Court Royal/Chapter VI

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Court Royal by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter VI. The Ducal Family

CHAPTER VI.
THE DUCAL FAMILY.

In the afternoon of the next day the coach deposited Mr. Crudge at the principal inn of Kingsbridge, ‘The Duke’s Arms.’ After depositing his valise and securing a room, he ordered a fly to take him to the steward, who, he ascertained, lived out of the town, near the park gates. ‘An open carriage,’ said Mr. Crudge; ‘it don’t seem likely to rain, and I like to look about me.’

The drive was not a long one, through a pleasant wooded vale, commanding glimpses of the inlet of sea, now that the tide was flowing, flushed with water. The hills and moors over which the coach had run from the station had been bare, and the contrast of the luxuriant vegetation and stately growth of trees in the hollows was therefore the more striking and agreeable.

The carriage drew up before a neat white house, with a green veranda, and roses and westeria trained over it. Here lived Mr. Christopher Worthivale, steward of the Duke of Kingsbridge.

A maid answered the bell, and informed Mr. Crudge that the steward was at home and disengaged. She showed him into a drawing-room which, though well furnished, looked as if it were never used. The walls were white, with gold sprigs, the carpet very green, the table cover and the covering of the chairs greener still. The window curtains lace, stiff with starch, and smelling of it. On the wall, over the fireplace, was a proof engraving of His Grace, Beavis, seventh Duke of Kingsbridge; against the fireplace—there was no fire, and no appearance of there ever having been one—a banner screen of needlework, glazed, representing the ducal arms, with supporters and coronet. On the table was an album, containing photographs, at which Mr. Crudge looked whilst waiting. First came His Grace, in cabinet size; then one of Lord Edward, Rector of Sleepy Hollow, Canon of Glastonbury, and Archdeacon of Wellington; one of General Lord Ronald Eveleigh, K.C.B.; one of Lady Grace Eveleigh, and one of the Marquess of Saltcombe. Then two blank pages, with places never occupied, and after that, at a respectful distance, photographs taken from faded daguerreotypes of the late Mr. and Mrs. Worthivale, parents of the present steward. The late Mr. Worthivale had been steward to the last, and penultimate, and the present duke; a stout, grey-haired old gentleman, in a white beaver, with high collars, and a plaid waistcoat. The old gentleman had probably possessed blue eyes. They had not taken in the daguerreotype, and consequently had not reappeared in the carte, but both insisted emphatically on the plaid of the waistcoat, as if this was, taken all in all, the thing about Mr. Worthivale, senior, which demanded perpetuation. Judging from her photograph, Mrs. Worthivale must have been a cast-iron woman, in black silk that also looked like iron, with twisted iron wire for curls. After these portraits followed those of Mr. Christopher Worthivale; of his deceased wife, a sweet, patient-looking woman; of his son Beavis, called after the duke, who had graciously condescended to stand godfather; and of his daughter Lucy. On a cabinet stood a beautiful carved alabaster vase, with swans, forming the handles, drinking out of it, under a glass bell. Into the pedestal of ebony was let a silver plate, on which was engraved a notice that this vase was presented to Mr. Christopher Worthivale by his Grace, Beavis, seventh Duke of Kingsbridse, G.C.B., as a small testimonial of esteem, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his stewardship. Above this hung a painting in oils, by a local artist, of Court Royal; and on each side of it a portrait, also in oils, the one of a favourite horse of the late Duke, the other of a favourite dog of the late dowager Duchess.

Mr. Christopher Worthivale entered, whilst Mr. Crudge was studying these pictures. He was a hale, fresh-coloured man of about five-and-fifty, in a light grey coat and a white waistcoat. He entered briskly, rubbing his hands. Judging by his appearance and manner, one would have supposed that the property of the Duke was in a flourishing and unencumbered condition, and that the steward’s management of it had been most successful. Not a shadow lay on his cheerful face. His manner was perfectly easy. On his left-hand little finger he wore a ring with a red cornelian, on which were cut the three pheons of Worthivale of Worthivale, an old respectable Cornish family which he claimed to represent.

‘Allow me to introduce myself,’ said Mr. Crudge. ‘My name is familiar to you—Crudge, solicitor, Exeter. I have come on business about which we have had some correspondence.’

