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   Chapter 24 [H]

The Weird of the Wentworths, Vol. 1 By Johannes Scotus Characters: 16166

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania."

Midsummer Night's Dream.

"My strength thou mayest indeed overcome, for God made women weak, and trusted their defence to man's generosity."-Ivanhoe.

"Ha! my fair damsel," said Captain de Vere, as he entered the room with Stacy and L'Estrange, for to them we must again return; "you see we are come to drill you in true love-making, and teach changeable girls their duty to return to their first love."

"How dare you enter a lady's room?" replied Ellen, in a haughty voice. "You, an officer in the King's army! Do you not blush to own it? You, a man, and insult an unprotected maiden!"

"Ho! that does not go down with me," said the Captain. "Hear her, Bill. Egad! one would think she was queen, and we her humble prisoners!" and he gave a brutal laugh at his jest. "You are proud, my fine girl; we will bring you down a bit; were you proud as Lucifer you should bend. I have never been bearded by man in my life, and, by G-! a girl in her teens does not do so!"

As he said these words he walked forward to where Ellen stood.

It would be untrue to say Ellen was not dismayed by the bold soldier's attitude; her words belied her heart.

"Fear not, my pretty one; you are as pert as a finch-and I like you for it. Egad! I envy Ned his sweetheart. But we will leave you together to talk it out, or fight it out."

It was a dreadful moment for Ellen; close to her stood the Captain with an unrelenting and cruel eye on her; a short distance behind was old Bill, whose face betrayed no emotions whatever; lingering on the threshold was L'Estrange; he looked as if ashamed of the part he was playing, and Ellen, with her quick discernment, read hope only in his countenance, and thanked God inwardly it was with him and not the Captain she had to deal.

For a few moments the Captain only glared on his innocent victim.

Then he said, "Come along, Bill, let's leave the lovers."

"Get up your courage, Ned," he continued; "why, Lord bless me, you look as pale and frightened as if you were to be hung, instead of going to woo a fair lady."

"Let's away now," said old Bill.

So saying he turned to leave the room, whither the Captain followed him, saying to L'Estrange, as he left, "Egad! she is a fine creature; and, by Jove! I envy your luck. If you can't come round her, remember you have only to stamp your foot-we are below; and were she St. Agnes herself I will see if she escapes me."

He then disappeared behind the wainscoting by the secret door; the arras flapped behind him, shaken by the wind of the door shutting. He slowly descended the stairs, and entered a lower room, or rather, vault, where old Bill kennelled. An oil-lamp burned on the table, and shed a fitful light on the rough features of the old tar, and the soldierly but fierce-looking Captain, as they drank, and talked, and swore.

"Where the deuce has Antonia earthed herself?"

"The deevil kens best," was the reply.

"Then you should know, Bill; for I often think you are his Satanic Majesty incarnate."

"I scarce think I'm worse than you, Jack; at yer years I wur a heap better."

"Stow your abuse. But what, in the fiend's name, has that to do with Juana? I tell you, Bill, I do mistrust that wench. Where hides she now? Heaven forfend she may not have betrayed us!"

The old man laughed.

"That wur a fool's trick. It wur to ruin herself. Nae fears, trust Tony; she ain't the idiot you take her for."

"I will trust no woman! I' faith, I know the sex. If Ned plies his game well he will bring Ellen round to love him yet. G-'s name! she is a fine girl! I am smitten, by Jove! I'll allow it."

"You are a fool, then, not to board her yourself. D-n me if I would have thought, and plotted, and worked for another man's wench."

"There is truth in it; but where the h- is Tony? I have a misgiving we are betrayed."

"Your misgiving be d-d. Tony's as true as steel, and sharp as a slasher."

The two then conversed on different matters; their conversation being well interlarded with oaths and curses. And in this way the best part of half an hour slipped away, when a stamp was heard on the floor above. The Captain started up with, "The faint-hearted fool; I see he has no stomach for the siege. I'll up and show him how to storm the breastworks; and if I win her love, by G- I'll have it, too. I begin to repent my folly in not making up to the girl myself. Now he has given me the chance, see if I don't improve on it!"

He rose, and ere he strode for the door, glanced through the window on to the green. "Death and furies! I knew it! we are betrayed!" he cried, through his clenched teeth when he saw the Earl and several others appear. "Earth, Stacy-there is treason, and Juana is traitor! Off, I say. The siege has been raised!"

It needed no words; like a startled rat the old man dived into a recess, and the Captain fled by a back passage to his horse, which he mounted, leaving L'Estrange to his fate. Trusting that Juana had not dared to implicate him in her confession, he rode round and appeared as we have seen, determined to terrify Ellen into silence; he felt sure L'Estrange knew him too well to be puzzled at his apparent desertion. He was most fearful of Juana; but this fear was dispelled by his short interview with her at the door.

