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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 26929

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"And bright

The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men;

A thousand hearts beat happily; and when

Music arose with its voluptuous swell,

Soft eyes looked love to eyes that spoke again,

And all went merry as a marriage-bell."-Childe Harold.

"Deep lay the snow on the ground below,

And leaden was the air;

The icicles white hung glittering bright

From the pine-tree's branches bare."-Ballad.

Weeks passed by. Still the prospect of Ellen's becoming acquainted with Lord Wentworth seemed distant as ever. Occasionally she saw him in church; occasionally either he or his brothers would rein up their carriage at Seaview, and take her brother a drive; but still no advance towards friendship was made. She began to grow hopeless, and to fancy her bright dreams were like the mirage of the desert, only feeding vain desires, and leaving her thirsty as before.

Ellen and her father received an invitation to a grand ball, which the then Duke of Buccleuch was to give in honour of the election, which his son was disputing with Mr. Rushington, a dangerously popular Whig, a man of considerable fortune and address. The Duke and Lord Wentworth being both firm Tories had little doubt that between them they would carry the day in favour of the Earl of Dalkeith, and the time was busily spent in canvassing. The better to insure his son's interests, the Duke resolved on giving a grand Election Ball; and it was whispered that many a vote, conscientiously denied, would lay at his feet if an invitation to this ball was duly forwarded. Of course all the family at the Towers, as well as the Marquis, were amongst the invited. Captain de Vere, one afternoon, brought his brother the happy news that Ellen Ravensworth was to be there; he did not then know that Lord Wentworth had himself asked for, and sent the invitation to them.

On the day of the ball great preparations were made at Dalkeith, in order that it might prove the most decided success. The palace was to be brightly illuminated, and the trees hung with variegated lamps. At the Towers, however, there was no unusual excitement; such things sat lightly on people accustomed to the brilliancy of the Prince Regent's Court, and the day was spent in battue shooting, which proved, however, a failure, owing to the excessively cold north-east wind.

Very differently did Ellen Ravensworth spend the day; to her it was one of the greatest events of life, and she could think and talk of nothing else but the ball. She knew, too, that all the De Veres were to be there, at least she had heard so, and she could not help a secret feeling of joy that L'Estrange had joined his regiment, or rather had been ordered to take a troop of the 7th Hussars from Edinburgh to the Preston Barracks near Brighton, then one of the most fashionable resorts, owing to the Pavilion the Prince Regent had built there. She felt now free as air, and if-if Lord Wentworth did dance with her, how happy she would feel! She could settle to nothing all that day; and there was one thing which caused her no little uneasiness; this was the remissness of Madame Delany, who had not yet sent the ball-dress, though it had been promised on the previous evening. Three times did the anxious girl send to Edinburgh, three times did Madame send the same provoking answer: "It would be sent in abundance of time."

The day wore through; it was a dark, gloomy day, with scud fleeting across the sky; but towards evening it cleared off cold and frosty. Six o'clock, the dinner-hour, struck; but nothing could Ellen eat. Her dress had not yet arrived!

"Oh, how provoking this is, papa!" exclaimed the disappointed girl. "May I not send once more?"

"No, love, you had better not; it will only annoy Madame, and you will get it none the sooner."

Ellen knew this was only reasonable, and tried to be as patient as she could under these trying circumstances; but when seven o'clock came, and still no appearance of her dress, her case was truly piteous. Johnny volunteered to drive to town and bring it back with him, if his sister would get everything else ready; and with a heavy heart Ellen went upstairs to dress. At last Johnny returned, and Ellen rushed to meet him-but no! Madame had sent it an hour ago-it should have arrived by this time.

