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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 14384

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Where, perhaps, some beauty lies,

The cynosure of neighbouring eyes."-L'Allegro.

In a comfortably furnished parlour a family party were gathered, and about to sit down to their breakfast. The urn was hissing cheerily, as if inviting them to hasten to the repast. A handsome girl, perhaps eighteen years of age, presided over the tea-making, and was apparently too busily engaged to give much attention to the assiduous addresses of a young officer who sat on her right hand. In the window a boy of fifteen was aiding his younger sister in mastering her French lesson, while the head of the family stood with his back to the blazing fire, and read the papers. A pretty Skye terrier, looking wistfully into his master's face, as if to remind him he too was waiting for his morning supply of milk, completed the picture.

"Do come to your breakfast, Johnny and Maude," said Ellen.

"In one minute, we are almost finished," answered her brother.

"No, come at once, or you will be late for your school."

Both silently obeyed, and took their seats at table.

"Is there any news, papa?" continued Ellen Ravensworth.

"No, love, none at all, except the arrival of the Earl of Wentworth at Dun Edin Towers."

"Ha! are they come?" asked the young officer. "Is Captain de Vere of the party?"

"Let's see-there's the Earl, Francis de Vere, his brother, and the Ladies Edith and Florence-no mention of the Captain; but stay, here he is-'Captain the Hon. de Vere, accompanied by the Marquis of Arranmore, is expected to join the noble family in a few days; on dit that the young Marquis is shortly to lead the beautiful and accomplished Lady Edith de Vere to the hymeneal altar.'"

"Ah! I knew that before," remarked Captain L'Estrange; "you know De Vere is my senior officer in the 7th Hussars."

"Then you know him, I suppose?" asked Ellen.

"I should think I do just, we are great chums."

"What is he like?" asked Ellen.

"Always the same question, Nelly. Well, he has a dashing, soldierly look, as fierce as a Turk; curiously enough, I am thought rather like him by some of our fellows, though I hope I am not such a wild slip."

"That's as much as to say you are a dashing, soldierly-looking man," said Ellen, smiling maliciously.

"No, no, not exactly; but talking of handsome men, the Earl is a good-looking fellow if you like it, and his sisters were quite the belles in town last season. The Prince Regent swears there is nothing like them. Are they to remain long North, Mr. Ravensworth?"

"It doesn't say, but I fancy they will stay over Christmas. But I shall be late-is the tea ready, Ellen?-let us sit down, and we can talk about them as we drive in to Edinburgh."

"Look, papa, how it snows," said Maude; "we shall have a cold drive; isn't it early for snow in November?"

"Yes, love, but eat your breakfast, and talk after."

Leaving them to do justice to their capital Scotch breakfast, we take this opportunity of making our readers better acquainted with the Ravensworth family.

