That same day, Lord Saltire and Lady Ascot were sitting in the drawingroom window, in South Audley Street, alone. He had come in, as his custom was, about eleven, and found her reading her great old Bible; he had taken up the paper and read away for a time, saying that he would not interrupt her; she, too, had seemed glad to avoid a tete-a-tete conversation, and had continued; but, after a few minutes, he had dropped the paper, and cried —
“My dear James,” said she, “what is the matter?”
“Matter! why, we have lost a war-steamer, almost without a shot fired. The Russians have got the Tiger, crew and all. It is unbearable, Maria; if they are going to blunder like this at the beginning, where will it end?”
Lord Saltire was disgusted with the war from the very beginning, in consequence of the French alliance, and so the present accident was as fuel for his wrath. Lady Ascot, as loyal a soul as lived, was possibly rather glad that something had taken up Lord Saltire’s attention just then, for she was rather afraid of him this morning.
She knew his great dislike for Lord Welter, and expected to be scolded for her weakness with regard to Adelaide the night before. Moreover, she had the guilty consciousness that she had asked Adelaide to come to lunch that morning, of which he did not yet know. So she was rather glad to have a subject to talk of, not personal.
“And when did it happen, my dear James?” she asked.
“On the twelfth of last month, Lady Ascot. Come and sit here in the window, and give an account of yourself,???sall you have the goodness?”
Now that she saw it must come, she was as cool and as careless as need be. He could not be hard on her. Charles was to come home to them that day. She drew her chair up, and laid her withered old hand on his, and the two grey heads were bent together. Grey heads but green hearts.
“Look at old Daventry,” said Lord Saltire, “on the other side of the way. Don’t you see him, Maria, listening to that organ? He is two years older than I am. He looks younger.”
“I don’t know that he does. He ought to look older. She led him a terrible life. Have you been to see him lately?”
“What business is that of yours? So you are going to take Welter’s wife back into your good graces, eh, my lady?”
“‘Yes, James!’ — I have no patience with you. You are weaker than water. Well, well, we must forgive her, I suppose. She has behaved generous enough about Charles, has she not? I rather admire her scolding poor William Ravenshoe. I must renew our acquaintance.”
“She is coming to lunch today.”
“I thought you looked guilty. Is Welter coming?”
Lady Ascot made no reply. Neither at that moment would Lord Saltire have heard her if she had. He was totally absorbed in the proceedings of his old friend Lord Daventry, before mentioned. That venerable dandy had listened to the organ until the man had played all his tunes twice through, when he had given him half a crown, and the man had departed. Immediately afterwards, a Punch and Judy had come, which Punch and Judy was evidently an acquaintance of his; for, on descrying him, it had hurried on with its attendant crowd, and breathlessly pitched itself in front of him, let down its green curtains, and plunged at once in medias res. The back of the show was towards Lord Saltire; but, just as he saw Punch look round the comer, to see which way the Devil was gone, he saw two pickpockets advance on Lord Daventry from different quarters, with fell intentions. They met at his tailcoat pocket, quarrelled, and fought. A policeman bore down on them; Lord Daventry was still unconscious, staring his eyes out of his head. The affair was becoming exciting, when Lord Saltire felt a warm tear drop on his hand.
“James,” said Lady Ascot, “don’t be hard on Welter. I love Welter. There is good in him; there is, indeed. I know how shamefully he has behaved; but don’t be hard on him, James.”
“My dearest Maria,” said Lord Saltire, “I would not give you one moment’s uneasiness for the world. I do not like Welter. I dislike him. But I will treat him for your sake and Ascot’s as though I loved him — there. Now about Charles. He will be with us today, thank God. What the deuce are we to do?”
“I cannot conceive,” said Lady Ascot; “it is such a terrible puzzle. One does not like to move, and yet it seems such a sin to stand still.”
“No answer to your advertisement, of course 1 ” said Lord Saltire.
“None whatever. It seems strange, too, with such a reward as we have offered; but it was worded so cautiously, you see.”
Lord Saltire laughed. “Cautiously, indeed. No one could possibly guess what it was about. It was a miracle of obscurity; but it won’t do to go any further yet.” After a pause, he said — “You are perfectly certain of your facts, Maria, for the fiftieth time.”
