And so you see here we are all at sixes and sevens once more. Apparently as near the end of the story, as when I wrote the adventures of Alured Ravenshoe at the court of Henry the Eighth in the very first chapter. If Charles had had a little of that worthy’s impudence, instead of being the shy, sensitive fellow he was, why, the story would have been over long ago. In point of fact, I don’t know that it would ever have been written at all. So it is best as it is for all parties.
Although Charles had enlisted in Hornby’s own regiment, he had craftily calculated that there was not the slightest chance of Hornby’s finding it out for some time. Hornby’s troop was at the Regent’s Park. The headquarters were at Windsor, and the only officer likely to recognise him was Hornby’s captain. And so he went to work at his new duties with an easy mind, rather amused than otherwise, and wondering where and when it would all end.
From sheer unadulterated ignorance, I cannot follow him during the first week or so of his career. I have a suspicion, almost amounting to certainty, that, if I could, I should not. I do not believe that the readers of Ravenshoe would care to hear about sword-exercise, riding-school, stablegnard, and so on. I can, however, tell you thus much, that Charles learnt his duties in a wonderfully short space of time, and was a great favourite with high and low.
When William went to see Adelaide by appointment the morning after his interview with her, he had an interview with Lord Welter, who told him, in answer to his inquiries, that Charles was groom to Lieutenant Hornby.
“I promised that I would say nothing about it,” he continued; “but I think I ought: and Lady Welter has been persuading me to do so, if any inquiries were made, only this morning. I am deuced glad, Ravenshoe, that none of you have forgotten him. It would be a great shame if you had. He is a good fellow, and has been infernally used by some of us — by me, for instance.”
William, in his gladness, said, “Never mind, my lord; let bygones be bygones. We shall all be to one another as we were before, please God. I have found Charles, at all events; so there is no gap in the old circle, except my father’s. I had a message for Lady Welter.”
“She is not down; she is really not well this morning, or she could have seen you.”
“It is only this. Lady Ascot begs that she will come over to lunch. My aunt wished she would have stopped longer last night.”
“My aunt. Lady Ascot.”
“Ah! I beg pardon; 1 am not quite used to the new state of affairs. Was Lady Welter with Lady Ascot last night?”
William was obliged to say yes, but felt as if he had committed an indiscretion by having said anything about it.
“The deuce she was!” said Lord Welter. “I thought she was somewhere else. Tell my father that I will come and see him today, if he don’t think it would be too much for him.”
“All, Lord Welter 1 you would have come before, if you had known — ”
“I know, I know. You must know that I had my reasons for not coming. Well, I hope that you and I will be better acquainted in our new positions; we were intimate enough in our old.”
When William was gone. Lord Welter went up to his wife’s dressing-room, and said —
“Lady Welter, you are a jewel. If you go on like this, you will be recognised, and we shall die at Ranford — you and I— a rich and respectable couple. If ‘ifs and ands were pots and pans,’ Lady Welter, we should do surprisingly well. If, for instance. Lord Saltire could be got to like me something better than a mad dog, he would leave my father the whole of his landed estate, and cut Charles Horton, whilom Ravenshoe, off with the comparatively insignificant sum of eighty thousand pounds, the amount of his funded property. Eh! Lady Welter.”
Adelaide actually bounded from her chair.
“Are you drunk, Welter?” she said.
“Seeing that it is hut the third hour of the day, I am not, Lady Welter. Neither am I a fool. Lord Saltire would clear my father now, if he did not know that it would be more for my benefit than his. I believe he would sooner leave his money to a hospital than see me get one farthing of it.”
“Welter,” said Adelaide, eagerly, “if Charles gets hold of Lord Saltire again, he will have the whole; the old man adores him. I know it; I see it all now; why did I never think of it before? He thinks he is like Lord Barkham, his son. There is time yet. If that man, William Ravenshoe, comes this morning, you must know nothing of Charles.!Mind that. Nothing. They must not meet. He may forget him, Mind, Welter, no answer!”
She was walking up and down the room rapidly now, and Lord Welter was looking at her with a satirical smile on his face.
“Lady Welter,” he said, “the man, William Ravenshoe, has been here, and has got his answer. By this time, Charles is receiving his lordship’s blessing.”
“Fool!” was all that Adelaide could say.
“Well, hardly that,” said Lord Welter. “At leasts you should hardly call me so. I understood the position of affairs long before you. I was a reckless young cub not to have paid Lord Saltire more court in old times; but I never knew the state of our affairs till very shortly efore the crash came, or I might have done so. In the present case, I have not been such a fool. Charles is restored to Lord Saltire through my instrumentality. A very good basis of operations, Lady Welter.”
“At a risk of about half a million of money,” remarked Adelaide.
“There was no risk in the other course, certainly,” said Lord Welter, “for we should never have seen a farthing of it. And besides, Lady Welter — ”
“I have your attention. Good. It may seem strange to you, who care about no one in heaven or earth, but I love this fellow, this Charles Horton. I always did. He is worth all the men I ever met put together. I am glad to have been able to give him a lift this morning. Even if I had not been helping myself, I should have done it all the same. That is comical, is it not? For Lord Saltire’s landed property I shall light. The campaign begins at lunch today, Lady Welter; so, if you will be so good as to put on your full war-paint and feathers, we will dig up the tomahawk, and be off on the war-trail in your ladyship’s brougham. Goodbye for the present.”
Adelaide was beaten. She was getting afraid of her husband; afraid of his strong masculine cunning, of his reckless courage, and of the strange apparition of a great brutal heart at the bottom of it all. What were all her fine-spun female cobwebs worth against such a huge, blundering, thieving, hornet as he?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56