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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 15047

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Ye, that the rising morn invidious mark,

And hate the light-because your deeds are dark."

Pleasures of Hope.

"Ye are baith a pair o' the deevil's peats, I trow-hard token whilk deserves the hettest corner o' his ingle side."-Heart of Mid Lothian.

We left L'Estrange waiting at the door of Stacy's cabin; he heard the bolts within being unbarred, and in another moment the door was opened by Bill himself, who beckoned L'Estrange to enter without even saying a word of recognition, and no sooner had admitted his guest than he began again to bar the door. Bill was somewhat beneath the average height, but this was fully compensated for by his immense breadth of chest, and prodigious physical strength. His hair was lank, black, and matted down on his head; beneath his shaggy eyebrows gleamed piercing grey eyes; he wore neither beard nor moustache, but his whiskers formed what is commonly called a "hangman's collar," and were jagged and dusty with snuff. In his early days Bill's features had not been ill-looking, but time, and a life of hardship and exposure, had made sad ravages. His face was bloated by constant use of intoxicating liquors, weather-beaten by a seafaring life, and bronzed by exposure to a fierce tropical sun. There was something brutal in his manners, sinister and forbidding in his appearance. His brow was disfigured by a ghastly scar, and he looked, what he was in reality, a pirate and smuggler. He was dressed in sailor's costume, a sou'-wester on his head, and a rough pilot jacket buttoned closely round his broad chest. In his mouth he carried a small black cutty pipe, and wore on one of the little fingers of his large tanned hand a diamond ring of immense value.

Whilst this worthy was securing his door, L'Estrange found his way along a dark, narrow passage to old Stacy's storeroom. It was a long, low-roofed chamber, dimly lighted by a ship lamp, which swung from the ceiling, and shed its flickering beams on a strange and varied assortment of smuggled goods. There was only one window, or rather lattice, with small diamond-shaped panes of glass; it was now unsparred, and this had been the light which guided L'Estrange to the door. On the dusky walls hung cutlasses, pistols, and other deadly instruments of warfare, and beneath them were ranged rows of barrels, cases of tobacco, bales of muslin, and other foreign goods, all contraband, and scattered here and there in inextricable confusion. In the corner of the room furthest off a huge mastiff, chained to an empty barrel, which served for its kennel, kept guard over the cabin, and as L'Estrange entered, sprang out to the full length of his chain, growling and barking in the most ferocious manner, and displaying, at the same time, a set of splendid teeth and four terrible fangs. Woe to the intruder who came within chain's length of Fury! It was not, however, the strange medley, nor the desperate look of the apartment, nor the bandog's ire that made L'Estrange start back as if an adder had bitten him-no, it was none of these, he had seen them all before, often and often had he heard the watchdog's challenge. It was another inmate of this den-a face he saw where least he had expected to see it-which made our hero start back! Seated before the fire, which was made of drift-wood, on a barrel of gunpowder with the lid half broken off, displaying the deadly dust to view, sat a young man smoking a small black pipe, mounted in silver. If this pipe has not already betrayed him, our reader will at once recognize him from his short black hair, fierce moustache, and bold dark eye, to be none other than Captain de Vere. Beside him was a small round oak table, on which stood a silver tankard, holding a gallon of strong ale; a bottle of illicit whiskey, with the cork drawn; two toddy glasses, with silver spoons inside them, and several smaller glasses; on the floor lay a corkscrew with a cork still in it. The Captain sat with his eyes bent on the ground, smoking abstractedly, and would probably not have noticed the intruder had it not been for Fury's angry growl. He picked up a piece of drift-wood lying on the hearth, and, glancing towards the enraged animal, exclaimed, "Be still, you black devil," at the same time hurling the piece of wreck, which struck the animal a heavy blow, and sent it howling with pain into its barrel again. Having stilled the dog, the Captain next turned round to see the intruder. If L'Estrange was surprised to see De Vere, no less so was the Captain to see him there.

For some seconds they stared at each other without speaking a word; at last the Captain broke silence by exclaiming: "Well! I'm blowed," at the same time emptying the burning ashes of his pipe on the top of the barrel with the utmost nonchalance. Had one spark fallen into the powder, no one in that room would have ever lived to tell the tale!

"You will be blowed if you don't take care," replied L'Estrange, shuddering with horror at the careless action.