“Perfectly certain. I committed a great crime, James. I did it for Alicia’s sake. Think what my bringing up had been, how young I was, and forgive me if you can; excuse me if you cannot.”
“Nonsense about a great crime, Maria. It was a reat mistake, certainly. If you had only the courage to have asked Petre one simple question! Alicia never guessed the fact, of course?”
“Do you think, Maria, that by any wild possibility James or Norah knew?”
“How could they possibly? What a foolish question.”
“I don’t know. Those Roman Catholics do strange things,” said Lord Saltire, staring out of window at the crowd.
“If she knew, why did she change the child?”
“Eh?” said Lord Saltire, turning round.
“You have not been attending,” said Lady Ascot.
“No, I have not,” said Lord Saltire; “I was looking at Daventry.”
“Do you still,” said Lord Saltire, “since all our researches and failures, stick to the belief that the place was in Hampshire?”
“I do indeed, and in the north of Hampshire too.”
“I wonder,” said Lord Saltire, turning round suddenly, “whether Mackworth knows?”
“Of course he does,” said Lady Ascot, quietly.
“Hum,” said Lord Saltire, “I had a hold over that man once; but I threw it away as being worthless. I wish I had made a bargain for my information. But what nonsense; how can he know?”
“Know?” said Lady Ascot, scornfully; “what is there a confessor don’t know? Don’t tell me that all Mackworth’s power came from finding out poor Densil’s faux pas. The man has a sense of power other than that.”
“Then he never used it,” said Lord Saltire. “Densil, dear soul, never knew.”
“I said of sense of power,” said Lady Ascot, “which gave him his consummate impudence. Densil never dreamt of it.”
At this point the policeman had succeeded in capturing the two pickpockets, and was charging them before Lord Daventry. Lord Daventry audibly offered them ten shillings a-piece to say nothing about it; at which the crowd cheered.
“Would it be any use to offer money to the priest — say ten thousand pounds or so?” said Lord Saltire. “You are a religious woman, Maria, and as such are a better judge of a priest’s conscience than I. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Lady Ascot. “I don’t know but what the man is high-minded, in his heathenish way. You know Cuthbert’s story of his having refused ten thousand pounds to hush up the matter about Charles. His information would be a blow to the Popish Church in the West. He would lose position by accepting your offer. I don’t know what his position may be worth. You can try him, if all else fails; not otherwise, I should say. We must have a closer search.”
“When you come to think, Maria, he can’t know. If Densil did not know, how could he?”
“Old Clifford might have known, and told him.”
“If we are successful, and if Adelaide has no children — two improbable things — ” said Lord Saltire, “why then —”
“Why, then — ” said Lady Ascot. “But at the worst you are going to make Charles a rich man. Shall you tell William?”
“Not yet. Cuthbert should never be told, I say; but that is Charles’s business. I have prepared William.”
“Cuthbert will not live,” said Lady Ascot.
“Not a chance of it, I believe. Marston says his heart-complaint does not exist, but I think differently.”
At this moment, Lonl Daventry’s offer of money having been refused, the whole crowd moved off in procession towards the police-station. First came three little girls with big bonnets and babies, who, trying to do two things at once — to wit, head the procession by .superior speed, and at the same time look round at Lord Daventry and the pickpockets — succeeded in neither, but only brought the three babies’ heads in violent collision every other step. Next came Lord Daventry, resigned. Next the policeman, with a pick-pocket in each hand, who were giving explanations. Next the boys; after them, the Punch and Judy, which had unfortunately seen the attempt made, and must to the station as a witness, to the detriment of business. Bringing up the rear were the British public, who played practical jokes with one another. The dogs kept a parallel course in the gutter, and barked. In turning the first comer, the procession was cut into, and for a time thrown into confusion, by a light-hearted costermonger, who, returning from a successful market with an empty barrow, drove it in among them with considerable velocity. After which, they disappeared like the baseless fabric of a dream, only to be heard of again in the police reports.
“Lord and Lady Welter.”
