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The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 18586

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Arthur.-"And will you?"

Hubert.-"And I will."

Arthur.-"Have you the heart?"-King John.

"They sought her that night, and they sought her next day,

And they sought her in vain when a week past away."

The Mistletoe Bough.

It was near the close of one of those wet dreary days when it seems as if November invaded the domains of sunny July, and wreaked its vengeance by making it as wet, and cold, and cheerless as its own dark month, Ellen, Johnny, and Maude sat in the front drawing-room; Maude was drawing, Johnny looking out on the gloomy sea, into which the rain fell fast, as in long furrows the waves rose lazily, and beat on the sands with a dull reverberating sound. The opposite coast was dimly seen, and a hectic flush through the lowering clouds told that the sun was setting, and seemed to promise a brighter morrow.

"What a disgusting climate this is, Nelly! nothing but rain-rain-rain-till one feels inclined to swear at the weather."

"That would be very wrong, Johnny: remember who sends the weather; besides we have had some beautiful days: do you remember the time we spent at the Towers?"

"You are so particular, Nelly. After all, this is only the more provoking after such fine weather. So ho!" he continued, yawning; "I wish I was at the Towers again! It has rained ever since Captain L'Estrange was lost, and spoilt all the fun."

"It is very curious indeed," said Ellen. "What a wet ride Lord Wentworth will have home to-night."

"I don't pity him, such a jolly house to go to. When you are Lady Wentworth, Nelly, mind you invite me out."

Ellen smiled.

"I wish this mysterious affair was cleared up though; I shall never feel quite happy till it is."

"You will be happy enough when you are married, Nell!"

"Look, sister Ellen," said Maude, "the Earl has left his hunting whip."

"So he has; give it me, love, to keep for him; and, Johnny, do shut out the dull evening, and light the lamp."

When these orders had been attended to, Johnny proposed a game at cards, and was just taking them out, when a loud ring was heard at the door.

"The Earl, for a pound;" cried Johnny, "come for his whip, I will take it;" and seizing it from Ellen, he ran down stairs.

"Ask him to come in, Johnny,"-but the giddy boy heard not.

"What is it, Johnny?" asked Ellen as her brother re-entered the room, looking very frightened. Loud voices were also heard below.

"Oh, Nelly, what has happened?" said Johnny, when he could find his tongue. "There are officers below-I heard them say, 'Open in the King's name.'"

"Oh, Johnny, what is it? You alarm me-oh! I trust nothing is wrong."

Hardly had she ceased speaking when the room door was opened, and an officer of the watch entered. He was above the average height considerably, wore his hair long, and also a large beard as well as bushy whiskers and moustache.

"Miss Ravensworth?"

"I am," said Ellen, shuddering with fear. "What is this-what is it all about?" And she sunk backwards on the sofa.

"Madam," replied the officer, bowing, "I am extremely concerned that it has fallen to me to make this unpleasant notification to you, but I am the King's servant and must obey his commands: you must accompany me, madam, to Edinburgh."

"I will not-you have no right to ask me-I am innocent of all transgression. I am a free subject of his Majesty's; you have no right, no power to touch me-on what plea do you do so?"

"Madam, I am deeply distressed, but it is my duty. You are not perhaps aware it has come to the knowledge of his Majesty's government that his liege subject, Captain Edward L'Estrange, has been murdered, yes, madam, foully murdered, and-"

"Dare you even insinuate I know anything about this dreadful occurrence?" said Ellen, rising again to her feet, and having seemingly nerved herself for the worst.

"Far be it from me, madam, to suppose one so fair, so young, so innocent-looking, could have any hand in a murder so foul. Once more, madam, it is my harsh duty to require you to follow me. Doubtless your innocence will shine out clear as the noon-day, but your trial must take place. You were, you must know, peculiarly circumstanced with the unfortunate young man, and the laws-which have no respect to persons-require your presence. If you are innocent, God will defend the right, and you have nothing to fear. God forbid I should think you otherwise; show your innocence, madam, by following me."

"Never; you have no right, you have no warrant to empower your act."

