Charles Reade.

Put Yourself in His Place online

. (page 1 of 46)
Online LibraryCharles ReadePut Yourself in His Place → online text (page 1 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Donald Lainson





PUT YOURSELF IN HIS PLACE


By Charles Reade



"I will frame a work of fiction upon notorious fact, so that anybody
shall think he can do the same; shall labor and toil attempting
the same, and fail - such is the power of sequence and connection in
writing." - HORACE: Art of Poetry.




CHAPTER I.


Hillsborough and its outlying suburbs make bricks by the million, spin
and weave both wool and cotton, forge in steel from the finest needle up
to a ship's armor, and so add considerably to the kingdom's wealth.

But industry so vast, working by steam on a limited space, has been
fatal to beauty: Hillsborough, though built on one of the loveliest
sites in England, is perhaps the most hideous town in creation. All ups
and down and back slums. Not one of its wriggling, broken-backed streets
has handsome shops in an unbroken row. Houses seem to have battled in
the air, and stuck wherever they tumbled down dead out of the melee. But
worst of all, the city is pockmarked with public-houses, and bristles
with high round chimneys. These are not confined to a locality, but
stuck all over the place like cloves in an orange. They defy the law,
and belch forth massy volumes of black smoke, that hang like acres of
crape over the place, and veil the sun and the blue sky even in the
brightest day. But in a fog - why, the air of Hillsborough looks a thing
to plow, if you want a dirty job.

More than one crystal stream runs sparkling down the valleys, and
enters the town; but they soon get defiled, and creep through it heavily
charged with dyes, clogged with putridity, and bubbling with poisonous
gases, till at last they turn to mere ink, stink, and malaria, and
people the churchyards as they crawl.

This infernal city, whose water is blacking, and whose air is coal, lies
in a basin of delight and beauty: noble slopes, broad valleys, watered
by rivers and brooks of singular beauty, and fringed by fair woods in
places; and, eastward, the hills rise into mountains, and amongst them
towers Cairnhope, striped with silver rills, and violet in the setting
sun.

Cairnhope is a forked mountain, with a bosom of purple heather and a
craggy head. Between its forks stood, at the period of my story, a great
curiosity; which merits description on its own account, and also as the
scene of curious incidents to come.

It was a deserted church. The walls were pierced with arrow-slits,
through which the original worshipers had sent many a deadly shaft in
defense of their women and cattle, collected within the sacred edifice
at the first news of marauders coming.

Built up among the heathery hills in times of war and trouble, it had
outlived its uses. Its people had long ago gone down into the fruitful
valley, and raised another church in their midst, and left this old
house of God alone, and silent as the tombs of their forefathers that
lay around it.

It was no ruin, though on the road to decay. One of the side walls was
much lower than the other, and the roof had two great waves, and was
heavily clothed, in natural patterns, with velvet moss, and sprinkled
all over with bright amber lichen: a few tiles had slipped off in two
places, and showed the rafters brown with time and weather: but the
structure was solid and sound; the fallen tiles lay undisturbed beneath
the eaves; not a brick, not a beam, not a gravestone had been stolen,
not even to build the new church: of the diamond panes full half
remained; the stone font was still in its place, with its Gothic cover,
richly carved; and four brasses reposed in the chancel, one of them
loose in its bed.

What had caused the church to be deserted had kept it from being
desecrated; it was clean out of the way. No gypsy, nor vagrant, ever
slept there, and even the boys of the village kept their distance.
Nothing would have pleased them better than to break the sacred windows
time had spared, and defile the graves of their forefathers with
pitch-farthing and other arts; but it was three miles off, and there was
a lion in the way: they must pass in sight of Squire Raby's house; and,
whenever they had tried it, he and his groom had followed them on
swift horses that could jump as well as gallop, had caught them in the
churchyard, and lashed them heartily; and the same night notice to quit
had been given to their parents, who were all Mr. Raby's weekly tenants:
and this had led to a compromise and flagellation.

Once or twice every summer a more insidious foe approached. Some little
party of tourists, including a lady, who sketched in water and never
finished anything, would hear of the old church, and wander up to it.
But Mr. Raby's trusty groom was sure to be after them, with orders
to keep by them, under guise of friendship, and tell them outrageous
figments, and see that they demolished not, stole not, sculptured not.