Mr. Ravensworth was a tall, gentlemanly-looking man of about fifty; much anxiety had prematurely whitened his hair, and sorrow ploughed the lines deep in his brow with her "burning share." He had been born to large property, but had suddenly lost his fortune, and almost immediately afterwards his partner in life, leaving him to contend against poverty at his very door with four infant children, of whom the eldest was barely seven and the youngest an infant in arms. Mr. Ravensworth then entered the Bar, and being an uncommonly clever, and, what was more, a working man, soon began to rise in his profession, and was able to build and furnish a pretty villa on the seashore, some miles from Edinburgh, where he practised, and to educate his children well and live at least in comfort. As he had prospects too, being next heir to a fine property in Haddington, he was not without hopes of being able to raise his family to the position they had formerly occupied in society, and see his house once more on the top of the fickle wheel that had crushed him so low. He did not spend his time in unavailing lament over parted grandeur, but strove by hard and steady labour to launch on the tide, "that, taken at its height, leads on to fortune." His eldest son George entered the army when only seventeen, and was rapidly rising in his profession, when again the hand of death snatched another victim, and the father's hopes seemed once more shattered. Still beaten down, but not conquered, he lived and laboured for his family. Ellen, now his eldest child, was a remarkably fine-looking girl; she was much above the average height, and built on a large scale, with a commanding look, and seemed born, as her flatterers told her, to be a duchess. Nature had given her a lavish abundance of fair brown hair, which, confined by the frail net that scarcely held its prisoner, rolled half way down her back and contrasted sadly with the garb of woe she still wore for her soldier brother. Her blue eyes were full of soul and expression. It has been said that when a Scotch girl is pretty she is something quite unusual, and if ever there was a perfect beauty it was Ellen; whatever you looked on was matchless, whether it was her eyes beaming like the mirror of an innocent heart-or her white Grecian nose-pearly teeth-or again the well-developed contour of her form-her round white arm or well-turned and small foot and ankle. Each was perfect-nothing that we could have wished altered. Her still face perhaps gave her the appearance of being a year or two older than she really was, a fault-if we may so call it-not uncommon with Scotch beauties; but the moment she opened her lips, or smiled, the illusion vanished. Johnny, as her younger, and now only, brother used to be always called, was an open-faced, good-looking boy of fifteen, and promised to grow up like his father. Of Maude we need only say with Lord Byron, she was-

"A lovely being, hardly formed or moulded,

A rose, with all its brightest leaves yet folded."

The village in which they resided was situated some few miles from the modern Athens. Seaview, as its name implied, faced the sea, and was one of many similar villas that had sprung up around them since Mr. Ravensworth had fixed on it as a residence, in order that his children might have the benefit of country and sea air, and yet be sufficiently near the northern metropolis to enable him to pursue his vocation, and give them the education of which Edinburgh afforded such first-rate means.

Seaview was enclosed in a small garden with a lawn running down in front to the terrace that overlooked the sands. From the front windows they had a fine view of the Firth of Forth-the Fife hills opposite to the right, the large bay bounded by Berwick Law and Bass amid the waters, and to the left the upper course of the Forth. The dining-room and hall door, which were at the back, looked out on the champaign country stretched between the Pentlands and Lammermoors. Arthur's Seat rose like an island from its sea of woods, or, more fancifully still, like a lion couched among the brushwood. A broad carriage road running to Lo

ndon one way, and Edinburgh the other, passed their door.

Mr. Ravensworth kept a four-wheel and one horse, in which he every day drove to Edinburgh, leaving Johnny and Maude at their respective schools, and, after his day's attendance at the Parliament houses, calling for them again on his way home. Accordingly, breakfast finished, he and his two children started for Town, as they called Edinburgh, leaving Ellen and L'Estrange to amuse themselves as they best could.

The peculiar circumstances of Ellen's life tended much to develop her character. Left at an early age without a mother, and thrown almost entirely on her own resources, and afterwards taken much into her father's confidence-young as she was, she already knew more of the world than many whose years doubled hers. The management of Mr. Ravensworth's house, and the bringing up of Johnny and Maude were left almost entirely to her control, and we must do her the justice to say that the manner in which she conducted herself at the head of her father's table, and the strict and excellent bringing up of her brother and sister, were past all praise. During the long hours she was left alone whilst the children were at school and her father at his duties, she was naturally thrown much on herself, and we believe these hours of loneliness were her best taskmasters.

When Israel required to be trained as a peculiar race, the desert was chosen as their abode, and some of the most lofty minds are those which are longest schooled in solitude. But it has also its disadvantages and dangers, this solitary bringing up. The mind forced to look inwards-to recall the past too much-becomes sad, and is inclined to brood over its miseries, fancied or real; and Ellen, young as she was when the smile of fortune ceased to fling its radiance, was not too young to remember that times had once been better, happier than now; that there was a day when wealth had made them many friends; a day when they had lived in splendour, with carriages and horses, manservants and maidens; and when she contrasted it with their present life it was apt to make her discontented. She had been too well brought up by her father, who was a truly excellent man, not to know how wrong this was-and she often tried to banish the thoughts from her mind: but they would recur, and every time she encouraged them they became deeper rooted and more difficult to eradicate. Poetry and romance were Ellen's favourite subjects, and neither tended much to fill the aching void. They fed, without satisfying her craving, and like water to a thirsty soul only increased her thirst.

