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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 21697

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more;

Men were deceivers ever."-Much ado about Nothing.

"From sport to sport they hurry me, to banish my regret,

And when they win a smile from me, they think that I forget."

Baillie.

We must again pick up the dropped thread of our story, and return to the family at Seaview, to see what the Ravensworths have been doing all this time. The sudden departure of the Earl had fallen like a thunderbolt on poor Ellen and her brother. Whilst they stayed at the Towers they had been to her like a bright ray of sunshine that bursts through the clouds on a stormy day, as evanescent as it was brilliant, it had soon departed. And now life seemed doubly dark and cheerless when she contrasted it with those happy days, numbered among the things that were. How much had been crowded into that short span,-how much compressed into that little month! It had found her a wild enthusiastic dreamer, a conjurer of vain hopes that might never be realized;-it had left her able to look back, not on the unreal fictions of a poetic mind, not on the airy castles of imagination, but on truth-substantial, real, earnest! It had found her a captive to love she could not reciprocate; it had left her loving,-fondly, devotedly loving, and she believed as fondly, as devotedly beloved. It had been an era of the utmost importance,-a month the most pleasurable and the most joyous of her young life. She had something, too, on which to rest her love,-something on which to anchor her affections; how else could she interpret the golden circlet with its virgin emeralds that gemmed her finger, and those oft-read words, "Hope on"? This was a link between parted lovers; whilst she owned that ring it seemed as though a bond bound their hearts together; it was a remembrance of bright days past,-a pledge of still brighter days to come; and however dull was her present life, however uneventful the passing hour, whilst she had this ring she had the "one remembrance fondly kept," and seemed to possess, as it were, a kind of loadstone which, though her guiding star was unseen, still trembled to the pole of her affections. Johnny's feelings were, of course, of a very different nature; he only regretted lost pleasures,-his rides, his drives. Another thing was, that while his great friends had been near he had been made much of, much petted; and of course liking the kind of life very well, and feeling it was a higher tone of society than he had been accustomed to, he had, naturally enough, cut all his old acquaintances and playmates; and now that the De Veres were gone he was left doubly lone, and much in the position of the jackdaw with borrowed plumes, unable to associate with those to whom he aspired, and in ill favour with those whom he cast off in his pride. So Johnny was thrown much more on his own resources, and, like his sister, his memory of past joys could ill atone for present miseries. It is a bad thing to be forced to live on the past. The mind becomes ill-directed, and it is a kind of mental backsliding. Careless of the future, forgetful of the present grows such a mind: it is like the antiquary groping in the ruins of old, and never allowing his eye to rest on the palaces of the modern time. Such was the case with these two. Their father had returned to the dull routine of every-day life; and though he had enjoyed the past, now that it was gone, he was too busy to give more than a passing thought to it. But Ellen passed the time in vain attempts to recall and revivify the days gone by; and Johnny, when not actually at his lessons, was wont to let his mind run on the days at the Towers, his drives and his amusements, and this was invariably the topic of their conversation when they got together, utterly upsetting all useful employment, and unhinging their minds for life's real duties. Time fled by on silent wing, and soon three weeks had almost imperceptibly glided away, and yet they had had no sort of intelligence of their friends, except the bald paragraphs that occasionally told their whereabouts, in the papers. One evening, however, the postman brought a letter addressed in the Earl's own handwriting to Ellen. For a moment her excitement was so great that she could hardly break the seal, and thousands of conjectures passed rapidly through her mind. She tore it open,-there was no letter from the Earl, but an announcement of the Marquis and Marchioness of Arranmore's marriage. It was certainly a disappointment, for Ellen had expected little short of a long and loving epistle; but still it proved one grand point,-she was not forgotten. In all the bustle of his sister's marriage, in all the distraction of company, she had dwelt in his mind; he had himself addressed the envelope; certainly he could not have done so to every one to whom cards were sent. The ring bade her "hope on,"-she would hope! The next night's mail brought the London papers with a full and glowing description of the gay ceremony. How eagerly Ellen read every word; how eagerly she pored over the names, ay, and even the dresses of the guests; how she wished she had been there; another hope whispered perhaps her own wedding would next take place, a gayer assemblage would meet together, and she be bride and queen of all! She smiled at this conceit and read on: what does she read? Mr. Ravensworth was standing near the fire, the only person then in the drawing-room besides herself; he was also reading, when suddenly he was alarmed by her loud, harrowing scream, and at the same moment he saw Ellen dash the paper on the ground, and rush frantically from the room. All was so sudden, all took place in such a moment, he stood paralyzed. His first thought was that Ellen was ill, and his impulse to follow; his next, to see if there was anything in the paper to account for this strange conduct. He picked up the paper; the first sentence his eye caught was quite enough,-enough to explain all. The short but fatal passage ran as follows:-"We are authorized in stating that the young Earl of Wentworth will shortly lead Lady Alice Claremont to the hymeneal altar, thus forming a double bond between these noble families. Lady Alice is the youngest sister of the noble Marquis of Arranmore." He dropped the paper, still undecisive how he should act, when, to his surprise and astonishment, who should enter the room but Ellen, apparently quite composed, with a smile on her face; but one had only to look at her wild eye, to see all was not right. Her smile was the bitter smile which sometimes betrays rejected love. So allied are our intensest feelings of sorrow and pleasure, that tears may course the cheek for very joy, and smiles light the countenance for very sorrow, blackness, and stagnation of woe.

