Charles’ purpose of being married in London held good. And I need not say that William’s held good too.
Shall I insult your judgment by telling you that the whole story of Petre Ravenshoe’s marriage at Finchampstead was true? I think not. The register was found, the lawyers were busy down at Ravenshoe, for every one was anxious to get up to London, and have the two marriages over before the season was too far advanced.
The memorabilia about this time at Ravenshoe, were — The weather was glorious. (I am not going to give you any more about the two capes, and that sort of thing. You have had those two capes often enough. And I am reserving my twenty-ninth description of the Ravenshoe scenery for the concluding chapter.) The weather, I say, was glorious. And I was always being fetched in from the river, smelling fishy, and being made to witness deeds. I got tired of writing my name. I may have signed away the amount of the national debt in triplicate, for anything I know (or care. Tor you can’t get blood out of a stone). I signed some fifty of them, I think. But I signed two, which gave me great pleasure.
The first was a rent-charge on Ravenshoe of two thousand a year, in favour of William Ravenshoe. The second was a similar deed of five hundred a year in favour of Miss Ravenshoe. We will now have done with all this sordid business, and go on.
The ladies had all left for town, to prepare for the ceremony. There was a bachelors’ house at Ravenshoe for the last time. The weather was hot. Charles Ravenshoe, General Mainwaring, and the rest, were all looking out of the dining-room windows towards the sea, when we were astonished by seeing two people ride up on to the terrace, and stop before the porch.
A noblelooking old gentleman, in a blue coat and brass buttons, knee-breeches and gaiters, on a cob, and a beautiful boy of sixteen on a horse. I knew well enough who it was, and I said Ho! But the others wondered. William would have known, had he been looking out of the window just then, but by the time he got there, the old gentleman and the boy were in the porch, and two of Charles’s men were walking the horses up and down.
“Now, who the deuce is this?” said Charles. “They haven’t come far; but I don’t know them. I seem to know the old man, somehow; but I can’t remember.”
We heard the old gentleman’s heavy step along the hall, and then the door was thrown open, and the butler announced, like a true Devonshire man —
“Mr. Humby to Hele!”
The old gentleman advanced with a frank smile and took Charles’s hand, and said, “Welcome home, sir; welcome to your own; welcome to Ravenshoe. A Protestant at Ravenshoe at last. After so many centuries.”
Everybody had grown limp and faint when they heard the awful name of Humby, that is to say, every one but me. Of course 1 had nothing to do with fetching him over. Not at all. This was the first time that a Humby had had friendly communication with a Ravenshoe, for seven hundred and eighty-nine years. The two families had quarrelled in 1066, in consequence of John Humby having pushed against Kempion Ravenshoe, in the grand rush across the Senlac, at the battle of Hastings. Kempion Ravenshoe had asked John Humby where he was shoving to, and John Humby had expressed a msh to punch Kempion Ravenshoe’s head (or do what went for the same thing in those times. I am no antiquarian). The wound was never healed. The two families located themselves on adjoining estates in
Devonshire immediately after the conquest, but never spoke till 1529, when Lionel Humby bit his thumb at our old friend, Alured Ravenshoe, in Cardinal Wolsey’s antechamber, at Hampton, and Alured Ravenshoe asked him, what the devil be meant by that. Tbey fought in Twickenham meadow, but held no relations for two hundred and fourteen years, that is to say, till 1745, when Ambrose Ravenshoe squeezed an orange at Chichester Humby at an election dinner in Stonnington, and Boddy Fortescue went out as second to Chichester Humby, and Lord Segur to Ambrose Ravenshoe. After this the families did not speak again for one hundred and ten years, that is to say, till the time we are speaking of, the end of April, 1855, when James Humby to Hele frightened us all out of our wits, by coming into the dining-room at Ravenshoe, in a blue coat and brass buttons, and shaking hands with Charles, and saying, beside what I have written above —
“Mrs. Humby and my daughters are in London for the season, and I go to join them the day after tomorrow. There has been a slight cloud between the two houses lately” (that is to say, as we know it, for seven hundred and eighty-nine years. But what is time?) ” and I wish to remove it. I am not a very old man, but I have my whimsies, my dear sir. I wish my daughters to appear among Miss Corby’s bridesmaids. nd do you know, I fancy when you get to London, that you will find the whole matter arranged.”