The poems of Lord Byron, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and other stars of the Georgian era, were her constant companions; she felt how much harm they were doing, yet had not the moral strength to resist their fascination. She began to live in a world of fiction-real life was tame and insipid, and she soon created in her mind some prince in disguise, some knight of romance, destined to lift her from the low estate she then groaned in, to the scenes she was born to grace. Ellen knew-how could she help knowing?-that she was very beautiful. Proud, but not vain, of her beauty, she felt that, living in a position beneath her due, this beauty might yet raise her to her dreamland heights. It was to no purpose that day after day declined without bringing the realization of her hopes-she still hoped on, without considering that the hours most precious were stealing silently away, and yet she was tracing nothing worthy of remembrance on her sands of life. These day dreams "when nearest and most inviting" were often rudely broken by the stern realities of life, and left her more and more discontented, harder and harder to be pleased; and the proud beauty felt as feels the eagle when, with ruffled wing, he beholds through the bars of his cage that heaven he has so often soared to, but to which he can return no more.

Such were Ellen's feelings as she was roused by the voice of L'Estrange asking her to take a walk in the country, as the day had broken off fine. She felt vexed at the interruption, and hastily answered she could not-she had a headache, and wished to remain quiet. Her heart smote her as she heard him turn away with mournful step, and the word quivered on her lips which recalled him-but pride smothered the unborn sound; the old weakness returned, and she allowed her dream to run on instead of awaking herself-shaking off the fatal habit-and rising a real woman to combat the trials of life. The conversation during breakfast had awakened an old train of thought. Often had she been told she was only fit for a peeress-and now within ten miles of her was one who could raise her to the height of her ambition-young, rich, handsome. Could she catch his eye? could she make a conquest of the young Earl's heart? She looked at herself in the mirror, Pride whispered she could! But then came a chilling thought-L'Estrange. For nearly a year had he paid her the most untiring homage. Pleased at first, flattered by her powers, she had led him on-led him on till he had proposed for her hand-been accepted too-ha! dreadful truth, accepted! She had loved him once-but now-did she love him? no, no, he had her friendship-he had her affection-but not her love! And who was her love? The phantom of her mind's creation, the unreal knight of her dreams. And now the phantom of her imagination was near, she had never seen him even-but L'Estrange said he was splendidly handsome! He knew him too-why should not she? Would he come up to her model? Could she make the conquest? Something whispered "Yes." But she was engaged-again that voice said, "Never mind." Was this her evil genius? Then were sown the seeds of that blight doomed to destroy a plant bards have called "too frail to bloom below." Ellen was a well-brought-up girl, and her better thoughts recoiled from the very idea of thus jilting her first love. She was a sensible girl, and her better senses told her how foolish were her thoughts. Perhaps the Earl might not even look at her, if she saw him; perhaps, and still more likely, she might never see him; perhaps he might have some other mistress of his heart.

On the other hand L'Estrange loved her as his own soul; she knew and felt that: he had no other lady of his affections, she knew that; and here, in spite of all, she was going to chance the reality for the shadow-chance all on a wild throw, and perhaps-most probably-lose both. So spoke the still, small voice within; but pride, false pride choked its utterances, drowned its whispers, and in her heart she resolved to make the trial, and as if to aid her in her thoughts came the lines into her memory-

"He either rates his life too high,

Or his deserts too small,

Who fears to cast in on the die

To win, or lose, it all."

She would hazard all on a blind toss! she had passed the Rubicon! however foolish the step it was now too late! Such were Ellen's thoughts as she lounged on the sofa, while poor L'Estrange plodded his solitary way to Arthur's Seat through the snow, thinking on Ellen, and wondering at her changed behaviour of late.

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