She sat down on a sofa, but she scarcely knew where she was; she spoke not, sighed not, wept not,-she scarcely seemed to draw her breath. The eloquence of that silent suffering was awful; the stillness was the stillness of death,-not the death of the mortal frame, but the death, the annihilation of all soft feelings, and all love by one fell swoop.

Mr. Ravensworth looked at his daughter in silence too; he saw how great her grief was; he saw that she was yet unconscious of all its depth and all her loss; and so at first he spoke not. Five minutes and more of this deadly silence lasted, and then the poor girl's father spoke.

"My poor Ellen! it is a great trial; God give you strength to bear it!"

For a moment she looked at him wildly; for a dread moment he feared her mind had given way beneath the blow; but, heaven be praised! it had not, and in a voice-how unlike her usual silvery tone! she said, "Yes, papa, I am stunned,-stupefied. My God! is it true,-has he left me? Cruel, cruel man! My heart is full,-it is bursting! Would God that it might break!"

"My own Ellen, did I not warn you, dearest,-did I not entreat you--"

"Reason not with despair! No, no, no!-it is vain! He has left me,-left me cruelly! Oh, it was cruel to raise hopes only to quench them! I am desolate. It is no dream,-I am broken-hearted! Let me die! What is life now to me?-let me die!"

"Say not so, darling,-time will heal your wound; he was not worthy of you, Ellen."

"Add not to my grief, dearest papa,-if you love me, desist. It is false! Eternity can never heal that wound,-but speak not so of him! He has left me,-forsaken me,-killed me; but I love him,-I love him still!"

"Be calm, my own love. This is only excitement; try and be calm, Ellen,-do, dearest!"

"I will-I will! See how I bear it! See, I do not weep,-but, oh! my head,-how it throbs! My eyeballs seem of flame,-they are bursting out of my head! My brain seems on fire! Oh, if I could cry! If I could only cry! I cannot,-I have no tears,-they are dried up!"

"I will leave you, darling, now; try and weep if you can; think of something to cry on,-try: it will relieve you."

He left the poor girl alone, for he knew she had spoken the truth,-she was stunned; but when Nature's soft relief came,-when the tears fell,-the storm would weep itself away: as in nature, so he knew it was in the natural mind.

"If you love me, papa, tell this to no one; let me bear my misery alone," she said, as her father left the room.

Sorrow had crushed her; her nerves were strung to the utmost stretch; another strain and her mind would have given way! The excitement of the first blow sustained her wonderfully; still, her grief was too deep for tears-and, tearless in the midst of her anguish, she was able to go through all the duties of the evening, as if nothing unusual had happened: the freezing air, the quick-drawn breath, the frequent start, told only how deep was her sorrow.

She heard her little sister repeat her evening hymn-she saw her laid down; but she heard as though she heard not, she saw as though she did not see; and when she left her asleep, how she envied the heart that could sleep! She then retired herself to rest-not to sleep, not even to hope for sleep.

As she bade her father good-night, he pressed her hand, and with tears in his eyes commended her to God's keeping.

"God bless you, my afflicted child, and make all work together for your good!"

Ellen's mind whispered "Amen!"

When she was first alone, all the horror of her condition came back with crushing, overwhelming agony,-she first began to believe its reality. She threw herself on her couch;-what was it glistened by her? Something fell,-it was her ring. It had fallen off her finger, and now lay on the carpet. Oh! fatal amulet! prime cause of all this misery!

