Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

most certainly I shall succeed. William might die on this very expedition. You might prove your case. If anything were to happen to William, I most certainly hope you may, and will give you every assistance. As it is, I shall not move in the matter. I shall not help you to bring a Protestant to Ravenshoe. Now don't think me a heartless man for talking like this; I am nothing of the kind. But I am talking to two very shrewd men of the world, and I talk as a man of the world ; that is all.”

At this point, Lord Hainault said, “ What is that ?” and left the room. Lord Saltire and Mackworth were alone together.

“Now, my dear sir," said Lord Saltire, “I am glad you have spoken merely as a man of the world. It makes matters so much easier. You could help us if you would.”

Mackworth laughed. Ef“ Of course I could, my lord. I could bring the whole force of the Catholic Church, at my back, to give assistance. With our powers of organization, we could discover all about the marriage in no time (if it ever took place, which I don't choose to believe just now). Why it would pay us to search minutely every register in England, if it were to keep such a house in the hands of the Church. But, my lord, the Catholic Church, in my poor person, politely declines to move all its vast machinery, to give away one of its best houses to a Protestant.

“I never supposed that the dear old lady would do anything of the kind. But, as for Mr. Mackworth, will nothing induce him to move his vast machinery in our cause ?”

“I am all attention, my lord.”

“In case of our finding Charles, then ? "

“ Yes," said Mackworth, calmly.
“ Twenty thousand ?"

“No," said Mackworth. “ It wouldn't do. Twenty million wouldn't do. You see there is a difference between a soldier disguising himself, and going into the enemy's camp, to lie, and it may be, murder, to gain information for his own

the enemy, and giving information. The one is a hero, and the other a rogue. I am a hero. You must forgive me putting matters so coarsely, but you distrust me so entirely that I am forced to do so."

“I do not think you have put it so coarsely,” said Lord Saltire. “I have to ask your forgiveness for this offer of money, which you have so nobly refused. They say, every man has his price. If this is the case, yours is a very high one, and you should be valued accordingly.”

“Now, my lord, before we conclude this interview, let me tell you two things, which may be of advantage to you. The first is, that you cannot buy a Jesuit."

“A Jesuit!”

“Ay. And the next thing is this. This marriage of Petre Ravenshoe is all a fiction of Lady Ascot's brain. I wish you good morning, my lord.”

There are two sides to every door. You grant that. A man cannot be in two places at once. You grant that, without the exception made by the Irish member. Very well then. I am going to describe what took place on both sides of the library door at the conclusion of this interview. Which side shall I describe first?

That is entirely as I choose, and I choose to describe the outside first. The side where Father Mackworth was. This paragraph and the last are written in imitation of the Shandean-SoutheyDoctorian style. The imitation is a bad one, I find, and approaches nearer to the lower style known as Swivellerism; which consists in saying the first thing that comes into your head. Any style would be quite allowable, merely as a rest to one's aching head, after the dreadfully keen encounter between Lord Saltire and Father Mackworth, recorded above. But I must get on.

When Mackworth had closed the library door behind him, he looked at it for a moment, as if to see it was safe, and then his whole face underwent a change. It grew haggard and anxious, and, as he parted his lips to moisten seemed to grow more prominent, and a leaden ring began to settle round them; he paused in a window, and raised his hand towards his head. When he had raised it half way he looked at it; it was shaking violently.

“I am not the man I was,” he said. “These great field-days upset me. My nerve is going, God help me. It is lucky that I was really puzzled by his calling her Miss Ravenshoe. If I had not been all abroad, I could never have done so well. I must be very careful. My nerve ought not to go like this. I have lived a temperate life in every way. Possibly a little too temperate. I won't go through another interview of this kind without wine. It is not safe.

“The chances are ten to one in favour of one never hearing of Charles again. Shot and steel and cholera. Then William only to think of. In that case I am afraid I should like to bring in the (der branch of the family, to that young gentleman's detriment. I wish my nerve was better ; this irritability increases on me in spite of all my care. I wish I could stand wine.