"This is maddening!" cried the frantic beauty; "it is, it is; where can it be? They must have taken it to a wrong house!" And no longer able to control herself, she burst into a paroxysm of grief, and cried as if her heart would break. Her father tried every expedient to quiet her; he told her she would spoil her looks if she cried in this silly manner, and proposed she should put on her last ball-dress, which was very pretty; but it was in vain, Ellen had set her heart on appearing in her own beautiful choice; and, sooner than put on another, she would stay at home! Just then a bell rang. "My dress!" But no,-it was the carriage to take them to Dalkeith, and she not ready! Surely the stars fought against her. However, all grief must have its end, and at last Ellen's had too. A little after nine the missing robe arrived,-the messenger had only been detained at another house, that was all. How Ellen hated those people! She ran upstairs now as joyful as she had been miserable five minutes before. A long time was spent ere she was fitted to her taste; at last she appeared arrayed in all her magnificence, and more than an hour later than they had intended they set off for Dalkeith.

But Ellen's misfortunes were not yet ended. Before they had proceeded a mile on their road the carriage suddenly came to a dead halt.

"What is wrong now?" said Mr. Ravensworth, in his turn beginning to fear they were doomed to mishaps.

"Nothing, sir, nothing, only a trace broken. I will ride one of the horses to the village in ten minutes and get another, sir."

Twenty minutes, however, elapsed ere the coachman again made his appearance; during which time, left on the road in the most forlorn condition, they were exposed to the taunts of every coachman and flunky who passed in their gay turn-outs to the ball, and called out, "Shall we tell the Duke you are coming?" and the like. After all their troubles, they were, however, safely landed at the Palace, arriving there exactly as the church clock struck eleven.

Ellen's only consolation was that they were at any rate fashionably late. How she wondered if the Wentworths had been there long! After being duly presented to the Duke and Duchess, who stood at the door in no very enviable position bowing, or saying a word to each guest as he or she passed, Mr. Ravensworth and his daughter began to make a tour of the splendid suite of apartments, brilliantly lighted up for the occasion. Endless dancers, in glittering array, passed and repassed them. All were smiling, all seemed happy,-all seemed to have friends but them; they knew nobody,-nobody seemed to know, or care about them. Had it not been for Ellen's great beauty, which attracted the attention and admiration of all the officers present, they would have been unnoticed too. Ellen cared only for one face, and whilst she saw it not she was miserable. It was not till she and her father had thrice made the round of the suite that Ellen began to feel persuaded he was not there. She refused every offer to dance, and they were by no means few, with a cold smile; and many a gay young spark who was introduced to her, and anxiously sought the pleasure of dancing the next set, went away sad and downcast when the disdainful Beauty refused him. At last she met a lady acquaintance, and seated herself by her friend, whilst Mr. Ravensworth went in quest of a partner; he by no means intending to follow Ellen's example. Lost in a dreamy reverie, even while she talked her mind followed not her words, till a name was announced that made her give such a start, her friend asked her if she felt quite well.

After dinner at the Towers Lord Wentworth and Frank adjourned to the billiard-room till it was time to dress. Lord Arranmore and the Captain had dined at Piershill, where several troops of the 7th were quartered, and were to start from thence. Ten had struck some time ere the game was finished, and then Lord Wentworth said-

"We had better go and dress now, I suppose; remember Ellen Ravensworth is to be there. I wonder if she went at nine."

"No doubt of it," said Frank; and with these words they left for their several rooms. It was eleven ere they again appeared, Frank in full uniform, and the Earl simply in evening dress, with the broad blue ribbon of the Garter across his breast.

"What! neither of the girls down yet?" said Frank; "one would have thought they had had time to dress."

At that moment the sisters appeared: Lady Edith in black moire antique trimmed with Venice point lace,-a scarf of the same expensive fabric was thrown over her shoulders with charming negligé; excepting her earrings and bracelets, which were of rubies, she wore no ornament, but a diamond star of five points on her brow. Florence was arrayed in Brussels lace over white glacé silk; a string of the finest pearls was twisted through her golden hair; she wore pendants of emerald, and bracelets of the same precious gem clasped her snowy arms.

