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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 19097

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"The Earl was a wrathful man to see."

Lay of the Last Minstrel.

A few doors from the Ravensworths lived a gentleman named Lennox. As his name argued, he was descended from a good stock, but his family had gradually sunk in the scale of life till he was glad to accept a situation in His Majesty's Revenue Office at Edinburgh. Mr. Lennox was certainly gifted in his personal appearance, but this was in a way much lessened by his intolerable conceit. It is not often that we find big men consequential, but Mr. Lennox was the "exceptio regulam probat." He was conceited of himself, and his height, and looks. He was conceited of his name, being distantly connected with the Duke of Richmond. He was conceited of his family, which consisted of several rather dashing girls, the rear brought up by an infant "son and heir," as he rather ostentatiously informed the world through the papers. He walked as if the ground was not good enough for him, he spoke as if his word must be law: and, like all his class, though dogmatical in the extreme, was not often right,-when he did happen to be so, one never heard the end of it. Still with all his foibles he was gentlemanly, and had long been a friend of the Ravensworths; he liked, too, to have an occasional tête-à-tête with the fair Ellen, whom he fancied as much pleased by his assiduous court, as he was by her lightest smile. Mr. Lennox was a great man in his county, being a Justice of the Peace, and remarkable for his rigorous sentences; for, being strictly moral himself, he had no pity on the erring. He was a great man in his village, the author and finisher of all improvements, the chairman of every public meeting; he was also a great man in his church, being copartner in the churchwardenship with Mr. Ravensworth, who allowed him almost entirely to manage things his own way. This office afforded him an excuse to guide his feet oftener towards Seaview than he could otherwise have done. On the Sunday following the events narrated in our last chapter, Mr. Lennox, Mr. Ravensworth, and near them Johnny, might have been seen standing on the steps of the Episcopal church. The two former conversed together on some real or fancied improvement Mr. Lennox wanted to introduce in the stove department of the church. Afternoon service had been over some time; Ellen, Maude, and their guest had already gone home, leaving Johnny to follow with his father. The clerk stood, key in hand, respectfully waiting Mr. Lennox's pleasure. Having brought Mr. Ravensworth at last to his own way of thinking, Mr. Lennox ordered the clerk to lock the gates, and himself pompously bestowed the key in his pocket, and the three were proceeding homewards, when they heard the roll of wheels, and looking round, saw a dashing-looking young man, of about four-and-twenty, drive up to the church in a drag drawn by a pair of fiery bays. As he drew up the impetuous horses, the groom behind leaped down and attempted to open the gates, which were, however, as our readers know, locked. Mr. Lennox, seeing the young man's dilemma, hastened back, followed by Mr. Ravensworth and Johnny.

"Could you oblige me," said the stranger, "by telling me where the churchwarden lives?"

"You could not have applied to a better person than to me, as I myself happen to be that officer," replied Mr. Lennox, drawing himself up to his full height, and laying peculiar stress on the word "officer." "I have the keys," he continued, "and can at once accommodate you with seats, if that was your object."

"I merely wished your name and address, sir," replied the young man; "I am hurried now, and have no time to waste, but if you could let me know where to find you to-morrow, and would wait for me between twelve and one o'clock, I would then look over the seats."

"I am sorry that official duties will prevent me from having that pleasure, but my friend and copartner in office here, Mr. Ravensworth, will I am sure. You do not go to town on Monday I think, Ravensworth?"

"I do not,-and I shall have much pleasure in waiting for you," said Mr. Ravensworth, at the same time handing his card.

"Ha! thanks; I shall be punctual,-remember, between twelve and one. Good day, gentlemen." Taking off his hat, and gathering the reins together, he whipped up his impatient horses, and was gone,-the groom swinging himself up, as the drag sprang away, with great nimbleness, much to Johnny's admiration, leaving them all in wonder as to who he could be.

"Mark my words, sir," said Mr. Lennox, "that young man is no common person."

"Indeed! do you think so? Well, I fancy he is merely some young man of fortune, who can drive a dashing trap,-probably one of the 7th, now at Jock's Lodge; I hear they are a very crack regiment."