Who was to resist this? Old Humby went up in the train with all of us the next day but one. And if I were asked to pick out the most roystering, boisterous, jolly old county member in England, Scotland, or Ireland, I should pick out old Humby of Hele. What fun he made at the stations where the express stopped! The way he allowed himself to be fetched out of the refreshment room by the guard, and then, at the last moment, engaged him in a general conversation about the administration of the line, until the station-master was mad, and an accident imminent, was worthy of a much younger man, to say the least. But then, in a blue coat and brass buttons, with drab small clothes, you may do anything. They are sure to-take you for a swell. If I, William Marston, am ever old enough, and fat enough, and rich enough, I shall dress like that myself, for reasons. If my figure does not develop, I shall try black br — ch — s and gaiters, with a shovel hat, and a black silk waistcoat buttoned up under my throat. That very often succeeds. Either are better than pegtops and a black bowler hat, which strike no awe into the beholders.
When we all got to town, we were, of course, very busy. There was a great deal of millinery business.
Old Humby insisted on helping at it. One day he went to Madame Tulle’s, in Conduit Street, with his wife and two daughters, and asked me to come too, for which I was sorry at first, for he behaved very badly, and made a great noise. We were in a great suite of rooms on tbe first floor, full of crinolines and that sort of thing, and there were a great many people present. I was trying to keep him quiet, for he was cutting a good many clumsy jokes, as an old-fashioned country squire will. Everybody was amused with him, and thoroughly appreciated his fun, save his own wife and daughters, who were annoyed; so I was trying to keep him quiet, when a tall, brown-faced, handsome young man came up to me and said —
“I beg a thousand pardons; but is not your name Marston?”
I said, “Yes.”
“You are a first cousin of John Marston, are you not? — of John Marston, whom I used to meet at Casterton?”
I said, “Yes; that John Marston was my cousin.” But I couldn’t remember my man, for all that.
“You don’t remember me! I met you once at old Captain Archer’s, at Lashbrook, for ten minutes. My wife has come here to buy fal-lals for Charles Ravenshoe’s wedding. He is going to marry my cousin. My ame is George Corby. I have married Miss Ellen Hockstrop, daughter of Admiral Blockstrop, Her eldest sister married young Captain Archer of the merchant service.”
I felt very faint, but I congratulated him. The way those Australians do business shames us old-country folk. To get over a heavy disappointment and be married in two months and a week is very creditable.
“We bushmen are rough fellows,” he said. (His manners were really charming. I never saw them beaten.) “But you old-country fellows must excuse us. Will you give me the pleasure of your acquaintance? I am sure you must be a good fellow, for your cousin is one of the best fellows I ever knew.”
“I should be delighted.” And I spoke the truth.
“I will introduce you to my wife directly,” he said; “but the fact is, she is just now having a row with Madame Tulle, the milliner here. My wife is a deuced economical woman, and she wants to show at the Ravenshoe wedding in a white mou’e-antique, which will only cost fifty guineas, and which she says will do for an evening dress in Australia afterwards. And the Frenchwoman won’t let her have it for the purpose, because she says it is incorrect. And I hope to Gad the Frenchwoman will win, because my wife will get quite as good a gown to look at for twenty guineas or so.”
Squire Humby begged to be introduced. Which I did.
“I am glad, sir,” he said, “that my daughters have not heard your conversation. It would have demoralised them, sir, for the rest of their lives. I hope they have not heard the argument about the fifty-guinea gown. If they have, I am a ruined man. It was one of you Australians who gave twelve hundred guineas for the bull ‘Master Butterfly,’ the day before yesterday?”
“Well, yes,” said George Corby, “I bought the bull He’ll pay, sir, handsomely, in our part of the world.”