All this was odd enough in itself, but it astonished nobody who knew Mr.
Raby. His father and predecessor had guarded the old church religiously
in his day, and was buried in it, by his own orders; and, as for Guy
Raby himself, what wonder he respected it, since his own mind, like that
old church, was out of date, and a relic of the past?

An antique Tory squire, nursed in expiring Jacobitism, and cradled in
the pride of race; educated at Oxford, well read in books, versed in
county business, and acquainted with trade and commerce; yet puffed up
with aristocratic notions, and hugging the very prejudices our nobility
are getting rid of as fast as the vulgar will let them.

He had a sovereign contempt for tradespeople, and especially for
manufacturers. Any one of those numerous disputes between masters and
mechanics, which distinguish British industry, might have been safely
referred to him, for he abhorred and despised them both with strict
impartiality.


The lingering beams of a bright December day still gilded the moss-clad
roof of that deserted church, and flamed on its broken panes, when a
young man came galloping toward it, from Hillsborough, on one of those
powerful horses common in that district.

He came so swiftly and so direct, that, ere the sun had been down twenty
minutes, he and his smoking horse had reached a winding gorge about
three furlongs from the church. Here, however, the bridle-road, which
had hitherto served his turn across the moor, turned off sharply
toward the village of Cairnhope, and the horse had to pick his way
over heather, and bog, and great loose stones. He lowered his nose, and
hesitated more than once. But the rein was loose upon his neck, and he
was left to take his time. He had also his own tracks to guide him in
places, for this was by no means his first visit; and he managed so
well, that at last he got safe to a mountain stream which gurgled past
the north side of the churchyard: he went cautiously through the water,
and then his rider gathered up the reins, stuck in the spurs, and put
him at a part of the wall where the moonlight showed a considerable
breach. The good horse rose to it, and cleared it, with a foot to spare;
and the invader landed in the sacred precincts unobserved, for the
road he had come by was not visible from Raby House, nor indeed was the
church itself.

He was of swarthy complexion, dressed in a plain suit of tweed, well
made, and neither new nor old. His hat was of the newest fashion, and
glossy. He had no gloves on.

He dismounted, and led his horse to the porch. He took from his pocket a
large glittering key and unlocked the church-door; then gave his horse
a smack on the quarter. That sagacious animal walked into the church
directly, and his iron hoofs rang strangely as he paced over the brick
floor of the aisle, and made his way under the echoing vault, up to
the very altar; for near it was the vestry-chest, and in that chest his
corn.

The young man also entered the church; but soon came out again with
a leathern bucket in his hand. He then went round the church, and was
busily employed for a considerable time.

He returned to the porch, carried his bucket in, and locked the door,
leaving the key inside.


That night Abel Eaves, a shepherd, was led by his dog, in search of a
strayed sheep, to a place rarely trodden by the foot of man or beast,
viz., the west side of Cairnhope Peak. He came home pale and disturbed,
and sat by the fireside in dead silence. "What ails thee, my man?" said
Janet, his wife; "and there's the very dog keeps a whimpering."

"What ails us, wife? Pincher and me? We have seen summat."

"What was it?" inquired the woman, suddenly lowering her voice.

"Cairnhope old church all o' fire inside."

"Bless us and save us!" said Janet, in a whisper.

"And the fire it did come and go as if hell was a blowing at it. One
while the windows was a dull red like, and the next they did flare so,
I thought it would all burst out in a blaze. And so 'twould, but, bless
your heart, their heads ha'n't ached this hundred year and more, as
lighted that there devilish fire."

He paused a moment, then said, with sudden gravity and resignation and
even a sort of half business-like air, "Wife, ye may make my shroud, and
sew it and all; but I wouldn't buy the stuff of Bess Crummles; she is an
ill-tongued woman, and came near making mischief between you and me last
Lammermas as ever was."

"Shroud!" cried Mrs. Eaves, getting seriously alarmed. "Why, Abel, what
is Cairnhope old church to you? You were born in an other parish."

Abel slapped his thigh. "Ay, lass, and another county, if ye go to
that." And his countenance brightened suddenly.

"And as for me," continued Janet, "I'm Cairnhope; but my mother came
from Morpeth, a widdy: and she lies within a hundred yards of where
I sit a talking to thee. There's none of my kin laid in old Cairnhope
churchyard. Warning's not for thee, nor me, nor yet for our Jock. Eh,
lad, it will be for Squire Raby. His father lies up there, and so do all
his folk. Put on thy hat this minute, and I'll hood myself, and we'll go
up to Raby Hall, and tell Squire."