"A truce to your puns, and tell me what in the name of heaven has brought you to such a place at such an hour?"

"I might ask the same question of you, De Vere. I came, however, to see Stacy on some private business."

"So you have steered for old Bill, have you?"

"And what in the name of the foul fiend had you to say to me, my messmate?" muttered the old man, who had since entered the apartment.

"I had much to see you about, Bill-some private business of the greatest consequence."

"Private business be hanged," shouted the Captain, "there are no secrets here; was it with the black-eyed Antonia your private business lay, eh, L'Estrange?"

"No, De Vere, it was on very different matters I wanted Bill's advice."

"Bill's advice-a good one-his advice is the fiend's own counsel," said the Captain, disregarding Bill's angry look, who exclaimed, "And if he wants my advice, why shouldn't he have it, you scoundrel?"

"Stow that, old badger," interrupted the Captain. "Stow that, Bill; no brawling, remember; but I say again, d-n all secrets-out with it, Ned, you know me, I am no sieve."

"But, De Vere, this concerns your own family. I cannot tell it to you yet-by-and-by I may-not now."

"And why not now? If it concerns my family who has a better right to know it? and if I am to know it some day, why not now?"

L'Estrange still hesitated.

"Hark you," said the Captain, rising flushed with anger, and striking the table such a blow with his clenched hand as set all the glasses waltzing, "you shall trifle with me no more: I wish to know that secret, and by heaven I will! Look you here, my fine fellow, no one saw you come in here, and devil a one shall see you go out, unless you turf your secret! it is as safe with me as with Bill, and unless I know it, you never leave this room living."

His whole frame seemed to dilate with passion as he shouted, rather than spoke, these words.

"Out with it, Ned; devil a fear of the Cap's turning traitor, he will rap through right and wrong," said old Bill Stacy.

L'Estrange knowing the desperate character of these two men, and feeling sure they would feel small scruples in fulfilling their threat, should he longer hesitate, thought the best part of valour was discretion, and told them he would make a clean breast of it.

"But, remember, De Vere," said he, "you force me to do it, and you must not grow wrath if you don't like it."

"Small fear of that," said the Captain, reseating himself on the barrel. "Come here, Ned, sit d

own, make yourself comfortable first. What will you have? ale-whiskey-or old Tom? all here."

"Some whiskey; I am partial to it, I don't know why."

"And capital whiskey it is," said the Captain, pouring him out a glass; "trust Bill for good spirits! And now for the tale; cut along, Ned."

Having emptied his glass, L'Estrange commenced his narrative, and made, as he said, a clean breast of it. During the recital, to have judged by the looks of the two desperates, you would have fancied they had little or no interest in it, and vastly preferred their pipes and the frequent drams they drank; but it was far otherwise, and thoughtless as they looked they were both drinking in every word, sifting every phrase, and turning over the whole in their minds. It was some time ere L'Estrange finished, and a long time elapsed before another word was spoken. The Captain broke silence and said, as he tossed off another dram-

"So ho! sets the wind that way? I thought as much. You love a pretty girl-and she is pretty too-she loves you. My brother comes in-she likes him better-jilts you, and no wonder; most girls would prefer a coronet, when they can get one, to none. And you want to get her back, that's all. Is that your fine secret? Why, Lord bless me, you might have proclaimed that in the market-place."

The Captain laughed bitterly.

"No, that's not all, you forget if your brother marries your hopes of a coronet are for ever gone too."

"Egad," said the Captain, using his favourite expression, "you are right there, Ned; I never thought of that! True, I'd as lief see Wentworth beneath the sod as married. But what is that to you? if the girl don't like you-if she likes him better-you won't get her back. I know the sex well; let one of them take a thing into their heads and they will move heaven and earth till they get it. If Ellen Ravensworth has taken it into her head to be a countess, she is safe to be so, despite you and me, Ned. But you are sure Wentworth gave her that ring?"

"Sure as death."

"Ha! that looks bad! And what are you going to do?"

"That is what I came here for, to find out-that is exactly what I don't know-can you assist me? Let's hear what you can devise, Bill."

"Look you-this here is my advice, trap him-snare 'im-net him-set another girl in his way-a springe to catch woodcocks-eh Ned? get him to marry another girl-get the lass to forget him!"

"Sage advice that, you muddle-pated idiot-that would be a joke! Wentworth marry another-if he must marry, why the devil not Ellen Ravensworth? Well, you are a greater fool than I took you for, Bill."