‘Ah! Mr. Crudge, to be sure. The maid got hold of your name wrong. I did not anticipate the pleasure. Gooche was what she said. Pray take a seat. Neither your name nor business are strange to me. Mutual accommodation, eh? Do sit down. Really, I am delighted to see you. You could not have done me a greater pleasure.’

The expression of Mr. Worthivale’s face belied his words. On hearing the name of his visitor some of his cheerfulness had faded from his countenance and his lips twitched.

‘I entreat you to be seated,’ he went on, nervously offering one chair, then another, then, noticing an arm-chair, rolling that up, then falling back on a fourth, a low light seat of papier maché. ‘You have come a long way. By coach? May I offer you refreshments?’

‘Thank you, I will not take anything. My time is precious. If you have no objection, I would like at once to proceed to business.’

‘Oh! business,’ echoed Mr. Worthivale, taking out his pocket-handkerchief, and dusting the books on the table. ‘Dear me! how provoking the servants are. They take advantage of there being no lady in the house to neglect the primary obligations of domestic service. I cannot see to everything—his Grace’s affairs and the dusting of my drawing-room. I beg your pardon, what was the business on which you wished to consult now?’

‘That mortgage held by the Messrs. Stephens. It must be paid, I understand. It is called up. There is a little difficulty, I am led to suppose, some tightness——

‘Nothing to speak of, nothing at all,’ interrupted the steward airily. ‘Of course we can find the money. We can offer such excellent security, that it can always be got. You are certain you will take nothing? Not some claret?’

‘Excuse me, I should like to settle this matter at once. I believe the interest has been falling in arrear. I have called on Messrs. Stephens. They do not wish any scandal; the sum is, comparatively, not large. All Messrs. Stephens want is their money, and I have a client who will advance it, the mortgage to be transferred to him.’

‘That is exactly what I should propose,’ said the steward, drawing a long breath. ‘All we require to clear off these encumbrances is delay. A calling in of the sums standing on the estates would be inconvenient just at present. The seasons have been bad of late—five detestable years; several farms are thrown on our hands, and we have no tenants offering; others we have had to reduce to keep them occupied. The old-fashioned seasons must return eventually—a matter of time only. Then we shall be afloat again. That little sum about which I wrote——?’

‘Five thousand. That will also be lent by my client on note of hand at five per cent.’

‘Who is this client, may I ask?’

‘A Mr. Emmanuel.’

‘Emmanuel!’ echoed the steward, moving uneasily on his chair. ‘I must say I do not relish the idea of being so deeply indebted to Jews. Unfortunately we are already somewhat teased with them. The Marquess, when he was in the army, was rather reckless. It lasted a few years, and then he learned discretion; but when sowing wild oats he bought his grain of bad seedsmen.’

‘Indeed, are the debts serious?’

‘Oh, no! not at all—not for a marquess, heir to a ducal estate. We only want him to clear these off. Emmanuel! Who is this Emmanuel? He seems to be getting a much tighter grip on us than I like. First one thing, then another, goes to Mr. Emmanuel. You see this present mortgage is a very important one, it is on the manor of Kingsbridge. He holds that on Court Royal already. Who is this Emmanuel?’

‘A client who wants safe investinent in land. He is trustee to an orphan, and must put the money where it can be secure. What security better than his Grace’s property?’

Mr. Worthivale considered a moment; then he said, ‘You will allow me to talk the matter over first with the Marquess. You are aware, no doubt, that his Grace is getting on for eighty years, and unable to devote his attention to business—except quite subsidiary matters—partly on account of his advanced age, partly because he suffers from heart complaint, and must be spared excitement. The Marquess looks after things for him—that is, he is supposed to do so, and he does sometimes. I am in his confidence. Indeed, I am his most trusted adviser. I act for the best, always in the interests of the family, but I consult the Marquess in everything, and he does me the honour, sometimes, of listening to me, and quite devoting his mind to what I suggest.’

Crudge nodded, but said nothing.

‘Your time, I think you said, was precious. You will probably be returning to Exeter to-morrow.’

‘To-morrow afternoon.’

‘Then the business will have to be settled as soon as may be. Let me see—— Have you a dress coat with you?’

‘In my portmanteau at the inn.’