Lord Saltire had seen them drive up to the door; so he was quite prepared. He had been laughing intensely, but quite silently, at poor Lord Daventry’s adventures, and so, when he turned round he had a smile on his face. Adelaide had done kissing Lady Ascot, and was still holding both her hands with a look of intense mournful affection. Lord Saltire was so much amused by Adelaide’s acting, and by her simplicity in performing before himself, that, when he advanced to Lord Welter, he was perfectly radiant.
“Well, my dear scapegrace, and how do you do?” he said, giving his hand to Lord Welter; “a more ill-mannered fellow I never saw in my life. To go away and hide yourself with that lovely young wife of yours, and leave all us oldsters to bore one another to death. What the deuce do you mean by it? Eh, sir?”
Lord Welter did not reply in the same strain. He said —
“It is very kind of you to receive me like this. I did not expect it. Allow me to tell you, that I think your manner towards me would not be quite so cordial if you new everything; there is a great deal that you don’t know, and which I don’t mean to tell you.”
It is sometimes quite impossible, even for a writer of fiction, a man with carte blanche in the way of invention, to give the cause for a man’s actions. I have thought and thought, and I cannot for the life of me tell you why Lord Welter answered Lord Saltire like that, whether it was from deep cunning or merely from recklessness. If it was cunning, it was cunning of a high order. It was genius. The mixture of respect and kindness towards the person, and of carelessness about his favour was — well — very creditable. Lord Saltire did not think he was acting, and his opinion is of some value, I believe. But then, we must remember that he was prepared to think the best of Lord Welter that day, and must make allowances. I am not prepared with an opinion; let every man form his own. I only know tliat Lord Saltire tapped his teeth with his snuff-box and remained silent. Lord Welter, whether consciously or no, was nearer the half of a million of money than he had ever been before.
But Adelaide’s finer sense was offended at her husband’s method of proceeding. For one instant, when she heard him say what he did, she could have killed huu. “Reckless, brutal, selfish,” she said fiercely to herself, “throwing a duke’s fortune to the winds by sheer obstinacy.” (At this time she had picked up Lady Ascot’s spectacles, and was playfully placing them on her venerable nose.) “I wish I had never seen him. he is maddening. If he only had some brains, where might not we be?” But the conversation of that morning came to her mind with a jar, and the suspicion with it, that he had more brains of a sort than she; that, though they were on a par in morality, there was a strength about him, against which her finesse was worthless. She knew she could never deceive Lord Saltire, and there was Lord Saltire tapping him on the knee with his snuff-box, and talking earnestly and confidentially to him. She was beginning to respect her husband. He dared face that terrible old man with his hundreds of thousands; she trembled in his presence.
Let us leave her, fooling our dear old friend to the top of her bent, and hear what the men were saying.
“I know you have been, as they say now, ‘ very fast, ‘ ” said Lord Saltire, drawing nearer to him. I don’t want to ask any questions which don’t concern me. You have sense enough to know that it is worth your while to stand well with me. Will you answer me a few questions which do concern me?”
“I can make no promises. Lord Saltire. Let me hear what they are, will you?”
“Why,” said Lord Saltire, “about Charles Ravenshoe.”
“About Charles!” said Lord Welter, looking up at Lord Saltire. “Oh, yes; any number. I have nothing to conceal there. Of course you will know everything. I had sooner you knew it from me than another.”
“I don’t mean about Adelaide; let that go by.
Perhaps I am glad that that is as it is. But have you known where Charles was lately? Your wife told William to come to her this morning; that is why I ask.”
“I have known a very short time. When William Ravenshoe came this morning, I gave him every information. Charles will be with you today.”
“I am satisfied.”
“I don’t care to justify myself, hut if it had not heen for me you would never have seen him. And more. I am not the first man, Lord Saltire, who has done what I have done.”
“No, of course not,” said Lord Saltire. “I can’t fling the first stone at you; God forgive me.”
“But you must see, Lord Saltire, that I could not have guessed that Ellen was his sister.”
“Hey?” said Lord Saltire. “Say that again.”
“I say that, when I took Ellen Horton away from Ravenshoe, I did not know that she was Charles’s sister.”