“The devil he will,” said Squire Humby. “You don’t know an opening for a young man of sixty-five, with a blue coat and brass buttons, who understands his business, in your part of the country, do you?”
And so on. The weddings took place at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square. If the ghost of the little shoeblack had been hovering round the wall where he had played fives with the brass button, he might have almost heard the ceremony performed. Mary and Charles were not a handsome couple. The enthusiasm of the population was reserved for William and Jane Evans, who certainly were. It is my nature to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and so I was entrusted with old Master Evans, Jane’s father, a magnificent old sea-king, whom we have met before. We two preferred to go to church quietly before the others, and he, refusing to go into a pew, found himself place in the free seats, and made himself comfortable. So I went out into the porch, and waited till they came.
I waited till the procession had gone in, and then I found that the tail of it was composed of poor Lord Charles Herries’ children, Gus, Flora, and Archy, with their nurse.
If a bachelor is worth his salt, he will make himself useful. I saw that nurse was in distress and anxious, so I stayed with her.
Archy was really as good as gold till he met with his accident. He walked up the steps with nurse as quiet as possible. But even at first I began to get anxious about Gus and Flora. They were excited. Gus wouldn’t walk up the steps; but he put his two heels together, and jumped up them one at a time, and Flora walked backwards, looking at him sarcastically. At the top step but one Gus stumbled; whereupon Flora said, “Goozlemy, goozlemy, goozlemy.”
And Gus said, “You wait a minute, my lady, till we get into church,” after which awful speech I felt as if I was smoking in a powder magazine.
I was put into a pew with Gus, and Flora, and Archy. Nurse, in her modesty, went into the pew behind us.
I am sorry to say that these dear children, with hom I had had no previous acquaintance, were very naughty. The ceremony began by Archy getting too near the edge of his hassock, falling off, pitching against the pew door, bursting it open, and flying out among the free seats, head foremost. Nurse, a nimble and dexterous woman, dashed out, and caught him up, and actually got him out of the church door before he had time to fetch his breath for a scream. Gus and Flora were left alone with me.
Flora had a great scarlet and gold church service. As soon as she opened it, she disconcerted me by saying aloud, to an imaginary female friend, “My dear, there is going to be a collection; and I have left my purse on the piano.”
At this time, also, Gus, seeing that the business was well begun, removed to the further end of the pew, sat down on the hassock, and took from his trousers’ pocket a large tin trumpet.
I broke out all over in a cold perspiration as I looked at him. He saw my distress, and putting it to his lips, puffed out his cheeks. Flora administered comfort to me. She said, “You are looking at that foolish boy. Perhaps he won’t blow it, after all. He mayn’t if you don’t look at him. At all events, he probably won’t blow it till the organ begins; and then it won’t matter so much.”
Matters were so hopeless with me that I looked at old Master Evans. He had bent down his head on to the rail of the bench before him. His beautiful daughter had been his only companion at home for many years, for his wife had died when Jane was a little bare-legged thing, who paddled in the surf It had been a rise in life for her to marry Mr. Charles Ravenshoe’s favourite pad-groom. And just now she had walked calmly and quietly up the aisle, and had stopped when she came to where he sat, and had pushed the Honiton-lace veil from her forehead, and kissed his dear old cheek: and she would walk back directly as Mrs. William Ravenshoe. And so the noble old privateer skipper had bent down, and there was nothing to be seen there, but a grey head and broad shoulders, which seemed to shake.
And so I looked up to the east end. And I saw the two couples kneeling before the clergyman. And when I, knowing everything as I did, saw Charles kneeling beside Mary Corby, with Lord Ascot, great burly, brutal giant, standing behind him, I said something which is not in the marriage service of the Church of England. After it all, to see him and her kneeling so quietly there together! “We were all happy enough that day. But I don’t think that any one was much happier than T. For I knew more than any one. And also, three months rom that time, I married my present wife, Eliza Humby. And the affair had only been arranged two days. So I was in good spirits.