Abel objected to that, and intimated that his own fireside was
particularly inviting to a man who had seen diabolical fires that came
and went, and shone through the very stones and mortar of a dead church.

"Nay, but," said Janet, "they sort o' warnings are not to be slighted
neither. We must put it off on to Squire, or I shall sleep none this
night."

They went up, hand in hand, and often looked askant upon the road.

When they got to the Hall, they asked to see Mr. Raby. After some demur
they were admitted to his presence, and found him alone, so far as they
could judge by the naked eye; but, as they arrived there charged to
the muzzle with superstition, the room presented to their minds some
appearances at variance with this seeming solitude. Several plates were
set as if for guests, and the table groaned, and the huge sideboard
blazed, with old silver. The Squire himself was in full costume, and on
his bosom gleamed two orders bestowed upon his ancestors by James
III. and Charles III. In other respects he was rather innocuous, being
confined to his chair by an attack of gout, and in the act of sipping
the superannuated compound that had given it him - port. Nevertheless,
his light hair, dark eyebrows, and black eyes, awed them, and
co-operated with his brilliant costume and the other signs of company,
to make them wish themselves at the top of Cairnhope Peak. However, they
were in for it, and told their tale, but in tremulous tones and a low
deprecating voice, so that if the room SHOULD happen to be infested with
invisible grandees from the other world, their attention might not be
roused unnecessarily.

Mr. Raby listened with admirable gravity; then fixed his eyes on the
pair, in silence; and then said in a tone so solemn it was almost
sepulchral, "This very day, nearly a century and a half ago, Sir Richard
Raby was beheaded for being true to his rightful king - "

"Eh, dear poor gentleman! so now a walks." It was Janet who edged in
this -

"And," continued the gentleman, loftily ignoring the comment, "they say
that on this night such of the Rabys as died Catholics hold high mass in
the church, and the ladies walk three times round the churchyard; twice
with their veils down, once with bare faces, and great eyes that glitter
like stars."

"I wouldn't like to see the jades," quavered Abel: "their ladyships I
mean, axing their pardon."

"Nor I!" said Janet, with a great shudder.

"It would not be good for you," suggested the Squire; "for the first
glance from those dead and glittering eyes strikes any person of the
lower orders dumb, the second, blind; the third, dead. So I'm INFORMED.
Therefore - LET ME ADVISE YOU NEVER TO GO NEAR CAIRNHOPE OLD CHURCH AT
NIGHT."

"Not I, sir," said the simple woman.

"Nor your children: unless you are very tired of them."

"Heaven forbid, sir! But oh, sir, we thought it might be a warning
like."

"To whom?"

"Why, sir, th' old Squire lies there; and heaps more of your folk: and
so Abel here was afear'd - but you are the best judge; we be no scholars.
Th' old church warn't red-hot from eend to eend for naught: that's
certain."

"Oh it is me you came to warn?" said Raby, and his lip curled.

"Well, sir," (mellifluously), "we thought you had the best right to
know."

"My good woman," said the warned, "I shall die when my time comes. But
I shall not hurry myself, for all the gentlemen in Paradise, nor all the
blackguards upon earth."

He spake, and sipped his port with one hand, and waved them superbly
back to their village with the other.

But, when they were gone, he pondered.

And the more he pondered, the further he got from the prosaic but
singular fact.




CHAPTER II.


In the old oak dining-room, where the above colloquy took place, hung
a series of family portraits. One was of a lovely girl with oval face,
olive complexion, and large dark tender eyes: and this was the gem of
the whole collection; but it conferred little pleasure on the spectator,
owing to a trivial circumstance - it was turned with its face to the
wall; and all that met the inquiring eye was an inscription on the
canvas, not intended to be laudatory.

This beauty, with her back to creation, was Edith Raby, Guy's sister.

During their father's lifetime she was petted and allowed her own way.
Hillsborough, odious to her brother, was, naturally, very attractive to
her, and she often rode into the town to shop and chat with her friends,
and often stayed a day or two in it, especially with a Mrs. Manton, wife
of a wealthy manufacturer.

