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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Wrecker - Chapter XX - STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW
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The Wrecker - Chapter XX - STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW Post by :wynberg Category :Long Stories Author :Robert Louis Stevenson Date :June 2011 Read :1110

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The Wrecker - Chapter XX - STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW

CHAPTER XX - STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW


Long before I was awake, the shyster had disappeared, leaving
his bill unpaid. I did not need to inquire where he was gone, I
knew too well, I knew there was nothing left me but to follow;
and about ten in the morning, set forth in a gig for Stallbridge
-le-Carthew.

The road, for the first quarter of the way, deserts the valley of
the river, and crosses the summit of a chalk-down, grazed over
by flocks of sheep and haunted by innumerable larks. It was a
pleasant but a vacant scene, arousing but not holding the
attention; and my mind returned to the violent passage of the
night before. My thought of the man I was pursuing had been
greatly changed. I conceived of him, somewhere in front of me,
upon his dangerous errand, not to be turned aside, not to be
stopped, by either fear or reason. I had called him a ferret; I
conceived him now as a mad dog. Methought he would run,
not walk; methought, as he ran, that he would bark and froth at
the lips; methought, if the great wall of China were to rise
across his path, he would attack it with his nails.

Presently the road left the down, returned by a precipitous
descent into the valley of the Stall, and ran thenceforward
among enclosed fields and under the continuous shade of trees.
I was told we had now entered on the Carthew property. By
and by, a battlemented wall appeared on the left hand, and a
little after I had my first glimpse of the mansion. It stood in a
hollow of a bosky park, crowded to a degree that surprised and
even displeased me, with huge timber and dense shrubberies of
laurel and rhododendron. Even from this low station and the
thronging neighbourhood of the trees, the pile rose conspicuous
like a cathedral. Behind, as we continued to skirt the park
wall, I began to make out a straggling town of offices which
became conjoined to the rear with those of the home farm. On
the left was an ornamental water sailed in by many swans. On
the right extended a flower garden, laid in the old manner, and
at this season of the year, as brilliant as stained glass. The
front of the house presented a facade of more than sixty
windows, surmounted by a formal pediment and raised upon a
terrace. A wide avenue, part in gravel, part in turf, and
bordered by triple alleys, ran to the great double gateways. It
was impossible to look without surprise on a place that had
been prepared through so many generations, had cost so many
tons of minted gold, and was maintained in order by so great a
company of emulous servants. And yet of these there was no
sign but the perfection of their work. The whole domain was
drawn to the line and weeded like the front plot of some
suburban amateur; and I looked in vain for any belated
gardener, and listened in vain for any sounds of labour. Some
lowing of cattle and much calling of birds alone disturbed the
stillness, and even the little hamlet, which clustered at the
gates, appeared to hold its breath in awe of its great neighbour,
like a troop of children who should have strayed into a king's
anteroom.

The Carthew Arms, the small but very comfortable inn, was a
mere appendage and outpost of the family whose name it bore.
Engraved portraits of by-gone Carthews adorned the walls;
Fielding Carthew, Recorder of the city of London; Major-
General John Carthew in uniform, commanding some military
operations; the Right Honourable Bailley Carthew, Member of
Parliament for Stallbridge, standing by a table and brandishing
a document; Singleton Carthew, Esquire, represented in the
foreground of a herd of cattle--doubtless at the desire of his
tenantry, who had made him a compliment of this work of art;
and the Venerable Archdeacon Carthew, D.D., LL.D., A.M.,
laying his hand on the head of a little child in a manner highly
frigid and ridiculous. So far as my memory serves me, there
were no other pictures in this exclusive hostelry; and I was not
surprised to learn that the landlord was an ex-butler, the
landlady an ex-lady's-maid, from the great house; and that the
bar-parlour was a sort of perquisite of former servants.

To an American, the sense of the domination of this family over
so considerable a tract of earth was even oppressive; and as I
considered their simple annals, gathered from the legends of
the engravings, surprise began to mingle with my disgust.
"Mr. Recorder" doubtless occupies an honourable post; but I
thought that, in the course of so many generations, one Carthew
might have clambered higher. The soldier had stuck at Major-
General; the churchman bloomed unremarked in an
archidiaconate; and though the Right Honourable Bailley
seemed to have sneaked into the privy council, I have still to
learn what he did when he had got there. Such vast means, so
long a start, and such a modest standard of achievement, struck
in me a strong sense of the dulness of that race.

I found that to come to the hamlet and not visit the Hall, would
be regarded as a slight. To feed the swans, to see the peacocks
and the Raphaels--for these commonplace people actually
possessed two Raphaels--to risk life and limb among a famous
breed of cattle called the Carthew Chillinghams, and to do
homage to the sire (still living) of Donibristle, a renowned
winner of the oaks: these, it seemed, were the inevitable
stations of the pilgrimage. I was not so foolish as to resist, for I
might have need before I was done of general good-will; and
two pieces of news fell in which changed my resignation to
alacrity. It appeared in the first place, that Mr. Norris was from
home "travelling "; in the second, that a visitor had been before
me and already made the tour of the Carthew curiosities. I
thought I knew who this must be; I was anxious to learn what
he had done and seen; and fortune so far favoured me that the
under-gardener singled out to be my guide had already
performed the same function for my predecessor.

"Yes, sir," he said, "an American gentleman right enough. At
least, I don't think he was quite a gentleman, but a very civil
person."

The person, it seems, had been civil enough to be delighted
with the Carthew Chillinghams, to perform the whole
pilgrimage with rising admiration, and to have almost
prostrated himself before the shrine of Donibristle's sire.

"He told me, sir," continued the gratified under-gardener, "that
he had often read of the 'stately 'omes of England,' but ours was
the first he had the chance to see. When he came to the 'ead of
the long alley, he fetched his breath. 'This is indeed a lordly
domain!' he cries. And it was natural he should be interested in
the place, for it seems Mr. Carthew had been kind to him in the
States. In fact, he seemed a grateful kind of person, and
wonderful taken up with flowers."

I heard this story with amazement. The phrases quoted told
their own tale; they were plainly from the shyster's mint. A few
hours back I had seen him a mere bedlamite and fit for a strait-
waistcoat; he was penniless in a strange country; it was highly
probable he had gone without breakfast; the absence of Norris
must have been a crushing blow; the man (by all reason)
should have been despairing. And now I heard of him, clothed
and in his right mind, deliberate, insinuating, admiring vistas,
smelling flowers, and talking like a book. The strength of
character implied amazed and daunted me.

"This is curious," I said to the under-gardener. "I have had the
pleasure of some acquaintance with Mr. Carthew myself; and I
believe none of our western friends ever were in England. Who
can this person be? He couldn't--no, that's impossible, he could
never have had the impudence. His name was not Bellairs?"

"I didn't 'ear the name, sir. Do you know anything against
him?" cried my guide.

"Well," said I, "he is certainly not the person Carthew would
like to have here in his absence."

"Good gracious me!" exclaimed the gardener. "He was so
pleasant spoken, too; I thought he was some form of a
schoolmaster. Perhaps, sir, you wouldn't mind going right up
to Mr. Denman? I recommended him to Mr. Denman, when he
had done the grounds. Mr. Denman is our butler, sir," he
added.

The proposal was welcome, particularly as affording me a
graceful retreat from the neighbourhood of the Carthew
Chillinghams; and, giving up our projected circuit, we took a
short cut through the shrubbery and across the bowling green to
the back quarters of the Hall.

The bowling green was surrounded by a great hedge of yew,
and entered by an archway in the quick. As we were issuing
from this passage, my conductor arrested me.

"The Honourable Lady Ann Carthew," he said, in an august
whisper. And looking over his shoulder, I was aware of an old
lady with a stick, hobbling somewhat briskly along the garden
path. She must have been extremely handsome in her youth;
and even the limp with which she walked could not deprive her
of an unusual and almost menacing dignity of bearing.
Melancholy was impressed besides on every feature, and her
eyes, as she looked straight before her, seemed to contemplate
misfortune.

"She seems sad," said I, when she had hobbled past and we
had resumed our walk.

"She enjoy rather poor spirits, sir," responded the under-
gardener. "Mr. Carthew--the old gentleman, I mean--died less
than a year ago; Lord Tillibody, her ladyship's brother, two
months after; and then there was the sad business about the
young gentleman. Killed in the 'unting-field, sir; and her
ladyship's favourite. The present Mr. Norris has never been so
equally."

"So I have understood," said I, persistently, and (I think)
gracefully pursuing my inquiries and fortifying my position as a
family friend. "Dear, dear, how sad! And has this change--poor
Carthew's return, and all--has this not mended matters?"

"Well, no, sir, not a sign of it," was the reply. "Worse, we
think, than ever."

"Dear, dear!" said I again.

"When Mr. Norris arrived, she DID seem glad to see him," he
pursued; "and we were all pleased, I'm sure; for no one knows
the young gentleman but what likes him. Ah, sir, it didn't last
long! That very night they had a talk, and fell out or
something; her ladyship took on most painful; it was like old
days, but worse. And the next morning Mr. Norris was off
again upon his travels. "Denman," he said to Mr. Denman,
"Denman, I'll never come back," he said, and shook him by the
'and. I wouldn't be saying all this to a stranger, sir," added my
informant, overcome with a sudden fear lest he had gone too
far.

He had indeed told me much, and much that was unsuspected
by himself. On that stormy night of his return, Carthew had
told his story; the old lady had more upon her mind than mere
bereavements; and among the mental pictures on which she
looked, as she walked staring down the path, was one of
Midway Island and the Flying Scud.

Mr. Denman heard my inquiries with discomposure, but
informed me the shyster was already gone.

"Gone?" cried I. "Then what can he have come for? One thing
I can tell you, it was not to see the house."

"I don't see it could have been anything else," replied the butler.

"You may depend upon it it was," said I. "And whatever it
was, he has got it. By the way, where is Mr. Carthew at
present? I was sorry to find he was from home."

"He is engaged in travelling, sir," replied the butler, dryly.

"Ah, bravo!" cried I. "I laid a trap for you there, Mr. Denman.
Now I need not ask you; I am sure you did not tell this prying
stranger."

"To be sure not, sir," said the butler.

I went through the form of "shaking him by the 'and"--like Mr.
Norris--not, however, with genuine enthusiasm. For I had
failed ingloriously to get the address for myself; and I felt a
sure conviction that Bellairs had done better, or he had still
been here and still cultivating Mr. Denman.

I had escaped the grounds and the cattle; I could not escape the
house. A lady with silver hair, a slender silver voice, and a
stream of insignificant information not to be diverted, led me
through the picture gallery, the music-room, the great dining-
room, the long drawing-room, the Indian room, the theatre, and
every corner (as I thought) of that interminable mansion. There
was but one place reserved; the garden-room, whither Lady
Ann had now retired. I paused a moment on the outside of the
door, and smiled to myself. The situation was indeed strange,
and these thin boards divided the secret of the Flying Scud.

All the while, as I went to and fro, I was considering the visit
and departure of Bellairs. That he had got the address, I was
quite certain: that he had not got it by direct questioning, I was
convinced; some ingenuity, some lucky accident, had served
him. A similar chance, an equal ingenuity, was required; or I
was left helpless, the ferret must run down his prey, the great
oaks fall, the Raphaels be scattered, the house let to some
stockbroker suddenly made rich, and the name which now
filled the mouths of five or six parishes dwindle to a memory.
Strange that such great matters, so old a mansion, a family so
ancient and so dull, should come to depend for perpetuity upon
the intelligence, the discretion, and the cunning of a Latin-
Quarter student! What Bellairs had done, I must do likewise.
Chance or ingenuity, ingenuity or chance--so I continued to
ring the changes as I walked down the avenue, casting back
occasional glances at the red brick facade and the twinkling
windows of the house. How was I to command chance? where
was I to find the ingenuity?

These reflections brought me to the door of the inn. And here,
pursuant to my policy of keeping well with all men, I
immediately smoothed my brow, and accepted (being the only
guest in the house) an invitation to dine with the family in the
bar-parlour. I sat down accordingly with Mr. Higgs the
ex-butler, Mrs. Higgs the ex-lady's-maid, and Miss Agnes
Higgs their frowsy-headed little girl, the least promising and
(as the event showed) the most useful of the lot. The talk ran
endlessly on the great house and the great family; the roast
beef, the Yorkshire pudding, the jam-roll, and the cheddar
cheese came and went, and still the stream flowed on; near four
generations of Carthews were touched upon without eliciting
one point of interest; and we had killed Mr. Henry in "the
'unting-field," with a vast elaboration of painful circumstance,
and buried him in the midst of a whole sorrowing county,
before I could so much as manage to bring upon the stage my
intimate friend, Mr. Norris. At the name, the ex-butler grew
diplomatic, and the ex-lady's-maid tender. He was the only
person of the whole featureless series who seemed to have
accomplished anything worth mention; and his achievements,
poor dog, seemed to have been confined to going to the devil
and leaving some regrets. He had been the image of the Right
Honourable Bailley, one of the lights of that dim house, and a
career of distinction had been predicted of him in consequence
almost from the cradle. But before he was out of long clothes,
the cloven foot began to show; he proved to be no Carthew,
developed a taste for low pleasures and bad company, went
birdnesting with a stable-boy before he was eleven, and when
he was near twenty, and might have been expected to display at
least some rudiments of the family gravity, rambled the country
over with a knapsack, making sketches and keeping company
in wayside inns. He had no pride about him, I was told; he
would sit down with any man; and it was somewhat
woundingly implied that I was indebted to this peculiarity for
my own acquaintance with the hero. Unhappily, Mr. Norris
was not only eccentric, he was fast. His debts were still
remembered at the University; still more, it appeared, the
highly humorous circumstances attending his expulsion. "He
was always fond of his jest," commented Mrs. Higgs.

"That he were!" observed her lord.

But it was after he went into the diplomatic service that the real
trouble began.

"It seems, sir, that he went the pace extraordinary," said the
ex-butler, with a solemn gusto.

"His debts were somethink awful," said the lady's-maid. "And
as nice a young gentleman all the time as you would wish to
see!"

"When word came to Mr. Carthew's ears, the turn up was
'orrible," continued Mr. Higgs. "I remember it as if it was
yesterday. The bell was rung after her la'ship was gone, which
I answered it myself, supposing it were the coffee. There was
Mr. Carthew on his feet. ''Iggs,' he says, pointing with his
stick, for he had a turn of the gout, 'order the dog-cart instantly
for this son of mine which has disgraced hisself.' Mr. Norris
say nothink: he sit there with his 'ead down, making belief to
be looking at a walnut. You might have bowled me over with
a straw," said Mr. Higgs.

"Had he done anything very bad?" I asked.

"Not he, Mr. Dodsley!" cried the lady--it was so she had
conceived my name. "He never did anythink to all really wrong
in his poor life. The 'ole affair was a disgrace. It was all rank
favouritising."

"Mrs. 'Iggs! Mrs. 'Iggs!" cried the butler warningly.

"Well, what do I care?" retorted the lady, shaking her ringlets.
"You know it was yourself, Mr. 'Iggs, and so did every member
of the staff."

While I was getting these facts and opinions, I by no means
neglected the child. She was not attractive; but fortunately she
had reached the corrupt age of seven, when half a crown
appears about as large as a saucer and is fully as rare as the
dodo. For a shilling down, sixpence in her money-box, and an
American gold dollar which I happened to find in my pocket, I
bought the creature soul and body. She declared her intention
to accompany me to the ends of the earth; and had to be
chidden by her sire for drawing comparisons between myself
and her uncle William, highly damaging to the latter.

Dinner was scarce done, the cloth was not yet removed, when
Miss Agnes must needs climb into my lap with her stamp
album, a relic of the generosity of Uncle William. There are
few things I despise more than old stamps, unless perhaps it be
crests; for cattle (from the Carthew Chillinghams down to the
old gate-keeper's milk-cow in the lane) contempt is far from
being my first sentiment. But it seemed I was doomed to pass
that day in viewing curiosities, and smothering a yawn, I
devoted myself once more to tread the well-known round. I
fancy Uncle William must have begun the collection himself
and tired of it, for the book (to my surprise) was quite
respectably filled. There were the varying shades of the
English penny, Russians with the coloured heart, old
undecipherable Thurn-und-Taxis, obsolete triangular Cape of
Good Hopes, Swan Rivers with the Swan, and Guianas with
the sailing ship. Upon all these I looked with the eyes of a fish
and the spirit of a sheep; I think indeed I was at times asleep;
and it was probably in one of these moments that I capsized the
album, and there fell from the end of it, upon the floor, a
considerable number of what I believe to be called
"exchanges."