At least I should have been, if it had not been for Lord Charles Herries’ children. I wish those dear children (not meaning them any harm) had been, to put it mildly, at play on the village green, that blessed day.
When I looked at Gus again, he was still on the hassock, threatening propriety with his trumpet. I hoped for the best. Flora had her prayer-book open, and was playing the piano on each side of it, with her fingers. After a time she looked up at me, and said out loud —
“I suppose you have heard that Archy’s cat has kittened?”
I said, “No.”
“Oh, yes, it has,” she said. “Archy harnessed it to his meal cart, which turns a mill, and plays music when the wheels go round; and it ran downstairs with the cart; and we heard the music playing as it went; and it kittened in the wood-basket immediately afterwards; and Alwright says she don’t wonder at it; and no more do I; and the steward’s-room boy is going to drown some. But you mustn’t tell Archy, because, if you do, he won’t say his prayers; and if he don’t say his prayers, he will, &c. &c.” Very emphatically, and in a lond tone of voice.
This was very charming. If I could only answer for Gus, and keep Flora busy, it was wildly possible that we might pull through. If I had not been a madman, I should have noticed that Gus had disappeared.
He had. And the pew door had never opened, and I was utterly unconscious. Gus had crawled up, on all fours, under the seat of the pew, until he was opposite the calves of his sister’s legs, against which calves, horresco referens, he put his trumpet and blew a long shrill blast. Flora behaved very well and courageously. She only gave one long, wild shriek, as from a lunatic in the padded cell in Bedlam, and then, hurling her prayer-book at him, she turned round and tried to kick him in the face.
This was the culminating point of my misfortunes. After this, they behaved better. I represented to them that every one was just coming out of the vestry, and that they had better fight it out in the carriage, going home. Gus only made an impertinent remark about Flora’s garters, and Flora only drew a short, but trenchant, historical parallel between Gus and Judas Iscariot; when the brides and bridegrooms came down the aisle, and we all drove off to Charles’s house in Eaton Square.
And so, for the first time, I saw altogether, with my wn eyes, the principal characters in this story. Only one was absent. Lord Saltire. I had seen him twice in my life, and once had the honour of a conversation with him. He was a man about five feet eleven, very broad shouldered, and with a very deep chest. As far as the animal part of him went, I came to the conclusion, from close and interested examination for twenty minutes, that he had, fifty or sixty years before, been a man with whom it would have been pleasanter to argue than to box. His make was magnificent. Phrenologically speaking, he had a very high square head, very flat at the sides: and, when I saw him, when he was nearly eighty, he was the handsomest old man I had ever seen. He had a florid, pure complexion. His face was without a wrinkle. His eyebrows were black, and his hair seemed to refuse to be grey. There was as much black as grey in it to the last. His eye was most extraordinary — a deep blue-grey. I can look a man as straight in the face as any one; but when Lord Saltire turned those eyes on me three or four times in the course of our interview, I felt that it was an effort to meet them. I felt that I was in the presence of a man of superior vitality to my own. We were having a talk about matters connected with Charles Ravenshoe, which I have not mentioned, because I want to keep myself, William Marston, as much out of this story as possible. And whenever this terrible old man looked at me, asking a question, I felt my eyebrows drawing together, and knew that I was looking defiantly at him. He was the most extraordinary man I ever met. He never took office after he was forty. He played with politics. He was in heart, I believe (no one knows), an advanced Whig. He chose to call himself Tory. He played the Eadical game very deep, early in life, and, I think, he got disgusted with party politics. The last thing the old Eadical atheist did ia public life was to rally up to the side of the Duke in opposition to the Reform Bill. And another fact about him is, that he had always a strong personal affection for Sir Francis.
He was a man of contradictions, if one judges a man by Whig and Tory rules; but he was a great loss to the public business of the country. He might have done almost anything in public life with his calm clear brain. My cousin John thinks that Lord Barkham’s death was the cause of his retirement.