Lord Saltire fell back in his chair, and said —
“It is very terrible, looked at one way, Lord Saltire. If you come to look at it another, it amounts to this, that she was only, as far as I know, a gamekeeper’s daughter. Do you remember what you said to Charles and me, when we were rusticated?”
“Yes. I said that one vice was considered more venial than another vice now-a-days; and I say so still.
I had sooner that you had died of delirium tremens in a ditch than done this.”
“So had not I, Lord Saltire. When I became involved with Adelaide, I thought Ellen was provided for; I, even then, had not heard this esclandre about Charles. She refused a splendid offer of marriage before she left me.”
“We thought she was dead. Where is she gone?”
“I have no idea. She refused everything. She stayed on as Adelaide’s maid, and left us suddenly. We have lost all trace of her.”
“What a miserable, dreadful business!” said Lord Saltire.
“Very so,” said Lord Welter. “Hadn’t we better change the subject, my lord?” he added drily. “I am not at all sure that I shall submit to much more cross-questioning. You must not push me too far, or I shall get savage.”
“I won’t,” said Lord Saltire. “But, Welter, for God’s sake, answer me two more questions. Not offensive ones, on my honour.”
“Fifty, if you will; only consider my rascally temper.”
“Yes, yes! When Ellen was with you, did she ever hint that she was in possession of any information about the Ravenshoes?”
“Yes; or rather, when slie went, she left a letter, and in it she said that she had something to tell Charles.” Good, good!” said Lord Saltire. “She may know.
We must find her. Now, Charles is coming here today. Had you better meet him, Welter?”
“We have met before. All that is past is forgiven between us.”
“Met!” said Lord Saltire eagerly. “And what did he say to you? Was there a scene, Welter?”
Lord Welter paused before he answered, and Lord Saltire, the wase, looked out of the window. Once Lord Welter seemed going to speak, but there was a catch in his breath. The second attempt was more fortunate. He said, in a low voice —
“Why, I’ll tell you, my lord. Charles Ravenshoe is broken-hearted.”
“Lord and Lady Hainault.”
And Miss Corby, and Gus, and Flora, and Archy, the footman might have added, but was probably afraid of spoiling his period.
It was rather awkward. They were totally unexpected, and Lord Hainault and Lord Welter had not met since Lord Hainault had denounced Lord Welter at Tatters all’s. It was so terribly awkward that Lord Saltire recovered his spirits, and looked at the two young men with a smile. The young men disappointed him, however, for Lord Hainault said, “How d’ye do. Welter?” and Lord Welter said, “How do, Hainault?” and the matter was settled, at all events for the present.
When all salutations had been exchanged among the ladies, and Archy had hoisted himself up into Mary’s lap, and Lady Hainault had imperially settled herself in chair, with Flora at her kuee, exactly opposite Adelaide, there was a silence for a moment, during which it became apparent that Gus had a question to ask of Lady Ascot. Mary trembled, but the others were not quite sorry to have the silence broken. Gus, having obtained leave of the house, washed to know, whether or not Satan, should he repent of his sins, would have a chance of regaining his former position?
“That silly Scotch nursemaid has been reading Burns’s poems to him, I suppose,” said Lady Hainault; unless Mary herself has been doing so. Mary prefers anything to Watts’s hymns, Lady Ascot.”
“You must not believe one word Lady Hainault says, Lady Ascot,” said Mary. “She has been shamefully worsted in an argument, and she is resorting to all sorts of unfair means to turn the scales. I never read a word of Burns’s poems in my life.”
“You will be pleased not to believe a single word Miss Corby says, Lady Ascot,” said Lady Hainault. “She has convicted herself. She sings ‘ The banks and braes of bonny Doon ‘ — very badly, I will allow, but still she sings it.”
There was a laugh at this. Anything was better than the silence which had gone before. It became evident that Lady Hainault would not speak to Adelaide. It was very uncomfortable. Dear Mary would have got up another friendly passage of arms mth Lady Hainault, but she was too nervous. She would have even drawn out Gus, but she saw that Gus, dear fellow, as not in a humour to be trusted that morning. He evidently was aware that the dogs of war were loose, and was champing the bit like a war-horse. Lady Ascot was as nervous as Mary, dying to say something, but unable. Lady Hainault was calmly inexorable, Adelaide sublimely indifferent. If you will also consider that Lady Ascot was awaiting news of Charles — nay, possibly Charles himself — and that, in asking Adelaide to lunch, she had overlooked the probability that William would bring him back with him — that Lord Welter had come without invitation, and that the Hainaults were totally unexpected — you will think that the dear old lady was in about as uncomfortable a position as she could be, and that any event, even the house catching fire, must change matters for the better.