Stacy gave an angry grunt when he saw his error.

"No, no! Wentworth must not marry, that's flat!"

"How will you prevent him, De Vere?"

"How prevent him? lots of ways! If the thing depended on such thickheaded fools as you and Bill, you would want your lass, as the Scotch say, and Wentworth would not want his. But, thank heaven, you have a wily customer in me, and if I don't bring matters straight call me a fool-an idiot! Now what do you think of this?" he continued, and for several minutes, in a low voice, whispered some dark plan or scheme. The changing expression of L'Estrange's face from gloom and doubt, till at last, when the Captain ceased, he exclaimed with joy, "Bravo! well done! it is the counsel of a Nestor," showed he at least thought well of it, and augured its success.

"You're a gallows bird-a crafty old fox-a rascally dog, you are," said Bill; "and what, my hearty, if I refuse, what if Bill says his daughter shan't?"

"Then I say I'll twist your neck, you old smuggler, and rid the world of such a scoundrel, and be thanked for doing so! that's what I say; so you had best comply."

"Ye dursn't, you dog."

"Daren't I?" said the Captain, springing up from his seat. "Dead dogs tell no tales, and why should I not? I dare anything-I neither fear God nor regard man-I fear neither angel, spirit, nor devil! and think you I fear an old rascal like you?"

Some terrible catastrophe might have happened had it not been for L'Estrange, who saw they were both inflamed with drink; he interposed himself between the brawlers, and tried to make peace by insisting on the Captain accompanying him home, and Bill's appeasing his wrath, saying they had been there quite long enough; the plan was a famous one, and if they left Bill to himself he would soon come round to it.

Muttering indistinct oaths and curses old Bill unbarred the door once more, and let the two friends-if we may so call them-out. Taking L'Estrange's arm, the Captain proceeded with him across the bleak common.

"Are you not glad you told me all, you unbelieving fellow?"

"I am. I hope it will succeed."

"Sure to succeed. By-the-by, how did you come out here? marched like me, I suppose, and a cold tramp we shall have of it," said the Captain, buttoning up his coat.

"No, I rode out."

"Rode, and where the deuce did you leave your horse? If you left it on the common, ten to one some dog of a smuggler has noosed it."

"Never you fear, I brought my man with me, and he is taking care of them."

"He rode too? aha, then, I can ride his nag for him-it will save the grind; that'll do nicely," said the Captain, quickening his pace and advancing to where the man and horses stood. "By Gad he's asleep; I'll freshen him up," said he, laying his riding-whip pretty smartly across the Irishman's shoulders.

When Pat had smoked out his pipe, and found he had no more tobacco to replenish it with, again anathematizing L'Estrange for his nocturnal freaks, he dismounted, and leaning against his charger's side, which proved a capital defence against the cold south-easter that blew chilly over the downs, still white with snow, he actually fell asleep; and in dreamland once more visited his emerald isle, green Erin, and like Campbell's dreaming soldier, hastened to his wife's embrace, and vowed he would leave them no more for a soldier's life! Poor Pat's dream was somewhat rudely broken by the blow of De Vere's whip. Rubbing his eyes he looked round to see his disturber.

"Rouse up, you sleepy dog," said the Captain, as his lash again descended-"rouse up and hold the stirrup for me."

Mechanically the Irishman obeyed, knowing the Captain of old, and he had the mortification of beholding him firmly seated on his horse, and as soon as L'Estrange was mounted they both set off at full gallop towards Brighton, the Captain telling him he might get back the best way he could, and that a double quick would warm him after his slumbers.

"Divil resave 'em for a set of thieves," cried the enraged Paddy, as soon as his tormentor was gone. "A pretty trick to play an honest man-ill luck to 'em both." He then began his solitary plod home over the bleak plains. "An' they niver thought I might be murthered, and not even a dhrap of the rale good stuff to keep the cold out have they left me-ill luck to 'em." With such kindly expressions Pat Malony cheered his way, and after a four mile trudge, reached the barracks at past three in the morning; and as he could not, or would not give an account of himself he was placed in guard for absence without leave, until L'Estrange released him from his prison and comforted the son of Erin's offended pride by a sovereign, for which piece of generosity he was rewarded by as many blessings as he had received cursings the previous night, and assured of Pat's willingness to endure fifty such nightly perambulations.

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