So much about Lord Saltire. Of the other characters mentioned in this story, I will speak at once, just as I saw them sitting round the table at Charles and William Ravenshoe’s wedding.
I sat beside Eliza Humby. She was infinitely the most beautiful, clever, and amiable being that the world ver produced. (But that is my business, not yours.) Charles Ravenshoe sat at the head of the table, and I will leave him alone for a minute. I will give you my impressions of the other characters in this story, as they appeared to me.
Mary was a very charming-looking little person indeed, very short, and with small features. I had never seen her before, and had never heard any one say that she was pretty. I thought her very pretty indeed.
Jane Evans was an exceedingly beautiful Devonshire girl. My eye did not rest very long on her. It came down the table to William, and there it stopped.
I got Eliza Humby to speak to him, and engage him in conversation while I looked at him. I wanted to see whether there was anything remarkable in his face, for a more remarkable instance of disinterested goodwill than his determining to find Charles and ruin himself, I never happened to have heard of.
Well, he was very handsome and pleasing, with a square determined look about the mouth, such as men brought up among horses generally have. But I couldn’t understand it, and so I spoke to him across Lizzie, and I said, casting good manners to the winds, “I should think that the only thing you regretted today was, that you had not been alongside of Charles at Balaclava;” and then I understood it, for when I mentioned Charles nd Balaclava, I saw for one instant not a groom but a poet. Although, being a respectable and well-conducted man, he has never written any poetry, and probably never will.
Then I looked across the table at Lady Ascot. They say that she was never handsome. I can quite believe that. She was a beautiful old woman certainly, but then all old women are beautiful. Her face was very square, and one could see that it was capable of very violent passion; or could, knowing what one did, guess so. Otherwise there was nothing very remarkable about her, except that she was a remarkably charming old lady. She was talking to General Mainwaring, who was a noblelooking old soldier.
Nothing more. In fact, the whole group were less remarkable and tragical-looking than I thought they would have been. I was disappointed, until I came to Lord Ascot, and then I could not take my eyes off him.
There was tragedy enough there. There was coarse brutality and passion enough, in all conscience. And yet that man had done what he had done. Here was a puzzle with a vengeance.
Lord Ascot, as I saw him now, for the first time, was simply a low-bred and repulsive-looking man. In stature he was gigantic, in every respect save eight. He was about five feet nine, very deep about the chest. His hair was rather dark, cut close. His face was very florid, and perfectly hairless. His forehead was low. His eyes were small, and close together. His eyebrows were heavy, and met over his nose, which was short and square. His mouth was large; and when you came to his mouth, you came to the first tolerable feature in his face. When he was speaking to no one in particular, the under lip was set, and the whole face, I am very sorry to say, was the sort of face which is quite as often seen in the dock, as in the witness-box (unless some gentleman has turned Queen’s evidence). And this was the man who had risked a duke’s fortune, because “There were some things a fellow couldn’t do, you know.”
It was very puzzling till he began to speak to his grandmother, and then his lower lip pouted out, his eyebrows raised, his eyes went apart, and he looked a different man. Is it possible that if he had not been brought up to cock-fighting and horse-racing, among prizefighters and jockeys, that he might have been a different man? I can’t say, I am sure.
Lord and Lady Hainault were simply a very high-bred, very handsome, and very charming pair of people. I never had the shghtest personal acquaintance with either of them. My cousin knows them both very ntimately, and he says there are not two better people in the world.
Charles Ravenshoe rose to reply to General Mainwaring’s speech, proposing the brides and bridegrooms, and I looked at him very curiously. He was pale, from his recent illness, ancl he never was handsome. But his face was the face of a man, whom I should fancy most people would get very fond of. When we were schoolfellows at Shrewsbury, he was a tall dark-haired boy, who was always laughing, and kicking up a row, and giving his things away to other fellows. Now he was a tall, dark, melancholy-looking man, with great eyes, and lofty eyebrows. His vivacity, and that carriage which comes from the possession of great physical strength, were gone; and while I looked at him, I felt ten years older. Why should I try to describe him further? He is not so remarkable a man as either Lord Ascot or William. But he was the best man I ever knew.