"Think so? I am sure of it; his appearance, his equipage, his commanding way of speaking,-all argued birth; he is not unlike my cousin, Lord George Lennox."

"Every good-looking man is like that cousin of yours," said Mr. Ravensworth, laughing; "but here we are at my house; I will let you know to-morrow who he is,-your swans generally turn out geese."

"Let him laugh that wins," said Mr. Lennox, as he walked on. "I would stake ten to one he is none of your parvenus."

Next morning the conversation at the Ravensworth breakfast-table ran a good deal on this unknown stranger. As it was the first Monday in the month, and consequently a holiday, Johnny repaired to the back drawing-room, whence he had an extended view of the road each way. Though he went there professedly to read, in reality he went there as a watchman for the expected carriage. It was then only a little after ten, and the earliest time he had named was not till twelve; yet Johnny cast many a wistful glance along the road. L'Estrange had an engagement at Queensferry, and had driven off already. Mr. Ravensworth went to his study, and Maude a walk in the country with some schoolfellows, so that Johnny and Ellen had the room all to themselves. Slowly the clock on the stairs struck the passing hours,-at length twelve struck.

"Now," said Johnny, "he may be here at any minute, Ellen. Here he is, I hear wheels."

But Johnny was doomed to disappointment, it was only the London coach. Many other carriages raised his hopes falsely, while the long hour dragged its slow length through: one struck,-Johnny's face fell. "I believe, after all, he won't come,-stay, here he comes at last,-really, Nelly,-look what a fine drag he is driving, and quite different horses, too,-what beauties! I will run and tell papa."

Ellen, without rising from the sofa, glanced to see the wonderful stranger, for it was on him rather than the horses he drove, that she naturally looked. The drag stopped at the door, and the same nimble servant lightly stepped down and rang the bell. Meantime Johnny had flown to his father's study with the news: "Come, papa, quick, he's waiting!"

"Gently, my boy, gently! I have not even been apprised of his presence yet-he will perhaps step in; what is all this excitement about?"

"May I come to the church?"

"We will see, perhaps the gentleman may not wish it."

At this moment Mr. Ravensworth's page, with open eyes, came in bringing a card in his hand, and saying the gentleman would not come in. Mr. Ravensworth gave a perceptible start when he saw the name; and, hastily putting on his hat and gloves, advanced to the carriage.

"I must apologise for keeping you waiting, my Lord, so long."

"Not at all, Mr. Ravensworth, not at all, I have not been a minute. Step in and I will drive you to the church. Is that your son?" pointing to Johnny, who had crept after his father.

"My son, Johnny."

"Jump in, my boy, you will like a ride too," continued the stranger.

Johnny jumped in, hardly knowing where he was; the talismanic word "my Lord" had not escaped his ears, and he did not know how to thank his Lordship, so he thought silence was his best policy. He felt not a little proud also as he swept by and past several schoolfellows at the turning of the road. They in their turn stared at him not a little. While they are driving we must return to Ellen, who had been much surprised to see them drive off; she stole down stairs to see if she could find out who he was. On the hall table lay a card-could she believe her eyes?-there it was neatly engraved "Earl of Wentworth." It is like an intervention of Providence, thought the romantic girl, as she ran with the card upstairs to her own room, and in the giddiness of her first excitement actually pressed it to her lips. He had touched it! She had seen him too, as he turned round to welcome her father and brother,-she had seen the noble countenance, the stately form,-he was the embodying of her airy thoughts, the reality of all her day-dreams. One glance was all she took, but that glance, momentary as the lightning flash, yet terrific in its effects as the bolt of heaven, seemed to have scorched her very heart. That moment had done the work of years, and she felt that eternity was itself too short "to efface the blight and blackening which it left behind."

By this time our party had entered the church, and the Earl had at once set his fancies on a large square pew, curiously enough facing the one Mr. Ravensworth occupied. Of course he knew nothing of this, though great events sprang from that chance. Lord Wentworth said he should send a carpenter to do it up a little, and he then drove them back to Seaview, and dropped them with a "Good-bye, Mr. Ravensworth-good-bye, Joh

nny, my boy! I will call then next Saturday, same hour, and see how I like the improvements."

