John Marston’s first disappointment in life had been his refusal by Mary. He was one of those men, brought up in a hard school, who get, somehow, the opinion that everything which happens to a man is his own fault. He used to say that every man who could play whist could get a second if he chose. I have an idea that he is in some sort right. But he used to carry this sort of thing to a rather absurd extent. He was apt to be hard on men who failed, and to be always the first to say, “If he had done this, or left that alone, it would not have been so,” and he himself, with a calm clear brain and perfect health, had succeeded in everything he had ever tried at, even up to a double first. At one point he was stopped. He had always given himself airs of superiority over Charles, and had given him advice, good as it was, in a way which would have ruined his influence with nine men out of ten; and suddenly he was brought up. At the most important point in life, he found
Charles his superior. Charles had won a woman’s love without knowing it, or caring for it; and he had tried for it, and failed.
John Marston was an eminently noble and high-minded man. His faults were only those of education, and his faults were very few. When he found himself rejected, and found out why it was so — when he found that he was no rival of Charles, and that Charles cared naught for poor Mary — he humbly set his quick brain to work to find out in what way Charles, so greatly his inferior in intellect, was superior to him in the most important of all things. Tor he saw that Charles had not only won Mary’s love, but the love of every one who knew him: whereas he, John Marston, had but very few friends.
And, when he once set to work at this task, he seemed to come rapidly to the conclusion that Charles was superior to him in everything except application. “And how much application should I have had,” he concluded, “if I had not been a needy man?”
So you see that his disappointment cured him of what was almost his only vice — conceit. Everything works together, for good, for those who are really good.
Hitherto, John Marston had led only the life that so many young Englishmen lead — a life of study, combined with violent, objectless, physical exertion, as a counterpoise. He had never known what enthusiasm was as yet. There was a vast deal of it somewhere about him; in his elbows, or his toes, or the calves of his legs, or somewhere, as events prove. If I might hazard an opinion, I should say that it was stowed away somewhere in that immensely high, but somewhat narrow forehead of his. Before he tried love-making, he might have written the calmest and most exasperating article in the Saturday Review. But, shortly after that, the tinder got a-fire; and the man who set it on fire was his uncle Smith, the Moravian missionary.
For this fellow. Smith, had, as we know, come home from Australia with the dying words of his beautiful wife ringing in his ears: “Go home from here, my love, into the great towns, and see what is to be done there.” And he had found his nephew, John Marston, And, while Marston listened to his strange wild conversation, a light broke in upon him. And what had been to him merely words before this, now became glorious, tremendous realities.
And so those two had gone hand in hand down into the dirt and the profligacy of Southwark, to do together a work the reward of which comes after death. There are thousands of men at such work now. We have no more to do with it than to record — the fact, that these two were at it heart and hand.
John Marston’s love for Mary had never waned for one instant. When he had found that, or thought he had found that, she loved Charles, he had in a quiet, dignified way, retired from the contest. He had determined that he would go away and work at ragged schools, and so on, and try to forget all about her. He had begun to fancy that his love was growing cool, when Lord Saltire’s letter reached him, and set it all a-blaze again.
This was unendurable — that a savage, from the southern wilds, should step in like this, without notice. He posted off to Casterton.
Mary was very glad to see him; but he had proposed to her once, and, therefore, how could she be so familiar with him as of yore 1 Notwithstanding this, John was not so very much disappointed at his reception; he had thought that matters were even worse than they were.
After dinner, in the drawingroom, he watched them together. George Corby was evidently in love. He went to Mary, who was sitting alone, the moment they came from the dining-room. Mary looked up, and caught his eyes as she approached; but her eyes wandered from him to the door, until they settled on John himself She seemed to wish that he would come and talk to her. He had a special reason for not doing so; he wanted to watch her and George together. So he stayed behind, and talked to Lord Hainault.
Lord Saltire moved np beside Lady Ascot. Lady Hainault had the three children — Archy in her lap, and Gus and Flora beside her. In her high and mighty way, she was amusing them, or rather trying to do so. Lady Hainault was one of the best and noblest women in the world, as you have seen already; but she was not an amusing person. And no one knew it better than herself. Her intentions were excellent: she wanted to leave Mary free from the children until their bed-time, so that she might talk to her old acquaintance, John Marston; for, at the children’s bed-time, Mary would have to go with them. Even Lady Hainault, determined as she was, never dared to contemplate putting those children to bed without Mary’s assistance. She was trying to tell them a story out of her own head, but was making a dreadful mess of it; and she was quite conscious that Gus and Flora were listening to her with contemptuous pity.
