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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 20688

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"But if the rogue have gone a cup too far,

Left out the linchpin."-Progress of Error.

We must now shift the scene to the ancestral residence of the De Veres. Dun Edin Towers, or as it was called, for brevity's sake, The Towers, stood on a slight eminence at the foot of the Lammermoor Hills. On three sides it was bounded by the densest woods, whilst in front an ample park, dotted over with fine trees, stretched downwards till it ended in a bosky dell, the resort of woodcocks, pheasants, and all kinds of game; at the bottom of this dell a mountain torrent gushed amid the stones, now lost in rocks rough with brachen, now bursting over the sunny shingle, and revealing to the practised eye myriads of trout gaily shooting past. After heavy rains, or when the snows on the hill began to thaw, the bubbling rivulet changed its character, and "tumbling brown the burn came down, and roared frae bank to brae." The castle was itself a large quadrangular pile, with four lofty towers at the four corners: from these towers it took its name, and as they peeped above the woods they served for a landmark to the country for many a league round. The round towers proclaimed its Norman architecture, and the building was now hoary with age, but its masonry seemed solid as when it was first raised, and having outlived its lords for so many ages it seemed as though it would serve not only as the home, but the tomb of its present occupant; for in one tower was the long last dwelling-place of the De Veres. Partly covered over with ivy, its buttresses formed an asylum for owls and bats, which from time immemorial had built their nests there, and they seemed as much the rightful possessors as any of its human masters.

My readers must cross with me the drawbridge, swinging, on its hoarsely sounding chains, over the deep moat that surrounded the castle, and passing the frowning gateway, under the old portcullis, along the winding passage, with loopholes pierced on either side, we enter the ample courtyard paved with stone. In its centre stood an ancient sun-dial. Opposite us is the doorway, and as our story leads us to the inmates of this hold we will continue our journey up the broad flight of stairs, and, sounding the bell which, in conformity with ancient usage, was still hung there, wait till the massive oaken door with its clamps of brass is opened, and discloses the entrance hall, a small square room full of ancient armour, intermingled with trophies of the chase. Above the door are crossed two pennons, which had been wrung from the Moslems in the days of the Crusades. All round spears, battle-axes, and lances of the olden time, with whole suits of chain and steel armour, hung side by side with more modern implements of war, guns-swords, pistols, and bayonets, that had fought well in battle fierce. Stags' antlers, boars' tusks, and grinning heads of wolves and foxes peeped forth here and there; and, instead of mats, tigers' and bears' skins were stretched on the polished oak floor. All of these were bequeathed by the ancestors of the present family, or collected by themselves. Strange scenes had been here enacted, if tales told the truth. In the centre of the room was a dark stain on the oaken planks-the stain of blood-a stain blood only can wipe away.

Opening next a door of carved oak, we find ourselves in the great hall. It is upwards of ninety feet in length, and about the middle on either side is an ancient fireplace, so large that a family might occupy either, seated round the log fire on the stone seats. Above each hung a fine picture. One was of a beautiful young woman in the dress of an abbess, wandering with naked feet through dense woods-this was Augusta de Vere. Opposite, was the portrait of the stern Sir Ralph. From these two pictures an endless line of family portraits was continued to the end of the hall either way. There were many winning faces, none more so than the two last, pictures of the Ladies Edith and Florence. There were many handsome and manly faces, none more so than the three last-pictures of the present lord, and his two brothers. There was a peculiarity in this picture gallery-can any of my readers guess what it was? There was no old face from Sir Ralph downwards. They were all young-all in their early prime-yet all but five were laid low.

We must not delay here too long, but ascend the principal staircase, and crossing an almost endless corridor, with doors ranged on each side, at last finish our route by opening the door of the boudoir, in which the family usually assembled after breakfast. There are three members only present. From his picture we recognise the young Earl, possessor of the most famed name, and broadest lands in the kingdom. We see the same lofty mien-the artist has but faintly caught-the same noble outline of features, and dark brown hair, curled close as the tendrils of the vine over his broad forehead. His air is dignified and high, he looks what he is, and yet there is about his face something which tells us he has all the love of his race for the field, and his look does not belie his character; never was he happier than when he had flown the pomps of a court in which he shone a star of the first magnitude, and forgot anxious cares in the calm retreats of The Towers-wound the view halloo, and was first in at the death. The Earl was fully six feet in height, and stout and strong in proportion. He is now standing before a blazing wood fire, and close beside him stands a fair-haired girl of perhaps fifteen years. Her melting blue eyes and complexion of dazzling purity, lit up with the chastest and sweetest of smiles, gave an air of peculiar interest to her face. To look at Lady Florence was to love her. How dim, how earthly is the picture now, when before us stands the bright original. Her sister, the proud, romantic Lady Edith, remains to be described; she is deeply interested in some book over which she is bent, her dark brown hair and hazel eyes lend an air of pleasing melancholy to her face; she has all the proud hauteur of an English beauty, and carries birth and majesty in every movement. She was three years older than her sister.

