With the wailing mother’s voice in their ears, those two left the house. The court was quiet enough now. The poor savages who would not stop their riot lest they should disturb the dying, now talked in whispers lest they should awaken the dead.
They passed on quickly together. Not one word had been uttered between them — not one — but they pushed rapidly through the worst streets to a better part of the town, Charles clinging tight to John Marston’s arm, but silent. When they got to Marston’s lodgings, Charles sat down by the fire, and spoke for the first time. He did not burst out crying, or anything of that sort. He only said quietly —
“John, you have saved me. I should never have got home this night.”
But John Marston, who, by finding Charles, had dashed his dearest hopes to the ground, did not take hings quite so quietly. Did he think of Mary now? Did he see in a moment that his chance of her was gone? And did he not see that he loved her more deeply than ever?
“Yes,” I answer to all these three questions. How did he behave now?
Why, he put his hand on Charles’s shoulder, and he said, “Charles, Charles, my dear old boy, look up and speak to me in your dear old voice. Don’t look wild like that. Think of Mary, my boy. She has been wooed by more than one, Charles; but I think that her heart is yours yet.”
“John,” said Charles, “that is what has made me hide from you all like this. I know that she loves me above all men. I dreamt of it the night I left Ravenshoe. I knew it the night I saw her at Lord Hainault’s. And partly that she should forget a penniless and disgraced man like myself, and partly (for I have been near the gates of hell tonight, John, and can see many things) from a silly pride, I have spent all my cunning on losing myself — hoping that you would believe me dead, thinking that you would love my memory, and dreading lest you should cease to love Me.”
“We loved your memory well enough, Charles. You will never know how well, till you see how well we love yourself. We have hunted you hard, Charles. How ou have contrived to avoid us, I cannot guess. You do not know, I suppose, that you are a rich man?”
“A rich man?”
“Yes. Even if Lord Saltire does not alter his will, you come into three thousand a year. And, besides, you are undoubtedly heir to Ravenshoe, though one link is still wanting to prove that.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is no reasonable doubt, although we cannot prove it, that your grandfather Petre was married previously to his marriage with Lady Alicia Staunton, that your father James was the real Ravenshoe, and that Ellen and yourself are the elder children, while poor Cuthbert and William — ”
“Cuthbert! Does he know of this? I will hide again; I will never displace Cuthbert, mind you.”
“Charles, Cuthbert will never know anything about it. Cuthbert is dead. He was drowned bathing last August.”
Hush! There is something, to me, dreadful in a man’s tears, I dare say that it was as well, that night, that the news of Cuthbert’s death should have made him break down and weep himself into quietness again like a child. I am sure it was for the best. But it is the sort of thing that good taste forbids one to dwell upon or handle too closely.
When he was quiet again, John went on:
“It seems incredible that you should have been able to elude us so long. The first intelligence we had of you was from Lady Ascot, who saw you in the Park.”
“Lady Ascot? I never saw my aunt in the Park.”
“I mean Adelaide. She is Lady Ascot now. Lord Ascot is dead.”
“Another of them!” said Charles. “John, before you go on, tell me how many more are gone.”
“No more. Lady Ascot and Lord Saltire are alive and well. I was with Lord Saltire today, and he was talking of you. He has left the principal part of his property to Ascot. But, because none of us would believe you dead, he has made a reservation in your favour of eighty thousand pounds.”
“I am all abroad,” said Charles. “How is William?”
“He is very well, as he deserves to be. Noble fellow! He gave up everything to hunt you through the world like a bloodhound and bring you back. He never ceased his quest till he saw your grave at Varna.”
“At Varna,” said Charles; “why, we were quartered at Devna.”
“At Devna! Now, my dear old boy, I am but mortal; do satisfy my curiosity. What regiment did you enlist in?”
“In the 140th.”
“Then how, in the name of all confusion,” cried John Marston, “did you miss poor Hornby?”
“I did not miss Hornby,” said Charles, quietly. “I had his head in my lap when he died. But now tell me, how on earth did you come to know anything about him?”
“Why, Ascot told us that you had been his servant. And he came to see us, and joined in the chase with the best of us. How is it that he never sent us any intelligence of you?”
“Because I never went near him till the film of death was on his eyes. Then he knew me again, and said a few words which I can understand now. Did he say anything to any of you about Ellen?”
“Yes. Did Ascot ever say anything either?”
“He told Lord Saltire, what I suppose you know — ”
“Yes, I know it all.”
“And that he had met you. Now tell me what you have been doing.”
“When I found that there was no chance of my remaining perdu any longer, and when I found that Ellen was gone, why, then I enlisted in the 140th . . . .”
He paused here, and hid his face in his hands for some time. When he raised it again his eyes were wilder, and his speech more rapid.
“I went out with Tom Sparks and the Roman-nosed bay horse; and we ran a thousand miles in sixty-three hours. And at Devna we got wood-pigeons; and the cornet went down and dined with the 42d at Yarna; and I rode the Roman-nosed bay, and he carried me through it capitally, I ask your pardon, sir, but I am only a poor discharged trooper. I would not beg, sir, if I could help it; but pain and hunger are hard things to bear, sir.”
“Charles, Charles, don’t you know me?”
“That is my name, sir. That is what they used to call me. I am no common beggar, sir. I was a gentleman once, sir, and rode a-horseback after a blue greyhound, and we went near to kill a black hare. I have a character from Lord Ascot, sir. I was in the light cavalry charge at Balaclava. An angry business. They shouldn’t get good fellows to fight together like that. I killed one of them, sir. Hornby killed many, and he is a man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. A sad business!”
“Charles, old boy, be quiet.”
“When you speak to me, sir, of the distinction between the upper and lower classes, I answer you, hat I have had some experience in that way of late, and have come to the conclusion that, after all, the gentleman and the cad are one and the same animal. Now that I am a ruined man, begging my bread about the streets, I make bold to say to you, sir, hoping that your alms may be none the less for it, that I am not sure that I do not like your cad as well as your gentleman, in his way. If I play on the one side such cards as my foster-brother William and Tom Sparks, you, of course, trump me with John Marston and the cornet. You are right; but they are all four good fellows. I have been to death’s gate to learn it. I will resume my narrative. At Devna the cornet, besides woodpigeons, shot a francolin — ”
It is just as well that this sort of thing did not come on when Charles was going home alone across the bridge; that is all I wished to call your attention to. The next morning. Lord and Lady Hainault, old Lady Ascot, William, Mary, and Father Tiernay, were round his bed, watching the hot head rolling from side to side upon the pillow, and listening to his half-uttered delirious babble, gazing with a feeling almost of curiosity at the well-loved face which had eluded them so long.
“Oh, Hainault! Hainault!” said Lady Ascot, “to find him like this after all! And Saltire dead without eeing him! and all my fault, my fault. I am a wicked old woman; God forgive me!”
Lord Hainault got the greatest of the doctors into a corner, and said:—
“My dear Dr. B, will he die?”
“Well, yes,” said the doctor; “to you I would sooner say yes than no, the chances are so heavy against him. The surgeons like the look of things still less than the physicians. You must really prepare for the worst.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56