Mr. Worthivale drew a sigh of relief. ‘That simplifies matters. If you see no reason against it, I will send a note up to the Marquess’ (really it was down hill all the way to Court Royal, nevertheless with Mr. Worthivale it was up). ‘I will ask if I may take you there to dine to-night, quite en famille, you understand. There are only Lord Ronald, and Lord Edward, and the Vicar, and a neighbour or two there. Half-past seven is the hour. Will you return to Kingsbridge, and get on your evening dress, and drive back? You can come here, pick me up, and we will go on together. You are positive you have a dress suit with you?—I couldn’t, you understand—without——'

‘Set your mind at rest. I have dress clothes with me.’

‘I am so thankful to hear it; I thought it possible you had not. When travelling on business we don’t always care to cumber ourselves with superfluous luggage, you understand. To-day is his Grace’s birthday, and Lord Edward has come from Somersetshire to see the Duke and to dine with him. Lord Ronald lives at Court Royal. There are no others, but the Vicar and a neighbouring squire or two. I was invited as a devoted adherent to the family. Very kind. Also my son Beavis, who has the honour of being his Grace’s godchild. My daughter, Lucy, is companion to Lady Grace. They were brought up together, and Lucy lives at the Court. Dear me! Bless my soul! The housemaid has left the duster in the room, stuffed it under the fender, and thinks it out of sight. As I am alive, there are the stove brushes also. Under the circumstances, you understand, if you had been without a dress coat'—he looked down at Mr. Crudge’s feet—'and patent-leather boots?’

‘I have slippers and red silk stockings.’

‘They will do. Quite the thing. I feel so light of heart. You are supplied in every other particular? I should be so proud——?’

‘I always take about with me paper collars, cuffs, and dickies.’

‘Paper! Dickies!’ echoed Mr. Worthivale. ‘You will excuse me, I know—but I hardly like to—that is, I hardly think that—in a word, I would not for the world show any disrespect to his Grace, especially on his birthday. You see a duke stands at the very summit of the social scale—next to Royalty. Archbishops only go before by order of precedence, but that is a relic of pre-Reformation priestcraft which set the Church above the State. An archbishop may be any Jack or Tom. You will not take it amiss if I offer to lend you one of my shirts.’

‘Not at all; not at all.’

‘And you will not fail to be here at seven.’

‘I will not fail.’

Mr. Crudge, as a lawyer, was punctual. Precisely at seven his fly drew up at Mr. Worthivale’s door, and the steward joined him.

‘Do you see,’ asked the steward, as a woman in a scarlet cloak opened the gates of the drive, ‘all the females who appear in the grounds are expected to wear old-fashioned red cloth cloaks and hoods? His Grace supplies them at Christmas. The effect is charming among the green shrubs and on the shaven lawns. Do look about you at the trees. Are not these araucarias superb? I believe these were the first planted in England. The mildness of the climate and the fertility of the soil have made them thrive. Look at the hydrangeas. Did you ever see anything like them? Blue, all blue, owing to the iron in the soil. The rhododendron and azalea season is the time to see this place to perfection. The two-mile drive between banks of flowering shrubs is scarcely to be surpassed. I should have liked to take you through the vineries, orchard houses, pinery, and conservatories. The Duke and the Lady Grace are passionately fond of flowers. He grudges no money on his gardens and glass houses. You like this gravelled road, do you not? We have to send to the Tamar copper-mines for the gravel. It comes in barges from Morwellham to Kingsbridge. It is so charged with mundic and arsenic as to poison the weeds for seven years. It comes rather costly, but there is no gravel like it, a beautiful white spar. His Grace can endure no other gravel. We have some six miles of gravelled walks and drives done with it in the park and gardens. You have a pair of gloves with you, I hope? I myself wear them until I enter the room, lest my fingers should get dirty. Are your hands moist? Hold them against the glass to cool them. I do not myself like shaking hands when my hands are warm. There, from this point you get a lovely glimpse of the estuary and the beautiful hills behind, with the tower of Stokenham on the height. It is too dark for you to distinguish the tower, but you can see the water. I call the creek an estuary, but, as a fact, no rivers run into it. The Avon flows away behind that bank of hill. There is the Court: a fine pile of buildings, is it not? all built of Yealmton limestone. I call it limestone, but, in fact, it is marble. By this light you cannot see how prettily it is veined. The late Duke began the mansion, and the present Duke completed it, about forty-three years ago. It is in the Doric order.’