Not at all. They say that, when things come to the worst, they must mend. That is undeniable. But when are they at the worst? Who can tell that? Lady Ascot thought they were at the worst now, and was taking comfort. And then the footman threw open the door, and announced —
“Lady Hainault and Miss Hicks.”
At this point Lady Ascot lost her temper, and exclaimed aloud, “This is too much!” They thought old Lady Hainault did not hear her; but she did, and so did Hicks. They heard it fast enough, and remembered it too.
In great social catastrophes, minor differences are forgotten. In the Indian mutiny, people spoke to one nother, and made friends, who were at bitterest variance before. There are crises so terrible that people of all creeds and shades of political opinion must combine against a common enemy. This was one. When this dreadful old woman made her totally unexpected entrance, and when Lady Ascot showed herself so entirely without discretion as to exclaim aloud in the way she did, young Lady Hainault and Adelaide were so horrified, so suddenly quickened to a sense of impending danger, that they began talking loudly and somewhat affectionately to one another. And young Lady Hainault, whose self-possession was scattered to the four winds by this last misfortune, began asking Adelaide all about Lady Brittlejug’s drum, in full hearing of her mamma-in-law, who treasured up every word she said. And, just as she became conscious of saying wildly that she was so sorry she could not have been there — as if Lady Brittlejug would ever have had the impudence to ask her — she saw Lord Saltire, across the room, looking quietly at her, with the expression on his face of one of the idols at Abou Simbel.
Turn Lady Ascot once fairly to bay, you would (if you can forgive slang) get very little change out of her. She came of valiant blood. No Headstall was ever yet known to refuse his fence. Even her poor brother, showing as he did traces of worn-out blood (the men always go a generation or two before the women), had been a desperate rider, offered to kick Fouquier Tinville at his trial, and had kept Simon waiting on the guillotine while he pared his nails. Her ladyship rose and accepted battle; she advanced towards old Lady Hainault, and, leaning on her crutched stick, began —
“And how do you do, my dear Lady Hainault?”
She thought Lady Hainault would say something very disagreeable, a.s she usually did. She looked at her, and was surprised to see how altered she was. There was something about her looks that Lady Ascot did not like.
“;My dear Lady Ascot,” said old Lady Hainault, “I thank you. I am a very old woman. I never forget my friends, I assure you. Hicks, is Lord Hainault here? — I am very blind,” you will be glad to hear, Lady Ascot. Hicks, I want Lord Hainault instantly. Fetch him to me, you stupid woman. Hainault! Hainault!”
Our Lady Hainault rose suddenly, and put her arm round her waist. “Mamma,” she said, “what do you want?”
“I want Hainault, you foolish girl. Is that him? Hainault, I have made the will, my dear boy. The rogue came to me, and I told him that the will was made, and that Britten and Sloane had witnessed it. Did I do right or not, eh? Ha! ha! I followed you here to tell you. Don’t let that woman Ascot insult me, Hainault. She has committed a felony, that woman. I’ll have her prosecuted. And all to get that chit Alicia married to that pale-faced papist, Petre Ravenshoe. She thinks I didn’t know it, does she? I knew she knew it well enough, and I knew it too, and I have ominittecl a felony too, in holding my tongue, and we’ll both go to Bridewell, and — ”
Lord Saltire here came up, and quietly offered her his arm. She took it and departed, muttering to herself.
I must mention here, that the circumstance mentioned by old Lady Hainault, of having made a will, has nothing to do with the story. A will had existed to the detriment of Lady Hainault and Miss Hicks, and she had most honourably made another in their favour.