"Pardon me, behold the warrant, with our magistrate's own signature. There can be no possible fear. I beseech you, madam, come."

"Oh! at least wait till my father comes; he will be here in half an hour, then I will go."

"Madam, I am extremely sorry, but my orders are peremptory and immediate; will you come or not?"

"I will not; I deny your right to imprison an innocent person."

"Then I am distressed to say if you will not come fairly I must use violence, such are my orders. Oh, madam! compel me not to do so."

Ellen still stood silent, her eyes were uplifted as if she sought a higher power to befriend her.

"You still demur, then I have nothing else for it. You will bear me witness"-addressing Johnny and Maude-"with what reluctance I used it."

So saying he stamped his foot on the floor-two harsh-looking men entered: one was short but broad-chested and immensely powerful in make; his face was a bad one, and his eye unrelenting and cruel. His fellow might have been a burly yeoman or farmer; in look more kindly than his neighbour, but even in his eye was little to reassure Ellen. Both were in the uniform of the watch. She looked at the three in breathless fear, then turning to the officer she said-

"I will go with you, sir. Send those bad, cruel men away."

"Begone," said the officer; they instantly departed. "Now, madam, fulfil your promise, and at once comply with my request. Once more I repeat you have nothing to fear from me."

Ellen, still willing to temporize, if by any means she could delay starting till her father came, said-

"You will at least suffer me to retire a moment to my room, and put on my shawl and bonnet."

She had formed the desperate resolve of leaping from her window, and running to Mr. Lennox's house for protection.

"I am grieved again to deny you this; my orders are express, not to allow you out of my sight."

"You are no gentleman," said Ellen, in her rage at this failure; "you are not even a man thus to treat a weak maiden."

"Again, madam, let me say, I am under orders; it is not I but my King who commands this. Once more, follow me, or by Heaven!" he cried, getting angry too at the delay, "I will recall those cruel men, as you call them, and leave you to their mercies."

"God's will be done, and may He show you more mercy than you show your fellow-creatures."

And with these words, followed by the officer, she went to her room and enveloped herself in a large Stuart tartan plaid, then, as slowly as she could, she descended, following the officer; behind her walked the two ruffians she so feared, barring all chance of escape. A carriage stood at the door, into it she was hurried; one of the men got up in front by the driver, a young lad of twenty, the other behind, she and the officer inside, and they drove off.

During the dialogue between the officer and his sister Johnny had stood in mute astonishment. Once he had neared the fender, and thought of seizing a poker and dealing a blow on the man's skull, but at that moment the two others entered, and he saw the uselessness of the attempt. When the end came, and his sister was gone, he still stood undecided. Maude had sunk down on the floor, where she was sobbing as if her little heart would break.

"What is to be done, Maude?" said Johnny, in a trembling voice.

"Oh, they will murder her! they will kill my own Ellen! Run, Johnny, run for help! Mr. Lennox, oh, run!"

"You are right," said Johnny, "you are right, I will run;" and rushing down stairs, he ran as if all the fiends were after him.

Mr. Lennox was just entering his house, where he had been dropped by Mr. Ravensworth, whose carriage passed Johnny on his way.

"Come!-for God's sake, come, Mr. Lennox!-quick, quick!-they have taken away Ellen!-they are murdering her!"

"Why, Johnny, what is all this excitement about? Be calm, young man, be calm!"

Johnny, in as few words as he could, then detailed the whole circumstance.

"Not a moment must be lost! I am glad you thought proper to consult me. Come along, my little man; I am very sorry for your father."

With these words he walked in his usual dignified manner to Mr. Ravensworth's. Here he found the father in a state bordering almost on frenzy.

"My daughter!" cried the hapless parent, "my daughter! where have they taken her to? Oh, Ellen! my child-my beautiful-my darling!"

"Be calm," Mr. Lennox said; "remember to bear is to conquer our fate."

"Talk not to me of calmness; tell the apathetic Stoic to bear his fate. Oh, Mr. Lennox! you a father, and talk so! Oh, my child! my poor child! where have they borne you to?-take me to my child!"