‘It must have cost a pot of money,’ observed Mr. Crudge.

‘It cost a great deal of money,’ said the steward coldly. ‘Dukes do not keep their money in pots, like old women.’

‘Is it paid for?’ asked the lawyer.

‘Well——. It is rather unfortunate that their Graces were obliged to build, but, really, they could not help themselves. The old house was Elizabethan, very suitable for a country squire or for a baronet. I am not sure that even a baron might not have put up with it, but it was not of a scale—of a sort—it had not the height’ (Mr. Worthivale spread his hands illustrative of its dimensions) ‘you understand. A duke is a duke, and must be ducally lodged. If you have a sun, you must have a firmament to contain it. Even the dome of St. Paul’s would be ridiculous. You understand.’

The fly drew up under the Doric portico, and the steward and his companion were received into the house by men in the ducal livery of buff and scarlet.

An expression of humility and of piety diffused itself over the face of Mr. Worthivale as he ascended the broad marble staircase, thickly carpeted, towards the drawing-room. Crudge was not oppressed nor surprised at what he saw. He looked round him with curiosity. The entrance-hall was stately, with polished marble pillars and pilasters. It was lighted by a chandelier. Beautiful paintings adorned the walls. Footmen in buff and scarlet flitted about like moths on a hot day.

Mr. Worthivale whispered, ‘Yonder is a Gainsborough, of Lady Selena Eveleigh, afterwards Countess of Grampound. This is a Rubens—splendid colouring. But you should see those at Kingsbridge House, Piccadilly. Pity they are so fleshy that really a curtain over them is needed. The subject of this I do not understand. It is allegorical. Hush! here we are.’

They were conducted through the state drawing-room, which was lighted, but empty, into a smaller room, whence they heard the sound of voices. This was a charming boudoir, white and gold, with rose silk curtains and rose satin coverings to the sofas and chairs. In a large easy-chair by the fire sat his Grace the Duke of Kingsbridge, a tall, white-haired, noble-looking man, with a high ivory forehead, a pale transparent complexion, caused by the disease from which he suffered, his eyes dark and piercing. His face was oval, his features finely modelled, the nose aquiline, but not so much as to give the idea of strength to his face. The face was refined, dignified, and cold. It wanted vigour, but was modelled with inflexible obstinacy.

Lord Ronald, the general, was like him, but richer in colour, and his features were bolder. He was erect, decided in his movements, and looked what he was, a soldier. His hair was grey, and he wore grey whiskers and moustache. Lord Edward, the Archdeacon of Wellington, was a smaller man than his brother, grey headed, with a sallow complexion, much wrinkled. His eyes were wanting in brilliancy, and his face bore an expression of nervous timidity. He had lost his front teeth, and this had altered the shape of his mouth, and given him a look less aristocratic than his brothers.

The Marquess of Saltcombe, who was also in the room, was a handsome man of about forty, with dark hair, dark eyes, and military moustache. The rest of his face was shaven. His eyes were fine, but wanting in fire; indeed, the general expression of his face lacked animation. He was grave, dignified, with a pleasant smile, which he put on when spoken to, but the smile never mounted to his face spontaneously. He laughed without merriment, argued without enthusiasm, pitied without sympathy, and acted without impulse. He had been in the army, but had left it; not caring for political life he had not attempted to enter Parliament. He lived at home, was too inert to go to town, and entered without eagerness into country pursuits.

Other gentlemen were present, but Mr. Crudge did not notice them particularly. Among the ladies present the only one who was conspicuous was Lady Grace Eveleigh, the daughter of the Duke. She was tall, like the rest of the family, and had the family refinement and nobility of type; but to this was added great purity and sweetness, and a very gentle, almost pleading manner. Mr. Worthivale introduced the lawyer to the Marquess, who was nearest to the door, and was apparently expecting their arrival. Then Lord Saltcombe took on himself the task of introducing Mr. Crudge to his father and uncles and sister. The Duke slightly rose from his seat and bowed with courtesy, but without encouragement; Lord Edward held out his hand, and made some general remark, his kind face relaxing into a friendly expression. Lord Ronald shook hands and said a few words. The lawyer felt that, although he had moved in all sorts of society, he was as a fish out of water here. The brothers looked on him as a stranger from another sphere, whose presence must be tolerated, who would never rise even to the level of acquaintanceship. The Duke exchanged a few words with him on the weather, and the drive from the station, and on the prospect of a branch line being made to Kingsbridge, ‘which,’ said he, ‘I shall oppose,’ and then turned to the vicar and Sir Edward Sheepwash, and continued with them a conversation which had been interrupted by the introduction of Mr. Crudge.