We must now return to Ellen and L'Estrange. When the Captain and Stacy were gone, Ellen felt able to breathe; she had some hope in the milder disposition of L'Estrange; and she determined to try him both by proud defiance and a woman's last resource-supplication and tears. As the Captain thought, it was evident he had little heart for it; and as he stood silent and undetermined at the door, Ellen despised him for his lack of courage in pressing the very suit she most dreaded. For a long time neither moved nor spoke; it was a scene worthy an artist's pencil, if, indeed, he could have caught the different expressions on these two young persons' faces, which made the conqueror stand like a captive bondman, and the captive like a victorious queen! Ellen's face never blanched, nor did her lip quiver, nor did her voice tremble, as she addressed him:

"It falls again to my lot to open conversation; and I ask, with unaffected surprise, the meaning of this scene-of my captivity-and your presence where all high feelings, manly sentiment, and soldierly honour forbid your intrusion?"

"I thank you for your words; they give me nerve and steel my breast. We are now in altered positions, Miss Ravensworth; it was I who was suppliant last time, and now I am in a position to demand."

"Methinks it sits ill upon you," said Ellen; "a third person would, I think, see in you the suppliant still."

"You jest with your head in the lion's mouth."

"You wrong the noble animal; rather compare yourself to the jackall that battens on the quarry the lion hunts down."

"Lady, you are severe; but it becomes not your present position to bandy words with your-"

"Oppressor," supplied Ellen, finishing his sentence. "And are you sunk so low, Edward L'Estrange, as to be the oppressor of her you once said you loved? Have I lived to see one I ever thought worthy of the name of Briton stoop to be a woman's oppressor? You are under a cloud; you are not yourself; you have been led away by wicked men! Show yourself what once you were,-too high, too proud to crush one whom those bolder in guilt and vice have hunted down; in your very sins be a man, and not a base tool!"

"Oh! do not speak thus! you will kill me! Hear me, Ellen! Love me once more. It is my passion for you led me to do all this. Only say you will love me, and remember all this as a dream-as a horrid dream."

"Whatever I might once have done, your conduct has totally broken the last bond even of friendship. Love you, Edward L'Estrange? You cannot know what love is. It is a passion, in pureness and height as far above your base ideas as the frame you bear, but disgrace by your deeds, is above the meaner brutes, whose passions you seem to emulate. I may forgive y

ou if you will restore me to my home and those I love; I may hold you guiltless of this abduction and insult; but love you-oh, never! how could you even dream of it?"

"You forget, proud maiden, where, and in whose hands you are; last time it was in your power to crush me, and you used it; this time you are my captive, and I will make my own terms. Terms, said I? I will not even make terms. You are mine. You are in my power. You shall-you must-be my wife."

"Edward L'Estrange, by all the memory of better days, I beseech you pause ere you do this dastard action! I will not think so darkly of you as to suppose you are capable of doing what you threaten. I throw myself on your honour. If there is one spark remaining in your breast,-if all that is good, all that is brave, all that is virtuous has not wholly died away,-if there is only a glimmer lingering after all that, like the sun, has set,-wrong me not! There is no glory in overpowering a weak woman; there is nothing brave, nothing soldierly in it; it is but a mean action to overcome those who are weaker. Man was formed to protect woman, not to injure her. Oh! be yourself again. I appeal to your honour! Oh! hear me!"

"My honour is gone; I am void of all that is good; in one only thing I am still human,-in love to thee!"

"Degenerate man! and can you speak your shame? Have you nothing left? Oh! your words belie your heart; it is not so black as you have painted it. Throw down the idol that has usurped its throne; root out the weeds that rankle there,-burn out the plague spot!"

"Ellen," replied the wretched man, in a hollow tone, "I am sold to the Evil One; all that is good is departed from me; all that is evil lives and dwells in me. But why do I delay? You must, you shall be my wife! refuse me no longer; I have sworn it; you are my prisoner; appeal not to my mercy,-it is gone! Appeal not to my honour,-I have none! I have no pity. I glory in my shame. I will force you to be my wife; there is a priest below, he will join our hands; refuse me no more! I am settled, fixed, steeled for the worst."

"A mock priest, like your officers! Oh! degraded, wretched young man, if nothing holy, nothing divine moves you, see if earthly threats will avail. I tell you, L'Estrange, you stand on a mine,-you totter on a volcano; it will burst, and hurl your soul and body to the hell to which you have sold yourself! You do not dare touch me; you dread the Earl's power too much. You speak proudly,-you are not able to perform!"