"We had better at once proceed to Edinburgh: the Sheriff is my personal friend. Is your carri

age still here?-yes, that will do; the children had better stay here."

"No, no, they will take them next!-let them come. Johnny-Maude darling, do not cry so; we will go and find your sister."

With these words they all four speedily took possession of the carriage; and it needed no words to make the coachman drive fast. During the whole way Mr. Ravensworth wept like a child. It is a terrible thing to hear a strong man weep; a woman or a child weeping are every-day events, not so a man-one who has past through suffering often, and stoically borne it, and yet gives way at last like a child. Johnny cried too, and little Maude all the way; and even Mr. Lennox caught the weakness, and felt his eyes suffuse with tears more than once, though he thought it undignified in the extreme.

When they reached the Sheriff's house, Mr. Lennox sent in his card, and said they had come on a matter of vast importance. The Sheriff, Mr. Murray, was a fine-looking, portly gentleman, of about sixty; he was evidently no foe to good living, as his corpulence, jolly expression of face, double chin, and certainly more than red nose, betrayed; his hair was snow white, which contrasted well with his florid face, and a merry twinkle in his grey eye showed him a lover of the bottle, and its boon-fellow, wit. He was sitting over his wine when the two gentlemen were introduced, and was apparently not altogether pleased at the interruption. However, he showed that he was quite ready for business, by putting on his gold spectacles, and taking a pencil and paper to make notes. Then ordering a couple more glasses, he begged to hear the case.

"Just take a glass of port-you will find it excellent, Mr. Lennox; you too, sir, will you not join us?"

"No, I thank you," said Mr. Ravensworth, burying his face in his hands. Mr. Lennox, however, accepted the offer, and then detailed the whole case to the Sheriff, as Mr. Ravensworth from his emotions was totally unable to speak. During the recital the unhappy father sobbed aloud.

"This is the most melancholy event I ever remember," said the Sheriff, wiping his glasses; "to think of one so young-so beautiful as you say-and yet so depraved!"

"Oh! judge not from appearances!" cried the wretched parent; "she is innocent as a babe unborn!"

"I regret I cannot see things in the same light; there is every appearance of guilt, though I cannot detect the motive. But you said your children were present-where are they?"

"We left them in the carriage."

"I must see them," said Sheriff Murray.

When he had questioned and cross-questioned both Johnny and Maude, he said:

"All we can do to-night is to drive to the prison and see this unhappy young lady has every comfort her rank and condition justify-she is guiltless yet in law."

When the Sheriff and his companions reached the prison, they were much surprised to find no such lady as Ellen Ravensworth had ever been brought there, nor had any notice been given them of the murder of L'Estrange.

"This is passing curious," said the Sheriff; "we had better at once consult the Earl of Wentworth, he is the fittest person."

Much surprised was the Sheriff when he heard the young lady was the betrothed wife of the Earl.

"It grows more and more mysterious; let us at once go to the Towers," he said; "depend upon it this is no proper arrest; the warrant should have had my signature. Either she has been taken to London by special order of the king, or else-but I will not say my suspicion. Let us see Lord Wentworth."

The Earl was standing on the steps, bidding good evening to Lord Dalkeith, who had dropped in to dinner when the carriage containing our friends drew up.

"Why, what is all this?" said his lordship, as the three gentlemen got out, followed by Johnny and Maude, "what in the name of all that's holy has happened?"

The appearance of the Sheriff, of whom the Earl was an intimate friend,-Mr. Ravensworth, with his eyes still swollen with grief,-and Mr. Lennox, were well calculated to induce this question.

"My Lord," said Sheriff Murray, "this is no affair for the ears of all present; come to your study and we will tell you the strange news."

"You alarm me, Sheriff; this way, come along; what has happened?-nothing to Ellen Ravensworth, I hope?"

"Indeed your surmise is too true," said the Sheriff; he then told the whole story. Lord Dalkeith naturally delayed his departure, and with the Captain and Marquis entered the Earl's study and heard all.

To paint Lord Wentworth's fury and grief would be as impossible as it would be useless. "'Sdeath and hell!" he exclaimed, his face livid with ire, "and who has dared touch a hair of her head?"