"How provoked Lennox will be at missing this," thought Mr. Ravensworth as he entered his house; "we shall never hear the end of his chance prediction."

True to his word, Mr. Lennox looked in upon them that evening, and at once inquired who the stranger was.

"You were right, Lennox; who do you think it was?"

"I am sure I cannot tell; one of the Duke's sons?"

"No, guess again."

"Bother guessing, tell me who it was."

"The Earl of Wentworth," said Ellen, blushing crimson.

"The Earl of Wentworth!-never tell me again I am not a judge of character! The Earl of Wentworth! I knew he was somebody, I am no fool; I can tell rank even in beggars' garb," said the proud man. "And what sort of man is he?" he continued; "from my penetration of character I should say an easy-going, nice fellow."

"Right," burst in Johnny, "he is such a jolly chap!"

"Young man," answered his mentor, "never let me hear you call a belted Earl a 'jolly chap' again; it is disrespectful; 'honour to whom honour is due,' remember that."

Mr. Lennox stayed for tea, and during all the evening nothing else was spoken of but Lord Wentworth, and Mr. Lennox's judgment of faces, a topic he was never tired of introducing. Ellen made Johnny recount over and over the very conversations of the Earl, and took no pains to conceal from L'Estrange that his star had set; so it was well for him he left early next day for a week's shooting across the river. Mr. Lennox during the whole week daily inspected the refitting of the Earl's pew, and gave many suggestions, and proposed little alterations he felt sure would very much please his lordship. We shall see by-and-by in what spirit they were received. The week, to Ellen, wore very slowly away; at last the long-wished-for day dawned when she was again to gratify her fatal wishes, and see him once more. A short time before the hour Lord Wentworth was expected Mr. Lennox made his appearance at Seaview, in order, as he said, to ask Mr. Ravensworth's opinion on a will, but really in hopes he might be asked by the Earl to accompany him in his carriage; and he thought with pride how he would be complimented on his taste, and even told Mr. Ravensworth so as he perused the law-papers, not even crediting his real motive. Johnny took his seat at the window; and no watchman ever looked out more attentively for the enemy than he did to catch the first glimpse of the carriage. Ellen was reading a book in an abstracted way, and her eye often wandered from its pages to the road; too often not to show her heart was not with her book.

He came at last; but to Johnny's surprise, and not a little to his chagrin, not in the drag, but seated on a fine horse, while a short way behind rode his favourite servant on a horse almost equally magnificent. Ellen was, however, charmed at the manner he managed his fiery steed, which showed his fine figure off to perfection. "L'Estrange was right," she thought, "he is handsome-he is!" Johnny had in the meantime acquainted his father with the Earl's arrival.

"Did he drive here, Johnny?"

"No," Johnny replied, discontentedly, "he is only riding to-day."

"Confound it!" slipped out of Mr. Lennox's lips, before he could arrest the words, as he thus saw his hoped-for drive vanish, "however," he said, "if his lordship is riding, I shall have the pleasure of accompanying you both, Mr. Ravensworth."

By this time Lord Wentworth had pulled up, and throwing his reins to Philip, himself dismounted and rang the bell. He had not long to wait; almost instantly the door was opened by the officious Mr. Lennox, who made his profoundest bow, and asked after his lordship's health.

Refusing an invitation to luncheon, to Ellen's extreme vexation, he proposed instantly walking to the church.

"Philip, lead my horse along,-unless, youngster," (addressing Johnny), "you like a ride-up with you, don't be afraid."

Johnny, however, declined the honour with thanks, not much relishing the idea of mounting a thoroughbred horse, as its fiery eye and thin transparent nostril betokened, as it champed its bit impatiently.

"No, thank you!" repeated the Earl, in wonder; "now when I was a boy I should have jumped at the proposal,-but times are changed since then. Philip, lead him."

Johnny felt he had gone down a peg in Lord Wentworth's estimation, and ten in the groom's. Young Nimrod, such was the horse's name, required indeed a high hand to rule him, and gave Philip not a little trouble, rearing, kicking, and plunging all the way in a manner which made Johnny feel glad he was not exposed to. Little was said on their way to the church;-when they reached it Mr. Lennox, as usual, led the way to the pew, round which stood Mr. Taylor, the upholsterer, and several workmen admiring their handy-work. Indeed, the pew certainly shone out not a little above its compeers, with its crimson curtains-velvet cushions-and the table in the centre covered with a rich cloth, fringed with gold; a sandal-wood door, and gorgeous oil-cloth, completed the furnishings.

