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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 19218

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"But one, a lone one, midst the throng

Seemed reckless all of dance or song;

He was a youth of dusky mien,

Whereon the Indian sun had been,

Of crested brow, and long black hair,

A stranger like the palm-tree there!"-Hemans.

"Why, where have you two been?" said Lady Florence, who, with her sister, the Marchioness, met the defaulters coming down the wood. "We have been looking for you everywhere, and every one is so impatient for dancing."

"I have been showing Ellen the cave and waterfall in Butterfly Dell; the cool cavern was so pleasant, we should have stayed still longer had we not been interrupted; I was telling her all the legends in our family."

"And nothing else?" said Lady Florence, laughing; "are you sure that was all? and who interrupted your pleasant converse?"

"See him-there he is," said the Earl, pointing to the Italian, who then emerged from the woods; "he is a minstrel, Floss, and will play dance music for you, and sing; is he not handsome?"

"Oh! yes; quite a young Tasso; does he know English?"

"Not a word."

"Oh! I wish I knew Italian like you, Wentworth: a minstrel! how charming-you must be my interpreter. Come, Ellen, tell me all Wentworth said," continued the fair girl, laughing. "Keep no secrets," and, taking Ellen's hand, the two walked on a few paces in front, leaving the Earl and his sister together.

"It is all settled," said the former. "Ellen will be future mistress of Dun Eden Towers; do you not think I have made a good choice?"

"Oh! I am so delighted you have at last made her happy, and I am sure she will make you so. I am so glad. Ellen, darling," said the lady, hastening forward. "Ellen, I congratulate you-let me be the first to do so dearest," and, so saying, she kissed her fondly.

"On what do you congratulate her?" said Lady Florence; "you do not mean-?"

"I do," said her sister; "and are you not glad Ellen will be our own sister, Florence? I am as happy-"

"And I too," said Lady Florence; "let me wish you every joy, Ellen."

"You are an excellent keeper of secrets," said the Earl, coming up; "that is the way you keep your promises of silence, Edith."

"I confess my fault; it was done in the fulness of my joy," said the Marchioness; "however, there is no harm done; Florence will keep it quiet, will you not dear?"

"I would not trust Florence's tongue a moment," said her brother.

"I am sure I shall not come to you for a character," retorted the beauty, pouting her pretty lips; "but to show you I can keep a secret, I will not tell anyone, though you deserve nothing less than that I should publish it at the market cross."

By this time the party had once more emerged from the woods, and again saw the green meadow and the old Peel. The sun was nearing its western bourne, and a pleasant breeze had sprung up and cooled the air; the park, as every enclosure is called in Scotland, presented a gay appearance from the light dresses of the ladies. Nearly the whole party were gathered round the great mossy stone, evidently only waiting for the Earl to open the dance on the green. Various opinions were hazarded, and numerous queries put as to what delayed his coming.

"After all," said young Scroop, "he is not the only defaulter, neither of his sisters are here, nor is the Captain, nor is Captain L'Estrange, or Miss Ravensworth; no doubt they have taken a longer ramble than they intended."

"The Captain and L'Estrange seem wonderfully liés of late," said the Marquis; "the Captain has quite forsaken me."

"There is nothing surprising in it," observed Sir Richard; "they are brother officers in the same regiment, have travelled and fought together, and naturally like each other's society."

"What shall we do for a musician?" remarked a fair lady; "it was a great oversight, surely. How shall we dance without music?"

"We must get some lady to hum the tunes, I suppose," said Sir Richard.

"I am sure you will not find one to do so; we have not strong enough voices. I think you should volunteer."

"I am much obliged, I shall do nothing of the kind."

"Mayhap," said Jack Wilton, the master of horse, as he was facetiously called, "this horn will do, gin there be no better. I can wind a tune or two, I warrant."

"There is the Earl himself, we will ask him," said Sir Richard, going to meet him. "We are much flattered, my Lord, I am sure by your great attention to your guests."

"Not more than I am by their waiting so patiently. I thought you would have all been dancing by this time."

"We should have done so, perhaps, had we had wherewith to play dance music-that is a grand oversight."