Ellen's mind, as we have already said, was tinged with romance and superstition; in this she was not unlike many of her countrymen. This accident, this falling off of her only remembrance, was too strange a coincidence to escape her

. It seemed emblematical of her condition,-forsaken by him she loved so well, and now forsaken by his gift. The ring, as it lay there, seemed to say "the last link is broken!" She picked it up; for one moment she thought the precious stones clouded in her gaze-this was doubtless fancy; but what was not fancy was this,-the golden hoop was cracked-broken through, and this was the cause of its slipping off her finger.

"My last friend forsakes me!" said the unhappy girl; "I am truly most miserable!"

For a moment, too, the thought entered her mind of burning this relic now of faithlessness; the words "Hope on" seemed to mock her woe. The fire was there; what prevented her burning it? what stayed her hand from committing it to the flames?

"No," she said, "I won't destroy it; broken as it is-fit emblem of my heart-I will keep it. I may live to see him-I may live to show it to him! he may yet return-may yet live to bind the heart he has broken! Till then I will keep thee, broken as thou art; when my heart is re-united, so shall be thy circlet!"

With these words she placed the gaud in her bosom, and some good angel whispered "Hope on!"

The thought passed away; the bright ray of hope darkened again and again; she threw herself on her bed and wished for death. We know not how long she lay there; soon however her fortitude gave way, a tear started in her eye, another and another, and then came a long paroxysm of grief,-a torrent of tears, a flood after passion's storm; but the relief came too quickly. It was like the sudden breaking up of ice in the Northern ocean; like the sudden thaw after a long winter of snow,-prognostic only of a worse storm to come. And so it was with Ellen; the sudden relief given by tears was too much for her mind. For a moment she felt the load gone,-the next, and all came back, and her mind began to wander. She was at the Towers; by her side stood her lover;-he told his love, and asked her hand, and she accepted him. And lo! another lady came-another fair creature-and he left her and smiled on his new flame. She tried to speak, to reproach his infidelity; she could not, she had not the power of utterance; her words were frozen. Then she heard a wild maniacal laugh-she turned, and saw a demon form scoffing at her woe!-and his face, oh, agony! oh, shame!-his face was L'Estrange's.

She woke-not from sleep, but from this wild vision bred by a troubled mind. Her head ached as if it would split, an awful load seemed to crush her very brain;-was it in a vice? She had thrown herself on her bed, all dressed as she was: she rose,-how giddy she felt! She hastily disrobed herself-she could have fallen all the time: why did she not? A strange power upheld her, and she now sought her couch and tried to think. Oh, God! was her mind going? She knew something was wrong, but had forgotten what it was; and now she felt chill, and now burning hot, her pulse throbbed, her heart fluttered: what was the matter?-was she ill, dying? She had asked for death,-was it come? She stretched out her hand to ring the bell-where was it?-ah, here it is!-she rung it violently, and overpowered by her exertion, sunk back on her pillow. Was it a dream again in which she saw her father stand by her bed?-did she really feel him take her hand, and feel her fluttering pulse? No, this was no dream; her father had heard that midnight bell, and rushed to her chamber; he had felt her pulse, and was horror-stricken at its quick and still quickening convulses; still more terrified when he found his daughter knew him not. And he himself hurriedly dressed, and, bidding the servant watch while he was absent, ran for the village doctor.

He came as soon as he could,-but not soon enough to please the anxious father. He came, and saw in a moment she was in a high brain-fever; the disease was raging and burning fiercer every moment, and he had to tell the poor father he could not undertake the case without higher medical attendance.

The first doctors in Edinburgh were summoned; and for one-and-twenty days her father never left her bedside. During the first ten days delirium had wildly triumphed; and in her fits she would often repeat the names of "Wentworth," "L'Estrange." Afterwards, though insensible even to her father, the fever had become less violent, and the patient seemed daily more exhausted.

At length the twenty-first day dawned and the critical hour approached-the crisis came! In one hour it would be known if she recovered, or sunk beneath it.

How anxiously her worn father watched! and when at last the fever lessened, the crisis past, and favourable symptoms were observed, and for the first time the sufferer slept, he fell on his knees at her bedside and thanked heaven for it. Then first too did he consent to court sleep himself.

After a long, death-like sleep, Ellen opened her eyes. She saw her father, who had also had a nap, by her side, and faintly smiled. He took her hand in his own and asked her if she knew him, and told her to press it if she did. She pressed it, faintly indeed, but he felt it. She could not speak, so weakened had the fever left her. Oh! had Lord Wentworth seen his Ellen then!-would he have known her? She was the mere shadow of the beautiful girl into whose hand he had pressed the ring; her eyes were still bright-still unchanged; and her long hair-once had it been doomed-once had the doctor nigh closed the open forfex on her silken tresses, but her father had stayed the ruthless spoiler.

