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   Chapter 19 No.19

The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 16243

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Infirm of purpose."-Macbeth.

"The Earl has deserted us to-night," said Captain de Vere, as he looked round the smoking-room but missed his brother.

"He has greater attractions in the blue eyes of Miss Ravensworth,-it must be a strong magnet, nevertheless, that draws away the Earl from his boon companions," said Sir Richard.

"It is the same story: all lovers are madmen, and our gallant host no exception," said young Scroop. "And by my faith she is a fine girl; no marvel she attracts the Earl."

"True, Scroop, but he should not desert his old love," said Sir Richard; "because Venus now clasps him in her arms, he should not desert Bacchus!"

"In my days Venus and Bacchus ever went hand in hand, but old times are changed," said the Duke of Richmond.

"D-n love, it makes fools of all good fellows," said the Captain.

"Blaspheme not love," answered Captain Wilson; "we fellows at sea are great Philanders when we get ashore."

"And not very particular in your choice," remarked the Captain.

"How did you like the picnic, Captain?"

"I like not these follies much, Arranmore; a wolf or boar hunt, or even a run with the hounds I like, for there is danger, and without danger is little pleasure. But a picnic is a d-d blind to get a score of palefaced lovers and love-sick damsels together. Lord knows how many brace I sprung in the woods to-day; they were as thick as snipes in the marsh; there was Musgrave and his sweetheart, and Scroop and his; chief among offenders the Earl and Ellen Ravensworth; you, I, and L'Estrange, were the only wise men, and one is married, and one would have been a fool too, had his lady love wanted him!" answered the Captain, who never minded how much he hurt people's feelings.

"How did you like the news to-night, L'Estrange?" asked the Marquis.

"The foul fiend blister your tongue for throwing it in my teeth."

"Halloo, my fine game cock, where did you learn to crow so loudly?" asked the Marquis, starting to his feet and upraising his immense form; "were it not I considered you a lover, and therefore, as Scroop said, a madman, I would make you eat your words, and show you you are no match for an Irish peer!"

The giant form of the Marquis seemed to dilate with ire as he spoke, and he looked well capable of putting his threat into execution.

"Well, you are more deeply bitten, L'Estrange, than I thought," said Sir Richard.

"The devil take you all for a set of heartless, cold-blooded vipers," cried L'Estrange, his voice half passionate, and half trembling with agony; "I am mad-God help me," and with these words he sprang from his seat and rushed from the room, slamming the door behind him. For some seconds every one sat mute.

"Ecce probatio," said the Captain, "behold the truth of my saying! There is L'Estrange, once the best of boon fellows, now soured and maddened, all because a girl he loves won't love him!"

"By Jove, I have baited him a bit," said the Marquis, "but he had better not quarrel with me."

The Earl's absence, combined now with L'Estrange's, seemed a death blow to the cheer that evening, and one by one the revellers left, till only the Marquis, the Captain, and Sir Richard remained behind.

"Our party is neither large, nor merry to-night," said the Marquis.

"Thanks to love! confound it and d-n it. I wonder what makes men such fools!"

"I shall shorten your number by one," said Lord Arranmore, rising; "I hear music and dancing above, and this is very dull-if you are wise, you will follow," and so saying he left the room.

Neither of the remaining pair stirred, nor did they speak for more than an hour-each sipped his toddy in silence; then the Captain rising, said, "Wait here for me, Musgrave; I will go and see what I can make of L'Estrange, and we can talk over our schemes together."

"All right, I'll wait."

The Captain walked to the door and quitted the room, (leaving the door wide open for Sir Richard to shut, with an oath at the trouble,) and ascending the staircase, walked along the corridor till he came to L'Estrange's room, at which door he stopped, and knocked loudly.

"Who is there?" answered a voice from within in a surly tone.

"It is I."

"Then you can't come in."

"What tomfoolery is this, Ned? Open your door, or by G-d! I will beat your churlish gate to atoms!" Suiting the action to the word he began kicking at the door in a way that endangered the panels, thick as they were. Unwilling to allow this, L'Estrange opened the door.

"You are mad, Ned, I think; because you are angry at some foolish gibes, you treat friend and foe alike, and bar your doors on both!"

"Come in, I do not know what I am doing."

Without replying the Captain entered, and shut and locked the door behind him.

"You are certainly a d-d fool to care so much about a girl who doesn't care that for you," he at length said, snapping his fingers.

"If you are only come to insult my misery you may begone!"