Guy merely sneered at her, her friends, and her tastes, till he suddenly
discovered that she had formed an attachment to one of the obnoxious
class, Mr. James Little, a great contract builder. He was too shocked at
first to vent his anger. He turned pale, and could hardly speak; and the
poor girl's bosom began to quake.

But Guy's opposition went no further than cold aversion to the
intimacy - until his father died. Then, though but a year older than
Edith, he assumed authority and, as head of the house, forbade the
connection. At the same time he told her he should not object, under the
circumstances, to her marrying Dr. Amboyne, a rising physician, and
a man of good family, who loved her sincerely, and had shown his love
plainly before ever Mr. Little was heard of.

Edith tried to soften her brother; but he was resolute, and said Raby
Hall should never be an appendage to a workshop. Sooner than that, he
would settle it on his cousin Richard, a gentleman he abhorred, and
never called, either to his face or behind his back, by any other name
than "Dissolute Dick."

Then Edith became very unhappy, and temporized more or less, till her
lover, who had shown considerable forbearance, lost patience at last,
and said she must either have no spirit, or no true affection for him.

Then came a month or two of misery, the tender clinging nature of the
girl being averse to detach itself from either of these two persons. She
loved them both with an affection she could have so easily reconciled,
if they would only have allowed her.

And it all ended according to Nature. She came of age, plucked up a
spirit, and married Mr. James Little.

Her brother declined to be present at the wedding; but, as soon as she
returned from her tour, and settled in Hillsborough, he sent his groom
with a cold, civil note, reminding her that their father had settled
nineteen hundred pounds on her, for her separate use, with remainder to
her children, if any; that he and Mr. Graham were the trustees of this
small fund; that they had invested it, according to the provisions of
the settlement, in a first mortgage on land; and informing her that half
a year's interest at 4 12 per cent was due, which it was his duty to
pay into her own hand and no other person's; she would therefore oblige
him by receiving the inclosed check, and signing the inclosed receipt.

The receipt came back signed, and with it a few gentle lines, "hoping
that, in time, he would forgive her, and bestow on her what she needed
and valued more than money; her own brother's, her only brother's
affection."

On receiving this, his eyes were suddenly moist, and he actually
groaned. "A lady, every inch!" he said; "yet she has gone and married a
bricklayer."

Well, blood is thicker than water, and in a few years they were pretty
good friends again, though they saw but little of one another, meeting
only in Hillsborough, which Guy hated, and never drove into now without
what he called his antidotes: a Bible and a bottle of lavender-water. It
was his humor to read the one, and sprinkle the other, as soon as ever
he got within the circle of the smoky trades.

When Edith's little boy was nine years old, and much admired for his
quickness and love of learning, and of making walking-stick heads and
ladies' work-boxes, Mr. Little's prosperity received a severe check, and
through his own fault. He speculated largely in building villas, overdid
the market, and got crippled. He had contracts uncompleted, and was
liable to penalties; and at last saw himself the nominal possessor of a
brick wilderness, but on the verge of ruin for want of cash.

He tried every other resource first; but at last he came to his wife,
to borrow her L1900. The security he offered was a mortgage on twelve
carcasses, or houses the bare walls and roofs of which were built.

Mrs. Little wrote at once to Mr. Raby for her money.

Instead of lending the trust-money hastily, Raby submitted the proposal
to his solicitor, and that gentleman soon discovered the vaunted
security was a second mortgage, with interest overdue on the first; and
so he told Guy, who then merely remarked, "I expected as much. When had
a tradesman any sense of honor in money matters? This one would cheat
his very wife and child."

He declined the proposal, in two words, "Rotten security!"

Then Mr. James Little found another security that looked very plausible,
and primed his wife with arguments, and she implored Guy to call and
talk it over with them both.

He came that very afternoon, and brought his father's will.

Then Edith offered the security, and tried to convey to the trustee her
full belief that it was undeniable.

Guy picked terrible holes in it, and read their father's will, confining
the funds to consols, or a first mortgage on land. "You take the money
on these conditions: it is almost as improper of you to wish to evade
them, as it would be of me to assist you. And then there is your child;
I am hound in honor not to risk his little fortune. See, here's my
signature to that."

"My child!" cried Edith. "When he comes of age, I'll go on my knees to
him and say, 'My darling, I borrowed your money to save your father's
credit.' And my darling will throw his arms round me, and forgive me."