"It was-but I have remedied it," said the Earl. "See my wisdom! whilst you were abusing me for leaving you by yourselves an hour or so, I was busy rectifying my error. Let me introduce you to my Orpheus, a strolling musician found wandering in the woods, and drawing streams after him by his melodies. Come here, my boy," he said, changing to Italian; "he is a foreigner, and has seen better times, he says; but he will play for the dancers."

The Italian bowed timidly to the ladies and gentlemen, who flocked round him, and answered the questions put by those familiar with his tongue, in a meek voice, as if he feared to offend.

"Gently, do not frighten him," said the Earl; "he is unaccustomed to such scrutiny; see, there is a tear in his eye. Do not be frightened, my boy, they will not harm you; come, what will you have before you play? Sit down, my lad, sit down on this mossy stone. Andrew, bring something for him-some cake and a glass of wine."

"Grazzia tanta; but I am not hungry. If the ladies wish, I will play."

"Presently; but you will at least take some wine?"

"No, I thank you, signore; I do not drink wine-wine is for the happy; in Italia I drank wine, I cannot now."

"Hallo, whom have we here? Where the devil did you pick this rascallion Italian up?"

"Oh! John, how can you frighten him so?" said Lady Florence; "he is a poor foreigner, and he is to play for us."

"A poor foreigner! some d--d impostor! and the sooner you send him back to his accursed country the better. I know something of Italians; by the Lord, I was near attempted to be stilettoed by such another villain for nothing. I know I pitched that miscreant into the Arno: he found to his cost the difference of an English soldier and one of his cowardly race. And if you took my advice, Wentworth, you would give this chap a ducking too, and let him begone. I'll stake anything he is after mischief; I don't like his looks, by G-!"

"Nonsense, Captain, he is alone and a stranger here; he is too gentle looking, I am sure, for anything so bad. Look at him, how frightened he looks at your glance," said Lady Arranmore.

"I'd make him look a bit more so, had I my will; but never mind, let him play. Gad's name, what a come down from the old Romans-the haughty conquerors to a rascally musician!"

The look of the two was striking-the bold, martial mien of the Captain, who stood twirling a cane, and staring as if he could annihilate the poor foreigner by his very glance; the half suppliant, half fearful gaze of the other, who stood with folded arms, his lyre on the ground, and his dark eye suffused with tears.

"Let him play! let him play! take him home to the Towers; make him your page. I warrant he will be a sharp one, a trusty messenger to lady's bower, and will not flinch at stabbing with bloodthirsty dagger."

"You wrong him, I am sure," said the Earl; "he is descended from a good family he told me; his parents have fallen victims to the wretched government of his country, and he seeks the pittance his own land denies him, on a foreign strand. What part of Italy come you from, my boy?"

"From Napoli, Milord Inglese."

"Know the Villa Reale?"

"Si, signore, on the summit of the olive grove-it looks to Vesuvius."

"Right; there is truth on his face-he tells me facts I am sure."

"Do you believe him?" said the Captain, walking away.

"Now we are all prepared," said the Earl; "do you know the new dance-the waltz?"

"Si, signore."

Seating himself on the mossy stone, he commenced tuning his instrument, and first played a wild Italian air, in which fire and melancholy were strangely mingled. The applause of the company seemed to reinspirit him, and, dashing away a tear from his eye, he struck up the waltz measure.

The Earl, taking Ellen's hand, stepped forth and led the dance; then, each selecting his partner, the rest followed-all save two, the Captain and L'Estrange, who stood beneath the darkening shadow of the fir-trees, and looked on; the former with a scornful smile, as if he despised all who joined in the dance; the latter with a sad expression of countenance, as if he would too willingly have mingled in the happy throng, could he have danced with the lady of his love.

"I'll bet my best hunter against your riding whip," said the Captain, "that the deed is done."

"What deed is done?"

"Fool! what could it be but one? to be plain, I'll stake my existence my brother has proposed for Ellen's hand-and what is more, I will stake my life she has accepted him," he observed, as the two lovers waltzed past.

"What should make you suppose so?" said the other, turning very pale.

"Her looks, idiot, her looks; I can read faces well! I was a fool not to see through the Earl's subtilty before. This picnic forsooth! a mere excuse for getting her away to do so-by Heaven! a cunning dodge-but I am a sleuth-hound that can track him out!"

"Good Heavens, and wha

t shall we do?"