So they were disposed. Lord Saltire and Lady Ascot were comfortably out of hearing. We had better attend to them first, and come round to the others afterwards.
Lady Ascot began. “James,” she said, “it is perfectly evident to me that you sent for John Marston.”
“Well, and suppose I did?” said Lord Saltire.
“Well, then, why did you do so?”
“Maria,” said Lord Saltire, “do you know that sometimes you are intolerably foolish? Cannot you answer that question for yourself?"
“Of course I can,” said Lady Ascot.
“Then why the deuce did you ask me?”
That was a hard question to answer, but Lady Ascot said:
“I doubt if you are wise, James. I believe it would be better that she should go to Australia. It is a very good match for her.”
“It is not a good match for her,” said Lord Saltire, testily. “To begin with, first cousin marriages are an invention of the devil. Third and lastly, she sha’n’t go to that infernal hole. Sixthly, I want her, now our Charles is dead, to marry John Marston; and, in conclusion, I mean to have my own way.”
“Do you know,” said Lady Ascot, “that he proposed to her before, and was rejected?”
“He told me of it the same night,” said Lord Saltire. “Now, don’t talk any more nonsense, but tell me this, Is she bitten with that young fellow 1 ”
“Not deeply, as yet, I think,” said Lady Ascot.
“Which of them has the best chance?” said Lord Saltire.
“James,” said Lady Ascot, repeating his own words.
“do you know that sometimes you are intolerably foolish? How can I tell?”
“Which would you bet on, Miss Headstall?” asked Lord Saltire.
“Well! well!” said Lady Ascot, “I suppose I should bet on John Marston.”
“And how long are you going to give Sebastopol, Lord Hainault?” said John Marston.
“What do you think about the Greek Kalends, my dear Marston?” said Lord Hainault.
“Why, no. I suppose we shall get it at last. It won’t do to have it said that England and France — ”
“Say France and England just now,” said Lord Hainault.
“No, I will not. It must not be said that England and France could not take a Black Sea fortress.”
“We shall have to say it, I fear,” said Lord Hainault. “I am not quite sure that we English don’t want a thrashing.”
“I am sure we do,” said Marston. “But we shall never get one. That is the worst of it.”
“My dear Marston,” said Lord Hainault, “you have a clear head. Will you tell me this? Do you believe that Charles Ravenshoe is dead?”
“God bless me. Lord Hainault, have you any doubts?”
“So have I,” said Marston, turning eagerly towards him. “I thought you had all made up your minds. If there is any doubt, ought we not to mention it to Lord Saltire?”
” I think that he has doubts himself. I may tell you-that he has secured to him, in case of his return, eighty thousand pounds.”
“He would have made him his heir, I suppose,” said John Marston; “would he not?”
“Yes; I think I am justified in saying yes.”
“And so all the estates go to Lord Ascot in any case?”
“Unless in case of Charles’s reappearance before his death; in which case, I believe he would alter his will.”
“Then, if Charles be alive, he had better keep out of Lord Ascot’s way on dark nights, in narrow lanes,” said John Marston.
“You are mistaken there,” said Lord Hainault, thoughtfully. “Ascot is a bad fellow. I told him so once in public, at the risk of getting an awful thrashing. If it had not been for Mainwaring, I should have had sore bones for a twelvemonth. But — but — well, I was at Eton with Ascot, and Ascot was and is a great blackguard. But, do you know, he is to some a very affectionate fellow. You know he was adored at Eton.”
“He was not liked at Oxford,” said Marston. “I never knew any good of him. He is a great rascal.”
“Yes,” said Lord Hainault, “I suppose he is what you would call a great rascal. Yes; I told him so, you know. And I am not a fighting man, and that proves that I was strongly convinced of the fact, or I should have shirked my duty. A man in my position don’t like to go down to the House of Lords with a black eye. But I doubt if he is capable of any deep villany yet. If you were to say to me that Charles would be unwise to allow Ascot’s wife to make his gruel for him, I should say that I agreed with you.”
“There you are certainly right, my lord,” said John Marston, smiling. “But I never knew Lord Ascot spare either man or woman.”
“That is very true,” said Lord Hainault. “Do you notice that we have been speaking as if Charles Ravenshoe were not dead?”
“I don’t believe he is,” said John Marston.
“Nor I, do you know,” said Lord Hainault; “at least only half. What a pair of ninnies we are. Only ninety men of the 140th came out of that Balaclava charge. If he escaped the cholera, the chances are in favour of his having been killed there.”
“What evidence have we that he enlisted in that regiment at all?”
“Lady Hainault’s and Mary’s description, of his uniform, which they never distinctly saw for one moment,” said Lord Hainault. “Voila tout!”