"Ah, you both look very nice; let me help you on with your opera cloaks," said Lord Wentworth. It was the announcement of "The Ladies Edith and Florence de Vere, the Honourable Francis de Vere," that made Ellen start so.

"Then he is not coming," thought she, "and my hopes are vain."

"Who are those lovely creatures?" said her friend.

"Lord Wentworth's sisters," mechanically answered Ellen, as the Earl, who had stayed a minute behind to give directions about the carriage, was announced.

"There is Wentworth's flame," whispered Lady Florence to Edith; "how flushed she looks; but she is really very pretty."

After saying a few words to his hosts, Lord Wentworth hastened after his party, only casting one glance at Ellen as he passed, and again her hopes fell, and she sighed deeply. The admired of all admirers, the two young men, each with one of his sisters on his arm, passed down the rooms, smiling, or bowing, or speaking to every one. Frank was soon relieved of Florence's company, who was whirled off in the new dance, the then novel waltz, by Sir Richard Musgrave, a lieutenant in the Captain's troop. Lord Wentworth's charge was less easy to dispose of; and, like Ellen, she saddened many a heart, till Lord Dalkeith succeeded in obtaining her hand for a quadrille. Just then the Earl caught a glimpse of Mr. Ravensworth hurrying past, and immediately followed him.

"Where are you racing to, Mr. Ravensworth?"

"Oh! I beg your pardon for not seeing you, my Lord, but I am just now in pursuit of my daughter, who seems lost in this gay throng."

"I can, then, be of the greatest assistance, and will guide you to the missing beauty. Here, this way,-gently! Ah! there she is like a blooming Eastern bride! And now, Mr. Ravensworth, as I have guided you so well, will you reward me by an introduction to your fair daughter?"

"With the greatest pleasure; but you honour her too much,-'The Earl of Wentworth-my daughter, Miss Ravensworth.'"

Ellen felt almost too happy to speak. Here actually stood the Earl before her! he had pushed a point to know her,-she felt proud of her power.

"Well, Miss Ravensworth, we at length know each other. Your brother Johnny is such a favourite with us all, and he has spoken so much of you, that I feel as if I was speaking to an old friend."

"Oh, you are too good to say so, my Lord," was all that Ellen could answer, her heart quite fluttering all the while.

Lord Wentworth, perceiving her hesitation, with the ease of a man of the world, soon put her at her ease too. A few minutes afterwards he led her forth as his partner in the next waltz. Those few minutes, with her idol's arm round her waist, and his head leaning over her shoulder, as they whirled through the elegant mazes of the dance, were a heaven upon earth to poor Ellen:-

"Merrily, merrily, cheerily, cheerily, merrily goes the ball,"

and our heroine was in turn introduced to all the members of the De Vere family, and what was more, was taken down to supper by the Earl, to the undisguised wrath and mortification of anxious mothers and jealous daughters, who "really could not see what there was to admire so very much in her." Whilst all went merry indoors, a very different scene was taking place out,-a hurricane of wind bent the trees, and blew out the festive lights, and like arrows on the blast came the white snowflakes, beating on the steps and covering over the carpets, which were no sooner laid down than they were whitened. Such was the scene as Lord Wentworth handed Ellen to her carriage, and this made a capital excuse for his offering his magnificent sable cloak, fastened with glittering diamonds, to protect the fair child of beauty's neck and shoulders from the wind and snow; and for insisting on her accepting it as a defence from the cold on her way home. He would take no refusal; so, after seeing her safely ensconced in her carriage, with his mantle wrapped round her, he more than pressed her hand, shook hands warmly with her father, and left her in an ecstacy of delight. Returning to the Palace, he collected his party as soon as he could. Florence had danced with every one; Edith

with no one, excepting the Duke, Lord Dalkeith, a Russian Grand Duke, and of course her fiancé, Arranmore, who, leaving Frank to drive home with the Captain, took his place by Edith in the Earl's carriage. They then all went home, pleased and delighted with the evening,-the Earl perhaps more than any one. On the following morning they found more than two feet of snow had fallen during the night, the sky had cleared, and a sharp frost crisped the surface.