"I suppose we are too late for church this morning," said Lady Edith, glancing a moment off her book.

"Oh! much too late; but I have ordered the carriage to be here in plenty of time for the afternoon service," answered her brother.

"Are you going, Edie?" said Lady Florence.

"I suppose so; you are going too, are you not?"

"Oh dear, yes; I do so long to see the wonderful pew; do you think, Wentworth, it will be altered all nicely now?"

"I fancy so; Taylor knows me too well now to neglect my orders again. Are you going?" continued Lord Wentworth, addressing a young man who then entered, followed by the Marquis of Arranmore.

This was Captain de Vere; to look at him one could not help calling him handsome: his dark eye, and closely-cut black hair gave him a military air-a dashing, soldierly appearance, and his height, which exceeded the Earl's slightly, combined with a splendid figure, gave him a fine manly mien; but there was something in his face cruel and unrelenting; his fierce moustache, and arched nose were those of a Roman, and in his eye there was the twinkle that told the libertine;-his handsomeness was that of a Nero, not so in its true significance.

"Going where?" he answered abruptly.

"To church," replied the Earl.

"See you d--d first," was the curt reply. "Nor will Arranmore; he and I are going to the barracks to look out Musgrave."

"Oh! John, you shouldn't swear so," said Lady Florence; "but where is Frank? perhaps he will come."

"How the devil should I know-I am not Frank's keeper?" answered the Captain, showing how little he cared for the reproof.

"Frank is in the dell," said Lord Arranmore, "looking after some woodcocks the keeper had told him about."

"A hopeful set you all seem," said the good-natured Earl; "however, this is Liberty Hall, every one to his own mind, and no questions asked."

"But won't you come, Arranmore?" said his betrothed.

The Marquis looked doubtful.

"No, no, that won't do, Edith," said the Captain, interrupting; "you are not going to get round Arranmore, and rob me of my companion; you don't catch us darkening your accursed church doors. Come along, old fellow," pulling the Marquis by the sleeve, "leave them to read sermons."

"You should be ashamed to say so," answered Lady Edith, but her voice was lost in the clap of the door, as the irreligious young officer went off with his friend, coolly whistling "Deil tak' the minister," an old Scotch song. "Order two horses, Andrew, and tell Philip we shan't want him-be quick, you old rascal."

"Yees, Captain," said the old privileged butler; "but, Lord bless us, he suld need wings wha wad do your orders, and I am but an auld man ye ken."

"Then send James, and be d--d to you!"

Leaving these two to ride where they listed, we shall follow Lord Wentworth and his sisters to church, accompanied, however, by Frank, as he was always called, a young man about seventeen, just preparing to join the 60th, and a passionate sportsman.

"There is a fall of woodcocks in the round wood above the dell-three keepers saw them, so as I can't shoot to-day, I will go to church for once in a way to kill time," said Frank, getting into the carriage. We fear his brother's example was not doing Frank much good.

Mr. Lennox was beginning to despair of their coming at all that day; he half wished they would, and half not, as he felt awkward about facing the man who had publicly found fault with him the previous afternoon. Just as he was about to leave the plate and enter the church, a grand carriage, drawn by four horses, drew up. His fears were instantly dispelled by the frank reception he met with, and forgetting all the past, he blandly smiled as he ushered the illustrious visitors to their pew.

On Sunday morning the Ravensworths, as usual, assembled in their seat at St. John's, and found everything had been altered to the letter of the law in the square pew, now rather conspicuous from its neat and comfortable appearance than its grandeur. A good deal of whispering went on amongst the near neighbours whether the family would come or not. The morning prayers

however passed through and no member of the family appeared; and amongst others Johnny and Ellen were beginning to augur a similar disappointment in the afternoon, when Mr. Lennox, strutting as proudly as a peacock before our friends, appeared, and immediately following the two ladies and the Earl and Frank. The ladies were handsomely but quietly dressed in black silk; but as they arranged themselves in their pew every eye, from the Reverend Mr. Power to the humblest school girl, was turned upon them, and many an epithet-such as "bonny," "sonsy," and the like, applied by the lower orders to the two beauties, who certainly verified L'Estrange's words, that they might have set the Thames on fire.

