teeth, who kept grinning and touching his cap at every other word Lord Ascot said to him. Charles hurriedly borrowed Sloane’s card, and read,
“Lord Ascot’s Haphazard J. Brooks.”
Who, in the name of confusion, was J. Brooks? All of a sudden he remembered. It was one of Lord Ascot’s own lads. It was the very lad that rode Haphazard on the day that Adelaide and he rode out to the Downs, at Ranford, to see the horse gallop. Lord Ascot must be mad.
“But Wells was to have ridden Haphazard, Mr. Sloane,” said Charles.
“He wouldn’t,” said Sloane, and laughed sardonically. But there was no time for Charles to ask why he laughed, for the horses were off.
Those who saw the race were rather surprised that
Ben Caunt had not showed more to the front at first to force the running; but there was not much time to think of such tilings. As they came round the corner, Haphazard, who was lying sixth, walked through his horses and laid himself alongside of Bill Sykes. A hundred yards from the post, Bill Sykes made a push, and drew a neck a-head; in a second or so more Haphazard had passed him, winning the Derby by a clear length; and poor Lord Ascot fell headlong down in a fit, like a dead man.
Little Dicky Ferrers, in the excitement of the race, had climbed into the rumble of Adelaide’s carriage, peashooter and all; and, having cheered rather noisily as the favourite came in winner, he was beginning to wonder whether he hadn’t made a fool of himself, and what Lady Welter would say when she found where he had got to, when Lord Welter broke through the crowd, and came up to his wife, looking like death.
“Get home, Adelaide! You see what has happened, and know what to do. Lady Welter, if I get hold of that bt)y, Brooks, tonight, in a safe place, I’ll murder
“I believe you will, Welter. Keep away from him, unless you are a madman. If you anger the boy it will all come out. Where is Lord Ascot?”
“Dead, they say, or dying. He is in a fit.”
“I ought to go to him, Welter, in common decency.”
“Go home, I tell you. Get the things you know of packed, and taken to one of the hotels at London Bridge. Any name will do. Be at home tonight, dressed, in a state of jubilation; and keep a couple of hundred pounds in the house. Here, you fellows! her ladyship’s horses — look sharp!”
Poor little Dicky Ferrers had heard more than he intended; but Lord Welter, in his madness, had not noticed him. He didn’t use his peashooter going home, and spoke very little. There was a party of all of them in Hornby’s rooms that night, and Dicky was so dull at first, that his brother made some excuse to get him by himself, and say a few eager, affectionate words to him.
“Dick, my child, you have lost some money. How much? You shall have it tomorrow.”
“Not half a halfpenny. Bob; but I was with Lady Welter just after the race, and I heard more tlian I ought to have heard.”
“You couldn’t help it, I hope.”
“I ought to have helped it; but it was so sudden, I couldn’t help it. And now I can’t ease my mind by telling anybody.”
“I suppose it was some rascality of Welter’s,” said Sir Robert, laughing. “It don’t much matter; only don’t tell any one, you know.” And then they went in again, and Dicky never told any one till every one knew.
For it came out soon that Lord Ascot had been madly betting, by commission, against his own horse, and that forty years’ rents of his estates wouldn’t set my lord on his legs again. With his usual irresolution, he had changed his policy — partly owing, I fear, to our dear old friend Lady Ascot’s perpetual croaking about “Eamoneur blood,” and its staying qualities. So, after betting such a sum on his own horse as gave the betting world confidence, and excusing himself by pleading his well-known poverty from going further, he had hedged, by commission; and, could his horse have lost, he would have won enough to set matters right at Ranford. He dared not ask a great jockey to ride for him under such circumstances, and so he puffed one of his own lads to the world, and broke with Wells. The lad had sold him like a sheep. Meanwhile, thinking himself a man of honour, poor fool, he had raised every farthing possible on his estate to meet his engagements on the turf in case of failure — in case of his horse winning by some mischance, if such a thing could be. And so it came about that the men of the turf were all honourably paid, and he and his tradesmen were ruined. The estates were entailed; but for thirty years Ranford must be in the hands of strangers. Lord Welter, too, had raised money, and lost fearfully by the same speculation.
There are some men who are always in the right place when they are wanted — always ready to do good and kind actions — and who are generally found “to the fore” in times of trouble. Such a man was General Mainwaring. When Lord Ascot fell down in a fit, he was beside him, and, having seen him doing well, and having heard from him, as he recovered, the fearful extent of the disaster, he had posted across country to Ranford and told Lady Ascot.
She took it very quietly.
“Win or lose,” she said, “it is all one to this unhappy house. Tell them to get out my horses, dear general, and let me go to my poof darling Ascot. You have heard nothing of Charles Ravenshoe, general?”
“Nothing, my dear lady.”
Charles had brushed his sleeve in the crowd that day, and had longed to take the dear old brown hand in his again, but dared not. Poor Charles 1 If he had only done so I
So the general and Lady Ascot went oft’ together, and nursed Lord Ascot; and Adelaide, pale as death, but beautiful as ever, was driven home through the dust and turmoil, clenching her hands impatiently together at every stoppage on the road.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10