"How did you like the ball, John?" said Lady Florence, entering the breakfast room, rubbing her hands with the cold.

"I thought it a d-d humbug; I know I liked our supper at the barracks ten times better-you didn't hear me come home this morning did you, Floss, at seven o'clock, by Musgrave's sledge?"

"No, but you must be tired then."

"Not a whit-Musgrave's affair is the most confoundedly clumsy contrivance I ever saw though: I promised to show him Wentworth's Russian sledge some day. Ha! ha! old fellow," continued the Captain as Lord Wentworth entered, "you went and did it, by Jove, though."

"I, how? what do you mean?"

"What do I mean? oh, I like that-why, Wentworth, you have turned that poor girl's head, I'll stake high; all our fellows were talking of it."

"I did nothing, merely danced with a pretty girl-flirted perhaps a little, no more."

"And never took her down to supper? nor spread your cloak over her fair shoulders? nor pressed her to take it home?"

"Bets are ten to one she dies a countess," said Frank, who had meanwhile entered.

"Oh! Frank, what stuff you talk!"

"Well, Floss," said John, "how many fellows did you dance with?"

"I am sure I don't know-how you do tease."

"No wonder! Egad! I believe you danced with every one," said her tormentor.

"I have ordered the two sledges," said the Earl, glad to change the conversation.

"Oh! hurrah! are you coming with me, girls?"

"No, thank you, John! we have more respect for our lives."

"You will, Arranmore; I told Wilton," (the master of the horse,) "to put in the two unbroken Irish beggars in my one-tandem fashion."

"No, Arthur, don't go," said Edith.

"Pshaw! don't frighten him, Edith. I shall think you are a coward if you won't come."

"No fear for that, I'll go," answered the Marquis.

"You will come with me, girls?"

"Yes, we are not afraid of you, Wentworth."

Accordingly after breakfast the sleighs were brought round to the door, and all clad in furs ready to face the cold. First the Captain had to get off, and though he was a first-rate whip it was no easy matter, and twice he was nearly over ere he could get the ponies under control. At last he was off at a dashing rate, and had apparently lost all control of his horses long before he was out of sight. In a more dignified manner the Earl and Frank drove off with Lady Edith and Florence inside, wrapped in the costliest furs. Following the traces of the Captain's sledge they soon came to a spot where it was evident a disaster had occurred-a broken trace-wild plunges in the snow-and a shattered fir-tree, the cause of the mishap. The tracks, however, afterwards went on more regularly, which showed no one had been hurt.

"I had better call for my cloak, Frank," said the Earl, as he neared Ellen's house; "but," continued he, pointing to two figures on the snow, "I should know that girl."

"Miss Ravensworth, and young Nimrod,-love has lynx eyes," replied Frank. In a few moments the sleigh caught them up.

"Hallo there! where are you running to? that's one way of treating your friends, Miss Ravensworth," said Lord Wentworth, as he stopped the sleigh.

"I was hastening to fetch your cloak, my Lord: it was such a comfort to me last night," she replied, as she shook hands with the Earl, who had leaped down and proposed giving them a drive.

"I am sure my sisters will be delighted, won't you Edie? here is Miss Ravensworth coming for a drive with us-Frank, you may drive now-Johnny, you get up on the box, and your sister and I will get inside."

"How do you do?" said Lady Edith and Florence as Ellen and the Earl entered; "how glad we are we met you!"

"How kind of you to say so, Lady Edith."

"Well, how did you like the ball?" said the Earl, as the sleigh glided off.

"Oh! so much. I felt a little dull till you came."

"Till I came; what had I to do with it?"

Ellen saw her blunder, and blushed crimson as she perceived her friends all smile.

"I hope you found my brother's cloak acceptable?" said Lady Edith, perceiving her embarrassment, and changing the conversation.