"How lovely!" whispered Ellen, to her fiancé.

As the service proceeded, Lord Wentworth very naturally looked up to the first seat in the gallery, where the Ravensworths sat, as it directly faced him; at once recognising Mr. Ravensworth and Johnny, he looked along to where Ellen sat, and there his glance seemed stayed. Ellen felt herself blush as their eyes met, and she looked down, not before seeing Lord Wentworth whisper something to Frank; and as he then looked up she felt sure she had been noticed. This was partially true, but what Lord Wentworth had whispered to Frank was that young L'Estrange was there, and it was at him, and not Ellen, that the latter had gazed. It so happened that the two families met coming out of church, and the Earl shook hands with Mr. Ravensworth, telling him the pew was all he desired now; he then patted Johnny on the shoulder, calling him "young Nimrod," in allusion to the day before, and telling him he must come some day and get a riding lesson at the Towers. Johnny was much elated, and politely hastened to hold open the carriage-door for the young ladies; for this he was rewarded by a dignified bow from Lady Edith, and a sweet "Oh! thank you," from her sister. Poor Johnny's heart, young as it was, was no longer his, the fair Lady Florence had stolen it! Whilst he was thus engaged Frank had renewed acquaintance with L'Estrange, and Ellen had once more confronted Lord Wentworth. She had never seen him so near before; he actually brushed against her dress, and more than ever she felt her peace of mind was gone. As it was a fine day the carriage drove along the sands once, before returning home, and Ellen again saw the Earl; this time she was sure he noticed her, and again she felt her face crimson.

"What a pretty girl that is," said Lord Wentworth, addressing his brother.

"Very pretty. I had no idea our church boasted such a beauty; it will be something to go there for, she sits right opposite us."

"I wonder who she is, I fancy a sister of my little friend's. I see a likeness."

"It's more than I do, but I will ask L'Estrange who she is to-morrow: he seems uncommonly sweet on her-you know I asked him to come and have a bang at the woodcocks."

Things looked brighter for Ellen when she reached home. L'Estrange had told her of his invitation to the Towers; she might yet get acquainted with the De Veres through him; and yet her heart revolted from the idea, it was like slaying the eagle with its own feather.

Early next morning L'Estrange started on his shooting expedition, and anxiously did Ellen watch for his return, which did not take place till past eleven o'clock at night. He had stayed to dine after an excellent day's sport, and had plenty to tell about; he had brought, too, abundance of game, far more than fell to his gun, as also a lovely bouquet of hot-house flowers from Lady Edith for the young lady of the house. Oh! how Ellen prized them! with what haste she placed them in water! and when at last they faded, how she prayed the friendship, of which this seemed a prelude, if it came, might not fade away as fleetly! During the week L'Estrange again went shooting, and took with him a note from Ellen, thanking Lady Edith for her kind and beautiful present. Next Saturday, about one o'clock in the day, Captain de Vere, accompanied by his inseparable friend Arranmore, might have been seen in a tandem (the Captain never drove anything else), proceeding at the dangerous pace he always drove towards Edinburgh. As they neared Seaview a bright idea struck the Captain; this was to call for little Ravensworth and give him a drive: he was not altogether without hope too he might catch a sight of the beauty he had heard so much of.

"And at any rate, Arranmore, we can pump the youngster well, and get her name and so forth, as we forgot to ask L'Estrange-will have lots to quiz Wentworth about too. By G-- it's a good idea, I'm d--d if I don't do it," he exclaimed, as he drew up the horses with a round turn at the gate of Seaview. Tossing the reins to Arranmore the Captain alighted (as he never could be bored with a servant on his trap) and rang the bell. As soon as Mr. Ravensworth's little page appeared he thus accosted him-

"Is young Nimrod at home?"

"Who, my lord?" said the little boy, thinking he must be titled too.

"Don't stare like a wild cat, you little fool. Is young Nimrod at home?-little Ravensworth, of course!"

"Mr. Johnny is, if that's him."