"I think, my Lord, this is highly elegant, and distingué," said Mr. Lennox; "I myself superintended everything."

"I am sorry you took so much trouble," remarked Lord Wentworth, regarding the whole with a gloomy expression. Then turning sharply round on Mr. Taylor, and muttering to himself, "elegant!" "distingué!" he said: "I thought I ordered a plain mahogany door, and how comes there one of sandal-wood?"

"I thought,-my Lord--"

"What business had you to think, sir?-your duty was to obey. My orders were implicit, and how dared you disobey them? take the trash away!" and suiting the action to the word, with one kick his lordship literally smashed the frail door to pieces. The light thus admitted revealed for the first time the showy oil-cloth, which excited his ire not a little.

"And what the devil is this?-I ordered a carpet, and not this gin-palace snobbery!" shouted the enraged peer, forgetting in his passion whose house he was in.

Mr. Lennox here interposed, and said it was not Mr. Taylor's fault but his own, as he had thought it would look better.

"Then, another time, Mr. Lennox, I will thank you to mind your own business and let me mind mine-I am not accustomed to have my orders countermanded. Rip the accursed thing up. I will not move till it is gone."

Some workmen standing near executed this order with the utmost despatch, much fearing a more palpable display of wrath.

"And take off that gilt fringe, and let all be plain and quiet. Mr. Taylor, you have strangely mistaken my meaning: I wished a comfortable pew, not a vulgar display for every one to stare at. Let all this be done by to-morrow, and by heaven! let me catch you disobeying my orders again, and I will find some one else to execute them."

Mr. Taylor in mute fear only bowed acquiescence, and the Earl then turned on his heel, and as ill luck would have it nearly upset Johnny, who, half-amused, half-terrified, and laughing in his sleeve at Mr. Lennox's discomfiture, stood in stupid astonishment, till he was roused by an angry "Out of the way, boy-what are you blocking up the passage for?" and saw his lordship brush past to the door, where he mounted his fretting steed, coldly bowed to the bewildered throng-and, plunging his spurs into young Nimrod, left them to talk over their rebuff.

Bad temper is proverbially infectious, and as soon as he was gone a scene of mutual recrimination ensued. Mr. Ravensworth blamed Mr. Lennox for his officiousness; Mr. Lennox blamed Johnny, as the cause of all by refusing the offer of a ride. Mr. Taylor was much annoyed at his weakness in departing from orders, and even Johnny could not help muttering something about Mr. Lennox's good taste, which he did not fail to hear, and which added to his wrath and chagrin not a little. When Ellen heard the story she was more vexed than any of them,-vexed at this cloud which seemed to banish all her hopes risen on her heaven of blue. Her temper was not bettered by the arrival of Captain L'Estrange, who, however, treated the matter as a joke, and was vastly amused by Johnny's description of the scene, and the door, which he said was stove in as if it had been a band-box.

"I know the Earl," said L'Estrange, "his passions are as short-lived as they are violent; had it been the Captain, by Jove! you would not have got off so well: I think he would have floored the whole of you, and thrashed you, Johnny, with his horsewhip had you got in his way. I should have liked to have seen Lennox's face though."

Lord Wentworth rode to the Towers at a fiery speed, his temper decidedly not bettered by a drenching rain which overtook him on his way. When, however, he reached home and found his brother, the Captain, and the Marquis of Arranmore just arrived, all traces of his anger immediately vanished. That evening much had to be talked on over their wine, and after the young ladies had retired the gentlemen adjourned to the smoking-room, where they laughed well over the incidents of the day, till the clock striking twelve warned them Sunday had commenced.

The Captain, however, was little troubled by religious scruples, and continued over his punch more than an hour after all the rest had sought the charms of Morpheus, a feat the Captain alone was capable of, as a man must be very far gone who can sit down and enjoy his toddy quite alone as he did.

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