"What, indeed, would you do without me?" answered the Captain; "fear not-I am not empty of resources yet-we must change the plot a bit. I must speak to yonder Italian. But first I will make myself sure; I said I could read faces; see you my sister Florence? I see by her face she has a secret, and I will ferret it out by G-; were it Edith I had harder work!"

Just then Lady Florence, with Johnny for her partner, danced past them; she looked lovely as she whirled by, her fair hair floating in the breeze-her face flushed with the exertion-and her blue eyes sparkling with exuberance of joy.

"Promise you won't tell," said the fair girl to Johnny, "but Ellen is to be mistress of all these grounds. What do you think, Johnny, of having a sister a countess? But here comes John, you must find another partner; I promised to dance with him. Mind you don't tell any one, Johnny, mind your promise!"

Johnny went off and engaged Miss Lennox for the next dance.

"Promise not to tell Louisa," said he, "but my sister Ellen is to be a countess!"

"Nonsense, Johnny, how will she be one?"

"There is no nonsense about it; Lord Wentworth has proposed, and my sister has accepted him-that's how she will be a countess!"

"How do you know though?"

"Lady Florence told me!"

"Then it must be true."

"You won't tell though?"

"Oh dear no, trust me!"

After her dance Louisa, so called after one of the ladies Lennox, made her father her confidant, under the same promise of secrecy.

"I always imagined there was something between them," said her father; "I must tell the Duke our cousin."

"Oh! papa, you promised."

"Nonsense, love-it is safe with the Duke, as it is with me!"

In this way the news was quickly spread, and by-and-by every one knew it under promise of secrecy.

"Well, John, are you come to claim me for this dance?" said Lady Florence to her brother.

"To the devil with dancing, but, Florence, don't be angry, love," he said, in a milder tone, fearing he should frighten her into silence, "but, Florence, have you heard the news?"

"What news, John, about Wentworth's proposal?"

"Yes," said the Captain, smiling at her indiscretion.

"How did you know it-has Edith or Johnny told you?"

"No one but your simple self, Floss,-you are a capital secret keeper; I shall get you appointed to be secretary to the King."

"Oh, dear! what have I done? you won't tell-you will get me into such a scrape!"

"No fears, Florence," said the Captain, walking off.

"Then you won't dance, John?"

"Not I; d-n dancing."

When he rejoined L'Estrange, he said, "Just as I thought. Florence let the cat out of the bag famously; he has proposed, and been accepted too; confound it-this has come unexpectedly soon!"

"Oh! my God! this is agony," said the rejected lover, wringing his hands together.

"Cheer up, old fellow, many a slip between cup and lip. She thinks she is jolly safe-we shall see!"

"What, in Heaven's name, do you mean?"

"Ask me not, you will know by-and-by; I must speak a word in yonder foreigner's ear."

So saying he went off, leaving L'Estrange to brood alone over his woes. Dancing was kept up with much spirit till the west began to lose the crimson splendour of sunset;-the evening star, harbinger of many another twinkling fire, shone brighter and brighter as shadow fell o'er hill and dale, and now and then a bat flitted by and twittered over the gay scene, as if surprised at its unwonted gaiety. The dancers then began to flag; one by one they dropped off; at last only Florence and a few other devoted adorers of Terpsichore tripped it on the light fantastic toe. The musician, too, grew weary-ceased, and all began busily to prepare for a homeward drive, wrapping themselves up in plaids, for the air became more than cool. The sated pairs, warmed by the dance, felt the night air, for the dews were falling fast, the more chill. Alone, as if he had no part nor lot in the preparations for home,-as if he had no bower toward which to turn his weary feet,-no fireside to welcome him,-no pillow to rest his tired head on-sat the Italian. The dance was over now; he had seemed amused-pleased-almost happy while it lasted-as he saw the happy pairs glide past to his melody. But it was over now-his spirits sank low, and returning woe seemed to him all the heavier after the light break. The feelings of the convict, as he starts perchance from some delightful dream on the morn of his execution were his-the short-lived relief was broken, and he awoke to the stern realities of life. Alone-an exile from his land-a stranger on a strange shore-he sat. He rested his cheek on his hand-the lute slipped from his grasp on the turf at his feet, and tears fell fast. A figure approached-it was the Captain's.

"Cease, silly boy, your peevish weeping." Then, in an altered tone, "Cease crying, Juana-the deed is done-we will mend it yet."

