Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The World's Greatest Books, Volume V. by Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton, Eds.

Part 7 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

very worthless. And all this time, had he but known it, money and a
home, and sweet little Mary Corby, who had loved him ever since he was a
boy, were waiting for him.

There was also a remarkable advertisement which appeared in the "Times"
for a considerable period, and was never seen by Charles. The
advertisement was inserted by old Lady Ascot, and offered one hundred
guineas to any person who could discover the register of marriage
between Peter Ravenshoe, Esq., of Ravenshoe, in the county of Devon, and
Maria Dawson, supposed to have been solemnised about 1778.

How was Charles to know that Cuthbert Ravenshoe was dead; that William,
now master of Ravenshoe, still hoped for his foster-brother's life, and
that old Lady Ascot was doing all she could to atone for a mistake?
Charles, in fact, was still very weak and ill, and served his friend the
cornet in a poor way. He had not recovered the shock of his fever and
delirium in the Crimea, and both nerve and health were gone.

Nobody could be more kind and affectionate than the cornet and his deaf
mother. They guessed that he was "somebody," and that things were wrong
with him; and the cornet once or twice invited his confidence; but he
was too young, and Charles had not the energy to tell him anything.

And life was getting very, very weary business for Charles. By day,
riding had become a terror, and at night he got no rest. And his mind
began to dwell too much on the bridges over the Thames, and on the water
lapping and swirling about the piers.

Then, as it happened, a little shoeblack with whom Charles had struck up
a friendship, falling sick in a foul court in South London, Charles must
needs go and sit with him. The child died in his arms, and a dull terror
came on Charles when he thought of his homeward journey. A scripture
reader who had been in the room came towards him and laid his hand upon
his shoulder. Charles turned from the dead child, and looked up into the
face of John Marston, the best of his old Oxford friends.

They passed out of the house together, Charles clinging tight to John
Marston's arms. When they got to Marston's lodgings, Charles sat down by
the fire, and said quietly, "John, you have saved me! I should never
have got home this night."

But John Marston, by finding Charles, had dashed his dearest hopes to
the ground. He had always loved Mary Corby from his first visit to
Ravenshoe, and Mary loved Charles, who had loved Adelaide, who had
married Lord Welter. Marston thought there was just a chance for him,
and now that chance was gone. How did he behave, knowing that?

He put his hand on Charles's shoulder and said, "Charles--Charles, my
dear old boy, look up! Think of Mary. She has been wooed by more than
one, but I think her heart is yours yet."

"John," said Charles, "that is what has made me hide from you all like
this. I know that she loved me above all men; and partly that she should
forget a penniless and disgraced man like myself, and partly from a
silly pride, I have spent all my cunning on losing myself, hoping that
you would believe me dead."

"We have hunted you hard, Charles. You do not know, I suppose, that you
are a rich man, and undoubtedly heir of Ravenshoe, though one link is
still wanting."

"What do you mean?"

"There is no reasonable doubt, although we cannot prove it, that your
grandfather Peter was married previously to his marriage with Lady
Alicia Staunton, that your father James was the real Ravenshoe, while
poor Cuthbert and William--"

"Cuthbert! I will hide again. I will never displace Cuthbert, mind you."

"Cuthbert is dead. He was drowned bathing last August."

Charles broke down, and cried like a child. When he was quiet, he asked
after William.

"He is very well, as he deserves to be. He gave up everything to hunt
you through the world and bring you back. Now, my dear old boy, do
satisfy my curiosity. What regiment did you enlist in?"

"In the 140th."

He paused, hid his face in his hands, and then his speech became rapid
and incoherent.

"At Devna we got wood-pigeons, and I rode the Roucan-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. I was in
the light cavalry charge at Balaclava. An angry business. They shouldn't
get good fellows to fight together like that--"

The next morning, old Lady Ascot, William, Mary, and John Marston were
round his bed listening to his half-uttered, delirious babble. The
anxious question was put to the greatest of the doctors present. "My
dear Dr. B----, will he die?"

"Well, yes," said the doctor. "I would sooner say 'Yes' than 'No'--the
chances are so heavy against him. You must really prepare for the

_IV.--A Life-Long Shadow_

Of course, he did not die--I need not tell you that. The doctors pulled
him through. And when he was better the doctors 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 and read the "Times" to him.

Lord Welter (now Lord Ascot, on the death of his father) came to see
Charles one day, and something he said made Charles ask if Adelaide was

"Tell me something," said Lord Ascot. "Have you any love left for her

"Not one spark," said Charles. "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."

"The truth is very horrible. We went out hunting together, and I was
getting the gate open for her, when her devil of a horse rushed it, and
down they came on it together. And she broke her back, 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--"

That same afternoon Charles asked William to get Mary to come and see
him, and William straightway departed, and found Mary. And later in the
day Miss Mary Corby announced that she and Charles were engaged to be

William was still master of Ravenshoe, but he was convinced that the
first marriage of his grandfather would be proved, and Charles

"Remember, Charles, I am not spending the revenues of Ravenshoe," he
said. "They are yours. I know it. I am spending about L400 a year. When
our grandfather's marriage is proved, you will provide for me and my
wife, I know that. Be quiet."

William had long been engaged, from the time he had been Charles's
servant, to a fisherman's daughter, Jane Evans, and the change in his
fortunes made no difference in the matter. She was only a fisherman's
daughter, but she was wonderfully beautiful, and gentle, and good.

The weddings took place at St. Peter's, Eaton Square. Mary and Charles
were not a handsome couple. The enthusiasm of the population was
reserved for William and Jane Evans, who certainly were.

Father Mackworth, dying after a stroke of paralysis, told us the date
and place of Peter Ravenshoe's first marriage--Finchampstead, Berks,
1778. He had known the truth, but had been anxious to keep Ravenshoe in
Catholic hands.

"You used to irritate and insult me, sir," he said, turning to Charles,
"and I was not so near death then as now. If you can forgive me, in
God's name, say so!"

Charles went over to him, and put his arm round him.

"Forgive you!" he said. "Dear Mackworth, can you forgive me?"

The register was found, and the lawyers were soon busy. One document may
be noted, a rent charge on Ravenshoe of two thousand a year in favour of
William Ravenshoe.

* * * * *

Well, Charles and William are both happily married now, and I saw
Charles last summer playing with his eldest boy. But there was a cloud
on his face, for the memory of those few terrible months has cast its
shadow upon him, and the shadow will lie, I fancy, upon that forehead
until the forehead is smoothed in the sleep of death.

Book of the day: