’No, no, indeed—only I thought I had vexed you; and, I believe, thinking of Uncle Silas makes me nervous, and I can’t help thinking of him nearly always.’ ’Nor can I, although we might both easily find something better to think of. Suppose we try?’ said Lady Knollys.
’But, first, I must know a little more about that Mr. Charke, and what circumstances enabled Uncle Silas’s enemies to found on his death that wicked slander, which has done no one any good, and caused some persons so much misery. There is Uncle Silas, I may say, ruined by it; and we all know how it darkened the life of my dear father.’
’People will talk, my dear. Your uncle Silas had injured himself before that in the opinion of the people of his county. He was a black sheep, in fact. Very bad stories were told and believed of him. His marriage certainly was a disadvantage, you know, and the miserable scenes that went on in his disreputable house—all that predisposed people to believe ill of him.’
‘How long is it since it happened?’
‘Oh, a long time; I think before you were born,’ answered she.
‘And the injustice still lives—they have not forgotten it yet?’ said I, for such a period appeared to me long enough to have consigned anything in its nature perishable to oblivion.
Lady Knollys smiled.
’Tell me, like a darling cousin, the whole story as well as you can recollect it. Who was Mr. Charke?’
’Mr. Charke, my dear, was a gentleman on the turf—that is the phrase, I think—one of those London men, without birth or breeding, who merely in right of their vices and their money are admitted to associate with young dandies who like hounds and horses, and all that sort of thing. That set knew him very well, but of course no one else. He was at the Matlock races, and your uncle asked him to Bartram-Haugh; and the creature, Jew or Gentile, whatever he was, fancied there was more honour than, perhaps, there really was in a visit to Bartram-Haugh.’
’For the kind of person you describe, it was, I think, a rather unusual honour to be invited to stay in the house of a man of Uncle Ruthyn’s birth.’
’Well, so it was perhaps; for though they knew him very well on the course, and would ask him to their tavern dinners, they would not, of course, admit him to the houses where ladies were. But Silas’s wife was not much regarded at Bartram-Haugh. Indeed, she was very little seen, for she was every evening tipsy in her bedroom, poor woman!’
‘How miserable!’ I exclaimed.
’I don’t think it troubled Silas very much, for she drank gin, they said, poor thing, and the expense was not much; and, on the whole, I really think he was glad she drank, for it kept her out of his way, and was likely to kill her. At this time your poor father, who was thoroughly disgusted at his marriage, had stopped the supplies, you know, and Silas was very poor, and as hungry as a hawk,