Lady Ascot would have given worlds to unsay many things she had heretofore said to her. It was evident that poor old Lady Hainault’s mind was failing. Lady Ascot would have prayed her forgiveness on her knees, but it was too late. Lady Hainault never appeared in public again. She died a short time after this, and, as I mentioned before, left poor Miss Hicks a rich woman. Very few people knew how much good there was in the poor old soul. Let the Casterton tenantry testify.
On this occasion her appearance had, as we have seen, the effect of reconciling Lady Hainault and Adelaide. A very few minutes after her departure William entered the room, followed by Hornby, whom none of them had ever seen before.
They saw from William’s face that something fresh was the matter. He introduced Hornby, who seemed concerned, and then gave an open note to Lord Saltire. He read it over, and then said —
“This unhappy boy has disappeared again. Apparently his interview with you determined him, my dear Lady Welter. Can you give us any clue? This is his letter:—"
“Dear Lieutenant, — I must say goodbye even to you, my last friend. I was recognised in your service today by Lady Welter, and it will not do for me to stay in it any longer. It was a piece of madness ever taking to such a line of life.”
[Here there were three lines carefully erased. Lord Saltire mentioned it, and Hornby quietly said, “I erased those lines previous to showing the letter to any one; they referred to exceedingly private matters.” Lord Saltire bowed, and continued,]
“A hundred thanks for your kindness; you have been to me more like a brother than a master. We shall meet again, when you little expect it. Pray don’t assist in any search after me; it will be quite useless.
Adelaide came forward as pale as death. “I believe I am the cause of this. I did not dream it would have made him alter his resolution so suddenly. When I saw him yesterday he was in a groom’s livery. I told him he was disgracing himself, and told him, if he was desperate to go to the war.”
They looked at one another in silence.
“Then,” Lady Ascot said, “he has enlisted, I suppose. I wonder in what regiment? — could it be in yours, Mr. Hornby?”
“The very last in which he would, I should say,” said Hornby, “if he wants to conceal himself. He must know that I should find him at once.”
So Lady Ascot was greatly pooh-poohed by the other wiseacres, she being right all the time.
“I think,” said Lord Saltire to Lady Ascot, “that perhaps we had better take Mr. Hornby into our confidence.” She agreed, and, after the Hainaults and Welters were gone, Hornby remained behind with them, and heard things which rather surprised him.
“Inquiries at the depots of various regiments would be as good a plan as any. Meanwhile I will give any assistance in my power. Pray, would it not be a good plan to advertise for him, and state all the circumstances of the case? ”
“Why, no,” said Lord Saltire, “we do not wish to make known all the circumstances yet. Other interests have to be consulted, and our information is not yet complete. Complete! we have nothing to go on but mere surmise.”
“You will think me inquisitive,” said Hornby. “But you little know what a right (I had almost said) I have to ask these questions. Does the present Mr. Ravenshoe know of all this?”
“Not one word.”
And so Hornby departed with William, and said nothing at all about Ellen. As they left the door a little shoe-black looked inquisitively at them, and seemed as though he would speak. They did not notice he child. He could have told them what they wanted to know, but how were they to guess that?
Impossible. Actually, according to the sagacious Welter, half a million pounds, and other things, going a-begging, and a dirty little shoe-black the only human being who knew where the heir was! A pig is an an obstinate animal, likewise a sheep; but what pig or sheep was ever so provoking in its obstinacy as Charles in his good-natured, well-meaning, blundering stupidity? In a very short time you will read an advertisement put into the Times by Lady Ascot’s solicitor, which will show you the reason for some of the great anxiety which she and others felt to have him on the spot. At first Lady Ascot and Lord Saltire lamented his absence, from the hearty goodwill they bore him; but, as time wore on, they began to get deeply solicitous for his return for other reasons. Lady Ascot’s hands were tied. She was in a quandary, and, when the intelligence came of his having enlisted, and there seemed nearly a certainty of his being shipped off to foreign parts, and killed before she could get at him, she was in a still greater quandary. Suppose, before being killed, he was to marry some one? “Good heavens, my dear James, was ever an unfortunate wretch punished so before for keeping a secret?”