"I know it," replied the disguised maiden, "I know it; I heard his lips ask her, I heard her lips accept him! She is a noble girl, she would not take his offered hand till he vowed he loved no other. Let her be happy-Juana die of a broken heart. He loves her, he loves not me, and she loves him-let them be happy!"

"'Sdeath-not so-but here comes the Earl, don't go to the Towers."

Then, changing his voice to Italian, he continued, "After all, silly fool, you play not ill, and sing capitally, I warrant me."

"Si signore, Capitano-I can sing."

"Ha! what are you doing to my Italian, making him cry? Use not the poor child so harshly."

"I'm blessed if I made his tears flow-it is his own silly thoughts; the lad can sing-at least he says so-let him sing us a song ere we go. Sing a song in praise of wine, boy!"

"And take some too," said the Earl, as old Andrew brought a silver goblet full of red wine, and cakes. "Bring some more, Andrew, and tell the ladies the Italian boy is going to give us a parting song."

"Ay, my Lord, I'll tell them."

Summoned by the old man, the whole of the guests soon gathered round the stone, on which the disguised Juana sat; he-for we must still call her so-had again resumed his instrument, and prepared to gratify the desire of his listeners. Old Andrew meanwhile, proffered the goblet-the boy lifted it to his lips, and then, untasted, dashed it on the ground-to Andrew's great wrath, who cried, "Gude save us! sic a waste o' wine-he treats the vera best wine an' it were no better than water frae the burn! gude lack, to see a bletherin' Frenchman wi' never a bawbee, dae what the Earl wadna' wi' his thousands o' gowd an' siller."

Whilst Andrew thus vented his wrath on the Frenchman-as he called all foreigners without distinction-the Italian had played a wild prelude to the air he now sang with a magnificent voice.

SONG.

Take hence the costly bowl!

The red wine, brightly sparkling,

Can fire no more the soul

In midnight sorrow darkling,

Without one lonely ray.

The friends who pledged me once are gone,

And she whose eyes so softly shone-

Ah! faithless maid-has left me lone.

Hence, take yon bowl away!

Take hence the ruby wine!

Its juice not cheers, but maddens;

And when I think what fate is mine,

Lost bliss, remembered, saddens,

And but distracts my brain.

In wine I pledged my lady fair,

In wine I drowned my boyish care,

Now hope has languished to despair,

I'll never drink again!

Take hence the flowing bowl!

It was not meant for sorrow.

The careless mind, the sunny soul

From it new beams may borrow;

To me it lends no ray.

In it, as in a glass, I see

My parted joys, and that false she

Who promised endless truth to me!

Hence, take yon bowl away!

"In troth will I," said old Andrew, still burning with ire, "and ye'll nae get it full agen, that's all, you malapert!"

The poor boy, however, received better praise than Andrew was willing to give, and the Earl advancing to where he sat offered a green silk, netted purse, through which glimpses of the ruddy gold made Andrew's eyes sparkle. To the old man's surprise this was also refused.

"Aweel! thae puddocks are queery things, an' I had had the chance of petting my fingers on it, wad I hae refused?"

"What! refuse the purse?" said the Earl, surprised almost as much as Andrew, "you will make but a poor pittance indeed if you refuse your rightful guerdon-the minstrel's due reward."

"Pardon me, this has been an evening of pleasure, the first on which I have smiled for many months. I cannot take money; I am perhaps too proud,-but forgive me, I never took gold before, I have given it oft."

"I understand your feelings," said the Earl; "at least then accept this ring," he continued, as he drew a ring with a fine brilliant off his finger.

"I will, signore; the Holy Virgin bless you for pitying a poor outcast; may you never need the generosity you show. Adieu! Milord Inglese, adieu all you fair ladies, and gentlemen."

"What! are you not coming home with us?"

"No, signore, I cannot; you will pardon me if I seem rude."

Finding all entreaty vain the Earl and his guests re-entered their carriages. This time the Marquis drove, with Johnny at his side; the Earl, his two sisters and Ellen occupied the interior of the carriage, which was closed. In a short time all were gone save two riders-the Captain and Edward L'Estrange; they conversed some time with the mock Italian, and then spurring up their horses into breathless speed reached the Towers as soon as any one else, without exciting any suspicion.

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