Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 49.

The Second Column of “The Times ” Of this Date, with Other Matters.

“TOMATO. Slam the door!”

“EDWARD. Come at once; poor Maria is in sad distress. Toodlekins stole!!!”

“J. B. can return to his deeply afflicted family if he likes, or remain away if he likes. The A F, one and all, will view either course with supreme indifference. Should he choose the former alternative, he is requested to be as quick as possible. If the latter, to send the key of the cellaret.”

“LOST. A little black and tan lady’s lap dog. Its real name is Pussy, but it will answer to the name of Toodlekins best. If any gentleman, living near Kensal Green or Kentish Town, should happen, perfectly accidentally of course, to have it in his possession, and would be so good as to bring it to 997, Sloane Street, I would give him a sovereign and welcome, and not a single question asked, upon my honour.”

It becomes evident to me that the dog Toodlekins, mentioned in the second advertisement, is the same dog alluded to in the fourth; unless you resort to the theory that two dogs were stolen on the same day, and that both were called Toodlekins. And you are hardly prepared to do that, I fancy. Consequently, you arrive at this, that the “Maria ” of the second advertisement, is the “little black and tan lady” of the fourth. And that, in 1854, she lived at 997, Sloane Street. Who was she? Had she made a fortune by exhibiting herself in a aravan like Mrs. Gamp’s spotted negress, and taken a house in Sloane Street, for herself, Toodlekins, and the person who advertised for Edward to come and comfort her? Again, who was Edward? Was he her l3rother? Was he something nearer and dearer? Was he enamoured of her person or her property? I fear the latter. Who could tndy love a little black and tan lady?

Again. The wording of her advertisement gives rise to this train of thought. Two persons must always be concerned in stealing a dog — the person who steals the dog, and the person who has the dog stolen; because, if the dog did not belong to any one, it is evident that no one could steal it. To put it more scientifically, there must be an active and a passive agent. Now, I’ll bet a dirty old dishcloth against the New York Herald, which is pretty even betting, that our little black and tan friend, Maria, had been passive agent in a dog — stealing case more than once before this, or why does she mention these two localities? But we must get on to the other advertisements.

“LOST. A large white bulldog, very red about the eyes; desperately savage. Answers to the name of ‘Billy.’ The advertiser begs that any person finding him will be very careful not to irritate him. The best way of securing him is to make him pin another dog, and then tie his four legs together and muzzie him. Any one bringing him to the Coach and Horses, St. Martin’s Lane, will be rewarded.”

He seems to have been found the same day, and by some one who was a bit of a wag; for the very next advertisement nms thus:

“FOUND. A large white bulldog, very red about the eyes; desperately savage. The owner can have him at once, by applying to Queen’s Mew’s, Belgrave Street, and paying the price of the advertisement and the cost of a new pad groom, aged 18, as the dog has bitten one so severely about the knee that it is necessary to sell him at once to drive a cab.”

“LOST. Somewhere between Mile-end Road and Putney Bridge, an old leathern piu-se, containing a counterfeit sixpence, a lock of hair in a paper, and a twenty-pound note. Any one bringing the note to 267, Tylney Street, Mayfair, may keep the purse and the rest of its contents for their trouble.”

This was a very shabby advertisement. The next, though coming from an attorney’s office, is much more munificent. It quite makes one’s mouth water, and envy the lucky fellow who would answer it.

To parish clerks. Any person who can discover the register of marriage between Petre Ravenshoe, Esq. of Ravenshoe, in the county of Devon, and Maria Dawson, which is supposed to have been solemnised in or about the year 1778, will receive the above reward, on communicating with Messrs. Compton and Brogden, solicitors, 2004, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.”

Tomato slammed the door as he was told. Edward dashed up to 997, Sloane Street, in a hansom cab, just as the little black and tan lady paid one sovereign to a gentleman in a velveteen shooting-coat, from Kentish town, and hugged Toodlekins to her bosom. J. B. came home to his afflicted family with the key of the cellaret. The white bulldog was restored to the prizefighter, and the groom lad received shin-plaster and was sent home tipsy. Nay, even an honest man, finding that the note was stopped, took it to Tylney Street and got a half-a-crown. But no one ever answered the advertisement of Lord Saltire’s solicitor about the marriage register. The long summer dragged on. The square grew dry and dusty; business grew slack, and the clerks grew idle; but no one came. As they sat there drinking ginger-beer, and looking out at the parched lilacs and laburnums, talking about the theatres, and the war, and the cholera, it grew to be a joke with them. When any shabby man in black was seen coming across the square, they would say to one another, “Here comes the man to answer Lord Saltire’s advertisement.” Many men in black, shabby and smart, came across the square and into the office; but none had a word to say about the marriage of Petre Ravenshoe with Maria Dawson, which took place in the year 1778.

Once, during that long, sad summer, the little shoe-black thought he would saunter up to the house in South Audley Street, before which he had waited so long one night to meet Charles, who had never come. Not perhaps with any hope. Only that he would like to see the place which his friend had appointed. He might come back there some day; who could tell?

Almost every house in South Audley Street had the shutters closed. When he came opposite Lord Ascot’s house, he saw the shutters were closed there too. But more; at the second story there was a great painted board hung edgeways, all scarlet and gold. There was some writing on it too, on a scroll. He could spell a little now, thanks to the ragged-school, and he spelt out

“Christus Salvator mens.” What could that mean? he wondered.

There was an old woman in the area, holding two of the rails in her hands, and resting her chin on the kerb-stone, looking along the hot desolate street. Our friend went over and spoke to her.

“I say, Missis,” he said, “what’s that thing up there?”

“That’s the scutching, my man,” said she.

“The scutchings!”

“Ah! My Lord’s dead. Died last Friday week, and they’ve took him down to the country house, to bury him.”

“My Lord?” said the boy; “was he the one as used to wear top-boots, and went for a soger?”

The old woman had never seen my lord wear top-boots. Had hearn tell, though, as his father used to, and drive a coach and four in ’em. None on ’em hadn’t gone for sogers, neither.

“But what’s the scutching for?” asked the boy.

They put it up for a year, like for a monument, she said. She couldn’t say what the writing on it meant. It was my lord’s motter, that was all she knowd. And, being a tender-hearted old woman, and not having the fear of thieves before her eyes, she had taken him down into the kitchen, and fed him. WTien he returned to the upper regions, he was “ collared ” by a policeman, on a charge of “area sneaking,” but, after explanations, was let go, to paddle home, barefooted, to the cholera-stricken court where he lived, little dreaming, poor lad, what an important part he was accidentally to play in this history hereafter.

They laid poor Lord Ascot to sleep in the chancel at Ranford, and Lady Ascot stood over the grave like a grey, old, storm-beaten tower. “It is strange, James,” she said to Lord Saltire that day, “you and I being left like this, with the young ones going down around us like grass. Surely our summons must come soon, James. It’s weary, weary waiting.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56