“I should say not, Maria,” said Lord Saltire coolly. “I declare I love the lad better the more trouble he gives one. There never was such a dear obstinate dog. Welter has been making his court, and has made it well — with an air of ruffian-like simplicity, which was alarming, because novel. I, even I, can hardly tell whether it was real or not. He has ten times the brains of his shallow-pated little wife, whose manoeuvres, my dear Maria, I should have thought even you, not ordinarily a sagacious person, might have seen through.”
“I believe the girl loves me; and don’t be rude, James.”
“I believe she don’t care twopence for you; and I shall be as rude as I please, Maria.”
Poor Lord Ascot had a laugh at this little battle between his mother and her old friend. So Lord Saltire turned to him and said —
“At half-past one tomorrow morning, you will be awakened by three ruffians in crape masks, with pistols, who will take you out of bed with horrid threats, and walk you upstairs and down in your shirt, until you have placed all your money and valuables into their hands. They will effect an entrance by removing a pane of glass, and introducing a small boy, disguised as a shoe-black, who will give them admittance.”
“Good Gad!” said Lord Ascot, “what are you talking about?”
“Don’t you see that shoe-black over the way?” said Lord Saltire. “He has been watching the house through two hours; the burglars are going to put him in at the back-kitchen window. There comes Daventry back from the police-station. I bet you a sovereign he has his boots cleaned.”
Poor Lord Ascot jumped at the bet like an old war-horse. “I’d have given you three to one if you had waited.”
Lord Daventry had indeed reappeared on the scene; his sole attendant was one of the little girls mth a big bonnet and a baby, before mentioned, who had evidently followed him to the police-station, watched him in, and then accompanied him home — staring at him as at a man of dark experiences, a man not to be lost sight of on any account, lest some new and exciting thing should befall him meanwhile. This young lady, having absented herself some two hours on this errand, and having thereby deprived the baby of its natural nourishment, was now suddenly encountered by an angry mother, and, knowing what she had to expect, was forced to “dodge” her infuriated parent round and round Lord Daventry, in a way which made that venerable nobleman giddy, and caused him to stop, shut his eyes, and feebly offer them money not to do it any more. Ultimately the young lady was caught and cuffed, the baby was refreshed, and his lordship free.
Lord Saltire won his pound, to his great delight. Such an event as a shoe-black in South Audley Street was not to be passed by. Lord Daventry entered into conversation with our little friend, asked him if he went to school? if he could say the Lord’s Prayer? how much he made in the day? whether his parents were alive? and ultimately had his boots cleaned, and gave he boy half-a-crown. After which he disappeared from the scene, and, like many of our large stafif of super-numeraries, from this history for evermore — he has served his turn with us. Let us dismiss the kind-hearted old dandy, with our best wishes.
Lord Saltire saw him give the boy the half-crown. He saw the boy pocket it as though it were a halfpenny; and afterwards continue to watch the house, as before. He was more sure than ever that the boy meant no good. If he had known that he was waiting for one chance of seeing Charles again, perhaps he would have given him half-a-crown himself. What a difference one word from that boy would have made in our story!
When they came back from dinner, there was the boy still lying on the pavement, leaning against his box. The little girl who had had her ears boxed came and talked to him for a time, and went on. After a time she eame back with a quartern loaf in her hand, the crumbs of which she picked as she went along, after the manner of children sent on an errand to the baker’s. When she had gone by, he rose and leant against the railings, as though lingering, loth to go.
Once more, later. Lord Saltire looked out, and the boy was still there. “I wonder what the poor little rogue wants?” said Lord Saltire; “I have half a mind to go and ask him.” But he did not. It was not to be, my lord. You might have been with Charles the next morning at Windsor. You might have been in time if you had; you will have a different sort of meeting with im than that, if you meet him at all. Beyond the grave, my lord, that meeting must be. Possibly a happier one, who knows? who dare say?
The summer night closed in, but the boy lingered yet, to see, if perchance he might, the only friend he ever had; to hear, if he might, the only voice which had ever spoken gently and kindly to him of higher things: the only voice which had told him that strange, wild tale, scarce believed as yet, of a glorious immortality.
The streets began to get empty. The people passed im —
“Ones and twos, And groups; the latest said the night grew chill. And hastened; but he loitered; whilst the dews Fell fast, he loitered still.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52