Of course, he did not die; I need not tell you that.
B and P. H pulled him through, and shook heir honest hands over his bed. Poor B is reported to have winked on this occasion; but such a proceeding was so unlike him, that I believe the report must have come round to us through one of the American papers — probably the same one which represented the Prince of Wales hitting the Duke of Newcastle in the eye with a champagne cork.
However, they pulled him through; and, in the pleasant springtime, he was carried down to Casterton. Things had gone so hard with him, that the primroses were in blossom on the southern banks before he knew that Lord Saltire was dead, and before he could be made to understand that he was a rich man.
From this much of the story we may safely deduce this moral, “That, if a young gentleman gets into difficulties, it is always as well for him to leave his address with his friends.” But, as young gentlemen in difficulties generally take particularly good care to remind their friends of their whereabouts, it follows that this story has been written to little or no purpose. Unless, indeed, the reader can find for himself another moral or two; and I am fool enough to fancy that he may do that, if he cares to take the. trouble.
Casterton is built on arches, with all sorts of offices and kitchens under what would naturally be the ground floor. The reason why Casterton was built on arches (that is to say, as far as you and I are concerned) is this: that Charles, lying on the sofa in Lord Hainault’s study, could look over the valley and see the river; which, if it had been built on the ground, he could not have done. From this window he could see the great -weirs spouting and foaming all day; and, when he was carried up to bed, by William and Lord Hainault, he could hear the roar of them rising and sinking, as the night-wind came and went, until they lulled him to sleep.
He lay here one day, when the doctors came down from London. And one of them put a handkerchief over his face, which smelt like chemical experiments, and somehow reminded him of Dr. Daubeny. And, he fell asleep; and when he awoke, he was suffering pain in his left arm — not the old dull grinding pain, but sharper; which gradually grew less as he lay and watched the weirs at Casterton. They had removed the splinters of bone from his arm.
He did not talk much in this happy quiet time. William and Lady Ascot were with him all day. William, dear fellow, used to sit on a footstool, between his sofa and the window, and read the Times to him. William’s education was imperfect, and he read very badly. He would read Mr. Eussell’s correspondence till he saw Charles’s eye grow bright, and hear his breath quicken, and then he would turn to the list of bankrupts. If this was too sad, he would go on to the share list, and pound away at that, till Charles went to sleep, which he generally did pretty quickly.
About this time — that is to say, well in the spring — Charles asked two questions:— The first was, whether or no he might have the window open; the next, whether Lord Hainault would lend him an opera-glass?
Both were answered in the affirmative. The window was opened, and Lord Hainault and William came in, bearing, not an opera-glass, but a great brass telescope, on a stand — a thing with an eight-inch object-glass, which had belonged to old Lord Hainault, who was a Cambridge man, and given to such vanities.
This was very delightful. He could turn it with a ove of his hand on to any part of the weirs, and see almost every snail which crawled on the burdocks. The very first day he saw one of the men from the paper-mill come to the fourth weir, and pull up the paddles to ease the water. The man looked stealthily round, and then raised a wheel from below the apron, full of spawning perch. And this was close time! Oho!
Then, a few days after, came a tall, grey-headed gentleman, spinning a bleak for trout, who had with him a lad in top-boots, with a landing-net. And this gentleman sent his bait flying out here and there across the water, and rattled his line rapidly into the palm of his hand in a ball, like a consummate master, as he was. (King among fishermen, prince among gentlemen, you will read these lines, and you will be so good as to understand that I am talking of you.) And this gentleman spun all day and caught nothing.
But he came the next day to the same place, and spun again. The great full south-westerly wind was roaring up the valley, singing among the budding trees, and carrying the dark, low, rainless clouds swiftly before it. At two, just as Lady Ascot and William had gone to lunch, and after Charles had taken his soup and a glass of wine, he, lying there, and watching this gentleman diligently, saw his rod bend, and his line tighten.
The lad in the top-boots and the landing-net leaped np from where he lay; there was no doubt about it now. The old gentleman had got hold of a fish, and a big one.
The next twenty minutes were terrible. The old gentleman gave him the but, and moved slowly down along the camp-shuting, and Charles followed him with the telescope, although his hand was shaking with excitement. After a time, the old gentleman began to wind up his reel, and then the lad, top-boots, and landing-net, and all, slipped over the camp-shooting (will anybody tell me how to spell that word? Camps-heading won’t do, my dear sir, all things considered) and lifted the fish (he was nine pound), up among the burdocks at the old gentleman’s feet.
Charles had the whole group in the telescope — the old gentleman, the great trout, and the dripping lad, taking off his boots and emptying the water out of them. But the old gentleman was looking to his right at somebody who was coming, and immediately there came into the field of the telescope a tall man in a velvet coat, with knee breeches and gaiters, and directly afterwards, from the other side, three children, and a young lady. The gentleman in the knee breeches bowed to the young lady, and then they all stood looking at the trout.
Charles could see them quite plainly. The gentleman in velveteen and small-clothes was Lord Ascot, and the young lady was Mary.
He did not look through the telescope any more; he lay back, and tried to think. Presently afterwards old Lady Ascot came in, and settled herself in the window, with her knitting.
“My dear,” she said, “I wonder if I fidget you with my knitting-needles? Tell me if I do, for I have plenty of other work.”
“Not at all, dear aunt; I like it. You did nineteen rows this morning, and you would have done twenty-two if you had not dropped a stitch. When I get stronger I shall take to it myself There would he too much excitement and over exertion in it, for me to begin just now.”
Lady Ascot laughed; she was glad to see him trying even such a feeble joke. She said —
“My dear, Mr. Jackson has killed a trout in the weirs just now, nine pounds.”