“And you would not speak to Lord Saltire?”
“Why, no. He sees all that we see. If he comes back, he gets eighty thousand pounds. It would not do either for you or me to press him to alter his will. Do you see?”
“I suppose you are right, Lord Hainault. Things cannot go very wrong either way. I hope Mary will not fall in love with that cousin of hers,” he added, with a laugh.
“Are you wise in persevering, do you think?” said Lord Hainault, kindly.
“I will tell you in a couple of days,” said John Marston. “Is there any chance of seeing that best of fellows, William Ravenshoe, here?”
“He may come tumbling up. He has put off his bedding in consequence of the death of his half-brother. I wonder if he was humbugged at Varna.”
“Nothing more likely,” said Marston. “Where is Lord Welter?”
“In Paris — plucking geese.”
Just about this time all the various groups in the drawingroom seemed to come to the conclusion that a time had arrived for new combinations, to avoid remarks,
So there was a regular puss-in-the-corner business. John Marston went over to Mary; George Corby came to Lord Hainault; Lord Saltire went to Lady Hainault, who had Archy asleep in her lap; and Gus and Flora went to Lady Ascot.
“At last, old friend,” said Mary to John Marston. “And I have been watching for you so long. I was afraid that the time would come for the children to go to bed, and that you would never come and speak to me.”
“Lord Hainault and I were talking politics,” said Marston. “That is why I did not come.”
“Men must talk politics, I suppose,” said Mary. “But I wish you had come while my cousin was here. He is so charming. You will like him.”
“He seems to be a capital fellow,” said Marston.
“Indeed he is,” said Mary. “He is really the most loveable creature I have met for a long time. If you would take him up, and be kind to him, and show hint life, from the side from which you see it, you would be doing a good work. And you would be obliging me. And I know, my dear friend, that you like to oblige me.”
“Miss Corby, you know that I would die for you.”
“I know it. Who better? It puzzles me to know what I have done to earn such kindness from you. But there it is. You will be kind to him.”
Marston was partly pleased, and partly disappointed by this conversation. Would you like to guess why? Yes. Then I will leave you to do so, and save myself half a page of writing.
Only saying this, for the benefit of inexperienced novel-readers, that he was glad to hear her talk in that free and easy manner about her cousin; but would have been glad if she had not talked in that free and easy manner to himself. Nevertheless, there was evidently no harm done as yet. That was a great cause of congratulation; there was time yet.
Gus and Flora went over to Lady Ascot. Lady Ascot said, “My dears, is it not near bed-time?” just by way of opening the conversation — nothing more.
“Lawks a mercy me, no,” said Flora. “Go along with you, do, you foolish thing.”
“My dear! my dear!” said Lady Ascot.
“She is imitating old Alwright,” explained Gus. “She told me she was going to. Lord Saltire says, Maria! Maria! Maria! — you are intolerably foolish, Maria!”
“Don’t be naughty, Gus,” said Lady Ascot.
“Well, so he did, for I heard him. Don’t mind us; we don’t mean any harm. I say, Lady Ascot, has she any right to bite and scratch?”
“Who?” said Lady Ascot.
“Why, that Flora. She bit Alwright because she wouldn’t lend her Mrs. Moko.”
“Oh! you dreadful fib,” said Flora. “Oh! you wicked boy, you know where you’ll go to if you tell such stories. Lady Ascot, I didn’t bite her; I only said she ought to be bit. She told me that she couldn’t let me have Mrs. Moko, because she was trying caps on her. And then she told nurse that I should never have her again, because I squeezed her fiat. And so she told a story. And it was not I who squeezed her flat, but that boy, who is worse than Ananias and Sapphira. I made a bogy of her in the nursery door, with a broom and a counterpane, just as he was coming in. And he shut the door on her head and squeezed a piece of paint off her nose as big as half a crown.”
Lady Ascot was relieved by being informed that the Mrs. Moko, aforesaid, was only a pasteboard image, the size of life, used by the lady’s maid for fitting caps.
There were many evenings like this; a week or so was passed without any change. At last, there was a move towards London.
The first who took flight was George Corby. He was getting dissatisfied, in his sleepy semi-tropical way, with the state of affairs. It was evident that, since John Marston’s arrival, he had been playing, with regard to Mary, second fiddle (if you can possibly be nduced to pardon the extreme coarseness of the expression). One day, Lord Saltire asked him to take him for a drive. They went over to dismantled Ranford, and Lord Saltire was more amusing than ever. As they drove up through the dense larch plantation, on the outskirt of the park, they saw Marston and Mary side by side. George Corby bit his hp.