He said a few kind hearty words and sat down, and then Lord Ascot got up. And I took hold of Lizzie’s hand with my left; and I put my right elbow on the table and watched him intensely, with my hand shading my face. He had a coat buttoned over his great chest, and as he spoke he kept on buttoning and unbuttoning it with his great coarse hand. He said —
“I ain’t much hand at this sort of thing. I suppose those two Marstons, confound them, are saying to themselves that I ought to be, because I am in the House of Lords. That John Marston is a most impudent beggar, and I shall expect to see his friend tomorrow morning. He always was, you know. He has thwarted me all through my life. I wanted Charles Ravenshoe to go to the deuce, and I’ll be hanged if he’d let him. And it is not to be borne.”
There was a general laugh at this, and Lord Ascot stretched his hand across General Mainwaring, and shook hands with my cousin.
“You men just go out of the room, will you?” (the servants departed, and Lord Ascot went to the door to see they were not listening. I thought some revelation was coming, but I was mistaken). “You see I am obliged to notice strangers, because a fellow may say things among old friends which he don’t exactly care to before servants.
“It is all very well to say I’m a fool. That is very likely, and may be taken for granted. But I am not such a fool as not to know that a very strong prejudice exists against me in the present society.”
Every one cried out, “No! no!” Of all the great wedding breakfasts that season, this was certainly the most remarkable. Lord Ascot went on. He was getting the savage look on his face now.
“Well, well! let that pass. Look at that man at the head of the table — the bridegroom. Look at him. You wonder that I did what I did. I’ll tell you why-I love that fellow. He is what I call a man, General Mainwaring. I met that fellow at Twyford years ago, and he has always been the same to me since. You say I served him badly once. That is true enough. You insulted me once in public about it, Hainault. You were quite right. Say you, I should not talk about it today. But when we come to think how near death’s gates some of us have been since then, you will allow that this wedding-day has something very solemn about it.
“My poor wife has broken her back across that infernal gate, and so she could not come. I must ask you all to think kindly of that wife of mine. You have all been very kind to her since her awful accident. She has asked me to thank you.
“I rose to propose a toast, and I have been carried away by a personal statement, which, at every other wedding breakfast I ever heard of, it would be a breach of good manners to make. It is not so on this occasion. Terrible things have befallen every one of us here present. And I suppose we must try all of us to — hey! — to — hah! — well, to do better in future.
“I rose, I said, to propose a toast. I rose to propose the most blameless and excellent woman I ever knew. I propose that we drink the health of my grandmother, Lady Ascot.”
And oh! but we leapt to our feet and drank it. Manners to the winds, after what we had gone through. There was that solemn creature. Lord Hainault, with his champagne glass in his hand, behaving like a schoolboy, and giving us the time. And then, when her dear grey head was bent down over the table, buried in her hands, my present father-in-law, Squire Humby, leapt to his feet like a young giant, and called out for three times three for Lord Ascot. And we had breath enough left to do that handsomely, I warrant you. The whole thing was incorrect in the highest degree, but we did it. And I don’t know that any of us were ashamed of it afterwards.
And while the carriages were getting ready, Charles said, would we walk across the square. And we all came with him. And he took us to a piece of dead white wall, at the eastend of St. Peter’s Church, opposite the cab-stand. And then he told us the story of the little shoeblack, and how his comical friendship or that boy had saved him from what it would not do to talk about.
But there is a cloud on Charles Ravenshoe’s face even now. I saw him last summer lying on the sand, and playing with his eldest boy. And the cloud was on him then. There was no moroseness, no hardness in the expression; but the face was not the merry old face I knew so well at Shrewsbury and Oxford. There is a dull, settled, dreaming melancholy there still. The memory of those few terrible months has cast its shadow upon him. And the shadow will lie, I fancy, upon that forehead, and will dim those eyes, until the forehead is smoothed in the sleep of death, and the eyes have opened to look upon eternity.
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