"Who indeed?" asked Sir Richard, who then entered the room.

"By what power dared the villains do so?-oh, God! had I only stayed an hour longer!"

"The warrant," exclaimed Mr. Lennox, "was couched in the usual form. I fear the worst: I fear she has been taken to London by the King's orders."

"And do you dare insinuate she is an accomplice to a damnable crime? This to my face! where is the warrant?-how did you see it?"

"I have it here, my Lord; it was lying on the table, I took it, thinking it might have been of importance."

"This a warrant!" cried the Earl, in a tone of bitter irony; "what, sir, do you know of warrants who tell me so? You have been duped, Sheriff, gulled-cheated; this is no warrant; a most foul, diabolical imposture! A pretty officer to leave his warrant! Up, all who love me, let us track the demons to their lair!"

"That would be perhaps a difficult matter, my Lord; I never saw the warrant before, credit me," said Sheriff Murray.

"Talk not to me of difficulty; if she is on the face of the globe I will find her; and woe! woe to her abductors!"

"You think it an abduction?"

"What else?-a vile, wicked scheme. Perhaps she is now in peril-under their mercy!-oh, God!" And the Earl clasped his hands in agony.

"And who could her abductor be?-it is not possible it could be L'Estrange," said Sir Richard.

"You have it!-you have it!-oh, eternal heavens!" cried the Earl, who scarce knew what he said; "you spoke like a Daniel!"

"It is surely not a collusion-a plan between the two?-It looks devilish suspicious, by Jove!"

"You are a cold-blooded villain to say so, John, even if you thought it. Oh! Powers above! I will find this out: there is a mystery about it, deep,-inscrutable. I will sift it! Oh, Ellen! Ellen! if you have played me false!-but no, it cannot be;-away, base suspicion! she could not do so! But woe to the author of this plot!-were he my own nearest, dearest relative, he should suffer!"

"There is nothing to be done to-night," said the Sheriff.

"Who says so?" cried the Earl, "moments are priceless now. I go to seek her; come, Dalkeith, we will go to the Duke's."

The two then left, and almost immediately drove away. It would require a pen dipped in fire to describe the agony of sorrow occasioned by this at the Towers, Lady Arranmore wept in uncontrolled grief, Lady Florence nearly fainted, and all was confusion in the hall; Mr. Ravensworth and the Sheriff drove off, leaving Johnny and Maude by especial desire. Mr. Lennox took advantage of an invitation of the Marquis, and stayed too. In groups of two or three they talked over the mischance, and the Captain was so exceedingly violent, that Lord Arranmore half suspected he knew more than he would like altogether to be known. It was not till late the next day that the Earl, weary, and sick at heart, returned from a fruitless search. So well had the plot been laid not even a whisper of the carriage, nor any conspirator could be traced home. On his return the Earl soon sent all the hangers on about their business, including Mr. Lennox, and made as Wilson, who never dreamed he was an offender, called "clear decks." Notwithstanding every inquiry not a clue to this second mystery could be found, and it required no need of the Captain's wit to put two and two together, and associate the loss of Ellen with the loss of L'Estrange, and people thought, and naturally, it was a bold-schemed runaway match; though no one could divine why a girl should leave a belted Earl for a Captain in the army, and not even that now! This opinion it was that distressed the Earl above everything, but to do him justice he could not quite bring himself to believe it. The Marchioness sustained him in his grief by assuring him that Ellen was incapable of anything so base. A week of gloom and sorrow rolled away; it was on Saturday night the abduction had taken place, and again Saturday came, and still no news. On Sunday none of the family appeared in their pew, and the Earl passed the day shut up in his study. It was shortly after they had retired from the dinner table, that old Andrew informed the Earl a young lady desired to see him on matters of great moment-she would not give her name!

"Who can it be?"

"It's no Miss Ravensworth, but it is a bonny wench."

"Show her in. Oh! heavens, perhaps she comes with some news of Ellen!"

It was in a state of frantic excitement almost bordering on madness that the Earl waited for his visitor; at last the door opened, and before Lord Wentworth stood-who? Juana Ferraras!

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