The Marquess and Worthivale engaged him in desultory talk, and after a while shook him off. Then Lady Grace, seeing that the lawyer looked ill at ease, drew towards him, and provoked a conversation as lively as was possible under the conditions of their having no points in common.

‘Let me introduce you to my dearest friend, my almost sister, Miss Lucy Worthivale,’ said Lady Grace; ‘and perhaps you will take her in to dinner?’

Miss Worthivale was a pretty young lady, with bright colour and large, soft, dark eyes. Her face brimmed with good-nature. It was, perhaps, a little flat and moon-shaped, but its effect was sunny. Her eyes were everywhere. Mr. Crudge saw that she was made useful in the house in many ways to relieve Lady Grace of irksome duties, and stand between her and annoyances.

Crudge observed that her attention was generally directed to Lady Grace, whom she evidently admired and loved with her whole soul. Lady Grace occasionally caught her friend’s eye during dinner, smiled, and then a flush of pleasure kindled the honest face of Lucy. Because his companion looked so much towards the end of the table, the solicitor found his eyes also wandering in the same direction. Lady Grace was clearly not very young. Mr. Crudge conjectured that her age was about five-and-twenty; but though not a girl, her pure face was luminous with the light of a child’s innocence. The complexion was transparently white, with a little colour that came and went as a flicker in her cheek, and yet it was so faint and doubtful that it was difficult to say whether what flickered there was colour or a smile. There was something almost sad and appealing to pity in her eye and mouth; yet Lady Grace had known no sorrow, had met with no contradiction. Her life had been unclouded and unvexed. Her mouth was flexible, fine, and tremulous; her voice soft, low, and sweet.

Mr. Crudge was a man utterly without idealism. He could read no poetry except Crabbe. Yet he could hardly withdraw his eyes from her face. She fascinated even the commonplace man of business. She puzzled him. He thought within his mind how he should get on with her if he had business transactions with her. Women’s minds, as he believed, were made up of so much care about servants, so much about dress, so much solicitude about the goings on of their neighbours, a screwyness about money, a pinch of good nature, and a spice of spite, all stirred up together till well mixed. But there was nothing of this in the face before him. He shook his head; it was like the dish before him, made up of unknown ingredients.

Beside her on one side sat the Vicar, an elderly and gentlemanly man, with views like a rose of wax, to be moulded by any man who put his hand to it and thumbed it. He was so much of a gentleman that he would differ with no one. Next him sat a young man who was speaking to no one, and was only occasionally addressed by Lady Grace, who, with ready tact, saw that he was out of the conversation.

‘That is my brother,’ said Lucy, in answer to a query of the solicitor. ‘There was no lady for him to take in to dinner. He has been in a lawyer’s office. Papa thought it a good training for him. Of course he will be steward after papa. His Grace did us the favour of standing as his godfather. I fancy he would rather not have been here this evening, though he is quite at home in Court Royal, but my father pressed him to come.’

Crudge looked across at him with interest. Here, at all events, was a man who belonged to his world—who felt uncomfortable, out of place, in the sphere in which he found himself.

When the ladies withdrew, he moved his glass, so as to be opposite him and enter into conversation, but found the steward come up beside him and engage him.

‘The Lady Grace,’ said Mr. Worthivale, ‘is very lovely. Do you not think so? We are all her worshippers here—from a distance, looking up at her as an unapproachable star.’

‘A little passée, eh?’

‘Not at all, not at all,’ said Worthivale, colouring. ‘She is a most charming person.’

‘I should suppose so,’ answered the solicitor.

‘And the Duke? You have had some conversation with him. I heard the weather and the branch spoken of. A commanding intellect. A most charming person; wonderful man for his age. Seventy-six to-day, and in full command of his faculties.’