"Egad! that's him at last. Tell him I want him."

The frightened lad stayed not a moment, but hurried to inform Johnny, who was then at luncheon, that another great lord wanted him.

"Me; I'm coming;" and Johnny hurried down to see who it could be.

"Halloo! what the deuce have you kept me so long for?"

"I beg your pardon, my lord, I was as-"

"D-n your eyes! I'm not a lord; call me Captain, that will do; but never mind, jump up if you would like a ride."

Without attempting a reply, Johnny at once proceeded to scramble up behind; and he had hardly done so ere the Captain drove off at his break-neck pace; it almost made Johnny giddy to see at what a rate the ground spun away from under him.

"How do you like it, my little man?" said Lord Arranmore, turning round.

"Very much, sir, thank you," said Johnny, timidly.

"By the Lord, you are most unhappy in your ideas," roared the Captain; "you lorded me who am nobody, and sirred him who is every inch a Marquis; and that's saying a good deal."

A roar of laughter greeted Johnny as he asked pardon; and he now perceived, for the first time, the immense proportions of the Marquis, who was an Irishman, and a perfect giant in height and size.

Edinburgh was quickly reached; and, after a few commissions at the gunmaker's and saddler's had been executed, they lunched at a pump, which was the Captain's favourite resort, where he was as good as his word, and pumped his protégé well. They then turned their backs on the Castle once more, and were proceeding down Princes Street towards home at a furious rate when, to the Captain's horror, who thus knew his fate, one of the wheels was seen running merrily in front. Ere he could frame the awful oath that hung on his lips, down came the whole concern with a loud crash! The trap was turned completely over, sending its occupants flying in different ways.

The Captain was shot against a stout gentleman, who, though he broke the intruder's fall, was not a little shaken by it. Arranmore was hurled in the front of a young ladies' school walking quietly along, where he occasioned great confusion among the girls, who fancied, in their terror, as they gazed on his colossal limbs, a Titan had fallen from the sky. Johnny was shot right before the leaders of a coach which went off ere he could hardly roll himself on one side. Beyond a few bruises no one was materially hurt.

A scene followed such as Johnny had never before witnessed. The Captain was shaking hands with the old gentleman he had spilt, and swearing great guns, intermingled with roars of laughter at the old man's expense, who could by no means treat the affair as "such a joke," as the Captain called it. Arranmore was in great wrath, and swore loudly too, fancying he had been made a fool of, and anathematizing the inquisitive crowd gathered thickly round.

Meantime the spirited horses had broken their traces and run off; they were, however, caught before the High School, and led back in triumph. A new linchpin, the loss of which had caused the accident, was readily procured, the machine, as the Scotch say, "righted;" and, shaking the dust off their clothes, the trio soon mounted on high again. Lashing his whip amongst the throng, the young Jehu once more assumed the reins, and drove off at the same dangerous rate as if nothing had happened.

As they neared Johnny's home, the Captain informed him, to his extreme terror, that he had better drop off as he passed, as he was late and couldn't stop for him. Frightened as he was at the proposal, which the Captain made with the coolest indifference, fancying Johnny could do what his brother's tigers were accustomed to execute with such nimbleness, he could not summon courage to tell him he was afraid, so he sat still, trembling, and hoping a miracle would relieve him from his situation. However, no miracle came, and Johnny was still there after they had passed Seaview a hundred yards.

"You little fool! why didn't you drop?"

"I was afraid. Don't be angry, please."

"Afraid! Lord help you! then I'll slow;" and he checked the horses into a fast trot. "Now's your chance; off with you."

Johnny dared not refuse a second time, so with a heavy heart he let himself drop off. A complete somersault was the immediate result, and as he rose from his discomfiture and shook off the dust, he heard the Captain's laugh now far off. He hastened home and recounted the adventures of the day.

"I saw the spill," said L'Estrange, "from the Club windows. And so you had to drop, Johnny! Aha! so like De Vere,-he is such a mad-cap; but I fear a bad bird, too."

Johnny knew not whether to like the Captain or not.

On his arrival at the Towers the Captain made his brothers laugh too at Johnny's expense; but steadily refused to tell Miss Ravensworth's name unless the Earl promised to pay his Christmas bills; no sinecure if report said true. However, he hiccoughed it out that night over his toddy in the smoking-room, and was much surprised when his brother knew it next day, wondering how he had found it out, and accusing Arranmore as a traitor of course.

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