"You are an unreasonable brute to-night," answered the Captain. "I come to right all, and you treat me like a peevish child who pushes away the medicine that is to do him good! Come, let us talk you to reason over a bottle of wine, and light your fire, it is cold and dull;" so saying he struck his flint and steel, and kindling some tinder set a light to the shavings, and then walked across the room to a cupboard and took out a stand of silver with cut glass bottles, containing whisky, brandy, and gin; drawing a table before the fire, he placed the bottles upon it, and seated himself on an arm-chair, lighted his pipe and smoked in silent thought. L'Estrange moodily placed a chair opposite, and seating himself on it watched the fire. When the fire was burning pretty bright, throwing some dry logs on the blazing flames, the Captain opened conversation with:-

"I hope you see your plans are gone to the devil. I have tried to bolster up the sinking fabric, but it is no use; it must all be pulled down and a new erection built out of the ruins."

"I think," answered L'Estrange, "there is an unseen power working against us,-it is useless to do more."

"What will you then do?"

"Leave an ungrateful country and a faithless love, and bury myself in the backwoods of America."

"That were a fool's plan indeed,-by Jove, you are easily cast down,-never say die! if a girl won't love you, make her!"

"That is easier said than done; one man can bring the horse to the water, ten cannot make it drink."

"A girl is not a horse, nor a mule either, but you are an ass to quote the proverb. Your plans have gone to mischief; hear mine."

For more than a quarter of an hour the Captain then detailed his scheme. During the recital, as on a former occasion in Stacy's cabin, the quick changes on L'Estrange's face showed the passions within his breast. When it was finished, for a moment he sat mute; then rising, said in a hollow voice:-

"Captain de Vere, I did not know you; you must be leagued with the Evil One to think of a scheme so heartless,-so diabolical."

"Keep your abuse for those who'll stand it,-I for one won't. I see you are a chicken-hearted fool! If you begin to grow soft, better throw up the whole,-faint heart never won fair woman yet,-let her marry,-see her in another's arms! A rare sight for a faithful lover!"

"Speak not of love, you who propose a plan so devilish,-you can never have felt it; your love is base, not true passion! I love the girl too well to harm a ringlet of her hair; I will not agree."

"Base ingrate, hear me. I care not what you do-it is nothing to me who gains your sweetheart. I have striven, worked, plotted for your weal; this is my reward-unqualified abuse. You and your paramour may go to the devil. I will have no more to do with you-good night."

"Stay," said L'Estrange, as he rose to depart, "oh, stay-forgive me, I meant not what I said; only give me time to think,-if you knew how I loved her!"

The Captain resumed his seat. "Listen, L'Estrange," he said, "there is nothing after all to call forth such a storm of abuse; you may make your own terms."

"Ah! I see it now in a different light,-but her agony-her fright-her terror-it would kill her,-no, no! I will not."

"Weak, vacillating, inconsistent as a woman, you must be fixed. Hearken, L'Estrange, you have gone too far now to retract; you did not enlist me for nothing; this concerns not only you, but me also; it is of paramount importance to me that Wentworth marries not Ellen; there is but one way to prevent their union,-it must be done; you are a fool to hesitate."

"You know not what you ask; I cannot acquiesce."

"Then by G- Almighty, I will bring you to your bearings! Either agree and be a man, or else refuse, and I at once go to Wentworth and disclose the treachery."

"It were better,-there needs but this to fill my cup of infamy."

"You are undecided still?"

"Give me time; even the murderer is granted time to make his peace with heaven."

"I am not unreasonable-I will give you five minutes;-there lies my watch," said the Captain, laying it on the table; "it is now five minutes to twelve,-when the clock strikes, your doom is sealed one way or another."

The most dreadful silence followed this action; you might have heard a pin fall. It was worth while to note the different aspect of the two. The Captain's eye, unrelenting and stern, betrayed a high resolve, worthy a better cause; a scornful smile curled his handsome mouth, as though he despised his weaker victim. L'Estrange's varying passions were chasing one another across his face as the shadows of clouds fleet o'er a sunlit field; his countenance was the mirror of his heart,-pity, anguish, despair, unresolve, were all there. One was like the victim, the other the destroyer, and never serpent, tiger, or demon, glared fiercer on its luckless prey than did Captain de Vere on his captive. Slowly the minutes glided away; till four were past neither spoke. When one minute only remained, the Captain said, "One more only now,-is your mind resolved?"

Speechless agony was in the unhappy man's eye.

"Time is up! What is your answer?" said the Captain, as the clock tolled midnight.

"I consent."

"That is right! Then you are ready for all. You have been an accursed time in coming to this! You will, then, begin your part to-morrow."

"To-morrow? So soon? Besides, you have not considered Ellen is no fool; she will require proofs,-you have none."

"Have I not? I had been a fool like thee then," said his tormentor in a voice that banished his last hope, "look here! What do you think of that?" taking from his cigar case a warrant with the proper signature. It was the same he had appropriated at Brighton, but was no longer blank.