"If she is to die, it cannot save her; if she is to live, why rob her of one tress?"

Thus was her long fair hair spared. But, oh! to have seen her wan face!-to have seen her wasted white arm!-it would have made a faithless lover start to have beheld the wreck of loveliness his perjury had wrought. This was the mere ghost of the beautiful Ellen in her ball-dress!

When the patient became stronger, the first words she whispered to her father were:-

"Where is the ring?"

"It is safe, sweet; I have it."

"I thank you."

These words were few, but very significant. The blow that had caused all was still swelling,-the wound that had unstrung her mind still unforgotten. Time, the restorer, gave back her beauty; and if her cheek was paler, her features more fined down, her bloom more shadowy and more frail-she seemed still lovelier; her beauty seemed to have less of earth-to be of a higher, more heavenly tint! Time, the restorer, gave back her health; but Time, restorer though he be, had not given back her peace of mind; her heart ached yet; the void of lost love was an "aching void" still. But another and greater change had passed over Ellen Ravensworth,-her character was softened down, all was now persuasion, softness, kindness, gentleness. Gone the haughty usurpation of authority, gone the love of rule and command, gone the pride of personal charms. Her pride had had a rude rebuff; the lesson to be learned was not lost; she had passed through the furnace of sorrow, and had come out thoroughly refined and purified.

She was able ere long to come down stairs, and to set again to her duties; and these she now did with an alacrity,-an earnestness she had never done them with before. No castle-building now!-her greatest castle had fallen, and great was the fall of it! and she would not again lay one stone. Of course, by mutual desire and consent, no allusion was made to the past,-no lip framed the "once familiar word;" and when her father saw how diligently she attended to her duties, and the smile that now and then came back, bright as if glad to be renewed on a face it had so long ceased to lighten,-when he saw all this he fancied the bitterness of woe was passed, the first poignancy dulled, and that she would yet forget. Ah! how little he knew Ellen; she might wish to die-but forget, even wish to forget, she could not. The wound was still unhealed; every thought tore it open to bleed afresh: she hugged the grief to her heart; and though it stung her, she pressed it the closer! But there was another change this disappointment and illness had wrought. Ellen's mother had been a pious mother, and, while she was spared to Ellen, had piously brought her up. The bread cast on the waters was found after many days; the good seed, sown by a praying hand in early years, was still quick,-still full of vitality. It had been sadly choked by the pomps and pleasures of this life; but fire,-the flames of sorrow,-had consumed the thorns and briers, and now it sprung up! Ellen was more attentive in her devotions; more constant and devout at church; more frequently was her Bible a companion to her in her hours of loneliness; and this taught her that it was wrong to brood over affliction,-wrong to give way to sorrow; the trial had been sent for her good, and it was her duty to bear it, and profit by it. She would try and bear it,-try and carry her heavy cross, without murmuring! Think not from this love had died. Oh, no,-

"on hallowed ground

The idol of man's heart was found."

Still the idol of her affections was reared in her heart; still she offered him silent devotion and secret incense; but it was no longer the all-absorbing passion; chastened down, subdued, brought under-it was now a sad necessity, no longer a joyous freewill offering!

In about a month Ellen was able to take her first walk; she chose the road along which a few months ago he had driven with her in the sleigh. Then the snow was white-now April's sunshine and showers began to make everything green and spring-like. Ah! the love born amid the snows of winter seemed to have flown with them! To her mind that time had been spring,-now all was winter.

Though Ellen was thus apparently restored in health, strength, and beauty, the lingering traces of the illness had not entirely vanished, and her physicians had recommended a tour on the Continent, selecting Switzerland as the best spot. Her father, too, thought the excitement of a tour abroad, the new scenes, foreign faces and customs, would do more than anything else to banish old griefs from her mind, and drown her sorrow; so he decided on following their advice, and began to prepare for their departure. As there were then no steamboats and railroads, Mr. Ravensworth decided on travelling by posting, and procured an excellent courier through Mr. Lennox. This courier was to meet them in London, and they determined on travelling thither by the coach that passed their door daily. On May day the London coach stopped before Seaview and picked up Mr. Ravensworth and his daughter. Ellen had only time to wave her hand to Johnny and Maude, who stood on the steps, before the four prancing horses dashed off, and whirled her away from her home, and separated her from her brother and sister for the first time in her life.

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