“Ravenshoe, with Ellen forits mistress, and Mackworth living there as her master! A penitential devotee, and a clever man for confessor! And twelve thousand a-year! If we Jesuits were such villains as the Protestants try to znake us out, Master William would be unwise to live in the house with me.

“I wonder if Lord Saltire guesses that I hold the clue in my hand. I can't remember the interview, or what I said. My memory begins to go. They should put a younger man in such a place. But I would not yield to another man. No. The stakes are too high. I wish I could remember what I said.

“ Does William dream that, in case of Charles's death, he is standing between me and the light? At all events, Lord Saltire sees it. I wonder if I committed myself. I remember I was very honest and straightforward. What was it I said at last? I have an uneasy feeling about that, but I can't remember.

“I hope that Bridger will keep the girl

would all rest with him. God! I hope I shall not get ill."

Now we will go to the other side of the door. Lord Saltire sat quietly upright in his chair until the door was safely closed. Then he took a pinch of snuff. He did not speak aloud, but he looked cunningly at the door, and said to himself

“Odd !”

Another pinch of snuff. Then he said aloud, “ Uncommon curious, by Ged.”

“What is curious ?” said Lord Hainault, who had come into the room.

“Why, that fellow. He took me in to the last moment. I thought he was going to be simply honest; but he betrayed himself by over-eagerness at the end. His look of frank honesty was assumed ; the real man came out in the last sentence. You should have seen how his face changed, when he turned sharply on me, after fancying he had lulled suspicion to sleep, and told me that the marriage was a fiction. He forgot his manners for the first time, and laid his hand upon my knee."

Lord Hainault said, “Do you think that he knows about the marriage ? "

“I am sure he does. And he knows where Ellen is."

“Why?.
“Because I am sure of it."

“That is hardly a reason, my dear Lord Saltire. Don't you think, eh?"

“Think what ?”

“Think that you are-well,” said Lord Hainault, in a sort of desperation, “Are not you, my dear lord, to put it very mildly, generalizing from an insufficient number of facts. I speak with all humility before one of the shrewdest men in Europe ; but don't you think

[ocr errors]

“No, I don't," said Lord Saltire.

“I bow," said Lord Hainault. “The chances are ten to one, that you are right, and I am wrong. Did you make the offer ?

“Yes."
“And did he accept it ?”.

“Of course, he didn't. I told you he wouldn't."

"No," said Lord Saltire.

Hedsor, or Chiefden, or fifty other Lord Hainault laughed, and then Lord houses on the king of rivers. I wonSaltire looked up and laughed too. “I der when the tour of the Thames will like being rude to you, Hainault. You become fashionable. I have never seen are so solemn."

anything like it, in its way. And I “Well,” said Lord Hainault, with have seen a great many things. another hearty laugh. “And what are Lord Saltire looked out on all this we to do now?".

which I have roughly described (for a “Why, wait till William comes back," reason). And, as he looked, he spoke to said Lord Saltire. “We can do nothing himself, thus, or nearly sotill then, my dear boy. God bless you, “Almost the last of them all ; and Hainault. You are a good fellow." alone. Not one of them left. Not one.