“I know,” said Charles; ‘ “I did not know the weight, but I saw the fish. Aunt, where is Welter — I mean, Ascot?”
“Well, he is at Ranford. I suppose you know, my dear boy, that poor James left him nearly all his fortune. Nearly five hundred thousand pounds’ worth, with Cottingdean and Marksworth together. All the
Ranford mortgages are paid off, and he is going on very well, my dear. I think they ought to give him his marquisate. James might have had it ten times over of course, but he used to say, that he had made himself the most notorious viscount in England, and that if he took an earldom, people would forget who he was.”
“I wish he would come to see me, aunt. I am very fond of Welter.”
I can’t help it; he said so. Remember how near death’s door he had been. Think what he had been through. How he had been degraded, and kicked about from pillar to post, like an old shoe; and also remember the state he was in when he said it. I firmly believe that he had at this time forgotten, everything, and that he only remembered Lord Ascot as his old boy love, and his jolly college companion. You must make the best of it, or the worst of it for him, as you are inclined. He said so. And in a very short time Lady Ascot found that she wanted some more wool, and hobbled away to get it.
After a time, Charles heard a man come into the room. He thought it was William; but it was not. This man came round the end of the sofa, and stood in the window before him. Lord Ascot.
He was dressed as we know, having looked through Charles’s telescope, in a velveteen coat, with knee reeches and leathern gaiters. There was not much change in him since the old times, only his broad, hairless face seemed redder, his lower jaw seemed coarser and more prominent, his great eyebrows seemed more lowering, his vast chest seemed broader’ and deeper, and altogether he looked rather more like a mighty, coarse, turbulent blackguard than ever.
“Well, old cock,” he said, “so you are on your back, hey?”
“Welter,” said Charles, “I am so glad to see you again. If you would help me up, I should like to look at you.”
“Poor old boy,” said Lord Ascot, putting his great arm round him, and raising him, “So! there you are, my pippin. What a good old fellow you are, by Gad! So you were one of the immortal six hundred, hey? I thought you would turn up somewhere in Queer Street, with that infernal old hook nose of yours. I wish I had taken to that sort of thing, for I am fond of fighting. I think, now I am rich and respectable, I shall subsidize a prizefighter to pitch into me once a fortnight, I wish I had been respectable enough for the army; but I should always have been in trouble with the commander-in-chief for dicing and brawling, I suppose. Well, old man, I am devilish glad to see you again. I am in possession of money which should have been yours. I did all I could for you, Charles; you will never know how much. I tried to repair the awful wrong I did you unconsciously. I did a thing in your favour I tremble to think of now, but which, God help me, I would do again. You don’t know what I mean. If old Saltire had not died so quick, you would have known.”
He was referring to his having told Lord Saltire that he had seen Charles. In doing that, remember he had thought that he was throwing half a million to the winds. I only tell you that he was referring to this, for fear you should not gather it from his own brutal way of speaking.
I wonder how the balance will stand against Lord Ascot at last? Who ever could have dreamt that his strong animal affection for his old friend could have led him to make a sacrifice which many a more highly organized man would have evaded, glossing over his conscience by fifty mental subterfuges?
“However, my dear fellow,” he continued, “it comes to this: I have got the money; I shall have no children; and I shall make no will; therefore it all comes to you, if you outlive me. About the title I can’t say. The lawyers must decide about that. ‘No one seems to know whether or not it descends through he female branch. By-the-by, you are not master of Ravenshoe yet, though there seems no doubt that grandma is right, and that the marriage took place. However, whether the estate goes to you, or to William, I offer the same advice to both of you: if you get my money, don’t spend it in getting the title. You can get into the House of Commons easy enough, if you seem to care about that sort of fun; and fellows I know, tell me that you get much better amusement there for your money than in the other place. I have never been to the House of Lords since the night I took my seat. It struck me as being slow. The fellows say that there is never any chaff, or personalities, or calling to order, or that sort of thing there, which seem to me to be half the fun of the fair. But, of course, you know more about this than I.”
Charles, in a minute, when he had ineffectually tried to understand what Lord Ascot had been saying, collected his senses sufficiently to say:
“Welter, old boy, look here, for I am very stupid. Why did you say that you should have no children?”
“Of course I can’t; have they told you nothing?”
“Is Adelaide dead. Welter?” asked Charles, plucking at the buttons of his coat nervously.
“They ought to have told you, Charles,” said Lord Ascot, turning to the window. “Now tell me something. Have you any love left for her yet?”
“Not one spark,” said Charles, still buttoning and unbuttoning his coat. “If I ever am a man again, I shall ask Mary Corby to marry me. I ought to have done so sooner, perhaps. But I love your wife. Welter, in a way; and I should grieve at her death,, for I loved her once. By Gad I yes; you know it. When did she die?”
“She is not dead, Charles.”
“Now, don’t keep me like this, old man; I can’t stand it. She is no more to me than my sister — not so much. Tell me what is the matter at once; it can’t be worse than what I think.”
“The truth is very horrible, Charles,” said Lord Ascot, speaking slowly. “She took a fancy that I should buy back her favourite old Irish mare, ‘ Molly Asthore,’ and I bought it for her; and we went out hunting together, and we were making a nick, and I was getting the gate open for her, when the devil rushed it; and down they came on it, together. And she broke her back — Oh, God! oh, God 1 — and the doctor says she may live till seventy, but that she will never move from where she lies — and just as I was getting to love her so dearly — ”
Charles said nothing; for with such a great, brutal blackguard as Lord Ascot, sobbing passionately at the window, it was as well to say nothing; but he thought, “Here’s work to the fore, I fancy, after a life of laziness. I have been the object of all these dear souls’ anxiety for a long time. She must take my place now.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10