"Am I not? You are alone; you are far from all, save those who are darker than me, and more wicked. I will have the ceremony read, and then you are mine! Nothing can sever us. Ha!-how like you that?"

"Listen, unhappy young man,-you are not able to perform your threats. Wedded to me you shall never be while I live! I have in my hand the means of my own death,-see this dagger! Before your defiling touch can reach me, it shall be sheathed in my heart; you will see Ellen Ravensworth has the power and has the determination to end this scene, though her death only does so! And yet it is hard to die with friends so near; but if death only places a gulf between us, I can die, and at least die preserving my lord's honour! But dread him; from my early tomb, dread his vengeance! I may die, depending on God's mercy; but woe to thee!-death first, and after death eternity. Punishment may flag here,-it will not there."

"Ellen, let me undeceive you; you think that the Earl strives to rescue you,-it is not so! Your own mind might have told you that. The Earl has been told you are fled with me; he believes it, and, deeming you unworthy of his love, he has disowned you,-he ceases to care for you!"

"Oh! it is impossible! Lost, wretched as you are, you could not,-you could not have told him so."

"I said not that I did; but know it is nevertheless true. Think you he would have left you so long unrescued had it not been so? Be wise,-accept this hand, and I will live to make you happy."

"God be merciful to me, when all forsake me!" said Ellen, in a voice that went to L'Estrange's heart.

"Come, Ellen, do not be obstinate; be my wife; say one word to tell me so."

"Never! You may torture me,-I am in your power,-you may kill me: nothing will make me give but one answer,-'No!'"

"Then your blood be on your own head."

L'Estrange advanced as though to seize her; but at the same moment she drew forth the blade, and placing its point on her breast, said-

"The instant that you touch me I drive this into my heart! Glory over my cold remains,-your hand shall never touch me living!"

Involuntarily L'Estrange stepped back; he knew Ellen's character too well to suppose it was only a threat; he knew that the moment he touched her she would fall a lifeless corpse; he loved her; however base his passion had grown he still loved that girl too much to tempt such a catastrophe; for a moment he stood in suspense, and then said-

"I must, then, call others who have less mercy in them than I have. I own I am yet too young in crime; once more,-will you yield to fair measures?"

"Never!"

"Then, by G-!-for you would drive the veriest Job out of patience-you shall to foul!"

With these words he struck the ground with his foot heavily. The stamp seemed as if it struck Ellen's heart; she saw all her hopes fade in that sound; she had rightly judged L'Estrange would not proceed to violence; and the longer she could temporize with him, the better chance of her life being saved, and succour coming; but she knew the Captain would at once compel her to proceed to her last bitter resource,-death! She was fully determined she would die, if matters came to extremity; and now, in a few more minutes, those desperate men would drive her to it. Oh! it was cruel! Perhaps, even now, her lover was nigh, and friends and rescue near! And then she thought, perhaps he had told her true, and she was no longer an object of solicitude. She prayed in an agony; she listened every moment to hear his footsteps approach. L'Estrange, too, listened in suspense. What! had they played him false? He stamped again.

"You escape not thus, maiden; if no one will come, thank God, I can overcome you without their aid!"

Like a tiger he sprung on the despairing girl; she struck wildly for her heart, uttering a shriek as she did so,-the first that was wrung from her bosom by her awful situation. The blow never reached: caught by the quick arm of L'Estrange, he had seized the dagger, and flung it to the other end of the room; at the same moment a loud shock almost shattered the door. He sprang back as if a viper had bitten him.

"They are come, thank God! Oh, He never failed me yet!"

"Who?" asked L'Estrange, in a hollow voice.

Again the crash came; once more the door stood the shock! An interval of awful silence reigned; he heard confused sounds, among which he distinguished the Earl's voice, and then he heard the Captain cry-

"I will help!"

"He has betrayed me," thought L'Estrange. "I care not,-they must beard the lion in his den!"

He drew forth a pistol and cocked it; Ellen heard the sound, but she almost heeded it not,-she was buried in prayer. L'Estrange had time to escape ten times over; there was the secret door, known to none but himself and his colleagues, and from this he might have escaped, and hidden with old Stacy in the dungeons to which it led; but he was either petrified, or the hopes of avenging himself on the Earl and Ellen at once, in his lordship's death, induced him to remain.

Once more the tremendous crash thundered on the door, and this time the mighty gate gave way before the strength that stormed it, and over the ruins he saw the assaulters. Their howl of vengeance moved him not. He saw the Earl, the Marquis, and many others. Could he believe his eyes,-behind them stood the Captain!

"He has, then, betrayed me, and he dies for it!"

He was about to fire, when a masonic sign from the Captain stayed his hand, just in time, and he reserved the shot for the Earl!

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