"Oh, so warm, I don't know what I should have done without it."

"I shall now have a double value for it, Miss Ravensworth, since you have worn it."

"Oh, don't say so," exclaimed Ellen.

"Well, I hope we may have the pleasure of seeing you at the Towers some day. Do you know, Miss Ravensworth, I dreamed about you last night!"

"What nonsense you do talk, Wentworth," said Lady Florence.

"No nonsense; it is true."

"What did you dream, Lord Wentworth?" said Ellen, regaining her courage. "Oh, do tell me."

"No, you would be so angry."

"Oh, I wouldn't, do tell me."

"Very well, you have promised. I dreamed then-but mercy on us, where are we going to?"

This exclamation was caused by a sudden swerve, and then as sudden a descent of the sleigh downwards at an angle of 45°. Frank had driven on steadily enough till he came to the Queen's Drive,[C] a fine road surrounding Arthur's Seat. Just as the sleigh was gliding along above the Loch of Duddingston, feeling cold, he had given the reins to Johnny for a moment, while he lighted a cigar and took a pull at the brandy flask; but no sooner did the spirited horses perceive another, and weaker, hand guided them, than they left the road, and swinging round plunged down the steep decline towards the Loch.

"God save us!" cried Frank as he seized the reins from the terrified boy, "where are you going?" He then by a masterpiece of driving managed to guide the impetuous horses down without overthrowing the sleigh, and adroitly brought them round just as they seemed to be about plunging into the thinly frozen-over lake; he then brought them up with a sharp turn, and as he viewed their tracks down the hill now that danger was over, burst into a fit of laughter as his brother put out his head from the inside, and sternly demanded from Frank the meaning of such an ill-timed practical joke. As soon as Frank could speak, he told the whole occurrence, which in its turn made the occupants of the inside laugh too, though the ladies but a few minutes before were screaming in terror; at least two of them, for Lady Edith was as self-possessed as any of her brothers. Frank promised not to trust Johnny again, and they then proceeded homewards, dropping Ellen and her brother at their home, and getting in return the far-famed cloak. They found the Captain and Arranmore already at the Towers, and the former told in great glee how they had twice come to grief-nearly overturned the mail coach, and quite overthrown a cart full of apples.

The winter now set in with greater severity than ever, and the mercury once or twice sank below 0°. Duddingston was of course frozen strongly over, and presented a gay appearance with all the skaters, and the numbers of fair Scotch ladies that graced the scene with their presence. The Earl's sleigh often honoured the ice, and once he and his sisters called for Ellen and Johnny, and on that occasion Ellen had been chaperoned by her admirer over the Loch. On her return home she found an invitation, including all of them, even to Maude, asking the pleasure of their company at dinner on Christmas day, and concluding by saying that a sleigh would be sent for them in plenty of time, as the snow now lay too deep in the country to render any other mode of conveyance safe. On that-to Ellen-eventful day the sleigh drew up before Seaview about half-past six o'clock; the cold was intense, but abundance of furs had been provided, including the Earl's own cloak for Ellen's especial use.

"So here you are, Miss Ravensworth. Welcome to the Towers," said the Earl, as in true olden fashion he handed the fair lady out of the sleigh. "How are you, Ravensworth? how are you, Johnny? and Maude, this is the first time I have seen you, I hope it will not be the last."

He then ushered them to the drawing-room, where as warm a welcome awaited them from the ladies. It was quite a family party, and the only strangers besides themselves were Mr. Lennox and Sir Richard Musgrave; Lord Arranmore was counted as one of the family. They thus sat down twelve to a real Christmas dinner, and never did a happier or merrier party meet together. Mr. Lennox was in high feather at his good fortune, and most assiduous in his attention to the Ladies de Vere, perhaps as much as the Earl was to Ellen, whom he had taken down to dinner. After the ladies and Johnny left, the gentlemen drew nearer the fire and began to make themselves comfortable. Mr. Lennox introduced the subject of the new clergyman at St. John's, which was in the Earl's gift, and asked if it was his lordship's intention to give the incumbency to Mr. Power, then doing duty.