Here, against all probability, my chance had come to me; for as
I gallantly picked them up, I was struck with the
disproportionate amount of five-sous French stamps. Some
one, I reasoned, must write very regularly from France to the
neighbourhood of Stallbridge-le-Carthew. Could it be Norris?
On one stamp I made out an initial C; upon a second I got as
far as CH; beyond which point, the postmark used was in every
instance undecipherable. CH, when you consider that about a
quarter of the towns in France begin with "chateau," was an
insufficient clue; and I promptly annexed the plainest of the
collection in order to consult the post-office.

The wretched infant took me in the fact. "Naughty man, to 'teal
my 'tamp!" she cried; and when I would have brazened it off
with a denial, recovered and displayed the stolen article.

My position was now highly false; and I believe it was in mere
pity that Mrs. Higgs came to my rescue with a welcome
proposition. If the gentleman was really interested in stamps,
she said, probably supposing me a monomaniac on the point,
he should see Mr. Denman's album. Mr. Denman had been
collecting forty years, and his collection was said to be worth a
mint of money. "Agnes," she went on, "if you were a kind little
girl, you would run over to the 'All, tell Mr. Denman there's a
connaisseer in the 'ouse, and ask him if one of the young
gentlemen might bring the album down."

"I should like to see his exchanges too," I cried, rising to the
occasion. "I may have some of mine in my pocket-book and we
might trade."

Half an hour later Mr. Denman arrived himself with a most
unconscionable volume under his arm. "Ah, sir," he cried,
"when I 'eard you was a collector, I dropped all. It's a saying of
mine, Mr. Dodsley, that collecting stamps makes all collectors
kin. It's a bond, sir; it creates a bond."

Upon the truth of this, I cannot say; but there is no doubt that
the attempt to pass yourself off for a collector falsely creates a
precarious situation.

"Ah, here's the second issue!" I would say, after consulting the
legend at the side. "The pink--no, I mean the mauve--yes,
that's the beauty of this lot. Though of course, as you say," I
would hasten to add, "this yellow on the thin paper is more
rare."

Indeed I must certainly have been detected, had I not plied Mr.
Denman in self-defence with his favourite liquor--a port so
excellent that it could never have ripened in the cellar of the
Carthew Arms, but must have been transported, under cloud of
night, from the neighbouring vaults of the great house. At each
threat of exposure, and in particular whenever I was directly
challenged for an opinion, I made haste to fill the butler's glass,
and by the time we had got to the exchanges, he was in a
condition in which no stamp collector need be seriously feared.
God forbid I should hint that he was drunk; he seemed
incapable of the necessary liveliness; but the man's eyes were
set, and so long as he was suffered to talk without interruption,
he seemed careless of my heeding him.

In Mr. Denman's exchanges, as in those of little Agnes, the
same peculiarity was to be remarked, an undue preponderance
of that despicably common stamp, the French twenty-five
centimes. And here joining them in stealthy review, I found the
C and the CH; then something of an A just following; and then
a terminal Y. Here was also the whole name spelt out to me; it
seemed familiar, too; and yet for some time I could not bridge
the imperfection. Then I came upon another stamp, in which
an L was legible before the Y, and in a moment the word
leaped up complete. Chailly, that was the name; Chailly-
en-Biere, the post town of Barbizon--ah, there was the very
place for any man to hide himself--there was the very place for
Mr. Norris, who had rambled over England making sketches--
the very place for Goddedaal, who had left a palette-knife on
board the Flying Scud. Singular, indeed, that while I was
drifting over England with the shyster, the man we were in
quest of awaited me at my own ultimate destination.

Whether Mr. Denman had shown his album to Bellairs,
whether, indeed, Bellairs could have caught (as I did) this hint
from an obliterated postmark, I shall never know, and it
mattered not. We were equal now; my task at Stallbridge-le-
Carthew was accomplished; my interest in postage-stamps died
shamelessly away; the astonished Denman was bowed out; and
ordering the horse to be put in, I plunged into the study of the
time-table.

Content of CHAPTER XX - STALLBRIDGE-LE-CARTHEW (Robert Louis Stevenson's novel: The Wrecker)

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