When the old man was left alone, he And their sons are feeding their phearose and looked out of the window. sants, and planting their shrubberies The bucks were feeding together close still, as we did. And the things that under the windows; and, farther off, were terrible realities for us, are only under the shadow of the mighty cedars, printed words for them, which they try the does and fawns were standing and to realize, but cannot. The thirty mad lying about lazily, shaking their broad long years, through which we stood cars, and stamping their feet. Out from with our backs to the wall, are ticketed the great rhododendron thickets, right as 'the revolutionary wars,' and put in and left of the house, the pheasants a pigeon-hole. I wish they would do were beginning to come, to spend the us justice. We were right. Hainault's pleasant evening-tide in running to and pheasants prove it. They must pay fro, and scratching at the ant-hills. The their twenty million a-year, and thank rabbits too were running out among us that they have got off so easy. the grass, scuttling about busily. The “I wonder what they would do, in peacock had lit down from the stable such a pinch as we had. They seem to roof, and was elegantly picking his way, be as brave as ever ; but I am afraid of and dragging his sweeping train among their getting too much unbrutalized for the pheasants and the rabbits; and on another struggle like ours. I suppose the topmost, copper-red, cedar-boughs, I am wrong, for I am getting too old to some guinea fowl were noisily prepar- appreciate new ideas, but I am afraid of ing for roost. Two hundred yards from our getting too soft. It is a by-gone the window the park seemed to end, for prejudice, I am afraid. One comfort is, it dipped suddenly down in a precipi. that such a struggle can never come tous, almost perpendicular slope of turf, again. If it did, they might have the three hundred and fifty feet high, to- will to do all that we did, and more, but wards the river, which you could see have they the power ? This extension winding on for miles through the richly of the suffrage has played the devil, wooded valley ; a broad riband of sil- and now they want to extend it farther, ver, far below. Beyond, wooded hills: the madmen! They'll end by having a on the left, endless folds of pearl- House full of Whigs. And then—why, coloured downs; to the right, the town, then, I suppose, there'll be nothing but a fantastic grey and red heap of build Whigs in the House. That seems to me ings, lying along from the river, which near about what will happen. Well ! brimmed full, up to its wharfs and lane well! I was a Whig myself once on a ends; and, over it, a lazy cloud of smoke, from which came the gentle booming “ All gone. Every one of them. And of golden-toned bells.

I left on here, in perfect health and · Casterton is not a show-place. Lord preservation, as much an object of wonHainault has a whim about it. But you der to the young ones as a dodo would may see just such a scene, with varia be to a poultry-fancier. Before the

gloom. He was hidden by the curtain, and presently he heard the door open, and a light footstep stealthily approaching over the Turkey carpet. There was a rustle of a woman's dress, and a moving of books on the centre table, by some hand which evidently feared detection. Lord Saltire stepped from. behind his curtain, and confronted Mary Corby.

our persons have become strange, and out of date. And yet I, strange to say, don't want to go yet. I want to see that Ravenshoe boy again. Gad! how I love that boy. He has just Barkham's sweet, gentle, foolish way with him. I determined to make him my heir from the first time I saw him at Ranford, if he turned out well. If I had announced it, everything would have gone right. What an endless series of unlucky accidents that poor boy has had.

“Just like Barkham. The same idle, foolish, lovable creature, with anger for nothing ; only furious, blind indignation for injustice and wrong. I wish he would come back. I am getting aweary of waiting.

"I wonder if I shall see Barkham again, just to sit with my arm on his shoulder, as I used to on the terrace in old times. Only for one short halfhour. e I shall leave off here. I don't want to follow the kind old heathen through his vague speculations about a future state. You see how he had loved his son. You see why he loved Charles. That is all I wished to show you.

“And if Charles don't come back? By Gad! I am very much afraid the chances are against it. Well, I suppose, if the poor lad dies, I must leave the money to Welter and his wife, if it is only for the sake of poor Ascot, who was a good fellow. I wonder if we shall ever get to the bottom of this matter about the marriage. I fancy not, unless Charles dies, in which case Ellen will be reinstated by the priest.

“I hope William will make haste back with him. Old fellows like me are apt to go off in a minute. And, if he dies, and I have not time to make a new will, the whole goes to the Crown, which will be a bore. I would sooner Welter had it than that."

Lord Saltire stood looking out of the library window, until the river looked like a chain of crimson pools, stretching westward towards the sinking sun. The room behind him grew dark, and the marble pillars, which divided it in un

CHAPTER LIII. A VERY STUPID CHAPTER, BUT A VERY

IMPORTANT ONE NEVERTHELESS. “Do not betray me, my lord,” said Mary, from out of the gloom.

“I will declare your malpractices to the four winds of heaven, Miss Corby, as soon as I know what they are. Why, why do you come rustling into the room like a mouse in the dark? Tell me at once what this hole and corner work means.”

“I will not, unless you promise not to betray me, Lord Saltire."