“I suppose there is something there, my lord?” said he.
“Oh dear, yes; I hope so,” said Lord Saltire. “Oh, yes, that is a very old affair.”
So George Corby went first. He did not give up all hopes of being successful, but he did not like the way things were going. His English expedition was not quite so pleasant as he intended it to be. He, poor fellow, was desperately in love, and his suit did not seem likely to prosper. He was inclined to be angry with Lord Saltire. He should not have let things go so far, thought George, without letting him know; quite forgetting that the mischief was done before Lord Saltire’s arrival.
Lord Saltire and John Marston moved next. Lord Saltire had thought it best to take his man Simpson’s advice, and move into his house in Curzon Street. He had asked John to come with him.
“It is a very nice little house,” he said; “deuced ell aired, and that sort of tiling; but I know I shall have a creeping in my back when I go back for the first week, and fancy there is a draught. This will make me peevish. I don’t like to be peevish to my servants, because it is unfair; they can’t answer one. I wish you would come and let me be peevish to you. You may just as well. It will do you good. You have got a fancy for disciplining yourself, and all that sort of thing; and you will find me capital practice for a week or so, in a fresh house. After that I shall get amiable, and then you may go. You may have the use of my carriage, to go and attend to your poor man’s plaster business in Southwark, if you like. I am not nervous about fever or vermin. Besides, it may amuse me to hear all about it. And you can bring that cracked uncle of yours to see me sometimes; his Scriptural talk is very piquant.”
Lord and Lady Hainault moved up into Grosvenor Square, too, for Parliament was going to meet rather early. They persuaded Lady Ascot to come and stay with them.
After a few days, William made his appearance. “Well, my dear Ravenshoe,” said Lord Hainault, “and what brings you to town?”
“I don’t know,” said William. “I cannot stay down there. Lord Hainault, do you know that I think I am going cracked.”
“Why, my dear fellow, what do you mean?”
“I have got such a strange fancy in my head, I cannot rest.”
“What is your fancy?” said Lord Hainault. “Stay; may I make a guess at it?”
“You would never dream what it is. It is too mad.”
“I will guess,” said Lord Hainault. “Your fancy is this:— You believe that Charles Ravenshoe is alive, and you have come up to London to take your chance of finding him in the streets.”
“But, good God!” said William, “how have you found this out? I have never told it even to my own sweetheart.”
“Because,” said Lord Hainault, laying his hand on his shoulder, “I and John Marston have exactly the same fancy. That is why.”
And Charles so close to them all the time. Creeping every day across the park to see the coachman and his son. Every day getting more hopeless. All energy gone. Wit enough left to see that he was living on the charity of the cornet. There were some splinters in his arm which would not come away, and kept him restless. He never slept now. He hesitated when he was spoken to. Any sudden noise made him start and look wild. I will not go on with the symptoms. Things were much worse with him than we have ever seen them efore. He, poor lad, began to wonder whether it would come to him to die in a hospital, or —
Those cursed bridges! Why did they build such things? Who built them? The devil To tempt ruined desperate men, with ten thousand fiends gnawing and sawing in their deltoid muscles, night and day. Suppose he had to cross one of these by night, would he ever get to the other side? Or would angels from heaven come down and hold him back?
The cornet and his mother had a conversation about him. Bawled the cornet into the ear-trumpet:
“My fellow Simpson is very bad, mother. He is getting low and nervous, and I don’t like the looks of him.”
“I remarked it myself,” said the old lady. “We had better have Bright. It would be cheaper to pay five guineas, and get a good opinion at once.”
“I expect he wants a surgeon more than a doctor,” said the cornet.
“Well, that is the doctor’s business,” said the old lady. “Drop a line to Bright, and see what he says. It would be a burning shame, my dear — enough to bring down the wrath of God upon us — if we were to let him want for anything, as long as we have money. And we have plenty of money. More than we want. And if it annoys him to go near the horses, we must pension im. But I would rather let him believe that he was earning his wages, because it might be a weight on his mind if we did not. See to it the first thing in the morning. Remember Balaclava, John! Remember Balaclava! If you forget Balaclava, and what trooper Simpson did for you there, you are tempting God to forget you.”
“I hope he may when I do, mother,” shouted the cornet. “I remember Balaclava — ay, and Devna before.”
There are such people as these in the world, reader. I know some of them. I know a great many of them. So many of them, in fact, that this conclusion has been forced upon me — that the world is not entirely peopled by rogues and fools; nay, more, that the rogues and fools form a contemptible minority. I may become unpopular, I may be sneered at by men who think themselves wiser, for coming to such a conclusion; but I will not retract what I have said. The good people in the world outnumber the bad, ten to one, and the ticket for this sort of belief is “Optimist.”