"I am sure I do not care, Mr. Lennox; whatever is pleasing to you and the Vestry is the same to me: let Power have it if you like."

"I am d-d if I'd give it to Power," said the Captain.

"Why not, Captain de Vere?" said Mr. Lennox, much aghast at his conversation.

"Why not? because he is such a tedious fool."

"When did you ever hear him preach?" said Frank.

"I never knew you troubled his church."

"I never yet met him but what he tried to force one of his d-d sermons on me, whether a fellow wanted it or no; I cut his gab short, I know."

"Well, Captain, you are sincere certainly! but, asking your pardon, I should say Mr. Power's sermons would do you good perhaps."

"You are right, Lennox, I am sincere; I thank God, whatever I am, I am not a hypocrite."

"I am glad you thank God for anything," replied Lord Arranmore.

"If I had thought I wouldn't have then," retorted the godless young man.

"Well, well, don't quarrel," said the Earl; "let Power have the living, and let the matter end."

"He'll do a power of harm," said the Captain, levelling a last shot at the head of the clergyman, to whom, in common with his kind, he had a great antipathy, and regarded as his natural enemy.

"Apropos of changing the subject, how do you like the idea of our regiment going to Brighton?" said Sir Richard.

"Famously," answered the Captain, "we shall have a rare lark with the Regent. Do you remember the last time he supped with us, Musgrave?"

"I should think I did just: what a spree we had that night!"

"What was it?" said Frank; "out with it, John-now you are in for a story."

The Captain then told how the Prince and one of his royal brothers, Musgrave and he, had gone out for a spree in London, knocked down the Charlies, and going into a tavern, how the Prince had got up a row, and when they were all milling, unbuttoned his coat and shown them his Star and Garter. His narrative was intermingled with dreadful oaths, and during the recital he and Musgrave, as well as Arranmore, who was also a hard drinker, had plied themselves with a heavy quantity of liquor in Lennox's opinion, but a quantity that the Captain only regarded as a milksop's allowance. By-and-by, as they imbibed more wine, the mirth grew faster and more furious, and queer stories were told, till the Earl, seeing the scene was distasteful both to Lennox and Ravensworth, ended it by a proposition to join the ladies, much to the Captain's horror, who, as he tossed off a glass of raw brandy, wondered "why the deuce his brother was in such a jolly hurry that night."

After a pleasant evening, in which Ellen astonished Lady Edith, herself a fine musician, by her proficiency as a pianiste, the sledge was announced and the happy party broke up. As the Earl handed Ellen down stairs, he expressed a hope she would often find her way to the Towers; and as he pressed her hand, he slipped a small packet into her clasp,-tightly she held it all the way home, nor dared to open it before her father, and Mr. Lennox, who took advantage of their sleigh. On their way back the family were canvassed pretty freely by Mr. Lennox and her father, who were both grieved at the irreligious tone of the house, and both gave as their opinion that Captain de Vere was the most godless young man they had ever met with. Little better could be said of Lord Arranmore and Sir R. Musgrave; the Earl and Frank seemed the best, and the latter was certainly suffering from the evil example before him. Nothing could be said against the ladies. However, with all their faults, neither of the gentlemen felt otherwise than proud of knowing them. Johnny was rather delighted than otherwise, and seemed to think it was a grand thing to drink, smoke, and swear like the Captain. Ellen said nothing, but in her heart she pitied them, and was even willing to gloss over all the Captain's faults out of her love to his brother. When they reached home, she rushed to her room and opened the little packet, which revealed a ring formed of a whole hoop of emeralds, and inside were engraved two words-"Hope on!"

"I will, I will!" cried the happy girl; and that night she dreamed she was the bride of Lord Wentworth!

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