“Now just think how foolish you are. How can I possibly make myself particeps of what is evidently a most dark and nefarious business, without knowing beforehand what benefit I am to receive You offer me no share of booty; you offer me no advantage, direct or indirect, in exchange for my silence, except that of being put in possession of facts which it is probably dangerous to know anything about. How can you expect to buy me on such terms as these ? "

“Well, then, I will throw myself on your generosity. I want Blackwood. If I can find Blackwood now, I shall get a full hour at it to myself while you are all at dinner. Do you know where it is ?

“Yes," said Lord Saltire.

“Do tell me, please. I do so want to finish a story in it. Please to tell me where it is."

“I won't."

“Why not? How very unkind. We have been friends eight months now, and you are just beginning to be

[ocr errors]

breeds contempt; you used to be so She did not know what to say, or what polite.

to think. She had had long night “I shan't tell you where Blackwood thoughts about poverty, old age, a life is," said Lord Saltire, “ because I don't in a garret as a needlewoman, and had choose. I don't want you to have it. I many a good cry over them, and had want you to sit here in the dark and talk never found any remedy for them except to me, instead of reading it.”

saying her prayers, which she always .“I will sit and talk to you in the found a perfect specific. And here, all dark; only you must not tell ghost of a sudden, was the question solved ! stories."

She would have liked to thank Lord “I want you to sit in the dark,” said Saltire. She would have liked to kiss Lord Saltire, “because I want to be his hand; but words were rather defi"Vor et præterea nihil. You will see cient. She tried to keep her tears back, why, directly. My dear Mary Corby, and she in a way succeeded; then in I want to have some very serious talk the honesty of her soul she spoke. with you. Let us joke no more.”

“I will thank you more heartily, my Mary settled herself at once into the lord, than if I went down on my knees arm-chair opposite Lord Saltire, and, and kissed your feet. All my present resting her cheek on her hand, turned has been darkened by a great cloud of her face towards the empty fire-place. old age and poverty in the distance. “Now, my dear Lord Saltire," she said, You have swept that cloud away. Can “go on. I think I can anticipate what I say more ?” you are going to talk of.”

“On your life, not another word. I “You mean about Charles.'

could have overburdened you with

wealth, but I have chosen not to do so. “Ah, that is only a part of what I Twenty thousand pounds will enable. have to say. I want to consult you you to live as you have been brought there, certainly; but that is but a small up. Believe an old man when he says: part of the business."

that more would be a plague to you." “Then I am curious."

“Twenty thousand pounds!” “Do you know, then, I am between “Yes. That will bring you in, you eighty and ninety years old ?”.

will find, about six hundred a-year. "I have heard so, my lord.”

Take my word for it, it is quite enough. “Well then, I think that the voice to, You will be able to keep your brougham, which you are now listening will soon and all that sort of thing. Believe me, be silent for ever; and do not take you would not be so happy with more. offence-consider it as a dead man's “More !” said Mary quietly. “My voice, if you will."

lord, look here, and see what you have “I will listen to it as the voice of a done. When the children are going to kind loving friend,” said Mary. “A sleep, I sit, and sew, and sing, and, when friend who has always treated me as a they are gone to sleep, I still sit, and reasonable being and an equal."

sew, and think. Then I build my “That is true, Mary; you are so Spanish castles ; but the highest tower gentle and so clever, that is no wonder of my castle has risen to this—that in See here; you have no private fortune," my old age I should have ten shillings

“I have my profession," said Mary, a-week left me by some one, and be laughing.

able to keep a canary bird, and have “Yes, but your profession is one in some old woman as pensioner. And which it is difficult to rise," said Lord now-now-now. Oh! I'll be quiet Saltire, “and so I have thought it in a moment. Don't speak to me for a necessary to provide for you in my will. moment. God is very good.” For I must make a new one.”

I hope Lord Saltire enjoyed his snuff. Poor Mary gave a start. The an. I think that, if he did not, he deserved nouncement was so utterly unexpected. to. After a pause Mary began again.

« ElőzőTovább »