"Simpleton!" said Guy. "And how about your daughters and their husbands?
And their husbands' solicitors? Will they throw their arms round your
neck, and break forth into twaddle? No! I have made inquiries. Your
husband's affairs are desperate. I won't throw your money into his well;
and you will both live to thank me for seeing clearer than you do, and
saving this L1900 for you and yours."

James Little had writhed in his chair for some time: he now cried out
wildly,

"Edith, you shall demean yourself no more. He always hated me: and now
let him have his will, and seal my dishonor and my ruin. Oblige me by
leaving my house, Mr. Raby."

"Oh, no, James!" cried Edith, trembling, and shocked at this
affront. But Guy rose like a tower. "I've noticed this trait in all
tradespeople," said he grimly. "They are obsequious to a gentleman so
long as they hope to get the better of him; but, the moment they find
it is impossible to overreach him, they insult him." And with this he
stalked out of the house.

"Oh, my poor James, how could you?" said Edith.

"Forgive me," said he, quietly. "It is all over. That was our last
chance."

Guy Raby walked down the street, stung to the quick. He went straight to
his solicitor and arranged to borrow L1900 on his own property. "For,"
said he, "I'll show them both how little a snob can understand a
gentleman. I won't tamper with her son's money, but I'll give her my own
to throw into his well. Confound him! why did she ever marry him?"

When the business was virtually settled, he came back to the house in
great haste.


Meantime Mr. James Little went up to his dressing-room, as usual, to
dress for dinner; but he remained there so long that, at last, Mrs.
Little sent her maid to tell him dinner was ready.

The girl had hardly reached the top of the stairs, when she gave a
terrible scream that rang through the whole house.

Mrs. Little rushed upstairs, and found her clinging to the balusters,
and pointing at the floor, with eyes protruding and full of horror.
Her candle-stick had fallen from her benumbed hand; but the hall-lamp
revealed what her finger was quivering and pointing at: a dark fluid
trickling slowly out into the lobby from beneath the bedroom door.

It was blood.

The room was burst into, and the wretched, tottering wife, hanging upon
her sobbing servants, found her lover, her husband, her child's father,
lying on the floor, dead by his own hand; stone dead. A terrible sight
for strangers to see; but for her, what words can even shadow the horror
of it!

I drop the veil on her wild bursts of agony, and piteous appeals to him
who could not hear her cries.

The gaping wound that let out that precious life, her eye never ceased
to see it, nor her own heart to bleed with it, while she lived.

She was gently dragged away, and supported down to another room. Doctor
Amboyne came and did what he could for her; and that was - nothing.

At this time she seemed stupefied. But when Guy came beaming into the
room to tell her he had got her the money, a terrible scene occurred.
The bereaved wife uttered a miserable scream at sight of him, and
swooned away directly.

The maids gathered round her, laid her down, and cut her stays, and told
Guy the terrible tidings, in broken whispers, over her insensible body.

He rose to his feet horrified. He began to gasp and sob. And he yearned
to say something to comfort her. At that moment his house, his heart,
and all he had, were hers.

But, as soon as she came to herself, and caught sight of him, she
screamed out, "Oh, the sight of him! the sight of him!" and swooned away
again.

Then the women pushed him out of the room, and he went away with uneven
steps, and sick at heart.

He shut himself up in Raby Hall, and felt very sad and remorseful.
He directed his solicitor to render Mrs. Little every assistance, and
supply her with funds. But these good offices were respectfully declined
by Mr. Joseph Little, the brother of the deceased, who had come from
Birmingham to conduct the funeral and settle other matters.

Mr. Joseph Little was known to be a small master-cutler, who had risen
from a workman, and even now put blades and handles together with his
own hands, at odd times, though he had long ceased to forge or grind.

Mr. Raby drew in haughtily at this interference.

It soon transpired that Mr. James Little had died hopelessly insolvent,
and the L1900 would really have been ingulfed.

Raby waited for this fact to sink into his sister's mind; and then one
day nature tugged so at his heart-strings, that he dashed off a warm
letter beginning - "My poor Edith, let bygones be bygones," and inviting
her and her boy to live with him at Raby Hall.

The heart-broken widow sent back a reply, in a handwriting scarcely



Online LibraryCharles ReadePut Yourself in His Place → online text (page 1 of 46)