L'Estrange saw and shuddered. "But to-morrow?"

"What! hesitating again? It is too late now,-to-morrow!"

And without waiting for another word, the speaker rose and left the room. When he was gone, L'Estrange clasped his hands across his forehead, as if to hold his brow from breaking; his eyes seemed starting from their sockets; his whole frame shook with agitation, his thoughts, oh, Heavens! his thoughts! they were fire. "He spoke too true," muttered he from between his clenched teeth, "I have gone too far, it is too late; I cannot retrace my steps, and, whatever is the result, I must go on and reap my reward. Would God I had never met that heartless, bad man!-would God I had had the courage to refuse!-would God I had never called him back! Surely an evil star is ascendant over me. I have gone too far; I am like the vessel that once enters the fatal current of the Maelstrom: I shall be slowly but surely drawn in till sunk in the bottomless pit of iniquity, infamy, and despair. And you, gentle Ellen, what will you think? What will be your feelings? What will be your grief, your horror? How shall I ever look again in your face? You little know what hangs over you. You dream now, haply, of him you love, or, haply, you lie awake and think how happy you will be. It is false. A snake shall enter your border of flowers. Who is that snake? It is I; false villain! But it shall not be; I will at once go and reveal the black treachery. I will throw myself at the Earl's feet and confess all! Let him kill me, do what he will-I will have a clean heart." He rose; he walked to the door; his hand was on the bolt,-what deterred him? Pride, false pride! The devil whispered, what will the Captain think? what will Musgrave think? what will they all think? Will they not regard you as more fickle than a woman-a traitor too-a base ingrate; have they not worked for you; for you risked everything? The pause was fatal,-he lifted his hand off the latch, and returned. Oh, how many a soul has been lost by a pause,-the pilgrim has looked back, turned back, and lost all. That moment L'Estrange felt his good angel take her flight. He did not dream it-he felt it perceptibly, actually felt it. His guardian angel had spoken her last warning, given her last note of danger; he had refused to hear; the still small voice of conscience was drowned for the last time-it never spoke again. A darkness not of this world settled on his soul; a new power took possession of his heart; the last waning spark of goodness went out. No power, human or divine, could relight it. While the good spirit dwells in the heart, be it never so faint, never so tremblingly alive, there is hope! When that spark is quenched, hope is for ever gone,-the unhappy bearer falls from heaven, "like Lucifer, never to rise again!"

When Captain L'Estrange returned from the door, he was an altered man; his purpose was knit, resolved; nothing could now shake him from it. Still, though everything divine had taken its flight, something human still lingered behind; the best of human passions-Love! so nearly allied to heavenly grace as to be all but divine; rising, like snowy mountains, so near, and yet unable to pierce the lofty skies; standing without the pale, so near, yet unable to enter the holy of holies. All heavenly aspirations had died; not so all human. He was still a man, though his soul was consigned to man's great enemy; and as he thought on Ellen, his thoughts were unenviable, bitter. There seemed now a great gulf fixed between them,-she was on the right, he on the left side of the throne, and he looked up to her as a fallen angel does to the sky where once were his destinies, knowing he shall enter its crystal gates no more. Opening his window, he paced the balcony backwards and forwards for an hour or two. The night air was cool, the stars bright-too bright; he could look at them no longer. So he entered his darkened room again, and by the fitful glare of the expiring embers disrobed himself, and pressed his pillow. How his head ached! how he tossed on that unquiet couch! At last sleep, undeserved, sealed his eyes; he slept,-not the unquiet sleep, scared by wild dreams, the soldier sleeps ere he enters the battle field, where glory and honour point the way to glorious death; but the deep calm sleep, the mental lethargy, of the convict on the night before his execution, when contempt and shame point the way to an unhallowed grave!

When Captain de Vere left his friend, he strode along the passage, his clanking footsteps ringing through the arched corridor, disturbing the calmness of night, and, descending the stairs, opened the door of the smoking room.

"You have kept me a confounded time," said Sir Richard; "I have almost finished the bottle."

"It is settled," said the Captain; "he was a difficult leech to fix, a vacillating fool; but I brought him to anchor at last, and he will do so. By G-! he gave his word, and retracted, shifted and reshifted; but spite of all his tackings I piloted him to haven at last."

"When does the plot begin to work?"

"To-morrow he plays his part; in a week or ten days you will yours. And now good night; it is late, and it would not do to have it suspected we were intriguing."

So saying the two young men arose and, shaking hands, retired to their rooms,-the Captain calm and self-possessed, as his unhappy victim was stormy in mind, and unstable as the hurricane's gusts!

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