This conversation between the cornet and his mother took place at half-past two. At that time Charles had crept across the park to the Mews, near Belgrave Square, to see his friend the duke’s coachman and his son. May I be allowed, without being accused of writing a novel in the “confidential style,” to tell you, that this is the most important day in the whole story.
At half-past two, William Ravenshoe called at Lord Hainault’s house in Grosvenor Square. He saw Lady Ascot. Lady Ascot asked him what sort of weather it was out of doors.
William said that there was a thick fog near the river, but that on the north side of the square it was pleasant. So Lady Ascot said she would like a walk, if it were only for ten minutes, if he would give her his arm; and out they went.
Mary and the children came out too, but they went into the square. Lady Ascot and William walked slowly up and down the pavement alone, for Lady Ascot liked to see the people.
Up and down the north side, in front of the house. At the second turn, when they were within twenty yards of the west end of the square, a tall man with an umbrella over his shoulder came round the corner, and leant against the lamp-post. They both knew him in an instant. It was Lord Ascot. He had not seen them. He had turned to look at a great long-legged chesnut that was coming down the street, from the right, with a human being on his back. The horse was desperately vicious, but very beautiful and valuable. The groom on his back was neither beautiful nor valuable, and was osing his temper with the horse. The horse was one of those horses vicious by nature — such a horse as Earey (all honour to him) can terrify into submission for a short time; and the groom was a groom, not one of our country lads, every one of whose virtues and vices have been discussed over and over again at the squire’s dinner-table, or about whom the rector has scratched his head, and had into his study for private exhortation or encouragement. Not one of the minority. One of the majority, I very much fear. Beared like a dog among the straw, without education, without religion, without self-respect — worse broke than the horse he rode. When I think of all that was said against grooms and stable-helpers during the Earey fever, I get very angry, I confess it. One man said to me, “When we have had a groom or two killed, we shall have our horses treated properly.” Look to your grooms, gentlemen, and don’t allow such a blot on the fair fame of England as some racing stables much longer, or there will be a heavy reckoning against you when the books are balanced.
But the poor groom lost his temper with the horse, and beat it over the head. And Lord Ascot stayed to ay, “D it all, man, you will never do any good ike that;” though a greater fiend on horseback than Lord Ascot I never saw.
This gave time for Lady Ascot to say, “Come on, my dear Ravenshoe, and let us speak to him.” So on they went. Lord Ascot was so busy looking at the horse and groom, that they got close behind him before he saw them. Nobody being near, Lady Ascot, with a sparkle of her old fun, poked him in the back with her walking-stick. Lord Ascot turned sharply and angrily round, with his umbrella raised for a blow.
When he saw who it was, he burst out into a pleasant laugh. “Now, you grandma,” he said, “you keep that old stick of yours quiet, or you’ll get into trouble. What do you mean by assaulting the head of the house in the public streets? I am ashamed of you. You, Ravenshoe, you egged her on to do it. I shall have to punch your head before I have done. How are you both?”
“And where have you been, you naughty boy?” said Lady Ascot.
“At Paris,” said that ingenuous nobleman, “dicing and brawling as usual. Nobody can accuse me of hiding my talents in a napkin, grandma. Those two things are all I am fit for, and I certainly do them with a will. I have fought a duel, too. A Yankee Doodle got it into his head that he might be impertinent to Adelaide; so I took him out and shot him. Don’t cry, now. He is not dead. He’ll walk lame though, I fancy, for a time. How jolly it is to catch you out here. I dread meeting hat insufferable prig, Hainault, for fear I should kick him. Give me her arm, my dear Ravenshoe.”
“And where is Adelaide?” said Lady Ascot.
“Up at St. John’s Wood,” said he. “Do steal away, and come and see her. Grandma, I was very sorry to hear of poor Charles’ death — I was indeed. You know what it has done for me; but, by Gad, I was very sorry.”
“Dear Welter — dear Ascot,” said Lady Ascot, “I am sure you were sorry. Oh! if you would repent, my own dear. If you would think of the love that Christ bore you when He died for you. Oh Ascot, Ascot! will nothing save you from the terrible hereafter?”
“I am afraid not, grandma,” said Lord Ascot. “It is getting too cold for you to stay out. Ravenshoe, my dear fellow, take her in.”
And so, after a kind goodbye. Lord Ascot walked away towards the south-west.
I am afraid that John Marston was right. I am afraid he spoke the truth when he said that Lord Ascot was a savage, untameable blackguard.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56