‘Obstinate, eh?’

‘Not at all—firm,’ said Worthivale with a frown. ‘When he says a thing he sticks to it. You see that Lord Edward is a delicate man. He had not the physique of the rest, that was why he was put into the Church. Yet it was a pity, as his intellectual powers are considerable, and he might have done well in the diplomatic service. A most charming man. Lord Ronald is a fine old soldier; was in the Crimean war, where he distinguished himself. A man full of information on all military matters—perfectly charming. You have, I believe, had a chat or two with the Marquess; he is now talking to my son. They have known each other since boyhood, and there is almost the attachment of friendship between them—as far as friendship can subsist between two so widely removed in the social scale. I hope that eventually my son will succeed to the stewardship. Of course he is young now, and the affairs demand an old head——' He paused, and moved uneasily. ‘Altogether the Marquess is a most charming man.’

‘Quite so,’ said Mr. Crudge.

‘There is our Vicar,’ pursued the steward. ‘An agreeable person, but tiresome. To-morrow he will dine with a gentleman of means, but no birth, in the town, and be quite Liberal, if not Radical, when his feet are beneath his mahogany. He leads a life of it; he is pulled this way and that by the ladies of his congregation, who have their various and discordant views.’

‘That,’ said Mr. Crudge, ‘strikes me as the weakness of the Church of England. She is trying to balance herself between two stools, a position neither dignified nor secure.

‘Still,’ said the steward, ‘with this abatement he is a charming man.’ Then he held up his finger: ‘His Grace is speaking.’

‘I do not myself see how we can escape a complete political and social revolution,’ said the Duke to the Vicar, Sir Edward Sheepwash, and the Archdeacon of Wellington. ‘If the franchise is entrusted to the Have-nots, the Haves must go down. They must go down for this reason——'

‘Which is the Ducal family?’ whispered Crudge. ‘Haves or Have-nots, or Have and Have-not in one?’

‘Hush,’ said Worthivale.

‘They must go down for this reason, that the appeal to the electors will be an appeal to Cerberus, and Cerberus must be given cakes. Now, it is absurd to affect indignation against bribery and corruption in boroughs, and yet extend the franchise to the needy. If the needy have the franchise, you must appeal to their cupidity. It is the only appeal they can understand. The new class of electors are earthworms, all stomach. Whichever party desires to get into power must appeal to their cupidity, or for evermore stand out of power. Hitherto bribery has meant the candidate throwing away his own money; henceforth he will throw away that of others, and that will not be bribery. I bribe the electors of Kingsbridge if I allow them to shoot rabbits over my preserves. I do not bribe if I promise them the land of the aristocracy and the tithes of the Church.’

‘Already,’ said the Archdeacon, ‘the farmers are crying out that they are crushed by the rates.

‘Very well,’ said the Duke; ‘let the Liberals go to the country with the offer of disestablishment and disendowment, the tithe to go to cover the rates and relieve the farmers, and you will see the farmers to a man will turn Radical.’

‘If the Church were disestablished we should have to become definite,’ said the Vicar, a white-haired, round, red-faced, good-natured man. ‘I cannot imagine anything more disastrous to the Church than to become definite.’

‘The House of Lords will never pass disestablishment,’ said the Archdeacon.

‘The House may go too,’ said the Duke.

‘The country is gone crazed,’ said the General, ‘or it would not have endured the short-service system. What should you say to those who trained men to be carpenters, or engineers, or lawyers, and, as soon as they had mastered their professions, told them to get about their business and take to something else?’

The Duke sighed: ‘I may not live to see it, but the House of Lords will go.’

‘And with it the Church will fall,’ said the Archdeacon.

‘The army is gone to the dogs already,’ said the General.

Mr. Crudge leaned across the table, and said to Beavis Worthivale: ‘I see by the direction of your eyes you are trying to decipher an inscription over the chimney-piece that has been puzzling me. I am too shortsighted to read it from where I sit.’

‘It is the motto of the family,’ said the young man, ‘written all over the house—“Quod antiquatur et senescit, prope interitum est.”’

‘Scripture, eh?’

‘Yes, Scripture, “That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”’

‘Very good—very appropriate. “Prope interitum est.”’